Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Lesbian-Buddhist, the priest and the lawyers, Part II***Updated

Yesterday I tried to put some context around the much debated case of the (attempted) denial of communion to a self-confessed lesbian, Barbara Johnston, by Fr Guarnizo.

While every legal issue has to be considered on its merits, I would argue that  it would be naive indeed, and could potentially lead to wrong outcomes not to be aware of take account of the broader context in which an alleged offence occurs. 

And to understand just why that is, today I want to look at some of the canonical issues the case throws up.

I'm not going to get into the 'administrative leave' issue - that is important given widespread use of such arrangements particularly in abuse cases, but I'm happy to let the canonists slug it out.

Instead let's focus on the situation that every priest can face of when he can or can't deny communion to someone.

The nature of this post

I'm not a canon lawyer, so I certainly stand open to correction on what I have to say here.

Still, if canonists put their opinions out in the public domain, they are implicitly inviting scrutiny of what they say.  Indeed, when experts of any kind provide advice whether publicly or privately, they still have to persuade their typically non-expert reader to accept their advice. 

So please read my comments in that light: I'm trying to explain what I find persuasive in the various opinions and what I don't from a theological and commonsense perspective, not offer a canonical opinion of my own!

In similar situations, I like to apply what I like to think of as the plausibility test: how well does a piece of expert advice fit with the bigger picture, how well does it gel with what other experts are saying, how well does it fit with our other knowledge of the subject and the broader field of action?

So if I were a client receiving these various bits of advice and trying to make up my mind about which view to accept, I'd develop a list of questions and issues to pose to the lawyers in question. That's basically what I want to do here.

The nature of blogdom!

I also want to say upfront that I'm not really interested in credentialism: how many letters someone has after their name is often not a good indicator of how well their advice will actually stand up in court! So I frankly don't care whether, for obvious reasons, the advice is offered anonymously or not.

Nor do I think blogs are place where one would normally expect to find every point made nicely referenced in that way that one might expect from a formal opinion.

On one side of the debate arguing that the priest erred here we have:
On the other side arguing that priest may well have acted in accordance with the law we have:
I read these two latter two contributions not as formal opinions, but rather attempts to suggest that the case is not quite as clearcut as Dr Peters presents it.  They are trying to raise questions and open up the debate rather than offer a definitive view.

And of course none of us have all of the facts a tribunal would want to have in front of it, notwithstanding the priest's own public statement on his actions (and of course we also have the numerous snippets of information and opinions in blogs and comment boxes which I'm mostly going to ignore for the purpose of this post).

So herewith my questions and issues.

1.  Why does the Church deny communion in some cases?

Surprisingly few of the discussions of this issue have tackled the question in any depth of just why the Church encourages reception of or denies communion in some cases.  This seems important to me pretty important contextually.  It seems to me that there are at least four possible reasons for withholding it:
  • to uphold Church law and discipline (for example where the person has been excommunicated but nevertheless presents themselves for communion);
  • to prevent potential sacrilege (for example the person who wants to carry the Eucharist away for nefarious purposes, but also in relation to sacrilegious reception of the sacrament by manifest sinners according to a paper by Cardinal Burke pointed to by Fr A);
  • to prevent scandal to the faithful, lest they think that a sin is acceptable; and
  • most importantly, to bring a sinner to repentance.
But there is one more in operation here that seems only peripherally to have been touched on in this debate, and that is misuse of the sacrament to make a political point. 

One could argue that making a political point is just a sub-set of scandal but I think it is more than that, going to the disposition of the recipient.  Consider for example the case of those who wear rainbow sashes as they present themselves for communion.  They may or may not actually be practising homosexuals - but they are trying to make a point about rejecting the Church's teaching.  And Cardinal Pell for one has in the past rightly turned them away!

2.  Are all these cases covered by Canon 915?

Fr Guarnizo himself  appeals not to canon 915 (denial of communion to persistent manifest sinners) in this case, but implicitly to improper dispositions (which none of the canons are explicit about, but are arguably covered by Canon 843, which states that communion cannot be denied to someone who is inter alia, properly disposed).

Is someone who announces to you in the sacristry just before Mass that they are a practising lesbian and then refuses to discuss the matter any further properly disposed, or are they making a political point?

It is true of course that the Code makes a strong presumption in favour of the person themselves making this assessment (canon 912), but that doesn't seem to altogether preclude the priest from making it.

 Dr Peters rejects this argument by noting that normally the improper disposition needs to be manifested externally n some way such as behaviour and dress, and that none of the examples Fr Guarnizo gives of this (someone drunk or high on drugs, improperly dressed etc) applied in this case.  But surely he was arguing by way of analogy!

Consider the hypothetical case where a person walked into the sacristy before mass and announced that he was part of an atheist group who intended to desecrate the Eucharist on youtube.  He then runs out, and appears again in the Church once mass has started.  In the course of the Mass he behaves perfectly normally, and there is no indication that he is known for what he is by the congregation.  Can the priest refuse to give him communion if he then presents himself? 

I don't want to verbal him, but Dr Peters' logic would suggest no.  If this really is the what the Code requires, then perhaps a rethink of it is required!

Maybe the possibility of a homosexualist attack is one step on from this scenario.  But in the current highly political atmosphere of concerted homosexualist attack on the Church with mock weddings staged on church doorsteps, disruption of sermons and more can it be ruled out?
As far as I can see none of the other canonists have taken up this point and perhaps there is indeed nothing to it. 

So my request to the canonists is this: could you give a little more exposition on just what discretion priests do and don't have in relation to refusing the Eucharist on grounds other than canon 915, in the interests of anticipating what may be coming...
3.  The application of Canon 915 - how should a priest assess whether someone is obstinately persisting in grave sin?

Canon 915 actually states:

Can. 915 Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion. (my bolding)

Dr Peters argues that the priest could not have known, based on the brief conversation that occurred, firstly whether Ms Johnston was obstinately persisting in her sin, and secondly whether or not it was truly manifest, that is known to the community.  He suggests that the bar for these tests should be set fairly high given that this a provision that should be read narrowly.

On the first point Fr A suggests that introducing herself as a practising homosexual immediately before mass is enough to satisfy the obstinate persist and grave sins tests. 

Clearly the canonists disagree on just what these tests require from a legal perspective.

Yet on the face of it, announcing to a priest that 'this is my (same sex) lover' can't easily be construed as 'Hi, I'm a homosexual but I know the Church's teachings on this subject and I'm doing the best I can to be celibate with the help and support of my friend here'. 

Especially if the person then  refuse the priest's invitation to discuss things further, dashes out the door and has their 'lover' obstruct you from following...

So my question to the canonists is this: what more could a priest reasonably be expected to do to satisfy himself on these points? 

It is not obvious, and as far as I can see Dr Peters hasn't really pursued his arguments on this point further (but do tell me if I've missed it). 

4.  Canon 915 - is the sin manifest?

Accordingly as far as I can understand the debate, the issue really turns on whether or not the lesbian's sin satisfies the manifest (ie publicly known) test.

The key questions seem to be, Was it reasonable to assume that her situation was known based on what she said?  Is it lawful to take account of the fact that her situation might not have been known to those present, but it was likely to be public elsewhere? And is it reasonable to take account of the fact that even if it wasn't known yet, it shortly would be?

Dr Peters seems to answer no to all of these questions, Scriptor and Fr A argue yes.

The case in favour of the priest seems to go something like this.  The woman didn't hesitate to announce her lesbian relationship to a priest she didn't know, so it is a reasonable presumption that she either already has announced that relationship to her friends and others, or is likely to do so after the service.   In addition, a funeral will naturally involve both friends of the deceased and friends of the mourners, so it is a fairly safe presumption that some if not all will already be aware of her situation.

But is it reasonable to draw such inferences from her behaviour, or is a higher standard of proof required?  Does the clear risk of scandal and profanation that was obviously present in this case outweigh the right of someone to receive?

My take out from the various canonical opinions is that these questions are from settled in the law.

From a purely theological point of view, however, I would have thought the balance lay more on the side of Fr A and Scriptor.  The Church certainly does encourage frequent reception of communion as a means of grace and therefore has a presumption in favour of reception of the sacrament. 

On the face of it though, Ms Johnston by receiving, far from obtaining grace was actually committing a new and (more) dreadful sin. As I understand it, if her sin was clearly entirely hidden from public view the priest would nonetheless be forced to give her communion.  In a situation like this though where there is at least a high probability that her sin is publicly known, surely the supreme law of the salvation of souls (canon 1752) surely comes into play?

But as I said at the beginnnig, I'm not a canonist...

***Update: Fr Anonymous has provided a further response to Dr Peters and Fr McDonald, and it seems like I'm on the money so far as the arguments about manifest sin at any rate!  You can read it at Rorate Caeli.

Psalm 118(119) Tau: All we like sheep have gone astray!

Today's is the final part in this Lenten series on Psalm 118, as we come to the twenty-second stanza starting in Hebrew with the letter Tau.

Longing for salvation

And it is a particularly suitable ending point as we come up to Holy Week, for its theme is the longing for salvation.

Cassiodorus (c485-585) summarises the stanza as follows:

“With the Lord's help the twenty-second letter has been reached, in which the longing of the band of saints to draw near to Christ is commensurate with their proximity to the close of the psalm. The whole composition is relevant to the Lord Saviour's coming. The devotion of the faithful awaited it with an indescribable longing, so that He might deign to summon back the lost sheep through the kindness of His love; for when they begged that their prayer should draw near to the Lord's sight, they revealed that the presence of sinners is exceedingly far from Him, for only things cleansed by the purest holiness draw near to Him.”

The shepherd seeks the lost sheep

The most memorable verse of this stanza is the last, echoed several times in the New Testament:

Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

The New Testament of course, puts this verse in the context of Christ’s mission to convert and redeem sinners. St Luke 15: 4-7 for example says:

"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Everyone’s autobiography

The psalmist’s story of falling into sin is surely the story of us all.

In the opening verses of the stanza the psalmist pleads for God to hear him and grant him the necessary grace for salvation:

169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

He states too that once he has that necessary grace he will surely be moved to rejoice, as we do at the Easter Vigil:

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

He has committed himself to God, he states, and now waits, a waiting symbolized by this Lenten period, with desperate longing for salvation to be realized for him personally:

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

Almost but not yet redemption

In fact Easter is that season that should most clearly bring home to us the almost but not yet nature of our redemption – despite the assertions of fundamentalists, we cannot, in this life claim to be saved!

As St Bellarmine points out, the idea that we have all strayed from God and suffered the consequences of it applies whether or not we have personally sinned, for through Adam’s sin we have all been banished from Paradise:

“Banished from my country, and still an exile, through the sin of my first parents, that extended to the whole human race, "I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost," by seduction, and not like the devil, the roaring lion, who fell through malice.”

St Bellarmine points out that through our baptism the door to heaven has been reopened:

"Seek thy servant," for though you have already partly sought and found him, inasmuch as you justified him from sin, and reconciled him to God”

Yet still we can fall again into sin, and must seek reconciliation anew, confident in the success of our petition made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross:

“…yet the lost sheep is still to be sought for, inasmuch as he expects the redemption of his body, so that he may body and soul be brought to the heavenly mountains, and those most fertile pastures, where the ninety-nine that did not stray had been left; and I confidently ask for this salvation of soul and body, "because I have not forgotten thy commandments."

I pray as we move into this Holy Week, that we can all make our own the statement that we have not forgotten God’s commandments, and therefore wait in joyful hope.

And I do hope you have found this series of interest and use…and if you have any comments, reactions or suggestions on any of the posts in this series, please do let me know on or offline.


169 Appropínquet deprecátio mea in conspéctu tuo, Dómine: * juxta elóquium tuum da mihi intelléctum.
Let my supplication, O Lord, come near in your sight: give me understanding according to your word.

170 Intret postulátio mea in conspéctu tuo: * secúndum elóquium tuum éripe me.
Let my request come in before you; deliver me according to your word.

171 Eructábunt lábia mea hymnum, * cum docúeris me justificatiónes tuas.
My lips shall utter a hymn, when you shall teach me your justifications.

172 Pronuntiábit lingua mea elóquium tuum: * quia ómnia mandáta tua æquitas.
My tongue shall pronounce your word: because all your commandments are justice.

173 Fiat manus tua ut salvet me: * quóniam mandáta tua elégi.
Let your hand be with me to save me; for I have chosen your precepts.

174 Concupívi salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et lex tua meditátio mea est.
I have longed for your salvation, O Lord; and your law is my meditation.

175 Vivet ánima mea, et laudábit te: * et judícia tua adjuvábunt me.
My soul shall live and shall praise you: and your judgments shall help me.

176 Errávi, sicut ovis, quæ périit: * quære servum tuum, quia mandáta tua non sum oblítus.
I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek your servant, because I have not forgotten your commandments.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Are church conservatives the real barrier to the restoration of orthodoxy? The case of the lawyers, the priest and the lesbian-Buddhist, Part I

There has been a lot of coverage in the blogs of late, of the case of a priest placed on 'administrative leave' with his faculties revoked by the Archdiocese of Washington apparently for the crime of refusing to give communion to a self-declared lesbian Buddhist. 

It is a murky case, so I've avoided commenting on it up until now in the hope that the actual facts would become clearer, but the shots just keep being fired, and the issues it raises are important, so here is my take on the subject for what it is worth.

Fighting for orthodoxy - or to maintain the status quo?

This case seems to me to illustrate a real problem in the Catholic Church today, namely the efforts of many personally orthodox conservatives to obstruct the recovery of orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

There is a lot that needs to be said here, so I'm going to do this in two parts. 

Today, some observations about the broader perspective needed on this issue than the narrowly interpreted letter of the law. 

In the next part I'll venture into the dangerous ground of the various canonical arguments and their implications.  Suffice it now to flag that from a non-lawyers perspective, the contrary opinions seem sufficiently plausible as to suggest that there is real doubt about just how an actual tribunal would find in this case.  And that makes the hardline positions being taken by some seem pretty questionable.

The facts as we know them

You can read the details of what is actually known about this case in the posts I'll provide links to, but the short version as I understand it is this.

A priest was scheduled to say Mass at a funeral for a woman he didn't know. 

Shortly before the Mass started, the dead woman's daughter introduced herself and 'her lover' (using those words) to him, but quickly departed, refusing to engage in any discussion with the priest.

She then presented herself to the priest to receive communion.  He quietly refused to give it to her.  She moved to another line in the communion queue and received from an Extraordinary Minister who hadn't heard the discussion with the priest!

She then went to the media, promising to make the priest's life hell.  And she succeeded, as the Archdiocese quickly moved to publicly apologise to her and remove the priest from active ministry. 

It then became known that the woman in question, Barbara Johnson, is in fact a well-known Lesbian activist who is a practising Buddhist, while the priest in question, Fr Marcel Guarnizo is a well-known for his anti-gay marriage views. Indeed, Ms Johnson recently spoke at the same pro-homosexual conference as Bishop Robinson...

 The sensus fidei

Not unnaturally, whatever the legal rights and wrongs of the case, orthodox catholics were fairly outraged at the treatment the priest in question.

On the face of it, the priest acted in good faith to attempt to prevent sacrilege and scandal from occurring, and was punished for it.

Is this sense of outrage misplaced?  Some seem to think so.  New canonical blogger Fr McDonald for example suggests that:

"It seems to me that part of what has caused such a commotion over this incident is the fact that it involves a lesbian coupled with the complicating issue that not all the facts are known in great detail... remove homosexuality from the argument and substitute some other objectively grave matter – like habitual non-attendance and Mass or a baptised Catholic professing to be a Buddhist. I find it hard to believe that Fr. Anonymous, and many others, would be making the same conclusions about denying Communion. Should we deny Communion to all the high school students, at a school Mass, because we know the vast majority of them don’t go to Mass (at least that is true here in southern Ontario)? Objectively that’s a mortal sin. All the other students know they don’t go to Mass. It’s obstinate and manifest. What about the lady who comes into the sacristy before her mother’s funeral Mass and admits in conversation that she doesn’t go to Mass anymore, even though she was baptised in that very same church, because she is now a Buddhist? She may indeed be labouring under a latae sententiae excommunication..."

There are two points to note here I think.  The first is that yes, practising homosexuality does tend to call forth more outrage than other sins and there are good reasons for that.

First because the issue is so currently politicized courtesy of the gay lobby itself and so committed Catholics know what the Church's teaching on this subject actually are, and why we need to stand up and be counted on this issue. 

And secondly because it is objectively a more serious sin than many other mortal sins.

Towards the recovery of orthopraxis

But more broadly, I think this case does reflect a slow reawakening of the sensus fidei on sacrilegious communions.  In fact in Australia there have indeed been controversial attempts with serious consequences to the priest involved to ensure school children who did not attend Sunday Mass are not put in a position at school masses of being pressured to receive. 

But perhaps some good has come out of those disputes - over at aCatholica Forum, for example, at the moment there is a thread on reception of communion by those who have remarried without obtaining an annulment.  Now aCatholica is not a place one would expect much angst over receiving communion in these circumstances.  Yet in fact there is.  And while some over there predictably assert the right of individual conscience (I'll decide whether or not my marriage is valid and to hell with what the canon lawyers think), someone else has actually pointed out to the issue of scandal in such cases.

Similarly one might point to the debate over denial of communion to politicians who vote for abortion and similar policies.

All these reactions point to the signs of recovery of orthopraxis in this area: to the recovery of the sense of the need for sacramental confession for Catholics at large; and for external compliance with Church law for those in irregular situations who wish to receive.

Now a Catholic who is genuinely concerned about the problem of the mass defection from the sacrament of reconciliation and the resulting sacrilege that occurs every Sunday in most parishes would surely want to build on this reawakening of orthodox instincts.

Squashing the debate

And indeed calls for the Archdiocese of Washington to rethink its position were mounting - until Canon Lawyer blogger Dr Edward Peters rode to the diocese's rescue, arguing that the priest had in fact acted contrary to canon law.

And it didn't stop there: he has summarily dismissed the arguments of other canonists who think that the priest's action was indeed compliant with the law. 

And he has criticized assorted blog commentaries on the subject on the grounds that they reflect ignorance of canon law.  Perhaps they are, though I think that is debatable.  But as one of his canonist respondents has pointed out, this kind of case is not a matter for the lawyers alone:

"Peters can also, no doubt unintentionally, sometimes write as if canonists are the only people who should have anything to say on this issue. Are there not other specialists whose respective expertise would be helpful? What might a Scripture scholar, for example, have to say about this issue? We often quote I Cor 11:27-29 when talking about the divine obligation undergirding canon 916. But the Church has also traditionally cited Mt 7:6, “Give not what is holy to the dogs”, when talking about the divine obligation undergirding c. 915 (cf. Didache 9). Is Mt 7:6 Eucharistic? Does it have a sacrificial subtext to it? (cf. Ex 29:37; Lev 2:3) Who are the dogs? (cf. Rev 22:15; Deut 23:18) Maybe the canonists can learn from the Scripture scholars.

Also what might a moral theologian have to say about the little known fact that the good name of the occult sinner is actually not a proportionate reason for the minister of communion to materially participate in the sinner’s sacrilegious communion but that the minister is only morally justified in materially participating in such a sacrilege in light of the possible negative effects a refusal might have on the community? How might the perspective of the common good adjust our antecedent considerations that we bring to bear on reading and applying the Church’s law in the case of c. 915? Also, if the sinner who presents himself for communion has the right to his good name, what happens when the sinner in question thinks his sin should be made public? Is it even meaningful to talk about protecting the good name of the active and open homosexual? What reputation is there left for the Church to protect at this point and how might this affect our application of c. 915? These are all questions moralists could fruitfully explore and canonists benefit from.

Can we criticise bishops?

Dr Peters also launched a, in my view, completely over the top attack on well-known commentator George Neumayr's piece in American Spectator, claiming that his criticism of Cardinal Wuerl of Washington constituted a breach of Canon 1373 which threatens censure against “a person who publicly incites among subjects animosities or hatred against … an ordinary because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry….”. 

Right.  And when someone successfully prosecutes Fr Brennan, Eureka Street and the Toowoomba Leadership Group under this canon in relation to their continued attacks on the Pope in relation to the Bishop Morris case, I'll take this claim about the reach of canon law seriously. 

In the meantime, like so many other canons in the code, it is just a dead letter save in the most extreme cases imaginable.  A call for action from within, however vigorous, will surely normally fall far short of the test necessary to invoke a canon such as this!

The problem of conservatives

I often draw attention here to the heretical views of liberals.

Outright error is a relatively easy target - one merely needs to identify the error and point to the appropriate sources to identify what the Church actually teaches. 

Yet the far bigger underlying problem is that these errors are allowed to continue to flourish by conservatives - that is ostensibly orthodox people who don't want to rock the boat, and who will persecute anyone who does challenge the status quo.

Dr Peters has some form on this, despite the good work he often does through his blog, particularly in his attacks on The Vortex's Michael Vorris, nicely satirised by Rorate Caeli (yes, I'm not normally a great fan, but on this subject I think they are basically on the money).

Selective application of the law is no law at all

And here is the crux of the problem.  Dr Peters argues that a restrictive reading of the power to deny communion to the faithful is an important protection for us all.

But traditionalists and others are all too well aware that in reality bishops and priests are all too willing to deny communion to the orthodox - to those who want to kneel to receive for example - and take action against priests who actually do deny communion to those in clear breach of the requirements of the Code of Canon Law, while being all too willing to give communion to those in manifest sin (consider for example the Newtown Homosexual Mass).

It is an ongoing problem: liberal dissent is widely tolerated even facilitated (think Cath News) by the hierarchy, while the orthodox continue to be persecuted and actively marginalized.

The lawyer problem

Canon lawyers tend naturally to view issues on a case by case basis.  That is how the law in general works.

Yet canonists are just part of a broader system, there to serve an ecclesial purpose, as the Pope recently reminded them:

"[T]rue law is inseparable from justice," he said. "Obviously [this] principle also holds for canon law in the sense that it cannot be shut up in a merely human normative system but must be connected to a just order of the Church in which a superior law reigns...The dictum 'sentire cum Ecclesiae' (thinking or feeling with the Church) is also relevant to disciplinary matters by reason of the doctrinal foundations that are always present and at work in the Church's legal norms."

While lawyers tend to look at the principles applying to particular cases, historians and others tend to look at how the system as a whole works in practice, viewing the law as a tool employed by competing forces to achieve particular objectives.

Perhaps the canonists need to take a step back, and have a hard think about what they are really doing, and who and what they are really serving in their analyses.

The hermaneutic of Phariseeism?

Today's Gospel reading n the EF is of the Jewish priests plotting to kill our Lord.  And the patristic commentary on it by St Augustine notes that their concern was the preservation of the Jewish State rather than whether they should believe the signs Jesus was working.  He comments that in seeking to sacrifice Jesus in the interests of appeasing the Romans, they lost not only their souls but also their Jewish State.

The question has to be asked as to whether there are parallels to be seen today.  In action to prop up bishops who act unjustly and even counter to Church law.  In muted responses to the secular onslaught from the State.  In the refusal to teach the actual faith. 

The Church as a whole will of course survive.

But there are no guarantees as to the fate of the Church in Australia, America or other Western countries weighed down by interpetations of the faith every bit as dangerous as the distorted faith of the Pharisees.

More to come...

Victorian Bishops Pastoral Letter on Same Sex Marriage***updated

The bishops of Victoria have released a Pastoral Letter against same sex marriage legislation.  Have a read then go do the survey referred to!

"Dear Brothers & Sisters

We Australians live in a democracy which rightly places great value on human rights and protecting others from unjust discrimination.

We Catholics also believe deeply that God loves human beings very much. He especially loves those who are wounded and suffering. God loves each of us so much despite the fact that we are all sinners, make mistakes and often do not live up to our responsibilities.

The Church takes seriously that we must live the Gospel itself to be a credible witness to others. Deeply aware of Christ’s mission of compassion and justice - the Church cannot ignore the responsibility to speak the truth in love. Sometimes reminding people about the truth of the human person is one such task for all of us.

Some now seek to alter the very nature of the human person through legislation. Our Australian society is now at a critical turning point where truth is at stake.

We speak of current debates about the nature of marriage in our public life. Often it seems as if this matter is simply about human rights and the removal of discrimination. But in addition to ‘human rights’ there are also ‘human responsibilities’.

We are all blessed by God with the gift of our sexuality. The design itself comes from the Creator of Life. We all have a responsibility to follow that design.

The Church firmly believes that marriage is founded on the wonderful fact of sexual difference and its potential for new life. Without this there would be no human beings and no future. Bringing new human life into the world is founded on the loving union in difference of male and female. Children are best nurtured by a mother and father.

As one theologian has put it eloquently: “The God of love can be present in every true love. But ‘gay marriage’ is impossible because it attempts to cut loose marriage from its grounding in our biological life. If we do that, we deny our humanity.”

This will be a ’hard saying’ for some. It in no way implies that the Church accepts discrimination against other’s human rights. Nor does it mean we fail to understand the complex nature of human sexual identity and desire. It implies no lack of respect for people who identify as ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’. As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago recently pointed out: ‘… we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian… these are people we know and love and are part of our families.’

However as fellow citizens our concern is for the future of our whole society. We ask you to seriously reflect and pray about the ramifications for current and future generations, of legislation which completely redefines marriage.

A grave mistake will be made if such legislation is enacted. The Government cannot redefine the natural
institution of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. The Government can regulate marriage, but this natural institution existed long before there were any governments. It cannot be changed at will.

The argument that same sex marriage supports marriage is wrong. The natural institution will not only be
changed, it will be re-defined absolutely. It will become something different. Such a re-definition will undermine rather than support marriage.

Catholics, as responsible citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia, have a duty to remind their political representatives that much is at stake for the common good in this debate. We urge you to exercise that right and make direct representation to your Members of Parliament.

We encourage you to respond to the on-line survey set up by the Federal Government at their website: The closing date for responses is Friday, 20 April 2012. The survey contains three statements with which you can agree or disagree. It then asks if you support the proposed changes to the two separate Bills, to which you answer yes or no. If you choose you can simply answer these few questions in less than one minute. The survey also provides space (maximum of 250 words) for you to explain your views. Some points that you might like to consider including are set out at

Our Australian society will flourish only if the true meaning of marriage is preserved for future generations.

With every blessing.

Most Reverend Denis Hart DD Archbishop of Melbourne 
Most Reverend Peter Connors DD Bishop of Ballarat
Most Reverend Christopher Prowse DD Bishop of Sale
Most Reverend Leslie Tomlinson DD Bishop of Sandhurst
Most Reverend Peter Elliott DD Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne
Most Reverend Vincent Long DD Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne

**The Sydney response

And in an interesting contrast of styles, where the Victorian bishops have firmly stated their position, and urged the laity to engage, suggesting a nice practical thing that they can do, Cardinal Pell has today released his own submission to the Senate Inquiry on the matter.

And in the secular media the attacks begin...

Sadly, the secular media reaction is predictably summed up in the headline "Gay Catholic Activist Dismayed at Church Campaign".

And who is this allegedly 'catholic' activist?  One Michael Bernard Kelly, spokesman for the gay 'Catholic' activist group Rainbow Sash.

So here's my suggestion to the bishops: excommunicate anyone who belongs to this organisation for their attacks on the bishops today and their advocacy of positions contrary to Church teaching...

***PS And while you're at it, perhaps Cardinal Pell might finally act on  ex-NSW Premier Kristina Keneally MP, following her performance on the ABC News tonight on top of her past voting and leadership record on moral issues...

&&&&Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide is also in the process of writing to parishioners inviting them to respond to the Senate Inquiry.

Psalm 118 (119) Shin: On rebuilding the walls of the city of God

Today we come to the penultimate stanza of Psalm 118, and it is a rather rich one.

I just want to briefly touch on three not entirely unrelated points points, namely the peace offered through Christ; the law as a stumbling block (v165); and the importance of symbolism in worship.

The peace of Christ

The psalm opens with a reminder that princes – or these days perhaps we should speak of Prime Ministers and Presidents – will persecute the Church without reason. But it goes on to assert that the person who loves the law will nevertheless enjoy peace:

161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: Princes have persecuted me without cause…
165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: Much peace have they that love your law

What does he mean here by peace? It is not the false peace of toleration of sin that the psalmist is pointing to here, but rather the peace of mind that comes from the hope of salvation. As St Benedict's fifth century contemporary Cassiodorus comments:

“Much peace is to be understood as purity of mind and abundance of faith, which we aptly set against vices. But the person who proclaims himself the servant of the Lord is subject in this world to hardships and dangers. The Lord says to the apostles who were to be ravaged by various forms of persecution: My peace I give to you, my peace I leave to you, so that it may become clear that the Lord's servants always enjoy peace of mind in spite of appearing to be molested by various physical tribulations.”

When the law seems a stumbling block…

The second half of verse 165 deals with a related topic of particular contemporary relevance, namely the idea that God’s law can be a stumbling block to some.

Today many Catholics stumble indeed at the law as passed down to us, often deeming it as scandalous for example in its requirements around sexual morality. And of course just yesterday aCath News showcased (yet again; and the editorializing going on in their headline writing at the moment over there is particularly shocking) retired former Sydney Auxiliary, Bishop Robinson’s call to dump the Church’s teachings altogether in this area.

Yet the psalmist asserts that the law can never be a stumbling block to one who looks to God for salvation:

et non est illis scándalum = and to them there is no stumbling block/scandal

St Augustine provides an important explanation of just why this should be the case, arguing that one who truly loves the law of God, when confronted with a law that seems absurd to him, must assume not that the law is a bad one, but rather that his reaction is due to a lack of understanding on his part:

“Does this mean that the law itself is not an offense to them that love it, or that there is no offense from any source unto them that love the law? But both senses are rightly understood. For he who loves the law of God, honours in it even what he does not understand; and what seems to him to sound absurd, he judges rather that he does not understand, and that there is some great meaning hidden: thus the law of God is not an offense to him...”

This approach has of course been echoed down the centuries by the Magisterium of the Church, and applied to areas such as Scriptural interpretation and more. It is a counsel of humility, of appreciating that we are limited beings who can never hope, at any particular point in time to know everything, whereas God is infinite and all-knowing…

Seven times a day I have praised you….

Thirdly, I wanted to draw attention to a key verse in this psalm from the point of view of the Office:

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, * super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

Seven is a number symbolizing completeness (viz the creation of the world), perfection (viz metal refined seven times), or an infinite number of times (viz the number of times we should forgive sins). St Benedict cites this verse as the reason for the seven day hours of his Office, and the Roman Office followed him on this.

It is true of course that the verse can also be interpreted spiritually, as a call to continuous praise.

But one does not have to be a traditionalist to appreciate that the seven day hours of the Office, particularly in monastic usage where it was said in choir at set times each and every day, served symbolically to convey the spiritual message, and in a way far more effective than just saying that we are called to pray constantly.

Fr Michael Casey of Tarrawarra Abbey, for example, certainly no traditionalist, suggests in his book Strangers to the City that it is regrettable that ‘secularization theology’ was unthinkingly incorporated in the ‘process of reformation and renewal’ following Vatican II (p174).

The new Missal is at least a small start in the process of resacralization.

But hard as that fight has been, there is a long way to go yet.

Certainly the ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ has achieved what the fourteenth century heretic Wycliff and the reformation’s Luther could not, namely the abandonment of this long ecclesial tradition of seven hours a day, and one in the night in line with verse 62 of this psalm. Haydock's classic commentary states:

“The Church has enjoined matins to be said at night, lauds in the morning, prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers and complin, in the course of the day. (St. Benedict, reg. 8., and 16.) (Calmet) --- This ecclesiastical office consists of hymns, psalms, &c. (St. Isidore) --- Against it some have risen up, particularly against that part which was said in the night, pretending that God had made the night for rest; and hence they were called nuctazontes, or "drowsy" heretics. (St. Isidore, Of. i. 22.) --- St. Jerome styles Vigilantius Dormitantius, for the same reason; as if it were better to sleep than to watch. Wycliff (Wald. iii. Tit. iii. 21.) and Luther have oppugned the same holy practice, though it be so conformable to Scripture and to the fathers. (St. Basil, reg. fus. 37.; St. Gregory, dial. iii. 14.; Ven. Bede, Hist. iv. 7., &c.)”

The Office, the law and genuine peace

Is there a connection between these three threads I've drawn out from the stanza?  Well yes, I would argue that there is.

I would argue that the drastic reduction in the number of times of prayer each day, and the length of those times of prayer - and above all consequent reduction of what was once a weekly cycle of saying all the psalms to a monthly one omitting all the 'hard bits' - has undermined the spiritual lives of priests and religious.  It has weakened the walls of what Catherine Pickstock has called the 'liturgical city' to the point where they lie in ruins.

And the consequences we see all around us. 

We see it in the Bishop Robinsons of this world who no longer accept the natural law as a starting point for Christian morality, who see God's law as a stumbling block, not a means to salvation, but think in their arrogance that they know best.

We see it in the bishops and priests who faced with the persecution of princes have continued to compromise and crumble rather than standing up for the faith, able to draw on a true inner peace.

We see it in the many who left the priesthood and religious life despite their promises and vows, no longer sufficiently nourished in their lives by Sacred Scripture.

Recovery from this desolation will take a long time.  Yet the walls of the sacred city can yet be rebuilt...


161 Príncipes persecúti sunt me gratis: * et a verbis tuis formidávit cor meum.
Princes have persecuted me without cause: and my heart has been in awe of your words.

162 Lætábor ego super elóquia tua: * sicut qui invénit spólia multa.
I will rejoice at your words, as one that has found great spoil.

163 Iniquitátem ódio hábui, et abominátus sum: * legem autem tuam diléxi.
I have hated and abhorred iniquity; but I have loved your law.

164 Sépties in die laudem dixi tibi, * super judícia justítiæ tuæ.
Seven times a day I have given praise to you, for the judgments of your justice.

165 Pax multa diligéntibus legem tuam: * et non est illis scándalum.
Much peace have they that love your law, and to them there is no stumbling block.

166 Exspectábam salutáre tuum, Dómine: * et mandáta tua diléxi.
I looked for your salvation, O Lord: and I loved your commandments.

167 Custodívit ánima mea testimónia tua: * et diléxit ea veheménter.
My soul has kept your testimonies and has loved them exceedingly

168 Servávi mandáta tua, et testimónia tua: * quia omnes viæ meæ in conspéctu tuo.
I have kept your commandments and your testimonies: because all my ways are in your sight.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Chrism Masses and Wilcannia-Forbes: the last ever tonight?

The strange idea of shifting the diocesan Chrism Mass to some more 'convenient' time - and hence losing some of the key symbolism of it - is on again this year.

In fact this year only one diocese - Sydney - is actually holding the Chrism Mass on the traditional day of Maundy Thursday!

I realise in geographically dispersed dioceses holding it on Maundy Thursday is problematic. 

But that doesn't explain some of the city dioceses times.

Nor does it justify moving it out of Holy Week altogether!

And yes, I know bishops and priests are busy at this time of the year.  But isn't that kind of the point - after all, we have in front of us the example of Our Lord on the Cross?

But maybe I am being too much of a traditionalist here?

Wilcannia-Forbes - will the saga be resolved soon?

In any case, tonight it is Wilcannia-Forbes' Chrism Mass.

And what could be its last ever as a diocese is not even taking place in the Cathedral in Broken Hill, but rather in Forbes.

Rumour is that Geraldine Doogue will be there (presumably with ABC entourage) - I guess to be able to add some parting shot to the upcoming ABC Compass  story on the diocese, which from the sound of it is likely to air every liberal grievance with the Church up to and including the New Missal (though quite what that has to do with the long slow slide of Wilcannia-Forbes isn't immediately obvious).

Here is the blurb for the show:

"As Australian Catholics come to grips with the controversial new translation of the Mass, one of the country's largest dioceses is fighting for its very survival. The new translation of the Roman Mass is the most significant change to Catholic worship in 40 years. It has divided Catholics between those who believe in orthodoxy and those who champion the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While debate rages over the new Mass, the western NSW Diocese of Wilcannia-Forbes has not had its own bishop for three years and is in danger of being dissolved. Against this backdrop, Australia's Bishops travelled to Rome in October to visit the Pope and Vatican officials. While there they celebrated the opening and blessing of a new multi-million dollar pilgrimage centre "Domus Australia"."

It will screen at 6.30pm this Sunday (if you have the stomach for it).
In the meantime, please do keep the diocese in your prayers!
And for the record...Chrism Masses this year
At their Cathedral, unless otherwise indicated.  Do go if you have a chance (and it isn't already over and done with for the year!).
Sydney - Maundy Thursday, 10.30am
Parramatta - Holy Wednesday, 7.30pm
Broken Bay - Holy Tuesday, 7.30pm
Maitland-Newcastle - Holy Tuesday, 7pm
Wollongong - Holy Wednesday, 7.30pm
Lismore - Holy Monday, 7pm (NB: Bishop Jarrett has two of these to conduct)
Armidale - still not online!
Bathurst - held Wednesday March 28
Wagga Wagga - Holy Monday, 6pm, Leeton
Wilcannia-Forbes - Thursday March 29, Forbes
Canberra-Goulburn - Holy Monday, 7.30pm
Melbourne - Holy Tuesday, 11am
Ballarat - Holy Monday, 6.30pm
Sale - Holy Tuesday 11am
Sandhurst - March 28
Tasmania - Holy Tuesday, 7.30pm
Perth - Holy Tuesday 7pm 
Geraldton - March 28
Bunbury - Not available online
Broome - Not available online
South Australia-NT
Adelaide - Holy Monday, 6pm
Port Pirie - Tuesday March 27
Darwin - Not mentioned in Lent-Easter program (!)
Brisbane - March 29
Townsville - March 28
Cairns - Friday 30 March, 7pm
Rockhampton - March 28

Psalm 118 (119) Resh: Why we must seek truth and fight the good fight

We are on the home stretch now in our Lenten study of Psalm 118: this is the first of the three psalm sections said at None on Monday in the Benedictine Office that close the psalm as a whole.

Today’s verses can be seen as about why we must wage the spiritual warfare, both against our own weaknesses and against the forces of evil.

Truth and everlasting life

The last verse of this stanza presents us with the reason we must fight:

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas:  in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (215) quotes this verse and comments:

"God is Truth itself, whose words cannot deceive. This is why one can abandon oneself in full trust to the truth and faithfulness of his word in all things. The beginning of sin and of man's fall was due to a lie of the tempter who induced doubt of God's word, kindness and faithfulness."

And each of us make a decision for or against that truth, as St Augustine points out:

"From truth, he says, Your words do proceed, and they are therefore truthful, and deceive no man, for in them life is announced to the righteous, punishment to the ungodly. These are the everlasting judgments of God's righteousness."

Many arise against us

The path we must follow is not an easy one, though, but rather a narrow one. Verse 157, echoes Psalm 3, used daily as a Matins Invitatory in the Benedictine Office:

Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: Many are they that persecute me and afflict me

In Psalm 3 the speaker expresses confidence that no matter how many rise up against him, God will protect him in the daily battle. Here, the psalmist is similarly confident that he will not depart from God’s testimonies:

a testimóniis tuis non declinávi. but I have not declined from your testimonies

The verse can be read as of the individual speaker, as St Robert Bellarmine applies it:

"It is not without reason that I ask you to quicken me; for the visible enemies, and the invisible ones who outnumber them, and seek to destroy me, are very numerous, yet nevertheless, through the help I have had from you, "I have not declined" to one side or the other, "from thy testimonies;" from thy commandments, the only straight and direct road."

But it can also be interpreted collectively, as speaking of the Church grounded on the rock that is Christ, and growing through the blood of the martyrs, as St Augustine points out:

“The whole earth has been crimsoned by the blood of Martyrs; heaven is flowery with the crowns of Martyrs, the Churches are adorned with the memorials of Martyrs, seasons distinguished by the birthdays of Martyrs, cures more frequent by the merits of Martyrs.”

Yet why is he so confident of God’s help for him individually?

The psalmist contrasts himself with sinners here who cannot expect salvation unless they amend on several grounds. First, he has grounded himself in humility (v153) and strived to do the good:

Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

Secondly, he may not be perfect, but he can legitimately distinguish himself from those who have failed to find out and tried to do what God wants, and cut themselves off from salvation through their contempt for the law:

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

Thirdly, he has already the gift of charity:

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

But above all, he is confident that God will grant him the grace he needs, will revive or quicken him because of God’s mercy, manifested in the Word that is Christ:

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.


153 Vide humilitátem meam, et éripe me: * quia legem tuam non sum oblítus.
See my humiliation and deliver me for I have not forgotten your law.

154 Júdica judícium meum, et rédime me: * propter elóquium tuum vivífica me.
Judge my judgment and redeem me: quicken me for your word's sake.

155 Longe a peccatóribus salus: * quia justificatiónes tuas non exquisiérunt.
Salvation is far from sinners; because they have not sought your justifications.

156 Misericórdiæ tuæ multæ, Dómine: * secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Many, O Lord, are your mercies: quicken me according to your judgment.

157 Multi qui persequúntur me, et tríbulant me: * a testimóniis tuis non declinávi.
Many are they that persecute me and afflict me; but I have not declined from your testimonies

158 Vidi prævaricántes, et tabescébam: * quia elóquia tua non custodiérunt.
I beheld the transgressors, and pined away; because they kept not your word.

159 Vide quóniam mandáta tua diléxi, Dómine: * in misericórdia tua vivífica me.
Behold I have loved your commandments, O Lord; quicken me in your mercy.

160 Princípium verbórum tuórum, véritas: * in ætérnum ómnia judícia justítiæ tuæ.
The beginning of your words is truth: all the judgments of your justice are for ever.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Reclaiming Catholic theology Pt 4:

You might recall that I've been presenting a series paraphrasing and plain-Englishing an important new paper by the International Theological Commission on the nature of Catholic Theology.

Here is the last part in the series, dealing with chapter three of the paper, which is entitled 'Giving an Account of the Truth of God', which covers the last three of the twelve criteria the paper presents for judging whether or not something is authentic Catholic theology.

Criterion 10: Theology involves the use of reason illuminated by faith (paras 61 – 73)

Theology, the paper argues, is about faith seeking understanding – and in order to achieve that understanding, it seeks to operate in a rational, reasoned and intellectual way, employing analysis and investigation. As such, it claims the label of being a ‘science’.

It starts from faith, but a faith that causes us to reason, to ask questions, see connections, and strive for understanding. For this reason, there is a necessary engagement between theology and philosophy in order to avoid fanaticism, superstition, ‘fideism’ or scepticism’.

Paragraphs 65 to 71 of the paper sketches some of the main lines this engagement has taken in the past, such as the encounter with Greek pagan philosophy; scholastic methodology; the Reformation and Enlightenment critiques; and the challenge posed by post-modernism.

 Criterion 11: Theology is unified in the sense of being about the study of God from a perspective of faith, but there can be many theologies in the sense of focusing on different areas of subject matter, and employing different sources, methods and frameworks.(paras 74-85)

The paper argues that the proper subject of Catholic theology is God and his mysteries, approached by the use of reason enlightened by revelation. Theology differs from religious studies in that it reflects from inside the Church and its faith, whereas religious sciences/studies starts from the outside.

 Theology is unified by virtue of being a common search for truth, a common service for the Church, and through common devotion to the one God. But we can talk about there being ‘theologies’ in the sense of the different approaches used by different authors, periods or cultures, which have characteristic concepts, significant themes and specific perspectives. These distinctions can take the form of:
  • different specializations (eg biblical, moral, etc);
  • external influences (eg transcendental theology, liberation, etc); and
  • different sources, methods and disciplines/tasks (law, history etc).
There is nothing wrong with this as such, provided that firstly legitimate diversity is not confused with relativism, heterodoxy or heresy. Secondly, the different theological disciplines must also be able to interact meaningfully with each other. That can be achieved by: 
  • insisting on reference to the ecclesial tradition of theology (in particular the writings of the Fathers and St Thomas Aquinas);
  • sub-disciplines talking to each other and working on interdisciplinary projects;
  • critically assessing the methods and assumptions of other disciplines from a faith perspective rather than adopting them uncritically and allowing other disciplines to impose their frameworks on theologians (there seems to be an implicit attack on historico-critical approaches to texts, tainted by rationalism, in particular). Attention to philosophical frameworks can be helpful here.
The paper attacks the received definition of ‘science’ employed by most Universities, suggesting that theology has a role to play in helping “other sciences to liberate themselves from anti-theological elements acquired under the influence of rationalism”. It argues that rationalism and positivism have reduced the scope and power of the sciences themselves, leading to a ‘self-absolutisation’ of the sciences and their impoverishment.

 Criterion 12: Theology is not only a science but also a body of wisdom that should impact on all other disciplines (paras 86-99)

 The search for wisdom, for a unified understanding of the final truth of all things and of human life itself is important to theology and its broader role in relation to other academic disciplines. Catholic theology invites everyone to recognise the transcendence of the ultimate Truth, and to recognize that God’s wisdom is at work in creation and in history and that those who appreciate that will understand the meaning of the world and of events.

In order to do that it starts from the ‘Fear of God’, or the right attitude in the presence of God so that our understanding of the world and orientation of our lives is grounded in devotion to God, and is revealed in the person of Christ. The primary reference points for theology is revelation, and particularly the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 We need to distinguish between theological wisdom, gained through intellectual contemplation and rational labour, and the mystical wisdom or ‘the knowledge of the saints’, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit which comes from union with God in love. There are links between the two, including that both require charity, and both must be a lived expression of faith, but they are distinct in character.

In particular, mystical theology, and particularly the ‘via negativa’, or sense of awe before the mystery of the Trinity, reflects the limits of positive theology, since ‘between creator and creature no similarity can be noted without noting a greater dissimilarity’, and we can never fully comprehend God.


I hope these notes prove of use, and spur you on to read the original paper, and google any terms you come across but don't fully grasp!

Psalm 118 (119) qof: Keeping vigil

Pope John Paul II gave two General Audiences on this stanza of Psalm 118 in his series on the psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours (it is used at Lauds on Saturday of Week I), so today some extracts from his catechesis.

The first of his talks (November 2001) focuses on the ideal of keeping vigil that the psalm alludes to:

“In fact the scene at the centre of this set of 8 verses is nocturnal, but open to the new day. After a long night of waiting and of prayerful vigil in the Temple, when the dawn appears on the horizon and the liturgy begins, the believer is certain that the Lord will hear the one who spent the night in prayer, hoping and meditating on the divine Word. Fortified by this awareness and facing the day that unfolds before him, he will no longer fear dangers. He knows that he will not be overcome by his persecutors who besiege him with treachery (cf. v. 150) because the Lord is with him. The strophe expresses an intense prayer: "I call with all my heart, Lord; answer me.... I rise before the dawn and cry for help; I hope in your word ..." (vv.145.147). In the Book of Lamentations, we read this invitation: "Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands toward him" (Lam 2,19). St Ambrose repeated: "O man, know you not that every day you should offer God the first fruits of your heart and voice? Make haste at dawn to carry to the Church the first fruits of your devotion" (Exp. in ps. CXVIII; PL 15, 1476 A). At the same time our strophe is also the exaltation of a certainty: we are not alone because God listens and intervenes. The one who prays, says: "Lord, you are near" (v. 151). The other psalms confirm it: "Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies!" (Ps 68,19); "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit" (Ps 33,19)”

The second (January 2003) starts by looking at the stanza as an example of prayer as a dialogue:

“The stanza we have just heard is a strophe marked by the Hebrew letter qôf, that portrays the person at prayer who expresses his intense life of faith and prayer to God (cf. vv. 145-152). The invocation of the Lord is relentless because it is a continuing response to the permanent teaching of the Word of God. On the one hand, in fact, the verbs used in prayer are multiplied: "I cry to you", "I call upon you", "I cry for help", "hear my voice". On the other hand, the Psalmist exalts the word of the Lord that proposes decrees, teachings, the word, promises, judgment, the law, the precepts and testimonies of God. Together they form a constellation that is like the polar star of the Psalmist's faith and confidence. Prayer is revealed as a dialogue that begins when it is night before the first gleam of dawn (cf. v. 147), and continues through the day, particularly in the difficult trials of life. In fact, at times the horizon is dark and stormy: "In betrayal my persecutors turn on me, they are far from your law" (v. 150). But the person praying has a steadfast certainty: the closeness of God, with his word and his grace: "But you, O Lord, are close" (v. 151). God does not abandon the just in the hands of persecutors.”


145 Clamávi in toto corde meo, exáudi me, Dómine: * justificatiónes tuas requíram.
I cried with my whole heart, hear me, O Lord: I will seek your justifications.

146 Clamávi ad te, salvum me fac: * ut custódiam mandáta tua.
I cried unto you, save me: that I may keep your commandments.

147 Prævéni in maturitáte, et clamávi: * quia in verba tua supersperávi.
I prevented the dawning of the day, and cried: because in your words I very much hoped.

148 Prævenérunt óculi mei ad te dilúculo: * ut meditárer elóquia tua.
My eyes to you have prevented the morning: that I might meditate on your words.

149 Vocem meam audi secúndum misericórdiam tuam, Dómine: * et secúndum judícium tuum vivífica me.
Hear my voice, O Lord, according to your mercy: and quicken me according to your judgment.

150 Appropinquavérunt persequéntes me iniquitáti: * a lege autem tua longe facti sunt.
They that persecute me have drawn near to iniquity; but they have gone far off from your law.

151 Prope es tu, Dómine: * et omnes viæ tuæ véritas.
You are near, O Lord: and all your ways are truth.

152 Inítio cognóvi de testimóniis tuis: * quia in ætérnum fundásti ea.
I have known from the beginning concerning your testimonies: that you have founded them for ever.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Spiritual warmongering or a healthy zeal? Psalm 118(119) Tzade

Resuming today our study of Psalm 118, we are now up to the eighteenth stanza of this longest of the psalms. And following the alphabetical progression of the Hebrew alphabet, it is headed up Tzade.

It is often suggested that the Church needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of sinners, rather than calling on them to turn away from their sins.

Standing up and fighting for our faith is even labeled by some as 'spiritual warmongering'!

Such attitudes aren’t easy to reconcile with the Gospel, for Christ calls us to turn away from sin, not to embrace it, and to fight for what is right.

Zeal consumes me

In the previous stanza, the psalmist ended up weeping for his own sins. Here however the psalmist is concerned over the actions and fate of others. The central verse is 139:

Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget thy words

So today I want to look at the delicate balance between a healthy zeal, that embraces the spiritual works of mercy advocated in today’s stanza of Psalm 118, of instructing the ignorant and admonishing sinners; the sin of cowardice in failing to teach at all; and the evil zeal of bitterness.

Zeal for the law of the Lord is a virtue

Verse 139 echoes the verse of Psalm 68 (69) applied to Our Lord in the New Testament in relation to his cleansing of the Temple:

In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." Jn 2

But zeal can be both good and bad:

Cassiodorus comments:

“Zeal is used in both the bad sense and the good sense; in the bad sense, as in: "Zeal and envy have devoured the house of Jacob"; and again, we read in the Acts of the Apostles: When they saw this, the Jews -were filled-with zeal, and they laid their hands on the apostles. This kind of zeal always leads to sins, lays ambushes, cuts off the path to salvation.”

Too often we see this evil zeal today in those who attack the bishops for defending the faith, and claim some superior knowledge to that of the Pope as to what Vatican II is meant to mean to us.

Good zeal can seem extremist at times, as Cassiodorus comments:

“The word is used in the good sense: The zeal of thy house has consumed me and Elias says: With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant,." Then too Phineas the priest, on seeing the Israelite engaged in sexual intercourse with the Moabite woman, in zeal for the Lord's command ran them both through with the sword." His zeal was so effective that it alone diverted the Lord's anger. Indeed, this kind of zeal bestows salvation, keeps faith, maintains chastity and protects God's Church with splendid vigour.”

The marks of good zeal

The verses of this stanza point to some of the distinguishing marks of a healthy zeal for God, namely that it starts from the realization that we are all sinners (previous stanza), who need God’s truth and justice as a guide (v137-138, 142) and is fired up by love of God and meditation on his law (140-144).


137 Justus es, Dómine: * et rectum judícium tuum.
You are just, O Lord: and your judgment is right.

138 Mandásti justítiam testimónia tua: * et veritátem tuam nimis.
You have commanded justice your testimonies: and your truth exceedingly.

139 Tabéscere me fecit zelus meus: * quia oblíti sunt verba tua inimíci mei.
My zeal has made me pine away: because my enemies forgot your words.

140 Ignítum elóquium tuum veheménter: * et servus tuus diléxit illud.
Your word is exceedingly refined: and your servant has loved it.

141 Adolescéntulus sum ego et contémptus: * justificatiónes tuas non sum oblítus.
I am very young and despised; but I forget not your justifications

142 Justítia tua, justítia in ætérnum: * et lex tua véritas.
Your justice is justice for ever: and your law is the truth.

143 Tribulátio, et angústia invenérunt me: * mandáta tua meditátio mea est.
Trouble and anguish have found me: your commandments are my meditation.

144 Æquitas testimónia tua in ætérnum: * intelléctum da mihi, et vivam.
Your testimonies are justice for ever: give me understanding, and I shall live.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Feast of the Annunciation:remembering the unborn child

And in Adelaide, Archbishop Wilson has declared that this feast will be a special Day of the Unborn each year in the diocese. 

His letter on the subject says:

“The great Feast of the Annunciation celebrates the conception of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit and the ‘Yes”’of Mary to God’s invitation. Through Mary’s self-giving, Jesus came into the world to reveal to us the face of God and to be our Salvation. In our time when there are debates about when life begins, this day reminds us that the life of Jesus as Incarnate Word began at the moment of conception. This feast day reminds us that the beginning of all new life, occurs in the everyday miracle of conception, just as it was with Jesus’ conception.

Not all news of pregnancy however, is received with joy. For some people this news creates great anxiety and we must, as a community of faith, find ways to support women and men who find themselves in this situation. I also hear many stories of women who still continue to experience grief or guilt about the child they aborted. It is not uncommon for women to suffer many years after they have had an abortion, and this apparent choice does not always lead to freedom in the end.

Families who lose a child during pregnancy through miscarriage or stillbirth, or a baby soon after birth, know this is one of the greatest pains a family can experience. This pain can continue for many years and can become a silent pain, carried in the hearts of the parents.

Therefore, to assist us as a Church to express our delight in the promise of new life, our compassion for those who suffer any form of child-bearing loss and our reparation for the loss of the lives of aborted babies, today I announce that a special Day of the Unborn will be celebrated in the Archdiocese every year on the Feast of the Annunciation.

We pray for the children whose lives have been lost through miscarriage, stillbirth, or other difficulties.

We pray with great sadness for all those babies who have been aborted, and express our sadness that they never lived the life their conception promised. We pray for their parents. I want you to know that God always offers healing and forgiveness and I invite you to come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation which can provide some comfort and healing of any grief and guilt you may carry over your decision to abort your baby. We pray for the children who were placed for adoption. We pray that the love of their adopted parents can help them through any feelings of uncertainty about their adoption.

As well as the loss of children in the early stages of life, I also wish today to remember those who have lost children at any stage of their life. Our Mother Mary, who also suffered the loss of the child she bore and raised, understands your pain and grief. May she bring you comfort. My dear people, we know so well the absolute joy that the news of conception of a new child brings to our families, our community and our Church. May this joyous welcome be the right of every child conceived, and may those who face serious challenges in having a baby be loved and supported by a community of faith that values them and every life as precious to God.”

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Having a stoush for Christ!

I have to admit that I've been remiss this year, in not doing a hunt through the various Lenten Pastoral Letters issues by our bishops for any spiritual gems. 

But someone drew my attention today to this one from Bishop Jarrett, and it is pretty hard to imagine that anyone else's can possible measure up to this wonderful call to action (though do please let me know if you think your bishop's is particularly worth highlighting).

So please, do read it, and feel inspired to make these two weeks of Passiontide a particularly intensive time of preparation for Easter.

So here it is, with a few comments from me marked in red, plus by bolding (and thanks to the reader for the alert).

Bishop Jarrett's Pastoral Letter to Brisbane Archdiocese

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Christ's faithful, the Laity, Religious, and Clergy of the Archdiocese,

As Lent commences, I write with words of challenge and encouragement for all of us to take to heart.

To make a good Lent, the best approach to these 40 days would be to see them as our last Lent, and this our final Easter before we come to the eternal Paschal Feast to which our faith looks forward, the entire hope and promise of our Christian profession. [Look to heaven, and treat each day as if it could be our last - because it could indeed be!]

The first prayer of Ash Wednesday's Mass employs stirring and striking military terms: "campaign," "battle," "weapons."

We are now on a campaign of Christian service; we are to battle against spiritual evils, arming ourselves with the weapons of self-restraint, among others "with holy fasting."

The ashes invite us to conquer evil and do good, to stand strong and free against that engulfing modern tide of an illusory and superficial life-style bound down by moral mediocrity.

Each year the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent places before us, as a warning, the seductive assault which Satan made even upon our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Satan has nothing to lose because already he is the loser, and as Scripture tells us, he goes about the world in great rage, knowing that he has but a short time. (Apoc 12:12).

His lies and deceits were exposed by our Lord as we hear in the gospel dialogue, but they are still willingly listened to and believed in our own day, and we live with the terrible consequences.

Part of our problem in society as well as within the Church is that we've put aside, perhaps as a bit of an embarrassment, that military metaphor of the Christian fight, the fight against the supernatural enemies which surround us. Their leader and crafty strategist is the Devil.  [And for an example of the kind of fifth columnist attack on this traditional language of Scripture and the Church, you need go no further than this aCath Blog.]

"Be watchful," says St Peter, "your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith" (I Peter 5:8-9).

St Paul also warned about the wiles of the Devil: "we are not contending against flesh and blood . . . but against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." The Apostle ends his letter with a rousing challenge to the Christians of Ephesus to get out and fight, with the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and armed with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6:11-18).

Time was when we Catholics in Australia were never afraid of a stoush for the cause of Christ and His Church, in our local community or in a wider arena. But for the most part, with outstanding exceptions, can we say that we have become blighted with timidity, afraid to be different from the secularist influences around us, even sometimes within our own institutions, or even to differ from Christian brothers and sisters of other persuasions with whom on some issues we must disagree? [There is an important message here to those who are trying to suppress legitimate internal debate, which includes conservatives and liberals alike.  Within certain limits, vigorous debate and disagreement is a sign of health, not something that should be shied away from.]

And why so frequently the sounds of silence in the face of the smart diatribes against Christianity, and especially Catholicism, from opponents who are more clever than we are in working the popular media? Is Satan demanding to have us, and sift us like wheat, as he did St Peter? Should we not swiftly turn to the Lord, that our faith may not fail, and gain from Him the strength to strengthen others? (St Luke 22:31-2).

Your bishops are quite properly expected to make a public stand and to exercise what influence they can, for instance, in the face of demands to change the definition of marriage, of pervasive internet pornography and the cultural battles around us in defence of human life. Would that we had the backing of that 26% of Australians who own to being Catholics! [True, but I think the bishops have to take some responsibility here for (continuing) the failure to actually teach the faith in recent decades...As has become in evident in the US and Ireland of late, you can't allow heresy to flourish unchecked and then suddenly expect the laity to stand up and fight when the Church is actually confronted with the consequences of its failure to confront secularism over the last several decades.]

Surely we can only witness with a sense of betrayal those, especially if they are in public life, who profess to be Catholics but who misconstrue or abandon the Church's witness to Christ's teaching, or who have never known or understood it, and side instead with the pressure groups whose aim is to sideline Christianity, indeed any religion, from public debate on moral questions.[Again, there are things that the bishops could do as teaching moments - like excluding such politicians from communion - but have decided not to...]

If more of us who are baptised members of Christ's body took our membership seriously, used our faith to think with, and overcame our fear to let the Word of God judge us and challenge us, we would begin to know and love God powerfully enough to get into the fight against His adversaries and ours.

We must not be afraid of the comparison of our Christian baptismal call with an enlistment for service and engagement in a combat - a fight towards an ultimate and assured victory which is God's alone but which in a particular place and moment depends on us. It's a long, messy and wintry campaign and there's always another battle ahead.

The Devil is the most subtle of tacticians in getting individuals on his side before they know it, in discrediting the Church, destroying morale and enticing desertion.

Battles have never been won so much by great leaders as by great soldiers, the ordinary people in the trenches who conquer their fear of going 'over the top.' [Hmm, I think that is debatable - while we can certainly all do great things, great leaders are surely needed to inspire and support those ordinary people in the process.] Lent puts a focus on our individual and more convinced conversion to the greatest of all causes.

We can put ourselves on the winning side in the smallest of ways: turning from sin and making a good confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, resolving to take up prayer as a real weapon for the fight (what a marvellous opportunity we have in visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and extended periods of public Adoration), and challenging our self-centredness by a generous giving of alms to those in need.

The way of the Cross is central to our Lenten journey.

The Cross is the shining sign of the whole army of Christians setting out over these forty days on the march to Easter. We struggle together, not alone, with renewed effort against evil, against Satan and 'the sin that clings so closely' that we each bear within (Hebrews 12:1): and all with the happy certitude of sharing in the triumphant victory of the Lamb once slain: The Lord is Risen!

With my prayers and blessing for the march ahead, and please pray for me.