Living the sabbath

Living the sabbath

When I was in Israel last May, I was very impressed by the nation’s observance of the sabbath. Saturday in Israel resembles Christmas Day in Australia: businesses are closed, there’s almost no traffic on the roads, and everyone is at home. Work is unimaginable; it’s a day of very intentional rest and recreation with family and friends.

Most Israelis are not religious; they are secular. But they observe the sabbath with the same fervour that secular Australians observe Christmas Day. It struck me that Australia lost something valuable when it repealed Sunday trading laws.

Six months into my psychology degree, I’ve noticed a distinct pattern: modern discoveries of science very often corroborate the ancient wisdom of religion. Studies have established that the best work-rest cycle — the balance which best harmonises the health of individuals and relationships with the productivity and efficiency of the economy — is a cycle of six days of work and one day of rest.

For believers, this should come as no surprise. Men and women, after all, are imago Dei, and just as God worked for six days and rested on the seventh day, so should His children. Perhaps the divine law is as “hardwired” into humans as is the natural law. The secular case for a sabbath is, I think, every bit as compelling as the religious case.

Modern Australia, “the land of the long weekend,” is one of the most medicated, addicted, obese, over-worked and stressed out societies in human history. This is part of the wider malady of twenty-first century Western culture. Maybe the decline of the sabbath has something to do with this. Australians, as a rule, don’t live the sabbath well. I certainly don’t.

Hence, one of my new year’s resolutions is to live a scriptural sabbath. For 24 hours each week, I will do no work. No e-mails. No work phone calls (except from hospitals and the funeral directors.) No scheduling or planning or visiting. Not even household chores. Just prayer, and rest, and recreation with friends and family.

I’m conscious that a Catholic priest can’t be too literal in his observance of the sabbath. Cancelling Sunday Masses is hardly advisable! But I see no reason why a priest can’t translate the sabbath to Monday — or any other day — and sincerely honour the spirit of the Lord’s command to “keep holy the sabbath.”

In the same way, some lay faithful are forced by circumstance to work on Sunday. That’s one of the consequences of the Sunday trading “reforms.” Working on Sunday doesn’t abrogate the obligation to attend Mass. It’s unusual, for city-dwellers at least, not to find the means to satisfy the Sunday obligation.

But what about the command to rest? (In the context, I think rest also includes recreation.) I think we all have to get serious about one day every week dedicated to intentional rest and recreation. Twenty-four hours when we can switch off, without feeling guilty or lazy. And if we can’t do that on Sunday (which is certainly the preference), then another day must be found.

Until I do this myself though, who am I to exhort others? Right now it’s an ideal. An aspiration. By the end of 2018, I hope, it will be a part of my lifestyle.

Happy new year!

Santa and Christmas

Santa and Christmas

So PJ Media reports this happened in Texas earlier in the month:

A pastor made a scene on Friday by preaching about the falsehood of Santa Claus at a mall. He walked around the Santa exhibit, where kids and parents stood in line to see Santa, shouting that Santa isn’t real and that Christmas is about Jesus Christ.

You can watch the pastor make a fool of himself at the link, which includes a Youtube clip the pastor himself filmed.

I’m reminded of the wisdom of the Catholic Church’s repeated insistence that parents are the primary educators of their children, and everyone else, including ecclesiastics, must defer to them:

  • The Catechism calls the rights of parents “primordial and inalienable.”
  • In Familiaris Consortio, St John Paul II called parents’ ministry “original and irreplaceable.”
  • St Thomas Aquinas compares parents’ duty and right to teach their children to the duties and rights of the priest:

“Some only propagate and guard spiritual life by a spiritual ministry: this is the role of the sacrament of Orders; others do this for both corporal and spiritual life, and this is brought about by the sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship God.”

Hence I’m in pretty good company calling the Texan pastor’s actions out of order. He has no business subverting the rights of parents.

Apart from that, it’s far from clear that he’s right to decry the Santa Claus myth. The author of the PJ Media item linked above relates the Christian origins of gift-giving from St Nicholas. And even the modern Coca-Cola adulteration of St Nick does a lot of good.

Case in point: Eric Schmitt-Matzen’s apostolate, borne from a chance conversation at his local church, and an uncanny likeness to the real deal.

Put me down as a believer.

The sensual allure of gluttony

The sensual allure of gluttony

One evening earlier this week, a friend and I were walking up Drummond Street in Carlton. The neighbourhood is very familiar to me, not only from my seminary years, but also from my university years.

We passed a building which once housed Shannyn Bennet’s famous Vue de Monde restaurant — before he relocated to the CBD. “This is where I enjoyed the greatest meal of my life,” I declared. It was a ten-course degustation menu focused on truffles. Yum! (I’m not usually given to blogging about food, but I have blogged about truffles before — here and here.)

This is when my friend surprised me. And by that, I mean he floored me. He described a French dish which is so luxurious — so excessively extravagant — that I thought he was making it up. Turns out he wasn’t.

Ortolans are a small songbird, similar to finches. Let me explain how they are served according to the finest traditions of French cuisine. You’ll probably have to read this twice just to process it.

1. The birds are caught with ground nets, set during their migratory flight to Africa. Then they are transferred to dark cages.

2. The Ancient Romans would gouge the ortolans’ eyes out, so that the poor birds would think winter had arrived early, and gorge themselves on grain. Enlightened moderns do not blind the birds, but they do keep them in complete darkness for a month or more.

3. When the gorging birds have tripled their original size, they are drowned in Armagnac, and allowed to marinate there for some time. Seriously. I’m not making this up!

4. The marinated bird is roasted for seven minutes, or eight minutes at a pinch.

5. The bird is promptly plucked and served on a plate, still sizzling in its hot fats.


6. The diner handles the bird by its beak, and places the entire bird, feet first, into his or her mouth.

7. The bird is still very hot, and likely to burn the diner’s mouth. Its bones will often cut the diner’s gums and mouth, drawing blood. The pain and blood is supposed to enhance the flavours and culinary experience.

8. The ortolan is traditionally consumed with a napkin covering the diner’s head. There is a three-fold explanation for this strange practice:


An American chef, Anthony Bourdain, describes the experience in alluring terms:

“With every bite, as the thin bones and layers of fat, meat, skin and organs compact in on themselves, there are sublime dribbles of varied and wondrous ancient flavours: figs, Armagnac, dark flesh slightly infused with the salty taste of my own blood as my mouth is pricked by the sharp bones.”

I must confess I am simultaneously attracted to, and repulsed by, this extraordinary indulgence. I am resolved never to dine on ortolan, but I readily admit that my puritanical streak informs that decision. The whole exercise of preparation, cooking and dining constitutes an exquisite example of gross gluttony.

As a child, my understanding of gluttony involved an obese king, gorging himself on food, then deliberately bringing that food up so that he could gorge himself again. But gluttony is actually much more expansive. Truth is, I am not as innocent of this sin as I once thought, and maybe you’re not either.

Pope St Gregory the Great famously defined the deadly sin of gluttony as eating food too soon, too delicately, too expensively, too greedily, or too much. St Thomas Aquinas didn’t disagree. I’ve always struggled to conceive of gluttony in such expansive terms. Until I learned about ortolon.

The following video clip really takes the cake. It depicts a probably fictional meal hosted by French President François Mitterrand — a known fan of ortolon — and enjoyed by the Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey, who probably never ate ortolon in his life. But forget about its historicity. The clip is fascnating in its own right. It depicts the sensuality of gluttony, but also, in this instance, frames it as something deeply and disturbingly idolatrous.

I will never think of gluttony the same way again.

The case for gay marriage. Is it equality or freedom?

The case for gay marriage. Is it equality or freedom?

The latest issue of Quadrant is full of thoughtful and thought-provoking articles. As ever. This is why I read it.

Christie Davies approaches a topical issue from a secular conservative viewpoint: ‘Why same-sex marriage happened, and where we go next.’ (Subscriber only — sorry.)

Davies supports same-sex marriage for liberal reasons: personal freedom, and utilitarian benevolence. In other words, the state should not be empowered to stop two unmarried citizens from entering into civil marriage, which he defines as a secular contract between two individuals. Moroever, marriage will benefit gays and lesbians, adding to their respectability and reducing harmful behaviours. (His byline reads: “Christie Davies and his wife are very happy, which is why he wants others to enjoy the same felicity.”)

What’s interesting, though, is that while Davies supports gay marriage, he is dubious of gay marriage activists. He rejects the “marriage equality” argument, which derives not from liberalism, but from Marxism.

If you meet someone who says, “I care passionately about equality,” you can be sure that you are in the presence of an irrational and possibly dangerous person, who will sacrifice all aspects of the good society just to get more equality. They hate the freedom of capitalism because it produces unequal rewards. They hate the family because they see it as the transmitter of property and privilege. They are vocal in favour of same-sex marriage not because of any benefits it might bring, but only because it fits their egalitarian agenda.

Davies concludes by calling for a new alliance between conservatives and married gays and lesbians, who might be recruited to the conservative cause. Not unlike Andrew Bolt.

In significant ways, Davies’ case is marginal to the Catholic case. Secular conservatism is not, and never will be, synonymous with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, Davies’ article has clarified my thinking. In last week’s post on the Australian bishops’ letter, I was perhaps a bit too critical of Don’t Mess With Marriage. The letter is deficient in what it does not say, but it is nonetheless an excellent pastoral letter for what it does say. Credit where it’s due. Credit to our bishops.

The letter engages almost solely with the “equality” case for marriage. No wonder. The case for “marriage equality” has dominated the debate in this country and abroad. But Davies has me wondering. Maybe it’s the freedom argument which has earned broad public support, not the equality argument at all. I must say, from my perspective the argument from equality is patently spurious, and the bishops dispatch it masterfully. But the argument from freedom is another matter. It is coherent and even compelling.

In any event, I would maintain that the hierarchical Church’s primary task, at this juncture, is not to influence public opinion. That ship has long since sailed. Of course Catholic laity, acting in their capacity as citizens, can and should engage in the democratic process and continue to influence public opinion using secular arguments.

But the hierarchy’s duty, right now, is to persuade Catholics themselves. By that I mean we have to explain why Jesus teaches what he teaches. As I’ve said before: apologetics.

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.

Create a civilisation of life

Create a civilisation of life

Some time ago, I contributed to a crowdfunding campaign which raised $2 million for the Gosnell movie.

Dr Kermit Gosnell, you might remember, is an American abortion doctor who was convicted of infanticide and many other crimes which occurred at his abortion ‘clinics.’ His trial, which exposed the horrors of abortion, was shamefully ignored by the mainstream media.

The Gosnell film makers have launched a new appeal, hoping to secure 100,000 financial backers. This isn’t about money — they have the finances they need to start the project. It’s about the number of backers, and gaining unstoppable momentum:

We have 27,000+ backers of the Gosnell movie. That’s a pretty impressive number. But it would be a lot better if it were 100,000. The biggest ever crowdfunded movie campaign is Veronica Mars, about a teen detective. They had 91,585 backers: that put them in a great position when seeking distribution.

We need to show distributors that there is a huge demand for the Gosnell Movie. Getting 100,000 donors would also get big name actors very excited about starring in the movie. And together we have the power to do this.

Hence this invitation to my readers. Please consider donating one American dollar to this project, and contributing to an important pro-life initiative.

Abortion is like war. Both are barbaric, and in a modern democracy, both are sustainable only so long as the truth is hidden. Since the Vietnam War, television has had a lasting impact on warfare. I think Gosnell could have a similar impact on the abortion industry.

Donate now.

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