Friday, February 21, 2014



When I last wrote we were on the threshold of the Winter Olympics in Sochi over which hung the threat of terrorism.

Now we are within two days of the Olympics being over and while, thanks be to God, no terrorist act has yet occurred, just a few hours from Sochi Ukraine is in the depths of violent unrest, perhaps even on the threshold of a civil war.

While reflecting positively on events in Europe in 1989 with the collapse of the old Soviet Empire Bl. John Paul in his encyclical CENTESIMUS ANNUS noted: Where society is so organized as to reduce arbitrarily or even suppress the sphere in which freedom is legitimately exercised, the result is that the life of society becomes progressively disorganized and goes into decline. [# 25.2] …..Europe cannot live in peace if the various conflicts which have arisen as a result of the past are to become more acute because of a situation of economic disorder, spiritual dissatisfaction and desperation.[# 28.2]

In looking forward to the post-soviet era world, not just in Europe but everywhere on earth where human beings dwell in national communities Bl. John Paul also noted that: Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ Himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice. [#58]

People have lived within the boundaries of modern Ukraine for tens of thousands of years and like most European countries Ukraine has a history marked by conquest time and again as the various dominate empires ebbed and flowed so that in the aftermath of WWI Ukraine was but an afterthought, largely ignored by the leaders of the peace conference in Paris 1919, thus subsequently being engulfed in a war between Poland and the emerging Soviet Union, resulting in a further fractioning of the country with the Soviets getting the lion’s share and between then, through the great famine, Stalinist oppression, the Second World War and its aftermath several millions, if not tens of millions of Ukrainians would be killed, starved, be deported to the Gulag. Finally becoming independent with the collapse of the Soviet Empire is it any wonder the people are violently resisting being absorbed into Putin’s empire?

The Church, and as Her voice the Popes, always urge non-violent means of struggle, the revolution of tenderness if you will, rather than recourse to various forms of armed insurrection.

Perhaps no Pope has spoken about this tension between non-violent resistance and the immense pressure to throw off the yoke of tyranny as eloquently as Pope Paul VI in his encyclical POPULORUM PROGRESSIO reflecting on situations where the injustice cries out to heaven he noted:….a revolutionary uprising – save where there is manifest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and dangerous harm to the common good of the country – produces new injustices, throws more elements out of balance and brings on new disasters. [#’s 30-31]

The above was erroneously seen in its day as an approval of armed revolution, which it clearly is not.

It is however a recognition of human reality both that sometimes oppressed people rebel but at the same time rebellions are inherently risky as you never know [Iran is a classic example] what the aftermath will be.

The challenge is to follow the teachings of Jesus about love, forgiveness, turning the other cheek.

It is MY challenge to become the one person I can reasonably be sure, or at least hope, will be a peacemaker, a revolutionary of non-violent tenderness: I.

While it is true in his Exhortation Pope Francis is calling us to action, revolutionary action within the Joy of the Gospel, primarily he is calling us to a profound personal conversion where the revolution begins within myself is to overcome ego, greed, self-centeredness, prejudice, etc., etc.

…Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us…..[#9]

Be it the ongoing oppression in Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, countless other nations, perhaps only sections within nations [each of us in our own countries can discover, if we willingly look, those who are oppressed], the challenge of the revolution of tenderness is also to enter deeply into the luminous truth of the Gospel, for the Gospel, Jesus Himself is about the kingdom of God [cf. Lk. 4:43]; it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that He reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity. Both Christian preaching and life, then, are meant to have an impact on society. [# 180] Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be regulated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without a concern for the soundness of evil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society…….An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better than we found it. [# 183]

The challenge is to impact the human family for its betterment, for the spread of justice and freedom, love and hope, just distribution of the world’s food, water, shelter, clothing, medicine, etc., MUST begin within my own heart, my own immediate family, neighbourhood, in a word IF I am not a revolutionary of love’s tenderness for the people immediately in my life, if I cannot see Jesus next to me, I will never hear the cry of the poor from over the horizon!

As I approach the end of these reflections on Pope Francis’ Exhortation unrest is erupting also in Venezuela, the United Nations has finally started to raise its voice about the crimes against humanity which are the daily reality of our brothers and sisters in North Korea, the Central African Republic, Somalia – frankly if we were to take a map of the world and look at each country with the eyes of our hearts, then truly we would begin to hear the cry of entire peoples….[#190]…the cry of the poor [#191…..with open hearts, strengthened by the Holy Spirit we would begin not simply to live the Gospel but to incarnate it in our very lives and thus We incarnate the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others…[#193]….Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by His words and His actions [#161].

As I was writing someone called the hermitage and told me about a handicapped man who in the extreme cold of this northern city is out on a downtown corner each morning handing out a metro paper which is distributed free of charge and how the person phoning me noticed the man’s coat was threadbare, his shoes not proper for this climate and suddenly this person was moved to take the man to a fine clothing store, buy for him a warm coat, winter boots.

THIS is how we bring about the revolution of light and hope; THIS is how we build the civilization of love, one person to person incarnated act of love, respect, dignity, hope, kindness; THIS is how we clothe Christ, love Him, touch Him for truly if I want to touch God I need only reach out to the embrace of another human being.

There is much more in the Exhortation not touched upon here.

Here in these essays I have simply tried to give a sort of incentive for everyone to meditatively read, and then live out, this call to the JOY OF THE GOSPEL, to embrace, be converted by, live out generously, selflessly, joyfully the life of Christ within our own lives truly imitating Jesus whose sacrifice on the Cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way He lived His entire life. Moved by His example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world…[#269]….Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated and we experience intensely what it is to be a people, to be part of a people.[#270]

During the Vietnam War I had returned from a massive anti-war rally feeling pretty good about myself in that I was raising my voice along with thousands of others against the war.

It was a hot summer’s evening when I was out in the countryside helping friends bring in hay from the land of a very poor family unable to afford to farm, but willing to rent their small acreage to my friends whose farm was extensive.

I recall sitting on the porch with the man whose land it was.

He had offered us some cold beer.

For him this was very generous as he had so little.

Flush with my anti-war intensity I asked him what he thought about the war.

He took a sip of his beer, paused and said simply: “Well I figure there’s a man over there like me. It’s end of a hard day of work. His wife is in the kitchen, cooking and singing. His children are out playing in the field. I don’t hate him, he doesn’t hate me, so why should they tell us to kill each other? That be what I think about it.”







Thursday, February 13, 2014



I was going to put this as title: The Olympian, The Priest, The Child, a Not so Angry World!

More simply then, lest as I continue in the next essay the direct reflections on Pope Francis’ Exhortation we all start to feel there is no gentleness, light, hope in this world, three examples of people living out the Joy of the Gospel.

The Olympian:   Whatever else may occur every four years in the Winter Olympics there are those moments which bring immense joy to our hearts, such as the snowboarder who won Canada’s first Olympic gold on home turf in Vancouver and replicated this feat in Sochi – in both cases the world media focused, rightly, on his relationship with his handicapped older brother and the visible fraternal love between them, the pride they take in each other, a powerful witness to the power of love, the dignity of the human person, be they filled with the youthful vigor of a designated Olympian or the courageous vigor of someone facing a lifelong challenge of muscles not as obedient as most of us take for granted.

The Priest:  Prior to joining his community and going through the formation process and then seminary life to ordination, this brother-priest was a member of the American Military; saw combat overseas, suffered an undiagnosed brain injury, then undiagnosed PTSD, resulting several years after ordination in difficulty with his temper and a couple of addictions.

The response of his superiors and bishop has been, frankly, as the saying goes: ‘to throw him under the bus.’

He writes to me frequently, pouring out his struggles and pain, all the while struggling to believe in and witness to the power of the Cross taken up each day and lived.

Unlike the Olympian and his brother no one will be doing world media stories on the courage of this priest, his constant intercession for the human family, for all those who suffer/struggle with brain injuries, PTSD, addictions.

Not all lights are visible to everyone.

Innumerable are the courageous, generous, believing souls, men, women, children, throughout the world who are indeed shining lights of the Joy of the Gospel, but because they are forgotten deep in some chronic care hospital or mental ward or prison or nursing home or under cardboard in some alley, we blithely pass by, like some people in the Gospel passed by the man in the ditch.

The refusal to look at him, or if glancing not to recognize him as one like ourselves, does not change the reality he IS there, those others ARE among us, shining brightly if only we ask for eyes to see.

THE CHILD, whom I have known since she was born and who always loves to speak about Jesus, will soon be 12 years old and over the years has grown in her love of art, crafts and a love for the poor.

Several weeks ago she told me about her project of making coloured bracelets and that she had so many she wasn’t sure if she should keep making them or what to do with them.

I spoke with her about all the little girls in the children’s hospital in the city and that perhaps she could talk with her mother about donating bracelets to them to bring some colour and joy into their lives.

She beamed with joy at the idea.

Yesterday she and her mother went to the hospital to donate the bracelets.

Yes we do live in an angry world and the media is always overloaded with reports of this, that and the other anti-human, culture of death and darkness reports.

One way to de-angry this world, our human family, to push back, if not overcome, the culture of death and darkness, is to seek out, observe and tell one another stories of beauty and hope, of kindness and light, true LIFE stories, the witness of real people that LOVE is stronger.


Tuesday, February 04, 2014



Writing these lines when the news media is filled with deep concern over the threatened terrorists attacks against the Winter Olympics slated to begin in a few days, when barrel bombs devastate the lives of the Syrian people, when the overdose death of a famous actor serves as a stark reminder of the plague of addiction, these words from the just released Lenten Message of Pope Francis are particularly timely: …moral destitution…consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members… in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many have lost hope! …..causes….invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject His love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through Christ, because we believe we can make it on our own, we are headed for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.

Margaret MacMillian has written a powerful book: THE WAR THAT ENDED THE PEACE, which should be required reading for all politicians, civil servants, media people and, frankly clergy of all religions, for in this work she outlines in detail how the First World War came to engulf us, noting in the introduction that this happened because:….There are many possible explanations; indeed, so many that it is difficult to choose among them…..arms race, rigid military plans, economic rivalry, trade wars…alliance systems….nationalism with its unsavory riders of hatred and contempt for others; fears, of loss or revolution, of terrorists and anarchists; hopes, for change of a better world………….clashes between believers and the anti-clericals…

Papal teachings, such as Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, are rooted in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the writings of the saints, previous popes, and church councils and seek to address the reality of the times in which we live.

No wonder, given that so intensely does the shadow of the two world wars, the second rooted in the darkness and unfinished business of the first, loom over us still, that the explosions of resentment and changes by peoples hobbled under imperialism, the need for a secure Jewish homeland-state turned the late forties and much of subsequent decades in the latter part of the twentieth century into such a period of violence and upheaval – indeed we went from the communist revolution of the First War period in Russia to Russia being part of the Allied effort against the Axis powers, to Russia being enemy in the cold war, to the collapse of the Soviet Empire and all this while the moral and spiritual destitution of the sixties took root and spreads still, AIDS became an ongoing plague, and in the internet age people drown in oceans of information, tweeting the banal, but failing to communicate, truly, person to person, face to face.

Again the weight of all this has us living in an angry, lonely, desolate, confused, frightened world, a world as Ben Carson warns headed to a global holocaust and a world which, [world being of course shorthand for the human family], Pope Francis is trying to invite to step back from the abyss of darkness and death and turn towards the radiant light of Christ, He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. [Jn.14.6]

Throughout these essays a number in brackets will refer to the paragraphs in THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL, the English title of the Apostolic Exhortation, from which quotations are taken, thus [1]: The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus………[3]….whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that He is already here, waiting for us with open arms.

That reminds me of Jesus’ own words when He assures us that: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me. [Rv.3.20]

This is truly amazing in that we have a Beloved, a Saviour, a Comforter who so respects our freedom, even when He clearly knows we are huddled, trembling, deep inside ourselves behind the door of shadow-darkness, He will not force Himself within, rather He beckons, He seeks to be invited and if invited will share with us, permeate us with His healing communion of love.

Pope Francis notes [52] that: In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history….we are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

The comforting thing about God’s power is it is never anonymous but is personal, indeed is most fully expressed in a person: Jesus Christ.

Teenagers especially know the anonymous power of hatred, exposure, bullying which can hurt them cruelly through abusive use of the internet.

Governments increasingly use the power of modern technologies to not only spy on potential enemies, identify potential threats to the security of the homeland, but, along with search engines, chat rooms etc., scoop up enormous amounts of information on each of us, while cyber warfare is no longer the anonymous power of nation states but is in fact what hackers of credit cards, bank accounts war against individual persons.

No surprise then that in his effort to proclaim the Gospel that we might pull back from the brink, Pope Francis stresses [59] Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples is reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poor peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode.

Again look at the situation in the old empires of Europe and by extension what they imposed across the globe, the situation in Germany between the wars, the impact of the great depression – note too that just as alcohol and other addictions flourished in those periods, greater enriching criminals and further impoverishing the vulnerable, so in our day the narrow minded focus on security in the way it is being done, rather than taking a clear eyed objective look at the root causes of anger, hatred, despair, leaves us in a world where, since power attracts power, the powerful are, symbolically speaking, building higher castle walls and digging deeper moats – 9/11 and individuals walking into a Russian train station show us no wall is too high to be brought down, no moat too deep to be got over.

If as a society we were to insist a dollar for dollar rate, that is every dollar spent on security must see a matching dollar spent on social justice needs at home and another dollar on such needs in poor countries, little by little we would chip away at the roots of terrorism, hatred and our own fears.

This is the revolution of tenderness, the revolution of the Gospel of Love and Life.