Our Lady of Czestochowa

Happily for us, the fevered speculation of one million pilgrims converging on Czestochowa did not come to pass. There were tens of thousands, certainly, but nothing unmanageable.

Our Mass at the spiritual heart of Poland, which in a way launched our pilgrimage (in fact, there’ve been many starts), brought together Australians, Americans and Britons. It’s really not cricket for priests to take photos during the Mass, but I did sneak in one:

Mass at Czestochowa

image

The queues to reach the Black Madonna were very long, and very slow, but all our pilgrims dutifully and patiently fell in.

Crowd at Czestochowa

As we snaked around the large chapel, we could really soak in the surrounds. The walls are covered in plaques and medals and rosaries which date back centuries: gifts from pilgrims, grateful for graces they attribute to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Tributes at Czestochowa ,

There’s also a wall of crutches, left behind by pilgrims whose healing made them redundant:

Crutches

Our pilgrims were briefed to “pray, click, pay” in that order. So in the final couple of hours, pilgrims took photos, toured the museums and grounds, and met some of the other thousands of international pilgrims.

This was a great way to prepare for the World Youth Day festival, which begins in earnest on Tuesday. From the spiritual heart of Poland we move towards the spiritual heart of Christendom: the papal Mass on Sunday, where we join Pope Francis at the altar, and with him the billion Catholics presently living around the world, and the countless holy souls in Heaven and purgatory.

Onward pilgrims.

Czestochowa bound

Czestochowa bound

Our early start this morning – 5:15 I think – didn’t feel so early. I guess there’s nothing like a longhaul flight to help you appreciate sleep in a real bed! The rising time loses its significance. Everyone’s bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Warsaw foyer

Today we move from Warsaw to Czestochowa, the geographical and spiritual heart of Poland. We’ve got midday Mass scheduled at Jasna Gora, one of Europe’s most famous Marian shrines. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Poles walk to the shrine, seeking spiritual favours or giving thanks for favours received. I get the impression that Jasna Gora is central to every Polish Catholic – all 37 million of them.

Nobody seems to know how many international pilgrims we’ll be joining in our own visit to the shrine. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to a million pilgrims! The monastery accommodates 100 thousand at a pinch, so we may not even glimpse the Black Madonna, but at least we can all reconnaissance the place for some future pilgrimage. I’m sure our visit will still honour Our Lady and please her Son.

I’ll post photos at the end of the day, when we again have free wifi. In the meantime, at the monastery I’ll commend readers’ intentions to the prayers of our Blessed Mother. Godspeed!

Halfway to Poland

Halfway to Poland

So I am blogging now from Doha, where the Internet is slow but free, so I’m not complaining.

The Krakow Connect pilgrimage is so big (200 plus pilgrims), that we are travelling on two different flights. Most left earlier, and flew with Emirates. But I’m part of the Qatar cohort, which is why our stopover is in Doha.

Doha

Qatar Airways is very good. The flights are slightly cheaper than Emirates and Etihad, but the service is in fact much better. I think my roman collar earned me a seat with more leg room, and I received lots of extra attention, so that was an unexpected bonus.

But all the other pilgrims agree, too, that the service is much higher than the already high standard of other airlines. The food wasn’t great, but the seats are comfortable enough to sleep in, and the insomniacs report the range of movies was good.

It’s the friendly staff which really recommend Qatar. They run a lot – I’ve never seen that on other airlines – but maybe that’s what makes them so generous with their time, and very personable. As I was disembarking, one of the Muslim stewardesses wished us all a good Easter. Makes sense. Lots of pilgrims; a big Catholic festival … I can see why it might evoke Christianity’s greatest feast.

Many of the pilgrims have never been overseas before. Even fewer have met the pope. So the excitement is pretty high. I hope, just as so many have experienced before, that World Youth Day exceeds their expectations and makes a deep spiritual impact.

I’ll keep updating this blog when I can. Updates are available in other places too:

Official blog: www.cam.org.au/wydvictoria/Live-Blog

Stacey Atkins’ blog: pilgrim2016.weebly.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wydvictoria

A taste of city life

A taste of city life

This week, I feel like a city priest. For a week now, I’ve been anointing the dying, and arranging funerals, and burying the dead, every day except Sunday. And the rest of this week offers more of the same.

I’m accustomed to a funeral every three or four weeks, so six funerals in six days is definitely a thing. It gives me a taste of the life of my suburban counterparts, who carry this sort of workload all the time. In my case, I think it’s related to the unusually cold winter conditions.

Confession: it is wreaking havoc on my interior life. I’m spending three or four hours in the car each day, rather than the usual one or two. (Maybe that detail is still unique to the country priest!) Driving, at least, lends itself to praying the psalms and the rosary.

But all my time out of the car is spent ministering to people, and time constraints limit even that. There is little time for meditation before the tabernacle, and no time for spiritual reading. As someone who strives to be a contemplative in the world, I’m feeling very shrivelled right now. But I suspect I shouldn’t dialogue with that. I’m called to be a contemplative in the world, which is distinct from the calm routine of monastic life.

One thing I am very much conscious of: activism is fatal to priestly ministry. I think a priest who does not pray is a fraud. His spiritual reservoir is quickly exhausted, and when he’s running on empty, how can he give to others what he does not have himself?

On the other hand, it is inevitable that duties of ministry will occasionally preclude the usual prayer routine. Right now I feel like one of the disciples, joining the Lord for a spiritual retreat in the wake of the devastating death of John the Baptist. Only to be confronted by a large crowd which moves our Lord to pity, and requires me to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

At this rate, World Youth Day will be a time for me to rest and recharge. Blessed be God!

New prayer book for youth

New prayer book for youth

Today I joined 300 or so pilgrims at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Archbishop Hart prayed a blessing over us and commissioned us to join the pope in Poland for World Youth Day later this month.

In addition to the blessing and commission, we received briefings and tickets and a host of related goodies, like a green and gold combination of pilgrim T-shirt and hat:

wyd-swag

What really caught my eye, though, was that Prayer Book for Youth which the Melbourne Vocations Office has published in honour of Pope St John Paul II. It’s a great new resource, which seeks to be something of a one-stop shop for young Catholics becoming acquainted with traditional forms of prayer.

There are adaptations of the Divine Office — I particularly like the Night Prayer. There are popular devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. You’ll find traditional formulae of Catholic doctrine, a guide to spiritual discernment, and prayers authored by saints old and new. The book concludes with several lengthy quotations from St John Paul II to youth, on the priestly vocation, the married vocation, and the universal call to sanctity.

Each chapter title is accompanied by a black and white photo of the pope, and several of these photos I have not seen before. The chapter on sacramental confession incorporates a famous photo of John Paul II with Ali Agca, his would be assassin. The pair strike a pose which evokes confession, and although no sacraments were ministered that day, grace abounded and a very real reconciliation took place.

jp2-ali-agca

The guide to a good confession which constitutes this chapter is very familiar to me. I prepared it for last year’s Adelaide Catholic Youth Festival, in collaboration with my good friend and neighbour in Mt Gambier, Fr Michael Romeo. I’ve blogged before about Fr Romeo’s heroic efforts at the ACYF to promote eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession. The guide to confession he commissioned from me, and a guide to eucharist adoration he commissioned from Adelaide’s Fr Peter Zwaans, are now featured in this excellent new prayer book.

guide-to-a-good-confession

I’m not saying you should get the JPII Prayer Book for Youth because of the material I prepared for it. I’m recommending it because it positively teems with great content, from all quarters — most notably the saints. It is beautifully presented and easy to use. Best of all, it’s free! Keep your eyes peeled, because its public circulation began today.

Jesus did not invent feminism (or: Always read benevolently)

Jesus did not invent feminism (or: Always read benevolently)

Professor Levine is a feminist theologian, but she’s a feminist theologian second, and a scripture scholar first. So she takes exception to feminist interpretations — or any ideological interpretations — of scripture which manipulate the text.

When second wave feminism swept the Church in the 1970s, the Gospels were co-opted into the cause. Prof Levine sets the record state: first century Jews did not resemble the Taliban, and Jesus did not invent feminism! So, for example, first century Jewish women owned property. They ran business. They studied the Torah and worked as scribes.

Similarly, Jesus was not the only man who spoke to women as intellectual equals. He was not the only man to encourage discipleship among women. And all his reputedly “feminist moments” require a tortured interpretation of the text.

Consider, for example, a feminist interpretation of the  “Martha, Martha” episode in Bethany. While Mary sits at the Lord’s feet, Martha is overwhelmed with the duties of hospitality, until she reaches breaking point:

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 40-42)

Feminist commentators note how progressive Jesus is, permitting a woman to sit with his disciples. Martha might think like the majority, and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but Jesus know better.

Levine calls this “a malevolent reading” of the text, which elevates Jesus at the cost of those around him. It is not historically vindicated, and it can be repudiated by an equally arbitrary but opposite reading. Ergo: ‘This text tells us that Jesus likes women who are silent and sit submissively at his feet. As soon as any woman speaks up, he shuts her down.’

The moral of the story: always read benevolently. Never permit ideology to arbitrarily diminish anyone in the Gospel.

Let the text speak for the text

Let the text speak for the text

The so-called ‘quest for an historical Jesus‘ seeks to identify an ‘historical Jesus’ distinct from the ‘mythological Christ’ presented in the canonical Gospels.

This in not an endeavour I’m much convinced by, because it demands a hermeneutic of suspicion which is not consonant with the Catholic tradition of scriptural study. I’m not sure what Professor Levine makes of it. Perhaps I should ask her.

On the one hand, she does make allusions to the Jesus Seminar, which purports to identify the Lord’s authentic sayings in contrast to other sayings the evangelists put on his lips. That’s not dissimilar to the quest for an historical Jesus.

But on the other hand, she very clearly endorses a hermeneutic of suspicion not towards the scriptural texts, but towards the common interpretations we place on the text. She insists, in the best Jewish tradition, that the Scripture should speak for itself, and we need to at least be conscious when we embellish or read into the text.

So, for example, we should question why we refer to ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ Jesus doesn’t use this title. He introduces his story with: “There was a man who had two sons.” (Lk 15:11) So on our Lord’s own terms, maybe we’re better off referring to ‘the Parable of the Man With Two Sons.’

The choice of title is not trivial. It frames the parable and guides the reader (or listener) towards a certain interpretation. ‘The Prodigal Son’ encourages us to focus on the younger son. But Professor Levine argues that Jesus (and Luke) intend for us to focus on someone else. This is the third of three parables told in succession:

  • The first: a sheep-owner counts 99 sheep, realises he has lost one sheep, frantically seeks out the sheep, and celebrates its return.
  • The second: a woman counts her money, realises she has lost a coin, frantically seeks out the coin, and celebrates its discovery.
  • The third: a man has two sons. He loses one son. The son returns. He celebrates his return. But does he lose another son in the process?

If we heed the context of the parable, it makes even more sense to describe the story in the same terms Jesus introduces it. ‘The Parable of the Man With Two Sons.’

The same goes for Gospel narratives. A few weeks ago, I preached at Mass, and I wrote on this blog, about “the unnamed woman” who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair before anointing them. ‘The unnamed woman’ is a generous label. Many commentators refer to ‘the sinful woman,’ or ‘the repentant woman.’ But Jesus doesn’t refer to her in any of these ways. When he speaks of her in his talk with Simon, he describes a woman who has loved much. (Lk 7:46)

So why didn’t I co-opt the Lord’s own words? Why do I settle for alternative titles and labels, which are actually foreign to the text? This is the hermeneutic of suspicion Prof Levine endorses. I think she’s right.

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