Saturday, 30 October 2010

Feast of Christ the King

For more on the feast, including extracts from Quas Primas, see Saints Will Arise.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Praying for the dead Part II

I talked a day or two ago about the duty to pray for the dead, especially in November; now I want to talk about the types of prayer you can offer. 

The first thing to say is that the Church encourages us to undertake a variety of acts to assist the souls in purgatory.  In principle, any good work or prayer can be offered for the dead.  How effective they will be depends both on the relative merit of the act and the holiness and dispositions of the person or persons involved in it.

Hierarchy of good works

In reality, however, some actions are inherently more meritorious than others.  So, in broad order of the merit of the action:
  • the Mass - most priests offer masses specifically for the dead in November and provide envelopes to make the process easy (though I do wish they would be more upfront in saying wht the appropriate minimum offering is. For the record, the diocese of Melbourne is apparently suggesting $20).  If you don't live near a priest who does (or you are concerned about the orthodoxy, fervour, etc of your priest, see below), a number of monasteries (such as Flavigny) and other groups allow you to organise masses to be said on behalf of others online (be kind and charitable though - mass stipends from this time of year an important part of a parish priest's income);
  • the Office of the Dead.  Liturgical prayer is, as a general principle, more efficacious than other forms of prayer;
  • the rosary;
  • other indulgenced actions.  If you are a daily mass goer who regularly goes to confession it isn't that hard to undertake an action that could attract a plenary indulgence every day that can then be applied to the poor souls (by saying the rosary in a Church or half an hour's prayerful Scripture reading/study a day for example).  There are also some particular indulgences relating to the dead - in particular, you can potentially gain a plenary indulgence by visiting a cemetery and praying on each day from November 1 to 8;
  • other prayers, fasting, almsgiving and so forth, all traditional good works undertaken to assist the dead.
Merits of the person doing the work

Here's the trick about the efficacy of actions.  Even though in theory the order listed above makes some actions more efficacious than others, in practice it isn't that simple! 

Our own holiness, the fervour with which we undertake the action, and the disposition and state of the person or persons we undertake the action for all can play a role in how efficacious the work actually turns out to be.  Hence the prayers of a saint can have more efficacy than even having a mass said, attested to by the fact that they can work miracles through their prayers; why historically contemplative nuns have been seen as such an important part of the Church.

So what can we do...

Given that most of us likely aren't actually saints yet, and don't know any (or don't know if they know any!), the hierarchy of merit of actions is a useful starting point.  And there are things we can do to maximise the effectiveness of our good works.

Take the Mass.  The Mass has infinite merit and value in terms of worship, and at one level all masses are equal given that they are offered by Christ our High Priest.  But the 'fruits of the mass', including those that can be applied to a specific intention such as the souls in purgatory, depend on man's actions. 

The holier the priest, and the more fervently he says mass, the greater the fruits.  A congregation of fervently praying, holy nuns is likely to generate a higher level of fruits.  The more fitting the mass itself - the vestments, sacred vessels, etc, the greater the fruits.  And here is the one we can most directly influence: the strength of intention and holiness of the person who gave the mass stipend almost certainly matters too....

So, we must all strive to be as holy as possible, to undertake our good works with fervour, and commission priests, religious and other holy people to work on our behalf.

But above all, we must do those good works!  Apart from having masses offered and visiting a cemetery (under the usual conditions for a plenary indulgence, or otherwise for a partial indulgence), consider trying to gain partial indulgences for works over the next week or two by:
And don't forget to make a general intention to gain all of the indulgences you can each day (that is sufficient to cover off the things you do but aren't specifically aware are indulgenced!), and decide how you wish any indulgences you gain to be applied...

Friday prayers...

  • An Australian Muslim leader clams that our troops in Afghanistan are the terrorists;
  • On the failure of 'moderate' Islam to accept that  is a two way street, requiring some reciprocity, useful piece by Janet Albrechtsen;
  • Vatican sensitivities on speaking up on Islam: see this Rorate Caeli piece on Observatore Romano's reporting of the speech of one of the bishops at the Middle East Synod;
  • Mind you, the Synod managed to antagonise all sides of the fence: consider Israel's outraged reaction to having it pointed out to Christian perspectives on the nature of  Israel in Scripture,  and calling for recognition of all three religions' rights interests in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile the American Visitation of Religious has turned up an extraordinary statistic: in the US there are more nuns over the age of 90 than under 60!  Please pray for vocations...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Secularist attacks....

Organising and acting politically has never been more important for Catholics at the moment. 

Please consider what you can do, starting with prayer, but also including practical action depending on where you live, in relation to the following:
  • the Territories Euthanasia will be debated in the Federal parliament today, and Greens leader Senator Bob Brown claims it has a good chance of getting up because of its Territory democracy rights pitch;
  • the NSW Parliament is currently debating legislation to legalise surrogacy.  Yet another case of children being treated as a commodity to which parents are 'entitled', and using immoral means to achieve their desires;
  • in next month's Victorian State election, pundits are claiming the anti-life Greens look set to make big gains;
  • the Tasmanian Labor-Green Coalition Government has released a discussion paper on a Human Rights bill (Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, and is currently undertaking consultations on it (thanks to Felix for the tip).  The press release sees it as stage 1 of a program including euthanasia and surrogacy legislation... 
And on the more positive side, The 40 Days for Life Campaign is drawing to a close, but with many of its Adelaide supporters off to the annual Christus Rex pilgrimage, more volunteers are needed at the moment, so if you live there and have some time...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the greatest of us all?

The unedifying attempts of various former Australian Prime Minsters (and their mistresses in the case of Hawke) to stake their claim on history is surely one of the worst manifestations of the narcissism inherent in our culture going.

During the election campaign we were treated to Blanche D'Alpuget's character assassination of Mr Hawke's wife Hazel, and the attempt of Hawke (and Howard) to claim credit for the reforms driven by Paul Keating.

Now Mr Howard joins the party.  You have to give him points for resilience I guess - being only the second Prime Minister in Australian history to lose his own seat would slow down most of us.

But just as the Hawke-Keating confrontation didn't exactly aid Labor during the campaign, neither can the current Howard-Costello stoush be exactly aiding Mr Abbott.

Old discredited politicians, it seems, never die, they just produce books.

I imagine a more than a few current pollies must be wishing they could join the Q&A audience member who took off his shoes and took aim, if the chance arose...

**PS Now Former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser has joined the fray, taking a swipe at Mr Howard for failure to make key infrastructure and education investments during a time of prosperity....

The dead....why we need to pray

We are coming up to November, traditionally a month particularly for prayers for the dead, so I thought it might be worth saying something about this topic.  Today, a little of the rationale and background; tomorrow a discussion of the most appropriate forms of prayer for the dead.

Up until the Protestant Reformation, Catholic teaching and culture had a strong emphasis on the duty of the Church Militant (those on Earth) to pray for the Church Suffering (ie those souls in purgatory).  Those in purgatory can do nothing to help themselves, reliant on us to work for their release, and Christians had a strong sense of the duty to pray for family, friends and all souls who needed prayers. 

The teaching is still there of course; but the practice is often undermined by cultural factors and erroneous ideas.

Preparing for death

These days we are often more intent on avoiding thinking about death, or making it as short a process as possible through evils such as euthanasia, than about preparing for it. 

Our culture views the best death as the one quickly over, dying quickly in our sleep; yet the traditional catholic view is actually the opposite.  The best death is one we know is coming and thus can properly prepare for, where we can receive all the relevant sacraments and blessings, and have others pray for us in our hour of need.

 Living a good life with an eye firmly on our heavenly destination is of course the best long-term preparation, but there are important proximate preparations we need to make: making it clear to our families our preferences in relation to end of life care and our funeral preferences; making a will and so forth. 

Also important is being aware of the potential for deathbed temptations, and knowing how to counter them; and on the other side, to work and pray for deathbed repentances.  

There is a literature on this out there and works such as St Robert Bellarmine's The Art of Dying Well are well worth a read.

Funeral Practices

But once we do die, we must rely on the efforts of others on our behalf.  Traditionally, not only was a Requiem said on the day of burial, after a week and on anniversaries, but also the Office of the Dead.  Alms were given out with injunctions for the beneficiaries to pray for the soul of the deceased, and professional mourners were often employed to add to the volume of prayers.  Those who could afford it often endowed priests or monks to say mass and clerks or religious to pray the Office of the Dead for their soul.  Those who could not afford this as individuals joined guilds and confraternities who could arrange commemorations collectively on behalf of members.

How long in purgatory?

Nor were people unduly optimistic about how long purgatory might last for them: King Henry VII of England left money for 10,000 masses to be said on his behalf (well, he did manage to execute an awful lot of potential claimants to the throne); his son Henry VIII's first will provided for mass to be said on his and others behalf , and alms to be distributed 'as long as the world shall endure'.  His own protestant revolution intervened however, and first 'chantries' lasting more than twenty years were suppressed, then all such provisions were eliminated as catholic superstition by his son Edward VI.

The effects of protestantism

The Counter Reformation saw a need for tighter controls over both the clergy and laity in the interest of preventing heresy, and thus made it much more difficult for the laity to arrange such provisions.  The stricter emphasis on the need for official delegation to say the Office discouraged the laity from saying the Office of the Dead.  And over time, the protestant belief in 'instant canonisation' at death has largely infiltrated the Catholic consciousness.

These factors, combined with the destruction of religious life (long gone, for example, are the provisions by which monasteries regularly said the Office of the Dead on behalf of benefactors and other souls) must surely mean that many many more souls are languishing in purgatory than previously.

So what can we do to remedy this?  More soon.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Federal Euthanasia Bill to be debated this Thursday...

The Greens Bill to permit euthanasia in the Northern Territory and the ACT is to be debated this Thursday, so its time to start urgently lobbying your local member and Senator - remember that this will be a conscience vote.

So phone their electoral office, write an email or (quickly) send a letter - try and avoid using a standard form letter if you can, but instead make it personal, and make it clear that it is a vote changer for you (assuming it is of course)...

Those in the ACT might pay particular attention to allegedly catholic Liberal senator Gary Humphries, and remind him that we have a Federal Parliament for a reason, and if the Territory wants to be a State then it should go through the necessary steps to achieve that status.  Those in a position to stop a moral wrong have a duty to act; if he doesn't want to exercise his vote, then perhaps he should resign and let someone else do so!  Let's hope Archbishop Mark is also having a word in his pearly...

Mere Christianity and the interpretation of Scripture

Today I want to offer a think piece about the problems of reclaiming Scripture for Catholics.

few weeks ago I highlighted some comments by Fr Aidan Nichols on the disastrous effects of historical-critical methods of exegesis which have effectively rendered exegesis irrelevant to the practice of the faith, and contributed to the reluctance of Catholics to actually read the Bible in a systematic way.

Today I want to focus on the impact of ecumenical approaches to interpreting Scripture, and the way in which I think they serve to undermine our faith.

Drawing on the insights of non-Catholics

One of the ongoing problems of Catholic scriptural exegesis over the last century has been the desire to adopt an ecumenical approach; to draw on the insights offered by protestant (and other) scholars.  There is obvious value in the quest to use the best insights whatever their source: the problem is to avoid the errors that accompany them.

For most of the first half of the twentieth century the Pontifical Bible Commission put severe limits on the extent that this could occur, serving to protect the Church to some degree from modernism.  But as with so many other things, the controls were lifted, a free for all resulted, and today my diocese like many others, likes to put out ecumenically-based bible studies for Advent and Lent.  Yet I would argue that this deprives Catholics of the riches of tradition and serves to undermine our understanding of the faith.

I'm rereading CS Lewis' book on the psalms at the moment, prompted by someone's recommendation for it, and I have to admit I've been reminded why I struggled with the book last time I read it (notwithstanding the clarity and attractiveness of Lewis's style).

CS Lewis' Mere Christianity

There is something of a debate going on at the moment on CS Lewis: on the one had are those ecumenists who even go so far as to advocate his recognition as a saint by the Church (which I'd have to say seems impossible given that he adhered to a heretical ecclesial community); on the other those who wonder why CS Lewis should be considered relevant for Catholics at all.

I have to admit I've always struggled with the concept of mere Christianity: Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli use the concept as the basis of their 'Handbook of Christian Apologietics', for example.  But how can Catholics legitimately write a book on apologetics and completely omit the concept of the Church?!

Scriptural exegesis and ecumenism

And when one comes to Scriptural exegesis, focusing of commentary down to the things we can agree on across the range of Christian beliefs means omitting a lot and adopting a particular mindset.  Generally we can agree on things like aspects of the historical, literary and cultural context in which the text was originally composed, and our emotional reaction to the text.  Lewis, for example, devotes a lot of effort to explaining what he sees as contrasting Jewish and Christian concepts of justice, judgment and so forth.

Yet one of the important interpretation principles for Scripture from a Catholic perspective is the unity of the Old and New Testaments: the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.  The Old Testament prepares for the New, "deliberately so oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of the Christ".

St Jerome contrasts the ways the Jews read Scripture, as grasping only the words: reading it merely as history will certainly profit the soul, but the Christian reads Scripture with the aid of the Holy Ghost, and thus saves his soul.

In particular the allegorical meaning of a text is as important as its literal meaning and often gives it a genuine intellectual content.  Yet it is that allegorical meaning that tends to mark where ecumenism falls apart.


The bottom line is that the witness of tradition is crucial for interpreting Scripture.  Anglicans like Lewis were certainly open to the Patristic tradition, and indeed some of the most useful patristic work in recent years, such as the Ancient Christian Commentaries series, has been undertaken as ecumenical projects.

But for a Catholic, the witness of tradition means more than the Fathers.  First there are the great commentaries of the doctors of the Church - on the psalms, the commentaries by St Thomas Aquinas (on Psalms 1 to 50), St Robert Bellarmine and St Alphonsus Liguorni for example. 

But even more important I think is the witness and implicit interpretations afforded by the liturgy, which for obvious reasons commentators such as Lewis avoid altogether. 

Of course, these days the traditional linkages of texts have been largely unravelled for most Catholics by the effects of the Novus Ordo lectionary.  Yet the fact that a particular psalm is assigned for the Office or Mass of a Christological feast or type of saint for example, is an important indication of how the Church has always interpreted that psalm.  And the Gregorian chant setting of particular psalm verses can often add a layer to the interpretation of a text in its particular liturgical context.

The dangers of political correctness - the Ecole Jerusalem project

The pervasive influence of 'mere Christianity' means that even where the importance of the Tradition is taken into account, it is often relativised as just one more example of how the text has been received, of no greater or lesser import than any other.

Consider for example the Ecole Jerusalem's BEST project, The Bible in its Traditions, which looks set to fill a real gap in Catholic resources on the net and in print, by bringing together textual aids, contextual material and the tradition of the Church.  The sample webpage they've put up has some fabulous material on it.

 But unfortunately the project appears to be trying to be ultra-PC, and thus fails in my opinion, in its demonstration volume (only in French at this stage) to differentiate adequately, and give appropriate status to the tradition of the Church as opposed to the general 'reception of the text'. 

Having information about the use of Scripture in music and art, for example, is a nice additional extra - by no means essential, and you have to wonder if it is really a priority to have, but potentially interesting.  Certainly material on the Jewish context of Scripture can be helpful.  But do we really need to know how, for example, Islam has distorted the meanings of Scripture?  Not just mere Christianity, but mere religion!

Reducing Catholicism to just one more tradition to be taken into account - rather than the Tradition - effectively eliminates Catholicism altogether.  It is a direction that should be resisted.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Women priests and St Mary of the Cross. Sigh.

I really fail to see why the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross should be an excuse for protestant academics to lecture Catholics  on the desirability of ordaining women.  But the Fairfax press begs to differ, so I think a little fisking is in order.

Laura Beth Bugg is, by birth, a US Baptist, by profession, a lecturer in the sociology of religion at the University of Sydney.  Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to have much understanding of the Catholic faith. 

Sainthood, the hierarchy and the priesthood

Let's take a look at what she has written in Friday's SMH:

"St Mary of the Cross now joins the ranks of women deemed worthy of canonisation because of extraordinary works, virtuous behaviour, service and leadership but not worthy of serving as priests."

No.  Sainthood is not about work, behaviour, service or leadership.  It's about heroic virtue, above all that virtue that encompasses all others, charity.  And it is not a question of the worthiness of St Mary or other woman to become priests - it is about capacity. A woman is simply not capable of being ordained - even if a ceremony was gone through by a properly ordained bishop, no sacramental mark on her soul would be effected. 

"Australians have connected with different aspects of St Mary's story - her passion for the marginalised and her perseverance despite adversity. But her story also illustrates how the Catholic Church hierarchy continues to impede women's deeply held commitments and aspirations."

Give me a break.  It is not a matter of what the hierarchy wants or doesn't want.  It is a matter of what God decrees.  We can all aspire to impossible things I suppose - like growing wings and flying.  That doesn't mean nature is going to change and give us them. 

"In the 19th and 20th centuries, nuns like St Mary challenged not only the expectations that larger society had for women, but also the authority of priests and bishops who shared a different vision for their work. Since that time, nuns, along with countless other Catholic laywomen, have led social movements, worked to establish schools, orphanages and hospitals and have served the sick, the poor and those on the margins of society. Often they have done it on impossible budgets, in dire physical and political conditions, and with little or no institutional support."

True enough.  Clerical misogynism, arrogance and even malice is an ongoing phenomena, and the charisms God grants to women have often served the Church well in counter-balancing this.  Indeed, Cardinal Pell made some very apt comments on this very subject from Rome last week.

"With a shortage of priests in many countries, nuns and laywomen now perform sacraments such as confession, anoint the sick or offer communion. In some rural and remote areas, they serve as parish priests in all but name. But because they are lay people, and not clerics, they are vulnerable, as St Mary was, to intrusions from the authority of bishops."

Well no, they are not performing the sacraments named.  Religious and laymen and women can perform baptisms.  They can, in some limited circumstances when properly authorised, witness weddings.  They may distribute communion including to the sick.  But they cannot anoint, hear confessions or say a Mass.  And when they do perform sacramental functions it is perfectly appropriate for their activities to be supervised by priests and bishops - the Catholic Church is hierarchically constituted.

"Only ordained clerics can preside at the Eucharist, hear confessions, and make decisions about property, politics and theology."

Depends what one means by 'make decisions'.  Of course there are controls over Church property and limits to theological debate.  But Catholic women can be theologians, nuns can make decisions about their order's property (within the constraints of Church law) and as for politics, it's a free for all (well ok, within reason.  The Church does have a right to teach on this.  But women as well as men are free to participate)!

"Just this year, the Vatican released a document that deemed both the ordination of women priests and paedophilia as graviora delicta, or "grave crimes" against the church."

So why does the Catholic Church take such a stand? It gives two primary reasons for denying women ordination as priests. First is that Jesus selected only men as apostles and, second, that during the sacraments the priest acts in persona Christi - in the person of Christ - so that person must, like Christ, be a man....

The church argues that woman is, by her nature, different from man, because of her role in original sin and God's command that man should rule over her. Of course, the Catholic Church shares this with other religious traditions."

Well, the argument is a little more sophisticated than that, but let's agree that gender does matter.  'Man and women he created them' has real content.

"Growing up in the Southern Baptist denomination in the United States, I, too, could not have been ordained as a pastor. And women within Theravada Buddhism are fighting for their right to serve as bhikkhunis, or monks. Each of these denominations, along with Islam and Orthodox Judaism, sings the same song with a slightly different tune - women can't be at the top because of authority, tradition or nature.

But there are those who struggle against this pattern. This past week a woman was ordained a Catholic priest in Canada."

No.  She was not 'ordianed', merely purported to be.  And she was automatically excommunicated as a result.

"The church did not sanction her ordination, and she will shortly be excommunicated. Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a movement for women's ordination that began in 2002, supervised the ordination. Since that time nearly 100 women worldwide have been ordained, although none have been recognised by the church.

Pretended to be ordained.  Mock ordained.  Not really ordained...

These are not women who wish to break off from the church; they want to reimagine it. There are yet other Catholic feminists who understand the very concept of priesthood and the hierarchical structure of the church as fatally flawed. They do not wish to see women as priests, but to see the entire Catholic community as one that is radically democratic and committed to peace-making, justice and community building."

And yet they have indeed broken from the Church.  One can be Catholic, by virtue of believing what the Church teaches and being in union with the successor of Peter.  Or one can separate oneself from the Church.  If you think women can be ordained, if you think the very concept of the priesthood or the hierarchical constitution of the Church are flawed you are, by definition, a protestant, not a Catholic.  Say like maybe a baptist?

Ms Bugg then goes on to claim Sr Irene McCormack to her cause. I don't know enough about Sr Irene to assess these claims.  But I do know that claiming St Mary McKillop to the false cause of women's 'ordination' is yet another piece of anti-catholic bigotry that genuinely Catholic women could do without. 

If you want to be part of any organisation, you have to accept its rules.  In the case of the Catholic Church, you have to accept the truth of its teachings. Ms Bugg, please, spare us your lectures (and it's oh so tempting to make jokes using that name.  But we shall all refrain...).

Catching up on the news...

OK so I've been offline for a few days (bloggers' ability to schedule posts in advance is a boon!) so I thought I'd highlight some stories of note that have come up while I've been away from things....
  • Multiculturalism is useless; long-live multiculturalism...
In Germany last week, Chancellor Merkel has admitted that multiculturalism has 'utterly failed' in that country.  And that should open a vigorous debate here about whether we can avoid the consequences of that failure.

Most Australian commentators are intent on being hopelessly optimistic, pointing to the relative success of Australia in coping with the huge influx of migrants post-WWII.  But there is a big difference, I would suggest, in a Western colony country's ability to assimilate those of the same broad Christian cultural background to the ability to assimilate the increasingly diverse religious and cultural migrant group Australia is now seeing.

The most dangerous commentaries of course are those who advocate cultural relativism,where all cultures are claimed to be equal, and just because one happened to be first in a country gives one no more rights to determine the nature of the nation than new arrivals. 

Australia must, as the Pope recently urged Britain, rediscover and treasure its Christian roots.  Of course we must remain a country where "You can eat or wear anything, practise your religion, speak your mind without fear — choices that are a luxury in many parts of the world."  But those coming here must be aware that we are not about to throwaway our heritage."

  • Asylum seeker children to be allowed out of detention and to go to school...
It was always seemed to me to be fairly outrageous that not only do we jail those fleeing persecution, but we don't even allow their children to go to school.  Until of course months or even years later when their application for refugee status is successful (as it is in the overwhelming majority of cases), by which time the task of assimilating into Australian culture is made infinitely harder by the traumas induced by imprisonment. 

So its nice to see Labor abandon at least a little of the rhetoric now that the election is over, and embrace rationality on this subject, aided by church groups and others.  Now let's hope they are prepared to stand up to the NIMBY hysteria from those living in the Adelaide Hills and elsewhere...
  • The Liberal Party embraces big Government...
No well actually I'm being sarcastic here.  I've suggested before on this blog that Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey is a dangerous idiot.  I'm not actually opposed to tighter regulation of the banks in areas such as fees and consumer relations; there is a good case for this.  But price fixing?  The good news is that Hockey is not actually Treasurer and so we can hope that his rhetoric this week about re-regulating the banks to prevent them making interest rate rises is just more irresponsible political gamesmanship and not a foretaste of what to expect under an Abbott Government.

Unfortunately, that's probably unduly optimistic, and these erratic swings in the wind are exactly what we would have been in for had the Liberals been elected. Whether that's any worse than a Government that is giving every indication of being unable to carry off any real reform (viz water, tax) is of course still an open question...

  • If only no fault divorce required a two year waiting period instead of one we'd all be saved...
This gem comes from the pen of former PM John Howard, who, in his new biography apparently laments the failure of an amendment to Whitlam's family law reforms back in the early 1970s that would have required a two year waiting period for no fault divorce.  Because really, that would have made all the difference to the destruction of family life that we have witnessed in the wake of those reforms.  Oh really?
  •   Indigenous child abuse and neglect is all a product of colonialism....
Of all the myths of our time, the denial of Original Sin must surely be the most dangerous.  And its popular version in Indigenous policy, the myth of the 'noble savage' gets a run this week on The Drum in a claim that prior to colonisation Indigenous children were never neglected, but, if necessary cared for by the extended family.  Yup.  Provided of course one doesn't count the paedophilia inherent in traditional Aboriginal marriage practices, the savage punishments meted out to rebels of all ages and more.

I'm not defending British colonialism, or suggesting that Indigenous people shouldn't be encouraged to take responsibility for their children.  But perpetuating such naive myths is never going to help achieve this.

Indeed, another article in the Weekend Australian reports that Aboriginal 'shaming' courts - which have been backed with a large public investment - are no better at reducing rates of re-offending than traditional courts....

Friday, 22 October 2010

Euthanasia tit bits

Killing other people can never be a good thing. 

Particularly disturbing when the killing is carried out by those who have sworn the hypocratic oath.  Indeed, one of its key clauses of the classic version is:

"I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect."

Of course these days, the prohbitions on euthanasia and abortion in the oath have largely been abandoned in the versions most often used in today's medical schools.

All the same, the most disturbing stories about euthanasia are surely those where legislation, or even in its absence the prevalence of the culture of death, encourages or allows others to think they can simply take lives at their own whim.

Take these stories:
  • a high proportion of deaths in Belgium officially classed as euthanasia did not involve the consent of the patient, did not involve a doctor (as officially required) but were simply the decision of the nurse involved;
  • actor Sir Michael Caine has publicly admitted to pressuring a doctor to kill his father even though his father without consulting either his father or his mother;
  • the number of deaths attributed to euthanasia in the Netherlands continues to rise sharply, with most decisions seemingly being made by physicians, not patients.
Australia needs no further spur along this path.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Coming up to Halloween again...

We're coming up to Halloween and the annual debate on whether or not celebrating it is consistent with Catholicism. 

And this year, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales are even urging parents to have their children dress up as saints instead of witches, and that pumpkins have smiley rather than scary faces, with crosses cut into them....yes, well eschatology is not very popular these days.

In reality Halloween draws its name from 'All Hallows Eve' (ie All Saints), and the scary faces, demons and so forth and meant as reminders of the reality of hell.  The rituals of Halloween are reminders to us to strive to be a saint, rather than ending up with the damned.

So do let's celebrate Halloween...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The failed State that is the Northern Territory

There are circumstances in which democracy doesn't even vaguely work, and the huge disparity in education, wealth and organisation represented by white and Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory is one of them.

There is a strong case for Federal intervention to step in and take control of the Territory.  Let's review the situation.

A failed State

A year ago The Australian published an article called the Failed State, which chronicled the ongoing misdirection of resources in the NT.  The Territory Government pumps money into providing first world services for a middle class army of bureaucrats in Darwin; meanwhile, as a new report has confirmed, children roam the streets of Indigenous communities looking for food; and social services of any kind are almost totally absent. 

The Australian a year ago pointed to a bloated and ineffectual bureaucracy:

"At the core of the Territory system is a mind-set reminiscent of Pacific Island cargo-cults. An institution is named, set up, housed and lightly staffed: problem solved.  Thus Darwin is full of facades rather than real structures: an Environmental Protection Authority without powers, an indigenous advisory panel without input, a climate change portfolio without policies, a museum with insufficient funds. Such facade institutions, and the philosophy behind them, infect the air. They create a fantasy approach to administration, where Canberra always lurks, saviour-like, in the wings, and the declaration of a policy is sufficient to change the world..."

The classic example of this was the Indigenous housing scheme that managed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars - on consultancies - without building a single house.

The logic of democracy

The Australian pointed out that these outcomes were almost inevitable given the political dynamic of the Territory:

"The Territory's population is about 220,000, young, with an average age of 30, and highly transient...More than 17,000 Territorians are public servants: the administering class and their families thus form the key interest group and voting bloc, almost one-third of the 110,000-strong electorate. Another 13,000 Territorians serve in the armed forces.

Most of the long-term stayers in the Territory, of course, are Aborigines. Indigenous numbers are estimated to be above 70,000, or 32 per cent of the total population, but this is very likely a serious under-count. Aboriginal Territorians have their own distinctive statistical profile: their age average is 21, they are sharply under-represented in Darwin, where elections are decided, and hardly any indigenous remote community residents are in the wages economy."

Democracy in these circumstances cannot work:
Yet the regime in Darwin is merely doing what governments in democratic states do: paying attention to its constituents, according to political logic. Hence the enormous middle schools that have gone up across the capital while decent secondary education in the remote communities and outstations remains a dream. Hence the new commuter highway extension being built from Palmerston while the bush roads are still unsealed. The state is set up in such a way as to guarantee the delivery of such results.

The story at the heart of the Northern Territory is really a story of relative positions. Social scientists regard the place of a group in society as an important determinant of the degree to which its members thrive. It is an insight increasingly being applied to Aboriginal Australia and clearly indigenous Territorians are in a very strange position. They are the only Aboriginal population who form a sizeable minority in their jurisdiction, which is still very much regarded as "their country", they have strong traditional practices, they own, if collectively, half the land mass, they are the obsessive focus of a vast helper class of bureaucrats, and an intervention has been staged for them. They generate the shimmer of cultural prestige in which the Territory basks and on which its tourism depends.
But they are much poorer than most Territory residents, and have few jobs and little Western education.

A prominent school of social thought associated with public health researcher Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level, holds that inequalities in the social fabric of Western states lower the wellbeing of the entire society and that differences in wealth levels accurately predict social dysfunction.

It is tempting to view the Territory, probably the most unequal Western society in the world, and a highly troubled one, through this optic, and to consider whether a standard majority-interest democratic government can deliver any significant improvements here.

The Federal Government response has been to provide additional funding, step in to fill some gaps through the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), or intervention, and try and strong arm the NT Government into doing more.

It has been a slow process, not least because the Federal Government have had to find and employ people to actually live in the Indigenous communities, something the NT Government failed to do. 

Not to mention having to face down the opposition from vested interests within communities, as well as misguided do-gooders from outside more worried about 'self-determination' than starving, abused children.  In many of these communities, the effects of alcohol, drugs, and pornograhy have led to a cultural destruction that makes self-determination positively irresponsible in the short to medium term.

And of course the NTER has suffered from the usual lack of coordination between agencies and problems in translating policy into delivery.

But it is slowly having some effect.

Closing the Gap

The latest 'Closing the Gap' Report highlights strong and steady improvements in Indigenous employment, policing of communities, service provision, and school attendance.

But the NT's Children Service report's author can still say "Parenting, homemaking, nutrition, alcohol addiction . . . these are the sort of services that are largely missing in the NT".

In the end the problem won't be solved by interventions on Indigenous Affairs alone.  What is needed is a major rethink of Territorian Government priorities.  And that can only happen outside of the logic of Territory democracy.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Get Up is a Green front organisation...

One of the least commented features of the recent election in the media was the role of Get Up!

Get Up! used the classic tactics of a front organisation - find an issue that will gain popular support, viz encouraging people to vote, and taking up the now defunct Democrat cause of 'keeping the bastards honest' through promotion of Independents/third parties in the Senate. 

But of course the real, fairly transparent cause was actually supporting the Green Party, whose members dominate its numbers.  Just take a look a the 'campaigns' on their website to see how this has impacted on them.

It was incredible successful.

Someone I know handed out how to vote cards for the Greens in the morning and Get Up in the afternoon, and told me with glee that the Get Up material was much more enthusiastically accepted...

And they are now using that support base to lobby in favour of other elements of the the Green agenda, such as pro-death abortion legislation in Queensland.

Catholics need to get smarter and consider what tactics of their own might be more effective. 

And in the meantime, we need to expose Get Up for what it is.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

OK so I'm live blogging the canonisation ceremony...

The preliminary entertainment was pretty excruciating - long readings from her works read by 'sisters' of St Joseph and pointless reportage on the crowds.  But most painful were the assertions about solidarity with the suffering, and commitment to 'justice' from assorted sisters.

Have to say that the postulator for St Mary's cause looked pretty silly in her suit clutching her scarf standing with all the other postulators - all in actual religious habits or clerical dress.

Odd that the saints lives were read in Italian rather than Latin or the languages of the various saints...

A nice litany of the saints in Latin (probably the first time many of the pilgrims have ever heard it sung in that language?).  And the Pope has just pronounced them officially saints.

**The sister postulator couldn't bring herself to kiss the ring of the Holy Father.  What a surprise. 

And looked like he was making her explain the scarf thing...

***And now mass proper has started with the Holy Father intoning the Gloria (in Latin), a polyphonic setting.

****The ABC 24 coverage seems to be the better of the livestreaming options - less inane chatter from 'commentators' and more focus on the actual celebrations than the canonisation official site version.

*****First reading from one of the sisters, Sr Anne Derwent congregation leader.  Veils are prettier than hair dye or grey ladies...

******Oh dear.  The responsorial psalm in the vernacular (any vernacular) really does not work.

*******Second reading in French - Canadian accent obvious but nice and slow and carefully suppressed as much as possible so you can actually understand it (must have had to search hard to find someone who could do it...sorry, I lived in Canada for two years and although my french aural comprehension is pretty good it took me months to get my ear around the local versions).

+ Now Gospel in Latin and Greek...

++Hmm, I take it back about ABC 24 being the better coverage - apparently Greek is boring and time to start chatting.  Flicking back to the other channel for that nice Eastern style chant.

+++Holy Father talking now.  Love the backdrop with his revamped coat of arms reclaiming the papal tiara....who would have thought that would be back!

++++Back to ABC 24 who fortunately have a translator (Italian is not one my languages) for the sermon.

++++Switching languages to talk about each of the saints in their native tongue.  Cool.

++++Our saints done so ABC 24 has lost interest and commenting instead on that rather odd relic offered up (a bit of fencepost) Lots of inappropriate cheering at local events around the country and Penola celebrations.

+++++Apparently the Creed is irrelevant to viewers too, on both channels...some nice shots of our not particularly photogenic bishops though.

?Were those actual sisters of St Joseph in habits (plus brown scarf?) - a few hold-outs?  No, I think its the order of one of the other newly proclaimed saints.

??What's going on - the ABC commentator is actually lauding the Pope, criticising media coverage (including ABC) false claims about St Mary and child abuse.  Offertory procession in the background.

???Offertory procession sister (and if she's one of the youngest in the Order as claimed they surely have no one below 50) managed to kiss the Holy Father's ring.  Well done!

????Some of the Sisters receiving kneeling and on the tongue!  Maybe they will come back to Australia converted to tradition...\

!The ABC have swapped out to sport now that communion is over...

!!Oops, now the remaining webcast has frozen, technical difficulties...stand by message.

!!!Back spluttering in time for the Ite missa est...oh well.

St Mary of the Cross...

Today's other new saints...

Unlike my friend Joshua I'm all for patriotism in relation to saints - saints cults were, after all, in origin, mostly local affairs, centred on a saints relics and the locations where they worked.  A saint particularly apt for a region or nation's sensibility can be a particular aid to the faithful, which is why we have national patron saints and so forth.

And I think the particular  value in recognising someone as a saint for general veneration gets drowned out when too many are so recognised, a problem of the Pope John Paul II era whose effects are still flowing through despite the current Pope's admirable effort in slowing down the saint-making machine in Rome.

Nonetheless, it is worth knowing something about the other saints to be canonised today...

Brother Andre

The most famous is Canadian Brother Andre, born Alfred Bessette, of Quebec.  From the wiki:

A Holy Cross Brother and a significant figure of the Roman Catholic Church among French-Canadians, credited with thousands of reported miraculous healings. He was declared venerable in 1978 and was beatified in 1982.

Born in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, Quebec (then Canada East), a small town situated 40 kilometers south-east of Montreal. His was a working class family; his father, Isaac Bessette, was a carpenter and lumberman but died when when Br Andre was only nine years old.  His mother, Clothilde Foisy Bessette, died of tuberculosis three years later. 

He was sent to live with his mother's sister, Rosalie Nadeau, and her husband Timothée, who attempted to establish Alfred in various trades, but the boy's fragile health (which would afflict him throughout his life) made sustained manual labor difficult.  Since he obviously did not have a trade, Alfred began a thirteen-year odyssey wandering from job to job with few belongings and little education. He was barely able to write his name or to read his prayer book. At various times he worked as a tinsmith, blacksmith, baker, shoemaker and wagon driver.

From his earliest days, Alfred exhibited an unusually intense spirituality. He would often spend his scant free time praying before a crucifix or evangelizing his friends, and his many self-imposed penances drew the admiring rebuke of his gentle aunt, who was concerned that the boy was endangering his already poor health.

When he was 20 years old, Alfred joined many Canadians who were emigrating to the United States to work in a textile mill of New England, then operating at full output to supply the needs of the Union army in the American Civil War.  When the Canadian Confederation was formed in 1867, he returned to his native country.

He entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross at 28, and acted as porter at his monastery for forty years.  On his many visits to the sick in their homes, he would recommend them in prayer to St. Joseph, and would anoint them lightly with oil from the lamp in the college chapel which always burned before the St. Joseph altar.  People claimed that they had been cured through the prayers of the good Brother and Saint Joseph, and they were grateful their prayers had been heard. He achieved a considerable reputation as a miracle worker, and died at the age of 91 in 1937.

Blessed Stanislao Soltys (1433-1489)

Blessed Stanisław Sołtys (27 September 1433 – 3 May 1489) was a Polish Roman Catholic priest and preacher. He received doctorates in theology and philosophy from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In 1456 he joined Canons Regular of the Lateran. He was a friend of Saint John of Kanty.

Blessed Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola

Blessed Cándida María de Jesús (secular name Juana Josefa Cipitria y Barriola) (May 31, 1845 - August 9, 1912) was a Spanish nun. She founded the Congregation of the Hijas de Jesús (Daughters of Jesus) on December 8, 1871 in Salamanca, Spain.

She was born in Berrospe, Andoain, Guipuzcoa, in the Basque region of Spain. Her father was a weaver, and the family was poor.In 1863, when she was 23, she met Jesuit Father Miguel José Herranz, who helped her in her call to form a Congregation.  She died on August 9, 1912.

Blessed Giulia Salzano Heart (1846-1929)

Blessed Giulia Salzano is the founder of the Congregation of the Catechetical Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1905. She was raised and educated by the Sisters of Charity in the Royal Orphanage of Saint Nicola La Strada until the age of fifteen. She was a school teacher and catechist in Casoria, Naples, and a friend and co-worker with Saint Caterina Volpicelli. Salzano is noted for her personal devotion to the Virgin Mary. She encouraged others in devotion to Our Lady and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Blessed Battista da Varano (1458-1524)
Blessed Camilla Battista da Varano (April 9, 1458 – May 31, 1524), from Camerino, Macerata, Italy, was an Italian princess and a Poor Clares Roman Catholic nun. She was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI in 1843.

Camilla wrote extensively. Her work includes Remembrances of Jesus (1483), Praise of the Vision of Christ (1479–1481), and The Spiritual Life (1491), an autobiography from 1466-1491 which is considered a "jewel of art" and of interior (religious) life. In this work, she describes how two seraphims with wings of gold, appeared to her because they were assigned to help her understand the mysterious working of unitive love.Completed in 1488, Treatise on the Mental Sufferings of Jesus Christ our Lord, is considered a masterpiece. It is largely a series of translations of revelations which she received.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Solesmes Millenium celebrations

Last week saw the formal closing of the millennial anniversary celebrations of the foundation of the monastery of Solesmes. 

Solesmes was of course, famously refounded by Dom Prosper Gueranger after he purchased the property in 1833, and under his leadership became a centre for the restoration of Gregorian chant.

But it was originally founded in 1010 by Geoffrey, seigneur of Sablé, as a priory dependent on the Abbey of St-Pierre de la Couture at Le Mans.

The monastery has had a hard life: it was sacked and burnt down twice during the Hundred years War, forcibly dissolved during the French Revolution, and the monks were once more forced into exile in England in 1901 and 1922.

It continues to thrive, however, particularly in its more traditionalist branches stemming from Fontgambault, and today the congregation of Solesmes has 23 monasteries for men and eight for women spread across three continents.

The Pope sent a letter appointing Cardinal Tauron as his special envoy for the celebrations, which you can read (in Latin only), or watch this french news piece on the celebrations:

Friday, 15 October 2010

Friday prayers...the Middle East Synod

One of the main themes emerging from the current Middle East Synod (photo above AP) is absence of religious freedom in Islamic countries, and the increasing difficulty of preventing an exodus of Christians from these lands.

Christians made up around 20 percent of the region's population a century ago, but now account for about five percent.  And the figure is still falling.


Catholic World News reports:

"Bishop Camillo Ballin, the apostolic vicar of Kuwait, reported: “In Muslim tradition, the Gulf is the land sacred to the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed, and no other religion should exist there.” Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar for Arabia, confirmed the problem, speaking about the lands of the Arabian peninsula: “There is no freedom of religion (no Muslim can convert but Christians are welcome into Islam), and only limited freedom of worship in designated places, granted by benevolent rulers (except in Saudi Arabia).”

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, cited a particularly vivid example of this lack of religious tolerance: “It would seem that Christians who die in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to be buried there; their bodies are flown to Ethiopia for burial. Could the Saudi authorities be requested to allocate a cemetery for Christians in Saudi Arabia?”

Rise of "political Islam"
Reuters reported that "the rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced down together, a senior Roman Catholic official told" the synod.

The report cites comments by the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, who also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region:

"Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world," said Naguib. "This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together."

Though freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution in most Middle Eastern countries, certain laws and practices limited its application in some countries, he said.

Noting that Christians usually felt the negative aspects of the social and political situations in the Middle East, he called for them to be treated in a just and equal manner rather than being "merely tolerated."

"Difficulties in the relations between Christians and Muslims generally arise when Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics," Naguib said.

"On this basis, Christians sense an uneasiness at being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they have called these countries 'home' long before Islam."

The Vatican bureaucracy: getting one's act together

Now it's true that the primary purpose of the Church is not PR.

But equally, getting one's message out is surely vaguely important.

Fr Z drew attention to the fact that the new Motu Proprio released by the Pope on the establishment of the Pontifical Council  for Promoting the New Evangelization remains available in Latin and Italian only. 

Now he reveals that the Pontifical Council charged with studying modern means of communication does not even have an internet connection...

This is beyond a joke.

Although perhaps all this, combined with the appointment of Archbishop Fisichella, not exactly renowned for his success in the defence of life in his previous position, is a statement of another kind about the importance the Pope accords to the idea of the New Evangelization.

The translation problem

But seriously, I do find the Vatican's apparent language problem rather frustrating. 

The English version of the Pope's General Audiences, for example, can take anything from a week to ten days to appear in a full text version (rather than just two para summary), typically long after the full text version in such vital international languages as Croatian.

Take this week's audience on Blessed Angela of Foligno for example, given on 13 October in Italian.  The full text versions are now available in Italian and Croatian.

But if you want it in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese or German you are out of luck.

And they never appear at all in the Church's official language of Latin...

Eureka Street and dissent: the case of Kristina Keneally

Promotion of erroneous ideas about the faith must surely be one of the worst of all crimes, because it leads to the death of souls.

And Eureka Street's article today by Tony Hill must surely warrant a serious rebuke from Cardinal Pell or other suitable authority for its essay today claiming that NSW Premier Kristina Keneally is a wonderful example of a 'rational Catholic conscience'.

Because let's be clear.  Ms Keneally is a catholic in the sense that Luther was - they were brought up as such and were both educated in theology (Ms Keneally holds a Masters in theology I believe).  But in both cases, any coincidence between their views on key theological issues and the teachings of the Church are now purely coincidental.

Ms Keneally's erroneous views

The Eureka Street article lauds Ms Keneally's support for the ordination of women, and her vote in favour of same-sex adoption in the NSW Parliament as 'courageous', contrasting her strong stand with that of the two Federal leaders, Gillard and Abbott.  They are, it claims, examples of "a growingly assertive Catholicism which might be described as progressive, rational and independent."  But probably better described as just attachment to outright heresy...

The saddest thing about this article is that it is a puff piece attempting to counter claims that Ms Keneally is a puppet of the ALP right-wing machine with her strong stands on issues of 'conscience':

"...Keneally has not compromised her religious faith. Rather, she has taken positions that will inspire several categories of people. Many Catholics feel proud when the hierarchy opposes war or sides uncompromisingly with the poor, but quite contrasting emotions when it is socially conservative.

Keneally's intelligent approach to her faith creates hope among the many Catholics searching for new ways to maintain their own faith in a conservative Church. It should convince Labor supporters that with dedicated leadership, the party can put principle before pragmatism."

Defending the indefensible

Oh yes.  And just how many Ministers has the NSW government lost to claims of corruption, incompetence or other malfeasance? 

That would four this year alone. 

Plus the odd MP or two. 

Not to mention the stream of MPs who have announced they will not be standing again at the upcoming state election because they are sick of factional fighting and government inaction....

And on Eureka Street

 Eureka Street does not claim to be Catholic as such.  Rather it suggests it by association: "The publication is informed by a catholic moral perspective and its world view is influenced by the outward-looking social mission of the Australian Jesuits."
Not much evidence of a 'catholic moral perspective' in this or many other of its articles.  The time has surely come for Eureka Street to be reigned in, and for Ms Keneally to be formally warned by her bishop about what it means to be a catholic, and denied communion until she conforms.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Blessed Mary and secularist sledging continued...

The extraordinary continuing round of anti-Catholic media coverage of Sunday's canonisation continues today, so a little round-up of the count from a few of our key mainstream media outlets' online faces.

Today's coverage includes some classics - such as David Marr's rabidly anti-Catholic denunciation of miracles in the Sydney Morning Herald,.  But the prize has to go to the Australian, that on the one hand has a useful article pointing out anti-Christian prejudice in the media, but whose own coverage reflects all of the same problems.

The Australian denounces anti-Christian reporting

The Australian at least acknowledges the problem of distorted reporting, with an opinion piece today by Greg Sheridan arguing that the continuing attacks by the "professional denouncers of Christian orthodoxy" are undermining society.

He points out that media reporting is seriously skewed when it comes to covering Christianity:

"Like World Youth Day, the canonisation of Mary is one of those fairly rare occasions when popular Catholicism breaks through the gatekeepers of official culture in Australia and commands some mainstream attention.

Christianity generally is massively under-regarded in Australia. More people go to church every Sunday than go to football, but the media coverage is hardly commensurate.

I cannot recall seeing Pell on ABC1's Q&A, yet there is a Muslim representative on about every fourth episode of that show. There's certainly nothing wrong with having Muslims on the show, but it's almost as if there is a policy that any mainstream Catholic Church leader is ipso facto boring, not to be listened to or simply not a suitable person to participate in the mainstream media.

This is a sign both of a kind of immature provincialism in our culture and a serious ongoing prejudice against orthodox Christianity of any kind.

There is, of course, specific anti-Catholic prejudice, of the kind seen in the ridiculous treatment of Tony Abbott on ABC1's Four Corners when he became leader of the Liberal Party..."

And the Australian's coverage of the event...

The Australian is ahead of most other media outlets in actually having nice consolidated coverage on Blessed Mary at the click of an icon.  But what do you actually get when you do click?  Most of it is colour and light around the canonisation ceremonies and what one can only term the McKillop industry - lots on assorted (politically correct) pilgrim groups - McKillop family descendants, an Indigenous group, etc; a few stories on the miracles attributed to her; and similar colour and light stories.  But almost nothing of substance from a serious theological commentater.
Sydney Morning Herald/Age
Still, that's way ahead of the Fairfax newspapers which continue their stream of anti-Catholic secularist propaganda today with yet another piece attacking the very concept of miracles, this time from David Marr.
Oh yes, and there is a snooty piece about our Ambassador to the Holy See, Tim Fischer's apparently unfortunate enthusiasm for the event, where he is deprecatingly described as having the "enthusiasm of a kid at Christmas". 
The ABC of course manages to outdo even Fairfax in its anti-Catholic spin.  Click on the 'Catholic' tag for their news site, and the top story is criticism by the Atheist Foundation of Australia for Federal Government funding of the canonisation ceremonies.  How can that even warrant a story?
The rest of their 'news' stories similarly focus on trivia: someone trying to push their portrait of the saint on assorted art galleries; Coonawarra wine being flown to Rome for the celebrations...all riveting stuff.  Nor do any substantive stories make 'The Drum'.
In fact you have to go over to the ABC's religion and ethics ghetto to find some quite helpful articles by Fr Paul Gardiner (postulator for her cause), Joel Hodge, Anne Hunt, Archbishop Mark Coleridge and others.   So why can't these people get published in the mainstream outlets?
Oh well, at least you can watch the actual ceremonies on ABC News 24 from 6pm Sunday onwards...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Blessed Mary and the nature of sainthood

As the clock ticks down towards the canonisation of Blessed Mary of the Cross this Sunday, I've been bemused by the fact that very few of the commentaries actually focus on the nature of sainthood or of religious life.

Nothing has served to expose the intellectual weakness of the faith, and lack of good solid catholic commentators in this country, more than the dearth of good opinion pieces in the media over the last few weeks in the face of continuing distortions and attacks from secularists, protestants and liberal/modernists within.

What makes a saint?

I've heard about Mary the feminist heroine, Mary the miracle worker, Mary as patron of abuse victims, Mary's life and times as colonial history, even Mary the property developer!  I've read about the politics of saint making and saints cults, about exploitation of  Blessed Mary's name. 

But beyond a few side allusions to her 'outback spirituality' precious few of these pieces actually attempt to explain what it means to be a saint in a serious way. Even fewer have talked about the nature of religious life (though that perhaps is unsurprising given that the orders she founded have pretty much abandoned her vision).

The Age did a piece that attempted (badly) to poll people on the intercessory value of saints.  The ABC hosted an 'inter-faith dialgoues' on the nature of sanctity in various religious traditions. 

And the latest offering of this genre is from protestant commentator Greg Clarke in the Punch - who can't resist more than a few sidewipes at Catholic dogma and processes in the course of his article - but does nonetheless make a few useful points. 

Love, not just faith makes a saint

Unfortunately, Clarke doesn't get it right.  He focuses on the New Testament  usage of the word saint, suggesting that any believer can be called a saint.

Well, only in the non-technical sense of the word saint.

What makes a recognized, canonised saint is the virtue of charity taken to a heroic degree.  Faith is a necessary foundation of course.  But it is perfect love, the love of God, the love that enables martyrs to die for the faith, that enables saints like Mary of the Cross to withstand persecution and difficulties in order to do God's will, that makes a saint.

All the same, at least Clarke actually focuses on the real reason for celebrating a canonization, the spur it is supposed to provide us all to pursue sanctity.

The saint is the sinner who picks himself up time and again and seeks forgiveness...

Here are some of the helpful parts of his piece:

"After all, don’t you become a saint by being the best kind of human being you can be? That involves caring for others in extraordinary ways, performing extraordinary deeds, seeking unwaveringly to obey God, giving up some of life’s pleasures for greater goods, and devoting your strength and talent to God and others, rather than your own gain.

That’s got to be worth celebrating...

But being a saint—that’s something to aspire to. I know plenty of non-religious people who try to be saintly, good people who seek to live in a way that improves and adorns the world. There’s something saintly in that, but it’s not what the Bible means by ‘saint’.

...Jesus taught that it was the sinners who become saints. It’s those who take a long, hard look in the mirror and end up on their knees. It’s people who, recognising their failures, lean on God and the story of Jesus Christ’s hard-won forgiveness of sins, in order to come to terms with their own broken humanity.

Saints aren’t the best humans, but the broken ones. They are sinners making good, trusting in God’s mercy and forgiveness..."

Friday, 8 October 2010

Friday prayers...

Confronting extreme Islam

Former British PM Tony Blair has spoken of the need for new strategies to counter radical Islam, and condemned the failure to challenge the anti-West narrative that is being propagated:

"Speaking in New York to a think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the former British prime minister said a failure to challenge the ''narrative'' that Muslims were oppressed by the West was fuelling extremism around the world....

''The practitioners of extremism are small in number; the adherents of the narrative stretch far broader into parts of mainstream thinking,'' he said....

The policy choices from 9/11 onwards were and are immensely difficult. Eventually they come down to: do we confront this extremist ideology in order to change it, or do we manage it and hope, in time, it changes itself? … I don't believe it can be benignly managed out of existence.''

A key problem with Mr Blair's argument, on the face of it, is that, as he admits, most Muslims, extremist or not, essentially accept the arguments of the extremists.  Terrorist manifestations of Islam coincide with a renewal of fervour manifested in the culture, with the spread of the burqa to countries where it was not previously worn, increasing intolerance of other religions (see below on Indonesia), and so forth.

The War in Afghanistan.....
  • PM Julia Gillard visited the troops in Afghanistan; Opposition leader Abbott claimed to be too worried about the prospect of jetlag to take up the invitation to join her.  The Opposition's demands for boosting resources with tanks, Tiger helicopters and more were systematically demolished over the week with ADF assessments that tanks were completely unsuitable for the terrain, the helicopters will not come into service for another two years, and so forth;
  • There are persistent reports that the Afghan Government is in peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups;
  • There was a fascinating interview on the 7.30 Report last night with reporter Bob Woodward on the travails of President Obama in dealing with the US military on the War.  Not encouraging for any sense that a just war is being waged, and with some worrying warnings on the powder keg that is Pakistan....;
  •  Pakistan has refused to reopen a key supply route closed in protest against the killing of two Pakistan soldiers by US forces, despite receiving and apology and the finding of the investigation that the that the Pakistani soldiers fired at the two U.S. helicopters prior to the attack.
Persecution of Christians....
  • Inside Catholic reports that a Catholic priest and a dozen others were arrested during Mass in Saudi Arabia last week, accused of proselytising;
  • Christians continue to flee from Iraq, with the community now less than half its size before the war;
  • a recent survey shows that religious intolerance is rising in Indonesia, with 58% opposing the construction of non-Islamic places of worship, up from 41% in 2001.
Make the rosary your spiritual weapon...

And at Wednesday's General Audience, anticipating yesterday's feast, the Pope urged Christians to seek intercession, protection and personal encounter with Christ through the "simple but efficient prayer," speaking of the Rosary as "a particular prayer of the Church and a spiritual weapon for each of us."

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

For some reason blogger is having problems with images today, so I'll add the reproduction of one of the great paintings of this event later.  In the meantime you can look at it over here.

Europe has come close to falling to the forces of Islam several times in its history, notably including:
  • in the sieges of Constantinople and subsequent attempted invasions of the seventh century;
  • encroachment via Spain, set back in the Battle of Tours in 732;
  • tenth century invasion of Sicily;
  • through Serbia in the fourteenth century, culminating in the capture of Constantinople in 1453.
Today's feast celebrates the victory of the Battle of Lepanto granted through Our Lady's dramatic intercession in 1571, when Islamic forces of the Ottoman Empire threatened Rome and Europe once more.  Contemporary Islamic accounts of the battle record the vision of a woman in the sky as their ships were destroyed, after the Pope had called for the faithful to pray the rosary. 

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

The word we are not allowed to use: heresy

The excellent Fr Blake of Saint Mary Magdalen recently wrote an article extremely critical of the traditional Catholic media in the UK.  And now someone is threatening to sue him for it.

The problem with the Catholic media...

The problem he pointed out, was that the Catholic media seems to be uncertain of its mission:

"Forming a loyal, well informed laity, should be its purpose, helping to proclaim The Truth should be its purpose, instead it scratches the itch of its indisposition, continually looking inwards, moving chairs as the Titanic is sinking. The national Catholic Press is bad and diocesan newspapers are even worst, most parishes have difficulty giving them away."

He noted that:

"I have banned the Tablet from my church, I just got sick of its carping about the Pope and its liberal agenda, I am told it is improving. Fr Clifton, who reads The Tablet with occassional bursts of irritation, complains almost continually about Msg Basil Loftus who writes for the Catholic Times, and others wonder about the orthodoxy of the Herald and the Universe. I tend to feel that I ought to ban all Catholic papers."

Are they heretics?

Now Mgr Loftus is threatening to sue him for suggesting that he was a heretic, and for allowing comments on his blog to the same effect.

Please do go over and support Fr Blake on his blog.

Fortunately in Australia, should it ever come to it, truth is a defence.

Blessed Mary McKillop and child abuse: surprise surprise the claims were a long bow...

So a week and a half ago I reported media claims that Blessed Mary had been excommunicated after reporting a priest for paedophilia with some scepticism.  And guess what?  Today The Australian reports that the claims were false:

"THE priest who spent 25 years lobbying for Mary MacKillop's canonisation has angrily dismissed recent media reports....

Paul Gardiner, chaplain of the Mary MacKillop Penola Centre, said the claims, published on ABC Online and in Fairfax newspapers last month, were false, and he feared the misleading coverage was an attempt to take a swipe at the church and distract the public in the lead-up to MacKillop's canonisation on October 17.

ABC Online and Fairfax both reported that MacKillop's ousting from the church in 1871 was prompted by her exposure of a Kapunda priest's abuse of local children. The claims were based on remarks made by Father Gardiner in a documentary made for ABC TV's Compass program.

But both Father Gardiner and the program's executive producer deny ever making such an inference. "Early in 1870, the scandal occurred and the Sisters of Saint Joseph reported it to Father Tenison Woods, but Mary was in Queensland and no one was worried about her," Father Gardiner told The Australian.

..."There was a long chain of causation. Somehow or other, somebody typed it up as if to say I said Mary MacKillop was the one to report the sex abuse," Father Gardiner said."

So why did it take so long to correct the report?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Happy the man who walks in the way of the Lord....

One gets sick at times of those scientific studies that prove (or purport to disprove) the obvious, but here is one of the genre to cheer you up.  Really.

Happiness, it seems, is not genetically programmed, but is "responsive to life priorities and choices".

And people who practice religion, and who prioritise altruistic and family goals over career and material success tend to be more satisfied with life.

Well duh!

But it is enough of a story it seems, to make the ABC's The World Today, and online news.

Dangerous ideas, dangerous people...and rude b***s at the Opera House

The "Festival of Dangerous Ideas" seems, predictably, to have attracted some dangerous, nasty people.

Cheering on terrorists

 According to the Sydney Morning Herald, one man related that he cheered when the twin towers were destroyed:

"...That elegant old leftie Tariq Ali ("What we can learn from terrorists") sat aghast as a man on microphone 2 confessed to cheering as the twin towers came down. "At last," said this voice in the dark, "someone was serving it up to them." In a suddenly silent opera theatre one person applauded."

The good news is you won't see Geoffrey Robertson's debate...

The main show though was Geoffrey Robertson debating famous US law professor Alan Dershowitz at the Opera House on Saturday in the "Festival of Dangerous Ideas". 

But it seems we won't get to see it (I'm sure you are devastated about that), because Robertson refused to allow the show to be broadcast.  Apparently he plans a rematch in London and isn't keen for the world to see the out-of-town tryout. Ahh, yes, the love these ex-pats.  Not.

Robertson misbehaving as well as misguided

Robertson does seem to have succeeded in annoying all and sundry however with his rudeness.  According to the SMH:

"Let me start," said Geoffrey Robertson about 10 minutes into his pitch at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, "by saying this … " The London QC of Sydney extraction was having problems with the clock as he called for the Pope to be arraigned for crimes against humanity.

The chairman tried warning gestures, civil glances and banged his glass on an empty Schweppes bottle. Nothing worked. Robertson had things to say and could not be stopped. His adversary, Alan Dershowitz, provoked warm applause with his first words: "What I want to do in the time I've been allotted for my remarks …''

On fair reporting...

That bastion of secularism, the Sydney Morning Herald, naturally gives Professor Dershowitz fairly short shrift in its reportage of his arguments in support of the Pope:

"Dershowitz, the Harvard professor best known internationally for his defence of Israel, counter-attacked: "Do not sacrifice due process and separation of church and state on the altar of the terrible crime of child abuse."

He defended the Pope and defended the church - "It is far safer today than it was in the past" - but concentrated his attack on the notion that heads of state can so easily be brought before the ICC. That's why Dershowitz has a dog in this fight."

Dershowitz's case

Fortunately, you can hear the substance of Professor Dershowitz's defense by watching or reading the transcript of his Lateline appearance from last week (sad when you have to rely on the ABC for balanced reporting of religious matters!).  Here is an extract from the transcript:

"...TONY JONES: Well Geoffrey Robertson QC is certainly a bit of a stirrer, but he's deadly serious about this and the way he sets out his case. In the book - you've read the book.


TONY JONES: The case of the Pope. And I just wonder is there any merit at all - as a lawyer, do you see any merit at all in the case that he's making?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: No, I don't. I think that there is merit to the concerns about how extensive the abuses were within the Church. By the way, there have been comparable abuses in other religious institutions, in schools, parental abuse of children.

It's a very widespread problem. We're beginning to come to grips with it and understand it. It is one of the most under-reported crimes in history, child abuse. It's also an over-reported crime. There are people who are falsely accused.

And I'm very concerned that Geoffrey Robertson, who's a great lawyer, is a little insensitive to the rights of priests and others falsely accused, and there have been many such cases as well. There has to be a balance struck.

TONY JONES: Let's start with his basic proposition that the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children is a crime against humanity - that's the way he puts it.

And so, he says covering it up, incidentally, and protecting the perpetrators also amounts to a criminal offence.

This is the basis of it, he says in international law.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: Well he's wrong. International law deals with war crimes, it deals with systematic efforts by governments to do what happened, for example, in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, in Darfur and Cambodia.

This is not in any way related to that. And I think - I'm afraid to call this a war crime or some kind of international crime - it will water down the very important concept of crimes against humanity.

This is not a crime against humanity, this is a series of crimes by individual priests and others throughout the world and failures by institutions to come to grips with it quickly enough.

But it's very different from systematic attempts to use rape or murder as a genocidal - part of a genocidal program.

TONY JONES: What about the cover up part of it? It may not be a crime against humanity, but it's a presumably crime in most countries.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ: It's not. It's a crime in very few countries to fail to report a crime. It's called (inaudible) a felony. It's almost never prosecuted.

The crime occurs when you take explicit steps to try to prevent law enforcement from finding the criminals, and there are some priests who did that, who pushed people from parish to parish.

And they should be prosecuted, but there's no evidence that that came from the very top and that was in any way attributable to the Pope..."

**PS Robertson was on Q&A last night as part of the Festival, verballing the Pope.