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History | Blog of a Country Priest

“Know the mind of the Church”

“Know the mind of the Church”

Today in Penola, a great priest was buried. A great Jesuit. A great man.

For many years, Fr Paul Gardiner SJ was Postulator for the Cause of Mother Mary Mackillop’s canonisation. It takes a small army to have someone canonised, but Fr Paul was field marshal. Apart from that, Fr Paul was a remarkable polymath, so typical of the Jesuit tradition. Here’s just two anecdotes to illustrate that point:

  • One of my parishioners in Casterton, who knew Fr Paul well, would sometimes challenge Fr Paul to name the winner of the Melbourne Cup in a given year. Fr Paul got it right every time. He could also name the jockey, and the horse which came second. Every time.
  • A priest friend related his surprise at Fr Paul’s request for a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Until he heard his explanation: “I’ve just finished the Latin and ancient Greek translations, and I’d like to compare them with the English original.”

    Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis

A generation of Melbourne seminarians met Fr Paul in their first year pilgrimage to Penola, in honour of St Mary of the Cross. I made that pilgrimage in 2005. On that occasion, our half hour appointment with Fr Paul actually took two hours. I always suspected our experience was not unique, and at his Funeral Vigil last night, I learned that Fr Paul was renowned for his expansiveness. But he spoke with such wisdom, and with such personal interest in his listeners, that nobody much minded.

“Know the mind the of the Church,” Fr Paul instructed us fresh-faced seminarians in 2005. “Make time for study every day, so that you learn the mind of the Church. You never will, because the mind of the Church is as broad as the mind of God. But try. And more importantly gentlemen, think with the mind of the Church.” I’ve never forgotten that advice. It’s permanently associated in my mind with James Joyce’s famous aphorism, “Catholic means, here comes everybody.”

In the years since, I’ve had the good fortune to see much more of him. He was a frequent visitor to Warrnambool, when I lived there as a seminarian, and later when I ministered there as a deacon. When he was visiting parishioners, they were always kind enough to invite me to lunch. As a priest in Casterton, I’ve exploited the fact that Penola is only 45 minutes away, and often made a pilgrimage — always to seek St Mary’s intercession, and occasionally to see Fr Paul.

At the time of St Mary’s canonisation, Fr Paul wrote a brilliant short essay, relating not only the significance of the canonisation to him personally, but the significance of saints generally. I think it’s as enlightening to the non-believer as it is edifying to the believer. My life with Mary: from historic figure to living presence.

There are two iconic photos of Fr Paul, which he would always describe with the same captions. The first photo was taken at the beatification in Randwick I think. Pope John Paul II delivered some advice to Fr Paul, which was indelibly etched in his memory:

“We need another miracle!”

The second photo was taken by Fr Paul’s great nephew, Tom Moloney, the day before the canonisation:

“We made it!”

Fr Paul speaks about that second photograph in an interview broadcast on ABC on the occasion of his diamond jubilee. It’s worth tuning in, to relive the moment Australia had its first canonised saint, and also to hear a wise and holy priest describe the Catholic priesthood: Fr Paul Gardiner celebrates 60 years as a priest.

May he rest in peace.

Marjorie Liddy, RIP

Marjorie Liddy, RIP

A beautiful woman of faith died this week. Some call her a mystic. Marjorie Liddy died on Wednesday, en route to the Tiwi Islands, returning home from priestly ordinations in Melbourne.

In his opening remarks at Wednesday’s episcopal ordination Mass in Sydney, Archbishop Fisher brought our attention to the chasubles worn by many of the concelebrating bishops:

epsicopal-ordination

These were the chasubles designed for the papal Mass at Sydney’s World Youth Day. On the back of the chasubles is an image commonly called Marjorie’s Bird, although Marjorie herself has a more beautiful title: The Day The Holy Spirit Visited Marjorie And Her People — the latter being all the people of Australia.

cardinal-pell-wyd

wyd-sydney-2008

You can read about Marjorie and her image, and how it emblazoned Sydney’s World Youth Day, in this article dating back to 2008. But if you can spare half an hour, it’s much better to watch Marjorie tell the story. (If you can’t find the time, I recommend you make the time!)

Here is an interview which first aired on community television in 2006:

I never met Marjorie, but after watching this interview, I wish I had. I have met Denise Kelly — she’s friends with my grandmother — who collaborated with Marjorie in several writing projects. (Denise, not my grandmother.) Both Marjorie and Denise claim to have received extraordinary gifts from the Holy Spirit, and both women are also remarkably humble and faithful daughters of the Church.

Here’s a snapshot into Marjorie’s character from the linked newspaper article:

Liddy will be one of a number of indigenous women who will form a guard of honour for the Pope in Sydney on Thursday, and she has a letter from Cardinal George Pell naming her as a World Youth Day VIP.

“When I first heard that on the island, I just grabbed a handful of dirt, threw it all over myself,” she said. “I felt unworthy.”

There are similar snapshots in Marjorie’s TV interview. Her demonstration of unadorned faith and spiritual childhood is like a breath of fresh air. Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon her, and may she rest in peace.

The last word belongs to Marjorie, who in the Spirit of Life interview was asked her advice to anyone who struggles to hear the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit:

Open your hearts. Let Him in. Let Him in. He will help you to know and understand Mother Mary and Jesus. There’s so much love the Lord has for us. So much love. He wants us all to love Him. To go back — to go to Mass, go to confession, and receive Him. And our love will grow, grow. But let the Holy Spirit start a new life.

Amen.

Tommy Corrigan

Tommy Corrigan

On this day in 1894 the champion jockey Tommy Corrigan died of brain lacerations, two days after he and his horse Waiter fell in the Caulfield Grand National Steeplechase.

He was born in Ireland, but his family migrated to Australia when he was 13. He worked for his father on a dairy farm near Woodford but at age 14, his racing career was launched with a win in Warrnambool. Later on, he settled in Ballarat. I don’t think we’re related — not closely — so it’s pure coincidence that we share surnames and hometowns. (In any event, I’m connected to Ballarat via O’Hehirs and Warrnambool via McElgunns. The Corrigan side of the family comes from outback Queensland.)

Tommy Corrigan was the greatest Australian jockey of the nineteenth century, and some call him the best jumps rider ever. Between 1866 and 1894 he recorded 238 wins, 135 seconds and 95 thirds from 788 starts. That’s a 60 per cent strike rate. I’m a bit surprised that he doesn’t have an entry in Wikipedia. Maybe I’ll do something about that.

The diminutive Irishman’s fame was huge, and like all popular Australian athletes, it was his good nature and beaming smile which shielded him from the tall poppy syndrome. We could imagine him as a 19th century version of Pat Rafter, or even better, another Michelle Payne! By all accounts, he was devoted to his family, and to his Catholic faith. He sought out a priest and made a good confession before every race, and 11 August 1894 was no exception.

For two days, his life hung in the balance, and for two days crowds milled through St Francis’ Church, praying for his recovery. His funeral was the largest ever seen in Melbourne. Traffic was suspended for two hours, and most businesses were closed all day. The route from his home in Caulfield to his grave in Carlton was lined by thousands of mourners, and onlookers described Swanston Street as “a mass of humanity.”

The great jockey is memorialised in a poem by Banjo Paterson:

You talk of riders on the flat, of nerve and pluck and pace—
Not one in fifty has the nerve to ride a steeplechase.
It’s right enough, while horses pull and take their fences strong,
To rush a flier to the front and bring the field along;
But what about the last half-mile, with horses blown and beat—
When every jump means all you know to keep him on his feet.

When any slip means sudden death—with wife and child to keep—
It needs some nerve to draw the whip and flog him at the leap—
But Corrigan would ride them out, by danger undismayed,
He never flinched at fence or wall, he never was afraid;
With easy seat and nerve of steel, light hand and smiling face,
He held the rushing horses back, and made the sluggards race.

He gave the shirkers extra heart, he steadied down the rash,
He rode great clumsy boring brutes, and chanced a fatal smash;
He got the rushing Wymlet home that never jumped at all—
But clambered over every fence and clouted every wall.
You should have heard the cheers, my boys, that shook the members’ stand
Whenever Tommy Corrigan weighed out to ride Lone Hand.

They were, indeed, a glorious pair—the great upstanding horse,
The gamest jockey on his back that ever faced a course.
Though weight was big and pace was hot and fences stiff and tall,
“You follow Tommy Corrigan” was passed to one and all.
And every man on Ballarat raised all he could command
To put on Tommy Corrigan when riding old Lone Hand.

But now we’ll keep his memory green while horsemen come and go;
We may not see his like again where silks and satins glow.
We’ll drink to him in silence, boys—he’s followed down the track
Where many a good man went before, but never one came back.
And, let us hope, in that far land where the shades of brave men reign,
The gallant Tommy Corrigan will ride Lone Hand again.

Death of a missionary

Death of a missionary

Today is the Feast of St Andrew. It is also the anniversary of my Grandma’s sister.

On 30 November 1964, Connie Gladman — better known as Sr Mary Rosina, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart — was murdered in Papua New Guinea.

I have visited PNG twice, and on both occasions I have visited Aunty Connie’s grave and met with people who knew her. I was also able to piece together the remarkable story of her death.

Magien, New Britain

Soon after 8:00, on the morning of 30 November 1964, Sr Rosina left her convent in Turuk and boarded a boat to Magien, a village on an island just off the coast of New Britain.

The Catholic mission of Turuk was only ten years old. The apostolic work was hard and discouraging. The local people were happy to benefit from the missionaries’ educational and medical services, but they were apparently indifferent to the Catholic faith. A week earlier, Sr Rosina had remarked on the mission’s slow progress.

“I would suffer anything,” she said, “to see the situation changed here.”

Sr Rosina was a trained teacher and a supervisor for the Department of Education. The primary school at Magien was staffed by indigenous teachers. It was her task to assess the teachers’ classroom performance and to conduct external examinations of the students.

Before Sr Rosina left the convent, she made some curious arrangements. She stripped her bed of its linen because, she said, she would sleep in the parlour that night. And she organised a substitute teacher for her afternoon classes on the mainland, even though she was due back in Turuk for lunch.

Sr Rosina’s behaviour on the voyage to the island was also unusual. She was normally gregarious, and made a point of drawing conversation out of the shy local girls who accompanied her. Today, however, Sr Rosina was silent, apparently preoccupied with prayer.

Sr Rosina arrived at the Magien school in time for morning assembly, after which she seated herself at the back of the classroom, pencil in hand. The children were at work, the teacher at a cupboard — his back turned to events — when a local man suddenly jumped through the window behind Sr Rosina. A child’s gasp caused the teacher to turn around and confront a horrifying scene. He watched helplessly as the intruder swung an axe into Sr Rosina’s neck three times, severing her spinal cord.

The children and their teacher ran from the classroom, screaming hysterically. “Rapui has killed Sister! Rapui has killed Sister!” Rapui was a local islander who had been detained for attempted murder and only recently discharged from psychiatric care. Rapui apparently nursed a grudge against the missionaries for his cousin’s death in a Catholic hospital.

Civil authorities on the mainland quickly learnt of events, and travelled to the island in the company of several OLSH sisters. Only after police had arrested Rapui, who was waiting at the jetty brandishing a knife, could the missionaries get to the school. There they found Sr Rosina seated at her desk, pencil still in hand. The force of the blows had caused her face to strike the desk before her.

That afternoon, Sr Rosina’s body was returned to the Turuk convent. Her odd behaviour that morning now seemed vindicated — she was not available to teach that afternoon, and her body was laid in the parlour overnight, where the sisters maintained an all-night prayer vigil.

A huge crowd of locals kept their own vigil, packing the mission’s lawns, crying and praying for Sr Rosina throughout the night. The slain missionary’s body was transported to the airport at dawn. A ute was found for the task, but the locals insisted on carrying the coffin themselves. A huge funeral procession, spontaneous and unprecedented, accompanied Sr Rosina’s departure from the Turuk mission.

Extraordinary graces unfolded in the years following. One of the girls who had accompanied Sr Rosina on her last voyage to Magien discerned a religious vocation, joining the OLSH convent. She was one of many who contributed to a 10 year boom in religious vocations.

Four years after the murder, the OLSH sisters, who were at that time predominantly Irish and Australian, withdrew from Turuk in favour of the indigenous Daughters of Mary Immaculate. This was made possible only by a sudden increase in faith among the locals, which occurred in the wake of Sr Rosina’s death. The rush of religious vocations eventually dried up, but the faith of the locals, and their remembrance of Sr Rosina, never waned.

Twenty years later, a schoolboy on Magien was deeply moved by the story. He was often found sitting at the place of Sr Mary Rosina’s death, and as the years progressed, he spent entire nights there. In secondary school, he discerned a priestly vocation, and in 2003, Fr John Bosco was ordained a priest. Fr John-Bosco attributed his vocation to the intercessory prayers of Sr Rosina, and on 30 November that year – the thirty-ninth anniversary of Sr Rosina’s death – the newly-ordained priest offered a Mass of Reconciliation at the site of the murder.

OLSH sisters were present at the mass, as were relatives of Rapui. Rapui himself had died earlier that year, still under psychiatric care, and always agitated by the sight of nuns in habit.

It is conjectured by some of the OLSH sisters whom I met that the Mass of Reconciliation lifted a curse which was uttered against the islanders of Magien by residents of Turuk, who sought pagan recourse in the immediate aftermath of Sr Rosina’s death. In any event, Magien has enjoyed a renaissance of priestly and religious vocations in the years since 2003. Graces continue to flow, it seems, from that tragic and blessed event of 1964.

What does Jesus look like?

A Facebook friend maybe didn’t know what he was in for, when he started a light hearted discussion on “what Jesus really looked like.”

It all started with a meme currently doing the rounds on social media. The image on the right derives from a speculative composite prepared in 2001, which presents a “typical semite from the first century”:

real-jesus-fake-jesus

A lot of people take exception to that depiction, which they feel demeans the Lord. In fairness to the original artists, they never intended to depict “the real Jesus.” They’re just presenting the typical features of a first-century Jew, particularly noting the man’s swarthy skin tone and his closely cropped hair.

Hairstyle is worth bearing in mind. St Paul — who saw the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, don’t forget — clearly disapproves of men with long hair:

Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? (1 Cor 11:14)

For my part, though, I still invest faith in the Shroud of Turin:

shroud-of-turin

It’s worth noting, I think, that the “fake Jesus” of the meme more closely resembles the image on the shroud. That’s a good reminder that Tradition isn’t as unreliable as many argue, and that the “Jesus of history” and the “Christ of faith” should not be opposed in dichotomy. (Mind you, I readily concede that blue eyes and an Anglo-Celtic skin tone is unrealistic.)

What really surprised me, though, in the Facebook “debate” that ensued (I’m feeling generous), is that a great many Christians dismissed the question outright. “Does it really matter?” they demanded. “You receive him in the eucharist. What he looks like is irrelevant.”

I don’t know about that. The proliferation of artistic renderings of Jesus suggests that it does matter. Speaking more personally, I can’t help but wonder what he looks like — the person I speak to frequently every day, whom I long to meet one day, whom I speak about to others most days.

I guess it doesn’t matter what Jesus looks like, insofar as his appearance doesn’t impact faith, and doesn’t measure love. But at the same time it matters very much, insofar as Jesus is both God and man, and it’s natural for us to relate to each other materially, not just spiritually. If we’re speaking to someone face to face, we make eye contact. If we’re talking to someone over the phone, we intuitively pick up nuances that are lost in email and chat.

I often wonder what Jesus looks like. How his voice sounds. What mannerisms distinguish him. It’s a very natural thing, I think, to value these things in someone you love.

Bridging the chasm

Bridging the chasm

Today — Sunday 14 June — is G.K. Chesterton’s anniversary of death. It is an excellent occasion to start blogging again, with a new found dedication to the controversial questions of our time.

Chesterton is often called a ‘master of paradox’ and ‘apostle of common sense,’ but what most attracts me to him is his unfailing charity in the midst of controversy. Chesterton never sought to defeat his opponent. He sought only to defeat their arguments. I would go so far as to say Chesterton never employed personal criticism at all, but that’s not quite true:

Left to right: Shaw, Belloc and Chesterton.

Left to right: George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton.

During a public debate between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton observed, “I see there has been famine in the land.”

Shaw replied, “And I see the cause of it.” He continued: “If I was as fat as you, I’d hang myself.”

Chesterton didn’t hesitate: “If I were to hang myself, I’d use you as the rope!”

The fact is, Shaw and Chesterton were close friends, and Shaw was deeply grieved by Chesterton’s death 79 years ago today. Chesterton endeared himself to very many people, friends and foes alike.

Philip Yancey evokes an appealing image of Chesterton on a rope bridge:

We could use another Chesterton today, I think. In a time when culture and faith have drifted even further part, we could use his brilliance, his entertaining style, and above all his generous and joyful spirit. When society becomes polarised, as ours has, it as if the two sides stand across a great divide and shout at each other. Occasionally, a prophet like Martin Luther King Jr arises with power and eloquence enough to address both sides at once. Chesterton had another approach: he walked to the centre of a swinging bridge, roared a challenge to any single-combat warriors, and then made both sides laugh aloud.

I don’t have Chesterton’s wit, much less his intellectual talent, but I’ve tired of staying on the sidelines of controversy, seeking common ground. The times call for more controversialists I think, who foster thoughtful and passionate debate, rather than polite agreement.

 

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