Sunday, 12 December 2010

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Triumph of Life

We interrupt our regular broadcast schedule to bring you some seminal thoughts in honour of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Edit:Added the image of Our Lady, and a comment regarding the title she revealed herself under.

In the December of 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a native convert to Catholicism, named St. Juan Diego, in what is now Mexico City. On the ninth of December, she told him to tell the Bishop that she wanted a church built on the hill where they were (called Tepeyac). The Bishop didn't believe Juan, and dismissed him. On the way home, Our Lady met Juan again, and he related to her what had happened, asking her to send someone else, who was more learned and sophisticated. She replied that while she had many she could ask to do her will, "It is necessary for every reason that you yourself solicit and help." So the next day, St. Juan Diego went to the Bishop again, who again refused to believe him, but, impressed by his forthrightness and simplicity, asked Juan to ask Our Lady for a sign of confirmation. So Juan left the Bishop and again encountered Our Lady on top of Tepeyac hill. He asked for the sign, and she promised him that if he returned the next day, on the 11th, she would provide one for him.

When Juan returned home, however, he found his uncle, Juan Bernardino, deathly ill. He stayed with his uncle the whole next day, but on the twelfth, his uncle sent him to fetch a priest to administer the Last Rites. While Juan was on the way, he remembered Our Lady, and went around Tepeyac seeking to avoid her, not because he didn't wish to complete her task, but because he wanted to take care of his uncle first. The Virgin Mary, however, came down the hill and met him on the way, asking why he had failed to come to her. Having explained about his dying uncle, she assured him that his uncle was already cured of the terminal illness, and sent him to the top of the hill to collect the promised sign. Later, St. Juan Diego would find out that Our Lady appeared to his uncle at that very moment and healed him. She also revealed to Juan Bernardino her title, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Why Guadalupe? Actually, it's a phonetic equivalent in Spanish of the Nahuatl word, Coatlaxopeuh, which means, "I smashed the serpent with the foot," recalling God's promise of redemption in Genesis 3:15.

Mary instructed Juan to go and pick the flowers he would find growing at the top of the hill--and there, in a barren, rocky place, in the dead of winter, he found beautiful Castillian roses growing, roses not native to Mexico, but very familiar to the Spanish bishop. After he had gathered them up, she herself arranged them in his tilma, a mantle made of cactus fibre, and told him not to open the tilma to anyone but the bishop. When he arrived at the bishops house, the servants, tiring of his frequent visits, refused to let him in until he showed them what was in his tilma, but because of Our Lady's instruction, he refused. Finally, the bishop was summoned, and St. Juan opened his tilma, letting the roses fall to the ground. But the miracle didn't end with the roses, for on the tilma was the image of Our Lady as she had appeared to St. Juan Diego. The bishop fell to his knees weeping in remorse for not having believed Juan immediately, and took the tilma to his own private chapel. He commissioned the chapel to be built on Tepeyac, and when it was complete, placed the tilma with the image above the altar. Within ten years of the chapel's construction, nine million natives had converted to Christianity!

This conversion brought about major changes to Mexico. At that time, the natives viewed the Spanish with great distrust, and the Spanish, for their part, had refused to acknowledge that the natives even had real human souls. With the appearance of Our Lady to Juan Diego, hostilities ceased, and peace reigned between the Spanish and the natives, forming a new race of "Mestizo", who still to this day consider Our Lady their Mother. Further, with the natives' conversion to Christianity, their fear-filled religion of human sacrifice was done away with. A culture of death, sacrificing tens of thousands of people to their gods in order that they would be blessed with prosperity, suddenly found themselves in the care of a loving God who Himself provided the only Sacrifice they would need, in His Son.

Now, nearly 500 years later, the cactus-fibre tilma still exists, and the image still is on it. It has survived the elements, accidents, and outright attempts to destroy it (such as a bomb blast by anti-clerical forces in 1921 which decimated the entire church, but the tilma remained intact). Miracles continue to be wrought at the most visited Marian shrine in the world, as healing was worked in the case of Juan Bernardino, and Our Lady continues to reveal that her Son truly is Emmanuel--God-with-us.

The image of Our Lady has been studied repeatedly, and found to have no human explanation. Moreover, there are elements that would have been unthinkable to portray by a human artist--such as the reflection of the bishop and servants in the eyes of Our Lady, as revealed by ophthamological studies. But the image itself is a message, having not simply the image of Our Lady radiating the light of God as Revelation 12 describes, but her garment is covered with Aztec heiroglyphs, among which is the symbol for the infinite, transcendent, all-powerful God, right over her pregnant belly. In other words, the image told the native Mexicans, as it tells us, that Jesus is the Infinite, Transcendant God, but that He loves us and makes Himself intimately Present to us.

Throughout the world, thousands upon thousands of people are brutally and savagely murdered in what should be the safest place in the world for them--all in the name of convenience and prosperity. Similar to that perpetrated by the Spaniards upon the native Mexicans, this mass murder is perpetuated with the excuse that these people aren't really people anyway--that they thus don't have the right to live.

They are the unborn. They are the human sacrificial victims of our culture of death's worship of the gods of lust, convenience, libertarianism, and prosperity. They are the victims of the lying gods whose names are "Freedom" and "Choice"--otherwise known as Moloch and Tláloc.

The children are not the only victims. No one is untouched by this travesty. The mothers, especially, are wounded incredibly. Often the "choice" they make is not a choice at all, but they are pressured by all sorts of sources, be it their husband or boyfriend, their parents, even their workplace. Abortion has been shown to lead to severe depression, reckless behaviour, accidental and violent deaths, and even suicide. The lying gods do not bring "freedom" through "choice", but only repay death for death.

Just as Our Lady crushed the serpent's head, and brought an end to human sacrifice in Mexico, she desires the end of the culture of death rampant in the world today. She calls us continually to turn to her Son in prayer and penance, and to speak out against the culture of death, with the Gospel of Life. Especially during this season of Advent, as we await the Birth of Christ, the Virgin of Guadalupe shows herself as a pregnant Mother, who herself was an unwed pregnant girl in a society where such a scandal could have cost her her reputation, her freedom, even her own life. Yet she gave her Fiat to God, "Let it be unto me according to your word" (Luke 1:38).

We too must respond in faith, hope, and especially love. We are not called simply to defend the unborn, but to aid frightened, hopeless mothers and their families in their distress. The Culture of Life reaches out to everyone at every stage of life, bringing God's promise of hope and help to their lives. We must each do our part to reach out in love to those trapped by the culture of death. Our Lady's words to St. Juan Diego apply to us today, as well: "It is necessary for every reason that you yourself solicit and help."

God bless,
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(For a more detailed account of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the miraculous image, click here.)

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 3

True Religion...
In the last two chapters, I told you about various aspects of our preparations to travel to Haiti. The only other preparation was exercise, to be able to endure the two-and-a-half hour climb up into the mountains. But since describing taking the ten flights of stairs up to my apartment is rather boring, and can be achieved in this sentence, I'll bypass it and get right into the departure. Although, I suppose Nassrin would accuse me of omitting pertinent, if unflattering, details, if I failed to mention the one time we went hiking and running up a hill in preparation. After tackling the hill for the first time, my rather unfit self began feeling rather nauseous, and later threw up the blue lemonade I'd drank earlier, much to both the concern and the disgust of Nassrin. She feared that I would be completely unfit for the trip for weeks to come, but thankfully, I almost proved her wrong--but that's getting ahead of myself...
When the Earthquake struck Haiti, as with when other disasters befall, such as the flooding in Pakistan this past year, or the Tsunami in 2005, or Hurricane Katrina, or even the events of 9/11, these elicit in us certain responses, and make us ask certain big questions. In the wake of the quake, people tried to find an answer to "why?" On the one hand, many took it as a sign that there was no God, for how could He allow such devastation? Others reacted to this by trying to put a reason in God's mouth. One televangelist proclaimed on his "Christian" television show that the Haitians somehow deserved this tragedy--that is was God's judgement upon them for allegedly making a "deal with the Devil" for their independence so many years ago, despite the utter lack of historical veracity for that claim. And so the discussion went on.

Early on the morning of August 5th, we were set to leave for Toronto Airport. We'd planned to meet at the church and carpool down, and since Melissa didn't feel comfortable with me leaving the car in the church parking-lot for nearly two weeks, we decided that we'd take a cab up to the church, where she would see me off. It was this early morning cab ride where I would once again face the question of "why?" and hear some pundit's theories of an answer. This particular pundit happened to be driving the cab, so I decided not to engage in too strenuous of a debate with him. His Islamic faith led him to conclude that the apparently religious citizens of Haiti must not be very religious, after all, since if they were really following God, He'd never have allowed this tragedy. Because it's plainly obvious throughout all the world that those who really serve God get off scott-free in all of life's difficulties. Uh-huh...right. As I said, I didn't really get into it too much with the cabbie, since I didn't really fancy walking to the church, but I gently tried to give him an alternative perspective.

Having said our good-byes to everyone at the church, Fr. Bill blessed us, and we set out on our way. We managed to get through the Toronto airport without too much hassle, and were off to Montreal. Upon arriving at Montreal, five weary pilgrims found our departure gate for Haiti, and flopped down on the chairs to anticipate what we'd encounter in just a few more hours. Fr. Bill and I decided to practice our French skills by scouring the local paper, where I discovered yet another response to tragedy--that of the problem-solver, the man who claims to have all the ideas of how to fix everything. The present instance was the article about recording artist Wyclef Jean's bid to run for the Haitian presidency. According to the article, his "homecoming" was hailed as having almost Messianic undertones (or even overtones) as he billed himself, and many people were ready to receive him as, the needed change to their country's corrupt political system. This reaction (the term Messie, that is, "Messiah", was actually used repeatedly in the article) caused another reaction in me, namely, cynicism and worry. Any mere man who bills himself, or gets billed as, the Messiah is doomed to fail. I'm sure M. Jean doesn't see it this way, but he's perhaps lucky that the policy protectors down there rejected his bid to run. Even if it was decided corruptly, that decision will have likely spared him a potential crucifixion once popular opinion turned against him.

On the flight down to Haiti, I was able to bond more deeply with my priest, Fr. Bill Trusz, as we sat together on the four-hour flight. It turned out, we had both brought the same spiritual reading with us for the trip: the Confraternity of the Precious Blood's edition of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ. Upon our return, he had me as a guest on his weekly radio show to discuss the book. Good times.

The airport in Port-au-Prince had suffered some major damage, and so we were directed to a rather large warehouse that was acting as the luggage retrieval area. We had our first taste of good ol' Haitian chaos at this moment, as everyone scrambled for their luggage in a frenetic free-for-all. We five Canucks felt seriously overwhelmed by the lack of order as airport attendants and travellers willy-nilly grabbed anyone's bag and threw it on the floor to keep the conveyor belt from jamming. Thankfully, Père Ronal, the priest from Beau-Sejour, whom we were visiting, came at that moment and rescued us from the madness. At least, he gave us a bit of stability in the madness, because unfortunately, our luggage happened to be the very last that was unloaded off the plane, making us fear for over half an hour that someone had made off with it. This, we decided, would not have been a terribly bad thing--we'd packed precious little personal items, only the bare essientials--except that the vast majority of our 10 bags were gifts for the people of Beau-Sejour, ranging from clothes and shoes to schoolbags and toys! It was the gifts we were most worried about. Thankfully, though, just when we thought all was lost, one last carrier drove up and unloaded more luggage--with our bags, clearly distinguished by patches of red duct tape thanks to Nassrin's planning ahead, on the very bottom of the pile.

Once we'd collected our luggage, Père Ronal guided us through the airport out to his Toyota Hylux hybrid pick-up truck, which was paid for by a church in Germany so that he could get around in the cities and bring resources back to Beau-Sejour. That evening, we saw more than a few of the terrifying parts of Port-au-Prince. One sight in particular was the teenager security guard at the super-market that we briefly stopped at, patrolling the parking-lot with the biggest shotgun I've seen! The gun itself wasn't quite as scary as the thought that went through our heads: "Just why exactly does he need such a big gun?" The other frightening aspect of Port-au-Prince was the traffic. There is apparently only one traffic rule in Haiti, and that is, simply, if you get out of your lane to pass someone, and hit the oncoming vehicle, you're responsible for the damages. Based on this one rule, there are many a game of chicken on the streets of Port-au-Prince. One such feat of derring-do was when Père Ronal tried to pass some slow-moving vehicle and faced down a giant UN military vehicle (I'm comfortable referring to it as a tank) replete with UN soldier at the gun turret mounted on the back. Somehow, we survived that encounter, and several others, and after few hours made it to our lodging for the night.

Tonton Jan (Uncle John) is the oldest man in Beau-Sejour, and is also the most respected, holding a position of honour not unlike the mayor. He was not in Beau-Sejour when we arrived, however, but was down in Port-au-Prince staying with family, Jacques and Soulange. Jacques and Soulange had left Haiti for a while, and lived in New York. When they came back to Haiti, they were pretty well-off, and lived in the rich quarter of Port-au-Prince known as Petionville. It was to their home that Père Ronal took us that first night. These two saintly people took five tired and grubby strangers into their home, even giving up their room so that we'd have a comfortable place to sleep, and made us a wonderful Haitian dinner, the contents of which escape me other than to say it was fish, rice, and yum!

Having been so warmly received, Haiti began to become a less intimidating place, and when we set off for Beau-Sejour the following morning, we were in high spirits. While the four men squished ourselves into the back seat of Père Ronal's Hylux, and Nassrin comfortably situated herself at shotgun, Père Ronal gave us the whirlwind tour of the city. We saw the damage of the earthquake, the rubble lying as though it had happened only yesterday. We saw where the people still lived in tents, and the poor begging in the streets, or washing their clothes in the gutters. We saw dogs, goats, and pigs running around loose in the streets. But we also saw signs of faith and hope. The Haitians are very proud of their Catholicism, naming everything they can after Jesus, Mary, or the Saints. It was not uncommon to drive by "Immaculate Conception Bank" or "Jesus Saves Lottery". This was most evident in the crazy contraptions that drove around called "tup-tups". Haiti's "taxi service", a tup-tup is a pick-up truck with seating built into the tailgate, and painted the brightest colours, with images of scenes from Scripture or the lives of the saints (for the most part--we also saw the more "secular" versions with Bob Marley and naked women painted on them), sporting names like "Dieu est Amour" or "Merci Jesus". On a pick-up that normally would hold three or four people comfortably, the added seats made it possible to hold many, many more. I think, between the people in the cab, sitting in the seats, and hanging onto the sides and back, we counted 25 on one tup-tup! We decided that we should paint Père Ronal's white pick-up and convert it into a tup-tup, bearing the name "Fou et Fort dans Jesus", or "Crazy and Strong in Jesus", because honestly, that's what you had to be to get into a vehicle with him!

One other sign of hope that we saw was the graffiti. On the crumbled walls were signs that life was going to go on, or hopefully even improve, as "So-and-so for President" appeared throughout. But the most repeated and striking slogan was the phrase "Jèn kore jèn", roughly translated as "People standing together" or "People encouraging each other" or "People strengthening each other." In the aftermath of the earthquake, the people of Haiti did not abandon God, but continued to love Him and cry out to Him. As we left Port-au-Prince, we ruminated on the fact that, ultimately, that slogan summed up why we had come to Haiti--to express our solidarity with these brave people.

St. James tells us that "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world" (James 1:27). Our Lord Himself so idntifies with the plight of the poor that He tells us we'll be judged on how we treat them, saying, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40). We'll never know the full reason for the tragedies in life, but in answer to those who think they prove that there is no God, and in answer to those who rush to assume God's wrathful vengeance, I reply that maybe, just maybe, He lets these things happen to remind us that there are other people out there--people who need our love and help. Tragedies bring us out of ourselves, out of our complacency and selfishness. They give us the opportunity to serve the Lord and each other, if only we can see beyond our preconceived notions of what He ought to do, and simply respond the way we ought.
I hope you're enjoying my narrative as much as I'm enjoying writing it. I've finally made it to Haiti; next up, the trek to Beau-Sejour itself!

Monday, 15 November 2010

I'm Still Here...

Howdy all.
I feel a brief apology and a slightly less brief explanation for my silence might be in order--in case anyone's still around who cares.

I do apologise for my lack of attention to my blogs lately. I've had a busy sort of year, between new a new shift at work, a new job/promotion, more responsibility, less energy, a mission trip to Haiti, running our recent Halloween for Hunger food drive for our parish, plans for a new Catholic outreach project here in Hamilton, as well as the general throes of life and marriage. On top of all of that, it seems that returning from Haiti, in particular, has caused certain unresolved issues in my past to manifest in a sort of depression, which has played out, by and large, through far too much sleeping and not enough desire to do any of the things I need to do, and that I love to do. This blog, as well as Barque of Peter, and my art, have all, unfortunately, become the main victims of my busy life and psychological malaise.

That was then,of course, and this is now. And hopefully now will yield something different. I have and am taking steps to put my life back in order. The step, though, that most concerns you, dear reader, was actually taken by my beautiful and loving wife, who as an early Christmas present, bought me an HP Mini laptop with a Rogers Internet Stick, for the express purpose of getting me back to blogging! Because she's just awesome that way! And it is on this very laptop (which even happens to be a wonderful shade of my favourite of hues), that I am currently composing this message to you.

So here's the plan:
As I mentioned, there are various steps I am taking to get my life heading in the way I think God wants it to go. Some of those steps are significantly more immediate than others, and some are significantly more personal than others. In a nutshell, I'm intending to pursue a vocation to the Permanent Diaconate, and will contact the Diocese regarding that by week's end. I'll be old enough to start formation for the Diaconate in May, so it seems an appropriate time to get those ducks in a row. Saturday, Melissa and I are getting formation on becoming Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, so that we can serve more faithfully and purposefully in that most important aspect of the Christian Faith: the Eucharist. Over the next little while, I plan as well to join the Lay Dominicans, something I've been discerning for quite some time. On top of that, I mentioned a Catholic outreach above that I want to bring to Hamilton. I would love to see that kick off by Lent of next year, but it may wait until the following September, depending on certain details. Hopefully I can keep you more informed in the coming weeks and months.

So in all that hectic business, thanks to my new laptop, I'll have opportunity to blog during various periods of downtime previously unavailable to me: namely, break time at work! That's 45 minutes a day that I truly have nothing better to do than to write about the truth and beauty of the Church that Jesus founded! That's the sure thing, time-wise, on top of any other spare opportunity I get, like now, for example, while I sit in my car waiting for my wife to finish a tutoring session.

So expect new articles here and at Barque of Peter on a much more frequent basis! Next up for here, I'll continue to tell you What I Saw in Haiti. Over at Barque of Peter, I'll be returning to the series I'd begun on the Eucharist.

May God richly bless you as he has Melissa and me.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 2

"Di Bonjou Se Lizaj."
I do apologise for the lack of updates to my Haiti adventures. It took a lot longer than I expected to get into the swing of things upon my return. One of the main factors for the delay was a cockroach infestation that was being dealt with after my return--and which, scheduling-wise, went a bit shakily. But the bugs are now dead or dying (I hope), and I again seem to have some time to continue. Thanks for your patience--assuming you're all still out there...Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?
In my first chapter, I mentioned Père Philippe, and his dream of twinning parishes in Hamilton and Haiti, and how in 2008 this dream became a reality when St. Margaret Mary, of Hamilton, twinned with the parish he founded, St. Gabriel, in Beau-Sejour. And now, I was planning to go and visit our twin parish with a team of five, including my priest, Fr. Bill Trusz.

In the wake of the earthquake, however, many saw this planned venture as a hopeless waste of time. After all, in the midst of such devastating tragedy, what could we really hope to accomplish? We weren't engineers, or doctors, or anything that seemed at all "useful". Wouldn't it be better, people repeatedly asked, to just send money? The logic of their question weighed heavily on our minds, and caused no little amount of second guessing. My own wife often wondered whether it would be better (and safer) if I just stayed home. But I felt a call to go, and I felt I had to respond. When we settled on the purpose of the mission as being to teach First Aid, we started feeling the first glimmers of actually having a legitimate reason for going. The snag, of course, was that of the five of us, only one of us, Nassrin, was qualified to teach First Aid. On the one hand, we couldn't just send her alone, but on the other hand, what would the four of us do that weren't teaching? We still felt useless, despite Père Ronal's insistence that he wanted us all to come.

Despite our doubts, we did feel God wanted us to go, and so we pressed on in our plans, hoping that God would reveal the reason that all five of us were travelling to Haiti, and what we could contribute to the mission and to the people of Beau-Sejour. Part of this preparation, and in turn, part of the answer, came again from Père Philippe, who graciously took time out of his busy schedule to teach us some basic phrases in Créole.

Language is an interesting thing. Not only is it our principle means of communication, but it can at the same time be our principle form of alienation. This is the lesson in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Common language and understanding can bring great unity to people--but when you take that away, the frustration and loneliness resulting from the inability to communicate can be overwhelming. This is the obvious fact about language. But there are subtler aspects to language as well, which serve to highlight not only differences in the words people use to express different ideas, but even differences in those very ideas. In other words, language is an important clue to what is important in a culture. And the little bit of Créole that the team learned from Père Philippe helped us to know that what was important to the people of Haiti, was our presence.

The first thing Père Philippe taught us was a Haitian proverb: "Di bonjou se lizaj." It means, "Saying hello is good manners." To the people of Haiti, especially in the rural areas like Beau-Sejour, everyone is family. Respect, love, and service are key aspects to their relationships--indeed, they are essential to their very survival. Every time you see someone, you stop and say hello--and not simply Hello, but that greeting takes on a dynamic expression. Recall my description of Père Philippe himself, when he would greet a person and make them feel like they were his brother, even if he had only just met them. It is not a particular good quality of Père Philippe's (though it does certainly make him a wonderful person and a wonderful priest), rather, it is a cultural way of life for his people. In fact, he told us that if you do not greet another person, you are considered rude, or perhaps learning delayed.

Père Philippe also taught the team a series of phrases about food and eating. Food is obviously an important and integral aspect of every culture, being a basic human necessity. However, how a particular culture approaches the issue of food says a lot about the prosperity of a nation, as well as the culture's understanding of the really important things in life. Whereas we in North America, with the availability, and indeed over-saturation of food, struggle with things like obesity and the opposite, eating disorders of various sorts, and so often need tragedies like the Earthquake to prompt us to share from our abundance with those who are less fortunate, another Haitian proverb reveals their attitude toward the little food that they have: "Manje separe pa janm fini"--"The food you share never ends." The people of Beau-Sejour depend very much on subsistence farming. Whatever they can produce from the mountainside is their dinner, and so this principle of generosity and solidarity is again a truth of survival and yet more--it is a truth about peace.

While we were in Haiti, we met some Brothers who truly lived this proverb. Les Petites Frères de Ste. Thérèse is a Religious Order uniquely Haitian. Their mission is in part to run the parish schools around Beau-Sejour, but it is also one of farming--trying to revitalise the soil denuded of trees, and eventually to re-tree the mountains in order to make Haiti a place of good harvest. In this venture, they encourage a co-operative gardening project among the residents of Beau-Sejour. Those who help tend the gardens may reap the harvest with the Brothers in order to help feed their families and others in need. In this way, this shared food really does never end, but through the tender hearts and green thumbs of the Little Brothers, the harvest of crops as well as the harvest of souls will indeed be plentiful.
Again, sorry for the significant delay. Coming up next, we get to the good stuff: the departure and arrival in Haiti!.

Monday, 16 August 2010

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 1

The Plan
In my overwhelming desire to write about my recent mission trip to Beau-Sejour, Haiti, I find I am significantly less sure as to what I want to write about my recent trip. Part of me wants to reconstruct the trip like a journal or a travelogue. The rest of me wants to try to offer social and religious commentary. It leaves me with an odd juxtaposition, and further causes me to wonder just where to begin. Of course, I suppose in that regard, I am in good company. The great G.K. Chesterton set out to write a travelogue of his speaking engagement in the United States in 1921, and ended up writing a serious work on the concept of a "nation" in general. The title of this post is an homage to Chesterton's book.
While I was investigating the Catholic Church, and regularly attending Mass with my girlfriend (now my wife), we had the blessed opportunity to encounter a priest, named Fr. Philippe Jean-Pierre. He had recently arrived from Haiti and was intending to increase his education and English speaking skills. He was stationed at my parish of St. Margaret Mary as our associate priest for a few years. Later, when my wife and I got married, and our priest could not perform the ceremony because he had just been elected Auxiliary Bishop in our diocese, we sought out Père Phillipe (who had been moved to a parish in Ancaster, ON) to perform that honour for us.

Père Phillipe is a large-hearted man who automatically makes you feel like you are not simply his friend, but his very family. With large, expressive arms and a bright smile to match, he would greet you in his Creole accent, "My brotha, how good to see you today!" During his time here in the Diocese of Hamilton (he is now the pastor at a French parish here, Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours), he has continued to love and to work for the people of his homeland--especially for the remote village of Beau-Sejour in the mountains halfway between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, and the parish of St. Gabriel there, which he founded. This work has taken concrete expression at St. Margaret Mary in the form of a "twinning project", in which my parish raises money, prays, and sends down mission teams to help the villagers of Beau-Sejour, and express our love and solidarity with them. In turn, they continue to keep us in their prayers. Through this endeavour, we really are becoming one family.

Ever since the Twinning Project took effect in 2008, I have had a great desire to be a part of one of the mission teams. The problem was mainly, though, what could I offer? In the past, we sent doctors and nurses to operate a health clinic, or a team of dentists to (for the most part) extract teeth. I am not a builder, a doctor, or anything that would seem particularly "useful". I simply am a person who wants to be a missionary.

Then, a couple years ago, the parish priest at St. Gabriel (who took over for Père Philippe), Père Ronal, came to visit us in Hamilton. He expressed to my priest, Fr. Bill Trusz, that it would be good for my wife and I (a teacher and a former youth minister) to go and help run a summer camp that they have for the children in Leogane. Melissa and I were very excited about this possibility, and had tried to gear things around going in the summer of 2009. Yet, because of some breakdown of communication somewhere over the Atlantic, we never heard anything more about the opportunity. When, the following winter, the youth minister at our parish began planning to do the same thing with some of the older youth and young adults, we again signed up to go. But then, in January, the devastating earthquake ravaged Haiti, and at the same time, shook all our plans to go. The camp was destroyed, conditions were far too unsafe for travel, and we were far too ill-equipped to deal with or help in the wake of the earthquake.

Once more, it looked like our plans were shattered, but we refused to give up hope. Recognising that there must be something we could do, we continued planning. We cut the planned team from 10 people over two weeks, down to 5 people for one week, in order to be less of a burden. In this reshuffling, my wife graciously decided to remain home so one more person could have a spot. However, the question remained, "What could we hope to do?" Was it enough to go just to gape at the carnage and offer our petty prayers on their behalf? Wasn't there something we could do tangibly?

Despite many nay-sayers who called us useless and crazy for wanting to go, Père Ronal kept insisting that we should, and that he really wanted us to come. Nassrin, our youth minister, kept writing to him back and forth via email, asking what we could do if we came. Finally, we arrived at the solution: We would teach First Aid to the villagers, so that they could better tend to themselves in an emergency!

And so, with a clear direction and purpose, we turned a deaf ear to the nay-sayers and scoffers, and set out to prepare to go to Beau-Sejour.
Tomorrow, I'll talk a little bit about our preparations, and the beginning of the trip. I'm not sure how long this series will be. Until I've said everything I need to, I guess. God bless.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Sorry for the lack of Posting

But you're not going to get anything out of me for a little while.

I've been a bit absent lately as I prepare to go on a mission trip to Haiti. My team is leaving tomorrow, and we'll be back on the 13th. So yeah, needless to say, I won't be posting for a little bit--but when I get back, I'll let you all know how it went.

Please pray for Fr. Bill Trusz, Nassrin Msiss, Daniel D'Souza, Mark Drotar, and I, as we go to be with the Haitien people of Beau-Sejour, a remote mountain village, as they slowly rebuild from the earthquake, as we offer our compassion and solidarity with them, and teach them First Aid to help equip them to better take care of themselves.

God bless

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Body of Christ sketch

Image © 2010 Gregory Watson

Pencil Sketch, 5 1/2" x 8 1/2".
Here's the value drawing sketch of another painting I want to do in the not too distant future. The image was inspired by an experience I had this past February or March. I was sponsoring someone through the RCIA process at my parish, and on one of the Rites of Welcoming, we happened to be in the front pew during Communion. At the time, we had a seminarian with us doing his internship, Deacon (now Father) Jeff Oehring, who happened to be distributing the Host directly in front of where I was kneeling after receiving the Eucharist. I looked up from prayer, and right in front of my face was the ciborium that he was holding, and reflected in it, I could see myself, and the entire church behind me. Immediately, I knew I had to paint it.

Hence the image here, depicting, in a slightly different way, the scene that I saw. I say slightly different because that's not technically me in the foreground of the ciborium. It was intentionally a generic blurry person. Also, the structure of the church is decidedly more traditional and Gothic than my parish. Finally, I had intended to depict reception of the Eucharist kneeling and on the tongue (of course, the image doesn't depict the actual communicating, so it's a bit ambiguous that way, which is good in its way because it's applicable to a wider range of Catholic experience then).

The title, "Body of Christ", is as multi-layered as is the term in Catholic theology, which is what made me want to make this image. Obviously, first and foremost, it refers to the Eucharistic Host, in which Jesus is truly present, His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The moment captured is right when the priest or other minister of Holy Communion would say, "The Body of Christ" before administering the host to the communicant. However, the priest's hands are also a part of the meaning of "Body of Christ", since we hold that the priest is himself an alter Christus--by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest has the authority to act in persona Christi for us, a tangible sign and example of Christ's presence among us.

Finally, the reflection of the Church in the ciborium brings out a third dimension to "Body of Christ", in that we, the Church, is the Body of Christ, and we, individually, are members of it. It is through Communion that we become that Body, as St. Paul writes, "The blessing-cup, which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we share in the one loaf" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

I plan to paint it with a very simple colour palate. The background, which merges into the sleeves of the chasuble, will be green, while the ciborium will be in golden tones, as will the shading in the alb. The skin will reflect that golden hue, though in a more natural skin-tone. I hope to keep the image simple, yet profound.
The original sketch has sadly been destroyed by the front cover of my sketchbook, while it was packed in my luggage on my trip to Haiti, but prints of the image are now for sale. please email to order Prints.

  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $10.00 (CAD)

  • Full size (5" x 8.5") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $20.00 (CAD)

  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

God bless

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Epicurious about Suffering?

Recently, over at Barque of Peter, an anonymous commenter posted in the third Open Forum a question about why there is suffering if God is all good and all powerful. In a nutshell, he was troubled by a quote that has gotten a lot of use lately by the "New Atheists", and is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
I've seen this riddle more than a few times in the past couple of years, and had always meant to post an article in response to it. Since I had to give a rather in depth response to the seeker on my other blog, I figured I'd re-post it here, and perhaps help others who find Epicurus' Riddle unsolvable.

The good news is, there are a couple of good and short answers to the questions posed by Epicurus. The bad news is, people tend to find short answers unsatisfying, while on the other hand, they find the long, in depth answers boring. So, I'll attempt to provide you, dear reader, with both--the short answers first, and a more in depth elaboration after.

My first reply is that Epicurus' argument is actually nothing more than sophistry. (Sophistry: a deliberately invalid argument displaying ingenuity in reasoning in the hope of deceiving someone.) That is, the argument is ingeniously phrased as to appear to cover all the bases, but it makes a deceptive move in plainly ignoring various other alternatives. It is equally deceptive in that, if it does indeed originate from Epicurus, he himself believed in gods. Hence, to formulate an argument against one's own beliefs is either for the purpose of dialogue or deception. The trilemmic formulation of the riddle doesn't tend to allow for dialogue--especially as it is used today by the "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins. As such, I tend to view it as sophistry.

Of course, simply saying the argument is sophistry isn't quite effective enough to reassure those who face it that it is nothing about which to worry. So we'll move on to my second short answer, and build from there.

As I mentioned, despite the ingenious formulation of Epicurus' argument, in that it appears to cover all the angles, there are many assumptions being made throughout that should themselves be questioned. St. Augustine, the great early Christian theologian, addressed the problem of suffering point blank when he wrote, "Almighty God would not permit evil to exist in his works, unless he were so almighty and so good to produce good even from evil" (Enchiridion 11).

That, in a nutshell, is the Catholic Church's response to the problem of evil. But let's take a moment to crack that nut, shall we?

The problem with our culture and society today is that as a whole we seem to suffer from collective Attention Deficit Disorder. We want our deepest questions answered before the popcorn stops popping in the microwave. But as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, in response to why a loving and omnipotent God would permit evil,
To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil. (#309, emphasis in original)
For some reason, people today take such an answer as being evasive. This is another sophistry, masking the individual person's laziness in actually exploring just what the message of Christianity is.

In paragraph 324, the Catechism sums up by referring to St. Augustine's teaching that while we cannot fully understand why God allows evil, we can in faith be assured that He only does so to bring about a greater good.

So saying leads us to another element that Epicurus' riddle fails to address. He covers God being all-powerful and God being loving, but he fails to mention God's omniscience, His wisdom, nor any other aspect of His infinity.

The fact is, an all-powerful and good God would indeed bring about an end to evil. The ultimate sophistry in Epicurus' riddle is assuming that he knows better than the all-knowing God how to be rid of evil. In fact, Epicurus, and all who repeat his riddle, assume that he, and they, know better than God what actually is evil.

Of course, the fatal error in their questioning lies here: If the existence of evil demonstrates the non-existence of God, then the non-existence of God means that the world is simply the result of random chance, without design or intelligible order. The metaphysical categories of "good" and "evil" have no meaning in such a randomly constructed and meaningless universe--it simply is what it is. Now, if the universe simply is what it is, and good and evil have no objective criteria defining them, then it is impossible to determine what Good and Evil are, or even if they are. As such, "Evil" can not be proffered as an argument against the existence of God, because evil itself ceases to exist.

In other words, if there is something identifiable as "evil", that is, a deprivation of some good, then there must be an order, a meaning, a standard defining that the world ought to be a particular way. That is to say, if we can determine that the world is wrong, then we are at the same time saying there is a design to which the world should adhere. Design, of course, implies a Designer, i.e., God.

As such, the only way for Epicurus' riddle to be internally consistent would be to redefine "evil" as "What I happen to not like," which, I suppose, according to Epicurean philosophy, might very well be how Epicurus might define "evil."

But then his argument runs thus:
"If God is willing to prevent things from happening which I don't particularly like, but not able, then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able but not willing [to prevent things that I don't like]? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing [to prevent things I don't happen to like]? Then whence comes that which I don't happen to like?
If He is neither able nor willing, then why call Him 'the Great Vending Machine in the Sky'?"
Do we see what happens? If there is no objective standard of good or evil (which is the logical consequence of there being no God), then "evil" is simply what irritates me. Now, a great many things irritate me. My job irritates me because I have to do things that I don't want to, and can't do things that I do want to. So God should eliminate my job, because it is evil to me. Of course, no job means no paycheque, which means no food or clothes or housing. So, which should God eliminate next? The need for money for food, clothes, and shelter? Or the need for food, clothes, and shelter? How far do we take it? If we carry this line of thinking--that God should eliminate every evil--to its logical conclusion, pretty soon He will be eliminating everything, because it somehow irritates someone, or He will eliminate everyone, because we're irritating each other or ourselves. If there is no objective standard for good and evil, ultimately, nothing has a right to exist.

Furthermore, without any objective standard of evil beyond that which happens to displease us, expecting God to simply obliterate that which displeases us according to our whim and fancy, on the grounds that God is "all powerful" and "loving" simply shows Epicurus' riddle to be the sophistry that it is. Because God isn't waiting on our every beck and call to answer our demands for perfect happiness in the way we want it, when, how, and on the terms which we want it, He therefore must not exist. The ultimate sophistry of Epicurus' riddle is that he wants to have it both ways: For the argument to work, there needs to be Evil, because it apparently demonstrates that there is no God--but if there is no God, then "Evil" itself has no meaning.

I could continue to explore further reasons that bringing the riddle to its logical conclusions really rather backfires on the person making the argument, but I think you get the point.

So, whence comes evil? Ironically, it stems from God's Love, and His desire to love and be loved. He created the world and populated it full of rational beings like you and me, so that we could love Him and He us. But love requires a free choice, and so He gave us that choice, to love Him, the source of all goodness, or to reject Him and choose lesser goods instead. Evil, which is a deprivation of some good, results when a good is chosen in a disordered fashion. When, through sin, we choose not to love God, we become disordered in our desires, and this causes evil and suffering, both for ourselves, and for others, and to the world as a whole.

So, can God just "stop" the evil? Yes, but not without eliminating our freedom of choice. If He did so, He would negate the sole purpose of our creation. Since we were created to be free, eliminating our freedom would itself be evil--a deprivation of a good which we possess, or should possess, by our nature. In other words, in order to eliminate evil, God would have to commit a greater evil. As the old adage goes, two wrongs don't make a right.

So then, we're back to St. Augustine. God only permits evil because He's powerful enough to turn it into a greater Good. Our free ability to sin is the exact same things as the good of our free ability to love. And if we're willing to make that choice, then all the other evil, all the other suffering, all the other things we don't particularly happen to like, can actually become vehicles for His Grace to pour out greater good.

We see this analogically in nature. The very notion of "exercise" bears this out. We want to "feel the burn" because "no pain, no gain." The often uncomfortable and sometimes painful exertion of our muscles leads to greater fitness, health, and strength.

Similarly, the suffocating struggle of the butterfly to emerge from the cocoon is precisely the necessary exercise it needs to be able to fly. The most fertile ground results from forest fires. Or, as Jesus Christ Himself said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

Nowhere is this better realised than in Jesus Himself. The Greatest Good entered the world, and encountered Evil head on. It was precisely through His Suffering that He conquered Evil--not to make it something we never experience, but rather to make our experience of evil something that can be grace-filled, that when we follow Him, and suffer with and through Him, that suffering will bring about greater good in our life, and in the lives of others (see Colossians 1:24).

Of course, the same choice that brought about evil is ours today. Do we choose the lesser good to avoid the suffering, or do we go through the suffering with faith, knowing that God will bring out of it something that we can't even imagine? (c.f. Ephesians 3:20-21.)

"We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good" (Romans 8:28, NJB).

By way of further reading, Robert Colquhoun over at Love Undefiled addresses this issue as well as provides some rational arguments in favour of God's existence in an article he wrote in the wake of the Asian Tsunami of Christmas 2004.

God bless

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Sean Asks...Where does Jesus claim to be God?

Sean asked me recently, "Where exactly, does Jesus claim to be God? Not an 'If you say so' or 'You say it' type of answer but where he says, 'Yes, I am God.'"

It seems almost like a silly question. Jesus is God. Obviously in Scripture, He would have clearly said so. Right? Well, actually, not so much. In fact, this very lack of a clear self-identification led many in the early days of the Church to question, or even outright deny, that Jesus was God. Almost all of the early heresies attacked the notion of God as Trinity in some way or another, and most of them did so particularly by questioning if and how Jesus was God.

Jesus never actually says, "Yes, I am God" at any point in the Gospels, in so many words. However, He says (and does) many things that are only proper for God to say (and do). Had Jesus come right out and directly said that He was God, the Jewish people would have rejected Him outright. Instead, over His three year ministry, He slowly revealed His identity to His followers and the crowds.

There are key times in the Gospels, though, where Jesus makes claims that are proper only to God, such as when He claims that no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom He wishes to reveal the Father (Matt 11:25-27), or when He points out that David calls Him Lord in Psalm 110 (Matt 22:41-45). At His trial, Mark's account (generally considered the earliest version) has Jesus saying "I am" to the accusations, and then declaring that they will see Him at the right hand of God, at which point they condemn Him of blaspheming (Mark 14:62). It's even more grand a claim since He uses the Divine Name, "I Am" as His answer.

Yet it is in John's Gospel that we see the clearest claims of Jesus to be divine. Seven times in John's Gospel, Jesus identifies Himself by saying "I Am..." We see from the reaction of the crowds that they understood quite well what He meant (cf. John 8:59; 10:31-33). In those instances, Jesus never denies His statements or His meaning, but He does, for the sake of His hearers, justify His statements in a way that makes their attempt to stone Him unjustifiable.

On the other hand, Jesus' followers do in fact make the claim that Jesus is God, such as St. John at the beginning of his Gospel, when he writes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1); or St. Paul, when he writes "In Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9), or "Jesus Christ, though being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but He emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave..." (Philippians 2:6).

Consider also St. Thomas' words upon seeing Jesus after the Resurrection, when he exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28) Rather than saying, "Hang on, there, Thomas, no one said I'm God," Jesus affirmed Thomas' statement, saying, "You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe" (v.29)

As well, Jesus did things that were proper only to God. His miracles went far beyond what any prophet had ever done. Prophets healed the blind. Jesus healed men born blind. Prophets raised the dead. Jesus did so after there was no hope of resuscitation. He claimed to forgive sins, and could read the thoughts and hearts of people. On the mountain, His transfiguration revealed the truth of His divine glory. And, of course, His ultimate divine act was raising Himself to life.

However, despite all this biblical evidence, there was still no little controversy in the Early Church (and still more controversy today) about Jesus' divinity. This occurred for a few reasons in the Early Church. First of all, even though the Apostles and their associates wrote the Gospels and the Epistles that make up the New Testament, these texts weren't compiled as "the New Testament" until significantly later. Not every church in the early centuries had every book of the Bible to use. They had to rely solely on the teaching of their bishop, which had been passed on to him through Apostolic Succession. His teaching came from the Apostles or their successors. Unfortunately, some early Christians either misunderstood or chose to reject this apostolic teaching, and reinterpreted the message to suit their preconceived ideas. Moreover, the Scriptural evidence of Jesus' divinity seems more obvious to us, who have had 2000 years of Tradition guiding our understanding of those Scriptures. Such interpretations weren't immediately obvious to everyone, which is why Scripture itself warns us, "At the same time, we must recognise that the interpretation of scriptural prophecy is never a matter for the individual" (2 Peter 1:20). Later, Peter writes again, referring specifically to St. Paul's letters, "In all his letters there are of course some passages which are hard to understand, and these are the ones that uneducated and unbalanced people distort, in the same way as they distort the rest of scripture--to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16b).

This is why it's always dangerous to go by the Bible alone in developing our theology. The heretics of the early centuries, who denied Jesus' divinity, demonstrate clearly--as do those today who deny His divinity--that Scripture isn't necessarily enough to prove that Jesus is God.

When, in AD 325, the Council of Nicaea met to determine the truth about Jesus' divinity, their fundamental question was, "What did the Apostles teach?" The unanimous consensus was that Jesus was truly God. This can be seen from the Scriptures above, as well as by the teachings of the Early Church Fathers from the time of the Apostles until the Council of Nicaea. For example:
"For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accord with God's plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit" (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 18:2 [AD 110]).

"For the Church, although dispersed throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and from their disciples the faith in one God, Father Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them; and in one Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who announced through the prophets the dispensations and the comings, and the birth from a Virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from heaven in the glory of the Father to reestablish all things; and the raising up again of all flesh of all humanity, in order that to Jesus Christ our Lord and God and Savior and King, in accord with the approval of the invisible Father, every knee shall bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth..." (Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses 1:10:1 [A.D. 189]).

"There is one God, the Father of the living Word, who is his subsistent wisdom and power and eternal image: perfect begetter of the perfect begotten, Father of the only-begotten Son. There is one Lord, only of the only, God of God, image and likeness of deity, efficient Word, wisdom comprehensive of the constitution of all things, and power formative of the whole creation, true Son of true Father, invisible of invisible, and incorruptible of incorruptible, and immortal of immortal and eternal of eternal.... And thus neither was the Son ever wanting to the Father, nor the Spirit to the Son; but without variation and without change, the same Trinity abides ever" (Gregory the Wonderworker, Declaration of Faith [A.D. 265]).
For some further reading on Jesus as God, specifically for more quotations by Early Church Fathers regarding Jesus' divinity, and a more detailed account of the Council of Nicaea, check out Adversus Da Vinci: Jesus Christ, the God-Man.
To Him who can keep you from falling
and bring you safe to His glorious presence,
innocent and joyful,
to the only God, our Saviour,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, authority and power,
before all ages, now and forever.

Friday, 23 April 2010

I was on the Radio!

Hello all,

I just wanted to mention that my pastor, Fr. Bill Trusz, has a regular Wednesday radio show on the Italian Catholic station Radio Teopoli, AM 530, out of Toronto. Fr. Bill, of course, broadcasts in English, so I didn't have to learn Italian to be a guest.

Anyway, if there are any listeners to that program who have come to the blog because of my visit to the program, I bid you a hearty welcome, and hope you enjoy the site!

For those of you who missed the program, you can download the mp3 here.

Take a listen; offer feedback! I'd love to hear from you!

God bless

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Notes on a Scandal

My reaction to the Abuse Scandals
Seven or eight years ago, as I was on my journey to the Catholic Church, reports of sex abuse scandals by priests suddenly became all the rage in the media. I don't know whether it was the first major time that the media really went after these stories, or just the first time I was conscious of it. But the interesting thing about it, was, the stories never really shook my faith or deterred my inquiry into the Catholic faith.

Some might think that odd. Some might call me naive.

But I realised a few things. First, I am a sinner; yet I am a Christian. Thus, Christians (at least one of them, anyway) must be sinners. Is it any great surprise that, given that, we would find some sinners in positions of leadership?

Second, despite sinners being in the Church, the Church still abhorred and condemned sin. It never changed its stand to accommodate sinners, even when its members perpetrated those sins.

Third, insofar as my reception of the graces available through the sacraments is dependent upon the priest, I need the priest. But the priest himself is not the sum total, nor the focus, of my faith. Jesus is. And it was Jesus I wanted, not the priest.

Fourth, according to the Catholic teaching of ex opere operato, the priest needn't be of any high moral calibre (though that admittedly helps). Simply his actions performing the sacrament is what makes the sacrament efficacious--through the ministry of Jesus.

In sum, Jesus was the reason I was joining the Catholic Church, and not some misguided notion that its members were all perfect saints. The fact is, were they all perfect at the outset, there would have been no room for me.

An Apologetic Apology
Now, this is all well and good; however, the abuses are real, and must be addressed. I think I would be negligent if I didn't offer something about them.

First off, as far as I represent the Catholic Church (which isn't really that far, mind you), I am truly sorry to all the victims about what those men I, and you, considered "fathers", did to you. Such horrible crimes are unimaginable to me, and my heart breaks for you.

However, we must keep in mind a few things about the Church and its dealings. I in no way intend to justify the crimes committed, but I do want to put them into perspective, to elucidate the truth, and make sure that we aren't accusing the Church of more crimes than it actually did commit.

Causes and Preventative Measures
In the first place, yes, a few priests in past decades committed horrible crimes of molestation. In the decades immediately following the Second Vatican Council, the seminaries were rather lax and confused in their entrance policies, as well as their spiritual formation. Unfortunately, this led to men who had no place becoming priests being admitted to the seminary, and to poorly trained priests leaving the seminary. Since the 1980's, though, seminary rules and policies have been tightened up, and entrants even require a sexual-psychological examination before they are admitted. This has, it seems, led to a significant drop in contemporary abuse cases. In fact, there are, as far as I know, no contemporary cases of abuse being reported. The ones that are, or have been, reported on in the media, are decades old.

Moreover, parishes are more proactive about accountability practices and encouraging the reporting of abuse. Pope Benedict himself, contrary to the New York Times' shoddy reporting, has worked tirelessly and decisively in the last 10 years to weed out the problem and make reparation.

It's Not Just the Catholic Church
Another point that I would like to make is the relatively low number of abusive priests, compared to other sectors of society. Considering that there are over one billion Catholics, it would be naive to expect that there wouldn't be some perverted persons in our ranks. Yet, according to studies, less than 5% of priests were accused of these crimes. Less than 3% were convicted. That's obviously five percent too many, but when we consider organisations like the Boy Scouts, school teachers, or other ministers of various denominations and religions (see here, too), 5% seems relatively low. In fact, according to a report on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal by the Russian newspaper, Pravda, the ratio of sexual abuse of minors in the public schools of America to the sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy, is 157 to 1! Think about that the next time you want to say that all priests are paedophiles. What then do you say of our teachers?

Now, neither I nor the Vatican, when it reminds the world that sexual abuse is just as, if not more rampant in other religions, am minimising the damage done by abusive priests. However, I do want to put it into perspective of the Church as a whole, and the rest of the world.

Pope Benedict's Culpability?
The New York Times reported that when Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he personally knew of and encouraged the covering-up of the sex abuse of various priests. This was the first bit of news that really affected me in terms of the sex abuse scandals. It's one thing to acknowledge that priests can be as evil as the rest of us. It's another thing to think that the person entrusted with the whole Church was once complicit in these crimes. In retrospect, I wonder whether that reaction was any more logical than thinking all priests are evil because of this scandal; nevertheless, I was troubled.

So I did some digging, and, shock and awe, the Times doesn't actually know what it's talking about! I'd detail the facts, but Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin has done so, and more thoroughly and clearly than I would be able. As such, I'll simply direct you to his articles:

Cardinal Ratzinger: An Evil Monster?
Evil Monster Update: The Inside Story

I hope Mr. Akin helps to set the record straight in your minds. The second article actually quotes Fr. Thomas Brundage, who was the Judiciary Vicar, or, basically, the judge, in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, about whom the Times was reporting. Fr. Brundage's own comments can be found here.

Our Response
So what do we do now? How do we move forward? First of all, we must keep the faith. We must understand that the Catholic Church is more than its failures. It's more than sinful you and sinful me, and more than sinful priests and cowardly bishops. The Church is the indefectable bastion of truth that it always was, since its founding by Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18; 1 Tim 3:15).

Second, we must pray. Pray for our priests, our bishops, and our Pope. Pope Benedict, upon his election, said, "Pray for me, lest I flee for fear of the wolves." The wolves are out, and salivating. Let us bear in mind his prophetic injunction and bear him up in our prayers. But pray most of all for the victims, that they might find healing, peace, and reconciliation with the Church, and, if necessary, with Jesus Himself.

Third, we must learn the facts. The mainstream media has a hate-on for the Catholic Church, and seems none to concerned about letting the facts stand in the way of a good story. But there are places where we can learn the truth. And we must be diligent in our searching for it.

Finally, I'll leave you with one more link, to Canadian singer and evangelist, Mark Mallett's blog, and his own comments on The Scandal.

God bless.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Q & A Forum #2

Happy Easter! Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

Thought I'd toss up a second Q&A, since we haven't had one for a while, and the first one dropped off the front page.

In the last Q&A, there was a lingering unanswered question regarding St. Thomas Aquinas' views on Allah, the God worshipped by the Muslims. I've figured out the best answer that I think I'm going to come to, and have published it in both Open Forums (Fora?).

Anyway, feel free to comment away.

In other news, my parents gave me a refurbished laptop a month early for my birthday, so I hope that will help me get more blogging done. We'll see how that goes :)

God bless, and have a Holy Paschal Season!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Latin is my Spiritual Tongue

I thought, as Easter was approaching, that on this, the 6th anniversary of my conversion to Catholicism, that I would write out a fairly brief account of it. It is purposefully rather colloquial, and I would be surprised to find any grand arguments in defence of Catholicism. The intent is more for personal reflection and self-disclosure. I hope my Catholic readers will be encouraged, and my Protestant and other non-Catholic readers will have a greater understanding of who I am and what the Church means to me. I sincerely hope not to offend, but I am neither so naive as to suppose that an account detailing why I rejected a particular belief system won't evoke some reaction from those who still adhere to that system. I hope you can take this in the spirit in which I mean it. I would, of course, be disingenuous if I didn't admit that I hope that some readers might be induced to at least a growing curiosity about the Catholic Church, and that some might even be persuaded to join it themselves. That would be my prayer for all people.

By all means, feel free to comment.

I came out of a faith tradition that taught that the Holy Spirit gives us each a "spiritual tongue", a private prayer language that we didn't know beforehand, for our personal edification and public prophetic utterance, when accompanied by an "interpretation." I believe in this "spiritual tongue" even though the particular beliefs about it are what eventually led me out of that Pentecostal tradition. Ultimately I would find my home in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. In a different way than was meant by the Pentecostals, Latin is, indeed, my Spiritual Tongue--and while I had never before learned it, the Holy Spirit did reveal it to me. This is the story of that revelation.

Looking back I can clearly see God's hand in my life, even before I was born. 16 years before I was born, my parents got married, and wanted kids. They prayed about having kids. They even felt that God gave them the name of a son, Gregory. But for 15 years they had no children. They tried to adopt, but the line-ups are very long! Finally, after waiting 15 years to adopt, I came along, and I was given to them!

I was the child of an affair, a married man and an unmarried girl. By most standards today, I'd be considered an "unwanted child", and in 1980, abortion had been decriminalised for 11 years! Thank God my biological mother didn't choose the "easy" way out! Instead of aborting me, she gave me up for adoption, and I was named Gregory by my parents, Betty and Wayne Watson. Their example, waiting a decade and a half for a child, the length of the lineups at adoption agencies, tells me, and should tell everyone, that contrary to popular propaganda, there is no such thing as an "unwanted baby"!

My mother and father raised me in a devout Pentecostal family, bringing me with them to church every week and making sure I learned the faith right from the start. I "got saved" when I was five, when I put my hand up during an altar call. I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues when I was 14. I felt called to ministry of some sort when I was 15, when God used my name, picked out for me some 15 years before I was born, and related its meaning to the prophetic call of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 3:17. This would lead me to Bible College after high school. At 16 I was baptised in water, but I would have been a lot sooner if someone had ever told me it was necessary!

All this time, I was a staunch, Bible-believing, bordering-on-fundamentalist, preachin'-to-my-friends Pentecostal. Was big into concepts like "evangelism", "apologetics", and "absolute truth". Still am, really. I just think I have a better grasp on what those things mean, now.

It seems to me, looking back, that it's a pretty small faith that you can have more or less completely figured out by the time you're 16. Or maybe it was an indication of my teenage "I know everything" stage.

Anyway, I started dating a girl when I was 18, that wasn't a Pentecostal. She was 4C's, Congregational Christian Church of Canada. It's a conservative movement that sprung out of the United Church of Canada when the latter went crazy liberal. Anyway, not being of the tongues-speaking variety, she brought with her a lot of challenges to my faith, and made me really recognise that, hey, there's a whole world of Christianity out there beyond the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. I mean, I knew about the Baptists and the Mennonites and the Anglicans and the Lutherans, but never really looked, y'know?

So it was this girl who first gets me wondering about this whole "necessity of speaking in tongues" thing. Obviously, I'm not going to deny speaking in tongues, since I've experienced it. But does it have to happen to everyone? I came to the conclusion that no, the Bible seems to say the opposite. On top of that, I had a few experiences that stuck with me that indicated that the logical conclusions of such a doctrine can be anything but healthy. That is, I knew godly people who were viewed as "less" simply because they weren't "filled with the Holy Spirit." How was that judged? By the fact that they had never uttered anything in another language. I remember one girl, who is now a missionary, and who even then was one of the brightest examples of the Christian faith that I know, who was reduced to tears as friends of hers jumped up and down, literally screaming in tongues at her, so she would receive this experience! It seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, that this could only be considered "spiritually abusive." As I said, she's now a missionary, and one of the most Spirit-filled people I know. And as far as I know, she's never spoken in tongues!

So here I am, with a new dilemma. I believe that there's an absolute truth, and it's important to know and believe in it. I feel like I'm called to be a minister and proclaim this absolute truth. And I suddenly find that the denomination which, ironically, taught me that there is such a truth, doesn't actually possess it in its entirety. What's a fellow to do?

I guess there were two options: Figure, hey, I've got the truth, I can just start my own denomination! Or, figure, hey, one of these myriads of denominations that already exists has to have figured out what I know already. I'll just find it and join it.

I picked option B, because my mom stressed from the time I was young that accountability in leadership is important--that it's the pastors who go out on their own as if they've got it all figured out that end up cult leaders. So obviously, not wanting to be a cult leader, I went with my girlfriend (same girl as above) to a very multi-denominational Bible College. To put it in perspective, there were about 350 students, all told, and the year I started there were over 40 different denominations represented. I figured that was a good place to start.

So I start digging in and learning a whole bunch. Most of which I already knew at least the basics of, because, remember, I had this Christianity thing all figured out beforehand ;) Well, I want to go deeper, because there's something attractive about the Mystery behind it all. And I wanted to explore that. So I decided to write a paper in theology class on the Trinity and Jesus as both God and Man. So among my sources, I figure, hey, who best to turn to than the people who really figured all this out in the way-back-when? So I head to the library, to the row with the dustiest books on it (because pop-Christianity had infected the majority of the library and the students), and I find "The Early Church Fathers". I pull out St. Augustine's "On the Trinity" and St. Hilary of Poitiers' "The Trinity" (I hadn't even heard of St. Hilary before this!) and I'm reading and devouring whole new worlds of thought on all this--and it's gold! Except for one thing. These theological giants sounded awfully Catholic!

Well, I figure, that's odd, but whatever, Augie's got a lot of good stuff to say. So he's a little bit mistaken on this other stuff. Can't win them all. Which of course prompts a pesky thought in my head: "Who am I to think that I know better than St. Augustine what the Truth is?" Now that's an awkward thought! I realised that I was asking the Big Question precisely backwards. I had come to Bible College to find the Church that agreed with me, so I could join it. But the Church of the Bible didn't work like that. It demanded submission to its teachings. You didn't disagree with Peter's Church and walk down the road to join Paul's!

So I continued in my studies. I took a history course (which was amazing, since Pentecostals? Not too big in the Christian history department. I knew the Book of Acts, a smattering about the Reformation, and was pretty clear on Azuza Street and afterwards--but for all I knew of history, the aforementioned St. Augustine and the "reformer" Martin Luther could've been neighbours!). I had the ironically fortunate experience of learning Christian history from one of the most anti-Catholic professors one could ever hope to meet. And of course, out of 2000 years of history, roughly 1500 of it is pure Catholicism! So I'm learning about this ancient institution from a guy who obviously hates it, and he keeps saying stuff like, "And then in X year, the Church started teaching and practicing Y doctrine! How could anyone believe such a thing as that?" And I'm sitting and thinking, "Y'know, I could probably construct a really good argument for that teaching from the Bible, in the next 10 minutes, without even really trying! Further, you're so biased that I can't really trust that you've even represented that doctrine properly." So there I am, thinking for myself again. Apparently that's a bad habit!

Around this time, I finally come to my senses about the aforementioned girl, and the reality that our relationship for three and a half years had been an abusive one with her unhealthily controlling and manipulating me, so that came to an end. I'll leave it at that, since it's sort of incidental to the story I'm telling. Anyway, as I'm beginning to ponder this crazy Catholic Church (which is seeming more and more credible, yet isn't it that dead ritual that the Pentecostals always said it was?), and reading things in my Bible that, even though I'd read it cover to cover, I'd never noticed before (like, "My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" and "Baptism now saves you"), and thinking, "But that sounds really Catholic! What's going on here?!"... anyway, as I was saying, as this was going on, I meet my wife at a surprise birthday party that she threw for an old high school friend of mine, that my wife happened to go to university with. Well, we talk up the God stuff (as is my wont) at the pool hall where the party is, and I find out she is a Catholic herself! And more, she actually talks to God and has a relationship with Him! Go figure!

So we started dating a month later, and I would attend Mass with her Sunday mornings (since her parents wouldn't let her miss it--good for them!) and she came with me Sunday evenings to the Pentecostal church. We agreed that the other was a Christian, and therefore wouldn't be trying to convert each other (yeah, right), but I figured, once she comes and experiences the "real deal" at the Pentecostal church, she'll never want to go back! Well, she never did want to go back--to the Pentecostal church! That "charismaniac" stuff scared the dickens out of her! (Especially when, after months of encouragement, I finally convinced her to go up to an altar call, and some lady was "slain in the spirit" and landed on her foot!) Ironically, you'll notice, the closer I got to Catholicism, the further I retreated into my Pentecostalism--them Catholics weren't gonna take me alive!

Meanwhile, back at Bible College, I'm taking my actual course load, which involved two rather influential courses in my conversion. The first was "Introduction to Worship and Music", which I wouldn't have taken (not being very musical) except that it was mandatory. It happened to be taught by a former Catholic--who happened to still appreciate the Catholic Church! Wonderful Irish-Canadian fellow: Sean O'Leary (who, incidentally, taught me the word "charismaniac"). Anyway, he taught us about all the different forms and styles of church worship, including that unfathomable mystery called the Liturgy! Well, this was helpful because I was able to see that liturgy wasn't "dead ritual" after all, and, now that I was dating a Catholic, and attending Mass with her, it actually made sense to me!

The second course was one called "Spiritual Formation and Disciple-making". The prof was a rather charismatic individual himself, and taught us about various ancient and modern spiritual practices and traditions all across the Christian spectrum, like the Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, Quiakerism, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, fasting, charismatic worship, and others. In the process, we talked about great saints and mystics--many of whom were Catholic! And what's more, many of those Catholics described an intimacy with Jesus that went beyond anything that I as a Pentecostal had ever experienced! How was that possible in a religion that consisted of dead ritual?!

Well, obviously what I'd learned about Catholicism growing up (and in History class) was somewhat inaccurate, so in the grand tradition of thinking for myself, I neglected the vast majority of my studies in order to pursue "the Catholic question". I'd read everything I could find in the library at school, on the internet, or anywhere else. Some people, expressing curiosity and concern, even lent me books on the subject--some rather anti-Catholic, and some pro-Catholic, just so I could properly inform myself. I'd spend all night reading (I worked as a security guard at the time), and even racked up $300 dollar cell phone bills reading Catholic Answers on my cell phone back in the days before internet cell phone plans!

I'd take the best Protestant arguments against Catholicism and go to Melissa and her priest with them, as well as to these Catholic sites. I'd take their arguments back with me to Bible College, to my fellow students and my professors. I'd pray, read the Scriptures, and just keep going back and forth.

Mary, the Eucharist, and Purgatory were my biggest hang-ups. I got the Pope and Infallibility--after all, I was looking for the Church that claimed to know the Truth. I just had to make sure as best as I could that they actually did have the truth. Purgatory proved to be a rather easy conclusion, and I quickly realised in the back-and-forth presentation of arguments described above, that the Protestant position basically boiled down to a sort of repackaged Gnosticism, where our good spirits are trapped in our evil bodies, and that, even if we're still not entirely perfect in life, at death our perfect souls leave our bodies and go to heaven! That's really the only alternative explanation anyone could come up with to fit the facts and exclude Purgatory--and that explanation is a heresy! As Sherlock Holmes was apt to say, "Once you exclude the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth."

The Bible itself sold me on the Eucharist, as I was unable to escape the exceedingly literal emphasis of John 6, "For My flesh is true food, and My Blood is true drink" (v.55), and St. Paul's definite identification of the Eucharist as a sacrifice in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. I went from questioning whether Jesus was truly Present, to eagerly longing to be able to receive Him. And yet I still held off until I was as sure as I could be--despite enduring what my priest called "Eucharistic Hunger" for nearly four years!

Mary, though, was not so easy. The Catholic arguments all made sense in my head, but, as they say, the longest distance to travel is the 18 inches from your head to your heart. I just couldn't get past the inundation since a child that Marian devotion was idolatrous. Even though my head knew it wasn't, in my heart, it still felt like sin. At that final interview in the RCIA process, I discussed this with my priest, and asked whether I could still become a Catholic, even if it felt sinful to pray to Mary? He said as long as I didn't tell others that it was a sin to venerate her, that I could! But, he said, I had to continue to pray and seek Jesus' opinion about His Mother and devotion to her. That, I could readily agree to, and so, finally, a journey to the Catholic Church that began in the beginning of 2000, ended in the spring of 2004 at the Easter Vigil.

I went a bit Pentecostal at my first Communion! I was almost worried that the hype I'd created in my head over the last four years of receiving Jesus literally present in the Eucharist would come to an anti-climax when all I got was a piece of bread and a sip of wine--but Jesus never lets you down! I walked back to my pew in ecstasy, and couldn't stop speaking in tongues! I tried to be really quiet about it so as not to freak out my newly-confirmed confrères, but that's no easy task for this former-Pentecostal boy!

Anyway, as I said, Mary was still a problem for me--but Jesus took care of that in no time, once I made that step of obedience to join the Church. There were two key ways this happened. First, shopping in a Protestant Christian bookstore, I happened upon Scott Hahn's "Hail Holy Queen". After hesitating for a while (never having heard of Scott Hahn before), I bought it and wow! Did he ever open up Scripture to me in a whole new way! Now, I'm an emotional person, but I get emotional about the dumbest stuff--namely, theological concepts and such. So I'm reading about how Mary fits the typological fulfilment of the Ark of the Covenant blah blah blah, and I've got tears running down my cheeks! The Mary train had departed the head; destination: Heart!

At the same time, I started praying the Rosary. Oddly, despite my reservations about Mary, the Rosary itself always held some major appeal. Maybe it was just its status as one of those quintessential emblems of all things Catholic, but I took up praying it despite the Hail Marys. I understood that they were the "behind the scenes" portion, and that the Mysteries were central, so I managed to get around them. And what better way to ask Jesus His opinion on His mother than by meditating on her Assumption and Coronation?

Just a couple years before my conversion, Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries, including the second one, the Wedding at Cana. The little booklets the RCIA team gave us on the Rosary included all the new mysteries, as well as suggested intentions for each one. I remember praying for those intentions faithfully, in words like, "Dear Jesus, as I meditate on Your Agony in the Garden, I ask for true sorrow for my sins," or "Jesus, as I meditate on Your Resurrection, I ask for greater faith." Well, the suggested intention for the Wedding Feast at Cana was "that we would have greater trust in Mary's maternal intercession for us." So one day, I'm praying, "Jesus, as I meditate upon the Wedding Feast at Cana, help me to trust more in Your Mother's maternal intercession for me." And I stop, and think, now that's just odd. I'm praying to Jesus to ask Him to help me trust more in Mary's prayers for me. That's like saying, "Jesus, Your Mom's gonna come talk to You about me in a second. Could You listen to her, please?" Seems sort of out of order. So I pray, "Jesus, I hope this is okay. Mary, please help me trust more in your maternal intercession for me."

Wham! Everything changed in that second! Mary wasn't just a theological concept anymore--she was a real person! I could talk about having a relationship with her in the same way I could about a relationship with Jesus! The pieces fell into place, and I grew to not only "get" Mary, but to love her as well! And I still do! I even joined the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary this past year!

So, that was all well and good. I graduated from Bible College the same April that I was confirmed, at the opposite end of the month. I still wonder if I'm the first, or the only, Catholic grad from EBC! Of course, I had been there for 5 years, but due to my messy break-up, and my searching out Catholicism, I managed to achieve a 2 year Diploma of Biblical studies :p

And, since I got married (it seemed wrong somehow to say to my sponsor/girlfriend, "Well, thanks for getting me into the Church, now I'm off to seminary!" and since God never told me that's what I should do, I let the relationship take its natural course), I realised the full impact of the sacrifices entailed in my conversion. That is, I sacrificed my whole career goals! What's a guy who's only ever educated himself to be a pastor do when he can't do that?! So far, a lot of general labour, with a brief, wonderful, two-year stint as a youth minister at a Catholic parish. Not a whole lot of those full-time youth min jobs floating around. But I keep looking. I know God's got something good coming.

It's interesting, though, as I continue to ponder my calling, I've wondered a lot at what God meant when He called me to the ministry when I was 15. For a good while, I wrestled with whether or not I screwed things up. When I was 15, one of the two passages that God used to point me in that direction was the story of Jesus sending out the 72 disciples, two by two, to preach--without money or provisions. When I was 15, I wanted to do that. Rather literally. I was ready to hoof it across Canada! My parents and other sensible people in my life dissuaded me, convincing me that there was a more common-sense interpretation of what God was calling me to. (Ironically, looking back, it was my Catholic guidance counsellor in High School, who, when I told him about my "career goal", said, "Good for you! We need more people like that!") Now as much as my parents were right, I wonder, had I been a Catholic, whether someone would have told me then what I've found out now: namely, that there were Catholics who did take that text seriously, and who did just that! Saints like Francis of Assisi and Dominic Guzman founded Religious Orders whose mission was just that! All other things being equal, had I grown up Catholic, would I be a Dominican now? Turns out, that seems to be the direction God is calling me anyway! Who knew that there was an Order in the Church whose primary charism is a life of preaching? Who knew that this Order has a Lay branch for people like me to participate in that Charism? When I converted, I had no idea. But God did. As I said at the beginning, as I look back, I can clearly see His hand in my life.

True, things haven't always been easy these past six years. Yet despite the hardships and seeming setbacks, I wouldn't trade my Catholic faith, and the opportunity to know and experience Jesus, tangibly, physically, literally in the Eucharist, for the world!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Mysteries -- Self Portrait

Image © 2010 Gregory Watson

Pencil Sketch, 5" x 7".
So I thought I'd do up a self-portrait. It was somewhat inspired by a pic I saw a long time ago in a Breakaway magazine (a teen mag for boys published by Focus on the Family. I don't even know if it still exists). The feature article was about a Christian teenage artist, and he'd done a self-portrait of him praying, with the perspective being looking up from the floor at him, and the cross around his neck was hanging down into the foreground.

I'd wanted to draw a rosary picture with a similar effect, with the crucifix in the immediate foreground, and decided to feature my own rosary, which my wife bought for me on a vacation in Vermont with her family. She found it in an antique shop! Anyway, it's the only time I've ever seen a Celtic Cross with a Corpus on it, so that's cool enough! Plus, the beads are green and each has a shamrock on it. The medal has a side profile of Mary on one side, and an image of Mary appearing to St. Bernadette at Lourdes on the other. So, having settled on the rosary, I figured I'd make it a self-portrait. Initially, I was going to just draw the rosary and my hand, and call it a self-portrait, but then the hand seemed too disembodied, and the right corner needed filling up, so I stuck half of my face in there. Which had the undesired effect of making it a bit too traditional of a self-portrait for my liking, but oh well.

Lastly, I needed to figure out what to fill up the rest of the scene with, so my buddy suggested making it as thought I'm in a darkened church, kneeling in a pew. So the pew back became the "filler" for the foreground, and a stained glass window fills up the upper left corner. I figured it would be fitting for several reasons to depict in the window, the Blessed Virgin giving the Rosary to St. Dominic. First, obviously, it's a "rosary scene". Secondly, it's a way to feature Mary in the picture itself, as well as thirdly to feature St. Dominic. Being very drawn to Dominican spirituality, and discerning joining the Lay Dominicans, I figured it would be appropriate to include the scene. As well, I've just read and seen too much on the Rosary that doesn't mention St. Dominic at all in connection, that I wanted to correct that.
So yeah, that's the write-up. While the original sketch is not for sale, prints are available. If interested in ordering one, please email me at

  • Full size (5" x 7") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $5.00 (CAD)

  • Full size (5" x 7") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $12.00 (CAD)

  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

God bless

Thursday, 25 February 2010

"Well, he became Caaath'lic..."

Sorry for the posting delay. Life took a turn for the hectic lately. Hopefully I'll get some new art up by Easter. If I can get my spare room cleaned up, I can get to my easel again and start work on the commissions that I've been, well, commissioned to do. Oh, and Kane and Anonnunimust B., I haven't forgotten you guys. Kane, I've been too busy to really ponder your question adequately, and Anon., I'm coming up empty on a clear definitive statement on St. Thomas' understanding of Allah's identity, other than what I had given you initially in the Q&A combox. I'm still looking, though.

After I "swam the Tiber", so to speak, six years ago this Easter (Wow! Already?!) I "lost touch" with a number of my friends from my old Pentecostal church and Bible College. Some of them simply drifted out of my life the way people do, but for many, I'd always suspected that my "poping" was a key (if not the key) factor in many of my friendships evaporating almost overnight.

Now, of course, only one or two of the gutsier of them actually came right out and admitted that my conversion was a detriment to our friendship (and, ironically, they're the ones that I do still communicate with, at least from time to time). But for the rest of those former friends and colleagues and classmates who've committed themselves to "radio silence", I'd always suspected that their reason for doing so was that I was now a Catholic. Suspected, but could never really prove. Occasionally, I chastised myself for having a "martyr's complex" about it, because people will ask me about my conversion, my reasons and my story, and what the fallout was. And they'll look at me incredulously when I say that I suspect that a good number of my friends don't talk to me anymore because of my conversion. "That's crazy!" they'll say. "I can't believe they would do that." Truth is, neither could I.

Then, dear friends of mine got married. On their return from their honeymoon, they decided to try a new church. This church happened to be attended by an old Bible College classmate of mine (and of the bride's, for we went to school at the same time). So after the service, she took a few minutes to catch up with this mutual friend of ours, and later on, called me to tell me about it.

'Cause, you know, I happened to come up. My friend asked this fellow if he ever talked to me at all, and, she told me, his response was, "Well, he became Caaath'lic. At first, I tried to say my piece, and he didn't receive it all that well, so, y'know..."

At this, my wonderful friend went to bat for my wife and me, saying, "Oh, well, his wife is my best friend!" In other words, what the hell does denominational affiliation have to do with friendship? I mean, okay, sure, the differences of opinion that come from different beliefs can obviously strain a relationship. But to utterly cut a friend out of your life because he disagrees with you about religion? And the ironic thing is, this person and I were never in agreement when we were both Protestants! But I guess at least then, our one thing in common was our protest against Rome--and that protest trumps all other issues of faith and morals for some people.

I've written all this, not because I'm bitter at this person, or, again, not because I want to play the martyr card ("O woe is me! All my friends hate me, I might as well go eat worms!"). Quite honestly, if my Catholicism is so offensive to you that you have to choke it out like it's a lamentable deformity or contagious plague, then by all means, please beware! Unclean! Unclean!

I suppose there are two points I want to make in writing this: The first is, I'm not sick. Hanging out with me won't infect you with incurable papism--well, unless you're the sort of open-minded person who actually wants to engage in rational dialogue. Then I make no guarantees. In all, I'm still by and large the same person I used to be. The differences that have come about, I hope, are for the better. If not, then who better to let me know than my friends. 'Course, you'd actually have to talk to me to find out.

The second point I want to make is that we've entered the season of Lent. For the majority of my readers, that means, I suppose, meditating on Christ's passion, making sacrifices to more closely identify with Him, and eating fish and chips on Fridays. It's also that time of year when adults considering conversion make that final lap in RCIA, heading to the home stretch before the Easter Vigil finish line (or starting line?). As much as I love you all and encourage you in your journeys to the Catholic Church, I want to make sure that the blinders are off--that you've counted the cost. For many, it's a simple transition, with friends and family on the other side waiting to welcome them home. For many others, it means leaving friends and family behind, feeling wounded and abandoned.

The Catholic Church shows its wisdom in the RCIA process--a nine month journey of investigation and instruction before full reception into the sacramental life of the Church. Not only does it help to prepare the new convert, it gives a gestational period in which, hopefully, those affected by the convert's decision can grow to understand and maybe accept this decision, and even, hoping against hope, join the convert on his journey. Nevertheless, the joy of new birth into the Catholic Church is often tainted by a post-partum depression for the new convert and for those on the far bank of the Tiber River.

For many people on the outside, Richard Dawkins's assessment of the Catholic Church as the greatest force for evil in the world rings absolutely true (though I can't fathom how one purports to back up that assertion--especially in a scientifically empirical manner as Dawkins should be held to as a scientist--but that's an article for another time). Many times, the convert's friends and family can't conceive of them actually wanting to become Catholic. The issue, however, is often such a sensitive one, that they won't actually want to debate you or hear your reasons and justifications for the Church you've grown to love, and your decision to join it. They seem to prefer to speculate on your behalf--reasons ranging from outright psychosis to secret evangelical missions of espionage and sabotage from inside the belly of the Beast. At least, that's the only meaning I can glean from statements such as "Wow, you'll really be able to do some good and effect some real change from the inside!" which I've heard over and over again from friends who couldn't fathom that I actually wanted to leave the Catholic Church just as I've found it, and yet join it wholeheartedly, anyway.

Sadly, it seems, our only response is one of forbearance. We can only nod and smile, and try not to take offense at the implications that we've lost our minds or don't read our Bibles. We can only hope and pray that, even if they never join us in our journey, they can at least be open to hearing about it, understanding our perspective, and prayerfully cheer us on, anyway. And, most of all, be sensitive to where they're at. You may not view your conversion as unfaithful consorting with the Whore of Babylon, but it might feel that way to your closest family members. For those who convert from Evangelicalism, as I did, the temptation to preach at your friends and family is overwhelming--but unless they're actually open to listening, you'll do more harm than good. The truth lived in loving silence is more powerful than truth spoken in pithy arguments. Or, as St. Francis of Assisi put it, "Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary, use words."

I'm praying for you all.
Please pray for me.