Christians in a heavy sea: the gay marriage vote

Christians in a heavy sea: the gay marriage vote

Today’s Gospel presents a perfect analogy of our situation – yours and mine — as Catholics in Australia today.

Our Lord has sent us ahead, on a boat, to cross the Sea of Galilee. He will meet us on the other side. But now we are battling in a heavy sea, and we’re sailing into a headwind.

This is the destiny of Christians in every age. As Christians, we have to navigate against the current. There’s no other way.

Jesus himself had to go against the current. So did the Apostles, and every disciple since. Every single person, in every age, who wished to be a faithful disciple of Christ, had to go against the current.

It’s good to remind ourselves of this. It is not the teaching of Christ which should adapt itself to our time. It is the times, that must open themselves to the light of Christ.

So here we are, clutching to the sides of a dubious-looking boat: decades of clergy abuse; diabolical cover-ups; hypocrisy and clericalism; immorality and worldliness. The boat is collecting water, fast.

Here we are, battling a heavy sea, nearly overcome by the headwind: abortion on demand; state-sponsored euthanasia; religion banished from our schools, replaced with gender ideology. And now there’s another wave closing in, as we prepare for a national vote on same-sex marriage.

The Apostles struggle against the wind, but their efforts seem useless. The boat lurches around, tossed by the waves. So what do we do? We can clutch to the sides of this sinking boat, or we can do something. Be responsive! Show some initiative!

We could leap overboard, and hasten back to shore. To that place of happy memories and a secure future, where we left Jesus not so long ago. In other words, we can withdraw from modern society. Disengage, completely, from this pernicious culture. Concoct and inhabit a Catholic bubble, where we look after our own and leave the rest to their own devices. Back to shore: there we will find our feet, and bask in the warmth of the sun.

Or, alternatively, we could embrace the storm, negotiate the wind, and conform to the current. In other words, we could integrate the ‘medieval’ teachings of Christ with a modern, more tolerant outlook. Abolish the old hierarchy – inaugurate a new priesthood. Embrace abortion rights; mercy killing; trans-theory; gay marriage. As long as we “judge not,” and “tolerate all,” as long as we follow the Lord’s general moral principles, adapted and modernised, we can save the boat, save ourselves, ride out the storm and, eventually, get to the other side.

But Jesus Christ is not merely a moral teacher, confined by his times and culture. Jesus Christ is Lord of history, Son of God, God Himself. He is our Creator and our Redeemer. He is the Alpha and the Omega. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

He went against the current, and anyone who follows him will go against the current. So we don’t abandon ship and swim back to shore. We don’t change course, and sail with the wind. We persevere, like the Apostles, faithful to our Lord’s request. He placed us in this boat; he set our course.

To persevere, to be faithful, we must be able to love. As the public campaign heats up, many proponents of gay marriage — activists and politicians on TV, and maybe even friends and family in our own lives — will call us bigoted and homophobic. But we’re not.

Many of us have close friends and relatives who are gay. Colleagues too. As a priest, I serve many gays and lesbians. Some of them embrace the gay lifestyle; some of them embrace Catholic teaching and Christian chastity. Some of them support gay marriage; some of them oppose gay marriage. So let’s be clear — at least in our own hearts and minds: gay marriage isn’t about “accepting gays or opposing gays;” it isn’t about “tolerance versus bigotry.” Gay marriage is about marriage. At least in our own hearts and minds.

If the “no” vote wins, if marriage is not redefined, many hearts will be broken. The Church is not in the business of breaking hearts. You and I, as disciples of Christ, aren’t in the business of breaking hearts. But nor is the Church in the business of being nice; sparing feelings. The Church’s business is saving souls. You and I, as disciples of Christ, are in the business of saving souls.

A “yes” vote, which redefines marriage, won’t save a single soul. But voting “no” won’t save souls either. We don’t fulfil our Christian obligations by opposing gay marriage. That’s simply dodging another wave, battling against the wind, navigating the heavy sea.

Discipleship demands much more. Discipleship demands heroic love. It means seeking men and women — our brothers and sisters: friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances — who are out in the water, at the mercy of the storm. Praying for them; befriending them; loving them.

As a young man, Joseph Sciambra became immersed in San Francisco’s hedonistic gay sub-culture of anonymous sex and multiple partners. After a near-death experience in 1999, he found Christ. Or rather, Christ found him. Now he dedicates himself in full-time Catholic ministry to gay men.

In his blog last week, he laid down the gauntlet to Christian husbands and fathers: “If you know a gay man, call him. Hang out with him. Offer him sincere friendship. Offer him authentic masculine camaraderie. Give him a reason to withdraw from toxic gay culture.”

I’m nervous just repeating that. It sounds intolerant, doesn’t it? Many will call it homophobic. But this is what love looks like. This is what Christian discipleship looks like. It demands we go against the current. It demands courage. Reaching out to people in the sea, loosing our grasp of the boat, leaves us vulnerable. But we have to be vulnerable, if we want to love.

So we persevere. The Apostles struggle against the wind. Their efforts seem futile. Jesus wants them to grow strong through adversity, but he doesn’t leave them on their own. In the fourth watch of the night, he came to them. He will come for us too. And with him at the helm, we will get to the other side of the sea.

Don’t jump overboard and head back to shore. Resist the urge to construct a Catholic fortress with raised drawbridge. And don’t change course to conform with the current and wind. Resist the urge to modernise and “improve” the perennial wisdom of God. Stay the course; persevere with the Apostles; sail against the wind. And reach out to others, with sincere love and friendship. Love is action, not sweet words.

Jesus Christ doesn’t need any of us. And yet he needs all of us! And we need him. Let’s be souls of prayer. Let’s open our hearts to him, every day. When we open our hearts to him, he will open his heart to us. And then we will be filled with the courage of Peter. We, too, will make headway.

“Know the mind of the Church”

“Know the mind of the Church”

Today in Penola, a great priest was buried. A great Jesuit. A great man.

For many years, Fr Paul Gardiner SJ was Postulator for the Cause of Mother Mary Mackillop’s canonisation. It takes a small army to have someone canonised, but Fr Paul was field marshal. Apart from that, Fr Paul was a remarkable polymath, so typical of the Jesuit tradition. Here’s just two anecdotes to illustrate that point:

  • One of my parishioners in Casterton, who knew Fr Paul well, would sometimes challenge Fr Paul to name the winner of the Melbourne Cup in a given year. Fr Paul got it right every time. He could also name the jockey, and the horse which came second. Every time.
  • A priest friend related his surprise at Fr Paul’s request for a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Until he heard his explanation: “I’ve just finished the Latin and ancient Greek translations, and I’d like to compare them with the English original.”

    Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis

A generation of Melbourne seminarians met Fr Paul in their first year pilgrimage to Penola, in honour of St Mary of the Cross. I made that pilgrimage in 2005. On that occasion, our half hour appointment with Fr Paul actually took two hours. I always suspected our experience was not unique, and at his Funeral Vigil last night, I learned that Fr Paul was renowned for his expansiveness. But he spoke with such wisdom, and with such personal interest in his listeners, that nobody much minded.

“Know the mind the of the Church,” Fr Paul instructed us fresh-faced seminarians in 2005. “Make time for study every day, so that you learn the mind of the Church. You never will, because the mind of the Church is as broad as the mind of God. But try. And more importantly gentlemen, think with the mind of the Church.” I’ve never forgotten that advice. It’s permanently associated in my mind with James Joyce’s famous aphorism, “Catholic means, here comes everybody.”

In the years since, I’ve had the good fortune to see much more of him. He was a frequent visitor to Warrnambool, when I lived there as a seminarian, and later when I ministered there as a deacon. When he was visiting parishioners, they were always kind enough to invite me to lunch. As a priest in Casterton, I’ve exploited the fact that Penola is only 45 minutes away, and often made a pilgrimage — always to seek St Mary’s intercession, and occasionally to see Fr Paul.

At the time of St Mary’s canonisation, Fr Paul wrote a brilliant short essay, relating not only the significance of the canonisation to him personally, but the significance of saints generally. I think it’s as enlightening to the non-believer as it is edifying to the believer. My life with Mary: from historic figure to living presence.

There are two iconic photos of Fr Paul, which he would always describe with the same captions. The first photo was taken at the beatification in Randwick I think. Pope John Paul II delivered some advice to Fr Paul, which was indelibly etched in his memory:

“We need another miracle!”

The second photo was taken by Fr Paul’s great nephew, Tom Moloney, the day before the canonisation:

“We made it!”

Fr Paul speaks about that second photograph in an interview broadcast on ABC on the occasion of his diamond jubilee. It’s worth tuning in, to relive the moment Australia had its first canonised saint, and also to hear a wise and holy priest describe the Catholic priesthood: Fr Paul Gardiner celebrates 60 years as a priest.

May he rest in peace.

The clergy abuse scandal is not a distraction; it’s part of the mission

The clergy abuse scandal is not a distraction; it’s part of the mission

There is a wonderful insight from St Vincent de Paul, in the Office of Readings on his feast day. It’s an insight that probably every saint has received and shared — not to mention countless disciples who aren’t canonised. But St Vincent has most famously formulated it:

Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God.

Godly “distractions” aren’t limited to serving the poor. For example, when you’re trying to meditate, focusing your thoughts on God, but other thoughts invade — that conversation you had yesterday, or that friend you haven’t called for a while — that may not be a “distraction.” That may be an indication, from God, to pray for that person, for his or her intentions; or to get in touch.

In the same way, although it is understandable to consider the clergy abuse scandal as a devastating distraction from the Church’s mission, maybe even a diabolical means of destroying the Church’s moral authority, I suspect the opposite. The never-ending Royal Commission, the hostile media coverage, the horrendous stories and shameful statistics — maybe none of this is a distraction. Maybe this is where God wants the Church to focus its attention. Maybe this is central to the mission of the Church in Australia.

It’s becoming more and more evident, I think, that the sexual abuse of children is not ‘a Catholic problem,’ and nor is it an historical problem. Studies suggest a substantial proportion of Australian children are abused, and that the rate of abuse is growing. This is a universal problem, and a current one. The world is in trouble. And the Church exists for the world, not for itself.

The Catholic Church has sustained a humiliating exposé which has done a lot of harm. But it’s not in vain. In fact, I think the benefits of this shameful exposé outweigh the costs. Catholic schools and parishes are now the safest places for children in Australia, and Catholic schools and parishes are the most dangerous places for paedophiles. The staff in my parish schools, and all the people on my parish councils, and I, have signed and abide by codes of conduct which eliminate opportunities for adults to prey on children. We all know what to do if we believe someone violates the code — how to respond, who to speak to, which legal authorities to call. That’s significant. Paedophiles cultivate and groom adults, not just children. They depend on the naiveté and inaction of good people. A culture which eliminates that possibility saves children.

That’s the future, but the present is maybe even more important. A lot of pastoral care is owed to a lot of people who have suffered from clerical child abuse. And a lot can be learned from them too. Their suffering is not in vain either; their experiences and their insights can enrich the Church and assist its mission. These victims and survivors are not apart from the Church. They are the Church. Christ identifies with them, and so should we all. I hope Church leaders are listening to them. We have so much more to learn.

True story.

To paraphrase St Vincent:

Do not become upset or feel guilty because the evangelising mission of the Church is interrupted by the fallout and response to the clergy abuse scandal. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. Remember that this very service is performed for God.

None of this is a distraction. This is where we need to focus our energy. Our prayer. Our apostolic zeal. God knows what he is about.

Is the Trump train derailed?

Is the Trump train derailed?

One thing’s for sure: the 2016 US Presidential election has ruined my interest in future campaigns. Other election cycles will never be as interesting as this one.

In the meantime, though, I can enjoy reading and thinking about what’s left of this campaign. Scott Adam’s prophecy of a landslide victory to Donald Trump may not come to pass. If the lewd hot mic video in the present media cycle isn’t enough to kill Trump’s candidacy, the release of similar tapes may finish it.

Or maybe this is a storm in a teacup, which won’t impact voters who have already made up their minds. All will be revealed soon — on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, when Americans vote.

Here are my thoughts.

1. The video should surprise nobody

What Trump says in that video is gross and indefensible, but none of it is surprising. Everyone knew already that Trump is a womaniser and an adulterer. His sexual immorality is notorious, and so is his crass language. As soon as I watched the video, I recalled an article published ten months ago, wherein Trump is quoted saying something similar:

About 15 years ago, I said something nasty on CNN about Donald Trump’s hair. I can’t now remember the context, assuming there was one. In any case, Trump saw it and left a message the next day.

The quoted message, like the hot mic video, is lewd. Follow the link at your discretion.

Many people are offended by Trump’s personal values and sexual behaviour. I’m one of them. But his values and behaviour isn’t news. Trump has been a playboy since, forever. The hot mic video doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I doubt this will sway Christian voters who were already holding their nose to vote for him anyway.

That ten-month-old column makes the point well:

You read surveys that indicate the majority of Christian conservatives support Trump, and then you see the video: Trump on stage with pastors, looking pained as they pray over him, misidentifying key books in the New Testament, and in general doing a ludicrous imitation of a faithful Christian, the least holy roller ever. You wonder as you watch this: How could they be that dumb? He’s so obviously faking it.

They know that already. I doubt there are many Christian voters who think Trump could recite the Nicene Creed, or even identify it. Evangelicals have given up trying to elect one of their own. What they’re looking for is a bodyguard, someone to shield them from mounting (and real) threats to their freedom of speech and worship. Trump fits that role nicely, better in fact than many church-going Republicans. For eight years, there was a born-again in the White House. How’d that work out for Christians, here and in Iraq?

2. Much of the criticism is transparently opportunistic

I like Senator John McCain. I’ve followed his career since his presidential run in 1999, when he almost vanquished George W. Bush. I think he would have made a good president. But I think his recent conduct towards Trump is cynical and opportunistic.

The same goes for all those critics on the right, who initially endorsed Trump, only to rescind after the hot mic video was broadcast. If what Trump says on that video disqualifies his from office, then so does his myriad of public affairs and serial divorces. If Trump’s character is a problem to them, McCain and the others had no business endorsing Trump in the first place. They were either insincere in the first instance, or insincere in the second. Or, most likely, they were insincere both times.

Trump’s critics on the left, meanwhile, are hypocritical. The progressives who insist Trump’s private vices have disqualified him from public office, have previously insisted that Bill Clinton’s private vices had no bearing on his public office. But even more galling is the progressives’ pretence at offence, when most of them are moral relativists. Here’s a well-reasoned article which calls out the double standards:

For years, Christians in particular have been attacked and silenced as they’ve tried to challenge the immorality that is pervasive in today’s society. When they tell people casual sex is wrong, they get the inevitable, “You have no right to tell me what I can or can’t do.” If they oppose sexual immorality in any form, including adultery, they’re maligned as sanctimonious puritans by lovers of libertinism.

Those who are complaining about Trump today have no basis for their moral outrage. That’s because their secular amoral worldview rejects any basis for that moral judgment. Any argument they make against the “immorality” of Trump is stolen, or at least borrowed for expediency, from a religious worldview they have soundly rejected.

The faux outrage of the unapologetic architects of our cultural decline is almost enough, in itself, to compel a vote for Trump. If I could vote. Nonetheless:

3. #NeverTrumpers deserve an honourable mention

A month ago, another priest and I debated the merits of Trump’s candidacy. I think, if I was American, I would probably vote for Trump. My friend could not countenance voting for him, because Trump’s character flaws are disqualifying.

I see his point. It’s one shared by Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas, who insisted that only the most virtuous should lead the polis. Many #NeverTrumper conservatives have invoked this rationale for their position.

Joshua Mitchell put it well (again, last month, well before the hot mic video), in an excellent survey of the intellectual currents informing this year’s election campaigns. He called it ‘The Aristotle Problem’:

One can say that Trump has revealed what can be called The Aristotle Problem in the Republican Party. Almost every cultural conservative with whom I have spoken recently loves Aristotle and hates Trump. That is because on Aristotelian grounds, Trump lacks character, moderation, propriety and magnanimity. He is, as they put it, “unfit to serve.” The sublime paradox is that Republican heirs of Aristotle refuse to vote for Trump, but will vote for Clinton and her politically left-ish ideas that, while very much adopted to the American political landscape, trace their roots to Marx and to Nietzsche. Amazingly, cultural conservatives who have long blamed Marx and Nietzsche (and German philosophy as a whole) for the decay of the modern world would now rather not vote for an American who expressly opposes Marx and Nietzsche’s ideas! In the battle between Athens, Berlin and, well, the borough of Queens, they prefer Athens first, Berlin second and Queens not at all. The Aristotle Problem shows why these two groups—the #NeverTrumpers and the current Republicans who will vote for Trump—will never be reconciled.

Kudos to the #NeverTrumpers, whose criticism of Trump is consistent, and depending on the election results, may well be vindicated.

The last word goes to Scott Adams, just because his blog posts and tweets have so enhanced my enjoyment of this very long election campaign. He’s good at one-liners:

The coming Trumpslide

The coming Trumpslide

A full year has passed (hard to believe) since I blogged about Donald Trump: clown or genius?

Back then, the first primary elections were still four months away, but already Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, was predicting that Donald Trump would win in a landslide. Trump certainly did win the Republican nomination — setting a new record for the most GOP primary votes. But the primary election polls always presented Trump as the Republican front runner. The general election polls have him lagging behind Hillary Clinton, where he’s been for many weeks now.

So does that mean that Trump will lose the general election after all? Scott Adams doesn’t think so, and neither do I. First, here’s a 3 minute clip presenting Scott Adams’ case. Donald Trump, he says, is a master persuader who has manipulated people’s emotional responses and will achieve “one of the biggest margins of victory in history:”

But what about all those polls predicting Hillary Clinton’s victory? There are reasons to doubt them. (This is my own analysis now, not Scott Adams.) The polls presume more Democrats will vote than Republicans. In 2012, Democrats who voted outnumbered Republicans who voted. But this year, all the energy is on the Republican side:

  • The last open primary was in 2008. Compared to that contest, this year the Democrats attracted 8 million fewer voters while the Republicans attracted 10 million more.
  • In August, both candidates held large rallies to energise supporters. That was the plan, anyway. Trump held 29 events, attracting 168 thousand people. Clinton held 11 events, attracting 10 thousand people.

Given these contrasts, I’m not convinced pollsters are wise to apply 2012 figures to voter turnout.

Then there are the “October surprises,” which can reshape the race. As Scott Adams argues, Trump has forward engineered his campaign to exploit a number of possible developments. If terrorists attack, or the economy tanks, or a political scandal breaks, it fits into Trump’s narrative and he benefits. The only October surprise that benefits Clinton is something directly implicating her opponent.

So I maintain that Trump is still on the way to a landslide victory in November. Of course I could be wrong. This is just for fun. Aussies don’t get to vote!

It’s not “radical” if it’s mainstream

Here’s an interesting video. It exposes the myth of ‘radical Islam’ which populates the Western imagination. The subjugation of women and execution of gays is actually mainstream religious belief in the Islamic world.

The larger point is that the present conflict between the West and Islam is the consequence of a clash of ideas, not economic inequality.

As a religious believer myself, I have no problem recognising that sacred texts and spiritual leaders can shape hearts and minds and direct a person’s entire life. Perhaps people who do not attend to the spiritual life, people who are more or less materialist, are blind to this.

I mean that respectfully. It’s the only way I can account for the strange zeitgeist of denialism which informs public debate.

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