Thursday, November 24, 2016

Michael O'Brien's Toronto Art Exhibit and Talk: The Vocation of a Christian Artist

A photo of Michael O'Brien during his talk at the chapel at Regis College.
Michael O'Brien giving his talk in the chapel at Regis College

Recently I had the privilege of meeting Canadian Catholic artist and author, Michael O'Brien, at his art exhibit and talk at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto.

It was a much anticipated event on my part as I am not only familiar with his artwork, but even more so with his writings on culture and fantasy.

Although I have corresponded with O'Brien over the years, part of which included expressing my gratitude for his writings, it was only up until last week that I was able to extend my gratitude in person: what a gratifying feeling that was.

Born in 1948, O'Brien is the author of twenty-eight books, several of which have been published in fourteen languages, and widely reviewed in both North America and Europe. His articles on faith and culture have appeared in several international journals such as: Communio, Catholic World Report, Catholic Dossier, Inside the Vatican, The Chesterton Review, and Our Sunday Visitor. He was also the editor of Nazareth Journal, a Catholic family magazine.

O'Brien has given hundreds of talks at universities and churches throughout the world. His interviews and articles have been translated for foreign language journals: Croatian, French, Spanish, Italian, and Polish.

As a professional artist since 1970, O'Brien has had more than forty exhibits across North America. Exclusively painting religious imagery since 1976, O'Brien's talents have not gone unnoticed. Over the years he has been commissioned to produce many works: the painting of the martrydom of Saint Thomas Becket by the Thomas Becket Fund, the American Catholic law firm in Washington, D.C. that fights for religious liberty; a series of four paintings for the novitiate chapel for the Companions of the Cross, a Catholic religious Order in Canada; and a host of other works for churches, monasteries, universities, communities and private collectors in Canada, the U.S.A., England, Germany, Italy, Australia, and Africa.

O'Brien is the recipient of many awards: the Canadian Christian Writing Award, from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada: First Place, for Eclipse of the Sun, awarded 1999; the Andrija Buvina Award from the Church in Croatia, for accomplishments in Faith and Culture, awarded 2005; The Servant of the Word Award, from the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, awarded 2006; The Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life, from the Catholic Civil Rights League, Canada, awarded 2012; Logos Book Award, “Best 2012 Book—Fiction” for The Father’s Tale, from the Logos Bookstore Association, U.S.A., awarded 2013; and the Catholic Culture Award, from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, awarded 2014.

Michael also teaches art history at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a Catholic college in Barry's Bay, Ontario. He currently resides near Combermere, Ontario where he and his wife Sheila have six children and ten grandchildren.

My initial discovery of Michael O'Brien from his writings on culture and fantasy

I first came to know of Michael O'Brien through his writings on the Harry Potter occult controversy. Back in January'2002 a Franciscan friar handed me a print-out of an article from SpiritDaily.com of Father Gabriele Amorth's warning on the dangers of Harry Potter. I took the warning seriously and endeavoured, together with the friar, to research it further. It wasn't long before I arrived at LifeSiteNew's, Harry Potter Problem: Whirlwind of Controversy page where I bookmarked and printed out several articles, including those from Michael O'Brien.

What resulted from that research—which eventually led me to the reading of O'Brien's book, Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culturewas an awareness campaign disseminating information on the dangers of Harry Potter, that a few years later became a blog post entitled, The Dangers of Harry Potter: The Occult Controversy.

To get a sense of the depth of O'Brien's contribution to Christian culture, consider visiting his web site, studiObrien.com, and in particular the two sidebar links, Writings on Fantasy, and Writings on Culture. Both have an impressive list of articles that are sure to satisfy any reader in search of the truth, knowledge, and understanding.

StudiObrien.com is the perfect, one-stop location to be brought up to speed for those who were never aware of the many controversial cultural issues that had infiltrated into Canadian mainstream society. Some prime examples that you may want to consider are: Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture, the Twilight vampire series, The Golden Compass, and Pan's Labyrinth.

As to some of O'Brien's fairly recent writings on culture, I found his article, Euthanasia: from war crime to act of compassion, to be most intriguing. Those who have an appreciation for history will find it to be a thought provoking read that truly speaks of that most valuable lesson to be learned from history, quoted perfectly in Winston Churchill's 1948 speech to the House of Commons, in which he paraphrased George Santayana (The Life of Reason, 1905), "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it."

His most recent article posted on his web site, Reflections on the Church, is a friendly reminder to "keep the faith" regardless of the current condition of the Church, particularly in North America and Western Europe. The last sentence of the article says it all, "Take heart. Trust in the Lord, especially when there seems to be little or no grounds for trust.

I could not do justice to O'Brien's contributions to Christian culture without mentioning his newsletters. Many times his newsletters were exactly what I needed: a faith strengthening read of a Catholic witness whose love for Jesus permeated every aspect of his personal and professional life.

Most worthy of note is O'Brien's second instalment, dated September 25, 2003. It is a treasure trove for all Catholic artists, writers, and those involved in other creative endeavours. What I found particularly impressive and encouraging was his uncompromising fidelity to Jesus in his work, in a Canadian landscape that became increasingly secular over time, shunning Christianity in art and writings in the process. Perhaps it appropriate that I include a few excerpts:
A few thoughts on the new evangelization, and what it asks of us:
We live in a society that is almost completely dominated by death. The Holy Father [Saint Pope John Paul II] refers to modern western civilization as a "culture of death." He means by this more than abortion or the growing trend to euthanasia. Most families in the developed nations, including most Catholic families, feel pressured to eliminate children from their lives, one way or another. At the root of the culture of death is fear. St. Francis of Assisi called fear and discouragement a 'demon.'
'Perfect love casts out fear,' Jesus says. How do we grow in love? How do we cast out fear?
 ...To create always costs something in terms of human investment, labor, and sacrifice. To create a human life and to nurture it to maturity costs everything we have to give. So too, genuine culture costs. Sometimes it costs everything we have to give. And often the price entails our perseverance in the creation of words of Truth and Love in the face of all opposition and apparent failure.
...How, then, to be fruitful in a time such as ours? 
I have no quick strategies to offer you. 'Success' or 'failure' is entirely God's affair. Your and my responsibility is faithfulness to our 'talents' regardless of the cost. My secret is this: Abandon yourself with full confidence to Jesus, live the totality of the Catholic faith without compromise, and he will do the rest. Pray, work hard, pray, and don't give up...
...If creators of Christian culture hope to produce work that will bear good fruit, we must draw our life from the true source—our living Savior. He is real. He is present. But all to often we reduce him to an abstraction, giving him intellectual assent, but not our hearts.
This dichotomy, so endemic to the modern age, has negative consequences. The solution is simple. I repeat: Abandon yourself with full confidence to Jesus, live the totality of the Catholic faith without compromise, and he will do the rest.
Over the years I have printed out many of his newsletters and articles, and placed them into a folder that is over one inch thick and growing. Some of what was included in the aforementioned newsletter was reiterated during O'Brien's talk. 

The vocation of a Christian artist

Travelling from suburbia, I made sure to leave well in advance of the 7:00pm talk. Taking one of my trusted routes proved to be a very wise decision as I arrived at approximately 5:30pm, affording me the opportunity to pray in a quiet atmosphere at Saint Basil's Cathedral, just one block north of Regis College.

A photo of the interior of St. Basil's Cathedral in Toronto
St. Basil's Cathedral, Toronto
Built in 1856, St. Basil’s Cathedral is the founding church of the Congregation of St. Basil in Toronto. It is an enormous and beautiful structure on a vast property that serves a large congregation and certainly accommodates many visitors.

I have attended Mass and received the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) at this cathedral many times; spending time there again was familiar territory. That same evening, before O'Brien's talk, I recited two sets of the Rosary mysteries (Sorrowful and Glorious) with the special intentions that God and Our Lady would protect Michael O'Brien, all those attending the event, and grant an abundance of graces and blessings for a successful night.

With about a half an hour to spare, I made my way to Regis College and viewed O'Brien's art exhibit; a small collection of selected paintings that he commented on during the latter part of his talk.

The talk, whose theme was The Vocation of an Artist, began promptly at 7:00pm and surprisingly, O'Brien apologized for having to abandon his planned talk due to his flu, which was barely detectable except for a handful of coughs. It did not seem to deter him in the least, as he was quite energetic, enthusiastic, and attentive to the task at hand. Perhaps it was God's way of telling him that He wanted O'Brien to speak from the heart, which is exactly what he said he would do, adding, "All I can give you is what I really am, what Sheila [his wife] and I, really are."

Only as the talk progressed did I come to understand God's wisdom in directing Michael to speak from the heart. Michael informed the audience that Sheila was in the back room praying for him which, as he further explained, is what she always does during his talks, no matter where his talks take him throughout the world. That fact alone spotlighted how important Sheila's role has been in Michael's career; a role whose significance became crystal clear to the audience later in the talk.

This complimented the comment made by the young priest, assigned to introduce O'Brien that night, who expressed something to the effect that, he no longer thought of the artwork and writings as coming from just Michael O'Brien, but rather from both Michael and Sheila O'Brien.

John Bentley Mays

The talk was given in honour of the late John Bentley Mays, an award-winning Toronto writer on contemporary architecture and visual art, and the author of several books, who O'Brien characterized as a probing and honest intellect, untainted by any ideological agenda; a man searching in the "deep waters," yearning to find something, to find some meaning hidden in art.

A portrait of John Bentley Mays by Gertrude Kearns.
A portrait of John Bentley Mays by Gertrude
Kearns. 
From United States of Being 2005:
The John Bentley Mays Portraits.
Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Mays's career path led him to emigrate to Canada, where he eventually became an art critic in Toronto for four decades; and is considered to be one of Canada’s great observers, interpreters and explainers of art and architecture. Mays had passed away earlier this year as a result of a fatal heart attack on September 16.

O'Brien read and referred to Mays's book, Power in the Blood: Land, Memory and a Southern Family, which he described as the book that truly revealed who he was.

O'Brien went on to state that what the reader encounters in Mays's reminiscence is a, "Thoroughly modern man and a very great intellect, very cultured, urban, going back to his roots as a Southerner, seeking to know who he really was." 

He elaborated further by stating that this "Moving book is a long meditation of a person in late-middle age going back to where he came from, with new eyes, to see it for the first time."

Mays traced his family tree going back many generations to the early colonial days in Virginia; the author's eye is a reflection of his looking deeper into his personal history, in an attempt to find himself, to know a little better who he really is.

Mays did this through the eyes of an artist, who O'Brien went on to further describe:
A highly developed intellect, a highly articulate man, a master of words. He was a gifted writer who wrote not as an exercise in self obsession. As his reflections move through time and perception, what emerges is a poetic sense of the heart of the man's view of the world. His poetic sense is not easily come by, primarily it is something that is instinctive and very intimately connected to the sense of wonder; a wonder for the limitless phenomena of reality.
The Christian artist's responsibility to respect the sense of wonder

Segueing into a deeper reflection of wonder, O'Brien quoted Plato who said, "Philosophy is born of wonder," to which he added, " So too is art, so too is love." 

He went on to explain that when one falls in love with another, there is a sense of awe of the other being, a sense of silence emerges; a silence, a holy silence of attention before the mystery of the being of another. That other being could be the face of child or a landscape that evokes thoughts of the transcendent reality or the truth of the gospel; it can be practically anything that is true, beautiful, and good.

A painting of Jesus by Michael O'Brien entitled Ecce Homo
 Michael O'Brien's Ecce Homo
For the artist there is an immense responsibility, especially a Christian artist, to respect his sense of wonder, not only in his own creative processes, but in those who will gaze upon his work, who listen to his music or read his writings. He must respect the dignity not only of his subject matter, and himself as an artist, but also the dignity of the viewer.

O'Brien went on to point out that today's electronic culture does not lead us to wonder, but rather to an experience of thrills, that becomes addictive requiring increased dosages to achieve the same "high"; a consolation for living at an inhuman pace that is killing us. 

He challenged the audience to look at the symptoms, the fruits of contemporary society: are our children our greatest treasure; how often do we experience reverence; what is the condition of our cultural forms; does it lead us to wonder or does it keep "packin on more thrills."

Man is capable of wonder and growing in love. O'Brien explained that in a culture, born of love, seeking truth, and reverencing being, it is only art that flows from those springs in human nature, which transcends all races, time, and history, that will awaken the souls of those that find nourishment in it. 

O'Brien asks where shall such art be born? For a Christian or anyone living in the right order of natural law—whether or not he knows our Lord Jesus—seeking the truth, yearning for the good and beautiful, a kind of natural grace occurs. For the Christian artist, a sanctifying grace is possible. A grace to see farther and deeper and to come to a condition of reverence and to see reflected in nature, especially human nature, that what is glorious and beautiful because it is a reflection of He who is truth and beautiful, He who made us in His own image and likeness. 

Michael's conversion, meeting his wife, and the clarity of his vocation

At about the mid-way point of the talk, O'Brien took us back to the moment when his conversion became more profound, and how creative works begin to spring forth in his life, that eventually led him to the meeting of his wife; a meeting of great importance for him personally and professionally.

It was shortly after his conversion that O'Brien decided that he would venture out into the Gatineau hills (just north of Ottawa), to write a few paragraphs about nature. He came across a scene, a sapling about three feet tall growing from a heap of broken stones. Life had sprung up from where one would least expect it.

It was a scene whose significance was about to be revealed to him. As he set out to write about nature—which he never ended up doing—Michael's profound conversion was taking place. He described it as a time when, "The more he looked, the more amazing things appeared around me...my eyes were beginning to see deeper and farther than they had before..." O'Brien shared that little did he know that the sapling growing out of those rocks was to be a living metaphor of his own life; the beginning of a new life from what had previously been sterile ground.

It was at this point, in the early days of his vocation, that O'Brien began to draw; a time in which he experienced an inpouring of grace that illuminated his soul that resulted in the production of many drawings. Within a year, through divine providence, he had his first art exhibit in Ottawa in 1971. It proved to be quite a successful exhibit with three-quarters of the drawings sold.

The proceeds from that exhibit afforded him the opportunity to travel to British Columbia, where he came to a village that a friend was working at. It was at this village that he met his wife, which he married a few years later. He had abandoned all thoughts of becoming an artist, and set out to take on the responsibilities of married life.

A few months into the marriage, when Michael and Sheila were expecting their first child, Sheila had approached Michael and candidly stated, "Michael, you are an artist." As I watched and listened to Michael sharing this, I could not help but think that God was calling him back to his vocation through Sheila's insistence and certitude. 

This was confirmed a minute or two later. Michael shared that he sort of "shrugged off" the title of being an artist, and was set on meeting the responsibilities of a having a family. Sheila countered by stating, "God has given you a gift. God does not give gifts to leave them abandoned." That day was the return of Michael to his vocation as an artist.

Since that day in 1975, to present, O'Brien stressed the importance of his wife's unfailing support through some very long hard years. He went on to further state, "To be a Christian artist in these times is not an easy task."

A place we all could live

A painting by Michael O'Brien depicting a small Canadian town in winter.
Michael O'Brien's painting: A Place We All could Live

During the second half of the talk, O'Brien displayed selected paintings in a slide show, and explained the meaning and inspiration behind each one.

The above painting, one of two that depicts a typical small Canadian town in winter, drew my attention and has since, become of one my favourite paintings. 

As to why Michael painted it, he explained that one day Sheila remarked how nice it would be to live in a small town where the church was the spiritual and physical center of the town, and the children were everyones' joy and treasure. In response to this, he set out to paint such a scene for his wife. 

Personally, I totally agree with Michael and Sheila, it would be great to live in such is a place. Concluding his comments on this painting, O'Brien asked the audience, "Does such a place still exist?" 

The gift to create and to know it is a gift from above

A photo portrait of Michael O'Brien.
Michael O'Brien
Among the many things O'Brien shared with the audience was how blessed he has been considering that he was the individual least likely to succeed in his vocation. He was also blessed to see his radical poverty and then to be open, through grace, to receive many gifts. Among them was the gift to create and to know it was given from above and not his possession to do with as he willed.

Ever since my discovery of Michael O'Brien many years ago, I have always understood, and even more so from my attendance at the art exhibit and talk, that he is a deeply spiritual man; a man who has taken to heart Fra Angelico's advice to artists, "To paint the things of Christ, one must live with Christ."

What I discovered at his talk, that particularly impressed me, was O'Brien's pursuit to understand the meaning of his vocation. It wasn't just about developing the artistic skills, deep within was a desire to understand the meaning of it all. In addition to reading about other artists, one source of information that helped him to acquire the understanding, was Saint Pope John Paul II's Letter to Artists, in which he read the following paragraph:
Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but “fully reveals man to man”. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. (14)
O'Brien talked a great deal about the vocation of an artist through the narrative of his life and that of other artists, who like him, have been faithful to their talents regardless of the cost.

Reflecting back on the talk, I can not help but think of how he has lived the recommendations from the second instalment of his newsletters: he has been faithful to his God given talents, and abandoned himself to Jesus with full confidence; he has lived the totality of the Catholic faith without compromise; and prayed, worked hard, and never gave up.

What Michael O'Brien has wonderfully and passionately communicated regarding his vocation as an artist and author, is that it involves prayer, hard work, faith, and perseverance. It certainly was a very pleasant feeling to know that his career has been quite successful, one that has included the opportunity to give talks throughout Canada and the world. Where would we be without them?

It was a privilege to be in attendance at his art exhibit and talk, and an honour to have finally met Michael O'Brien; a man who I greatly admire and who earned my respect many years ago.

Thank God for Michael and Sheila O'Brien, for their past and continued contributions to the restoration of Christian culture.











Sunday, November 13, 2016

Donald Trump's Election: A Call to Christians to Get Back Into The Political Arena

Donald Trump giving a thumb up during his election victory
President-elect Donald J. Trump

First, I would just like to express my elation over Donald Trump's election as the next President of the United States. What a relief to know that a true leader will soon take up residency in the White House and "make America great again." 

Donald Trump's election was well deserved as he and his campaign team executed a perfect election strategy throughout the campaign. The "#TrumpTrain" showed America and the world what sincere love for country can accomplish through: hard work, determination, perseverance, and a burning desire to not let the country be destroyed. It was a much needed and wanted victory! Praise the Lord!

Trump's election is so necessary to remedy the social, political, and economic problems that have existed for far too long in America. Trump's common-sense-conservative approach and Christian values are exactly what is needed to not only "drain the swamp" in Washington and rid it of political corruption, but to begin the process whereby God's plan for humanity is implemented within government and established at law once again; in particular the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, and the appointment of Conservative pro-life and pro-family justices to the Supreme Court, much in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia.

There are many more critical issues that Trump will begin to tackle after his inauguration on January 20, 2017, which he has made clear during his election campaign: the stopping of businesses from leaving the country; bringing jobs back to America; repealing and replacing Obamacare; rebuilding America's schools, airports, roads, bridges and other parts of its infrastructure; suspend Syrian "refugee" resettlement that was imposed upon so many communities under the Obama administration, that contributed to the growing demographic nightmare of unwanted Muslim communities; deportation of illegal aliens; putting an end to radical Islamic terrorism; and building the wall on the southern border with Mexico.

I would like to thank President-elect Trump for showing Christians what it means to be a Christian in this day and age, by his willingness to enter into the political arena, demonstrating in the process, faith put into action.

I think many of us Christians can learn from Donald Trump's example. He has said on numerous occasions that he has had a very good life, he did not have to enter into politics, but taking into consideration the many problems America is faced with, he felt compelled, for love of country, to get involved.

Trump was also well suited to make a such a decision in that he has proven himself in the private sector with the building of a huge business empire; a man who has clearly shown that he understands how to get things done. 

Franklin Graham's Decision America Tour and Post-Election Recommendations

Putting faith into action and getting involved in the political process was also clearly demonstrated in a very big way by Christian Evangelist, Franklin Graham.

During the general election, I could not help but be impressed with Franklin Graham's Decision America Tour, where he went from coast to coast, and spoke at each state's capital getting the message out to the American people to do three fundamental things: pray, vote, and engage in the political process.


A photo of Franklin Graham in Louisiana during the 2016 Decision America Tour
Franklin Graham in Louisiana during the 2016 Decision America Tour

Graham embarked on this tour knowing full well of the great necessity to elect the right person to fix the many problems in America. Now that the election is over with, Graham is calling for unity among all Americans. It is part of his effort to help the country focus on the many problems it faces, and more importantly, the spiritual needs of the country. Here is what he stated on his web site, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, "...[W]ithout Jesus Christ we are the most desperately in need, the poorest of the poor. We cannot ignore His hand and His supreme authority."

Graham's web site further 
states that the polls may be closed, but the need to pray and engage is just as important now as it was before the election. Graham is quoted on this important point, “One thing is for sure, we need to pray for our new president, vice president, and our other leaders every day—whether we agree with them or not. They need God’s help and direction. It is my prayer that we will truly be ‘one nation under God.' ”

Reading Graham's post-election recommendations, After the Election: 5 Biblical Reminders, further impressed me, especially the point stressing the necessity for godly people to run for public office. Here are the other four reminders: remember the truth; start at home; pray for the new president and all elected leaders; and take a stand. I applaud Graham's efforts, his moral courage and certitude. I couldn't agree with him more; it is high time that we Christians get back into the political arena and undo the moral disorder in society!

"It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle"

Franklin Graham's efforts during and after the general election echoes the sentiments and encouragement that Saint Pope John Paul II expressed to the Catholic Church in 1988, with his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People) on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. 

In Christifideles Laici
St. Pope John Paul II stated that, "It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." It is a quote whose relevance has increased over time and is a much needed reminder for the Church in today's society. Here is the quote contained in the paragraph it was written in, "A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." (3)


A photo of Saint Pope John Paul II's and his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People)
Saint Pope John Paul II's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People)

Saint Pope John Paul II set out to explain the vocation and mission of the laity with the analogy of the labourers in the vineyard found in Matthew's Gospel 20:1-2, "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (1)

Our "vineyard" is the vast world we live in, one that is to be transformed according to God's plan whereby everyone, both of men and women, are called to labour in anticipation of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

The importance and necessity for "everyone" to "labour in the vineyard," was spotlighted by Saint Pope John Paul II's further reference to Matthew's Gospel 20:3-4 where the householder saw others standing idle, "And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too.' " (1)

The "you too" is a call to everyone: pastors, clergy, men and women religious and the laity. The laity, as full members of the Mystical Body of Christ, are personally called by the Lord from whom, as St. Pope John Paul II noted, "...[T]hey receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world." (2) He went on to emphasize how the laity should take the responsibility of this mission seriously by quoting from St. Gregory The Great, " 'Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord.' " (2)

Considering the current political landscape here in Canada, it is abundantly clear that "labouring in the vineyard" entails that devout and qualified Catholics get involved in the political process.

The need to have qualified committed Christians to run for public office in Canada

Can conscientious Catholics and Christians alike be satisfied with the Canadian political landscape. The answer to that question is rather obvious, no!

We need not expend any great amount of time or energy determining why that is. The fact that the majority of Canadians voted for the Liberal Party in the Fall'2015 general election, which made Justin Trudeau our next Prime Minister, is an indictment on Canada's morally bankrupt culture.

Many months prior to that election, Justin Trudeau, then the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, made it abundantly clear and explicitly stated that anyone aspiring to become a member of the party must support abortion. What audacity and how outrageous to insist that unwavering support for abortion be a prerequisite for becoming a member of the "gang." 

Several months after his election, Trudeau's government introduced Bill C-14, the euthanasia and assisted suicide bill that was passed by the Senate on June 17, 2016, legalizing both across the nation, further entrenching society into a "Culture of Death."

This is the state of the Canadian political landscape and society as a whole; both are in desperate need of being cultivated into a "Culture of Life." 

To accomplish such a change will require qualified committed Christians who put God back into the government. If our national anthem, which reads, "...God keep our land glorious and free..." means anything, then governing the land at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels will require an acknowledgement of and respect for God's Holy Laws.

If we as Canadians are serious about restoring our Christian heritage, then we need to put faith into action, and seriously and prayerfully consider running for public office, be it in positions in our local school boards, town and city councils, a run for the mayor's job, or becoming a member of the provincial or federal parliaments. Christians need to get back into the political arena!

America has just voted for a truly great leader in Donald Trump. May this reality inspire us here in Canada to seek out common-sense-conservative Christians who are willing to change the political landscape, that begins with a change in leadership at the highest level, a Prime Minister, who would be a perfect compliment to Donald Trump.




Sunday, October 30, 2016

George Weigel's Toronto Speaking Engagement

A photo of George Weigel and myself at the CCRL AGM

George Weigel and myself at his speaking engagement in Toronto

On October 26, I had the privilege of meeting George Weigel, the author of Saint Pope John Paul II's official biography, Witness To Hope. Weigel was in Toronto, invited to speak at the Catholic Civil Rights League's (CCRL) Annual General Meeting. 

It was an extraordinarily gratifying feeling to be in attendance with Mr. Weigel, who I greatly admire and whose work and accomplishments I hold in high regard. I had the added privilege of introducing myself and spoke with him for several minutes, that included the expressing of my respect and gratitude for all his work.

For those of you who are not familiar with George Weigel, he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), a Catholic theologian and a leading American public intellectual. He also holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies, the author of twenty books and his weekly column, The Catholic Difference, is syndicated to sixty newspapers. Weigel's essays and reviews regularly appear in major opinion journals and newspapers across the United States. He is the Senior Vatican Analyst for NBC News and a frequent guest on television and radio.

I first discovered George Weigel in 2001, when the DVD version of Witness To Hope, was aired on WNED Buffalo-Toronto, the local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) station. After watching it, I vividly recall becoming fascinated with the life of St. Pope John Paul II—a fascination that only increased over time as I became more knowledgeable about his life—that I purchased the DVD.

After watching the documentary again, it wasn't long before I purchased the book version of Witness To Hope from the Rosary Center, which as of this post, still lists it in their book catalog page.

In addition to Witness To Hope, I have purchased and read three other books authored by Weigel: The End and the Beginning, a book on the legacy and the last years of St. Pope John Paul II's life; God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church; and Evangelical Catholicism, a book on the deep reform of the twenty-first century Church.

George Weigel's enormous contributions to the Church and the world are a treasure trove of information for anyone who seeks understanding, knowledge and the truth.

Catholic Civil Rights League Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting (AGM) first began with Mass at 5:30pm at Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church located at 354 St. Clair Ave. West. Having to travel from suburbia, I allowed extra time for traffic, road construction, accidents, and any other delays. I arrived at around 4:30pm, which afforded me an opportunity to walk around for a few minutes and admire the fifteenth century English Gothic architecture of this church.

A photo of the front entrance of St. Clair Ave. West in Toronto, Ontario
Holy Rosary Catholic Church, St. Clair Ave., Toronto
It was a real gift to have arrived so early because I was afforded the opportunity to spend some private and quiet time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, which segued into personal prayer, and eventually the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. I concluded my prayers by offering up my all my Rosary and personal intentions, including for a successful AGM, with the forthcoming Mass.

Directly after Mass, everyone went to the parish hall for some food and refreshments. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to meet the executive director, Christian Domenic Elia, PhD., and mingle a little, meeting new people in the process, and reconnect with a few familiar faces.

Phil Horgan, president of the CCRL, presided over the meeting. As a non-member, I listened attentively to the meeting's agenda, that included a summary of the work the CCRL is involved in. It was quite impressive to hear Horgan speak of issues that I have personally become interested in and one in particular that I have blogged about: the moral disorder cultivated in the medical profession with the ushering in of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and the removal of conscience rights, spearheaded by the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSO). I was first alerted to this issue when the CPSO held a public consultation for the drafting of the Professional Obligations and Human Rights policy, which I blogged about at length at my post, Professional Obligations and Human Rights - An Anti-Life Policy From Ontario's College Of Physicians And Surgeons.

After completing all the official business of the meeting, Horgan moved on to the much anticipated segment, George Weigel's talk. He gave a brief summary of Weigel's accomplishments and credentials, a summary so impressive that it seemed to fuel the audience's enthusiasm, which was finally released with the thunderous applause as Weigel approached the microphone.

George Weigel's Talk

Seated dead center in front of George Weigel, approximately thirty feet away, I watched and listened to what can only be described as one of the most thought provoking and intriguing talks I have ever had the privilege of attending.

Steeped in important details and references, Weigel's talk proved to be not only a time of learning, understanding and discovery of some of the key essential issues we as Catholic face in society, and the world as a whole, but a time of inspiration that has personally encouraged me to seek out the readings on the many topics he covered: the "dictatorship of relativism" taken from the homily of then, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Dean of the College of Cardinals) on April 18, 2005; expressive individualism; the "leviathan state" and its accommodation to and implementation of "expressive individualism" through political correctness; the ever shrinking Catholic sphere; the growing need for living our Catholic faith with fortitude and certitude, rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's; and the urgent need for the Church to embark on a serious effort to implement what St. Pope John Paul II called for some thirty years ago, the New Evangelization.

A photo from behind George Weigel, giving a talk to the CCRL
George Weigel's talk to the CCRL
In addition, Weigel referred to Judge Anthony Kennedy's perception of the human person as a "bundle of desires" and the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision: the landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held in a 5–4 decision that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.

He also referred to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic Order of nuns who minister to the poor elderly, who were forced to defend themselves against the Obama administration's attempted imposition of the Affordable Care Act'sbirth control mandate.  

The Affordable Care Act requires all American insurance plans to cover twenty varieties of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved contraceptives at no cost to patients; in other words the "Little Sisters" would have had to provide coverage for contraception in their insurance plans.

Weigel's talk also included a call to Catholics to fight the good fight, by speaking out about the many issues we face in society, identifying the moral disorder in the process. He also pointed out that part of the good fight entails forming groups and associations.

Weigel reminded all of us that we are in mission territory, that there is a great need for the New Evangelization, to reclaim what was once Christian territory, which begins at our own kitchen tables.

For a talk that lasted approximately ninety minutes, it was a real privilege to have benefited from George Weigel's generosity to be amongst us, here in Toronto. Attending the AGM was time well spent; a faith strengthening time that has really encouraged me to improve upon my "labouring in the vineyard."

Saint Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici

If you are somewhat uncertain as to what I mean by "labouring in the vineyard," it is in reference to Saint Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (Christ's Faithful People), in which he explained the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world. He identified in the first section of the Introductionwho the lay members of Christ's Faithful People are:
...[T]hose who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard." (Matthew 20:1-2)
Our "vineyard" is the vast world we live in, one that is to be transformed according to God's plan whereby everyone, both of men and women, are called to labour in anticipation of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps Saint Pope John Paul II's "It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle" quote from Christifideles Laici is one of the most relevant quotes of the entire document; one that has certainly increased in its relevancy in today's world. Here is the quote contained in the paragraph it was written in, "A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." (3)

Christifideles Laici's importance and relevance is something that George Weigel also referred to in Evangelical Catholicism, Chapter Nine: The Evangelical Catholic Reform of the Lay Vocation: 
Although the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity remains an important reference point for Evangelical Catholicism in the twenty-first century, the Magna Carta of the deep reform of the lay mission will be found in the 1988 postsynodol apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici, a bold exploration of the various evangelical roles of "Christ's Faithful Laity," written by a pope, John Paul II, who until his young-adult years intended to live out his Christian life as a layman, and who as a priest and bishop had a broader pastoral experience of the lay apostolate than any other pope since the early Christian centuries. (192)
I could not help think of both Christifideles Laici and Evangelical Catholicism, and the connection to Weigel's point of the importance and urgency of implementing the New Evangelization. I consider both references key essential readings for anyone who is serious about boldly evangelizing and affecting a real positive change in society.

Catholic Civil Rights League

My attendance at the AGM was my first contact with this organization. I originally discovered the CCRL when reading about their opposition to the parliamentary report, Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach; a report that ushered in euthanasia and assisted suicide as new includes in palliative care, and the removal of conscience rights for medical professionals who object to the "new includes," based on religious or moral beliefs. I blogged about this at my post, My Support For Medical Professionals and Their Conscience Rights.

I was impressed with the CCRL's opposition. It certainly was encouraging to know that there was an active Catholic organization who cared to voice their concerns and speak out about the increasing moral disorder in Canada.

At the AGM, I was further impressed by the humility with which Phil Horgan expressed the need to focus on raising funds; that such a reality had to become a greater priority in order for the CCRL to effectively take action in the future and reach its goals. 

If you visit the web site, you will be no doubt be impressed by their work. But what you may not know, that might further impress you, is that much of it is done through the generosity of time and effort of its members, at no charge, who sincerely care and are driven to affect a positive change in society.

Here is how the CCRL describes itself from their About page:
The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) is a national lay Catholic organization committed to combating anti-Catholic defamation, working with the media to secure a fair hearing for Catholic positions on issues of public debate, and lobbying government and intervening in court challenges in support of law and policy compatible with a Catholic understanding of human nature and the common good. 
Founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization, the CCRL received permission from the late Gerald Emmett Cardinal Carter to use the name Catholic. With a Board of Directors and membership that spans the country, the CCRL is faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium and works in cooperation with local bishops across Canada. 
The work of the CCRL is exclusively sustained through donations.
If the work of the CCRL resonates well with you, and you are seeking to donate to a worth while organization, you may want to consider the CCRL.

Conversions and the Spiritual Battle

One of the most important points that Weigel made regarding the desired changes in society, was that if positive changes were to occur, they would be realized as a result of conversions.

Conversions are definitely something that we all need to pray for. One can only imagine how different the landscape would be with the increased personnel and other resources, affording us the opportunity to better establish and defend moral order, justice, peace, and the building up of the common good. 

We need only look to the times of St. Dominic and the Albigensian heresy, and how it was eradicated from Southern France through the conversions brought forth by the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and that most effective weapon against the evils of society, the Rosary.

I think it is fair to say that we, as human beings, can at times forget that the battle is primarily a spiritual battle, that must be primarily fought with spiritual weapons. Like any spiritual battle it should begin with and be sustained by time and prayer (on our knees) in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Add to this frequent Mass attendance, daily recitation of the entire Rosary, and fasting.

The enemies we fight are unseen enemies as St. Paul warns us in Ephesians: The Whole Armour of God, "For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Eph 6:12)

May we never lose heart to fight the good fight and pray for God's mercy and the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession.