Tuesday, 30 July 2013

EF Mass threat, the abuse crisis, 'whimsical' liturgically dancing bishops: so what can we do?

I posted last night, on the decision to outright suppress, or severely restrict, the use of the EF Mass by the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Naturally some have sought to explain the force of this decision away.

I thought I'd offer a few rebuttals to those comments.

But more importantly, I thought I should talk about what I think we can and should do in response to this and other things that have the potential to impact on our practice of the faith, such as the abuse scandal, that can cause us to doubt our Church, and even consider leaving it.

And the bottom line is that no matter how damaged the Church is, we must cling to it, for to leave is to risk hell.

The Franciscans of the Immaculate: nothing to worry about?!

Some, such as Fr Z, have attempted to offer some 'tough love' to traddies, and argue that the suppression of the EF for the Franciscans of the Immaculate should not be taken as a sign of things to come.

I'm not in the least bit convinced.

One line of argument offered by some is that they were not specifically founded with the intention of using the traditional Mass, and so it is not part of their charism.  Really?

On that logic, all those orders that were founded before Vatican II should be forced to revert to the EF, because clearly the Novus Ordo is not part of their charism!

It is true that some religious orders and secular institutes do arguably have a particular rite, use or form of the liturgy as part of their charism.  But the fact that a particular order didn't start out using both or either form specifically surely doesn't mean that a particular shape of the liturgy isn't particularly appropriate for them.  And if you look at everything else about the Franciscans of the Immaculate, such as their commit to penance, you can see why their now deposed founder sought to move in the direction of tradition!

Secondly, Fr Z and others have suggested that some within the order sought to impose the EF on those who didn't want it with undue zeal.  But there is absolutely no evidence in the public domain to support this.  And experience suggests that some people will oppose the use of the Extraordinary Form regardless of whether or not other options are open to them.

In fact all the evidence - such as the fact that the use of the traditional liturgy by them is the result of the vote of their chapter - suggests that a small minority of dissenters within the order are trying, and now succeeding, in dictating their preferences to the majority.

Eponymous Flower reports that the complaint came from six people.  LMS Chairman shows that in England at least, they are offering Mass in both forms.

And if there really was a problem, why not just specify that both options have to be available rather than outright prohibit one form?

Those who oppose the EF have a pretty consistent modus operandi.  It is not enough for them that they don't have to attend it; rather they want to stop anyone else attending it too.  Consider by way of example, the case of blogger Fr Tim Finigan's parish.  By all accounts he was extremely careful when introducing a more reverent liturgy and the option of attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form, engaging in extensive catechesis to his parish.  He continued to offer Mass in both Forms, offering a choice of times for parishioners.  But that didn't stop a disgruntled group of parishioners complaining about the EF Mass being offered to the pseudo-Catholic media resulting in a beat up job on him.  Luckily, he had the support of his bishop.

Thirdly, Fr Z urges us to devote ourselves visibly to good works in response, to 'out Francis Francis' as some have put it.  I do support a greater, visible focus on the works of corporal mercy on the part of EF communities.  But let's not pretend that will in any way protect us - hard, after all, to be more visible about the works of charity than the Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Finally, Fr Z urges us to keep our heads down and stop criticising Pope Francis and/or Vatican II.  Yet Vatican II itself, and the Code of Canon Law that reflects it enshrines our rights in this regard.  We need to be appropriately respectful of those in authority (though there are obviously limits: if you put on a clown mask, or do fitness exercises at Mass, you bring it on yourselves!) , and we do need to consider the common good when we speak.  We need to ensure our criticisms and questions are considered, not just ill-informed rants.  But we do have a right, even a duty to speak up at times.

Cultivate righteous anger

More fundamentally, decisions like this - and other wacky comments and actions by Popes and others - will simply compound, for many, our anger and sense of despair at the Church's hierarchy.

Our anger at the continued inability of the hierarchy to understand why the laity are so angry about the abuse crisis.

Our anger at the refusal of those who make serious errors of judgment or worse to resign and do penance.

Our anger at the continuing liturgical abuses we suffer when we go to Mass, and persecution we face when we try to do anything about it.

Our anger at the denial of access to the genuine spiritual treasury of the Church.

Our anger at the continuing indifference to the Holy Eucharist manifested almost every time one enters a Church.

There is nothing wrong with righteous anger.  It was righteous anger that made Christ cleanse the Temple.  It was righteous anger that made Christ denounce the Pharisees and Scribes in the most direct terms possible.

We shouldn't delude ourselves that expressing our anger will lead to any change of heart: Christ, after all, died as a result of the revenge plots of the Pharisees and priests.

The challenge for us, though, is to ensure our anger stays righteous, and directed at forcing positive change, and not turn to a more negative form, and to recall also Christ's perfect obedience.

The devil lurks...

So what can we do?  There are, I think five things to consider.

1. Remember the devil is seeking to seduce you away from God

It is natural to have problems when things happen that are enormous breaches of our trust.  Many waited years for the EF Mass to be regularised, and reacted with joy when it was.  For things to go backwards now seems a horror scenario.  Similarly, the appalling decisions made on the abuse crisis on the part of the hierarchy that we keep hearing about, and the continued lack of self-awareness on the part of many of them hardly serves to rebuild trust.

Remember, though, that the devil will always seize on such opportunities to attempt to seduce us away from the truth; whispering in our ear in an attempt to undermine our chance of happiness in heaven.

This life is short; our hope is for an eternity in heaven.  But as St Peter warns us, "your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some to devour."

The solution is grace.  If we ask for it, God will always gives us enough grace so that we can "resist him [the devil], firm in your faith..."

Let us, then, as St Benedict urges, when evil thoughts come into our heart's, dash them at once on the rock of Christ.  He also urges us to manifest our thoughts to our spiritual father - so if you have a spiritual director or priest you can trust, try seeking his advice.

2. Remember you are not alone: pray for each other, and ask for the aid of the saints

All too often though, it can seem that there is no help for us.  Too often we are faced with a leprous hierarchy, arrogant Pharisee-like priests, parishes and communities that can seem more intent on driving us out than inviting us in.

We can gain strength though from each other.  Social media provides a way of linking up with others of a like mind.  And, too, we are part of a Church that spans time and space.

However fallible its individual members in the here and now, the Church struggling here on earth remains the body of Christ, and we too are united with the saints in heaven.

Let us therefore pray for each other to God, and implore the saints to aid us as well.

3.  Remember that God always brings good out of evil

Our sufferings and those of others do not have to be negative experiences: rather they can help bring us and others to perfection.

It is worth remembering that many of the great saints suffered at the hands of their superiors.  But what makes them saints is their embrace of obedience and willing suffering, even in the face of unjust accusations and unfair punishments, a sign of their obedience to God and offered up for the redemption of others.

What we do have to constantly remind ourselves is that God always brings good out of evil.

The Emperor Julian, for example, apostatized from the faith and persecuted the early Church.  But as the bishops of the time were virtually all Arian, his persecution in fact served to cleanse the Church of heresy.

In our time, the Australian Royal Commission on child abuse may well end up promoting a similar cleansing not so much of heresy as of unorthodox practice and morality.

Where the current threat to the traditional liturgy will lead, it is hard to see at the moment, but all the same, we can be confident in God's care for us!

4.  Pray for the gift of discernment

When we consider our possible actions and reactions, we need to pray for the gift of proper discernment.  There are always three possibilities: something comes from God, the devil, or ourselves. Be sure to know the signs of which is which.

Whatever the answer is, our first instinct, I think, should always be to seek to obey proper authority, not to reject it, lest we merely be following our own desires, or worse.

All the same, the saints did not always passively accept what was done to them: proper discernment of what the Spirit is asking of us is essential in such circumstances and there are no general, immutable rules I think.

St Mary McKillop, for example, received Holy Communion, courtesy of some Jesuits, even after she had been unjustly excommunicated; St Athanasius fled from heretics rather than accede to their views; yet other saints accepted the authority of superiors to act even when their decisions were licit, albeit harsh.

And for those who love the EF, the Eastern Rite Catholic Church is always a fallback option...

 5.  Remember that God is just

When injustice and even outright evil seems to triumph - such as when we read the outrageously delusional self-justifications offered up for immoral and outright illegal behaviour in the abuse cover up, or when those who seek a more reverent Mass find it suddenly prohibited to them, - we are shocked and appalled.

Justice may yet prevail.

And we should certainly do everything in our power to bring that justice about, not least by shouting out in horror.

But even if we don't see justice prevail in this world, remember that those responsible will be held accountable in the next.


In another place quite unconnected, I just stumbled across this poem, source unknown, and thought I'd share it because of its possible appositeness:

"The soul perishes not of dark
But of cold.
The soul in deep distress
Seeks not light but warmth,
Not counsel but understanding."
-Author Unknown

Monday, 29 July 2013

Pope forbids use of traditional Mass by the Franciscans of the Immaculate

Franciscans of the Immaculate, traditional rite ordinations
Source: ausmaria.com

Many readers will be familiar with the wonderful Franciscans of the Immaculate, a thriving, relatively new Order that has houses of both men and women, and following both the active and contemplative life.

They have also been known for their use of the Extraordinary Form - indeed their Australian website features a picture of the ordination of friars according to the traditional rite.

Thanks to a reader for alerting me to a story from Sandro Magister, on a decision of the Congregation for Religious to appoint an Apostolic Commissioner to head the friars - and to prohibit the use of the Extraordinary Form unless special permission is given.

Magister reports that the concluding lines of the decree read:

"In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.”

Seems Rorate was right...

Will Summorum Pontificum be the next thing to go?

And what we will we do then?!

Pray hard.

The language of simplicity...or senility?

Via Crucis at WYD
Source: Vatican Radio

WYD has finally officially ended, with the closing Mass attracting over 3 million people.  The Pope's final sermon focused on the imperative of mission, to go out and make disciples of all nations.

In the last few days of WYD, the Pope had some interesting messages for the bishops.

Temptations in the Church

In a speech to the Council of Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean, CELAM, he outlined what he sees as 'temptations against missionary discipleship'.  They included the temptation to functionalism, making the Church focus unduly on efficiency and look like nothing more than an NGO; clericalism, particularly the clericalizing of the laity; and making the Gospel message an ideology, such as indulging in sociological reductionism, psychologizing it, gnosticism and what he described as "the  Pelagian solution":

"This basically appears as a form of restorationism. In dealing with the Church’s problems, a purely disciplinary solution is sought, through the restoration of outdated manners and forms which, even on the cultural level, are no longer meaningful. In Latin America it is usually to be found in small groups, in some new religious congregations, in tendencies to doctrinal or disciplinary “safety”. Basically it is static, although it is capable of inversion, in a process of regression. It seeks to “recover” the lost past".

I'm guessing he'd be talking about the various attempts to recover that 60s and 70s thing and bully all those who dissent from it into submission?:

The grammar of senility?

And in a speech to the Brazilian bishops, he took a potshot at what he views as excessive intellectualism:

"Another lesson which the Church must constantly recall is that she cannot leave simplicity behind; otherwise she forgets how to speak the language of Mystery. Not only does she herself remain outside the door of the mystery, but she proves incapable of approaching those who look to the Church for something which they themselves cannot provide, namely, God himself. At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people. Without the grammar of simplicity, the Church loses the very conditions which make it possible “to fish” for God in the deep waters of his Mystery."

The media, unsurprisingly, are interpreting this as yet another swipe at the approach of the Pope Emeritus.  Cardinal Burke, however, continues to try and assure us that Pope Francis' approach to the liturgy is entirely in continuity with those of his predecessor.  Really?  That's a position that is pretty hard to reconcile with the abuses we've seen perpetrated at his own masses, and the antics we've seen at WYD.

Indeed, on the face of it, the video above from WYD (which was the practice run, you can watch the final performance over at Fr Ray Blake's blog) seems to be what he is advocating our bishops do more of.But does this warm your heart, as the Pope urged his bishops to do? Is as as Fr Blake suggests suggests, just embarrassing?

Promoting this kind of 'liturgical dancing' is certainly simplicity of a kind, I guess...and I suppose for a generation that can make dressing up in baby clothes made to look like weird animals a fashion statement, anything is possible!

The Church is indeed marching on a Via Crucis at the moment.  Let's hope there is also a resurrection scheduled.

**Update: Predictably, the professional Catholic brigade are telling us to stop carping and get with the program.   The Anchoress, for example, describes the 'flash mob' dance at the papal mass, and this footage of the practice for it as 'whimsical'.  What was it Cardinal Burke said just a few ago about man-centred liturgy?!

But maybe I've just lost my sense of humour...

Personal parish for FSSP Sydney and other traddie news...***

There is some good news for traditionalists in Australia, announced yesterday at Mass in Canberra at least, namely the upcoming erection of the Maternal Heart of Mary Traditional Mass Community as a personal parish in the Archdiocese of Sydney on August 15.

This will be Australia's second personal parish for the traditional Mass I believe - the first was Perth's.

The parish priest for the Sydney EF parish will be Fr Duncan Wong FSSP.

Personal parish structure

Under canon law there are a variety of organisational arrangements that can be adopted, each with different rights, privileges and responsibilities.

Under Summorum Pontificum of course, any priest can say the Extraordinary Form Mass, and a parish priest or moderator is, at least in theory, free to schedule EF masses as part of the normal parish schedule.

It is also open to a bishop to appoint a chaplain for a community, either as part of a parish structure or for the diocese more generally.  It is also possible to grant chaplains some degree of control over the Church they operate at, by appointment as rector.

Most Australian EF communities, for example, are not parishes or even quasi-parishes, but simply communities with a chaplain appointed for them, who can normally hear confessions, preach and offer viaticum to the sick for those entrusted into their care (Canon 566).

Under a chaplaincy though, marriages, baptisms and funerals and some other matters normally remain the responsibility of the geographical parish priest of the faithful (the most obvious possible exception being where the chaplain and the member of the faithful are part of the same geographical parish structure).  Under a personal parish arrangement (Canon 518), that changes.

Formal announcement?

I'd like to be able to provide more details, including on the other potentially positive development of the appointment of an assistant chaplain for Canberra FSSP, but alas the international FSSP site doesn't have anything on this as yet, and the Australian FSSP website is hopelessly out of date (its latest 'news' section is still stuck on Christmas and New Year).

Upcoming traditional retreats

You might also want to note that the Benedictine Fathers of Flavigny are back this year in December to conduct Ignatian retreats at Bowral, NSW.  There is five day men's retreats are planned for 5 -10 December and 12 - 17 December, with a Day of Prayer and Recollection for Women on December 18 - 19. You can either register directly online or find out more and register (including for the women's retreat) by emailing here.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Latin Prayer of the Week: Magnificat

I want to come back, this week, in this Year of Faith series, to that store of 'common prayers' that we should all know, contained in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and take a look at the Magnificat.

The Magnificat in the Office

The Magnificat is an important 'Office canticle': it is said daily at Vespers (Evening Prayer/Evensong) in the Divine Office.

So knowing it can allow you to join in the Office more effectively if Vespers is sung in a Church near you.

And if there is no sung Vespers near you, you can either say Vespers by yourself (if you don't have a book containing traditional Sunday Vespers, you can find the texts all neatly arranged for the date online here), or by listening into the Monastic version (shorter than the Roman by one psalm) via one of the monasteries that make the Office available such as Le Barroux or Norcia.

Note though, that for Australians, because of the timezone difference, you will need to plan ahead and use the previous Sunday's Office - major feasts aside, the only thing that will change is the antiphon that goes with the Magnificat and the collect (from the Mass of the Sunday).

Context of the prayer

The Magnificat, or My Soul Glorifies the Lord, is the prayer of Our Lady said at the Visitation, when she met St Elizabeth.  And the words very much echo the prayer of another Biblical woman blessed with a child, Hannah, in 2 Kings (Samuel) Chapter 2.

The Magnificat is, of course, straight out of Scripture, from St Luke 1:46-55.  And that is a useful reminder that so much Catholic Marian devotion and dogma is clearly rooted in Scripture and the prayerful reflection on it, and consideration of its theological implications.

The text

Here is the Latin as given in the Compendium.  I've rearranged it slightly so the verses follow liturgical use:

Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum,
et exsultávit spíritus meus in Deo salvatóre meo,
quia respéxit humilitátem ancíllæ suæ: Ecce enim ex hoc beátam me dicent omnes generatiónes,
quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius,
et misericórdia eius in progénies et progénies timéntibus eum.
Fecit poténtiam in bráchio suo, dispérsit supérbos mente cordis sui;
depósuit poténtes de sede et exaltávit húmiles.
Esuriéntes implévit bonis et dívites dimísit inánes.
Suscépit Ísrael púerum suum, recordátus misericórdiæ,
sicut locútus est ad patres nostros, Ábraham et sémini eius in sæcula.
Glória Patri et Fílio et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc et semper, et in sæcula sæculórum.

The first point to note is that this version is from the Neo-Vulgate, and (for no good reason in my view!) differs in a couple of places from the Vulgate used in the traditional Office.  So here is the more traditional version:

Magníficat * ánima mea Dóminum.
Et exsultávit spíritus meus: * in Deo, salutári meo.
Quia respéxit humilitátem ancíllæ suæ: * ecce enim ex hoc beátam me dicent omnes generatiónes.
Quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est: * et sanctum nomen ejus.
Et misericórdia ejus, a progénie in progénies: * timéntibus eum.
Fecit poténtiam in bráchio suo: * dispérsit supérbos mente cordis sui.
Depósuit poténtes de sede: * et exaltávit húmiles.
Esuriéntes implévit bonis: * et dívites dimísit inánes.
Suscépit Israël púerum suum: * recordátus misericórdiæ suæ.
Sicut locútus est ad patres nostros: * Ábraham, et sémini ejus in sæcula.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, * et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, * et in sǽcula sæculórum. Amen.

You can hear it read out in the new Vulgate version here, or in the more traditional form here.


This is one of those prayers you can find endless versions of simply by looking at competing Bible translations, and the Compendium actually offers two alternatives, a UK and a US version.  Here is the UK version:

My soul glorifies the Lord,
My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness; Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name!
His mercy is from age to age,  on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength And scatters the proud hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones And raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things, Sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, the mercy promised to our fathers,
to Abraham and his sons for ever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

The key point to note if you are interested in digging into the Latin, is that while it is translated here as present tense throughout, in Latin, the first line aside, the verbs are mostly in the perfect (past) tense (eg exsultavit).

A middle class Church, for the rich?

I'm constantly bombarded from by diocese, by invitations to talks and events.

The problem is, they inevitably come with a price tag attached to them, sometimes quite a substantial one, which is surely enough to deter anyone on a very low income from attending.

Pitching our events...

And events like World Youth Day to me at least have something of the same connotation - although there has been some effort to cross-subsidise pilgrims from poor countries and families, and to provide some practical help to the communities and countries of Latin America in the current one, it remains something mostly something targeted at the middle classes.

WYD for most people involves a substantial plane fare, so, despite some attempts to help poorer people to get there, it is not generally accessible to those at the margins that Pope Francis is (rightly in my view) directing our attention at.

Nothing illustrates that divide better than this story from CNA/EWTN of a teenage boy so determined to make it WYD that he walked some 1,829 miles, often going without food, to get there.  Do and and read it is a great story.  Here are a few extracts to whet your appetite:

“...I wanted to come with the people of Jujuy but I couldn’t because I would have had to pay 7,000 pesos ($1,280 U.S. dollars) and that’s a lot of money,” said Facundo.

“I kept asking them if I could come with them, but they wouldn't let me,” he told CNA July 26.

A visit to a Church on his birthday made him decide that he was going to go regardless, and so he set off, with little money, and despite the fears of his family and priest for his health and safety.  His commentary makes clear his deep commitment to a genuine notion of Christian pilgrimage - and the story nicely contrasts this with the lack of welcome he got along the way, and some fakes:

“A backpacker depends on money, but I became a real pilgrim because a pilgrim just depends on faith,” remarked Facundo.

“I would go into churches to pray and everyone would look at me, but I didn’t care because I just wanted to fill myself up with more faith.”

Facundo said that when he reached the border with Brazil, he only had 100 pesos ($20 U.S. Dollars) so he decided “to not depend on money anymore, only on prayer.”

He walked passed the statue of Our Lady of Itatí and he would then always repeat to himself “Our Lady protects me and Jesus accompanies me.”

“The biggest challenge was entering Brazil, with just $13 U.S Dollars, going hungry and not knowing the language,” said Facundo...

In fact when he reached a Franciscan school in Iguazu, they offered him a direct flight to Rio - but he decided to continue on regardless, joining up with a group of American monks"

"After two days going hungry and his toes bruised and blistered, a man traveling to Sao Paolo gave Facundo and the monks a ride.

“It was very dangerous because we didn’t have a place to sleep but I just kept praying the rosary,” he said.

He arrived the day before World Youth Day to the Marian shrine of Aparecida. “There was a festival going on and I realized how close I was so I began crying,” said Facundo.

“I met another Argentinian priest and we went hungry, but we finally made it to Rio,” he said. “I was hungry but I was happy...”

Facundo met a volunteer of World Youth Day who sent him to a convent opposite the beach in Rio to sleep for a week.

He desperately wanted to see the Pope, but couldn't get a view when the Popemobile went past.  And on a subsequent opportunity, he had to choose between seeing the Pope and Mass, so chose Mass.

The story doesn't say whether he finally got to meet, or at least see the Pope.  Let's hope so!

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The tradition problem...

Yesterday I posted something on faux traditions, modern day customs that in some places are being accorded the weight of ancient ecclesial or even divinely instituted traditions, even though in reality they are no such thing.

Now sometimes that is no bad thing.

But I'm inclined to think we should make these decisions consciously, and know our own history.

So today I thought I'd better say something about the principles around what I do think are genuine traditions, as well as their associated longstanding customs.

The tradition problem

First though, I do want to make it clear that I'm certainly not rejecting the idea that there are a collection of longstanding traditions and customs that we should work hard to recover and protect.

There is a hard reality that the Church hierarchy in recent history has made some extremely imprudent decisions to reject or strongly discourage long held traditions and practices that did so much to teach, reinforce and pass on the faith.

How much damage has been done by communion in the hand, altar girls and other such practices!

Traditionalists have made an effort to try and protect that patrimony, and if they are sometimes a tad overzealous in their efforts in guarding particular ones, that is an understandable reaction in the face of  entrenched hostility, opposition and outright sacrilege in many cases.

The issue is always which traditions to dig in on though, and which ones not yet entrenched in our communities to focus on recovering.

Appraising the patrimony: the abuse scandal presents an opportunity

Most traditionalists have not, of course, simply sought to recreate any particular golden era.  Most Latin Mass communities, for example, in Australia at least, tend to favour the sung Mass (missa cantata) and use of Gregorian chant.  That wasn't the norm in the 1950s here, where the low Mass dominated, sometimes with a few hymns thrown in.

And the use of chant is itself a legacy of the liturgical revival of the nineteenth century, for even most Cathedrals and monasteries had utterly abandoned it in favour of first Renaissance polyphony and then subsequent composition styles until Dom Gueranger's efforts took root.

Over the last few years, under Pope Benedict XVI, the recovery of the patrimony has been legitimized once more, and the neo-conservative academic and ecclesial establishment seem, finally, to be starting to appreciate that such traditions can be particularly important to the cause of mission in a post-modern world.

In the area of theology too, the hegemony of the nouvelle theologie and assorted liberal schools of distortion is being challenged on a number of fronts, for example by the work of the Radical Orthodoxy school.  Now a traditionalist won't necessarily buy their particular brand either (they are in reality neither particularly radical nor obviously orthodox).  But their critiques of Balthasar, Congar and the like, and some of the insights they offer, do, I think, potentially open the way, I think, for traditionalists to move beyond simply the recovery of the manualist tradition and Thomism before it all went wrong, and create a genuine orthodox theology that speaks to our times.

We have a positive opportunity, I think, right now, courtesy in large part of the abuse scandal that has exposed both liberalism and the neoconservative camp in the Church for what they are, and, over time will create a clean slate for us to build afresh on.

To do that building, though, I don't think we can be satisfied with what we have now in small, isolated traddie communities.  Rather, I think we need to take a hard look at what we as traditionalists are doing, and what we think the broader Church should be doing, so we can move forward more effectively.

And in fact the International Federation Una Voce has been trying to encourage traditionalists to do just that, with its series of position papers on the 1962 Missal, by providing some history and theological context not just on strictly liturgical questions, but on associated issues such as the Eucharistic Fast and so forth.

The challenge when looking at our practice, of course, is to apply the correct principles, as formulated by the Church, in doing so, not invent our own.

And in this area, there are some particular extremes we have to avoid.

Reject fundamentalism

The first is the fundamentalist approach.

Some, for example, point to St Paul's comments on women covering their heads in Church and when praying as evidence that this must be a divine mandate.  But if inclusion in the New Testament of a custom is the criterion, why don't we follow, for example, the dietary restrictions (viz no eating of blood and its products) agreed at the Council of Jerusalem set out in Acts 15?

At the opposite extreme, to pick a protestant favourite, why has the Church always permitted, even encouraged, infant baptism when Scripture doesn't explicitly authorise it?

Clearly an additional interpretative principle is required as to what is and isn't a mandatory tradition. And the short answer as to what that principle is lies in the duty of the Magisterium to safeguard genuine traditions, to interpret Scripture and the broader Tradition, and to legislate for the good of the faithful.

Not all such guidance will be infallible or inerrant of course.  But neither should such guidance lightly be rejected.

Take the case of infant baptism.  In fact the Church holds fast to it firstly because we have the testimony of the Fathers that it was indeed an Apostolic Tradition.  Moreover in that light we can reread Scripture with eyes opened: St Paul tells us for example, that baptism replaces circumcision - and circumcision, of course, normally took place when the child was but a few days old.  Then too, there are those references to 'x and all of his household' being baptised both in Scripture and early Christian documents.

Nor is tradition utterly immutable

The rituals associated with baptism also provide us with an example of the opposite error, and one to which traditionalists are perhaps particularly predisposed, namely thinking that all aspects of a traditional practice are immutable forever.

Some for example, have suggested that since the Missal approved by Pius V was promulgated with a statement that said missal was valid 'now and forever', that Missal could never be abrogated or changed (which would presumably render the 1962 Missal illicit or invalid, as well as the Novus Ordo which was their intended target).

Others have fallen into the Orthodox trap of viewing any changes to what the Church has deemed, down the centuries, inessentials, as a rejection of tradition per se: so communion under one kind, baptism by pouring of the water instead of full immersion, and similar such changes down the centuries are disdained or outright rejected as examples of 'Latin [heretical] minimalism'.

The fact is that the Church has, at various points, made radical changes to its practices down the ages, even including its rituals and liturgy (think of Pius X's wreckovation of the Roman Office for example).

Traditionalism is inherently conservative

That said, the very basis of the Catholic Church is its unbroken history, and it does not and should not lightly abandon long-held traditions, and that includes the words, gestures and other aspects of them.  The danger is always that if you change something that might seem on the surface not to be important, in fact you can undermine the whole edifice.

So what is it that we should treasure?

Our Church is firstly the inheritor of (genuine) Jewish tradition.  Jewish Scriptures are our Scriptures, for the New Testament is contained in the Old, and the New must be read in the light of the Old. Its monuments of Tradition are our monuments - the Septuagint being a prime example. So when we insist that we are a liturgical Church, for example, we are basing ourselves in large part on the testimony and prescriptions of the Old Testament, as well as the New, not inventing for ourselves as if from nothing.

Secondly, we have the new or modifying Divine traditions instituted directly by Our Lord or through the Apostles, and handed down to us by the Apostles and safeguarded by their successors, the bishops.

Thirdly we have the Apostolic ecclesial traditions that are so ancient as to surely be worth protecting in the different Eastern and Western Rites of the Church: the differing dates of Easter being an obvious example.

We should also treasure the ecclesial traditions granted to us through the working of Providence - things like Gregorian Chant, the works of the great saints, and so forth.

Finally, there are many practices and customs that have always been part of the Churches tradition in one form or another, but do tend to be adapted to the times - the practice of fasting, for example, is something we have inherited from the Jewish tradition; the particular rules around compulsory fasts however, have changed considerably down the centuries.

Recovering tradition

In all these areas there is often room for nuance, interpretation and in many cases, compromise.

On the date of Easter for example, the difficulties of two competing calendars in one country led to an agreement in the English Continent, for example, back in 664, to stick with the Roman date.  So it is not altogether outrageous, I think, for some modern day places to reach similar accommodations in one direction or the other.

On the other hand, some of the traditional monasteries for example, actually have prohibitions on using anything but Gregorian chant in their churches.  That may be consistent with their particular charism, but in the traditionalist movement more generally would we really want to write off the possibility of performing the great Renaissance, baroque and classical  compositions in the setting which they were originally written for?

So what traditions should we make our priority; how can we shape our communities going forward?  These are the issues we must ponder.

Modesty rediscovered? The weird, weird world of 'onesies'

Source: Jay Cronan, Canberra Times

When I saw a girl at the shops recently with a group of her friends wearing one of these curious outfits, I assumed she had just taken part in some steet commercial gig.

But then my sister told me her son had brought an owl onesie, and it was the latest trend...well, they do seem to be pretty modest, albeit rather unisex!

Someone trying to tell us something? WYD images...

Copacabana Beach: Wind and rain hit!

Source: AP
WYD 2013

WYD 2013: Site for mass had to be abandoned due to flooding rain

WYD 2011: Thunderstorm forced Pope to cut short remarks...

Friday, 26 July 2013

In praise of small families: The feast of SS Joachim and Anna

Today in the Ordinary Form and the traditional Benedictine calendar it is the feast of SS Joachim and Anna, parents of Our Lady.  In the Extraordinary Form it is the feast of St Anna alone.

Perhaps this feast provides a suitable occasion to reflect on what I personally think traditionalism is and isn't about.

In the last few weeks, there have been more than a few attacks on traditionalists, the latest running the 'there are anti-semites in our ranks' flag up the pole yet again.

Unfortunately, in response a number of traditionalist blogs and websites have presented what seems to me to be close to a caricature of a traditionalist in response.

Apparently, to be a real traditionalist woman one must be an amish-style dressing/mantilla wearing mother of at least six children who homeschools; to be a real traddie male, one must be a pipe-smoking creationist and who takes rejects the concept of the time cost of money (interest rates) and other such newfangled notions.

So let me just for a moment try and poke a few holes in this picture, and suggest where our thought and action might, in my opinion, better be directed!

Faux traditions

First, let me suggest that many of the things mentioned above may well be views and practices open to Catholics to adopt, may well even be good and pious customs.  But - and feel free to disagree - in my view there is nothing inherently traditional about may of them.  Let me give a few examples.

Head covering for women

Mantillas (aka chapel veils), for example, are a sixteenth century Spanish practice that spread to the European aristocracy and some other European cultures and their colonies.  But by the early twentieth century, even in Spain, the mantillas typically only came out for weddings and other special occasions.

And before Vatican II, in Australia at least, most women (post war migrants from some particular countries aside) wore hats to Mass.

Before that, bonnets were the thing (think of that flying nun style headgear that reflected french peasant wear?).

Now the modern traditionalist adoption of mantillas is, I think, quite a nice pious custom.  I often wear, for example, for sentimental reasons, a black lace mantilla given to my mother by her's.  But my grandmother brought it back as a find from a European trip in the early 1960s, and when my mother first wore it to Mass, it met with decided disapproval in her (Irish dominated) parish (scarves, too, I gather were regarded as an emergency measure that were 'not the done thing'!).

So while head covering for women in Church is a long-held tradition, and was part of Church law until recent decades, mantillas per se are not.

Moreover, we need to keep the whole head gear issue in a broader cultural perspective.  Until recently, women didn't just wear hats to Church, they wore them everywhere both because of cultural norms about modesty and for purely practical reasons (viz the absence of modern heating and aircon!).  Accordingly, given that the historic associations with, and practical reasons for, women's headgear have become entirely alien, not to say alienating, to our culture (unless you are a Muslim), I don't think it should actually be compulsory (or de facto compulsory courtesy of well-meaning 'helpers' in the congregation).

Homeschooling is not a right

There is a similar issue with homeschooling.

I understand the reasons why many feel they have no choice but to go this route.

It is worth remembering though, that if you tried to insist on homeschooling your children before Vatican II and the current Code of Canon Law there is a good chance you would have found yourself excommunicated.  That is because under the 1917 Code, Catholics were required to send their children to a Catholic school, however inadequate the education offered there might have been.

The Churches previous insistence on Catholic schools is not new - in fact the Church attempted to establish the first universal schooling system under the Emperor Charlemagne, and monasteries and convents continued to play a key rule in education throughout the middle ages.  Convent schools, moreover, were an important weapon of the counter-reformation.


Thirdly, this particular feast day, when we celebrate a family with only one child, viz Our Lady, serves as a reminder that what we are actually called to do is be obedient to God's will for us (in marriage, or the call to celibacy/virginity for the sake of the kingdom), and that doesn't necessarily mean having fifteen children.

I understand and am sympathetic to the arguments for promoting the joys of large families as a counter to the contraceptive mentality.

But keep in mind that in our times in particular, for some would-be parents the heroism lies in resisting the temptation to use IVF or other immoral interventions in order to have a family.

And it may lie in imitating St Joseph by adopting a child.

Many good Catholic families today create a family by giving a home to those unwanted children from around the world, thus providing a counter to one of the claimed justifications for abortion.

Still others may have no children because they have in fact been called, as some of the great lay saints were, to a Josephite marriage.

Good traditional Catholic families, in other words, come in all shapes and sizes.

So how do we give witness?

It is of course an entirely human tendency to invent membership recognition cues for sub-cultures.

And within certain limits, such cues and practices can be positives.  Large happy families that produce many vocations, for example, are indeed something to be lauded; maintaining traditions like head-covering for women is a good thing if done for the right motives; and care for the proper education of one's child is indeed a vital parental duty.  And we do need to be conscious of the need for modesty in a society that often seems to have lost all sense of it.

But we should never, in my view, loose sight of the fact that our real witness should flow not from pious practices, however helpful they may be, but from our orientation to heaven, and our love of God and neighbour.  I'll say more about what I think this implies for what traditionalism if put into practice today might really look like in some subsequent posts, but let me set the scene by putting before you the wonderful, in my view timeless, commentary on properly Christian forms of witness contained in the Letter to Diognetes (circa 130 AD):

"Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign. 

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives.  

They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred. 

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments. 

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself."  

WYD images

Source: Osservatore Romano

Source: Xt3 WYD2013 Blog

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Vote to deny the parties taxpayer dollars!

A few days ago, I suggested that voting informal was not a responsible option for the upcoming election, however hard it might be to decide which is the least worst party and direct your preferences accordingly.  Ultimately, even an informal vote is a vote one way or another.

Today I want to direct your attention to a useful post on the importance of who you give your first preference to, by Greg Jericho.

Preferences and first preferences

In Australia's complex voting system, your first preference vote is actually important if you are lucky enough to live in one of those very few seats where a minority party or independent candidate actually has a chance of being elected.

But for most of us, especially those like myself who live in safe seats, our first (and second, and x) of preferences might be about sending a message, but the order of our preferences will dictate how our vote is actually counted to towards the final result.

Mr Jericho's post over at The Drum, however, points out another important consideration, in the form of one of those delightful rorts pollies have voted themselves in past years, viz funding to the political parties based on the number of first preference votes they receive.

Your votes fund the parties...

In effect, he suggests, your first preference vote is worth $2.49 to whoever you vote for.

And it adds up to a tidy sum for the parties - at the 2010 election, the ALP all up received $21.2 million, the Liberal and National Parties combined received $23.58 million, and the Greens got $7.2 million.

The only way of avoiding the dollars flowing, he suggests, is to vote for someone whose party polls less than 4% of the overall vote in your division or State in the case of the Senate.

That's another good reason for putting your pro-life and/or pro-family candidate first, even if they don't have any hope of getting elected...

Trust and the hierarchy: why Fr Father Lucas needs to resign**

John Stumbles, Canberra Times

Looking out my window this morning, Canberra is a frozen wasteland, with a deep frost after the coldest night of the year so far (minus six degrees Celsius, aka 21.2 Fs).

And that scene is pretty consistent with the state of the Church, and particularly, on the face of it, some of those who work here too.

There have been a series of horrific reports coming out of the special Inquiry on child abuse in Maitland-Newcastle Diocese.

And the latest is damning testimony from the bishops' fixer on these matters, Fr Brian Lucas, General Secretary of the ACBC, whose normal workplace is just down the road from me.

How the Australian Church approached the abusive priest problem

Fr Lucas' testimony basically ran the line that we've been hearing from a number of bishops and senior clergy, namely that ultimately the abuse scandal and the Australian hierarchy's handling of it was all Rome's fault.

The argument goes that canon law made it hard to do anything about abuser priests unless they voluntarily agreed to laicization, and so the best they could do is 'persuade' them to be laicized.

And if that meant making some compromises along the way - like leaving their reputation intact, not reporting their admitted misdeeds to either the police or even their bishop, paying them an ongoing pension, and ignoring the needs of victims, well so be it.

It is, in my view, utter nonsense.

First, the issue at stake here as far as I can gather, is laicization, not suspension from duties.

And Rome had no problem at all, as far as I can gather, with laicizing priests who were actually convicted of serious crimes.  So if they had simply reported the cases to the police and supported proper investigation and prosecution processes, the alleged difficulties of the laicization would not have been an issue.

Secondly, if the priests in question had simply been suspended and put on permanent administrative leave without any financial support after a proper internal investigation, with the reasons for this made public (without naming individual victims), the perpetrators would have found it a lot more difficult to find new places to carry on their perversions.

Instead, the perpetrators were free to simply move on to new hunting grounds, often supported by a Church pension as they did so.

A problem of memory?

The reality is that the testimony of senior clerics and the hierarchy continues to be utterly unedifying.

A week or two back, the former Ordinary, Bishop Malone joined the ranks of those bishops (and Archbishops, remember AB Hart's 'better late than never' crack) who apparently think the scandal is something to joke about. Makes you wonder how they talk about all this stuff amongst themselves.

Worse, Bishop Malone's testimony has been flat out contradicted by others, and claims made that he altered his diary to bolster his claims.

On the plus side, Bishop Malone is no longer an active bishop.  On the negative, his testimony illustrates the ongoing damage that can be inflicted on the Church of those whose early 'resignations' were quietly accepted, but retain titles such as Bishop Emeritus.

Since then we've had, amongst others, a former Vicar-General who apparently 'did not recall' pretty much anything.

And now Fr Lucas, who similarly seems to have memory problems, unable to recall even what one of the main offenders looked like even when prompted by a photo.

Indeed, Fr Lucas admitted yesterday that, drawing on his training and practice as a barrister he deliberately didn't take any notes of the meetings he held with abuser priests, and advised others to do likewise, lest they subsequently have to be delivered up in a court process.

In fact, he seems to have adopted the BBC Sherlock's 'delete button' approach to information he deemed irrelevant as he carried out his Mr Fix-it role:

"I see you've written up the taxi driver case.
Watson: Uh, yes.
Sherlock: "A Study in Pink." Nice.
Watson: Well, you know. A pink lady, pink case, pink phone. There was a lot of pink. Did you like it?
Sherlock: Um... no.
Watson: Why not? I thought you'd be flattered.
Sherlock: Flattered? "Sherlock sees through everyone and everything in seconds. What's incredible though is how spectacularly ignorant he is about some things."
Watson: Now hang on minute, I didn't mean that in a—
Sherlock: Oh! You meant "spectacularly ignorant" in a nice way. Look, it doesn't matter to me who's Prime Minister or who's sleeping with who.
Watson: Whether the Earth goes around the sun.
Sherlock: Oh god, that again. It's not important!
Watson: Not important? It's primary school stuff. How can you not know that?
Sherlock: Well If I ever did I deleted it.
Watson: Deleted it?
Sherlock: Listen. This is my hard drive and it only makes sense to put things in there that are useful. Really useful. Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish. And that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters. Do you see?
Watson: But it's the solar system!
Sherlock: Oh! How? What does that matter? So we go 'round the sun. If we went 'round the moon or round and round the garden like a teddy bear it wouldn't make any difference. All that matters to me is the work. Without that my brain rots. Put that in your blog. Or better still, stop inflicting your opinions on the world."

His evidence certainly seems to put the competing recollections of the three priests involved in the infamous 'Fr F' meeting in a new light, as the ABC suggested on 7.30 last night.

Did the victims alleged desire to keep it away from the police justify failure to report?

Fr Lucas also admitted that he didn't report cases to the police as required by the law, on the basis that victims allegedly didn't want that to happen.  

It is yet to be tested in court whether victims' preferences constitute a 'reasonable excuse' under the relevant Act.

The more fundamental question, of course, is whether victims really expressed such views in every single case relating to over 35 priests, and if so, whether they reached that view freely and without coercion.

There have been a number of claims in the context both of the Special Inquiry and the current Royal Commission that in fact victims were consistently strong-armed into keeping quiet, even forced, in some cases to sign (illegal) agreements not to pursue criminal actions in return for compensation.

And indeed, the ABC last night reported that victims claimed they had been told not to go to police by Fr Lucas to the Woods Royal Commission back in 1995-97.  Back then Fr Lucas claimed they had 'misinterpreted' his remarks.

Fr Lucas and the ACBC

Fr Lucas' second line of defence, presumably, is presumably the Nuremberg one, that he was acting under orders.

Presumably that's why the Fairfax Media are reporting that:

"A spokeswoman for the Australian Catholic Bishop's Conference, Beth Doherty, said the church hierarchy would stand by Father Brian.

''There's no question at all over whether he will continue in that role, unless the inquiry finds that he has acted in some way with any misconduct,'' Ms Doherty said.

Rebuilding trust?

None of this, of course, is doing anything to aid the task of rebuilding trust in the hierarchy.

Mind you, on this occasion the lead really does seem to be coming from the top, given Pope Francis' failure thus far to act in relation to ensure the allegations about membership of the gay curia mafia around his recent appointee to oversee the Vatican Bank.

So how do we, the angry and disgruntled laity, keep the faith?

We have to find something about the Church in which we can trust.  We have of course our direct relationship with Christ, and we should never neglect to pray fervently to him on this subject.

But that is not enough, for we cannot, as Catholics, retreat to being simply individual Christians without a community around us.  

Yet how can we be members of the community when those who should be leaders to us seem instead to be at worst, ravening wolves, at best, lepers who arrogantly refuse to wash in the Jordan

So we have to find and remind ourselves daily of some aspect of our Church that we love and can trust as a prop for our salvation.  

For some that prop will perhaps be the liturgy; for others perhaps some particular devotion; for some particular spiritual tradition within the Church; for others perhaps the beauty of truth in dogma.  

Whatever yours is, cling fast to the good, truth and beauty, and pray!

Fr Lucas is back in the witness box today.

**For a report on Day 2 of his evidence, go here and here.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Vote informal?

I haven't commented as yet on Mr Rudd's latest political masterstroke, aka the PNG solution, because I've been so appalled I've just been hoping that it might all fall apart.

Maybe it yet will, but all the signs are it will be a winner with the voters which is all that counts these days.

The compassion deficit

So why be appalled?

My local member, Andrew Leigh (who lost his job as a Parliamentary Secretary following the Rudd coup) , has come out publicly to admit his 'discomfort' with pretty much any of the solutions on offer for asylum seekers.

Unfortunately, he then reportedly goes on to say that the news polices are about "being as compassionate as we can."


It is certainly more compassionate than attempting to 'tow back the boats' as Tony Abbott advocates, I guess, since that will inevitably lead to more sinkings and deaths, but that is not saying much.

But is it really 'as compassionate as we can be' for the, as Mungo McCullum points out, tenth richest nation in the world to shuffle off its numerically tiny (albeit politically huge) refugee problem onto one of the poorest (PMG is 139th ranked nation in wealth), an unstable country (witness the recent political coup) with major social and economic problems, not to mention its own significant refugee problems?

Indeed the official Department of Foreign Affairs travel advisory warns of endemic cholera; high levels of serious crimes, including violent armed attacks even in well-attended shopping centres; a high risk of car-jacking; a tendency of crowds to turn violent; ethnic disputes which promote an atmosphere of lawlessness; and the targeted gang rape of foreigners.

Frankly, the Malaysian solution was a much better option: PNG doesn't need an influx of Muslims, Malaysia is an Islamic nation.  It is outrageous that the Coalition (and Greens) voted it down.

Dr Kev and Mr Rudd!

As a number of commentators have pointed out, there are other options that could have been explored.

But of course none have the quick fix, populist appeal of this one.

A nice piece by Nicholas Stuart (The Strange Case of Dr Kev) argues that Labor are counting on Labor voters preferences:

"Politically, Rudd's on a winner. The only way anything can go wrong is if people who find these ideals repugnant - natural Labor voters - vote informal. The party's gambling that as long as someone casts a valid ballot, the preferences will eventually flow back. The idea is luminous in its audacity. If you want to protest, you'll have to allow Abbott to be elected."

Interesting argument.

But if appalled Labor voters vote informal, doesn't that amount to a vote for Abbott anyway?

Personally I'm contemplating supporting Mr Palmer's Party, who plan to undercut the people smuggler business model by simply buying a plane ticket for all genuine refugees and processing them here, hence saving all of the misdirected resources currently devoted to border patrols, (less than successful) concentration camp maintenance and refugee processing.

Personally I'd tweak it: a free ticket for any Christians fleeing Jihad to Australia; a ticket to some suitable rich country like Dubai for anyone else... 

Oops, the Pope left his bag on the plane! On babies and the cult of personality...

The Pope departs for Rio:

Source: Washington Post
The Pope arrives, sans bag...

Source: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images
The big news when Pope Francis boarded the (specially chartered) plane to WYD was that he was carrying his own bag.

Oops.  Must have left it on the plane when he got off then?

And lest you think this was a beat up by the secular media, it is worth noting that the official Vatican Radio report of the Pope's departure specifically mentions the fact.

Warning: this is a bit of a rant!

On babies, royal and otherwise

Pope Francis has now arrived in Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day (why is it still called that when it is actually a week!), and proceeded through traffic jams and more (in a very modest car and open jeep) through the city, kissing babies as he went.

In fact he managed to just beat the arrival of the future heir to the throne of Australia (for whose safe arrival and the health of the mother we should give thanks; and for whose health, safety and future decision to become a Catholic we should pray!).

In London, hundreds of journalists camped outside the hospital where the third in line to the throne was being born.  It is not entirely clear why, given that the whole process is being managed as privately as possible due to Prince William's laudable determination to avoid a repeat of the Princess Diana phenomenon (don't miss Bruvver Eccles' take on royal births).

When it comes to the Pope however, despite the Butler leaks affair and past assassination attempts on popes, it would seems the lessons of the celebrity culture from the Diana affair and others, have not yet been learnt.

Prudence vs humility?

The media, needless to say, have been lauding the Pope's disdain for prudent security measures as another sign of his humility.

We can of course be grateful that Pope Francis failed to revive that other papal custom of tarmac kissing.

All the same, I can't help but think that a lot of this cult of personality stuff is positively disedifying.

Politicians kiss babies because it gives a nice photo op (babies are always attractive) and makes them look human.

But do we really expect or want our priests and bishops to go around doing the same thing?  And if so, why?

Isn't a hand extended in a simple blessing or a sign of the cross traced on the forehead more appropriate?

(Real) content should be what counts

I understand why people want to see and even touch the Pope, and there can certainly be benefits gained for faith through such events, but I do think encouraging some of this stuff is a strange approach for a man who prefers the title 'bishop of Rome' to Pope.

The counter to this entirely modern rock star treatment of the Pope would surely be for the Pope to use the occasion to get out some strong content messages.

Yet the Pope actually cancelled the usual question and answer session with the press on the plane, gave no interviews (apparently he finds them too exhausting), and instead simply greeted each of the journalists individually.

In that case, why not just have the Pope fly commercially, and let the journalists make their own way to Rio?  Why do we need the whole professional journalistic entourage anyway, isn't it the catechetical sessions and liturgy at WYD that really matters?

And the for the colour and light around the event, why not rely on the blogs, tweets and facebook reports of the pilgrims themselves?  But the Vatican, alas, is still locked in an old media world, a 'yesterday's technology tomorrow' mindset, as only too clearly reflected in the threats made to assorted bloggers over their attempts to promote the Pope's recent encyclical.

Creating a culture of inclusion

All the same, the Pope did make some interesting remarks on the plane so here they are, as reported by Vatican Radio, with a few comments and highlights from me:

"Pope Francis told reporters “this first trip of mine is to meet young people, (to see them) … not as isolated young people but immersed in their social context, in society. Because when we isolate young people, we do them an injustice: we take away their ‘belonging.’”[Is this the last WYD then?]

Young people, the Holy Father said, “belong to a family, to a country, to a culture and a faith.” They represent the future of a people “because they have the energy;” but Pope Francis added, “the future is also the elderly because they are the custodians of the ‘wisdom of life’, the history, the home and the family." A people has no future - he continued - if it goes ahead without the strength of its youth and the elderly.

The Pope reflected on the global economic crisis and the possibility that young people may find themselves out of work. "We have the risk of having a generation that did not have work" said the Pope. And from work he noted, one derives "the dignity of the person" - "from earning his bread."

“Young people today are in crisis,” he said, “and we are used to this disposable culture: it happens all too often to the elderly.” But young jobless people are also getting caught up in this disposable culture. What we need today he said, is a "culture of inclusion, a culture of encounter." And this invitation to reporters: "I ask you to help me”- concluded the Pope - and work for the good of the society of young people and the elderly..."

In praise of anonymity

Let's hope the Pope's message about incorporating young people into the community more effectively are not drowned out by the babies!

We cannot, of course, expect a Pope in our era to live altogether outside the media glare.  Nonetheless, I'm not convinced that providing daily soundbites, White House daily media conference style, via informal homilies, as the Pope has been doing, is the way to go either.

These days many professional Catholics, clerics, religious and lay alike, seem to promote themselves as much as their message.  Creating a personal brand is, I guess, a way of cutting through the noise and helping people quickly find sources of advice they can trust.

But too much such focus tends to undermine, I think, the obligation we all have of critical thinking and assessment, of forming our own views based on the evidence and in the light of appropriate guidance.

And in this regard, speaking too frequently can surely be as unhelpful as not speaking at all.

Somehow we need, I think, to find ways to recover that long tradition of the Church that has praised those secret saints: the holy men and women who practice their sanctity in their homes and communities; and the supportive prayers of the cloistered for us all.

Dame Gertrude More (1606-1633), a descendant of St Thomas and one of the foundresses of the reformed English Congregation of Benedictine nuns on the continent in the early seventeenth century wrote some wonderful devotions on this subject.  The book from which this short extract comes was arranged after her death by Dom Augustine Baker, and subsequently re-edited by the Rev Henry Collins but is, alas, as far as I can discover, still out of print:

Hail, sweet Jesus, praise, honour and glory be to thee, O Christ, who for thirty years remained unknown and unnoticed, didst vouchsafe to be reputed the Son of Joseph the carpenter, and his wife, Mary.

Let thy grace pluck up, and utterly root up, out of the fiend of my soul, all pride and ambition.

O that I also may delight to be unnoticed, and to be reputed vile, and of no account...

But do tell me if you think I'm wrong on this...

Monday, 22 July 2013

Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross Online

One of the signs of hope for the Australian Church is surely the gradual establishment of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross, ie the Australian Ordinariate for former Anglicans.

There have already been a good number of ordinations for the Ordinariate, with more to come, so please do keep those preparing for ordination later this year especially in your prayers.  **(Updated) The next ones are Stephen Gronow to the diaconate, August 23 (Queensland) and Richard Waddell (diaconate, August 24; priesthood, September 8, Melbourne).

So if there is an Ordinariate group near you, do reach out and visit to welcome them, and/or invite them to your Mass!

To find out where they are, the various Ordinariate parishes and communities are establishing an online presence via facebook and other forums.

The Gippsland group now also have a blog with links to other communities online.  Do go check it out!

On strong women: feast of St Mary Magdalene

Holbein: Noli me tangere

Today is the feast of St Mary Magdalene, one of those strong female saints who often seems to present such a scandal to many.

Great sinner to great saint

Strong women scare some.

And St Mary Magdalene - who had the courage to go from being a greater sinner to a great saint by accepting and co-operating with the grace of conversion; who followed the disciples around on their travels seeing to their needs; who sat at the feet of Our Lord soaking up his teaching while her sister became more and more upset at her perceived neglect of her womanly household duties; who stayed the course at the foot of the Cross when many of the disciples fled or hung back from afar; and who was the Apostle to the Apostles in conveying the news of Christ's Resurrection - has attracted many attempts to rewrite or creatively reinterpret history.

Some, for example, have refused to accept the identification of her with the sinful woman of Luke 7.  The Greek Father, Origen (who believed in the heresy of universalism, the ultimate reconciliation of all souls), for example, found it ‘incredible’ that “Mary, whom Jesus loved, the sister of Martha, who had chosen the better portion, should be said to have been a sinner in the city".  And the revised Office for her in the Novus Ordo has dropped the traditional reading for the day which makes precisely this identification!

Mulier fortis

The traditional Office today, however, applies to her the description of Proverbs: mulier fortis.  The words are often translated in ways which weaken the force of the descriptor: the RSV for example, gives it as a 'good woman' (RSV) and the Knox translation is only slightly better with 'a vigorous woman' (Knox).

But the normal meaning of the Latin word fortis is strong, powerful, courageous or steadfast.  And the Greek of the Septuagint makes it ἀνδρεία, or manly!  The Hebrew, chayil, is consistent with that, used elsewhere in Scripture to mean strength, might, efficiency, wealth, or army according to Strong's Concordance.  So in fact the Douay-Rheims' 'valiant woman' seems closer to the mark on the face of it.

St Mary Magdalene is an important figure for us all, but especially for women I think, precisely because she presents the opposite type to Our Lady: Our Lady was holy from her very conception, and so in some ways represents an ideal that we must strive for but can never hope to equal.  St Mary Magdalene, however, in her conversion from sinfulness demonstrates that all women can choose redemption - Our Lady is not, in fact, alone of all her sex in being numbered among the saints!

Gender aside, the modern day Western reluctance to accept the identification of Mary of Bethany with the sinful woman of St Luke's Gospel also, in my view reflects a theology that rejects the power of grace and conversion, and above all of the capacity of Christ to forgive our sins through the sacrament of confession.

We need to recover this sense of the power of grace.