The Human Dignity of Frank – Identity, Values & the Purpose of Government – Mary, Star of Evangelization
THE CATHOLIC COMMONS
The Human Dignity of Frank – Identity, Values & the Purpose of Government – Mary, Star of Evangelization
November / December 2022
Mary, Star of the New Evangelization
On the cross, when Jesus endured in his own flesh the dramatic encounter of the sin of the world and God’s mercy, he could feel at his feet the consoling presence of his mother and his friend. At that crucial moment, before fully accomplishing the work which his Father had entrusted to him, Jesus said to Mary: “Woman, here is your son”. Then he said to his beloved friend: “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27).
These words of the dying Jesus are not chiefly the expression of his devotion and concern for his mother; rather, they are a revelatory formula which manifests the mystery of a special saving mission. Jesus left us his mother to be our mother. Only after doing so did Jesus know that “all was now finished” (Jn 19:28).
At the foot of the cross, at the supreme hour of the new creation, Christ led us to Mary. He brought us to her because he did not want us to journey without a mother, and our people read in this maternal image all the mysteries of the Gospel. The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood.
Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 285.
In Good Conscience
The Human Dignity of Frank
Recently an old and dearly loved friend nearly lost an adult daughter to COVID. The daughter, who is in her 30’s, developed pneumonia; and even after that was overcome something caused her heart to race at more than 160 beats per minute for more than two weeks. No cause could be identified, and there was fear of permanent damage to her heart, or her brain, or both. Finally the rate was brought down, but only through the use of drugs that came with significant side effects – and without entirely curing the problem.
Her heart still races after even mild walking, or while simply standing, and she has developed long periods of being unable to think clearly. There’s no guarantee that any of it will get better. Being a respected engineer, she’s worried about losing her job, but that could be the least of her problems: she’s drifting toward depression, worrying about losing her children’s affection, and asking her mother “what use will there be for me?”
It made me think about the sanctity of life, the importance of being proper stewards of whatever circumstances God chooses to give us, the evil of socially-assisted death (which I call “SAD”, as I refuse to propagate the insidiously euphemistic “MAiD”), and a man I once met named Frank, who turned out to be one of the great inspirations of my life. I pray that in this day of disposable lives no one has offered him a needle; and if they did, I hope he suggested that they find something else to do with it. And I hope that no one either considers or suggests a needle for my friend’s daughter.
I was a 45 year old child stumbling along my way to Emmaus when a gentle soul named Porfirio finally succeeded in driving the lesson of the parable of the talents at Matthew 25:14-30 into my head. Porfirio gently explained that God made us all, every one of us, and he made us all in different sizes and shapes, with widely varying mental, physical, and emotional abilities, and different degrees of wealth, initiative, and advantage. But he didn’t do it so that some of us could indulge ourselves, shouldering weaker people aside while we grab whatever we can. He gave things to us to see what we can make of them.
God created everything, Porfirio pointed out, and God still owns it, including us and all our talents; and we are meant to be devoting all our time and strength in this life to doing God’s will. Some of us were given a lot, others not so much, but it doesn’t matter: whatever we were given was given in accordance with God’s deliberate will, to see what use we can make of it, particularly in helping others put their own gifts to work. It’s not about me, or you, or them, it’s about all of us doing what we can to take care of ourselves, to make things better for everybody while gently gathering them before the Shepherd’s gate.
This came as a life-changing realization for me. It fit with everything I had felt instinctively, and gave it a shape and a name. Among other things, if it weren’t for Porfirio, I probably wouldn’t have met Frank. I became a better steward of my own life.
But as life-steward I’m not in Frank’s class. I met Frank at a hospital on the west side of town, a dozen years ago when a fellow parishioner and I were sent to visit one of our elderly members. As we came through the main doors we were greeted by a young man lying on a gurney, maybe 35 years old and clearly quadriplegic. But he gave us – and everybody else that walked through those doors – a big smile, and said good morning and exchanged brief pleasantries with us. While my partner checked at the desk to find our where our parishioner was, I watched several more people come through the door, every one of them greeted by Frank in similar fashion – especially the obvious regulars like the postman, who shouted, “Frank, how’s life this morning?” To which Frank responded that it was a beautiful day, and he liked the sunshine.
I stopped the postman on the way out a few moments later, and asked him about Frank. According to the postman, Frank had been born quadriplegic. Obviously, then, he had never gone outside for a stroll, or ridden a bike, or played baseball, or known many other joys. I believe he had never so much as brushed his own teeth, or wiped his own bottom. If he wanted to read a book or change the channel, someone would have had to turn the pages or hold the remote. According to the postman, Frank’s parents had cared for him until they passed, at which point Frank had become a ward of the government and delivered to the hospital – where he found people who not only took care of him, but made time in their busy day to roll him down to the front doors every day so he could say hello to people, and then rolled him ‘home’ again later.
Frank wasn’t given much, other than a set of loving parents and a lot of good people at the hospital, but he made what he could of it, and he did it with a deeply inspiring joy. And he accepted help from others cheerfully, allowing them to be good stewards of their time and abilities.
I think of Frank a lot, along with Christ’s observation at Luke 12:48, particularly when I’m feeling tired or misused: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Wherever he is, I’m confident that God is smiling at him.
Of Common Concern
Identify, Values and the Purpose of Government
A few days after he was elected in 2015, the prime minister of Canada gave an interview to the New York Times Magazine. After remarking on stylistic changes he intended to make to his predecessor’s office decor and the novelty of finding himself prime minister, he turned to the new directions in which he planned to lead his country, contrasting those also with the legacy of his predecessor. He spoke of identity, inclusion and values, concluding with the observation that:
‘‘There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada. There are shared values — openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice. Those qualities are what make us the first post-national state.’’
This comment merits reflection. What, for example, does it mean to say that a country having a population of 38 million people has “no core identity, no mainstream,” that there exists no common denominator worthy of mention? Is the lack of a national identity a good thing? And what does it mean to say that a country lacks an identity, but shares values? Are values not at least a primary component of any society’s identity, if indeed they are not the sole determinants? And what is a post-national state?
The Church has provided some teaching on these matters to guide us in our reflections.
In respect of human identity, section 35 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that:
- Christian revelation shines a new light on the identity, the vocation and the ultimate destiny of the human person and the human race. Every person is created by God, loved and saved in Jesus Christ, and fulfils himself by creating a network of multiple relationships of love, justice and solidarity with other persons while he goes about his various activities in the world. Human activity, when it aims at promoting the integral dignity and vocation of the person, the quality of living conditions and the meeting in solidarity of peoples and nations, is in accordance with the plan of God, who does not fail to show his love and providence to his children.
In addition to love, justice, and solidarity, the Church has provided a comprehensive framework for consideration in establishing and maintaining social relationships – including everything from our families to the international community. In other words, the Church has provided a set of principles, values, and virtues that define a Catholic social identity:
Values: Truth, freedom, justice, love
Principles: Life & human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, solidarity
Virtues: Wisdom, humility, prudence respect
These principles, values, and virtues are proposed by the Church for use in guiding every aspect of social life.
Section 366 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church speaks in defense of the special value of social identity, or culture:
- Special attention must be given to specific local features and the cultural differences that are threatened by the economic and financial process currently underway: Globalization… must respect the diversity of cultures which, within the universal harmony of peoples, are life’s interpretive keys. In particular… religious convictions are the clearest manifestation of human freedom.
In sections 12-14 of Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis warned of threats to national and regional cultures which might explain the perceived weakening of Canadian national identity:
- “Opening up to the world” is an expression that has been co-opted by the economic and financial sector and is now used exclusively of openness to foreign interests or to the freedom of economic powers to invest without obstacles or complications in all countries. Local conflicts and disregard for the common good are exploited by the global economy in order to impose a single cultural model. This culture unifies the world, but divides persons and nations, for as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers. We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life. Indeed, there are markets where individuals become mere consumers or bystanders. As a rule, the advance of this kind of globalism strengthens the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves… In this way, political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of “divide and conquer”.
- As a result, there is a growing loss of the sense of history, which leads to even further breakup. A kind of “deconstructionism”, whereby human freedom claims to create everything starting from zero, is making headway in today’s culture. The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism. Concern about this led me to offer the young some advice. “If someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he himself holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them”.
- …Let us not forget that peoples that abandon their tradition and, either from a craze to mimic others or to foment violence, or from unpardonable negligence or apathy, allow others to rob their very soul, end up losing not only their spiritual identity but also their moral consistency and, in the end, their intellectual, economic and political independence. One effective way to weaken historical consciousness, critical thinking, the struggle for justice and the processes of integration is to empty great words of their meaning or to manipulate them. Nowadays, what do certain words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity really mean? They have been bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action.
Points to ponder:
- The list of values cited by the prime minister – openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice – seem largely consistent with the principles, values, and virtues of Catholic social thought. But:
- Are they complete? Which Catholic principles, values, and virtues are missing in the prime minister’s list, or are perhaps present in ambiguous form?
- Important considerations with any list of values and principles are: how they are emphasized, how they might balanced, ranked or weighted against one another, and how they are defined. How does Catholic Social Teaching propose that social values should be defined, emphasized, rankd and weighed? As they might be presented by the prime minister, how do these values align with Catholic teaching?
- The Church teaches that truth is an indispensable characteristic of all proper social discourse, including particularly all aspects of governance – especially democratic governance. Is truth represented in the prime minister’s list? If so, how? If it is present, why would it not be named explicitly? If not, why would it be missing?
- The Church teaches that the most fundamental of all social principles is the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death. Is respect for human life and dignity represented in the prime minister’s list? If it is present, why would it not be named explicitly? If not, why would it be missing?
- Are subsidiarity, solidarity, freedom, the common good, wisdom, or humility represented in the prime minister’s list? If so, how? If not, why not?
- Post-national or otherwise, is it possible to effectively govern a group of people who share a geographical space but no other common identity?
- For example, it would seem that a common identity might include a common understanding of the meaning and the purpose of life. If no such understanding exists, what is the purpose of government?
- How can peace and cooperation – good order, if you will – among citizens be maintained, if there is no common understanding of life’s purpose or of human or social identity?
Of Common Interest
The Ontario Court of Appeal is set to hear a case about striking down a math proficiency test mandated by the Ontario government for school teachers.
The Ontario government sought to require a math proficiency test for new teachers yet the Divisional Court struck it down “as infringing equality provisions in the Charter because it found the test had a disproportionate effect on racialized teachers when it was first implemented” in 2021. The government purports that the court used “too low of a threshold to determine discrimination,” as “only one round of the new test administered to teacher candidates.” A date has not been set for the appeal.
The Canadian Press. (2022). “Ontario’s top court to hear government’s appeal of mandatory teacher math test case.” Global News. September 28. Available from
https://globalnews.ca/news/9162716/ontarios-top-court-to-hear-governments-appeal-of-mandatory-teacher-math-test-case/ Accessed October 25, 2022.
The Canadian Parliament is considering several environmental bills:
- S-5 (increase environmental regulation and pollution prevention power)
This Senate Government Bill, sponsored by Sen. Marc Gold [Non-affiliated: Quebec (Stadacona)], was introduced and first reading carried February 9, 2022. It is at debate at second reading in the House on October 24, 2022. If passed, it would amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 to, “recognize that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment as provided under that Act” and “provide that the Government of Canada must protect that right as provided under that Act, and, in doing so, may balance that right with relevant factors.”As currently presented, protections under the act would include, among other things, requiring that the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health develop a plan that specifies substances to which those Ministers are satisfied priority should be given in assessing whether they are toxic or capable of becoming toxic; provide that any person may request that those Ministers assess a substance; and require the Minister of the Environment to compile a list of substances that that Minister and the Minister of Health have reason to suspect are capable of becoming toxic or that have been determined to be capable of becoming toxic.
- C-235 (building a green economy in the Prairies)
This Private Member’s Bill was sponsored by the Hon. Jim Carr (Liberal, Manitoba: Winnipeg South Centre) and First Reading carried February 7, 2022. Second reading in the House was completed on June 1, 2022. It is at consideration in the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
If passed, the Act it would require the Minister of Industry, in collaboration with the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Natural Resources and any minister responsible for economic development in the Prairie provinces, to develop a framework for local cooperation and engagement in the implementation of federal programs across various sectors to build a green economy in the Prairie provinces, and to include measures that promote economic sustainability and growth and employment in the Prairie provinces.
S-243 (enact climate commitments) PM Liberal First Reading
This Senate Public Bill was introduced by Senator Rosa Galvez [Independent Senators Group, Quebec (Bedford)] on March 24, 2022. It is at debate at second reading as of May 12, 2022.
If passed it would enact the Climate-Aligned Finance Act which… would require companies and other entities to establish climate commitments and obligations,” together with action plans and targets.
Canada’s MAiD regime contrasts starkly with laws in other developed countries
Canada’s lack of safeguards for MAiD is drawing international attention as it starkly contrasts those in other countries. For example, in 2021 “the German parliament began exploring the legalization of assisted suicide for the terminally ill — but only after they had undergone mandatory counselling.” In 2022, “a member of the U.K. House of Lords introduced a bill to legalize assisted death for British citizens deemed to have less than six months to live.” French President Emmanuel Macron is expected “to open a national debate over the possibility of legalizing assisted suicide.”
Trudo Lemmens, University of Toronto researcher, was quoted in a New York Times feature: “Canada has the least safeguards of all of countries that allow it…It’s a state-funded, state-organized, medical system providing end of life.” The British medical journal, The Lancet, also quoted Lemmens that in Canada: “rates of assisted suicide and euthanasia that are quickly bypassing Belgium and the Netherlands,”
In an Associated Press article, director of the Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship at the University of British Columbia, Tim Stainton, “described the Canadian assisted dying regime as ‘probably the biggest existential threat to disabled people since the Nazis’ program in Germany in the 1930s.’” 10,064 Canadians succumbed to MAiD in 2021, including 219 of whom “‘whose natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable.’”
In 2021 United Nations special rapporteurs, wrote “there is a grave concern that, if assisted dying is made available for all persons with a health condition or impairment, regardless of whether they are close to death, a social assumption might follow … that it is better to be dead than to live with a disability.” In a September article from Reason magazine, the author wrote: “When the government runs the system, the right of citizens to end their own suffering can be twisted to serve the state.”
 Hopper, Tristin. (2022). “FIRST READING: To countries considering legal euthanasia, Canada a model of what not to do.” National Post. September 23. Available from
https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/first-reading-to-countries-considering-legal-euthanasia-canada-a-model-of-what-not-to-do Accessed October 25, 2022.
Quebec’s college of physicians supports euthanizing babies
Pediatric palliative care specialist at McMaster University, Dr. David Lysecki, explained that “[w]ith surgery and life-support,” babies “born missing the upper layers of their brain” “can sometimes” be kept “alive for years.” He recounts some families asking, “‘If they’re going to die at the end of this anyway, maybe three weeks from now, and we don’t believe they’re going to have meaningful positive experiences between then and now, why must we all have to go through this period of waiting.’” In December 2021 Quebec’s college of physicians released its statement in support of “the idea of newborn euthanasia in cases with a very poor prognosis and ‘extreme suffering that cannot be relieved’…extending MAID to 14- to 17-year-olds and encouraged more public discussion about endorsing euthanasia for seniors ‘tired of living.’”
Kerry Bowman, clinical ethicist and University of Toronto professor, said that “substitute consent changes everything, ‘because it’s not the wishes and values of the patient anymore. It’s the wishes and values of the parents.’”
 Kirkey, Sharon. (2022). “Canadian parents have asked for medically assisted death for babies, doctors say.” National Post. October 13/Updated October 14. Available from https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/canada-maid-medical-assistance-in-dying-children Accessed October 25, 2022.
C-230 to protect conscience rights defeated with no published debate
This private member’s bill was introduced by Kelly Block (Conservative: Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK) and first reading carried February 4, 2022. If passed, it would have amended “the Criminal Code to make it an offence to intimidate a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional for the purpose of compelling them to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying,” or to dismiss from employment or to refuse to employ a medical practitioner, nurse practitioner, pharmacist or other health care professional for the reason only that they refuse to take part, directly or indirectly, in the provision of medical assistance in dying.
The Bill was defeated at second reading in the House on October 5, 2022. The parlimentary website reported no debate on the topic.
Every Thursday in November 2022: Listening to Indigenous Voices – Live Event
An intimate, beginner-level, 4-part series on truth, justice, healing, and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, brought to us by the Sisters of St Joseph of Toronto and intended for those who consider themselves beginners on reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. For more information and to register for this live event in Toronto, visit csj-to.ca/ltiv
November 8, 2022: US Midterm Elections
Our voter’s guide for November’s US midterm elections has been posted at https://catholicconscience.org/usa/2022midterm/. We welcome suggestions for improvement.
November 24, 2022: Faith & Reason – Building Communities & Networks – Hybrid
A panel of committed, Catholic young adult professionals, including a young resident physician, a lawyer, an academic, a communications specialist, and a governmental policy analyst, look at ways of building supportive professional communities in a splintered and aggressively secular world. Hosted by Peter Copeland, animator for Catholic Conscience. Attend this event in-person or virtual online.
January – April 2023: Certificate in Ethical Journalism – Online Course
In partnership with the Saint Monica Institute for Education and Evangelization, Catholic Conscience will provide the first in a series of courses leading to a certificate in a form of journalism grounded in truth and charity. All interested students are invited. The world needs fair and balanced journalism, seeking to inform and grounded in values of truth and charity. For details, watch https://CatholicConscience.org and https://SaintMonicaInstitute.ca.
A prayer to our Patroness, from Joy of the Gospel
Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium:
- …Through her many titles, often linked to her shrines, Mary shares the history of each people which has received the Gospel and she becomes a part of their historic identity… There, in these many shrines, we can see how Mary brings together her children who with great effort come as pilgrims to see her and to be seen by her. Here they find strength from God to bear the weariness and the suffering in their lives. As she did with Juan Diego, Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: “Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
- We ask the Mother of the living Gospel to intercede that this invitation to a new phase of evangelization will be accepted by the entire ecclesial community. Mary is the woman of faith, who lives and advances in faith… Today we look to her and ask her to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn.
With Mary we advance confidently towards the fulfilment of this promise, and to her we pray:
Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Filled with Christ’s presence,
you brought joy to John the Baptist,
making him exult in the womb of his mother.
Brimming over with joy,
you sang of the great things done by God.
Standing at the foot of the cross with unyielding faith,
you received the joyful comfort of the resurrection,
and joined the disciples in awaiting the Spirit
so that the evangelizing Church might be born.
Obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection,
that we may bring to all the Gospel of life
which triumphs over death.
Give us a holy courage to seek new paths,
that the gift of unfading beauty
may reach every man and woman.
Virgin of listening and contemplation,
Mother of love, Bride of the eternal wedding feast,
pray for the Church, whose pure icon you are,
that she may never be closed in on herself
or lose her passion for establishing God’s kingdom.
Star of the new evangelization,
help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.
Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.
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