As the liturgical year is coming to a close, we’re invited to look to the end.
In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what today’s feast is about: the coming of the Kingdom.
If you and I dare to say, “thy Kingdom come,” we must be ready for Christ to reign in our hearts right now. Jesus cannot reign in a calculating heart, or a divided heart, or a hardened heart. He seeks the generosity and daring of a young heart, which doesn’t know to hold back. This is where Christ reigns.
But we all know — don’t we? — that our past can prevent this. Sin. Destructive relationships. Addictive behaviours. All of these things conspire against a young heart and a simple love.
This is why our Lord gives us the sacrament of reconciliation. In confessions not only are our sins forgiven, but our heart is healed. Our Lord knew — centuries before “the invention of psychotherapy” — that when we name the evil in our lives, it loses its power. The enemy knows that too, which is why this sacrament is under attack. I’ve experienced this as a priest.
For example, when someone approaches me for confession out of the blue, I experience the most irrational annoyance and even anger. Every time. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a good mood or not. If I have time to spare or not. Storm clouds gather. But the moment I smile, and offer a word of encouragement, the clouds lift, as suddenly as they arrived.
Something similar happens during scheduled times of confession. Usually, I’m content to sit and wait for the allotted time, praying and reading if there are no penitents. But sometimes, I’m sorely tempted to leave early. Some task comes to mind, and it’s so urgent! I need to start it now! And here I am, sitting alone in the confessional and wasting time! I’ve learned to clench my fists and stay for the allotted time, which requires a great effort of will. Every time that happens, someone arrives at the last minute. They’ve usually been many months or years away from the sacrament, and they receive great healing. But not without a battle first!
I think many of us have experienced something similar as penitents. The Holy Spirit moves us to contrition, and we resolve to go to confession, but then an obstacle emerges. Something prevents us from going, and unless we’re resolute, we postpone confession, and often we neglect to go.
All of these experiences, I think, are forms of spiritual attack. The enemy does not want us to receive the sacrament. More to the point, the enemy does not want Jesus to dwell in our hearts, much less have him reign in our mind, in our actions, and in our will.
Reconciliation is a great way to prepare our hearts, so that Jesus is pleased to dwell there. But of course, it’s not the only way.
The promise of Christ’s reign begins in our own lives. In the small acts of love and sacrifice we do each day. The unexpected favour we show our neighbour; the visit we make to the tabernacle; the time we invest in calling a distant friend or relative; our generosity towards the poor.
These small acts are an anticipation of the Kingdom, in all its power and majesty. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When I think of the Melbourne Cup, I think of many things: horses, jockeys and the weather! But it’s the people that make the day most memorable — like Sir John Kerr’s speech, Pattie Newton, plus Bruce McAvaney and Peter Donegan on Channel Seven.
I also enjoy the ABC radio coverage. They are there all from sunrise to dusk! Especially when the Coobeans are on! Peter Jago who makes hats!
I also like John Letts talking to the winning jockeys. Unfortunately he is not there this year. He has been sick. His horse Banjo is about 20 years old in horse age. Sam Hyland has taken on another horse this year!
Now for my tips for the big race!
I like Red Cadeaux — I know I backed it last year when it didn’t even place in the Cup. This horse has run in three Melbourne Cups and places two Seconds. He is now nine years old, and no nine year old has won the Melbourne Cup. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him, win lose or draw, back next year for another run in the Cup!
16. Brambles — Peter Moody’s most famous charge is Black Caviar. The trainer has high hopes for Brambles, and jockey Luke Nolen ran a good Caulfield Cup. I reckon Brambles can step up to the Cup’s distance and run a cheeky race.
20. Opinion — Another good trainer. Opinion is in good shape and undoubtedly ready for the Melbourne Cup. Last start was a flop, but I reckon that’ll be made up today. But everyone has opinion about the Melbourne Cup, don’t they!
10. Gatewood — Ran last year, but is in better form than last year. So Gatewood might be wiser, and go on to win the Cup.
I must add Calvaryman to the mix. Another nine year old! One for the Christians maybe. Number fifteen is Precedence, trained by Bart and his grandson. Normally wears Din Chan Tim owner colours, but that has been changed to Sir Patrick Hogan colours for the Cup. Yet another nine year old!
Plenty of tips, but are they winners? That’s another question.
Happy punting from Simon the Pieman.
Long before he came to the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger was renowned for his prolific writing. He is probably the greatest theologian of his generation, and a remarkably gifted writer.
If Pope Francis is a genius at the prophetic gesture, then Pope Benedict is a genius at the written word. Here is something he wrote about the souls of the faithful departed:
We know that the souls of those who have died are alive in the resurrected body of the Lord.
(When a person is baptised, of course, they’re incorporated into the Body of Christ. They become a member of his body.)
The Lord’s body shelters them, and carries them towards the common resurrection.
In this body, which we are permitted to receive, we remain close to one another, and we touch each other.
Isn’t that a beautiful thought?
When we visit a person’s grave, we are in the presence of their mortal remains, which are slowly disintegrating. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
But when we receive the Living Body of Christ in the Eucharist, then we encounter the spiritual presence of the saints in Heaven, and the holy souls in Purgatory.
“We remain close to one another, and we touch each other.”
Today is the feast day of Pope St John Paul II. He is the only saint (so far) who directly impacted me in his own lifetime.
I met him once. Sort of. I was in St Peter’s Square on 6 October 2002, when he canonised St Josemaría Ecrivá. I was one pilgrim among half a million, but it was an exhilarating moment. He was my Holy Father. I loved him then, and I love him now.
Maybe my faith would be weaker without his influence. Maybe I wouldn’t love our Lord so much. Certainly, I wouldn’t be a priest. JP2 was a big factor in the discernment of my vocation.
I think John Paul impacted me because he was a saint. But not only that. He impacted me because we had a relationship, however remote.
I have many relatives and friends who weren’t impact the same way. Why? I think it’s because they weren’t in a relationship with him. Wojtyla was like a third grandfather to me, so his words and gestures and witness had a profound influence.
That’s the thing about saints. They’re not magic. Relationship is key. That’s why it’s important for you and I to become saints. JP2 may have had little or no impact on some family and friends, but we can have an impact, precisely because we are in relationship with them.
John Paul II was a rockstar pope, with a name and face recognised by millions. He was also a mystic, who apparently received extraordinary graces. In one sense he’s not the easiest guy to imitate. But in another, more important sense, we can follow his lead.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Polish pope’s press secretary, tells the story of the first time they prayed the rosary together. When they reached the first Our Father, and Navarro started reciting it, the pope raised a hand to quiet him, and explained apologetically that he liked to chant the Lord’s Prayer. Would that be okay? (Navarro, of course, consented.)
Navarro began by praying each Hail Mary at the normal pace he was accustomed to. But gradually, he fell into a much slower pace, following the lead of the pope, who almost relished each syllable. A prayer he normally prayed in 20 minutes took twice as long when he prayed it with John Paul II.
Bishop John Magee, the Irish bishop who was ‘secretary to three popes’ (Paul, JPI and JP2), relates a story which occurred just a few days after Wojtyla was elected pope. It was early in the day, before normal working hours, when Magee received an urgent request from some VIP to see the pope. He checked the chapel, then the pope’s office, the private sitting room, the dining room, and the pope’s bedroom, but the pope was nowhere to be found. In a state of mild panic, he told the pope’s Polish secretary, “We’ve lost the Holy Father!”
His Polish counterpart was dubious. “Did you check the chapel?”
“It was the first place I looked.”
“Look again. More carefully.”
Magee returned to the darkened chapel. The pope was not at his seat, or his at prie-dieu. But he was in the chapel after all: at the altar, embracing the tabernacle, crooning a Polish lullaby.
Now I’m not advocating slavish imitation of these practices. But it’s something we can adapt to our situation.
I spend a lot of time in the car, and I usually pray the rosary there. Mostly attending to the road (and kangaroos); only partly attentive to the mysteries I’m contemplating and words I’m praying. If your rosary is something similar, keep it up. It’s better than not praying the rosary.
But it’s not so hard to pray an extra decade some other time during the day, more closely imitating John Paul II’s way of praying. It must please our Lady very much.
I’m not in the habit of hugging the tabernacle — and I’m a priest, with after-hours access to churches, when no one else is around! If I had only normal access, I’d be even less eager to approach the sanctuary and make a spectacle of myself.
But still we can pay a short 5 minute visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and sing a song to the Lord under our breath, sitting in the pew. We can bring our smart phone, and show him the interesting photos we took this morning. We can repeat the exciting news a friend told us, or complain about the lousy customer service we experienced this afternoon.
I think our Lord craves that sort of easy familiarity. It’s not uncommon to speak to our closest friends for a just a few minutes, but every day, and about the every day. Why not Him?
I think if we live this way, coupling small acts of affection with more pious practices (not least frequent communion and frequent confession), we can have the impact of a JP2 on our circle of family and friends. The ‘orbit’ is much smaller, but the love of God is not.
The present Synod of Bishops concludes today, but I’ve already tuned out. The cynical manipulations (mostly vanquished thankfully), are all too unedifying.
I need to note, though, that I was wrong on one of my facts in my previous post. Cardinal Müller denies calling the interim report shameful. “I do not speak in that style,” he has told reporters. I quoted news reports in good faith, but I still need to apologise for misleading readers. Sorry.
For those who are still interested in the synod, Sandro Magister has an excellent rundown on its history and proceedings. (My single misgiving: he credits Cardinal Pell with “with the physique and temperament of a rugby player.” I suppose we must forgive Italians their ignorance of Aussie Rules.)
For everyone else, I recommend a post Fr Ray Blake published several weeks ago, which deftly anticipated the political shenanigans of the Synod:
What I really am beginning to resent are men with ‘ideas’ (Francis’ ideologues?) but who never seem concerned about Christ or the Gospel or holiness or ultimately Eternal Life, who turn the Church into a debating chamber. I hate their squabbles, I detest their clever solutions. The spiritual life is about muddling through, the muddle is the wound of concupiscence, I just wish we had men who recognise the muddle for what it is and point to Christ as our hope but no, it is about clever schemes to deal with the previous clever schemes that have got us into the mess we are already in. Why do so many of our Bishops and senior clergy sound like Enda Kenny or Nick Clegg rather than Christ? Why the strong reek of the politician?
Thanks to Cardinal Pell and others, transparency won the day at the synod. But behind-the-scene machinations will continue to afflict the Church. Fr Blake’s post is a nice antidote.
“How,” I’ve often wondered, “was the Second Vatican Council so artfully reinvented, that the very bishops who attended the Council implemented changes in its name which they had never envisaged?”
Books have been written answering that question, and I don’t think the answer is settled even now. But there’s another question — a related question — which I think is being definitively answered at this very moment.
“If the Council were to occur today could it be manipulated and reinterpreted as it was in the 60s?”
I’ve suspected not. In the first place, the media is much more democratic these days. It was possible, at the time of the Council, to mould and control a media image. But the abundance of independent media voices — especially online — now makes that impossible. Just ask any government, anywhere. (North Korea excepted.)
In the second place, within the Church unquestioning obedience is a distant memory. At the time of the Council, if the local bishop made a decision, priests would faithfully communicate and execute that decision, and the vast majority of lay faithful complied. That doesn’t happen anymore. Not in the West, anyway.
The present Synod of Bishops, which has become something of a debacle, proves these points. I think there was an attempt to manipulate the synod, just as the Council was manipulated, but it hasn’t worked.
Proceedings of the present synod are closed to the media: an unprecedented innovation which enables the General Secretariat to control information flow. Synod Fathers are unable to publicise the speeches they table, but they’re free to speak to journalists outside session. So they have — and many have openly criticised the control of information.
Following convention, Synod Fathers elected representatives to draft the synod’s final report. In another unprecedented innovation — which as pope he is entitled to do — Francis appointed six of his own nominees to the task. But the official news bureau of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference underlines the political significance of this intervention:
The fact is worrying those who want to maintain the current discipline of the Church regarding these issues, considering that all the persons named by the Pope are of a liberal tendency, unlike Erdö.
In yet another unprecedented innovation, the General Secretariat has published an interim report. And this is where the attempts at manipulation have really unravelled. The report is, to say the least, problematic — both in its content, and in the fact that it doesn’t represent the synod. Archbishop Gądecki, who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference, has called it unacceptable. Cardinal Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has called it “undignified and shameful.”
But the most damning evidence of attempted manipulation? During the press conference which followed the report’s release — a press conference which left at least one Catholic journalist unedified — Cardinal Erdö, who is charged with officially speaking for the Synod Fathers, handballed a controversial question to his assistant, effectively disowning a document bearing his signature:
The Hungarian cardinal […] gave the floor to Mgr. Forte because, he said, “he who wrote the text must know what it is talking about.”
I have only quoted the misgivings and criticisms of Synod Fathers. A cursory glance at the Catholic blogosphere will reveal even greater disquiet among disinterested observers. Much of the online commentary is overblown and hysterical because the Internet is a hot house of wild opinion and speculation. But even so, the online response demonstrates that resistance to the attempted manipulation is widespread and savvy — a phenomenon which wasn’t present 50 years ago. If the Internet had existed during the Second Vatican Council, I think the implementation of that Council would have been very different.
In a first for this blog, I’m posting from 30,000 feet in the air, somewhere above the north west coast of Australia. I’m about halfway through a flight to Singapore; from there I fly to Dubai; from there I fly to Madrid.
Don Alvaro Portillo will be beatified next Saturday, and I’ll be there! I don’t think I’ll be blogging much, though, until my return to Australia next week.