False doctrine is toxic bread

False doctrine is toxic bread

On Tuesday, Ballarat’s Courier published an article about St Columba’s Parish in Ballarat North.

Hundreds of parishioners were surveyed. Almost half had no objection to homosexual behaviour and supported gay marriage. An overwhelming majority supported IVF and favoured divorce and remarriage without annulment.

I bet this article resonates with every one of us. We all struggle with the “hard sayings” of Christ and his Church. That’s why they’re called “hard sayings.” The parable of the wheat and the darnel addresses this.

Darnel is a common weed in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even the farmer’s practiced eye cannot distinguish it until the stalks begin to mature. Darnel is toxic to humans, and if mixed with wheat flour, it will ruin bread.

Many Church Fathers understand the darnel to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, especially at the beginning. But when error is allowed to flourish, it has catastrophic effects on the people of God.

We can see how relevant this parable is today. While Christians have slept, the enemy has sown bad seed with impunity. There’s practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn’t been undermined.

The Courier quoted a parish spokesman, whose words are a good mix of wheat and darnel. Consider this quote from the article:

I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be a rather broad umbrella in which a multitude of views are contained. It seems to me that some non-Catholic commentators see Catholics as unthinking automatons, blindly following decrees from the top. I don’t think it’s ever been like that, to be honest. People have always made up their own minds, and continue to do so.

The Church is a broad umbrella. Catholic means, “here comes everybody.” And Catholics can’t be unthinking automatons. Blind servility offends God. He gave us reason, and He gave us freedom, and we honour God when we exercise these gifts.

But, as Catholics we are also obliged to assent to our Lord’s teachings, and the teachings of his Church. St Peter is our model in this. When Jesus insisted we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life, many of his disciples left him. It was a moment of crisis in our Lord’s public ministry.

He turned to the apostles, who were probably as bewildered as everyone else. Maybe even scandalised. “What about you?” he said to them. “Do you want to go away too?”

Peter spoke for the Twelve. He speaks for us too. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is our model of assent. Blind servility, no. Humble faith, yes. When we struggle with one teaching or another, we can’t accept it without thinking, but nor are we free to discard it. We must grapple with it. Pray with it. Ask for Peter’s faith.

Here’s something else the parishioner said:

A lot of people, as we become more educated, are accepting of the modern realities of life. It’s not enough to say “you’ve done this wrong and we don’t agree.” It’s about how we continue to include people who are part of our family or part of the Church … not cutting them off because of their sexuality or decisions.

How true. Isn’t that the crux of our Lord’s parable?

When you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest.

Even while we insist on the truth of our faith, and reject false doctrine, we never write people off, or abandon relationships. We must keep open the channels of grace. It’s not our task to weed out the darnel. Occasionally, it is the task of the Church to “isolate” parts of the crop.

Pope Francis did this last year, when he excommunicated an Australian priest who defiantly celebrated public Mass when his faculties were withdrawn, and repeatedly endorsed gay marriage and the ordination of women. He isolated another part of the crop last month, when he declared members of the mafia were excommunicated.

Excommunication isn’t a nice business, but this act of quarantine takes seriously the second part of today’s Gospel:

At harvest time I shall say to the reapers: ‘First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’

Darnel ruins bread and false doctrine ruins souls, so we must be judicious. Where is the darnel in my own heart and mind?

Australian Catholic Youth Festival

Australian Catholic Youth Festival

I’m at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival for the next several days. The ACYF lends itself to comparison with World Youth Day, albeit without the pope.

The pope’s absence, though, may also be its hidden strength. Since His Holiness is not there to act as a drawcard, and to sustain enthusiasm and excitement, the programme of events has to bear a heavier load. And the organisers have facilitated an exceptionally strong programme of events.

The array of workshops and activities is mind-boggling, and beautifully reflects the “here-comes-everybody” catholicity of Catholicism. To illustrate, here are a few of the events the Hamilton Catholic youth group will attend:

  • The Catholic Thing, with Fr Chris Ryan MGL. Come on a magical mystery tour of the weird and wonderful world of Catholicism: a world which loves beauty, honours intelligence, and calls you to greatness.
  • Mary MacKillop Pilgrimage WalkSt Mary of the Cross is a child of Melbourne. Take a walk down Mary’s streets and let her story become a part of your own.
  • Life, love, light. What makes a saint? We are called to sanctify. Get to know more about the inspiring life of Bl Chiara Luce Badano.
  • Christian Meditation. Do you want to taste and see the goodness of the Lord? Join the Sisters of Nazareth as they share this powerful form of prayer.
  • Hidden Treasure. Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, tells us that the gift of people with intellectual disability is a hidden treasure. Come and listen to their stories.
  • Using Scripture to encounter Jesus, with Archbishop Mark Coleridge.

In addition to such activities, there are constant opportunities for Mass, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and sacramental confession. Included in the mix is the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, which will be offered on the Feast of St Nicholas:


The grave-yard shift is a shame — I doubt my group will want to get up at 6am to get there just in time, and I don’t blame them — but it’s nonetheless heartening to see the EF included. Not so long ago, our liturgical patrimony was simply one more political potato too hot to touch. I’d like to think this is a sign of progress, indicative of more magnanimity and less ideology.

Kevin Lee, RIP

Kevin Lee, RIP

The news of Kevin Lee’s death distressed me. We never met, but we exchanged e-mails over the last 18 months, and I prayed for him often.

I was surprised by my reaction. It makes me think that when you pray for someone — even a stranger — you must enter into some sort of communion. Perhaps it’s a prefiguration of the communion of saints. I hope and pray that Kevin joins that heavenly communion.

Kevin and I started corresponding because of this blog. I blogged about him when he so spectacularly hit the headlines — posts which lacked charity, I regret. He commented in kind, but this started private correspondence which was less critical and more constructive.

Kevin became a blogger himself, and broadcast many of his experiences and thoughts. Hence, there is nothing in this which was not also related elsewhere, so I don’t think it’s a breach of privacy to reproduce:

You remind me so much of myself when I started out & I never thought or imagined I would leave ministry. I know that celibacy for me was an incredible burden that I struggled to carry honestly for all the time I did. My wife was my first lover. I have been racked with guilt about leaving ministry although I continue to pray the office & attend daily Mass although barred from receiving Holy Communion which is a greater penalty than my financial deprivation. I just trust and pray that God will one day take the reins of His Church and give them to a Pope who will serve God’s people rather than the institution. The whole rest of humanity who have turned their back on Sunday worship could not all be going to hell. God seems to be more merciful than we are as priests.

I bought Kevin’s book, which gave me some insight into why he became so embittered. He was privy to terrible evil, which seemed to be tolerated by the hierarchy. I can see why he spat the dummy. I can imagine myself doing the same.

It is not, however, a book I would ever endorse. I was scandalised not only by the evil and sacrilege which scandalised him, but also by his own betrayal of confidence, and more seriously, his profanation of sacramental confession. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

His most recent blog post — written 12 days ago — was ‘If I had not broken my vows, Michelle Lucilla Lee would not exist.’

I wrote a blog recently in which I stated that the best thing in my life (my daughter Michelle) would not be here if I had been faithful to my vows.

I was immediately reminded of the ‘whisky priest’ in Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory. Towards the end, when the fugitive priest is arrested, he prepares himself for death:

He knew it was the beginning of the end — after all these years. He began to say silently an act of contrition, while they picked the brandy bottle out of his pocket, but he couldn’t give his mind to it . . . He tried to think of his child with shame, but he could only think of her with a kind of famished love — what would become of her? He couldn’t say to himself that he wished his sin had never existed, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant — and he loved the fruit of it.

The whisky priest, in the end, is redeemed. Greene excelled at portraying the “appalling mercy of God.” I pray Kevin, too, is redeemed. God bless him. God bless Josefina and Michelle. God bless everyone devastated by that terrible typhoon.

Violence in Melbourne

The state of Victoria is afflicted by some of the world’s most permissive and pernicious abortion laws. The annual March for the Babies seeks to redress this state of affairs. This year’s march, which occurred yesterday, was marred by violence.

There’s no television reception where I’m staying, so I don’t know how the TV news covered the protest, but there is plenty of online comment. Lifesitenews reports that MP Bernie Finn is furious with police inaction:

What we saw today was literally a public mugging on the streets of Melbourne and Victoria Police let it happen,” Finn fumed. “We had people being assaulted, being kicked, being stomped on and they sat back and watched.”

Bill Muehlenberg, who was at the protest himself, ponders why pro-choice activists, who ostensibly demonstrated in the name of freedom and choice, proved so illiberal and intolerant:

Women are harmed greatly from abortions: physically, emotionally and psychologically. Indeed, that is part of the explanation for the utter rage, hatred and viciousness of these protestors.

Many have had abortions themselves and they are really hurting because of it, and seeking to take out all this on anyone who dares to tell them that they have taken the lives of their own babies. Many are the walking wounded, and instead of getting help which so many pro-lifers offer, they get even more bitter, angry and resentful.

Several seminarians joined the March for the Babies. Here, second year seminarian Michael Buck relates his own experiences and conclusions:

It has always taken a certain degree of courage to join the March for the Babies each year, given the sort of reactions that can be expected from many people when they discover that you spent your Saturday afternoon protesting against abortion. This year, however, is the first time since I began attending the march in 2008 that I have had cause to worry for my physical safety.

The march began as usual from the Treasury Gardens, supposed to begin at 1pm but there is almost always some delay. I was running a bit late as I made the walk down from the seminary in Carlton to the Treasury Gardens, so I joined the march at the intersection of Spring St and Flinders St around 1.15pm. The march had only just begun, and, as usual, I was surprised by the impressive display of thousands of people. Interestingly, a number of people remarked after the march that they thought the numbers had decreased compared with last year, but as one woman said, there seemed to be more ‘prayers’ among the marchers this year, and that was certainly reflected in the hostility with which the counter-protesters verbally derided and physically assaulted the pro-lifers. It was very confronting to see a group of people who seemed to deliberately identify with darkness, anger and hate, yet the stories of how disarmed they often became when met with an act of charity or a gentle word from a pro-lifer shows that these people have often been deeply wounded and need to be treated with charity and truth.

The trouble began once the march reached the intersection of Flinders St and Swanston St, with the iconic Flinders St Station, Federation Square, St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and, (last but not least!) Young and Jackson’s Prince’s Bridge Hotel, on each corner of the intersection. It was a stark image that even peaceful Melbourne is a battleground between the cultures of life and death. The pro-abortion group had banded together and were physically blocking the progression of the march through the intersection and up Swanston Street as planned. The march was halted, and there was much confusion about what was going on. Blaring music and shouting were clearly audible even from my position, at about the half-way point of the marchers, where I was unable to see the confrontation at the front. Word was quickly passed back through the crowd that the pro-abortion crowd had stopped progress, that there had been physical violence, and that Bernie Finn (the Hon. Member who, I believe, organises the march) had requested that we sit down to show that we will not move until the police come and clear the way. The wait lasted around an hour, during which a large group of us prayed the Rosary, but unfortunately a number of elderly marchers, who could not sit down and were struggling to stand in the sun for an hour, had to leave the march during this time. Eventually, the order was given to turn around and redirect the march up Russell St.

It was a relief to be on the move again. As we were walking up Russell St, the counter-protesters raced along beside us to again get in the way and stop us. As we marched, they shouted profanities, insults and blasphemies, and I witnessed one woman physically stopping a marcher from continuing, screaming insults at him and pushing into him. The poor man, who looked to be in his 60’s, was clearly intimidated but to his credit did not once push back or become aggravated. Very quickly, some female marchers came to his aid and calmed the woman down.

The worst of the day’s violence occurred at the steps of State Parliament. The pro-abortion rabble tried to wreck what had been set up, and claimed the central part of the ‘stage’ which was preventing the proceedings from continuing. Eventually the police surrounded them and they were moved a small way away down into the crowd, and we could begin. Throughout the speeches (according to another seminarian who was ‘on the frontline,’ as it were, next to this group) this group at the front continually screamed curses and pushed and shoved pro-lifers. Yet the violence was worst at the back of the crowd, unfortunately close to me. Two of the counter protesters rode bicycles into the crowd, with other cronies running in behind them. It was shocking to see elderly people knocked to the ground, and others injured by the bicycles hitting them. As pro-lifers tried to stop these people, naturally by physically stopping them, the violence started. One frenzied man repeatedly took swings at the pro-lifers, but I only saw him make an impact once. Others were being shaken and shoved. Many of the pro-lifers were middle aged, some were elderly, and this violence was shocking and frightening. Of course, the police were all up the front, and by the time they got to the back the violence had wound up as pro-lifers formed a wall and blocked the pro-abortionists out.

This year is the first that I have witnessed such violence at the March for the Babies, and I must say that I was thoroughly disappointed in the policemen who did not secure the safety of these peaceful protesters. It was clear from early in the day (and indeed the night before!) that the counter-protesters were intending to take an aggressive approach, and not only did the police fail to clear the intersection at Flinders Street, but they did not prevent the physical violence. In future, I hope that more police will be present and a more careful watch be kept on the counter protesters, so that violence which so easily could have been prevented, will be.

In the meantime, yesterday’s events are a good reminder of the need for continual pressure on our government, and perhaps more importantly, prayer for the conversion of this country and the protection of mothers and their unborn children.

God bless yesterday’s pro-life marchers, and their apostolate. Please God, our country will soon relegate to history the legislated slaughter of the unborn.

God bless, too, yesterday’s pro-choice counter-protestors – especially those wounded by abortion. May they know the peace only Christ can give.

What do retired popes do?

What do retired popes do?

Fascinating. I bet this public exchange does wonders for sales of Odifreddi’s Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You!

Benedict XVI Publicly Responds to Atheist’s Critique. (Piergiorgio Odifreddi is Italy’s answer to Richard Dawkins.)

The pope emeritus concludes: “Dear professor, my criticism of your book is in part harsh. Frankness, however, is part of dialogue: Only in this way can understanding grow. You were quite frank, and so you will accept that I should also be so. In any case, however, I very much appreciate that you, through your confrontation with my Introduction to Christianity, have sought to open a dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, notwithstanding all the contrasts in the central area, points of convergence are nevertheless not lacking.”

Writing in Monday’s La Repubblica, Odifreddi said few people “can understand the surprise and excitement” you feel on receiving “an unexpected letter from a pope.” He said the letter was delivered on Sept. 3, and he waited to publish it to make sure he had Benedict XVI’s permission.

The depth of his answer was “beyond reasonable hopes,” Odifreddi said, and he was particularly surprised that Benedict read his book from cover to cover and wanted to discuss it, as it had been billed as a “luciferian introduction to atheism.”

Odifreddi said the entire 11-page letter will be included in a new edition of his book. He said that he and Benedict may disagree on almost everything, but they have “united in at least one common goal: the search for the Truth, with a capital ‘T.’”

“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.