Monday, 17 February 2014

Our Lady of Ville-Marie, Pray for Us

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

The cross on Mont-Royal soon after Pope John Paul II's death.

I don't have many good memories of my childhood, especially those associated with school. Most of the memories I have of those years point to how imperfect, and even inferior, I felt compared to my more athletic and "intelligent" peers.  And yet I'm surprised that to this day there are still some good memories that manage to emerge from that period of my life.  One of them is really nothing spectacular but stays with me.

I remember when a teacher, taking a break from her lecture, chose to share her experience with the class of going to see Pope John Paul II (either while he was on tour in Canada in 1984 or in Rome).  What I remember most was the great joy she experienced from celebrating her faith so publicly with others.  Considering that mine was a public school this story sounds even stranger today!

Indeed, much has changed in the world since those days. This is especially true in Québec, where a culture of indifference towards religion dictates what people say about religion.  Sure, the Church continues to survive in Quebec and some parishes even thrive. However, for many people what identifies Québeckers is how free they are of religion in the public sphere.  Some will tell you that this rejection of religion is a sign that the people of Québec have evolved.  They’ve become more humanitarian, have integrated new, more tolerant values in their everyday life.  Some may accuse me of being too general in my assessment of what many Québeckers feel about religion today.  I wish I were. Unfortunately, this attitude isn’t something that’s far removed from my life.  It’s something I encounter every week with people I meet, people I hear in the media, and something that I witness even within my own family from time to time.  My immediate family has received my vocation with curiosity that has turned into acceptance, and even pride, with time.  My extended family is also generally supportive. However, this period of secularization of Québec society was well expressed by one of my younger cousins who once asked me, “What was it like giving up your values in order to enter religious life?”

She asked me that question two years ago and it’s a question still troubles me. It troubles me that educated people like her cannot see the values that religion has instilled in our world. It troubles me that they place so much faith in the secularization of Qu&eacutebec’s society even if the cost is the violation of fundamental human rights or the growth of racism, both of which have been the consequence of this famous Charter of values we hear so much about. Even without Bill 60, the Church’s ability to thrive in this province is often called into question.

An aspect of the proposed Bill 60. (Image: ctvnews.ca)
When I accepted to come back home to do my Regency a few months ago, I knew this was the world I was moving back to.  I knew it would be quite the contrast from the rich, thriving Catholic community of Toronto.  And yet I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  Yes, there are days here where it’s difficult to carry any hope about the future; especially with retreat house work. However, by the grace of God, our story continues.  I see that grace at work in the ministry of my superior, Fr. Gabriel Côté, who surrounds himself with young people and their passion for the faith.  I see it in the presence of many young and vibrant ministries in the city.  Finally, I see it in my own story.

Since coming back, I've been flooded with memories that remind me of my faith journey and the loving presence of the divine in so many moments of my life.  I am reminded that, though there was some hostility to my longing for the divine, there was also a recognition (by non-believers) that this was a truly beautiful path; one that they wished they could follow as well.  I am reminded of the little moments (like the first time I ever heard, “Our Lady of Ville-Marie, pray for us”, at the McGill Newman center) that inspired, or moved, or even defined me. Indeed, this journey that began with John Paul’s death in 2005 has lead me here and will lead me to many more difficult challenges. There’s peace in that: simply because I know that with every challenge I am able to meet I will draw nearer to God.  Will I help revive the Church in this province?  Not during Regency, that’s for sure!  That job is bigger than me.  However, I also understand that it’s up to each of us to not back down from these big challenges, no matter how frightening they may be.

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