Friday, 31 December 2010

Have a Happy and Holy Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I will be taking a short blogging break here, but a Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Bishop Joseph Grech RIP

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Bishop Joseph Grech of Sandhurst Diocese, who died yesterday. 

The Bendigo Advertiser reports that:

"Bishop Grech died in St Vincent’s Hospital at 3pm yesterday after a short illness.

Monsignor Frank Marriott was among a group of eight Church leaders, family and community members with 62-year-old Bishop Grech when he died.

Bishop Grech became ill on Thursday afternoon and was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital, but his condition further deteriorated yesterday morning.

“There was a little community of about eight people praying for him between 11am and 3pm and those eight people were present when he died,” Monsignor Marriott said....

Also by his side was Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart, who said the bishop’s death was a great loss for the Church."

The Australian Bishops Conference have put out the following media release:

"It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of Bishop Joseph Angelo Grech, Bishop of Sandhurst, Victoria, at the age of 62.

Bishop Joe Grech took ill on 22 December with a recurrence of a blood disorder. His condition deteriorated on Christmas Day, and he died peacefully in St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne with Archbishop Mark Coleridge and Fr Maurizio Pettena CS, as well as family members and close friends at his side.

Maltese-born Bishop Joseph Angelo Grech was born in 1948 and ordained to the priesthood in 1974. He was installed as the sixth Bishop of Sandhurst on 27 April 2001. President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Philip Wilson today paid tribute to Bishop Joe as an exceptional pastor.

“My brother Bishops and I are deeply saddened by the death of Bishop Joe Grech. Bishop Joe has been a wonderful member of the Episcopal Conference. He has made a tremendous contribution to the Church in Australia because of his deep faith and spirituality, which has been shown especially in the zeal with which he dealt with issues of migrants and refugees and his outreach to young people. He has also shown a wonderful support and commitment to Charismatic prayer groups in this country”, he said.

Bishop Joe’s commitment to the people of the Diocese of Sandhurst was that of a man with a deep love for humanity and a great enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Joe is quoted as saying: “I love Jesus Christ and want everyone to have the same opportunities to know and love him as I do.”

Bishop Joe was the Bishops’ delegate for Youth and Young Adults and for Migrants and Refugees, and he served in these roles with joy and a deep compassion. Bishop Joe frequently spoke out on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, and he matched these words with pastoral action, through his involvement in the establishment of services in remote detention centres.

Young people around Australia will feel particularly keenly the loss of Bishop Joe whose enthusiastic manner, unique and charismatic style of preaching and gentle pastoral sensibility helped many young people encounter the spirit of Jesus Christ.

Further details and funeral arrangements will be provided as they come to hand.  Eternal rest grant unto him and may perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace."

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Paul Collins' Christmas message: Forget absolute "truth" and stop having babies

Ex-priest, Canberran Fr Paul Collins has a think piece up at the ABC's Religion and Ethics site, and highlighted, naturally enough as an opinion piece by Cath News.

It's another heretical rant, this time claiming that 'fundamentalism' (meaning anyone who believes what the church teaches about truth being an absolute and not relative) is more dangerous to the faith than aggressive atheists.

Nature and the human imagination?

The piece is in fact by way of promotional material for his latest book, whose key theme one gathers from this and other news items I've seen, is a curious form of nature worship where the human imagination replaces God as the thing to be worshipped:

"The real threat that religion faces in our world is that our imaginations will dry-up and atrophy. This is intimately linked to environmental destruction and population growth.

If present species extinction rates continue and environmental destruction is exacerbated by the pressure of more and more human beings, we will soon end-up in a kind of feed-lot world where everything is subsumed to human survival.

People in a world where all wildernesses have been destroyed, most species driven to extinction and nature driven out, would lose touch with the possibility of the development of culture, art, religion and spirituality. For there would be nothing beyond the self to stimulate, challenge and feed our imaginations.[Because God doesn't exist in this scenario?  Is this why Collins no longer sees atheism as a threat - because he is one?]

Deprived of nature with its beauty, multiplicity, mystery, complexity and otherness, our imaginations would shrivel up, and we would lose our ability to perceive and experience the deeper feelings and intuitions that give real meaning to our lives.[Again I ask, where is God in all this?]

For nature is the source of our origin and the context of our continuing evolution and spiritual development. [Call me fundamentalist but...actually isn't it God that the Catholic religion points to responsible for our origin, continued existence and spiritual development?] Without imagination we would lose all sense of ourselves as human beings.

The result: the poetic, mystical core of our religion, spirituality, art and culture would atrophy for there would be nothing to renew and nurture it. Our imaginations need the inspiration of natural beauty, ecological diversity and the otherness of nature with its non-human species."


This is scandalous stuff. 

Sufficient, I would have thought, to warrant withholding communion under Canon 915.

I urge Archbishop Coleridge to take appropriate action. 

Fortunately Mr Collins' parish priest is the archdiocese's Chancellor and canonist...

And you thought I was forthright on the problems of religious life....

Damian Thompson highlights a video from Real Catholic TV, and I feel the need to share....

Mr Thompson gives the item the heading "Lesbian-hugging Marxist nuns have reduced US parishes to nuclear wasteland, Catholic pundit tentatively suggests".  It is a forthright rant (and I use the word advisedly) on the Vatican's tentative outreach at the US nuns and 'understand their anger'.

Mr Thompson states that he is posting the video "only to show what can happen when conservative Catholic commentators lose their sense of charity. Yes indeedy."


However, unlike, I suspect, Mr Thompson (and certainly unlike Michael Voris), while I understand the reaction, I do think it is unfair.  The reality is that the sisters concerned were, in many cases, bullied and  brainwashed into the directions they went in.  If you don't believe me, read this confession by the psychologist who destroyed an entire religious order.  And he certainly wasn't Robinson Crusoe.

Could they have put up more resistance?  Perhaps.  But the number who successfully did is staggeringly tiny: far greater are the number of monasteries that realised a decade or so later - like Mother Angelica's nuns - that they were heading in the wrong direction, and made changes then. 

Is it too late to repent of what has been done and their role in it, and change things? No.

So do pray for all religious as Mr Voris recommends....

The Pope's Christmas message to the Curia: reclaim morality!

The Vatican Information Services has put out a report on the Holy Father's traditional pre-Christmas meeting with the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and members of the Roman Curia, and its a fairly grim message, focusing on the abuse crisis:

The face of the Church, soiled

"Recalling the principal events of the past twelve months, the Pope noted how "with great joy we began the Year for Priests and, thanks to God, were able to conclude it with much gratitude, though it was very different to how we had imagined. Among us as priests and among the laity, also and especially the young, a renewed awareness arose of the great gift of the priesthood of the Catholic Church, which was entrusted to us by the Lord. One again we came to understand how beautiful it is that human beings are authorised to pronounce the name of God and, with complete authority, the word of forgiveness, and thus that they are able to change the world, to change life. How beautiful it is that human beings are authorised to pronounce the words of consecration. ... How beautiful it is to be able to remain, with the strength of Lord, close to mankind in his joys and sorrows".

"Thus our shock was even greater when, precisely in this year and in a dimension that we could not imagine, we became aware of the abuse of minors committed by priests who distort the Sacrament into its antithesis: under the veil of the sacred they inflicted profound harm on human beings in their infancy, causing damages that lasts a lifetime.

"In this context", the Pope added, "a vision of St. Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, who disturbingly describes what we experienced this year".

"In St. Hildegard's vision the face of the Church was soiled with dust, and this is how we saw it. Her vestments were torn, and the fault was of priests. Just as she saw and expressed her vision, so have we lived this year. We must humbly accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair, as much as possible, the injustice committed. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our announcement, in our entire way of determining Christian existence, that such a thing could happen.

"We must discover a new resolve to be faithful and good. We must be capable of penance. We must strive to do everything possible, when preparing people for the priesthood, to ensure such a thing can never happen again. This is also the place to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone working to help victims, to restore their trust in the Church and their capacity to believe in her message.

"In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always encountered people who, with great dedication, remain close to those who are suffering or have been damaged. This is also an occasion to thank the many good priests who humbly and faithfully transmit the Lord's goodness and who, amidst so much devastation, are witnesses of the beauty of the priesthood, a beauty which has not been lost".

A sick culture and the error of consequentialism

The Holy Father went on: "We are aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our consequent responsibility. Yet we cannot remain silent concerning the context of our time in which we see these events taking place. There is a market for child pornography which, in some way, seems to be increasingly considered by society as something normal. The psychological devastation of children in whom human beings are reduced to the level of a market commodity, is a frightening sign of the times".

In this context, the Holy Father mentioned the problem of drugs, "which with increasing strength extends its tentacles to the entire world. ... All pleasure becomes insufficient and excess under the delusion of intoxication turns into violence that rends entire regions. And all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom, in which precisely man's freedom is undermined and in the end completely cancelled.

"To oppose these forces we must look at their ideological foundations. In the 1970s it was theorised that paedophilia was entirely consistent with man and with children. This, however, was part of a basic perversion of the concept of 'ethos'" in which "nothing is good or bad in itself, everything depends on the circumstances and on the intended goal. ... Morality was replaced with a calculation of consequences, and by this process ceased to exist. The effects of these theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical 'Veritatis splendor', indicated with prophetic force the great rational tradition of Christian 'ethos' as the essential and permanent foundations for moral action. Today this text must once again be placed at the centre as a way to form consciences".

Orthodox relationsBenedict XVI then turned his attention to the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East which began when he consigned the "Instrumentum laboris" during his apostolic trip to Cyprus in June. "Even if full communion is not yet granted to us", said the Pope referring to the Orthodox Church, "we have nevertheless established with joy that the basic form of the ancient Church unites us profoundly with one another: the sacramental office of bishops as the bearer of apostolic tradition, the reading of Scripture according to the hermeneutic of the 'Regula fidei', the understanding of Scripture in its manifold unity centred on Christ, developed under divine inspiration, and finally, our faith in the central place of the Eucharist in the Church's life".

"We witnessed impressive manifestations of the rich Christian culture of the Christian East. But we also saw the problems. ... The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress; indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry.

The Middle East: put a stop to Christianophobia

"During the Synod itself", he added, "our gaze was extended over the whole of the Middle East, where the followers of different religions - as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites - live together. ... In the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered ... with the result that we witness with increasing alarm acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred. ... In the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority. For centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. During the Synod we listened to wise words from the Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon against acts of violence targeting Christians. He said: when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded. Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak. Here too we come up against an unholy alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness.

"On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality", the Pope went on, "the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone. Thus the words ... of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalise the spirit of reconciliation".

UK visit

The Holy Father also dwelt on his apostolic trip to the United Kingdom in September, during which he beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, focusing his remarks on "two points that are connected with the theme of the responsibility of Christians at this time and with the Church's task to proclaim the Gospel".

On the subject of his meeting with the world of culture at Westminster Hall in London, the Pope noted how "Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by purely instrumental rationality. ... In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake".

On the subject of Cardinal Newman, the Holy Father highlighted the blessed's conversion to a "faith in the living God" in which he recognised that "God and the soul, man's spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. ... Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person's theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.

"The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience", meaning "man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognise precisely in the decision-making areas of his life - religion and morals - a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience - man's capacity to recognise truth - thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. ... The path of Newman's conversions is a path of conscience - not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him".

Finally, the Holy Father also made brief mention of his trips to Malta, Portugal and Spain where, he said, "it once again became evident that the faith is not a thing of the past, but an encounter with the God Who lives and acts now".

Monday, 20 December 2010

Michael Mullins: I am not the Curt Jester!

Oh dear, the blog features on Cath News again, but this time attributed to the Curt Jester.

I assume Mr Mullins misinterpreted the attribution of the Advent Wreath (a widget which was shared form the Jester's blog).  I doubt if the real Curt Jester (a much more popular and well known blog than mine!) will be too thrilled!

Mr Mullins can obviously barely bring himself to read what I've actually written because he gets almost everything about my blog and its content wrong.  Again.

In the hope that the fourth time may be lucky, for the record:

1. My pen name, as indicated on each post and in my profile to be found on the page, is Terra. 
2. I'm a woman. 
3. Where does it say my series on the collapse of religious life will be ten parts (the 'first half' reference was to content (ie external vs internal factors) not number of parts, of which there have actually been six so far, plus a few side pieces)?
4. I was not in fact criticising the financial contribution of the Adelaide Archdiocese to the video of young people saying Happy Christmas in assorted languages, rather I was criticising its selling line as 'celebrating our diversity', rather than celebrating the Incarnation.  All they have to do from my perspective is change the opening lines, in my view, in order to make it a winner.
5. And actually I'm in favour of Santa Claus too (yes I'm serious, all this PC correctness around old traditions is secularism at work, not Catholic purism)!

Please, Mr Mullins, make an effort to get it right, and stop verballing me.

**Well, he has fixed the worst errors I guess....

Once upon a time there was this thing called midnight Mass...**

So following up on Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese's apparent financial woes, reported on yesterday, I'd like to talk about missed opportunities.

The Masses of Christmas

Traditionally of course there are several 'Christmas' Masses. 

There was the Christmas Vigil Mass on  December 24 (not a substitute for attending on Christmas Day!). 

And then this is one of the few days a year when priests have the privilege of offering three Masses: Midnight, Dawn (though my FSSP missal suggests it doesn't actually have to be literally at dawn, let alone 45 minutes before dawn at 5am as the Sydney and Canberra TLM communities are doing.  Can this really reflect pastoral needs?), and during the day.

Traditionalist communities aside, the dawn mass, sadly, seems altogether dead.

Still, until recently at least, some attempt at maintaining the tradition of Midnight, or at least almost midnight , masses continued.

Once upon a time attending Midnight Mass at Christmas was surely one of the highlights of Christmas, particularly for children who on this one rare occasion were allowed to stay up late! 

Midnight Mass also attracted lots of the semi-lapsed and even non-Catholics.  Now of course Christmas and Easter only Catholics are a problem - but surely if you do manage to get them along, its also an opportunity?

No Mass at midnight?

Well, either in terms of potential collection plate revenues or a chance to re-evangelise, most parishes in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese seem to have just given up, as the following Christmas Mass listing illustrates. Most parishes seem to just offer 'Vigil' masses at around 6pm. I've bolded the few actual Midnight Masses.

Oh and the Canberra TLM community, presumably uninterested in picking up new attendees, hasn't managed to get itself into the listings at all.  For the record its offerings are at Garran at 6pm on December 24 (for the real Vigil, not the substitute for the Mass of the Day!), Midnight, 5am and 10am.

The secularisation of Christmas?

Here is the listing from the Archdiocese's website. 

I've highlighted the actual midnight masses in black, and pseudo-midnight masses (I've highlighted anything from 8pm onwards, as opposed to standard times for Sunday 'vigil' Masses which are generally 6-7pm) in blue (noting that many of these seem to represent expediency in multi-church parishes):

ADELONG-BATLOW: Christmas vigil 7pm Batlow. Christmas Day 9am Adelong.

ARANDA: Christmas vigil 8pm. Christmas Day 9.30am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am.

BATEMANS BAY: Christmas vigil 6pm 9pm. Christmas Day 8am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 7.30am 9am. Other Sundays vigil 6pm, Sunday 9am.

BEGA: Christmas vigil 6pm Bega, 7pm Bemboka, 8pm Tathra, midnight Candelo. Christmas Day 8.30am Bega. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 7.45am Tathra, 9.30am Bega, 8.30am Candelo, 10am Bemboka, 5.15pm Wolumla.

BOMBALA: Christmas vigil 6.30pm Bombala (6pm carols and children’s pageant), 8pm Delegate (6.30pm carols and Christmas pageant). Christmas Day 9am Bombala. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am Bombala, 5pm Delegate.

BOOROWA: Christmas vigil 7pm Boorowa, 7pm Harden-Murrumburrah, 7pm Binalong, 7pm St Clement’s Galong, 9pm Frogmore. Christmas Day 8am Boorowa, 9am St Clement’s Galong. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Boorowa, 9.30am Harden, 11am Binalong, 9am Galong.

BRAIDWOOD: Christmas vigil 8pm. Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am. New Year’s Day vigil 6pm.

BUNGENDORE: Christmas vigil 6pm Bungendore, 7pm Gundaroo. Christmas Day 8.30am Bungendore. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8.30am.

CAMPBELL: Christmas vigil 6pm (children). Christmas Day 10am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 10am.

CATHEDRAL: Christmas vigil 6pm St Christopher's cathedral, 9pm St Peter Chanel's Yarralumla, midnight cathedral. Christmas Day 8am 11am cathedral, 9.30am Yarralumla. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am 11am 5.30pm cathedral, 9.30am Yarralumla.

CENTRAL CANBERRA: Christmas vigil 6pm Dickson. Christmas Day 8am Braddon, 9.30am Dickson. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9.30am Dickson, 8am 10am (German) Braddon.

CHARNWOOD: Christmas vigil 7pm. Christmas Day 8am 10am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am 10am.

COOMA: Christmas vigil 6pm Cooma (children) 9pm Cooma, 9pm Nimmitabel. Christmas Day 8am Adaminaby, 9am Cooma.

COOTAMUNDRA: Christmas vigil 7pm (family), 9pm. Christmas Day 8am Stockinbingal, 9.30am Cootamundra.

CROOKWELL: Christmas vigil 9pm. Christmas Day 9.30am.

EVATT: Christmas vigil 6pm 9pm Evatt, 9pm Hall. Christmas Day 8.30am Evatt. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Hall, 10am Evatt.

GOULBURN: Christmas vigil 6pm 9pm Old Cathedral. Christmas Day 8am Our Lady of Fatima, 10am Old Cathedral, 9am Marulan. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 10am Old Cathedral.

GUNDAGAI: Christmas vigil 6pm (family) 8pm. Christmas Day 8am Gundagai, 10am Jugiong. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Gundagai.

GUNDAROO: Christmas vigil 7pm.

GUNGAHLIN: Christmas vigil 7pm (children) 10pm (carols 9.30pm). Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am 9.30am.

JINDABYNE: Christmas vigil 5pm Thredbo, 7pm Dalgety, 8pm Jindabyne, midnight Jindabyne. Christmas Day 9am Jindabyne, 9am Berridale. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8.30am Jindabyne, 10.30am Dalgety, 5pm Thredbo.

KALEEN: Christmas vigil 7.30pm 10pm. Christmas Day 10am (and 6pm normal weekend vigil). Sunday 5.30pm.

KAMBAH: Christmas vigil 7pm (children), 9.30pm Vietnamese Mass, midnight. Christmas Day 9.30am (and 6pm normal weekend vigil Mass). Sunday 8.30am 10am and 5pm Vietnamese Mass.

KIPPAX: Christmas vigil 6pm 9pm midnight (carols 11.30pm). Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8.30am 10am 6pm.

LAKE CARGELLIGO: Christmas vigil 7pm Tully, 9pm Lake Cargelligo. Christmas Day 9.30am Lake Cargelligo.

MICHELAGO: Christmas vigil 7pm. No Bredbo or Jerangle services.

MORUYA: Christmas vigil 6pm, midnight. Christmas Day 8am Tuross Head, 10am Moruya. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Tuross Head, 10am 5pm Moruya. January: vigil 6pm Moruya, 10am Moruya, 8am Tuross Head. Carroll College Broulee Sunday 5pm on 2, 9 and 16 January.

NAROOMA-COBARGO: Christmas vigil 6pm Cobargo, 7pm Narooma. Christmas Day 8am Bermagui, 9.30am Narooma. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Bermagui, 9.30am Cobargo, 9.30am Narooma.

NARRABUNDAH: Christmas vigil 6pm, 8pm (charismatic). Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am, 7pm (charismatic).

NORTH WODEN: Christmas vigil 5.30pm Curtin (children), 7pm Garran, midnight Curtin (preceded by carols). Christmas Day 8.30am Garran, 9.30am and 6pm Curtin. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9.30am Garran, 5.30pm Curtin.

O’CONNOR: Christmas vigil 6pm 9pm. Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am.

PAGE: Christmas vigil 7pm 9pm. Christmas Day 9.30am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am 9.30am.

PAMBULA: Christmas vigil 6pm Merimbula (children) 9pm Eden, midnight Pambula. Christmas Day 10am Merimbula. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Pambula, 10am Merimbula.

QUEANBEYAN: Christmas vigil 6.30pm (carols 5.45pm), midnight (carols 11.30pm). Christmas Day 8am 10am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am. All St Raphael’s, Lowe Street.

SOUTH TUGGERANONG: Christmas vigil 6pm Calwell (outside), 9pm Gowrie, midnight Gowrie. Christmas Day 8.30am 10am Gowrie. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8.30am 10am 6pm Gowrie.

SOUTH WODEN: Christmas vigil 6pm (children) 9pm. Christmas Day 10.30am (and 6pm normal weekend vigil mass). Sunday 8.30am 10.30am. All Sacred Heart, Pearce.

TARALGA: Christmas vigil 6pm.

TEMORA: Christmas vigil 6.30pm in park (children), 9pm. Christmas Day 8am Barmedman, 10am Temora. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Barmedman, 10am Temora.
TUMUT: Contact the parish, telephone 6947 4599.

WANNIASSA: Christmas vigil 7pm (children) 9pm. Christmas Day 9am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9am 5.30pm.

WATSON: Christmas vigil 6pm (children), 10pm (carols 9.30pm). Christmas Day 8am 10am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am 10am.

WESTON CREEK: Christmas vigil 6pm Holder (children), 6pm Waramanga (children), 9pm Waramanga (8.30pm carols). Christmas Day 9am Holder.

WESTERN MISSION: Christmas vigil 6.30pm Barellan, 7pm Ariah Park, 7pm West Wyalong, 8.30pm Rankin Springs. Christmas Day 8am Ardlethan, 9am West Wyalong, 9am Ungarie. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8am Ardlethan, 10am West Wyalong.

YASS-GUNNING: Christmas vigil 5.30pm Gunning, 7pm Yass, 8.30pm Murrumbateman recreation hall. Christmas Day 9am Yass. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 8.30am Gunning, 10am Yass.

YOUNG: Christmas vigil 6pm (outdoor family), 9pm. Christmas Day 9.30am. No Sunday vigil. Sunday 9.30am

**PS Closely related to this subject, the Liturgical Pimpernel has posted on the subject of the 'Christmas Family Mass' and why it should be abolished in favour of a return to midnight mass....

The collapse of religious life Part V: culture and traditions

I wanted to finish off the first half of this series on the collapse of religious life with a brief reflection on perhaps the most devastating of all of the forms of attack on the religious life, albeit one that goes beyond it into all aspects of catholic life, namely the attack on Catholic culture as a whole.

The past several decades has seen a dramatic failure in the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next. Though the number of nominal Catholics continues to grow in Australia, the number of young people who actually emerge from Catholic schools believing the truths of the faith and attending mass regularly remains scandalously low [1].

There are, of course, many contributing causes to this: poor catechesis; being subjected to unattractive liturgy; and poor parental example all immediately spring to mind [2]. But behind all of this, arguably, stands the systematic dismantling of the catholic sub-culture that existed prior to Vatican II [3]. The religious life, in many ways, was simply collateral damage in a much wider project. Still, I would argue that the collapse of religious life has been a significant contributing factor to the general collapse of Catholic life.

The destruction of the Catholic sub-culture

Prior to Vatican II the faith was passed on and supported by a vigorous web of institutions and practices: confraternities, professional guilds, schools, devotions, sacramentals and much more. Monasteries and religious orders were an integral part of this rich fabric of Catholic life. The faith, for most people, was learnt by absorption as much as explicit instruction or dialectical engagement: immersion in the culture creates ‘tacit knowledge’ which can be made more explicit through self-reflection [4]. But the 1960s and 70s saw most of this sub-culture deliberately dismantled, with dire consequences for the transmission of the faith.

The attack on the catholic sub-culture came from two directions.

The first I think is perhaps the one with which we are most familiar today: the idea that the Gospel should be preached independently of the cultural practices in which it has long been embedded since those cultural practices, or small ‘t’ traditions were in fact a positive barrier to evangelization [5].

The habits of religious, for example, rather than being in itself a form of witness, were thought to make potential converts uncomfortable, to separate the religious from ‘real people’. The axiom ‘lex orandi lex credendi’ (the way we pray affects and reflects what we believe) was discarded, and with it went important messages such as the reality of commitment to the faith; that the next life was worth sacrificing for; and that celibacy and virginity are worthy ideals for example.

The second direction of the attack though, and I think equally important, was an attack on the quality of Catholic institutions in the late 1950s. Russell Shaw has argued that in the case of institutions such as schools and Universities, the turning point was the publication of an article entitled “American Catholics and the intellectual life” by Monsignor John Tracy Ellis in 1955 [6]. The theme of the article, he says, was the intellectual mediocrity of American Catholicism in all its forms. Shaw argues that the analysis of a litany of catholic failure was badly out of date – if it had ever been true – by the time of its reception. But it was a critique that was nonetheless eagerly embraced and acted on.

There was, I think, a parallel diagnosis in the monasteries and active orders: despite the fact that noviciates were bursting at the seams and new monasteries being built to accommodate ever growing numbers, Vatican II encouraged people to bring out their laundry lists of practices and ideas they thought obsolete, but whose abolition proved in fact to have devastating effects [7]. Similarly one should not discount the impact of the embrace of Zen practices by perhaps the most famous monk of the time, Thomas Merton, in suddenly making the Western tradition seem old hat.

One Benedictine Abbot has described the early days of his community, founded in this heady period, thus:

“In my early years as a monk in this community, we experimented all the time…At one point we had only Buddhist cushions on the floor of the Church and not a single place to sit, except on the floor. We went through a phase when we sang only four part harmonies as in the Russian Orthodox tradition and we had icons everywhere… We went through a period of trying various practices of the Native Americans. At one time we did not even let the priest presiding at Holy Mass wear vestments...” [8]

Culture and evangelization

Of course all of this sent a message to the lay faithful. The point is that the importance of religious life to evangelization goes much deeper than either the works of the apostolate or providing an example to the laity. In particular, the current Pope has defended monasticism as the very source of authentic and enduring culture. In a series of speeches and homilies he has argued that the root of all authentic culture lies in listening to God in his Word [9]. In the case of the West, he argues, it is the monastic engagement with the Word of God that created European culture:

“At the time of the profound crisis of the ancient civilization, the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the right pathway: the pathway of listening to the Word of God. Thus they were great scholars of the Sacred Scriptures and monasteries became schools of wisdom and "dominici servitii" school, "in the Lord's service", as St Benedict called them…In the search for God revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures, the profane sciences, oriented to attaining a deeper knowledge of the secrets of languages, thus became important. Consequently, it was eruditio that developed in the monasteries which permitted the formation of culture.”[10]

Similarly, Dom Gerard Calvet, founder of the traditional monastery of Le Barroux, argued that the monastery is the inheritor of (a purified) Roman order and civilization: “For Saint Benedict, heir to Roman order, evangelizing and civilizing are one and the same. He considers the man knocking on the door to be more or less a barbarian, that is, one who has no memory, no past, no tradition. The characteristic of barbarism is its discontinuity.”[11]

No wonder than that the virtual abandonment of monasticism in its claims to memory and tradition; its witness to the priority of the contemplative over 'ordinary life'; the withdrawal of many orders from the active apostolate and the wholesale discarding of the visible signs and symbols of religious life, has had such a devastating effect on the health of the Church.

There is no substitute for religious life

There is hope however.

To the consternation of many in the Church, a dynamic group of traditionalist and conservative monasteries and religious orders are attracting vocations and lay support. Rebel monks such as Dom Gerard Calvet of Le Barroux have been vindicated in the success of their foundations.  The monasteries that actively resisted the pressure to conform to the maximum extent possible, such as the Benedictine monasteries of Fontgombault (men ) and Jouques (women) have not only thrived, but have in turn made several new foundations in recent decades. New monasteries and orders, often re imagining older charisms, have sprung up and are attracting vocations.

And reform is possible from within. The German Trappist monastery of Mariawald, for example has famously reverted in recent years, to older forms of its constitutions in a bid to turn the tide on falling numbers.

One of the more compelling stories though for me at least is of the Benedictine monastery I mentioned earlier, that went through every new age experiment possible, because it has since completely turned around. Abbot Lawrence of Christ in the Desert has commented:

“Out of all of that experimentation, slowly our community took shape. We began to make choices that put us into the heart of the Church instead of always on the fringes. For some, those choices made us appear much more traditional and perhaps more rigid.” [12]

The monastery eventually adopted traditional habits, rediscovered Gregorian chant and Latin, returned to the use of the full weekly psalter in the Office, and made other changes toward recovery of the tradition. The monastery now has four dependent houses and another four monasteries that it assists.

This is not to suggest that such change is easy. It requires conscious effort, not just vague aspirations: the adage to work as if everything depends on you, but know that everything depends on God surely applies here. And any change will continue to encounter resistance from within and without.

In the end, though, just as there can be no substitute for the sacramental priesthood in the life of the Church, neither can there be any substitute for the eschatological and sacrificial sign offered by religious life.

And the proposal that, reading ‘the signs of the times’, religious life should just be allowed to die out, must be resisted at all costs.


[1] Some figures from a recent survey, for example, suggest only 4% of Catholic 15-19 year olds and 5% of 20-24 year olds regularly attend Sunday Mass:
[2] See for example the ongoing work by Br Marcellin Flynn, reported in AD 2000:
[3] Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. (London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2003), 11-29.
[4] Ibid, 130-132.
[5] See for example Russell Shaw, To Hunt to Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1993), 94-5.
[6] Russell Shaw, Ministry or Apostolate? What should catholic laity be doing?, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2002, 52-53.
[7] Terrence G. Kardong OSB, “Thoughts on the Future of Western Monasticism,” in A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century: Where do we go from here? Monastic Wisdom Series: Number Eight, ed. Patrick Hart OCSO (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 2006), 59.
[8] Abbot Philip Lawrence OSB, Abbot’s Newsletter, Christ in the Desert Monastery, 13 May 2009.
[9] Address at Collège Des Bernardins, 12 September 2008; Address to Participants in the International Benedictine Abbots' Conference, 20 September 2008; Address at Cistercian Monastery of Heiligenkreuz, Austria, 9 September 2007; Homily given at Cassino, Piazza Miranda, Sunday, 24 May 2009
[10] General Audience, 17 September 2008.
[11] Dom Gerard Calvet, translated by Raymond Lévesque and Peter Vere as Tomorrow Christendom (Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2004), 92
[12] Abbots Newsletter, op cit.

This series draws heavily on my 2009 Masters thesis for the Catholic Distance University, and I would like to particularly thank my excellent supervisor, Dr D Prudlo for his indispensable assistance in that process.  All responsibility for the ideas, errors and omissions remains of course with me.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The financial crunch on the Church

The Canberra Times this Saturday has a rather sad tale of declining revenues in Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese, partly it claims, as a result of the recent drought, and partly due to declining Church attendance.

Falling numbers at Mass means the diocese is doing a financial balancing act...

Over the last 15 years the number of people identifying themselves as Catholics in the Archdiocese has has increased about 20%, the story claims.  But mass attendance almost halved in the same period.

The source of the article though is not Archbishop Coleridge (beyond lifting a few of his recent comments in the Voice about considering organisational options relating to the shortage of priests) but rather his Auxiliary, Bishop Power, supplemented by the diocese's equally liberal Vicar-General, Monsignor Woods.

Why people do not go to Mass: the liturgy

Earlier this year the Archbishop pointed once again to problems such as the loss of the sense of awe in the liturgy, the weakened sense of God engendered by the halls that masquerade as churches, the watered down wording of the liturgy, the loss of the use of ritual gestures, tawdry vestments and K-mart style vessels.

But perhaps the reason Canberra (like many other places) has still a mass attendance problem is that no serious effort seems to be being made to actually address the majority of these problems.

Even the worst looking Church can be made better at a relatively low cost with some effort: rip out the carpet, use nice altar clothes to cover the altar, and so forth. 

Liturgy can be made more reverent if the priest sets his mind to it. 

And there is surely nothing stopping the Archbishop from encouraging priests (and leading by example) to celebrate ad orientem?

The perceived or real barrier to acting though, I assume, is the tired old spirit of Vatician IIism trotted out yet again by the Archbishop's offsider. 

According to Bishop Patrick Power...

The real problem, according to Bishop Power, is those dastardly laity (whose views are of course only to be respected when they align with the liberal perspective) who are "still hankering for pre-Vatican II days".

You mean the days when people actually went to Mass and supported the clergy financially bishop? 

When, as Archbishop Coleridge acknowledged, there was a sense of awe in our worship, and an orientation to beauty instead of banality?

Oh and give us married priests and ?priestesses

Bishop Power also takes the opportunity to trot out his support for married clergy and return to the priesthood of those who abandoned their flocks. 

Does he seriously think that the laity will suddenly put more in the plate for the privilege of supporting the families of those who broke their promises of chastity and obedience, and put the pursuit of personal gratification before service to the Church? 

Well, I suppose we should at least be grateful that he didn't publicly reiterate his previously stated support for the ordination of women.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The 1962 problem: rubrical naziism or just consistency and obedience?

Over at a new blog, The Liturgical Pimpernel has written a piece on that perennial issue, obedience to the rubrics of 1962, in line with the decree Summorum Pontificum.

The problem with 1962

The problem with 1962 is of course that it is a totally artificial dividing point with a number of oddities.  Not every change made in 1962 was for the worst.  But it did cut out some clearly good things - chances for "active participation of the laity" in the form of the third confiteor, and some of the more important octaves for example.  At the other extreme, it excludes the possibility of celebrating some of the newer saints (unless the level of the day doesn't preclude a votive mass).  It encompasses some rubrical oddities.

And then there are the curious innovations. 

Take today's Monastic Office for example.  In the lead up to Christmas there are special antiphons for each day of the week from 17 December onwards.  One day though, always gets pushed out due to the feast of St Thomas on December 21. 

So in the old monastic breviary, the instruction for Saturday is to use the antiphons of whichever day is displaced by St Thomas.  But in the 1962 breviary, a completely new set of antiphons has been added for Saturday, so that one day's worth of the traditional antiphons will always be excluded from use each year!  From a quick look at older versions of the Roman Breviary available on the net, this may have been a case of romanising the Benedictine breviary.  But this kind of thing occurs all the time, random changes creeping in at odd times of the year for no apparent reason...

Now had Vatican II not occurred, some of the oddities would no doubt have been corrected.  But how do we do a bit of a clean up job to fix the oddities that arise now, without opening a can of worms?

If we don't stick with 1962...

The Pimpernel pretty much takes the line I've argued a few times in the past, saying stick to the rules, as per Fr Zs slogan. 

My position has always been that we can hardly get all agitated about liturgical abuses in the Novus Ordo if we don't follow the rules ourselves. With a few notable exceptions, it is not, however, a view shared many Australian traditionalist priests in my experience!  The last time I blogged on this subject about a year ago, I did see the case for some more tolerance of diversity on the part of traditionalists - but within the constraints of the rules.

The difference, I guess, is that in general most traditionalist liturgical creativity involves reversion to older rules rather than creation of completely new ones.  And in the context of the Anglican/Ordinariate/Reform of the Reform sphere, the excellent Fr Hunswicke has written a useful series urging the adoption of a double-standard, which could equally be applied to the EF:

"I would like tentatively to suggest that we ought now to move beyond another Fr Zed mantra: Do the Red, Say the Black. This neatly sound-bited principle has served very well the campaigns that Fr Zed has waged over the last five years to restrain the liberalising corruption of the OF itself; but that is the point: it is essentially an ad hominem device aimed at restraining Fr Trendy. But, if it is to be even-handed, it requires also that the OF be not modified in a 'Traditionalist' direction. I suppose I am suggesting that, while still using the Zed formula in the campaign against the Trendies, we should deftly employ a double standard and ignore it in as far as it restrains the improvement of the OF."

Hmm.  Perhaps my mind is just too tidy, in insisting on consistency!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Why "Bible Scholarship" has a bad name...

You know the form.

Bible "scholars" doubting the historicity of the Bible claim that such and a place/person/event was just a myth - never really existed or took place.  Because of course the next life is just a myth too...

And then the archaeologists find the supporting evidence that reverses two centuries of the influence of rationalism, and, oh wow, maybe it really did happen like the Bible said.

To protect against this kind of thing, Pope Leo XIII directed that the presumption always be in favour of the accuracy of the Bible:

"In order that all these endeavors and exertions may really prove advantageous to the cause of the Bible, let scholars keep steadfastly to the principles which We have in this Letter laid down. Let them loyally hold that God, the Creator and Ruler of all things, is also the Author of the Scriptures -- and that therefore nothing can be proved either by physical science or archaeology which can really contradict the Scriptures. If, then, apparent contradiction be met with, every effort should be made to remove it. Judicious theologians and commentators should be consulted as to what is the true or most probable meaning of the passage in discussion, and the hostile arguments should be carefully weighed. Even if the difficulty is after all not cleared up and the discrepancy seems to remain, the contest must not be abandoned; truth cannot contradict truth, and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself; and if no such mistake can be detected, we must then suspend judgment for the time being."

So why then is Eureka Street giving uncritical space to  apiece in praise of Greg Jenks, an Anglican "Biblical Scholar" whose agenda is to "bring their religion into line with the latest scholarship in all disciplines, and discard any trappings of their faith that are no longer relevant in the contemporary world."?

O Antiphons and Ember Day...

And just a reminder that the great O Antiphons start today.  You can listen to today's over at my other blog.

Or, to hear them in their proper context, at Monastic Vespers, listen to the monks of Norcia, Italy each day (remembering that they are effectively a half a day behind Australia!).

Rumour has it you might also be able to hear them sung live in one of our great southern cities on the right day and all, starting at 6pm tonight....

Christmas is a time to celebrate...

Well I thought it was the Incarnation actually, the coming of the Saviour of the whole world.

But actually, apparently its our diversity...

Still, the idea of having other religious/ethnic groups wishing us happy Christmas as we celebrate - showing some respect for the religious rights and predominant traditions of this country - is a good one.

And I guess it does demonstrate the dimensions of the mission 'ad gentes' that I presume this is a prelude to Adelaide launching....

Thanks to XT3 for alerting me to this video, part funded by the Archdiocese of Adelaide:

In any case, certainly better than some of the other Christmas greetings Christians have received so far this year:
  • the grinch who banned Christmas decorations in Centrelink offices (fortunately overturned by the Minister);
  • the primary school that banned Christmas carols;
  • Iraqi authorities are warning jihadists are planning more Christmas attacks on the US and Europe;
  • Christmas shoppers attacked in Sweden;
  • a Christmas tree lighting ceremony attacked in the US;
  • and it goes on...
And for an American conservative take on the subject of diversity at the time of an actual Christian festival, this is a very over the top - yet... (warning: very American conservative, and rather culturally alien to Australians particularly towards the end!) from the Heidi Harris Show:

The Ordinariate takes a step forward in Oz

Some good news for a Friday!  The Australian reports that:

"The process took a major step forward yesterday when Archbishop Hepworth and Catholic Bishop Peter Elliott announced the establishment of an Australian Ordinariate implementation committee comprising senior Catholic, Anglican and TAC clergy. The committee will finalise details of the Ordinariate at a two-day meeting at St Stephen's College, Coomera, on the Gold Coast, in early February. The Ordinariate will be established by Easter or Pentecost, in accordance with the invitation Anglicanorum Coetibus (on groups of Anglicans) issued by Pope Benedict."

And a new place to go to Mass?

And their liturgical plans will be a source of angst to liberals:

"Priests in Australia's new Anglican Ordinariate will celebrate mass facing east, away from their congregations, using 500-year old liturgies.

Archbishop John Hepworth, Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion, said the traditional sacred liturgies -- more in the language of Shakespeare than modern vernacular -- would be held in parishes in all capital cities, the Gold and Sunshine coasts, Rockhampton and Torres Strait."

How many takers?

"Four TAC bishops, a retired Anglican bishop, a Japanese bishop, 24 priests and several thousand laypeople will join from the outset. Many of the Ordinariate's priests will be married, and Catholics will be free to attend their masses.

Chaplain Father Andrew Kinmont, who runs a parish out of the St Stephen's College chapel, plans to join the Ordinariate and hopes his parishioners will as well."
And no statement on the ACBC site welcoming this development?  Surprising  really, (well ok not really), but after all they are refugees of a sort...

The Collapse of Religious Life Part IV: Detachment from the world, work and contemplation

In the last two parts of this series I’ve touched on the argument that the higher status of religious life, and its commitment to vowed chastity, somehow denigrated lay life in general, and married life in particular.

Today I want to look at claims that monasticism’s attitudes to work and the world are similarly damaging to the laity.

The anti-monastic view of lay spirituality

 Fr Jordan Aumann OP’s still popular book On the Front Lines: The Lay Person in the Church After Vatican II, for example, claimed that a lay spirituality is:
  • ‘incarnational rather than eschatological’;
  • ‘secular rather than monastic’;
  • ‘one of involvement rather than withdrawal’ (He goes as far as to suggest that: “However much an individual may be drawn to the contemplative state of life, this is not a path that leads to holiness for the laity”);
  • ‘community oriented rather than individualistic’;
  • ‘apostolic rather than contemplative’ [1].
They are a reasonable summation of the threads that run through much of the contemporary literature on the laity, and not just of the more liberal elements of the Church. And none of the above, I think would be seen as problematic by the more conservative ‘ecclesial movements’ such as Opus Dei.

 Flight from the world or care for its salvation?

 One of the most damaging attacks on the value of monastic life, I think, has been the claim that ‘contemptus mundi’ – literally contempt for the world, but actually meaning detachment from it, "in this world, but not of this world"– has, in the past encouraged the laity to disengage from their role in changing society here and now.
Much of this debate rests on the proper interpretation of Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes. Russell Shaw for example argues that Gaudium et Spes effectively introduced a new concept of “consecratio mundi” to replace the old contemptus mundi [2].

Yet it is worth pointing out that another key Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, actually reaffirmed that monasticism serves to remind the Christian that “For the People of God has here no lasting city but seeks the city which is to come....”[3] And as historian and Catholic commentator Robert Royal, for example, has noted that:

 “In both ancient and medieval thought, the world had a severely limited importance because of what it truly is for us: a brief interlude between two eternities in which all things are passing. This realization did not lead Dante any more than it did the major pagan thinkers to neglect very real worldly duties; it merely put them in a different perspective.” [4]

I’ve already alluded in this series to Pope John Paul II’s warnings of too large a focus on this world rather than the next. In his encyclical Spe Salvi Pope Benedict XVI similarly rejects the idea that the monastic life reflects a flight from the world, citing the example of the Cistercian Bernard of Clairvaux:

  “It was commonly thought that monasteries were places of flight from the world (contemptus mundi) and of withdrawal from responsibility for the world, in search of private salvation. Bernard of Clairvaux, who inspired a multitude of young people to enter the monasteries of his reformed Order, had quite a different perspective on this. In his view, monks perform a task for the whole Church and hence also for the world. He uses many images to illustrate the responsibility that monks have towards the entire body of the Church, and indeed towards humanity; he applies to them the words of pseudo-Rufinus: “The human race lives thanks to a few; were it not for them, the world would perish ...”[5]

Contemplation, action and work

 The point that the Pope is making is that contemplation is just as important for the future of us all as action. Yet even in recent times there continue to be a lot of Marthas, sneering at religious who adopt a “life of prayer and Eucharistic adoration”, painting this as somehow in contrast to, rather than a different form of, service [6].

Tracey Rowland has pointed out that though there is nothing new (since the Reformation) in this mentality, it is difficult to see it as anything other than the victory of the Lutheran rejection of the value of monastic life, a project aimed at affirming the value of ordinary life over doxology and contemplation” [7]. She believes that moving away from this conception must inevitably lead to the phenomenon of persons being "‘Catholic in faith, but Protestant in practice’, or, more precisely, in denominational allegiance, but Protestant in both theory and practice.”[8]

 In reality, as Rowland has pointed out, far from denigrating work, the concept of the sanctification of labor which received endorsement at Vatican II was the “transference of the Benedictine idea of the sanctification of labour from the specifically monastic sphere to the world at large.”[9] Indeed, the Father of Western Monasticism, St. Benedict himself, started from the proposition that “Idleness is the enemy of the soul”, and his monasteries down the centuries have (until recently at least!) generally reflected this ethos [10].

 The sensus fidei?

Yet even as this attack has gained ground in the Church and been actively promoted, even as this ideology has been internalized by religious themselves and led to their withdrawal from the apostolate and decline in numbers, there has also been an exponential growth of interest in monasticism on the part of the laity.

Even as the number of monks, nuns, brothers and sisters has declined, the numbers of lay associates of monasteries and religious orders has increased dramatically. The increase in business in monastic guesthouses has proved the financial salvation of many an order. Hundreds of books and courses that purport to teach contemplative prayer. Similarly, the ‘how to be a monk in your own home’ genre is filled with titles. And the web is alive with groups aiming to help in this regard: indeed, in what seems almost a contradiction in terms, there is even an online group assisting in the formation of “lay Carthusians”.

 Now I’m not personally much of a fan of the ‘monastic theme park’ response to this interest, and I agree with those who argue that much of this literature and activity is positively dangerous. It reflects, in many cases, an overreaction to and overcompensation for what has happened.

 But I do think this deep interest in monastic spirituality does reflect what many laypeople instinctively know: monasticism is not an entirely separate condition, but rather simply a realization of the Gospel and can and should act as a reference point for all the baptized. It is not something whose time has passed by, but, as Pope John Paul II repeatedly affirmed, something that has been part of the Church since its very beginnings, and something of enduring value to it:

 “In the light of that teaching [of Vatican II] it has been recognized that the profession of the evangelical counsels indisputably belongs to the life and holiness of the Church. This means that the consecrated life, present in the Church since the beginning, can never fail to be one of her essential characteristic elements, for it expresses her very nature…The idea of a Church made up only of sacred ministers and lay people does not therefore conform to the intentions of her divine Founder…”[11]

 Monasticism is the baptismal vocation writ large

 St Benedict concludes his Rule for monks by noting that it is but a beginning, and that his monks should look to the teachings of the holy Fathers in order to achieve perfection. “For what page or utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and New Testament,” he says, “is not a most unerring rule of human life?” [12]

 This reflects the constant teachig of the Church.  Pope John Paul II, for example, noted with approval the Eastern tradition that:

  “monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity. When God's call is total, as it is in the monastic life, then the person can reach the highest point that sensitivity, culture and spirituality are able to express.”[13]

And Pope Benedict XVI has echoed this line of teaching, saying for example:

 “But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection…”[14]

 And coming next…

 But the value of monastic life goes beyond either the works of the apostolate or acting as an example to the laity, but also in its crucial role in the creation, protection and transmission of Catholic culture down the generations. The attack on the value of what have been characterised as "anachronistic cultural accretions" of course goes far beyond monasticism [15].  But monasticism is crucial to it, as we shall see in the next part.
Then next year, in the second half of this series, I’ll look at some of the internal forces within religious orders that have also contributed to the collapse, so vividly painted in the recent report on the numbers of religious in Australia.

[1] Fr. Jordan Aumann OP, On the Front Lines: The Lay Person in the Church After Vatican II (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 2000, previously published 1990), 167-9
[2] Russell Shaw, To Hunt to Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity. (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1993), 161.
[3] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (LG), 21 November 1964, 44
[4] Robert Royal, The God Who Did Not Fail (New York: Encounter Books: 2006), 135.
[5] Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, 30 November 2007, 15.
[6] Sr Carmel Pilcher, “Nuns Veiled and Unveiled”, Cathblog, 8 July 2010,
[7] Tracey Rowland, Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2003),91.
[8] Ibid
[9] Ibid, 86-7.
[10] J McCann (trans and ed), The Rule of St Benedict in English and Latin, Roman Catholic Books, Chapter 48.
[11] Pope John Paul II. Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, On the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World, 25 March 199, 29.
[12] Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 73.
[13] Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, to mark the centenary of Orientalium Dignitas of Pope Leo XIII, 1995, 9.
[14] General Audience, 11 February 2009.
[15] Shaw, To Hunt to Shoot, To Entertain, 86-87.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The bishops are very worried about....!

There are terrible things happening every day in this country: abortions, advocacy of error by priests (which in my view is at least as serious a crime as abortion, given that it imperils immortal souls leading to eternal death), plans to further undermine the family courtesy of the Greens, falling numbers of priests and more.

But what are our bishops "very worried about" to the degree that they put out a press release, under the name of Bishop Grech of Sandhurst, on it?

The prospect of a Government agreement with the Afghan Government to repatriate 300 Hazari afghani Muslims!

Pray for those who died or were injured in yesterday's shipwreck

Now I could have understood a press release today asking for prayers for the repose of the souls of asylum seekers who drowned off Christmas Island yesterday (please do pray for them), for the injured, and for their families. 

For that matter, given the bishops' long (though admittedly not entirely explicable) history of focus on refugee issues, I could have understood in the wake of that event (and the latest wikileaks revelations highlighting the obvious criticism of current approaches), a reiteration of calls for a general rethink of  our policy on asylum seekers.

And there obviously is a legitimate debate to be had around the Hazara people and Afghanistan, and whether it really is safe yet for them to return. 

Seeing the trees instead of the forest...

But is this really an issue for our bishops?  Should they really be worrying about every detail of refugee policy, particularly when it isn't even a matter of advocating on behalf of adherents of their own religion? 

There are plenty of refugee organisations out there, plenty of Muslim organisations out there, plenty of lay organisations out there who can look after issues of this kind.

Our bishops surely have problems enough a lot closer to their actual diocesan responsibilities to keep them busy. 

A call to pray for the conversion of priests....

A reader, Arabella, has alerted me to the latest "Swag", the publication of the National Council of Priests, which, as I mentioned a day or two ago, is full of incitement to dissent and error.

I had been thinking of commenting on some of the articles in detail, I may yet do that, but I'm frankly reluctant to link to such a dangerous publication, and in any case I think perhaps the time has come for a more systematic response to the problem of liberal priests.

Pray for heretic and disobedient priests?

In the past, I've put up a list of priests sympathetic to (ora t least who have said) the EF Mass to pray for.  I'll put up an update of that shortly, to which any new names or additional information can certainly be added.  Orthodox priests certainly need our prayers.

But I'd propose to supplement that list with names of those at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The "Gaudium et Spes" generation are of an age when conversion is particularly urgent.  And we the laity can surely help in this process with our prayers.

And as a side benefit, such a list might provide a checklist for action by the proper authorities, who might have missed, for example, the names of those priests (and perhaps we should include religious also for this purpose) who came out in support of women's ordination on Cath News for example (and if ever there were posts that should have been rejected, these are surely they!) in the context of the Melbourne priest recently in the news.

NCP: Dangerous prejudice, ignorance and folly

It is certainly not news that the Australian National Council of Priests, whose members include around a third of Australia's priests, including several bishops, are a hotbed of liberal dissent.

Schutz over at Sentire Cum Ecclesia reported on their evidently appalling conference earlier this year.

Although I have to say my favourite on this topic is the (once again deceased?) Cooees commentary on the subject, which I've stolen for my sub-heading here "The National Council of Priests: Where Immaturity and Prejudice meet Ignorance and Folly."

Still, it is pretty disappointing to see an official publication of an organization of this kind so blatantly inciting dissent and targeting other priests.

Disciplinary action?

This is one where one really has to emphasize with the bishops who face the question of what to do about it.

There is an obvious case for disciplinary action against those who have openly signed their name to articles containing erroneous propositions.  Indeed, there seems to be a mood among some priests at the moment, presumably as a response to seeing everything they've believed in for the last fifty years being rejected by the younger generation, to call it on.

But it is difficult to take action in the face of still small numbers of new priests.  Up until now the strategy seems to have been to wait them out - they are certainly of an age when retirement or death is reducing the numbers rapidly.

Still, if it comes down to it, what is better: a flock without a shepherd at all, or a flock led by a wolf?  The first can be preyed upon, it is true, but the second has no chance whatsoever.

There is also a case for some substantive action in relation to the publication itself (taking it off the internet would be a good start) and the organisation.  Presumably this is a matter for the bishops conference?

Perhaps some refresher courses are in order?

It would of course though be preferable to actually convert these priests back to Catholicism.

In many, probably most, cases their initial formation was probably extremely poor (witness the Melbourne priest whose criterion for belief is his 'gut-feeling') and was a long time ago.  And refresher courses in dissent in the the form of the annual conferences of the NCP simply does not help.  Bishops should perhaps consider refusing to allow their priests to attend future ones lest they be led further astray or reinforced in their disobedience.

One approach might be to put on some refresher courses (could the next NCP conference be converted into a re-education camp?!).  Dr Tracey Rowland could for example run a seminar series to engage them on approaches to Gaudium et Spes, and perhaps someone like Fr Aidan Nichols (who has been engaged in a very helpful debate on the interpretation of Vatican II in the UK Herald on which I'll post shortly) could be brought out to help.

Or perhaps some sabaticals could be arranged in a nice strict, traditionalist monastery or perhaps one of the FSSP seminaries in which they could experience a little asceticism, learn (or re-learn) the traditional mass, and sit through a few theology refresher courses.

What can the laity do?

One can of course lobby for the kind of action I've suggested above. 

But above all we can pray.

My thought is this.  What if we compiled a list of names of priests especially to be prayed for on particular issues.  Most of course will have an all round liberal perspective, so we might conclude with a general intention for orthodoxy.  But focusing in might be helpful, and provide an opportunity for some catechetical notes to be circulated around.  Some issues might be matters of doctrine, others matters of practice.  Doctrine is of course the more important, but the way we pray is the way we believe, so both are closely intertwined.

But I'm thinking we should particularly concentrate on those who have spoken publicly on particular issues.  And we could pick an issue a month to especially pray for obedience to the Churches teaching and pastoral decrees on, perhaps alternating between doctrinal and practice issues?

January, for example, marks the start of the process of learning the new missal, so its successful implementation, and the cooperation of all priests in this endeavour could be the prayer intention.  Now I know the new missal is of less direct relevance to those attending the EF, but it does mark an important step in the right direction so is I think a cause well worth supporting.

And we could assemble a list of names of those who have expressed their views to the contrary on this subject as a special focus.

February might be for those who dissent on impossibility of women's ordination.

And so forth.

What do you think?

Suggestions for names and intentions?

And any thoughts on a suitable prayer to use for this purpose?

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Recent posts that may be of interest

1.  Series on the collapse of religious life, the real origins of the New Evangelization and the recovery of doctrinal truths necessary to make it effective:
2.  Coping with the priest shortage:
3.  The Role of Bishops Conferences:

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Advent Ember Days - start tomorrow...

The Church has always advocated that we prepare for our feasting first by fasting, and so the third week of Advent (and week of the feast of St Lucy) traditionally includes the Advent Ember Days.

The days are Class II, with a rather more elaborate mass.

For Advent the focus is particularly on Our Lady. Wednesday's Mass is about the Annunciation. It starts with the beautiful Introit Rorate Caeli (Drop down dew ye heavens) and includes the famous prophesy from Isaiah (Behold a virgin shall conceive) as well as the Gospel from St Luke with the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. Friday's Gospel is about the Visitation. Saturday's ancient and complex Mass Mass is a more general message about the preparation for the coming of Our Lord, with the Gospel on St John the Baptist.

So do try and get to a Mass on these days if there is one that celebrates the Ember Days in your area (they are optional in the Novus Ordo calendar).

And remember that they are also traditionally days of fasting and abstinence.

The problem of priests....Part I

In the December issue of The Voice, Archbishop Coleridge of Canberra-Goulburn is asking for more voices to be heard on the future organisation of the archdiocese.  The problems he articulates are pretty much those faced by dioceses across Australia. 

So worth thinking about creatively - here is my initial two bob's worth...

Is the old parish-school-convent model dead (or should it be)?

The diagnosis of the problem the Archbishop articulates will sound familiar, with differences in the degree of severity of the problem, whatever diocese you are in (with a few notable exceptions): though there are positive signs on the vocations front, the numbers are not (as yet at least) sufficient to counterbalance (likely or actual) deaths and retirements, and in any case there is a long lead time involved in bringing on young men from the point they first start considering becoming a priest and actual ordination assuming they reach that point!). 

And then there are some demographic factors: in many rural and regional parishes numbers are declining; in city parishes there are odd imbalances in numbers, with some masses attracting relatively small numbers.  

There is also the spiritual health of the priesthood to consider: is it really a good idea for priests to typically live alone, without the support in most cases of even a nearby (active) convent?

In short, is a drastic reorganisation needed?

The conceptual vs the practical?

This is one of those issues on which I think we need to distinguish between the conceptual issues and the practical. 

If we really think the church-presbytery-school-convent model is a fundamentally a good one, just failing at the moment merely for lack of personnel, then we need to take a hard look and see if we are really doing everything possible to promote vocations. 

And if the assessment is that a turnaround is still possible given the recent upsurge in vocations across Australia, then the task is to consider interim solutions to get through the next five to ten years until the pipeline starts coming through. 

Wherever you sit in Australia,. that probably needs to be done anyway, and I have some suggestions on what more can be done that I'll share in a future post!

Rethinking the geographical parish

But I actually do think, in the age of ready access to transport for most people and the internet, that there is a case for some creative thinking on the organisation front. 

I'm not (as you will have gathered if you are a regular reader of this blog) a supporter of lay-led communities as a substitute for priests.  I think we need to do everything possible to avoid clericalising the laity through an excessive focus on ministries in the physical church building.

On the other hand, I do think we have a genuine problem with what can only be called priestly clericalism that is largely driven by current structures and attitudes.  I do think there is a lot more scope to find ways to encourage the laity to step up and engage on a wide variety of fronts.

The liturgy has to be the starting point

The liturgy should be the source and summit of the Christian life, so how its provision is organised does matter.  While I think the number of lay assistants in the sanctuary needs to be minimised, I do think there should be constructive mechanisms for the laity to have in put to what happens at mass.

Hardline traditionalists will not agree I suspect, but if there is anything we have learnt from the last fifty years it is that this cannot simply be left to priests (notwithstanding that they are the ultimate decision-makers with the final say save for the bishop).

In the main, with a few notable exceptions that prove the rule, what gets served up at mass by way of liturgy  - is generally dictated by the parish or community priest, and the people have little real say in this.  Now I know there are, at least in some parishes, "liturgical committees" who professionalise this process.  But I'm talking about getting a more genuine gauge on what most people are thinking, not the ideologically committed few.  Nor are priests much interested in hearing from the laity on this subject in my experience!

Now if what was served up was predictable and faithful to the rules there wouldn't be a problem, but that's not the case.  In my own parish which priests says mass determines whether I'll leave mass feeling vaguely edified (the liturgy is never well enough done for it to be more than that) or at least challenged to do better; nauseated at the casualness and lack of evident reverence; or outright angry at the ad lib variations to the Mass and/or outright error being propagated (such as occurred two weeks ago with gems such as "Look not on our sins, but on the faith of this community"  - this community?  Personally I always count of the faith of not just the Church but the Church Triumphant in particular as a counterweight to the cafeteria catholicism that prevails in "this community"!). Enough to send one running back to the EF...

What else do parishes do?

And because of the relatively small number of priests, and I suspect some ideological views about their role, priests are often reduced, these days, to being nothing much more than often rather reluctant (at least when it comes to confession times and Mass on Mondays at least in this diocese for example!) dispensers of the sacraments, rather than genuinely being engaged with the spiritual and practical needs of their parishioners, let alone supporting them in the public square, being engaged in bringing the lapsed back in or evangelizing those outside the Church!

Parishes, in the current environment have to be all things to all people, and as a result often end up falling short on most fronts.

So how to change things?

The Archbishop floats the idea of "mission zones" that could include a number of parish communities. That might work in the country.

But for the city at least, personally, I'd like to explore the idea of promoting a diversity of types of liturgy and mission approach that might operate more on a non-geographical basis. 

Canon law does allow this (though still seeing the geographic parish as the basic unit of a diocese).  There are of course several quasi-parishes and communities, recognised and de facto, based on such considerations already in most dioceses: around particular language groups, the traditional mass, the charismatic mass and so forth. 

I think that's an approach, at least in the urban environment, that could be taken further: one could imagine a Dominican-spirituality based community that cuts across geographical boundaries and explicitly engages lay and third order dominicans; a Carmelite one; a Benedictine focused one; a community that has a strong focus on social justice; a 'New Liturgical Movement' style community; a New Evangelization community targeting the lapsed; and other with a mission 'ad gentes' focus, and so forth. 

The potential of this approach is to provide a way of focusing on promoting the future growth of the Archdiocese, and, by giving people new ways to find a supportive community that suit them and provide ways to actively engage their energies, to counteract the likely fall in Mass attendance that would occur if the number of masses was cut drastically as the Archbishop hints at.

There would have to be some basics adopted by all of course, and some basic provision on a geographic basis for the less mobile (elderly, people with disabilities) or ill, but allowing for more explicit self-selection might be one problem of tackling imbalances in the number of parishioners at some masses.

And such an approach not quite as radical as it might at first seem: in many ways it represents a return to the late medieval system where parishes were supplemented by a variety of alternatives for most laypeople, including from your local (or more distant) monastery, a wide variety of confraternities intended to advance specific purposes, professional guilds and much more.

But that would take...

The challenge with this approach of course is that it effectively shifts the power dynamic towards the laity, and away from priests.  In principle it could provide ways of more effectively chanelling lay energies and charisms.

But here is the first problem. 

The Archbishop mentions the attachment of people to their parish Churches and I agree that will be a real barrier to making drastic changes.  It should be underestimated, given the reaction to parish closings around the world.

But an even bigger issue concerns our priests.

Most of our priests are of a certain generation - the "Gaudium et Spes" generation, as an article in the latest National Council of Priests' Magazine The Swag (which I'll say more about over the next few weeks - there is enough material in it to launch a thousand rants!) proudly proclaims.

They mean well, and I'm sure genuinely believe that they are speaking for their people.  But the people they are actually speaking for are in reality the rapidly ageing, greying Vatican II generation who are rapidly dying out.

They are advocates of a spirituality and liturgical approach which drove so many out of the Church altogether, and simply isn't attractive to the new, younger generation who do actually welcome the current Pope's return to tradition. 

Far from the kind of dissent they and the Acatholicas advocate as being the solution (the Swag is full of admonitions to promote the ordination of women, raging against the ban on contraception, and such like causes), it is no accident that Traditional Mass communities have always had a very high proportion of converts, and that in Australia as elsewhere, it is the more conservative parishes that are growing.

And there is a strong 'non serviam' flavour in The Swag's assertions that priests simply will not implement, for example, the new missal. 

Simply amalgamating a few parishes and setting up mission zones may be the (relatively) easy route as far as dealing with priests is concerned.  But for genuine change for the better to come out of a potential reorganization, change that genuinely lays the foundations for future growth in the Archdiocese, the problem of our priests needs to be tackled head-on.

So what do you think?

Part II of this series is now available.