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Solidarity Sunday

devpeace_sharelent2014_magazineSunday, April 5th is Solidarity Sunday and this year the theme for Share Lent is “One family, food for all”. The theme addresses the ongoing social problem of global hunger. In this world of high tech and advances in science, we are still faced with the reality that 1 in every 8 people go hungry. That is a total of 1 billion people, people who are mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents. They are all people with the desire to live a life of dignity and hope.

The main reason for this situation is poverty and an uneven distribution of wealth. But the effects of climate change, war, and multinationals that control seed production and access to clean water, complicate the issues, and limit people’s ability to produce their own food as they had always done before.

Pope Francis reminds us in this video and in the following statement that we are called to share with our brothers and sisters on this planet. He said, “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”

My own parents came to Canada looking for opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their family. Canada was generous to share her riches. As Christians and Canadians, we need to continue that spirit of generosity and share our riches with those who are less fortunate. Not everyone can live in Canada, but we can give of ourselves and our wealth and share what we have with countries that are suffering from extreme poverty and who are not able to feed their people.

This Sunday I ask you to be generous and contribute to the Share Lent campaign in your parish. If you are not able to give in your parish, you can either send a check or contribute online directly to Development and Peace specifying that you wish to give to the Share Lent campaign.

It is only in giving that we receive.

The Spiritual Task of Voting

Ballot box votingA few weeks ago, our provincial government called an election for April 7th, deferring the votes in the National Assembly on several controversial bills. As people of faith, we have been confronted with many issues that challenge our values and convictions.

As citizens in a democracy, we all have a duty to vote. But how can our faith influence the way we vote?

To begin with, we need to take the time to reflect on and name our Christian values. What does our faith teach us about basic human needs, care for the poor and marginalized, respect for the dignity of life from “womb to tomb” and tolerance of each other’s faith? This task is important at all times, but during an election, we need to remember them as values that need to be protected in our society.

The next task is to gather information about the candidates and their stand on these issues. Where is our information coming from? Are the sources reliable or coming from places that will only give part of the picture? Who am I listening to? Whom am I dialoguing with about the issues?

The third task is to look at the candidates themselves. Are they people of character and integrity? Do they express the qualities of compassion, fairness, honesty, ethics and tolerance for others? Do they share our Christian values? When confronted with the difficult issues that we face in our society such as care of the poor, respect for the sick and dying and tolerance of people of faith, where do they stand?

Once all of this information is gathered, we come to the most important part of our spiritual task, that is to bring these elements to prayer. What is God saying to me as I go through this process of gathering information? Making a choice is not always clear cut. Some candidates may be people of integrity, but they differ in our values.

Speaking with  God in prayer about our electoral choice will help us to choose for the greater good. Dialoguing with God and requesting his support and insight can help us to look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture is God’s perspective.

We cannot forget to pray for the candidate we choose, other voters, as well as the candidates that we have decided not to vote for. Each citizen is called to make a decision of integrity and God’s wisdom is for all.

 

A New Spring

iStock_tulipes_Small (1)This winter has been long, but we know spring will come eventually. The following quote by American author, Hal Borland rings true.

“No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn”.

Waiting for spring requires patience, but we can imagine what will happen as the weather warms up. Our memory is full of the visions of the snow slowly melting and then more quickly to expose the ground to the warmth of the sun. The grass begins to turn green, the trees start forming buds that turn into leaves and some of the earlier spring flowers such as crocuses and tulips force their way through the earth to add color to our gardens. Everything speaks of growing and potentiality.

It is hard work. The plants allow the warmth of the sun to envelope them, but they must take advantage of the right conditions to grow. Bulbs, that initially look dead,  extract nutrients and moisture from the soil in order to turn into the beautiful flowers that they become.

We can take advantage of spring to discover the potentiality of our own lives. The blogger Vinita Wright speaks about the Tasks of Spring in her blog. Tasks may be a hard word to hear, but nevertheless,we are called to take initiatives that can help direct us to a life of value and faith.

The spring is a time to take stock of things and decide where we want to put our energies so as to follow our true calling. Prayer can help us as it gives us an opportunity to step back, exchange with God about what is happening in our life and listen to what he says to us. God desires to give us life.

In Lamentations 3:22-23, we read, “The steadfast love of God never ceases; mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

May the God of Faithfulness help you to discover a new spring this year.

Saint Joseph the Father

Saint Joseph statueOn March 19 we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus and husband of Mary. He is most often called Saint Joseph the worker and is the patron saint of carpenters. But, I think he should also becalled the patron saint of fathers. He was the father that Jesus knew and brought him up as his true son.

It was not always easy for Joseph. If we read the story from the Gospels, Joseph believed an angel that the baby that Mary was carrying was the Son of God. He then had to freely accept to protect this child and his mother on their way to Bethlehem and then later flee with them away to Egypt. He is a model of faith in the God who had a plan that was bigger than he could comprehend.

But from my perspective, one of his biggest roles in the history of redemption is his role of father, a father who cared about his son, taught him values and gave him a trade. His constancy, perseverance and love for his family took precedence in his life. He is a witness to a faithfulness to God, to his family and to his community.

At Saint Joseph’ s Oratory in Montreal, the most predominate image of Joseph is him holding the Child Jesus in his arms. We see a Joseph who loves this child as his own, tenderly and affectionately. This kind of role model is important for fathers today. The ability to show affection, tenderness and selflessness towards one’s children is a sign of strength for a father. Children need their fathers to grow into healthy adults as much as they need their mothers. That role should not be undermined nor diminished. He, with Mary, taught Jesus about love, faith and mercy for others.

We remember and honor Joseph as the father he was to Jesus, a father that gave much of himself to bring up a man of character and tenderness.

Lent: Allowing God In

The other day I read the following twitter feed from Pope Francis  ”The Lord is knocking at the door of our hearts. Have we put a sign on the door saying: “Do not disturb”? This statementdreamstime_xs_8454194 prayer got me to thinking, do I really allow Jesus to enter my heart when I take the time to pray? Or do I make the motions, but keep parts of who I am to myself?

One of the hardest concepts for me to accept is that God desires all of who I am, my weaknesses and my strengths.  When we do not take the time to pray or reflect on God in our lives, we are telling him, “Do not disturb’ I will be fine on my own, I do not need you or I do not have time to be with you.”

The image of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts is inspired by the scripture passage from Matthew7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The season of Lent begins on March 5. This could be an opportune time to take away the “do not disturb” sign from our hearts, open the doors and let God in. Allowing God to enter our lives invites us to a new way of living and seeing where we and God can walk together.

How to begin? There are many resources on line with suggestions for beginning an e-retreat or purchasing some reading material that you can reflect on during the 6 weeks of Lent.

Do you have any of your own ideas for the season of Lent? You can share them with the other readers.

Easter comes at the end of Lent, what a better way to be renewed and refreshed!

Three Ways to Love

Bible and heartsValentine’s Day is upon us and the stores are decorated with hearts, cupids and beautiful boxes of chocolates in the form of hearts, ready to be offered to anyone wishing to express their love to someone special in their life. Valentine’s Day is about love and lovers and the heart is a symbol of that love.

The Bible speaks to us of love and in the Greek translation, several words signify the various forms of love. Three Greek words for love stand out for me and each form has the possibility to open us up to the mystery of God.

The first is eros, which signifies the more romantic love that is associated with Valentine’s Day. Eros is that sensual love that is passionate and strong with emotion. Poets and songwriters are often inspired to write about this kind of love as a “longing” that occupies much of our psychic energy. But Plato and Socrates suggest that eros is also a love that opens us up to beauty and awe.

Philia is the love that is associated with friendship, which also includes loyalty to family, to the community, to commitments. Philia is more “head-centered”. There is a bond created between people who experience philia and usually it is mutual with a give and take between the partners.

The third kind of love is agape. I believe that agape is the most spiritually transformative of all the loves. For the Greeks and for the Bible writers, agape meant a spiritual love that was truly unconditional and selfless. The giver of agape gave love even if the receiver was undeserving of that love. God’s love is more like agape. His love is without bounds and conditions. We as receivers of that love need only to open ourselves to that reality, even when we cannot understand it fully. We get a glimpse of agape through others when they give freely of themselves without asking for something in return. One of the best descriptions of  agape in the Bible is in 1Corinthians 13, a passage often read at weddings.

Have you ever thought about the different ways that you love? Is there a form of love that you need to nurture as we celebrate Valentine’s Day this year? Is there someone you need to love more fully?

Dying is an Act of Life

istock_loi-52-dossierThe Quebec provincial government will soon be voting on a bill allowing doctors to legally perform medical acts which will, under specific circumstances, hasten the death of a patient. The more common term we use is euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Dying is an act of life, much as being born is an act of life. Each and every one of us will be called to pass through that doorway, some of us quickly, others more slowly. Part of the journey of life is to take the leap of faith to embrace the act of dying in the best way that we can.

A few years ago, my father-in-law passed away. From the time I knew him, he was always a man of wisdom , kindness and peace. As time went on, he became senile and through the last five years of his life, his children watched as he changed into someone anxious and lost. He was no longer present to them, nor was he able to see joy and hope. It was difficult to see this profound change in him as he turned into a stranger. As a devout Catholic, we knew that he wanted to live his life to the fullest, come what may.

On the surface, it was hard to see the worth in his life, but yet as I look back, I see that his children needed to see the vulnerable part of their father so that they could touch on their own vulnerability. One does not need to be productive in life to have value or worth. Towards the end, when he lay dying in a hospital bed, struggling to breath as his organs were shutting down, all of his grandchildren wanted to see him for one more last time. He had been a good grandfather to them.

It is not always easy to understand, but suffering, and being present to someone who is suffering helps us to grow as human beings and as a community. It gives those around the suffering person an opportunity to grow as they move beyond themselves to be present to another.

In a statement this week, the archbishop of Montreal, Msgr. Christian Lépine, stated that “Causing the death of an innocent human being is causing the death of our own self…” We are not solitary beings, we are all interconnected and when we hasten the death of someone or encourage them to do so, we lose some of our own humanity and the whole of humanity loses too.

Slowing Down

iStock_scène d'hiver I often find myself caught in a constant flurry of busyness going from one place to another and from one event to another. There are days when I feel as if my agenda is too full and I do not have time to breathe or think of what to say or do next. It is like going on a treadmill that never stops.

This week I read an article that speaks about slowing down and trying to open my eyes to seeing things anew. Seeing our world with new eyes helps to change perspective.

I experienced this change in point of view this week when I happened to be driving through the Laurentian mountains. The weather was not ideal as there had been some snow cover on the road. Ordinarily, I would have kept on driving without taking time to stop, but something told me to take advantage of the rest stop in the area and buy a cup of coffee. As I got out out of the car, I took a few moments to look at the scenery. What a sight!

Snow blanketed the fir trees as if they were clouds sitting on the branches. There was a wind blowing the snow around creating an aura of mystery. My first thought was to turn to God who created such a vast and beautiful scene. I was filled with awe and gratitude. I realized that this had only happened because I took the time to slow down and take a look. I am reminded of the phrase from Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God”

We cannot always go to the forests and catch the magnificence of the mountains, but we can take some time each day to “stop and smell the roses” as  the expression goes. Surprises can come up in the form of someone smiling, a luminous reflection or a kind gesture.

Have you ever slowed down unexpectedly to see what is happening around you? You just never know what you may see.

 

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

PrayerWeek_ENHas Christ been divided? (1Cor. 1:13) This is the theme for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebrated from January 18-25. During this week Christians from different faith denominations come together to pray and dialogue on their common faith in Jesus Christ.

What does unity mean and why do we pray for unity?

Christian unity for me suggests a coming together to acknowledge what we have in common and to come to know each other better in a spirit of fraternity and charity.  Prayer for unity helps us to discover who we are as Christians. But unity does not mean uniformity, it is acceptance of diversity. When people of different ideas and beliefs come together to pray and dialogue, I truly believe that we are richer for it. Prayer joins us together in our encounter with Jesus Christ.

Dialogue implies listening to the other, seeing the richness of their faith, all the while acknowledging the qualities that my beliefs bring to the table. When I discover what others think and believe, my own faith grows as I can see new aspects of God that can enrich me. Dialogue also helps me to know my neighbor as someone of value and importance.

We can together help to build a society that is more Christ-like. As Christians of faith, we come in union to help the poor, work for just legislation in our governments and spread the gospel to others. Dialogue also makes us vulnerable as we witness the suffering of others and we reveal our own weaknesses and needs. In dialogue, no one is better or superiour to the other.

The document on Christian unity from the Vatican outlines some of the ways we can work towards Christian unity and many churches this week are organizing activities around this event. Why not come and see what is happening? How can you celebrate Christian unity this week?

January 14 — Francis the Meek

Pope FrancisIt goes without saying that the current Pope is making heads turn and making many people pay attention to the church in a new way. In fact, this is part of a Pope’s job description, and so Catholics are rightly proud of Pope Francis for fulfilling his duties with ‘aplomb’.

Perhaps the most noticeable word that has been applied to Jorge Mario Bergoglio since his election to the chair of Peter is ‘humble’. That word appears over and over again in various news reports, and rightly so. But like every media meme, the ascription of one particular attribute to a person is insufficient for a good understanding of him. In the case of Francis, it is no different. Humility is one virtue among others, and it is arguably the one that the Church most needs at this time.

But there are other virtues, charisms and skills that Pope Francis has been exercising in service to the church and these are no less important. Today, a fresh and relatively good report from the New York Times (though it takes a gratuitous rhetorical swipe at Pope Benedict, and near the end, it mistakes pink as a liturgical colour for Christmas, rather than Gaudate Sunday in Advent, but anyway…), Pope Francis is described as firm in his efforts to clean house – within the church bureaucracy – known as the curia- and other institutions at the Vatican, including the Vatican bank.

What is particularly interesting is to read a news report from the main organ of western liberalism (the NYTimes) that cheers on the Bishop of Rome in his exercise of papal authority. Liberal newspapers have not been known for their cheery coverage of papal authority. But I digress!

Whereas the newspaper plays up the division between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘moderates’, I think it would be fairer to see in Francis’ moves another more theological (and less devotedly political) motivation. Francis’ appointments and his personnel policy strikes me as firmly rooted in Paul’s ecclesiology – St. Paul’s idea of the church that is rooted in Christ and which is about simply preaching the gospel.

Here is some text from 1 Cor. 1 … I’m pasting in a fair bit because if you see how Paul – in his own inimitable way, admits that he’s forgotten about all the baptisms he’s administered in his zeal to do the One Thing Necessary … and what is that One Thing? Read on…

“10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”

So. That one thing? Preach the Gospel.

Herein lies the same connection that Pope Francis outlines in his homilies and various presentations. (It’s canny how some things don’t change over 1940 years.)

Paul calls out the divisions among the Corinthian church: he decries the factionalism, the playing favorites, all of that takes away from Christ. There are to be no political parties in the church. And Paul simply refers his audience back to the gospel as the one reason why party factionalism is forbidden. So is gossip forbidden: that One Necessary Thing for party factionalism to succeed in the church. So, whereas the Times report may be largely accurate on the goings on in the Vatican, it is missing a bit of the forest for the trees. Francis is not launching a politically driven campaign, but a gospel driven one.

Francis’ papacy so far has been utterly fascinating for many reasons, but if we probe beyond the headlines that refer to his his humility and see also his firmness too, we understand more precisely how attached he is to the gospel. The preaching of the gospel. The living of the gospel. The One Thing Necessary.

And this is why I think of Francis as more ‘meek’ than humble. Meekness (as in: ‘Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth’, Matt. 5:5) involves the additional elements of patience and long suffering. The Pope is teaching us what it is like to be more humble, yes. But humility involves the willingness to endure hardship, something Francis knows from personal experience at the hands of those who exercised authority over him in the past (although here the Times report exaggerates, or at least does not provide any evidence for Francis’ alleged ‘war’ with curial officials in the past).

Francis’ way of living out humility is no laissez faire passivity. It is a passionate kind of meekness, the kind that suggests teaching and the intention to correct what is wrong – to invite his interlocutors to correct themselves. We read of this kind of approach in Paul’s letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:23-25):

23 Have nothing to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth…”

Francis the Meek. And, thanks to the internet, we all have a front row seat to how this all unfolds.