Catholic in Yanchep

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4th Sunday, Year A | Being peacemakers in a divided society

church_urtijei_with-sermon-on-the-mount

Sermon on the Mount, Franz Xaver Kirchebner, fresco, Church of St Ulrich in Gröden, Urtijëi, Italy.

Jonathan Haidt, the social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, is fascinated by the liberal-conservative divisions in society.  Although he leans slightly left himself, he describes himself now as having ‘stepped out of the game’, especially since his research among widely divergent cultures led him to revise his preconceptions about conservatives.  Sick and tired of the rancour and demonization so characteristic of social media culture, he has been trying to find ways to help people at opposite ends of the political spectrum understand one another.

What Haidt discovered through his research in a number of different countries, was that there are at least six foundational aspects to the way we reason about morality, common to all humans.  He compares them to our having an audio equaliser with six slider switches, each of which can have the sensitivity turned up to varying degrees.  These switches are:

  1. Care (empathy, compassion, protecting others) versus harm;
  2. Fairness (justice, rights and proportionality) versus cheating;
  3. Liberty versus oppression;
  4. Loyalty to your group, family or nation versus betrayal;
  5. Authority (submitting to legitimate authority) versus subversion;
  6. Sanctity versus degradation.

What he didn’t expect to find, was that left-leaning people prioritised the first two: care and fairness, but right-leaning people endorsed all six approximately evenly.  As a follow-up, he asked his subjects to answer questions while role-playing as people holding ideological beliefs opposite to their own in real life, a technique known as an Ideological Turing Test.  He found that it was the right-leaning people who could correctly explain and defend the beliefs of the left-leaners, while the progressives had great difficulty expressing and understanding the positions of the conservatives.

Haidt argues that for most people, moral choices are decisions based on intuitions or emotional responses, rather than on carefully reasoned arguments.  We are all guilty of confirmation bias: our brains are like lawyers or press secretaries for our emotions, and we send them out scurrying to find the evidence which supports our emotional responses.  The ubiquity of Google now gives us unlimited scope for rapid confirmation of whatever wacky idea our emotions want to defend.  Haidt sees this as ramping up the heat, nastiness and rancour in our political and ideological debates, especially as many of us choose to inhabit ideological enclaves of like-minded people.  He describes the cure as follows:

Individual reasoning is post hoc and justificatory;  individual reasoning is not reliable because of confirmation bias.  The only cure for confirmation bias is other people.  So if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reasoning, and this is the way that the scientific world is supposed to work.  We end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s’ confirmation biases – and truth emerges.    And this is a place where I think the Christians have it right, because they’re always talking about how flawed we are. (Interview with Bill Moyers)

So why am I bringing this up?  In today’s Gospel, we read what is probably the single most influential speech of all time, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount .  Quoted for 2,000 years and spreading out to every country of the world, the Sermon on the Mount has had an incalculable influence on our morality, particularly the morality of Western Civilisation.  Unfortunately, most children today will never encounter the Gospel in their school curriculum, and will through no fault of their own, be unaware of the transcendent teachings it contains.

Today’s Gospel concentrates on the eight Beatitudes: those things that will help us to be happy in this life and the next.  Of course, they transcend Haidt’s six aspects of morality, but we can also link the Beatitudes to Haidt’s universal moral categories and find some correspondence.  The point about the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus is inviting us to transcend our tribal and egocentric emotional responses and make conscious choices that place God and our neighbour at the centre of our choices.

Beatitude Which aspect in Moral Foundations Theory does it correspond to?
1.       How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Sanctity … the poor in spirit are sufficiently detached from avarice for their choices not to be corrupted by a desire for wealth and comfort.  The poor in spirit are also aware of their spiritual poverty and need for grace.
2.       Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Care … the gentle prioritise kindness and empathy towards others.  They are very aware of how their words impact others.
3.       Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Sanctity … these people are not addicted to pleasure; they are able to pass serenely through the trials of life while trusting in God.
4.       Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied. Fairness … These people care about justice and proportionality in decision-making, for the common good.
5.       Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Care … these people care about justice, yet are able to temper it with forgiveness and mercy when appropriate.
6.       Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Sanctity … these people are ennobled by their focus on what is edifying.  Pure in their minds, their speech and their actions, they will always attempt to inspire the best in others.
7.       Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Loyalty and authority … these people see humanity as sharing in the image and likeness of God.  They want to help all people to live in charity and reconciliation with one another.
8.       (a) Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Loyalty and liberty… these people remain faithful to God’s law and to right conduct in spite of opposition.  They express their liberty by refusing to recant under pressure.
8.       (b) Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Loyalty and liberty … these people remain faithful to Jesus Christ in all circumstances.  They are able to weather mockery and contempt.  They are liberated from attachments to worldly honour, because of their fidelity to and friendship with Christ.

But I need to return to my main point, which is about how we can be practical peacemakers, knowing what we know about Haidt’s research into confirmation bias.  It’s supremely important for us as Christians not to retreat into the bubble of our Christian ideological and religious enclave (sometimes called The Benedict Option).  Sure, every Christian should surround him- or herself with Christian friends who provide the mutual support of being collectively loyal to Christ and faithful to the Magisterium.

But we also need to make sure that we encounter all sorts of ‘others’ so that we can learn to understand how they think, respectfully talk about things we disagree on, gently challenge their confirmation bias and create that space where we can be friends in spite of our differences.

Today’s readings:
Word format: year-a-4th-sunday-2017
Pdf format: year-a-4th-sunday-2017

By the way, if you’re interested in the fresco above, it’s a detail of the ceiling of St Ulrich in Gröden in the Italian Alps.  The whole thing is quite stunning.

 

church-urtijei-with-sermon-on-the-mount-reduced


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4th Sunday of Advent, Year A | The Virgin will conceive

ghent-altarpiece-virgin

The Virgin Mary, Retable de l’agneau mystique (the Wedding Feast of the Lamb) detail, 1430-32, Jan Van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

Some of my Facebook friends like to joke about people who believe that a virgin can conceive a child – and a male child at that!   Not even parthenogenesis is capable of that.

If God is God, then I’m not sure how mere humans can define what he is capable of doing.  (But I suspect that they think they’re God, which is an even more unfortunate delusion.) Having a planet capable of supporting life is miraculous enough.  Dr Hugh Ross has compiled a list of 322 variables showing the probability of their ‘just happening’ to be the correct value to support life.  He comes up with a probability for the occurrence of all of these parameters simultaneously of approximately 10 -388.

In The Goldilocks Enigma, Paul Davies describes how “many different aspects of the cosmos, from the properties of the humble carbon atom to the speed of light, seem tailor-made to produce life.”

Some physicists solve the enigma of the fine-tuned universe by saying that of course we live in a multiverse – our universe just so happens to have the cosmological and other dimensionless physical constants at the right value for the support of life.  All the rest are duds, it’s just that at present we haven’t figured out how to detect them.  To me this is about as likely as a virgin birth.  Oh, but wait.  We’re not supposed to believe in things that are that unlikely.

So apparently it’s OK to believe in something as unlikely as a multiverse, but not OK to believe in a virgin birth.

As for me, I’ll keep praying the Rosary, because the gentle and obedient Virgin has been such a help and companion, leading me into a deeper communion with her Son.  And no matter how much some – not all – philosophers try to avoid the possibility of miracles, there’s nothing that has the power to teach like the everyday surprise of effectual prayer.

For some great reflections on today’s readings, try these:
Dr John Bergsma: Letting God In
Bishop Robert Barron: History is going somewhere, and it rhymes
Father Ted Tyler, parish priest of Upper Blue Mountains, diocese of Parramatta, has compiled an e-book of reflections for every day of Year A and you can download it here.

Today’s readings:
Word format: year-a-advent-4th-sunday-2016
Pdf format: year-a-advent-4th-sunday-2016

 

 


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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C | On the joy of being a sheep

San Lorenzo Fuori Le Mura Good Shepherd Mosaic-600px

Christ the Good Shepherd, detail of mosaic from the Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls, Rome (Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura).

Today’s Readings

I have some relations and friends who are scornful of my Christianity.  Though they don’t always tell me to my face, I can tell from their resigned and patient expressions, that they think I have a screw loose.  To believe that someone can rise from the dead, or that miracles occur?  Pffft.  Some of the more honest ones have told me I learn to think for myself and not be a sheep who follows the teachings of a patriarchal bronze age society.

This line of reasoning falls flat on its face when we look at actual case studies of atheists who have changed their minds and turned to Christianity.  Christians, it turns out, are no more stupid than the rest of society.  And they are much better at handling rejection than some of the popular victim groups around today, because the cross comes with the territory of being a Christian.  We’re not in it for its popularity or for success (some are, but this is only a characteristic of some branches of Protestantism).

Today, we’re celebrating Good Shepherd Sunday.  We’re celebrating the fact that the Shepherd in charge is good – he wants what is best for us – and we follow him because we love him.  I can honestly say to the people who doubt me, that the relationship I (and many others) have with this Shepherd, is one so filled with joy that nothing can take that away from us, not even suffering.  That’s because it’s a living relationship.  Not only does Jesus appear in the pages of the Bible, but he actually establishes a living and present relationship with us through prayer, Baptism, Penance, Holy Communion and the other Sacraments.  Jesus tells us, “the sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.  I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me.” (John 10: 27 ff.)

The ‘prayer’ one is particularly important for hearing the voice of the Shepherd.  I have a 50 minute drive in to work every day, and over time, have developed a ritual of prayer for filling in the time: morning offering, prayer to the guardian angel of every member of my family, likewise a prayer to St Michael for family members, followed by a Divine Mercy chaplet and later the Rosary.  I’m not telling you this to show off, I actually want to share that I’m not very good at praying like this, because my mind keeps wandering off on tangents.  Anyway, I was getting pretty frustrated at the tendency of my mind to drift away from the actual words of the prayers, but then I had a revelation.  It started to seem to me that in some of these ‘wanderings’ I was hearing the voice of the Shepherd guiding me in thinking about the people I was praying about.  So I have started listening more intently to what I think he is saying to me.  How do we know we’re hearing the Shepherd and not the Thief?  If I am in doubt about a particular course of action that has come to me, I now write it down, and pray about it in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and ask God for ‘more information’.  He will either confirm and strengthen the idea, and we will experience what St Ignatius calls consolation, or we will experience desolationMargaret Silf talks about this in her book, The Inner Compass.

It’s wonderful to be a sheep, to know I don’t have to re-invent everything as if I am a God unto myself, to be guided by one who is goodness, truth and beauty himself.  I love the obedience that being a sheep entails.  I love having the confidence that the Shepherd won’t let anyone steal me away from the Father.  And I love the hope that the Shepherd gives me for the other members of my family, even the ones who don’t trust him just yet …

Today’s readings

Word format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C Easter 4th Sunday 2016


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4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | Righteousness without Self-righteousness: how do you do that?

Jesus and crowd who want to throw him off cliff

Male accipitur Jesus in patria (Jesus is rejected in his hometown), Jerome Nadal, S.J., first published in Evangeliae Historiae Imagines (1593), woodcut.

Nobody loves a preacher.  Especially in Australia.  We are a practical nation who prefer those who actually do good to those who talk about it.  That’s why this year’s Australia Day awards stirred up much controversy in the newspapers and online forums.

This week’s readings offer much practical advice for anyone who considers himself a preacher.

If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

To avoid hypocrisy, I am now going to shut up and go out and see if I can do something constructive.  It will probably be something small, because I am a lazy person.   And I have to avoid talking about anything positive I might do, because of the injunction not to be ‘boastful or conceited’.  In fact I’ve already become a hypocrite, because I’ve showed off about my intention to do good.  You just can’t win!

But if you’re after more, Bishop Robert Barron’s comments on the primacy of love are essential listening.  And for a scripture study on the readings, I would recommend Dr. John Bergsma at The Sacred Page.

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year C 4th Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C 4th Sunday 2016


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4th Sunday of Advent, Year C | Loving Our Mother

Visitation Clyde Monastery

The Visitation, mosaic, nave of Clyde Monastery, Missouri, USA.

No time for writing much today, as I’ve had to do my Christmas shopping! Others have done a much better job so I will point you in their direction:

  1. John Bergsma explains why the Catholic veneration of Mary is completely scriptural, based on today’s readings.
  2. Bishop Barron has a homily for today which asks us to look at our part in God’s theo-drama.  (Didn’t you know you are an actor in a great play and that it’s not all about you?  Best to get in touch with the Director, so that you can understand your part!)
  3. And even National Geographic realises that Mary is the world’s most powerful woman!

The readings for today are here:

Word format: Year C 4th Sunday of Advent 2015

Pdf format: Year C 4th Sunday of Advent 2015

For Christmas Mass times, go here.

And a very happy 21st birthday to Alistair Mungo Fleming (16th December) who may well be the first person in the Yanchep to Lancelin Pastoral Area to have been baptised here as a baby and still be an active member of our Pastoral Area at the age of 21.  Well done, Alistair!


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4th Sunday of Easter, Year B | Anzac Day and the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep

The Good Shepherd, Greek Orthodox Byzantine Icon, egg tempera on wood panel.

The Good Shepherd, Greek Orthodox Byzantine Icon, egg tempera on wood panel.

Today’s Mass readings:

Word format: Year B Easter 4th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B Easter 4th Sunday 2015

This year Anzac Day is celebrated on the same weekend as Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter.  Every year, the crowds attending Anzac Day ceremonies get bigger.   It is as if we humans instinctively understand sacrifice, our hearts know that sacrifice is crucial to salvation and we need to honour those who have made sacrifices in the service of others.  The Christian understanding of redemptive suffering adds value to our interpretation of the Anzac sacrifice.

Dom Carrigan CSSR draws some parallels between Easter and Anzac Day here:

Easter and Anzac Day are inextricably intertwined. Anzac Day always falls in the Easter season. They have marked differences, yet have much in common.

Both deal with suffering, sacrifice and death. At Gallipoli in Turkey, thousands of soldiers on both sides suffered terribly and died for their causes. At Calvary, Jesus, the Word of God- become-man, suffered terribly and died on a cross as a sacrifice for the world.

At Gallipoli, the Australian and New Zealand troops rejoiced that they were going to war. They wanted to test themselves internationally on the battlefield. At Calvary, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the ‘cup’ of suffering would be taken from him. Yet each faced the future with courage and conviction.

At Gallipoli, there were tens of thousands of soldiers and, in general, a tremendous spirit of mateship. At Calvary, Jesus was deserted by his own disciples (except for a few, mainly women) and felt completely abandoned.

At Gallipoli the soldiers had rifles, bayonets, guns, as well as other instruments of war to wound and to kill. At Calvary, Jesus was defenceless. He had even told Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11).

Gallipoli was a military defeat, yet it was regarded as a victory for the Anzac spirit as well as for the brilliant way Australian Brigadier-General Brudenell White organised the withdrawal of the troops. It was feared in Britain that they would ‘lose 25,000 men and many guns’ in the withdrawal (FitzSimons, Gallipoli p. 616).  In fact, unbelievably, there were no fatalities in the withdrawal.

Calvary was seen as a defeat for Jesus and his followers. Instead it turned out to be the necessary way to his victory. Jesus had said to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26).

This year there will be celebrations greater than ever, both at Gallipoli and around Australia and New Zealand, because of the Anzac centenary. At Easter, millions of Christians will celebrate the triumph of Jesus over sin and evil and death.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says,

I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one
who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd;
I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.

To understand more about the purpose of Jesus’ death and suffering, read on at The Sacred Page, where Dr John Bergsma goes in deep with today’s readings.  In fact it is Yeshua of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, the ultimate sacrifice, the cornerstone rejected by the builders, who is the key to our salvation.  He knows us personally, and those who are seeking the truth will recognise his voice and he will speak to their hearts.  For some extra thoughts on Jesus knowing and loving you personally in the light of today’s readings, listen here.

 

 


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4th Sunday of Lent | Why do so many prefer darkness to light?

The Crucifixion, Isenheim Altarpiece, centre panel, Matthias Grünewald, 1512-1516, chapel of the Hospital of Saint Anthony, Isenheim, Germany, c. 1510-15, oil on wood, 9' 9 1/2" x 10' 9" Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France.

The Crucifixion, Isenheim Altarpiece, centre panel, Matthias Grünewald, 1512-1516, chapel of the Hospital of Saint Anthony, Isenheim, Germany, c. 1510-15, oil on wood, 9′ 9 1/2″ x 10′ 9″ Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France.

This week we saw the tragic death of 18 year old Australian suicide bomber, Jake Bilardi.  In a blog post from January 13, Bilardi says, “And that is where I sit today, waiting for my turn to stand before Allah (azza wa’jal) and dreaming of sitting amongst the best of His creation in His Jannah, the width of which is greater than the width of the heavens and the Earth.’’

How sad that in his search for God, he found the wrong one.  Carolyn Moynahan, in her article, Why do kids desert the West to fight with Isis, written well before Jake’s death, hits the nail on the head in her analysis.  And as Greg Sheridan says in his article in The Australian, “how long can the West live off the moral capital of religious conviction that it is now abandoning? The West is the only part of humanity abandoning religious belief. Can societies in which there is no overarching idea beyond the individual compete successfully in the long run?”

In our readings today, John invites us to turn to the right God while there is still time:

For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already

Of course, Westerners are likely to balk at the word ‘condemned’.  But of course it’s not God who condemns you, it’s your refusal to seek him that does.

Download today’s readings here:

Word format: Year B Lent 4th Sunday 2015

Pdf format: Year B Lent 4th Sunday 2015

To understand  how God can be both merciful and yet allow people to be condemned, read the homily from Sacerdos.  And listen to Fr Barron explain God’s tender mercy here.

Click-here-to-listen