Thursday, 31 July 2008

A liturgist's dream...or nightmare!

Everyday I get the news headlines from Cath News Australia, which is funded by the Bishop's conference. I do want to know what is happening in the Church in Australia - but I often have to swallow a few times though, and grit my teeth as I read the liberal propaganda that it often features. And this week they are really on a roll!

Apart from the usual selection of unfortunate headlines and spins, first there was an extremely positive (and very secular) review of the virulently anti-catholic new X-files movie on Monday.

And then there came today's featured website... Brisbane's 'Liturgy Lines', the website of the infamous Mrs Elizabeth Harrington, under the heading of 'The liturgist's dream'.

Alas, Coo-ees from the Cloister are no more or they would have had a field day on this one! Because as we all know, Brisbane is such a wonderful model of everything good in the liturgy....complete with invalid baptisms, lay ministers galore, syncretism and idolatry, and the obstruction of the spread of the TLM.

The site features all sorts of helpful publications - like guidelines for Sunday non-Mass celebrations (which fortunately seem likely to be abolished shortly in Australia), and documents on all your favourite topics such as children's liturgies.

My stomach was already upset, I didn't need this. Could someone please fix up Cath News?

What the Pope said in Australia Part IV - On sanctification

I thought I had better get on with my series on what the Pope actually said in Australia, so here is the next one, which focuses on the challenge for us all to become saints. I should say that there is nothing particularly new in any of this – but it is nonetheless important!

One of the most moving of the Pope’s talks here was I think to the youth at a shelter in Darlinghurst. It was in this talk that he talked most clearly about the fact that all of us – even the greatest saints (save of course Our Lady!) – suffer from the wounds of Original Sin. All of us are tempted by the lures of false gods like power, possessions and pleasure. But all of us can be transformed, as the Apostles were, through grace.

The call to become saints

The first point is a reminder that all of us are called to become saints:

“…the Spirit enables men and women in every land and in every generation to become saints. Through the Spirit’s action, may the young people gathered here for World Youth Day have the courage to become saints! This is what the world needs more than anything else.” (Welcome)
Of course we all know this in theory, but tend in reality to think that such levels of holiness is unattainable by us personally! The Catholic doctrine of ongoing sanctification after our initial justification in baptism is a much harder challenge than the fundamentalist idea that once you’re saved, you’re saved! But the Pope reminds us that the Apostles too were flawed human beings:

“In many ways, the Apostles were ordinary. None could claim to be the perfect disciple. They failed to recognize Christ (cf. Lk 24:13-32), felt ashamed of their own ambition (cf. Lk 22:24-27), and had even denied him (cf. Lk 22:54-62). Yet, when empowered by the Holy Spirit, they were transfixed by the truth of Christ’s Gospel and inspired to proclaim it fearlessly. Emboldened, they exclaimed: repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:37-38)!”

I said a few days ago that I have a particular soft spot for the penitent saints – and I mean not just the big ones like St Mary Magdalene, but the saints whose sins, failings and weaknesses have been exposed for our instruction, like St Peter and many others in the Gospel:

“All through the Gospels, it was those who had taken wrong turnings who were particularly loved by Jesus, because once they recognized their mistake, they were all the more open to his healing message...It was those who were willing to rebuild their lives who were most ready to listen to Jesus and become his disciples.” (Darlinghurst).

What leads us forward: the good, the true and the beautiful

This quest for true discipleship and sainthood, for perfection and holiness, is grounded in our natural inclinations:

“…what does it really mean to be “alive”, to live life to the full? This is what all of us want, especially when we are young, and it is what Christ wants for us. In fact, he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). The most basic instinct of all living things is to stay alive, to grow, to flourish, and to pass on the gift of life to others. So it is only natural that we should ask how best to do this.”

Of course, it is only an illusion that things happen by chance:

“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy..” (Welcoming Ceremony)


“Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.”

Nor is this search something we can do alone, but is handed down to us through the Church and our families:

“Think also of your own grandparents and parents, your first teachers in faith. They too have made countless sacrifices of time and energy, out of love for you. Supported by your parish priests and teachers, they have the task, not always easy but greatly satisfying, of guiding you towards all that is good and true, through their own witness - their teaching and living of our Christian faith.” (Welcoming ceremony)


This message of faith is essentially counter-cultural in our day, given a secularity advocates relativism, and sees life as a product of chance evolution:

“There is also something sinister which stems from the fact that freedom and tolerance are so often separated from truth. This is fuelled by the notion, widely held today, that there are no absolute truths to guide our lives. Relativism, by indiscriminately giving value to practically everything, has made “experience” all-important. Yet, experiences, detached from any consideration of what is good or true, can lead, not to genuine freedom, but to moral or intellectual confusion, to a lowering of standards, to a loss of self-respect, and even to despair.”

Such problems are an inevitable result of secularism:

“…society today is being fragmented by a way of thinking that is inherently short-sighted, because it disregards the full horizon of truth– the truth about God and about us. By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony.”

Turning away from false gods

So what do we have to do?:

“… turn away from other gods and worship the true God who had revealed himself to Moses – and they had to obey his commandments. You might think that in today’s world, people are unlikely to start worshipping other gods. But sometimes people worship “other gods” without realizing it. False “gods”, whatever name, shape or form we give them, are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power.

Material possessions, in themselves, are good. We would not survive for long without money, clothing and shelter. We must eat in order to stay alive. Yet if we are greedy, if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry and the poor, then we make our possessions into a false god. How many voices in our materialist society tell us that happiness is to be found by acquiring as many possessions and luxuries as we can! But this is to make possessions into a false god. Instead of bringing life, they bring death.

Authentic love is obviously something good. Without it, life would hardly be worth living. It fulfils our deepest need, and when we love, we become most fully ourselves, most fully human. But how easily it can be made into a false god! People often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative. People sometimes treat others as objects to satisfy their own needs rather than as persons to be loved and cherished. How easy it is to be deceived by the many voices in our society that advocate a permissive approach to sexuality, without regard for modesty, self-respect or the moral values that bring quality to human relationships! This is worship of a false god. Instead of bringing life, it brings death.

The power God has given us to shape the world around us is obviously something good. Used properly and responsibly, it enables us to transform people’s lives. Every community needs good leaders. Yet how tempting it can be to grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes! This is to make power into a false god. Instead of bringing life, it brings death.

The cult of material possessions, the cult of possessive love and the cult of power often lead people to attempt to “play God”: to try to seize total control, with no regard for the wisdom or the commandments that God has made known to us. This is the path that leads towards death. By contrast, worship of the one true God means recognizing in him the source of all goodness, entrusting ourselves to him, opening ourselves to the healing power of his grace and obeying his commandments: that is the way to choose life.” (Darlinghurst address)


Turning away from sin of course, is easier, said than done:

“Yet how difficult is this path of consecration! It demands continual “conversion”, a sacrificial death to self which is the condition for belonging fully to God, a change of mind and heart which brings true freedom and a new breadth of vision. Today’s liturgy offers an eloquent symbol of that progressive spiritual transformation to which each of us is called. From the sprinkling of water, the proclamation of God’s word and the invocation of all the saints, to the prayer of consecration, the anointing and washing of the altar, its being clothed in white and apparelled in light – all these rites invite us to re-live our own consecration in Baptism. They invite us to reject sin and its false allure, and to drink ever more deeply from the life-giving springs of God’s grace.” (Mass at St Mary’s)

It requires self-discipline and sacrifice:
“…authentic service requires sacrifice and self-discipline, which in turn must be cultivated through self-denial, temperance and a moderate use of the world’s goods. In this way, men and women are led to regard the environment as a marvel to be pondered and respected rather than a commodity for mere consumption. It is incumbent upon religious people to demonstrate that it is possible to find joy in living simply and modestly, generously sharing one’s surplus with those suffering from want.” (Inter-religious meeting)
Most of all, though, it requires grace.

“Yet this power, the grace of the Spirit, is not something we can merit or achieve, but only receive as pure gift. God’s love can only unleash its power when it is allowed to change us from within. We have to let it break through the hard crust of our indifference, our spiritual weariness, our blind conformity to the spirit of this age. Only then can we let it ignite our imagination and shape our deepest desires. That is why prayer is so important: daily prayer, private prayer in the quiet of our hearts and before the Blessed Sacrament, and liturgical prayer in the heart of the Church. Prayer is pure receptivity to God’s grace, love in action, communion with the Spirit who dwells within us, leading us, through Jesus, in the Church, to our heavenly Father. In the power of his Spirit, Jesus is always present in our hearts, quietly waiting for us to be still with him, to hear his voice, to abide in his love, and to receive “power from on high”, enabling us to be salt and light for our world. “(Randwick Mass)

The Pope talked about how in the Old Testament God gradually revealed himself to his people, just as we gradually learn more of each other in our personal relationships. With Mary’s grace-filled ‘yes’, however, everything changes:

“Then came the definitive moment, the moment of marriage, the establishment of a new and everlasting covenant. As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes. Dear young people, we too must remain faithful to the “yes” that we have given to the Lord’s offer of friendship. We know that he will never abandon us. We know that he will always sustain us through the gifts of the Spirit.”

“Mary accepted the Lord’s “proposal” in our name. So let us turn to her and ask her to guide us as we struggle to remain faithful to the life-giving relationship that God has established with each one of us. She is our example and our inspiration, she intercedes for us with her Son, and with a mother’s love she shields us from harm.”

Turning away from evil is only the first step! We must also do the good: but I’ll say more on this topic shortly!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Abbesses ceremonial shoes....

The New Liturgical Movement has developed an Imelda-esq obsession with shoes and stockings of late, which I have to admit really don't interest me that much.

I do however enjoy stories about those over-weaning abbesses of earlier times, who acquired the right to pontificals (pectoral cross and crozier), in some cases had considerable jurisdiction (secular and ecclesiastical), and generally kept a high profile. I can never quite decide whether they were the would-be womyn priests of their time, or the answer to them, by providing positive models of women in positions of authority within a particular sphere. Now I mostly tend to the latter view, but every now and then one has to wonder given some of the stories...

So I couldn't resist this picture of ceremonial shoes, clearly in imitation of the (righfully neglected in my view!) episcopal and pontifical regalia NLM has been filling us in on, made for an eighteenth century abbess of St Marienstern. Presumably the theory is that if the boys can play dress-ups, so can the girls.... and wouldn't you like to see the rest of the regalia that I'm betting goes with the shoes!

In any case, the monastery is a Cistercian women's monastery in Germany that has operated continuously since 1248. It evidently has a wonderful treasury of liturgical objects, so do go over to NLM and have a look at the pictures of the nice nuns and their monastery.

The cult of niceness

One of the more insidious aspects of contemporary culture is the idea that feelings are more important than principles, and that there is no greater crime than to hurt someone else's feelings, even (or especially) by telling them the truth.

Its most extreme manifestation is in things like the Canadian anti-discrimination laws which make even saying something like homosexuality is wrong a 'hate crime'. But it also lies behind the arguments for abortion, as Miss White has recently eloquently explained (and she's spruiking for visitors, hanging over the web hit counter, positively salivating over any newcomers, so I thought I'd better help out, being all neighbourly like).

Perhaps its most dangerous manifestation has been within the Church itself, leading, amongst other things, to the destruction of religious life.

The tide is however finally turning, at least as far as the Church's appreciation of the issue. Take these comments reported, in Zenit, by Cardinal Rodé to the annual course for Superior's of Religious Institutes. He noted:

"In the past the problem came from an authority primarily oriented toward the concern for works that risked neglecting persons. Today, however, the problem is with the excessive timidity over offending personal sensibilities, or from the fragmentation of specializations and responsibilities that weaken the convergence the common goal and hamstring the role of authority."

According to Zenit, "The cardinal said that he is very worried about internal secularization, which manifests itself with a "language that has lost religious content," the "diminishing of prayer time and common religious practices," the "loss of the visibility of the consecrated," "the decision for social activities to the detriment of ecclesial ones such as catechesis, preparation for the sacraments, etc.," and the "understanding of mission more as agent of social progress than evangelization."

We must intensify common prayer, the visibility of consecrated persons, the use of a language with more Christian references, we must emphasize the religious and pastoral dimension of our works, manifesting visible communion with the pastors of the Church," Cardinal Rodé said.

In regard to freedom, the cardinal criticized those who "emphatically focus on the freedom of individuals without presenting the obligations that come from freedom," and he added that "that person is free who constantly lives ready and attentive to see in every situation of life, and above all in every person with whom they live, a mediation of the Lord's will."

Good stuff!

On the causes of environmental devastation and other social ills

I said a few days back that conservatives cringed a little at some of the Pope's comments on social and environmental issues, and today I came across a classic in this regard.

I'm reading Dr Tracey Rowland's book on Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II at the moment - its very interesting albeit considerably less accessible than her latest book. It seems to be a critique in part of the American (and to a lesser degree Australian) neo-conservative project of attempting to reconcile an essentially Protestant culture (founded on ideas such as the severance of relations between Church and State) with Catholic teaching.

The tensions most often come out in areas such as the Church's social teaching - but also on the Iraq War for example, which the Vatican consistently argued did not meet Just War criteria.

Helping the poor causes environmental devastation???!

So as an example of the attempt to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable, let me offer this quote on the Pope's teaching in Australia, by Dr Robert Royal on The Catholic Thing:

"Before arriving, he [the Pope] noted: “Many young people today lack hope. They are perplexed by the questions that present themselves ever more urgently in a confusing world, and they are often uncertain which way to turn for answers. They see poverty and injustice and they long to find solutions. They are challenged by the arguments of those who deny the existence of God and they wonder how to respond. They see great damage done to the natural environment through human greed and they struggle to find ways to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.” All of this, especially the environmental emphasis, was repeated in various WYD events. (Unfortunately, the Holy See today routinely connects environmental problems with greed and not with the unintended consequences of trying to raise the well-being of poor people around the world, the far more usual cause)."

OK, so I really want someone to explain this to me. Silly old me (and I think the Vatican) sees problems like deforestation and the current food price crisis as being driven by rampant consumerism and companies driven purely by the profit motive, unrestrained in most third world countries by adequate regulatory structures.

But in reality it seems those companies were just trying to help the poor by replacing their food crops with biofuel crops, and burning down forests (adding potentially to greenhouse problems and certainly affecting the local climate) to plant even more....

And I'm assuming the logical corollary of this is that we shouldn't actually try helping the poor, because it has all these unintended consequences?


And while I'm on a (what will no doubt be labelled as socialist by some) roll, let me say that I think we should all congratulate the Rudd Government for finally (almost) ending mandatory detention of 'illegal' immigrants (boat people still end up on Christmas Island under the new scheme).

The policy of locking up asylum seekers, including their children, sometimes for years at a time, even when they pose absolutely no threat to the community was a monstrous policy that in fact originated with the Hawke, and not the Howard Government (Howard just tried to up the ante somewhat).

Seeking asylum is not in fact a crime - it is a right under an international law that Australia has signed up to give to all those who arrive at its borders. That's not to say that all who come will pass the test - in reality rejection rates are typically quite high. But better they spend the time while their claim is being assessed in the community rather than in prisons (or marooned on assorted Pacific Islands) at enormous cost to the taxpayer (not withstanding our attempts to make them pay for the pleasure of being detained!).

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The latest incarnation...Fr Qui?

The Shrine of the Holy Whapping has some exciting news:
" other news, a mysterious priest calling himself only 'Father Qui' and wearing a cassock and converse sneakers has been sighted in the Rome area. It is thought his appearance has something to do with reports of a flying blue confessional box seen in the vicinity of St. Peter's. The new head of the CDW has not been available for comment on this matter..."

There is speculation that the sighting may be related to the recent appointment of a new head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who has been selected by Pope Benedict XVI with the mission of exterminating all liturgical abuse:

" recent Vatican news, Pope Benedict XVI ended speculation about Cardinal Arinze's replacement, announcing the new head of the Congregation for Divine Worship was an invincible Dalek warrior from the planet Sarko.

Benedict explained this move would mark the beginning of a new era of decisiveness. When asked his opinion on the future of ICEL, the extraterrestrial prelate responded, 'Exterminate! Exterminate!'

Commentators cautioned at reading too much into this statement, considering that is about the only thing Daleks say, until, when questioned about the USCCB, the new prefect responded 'Ineffable! Ineffable!'
(OK, so that last bit will only mean something to those who have been following the efforts of the US Bishop's Conference to block the new translations of the Mass - already approved for Australia and used at the Papal WYD Mass - on the grounds that the person in the pew can't understand words like ineffable).
Thanks to Fr Z for alerting us to these exciting developments....

On other extraterrestial matters, the news is not so good - Creative Minority Report is saying that the new X-files movie should be boycotted: it is, apparently, a hateful, virulently anti-catholic movie. Pity.

A TLM in every parish: how are we doing?!

A friend thought I would be interested in some statistics compiled by the indomitable Mr Peter Perkins, and with his kind permission, indeed I am.

Why the number of TLMs matters

I think we should be taking seriously Cardinal Castillo's comment that the aim of Summorum Pontificum is to have a TLM in every parish. It is the best counter to liturgical abuses there is, by all reports dramatically impacting on the way a priest says a novus ordo mass and perceives his role. It might help bring people to Catholicism - after all traddie communities tend to be attract converts. And at the purely pragmatic level, it would mean that traditional catholics can safely venture outside their ghettos, even if just for holidays and the like!

Now we all know this vision is going to take time to realise.

And the figures rather reinforce that notion. Overall, TLMs make up only around one-fifth of one per cent of all Masses there is a long, long way to go! The interesting data though are on the distribution of those masses.

Overall availability

Now the statistics are only indicative - while the number of faithful by country is relatively easy to find, records of the number of masses being said are rather more variable in quality. Moreover, this count includes SSPX masses, which many will feel are not strictly interchangeable - but their impact is apparently most significant only in the rankings for France, Germany and Argentina. Geographic distribution of masses is obviously also important, and perhaps distorts results for some countries - Italy for example has very small dioceses, so travelling to reach a mass may not be as much of an issue as in countries like Australia!

All the same, the data are intriguing.

Mr Perkins groups the world into three broad regions in terms of accessibility of the Extraordinary Form:

1. Best Access: Western Europe, Northern America, Australia, New Zealand. TLM are somewhere around one-third of one per cent of all Masses said.

2. Poor Access: Southern America, Central to Eastern Europe. TLMs are about one-tenth of one per cent of all Masses.

3. Abysmal Access: Asia, Africa, the Pacific.

We should all head over to New Zild....

I think the main news of import is that Australian traddies should clearly emigrate to New Zealand, which ranks fourth in the world in terms of TLMs per catholic! Every single NZ diocese now has an every Sunday TLM. Now it is true that a TLM in Wellington is not much use to you if you happen to live across the Cook Strait in Nelson, or are similarly distant from other centres, say on the West Coast, but still, the kiwis are doing a lot better than we are in Oz!

In fact, only 73% of Australian dioceses have an authorized TLM, and we come in thirteenth (just beating the US) in terms of masses per faithful in the international rankings.

Now I know there is some under-reporting in relation to Australia for various reasons (yes that means you Sydney, amongst others. How about someone putting those various non-FSSP masses into the various online databases?), whereas I suspect the NZ Ecclesia Dei Society makes sure the various lists are pretty up-to-date. Still, it is a useful benchmark I think.

And there are some interesting results. Some countries we traditionally think of as Catholic, and with which many Australians have strong family ties - like Ireland, Poland, the Philippines and Italy - are doing very badly TLM-wise relatively speaking. It is also noticeable that the countries where Catholicism is still actually growing, like India are also very low down the rankings.

The League table

The list goes:

1. Estonia - 1 Gregorian Mass for every 2,500 faithful.

2. Lebanon. 1 Gregorian Mass for every 5,000 Latin faithful.

3. Liechtenstein.

4. New Zealand: 1 Gregorian Mass per every 29,000 faithful. Every diocese has a TLM at least every Sunday.

5. Switzerland.

6. Sweden.

7. Singapore.

8. Gabon: 1 per 102,500 faithful.

9. England & Wales: 1 per 108,000 faithful. 91% of dioceses have an every Sunday TLM.

10. Guam (U.S.).

11. Scotland

12. France. 1 Gregorian Mass per every 149,000 faithful. 95% of dioceses have an every Sunday TLM.

13. Australia: 1 Gregorian Mass per every 159,000 faithful. 78% of dioceses have an every Sunday TLM (73% excluding SSPX masses).

14. U.S.A.: 1 Gregorian Mass per every 160,000 faithful. 96% of diocese have an every Sunday TLM (95% excluding SSPX).

15. Germany: 1 Gregorian Mass for every 241,000 faithful.

16. Austria: 1 Gregorian Mass for every 288,000 faithful.

17. Guadeloupe (French).

18. Martinique (French).

19. Canada: 1 Gregorian Mass per every 319,000 faithful. 62% of dioceses with a Sunday TLM

20. Belgium.

21. Luxembourg.

22. Ireland. 1 Gregorian Mass for every 416,000 faithful.

23. South Africa.

24. Free China (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao).

25. Italy: 1 Gregorian Mass for every 739,000 faithful.

26. Bénin.

27. Chile

29. Netherlands: 1 Gregorian Mass per every 1,260,500 faithful.

30. Zimbabwe

31. Poland.

32. Slovenia.

33. Argentina. 1: 1,815,000 faithful.

34. Spain.

35. India.

36. Dominican Republic

37. Lithuania.

38. Hungary. 1 Gregorian Mass for every 3 million faithful plus.

39. Brazil: 1 Gregorian Mass for every 3,547,000 faithful (Campos notwithstanding).

40. Slovakia.

41. Philippines. 4 million faithful per Gregorian Mass

42. Colombia.

43. Portugal.

44. Paraguay.

45. Kenya.

46. Guatemala.

47. México. 1: 12 million plus faithful.

48. Nigeria.

49. Peru. 1 Gregorian Mass on Sundays for a national population of 28 million people.

We have a big task ahead of us!

Monday, 28 July 2008

What the Pope Said in Sydney Part III - The Natural Law

So far I've talked mainly about what the Pope said on the nature and necessity of the Church. I want to turn now to what he had to say about our natural and social environments, which I know were not always well received by conservatives! Perhaps therefore I should start with some of the things we can all agree on, before moving to more controversial ground....

Man as the apex of creation

A key starting point for his exposition - and for our thinking - is the concept rejected by many greenies that man is made in God's image and the 'apex of creation':

"It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are “good” in God’s eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4).Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: “how majestic is your name in all the earth?” (Ps 8:1).

And there is more – something hardly perceivable from the sky – men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family “crowned with glory and honour” (Ps 8:5)..."(Welcoming Ceremony)

It is an important reminder of the Christian view which puts the needs of humans above those of assorted modern causes such as whales or gorillas (and in Switzerland even plants now have rights...):

"Faith teaches us that we are God’s creatures, made in his image and likeness, endowed with an inviolable dignity, and called to eternal life. Wherever man is diminished, the world around us is also diminished; it loses its ultimate meaning and strays from its goal. What emerges is a culture, not of life, but of death. How could this be considered “progress”? It is a backward step, a form of regression which ultimately dries up the very sources of life for individuals and all of society.."(St Mary's Mass). It is not an unrestrained right to exploit the world's resources however. Man's task is 'to exercize responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth.' (Welcome)

The natural law

How does man exercize such responsible stewardship? In essence by following the natural inclinations programmed into us by God, with our understanding purified through our baptism and instruction in Revelation, and with the help of grace!

When we here the word 'natural' we perhaps today immediately think of the physical environment which we have so much impact on. But Pope Benedict XVI several times reminded his audience that our social environment is equally subject to underlying laws.

The existence of the natural law - the inclinations to the good, to self-preservation, sexual union and the rearing of children, the knowledge of truth, and to live in society - are not specifically Christian concepts, but what they mean is most clearly articulated in the Ten Commandments.

It is significant that the Pope made quite a lot of comments on the natural law at the inter-religious meeting, as he has previously argued as a theologian that the natural law provides a common ground on which we can meet and work together to defend at least some truths.

The other point to note is the specifically Augustinian twist on natural law theory that the Pope presents: he talked about a capacity for love as lying behind the inclinations as they are normally understood:

"Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about real love, the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31).

This, if you like, is the programme that is hard-wired into every human person, if only we had the wisdom and generosity to live by it, if only we were ready to sacrifice our own preferences so as to be of service to others, to give our lives for the good of others, and above all for Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us. That is what human beings are called to do, that is what it means to be truly alive.

At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect man’s natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others. The religious sense planted within the human heart opens men and women to God and leads them to discover that personal fulfilment does not consist in the selfish gratification of ephemeral desires. Rather, it leads us to meet the needs of others and to search for concrete ways to contribute to the common good."

The scars of Original Sin

So why don't we live up this ideal! Pope Benedict XVI points to the effects of Original Sin on both our social and physical environment:

"What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption. Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought.

God’s wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous.

How can what is “good” appear so threatening?

And there is more. What of man, the apex of God’s creation? Every day we encounter the genius of human achievement. From advances in medical sciences and the wise application of technology, to the creativity reflected in the arts, the quality and enjoyment of people’s lives in many ways are steadily rising.... All of us, young and old, have those moments when the innate goodness of the human person - perhaps glimpsed in the gesture of a little child or an adult’s readiness to forgive - fills us with profound joy and gratitude.

Yet such moments do not last. So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss.

Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created..." (Welcoming Ceremony)

A New Creation

So what then is the solution? It is our witness to the new creation that starts in Baptism:

"...I wish therefore to recall briefly something of our understanding of Baptism before tomorrow considering the Holy Spirit. On the day of your Baptism, God drew you into his holiness (cf. 2 Pet 1:4). You were adopted as a son or daughter of the Father. You were incorporated into Christ. You were made a dwelling place of his Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19).

Indeed, towards the conclusion of your Baptism, the priest turned to your parents and those gathered and, calling you by your name, said: “you have become a new creation” (Rite of Baptism, 99).

Dear friends, in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face - Jesus Christ - the “way” who satisfies all human yearning, and the “life” to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light (cf. ibid., 100)." (Welcoming ceremony)."

The Pope made several references to the main theme of his American trip, namely the need for Catholics to be active in the 'public square':

"The task of witness is not easy. There are many today who claim that God should be left on the sidelines, and that religion and faith, while fine for individuals, should either be excluded from the public forum altogether or included only in the pursuit of limited pragmatic goals. This secularist vision seeks to explain human life and shape society with little or no reference to the Creator. It presents itself as neutral, impartial and inclusive of everyone.But in reality, like every ideology, secularism imposes a world-view. If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image. When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the “good” begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation. And so we have become more and more aware of our need for humility before the delicate complexity of God’s world." (Welcoming ceremony)

What this means

The logical consequences of this argument dismayed some Conservatives. Pope Benedict XVI commended the Rudd Government on 'making a serious commitment to address its responsibility to care for the natural environment' (ie global warming).

He also commended Prime Minister Rudd for his apology to the Aboriginal people. In my view he was right to do so. Australian policy towards aboriginals violated one of the most fundamental tents of Catholicism, namely respect for the family. And though the motives of many (though certainly not all) involved may have been good, that doesn't make something objectively wrong, right. Acknowledging that something was wrong is always the first step of repentance. Reparation is equally necessary, and something the Australian Government is now committed to.

The Pope also pointed to some other causes that will dismay conservatives - as well as some that they will be pleased to see mentioned:

"And so we are led to reflect on what place the poor and the elderly, immigrants and the voiceless, have in our societies. How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity."
These causes are not however things to be viewed in isolation, as many secular advocates do, but rather understood in the context of "... a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable'.

The difference we are called to make

So what should we be doing, what difference should we be making?:

"Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith’s rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God’s gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished – not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed.

A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships...."

This the difference the Gospel makes, Pope Benedict XVI argues: a power of truth and life to renew the face of the earth; not the piecemeal solutions and false promises of secularism.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Mass at St Anne's in Sydney

A little update, courtesy of Suzanne. No real piccies yet....unfortunately photographer Rosemary flew back to Perth without her camera! But in the meantime, the photos above by Max Dupain from the ABC's Religion Report from a while back to hold you Joshua! Others were taking photos yesterday though, so we may yet get some sooner rather than later...

Around 200 people attended the Mass and afterwards venerated the relic St Anne, though, so this was a great success, a beautiful celebration of St Anne's feast day at this beautiful church, which won the Sulman Prize for Architecture in 1935.

You can read more impressions of St Anne's over at the Juventutem blog.

Propers for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Today's Gospel deals with part of the fulfillment of one of my favourite prophecies of Isaiah: 'Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstoppered..."

OK, so I particularly like it for its setting by Handel as a recitative in the Messiah, but it points nicely to the overall theme for this Sunday of our tendency to refuse to see, hear, believe, and above all, co-operate with grace!

The Gospel is actually St Mark's story of the healing of the deaf mute, and foreshadows the baptismal ceremony, with the use of the word 'ephpheta' (let it be opened). The epistle, from 1 Corinthians, takes up this theme by pointing to the witness of those who saw the Lord after the Resurrection, and urges us to hold true to the truths of the faith that we have heard preached.

Dom Gueranger actually points out that the Gospel for this Sunday was originally the parable of the unforgiving debtor, and some of the Propers really relate more to that text than the current Gospel! Nonetheless, the link between mind and body is brought out nicely in the post communion, while the Offertory talks about being healed, and thus free to praise the Lord.

FSSP Anniversary

FSSP priests, deacons and seminarians at the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the FSSP's foundation at Petersham on July 18 (thanks to Francesca for the photo).

The official celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the FSSP's foundation take place in October, when they were canonically erected, but the presence of Secretary General Fr de Malleray in Sydney for Juventutem (to which he is ecclesiastical advisor) allowed a special mass to be said to honour the formal decision to form the Fraternity.

On 30 July 1988, Archbishop LeFebvre illicitly consecrated four bishops for the SSPX. On 2 July, a group of society priests declared their intention to found a new group in full communion with the Pope. On 18 July, they signed a foundational document, which says:

"By this act the undersigned clerics found the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter as a clerical Society of Apostolic Life, in conformity with the dispositions of CIC (can. 731-46), taking into consideration the exemption foreseen in the Protocol of 5 May 1988 and the Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta of 2 July 1988. This society can associate lay brothers to its work.
The Constitutions, which will specify the goals and the spirituality of this society, are inspired by the approved statutes of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, the society reserving to itself the right to make any changes which it judges necessary by reason of present circumstances.
The undersigned respectfully request the Holy See to approve the said society in the shortest delay possible in order that they may act effectively for the unity and the good of the Church.

Made at Hauterive on 18 July 1988."

Now, twenty years later, the society has 315 priests and seminarians serving in 100 dioceses around the world. It has two seminaries (Wigratzbad and Denton), as well as the year of discernment in Sydney. Its recently formed confraternity (to whom Fr de Malleray is also chaplain) has 1600 members. Certainly achievements worth celebrating!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Feast of St Anne, Mother of the BVM

Most of what we know of St Anne (and St Joachim her husband) comes from the perfectly orthodox, but non-canonical Proto evangelium of James, which dates from the second century.

Her story mirrors that of her namesake Hannah and her son Samuel - Anne and her husband were visited by an angel after years of childlessness who told them that they would conceive a child. They promised to dedicate the child to God's service, and Mary was largely brought up in the Temple.

Among many other causes, St Anne is patroness of grandparents.

PS If you are in Sydney, don't forget the Mass at Bondi!

Pretty WYD piccies can lead to sanctification too...

An official report on Juventutem is now online.

And it includes a quote from Fr de Malleray FSSP that I've been contemplating blogging on, and since it is now in writing shall resist no longer! He:

"...reminded the pilgrims of the fact our liturgical charism would be justified according to the fruits of sanctification it would bring in our lives and in the world. The objective beauty of the liturgical program offered by Juventutem in Australia was not to remain in the future only as striking pictures on our websites and blogs but had to foster an always deeper knowledge and love of God and of his Church."

Now I'd certainly urge everyone to consider setting up Juventutem chapters as he was suggesting. But I do think the role of blogs and pictures need to be defended!

Pictures are first of all reminders - reminders that lift up our minds to remember and contemplate.

They are pointers to the beauty of the liturgy and the broader experiences of WYD. I think blog pictures are in fact the new holy cards! Just like holy cards, icons and other devotional objects, they can lead to sanctification.

They can incite our will to a longing for God. They can remind us of the graces we have received. They can help strengthen the fire of love of God within us.

They also often contain important doctrinal sub-texts - of the importance of the papacy, of the hierarchical constitution of the Church, the necessity of the sacraments and the importance of religious life for example. The old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is as true today as it ever was.

So by all means set up Juventutem chapters - get sound priests to give sound doctrinal talks to young people, adopt practices such as daily recitation of Psalm 42 and a weekly visit to the Blessed Sacrament. But I hope all Juventutemers who were busily snapping with their cameras will not be discouraged from posting their pretty piccies, and giving us all continuing moments of grace.

And herewith a few more 'striking pictures' for you!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Arise o traddie womyn! You too may be called to be a traddie womynpriest...

I've always resisted (well mostly) the urge to post pictures of puppet masses and their ilk, and wondered why trad priests bothered to give sermons on the subject of women priests (unless perhaps to equip us with some apologetics for encounters with acatholic friends). Such things are generally better ignored in my view.

Naively perhaps, I always supposed that there was little danger of traddie women rushing the altar and knocking the priest out of the way in an urge to take over. It seems, however, that I have been gravely mistaken, as this piece from Mulier Fortis indicates that the rot has spread even unto traddiedom:

"....I have been inspired. I feel sure that I am called and chosen... I have a vocation to the ordained priesthood. YES ! I want to become a womynpriest.

BUT... not just any old womynpriest. I like Latin, and snazzy vestments, and I believe in Tradition, and so I am totally convinced that I am called to be a Traddy womynpriest.

So, I have a few questions for my soon-to-be-fellow clerics:

(1) Should I remove my mantilla while being ordained to the Minor Order of exorcist?

(2) Does anyone know whether buckled shoes are available with stiletto heels?

(3) What action should one take when a false nail falls into the chalice after the Consecration? (Ditto for false eyelashes!)

(4) Would a clerical tonsure remove the need to have my roots re-touched?

(5) How can one remove lipstick stains from a purificator?

(6) Are tie-dye stoles obligatory? (because I really prefer embroidered ones!)

(7) Is it permissible to knit when assisting in choir?

I'm sure that there are plenty of issues which need clarification... feel free to add them to the com-box.

UPDATE: It just occurred to me... this "Seal of the Confessional" thing... it doesn't actually apply to really juicy bits of gossip, does it? I mean, what else can one talk about at the monthly parish coffee-and-cake mornings??"

It is a testament to the openness and flexibility of TLM-saying priests that many have offered much helpful advice to take a look at the comments received on her piece, and follow the links to others who have spruiked her piece! Fr Z in particular offers detailed responses to each of her questions that will surely be helpful to anyone else considering this path....

New Italian Traditional Monastery

There are reports across the internet that three monks from Le Barroux have left to set up an independent foundation in Italy, in the diocese of Albenga-Imperia, dedicated to the exclusive celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass.

The establishment of a monastery dedicated to the Traditional Latin Mass in Italy is obviously a good thing, we need more traditional monasteries.

But I have to admit that, unlike most in the blogosphere, I have some reservations about this for a number of reasons. This is not an official foundation of Le Barroux.

So the first issue relates to the Benedictine vows of obedience and stability. Monks, unlike secular priests or members of apostolic societies of life (such as the FSSP and ICK) take vows of obedience to their superior, and in the Benedictine charism vow to stay in the house where their vows are made until death.

There are always exceptions of course - new foundations made by the motherhouse being one of them; and occasionally calls to new charisms. And on the latter point of course we can all applaud Dom Gerard Calvet's courage in remaining true to his vows and refusing to accept the watering down of observance that led to the foundation of Le Barroux in the first place.

At the time of the SSPX consecrations Le Barroux's Brazilian foundation cut its links to Le Barroux, and a few monks left Le Barroux itself. This latest move makes one wonder if we now going to see another round of disintegration in the traditional orders, even as some previously outside proper canonical structures are brought in?! Some shakeout is probably inevitable, as those who originally joined up had few choices, and that situation has now changed. All the same, this is an area where great care is needed.

The second (and related) issue is whether Le Barroux really has compromised its traditional orientation sufficiently as to justify a 'new' charism, as many traddies appear to believe is occurring under its current Abbot, and Rorate Caeli suggests is the motivation for this move.

Le Barroux (and Fontgambault and its foundations) have always celebrated a monastic use of the TLM for its conventual mass (frequently described as '1965 missal', but I'm not at all sure that is actually correct. In fact the particular variants are ones prescribed by the PCED specifically for the Benedictines). But any deviation from the 1962 missal (except perhaps for the earlier Holy Week liturgies) seems to be viewed as a mark of compromise by some who have forgotten that the Church once enjoyed a great diversity of uses and rites.

There has been some emphasis in the reporting on this subject on fidelity to Dom Gerard's 'original' charism to the TLM. Presumably this is a reference to the fact that Dom Gerard himself was severely criticized when he concelebrated a private mass with the then Pope - apparently he was supposed to say no to a specific request from Pope John Paul II! I would suggest that Dom Gerard's 'original' charism was in fact to a traditional understanding of monasticism (including obedience to the Rule he had made his vows to keep) above all - with the Mass a closely related but essentially secondary issue.

The particular issue at Le Barroux at the moment appears to be a willingness to entertain and engage on further reforms to the 1962 missal - something explicitly signalled by Summorum Pontificum.

Now I'm opposed to such changes myself, at least any time soon ('reform of the reform' needs to come first, with the TLM acting as a norm for that) - but I do think there is a pretty strong argument that traddies need to engage on this front and decide what calendar and other reforms we could live with rather than wait to have them simply imposed on us! And I suspect that is all Dom Louis-Marie is saying. But I'd be happy to be corrected if I'm misreading his comments and what is actually happening at Le Barroux.

More fundamentally, this development signals a serious need for traditionalists to think about what they really stand for. Is it really just about strict adherence to a particular missal?

And if it is, if, hypothetically, the Vatican did make further changes to the TLM (such as imposing the new calendar), does this mean that at some point we would all be prepared to defect to the SSPX? I certainly hope not!

I know that is not quite what is happening in this particular instance, since a stricter adherence to the 1962 missal is certainly permissible under current Church law, but there are some important issues at stake here. Liturgy is crucial - but so too is our understanding of doctrine and practice, and becoming obsessed with minor variations to the liturgy (as opposed to the major variants represented by the novus ordo) could jeopardise the bigger issue of working to restore lex credendi (what we believe) in the Church.

Feast of St James

St James, son of Zebedee was of course one of the 'big three' of the Apostles, present with Peter and John (his brother) at many key events such as the Transfiguration. He was also the first of the Apostles to be martyred, by King Herod around 44AD.

His cult, of course, gained enormous popularity in the Middle Ages onwards through the pilgrimage to Compostella, where his relics lie. During the reconquest of Spain, he miraculously intervened to help the Christian cause, thus garnering him the title, 'Moor slayer'.

What the Pope said in Australia Part II - Images of the Church

I noted in the first part of this series that one of the central focuses of the Pope's catechesis was the necessity of the Church - a nice contrast to the wishy washy stuff we've typically been served up in recent years in the name of ecumenism!

Even amongst conservatives, there has been a bit of a tendency to pump for CS Lewis' 'Mere Christianity', and ignore issues about what the Church is and her necessity - Kreeft and Tacelli's otherwise useful book on apologetics (which a commenter pointed to a few weeks back) for example, goes down this track.

But what I want to focus on today are some of the images of the Church that the Pope employed in his series of addresses.

The big focus over the last several decades has been on horizontal relationships - our relationship to each other. Pope Benedict XVI certainly isn't walking away from the horizontal element of 'communio'. But he is trying to get it back into proportion I think, both through his changes to liturgical practice and in what he has said, putting the focus back on our vertical relationship with God. The images he employs also, I think, say something important about the relationship between the Church and the world, pointing to an inherent tension between them.

The Church as the Upper Room

One of the key images he referred to throughout his WYD addresses is the Church as the Upper Room - the place where the Last Supper was enacted, and to which the apostles, together with Mary and the women, returned after his Ascension to await the coming of the Holy Ghost.

The Upper Room is a place of retreat from the world, a place where we prepare ourselves through prayer:

"..we do know that their deep love for Jesus, and their trust in his word, prompted them to gather and to wait; to wait not aimlessly, but together, united in prayer, with the women and Mary in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 1:14). Tonight, we do the same." (Vigil)

And it is a place where we are transformed through the grace of the Holy Ghost:

"Almost two thousand years ago, the Apostles, gathered in the upper room together with Mary and some faithful women, were filled with the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:4). At that extraordinary moment, which gave birth to the Church, the confusion and fear that had gripped Christ’s disciples were transformed into a vigorous conviction and sense of purpose. They felt impelled to speak of their encounter with the risen Jesus whom they had come to call affectionately, the Lord." (Welcoming Ceremony, 17.7.08)

The Pope of course made much of the people of many nations and tongues who gathered at that first Pentecost, and the mission to spread the message to the ends of the Earth:

"Standing before me I see a vibrant image of the universal Church. The variety of nations and cultures from which you hail shows that indeed Christ’s Good News is for everyone; it has reached the ends of the earth. Yet I know too that a good number of you are still seeking a spiritual homeland. Some of you, most welcome among us, are not Catholic or Christian. Others of you perhaps hover at the edge of parish and Church life. To you I wish to offer encouragement: step forward into Christ’s loving embrace; recognize the Church as your home. No one need remain on the outside, for from the day of Pentecost the Church has been one and universal."

The Church as Temple

In the events of the Passion and Resurrection, Christ proclaimed himself as the true Temple, torn down and rebuilt in three days. The new Temple is a living Temple, built on the cornerstone of Jesus, and the rock that is Peter:

"...a solid, well-structured temple composed of living stones rising on its sure foundation. Jesus himself brings together in perfect unity these images of “temple” and “body” (cf. Jn 2:21-22; Lk 23:45; Rev 21:22). (Ecumenical meeting)

The Church is 'the living temple of the Holy Spirit', guiding her in all her activities.

The Pope did also use the image of the Body of Christ:

"By employing the image of a body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-31), Paul draws attention to the organic unity and diversity that allows the Church to breathe and grow." (Ecumenical meeting)


"...the Body of Christ, a living community of love, embracing people of every race, nation and tongue, of every time and place, in the unity born of our faith in the Risen Lord."

Living altars

But his emphasis, particularly to those called to consecrated life, was on uniting with the sacrifice of the head of the body, Christ, so as to become living altars to God:

"...the Church reminds us that, like this altar, we too have been consecrated, set “apart” for the service of God and the building up of his Kingdom....

We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy.

The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world. It is in this truth – this mystery of faith – that we have been “consecrated” (cf. Jn 17:17-19), and it is in this truth that we are called to grow, with the help of God’s grace, in daily fidelity to his word, within the life-giving communion of the Church."

Inspirational stuff, I think, for priests and religious, and those preparing for that life.

The final image of the Church that the Pope employed several times that I want to mention is us as God's family. For example:

"...And together we stand in our world as God’s family, disciples of Christ, empowered by his Spirit to be witnesses of his love and truth for everyone." (Welcoming Ceremony)

A family of course has a head - and children are subject to their parents' guidance and teaching, even as they go out and bear witness to others:

"We recalled how in the great gift of baptism we, who are made in God’s image and likeness, have been reborn, we have become God’s adopted children, a new creation. And so it is as children of Christ’s light – symbolized by the lit candles you now hold – that we bear witness in our world to the radiance no darkness can overcome (cf. Jn 1:5). " (Vigil)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Recent posts....

WYD round-up

Other things!

The Vatican on Anglicans - letting it rip!!

Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the senior Catholic delegate at the Lambeth Conference, has given a searing address, describing the turmoil in the Anglican Communion as "spiritual Alzheimer's" and "ecclesial Parkinson's".

He said: "When we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer's.

"When we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any coordination with the head of or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson's."

Pretty bombastic stuff - you can read more in The Guardian. Meanwhile, at least one of the 'traditional' groups of Anglicans has announced it is seeking to remain within the Anglican communion.

And from what Fr Zulsdorf (What does the prayer really say) has been reporting on the views of the SSPX bishops over the last few days, not much doing there either...Nevertheless, we can pray...and for this excellent Cardinal too!

Anerio Christus Factus Est

The Recovering Choir Director has posted a sound file of the Anerio motet sung at Juventutem last week - go and listen!

More WYD photos

Waiting for the Pope to pass by....

The Randwick Mass, from e-Benedict:

And the St Mary's Mass:

High Mass at Balmain (Juventutem), from NLM:

And a Low Mass at Balmain, from Psalliter Sapienter:

Scripture Reading Plan: Chronicles

I haven't mentioned the Scripture reading plan I've been (more or less) following for a while, but today conveniently is the start of a new book of the Bible, 1 Chronicles (aka Paralipomena in the Vulgate or Paralipomenon in the Douai), I thought I'd do an introduction to it in order to encourage you too to take a look at it!

But first a reminder of what this is all about....

The Bible reading plan

Catholics are notoriously reluctant to read the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. But it is important that we do - as St Jerome pointed out, ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ! Scripture, and particularly lectio divina (meditative reading of Scripture, feeding into contemplative prayer) is as much part of our Tradition as the Mass is. In the Western tradition, Our Lady at the Annunciation is often depicted reading Scripture (as above), and St Luke's description of her 'treasuring all these things in her heart' is the paradigm for lectio.

In fact I particularly loved Pope Benedict XVI's description last week, drawn from the Fathers, of Scripture as 'a spiritual Eden, a garden where we can walk freely with God, admiring the beauty and harmony of his saving plan as it bears fruit in our own lives, in the life of the Church and in all of history'.

The particular plan I'm trying to follow comes courtesy of a Benedictine monk, Dom Christopher Lazowski, who posted it on the New Liturgical Movement blog last year, asking for feedback on whether this plan for lectio divina, which enables one to read the entire Bible, aside from the Gospels and the psalms, in the course of a year, works! It essentially follows the order of the readings from Matins (in the traditional Roman and Benedictine breviaries), but includes those texts omitted from the Office.

Now that I'm bearly three-quarters through a year's worth of reading, I'd have to say that it is a little over-ambitious as a plan for lectio divina unless you are a contemplative monk with several hours a day to devote to the task - two or three chapters of the Bible a day is far too much to seriously study and meditate on for most of us!

All the same, just reading those few chapters systematically each day with a commentary, and perhaps picking out a small section to meditate on, has proved pretty valuable to me, particularly as it makes one focus on those books that tend to be skipped over as less important! To understand the New Testament one really has to be seeped in the Old, and a program of reading of this kind can help achieve this.

Resources for reading

The Old Testament, however, is not always easy to understand or grasp the significance of, hence the need for introductions for each book (and what I'm writing is mostly drawn from Fr Baker and Peter Kreeft's respective introductions to the Bible, both of which are excellent and complementary).

From time to time you will find it pretty helpful to have resources to go to get the significance of the text. Personally I'm mainly using the Navarre Bible, but there are some good resources online that are worth a look. In particular I would suggest:


Matins has been working its way through the history books of the Bible over the last little while, and the Plan continues with 1&2 Chronicles for the next few weeks.

The books (which are joined together in the Hebrew Bible and may have been split in the Septuagint for ease of copying) were written some time after 400 BC and covers much the same ground as Kings but from a different perspective.

Key themes: In fact, they start from the story of Creation (although the real focus starts with King David and King Solomon) and retell history from the perspective of God's messianic promise to David. The chronicler assesses each of the Kings of Judah, and judges most of them to be pretty much failures!

This is very much a theology of history - with divine retribution for idolatry a strong subtext. It is the Temple, though, and the proper worship of God in it, that is the central key to understanding Chronicles. Temple theology, of course, also got a substantial mention from the Pope at WYD, and these books are key to understanding the New Testament descriptions of Jesus as the Temple, and ourselves as the Temple of the Holy Spirit.

That said, there are some peculiarities to these books for many readers - the perspective is priestly rather than prophetic, with a strong liturgical focus (though that might appeal to many traddies!); the level of detail provided may strike one as unnecessary (but remember that God inspired the author to write exactly wanted he wanted, no more or less!); and it has a touch of '1066 and all that' - Kings are either good or bad, and faults by the good kings (such as David) are either glossed over or omitted altogether.

But overall its message is positive - it is idealistic, and reminds us that the political health of a nation depends on its spiritual health, and the nation's spiritual health depends in turn on that of its leaders...

The reading plan: The perspective of Chronicles is not always one easy for the modern reader to identify with. Though medieval monks loved pouring over those genealogies and comparing then to those elsewhere in Scripture, the reading plan sensibly suggests whipping through and reading the first five chapters today; 6-10 tomorrow, then slowing down to around three chapters a day to get you to 30 July. For 2 Chronicles, similarly read 1-5 in one go, then 6-9, aiming at finishing it by August 9.

Happy reading!

Oh to be in the summer!

A few years back I worked in Canada's lovely capital Ottawa for a couple of years.

I liked it a lot - nice people (albeit a little odd. What's with that bizarre francophone vs anglo thing anyway?). I had a job in which I genuinely felt I was making a difference (despite having to deal with ten more layers of bureaucracy than anyone in Australia would tolerate, and that's not taking into account the bilingual thing). It was excitingly close to the political hot spots of the world - but with a health system, and without the level of random violence across the border. It's scenic, and has one of the world's greatest orchestra's in easy reach in Montreal. And Ottawa has a strong TLM community at St Clement's, conveniently near where I lived, in an apartment looking out on the canal and parklands. I even considered migrating...until winter came around again. As it does so quickly!

So I had to love this pilgrim encounter story from the SMH:

"Pat Sheil
July 21, 2008

WALKING in Elizabeth Street on a glorious afternoon last week, I happened upon a Canadian pilgrim at a set of lights. I waved an arm at the sky and said, "Sorry that you had to come here in the middle of winter, but I assure you, this is as bad as it gets."

It was the only moment all week that I saw a pilgrim frown.

The episode gave me pause to reflect on our notion of winter, and how glad we should be that it gets just cold enough to grumble about (which we all enjoy), but not so cold that we have to shovel our way through five-metre snowdrifts for six months of the year.

How Canadians even exist is beyond me, and why they all haven't migrated is perhaps testimony to humanity's capacity to accept outrageous circumstances for no good reason.
For the price of heating a three-bedroom house in Saskatchewan, a family could spend Christmas on a Sydney beach and have cash left for beer and prawns. So why don't they?

Because they are weird. Canadians take a masochistic pride in living within coo-ee of the Arctic, of having polar bears trash their holiday cabins, of having to wear twice their body mass in insulation just to go out and top the car up with anti-freeze. But the rising price of oil (and polar bears) is forcing our boreal buddies into a lifestyle reassessment. What, they are asking themselves, is the bloody point of living in a First-World economy that spends half the year in a refrigerator?

It was this revelation that hit my pilgrim mate from Toronto on the corner of Elizabeth and Foveaux streets last Wednesday. He was rendered speechless, and was clearly digesting a new outlook on climate and nationality. His paradigm, as they say, was shifting beneath his feet, as he gazed at a winter sky for which an Englishman at Lord's would sacrifice his first-born to sit beneath in high summer.

I could tell he was juggling exchange rates, property prices, job opportunities. More to the point, he was mulling over whether he really liked all those relatives and foul-weather friends back home. He could apply for asylum, on the grounds no sane individual should be expected to endure another Canadian winter.

I could see all this flash across his perplexed face in an instant. But I knew he would go home, and shovel snow from November till March, just like every year. Why would he do this?
Because Canadians are weird."

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Juventutem photos....

Juventutem photo albums and photos are starting to appear, so I'll start putting up a judicious selection.

Perpetua over at the Juventutem blog is lamenting the imminent departure of these Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church (photos by Peter Roman Z, of Et clamor meus.

Scott Turkington, who conducted the chant workshop, accompanied by Stephen Smith (from NLM):

Some more from Roman:

And just a final reminder that Australians are capable of kneeling and receiving on the tongue, from the final Papal Mass!

Give us this day our daily bread....

In terms of what people liked about WYD, let's just say that the food was not at the top of the list. In fact a quiz running on Xt3 (with around 2,000 votes so far) currently rates things as follows:

Overnight vigil 24%
Closing Mass with the Pope 23%
Host country/sights/meeting local people 19%
Stations of the Cross 11%
Daily Catechesis 8%
Being a Virtual Internet Pilgrim on Xt3 7%
Days in the Diocese 6%
WYD Food 1%
Accommodation 1%

We've all heard the stories on why the accommodation might not garner many votes (save for the one per cent), but for the story on the food take a look at Psallite Sapienter's Ode to the Pilgrim Lunch (think cold baked beans as a sandwich filling...)! Now I know the Pope did talk about the virtues of asceticism...but there are reasonable limits!

On the plus side, think how much suffering must have been offered up, benefitting the rest of us....

What the Pope said Part I - The centrality of the Church

One of the fascinating things about WYD events was watching how intently people seem to listen to the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI never dumbs things down, even speaking to young people. His words replay rereading several times. His voice is not dynamic. But it does penetrate the consciousness.

Most importantly, what he says is thoroughly traditional, reiterating and representing the key truths of our faith, but told with vivid imagery, and offering powerful new insights. This is truly catechesis to take note of.

And on his Australian visit, one of his most central themes was the importance of the Church itself. He tackled head on those who think they can use the label Catholic but go their own way, inventing their own doctrine and praxis.

Truth only lies within the Church

At the Ecumenical meeting, Pope Benedict XVI said: "Saint Paul teaches that it is within the koinonia of the Church that we have access to and the means of safeguarding the truth of the Gospel, for the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with Jesus himself as the cornerstone."

One of the constant threads through all of his addresses - and in the visual imagery of WYD (save for a few wasted opportunities such as the vigil) - was that this Church he is speaking of is the Catholic Church, the one Church founded in the Upper Room at that first Pentecost and handed down through the generations, and visible here in the 'presence of the successor of Peter' and the other successors to the Apostles. The idea of having the bishops lead the various catechesis sessions was a nice way to emphasize the teaching authority of the Church.

The institutional Church is crucial:

"To separate the Holy Spirit from Christ present in the Church’s institutional structure would compromise the unity of the Christian community, which is precisely the Spirit’s gift! It would betray the nature of the Church as the living temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). It is the Spirit, in fact, who guides the Church in the way of all truth and unifies her in communion and in the works of ministry." (Vigil)

And here is the counter to separatists of various kinds:

"Unfortunately the temptation to “go it alone” persists. Some today portray their local community as somehow separate from the so-called institutional Church, by speaking of the former as flexible and open to the Spirit and the latter as rigid and devoid of the Spirit..." (Vigil)

Necessity of the Church

The institutional Church is necessary because it is to her that the 'abundant treasures of grace' can be found, particularly in the sacraments.

Most importantly, it is in the Mass that our sacrifices are joined to those of Christ:

"In the Church’s liturgy, and above all in the sacrifice of the Mass consummated on the altars of the world, he invites us, the members of his mystical Body, to share in his self-oblation. He calls us, as the priestly people of the new and eternal covenant, to offer, in union with him, our own daily sacrifices for the salvation of the world...."(Sat Mass)

Practice flows from doctrine

One of the most important messages related to the importance of doctrine as taught by the Church.

A lot of emphasis has been put of late on ideas such as 'practical ecumenism', co-operation between the Church and ecclesial communities at the political level, in doing good works and so forth. But at the Ecumenical Meeting the Pope told participants not to be afraid of robust discussion on doctrine:

"We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live. In fact, the history of the Church demonstrates that praxis is not only inseparable from, but actually flows out of didache or teaching. The more closely we strive for a deeper understanding of the divine mysteries, the more eloquently our works of charity will speak of God’s bountiful goodness and love towards all."

Building up the Church is a key task

The implication of all this is that building up the Church herself, in her institutional manifestations, and resisting the temptation to walk away from it, is a central task to which we are all called:

"Every element of the Church’s structure is important, yet all of them would falter and crumble without the cornerstone who is Christ. As “fellow citizens” of the “household of God”, Christians must work together to ensure that the edifice stands strong so that others will be attracted to enter and discover the abundant treasures of grace within." (Ecumenical meeting)


"Directed to unity, the gifts of the Spirit bind us more closely to the whole Body of Christ, equipping us better to build up the Church in order to serve the world (cf. Eph 4:13). They call us to active and joyful participation in the life of the Church: in parishes and ecclesial movements, in religious education classes, in university chaplaincies and other catholic organizations. Yes, the Church must grow in unity, must be strengthened in holiness, must be rejuvenated, must be constantly renewed." (Vigil)

We must resist the temptation to reject the Church:

"Unity is of the essence of the Church; it is a gift we must recognize and cherish. Tonight, let us pray for the resolve to nurture unity: contribute to it! resist any temptation to walk away! For it is precisely the comprehensiveness, the vast vision, of our faith – solid yet open, consistent yet dynamic, true yet constantly growing in insight – that we can offer our world." (Vigil)

Rather, we all have a role to play in it:

"Paul reminds us that each and every Christian has received a gift meant for building up the Body of Christ. The Church especially needs the gifts of young people, all young people. She needs to grow in the power of the Spirit who even now gives joy to your youth and inspires you to serve the Lord with gladness."

Part of the particular power of this message comes from the nature of the Church that the Pope articulates. And I'll talk a bit about that soon!