Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What can we do to build a culture of life and family in Canada?

Pray
At the very heart of building a culture for life and family is the need for each of us to be a witness to our faith. Next, we ahould strive to pray and do it constantly for all those whose right to freedom of conscience is under attack. Let’s pray especially for those with sincerely held beliefs about the taking of innocent human life. Ask your friends and your entire parish to pray too. Join a prayer group. Organize special prayers or an hour of prayer asking for
God’s grace to help us build a culture which respects and promotes Life, Family and Conscience.

Educate Yourself About Life Issues
Just because something is legal does not mean it morally good. Develop a better understanding of these ethical issues and encourage others to become more informed. Buy books, magazines and pamphlets that respect life and family and share them with your friends, family, school, parish and other interested groups. Check reliable websites like the Catholic Organization for Life and family, www.colf.ca that are pro-life and have resources and events. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Vatican website are two main sources of information,

Become Politically Active
Encourage and support MPs committed to protecting life, religious liberty and the free exercise of conscience. A recent initiative worth supporting has been started by Brad Trost, a Canadian MP from Saskatoon. The federal government has pledged $18 million a year over four years to International Planned Parenthood Federation. This group pays and promotes abortions all over the world. Visit Brad Trost's site and download his petition and try get people to sign it.

Challenge ‘Doublespeak’
Be ready to challenge misleading terms like “sexual and reproductive rights” , “abortion”, “choice” and “access to safe reproductive healthcare” with the truth. These are words to disguise the fact that countless lives are being killed.

Support Healthcare Providers
Support and encourage those doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others who are trying to live according to their beliefs. One good website for additional information on this is Canadian Physicians for Life.

Join With People Of Other Faiths
As Catholics we are called to work with people of other faiths and all people of goodwill to find better solutions to matters of life and conscience. A good current example of this is the Manhattan Declaration issued by Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Evangelicals. It's a strong statement in defence of life, marriage and religious freedom. Visit the site and sign the petition at, www.manhattandeclaration.org. You can also sign the petition to be presented, once it gets to a million signatures, at the UN on behalf of all the unborn children. You may do this by going to this site, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. Lastly, be creative and think of your own pro-life activities.

Lou Iacobelli

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Parental Lesson You Never Got in School

A priority for most parents is to try to raise children so they’re healthy, smart and well adjusted. Parents want their kids to master the three R’s. Think of the Lemony Snicket’s stories with the title, A Series of Unfortunate Events with the three Baudelaire children, Violet is 14, Klaus 12 and Sunny just an infant. As orphans, they demand the reader’s empathy because they’ve lost their parents who were killed when their luxurious home burned to the ground. Soon after they’re sent to live with the evil Count Olaf who makes them work hard and treats them badly. His only interest in the children is to try to steal their fortune. The kids are forced to live in a dirty room and play with rocks because they have no toys or books to read.

On one occasion the children are asked to prepare dinner for a theatrical group. Here’s how Klaus reacts to this: “‘I hate it here, Violet! I hate this house! I hate our room! I hate having to do all these chores, and I hate Count Olaf!’ 'I hate it too,’ Violet said, and Klaus looked at his older sister with relief. Sometimes, just saying that you hate something, and have someone agree with you, can make you feel better about a terrible situation.”

The children are quite inventive and go get a cookbook next door and end up making a great dinner. Throughout the series of books the children learn to face many hardships, but at all times they remain creative, loving, ready to learn and wise beyond their years. This attitude makes them better able to confront all the trials and challenges that come their way. These books have become a successful publishing story and a movie was made based on them starring Jim Carey as Count Olaf.

Why have these children garnered so much international attention? Why the interest? I think it’s primarily because these kids never give up on hope. They learn to cope with whatever comes their way. They do all this by talking to each other and acknowledge their feelings. Their communication is infused with a sense of purpose because they always remember the great love of their parents, a love that sustains them in facing their struggles. In short, these children have what could be called spiritual/emotional literacy, a skill most schools are not interested in teaching and testing.

The important lesson to be drawn from all of this is essentially that parents need to make sure kids feel good about who they are; kids must know that they're loved. In order for this to happen, kids must be taught how to sensibly communicate emotional knowledge to themselves. When was the last time you heard a student say that their teaching him how to talk to himself? And when considered, isn’t thinking simply silent talk in our heads? Schools teach students subjects and the better ones stress character development. But who tells pupils or their parents how to think, basically how to talk to oneself effectively? If kids learned this skill wouldn’t they be better able to protect their sense of who they are? Like the Baudelaire children, we need to teach our kids how to think smart and stay socially and spiritually balanced. This means that their interior monologue—the words they silently say in their minds—must be properly formed so they can tell the difference between good and evil, healthy and unhealthy and right and wrong.

As Christians, we have a big advantage in accomplishing this important parental task. In the Gospel of John (18:35-36) Christ says: “I have come to this world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” The truth is that God loves us because every life is sacred. But is this the message our kids hear in their heads when they think of who they are?

Another way of saying “listen to my voice” is to recognize that we need to equip our children with the appropriate words for them to think about His truth whenever their souls are at risk from the ways of the world. Each life is so precious that God sent his Son to save us from sin and death. God loves us. For our children to build a fortress around this truth, we must arm them with the knowledge of their divine dignity. We need to make sure they remember because sooner or later they will face trials and temptations. "God thinking" is what will help them break the power of evil and make all things new. But our kids cannot avail themselves of this life protecting armour if we do no teach it to them. We need to instruct children how to sensibly communicate with themselves. We must work hard with them in order to instill the value of prayer, the sacraments, the Holy sacrifice of the Mass and the teachings of the Church. This will serve to guide their thoughts and actions. Just think of the strength and courage our children-and parents- can summon by reciting the Prayer to St. Michael. Pope Leo XIII must have been aware of its power when he introduced this prayer to the faithful.

Using this sound spiritual approach, we’ll teach our kids a positive way to talk to themselves--a way to think-- and as a consequence they'll build their lives on truth, as well as live smarter and healthier lives. Our concerns these days for Street-proofing or internet-proofing our kids don’t go deeply enough; we must spiritually-proof our kids’ souls for life; we can do this by helping them develop a personal built-in evil detecting-rejecting system, nothing less than talking sense in their own heads. This truth will give them the hope needed in recognizing and fighting the wickedness of the world. In facilitating their children’s consciences being formed in this manner, parents can hope to raise kids with much more than just world intelligence; they will aim for them to be smart and holy, eternally. Why aren’t they teaching this stuff in schools?

Lou Iacobelli

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Shepherd’s Faith: A Call to All Parents


This past October and November my wife and I travelled to the small Italian town of Casalvieri where I was born. The town is located in the province of Lazio, 130 kilometres south of Rome and about 20 kilometres from Cassino where the famous Benedictine Abbey of Monte Cassino is found. The Abbey of Monte Cassino, established by St. Benedict in 529, is worth visiting both for its spiritual roots and its historical significance; the battle that nearly completely destroyed it was fought there in 1944.)

I arrived in early October and on the Sunday of the 13th, we attended Mass. The church in Casalvieri is called St. John the Evangelist. It’s a beautiful Roman-gothic church. The second reading for that day was from St. James who writes about the idea that without good works one’s faith is empty. He tells us that our faith should be seen in our charitable actions like clothing the naked and in feeding the hungry: “If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way faith: if good deeds do not go with it, it is quite dead.”

After Mass as the local people did their shopping in the open market for food and clothing, I met an older gentleman who had also gone to Mass and has been a resident of the town all his life. He’s now 82 years old, but he appeared to be much younger than that. After some brief introductory remarks, we quickly began to talk about the usual things relating to politics, the family and the church. It turned out he knew my parents. So it became a little easier to talk openly. He has been a shepherd all his life. He’s happily married for over 60 years with four children, who are also married and have families.

I asked him how family life has changed during his lifetime. His answer surprised me. He said that when he was growing up his father would pray the Rosary every day and stressed importance of prayer in life and going to Mass. He was raised in a family with five children. Every family member knew that before dinner the rosary had to be recited. The family went to Mass on Sunday. And from that example, he has continued to do that in his own family. To the present day he said that when he’s watching his sheep graze, he often prays the rosary. Some days he says it several times. Prayer for him is God’s way of keeping him healthy in mind and spirit, a way of truly having your feet on sacred ground. Prayer was a central part of his life when he was growing up and so he’s tried to maintain that spiritual tradition in his own family. He said continues to go to Mass every Sunday to give not only his children, but his grandchildren a proper Christian example.

Now all this about prayer and the church and it came from an old man, a husband and a grandfather. To me this shepherd had a lot of wisdom. This simple man and his wife living their lives closely connected to the Church are helping to build a culture of life. His life and family have been open to new life, to prayer and to a life primarily centered on God. As he spoke to me, I could see and feel that the man’s faith is alive because he’s living it, in his life and his family. Words alone are not nearly enough; we also need to do good actions along with the praying. This Shepherd is doing just that. It's how we encounter Jesus.

Listening to this humble shepherd, I felt deeply moved by his faith because he was a witness to the Truth. I felt truly inspired. As I now reflect on that brief faith encounter, the following questions come to mind. Where are these men, these fathers and mothers, in today’s post-modern society? Why is the contemporary family in Canada losing the tradition of praying? Are the parents of today leading their children by the same example as this shepherd? If the modern Canadian Catholic family still claims to believe in God and in their faith history, where can we find the evidence? Today’s family is under attack from many fronts, could it be because we have removed our faith and our God from our daily agenda? I’ll end as I started with words of St. James: “You see now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing, that someone is justified.”

Lou Iacobelli

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Social Doctrine of The Church

Soon after the release of Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Caritas in vertitate (Charity in Truth) I printed it out, read it and found it to be an intriguing and informative read. In addition to Pope Benedict's contribution, what I found particularly intriguing were the references to other encyclicals from various Popes, dating far back as the late 18th century with Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum. What began as the reading of one encyclical ended up as a major endeavor, the reading of five encyclicals, comprising the core of the Church's social doctrine.

If anyone is interested in how the Church's social doctrine developed, what were some of the past societal issues, part of which still exist today, and in general, obtain a better understanding of Caritas in Veritate, I respectfully urge you to read the other referenced encyclicals. If you are like me, you will find this task to be a welcome challenge to discovering the truths of society's issues, both past and present. Below are excerpts that I hope will encourage you to do so:


Rerum Novarum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor, May 18, 1891
"...The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation - that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place. As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance, or are lacking in them-so far as eternal happiness is concerned - it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright..." (21)

Populorum Progressio: Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on The Development of Peoples, March 26, 1967
"When we fight poverty and oppose the unfair conditions of the present, we are not just promoting human well-being; we are also furthering man's spiritual and moral development, and hence we are benefiting the whole human race. For peace is not simply the absence of warfare, based on a precarious balance of power; it is fashioned by efforts directed day after day toward the establishment of the ordered universe willed by God, with a more perfect form of justice among men." (76)

Sollicitudo rei socialis: Encyclical of Pope John Paul II on the 20th Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, December 30, 1987
"The Church's social doctrine is not a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church's tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior. It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church's evangelizing mission. And since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people's behavior, it consequently gives rise to a "commitment to justice," according to each individual's role, vocation and circumstances." (41)

Centesimus annus: Encyclical of Pope John Paul II on the 100 Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, May 1, 1991.
"Finally, development must not be understood solely in economic terms, but in a way that is fully human. It is not only a question of raising all peoples to the level currently enjoyed by the richest countries, but rather of building up a more decent life through united labour, of concretely enhancing every individual's dignity and creativity, as well as his capacity to respond to his personal vocation, and thus to God's call...No authentic progress is possible without respect for the natural and fundamental right to know the truth and live according to that truth. The exercise and development of this right includes the right to discover and freely to accept Jesus Christ, who is man's true good." (29)

Caritas In Veritate: Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, June 29, 2009.
"The Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or “after” it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.

The great challenge before us, accentuated by the problems of development in this global era and made even more urgent by the economic and financial crisis, is to demonstrate, in thinking and behaviour, not only that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated, but also that in commercial relationshipsthe principle of gratuitousness and the logic of gift as an expression of fraternity can and mustfind their place within normal economic activity. This is a human demand at the present time, but it is also demanded by economic logic. It is a demand both of charity and of truth." (36)