Conscience Conversations Pt. 1: There’s room on the boat for all

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email growth@catholicconscience.org

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, a partner at a major Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Brendan Steven is a director with Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

M: The weekend before last, there was a choice of two readings for the second reading. The second choice was Hebrews, 9:24-28; 10:19-23, which spoke to Christ’s role in guiding us through the age that was starting at that time:  the “Christian Era”.

B: To my eyes, you’ve hit on a key question of the age. And to be blunt, it’s a question our predecessors in the Christian communion have had to answer in quite the same way. Jesus Christ left us eternal truth, in the form of principles aligned with the divine will—and, therefore, our best natures as children of God. The eternal nature of those truths are such that they can and must be applied across history and culture. Today they are challenged by profound change in society.

But there’s always been change. What’s new about today’s change is how quickly it’s happening, how all-encompassing it is, how unprecedented it is. The Internet “age” only began a few decades ago, and yet today’s world couldn’t even have been imagined by our parents. As with every generation of Christians, we must face the challenges of the moment with new answers inspired by Christian principles. Inspired by Christ and inspired by Mary’s special devotion to God and her son, a devotion we are called to emulate.

But as we face these external challenges, we’re reminded of the eternal challenge—the challenge that has been the same for every generation of believers. This is the internal challenge, the fact that the battle against sin is first and foremost a battle waged by our own souls, by God and Christ, against our own evils. I believe this is at least in part the role Catholic Conscience is meant to play in this time.

The challenges of Christian citizenship are external challenges–how do we reform our government, our society, to achieve justice and reconciliation between our fellow people? How do we serve those who live in our culture’s suffering, hidden corners? How do we create a culture that loves and defends the dignity of all people, and the dignity of all life and creation? We must rise to these external challenges.

But Catholic Conscience is also concerned about the internal challenge of Christian citizenship—how our own vices corrupt our ability to live in loving community, particularly in loving democratic community, with our fellow citizens. This is in part why I have felt such inspiration in our work. This is the part we must play in the victory of the Immaculate Heart. This is the fundamental call all Christians must answer. We must heal the polis, yes, the body politic—but Catholic Conscience is uniquely saying, we must also heal the citizens themselves.

The first choice was Ephesians, 1:17-23, which among other things says “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Now, Mary has also mentioned ages once or twice. Most notably at Fatima in 1917, where she warned of the need to pray for penance and consecration, specifically to her Immaculate Heart (hence the pin I wear).

Now, it does seem quite possible to me that now, 2000 years later (remember that God’s sense of timing is not quite as strictly defined as our own), we are passing into a new age. In the 20th century, the world became very small—instant communications worldwide, the ability to circle the globe in 24 hours, greatly expanded populations, successful birth rates, and longevity. All the cultures of the world have come together, and we are consuming way too fast to support self-interested greed.

My question to you, Brendan Steven:  if indeed we are in the transition from one age to another, and currently in a phase that involves intense pruning of a proud Church, then is it possible that Catholic Conscience might play some role in bringing about the victory of the Immaculate Heart, in ushering in a new age of Mary and her Son?

M: An interesting answer, with which I heartily agree.  Every generation, I think, faces unique challenges, so that every generation is forced to think for itself, to make its own choices—so that every individual in every generation is forced to make choices which bring him closer to God, or take him further away.  We all want to live, to find God and make sure we are right with Him so that we might continue joyfully after this life.  But Christ, uniquely among religious figures, has taught us that the best way to do that—the only authentic way to put ourselves right with God—involves a dimension of looking after one another as well as ourselves.  We are meant to seek Him, and in doing so to help Him bring others to Him.

Building from the substantial body of teachings Christ has given us, the Church has provided us with profound guidance at both the individual and social levels, the genius of its social teachings being that the only legitimate purpose of society is to assist the individual in seeking that Truth which is God.  Anything inconsistent with that is at least potentially harmful.

The tumult and the chaos of today’s world put me in mind of Christ calming the seas, and the remarkable sculpture recently created by Timothy Schmalz.

Here at the opening of the third millennium we are forced into the realization that the boat we’ve boarded as Christ’s disciples may be large enough for all, but that it’s a tight fit—there are many, many more people entitled to a seat on it than we had imagined.  Only if we steer the boat with the good of all in mind can we hope to reach shore safely.


Fortunately, if we look at our fellow voyagers, we will see not only people of all races, but the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the wings of God’s guiding angel.

B: Wow, I love this statue. And I love your comment about what it represents. The idea that Christ envisioned a church where literally everyone could take part, where all are welcome. It’s a beautiful image, and one to aspire to. This is what we are called to by Catholic social teaching. I love this image for another reason as well.

One of the ironies of living in this world that feels increasingly small, increasingly without boundaries, increasingly frictionless in the ways we can communicate and share with one another—is how this has led to even more friction. We have access to the humanity of others in an unprecedented way, reading stories from around the world, communicating instantly with people across the globe. But more and more we dehumanize those around us, denying them their inherent dignity. We’re afraid to share what space and resources we have. The treatment of “others” of all kinds, whether immigrants, refugees, Indigenous Canadians, you name them, is deplorable. We find it easier to hide away people whose dignity is undermined, rather than confront injustice and secure for them the dignity they deserve.

But I love what this statue says about how we are called as Christians to live a life of love, how we must approach the task of living with others. This statue reminds us: we are called to live a certain neighbourliness. Look at the people on this boat. They barely have an inch of space between them, but they are in harmony with one another. More than that: they seem to be holding each other up, caring for each other, each accorded the space they need. And every one of them have their eyes turned up ahead–presumably, towards the Truth, towards Christ, towards God.

What a lovely inspiration for how all of us can live together in this “smaller” world—by following the virtues taught us by Catholic social teaching, by being neighbourly and welcoming, by accepting the dignity of everyone around us, by keeping our eyes ahead on what matters most!

Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email growth@catholicconscience.org. We’ll tell you about our upcoming events, latest activities, and ways you can get involved!

Taxation & Stewardship: Ontario and New Brunswick 2017 Provincial Audit Reports

It is necessary that governments collect taxes, and apply them toward projects that are in the common interest.  Because tax money is being collected from people who may or may not agree with the uses to which they are to be put, however, it is incumbent upon governments to bear in mind at all times their responsibility to collect and spend tax money wisely, fairly, and efficiently.  After all, those who are required to pay the taxes might have been able to put the money to their own good uses.  And governments all levels must in every case be scrupulously correct in accounting for their use of other people’s money.

The Auditors General of New Brunswick and Ontario have recently released final annual reports of provincial finances and expenditures prior to next year’s provincial elections.  In both cases, encouraging work has been noted.  However, in both cases significant discrepancies have been noted as well.

Indeed, in each case some strong criticisms are made.  For example:

  • In Ontario, the Auditor General found that “there was one overarching theme this year that was common in varying degrees to almost all of the VFM audits: the need to improve planning that supports timely and informed decision-making and oversight—or even to just have a plan of action with ongoing monitoring of the results being achieved—to ensure efficient and cost-effective public services.” Morever, the Auditor, reported, the Province continued to report billions of dollars of assets as its own, and available for public use, when, for example, those assets belong to the Teachers’s Pension Plan.  Such practices in mis-reporting funds can significantly distort pictures of spending efficiency.
  • In New Brunswick, the Auditor reported “very troubling disregard for procurement practices,” specifically in the Department of Social Development, with deficiencies in contract management and lack of oversight. In at least one case, the Auditor reported, a “consultant was highly and inappropriately favored by the Department.”   As a more hopeful example, the report acknowledges that provincial greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2001 and have declined since, with efforts apparently on track to meet 2020 targets.  Still, the report concludes, “meeting the 2030 and 2050 targets will require significant [additional] action from provincial and Federal initiatives.”

Whether provinces are, overall, collecting and spending money fairly is an assessment that each voter should make before voting in next year’s elections.  The Reports are publicly available, and easy to read:

The New Brunswick Report is at:
http://www.agnb-vgnb.ca/content/agnb-vgnb/en/publications/reports.html#2017V2=Page5&2017v1=Page1

The Ontario Report is at:
http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arbyyear/ar2017.html

What does it mean to be anti-abortion in modern Canada?

ABORTION: THE SANCTITY OF LIFE.  The inviolability of life, from conception to natural death, is a central teaching of the Catholic Church.  Yet in western democracies, and even within the Church, the topic of abortion has become deeply passionate, deeply divisive.  So fundamental, so emotional, is this issue that for decades it has enabled some politicians to unscrupulously manipulate Catholic voters in order to gain other political ends.

One side of the issue – often referred to as the ‘pro-choice’ side – is capably and passionately presented in the linked article by columnist and author Michael Coren.  A remarkable indicator of the depth of emotion aroused by the abortion debate, however, and an excellent example of the manner in which the issue is bent to political purposes unrelated to the sanctity of life, is the following point, penned every bit as passionately in support of the opposite side of the argument by the very same author, just six years previously – prior to an argument that prompted him to leave the Catholic Church.  In his 2011 book “Why Catholics are Right,” Mr. Coren wrote:

“Some basic science first.  At the moment of conception, a male sperm unites with a female ovum to fertilize it, and the single-celled organism formed is called a zygote, an intricate and sophisticated repository of biological information of both parents… At conception a child has a unique DNA and genomic character and is already unlike anyone who has ever been conceived or born before or anyone who will be conceived or born afterwards.  It is a distinct human life and like all human life in a civilized society should have a right to exist.”

The long-held position of the Church was most recently affirmed by Pope Francis, at paragraph 83 of his 2016 exhortation Amoris Laetitia (“the Joy of Love):

“Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed… So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being.”

It was God himself who handed down to us, through Moses, the unqualified commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Behind heated debates about the rights of unwilling mothers, society, and many others, it would serve us well to consider that too often the life that is terminated is that of the only individual involved who is unable to speak for her- or himself.

Yet, we should also bear firmly in mind at all times the clear injunctions of our Holy Father, our Church, and our Lord Jesus Christ that judgment is not ours to dispense, but belongs to God; and that instead it is our place to dispense mercy.

Rather than attempting to browbeat or coerce others into sharing our beliefs, perhaps, in simple and humble acknowledgement that abortion is wrong, we should focus on seeking alternative ways of approaching the issue, of enabling unwilling mothers and unwanted children to find safety and encouragement, and to nurture them as they grow and to thrive – in loving alternative homes, for example.

And we ought to do our best to ensure that unscrupulous politicians, who seek to take advantage of others and their office for other purposes, are unable to manipulate us as voters, simply by paying lip service to a single issue that is of primary importance to us.

We need to shift the entire conversation.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2017/10/10/what-does-it-mean-to-be-anti-abortion-in-modern-canada-coren.html

MINING IN NOVA SCOTIA: a case worth thinking about.

Halifax Chronicle Herald: Old Nova Scotia gold deposits are new again.
June 18, 2017 (http://thechronicleherald.ca/business/1478906-old-nova-scotia-gold-deposits-are-new-again)

The resurgence of gold mining raises questions concerning employment, development, sustainability, fairness, and of course the environment. They are not easy questions to answer. What is the best thing to do?

Global economic uncertainties have driven the price of gold up to about $1600 (Canadian). That price is high enough, as the linked article explains, to justify the increased costs of extraction associated with low-grade deposits, which means that mines closed long ago being re-opened – and that much more earth must be moved in order to remove usable amounts of ore. (more…)

French Cardinal fears the death of democracy

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, is concerned that democracy is in danger.  He sees that voices of justice and moderation are being squeezed out of democratic politics by increasingly radical voices of both liberal and conservative parties.  In part, the Cardinal blames misuse of the media – which is not always used to speak with the voices of shepherds.

If we don’t solve these problems, we will lose democracy.  And in a democracy there is no one to blame, and no one to solve these problems, but us, the voters.  We must educate ourselves, and we must vote wisely, for the good of all.  As a starting point, we must identify – and support – responsible sources of news, including our own Catholic newspapers, radio, and television networks.  And we must become personally involved in the electoral process.  We must speak up to our elected representatives, to let them know of our convictions. (more…)

Fortune magazine (re-)names Pope as one of world’s greatest leaders

In naming Pope Francis again as one of the world’s great leaders, Fortune magazine gave a thoughtful endorsement of the Pope’s criticisms of overly-aggressive capitalism – of “capitalism without conscience.” Fortune noted that during a Vatican forum it helped organize last year, the Pope urged businesses to do more to reach the billions of people now excluded from the global economy, to help ensure that they might benefit fairly, too: “Give them a voice,” the Pope said. “Listen to their stories, learn from their experiences, and understand their needs.” (more…)

CA environmental minister McKenna addresses economic aspects of environmental policies

Governmental policies on the environment affect both care for God’s creation and the ability of the economy to serve people properly – both of which are critical considerations for Catholics in discerning voting preferences. Let us join our voices with Pope Francis in praying earnestly for God’s assistance in sorting out these complex issues: (more…)

UN, OAS, OSCE and ACHPR Joint Declaration on Fake News

Alarmed over “instances in which public authorities denigrate, intimidate and threaten the media, including by stating that the media is ‘the opposition’ or is ‘lying’ and has a hidden political agenda, which increases the risk of threats and violence against journalists, undermines public trust and confidence in journalism as a public watchdog, and may mislead the public by blurring the lines between disinformation and media products containing independently verifiable facts, (more…)