Saturday, 7 June 2008

Come and Gone

The 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae has been greeted with as much enthusiasm as did its original publication. You would not think that it was the anniversary of one of the most prophetic documents in recent Church history. Given our contemporary tendency to celebrate everything, you would think that it would at least get a mention. As a curiosity, how many of your local pastors have mentioned it? How many of these local pastors have mentioned global warming? Social justice? Lay ministry? etc? Coincidence?

The current silence surrounding humanae vitae is a very strange thing. When the document was released, its detractors were very vocal in telling the world how backward the Church's attitude was to women, sex and basically everything.  Then there was something like a conspiracy of silence in which the document was just left untouched. It was the unspoken rule that HV was the unmentionable document. The alcoholic uncle of the magesterium- everyone knew who he was, you just never mentioned him.

By why the silence now? If the detractors of the 60s and 70s, ironically those who are now in their sixties and seventies, were so right in their claims about HV, why aren't they so vocal now. If the document was a failure, why not be vocal? Why not press the point home that the document was a disater then and history has proved us right? After all, this was not a generation of shrinking violets. The anniversary of HV should be a tombstone and not a cake. Yet, they are surprisingly silent. But why?

HV is usually sold to us as being a document obsessed with sex. It is a document that is exclusively about 'getting pregnant at all costs.' You know, if you didn't have fourteen children by age forty, then there is something wrong. Usual rubbish.

The document is really about two things in particular, which are expressed as a prophecy. The first is the intrinsic link between sexual identity and its expression and the responsibility that it engenders. The second is that sexual identity and expression is clearly part of the person and requires a community of persons if it is to be expressed in a way that leads to happiness. Very beautiful.

The silence is not because HV has turned out to be a failure, but rather that it has turned out to be so correct. HV warns all persons of goodwill that when man tampers with his sexual identity he risks his happiness and at the same time risks the precarious balance that is in the world. The recent debate about stem cells and in particular the hybrid embryo bill in the UK should be witnesses to that. Yet if anyone in the years of HV's release had warned of what was coming, they would have been written off as paranoid and crazy. Yet look at what has happened. The only option for HV's detractors is silence. To say anything would be to give the game away and expose their own failures and not the documents.

How ironic that the young and liberal of the 60s should now be the old and conservative of the 21st century. Theirs is a silence of conservatism, an alternative magesterium- a magesterium that is fatally flawed.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Time to Come Home

It is often said that evil makes progress when good men refuse to fight. It would seem that a parallel argument can be made for Faith.

The great question is not so much whether "true Catholics" have faith, it is rather a question of whether they will fight to defend it. It is not so much that we say the right things, it is more that we struggle and fight to live them. 

Friday, 17 August 2007

The wrong way round

Most of us think that a catholic seminary produces good priests. That's not exactly true. A catholic seminary takes good men and turns them into good priests. Or that is at least the wisdom of Grace building on nature for the last two milennia.

You see the priesthood doesn't form men in core values as much as it attracts and recruits men who share those values and whose desire is to learn how to live them more deeply and teach others to do the same. 

It is only when the hierarchy understands that it is about gathering men truly inspired by the Gospel that there will be a renewal of the clergy. We may find many talented people in the world who can do many things, but the measure of vocation is love of God and neighbour and the willingness to make the sacrifice of self for the Gospel. The experiments in 'alternative vocations' of the 60s, 70s, 80s and even the 90s are a complete disaster. If anyone has any doubt, just see how much your average diocese is paying in insurance premiums for its clergy. 

Change will come when this one simple principle is lived by the catholic hierarchy- that no idea or talent and not even the promise of great things to come can make up for this one ideal- a shared love for the Gospel. If the sons of the Church get this right, then we will get the world right.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

A hotline to God

What can you say to a person who believes he has a personal and exclusive hotline to God? Certainly you can't disagree with him, after all he has the inside news- not you!

And so it is with Bishop Tiny Muskens of Holland in the NY Times article about his recently speaking on behalf of the Almighty. He recently said in an interview that Allah is a beautiful name for God (and so it may well be) and that Christians should simply refer to God as Allah, since God has apparently revealed something to the good bishop, and we quote:
"Allah is a very beautiful word for God. Shouldn't we all say that from now on we will call God Allah?'' Bishop Tiny Muskens said in an interview broadcast this week. ''God doesn't care what we call him.''
Well, I may have not have studied as much theology as bishop Muskens, but I do remember something rather distinctly about God's name and its revelation to a particular people. Something that in the end has set that people apart from all others, that God gave them His name and called them His own. Mind you I might have been reading and older version of this book, and perhaps the bishop's copy is more up to date then the one I was reading.

Indeed a person's name means nothing to you when the person is not important. I would never forget the name of my mother or father, nor would I allow anyone to change or falsify their names on the pretext that it doesn't matter what we call them, what matters is that I love them, or some other equally meaningless phrase. A person's name does matter, because that is how we address ourselves to him and at the same time how we come to know him. A no name brand God is not a God worthy of our adoration.

What the bishop doesn't get in his bending over to appease the Muslims is that he will in the end offend everyone, including the Muslims, let alone Jews and Christians as well. But that's what happens when a person lives in a world of his own, or spends too much time on the phone, listening to some others, even if he is convinced that the other is really God. Did God reverse the charges?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Don't fall for the default settings

One of the liberal intelligentsia's greatest successes was to make their principles normative. They somehow suckered the whole world into thinking that the default position of the human mind towards religion should be disbelief. That religion was something outside the ordinary workings of human thought, something that went beyond the boundaries of reason and was, for better or worse, the precinct of a chosen few. It did not belong to the masses but rather it was the minors who went to Mass. Religion in the popular imagination ceased being something to which the human person was naturally disposed; it became an extra, a hobby for the cerebrally challenged.

I suppose the war was waged on many fronts. However, a particularly effective argument today is really the rehashing of the old ideas of the Enlightenment. Or perhaps to put it in more contemporary journalistic jargon 'O, you're one of those. I didn't know.' That ever happen to you?

It seems that the intelligentsia, far from being happy with throwing rocks at the religious edifice, started to throw cream pies at it as well. Not happy to challenge religion on the basis of first principles and the laws of logical demonstration, they chose to challenge religion's right to principles at all. Instead of trying the reasonableness of religion they tried the right of religion to any reasons whatsoever!

Any religious person today is subject to a kind of almost automatic scrutiny of their sanity whenever their beliefs are discovered. Of course the intelligentsia have been quick not to discredit the social phenomenon of religion, after all, what on earth would they publish their books on if they totally discredited it? Rather, what causes such instantaneous perplexity is not that anyone should be interested in the ideas of religion, but that someone would actually do anything about that interest, expect of course buy books.

It happens to most of us at work, parties or on social occasions that when a person discovers that you have the Faith that they look at you sympathetically, as though they should lead you by the hand and sit you down and pour you a stiff drink. The same person who is probably going through a divorce, never sees his children and who thinks that he is living the good life.

Yet just how different are we?

The greatest obstacle to the claims of reasonable religion is not that religion is just a bunch of theories for those who have seen the light, but rather that religon is for those who can't find meaning in anything real and so look for meaing in the meaningless. To be thoroughly religious, and in my case Catholic, requires a real will to reason with humility, not just to rely on the reasons of others. So many people are horrified to think that we could actually follow the teachings of someone, i.e. the Pope. Yet that person would probably not have one opinion that you could not find on the wrapping of his fish and chips on a Friday night.

Of course this is not just to be smug, rather it is the obvious fact that we each have our dogmas and we each have our seats of authority to whom we pay respect. We have simply chosen God and they haven't. Everybody has a Bible, some call it holy some call it the BBC.

A little bird told me

Much has been overlooked with the recent motu prorio of Benedict XVI. Many on both sides of the liturgical fence have been too busy flinging rocks at one another in this latest round of liturgical terrorism and counter-terrorism to see what the pope is really doing. The triumphalism of some quarters and the pessimism of others has done much to undermine the depth of vision that emanates from the man chiefly responsible for this document. Our pope.

In reality the document is about much more than missals and decrees, it highlights an approach to the Council and its implementation that has been missing from many Church sons since the Council closed- the idea of continuity. This goes far beyond the "we are right and you are wrong" approach. It is to say that the Council itself is something far greater than party politics and that the future of the Church like her past depends on one thing only- Her fidelity to Christ. We haven't come up with a new way of being Catholic, even though its expression may change. We haven't come up for a new reason for why we should be Catholic, man still needs salvation. And just as importantly we haven't had to come up with a new explanation for what Catholicism is or a justification for its existence- the Church is Chris's body and is forever one in Him.

It would seem that there is a tendency on both sides to want to see the Council as something new. The liberal agenda wants to hijack VCII and make it their project and subject to their whims of expression and the latest fads of the day. The reactionary agenda wants to undermine the Council and portray it as some kind of novelty, making it something that came from nowhere and which should just as quickly go back there.

It would seem that the Pope has both camps in mind when he lined up the motu proprio. The great irony is that the liberal and reactionary agenda is the same, to make the Council appear to be what suits their propose and not that their purpose should suit the Council's teaching.

God bless our Pope.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Just to let you know

It seems the only thing that is of any interest to the Australian news media about the Catholic Church recently is the Victorian priest who was caught on Youtube. The one mentioned below.

The followup article "Victorian priest flees Melbourne" is just another example of the quest for truth that just seems to evade the media's grasp. If it were anyone else he would have been seeking solitude, a pause for reflection- since he is a priest he must be on the run.

Of course in the spirit of follow-up journalism, no one ever seemed to ask why those innocent little cherubs who bore the brunt of such an unprovoked attack had a video camera with them on the day of the incident. Now that is a mystery... kids doing what they shouldn' filming with video cameras... kids with the presence of mind to upload it onto Youtube and promote it... Nope, can't say I see any mischief in that. No need for another stories boys, mystery solved!

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Where O Europe is your Faith?

Lately there seems to be an unusual number of weeping Catholic prelates. From Italy to Germany and now France, it seems that the Church's bishops have gotten in touch with their feelings and decided to broadcast them to the world. If only they would do that for the Faith.

Much of this new found sentiment is directed at or rather against a few Church documents that were published just before the summer break. I think we know which two. A German bishop Gerhard Feige has published a letter in the Leipzig Catholic weekly that seeks to compensate for some of the Church's shortcomings in its teaching- that he doesn't believe it.

The second comes from the French. How curious that the French are follow the Germans, anyway, they too have something to cry about. If only the French prelates would cry over abortion, family breakdown and all the other ills of French society. Alas the greatest threat to Catholicism in France according to her bishops is not secularism, it appears to be the Pope. Well!

I suppose I may be waisting my breath, but I believe we are seeing with the publication of these recent documents a certain parting of the sheep from the goats, wheat from the chaff and a division of those on God's left and those on His right. You see the differences, comments and reactions that we are seeing in the media from various Church quarters is not based on mere points of view, rather they spring from different beliefs. We simply do not have the same first principles. It is of little use to discuss the reasonableness of Papal documents if the person with whom you are discussing thinks it entirely unreasonable that the Pope should write documents, let alone that these documents be anything more than suggestion, that they be normative and indeed define and teach what the Church holds as true. Where do you start? If the latest novel idea is to be followed at all cost and the Pope to be resisted come what may, how is that the basis for dialogue. It sounds more like a shouting match that will finish in a fight.

And fight we must.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

When an apology is not what's needed

Sorry is often never enough. It is especially inadequate when either the Church or a churchman is made to apologise. It would appear so in the latest mega-scandal to hit the Church. It's not sexual abuse, it's not Church-state relations and it's not even about a mass exodus of the faithful- it's about a priest telling some kids to get off the Church lawn.

Now allegedly he did use some pretty colourful vocabulary in telling the kids where to go, some rather unacceptable descriptions in telling them how to get there and some rather abrasive metaphors for why they should go there. None of which is acceptable, but really- trial by media?

Now if you or I were telling some skateboarding foul mouth kid to 'bugger off' (if either of us were Australian) nothing would come of it. I couldn't imagine that the next day your outburst would be highlighted on Youtube, your face and name splashed across every newspaper in the country and when you went to work the next day you would find that you were suspended from your job.

Apparently however, if you are a Catholic priest you would be. And you are.

Some of the greatest damage the media does to society is not just the rampant half-truths and social engineering, it's that it forces each one of us to exist in his own little world. We have become so scared by the media's portrayal of society that we don't have the courage to raise our heads or lift our voices in protest. We feel that everyone thinks about issues in the same way as the media portrays them and so we never have the courage to say 'what a lot of garbage!' We know it's rubbush, we just don't think anyone else does.

The most revealing thing about this whole business is that no one ever said that the kids using the front steps of a Church as a skateboard ramp where young children and old people walk or calling the priest a pedophile was wrong. Not one word of reprimand for the youths involved.

Such is the absurdity of the situation that you had the Victorian premier "unreservedly apologisng for the unacceptable comments." But to whom and on behalf of what authority? Is he apologising on behalf of the Almighty? The Church? Hmmm... Church-State relations...

Now I am not defending the language used by the priest, but I am certainly not going to let him swing at the end of the media's noose simply because it is another opportunity to surround the Church in controversy.

It takes a lot of courage to stand against the crowd of those too willing to swallow whatever is fed them. What is it telling us that those kids first line of attack against the priest was to call him a pedophile and yet no one said that was wrong, stereotypical, judgmental or even scandalous? Apparently that was OK. After all, all priests are pedophiles? Right? So what does it matter? Evidently it doesn't.

I do have one question though: where were all those critics when the priest needed a hand dealing with the situation? Sorry they were busy filming.

Monday, 30 July 2007

The lone state

The amount of evidence is becoming embarrassing. Yet again the Sydney Morning Herald has the latest installment of 'Don't touch my conscience while I am telling you what to do.'

Ms Lee Rhiannon of the Green party in Sydney NSW, the one who told Card Pell to keep his nose out of state business and wants him investigated for contempt of parliament, has expressed deep concern that the Church will not use WYD Sydney to promote condom use. I am sure she is outraged that the Church would not consider her proposal, given the standard of excellence she has set in Church-State relations.

We are all moved when we read:
The NSW Department of Health will have to go it alone if it wants to develop and disseminate any messages about safe sex, including information on HIV and sexually transmittable diseases, which it provided for the Sydney Olympics in 2000, the Gay Games and the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Poor little state. What a trooper!

We can talk until we are blue in the face, but people like Ms Rhiannon refuse to see a most basic point: that the Church is promoting the only safe-sex message there is- chastity. The probability of your child who lives a christian life of contracting an STD is the same as the propbability that the state of NSW will ever get AIDS! Their attitude shows more than disagreement with views held by believers, it is contemptuous of the fact that believers may have a view that is not the prevailing secular orthodoxy. The difference is not just in the message, it is in the principles of those who make the arguments.

How revealing that the State is incapable of distinguishing between a religious event like WYD and something like the Gay Mardis Gras or the Gay Games. Somewhere behind closed doors some people are whispering about WYD being an excuse for Catholic sex, drugs and rock n' roll. I wonder if they are secretly trying to see where they can buy tickets? I hope they keep their receipts for when they want their money back.