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Miscellaneous | Blog of a Country Priest

The papal vigil

The papal vigil

The vigil with the Holy Father was very moving. Unlike the other World Youth Days I have attended (in Sydney and Madrid), there were no “rival events” to the pope’s prayer.

There were no small groups holding ad hoc dance parties. There were no pilgrims with their back to the pope, engrossed in conversation or (!) card games. This year’s Vigil was free even of well-meaning pilgrims who diminish the spirit of prayer by ill-timed chants of “Viva il papa!”

This is what did happen:

  • Millions listened attentively to the pope (or to real-time translations on their small radios).
  • Millions laughed when the pope joked; millions cried out “no!” when he asked if we’d conform to the world, and “si!” when he asked if we’d be generous disciples.
  • Millions of people fell to their knees to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy in five languages, candle in one hand, and — for those who had them — rosary beads in the other.
  • And perhaps most profoundly, when the pope asked for moments of silence, and when he ministered benediction with the Blessed Sacrament, two million weary pilgrims, scattered across several hectares, made no earthly sound, but stormed heaven in prayer.

candle-lit-vigil

Before the vigil, I heard many good confessions, and during it I saw some younger pilgrims overwhelmed with emotion. Among the 200 pilgrims I’ve accompanied, most of whom I didn’t meet personally, I have met seven young people who are for the first time contemplating a priestly or religious vocation, and two more who aren’t Catholic but who wish to become Catholic on their return.

Many, many pilgrims have personally encountered Christ, some for the first time, and in the case of the younger pilgrims, the faith of their parents is now becoming their own faith. In the words of one teenager, “I thought the Church was governed by rules and prohibitions, but now I know it’s all love.” Grace has flowed through the pilgrimage like a torrential river, and the pilgrims I accompanied corresponded with youthful generosity.

Many pilgrims have experienced a different World Youth Day. The faith and enthusiasm of their peers has only emphasised their own doubts, or at least a spiritual dryness. Pray for them, that they can find God even in such trying circumstances, and learn to love His holy will.

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Happily for us, the fevered speculation of one million pilgrims converging on Czestochowa did not come to pass. There were tens of thousands, certainly, but nothing unmanageable.

Our Mass at the spiritual heart of Poland, which in a way launched our pilgrimage (in fact, there’ve been many starts), brought together Australians, Americans and Britons. It’s really not cricket for priests to take photos during the Mass, but I did sneak in one:

Mass at Czestochowa

image

The queues to reach the Black Madonna were very long, and very slow, but all our pilgrims dutifully and patiently fell in.

Crowd at Czestochowa

As we snaked around the large chapel, we could really soak in the surrounds. The walls are covered in plaques and medals and rosaries which date back centuries: gifts from pilgrims, grateful for graces they attribute to Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Tributes at Czestochowa ,

There’s also a wall of crutches, left behind by pilgrims whose healing made them redundant:

Crutches

Our pilgrims were briefed to “pray, click, pay” in that order. So in the final couple of hours, pilgrims took photos, toured the museums and grounds, and met some of the other thousands of international pilgrims.

This was a great way to prepare for the World Youth Day festival, which begins in earnest on Tuesday. From the spiritual heart of Poland we move towards the spiritual heart of Christendom: the papal Mass on Sunday, where we join Pope Francis at the altar, and with him the billion Catholics presently living around the world, and the countless holy souls in Heaven and purgatory.

Onward pilgrims.

Czestochowa bound

Czestochowa bound

Our early start this morning – 5:15 I think – didn’t feel so early. I guess there’s nothing like a longhaul flight to help you appreciate sleep in a real bed! The rising time loses its significance. Everyone’s bright eyed and bushy tailed.

Warsaw foyer

Today we move from Warsaw to Czestochowa, the geographical and spiritual heart of Poland. We’ve got midday Mass scheduled at Jasna Gora, one of Europe’s most famous Marian shrines. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Poles walk to the shrine, seeking spiritual favours or giving thanks for favours received. I get the impression that Jasna Gora is central to every Polish Catholic – all 37 million of them.

Nobody seems to know how many international pilgrims we’ll be joining in our own visit to the shrine. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to a million pilgrims! The monastery accommodates 100 thousand at a pinch, so we may not even glimpse the Black Madonna, but at least we can all reconnaissance the place for some future pilgrimage. I’m sure our visit will still honour Our Lady and please her Son.

I’ll post photos at the end of the day, when we again have free wifi. In the meantime, at the monastery I’ll commend readers’ intentions to the prayers of our Blessed Mother. Godspeed!

Halfway to Poland

Halfway to Poland

So I am blogging now from Doha, where the Internet is slow but free, so I’m not complaining.

The Krakow Connect pilgrimage is so big (200 plus pilgrims), that we are travelling on two different flights. Most left earlier, and flew with Emirates. But I’m part of the Qatar cohort, which is why our stopover is in Doha.

Doha

Qatar Airways is very good. The flights are slightly cheaper than Emirates and Etihad, but the service is in fact much better. I think my roman collar earned me a seat with more leg room, and I received lots of extra attention, so that was an unexpected bonus.

But all the other pilgrims agree, too, that the service is much higher than the already high standard of other airlines. The food wasn’t great, but the seats are comfortable enough to sleep in, and the insomniacs report the range of movies was good.

It’s the friendly staff which really recommend Qatar. They run a lot – I’ve never seen that on other airlines – but maybe that’s what makes them so generous with their time, and very personable. As I was disembarking, one of the Muslim stewardesses wished us all a good Easter. Makes sense. Lots of pilgrims; a big Catholic festival … I can see why it might evoke Christianity’s greatest feast.

Many of the pilgrims have never been overseas before. Even fewer have met the pope. So the excitement is pretty high. I hope, just as so many have experienced before, that World Youth Day exceeds their expectations and makes a deep spiritual impact.

I’ll keep updating this blog when I can. Updates are available in other places too:

Official blog: www.cam.org.au/wydvictoria/Live-Blog

Stacey Atkins’ blog: pilgrim2016.weebly.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wydvictoria

Jesus did not invent feminism (or: Always read benevolently)

Jesus did not invent feminism (or: Always read benevolently)

Professor Levine is a feminist theologian, but she’s a feminist theologian second, and a scripture scholar first. So she takes exception to feminist interpretations — or any ideological interpretations — of scripture which manipulate the text.

When second wave feminism swept the Church in the 1970s, the Gospels were co-opted into the cause. Prof Levine sets the record state: first century Jews did not resemble the Taliban, and Jesus did not invent feminism! So, for example, first century Jewish women owned property. They ran business. They studied the Torah and worked as scribes.

Similarly, Jesus was not the only man who spoke to women as intellectual equals. He was not the only man to encourage discipleship among women. And all his reputedly “feminist moments” require a tortured interpretation of the text.

Consider, for example, a feminist interpretation of the  “Martha, Martha” episode in Bethany. While Mary sits at the Lord’s feet, Martha is overwhelmed with the duties of hospitality, until she reaches breaking point:

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Lk 10: 40-42)

Feminist commentators note how progressive Jesus is, permitting a woman to sit with his disciples. Martha might think like the majority, and think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, but Jesus know better.

Levine calls this “a malevolent reading” of the text, which elevates Jesus at the cost of those around him. It is not historically vindicated, and it can be repudiated by an equally arbitrary but opposite reading. Ergo: ‘This text tells us that Jesus likes women who are silent and sit submissively at his feet. As soon as any woman speaks up, he shuts her down.’

The moral of the story: always read benevolently. Never permit ideology to arbitrarily diminish anyone in the Gospel.

Let the text speak for the text

Let the text speak for the text

The so-called ‘quest for an historical Jesus‘ seeks to identify an ‘historical Jesus’ distinct from the ‘mythological Christ’ presented in the canonical Gospels.

This in not an endeavour I’m much convinced by, because it demands a hermeneutic of suspicion which is not consonant with the Catholic tradition of scriptural study. I’m not sure what Professor Levine makes of it. Perhaps I should ask her.

On the one hand, she does make allusions to the Jesus Seminar, which purports to identify the Lord’s authentic sayings in contrast to other sayings the evangelists put on his lips. That’s not dissimilar to the quest for an historical Jesus.

But on the other hand, she very clearly endorses a hermeneutic of suspicion not towards the scriptural texts, but towards the common interpretations we place on the text. She insists, in the best Jewish tradition, that the Scripture should speak for itself, and we need to at least be conscious when we embellish or read into the text.

So, for example, we should question why we refer to ‘the Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ Jesus doesn’t use this title. He introduces his story with: “There was a man who had two sons.” (Lk 15:11) So on our Lord’s own terms, maybe we’re better off referring to ‘the Parable of the Man With Two Sons.’

The choice of title is not trivial. It frames the parable and guides the reader (or listener) towards a certain interpretation. ‘The Prodigal Son’ encourages us to focus on the younger son. But Professor Levine argues that Jesus (and Luke) intend for us to focus on someone else. This is the third of three parables told in succession:

  • The first: a sheep-owner counts 99 sheep, realises he has lost one sheep, frantically seeks out the sheep, and celebrates its return.
  • The second: a woman counts her money, realises she has lost a coin, frantically seeks out the coin, and celebrates its discovery.
  • The third: a man has two sons. He loses one son. The son returns. He celebrates his return. But does he lose another son in the process?

If we heed the context of the parable, it makes even more sense to describe the story in the same terms Jesus introduces it. ‘The Parable of the Man With Two Sons.’

The same goes for Gospel narratives. A few weeks ago, I preached at Mass, and I wrote on this blog, about “the unnamed woman” who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair before anointing them. ‘The unnamed woman’ is a generous label. Many commentators refer to ‘the sinful woman,’ or ‘the repentant woman.’ But Jesus doesn’t refer to her in any of these ways. When he speaks of her in his talk with Simon, he describes a woman who has loved much. (Lk 7:46)

So why didn’t I co-opt the Lord’s own words? Why do I settle for alternative titles and labels, which are actually foreign to the text? This is the hermeneutic of suspicion Prof Levine endorses. I think she’s right.

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