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

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 We’ll tell you about our upcoming events, latest activities, and ways you can get involved!

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