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What should be said about the Olympics? They are the world's greatest sports spectacle. Nothing else comes close. Inspired athletic performances, both victorious and heart-breaking, are around every corner. Canadians, for example, were exhilarated over Penny Oleksiak's stunning performances in the pool. Yet, a blind eye should not be turned to the never-ending trail of doping scandals, endemic bribery in the host selection process and monumental waste of money by hosting countries that build fabulous facilities, some of which will rarely be used once the Games are over.
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For more than a century, it's been known that religious practice leads to better mental health. However, a recent 15-year study of the link between suicide and church attendance among women in the United States came up with an astonishing finding: Although the overall suicide rate among American women between 45 and 64 jumped 80 per cent between 1999 and 2014, not a single Catholic woman of the 6,999 in the study group who attend daily Mass committed suicide. The suicide rate of self-identified Catholic women in general is no different than the national average, said the study of nearly 90,000 women conducted between 1996 and 2010 and published recently by JAMA Psychiatry.
Last year in his encyclical Laudato Si' (LS), Pope Francis challenged every aspect of society that contributes to the threat, not only to sustainability, but to human life on the planet - the "throwaway culture," the system of production and consumption, and the system of power and domination which creates consumerism. He urged that reliance on fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced, "without delay." Lifestyles need to change, but will it take a global catastrophe for than to happen? Erik Assadourian, in the 2010 edition of the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World, argued that consumerism is not a natural state of affairs; it is a modern creation.
In the Roman Catholic culture in which I grew up, we were taught to pray for a happy death. For many Catholics at the time, this was a standard petition in their daily prayer: "I pray for a happy death." But how can one die happy? Isn't the death process itself excruciating? What about the pain involved in dying, in letting go of this life, in saying our last goodbyes? Can one die happy? But the vision here, of course, was religious. A happy death meant that one died in good moral and religious circumstances.
Waves gently wash against the shoreline. Cattails stand at attention in thick protective clusters. Breezes wafting across the undulating water evoke long forgotten memories. Welcome to the Edmonton Archdiocese's Camp Encounter. Given the water and peace, it is just like being at a cottage. Cottage life, in my Ontario childhood, was the summertime norm. It was such a ritual most of us believed it was a given. Legal arguments are now making the Ontario news pages when siblings fight over who gets the family cottage when their parents die.
Immediately after Father Jacques Hamel, an 86-year-old priest in France, was killed while offering Mass, his throat slit by two Muslim men who pledged allegiance to ISIL, calls went out for his canonization. He was called a martyr to the faith, and the hashtag #santosubito ("saint now") trended on Twitter. But contrary arguments soon surfaced. Paul Vallely, one of Pope Francis's biographers, wrote in The New York Times that making Hamel an official martyr would be a political response and feed the idea that a war of religions is taking place.
Today's readings hit me in a very personal way. One week before writing this column, my wife and I lost our baby. So many thoughts assail you at a time like this - why did God allow this? Why was her precious life so short The fact of the matter is that all lives are short, but we often trick ourselves into forgetting this. Today's psalm cries out to God, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart." Remembering the shortness of our lives, like the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.
The story of the prodigal son is well known to us perpetual old sinners who walk away from God, starve and return to him with the regularity of the tide. No retreat, no major homecoming confession takes place without it. It contains the essence of Christ's message - the never-ending, patient love and forgiveness of God faced with human weakness and ingratitude. Seemingly, our civilization was built on this story. Robinson Crusoe meditated on it on his lonely island; little Heidi in a well-known children's book pondered its beauty and felt comforted. Great painters strained imagination to show the moment when father embraces the kneeling son.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in an important conference in Winnipeg. The annual Directions in Indigenous Ministry conference is co-sponsored by the standing committee on indigenous affairs of the Assembly of Western Catholic Bishops and Newman Theological College. The title of the conference was Decolonizing Pastoral Ministry. This title is significant because it implies that a decolonization approach itself needs to be taken in pastoral ministry and in the life of the Church itself. About 60 of us participated, about half indigenous and half non-indigenous. People came from very different church roles, including bishops, pastors, deacons, women and men religious, elders, diocesan staff, parish lay leaders, teachers, academics, and committed individuals.