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Waiting to exhale

File photo of Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa preaching at Vatican

The Lenten Season is, par excellence, the time of inspiration.  At this time, we take deep breaths; we fill the lungs of our soul with the Holy Spirit and thus, without our realizing it, our breath will have the scent of Christ. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, First Lenten homily for 2015 reflecting on Evangelii Gaudium

A good friend of mine recently shared with me a website promoting the premiere of  National Geographic’s film Killing Jesus.  The movie charts the political and historical conflicts that led to the execution of Jesus. Its main draw being that it explores the differing perspectives on who Jesus was and how that affected the telling of his story.

All of which got me thinking about the Passion narrative; because, every time I think about it, I can’t help but ask myself whose actions would be my own? Some years ago I imagined myself as Mary Magdalene or Veronica but more recently I’ve been wondering what if I’m Peter or worse, Judas?

Trying to understand the motivations of those who interacted with Jesus is not easy. Most of the time, I’m left thinking, what’s that even supposed to mean?

So to help me dive deeper into the story, I’ve been revisiting the homilies of Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa. Anyone who has read or listened to Fr. Cantalamessa knows that there’s a very good reason that he is the preacher to the papal household. His homilies are excellent.  There are several reasons, but I’ll keep it to three.


First his poetic use of imagery, I recall  during the Good Friday service in 2013 he made reference to a short story by Franz Kafka called an Imperial Message. He used the story as a metaphor for ourselves in relation to Holy Spirit. And if you’ve ever read any Kafka you know his surreal, nightmarish depictions will leave you disturbed. But given Fr. Cantalamessa’s point – that we need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do its work – it was a point worth making!


Secondly, even though I gain a tremendous amount of insight (theological and historical) from his homilies they’re always accessible. He has this amazing way of providing broad scope but always bringing it back to everyday realities  (not unlike my other favourite homilist, Papa Francesco). For example, in his homily for the 2014 Good Friday service he reflected on Judas and his role in Christ’s Passion. And boy did he bring it home:


One can betray Jesus for other kinds of compensation than 30 pieces of silver. A man who betrays his wife, or a wife her husband, betrays Christ. The minister of God who is unfaithful to his state in life, or instead of feeding the sheep entrusted to him feeds himself, betrays Jesus. Whoever betrays their conscience betrays Jesus. Even I can betray him at this very moment — and it makes me tremble — if while preaching about Judas I am more concerned about the audience’s approval than about participating in the immense sorrow of the Savior. There was a mitigating circumstance in Judas’ case that that I do not have. He did not know who Jesus was and considered him to be only “a righteous man”; he did not know, as we do, that he was the Son of God.


And lastly, I love his homilies because he makes connections to great literature and music which reminds me that I’m joined with all humanity in contemplating the great questions of life. All of which is very inspiring.  So in the words of Fr. Cantalamessa,  I invite you to take some time this week to be inspired, so that you too may have “the scent of Christ”.


From March 30 to April 6 Salt + Light will bring you full coverage of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies led by Pope Francis.

Photo credit: CNS

Loyola vs. Quebec: the new reality of confessional secularism


The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Quebec’s Minister of Education infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola, a private Catholic high school in Montreal, by requiring the school to teach all aspects of the province’s Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC) from a neutral perspective, i.e. from a non-confessional, or specifically non-Catholic perspective.

This decision has sparked an animated conversation across Canada about religious freedom and the role of government, or as it’s traditionally known, the question of the separation of church and state.  One of my colleagues recently wrote on the proper role of the state in matters of religion and morals.  Here I offer the following reflection on another essential consideration, namely, the growing phenomenon of what we might call “confessional secularism,” that is, the transformation of a purely neutral secularism into a belief system; a faith.

A simple timeline of the six-year legal battle between Loyola and the Minister can be found at the end of this column.  For more background information visit Loyola’s website or read the Supreme Court’s decision.

Reading between the lines
From the outset, it is important to note that the dispute was not over the content or goals of the ERC Program.  Loyola does not object to the “recognition of others,” “pursuing the common good,” or promoting “openness to human rights, diversity and respect for others,” as outlined in the course.  On the contrary, these objectives are central to the mission of the school.  And historically speaking, the Catholic Church itself is responsible, in part, for embedding into modern society the fundamental principles of rights, equality, liberty and justice from which these goals originate.

The problem is the Minister’s insistence on the strict implementation of the ERC Program from a “neutral” perspective.  According to the Supreme Court, the Minister’s insistence suggests that, “engagement with an individual’s own religion on his or her own terms can be presumed to impair respect for others.”  In other words, the Minister made an irrational assessment of the Catholic perspective: that from a Catholic perspective it is impossible to teach children to respect others and promote dialogue and the common good, as articulated in the ERC course. (According to the Minister the perspective must be neutral, i.e. secular.)

The Court perceptively refuted this assessment of the Minister. In perhaps the most penetrating statement in the majority decision, the Court went beyond simply arguing that the Minister had violated the school’s religious freedom.  It also stated that preventing Loyola from teaching Catholicism from a Catholic perspective “does little to further the ERC Program’s objectives.”  This observation of the Court can form the basis of our consideration of “confessional secularism”.

Calling a spade a spade
As I understand it, confessional secularism is the result of transforming the fundamental tenets of secularism into a belief system.  It is one thing to promote a secular state that is neutral in matters of religion; it is quite another to promote a secular state that adopts secularism as a religion.  Confessional secularism is like any other religion insofar as a certain belief system is held to be true above other belief systems.

If we keep this in mind and follow the line of thought of the Supreme Court, we find the Minister’s insistence that Loyola teach Catholicism from a neutral perspective to be counterintuitive. We would expect to see the Minister uphold at all costs the integrity of the ERC Program.  Instead, we see the Minister insist on a strictly secular approach to religion and ethics that limits the religious freedom of a Catholic institution and thus undermines the very goals of the ERC Program, which were designed to celebrate openness and diversity.  How can this be?

I remember reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for the first time, and being struck by a similar phenomenon. In the book, Chesterton reflects on the prevailing anti-Christian attitudes of the early 1900’s in Europe. Like many of his contemporaries he was open to new and progressive ideas, and traditional Christianity was largely seen by the intelligentsia as primitive and authoritarian.  The young and agnostic Chesterton celebrated these various critiques of Christianity, but then became alarmed by the inconsistencies he found in them.  At one point he wrote:

“It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing [Christianity] be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves?”

We might pose a similar question to Quebec’s Minister of Education: What is it about the Catholic perspective on issues of religion and ethics that the government is so anxious to contradict, that in doing so it does not mind contradicting its own goals for the ERC Program?

I do not have a definitive answer to this question.  Nor is it the competency of the Court to try to answer it.  However, the Court did conclude that, “A secular state respects religious differences, it does not seek to extinguish them.”

We must acknowledge the reality of confessional secularism in our society today.  Forceful expressions of it seem to spring more frequently out of Quebec, but it is not a stagnant phenomenon and certainly not isolated in Quebec.  The subtle leap from a purely neutral secularism to confessional secularism is one that more and more Canadians are making.  It is indeed a leap of faith.

The difficulty with confessional secularism is not that secularism has become a new religion, but that its proponents sometimes fail to recognize it as such.  The Loyola case proved this definitively.  If confessional secularists are willing to recognize their belief system as a belief system, then Canadians should do as they have always done: welcome with open arms another group into our pluralist society.  But if proponents of this new religion advocate a kind of official atheism in the name of neutral secularism, then Loyola vs. Quebec won’t be the last case of religious freedom before the Supreme Court.

Timeline of events

  • Quebec’s Ministry of Education, Sport and Leisure introduces its Ethics and Religious Culture Program (ERC)
  • Loyola applies for an exemption from the course, asking the Minister to allow the school to teach the content and goals of the program from a Catholic perspective
  • The Minister refuses an exemption to Loyola


  • Loyola takes the matter to the Quebec Superior Court


  • The Quebec Superior Court concludes that the decision to refuse Loyola’s request was invalid because it assumed the content and goals of the program could not be taught from a confessional (Catholic) perspective
  • The Minister appeals the Court’s decision


  • The Quebec Court of Appeal overturns the Superior Court’s ruling


  • Loyola takes the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada


  • The Supreme Court of Canada overturns the Court of Appeal and rules that the Minister infringed upon the religious freedom of Loyola

Archbishop of Montreal Responds to Supreme Court Ruling – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, the Archbishop of Montreal welcomes the Supreme Court decision protecting the liberties of Loyola Catholic High School, CCCB President’s message for Holy Week and Easter, Pope Francis to visit the White House and CNS travels to the historic burial of Richard III.

Digital Citizenship: Your Voice Matters


Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up. As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, many interesting Catholic news stories and articles come across my desk on a daily basis. Some of them we’ll cover on our different television programs and others I’d like to share with you on this blog.

This blog column is where I’ll point out some of the more interesting news pieces that I’ve come across over the past week! Enjoy!

This week on the Weekly News Round-Up, I thought I might do something a little different than the usual headlines I showcase. I’ll get back to that next week.

Instead, I thought I might share my experiences from an event that I had the great honor to speak at.

Yesterday, I was invited to speak to over 150 students from the Calgary Catholic School Board at their annual Digital Citizenship Conference, this year titled Your Voice Matters.

At this event, I was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of junior high school students (grades 7-9) and their teachers at the Conservatory building of the Calgary Zoo, where I was asked to talk to them about Promoting a Catholic Presence on Social Media.

What a fantastic reception! The kids were engaging, funny and all around enthusiastic about their faith.

I was very appreciative of the kind hospitality the organizers Charmaine Monteiro, Stephanie Proctor and Andrea Gillier gave me and the many others who made my visit and stay a trip to remember!

What follows is my text of my speech. I hope you enjoy!

Thank you for the amazing and warm introduction! I’m very happy to be here to talk to you all. I love Calgary.

So earlier today, I had a chance to listen to both Julie and Paul. And I have to say, what wonderful speakers.

You are very lucky to have such great and talented speakers to help you navigate through this webspace we call the Digital Continent.

Before we begin, I’d like to ask a few questions…

First of all, can I get a show of hands…

  • How many of you out there are Catholic or Christian?
  • How many of you out there are on Facebook?
  • On Twitter?
  • On Instagram?
  • How many of you follow Pope Francis on Twitter?
  • Finally, how many of you have actually retweeted, shared, or liked a post by Pope Francis?

Very interesting indeed. Well, I’m happy to say that you’ve all passed and after this session, you can go see your teacher to redeem the extra bonus marks!.

Ok, in all seriousness, I’m here to take you along a different tangent from this mornings talks and talk about 4 main things:

  1. Why put yourselves out there as Catholics?
  2. What’s in it for you & what can you expect by doing so.
  3. I want to show you some great and fun sites you can share content from.
  4. Introduce you to one of the greatest communicators in recent history.

And to kick off this session, I’d like to say we’ve done it. My television station, Salt and Light TV, which broadcasts all over Canada, the US and now in Europe, have been doing it for the past 12 years.

We’ve been putting ourselves out there and now we’re in over 3 million homes and growing. Have a look:

Session 1 – So why put yourselves out there as Christians

And by “putting yourselves out there,” I mean: WHY

  • make a public statement of your Catholic beliefs on line?
  • share posts and pictures that promote your faith’s value?
  • follow the Pope and other Catholic speakers and figures?
  • be virtuous, thoughtful and positive with your comments and activities online?

And the answer to the “why” question is in this video.

This is what happens when you put yourselves out there.

Have a look:

Now when you do that, keep in mind that you will get criticized, sometimes laughed at, maybe called names like a bible thumper, holy-roller, Jesus Lover… or whatever, AND you may even lose the respect of some friends.

Be prepared for hostility for your beliefs, no matter what they are. That kind of sucks right?

BUT consider this. Consider what’s in it for you!

  • You’ll soon realize that you’re not alone in your beliefs.
  • You’ll gain new friends who share the same beliefs and struggles.
  • You’ll be part of a global movement, a global network of young Catholics.
  • You’ll be part of the solution not the problem.
  • You’ll connect with like-minded friends.
  • You’ll be exposed to experiences and people that you’d never have known if you didn’t
  • You become part of a world-wide posse of people who share the same values and will support you.

So consider this thought. The first person that benefits by putting yourself out and affirming your Catholic beliefs there is you. The second person that benefits is everyone else around you.

In essence, you become the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World EXACTLY what St. Pope John Paul II specifically asked us to do.

Let me ask this:

  • Who loves junk food? – Show of hands
    • Who loves fries, chips, burgers, pizza?
    • What happens when you consume that kinds of food every day, day in and out?
    • Whats happens to your body? Anyone?
    • Who out there body-builds and hits the gym and exercises?
    • What kinds of food to you consume?

The reason I bring this up is because 90% of the content on the internet is like junk-food of various degrees but junk food nevertheless

Seriously. Fake, cheap, junk, filled with negativity, criticism, hate, abuse, bullying. IF you consume that crap day in and out, your mind will conform to those values and attitudes, then you become part of the problem.

However, if you are careful of what you put in your body, like a body-builder, you become different, strong… in your mind and attitude. You are what you consume and that saying doesn’t just apply to food. It applies to everything you consume, so be careful with what you consume for your mind.

Has anyone heard of the actor Mark Wahlberg, from Transformers? He really came out about his catholic faith on CNN. Check it out:

Now that is brutally honest. He took a lot of heat for that online.

There are many other high profile celebrities and hollywood A-listers that are putting themselves out there on social media because of the reasons we spoke about. Yeah, they’re not always be perfect but neither are we. They have the same struggles as we do, if not amplified, by their celebrity status. Celebs like Mel Gibson, Stephen Colbert, Martin Sheen, Jim Caviezel and so many others are proclaiming themselves Catholic/

And the reason why they are putting themselves out there as Catholics can be summarized in this little clip. Have a look:

Session 2 – How

In this session, I’d like to talk to you about how to put yourselves out there as good Catholics. And to begin, the easiest way is simply to like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content on whatever social media platform you use. It’s that simple.

You don’t need to make grand proclamations, you don’t need to be on CNN or make video clips to post on Youtube. Simply like, post and share good Christian/Catholic content that represents your faith, content that is positive, hope-filled and optimistic.

As a digital citizen, you have an opportunity to take a stand on issues and truly define yourselves to the world.

So I thought it would be kind of cool to have a look at some of the sites I personally like and some that we use at Salt and Light TV.

Here are a few of my favourite ones:

Session 3 – St. John Paul II

In this final session, I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about one of the greatest communicators of our time, of my time. Someone who by the very nature of his heart, and not by his job, put himself out there, in a way that none of his predecessors have done so in the past.

He did this at a time where the global and political environment was harsh against religion; at a time when being religious, let alone Catholic, could mean imprisonment or even death.

He was great not because it was his job to be great, but because of the suffering he endured throughout his life. He was renowned for NOT being bitter or harsh, but for courage and optimism in the face of evil, and the light of hope he spread in this world.

This person personally reached out to the youth of the world and hence started what has become one of greatest youth gatherings in the world. It happens every 2-3 years: World Youth Day.

The person I’m talking about is none other than Pope John Paul II or St. JPII. Have a look:

Be Not Afraid was his message to you, the youth. Be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.

When you stand up for your beliefs, no matter WHAT they are, you’ll be criticized, antagonized, laughed at and, in some cases, villainized?

But. Be Not Afraid.

When you stand up to be a shining example of what’s good in the world, of what’s right in the world, of what’s just in the world, haters will try to extinguish that light with negativity and cruelness, especially in the digital world.

But dont worry. St. JPII reminds us that You are not what they say you are. Let me remind you who you are.

As the next generation of young, dynamic Catholics, we need to be present and available where people are spending much of their time – online. We have to take JPII’s call to evangelize on the digital continent very seriously and why?

Because YOU are the hope for the future. You are the beacons of light and hope that generations before and generations ahead will look to.

We have to stand up and freely and openly state: We Are Catholic!

Finally, to wrap up my time with you, I’d like to show you one last video.

If Social Media existed during the time of Jesus this is how things may have looked:

Now take that message, your message, and spread it with hope and joy throughout the world. Your world – the digital continent.

Thank you!


Ontario Doctors Fight for their Conscience Rights – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis’ weekly General Audience, condolences for flight crash victims in France, Ontario doctor’s take College of Physicians and Surgeons to court to fight for their conscience rights and a Catholic Church comes under attack in Pakistan.

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Today on Perspectives, the Vatican invites the homeless of Rome to visit the Sistine Chapel and Catholic News Service goes to spring training for God’s sport in Arizona.

Pope Francis Visits Campania – Perspectives Daily

Today on Perspectives, Pope Francis travels to the Campania region of Italy and his weekly Angelus Address.

Want to be happy? Settle for less.



Turns out living simply and settling for ‘good enough’ is a sure fire way to be happy. Barry Schwartz in his popular TED talk on the paradox of choice suggests that we’ve been ingrained with the idea that the way to be happy is to maximize our freedom. And the way that we maximize our freedom, we presume, is to maximize our choices. But as Schwartz demonstrates, not only are we not happier when we have too much choice; we also experience decision paralysis and diminished satisfaction.  Why? Because too many choices makes us question our decisions, sets our expectations too high, and the result is we blame ourselves for our mistakes (as pointed out in this article.)  It also interestingly explains why New Yorkers despite their plethora of choice have a hard time finding a spouse.  As Barry Schwartz puts it, ‘the key to happiness is to have low expectations’. You may chuckle at this thought as I did,  but in a sense I think this is what Pope Francis is getting at when he reminds us to live simply.  Living simply means that we are choosing to limit ourselves so that we can be truly happy and ultimately free.


Here’s what I’m saying,  there’s this Franciscan mission I once visited, I remember the place because the house echoed when you entered it and I felt that I could literally count all the objects inside  the place and, except for some flowers next to a statue of the Virgin Mary, there was nothing that wasn’t essential. Now, these Franciscans didn’t have much choice (in the conventional sense) but  I’d say that they were probably the happiest people I’ve ever met.

Now there’s a host of reasons for their joy, but I believe part of the secret to their happiness lies in the simplicity of their lives. Their radical commitment to live in solidarity with the poor means that there are a host of decisions that they’ll never have to make, and overall they will be more satisfied with what they do have.  And since every day is lived with a reliance on Divine Providence it allows them to experience genuine delight more frequently because they’re not expecting everything to be, well, perfect all the time. When was the last time you were genuinely delighted? It was probably when you weren’t expecting anything at all.


And this leads me to how we view limitations. There’s an insight I had watching the movie Gravity. Our entire lives we think of the law of gravity as something that needs to be overcome; gravity is that force that keeps you down, prevents you from getting to the stars! But, what I came to realize through the course of that movie was that no, gravity is really, really good. In fact, its  amazing –   because its what keeps you from flying off into space, its what make life on earth possible, and what makes flight enjoyable!  Limitations allow us to flourish.  So all this to say that when Pope Francis calls us to live simply, he’s  actually inviting us to be happy. To experience true abiding happiness.  And that, my friends, has got to  be worth a try.

Coast to Coast: March 15 to March 20


Here’s what’s been happening across the country:

In Vancouver, the city’s Archbishop slept in a cardboard box last week to raise awareness, money and be in solidarity with the homeless.

In Alberta, the Catholic school board has welcomed revised legislation on gay-straight alliances.

In Saskatoon, a woman with MS shares her thoughts on the Canadian Supreme Court’s recent ruling on assisted suicide. Is it really compassion?

And in Toronto, the Catholic school board there is looking at what could be big cuts in staff.

Vatican Connection: March 20


On Saturday, March 21, Pope Francis is set to spend a day visiting Pompeii and Naples. Though short, this trip is yet another reminder of the pontiff’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized.

Aside from a visit to a sanctuary in Pompeii and a meeting with the sick at Basilica of Gesu Nuovo, the pope is visiting Scampia, a bedroom suburb best known as the setting of the film Gomorrah; Poggioreale, an overcrowded prison; and meeting with youth at an iconic seaside promenade.

The suburb of Scampia is best known today as the setting of the film “Gomorrah” and home to what is considered an example of failed civic architecture. The “Vele di Scampia” or the “Sails of Scampia” is concrete house complex designed and built from 1962 to 1975. The sail shaped concrete buildings with outdoor staircases were part of a larger complex of buildings. The project incorporated large outdoor spaces between buildings that were meant to serve as piazzas and soccer fields.

The reaction to the completed complex was less than enthusiastic. Maintenance was not a priority and living conditions soon deteriorated. Instead of becoming a mini-city bursting with life, Scampia became the only place that disadvantaged families could afford to live. The mafia also moved in.

While not all residents are involved with organized crime, Scampia is not an easy place to live and residents don’t have many opportunities available to improve their situation. Given his past declaration about Mafia members being “excommunicated” or removed from God’s love, expect strong words from Pope Francis during his meeting with residents in St. John Paul II Square.

The next stop on his itinerary is scheduled to be Poggioreale Prison, home to 1900 inmates. Pope Francis will greet inmates, many of whom probably lived in Scampia at some point in their lives. The pope is scheduled to have lunch with a group of inmates at Poggioreale and give a speech.

Following his visit to the prison, Pope Francis will stop at the cathedral where he will venerate the relic of St. Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. That relic is a vial of the saint’s coagulated blood. Three times a year the dark grains of dried blood become liquid once again and take on bright red colour. The miracle usually occurs on the first Saturday of May, the 19 of September, and the 16 of December. Studies conducted in 1988 determined that the substance contained in the two vials housed in the reliquary is indeed blood. The miracle doesn’t work like clockwork. There have been times when the blood did not liquify on those dates, or liquified just before or just after the usual days.

In a recently published book the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crecenzio Seppe, recounted the story of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Naples and the St. Gennaro’s relics. Cardinal Seppe recounts that although it seemed as though the pontiff could not pull himself away from the reliquary, the saint’s blood did not liquify. Even though there is no reason to expect the saint’s blood to become liquid before the pope, this will be a point of interest for some Neapolitans now that their expectations have been raised.


The Scottish cardinal who resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct were brought against him, has now given up the “rights and privilleges” of being a Cardinal. Pope Francis has accepted Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation.  Cardinal O’Brien will no longer serve on any pontifical councils or committees, nor will take part in consistory or an eventual conclave to elect a new pope. In a statement, the Catholic Church in Scotland said Cardinal O’Brien will be reduced to a strictly private life.