Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Dec 26 is the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian recorded as martyred for the faith. How amazing that this violent death is so closely tied to the miracle of the sweet little baby Jesus.  The parallels are striking: in both accounts, not everyone recognizes Jesus for who he truly is and what his coming means for the world. Some people (shepherds & Stephen) are given glimpses of the glory of God which sound bizarre to those who hear the tale, and others (King Herod & the Sanhedrin) react with violence for fear of losing the power they wield over the people.  The question before me as I meditate on this is: How will I respond to the truth Jesus sets before me?  Will I embrace it despite the cost & ridicule it may garner, or will I shut him out and live life on my own terms?

Each day is filled with countless moments where this question is asked of me.

Therein lies the secret of a life of faith - baby steps, small choices, incremental progress.  I am far from perfect; my flaws are legion, yet Jesus loves me and meets me where I am at in life without reservation, asking only that I give him permission to do what he wants.  Sometimes I give this permission with profound zeal, but mostly my permission is half-hearted.  Occasionally I refuse outright.  Yet he never grows frustrated, and always patiently waits for me to come around.

St Stephen was a much holier man than I, yet I now humbly ask for his intercession, that I would be given the grace to surrender my life more completely to the Lord Jesus.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Transformations #43: The Bike Theft

On Aug 4, my wife and I attended Freedom To Love, a conference on the Theology of the Body as presented by Christopher West.  If you're not familiar with this topic, it's one of the key components of the Catholic Church's New Evangelization.  It's a deep, profound, and complicated study but is full of insights into our faith, our creation as sexual beings, and our creator.  It is jam packed full of jaw-dropping "I never knew that!" and "That makes such perfect sense now!" moments.

It was a pleasant & sunny day - perfect for a bike ride to get us to the Convention Centre downtown.  I've become a big fan of riding my bike into downtown Winnipeg, as it is much easier to navigate the traffic and free to park.  But I had never parked my bike for an extended period of time downtown, and this was a day long conference.  I have a good bike lock though (or I thought I did), and we found a bike rack near the front of the building that I considered to be within sufficient public scrutiny as to prevent a would-be thief from being able to spend too much time trying to cut my lock.  I was reasonably sure everything would be fine.

After our lunch break, my wife wanted to confirm our bikes were still there, and I took a look - they were.  "She's being too nervous," I told myself as I headed back to the conference room.

The bike locks you see here aren't ours.
But as the conference ended - it was amazing, by the way - and we headed out to go home, I was stunned to see an empty bike stand where we had had them locked up.

This is such a gut-wrenching feeling.  While not as serious a violation as a home robbery, it is still offensive to think that somebody took the time to cut my lock (which was securing both bikes to the rack).  In all likelihood, the bikes were taken to a pawn shop or broken up for parts to sell to fuel a drug habit.

We immediately went to the security desk and asked them if they had any footage of the theft.  The cameras recorded somebody bending over them at 2:54 PM, a different guy approaching them at 3:10, and the same guy riding one of them around the other side of the Convention Centre two minutes later.  Apparently bike theft is a team event.

My house insurance deductible is $500, and putting in a claim would have an impact on our monthly premiums too.  It's hardly worth putting in a claim for this.  Remind me why I'm paying $100/month for their services?  Perhaps if the thieves had done a more thorough job and broken into our home too... I guess I'd better be careful what I wish for though.

According to the City's website:

As many as 3,000 bicycles are reported stolen each year in the city of Winnipeg. 
The City of Winnipeg recovers up to 1,500 bicycles each year, with only 10 to 12% returned to their rightful owners. 
The City of Winnipeg sells over 1,000 bicycles a year at its annual bicycle auction because ownership cannot be traced.

Ironically, I had read this about a week prior, and had resolved to get our bikes registered.  The key to finding the rightful owners of bikes is to register the serial number with the police, which means that we'd stand a 50% chance of getting our bikes back.  You can't imagine how hard I'm kicking myself for all the decisions I made (or the ones I procrastinated on) that led up to this theft.

But that's not my transformation moment from this tale.

I was scheduled to play music at our Mass today, and the theft had been understandably troubling me.  My spirit was not in a place where I could rejoice at anything.  So as I walked to the church I prayed.  I prayed that the Lord would take all my worries and woes away.  I prayed that the Lord would restore my joy and would allow me to let go of the anger I was feeling.  I prayed for the thieves, that they would be converted and saved from their destructive cycles.

And I felt liberated.  A new & refreshing joy filled my spirit and I was able to focus on the beauty of Mass.

My wife had an insight that I'm clutching as my only grain of hope in this situation: perhaps those bike thieves had nobody else to pray for them.  Perhaps the Lord allowed this to happen so that they would be brought into the circle of our prayer life.  If so, I am doing him and them a great disservice by holding on to my bitterness over this.

That release from anger, that liberating love: that's the small change wrought in me this day.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Transformations #42: Resonate

The first time I went to Mass after deciding to become Catholic, I took my Bible with me.  I went with a Catholic family whose daughter attended school with me, and they were amused that I brought it along.

I was ready to read along.  But for the first reading, the reader proclaimed, "A reading from the book of Isaiah."  I panicked.  Isaiah what?  There should be a chapter and verse proclaimed along with that, no?  How else could I follow along?

Fortunately I knew the passage and knew which chapter to flip to, so everything was OK.

I've since learned that this is just the way it's done in the Catholic Church.  Participants in the Mass are expected to listen instead of read, and that is why the exact reference is dispensed with.

If you're a Protestant reading this, you may be of the opinion that Catholics in general don't know the Bible well (and you'd be generally right).  And you may think that this is a reason why (maybe, maybe not).  I definitely observed a state of cluelessness about the scriptures among the faithful when I crossed the Tiber.  There was a hunger for them there, but there was a real lack of pastoral effort to feed that hunger.  Catholics especially don't seem to know how to take a passage of Scripture, meditate & pray through it, and come out with something concrete to improve their own lives.

For years I was frustrated at my fellow Catholics for this missing component (I've since learned that there is a Catholic name for the type of study I was used to - Lectio Divina).  But it never occurred to me that I could help to solve this deficit.

Until just a few weeks ago, that is - hence the Transformation moment.  The Lord laid it on my heart (there's a good Protestant expression!) to start a Bible study.  He assured me it would work with my busy schedule.  So I put the wheels in motion, spread the word around, and tonight we had our first one.  A group of seven of us sat with coffee around our living room, opened with prayers, and began to devour the Word together.

We'll be reading through the book of Judges, one chapter at a time, meeting twice a month.  I call this the Resonate Bible Study, as the goal is to search the passage for something that resonates with you.

The book of Judges is a pretty difficult read if one is new to the Bible.  The first chapter is filled with very foreign sounding names of people and places, and as we went around the circle it was almost humourous to hear everybody stumble over Canaanites, Simeonites, Adoni-Bezek, Kiriath Arba, Talmai, Hormah, Zebulun, Nahalol... you get the picture.  But we got through it.

The challenge to each person was to find something concrete in the scripture we read and to turn it into a prayer request.  It seemed like a tall order, as the passage was very dry on first glance.  But "all scripture is inspired by God and is useful" - very quickly an enriching discussion took place, and we closed off the evening with spontaneous group prayer for every person's specific prayer request.  It was a little over two hours.

For me, what resonated took a bit of cross referencing.  The chapter is an account of how the Twelve Tribes spread throughout Canaan, conquering cities as they went.  Judah, the tribe descended from the eldest son of Jacob and therefore the one with the most political clout, "took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots" (Judges 1:19b)  My Bible cross-referenced that with Joshua 17:16-18, where the tribe of Joseph - the descendants of the second youngest of Israel's sons, with fewer numbers and the least political clout - was given permission to take more territory from the Canaanites in the plain (the cities referenced imply it was a different region of Canaan than Judah later received).  They balked at this, for the Canaanites had iron chariots and seemed too powerful for them to conquer.  "But Joshua said to the house of Joseph... 'You are numerous and very powerful.... Though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.'"

The relatively small and weak tribe of Joseph took on the challenge of the iron chariots and won.  The strong and influential tribe of Judah, chief among the tribes, could not defeat the iron chariots.  For me, the prayer request was to be weak like Joseph so the Lord can fight my battles.  If I try to defeat my own "iron chariots" under my own power, I am doomed to fail.

All in all, it was an excellent Bible study and everybody who came got something out of it.  I am glad I organized this and am eagerly looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


A friend on Facebook recently posted this famous quote from Steve Jobs:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.

This inspirational quote is taken from his commencement address at Standord University in 2005, and upon Jobs' death a few months ago it was dusted off as an example of the way he lived.

The only problem is, anybody who listens to that quote and adopts what it says is failing to adhere to the advice it gives.  The person who hears that message and walks away with an elated heart, thinking, that's exactly how I'm going to approach life, is, to draw from the quote itself, adhering to "the results of other people's thinking."  The noise of Jobs' opinion is drowning out the hearer's own inner voice.

It's like the advice my uncle gave my wife and me on our wedding day.  "As newlyweds and future parents," he said, "you're going to get a lot of advice from all kinds of people on every little aspect of married life.  Don't listen to any of it.  Chart your own course, and follow it."  He then grinned and added, "In other words, ignore everybody's advice, except for what I'm telling you right now."

On the surface, both of these messages sound like a genuine nugget of wisdom.  But the concept it promotes - unfailing reliance on one's own self - is insidiously dangerous, in that it can lead a soul into the isolation of the self, rejection of God, and risking final damnation.

One of the compelling truths I discovered on my way into the Catholic Church is that history is filled with all kinds of people wiser than me.  I realized with a shock the pure arrogance of Protestant theology which empowers the individual Christian to discern absolute truth for him/herself.  This deception is based on the Scripture verse promising that the Spirit of Truth would lead us into truth, but when one person's truth contradicts anothers, it's clear that at least one of them has been misled.

I propose that the deeper and purer teaching would be to discern whose wisdom is genuine and to follow the teachings and examples of those people.  As a Catholic I willfully rely on the inherited wisdom of the Saints and Doctors of the Church, and with eagerness I adjust the way I live based on this revelation. Jobs brushes the edge of this Truth with his quote, but he is missing the full reality of it.  G. K. Chesterton summed it up best way back in 1926, regarding his own journey to Catholicism, when he quipped:

We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong. In these current fashions it is not really a question of the religion allowing us liberty; but (at the best) of the liberty allowing us a religion. These people merely take the modern mood, with much in it that is amiable and much that is anarchical and much that is merely dull and obvious, and then require any creed to be cut down to fit that mood. But the mood would exist even without the creed.... They say they want a religion like this because they are like this already. They say they want it, when they mean that they could do without it.

The key question is simple: Who has the final word on what is true?  And just as key is one's individual response to that question, for if one admits to an authority outside of one's own self, must not that same person conform his or her life to the demands of that authority?

Apple is well known for branding its products after the self: iPhone, iPad, iPod... I, I, I.  It's clear how Jobs' philosophy of the primacy of self has impacted his brand and the culture it permeates.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Power of Repentance

In my devotional time at the local perpetual adoration chapel, I often feel a prompt from the Spirit to meditate through a particular section of the Bible.  I can't explain exactly this prompting works; one of the books or characters just starts to stick out in my head.  I recently completed a meditation on the life of Abraham, and prior to that I had focused on Romans, Jonah, and Job, among others.

For the study itself, I take one section of the book, read through it prayerfully, and try to find a way to make it real in my life.  It's an old Protestant trick that many Catholics would do well to learn, although my time in the Catholic study group Familia really helped me to develop this skill too.

Currently I'm going through the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel, and I wanted to share one passage that has really resonated with me.  The story up to this point is that God's people had rejected him, so he sent an enemy army to go and lay waste to their land, to loot the temple, and to put the people into slavery.  After the Israelites had had enough, they cried out to the Lord in repentance and he came to their rescue.  If you study the history in the Old Testament, you'll see that this is a fairly common pattern.  Nothing new here.

Hold on, I'm getting to the good part.

After saving his people, the Lord then turns his hand against the enemy army he sent to conquer his people.  When the army wonders why they're now suddenly the target of God's wrath, he responds: (Joel 4:4-8, which might show up as Joel 3:4-8 in some versions):

Now what have you against me, Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.  See, I am going to rouse them out of the places to which you sold them, and I will return on your own heads what you have done.  I will sell your sons and daughters to the people of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, a nation far away.

Pretty harsh, eh?  This is one of those "eye for an eye" texts that are so difficult to reconcile with the idea of a loving God.  Perhaps this passage can't be understood so literally though.

Taken as hyperbole, the core point would seem to be that God still treasures his people and is fiercely devoted to protecting them.  The intended audience here is the Jews, after all, not the gentiles from Tyre and Sidon.  God is sending his people a message here: God's forgiveness is a complete forgiveness.  He doesn't hold a grudge after the reconciliation, wagging his finger & saying, "You did have it coming, you know."

God is so eager to wipe all traces of his people's iniquity from his mind that he is filled with a baffled rage against the nations that would dare attack his beloved. It's almost like he forgets that he was the one who pronounced that very doom upon his people, and he was the one who commissioned the enemy army to invade. Psalm 103:12 says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  That's what we see happening here.  God has forgiven his people so completely that he doesn't associate the destruction they had gone through with their past sins.  All he sees is that somebody hurt his beloved people.

I'm also reminded of a line from The Hiding Place, by Dutch author Corrie ten Boom, whose family hid Jews from the Nazis during the Second World War (amazing book, by the way).  Leading up to the war, her wise & aged father witnessed some of the atrocities the Nazis were perpetrating and sadly shook his head, saying he felt sorry for the Germans.  Baffled, Corrie asking him why he should feel sorry for people who led such brutality.  His response: "They have touched the apple of God's eye."

Through the new covenant, I am now one of God's chosen people.  I am the apple of his eye!  When I turn to him in true sorrow for my sins, his forgiveness is a done deal.  The true power of repentance comes from the fact that God always responds to us with perfect forgiveness; when we reach out to him, we find that he is there, having extended his arms to us long before we noticed.  The challenge I derived from my meditation on this section of Joel was to bear this fact in mind the next time I felt hesitant to approach the sacrament of reconciliation.  I extend that same challenge to you, gentle reader.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Transformations #41: Daddy Date Day

With my eldest daughters just on the cusp of puberty, I've decided to start a one-on-one date night with one of my kids per week.  Next week I'll complete my second run through the five eldest kids.  Michael, our four month old #6 child, is exempt for the time being but I'll include him soon enough.

It's nothing really bizarre that we do; we just pack a couple of board or card games, or colouring books for the real young ones, and head to the nearest Tim Horton's.  I'll get a coffee and the kid will get a hot chocolate and a donut, and we'll play for an hour or so, making small talk and just enjoying the one-on-one time together, away from the bustle of an eight-person family.

I remember my dad doing a similar thing with us when we were teens, and wanted to implement the same idea with my kids.  It's been a challenge to fit these Daddy Date Days into my hectic schedule, but it's already showing fruits, and the kids positively love going out with me.  It's amazing to think of the influence I have over them as their father.  I pray that I'm able to be the father God wants me to be to them.