Ross Douthat and 1 Corinthians

On a recent evening at St. Michael’s College in Toronto about 200 of us were treated to a talk by Ross Douthat, the esteemed New York Times columnist. Mr. Douthat holds the honour of being the only openly Catholic columnist at the Times. More than a self-identified Catholic, he actually writes about the Church from the perspective of a loyal son. One only has to read the Times regularly to understand how unique his voice really is. His talk was about he and his family’s gradual march from liberal Episcopalian to Roman Catholic, with detours along the way to faith healers and Pentecostals before eventually swimming the Tiber to our home. He then discussed his time at Harvard and what it was like to be a Catholic among America’s liberal elites, especially in the hothouse of ambition and lust. During question period I asked him how he felt young Canadian Catholic students should react today to the pressures they face from secularism and the extreme left. At first I found his answer too soft. But on reflection I realized that he was right. He did not quote Scripture but he might as well have. His response could have come straight out of 1 Corinthians: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” Mr. Douthat said that those who have a gift for confronting conflict, for fighting back, should do so. Those who have a...

The Right Side of History?

What is the right side of history? That question came up during a recent discussion I had with a decidedly secular friend. I was lamenting the fact that so many Catholics make up their own belief system rather than stick with actual Church teaching. Some call this “cafeteria Catholicism” but I prefer to call it “opposing the faith.” As an example, I used the large Catholic support of euthanasia that preceded that grotesque legalization of something no Catholic should have supported. My friend replied, “Maybe those Catholics did not want to be on the wrong side of history?” I have heard this argument many times before for all sorts of issues that the Church differs on from mainstream thought. We often call ourselves “counter-cultural” these days for that very reason. I laugh when I think about this term being applied today to orthodox Christians because that same term was used to describe the Sixties and what were then radical views about sex and society and the length of men’s hair — along with the opposition to the Vietnam War and the support of racial equality. The Sixties, despite being mocked today, did have a good side. And many of those radical views eventually ended up becoming mainstream. Some for the good and some to the detriment of society as a whole. There are many issues that we as Catholics find ourselves on the “wrong side of history”: We are wrong about gay marriage, we are wrong about euthanasia and abortion because society has moved past our views. Some Protestant denominations have liberalized their views to be more in harmony...

The Assumption

I am writing this on the morning after the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I attended Mass at Holy Family in Toronto last night. The church was packed. And those who were there are likely feeling the same glow I feel this morning. Of course, the Mass was beautiful. The choir could have easily substituted for the choir of angels that will hopefully greet us one day when our time here is done. The billows of smoke, smell of incense, and the prayers for the feast day all added to the mystery of one of our most radical beliefs. Yes, it is radical. Jesus’ ascension makes perfect sense when you believe he was God. But Mary was not divine. She did not heal the sick nor raise the dead nor forgive sins. The Assumption is also difficult to picture – or at least I once found this so. That is why I have no problem with anyone who does not get it. The idea of a human body lifted off the ground by no visible means, let alone lifted into Heaven, gave me great pause at one time. I am glad it did. When I became a Catholic I wanted to leave no stone unturned. It was important to confront those things that I thought were implausible. This is what I wondered and I freely admit my views were honest but also childish in retrospect: If Heaven is not a physical place filled with souls and angels, how does a physical body get around? How does Mary prevent herself from falling from Heaven? Do angels...

Covering all of the Bases in Prolife Work

This week in the National Post, esteemed Ottawa columnist John Ivison wrote about the desire of many Conservative Party members to elect a new leader with strong prolife credentials. Mr. Ivison wrote: “Pro-lifers may feel they were sold a bill of goods by Harper, who often talked like a social conservative without offering anything different from the Liberals when it came to legislation on the issues social conservatives cared most about.” His column refers solely to the issue of abortion but could have easily included the debate over euthanasia, which is clearly a prolife issue. One thing is missing from the piece – or at least in the comments of those he interviewed. The issue appears black and white. You are for or against. But then what? In this political environment hard positions are likely to get us nowhere. In 2010 Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa proposed that both sides of the debate work together to at least reduce abortion. Back then, Cardinal Ouellet said an abortion law was unlikely. Under the Liberals today it is less than unlikely — even less than nil. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau banned prolife candidates from running for his party. Talk about democracy in inaction. His party also brought us legalized euthanasia. So dream on about this government doing anything substantive on the issue, let alone talk about it. I appreciated Cardinal Ouellet’s sentiment but I am not so certain activists on the pro-abortion side will ever agree to compromise. Even the most inane suggestion of looking at abortion brings howls of derision about another back-door...

On Suffering

The bond between Catholics and suffering can seem awfully strange to an outsider — even to an insider. Many saints, even those among the gentlest and holiest, sought suffering as a way to get closer to Christ on the cross. Despite all the sentimental associations as a lover of animals, St. Francis of Assisi was brutally hard on himself. Why would anyone strip naked in the town square, wander the countryside with no shoes in the winter in the barest amount of clothing and rejoice while being beaten by bandits? Why would he welcome the chance to kiss a leper? St. Catherine of Siena also sought out the sick in a way that most of us might find bordering on crazy or just plain repulsive. St. Therese of Lisieux struggled with tuberculosis that ravaged her young body and yet, “She believed that even suffering, however difficult, had a place in God’s redemptive love for us,” wrote Fr. John F. Russell. “She was convinced that our suffering, in union with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, could help to transform the world. What is the greatest truth of all may not be the most obvious. There is a hiddenness to the wisdom of God that catches fire in hearts and events and places and over time ever so gradually consumes the earth in love.” What was it they and myriad others found in their search for not just their own suffering but also in the suffering of others? Was this the search for Christ crucified? Why not go past the suffering into Christ risen, never to suffer his torments...

The Power of Prayer

Can prayer take the place of morphine? Is prayer powerful enough to subdue chronic pain? Should one even try to go that route? Should I? This is territory I have been thinking about for the past few months. It came up after telling a friend how tired I was of being dulled by drugs but fearing going through withdrawals again. He mentioned a colleague of his who has a serious nerve disorder that causes non-stop pain. When his colleague is asked what he does for pain relief, I was told, he pulls out his rosary. I was amazed and maybe a bit doubtful. I have been on morphine for nearly five years, the result of severe spinal pain that surgery only partially cured. I am not a junkie by virtue of the fact my drug regimen was prescribed. Besides, taking morphine for fun is low on my list of entertainment value. The things high on my entertainment list are a cold beer and a scotch at night – all things I have not been able to do for years because of the danger of lapsing into a coma. Even going to dinner at night and sharing a bottle of wine with friends became a distant memory. I like cranberry juice and soda but it is not quite the same as red wine on a cold night. Prayer has been part of my life for years but intensified during my illness. Even during times I could barely mumble an Our Father or a Hail Mary I persisted. I began to believe that God does not require perfection of words but...