Virtuous Vipers?

On 7 November 2011, Pope Benedict XVI was presented with the first printed copy of the revised English edition of the Roman Missal by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have admitted to not being very happy with the translation and as the years have gone by I still hear versions of scripture (the Word of the Lord) that sound very different from those we heard for so many years and that now often require an explanation due to their ambiguity.

A case in point: a reading from the Gospel according to Matthew on the Second Sunday of Advent told the familiar story of John the Baptist calling out the Pharisees and the Sadducees as “a brood of vipers,” warning them not to presume that claiming to have Abraham as their father would be of any consequence (my words, not John the Baptist’s) and  that “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

St Jean-Baptiste et les pharisiens by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

However, in a 7 December 2019 National Catholic Reporter story, Mary M. McGlone quotes John as telling the “vipers”: “these rocks have done as much as you have to act like Abraham’s children.” Quite a difference from the Gospel reading, but much more succinct. Of course, English versions of the Roman Missal differ between the US and Canada. My point, and I do have one, is that Sacred Scripture has been studied for centuries but is often explained, analyzed and dissected by those who, while not Scripture experts, feel free to give their own take on what the Lord was saying.


When someone interprets that particular Gospel as meaning that “we” (yes, you and I) are that “brood of vipers,” (as someone did recently in a parish bulletin) I take strong exception, especially as the anonymous writer suggests that “we have not been able to work together to help one another;” “we have not found ways in which we willingly give up some of what we have so that others can have a bit more than at present.” Anyone who believes that must have been hiding under one of the aforementioned “rocks” while hundreds of local people began months ago planning and preparing to provide a Merry Christmas for those in need around us. I’m one who believes that we have plenty of examples of how our government representatives, especially those concerned with providing dollars to erect airports for rich golfers or stadiums for a football franchise, might be wrongheaded, and that such monies could be better spent improving the lives of those in need. But the truth is that we have many local groups, armed with donations from those who “willingly give up some of what they have to assist those who have so much less” and, they continue to do so pretty much daily.

So let’s take a look at what virtuous “vipers” (and that’s the last time I’ll use that word), have been up to recently. I’m not going to try to name the many local groups here in Cape Breton who have been collecting funds with which to buy much needed clothing, food and gifts so that families in the area will enjoy a wonderful Christmas. The fact is there are just too many such groups to name, which in itself, is a reflection of how much kindness and charity exist in our various communities, especially when we consider that much of what they do continues after the Christmas season is just a memory.

Food donations to the Glace Bay Food Bank, December, 2019. (Source: Facebook)


And therein lies the rub. In many ways, governments are let off the hook when it comes to providing for those in need. Consider how food banks have become a necessary part of so many peoples’ daily lives, when you consider that they were first introduced to assist those who found themselves temporarily in need. In fact, strangely enough, the first food bank was opened in Edmonton, Alberta in 1981 (and we thought, at that time, that Alberta was the richest province in the country). The Canadian Association of Food Banks, created in 1987, consisted of 700 members nationally along with 3000 food programs. Right now, we have 144 food banks in Nova Scotia, but we also have The Nova Scotia Action Coalition for Community Well Being, (NSACCWB) with their goal of establishing a Nova Scotia “where no one lives in poverty.

A promise by Jean Chretien’s Liberal government 30 years ago to eliminate all childhood poverty by 2000 is just like last year’s Christmas, a fond memory. Poverty in Nova Scotia has not been affected by the latest Liberal government’s Canada Child Care Benefit, which raised thousands of kids in other provinces out of poverty since its introduction two years ago.

The latest report, dated March 2018, indicates that 25,773 people, 31% of them children, make use of food banks in Nova Scotia, and the figures for Canada were no less disappointing – 863,000 people, one third of them children. This is not really news and I admit to having written about it ad nauseum, but especially at Christmas, one can’t help but be aware of the number of generous volunteers giving of their time, their energy and their money to assist those less fortunate in our midst whose numbers seem, nevertheless, to increase each year.

Amy Moonshadow, chairwoman of the coalition Community Advocate Network, one of the 19 member organizations of NSACCWB, explained in a 26 July 2019 Canadian Labor Institute story that many people with disabilities in Nova Scotia are forced to live on just $821 per month. After rent is paid, this leaves no money for basic necessities, like decent food.

“We are looking for more than adequacy,” she added. “We want to live like humans.”

JoAnna LaTulippe-Rochon, executive director of the Cape Breton Family Place Resource Centre, explained that wages are so low that even some two-parent families with two full-time jobs can’t afford the basic necessities of life:

It’s not about poor decision-making. It’s basic math: if it takes $1,000 to get everything paid and you only have $800, you cannot come up with the other $200 on your own.


Detail of a mural by artist Grazyna (Gi Gi) Evanciiio at the North Sydney Food Bank.

A CBC report on 13 December 2019, indicated that the number of homeless people in Toronto has risen from 5,000 to 7,000 in just two years, and while some manage to arrange for a shelter bed at night, some simply put up a tent (maybe under the Gardiner Expressway) and live there.

Those lucky enough to have a shelter bed must leave in the morning and return in the evening. Who knows where they spend the hours when the shelter isn’t available – outside in the cold, perhaps at a local library where they can be warm and read or perhaps at a coffee shop? There are an estimated 235,000 homeless people in Canada according to the latest statistics and that includes many women and children who have been experiencing abuse in their home sweet homes.

In a country the size of Canada, 235,000 homeless seems an easily remedied problem. A guaranteed annual income (GAI) for anyone over the age of 18 that would not be clawed back dollar for dollar should they find employment, would make all the difference in the world. It was discussed at the Liberal Party convention in 2015 as something party members supported but it never saw the light of day after the election. The Canada Child Care Benefit was definitely a start toward lifting children out of poverty but surely ours is a country that can well afford to follow the advice of Hugh Segal, retired Canadian senator, who has been trying to interest fellow politicians in the the idea of a GAI for years now. And yes, I’ve written about that too.


When Christmas has come and gone, there will still be those faithful who will continue to volunteer their time in assisting those in need, and the discussion of how best to cope with the homeless, the hungry and those who live well below the poverty line will continue.

There will be plenty of talk as to how best to deal with what should be one of the primary concerns of any government, but will all the talk bring about any solid solutions? Will a GAI ever become a reality as it did, for a short few months in Ontario before the Ford government cancelled it?

I noticed that Germany instituted a GAI just recently in some strange manner, so strange that it seems to have gone unnoticed. More on that later. Meanwhile, may all those who have been involved in making sure that everyone has a warm and happy Christmas, have one themselves. They truly deserve it. Merry Christmas!


Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.