Saturday, 10 December 2011


Image © 2011 Gregory Watson

Oil on Canvas. 16" x 20"
One of the most surprising joys of becoming a Catholic has been the Sacrament of Reconciliation (popularly known as "Confession"). I say "surprising", because the notion of having to tell one's sins to another human being grates against the pride and the shame that makes us want to hide the darker parts of our souls. That such a humiliating experience could be described as "joyful" is counter-intuitive, at best.

Yet, as St. James tells us, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6). It is in the very act of humbly confessing our sins that we are forgiven them. As the Psalmist wrote, "Because I was silent my bones grew old; whilst I cried out all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: I am turned in my anguish, whilst the thorn is fastened. I have acknowledged my sin to thee, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord: and thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sin" (Psalm 31:3-5).

We believe that God has given the authority to forgive sins in His name to His priests (John 20:21-23; James 5:14-16). In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they stand in persona Christi--in the very person of Christ. When we confess our sins, it is not the priest who is there, listening to us--but it is actually Christ Himself. I tried to depict this truth by representing Jesus in the priest's alb and purple stole, which is worn during the rite of Confession.

The image itself was inspired by my personal experience of Absolution in the Sacrament of Confession. My priest, immediately before the words of absolution, will often stand and place his hand on my head, and pray silently over me, finishing with an extemporaneous prayer about being at the foot of Calvary and having Jesus blood flowing down and washing me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. After this prayer, he pronounces the blessing of absolution, and then the joy of this Sacrament is experienced--as I leave the Confessional filled with the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus!

The original painting is still available for sale!
Please email me at doubting-thomist @ hotmail . com or leave a comment here if you'd like to order any of the following:
  • Original Oil Painting (20" x 16") (unframed): $450.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (20" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $40.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (20" x 16") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $75.00 (CAD)
  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

Sunday, 4 December 2011


Image © 2010 Gregory Watson

Watercolour. 9" x 12"
I did this painting for a Watercolour class at Mohawk College. It's a straight-up still-life, done with only primary colours. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, my boss recently bought the original from me, so you'll have to content yourselves with high-quality prints.

This is perhaps the most popular painting that I've done, which I have to admit irks me just a little, since, being a simple still-life, it has very little by way of message or story behind it. So I really have nothing profound to say here regarding it! Ah well. See below for ordering details!
Please email me at doubting-thomist @ hotmail . com or leave a comment here if you'd like to order any of the following:
  • Full size (9" x 12") limited edition high quality giclée print (unframed): $15.00 (CAD)
  • Full size (9" x 12") limited edition high quality giclée print (framed): $35.00 (CAD)
  • Image on 4¼" x 5½" Greeting Card (blank): $1.50 (CAD)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Mary Triptych

Images © 2011 Gregory Watson

Gouache on Paper. 5" x 7"

This is a three-part work done originally for a school project, where we had to represent the same image in three different colour schemes (monochrome, analogous, and split complementary). The three images together tell the story of conversion to Jesus Christ through His Mother, Mary.

"Our Lady of Sorrows" (monochrome blue)

The deep blues represent Mary at the foot of the Cross, as the "sword of sorrow" (cf. Luke 2:35) pierced her heart as her Son died for our sins. Her sorrow should lead us to our own sorrow for sin, and a desire for repentance.

"Refuge of Sinners" (analogous colours, blue-purple through red-orange)

Purple is the Church's liturgical colour signifying repentance, and red signifies the Blood of Christ shed for our sins that make forgiveness possible. Mary is referred to as the "refuge of sinners" because she desires our repentance and through her prayers leads us back to Jesus.

"Queen of Peace" (split complementary colours, Red, blue-green, yellow-green)

The greens evoke a peaceful feeling in this image, and remind us of the peace we find in union with Christ, through the Blood He shed for us (signified by the red). Mary's constant instruction to us now, as it was at the Wedding of Cana, to "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5), is the sure road to Peace.

Please email me at doubting-thomist @ hotmail . com or leave a comment here if you'd like to order any of the following:
  • Set of 3 original paintings in a single frame (as pictured above): $100 (CAD)

  • Set of 3 high quality giclée prints in a single frame (as pictured above): $40 (CAD)

  • Any individual image (5" x 7") high quality giclée print (framed): $10 (CAD)

  • Any individual image (5" x 7") high quality giclée print (unframed): $7
    (set of 3 unframed: $15) (CAD)

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Art Show and Price Adjustments

I had an art show this weekend. Sorry I didn't advertise it here--I've just been incredibly busy with a whole lot of craziness in my life this summer. You might get a post about all of that, if you're lucky! Anyway, as I prepared for the show and the pricing, I realised that the prices for prints on this blog are considerably higher than they were supposed to be! As such, I'll be adjusting those prices in the next day or so. My apologies for the error. As well, in the next week or so, I'll be adding new images to the blog--so if you were at the show and don't see something you saw there, it'll be up soon. And if you weren't, well, dear reader, you're in for a visual treat. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 7

Waaay Outside My Comfort Zone
I figure it's about time we got back to our ongoing serial adventure of my time in Haiti. Sorry for the hiatus. May was a busy month, and I was trying to get an article on the Eucharist written over at Barque of Peter which ended up taking all of June. In any event, I'm offering this particular chapter in loving memory of Père Ronal Fleurvil, the priest with whom we stayed down in Haiti. He died on Sunday, May 1, the Feast of Divine Mercy, after a virus he had contracted attacked his heart. May God welcome him into His glorious kingdom.
In the last chapter, I related our experience of Mass in Haiti, and the beautiful encounter with God and with the Haitian culture. It was for me, perhaps, the highlight of my trip to Beau-Sejour. On the other hand, what followed afterward struck mortal terror into the hearts of myself and at least a couple of the other members of the team. I kid you not that even after seeing 18-year-old security guards wielding rifles as big as they were, and playing chicken with UN tanks on the streets of Port-au-Prince; after surviving the harrowing drive up the mountain, and collapsing of heat exhaustion during the ensuing climb, this was the scariest part of our trip--at least for an introvert such as myself!

When we made our preparations and packed our luggage for Haiti, of the 10 bags that Air Canada let us bring down with us, roughly 8 of those bags were gifts for the Haitian people--especially the children. We brought schoolbags, shoes, clothes, toiletries, and toys in order to bless the people of this impoverished nation. The plan, such as it was, was to distribute these gifts after the Sunday Mass, when all the villagers would be in one central location. As I said, that was the plan. In Haiti, we learned things very seldom go according to plan.

Despite the fact that we were instructed to keep our gifts out of sight until Sunday afternoon, a couple members of our team felt that they couldn't wait once they'd seen the poverty of the people of Beau-Sejour. It's hard to fault a person for being too compassionate and generous, but this impromptu giving away of shoes did have unfortunate consequences. The first was that suddenly everyone knew we had shoes, and where they were. Our tent was suddenly the local hot spot. This led to the next consequence--a sudden shortage of shoes. It also led to another shortage--one of my teammates' personal property also went missing.

There is a short prayer that Our Lady taught the three children of Fatima, Portugal, to pray at the end of every decade of the Rosary. Known as the "Fatima Prayer", it says simply, "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy." This principle of trust, letting Jesus dispense His mercy to those whom He knows need it most, and not to those we think are more deserving, found human expression in our generosity in Haiti, and to Père Ronal's wisdom. For Père Ronal was more than just the parish priest in this community. The late Archbishop of Port-au-Prince once said that a priest in Beau-Sejour had to be a 4x4 Priest--i.e., made of sturdy stuff. But the four dimensions of Père Ronal's ministry could be summed up by Priest, Mayor, Sheriff, and Judge. He was involved in every aspect of the community, and greatly loved and respected by the people. He knew who was most in need of material blessing better than we did, just as Our Lord knows who is most in need of spiritual blessing more than we do. And if it hadn't been for Père Ronal, I sincerely don't think we would have gotten through that afternoon.

At the end of Mass, Père Ronal announced that the missionaries had gifts to give to the community, and that they were to gather outside of his rectory. And so they did. It was as if the whole village turned out en masse, all very eager to receive from their Canadian friends. Of course, we still had to set up and get organised, since we'd each brought different things and weren't really sure what each other had brought. Moreover, we weren't sure who was in most need of what--or, for that matter, to whom we had already given what. And while we were still setting up, people were already trying to stake their claim.

Now, a bit about me--I can tend to be rather OCD. While I might not always be a neat-freak, or seem like the most organised sort of person, I do have a system--and I rather need that system. And I didn't have much of a chance to establish a system, or to discover what system might already be in place. So I felt immediately overwhelmed and out of place. The second thing you need to know, is that I'm very much an introvert. Not entirely shy, per se, but definitely not drawing strength from being with people. The end result was feeling entirely freaked out. Not "scary movie" freaking out. I mean, overwhelmed, hyperventilating, full-on fight-or-flight response! And I wasn't alone. One of my teammates turned to me and point blank told me, "I can't do this! I can't do this! I gotta get outta here!"

But then, Père Ronal stepped in to take control and save the day. With several loud shouts of "Alé! Alé!" (Go! in Creole), and a few swipes of a bamboo switch (behaviour, of course, which we back home in Canada would find utterly appalling, but which the Haitians apparently felt to be run-of-the-mill), he had the madding crowd mostly under control. We did have to deal with the occasional "repeat customer" who made off with an extra shirt or toy, but by and large, the afternoon went very quickly, with many a happy Haitian, and five very tired, wide-eyed, post-adrenaline-rush pilgrims, grateful for the shelter of Père Ronal's rectory, from the daily afternoon rain which finally prompted the villagers to return home, so we could retreat to good food and Prestige beer, as Père Ronal taught us to play Haitian Poker.

Haitian Poker is somewhat similar to Texas Holdem, except that you get a hand of three cards, and a flop of two. There's no turn or river, so you get those five cards to make the best hand from. It's rather simple, but honestly, the most entertaining aspect of it was watching Père Ronal's attempts at bluffing. The man was like a great big child, with that expression of gleeful pride at thinking himself clever for having pulled one over on one of us! Père Ronal was truly a man for all seasons. He was a 4x4 Priest. And we will miss him dearly.
Coming up next, a profoundly life-shaping experience, as well as getting down to work, and meeting the local wildlife.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Why I love Jesus+5+meme

Owen Swain tagged me in this, so here I go.

"The rules" say, "Those tagged will share 5 things they 'love' about Jesus / Or why they love Jesus. Those tagged will tag 5 other bloggers. Those tagged will provide a link in the comments section here with their name so that others can read them."

It's an interestingly difficult question to answer, "Why I love Jesus?" I suppose it's akin to asking me why I love my wife, and telling me to limit my response to five points. How does one accurately convey the fullness of their love, and the full reasons for their love, in this manner? It will, I think, either come across as somewhat of an abstract theological discourse or pious "Sunday School" cliché, or else sound a lot like "These are five things that Jesus has done for me that I particularly happen to like." One seems impersonal, while the other seems somehow selfish. So faced with these limitations (whether limitations of reality, or just of my own writing ability), I will attempt to answer Why I love Jesus. in the process, maybe, you'll get to know the guy behind the blog a little better.

I love Jesus because He first loved me.
Right off the bat, I begin with one of those clichés. The thing about clichés, though, is that they usually become clichés precisely because they're true. The only reason that any of us could love Jesus is precisely because He loved us first. His love for us is what prompted Him to come to us and dwell among us. It's what prompted Him to become just a little baby, to make Himself loveable. It's what led Him to teach us about the Father, to make us understand Him. It's what drove Him to the Cross, to prove His love for us. It's what brought about the Resurrection, that He would not be separated from us. If He had not loved me first, I would not have known Him to love Him.
I love Jesus because He is always ready to forgive.
Having just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday (May 1st of this year), I am reminded again of the depth of the mercy of Jesus. No matter how much I turn my back on Him, no matter how often I reject His grace, no matter how stubbornly I choose to go my own way, He gently calls me back to Him. And when I feel that there's no way He'd ever take me back, He assures me that He will. Moreover, through His Church, He's given me a concrete way of knowing this with certainty. Even if and when I feel that He could never forgive me, through the Sacrament of Confession which He has given His Church, I can actually hear Him physically tell me those words, spoken through His priest, "I absolve you of your sins."

As often as I'm willing to humble myself and turn to Him, He is waiting for me with open arms to welcome me home.
I love Jesus because He makes Himself Really Present to me.
Jesus Himself desires intimacy with me, with all of us, and so is always present to us, waiting for me to turn to Him and be with Him. Ever-present, He is never more than a thought or a sigh away, listening and acting. Even when I do not perceive Him, He has guaranteed His presence--and this is nowhere more exemplified than in the Holy Eucharist, in which He is bodily Present under the signs of bread and wine. Before the Blessed Sacrament, I can sit in wonder of the humble God who desires me, and in Communion I take Him into myself and am united to Him. "I look at Jesus, and He looks back at me."
I love Jesus because He has given me a Family.
It's been taking me a while to get around to writing this. I started it on April 25th, and immediately afterward got pretty busy with Easter, as well as my wife's birthday and my own, and mother's day. Yesterday happened to be my mom's birthday, as well, so that's kept us busy. May's just a busy time. But business is a typical experience with family. As I think about the family that Jesus has given to me, I recognise that that family exists on several levels, and ironically, none of them are biological.

As I've said elsewhere on this blog, I'm adopted. For whatever reason, my biological mother felt that she was incapable of raising me, and so I was given to my adoptive parents, who raised me as their own son--and truly, I am. All through my life I've seen the hand of Jesus in this, as they raised me to know and to love Him. In that knowing and loving Jesus, I was adopted once more, into His family, in which He is my Older Brother, and His Father becomes my Father, and the rest of His brothers and sisters, the Church, become my brothers and sisters as well, and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, becomes my spiritual Mother, too. Through this Church, I received the Sacrament of Matrimony through marrying my wife, and so began an entirely new family within the family of God.

Since beginning this article, though, I discovered that, once more, a biological family seems not to be in God's plan for my wife and me. Outside of miraculous intervention (which I'm not ruling out!), I find that I am incapable of producing children. And yet, as my priest reminded me, Jesus promised in the Gospel that those who give up family for the sake of the Kingdom will receive a hundredfold in return. Despite the crushing disappointment, I choose to love and to trust Him, and I offer up that very pain and disappointment to Him, and wait in hopeful anticipation of the Family that He has yet to give me--whatever form that may take.

It's not easy--but then, love never is.
I love Jesus because He is good to me.
Now this final reason seems, perhaps, a little odd coming off of the revelation in the last reason. For a couple who wants children to the degree that my wife and I do, the discovery that this is apparently not possible doesn't seem like a "good" thing that Jesus has done to us. Yet, when I look over my life, from the blessing of being adopted, to the love and support of a great family and friends, to my general good health, and on and on, how can I deny that God has been good to me in the conventional sense? But even more so, through the eyes of faith, I recognise the goodness of God even in my hurt and pain. A saint once said that there are three primary graces that Jesus gives to us: the grace of Conversion, by which we come to know Him; the grace of Sanctification, by which we become like Him; and the grace of Suffering, which unites us with Him. For we truly come to know our Suffering Saviour more intimately, and are more fully united to Him, in our own suffering, provided that we offer that suffering up to Him. "And we know," says St. Paul, "that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28). It sounds like another cliché, perhaps, until you find yourself in that particular "thing" that at first glance seems like it's not good for you at all.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "And for all things give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (NJB). Growing up Pentecostal, I heard all sorts of takes on this verse (which some other translations render "Give thanks in all circumstances..."), supposing it to mean that we're always to be grateful to God, no matter what's happening, but not necessarily be thankful for what's happening. And yet, due to the Church's teaching of Redemptive Suffering, that even the "bad" things in our lives can be offered up to God in order to bring about great results in our own souls, in our families, or in the world as a whole, we truly can give God thanks for all things. This is the ultimate expression of faithful surrender, of hopeful trust, and of absolute love of Jesus Christ.

"O my Jesus, I offer my suffering for love of You, for the conversion of poor sinners, and in reparation for offences against the Immaculate Heart of Mary."

So now I have to tag 5 people. I'll give my good friend Joey Goodwin something to blog about. Theophilus, a recent convert and expert in philosophy, gets a shout out. My homeboy and son in the faith, Eric can have a writing challenge, too, for his tragically outdated blog. Same with Hidden One. Finally, just for being a thorn in my side so often, I'm going to let Kane kick against the goads of this meme, too.

God bless,

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

A Reader Asks... About the Miraculous Medal

So when I title this post "A Reader Asks...", it's to include it in that particular part of the blog. But this particular reader deserves special notice, because she happens also to be my lovely wife, Melissa!

For a while now, I've worn what's known colloquially as the "Miraculous Medal." Its official title is the Medal of Mary Immaculate, which she instructed to have made in a series of apparitions to St. Catherine Labouré in 1830. Our Lady promised St. Catherine that the wearer would receive blessings if they wore this medal, especially around their neck. Due to the many miracles reported by those who have worn it throughout history, it was affectionately referred to as "the Miraculous Medal." I've derived some benefit from the medal myself, and so I try to spread devotion to it when I can--starting with encouraging Melissa to wear it. She'd been resistant for a while, because she was concerned about being superstitious, but the other day she had begun to wear it. That's what prompted her question, which she posted on my Facebook wall. She wrote:
Okay I have a question for you and I thought I'd post it instead of just asking you so that other people could possibly see it and know the answer too! So you were very happy with me wearing the Miraculous Medal last night that I found in my drawer like the one you wear all the time. What I'm wondering is whether it isn't superstitious to believe that wearing this medal will bring you graces or miracles like it says in the pamphlet. I know it's a symbol of faith, like someone might wear a cross or crucifix but they don't necessarily believe that wearing it will bring them anything, so yeah I'm confuzzled.
In order to fully answer this question, we'll have to look at what the Church teaches about "sacramentals" (of which the Miraculous Medal is one), and at what "superstition" is. To help us, we'll examine the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Sacred Scripture. Hopefully by understanding sacramentals and superstition, we'll understand the difference and be able to avoid falling into the latter, which goes beyond simply being silly to actually being sinful.

"Sacramentals", such as the Miraculous Medal, are objects or actions used to help aid us in devotion and to dispose us to receiving God's grace. However, they do nothing in and of themselves, but only because of the prayer of the Church and our internal cooperation which disposes us toward the graces available in the sacraments. According to the Catechism,
These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy. (#1667)
In other words, the Miraculous Medal, as a symbol of our faith, is something that can increase our faith by constantly reminding us of our faith and disposing us to receiving the Sacraments of the Church, leading us to greater prayer and intimacy with God. When Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré and instructed her to have the Miraculous Medal made, she promised that "those who wear it, especially around the neck, will receive great graces." That is, the Blessed Virgin Mary didn't promise that wearing the Miraculous Medal would automatically gain people miracles in some sort of "name-it-and-claim-it fashion", but rather that
  • a) wearing it would signify our faith in and our obedience to her, and by extension, to Jesus Himself (since, of course, one cannot be obedient to her without being obedient to Him--cf. John 2:5. This is itself highlighted by the monogram on the back of the medal--an M surmounted by a Cross, and by the presence of both the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus).
  • b) Such obedience itself merits graces.
  • c) Since the medal calls us to prayer--particularly asking Mary, who is so close to Jesus, to pray for us--such prayers are powerful and effective (cf. James 5:17).

In sum, the medal calls us to obedience and prayer, and disposes us to love Jesus and His Mother more. If we do that, even without the medal, we will receive great graces. How much more does the medal, given to us by Mary herself, inspire such devotion in our hearts, which in turn leads to greater grace, faith, and perhaps, even miraculous interventions?

A superstition, on the other hand, is a belief that a particular action or item in and of itself provides the "luck" or blessing or miracle independent from God or our faith or any such thing. It is actually contrary to religion, which is why the Church condemns superstition. If we treat the Miraculous Medal, or any other sacramental, in such a manner, then it indeed does become superstitious and sinful. In paragraph 2111, the Catechism says,
Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.
We can see this occur in Scripture. In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites get up to their old grumblings, and God punishes them wtih a bunch of poisonous snakes. When they repent, God commands Moses to build a bronze serpent on a pole, which, when lifted up, would cure the Israelites of the poisonous bites, if only they would look at the serpent. Obviously, God's not commanding idolatry--He doesn't want them to worship the image, but the image, as a sacramental, was to dispose them to receive the grace of God's healing if they would respond in faith, obedience, and prayer (cf. Num 21:4-9).

However, centuries after the events of the wilderness, the Israelites had kept the statue, and even gone so far as to give it a name, and treat it as if it were itself a god or a magical charm. This is why, in 2 Kings 18:4, when King Hezekiah takes the throne and seeks to serve God, one of the first things that he does is to destroy the bronze serpent. We see then how, unfortunately, a sacramental given by God Himself devolved into a superstitious and idolatrous practice.

There is a difference between a good and lawful practice of wearing a Miraculous Medal and trusting in Our Lady's prayers for us to grant us graces, and trusting in the medal itself or in the very act of wearing it to grant us those same graces or using it as a "good luck charm" to have a better life.
O Mary, conceived without sin,
pray for us who have recourse to thee.

--The prayer on the Miraculous Medal.
God bless.

Friday, 25 March 2011

A Reader Asks... For Even More Notes on a Scandal

Alright, it's time to catch up on some reader questions, as well as post my last comment on the Sex Abuse Scandals in the Church.

Back when all the hullaballoo hit the media regarding the sex abuse problem in Ireland (January 2011, specifically), the media had reported that the Irish bishops had received orders from the Vatican that actually instructed them to hide the problem. Kane, a dear friend and frequent reader (and occasional thorn in my side), emailed me a link to one such article and asked, "How does this sort of information affect your confidence in Catholic authority?"

I replied to him with three points, which I have reproduced below. The first is an expression of distrust in the mainstream media's ability to report objectively on Catholic subjects; the second was to actually offer a brief apologetic on the specific case; and finally, I gave a direct answer to his question. His question was not about bad Irish priests or Vatican cover-ups, so much as it was about how these things affect me, personally. So I below take the opportunity to express my faith in the Church--not because I think its leaders are all peachy models of virtue, but because the authority of the Catholic Church simply isn't about them. Read on--and be sure to click the links as they come up, to provide the context for my statements.

The first thing to note about this situation is, frankly, that I have a genuine and sincere difficulty with taking anything that the mainstream media writes regarding religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular at face value. It has demonstrated time and again that it either can not or will not accurately report the facts of the case. This has been amply demonstrated by the hubbub surrounding the Pope's booklength interview with Peter Seewald, and the media's horribly unprofessional twisting of Benedict's comments regarding condoms, as well as by a recent article I read about a lawyer's report that about half of the allegations of priestly sexual abuse are completely fraudulent. This is further commensurated by the fact that the article you linked me to shows only a low-resolution, illegible image of the letter purportedly from the Vatican and allegedly instructing Irish bishops to cover up the priestly scandal, about which we are left to depend on the journalist's firm grasp of Catholic policy. If that's the only article you read on it, you must admit that you didn't get the whole story.

Second, in light of the fact that, if Steier's assertions are correct (second link, above), that so many allegations are indeed baseless and fraudulent, then irreparable damage is being done to good, faithful, virtuous clergy, particularly if mandatory reporting of allegations were to be instituted. I'm not saying these things shouldn't be reported--but then, the document in question isn't either. If you actually read the letter, rather than the media's interpretation of it, it only says that the norms of Canon Law must be followed meticulously in each case, specifically so that no priest can have recourse against the Church through some legal loophole, and the Apostolic Nuncio expressed particular concern with the idea of mandatory reporting of allegations. The stress seems to be laid on "mandatory" rather than "reporting", and says that further concrete directives would be forthcoming (which seemed to have happened in 2001). As such, I do definitely think that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi is completely sincere and accurate in stating that this document has been grossly misunderstood by the media.

Finally, and most importantly, even if we acknowledge that in many cases the Church hierarchy seriously dropped the ball on many aspects of the sex abuse crisis, I am not sure why it would "affect my confidence in Catholic authority." My confidence in the Church has nothing whatsoever to do with how they conduct themselves in a crisis, or their personal moral failings, or any such thing. I am as confident in their leadership as I am confident in the leadership of any other particular person who has some authority over me. What I have utmost confidence in, when it comes to Catholicism, is something that particular members of the hierarchy, even the pope himself, has no effect on whatsoever in terms of dealing with such situations. My confident faith simply is that when the Pope or the College of Bishops intends to define a matter of doctrine pertaining to faith or morals as being binding on all Catholics, that such a doctrinal definition will be free from error. This is not confidence in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church per se, but confidence in Christ Jesus, that he will keep His promise that the Church will never be destroyed, but that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth--the sins, bungling, and outright and utter failures of those in charge notwithstanding.

The Church, after all, has always been a mix of good and bad--even its leaders. Any student of history knows that many popes themselves have been terrible scoundrels (to say the least). But despite the world's best attempts to destroy the Church, and our own best attempts to sabotage it from within, the Barque of Peter continues to sail on, not because we're oh-so-great, but because Jesus Christ is.

We should keep this sure and blessed hope in mind as we journey through Lent. Easter is the time of Christ's resurrection, but it is also the time of the most virulent attempts by the media to undermine the Church He founded. When we know Him in Whom we have believed, and stay close to Him, He will make sure we are not shaken.

God bless,
Feast of the Annunciation

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

More "Notes on a Scandal"

His Excellency, Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, recently wrote a pithy anecdote about an encounter with an angry man at an airport (linked in the title of this post, and below). With honesty and humility, he ponders the sex abuse crisis in the Church, and in so doing, re-presents both the spirit and the facts that I posted in my previous article, Notes on a Scandal.

It pains me, as well as him, to see the damage done to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike--not only by the priests who have abused children, but by how the media has subsequently portrayed the state of things in the Church. The facts are bad enough. The misconceptions and the lies have compounded the problem.

Please read Abp. Dolan's thought-provoking article, and offer a prayer for the victims of abuse, for the priests--both those who perpetrated the crimes, and those good and holy men who form the much larger majority, and pray for those who have been scandalised, that they would find the truth and the healing they need.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the our of our death.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 6

O non Papa a, ak Pitit la, ak Lespri Sen An! Amèn!
Camping out behind the church of St. Gabriel afforded us the blessing and opporunity for daily Mass, of which I took advantage. But it was Sunday Mass especially that was the main event in Beau-Sejour. It also happened to even the playing field a little. I may have succumbed to the heat on the trek up the mountain, but Nassrin buckled during the two-hour liturgy.
Shortly before my own venture to Haiti, a Protestant friend of mine, with whom I attended Bible College, had travelled down there on a mission trip of his own. Based on the status updates he left on Facebook and Twitter, the primary purpose of his trip was to evangelise the Haitians through giving concerts. Leaving aside the absurdity of having a concert tour in an earthquake ravaged country, what really offended me was one comment of his, praying that God would give the Haitians a "hunger". He meant by this, of course, a greater desire to know, love, and serve God. But to suggest that the people of Haiti don't have this hunger is, it seems to me, to have been utterly blind to the religious devotion that abounded everywhere one looked--as I remarked in the third chapter of this series. Nowhere was this ardent love for the Lord more evident than in the Haitians' celebration of Sunday Mass.

One of the things that certain so-called "traditionalists" in the Catholic Church lament about the results of the Second Vatican Council is an increasing lack of reverence at Mass. People don't dress up as nicely, they talk too much, the music is blasé, etc. etc. ad infinitum. After having been in Haiti, I would contend that the lack of reverence experienced in the celebration of various Novus Ordo masses throughout North America has next to nothing to do with the liturgy itself. Fr. Bill and I discussed this at one point, and he commented that he remembered the Pre-Vatican II Masses, and quite frankly, people weren't much more "reverent" when they were praying in Latin, than when they are praying in English. Traditionalists, he opined, are longing for something that never really existed in the first place. Reverence is primarily a matter of the heart. External actions can reflect, and, to a certain extent, promote an internal attitude of reverence, but they will never replace it.

The village of Beau-Sejour is spread out for miles through the mountains of Haiti between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. It has no roads except for rough trails through the hills, which are typically muddy and difficult to traverse. The regular rainfall every afternoon during rainy season ensures that the trails are never dry for long. Worse still, the earth is very ruddy and clothes are easily stained. Yet the residents of Beau-Sejour rise especially early every Sunday morning, in order to walk sometimes as much as three hours in order to come to Church. They clean themselves up, and get dressed in their nicest clothes. They take their Sunday shoes and tie the laces together, and string them across the back of their necks, and then set out on this three hour hike through the mountains in the pre-dawn hours, barefoot, so that when they get to the Church, they can clean their feet and put on their nice, clean shoes before entering God's House. When you walk three hours, barefoot, through the mud, to go to Church, you can talk to me about "reverence" and "hunger for God".

Once at the church, the parishioners gather outside and greet each other warmly, as family--as Haitians. They enter the shabby building and begin the opening hymn as Père Ronal and the altar servers process in (on this occasion joined by Fr. Bill and Mark, from our team, who served at the altar as an act of solidarity). I began to describe the church into which they processed in my last chapter, but it's only once you enter in that you begin to realise what a "church" is. The already meagre structure of St. Gabriel's had been destroyed in the earthquake. All that remained were some steel girders within, poorly made and badly damaged pews, and the cracked concrete floor. The altar was a long folding-table covered in an altar linen. The pulpit was damaged, and on the front, someone had lashed a hubcab with a cross-like motif in lieu of a Cross. It summed up the fact that the building was furnished with whatever they had at hand. They had enough to make it a "church" without any of the extra gildings to which we become so accustomed. They didn't even have proper walls--the roof, supported in the middle by the steel posts, was supported around the edge by bamboo posts. These had large tarps tied to them to make "walls". And yet, the building was still a sacred space. Jesus' people gathered to worship Him and to offer His Sacrifice. All the little extras weren't even missed.

One of the "perks" of Catholicism is its universality. No matter where you go to Mass (hopefully), the liturgy is the same. We read the same Scripture as our fellow-parishioners back home at St. Margaret Mary. We ate of the same Eucharist. We prayed the same prayers--only we prayed them in Creole. Not knowing the language made paying attention somewhat more difficult, but due to the structure of the liturgy, we could pray along in English (or try to attempt to at least imitate the Creole sounds), and enter in very nearly as fully as if Mass had been in English! I'd further asked if we could be seated somewhere where we could see the faces of the parishioners, as well, in order that I could try to discern what they were saying by reading their lips, and thus attempt, at least feebly, to pray with them in their own tongue. We thus were seated to the right of the Sanctuary in pews that faced the Sanctuary and were perpendicular to the congregation. It afforded us a wonderful view of both the altar and the congregation, and helped to immerse us more fully into the Haitian Mass.

On the other hand, another "perk" of Catholicism is its embracing of culture and cultures. In the liturgy, which is the same everywhere, distinct cultural flavours help to incarnate the Message of the Gospel into the lives of the people. Music is one of the key means by which this happens, and the music of Mass in St. Gabriel was far removed from the usual fare at St. Margaret Mary--Dancing (reverently, of course), hand-waving, clapping to the beat of the djambes--these people were in to the Mass! They knew what it was to express their worship and love for God with their entire beings, body and soul! Nowhere was this more apparent than the offertory, when a basket was set in the aisle before the altar, and these poor people danced up the aisle to give what little money they could! It gave "cheerful giving" a whole new meaning, and I was reminded of Jesus' words about the poor widow who gave more than the richest of men, because she gave from her lack, while they give from their abundance. I remarked to Nassrin that I wished the Catholics back home had this much passion behind their worship. The blessings of this Twinning Project are indeed a two-way street, if we are humble enough to recognise that the Haitians have so much to offer us, as well as us giving to them from our abundance.

Haiti is home to an indigenous vodou religion. Itself a synthesis of Catholic spirituality and African spirituality, it has a strong and growing following among many Haitians. Part of the problem with the vodou religion is precisely that it is so syncretous that many people believe that they can be a devout Christian and a practitioner of vodou. It's a similar phenomenon to many here in North America who think that the practice of Yoga or other New Age practices are fully compatible to the Christian faith.

Of the more sinister practices of vodou are various spells and sacrifices that actually involve the desecration of the Eucharist. For this reason, reception of the Eucharist in the hand, as is commonly practiced here in Canada, is forbidden in Haiti. The traditional practice of receiving the Host directly on the tongue is maintained, in order to more effectively prevent the theft of the Host by a secret vodou practitioner, who might otherwise palm the Eucharist and spirit it away to perform his unholy rites. This face-to-face encounter with the more diabolical side of religion, and of Haiti, gave us missioners some pause. For me, it showcased an interesting reality, emphasising the Truth of the Catholic Church's teachings on the Eucharist. If vodou priests see the presence of Jesus in the sacramental Host as a source of power in their rituals, it offers something of a hostile witness to the fact that Jesus is indeed truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity--and that He is present with power. After all, no vodouists bother trying to steal the bread and wine or crackers and grape juice from Protestant churches; they know that all they are is bread and wine. In the Catholic Eucharist there is power--power that yes, those who live in the darkness try to pervert to their own ends--but power that should make any sincere, devout Catholic marvel in wonder at the great gift that Jesus makes to us of His very Self. It should give those who do not believe in this great gift pause, to wonder why it is that even the devils believe, and tremble.

One of the most unusual (and perhaps uncomfortable--especially for Nassrin, as I mentioned in the introduction) things about Mass in Haiti vs. Mass in Canada, is that their celebration lasts! Sunday Mass was two hours long! So perhaps Nassrin is to be forgiven for succumbing to the heat of over 100 bodies in essentially a big tent in the tropical sun! But it wasn't long. For me (who, after my initial heat shock on the trek up, wasn't bothered by the temperature for the rest of our time there), it was like one of those get-togethers that you just don't want to end. Indeed, every Mass, I think, should be like that. These people came together for a purpose--to worship God. They sacrificed much, to walk three hours barefoot to get there, and to make the same trek home later. I tell you, they weren't leaving until they felt that that journey was worth it! And one hour just isn't long enough to contain their love and devotion to Jesus and His Presence in the Eucharist!

When we have that kind of hunger for Jesus, that's when the Gospel will come alive to the world around us.
I've been writing this reflection since the 10th of March. Distractions aside, it simply has taken a while to really process the singular experience of Mass. I'm sure I'll never adequately plumb its depths. And look, Dan! Not one comment about how you were falling asleep! Oh...Wait...

It was immediately following Mass that we were forced way, way outside of our comfort zones! But that story is for the next chapter...

Monday, 21 March 2011

A Reader Asks...Whatever Happened to Sean?

Okay, so, no, no one asked that in so many words. However, I thought the title would be a good way to reintroduce this particular aspect of the blog.

One of the initial reasons it was started was because a dear friend, Sean, would ask me various theological questions, and thought that it would be beneficial to more than just him if I posted the answers for others. As such, there was a plan to have a semi-regular series of posts titled, "Sean Asks..." Sean hasn't been asking a whole lot of questions of late. In fact, due to life and his utter distaste for the new MSN Messenger layout, I haven't talked to him much at all. As such, I thought I'd reorganise things and relabel the Sean Asks... tag to "A Reader Asks..." Such readers could be those, like you, who visit me here, or those who read Barque of Peter and happen to ask a question there that I think would be suitably answered here. Or they could be people who comment on my Facebook page. In fact, it could be such a vague catch-all that "a reader" might simply be any literate person who asks me a question. Anything that will get the blog aimed back toward its initial purpose. If you have a question you'd like featured here, leave a comment, or email me at doubting - thomist @ hotmail . com.

Like Sean, if you ask a question, unless you don't want me to, your first name will appear in the text. That said, comments on this blog, as per the Rules, can't be anonymous. So if you want anonymity, it would probably be better to email me your questions directly.

I'm a good chunk into Chapter 6 of "What I Saw in Haiti", but I had some writer's block, as well as some good questions come my way lately, so I thought I'd take steps to get things rolling again.

God bless

Saturday, 26 February 2011

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 5

What on Earth are We Doing Here?
Having arrived in Beau-Sejour, we were warmly welcomed with a wonderful meal of Creole cooking: fried chicken, plantain chips, caseroles of corn, potato, beets, peas, and other good things, and ice cold Coca-Cola, and beer. Everything was fantastic! Well, except the beer. They gave us Colt .45, which is American beer. It wasn't until later that they unleashed their award-winning "Prestige" Haitian beer--which was wonderful! I guess they were worried we wouldn't be able to handle it! After our welcoming lunch, our exhausted troupe took a siesta to recover from our long climb and proceeded to unpack.
Beau-Sejour is a remote mountain community. "Village" would be almost too generous a term. Throughout the mountains there are little huts and "gardens" that are almost like vertical farms, planted down the side of the mountain. All around are gorgeous vistas and Edenic scenery. The poverty of the residents of Beau-Sejour isn't like the poverty of homeless beggars in the inner city. These people are "poor" in the sense that they don't have running water, or proper toilets, or cable television. But they have food, if not in gluttonous abundance, and they have shelter. In fact, thanks in part to our parish's help, everyone's home had been rebuilt, except for Père Ronal's rectory and the Church itself, as well as the various schools. Père Ronal's rectory was under construction when we arrived. I'll talk more about the Church in my next chapter.

The strangest sight, I think, were the cell phones. It seemed everyone had a cell phone, and the Haitians are very proud of them. People would be walking around without shoes, but they had a cell phone. I suppose everyone needs their toys, and a cell phone would be a particularly useful thing in a remote mountain community where your closest neighbour might otherwise be an hour's walk. Nevertheless, it was often a startling juxtaposition.

Fr. Bill and Nassrin, being the priest and the only woman on the trip, were afforded relatively comfortable lodgings in Père Ronal's temporary rectory, while Dan, Mark, Michael our translator, and myself slept in a very large tent out behind the Church. This location did afford us close proximity to the one structure that our church helped build in Beau-Sejour that was not damaged in the earthquake: the washroom. I said earlier that the people of Beau-Sejour don't have running water--at least, not plumbing in the conventional North American sense. They trap rainwater in large reservoirs which also act as filters, and are tapped. Water is then carried to wherever it is needed. Carried, on the heads of the people! That itself is a sight to see: an elderly woman carrying a gallon of water on her head, without spilling, over rocky terrain, without adequate footwear, as if the water hardly weighed more than a couple pounds! When us young, strapping men had to carry our own water, on occasion, holding the buckets by their handles, and trying to nearly drag them up the hill from the reservoir to the bigger barrel outside the washroom, I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the locals! «Les blancs sont foux!»

The larger barrel, into which we dumped the water carried by us with such indignity, and by the Haitians with such grace, was used for washing and for flushing the toilet. One had to dump a pail of water into the toilet after its use to flush the contents down a pipe and out down the mountainside. It also wetted our toothbrushes, and theoretically, at least, was used to "shower", or, at least, to dump on top of us in lieu of showering. However, this didn't happen as such, at least not for the guys. Turns out, it rains every afternoon, and by rain, I mean, that being up in the mountains, the clouds rolled in around you, and then sort of "erupted" right above your heads. So it provided a nice effective shower!

When one enters "downtown" Beau-Sejour, after passing a few homes just outside of town, one enters into something of an archway and a low wall--at least, we entered the remains thereof--into a patch of level ground. It's more or less the highest point of "Beau-Sejour" proper, and as such, the Church is there at the back end of this level area. Well, what's left of St. Gabriel, anyway--bamboo posts holding up a large tin roof with some metal posts on the interior, and tarps strung up as "walls". Out behind the church, as I mentioned, was our tent and the washroom. The level area drops off sharply just beyond our tent with a wall of sorts, and right below was the framework of Père Ronal's new rectory. Out front of the Church, on the other end of this level area, was the clinic that St. Margaret Mary parish had helped to build, and which housed the medical and dental mission teams that we sent down. The earthquake, however, had entirely destroyed this building, and what was still standing was doing so quite precariously. Between the old clinic and the remains of the Church is a downward sloping hill of loose rock and earth, about four or five people wide, surrounded by banana trees and other thick vegetation (all around us was "jungle" it seemed). At the bottom of the hill was Père Ronal's current home, with his housekeeper and family, and the nurse from Léogane who tried to look after the needs of the people. It acted as a bit of a hub for the community. On the other side of the lane was the "Boutique", which was a sort of general store from which you could buy chips, candy, beer, and anything else you needed, which the proprietor "imported" from Léogane or Port-au-Prince. It too was the centre of life for the residents of Beau-Sejour. Further down the lane were more homes, and well off on the opposite hillside were the Petit Frères de Ste. Thérèse, whom I mentioned in a previous chapter. Surrounding all of this were steep slopes into luscious valleys, which would have been even more lush had they not been stripped of their trees. As it is, they're fighting to produce vegetation again despite the soil erosion caused by the denuding. In spite of this environmental reality, Beau-Sejour is a beautiful place.

As I mentioned, our purpose for going was ostensibly to teach First Aid. I say "ostensibly" because only Nassrin was actually equipped to teach it (and it's probably something of a stretch to suggest that anyone else on the team even knows First Aid!) So while Nassrin was able to get down to business, working out with Père Ronal the hows and the whos of the rest of the week, and began teaching on Saturday morning, Fr. Bill, Dan, Mark, and I were left wondering just what it was that we were supposed to do. We couldn't help teach First Aid. We weren't construction workers. We couldn't help build Père Ronal's rectory. We didn't have proper equipment to help demolish the damaged clinic and other buildings. To make matters worse, our translator, Michael, was helping Nassrin teach, so we could hardly even communicate!

I was discussing our dilemma with Fr. Bill, and I said, "I don't even know what I'm doing here anymore. What do I have to contribute? Nassrin is teaching First Aid. What do I do? I draw pictures!" Fr. Bill stopped and said, without missing a beat, "Why don't you do that?" I replied, "That counts as 'doing something'?" Father simply answered, "Why not?" He'd hit on the real reason we'd come--not to teach First Aid or to build buildings, but primarily to build relationships--and he saw my art as one very good means of doing so. So I ran back to the tent and got my sketchpad, and moseyed down to the Boutique, pulled up a chair across from the few villagers lounging under the veranda out front, and began to draw them. This, of course, drew their attention, and they tried to figure out just what I was doing. A few walked over to see my work, and started laughing and pointing (which is always good for one's self-esteem, when someone laughs at you in another language!) I understand people enough, thankfully, to know that they weren't laughing at me, but with joyous wonder, saying "Look! That looks just like Tijor!" Once everyone had caught on, they began asking me to draw specific people's portraits, of which I had time and opportunity to draw two (after all, despite their desire to be drawn, their desire to sit still and let me draw them was significantly diminished). So I drew the portraits of a lovely woman named Anite, and her daughter L'ovlis, which is actually pronounced "lovely". This was on top of the initial sketch of the Boutique's veranda, seated in which were old Tijor, already mentioned, as well as two youths, Willie and Pierre-Renaud, who eagerly inscribed their names (and ages) beside their likenesses. While I gave Anite's and L'ovlis' portraits to them, I kept this initial sketch of Tijor, Willie, and Pierre-Renaud as a souvenir of my own. It was, after all, the thing that I could do, which broke the language barrier and made us even more than family--it made us friends. And that friendship led to other wonderful events later on in our stay. But for those stories, you, dear reader, will have to wait.
We've gotten through Saturday so far. Up next, Sunday and Mass in Haiti! After which followed perhaps the scariest part of our journey, and, for some of us, our lives. Stay tuned!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Angels (Commissioned Painting)

Well, crap--when I was posting Tulips, it seems when I copy-pasted this post for the description, I somehow managed to post the edited Tulips description here inadvertenty, and then saving it! Just noticed it while I was working on the Reconciliation post. So I'll have to try to remember what I had here before the gaffe, and repost a reasonable facsimile...!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

What I Saw in Haiti: Chapter 4

Not Exactly the Ascent of Mount Carmel
Having finally made it to Haiti, we were now about to commence our rigourous trek up the mountain--and I was going to learn a lesson in humility.
After two and a half motion-sick hours of insane traffic and death-defying mountain "roads", we arrived at the little settlement of L'Assyle, which was the end of the line for our "tup-tup". Once we had left Port-au-Prince, we stopped briefly at a gas station in Leogane, and picked up Père Ronal's cousin, and our translator for the trip, Michael (which he pronounced Mi-kay-el). Since the five of us were already crammed into the cab of Père Ronal's Hylux, Michael rode in the tail, seated on top of our luggage and holding onto the straps, literally for dear life. He did, however, inform us that his seat was the most comfortable of all of ours, which, after wanting to be ill for most of that journey, I had little trouble believing. This bit of information led us to each take a turn riding in the back on the way back to Port-au-Prince on our way home.

L'Assyle, as I mentioned, was as far as the pick-up could take us, and so we disembarked and prepared for the rest of the hike. All around us gathered curious and friendly Haitians, who unloaded our luggage from the truck and loaded it onto three mules. Then we began our slow, long, and hot ascent the rest of the way to Beau-Sejour.

When you see pictures of Haiti in the news, especially in the time since the earthquake, you end up having a difficult understanding of why this country is called "The Jewel of the Carribean." All one sees, primarily, is the decay and desperation of Port-au-Prince. Outside of that city, however, the beauty of Haiti really takes hold. The name of the country in Creole is "Ayiti", which means "mountainous"--and a more apt name could not be found. Every glance was breathtaking; every view was a vista. Though denuded of its trees, leaving the soil eroded, Haiti's mountains nevertheless had much vegitation, primarily banana trees and bamboo. How much more lush would this tropical paradise have been had previous generations been more environmentally-conscious? Nevertheless, I wore out my fellow-travellers with my continual exclamations of "I want to paint that!"

I already mentioned our three load-bearing companions, but there was a fourth mule who travelled with us. He wasn't for our luggage, but rather for us, if we came to have need of him. After my spell of exhaustion back home exercising with Nassrin (mentioned in the introduction to the last chapter), I was determined to not be the first person who needed the mule. I persevered up the hill on foot, trying to keep myself hydrated, but I could feel the tropical mid-morning beating down on me. I looked behind and realised that Nassrin herself, who had expressed doubts at my fitness to travel in Haiti, had been the first to succumb to the heat and mounted the mule. With smug self-satisfaction, I continued on for about another five minutes when I could feel the effects of the heat, and my pride, take its toll. I thus promptly asked (ordered, really) Nassrin to get off the mule so I could ride it. While she obliged, it was too little, too late. As I rode the mule, I began to feel nauseous. More, my hands began to seize up, and finally, my left leg went completely numb, causing my foot to come free of the stirrup! Père Ronal kept looking back at me and seeing me looking more and more ill, and asking, "Koumon-w ye?" Which is "How are you?" I kept replying, "Pa pi mal," meaning, "Not bad." But when I couldn't even pronounce the "l" in mal any longer, I knew it was getting bad, so I asked to stop in a grove of banana trees and lie down.

This simple request turned out to be more complicated than anticipated. First, when they asked me to dismount, I immediately began to climb off on the right side of the mule, since my right leg still had feeling, and my right foot was still in the stirrup. As soon as I made to go in that direction, a host of Haitians began yelling at me to stop and dismount on the left side (I never did find out why one should not dismount on the right side of a mule). Père Ronal started to guide me off the left side of the mule, and I slid sideways in order to get my left foot onto the ground, while still having my right leg slung over the mule's back! This is an uncomfortable position for a person in good health! Since I had no use of my seized-up hands, this ungraceful dismount caused me to spill my remaining water that I was barely holding on to. Once off the mule, I tried to lie down, to the protest of everyone present. But I didn't care--I had no choice! So I laid down in the red terracotta mud of which Haiti's mountains are composed, and all the concerned Haitians gathered 'round and looked down at me. I'll never forget one older man, concern for me etched in his wrinkled face, as two bright eyes peered at me from below a woollen toque! While I was suffering from heat exhaustion, this man had on Canadian winter-wear!

Nassrin had moved on ahead since my mounting of the mule, and one of the Haitians was quickly sent to bring her back. Meanwhile, blessed Michael began massaging my hands and working the muscles in my legs. When Nassrin rushed back, she nearly panicked at the sight of me on the ground, but kept her cool and instructed Père Ronal to make sure I too was kept cool. Water was brought out and they removed my shirt and soaked it. Then they tied it around my head. After about ten minutes, I had sufficiently recovered enough to resume our trek. One thoughtful Haitian man took his machete and cut bamboo staves for both me and Nassrin. I kept that staff for every hike during our remaining time in Haiti, and would have brought it home with me as a souvenir, but it was too long to pack away in order to get it on the plane. Nevertheless, it came in very handy throughout the week, keeping me from stumbling on the rough, muddy-clay mountainside.

Thankfully, this spell of heat exhaustion did indeed serve to make me stronger. It seems to have sped up the acclimatisation process to the warm tropical weather, because from that point on, the heat never really affected me in any extreme manner, though others on our team had their own difficulties later in the week. It seems a principle of life that suffering can be to our good. Perhaps "whatever doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" is a bit too glib to be a universal law, but there is truth to the adage, "no pain, no gain." The difference is in how we react to it--what we choose to do with the suffering. Had I continued to tough it out and ignore the symptoms, it could possibly have killed me. But being humbled and recognising my weakness and my need, I could accept the help required to recover.

What is true in the physical is equally so in the spiritual realm of life. Life often sucks. Just last night, my car was broken into, my GPS and several CDs were stolen, and I'm out a couple hundred dollars replacing the window. And that is just a small trifle compared with what so many people, like my friends in Haiti, go through every day! When we suffer alone, railing at the heavens in futility, then the devil steals our joy. Spiritually we begin to waste away, to die. But there is an alternative. We must choose to trust in God, to offer our suffering to Him. In so doing, He unites it to the suffering of His Son on the Cross. Our pain takes on a new, redemptive, healing dimension in the lives of others--maybe even others we'll never meet, and never know how our gift has influenced them; maybe our own friends and family. We can waste our suffering, or we can make it fruitful.

And in the end, we'll arrive at the top of that Mountain, just as I arrived with my team in Beau-Sejour.
Coming up, a taste of good ol' southern hospitality, as we meet the community with which St. Margaret Mary had twinned--our brothers and sisters in Christ.