Salvator Mundi

Christ with thornsAs we begin the most solemn time of year we call Holy Week, leading up to the great Triduum, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, bringing us to the high point of the liturgical year at Easter, we should reflect more intensely on the humanity of Christ and His suffering, through which He gained our redemption.


We have lived, at least vicariously, through a lot of suffering the past year.  Wars and rumours of wars, ebola, legions of refugees, plane crashes and natural disasters.  As many ask in the comments sections on news reports, where is God in all of this?


There is no easy answer to that question, but Pope John Paul II summarizes (beautifully, as usual) what the Catholic faith and reason offer to unraveling the mysterium iniquitatis in his 1984 Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, on the purpose not only of human suffering, but of Christ’s, and how the two relate.


In His Incarnation, Christ took upon Himself not just all sin, but all of the suffering for sin, which means all human suffering in toto.  Originally created impassible, every pain that Man now experiences, directly or indirectly, can be traced back to sin, the original of Adam, and each of our personal, which always have an effect upon the world, upon ourselves, and upon others.  It is these deleterious effects of sin, what we experience as ‘punishment’, that have to be expiated and atoned for, in some way.  We do this as a society in a limited way by meting out human justice in courtrooms, but as Pope Benedict made clear, such justice never suffices to atone for the full gravity of ‘sin’ (even for those who may not use the word, everyone believes in offense of some sort, and everyone has some idea, at least vague, of human guilt).


The Incarnation of Christ, and ultimately His Passion and Death, are the means by which God willed to atone for these effects of sin, to ‘make up’ the emptiness  and darkness that sin causes, filling it with goodness and light.


There are two things I would like to offer in this brief reflection:  The necessity of Christ’s sufferings, and their extent.  Saint Thomas asks whether Christ had to suffer, or, as we may imply in our own idioms, was it an exercise in masochism, as much of the world now views voluntarily endured pain?  Thomas rightly answers that God could have saved us in any number of ways, but taking on our human nature and suffering for us was the most fitting.  As such, Christ suffered voluntarily, freely accepting His death, “even death on the Cross”.  There are a number of reasons for this ‘fittingness’:  To offer us an example of the inestimable salvific value of human suffering, to demonstrate the gravity of sin and separation from God, and, most of all, to leave us a vivid, unforgettable example of His love.  For nothing so proves love than the demonstration that one is willing to endure pain, even to the point of death, for one’s beloved.  Martyrdom, from the Greek for ‘witness’, is therefore the ultimate proof of one’s love, especially the love of Christ and His Truth.


A word also on the intensity and extent of Christ’s sufferings.  We may think that many martyrs have suffered more than Christ appeared to; some of the Vietnamese and Japanese Christians put to death lingered for weeks or years in horrific cruelty.  Of course, one must not downplay the brutal tortures of Roman scourging and crucifixion, by a culture that brought the infliction of pain to a high art.   The French physician Pierre Barbet described this in great detail in his fascinating A Doctor at Calvary, and a visual witness is left for us by the Shroud of Turin.


Yet the physical suffering that Christ underwent, which we commemorate especially on Good Friday, is but a sacrament, a sign, into the far greater spiritual sufferings He endured.  We must always remember that the One who suffered was not a human person, but a Divine One, who could, through His humanity, take on Himself all the punishment for sin, for all time, in its infinite extent, even the very pain of separation from the Father.  As Pope Saint John Paul II put it, in a brief passage worth quoting in full:


“this Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions; it also has, unique in the history of humanity, a depth and intensity which, while being human, can also be an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only-begotten Son himself: ” God from God”. Therefore, only he—the only-begotten Son—is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man: in every sin and in “total” sin, according to the dimensions of the historical existence of humanity on earth.”


It is what exists ‘behind’ the veil of Christ’s human sufferings that should be the ultimate point of our reflections during Holy Week, the primary nature of sin as a spiritual evil, an evil which prevents the true nature of Man being revealed, Man as a spiritual, eternal being, made in the very image of God, called beyond the passing goods of this world, to the joys of eternal life in the Resurrection.  Only in this light does suffering, Christ’s and our own, even the very suffering of death, make sense, and only to this purpose is it salvific.


Monday of Holy Week, 2015

(A shorter version of this column will appear on Our Lady Seat of Wisdom’s webpage)

Twenty Years of Evangelium Vitae

jp ii evangeliumToday, Thursday, March 25th, the solemnity of the Annunciation, marks the twentieth anniversary of Saint John Paul II’s promulgation of Evangelium Vitae, his powerful and foundational encyclical on the dignity of human life.   As with his other writings, the Pontiff chose the day wisely, on which we celebrate the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and thus the beginning of the Incarnation, which changed not only the world, but all of human nature.


We are living in what John Paul even twenty years ago called a ‘conspiracy against life’, and, to put it mildly, things have not improved in the two decades since.  In the midst of a superficial affluence, the reek of death is all around us.  We have free-for-all abortion in all stages of pregnancy, contraception, a demographic death spiral and, soon, open access to euthanasia.  Those on the side of the culture of death have far more resources, and almost complete control of the mainstream media, of the educational establishment, and of the culture in general, than the smaller, under-funded, beleaguered and scattered groups trying to defend the ‘culture of life’.  Despondency, despair and compromise are constant temptations, especially when many members even of the official Church, as well as other religions, do not seem to be fully on board, and at times even antagonistic to the Holy Father’s clarion call to support and promote the Gospel of Life.


We may be tempted to give up hope, but that would be to set our sights on this world alone, which is, by and large, under the dominion of the Evil One.  Rather, our hope should rest on eternal realities, as Pope Benedict reminded us in Spe Salvi.  It is this supernatural hope, founded on a spiritual foundation, that should spur us on in our own work to defend life.


I have read Evangelium Vitae many times, as I teach it in class year after year, and I am beginning to get the strong impression that Pope John Paul, for all of his optimism, may not have expected much victory in the pro-life battle here on earth.  Perhaps, just perhaps, he had in mind that curious phrase in the Catechism that “the kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil.


Of course, I am not sure if we are living in the midst of this ‘final unleashing of evil’ (I rather think many things have yet to happen before the end of the world!), we can all agree that evil is certainly in the ascendant.


Regardless of what was in the Pontiff’s mind, his emphasis in the Gospel of Life is on the ‘Gospel’ and ‘life’ in the spiritual and eternal sense.


Here are some of his thoughts:


First, John Paul begins by founding the dignity of value of human life  on its relationship to God, and its eternal destiny.  We do not value life because it is worthwhile, or enjoyable, or because euthanasia and abortion, once admitted, could get out of control.  Even lives that are filled with suffering have worth, in fact, perhaps more ‘worth’ than those without, for suffering is redemptive, while complacency is not.


Second, the Holy Father writes that our temporal existence here is not an ultimate, but a penultimate reality, and our full existence begins only after death, in the life hereafter.  In fact, all that happens to us in this life only has value, for good or for ill, insofar as it affects our eternal destiny.  As Saint Francis of Assisi declared, ‘what a man is before God, that he is, and no more’.


Third, and following from this, in all the crimes against life, John Paul teaches that  “more harm is done to the perpetrator than the victim”.  This may sound odd when we consider the great suffering caused by late-term abortions, to give just one example of many, but we must remember that moral evil far outweighs physical evil, and the guilt on the soul of the one doing the evil, without repentance and conversion, will lead to his eternal separation from God, a fate far worse than physical death.


Fourth, we are called to avoid any compromise with evil, including any formal cooperation with laws or actions against life, even if we think the outcome may be beneficial.  We may never do moral evil so that good, regardless of how much good, may come from it.


Finally, the Holy Father states that it is through culture that we will best evangelize.  This cultural change, however, occurs on the level of the individual conscience, through education and spiritual formation in all its levels, whether formal or informal.  The witness and spiritual sacrifice of doing one’s daily duties well, especially familial ones, is one of the best ways to build the culture of life.  The value of mothers, is particularly indispensable.


As Saint (Mother) Theresa of Calcutta (whom John Paul II canonized) wisely stated, ‘we are not called to be successful, but faithful’.   Even if the culture of death seems to be triumphing, we should never despair, for ultimately our hope is not in this world,  the form of which is already passing away.  That is not to say that we give up the fight, but rather fight with all the more hope and zeal, to bring as many souls as possible to the kingdom.


The conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin should give us that hope, for “God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  And, in the end, He will triumph over all the evil, and His mercy and justice manifested to all, when the end of time does indeed arrive, in its, or rather His, own good time.


Solemnity of the Annunciation

Twentieth Anniversary of Evangelium Vitae

March 25, 2015


Saints Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, Canadian Heroes

jean de brebeufEach year, we here at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom take a late-winter pilgrimage on March 16th to Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland.  (This year, we went on Saturday, the 14th, due to scheduling, but back on track for next year!)


Of course, the shrine itself is closed, and usually blanketed in deep, wet snow.  But the 16th is the day, in the late afternoon, that one of the most famous of the martyrs, Saint Jean de Brebeuf, was put to death, in one of the most gruesome, and well-documented martyrdoms in the history of the Church.  Saint Gabriel Lalemant, captured with de Brebeuf, was also tortured to death, following his older companion to paradise early.  The courage, equanimity and charity of these two saints inspired even their tormentors, who had never seen anything like it, and echoes through the ages to our own day.

saint ignace 2 reading

This was one of the rare years without snow….

saint ignace 2


Since the year 2000, we have taken our students on the 3.5 hour bus ride to Midland, Ontario, to experience the same conditions, at least weather-wise, as the martyrs, trudging through the deep snow with cold wet boots to sites of their capture and their martyrdoms.  At least we had boots…The two Jesuits and their fellow Huron captives were stripped and marched naked 5 km through the forest.  When they arrived at the next village, Saint Ignace, they were pummeled, their fingers chewed and broken, before being tied to torture stakes, slashed with knives, scalded with boiling water, burned with flaming brands and red-hot hatchets, their eyes gouged out, their feet chopped off, and scalped, before their hearts were torn out and eaten, to imbibe some of their bravery; all the while they were conscious, the Jesuits prayed for fellow Huron victims, and for their Iroquois tormentors, who likely did not know fully what they were doing.


When we reach the site where they were put to death, former village of Saint-Ignace II, now a quiet, remote, open field with a covered stone altar on one side, and a simple cross, with a pole on either side not far away(perhaps a replica of the torture-stakes to which the martyrs were tied), the grace is almost palpable.  An account of the martyrdom is read, and we normally also have a Mass said at the stone altar not far from the cross, just around the time that de Brebeuf was killed.


I consider this the holiest place in Canada. Besides the stone altar and cross, the acre-sized field is empty, surrounded by trees, but that very emptiness gives it poignancy.  A sign, perhaps, that Canada itself is still an ’empty field’, not yet converted to Christ and His Cross.


There were five martyrs put to death in what is now Canada, and three in what is now the United States.  Besides the bloody martyrdoms of the Jesuits, the faith in Canada was planted and given growth by the untold number of white martyrdoms, the known and unknown missionaries, pioneers and settlers who suffered, laboured and toiled to make this country great and Christian.


We are witnessing a dismantling of this Christian heritage in our country, a heritage upon which we have lived for the past century.  Many of the institutions in this country, the hospitals, schools, churches, were founded by Christians, most by Catholic religious Sisters and Brothers.  Even our laws are based on Christian morality.  All of this is now becoming secularized, which is to say, made atheist.  The buildings turned over to other uses: the churches, due to our loss of faith, and the schools, due to our lack of  children.


But the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, so we must not lose hope, but fight the good fight for the faith (spiritually, of course!) as long as we can.



On a note of hope:  We also visit the site of the first Mass said in Ontario (then Upper Canada), by Father Joseph Caron and 14 Frenchmen, including Samuel de Champlain, on the north end of the Penetanguishene peninsula.  This year marks the four-hundredth anniversary of that Mass, August 12, 1615.  I hope the diocese and the Knights of Columbus have organized a grand event for that occasion; if not, keep posted, and I will organize something on a smaller scale.


As long as Mass is prayed in this fair land, and we can receive the Eucharist, there is strength, there is hope, even to suffer with de Brebeuf and Lalemant, or to persevere in the faith, like the countless habitants.


One way or the other, we must always remember that our ultimate, and unwavering, hope is in heaven, not here.


March 16, 2015

Anniversary of the death of Saint Jean de Brebeuf

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom and the Modern University

I met an acquaintance recently, and he asked to write a brief blurb for him on what was wrong with the modern university, and why we were trying to start a new, but actually old, kind of ‘university’ here at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom.  I thought, well, there are different ways one could describe the motives behind our endeavour here, so thought I would write a column to air my own thoughts, and so that a few other people might read the response.


The modern university may be described in one word, drawn from a poem by T.S. Eliot to sum up modern man’s condition in general:  Hollow.  Like the gilded parties and the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, universities are all glitz and show on the outside, but empty and barren on the inside.


When one tours a modern campus, when one flips through their impressive, thick academic calendars, when one glances at the glossy brochures and webpages, filled with photogenic co-eds, the feeling of euphoria and exciting potential, a series of halcyonic tomorrows, is hard to resist.  I was there once…


But my advice is that resist it one must, for, like a Potemkin village, there is not much reality behind the showy exterior.  Whatever reason one has for attending the modern university (and I will discuss briefly later whether there are any), I will break down its shortcomings in three sections:  Intellectual, moral and spiritual.


Intellectual formation should be the main task of a university, to educate and perfect the mind.  When one sets out on such an endeavour, or indeed any task, one should ask, as Aristotle does, what is one’s intention or purpose?  In the present case, we must ask, what does it mean to ‘form the mind’?


Education implies at least two things:  Teaching the person how to think, as well as what he should know.  These are two related tasks, which should coalesce in every course taught.  The student should be immersed in the great books of our civilization, its history and thought; however, he should also learn, by the principles of philosophy, logic, as well as faith, how to criticize and evaluate what he learns. As G.K. Chesterton wisely said, the task of education may be boiled down to the attempt to ‘form good critics’ which, in the Greek sense of ‘critic’ means to judge rightly between truth and falsity, good and evil.


To do this, a university has to be aware of, and committed to, objective truth.  Here we see the main difference between the modern and the classical university.  As Pope Benedict XVI put it, we live under a ‘tyranny of relativism’, an outright denial of any objective truth.   The classical university, whether Catholic or not, believed that there was a truth that could be sought, appropriated and handed down through the ages.  It was this truth that gave the guiding principle to the university itself.


Catholics believe not only in natural truth, but supernatural truth that has been revealed by God through Christ and His Church.  These revealed truths, the investigation of which we call ‘theology’, are not only the only truths that are consistently true, guarded by the charism of infallibility, but they are also the most important truths, dealing with man’s final supernatural end, and the means to attain this end (the life of grace and prayer and the moral life).  That is why, as the Church herself implies, a university must not only be Catholic (and it was the Church which founded the first universities in the 12th century), but must also, as Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote in his classic treatise Idea of a University, have theology as its core discipline, which has been described as the ‘queen of the sciences’.


This is not to turn the university into a seminary or a monastery; rather, theology is taught in such a way that it gives light and direction to all the other courses:  Philosophy, history, literature, logic, natural science, art and music.  The student, following such a curriculum based on the perfection of faith and reason, becomes deeply and broadly educated in truth, in all of its manifestations. This process is captured in its essence in Pope Saint John Paul II’s masterful encyclical Fides et Ratioas well as in more practical detail in the Apostolic Constitution on the Catholic Univeristy Ex Corde Ecclesiae.


Once this solid and broad foundation has been achieved, then, if so desired, the student can specialize in further studies or in a trade or follow some other vocational path.


The modern secular university, on the other hand, asks the student to specialize right after high school, to choose a ‘major’ from the gargantuan academic calendar.  He focuses on this narrow range of studies, which are usually taught in a largely historical, statistical, mathematical way, avoiding any reference to objective truth (excepting certain science and engineering courses, which, by definition, must have some objective truth at their basis, such as the stress-quotient of various materials, and the function of organ systems in the body:  We don’t want our bridges falling down!).  This narrow range of studies only increases as the student proceeds in his discipline.


(I need not mention vapid courses in ‘queer studies’ or ‘gender theory’ and their ilk, which begin and end with false premises, and are an exercise in futility).


To add insult to injury, the courses are often taught by sessional teachers or graduate students, who have little or no experience, no job security, and receive minimal remuneration.  Full professors teach only minimally, usually upper-year or graduate courses, and spend most of their time in research and writing (after all, the motto is publish or perish, to ensure one’s career advancement, for the attaining of the coveted tenure depends much more on one’s publication record than on what one has taught, or, even less, one’s teaching ability).  Witness the current debacle at York University, where the plethora of such underpaid teachers are now on strike, demanding pay, security and benefits more in line with the full-time professors.  We may be seeing the first cracks in the breakdown of the current university system, Deo volente.


Now to the question of morality:  Does an educational institution have an obligation to morally form its students?  The modern university has answered in the negative, and we see the consequences:  The encouragement, or at least passive tolerance, of unrestrained sexual activity, dormitories with young men and women living side by side, sharing bathrooms, and with no rules on pre-marital sexual relations of any kind, provided they are deemed ‘consensual’ (although even this is now raising numerous legal issues, as I wrote previously).  Binge drinking and incipient alcoholism are tacitly encouraged, not formally by the university, but certainly by vocal and influential elements of the student body.


The underlying problem is that the modern university offers no objective moral standard towards which to strive, except perhaps a vague ‘tolerance’.  One can safely conclude that if one becomes morally formed during these years of education, it is in spite of, not because of, life at the modern university.


Finally, there is spiritual formation.  As I wrote previously, man is by nature a spiritual and a religious being, based on what we choose to make the ‘master of our affections’, as Saint Thomas puts it.  The modern university, although often founded by religious institutes, has become, as a whole, avowedly agnostic if not outright atheistic and antagonistic to religion.  There is no prayer on campus, no liturgy to speak of, no common mission to any transcendent principle.  (I prescind here from the Catholic colleges which do have chapels and liturgies but, sadly, are under the thumb of their parent universities, blend almost imperceptibly into the larger campus, and cannot help but be affected in an adverse way.  Perhaps I will write on them later).


All in all, to develop spiritually at the modern university, with some felicitous exceptions, requires finding most of one’s spiritual growth with various off-campus groups.   One will most certainly not find it in one’s courses; in fact, they are, as a whole, following their atheistic metaphysical foundation, anti-spiritual, at least in any Catholic sense.


My wonder is that people actually pay money for this.  We are now seeing a posteriori the fruit of the crisis in our universities, as a Bachelor of Arts and Science, once a coveted degree, is rapidly losing its cachet and are now a dime a dozen.  Of course, since our universities are publicly subsidized here in Canada, I as a taxpayer am forced to fund this mis-education of our future generations.  But I wonder about parents, especially those of a more moral, spiritual and intellectual bent, entrusting their children to an environment that, to a greater or lesser extent, will malform their children, especially in the sensitive years as they leave the parental home and forge themselves into young adults, all the while trying to discern their vocations.


I suppose one could use the modern university to get a functional degree in law, medicine, computer science and so on, the so-called STEM studies (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  These, as I alluded earlier, are the least affected by false philosophy, and are still taught with a degree of rigour and truth, albeit limited  to the horizon of the material and practical.  But do we want to produce a whole generation of technically proficient, but undereducated, automatons who can scarcely think for themselves, who have little or no knowledge of history, philosophy, and literature, to say nothing of the teachings of the Church?  We are forgetting, not just as individuals but as an entire society, whence we come, and whither we go, the ‘why’ of it all.


After my own time at one of the ‘modern universities’ years ago (and they have only declined since then, as far as I can discern), I now understand why the graduates of this system will vote for Justin Trudeau, why they still praise his father as a ‘great Canadian’, why they see nothing wrong with abortion, nor with the recent ruling allowing physicians to kill their patients, and why they have no answer to radical Islam, nor, in fact, to any philosophical or theological error.  We are losing our capacity to think critically, in conformity with objective truth and reality and, as a result, as Pope John Paul II lamented in Evangelium Vitae (20 years ago this March!), we are developing the “darkest moral blindness”, and “reverting to a state of barbarism which one hoped had been left behind forever”.


olswa bannerAs usual, to end on at least one sign of hope, amongst many:  We here at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom are doing what we can, in our own humble way, to build a classical university in the Catholic tradition, so we may once again recapture the original ‘idea of a university’, and educate students in a truly integral way, body, soul and mind.  To find out more on how we are striving to do this, please browse our webpage.  We are always looking for supporters, material and spiritual, and for students who see the value in our mission.  For, as the Second Vatican Council Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope!) warned, the world stands in peril unless wiser men are forthcoming.


March 13, 2015

Anniversary of the Election of Pope Francis

A Home is more than a House

house in vancouverI think we can all agree that house prices in Canada are out of control, at least in any places where one might still find a job:  Consider these numbers in urban areas around the country: To use the two most egregious examples, in Toronto the average price of a detached, single home is now $965,000, while in Vancouver it has soared to a whopping $1.36 million! Even in little old Guelph, nearly an hour outside Toronto, house prices have skyrocketed, with the average price now $323,939, and over $400,00 anywhere near the university.  Even outside of cities, in rural areas, house prices have continued to climb sharply over the past decade, putting them out of reach for many working people.   At the risk of understating the case, there are few places left where an average single-income family is able to afford a permanent place to live.


Each year, I do the math for my students in class on what it costs just to run a house in today’s world, and their eyes are opened.  Even at current low interest rates, the monthly mortgage payments are out of reach for most; even if they can barely afford the payments, these are prey to fluctuations in interest rates.  In the Eighties, interest rates rose precipitously almost overnight, doubling people’s mortgage payments, forcing many to walk away from their homes.  After the mortgage, there is heat, electricity, property tax, insurance, ongoing repairs, before you even put anything in the house or food on the table.


Yet, as the Church teaches, everyone, especially every family, has a right to private property which, at the very least, is a house with a small yard.  A apartment on the 19th floor, nothing more than some plaster, drywall and aluminum floating 200 or so feet off the ground,  is not private property, especially if it is rented.  Private property is an owned home on a piece of God’s good Earth, a place where one can seek refuge and privacy, where others may only enter with permission.  A man’s home really is his castle.

Such ‘castles’ are becoming rare indeed.  Perhaps in the near future we will all be living in Blade Runner-type micro-apartments, already becoming popular in urban centres.  There are, in all likelihood, a complexity of factors leading to this crisis in housing, but I think the most fundamental is that we allow homes to be bought and sold, renovated and flipped, divided up and rented, like houses on a Monopoly board.  The rich are always trying to find a place to park their money, hopefully in places that will make even more money, or at least save them money (in the form of tax write-offs and what not).   And one of the best places of late to park extra cash is in the ever-hot, and getting hotter, real estate market.  Land, and houses, in general, do not decrease in value, at least not of late, and especially not anywhere near an urban centre. Where else can you double your money in a few short years?


Hence, like your little brother buying up houses on Boardwalk and Park Place in those endless games of Monopoly (curiously, a Depression-era board game, the 80th anniversary of which we celebrate this year), the rich, the nearly-rich, and the would-be rich speculate in real estate, driving up the price ever-higher, as they buy up more and more of the limited and restricted quantity of houses and land in our cities and towns.


This speculation, however, drives out those very people who most need the houses, to use them as homes for themselves and their families.


I enjoy strolling and biking, even roller-blading, through cities, and have traversed the streets and byways of many of the urban centres across Canada, and some in the U.S.  I wonder, as I see the array of stately, and not-so-stately, homes, how many sit empty?  Many certainly seem empty, or at least nearly so, especially in the more upscale areas.  I almost never see children in the streets, nor rarely anyone sitting on porches, or in front yards.  In how many houses with four or six bedrooms house dwell a lonely old couple, who never had time for children in their bureaucratic careers?  On the other side of the coin, how many houses are gutted and divided up into multiple-dwellings, so they can make more money for their landlords?


There are extreme versions of this tendency, in movie stars and moguls who own seven or eight houses across the globe, staying in them only a few weeks, or even days, a year.


There was a time, just before, perhaps, my brief lifetime, where a family making a middle-class wage could easily afford a house in the middle of Toronto; back then, houses cost, perhaps, one year’s salary.  Many people did not even need a mortgage to buy a home, but could save up for one, pay for it outright, settle in and start a family.  Money was put away for the future and invested, rather than dissipated on interest payments to a bank on a quarter-century-long mortgage (and, with some simple calculation, you will discover just how much money mortgages make for financial institutions).


Those same homes bought just one generation ago are now worth, ten, twenty, even thirty times their original price.  This increase is many times greater than the rate of inflation, due, in large part, I posit, to the speculation in real estate, the one investment still sure to increase in value, and increase it has.


So the working class, who built and continue to build our nation (see Leo XIII’s principle discussed in a recent column that ‘it is by the labor of working men that States grow rich’) are now shut out of what should be the primary fruit of their work, a house they can call a home.  In a bitter irony, those who build the homes cannot afford to live in them.


The only way it is still possible for some families to own a house is for both the husband and wife to work.  This, however, leads inevitably to a neglect of the children, sent off to daycare, and precludes the legitimate choice to raise a large family, and/or to teach one’s children at home, should one so decide.


Even this dual-income ownership is becoming close to impossible, as real wages deflate, the spectre of unemployment looms, and house prices continue to rise into the stratosphere.


harrison ford hanging

Holding on to your mortgage for dear life

One grim consolation is that the whole housing market is a bubble about to burst, and economists debate about this.  Are house prices radically disengaged from their real value?  Will there be a housing market crash, sending prices plummeting?  That will cause a lot of pain to a lot of people, many of whom are already over-leveraged on their homes, holding onto the massive debts of their mortgages that they then would then have little hope of repaying.  The rise of interest rates of even a few percent could mean an increase of $400 or more on an average city mortgage.  One good fruit of such a home-pocalypse, I suppose, is that prices would eventually return to a more sane and affordable level.


Detroit blight

Nightmare on Elm Street

Then again, we would not want Detroit, where a collapse in the auto sector led to a mass exodus from the city, with houses abandoned, and left to the rats.  You can now buy a house in some parts of the Motor City for a dollar, but good luck keeping it maintained. They are currently demolishing whole sections of Detroit, blighted by entire neighbourhoods of neglected, boarded-up homes filling up with rainwater.


Pope Saint John Paul II, as usual filled with good counsel, declared in Centesimus Annus, the encyclical commemorating the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, that some things do not fall within the strict logic of the free market.  We may posit that the ‘strong juridical framework’ within which he declares the economy must operate, should ensure that homes are available to those who need them most, and are not priced out of reach.  Such availability is already ensured with necessary items like food, water, medicine, education and so on.


I am no socialist, and am not suggesting that these necessary items are always ensured in the right way in our own economy (I will write again on the medical system in particular, but see the waste in our university establishment). Trust me, I do believe in the free market and strong incentives to industriousness.  People should have to work and pay for their homes; we see the disasters on reservations and welfare ghettoes where houses are just given away basically for free.


That said, I do think there should be some control over the buying up of houses, and that, one way or the other, we must return, by custom and by law, to the notion that a house should be a home.  It should be possible, and is a scandal that it is not, for those raising families to own a place they can call their own, not least for their own dignity.  Furthermore, as Saint Thomas teaches, besides the benefit to the owners, widespread ownership of private property ensures greater peace, order, stability and solicitude in society.  Those who own land also love their country and local community more, and feel a far greater sense of ‘belonging’.  For we all want a place that we can call home.


…Or do we?  Perhaps I should say we ‘should want’, for with the decline in the family, and the decision amongst more and more of our youth to forego marriage for a life of various experiences (including serial ‘trial marriages’, or just transient ‘hook-ups’ aided by contraception, sterilization and abortion), perhaps our generation does not even want a home, but are content to flit from place to place, city to city, dissipating their sterile youth before they wake up near middle-age, burned out and joyless, with no place to call home.  Unlike Dorothy, it will be difficult for the red slippers to bring them back at that point.

Dorothy Toto





But that, dear reader, is a societal disaster I may consider in another column.  For now, I will end on a note of hope, hoping against hope that if houses are once again made affordable, at least for those who want them, then, perhaps, our land, and the streets of our cities and towns, will once again be peopled with homes, filled with laughter, love and joyful mayhem.  And a bit of street hockey would not hurt either.


February 28, 2015