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Monday, 25 April 2011

Where Have All the Cousins Gone?

     I was talking to a young mother, and she was telling me how much her little son enjoys the company of his seven cousins. "They are all older than he is and they pay him so much attention. He just loves it." I could see the joy in her eyes as she talked about the cousins and their value in her family. This brought me back to my own childhood and memories of heading out to the farm to play with my cousins.
     They showed me how to milk a cow, feed the pigs and climb up into the hay mow and shove the hay through the trap door, without falling down through the hole in the hay that looked like a big black mouth. We ran through the fields in rubber boots, climbed out to the far rickety reaches of the old apple tree branches and rode the bucking horses through the pastures like the James Gang. When my cousins came to town, we would strut down the main street and look into the store windows, or pay a quarter to go to watch an afternoon of Three Stooges fun.We learned from each other, protected one another, and it was good.
     I told the young mother that my two grandsons have two first cousins, both from near Montreal, and she said, "Oh yes, they don't have many children any more in Quebec." Her response startled me a bit, but there is some truth in it when one considers the declining birth rates, and the mass exodus from the Catholic Church. I told her that her little boy was fortunate to have so many cousins because more and more children have fewer and fewer cousins.
     It's the same everywhere you look. And perhaps this is an opportunity for society to extend itself in a new way. Families used to be more close knit and private, but now families socialize more often because the children enjoy each others' company. They want it and they need it.
     As Mother Teresa says, "It is easy to love those who live far away. It is not always easy to love those who live right next to us....I want you to be concerned about your next-door neighbour. Do you know who your neighbour is?"
    My wife and I were with our grandsons and their parents for Easter dinner. We were just about to say Grace when the doorbell rang and the little boy from down the street whose parents are going through a divorce asked if he could come in. My daughter said, "Of course," and invited him to eat with us. He declined because he had already eaten but he sat in the dining room with us and obviously enjoyed our company, and our grandsons enjoyed his.
     Perhaps this is what Mother Teresa was talking about. Could this be the new family which makes up for a lack of cousins with a greater hospitality and more welcoming home? At first, I found it a bit difficult to have a stranger sitting with us as we ate, but as I thought about it more, I could see that a lot of good was being done, and I was proud of my daughter and her husband for being so generous.
      The boys were happy about it too because they basically had a new cousin in the house and that was just fine with them.
     By the same token, the real thing can be better than a tonic. This weekend, I attended a family reunion of one side of my wife's family, and there were cousins galore. There were cousins in the house, cousins on the porch, tiny cousins rolling in the grass, and cousins sitting around in chairs like philosophers.  I sat back and took it all in, feeling the warmth only a family of cousins can produce, and watching the joy of life in the cousins' eyes.
     They spoke of family tragedies and family celebrations, hilarious incidents which nobody but the family, and those lucky enough to have been invited like me, would ever know or hear about. They hugged, they kissed, they cried, they laughed, but most of all, they shared something which is both indescribable and also so real you can almost touch it.
     That of course, is the gift of family, the gift of cousins, the gift of the heart, the gift of the soul, and above all else, the Gift of God which is the gift of life.
     Thank God for cousins.



Saturday, 23 April 2011

Holy Saturday in the City

     The subway rumbles underneath the vegetable store on Bloor Street, shaking the tiles and making the Easter lilies tremble. It could well be the rumbling of hell, upset at the crucifixion and death of the Lord of Lords, King of Kings, who has descended into hell for a day and a half. Imagine the uproar, the angst and the unsettling of Lucifer's den.
     People skitter about, buying flowers and hams, adding wrinkles to their faces in the rush to get everything back to the hearth. I say "Happy Easter" to the man who sells us some mashed potatoes, but shrugs and keeps on serving. Perhaps he is Muslim. I like to think I would return his greeting, no matter what the occasion, but I won't know until it happens.
     My mother came to the city once, for my daughter's wedding. She came up with my two sisters and they had to take a cab from the train station to the Old Mill. My mother had never seen a turban and so was petrified by the cab driver who was probably a recent immigrant from India. She panicked and it took her several hours to calm down, but she never quite got over it until she got back home in rural Ontario.
     My mother thought that just about everybody believed what she did because she had such a strong Catholic faith. The urban landscape changed all that, and she never went back to the city again. I guess she sort of felt like the bible salesman in Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Good Country People."
     "Lady," he said, "for a Chrustian (sic), the word of God ought to be in every room in the house besides in his heart. I know you're a Chrustian because I can see it in every line of your face."
     Like my mother, I check every line of peoples' faces, and often I'm left with a sad, empty feeling. That's when I rhyme of the St. Michael's Prayer and carry on the New Evangelization in my own tiny little way, and in the lines of my face.
     And I try to imitate my mother's heart, impossible though that is.


Friday, 22 April 2011

Divine Mercy on the Subway

     The drunk had a Scottish accent, and he wore a woolen cap that was slanted to the side as if to say, "I'm rough and tough." I knew he hadn't been partaking of the Black Fast for Good Friday because that part of the car smelled of stale beer. I was reciting the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as I sat on my subway slab, returning from the Good Friday service at St. Thomas Aquinas Church (Newman Centre) on the campus of the University of Toronto.
     There were three scrappy kids standing at the door, and when the drunk pushed past them, he turned around on a dime and with a red face and pointing finger growled, "I show you, runt!" The kid with the bill of his baseball cap turned to the side stood quietly and waited for the subway door to shut. Then he said, "Old drunk," to his friends and they all guffawed.
     "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world," I sang to myself as my thumb pushed the beads. Perhaps the kids are seeking redemption, I thought. They could have pushed the drunk over and onto the hard tiles of the platform but they just stood there and waited for him to leave.
     Then they sat down and quietly terrorized the people around them until they got off a few stations down the line. When they had left, a lady who looked like a tired angel took their place and stared blankly into the Good Friday afternoon subway light. Below us, hell rumbled with fear at the knowledge that Jesus had really done what he said he would do, and the devil was on the run.

A Good Man is Hard to Find

The only time I saw an an upcoming abortion in living colour was on the side of a muddy bus in Guelph a few years back. My wife and I were driving behind the bus and there it was, an anti-abortion slogan, bigger than life, paid for by a group of pro-life University of Guelph students. We were looking for a new home, and I remarked that perhaps Guelph had the intestinal fortitude we were looking for, especially if a city bus could carry around a large pro-life ad through the streets of a university town, without  being defaced or worse. Try that in Toronto and the poster would probably end up on the front page of the newspapers, followed by a slanted editorial on hate crimes. And then there would be the demonstrations at Queen's Park with the requisite police brutality and jail sentences.
The poster depicted a fully formed fetus, floating blissfully in a blue sea of amniotic fluid, and its eyes were full of life. We never did buy in Guelph, but that image on the side of the bus haunts me to this day. Later on in the afternoon, we attended mass at the majestic church at the top of the hill. overlooking Guelph, and I prayed for the baby on the side of the bus. I could still see its face and the light around its head which resembled a halo splattered in street grime. 
And yesterday, a Conservative backbencher from the wild and wooly West informed a pro-life group that the Harper government would not be supporting abortions in the Third World. Mr. Harper immediately let us know that he would never re-open the abortion debate, and looked as if he were swatting at flies. The Liberals were all over Harper about womens' rights and the NDP claimed that Mr. Harper had a hidden agenda to shove through anti-abortion laws like a thief in the night.
The sad part about all of this is that these men are trying to answer to the wishes of a majority of urban Canadians. So what happened yesterday is simply a reflection of the lack of morality in this expansive, democratic country, where the hockey score takes precedence over the running count of abortions being performed daily. Even when the CBC news announcers simply mention the word abortion, their face muscles tighten, and they stop smiling in that simplistic way they do when they are talking about politically correct material, or they start looking very gloomy as if another puppy mill has been found within the confines of our politically correct city.
The magnificent Catholic writer, Flannery O'Connor pretty well sums it all up in her stunning short story called "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Just before he shoots the grandmother, the Misfit claims that, "Jesus was the only one that ever raised the dead. And He shouldn't have done it. He thown (sic) everything off balance. If He did what he said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow (sic) away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't then it's nothing for you to do but to enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can (sounds like a John Lennon song) killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him."
Just like the Misfit, society is confused by its lack of faith and commitment, and its cynicism, and just like the Misfit, it will end up enjoying the killing fields of abortion, reeling it back from goodness, as if a snake had bitten it. But it's not all darkness. Flannery O'Connor always gives her characters a stab at daily redemption.
Who knows? Perhaps one day, Canada will find a really good man to lead this nation. But a good man is hard to find, and Canadians would have to begin believing that Christ really did what He claims to have done.
Then it will be nothing for us to do but throw away our stinking old politics and follow Him, as the Misfit suggests.
Have a blessed and peaceful Easter
and may Christ help Canada to find a really good man.