Friday 23 December 2011

The "Unheard" Scream?

The Daily Telegraph has a frightening reminder as the the daily reality of Christian life in the Middle East. Former Christian nations - such as Egypt and Iraq - present the daily horror of persecution while the nominally Christian "West" ignores their "unheard" cry.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The Lahey Affair

Disgraced Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey apologized in court Tuesday for possessing child pornography, telling a judge he had an “indiscriminate” addiction to online pornography but didn’t seek help because of his high-ranking position in the church. Ottawa Citizen

The crowd is gathered around Bishop Raymond Lahey, jeering and reaching down to pick up stones. The feelings of anger and betrayal are understandable. Lahey was caught in the act and his apology did not come until the full consequences of his actions were made plain to him. His ability to lead a double life is truly shocking. Who will be the one to cast the first stone?

It is easy to cast ourselves in the role of an angry Jesus making a whip out of cord and driving the moneychangers out of the temple. While Jesus was consumed by zeal for his Father's house it is easy for us to forget our own place in the scheme of things and be driven by far less lofty motives. We are not without sin.

In the Lahey affair we have caught someone in the very act of committing sin. However our own place is not that of the righteous judge seeking to cleanse the temple. On the contrary, we are the crowd standing there with stones in our hands surrounding a woman caught in the very act of committing adultery. The woman is guilty. Neither the crowd nor Jesus have any doubt about her guilt and there is no evidence of repentance on her part aside from fear of the consequences of her actions. One is left to wonder whether the one who was betrayed was also in the crowd, for adultery is also an act of betrayal. "Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to thow a stone at her." Jesus does not belabor the obvious guilt of the woman, but instead uses the incident to point out the sinfulness of all present.

Like the woman caught in adultery, Lahey's guilt is blatant and obvious to all concerned. He has been convicted of a crime under civil law and when that process is complete he will be defrocked as well. How we respond to the Lahey affair says far more about ourselves than anything else. It also brings us face to face with one of the hardest dilemmas we can face. How shall we deal with those who have caused us pain and hurt? Who will be the one to cast the first stone?

Friday 9 December 2011

The New English Translation - Will it continued to be Abused?

I've been following with interest the use of and reaction to the new English translation of the Mass. I've also tried to put aside some time to read the then Cardinal Ratzinger on the liturgy. My belief is that the Mass should be approached as a spiritual action that is both cognitive and physical - as we are beings that are a composite of soul and body. Neither being angels nor brute animals, our spiritual life is conducted through and in (though not exclusively) a physical world via cognitive activity. Mass, contains spiritual realities which are mediated through physical action: be they movement or words spoken, guided by the human mind, inspired by God.

Mass is word and action. Abuse one and you corrupt the other, you corrupt the Mass. Examples that stand out are the televised Masses that present a mixed bag: those that follow the rubrics and those that even end up with the words of Consecration being changed.

The question remains: though the liturgy has certainly been clarified in its texts, will the text be followed? Will actions be in accord with the mind of the Church? I believe it was Pope Paul who referred to the renewal of the liturgy being "futile"if it was abused.

In conclusion I fear that the hoped for improvement will be missed. For those who were already following the Church, these texts will certainly improve the celebration of Mass. For those who abused and continue to abuse the liturgy nothing will be gained. It is time for bishops to enforce the law of the Church as keepers of the liturgy in their respective dioceses, in union with Pope and his decrees. 

Pope Benedict to the Australian Bishops, October 20, 2011: 

"You are conscious of your special duty to care for the celebration of the liturgy. The new translation of the Roman Missal, which is the fruit of a remarkable cooperation of the Holy See, the bishops and experts from all over the world, is intended to enrich and deepen the sacrifice of praise offered to God by His people. Help your clergy to welcome and to appreciate what has been achieved, so that they in turn may assist the faithful as everyone adjusts to the new translation. As we know, the sacred liturgy and its forms are written deeply in the heart of every Catholic. Make every effort to help catechists and musicians in their respective preparations to render the celebration of the Roman Rite in your dioceses a moment of greater grace and beauty, worthy of the Lord and spiritually enriching for everyone".
Out of the Mouth of Pagans

Have you ever had one of those friends who babbles on a bit but you listen anyway on the chance that something brilliant might pop out? Well I do... his other friends call him "farm boy" but I often refer to him as simply "the Pagan", a bit of a Latin joke. The Pagan has somehow decided to read Dante's Inferno and has come to the conclusion that it is all far too real. The various punishments meted out in hell mirror the sorts of traps that people can find themselves in on earth. Those suffering from lust are blown about by violent winds and storms with no hope of rest. Gluttons are condemned to blind self indulgence while the wasteful and miserly are at constant war with each other. In each case the punishment is merely an extension of the web woven during the person's life. We have all seen this dynamic at work in ourselves and other people. The odd thing is that nobody seems very anxious to get out except of course Satan. Hell is truly locked on the inside. Satan remembers and his struggles to escape fuel the winds that keep him ensnared, feeding on the most foul traitors. I am going to go read it and I recommend the Longfellow translation and reading it aloud.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Sunday 27 November 2011


Hi everyone. We at witness are getting together to put together a men's group. This group will pray and study St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life. We hope and pray that some men out there will get in touch with us with intent to join us.we hope to get started by the spring 2012.      Montford
A New Missal

Does any one remember the interim breviary in use in Canada in the early 70's? Those of you who do remember are no doubt laughing and shaking your head. Let me explain. It was a peculiar affair in a package that can only be described as unique. The psalter was a perfect bound book and the propers were contained in a series of booklets. The whole affair was contained in a blue vinyl jacket with side pockets for the booklets. Those of us who had to use the thing found it unwieldy and cumbersome. Is it any wonder that any who had a choice flocked to the American Interim Breviary published by Catholic Book Publishing. This was a properly sewn book with brown leatherette cover containing everything needed to pray the office in one attractive package. I still have my copy on the bookshelf. Where the other one went is anybody's guess.

Fast foreward to the present. Last week they were selling new missals in the back of the church. My response to our associate pastor was "But they all say Novalis on the cover!" We had a few words about liturgical publishing in Canada and I left. The following week I had occasion to wander into the foyer of the church on my way to the parish pasta dinner. Much to my surprise the lady selling Christmas cards informed me that they had just gotten in a quantity of St. Joseph Missals from Catholic Book Publishing. I snapped one up and walked downstairs smiling.

For any who are also looking for a "real" missal, Catholic Book Publishing plans to release a permanent three year missal in a sewn binding with a vinyl cover for $21US plus shipping. No doubt there will be better ones in the future. Perhaps I can even replace my Latin English Novus Ordo booklet? Who knows?

Monday 21 November 2011

Montfort's Meditations: Over coffee and cake...

Coffee and Conversation

Over coffee and cake one morning the four of us were discussing the current state of affairs with the Mass. Since the Council of Trent we have had the Tridentine Mass. The fathers of the council intended to keep to the traditions we had from the beginning from St. Peter, St. Paul and all the Apostles. At the time of the Council of Trent there were many local variations in the liturgy and some regulation was necessary. It was decided to keep those rites which had stood the test of time and suppress those which were recent innovations. One of the great fathers of the Church said of the Tridentine Mass "This mass is the closest thing to heaven on earth."

Today Catholics living with two liturgical rites, the Novus Ordo and the Extraordinary Form or the Tridentine Mass. Moreover the Novus Ordo has many local variations in language, rubrics and sometimes even the text itself. Even the Tridentine Rite has some local variations, the Missa Recitata in Europe and the silent mass in the Irish diaspora. All of this is causing a great deal of conflict among Catholics. Each group wants to keep that which they have grown comfortable with, whether Novus Ordo or Tridentine.

Even amongst ourselves there was considerable difference of opinion. We discussed the way the changes had been implemented and the variations we had seen. In some places the dialogue mass entirely in Latin was tried. In other places the Liturgy of the Word was in English while the Liturgy of the Eucharist was in Latin. We even discussed current attempts to change the way the Tridentine Rite is celebrated to make it more acceptable, prompting one of us to exclaim "They have the Novus Ordo to play with, leave the Tridentine Rite alone!"

There were many other things discussed including the facing of the priest ad orientam, the state of sacred music, reception of Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue, silence and reverence during mass and alter boys. We agreed to continue talking.

Montfort et al.

Friday 18 November 2011

The Fuss Over the GIRM

I was at an event recently at which someone asked "What are the precepts of the Church?"... a Baltimore Catechism question to be sure. At least two people stumbled on the answer and, though instructed on the old catechism, I could not think of the right answer either. When I heard the answer my immediate thought was that I had done all of those things for decades. The fact that I was observing precepts that I could not even enumerate gave me pause for some meditation. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the offspring should come to whom the promise was made... Gal 3:19

Why indeed? When I was learning those things I really had no idea why they were important. When I was a child I had to memorize much of the catechism to prepare for the sacraments but I remember being racked by guilt over missing mass. My parents did not attend so if I wanted to go I had to make my own way and some mornings it was just easier to sleep in. What purpose did the law serve in my life? Apparently the law exists to convict me of sin but observance of the law cannot give life. In other words the law could tell me I was in a mess but could not help one iota towards getting me out of the mess. Now that I have faith in Jesus Christ I have a very clear idea why these things are important and observe them as a matter of course. Yet I cannot even list the Precepts of the Church. St. Paul says "All things are lawful but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good but the good of his neighbor," 1Cor10:23 My actions are not to be governed by the law but by love of my neighbor.

Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Gal 3:1-2

We are about to introduce a new English translation of the Roman Missal along with a General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM). In my own parish it has been the subject of at least one seminar and some catechetical instruction before mass on at least two occasions. We have been singing the new musical settings for some weeks now so we are not going to hear the new Gloria cold on Christmas Eve. All in all the transition is being approached with some care in implementing what has been handed down. Whether the priests have any personal opinions on any of this, I am not aware of them. This is not because of lack of expertise as our associate pastor teaches liturgy at St. Peter's Seminary. Elsewhere I have heard rumblings of concern about certain aspects of the changes.

I have to wonder about the controversy surrounding the GIRM. It seems to me that Catholics would be stumbling over each other in their consideration for each other's scruples. The liberals would be going out of their way to ensure strict adherence to the GIRM so that their traditionalist brethren would not stumble. In a similar way the traditionalists would be zealously reaching out to their liberal brethren lest the new translations and the GIRM cause them to stumble. Apparently this is not happening. Instead we see the familiar polarization, people divided into opposing camps, accusations being hurled at one another. St. Paul saw this too in his ministry.

For you were called to freedom brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word. "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another. Gal 5:13-15

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Real Catholic?

There is a good deal of polarization in the church these days. One only has to scan the various blogs and news sites to appreciate the depth and extent of it. All of this makes me wonder about myself and where I stand in all of this. I go to Mass on Sundays at my local parish which is a scant block away. I struggle with daily Mass though I usually manage to attend during Lent. I am what the Knights of Columbus would call a practical Catholic and am in fact a 3rd degree member. I will never ascend to the 4th degree because the next time I wear a suit and tie in church I will likely be lying down in a box. I can be stubborn that way.

I attend my local parish church because I believe in the virtues of a community of place rather than a community of preference. Rubbing shoulders with a variety of people who may not agree with me on all things seems to be helpful. Moreover I rather enjoy the sense of community I get when I run into a parishioner on the street and stop for a chat. The local thrift store is run by parishioners and I often drop in for a chat on my way home from a shopping incursion. The last time I was in there the ladies were complaining of the lack of heat. I suggested that there were one or two books there that might be consigned to the fire.

I do not attend celebrations of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form on any regular basis. The closest one is over an hour away with a transfer. As a matter of fact I don't find the old rite particularly edifying. Perhaps it is the memory of one too many priests rushing through the liturgy. I missed most of the furor, having left while the Mass was still in Latin and they were just beginning to experiment with the dialogue Mass. By the time I returned everything had changed. There are some liturgical practices that make me cringe and it would do my heart good to hear more Latin from the choir.

I believe what the Church teaches but I do not spend a great deal of time researching these things. I read the Catechism, the Bible and one or two volumes of documents but I am confident that if an illiterate can be saved then the amount of reading necessary can't be all that much.

The question at the head of this post... indeed the question at the heart of all this is "What is a real Catholic?" We are all required to accept the dictum "outside the Church there is no salvation" but is that enough? How are we to understand this statement? Must we also be a member of the right party or faction? Must we take the right things seriously? Must we be the right kind of Catholic?

Why do I believe at all? How do I even know Jesus is risen? Witnesses who have seen these things have testified to them and I believe them. They have staked their lives in witness to these things. Am I a real Catholic?

Sunday 30 October 2011

Atlas Shrugged ... but Frodo Didn't

There is a new movie of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and I was watching Charles Adler waxing eloquent about it and Ayn Rand in general. I think it was his comments on the virtue of selfishness and the falsehood of any sense of altruism that stuck in my craw. There is something profoundly disturbing about it that gets under my skin in a way that the most doctrinaire Marxist cannot. After all someone once remarked that anyone who is not a socialist in their twenties has no heart but anyone who is still a socialist in their thirties has no mind. So perhaps such misguided altruism is at least comprehensible to a Catholic who also understands the error of the dialectical materialism that underlies the sentiment. The total negation of altruism that underlies Ayn Rand's work is something else again. I was pondering these things when I ran across this delightful quote on the net.

-- There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs. Kung Fu Monkey

I smiled. I was one of those caught up in Tolkien's profoundly Catholic vision though if any had pointed out his faith at the time I would have scoffed. Many still do today. I give thanks for the seeds that were planted in my teens in a heart that was in open rebellion as well as for the smile it brings to my face some 45 years later. Deo gratias.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Impressions of Notre Dame

I recently had the opportunity to attend mass at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. That in itself is a bit of a story. My son wanted to take the tour but I insisted that I would see the basilica used for its intended purpose. Only barbarians turn churches into museums and I was having none of that! My French is nonexistent so you will hear no comments about the homily here but I was impressed nevertheless. As I walked through the doors I saw a large sign proclaiming Silence. I wanted to take it home and post it over the doors to my own parish. When I settled myself in a pew I noticed some ushers walking about asking people if they were there for mass. The basilica charges admission except for prayer and mass. Several people were asked to put away their cameras. Again my thoughts turned to my own parish where I could only wish someone would walk up to people having loud conversations in the pew and gently remind them where they were. The other thing that impressed me was the organ and choir. Both were simply magnificent. I heard more Latin than I am accustomed to at home. You can tell I was impressed because I did not leave until the organ was silent. My usual rule is that while it is rude to leave before the priest, it is sometimes expedient to leave before the choir is finished. Well, not this Sunday...

Friday 2 September 2011


I have watched the current controversy at the Toronto Catholic District School Board over the Ministry of Education mandated Gay Straight Alliance groups with some interest. I will not comment on the details but instead offer some personal commentary which might be helpful. The subject of bullying is of great interest to me since I was a victim in school myself. I know from painful experience what it feels like to be sucker punched in a stairwell or subjected to verbal abuse. I can still remember the anxiety and fear of having to avoid some gang of toughs on my way to and from school.

I would have welcomed some intervention during those years. On the surface of it an anti-bullying group seems like a good idea but the way it is being implemented here is seriously flawed. You see, bullying renders you extremely vulnerable. You are alone and willing to grasp at any straw to relieve the pain. My teenage and young adult years were filled with one abortive attempt after another to connect with some group or other. This search for identity continued until I returned to the faith of my youth and found a measure of peace and healing in Christ.

My difficulty with Gay Straight Alliance groups is that I seriously doubt they would have been of any use to me as a youth. Bullying is the root problem, the constant stress and anxiety of being alone facing some threat or abuse. The offer to help providing I accept a particular identity would have been meaningless to me... I would not have fit in. Bullying is a human problem, not a gay problem. To offer someone who is vulnerable a way out so long as they accept a particular identity does violence to their psyche and is no true solution to the problem.

I truly sympathize with anyone who is going through the kind of turmoil I did but I cannot help but wonder if they could not come up with some solution that might have included such as me.


Thursday 1 September 2011

Montfort's Meditations: Reflections on St. Francis de Sales

Let me welcome you, my Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour, to this witness to the faith Website. I hope and pray that God will bring his grace and blessing, through what we bring to you. May I bring to you some of the Meditations from St. Francis De Sales, in his "Introduction to the Devout Life."

1. So to begin, let us place ourselves in the Presence of God. Consider how God has not placed us in this world for any need that he has of us. For we are of no use at all to him, but soley to show forth his goodness in us, giving us his grace and his glory. To that end he has given us an understanding to know him, a will to love him, an imagination to represent to ourselves his benefits, eyes to behold his wondrous works, a tongue to praise him.

2. Since we have been created and placed in the world for this purpose, all actions opposed to this end must be rejected and avoided, and those which conduce not to this end must be despised as vain and superfluous.

3. Consider the wretchedness of wordlings, who pay no heed to this, but live as though they were created only to build houses, plant trees, heap up riches and amuse themselves with trifles. Let us then deeply meditate on these words my Brothers and Sisters, and recall all our past sins and beg God for his merciful forgiveness. Thanking God for all the gifts you have received all of your life.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

Cardinal Ambrozic 1930 - 2011

His Eminence Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic

It is Jesus to whom we look.
It is Jesus whom we imitate.
It is Jesus whom we follow.
It is Jesus who is with us
so we can be with him.

Yes, we can work with others.
Yes, we learn from others.
But in Jesus we find our ultimate
identity and purpose.

He is the Alpha and the Omega
for each one of us
and for every human being.

Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic

A Little Civility Please

Anyone who has spent time reading blogs has noticed a serious lack of civility in the comment section. Somehow anonymously typing at a keyboard allows people to say things that they would not dream of were they meeting face to face. Moreover, the lack of visual and audio cues present in normal conversations allows the reader to simply assume the worst. With the best of intentions things can go terribly wrong simply because we are not familiar with this new medium. With less than honorable intentions things can get really nasty. There are some blogs and comment boards I avoid because of the sheer number of trolls and hateful comments. I think we can be better than that.

At Witness we do not want to ever forget that there are real flesh and blood people behind these posts and comments.

The blog Te Deum laudamus is running a series of articles and discussions that will examine these issues more closely. An examination of conscience for online behavior is certainly welcome so I urge you to check out Catholics in the Combox

Friday 26 August 2011

John Allen at NCR on Evangelical Catholicism

Defining Evangelical Catholicism
“Evangelical Catholicism” is a term being used to capture the Catholic version of a 21st century politics of identity, reflecting the long-term historical transition in the West from Christianity as a culture-shaping majority to Christianity as a subculture, albeit a large and influential one. I define Evangelical Catholicism in terms of three pillars:
  • A strong defense of traditional Catholic identity, meaning attachment to classic markers of Catholic thought (doctrinal orthodoxy) and Catholic practice (liturgical tradition, devotional life, and authority).
  • Robust public proclamation of Catholic teaching, with the accent on Catholicism’s mission ad extra, transforming the culture in light of the Gospel, rather than ad intra, on internal church reform.
  • Faith seen as a matter of personal choice rather than cultural inheritance, which among other things implies that in a highly secular culture, Catholic identity can never be taken for granted. It always has to be proven, defended, and made manifest.
I consciously use the term “Evangelical” to capture all this rather than “conservative,” even though I recognize that many people experience what I’ve just sketched as a conservative impulse. Fundamentally, however, it’s about something else: the hunger for identity in a fragmented world.
Read the article