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 reader asks about homosexuality and the Bible

Last Judgement Sistine Chapel

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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5th Sunday, Year A | Salt, light and the sex abuse crisis

bruegel-pieter-massacre-of-the-innocents

Massacre of the Innocents, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565-67, Royal Collection, United Kingdom.

God has such impeccable timing.  Here we are with a Gospel reading today that proclaims,

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.

  You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven (Mt 5:13-16).

while from tomorrow and for the next three weeks  the Church will be reporting to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about its failures, and the policies and procedures that have been put in place to prevent any recurrence of this lamentable period when we failed to be the salt of the earth and a light to the world.

Our Archbishop, the most reverend Timothy Costelloe SDB, has issued a pastoral letter.

I ask you too, to continue to pray for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse in our Church. The heavy burdens they carry, inflicted on them by people who were supposed to be signs and bearers of God’s love and care but who were the very opposite, and the dismissive, disbelieving and insensitive way in which they were treated by so many of our Church leaders, impels us as a community to do all we can to assist them now and into the future. This last public hearing of the Royal Commission will inevitably be a stressful and painful time for many. Paradoxically it might also be a time of healing. 

As a community we are deeply shamed by the failures of so many in our Church in relation to the care of our children and young people. More than this we are horrified by the suffering which has been inflicted on so many innocent people. 

As I have in the past, I want now to again express our profound sorrow and apology for this shocking failure on our part and for the pain it has caused to so many. As a Church we are committed now to doing everything we can to ensure that this evil is eradicated from our midst.

 You can read the rest here.

Francis Sullivan, the head of the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council has also made the point that the data that will be revealed this week will be ‘the first time in the world the Catholic Church’s records on child sexual abuse have been compiled and analysed for public consideration’.  (The Australian, Horrific extent of Catholic child abuse, 2 February 2017).  I’m not sure exactly how Australia’s contribution is unique: there has been a veritable boatload of reports issued in other countries: the John Jay Report, the Murphy Report and the Ferns Report, to name a few.

We, as a Church, can expect to be thoroughly humiliated in the public forum – and deservedly so.

Nevertheless, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is not just a Church problem, but a societal one.  Kelly Richards, writing in Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 429, writes,

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey, of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, 11.1 percent were victimised by a stranger. More commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%), a family friend (16.3%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%), another known person (15.3%), or the father or stepfather (13.5%; see Figure 1). It should be noted that these totals add to more than 100 percent (103.7%); this indicates that a small proportion of child sexual abuse victims (3.7%) were abused by perpetrators belonging to more than one category.

In other words, the vast majority of child-sexual abuse perpetrators have not been targeted by the Royal Commission, since it is dealing with institutional not familial responses.  Writing in The Australian, Gerard Henderson makes the point that even among institutions, the Catholic Church may be being unfairly scapegoated (Child Abuse Royal Commission: Don’t Just Target Catholic Church).  And the irony is that even while the government with one hand is busy rooting out this sort of child sexual abuse, with the other hand it is actively promoting the abuse and sexualisation of children through insidious programs such as Safe Schools.

What does all this mean for the ordinary parishioner like you or me?  In practice, the issue has already largely been dealt with, through various Safeguarding offices and through the Diocesan Professional Standards Office.  For my part, I can’t say I have ever actually met either a sexually abused parishioner or an abusive priest, although I do know someone who, as a child, had a teacher who attempted (unsuccessfully) to groom him.  So the problem is not front-of-mind in the experience of currently practising Catholics, as it is to some degree historical, not current.

What parishioners are finding, though, is a certain guardedness in interactions between parishioners, the general public and clergy.  Priests are now more cautious about placing themselves in situations where they might be vulnerable to accusations, and unfortunately in the mind of the general public, the two words ‘priest’ and ‘paedophile’ have become associated with each other.  If ever Satan wanted to undermine the effectiveness of the Church in carrying out its mission of telling the world about Jesus Christ, this would be the way he would have chosen: to insert sufficient paedophiles and unconcerned bishops into our ranks to cause chaos. Fortunately most of the priests I know are  concentrating on serving their communities and living good and holy lives.  And most parishioners are trying to get on with doing the same.

As we see in today’s Psalm, “A light rises in the darkness for the upright.”  We need to go through the darkness of chastisement and purification and pray for our Archbishop, the leadership of our Archdiocese and our priests.  What I think we will find, when the Royal Commission has done its work and people have found closure, is that the task of evangelisation will start to get its legs in Australia, as it has already done in the US.  At the moment, we can’t evangelise effectively, because we’re still undergoing purgation and being rightly shamed for our past mistakes.  But, as Bishop Robert Barron explains in his YouTube video, God will ‘rebuild his Holy City’ through those who have remained faithful through it all.

You might also enjoy watching these recent videos on current topics from Bishop Barron, interviewed here by Dave Rubin from The Rubin Report:

Part 1: Belief, Faith and the Church Sex Scandal

Part 2: Abortion, Gay Marriage and Porn 

Today’s readings:
Word format: year-a-5th-sunday-2017
Pdf format: year-a-5th-sunday-2017

 

 


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A blessed Christmas to all!

giotto-di-bondone-no.-17-scenes-from-the-life-of-christ-1.-nativity-birth-of-jesus-detail

No. 17, Scenes from the Life of Christ – Nativity: Birth of Jesus, Giotto di Bondone (1304-1306), Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Veneto, Italy.

Wishing all of my online followers (especially those in Yanchep-Two Rocks) a most blessed, peaceful and joyful Christmas!  God became flesh out of love for us – so that, attaching ourselves to Him, we might come to share in his glory.  I pray for all of you, that Christ will make himself increasingly known to you, that you can share more and more in his divine life and love.

At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature. (CCC 479)

It was so beautiful to be able to celebrate the birth of Christ our Saviour with a large crowd at the Yanchep Community Centre last night!  As Fr Augustine said, there was no room in Bethlehem for the Saviour, and there was little room to sit down in the Community Centre.  Please pray that we will be able to find a permanent, larger venue for our Church, and please pray that we can finally have a Pastoral Council to raise funds to do so!  Thank you to all those who joined us for Mass!christmas-2016-collage

I have to go and cook a turkey now, so if you would like some extra reflections on Christmas, I will leave you with these links:

 


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19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | Faithful and Wise Stewardship

The Faithful and Wise Steward Jan Luyken Etching Bowyer Bible

The Faithful and Wise Steward, Jan Luyken (1649-1712), etching, Bowyer Bible, Bolton, Greater Manchester, England.

“What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?  Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment.” (Luke 12: 43-44)

This week’s Gospel talks about responsible stewardship.  I want to continue my theme from last week and ask if we are being wise and faithful stewards of our Pastoral Area from Yanchep to Lancelin.  It’s interesting that Jesus says that one of the steward’s jobs is to ‘give them their allowance of food’.  Yes, we can interpret this as referring to the Eucharist, but there is more to following Christ than the Mass and the Eucharist.  Christians need to be fed with the Word of God in Scripture, in excellent and inspirational homilies, and in the practice of the Word.  We need to remember that people leave Churches (or don’t even think of joining a Church) if they are not getting fed, if there is no sense of Communion in action.  They may be longing to see the Word of God being carried out in a communal plan.  We could say that a responsible steward gathers and feeds, but a slothful steward starves and scatters.  One of the signs that Jesus was the Christ, was that he gathered the tribes – he brought together the apostles and gathered a great many other disciples around himself; he took the trouble to heal, to talk to the crowds, to exorcise demons, to get out of his comfort zone par excellence.

One of the ways I was fed this week was through a thought-provoking interview of Andrew Bolt of Sky News by Pastor James Macpherson of Calvary Christian Church.  Bolt makes the point that

Tearing down things is a much easier way of asserting your individuality, your strength, your very existence, than creating something.  For every Leonardo da Vinci, there are ten thousand people that find it quite empowering to put a scratch in his work.

Bolt is an agnostic, but very aware that the popular trend of attacking Christianity will remove many of the freedoms and benefits that Christianity has brought to Western Civilisation.  So right here in our own little pastoral area, we need to be creating, gathering and building, witnessing strongly and not keeping our light under a bushel.  This week we have Census night and one of the questions is about religion.  How good have we been at making a difference to our local area’s Census results on the Catholic faith?

It seems to me that we should be asking (of ourselves) questions like these:

  1. Do the members of the church, under the leadership of the Priest, gather to ask questions like the ones I am asking?
  2. What is the mission of a Pastoral Area? Are we expecting ourselves to grow from a Pastoral Area to a Parish without actually doing any work or having a structured plan?  It seems to me that different members of our Pastoral Area  are carrying out some sort of mission in their own way, but there is no co-ordination of our activities so that we all feel we are working towards a common goal.
  3. Do we discuss how we can witness to Christ in our area, and actually form and document some implementable plans?
  4. Is it enough just to attend Mass, and not have any formal plans for outreach to former parishioners, outreach to the sick, outreach to the wider community, outreach to current members of our church who feel they are not being fed?
  5. Is anyone else, like me, interested in building our sense of Community, being fed through Bible Studies, film nights (I have plenty of inspirational Catholic material) and shared dinners.  Does anyone see that we need to meet together to give each other mutual support, plan for the future, reach out to the community and divide up the work so that we can all be assured that our stewardship duties are being addressed?

I am happy to host a discussion, if only I can find others who are on the same page.  Fellow parishioners or, for that matter, any residents of Yanchep, Guilderton and Lancelin, please let me know what you would like to see done in our Pastoral Area (just reply via the comment box – or phone me (Deirdre) at 0400 660 337).  If you are doing something already, please let us know how you are already contributing.

And do watch the Andrew Bolt interview!

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year C 19th Sunday 2016

Pdf format:Year C 19th Sunday 2016


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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time | How to Respond to Acts of Hatred

Jesus_washing_Peter's_feet-Ford Madox Brown

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1852-56), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

In the week that added the Orlando Massacre to our violent world, we are confronted as Christians with questions on how to talk about and respond to this kind of act.  The whole conversation is made worse by the identity politics that is rampant in our time.  Our tribal nature as humans makes us want to belong to a particular tribe: LGBTQ, Muslim, Liberal, Labor, Anti-vaccine, All Natural, Pro-Choice, Pro-life, Catholic, Protestant – choose your hashtag.  Identity politics helps us to feel loved, accepted and understood within our chosen group.  It is comforting to us to know that we are not alone in the world, that there are others who see things our way.  I felt this myself when I changed from watching the news on ABC (which, though being our public broadcaster, inclines to a singularly left-wing version of reality) to watching the Bolt Report on Sky Channel.  I thought, “At last, the voice of reason and sanity!”

But an unfortunate side-effect of identity politics is that it sets up any opposing groups as ‘the enemy’.   Identifying with one group often leads to stereotyping of other groups, rather than peaceful encounter.  Pope Francis has the measure of this, when he asks us to go out and encounter others.  Encounter helps us to humanise people; separation helps us to demonise people.  He sets the example by going out of his way to arrange meetings not only with other Catholics but with people like Mahmoud Abbas, gay couple Yayo Grassi and Iwan Bagus, Patriarch Kirill, prisoners, George Clooney, Rabbi Boruch Perton and so on, people with whom he has only a very limited shared set of beliefs, BUT who all share in our common humanity.

Some people get upset that Pope Francis has met with x, y or z, and think this means that he is showing support for the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus, LGBTQs, etc.  On the contrary, this is where the Catholic understanding of separating the person from their acts is so useful.  It allows us to love the person, while feeling perfectly free to analyse and possibly critique their beliefs, and we shouldn’t be ashamed to do so.  I would say that these things are necessary in any encounter with someone who identifies with a different group from us:

  1. We, as Catholics, must thoroughly understand and be confident about our own Church’s position on any particular point.
  2. We must not be afraid to talk to someone from another identity group, and ask them how they understand their beliefs (listening is always helpful).
  3. We need to be able to explain our beliefs on the same topic, without getting angry or self-righteous!
  4. We should then work out what common beliefs we have so that we can identify our common humanity and foster love, not hatred.
  5. We should pray for our friend with sincerity of heart and leave the Holy Spirit to do the rest.
  6. Note that if you are friends with another person who disagrees with you, it will be harder for them to indulge in hatred themselves.  An important point to understand is that disagreement is not synonymous with hate.
  7. If your friends choose to take a path of hatred towards you for disagreeing with them, then we need to be ready to embrace the cross of rejection or persecution. Jesus did, and he prayed, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”  This is what it will come down to in the end, whether we can embrace the cross.

But maybe, just maybe, they will be converted by our teaching and our behaviour, as, for example, these Muslims converting to Christianity, or even James Parker, the gay Catholic apologist:

Along the journey of acrimonious engagement with different expressions of Christianity I came across some startling, dare I say life-changing, revelations. In short, I came to understand that some of the people and organisations that I had consistently learned to blame and finger-wag for my despair were in fact conduits of my discovering an equal standing with others. This in turn led to a deeper sense of self-acceptance and my despair metamorphosing into a rich hope … It is the last thing I ever imagined doing when I first came out as a gay man in my late teens, especially as I saw the Catholic Church’s teaching as being the most archaic of all. The group’s policy is to refuse to diminish anyone by using labels … while honestly facing the reality of thoughts, feelings and actions. We seek to meet each other on our unique life journeys with authenticity and to bring them to the cross. (James Parker’s Story).

Today’s readings speak loudly about the necessity of embracing the cross in our walk with Christ:

Word format: Year C 12th Sunday 2016

Pdf format:Year C 12th Sunday 2016

 

 


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10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | How the Chaser Made Me a Better Catholic

 

Sacred Heart Sacre Coeur Mosaic

Sacré Coeur Mosaic, Basilica of Sacré Coeur, Montmartre, Paris, Olivier Merson, H. M. Magne and R. Martin, 1923.

Today’s readings are, among other things, about God’s kindness to widows.  As a widow, I have a few things to say about that, but for the moment I actually want to describe how I was made a better Catholic by none other than those scallywags at The Chaser.   (For those of you who are not Australian, the comedians at The Chaser concentrate on political satire – almost always anti-conservative and anti-traditional-values.)

The reason I am raising this is that yesterday was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Several years ago (actually it would have been about 2007), we had a priest in the parish who had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart … and I had a difficulty with this devotion.  It wasn’t that I had an objection to the Sacred Heart per se, but more that it conjured up images of a style of art that offended my good taste.  The Jesus depicted in this particular genre of kitsch is usually a weak and effeminate Jesus who would definitely not make the rugby A team.  And artists have difficulties with interpreting the heart that is so central to this devotion – it appears either as an ugly fleshly pump, or reduced to a cartoon heart-and-thorns.  I think perhaps the only solution is to avoid realism and render it as an icon, along the lines of the beautiful mosaic in the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur in Montmartre.

So you see, my objection was on the most superficial level, and I was aware of this and wondering what to do about it.  Well the best answer I thought was to go straight to the source:  I decided to pray about it.  I said to God, “Look here, God,” (that was the way I used to pray).  “I am having trouble relating to this Sacred Heart caper.  The prayers are so gushingly sentimental and I’m a bit embarrassed by the paintings, which you must admit are not in the most sophisticated of taste.  Now, I am a reasonable person, and I think I am prepared to admit that I may be wrong.  Perhaps you are the sort of God who isn’t an art snob.  If so, I want you to tell me clearly.  I would like you to reveal to me whether I should give a bit more support to these Sacred Heart devotions.  Tell you what, I’ll give you two weeks, and you will have to make it obvious to me that the Sacred Heart is important.  And – second condition – you will have to reveal this to me through a source that is not Catholic!”

Well, not two weeks had gone by when I was watching The Chaser on the ABC.  And what should come up but mockery of the Catholic Church.  In particular, mockery of people who experience pareidolia – seeing images of Jesus or the saints in natural phenomena: plastered walls, tortillas, intergalactic nebulae and cinnamon buns.  Except the item they chose to ridicule was the Sacred Heart, and not the Sacred Heart appearing ephemerally in the clouds or even in an Indian chapati, but they made great play of zooming in on an image of the Sacred Heart embedded in a simulated lump of human excrement in a toilet bowl.

I was shocked and disgusted – shocked at the Chaser being so totally crass and objectionable (I shouldn’t have been, that is their MO).  And more shocked that Jesus had exactly answered my prayer!  I felt that he was saying to me: “OK. Here is the Sacred Heart.  Here is your non-Catholic source.  This is how they treat me.  And all I offer them is love.  Yet they choose to mock me, reject me, and reject those of my followers who have a simple and trusting loyalty to me.”

After that I was sad – sad about my arrogance, my snobbery, my tendency to look down on those aspects of Christianity that appeal to the ‘less cultured’ or ‘less intelligent’.  I was in danger of being a Pharisee.  Since then, I have found more and more occasions to respect those who don’t have delusions of grandeur.  By the way, I no longer watch The Chaser.  I think my time is more usefully spent offering novenas to the Sacred Heart of our Lord.  He is the one who bends down so lovingly to respond to all our needs.

Just as a postscript, in 2011, my husband and I discovered a pub where you can enjoy a beer and honour the religious kitsch style at the same time.  This is the café In den Ouden Vogelstruys (At the Home of the Old Ostrich) in Maastricht, just across the road from the Basilica to our family saint, Saint Servatius.In-Den-Ouden-Vogelstruys-Bar-110628

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year C 10th Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C 10th Sunday 2016


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The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C | Faithfulness is beautiful!

JanStyka-Saint Peter preaching in Catacombs

St Peter preaching the Gospel in the Catacombs, Jan Styka, 1902, original destroyed by fire, accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Styka#/media/File:JanStyka-SaintPeter.jpg

Hilaire Belloc, the famous satirist and historian, once said, “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”[1]

Our readings today show how God has made provision for the Church to continue and flourish over 2,000 years, despite the ‘knavish imbecility’ of some of its members.  If your first reaction is to feel insulted by this quote, stay with me for a minute while I explain.  The relationship between Christ and the Church is one of bridegroom and bride (Rev. 19:7-9).  Jesus wants us, above all, to be faithful to him, and he gives us the help of the Holy Spirit to do just that.  Jesus tells the Apostles in today’s gospel,

I have said these things to you while still with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. (John 14:26) 

How do we stay close to the Holy Spirit?  A few verses earlier, Jesus says, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.”

In my own experience of parish life, there have been many occasions when staying close to the Holy Spirit has been a challenge.  At times, I have thought it would just be easier to move to a different parish, or even a different church or even no church.  To give you an example, I once had a priest come to bless my house.  After the blessing, he stayed for another hour and a half berating the ‘knavish imbecility’ of his fellow priests.  But is this what the Holy Spirit wants?  Of course not: it’s always Satan that wants division and disharmony.  The Holy Spirit wants faithfulness.  The Holy Spirit wants us to build community.  The Holy Spirit wants us to keep persevering in spite of the individual characters of the members of the Church.  The Holy Spirit wants us to find the good points in others and build those up, rather than trying to destroy the other.  The Holy Spirit wants us to work diligently for the benefit of all.  Good parishioners and priests build up rather than break down.  That is how a parish receives blessing from the Lord.

The first reading today show an example of the Holy Spirit in action.  Here the Apostles meeting at the Council of Jerusalem (our first ecumenical council) come up with a solution to the problem of deciding exactly how much of the Jewish Law needs to be adhered to by the Gentile converts  (Acts 15:6 ff).  The difficulty is how to welcome Gentiles without alienating the Jewish followers of the Messiah.  After a long discussion, Peter speaks and the entire assembly falls silent.  The apostles and elders or priests (toi apostolois kai presbyterois / τοῖς ἀποστόλοις καὶ τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις) then write a letter to confirm the decision of the council, saying, “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials …” They are very aware of the Holy Spirit guiding the Council which has assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So Hilaire Belloc was right:  as individuals we may be a bit stupid, but as a Catholic Church, listening to the Holy Spirit, we have been guided and kept faithful for 2,000 years, despite pressure from the outside world to ‘change our teaching’!  The Church and Christ are like a married couple, of whom everyone says, “This marriage cannot possibly last!” yet, there they are, celebrating their anniversary year after year!  I say hurrah for faithfulness!  Thank you to the Holy Spirit for holding us together.

[1] Hilaire Belloc, remark to William Temple, quoted in Robert Speaight, The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957). London: Hollis and Carter, p. 383

Today’s readings:

Word format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016

Pdf format: Year C Easter 6th Sunday 2016