Sunday, March 25, 2018

The prophet ..

A prophet is in the first place one who is close to God - he lives on the mountaintop of the inner life.

He is one who can see in the dark - whose eyes pierce the obscurity created by facts and public opinion.

A prophet is that rare man who can say of himself: I am not confused.

Nor can a prophet be misled or disturbed or awed by loud voices or appearances because he has the gift which allows him to identify and keep his eyes on the truth of every matter.

A man who can see where the road of history is taking humanity - a man who can see the ultimate consequences of the things we begin to do.

A prophet is a man inspired - that is, he sees as God sees - from within - from above - clearly.

A prophet is always confronting because he speaks truths that are hidden - which take us by surprise - which catch us off guard - which go against the popular and the common. Therefore we are tempted to dismiss him.

His words are confronting because they are always about the God we forget or about us, whom we think we know.

His words claim to come from God - so in dismissing a true prophet we are rejecting God and his truth - his truthful word.

A prophet says precisely what we do not wish to hear.

He spoils our fun - he warns us of consequences we deny - he tells us we are wrong.

A prophet speaks of disaster because he speaks of sin - a disaster we bring on ourselves from within - it is our disaster - contained within ourselves - approaching from afar - made history in our actions.

A prophet doesn't fit in to our world view - just like the truth - or the disaster he warns of.

Therefore a prophet is never welcome - he must be eliminated from the scene.

He is the future come to meet us - our future - the one we are creating. He tells us the meaning of what we do today - and the future it will give birth to.

A prophet will not go away - ever - just like the truth.

He will not desist - he cannot be bought off - he must be killed - but only to make way for the next prophet.

Scorn, ridicule, contempt, rejection are the daily food of the prophet.

A man driven - who refuses to subscribe to the consensus, the popular, the 'chummy' atmosphere.

A prophet is the arch-enemy of the liar - even should the liar be an entire nation - a whole planet - he still overturns us.

The prophet is a sentry who never sleeps. He warns us about the enemy who approaches from afar - the one who emerges from within us - who is acting in our actions - fuelled by the power of our disordered hearts.

The prophet is therefore always warning us about ourselves who are so ready to displease God - to find our own way.

A prophet cares for us and about us - he loves us.

He has responsibility for us because he is one of us. He takes us more seriously than we take ourselves. He is our shepherd - the shepherd of of God's flock.

A prophet is powerful because he is 'under orders' - 'sent' - he has to answer to God for his actions and words - which he takes from God.

His life is bound to ours.

A prophet is a man trapped. If he does not speak the word which turns us against him - the word itself will turn on him.

He is trapped by truth and we are trapped by - error.

A prophet does what he calls us to do. He is close to God and calls us to be close to God - to listen and obey.

A prophet calls us to be reconciled to God - and to one another.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Holy Telly ....

One of the ladies came into the church to do the flowers. She said, 'I see we have a new tabernacle.'

'No' I replied, 'it's a second hand one we borrowed while ours is being refurbished.'

'It looks like a television' she quipped.

I remained silent but wanted to say, 'Come over and watch it some time!'

Monday, May 18, 2015

Purgatory

Fr Charles Arminjon in his book, End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, proposes the following salutary thought on Purgatory:
In the glow of those terrible flames, we shall realize the profound degree of evil contained in the faults we consider slight and unimportant. 

Damascus

Saul,
struck blind.
Blind!?
Yes,
but struck.
What joy!

Saturday is Mary's Day

Just as God’s glory and power in Jesus shine forth most clearly in his humility and lowliness on the Cross, so the marvels he worked in Mary in making her the Mother of the Redeemer are shown forth and given life most clearly in the lowliness and humility of her soul. In fact, we all know that the glory of God’s presence is always shown forth most brilliantly in a lowly and humble heart.

Saturday is Mary's Day

I am the handmaid of the Lord. This is the title Mary gives herself. All other titles are given her by others but this is the one she claims. And how revealing it is, how simple and truthful, how powerful! It describes what Mary wishes us to know about her because it perfectly describes what she knows about herself. All the rest, her great gifts and prerogatives, her high calling and destiny, all these are for Mary nothing more than the 'marvels the Almighty works for me'.

footprints

discovered in my heart
a set of footprints
not mine
but my size
exactly
and walking in these footprints
I am most myself
thank you, Jesus
for walking in my heart
1983

The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis

"If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man . . . Going back is the quickest way on." - C.S.Lewis

Saturday is Mary's Day

I am the handmaid of the Lord.

Mary’s greatness is really to be found in this title as the mighty oak tree is found in the tiny acorn.

As Mary said to Elizabeth: The Almighty has done great things for me. The great things done for Mary, and through Mary and in Mary were done on the solid and beautiful foundation of this humble awareness of herself as the lowly handmaid of the Lord.

The Father truly did look on his servant in her lowliness and then proceeded to do great things for her.

Mary’s lowliness actually made the great things possible. All her other titles flow out of this lowliness (filled with grace) and leave it intact. In her own eyes the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the ever-virgin Queen of heaven and earth is still, and always will remain, the lowly Handmaid of the Lord.

Eye of the Beholder

I asked a lady once if she was a practising Catholic. She said, 'I'm not, Father, I'm afraid to say. I used to be. I used to go every Christmas and Easter but in the last few years I've become slack.'

Saturday is Mary's Day


What would Mary say if you asked her which one of all the titles she has been given her by God, was the one she liked best?


Would she say, I like to be called Virgin of Virgins or Health of the Sick or Mystical Rose? Certainly her greatest title is Mother of God and this was given her by the early Church almost from the beginning. Fortunately, a fragment of papyrus has been found which reveals the existence in Egypt, from the third or, at the latest the fourth century, of the antiphon We fly to your protection, O holy Mother of God.

But actually, we don’t have to wonder what Mary would call herself because she has already answered the question for us. Holy Scripture records, as far as I know, only one title Mary ever gave herself while on earth. She told the archangel Gabriel, at the time of the Annunciation, I am the handmaid of the Lord.

Lectio Divina

There are not many undertakings in my life which have had as profound an effect as the practice of lectio divina (sacred reading).


Lectio divina (pronounced lexio diveena) is the practice of spending at least ½ an hour each day reading the Sacred Scriptures in a relaxed, systematic, attentive way.

[Now right at the start I'll get your attention big time by telling you the Church offers a Plenary Indulgence, under the usual conditions, to those who read the Scriptures for ½ an hour a day.]

Reading (lectio) is the first step in the process. This is an art in itself and very challenging. The bible is a big book and its size can easily discourage us. Fortunately, in lectio we take it only a page or two, or even a paragraph, at a time. There is no rush to get the bible finished. Each day we read only what can be 'processed' in the ½ hour we have set ourselves. Our aim is not to finish the bible - our aim is to read the bible for ½ an hour a day.

We start at the beginning with the Book of Genesis. We read a line or a few lines. We pause. Questions will come: Is this true? What does this word mean? When was this written? How does he know this? To answer these questions we need to do some bible study. Lectio, however, is not bible study. The ultimate aim of lectio is to let the bible study us. In bible study we get into the bible. In lectio divina we let the Bible get into us.

We may find this distinction puzzling at first but it isn't really. We are so accustomed to taking the primary role in all our activities, so that our activity is our primary concern, that we find it disconcerting to be asked to do something so that we can be docile to the more important activity of the other, so that the Other may do something to us.

So much of our prayer is habitually directed to getting God to change his mind about something, our illness, our work, our family, that we can hesitate before a prayer whose intent is to allow God to change us.

Let me repeat - the main focus of our activity in lectio divina is to give God an opportunity to come to meet us, to let God have free access to our hearts and minds, a bit like the way we give access to the surgeon and his scalpel when we go to hospital.

Where are we going?

There used to be a time when I could enjoy the busy ministerial life just for itself but that time has gone. These days I find myself less and less able to travel without asking 'Where are we going?' Just to enjoy the ride is no longer enough - I've started looking out the window.

Many, seemingly unaware of the huge questions which face the Church today, suffer a kind of compulsive optimism which filters out the unpleasant, the challenging, and the contradictory.

As painful as it may be I want to understand and live in the realities of life and to encourage others to do the same. I want my feet to touch the ground, my watch set to real time.

There's a wonderful cartoon of an old man fishing from a jetty, blissfully unaware that all the water has gone - all gone. He can sit there for ever and he will never again catch a fish.

It does not matter that he is full of hope. It does not matter that he has caught many fish there in the past. It does not matter that he has the best rod and reel and the freshest bait. The water has gone!

Now he needs to find another spot, if he really wants to catch fish, and maybe another way of fishing.

If only he would open his eyes and look over the side of that jetty, but he doesn't .. he can't? .. he won't? .. Is he afraid?

What would happen if someone told our friend to look over the edge? Hey, mate! The water has gone! Wake up! You'll never catch any fish there!

My experience tells me that old man would not be grateful. I was happy. I lived in hope! You took away my peace! You changed my life! What am I supposed to do now?

In our diocese, parishes and schools there are so many things that need evaluating, fixing, updating, revising, building and demolishing!

So many things that used to work but no longer do - so many things to stop doing and so many things to begin anew!

One thing I have learned - it's much, much harder to stop doing something than it is to start something new!

So where should we begin?

How right Pope John Paul II was: Let us begin by contemplating the Face of Christ!

10 Clangers

  1. I'm really a good person, Father.
  2. I'm very Catholic.
  3. You don't have to go to church to show you're a Catholic.
  4. Mum never committed a sin in her life.
  5. I know people who are more christian than the ones who go to Church.
  6. We want our child to make up its own mind.
  7. I go to the Mass on the television.
  8. I don't go to Mass but I have my faith.
  9. The Church should get with the times.
  10. I heard we're allowed to do that now.
Send me your favourite clanger and if I like it, and I don't promise that I will, it might be added to the list.
  • I'm a Catholic but I leave all that sort of thing to the wife. She's the religious one. (Jools)
  • I don't agree with the Church on that point, but my conscience is clear. (J.)
  • I don't like that Latin Mass because the priest has his back to me. (VSC)
  • Of course I go to Communion every Sunday, but haven't been to Confession for 10 years. It's not like I murdered somebody! (VSC)
  • I don't go to Mass because I don't think I have nice enough clothes. (VSC)

Approaches to prayer ..

As a seminarian I once showed an elderly lady through the seminary complex and when we came to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel I suggested we sit and spend some time in prayer. She replied that she couldn’t because she had left her prayers in the car.

What is heaven like?

This morning at 4am Accidents & Emergency called - a middle-aged man had died suddenly. I was there within 12 minutes and administered the rites of the Church. His wife was there and her fourteen year old son. When the mother was called in to fill out some hospital forms I got to have a 40 minute chat with the boy, who told me all about himself and his dad. After a while he asked, 'So what is heaven like?' I told him a story someone once told me.

"A man died and came to the pearly gates. St Peter showed him to a huge brick wall with doorway in it. They went in and there was a table and a chair beside a mountain of blank sheets of paper and a mountain of pencils.

St Peter told the man that he should sit down and write on the paper all the things he wanted - houses, cars, servants, and so on. He said, 'When you've finished yell out and the angels will set it all up for you. Then we'll give you some more time to think of other things you might have overlooked and then we'll have to brick the door in and you'll stay there behind the wall for all eternity.'

The man set to work and didn't stop writing for weeks and weeks until finally he couldn't think of a single thing more he might want. He called St Peter and was amazed to see all his wishes fulfilled in an instant. It was magnificent, beautiful, incredible! What he liked most of all were all the people he had asked for to just be his servants.

After living in his paradise for some weeks he had filled another small mountain of paper sheets with things he had thought of. Then St Peter came to close up the doorway. The man was delighted with himself and his wonderful world. He said to St Peter, 'You know, when I was on earth I have to admit I did some pretty evil and rotten things, and I was never sorry. How come I get to go to heaven?'

St Peter answered abruptly, 'But this is not heaven'.

'But I have everything I've ever wanted,' said the man, 'so what is heaven like?'
St Peter told him, 'When they were making this wall, I noticed one of the angels was a little careless and left a tiny pinhole in the mortar. I think if you pull that cart up against the wall and put a barrel on it, and stand on tippy toe, I think you might be able to see a micro dot of heaven.'

The wall was sealed and the man immediately did as St Peter had suggested. He climbed up on the barrel and peered through the tiny hole. 'Wooooooooooooow!' he exclaimed and his mouth fell open. 'Woooooooooooooow!' he cried again.

Do you know, that man never got off that barrel. He has been standing there ever since, just staring at that microscopic bit of heaven."

Confessing well ..

It’s a simple thing to make a good Confession – you just name your sin and confess it to the priest. Here are some pitfalls to avoid.
  • Avoid confessing other people’s sins. ‘My friend, wife, husband, etc. makes me so mad because they are always doing such and such, and, etc, …’
  • Avoid telling the priest how good you are. ‘I’m really a good person. I do my job at work and look after my wife, husband, and, etc. …’
  • Avoid telling the priest which sins you don’t commit. ‘I don’t steal or lie or deliberately hurt anyone or, etc …’
  • Avoid telling the priest you ‘might have’ committed some sins. ‘Perhaps I could have been more kind, and maybe I could have been more honest, perhaps, and, etc …’
  • Avoid confessing all the minor sins first and then the big ones at the end. Confess the ones you don’t want to confess – first.
  • Avoid ‘generic’ confessions. ‘I’ve been a bit bad and not as nice as I could have been, and, etc ...’
  • Avoid giving yourself advice – let the priest do that. ‘I know I will have to begin to pray more, and maybe if I made an effort to balance my prayer life with my work, etc, ...’
  • Avoid confessing to yourself. ‘I feel I have let myself down and find it difficult to forgive myself. I must learn to be more true to myself and, etc ...’
  • Avoid unnecessary detail. ‘Well, it was Tuesday, no Wednesday at 4pm and I was with my little sister at the park and we saw this woman who was walking along the path, actually, maybe it was Tuesday after all, yes, I think it was, etc ...’
  • Avoid minimising your sins. ‘I only have small sins, like, you know, sins that everyone has, the normal sins, etc ...’
Making a good confession is not difficult really, it just needs some quiet time to prepare and then, as they say, name your sins and claim your sins. ‘Father, I’ve been taking things home from work, small things, but it’s still stealing.’ …. ‘Father, I’ve had an abortion. I have come to realise how wrong it was and I want to ask God’s forgiveness.’ …. ‘Father, I’ve been missing Mass through laziness and I took Holy Communion twice, knowing it was wrong to do so.’
Simple? Go for it!!

Let's play Mass ...

In his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict refers to worship as play. This sounds a little strange at first but when you consider what children are doing when they play it all becomes clearer.

Watch any little boy or girl playing. He has his toy truck, his model aeroplane or his tool set and she has her doll or her teaset, or some other toy. What are they really doing? They are playing at real life, adult life. They are practising for a life which is still to come, which will come when they are adults.

That's what we do at Mass. Aren't we rehearsing for heaven? Aren't we practising for that time which lies in the future, when we all gather for the heavenly banquet, the real Mass?

Playing is an activity of little children, adults move on to more serious things but to those who are too adult to play Mass Jesus might say: Unless you become like little children ....

Their faith or The Faith?

I read an article on youth in a Catholic monthly which spoke of youth and their faith. Speaking of youth and their faith is, of course, not the same as speaking of youth and the Faith but this fact seems routinely to escape the educational professionals.

Every single person I know has their faith but only a few have the Faith. Youth are no exception.

In a climate which elevates 'listening to youth' to a status higher than preaching the Gospel, I would submit that teachers would do much better to develop, not 'structures which give life to the voice of youth', as the author purposes, but structures which give life to the voice of Jesus to youth.

The author is very excited. There will be - welcoming, nurturing, affirming, listening, promoting, developing, connecting (and reconnecting) - the only trouble being that the subject and object of each of these verbs is the same – the people. We are going to do all these things to one another, and the youth will be doing it to each other too – an orgy of 'ministry' (I'm beginning to despise the word) in which the power of God seems to have been intentionally sidelined!

According to the article they are even going to promote better liturgies!

Pardon the emphatic voice but I say: Youth do not need better liturgies, they need better catechesis! Priests are not entertainers, and Mass is not entertainment. Its relevance is not in how enjoyable it is. Better liturgies pit one priest against another. “Oh, Fr Jake’s Masses are better than Fr Joe’s!”

Instead of noisy, self-conscious involvement we should be leading youth to the joy of authentic participation in communal worship: listening and responding, recollection, self-giving, awe, silence, gratitude - and an ability to see the supernatural presence in the human frailty and shortcomings of the congregation and the priest, and in the appearance of the Sacred Host.

More for less ... ?

Escalators are wonderful things. I like the flat ones you can walk up better than the moving stairways. Part of the pleasure is, of course, that you just stand on them and they do all the work, while, if you do choose to walk you get twice the speed for the same amount of energy.

I was on one this afternoon and feeling energetic I started walking up, and as that special 'why-can't-life-be-like-this-all-the-time' feeling came over me, I suddenly found myself wondering about, of all things, my daily Rosary.

I think it must have been that thought about saving energy on the escalator which somehow led me to the make a connection with saving time on the Rosary.

The Rosary is meant to be, and can be, a deeply contemplative prayer which invites our complete attention, all our 'prayerfulness'.

We may say the Rosary while out walking but it is not a good idea to go for a walk to say the Rosary, at least, that's what I've found.

There are so many things to dissipate our attentiveness during a walk that our prayer inevitably suffers. I can't read a book and listen to music at the same time - one of them eventually becomes 'background noise' but then, your experience may be different.

I will not sin again ..

When I was a youngster I was taught the Act of Contrition first by the Sisters of St Joseph and later by the Marist Brothers. It ran:

Oh, my God,I am very sorrythat I have sinned against youbecause you are so goodand, with your help,I will not sin again.

Those children, and often adults, who still remember how to make an Act of Contrition now seem to say:

and, with your help,
I will try not to sin again.

I confess this really annoys me big time. What people seem to have forgotten is that when we say 'I will not sin again' we are stating our intentions. In other words, I intend not to sin again. We have to do here with a present intention - not future behaviour.

Can you imagine the loving couple at the altar exchanging vows: 'I, Betty, take you, John. I will try to love you and I will try to honour you for the rest of my life?'

Or the witness in the court trial: 'I promise to try to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?'

When it comes to stating intentions we are not foretelling future behaviour and we should not reduce the fullness of our intention not to sin again to the possibility that, one day in the future, we may sin again.

Quotable quote ..

A family member told me this a few days ago: Faith is being asked to take things on face value, when there is no face.

Quotable quote ..

Another quote from 'family member' which arrived during the discussion tonight on the the American tendency to solve every problem by shooting it. Somewhere in the conversation came this gem: If you're going to have a war you've got to shoot people, otherwise it doesn't work.

Evening prayer ..

How do we grasp the beauty of the afternoon sun on the gums? Certainly not with my cheap camera.

It reminds me of Robert Frost's poem, For once then, something, though here it is to do not with a fleeting moment of insight but with a lingering, provocative exposure of God's presence in a beautiful display of heavenly light on living tree.

The Will of the Father ...

An Australian priest speaking, he claimed, on behalf of a large number of other priests, charged a few years ago that the leadership of the Church (the Pope and some bishops) is ‘out of tune with the attitudes, hopes and desires of the priests and lay people whom they serve’ and ‘they (and presumably he) would resign from the priesthood except for ‘their loyalty to their parishioners whom they love, and their parish which they wish to serve’.

He professes loyalty to his parishioners and expects the leadership of the Church to profess loyalty to the priests.

But isn’t this a fatal error? He has turned loyalty on its head and at the same time the hierarchical structure of his own commission to serve.

Jesus said: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me …(Jn 4:34)

He did not say: My food is to do the will of the ones to whom I have been sent.

These words of the Master seem to have been forgotten. This priest, like so many others, has transferred his loyalty from the One who sent him to those to whom he has been sent. No wonder he sounds frustrated and angry. He has set himself a pastoral charge he has no hope of realising.

Christ was sent to do the will of the Father, the Church is sent to do the will of Christ, and we priests are sent to do the will of the Church.

Everywhere one looks one sees the same disastrous inversion which finds, perhaps, its ugliest expression in the constant call to laity and priests to 'shape the Church of the future' whereas, in actuality, we should be allowing ourselves to be shaped by the Church of the present.

Changing models?

There is a perception abroad, especially prevalent among priests and nuns, and even a bishop or two, that the Catholic Church is busy changing models. Apparently we are rethinking, upgrading, reshaping, modernising the Church established by Jesus. We are moving from a hierarchical model to a collaborative model of Church. Really? Well, I don’t know about we but I have no intention of changing anything that doesn't belong to me.

For a start, the Catholic Church is not working under a hierarchical model. The Catholic Church is hierarchical in its very constitution. Just check Chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium, under the heading The Church is Hierarchical, if you are in some doubt about this. Moreover, because the Church is hierarchical everything within the Church is hierarchical – relationships, ministry, leadership, authority, service, truth, and communion.

When someone gets up and speaks about the Catholic Church operating under a hierarchical model it’s as silly as saying we humans are operating under a body model. Body is how we were created. If we don’t have a body we are not human. It’s as simple as that.

If we can convince people the Church is operating under a hierarchical model we are then ready to take the next step and change to another model - and this is usually the democratic model or, as some like to call it, the collaborative model. The only problem with these two models is that they are not compatible with the hierarchical constitution Jesus gave his Church.

So let’s get with it. No more time-wasting nonsense about changing what is not ours to change and what is, in essence, impossible to change. How about a little hierarchical leadership to bring us into hierarchical communion with the leader of the hierarchy of heaven and earth – the Lord and Master?

Stoking the fire ..

My sister and her husband live on a farm. They have a slow combustion stove in the kitchen and the lounge. On bitterly cold winter mornings the first thing they do on rising is to empty the ashes, rearrange the embers and put in some more wood.

I am thinking how morning prayer is like that - stoking the fire.

A little teaching ..

The relationship between the Church and the Scriptures is very like the relationship you have with your family photo album. The pictures help you remember your family's life. Only the members of your family really know what the pictures record. People outside the family can work out certain things for themselves but only those who are in touch with and live the family traditions can really know the truth.

The Scriptures are the photo album of the Church. They record her foundation by the Master and her early life and only those within the living tradition and memory of the Church can truly know what these pictures mean.

To read the book in isolation from the living memory of the Church, i.e. the Tradition of the Church, can lead to gross errors and has done so many times in the past.

A simple example is the mistaken reading of Mark 6:3 where the 'brothers and sisters' of Jesus are mentioned. Those within the tradition, those within the memory of the Church, know that Mary had only one child, and that this seeming confusion comes from a problem of translation.

Those who are outside the tradition can only say, 'Well, it says here that Jesus had brothers and sisters so he must have had brothers and sisters.'

Outside the Tradition remain only the words and not the memory, just as those outside your family will have just the photo and not the family tradition.

Usually they will take the picture to one of the family members and say, 'When and where was this taken? Who is this? How come so and so is missing? etc. What is the meaning of this picture?'

Once an individual accepts the authority of the Church over the interpretation of Scripture so many problems disappear.

Five men outside the Tradition will have five differing interpretations of Scripture. Within the Church there is only one.

We believe, for example, in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If you read John 6 you will get a pretty good exposition of this doctrine but that is not why we believe it.

The Church believes it because Jesus revealed it to her and we believed it decades before John was written.

John 6 remembers what the Church already knew and was already practising. Unfortunately, many denominations today, reading John 6 in isolation, cut off from the Tradition, reading nothing but the words, have failed to recognise the doctrine of the Real Presence contained in the writing.

This is why there is so much division between the churches. It's all a question of authority, isn't it?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Parish: playschool ... or school of communion?

Over the last 30 years or so, and more intensely in recent years, people in parishes all over Australia have been fed mistaken ideas about the nature of parish, the role of the laity, and the role of the parish priest.

As a result, almost everything is now ‘lay led’ in a way that goes far beyond legitimate lay involvement and collaboration. An implicit message is beginning to be heard more and more loudly, especially in priestless parishes: No Priest Required!

These ideas Rome has corrected on many occasions.

Good people have been misled, and all too often conflicts, divisions and power struggles have been the result at parish level, while many dioceses have become vocations-free zones. Either the priest simply walks away from his responsibilities and gives the laity a free hand, thereby immediately becoming ‘popular’, or he condemns himself to interminable confrontations and discord and the labels bullying and divisive.

It is not the role of a parish priest to pander to illusions about the nature of the Church (however popular or widely held these may be), to give the personal opinions of parishioners the same status as Church teaching, or to keep mindlessly doing what has been done in the past long after it has ceased being effective or proper, just because some cannot bear to change direction, or have a vested interest in the status quo.

It is the task of the parish priest to build parish – a Catholic parish – based not on his faith, or some parishioner’s faith, but on the Faith.

There are now in most parishes 'leadership' groups which are very fond of, and very attached to, their own understanding of the Church. Anyone who has attended a Bible Study with Sr Maude, or who has done the session on being a ‘Eucharistic minister’ with Betty Smiles, is now an expert ‘ready to shape the Church of the future!’

It is common now to find many who have reduced the task of the parish priest to making people feel good about themselves, and to obeying the will of his parishioners. ‘Oh, Fr Todd is so nice, he never says no.’

To put such a parish under scrutiny is usually to find a noisy, activity-centred, people-centred forum in which every second individual can be a ‘leader’, while the things of God are sidelined.

What are we to say, for example, about a parish described as a ‘vibrant, warm, friendly, life-giving, welcoming and inclusive, happy community’ with 34 clubs and groups, regular BBQs and Bush Dances, but which has only a tiny handful at Confession?

All too many parishioners see their parish as a kind of playground offering all sorts of ‘games’ in which they can express their ‘giftedness’ and ‘creativity’. They move between the seesaw and the swings and the sandpit in a frenzy of busyness – what Pope Benedict calls a kind of ecclesiastical occupational therapy – and when they do finally enter the school building they just want to go on playing, forgetting that the parish is really a school of holiness. Their religious and their social lives have become coterminous, usually with sad results for the former.

In addition, everything is now subjected to the ‘how good does it make me feel?’ criterion.

Such churches are usually full of chatter because they are all about ‘me’. There is no reverent greeting of the Lord on entering or leaving, but great care not to overlook friends. In these churches the sense of the sacred has all but been demolished, and the high point of the Mass is the Sign of Peace.

Well, I don’t believe in such parishes, no matter how well attended. I believe such parishes are failures because they fail at their primary task which is to draw people to Christ, and only thus to one another.

A pastor of a parish should direct his efforts not so much towards building community as to building communion.

The value of an harmonious community is beyond price, but it can only come, and will come naturally, upon the building of communion centred on Jesus Christ.

Community cannot challenge heterodoxy or sin, to name only two dimensions of faith life, whereas communion can only be achieved through adherence to Christ in his Church, which means precisely confronting both heterodoxy and sin.

Priest and people face the task of building a parish which has Christ as its centre, drawing closer to him and then, automatically, closer to each other. Only then can it become a strong and united community worth belonging to, and only then will it be ready to fulfil the call to evangelise the culture.

The Daily Struggle ..

You know, as a priest I am encouraged by many things but one of the greatest encouragements is hearing the confessions of simple, humble strugglers who doggedly battle for holiness through the action of God in their lives - even if they experience that action mostly as forgiveness.

I think they are wonderful people! So stubborn in their refusal to let sin have the last say in their lives they come time and again to the fount of mercy. 

Wonderful people! God must be so pleased with them! He loves sinners who come to him with such simple humility and confident sorrow.

As far as I am concerned they are heroes. Keep coming, people, his mercy is inexhaustible!

It was out of jealousy that they handed him over ..

Yesterday’s reading from Acts 4 was interesting. Faced with the spreading Gospel the Sanhedrin meets and discusses: 'What are we going to do with these men?' (4:16) I must confess I could read no further.

What are we going to do with these men? Suddenly their arrogance struck me – and their fear - and their envy.

They were jealous of the following the Apostles were getting. Arrogance permitted them to think they could actually ‘do’ something to stop the truth spreading (never mind God’s plans!) … and fear of losing their power impelled them to want to destroy the Apostles.

In my experience, whenever people use power to protect their entrenched positions (otherwise known as vested interests) it’s all too often because their entrenched position is rather fragile and vulnerable. Does mum allow a football near her crystal cabinet? No way – outside!

This leads me to think of Islam and the cleric who attacked the Pope for baptising a Moslem convert at the Easter Vigil last Saturday – calling it … a deliberately provocative act!

Now come on, pahleez!, let’s get real! In how many Moslem countries is it actually a crime to convert to Christianity, and what are the painful sanctions imposed on those who do so? Why is there a need in these places to defend Islam with force? Why is there this fear of conversion? If Islam is true it will be attractive because the truth always attracts.

To use force in either propagating or defending any religion is to testify both to one’s arrogance before God as well as to the fear that without force people just might walk away. One is, in fact, saying to God: Your truths are not enough to attract people, they are not compelling enough .. we need some force, a gun, a prison sentence, the loss of a job .. to convince people to stick with you.

Asking questions ..

Hospitals are full of questions.

Why does God allow this to happen to me? Why doesn't God heal me? Where is God?

I've found that when people develop in their lives a real relationship with God and begin to pray and practise their faith, it's not that the answers come - it's more that the questions just disappear.

Room temperature Catholics ...

Do you remember a period in your life when you were 'on fire' for the Lord? At that time prayer was easy, penance was easy, giving away hard earned money was easy.

So what happened?

I think it's the same as what happens to a bowl of ice cream or a plate of hot soup - we went back to room temperature.

What's the solution?

Jesus gave it this morning in the Gospel: remain in my love.

And how are we supposed to do that?

Jesus also said: If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love.

On the feast of the Ascension Jesus will say to his disciples: teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. He didn't say: teach them to observe some of the commands I gave you; nor did he say: teach them to observe all the commands that suit them.

Are you keeping all the commandments? If you're not then you're not remaining in his love and sure as melted ice cream is yukky, you'll end up at room temperature sooner or later.

The shortage of vocations and the proliferation of disobedience ..

Like most priests I've attended lots of Priest Assembly days and listened to the usual talks on the problem of the 'vocations shortage'. My own view is that we are barking entirely up the wrong tree. Although the lack of vocations is a problem it is not the problem, merely a symptom of the problem.

Vocations are like happiness - you cannot seek it in itself. Happiness comes automatically, all by itself, when we get certain things in our life right.

The problem about vocations is that we have got too many things wrong and I believe a major one, if not the main one, is that we priests are scandalously disobedient.

Every vocation is a grace and grace flows through the pipeline of obedience. When we are not obedient as priests we are discouraging the very vocations we tell each other we desire. Every single act of priestly disobedience, no matter how small, whether catechetical, liturgical, moral, theological, canonical or otherwise dries up vocations at their source - God's grace.

And the laity notice - especially the young. They notice when the priest is not wearing the right vestments at Mass or changing the words to suit himself; teaching falsehood or half-truths from the pulpit; saying yes to people when he should be saying no; not dressing as a priest should; handing his duty of leadership over to those who should be following his lead, and a thousand other small and large 'disobediences'.

Disobedience caused the fall of Satan and it was the deadly sin of Adam and Eve. Obedience was the painful path Jesus took to redeem us.

Reflect on Acts 5:32* and then ask ourselves: When are we priests going to stop the 'talk' and admit that the shortage of vocations is to a very large extent our fault - that we just don't deserve them?

*[And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.]

May is Mary's Month

You may wonder at this strange little picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It comes from the cover of the book by Sr Natalia on Our Lady under the title of Victorious Queen of the World.

As Mary prepared the way for Jesus' arrival through his Incarnation so will she prepare the world for his arrival on the Last Day. God has given into her hands the task of preparing the world for his final coming.
O Virgin Mother, Victorious Queen of the World, show us your power.
I pray you will all have a holy May and allow her to prepare you for his coming.

Appropriate faith ..

I remember vividly the night I appropriated the Catholic Faith. That night I made it my own - the faith by which I would from that moment live the rest of my life. I began going to Confession again, and regular Sunday Mass. I began sitting towards the front of the church and answering the responses. I sang the hymns, put some money on the plate, took some care to fast for an hour before Holy Communion and, among other things, got involved in the community.

These days as a chaplain in a big hospital I'm finding it interesting to guess at the degree to which a person has appropriated the Faith. This has nothing to do with how long they have been a Catholic, this has only to do with the question: have they made the faith of the Church their Faith?

Here is a little scenario: Mr Smith is a 65 year old man who has been a Catholic all his life. He goes to Mass with his wife every Sunday.

So, would you like to receive Holy Communion this morning, Mr Smith?

If you like.

No, it's not up to me, Mr Smith, this is about you. Would you like to receive Holy Communion?

I suppose it can't hurt.

So is that a yes, Mr Smith?

OK.

Good, let's pray then: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the .. Would you like to make the sign of the cross with me, Mr Smith?

Oh, OK.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The Lord be with you.

silence... I give Mr Smith a meaningful look and repeat: The Lord be with you.

Now a touch uncomfortable: And also with you.

Let us call to mind our sins: I confess to almighty God and to you my brothers and si...

Mr Smith, would you like to say these words along with me?

With a slight roll of the eyes: I confess to almighty God ...

*******

So what's going on here?

I think it's all about appropriation, or in this case, the lack of it. I will bet you a sizeable amount of cash that when Mr Smith goes to Sunday Mass with his wife he stands when she stands and sits when she sits and pops the Host into his mouth at Communion time and doesn't answer a single response or sing a line of a hymn.

You may, dear Reader, accuse me of judgmentalism even though Mr Smith is not an actual person. If you read on you'll see it's not Mr Smith I'm criticising. I prefer to see my comments as the recognition of a structural weakness in our way of going about things in the Church beginning with the way we offer Baptism to infants of parents who have already declared their lack of Catholic faith and practice. From there we go on to confirm in the faith the children from these unevangelised families and then bring Confession to them at school and conveniently overlook the fact they don't attend Sunday Mass or make any mention of a host of common sins.

We seem not only to systematically refuse to challenge nominalism we encourage it and foster it in so many ways. It's not good pastoral practice in any way at all and, what's more, it's not working and never will.

Mary intercedes ..

I was chatting to a Protestant minister the other day. I told her I was praying to the Blessed Virgin for her intercession in a particular matter. She smilingly told me she goes direct to God.
I replied 'Oh no, you don't!'
She was startled.
'Didn't you ask me the other day to pray for you; and weren't you praying for those sick people who filled in the 'request for prayers' cards in the chaplain's room? Why do you intercede for others and yet deny this privilege to Mary and the saints? And why ask me to pray for you, why not go direct to God?'
'Don't tell me you go direct to God - because you don't'.

Please, no more consultations .. !!

Am I right in daring to suggest that leaders are supposed to be chosen for their wisdom, for their grasp of the truth, for their understanding of justice and good? If this is so, why are they always asking us, the people, what they should do? I've been revisiting the Gospel of the last Sunday of this year, only five weeks away, and trying to understand Pontius Pilate.

Pilate's uncertainty as a leader is so disturbingly familiar. Instead of exercising his authority in a decisive, just and enlightened way he ends up cutting a pathetic figure caught between forces he is unable to deal with.
  • Are you the king of the Jews?
  • So you are a king then?
  • Truth? ... What is that?
  • Would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?
  • Where do you come from?
  • Are you refusing to speak to me?
  • Do you want me to crucify your king?
Back and forth he goes - from Jesus to the crowd outside and from the crowd back to Jesus, and then back to the crowd again.

In the end it is not truth which prevails but a politically expedient decision based ultimately on the personal fears and needs of the leader. How common this is!

Pehaps the worst feature of Pontius Pilate's leadership is the way he asks the crowd to tell him what he should do. He is truly a man without a personal grasp of absolute values ('Truth, what is that?') and such a leader causes his followers to begin to doubt the very existence of these values.

Leaders like Pilate are shepherds who ask the sheep where they would like to graze - a greater danger to their flock than any wolf.

That's how we do it here ..

Australia is importing priests from all over the world to fill the empty spaces left by our shortage of priests. These 'empty spaces' (one archbishop referred to them as 'black holes'), are Australian parishes without priests and a small number of elderly parishioners. They are striking testimony to the fact that in Australia we are doing it wrong.

Doing it wrong has terrible consequences whether it be in business, politics or religion. Do you really believe the mainstream religious orders in Australia are dying out because they are doing it right? I don't think so. They are sad vocation-free zones precisely because they are doing it wrong.

For all this we are very attached to the way we do things in Australia. A new group of overseas priests was recently told that in Australia priests don't wear roman collars or let themselves be called Father. You see what I mean? We call this process 'enculturation' - I call it 'propoganda' - getting them to do things 'our way'.

We bring these priests to Australia and the bishop of their home diocese speaks of them as 'missionary' priests. He tells his people that just as Africa was evangelised by white missionary priests now the black priests are returning the compliment.

The trouble is, though, that few if any of us in Australia, priests or people, really believe we need evangelising.

That's why, instead of welcoming them as missionaries we treat them like imported 'supply' priests to fill what we naively hope will be temporary holes in our system. And that's why we invest all that time in teaching them, no, obliging them, to do things the way we do them here, entirely forgetting that our way of doing things is the problem!
  • 'How we do it here' is why we have no vocations
  • 'How we do it here' is why we have declining numbers at Mass
  • 'How we do it here' is why we have to close churches
  • 'How we do it here' is why we have to import overseas priests.
It would be a pity if these three very generous missionary priests who, I bet you a dollar, arrived in roman collars, were to be returned to their own countries in open-necked shirts, or worse still, in collar and tie, asking to be called Felix, Chris, and Kene rather than Father, and adept in the art of 'compèring' a Mass.

So, Fathers from Africa, India, Poland, I hope you will not take all this 'enculturation' too seriously. Don't get swallowed up by the black hole you are being asked to fill.

Praying for priests ..

A young lady, a member of a new group of consecrated women, asked me what I thought was a priest's greatest need. Her group sensed they needed to pray for priests but were not sure what they should be praying for.

My answer came from the heart: Pray for good bishops. A priest's greatest need is a good bishop.

Dear me ..!

At Masses all around the country so many of the good Sisters are busy, systematically denuding the prayers of any male references to God, and doing so at the top of their voices.

"Glory to God in the highest, and peace to 'God's' people on earth."

"It is right to give 'God' thanks and praise."

Dear me! If only they would apply their fervour to something worthwhile instead of this obsession about not referring to God with masculine pronouns.

I once stopped just before the Preface and asked everyone present to confine themselves to the words the Church had given us to say. I assured them few of us were in any doubt that God was neither male nor female. One of the Sisters present, sitting right under my nose, looked up and shook her head slowly and defiantly as I spoke. It was an ugly moment, and yet, I was somehow grateful to see the disobedience so clearly exposed.

The thought later crossed my mind that this shaking of the head, this refusal, is precisely what young women, prospective postulants, do when investigating such religious orders. "No, not for me. I can do better than that one."

Maybe we should organise a few parishioners, at the end of Mass, when the priest says: The Mass is ended, let us go in peace, to respond: "Thanks be to HIM."

On second thought, maybe not.