Monday, 30 April 2012

The tradition...

Thanks to NLM, via Canberra Observer.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Vocations Sunday

Today is the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Here is the Pope's message for the day:
"The source of every perfect gift is God who is Love – Deus caritas est: “Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Sacred Scripture tells the story of this original bond between God and man, which precedes creation itself. Writing to the Christians of the city of Ephesus, Saint Paul raises a hymn of gratitude and praise to the Father who, with infinite benevolence, in the course of the centuries accomplishes his universal plan of salvation, which is a plan of love. In his Son Jesus – Paul states – “he chose us, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him in love” (Eph 1:4). We are loved by God even “before” we come into existence! Moved solely by his unconditional love, he created us “not … out of existing things” (cf. 2 Macc 7:28), to bring us into full communion with Him.

In great wonderment before the work of God’s providence, the Psalmist exclaims: “When I see the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you arranged, what is man that you should keep him in mind, mortal man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:3-4). The profound truth of our existence is thus contained in this surprising mystery: every creature, and in particular every human person, is the fruit of God’s thought and an act of his love, a love that is boundless, faithful and everlasting (cf. Jer 31:3). The discovery of this reality is what truly and profoundly changes our lives. In a famous page of the Confessions, Saint Augustine expresses with great force his discovery of God, supreme beauty and supreme love, a God who was always close to him, and to whom he at last opened his mind and heart to be transformed: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (X, 27.38). With these images, the Saint of Hippo seeks to describe the ineffable mystery of his encounter with God, with God’s love that transforms all of life.

It is a love that is limitless and that precedes us, sustains us and calls us along the path of life, a love rooted in an absolutely free gift of God. Speaking particularly of the ministerial priesthood, my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, stated that “every ministerial action - while it leads to loving and serving the Church - provides an incentive to grow in ever greater love and service of Jesus Christ the head, shepherd and spouse of the Church, a love which is always a response to the free and unsolicited love of God in Christ” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 25). Every specific vocation is in fact born of the initiative of God; it is a gift of the Love of God! He is the One who takes the “first step”, and not because he has found something good in us, but because of the presence of his own love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5).

In every age, the source of the divine call is to be found in the initiative of the infinite love of God, who reveals himself fully in Jesus Christ. As I wrote in my first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, “God is indeed visible in a number of ways. In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along its path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist” (No. 17).

The love of God is everlasting; he is faithful to himself, to the “word that he commanded for a thousand generations” (Ps 105:8). Yet the appealing beauty of this divine love, which precedes and accompanies us, needs to be proclaimed ever anew, especially to younger generations. This divine love is the hidden impulse, the motivation which never fails, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to open our lives to this love. It is to the perfection of the Father’s love (cf. Mt 5:48) that Jesus Christ calls us every day! The high standard of the Christian life consists in loving “as” God loves; with a love that is shown in the total, faithful and fruitful gift of self. Saint John of the Cross, writing to the Prioress of the Monastery of Segovia who was pained by the terrible circumstances surrounding his suspension, responded by urging her to act as God does: “Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and there you will draw out love” (Letters, 26).

It is in this soil of self-offering and openness to the love of God, and as the fruit of that love, that all vocations are born and grow. By drawing from this wellspring through prayer, constant recourse to God’s word and to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it becomes possible to live a life of love for our neighbours, in whom we come to perceive the face of Christ the Lord (cf. Mt 25:31-46). To express the inseparable bond that links these “two loves” – love of God and love of neighbour – both of which flow from the same divine source and return to it, Pope Saint Gregory the Great uses the metaphor of the seedling: “In the soil of our heart God first planted the root of love for him; from this, like the leaf, sprouts love for one another.” (Moralium Libri, sive expositio in Librum B. Job, Lib. VII, Ch. 24, 28; PL 75, 780D).

These two expressions of the one divine love must be lived with a particular intensity and purity of heart by those who have decided to set out on the path of vocation discernment towards the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; they are its distinguishing mark. Love of God, which priests and consecrated persons are called to mirror, however imperfectly, is the motivation for answering the Lord’s call to special consecration through priestly ordination or the profession of the evangelical counsels. Saint Peter’s vehement reply to the Divine Master: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15) contains the secret of a life fully given and lived out, and thus one which is deeply joyful.

The other practical expression of love, that towards our neighbour, and especially those who suffer and are in greatest need, is the decisive impulse that leads the priest and the consecrated person to be a builder of communion between people and a sower of hope. The relationship of consecrated persons, and especially of the priest, to the Christian community is vital and becomes a fundamental dimension of their affectivity. The Curé of Ars was fond of saying: “Priests are not priests for themselves, but for you” (Le cure d’Ars. Sa pensée – Son cœur, Foi Vivante, 1966, p. 100).

Dear brother bishops, dear priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, catechists, pastoral workers and all of you who are engaged in the field of educating young people: I fervently exhort you to pay close attention to those members of parish communities, associations and ecclesial movements who sense a call to the priesthood or to a special consecration. It is important for the Church to create the conditions that will permit many young people to say “yes” in generous response to God’s loving call.

The task of fostering vocations will be to provide helpful guidance and direction along the way. Central to this should be love of God’s word nourished by a growing familiarity with sacred Scripture, and attentive and unceasing prayer, both personal and in community; this will make it possible to hear God’s call amid all the voices of daily life. But above all, the Eucharist should be the heart of every vocational journey: it is here that the love of God touches us in Christ’s sacrifice, the perfect expression of love, and it is here that we learn ever anew how to live according to the “high standard” of God’s love. Scripture, prayer and the Eucharist are the precious treasure enabling us to grasp the beauty of a life spent fully in service of the Kingdom.

It is my hope that the local Churches and all the various groups within them, will become places where vocations are carefully discerned and their authenticity tested, places where young men and women are offered wise and strong spiritual direction. In this way, the Christian community itself becomes a manifestation of the Love of God in which every calling is contained. As a response to the demands of the new commandment of Jesus, this can find eloquent and particular realization in Christian families, whose love is an expression of the love of Christ who gave himself for his Church (cf. Eph 5:32). Within the family, “a community of life and love” (Gaudium et Spes, 48), young people can have a wonderful experience of this self-giving love. Indeed, families are not only the privileged place for human and Christian formation; they can also be “the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God” (Familiaris Consortio, 53), by helping their members to see, precisely within the family, the beauty and the importance of the priesthood and the consecrated life. May pastors and all the lay faithful always cooperate so that in the Church these “homes and schools of communion” may multiply, modelled on the Holy Family of Nazareth, the harmonious reflection on earth of the life of the Most Holy Trinity.

With this prayerful hope, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to all of you: my brother bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women and all lay faithful, and especially those young men and women who strive to listen with a docile heart to God’s voice and are ready to respond generously and faithfully."

Friday, 27 April 2012

The liturgy hits that iceberg....

For once traditionalists will actually tend to agree with something Sr Carmen Pilcher has to say, for in a post over at Cath Blog yesterday, she describes the signing of Sacrosanctum Concilium as the Church's Titanic moment.

What an apt image!  The seemingly unsinkable ship of the Church's great liturgical tradition did indeed hit the geat iceberg of 'Spirit of Vatican IIism' and all but sunk.

Fortunately, unlike the Titanic, the Church really is unsinkable, and so there were a few survivors from which to rebuild...

And in reality, perhaps the more accurate image would be one of a hijacking!

Celebrating Sacrosanctum Concilium?

Sr Carmel seems to feel that the bishops' plans for celebrating fifty years since Vatican II are rather underdone given its significance:

"So how is the church planning to commemorate the golden anniversary of this great event? We know that the Australian Catholic Bishops are about to declare a ‘Year of Grace’ beginning on Pentecost Sunday. We also know that in a few months the Pope will announce a ‘Year of Faith’.

Is a subtext for each of these themes the marking of 50 years since the beginning of the church’s most recent reform? Are plays to be written, a movie commissioned, forums set up so that stories can be told, celebrations to be held? How are our bishops suggesting ways to capture the excitement and keep the memory alive of this decisive moment in our church’s history?

Of course the Church is more than the bishops, as indeed the Council taught us...Parishes, schools and other organisations will no doubt celebrate with local initiatives."

How to celebrate SC?

So here is my suggestion for local initiatives: how about actually reading the document itself and putting on some Masses that reflect its actual provisions?  You know, things like:
  • respect for the hierarchical constitution of the Church in the roles ministers and laity respectively play in the Mass (SC 28);
  • observance of the proper bodily gestures and attitudes - such as the striking of the breast at the mea culpa and bow in the Creed, more ignored than observed at most OF Masses I've attended of late (SC 30);
  • joining in the (specified) words as appropriate, not some old and no longer approved version of the Mass translation or other ad libbing on the part of the priest (SC 30);
  • observance of reverent silence when appropriate (SC 30);
  • the preservation of the Latin language (SC34) and congregational singing of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin (SC 54);
  • the cultivation of the great treasury of sacred music of the Church (SC 114); and
  • giving pride of place to Gregorian chant in liturgical services (SC 116).
So maybe parishes could celebrate by holding chant workshops, and Masses that truly draw on the great treasury of sacred music. 

By teaching parishioners a little Latin, the official and normative language of our liturgy.

To implement or reassess?

A pretty good case can be made at this point, I think, that Sacrosanctum Concilium has never actually been properly implemented.

In fact rather than hitting an iceberg and sinking, the ship was hijacked. 

Indeed the whole 'Reform of the Reform' movement arguably has the objective of freeing the liturgy from the hijackers.

All the same, at fifty years remove much of the anthropology and historical/liturgical scholarship that animated Sacrosanctum Concilium's purely pastoral prescriptions has been effectively demolished.

Some of the things it thought to be ancient traditions of the Church in the early 1960s today look like at best mere archeologism that certainly wouldn't pass Pope Benedict XVI's test of living, as opposed to fossilised, traditions; at worst they look like outright fabrications.

SC's distaste for 'repetition' in the liturgy arguably reflects a lack of understanding of the ritual process; the permission for the (very limited) use of the vernacular a failure to understand the purpose of hieratic and sacred languages; and its privileging of overt catechesis through the liturgy a lack of understanding of the subtle effects on our understanding of the implicit messages embedded in the ancient rubrics for our faith.

Thus, a case can equally be made that sufficient time has passed to allow a more fundamental reassessment of the usefulness of  many of Sacrosanctum Concilium's pastoral provisions...

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Unity of word and sacrament: the problem with lay lectors

Back when I first became a practising catholic thirty two years ago this week (on St George's Day), and became a daily Mass goer at the ANU campus chapel, the Dominican brother who managed the chapel occasionally used to hassle me to do the readings at Mass (and to be an Extraordinary minister of the Eucharist, but that's a different story).

I typically declined, as I have continued to do when attending the OF, with one more recent exception (some nuns at a monastery I was staying made me do it!), but I have to admit that I've never been able to articulate my reasons for not wanting to act as a lector very clearly.

But I came across a blog post  (thanks to The Pulp.It) this morning that nicely articulates at least some of the reasons why I think those attending the Ordinary Form should be encouraging the priest (or deacon if present) to do the readings rather than agreeing to act as lector themselves.

The bad reasons!

Some traditionalists, of course, take a fundamentalist view of St Paul's injunctions on women speaking in Church, and laud the more restricted role of the laity in general, and women in particular, in the EF Mass on this basis. 

But in my view that doesn't cut any ice.

In the case of women in the EF there are strong precedents set by what nuns are permitted to do in their own chapels.

There are the permissions for women to sing in the choir (and congregation). 

There are the permissions for the dialogue Mass.

Moreover, the 1917 Code of Canon Law explicitly permitted a woman to say the server's responses from the pews if no one else is available to say them (on the basis that it really is supposed to be a dialogue, and Mass without anyone but the priest present was reserved for cases of emergency only, such as the need to consecrate in order to give Viaticum).

And in the case of the laity in general, many EF Sunday Masses around this country actually involve far more laity in the liturgical action - in the form of the elaborate liturgical dance rubrics prescribed for the crowd of servers, not to mention the song of the choir - than the typical OF Mass!

The unity of word and sacrament

So why are the readings a particular problem so far as the lay engagement is concerned?

In a post on the problem of lay 'homilies' Fr Mullady OP has written a piece for EWTN that I think sets out nicely the reasons why lay lectors are problematic.  His argument is actually about why lay homilies are not generally permitted. 

Essentially, he points out that there is supposed to be an intrinsic unity between the Word of God in the readings, the homily, and the consecration of the Eucharist.  Having  layperson give the homily, he argues, breaks that intrinsic unity.  He doesn't say so (for obvious reasons), but his argument applies equally, I think, to the permitted option in the OF (but not requirement) of the laity doing the first and second readings:

"...the necessary relation between the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. There are some people in the Church who consider this relationship to be accidental. This impression might have been created by the fact that the laity are permitted, in the ordinary form, to be lectors at Mass, and to participate in an action that is central to the celebration of Mass, something which does not take place in the extraordinary form. As the homily is, in a certain sense, the culmination of the liturgy of the Word, it could be construed by some that it does not matter who gives it as long as they are competent.

In fact, Vatican II is clear that there is an intense relationship between Word and Sacrament at the sacrament of all sacraments, the Mass. “The Eucharist appears as the source and the summit of all preaching of the gospel” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5). The explanation of the faith is central as a preparation to the actual carrying out of the action of the whole Church by which the paschal event is made present to the faithful. Both word and sacrament must be intimately connected, as are knowledge and love. As such, the homily is meant to bridge that gap, and stands at the culmination of the word, and the beginning of the action of love itself. In principle, only the ministers who directly participate in the act of transubstantiation—namely: bishop, priest or deacon—have the right and faculty to preach. This is made clear in the canon mentioned in the question which clearly states: “The most important form of preaching is the homily, which is part of the liturgy itself, and is reserved to a priest or deacon” (Canon 767)...."

Reductionist views of the priesthood

We live in a time where reductionist views of the ministerial priesthood have become the norm. 

Where many would reduce the role of the priest to those parts of the Mass that only he can do, at the expense both of his broader role in the Mass and the sacraments more generally, not to mention his much broader pastoral responsibilities.  It is a disease that has infected even some EF priests.

We need to take all opportunities open to us to fight this pernicious infection.

Drive carefully!

At his General Audience yesterday, the Pope urged everyone to drive carefully:

"...he addressed some words in Italian to relatives of traffic accident victims, assuring them of his prayers "for those who have lost their lives on the roads", and recalling "our constant duty to drive carefully and with a sense of responsibility".

Prayer and action
His main focus though was on the importance of prayer in order to keep day to day pressures under control:
"If prayer and the Word of God do not nourish our spiritual life, we run the risk being suffocated by the many cares and concerns of daily existence. Prayer makes us see reality with new eyes and helps us to find our way in the midst of adversity...."

VIS news reports that:  

"The Pope explained how prayer encouraged the early Church, though beset by difficulties, and how it can help man to live a better life today. "Ever since the beginning of her journey the Church has had to face unexpected situations, new questions and emergencies, to which she has sought to respond in the light of the faith, allowing herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit", he said.

This was already evident at the time of the Apostles. In the Acts, Luke the Evangelist recounts "a serious problem which the first Christian community in Jerusalem had to face and resolve, ... concerning the pastoral care of charity towards the isolated and the needy. It was not an unimportant issue and risked creating divisions within the Church. ... What stands out is that, at that moment of pastoral emergency, the Apostles made a distinction. Their primary duty was to announce the Word of God according to the Lord’s mandate, but they considered as equally serious the task of ... making loving provision for their brothers and sisters in situations of need, in order to respond to Jesus' command: love one another as I have loved you".

The Apostles made a clear decision: it was not right for them to neglect prayer and preaching, therefore "seven men of good standing were chosen, the Apostles prayed for the strength of the Holy Spirit, then laid their hands upon them that they might dedicate themselves to the diaconate of charity". This decision, the Pope explained, "shows the priority we must give to God and to our relationship with Him in prayer, both as individuals and in the community. If we do not have the capacity to pause and listen to the Lord, to enter into dialogue with Him, we risk becoming ineffectually agitated by problems, difficulties and needs, even those of an ecclesial and pastoral nature".

The saints, Pope Benedict said, "experienced profound unity between prayer and action, between total love of God and love for their fellows". St. Bernard, a model of harmony between these two aspects, "affirmed that too many concerns ... often end up by hardening our heart and causing our spirit to suffer. This is an important reminder for us today, accustomed as we are to evaluating everything with the criterion of productivity and efficiency. That passage from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the importance of work and commitment in daily activity, which must be carried out with responsibility and dedication, but also of our need for God, for His guidance and His light which give us strength and hope. If we do not pray trustingly every day, our activities become empty, they lose all profundity and are reduced to mere activism which, in the final analysis, leaves us unsatisfied. ... Every step, every action in our lives, even in the Church, must be done before God, in prayer and in the light of His Word".

When prayer is nourished with the Word of God "we see reality with new eyes, with the eyes of the faith and the Lord, Who speaks to the mind and to the heart, gives new light for the journey in all times and situations. We believe in the power of the Word of God and of prayer. ... If the lungs of prayer and of the Word of God do not nourish the breath of spiritual life, we risk suffocating in the midst of a thousand daily cares. Prayer is the breath of the soul and of life".

In conclusion, Benedict XVI noted that when we pray, "in the silence of a church or in our room, we are united in the Lord to our brothers and sisters in the faith, like so many instruments which, each in its own individuality, raise a single great symphony of intercession, thanksgiving and praise".

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

ANZAC Day: Abide with me

There is something very Catholic about the celebration of ANZAC Day, for it is a remembrance not of a great victory, but ultimately of a seemingly devastating defeat.

The Gallipoli campaign

On 25 April 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and other allied troops landed at Gallipoli Cove in an operation aimed at capturing Constantinople (Istanbul) from the Ottoman Empire. 

Over the course of the subsequent nine month campaign, nearly half a million troops died on all sides from wounds or illness, including more than 8,500 Australians.  And it was a disastrous failure that had an enormous political fallout and consequences for the course of the war at the time.

Yet it was also defeat that gave birth to a sense of nationhood; gave birth to a realisation in particular, that Mother England could not be relied upon to provide competent leadership  or to give adequate consideration to the interests of any nation but itself!

Time - and the realisation that though we won the war, English failures in World War I wiped out almost an entire generation of that country, resulting ultimately in the loss of an Empire - have largely healed those wounds, and Australia now enjoys an adult relationship with its former colonial homeland.

Australian nationalism

Still, Australian nationalism traces its realisation to that battle above all.

While it is not nominally Australia's national day, both in Australia and New Zealand, it has long been observed with a great deal more fervour than our actual national days, in part perhaps because both the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand, and the landing of the first fleet in Australia, have rather mixed associations!

And the fervour associated with ANZAC Day is growing not diminishing. 

Many are making the pilgrimage to Gallipoli and other battle sites each year.

Thousands arise in the cold morning air to attend the traditional dawn service. 

Many attend the requiems traditionally celebrated on this day for the souls of all who have given their lives in war for their country.

And of course many more indulge in the other traditional events of the day viz drinking, gambling (two up is legal for the day) and football: Australia has never been a nation of puritan wowsers!

Our native traditions....

ANZAC Day then is a day with its own well developed secular and religious rituals.

So in the light of all the above, there is a certain irony in the rumour passed on to me that one of Australia's 'traditionalist' communities is planning to use not the traditional 'Abide with me' as a recessional at its Requiem today, but instead 'I vow to me my country'!

Don't get me wrong, I Vow to Thee my Country is a great hymn - wonderful words and great music (adapted by the composer Gustave Holst from Jupiter in the Planets).  And the English author of the original poem did specifically adapt it to reflect World War I, hence its association with Remembrance Day (November 11) in a number of nations.

But the two hymns reflect quite different messages: I Vow to Thee one is about the virtue of patriotism and unflinching service, even unto death, certainly not inappropriate to the day.  But Abide with Me asks God to help us in times of trial, such as those endured by those first brave ANZACs.

On the face of it, substituting in I Vow to Thee seems like a bit of a resurgence of that cultural imperialism Australians explicitly rejected in adopting ANZAC Day as our own.  But of course, maybe that is the very reason for the choice of hymn: perhaps the sub-text is a counter to all that republican nonsense, a bid for a return to a Menzies-era view of our proper relationship to Mother England, mass immigration from many other sources not withstanding?!

Of course, I could be reading too much into it, but I really do think those who claim to be traditionalists should stick with those small t traditions rather than trying undertake a little aggiornamento!

Lest we forget

In any case, whatever our agendas and views on the nature of that original campaign and our nations subsequent trajectory, let's take the time today to remember the sacrifice of all who have died in the service of this country.

Here are the words of the traditional hymn for the day:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,
But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord,
Familiar, condescending, patient, free.
Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings;
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea.
Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee.
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour.
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Reading Scripture with the saints....

The best compliments are those where someone tells you you've inspired them to do some more reading in an area, and I received that from a reader of my Lenten series on Psalm 118. 

Apologies to the requester for taking a while to get to it, but here is my response to the first part of that request, namely suggestions on where to start in tackling reading Scripture - the Old Testament in particular - with the aid of the insights of the Fathers,Theologians and saints.

Why you should read the Old Testament

The core of our faith is the Gospel, and the most central written source for that the four Gospels of the New Testament.  That's why a reading from them features at every Mass.

But to fully understand what they mean, you really do need the context of the Old Testament.

When St Luke tells us that in the period after the Resurrection, Our Lord opened the understanding of the apostles, that they might understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45), he isn't talking about the New Testament for it hadn't been written yet.

Rather, he is talking about all the things written in 'the law of Moses [ie the first five books of the Bible], and in the prophets, and in the psalms' (Luke 23:44).

Similarly, when St Peter talks to the growing crowds after the Ascension, he grounds what he has to say in the Old Testament, that foreshadows the New.

In fact, all of the New Testament books constantly quote and interpret the Old Testament, and assume it as contextual knowledge. 

When Our Lord says for example that the only sign he will give is 'the sign of Jonah' (Matthew 12:38-45) he is using what some today might no doubt dismiss as 'bizarre allegory'.  But of course those early Christians understood (at least in retrospect) exactly what he meant, and the Fathers of the Church committed those understandings to paper, as well as adding their own reflections on the texts with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We would be foolish indeed to reject  the gift of those insights, which retain a privileged status in the Church's Tradition.

Avoiding modernist errors

Indeed, a good case can be made that many of the errors propagated by the progressives reflect a failure to take note of the constant use of allegory, the references to Old Testament prophecies and foreshadowing of events; a failure to appreciate the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.

Vatican II's Dei Verbum actually devoted an entire chapter to the importance of the Old Testament, noting that it is divinely inspired, has lasting value, and attests to God's providential guidance of history.

It reminds us that:

"God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New.  For, though Christ established the new covenant in His blood (see Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25), still the books of the Old Testament with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel,  acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament (see Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:27; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 14:16) and in turn shed light on it and explain it."

 Similarly, Pope Benedict's Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, in paragraphs 41-43, emphasises the continuing validity of the Old Testament, and the importance of reading the New in the light of the Old.  It particularly points to the importance of 'typology', people and things which foreshadow aspects of what is to come; as well as the way God gradually reveals the fullness of his message to his people.

Pope Benedict XVI does also note however that some of the Old Testament in particular can seem difficult and obscure.  Rather than ignoring them, however, he proposes that we acknowledge that their interpretation requires a degree of expertise, and seek appropriate guidance.

Where then to start?

The first thing to say is that reading Scripture is the work of a lifetime!  Don't expect to understand the significance of it all instantly, but rather start with more straight forward commentaries, and gradually build up.

Rather than starting with the commentaries of the Fathers, or an anthology of them, I'd actually suggest a first run through a good simple commentary that distills that knowledge and explains how to go about interpreting Scripture, and the significance of key events and how they relate to what Catholics believe.

And by far the best introductory book in this regard that I've come across is an oldie but a goodie, namely A Practical Commentary on Holy Scripture by Bishop Frederick Justus Knecht, published by Tan Books.  It looks deceptively straightforward.  But when you start reading, you will find it contains a lot of depth. 

I would suggest reading that in conjunction with something that summarises some of the newer research on Scripture and provides a bit of an introduction to each book of the Bible.  Kenneth Baker's Inside the Bible, published by Ignatius Press, would be a good choice.  Ignatius also publish a not dissimilar style of book by Peter Kreeft which also offers useful insights and suggestions on how to approach each book of the Bible.  Alternatively, if you google individual books of the bible in conjunction with this blog (or look back through posts under the Scripture label) you can also find introductions to a fair number of books of the Bible.

And that should keep you going for a while, because if you can make your way through the entire Old Testament in the course of a year, let alone the New Testament as well, you are doing pretty well indeed!

The Father, Theologians and Saints: anthologies

Nonetheless, once you have made your way through it once, you will want, I think, to go back and read certain books again in more depth, with the aid of the reflections of the saints down the centuries.

For the Gospels, a really excellent starting point is the Catena Aurea, an anthology of commentaries from the Father compiled by St Thomas Aquinas.  Blessed Cardinal Newman translated it into English in the alas unrealised hope that every Catholic family would own a copy!  There are online versions, as well as editions published by Baronius Press and others.

The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers (4 volumes) is another good starting point, keyed to the EF lectionary.

I'd also highly recommend the commentaries of Cornelius de Lapide.  Again not exactly recent work (!), but draws heavily on the Fathers and saints to produce a text that is still robust and insightful, and readily accessible for free online.

There are a number of more recent anthologies of the saints commentaries on Scripture though. 

In terms of online sources the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy's Biblia Clerus site is well worth a look.  It is a bit clunky, but links verses to Magisterial teaching, as well as the Fathers and other selected commentaries.

And of course in terms of books, it is hard to go past the Ancient Christian Commentaries on Scripture series.  This is the fruit of an ecumenical project, and the selection of commentaries sometimes reflects that.  Nonetheless, it is a fabulous resource (albeit an expensive one if you wanted to acquire every volume in the series!).

Individual commentaries

I have to admit that none of the resources I've pointed to above are particularly comprehensive, but rather reflect copyright constraints and what is available in translation.   In the cases of the psalms (the most quoted Old Testament book in the New), I've resorted to compiling my own anthology - but it is a massive task and I'm only part way through it even restricting myself to sources available in translation!

Still, if you find yourself particularly liking the insights of one author features in one of the anthologies, you can follow that up by looking at the many fine editions of commentaries by the saints appearing now in translation both online (look at the New Advent site as a good starting point) and/or in print.

That other stuff...

I should also note that there is a vast modern literature on how the various books of the Bible have been constructed, the historical context for the Old Testament books, the archaeological evidence and much more. 

Some of it can be very interesting and helpful. 

But ultimately you have to ask yourself: what's more important, understanding the significance of an event for our faith, or knowing how it came to be recorded/the evidence for it really happening etc?

My advice would be to ground yourself in its importance for the Tradition first, and read up on modern takes on it later!

Bible reading plan

Finally, it is worth noting that the Gospels aside, there is a logical time of year to read each of the books of the Bible, namely loosely following the cycle of the liturgical seasons and readings used at Mass and the Divine Office.

You can find a helpful formulation of a 'bible in a year' reading plan keyed to the EF lectionary here.  But note that it requires you to maintain a very ambitious reading plan indeed, of two plus chapters a day.  Happy reading!

And if others have their own suggestions for good starting points, or comments to add on those made above, do toss them in...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Do not think I have come to destroy the law or the prophets...

One of the more dangerous elements of the progressive creative reinterpretation of Scripture and Church teaching is the attack on the concept of both moral absolutes and adherence to rules, whether divinely instituted, or established by the Church in accordance with its mandate to govern.

Disdain for the law

Consider for example those US Seattle parishes who have declined to follow their bishops instruction to promote an anti-gay marriage petition, on the grounds that it would be 'divisive'  and inconsistent with being a welcoming, hospitable community.

Those priests, bishops and laity who reject current disciplines on celibacy, General Absolution and much more.

And the tired old commentaries of 'spirit of Vatican II' bloviators in assorted places which I won't bother linking too, on the grounds that they are a danger to the faith!

The 'Jesus Movement' as a rebellion against the law?!

The curious distortion of the Gospel that appears to lie behind some of this is the idea that rather than being fully human and fully divine, Jesus, at least until his Resurrection, was actually some kind of rebel leader. 

I thought all that 70s nonsense was dead and dusted.  Apparently not though, since Mr David Timbs, for example, writes in his latest 'v2catholic blog' post that:

"Jesus the bearer of God’s revelation [rather more than just the 'bearer of God's revelation I would have thought!  Rather he is actually God] received a stunning revelation himself. The one who preached a message of a complete change of life and conversion underwent a profound change of direction and was himself converted." [Well no.  As he embarked on his public life, it certainly took on a new phase which I suppose one could call a change in direction, but to suggest that Jesus was or could be 'converted' is surely erroneous.  In his divine nature, Jesus is unchanging.  In his human, he was clearly always aware of his identity and mission as the story of his being found by his parents in the Temple at the age of twelve going about his Father's business attests.]

This conversion came with his submission to a baptism of repentance of which he himself had no need. [It is true that he did not need it, but rather submitted to it as an example.] Instead, Jesus chose to accept this ritual as it exposed him to the plight of his fellow Jews. His baptism signified a profound identification with sinful humanity [true] and it changed him [false]. That change manifested itself very quickly but first Jesus had to make a judgment about what was truly the mind of God and what was the mind of his traditional faith. [An utterly false dichotomy!] Ultimately, it would cost him his life.

He goes on to argue that as an observant Jew, Jesus would have prayed the traditional prayers (though I think he is actually confusing post-Christian rabbinical practice with that of the time of Jesus in an effort to make yet another bash on the ordination of women).  Still, we know that Jesus and his parents obeyed the Old Law, in that he was duly circumcised, made the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and so forth.  That would be because they were in fact divinely instituted laws (as the Old Testament makes clear), binding on the people of the Old Covenant (albeit not on Jesus himself).

Mr Timbs interprets Jesus' ministry as being all about 'liberation from those particular forms of servitude that afflicted the mind, heart and spirit of human beings', which he sees as 'the forces of spiritual and psychological oppression'.  He argues that the problem was excessively rigid interpretation of the Mosaic Law. 

That certainly was an issue at the time ('the law is for man, not man for the law'), but surely the bigger issue that Our Lord tackled was surely the law without love: external observance motivated by things other than genuine commitment (viz the story of the Pharisee and the publican praying in the Temple)?

The real slavery of the law, as St Paul points out, was grounded in the absence of grace, for with grace we can do anything, without it, we are doomed to fail.

I come to fulfill the law...

In fact if one actually reads the Gospels themselves, in the light of the Church's tradition, rather than in the form of distorted modern repackaging, one can find numerous injunctions to follow the law. 

Jesus enjoins sinners, for example, not to go out and keep on sinning, but to sin no more! 

The really key exposition, though, is the Sermon on the Mount, where after setting out the Beatitudes Our Lord says, in St Matthew 5:

"17 Do not think that I have come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For amen I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 He therefore that shall break one of these least commandments, and shall so teach men shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But he that shall do and teach, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, that unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

St John Chrysostom, in his commentary on Psalm 110, provides a very useful exposition of just what this means.  He starts by pointing out that in the psalms, God as creator of the world and the universe is often closely linked to the concept of God as lawgiver:

“As he often does, he does here too, moving from the wisdom in his richly varied creation and from his care to his lawmaking, and discussing in turn this part of his providence. I mean, he corrected the human race not only by creating a creation of this kind and extent but by laying down laws...In the same way here, too, after speaking about his marvels and wonders and works, he shifts his attention to the subject of his precepts, speaking this way…”

St John points first to the concept of the laws of science:

“...They are, you see, precepts for creation, observed by all creation, sun and moon, day and night, stars, the course followed by land and nature.

He also points to the natural (moral) law, written on men's hearts:

They are precepts given to nature from the beginning, when he formed the human being, and about them Paul says, "You see, whenever nations, despite not having the Law, carry out the Law naturally, they, though not having the Law, are a law unto themselves....And again, "I delight in the law of God, you see, in my inmost self."”

And finally there is the written law of the Old Testament and the New, the laws that never pass away:

“There are also laws that are in writing. And all these remain in force. If some have been abrogated, however, they have been changed not for the worse but for the better. That one, for example, "You shall not kill," has not been abrogated but extended; and that one, "You shall not commit adultery," has not been cancelled but has become more comprehensive. Hence he also said, "I have not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfil them." That is to say, the person who does not give way to rage will be far more likely to abstain from murder, and the one not giving free rein to a roving eye will keep a greater distance from adultery."

It is in order to understand the essential continuity of the Old and New law that we should read the Old Testament, for what the Old commanded on pain of punishment, the New enables us to truly fulfill with the aid of grace.  Even those many abrogated laws provide an important context for many of the laws and practices of the Church today, for the New Testament is hidden in the Old. 
Our Lord, in other words, is not urging rebellion against the law, but rather teaching us how to fulfill it, with the aid of grace.
And his decisiosn to change or abrogate the precepts of the old law was not a rebellion in any sense, but rather the exercize of the power of the Supreme legislator.
In short there is no tension between the 'Will of God' on the one hand, and the Law on the other, for the law is also of God.  Rather, the law is foundational.
Consider for example the story of the rich young man. He is only told to go out and sell all he has after assuring Our Lord that he keeps the commandments (Luke 16):

"18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying: Good master, what shall I do to possess everlasting life? 19 And Jesus said to him: Why do you call me good? None is good but God alone." [An important reminder of his divinity]

What is required?  Our Lord continues:

"20 You know the commandments: You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery: You shall not steal: You shall not bear false witness: Honour your father and mother."

Wolf, hireling or good shepherd?
In the Extraordinary Form, this Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, the Gospel is St John 10:11-16.  In the Ordinary Form, that Gospel is read next Sunday. 
So a good week to contemplate which of these categories we each fit in, for we are all surely called to be shepherds in our own proper way, whether of ourselves alone, of our families, those we work with, or those we influence through our words and actions.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Understanding the current media environment: the problem of Cath News

One of the biggest challenges for the Church today is coming to grips with the changing environment.

It's an environment where some of the best evangelists, apologists and pastoral support comes from laypeople, often working through the new media. 

Where no one has a monopoly on the dissemination of information. 

And where the deep divide between the ageing Vatican II generation and the new youth dominated conservatism creates endless tensions.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the current struggle to come to grips with the challenges posed by new media.

The bishops promote, Cath News oppose?

Over at the Australian Bishops Conference media blog they are heavily promoting the opportunity to learn about how to use the New Media effectively in the context of the upcoming Catholic Media Congress.  It features a number of prominent speakers, including one from the Vatican.

 Over at another extended arm of the ACBC,  Cath News, however, publisher Christine Hogan (also a speaker at the Congress) had a post up yesterday attacking the new media and assuring readers that she plans to stick with the old.

Ms Hogan tells Cath News readers:

"Here is what I want for you – well-written, well-researched, intelligent pieces from journalists employed by major media organisations who know the difference between editorial and editorialising."

The problem of paywalls

The context for Ms Hogan's potshots at bloggers and others is the problem of reader frustration when the articles linked to are behind paywalls, such as Greg Sheridan's writeup in the Australian of the Pell vs Dawkins debate. 

It's a problem I've struggled with myself.  And because I don't purport to cover everything going in the media, I've mostly stopped linking to or commenting on anything behind a paywall beyond the odd throwaway line.

In the case of Cath News however her ultimate conclusion on this is, given that Cath News is an aggregation service, better to alert the reader to its existence than to simply ignore it.  Fair enough.

Options for paywalls

But I do think it reveals a certain lack of imagination in Cath News' approach. 

Odds are more and more important stories will be behind paywalls, and a brief summary linking to a one line headline is probably not going to do the job of alerting readers to a story they need to be aware of in many cases.

So what are the alternatives?

One could, for example, whenever linking to a paywall story, provide a link to The Australian's (or whatever organisation it is) free access policy, which will, for example, allow a reader free access to a very limited number of items each day via google.

Or perhaps could negotiate with the Australian and others a special access deal for its subscribers.

Alternatively Cath News could provide a slightly expanded summary of the content and line taken in such stories.

On blogs, editorials and editorialising

There is one more obvious option though, and that's doing a little editorializing or contextualising of it - adding some value to it in other words - in order to ensure that the use of the content falls within the 'fair dealing' provisions of the Copyright Act (which allows use of a work for purposes such as review and criticism, or news reporting). 

The fair dealing provisions (not quite the same as the more liberal US fair use provisions) are one of the reasons why most bloggers, myself included, typically 'editorialise' when we use material from elsewhere rather than simply reproduce it. 

Ms Hogan though, one gathers would rather scorn this option, preferring the traditional tactics of headlines, omissions, distortions and commission with which to editorialize.  She says:

"At the same time as the publishers were seeing their circulations plueitmmet [SIC] and internet usage rise, two other phenomena was gathering speed – the citizen journalist and the ubiquitous blogger. Sometimes untrained, always opinionated, their ascent was an echo of the inflation of another source of ‘news’... the extremist commentator (sometimes known as a “bloviator” in US tabloid parlance)."

These extreme commentators – mostly from the Right – have affected news and how we consume it – as former Prime Ministerial flack [SIC] Lachlan Harris pointed out. The news cycle was out, the opinion cycle was in – something which was manifestly wrong could lead talk back every morning until by 9 am it was proven to be a furphy and abandoned".

Is the new media really that bad?!

Others, of course, including the Vatican and the US bishops for example, have had rather more positive things to say about the new media and it usefulness.

Personally I think the explosion of opinion pages in newspapers, and online dailies like Crikey, The Punch, New Matilda, the ABC's the Drum and the like (most of which by the way, are very far from being right wing in their orientation) actually reflect an increased degree of sophistication in our consumption of the media.

In former times many people were perhaps more willing to accept the more or less subtle biases of the media.   These days, more people want those starting assumptions made explicit.

In earlier times, we didn't have to cope with quite so much volume of news.  And so because there is so much more to digest, we tend to look for the perspectives of a few trusted commentators to tell us what is important, and give us the quick view.

In former times we didn't have a choice when the mainstream media deliberately let certain stories fall through the cracks.  Now we do.

Cath News might want to contemplate the implications of that for their business!

Cath News bias

It is perhaps though unsurprising that Ms Hogan should have such a negative view of the new media world. 

Responding to this new environment effectively would, after all, require Cath News to do a bit of substantial rethinking about its approach.

Instead it seems intent on continuing its current curiously selective approach to which media sources it links to, reflecting its determined pursuit of a liberal editorial line.

Quite my favourite example of this was to feature last week the website of the notoriously liberal Brisbane Liturgical Commission. But perhaps that was just about alerting Archbishop Coleridge of where his priorities for reform should be...

More substantively, they don't appear to scan places like the Vatican News site, for example, or they would have picked up yesterday's story about the reform of the peak body for religious women in the US.  Yet I'm betting that either today or early next week we'll get a link to an opinion piece from the 'progressive' US National Catholic Reporter or some similar take on the decision...

Similarly, despite the fact that radio, video and print are increasingly integrated, delivered from the same platforms online, with occasional tokenistic exceptions, Cath News largely ignores anything on radio or video form (don't expect to to see a link to Michael Voris' The Vortex appearing for example, despite the fact that he is currently touring Australia!).

There is lots of stuff from Eureka Street but rarely a link to the often excellent pieces at the ABC's Religion and Ethics site.

And they continue to marginalise the product of blogs through the weekly 'blogwatcher' piece despite the fact that elsewhere sites are making no differentiation between paid and unpaid contributors, or the fact that blogs such as Fr Z's attract thousands of hits a day (and even relatively small ones like mine get a goodly number and occasionally break stories not covered elsewhere).

But really the most curious aspect of Ms Hogan's piece was the claim that the new media is all about editorializing while the old is all about well-researched, well-written stories.

You have to wonder if she has noticed the systematic anti-Catholic, anti-religion, pro-Green bias of the Fairfax media and the ABC that allowed, for example, a major speech by the then leader of the Greens, starting 'Fellow Earthians', to go virtually unreported?!

You have to wonder whether she has actually read Robert Manne's devastating critique of the Murdoch media in this country? 

Or noted the continuing stories about just how those 'well-researched' stories are often produced (think Andrew Bolt and the google affair; phonetapping and bribery in the UK, and more)! 

To suggest that the old media is unbiased, neutral and high quality while the new is all about opinionated amateurs is surely a denial of reality or naivity taken to an extreme!
And on the subject of journalistic standards...
And on the subject of journalistic standards, perhaps Cath News might take a hard look at itself.

Apart from the typos in Ms Hogan's own blog piece (see above), Cath Blog continues to distort, misrepresent or simply ignore (though from a purely personal perspective, that's my preferred option!) the work of bloggers whose views it doesn't like.
Take, for example, the recent blog watcher piece that attributed to me words that actually belong to one of our bishops.  Mr Michael Mullins reported a few weeks back that:

"With the title “Having a stoush for Christ!”, Australia Incognita comments [For the record, I am not 'Australia Incognita' - I just post there!  My posts are clearly labelled as by Kate, and my full name is in the sidebar]  on Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett’s Lenten Pastoral Letter to the Archdiocese of Brisbane.

She stresses his mention of the “stirring and striking military terms” from the Ash Wednesday Mass prayer. These include “campaign”, “battle”, and “weapons”, and they drive home the point that “the ashes invite us to conquer evil”. Incognita says:[Well no, I didn't say this, I simply reported what Bishop Jarrett said, namely that)

"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...

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".

So just who is it that doesn't know the difference reporting and editorial comment?!  There is surely a big difference between a blogger saying something by way of commentary, and a bishop saying something by way of authoritative teaching in a Pastoral Letter.  But of course, pretending that it is a mere blogger saying it makes it ok to attack with one of those oh so neutral-headlines Cath News specialises in....

For the record, I asked for a correction.  Instead an edited version of my comment was published on the blog page.  And that in turn attracted a personal attack on me from David Timbs for daring to complain about the misattribution of text (and for disagreeing with his Spirit of Vatican II view of the world).  I, in turn, pointed out that his diatribe didn't seem to comply with Cath News' guidelines, which state that:

"While critical comment on stories and issues is welcomed, postings that descend to personal attacks on or impugn the integrity of other commentators will be blocked."

I wasn't surprised to be ignored!

On the plus side, I have, I think stumbled on the perfect way of avoiding Mr Mr Mullins' jaundiced 'reporting'.

On Monday this week he highlighted a piece by David Timbs published the day before on his blog lamenting the alleged undermining of the concept of the 'People of God'.  By a coincidence I wrote a piece also that day dealing with very similar issues, drawing attention to Pope Benedict's warnings against the very error Mr Timbs made, of ignoring the complementary concept of the Church as the body of Christ.

But perhaps because my post criticized a Cath Blog post, it mysteriously didn't crack a mention....

New Evangelization or propping up the progressive agenda?

All of which goes to a fundamental question.  Just what is Cath News, an organisation supported and supposedly supervised by our bishops, supposed to be trying to achieve?

If it is to alert readers about major stories impacting on the Church in this country, then it surely doesn't matter where they appear, whether in blogs, mainstream or the catholic newspapers or wherever.  Just whether or not they are of interest to the target group.

But of course if its purpose is to prop up the mindset of those ageing liberals then I guess the head in the sand approach works just fine!

Personally I don't want to see Cath News abolished, I want to see it reformed (my management consultancy services are available!).  But maybe it really is beyond redemption....

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Michael Voris Tour: A guest review...

Today a guest post from a reader who sent me his review of one of the Michael Voris presentations. 

If you were hesitating about going, this should encourage you to give it a go.... 

Sydney: A big crowd of young people

Frank reports:

I attended the Michael Voris presentation in Sydney on 18th April. The topic was Why Saying you're Catholic is not Enough.

The presentation took place at St Charbels Church in Punchbowl and on a dreadful night of heavy rain a very impressive crowd of over 400 turned up.

Whilst talking about the attendees, it is also worth mentioning that 90% of them were under the age of 35.

Evangelization style?

I had mixed feelings about going along to the presentation as I am not a fan of Michael Voris's approach to evangelism. In particular, my impression is that he sets himself up as the judge of who is and is not a good catholic and has been quite quick to condemn men and women who have devoted their lives to the faith on the basis that he does not think they have done/said enough.

The presentation opened with Michael asking the audience how many people had seen his show the Vortex, and about 20% of the hands in the audience sprung up. He then compared this audience, which he had quite rightly recognised as fairly committed to the church with a vox pop which he had done in Ireland, where he found that only one in nineteen people that he interviewed outside a university attended mass regularly. The upshot is that he will use this event to show the world via his Vortex show that there are young people who are committed to their faith. I presume that he realises this is not the norm for young people in Australia.

Confession push

The next section of his talk emphasised the point that we are Catholic because we have been chosen by God to be so and that it is not something that happened by mere chance of nature. Therefore because we have been chosen by God to be Catholic, it makes things worse when we betray that gift by acting in an un-Godly manner and go against the teachings of the church. This then led into a piece about the need to strive to be in a state of grace and to respond to the graces God bestows upon us. The audience were then told that if we are in a state of mortal sin (and he reminded us of the things that typically put us in that state) then we are going to hell. I can't remember the last time anyone delivered this message from the pulpit!

Michael continually emphasised the need to make use of the sacraments and in particular reconciliation and the Eucharist to help us get to heaven. I was interested to note that during the presentation, which took place inside the church, a priest was hearing confession. By the end of the night there was a queue of about 30 people waiting to go. My gut feeling is that many would not have joined this queue if it was not for the talk, however, I could be wrong.

During evening I continually had the thought; why aren't our priests saying some of this stuff during their homilies?

Why don't priests say this!

The skill that Michael has, is the ability to deliver a very unambiguous message which leaves the listener to make up his/her mind about what to do with that information. Too many homilies are lacking in quality of delivery (which is excusable as not everyone is a polished presenter) but worse they are also lacking in a goal or aim....which should be to help us get to heaven. I think Michael adopts the adage "tell it straight or tell it crooked" and this appeals to many people. At the end of the talk, Michael received a standing ovation from a large section of the audience - I have been to see Tim Staples in the same venue and don't recall him being given the same response.

Overall I am glad I attended and found it thought provoking, amusing (e.g. he cracked a joke about the fact that at everyone's funeral these days no matter how bad the deceased has been during his/her life, the eulogy paints them out to be a saint in heaven and now looking down at us whilst sitting next to Jesus) and largely absent of much of the things I feared from him such as Catholic tribalism and condemnation of the religious. If he could lose some of the rough edges and lack of charity, which I have heard from him in the past, then I think he could be a major driving force in the new evangelisation effort and someone who I would direct people to go and see."

Tour dates still to come:

Adelaide: 20 April

Melbourne: 21 April

Canberra: 22 April 2012

And you can find all the details here.

Anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI: cling to signs of hope

Source: Vatican News
Today is the anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, so please, keep the Pope especially in your prayers that he may continue his work of returning the Church to orthodoxy and orthopraxis!

And pray that all bishops, priests, religious and laity may be inspired by his leadership and filled with the grace of conversion needed to bring his agenda to fruition.

And today in the news, two items on that agenda, namely the reform of the religious life, and the reconciliation of the SSPX.

SSPX progress: almost but not yet?

Some premature celebrations have broken out in the last few days on the reconciliation of the SSPX: seems like we are close but not quite there.

The latest update is that the SSPX has replied to the last iteration of the 'doctrinal preamble' necessary for the reconciliation to occur with some allegedly minor changes.  But these changes have yet to be examined by the CDF and approved by the Pope, as the text of the Vatican Press Release makes clear:

"The text of the response of Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, as had been requested at the meeting of 16 March 2012, was received by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on 17 April 2012. The text will be examined by the Dicastery and then submitted to the judgement of the Holy Father.

Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican Press Office, said that, with the latest response, “steps forward have been taken, that is to say, that the response, the new response, is rather encouraging. But there are still developments that will be made, and examined, and decisions which should be taken in the next few weeks.”

On feral nuns

Also just out from the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith is the "Doctrinal Assessment of the [US] Leadership Conference of Women Religious".

And it's a doozie! 

Unsurprisingly, it finds that there are serious doctrinal problems with the organization that represents most of US Women religious. 

Surprisingly, it doesn't mince words:

"...the Assessment reveals serious doctrinal problems which affect many in Consecrated Life. On the doctrinal level, this crisis is characterized by a diminution of the fundamental Christological center and focus of religious consecration which leads, in turn, to a loss of a “constant and lively sense of the Church” among some Religious."

 The Assessment highlights 'policies of corporate dissent', radical feminism and statements by leaders of the organisation that do not reflect Church teaching on issues such as ecclesiology, the ordination of women, homosexuality and more.

And an Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle, assisted by two other US bishops, to oversee a reform process.

One of the reasons cited for the action is the international influence of the US group.  Wait to here the screams from their local followers....

Monday, 16 April 2012

What's been happening fellow earthians?

Happy birthday Pope Benedict XVI!
Source: AP, Maundy Thursday

So I wasn't all that good at taking a blogging break, unable to resist the temptation to wave some red cloaks at the bulls.  Not that any charged at me, at least on the blog, I was disappointed...

Still, what's been happening in my notional absence?  Well here are a few reflections to ponder.

The demise of the Greens is nigh?

The big news of course was the resignation of Green's leader Bob Brown.  I'm assuming someone finally called him on his madness exemplified by his Fellow Earthian speech at the recent Greens' Conference. 

Didn't hear about it at the time?  Well, that's probably because like me you mainly read the Fairfax Press and watch or listen to the ABC, both of whom largely ignored the keynote speech by the leader of the party holding our minority Federal Government to ransom. 

By way of a eulogy for the retiring leader, it is the one that started like this (this is not a spoof. Really.  My comments in red):

"Fellow Earthians,[Now Bob surely you know that when put through the universal translator, that comes out as 'dirtians'.  Besides, everyone knows that we are known throughout this galaxy as the Tau'ri.]

Never before has the Universe unfolded such a flower as our collective human intelligence, so far as we know. [You know this sounds remarkably anthropocentric.  I'm just saying you know, because in practice the Greens seem more intent on aborting and euthanizing our collective brilliance out of existence and exalting the right of every flower, whale and parrot to take precedence over us...]

Nor has such a one-and-only brilliance in the Universe [you know, most Christians would accept that there are likely to be other intelligent lifeforms out there...] stood at the brink of extinction, so far as we know.

We people of the Earth exist because our potential was there in the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, as the Universe exploded into being. [Out of nothing.  And just how do you explain that Bob?]

So far, it seems like we are the lone thinkers in this vast, expanding Universe.[Well, aside from God and the angels that is...]

However, recent astronomy tells us that there are trillions of other planets circling Sunlike stars in the immensity of the Universe, millions of them friendly to life. So why has no one from elsewhere in the Cosmos contacted us?[Umm, don't you watch tv Bob?  They already have!  And secret Government and non-Government organisations such as the SGC, UNIT, TorchwoodSHADO and more have been repelling invasions and making allies for decades now.]

Surely some people-like animals have evolved elsewhere. Surely we are not, in this crowded reality of countless other similar planets, the only thinking beings to have turned up. Most unlikely! So why isn't life out there contacting us? Why aren't the intergalactic phones ringing?

Here is one sobering possibility for our isolation: maybe life has often evolved to intelligence on other planets with biospheres and every time that intelligence, when it became able to alter its environment, did so with catastrophic consequences. Maybe we have had many predecessors in the Cosmos but all have brought about their own downfall.[Yep. Miraculously they all developed before us and ran out of steam before they could contact us.]

That's why they are not communicating with Earth. They have extincted themselves. They have come and gone. And now it's our turn." 

And it goes downhill from there, with advocacy of lunatic plans for a democratic world government and more...

Yep, hard to see how the Greens can survive as a party without such leadership really. 

The Greens under Bob Brown actively undermined the consensus that had been building in this country for genuine action on the environment in response to the well-established science base, and in the process look to have destroyed the current Labor Government (not that they needed much help along the path of self-destruction).

We can only hope they now go into extinction quickly and quietly.

Same sex marriage survey

And on the subject of the Greens, have you done that same sex marriage survey for the Parliamentary Inquiry into the draft legislation?  The closing date is the 20th of April, and the latest available stats are still looking pretty bad (57.5% support for the legislation)....

Question: Why did the Cardinal go on that show?!

And the other great debate of the last week was why on earth Cardinal Pell agreed to go on Q&A with  Richard Dawkins. 

I have to confess I didn't actually watch it (though I've now peeked at the transcript).  I was going to, truly I was.  But I can't stand Tony Jones at the best of times and the format of the show encourages the rampant superficiality that is undermining sensible discourse.  I'm with Paul Keating who argued that no one of substance should ever grace it with their presence.

Quite the most entertaining and insightful review of it is surely that by the always excellent Scott Stephens, over at the ABC religion and ethics site.  Here is an extract, but do read the whole thing, it is an important article:

"...Just consider for a moment what the program could have been.

It could have assembled a panel of energetic, sophisticated, disarming and even counterintuitive theologians, scientists, ethicists and humanists who would recast, and indeed redefine, the religion/science/ethics debate - a debate which has long since passed the point of intellectual exhaustion.

This panel could have demonstrated, through an intoxicating and all-too-rare mix of genuine disagreement and intellectual generosity, that the fundamental questions of Life, Truth and the Good have been languishing due to the impoverishment of the public square and the flattening-out of ethical obligation into a desiccated version of individualized "well being."

In the spirit of Easter, it could have demonstrated that entrenched divisions and bigotries can, in fact, be overcome through what Pope Benedict XVI has called a shared "pursuit after Truth" - that, in other words, friendship can arise in the place of animosity.

But instead, the Q & A panel was comprised of the two most divisive and respectively reviled proponents on either side of the debate. Richard Dawkins is not only the most theologically illiterate of the non-believing ultra-Darwinists, but he is also notoriously unsophisticated on questions of ethics and moral obligation.

Cardinal Pell, on the other hand, was almost the least ideal counterpoint to Dawkins (I'll cede that place to Steve Fielding): this is both because of his recent and regrettably unsurprising remarks on the science and mitigation of global warming - which were as ill-informed as they were ill-advised, and which, along with the Church's handling of sexual abuse and outright predation on the part of some clergy, and the increasingly gaudy antics of the glorified life-coaches and pay-per-view hucksters that accumulate under the banner of "pentecostalism," have set the moral authority and intellectual credibility of Christianity in Australia back by decades - but also because his writing has become increasingly arthritic and unengaged of late (in contrast to his audacious and often quite brilliant earlier work on theology and politics, such as that gathered God and Caesar).

Given the choice of panellists, last night's Q & A was destined to be what it was: the vacillation of opposing monologues, interspersed by tediously predictable questions, and smattered with a derisive and frankly disgusting Twitter-feed. It is hard to shake the impression that, instead of genuinely informing and contributing to our public conversation, Q & A brazenly went after ratings. If that was the object, then as a stunt it worked magnificently.

But, I feel compelled to ask - perhaps appropriately given the season - "what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"...


SSPX in or out?

And finally, today Rome time is the deadline for the SSPX to sign up to an acceptable doctrinal preamble to facilitate their readmission to full communion with the Church. 

Amazingly, there seem to be a lot of positive noises around this suggesting that the deal has effectively been done.

Certainly Australian John Lamont's article for Chiesa makes a pretty compelling case for why reconciliation should be possible.  After all, he asks, given that so many within the hierarchy, clergy and theological community reject so many formally defined doctrines, how can the SSPX's objections to but a few teachings that have not been formally defined be justified?

Well, two wrongs don't make a right, but still, his arguments on the substantive issues in dispute are pretty interesting and convincing. 

Let's hope - some Church unity would certainly be a lovely 85th birthday present for the Holy Father indeed.

What's your news?

Finally, please be patient over the next few weeks if posts and comments are slow to appear on the blog, I'm preoccupied with a few other thngs at the moment.  And do please keep suggestions for posts and items of interest coming and I'll get to them as I can, as well as attempting to tie off a few loose ends....

Sunday, 15 April 2012

On the co-responsibility of the laity/1: against cults and congregationalism

Over at Cath Blog, the campaign for congregationalism (that is, lay rule of the Church) continued last week with, inter alia, a post by Gary Everett called Power to the laity

Lay engagement vs congregationalism

Now I'm all for greater lay engagement in the Church: I don't think all our talents are being deployed effectively, and that is due to factors including clericalism, poor catechesis and flourishing error, and the more general politics of power.

But unfortunately the Cath Blog post goes too far, advocating the abolition of the hierarchical constitution of the Church.  And that's a shame, because by advocating what constitutes, in my view, outright error, and one condemned at the time of the Protestant Revolution at that, the progressives are undermining the real case for greater transparency and accountability, and the genuine need for more effective engagement of the laity within the Church.

So this is the start of an occasional series on what I think are some of the real issues around this subject, and the problems around it in the Church in Australia at the moment both in traddieland (truly a different, and not a better, world in some places!) and more generally.

And I'll start by taking a look at that Cath Blog post.

Lay leadership and the Church

The Cath Blog post is basically a call to ditch the hierarchical constitution of the Church and replace it with joint decision-making processes, even if we need a third Vatican Council to achieve it.

We've all heard that before, but the new contribution of the post was to claim the authority of Pope Benedict XVI for this position. 

Needless to say, such a claim is diametrically opposed to what the Pope actually said in the address referred to. 

And equally unsurprisingly, my comment pointing this out was rejected by the moderator over at Cath News.  Oh well, frees me to be rather blunter here I guess...

What did the Pope really say?

The post opens by lauding the recent speech of Robert Fitzgerald on lay leadership, and citing as its authority a 2009 speech by Pope Benedict XVI on Church membership and pastoral co-responsibility:

"In his recent address to a Conference on Leadership, Sydney based lay leader Robert Fitzgerald outlined his views concerning the need for new models of leadership within the Church.

"His basic thesis was that the laity have, through their leadership of some of the largest ministries within the Church, shown that they are both willing and capable of exercising effective models of leadership." [Personally I'd dispute that.  The poor level of catechesis and low level of practice of Catholic schoolchildren, and the US evidence of catholic hospitals freely conducting sterilizations and other procedures in contravention to catholic teaching, for example, suggests that the reduced role of the religious orders in catholic institutions has led to major problems in maintaining Catholic identity.  A recent discussion over at the ABC's religion and ethics site supports that.] 

"Robert claims that these new models are built upon the theology of co-responsibility. This theme was taken up by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 in an address in Rome on the theme of "Church Membership and Pastoral Co-Responsibility". I am not sure if his call was heard." [Agreed]

Unfortunately, what Mr Everett then goes on to say seems to seriously misunderstand what the Pope was saying:

"In my opinion, the fundamental problem is that there is no shared understanding of the theology of co-responsibility, and no shared understandings about its practical applications. [That would be because the progressives are trying to overegg the pudding.  To read far more into what the Pope and others are trying to say than they are actually advocating.  I'd suggest a reread of Pope John Paul II's Christi Fideles Laici, which was the synodal exposition on the proper role of the laity, rather than advocacy of yet another one, might be in order!]. All other problems of lay leadership stem from this single deficiency."

"Let me elaborate. Most Church structures involving laity are “advisory”. Thus, in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, parish councils are advisory; the Archbishop's Pastoral Council is advisory; even Synods are advisory."

"This is so, because the basic notions of leadership are hierarchical, with decision making in all major instances reserved to the ordained..."

He goes on to say all this needs to change.
In reality however the Pope specifically warned, in the speech cited, against any rejection of the hierarchical constitution of the Church in the name of 'spirit of Vatican IIism'.  And while Mr Everett (and he is not, admittedly, alone in this) interprets 'co-responsibility' to mean equal responsibility, it really doesn't mean that in the mainstream literature on the subject.

The constitution of the Church

In fact in that 2009 speech the Pope gives a mini-treatise on the concepts of the Church as both the "People of God" (meaning all the baptised) and the "Body of Christ" (which has a head).  He notes that the two concepts complement each other.

The Pope then goes on to specifically warn against spirit of Vatican IIism:

"Subsequent to the Council this ecclesiological doctrine met with acceptance on a vast scale and thanks be to God an abundance of good fruit developed in the Christian community. However we must also remember that the integration of this doctrine in procedures and its consequent assimilation in the fabric of ecclesial awareness did not happen always and everywhere without difficulty and in accordance with a correct interpretation. As I was able to explain in my Discourse to the Roman Curia on 22 December 2005, an interpretative current, claiming to refer to a presumed "spirit of the Council", sought to establish a discontinuity and even to distinguish between the Church before and the Church after the Council, at times even crossing the very boundaries that exist objectively between the hierarchical ministry and the responsibilities of the lay faithful in the Church. The notion of "People of God", in particular was interpreted by some, in accordance with a purely sociological vision, with an almost exclusively horizontal bias that excluded the vertical reference to God. This position was in direct contrast with the word and spirit of the Council which did not desire a rupture, another Church, but rather a true and deep renewal in the continuity of the one subject Church which grows in time and develops but always remains identical, the one subject of the People of God on pilgrimage."

So what does co-responsibility really mean?

In fact the concept of co-responsibility has a considerable history in Magisterial teaching, mainly in the field of social teaching where it has been used to advocate that workers be treated as responsible, creative individuals capable of making an intelligent contribution to the workplace rather than as mere cogs in the machinery. 

In the literature on worker participation, it is not normally constructed to mean that workers should take the decisions jointly with management (that would be communism!); it does not mean changed accountabilities for decisions.  Rather, it means that they should be actively engaged, their creativity and insights properly utilised, and their views given a fair hearing.  One can find a useful review of papal teaching on this subject by Michael Naughton in the Journal of Business Ethics in 1995.

In the broader arena of Church decision-making, the concept of co-responsibility is part of 'discourse ethics': as Karl-Otter Apel explains it in the Journal of Religion in 1993, it is essentially a 'right to argue', to have a vigorous discussion that exposes the issues, within a particular community. 

In essence, co-responsibility requires that those making the decisions expose their thinking to others within the community, provided and to the extent that doing so won't undercut achieving the end goals. 

The idea is not that the decisions must represent a consensus, but rather that testing out arguments and thinking processes on others will ultimately lead to better decision-making, as well as helping to build greater understanding amongst all involved. 

It is arguably particularly important to do this at times such as the present when the environment poses new challenges, given the tendency of all of us to revert to "group think".

Co-responsibility is not a radical concept!

There is really absolutely nothing new or radical about this. 

One can see such vigorous discussions played out in the early Church as described in Acts and the various New Testament epistles.

One can read about when things went too far in places like Corinth in some of the surviving documetns of the early Church such as St Clement's letter to the Corinthians, calling out the locals for attempting to remove some of their priests!

And one can see the attempt to give those Gospel principles real life in a community in places such St Benedict's Rule.  In his Rule, St Benedict gives the abbot absolute authority for final decisions and puts a great deal of emphasis on the virtue of obedience. 

But he also sets up a Council process so that the arguments can be aired first, and enjoins his abbots to listen to the young, since God often reveals what is better to them, and even to outsiders such as pilgrim monks...

And the course of canon law down the centuries has actually generally been to enhance the rights of community members in various ways, in theory at least: religious communities get to vote on approval of new members and proposals relating to property of the monastery rather than leaving it all in the abbot's hands; parishes have councils; the laity have a right to make their views known publicly; and so forth.

Leading from below and the problem of empowerment

In his post Mr Everett goes on to comment that:

"...It is extremely difficult to feel co-responsible for a decision you didn’t take."

That is true, but a misunderstanding of what co-responsibility is about I think.

What co-responsibility requires is for those within the community to have access to the information so as to reach an informed view, and a chance to have their say and be heard.  It is a potential way of fostering genuine engagement in contrast to the illusion of unity that covers over apathy, despair or cynicism.  But shared responsibility in this context does not mean equal responsibility or the subversion of hierarchy.  Nor does it involve a let out clause from the virtue of obedience.

The big challenge though is that operating effectively in an environment where everyone gets to have their say is not easy for any of the players. 

Those 'below' have to find effective ways of making their case without it seeming like they are being disrespectful or arguing for the sake of arguing.  They have to find ways of making existing structures real not just rubberstamps. 

Those 'above' have to be willing to share information and power, find new ways of engaging with those in their community.  They have to be willing to persuade and cajole and adapt to circumstances, rather than simply decreeing.

And yet they also have to be willing to make the hard call at times, to reject the views from below, since they remain the ultimate guardians of the end goals and the means to achieve them. 

Moreover, for all parties this 'discourse' mode of ethics stands in direct opposition to those who prize the appearance of consensus even where it doesn't really exist; it stands in opposition to those who prize 'tolerance' over truth-telling.

Co-responsibility in the Church here and now: how to make it happen

In reality of course, discourse ethics is already well and truly making itself felt in the Church above all through the social media.

Blogs such as this that often criticise bishops, priests and others may be uncomfortable reading at times for some, but they reflect (hopefully) our love for the Church and engagement with it, our membership of an 'ideal community' even when the real one often falls far short of it at least in the short term.

But there is a long way to go to achieving genuine co-responsibility.

Genuine co-responsibility requires transparency and accountability, and our Bishops' Conference, as well as most dioceses, parishes and Church institutions fall a very long way short of that indeed.

Genuine co-responsibility requires the development of effective mechanisms for lay engagement.  Some dioceses seem to be experimenting in ways to do this quite well; others not so much.

Genuine co-responsibility requires acceptance of the right to disagree in some cases, a right to challenge the status quo and accepted ways of doing things.  And that includes accepting the right of those from the  conservative/traditionalist side of things to have their say, instead of  attacking them as 'temple police' and other nasty epithets, rather than accepting theirs as a legitimate viewpoint of some members of the laity.

It requires priests and bishops to develop influencing skills, the art of leading by doing as much as by saying; the art of forming and supporting groups of like minds; of genuinely interacting and engaging with people rather than just spouting standard lines.  Let's face it: few if any seminaries currently teach these kind of (leadership and management) skills in a serious way.

But co-responsibility also puts the onus on the laity to find ways to make things happen rather than just whingeing about not being heard.  That requires training.

And it also requires the laity to understand and work within the limits of Church teaching and the governing authority of the hierarchy: to accept that there are some things that are not negotiable, and others that are not currently open.  That requires better catechesis.

It requires all of the  'People of God' to get behind decisions once made, and work to implement them rather than commiting to an ongoing guerilla war (consider for example the case of the new missal!).

Can it be done?

So is co-responsibility correctly understood possible? Is it even desirable? 

Personally I think so. 

Many are yet to be convinced though!

Take the case of bloggers.  Are our efforts welcomed or reviled?

Indeed, in the US context, Fr Z is currently calling on the bishops there to take concrete action to back up the nice words about the role of bloggers they recently put out, and call a national meeting of bloggers.

Here in Australia of course there is a get together coming up on using the social media, but it is targeted - and more to the point priced at (!) - 'media professionals' rather than those such as myself!

But even if you do agree with the need to build communities of discourse within the Church, we shouldn't kid ourselves that it will be easy to achieve.

It doesn't need a new Council (shudder) to make this happen!

In my view it requires instead something much harder, namely a commitment to personal conversion, an openness to grace, and a commitment to genuine renewal.

In short it requres a commitment to the Pope's a hermaneutic of reform in continuity in the Church.

It is the Pope's birthday tomorrow (April 16).  Please keep him especially in your prayers.