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.