Liturgy and evangelization

Liturgy and evangelization

Herewith ends my ten day blog hiatus. I was uncharacteristically abrupt in my last comment. It’s a blogger’s prerogative of course, but not an edifying one.

I think maybe I had been online too much. Too much online interaction, and not enough of the real thing, can have a negative influence.

I’m in Wollongong, at a national liturgy conference. This evening’s keynote speaker was Archbishop Coleridge, who is an unusually engaging speaker.

He made an interesting claim about the documents of Vatican II: the four conciliar constitutions, he suggests, are analogous to the four gospels. Just as the gospels inform and shape our interpretation of the other books of the New Testament books, so the constitutions should inform and shape our interpretation of the other documents of the Council. Just as the gospels demand symphonic treatment, the constitutions demand a symphonic treatment: no single constitution trumps the others.

Having established this, he proposed a brief synthesis of the four council’s claims about God, revelation, and ourselves.

But let me cut to the chase. I’ll include my notes on the bulk of his talk in a pop up, and then jump to liturgy and evangelization.

Click here for notes on the Archbishop's synthesis

1. Sacred Scripture reveals that God creates us in his image. We know God, we love God, and we exercise stewardship. We are not slaves: our work is not servile.

2. We’re called to be co-creators. We are social; we are made for communion with each other, and communion with God. Marriage is the most sublime communion between humans, since it is in nuptial communion that we become co-creators with God. But all forms of communion enable us to share in God’s creativity. We must beware of dangers to communion: individualism; reductionist economic theories; atheistic materialism; in a word, ideology!

3. We are in a dialogue of interpersonal communion with God. Tradition and scripture are not revelation; Jesus himself is revelation. In other words, divine revelation is not a “message” from God; divine revelation is a direct and personal communication of God himself.

4. In Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, God reveals himself to us.

5. In Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, God reveals ourselves to us.

6. God speaks metaphorically. Metaphor is a rich means of communication, which is always subversive and always revelatory. Metaphor doesn’t depart from our world, but it turns reality on its head, thereby revealing something new about reality.

Metaphor is fundamental to the divine dialogue between man and God because of those shadows which threaten our communion with God and communion between ourselves. Hence the fundamental importance of the homily, which should unpack God’s metaphorical teaching.

The archbishop concluded as he started, with another compelling claim:

“Full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy presupposes and demands full, conscious and active participation in the Church’s mission.”

He added that liturgical renewal isn’t internal club business. It’s integral to the new evangelization. Why? Good liturgy deepens a person’s experience of – and their participation in – the Lord’s passion and death and resurrection. Evangelization – a personal encounter with Christ – is both individual and personal, and also ecclesial and liturgical. So the liturgical renewal is a real grappling with, and absolutely critical to, the new evangelization.

What he said did not surprise me. I knew it already, if not explicitly, then intuitively. But I don’t know if I’ve put it into practice. I generally take a three-fold approach to evangelization: friendship, doctrine, and prayer. I show a sincere interest in the person; I listen to them and learn from them. (The Holy Spirit’s right in that.) I give them good spiritual reading, and encourage them to read the scriptures. I also encourage them to pray with the scriptures, and to meditate, and to foster a devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The liturgy, I’m afraid, doesn’t get a look in.

In the wake of Archbishop Coleridge’s talk, it’s clear to me that I have to change this. But I’m left wondering how.

Suggestions are welcome!

Canberra’s Catholic festa

Canberra’s Catholic festa

The Canberra Times has a nice article and photo gallery on last weekend’s ordination of Fr Paul Nulley, who succeeds Ballarat’s Fr James Kerr as youngest priest in Australia.

For two days, the precinct around Canberra’s cathedral evoked something much smaller and low key but still similar to World Youth Day. I think several factors contributed to this.

Firstly, the ordination and First Mass were both in Canberra’s cathedral, which is quite central (insofar as Canberra has a centre at all). Before and after both masses, the surrounding restaurants and cafés were filled with people who were attending Fr Paul’s ordination. Many of them were dressed in clerics or habits, which naturally attracted the curious attention of passers by.

Secondly, the Corpus Christi seminarians attended in great numbers. This is the Melbourne seminary’s greatest claim to fame, I think: students cultivate a genuine fraternity, which means that guests of one seminarian enjoy the hospitality and attention of many seminarians, and when a man is ordained, his brothers will make every effort to attend. The spectacle of so many seminarians, who are both young and enthusiastic, left an added impression on passers by, quite apart from the vision of Roman collars and religious habits.

Thirdly, Canberra is a long way from Melbourne, which means that visiting clergy, religious, and seminarians stayed and socialised. Ordinations in Melbourne and Ballarat and Bendigo don’t have quite the same impact because many visitors make a beeline for the event, and then quickly return home. It is entirely understandable, and I did this myself when I attended Fr Ashley Caldow’s ordination in Bendigo. But when an ordination is in a more remote place like Canberra or Bathurst, that option isn’t available, and the alternative lends itself to something of a spontaneous Catholic festival.

I must say, the weekend was a wonderful celebration, and a great opportunity for Catholic witness. I had several conversations with curious locals — in the cathedral precinct itself, at the airport, and on the flight home. I can only imagine other priests and seminarians had similar conversations.

I might add, Pope Francis was often raised in these conversations. His words and gestures, like the “spectacle” of Fr Paul’s ordination, evidently made a positive impact on the people who spoke to me. Such encounters can hopefully contribute, in a small way, to the edification of God’s Kingdom. I always keep faith in the mysteries of grace!

I hope that we will see something similar unfold in Adelaide some time next year. Michael Romeo will be ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese in a few weeks time, which means that he will probably be ordained a priest in 2014. Then we have all the ingredients for another weekend like Fr Paul’s.

Pray for Fr Paul Nulley, and for Michael Romeo, and for the men who will be ordained transitional deacons for the Archdiocese of Melbourne this Saturday: Michael Kong, Linh Pham, Minh Tran, and Sang Ho. Ad multos annos!

The current sixth years, four of whom will be ordained on Saturday.

The current sixth years, four of whom will be ordained on Saturday.

“I felt like I was listening to the voice of Jesus”

“I felt like I was listening to the voice of Jesus”

Here’s an interesting clip for you: Pope Francis urges more understanding for homosexuality. (The embedded video is below, but it’s Javascript, so it may not works on your platform.)

The video shows Fr Jonathan Morris, a Fox News regular, commenting on Pope Francis’ now famous (notorious?) interview:


Fr Jonathan makes a big call. He says that Pope Francis is introducing radical changes. Not in doctrine, but in tone. This is an interesting idea. Max Lindenman proposed it weeks ago in The day the pope said ‘gay’. Then, I wasn’t convinced. But now . . .

To illustrate his point, Fr Jonathan cites the testimony of his lesbian sister, who was profoundly moved by Pope Francis’ interview:

My first feeling, when I was reading the pope’s interview, is that I felt like I was listening to the voice of Jesus. A Jesus I could believe in. I have had extreme difficulty in opening up a Bible in the past couple of years. I get knots in my stomach . . .

. . Yesterday, while I experienced Jesus through Pope Francis’ words, I would have been disappointed if after reading the whole interview – 12,000 words – it did not include anything more than what the news cycle has been talking about . . .

. . It was filled with radical empathy, radical love, radical humanity while not at any point watering down the pope’s understanding of objective truth. The news clippings conveniently left out the parts about moral consequences flowing from the simple, profound, radiant message of the Gospel.

I think Pope Francis is speaking to the periphery the way our Lord spoke to them — to the Samaritans and tax-collectors and public sinners. That might give those of us in the Synagogue cause to facepalm him occasionally, but God forbid we start tearing our garments and plotting against him. The moment we do that, we’ve assumed the role of the scribes and Pharisees.

Facepalming Pope Francis

Facepalming Pope Francis

Perhaps you are aware of Pope Francis’ ‘controversial’ interview, published a few days ago. It has elicited some sensational headlines in the mainstream press. Here’s a few examples:

  • The New York Times: Pope Says Church Is ‘Obsessed’ With Gays, Abortion and Birth Control
  • The Independent: Pope Francis: Church’s ‘obsession’ with gays, abortion and contraception means it risks ‘falling like a house of cards’
  • The Age: Pope bluntly faults church’s focus on gays and abortion

This coverage, which is widespread and typical, is not only misleading, but also flat out wrong. If you want to know what Pope Francis really said, America Magazine has the complete and official translation. Next best (and faster to read) are good commentaries: if you don’t mind polemics, you can’t go past Father Zuhlsdorf; if thoughtful exposition is more your thing, I recommend Robert Moynihan.

But, quite apart from correcting the record, I think there were lots of faithful Catholics, all over the world, facepalming Pope Francis last week.

facepalm-stupidity

There are other times too, when Pope Francis could be facepalmed. Remember when he said that gay priests are a-okay?

facepalm

But Francis has nothing on his predecessor, who was the king of facepalms. Remember when Pope Benedict said that gay marriage is a greater threat to mankind than global warming?

facepalm-bear

Remember when he said that female ordination is a crime in the same realm as clergy abuse? And when he said that Mohammed was evil and inhuman?

Jesus_facepalm

Of course, neither pope said any of these things — it’s just the way the press reported it. But come on popes! Can’t you get media savvy? Someone in your press office should see these things coming!

Actually, I think Pope Francis is media savvy. He knows his words will be twisted, in the same way that Pope Benedict’s words were twisted. But he’s crafting his words so that they get twisted in a more constructive way. In a way that at least has some semblance with the Gospel.

The Anchoress has a great post illustrating this point: Francis confounds the Associated Press.

And Egregious Twaddle has crafted a parable demonstrating the same:

Hear this!

A pope went out to give an interview. And as he talked, some of his words fell to the media, and those birds gobbled them up before they could even be heard.

Others of his words fell to those who didn’t understand his context. They received his message with joy, but the first time it occurred to them how difficult it would be to live by those words, their enthusiasm withered like seedlings in a drought.

Have faith in Pope Francis. He knows what he is about.

The Triumph: a tale of two films

The Triumph: a tale of two films

Yesterday’s post about viewing The Triumph attracted the attention of the film’s director, Sean Bloomfield, who has invited feedback.

Today’s post is, therefore, something of an open letter to Sean. I hope others who have watched the film will not only comment, but also disagree with some of my observations. Without those corrections, this review will be deficient.

The Triumph is an excellent movie. I’m saying that at the outset because the rest of this review is quite critical, and I don’t want to obscure the fact that I liked the film very much. The thing is though, I think it can be even better, and it’s for that reason that I post these criticisms.

I think there are two different films in The Triumph, and each film is struggling to vie over the other. It’s hard to explain in writing, but fortunately, the point is illustrated by two trailers freely available online.

In one corner, we have a documentary film on the history and messages of the Medjugorje apparitions. It’s an okay documentary. It won’t change the minds of sceptics, but it will edify believers. It’s this documentary film which is promoted in the official trailer:

In the other corner, we have a film about a 28-year-old recovering addict and his conversion. It’s an engrossing and compelling story, well told. This is the film promoted in the opening two and half minutes of this video:

This is the film which impressed me most. It has the potential to profoundly impact people — especially young people — who are searching for meaning. I’d like to see this conversion story recut and liberated from the co-existing documentary film.

As it stands now, The Triumph is too long. It tries to do too much, and it doesn’t know its audience. As I watched the film, I asked myself again and again, how would the average secondary school student react to this part?

What follows are my suggestions on how to improve the film, so that it is focused squarely on a younger audience struggling to identify their place in the Divine Plan.

  • Some of the early scenes situate Medjugorje within the political history of the Cold War, and later scenes evoke apocalyptic themes. These are peripheral to Ben’s story, so they’re the first things I’d cut. Honestly, I think anyone who is moved by this film will do their own research on Medjugorje post-viewing. The Triumph should limit itself to be an introduction to Medjugorje, not an exposition.
  • The film is very good at portraying Medjugorje’s appeal to youth, but by shortening this section, it could be improved. I cringed at the Woodstock reference, and winced at the scenes of dancing nuns, etc. The audience around me loved this stuff — but it was an older audience. A younger audience, I think, would find it awkward. To a young person, that sort of spectacle is fun and funny when they and their friends are engaged in it, caught up in the moment. Watching from afar though, it’s just lame. On the other hand, the witness of local youth walking hours and hours to reach Medjugorje, and the interviews with young pilgrims, was very effective.
  • The American priest, who knows Ben personally, is fantastic when he’s on message, speaking about humility, mercy, conversion, etc. He’s very funny when he jokes at his own expense and takes off annoying pilgrims, but he’s not so great when he takes off The Simpsons and SouthPark. Again, the cinema audience loved this, but I’m not sure a younger audience would. Since these jokes are peripheral to Ben’s story, they’re better left on the cutting room floor.
  • Ben’s trip to the Cenacolo community is one of the film’s greatest moments, and his visit to the Orthodox monastery is good too. But his visit to the Islamic mosque is less compelling. The interviews with the local imam — the Muslim counterpart to Evelyn Waugh’s Modern Churchman apparently — is a disservice to Islam, and a disservice to the film.

My favourite parts of the film are the two penultimate chapters. Ben’s meeting with Mirjana is very powerful. I’m still undecided on the authenticity of Medjugorje, but I was very impressed with Mirjana. She speaks and acts with authority. It is manifestly evident that she has a deep interior life.

Even better is the exposition, as Ben is preparing to leave Medjugorje, on the love of God, the grace of conversion, the science of man’s search for meaning, the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. This is pitch-perfect, as is the treatment of Ben’s post-Medjugorje exploits and subsequent discernment.

Let me repeat: The Triumph is an excellent film, which any Catholic would appreciate, whatever your stance on Medjugorje. Speaking personally, I’m determined now to visit the site of such beautiful conversions.

I hope my criticisms aren’t a discouragement to potential viewers. If you can see it, I suggest you do. If you have seen it, please tell me where I’m wrong in the comments below!

When blog posts go wrong

boy-dressed-as-manAt last week’s Catholic New Media Conference, I related a PR disaster I inflicted on myself early in my blogging career.

In the week after I was ordained, I overheard teenage girls remark to their friends how cute I looked. Not “One-Direction-or-similar-boy-band” cute, mind you. More, “the-boy-dressed-in-Fr-Paddy’s-clothes” cute.

I admit it: I looked, for all the world, like the clerical equivalent of the image illustrating this post!

The post attracted a lot of critical comments and e-mails, accusing me of everything from narcissism to paedophilia. The self-deprecating humour I intended to convey was lost on many readers, who seemed to respond not to my post per se, but to an extract in Cathnews’ blog roundup:

‘Cute’ country priest turns heads of teenage girls

Country Priest blogs on being regarded as “cute”:

“Last Wednesday I said mass at my almer mater, Damascus College. On Saturday, I delivered a talk on confession at a Youth for Christ retreat. On both occasions, I heard teenage girls saying to each other, ‘he’s so cute!’ …

“Past efforts have demonstrated I can’t grow much of a beard. But maybe stacking on some weight will help me look older.”

As you might imagine, this was a little distressing, but it wasn’t all bad. I responded to each comment personally and privately, and formed some constructive online relationships. And I learnt some valuable lessons:

  1. I should be careful what I blog about, and how I employ humour in the written word.
  2. No matter how carefully I write, misunderstandings will arise. Sometimes readers will be offended; sometimes readers will be offensive. I should seek clarity when this happens, and never take abuse personally.

I laugh about it now, and truth be told I laughed about it then too. But there’s nothing to laugh about Fr Ray Blake’s recent “misunderstanding,” which dwarfs mine.

About a month ago, he posted a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece on the poor, a theological reflection which could be taken two ways. I must admit, I wasn’t sure myself how to take claims like this:

The trouble with the poor is that they are messy . . .

. . we find someone has got a few cardboard boxes together and has slept there and if it has been raining leaves a sodden blanket, cardboard there to be cleaned up, often it also smells of urine and there is often excrement there and sometimes a used needle or two . . .

. . There is a man who comes into the church . .. and makes a mess of our prayers. It stops some coming to Mass here.

If they are not doing that they are ringing the door bell at every hour of the day and night, and they tell lies. They tell you their Gran is dying in Southampton and they need the train fare, you give it to them and if you don’t find them drunk in the street they are back the next day and the other Gran is dying in Hastings this time.

This might sound like a litany of complains and abuse about the poor. But it’s not. Read the post in its entirety. And then read some of the comment thread. There are 68 comments, and counting, but you don’t need to read them all. Just read the first two.

Fr Blake makes very clear his opposition to readers who would clear the poor out, lecture them on sobriety, call the police, etc. Here is an example of his clarification, which is the second comment in the thread:

I do not make distinctions, Our Lord says simply, ‘Give to anyone who asks’, ‘give without counting the cost’. He does that with me and with you, but possibly you have a different copy of the scripture to me and the rest of God’s Church.

Do you think St Laurence had a worthiness test? He didn’t, neither does God, neither do I, obviously you do.

That is your problem. Can you not understand the Christian imperative, are you so bound up in your own political narrative that you are blind and deaf to what the saints have taught down the centuries? As someone said earlier to you, it is pure whig capitalism, certainly not Christianity.

Unfortunately, the local journalist who read Fr Blake’s post didn’t bother to even glance at the comment thread. Instead, a month after the post’s publication, he wrote a piece for the local newspaper that must be seen to be believed:

A complaining priest claims “lying” poor people have been sent by God to “test my holiness.”

Father Ray Blake condemned “messy” street drinkers, who enter his church to plead for money, branding one an “irritating little bastard.”

But the controversial cleric admitted his “challenge” as a Catholic was to love all people, no matter how penniless or dirty.

In a lengthy blog post titled The Trouble With the Poor, Father Blake raged: “The trouble with the poor is that they are messy . . .”

Even worse, a similar hack job was reproduced in The Telegraph and both articles have been internationally syndicated. It’s appalling journalism, which seems to come straight out of Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. As I say, it dwarfs my own run in with out-of-context quotes and misunderstanding.

Fr Blake has since blogged on the controversy, as have two giants in the world of blogging priests: Fr Finigan (Dumb and dumber — or malicious?) and Fr Z (Fr Z stands with Fr Blake of Brighton). Kate Edwards has complied a list of other blog responses.

Some might say this is why priests shouldn’t blog, or speak to reporters, or stick their head over the parapet. They’ll only fall victim to gotcha journalism, and do further damage to the Church’s credibility.

But I’m inclined to conclude the opposite. This is why not only priests but everyone who loves the Lord and thinks with the Church must blog or in other ways engage with the media, and speak up. To paraphrase St Josemaría (changing the original only slightly):

When confronted by evil we shall not reply with [silence], but rather with sound doctrine and good actions: drowning evil in an abundance of good. That’s how Christ will reign in our souls and in the souls of the people around us.

“Drowning evil in an abundance of good.” That’s not a bad motto.