St. Matthew and Jonah the Prophet

Two courageous men give us models of how to live.

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Today, Sept. 21, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist.

Initially a tax collector, Matthew would have been an outsider. His work would not have been respected by the Jews of his time and others would have seen him as someone on the enemy’s side.

That’s all until Jesus walked by.

Seeing him sitting at his post Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me.”

Immediately, he got up and followed the Lord. He became not only a follower, but a disciple and an evangelist.

In her wisdom, the Church also memoralizes Jonah the Prophet today.

Called by God to go to Nineveh and prophesy against them, Jonah hesitates and instead flees from God. While trying to flee, a storm arises on sea and Jonah is swallowed in the belly of a fish. Following three days of prayer Jonah is saved and commanded once again to prophesy against Nineveh.

This time he goes and after bringing God’s word, the people of Nineveh turn away from their crooked paths and God saves the city.

Matthew and Jonah are two different members of the Body of Christ, but both offer insight into the heart of God and his unending love for us.

Outpouring of Mercy

With both Matthew and Jonah, the Lord demonstrated his abundant mercy.

First he saved a city turning away from Him and in the account of Matthew welcomes a sinner and tax collector by eating with him.

He doesn’t see Matthew or Jonah for what they were before. He doesn’t condemn them for what they have done. He doesn’t turn a blind eye and say ‘forget them they can’t be saved’.

No!

The Lord desires to use their weakness to do something great. He uses Jonah’s hesitation to not only save him, but save a whole city!

He sees Matthew and recognizes he is in ‘need of a physician’. He doesn’t walk by and ignore him, but rather saves him. By inviting Matthew to follow him, Jesus invites him to run away from everything that was destroying him to bring him new life. Jesus shows him mercy, so he can go and do likewise to others as an apostle.

How similar Jesus does for us and we also must do to others.

It doesn’t matter what we have done, or where we have been, Christ welcomes us with open arms! He is not interested in judging us by what we have done or may not have done, He is interested in saving us!

He desires to bring us from our darkness into His light and ultimately into His love.

Let Christ love you today so you too can love others.

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‘Follow Me’

Both commanding Jonah to prophesy against Nineveh and the invitation of Matthew to follow Jesus are big tasks.

Imagine what Jonah and Matthew would have been thinking as this was initially revealed to them.

Jonah, most likely scared, turned away from the Lord. He may also have been questioning why God would want him to bring this news and the resistance he might face.

Matthew similarly may have been confused as to why Christ would be calling him, a tax collector, to follow him. He may have been anxious about the unknown and what he would face with Christ.

Yet they both trusted the Lord. Facing these uncertainties, they both recognized the task Christ was calling them to and chose to follow Him.

Jesus calls us every single day to get up and ‘follow him’.

But he leaves us with the choice.

No matter whether we immediately get up and follow him or like Jonah initially hesitate we have the opportunity to be imitators of Him.

We can walk behind the Lord, or we can choose to follow closely behind Him. We can learn from and about Him, spend time with Him in prayer and become another another Christ to the world that so desperately needs it.

No to the World, Yes to Christ

Easily, Matthew and Jonah could have continued living the life they knew and the life of comfort. They could have said no to Christ – thanks be to God they did not!

Matthew literally gave up the wealth of the world. He chose to leave behind his earthly wealth for a greater wealth.

He recognized that his satisfaction and deepest longing could only be satisfied by surrendering his wealth to the Lord.

We too can give up our earthly wealth for the heavenly inheritance.

With his ‘yes’, Jonah was accepting every torment and humiliation that came with it. He was willing to crucify himself in obedience to God and His love for all people.

It’s time we give our total, undivided and unqualified ‘yes’ to the Lord. To be willing to lay it all down at His feet as He as already done for us.

He takes our small ‘yes’, sometimes even our nervous, scared, confused, but willing ‘yes’ and does something great with it.

Some days it may be a bigger ‘yes’, than others, but he takes the ‘yes’ of our undivided heart and uses his power to make himself known through us and by us to the rest of the world.

Become a ‘yes!’ person.

 

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Today is a great day! Let us rejoice and thank God for those He has placed before us and celebrate their example.

The example of Jonah and Matthew should remind us that we too are called to be heroes today and carry out the specific mission Christ has given to us.

 

 

 

Finding God in cold showers

What I thought was going to be a painful fast during Lent turned out to be so much more.

It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning your alarm has just went off. You look outside your window to the fresh blanket of snow we received overnight and laugh at how long your commute is going to be.

You then remember you need to shower, but it’s Lent and you’re fasting from hot showers. You get in anyway and your day begins.

Lent. It’s a time of journeying through the desert with Jesus for 40 days through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It’s not easy or short, but it’s a time designated for reflection on the passion and resurrection. The Church is given an opportunity to mediate on our own life and death and ways we need to die in order to rise with Christ.

It’s a time of great grace and for the first time in my life I have come to see the benefits of fasting. Cold showers, they were hard, but they were the best thing I have ever done.

Temptation

Everyday I was faced with the opportunity to deviate from my predetermined fast of 40 days. I was constantly told just ‘turn it a little warmer, you’re not hurting anyone and besides this is too cold anyway’. Everyday I was also given the opportunity to shoot that temptation down and say ‘no’.

Surely I could have turned it a little warmer and it wouldn’t have hurt anyone, but saying no to that only makes me stronger in other circumstances. When faced with other temptations into the occasion of sin, I can now more easily say no.

 

 

Offering it up

By about the 20 day mark, this cold shower thing was really getting tough. Your body doesn’t really get use to it and everyday is just as bad as the last.

Then I realized something.

I can literally offer up this struggle that I am facing right now for someone. I had the opportunity in that cold shower to pray for someone, for a specific intention.

I did that. I prayed for the dead, for conversions of heart and for the increase of my own faith.

I shed my comfort in order to plead with Christ and recognize my own need. My own weaknesses and my need for His love. He would get me through this cold shower and He would answer all my prayers in His perfect will.

 

Suffering

Convenient, ironic, or funny, whatever you want to call it, during Lent I was also making a Consecration to Divine Mercy. I was diving deeper into Christ’s own suffering and His great ocean of mercy for me and for the whole world.

If anything, these cold showers gave me an opportunity to partake in a small and insignificant way the suffering of Christ.

Entering into his suffering, I also entered into His mercy. To trust in His love and His great desire for my soul and the souls of the whole world. To trust that His love is not full of retribution, but full of mercy.

 

Gratitude

We have so much. Some people shower everyday in cold showers and go without food for days on end, so my fasting really is insignificant.

I realized how much I have. I have so much that I take it for granted. This Lent I rediscovered the advantages I live with and how I should be thanking God for the little things in my life as well as the abundant graces He pours out upon me.

 

I now rejoice because fasting from hot showers has taught me more about my God and about His love for me than any other fasting I’ve done. It brought me closer to my Father to know the depths of His mercy.

Happy Easter!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s talk about youth

Upcoming Synod of Bishops plans to talk about youth.

In general, I’m a pretty hopeful person about the future of the Church – even more so with the announcement of the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops.

Pope Francis announced late last year the theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops to be held in Oct. 2018 as “Young people, faith and vocational discernment.” The aim according to the Vatican is to walk with the youth of the Church to help them understand God’s will for their life and use that to build up the Church.

I for one am definitely tired of hearing that the Church is leaving young people behind and lacks a future, so this announcement fills my heart with joy. Recognizing and including young people is an essential part of their active participation in all parts of the Catholic Church.

It’s also important for young people to be given the opportunity to lead. This revitalization is essential for the growth of our local parishes and universal Church. It’s critical for dioceses to have strong youth ministries that are present in many parishes. It’s also important dioceses establish strong vocations offices to carry out the tasks of attracting young people to serve their Church.

The problem is young people don’t even know how to get involved. They want to do something, but they don’t know how and they aren’t give the opportunity to. It’s great that strong youth offices are established, but we need youth in those offices! This is critical because it brings with it new perspectives and a youthful Church.

The problem may be young people aren’t trusted, but it’s about time that changes! We should be the people many come to when they need help in their local churches. Whether it be a BBQ, a fun day or a parish supper giving young people the opportunity to help in their parishes will give them more responsibility and love for the truth.

We only need to look to the countless examples of the lives of young saints to demonstrate to all of us how impactful young people can be. Their lives are examples to all of us how the energy of young people can be used for the good of our Church.

Additionally, it’s about time young people understand that vocation doesn’t need to be a scary word or something that will force them to give up everything for the Lord. Practical and regular groups that meet within a diocese to discuss how to discern and to understand the call the Lord may be placing on their heart is a great way to grow with others and embrace their identity from Christ. This will not only break the taboo around vocations, but also give the opportunity for young people to journey with other who are on the same path; to become a saint.

Vocation should not be approached as a decision that either sends someone to Heaven or Hell. Vocations should be approached as bringing young people into the greatest person they can be in whatever vocation they’re called too.

I’m hopeful when the the Bishops meet in 2018 they determine ways we can build up young people as leaders in the Church and for the world. Doing this will create missionaries who boldly share the love Christ, doctors who stand up for the right to life in all instances and educators who share the Gospel clearly and simply with those in the school system. It will also make better husbands, priests, wives, nuns, sisters and single who give their yes to Jesus everyday to serve Him in the mission He has given them.

I have expectant faith this synod will bring with it a revitalization of young people in the Church who hold nothing back.

My great hope is that by including young people in the process and these discussions we feel more involved in the Church. I hope that this discussion doesn’t stop flat, but rather finds many ways we can bring together youth who have the power to lead the Church with new energy in creative ways and change the world.

Begging for change in Ontario

The Safe Streets Act aims to protect the public while issuing tickets to members of the population that can’t afford them.

The legitimacy of the Safe Streets Act can be argued, but what cannot be debated is the $8,000 worth of Safe Streets Act tickets Proshanto Smith has received over the last several years.

That amount only increases as Smith continues to panhandle in order to supplement his income.

The key organizer for the Ottawa Panhandlers Union found himself on the street nine years ago and turned to panhandling for his daily needs. Today, he panhandles to supplement the little income he receives from his Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) funding.

He will typically find himself sitting on a corner in front of a store asking those who are shopping if they can spare any change.

Smith said his tagline is, “Excuse me sir or ma’am can you please spare a little change or perhaps some grocery food or a bite to eat? God Bless you and have a good day.”

This sentence has cost him $8,000.

Although he still has incidents with the Ottawa Police and is issued tickets, Smith panhandles because he finds people are willing to help.

“People are generally good people and generally want to help the community and each other,” Smith said.

The $8,000 Smith owes to the City of Ottawa in safe streets violations did not impact him while he was on the streets, but he said it does now.

“I can’t function without a credit,” Smith said.

Proshanto Smith is one of many living in Ontario facing violations under the Safe Streets Act that cannot be payed.

The Safe Streets Act was introduced in 1999 under the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government. It came at a time squeegee kids would solicit motorists for spare change after cleaning their windshields.

It prohibits deemed aggressive panhandling in the name of public safety. At the same time, the law is very broad and makes room for much discretion in the issuing of tickets.

Since its creation in 1999, the law has faced backlash from the wider community and constitutional challenges. In 2005, an appeal brought forward by a group of young people ticketed under the Safe Streets Act was dismissed and upheld its constitutionality.

Some say the legislation specifically targets members of the street-involved population in a way no other legislation could discriminate against a subset of the population.

Others say police officers have too much discretion to interpret what the legislation means by ‘near’ and ‘aggressive’ and say this contributes to inconsistencies in regards to how tickets are issued.

“Cops are given too much power to decide what is aggressive, what is not aggressive, what is illegal, what is not illegal,” Smith said.

Constable Doug Belanger is a member of the Ottawa Police Service. He has served the Byward Market and Vanier areas of Ottawa for the past 10 years, allowing him to gain much experience in dealing with street-involved persons.

Over that time, he has seen a dramatic shift in the way street-involved persons are dealt with by police, but recognizes how the Safe Streets Act is used.

“It’s a blunt tool used to address a symptom of a broad issue,” Belanger said.

It is a tool that many police officers across Ontario use on a daily basis, but according to Belanger the way the tool is used differs.

Officers use their own discretion upon arrival at a scene he said. Their discretion differs by their level of experience, background and often times businesses in the area who do not want panhandlers in front of their stores Belanger said.

“The approach of discretion is very subjective and varies by officer,” Belanger said.

At scene, an officer can either warn the client, charge them or do nothing, but Belanger said warnings do very little to solve the larger issue.

Belanger recognizes issuing a ticket is often meaningless as an effective deterrent, but said it does have advantages. Officers are able to establish a good rapport with regular clients, monitor their behaviour and pursue other sorts of intervention if needed.

If all else fails, Belanger said a charge has the ability to bring an individual before the court and deal with the issue.

He recognizes the frustrations many activists have and said he shares much of the same, but Belanger said officers enforce the law and should not be expected to fix problems in social work and treatment areas.

As former Attorney General of Ontario, Michael Bryant had an opportunity to repeal the law, but did not. He takes responsibility for what he calls a failure on his part.

Bryant said this failure happened because he was unable to see the impact of the law on the homeless population.

“I didn’t identify [with the homeless] and I was definitely afraid [of the homeless],” Bryant said.

Bryant said he was still afraid when he was arrested, charged and left at a homeless drop-in centre called Sanctuary in Toronto. The fear dissipated as he became friends with members of the street-involved community.

“I have learned to identify with people I didn’t use to be able to identify with,” Bryant said.

According to Bryant, stigma around the homeless population created a law that now targets a specific segment of the population in the way no other legislation can.

Now able to identify with the homeless population, Bryant finds it a challenge to relate to the police officer who is only enforcing the law.

“The challenge for me is to identify with the police police officer who is doing their job,” Bryant said.

As a result of police enforcing the law, many others like Smith are having tickets pile up worth hundreds and thousands of dollars.

For this reason, organizations like the Ticket Defence Program Ottawa have been created and are defending those ticketed under the Safe Streets Act for free.

Tyler Botten is a defence lawyer with his own practice, but began volunteering with the TDP about two years ago. Botten notices the cyclical nature of the legislation that targets the same people over and over again.

For now, he is only able to continue to fight tickets as they come to him, but has bigger hopes for the program.

“I would like to know about every safe streets ticket,” he said.

Botten said this data would allow him and his colleagues to understand how tickets are being issued. He said having the statistics would inform him, but could also help train officers and save our courts time and money.

The Ticket Defence Program is one of a handful of organizations in the area with a similar objective.

While many call for a full repeal of the legislation, others have ideas on how the public could be protected without issuing tickets.

Susan Richer has worked as a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa for the past 38 years and proposes a method of supervision, rather than issuing tickets.

She said this eliminates the need to ticket and process through the justice system, thus saving time and money. Richer said this way of supervision would ensure peace and stop the disciplinary measure of the Safe Streets Act.

Still panhandling, Proshanto Smith has regular interactions with people on the street he said want to help him. He acknowledges some people may not like panhandlers, but said he should still be able to ask.

“Ask yourself,” Smith said. “Is it really appropriate to tell people they can’t ask for money?”

Protestors send message of acceptance

On the day President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban was to come into place members of the Ottawa community gathered to send a message of peace.

Not only in Ottawa, but around the world they gathered at U.S. consulates and embassies to demand not just a hold, but a repeal of the executive order which bans travellers from six countries.

“It’s a U.S. order with global implications and ramifications,” Jacob Kuehn, media officer at Amnesty International Canada said.

In Ottawa, about 30 people gathered on a day marked by Amnesty International as a day of action.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada addressed the crowd holding a ‘#NoBanNoWall’ sign and called the new order the same as the old one, bigotry.

“This is at its core a ban that is about bigotry and discrimination and hatred,” Neve said.

According to Neve, the hardships faced by refugees are what keep the world so divided and unsafe. He said if Trump truly valued the safety and security of his country, he would be ensuring refugees are safe.

“This is not about safety and security,” Neve said. “This is about religious bigotry and hatred and that has no place…under international human rights law,” Neve said.

Although the United States has never been a country to always uphold human rights, Neve said the message the law sends matters to the world.

Neve called the judges who have already placed the ban on hold from Hawaii and Maryland courageous individuals who were able to see the law for what it is. He said these holds are only temporary and they do not solve the actual problem.

He said repeal of the legislation is the only way to solve the problem.

“What we need is for the ban to be put to bed once and for all,” Neve said.

To terminate the law, the public must demand it be. On this day the crowd chanted ‘no ban, no wall’ and ‘no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here’ to express their disproval.

Anne Mader was one of those people chanting. For the first time in her life she was at a protest. She had mailed letters before as a way of having her voice heard, but this day was necessary because of the recent events in the United States.

Mader’s parents are immigrants from Holland and she is a first generation Canadian. Being a pluralist, welcoming society just makes sense for Mader.

“The message (no hate, no fear) resonated because my parents were welcomed here,” Mader said.

The warm welcome they received, Mader said all immigrants deserve.

“An inclusive society is a safer society,” Mader said. “Where everyone is respected as a member and a participant.”

Using privilege to the advantage of others

Some do a one day sleep out, others do it for five days.

Instead of taking her privilege for granted, Montana Myers is using it to do good by being homeless for five days.

For her second year in a row, Myers is spending this week experiencing homelessness.

“We are not trying to claim we are homeless,” Myers said. “It is definitely about experiencing homelessness.”

That experience is not easy. Participants like Myers are required to give up their access to social media, live in sleeping bags, only eat or drink what is donated to them and still attend their regular classes.

“It’s definitely been a tough almost 24 hours,” Myers said.

She realizes the difficulty still pales in comparison to what the homeless population experiences on a daily basis. Myers said the added advantages of being able to use the school washroom and being safe on campus are luxuries the homeless do not have.

Being an advocate of community service learning Myers said this experience has much more power than online donations.

“I find this a lot more effective than if you made a GoFundMe campaign,” she said.

The Carleton University business students are part of a national campaign called 5 Days for the Homeless. Since 2005, the program has aimed to raise awareness around the issue of homelessness and raise money for local charities.

This is the fourth year Carleton business students have taken part in the initiative. This year, participants are hoping to raise $12,000 for Operation Come Home.

Dominique Murphy, lead of the drop-in centre and housing support worker at Operation Come Home said these funds will go right back into programs or services.

Although these funds are important and necessary to do their work, Murphy said their top priority is awareness. Raising awareness helps end preconceived notions that homeless youth are just rebellious Murphy said.

“Our main focus is to raise awareness around youth homelessness,” she said.

That awareness has the ability to reduce stigma around the homeless population and humanize it Murphy said.

She explained the purpose of these sorts of events is to understand homelessness as much more then the absence of a home.

“It’s really all to benefit clients and youth,” Murphy said.

Back at Carleton, Myers said she hopes everyone has the opportunity to do some sort of event to raise awareness for the homeless population.

“I think it’s an experience everyone should do at least once,” Myers said.

For more information, or to donate to any of the campaigns head to 5days.ca.

Basic Income is up for debate

Ontario’s proposed basic minimum income does not come without a difference of opinion.

The conversation around money is not an easy discussion to have.

The Carleton University chapter of the Ontario Economic Development Society (OEDS) held a panel discussion Thursday evening to discuss the implications of introducing a Basic Income Pilot Project in the province of Ontario.

The notion of such a plan was introduced by former senator Hugh Segal and proposes a basic income of $1 320 per month.

In their policy report, OEDS recommended the Ontario government adopt a pilot that caters to Canadian citizens living in poverty, in the Toronto area who can prove they have applied for other social service programs.

Additionally, OEDS recommended a benefit in which those earning less than $30 000 per year receive a 50 per cent tax break.

Mancini Ho, a member of OEDS said the success of the pilot should be measured by housing stability and the impact it has on health and education.

Kevin Kozo agrees. He said a basic income has the ability to change a mindset.

After packing up and leaving his home of Toronto in 2014 Kozo ended up on the streets of Vancouver for nearly two months. Kozo said he could have been stuck in the cycle of homelessness, but was helped by social programs.

“If your prosperity goes up, your general well-being goes up,” Kozo said.

Now a first year law student at Carleton, Kozo said going from a basic income of $8 000 per year to the proposed near $16 000 changes everything.

“I have what I need so I can pursue what I want,” Kozo said of the benefits of a higher income.

Marc Gallant works with each of his clients at The Ottawa Mission so they, like Kozo can get off the streets.

He said money cannot buy happiness, but without a change in finances of the poor in our community he said the cycle will never end.

“The main thing that keeps people in poverty is finances,” Gallant said.

That’s because his clients are always faced with a choice. The money they get from the government doesn’t add up to meet their needs he said.

“It’s always about choosing one or the other,” Gallant said.

This pilot is not going to solve the problem, professor and economist Stanley Winer said.

“I think poor people will be worse off under such a scheme,” Winer said.

He points to similar federal government pilots that have been introduced and not went ahead because of the basic issue of cost.

“The taxpayers of Ontario and the taxpayers of Canada will not be prepared to provide a satisfactory basic income,” Winer said.

He said the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB) with no basic income guarantee, that only subsidizes those who work and encourages others to do the same is an alternative that should be considered.

Those in attendance agreed change is necessary. How that change takes place is still up for discussion.