Over the years, I have discerned certain patterns in confession. Some days of the week are consistently busier than other days. Extreme weather — hot or cold — will reduce the length of the queue. School holidays will increase the length of the queue.
But there is one variable which impacts not only quantity, but also quality. Sometimes, the queue at the confessional contains an unusual number of ‘big fish.’ Grois poisson is a term St Jean-Marie Vianney used, which denotes penitents who have returned to confession after years of complacency or indifference.
I have noticed that ‘big fish’ confessions often coincide with particular feast days. For instance, I recall hearing an unusually moving calibre of confessions on the feast of St Pio of Pietrelcina and on the feast of Bl Jacinta and Francisco Marto. I can add another saint to the list. Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti, and today I have heard very many ‘big fish’ confessions.
I often ask such penitents what brought them back to the sacrament. How did the Holy Spirit move you? Why today? Usually the answer is vague. So I advise them to learn about the saint who (it seems to me) has prayed for them.
Often the penitent is completely unfamiliar with the saint in question. This is very comforting to me. It suggests that just as we foster devotion to certain saints, and single them out, the saints can foster particular interest in us, their little brothers and sisters. They single us out too.
The celebration of saints’ feast days is a great tradition. It keeps the lives and the example of the saints before us. But the real genius of saints’ feast days lies in the graces which are available. Saints aren’t there only to inspire us; they also pray for us. Deo gratias.
Last month, in the midst of my blogging interlude, I hit a kangaroo. Or, more precisely, a kangaroo hit me!
I have the photos to prove this version of events. As you can see, my car was damaged on the side. I can assure that I was driving forward, not having mastered the skill of crab-walk driving. So the kangaroo smashed into me, not vice versa:
Just a few days later I noted with interest that a dubious-looking kangaroo has been terrorising innocent citizens in Brisbane.
Speaking of B-grade Aussie horror movies, I came across this last week, when I was starting to despair that I would ever get my car back from the smash repairers. After watching this, I was thankful. My brush with Skippy could have been much worse!
Today, and every day this week in fact, I am in Hobart. It’s several years since I was last in Tasmania.
I remember chewing on Fisherman’s Friends lozengers during my week in Tasmania, which I only do when I have a cold. And I distinctly remember that Pope Benedict published Summorum Pontificum, which liberalised use of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. That was on 7 July 2007. It’s funny the details one remembers.
Back then I was a seminarian, visiting schools to speak about vocations. This time, I’m attending the ACCC clergy conference. We begin in earnest tomorrow. I’m charged with the task of locating suitable local beverages which we will present as gifts to our speakers.
Tonight I prayed Evening Prayer in St Mary’s Cathedral. A beautiful crucifix is suspended over the altar, and it dominates the sanctuary. I took some photos with my iPhone, which don’t do it justice at all:
The crucifix was donated by the Harradine family, in memory of the late Senator Brian Harradine. Thanks to Facebook I tracked down an image of the crucifix during its restoration:
It looks like the crucifix has always belonged in the cathedral, and it’s hard to imagine how the place must have looked previously. It’s a beautiful addition.
Nonetheless, I remember a furore erupting on Facebook prior to its installation. Some parishioners felt that St Mary’s was their church before it was the bishop’s cathedral, and they objected to the bishop’s unilateral decision to accept the donation and install the crucifix so prominently. It was a spurious complaint really, but Archbishop Porteous was sensitive to his people’s grievances, and met with them to explain his rationale and hear them out. I believe everything was resolved quickly and amicably. A good pastoral example to follow, that.
This year’s ACCC conference promises to be excellent. We have a world class keynote speaker in Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who will share his expertise on the Church Fathers. Other speakers include Archbishop Porteous, who will speak on “the Kerygma as the gateway to holiness,” and Alex Sidhu, an old university friend of mine, who will speak on “the ‘holiness’ of the State.”
All conference proceedings will be published in the ACCC journal, The Priest, of which I am editor. The journal is sent to all clergy members and lay associates of the Confraternity, and joining is not expensive. It’s worth considering.
The Priest is a great journal. Worth reading. Even if I do say so myself. Just to prove my point, here is an article pulled from the present issue, which was published earlier this month. It’s an encouraging account of good priestly work occurring in the great city of Ballarat.
This week and last, I returned to Channel Ten studio in South Yarra to film five episodes of Mass For You At Home.
Last week I was accompanied by Rev Joel Peart, who was ordained a deacon last September, and will be ordained a priest this coming September. One of those Masses was the Fourth Sunday of Easter, also known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
Every year on that day, seminarians in Australia visit parishes and promote the seminary and priestly vocations, often by means of a short address after communion. MFYAH’s tight filming schedule prevents that option, but transitional deacons are able to do something strictly prohibited of other seminarians: they can preach the homily! Hence Joel’s invitation to preach – which he did very well. You can see for yourself next June. (The fact I was still jetlagged, and he spared me the specter of preaching, is an accidental bonus!)
This week I filmed three Masses which won’t be televised until February 2016! I asked a seminarian to serve at the altar. This is how I was introduced to MFYAH, assisting Fr Mark Withoos back in 2007. Marcus Goulding, who is due to be ordained a deacon this year, willingly obliged. In the end, though, he didn’t serve at all. He ended up as lector, and unlike any other first timer I’ve seen – myself included – he wasn’t nervous at all! He says he worked a lot in film studios in secondary school, so nothing phases him.
I also brought a couple of guests with me this week, who joined the TV “congregation.” Blog readers are all familiar, I’m sure, with Simon Hogan’s racing tips. (Better than average, I might add.) Simon the Pieman travelled from Warrnambool with his mum on a train which departed at 5am. Unfortunately, although he was in the Channel Ten building in time for my Mass, he was locked out of the filming studio. We still got a few photos though, and Simon and Annette hung around for Fr Martin Dixon’s Masses while I happily returned to make up to remove all that gunk from my face!!
Simon and Jeff are part of the reason I’m one of MFYAH‘s celebrants. A few years ago, Simon, who watches Neighbours, commented on Facebook that I was on TV. “Fr Corrigan” was an offscreen character, whom the protagonists frequently referred to in the lead up to a Ramsay Street wedding. I basked in the glory of my TV famedom. Jeff is another Facebook friend and occasional reader of the blog, so when he saw the exchange, he asked if I’d really like to appear on television. And the rest is history.
For the last three years, the Evangelium Summer School has been held on the Australia Day weekend, at Melbourne’s seminary. The weekend basically provides young adults with some intensive exposure to the riches of Catholic wisdom.
I think events like this are very important. I attended something similar in the summer of 2000, right before I started university. The Thomas More Summer School introduced me to an intellectual world I’d never known before, and the rest is history. I can’t say it was the reason for my ‘adult conversion’ — that is, my decision to become an intentional Catholic; to claim for myself the faith I was raised in — but certainly it was critical to the process.
So I give a lot of credit to Fr Nicholas Pearce and his team for organising this annual event, which is not limited to intellectual formation. The program also includes liturgy and eucharistic adoration in Corpus Christi College’s beautiful chapel, and time for recreation — an Amazing Race, an Australia Day barbecue, and a “Scholar’s Lounge,” which provides live music in the evenings.
This year’s program is focused on the history of the Church. The main presenter is Bishop Peter Elliott, who will attempt to cover the following:
• Constantine, the Early Church Fathers and the Mediaeval period.
• Christendom, the Renaissance and the Reformation.
• The Enlightenment, revolutions and Jansenism.
• The Catholic revival, the missions and the Church in Australia.
• The 20th Century, the Second Vatican Council and beyond.
Right now, I’m preparing the workshop I’ll present next Monday. My one regret is that it prevents me from attending some of the others, which between you and me sound more interesting than my own!
Perhaps I should have blogged about this a week ago, when registrations were still open. The numbers are now fixed. Never mind. Readers can still pray for its success!
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.
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.
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.