Catholic in Yanchep

The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium)


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A Toolkit for Explaining the Christian View of Marriage

Peter Walks on Water Philipp Otto Runge

Peter Walks on Water, Philipp Otto Runge, 1806.

With the Marriage Plebiscite being distributed to all Australians on 12 September, and a count of the results being collected in November, it is crucial for Christians to understand and moreover, be able to explain to others, the reasons for their position on marriage.

Because Marriage is foundational to society, the government has agreed that the whole nation has a right and indeed a duty to provide feedback via a voluntary plebiscite on the proposal to allow same-sex “marriage”.

Many people find it difficult to articulate and defend their core beliefs on marriage, especially if they are on the “no” side, because the media are generally heavily in favour of the “yes” vote and the “no” case is not publicly being well made.  The problem with the way this issue is being discussed in Australia is that it is being defined as an “Equality” issue.  The assertion is made that same-sex attracted people are being discriminated against.  What I would like to do here, is reframe the issues at stake so that we can see more clearly the way to defend what most Christians instinctively know is right, but are not sure how to explain, especially when faced with angry and emotional others accusing us of being ‘haters’ or ‘spewing filth’ as I have seen in some online commentary.

The first thing we need to say is that this is not about hating people with same-sex attraction.  God loves all people and wants them to enter into a deeply fulfilling relationship with Him.  However, if we love God, we love Truth itself and therefore we need to seek the Truth about what Marriage is.

The second thing to say is that it’s no use discussing marriage with non-Christians by quoting the Bible.  Non-Christians do not regard the Bible as authoritative, so we need to find another area of common ground.  Fortunately, the Catholic Church has a very rich history of philosophy grounded in a respect for reason, so in my discussion below, I will not be talking about God, but about philosophical positions that both Christians and non-Christians can share.

Thirdly, we cannot possibly start this discussion without defining what Marriage is.  And it is when we look at this, that we discover that the “no” and “yes” cases have a fundamentally different way of looking at Marriage.  The problem with the “equality” argument, is that it doesn’t say exactly what we want to treat equally – or rather, it’s not marriage as a concept that it wants to treat equally, but rather self-defined and infinitely adjustable minority groups.  In the words of Ryan T. Anderson, Marriage Equality depends on Marriage Reality.  And Marriage Reality depends on describing Marriage correctly.  Essentially, there are two competing views on marriage, and I will describe them below.

The #1 View of Marriage.  In this worldview, marriage is that relationship which unites a mother and father with the children that their relationship produces.  Some 2,400 years ago, Aristotle said that we can analyse any community in terms of the ACTS that the community engages in, the GOODS that they seek, and the NORMS or COMMITMENTS that they live by.  Looking at marriage, we can see that there is one ACT engaged in by the husband and wife that defines their marriage.  This Act is grounded in the Anthropological truth that the bodies of men and women are complementary.  All of our bodily organs can function correctly on their own – the heart can beat on its own, the kidneys can filter the blood on their own, the eyes can see without recourse to another individual – but the sexual organs require input from another human being of the opposite sex to complete their function.  Together, the man and the woman form a one-flesh union.  And so complete is this union, that within the 24 hours following, a baby might be conceived and subsequently born nine months later.  So the GOODS produced as a result of the marriage are the children.  This is based in the biological truth that human reproduction requires both a man and a woman.  This tells us that the love-making Act that makes the marriage relationship marital, is also the life-giving act that produces the Goods that are the result of that union.  The act is not only unitive because of the love between the spouses, but also generative.  This then leads to the COMMITMENTS arising as a result of their Act – the Commitments to raising the children arising as a result of the love-making life-giving Act.  This is why spouses make commitments that are comprehensive both in time and in exclusivity and are declared as part of the marriage ceremony: “till death do us part”, “forsaking all others I take you to be my lawful wedded spouse”.  You don’t do that with your business partner or your flatmate.  Marital exclusivity is about the sexual act itself – it doesn’t include activities like who you can play tennis with or join a choir with.  These commitments are grounded in the social reality that children deserve both a mother and a father.  A large body of research data shows that the well-being of children in two-parent, intact families significantly exceeds that of children in single-parent families.  And research is increasingly showing that genetic differences between males and females are important for providing balance in child-rearing.  I’m not saying that same-sex attracted people are bad parents, but with the best will in the world, two dads or two mums do not replace a mum and a dad.

The #2 View of Marriage.  There’s a competing vision of marriage that sees it rather as an intense, emotional, romantic and care-giving relationship.  The determining factor is that of all your relationships, this one relationship is your most intense, your most romantic, your BFF par excellence, where you have an exchange of care-giving between the partners, who are not differentiated by sexual preference.  This view has as its motto “love is love”.  Everyone who does not subscribe to this view may be consequently regarded as a “hater” or a “homophobe”, despite the fact that any opinion on homosexuality is irrelevant to the #1 Vision of Marriage.

But the second definition of marriage can’t explain all the marital norms, i.e. the life-long commitment and the exclusivity – and it certainly can’t explain the history of marriage legislation over time.  If the second view is true, then why can’t someone just abandon the marriage when they fall out of love, or when someone more exciting or attractive comes along?  If the second view is true, then what is to prevent it being exclusive – why not have the occasional secret ‘fling’ for the sake of a few moments of ‘love’?  What is there to prevent this sort of relationship being monogamous – why not make it a throuple or allow polygamy?  Why not say, like the Mormon polygamist, “I love them all!”  There is nothing in the #2 definition of marriage which grounds the relationship in monogamy, exclusivity and permanency.

For this reason, I see the second view of marriage leading to the complete erosion of the concept of marriage over time, as those things that currently make marriage special (monogamy, exclusivity and permanency) would become irrelevant.  Of course, it is only the sexual revolution of the 1960s that has made the #2 view of marriage possible – with easy contraception eroding the link between the unitive and generative aspects of marriage and leading to the hook-up culture with its consequent explosion of non-marital childbearing, and no-fault divorce eroding all three pillars of marriage: monogamy, exclusivity and permanence.  So it’s no surprise that some people come to the conclusion that sexual preference is no big deal either.  The subtext of the marriage debate is that heterosexual people have made such a mess of marriage that there is no reason any more to restrict access to marriage across a wider spectrum.

Neither does the second definition of marriage explain why the State takes an interest in marriage.  Obviously the State has an interest in creating a stable society.  And stable societies are made up of smaller units of families.  When families are dysfunctional, everybody is affected.  With a decreased commitment to the traditional understanding of marriage and family, there will be an associated increase in anti-social behaviour, depression, anxiety and other mental-health disorders, and diminished societal cohesion.  There is no reason for the State to have any interest in people’s personal love lives, apart from the fact that the State is interested in the welfare of children, since neglected, abandoned, dysfunctional, depressed and anxious children are a burden on the State.

I haven’t yet addressed the other flow-ons from the re-definition of marriage – limits to freedom of speech and freedom of association, as well as persecution for sincerely held religious beliefs, but will return to them in the coming weeks, along with a discussion of why this is not an “Equality” issue.

I would just like to acknowledge my indebtedness to Ryan T. Anderson, Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, and Michael Quinlan, from whose work I have borrowed heavily.

In the meantime, here is a copy of a Facebook conversation I conducted with a friend of a friend, to assist you in having your arguments ready to defend the Catholic position.

Facebook-discussion

Further reading and watching:

 

 


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Raising Mentally Healthy Children with Melinda Tankard Reist

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Melinda Tankard Reist speaking at St Stephen’s School, Duncraig, Western Australia on 4 August 2017. Photo: Deirdre Fleming

If these facts about our children don’t give you pause, then you’re not paying attention.

  • More than a quarter of 16-24 year olds have a mental disorder.
  • One in sixteen of 16-24 year olds have depression.
  • One in six have an anxiety disorder.
  • There has been a 90% increase in older adolescent self –harm (mostly girls, but some boys) in the last 10 years – cutting themselves, pulling out hair, pulling out eyelashes, pulling out eyebrows.
  • There has been a 60% increase in 12 to 14-year-olds hospitalised as a result of self-harm between 1996 and 2006. (Patrick Parkinson, Repairing the Social Environment for Australian Children and Young People, 2011, Vos Foundation)
  • One in 100 adolescent girls are anorexic.
  • One in ten girls are bulimic.
  • One in four teenage girls wants to have plastic surgery, mostly breast implants,  with a 50% increase in girls between 15-23 wanting labiaplasty or genital surgery (when there is nothing wrong with them).
  • Among boys, body image dissatisfaction for Western men has tripled in the past 25 years.
  • Up to a quarter of people suffering from anorexia nervosa or bulimia are male, and almost equal numbers of males and females suffer from binge eating disorders.
  • A ‘reverse anorexia’ condition is occurring among men who are dissatisfied with their body image: body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), also called bigorexia, or muscle dysmorphia. In their quest for cheap, muscle-building steroids, these men often travel overseas, but don’t come back alive.

These were just some of the introductory points made by Melinda Tankard Reist, author and media commentator, at a presentation she gave last Friday at St Stephen’s School, Duncraig.  A passionate defender of our children’s right to be children, Tankard Reist links our culture’s obsession with sex with the dysfunctional behaviours now becoming common among our youth.  Drawing our attention to the sexualisation of our culture, she took us through a visual tour of the porn-invaded advertising and industry landscape.  Who hasn’t heard of high-heeled shoes for babies, children’s shirts that say “SL_T, all I need is U”, Trashwhore shorts, Playboy baby clothes (with front-and-centre statements like “Future Player: Lock up your daughters” and “Future Playmate” on their baby onesies), and the not-to-be-missed Cotton On/Typo “Porn is my Saviour” mugs?

Boys, in particular, are at risk from the pornification of the internet, and are exposed to a myriad of sexualised images from advertisers seeking to groom them for a life addicted to their products.  Some advertisers have even cleverly linked the pop-ups featuring their sex-products to common spelling mistakes made by children when searching the internet for completely unrelated material.  Tankard Reist points out that the male brain is not fully developed until age 25 to 30, and that this oversaturation with sexualised images distorts the perception among teenage boys who think that porn presents what is normal.

It has been demonstrated elsewhere, that porn addiction has serious implications for the happiness of both men and women in later life, with porn-addicted men no longer being able to have normal sexual relations with their wives – resulting in an associated increase in treatments for impotence.

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Melinda Tankard Reist in conversation at St Stephen’s School, Duncraig, Western Australia. Photo: Deirdre Fleming

At schools across the country, Tankard Reist is busy engaging children and teenagers in conversation about issues such as teenage self-perception.  Crucial to the discussion is whether the young person understands that they are so much more than just their physical appearance.  Tankard Reist encourages parents to develop in their children a wider sense of their own value, and praise their children for things other than their appearance in order to help them develop a well-rounded view of themselves as people with intelligence, people of faith, with the ability to love unselfishly, and possessing virtues like kindness and self-control.   She helps young women to navigate ways of answering the question, “How do I say no without hurting his feelings?”

Her organisation, Collective Shout, has been instrumental in achieving a number of wins for children. Zoo magazine, the ‘rape manual for boys’, was removed from sale at Coles, and subsequently went out of production, while Grand Theft Auto V, a video game in which you can earn health points by sexually abusing and murdering women, has been withdrawn from sale at Kmart and Target.  Another  campaign resulted in the removal of billboards advertising local brothels, previously positioned overlooking the playground of a Brisbane boys’ school with the obvious intention of grooming future customers.

Melinda was also one of the first to expose the porn sites connected to the Safe Schools Program.  Ostensibly anti-bullying, Safe Schools was developed by Roz Ward, a Marxist LGBTI activist, and former lecturer at La Trobe University (she has now been booted out for alleged misconduct).  More and more people are coming to see the Safe Schools program for what it is, an attempt to sexualise and confuse our children about their bodies and challenge ‘heteronormativity’, at an age when this is the last thing they should be thinking about.  I recommend everyone read Miranda Devine’s article in the Daily Telegraph, critiquing the Marxist agenda of deconstructing the family.  The alternate universe of LGBTI activists sees the traditional family not as the core of a socially cohesive nation, but as something from which we should be liberated.

To smooth the operation of capitalism the ruling class has benefited … from oppressing our bodies, our relationships, sexuality and gender identities alongside sexism, homophobia and transphobia (which) serve to break the spirits of ordinary people (and make us) feel like we should live in small social units and families where we must reproduce and take responsibility for people in those units. (Roz Ward)

Ms Ward is quoted in The Australian as saying:

It’s more like 40-50 per cent of young people who are not ­exclusively attracted to the opposit­e sex.  That’s how fluid sexuality is headed.

I will have more to say about the (so-called) Safe Schools program in a future post, so stay tuned.

There is much that we as Catholic parents can do to help our children.  We can teach them their value in God’s eyes – their dignity as humans created in God’s plan, with a particular vocation and purpose in this life, one which it is our sacred duty to discover and cooperate with, if we want to live a life of joy and abundance.  Instead of teaching them that most malleable of words, ‘values’ (HT Iain Benson), let’s teach them actual virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope and love.  At the same time, let’s draw their attention to the seven deadly sins, so they can know what not to aim at: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.  Let’s teach them to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord), and to be able to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  When my children were still living under my roof, we prayed for these things every night and they memorised the lists, and although they’re not perfect (but who is?), I can see the fruit in their lives today.  For our culture and for your children’s present and future happiness, keep the faith.

Further reading and listening:


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Breaking news: God loves Yanchep Two Rocks! We’re building a Church.

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Extract from “Far North on Track”, Lucy Jarvis, North Coast Times, 25 July 2017.

Not that we didn’t have one already.  As Christians know, the Church is the term we use for the people, and not just the building.  Catholics have worshipped in Yanchep-Two Rocks since the seventies – first at the marina, then in the YDHS library, then in the old sheep-shearing shed converted by the Anglican Church into St James’s Church, and when that was removed (I heard a rumour it was taken to the wheatbelt town of Southern Cross, but that may be apocryphal), at the Yanchep Community Centre, where we currently celebrate Mass.

But it’s wonderful news that the Archdiocese has committed to investing in land in the Yanchep-Two Rocks area.  This week, Nick Perrignon, Principal of Acumen Development Solutions, announced that a Catholic Church would be built on the hill overlooking Beachside Parade in Capricorn Estate.

Even more wonderful is the fact that we will have a Church building before a school, because that puts our priorities in the right order.  Everything we have is from God, and to him we should first and foremost give right praise.  If we get that first commandment right – to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30), the rest will follow (or it will if we’re loving God correctly – note to the community: “We’re not all paedophiles”)!  What I mean by ‘the rest’, is loving our neighbour, which includes building schools and reaching out to the sick, the lonely, and those in need.

But having a Church building enables us to do and be so much more.  It means we can have a permanent place to honour God in the Holy Eucharist.  It means we can have a much more visible presence in the Community and (we hope) serve the Community better.  Already we are involved in visiting the frail and aged at Bethanie Beachside (which is run by our friends, the Church of Christ), and we have also had a bread distribution programme going for many years (courtesy of Bakers Delight). But it would be nice to hear from members of the Yanchep Two Rocks Community about other areas of need, especially your prayer requests.

If the life of our Church is like a recapitulation of Scripture, having our own church building will be like the difference between the Israelites wandering around in the desert for years on end and finally building the Temple under Solomon.  Or that’s how it feels, because we’ve been praying for this for so very long.

I will endeavour to keep you posted about the actual timeline of the building.  So far, all discussions have been in commercial confidence and therefore we have to wait until an official announcement from the Archdiocese.  Or as we could say …

On the idea of ‘Church’, here are some snippets from the Catechism …

751 The word “Church” (Latin ecclesia, from the Greek ek-ka-lein, to “call out of”) means a convocation or an assembly. It designates the assemblies of the people, usually for a religious purpose. 139 Ekklesia is used frequently in the Greek Old Testament for the assembly of the Chosen People before God, above all for their assembly on Mount Sinai where Israel received the Law and was established by God as his holy people. By calling itself “Church,” the first community of Christian believers recognized itself as heir to that assembly. In the Church, God is “calling together” his people from all the ends of the earth. the equivalent Greek term Kyriake, from which the English word Church and the German Kirche are derived, means “what belongs to the Lord.”

752 In Christian usage, the word “church” designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers. These three meanings are inseparable. “The Church” is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ’s Body.

The Catholic Church. The Catechism Of The Catholic Church (Kindle Locations 3771-3776). . Kindle Edition.

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When the Ordinary becomes Extraordinary

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Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham (The Slipper Chapel), with Fr Michael Collis and altar server, Joshua Clovis.

“That isn’t just any manky old boot, mate.  It’s a portkey,” say the Weasley twins in the film version of J.K. Rowling’s Goblet of Fire.  Portkeys, in case you don’t know, are ordinary, unobtrusive objects which have the ability to transport wizards from one place to another.  For example, the Weasleys use a portkey which to all intents and purposes looks like an old boot, to transport them to the Quidditch World Cup.  The reality is that the old boot, lying as if discarded on the hillside, is not just an old boot – in Aristotelian terms, it’s appearance or ‘accident’ is that of a boot, but its substance is that of a powerful magical object.

My point is that even children have no difficulty in distinguishing between ‘substance’ and ‘accident’ – or between what something really is and what it looks, smells, sounds, feels like or appears to be on a molecular level, so let us not imagine that the concept of transubstantiation is too difficult for children to understand.  That is what today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is all about: that the Eucharistic elements are transformed truly and substantially into the most holy Body and Blood of Christ.  That is why St Paul is so clear about our needing to examine ourselves prior to reception of Communion.

Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. (1 Co. 11:28-29)

J.K. Rowling says that she was the only one of her family to attend church regularly – she herself admits that many of her themes are derived from Christian ideas.  What isn’t generally acknowledged is the Catholicity of much of her thought: think of the Patronus figures, the sacramentality of objects, the extensive use of Latinesque words, the celebration of deathdays, the belief in the power of words to effect some metaphysical transformation, the suffering hero, the immortality of personal and subsistent souls.

We Catholics have something precious many other Christians don’t have – the presence of the supernatural in our Mass.  Our churches are not just halls or gathering places.  They are physical and particular locations of Christ, supernaturally physically present in what appears to be ordinary bread and wine, either in the tabernacle or during Holy Communion.

All of our rituals are designed to bring the supernatural into our everyday life – to help our imaginations conceive of the larger reality that encompasses the physical reality accessible to our senses, in the same way that the soul is the larger reality and animating principle of the physical human body.

This calls to mind a House Blessing at which I was recently fortunate enough to be present while on holiday in England (this is why I haven’t posted for a while).  House blessings are another example of Sacramentals that bring the supernatural into the present and the ordinary.  The Blessing was of the new EWTN studios for Great Britain at Annunciation House in Walsingham, where my brother, Norman, has taken up residence as Producer.  The family live on the upper two floors, while the studio uses the ground floor and the cellar.  Walsingham is as medieval a town as you could imagine, and the destination of pilgrimages in honour of Our Lady of Walsingham, who appeared in ecstatic visions, to an English noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, during the 11th century.

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Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Basilica (Slipper Chapel).

One would imagine that a House and Studio Blessing for the largest religious media network in the world would be accompanied by pomp and ceremony – and indeed there will be an official Blessing with Michael Warsaw, the Chief Executive of EWTN, later this year.  However, this didn’t stop Monsignor John Armitage, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, from proceeding with this simple house and studio blessing – appropriately on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Fatima during the centenary year of the Fatima apparitions.  Typically Catholic, it juxtaposed the ceremonially Sacred with the ordinary and joyful chaos of family life – indeed there were more children present than adults: all my nephews and nieces, some in their more formal church clothes, some still barefoot and dishevelled after walking the two miles to and from the Slipper Chapel (where it is said that medieval pilgrims removed their shoes on the way to the Shrine), and interrupted all through by the squeals and grunts of my newest niece, Amelie.  It was a wonderful homely scene, a reminder of the beauty of ordinariness shot through by God’s grace – and in many ways it reminded me of those homely scenes of that other chaotic but loving family, the Weasleys, with whom I started this piece. 

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The EWTN (GB) Studios at Annunciation House, Walsingham, with Norman and Amy Servais and their family.

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View over Friday Market, Walsingham, from my attic window.


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A reader asks about homosexuality and the Bible

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The Last Judgement (detail), Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

Today I’ll cover part three of the series which answers a question from a reader of my Facebook posts.  This is the question:

Why don’t Christians condemn the parts of their Bible that instruct non-believers must be killed.  While they are at it they could do the same about the bits that condone rape and the bits that say gays must die.

Part One (non-believers) is here.  Part Two (rape) is here.

Part Three will attempt to discuss the final part, which is referring to the sexual prohibitions mentioned in Leviticus 18.  To provide some context, this chapter in Leviticus is part of a larger section describing the Law of Holiness (Lv 17-26), which is a guide for the moral formation of the Israelites, as a people distinct from the surrounding nations who were known for various types of degenerate behaviour such as incest and child sacrifice.  The list of sexual prohibitions in Chapter 18 spans a few categories which I have itemised in the table below.  To modern ears and in a society that has been deeply wounded by the adultery and divorce culture, these lists sound harsh and judgmental; words like ‘sin’ and ‘degenerate’ trigger emotional responses in people who have been affected by the negative consequences of the rampant sexual license characteristic of the post-WW2 era.  And then the Biblical descriptions of menstrual impurity sound completely alien to our ears if we don’t read them with any comprehension of the concept of ritual purity in ancient Judaism.

Prohibitions in Leviticus 18 Number of rules Verse
Incest (various classifications) 11 6-17
Polygamy 1 18
Sex during menstrual periods 1 19
Adultery 1 20
Child sacrifice 1 21
Homosexual acts 1 22
Bestiality 1 23

There is a constant refrain running through Leviticus, wherein God reminds the Israelites, “Be consecrated to me, for I, the LORD, am holy, and I shall set you apart from all these peoples, for you to be mine” (Lv 20:26).  The idea of holiness is intended to convey the ‘separateness, inaccessibility and awe-inspiring transcendence’ [i] of God, and the lists of ‘sins’ are there to help the Israelites identify the particular practices that God regards as being problematic if one wants to grow in one’s covenant relationship with him.

I’m going to take a leap here and suggest that, at bottom, the reader was really asking what right Christians have to include homosexual practices in any list of sins.  Is he really worried that Christians are going to start executing homosexual people because of Leviticus 20:13 or putting to death the man who has an affair with another man’s wife because of Leviticus 20:10?  To be sure, some countries have current legislation demanding severe punishments for homosexual acts, but they are Islamic, not Christian.  For example, Iran’s New Islamic Penal Code lists this penalty:

Article 234– The hadd punishment for livat shall be the death penalty for the insertive/active party if he has committed livat by using force, coercion, or in cases where he meets the conditions for ihsan; otherwise, he shall be sentenced to one hundred lashes. The hadd punishment for the receptive/passive party, in any case (whether or not he meets the conditions for ihsan) shall be the death penalty.[ii]

 – however, it is principally in countries which have sprung from the Christian intellectual tradition that so-called LGBT rights have even been able to emerge.  Why the difference?

This is because Christians read the Old Testament books of the Bible in the light of the New Testament – and vice versa.   St Augustine tells us:

The New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old is made manifest in the New[iii]
(quamquam et in Vetere Novum lateat, et in Novo Vetus pateat)

and again,

This grace hid itself under a veil in the Old Testament, but it has been revealed in the New Testament according to the most perfectly ordered dispensation of the ages, forasmuch as God knew how to dispose all things.[iv]

Jesus as the Word of God is the God the Father’s perfect expression of Himself, and if we want to interpret Old Testament texts correctly, we have to look to Jesus’ own word and example.  You can find this specific instruction in The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2053):

Following Jesus Christ involves keeping the Commandments.  The Law has not been abolished, but rather man is invited to rediscover it in the person of his Master who is its perfect fulfilment.[v]

Again, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI’s  Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, has emphasised the person of Christ as the hermeneutical key to the interpretation of Scripture.

  1. … God’s plan is manifested progressively and it is accomplished slowly, in successive stages and despite human resistance. God chose a people and patiently worked to guide and educate them. Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things. This can be explained by the historical context, yet it can cause the modern reader to be taken aback, especially if he or she fails to take account of the many “dark” deeds carried out down the centuries, and also in our own day. In the Old Testament, the preaching of the prophets vigorously challenged every kind of injustice and violence, whether collective or individual, and thus became God’s way of training his people in preparation for the Gospel. So it would be a mistake to neglect those passages of Scripture that strike us as problematic. Rather, we should be aware that the correct interpretation of these passages requires a degree of expertise, acquired through a training that interprets the texts in their historical-literary context and within the Christian perspective which has as its ultimate hermeneutical key “the Gospel and the new commandment of Jesus Christ brought about in the paschal mystery”.  I encourage scholars and pastors to help all the faithful to approach these passages through an interpretation which enables their meaning to emerge in the light of the mystery of Christ.[vi]

So, to answer the reader’s question, the Church doesn’t condemn those parts of the Old Testament that seem difficult; the Old Testament is a crucial part of the story of Salvation.  But we must then make our next question, “So how would Jesus behave towards a person with same-sex attraction?”

The answer: “Always with love.”

Now, what we mean by ‘love’ is complicated, because in the Christian understanding it means ‘willing the good of the other’, which is not the same as approving every action of ‘the other’ or agreeing with ‘the other’ on what they believe.  The Christian understanding of the human person distinguishes a person from his/her acts.  It is this understanding of love that enables the gay Rubin Report presenter, Dave Rubin, to sit down with Bishop Robert Barron and have a mature and respectful discussion about same sex marriage.  It is this understanding of love that enables the SSA Tim Wilson to sit down with Andrew Hastie and have a charitable conversation on the same topic.

St Augustine (he is so very useful) has a famous epithet for this ability to distinguish between a person’s inherent dignity and their acts (or beliefs): Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum , which can be translated aswith due love for the persons and hatred of the sin”[vii].  We can see this in Jesus’ actions when he says to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) in the same sentence:  “Neither do I condemn you; go and from now on sin no more.”  He doesn’t crush her (literally and figuratively) by condemning her to being stoned to death, but at the same time he doesn’t deny that her actions have been sinful, and he calls her gently to a renunciation of sin.

Now when we come to people who are same-sex-attracted (SSA), explaining this gets tricky, because in our current culture, as never before in the history of mankind, sexual orientation is regarded as an inherent characteristic of the SSA person – as if it is part of one’s genetic makeup.  And so, any criticism of same-sex activity becomes per se a criticism of the person’s identity or orientation.  But is sexual orientation really genetically determined?

Speaking as a former Human Biology teacher and as someone who has studied molecular genetics at post-graduate level, I can say that the evidence for sexual orientation being genetically determined is not conclusive by any means, and the science as it currently stands sees it as being the result of a complex interaction of genetic, hormonal, environmental and social influences.  For example, an Australian study of 4,901 sets of twins by Bailey, Dunne and Martin[viii] found only 20% concordance in sexual orientation in male monozygotic (identical) twins and 24% concordance in female monozygotic twins.  If the condition were purely genetic, the concordance should be 100%.  In fact, the gay community are divided among themselves about sexual orientation: many who want to leverage a political and ideological agenda want to claim the ‘born this way’ status, so that the group as a whole can be treated as a victimised minority group, while at the same time, others want to promote the idea of gender fluidity so that children can be indoctrinated at an early age with the ideology that gender is a malleable social construct of our own self-creation and not something objective and biologically determined.

On a personal level and as someone who has a few SSA friends and acquaintances, I am leaning towards a strong correlation with social factors and have made the following informal observations about cases I am familiar with, as they have been self-reported to me.

  • Friend #1 is female SSA, was sexually and physically abused by her father in her early years, and reportedly without emotional support from a passive mother. This friend is now coping with the additional burden of paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Friend #2 is female SSA, was abandoned by her mother in her early years. Her mother was a drug abuser and is currently living as a homeless person.
  • Friend #3 is female SSA. Her case involves significant childhood trauma, but because of her status as a friend of mine, I can’t even begin to discuss her case publicly.
  • Friend #4 is male SSA, was sexually abused by ‘multiple teachers and an older boy’.[ix] You can read his story here.

Even Milo Yiannopoulos agrees with me on this.

I have to concede, though, that others do not fit into this paradigm – I’m thinking of people like Mindy Selmys and Eve Tushnet.

What this means for the Christian, is that for many SSA people, the experience of rejection by a significant other is a large part of what feeds into their self-perception.  And it seems to me that because the theme of rejection looms so large in their psychological landscape, they are particularly sensitive to the suggestion that same-sex attraction is regarded as sinful in the Abrahamic religions.  To them it seems just another instantiation of the rejection meme (in the Dawkins sense).  Hence the constant accusations of ‘homophobia’.

I get this a lot.  In spite of my having spent a significant part of last summer visiting an SSA friend in psychiatric hospital and taking her on outings while she recovered, I still get called ‘homophobic’ by certain members of my family, just because I happen to disagree with them about the purpose of sexuality in our lives.

And my Facebook news feed reveals a sort of passive aggression about the Christian understanding of homosexuality.  There is so much misunderstanding and superficiality in the meme below, that I will need another whole post to explain the logical fallacies in the statement, and give some clarity about what classical Natural Law theory is for Christians.  So I will leave that for next week.

Homosexuality-Meme

Things my friends post on Facebook.

The Christian understanding is that while the existence of a same-sex orientation itself is not sinful, homosexual acts are.  Christians are not picking on homosexuality in particular – we also regard masturbation, adultery, sex before marriage, polygamy and contraception as intrinsically dis-ordered, with the word ‘disordered’ being used in a technical, natural law sense and not in a medical sense.

The most important thing for me as a Christian, is to be, as much as is humanly possible in my flawed sort of way, Christ’s representative to my SSA friends.  For they won’t be able to understand the Christian position on homosexuality without first encountering the person of Christ.

Next week, I will give an overview of Christian teaching on sexuality, and explain some aspects of Natural Law as it pertains to this discussion.

In the meantime, for some extra background on Homosexuality from a Catholic perspective, I can recommend these two interviews with psychologist, Dr Joseph Nicolosi:

Understanding Same Sex Attraction, Part 1 
Understanding Same Sex Attraction, Part 2

[i] The New Jerusalem Bible (1985), Doubleday, notes to Leviticus 17.
[ii] The new Islamic Penal Code, accessed at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/iranian-codes/1000000455-english-translation-of-books-1-and-2-of-the-new-islamic-penal-code.html#45
[iii] Quaestiones in Heptateuchum, 2, 73: PL 34, 623, accessed at http://www.augustinus.it/latino/questioni_ettateuco/index2.htm
[iv] St Augustine, Anti Pelagian Writings, 27 [XV] accessed at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xi.xxx.html
[vii] Letter 211, Augustine, §11, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102211.htm.
[viii] Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample, (2000) Bailey, J.M., Dunne M.P. and Martin, N.G.,  J. Pers. Soc. Psychol, accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10743878
[ix] http://catholicoutlook.org/james-parker-from-gay-activist-to-husband-and-father/

 

 

 


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My little tale of Divine Mercy

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Divine Mercy Holy Hour, 2017, at St Andrew’s Parish, Clarkson.

What can one say about the Feast of Divine Mercy that hasn’t been said before elsewhere?  As I was mulling this question over, wondering what to write, I remembered a story of Divine Mercy that I had witnessed personally.  The thing about the Resurrected Christ is that He is alive and acting in the world; He isn’t merely a figure of historical interest.  He promised to be ‘with us always’, so if we are on the alert for His action, we will see his signs and guidance all over the place.  In telling this story, I will change the names of a few people to protect their identities.

Several years ago I came across a man – let’s call him Józef – who was of Polish heritage and had been baptised a Catholic, but had fallen away from the practice of his faith.  This man became the subject of my prayers from time to time.  I could see that he was a good man, a great contributor to the community, and heavily involved in volunteering, but it made me sad to think that he had not quite realised the potential of the Holy Spirit given to him at baptism.  If only we could understand the abundant life God offers us, we would all want to enter into his joy.  But most of us live on a somewhat superficial level, getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of life without considering the question, “What must I do to be saved?” and getting to know their Creator.  I’m not saying that most people are bad; all I am saying is that we are rather careless about our final end and purpose and this puts our souls in jeopardy.  So I used to pray that God would find a way to save Józef and bring him into relationship with Him.

Enter Divine Grace.  Grace has a funny way of showing itself.  In this case, Józef developed early onset dementia.  I know that dementia doesn’t sound like a gift from God, but when one doesn’t take the opportunities God gives as Plan A, sometimes God has to chase after us with a Plan B.  God’s aim is to help us make it to heaven, but He can’t compel us, or our free will is compromised, so he sometimes resorts to steering us by slow degrees, especially if we are assisted by someone praying for us at the same time.  I had visited Józef at his home at some point during this time and asked if he would like to see a priest, but his family declined.  In the meantime, I kept praying for him – not regularly, I must admit, but every now and then, I would dart an intercession his way.  Well, after a few years of slow deterioration at home, Józef had to be moved to a local nursing home which happened to be run by a Christian denomination.

Now the local Catholic priest used to attend this aged care facility once a week to offer Mass, and every Wednesday, the Catholic residents (and there were quite a few) would be wheeled in to the activity room to participate in the Mass  – among them Józef.  By now Józef’s dementia had progressed to a point where his former resistance to receiving Holy Communion had been replaced by an openness and even an eagerness.  Perhaps some mental barriers had been dislodged.  How much Józef understood and how much assent of the will was involved God alone knew. I remember praying at this time, ”Lord, Józef is going rapidly downhill.  Please give me an opportunity to pray the Divine Mercy prayer with him before he dies.”

Now why would I ask this?  Well, one of the things that Our Lord revealed to St Faustina during her mystical experiences, was this:

Encourage souls to say the Chaplet which I have given you (1541). Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death (687). When they say this Chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Saviour (1541). Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this Chaplet only once, he would receive grace from My infinite mercy (687). I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy (687). Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will. (1731) 

I thought, ”If only God can help me pray this prayer with Józef before he dies, there is a chance that he will be saved.”

Anyway, after some years, Józef’s mobility decreased to the point where he became confined to his room.  I am ashamed to say that he didn’t receive many visits from the Catholic Church once he was bed-bound, although the nursing home Chaplain used to visit and provide emotional support to the family.  So suddenly Józef was no longer receiving Holy Communion, and, as far as I can understand, the priest did not seem to be aware of the situation or in touch with the family.

Enter God’s grace again.  The priest was due to take four weeks of annual leave and he obtained permission from the Archdiocese for one of the parishioners to distribute Holy Communion while he was away.  The parishioner, a generous-hearted woman, together with a friend, decided to go from room to room, finding all the Catholic residents who were bedbound and not able to attend the Activity Room Masses.

It was while they were doing this that one of them decided to ring me.  ”It’s Pat here.  I’m phoning you because Father’s away and I don’t know what to do!  The Chaplain has told us that Józef has not long to live and he might need the Last Rites!”  Fortunately, I had the phone number of the Supply Priest, but – oh no – it was a Monday, priest’s day off!  What if Józef died before he’d received an anointing?  Praise God, Fr Demetri answered his phone.  And what’s more, he wasn’t having a day off; he was in between two funerals.  ”Don’t worry.  I’ll come up and give him an Anointing after the second funeral,” he said.

In the meantime I was thinking, ”Thank you, Lord, that you have timed this so that I can pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet with Józef.  I want You to stand between Your Father and Józef, like you said, not as the just Judge but as the Merciful Saviour.”  I planned to pray a Divine Mercy Novena, if possible – nine days, or as long as God might give me.  This was what my dear friend, Cathy, did with me before my own husband passed away.  So every day after work for that week, I would turn up at Józef’s room to pray out loud or silently by his bed.  His family were very kind to me, and allowed me to carry on.  But his wife was concerned about Józef.  He was not at peace, she said, even though he had had an Anointing.

I wondered what else I could do for Józef – and then I had an inspiration!  People with dementia often respond to things that strike a chord with their history from the distant past, rather than more recent times.  What about if I could get a Polish priest to come and pray for him in Polish?  It so happened that God’s Providence had placed a Polish Deacon in a neighbouring parish, someone whom I already knew, who had a devotion to the Divine Mercy and, what’s more, had just recently returned from a visit to the Shrine of St Faustina.  But the neighbouring parish was an active one, the Deacon couldn’t come straight away, and in the meantime,  Józef was sliding further downhill. I had already reached Day 4 of the Novena.  Was there anything I could do to speed things up?  Perhaps they thought I was being a bit too demanding, so I popped a thank you card with a donation in the parish mailbox (a donation which he insisted on returning, by the way) and waited to see what would happen. On the next day, when I visited for Day 5 of the Novena, Józef’s wife said that the young Deacon had been to visit.  ”I’m afraid I must have scared him because he arrived at a time when we were all crying and upset.  Józef had been so agitated through the course of the day.  But then the Deacon prayed with him, and Józef calmed right down.  He gave him peace.”

After that, Józef went into a rapid, but peaceful, decline, and he died on Day Seven of the Divine Mercy Chaplet – the number of completion, you could say.

How good was God to dear Józef! Yes, I know his last years were a struggle both for him and his devoted family – but God did these things …

  • provided a Priest to give him an Anointing before he passed,
  • brought him parishioners to give him Holy Communion in his last days,
  • gave him a Chaplain who saw the need for alerting the Catholic Church,
  • granted me my wish to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet for him on his deathbed, and
  • arranged for a Deacon to pray him into peace at the last in the language of his childhood.

We just need to see the struggle with God’s eyes, and not our own.


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EASTER | Some stats and graphs on why the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection are extraordinary

Have you ever been told that the Bible is historically unreliable and not been sure how to respond?  Most people who make that claim are using it as a lever to excuse themselves from taking Christianity seriously.  Press them, and you find they have not actually studied the facts about the Bible’s historicity.  It’s a sign of the craziness of our times that the word ‘facts’ has itself become contentious.  Setting that aside, it’s instructive to look at the statistics relating to the extant New Testament manuscripts.  If we dig into the figures, we discover some striking data that rarely seem to find their way into the popular media.

I first became interested in this subject when I read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which has recently been released as a film and will be available in Australia in May 2017.  While I don’t agree with everything Strobel writes, and find his writing style annoying in its lack of subtlety and constant attempts to re-create the scene, his interviewees are usually well-known scholars in their fields.

We’re all familiar today with the way some news items ‘go viral’.  A similar thing happened after Christ’s Resurrection: an astounding explosion in documented output by authors describing it.  So singular, extraordinary, impossible, fantastic, and unbelievable was this event, that not only did it inspire four contemporary eye-witness and/or “one-step-removed-from-eye-witness” authors to produce accounts (something unheard of for any other event in ancient history), but the sheer volume and speed of propagation of these documents is unparalleled, considering the technology available in this period of history.

Focussing in on just two aspects of this phenomenon, I’d like to share with you some graphs for those of you who are visual learners.  I will concentrate on these two questions:

  1. Number of manuscripts.
    1. How many ancient manuscripts of the New Testament exist?
    2. How does this compare with the number of manuscripts of other ancient documents?
  2. Time interval
    1. What is the time interval between the date of composition and the earliest extant manuscript?
    2. How does this compare with other ancient documents?

Just to define my terms, I should mention that by manuscripts I am including handwritten copies prior to the invention of the printing press, inscribed on papyrus, parchment, vellum, and paper, in any number of languages from that period:  Greek and Latin, Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian, amongst others.

Comparing the most well-known works from this period, we find a breakdown as shown in Table 1 below.  Surprising, isn’t it, that there are only seven manuscripts of Virgil’s Aeneid, ten of Caesar’s Gallic Wars which it was de rigueur for every Latin scholar of my era to read, but over 24,000 of the New Testament?  Testament, indeed, to the power of the Gospel.  Even Homer’s Iliad is fewer by about 37 times.  A graph makes the disparity even more striking.  When it’s the Bible versus ‘everything else’, ‘everything else’ pales, mathematically speaking, into insignificance.  And I haven’t even included the numerous commentaries about the New Testament which would explode the figures into the stratosphere.Manuscript-Number-Graph

 

 

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Manuscripts of Iron Age writings: the Numbers

Another measure we can look at is the time interval between the best-estimate date of composition and the earliest extant manuscript.  Disputants like to claim “Oh well, the New Testament was written long after the events it describes”.  Actually, when the Bible is compared to other works from about the same era, one finds that the intervals involved for the Bible are relatively short.  The bars on the graph below show the time interval from the creation of each work (bottom of bar) to the date of the first extant copy (top of bar) of each manuscript.  Using the same criteria as historians use for other works, the New Testament compares favourably – in fact it appears to be more reliable than other ancient texts.  I have arranged these by date of composition, so that it is clear which documents are contemporaneous with each other.

Manuscript-Summary

Interval-Authorship-to-Extant

So now, when you are challenged about the reliability of the Gospels, please share with your friends these facts and figures.  There are numerous other points that can be made regarding the Resurrection of Christ as a real event, and I encourage you to go and see the film, The Case for Christ, when it is released next month.  And for a Catholic version on a similar theme, try Dr Brant Pitre’s The Case for Jesus  – written in a more scholarly style, with much additional data, but still accessible to the general reader.

Wishing all readers a joyful and blessed Easter!