Always winter, never Christmas

Always winter, never Christmas

I was nine years old when I read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can still remember the dread which these words carried:

“I’m crying because I’m such a bad Faun,” sobbed Mr Tumnus. “I’m in the pay of the White Witch.”

“The White Witch? Who is she?”

“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!”

Always winter and never Christmas! I did think of that, with all the horror a nine-year-old can conjure. Even now, the idea stops me in my tracks (which is admittedly odd, considering our antipodean winters are always Christmas-free).

Perhaps Pope Francis was channelling C. S. Lewis when he recently declared, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Lent without Easter. There’s another idea which must fill children with dread!

It’s no coincidence that Lent is forty days, and Easter is fifty. That’s forty days of fasting, followed by fifty days of feasting.

To feast is to welcome and approve the luxury of excess. We eat and drink too much; we laugh too much; we even sing too much. Feasting does not frown on excess. It embraces excess with intemperate merriment.

Feasting and excess are closely linked to joy. Joy is never temperate. That’s an oxymoron. It’s always and everywhere excessive, and it’s necessary to connect with the transcendent. We need festivals, festivities and feasts, because we need to express our joy — and our gratitude — for life and love.

Feasting is something Christians should heartily endorse, but maybe there’s a secret Puritan lurking in each of us. The Puritans foreshadowed Narnia’s White Witch by outlawing the feast of Christmas first in England and later in the American colonies. Christians have since re-claimed the feast and the practice of feasting, but the spectacle of modern-day excess might undermine that progress.

The unprecedented prosperity of the modern world lends itself to excess, and the consumer economy depends on it. Consumerism exploits the poor and diminishes the spiritual life, so it’s clearly incompatible with the Christian worldview. But there’s a danger that in rejecting consumer excess, we reject feasting too.

Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century German philosopher, proposed in Leisure: the Basis of Culture that feasting and excess are essential to Christian worship. Moreover, he argued that Christian puritanism only feeds consumerism. If we have no time to give thanks for what we have and who we are, we become engrossed with acquiring more and joining the rat race. “Cut off from worship of the divine,” he warns, “leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do something purely for the joy of it? That’s the essence of feasting, and it’s what we’re called to do in Easter.

Many Christians observe the forty days of Lent by “giving something up.” Small acts of self-denial can unite us with Christ on the cross, and help us to foster detachment.

It’s not implausible to observe the fifty days of Easter by “taking something up.” Something which puts a smile on our face. It might be as simple as deliberately indulging at a café or pub with a friend, or taking the family to the cinema.

The excess of feasting can express the joy of faith, which can in turn help us to attract others to Christ. And feasting reminds us that there is more to life than work, and more to love than pleasure.

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed.

(H/T Christina Kennedy.)

Liberal v. progressive

Liberal v. progressive

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting post this week. Sullivan, for those who don’t know, is one of one of the grandfathers of blogging, launching The Dish back in 2000.

He is also one of the grandfathers of the gay marriage movement, and it is on this subject that he is most interesting. Sullivan has discerned two “core narratives” shaping the debate over gay marriage in America. Apart from the obvious conservative-progressive dichotomy, there is also a liberal-progressive dichotomy. (Did I mention Sullivan is English? That’s probably important. I don’t think Americans, whose understanding of liberalism is a little parochial, would have coined this argument.)

Here’s Jon Lovett making a fundamentally liberal point:

The trouble, I think, is when ostracizing a viewpoint as “beyond the pale” becomes not an end but a means to an end; that by declaring something unsayable, we make it so. It makes me uncomfortable, even as I see the value of it. I for one would love homophobia to fully make it on that list [of impermissible opinions], to get to the point where being against gay marriage is as vulgar and shameful as being against interracial marriage. But it isn’t. Maybe it will be. But it isn’t. And kicking a reality-show star off his reality show doesn’t make that less true. Win the argument; don’t declare the argument too offensive to be won. And that’s true whether it’s GLAAD making demands of A&E or the head of the Republican National Committee making demands of MSNBC.

The bottom line is, you don’t beat an idea by beating a person. You beat an idea by beating an idea.

Then there is another approach, in which creating a progressive culture in which some things are unsayable is the whole point of the exercise. Here’s a piece by J. Brian Lowder with that perspective. Money quote:

Tim Teeman wrote on Friday that “the ‘shame’ axis around homosexuality has positively shifted from those who are gay to those who are anti-gay.” He may be right about that, but speaking personally, I am not interested in shaming anyone; it would be enough for me if those people who are so ignorant or intransigent as to still be anti-gay in 2014 would simply shut up.

This is not a minor disagreement. It’s a profound one. One side wants to continue engaging the debate. The other wants one side to shut up.

For what it’s worth, Sullivan sides with the liberal approach. He wants to engage debate, rather than shut down debate. Read the whole post to find out why.

I don’t agree with Andrew Sullivan on many things, but I agree with him on this.

Exposing abortion secrets

Exposing abortion secrets

This year’s Lenten programme from the Brisbane Archdiocese is very good. Each week is focused on the Sunday gospel, and incorporates both a homiletical reflection, and a personal testimony.

This week’s testimony came from Melissa Ohden, who defied the odds and survived a saline abortion in 1977. It’s a remarkable story of endurance and healing.

As I listened then and pondered later, I concluded things have only gotten worse since 1977. In many parts of the world, survivors of abortion are refused medical care and deliberately left to die. Or they are actively murdered.

This tragedy — and scandal — has been on my mind all week, so the emergence of this fundraising appeal is very timely. A trio of journalists and film-makers have launched a crowd funding campaign to produce a TV movie documenting the crimes of Kermit Gosnell.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell is the most prolific serial killer in American History, but almost no one knows who he is… Gosnell is serving several life sentences but the media basically ignored his crimes and his trial.

It’s very encouraging that, in the United States at least, abortion on demand is perpetuated only under a cloud of misinformation and censorship. It suggests that the more the truth is told, the less people endorse the pro-‘choice’ policy agenda.

Visit gosnellmovie.com to assist this worthy cause.

On abortion

On abortion

Last Wednesday — on the Feast of St Joseph — a friend reported on a pro-life prayer vigil she joined outside the East Melbourne abortion clinic on Wellington Parade.

I’m reproducing it here, because it gives an interesting and non-threatening perspective on the protesters’ actions and motives.

40 Days for Life praying outside the abortion mill. Two of us, Peter P, already clocking up 1 1/2 hours, then we’re joined by Trudi. Very strongly inspired to pray unceasingly, no chatting whatsoever, do not retort or respond to taunts and do not stop praying for one minute.

First a young woman looking like a MarchinMarch icon, going past several times yelling “You make me sick”.. then gleefully reappearing with a bongo drum. She sits down on the entrance planter opposite us and starts rapping loudly about “choice .. f..’in this and f…’in that. Abortion’s good, etc.” We keep praying steadily; the Glorious Mysteries in honour of Glorious St Joseph.

After a minute her voice starts to go croaky, she screeches, voice wobbles, then she takes off in a hurry. We keep praying.

Two police arrive, go into the clinic. We keep praying.

Ten minutes later another policewoman arrives, follows first policeman and woman. They come out and stand in front of us. We are praying the Stations of the Cross. We finish the station and they apologise for interrupting us. Inform us there has been a complaint by a pregnant woman claiming to be upset by us, abused by us.

No, I say, we have been praying only – not speaking one word to anyone. But a young woman was shrieking and drumming about abortion earlier… maybe pregnant woman upset by her? They ask our names. I say, not doing anything wrong, right to be here, blah blah blah (For crying out loud – babies being slaughtered and they interrogate pray-ers!!!)

Policewomen and man depart.

We continue praying. No, no, no chat. You stop and chat, you have dropped your weapons and God goes. He is there when two or three gathered together in His Name – not when they’re chatting…

Along comes a female who stands right up to us, cool as a cucumber, cursing, lying, swearing, profanities, the usual. We keep praying, eyes down. After 10 seconds she goes. The demons cannot stand prayer, you see.

Respond to these people and they love it. You stop praying, God goes, you are defenceless and they have won.

One hour of penance, but it’s prayer and Glorious St Joseph, whom we have invoked and dedicated this hour to, which has put up a strong shield around us and sends the demons packing.

Meanwhile, MercatorNet has posted a great article on how a crisis pregnancy is dealt with in Downton Abbey, and how things have changed since then, and how they have stayed the same.

I watched the first series of Downton Abbey (and enjoyed it immensely), so I know enough about the characters for this to interest me. Still, you don’t need to know the series the appreciate the video here.

On the other hand, if you do know the series, and you wish to avoid spoilers, don’t watch the video, and don’t follow the link: Downton Abbey and abortion rights.

The race that used to stop a nation

The race that used to stop a nation

For the past fortnight, I’ve asked many people, in the course of general conversation, to indicate any tips they have on the Melbourne Cup.

To my surprise, the majority of people have responded with blank stares, and explanations like, “I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year,” or “I don’t gamble Father.”

These answers, in themselves, are good! I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year either, or any other year. Once at university, and once again in the seminary, I had friends who threw themselves into form guides and Saturday betting, but I could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm, and in a matter of weeks even this limited interest was exhausted.

But I didn’t enquire about the racing carnival, or betting in general. I enquired about the Melbourne Cup, which is a cultural event. It’s a bit like asking someone in Grand Final week who they’re backing on Saturday. “I don’t follow a particular footy team,” or “I don’t watch TV” aren’t pertinent answers to the question, but now that I think about it, I got a lot of these responses in September, too!

I mention this not to criticise my respondents, but to highlight a cultural phenomenon. On Sunday, the parish youth group visited some of our house-bound parishioners. One of the parishioners we visited had emigrated from Holland after the war. She loves Australia very much, but she said there is one thing she has always missed: singing.

In Holland, she said, everyone sang. Even the smallest country parish had three or four choirs, of very high calibre. And every social gathering, whatever the context, incorporated singing. But in Australia, we don’t have that tradition. It’s one of the ways we are culturally impoverished. But, I would hasten to add, we have different cultural riches. The Melbourne Cup is one of them. Or it was. Now, not so much.

Maybe the culprit is atomisation. It’s not that people are too busy now, to review the field, or enter a Cup Sweep. People are always busy, and always have been. It’s just that people have no interest, and more pointedly, no compelling reason to be interested. We had more reason, once, to show interest in things that didn’t particularly appeal to us, because they united an otherwise disparate group. It gave us an opportunity to share something with people we don’t share much with.

We needed to do this — to “confect” common interests — because otherwise we didn’t share anything much with anyone, beyond our family and close friends. But that has changed. The communications revolution has connected whole worlds of people who share natural interests. For example, I can read the blogs of country priests all over the world! Technology reduces the need, I think, to cultivate commonality with the people who actually surround us.

Now, I must confess, this blog has itself become atomised. When I started it, I regularly blogged on a very broad range of subjects, from footy tipping and seminary life to English literature and French philosophy. Now, not so much. Time to revert, I think.

Here are Simon the Pieman’s tips for the big race:

  • 3. Red Cadeaux.
  • 9. Ethiopia.
  • 12. Seville.
  • 19. Simenon.
  • 22. Dear Demi.

He adds:

Have great Cup day! Mike Brady and Slim Dusty have both got Cup songs! Have a look on YouTube! Thank you Fr John for letting me put my tips on your blog!

I’m gratified to see that Simenon gets a mention. I’ve liked his form since I first started attending to the potential Cup field a fortnight ago. Simenon started his racing career as a jumper, and the unusual length of the Melbourne Cup is especially suited to him. His odds have shortened a lot since then, but I maintain he is still underrated.

Violence in Melbourne

The state of Victoria is afflicted by some of the world’s most permissive and pernicious abortion laws. The annual March for the Babies seeks to redress this state of affairs. This year’s march, which occurred yesterday, was marred by violence.

There’s no television reception where I’m staying, so I don’t know how the TV news covered the protest, but there is plenty of online comment. Lifesitenews reports that MP Bernie Finn is furious with police inaction:

What we saw today was literally a public mugging on the streets of Melbourne and Victoria Police let it happen,” Finn fumed. “We had people being assaulted, being kicked, being stomped on and they sat back and watched.”

Bill Muehlenberg, who was at the protest himself, ponders why pro-choice activists, who ostensibly demonstrated in the name of freedom and choice, proved so illiberal and intolerant:

Women are harmed greatly from abortions: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Indeed, that is part of the explanation for the utter rage, hatred and viciousness of these protestors.

Many have had abortions themselves and they are really hurting because of it, and seeking to take out all this on anyone who dares to tell them that they have taken the lives of their own babies. Many are the walking wounded, and instead of getting help which so many pro-lifers offer, they get even more bitter, angry and resentful.

Several seminarians joined the March for the Babies. Here, second year seminarian Michael Buck relates his own experiences and conclusions:

It has always taken a certain degree of courage to join the March for the Babies each year, given the sort of reactions that can be expected from many people when they discover that you spent your Saturday afternoon protesting against abortion. This year, however, is the first time since I began attending the march in 2008 that I have had cause to worry for my physical safety.

The march began as usual from the Treasury Gardens, supposed to begin at 1pm but there is almost always some delay. I was running a bit late as I made the walk down from the seminary in Carlton to the Treasury Gardens, so I joined the march at the intersection of Spring St and Flinders St around 1.15pm. The march had only just begun, and, as usual, I was surprised by the impressive display of thousands of people. Interestingly, a number of people remarked after the march that they thought the numbers had decreased compared with last year, but as one woman said, there seemed to be more ‘prayers’ among the marchers this year, and that was certainly reflected in the hostility with which the counter-protesters verbally derided and physically assaulted the pro-lifers. It was very confronting to see a group of people who seemed to deliberately identify with darkness, anger and hate, yet the stories of how disarmed they often became when met with an act of charity or a gentle word from a pro-lifer shows that these people have often been deeply wounded and need to be treated with charity and truth.

The trouble began once the march reached the intersection of Flinders St and Swanston St, with the iconic Flinders St Station, Federation Square, St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and, (last but not least!) Young and Jackson’s Prince’s Bridge Hotel, on each corner of the intersection. It was a stark image that even peaceful Melbourne is a battleground between the cultures of life and death. The pro-abortion group had banded together and were physically blocking the progression of the march through the intersection and up Swanston Street as planned. The march was halted, and there was much confusion about what was going on. Blaring music and shouting were clearly audible even from my position, at about the half-way point of the marchers, where I was unable to see the confrontation at the front. Word was quickly passed back through the crowd that the pro-abortion crowd had stopped progress, that there had been physical violence, and that Bernie Finn (the Hon. Member who, I believe, organises the march) had requested that we sit down to show that we will not move until the police come and clear the way. The wait lasted around an hour, during which a large group of us prayed the Rosary, but unfortunately a number of elderly marchers, who could not sit down and were struggling to stand in the sun for an hour, had to leave the march during this time. Eventually, the order was given to turn around and redirect the march up Russell St.

It was a relief to be on the move again. As we were walking up Russell St, the counter-protesters raced along beside us to again get in the way and stop us. As we marched, they shouted profanities, insults and blasphemies, and I witnessed one woman physically stopping a marcher from continuing, screaming insults at him and pushing into him. The poor man, who looked to be in his 60’s, was clearly intimidated but to his credit did not once push back or become aggravated. Very quickly, some female marchers came to his aid and calmed the woman down.

The worst of the day’s violence occurred at the steps of State Parliament. The pro-abortion rabble tried to wreck what had been set up, and claimed the central part of the ‘stage’ which was preventing the proceedings from continuing. Eventually the police surrounded them and they were moved a small way away down into the crowd, and we could begin. Throughout the speeches (according to another seminarian who was ‘on the frontline,’ as it were, next to this group) this group at the front continually screamed curses and pushed and shoved pro-lifers. Yet the violence was worst at the back of the crowd, unfortunately close to me. Two of the counter protesters rode bicycles into the crowd, with other cronies running in behind them. It was shocking to see elderly people knocked to the ground, and others injured by the bicycles hitting them. As pro-lifers tried to stop these people, naturally by physically stopping them, the violence started. One frenzied man repeatedly took swings at the pro-lifers, but I only saw him make an impact once. Others were being shaken and shoved. Many of the pro-lifers were middle aged, some were elderly, and this violence was shocking and frightening. Of course, the police were all up the front, and by the time they got to the back the violence had wound up as pro-lifers formed a wall and blocked the pro-abortionists out.

This year is the first that I have witnessed such violence at the March for the Babies, and I must say that I was thoroughly disappointed in the policemen who did not secure the safety of these peaceful protesters. It was clear from early in the day (and indeed the night before!) that the counter-protesters were intending to take an aggressive approach, and not only did the police fail to clear the intersection at Flinders Street, but they did not prevent the physical violence. In future, I hope that more police will be present and a more careful watch be kept on the counter protesters, so that violence which so easily could have been prevented, will be.

In the meantime, yesterday’s events are a good reminder of the need for continual pressure on our government, and perhaps more importantly, prayer for the conversion of this country and the protection of mothers and their unborn children.

God bless yesterday’s pro-life marchers, and their apostolate. Please God, our country will soon relegate to history the legislated slaughter of the unborn.

God bless, too, yesterday’s pro-choice counter-protestors – especially those wounded by abortion. May they know the peace only Christ can give.