A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

Whether the battle is large or small, we need to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to face it. We need to carry the right gear and know how to use it.

I’m not talking about an armed conflict but rather about the struggles we face every day: our efforts to keep our children safe, protect our marriage, defend our beliefs, or stand up for others’ rights.

King David knew that he needed God’s help to face the conflicts in his life, such as King Saul’s efforts to capture and kill him or the attempts of his sons to take the throne:

Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war,

and my fingers for battle;

my mercy and my fortress,

my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield and he in whom I take refuge (…).

~ Psalm 144:1-2*

We can turn to God for comfort, for a safe place to cry out in pain or anger, for forgiveness when we act and react in the wrong ways. But he can also prepare us to do battle when necessary:

  • to put an end to the bullying or cyberbullying of our children
  • to secure the health care or educational assistance our children need
  • to help our spouse deal with an addiction or another health issue
  • to stand up for our right to practise our faith
  • to speak out on behalf of those who are persecuted or in need

God can give us the tools we need, such as the wisdom to know when to speak or listen, the words to say, empathy to help us see another person’s perspective, courage to make the right choice and take the necessary step or steps forward, and perseverance to resolve the situation.

When we find ourselves needing to do battle, may we remember “The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth” (Psalm 145:18).

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

So many things are designed for our convenience:

  • self-cleaning ovens, which I can appreciate, since I didn’t enjoy crawling halfway into an oven to clean it
  • self-defrosting freezers, which I also like, since defrosting the freezer section of a fridge with the help of a hair dryer was less than fun
  • no-iron shirts, which I like because I find ironing a shirt well is a challenge
  • pre-cooked bacon, which I think takes convenience a bit too far

Our appreciation for convenience spills over into our faith lives as well. Think rosary apps and electronic versions of the Bible that let us turn commuting time into time spent with God. Or diocesan websites that help us find a time to receive the sacrament of reconciliation or a Sunday Mass to attend when we’re away from home. Or even pre-authorized giving, which means we don’t need to write a cheque or find cash for our Sunday offering envelope and we can better plan our giving.

Sometimes, though, our love of convenience can be less than a blessing to others.

Often it’s the same people who serve in multiple roles in a parish or a community organization, or who consistently volunteer at their children’s school in the classroom or on field trips, or who frequently coach or carpool for their children’s hockey or soccer or ringette team. Maybe they see a need and feel called to fill it; maybe others are reluctant to give up their time to help.

People rush to avoid holding open doors for others, refuse to let other drivers merge into traffic, or leave their shopping carts in the parking lot instead of in the cart return. Maybe they don’t want to take the time to be considerate.

People complain about the arrival of refugees or economic migrants when there are already people in need, but they lament the problem rather than contribute to the solution. Maybe it would take some time to sort through closets for items to give to clothing drives, donate a few items to the food bank bin at the grocery store, or urge politicians via e-mail or snail mail to address social justice concerns.

We need to be careful how we divide up our time so we don’t neglect our work and family responsibilities or our need to relax and recharge our batteries. We want to use our gifts well and not keep others from using theirs. But we need to recognize when we’re refusing to serve in some way—even a very small way—simply because it’s inconvenient.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Do not say to your neighbour, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.

~Proverbs 3:27-28*

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

As I’ve mentioned in my last couple of posts, I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about the upcoming arrival of Syrian refugees in Canada. But there are also positive stories to share:

  • people taking a stand on social media to say they won’t tolerate negative rants about the refugee situation instead of calm discussion and unfriending others where necessary to turn off the tap of negativity
  • organizations mobilizing to provide health care, housing and language instruction to newcomers
  • average Canadians looking for ways they can help—everything from knitting scarves and hats to providing translation and interpretation services

Those who argue we shouldn’t help refugees when our nation already has people in need should read  1 John 3:17-18*:

But if any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.

It’s not enough to say that we already have citizens in need of our help. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves and ask what we’re doing to help—not the municipal, provincial or federal governments, but we as individuals:

  • If we’re concerned that there are homeless Canadians now, are we encouraging our politicians to support subsidized housing or are we opposing these projects in our community?
  • If we’re concerned that there are hungry Canadians now, are we contributing even a few dollars’ worth of groceries to the food bank bin at our local grocery or department store, preparing Christmas food hampers for our church or community food bank, or donating to or serving at a local mission’s holiday (or everyday) dinner?
  • If we’re concerned that there are Canadians in need of winter clothes now, are we donating new or gently used winter gear to clothing drives or making items with our knitting, crocheting, sewing or quilting skills?
  • If we’re concerned that there are Canadians in need of jobs now, are we using our connections to help others find work? Are we mentoring youth or adults in transition from other careers? Are we offering volunteer opportunities to help others gain skills and network?

Instead of just using our words to point out the needs that exist before the refugees arrive, I pray that we would use our time, talents and connections to help meet these needs.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

(A) blow of the tongue crushes the bones.

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword,

but not so many as have fallen because of the tongue.

~ Sirach 28:17-18*

Since the attacks on Paris, social media have been buzzing with opinions on how to handle ISIS and whether Canada and other countries should take in Syrian refugees in case terrorists should lurk among them.

Many are already rolling up the welcome mat. Following today’s announcement about the federal government’s refugee resettlement plan, some posted comments about “foreign migrants” carrying “fake passports” and describing refugees as “welfare tourists.”

Those may be some of the less acidic posts.

No matter how we feel about the number of refugees and the timeline—whether we feel there are too many or too few people coming too soon or not soon enough—verbally bashing refugees will get us nowhere. Unless, of course, we aim to be seen as lacking in compassion.

The kind of comments I’ve read would make me want to unfriend or unfollow the writers or, at the very least, delete their comments, which do little to accurately describe the refugees soon to arrive but reveal a great deal about the writers.

Surely we can have a discussion or even a debate on the issue that doesn’t involve tarring refugees with a terrorist brush simply because of the region they’re coming from or entail waging personal attacks on other commenters who disagree with the writers’ perspective.

We shouldn’t act as though using a screen name gives us licence to make comments we wouldn’t say in person or pretend that we can avoid taking responsibility for our words just because we hide behind a (thin) shield of anonymity.

Before posting such biting comments online, maybe we could take a cue from Sirach 28:24-25:

See that you fence in your property with thorns,

lock up your silver and gold,

make balances and scales for your words,

and make a door and a bolt for your mouth.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Today I heard on the radio that a local woman (who happens to be Muslim) received a hateful letter in her mailbox that said Canada was no place for immigrants and told her to “go home.”

I’d like to point out just how mistaken that writer is.

I’m not an immigrant myself, just the daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of immigrants. My husband is the grandson of immigrants. Some of my friends are immigrants; others are first- or second-generation Canadians. If we looked back far enough—not all that far, in many cases—most of us in the Americas are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.

Clearly, Canada is a place for immigrants, whether they come to join family already in the country, to pursue a better life, to support family members in their country of origin, or to flee persecution of whatever kind as refugees.

As for going “home,” whether people were born here or chose to make a new life here, this is their home. That’s why our national anthem talks about “our home and native land.”

I’m saddened but not surprised to conclude that the letter writer, upset by the attacks in Paris or perhaps by the plan to bring 25 000 Syrian refugees to Canada, meant that those who were not white and Christian were not welcome in this city, in this country. I can’t disagree strongly enough. No one can point to a person and say that he or she “looks Canadian” or  “acts like a Canadian.” Canadians come in a wide range of skin tones, ethnicities and faiths.

If the writer happens to believe that immigrants have nothing to offer our society, again, I beg to differ. A quick look at the surnames on the staff list of any school, university, law firm, medical practice, hospital, or construction company or the new federal government cabinet would support my opinion. From small businesses to major corporations to non-profit organizations, immigrants contribute to our society and help our economy grow.

Canada is a country known for its diversity and its tolerance. I pray that the ignorance and intolerance displayed by this letter writer and by those who recently attacked Muslim and Hindu places of worship would be pushed aside by Canadians’ offers of help and support for the refugees set to arrive here before the end of the year and for the other immigrants who choose to settle here, for we are all children of God.

Halloween candy haul

My son on Halloween 2006. My grandfather would not have known what to make of this candy haul…

My paternal grandfather was not known for being a generous man.

To give an example, he handed out candy for us one Halloween so that my mother could take us trick-or-treating while my father was out of town. Judging by the amount of candy left in the bowls, Mom realized he gave each child just one piece of candy. He figured that the trick-or-treaters shouldn’t get something for nothing.

Not surprisingly, our front door was egged.

We need to learn how to strike a balance between not depriving ourselves and not being stingy toward others. Read these words from Sirach 14:3-8*:

Riches are not seemly for a stingy man; and of what use is property to an envious man?

Whoever accumulates by depriving himself, accumulates for others; and others will live in luxury on his goods.

If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? He will not enjoy his own riches.

No one is meaner than the man who is grudging to himself, and this is the retribution for his baseness;

even if he does good, he does it unintentionally, and betrays his baseness in the end.

Evil is the man with a grudging eye; he averts his face and disregards people.

We don’t need to have everything our hearts desire, but if we’re unwilling to take care of our own needs, will we find it in ourselves to be generous toward others with our time, talents and money? Do we want to do good only in an unintentional way?

If we don’t have a family budget, now may be the time to sit down and create one. Having a better idea of our income and expenses can show us where we have room to be generous with gifts and with donations to causes that matter to us, such as parish outreach programs, community foundations, or health-related or environmental causes.

And if we find that funds are tight, we can still be generous with our time and talents in ways such as these:

  • helping children learn to read through an afterschool program
  • sharing our craft, technological, culinary or other skills with a school or youth group
  • walking dogs or fostering a cat for the local animal shelter
  • fostering a future guide dog
  • distributing groceries at the community or parish food bank
  • preparing food at a soup kitchen with a parish group
  • visiting residents in nursing homes
  • selling poppies for Remembrance Day
  • serving as a lector, greeter, or children’s liturgy leader in our parish

I pray that God would help us learn to better share, with an open and generous heart, the blessings he has given each of us.

Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.

~ 2 Corinithians 9:7-8

“People who aren’t kind to animals aren’t kind to people,” my mother has often said, and I’ve found that to be true. So these words of St. Francis of Assisi quoted in Catholic Digest struck a chord with me:

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.

~ Quoted in “Celebrate October 2015,” Catholic Digest, October 2015

Certainly we don’t see enough compassion toward animals these days. We see people who leave their dogs in sweltering cars in the summer or walk them on hot sidewalks on high-heat-and-humidity days or who abandon a kitten in a garbage bag at a city park.

We also don’t see enough compassion toward people. We see people who tell the unemployed to “get a job.” People who turn back refugees with tear gas and water cannons and fences. People who set homeless men on fire.

It would be easy to feel sad or angry for a moment but then shrug our shoulders and say, “What can I do?”

Too easy.

As J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (quoted in “Celebrate October 2015,” Catholic Digest, October 2015).

We need to remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:34-36, 40*:

“Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

We should feel saddened or angered by these news stories, but, as Christians, we are called to go beyond that reaction and respond out of compassion.

Maybe that means volunteering at or supporting an animal sanctuary such as the Wild Bird Care Centre or the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, shelters such as the Ottawa Mission or the Shepherds of Good Hope, our parish or community food bank, or women’s shelters such as those mentioned in my post on September 25th. Maybe it means finding out how to help refugees through such organizations as Refugee 613 or ministering to inmates and ex-inmates through such organizations as Prison Fellowship Canada.

What it doesn’t mean is hardening our hearts. May we, like Samaritan’s Purse founder Bob Pierce, continue to let our hearts “be broken with the things that break the heart of God” and be moved to act.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

It was my son who first told me about the shootings in the Ottawa Valley on Tuesday. He saw a news blurb on his cell phone that said police were looking for the shooter.

By the time I went online, the alleged shooter was in custody. He now stands charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of three women he knew: Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam.

I had a hard time sitting down to write this post, thinking of the lives lost, the grief of the victims’ families and friends, the shock to the family of the accused man, the fear and anger I feel when I hear about this and other cases of violence against women.

Back in February, Pope Francis spoke at a meeting on women’s issues hosted by the Vatican’s Council for Culture and said, “Although it is a symbol of life, the female body is unfortunately not rarely attacked and disfigured, even by those who should be its protector and life companion.”

Just searching quickly on the Internet, I found information about Interval House, Chrysalis House, Harmony House, Nelson House, Oshki Kizis Lodge, La Présence, Maison d’amitié, and more in Ottawa and environs. I’m glad to know these and other resources are available in our region but sorry that the need is so great—and I worry about women in rural areas, where help can be harder to access.

How can we, as people of faith, channel our response to crimes involving violence against women?

  • Teach our children by our example and our words that violence against women is unacceptable. Educate ourselves and our young people about the warning signs of unhealthy relationships so that we avoid them, seek help to get out of these relationships if we need it, and reach out to others who need a way out.
  • Invite speakers from local crisis centres and women’s shelters to talk to our Catholic Women’s League or Knights of Columbus group about the programs and services they offer and ways we can help.
  • With our parish ministry group, prepare shoeboxes for shelters for donation to The Shoebox Project. Or find out what shelters need—gift cards, toiletries, clothing, and more—by checking their wish lists online and collecting donations.
  • Post a safety flyer in the women’s washrooms in our parish hall, letting women know where they can find help in their local community. “Women Healing the Wounds,” a document produced by the National Council of Catholic Women, offers an example of this type of flyer.

I pray that we would take action within our parish and the wider community to oppose violence against women.

Recently I picked up a CD of Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits. One song, written by Paul Simon in 1965, stands out for me: “I Am A Rock”:

I am shielded in my armor

Hiding in my room

Safe within my womb

I touch no one and no one touches me

I am a rock

I am an island

And a rock feels no pain

And an island never cries

Fifty years later, these lyrics remain relevant.

Without ever venturing out of our homes, we can do our banking, order groceries and clothes, buy gifts, telework, and stay in touch with family and friends. We can create our own “community” online. We can strictly limit human contact—and, in doing so, we can keep the world and all its pain and messiness at a distance.

It’s a choice some people may be comfortable in making, but one that leads mainly to loneliness and isolation, which seem all too common these days. More and more, human contact is something we have to seek out, but it’s worth the effort.

I enjoy the monthly CWL meetings at my parish as much for the social time as anything else. When I go to the bank, it’s not unusual to see a senior come into the branch rather than bank by phone or online. And at the yoga studio where I practise, certain classes have regulars who know one another, at least by name.

We all have times where we want to shut out the world because we’re overwhelmed or grieving or because we’ve been hurt and we feel we can’t depend on anyone else. But when we try to be that rock, to avoid all pain, we can become numb to others’ pain or struggles—the new parents who are exhausted and could use a night out, a neighbour coping with illness who needs help with yard work, newcomers to the country who need advice on getting into language classes or finding household items at a reasonable price, or even refugees half a world away who need our prayers and our support.

May we have the courage not to isolate ourselves but instead to let our hearts remain soft enough that we continue to care for our neighbour as God would have us do.

Browsing at the bookstore ranks high among my favourite things to do. The latest fiction, cookbooks, journals, magazines…I could easily while away an hour or so just looking around. And my favourite spot is the clearance section. I often find great gifts and reads for myself.

One bargain find was A Brief History of Tea: The Extraordinary Story of the World’s Favourite Drink by Roy Moxham, which I’ve finally had a chance to read. I enjoyed learning about the tea production process but was stunned to read about the evolution of the industry in China, India, Sri Lanka and Malawi, with workers tied into long contracts with low pay, poor living conditions, and serious health risks.

Sadly, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same:

  • The April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh took the lives of more than 1 000 garment industry workers, who’d been told to return to work even after cracks had been discovered in the building.
  • In February 2014, the World Bank was asked to investigate conditions on tea plantations in India’s Assam state. Workers alleged, among other things, that their homes were in poor repair and that they and their families had been denied health care.
  • Over the past year, workers’ rights groups have called attention to labour conditions in Qatar for migrant workers building the infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, alleging that workers are not paid and are denied adequate food and water.
  • Last week, the UN Human Rights Committee released a report on human rights in Canada that recommended creating an effective and independent body to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by Canadian companies operating in other countries.

This isn’t just a question of companies’ behaviour and its effect on their corporate image; it’s a question of human dignity.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, makes a number of comments about human dignity, including this one:

The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person….

These days, we’re more likely to look for eco-friendly, organic and natural products, but maybe we don’t give enough consideration to whether the workers who produced a given item receive a fair wage, have decent living conditions, and see their human rights respected. We need to pay more attention to news of human rights violations by companies. And we need to pray and advocate for better working and living conditions for workers, keeping in mind these words that call on us to respect workers’ human dignity:

He who oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,

or gives to the rich, will only come to want. (Proverbs 22:16*)

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,

and his upper rooms by injustice;

who makes his neighbour serve him for nothing

and does not give him his wages…” (Jeremiah 22:13)

Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. (James 5:4)

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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