Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ghetto Land

"People say that we should be glad for what we have.
Tell me, would you be happy in Village Ghetto Land?"          
Stevie Wonder, "Village Ghetto Land", from the album "Songs in the Key of Life" 1976

I think my first brush with empathy came in 1969 when Elvis Presley sang about a life gone bad "In the Ghetto", to my mind an entirely American phenomena.  Stevie Wonder picked up the theme on his "Songs in the Key of Life" album in 1976 when he describes the relative poverty of "Village Ghetto Land."  It saddened me even as a child and as a teenager that people actually lived this way.  I couldn't imagine it.  More truthfully, perhaps I didn't see it.

Notwithstanding that these places exist not only in America but mere blocks from my front door, I am more disheartened by the ghetto of hopelessness in which so many live.  This hopelessness is typified not just by neglected property standards, trash on the street and foul mouths.  It's evident in the lack of respect people pay to each other.  You have to have respect for yourself before you can ever spare it for another, and I believe it is the most arrogant, thoughtless and uncaring of people, no matter their income level who are living in a ghetto of self loathing.

Perhaps, just maybe, it's because so many people can't accept that anyone loves them.  They believe themselves to be unlovable for whatever reason; their sins, their circumstance, their very being.  The thought that God loves them is worse than laughable, it's inconceivable.  They live in a poverty of hope.

And yet, speaking of inconceivable, it's to these that Jesus came to serve.  He's standing right beside them, us, in the depth of our poverty whether we experience it in a hovel or in several thousand square feet in the best part of town.

Easy for me to say.  Is there reason for joy in Village Ghetto Land?

Yes.  Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas! Yeah, I said it...

The traditional greeting lately sounds more and more like "Merry Christmas, dammit!"  It's uncomfortable.  The way some people say "Merry Christmas" can only be described as "in your face."  I'm not sure anymore whether a Christmas greeting is a sincere wish of peace and goodwill, or a dare.

What's wrong with saying "Happy Holidays?"  Wishing someone a happy holiday does not reflect poorly on our standing as Christians.  How we behave otherwise may.

And when did wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" become a statement of patriotism, particularly in this country of increasingly unChristian values?

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all.  Let's make 2012 a year in which we live our message all year round; a year in which we speak the truth to all, starting with ourselves.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Arise and Defend

I had the occasion to visit our local mall this week, something I try very hard not to do.  I have to admit, it was beautiful.  They've gone out of their way to capture the Christmas spirit, with wreaths and lights and bows and trees and dammit, it worked.  I opened my wallet, swept along with the "Christmas spirit" and gave generously to the retailers.

But what if?
What if the mall owners were to announce that this year, 2011, would be their last celebrating Christmas.  Beginning in 2012 they would no longer decorate for the Christmas season.  Nothing would, in any way, point towards the birth of our saviour.  No more recognition of Christmas at the mall or at any retailer, public school or government office.  No restaurant, no hotel, no car dealership - no one would display even a single Christmas decoration.

This might be the thing to finally unite Christians, arising and defending the faith!  "Canada is a Christian country, they can't do this, it's the fault of the immigrants, they should go home, blah blah blah, etc."  And we'd be wrong.

The only response in keeping with our faith is "hallelujah!  Finally, at last, we've succeeded in separating consumerism from the message of Christ!"  

It's Our Story
This message of Christ is too important that Christians should entrust it to others to deliver it for their own purposes.  Let's embrace the challenge of telling our story every day of the year so it has credibility at Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

All My Tomorrows

However many they may be, even if none, let's get busy thinking about our tomorrows.  The past, once we have atoned for it, should remain in the past.  It serves a wonderful purpose; it is the anchor in the question "where do I go from here?"  Just remember that in order to sail, you must first hoist the anchor.

It's the beauty of the Mass, and why it is far more meaningful than any new-age bible revival worship service can ever be.  The Mass has the unique quality of reliving a moment in history in real time.  Through the celebration of the eucharist, the real body and blood of Christ, the sacrifice is not just a point on a calendar but a living event, happening again right in front of us.  It is up to each of us to enter into it, or not.

When the readings and the Gospel and the psalm are interpreted by the homilist, we quite correctly ask ourselves, "what does this mean to me?" and "what am I going to do differently because of it?"  These are the two central questions asked and answered by Jesus' disciples every time he taught a lesson through the parable.

Entering into the mystery daily or at the very least, at weekly Mass allows us to ask and answer those questions anew, to look forward to all our tomorrows, no matter how many or few they may be.

What does it Christ saying to me?  What will the Holy Spirit guide me to do differently?  What does tomorrow bring?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Commandment 5

The Globe and Mail is running a tremendous series on end-of-life care

Around the issue revolves the ongoing debate delicately titled "Physician Assisted Suicide"  The question posed in an online poll was "should physician assisted suicide be legalized in Canada?"

The result was a majority in favour.  What is this, 1984?  What if the question had been more properly asked,

"Should Canada amend the criminal code to make it legal to hire a professional to kill your loved one?"

Look, I don't begin to pretend to fully comprehend how difficult it is for a family to watch their loved one suffer even though my ministry is in palliative care.  Unless you've been there, you don't know and I pray I may never really know.  I do know that our faith tells us that we do not suffer alone.  I also know that is cold comfort for some, and a great relief for others.  The reasons many may ask for legal "mercy" killing are the same reasons why proper palliative care must be available to more, and if possible, all Canadians.

Read more about how Canada is lagging here in a report released today by Hon. Joe Comartin, MPP for Windsor Tecumseh.  If we can fix the palliative care question, we end the euthanasia debate.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And That's How You Tell the Goats From the Sheep

Matthew 25:31-46

This past Christ the King weekend we heard in the Gospel that Christ will come again, and at that time separate the sheep from the goats.  The sheep on his right hand, a very good place to be, will have eternal life in the kingdom.  The goats on his left, which is where you don't want to be, will spend eternity in hell.

Who are the sheep and who the goats?  Both saw the poor, the hungry, the lonely, the needy but only one acknowledged them and did something about it - the sheep.  The others, the goats, looked the other way and went about their business without concern for their welfare.  Christ says it quite bluntly - when we turn our backs on the most in need, we have, in effect turned our backs on him.

Sometimes even the very best of us can inadvertently join the goats.  I tell the story of the time my mother stormed away from singing in the choir at St. Thomas for about a year because of some slight or another.  Closer to home, I've had my own petulant reactions when I've felt unappreciated or insulted, and have thought about quitting this ministry or that one, rather than tolerate this affront to my dignity any longer.

The trouble is when we walk away from helping others because our pride is wounded, or worse when we threaten to quit our church volunteer position as a bargaining tool  or to get what we want, we turn our backs on those who need us most.  We mingle with the goats.  It's the poor who suffer for our hubris.

Well and good, we've probably all been there at one time or another, but if Christ comes again at that very moment, who do you want to be standing with?  The sheep or the goats?

Me neither.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Occupy this Place

I've written some negative things about the Occupy movement, referring to them as "OccuHippies" in the past.  I don't back down from that, however having spent some time in the Occupy Windsor camp I have come to appreciated the community, even to enjoy their company.  Frankly, I can't wait to get back.

No matter what they stand for, they are doomed to failure, or limited success at best.  Why?  Because they do not have Christ at the centre of their cause.  Yes, I know the camp is populated by Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists, and some are very committed and cool people, and the movement isn't faith driven, but they are destined to be less than they could be.  Simply said, they don't follow Christ.

This peaceful revolution should have begun in our Catholic churches, and perhaps it did, in some way.  Truly we've had our share of peaceful revolutionaries only some of whom are recognized as saints.  There is still time for the rest of us to join them.

Do you want a social justice for all?  Occupy this place, this church; this holy, catholic and apostolic church.   Do you want a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor in the first world?  Occupy this place, this catholic church.  Wall Street and Bay Street bankers, CEOs - the exponential gap between your salary and that of your lowest paid employee could not happen if you would but only occupy this place with your whole heart, this church of humble sinners.  I don't blame you for avoiding us.  Politicians who make decisions affecting our community, our country and ultimately the world, I implore you, before you deliberate with your heads, occupy this place of the heart, our church.

When we're all together shoulder to shoulder, the poor beside the rich beside the powerful and everyone in between, we not only occupy a place in the apolostolic church, we open up so that Christ can occupy our hearts.

Sounds too simple?  It is that simple.  Don't overthink it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The King

Christ the King    Matthew 25:31

My parents, fresh off the boat from England, raised my sisters and I to expect royalty to come knocking any night of the week.  That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but in our house there was an emphasis on proper table manners because one never knew when one might be asked to dinner with the Queen.  My mother was determined that should that ever happen she would not be embarrassed by our bad manners .  It hasn't happened, but I know how to hold a knife and fork correctly if it should and I am thankful for that.

I have a great affection for our Queen and I unabashedly consider myself her subject, in matters of country.  The feeling may even be mutual, though I'm not sure that should we have a chance encounter she would even know my name.

When my encounter with Christ happens at the end of my life, I am quite sure he will know me by name.  I may be loyal to Her Majesty, but after I have given to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar  (Mt 22:21 - acknowledging civil authority appropriately) Christ is the only King who matters.

When we say "yes" to one King, we say "no" to all others.  And so, if we deny Christ the King, then who sits on the throne of our lives in his place?  Money, cars, career advancement, prestige, a bottle of Canadian Club?  Ourselves?  Who or what do we put ahead of God?  What's more important than Sunday Mass, for example?  For some it is everything and anything but without God, all is worthless.  Without Christ the King we are but fools on a rudderless ship.

It is sure that we will meet Him someday.  The Queen of England?  For most of us, no matter how well prepared; probably not.

Are we ready to meet Christ the King?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Can't, You Can, You Promised

We are several decades into the "believe it, achieve it" delusion in the business world.  Several decades before that I was raised on a little engine that could, by personal willpower alone.  "I think I can, I think I can..." It was enough for him and therefore, he did.

The problem, other than the obvious problem of relying on good feelings alone to get through the day, is the loneliness of self-reliance.  We've become a nation of people who are actually PROUD of doing it alone and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps (what does that even mean?).  We are a people who consider a plea for help to be a confession of weakness, when in fact it is a statement of strength.

The truth is that everyone of us will face problems that are too big for us to handle alone.  A sickness, job loss, death of a loved one, unexpected catastrophe...these things happen to any of us.  If we've lived a life of self-sufficient inward thinking, we're likely not ready to ask for help.  Until we are ready to ask for help we are forced to rely on whatever strength and wisdom we have banked.

Ask for help, often and when the problems are smaller, too.   We don't ask God to take the cross from our back, we ask Christ for help to carry it. He said he would be here for us.  He told us in person.

Try this simple prayer.  "I can't, you promised."  It's a confession of weakness that leads to strength.    "For when I am weak, then I am strong..."  2Colossians 12:10

Because it's true.  Alone we can't.  With Him we can, and He Promised.

I can't.  You can.  You promised.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lord, Spare me the Bear

It was on a July day in the woods of Muskoka that I had an encounter with a black bear.  At first I heard and then I saw the bear making it's way noisily down the tree to the path where I was walking while I prayed.  It looked over it's shoulder at me and we made eye contact.  I was where he (or she) didn't want me to be.  I couldn't have agreed more with the bear.  At that moment I didn't want to be there either.

I did the one thing you don't do when faced with a bear.  I turned and ran.  Never run from a bear!  I didn't outrun the bear, the truth is that if it had been chasing me I wouldn't be writing this.  But at the moment it sure felt like it.  For a few minutes I ran full speed back up the trail, up the hill, until I ran out of energy, adrenaline and breath, and I prayed.

"Spare me the bear, Lord, spare me the bear.  Spare me the bear.  Spare me the bear."

The prophet Amos had already written my epitaph.  "As when a man escapes a lion only to meet a bear." Amos 5:19

I had been walking and praying that God would lift a burden off my shoulders, actually challenging Him to do so.  God, in His wisdom sent the Holy Spirit in the form of this bear to remind me that sometimes what we wish for is worse than what we've got.  God can relieve us of any distress, but we might not like the alternative.  It would be as if a man escapes the lions he wrestles with only to run smack-bang into a bear.  Which would you prefer?

"I'll take the lions, Lord, at least I know what they are, but Lord, spare me the bear."

God doesn't ask us to go to battle alone.  He sent Jesus to help us, not to remove the cross from our shoulders, but to get on the other side of the cross beam and lighten the load.

And so, with Christ's help, we can shoulder any burden and tame the lions in our lives.  We just have to ask.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"That Deacon Flies a Jet"

At the ordination of the seven today, Deacon Doug leaned over and whispered to me.  It wouldn't be an ordination unless Doug leaned over and whispered something simply insightful, and often funny.  He's been doing it at every ordination since ours two years earlier, and before that frequently during our five years of formation together.

"That deacon flies a jet," he whispered.  Brilliantly understated, he captured in a few words the essence of the transformation that had just taken place in the Cathedral and at every deacon's ordination.  "That deacon flies a jet."

Yes, he does; he's a pilot.  And that one is a jeweler.  The deacon two seats down is a farmer, and the one back there is a retired teacher, as is the one just across from us next to the retired autoworker.

That one works with prisoners, and that guy over there with students teaching them how to pray the Rosary, and the quiet one has a special place in his heart for the migrant worker.

We're everywhere, friends, serving the poor where they are found.

In the air and on the ground.

Friday, November 4, 2011

After Two Years

The Tyrrell Family at Ordination November 2009
On a beautiful sunny day in November 2009 ten men were ordained to be permanent deacons.  At 50, I was the youngest, greenest, and least likely.  Truly my fellow deacons are a remarkable bunch.

There may have been 5 years of discernment and development, but let me assure you it didn't begin to prepare us for what awaited.  Sure, we had a bit of book knowledge, a touch of theology (compared to our seminarians who might spend an entire semester devouring what we spent a Saturday tasting).

Still, to suggest that we went out into the world unprepared does a tremendous disservice to the faculty and facilitators of the program.  More accurately, we walked out of the Cathedral that day not yet fully realizing the great joy of sacramental service that awaited.

I've baptized more babies than I can count, and one old man approaching his final days with wondrous hope.  I've sat with the families of people living with terminal illness.  I've cried at the loss of new friends in palliative care, and laughed at the remarkable sense of humour of a woman in her last hours.  I've sat with families of the deceased, led the prayers in the funeral home, and have found so many new friends along the way.

Most of all I have prayed, for strength, for guidance and in great thankfulness for the many doors this vocation has opened for me (and for the people behind the doors that have been slammed in my face).

On Saturday November 5, 2011 Bishop Fabbro of the London Diocese will ordain another seven men to join us in the streets, funeral homes, schools, hospitals and prisons of our communities.  Seven more holy men bringing witness and a sacramental presence to places of darkness and hopelessness.  Seven more.

God bless them all.