Last Tuesday, Archbishop Hart sent a letter to Melbourne parishes, warning against the Maria Divine Mercy messages I’ve previously blogged about.
The action elicited a surprisingly global response online. I think this is the first time Archbishop Hart has made headlines at Spirit Daily. The response in other quarters has been less edifying, and I won’t reproduce or link to them here.
The incident has revealed to me just how quickly and deeply the MDM messages have penetrated. I’ve exchanged e-mails and messages with many devotees — good, faithful Catholics with active prayer lives — who are honestly mystified that their family and friends are dubious of the messages, and object to bishops’ expressing their opinion on the matter.
I’ve heard it again and again. “The Archbishop has no right to condemn these messages.” “If the Archbishop must speak, he should state his opinion only, not impose his will.” “The Archbishop of Melbourne is outranked by Jesus, so we must ignore him.”
I’m mystified myself. These aren’t like other apocalyptic revelations. They explicitly reject the reigning pontiff. In this, they are categorically different to Garabandal, Međugorje and other disputed apparitions. There’s not a bishop in the world who wouldn’t instinctively object to them, and it’s easy to see why Archbishop Hart acted as he has.
Even if these messages are true, and Francis really is an anti-pope who has usurped Benedict, it’s unconscionable that Our Lord would want us to disobey and malign bishops when they are exercising their legitimate authority. That’s not how the Catholic Church works. It’s not how our Lord works!
There are many reasons for losing faith in the Church. The apostasy of recent decades. The evil inflicted on children. The consequent cover-up. The hypocrisy of church leaders.
But loss of faith in the Church is a temptation we must resist. To lose faith in the Church, I think, is to lose faith in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the Church’s “guarantor.”
It simply isn’t coherent for a Catholic to confess faith in Jesus while abandoning faith in the Church. When a person does this, they cease to be Catholic and instead become Protestant — not in the historical sense of the word, but in its literal sense.
As always, GKC says it better than I can:
I don’t ask MDM devotees to reject her messages. I ask them to discern prudently, mindful of the Church’s teaching authority. Authority invested by Christ, and manifested by the Holy Spirit. That means obeying legitimate episcopal authority — a leap of faith in the Holy Spirit — even while believing that MDM’s messages are authentic.
Incidentally, St John of the Cross, one of the Church’s greatest mystics, relates this counter-intuitive advice to anyone who discerns that visions are impacting their prayer life — for better or worse:
It is always well, then, that the soul should reject [visions], and close its eyes to them, whencesoever they come. For, unless it does so, it will prepare the way for those things that come from the devil, and will give him such influence that, not only will his visions come in place of God’s, but his visions will begin to increase, and those of God to cease, in such manner that the devil will have all the power and God will have none.
So it has happened to many incautious and ignorant souls, who rely on these things to such an extent that many of them have found it hard to return to God in purity of faith; and many have been unable to return, so securely has the devil rooted himself in them; for which reason it is well to resist and reject them all.
For, by the rejection of evil visions, the errors of the devil are avoided, and by the rejection of good visions no hindrance is offered to faith and the spirit harvests the fruit of them.
It is clear, then, that these sensual apprehensions and visions cannot be a means to union, since they bear no proportion to God; and this was one of the reasons why Christ desired that the Magdalene and Saint Thomas should not touch Him. And so the devil rejoices greatly when a soul desires to receive revelations, and when he sees it inclined to them, for he has then a great occasion and opportunity to insinuate errors and, in so far as he is able, to derogate from faith; for, as I have said, he renders the soul that desires them very gross, and at times even leads it into many temptations and unseemly ways.
A so-called “Catholic IQ test” is doing the rounds on Facebook. It’s a significant time investment, but at the end of it, you’ll get a handy reading list to shore up your knowledge of the Catholic faith.
I need to re-read the Old Testament, and revisit early Church history.
Section Correct Score Bible 33/37 (89.19%) History 13/15 (86.67%) Morality & Virtue 22/22 (100%) Heaven & Hell 12/12 (100%) Prayer 8/8 (100%) Dogma 9/9 (100%) Anti-Catholics 15/15 (100%) Sacraments 11/11 (100%) Mass 19/19 (100%) Special Days 8/8 (100%) Religious Nobles 15/15 (100%) Church Information 23/23 (100%) Miscellaneous 8/8 (100%)
Here are the things missed on the Catholic IQ Test:
THE STORY OF JOB.
You should read: the book of Job in The Old Testament.
THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL (Samson and Delilah).
You should read: the book of Judges in The Old Testament.
THE FIRST-CENTURY ROMAN EMPEROR WHO PERSECUTED THE CHURCH.
You should read: Christ the King, Lord of History (TAN Books and Publishers).
Pentecost is a great feast. The Church’s birthday, and ours too, in a sense. Pentecost gives us a share in the Paschal Mystery. Easter without Pentecost would not be a victory over death for us.
Here’s something to celebrate the power of the Spirit.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Spirit we may be ever truly wise and enjoy His consolations, through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Casper — a reader of this blog — has e-mailed this question:
Fr. John if somebody is interested in becoming a priest and feels especially called to serve the Church and God through academia – eg. doing a doctorate in philosophy – becoming a Catholic philosopher and working in defending the Church’s teachings against secularism, doing apologetics or teaching philosophy at a university or seminary, then what would be the best group to join? The secular diocesan priesthood or a religious order. While I think traditionally religious orders were a good option, due to their incredible decline I feel that the most flexible and better suited for my particular calling would be the diocese. Any guidance will be awesome.
This is a good question which raises, I think, two different stages of discernment.
My plans and God’s plans
Firstly, we have to discern what we’d like to be and what we’re called to be.
For a long time, I wanted to marry and have a large family, like my father and my grandfather. And I wanted a career in politics, like St Thomas More.
I wasn’t blithe in these comparisons. I took seriously the universal call to holiness. As well as being a husband and father and politician, I wanted to be a saint. So my interior plan of life was pretty intense. Daily mass. Spiritual reading. Meditation. Frequent confession. Spiritual direction. This isn’t just the domain of priests and religious. I recommend it for all Catholics.
As I began my honours year, I was faced with a decision. Upon graduation, do I seek work in an MP’s office? Or do I embark upon postgraduate studies? I prayed about this. For months I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.
And then I meditated on our Lord’s encounter with the rich young man. This gospel is proclaimed on the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, in year B. The night before, I listened to a preached meditation on the Sunday gospel. The priest made several points which I remember very well:
Our Lord invited, but did not impose. Our Lord loved the young man, but let him walk away. The young man was good and generous, but attachment held him back. He left in sorrow. A failure to respond generously to the Lord’s call produces sadness.
I didn’t want to be like that young man. So my prayer that night was an unqualified yes.
Until then, my prayer had been a question. “What is your will Lord? Advise me.” Now my prayer was an answer. “Lord, I will go wherever you send me. My answer is yes.”
The next day — Sunday 12 October 2003 — is the day I discerned my priestly vocation. I was at Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. At some point in the Eucharistic Prayer, I pictured myself in place of the priest, standing at the altar, offering the sacrifice. The idea filled me with joy and sorrow, excitement and dread. I had never seriously entertained the idea before. It did not attract me. Now it was overwhelming. And it did not come from me.
Based on that experience, I think the first step in vocational discernment is to distinguish one’s own ideas and plans — no matter how noble and pious — from God’s ideas and plans. Hopefully they coincide! But don’t assume that. Prayerfully discern it.
Serving a charism
Now maybe Casper has done that already, and he believes that the academic priest thing is God’s plan, not his own. I can believe it. Apparently, Fulton Sheen was still in the seminary when he discerned God’s plan for him to be a bishop! (Happily, I’ve never been burdened with that one.)
I’m no expert, because I never went through any discernment vis a vis religious life. But I imagine the Jesuits and Dominicans are two obvious choices, which merit investigation. By that I mean speaking to SJ and OP seminarians, contacting vocations directors, and going on their retreats and other means of formation. Perhaps readers can recommend additional orders and congregations.
A diocesan priest does not have the license to insist on a particular assignment. Speaking personally, I’m attached to the idea of being a parish priest in a country parish. My own Ars! I like my chances, but I don’t presume it. My task is to serve and obey my bishop, and my own preferences are always subordinate to that. So if you were to sign up to the diocesan priesthood Caspar, you would have to renounce your aspirations to the academic life.
Now that’s not to say you would be denied an academic assignment. I often wonder what would have happened to the rich young man, if he had renounced his property and followed the Lord. It may be his wealth and privilege were restored to him. We’ll never know. All we do know is that his failure to respond generously produced sadness.
God forbid any of us follow the same path.
The summer edition of the ACCC’s The Priest included an article by me, providing readers a how-to set up a parish website. Only six months later, I think it’s out of date!
In my discussion of which software package to use, I recommended WordPress and Joomla!
WordPress is versatile and easy to use, and Elegant Themes provides beautiful looking templates at a very low price. By way of example, I designed this blog using an Elegant Theme template. And St Mary’s Hamilton, and St Mary’s West Melbourne, and the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. If you follow those links, you can see that the “look” of each website is quite distinct and (I think) attractive!
Joomla! is even more versatile. Matthew Price, who is an accomplished web designer (and my webhosting “landlord”), swears by it. By way of example, Matt used Joomla! to build websites as varying as Corpus Christi College, the Diocese of Sandhurst, and My Family My Faith. I used to use Joomla! myself, but I have found that it’s easier to train volunteers in WordPress.
As a rule, I recommend Joomla! for the more tech-savvy. And I recommend WordPress for DIY websites. But now I need to add a third option to the suite.
This week, I received an e-mail from the parish priest of St Philip’s in Blackburn North. He wanted advice on “the best options for creating a simple, free parish website.”
I just want something that has basic information about the parish, a few pictures and ease of use.
Having considered these criteria, I spontaneously recommended Weebly. I’ve never used Weebly in my life. Nor do I plan to. But I have no reason to doubt the claims it makes in this video. Basically, it’s the easiest, drag-and-drop, no-technical-skills-required way to build a free website:
I e-mailed my recommendation shortly before 1pm. Some time after 4pm, Fr Dillon replied with thanks, and a link to the new website! He modestly called it, “a work in progress with some aspects still to be refined.” That may be so, but I’m still amazed at what could be done in the space of a few hours.
So there you have it. If you want a low-hassle, no-cost website, Weebly may be the way to go.
On the other hand, you may still require a professional website by the likes of Matthew Price, whom I recommend. Websites like his take time to develop. A Weebly site might be also prove ideal in your case, as a temporary “parking space.”
NB. A reader has reminded me “you get what you pay for.” Fr Adrian Sharp, for example, was last week embarrassed by advertising, which he himself could not see, appearing on his blog. He was using the no-cost WordPress.com service, which recently introduced advertising to pay for its “free service.” To remove the advertising, Fr Adrian upgraded to a paid level of service.
Weebly.com does not, at present, sell advertising space on its “free sites.” But there’s a distinct possibility of that happening. Users need to be alert to that. It’s always advisable, I think, to incorporate an expense budget into any medium-term web strategy. As another saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”