Friday, December 10, 2010

Merry Christmas! Yes, it's Christmas!

Is it just me, or have you also noticed that people are saying 'Merry Christmas' a whole lot more this year than last? The first thing that alerted me to this was the Canadian Tire ad in which the adult daughter of an elderly woman takes her out for a while, and the rest of the family with grandchildren decorate the house and tree outside. When the two woman return later, the lights go on, and the daughter says to her mother 'Merry Christmas'. I sat up in my chair and asked my wife if I heard that right. Yes, I did. The ad continues with a voice-over that includes wishes for 'Happy Holidays'. Now I don't know about you, but I find that perfectly acceptable. After last year, the greeting 'Happy Holidays' just made me sad. Political correctness, oh my. I am ok with 'Happy Hanukkah' and also with 'Eid Mubarak', greetings for Jewish and Muslim feasts that occur during this time of year. Interesting, I have not yet read an article by religious Jews or Muslims condemning 'Merry Christmas'. Those kinds of things seem to come from folks who want religion taken out of Christmas. That means in first instance taking Jesus out. How wonderful it is to hear people and ads and television shows using the word Christmas. Makes my day.

If you are reading this and you are a Christian, I challenge you to use what for you is the correct and accurate greeting. December 25 refers to one event and one event only. If you are not Christian, or are no longer Christian, I hope you are a person of good will who understands that, commercialization notwithstanding, keeping this reference in the culture alludes to freedom of religion, rather than being an issue of freedom from religion.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

In the news! Read all about it!

Take your pick! What big change happening in the Church got your attention recently? I suppose the first one would be the news that the Pope has said that use of condoms may be morally permissible in some circumstances. When I heard this news I had to read the story twice. I was sure that there had been a misquote. Apparently not. My own reaction was, something big has happened here. Indeed the world felt different. However, Vatican press secretary Father Federico Lombardi insisted that nothing had changed in Church teaching.

Father James Martin, an American Catholic commentator and writer, was quoted by the National Post as saying: “It’s the first admission from a pope that a condom can be used for a good intention,” ...... “Just a few years ago, the Vatican would have rejected these ideas outright, even though they had great currency among theologians. Clearly, something has changed.”

Pope Benedict is a scholar and knows moral theology extremely well. He has applied principles from that discipline that have been around for hundreds of years, and this time has come up with a new direction. Though aimed at a rather narrow set of circumstances, questions are already being raised about the applicability of this teaching in, for example, marriage.

I do not know where this will go, but the optics would suggest that nothing has been as significant since the discussions around artificial contraception in post-Vatican II years.

The second big change happening is in the translation of the prayers of the Mass. This will affect all of us, because we will hear the changes and participate in saying the language of the changes when they finally come out in a couple of years. In the meantime there is a big controversy happening. It centres around the principles that were used in making the translation. Notably, the scholars were to adhere faithfully to the Latin text on which they are based. For example, are you old enough to remember 'Dominus vobiscum' and its response 'Et cum spiritu tuo'? The English we have been using goes: 'The Lord be with you', with the response,'And also with you'. The response will change to the more literal 'And also with your spirit.' Some of the changes flesh out the underlying theology a bit more, and the result is that the text is going to be longer. However, another result is, for example, that the word 'consubstantial' is going to appear in the Creed, in place of 'One in being with....' Do you know what consubstantial means?

So the argument is made that a literal fidelity to the Latin produces an awkward and even unintelligible English. Those who take that position would favour a principle of 'dynamic translation' which takes the translation and then asks, how would we say that today? The effort would be to preserve the theology but to do so in a way that today's parishioner would better comprehend.

Stay tuned on both these big stories. They are very big. There is much more to come. Through it all, ask the Holy Spirit to continue to guide the Church and give her leaders the great gifts of openness, fidelity, and generosity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The real orchard

I am back from my annual week in the orchard at Guelph, the one that has both literal and figurative meaning for me. Literal, because yes there actually is an orchard. Figurative, because it has become for me an image of the relationship between creation and the Creator. In the Fall when I go there, the apples are being picked or have just been picked. The leaves have not yet fallen, but they will. Nature does not deny the season and the inevitability of change as we humans like to do. Squirrels, groundhogs and no doubt a thousand species of insects are reading the signs of the time. Geese are getting ready to go south, and the young ones are doing a lot of practice flying. The relationship between Creator and creation, Artist and art, God and the universe, is orderly and well designed, when you see it in this perspective. I just stand in the middle of it and drink it all in. The setting - at the Jesuit run Loyola Spirituality Centre - is so wonderful that God seems to be there a lot. It is easier to meet God there than in a whole lot of other places.

Actually, part of renewing and strengthening my relationship with God at this place is the awareness that inevitably arises, that this is about my openness and intentionality, not about God's sudden presence. This awareness is almost as important as anything else that happens on a retreat, because it provides the bridge back to the everyday world. A reminder to sustain the discipline of regular prayer, to 'practice the presence' of God in my own mind. God awaits. Patiently.

Every year, I anticipate the grace I am going to ask for on the retreat. You do that by reviewing the months since the last retreat. Turmoil? Conflict? Doubt? Laziness? In prayer, those things will arise quite readily.

Well this year, the grace I was going to ask for was that of gratitude. I wanted to make a retreat thanking God for all the wonderful gifts I have received. I do not pay enough attention to that. So the retreat did indeed start on that theme. But as often happens, it did not stay there. It evolved to a theme of re-grounding in a deeper awareness of discipleship - the call from Jesus to follow him - wherever that may lead to. That led to prayer for spiritual freedom - because you cannot follow Jesus with attachments that take you down a different road. And you cannot even wish for such freedom without deeply loving Jesus. Otherwise it is all a heady exercise, not going really anywhere. But, see? Even that renewed and deepened awareness is a gift. I know to say thanks for that.

And then I watch the activity in the orchard and I smile. I see the relationships with the Orchard Master. Signs of the times. God gives us lots of those. With the right eyes - the eyes of the heart - we see them. With the right motivation - gratitude and love - we open ourselves to the invitation to respond to them and let God in to lead us as we do so.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Praying with Scripture

We started our first Lectio Divina series in the parish recently. I am really excited about this, and I find myself moved by the experience. Have to remember that I have been doing this kind of prayer for nearly 20 years now, and so I reassure people at our sessions that it may not come easy. Be patient! The Lord will surely provide. What you really need to bring with you is the hunger for an encounter with God, and an openness to hear whatever God wishes to communicate to you.

This is where things get tricky. Because when we pray, we are used to saying prayers. In Lectio Divina, the main activity is listening.

Lectio Divina was started some 800 years ago, and there are a number of traditions within it. All have the same goal - to take you into an experience of the Scripture, where you can encounter God. Notably, where you can meet Jesus and actually dialogue with him. For this you need quiet and time. It is not just meditation about the passage. It is not Bible study. It is entering in.

There are four 'movements' in this kind of prayer: 1. Reading the passage, preferably out loud; 2, meditating on aspects of it (there are lots of written guides for this); 3, praying, as in asking God for the grace you wish to receive during this time; and 4, entering into stillness, to just be with Jesus, be with God.

I really like the way St. Ignatius Loyola approaches scripture through the use of imagining the scene. This is a great entry into the passage, and all you are interested in is looking around, seeing who is there,noticing the setting, and most especially, seeing Jesus. Listening to him. Maybe talking to the disciples or to Mary, or to a bystander.

Inevitably, when praying with the Gospels, I am a bystander, watching. Inevitably, I meet Jesus' gaze, and he calls me over. We talk, and it is beautiful. I know that he knows everything about me, but I am not scared by that. I can say what I feel, and he will respond, maybe with a reassurance, maybe with a challenge. But always, the experience lingers. A good idea is to write down the experience right away, so you can go back and see how it actually did move you.

I encourage everyone to learn about this prayer form. We do not get enough time at Mass to really have such an encounter with Jesus. And yet we know that Jesus is present not only in the Eucharist and in the assembly, but also in his word. How are we ever to meet him there? This is it. I promise you a powerful experience of prayer.

To learn more, just Google Lectio Divina. Lots of stuff on the Internet.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

History made!!

Two great things to report on today. Both have to do with dreaming big!

Number one is the "first sustained flight in a human-powered, wing-flapping aircraft." You have read it in the news. There is a BBC link where you can also see the video. It is history - not in the making but made! These guys from the University of Toronto were inspired by sketches made by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Many others have tried to make the dream happen, but these guys actually did it.

I point this out for two reasons (other than the sheer magnificence of the feat). One, if you see the video, you will be looking at a runway on a farm that is minutes down the road from where I grew up, in Tottenham Ontario. When I went to school from my grandparents' farm, I walked or rode right past this field.

The other reason is, I accomplished something no less grand this weekend. My first Internet Sabbath ever! I had the same case of nerves, no doubt, that the young aviators had! But I also had the same sense of something really neat happening, while it was on. Hopefully millions will be inspired!

"....(S)lipped the surly bonds of Earth" (John Magee, High Flight) .... Slipped the bonds of the Internet ("Every Friday we unplug the modem and we are off line at home the whole weekend. So simple, but it has revolutionized our lives." William Power). Amazing.

Look for them both in the Guiness Book of World Records! You heard it here first.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Internet Sabbath"

An article caught my attention in July, and I saved it in my ‘Keep Near’ file. Do you see a problem here?

Anyway, the article was titled “Hamlet had a BlackBerry too”, and it was in the Toronto Star. The author, Jennifer Hunter, interviewed William Powers who wrote a book on that theme. Powers traced the history of ‘messaging’ and found that great thinkers and writers all the way back to Plato took advantage of new technology to bring ‘more efficient ways of communicating.’

With Plato, it was the alphabet itself, technology that let people move from their reliance on oral communication. For Hamlet, it was the tablet. Shakespeare gives one to Hamlet, and so it is assumed the Bard himself had one. The tablet was carried around to help people organize their day. And it could be wiped clean at night (If only!).

The problem has become that we have so much information flying around that our minds are going to be overwhelmed. Powers refers to Marshall McLuhan writings on media, and how they have created the ‘global village.’ But, he adds, McLuhan taught that we can take control of the process. And we do not have to blame our gadgets when we feel befuddled.

Control. There is a nice word.

Plato took control by going for walks. Powers has instituted a plan in his family – presumably with their agreement! – that is a variation on Plato. Every Friday night they unplug the modem and have an Internet Sabbath. “So simple, but it has revolutionized our lives.”

I know why the article caught my attention. The idea is extremely attractive.

I also know why it got buried in my ‘Keep Near’ file. I break out in a cold sweat thinking about it.

Well, I am ready to take the plunge. This Friday. I will keep you posted. Now where are those books I want to read? And aren’t there some crosswords I have saved? What about Scrabble with my wife…..?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thinking about heroes - Momma and Sally

I am sure we all have heroes in our lives. People who have inspired us at a particular time, for a particular reason. There are sports heroes, action heroes, volunteer work heroes, spiritual heroes. At one time or another I think I have had people in mind who might fit those various categories.

The heroes that impress me more and more as I get older, are those who first of all would wonder who you were referring to, if you called them heroes. People, who, secondly, no matter what their struggles, impress as just plain good people. Persons who, finally, lived their life with a deep faith and both showed it and said it. Some of these are public and well known - such as Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul ll. Who are the ones in our lives that will never attain that kind of notoriety? Those are the ones I take delight in thinking about. Those are the ones who truly inspire me to be better than I am.

I have written many times about my first hero - first, as in top of the list. That would be Momma Gus, an 80+ year old woman of colour whom we met in the U.S., and who grew up in Mississippi. Her wisdom and her spiritual counsel were so simple and so wonderful at the same time, that I could listen to her all day. Never preachy, just witnessing to her own powerful faith in an all-loving God. Telling us (my wife and I) many times that she was 'ready to go into glory' whenever her God called her. Reminding us that we needed to pray. I took all that away from our many conversations, and because of the deep personal conviction I was hearing, it all moved me and stayed with me.

I have a new hero. Sally Saunders died last night, after a big battle with cancer. I have had the privilege of watching her faith grow over the years, to the point that when everything was on the line with her health, she too turned with complete trust, to the God who, she realized, has brought her through life this far with many blessings. Blessings. Not curses. Not bitterness. Not why me? Like Momma, she told me that she had placed all this in God's hands. Like Momma, her faith did not come from reading theology or going to learned lectures. It came from believing the Gospel, believing the promises made by Jesus. It came from trusting Jesus.

My goodness, how we falter in that area, I think. I speak for myself here, anyway. You do your own reflection. Faltering is often not a conscious turning away from God. It is rather not being turned toward God. And so we get very down, we get angry, we get bitter. We are blessed indeed when we have the sudden awareness that this is what has been happening with us. We can change direction. Always we can change direction. That is what is so wonderful about this relationship we have with Jesus. He keeps inviting, and he keeps waiting.

And without our even knowing it, he sends people into our lives to kick start the awareness. If we have eyes to see, let us see. That is all the thanks our heroes would want.

And today I thank God for the Momma's and the Sally's of this world. Rest in peace good and faithful ladies.

Friday, August 13, 2010

More time? The phenomenon of evolving priorities.

I cannot believe how time is flying! When I was a very young kid, I recall thinking that the summer break was actually a year long. When I learned it was only two months, I was so dismayed I think I felt like I was smothering!

Now as an older guy who is theoretically semi-retired, angst about the short time to the beginning of the new school year is merely an old memory. What is getting my attention now are comments from golfing buddies to the effect 'Why aren't you getting out more?' Aren't you supposed to have more time on your hands now?

Truth is I am beginning to learn what I have heard over and over from retirees - they are busier than ever! And I am still only semi-retired.

I truly thought that I all I would do in any free time I had after I closed my office, would be to play golf. The thing is, priorities begin to shift. There are projects around the house, there are new opportunities to spend time with people in ministry. And there is a whole lot of catching up to do for all that time taken from a very patient wife over the years. Time spent at meetings, time writing reports. I find that it is delightful beyond what the every day world would have led me to believe, to spend time with this wonderful person who has said she would be with me through thick and thin. And she has done all of that. Now my turn, happily.

But the rearranging of priorities will continue, and that includes ensuring time for this Blog, which I so eagerly looked forward to having.

Right now, I share with you a link that has a funny but ever so serious message - about the Church in post-Vatican ll times. Copy and paste into your browser, than see what you think. Meantime I hope you are enjoying your summer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Relationship reservoirs and the stock market

I was talking to someone the other day about relationship stresses. I have done a lot of talking about that subject over the years! If I have learned anything, it is that relationships have a very good history of recovering from hurts, conflicts, blows to the head. The reason is, as one author has said, every relationship has a reservoir of good will. It may be hard to find it on a given day, and you may not believe it is there in a given month, but it usually is.

As a result, one piece of advice I give couples is to resist the temptation to see the relationship itself being on the table every time there is a dispute. The dispute is usually just the dispute, not the relationship! The dispute needs problem-solving, catching the breath, taking a step back for a moment, and so on. It does not need separation, permanent cutting off of communication, or any of a variety of drastic measures. Not normally, not in first instance for sure.

So when I was talking to this person, the image of the stock market came to mind. If you behaved in the stock market the way you are tempted to do in relationship ups and downs, you would go broke!

I took a look at today’s opening on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Wouldn't you know – straight down!

If this were a relationship, we would be charting an argument, a criticism, a rumor, a hurt. We might be so alarmed by the sudden swift change, that we pull the plug on the relationship. We are scared and hurt.

Next I looked at the past decade on the same Exchange. Big hit in 2009 (we all remember the financial meltdown, right?). But If you got out at the bottom, you miss the opportunities for the recovery that has already been taking place.

Finally, I took a look at the really long term, the past century. This time, the Dow Jones Exchange in New York. There is the blip that was the Crash of 1929. Are you ready? The market recovered from even that, and has been on a steady climb ever since. In my experience I would liken that Crash to infidelity in a marriage. Very very serious. Could wipe you out for sure. But I have seen marriages come back from that kind of calamity stronger than when they went in. Why? Because the reservoir of good will still existed; and because the sloppiness was taken out of the system: people quit taking things for granted in the relationship. They started talking, spending time with each other again, and so on.

No image is perfect, this one included. Sometimes the hit is too big, and for any of a number of reasons, you are too tired or too devastated to stay in the game.
But remember the reservoir. It may save your relationship – with a friend, relative, child, parent, or spouse.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Of polls and anarchists

An article in the Montreal Gazette June 28, 2010, reports on a national poll showing support for the monarchy as ‘lukewarm’ across the country, decidedly cold in Quebec. The occasion of course is the beginning of Her Majesty’s Canadian tour. Interestingly, the same poll looked at attitudes toward some other terms such as ‘socialism’, ‘family values’, etc. “(W)ords such as religion, church, Catholicism and Protestantism drew half-hearted reactions from most Canadians…… And 89 per cent of Canadians gave "family values" a positive response.”

The Anglican Church reviewed the findings, and reported on its website: “ A large majority (77%) of all Canadians say they do care (emphasis added) whether or not the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches survive the legal claims against them. Although church goers, regardless of frequency, express concern over the Churches' survival, concern is higher among those who attend regularly (89%) than among those who do not (71%)……. Only 22% of Canadians say they are indifferent to whether the Anglican Roman Catholic and Presbyterian Churches in Canada survive. ……. Forced to choose between making Churches pay claims regardless of consequences or protecting them from bankruptcy, fully 80% of Canadians believe the Churches should be protected from bankruptcy."

So when I look at these comments in aggregate, I am left scratching my head a bit and wondering if the cup is half empty or half full. Is the ‘lukewarm’ reaction to religion words the result of a national decline in interest for all things religious – or is it a sign of the strength of religious beliefs holding up as well as it is under incredibly trying and scandal-plagued times? That it could be much much worse, in other words, if we were not a nation who understood at some level that one’s relationship with God is bigger than the institutions that provide a home for our worship of God.

Another musing. We spent $1 billion to put on the greatest ….. what? ….. show of collaboration among the world’s leaders? …… embarrassment to our country? …… photo-op for the Prime Minister’s next election campaign? …… forging of a strong way forward by those who govern the world’s economies? What is your own take on that? Well, there I was trying to think through the significance of it all, when I see the live coverage of black clad people smashing up downtown Toronto and setting a couple of police cars on fire. I will not repeat the angry thoughts that ran through my head as I watched. But as always happens – without fail – when I am in one of those moods, the thought starts to insinuate itself, ‘These are God’s beloved.’ I tell you, that is tough. I am not only wanting them to be stopped, I have some punitive measures in my head. That is not God’s way. I think of the Prodigal Son. These are wayward folk. Boy are they off track. So cynical, so angry, so despairing of ever having influence in what they see as the power structures in some or all nations. Lash out, disturb, inflict pain, and disrupt. An embarrassment to people who still do believe in the power of protest, and who marched peacefully. What is the response to them? I feel an elder son response coming on big time.

But the Father just waits. And hurts. Not for himself, you understand. That would be us, that would be the elder son, taking it all so personally. No, the Father hurts for the woundedness of people whose wounds further hurt not only themselves but the citizens of the community around them.

I do know what the Father asks. That we pray for them. That we try to find it in our hearts to be less concerned about the punishment than the conversion – less concerned about the handcuffs than the softening of hearts.

I will try. And as I say that, I know that the first heart that needs to be softened is my own.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Let's talk about attachment

I talked a while ago about the workshop I attended in Ottawa, led by Gordon Neufeld. The theme was bullying, and what I did not say was that the theoretical context was what we in the field know as Attachment Theory.

Briefly this was first articulated in the 1950’s and 1960’s by a British psychiatrist named John Bowlby. He said that the ‘attachment system’ plays out between child and caregiver (parent), and is as built in as the feeding and reproductive systems. In short, when a child is in distress and cries, the child cannot stop the cry until one of two things happens: parent comes and comforts (change diaper, feed, etc), or child is simply exhausted. When the parent responds to comfort, the child’s brain develops the ability be comforted, leading to the day when the older child comforts him or her self. When the response is no response, or a yell or a hit, the baby’s problems increase. Distress intensifies, and no inner template is developing. And the world is on its way to being a very scary place.

You know people who play this out every day, somewhere on the safety scale (you are one of them). You will see those who handle conflict very well; you will see those who take everything personally, and either rage or cry. You will see those who are unfailingly kind and charitable; you will see those whose only interest is themselves, and getting there first. You are seeing the results of what we call secure and insecure attachment patterns.

Attachment relationships occur in every creature species and across the lifetime. When we become adults, the dependence/ independence dynamic is slightly different, in that it does not characterize the relationship (as in parent-child) but rather situations. I need to be taken care of right now, and I need you for that. When you need to be taken care of, I am there for you.

I attended another workshop on attachment this past week, and as always happens, information builds on what you already know. The presenter was Dr. Diane Benoit from Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. I may refer back to her work and that of Dr. Neufeld from time to time, because parents really need to become experts in this and skilled at it. The neat thing for our work is that parents who do not have the skills, can acquire them.

So, for today, here is Dr. Benoit’s list of parent behaviours that produce a severely affected child:

1. Emotional communication errors: contradictory/ mixed signals; failure to initiate response, or inappropriate response, to infant cues of distress;
2. Role/ boundary confusions: role reversal, sexualized behaviour;
3. Disorientation: parent is frightened or disorganized;
4. Intrusiveness/ negativity: attributing negative motivation to the child; tries to control with objects rather than holding, comforting;
5. Withdrawal: distancing self from child; directing child away from self by using toys

You see what is missing in all these; accurate response to distress, through use of the eyes, smiles, voice.

Out here in the orchard, the animals never holler to their young, “I’ll be with you in a little while.” They never ignore the pleadings of their young, and above all they never whack them over the head when the young are in distress. The young learn from the start that they are safe in their parents’ care.

We humans, are so much smarter, right? And we get it wrong many times every day before lunch.

Perfection is never the minimum. But developing the mindset, the awareness of how this works and how important it is, is the minimum. The skills, if we do not already have them, can be learned.

And a big nod in the direction of our relationship with our Creator. Have you noticed? The attachment system starts right there. Our God designed us to be dependent on him. In return God has total regard for us, will never put us off, will never whack us over the head. Never. When those bad times come along, that is not God doing it to us. On the contrary, God is waiting: when the attachment system is turned on in us, God is right there. How neat is that. You are always safe with this caregiver. Always.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Inspired by a Rapper

His picture was on the front page of the Entertainment section of the Star. I was not going to pay much attention until these words caught my eye: “But the one thing you’ll never hear – or miss – on a Shad song is profanity. “I don’t really curse too much in regular life, so I figure it would be disingenuous to just put that in my music……. And also, who says that has to be the vocabulary of the music? Hip-hop’s always been about doing your own thing and you don’t need to curse to engage people.””

Call me naïve, but I did think that was the vocabulary of the music. My exposure has been limited, but I have heard Eminem. I feel sorry for that guy.

But Shad. I am blown away. This guy has my utmost respect. I do not know anything about him beyond what I read here. I do not know what he does with his life otherwise. But to be willing to go out to your public with this message ….. well, sir, I thank you.

More than that, with my cynicism lowered and my judgementalism looking at me in the mirror, I feel called to clean up my act. Indeed I feel free to do that. Shad made me realize that I carry a bit of a what’s the use mentality. Know what that does? It lowers my resolve, my discipline.

Amazing. And cool (if that doesn’t sound too uncool coming from an old guy!). He doesn’t know it, but he is a gift. To me, anyway. I think the Risen Lord would approve of that. Do you suppose He had anything to do with it?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Perfect game

Perfection. I was thinking about this concept the other day when major league umpire Jim Joyce blew the call on the last out for Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. Twenty-seven batters up and twenty-seven batters out, is the definition of a perfect game. Replays show that Gallaraga had his perfect game. The last batter was out at first base, but the ump called it wrong. And the call stood. Baseball has no mechanism for overturning such a call. Fans are rightly screaming for video-replay option, to let the umps have a second look.

All my professional life I have been urging people to consider that perfection is not the minimum. This advice is especially important for people who are hard on themselves or on others. Baseball has a clear definition for the perfect game. Life does not.

Out here in the orchard, perfection is not even a consideration. The creatures go about their work. They build, they reproduce, they hunt for food, they feed themselves and their young. If things do not work out, they try again. You see it all the time. Funny that is does not work that way with humans.

We do something and then we evaluate it. We watch someone else do something and then we evaluate that too. How do you score on the harsh-judgment meter?

Sometimes we evaluate our effort even before we do it. And get too nervous to try. So we bail.

Fortunately our God does not see it the way we often do. The story of the Prodigal Son is a tremendous illustration of how God assesses things. Where many of us humans would be yelling at the younger son for being such an ungrateful little jerk, the Father simply welcomes him home. Does God blow the call, then? Or is the message rather that the outcome is not about performance, it is about relationship. God is not hanging out for us to get it right all the time.

In life as in baseball itself, perfection is not the minimum. We would go crazy if it were. Staying in the game is the minimum, always returning to the relationship. We will be called safe, count on it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Playoffs and Workshops

It is very difficult being a Leafs fan through the playoffs! You want a Canadian team in all the way, but you have cheered against them all year, every year! Well, sadly it looks as though there will be two American teams (loaded with Canadian players) in the Stanley Cup finals. At that point we Toronto fans can turn our attention again to the Canadian baseball team (loaded with American players!), the Blue Jays. I will try to make sense out of all that one day.

On another note, I just attended a great workshop in Ottawa. It was led by Vancouver psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld, of whom I have been aware for some time, and whose writings I have used in my own work with kids and families.

This workshop was on bullying, ‘their making and unmaking.’ I cannot do it justice here, but Dr. Neufeld used a couple of phrases that resonate with our natural parenting instincts, I think. He talked about the need to ‘soften their hearts,’ and this makes a whole lot of sense when you understand how the bullying impulse arises in the first place.

He also talked about the need to make contact with kids in a way that would facilitate the softening process (and act as a preventive measure for all kids). So when you are talking to your kids, ‘collect them with the eyes, first, then with a smile, then with a nod.’ Warm and affirming.

I would commend those two phrases to the mindset of every parent. ‘Collect them with the eyes’. Love it.

Dr. Neufeld’s career roughly parallels mine in time. He has been a researcher, clinician and writer for a long time, and he has put a lot of effort now into putting his accumulated learning and wisdom into books and DVDs. I am not his agent, but this is very good stuff. Parents, you can check it out at

His latest book is titled “Hold on to Your Kids’, and he will soon publish his book on bullying. The bullying lecture, though, is available on DVD.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Celebrating Catholic Youth Conference

In a world that has become increasingly cynical about pretty much everything, it is great to see our young folks step up to the plate and be counted. This past weekend I attended a wonderful, high energy youth conference that reminded me of World Youth Day 2002, in Toronto. People in the 14-20-ish age range have an energy that is infectious and uplifting. From the MC to the music group to the audience, these young adults are quite capable of showing the Church as it can be, and as they want it to be.

Not that they are alone, either. One individual who I would say is a contemporary of mine (ie, 'elder') told me he was having a great time soaking up this energy and enthusiasm. He was there to help out in a support role, but was finding that he was being more than repaid.

I had a role as a speaker in one of the workshop sessions, and I must say I am thankful. My role got me to the Conference, and I came away thrilled to have been there. My faith was given a shot in the arm, and more than anything I marveled that in an era in which young folks can be forgiven for being cynical about the Church, they showed that they are not cynical about Jesus.

One of the highlights was a skit called the 'Everything Skit.' You may have seen it, as there are several versions of it on You Tube. The one done for this Conference was as good as anything I have seen posted. I include the following link, however, as a particularly good example of the skit. It is very powerful. Notice the reaction of the audience even before the skit comes to a close.


Here is another link, to let you see some of the Conference pictures from the Archdiocesan website:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

More Light on the Church

We are all well aware that anger, bitterness, and indignation have characterized much of the reporting and the commentaries around the scandal of sex abuse in the Church.

There remains a great deal of that, many months into the unfolding of the story.

It is becoming clear, however, that the anger has a focus, and it is not really the abuse itself any more. It is the not coming clean, the general lack of transparency, that is exasperating the observers of this moment in history.

Interestingly, a new phenomenon is unfolding out of this. A kind of concordance is happening between the messages of the secular commentators, and those of observers within the Church. There are many examples.

Maureen Dowd writes an op-ed piece in the New York Times. Here is a short selection from her article on April 6 of this year, titled The Church’s Judas Moment:

The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. We must reassess. Married priests and laypeople giving the sacraments are not going to destroy the church. Based on what we have seen the last 10 years, they would be a bargain. It is time to go back to the disciplines that the church was founded on and remind our seminaries and universities what they are.

Joan Chittister is a Benedictine sister and a prolific Catholic author. She has written some powerful books on spirituality that I have enjoyed very much. Here is an excerpt from a piece she wrote on March 17, 2010, titled Divided Loyalties: an Incredible Situation:

From where I stand, if there are any in whom we should be able to presume a strong conscience and an even stronger commitment to the public welfare, it is surely the priests and religious of the church. But if that is the case, then the church must also review its theology of obedience so that those of good heart can become real moral leaders rather than simply agents of the institution.
A bifurcation of loyalties that requires religious to put canon law above civil law and moral law puts us in a situation where the keepers of religion may themselves become one of the greatest dangers to the credibility -- and the morality -- of the church itself.

Strong words. Is there a theme in articles like these? I think so: the Church needs to find a new way to do business.

Perhaps a new Church is in the offing. Perhaps the priesthood of the laity (Vatican ll) will re-emerge. Father Paul Philbert, a Dominican, puts it this way, starting with a quote from the Council:

“The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, that through all their Christian activities they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the marvels of him who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light” (Lumen Gentium 10). In other words, the vocation that the church offers to the faithful is not a secondary role as clients of clerical ministries, but a Spirit-filled participation as pioneers in the church’s role as herald of the kingdom of God.

Perhaps an open, joyous transparency will emerge in this Church. People will come back to that kind of Church. Many have walked away from the secret, dismissive, set apart Church. The scandal locked the door for them.

The world we live in understands that perfection is not the minimum. But it will not tolerate being lied to and talked down to. That went out a long time ago. The Church needs to ‘read the signs of the times’ again, as Pope John XXIII said in calling that great gathering we fondly remember as Vatican II. I suspect a lot of reading is going on as we speak.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Darkness vanishes

The chirping of the birds is getting louder in the morning. They herald the new season. Activity is starting in the orchard, and even the groundhog paths are becoming visible through the grass.

The weather has been dark lately, and I do not just mean the rain and cold. I mean spiritual weather. It has not been good recently. The pastor and I have preached on the scandals in the Church two weeks in a row. At Easter. Imagine.

But the signs of spring and the Easter lilies remind me there is much more to the season than bad news. Indeed the season is all about the best News the world every had, the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection, our redemption, our second chance.

In its own way, this scandal-laden time is a reminder of how badly we truly need this redemption. Perhaps we have been ‘way to complacent, thinking that Easter was just a nice celebration of the glory of God. Dig a bit deeper, I am thinking.

It is the Deacon’s privilege to sing the Exultet at the Easter Vigil. For the past seventeen years that has been the high point of my Easter experience. I am thinking of it now, thinking of how powerful its message is, not as a moment of piety but as a moment to remember God’s response to our tremendous need. The Exultet is sung in a darkened church, with the light from the new Easter candle piercing that darkness. It announces Easter to the world. Here are a few phrases from the Exultet:

Rejoice O earth in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King… Darkness vanishes forever. Rejoice O Mother Church … the Risen Saviour shines upon you…….. Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God.

Christ is the light of the morning. A new day. He lets us start over and he leads. May we follow him, trust him, depend on him, and never again lose sight of him.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Of sausage and membership in the Church

I have heard about the Year of the Priest all this past year. But when the Bishop talked about it at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, it hit me in a whole different way. What a time for the Year of the Priest! Right now you can take that phrase a few different ways - the year to remember the incredible abuses by priests..... the year to rally behind the priesthood itself ....... the year to point out that so many priests are and have been faithful to their ministry.

It is Easter Sunday today. The news of the past several months has focused on the scandal of abuse, but even more on the real scandal, that of cover-ups, moves, spin-doctoring, and denial. This past week the emphasis has been on what Church leaders have been saying. Some incredible gaffes are still happening, but today I detect a bit of a shift. Bishops around the world - Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Canada, the U.S. - are showing that they get it. Obfuscation is no longer the order of the day with those men. Honesty, admission, naming the problem, is now the order of the day. And the name of the problem, the one the world has really keyed in on, is not the abuse, as bad as that is. It is the lying and cover ups and denial. Hopefully, there is a tide sweeping through the Church that will continue the theme. Some clergy may feel like they are beating this to death, or that they are getting beat to death. Far from it, they are showing the world what it wanted to see from the beginning. Keep going until the world says it is satisfied.

In the meantime, the Church will survive. There are several terrific articles to that effect. The latest is in today's (April 4, 2010)Toronto Star, by Angelo Persichilli, 'Resilient church will overcome latest scandal.' Yesterday's Toronto Star had a great feature on Southdown, the treatment facility for clergy, located north of Toronto. The article contains really useful information that puts the problem of abuse in some perspective.

Long before the abuse scandal, I had this phrase that I would say to people (It's been so long, I don't know whether I was quoting someone, or made it up on my own): Being up close to Holy Mother Church is like watching sausage being made: you will never eat it again, unless you can live with messiness. The messiness I was initially referring to was the spectrum of personality quirks, politics, spirits of meanness, etc, that I had occasionally encountered in Church leaders. None of which shook my faith for even a moment. Messiness is the order of the day. If it weren't, the Cross and Resurrection - what we are celebrating right now - would have been useless jokes. They aren't jokes, they are needed very badly. What a great reminder all of this is. May its lesson not be lost. We need a purifying in the Church, we need transparency. And we need to be reminded that it is still the place to be. Jesus has not and will not withdraw his promise to us, to be the way, the truth, and the life. We've been acting as though we forgot that. Today is a day tinged by sadness for the victims of abuse, but it is also a day to remember that the Resurrection was for them too. Keep hope alive. Peace to all.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The big disconnect and Holy Week

Saturday night. It is Passion Sunday, and Holy Week is under way. Every year without fail, something grabs me on this day. No matter what kind of downer I might be in, or what kind of un-spiritual space, Holy Week has a way of reminding me about what is truly important, and how it is that I can function at all in this world. It is the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus without which I would somehow have to get through life on my own. I learned a long time ago that won't work.

The disconnect between the way we humans think of ourselves, on the one hand, and what the Cross did for us, on the other, came into stark relief recently with a news headline. Seems that some civil servants in Ontario were about to be laid off, then paid a huge severance, then hired back to do the exact same job the next day. Commentators and letter writers were making big noises about the greed of it all. One writer begged the civil servants to turn down the manna from the sky. But another commentator noted they probably would not do so, since it would be a function of 'their entitlement to their entitlements.'

Entitlement to their entitlements. That is a new one. I have been writing about the 'age of entitlement' for a number of years now, in which the current generation selectively excuses itself from the rules. Running red lights. Ok for me, not for you. Parking at the door of Tim Horton's with my motor running and the nearest parking space 20 feet away. That's ok for me. You go park in the parking space.

But entitlement to their entitlements. I hadn't thought of that. I have a right to my rights. My rights. Get out of my way.

Holy Week blows that all into smithereens. Jesus knew his rights, don't you think? Wouldn't you have claimed them, in his place?

Instead, his total interest, his total regard, was for us, for everyone but himself. That is what love does. It looks out for the other person, not for 'me.' Hey, you go ahead in line. Hey, sorry I got in your way. Hey, sorry I inconvenienced you. Hey, you know what, you have a good point there .........

May this Holy Week be a time for us to reclaim our freedom - our freedom from the tyranny of entitlement, our freedom for open and unconditional love for one another.

Out in the Orchard, signs of spring are asserting themselves. New life. Resurrection. Triumph over 'me'. The denizens if the Orchard know how this works, let's make sure we are among their numbers.

Have a great Holy Week.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Break musings

We made what has turned out to be our annual trip to Niagara-on-the Lake again this year. Don't tell anyone, but at this time of year everything is open including the wineries, hotel prices are great bargains compared to high season, and you have the place largely to yourself. Perfect recipe for relaxing.

We also made our annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Little Flower at the Carmelite Monastery in Niagara Falls. They have a reliquary of St. Therese, and a nice display of her writings and memorabilia. A pleasant surprise this year was the finding that the reliquary has been moved from the roped off area of the sanctuary (where you can't go), to the back of the chapel, where you can sit close enough to touch the glass case containing the four relics. A setting for quiet prayer and handing over to St. Therese the cares and worries you bring with you.


Those cares include the spiritual health of our Church. We could not avoid the news of the week that included unsettling reports of sexual and physical abuse in the German and Irish churches. One commentator noted that this was seen to be an American phenomenon in recent years. Now, ironically, it appears to be the case that the Americans responded earlier and more openly, once it all started to come out. An article in today's (March 20) Toronto Star quotes Sr. Nualla Kenny and Dr. John Loftus about their experiences writing two reports on abuse in the Canadian Catholic church. One report in particular, they note, has been largely ignored around the world. Head in the sand mentality still exists. Perhaps this mentality can now really change. Perhaps it will now really have to change. Then we can take some comfort that this is the Church Jesus founded. Meanwhile, the lesson that we are a sinful Church is a humbling reminder that we still need the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. How timely with Holy Week one week away. Pray for our Church.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mercy-killing and the right to die

I was going through some articles I had saved, and found one that has profound importance for the debate on assisted-suicide and mercy-killing. This area is very difficult to spend time with, because death itself is not a nice topic, and also because the moral/ ethical issues are complex. But attend to the issue we should, because it is coming to a hospital bed near you sooner or later. The bed could be your parent’s, your child’s – or your own.

The article I saved was from the Catholic Register, February 21, 2010, in which Sr. Nuala Kenny (whom I had the pleasure of meeting when she worked in Kingston some years ago) reported on a study she had done on assisted suicide requests. She found that “There is no significant association between the desire for hastened death and either the presence of pain or pain intensity.” Rather, depression and hopelessness contribute to a feeling that life is not worth living any more, a condition Sr. Kenny refers to as ‘existential suffering.’ Doctors have difficulty addressing this. In fact, in patients treated for depression, “requests for death are withdrawn.” The moral appears to be that we should look for the reason for the request, since we may be able to help.

All this reminds me of the mercy-killing debate that has raged around the world for many decades, calling into question the value of life itself. Proponents of mercy-killing have as their premise that not all lives have equal value. Related to that is the assumption that no-one could possibly want to live as a handicapped person. I recall reading articles by Dr. C. Everett Koop who was a paediatrician in the U. S., and who went to become Surgeon-General in the Reagan administration. Dr. Koop pointed out the fallacy and arrogance of that assumption. Here is one of his quotes:

It has been my constant experience that disability and unhappiness do not necessarily go together. ……. Some of the most unhappy children whom I have known have all of their physical and mental faculties, and on the other hand some of the happiest youngsters have borne burdens which I myself would find very difficult to bear. Our obligation in such circumstances is to find alternatives for the problems our patients face. I don't consider death an acceptable alternative. With our technology and creativity, we are merely at the beginning of what we can do educationally and in the field of leisure activities for such youngsters. And who knows what happiness is for another person?

The debate on assisted suicide and euthanasia is not going to go away. On the contrary it is heating up. In Canada Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde has tried repeatedly, and will keep trying, to get Parliament to pass a bill that would legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia. I would urge you to follow the debate by tuning into Alex Schadenberg’s website.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympics are over and the woman at the well has a message for us!

The Olympics are over, and I have exhaled after nearly turning blue waiting for the BIG game to happen. We won! A very enjoyable two weeks, though it surely did not start out that way when the luger from Georgia died so tragically.

Today, reading through the news reports online, I was so impressed with the gracious tone of the New York Times as they affirmed both the Canadian hockey team and the Olympics overall. They even caught the send-up that was the message of the closing ceremonies.

And so as we come up for air, we find ourselves almost in the middle of Lent. Third Sunday of Lent coming right up. I was at the workshop by Father Tom Rosica last weekend, dealing with the Bible. I came away with a renewed sense that the Bible needs to be the air we breathe as we go about living spiritually and deepening our relationship with God. We meet the Risen Lord "who begs people to touch the feet of his Word." "We are people of the living Word of God that introduces us to a person - Jesus." Watch out for pious practices that are empty, Father said, without Scripture being "breathed into them."

And a thought that hit with special meaning for me - people today will listen to preachers only if they are witnesses. I think he means our homilies - my homilies - can't just be lectures or Bible study or platitudes.

Great thoughts. Need to soak in them a bit. Hey, speaking of water, the Gospel this weekend will be (because we have people preparing for reception into the Church at Easter) the woman at the well. She asks Jesus to give her some of that water he is talking about - you know, the water that after you drink it, you will never be thirsty again.

Thing is, we need to be thirsty to start with, the way this woman was.

The Olympics are over, Lent is on. A great opportunity to think, to soak in God's word, and to work up a great thirst.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I got a reply from Michael Ignatieff

I received this email today:

Dear Philip Carney:

On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I would like to acknowledge receipt of your recent email concerning the Liberal Party’s request that the Conservative government uphold Canada’s long-standing tradition of recognizing women’s reproductive rights and access to contraception as part of Stephen Harper’s maternal health initiative.

The Liberal Party remains concerned that this initiative will break with Canada’s tradition of funding organizations that advance women’s rights to reproductive choice and access to birth control. Access to contraception and reproductive health services is an integral part of any strategy to empower women. Without reproductive choice or access to birth control, women are less able to benefit from education or economic opportunity, and remain susceptible to gender-based violence and discrimination.

Stephen Harper has shown that he is willing to cut funding to aid groups, like KAIROS, an ecumenical charity, that dare to speak out against the Conservative party line. We need a clear commitment that access to contraception reproductive health services – and the organizations that promote them – will not be jeopardized by the Conservative caucus.

We understand this issue stirs extremely strong feelings and the Liberal Party respects the right of every Canadian to express their views freely and openly.

Yours sincerely,

Office of Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada

Here is part of what I wrote back:

Dear Office of Michael Ignatieff:

Thank you for your reply to my email.

(A)dvancing the Liberal cause by raising the abortion issue and advocating abortion, is an incredibly cynical way to buy votes. The party can appeal to women in a whole lot of ways besides doing it on the backs of unborn children. I am left gasping for breath at this.

The party risks alienating a lot of voters by going down this path. (T)his is what you are offering me to vote for?

You are a taking a huge gamble here. But what a cynical one it is, that's what gets me.

I and many Canadian voters have been caught off guard by this.

I am watching closely.

Time for a rethink.

Philip Carney

Friday, February 12, 2010

Of compartments and spiritual growth

The word has cropped up in news articles a few times in the past few weeks. Articles about high profile individuals involved in scandals that take your breath away when you hear about them. The word is ‘compartment’, the verb form being ‘compartmentalize.’
To put it in perspective, this is an action that we all know about. It is one we probably use every day. For example, think of the clerk at the coffee shop that greets you with a smile when you make your purchase in the morning. You will not know about the argument they just had with a family member before they left for work. You will not know about the pressure they feel about unpaid bills. The reason is that they tuck that memory and the feelings that go with it, into a little compartment, just out of sight, so that they can function in their job of serving us. We do the same thing when we greet our family after a difficult day at work. Or at least we try – not letting our sadness or hurt or anger come in to the conversation about the other person’s day.

The problem occurs when we split our life up into segments that have labels of good and evil, holy and unholy, prayer and hate, on them. Putting those elements of ourselves into separate compartments allows us to visit each of them without being affected by the others. When that happens, the part of me that is a person of prayer never gets to deal with the part of me that is so hateful. The part of me that is my compulsive, greedy self, is able to go to the behaviours involved, without being reined in by the part that knows right from wrong.

Why do we create those kinds of compartments?

First, because we like what is in the dark ones: we are in a conflict of interest, and so we eliminate the conflict by having the separate compartment. Second, because whenever we have thought of eliminating the dark one, we realize we can’t. The struggle is too hard: and so we eliminate the struggle by having a separate compartment to go to. Third, because we do not trust God to see us through: maybe we do not trust that God is even aware of this struggle. Maybe we do not know what the Cross and Resurrection were about. Maybe we simply cannot believe that God cares about our struggle. Maybe we are afraid of God, and so we try to hide the dark stuff even from Him.

Here is the first secret of dealing with the compartments and the stuff in them: we do not have to start by emptying the dark ones out. We do not have to change our whole lives in order to be people of wholeness and integrity. That is not what the Cross and the Resurrection were about. No, what we need to do is take down all the walls of the compartments so that the dark stuff simply stands in the light of the ones that contain our prayer (even our ancient history of prayer), our desire to have a relationship with God, our deep down wish to be holy.

The beginning, in other words, is simply being honest with ourselves. We will feel a sense of peace, not of despair, when we let the light of the tiniest bit of holy inside ourselves, shine on the dark stuff. When the compartments know about each other, we will feel great relief. We might even smile. We will know what the Cross and Resurrection are about. They are about healing, not about a requirement for perfection. Start today – enjoy some light. You will know what to do with the dark stuff.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Abortion policy

The following headline and story appeared in the news today. I immediately sent an email to the Liberal Party of Canada warning them that while I am a card carrying Liberal, any policy initiative made on the backs of unborn children would cost them my membership.

Out here in the Orchard, death occurs in the natural order of things, not with the creatures killing their unborn.

Finance abortion, contraception under health initiative, Ignatieff urges Harper

OTTAWA — Michael Ignatieff has lobbed an abortion grenade into the midst of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to become an international champion of women's and children's health.

The Liberal leader says Harper's commitment must include government aid for "the full gamut" of women's reproductive health services, including abortion and contraception.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Media time, and the ‘iGeners’

Here we are at St. Paul's trying to expand the way we communicate with people. In this case we are using the parish web site for our Blogs. As I have already noted, Pope Benedict himself urged clergy around the world to follow his lead in this area! Imagine!

Well now comes a study confirming what we already knew or suspected: that you can get too much of a good thing. According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, (American) youths between 8 and 18 spend an average of 7½ hours a day using media devices - not counting the 1½ hours they spend talking on their cell-phones. They are also multi-tasking within the media usage, eg texting while watching TV or listening to music. The result is that they cram “nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.”

“The study’s findings shocked its authors, who had concluded in 2005 that use could not possibly grow further….. . It found, moreover, that heavy media use is associated with several negatives, including behavior problems and lower grades. “

The New York Times invited commentary by a number of experts around the U.S. One that caught my eye was by Dr. Larry Rosen a psychology professor in California. He said the findings of the study corroborated what he himself has been finding in his research. He coined the term ‘iGeners’, and noted that media is critical for socialization and communication. However, read this:

I have also found that this consumption of media was predictive of psychological and behavioral problems … . What’s more, parenting style was directly related to healthy online behavior: Parents who set clear limits and boundaries but did so with warmth and consultation with their children, had children who were less consumed with media, possessed higher self-esteem, were less depressed and had better relationships with their parents.

That’s the part that really caught my eye. Not just that there is a point where a good thing becomes problematic, but that parents can intervene wisely and effectively. Clear limits and boundaries, set with warmth and consultation. The outcomes are wonderful.

Parents and youths alike, have a good look. You have probably wondered whether there is a problem with high media usage. There is. Parents, you have wondered whether you can do anything about it, since it is everywhere and after all you have funded most of it. You can do something about it, and it sounds like you probably need to.
Couple of ideas: First: talk about including some really rich nourishment in their Internet time. At our house, we have been receiving two powerful e-letters on a regular basis. One is from Fr. Henri Nouwen’s website. Fr. Nouwen died a few years ago, and his followers send out these spiritual gems from his writings. They are short, to the point, and never syrupy. You go to the website (, and sign up for the emails right on the home page.

If you would like to add something equally well written, with a feminine perspective, Sr. Joan Chittister is for you. She is well known world-wide, and like Fr. Nouwen has written a number of great books. Super writer, lots to think about, never trivial. Go to the website ( and again sign up for the eletter on the main page.

Second, develop a collaborative approach to the issue of media time. More about that soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ministry of Spiritual Direction

It seemed so natural and attractive for me when I was in studies for the Diaconate back in 1990. I have been a psychologist since 1974, and have always enjoyed being with people in their life journeys. When I went on my first directed retreat at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre in Guelph, I came to understand that the dynamic between my director and me was based on the structure of the Spiritual Exercises written by St. Ignatius in the 16th century. Not only is Ignatius brilliant in his insights into the problem of evil, the way we make choices, the need to choose for God, and so on, my psychologist mind found his way of praying the scriptures with imagining, his way of dialoguing with Jesus and his mother and the Trinity, to be most fascinating. I read everything I could about his life, including his autobiography. I took three workshops in Spiritual Direction over successive summers. And I was hooked.

It was not always easy. The psychologist in me kept wanting to intervene, when I met with people. My instructors would tell me, 'Well that's very interesting, but it's not spiritual direction.' I had to learn that the first task of a person who is journeying with another as they deepen their relationship with Jesus, is to stay out of the way of the Spirit! Instead, listen for the work of the Spirit in the person's life. Help them learn to pray, but above all help them develop a discerning heart, the kind that sees God in all things.

Spiritual Direction is my Diaconate service ministry, and I have been seeing people from all over the diocese, as well as from Kingston itself. What a privilege, what a graced activity. The people I see cannot appreciate this, I suppose, but they bring the most wonderful gift to me as well, that of focusing my attention on God present. Indeed, letting me see God in them.

Anyone interested in exploring this, send me an email at the address shown on the page here. I will get back to you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Haiti- the limited power of events

I have found it very difficult to watch the events in Haiti after the earthquake on January 12. So much suffering. Feeling so powerless. Feeling numb after seeing the same clips over and over. But then something started to catch my attention. The first time it was sweet and reassuring. The tenth and twentieth time, with different people each time, it became a confirmed and noticeable pattern. I am referring to the number of people, especially among those who had been trapped and then were freed, who said that they were not scared under the rubble because they handed it over to God. And they trusted God.

They couldn't have made this up. They couldn't have been talking pious platitudes in the face of such reality. They were talking of their real experience and their real behaviour.

I have told so many people so many times in my psychologist's office that the challenge facing them in their difficulty is to not let it determine the kind of day they were having. Events and people do not have that power. It is theirs, they need to claim it for themselves.

The people of Haiti do themselves proud. They witness so beautifully, so simply. God did not cause this tragedy, but God is there with the victims, reminding them that not even a collapsed building wins when they trust their God. God remains the anchor of all meaning in their lives. Thank you, people of Haiti, you have given me a great gift.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Taking the news home

The image I had of the wise men this year was not so much about finding the manger where Jesus was born, but rather about their return home to report on it. It hit me that we who have been there cannot just walk away and say 'that was neat.' We do need to tell someone. In fact we are challenged to tell someone.

All of that was fresh in my mind as I met with a group of young adult staff at a facility where I do some work. These are street smart people,and they are forever teaching me about what young people are confronted with everyday out there. One of them, who knows I am involved in Church stuff, mentioned he had gone to a Christmas service. We discussed it a bit, and I talked about my ministry and how busy things were at St. Paul's over Christmas. He said how it felt neat being at the Church where he had gone, and suddenly we were discussing liturgy, being taken to Church by our parents when we were young, and so on. Next thing I know, 5 or 6 of the other guys are joining in. People from Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic, and other traditions, not practicing as far as I could tell, freely sharing about their religion backgrounds in a positive way.

I would never have guessed that such a discussion could take place in that setting. I shudder to think that if I was wrong there, how many other times have I been wrong, and missed great opportunities? I suspect the wise men told their news to a pretty skeptical audience. Did they do it with enthusiasm, with conviction? Did they look for opportunities to do it?

We have been to the manger. We are the wise men, the 'visitors from the east' returning home. Have we told anyone?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on the secularization of Christmas

People who heard my homilies through Advent and Christmas this year may have noticed an urgency around the theme of the secularization of Christmas. I have been surprised at how many of my friends and acquaintances wished me ‘Happy Holidays’, or inquired as to what I would be doing for ‘the holiday’.
This is a recent phenomenon, how did it happen? The best sense I can make of it is that there is a desire not to offend anyone. The flip side of that is wishing to be inclusive. The outcome is that December 25, marking the birth of Christ, is made over as a mere calendar holiday, with gift buying, a couple days off work, and a turkey, at the heart of it.
I was so pleased to hear one satellite radio station I listen to, playing ‘Hanukah’ music throughout the 12 days, and calling it Hanukah music. Another satellite radio station played ‘the best of holiday music’ through December. That would be your traditional Christmas music, Silent Night and O Holy Night, etc, among them.
I was also delighted to read Ben Stein’s piece again, that included this: "I am a Jew ….It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, "Merry Christmas" to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away."
I was delighted to read in Andrew Hanon’s column in the Whig Standard November 23, 09: "It’s ok to wish him (21 year old student Amjad K.) a Merry Christmas. “It’s like they’ll start to say it, then stop themselves and ask, “what’s that thing you guys do at this time of year?” For the record, its Eid, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. But he insists, ‘Merry Christmas’ is just fine. It’s not an issue."
Christians, Jews, and Muslims honour their feasts. It is not any of those groups who wish to negate a feast celebrated by the other. It is, rather, I think, a misguided political correctness at best; and a movement to take religion out of everything public, at worst. That has a destructive impact on all religious observance, not just Christian.
Canadian Sociologist Reg Bibby has discovered repeatedly in his surveys that Canadians, even non-regular church attenders, place importance on the religious significance of events in their lives.
Hopefully we will not give Christ away to secularization. Hopefully Jewish people will not lose Hanukah. Hopefully Muslims will always honour Eid. We are all at risk for diminishing religious significance when we adopt the empty message of ‘happy holidays.’
Out here in the Orchard, all creation honours the Creator. We who live here are indeed, as Ben Stein said, ‘all brothers and sisters’. May we remember to call things by their right names.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year, a new experience

I have missed writing my article ‘Notes from the Orchard’ in the Diocesan paper Journey. Fr. Leo and I have talked for a while about the blog format for our parish website. Father likes the idea, and so here goes!
Over the 19 years of writing the piece in Journey my reflections evolved to take on the perspective of an observer sitting on the middle of an orchard. There was and is a real orchard. It is the apple orchard at the Jesuit Spirituality Centre ('Loyola House') in Guelph where I have been going on 8-day retreats for about 18 years. My interest in a ministry of Spiritual Direction was nourished there, but along the way the orchard became very special to me. It is a place to stop. To stop and look at nature. You see trees, apples, bees, groundhogs, bugs, birds, and grass, yes grass. Is it just me, or do we walk over and around things all day and not notice them? In this orchard I am able to see Creation and marvel at how it reveals the Creator, the Orchard Master. I came to view the orchard as a template for my life back home, where I also fail to see so much - mostly especially the way God reveals himself. More on that later.
Meanwhile, this is a wonderful way to return to those reflections and to voice them 'out loud', so to speak. From my perspective, the blogs will be short personal reflections on an array of topics, appearing minimally every couple of weeks, and maybe every couple of hours, depending on what is transpiring. Mostly they will follow the ‘Orchard’ pattern of spiritual reflection. At the end of the day, their purpose will be to stimulate thought, discussion, and prayer.
A very Happy and Blessed New Year.