Monthly Archives: July 2018

An Incomprehensible World


As we grapple with another mass shooting in Toronto, I am reminded that we live in an incomprehensible world.  In the Old Testament Book of Job, Job is defined as a very good man who has not knowingly ever sinned.  He is also very rich as God has blessed him with plenty.  He regularly offers to God burnt offerings for his sons and daughters, just in case they have sinned.

The story unfolds and Job loses everything in a series of calamities including all his family (save his wife), all his wealth and even his health.  We learn at the start that God has permitted Satan to torment Job because God knows Job’s faith will not fail, regardless of life’s suffering and loss.

We find Job sitting on an ash heap in the dump trying to relieve the itch of the sores which cover his body.  His wife advises him to curse God and die. Then, in a series of conversations with his friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, they advise him: ” Job you must have done something wrong – confess your sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.”

Job is having none of it: “I have done nothing wrong and God knows it.  If only I could get a judge to arbitrate between me and God, I will be vindicated.”  His friends are astonished and think, boy has he gone off the rails as they know how God thinks and acts.

A fourth friend, Elihu emerges and takes a different tack.  “God is supreme, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.  Who are you Job to pit your righteousness against God’s?  One must acknowledge and submit to God’s total supremacy and be humble about it.”

Job is silent and God finally speaks: “Job, how dare you presume to know how the world was created and works.  How dare you ask to haul me into court and press charges.  If you are so smart, go ahead and show me your stuff!!” Job says,  “I am sorry for my words Lord, I am listening.”  Then it comes, God says “Who could confront me and get by with it?  I am in charge of all this – I run the universe!”  Job apologizes to God again and says that he babbled on about things that are far beyond him.

[There is a little more in the book – God admonishes the 3 friends for presuming to know how God thinks and works.  He will forgive them if they go to Job and ask him to sacrifice a burnt offering on their behalf.  They do, Job does and they are forgiven.  The mysterious Elihu is not mentioned again.  Finally, God restores Job’s health and wealth and doubles it.]

While it appears that faith in God is rewarded in the end, there is no guarantee of this  – we cannot presume to know God’s ways.  The world is and always will remain incomprehensible to us – we are mere specs of dust in the universe hardly worthy of God’s attention.  He has bigger fish to fry.  We cannot presume to know how God acts or thinks. It is a pretty bleak outlook that we must accept in humility. The Abrahamic or Semitic tradition has taught us that we really do live in an incomprehensible world and so we must rely on God’s mercy.

[A note about the Book of Job.  It is a very old text (circa 6th century BCE) and may have actually been written originally by Sumerians.  The inclusion of God’s pact with Satan at the start and the mysterious appearance of Elihu some think, were grafted on at a later date.  It is considered to be one the greatest poems of ancient and modern times, an absolutely great read I must add.]







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Serving Two Masters – Why Catholics Still Can’t Be Masons

ServingI found this little booklet at the back of the church and was intrigued by the title.  I have no interest in the Masons.  However my great Uncle Alex was a Freemason of the Scottish 33 Degree Order in Canada . I possess his ring which is inscribed “Virtus Junxit Mors Non Separabit” (Whom virtues unites, death will not separate).  So my family on my mother’s side has a history.

Why can’t a Catholic also belong to the Masons?  Deacon Cerrato’s argument starts with the fact that Christ said “No one can serve two masters for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. (Mt 6:24).  He then goes into detail with documented evidence that the Free Masons Order is for all intents and purposes a “religion”, even though they vehemently deny this.  The roots of the word religion mean “to bind”.  There are two fundamental beliefs that a Mason must hold if they wish to join: 1) Existence of a Supreme Being, and 2) The immortality of the soul.  Hence they are bound by this.


The Supreme Being is a deistic concept and not necessarily the Trinitarian God that Christians believe in.  Immortality of the soul sounds OK you think, but it is how you get there wherein Catholics and Freemasons differ, as we shall see.

Furthermore as the author points out, Masons believe that various religions are created equal (religious relativism).  Proof of this is that in the Entered Apprentice initiation ceremony, the book opened on the altar is the Bible if one is Christian, the Tanakh if one is a Jew or the Koran if one is a Muslim.  The candidate must “swear” before this book that he will not divulge the secrets of Masonry.  There are two problems for Catholics here: 1) Swearing an oath in God’s name violates the Second Commandment (Ex 20:17, Deut 5:11).  2) Secondly, believing that all religions are equal denies that the Catholic faith is the one “true religion” handed down by Jesus when he gave Peter the keys to the Church.

Masons believe that their soul’s afterlife can be attained by good works and secret knowledge (gnosticism).  They do not (have to) believe in the doctrine of original sin, man’s diminished nature and our need for salvation through Jesus Christ with God’s grace (Pelagianism).  This is a non starter for Catholics – there is no salvation outside of personal belief in the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The doctrines of religious relativism, gnosticism and Pelagianism are all heresies that have been condemned by the Church.

In short, while the Church has nothing against individual Masons or their charitable philanthropic activities, it does have grave objections to the organization’s religious character and its ability to subvert the faith of Catholics who join or support its fraternity.  At this point I was totally convinced that one can not be a Catholic and a Freemason, as the beliefs, rituals, symbols and documents are mutually exclusive.

But what of the Knights of Columbus you say – are they not a secret fraternal society not that different from the Freemasons?  The critical difference says the author is where the Knights of Columbus supplement the faith of its Catholic members, Freemasonry supplants the faith of its Catholic members.  This is why 21 different Popes have condemned Freemasonry and its beliefs in various bulls under pain of excommunication, for any Catholic who joins.

An interesting aspect of Deacon Cerrato’s discussion deals with salvation.  In Dominus Iesus (2006 document by the Sacred Congregation of the Faith) affirmed that the full means of salvation subsists in the Catholic Church, other Christian churches (Orthodoxy) and ecclesial communities (Protestants), participate in the salvic grace of Christ to the extent they are in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church. Furthermore, non-Christians can also partake of this saving grace from God “in ways known to Himself” although the Church considers that they are in a gravely deficient spiritual situation.  Wow, I did not know all this and am both relieved and pleased!

All in all, a very well written and enlightening booklet on this subject.  Thank you so much Deacon Cerrato.





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The Death of Ivan Ilyich


This novela by the famous Russian novelist and philosopher Leo Tolstoy was hard to put down.  It tells the story of a successful 19th century Russian man who suddenly becomes ill and is dying.  He has to deal with pain and death and the meaninglessness of his life and death.  The story is told in poignant  detail in the “realist” writing style of the mid-19th century.  Such novelists saw themselves as clinical realists whose job was to describe exactly the way life is or was with no personal filters, colouration or romanticism applied.  It was like a scientific experiment – report exactly what you see and what you conclude based on the reality of everyday life.  Obviously this is impossible to do without imparting some personal view, perspective or flavour.  In this case, this book is actually a philosophic treatise on the meaningless of life due to the consequences of consumerism and secularization that was rampant in Leo’s time.

Leo Tolstoy is a very interesting character.  Born into a wealthy family in 1828 south of Moscow, he gave up all his wealth to live as a common serf in search of the real meaning of life.  Deeply religious, he began writing novels and papers on what he saw and what he thought about everyday life in Russia and Europe in the mid 19th century.  You have heard and may have read one of his famous books such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina.  Towards the end of his life, he abandoned his wife, children and hut to become a wandering esthetic but died shortly thereafter in 1910.

In the Death of Ivan Ilyich, like most of us, Ivan struggles with the fear of death and when he is dying, the utter meaningless of his life’s successes: court judge, wife, children, friends, status, good income etc..  It all means nothing when one is dying.  He is even a burden to his family as they can’t wait for him to die to get on with their lives.  As he suffers through his pain and thoughts, near the end he finally comes to grips with his own death.  In accepting the inevitability of his death he is suddenly able to feel compassion for others for the first time.  This is the “light”: One must live their life in full awareness and acceptance that they are dying and only then is there real meaning to life and compassion for others and, a better ability to prioritize what one does with their life, in the short time that we have.  Wow! 10 out of 10 by a real master.


Leo Tolstoy at 79, courtesy Wikipedia



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World Cup Fever


I am an on again, off again sports fan.  About a week before our Baltic cruise, I noticed a posting from a guy named Jack on the Cruisecritic roll call where people meet up beforehand.  He was desperately looking for someone to accompany him on an evening out in Saint Petersburg to experience World Cup fever.  I cautiously responded that I was intrigued and potentially interested.

In Russia you can’t just walk off the ship and wander around.  You either have to have a tourist visa ($$$) or have signed up with an accredited Russian tour company who provide you with a blanket visa while on one of their tours.  As it turned out, we had both already contracted with Alla Tours to see Saint Petersburg so it was easy for me to join him in this private tour.

Not sure what to expect, Jack said he had experienced World Cup fever before and said I would love the excitement of the fans in the streets, bars, jumbo screens etc..  Marie and I tend to enjoy soccer or futebol as they call it elsewhere.  So Jack and I headed out the first evening we were in Saint Petersburg for our world cup fever tour.

Our tour guide asked us what we wanted to do.  I wanted to see the new stadium built specifically for the world cup in Saint Petersburg.  We could not get into it but we stopped for a photo.  It is known as Krevtosky or Zenit Stadium, cost $1.7millionUS and seats some 68,000.  Would love to have gone to a game there but would you have to apply to FIFA many months in advance to get a ticket.  Morocco and Iran were to play here the following night.  A ticket costs from $90 to $150US but also provides you with a “fanpass visa” entitling you to go anywhere in the country for 45 days.  Pretty cool.


We then stopped at a souvenir shop and we each bought a nice Russia World Cup 2018 ball cap.  Jack then suggested we go to a bar.  Our guide whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, was a nice young man and suggested we go to a “local bar”.


Hello comrade Lenin, comrade Morgan here.

We sauntered into a bar.  Before we sat down, I warily took a picture of everyone and they cheered!  Good start I thought.  We ordered some beer and food and were enjoying ourselves when 2 Russians at the next table noticed us came over to offer us some vodka and to have a toast.  It does not get more local than this I thought!  One of the Russians was a navy captain as had been Jack, so we all connected around that topic.  The vodka actually tasted good!  It is ordered in shot glasses or in a larger glass container.  You drink it straight down and follow it with a fruit juice chaser.




Our tour guide centre, friendly Russian navy captain on right

Jack disappeared outside for a while to chat and I continued chatting with my Russian friend and other fans as they came by.  It was soon time to head out to the streets and we said our goodbyes.  As we left the sidewalk in front was crowded with people chatting and having a good time.  A couple of young Russian men raced by with their flag, their team having just defeated Saudi Arabia.


We walked a few blocks down Nevsky Prospect and joined in the fun.  Fans of Morocco and of Iran were running down the sidewalks and chanting and singing out their country’s praise with large flags. We high-fived each other and everyone smiled and cheered.   We were all one in our love of futebol and our home nation.



The next day we saw the Fanfest zone where they have the jumbo screens and non-stop fan celebrations to which you need a ticket.  This was truly a memorable world experience!


Towards the end of the cruise we met Jack again with his lovely wife Carmy for a drink.  It was a fitting way to say goodbye after a great time together.  We made tentative plans to travel together again sometime.  As I write this, Russia has just defeated Spain to enter the quarter finals.  Go Russia Go!  However, perennial favorite team Brazil is also in the running.  Thanks Jack for the intiative to arrange this fab tour.






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