Some few weeks ago, the Quebec government tabled legislation designed to promote ‘secularism’, an idea ostensibly designed to promote the separation of the religions and the state – as opposed to what we have now – which … well, I suppose it’s fair to say that almost everyone thought that’s what we already had in this, our constitutional democracy without any official church and a diversity of cultures and religious outlooks comprising Quebec society. But, apparently, we needed more of it.
Of course, what this legislation promises is not so much the separation of religion from the state, but rather a society with less religion, as little as possible in fact.
The other evening, I was watching some of the reaction on the part of South Africans and others to the death of Nelson Mandela. In one media clip, a South African was asked the most basic and most important of questions about living under apartheid. ‘How did apartheid make you feel?’ the person was asked. The response was quick: ‘I felt like a second class citizen.’
Now, let’s do some realistic imagining of what Quebec would look like if Bill 60 were to pass. (A big ‘if’, considering how swift and negative has been the legal reaction to it.)
It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see this legislation as enacting two classes of citizens: those who are free of religious clothing (these may work for the government) and those who are not (those people may not work for the government).
It’s not simply a question of holding up a standard of attire at work – this may be a fair discussion in regards to fire fighters and police officers.
But, this legislation seems designed to impose an expectation among the citizenry that there are two kinds of people: the enlightened ones and certain others, whose marginalization should be given a formal legal stamp of approval in a Charter of all things. It’s rather shocking to see the promotion of a second class citizenry from within a tolerant and otherwise liberal society. For certain, Bill 60 is not about promoting neutrality.
Illiberal, intolerant and definitely NOT neutral: these are the words that aptly describe Bill 60.
The extraordinary South African leader, Nelson Mandela, who fought for decades against the apartheid regime in his country died yesterday at the age of 95. He was a man of integrity and perseverance, but the quality that touches me the most was his ability to forgive his oppressors and encourage others to do the same. Nelson Mandela walked the talk.
After being jailed for 27 years in very harsh circumstances, he was released, only to continue advocating for forgiveness and reconciliation. The National Catholic Reporter in a recent article recounts the following story:
“At a special United Nations gathering to mark Mandela’s 95th birthday in July 2013, former U.S. president Bill Clinton recounted a story about the elder statesman ending his 27 years in jail “a greater man than he went in.”
Clinton said he’d asked Mandela why he had invited his jailer to his inauguration and brought white opposition parties into his government.
“Tell me the truth: When you were walking down that road, didn’t you hate them?” Clinton asked Mandela.
“He said briefly: ‘I did. I am old enough to tell the truth.’ He said, ‘I felt hatred and fear but I said to myself, if you hate them when you get in that car you will still be their prisoner. I wanted to be free and so I let it go.‘ ”
Jesus also speaks of forgiveness and reminds us of the freedom we receive, it is this freedom that Nelson Mandela speaks about. We are freed to love.
In advocating for reconciliation, Mandela knew that forgiveness did not mean forgetting and he promoted the Truth and Reconciliation process that allowed people to tell their stories of pain and oppression. He knew that in telling their story, the path to forgiveness would be opened and the years of apartheid in Africa would not be forgotten.
Thank you, Nelson Mandela for the witness that you have been to us, may we never forget your legacy.
Each year as Advent approaches, I ask myself what difference will the four weeks of Advent make in the way that I await Christmas this year? Sometimes I come up with some very creative ideas, only to abandon them in the rush of preparing for the festivities and preoccupations of the season. Nevertheless, I keep trying to find some meaning in this busy time that will have a positive impact on my relationship with God.
A few weeks ago, I was introduced to a video entitled, Celebrate what is right in the world. The video makes the point that our “vision determines our perception and our perception determines our reality”. When we have a vision of the world that looks for what is right in the world, then we find that which is good. I would go further to say that when we believe that God is in the world communicating with us all the time, we will find God inviting us to recognize him and to relate to him.
To find God in the Advent rush and frenzy, I need to change my vision, to see if God is not already in that busyness and ask myself what he is trying to say to me. So how can I find God in the midst of everything that is going on? What occurs to me is that I need to watch out for God, to try to take a few moments during the day to stop and think, to reflect on the presence of God in that moment. I call it Watching for the Light. The presence of God sheds light on the moment that I am experiencing.
We need reminders to stop and pay attention, at least I do. A reminder can come in the form of little notes in our agenda to take a breather, or even our smartphones can be programmed to take a “mini retreat” of five minutes to take stock and notice. We can take a moment to pray for someone we care about, or remember the person we are buying a gift for. The purpose is to turn our thoughts to God and his love. We may be surprised with what happens!
Have you any ideas of your own on how to “Watch for the Light”?
Have you heard about the Theology of the Body according to John Paul II?
Do not miss this unique opportunity to meet one of the greatest specialists in North America of the Theology of the Body by John Paul II next January!
Yes, you have heard about it? So you might be happy to read that Christopher West is coming back for a new Theology of the Body of John Paul II session with a new concept and a new style!
The Cor Seminar–Live! is based on Christopher West’s latest book “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing“. It is the fruit of two decades of his searching for the best way to introduce people to the life-changing vision of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. “Cor” is Latin for heart. Through a creative blending of live music, film clips, and Christopher’s dynamic presentation, the Cor Seminar–Live! will take participants on an exhilarating journey into the “cor” of God’s plan for human life, love, marriage, and sexuality – and, through that, into the Mystery at the “cor” of, well, everything….
With special guests: Mike Mangione & Jason Clark!
And because we love to celebrate, we will have a special banquet for diner with the participation of Christopher West and Mgr Christian Lépine!
Get ready for a great honest and humourus conference about the quest of the human being and the meaning of our lives as incarnated human being!
For more informations about registration and prices, click here: Registration TOB
The Rosary is a time honored Catholic devotion going back to the thirteenth century. Tradition tells us that Saint Dominic was presented the rosary in an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1214. The popularity of this method of prayer developed through the centuries to become the devotion that we know today.
A rosary is a set of beads formed into a circle. Each bead indicates a specific prayer and each decade of beads highlights a specific moment in the life of Mary and her relationship with Jesus. Why pray the rosary? What is the point of this particular devotion? Can we learn how to pray the rosary ?
I believe that when we pray the rosary and reflect on the different mysteries, we get inside knowledge of the special relationship between Mary and Jesus, the Son of God. Mary is a true witness to God’s love as she left herself open to God’s trust and was faithful to that love.
This week in a group discussion, I was reminded that Mary went through so may difficult situations in her life. She experienced the confusion and fear of an unwed mother, the destitution of being homeless right in the middle of giving birth, the insecurity of being a refugee so as to save her newborn baby, the frustration of living with a teenager who has his own mind and the loss of her son who was treated as a criminal and executed in a very cruel and agonizing way.
She also experienced joy, the joy of trust, as in each moment of her life when everything seemed to be falling apart, God was present to her. Her baby is safe in Bethlehem, in Egypt and in Nazareth. Her son is resurrected and she sees him in a new and extraordinary way. She becomes the support and mother to the apostles as they go out to preach.
We can learn so much about life if we allow Mary to accompany us by praying the rosary. Maybe this is a time to rediscover the rosary and our relationship with Jesus and Mary.
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend marks that transitional time between the seasons of summer and autumn. During the time when most people lived off the land, this time of the year was spent collecting the harvest from the fields and preserving what needed to be stocked over the winter. The abundance of the summer was visibly present through this time and rituals of preserving, pickling, stocking up the barns and getting ready for winter were part of everyday life. In gratitude for all this plentiful produce, they celebrated with feasting and family gatherings.
In my family as a child, my great-aunt would host the Thanksgiving dinner. The menu was always the same, roast turkey, bread stuffing, gravy, carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, her special cherry preserves and best of all, her unique hazelnut torte. No one could make it like her with her special butter icing. She would lay out her best cutlery, dishes and serving platters and my whole immediate family would enjoy the festivities. After dinner, my parents would take us to the Botanical Gardens to see the Hallowe’en display. These are memories that I still cherish.
My great-aunt is no longer living, but my family have kept the ritual of serving roast turkey with bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Once in a while someone will make an attempt to make her hazelnut cake with butter icing. Our success rate is not always 100 percent but, everyone admires the effort. My own family have created new traditions such as naming one thing that we are thankful to God for this year. Sharing our moments of grace reveals a lot about who we are.
Rituals are important, they help to create our identity. When rituals are done in community, we become bonded in a special way.
What rituals do you use to express your gratitude to God at Thanksgiving? Are there any new rituals of thanks that you would like to establish in your own family?
The figure of Saint Francis of Assisi is popular within many circles, whether it be among different religious traditions or even among more secular groups. He is the patron saint of Italy, of ecologists and animals. Who is this Saint Francis of Assisi?
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1181 and died in 1226. Born into a well-to-do merchant family, he led a rather frivolous and lavish lifestyle until a series of events led to a radical conversion to Christ. He was compelled by his dedication to God to reject the family wealth and embrace a life of poverty and simplicity.
His authentic witness to the Gospel drew many followers and they formed the beginning of the community we now call the Franciscans. Francis felt drawn to a close relationship with Jesus trying to listen to his voice. He discovered that leading a life of simplicity often brings with it a freedom that leads to joy.
His call to simplicity is compelling. Our lives today are very complex. So much is offered to us and the constant advertising that we are exposed to encourages us to complicate our lives even more by creating evermore needs. For myself, I am slowly realizing that the more material possessions I have , the more I feel obliged to update this, or renew that, whenever a new version arrives. My experience has been that initially I receive a high or sense of contentment, but it does not last as I go on to think of the next item to purchase.
Francis’ call to simplicity helps us focus on what brings real joy, our relationship with God, with family, and with our wider community. These sources of joy are deeper and more lasting than the latest fashion item or television unit. Richard Foster in his book “Freedom of Simplicity” says that simplicity is not just about what we do or do not have, but of allowing simplicity to enter our hearts.
What are the elements of your life that bring you real joy? Have you ever thought about what beginning steps you could take to simplify your life?
October 4 is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Let us be inspired by him and begin to discover the joy of simplicity.
To find out more about St. Francis of Assisi, click here
Last September 19, a groundbreaking interview with Pope Francis was published by 16 different Jesuit journals in several different languages including English, French and Italian. The title of the interview “A Big Heart Open to God”, says a lot about who Pope Francis is. The text is very rich and inspiring and I encourage you to read it in its entirety.
One element of the interview that struck me in particular is Pope Francis’ response to the question of whether we can make mistakes in our encounter with God. To which Pope Francis replies, “Yes, in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is an area of uncertainty….If one has the answers to all of the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself…You must leave room for the Lord, not for certainties; we must be humble.”
This resonates with my own experience of God when uncertainty and doubt are present. Yes, there are aspects of God that are certain and unchangeable, but when we believe that we have God perfectly defined, he comes to remind us that there are aspects of God and of life that cannot be framed and clearly laid out. Life and our relationship to God are ever changing. It keeps me more humble not to have all of the answers.
God meets us where we are. He invites us first to relationship and he asks us do our best to pay attention to that invitation.
How can we open ourselves to God’s invitation? What has helped me is two-fold. First, prayer helps me to stay centered on him, and second, letting go of the need to define God in specific terms opens me up to change. Opening our hearts and minds to encountering God in life circumstances allows God to enter into those unexpected places. One of the signs that we have encountered God is when we grow in faith, hope and love.
Have you encountered God in an unexpected place? What were the signs that told you so? I would love to hear from you.
During the last few weeks, Pope Francis has been asking the world to pray for peace in Syria while several countries come together to decide a strategy for responding to the use of chemical weapons against the civilian population. A prayer vigil was held in the Montreal Archdiocese a few weeks ago in solidarity with the Pope’s request. The prayers have carried fruit as the United States has agreed to hold off any armed intervention. We can give thanks to God.
However, in all the discussions, I have been noticing the blaming game that seems to be occurring in this crisis, as it does in many other conflicts.
I look at myself and ask “Am I any better in conflict situations? How do I respond when I am hurt by someone or offended by their words?” Most often, we (myself included) want to retaliate with words, actions or thoughts of revenge as we rationalize with our sense of justice.
I need to remember to stop and think about how God would want me to respond. What would be the most loving thing to do? How does God look at the situation?
One guide I use is the Bible and I am reminded of the passage in John 13:34, “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” Jesus reminds us to look at each other with love. Remembering this passage helps to change our attitude when we see the other person through God’s loving eyes. Would we not want that other person to look at us as God does?
For myself, I remember someone telling me that if we pray for someone who has hurt us, then we are starting to look at them with love. We do not need to like them or be their best friend, but praying for them is the beginning of love. It has helped me to change my attitude around. Any effort at beginning to love is important.
What have been your experiences at turning hurt to love? Do you feel that is possible?
I would love to hear your insights?
Pope Francis has just completed an important interview outlining many of his thoughts and visions for the church. You can read it here
Have you heard anything of Quebec’s proposed Charter of values? Of course! At this point, the relevant question might be: what have you not heard about it. Announced in early September, the proposed law includes changes to Quebec’s Charter of Rights and restrictions on religious clothing for employees of not only state agencies but also for other publicly funded institutions such as schools, hospitals and universities. And, as almost everyone in Montreal knows, the local reaction has been swift and negative.
Let’s cut away from the headlines and political intrigue for a moment to digest what it is that the government is really trying to suggest, assuming, as I do, that these proposals have been introduced for both immediate political purposes and long term changes to Quebec society in order to suppress religious expression. There are some who don’t think that the issue has to do with secularism at all, that this is really about immigration and the discomfort that many people have with the reality of immigration into Quebec. On the contrary, I think it is both of these things: there is undeniably an odious aspect to the debate that has to do with immigration and the unease that some feel toward it. But there is the real and very pointed anti-religious dimension to the proposed changes which is what is front and centre in the proposed changes.
So, on the religious aspect to the proposed law: yes, that’s right, there is a theological aspect to the law, a theological argument to the way the proposed law sees the state and its agents. And it can be seen in this ad which appeared in last weekend’s newspapers: the state wants to claim that it is sacred, alongside the traditional houses of worship which are designated (awkwardly) as admittedly sacred.
There are so many category mistakes that this ad reveals, it is difficult to know where to begin.
First of all, the problem is one that the government is making for itself: is the state actually sacred? (Notice that there are no ‘quotes’ around the use of the word sacred in its application of the adjective to the state… the state and its principles – only these two? – ARE sacred. Full stop.)
But wait, I thought the main idea contained in the proposed law was that the state is neutral?
Is it neutral or sacred? Surely, no institution can be both. Actually, I’m not even sure that the category of sacred is even the best word to apply to the ‘synagogue, mosque and church’. Jews, Muslims and Christians rightly think of their buildings in which they worship as ‘sacred’ in a sense, but the sacred itself includes much more than those buildings. But, the term sacred as applied by the government to describe itself is simply blasphemous.
Having committed blasphemy in its ads, framers of the proposed law turn around and propose that agents of the state (which include so many people in public institutions that the mind boggles — did I miss the implementation of communism while I was on holiday?) must be neutral. Neutrality means you can wear as many body piercings as you like or change your hair to bright neon green, but never, never must you wear a head scarf or a cross larger than something an inch long.
The humourous (some say Monty Pythonesque) aspect of the clothing restrictions is one ridiculous thing. More serious is the outrageous idea that the state should or could be neutral. It cannot. More on that later…