Thursday, 31 March 2011

The wit and wisdom of Australia's greatest PM...

I'm speaking of course, of PJK, aka Paul Keating (though one could argue I suppose that his more lasting legacy has been his acts as Treasurer of floating the dollar, introducing compulsory superannuation, pushing the microeconomic reform agenda, and much more), who gave a great interview on 7.30 this week demolishing the NSW Labor establishment and reminded us once again of what Australia lost by dumping him as PM so prematurely in 1996.

Keating's astute observations on the issues of our day continue to provide a depth unseen amongst our current politicians or for that matter the media.

But he is of course particularly famous for his oratory, and we can at least take the occasion this week to recall some of his greatest moments, courtesy of The Punch.

My personal favourite remains the description of the Senate as unrepresentative swill (even more true today than ever before...).  But The Punch offers a few goodies, gems such as “painted, perfumed gigolos” (on Andrew Peacock), or “all tip and no iceberg” (on Peter Costello), “24-carat pissant” (Richard Carleton) or “like being flogged with a warm lettuce” (John Hewson), and invites others to suggest their own favs.

Do go read and enjoy.

Interesting that the comments over there suggest that even many (though certainly not all, his principled stands made him a polarising personality) of the haters seem to have come to respect him.

And try to remember what it was like to have an intelligent and principled politician in power (even if you didn't actually like him), one who made politics actually entertaining and engaging...

Clericalist liberals and the rights of the laity to the liturgy of the Church

Over at The Record there is an excellent editorial on the new missal - do go and read it.

Basically it is pointing out the implicit clericalism, and blatant disregard of the right of the laity to receive what the Church wants to offer its people, of the National Council of Priests in its dispute over the new missal.

Here is an extract:

"If it is a fundamental principle of the Catholic Church that all Catholics, by virtue of their Baptismal grace, are full and equal members of the Church, it is also true that all Catholics have, at all times, the right to receive what the Church wishes to give them. By indicating it may support priests in boycotts, the NCPA now appears unable to deny that it or some of its members will effectively encourage a programme of disenfranchising ordinary Catholics of their Baptismal rights to the best liturgy the Church can provide. And it can only be described as ironic that while on the one hand it raises “concerns” at what it describes as “exclusive language,” the NCPA appears to have no equal “concerns” at excluding Catholics from the liturgy which is theirs by right.

By beginning or supporting a campaign to oppose the introduction of the new translations, the NCPA now gives the impression of being prepared to deliberately place obstacles in the way of baptised Catholics and their families. If so, on what authority does it do so and and from whom did it receive the mandate for such a course? And, having flagged such possibilities, it is hard to see how the organisation no longer appears to be able to avoid the criticism that it is lapsing into treating baptised Catholics in the pews as second-class citizens in their own churches. Is there one standard for members of the NCPA and quite another for ordinary Catholics?"

The time for 'almost-anything-goes' liturgy is past.  We the laity must stand up and resist this kind of narcissistic clericalism that says father's whims should prevail without reference to proper law, Pope, bishop or pewsitter!  True priestly authority comes from obedience not dissent.

And that's a principle traditionalists need to keep in mind as well, as we come up to the season of Easter Vigils, for example, and the temptation to use (unless of course proper approval has been obtained) the pre-1955 forms, or some other curious hybrid, rather than the 1962 books, once more rears its head...

And still the scandal continues...

The abuse scandal, and broader problem of priestly misbehaviour, seems never-ending.

And still the way it is being played out suggests that there is a way to go in settling how to handle these issues properly.

Consider three recent developments.  First the recent naming of priests in the US accused of past abuse and other misbehaviour, but not actually the subject of any specific court actions, with more to come.  Secondly the phenomenon of the 'dissapeared' - priests a accused of abuse, suspended from their duties, but who then seem to enter a kind of limbo never to emerge again, either cleared or not.  And finally, the very public case of televangelist Fr Corapi, who claims that action was taken against him before the accusations made were assessed for credibility, which if true would seem to be a clear breach of the principle of natural justice.

Evidence of the cover up continues to emerge...

The problem of course is the continuing distrust of the hierarchy's handling of abuse cases.

Where a priest has been accused of abuse, and the diocese or religious order have found the claim proved or highly probable (whether or not it went to a civil trial, or indeed whether or not the matter is actually a criminal offence), parishioners arguably have a right to know, and be assured that appropriate action has been taken.  Instead of course, these cases were covered up, the perpetrators reshuffled elsewhere, creating the festering sore that we have today.

In the case of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia 21 priests were recently suspended following a Grand Jury investigation largely because the Jury found that diocesan investigators had dismissed credible claims of abuse too readily, particularly where it was a case of the priest's word against the accusers, and failed to take appropriate action.

Now Collegeville Monastery in Minnesota has named 17(!) monks with credible accusations against them.  And then there is the case of the Chicago Jesuits...

The inevitable question is, could this yet happen in Australia, opening a new chapter in this sorry tale?  On the face of it, the answer is yes.  We know that there are quite a few priests in some dioceses with accusations against them who remain in ministry or restricted ministry.   And continuing court cases and other incidents suggest that we still don't really have any basis for confidence that all accusations were treated seriously, properly tested, and appropriate action taken.  Maybe some kind of formal review of past cases by someone independent needs to be done to get in front of this?

Dealing with false accusations or refusal to pursue a case

The other problem of course is that the reasonably clear cases have been muddied by the poor handling of a less clear cut group of cases where someone was accused, but where no conclusive finding was made. 

On the face of it, if an accuser refuses to pursue the matter, refuses to have their claims properly tested, how, in all fairness can the accusation be allowed to stand? 

There can, of course, be legitimate reasons for not wanting to pursue a case - more than a few accusers were perhaps burnt by the typically unsympathetic and defensive reaction from ecclesiastical authorities.

And there are cases where a particular claim might be unprovable, but yet a pattern of other problematic behaviour suggests that prudence on the part of the authorities is warranted, even at the expense of the rights of the priest concerned.

Still, not every claim is credible.  False accusations are not only possible but likely, both out of malice in the face of those who pursue the good, out of greed given the possibility of monetary gain, or even just the desire for fame and notoriety on the part of the complainant, particularly in the current climate.

In these circumstances, is it really fair to simply disappear priests, leaving the cloud of guilt forever hanging over them?

Or even worse, for anonymous accusers to attempt to make unsupported, and in some cases blatantly false, accusations, or to rehash old ones on the web (I've rejected several comments of that ilk made to this blog; other forums, even in recent days, have let them through, at least until threatened with defamation action).

What is needed in cases such as these is some assurance that there is in fact some due process behind the decisions taken.

And then there is the Corapi case...

The most widely publicized case at the moment though, at least in the US, is that around Fr Corapi, made more complicated by the priest's decision to get in front of the accusations and state his own case publicly.

But it is a weird one, with he circumstances surrounding it extremely unclear, and already deeply polarised positions.

What it does seem to illustrate though, is that we still have a long way to go in persuading people to keep an open mind on accusations one way or another until the case is actually properly assessed.  Apparently holy priests may be exactly what they appear to be - or not!  Neither we nor bishops can know until the evidence is seen and tested.

Leaping in either to defend them, or to toss in other criticisms, is counter-productive at best.  We need to see both justice being exercized, and the presumption of innocence respected...

The bottom line is that the system both in the US and Australia seems to have even further to go in getting the balance right, and seen to be right, between what must be the paramount concern, namely the protection of parishioners, and the rights of priests (or anyone else) to a good reputation.

The longer term solution of course lies in sound formation - and correction of past defective formation - and strict application of the proper criteria for ordination.  All the evidence suggests that there is still a good way to go on that front in many places too...

In the meantime, pray for our priests!

Psalm 31/4: On being stubborn as a mule (verses 11&12)!

It is impossible for me to conclude this mini-series on Psalm 31 without a quick look at my two favourite verses, which deal with our natural instinct to rebel against God's providential guidance of our lives!

God's guidance

Verses 8&9 of Psalm 31 discuss the gifts that God gives to those who repent of their sins, including his guidance and protection.  But verses 11&12 (in the liturgical ordering of the text), which I want to focus on today, contain a warning:

"Nolíte fíeri sicut equus et mulus, * quibus non est intelléctus. In camo et freno maxíllas eórum constrínge: * qui non appróximant ad te."

The verses are translated fairly literally in the Douay-Rheims as:

"Do not become like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding. With bit and bridle bind fast their jaws, who come not near unto you."

In terms of the translation, the first phrase, giving us the image of the horse (equus) and mule (mulus) is straightforward.  Intellectus simply means understanding or insight.  The last phrases are a little harder to get but the sense is clear: 'in camo et freno' means with bit and bridle; maxilla means jaw or jawbone; while the verb constringere means to bind together, hold fast, fetter or restrain.  Approximare means to approach or draw near.

The virtue of reason

St Robert Bellarmine explains the verses as follows:

"The Prophet now exhorts all, both good and bad, to learn from his example the evils consequent on sin, and the blessings to be derived from penance and virtue, he having tasted of both. Turning to the wicked first, he says, "Do not become like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding." Endowed with reason, but not guided by your animal propen­sities; be not like the horse and the mule in your licentious desires, as I was; be not like the horse and the mule, in tearing and lashing at your fellow creatures, as I have been in regard of Urias. "With bit and bridle bind fast their jaws, who come not near unto thee." He foretells the calamities in store for those who will act the part of the horse and the mule towards their neighbor. They will be forced by tribulations either to return to God, or will be prevented from injuring their neighbors to the extent they intended; but, as usual, this prophetic warning is expressed as if it were an imprecation. You will force those wicked men to obey you, as you would subdue a horse or a mule, with a bit and bridle, and make them obedient to you. The words bit and bridle are used in a metaphorical sense to signify the crosses and trials that God has sometimes recourse to..."

Next time, an introduction to the third of the penitential psalms, Psalm 37.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Psalm 31/3: Admitting our faults (verse 6)

Folio 66v*

Verse 6 of Psalm 31, which we will consider today, picks up a major theme of the psalm, namely our unfortunate tendency to refuse to not to simply accept that we have sinned, confess it, and move on. 

Instead, human nature means that we either continue blithely ignoring the fact of our sin; try and persuade ourselves that we haven't sinned really; or persuade ourselves that our sin is not really that serious.  One example of this perhaps is the use by Catholics of contraception, which Russell Shaw has recently suggested stands behind the mass defection from the sacrament of confession.

The sentiment also though has application for most of us, I think not just in relation to serious sins, but also in relation to those personality faults, failures and weaknesses that we all know we should work on - but do our best to try not to think about!

The verse

Verse 6 of Psalm 31 reads in the Vulgate:

"Dixi: Confitébor advérsum me injustítiam meam Dómino: * et tu remisísti impietátem peccáti mei."

A literal translation is: "I said: I will confess (confitebor) against myself (adversum me) my injustice (injustitiam meam) to the Lord: and you have remitted (tu remisisti) to me the impiety/wickness(impietatem) of my sins."

The process of conversion

And on this, today I want to offer first St John Chrysostom's take on this verse in the process of conversion:

"Would you like me to list also the paths of repentance? They are numerous and quite varied, and all lead to heaven.  A first path of repentance is the condemnation of your own sins: Be the first to admit your sins and you will be justified. For this reason, too, the prophet wrote: I said: I will accuse myself of my sins to the Lord, and you forgave the wickedness of my heart. Therefore, you too should condemn your own sins; that will be enough reason for the Lord to forgive you, for a man who condemns his own sins is slower to commit them again. Rouse your conscience to accuse you within your own house, lest it become your accuser before the judgment seat of the Lord..."

The renewal of our baptism

Secondly, Pope Benedict XVI stressed in his message for Lent the connection between Lent and our baptism. In his catechesis on this psalm Pope John Paul II reflects this idea, saying:

"St Cyril of Jerusalem (fourth century) uses Psalm 32[31] to teach catechumens of the profound renewal of Baptism, a radical purification from all sin (cf. Procatechesi, n. 15). Using the words of the Psalmist, he too exalts divine mercy. We end our catechesis with his words: "God is merciful and is not stingy in granting forgiveness.... The mountain of your sins will not rise above the greatness of God's mercy, the depth of your wounds will not overcome the skilfulness of the "most high' Doctor: on condition that you abandon yourself to him with trust. Make known your evil to the Doctor, and address him with the words of the prophet David: "I will confess to the Lord the sin that is always before me'. In this way, these words will follow: "You have forgiven the ungodliness of my heart'" (Le Catechesi, Rome, 1993, pp. 52-53)."

Tomorrow a look at verses 11&12 of the psalm, on resisting God's providential guidance of us.  And in the meantime, here are the two verses on confessing sin and receiving forgiveness (verses 5&6) in the setting by Delalande.

*(Illustration at top: Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).)

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Seminarians - get with the clerical look!

Fr Pearce of a Priest Downunder blog highlights this nice piccie of Victorian and Tasmanian seminarians - happy, young, committed, a positive sign for the Church.  Well yes.

But why are they in shirts and ties!  Shouldn't they be being taught good habits (pun intended)....

So personally, I'd rather take this bunch of current regional NSW seminarians, from Wagga Wagga's Vianney College, as the poster boys of our hope!

Get with the programme Corpus Christi!

Lourdes: one for 'the rationalists are winning' file?

There is a story on the ABC site from Reuters about Lourdes backing away from the declaration that miracles occur in the context of a new verified healing. 

Now given the source, it is probably being given a bit of rationalist/modernist spin.

A Lourdes 'remarkable healing'

Still, it does seem to fit with what is being said elsewhere:

"The Roman Catholic shrine at Lourdes has announced the "remarkable healing" of a French invalid, avoiding the traditional term "miracle" as doctors increasingly shy away from calling an illness incurable....

The case of Serge Francois, 56, whose left leg was mostly paralysed for years, was the first healing announced since the church eased some rules in 2006 for declaring a person was healed thanks to visiting the site.

Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers in western France, where Mr Francois lives, said the bureau of medical experts at Lourdes had concluded the recovery was "sudden, complete, unrelated to any particular therapy and durable."...

About 7,000 sufferers have claimed to have been cured at Lourdes since the medical bureau began keeping records in 1883, but only 67 were declared to be miracles.

In interviews about his healing, Mr Francois has said he felt a sharp pain after touching water from the Lourdes spring during a pilgrimage in 2002 and thought he would die. Minutes later, he said, his left leg felt warm and he could use it again...

The church eased the Lourdes rules five years ago because the 20-member medical bureau, made up of Catholic and agnostic doctors, increasingly declined to draw conclusions for cases they agreed were instances of unexplained healing.

When the new rules were introduced, the church opted for them to confirm proven recoveries as authentic healings, even if the doctors no longer called them miracles."

The importance of miracles

One obvious question arising from all of this is just how this reluctance to claim a miracle lines up with the criteria used by the Congregation for Saints.  The miracles accepted for some recent saints - notably Blessed Cardinal Newman - certainly seem to reflect a much lower bar than that used at Lourdes.  Yet the declarations on the miracles of saints have a much higher level of authority, given that they have to be approved by the Pope, than miracles declared at Lourdes do. 

Lourdes of course sits in a special situation - its medical bureau was set up in 1905 by Pope Pius X to prove something to the rationalists, and sits largely independent of ecclesiastical considerations.

But miracles, whether large or small, are important as they attest to the continuous working of Providence in our lives.  Dramatic miracles like miraculous healings can help convince even skeptics and non-believers to convert.  The smaller, less dramatic interventions, the one's perhaps provable only to ourselves, serve as a constant reminder of God's care for us individually.

So while it might once have had its time, the Lourdes approach, both old and new, it seems to me, is looking like an awfully outdated approach that seems more often to be giving fodder to the rationalists and miracle-haters amongst us rather than providing the ammunition to counter them.

We surely need to recover the word miracle in our vocabularies.

Psalm 31/2: The grace of forgiveness (verse 1)

Yesterday I gave a general introduction to Psalm 31.  Today I want to start digging a little into a few of its verses, starting with the first:

Beáti quorum remíssæ sunt iniquitátes: * et quorum tecta sunt peccáta.

The idea of beatitude

Beatus simply means happy, or blessed.  It has the same meaning in the (New Testament) beatitudes.  In the first verse, it is in the plural; in the second verse, the psalmist continues with the same ideas, bringing it back to the individual.
Why is the psalmist happy?  Because his sins (iniquitas=iniquity, sin, or rebellion against God's authority; peccatum=sin, failure, error, going astray) are forgiven or pardoned (the verb is from remittere), 'covered' (tegere) or taken away altogether (the Hebrew suggests something more like 'offend the eye no longer').  The whole thrust of the verse is that sense of a lightening of one's burden experienced (hopefully) when one emerges from the confessional!
Scripture interprets Scripture?
It always important to look at how the New Testament in particular interprets passages from the Old, since the New fulfills and explains the Old.  In the case, St Paul quotes this verse in Romans 4, in his discussion on salvation:
"Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.  So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin."… No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "reckoned to him as righteousness." But the words, "it was reckoned to him," were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification."

Real remission of sin

This passage by St Paul, though, is one of those passages that demonstrate the importance of reading Scripture with the guidance of the Church, for the verses are also used by Luther in his theory of the non-imputation, rather than real forgiveness of sin!
Pope John Paul II puts the text in its orthodox context:
"In the Letter to the Romans St Paul refers explicitly to the beginning of our Psalm to celebrate Christ's liberating grace (cf. Rom 4: 6-8). We could apply this to the sacrament of Reconciliation.  In light of the Psalm, this sacrament allows one to experience the awareness of sin, often darkened in our day, together with the joy of forgiveness. The binomial "sin-punishment" is replaced by the binomial "sin-forgiveness", because the Lord is a God who "forgives iniquity and transgression and sin" (cf. Ex 34: 7)."

Tomorrow, a look at verse 6 of the psalm, on admitting our faults.  In the meantime, enjoy the setting of the first verses of the psalm by the sixteenth century composer, Delalande:

Monday, 28 March 2011

URGENT: Death poll in South Australia

The fight against euthanasia is hotting up in South Australia, where legislation is expected to be brought before the Parliament (again) soon, and Dr Philip Nitschke is in town scouting out a site for a death clinic....

So it is a little late on this one, but please, do vote no in this poll in the Advertiser asap and see if the numbers can be swayed at least a little!

The article and poll can be found here.

The end of the Greens?

Well we can only hope.

The New South Wales election result was, as predicted, a landslide to the Liberal-National Party (conservative) Coalition, and the new Premier, Barry O'Farrell has already been sworn in.

Greens do badly

Even better, the Greens picked up only 1.4% of the massive 16.5% swing against the former Labor Government, and it looks like they won't gain even one seat, despite needing only small swings to win two seats.   

And its starting to look like a trend, following a similar outcome in the Victorian State election a few months back. 

It certainly looks like the message is starting to get through that the Greens are not a sensible force for greater environmental responsibility, but rather a bunch of extremists with a radical pro-death agenda.

Catholics and the Greens

One in the eye for those who claimed that the bishops' statement on why not to vote for the Greens would be counter-productive you might have thought!

Yet curiously undaunted, the inimitable Michael Mullins (editor of Eureka Street and Cath News' blog) has an editorial on Eureka Street today talking about the state of enmity between the Church and the Greens. 

And what a curious distortion of reality it is.    Not once does he mention the issues of the Green's support for abortion, contraception gay 'marriage' and euthanasia.

Instead, he portrays it as a stoush that could be healed if only the Greens would be a bit more sympathetic to funding of Church schools.

But here is the thing.  School funding is certainly an issue.  But the extent to which the State should provide financial support to schools is one on which catholics can legitimately have different views I think - after all, Australia's first saint, St Mary McKillop refused to accept state funding for her schools! 

On abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage (Fr Frank Brennan's dissent notwithstanding) there is no legitimate debate whatsoever from a catholic perspective.

And that's why the bishop's statement on why not to vote Green did not, as Mullins claims, 'demonise' the Greens.  Rather, it did what bishops are supposed to do, and set out the Church's teaching on these issues for the benefit of believers.

Better still, it seems to have had some affect, lending its weight to others saying much the same thing.

Promoting dissent

Surely it really is time to do something to reign in these ageing liberals who continue to promote dissent.

Now that New South Wales does have a new Parliament and thus a chance for a new start, perhaps a good place to start would be a clear indication that action will be taken against Catholic politicians who vote for legislation that is morally evil.  Mr O'Farrell consistently voted for moral evil last term; now he is Premier he should be put on notice.

Oh, and please, please do something about Cath News and Eureka Street!

Lastly, one doesn't like to kick someone when they are down, but was I the only person who shuddered at ex-Premier Kristina Keneally's announcement that she would be devoting herself henceforth to the preparation of the children's liturgy for Easter!  Personally I would have thought a little soul searching, penance and perhaps some focused religious instruction in the areas of her erroneous views on women priestesses and some moral issues might be better ways of spending her time..

Introduction to Psalm 31: Blessed the man whose sins are forgiven!

St Louis Psalter c1190-1200

Continuing my series on the penitential psalms, today I want to turn to the second psalm of the set, Psalm 31 in the Vulgate numbering, or 32 in the Hebrew, which starts with a reminder that ‘penitential’ does not mean gloom and doom!

Instead, this psalm reminds us that penitence is, paradoxically, the key to true happiness.

The main focus of this psalm is the grace of conversion, and how God brings it about in us.

Psalm 31: Beati quorum remissae sunt iniquitates

You can find the text of the Vulgate and another setting of the psalm to listen to here, but here is a reminder of the text of the psalm:

"Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord has not imputed sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

Because I was silent my bones grew old; whilst I cried out all the day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me: I am turned in my anguish, whilst the thorn is fastened.

I have acknowledged my sin to you, and my injustice I have not concealed. I said I will confess against my self my injustice to the Lord: and you have forgiven the wickedness of my sin. For this shall every one that is holy pray to you in a seasonable time.

And yet in a flood of many waters, they shall not come near unto him. You are my refuge from the trouble which has encompassed me: my joy, deliver me from them that surround me.

I will give you understanding, and I will instruct you in this way, in which you shall go: I will fix my eyes upon you.  Do not become like the horse and the mule, who have no understanding. With bit and bridle bind fast their jaws, who come not near unto you.

Many are the scourges of the sinner, but mercy shall encompass him that hopes in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, you just, and glory, all you right of heart."


The setting for the psalm is generally accepted to be after David has confessed his sins and been punished for it through the death of his child, as set out in 2 Samuel 12. That chapter tells how when the child becomes sick, David fasted and wept for seven days, imploring God to spare the child. But when the child died despite his entreaties, David scandalized his servants by putting on his normal clothes and eating as normal again rather than mourning, since there was nothing he could then do to change the outcome. Instead he went out to worship God, and comforted his wife.

The message of the psalm though, is not about acceptance of punishment; rather it is of the joy that comes when sin is confessed and absolved. The psalm is helpful though in filling out the chapter of Samuel by giving us some insight into King David's state of mind, taking us through several stages of the process of his conversion, including his stubborn resistance, until he at last reaches the joy that comes when he finally accepts God’s mercy, grace and guidance.

Perhaps the most graphic verses are the early ones describing the psalmist's torment before he achieves that realization however.  Pope John Paul II commented:

"Above all, the person praying describes his very distressful state of conscience by keeping it "secret" (cf. v. 3): having committed grave offences, he did not have the courage to confess his sins to God. It was a terrible interior torment, described with very strong images. His bones waste away, as if consumed by a parching fever; thirst saps his energy and he finds himself fading, his groan constant. The sinner felt God's hand weighing upon him, aware as he was that God is not indifferent to the evil committed by his creature, since he is the guardian of justice and truth.

Unable to hold out any longer, the sinner made the decision to confess his sin with a courageous declaration that seems a prelude to that of the prodigal son in Jesus' parable (cf. Lk 15: 18)...In this way, a horizon of security, trust and peace unfolds before "every believer" who is repentant and forgiven, regardless of the trials of life (cf. Ps 32[31]: 6-7)."

And tomorrow in the next part, a look at Verse 1 of the psalm.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Psalm 6 Pt 4: The ointment of tears (verse 6)


In the first section of Psalm 6,  King David (picture above from the Paris psalter) implored God to take pity on him and heal him from his illness: from his aching bones, and troubled soul.  He then goes on to give some reasons for God to have mercy on him, and today, to finish off our quick look at Psalm 6, I want to look at one of those reasons, given in Verse 6, namely his tears of contrition.

Tears are out of fashion these days (except perhaps for that faint hint of emotion when politicians need to persuade us of their humanity!) yet in truth there is nothing wrong with acknowledging our emotions!  And indeed seeking to stir up the proper ones within us as the occasion requires.

The meaning of the text

Verse 6 in the Vulgate is:

"Laborávi in gémitu meo, lavábo per síngulas noctes lectum meum : * lácrimis meis stratum meum rigábo."

The key words in this verse all point to the idea that letting lose tears (lacryma) of contrition constitutes hard work, a work of penance. Laborare means to work, toil, be tired out or exhausted; while gemitus means sighs or groanings. So the Douay-Rheims gives the first phrase as ‘I have laboured in my groanings’.

The verse is a classic example of the parallelism often used in the psalms, so that both halves of the verse essentially mean the same thing: lavare means to wash, while rigare means to wet, water or moisten; lectus and stratus both mean bed or couch.

There is some dispute over tense here: the Vulgate translates as ‘I have laboured...I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears. The neo-Vulgate changes the text to the imperfect, reflecting the more forceful Hebrew: the couch is positively swimming with the flood of tears the psalmist lets loose. Thus the Revised Standard Version translates the verse as “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.”

God does not punish those who punish themselves…

The importance of David’s outpouring of tears, finally accepted in verse 9, is the allusion to a positive aspect of the doctrines around sin and penance, namely that if our sorrow for sin, and thus detachment from it, is sufficiently intense, we can be purified of even the remaining temporal punishment due to us.

Serious sin has two main effects: it cuts us off from God, thus meriting eternal punishment, and it causes harm which we must repair (‘temporal punishment’). The sacrament of penance heals our breach with God, cancelling out eternal punishment, but it does not necessarily wipe out all of the temporal punishment due to our sins, which must be worked off either in this life (through good works such as prayer, almsgiving and fasting), or in purgatory.

St Robert Bellarmine therefore comments on this verse that: “For, as the apostle has it, 1 Cor. 11, "If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged;" that is to say, if we would condemn and punish ourselves, God would not condemn nor punish us. For he spares those who do not spare themselves.”

A continuing work

I mentioned above that the Neo-Vulgate makes the psalmists work of tears each night ongoing - and this might be one of those cases where even a traditionalist could prefer the neo-Vulgate, at least from a theological point of view! There is a tendency today, even amongst the most conservative and traditionalists of us, to underestimate, at least compared to the perspective of earlier ages, just how serious our sins are, and therefore just how much time in purgatory we might yet face! So to avoid this, we should take St Benedict’s advice, and ‘daily in our prayer, with tears and sighs, confess our past sins to God’ (RB4).

And next, the second penitential psalm, Psalm 31.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Please pray for the Rev Michael Lim, being ordained this evening...

Please pray for Deacon Michael Lim (photo left from the Catholic Voice), being ordained to the sacred priesthood this evening in Canberra.

Brought up a Buddhist, he and his whole family converted when he was 35 as a result of a miraculous healing in his family.  He did his seminary training in Singapore, and felt called to Australia.  He has served in a number of parishes in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese since his arrival in August 2009, and was ordained a deacon here.  You can read more of his inspiring story here.

Feast of the Annunciation

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Closing the Gap with Indigenous Australia

Today is 'National Close the Gap' Day, an event organized by a coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian groups working to support the Government's policies directed at tackling the huge disparities in life expectancy, employment, health and more between Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.

It is worth supporting.

Because this is an issue all Catholics who take the Church's social teaching seriously should care about.

Policy failure

Australia has two major social policy failures that stick out like a sore thumb at the moment: its treatment of asylum seekers, and the appalling conditions that most Indigenous Australians live in.

The asylum seeker problem looms large on the political agenda.  But in reality it affects only around one or tow thousand people.  And putting in place a more sensible solution (such as community supervision) is difficult only because of bare knuckles politics, fueled by Tony Abbott's (content free) 'stop the boats' rhetoric. 

By contrast Indigenous policy issues, affecting our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population of around 517,000 in 2006, continue to receive relatively little coverage in the mainstream media, except when it comes to displaced populations impacting on white Australian communities in Adelaide or Alice Springs!

Part of the reason, it has to be admitted, is that the solutions are a lot less obvious - and a lot less palatable for many of the social justice establishment.  The fact is that almost every possible solution has been tried in Australia at one time or other, and has failed.  And worse for the 'liberal' left, those solutions that do show some prospect of looking like succeeding, involve some degree of very un-PC external compulsion, usually instinctively dismissed by the soft left as misguided paternalism.

The Northern Territory Intervention

Up until a few years ago, most policy initiatives in recent decades made Indigenous leadership and engagement their starting point.  The endemic corruption, inter-tribal disputes and outright incompetence that ensued put paid to that. 

And when it came to looking for next generation approaches, the problem was the truly horrific loss of cultural and social cohesion of many communities, devastated by the effects of alcohol and other drugs, pornography, unemployment and more. 

Yet the status quo was untenable.  How could, after all, a first world country like Australia tolerate a system that resulted in outcomes like Indigenous people's live expectancy 17 years shorter than that of non-Indigenous; Indigenous children in some states 3.6 times as likely to die before the age of five; and only 47.4% of Indigenous children finishing a Year 12 education?

This was the background that lead to the Howard conservative Coalition Government's Northern Territory Intervention, and the subsequent Council of Australian Government's Closing the Gap Initiative maintained and extended under the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments.

The Intervention, it is true, was launched in an extraordinarily heavy-handed way, with no consultation, and insisting on some measures that seemed to reflect a rather broader ideological agenda rather than being strictly necessary to achieve the stated objectives.  But many of its worst features have subsequently been ameliorated.

But is it working?

A lot of money has been poured into Closing the Gap programs.  Much of it, arguably, simply goes some way to making up for years of under-funding particularly on the part of the Northern Territory Government.

The question is, is it having the desired effect?

The most recent Prime Minister's Report claims some small progress with child mortality and other measures.  For much of it though, it is just too soon to tell.  The best chance of change is to stick with it for a few years yet, and give it a chance.

Extend the NT Intervention?

There is one unintended consequence of the Intervention that is becoming clearer though, and that is the move of Indigenous populations out of their remote communities and to the larger towns in the Northern Territory.  And on that subject, Tony Abbott has penned a plea to extend the intervention to places like Alice Springs and Katherine for today's Punch.

Something certainly needs to be done to stem the flow of cheap alcohol, poor policing and appalling living conditions in this towns showcased on ABC's 7.30 last night.  Whether extending the Intervention is the right approach is a much more debatable question.

Restoring trust

Certainly the Intervention did nothing to help a key statistic highlighted in another article on The Punch today, and that's about levels of trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Richard Fleming reports that:

"The underlying trust gap was unearthed in Reconciliation Australia’s recent Barometer Report. The report, compiled by AusPoll, found that 91 per cent of non-Indigenous Australians do not trust Indigenous Australians and 88 per cent of Indigenous Australians do not trust non-Indigenous Australians – figures which are truly embarrassing for our country."

So what can you, personally, do?

Well one option is to support onegeneration project:

The end of hardcopy...

So on the one hand the Pope's instruction Verbum Domini picks up the suggestion that Bibles be prominently displayed in Churches to refocus attention on sacred Scripture, as the elaborately decorated manuscript books did in the Latin West during the Middle Ages.

On the other hand we have ebooks, kindle readers, ipads and more, infiltrating even the Vatican choir....

Which do you think will win!

Mind you, maybe it all makes sense if books become again as rare as they once were...

(Picture from Sacris Solemniis blog.  M/T to A reluctant sinner).

Psalm 6/3 - Verse 2, God the physician

So, continuing my little mini-series on Psalm 6, today a look at verse 2.

The first verse of Psalm 6, discussed yesterday, alluded to God as a judge, expressed as showing his 'anger' as a response to sin. But today’s verse, verse 2, points to the side of God we are brought to know especially through Our Lord’s mission on earth, namely, God as the physician of our souls.

Verse 2: Have mercy on me Lord...heal me

Verse 2 in the Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate) is:

Miserére mei, Dómine, quóniam infírmus sum : * sana me, Dómine, quóniam conturbáta sunt ossa mea.

The verb misereri, familiar to us from the start of the Psalm 50, means to pity, have mercy on, so the first phrase is ‘have pity on me, Lord’.

King David then gives the reason why he is asking for mercy: because he is ill (infirmare, to make physically weak, deprive of strength; to weaken, enfeeble). He asks to be healed (sanare, to heal, cure, restore to health; to aid, help) because his bones, or indeed whole spirit (os, ossis) are troubled (conturbare, to trouble, disquiet, discomfit, dismay; to disturb in mind, cause anxiety). The Hebrew here is actually stronger than the Latin, suggesting more than just troubled or disturbed bones, but positive agony.

The psalmist is making a link in these first two verses between the health of mind, soul and body. And he is asking for God to act as a physician to him, rather than a judge.

Illness as a path to redemption

King David refers to aching bones in several of the psalms so I suspect there is a good case for taking this literally: sometimes illnesses and other providential events in our lives which can serve to bring about conversion, and which if accepted willingly can remit some or all of the ‘temporal’ punishments due to sin (noting of course that illnesses occur for many reasons, not just sin, as the book of Job makes clear). Anyone who has had a fracture, or suffers from arthritis, will emphasize with the psalmist's state!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1502) comments on this:

"The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing. Illness becomes a way to conversion; God's forgiveness initiates the healing. It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to his law restores life: "For I am the Lord, your healer." The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others. Finally Isaiah announces that God will usher in a time for Zion when he will pardon every offense and heal every illness"

God the physician

Nonetheless, many of the Fathers and Theologians also interpret this verse metaphorically. St Augustine for example says: "that is, the support of my soul, or strength: for this is the meaning of bones. The soul therefore says, that her strength is troubled, when she speaks of bones. For it is not to be supposed, that the soul has bones, such as we see in the body."

What the soul is asking for then, as St Robert Bellarmine explains, is for God not to: "punish me not as a judge, but as a physician heal me."

The two verses of this psalm then, remind us to keep in mind that God is both judge and healer, and we must keep both these aspects in mind: for if we only repent now, he is ready to send his saving grace (picture below from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry).

Tomorrow, a look at our healer's prescription, in the ointment of tears.

And for those who like to listen, a setting of the psalm from that Anglican patrimony we want to (re)claim, by Orlando Gibbons!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fake Julia? Social and cultural traditionalism and the not-quite-boomer generation.

There is a lot of angst about, including from one of my regular commentators on another post, concerning Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's comments over the last few days over the desirability of teaching the Bible in schools, and her attempts to assure us that she really is a 'social and cultural traditionalist'. 

Because despite being an unmarried atheist living in a relationship, she is currently working hard to try and convince us that she really does oppose gay marriage and euthanasia, and supports teaching the Bible as part of Australia's cultural heritage.

Rejoice in fake Julia

First of all can I say, whatever her real position, shouldn't we be glad that she has committed herself to voting and leading the right way on these issues?  No matter whether her reasons for deciding to oppose same sex marriage and euthanasia are anything other than pure politics: surely, in a purely political context it is what the legislator actually does that affects the rest of us, rather than why they do it?

And while her claimed ability to recite Bible verses is obviously no substitute for actual belief, I for one support the idea that our education system should actually acknowledge and teach the Western cultural heritage that has shaped our country. 

Now it is true of course, that the secularist idea of just how the Bible should be taught clashes fundamentally with the Catholic one, and Ms Gillard's new curriculum does seem to suffer from more than a few rather fundamental flaws on this front, as an interesting piece by Chris Berg over at The ABC's Drum explains (from the secularist perspective).  But surely better that the importance of the Bible at least be admitted, at least opening up the possibility of debate, than for Western culture to be erased from the curriculum altogether as has been the case in recent decades!

Is it fake?

I'm also not at all convinced, despite The Punch's take on the issue that this actually is all political fakery. 

First, being an atheist doesn't automatically mean supporting gay rights.  I know more than a few aggressive atheists who have little sympathy for the Green social agenda on this front, despite their support for other aspects of it.

But more fundamentally, I come from the same generation as Ms Gillard - and I know lots of people of a similar age and background who hold a bundle of similar, albeit admittedly on the face of it contradictory, positions.

Baby boomers tail-end
In fact there is an interesting generational break, I think, between the true babyboomers - the 56 plus age group - and the 'intermediate' generation of those born of us, like Ms Gillard (born September 1961) in the early 1960s.

Many 'golden' babyboomers refused and continue to refuse to formalize their relationships in marriage.  They - the brainwashed Vatican II generation - are the generation of true social progressives, the generation that support same sex marriage, and despise the patrimony of the West, and especially the patrimony of the Church.  I've spent many a long hour arguing with them!

But many of the generation hitting their 50s now and a little younger, such as Ms Gillard, while often sharing some of the peculiar ideas of the babyboomers, are much less ideologically driven about it.  Many of my friends, family and acquaintances - those close to my own age  - chose to live in relationships without marrying for example, but kind of, sort of, half regret it, and would perhaps change their minds if they didn't think it would make them look silly. 

They also like the idea in principle of understanding the basis of Western civilization and the Christianity - at least until confronted with its actual content.

And unlike that slightly older generation (and the younger, much more secularist one that followed it), actually accepted some of the views of their parents on issues like homosexuality.

Now I'm not suggesting this distinction applies across the board.  I'm talking about a highly biased sample of those of this age group who went to University and, mostly at least, actively engaged in politics to some degree or other.

Still, there is a bit of social research around that supports the idea of a distinction between 'cultural boomers' and nominal the tail end of the baby boom generation.

A confused generation

Ms Gillard herself claims to have been thoroughly catechized but rejected her (protestant) faith. 

Mind you, if the extent of the catechesis was learning bible verses off by heart (and yes I too have a certificate from proddie bible school attesting to a like achievement!), one can perhaps understand why.

The reality is that the typical experience of this particular generation, protestant and catholic alike, was of a completely inadequate catechetical formation.  

The reality is that those of my age group who actually do believe in the faith have come to it despite whatever education we may have received in it, not because of it.

Mine is the generation after all, who made their first communions at a time when the texts of the Mass changed every other week.  At a time when there was every indication that the Church was going to say contraception was ok, but then, to many people's shock, came Humane Vitae.  A time when the main catechism used in the US was subsequently rejected as theologically inadequate.  When  experimentation was the norm, not the exception. 

And many protestant churches were pulled into this revolution as well.

My generation weren't necessarily old enough to understand the full import of the revolution: because we hadn't ever been taught anything different, we didn't have to actively reject the old traditional view and embrace the revolution.  So we were less fervent in its embrace than those who stayed as nominal Christians.

But we were old enough to be confused by it!  And we were old enough to feel its effects indirectly as our parents voted on the Vatican II revolution with their feet, emptying the Churches of congregations, religious orders of religious, and priesthood of priests.

But still room to hope!

Not everyone of course went under or were dragged under.

And some of those who did, through God's grace, found their way back.

There is still time to unconfuse the remainder...

So we should pray for the conversion of Ms Gillard.

And in the meantime, in my view, rejoice that at least on some issues her votes will go the right way.  Even if we do have to put up with some secularist baggage along with it!

Psalm 6/2 - God's anger and rebuke

Yesterday I provided a an introduction to Psalm 6 by way of a little context setting. 

But to understand the psalms, as well as having a sense of the overall shape of each psalm and its context, you really have to work through them verse by verse, line by line.   So for each of the penitential psalms I'm just going to pick out just a couple of particularly important verses and look at them in the context of Lent.   I'm going to start from the Latin Vulgate, but don't panic if you don't know any Latin, you don't need to.

So today I want to look at the opening verse of Psalm 6, which is actually exactly the same as that of the third penitential psalm, Psalm 37.

The Vulgate (and neo-Vulgate) is:

"Dómine, ne in furóre tuo árguas me, * neque in ira tua corrípias me."

God's anger?

A reasonably literal translation of the verse is: "Lord, do not rebuke me in your indignation: nor chastise me in your anger."

The first couple of words I want to focus on are furore, which comes from  furor, furoris means rage, wrath, fury, or indignation; and ira which means anger.

We tend to shy away today from the idea of an angry God, despite the frequent references to God's anger in the Old Testament (the picture below is of Cain escaping before God's anger, Flanders tapestry at Wawel Royal Castle, Arkady, 1975), and of course Our Lord's famous anger when he cleansed the Temple.  Indeed, the Latin here is actually rather softer than the Hebrew.

And it is true of course that the psalm here anthropomorphizes, since God does not literally react emotionally, with anger or other emotions, as he is unchangeable. St Augustine comments:

“Yet this emotion must not be attributed to God. Disturbance then does not attach to God as judge: but what is done by His ministers, in that it is done by His laws, is called His anger…”

Nonetheless, there is a reason why Scripture speaks of God’s anger – it puts an objective reality into terms that we can understand. Origen in Against Celsus, for example, says that “Anger not an emotional response on the part of God, but something he uses to correct those who have committed many serious sins.” 

The verse reminds us that God does care about what we do, and from our perspective at least, reacts to it.  And fear of hell is certainly a sufficient motivation to repent of our sins!

God’s rebuke

To return to the text of the verse,though, arguas comes from the verb arguere, which literally means to make clear or bright, to put in a clear light, and thus figuratively is used to mean to rebuke, censure, reprove, while corripere means to chastize, chasten, reprove or rebuke.

So the verse is an acknowledgment by the psalmist that his sins deserve God’s anger, that he has offended God.  He is saying that there is no need for God to act further to get him to accept that he has sinned; thanks to the prophet Nathan's efforts (2 Samuel 12), he has been led to do that.  Of course, actually acknowledging that we have sinned is not always that easy, as we shall see when we look at the second penitential psalm!

Still, what the psalmist seeks here, as Verse 2 (which I'll look at tomorrow), makes clear, is healing.

Prayer and contemplation

So let us too, make sure that we have listened and attended to the good counsel of those sent to us to stand in the place of Nathan, and undertake a good examination of conscience as we listen to the setting of the psalm by Hernando Franco (1532-1585), Maestro de Capilla de la Catedral de México.

And for the next part in this mini-series, go here.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The vice of tolerance: religious freedom in Australia

The Australian Human Rights Commission has now released its 'Research Report' on freedom of religion in Australia.  This report is effectively a summary of consultations with religious groups as an input to the process of proposals to amend and 'update' Australia's anti-discrimination legislation.

No case for action

It is perhaps better than might have been expected: in the wake of failed laws in Victoria, the UK and Canada, it finds 'little enthusiasm' for legislation in this area from religious groups.

And its main recommendations - to increase the amount of education on religious matters and create a new bureaucratic body to regulate issues relating to religious practice within the education system - will surely easily be defeated.

But the truly disturbing thing about the report is its apparent naivety.

Attitudes to Islam

Take for example the reports conclusions on the "deep-seated concern" over Islam revealed in the research. 

The authors accept unquestioningly the assurances from Islamic representatives that Muslims have no desire to see sharia law in Australia.  History suggests that groups with agendas that they know will be vigorously opposed by some are rarely upfront about their real objectives.  And in the case of Islam, we have the evidence not only of the stated position of the Koran on this subject, but also of countries where Islam has become a significant minority such as the UK, where sharia law courts have already been introduced for some purposes.

Similarly, concern over Islamic extremism is dismissed as  "a current of anti-Muslim discourse that suggests an entrenched hostility often related to overseas events" as if those 'overseas' events had nothing to do with Australia; indeed, as if Australia did not have its own Islamic extremists!

And apparently all our misconceptions about gender in Islam and other issues would be solved if only we were all better educated about each other's beliefs....! 

The anti-discrimination mentality

But the most disturbing aspect of the report is the assumption that any form of disquiet whatsoever about another group in society is a 'problem' that needs to be solved, whether it is Australia's 0.02% of pagans who are aggrieved at the 'lack of recognition of their beliefs', or a refusal to employ homosexuals in faith-based schools (p89)!

Bishop Julian Porteous recently wrote a useful analysis of this problem for The Record, arguing that we need to shift the thinking from an 'anti-discrimination' mentality, to a focus on 'unjust discrimination'. 

He makes the point that some discrimination can be entirely appropriate in some cases - society after all 'discriminates' against criminals of various kinds all the time, to take but one obvious example.  Yet when legislation is cast in terms of anti-discrimination, perfectly legitimate forms of discrimination are suddenly case as exemptions and exceptions rather than what they really are, the recognition of right and wrong.

It is a good argument.

But don't hold your breath when it comes to the shape of any new legislation, because the anti-discrimination lobby is entrenched and well organised.

How do we fight it?

One of the (few) more penetrating observations in the Report is that where one goes on these issues essentially depends on how one views Australia: are we, or do we want to be, at root a Christian nation, a secular nation, or a 'multi-faith plural' nation?

Those who argued for the Christian position pointed out that though we have always had religious minorities in Australia, they have had little influence on the shape of our nation's institutions, which overwhelmingly reflect our Western Judaeo-Christian heritage.

Unfortunately, unless the New Evangelization suddenly becomes immensely more effective, I suspect that this debate is essentially already lost.  The numbers tell the story: according to the Report, in 1947 88% of Australians identified as Christian.  In 2006 the figure had fallen drastically to 63.9%.  The number of people claiming to be catholic, it is true, has actually risen - but we know that in terms of actual practice this figure is meaningless.  And it has been more than counterbalanced by rapid growth in the proportion of others religions, and none.

Unless that starts to reverse, expect to see first the end of some of the practices seen as 'discriminatory' by both secularists and minority religions in the report: things like the prayers at the start of the parliamentary day; bibles in hotel rooms; Christian-based public holidays and more.

For phase two, just look to the United Kingdom for a guide as to what is to come when the 1.7% of Muslims becomes closer to 10%, as it already is in some Sydney electorates.

The virtue of intolerance

Bishop Porteous points to the importance of recovering a sense that there are moral absolutes, and rejecting the idea that tolerance is always a virtue; that making judgments about a situation is always bad.

His comments are worth reflecting on:

“Discrimination is an important quality to have as a mature human being. We discriminate every day in making choices. It is a compliment to be called a discriminating person. Or, at least, it used to be. To be discriminating was regarded as a virtue. It was viewed as a reflection of wisdom and prudence. Making considered judgements about all sorts of things has traditionally been considered the task of a responsible person. Yet now it seems that its meaning has been changed. In our society at the present time, discrimination has come to be seen only in a negative light. Today, a new definition of discrimination is taking hold. Anyone who projects judgements on situations is viewed as being judgemental. Rather than being discriminating, the person is considered discriminatory…In the past, it was considered a natural process to make decisions, judgements and distinctions on the basis of distinguishing between objective good and evil, between right and wrong…. discrimination may be either a virtue or a vice. It depends on whether the discrimination is just or unjust. It is right and good to discriminate between good and bad in order to make healthy and wise choices."

When religious feed the flames of anti-catholicism

And on where more discrimination is needed, there is a particularly outrageous anti-catholic attack amongst the commissioned papers for the Report, penned by a Sister Trish Madigan OP. 

The paper is cast as a 'catholic' exploration of feminist perspectives within the Church.

In fact however, it contains a sustained attack on the structure of the Church and its teachings, working from the misconception that the stance of the Pope and the Vatican on issues including contraception and abortion, as well as the hierarchical constitution of the Church, are underpinned by a 'traditionalist/fundamentalist ideology', and can be changed.

One can hardly blame the Commission for not understanding why the Church insists that women cannot be priests, why it will fight for conscientious objection clauses for medical workers and so forth however - Sister, after all, works for the Broken Bay Diocese according to their website...

Psalm 6/1: An introduction

Last week I started my series on the penitential psalms by setting out the Latin Vulgate, an english translation and a musical setting of each of the seven in the set.  I'll provide links back to those posts as I go forward.  Now, I want to start providing some short reflections, or commentaries on them from a variety of sources to stimulate your own reflection!

So, for each psalm I'll offer something of an overview, then in most cases, dig a little into a few key verses of each one.

I will be focusing more on the less well-known psalms, lingering especially over this first one, Psalm 6...

Psalm 6: Domine ne in furore tuo 

First a reminder of the text (you can find the Vulgate and another recording of it here):

"O Lord, rebuke me not in your indignation, nor chastise me in your wrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but you, O Lord, how long? Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for your mercy's sake. For there is no one in death that is mindful of you: and who shall confess to you in hell? I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with my tears. My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity: for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication: the Lord has received my prayer. Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and be ashamed very speedily."


It is generally accepted that the specific context for this psalm, as with several of the other penitential psalms, is King David’s fall into serious sin (picture of David and Bethsheba below by Lucas Cranach, 1472-1553).

2 Samuel 11 relates that King David committed adultery with Bathseba, wife of Uriel the Hittite. When she became pregnant David tried to arrange it so it would look like Uriel could be the father. And then David then arranged for Uriel to be killed in battle so he could marry Bathsheba!  Nor did David repent until confronted by the prophet Nathan (bas relief below from the Madeleine in Paris).

King David suffered a severe punishment for his sin, with the death of his child by Bethsheba. Thus the penitential psalms he composed do stand as a reminder that sin incurs punishment. Just as important though, is their testimony to his transformation from sinner to saint through his attitude of intense sorrow for his sin so beautifully expressed in this psalm.

First David asks God for grace and mercy; describing the agitation that comes from being in a state of sin. Then he describes the works of penance that he offers, in the form of the vast flood of his blinding tears. The psalm ends with the assurance that God has forgiven his sins, which leads to the desire that others too, might be converted, and thus a final prayer for his enemies.

Here is the first part of it in a setting by Orlando di Lassus:

And you can find the next part of this mini-series here.


The comments and selections of commentary on the texts I will be providing rest on three sources: the Fathers, theologians and saints; the Magisterium; and modern exegetical aids.

1.  Commentaries by the Fathers, Theologians and saints, such as St John Chrysostom, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Robert Bellarmine and others: in many cases the texts are available at least in part from New Advent Fathers or the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL).  Other key sources I've used are:

St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, trans Robert Charles Hill (three vols), Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1998.

St Augustine of Hippo, Expositions on the Psalms, English extracts from

St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Psalms, translations available in most cases through the Aquinas Translation Project.

St Robert Bellarmine, A Commentary on the Book of Psalms, English translation by J O’Sullivan, published 1866, reprint 1999.

St Alphonsus Liguori, The Divine Office, Explanation of the Psalms (downloadable from here).

Craig A Blaising and Carmen S Hardin, eds, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament VII Psalms 1-50, Intervarsity Press, Illinois, 2008; Vol VIII, Psalms 51-150, ed Quentin F Wesselschmidt, 2007.

2.  Magisterium. The Bibliaclerus website provides useful links to both Magisterial and patristic sources however is clunky and difficult to use, not least because the psalms have been indexed inconsistently, in some cases using the Hebrew Bible numbering, in other cases the Vulgate numbering!
In addition it does not provide links to the General Audiences on selected psalms given by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

3.  Aids to translation and exegesis: In terms of modern aids I'm drawing primarily on the following texts:

M Britt, A Dictionary of the Psalter, Benziger Brothers, 1928 reprinted by Preserving Christian Publications: New York, 2007.

Patrick Boylan, The Psalms A Study of the Vulgate Psalter in the light of the Hebrew Text, M H Gill and Son: Dublin, 1949.

TE Bird, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol I, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne Ltd: London, 1927.

Richard J Foster, Psalms and Canticles of the Breviary, Birchly Hall Press, 1958.

David J Ladouceur, The Latin Psalter Introduction, Selected Text and Commentary, Bristol Classical Press, 2005.

The Navarre Bible, The Psalms and the Song of Solomon, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2003.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Feast of St Benedict, Father of Western Monasticism

St Benedict (480-543), depicted above by Fra Angelico, is of course the founder of the Order of St Benedict. 

In the Roman EF today is only a commemoration by virtue of Lent, and in the Roman Ordinary Form his feast is celebrated in July rather than today.  But for Benedictine religious and Oblates (following either calendar), today is a feast day (first class/solemnity or feast depending on the Congregation), so happy feast day to all!

You can read more about this great saint, who is among many other things, patron of a good death by virtue of the holy manner of his own, propped up in his chapel by his monks, over at my other blog.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

How to vote (or rather who not to vote for!) in NSW...

For those preparing to vote next weekend in the New South Wales election, the Feast of St Joseph seems an appropriate day to do some thinking about the subject!

And Family Life International have put up a helpful guide to how New South Wales' representatives have voted in the past on key pieces of legislation, including cloning, recognition of sex relationships, and related issues.  I'd have to say the list is depressing reading - so few have voted pro-life all the way!

Hard to see how, overall, anything but a Liberal landslide can be expected.  But the site's assessment is that "a Liberal whitewash won’t be all good news for pro-lifers":

"In the last term of parliament, Labor was particularly active in supporting the homosexual activist agenda (see the voting tables inside). Although the Labor Government did not introduce the Adoption Amendment (Independent Clover Moore sponsored it), it has been Labor’s support of the homosexual activist agenda which enabled broad changes to family law to appease the so called ‘gay rights’ movement.

Liberal Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell also has a wholly unsatisfactory voting record: he has supported EVERY one of the bills mentioned above. His Coalition partner, Nationals Leader Andrew Stoner, has a better but imperfect voting record: Stoner supported the Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Same Sex Relationships) Bill 2008."
It also includes an interesting 'pick of the best and worst' candidates.
Oh and it has a nice piece on the Green menace...

Feast of St Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Friday, 18 March 2011

Please pray for Hilary White

Many readers will be familiar with the excellent work of Hilary White of Life Site News and the Orwell's Picnic blog.

On Ash Wednesday she was admitted to hospital in Rome with cancer.

But despite all the emotions this necessarily invokes, she has, with her customary aplomb, written a great, very honest piece about the experience for Life Site News (see the link above).  Here is an extract on the lessons she is drawing:

"In the last few weeks, I have had to confront my dependence on God and on others. At the risk of being accused of sharing too much, I will admit that I left home very young, at fifteen, and have grown so accustomed to fending for myself in the world that I have taken it for granted that I am dependent only upon me. I have assumed, as a product of the 1960s sexual revolution and the divorce generation, that I am alone and must survive without help.

This great social revolution, the turning away from ancient social assumptions like the indissolubility of marriage, the duties of parents to children, of families to their elders, have inculcated in me a presumption of abandonment, and as a result I am shocked by the care and love I have suddenly experienced. I am, in a way, typical of the modern world that holds “autonomy” as its highest principle, in that I have learned to expect nothing from it.

Abortion and euthanasia, and all the modern abuses of human life and dignity, all assume the same thing about our natures: that we are alone and that no help is coming. We have made of our society a Hobbesian dystopia in which only the strong and rich win.

...In the Gemelli, I learned what a difference a worldview makes. In Italy, especially in a Catholic hospital, one learns the great strength of the Italian national character, so deeply formed by the Catholic faith in the personal. There is a commitment here to the person that results in warmth and kindness, a gentleness that I have never experienced in any North American or British health care facility.

I have had a sharp lesson in the last few weeks, and I am under no illusions that I have yet learned deeply what I am being taught. A lifetime of the presumption of cold, Anglo-North American self-reliance will take a while, and probably more Italian hospital visits, to undo. But the lesson is the same as the one the pro-life movement is trying to teach the whole world, that God does not abandon us and we are not free to abandon each other. That love is the higher law than autonomy."

Go and read the whole thing. And please, pray for Hilary White.