"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Interesting portraits of First Nations men

 My late maternal grandfather, John Caswell Davis, was a multi-talented individual--a successful engineer, an astute political operative (which led to his appointment to the Canadian senate in the late 1940s), and an accomplished artist. Many of my relatives and I have examples of his art, most notably of pastel portraits of First Nations individuals.

We doubt these individuals actually sat for JCD; rather, he was inspired by photographs that he collected. Among those photos are 11 very-good-quality black-and-white photographs from the studio of noted Calgary photographer Harry Pollard, whose collection is now held in the Provincial Archives of Alberta. My research indicates the photos were taken in the early 1900s. My late grandfather likely acquired his prints in the 1930s or 1940s.

I believe the photos have wonderful historical value, and I know that, being original prints from the studio (complete with impressed identification and copyright stamp) they are quite collectable. But I treasure them for the remarkable images of the men. I hope you enjoy them, too. Here are those photos (captions reflect pencil notations on back of photo):

Wolfe Caller     Blackfoot

Weasle Tail   Pegan

Turning Robe

Turning Robe

Turn Up Nose  Blackfoot

Red Leggings

Old Tom   Sarcee

Manny Shot


Calf Robe

Calf Bull

Big Belly   Sarcee Chief

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Understanding loneliness and isolation in the age of COVID

I've had the great opportunity, over the past month, to report and write for the BC Catholic newspaper on the issue of loneliness and isolation. All the pieces are below, in chronological order. I hope you find them informative and, ultimately, helpful!

HOME ALONE – introduction Isolated and lonely: we can do better than this
April 21, 2020
It came as no surprise to me when the Angus Reid Institute reported earlier this month that the number-one thing most people are looking forward to, once pandemic-prevention measures are lifted, is a simple hug. 
After all, we humans are social animals, and we ache because we are not allowed to shake hands, to hug, or to hold anyone but the family members with whom we live. No e-facsimile can replace an encouraging pat on the back, let alone a warm embrace from a loved one.
For me, so-called social distancing (it’s now physical distancing, right?) has boxed me in at exactly the time I would normally have cooed and cuddled with my newest grandchild, born April 5, and given my ever-more-fragile father a gentle hug on his 92nd birthday, celebrated April 20.
Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m fine. There’s actually a far larger and more important issue at stake: the unknown impact that the widespread quasi-quarantine is having and will have on members of our society, especially those who were already isolated and lonely.
This is no small problem. Loneliness and isolation are growing, and with them grow adverse physical and psychological impacts. And no amount of hyper-connected, 5G wizardry can take the place of physical presence and physical contact.
We’ve been seeing the problem worsen for decades now. It’s one of the reasons a little group of us at St. Joseph’s Parish in Port Moody started the Easter Flowers project more than a quarter of a century ago. Now called Blooms into Rooms, the project’s aim is to cheer up the sick and the elderly on Easter weekend by bringing them flowering plants, homemade greeting cards, and a bit of companionship. It’s also an important way we “bring to life” the Prayer for Reverence of Life.
Our teams visited 1,200 seniors a year ago, and we were making plans to visit 1,500 this Easter when we had to cancel the whole 2020 campaign because of the COVID crisis. How sadly ironic: at the exact time when the sick and the elderly were most vulnerable and could have most benefitted from some love, they were denied it.
Our increasingly fractured and isolated society was on my radar several years ago when, as a member of Coquitlam City Council, I wrote a report for my colleagues and senior staff with a proposal to help bring our community closer together.
Three troubling trends needed addressing, said the report: growing isolation of seniors; barriers to integration of new Canadians; and the rise of the “gig economy,” which meant the loss of traditional workplace communities and the corresponding isolation of workers.
My proposal was to enhance and tie together programs that the City already had in place, with the overarching goal of increasing a sense of belonging. If Vancouver could aim to be the greenest city on the planet, why couldn’t Coquitlam become the city where you best belonged? I even came up with a slogan: “Coquitlam: You belong here.” 
Alas, after two years of internal discussions, reports, and even the hiring of an outside “facilitator,” the idea ground to a halt, reasons for which were stunningly varied and don’t warrant elaboration in this space.
The coronavirus crisis can and will worsen all the problems I identified above. At the same time, though, the crisis also seems to have led to a recognition that isolation, lack of community, and loneliness are real problems. One hopes that such recognition endures once the crisis ends. 
I will be doing my part to keep the issue in the public eye in future issues of The B.C. Catholic as I examine these problems in greater depth and suggest ways to address them.
Meantime, it’s back to Zoom, Signal, and FaceTime for me as I embrace, not my friends and family, but pale imitations of human contact, all while humming the tune to Where Two or Three are Gathered.
HOME ALONE – Part 1:  pandemic is forcing us to address our isolation crisis
April 28, 2020
Click on a news website, watch a TV news broadcast, or open a newspaper, and you will invariably encounter a story about the adverse psychological effects related to the quasi-quarantine regulations society is enduring in an effort to thwart the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Headlines such as, “Lockdown tougher for singles,” “Residents of B.C. feeling stressed,” “Despair deaths rise during economic crisis,” “COVID-19 pandemic could Increase social isolation,” and “Half of Canadians say mental health has worsened during COVID-19 pandemic” are prevalent in the papers, as anxiety escalates over the damage being done to the mental health, not only of society’s most vulnerable, but also of a general population that is being forced to severely limit its social interactions.
What’s worse, the enforced isolation appears to compound an existing and growing problem of social isolation and loneliness. The fact is, well before the current coronavirus crisis descended upon us, experts were warning of the troubling growth in the number of people who feel disconnected, isolated, and alone.
The trend first gained widespread notice in 2000 with the publication of the book Bowling Alone. The title of author Robert D. Putnam’s book refers to the fact that as more Americans take up bowling than two decades earlier, fewer were joining leagues – which meant they experienced less social interaction. 
Yet, amid the almost-universal hand-wringing over how the COVID-19 quarantine is worsening this problem, rays of hope are brightening the gloom. At Star of the Sea Parish in Surrey, for example, Elaine Webb heads a team that’s been placing regular calls to isolated seniors, even buying groceries for them. “It’s incredible to hear the gratitude from the folks – [they say] ‘Oh, wow! This is wonderful,’” Webb says. All in all, the program has been “wonderful” for both the volunteers and the seniors.
Even in the face of the ongoing and unprecedented loss of our physical faith community – most notably, the closing of churches and the cessation of shared celebration of the Eucharist – there’s evidence aplenty that a strong connection to God not only makes us more resilient to the sort of turmoil currently buffeting our lives, but also positions us to actually take advantage of quiet times through meaningful self-reflection.
Even so, we shouldn’t get too comfortable in our Catholic pews. There’s a very real pain being felt, worsening the loneliness and isolation that has been eating away at our culture for several decades. Concern over this is reflected in Archbishop Michael J. Miller’s joining with more than 100 other Christian leaders last month to issue a statement addressing address the situation.
“We recognize how worrying the global pandemic is,” they declared. “It is a crisis which provides uncertainty, panic, loss, discouragement, and loneliness.” The statement continued: “We pray that the Spirit of Christ will bring you peace and an abiding sense of calm. The promise of scripture offers us hope: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you. You are in the palm of my hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10).”
If a social-connections crisis now exists, it surely exacerbates an existing one. Bowling Alone revealed a drastic decline in “social capital” – organizations from clubs to labour unions, in which people with shared interests come together. The reasons? Author Putnam cites the modern economy’s pressures on personal time, urban sprawl, too much television, and generational divides.
Putnam’s research centred on the U.S., but there are complementary findings in Canada. In June of last year, the Vancouver-based Angus Reid Institute conducted a survey in partnership with Cardus (a non-partisan, faith-based think tank) exploring the quality and quantity of human connection in the lives of Canadians. They found “significant segments of society in need of the emotional, social and material benefits” that connectedness can bring.
Sixty per cent of Canadians responded that they would like their friends and family to spend more time with them, and just 14 per cent described the current state of their social lives as “very good.” In addition, one-third were unable to identify friends or family members they could count on to provide financial assistance in an emergency, and nearly two-fifths were not certain they could count on someone for emotional support during times of personal crisis.
“Social isolation and loneliness are one of the biggest challenges of our time,” Cardus executive vice president Ray Pennings said regarding the survey. “They’re a symptom of our culture’s obsession with personal autonomy, leaving us living life as ‘I’ instead of ‘we.’ In doing so, we reap the poorer financial, mental, and physical health associated with isolation and loneliness, possibly making us more vulnerable to things like drug abuse, suicide, and the debt spiral caused by payday loan use.”
Similarly, the Vancouver Foundation’s Connect &Engage report, released in 2017, found that “across almost every measure in our survey, people in Metro Vancouver are taking part less in community-related activities.” As well, “fewer than half are willing to respond to a question from a stranger (48 per cent), and only 23 per cent will ask a question or initiate a conversation.”
“I think people are challenging the status quo that led us to the space of people feeling lonely and isolated,” says Kemeny, the foundation’s director of partnerships, grants and community initiatives.
“And what I’m seeing is people recognizing the importance of reaching out to each other, and a lot of very hopeful signs of people really feeling how important it is to connect with each other.”
Moreover, there’s something good in the current state of affairs even for those who are struggling, says Kemeny. “By virtue of this being a universal experience right now, I think we’re also pulling [loneliness] out from behind the shadows in a way.”
She says, “I see people talking about this a lot more. I think there’s an ease and comfort, in acknowledging that we are lonely, that isn’t as stigmatized as it was before.”
Of course many challenges remain and the future is uncertain. How we Catholics cope with, respond to, and overcome those challenges will be the focus of this series in the next few weeks.
We’ll examine the ways Catholics are responding to the current trying times – how parishioners and priests alike are finding new ways to connect with each other and maintain their faith communities.
We will also further explore the powerful connection between faith and resilience – a connection that makes us stronger in the face of adversity.
Finally, we’ll look at the opportunities for spiritual growth that enforced isolation presents to us. As American Bishop Robert Barron recently suggested during one of his popular video addresses, “Perhaps we could all think of this time of semi-quarantine as an invitation to some monastic introspection, some serious confrontation with the questions that matter – some purposeful sitting alone in a room.”
A good thought. Moreover, if what 17th-century French theologian Blaise Pascal wrote is true – that “all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” – then it must also be true that those who follow Bishop Barron’s advice to, in effect, “sit quietly in a room alone,” surely have the potential to solve more than just their own problems. We shall see.
HOME ALONE – Part 2: Catholics find ways to stay connected in pandemic
May 7, 2020
When asked what she misses most about not being able to attend 9 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Joseph’s Parish in Port Moody, 88-year-old Leona Ransom doesn’t miss a beat when she answers, “the choir.”
 A three-decades-long member of one of the parish’s choral groups, Ransom says nothing can replace the positive feeling she experiences when she joins with her fellow choristers to sing a hymn in four-part harmony.
“Singing is such a marvellous way of expressing everything,” says Ransom, a soprano. “Being surrounded by music is such a tonic. Surrounded by music, and contributing to it, you come away feeling ‘I’ve accomplished something or given something’ or ‘I’ve been alive and well for the five minutes.’”
 A widow who lives with one of her adult children, Ransom confides that she also misses the camaraderie of the choir, and she certainly hopes for an early end to the social isolation mandated by health authorities to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
A retired counsellor, Ransom is well aware of the social and health benefits of being part of a faith community, but says she is content with the weekly homiletic email she receives from her pastor Father Thomas Arackal, and with using the phone to stay in touch with loved ones. “Everybody seems to be OK,” she shares. “I think we’re all kind of lonesome, but we’ll get through it.”
Helping the isolated and lonely withstand the stresses and strains of the COVID crisis has been a concern of priests and parish groups alike. 
Resilient and optimistic, and with friends and family to support her, Ransom is in a good position to withstand the stresses and strains of the COVID crisis. Others may not be so fortunate, and that’s been a concern of priests and parish groups alike since the beginning of the pandemic crisis.
Questions on how best to keep faith communities alive as well as serve needy individuals have been answered with solutions ranging from the adoption of new communication technologies to the restructuring of existing programs. 
At Church of the Assumption Parish in Powell River, for example, Father Patrick Tepoorten responded quickly to the closing of churches and cessation of public services by staging daily outdoor adoration of the Holy Eucharist and by livestreaming daily Mass on Facebook – one of 47 parishes in the Archdiocese of Vancouver currently doing so.
Adopting the unfamiliar technology didn’t come without its problems, though. “I learned that if you push the ‘magic wand’ on Facebook, it adds beards and faces,” Father Tepoorten confides, noting that at least one priest in Italy became an Internet sensation after mistakenly engaging the feature. “For me, it was Good Friday when I ended up sporting a [virtual] blue beard. Some of our parishioners thought it was hilarious.”
Overall reaction to televised Masses, whether on social media or television, has been positive. “Our parishioners are very appreciative that they have the Mass on Facebook,” he says. “They say, ‘I’m so grateful you’re doing this. I’m just so grateful – it’s contact with the Mass.’” 
Father Tepoorten has concerns, however, about the long-term impact on his parishioners, the majority of whom are seniors. He and his assistant have not been able to provide the pastoral care – visiting homes and hospitals – that they usually perform, and phone calls seem to him to be more intrusive than helpful. “I don’t want to disturb them in their cocoon of self-isolation.”
Nevertheless, he is optimistic that parish life will return to normal when the crisis ends because he senses that his parishioners’ faith is making them hungry to get things back up to speed. “I think we really feel the need in our community,” he says. “I think, in a strange way, it’s a great lesson in the need we have for each other – it’s a real affirmation – and how much we miss each other.”
At Star of the Sea Parish in White Rock the COVID-19 crisis led an existing parish group to pivot in how it delivers spiritual and social support to isolated and lonely seniors. Elaine Webb, a retired nurse, says the parish formed a Pastoral Care Visitation ministry a year ago, training 50 men and women in how “to provide a little bit of company and companionship with lonely and frail seniors” in homes or residential-care facilities, and to better connect them to parish life. 
“The issues are common,” Webb says, “One of them is loneliness, another is fear.” Reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “They are just so grateful. You can see the little spark of joy that we bring,” Webb says.
But it seemed that no sooner did the ministry start rolling than it was forced to suspend operations because of the coronavirus crisis. Working with a 250-name list of seniors provided by the parish office, the visitation team joined with members of the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus to keep connections alive through regular phone calls. It seems to be working.
“All those who were called expressed gratitude, surprise, and were generally pleased that the Church had reached out and taken the time to connect,” Webb says. As well, almost all said they were fine and had support from adult children, friends, and neighbours. Surprisingly, “no one asked for assistance with groceries or medication runs. But some wanted the parish bulletin [because they didn’t have internet access] and a few wanted holy water. Generally folks were positive and accepting of the current circumstances.”
In fact, the response has been so positive that “it could inform a new way to go forward with support of our senior parishioners,” Webb says.
The pandemic’s impacts on social and spiritual life are not limited to isolated seniors, of course. Patrick Calderon, who serves on the core team of the Holy Rosary Cathedral Young Adults group, says that, pre-COVID, the group could have up to three events a week, as well as a monthly social gathering.
The pandemic’s no-group-gathering order struck at the very heart of the group’s mandate “to cultivate faith and create friendships through fellowship,” as well as providing educational and service opportunities, says Calderon, a 26-year-old consultant who is a graduate of both Notre Dame Regional Secondary in Vancouver and Notre Dame University in Indiana. 
“We were very conflicted as to how to proceed when the quarantine first started,” he says. “We thought that we can’t just disappear. We need to show to the people that we were serving  that Church doesn’t stop for you, that there’s still an opportunity for you to engage as Catholic young adults.”
Now the group meets every Monday via the Zoom app, focusing on faith issues related to the Holy Spirit. Attendance is limited to 15, which is about five fewer than normal meetings, but the virtual gatherings help fill a void. “I think there’s a great longing for in-person interaction and for real community,” Calderon says.
“But, you know, I think it’s a time for us, as young adults, to put into practice skills we grew up with all our entire lives – skills of connecting via technology, and to show that there are ways of getting together even without being physically present.”
Calderon admits that some aspects of the meetings are lost because a vital part of gathering together has always been socialization, but “it’s important for us – because there’s a real longing for community – to do whatever we can do to provide something in the interim.”
As for Calderon personally, he describes himself as “rolling with the punches and appreciating the grace that is present in this particular moment.” In fact, he believes there’s an opportunity to pursue a more contemplative path than the one he was living. 
“But I know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, as well,” he says, “And I think our return will be even better than what we had in the past. I think we have really gotten to see the value of this community. And we’ll come back when this is over with a newfound appreciation for all that we have around us, and just be grateful for it.”
The crisis is affecting parishes and parishioners in countless ways, and no one knows what the “new normal” will look like when it finally ends and parishes can resume in-person operations. Meanwhile many Catholics seem to be finding a silver lining in the COVID cloud, embracing new technologies to stay in touch, finding new ways to serve fellow parishioners, using quiet times to better themselves, or simply being determined to make the best of a sad situation.
During a time when isolation and loneliness can be corrosive, the hopefulness that animates these actions is surely showing itself to be a crucial element of the Catholic character.
HOME ALONE – Part 3: the psychology of hope and resilience amid isolation 
May 12, 2020
In his 2017 book The Catholic Guide to Loneliness, author Kevin Vost cautioned readers not to let virtual conversations take the place of real, face-to-face meetings with friends and loved ones.
Today, as society is in its third month of enforced social isolation precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Vost notes the irony of social-media platforms such as Facetime and Zoom actually becoming invaluable tools to help people stay connected and feel less lonely.
“So, now those have become valuable things that we do need to cultivate, perhaps even with people we didn’t cultivate before,” Vost said in a telephone interview from his home in Springfield, Illinois. “Show those people that we do care about them. If you’ve just texted them in the past, pick up the phone now and talk to them. This crisis can prompt us to interact in more significant ways.”
Moreover, the crisis may also lead people to realize that they had been taking their friendships for granted. “I hope it will really help us to realize what we are missing – that absence makes the heart grow fonder,” says Vost, who holds a doctorate in psychology.
Vost is one of several faith-based experts contacted by The B.C. Catholic in recent weeks to offer insight into pandemic-related psychological issues that society in general and Catholics in particular might be experiencing. The latter focus arises from the fact that, as members of a faith whose essential features include a regular “mass” gathering at which a physical “communion” with God is celebrated, Catholics might be especially hard hit by the loss of social interaction resulting from the quasi-quarantine that officials imposed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
The good news, however, is that the same faith uniting Catholics in communion also tends to position Catholics to better take advantage of the imposed isolation, as well as to make us more resilient in the face of adversity. It’s one of the fruits of the virtue of hope.
Michael Hryniuk, a Toronto-based theologian, author and educator, says it’s certainly true that Catholics may be grieving the loss of their physical faith communities – and that such sorrow may be especially acute when compared with a general, non-religious population that has not suffered such a profound disconnection.
However, Hryniuk believes that loss is more than offset by the strength that Catholic believers can draw on because of their faith. It starts with a deep connection to the Church’s 2,000-year history. “It’s not something we think about consciously, but we feel it – we feel it in the depths of our psyche,” he says. Combined with our embrace of “that sense of the sacred,” it’s a powerful defence to loneliness.
As well, “really fresh research in the last five years shows that, in terms of resilience, how children who have experienced a sense of connection to a higher power – not just belief and values – but a real experiential grounding in faith, their outcomes are just vastly better,” he says.
Hryniuk explains this through an analysis of “attachment theory,” which is usually cited to show the importance of the connection between parents and children. “What the infant needs most, to fund their human development, is the foundation of primal trust in their caregiver,” he says. “And what that amounts to is, ultimately, a sense that the universe in friendly.” Similarly, a strong relationship between God and his children produces the same beneficial effects.
Rev. Dr. Nathan White, the executive director of the Institute for Faith and Resilience, based in Lafayette, Louisiana, says a number of factors explain why people of faith are better able to endure and prosper in difficult times. “At the personal level, faith can provide things like meaning and hope, and kind of a larger meta-narrative in which we can understand our lives,” says White, a former U.S. Army chaplain.
“There’s also the community side, where being in a faith community – being surrounded by others who help support us and who have similar views of life, and with whom we can process our own emotions and thoughts – produces a powerful [effect].”
White has also said that his most recent book, Biblical and Theological Visions of Resilience, is designed to encourage readers by explaining that the Judeo-Christian tradition “has a wealth of resources to help individuals understand and resiliently navigate experiences of adversity.”
Author Vost says his book, on Catholics and loneliness, has multiple goals. The first is a message to those who are feeling lonely. “There is one thing you can be sure of,” he says, “and that’s that you are not alone, because one of the great ironies of loneliness now is that it is extremely rampant around the world. So this book is for people who are lonely, to help them find ways to bear it, to endure it, or possibly to reach out and overcome it.”
The book is also aimed at people who want to reach out and help those who are lonely. “Another of the big ironies of the book is that the things that people should do to help other people who are lonely, some of those are exactly the things that the people who are lonely should be doing to reach out to other lonely people,” he says.
In one of the book’s chapters, called “The Loneliness of Christ,” Vost describes how “the Gospel itself shows us how Christ himself experienced loneliness on earth … where Christ endured loneliness, not only on the cross but also during the night of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.”
He also provides practical advice for overcoming loneliness, including a list of “Thirty Ways to Love Your Brother.” These include such activities as praying, playing, smiling, greeting, reconciling, sharing meals, submitting to God, slowing the pace of one’s life, and listening.
An important chapter in the book deals with something Vost calls “The Solace of Solitude.” It draws on the examples of saints “to show us, in times when we must be isolate, what positives can come from that – in what ways we can use that time to grow closer to God, to grow more careful in our thinking about how we can relate to others, once we are finally set from our restrictions,” he says, noting that the advice is especially relevant during the current COVID crisis.
Hryniuk agrees. “I think the greatest gift of this whole [pandemic] is not just about expanding our tools and platforms for connecting. It’s about solitude, and I think what’s going on here is that people are learning how to connect in a more deeply, prayerful way, with God and with themselves, and with their families and friends.”
He continues: “It’s remarkable. When I talk to people now, I am interacting with people who are not tired, who are not wiped out by the pace of their life, who are not too busy, who are taking walks in nature, playing with their kids. It’s a different world, and I think it has helped people to kind of go deeper into their faith.”
Ultimately, Hryniuk believes we will emerge stronger from the current crisis. “I think we are going to adapt and maybe even ultimately expand our repertoire, so to speak, of how we express our life in the body of Christ in the world,” he says.
“We are a global church, and we’re connecting with people from all over the world in ways we probably never would have. But this [pandemic] has kind of rocked our world. So I’m hopeful that we’re going to adapt, and then, when we meet again, there’s going to be some new awareness of how we can connect in other ways.”
This adversity, then, should end up bringing us together and, in so doing, make us stronger – just as the Church’s “National Prayer for Canada in the Wake of the COVID-19 Crisis” envisions “the more together we are, the better and stronger we will emerge.” If so, it will surely be a strength built on a foundation of a faith, animated by the virtue of hope, and sustained by an ever-loving God who promised never to leave nor forsake us.
Exercise is good, but sharing is better
May 12, 2020
Psychologist and counsellor Denis Boyd, a member of All Saints Parish in Coquitlam, offers some useful advice to people who are suffering increased stress, sadness, or anxiety during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In fact, he says there are two simple but important ways to release stress and grief from your system.
“One is to talk about it,” Boyd says. “And the second is to write about it. So, I would be encouraging people to talk out loud with somebody they consider a reasonably good listener – and hopefully they also listen well to them – about that they’re feeling overwhelmed, or bad, or frustrated, or whatever it might be.”
He continues, “Or, if the people they’re with are already stressed or are not available, they can become short-term journal writers, where they write down what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling, and they’ll get a nice release from doing that.”
Boyd notes that another outlet which is often talked about is exercise, but he believes exercise doesn’t really release a lot of stress. “Walking is very good, but it can’t compete with writing and or talking,” he says. “So I would get people thinking out loud about what they’re going through, even if it gets repetitive. It helps them unwind.”
He also believes that people can help themselves overcome the negativity in their lives through a shift in their attitude. He points to the example of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived concentration camps in the Second World War, “because he came to the conclusion that we have no control over what happens to us. Our only control is how we deal with what happens to us.”
This attitude is connected to being grateful for the things that you have. For example, those who are finding it difficult to endure the current quarantine-like conditions could focus on the beautiful spring weather and scenery. “There are many things we could show gratitude for – just the beauty around us, the fact that we have good food to eat, and more people aren’t sick.”
He continues, “That attitude – and if you’ve written a bit about how sad you feel, or that you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed – puts you in a better place to then look at the things you are happy about. So there’s a one, two sequence there.  Because if the stress level is very high, it may be hard to see the good, and yet if you release some of that upset, you’re going to notice the good a little more. And actually, if you focus on what you have gratitude for, you’re less likely to get stuck thinking about the negativity as well.”
Boyd also recognizes that, even after the crisis ends, some people will be bothered by negative memories. “Historically, you and I and many of the readers were raised with, ‘you put your feelings away and push on.’   You know, ‘survive, tough it out.’” That’s not healthy, though, because “you accumulate a lot of leftover emotion from old events, traumatic or otherwise.” 
What happens, then, is that “the memories tend to be stronger and more upsetting, because, when you went through them, you just stuffed the pain away, didn’t dance with it, didn’t deal with it.” The solution is to act now – to “take time to write and talk about what we’re living now.”   What that does in the long term is diffuse the memory, “so in the future the memory will be less intense if they’re negative, or more vibrant if they’re positive.”
Denis Boyd is a registered psychologist, practising in Coquitlam. His name and contact information appear on a list, compiled by the Archdiocese, of professionals who say “they are Catholic or a practicing Christian from another tradition and will support clients that want to adhere to the Church’s teachings in the area of life, marriage and family.”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

God, Gaia, and COVID: at the root, be not afraid

My latest work for the BC Catholic:

With the COVID crisis now in its second month, it’s increasingly common, and completely understandable, for people to search for meaning in such an unusual and frighteningly impactful event. Indeed, our search for meaning, in times of both crisis and contemplation, is central to humanity.

In ages past – during the time of the Black Death, for example – plagues such as the one that currently befalls us were widely seen as punishments from God. Today, however, our more scientific and rational worldview largely eschews such “angry-god” interpretations.

Exceptions exist, of course. A spokesman for the radical Islamist group ISIS, for example, asserted that the coronavirus is a “soldier of God” sent to expose the “brittleness and vulnerability” of the West’s material strength. And John Carson, an adviser to a leading Irish political party, asserted in early April that COVID-19 is “God’s wrath against corrupt governments” that legalized same-sex marriage and abortion.

As well, the traditionalist website LifeSiteNews reported that Catholic prelates such as Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes and Bishop Athanasius Schneider “see the corona crisis as a punishment from God, just as God has punished His people in the past when they erred into sin and faithlessness. Recently, Bishop Schneider had called the coronavirus crisis ‘a divine intervention to chastise and purify the sinful world and also the Church.’”

A theology student at a protest in Toronto.
God may indeed be displeased with both humanity’s obsession with material goods and its legalization of morally indefensible activities, but a belief that he is now punishing all of us for those actions is not consistent with Church teaching. Indeed, as Archbishop Michael Miller observed in a March 27 video interview, the COVID-19 outbreak “is not a chastisement or a punishment or anything of that sort. Sometimes people start thinking that way, and I think that’s just mistaken.”

Wise words, indeed.

What, then, of a growing number of published opinions that view the pandemic, not as a punishment from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but as a reprimand or castigation from another entity, one that goes by the names of Mother Earth and Mother Nature?

Consider the words of Ed Finn, a former leader of the NDP in Newfoundland, who wondered whether COVID-19 is “Mother Nature’s latest effort to rid herself of the virus of mankind.” At the least, such a comment strikes a discordant note coming from someone who, as a former politician, should be seeking to serve humanity, not describing humanity as a “virus.” Equally troubling is Finn’s characterization of Mother Nature as a conscious entity who has decided to wreak vengeance on mankind. We await the evidence.

Similarly, writing on the “Counterpunch” website, Evaggelos Vallianatos, an environmental strategist who worked at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years and is the author of six books, had this to say in a column titled Nature’s Revenge: “The corona virus pandemic is no accident. Like past global epidemics, it’s a warning that nature has had it with the ecocidal proclivities of man. Nature (the Earth) is fighting back. Climate change is sowing pandemic diseases.”

One can be forgiven for having difficulty finding a foothold of prudence and wisdom, let alone scientific fact, in such an assertion. What’s more, one searches in vain for an explanation for the inconvenient fact that pandemics aplenty existed in the pre-Industrial Age.

It doesn’t take someone with a degree in theology to see that the ubiquity of such responses is linked to enduring remnants of the New Age movement’s attribution of mystical aspects to the Gaia hypothesis – the conjecture that the Earth is a complex and self-regulating system involving all organic and inorganic entities. While meant to be a scientific theory, it has encouraged adherents to, in effect, deify the Earth by imbuing it with qualities associated with the primordial goddess of Greek mythology after whom the hypothesis was named.

Certainly, humanity’s appreciation of the many wonders of the Earth has grown in lockstep with the deepening not only of our scientific knowledge about the natural environment, but also of the harm humans can do to it. As Christians, it is also natural for us to ponder the question of how we can best be responsible stewards of God’s creation.

A good example of such rumination is Pope Francis’s 2019 book, Our Mother Earth, which called for a “spiritual rebirth” leading to “a profound revision of our cultural and economic models” that would not only be more environmentally prudent but also promote justice. The work challenged many Catholics, but should not have come as a surprise given Pope Francis’ long record of social and environmental declarations.

His more recent statements related to the cause of the COVID pandemic can be more challenging still. He told a Spanish journalist in March, “There’s a saying, which you have heard: ‘God always forgives. We sometimes forgive. Nature never forgives,’” the Pope said.

Pope Francis did not portray the pandemic as a punishment from God, but he did opine that it was the result of nature having a “tantrum” or a “fit” over environmental degradation.

He elaborated on his comment in a later interview. “I don’t know if it is nature’s revenge, but it is certainly nature’s response,” he said of the pandemic. “Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world.”

Coincidentally, the quasi-quarantine condition that we are currently enduring has inspired some of us to do exactly that – contemplate the natural world (as found in our backyards at least). And although Pope Francis has not made a technical argument about the relationship between human action and the natural world’s reaction, his opinion certainly deserves our contemplation too.

So, what are we to make of all this? As always, we are called upon to give prayerful consideration to life’s problems, especially when they involve such grave issues. God gave us our brains to engage in rational thought, our hearts to feel, and our conscience to guide us. Our faith illuminates all this and will surely help us to act accordingly.

What seems to be important now is to keep the faith as well as to keep calm. Indeed, in his video interview, Archbishop Miller acknowledged that while “fear is understandable” as an emotion and something leads us to act prudently, “there is no need to fear in the deeper sense, the spiritual sense.”

He suggested the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, who proposed the following way of discerning: “If there is fear or panic or lack of calm interiorly, that lack is a sign of things not going well, not going for the best. And so I think that we have to really rely on our faith and be able to experience both fear as a human emotion, and understand that, but not ultimately to be afraid.”

Terry O’Neill is a journalist and a parishioner at St. Joseph’s, Port Moody.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The late Justice Proudfoot was more than just a trailblazer

The following is the text of a story I wrote for the B.C. Catholic newspaper. The story will be published in the Feb. 17 edition of the weekly publication.


When the nice old lady in the little red sports car pulled up to their school, students at St. Augustine’s Elementary in Vancouver knew they were in for a special day.

Proudfoot: An Order of B.C. recipient.
Whether the short-haired, soft-spoken woman would drop in on classrooms, spend time with kindergarteners, or have serious chats with Grade 7 students about their responsibilities, she always left everyone feeling a little better about themselves. Their affection for her was made clear after Mass on Sundays, when children would inevitably flock to her. The warm-hearted widow was especially close to her two Grade 7 “prayer buddies.”

That woman, Patricia Mathilda Proudfoot, passed away last fall at the age of 91, her death generating not only sadness in the St. Augustine’s community, but also laudatory news stories and published memorials about her trailblazing legacy as British Columbia’s first female judge at three levels of the courts.

On Nov. 25, 2019, a special joint sitting of B.C.’s Court of Appeal, Supreme Court, and Provincial Court took place at the Vancouver Law Courts in honour of Proudfoot, with members of the judiciary gathering to remember her and her contributions to the legal profession.

Accounts of her life largely omitted what she meant not only to St. Augustine’s school and parish, but also to the Archdiocese of Vancouver. These contributions were formally recognized in 2013 when Archbishop J. Michael Miller conferred on her the cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (for Church and Pope), the highest Catholic award given to lay people.

Observers and acquaintances agree that the mark she left on society can be found not only in the example she set by quietly living out the principles of her Catholic faith, but also in the enduring nature of her principle- and common-sense-based jurisprudence.

Nowhere is this more evident than in her 1993 ruling in Rodriguez v. The Attorney General of B.C., when, sitting as a Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal, Proudfoot and another judge upheld a lower-court ruling that denied euthanasia-advocate Sue Rodriguez the right to an assisted suicide – a ruling that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada later that year. (In 2015, however, that same court reversed itself and legalized assisted suicide.)

Today, as the federal government looks at expanding the circumstances in which Canadians can obtain “medical assistance in dying,” and with increasing international evidence that liberal euthanasia laws are leading to people being killed without their consent, Proudfoot’s warning about potential abuses of assisted suicide looks prophetic. “There is reason to fear that homicide of the terminally ill for ignoble motives may readily be disguised as aiding suicide,” she wrote.

“I think she called it right on,” said Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “What you have with this legislation in Canada [is] the perfect cover-up for murder.”

Proudfoot was the youngest of 10 children (nine girls and a boy) born into the German-speaking, wheat-farming Fahlam family of Kronau, Sask. Proudfoot told an interviewer for the Oral History Project at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law that when the double-whammy of Depression and Dust Bowl drought led to the farm’s ruin, her parents and seven of the children, including Patricia, drove in a McLaughlin-Buick – their belongings towed behind in a homemade trailer – to Rutland, in B.C.’s Okanagan, to begin anew as fruit farmers. “Dad arrived, literally, with empty pockets,” she recalled.

Her only surviving sibling, Helen Schaeffer, 92, of Summerland, continued the story in an interview with The B.C. Catholic. “We were all raised Catholic. We went to church regularly at St. Theresa’s [parish in Kelowna],” she said. “We even had to go on Saturdays. We had a wonderful upbringing. Mother never preached to us, just set a good example.” She recalls her famous sister as being somewhat of a tomboy, extremely sports-minded, very bright in school, and wanting to be a lawyer from a very young age.

Proudfoot worked at up to three jobs to pay university tuition, graduated from UBC law school in 1952, and was called to the bar the following year, practising until she was appointed to the B.C. Provincial Court in 1971 – the first woman judge to sit in its criminal court. She was also the first woman judge appointed to the County Court of B.C., and to the B.C. Supreme Court. She was elevated to B.C.’s highest court, the Court of Appeal, in 1989 and retired in 2002.

Proudfoot (r) with sister: Strength of character.
“Patricia was a wonderful judge,” said her eulogist, retired Provincial Court Judge Bryan Davis. “She did have high expectations of everyone. She was kind, fair, reasonable, compassionate, and never intellectually dishonest or without integrity.”

His assessment is widely shared. “She treated her colleagues with respect and expected people to treat her the way she treated them,” said Lauri-Ann Fenlon, a current Justice of the B.C. Court of Appeal. “She was certainly a person of principle and good character.”

Although she and Proudfoot never served together, Fenlon said she knew Proudfoot by reputation as someone who approached the law in a very practical, common-sense way. Importantly, “she had courage – a strength of character.”

Other colleagues support the assessment. Mary Margaret MacKinnon, who serves as general counsel to both the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver Archdiocese, sat with Proudfoot on several boards. She said Proudfoot continually raised new ideas and looked for fair solutions.

“She gave of her time and talent to the archdiocese, and we are all in a better place because of that,” MacKinnon says. “She was filled with wisdom and kindness and good judgment. More importantly, she had a fantastic sense of humour and capacity for fun.”

Evidence of both wisdom and humour can be found in an anecdote that an online commentator, Kerry Kozak, shared following Proudfoot’s passing on Oct. 9. “I was a ‘rookie’ Supreme Court clerk,” Kozak wrote, “[…] when Madam Justice Patricia Proudfoot came into the courtroom. At the same time, so did 16 naked men and woman – Doukhobors who were protesting criminal charges brought against them in Grand Forks. Proudfoot had all the windows opened in that courtroom on a very chilly, cold day in the old New Westminster courthouse. […] They were all dressed the next day.”

On other professional fronts, Proudfoot led the B.C. Royal Commission on the Incarceration of Female Offenders and was a member of the Committee on Sexual Offences against Children and Youths, the Canada Pension Appeals Board, and the Canadian Panel on Extraordinary Challenges for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

As a volunteer, she worked with Vancouver Foundation projects involving children and youth, and the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. Additionally, she was an honorary director of Big Sisters of B.C., a long-time supporter of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and sponsored at least five children in various countries through World Vision. Her many honours include three honorary degrees and membership in the Order of B.C.


Justice Patricia Proudfoot received the Order of British Columbia in 2007.
Proudfoot served the archdiocese as a member of the Advisory Committee on Clerical Sexual Misconduct from 2000 until 2015. Msgr. Gregory Smith, who was a fellow member of the committee until he left for studies in Rome in 2004, recalls well her solid counsel.

“I still marvel that for so many years we had someone of her stature serving, helping the Church deal with these critical issues – a tough-minded judge who had headed a Royal Commission looking into sexual abuse of female prisoners,” he said.

“It shows not only the depth of Pat Proudfoot’s commitment to the archdiocese, but also the depth of the archdiocese’s commitment to rooting out the destructive problem of sexual abuse by clergy.”

Proudfoot married travel writer Arthur Proudfoot in 1959, the marriage lasting 37 years until his death; they had no children. Schaeffer recalled that her sister drifted away from the Church for many years but returned with renewed faith later in life.

It was at St. Augustine’s Parish in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood where Proudfoot’s commitment to community and church took root most profoundly. “It’s pretty clear that in her life she was very passionate about many things,” said parishioner Lawrence Pillon, “but about young adults and children in particular. There are many examples where she extended her expertise and her support in so many ways. And we certainly felt it at the school.”

Pillon said Proudfoot’s contribution to the steering committee (now called Faith and Foundation), struck to build a new St. Augustine’s school, was exceptional. “I think her participation was one of the reasons it was so successful,” he said. Today, two of the three phases of the new school have been completed.

“Here was a person who didn’t have children in the school but felt [the call] to be part of this whole great effort,” said Pillon. Along the way, “she became very close to the teachers, and I just can’t say enough about how close she became to so many people in the community during those years.”

He said Proudfoot wanted to inspire people to do the best they could. “And sometimes in the church, you really have to have that inspiration, that courage, that dedication, and she certainly exemplified that.”

The funeral Mass for Patricia Proudfoot was held Nov. 2 of last year at St. Augustine’s Church. A great crowd of parishioners – young and old, friends and acquaintances, and co-workers and admirers – attended, filling parking lots and neighbourhood streets with their vehicles.

One car was missing, though: a little red BMW Z3 sports car that over the years had become so familiar to the St. Augustine’s community. Needless to say, that car – and the extraordinary woman who drove it – will not soon be forgotten.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When pro-environment means anti-human

I am happy to report that the following piece has just been published in the BC Catholic newspaper.

By Terry O'Neill

It was less than a quarter of a century ago that then-Pope John Paul II first warned about the multiplicity of societal trends in human attitudes and practices that were producing a “culture of death.” One can only wonder what he would make of today’s even more terminal view of humanity.

Writing in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, now-Saint Pope John Paul II shone a harsh and revealing light on the “veritable structure of sin” that has led to modern society’s embrace of such destructive, behaviours as artificial contraception, abortion and euthanasia.

Today, however, that’s not even the half of it. Indeed, in an increasingly alarmed and virtually pro-suicidal response to mankind’s impact on the natural environment, some thought leaders are disseminating profoundly anti-human, anti-human-life sentiments.

Take Samantha Kelly, a professor of history at Rutgers University. When asked this month by The Atlantic (a pre-eminent American publication) what “one thing” she would change if she could go back in time, she answered, “The invention of agriculture. Imagine: far less environmental degradation and income inequality…”

That may be, but researchers have found that the Earth could support only about 100 million people living the sort of hunter-gatherer lifestyle that immediately preceded mankind’s invention of agriculture. They also found that only 57 percent those 100 million would reach the age of 15 and that the life expectancy of all hunter-gatherers would be between 21 and 37 years.

In other words, Professor Kelly’s ideal, pre-agriculture world would not only see the elimination of 7.5 billion men, women and children from the Earth, but also the consignment of the “lucky” survivors to short, nasty and brutish lives.

And, oh yes, there would also be no more Professor Kellys to pontificate about the problems of world, for it was the adoption of the very invention that she decries that gave birth to modern civilization and, with it, the sort of educational institutions from which she has the leisure to conjure her opinions. Or maybe she would rather be a gatherer of berries and a bearer of multiple babies, most of whom die in infancy.

But one should not be too harsh with Prof. Kelly. After all, she is an out-and-out moderate when it comes to this sort of stuff. For example, in recent months, media outlets have published stories on the “Conceivable Future” movement which encourages participants to consider whether, given the “realties” of the “climate crisis,” they should forego having children.

More extreme are the “voluntary human extinction” and “anti-natalist” movements, the latter of which argues that all human life causes nothing but harm. “Their notion, that having children may be a bad idea, seems to be gaining mainstream popularity,” observes The Guardian.

Such profoundly misanthropic views used to be held only by radical environmentalists such as Stewart Brand, of the Whole Earth Catalogue, who penned these immortal words: “We have wished, we eco-freaks, for a disaster to come and bomb us into the stone age.'

 Not to be outdone, B.C.’s own Paul Watson, he of the Sea Shepherd Society, once declared, “Humans are the AIDS of the earth.”

More appalling yet is this from David Graber, a research biologist with the American National Parks Service: “We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the earth...until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

A notorious 1992 Time magazine cover story signalled how such anti-human ideas could be conceived. Entitled, “The Last Eden,” the story described a remote part of an African jungle that was untouched by humanity. This “Eden,” the magazine wrote, would be destroyed by any sort of human activity.

But, surely, this concept turns the Christian ideal of Eden on its head. Where the Bible paints a pre-fall picture of Eden as a paradise where humans and the natural world lived in perfect harmony, Time sees Eden as devoid of men and women. No Adam, no Eve, no anybody.

Most of us hold to some sort of middle-ground, an approach that neither supports an irresponsible exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources nor an irresponsible attack on humanity. Good Christians, after all, know that humans were created in the image of God, and that we are charged to be wise stewards of the Earth.

Nevertheless, one senses that, as concern over climate change grows, the anti-human view is gaining ground, infecting especially the worldview of our young people, and, in so doing encouraging a profoundly pessimistic even nihilistic personal philosophy.

As a life-long pro-life advocate, I see this as a new and threatening front in an ongoing war – a war whose shape Saint Pope John Paul II first described with ominous precision in Evangelium Vitae.

“This situation, with its lights and shadows,” he wrote, “ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’ We find ourselves not only ‘faced with’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.”