Balancing truth and love

Balancing truth and love

We’ve all had uncomfortable conversations which we’d rather avoid. In those moments it’s tempting to misrepresent one’s true thoughts and keep the peace.

Priests have lots of these conversations, though possibly no more than others. But priests have a big advantage. Priests minister sacramental confession.

When I am hearing confessions, I’m acutely conscious that I act in persona Christi. It is one of those very rare moments when I am enabled and obliged to judge another person. I certainly don’t do this on my own behalf, but only in service to the Lord, whose justice and mercy I minister.

No one on earth will ever know the advice I give to penitents. But God knows. This is one instance when the easy way out — acquiescence and agreeability — is not an option at all. Since I speak for God, not for myself, I am absolutely obliged to be faithful to God’s truth.

At the same time, the penitent is in a very vulnerable position. (I know, because I’m frequently a penitent myself!) They have just opened up their heart, and exposed their inner life. Not to me, but to our Lord. So I have another obligation, no less grave: to be kind. To minister the Lord’s mercy.

I do not remember the sins I hear in the confessional, because I ask to forget them, and the Holy Spirit grants me that favour. But though I remember nothing, the act of hearing confessions changes me. I am practiced in speaking the truth with love, which is often a very challenging task.

But of course this task, the duty to proclaim the truth with love, is not exclusive to priests. Every Christian is called to do this. Even in the most awkward conversations, the most unwanted confrontations, we must be faithful to truth, and faithful to charity.

I think veritas in caritate has a certain “look.” It is serene. It is good-humoured. And it is humble. But it is seldom easy.

An impressive account of veritas in caritate appeared in my Facebook newsfeed today. It was a shining beacon in the midst of an ever-rolling stream of ill-measured and inflammatory comments.

The other day we got together with a friend of mine from high school named Andrew, and his boyfriend, Tom. We caught up on life and work, Andrew and I clicking as well as we always have. I wore waterproof mascara because I knew I’d end up laughing to the point of tears, which, in fact, I did.

Then, when my husband and Tom went to pick up a round of drinks at the bar, Andrew had a question for me. “So,” he said, grabbing a tortilla chip from the basket in front of us. “What do you think of gay marriage?”

The last time we hung out, this unspoken topic was not as palpably present as it was now. Even though our gay friends knew that we’d converted to Catholicism, nobody cared enough to bring up potentially controversial issues. But now, the mood in the world around us had changed. Throughout our country the issue of same-sex unions was being debated furiously; it had become a defining issue of our generation, and thus the average person was no longer allowed not to have an opinion about it. It was too weird to sit at the table, two orthodox Catholics and two men in a gay relationship, and not bring it up. We could no longer ignore the storm that raged outside the cloister of our friendship; the doors had blown open, and the rain had come inside.

I shrugged, trying to keep it casual.

This is one of those awkward conversations we’d all rather avoid. But the author, Jennifer Fulwiller, doesn’t do this. Instead she attempts that elusive balancing act of truth and love.

Read it all. It’s worth it.

ACCC Conference in Hobart

ACCC Conference in Hobart

Today, and every day this week in fact, I am in Hobart. It’s several years since I was last in Tasmania.

I remember chewing on Fisherman’s Friends lozengers during my week in Tasmania, which I only do when I have a cold. And I distinctly remember that Pope Benedict published Summorum Pontificum, which liberalised use of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. That was on 7 July 2007. It’s funny the details one remembers.

Back then I was a seminarian, visiting schools to speak about vocations. This time, I’m attending the ACCC clergy conference. We begin in earnest tomorrow. I’m charged with the task of locating suitable local beverages which we will present as gifts to our speakers.

Tonight I prayed Evening Prayer in St Mary’s Cathedral. A beautiful crucifix is suspended over the altar, and it dominates the sanctuary. I took some photos with my iPhone, which don’t do it justice at all:

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The crucifix was donated by the Harradine family, in memory of the late Senator Brian Harradine. Thanks to Facebook I tracked down an image of the crucifix during its restoration:

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It looks like the crucifix has always belonged in the cathedral, and it’s hard to imagine how the place must have looked previously. It’s a beautiful addition.

Nonetheless, I remember a furore erupting on Facebook prior to its installation. Some parishioners felt that St Mary’s was their church before it was the bishop’s cathedral, and they objected to the bishop’s unilateral decision to accept the donation and install the crucifix so prominently. It was a spurious complaint really, but Archbishop Porteous was sensitive to his people’s grievances, and met with them to explain his rationale and hear them out. I believe everything was resolved quickly and amicably. A good pastoral example to follow, that.

This year’s ACCC conference promises to be excellent. We have a world class keynote speaker in Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who will share his expertise on the Church Fathers. Other speakers include Archbishop Porteous, who will speak on “the Kerygma as the gateway to holiness,” and Alex Sidhu, an old university friend of mine, who will speak on “the ‘holiness’ of the State.”

All conference proceedings will be published in the ACCC journal, The Priest, of which I am editor. The journal is sent to all clergy members and lay associates of the Confraternity, and joining is not expensive. It’s worth considering.

The Priest is a great journal. Worth reading. Even if I do say so myself. Just to prove my point, here is an article pulled from the present issue, which was published earlier this month. It’s an encouraging account of good priestly work occurring in the great city of Ballarat.

We’re bound to offend, so let’s speak plainly

We’re bound to offend, so let’s speak plainly

This morning at Mass, I distributed the Australian bishops’ recent pastoral letter on marriage. Despite its assertive title — Don’t Mess With Marriage — it is a very mild document.

The document presents a case for traditional marriage which seeks to be as inoffensive as possible. By this measure, the document has failed. Here’s a few headlines to prove it:

The supreme irony in this is that the document nowhere refers to the Church’s “most offensive” (read, most counter-cultural) moral teachings. No mention of the grave immorality of homosexual acts. No mention of objectively disordered inclinations. These teachings constitute the elephant in the room.

I spoke to a priest last week who was quite animated in his defence of traditional marriage. “Marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. If a same-sex couple came to me, I’d be very happy to bless them. I’d pray that they find God in their love for each other, and goodness in their life together. But it’s not marriage.”

Right. It’s not marriage. But what that priest said isn’t Catholic teaching either. A gravely immoral relationship can’t be blessed. This priest’s position is incompatible with the Catholic moral tradition. But it’s not incompatible with Don’t Mess With Marriage. I don’t wish to suggest that the bishops’ pastoral letter condones same sex relationships. That’s a logical leap too far. But certainly, the letter is ambiguous. It fails to present the full Catholic teaching on the subject.

For this reason, I also distributed to parishioners a much more comprehensive document. In 2003, Pope John Paul II approved the CDF’s Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. The title is much longer than the Australian bishops’ letter, but the document itself is much shorter. It’s also much more “offensive” — in that it doesn’t mince words and includes very direct exhortations.

For example:

Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts “as a serious depravity… (cf. Rom 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10). This judgment of Scripture does not of course permit us to conclude that all those who suffer from this anomaly are personally responsible for it, but it does attest to the fact that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” This same moral judgment is found in many Christian writers of the first centuries and is unanimously accepted by Catholic Tradition.

And:

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

Here we have language which is deeply provocative, and I can understand why it wasn’t used in the Australian bishops’ pastoral letter. The bishops want to teach and edify. They don’t want to offend.

But here’s the thing. Catholic teaching on homosexuality is offensive to a growing proportion of the population. We only have to review those headlines above to confirm it. As disciples of Jesus Christ, Catholics need to be comfortable with this. Our Lord, who of course excelled at speaking the truth with love, wasn’t very nice. He offended people left, right and centre. Why should things be different for us?

The furore caused by Don’t Mess With Marriage despite its mild presentation, suggests to me that we may as well be direct and avoid ambiguity. Hence my recommendation to parishioners to take and read both the bishops’ letter, and the CDF’s Considerations.

Many times in the last few years, I have heard bishops and cardinals call for a review of the language the Church uses. To cite a recent example, consider Cardinal Diarmuid Martin’s response to Ireland’s gay marriage yes vote:

“It’s very clear that if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people, then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to be able to talk to and to get its message across to young people, not just on this issue, but in general.”

I think this is dead wrong. It’s also a bit patronising. “Marriage equality” activists aren’t offended by the language of Catholic moral teaching. They’re offended by the content. The Church has never waged a petty war of words. The Church is engaged in the noble battle of ideas.

Put another way, the “messaging remedy” is not semantic. The remedy is something which was banished from the Church’s seminaries and universities and schools 50 years ago, at great cost. The remedy is apologetics.

St Josemaría and Melbourne’s Shrine of the Holy Family

St Josemaría and Melbourne’s Shrine of the Holy Family

Tomorrow — Friday 26 June — is the Feast of St Josemaría Escrivá. The saint whose life and legacy has most shaped my own.

I am nearly certain — as certain as one can be of an unverifiable hypothetical — that if not for Josemaría, I would not be a priest. Without Opus Dei’s impact during my university years, there is no way I would have contemplated a priestly vocation.

I may not even be a believing Catholic. At that critical time of young adulthood, when I was forging a newly-independent identity, Opus Dei nourished my faith, both intellectually and spiritually. Without that influence, it is conceivable that I would have abandoned Catholic practice.

More likely though, I would still be a Catholic, but one who is more critical, more worldly, more pessimistic. Someone, probably, who was excoriating of Vatican II and dismissive of the mainstream Church in Australia. But whatever my faults, I’m none of those things. Instead, St Josemaría taught me to pray for and consciously foster humility, joy, and above all supernatural outlook.

Thanks to Josemaría, although I am conscious of the grave crisis of faith which afflicts the Church in our time, I do not despair. The Church has survived worse, and grace will prevail.

Thanks to Josemaría, although I value orthodoxy, I value personal holiness more. The two are not opposed of course, but they can be mutually exclusive.

Thanks to Josemaría, I am conscious that more than anything, the Church — and the world — needs saints. It can be argued — very soundly! — that despite this insight, I haven’t progressed much over the past 15 years. But to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, without Opus Dei, “just think how much worse I would be.”

In short, I owe St Josemaría a lot. It’s a joy to celebrate his feast day, which I will do by attending a Mass in his honour Friday night, at St Mary Star of the Sea, West Melbourne. If you’re in town, please come!

It’s also an occasion for Archbishop Hart to bless a new statue of the Holy Family which has been installed in the throne of the high altar. This beautiful statue, which I was able to see in the Granda workshop during my trip to Madrid last year, signifies St Mary’s status as Archdiocesan Shrine of the Holy Family.

The artist and Fr Joe Pich, assistant priest at West Melbourne

The principal sculptor and Fr Joe Pich, assistant priest at West Melbourne

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The principal sculptor with deacons Francis Denton and Joel Peart. And some priest. Francis, incidentally, will be ordained a priest this Saturday. Pray for him!

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Detail of St Joseph and our Lady

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Detail of our Lord. Note the close resemblance to our Lady, which is deliberate.

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The completed statue in situ

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Beautiful

Asperger’s from the inside

Asperger’s from the inside

Here’s a worthy cause to support. And it’s primarily about raising awareness, not money.

In solidarity with the everyday challenges of autism, my friend Paul is chopping off his dreadlocks after 15 years. In his case, that’s literally half a lifetime. I’d cue the proverbial drum roll, but there’s no need. Paul has created a YouTube clip which builds up the suspense beautifully.

Here’s his rationale:

It’s not hard to tell that I love my dreadlocks. I’ve had them for nearly 15 years and to this day I regularly get random compliments from strangers who love my hair too. The problem is I love them too much. So much that I’m terrified of losing them! That’s why I’ve had them for so long and that’s why I’ve decided to cut them off!!

3 months ago I discovered I have Aspergers Syndrome (sometimes referred to as high functioning autism). Since then I’ve come face to face with all the coping strategies I use to make sure you never know I’m struggling. It’s time to leave them behind and face the world without my mask.

Kids on the autism spectrum face hidden challenges every day. I am taking on this challenge in solidarity with them. They need inspiration, encouragement and support, just like me. It’s not easy. It may LOOK easy… but it’s NOT! It’s actually terrifying!! Even though the chop date is weeks away I can already feel my hands shaking as I type this.

My ‘I Can’ challenge is to cut my hair and leave behind my crutch, my gimmick, my safety blanket, along with the image and identity I’ve had for my entire adult life.

So please support me by sharing my story with your friends and helping to raise awareness for AWEgust of AWEtism and the I Can Network’s work enabling kids on the spectrum to achieve their dreams.

And here’s another video of Paul’s, which goes into fascinating detail, not only about the importance of one man’s dreadlocks, but also about the daily lived experience of Asperger’s Syndrome.

I am close to several people on the autism spectrum. No doubt you are too, whether you know it or not. You can learn more at Paul’s blog: Asperger’s from the inside.

If you would like to donate money, which funds the ICanNetwork for young people on the spectrum, visit awegust.everydayhero.com.