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Second Chances: Judas and ISIS


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!

With all the atrocities and horrors being committed against Christians in the Middle East, here is a story that sticks out like a palm tree in the desert! Apparently, an ISIS fighter converted to Christianity after “Allah” refused him entrance to the gates of heaven. Read all the details here. Somehow, I’m just not surprised but it’s interesting nevertheless. Why does he get such a revelatory second chance?

Speaking of interesting, when one thinks of Judas Iscariot, it’s a fairly common belief that he isn’t up in heaven basking in God’s glory with the angels… Or is he? Here is very interesting article published by CNN that raises some interesting questions. Read about it here.

Fifth week of lent and this comes across my desk only now. Here is a really neat infographic that explains the Penitential Season – please feel to share this graphic far and wide!

Info Graphic - Lent

We all have them. That special priest friend or spiritual director who has been there for you. At one point or another, we’ve all been faced with the question: What gift (for Christmas, Easter, birthday etc.) should you give him? The last thing Fr. Joe needs is another crucifix, a rosary, a statuette or an icon. Here are some epic suggestions from our friends at Epicpew.

Speaking of epic, have you seen these 14 Christian scenes finely sculpted out of sand?Sand

Everything from La Pieta and Our Lady of Guadalupe to Jesus on the Cross have been beautifully hand sculpted into sand.

On a more serious note, I found this article on Mary and Why Demons are so Afraid of Her particularly interesting because it was written from a former protestant’s viewpoint on Father Gabriele Amorth’s, (formerly the chief exorcist for Rome), two books, An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories.


What’s particularly interesting about Fr.Amorth’s accounts of several exorcisms was the presence and power of Mary. There is definitely Something About Mary! Read all the details here.

Last week, National Catholic Reporter published an article that asks some thought-provoking questions: Is the Shroud of Turin real, as many Catholics believe? Or is it a product of the 14th century? Does it matter at all? – and, if it does, how much does it matter? This article, based on a new CNN series, “Finding Jesus” and an interview with Jesuit Fr. James Martin is definitely not to miss. Read it here.

And finally, I leave you with this great video that is popping up all over social media titled, ‘The Beauty of the Catholic Church.’

Leading up to the World Meeting of the Families in Philly, I’m absolutely certain that more amazing videos will surface shortly!

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Deacon-structing Lent: part 4


So far in part 1, we looked at questions people have regarding fasting and abstinence, in part 2 we looked at suffering and in part 3 we looked at what Scripture has to tell us about why Jesus had to suffer.  I think when people think of Lent, that’s what they think about: fasting, abstinence and suffering. Add to that penance.

It is true that Lent is a penitential season, but do you know that the word “Lent” comes from the old English word, “lencten” which  was the word used for “Springtime?” It comes from the old Germanic: “Lengen-tinza” which literally means “long days” (think of the English word “lengthen,” to make long – that’s the same root as the word Lent.) So the word ‘Lent’ refers to the lengthening of days; to the light that is defeating the darkness.  I think most of us think of penance and fasting when we think of Lent, but Lent is also about light defeating darkness. That’s what we see in the fourth Sunday of Lent this year. (On 4th Sunday in Cycle B with Jesus speaking with Nicodemus and also in Cycle A with the story of the man born blind).

How many of you, when you think of Lent, think of Baptism? (I would hope that those preparing for Baptism are thinking of Baptism during Lent; but the rest of us?) Recently, I received a book by Jerry Galipeau titled, You Have Put On Christ: Cultivating a Baptismal Spirituality. In it, he says that Lent is a baptismal time. He quotes the Second Vatican Council Document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, #109:

“The season of Lent has a twofold character: primarily by recalling or preparing for baptism and by penance, it disposes the faithful, who more diligently hear the word of God ad devote themselves to prayer, to celebrate the paschal mystery. This twofold character is to be brought into greater prominence both in the liturgy and by liturgical catechesis.”

 And so, Lent has a two-fold character; two equally important strands: a baptismal one and a penitential one – we tend to over-emphasize the penitential one.  Traditionally, those preparing to be baptised or received in the Church do their final preparations during Lent. They are called Catechumens and we do see a special baptism emphasis for them during Lent, but all of us should be recalling our Baptism. At the Easter Vigil we will all be renewing our Baptismal promises.

I interviewed Jerry Galipeau for the SLHour for the first week in Lent and afterwards I decided that this Lent I was going to pay extra attention to the readings and prayers and look for all the baptismal themes. I was not sure as to what I was going to find. Then I came to the readings for the first Sunday in Lent. There are Baptismal elements in all the readings all throughout Lent, but let me use the first Sunday, Cycle B as an example:

The first reading from Genesis 9:8-15 takes place just after the flood. God is establishing a Covenant with all Creation; He will never again destroy with a flood. The flood was a cleansing, but also an opportunity for a new life, a regeneration. St. Peter, in the second reading (1 Peter 3:18-22) , tells us that the flood and the Ark prefigure Baptism. That’s what happens at Baptism: it is a cleansing and also an entering into a new life, a new life in Christ.

But the first reading is not directly about the flood; it is about God establishing a Covenant. Guess what I found: The YouCat (the Church’s youth catechism given to us by Pope Benedict XVI.) It says that “Baptism is a covenant with God” because “the individual must say Yes to it.” (YC#194) That makes sense since every Sacrament involves our action and God’s action: We do something and God does something – that’s a covenant. In Baptism, we do something: the prayers, the ritual, everything with the water, the oils, the white garment, the candle – that our part. Then God does his part; He sends us his Grace. In Baptism, we primarily receive two Graces: We are freed from sin and we are reborn as children of God (CCC#1213).  By going through the waters of Baptism, literally plunging into the waters (the word baptism comes from the Greek baptizein, which means “to plunge”) just as the people in the time of Noah went through the flood, we die to sin, all sin is buried in the waters, and we come up on the other side, reborn into Christ. Baptism is a death and a resurrection. St. Paul says that all who are baptised are baptised into the death of Christ, we are buried with him, so that as Christ is raised, we too can walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:3-4; Col 2:12). In Baptism, we are freed from all sin and we become children of God, no longer slaves to sin, but as adopted sons and daughters of God, who now have access to God’s very life, to the life that Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden. We must say yes to that. God does his part and we must agree. That’s what makes it a Covenant.

Now, the Gospel from the first Sunday in Lent is always about Jesus going to the desert. It’s easy to look at Mark’s version (1:12-15) and focus on the fact that Jesus goes into the desert – that’s very Lenten, very penitential. But what happens just before Jesus goes into the desert according to Mark? He is baptised! Then all Mark says about Jesus going to the desert is that “he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness” and in the desert he overcomes temptation; he overcomes sin and he is among wild beasts and the angels minister to him. Who else lived among wild beasts and the angels ministered to them? Adam and Eve. So according to Mark, Jesus going into the desert is an analogy to what happens at baptism: We are freed from sin (Jesus never sins; he overcomes temptation), no longer slaves to sin but having all the benefits that come with being children of God, the Communion with God that Adam and Eve had.

And then what does Jesus do? He begins his ministry. And that’s what we forget about Baptism. Baptism is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Baptism is the door to Faith and to ministry in the Church. God establishes a Covenant with us and we have to do our part.

So Lent is a time to remember and reflect on our Baptism. For most of us, we were baptised many, many years ago – we don’t remember it – some of us don’t even know when we were baptised or where. Some don’t have a relationship with their Godparents. We should know, at the very least when and where we were baptised. I was baptised on February 8th, 1969 at San Francisco de la Caleta Parish in Panama City, Panama. I know who was there, I have photos and I know who my Godparents are. Do you? Your baptism is where it all began. I would not be here today, as a Deacon, working at S+L and writing this, had I not been baptised. Most of you would not be reading this and would not be in Church every Sunday had you not been baptised – and I don’t mean Catholic baptism; I mean all Christian Baptism, because it’s all the same. We believe in one Baptism. If you are baptised in any Christian denomination, you are baptised – you’ve been freed from Original Sin and you have become a child of God. But we forget and don’t give Baptism the importance that it requires.

I used to think that since I was so young at my baptism and still very young at my Confirmation, there should be a second Confirmation – around our 30s when we truly accept, with full knowledge that we want to be Catholic followers of Jesus Christ – when we would renew our baptismal promises with full consent and knowledge. Most of us have forgotten our baptismal promises. But we don’t need a second Confirmation. At every Mass, when we pray the Creed, we are renewing our baptismal promises, and it is done with special importance, as a community during the Easter Vigil, at the end of Lent. So Lent is a time when we remember and reflect on our Baptism, so that at the Easter Vigil we can renew with vigour our part of the Covenant. God does his part; let’s prepare during this Lenten season so we can do ours.

Come back next time and we’ll deacon-struct Holy Week.

Pope Francis’ Homily with announcement of Year of Mercy


On Friday, March 13, 2015, during the penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father announced an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy. Below, please find Vatican Radio’s English translation of the Pope Francis’s homily, in which he made the announcement.

This year as last, as we head into of the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are gathered to celebrate the penitential liturgy. We are united with so many Christians, who, in every part of the world, have accepted the invitation to live this moment as a sign of the goodness of the Lord. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, in fact, allows us with confidence to draw near to the Father, in order to be certain of His pardon. He really is “rich in mercy” and extends His mercy with abundance over those who turn to Him with a sincere heart.

To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God’s gift,” it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10.) To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith.

The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment.

There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25.) For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life.

This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.

Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly.” (Lk 7:43) Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right.

The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person. We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart to see how much generosity everyone is capable. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (cf. Lk 6:36)

This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.

I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 3


In part 1 we looked at fasting and abstinence and in part 2 we looked at the meaning of suffering. Today, let me share with you something I like to do as part of my prayer (and we all know that Lent is a time to re-focus our prayer life.)

I love Scripture. I take to heart the words of St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” I truly believe that we must read the Bible daily. We must read it, study it and pray with it. That is definitely one way to get closer to Christ. But it’s also a good way to measure how you’re doing in your own life. When I was doing my pastoral placement while studying for the Permanent Diaconate, we were required to do “scriptural reflections” on specific pastoral experiences we’d had. So if I had met a patient who was in crisis in the hospital, I had to reflect on that experience by looking at it through a scriptural lens. I loved doing this and it was extremely helpful. Basically it’s looking at the life of Jesus (or other Bible characters) and seeing what it tells me about my life.  A lot of people will tell us that the Gospels are not factual. That Jesus didn’t really multiply the loaves and the fishes or that it wasn’t really water turned into wine, or that Lazarus wasn’t really dead. They’ll say that “resurrect” meant something else or that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross or didn’t really “resurrect.” See, (and I may get some responses from you for saying this) I don’t know if it really matters whether Jesus literally fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes or if he really walked on water; what matters is how these stories affect my life today. What really matters is the TRUTH behind all these stories.  The Bible may not always be FACT – but it is always TRUTH.

Let me explain to you the difference between “Fact” and “Truth.”

Let’s say you ask my five-year-old son how tall I am. My son says that I am 20 feet tall. Clearly that statement is not factual. I am not 20 ft. tall. But the truth behind that statement is that I am much, much taller than he is. He is short and I am a lot taller than him. So, in a way, his statement is true just not fact. Understand?

So the Bible is full of stories to show us the Truth.  That’s why we have to read the Bible as THEOLOGY and not so much as HISTORY. When we look at the Gospel stories and during Lent when we look at all the Passion Narratives, in trying to understand all the suffering, we must look for the Truth that is found in them.

The first Truth that I see is (as I said in part 2) that, although we may not be able to understand suffering, we believe in a God who suffers with us. He reigns from the Cross.

Jesus had to die because in dying He destroyed death. He destroyed Sin. His death frees us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (A cliché from Jn 12:24?) What I take from this passage is that unless I die I will not produce fruit.  It means I have to die to myself. It means I have to not be so selfish and self-centred. If I stop being so self-consumed and focus a little bit more on others, chances are I will produce some good fruit. Lent is a good time to practice dying to ourselves.

Jesus dying on the cross in a way represents how we each have to die:  We have to die to ourselves. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt.16:24). Deny yourself. That means stop being so self-centred.

In Luke, Jesus says: “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:27) Does “our cross” mean, “our suffering”?  Does it mean that if I am not willing to suffer, then I can’t be a follower of Jesus?  Is He preaching a religion that requires suffering? But as I said last week this doesn’t mean that I have to create my own suffering. Our cross is not suffering for the sake of suffering.

What does Jesus say about suffering?  He healed the sick, he cured the lame and the blind; he resurrected Lazarus. He fed the hungry. So Jesus fought against suffering at every turn. In fact, when Lazarus died, people chastised Jesus for not going to Lazarus when he was sick and curing him. (Jn: 11:4) When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” So Lazarus died so that God may be glorified through it.

On the fifth Sunday in Lent, this year (Cycle B) we will hear the reading from John 12:20-33 about the kernel of wheat dying, that I mentioned above. It’s worth reading the whole passage. Jesus says:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Amen, amen, I say to you,

unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it,

and whoever hates his life in this world

will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me must follow me,

and where I am, there also will my servant be.

The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

He says it in response to some Greeks who wanted to see him. He’s speaking about what we have to do if we want to follow him.

But in a less-known passage, which follows, he says,

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say?

‘Father, save me from this hour’?

But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.

Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven,

“I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder;

but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered and said,

“This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

Now is the time of judgment on this world;

now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

And when I am lifted up from the earth,

I will draw everyone to myself.”

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Jesus is saying that some suffering glorifies God. Which kind of suffering? Self-centred suffering won’t glorify God, that’s for sure. He also says that we must accept the suffering that comes with following Him.

In the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson there’s a very moving scene: Jesus is carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. He has been tortured and can barely stand or walk. His face is bruised and bleeding and his eye is swollen shut. He has fallen a lot more than three times. Mary, his mother is trying to get to him through the crowds. She finally breaks through as Jesus falls one more time. He looks up at her and says: “See Mother, I make all things new.”

Jesus came to make all things new.  He came to renew.  He talked about a new commandment: Love one another. A new Covenant: His blood is the blood of the new Covenant. In Mark He says: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, He pours new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22)  And how does He do this? By suffering and dying on the Cross. Lent is a time when we focus on dying to ourselves – even if it means a little suffering – so that we can glorify God. That, in turn, will make us new. That is why Lent is also a time for transfiguration. The season of Lent may begin with the story of Jesus going into the desert, but the second Sunday in Lent always has the story of the Transfiguration.

When Pope Francis was interviewed for America Magazine and was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he paused. He thought for a bit and then he said, “I am sinner. I am a sinner, whom the Lord has looked upon.”

That’s who we are: sinners, but that is just half of the story: We are sinners, whom the Lord has looked upon. Lent is not Lent if it doesn’t lead to Easter. Lent is a time when we focus a bit more on our sinfulness because the Lord has looked upon us; because Easter is just around the corner.

Come back next week and we’ll look at the two-fold character of Lent.

CNS photo/Vincent West, Reuters

S+L Celebrity Watch: Clapton and Colbert


Noel-BlogWelcome to S+L’s Weekly News Round-Up, where we search, summarize and present to you interesting Catholic News from around the world.

As the Director of Marketing and Communications here at S+L, I am exposed to many interesting Catholic news stories and articles on a daily basis. Some of them we cover on our different programs and others I’d like to share through other media channels.

I thought I’d put together and share some of the interesting articles that I’ve come across over the past week. Enjoy!

Eric_ClaptonGood old Eric Clapton. Who doesn’t know the living rock and roll legend who was notorious in the 60’s for that crazy rock lifestyle?

But what most people don’t know about him was his return to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the lowest period of his life. “I was in complete despair,” wrote Clapton. “In the privacy of my room, I begged for help. I had no notion of who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether . . . and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered.” Check the entire story here on Aleteia.

And here’s the video of Eric Clapton as he sings the song he wrote for Blessed Mother performed with Pavarotti:

Speaking of Momma Mary, have you seen this cool infographic explaining the seven approved recent Marian apparitions?

Marian_ApparitionOk, so we are on the third week of Lent. If you are struggling through the do’s & don’ts of Lent, don’t fret! Check out the illustrated guide to Lenten fasting and abstinence. This will help you get your bearings pointed in the right direction!

Considering that it’s still Lent, I hope that a good and thorough confession is on the top of your to-do list. Have you ever tried to explain the sacrament of confession to someone who doesn’t believe in the sacrament? Well, here is an excellent video that’ll do the hard work for you! Plus side – it is easily sharable!

Here’s another great video. I just love these cartoon explanations! See it here.

One last bit on the topic of Lent. If you are like some people (that I know…), and are having a real difficult time with the “fish thing” during Lent, check out this pretty cool Lenten survival guide for people who hate fish. There in contains many great ideas that even I didn’t consider.

Celebrity Watch Small

Who doesn’t love a great comedic celebrity, especially an outspoken, Catholic one?

Just yesterday, a video started to circulate on the websphere of Stephen Colbert and Fr. James Martin freestyling a hilarious interview where Stephen professes his faith and talks about many things Catholic. This is a must see. – Prepare yourself for some laughs!

Finally now, to close off this blog entry, I thought I’d share this feel-good video that’s making the rounds on social media. It’s a candid video of monks in Jerusalem engaged in a snow ball fight!

That’s it for me this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

Pope Francis guide to repentance – Perspectives Daily

What does it mean to repent? Pope Francis has details, and we tell you what they are. Chile will be home to a distinctive work of liturgical art, we’ll give you the details, and the cause for the beatification of Fra Andrew Bertie has been opened.

Deacon-structing Lent: part 2


Now that in part 1 we’ve taken care of questions regarding fasting and abstinence, let’s focus on the meaning of Lent.

We all know that Lent is the 40 days leading us to Easter. But what really is Lent?  Why are penance and suffering associated with Lent? What is the value of suffering? Let me tell you the story of my friend Eileen.*

Eileen has a great husband and a beautiful daughter. They have a nice little house in a good part of town. Her husband Paul* has a good job. They have a car. Her daughter Melanie* goes to a good school.  They are a good Catholic family. They go to Church and they’re involved in their Parish. Eileen has Multiple Sclerosis, but she’s doing very well. It is not advanced. Life is good and full of many blessings.

One day, when Melanie is about 13, Eileen finds out that Paul has been cheating on her. In a second their life has changed. Eileen can’t live with this betrayal. She leaves Paul.  Instantly, Melanie’s life has changed completely: from living in a nice house, with a car, in a nice neighbourhood – to living in a two-bedroom apartment with her now, single Mom, in a not-so-nice area of town and having to take public transit. Eileen’s MS starts to advance. Now, Melanie has to spend more time at home, helping her Mom. She is now 15, a time when she would rather be spending more time with her friends. But she is coping. Life for Eileen is getting harder and harder: divorce and disease, but still, life continues; they make the most of it; they’re still involved in their parish. There is still contact with Paul, who spends time with Melanie and visits occasionally. Then one day, when Melanie is 17, just a few days after Christmas, she is driving home after going out to a friend’s birthday. No one has been drinking and there is no speeding. The weather is not bad. Melanie changed cars to be with a friend who was going to be driving alone. The car hits a patch of ice, spins out into the opposite lane into an incoming vehicle – that is not speeding, just going the legal 60km/h – but hits straight onto the passenger side where Melanie is sitting, effectively crushing her. She is unconscious and shortly after she reaches the hospital, dies. 17 years old.  Divorce, disease and now death. I heard the news of Melanie’s death shortly after I heard about the Tsunami in South Asia. Divorce, disease, death and disaster….

And so I spent my Christmas season trying to make sense of this; trying to see why suffering exists; why is it such a part of our lives?

We are told that suffering glorifies us. Suffering sanctifies us. That means that suffering makes us Saints. This seems completely ridiculous to me. However if you look at the Middle Ages – a time in history that is not well-known for technical or scientific advances and not well-known for great Church leadership – this time produced many Saints; Saints that took suffering seriously. There’s Saint Rose of Lima (1586 –1617) who wore a cilice, a belt with spikes on it, wore a hair shirt and rubbed pepper on her face so she wouldn’t be attractive. There are so many others. I guess I don’t need to tell you about all the people who willingly gave up everything to be poor; who made strange choices like choosing to walk barefoot, even in winter! Look at St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Did all these people become Saints because of their suffering? I don’t think so. Certain suffering may sanctify us, but that doesn’t mean we have to go looking for suffering!

If I were to ask you why there’s suffering in the world, maybe you’d tell me that it’s because suffering makes us better people; because we learn from our suffering; it makes us stronger; it helps us understand those who are less fortunate and it gives us an opportunity to be compassionate to others and to realise that we need God. I guess that’s why we have so many clichés about darkness preceding light.

A cliché is an expression or phrase that expresses a stereotype. Like: “It has to be dark for you to see the stars.” Or “in darkness is when the stars shine brightest.” Or, “It has to be raining for you to see the rainbow” or, “you have to climb through the thorns to get to the rose.” These are clichés. But they are clichés because they are true. Here’s another one: “Winter has to come before the Spring.” They all mean that we need to go through suffering in order to experience the good stuff. Suffering makes us better people. That’s the way it is. There is something about this created world (and fallen world) that simply is that way. But why?  Why does it have to be that way?  God is God; God could have had anything make us better people. Anything could sanctify us. Why would salvation depend on suffering? Why can’t it be something else? Why can’t salvation depend on partying? I would say that those clichés are true also in that they point to something about the essence of God.

God became a human being and lived on earth as a human, with all the human things: born in a stable, got lost in Jerusalem, had to go to school and make friends; had to work hard – life in those days wasn’t easy.  Then he was arrested, tortured in the most horrible way and killed in the most horrible way.  That’s the God we believe in: A God who is arrested, tortured and killed.  A God who reigns by hanging on a Cross. It makes no sense. That’s why St. Paul says it’s a folly (1 Cor 1:18-25). I don’t get it but I don’t think we have to understand it. That’s why St. Paul also calls it a stumbling block (1 Cor 1:23).  But God doesn’t ask me to understand. That’s the story of Job. Job goes through incredible suffering and God never tells him why. Jesus goes through incredible suffering and God is absent (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34). [I wrote a reflection on the Cross a few years ago and explored many of these themes.]

But we know that suffering can be redemptive. There are people who suffer for no reason; that suffering has no meaning. But there are people who suffer out of love. There are people who offer their suffering because of love. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. That’s why His suffering is redemptive. That’s the suffering that saves.

I may not understand why we have to suffer**, but I know that God is a God who suffers with us. That acceptance is also redemptive. Lent is a great opportunity to remind us of this love. Our small acts of penance are a reminder of this love. Lent encourages us to offer up our suffering out of love.

Come back next week and let’s see what Scriptures have to say about all this.

*Not their real names.
**For a real good in-depth look at suffering, you may want to watch In Your Faith, Season 1; Episode 2, (If God is a God of Love) Why do Bad Things Happen?
You may also be interested in Fr. Rosica’s Lenten and Easter Reflections, available now on DVD.

Vatican Connections: February 27


Pope Francis has been on retreat this week, along with the members of the Roman Curia. Continuing a practice the pope started during his first year on the chair of St. Peter, he and his collaborators are spending the week at a retreat house in the Roman hillside town of Arriccia. Carmelite Father Bruno Secondin led the week-long spiritual exercises. The theme: “Servants and Prophets of the Living God.”

Below is part of Fr. Secondin’s meditation from the second day of the retreat.

To undertake a real Lenten journey of conversion, we must first rediscover the “deepest truth about ourselves, come out in the open” and “remove every mask, every ambiguity.” With this strong reminder to look back honestly at our history, the Carmelite Bruno Secondin concluded the second day, Monday, 23 February, of the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Pope and the Roman Curia in Ariccia.

Following the experience of Elijah taken from the Scriptures, the preacher described the “hiding” from which the prophet was called by the Lord, that hiding in which we often cloak ourselves and which many times is masked by some kind of exterior religiosity, devoid of the courage that comes with truth.

After having the courage to come out in the open, to say the truth about ourselves, to remove the mask that numbs our consciences, we must begin to walk on the “paths of freedom” and eliminate those attitudes that make us “swing from one side to another” in order to make room for God. Fr. Secondin continued his reflection on this point Tuesday morning, 24, inviting those on retreat to consider the particular choices of the Church in our time: “Do we deal with the important things in small circles or do we know how to have a clear strategy that takes the system by surprise?”. How much suffering, for example, “have certain sensitive subjects caused us”, Fr Secondin said, then adding: “We must not hide our scandals” and it is important that “victims of injustice be led to healing by recognizing our errors with humility”.

Acknowledging the faults of the Church emerged in another episode as well. Taking inspiration from that terrible act of Elijah who executes the prophets of Baal, the preacher invited all to remember how the Church in her history was capable of acts of violence. “We too burned people, we have killed”, he said. And he stressed that today violence can be expressed in other forms, “even without the sword”, referring to the explosive power of language and modern means of communication: “Sometimes the keyboard kills more than the sword!”.

– See more at: http://www.osservatoreromano.va/en/news/shed-mask#sthash.NnWGIYup.dpuf


Surfer Dude Saint


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!

4lentWe’re now into the second week of Lent and I’m wondering how everyone is doing with their resolutions. I’m sure many of you (not all) are probably a bit grumpy from the withdrawal caused by your ambitious resolutions: abstaining from sugar, coffee, junk food, tv or whatever you’ve decided to give up for Lent. Some of you are probably wondering why only Christians have to give something up.

Well, I’m not sure if you’ve seen this, but apparently it’s not only us Catholics giving up things for Lent! Did you see the #Muslims4Lent campaign where Muslims show Solidarity with Christians by giving things up for Lent? It seems like we Christians are being supported by our Muslim brothers and sisters! Read about it here.

Now here is a very interesting character coming up for sainthood. When you think of a surfer dude, you don’t often think of a saintly seminarian. Let me introduce you to Guido Schaffer, a seminarian from Brazil who died just weeks before his ordination to priesthood. Check out the story here.

We all know them: friends, families and co-workers who are Catholic by birth but non-practicing, yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion. These are the seeds of conversion. Ever thought about what books you can give them to pique their interest? Well, then check this article out: Top Ten Books to Give Fallen Away Catholics. In addition to those books, I’d also throw into that list: The Call To Sainthood.

Now if your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth, but non-practicing and yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, happens to be big into twitter, here is another article that you can forward to them entitled: Top 24 Catholics to Follow on Twitter plus 1 Protestant.

And to close off that religious conversion with your particular friend, family member or co-worker who is Catholic by birth but non-practicing yet mildly curious about their grandmother’s religion, you can always throw them this: the top 10 reasons why it’s great to be Catholic. :)


OK pop quiz time… I never would have imagined how many of you readers would actually email me to say that you love the quizzes! So be it. Here are 2 pretty cool quizzes that I personally enjoyed last week.

QUIZ 1: Can You Fill in the Blanks of These Bible Verses?

QUIZ 2: Did The Pope said that?

Just to set the bar, I got 8 on quiz 1 and 7 on quiz 2. These are more difficult than I thought!


Finally now, who in the world hasn’t heard of Nutella, that hazelnut-chocolatey goodness that you spread on your toast in the morning? Did you know that the founder, Michele Ferrero, attributes its success to Our Lady of Lourdes? Read about it here.

That’s it for this week folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on these stories. If you have any interesting stories yourself, please feel free to send them to me!

I hope you enjoy these little stories! I certainly have. Till next week!

– Noel

A World Seeking the Path of Lenten Renewal


Perhaps now more than at any point in recent history, the world finds itself veering uncomfortably close to danger and uncertainty. We have a global financial system that is unsustainable and violence and military conflicts brewing in some of the world’s most volatile powder kegs. There are now new emerging problems like disease outbreaks and social unrest brewing, which leads one to a very troubling concerning conclusion: the world is a mess.

This isn’t to say that we haven’t in recent years had our share of regional or global problems. However there’s a particular unease to the intensity of the current state of affairs. The West lining up against Russia, the Islamic State and al Shabaab committing atrocities in Africa and the Middle East, social unrest in Venezuela, Ebola in West Africa, the list goes on and on. It’s at times like these when Christians are called to bare witness to their faith, and what better time to bear witness during this particular time of year.

It’s at this time that we begin the season of Lent, a time of renewal, for fasting, penance and alms giving. It is an opportunity to try to reframe oneself amidst all the chaos we find ourselves enveloped in, not just in the world, but also in our own lives. Finding the time to peacefully reflect, to pray, to develop good habits and to journey closer to God, are things we should all strive for. Were this the prevailing attitude worldwide at this time of year, is it unreasonable to think that we might not have quite the degree of conflict and uncertainty that we do today?

Solving the world’s problems begins with each and every one of us, and our own conversion of heart. We cannot allow power, greed and pride to rule us. The Apostolic Vicar to Tripoli, Libya, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli illustrated this very plainly this week in an interview with Vatican Radio. He chastised powerful interests, specifically western countries for helping themselves to Libya’s resources following the military intervention, which led to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi. He said that it was self-interests and economic interests that have created a terrible void in the country, which has led to much destruction and death.

With Libya verging on being a failed state, Bishop Martinelli’s words bare ever-stronger meaning, as we can see the consequences of selfish individual choices gone awry. However the bishop has chosen not to abandon his post, and will no doubt give a heroing Lenten witness, as militants are already surrounding Tripoli. There will no doubt be suffering, little food, a need to serve the poor coupled with a desperate need for prayer. We are not all called to live a Lenten season so intense and full of daily life and death struggle. However there is much we can learn, much the world can learn from the bishop’s example.

The world needs more Bishop Martinellis, those who are resolute in their faith and who prayerfully witness and serve in spite of what others might do or say. May this Lenten season be an opportunity for us all to be closer to Christ.