“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Saturday, September 16, 2017

THE ESSENCE OF GIGANTIC AND NOBLE LOVE

Mount Edith Cavell
If you go into Canada's Jasper National Park, you may see the beautiful and majestic Mount Edith Cavell.  The mountain’s namesake was the daughter of an Anglican vicar. Edith Cavell (1865-1915) was a British nurse and patriot during the 1st World War. Although she tended wounded soldiers on both sides at the Berkendael Medical Institute in Brussels, she helped nearly 200 allied soldiers get false documents and flee into neutral Holland and escape to England.



Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell was caught by the German military, arrested, tried for treason and sentenced to be executed by firing squad on October 12th 1915.  On the night before her execution she wrote to a friend: “My dear girl, how shall I write to you this last day? Nothing matters when one comes to the last hour but a clear conscience.” That same evening Cavell told a prison chaplain, “I have no fear or shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not fearful or strange to me. And this I would say, standing in view of God and eternity: I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness against anyone.”


In life, Edith Cavell’s Christian faith motivated her brave and
selfless actions of human service. Facing death, her faith gave her strength to look toward heaven with expectation, courage and love for others ― even forgiving those who were about to shoot her. It was with these sentiments and her towering faith that Edith Cavell drew her last breath and crossed the threshold from this world to the next. She was 49 years old.


Edith Cavell is an example to all Christians to live larger than life, even today more than a 100 years after her death.  She took seriously Jesus’ commandment that we should love one another as He first loved us. He said that all people would know that we are his disciples by the way we love each other. (John 13.34-35) Love is our greatest witness for Christ.


How did Christ love us? He loved us with a self-sacrificing love
that included dying for our sake even when we are his enemies. Gigantic and noble love that is rooted in Christ can raise the best of human ideals to the height of mountain peaks and the realm of angels. Christian love seeks the welfare of all and never seeks to wrong any. Christian love looks for opportunities to do good not only to fellow-believers but to everyone. When society’s love waxes cold Christian love excels.


Never underestimate the power of divine love expressed through human action.  I can personally attest to it.  Even at my lowest points I have been the recipient of Christ-like love.  It was Christian love that brought me into the Catholic Church.

Monsignor
Bill Irwin
Watching vivid applications of Christian love through people like my friend Monsignor Bill Irwin brought Christianity alive for me and multitudes of other people.  His witness was Christian love in action that spoke to me more than eloquently than words, clever apologetics or powerful homilies.  His spiritual legacy lives on in communities through Catholic Social Services which he founded in 1961.

I visited Father Bill as he was dying in 2004. Although he could not speak I had the privilege of sitting beside his bed to say goodbye to my old friend, until we meet again in eternity.
Like Edith Cavell, Monsignor Bill Irwin was another example of living larger than life for the sake of Christ’s work on earth. There may not be a mountain named after him but his witness was just as large.  He taught me that “impossible” is often just a state of mind. With Christ all things are possible.

The Church teaches that charity is a theological virtue “by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus makes charity the new commandment.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1822 and 1823.)

Christian love expressed can change individual lives and even entire societies. It was Christian love and its charitable ethic that motivated the establishment of many of the earliest hospitals, orphanages and schools. When considering Christian charity names immediately come to mind like Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity, Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity. Millions of ordinary Christian charity workers and volunteers have also chosen to live above life and elevate human service to a love offering to God. We commonly see it in pro-Life pregnancy care centres for women in crisis pregnancies and their babies. We see it in Christian end-of-life care that always affirms life and never denies it. We see it in Christian outreach ministries throughout inner cities across North America. These examples are the essence of gigantic and noble love that soars to the height of mountain peaks and the realm of angels.





Tuesday, September 12, 2017

IS PLANNED PARENTHOOD OUT OF STEP WITH AMERICA'S MORAL CONSENSUS?

The bill to repeal Obamacare included defunding Planned Parenthood -- America's largest chain of abortion mills. It was defeated in the U.S. Senate. We must not underestimate the gravity of such an event. America had an opportunity to cut links with a vile organization that kills over 300,000 unborn children every year. Planned Parenthood is dependent upon government funding of more than $500,000,000 annually. This makes the American Congress complicit the systematic slaughter of innocent human life before they took their first breath! A few pro-abortion Republicans swayed the outcome and gave the deciding votes. This included formerly pro-Life Senator John McCain. Perhaps his brain cancer is affecting his thinking; if that is the case then you must reserve judgment. If not, then he has a great deal to answer, despite being sick, by supporting such a despicable organization as Planned Parenthood.

Continuation of this government sponsored holocaust is a horrible betrayal of America's original vision:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 

In the parlance of that time, men meant everyone. That vision was a
Thomas Jefferson
daring and beautiful dream of how things could be, should be, and must be -- unless absolute truths are nothing but empty lies.  Those blazing words penned by Thomas Jefferson gave a moral benchmark to guide a nation committed to justice, and what eventually come to be known by future generations as universal human rights. These rights were (and remain) universal because they belong to everyone beginning when they began. 


Thomas Jefferson rightfully put the right to life first because all other rights depend upon this first right in order to exist. To deny this original right to any group or segment of humanity is prejudice, bigotry, or sophistry.  

GOVERNMENT FUNDING OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD 

Congress can present a new stand-alone bill for vote in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to stop funding Planned Parenthood. It will be in their hands to finally severe Planned Parenthood's parasitical dependency on government funding which is so offensive to millions of taxpayers. An organization so contentious should not be receiving government assistance. 

[Although my perspective is Canadian, there was a time -- many years ago -- when I worked for the federal government's largest granting agency. We took particular care to avoid funding of any organization offensive a wide swath of the public.]  

It is time for the American Congress to be presented for vote a bill that deals exclusively with defunding Planned Parenthood. The bill must not have any added amendments. The vote must not deal with levels of Planned Parenthood funding -- but whether they should receive any government funding at all. 


Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate must be asked to vote (Yes or No) to defund Planned Parenthood. Include in the bill's preamble the biological established science (not politically established positions) about when human life begins. Let the preamble to the bill establish for the Members and Senators the percentage of total abortions that actually involve rape or incest. or risk to a mother's life. Give other information about average age, racial percentages and economic status of women seeking abortions. Then call for the vote.

This will bring into clear focus who in the Senate and House of Representatives actually supports the abhorrent work of Planned Parenthood and who does not. If the bill passes, and Planned Parenthood is defunded then voters can judge politicians' actions either way. (But imagine the non-contentious life-affirming programs and measures that can be funded with the $500,000,000 annually that would free up!) 

But if the bill fails to pass and Planned Parenthood -- America's largest abortion provider and marketer of baby parts -- continues to receive half a billion dollars a year in government funding, let voters decide next election. Everyone from from the politicians in Washington to main street voters across America will decide whether they support the right of every child to be alive, or whether they support the barbarity of Planned Parenthood's death alternative to unwanted and unplanned children.

It is time America to vote. Present a bill dealing exclusively with government funding for Planned Parenthood. Do not let the vote be complicated with arguments about how much funding. The question simple: should Planned Parenthood be propped up by government support. 

Here is why: I believe that Planned Parenthood is out of step with the with most of America. They insult the Founders' towering vision to which most Americans still embrace and hold dear. That is why Planned Parenthood would resist such a bill.



MDP

Monday, September 4, 2017

GROUP-THINK AND THOUGHT POLICE OF TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY CANADA


John Diefenbaker was Canada's 13th Prime Minister (1957-63). Among other things, he said that as a Canadian he was free to speak without fear ... He said it was part of his Canadian heritage of freedom. Not any more. Government bodies, liberal secular media, powerful special interests groups seek out people who believe contrary to acceptable group-think then publicly vilify them. They destroy dissenters' reputations and hauling them before quasi-judicial human rights commissions or courts to be punished with fines or jailed. 

MDP

Monday, August 28, 2017

POPE BENEDICT XVI: CONVERSION AS A NEW BEGINNING

Pope Benedict XVI's commentary about conversion https://www.stlukeproductions.com/benedictus-media/mp3/08_28.mp3 Listen to it then come back to this post.

We hear in Pope Benedict's comments from the above link:

"Theology is based upon a new beginning in thought which is not the product of our own reflection but has its origin in the encounter with the Word which alway precedes us. We call the act of this new beginning conversion. Because there is no theology without faith, there cannot be theology without conversion. ... The convert must consciously pronounce in his own name a Yes to this new beginning and really turn from the 'I' to the 'no longer I'."

Like countless other people throughout the past 2,000 years, I to encountered the Word.[1]  It was 1980, and that encounter changed everything in my world and my understanding of destiny. I would never be the same again. It marked a seismic internal shift in my orientation turning from me at the center of me to Him at the center of me. My conversion did not come from within me, rather something quite independent of me. It came from across the centuries.  

What came to me was the same Word that authored the word of God that we call the Holy Bible. The Word was the second member of the Trinity: Christ! All that has transpired since my conversion has been a long process -- stumbling two steps forward, falling back one -- toward divine Love[2] and the Celestial City. Christ has been with me, picking me up each time I fell, encouraging me on toward the goal. As I prepare to enter old age, that journey till continues until I finally step through the threshold from this world to the next. 

The twenty-first century's generation of converts will bear witness of the Word rooted in Divine love and defined by the word of God. Sound theology is crucial to conversion and faith. Converts will shine in the darkness of unbelief just as converts have throughout history. Again, Pope Benedict wrote:

"This is why in every age the path to faith can take its bearings by converts. It explains why they in particular can help us to recognize the reason for the hope that is in us -- and and to bear witness to it. The connection between faith and theology is not, therefore, some sort of sentimental or pietistic twaddle, but is direct consequence of the logic of the thing and is corroborated by the whole of history."
My grandson's baptism

A new generation of converts is emerging through the spiritual darkness of the 21st century into the light of the Word. Their expression of Christian faith may be different from previous generations but it is true none-the-less. Unlike the generation I was born into, this new generation on converts faces open and virulent hatred toward absolute truth of the the Word and the word of God. This should not surprise us. Christ told us it would be like this. 

And yet it is to a vicious anti-Christian world that this new generation is called to bear witness to the Word. "[I]n every age the path to faith can take its bearings by converts." This is why fidelity to historic Christian orthodoxy is so important. The path to Truth
may seem narrow and difficult because it is narrow and difficult. It leads to a narrow gate and few find it. There is only one way that leads to eternal life. It is only access through faith in Jesus Christ.[3] There is another way that many travel; it is broad and easy but leads to destruction.[4] False prophets and new doctrines tickle the ears of people and draw people away from Christ, conversion, and Christian orthodoxy.[5]


These are perilous times for new converts. We older Christians must lay down before them fervent prayer and encouragement as they travel a rough path of faith and witness toward the gate of salvation's eternal life, long after we have gone there.

MDP




_____________
[1] John 1.1-4. Cf. Revelation 19.13
[2] 1John 7.8.
[3] John 3.16, John 14.6 & John 10.7-11.
[4] Matthew 7.13-14. Cf. Luke 13.24
[5] Matthew 7.15-20, Jeremiah 23.16, 14.14; Micah 3.5, 2Timothy 4.3-5, also see 2 Timothy 3.1-7.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

WHEN DOES A HUMAN LIFE BEGIN? WHEN DOES THE INHUMANITY OF ABORTION END?



A new human being begins when sperm penetrates egg. This is not a matter of opinion or religious contention. It is a biological fact. It has also been scientifically established that human life is a continuum from conception to natural death. Whether life in utero is considered a person is legal question. To deny an unborn child his/her humanity and personhood is prejudice, bigotry and sophistry. 

There is institutionalized bigotry in Canada against unwanted or inconvenient pre-born children. Based on zero scientific evidence Canada's Criminal Code states that the unborn child is not a human being until it is born.[1] 

Why is it that societal angst about abortion still tatters at the social
fabric of society decades after abortion was legalized? In 2000, Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told a coven crowd of chanting, cheering Liberal feminists, "We have peace in Canada on the question of abortion."[2] That was not true. The feminists were cheering a lie -- like they have cheered so many other lies. People started edging toward the exits in case his pants caught on fire. 

Regardless of what any law or legislature may say, the unborn child is still a human being.  Not only does biology and medical science tell us the unborn child is a human being -- conscience does too. 

I have long suspected that's why abortion advocates are so animated and adamant. At some point in the past they betrayed the voice of their own consciences. They had to adopt a counterfeit
Australian pro-choice demonstration
morality that excludes any responsibility to the unborn child. Their chants and screams, bullhorns and outrageous signs are not only meant to shock and silence pro-Life voices but also silence their internal voice of conscience that contradicts them.



In 2017, abortion advocates and their allies continue to try and justify abortion. But why? Like the poster at the top of this post says, "If the unborn is not a person then no justification of abortion is necessary. ..." If people did not instinctively know deep within their heart of hearts that abortion is wrong, why would they try to defend or justify it year after year, decade after decade?! 


Abortion continues to fester in individual consciences and the collective consciousness of America and Canada. The energy of protests and howling against the pro-Life message proves it!  Yes, methinks they protest to much. Everyone knows instinctively -- at some deep and original human level -- that abortion destroys a innocent developing life, and that it is a betrayal of the youngest most defenceless members of the Human Family. 

Abortion ideologues can't get abortion widely accepted so they force it and enforce their will. The Current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, would not sign nomination papers of Liberal candidates for Parliament unless they supported abortion. In the U.S., Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont and former Chair of the Democratic National Committee, espouses that all members of the Democratic party members must be supporters of abortion.[3] 

There was no peace on the question of abortion then and there still is no peace about it. Mother Teresa said, " The greatest destroyer of peace today is the crime against the innocent unborn child." There can only be social peace and acceptance of abortion when the last human conscience is seared and silent and as cold as death. 



Abortion is as abhorrent as slavery. People may vigorously deny this, but the denial rings hollow. The more adamant the denial the more hollow the ring.  If a day comes when abortion ceases to haunt and taunt people's consciences, it will be a terrible sign that hope for humanity is gone. It will be like hell on earth for the weakest and most vulnerable of humanity. 

The only thing that can save us now is a new Christian awakening and revival.

Mark Davis Pickup
_______________
[1] See http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/section-223.html
[2] "Chretien addresses abortion, gun Control", CBC news, 06 November 2000, CBC http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/chrtien-addresses-abortion-gun-control-1.227721
[3] Ken Shepherd, "Howard Dean, former DNC Chairman, Democratic Party o place for pro-Life millennials", Washington Times, 10 March 2017. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/10/howard-dean-former-dnc-chairman-suggests-democrati/

Friday, August 18, 2017

THE CHRISTIANS: THEIR FIRST TWO THOUSAND YEARS

Volume 1
Twelve years in the making and twelve volumes. THE CHRISTIANS: Their First Two Thousand Years is literally the most comprehensive, most meticulously researched, most beautifully illustrated, well written history of Christianity ever produced. 

I had a unique vantage point watching this staggeringly ambitious book series emerge. My son Dean was the art director. It went from an idea of Canadian publishing legend, Ted Byfield, into reality for this and future generations.  

For more information see http://books.thechristians.com/

Mark Davis Pickup

Thursday, August 17, 2017

JOURNEY THROUGH DISEASE AND GRIEF TOWARD MEANING

This blog post is a repeat of a previous post, with one exception: It is the entire presentation I made this past March to a Catholic Physicians Guide in Madison Wisconsin. A dear and longtime friend and former parliamentarian and Canadian diplomat, the Hon. David Kilgour, asked for my speaking notes about grief and suffering incurable disease and adult onset disability. I posted them below for him. although this post is lengthy, it is my hope that other readers of the HumanLifeMatters blog may a kernel truth or consolation in my life experiences. 

[NB: I am available to speak about Life issues, disability and a Christian perspective on suffering. For booking send an email to HumanLifeMatters@shaw.ca]
_________________________


Delivering my address in Madison
Good morning. I have asked to give a presentation entitled JOURNEY THROUGH GRIEF OF DISEASE TOWARD MEANING: A CASE STUDY. I want to lay out for you some pertinent points in my 33 year experience with incurable disease and adult onset disability that came in the form of multiple sclerosis. I will chronicle the course of the degenerative physical disease and accompanying emotional and spiritual consequences. I will tell you some helpful and unhelpful things health care professional did or did not do. 

And I want to explain how my journey toward meaning involved a redefining of self and self-image; a discovering or rediscovering of significance -- not only in myself, but also my family, my community, but most importantly in my relationship with Christ and Him to me. And finally a new ever progressing and  evolving understanding of meaning and a clearer sense of purpose in my life. 


In March of 1984, I awoke one morning with a thick, clammy blanket of severe numbness from my waist down. I could walk fine, but I couldn’t distinguish hot from cold or sharp from blunt. All sensation was, … well, blunted. My GP thought I had pinched a nerve. Then a few days later the same thing happened to my right arm, except there was pain.  I couldn’t hold a pencil or turn pages of a book. My doctor thought I might actually have a brain tumour and sent me for tests a cancer clinic. 
Happy that was possibility was eliminated but it began a long series of tests for different diseases and conditions. 

Back in 1984, coming to a diagnosis of MS was very much a process of eliminating other things. That process ended with a lumbar puncture. My treating neurologist was looking for the presence of certain blood proteins called oligoclonal bands. 

After the lumbar puncture I was laying on a gurney while the neurologist was finishing some paper work. I asked him what he thought I had. Just as casual as you please, he said he was pretty sure I had multiple sclerosis, closed my file and walked out of the examining room, leaving me alone with my thoughts. He may as well have kicked me in the chest.  This was my first exposure to a physician skilled at diagnosing incurable, serious disease but inept at consoling. 
If MS numbed my body the shock of what he said numbed my mind. It simply could not take in the reality of those words. 

[I should tell you the reason for that mental shock. A number of years earlier I was employed as client services coordinator for the local chapter of the MS Society. I saw the very worst of MS so I saw what it can do.] 

Now, it was me who would go into the harrowing fire of multiple sclerosis. It initiated years of terror as MS ravaged my body. It would attack, often without warning taking away a certain abilities or functions, then remit and return most, but not all the previous function. I would go to bed at night not knowing what function I would wake up with, or without, and no guarantee I would get lost function back. It was like was like a wild, terrifying roller-coaster ride. 

The only treatment at that time for MS flare-ups was corticosteroids: prednisone orally or solu-medrol. Sometimes symptoms would be subtle and only small tasks became difficult. Sometimes symptoms were severe and many things became impossible. There was one terrifying incident occurred at my work a few months after being diagnosed with MS. I went for coffee with some colleagues. When we were return to work we got into the elevator I tried to press the button to our floor. 

My finger would not press the right button. I even missed the panel. Someone else tried to push it but I slapped his hand away. I couldn’t push the right button. It was horrifying and I started to whimper out of frustration. The elevator went silent. I turned to see everyone looking at me with expressions of shock and pity. I was suffering visual and coordination deficits. When I got back to my desk I couldn’t read a page. I would lose my place on the page and it hurt to move my eyes. Diplopia and optic neuritis were emerging. 

Over the next few days a fog descended over my vision and I lost a patch of sight just off center in my right eye as well as peripheral vision. My doctor referred me to the care of an ophthalmologist.  I was terrified. I needed to be able to read to work. I was an artist and a musician. Artists must be able to see. 

I took time some time off from my job in hopes things would settle down. More steroids. Eventually things came back to near-normal with some residual disc pallor. Then a hearing problem called recruitment. 

Attacks kept coming. I would go from walking normally to needing a cane or canes then into remission, another episode would put me in a wheelchair or crutches.

I lost my ability to speak on a number of occasions. I looked like an imbecile mumbling incoherently and drooling.  
I have gone incontinent and dirtied myself;
I have lost the use of my right arm and hand, so I could barely hold a pencil.  That was important to me because I was an artist.  
I'd lose sensation;
I'd go spastic (I still do);
I'd have crippling fatigue (I still do).

There were long periods of time when attacks left me without function and no guarantee I would get the function back. Weeks or months and would go by convalescing either terror-struck or despairing. I noticed that old friends started avoiding my wife and I. This made me feel isolated. My wife felt it too. There were many occasions when we were so terrified the comfort we found was in holding each other and praying. The first time I lost the ability to speak was a Sunday in 1985. When my family entered the church I could speak normally; I came out mumbling. We went home and I retreated to the family room horrified. That evening a man from down the street came to the house and asked for me. My wife sent him to the dim family room where I was sitting. He simply sat with me. He didn’t have any great skills of counselling or communication. He was a carpenter but he wanted to be with me during my crisis but he knew the art of presence and was not afraid of silence. That humble, unassuming man helped me more than any psychologist. I related this to you to illustrate the importance of presence. When my speech returned I make a point of telling him how important to me his simple gift of being present was to me. 

Music played a huge part in my grieve journey. Anyone who reads my blog will know that. One thing I lost early on was my sense of musical timing, and the coordination in my right hand. This was a big shock to me. I played guitar, and at the risk of sounding boastful, I was very skilled. I grew up in a musical family. My mother taught music for over sixty years. At any rate, about two years after losing my ability to play the guitar, I realized it was probably not going to return. And so I took my beautiful, top of the line instrument and sawed it in half.

LaRee was horrified! She yelled at me, ‟What are you doing! You`ve lost your mind!” I put the two pieces of my guitar back in the case and LaRee and I spent the rest of the evening in stunned silence, but I wasn`t sorry. That night after the family was asleep, I got up and wrote a note and put it in the case with the destroyed Fender guitar. May I read you what that note said?:


I sawed my guitar in half today. It was the healthiest thing I have done in a long time. It gave me a release and a feeble way to express my grief. My love was music. As a youth I lived for my guitar and my music. I remember when I would rather play than eat. Now, my timing is gone, so too is the strength in my hands.

On September 27th 1986, my new reality came into clear focus. Life will not be normal again. I realized I must pick up the pieces remaining in life and forget what I`ve lost. Grief that would not focus for 2 years finally came to a head. I couldn`t cry so I sawed my guitar in half.

I couldn`t just give it away; that would only be more things slipping out of reach. There`s been too much of that already. I needed to sever the past with no tiny remnants to haunt me and taunt me.

I sawed to say goodbye to artistic expression. I sawed to say goodbye to a carefree youth. I sawed to say goodbye to life without a cane or other contraptions of the disabled. I sawed to release grief and say Ì hurt! But mostly, I sawed to say goodbye to an old and trusted friend – my guitar – a finely crafted instrument I can no longer play.

It didn`t seem right to just leave it in its case. I sawed my guitar in half today.

It was like a dam burst to let my grief move on.  A letting go that started a first step ― the first of many ― that continues to this day in a long journey toward a redefining of self.

By 1991, MS degeneration forced me to retire from the Canadian public service. Being put to pasture at 38 years was a horrible thing and I sank into a clinical depression. Over the next 15 years, my physical deterioration became so serious that at one point I was threatened with quadriplegia. My neurologist became so concerned that he put me on the chemotherapy drug mitoxantrone combined with copaxone. When he presented this therapy to me, my wife was in the room. 

He told us that mitox, in the doses I would receive could, among other things, be toxic to the heart. My wife asked the doctor what were the risks? He said, “death”.  My wife started crying and the buffoon sarcastically said, “Are you going to cry?” One may ask why I stayed with that neurologist? He may have had the bedside manner of a warthog but he was the best in the area for treating MS. After about 3 or four treatments it became apparent that I could not tolerate the mitox so it was discontinued.  

Successive CT scans and MRIs showed that the disease was active and new lesions forming.  There were symptoms or incidents that were atypical of MS. For example, I developed a cold where I had coughing spasms. The only problem was the spasms would close my wind wind-pipe and wouldn’t open. I would panic and struggle and eventually the spasm gave way. My wife packed me into the car and we headed to the emergency at the closest hospital.

I knew the treating physician could not treat the MS but hope he might have a trick or medication to suppress the throat spasm. He told me not to worry that the spasm would probably release once I lost consciousness. He then turned to my wife and started to show her how to do an emergency tracheotomy. Maybe it was just me, but I wasn’t reassured with that course of treatment. Granted, the examples I have given are extreme. 

I noticed early on an awkwardness physicians had with an incurable, degenerative disease for which they could only treat symptoms but never cure. In earlier years of this disease, I made a point to letting them know that I was aware they had very few tricks or treatments to offer. 

It seemed to lift a weight of their shoulders. I have always insisted that doctors not keep anything from me. Not everyone wants to know everything. I want to make a cautionary note: I received so many cortico-steroids over those years I developed steroid induced osteoporosis by the age 55. 

There were a few health related things not associated with MS I will mention in passing. In 2007 I had and Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) for which I don’t remember if or what the treatment was, other than 81 mg of ASA daily and high blood pressure. In 2012, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. My oncologist and urologist thought I could not tolerate the usual coarse of radiation. The surgery was done by cryo-surgery. 

Medical science is very good at palliating pain or at least you should be. Dr. John Scott, palliative care specialist with the Ottawa Hospital in Canada wrote these words:

“The World Health Organization has demonstrated that access to pain-relieving drugs, along with a simple education program, can achieve relief in the vast majority of patients. Specialists in various parts of the world estimate these basic approaches can control 85 to 98 percent of cases. The remaining cases require more careful attention and the use of multiple drugs and therapies to achieve complete relief.” 

Those words were written in 1995. How much more advanced has pain control become in these intervening 22 years? Well, in preparing for this presentation, I contacted Canadian palliative care physician Dr. Margaret Cottle to ask her about the veracity of that statement. Dr. Cottle is a member of the American Academy of Palliative Medicine and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians. 

She confirmed the truth of that statement then went on to wax eloquent about new advances in pain control since those words were written. Dr. Cottle told me about phenomenal success she has with a new drug for rousable sedation called Presedex.    

I have experienced physical, emotional and spiritual pain. It is my experience that the emotional and spiritual suffering are much worse that physical pain. Physical pain can be treated but spiritual pain is most difficult to reach and treat. It is often intertwined with emotional suffering. Protracted human suffering of any kind creates its own world for the individual. Incurable illness evoked in me a sensation of internal exile in which I felt cut off from my community, my friends and those who love I love most. This suffering was highly personal, my deepest agony was inexpressible and this intensified my agony.

My suffering took on new emotional dimensions as I questioned my identity and my sense of self-worth. So much of that was tied to work and contribution.  

In the midst of this internal and physical crisis, I had to find a point of reference for my mounting and inexpressible grief: It was the Cross of Christ. 

Not only did Christ suffer excruciating physical pain, He suffered the pain of being misunderstood, isolation and the pain of abandonment culminating in his cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” 

I don’t think there is a lonelier moment than being at the climax of suffering and crying out into a universe that seems deaf and indifferent to our pain, and any evidence of God seems to have vanished. 

People need to grieve a loss. They need to know that there are people around them who will uncompromisingly hold up the value of their lives – even if they cease to believe in their own value. A person grieving catastrophic disability or incurable illnesses needs help to rediscover their natural human dignity when they have lost sight of it … a natural dignity that was endowed to them with that spark of life we call conception.

An individual with a severe disability or incurable illness must ultimately turn to the spiritual aspect of life (in as much is cognitively possible) – if they are to discover meaning of their anguish. 

Dr. Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was an Austrian Neurologist and psychiatrist. He was also a holocaust survivor. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, he wrote:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

In another place he wrote: 

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” 

Humanity is not defined by knowledge or power. We do not get our worth by what we can do, our abilities or sentience; it comes from merely being. Our worth is innate, whether we know it or not. For those of us who are severely disabled ― and are able to seek the revelation of God’s divine love ― we must be open to letting God use our pain, anguish and trials as a vehicle to spiritually mature us and transform us to be more like Christ. This is important because, as this transformation begins to change us, we will discover the source our natural human dignity. 

It was important for me to resist the temptation to become bitter, not focus on my predicament, and simply surrender again to that divine love of Christ. As I plunged into the essence of my suffering I searched for the meaning and purpose of it.

I found a wonderful surprise: Through my Redeemer’s outstretched arms on the cross. He was invited me – and invites me still -- to unite my suffering with his suffering. Imagine that! Being invited into Christ’s redemptive suffering. Christ did not come to free us from our pain, but to transform our pain into His.

He suffered in my place and here I was invited into His redemptive act. 

In this way my pain began to take on meaning. Christ calls me to relinquish ownership of my pain to Him, and understand that I was truly poor in spirit. 

Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Understanding I was poor in spirit is a key because for it marked a critical transition point in my acceptance of suffering and stop resisting what I could not control. I began to learn that if I could not change my circumstances then let my circumstances change me. It required that a shift take place in my spiritual mindset in order to realize that in this earthly life it is more important to understand than to be understood. I was being called to set aside self-interest, and ego, and follow Christ with complete abandon. This is the absolute antithesis of my egotistical and self-absorbed nature. 

Our response to the suffering of Christ at Calvary removes the ultimate suffering which the loss of eternal life. He asks you and me to take up our cross and follow Him. It is not easy to be willing to take up my cross but it is necessary, if truth means anything. Perhaps that is why our Lord said we must take up our cross daily. It requires a daily recommitment to bear up the weight of my cross and follow Him. But follow Him where? In my weakness I have been so irrationally afraid to take up my cross and following Christ because I feared it might lead me to a Golgotha! Yet the logic of divine love assures me I can rest in His tender embrace as a child of God. 

But I am unable to become a child of God without divine intervention; Saint John said this at the beginning of his Gospel: 

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1.12) 
  
If I carry my cross of suffering in union with Christ’s redemptive suffering it does not lead to a Golgotha: It led to a realization that Christ can use my human suffering to bring me closer to Him.

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Roman 8.18.) 

Paul’s comment about the “glory that will be revealed in us” is a reference to the future resurrection of the body (v. 23) and the subsequent complete Christ-likeness which is every believer’s eternal glory. 

It is a mystery to me because I cannot yet see the full picture in my present state. But I am assured that it is Jesus Christ who will transform my lowly body to be conformed to His glorious body. He is able to subdue all things to Himself. 

According to what St. Paul said, I have been saved for the certain hope of Resurrection of the body which I do not yet see but wait for with perseverance (8.23-25). Perhaps someone may think, “It’s too hard”. I know that fearful doubt of weakness – but Paul assured me that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and even intercedes for me. (verse 26). Christ’s redemptive suffering at the Cross, and death, is completed by the cosmic eloquence and beauty of the Resurrection. You and I are invited into that redemptive act for we will be like Christ. 

Suffering in unison with Christ let me see Resurrection in a new light. My hope in, and anticipation of, the Resurrection has helped me go through my darkest days of humiliations, my agonies, my doubts and my fears. I had to trust there must be purpose and meaning to the fire of my suffering and anguish. Fire gives light. Throughout the ages Christ has opened his sufferings to humanity. I can, through faith, discover that Christ’s redemptive suffering gives me insights and meaning in our own suffering. I am convinced it what Saint Paul meant when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” 

A flood of hope rooted in divine love produces the marvellous realization that my anguish is mysteriously transforming me for heaven. If I am open in my suffering to Christ’s love it will inevitable begin a spiritual transformation. I have discovered that Christ grants a special grace that transcends my suffering. Suffering carries the capacity to strip aware all things unnecessary in life, leaving only that which is essential. Suffering taught me that at the center of existence rests a heartrending and beautiful mystery.  

C.S. Lewis said that Christ doesn’t solve the problem of pain, He changes it into a mystery. And once I glimpsed that mystery, everything else became an irrelevance, a diversion. That mystery is the light of Christ – and in His light is divine love. Many people throughout history have discovered this truth, including Saint Francis of Assisi, John Milton, John Donne, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and millions of ordinary people. It is possible to experience an illumination that enables the sufferer to begin to comprehend the glorious, transforming liberty of the children of God, even though we are being physically destroyed. I think this is the liberty Saint Paul referred to in his second letter to the Corinthians:

“Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.  Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,  are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 
People in dire and miserable physical circumstances can and have experienced shades of this liberty. In any human context they may not appear to experience liberty whatsoever! Yet out of their wretched surroundings can come salvation and Joy. It may sound fantastic but there it is. History attest to this truth.

It has been in my sickroom that I began to discover union with Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. A great light began to push back the inky darkness of my defeat to reveal to me a renewed hope in Christ. Isn’t this the essence of what Paul said: 

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen."

Christ’s truth can (and does) set people free, even today. He said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” 
The truth is Jesus Christ. In Him there is hope. That eternal hope is nowhere else. Christ is the very definition and expression of God’s love. At the foundations of Scripture and Catholic teaching is the foundational truth of God’s immense love for all humanity: The Creator for the created, the Sanctifier for the sanctified. Humanity is called a fullness of life by sharing in the life of God, which reveals dimensions that transcend our earthly existence. This is an exceedingly marvellous mystery of spiritual transformation we are all called to.   

But transformed to what? The Apostle Paul told us, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, …”  Elsewhere Paul says we are called to a holy purpose for which we were destined before time began and was revealed by Christ’s appearing.  We are called to be perfect just as our Father in heaven is perfect. The way of perfection is to do the will of God and to love Him with our whole being (which always works in concert with love for those around us). 

I am referring to the Greatest commandment which Jesus identified as this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the law and the prophets.”  

The Catholic Church teaches that all Christians are called to fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love and holiness.  There is an underlying theme of salvation that invokes love and the natural dignity of human life. I discovered that it is important to be outward looking not solely inward looking. It was important in helping to discover where the new Mark fit in and who he was. My true identify is not developed in isolation rather solitude, not in a crowd rather in a community. I realized that a new Mark could emerge from the fire of disease – no less vibrant and vital – just different. But I had to choose not to wallow in the past but look to a future, whatever that might be.

The inward expression of love toward God is to sharpen my focus the image of God within me, and with Christ’s leading, refine my understanding of that sacred endowment. 

My outward expression toward other people of God’s love can encourage the natural human dignity that is theirs’. This helped me to redefine myself with a greater community and validate my own humanity. It explained how and where the new me fit into the world. These two expressions of interior and exterior love gave me purpose.

My new self required a contribution to the common good and a commitment to interdependence of community not the independence of self.  I trust that Jesus Christ will make sense of my anguish but I must remain  surrendered to His leading and sensitive to His voice and love.

To accept the fullness of Christ’s perfect light and divine love scares me because I am a sinful man. I must trust that as my pilgrimage toward the Celestial City progresses, so will my spiritual maturity. Christ’s love will transform me to be more like Him. In Him there is life not death. He offers hope to humanity not despair. My pain, sorrow and grief have been vehicles for spiritual maturity, not only in me but also in those who love me. I have been touched by love (both human and divine). I detect the light of Christ’s love has pushed, as is pushing, back my inky internal darkness of fear and unbelief.

I keep on my dresser a photograph Saint Pope John Paul II in his advanced state of Parkinson’s disease. In the spring of 2005, he made his last public appearance at the balcony of the papal apartment above Saint Peter’s Square; He tried but could not speak. For a few agonizing moments (which seemed like an eternity) he struggling to say something to the expectant and adoring crowd – but he could not. The Pontiff was wheeled back into his apartment. It was clear that he was near death. To me, it was his most eloquent moment, yet he didn’t say a word I could understand. To the end he showed, by his example, that Christ is always near, especially in what may seem like hopeless circumstances. The chronically ill and disabled people of the world took notice. I know I sure did.

The Pontiff proclaimed through his faithful witness, Christ’s solidarity with the world’s disabled. 
His final witness was for a culture of life and inclusion – and that blessed witness continued to the last hours of his life. His unstated message that Christ stands in union with the world’s disabled, the chronically and terminally ill was (and is) of profound importance to us. In his last journey, Pope John Paul illustrated with poignant clarity that no matter how desperate life’s circumstances may become, no matter how close we may be to death’s door, Christ is there. 

Jesus Christ is the path to authentic personal freedom, the source of love and joy despite my physical circumstances. He waits for His followers at the end of our last hour and we step across the threshold from this world to the next. Many of my observations about suffering are rooted and confirmed in the wisdom of Pope John Paul II.  The Pope showed me a reflection of the true love of Christ despite dire physical circumstances.

The true love of Christ: Is there anything so sweet to the human soul? His love has existed beside a crimson thread of suffering that can be traced throughout the course of human history throughout the last 2,000 years. Suffering seems to be inextricably linked with the essence of the nature of humanity. 

It has been in my suffering I have received a glimpse of the Truth and it is setting me free. Not even this wheelchair can take that freedom from me. Christ’s light is driving back my darkness. I live in His light and liberty.The answer to human suffering was given by God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. I can sit at his feet that still bear the scars of his pain. My lesser sufferings have been absorbed. My search for some purpose to my pain encountered divine love in his Christ’s pain. My search for the meaning of my suffering has drawn me nearer to Him. The answer has not come in a thunder clap of revelation rather a breeze that whispers: “Be not afraid, I am with you.” The love of Jesus Christ transcends every grief and every pain. I can rest in the knowledge that He is my final reality and that we shall stand face to face. I will finally know just as I am known.

Monday, August 14, 2017

GOODBYE POOH BEAR

A new movie is coming to a theatre near you: Goodbye Christopher Robin The trailers are quite exciting. Winnie the Pooh has been loved by millions of children. Pooh bear and his assorted friends had a tender place in the early years of my grandchildren, as, I'm sure, Winnie was/is for the children in your life. The trailer for Goodbye Christopher Robin reminded me of a column I wrote over a decade ago for a Catholic newspaper. 

It was at a time of mixed emotions for me: A granddaughter had just been born at the same hospital as my aged mother was receiving treatment for terminal cancer. I remember travelling up and down the elevator, maternity ward to palliative care, thinking how peculiar it was to have s sorrow and joy in my heart at the same time.  



I also had a small grandson. He lived in the same small town as his grandmother and me. He and I rode miles around town in my electric wheelchair to various playgrounds dotted throughout the community; in winter I pulled him on a sleigh. I saw my little guy nearly every day. His world was our small town and our family (it was my world too). 

In the winter of 2006, my daughter and son-in-law told me they were going to move away from our little town come summer. Between my mother dying and knowing about the move, it was a sad time. We would soon be me.

One day in the spring, my little grandson and I were watching Disney’s children’s movie Pooh’s Grand Adventure (1997).  It starts on the last day of summer with Christopher Robin trying to break the sad news to Winnie the Pooh that he must go away to boarding school:

CR:  Pooh Bear, what if, someday, there came a tomorrow when we were apart?
PB: As long as we’re apart together, we shall certainly be fine.
CR: Yes, yes, of course, but if we weren’t together. If I were … somewhere else?
PB: Well, you really couldn’t be, because I would be lost without you. Who would I call on those days when I’m just not strong enough, or, or brave enough.
CR: Well, actually …
PB: And, who would I ask for advice when I didn’t know which way to turn?
CR: Pooh, we …
PB: We! We simply wouldn’t be.

The scene stabbed me in the heart as my little guy sat eating
popcorn, oblivious to changes in store for him. In the touching exchange above, Winnie the Pooh is asked by Christopher Robin to consider the possibility if them being separated. It’s unthinkable to Pooh and Christopher Robin can not muster the courage to say he’s is leaving for boarding school.  But the unthinkable happens. The next morning Pooh discovers that Christopher Robin really is “somewhere else.” And so a brokenhearted Pooh Bear embarks upon a misguided but grand adventure to find his best friend.

Separation by distance or time

As for me, I couldn't bring myself to tell my grandson that soon we would be separated from the daily intimacy we had known. A tomorrow was about to come when we would be apart. Same for my mother. She died the same day my grandson moved away.

It is terrible to think about being separated from those we love. Yet, it is a heartbreaking prospect we all shall face at some time or another. The sadness of separation will surely visit you and me. It may be the result of events or time or distance or death. But eventually, we will all feel an inconsolable ache of being separated from human relationships that matter most to us.  

Painful separation by death

To be widowed or orphaned is a terrible thing. To be suddenly left alone in the midst of life’s journey can cause such sorrow that the griever may be convinced their heart is irreparably damaged and about to break in two. They wake each morning to the dreadful reality that he or she really is gone.  The gaping hole left by the loss of a loved-one seems too great to bear and the griever weeps at the thought that ‘we’ has become ‘me’.  The griever’s heart cries out: “I am lost without you! I am not strong enough or brave enough to endure this pain!”  Pooh Bear was right: We ceases to be!

Pooh’s Grand Adventure spoke to me of things I should have said to my grandson. But like Christopher Robin, I couldn't bring myself to prepare us both for the day we would be apart. He and I were ‘we.’ Distance would separate us.

For those of us who live by faith, our consolation in the agony of
separation is Jesus Christ. The separation of loved-ones through death is not final.  Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  (Matthew 5.3.) And so we shall be comforted. Saint Luke’s parallel account of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-22) puts Jesus the words this way: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Present pain carries a future promise and blessing. 

The Church teaches that the Beatitudes respond to a natural desire for happiness and that desire is of a divine origin. It comes from God and is placed deep within the human heart “in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) No. 1718).

After all, to seek God is to seek real happiness and enter heaven’s joy.

Glorious hope awaits us

Present human understanding of love and relationships will seem like poor reflections of the genuine articles when we stand face to face with the Creator of both.  We will realize that we were always fully known, even in the loneliest of earthly sorrows. (See 1Corinthians 13.12-13.) 

Standing face to face before God, He will personally wipe away every tear we cried here. God’s children will be with Him (John 1.12). The Bible says:

"I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21.3-5)

We must teach our children and grandchildren of this glorious hope that awaits those who trust in Christ.  We will be together again with Jesus in Paradise.  The promise is “trustworthy and true.” Then, the only response possible will be joyous laughter. We simply will be, Pooh bear. We simply will be, together with Christ.



That column was written in 2006. Fast forward to 2017. The four year old grandson is now fifteen. He's nearly grown and is a Committed Christian. I may not be with him but he will always be in my heart.  Time and distance may have put us 'somewhere else' but love has proven strong enough and brave enough to keep us we. It is time to put away childish things. I trust he will succeed in life. His destiny calls. Goodbye Pooh Bear.

To view the trailer for Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) click image below.