Bethany in the Antipodes

Bethany in the Antipodes

I was already in secondary school I think, when it dawned on me that our family holidays to Warrnambool and Torquay and Coolangatta, weren’t so much ‘holidays’ for Mum.

For my mum, and mothers everywhere, family holidays offer the same routine lived at home — meals, laundry, cleaning, etc — albeit with a change of scenery. I think Marge Simpson mentions that in some episode, but I can’t find it on YouTube.

We all helped out of course, and having Dad around lightened the load, but there’s no getting around it: if you’re a mother, family holidays are as hardworking as the regular routine. Mums don’t get vacation time.

That’s really a video for a Mothers’ Day post, I know. But all this lends itself to consideration of priests holidays. Being a priest is no more a job than being a mother is a job. It’s a vocation. A life. So just as a mother keeps up a working routine on the family holiday, so too the priest.

That’s the ideal I aspire to. My lived experience, however, is something quite different. It’s a struggle to stay faithful to my daily prayer even in the routine of parish life, so staying faithful during rest and recreation requires even more effort. Fortunately for me, St Josemaría was alert to this too, which is why he proposed annual courses for priests in Opus Dei.

That’s what I’m doing in New Zealand. It’s kind of like a working holiday — a cross between a retreat and a vacation and a conference. Prayer is scheduled into the day: meditations, Mass, the Divine Office, the Rosary. So is study (we’re working through Evangelii Gaudium) and recreation: sight-seeing; sport; ‘tramping’ (that’s Kiwi for bushwalking).

If anything, my interior life deepens during this time. I imagine it as time in Bethany, joining the apostles as they rest with Martha and Mary and Lazarus. And, of course, our Lord.

And what a Bethany it is. I’m staying at a retreat centre which until very recently was a bed-and-breakfast resort.


The end of Christmas

The end of Christmas

Epiphany is a mixed blessing. It’s a great feast, and a picturesque one. Most depictions of the Nativity show the Maji presenting their gifts to the Christ child, rather than the shepherds paying homage.

But it’s also the twelfth day of Christmas. In my books, that the cue to pack up the Christmas lights, dispose of the Christmas tree, and dismantle the crib. No more “Merry Christmas” greetings, no more carols, no more egg nog. This was certainly the greatest recurring trauma of my childhood, and it still stings.


Not everyone agrees with me though. There are some who insist that the Christmas season continues until the Baptism of the Lord, so they’ll keep their tree up until then. Die-hards wait out until the Feast of the Presentation, some forty days after Christmas.


Now I love my Christmas tree, but I’m not that dedicated. I came down with a cold this Christmas — like I seem to do every Christmas — and online research exposed Christmas tree mould as a likely culprit. I don’t want to exhibit flu-like symptoms all the way through January!

Nonetheless, purists will point out that the Vatican keeps its tree up until the Presentation. End of argument, right?

Not so fast! Flashback to 2011:

I know one priest who has adopted something like this as his planned approach this year. The Christmas tree and decorations will be removed after today. The crib will stay until the Feast of the Presentation, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday. Not a bad idea. I might remember that for the future.

But as for now, I’m putting Christmas behind me. Sigh.

Opus Dei annual course

Opus Dei annual course

Today begins a two week break from the parish, which may or may not translate into a two week break from this blog.

The break is not a holiday per se, but my “annual course,” which is an activity all members of Opus Dei are encouraged to do. In my case, it’s a good way for me to build up fraternity with the other diocesan priests in Australia who are in Opus Dei.*

My “annual course” is a course insofar as part of each day is dedicated to study. Last year, we studied the Compendium of the Catechism; the year before that was a revision of metaphysics. I don’t know what we’ll study this year.

But the annual course isn’t all study. There’s also sport, bush walking, time to read, or watch movies, or blog (!), and lots of prayer in common. Also, there is alcohol. I can’t imagine priests getting together to relax without generous provisions of cold beer, good wine and single-malt whisky. Not that we get drunk — that’s something I’ve relegated to my seminary days. (I’d like to think I’ve grown in virtue, but maybe I’m just getting too old to nurse a hangover.)

The annual course is a bit like a retreat, and a bit like a school camp, but it’s mostly like the annual vacation of a very large family. Being one of nine, I remember very well that our trips to the Gold Coast were certainly holidays, but organised holidays. A large family can’t not have a routine.

Like most things in Opus Dei, the annual course originated with the founder. I wonder if St Josemaría didn’t have the annual course of members in mind, when he wrote this:

I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness.

Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.

This certainly sums up my experience of the annual course. It’s a great way to spend two weeks: restful, and also invigorating. If anything, my prayer life is strengthened and consolidated, which is more than can be said about some of my other holidays.

I hope to blog, but it isn’t easy when I’m away from my desktop computer. I guess I’ll have to get a notebook or iPad eventually, but in the meantime, I find a smartphone suffices. Too bad for me I dropped my iPhone one too many times this week, and smashed the screen! I hope its replacement is waiting for me when I return to the parish.

* Note

Canonically, I’m a priest incardinated to the Diocese of Ballarat, rather than the Prelature of Opus Dei, which is analogous to a diocese. I am, though, a member of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which still makes me a priest in Opus Dei.

People sometimes ask me if I’ve ever thought about leaving the Diocese of Ballarat, and becoming a priest of the prelature. The answer is no. I joined Opus Dei for two reasons: (1) because I believe the Lord called me to join; and (2) because Opus Dei helps me to better serve my diocese. If I was to ever leave the Ballarat diocese, Opus Dei would have failed in its objective, so it wouldn’t make sense to seek incardination in the prelature.

Open House Melbourne

If I was in Melbourne this weekend, I would certainly exploit Open House Melbourne.

Melbourne has a fascinating history, and it’s teeming with hidden jewels. The annual Open House weekend is a great opportunity to discover some!

OHM vimeo video from Open House Melbourne on Vimeo.

The Hobbit and holidays

Peter Jackson has posted the first trailer of the second instalment of The Hobbit. It’s look pretty good!!

The film will be released in Australia on Boxing Day.

A short time later — probably mid-January — I’m going on a holiday to Hobbiton! A friend is organising a tour of New Zealand which will include visits to the scenes of Middle-Earth, and she has asked if I’d like to join the group as a chaplain.

It’s a holiday of course, not a pilgrimage. I’ll pay my own way. I love being a priest — it gives me energy — so I don’t really see this as work.

Many of the saints, in their asceticism, disdained holidays. I’d never go that far. Recreation is important, and it is good. But I can see the wisdom in St Josemaría’s approach:

“Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.”

That’s what this will be. A real vacation, but also “a change of occupation.”

Details are still to be arranged, but if you’re interested in a trip in New Zealand in mid-January, let me know. I can keep you in the loop!

Fr Doppelgänger

Fr Doppelgänger

An interesting photo appeared on my Facebook feed this morning. It’s a detail from a new R.E. poster presumably designed in and for the Melbourne Archdiocese.

The photo was accompanied by this cryptic caption:

One of the images on the new R.E posters going up in all the classrooms at school! Is someone taking the piss?!!

Hover your mouse over the image and you’ll understand why:

It’s probably worth noting that the photo — and caption — were posted by Dave Gallacher, who is Fr Michael Gallacher’s brother!

NB: I realise iPhones and iPad users can’t hover over images, but if you follow this link, you too can observe an eery similarity!