Borrowed time: an age of mercy

Borrowed time: an age of mercy

At 1:30 this morning — 5:30 Saturday afternoon in Rome — Pope Francis walked to the holy doors in St Peter’s Basilica, which are opened only a few times each century, and convoked the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

This Holy Year of Mercy begins in December. For the duration of the year, the holy doors in Rome’s basilicas will be open, symbolising the extraordinary pathways to grace available to the Church during the holy year.

“This is the time of mercy,” Pope Francis declared.

It is important that the lay faithful live it, and bring it into different social environments. Go forth!

In fact, Pope Francis has made God’s mercy the centrepiece of his pontificate. And in doing so, he joins the company of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict invoked divine mercy when he was elected pope in 2005.

Dear friends, this deep gratitude for a gift of Divine Mercy is uppermost in my heart in spite of all. And I consider it a special grace which my Venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, has obtained for me. I seem to feel his strong hand clasping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment addressed specifically to me, ‘Do not be afraid!’

St John Paul II invoked divine mercy again and again during his 27 years as pope. After the attempt on his life, he visited and forgave his would-be assassin, relating the importance he attached to divine mercy:

Right from the beginning of my ministry in St Peter’s See in Rome, I consider this message my special task. Providence has assigned it to me.

The Polish pope was very familiar with the diary of Sr Faustina. He read it as a priest, and defended it as a bishop, even though the Vatican condemned it. As pope he lifted the ban, and heeded the request our Lord made to Faustina, that the Church honour his divine mercy on the Sunday after Easter. Moreover, Pope John Paul canonised St Faustina in 2000, making her the first saint of the new millennium.

There is an interesting passage in Faustina’s diary which may describe the Polish pope:

I bear a special love for Poland, and if she will be obedient to My will, I will exalt her in might and holiness. From her will come forth the spark that will prepare the world for My final coming.

Apocalyptic themes permeate Faustina’s diary.

You will prepare the world for My final coming.

Before the Day of Justice, I am sending the Day of Mercy

Before I come as a just judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy. Before the day of justice arrives, there will be given to people a sign in the heavens of this sort: All light in the heavens will be extinguished, and there will be great darkness over the whole earth. Then the sign of the cross will be seen in the sky, and from the openings where the hands of feet of the Saviour were nailed will come forth great lights which will light up the earth for a period of time. This will take place shortly before the last day.

None of us are obliged to believe the apocalyptic prophecies in Faustina’s diary — nor are we obliged to accept that Jesus really appeared to her. Nonetheless, Faustina is a holy woman, canonised by a pope who is himself now canonised. That’s enough for me take seriously everything she writes.

It may be that Pope Francis thinks along similar lines. He has repeatedly advised journalists to read Robert Hugh Benson’s The Lord of the World, which is an apocalyptic novel written in 1908, describing a world eerily similar to the modern day. Last month, speaking to priests in Rome, he suggested the times are urgent:

The Holy Spirit speaks to the whole Church of our time, which is a time of mercy. I am sure of this. We have been living in a time of mercy for the past 30 years or more, up to today.

Whatever of end time prophecies, one thing is certain. You and I will die some time in the next hundred years. The world will end for each one of us. So with that in mind, we can all profit from the central message St Faustina related: a message of unconditional love and infinite mercy.

Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them, that I listen intently to the beating of their heart . . . When will it beat for Me?

When debate becomes “intolerant”

When debate becomes “intolerant”

To paraphrase Fulton Sheen, the modern world is not suffering from intolerance. It is suffering from tolerance. In a turn of events which is as bizarre as it is predictable (thanks George Orwell!), tolerance is now shutting down debate.

In today’s Daily Telegraph, Miranda Devine enumerates some recent attempts to stifle debate about same-sex ‘marriage.’

The intimidation and silencing of contrary voices in the same sex marriage debate is despicable and desperate.

The forced resignation of Mozilla’s CEO Brendan Eich after he was discovered to have once donated $1,000 to a political campaign against same-sex marriage is a case in point.

So is the taxpayer funded SBS’ refusal to run a gentle 30-second advertisement in favour of traditional marriage during its Mardi Gras coverage.

And the compulsory mediation Toowoomba physician David van Gend was forced to attend after he wrote an article saying a baby deserves both a mother and a father.

The latest targets of militant gay thought police are the Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who told an Italian magazine this month: “The only family is the traditional one.”

The condemnation was immediate, with an outraged Sir Elton John calling for a boycott.

It takes gay people to come out and say what straight people are too intimidated to say.

On Facebook last week, I posted a couple of lines on the Dolce & Gabbana media storm which elicited quite an impassioned, and increasingly tedious, comment thread.

For the most part, the online ‘debate’ was civil. There were a small number of comments which were mildly offensive, but instead of starting a flame war, the aggrieved parties protested and got on with their lives. In the world of Facebook and Twitter, that’s a real gift!

Nonetheless, I terminated the whole thread when one commenter started accusing another commenter of homophobia. I happen to know that the alleged ‘homophobe’ is a gay man, who lives with his boyfriend, and sympathises with some but not all of the queer agenda. His accuser is a heterosexual who apparently sympathises with much more of the queer agenda. This is what ‘tolerance’ has come to. Straight people calling gay people ‘homophobes’ because they are not sufficiently radical.

The good news in all of this is that I received many private Facebook messengers from participants and onlookers both. These private dialogues were much more constructive and, I must say, also more interesting, than the public thread.

The lesson I learnt from this? Although the public debate I started occasionally strayed into the offensive, and often strayed from the rational, people apparently noticed that my contributions were neither offensive nor irrational. Moreover, my remarks, which related nothing more than long-standing and sound Catholic doctrine, elicited surprise and curiosity. That’s the beauty of Catholic orthodoxy. It may not be universally acclaimed — much less accepted — but it is always intriguing.

I don’t like polemics. Which is to say I do like polemics — because who doesn’t? — but I don’t like that polemics can harden people against ideas. I’ve dedicated my life to not only serving the Truth, but also sharing the Truth, so I avoid polemics. But I think I should be less wary of provocative debate. In fact I think the need for the latter is growing.

Down with tolerance. Long live debate!

Meeting the gaze of Christ

Meeting the gaze of Christ

‘PRIEST GUILTY’ was the front page headline in Hamilton’s local newspaper last Wednesday. A priest in Ballarat, who has never before been publicly associated with child abuse, pleaded guilty to crimes he committed in the 1970s.

The news shocked me, and I know it shocked many parishioners. So instead of preaching on the readings this Sunday, I spoke about the clergy abuse scandal. Tactfully, I hope. I also distributed a homily on this subject which Pope Francis preached last July. It is a beautiful example of “reading the signs of the times” in light of the Gospel.

There’s an old saying that every preacher should have a Bible in one hand, and a newspaper in the other. Something analogous could be said about every member of Christ’s faithful. It’s good to foster a supernatural outlook on current affairs, and drawing lessons from the scriptures is a great way to do that.

I formatted the pope’s homily in such a way that it is easily photocopied. Parishioners were grateful to have it. Maybe some readers will appreciate it too.

Download the PDF or view online:

When walls talk

When walls talk

The liturgy at this conference had been really beautiful. Yesterday we celebrated Mass in the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, today we celebrated Mass in the basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, and tomorrow we return to St Peter’s Basilica.

A mixed choir from Ireland, the Lassus Scholars, have lead the music at all the conference liturgies. They are outstanding. A sublime mix of plainchant, mediaeval polyphony, and traditional Christmas carols. Sacred music has an extraordinary ability to raise the mind and heart to God.

The beauty of the churches we have prayed in are also a great aid to prayer. But it’s not just the beauty – it’s also the historicity of these places. Cardinal Pell preached yesterday, and he began by relating some of the history of Santa Maria in Trastevere.

It is, apparently, the oldest church in Rome, insofar as it was the first “official house of worship” wherein Christians could publicly pray. In the first few centuries of the Church, Christians in Rome worshipped discreetly, and celebrated Sunday Mass in “house churches” – private homes of the faithful.

Parts of the church are so old that they in fact predate Christianity. The pillars in the nave, for example, are salvaged from several pagan temples. It is an old building, and a dark one. There is no natural light. But although it is dark, it is not gloomy – the mosaics in the sanctuary are luminous.

Santa Maria in Trastevere: dark, but not gloomy

Santa Maria in Trastevere: dark, but not gloomy

Cardinal Pell evoked the theme of light which imbues Christmas and especially Epiphany, but his words played to the church we were in, too. He suggested that the darkness of paganism may ebb and flow in our world, but it will never overcome the light of Christ, and it’s our task to carry the torch and illuminate the shadows of our time.

These words came back to me at today’s Mass at St Paul’s Outside the Walls. This is a very different church. It less than 200 years old, and it is immensely light and airy. It’s also just plain immense. St Paul’s evokes solidity and permanence.

image

St Paul Outside the Walls: even more beautiful than this photo suggests.

During Mass today I prayed especially for the victims of yesterday’s Islamist attack in Paris. As I looked around, I pondered how illusory the permanence of this church is. I contemplated not just the physical basilica, but also the faith in Europe, and the freedoms of liberal democracy. All of these things are threatened by the barbarity and violence of Islamism. Islam is not pagan – strictly speaking, it’s a heresy – but it is, nonetheless, the intellectual and spiritual inspiration of a darkness which threatens to spread through Europe and beyond.

As beautiful and big and bright as St Paul’s Basilica is – evocative of Christ, the Alpha and the Omega – I found more consolation in Santa Maria in Trastevere. Especially in its comparative modesty, and in its warm pockets of light which scatter the shadows.

The confidence and brashness and self-assurance of St Paul’s doesn’t suit the present mood, I think. It is warmth and goodness and heroic courage which these times call for, which is evoked not only in the long history of Santa Maria in Trastevere, but also in its very stones: in its architecture and atmosphere.

CEO of TJH Council

CEO of TJH Council

While I share people’s criticisms of the TJH Council’s latest report, I’d caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Francis Sullivan is both knowledgeable and thoughtful. I encourage anyone who hasn’t heard him speak to remedy that. He most certainly merits benefit of the doubt.

“Church links celibacy with abuse”

“Church links celibacy with abuse”

Time to start blogging again! The latest issue of The Priest has gone to press, we’ve closed registrations to the international clergy conference I’m helping to organise, and I’ve finally struck a routine in my new parish. Time to blog!

Unfortunately, my first post in a long time is a critical one. I’m loathe to criticise, when there’s such a need to edify. But sometimes criticism is necessary, in defence of the truth.

Today’s Australian quotes the Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council‘s Activity Report from December. I’m a great advocate of the TJH Council, and in particular its CEO, Francis Sullivan. I have heard him speak on several occasions, and each time he has spoken uncomfortable truths about the Church with prophetic courage.

But this time, the TJH Council has got it wrong. Its December report claims that “obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances.” In a way this isn’t exactly new. At the Victorian State Parliamentary Enquiry into institutional child abuse, Cardinal Pell acknowledged that celibacy could be a cause for sexual abuse.

But this claim flies in the face of qualifiable psychological research that finds no link between professed and self-adhered celibacy and sexual abuse. I’ll try and find some links … tomorrow. Not today.

The TJH Council goes onto to say that “you can’t have an honest and open discussion about the future without having an honest and open discussion about celibacy. We are placing celibacy on the table.”

I wish they’d take it off again. Celibacy is a distraction. The two major issues, I think, are much broader, and demand focused attention. One is an unhealthy closed-shop clericalism which afflicts the Church. The other is the depraved sexual license which afflicts our society.

In other words, the real problems are cultural and highly complex. It’s tempting to raise an easy-fix issue like priestly celibacy, but it isn’t very helpful.