Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hell's Greatest Secret - Sins of Omission

Dear Theophilous,

It’s over 20 years ago, but it still haunts me like it was this morning. My wife (fiancée at the time) and I were visiting the priest who was going to marry us at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto, where he was teaching. We were heading out to lunch, and as we drove down the long driveway we saw an older man off to the side of the road juggling shopping bags and trying to open a gate that was obviously stuck.

“Poor old guy,” Father commented from the back seat. I murmured agreement and continued to roll down the drive. Just as we were about to roll past where the older gent was still struggling with the gate Father piped up, “Stop the car!” He then proceeded to jump out and easily lift the gate so it could swing open. When he got back in the car, Father didn’t say a word, but I looked sheepishly forward, embarrassed that I had not stepped up to the plate when God had provided me with the opportunity.

My wife, Father and the old gentleman have probably all long forgotten the incident. For me, however, it still lingers in the recesses of my conscience.

I had sinned.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. I hadn’t broken any of the commandments. In fact, I hadn’t done anything at all. And that’s my point. By deliberately choosing to drive on by, I had committed a sin of omission.

Prattling off the Confiteor by rote each week, we probably don’t notice it, but we are reminded that the good we don’t do can be just as damning as the sins we wilfully commit:

I confess to Almighty God,
And to you, my bothers and sisters,
That I have sinned,
In my thoughts and in my words;
In what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault…

Going into the confessional, it’s easy (kind of…) to list the sins we have committed. We have the 10 Commandments and the Beatitudes to guide our examination of conscience. I actually have an app that takes me through the process, gives me a check list of all my faults, which I then scratch in hieroglyphs onto a piece of paper so I don’t forget anything.

But what about sins of omission? How do we recognize what we have failed to do?

Do you look the other way when passing a hand stretched out for spare change?
Do you give up your seat on the bus?
Do you offer half a sandwich to the co-worker with no lunch?
Do you offer to carry a senior’s groceries to their car?
Do you defend the faith when someone slanders the Church?
Do you take a stand for life? Marriage?
Do you hold the door open, or let it close in someone’s face?
Do you say thank you when you receive?
Do you wave when someone lets you into traffic?

As long as the list of sins I’ve committed is long, I’d bet that my list of sins of omission is just as long, if not longer.

Satan must kill himself laughing each time he sees us ignore the chance to do God’s will. This is his greatest secret. Daily we’re offered a multitude of opportunities to do God’s will, yet we choose to turn the other way. Lucifer doesn’t even have to lift a finger, and we quietly turn from God towards him.

To combat this, I’ve tried to consciously change the tactics of my examination of conscience. Not only do I reflect on the sins I have committed, I try to pick out the moments when I have failed to do good in the world. I look for the opportunities God gave me to be a witness to His love in the world and I failed to rise to the challenge. I confess these shortcomings and resolve to do better in the future.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

In Defence of God's Holy Name

Dear Theophilous,

Waiting for a wayward student on the school bus a few years back, my colleague and I did a roll call to figure out who was missing. The bus was quiet, and about three-quarters of the way through the list there was no response to the name called. In the pregnant pause that followed, from somewhere in the back, came a loud, “Je*** Ch****! She’s always late.” To which I couldn’t help but immediately reply, “I’d rather you drop a holy f***, than what you just said if you’re going to swear at all!” Needless the dead silence that followed told me that I had gotten my point across.

You shall not invoke the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. Ex 20:7

Our Lord has a name that is so holy; it needs to be handled with caution. His name is so powerful, if not used properly; it can be dangerous for the one speaking it. The very mention of God’s name should give pause for reflection. The sound of the Lord’s name demands veneration. It is a name so sacred, He knows that we can’t even hear if from His own lips – when Moses asked God’s name in the burning bush, the answer was an enigmatic:

I am who I am. Ex 3:14

Some how, some where along the line, we seem to have lost this sense of the sacred. In western society in 2016, it’s not at all uncommon to hear a pejorative Je*** Ch****! or OM(F)G! at the drop of a hat, and nobody bats an eye.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still some circles where the name of God is still sacred; unmentionable. My experience is that this is among the more orthodox Jewish communities, many of who will still write G*d or Y*w*h to communicate His name without writing it. I think we have a thing or two to learn from this treatment of God’s name.

So how do we combat this de-sanctification of our Lord’s holy name? How do we change a world that seems bent on infuriating God? The same way it disintegrated… One soul at a time.

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Phil 2:10-11

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Rom 14:11

On thing that I’ve started doing, in the hopes of at least making people aware of their words, is to change these pejorative utterances of our Lord’s name into a prayer with a simple: Blessed be His name forever! and then bow my head.

I’m not sure how much of an effect this is having, but I’m sure it’s unnerving a few people. My next step – when I get up the courage, will to begin genuflecting at the sound of the Lord’s name. I can just imagine the fun some in my extended family will have with this – but hopefully my perseverance will eventually pay off.

Monday, September 5, 2016

New 'Catholic' School Year's Resolutions

Dear Theophilous,

Labour Day has a sense of foreboding in our home. In a household of 2 teachers and 1 student, it marks the end of carefree summer routines and lax bedtimes, while heralding a return to routine and the incessant 5:30am blare of the alarm clock. The world is not ending, however, and in many ways we’re looking forward to a return to a more structured life, as well as all of the other fun activities that we enjoy that take a summer hiatus.

This holiday Monday always offers us the two-fold opportunity to look back wistfully upon the summer months, while also looking toward the promise of a new school year.

At the first staff meeting of the year, the ubiquitous question, “How was your summer?” seems to make it’s way around the table. It’s fun to hear of everyone’s adventures and to see their smiling faces. Looking back over the past couple of months, it brings a smile to my face to think of how any suffering brought much good in the long run, as well as the warm memories of family time and celebrating sacramental milestones. We truly are blessed.

But what of the year ahead?

In the same way that January 1st calls for New Year’s resolutions, so does September 1st (or at least the Tuesday after Labour Day) call for New School Year’s resolutions. It’s a typical First Day of School activity that many teachers use – write down your goals for the year and seal them in an envelope to revisit them again later in the year.

What about teachers? What about our own goals for the New School Year? Do we take the time to pray on what we want to accomplish in the coming year?

This is a kind of prayerful meditation that I do the last week of every August, though not necessarily something I do publicly (I did write about it Labour Day 4 years ago here). In the hopes of keeping myself somewhat accountable, I thought to post my 3 New Catholic School Year resolutions here. Please pray for me, and please lift me up when I falter.


Teaching in a Catholic high school, we are singularly blessed to have the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist in our school chapel. Although I make it a point of stopping in and spending some time in Adoration to begin each day (read my thoughts here), each year I start out with the best of intentions to introduce my students to this practice on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, some how curriculum and scheduling have a habit of taking over, and after we skip one week, it’s way too easy to slide out of practice.

Once again, this year I intend to bring my students weekly to Adoration. Past practice tells me that they long to be there – not a Friday goes by that the kids are not asking me if we are going down to the chapel. When I ask them why they like going to Adoration, a few will shame-facedly admit that they like the free-pass from class; a few others say they like hearing the daily Gospel; a few more mention the unformulated prayers I make speak to what they are going through (I always make sure to thank God for the coming week-end).

When I ask the students what they find to be the hardest part of Eucharistic Adoration – the almost unanimous answer is the silence. In a world dominated by cell phones and the internet, they have a hard time turning off. When I ask the students what they like best about Eucharistic Adoration – the almost unanimous answer is also the silence. Although they may not like being forced to switch off, once they do, the students come to realize how much their soul is thirsting for this solitude.

The Truth

This is probably the hardest part of being a Catholic teacher – sharing the Truth that is Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. It’s not exactly popular in the world today. Luckily, I have had some great mentors over the years, and fantastic support from my school administration. Still in the current social and political climate, I know the Truth will not always be welcome news – please pray that I have the courage and wisdom to see it through.

Evangelical Witness

I’m a bit of an introvert by nature; large group conversations and social situations tend to make me uneasy. Standing up and making a statement isn’t really my style (nor is it always needed – quiet witness is most often the best). This is why I am so rarely in the staff room – I just feel overwhelmed.

That said, when having a quiet lunch over a theological discussion with a couple of friends, we noted that we cannot evangelize if we are in hiding. Just imagine if the Apostles had stayed in the upper room after Pentecost – there would be no Church to speak of. How can I be a witness to the faith if I do not put myself in situations where I can be witnessed?

This will probably be the most difficult of my New Catholic School Year’s resolutions, but hopefully one that will produce the most fruit. I will try to get over my fears and into the staff room more often; not to get on a soapbox and pontificate, but rather to be a quiet witness to the faith – and yes, having those difficult conversations if they do arise.

As we start this new school year, please pray for all who work in education, the future is in their hands. In a special way, pray for all who work in Catholic education, in some ways the future of the faith is in their hands.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Daily Opportunities for Sainthood

Dear Theophilous,

We’re all called to be saints, and considering the alternative, who wouldn’t want to be one? That said, the goal of sainthood can seem a daunting one (as it truly is). Unfortunately when most of us look at the examples that have gone before us, we give up before even trying.

The good news is that God calls each of us to sainthood in our own unique way. Yes, some saints are called to be exemplary witnesses to the faith, but the vast majority of us are called to be a witness to sainthood in our daily lives. Thanks be to God that we can be saints in our daily life – I’m not sure if I’m cut out for the trials others have had to go through.

Opportunities for a saintly life abound all around us. We just need to be reminded sometimes of where to look for it.


The first step on the path to sainthood is to deepen your relationship with God. Just like our earthly relationships, our relationship with God is fed with good communication. The same as any friendship, it’s not enough to just bring our worries, needs and desires to Him; we need to listen to what God is saying to us as well. We have all had a relationship where one person constantly takes, while the other does nothing but give.  Experience tells us that this kind of relationship can’t last. Thankfully our God is not like this, and it’s usually us who turns our back on Him and not vice-versa.

Some saints would spend hours daily in Eucharistic adoration; most of us don’t have the luxury of this kind of time. Our daily vocations put demands on our time, but this doesn’t mean we can’t set aside time for God (we do it for our spouse, kids, friends and work – so why not for God?). Increasing our time and prayer and being aware of His answers, we cannot want but to spend more time with Him and marvel at the way He works in the world.

Penitential Suffering

At one point or another in their short lives, Catholic children have heard the expression: Offer it up! It’s the Catholic parent’s standard reply any time a child begins to whine. But there’s something to be said about penitential suffering, and bearing our daily challenges with grace.

In our fallen human state, we can’t choose not to suffer, but we can choose how we deal with our sufferings. And honestly, our daily sufferings do add up. From the aforementioned whiny child, to the annoying co-worker, to the neighbour’s barking dog, to the stone in our shoe, to the… to the… to the… There’s no escaping it.

When we let these little challenges get to us, they become insurmountable and we become miserable. When we accept these obstacles with grace, persevering quietly in our suffering, we become a witness to the peace that Christ brings us.

How does our suffering become penitential? Offer it up! Offer your suffering for the greater good. Offer your suffering as a prayer for someone who needs it, for the souls in purgatory, for the conversion of sinners. At the very least, offer your suffering up for the atonement of your own sinfulness.

At the end of the day, misery loves company; yet peace is contagious - just imagine the difference you can make in the world by suffering through your next headache with grace.


Sainthood is all about getting ourselves and others to heaven. In the great commissioning, Christ exhorted us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15) If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we are challenged to bring others to Him.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to get up on our soapbox on the street corner (though some are called to do this), we can evangelize in many different ways in our daily lives. Being a witness with your life can be the greatest evangelization tool of all. It suffices to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • How do I interact with others around me?
  • How do I treat the unfortunate that come into my life?
  • Do I teach my children to pray?
  • Do I have the courage to pray in public?
  • Do I answer the questions/challenges put to my faith?
  • How do I dress?
  • What TV shows do I watch with family/friends?
  • What comes out of my mouth when I’m frustrated?
  • What music plays on my car radio?
  • What websites do I surf when no one is at home?

This kind of examination of conscience can go on much longer. The point is to become more aware of aligning our lives to Christ.

Sainthood won’t be easy. Jesus even told us that to get to heaven we will need to pick up our Cross. (cf Mt 16:24) We may never be officially recognized as a saint, but by seizing our daily opportunities for sanctity, we can become every day saints.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Answering the Call to Sainthood

Dear Theophilous,

If you’re not shooting for sainthood, you’re aiming too low!

It’s the truth! A saint is someone who, after this earthly existence, is spending eternity in heaven. And seriously, if your goal in this life isn’t to get to heaven, my understanding is that the other destination is a lot less pleasant.

Unfortunately, many of us, even the most devout of Christians, don’t see ourselves as saints. Perhaps it’s in our fallen nature to dwell on our own sinfulness. Maybe when we compare ourselves to the saints that have gone before us, we feel we just can’t measure up. There’s a certain discomfort we feel when we’re put on a pedestal, just like the statues in the church vestibule. Personally, I know I will be found lacking when held to such a high standard.

Still, the God who knows us, the God who loves us, calls us to Himself; He calls us all to be saints.

Sainthood is for everyone

In its wisdom, the Catholic Church understands that, although we are sinners, we are all called to be saints; we are all called to holiness. This call began with the creation of Adam and Eve, and their task to tend and guard the garden (cf Gen 2:15). God’s invitation to holiness was extended once more through Jesus Christ when he called the disciples to himself (cf Mt 4:18-22). Once again, in our own time, the Church has made the universal call to holiness:

Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification". (Thess 4:3) (LumenGentium 39)

Yet many of us balk at the contemporary call to sainthood. We look to the saints that came before us, fear we won’t make the cut, so we quit before we even try. The truth of sainthood is startling though. If we look at a history of saints, we soon realize that most of them were not holy from birth; that they required a conversion of heart. The Church itself was founded on sinners:

St. Peter denied Christ;
St. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; and
St. Paul murdered some of the first Christians.

The list is endless. A great read to know you’re not alone in your sinful start to sainthood is Thomas Craughwell’s Saints Behaving Badly.

Why does God use sinners to become saints? He wants us to take solace in knowing that nothing is impossible with God – even with ourselves.

Sainthood starts now

As the saying goes, There’s no time like the present to get started on your way to holiness. Most of us won’t have a conversion experience like St. Paul, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversion of heart. We are all called by name, the question is: will we answer the call.

We might not always recognize them, but these calls are ever-present in our lives. They are not always big and brazen, the Lord rarely works like that, but they are usually a small nudge to get us going back in the right direction. It could be a near miss on the highway, a miscommunication that blows up at work, or a lifestyle choice that leads us to harm. I once heard these small nudges referred to as a Purgatorial Pinch. Once we recognize them, we can use these moments to re-boot our path to sainthood.

Whenever she wants to try to bring me down a notch, my own mother often reminds me of my misspent youth with a quip I know where you come from and I know what you’ve done. My pat answer to this remark is a steadfast: In the journey towards heaven, it’s not where we come from that counts, but where we’re going. I know exactly what my sins are; so does the Lord. I confess and I reconcile with Him, confident He will show me the way.

It’s in recognizing our faults that we become repentant and re-orient ourselves towards God. As any sinner will tell you, the road to sainthood is long and arduous. From time to time we may slip or lose our way. What matters is getting back on the right path so we can arrive at our destination.

It’s never too late to get on the road to sainthood (cf Mt 20:1-16), but NOW is always the best time to get started.

Sainthood is a community

Teaching catechesis in both French and English, as well has having a command of both Portuguese and German to varying degrees, I love to play with language. I’m constantly looking for the ways in which God uses language to bring us closer to him. Something I enjoy pointing out to my students is the compound make-up of the word community from the French “comme” and “un”; meaning “as one”. So when we profess in the Creed that we believe in the communion of saints, we are professing our belief in our oneness with those who are in heaven.

Knowing that we are as one with the saints, both those in heaven as well as the ones still here on earth, gives us great courage. Life is difficult, and our path towards heaven is hard – we can’t do it alone. Thanks be to God that we have the communion of saints to see us through.

We all have our favourite saints for various reasons. Most of us find a personal call to devotion to one saint or the other; some popular, while others are more obscure. I have found that the internet is littered with devotions to the saints that have gone before us. There are Twitter Novenas or virtual candles at countless websites to bring us in closer communion with the saints. All designed to help bring us closer to God. Personally, I enjoy reading brief bios of the saints of the day; finding inspiration in their stories and strength from their words of wisdom.

We can’t forget about the saints here on earth, the saints who walk among us in our everyday lives. Yes, my generation has been blessed to be personal witness to the lives of St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul the Great, but we need to remember the communion of saints that we spend our days with.

Our family is our first encounter with the communion of saints. When we were married 20 years ago, my wife and I were charged with getting each other to heaven. Now that we are blessed with a son, it’s our responsibility to get him there to. We can’t stop there, however, and we need to recognize the holiness in the others around us – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours; no matter how hard that can be at times.

We live in a communion of saints. We need to rely on each other, but we also need to encourage each other on our path to sainthood.

Sainthood is infectious

Once we decide that our own sainthood is possible, no matter how tarnished our past, we will see it begin to rub off on others. When we decide that now is the time to make a change, others will like what they see and will follow suit. It’s living in this communion of saints that we will begin to see that the universal call to holiness is infectious.

Our little actions of sanctity can go a long way in helping create other saints around us. A simple please or thank-you; letting someone into your lane in rush hour; stopping to talk and listen to a neighbour going through a rough time – each of these will have a greater effect on the other than a sense of entitlement, blaring horn or cold shoulder. When we are saintly two things will happen, we will draw other saintly souls towards ourselves, and, more importantly, we will cause the conversion of the hearts in those we meet.

Following the news in the world today, it’s more than obvious that the world needs saints. Heed the call to holiness. Know that you can become a saint.