Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music Celebrating John Paul II’s Theology of the Body

On March 22, I interviewed for the Family Matters program which I host on HMWN Radio Maria, 29 year-old Peter Baklinski all the way from Melbourne, Australia. He moved there from Alberta with his wife and family in order to study at the John Paul II Institute. He’s writing his PhD thesis on John Paul II’s, A Theology of the Body. This would be reason enough to talk to him, but I wanted to introduce him to our listeners because he has recently released a wonderful and meditative CD which was inspired by A Theology of the Body. In his words, “John Paul II has been pivotal in setting in motion a much needed renewal of thinking regarding marriage, family and the meaning of the human person. His powerful and insightful writings have influenced my entire life, including my marriage, family life, intellectual life and even my music.”

In 2004, when Peter was doing a master level course at Austria’s International Theological Institute, he became totally enamoured with JP II’s teaching on human love, marriage and sexuality. The course was being taught by the world renowned scholar Michael Waldstein who later translated the English text from the Italian edition. Both Peter and his wife Erin took the theology of the body course. They were so impressed with the contents that he realized “this is I want to give my life to; this is what I want to study and this is what I want to teach.” What a blessing to know exactly what you want to do with your gift of life when you’re just twenty. Peter is not afraid of life because he grew up in a family of 14, and his parents always told him that marriage can work in spite of all the challenges.

While Peter has had musical training he does not consider himself a professional musician. His wife Erin suggested that he put John Paul II’s teachings to music. At first he rejected the idea, but after he prayed about it he began to get excited and felt that if God wanted it to happen it would come to be. He also thought it a great project to put John Paul II’s grand vision of redemption to music. And so after years of meditation on the piano came the fruits: Resonance of the Gift: Musical Reflections on the Theology of the Body. To order the CD just go to Peter’s web site at Listen to this sample track and read what inspired Peter to compose the song, as well as the relevant references to biblical passages and the ideas of John Paul II. It’s music that moves the soul where it wants to be, closer to heaven: it's called, Resonance of the Gift.

The CD consists of 12 selections: Fantasia in the Cappella Sistina, Solitude of Creation, Adam’s Dream, Exultation before Eve, Communion of Persons, Loos of Hope, Sowing Tears, Child from the Lord, Resurrection of the Body, Consecrated Love, Marriage Covenant of Nazareth and Fiat. Peter did everything himself, the recording, the composing and the design of the album. The liner notes are also a rich source of information about each work. The CD: Resonance of the Gift is a musical reflection on the theology of the body which came from a profound series, 133 in all, of general audience talks, given at the Vatican by JP II from 1979 to 1984. All the reverberations of this spiritual tsunami have yet to be felt by the faithful. Stay tuned you’re sure to hear much more about it.

For Peter and his family the importance of JP II’s new theology has been felt and he’s living the results: “The truths in the theology of the Body are really the remedy to what we are experiencing right now with basically the breakup of marriage, the misunderstandings of what it really means to be a family and the misunderstanding of sexuality. Theology of the body is the best remedy for understanding these things and putting things back on track again.”
Surely this is a young, talented Catholic Canadian who is living his faith. He’s using the gift of life to build a culture of love and life in Canada. He’s somebody we should all support. If I were hiring a professor in one of our universities, Peter Baklinski is the kind of person I would want on staff. Peter we pray that you successfully complete your doctoral work and soon come back to Canada. Canada needs fathers, musicians and future instructors like you.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Toronto Doctor on a Mission of Love

Have you ever stopped to truly consider what our lives would be like if we humbly took our Christian call seriously? To find out, read on. Dr. Michael Vecchio gave a Lenten talk at all Masses at St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, in the Archdiocese of Toronto, during one weekend in March 2010. This was followed by a more detailed presentation on two week nights. Dr. Vecchio is a family practicing physician for over thirty years in North York.

I attended the talk he gave on Wednesday night. In 1989, he was diagnosed with a brain tumour which radically rattled his life. After the shock of the news, he asked that if God would choose to have him live a little longer, he would drastically change the way he was living. Dr. Vecchio underwent a successful operation, and, as a result, it led to a complete transformation of his life. As he had promised, he started to serve and worship the crucified Lord, to bring the mercy of the Cross to his patients and to create an atmosphere in his office which would reflect his faith and his love for the Cross.

While the image of the Cross is central throughout the liturgical year, it is during Lent and Easter that it should become the very heart of our faith experience. This is what happened to Dr. Vecchio: his illness was his epiphany and he wanted to unite himself with the crucified Christ and bring all that life can offer to the foot of the Cross as we do on Good Friday. And thus his devotion to the Cross began and he started to pray more, to study the writings of the saints and to lead a more reflective life centred on the Cross. He also wanted to share this spiritual awakening with his family, his patients and all those who would listen. It’s the reason he sends letters to local pastors asking them if he can bring his testimony of the Cross to parishioners. That is how he got invited to speak at St. Bernard.

During his talks he displays a very large, framed painting of Christ on the Cross(It is the photo at the beginning of this article). Along with Jesus there’s a man, bent over and embracing Christ with one arm. The man with his hand around Christ’s body, explained Dr. Vecchio, represents each one of us. We are invited to share our Cross with Jesus. He went on to say that too often he has no appropriate answer for his patients who are trying to cope with life-threatening illnesses. Yes, he does what doctors do. He orders the necessary tests and fills out prescriptions to help them deal with their ailments, pain and suffering. But after his own brush with death, he soon realized that this approach was not enough. To find any real possibility of understanding pain, illness and even death itself, we must go to the Cross. Medicine and science cannot alone provide neither meaningful nor satisfactory answers. Our physical brokenness and our spiritual hunger must be offered to Christ.

As Luke says, "anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Dr. Vecchio read many quotes taken from the saints such as St. Louis de Montfort, St. Alphonsus of Liguori, St. Paul of the Cross and St. John Chrysostom who said, “It was great happiness for St. Peter to be imprisoned for Jesus Christ ... he was more glorious bound in chains than holding the keys of Paradise in his hand.” The doctor also let the audience know that what he was sharing was in part the spiritual fruits of a program he has co-hosted for fifteen years on Radio Maria. He is doing what the laity is called to do in Christifideles Laici: to make it a vocation and mission to serve the Church in whatever capacity or wherever God has placed us.

Dr. Vecchio reminded the faithful present that we can all share in the life, the strength and the salvation of the Cross, if we are willing to accept its pain, suffering and burden. He constantly counsels his patients to bear their ills and sufferings by compassionately putting them with those of Jesus. It is this love for the suffering Jesus, that helps us in carrying our cross as we crucify our sins.

I think that if we had a few more doctors (teachers, lawyers, engineers, politicians, parents and others) doing what Dr. Vecchio is doing, Toronto would be a better place to live. He has taken his baptismal promise seriously, a spiritual mission of spreading the Word of love, and is doing what he can by visiting local churches and bringing the hopeful message of the crucified Christ beyond the walls of his medical office. He’s helping to build a culture that respects life. As well, he provides an excellent example for students attending Canadian medical schools. Ultimately he’s doing what every good doctor should be practicing: he’s taking the Hippocratic Oath to a higher level by treating not just the body, but the spirit and the soul of his patients.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Are You Ready for Home Schooling?

There are some very disturbing directions that the Ministry of Education wants to take in both our public and Catholic schools. These changes are another attempt to further undermine the responsibility of parents when it comes to educating their children about sex, procreation, the dignity of life and the very definition of family. Let me explain. When the new 2010 school year begins, elementary students in Ontario will be taught a mandatory revised Health and Physical Education curriculum in Grades 1-8. The high school curriculum will be made public this spring. Both public and Catholic elementary schools are expected to implement its contents.

However, some of the elements in this new document are contrary to Catholic teaching. The Ministry has not yet made it clear whether Catholic schools will be required to implement the entire document. According to this curriculum, in Grade 3 students will begin to learn about “sexual orientation” and “gender equity” so they will appreciate “invisible differences in others.” By the time students graduate from Grade 8, the expectation is to make them recognize and accept that “some (families) have two mothers and fathers.”

The document replaces the 1998 curriculum and makes an obvious attempt to push for the idea of “equity and inclusive education” in Ontario schools. This basically means that the Ministry wants to normalize homosexuality, transgendered and the meaning of family. Knowledge about masturbation is to be introduced in Grade 6. All of this is to bring students to a fuller understanding of “sexual orientation” by learning that there are “various types of families and relationships". As a result, they must learn a new "vocabulary" such as “two mothers”, “two fathers” and “partner” in reference to families because they will be taught that not all couples (forget the words parent, mother and father) are “husband” and “wife” and of the opposite sexes.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about masturbation, "Both the magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and disordered action.  The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose." Here, sexual pleasure is sought outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved." (2352).

In regard to homosexuality the Catechism states, "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life.  They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." (2357) To know more about this topic, I would humbly encourage you to read Pope Benedict XVI's document, Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons, to help shed light on the immorality and unacceptability of homosexuality.  This new Ministry Health curriculum doesn't just undermine Catholic teaching, it outright rejects it. That's why the document should remain in the Minister's office.

It doesn’t end here. In Grades 7 and 8, students cover these main topics: “preventing pregnancy and disease,” “sexual orientation,” and “gender identity.” Students at this age are to be instructed on the use of condoms “when a person becomes sexually active.” Enough is enough. Why must these young kids be manipulated with all this information which sexualizes them so early? Who are the writers at the Ministry that decided to write this document? If this curriculum is actually taught in both public and Catholic schools, I would suggest that parents consider taking their children out of the regular school system. It’s not the Minister, his minions or any government that has the responsibility to teach children about sexuality and morality. This is what parents are called to do. Parents have the duty to educate the lived Truth of their faith, in the love of God and neighbour.

Who gains when young kids are taught that homosexuality and exploring the body sexually at a very young age are normal activities? If some adults in the Ministry and in our society believe that homosexual acts, masturbation and condom use among the young are to be considered normal activities, that’s fine. But they don’t have the right to pass that value system to all kids. Treating kids as sexual objects is a form of abuse. Natural law dictates that life ought to begin with loving sexual acts between persons of the opposite sex. So children are a product of shared love betweeen the parents and God, not the result of a sexual act alone. No amount of verbal gymnastics can change that fact. No new Ministry curriculum will alter that truth.

If Catholic schools are forced to teach this curriculum, which essentially serves to indoctrinate our children about homosexuality, masturbation and a distorted meaning of family and the dignity of human life, then are we prepared to stand up for our faith? Are we ready to pay the price of true Catholic education and take back our schools? Will we have the courage, in the face of no other alternative, to pull our children from the school system and, if possible, home school them? Perhaps it’s also worth recalling a little of the history of Catholic funding. Since the 19th century, the Roman Catholic separate school was funded up to Grade 10 under the British North America Act (BNA).

It was Premier Bill Davis’ Conservative government that in 1984 extended full funding to include the last three years of high school. Now the question to ask is: have the Catholic high schools over 26 years of being fully supported by the government become better places of learning? I don’t know what your response is, but mine is a resounding no! Money, no matter what amount, cannot transmit values, faith and morals. Our recent educational history in Ontario demonstrates all too well that Catholics have made little or no progress by compromising our faith at the altar of the almighty dollar.

Parents have a duty and right to be the first and the principal educators of their children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsilbility by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for the education in the virtues." (2225) In addition, "Parents have a right to choose a school for them (children) which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental." (2229) The moral flaw in the new curriculum is that it deviates from the truth about who we are as persons; it demeans sexuality and love while distorting the meaning and role of fatherhood and motherhood.

Parents know best how to educate their children because they have embraced this gift of life from God with love. They know each child in a unique way and so are best suited to transmit their love of life and family. No Ministry of Education, especially when we consider the misguided and untruthful approach in this new curriculum, can ever accomplish this.

Useful Resources:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Vancouver 2010: No Gold Medal for Life

Canada won 26 medals, 14 of them were Gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. There was so much excitement especially after the Canadian hockey team defeated the American squad. The Canadian media were busy covering every aspect of the Games, and if we are to believe the talking heads, Canada rediscovered its sense of patriotism and the meaning of being Canadian.

An announcer on CFRB happily declared that 100,000 condoms were given out free to athletes, visitors, volunteers and workers at the 2010 Olympic Games. She talked about the raging hormones at the games and so condoms were the perfect answer. Whatever happened to the idea of true sex education? The announcer commented that such a large number of condoms were needed to create awareness about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. I have news for those who believe that we must give away condoms to let people know there are risks associated with having sex whenever you want to and with whomever you want. We can actually educate ourselves about responsible sexual activity, if we really care and respect one another, without having to give away free condoms.

But I think there’s a bigger agenda at play. Indiscriminate sexual behaviour leads to higher pregnancy rates and higher cases of sexually transmitted diseases. This inevitably leads to more abortions and more people who require medical treatment and drugs. This is big money and huge profits. To really help the athletes and everyone else who attended the Games, we should have encouraged them to behave in sexually responsible ways. Instead, we promote sexual promiscuity by letting people falsely believe that there’s such a thing as safe sex. Immoral activity is never safe, neither for the body nor the soul.

Here we are wasting our time talking at a national level about changing the words, “In all thy sons command” in Oh Canada to make them “gender neutral.” We should really be focussing on the lines, “God keep our land, Glorious and free.” Of course this would require making God once again an important part of who we are and from where we have come historically.

How can our nation ever hope to be glorious and truly free if we refuse to endorse respect for life at all stages? Condom distribution is a reflection of a greater moral ill in our country: we have fully embraced a contraceptive mentality. What happened to the idea of a charitable and responsible citizenship? I remember in the early 1980s when HIV began making the news. At that time, I was teaching at a private high school for boys and the public nurses where making their rounds to tell students about this new virus. When a nurse visited my classroom, I asked if I could sit with the class and listen to the presentation. I was told I could and so I did.

The talk was a brief lesson on human sexuality. However, the stress was on the idea that if students were going to have sex, they should use a condom. The assumption was that students were going to be sexually active and so we should prepare them. The approach has not changed over the years. The evidence for this is the Vancouver Games and free condoms. Even after 30 years, I recall most of what I told my students about the talk they had heard. I explained that they were too young to be parents. They were not ready to raise a child. Just because you're given a free condom does not mean you have to experiment by using it. Sex is a wonderful thing, but it must be done with respect for the other person, and being prepared to accept the consequences of the gift of life from this reproductive capability. I told them they were too young to be sexually active. They were in high school and so their focus should be on their studies, not their hormones. I also reminded them that their faith was a solid guide for making moral decisions about sexuality. Finally, I suggested that they had parents who already had children and so they could get good advice from them, from their relatives and even the parish priest.

Do you know that some students remember what I said to them 30 years later? Young people whether they tell us or not, do want clear messages when it comes to making moral choices. It’s not they who fail, but we do as adults in not offering honest, consistent and truthful counselling. This is what was missing in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games: rather than poke fun at the raging hormones of the young athletes, we could have told them the truth about condoms and the contraceptive mentality. Imagine how much more valuable those 26 medals Canada won if our country had had the courage and the charity to promote life at the Games. Regrettably, at the Vancouver Olympic Games 2010 there was no Gold medal awarded for building a culture of life in Canada. It’s the only medal that in truth counts.