Christians in a heavy sea: the gay marriage vote

Christians in a heavy sea: the gay marriage vote

Today’s Gospel presents a perfect analogy of our situation – yours and mine — as Catholics in Australia today.

Our Lord has sent us ahead, on a boat, to cross the Sea of Galilee. He will meet us on the other side. But now we are battling in a heavy sea, and we’re sailing into a headwind.

This is the destiny of Christians in every age. As Christians, we have to navigate against the current. There’s no other way.

Jesus himself had to go against the current. So did the Apostles, and every disciple since. Every single person, in every age, who wished to be a faithful disciple of Christ, had to go against the current.

It’s good to remind ourselves of this. It is not the teaching of Christ which should adapt itself to our time. It is the times, that must open themselves to the light of Christ.

So here we are, clutching to the sides of a dubious-looking boat: decades of clergy abuse; diabolical cover-ups; hypocrisy and clericalism; immorality and worldliness. The boat is collecting water, fast.

Here we are, battling a heavy sea, nearly overcome by the headwind: abortion on demand; state-sponsored euthanasia; religion banished from our schools, replaced with gender ideology. And now there’s another wave closing in, as we prepare for a national vote on same-sex marriage.

The Apostles struggle against the wind, but their efforts seem useless. The boat lurches around, tossed by the waves. So what do we do? We can clutch to the sides of this sinking boat, or we can do something. Be responsive! Show some initiative!

We could leap overboard, and hasten back to shore. To that place of happy memories and a secure future, where we left Jesus not so long ago. In other words, we can withdraw from modern society. Disengage, completely, from this pernicious culture. Concoct and inhabit a Catholic bubble, where we look after our own and leave the rest to their own devices. Back to shore: there we will find our feet, and bask in the warmth of the sun.

Or, alternatively, we could embrace the storm, negotiate the wind, and conform to the current. In other words, we could integrate the ‘medieval’ teachings of Christ with a modern, more tolerant outlook. Abolish the old hierarchy – inaugurate a new priesthood. Embrace abortion rights; mercy killing; trans-theory; gay marriage. As long as we “judge not,” and “tolerate all,” as long as we follow the Lord’s general moral principles, adapted and modernised, we can save the boat, save ourselves, ride out the storm and, eventually, get to the other side.

But Jesus Christ is not merely a moral teacher, confined by his times and culture. Jesus Christ is Lord of history, Son of God, God Himself. He is our Creator and our Redeemer. He is the Alpha and the Omega. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

He went against the current, and anyone who follows him will go against the current. So we don’t abandon ship and swim back to shore. We don’t change course, and sail with the wind. We persevere, like the Apostles, faithful to our Lord’s request. He placed us in this boat; he set our course.

To persevere, to be faithful, we must be able to love. As the public campaign heats up, many proponents of gay marriage — activists and politicians on TV, and maybe even friends and family in our own lives — will call us bigoted and homophobic. But we’re not.

Many of us have close friends and relatives who are gay. Colleagues too. As a priest, I serve many gays and lesbians. Some of them embrace the gay lifestyle; some of them embrace Catholic teaching and Christian chastity. Some of them support gay marriage; some of them oppose gay marriage. So let’s be clear — at least in our own hearts and minds: gay marriage isn’t about “accepting gays or opposing gays;” it isn’t about “tolerance versus bigotry.” Gay marriage is about marriage. At least in our own hearts and minds.

If the “no” vote wins, if marriage is not redefined, many hearts will be broken. The Church is not in the business of breaking hearts. You and I, as disciples of Christ, aren’t in the business of breaking hearts. But nor is the Church in the business of being nice; sparing feelings. The Church’s business is saving souls. You and I, as disciples of Christ, are in the business of saving souls.

A “yes” vote, which redefines marriage, won’t save a single soul. But voting “no” won’t save souls either. We don’t fulfil our Christian obligations by opposing gay marriage. That’s simply dodging another wave, battling against the wind, navigating the heavy sea.

Discipleship demands much more. Discipleship demands heroic love. It means seeking men and women — our brothers and sisters: friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances — who are out in the water, at the mercy of the storm. Praying for them; befriending them; loving them.

As a young man, Joseph Sciambra became immersed in San Francisco’s hedonistic gay sub-culture of anonymous sex and multiple partners. After a near-death experience in 1999, he found Christ. Or rather, Christ found him. Now he dedicates himself in full-time Catholic ministry to gay men.

In his blog last week, he laid down the gauntlet to Christian husbands and fathers: “If you know a gay man, call him. Hang out with him. Offer him sincere friendship. Offer him authentic masculine camaraderie. Give him a reason to withdraw from toxic gay culture.”

I’m nervous just repeating that. It sounds intolerant, doesn’t it? Many will call it homophobic. But this is what love looks like. This is what Christian discipleship looks like. It demands we go against the current. It demands courage. Reaching out to people in the sea, loosing our grasp of the boat, leaves us vulnerable. But we have to be vulnerable, if we want to love.

So we persevere. The Apostles struggle against the wind. Their efforts seem futile. Jesus wants them to grow strong through adversity, but he doesn’t leave them on their own. In the fourth watch of the night, he came to them. He will come for us too. And with him at the helm, we will get to the other side of the sea.

Don’t jump overboard and head back to shore. Resist the urge to construct a Catholic fortress with raised drawbridge. And don’t change course to conform with the current and wind. Resist the urge to modernise and “improve” the perennial wisdom of God. Stay the course; persevere with the Apostles; sail against the wind. And reach out to others, with sincere love and friendship. Love is action, not sweet words.

Jesus Christ doesn’t need any of us. And yet he needs all of us! And we need him. Let’s be souls of prayer. Let’s open our hearts to him, every day. When we open our hearts to him, he will open his heart to us. And then we will be filled with the courage of Peter. We, too, will make headway.

The scandal of religious hypocrisy

The scandal of religious hypocrisy

There’s nothing to add to this self-explanatory headline, nor even much reason to follow the link. The title says it all: SCANDAL: Vatican police raid cardinal’s apartment to stop drug fueled gay party.

The lede is easy to believe: “Pope Francis is reportedly furious at the news as he has worked hard to clean up the Vatican.” It evokes the anger Jesus directed at the scribes and Pharisees. The Lord, who was a friend to sinners in other contexts, always eager to minister divine mercy and foster conversion, had no time for hypocrites:

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in . . . Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Mt 23 ff)

This is a reaction I think many of us intuitively share. Priests who hear confessions are well acquainted with the wage of sin, so we’re not easily scandalised. But I am scandalised by exposés of priests leading double lives. I’m sure I’m not the only one to share our Lord’s visceral reaction against the scribes and Pharisees. But why? Why do some sinful contexts cause more scandal than others?

It might be a case of “there but for the grace of God go I,” but that’s no explanation. We can all think that about any number of sins, and they do not possess the shock value of the deliberate and systematic hypocrisy of double lives. What makes this sort of sin so different?

In today’s Office of Readings, St Augustine sheds light on the matter. Augustine, you might recall, is famous for praying “God, make me good, but not yet.”

“We should be displeased with ourselves when we commit sin, for sin is displeasing to God. Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased at what displeases him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.”

It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it? We should hate sin, because God hates sin. And if we do hate our sins, then even in the midst of sin, there is some harmony with the will of God. This is not only perfectly intelligible, but also widely experienced. Who doesn’t identify with St Paul’s quandary?

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” (Rom 7:15-18)

But here’s the rub. When a person is systematic in their hypocrisy, when they lead a double life, they have accommodated sin. Far from hating sin, this sinner plans his life around it. And so, by Augustine’s suggested measure, there is no semblance of harmony with God at all.

Hence we have the Lord’s prayer in today’s Gospel:

“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.” (Mt 11:25)

I think children are probably incapable of leading a double life. They are perfectly capable of sin, but in their simplicity they don’t accommodate sin. And, in their humility, when children are in trouble, they are quick to seek a remedy. The “learned and clever,” by contrast, have the means to lie about their sin — even to themselves — which is the first step to a pharisaical double life.

We can, all of us, adapt Augustine’s prayer: “God, make me good.” (There’s no need for temporal qualifiers.) None of us can be saints by force of will — we need God’s grace. We’re sinners obliged to start again and again and again — like small children, learning to walk, recovering from every fall, always persevering. We should avoid sin, and with God’s grace we can avoid sin. But in those moments we do sin, so long as even then, we hate the sin, we avoid, I think, the pharisaical mire.

Ab insidiis diaboli, libera nos, Domine.

Concerning Cardinal Pell

Concerning Cardinal Pell

The charges against Cardinal Pell are another distressing blow to us Catholics. Speaking personally, I share the Cardinal’s hope that this development is a good one, putting an end to ‘trial by media.’

Fr Paddy has prepared a document related to this issue which he is distributing in the Hamilton parish this weekend. I have also prepared copies which you’re welcome to take home and study.

I won’t repeat what is presented in the document, but I will briefly repeat remarks I’ve previously made on the subject of the clergy abuse scandal, and our response as Australian Catholics.

I.

In the first place, we must never forget our Lord’s parting words to his disciples: “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. A peace the world cannot give, is my gift to you.”

This is a gift that is readily available to us, again and again. When bad news, or anything else in the world distresses us, depriving us of God’s peace, we need only “plug into” the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, for example, for every minute spent watching distressing content on TV, such minutes might be matched in contemplation of an icon or holy picture. For every minute spent reading distressing content in newspapers, another minute might be spent reading the Holy Gospels.

In relation to the present news, these practices can remind us that Christ is the head of the Catholic Church. He is the reason we are Catholic. And he is always present to us here, in the tabernacle. In the Eucharist we have the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Insofar as we foster a spirit of prayer and supernatural outlook, we will never be deprived of the Lord’s peace for long.

II.

In the second place, it’s good to remember that the clergy abuse scandal is not a distraction from the Church’s mission; it is part of the mission the Lord gives us.

St Vincent de Paul famously advised:

Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God.

A similar lesson might be applied to present events. We can pray, with real optimism and confidence, that good comes from the Church’s present humiliation.

In some respects, I think the Catholic Church has become a scapegoat. As long as our larger society can rail against crimes in the Church, it can ignore the horrendous crimes our present generation of children must navigate. But eventually, the painful trials and healing which we have experienced in the Church will need to be experienced in other sections of Australian society. And the Church will then be a light to the nation, because the Church is Christ. And he’s done all this before — bearing the cross, enduring impenetrable darkness, and ultimately overcoming the darkness.

So, to paraphrase St Vincent de Paul:

Do not become upset or feel guilty because the evangelising mission of the Church is interrupted by the fallout and response to the clergy abuse scandal. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. Remember that this very service is performed for God.

None of this is a distraction. This is where we need to focus our energy. Our prayer. It may be painful to us individually, and as the Church, but this is where God has called us. And God knows what He is about.

Fatima = prayer and penance!

Fatima = prayer and penance!

Pope Francis has canonised two of the youngest saints in the history of the Church. St Francisco Marto was just 10 years old when he died; and when his sister died a year later, St Jacinta was only 9 years old.

The Church has also just celebrated the one hundredth anniversary of the first apparition of Fatima. The Collect of the feast reveals the key to the Fatima message:

O God, who chose the Mother of your Son to be our Mother also, grant us that, persevering in penance and prayer for the salvation of the world, we may further more effectively each day the reign of Christ.

The message of Fatima: prayer and penance! It’s a reminder to us that we are called to be co-redeemers with Jesus Christ. This is the “scandal” of the Incarnation: not only has God descended to become one of us; now God wants to raise you and I up to His level. Jesus became sin, that we might become the goodness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)

The Lord offered his life at Calvary — the perfect sacrifice — for the salvation of the world. But now he gives us a share in his mission. A share in his redemptive sacrifice. He makes us co-redeemers — so that we can join our own sacrifices to his, for the salvation of the world.

This is what Our Lady reminded the world at Fatima. Our prayers and our penance can change history. Our prayers and penance can save the world.

Lúcia de Jesus dos Santos, and her cousins, St Francisco Marto and St Jacinta Marto

At the canonisation Mass, the Holy Father invited us to “take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta.” Here’s just one example, from St Jacinta:

One day, when Jacinta and Lucia were chatting, her mother brought Jacinta a glass of milk to drink. “Drink it all Jacinta. It’s good for you.” (By now Jacinta was dying of the Spanish Flu.)

“I don’t want it Mama,” Jacinta answered, pushing the glass away. Her mother insisted, but eventually gave up: “I don’t know what to do with you!”

As soon as they were alone, Lucia reproached Jacinta. “How can you disobey your mother like that? Can’t you offer this sacrifice to Our Lord?”

After hearing that, Jacinta’s eyes filled with tears, which Lucia wiped away. Jacinta frankly admitted, “I remember now!” Then she called her mother, sought her forgiveness, and promised that she would drink as much as her mother wanted. Her mother brought back the cup of milk, which Jacinta drank without showing the slightest reluctance.

After her mother had left, she confided in Lucia, “If only you knew how hard it was for me to drink that!”

A smile is sometimes the best penance. To make life pleasant for others, even though it costs us. Performed for love of God, and for the salvation of the world.

The need for holy priests

The need for holy priests

Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard’s The Soul of the Apostolate presents the interior life — one’s personal relationship with the Lord, nourished by daily prayer — as the foundation of a life of work and service.

It’s a very good book, suitable for Catholics in all states of life. It was, apparently, a book which Pope St Pius X dipped into so often, that it had a permanent place on his bedside table.

I don’t read it as frequently as that, but there is a quote from the book which I meditate on every year during my annual retreat:

“If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent; if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless.”

I think this observation works very well as a general principle. (We only have to look around to see the adverse impact of criminally indecent priests.) Good Shepherd Sunday is an occasion to pray not just for more priests, but for holy priests. We all need holy priests — me included — who are truly consecrated to Christ; struggling to conform themselves, every day, to the Good Shepherd.

Of course, ultimately we all look to Christ. When the Church’s ministers let us down — and sadly that’s inevitable — we have to look to the tabernacle. We remember that he’s really here, really present, no matter what. But it’s no accident that the Lord did not only give himself to us in the Eucharist. He also founded the Church.

“I will not leave you orphans,” he promised, and he hasn’t. He consecrated the Apostles; he filled them with the Holy Spirit. And he gives us priests, in every generation: spiritual fathers.

There are two traditional, and very beautiful, ways to pray for priests:

Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross can be, but needn’t be, a 30 minute exercise. It can be as simple as looking at each station, and reading the name of the station. However you do it, offering the Stations of the Cross on behalf of a priest is a very noble prayer.

It is every priest’s task to follow the path of Christ; to walk the way of the cross. When we pray the Stations on behalf of a particular priest — or seminarian — we imitate the role of Simon of Cyrene: we help this alter Christus to carry his cross. And just as Simon derived many graces from his work of service, so will we.

Prayer at the time of the priest’s communion

I like this custom very much. I wish I had known about it before I was ordained. It complements the custom of the priest praying for each person as he ministers communion to them.

The time of the priest’s communion, which is normally when one is preparing for one’s own communion, is also a great moment to pray for that priest. The traditional prayers vary, but they generally share two common intentions:

  • That the Lord might find a place of shelter and rest in the heart of this priest.
  • That the Lord will make this priest a man of prayer and an untiring labourer.

The first intention is something we should all pray for ourselves. During the Lord’s public ministry, he would exhaust himself preaching, teaching and healing. On at least one occasion, his attempts at a spiritual retreat were thwarted by the unflagging demands of the crowds which followed him. (Matthew 14)

At Bethany, however, in the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus, Jesus found rest and recreation. Our own hearts should be like another Bethany — a place where our Lord can rest, confident of our love and attention. Perhaps at other times, our prayer is populated by petitions, but at communion why not allow the Lord to rest in our love?

As for the second intention, it seems to me that priests are tempted in two directions: excessive prayer and excessive work. Monks and social workers are both important. But diocesan priests, at least, should not be monks, and nor should we be social workers. We need to navigate a middle way, the golden mean, of contemplative prayer and active apostolate.

Pray for priests. Pray for seminarians. That they may always pursue the challenge, and never tire of the interior struggle, to be holy.

How Jesus treats his friends

How Jesus treats his friends

Saint John’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus famously contains the shortest verse in the entire Bible: “Jesus wept.”

As well as being the shortest verse, I think it’s one of the most powerful. It’s indicative of the Lord’s love for his friends. Their sorrow is his sorrow. It’s indicative of his love for us. Our sorrow is his sorrow.

But the raising of Lazarus also shows us how Jesus treats his friends:

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’” (Jn 11:5-7)

Jesus could have travelled to Bethany immediately, and healed his friend before Lazarus died. He could have spared Martha and Mary their sorrow and grief. But instead, he permits all three of his friends to suffer, so that “the Son of God will be glorified.” (Jn 11:4)

This is how Jesus treats his friends. It’s how he treats you and me. He could prevent our suffering, but instead he permits it. He invites us to share in his cross, all for the glory of God.

This is a reminder to us, to rectify out intentions and purify our motives. The glory of God should come before everything else — even our own needs. When we do this, when we desire God’s glory before everything else, we’ll be happy like the saints are happy.

Consider St Mary MacKillop’s memory of her illicit excommunication:

“I do not know how to describe the feeling, but I was intensely happy and felt nearer to God than I had ever felt before. The sensation of the calm beautiful presence of God I shall never forget.”

That sort of joy in the midst of suffering is only possible when a person sincerely desires God’s glory before everything else. It’s the secret of the saints, and it’s the call of every disciple.

Please God, whenever suffering or grief visits us, we embrace our cross with serenity and joy. Please God, we can imitate the saints, and in our affliction turn to the Lord — who could have delivered us, but did not — with hope and faith.

Omnia in gloriam dei facite. Do everything for the glory of God.

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