This past Monday, Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, made this statement to the media, on the new sex and phys-ed curriculum release by Ontario’s government.
I must admit, although I have a deep respect for Cardinal Collins, both because of his position and the many great things he has done for the local Church, I read this statement with shock and disappointment.
After a campaign against this curriculum supported by tens of thousands of Ontarians, and strong statements by other bishops and MPs, the most important Catholic authority in Ontario did not oppose the change, but instead said that our schools would deal with it, and present it in a Catholic way.
I believe this is a very flawed response, and a big mistake on the part of the good Cardinal, and the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) under him, which made a similar statement in support of the new curriculum.
Much of this public statement presents what I would call an overly optimistic view of Catholic education. For example, it says:
“For more than 30 years, Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools have provided a family life curriculum consistent with our faith.”
But have they, really? The curriculum that our schools have delivered for the past 30 years has consistently been questionable. It has very often taught students to use contraception, been ambiguous on questions like abortion or homosexuality, and failed to form students in chastity. In my experience the Church’s teaching has consistently been either ignored, or presented in a manner so dumbed down as to lose all credibility, while a worldly sexuality is always taught much more rigorously.
Similarly, the statement says that Catholic schools will “continue this tradition”, with respect to conveying Catholic principles to students. For me and, I believe, many other parents, that’s what we’re afraid of. We know that some Catholic window-dressing will be wrapped around the immoral teachings, maybe a disclaimer which as often as not will be read out sarcastically by a teacher who hasn’t set foot in a church for months if not years, before the curriculum is taught essentially unmodified.
That’s what has happened in the past, and I’m not at all convinced it won’t happen now.
Further, to be frank, this is not just a Catholic issue. This curriculum is very clearly harmful to children, and it should be refused by everyone.
This curriculum is not, as the Ontario government has disingenuously claimed, designed to protect children. In fact it does the complete opposite – it will certainly encourage early sexual activity, and there are grave concerns that it will make children more vulnerable to “grooming” by sexual predators.
Just one example: students will be taught how to give “legal consent” to sexual activity, in grade 6. Now in case that doesn’t seem shocking, let me remind you that the age at which one can give legal consent to sexual activity in Ontario is 16 years old. The average grade 6 student is 10 or 11. Giving these kids the idea that they can choose to have sex at that age is an opening that abusers are certain to exploit.
But this all makes sense, given that the curriculum’s original architect, former Deputy Minister of Education Ben Levin, is himself (allegedly) a sexual predator. Back in 2013, he was charged after encouraging a mother in an online chat to abuse her child and sent him a video of it (that ‘mother’ was an undercover police officer). He was also caught in possession of child pornography. Is it any surprise then, to find that this criminal’s pet project of a curriculum sexualises children in a way no curriculum has before?
Our cardinals, bishops and priests, as well as the members of ICE, need to stand up for the rights of our children. And parents and teachers must refuse to allow this curriculum to be taught to the children under their care. Whether it’s writing to your MP, removing your children from class, teaching extra lessons at home, or even choosing to homeschool, it’s ultimately the parent’s responsibility to protect their child, especially when the government and the Church hierarchy aren’t doing enough.
One month ago, a media firestorm came about over the decision of a Catholic Priest from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, California, to have male-only altar servers. Fr. Joseph Illo shared with his parishioners the reasons for his decision, one of his main reasons being the “essential connection between the Church’s male priesthood and the acolytes who assist them in their high priestly office.” Being an altar server is meant to inspire in males a consideration of a possible vocation to the priesthood. In Fr. Illo’s decision to no longer have altar girls, he said that “we consider that developing an all-boys and father-son acolyte program will strengthen the community as it has in many parishes by bonding boys and focusing their efforts on the Mass as sacrifice offered by the priest.” There remain many roles in the parish for the girls to help out with. Despite this, many girls and women shared their direct opposition of this change in Fr. Illo’s parish with the media, stemming from the offense that they took. One parishioner said “it’s disturbing”, while a parent from Fr. Illo’s Catholic School said “They’re definitely taking a step in the wrong direction.” One girl in grade seven at the school, Star of the Sea said that “It just kind of makes me feel that I’m not good enough because I’m a girl. I feel kind of insulted.”
I am not trying to spark a debate here of whether or not girl altar servers should be allowed, but rather, discuss how we should respond in the face of decisions that our priests and bishops make, whether they be made in the mind of Holy Mother Church, or from a personal belief or opinion. When our priests and bishops make decisions, like that of Fr. Illo, that impact parishioners, school parents, etc, it can be very difficult to accept, especially when it is not a decision that we understand or personally agree with. Fr. Illo wrote a blog post in response to this, and in this blog post, he said:
“Vatican II (Lumen gentium 25) defines a Catholic as one who exercises “religious submission of will” to the Church’s teaching authority. At the parish level, this simply means trusting your priest. Catholics used to trust their priests, and there are various compelling reasons most do not trust them today. But to be Catholic means to regain that trust, both in the Church as mater et magistra and in the local bishop and priest. How can priests serve their flocks as spiritual fathers if their spiritual children do not trust them?”
Christ call us to be like Him, and as such, to be obedient as He was obedient (Philippians 2:8). While anyone can be obedient, a pure and holy obedience requires trust, sacrifice, and a willingness to find out what Holy Mother Church teaches (if we do not already know), so that we can be properly informed and understand the rationale. It requires trust in our priests, and our bishops, in their teaching authority which has been given to them by Christ through their ordination. It requires a sacrifice of our will, for us to allow God’s will to reign in us. It also requires that we find out what the Church teaches when we do not already know. We need to be willing to put aside our feelings and personal beliefs in order that we can seek God and what He desires for us, trusting that His will for us is good. We need to cooperate with God and allow Him to raise our understanding so that He can make our hearts more ready when obedience is requested by our superiors. If we are open and obedient to the Lord, especially within the context of our Catholic communities, it will not only allow our communities to grow, but will also help us to grow in virtue.
St. Bernard said that “A truly obedient man does not discriminate between one thing and another, or desire one employment more than another, since his only aim is to execute faithfully whatever may be assigned to him.” Recalling the story of the wedding at Cana, Mary said to the servants when the wine ran out to “do whatever He tells you.”
Our priests and bishops are the ministers of Christ in the parish or diocese in which they serve, and when they exercise that ministry, they do so with His authority. Just as Jesus said to his disciples, “he who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me,” he invests his own authority in his ministers today.
I encourage you to be ready to be at the service of our Lord and His Church; to respond obediently to the direction of our pastors, and seek to properly know and understand the decisions that they make, from the mind of Holy Mother Church.
Extra Resources for you because we love you:
Some great resources to learn more about the beliefs of the Church are the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whether the Baltimore Catechism, or the newer version of the Catechism, or even related encyclicals or letters.
How many of us have asked the question, “Why are protestant communities booming, while Catholic parishes are shutting their doors?” I think we all can offer many opinions on the matter, and I would like to discuss it in the comments below. I think, however, that many of us have seen in some catholic communities the desire to emulate the protestant experience with a catholic flair. Parishes may modernize their music, or try to appeal to the culture by ignoring certain key points of Catholic doctrine. You have the Catholic churches that act like Anglicans and offer gay pride masses, or you’ll have the charismatic style masses that look very similar to non-denominational worship. In both of these circumstances, however, people are still leaving and finding their homes either in protestant venues or just leaving the Church altogether. Why? It seems like no matter what initiatives some dioceses and churches try to implement, they can’t seem to retain the numbers. I would like to propose one major contributing factor that has led to this trend: authenticity.
As a teenager, I was seriously committed to growing in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I was like a truth sponge; a nerdy, perhaps overzealous, teenage Catholic Jesus-freak. I loved to pray and read scripture and solid Catholic books. I especially loved getting time to spend with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I was also naive. I had been a part of our LifeTeen youth group at my parish and was the only teen bringing friends on a weekly basis. I thought everyone was getting it, especially the leaders. Yet, one ice cream social night changed that.
In March of my eleventh grade year, I had just returned home from a retreat and was still trying to process what God might have been saying to me through the event. I told my friends after LifeTeen Mass that I was going to stay in the church and pray and take them home after the youth group like I always did. I just wanted to be with Jesus tonight (the first time I had ever done this during youth group) So after Mass was done, I went into the sanctuary (as was our custom at that time) and knelt down to be with Jesus present in the Tabernacle. 45 minutes later, the youth minister comes storming into the sanctuary, demanding to know what I was doing. She explained that I should not be there, but eating ice cream with my friends (all of which were regulars at that point) downstairs. I explained calmly why I was there. This angered the youth minister who at that moment literally cussed right in the sanctuary and left the church. I found out later that she (the youth minister) had not gone back downstairs to the youth group but had gone for a walk (most likely to cool down after hearing what horrible things I was doing). She came back after her walk to find me still in the sanctuary praying. This enraged her even more. I do not remember all of that which was said, but I do remember it was not only hurtful, but she came up and stood between me and the Tabernacle without an ounce of recognition to the Person who was behind her. I cried. I had been duped. Not only was she acting sacrilegiously, but she had fooled me into believing that her goal for youth ministry was to actually draw people to love Jesus Christ and the Church. The scales had fallen from my eyes and I began to realize that even in places of leadership within the Church, there were people who did not love Jesus at all. That was the last night I attended that youth group.
I think that the biggest reason why people leave the Church overall is because they see a lack of integration between faith and life. Sadly for me, that was not the only time I have been burned for being an actual catholic by church leadership. Far from it. People who have left the Catholic faith and joined a protestant community, especially our brothers and sister in Central and South America, will tell you that they were looking for something more real. They find, especially in the experiential aspects of Christian prayer and praise, the thing they looked for in the Catholic church and could not find. They longed for a community where the pastor believes and loves God, and the community does too. Truthfully, they were not looking for the experience of the great music and high-tech gadgets. They wanted something real.
In our own diocese, we see vocations to the priesthood and religious life dwindling. Our diocese is gearing up for major parish clusterings, and we’ve lost a lot of money due to the abuse cases which has arisen. Yet, in places like the Diocese of Lincoln, NB we see a vibrant seminary that can barely hold all of the seminarians, Mass attendance is steady, and the church seems alive. There are also a lot of large catholic families in that place as well. I believe this is due in large part to the guidance of the Bishop of Lincoln, Bishop Conley. We see in him a very active integration of faith and life. When any abuse cases arose, he dealt with it correctly from the very moment he was advised. He has not stood for Liturgical abuses, and encourages his parishes to celebrate Mass with great solemnity. No wonder they are bursting at the seams with vocations.
Pope St. John Paul II used to say that when the gospel is proclaimed in its entirety, youth respond. I believe that is the case for everyone. I believe that a healthy and vibrant parish is one that sees on a grand scale, from priest to bulletin-folder, the integration of their faith and life . Without a proper integration of faith and life, you will not see these things happen. The first thing you will see, if the parish has overall integrated their faith with their life is offer a mass the way it has been prescribed by the Church. I believe that if a priest truly believes in what the mass is, he will be obedient to the Church’s teaching and instruction, and will follow the rubrics obediently. This alone is the greatest witness a priest can give. If a priest can’t even be obedient regarding the mass, what reason should a lay person have for being faithful in other things? But if a priest performs mass reverently and instructs the faithful properly regarding the mass, they too will fall in love with Jesus in the Eucharist and will want to see the Father worshipped rightly not only in mass but they will also want to live in a state of grace so as to receive the Lord in a worthy state. If the mass is done rightly and the people are actually formed about what the mass is, they will long for holiness and virtue. If the people love the mass, it is because they love Jesus Himself who is for us our priest and victim; who saves us through the mass. The faithful will therefore, if they love Jesus, want to proclaim Him to the world and lead others to Him. They will evangelize because they have allowed Jesus’ thirst for souls to become theirs.
Protestantism does not have the fullness of Truth as we have in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Yet, what some protestant communities do have, they have well. This is why the world is waking up to see the impact of certain church communities like Hillsong Church in Australia. Though not perfect by any stretch, the church is booming because they come to church to seek God as a community and then they go out and seek to use the gifts they have been given to save souls. They have made such an impact on the global world in 30 years that the movie company Warner Bros. is producing a movie about them. This is not just a general movie on the impact of Christianity on the world. This is a specific church community that is making an impact on the world. It all started with some Christians in a basement of a house who wanted to let their faith be integrated with their life.
Do you think that Catholics are capable of making such an impact in the world today? We have for 2,000 years been the evangelizers, building grand temples to honour our Lord and leading millions to Christ. I think, however, that many Catholics, both clergy and laity, have lost their way. How can we help our parishes to be revitalised? How can we better integrate the faith with our life? Is your parish doing something great? How is your parish failing to engage the faithful that you wish they would realize? The combox is open for discussion.
The patient man hath a great and wholesome Purgatory; who, suffering wrongs, is more concerned at another’s malice than at his own injury; who prays freely for his adversaries, forgiving their offences from his heart; who delays not to ask pardon of others; who is easier moved to pity than to anger; who does frequent violence to himself, and strives to bring his flesh wholly in subjection to the spirit. – Thomas A. Kempis
Forgiveness is one of those things that many of us struggle with, whether it be forgiving ourselves, a friend, a stranger, or someone we dislike. Sometimes it is done with gritted teeth and clenched fists. Other times we cry because it pains us to recall the memory of being hurt, but we are happy that there is opportunity for healing.
For most of us, forgiveness is easier said than done. Sometimes, it is just easier to just think to ourselves ‘that person will get what’s coming to them, and when they do, see if I care’. We can become so consumed by our anger or pain that forgiveness isn’t really something we even want to think about. We can so easily become focused in our own feelings, and feel that we are the ones that deserve an apology, justice, or revenge in extreme circumstances.
However, our imperfect ability to forgive is challenged when we seek forgiveness from God. Gods forgiveness is perfect. It overflows graciously when we ask for it in confession. Without pause, God forgives us of our sins. This example of loving mercy and compassion should drive us to give forgiveness compassionately as well as to seek it with a humble heart, for Jesus said, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”.
Going to confession is a hard thing to do. I am a sinner, these are my sins. I am ashamed of them, and now I have to confess them to God who already knows them? Its hard, especially if the sins are ones we haven’t confessed long since the sin was committed, and our shame is great. In reality, when we sin, we hurt our relationship with God. And yet, when we confess our sins, when we sincerely apologize to God and make our act of contrition, those sins are forgiven. What a magnificent gift God gives to us!
Should we not also give this gift to others? How readily do we forgive when someone approaches us in humility for forgiveness? Sometimes we are silent, still fuming away because of how we have been abused, betrayed, and hurt. Other times we lash out in anger. I have been in both of these circumstances. I have gotten angry. I have pursed my lips tightly and eaten away at the insides of my lips just to keep myself from shouting out. Holding back is sometimes not easy, especially when we are so deeply wounded.
Sometimes, when we are challenged to forgive, we create our own victim complex. Our pain is always worse. We are always the ones that need to be apologized to. We are never at fault and its always someone else’s fault. The world is always against us. This is a manifestation of pride. In choosing to think this way, we fail to recognize our own failings and therefore we further distance ourselves from our neighbours and wound our relationship with God.
This does not mean that there are not situations where we are not victims, and that there are times where we do need an apology to move forward. What is important though, is the freedom that forgiveness can bring. It may not always be full healing, but the fact that there can be potential for it is a crucial aspect to getting on with life and not being held back by fear and pain. We must remember to always be forgiving, even if forgiveness is not asked for.
The greatest example of forgiveness is found on the crucifix. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” After all that had happened to Him, He still asked His Father to forgive His executioners, the ones that humiliated Him and tortured Him, and even those who had cheered for His death. Jesus’ pain was so great and immeasurable, we can not even begin to comprehend it. He had been betrayed, sold for silver at the hands of Judas, Peter denied even knowing Him, and the torture He endured was slow and painful. And yet still, His love was greater than that. As Christians, we must seek to love others in this way.
This may mean we might have to forgive our brothers and sisters over and over again, just as we confess our sins in the sacrament of confession time and time again. We shouldn’t forgive as little as we need to, but forgive as often as we can.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
As our Lord said, it is actually required for us to be forgiving. This does not mean that we allow for sin, but it means always being forgiving when we are wounded by our neighbour.
We must also recognize the need to say “I am sorry, please forgive me”. It is when we do this with a friend, a family member, perhaps to someone we just bump into at the market, we are humbled. When it is of a sincere heart, we are acknowledging our fallen, broken nature. We must be able to do this if we are to come to terms with this ourselves. It is only through humility that we can overcome pride, which is the root of sin.
In exercising forgiveness, we strengthen ourselves, not to mention help ourselves in ways that aren’t just spiritual. By choosing not to forgive, we choose not to move forward. That choice to not forgive can be more devastating than the initial harm at times. It can hold us back from having better relationships. It can prevent us from fully overcoming feelings of pain, and even stop us from forgiving ourselves.
Let us be inspired by all the saints who heroically forgave. Saint John Paul II forgave the man who shot him. St. Maria Goretti, a young girl, forgave the man who tried to rape her and stabbed her when she resisted. Most importantly, we must remind ourselves of Gods forgiveness and mercy, and of how He is abounding in compassion.
Let us pray for one another, that we may all grow in strength to forgive everyone, including our enemies. Pray also for me, that I may forgive.