Fr Henry Nickel, RIP

Fr Henry Nickel, RIP

Please pray for Fr Henry Nickel, SVD, who died this morning.

Fr Henry is one of the priests who loomed large in my childhood. He was never in my own parish in Ballarat East, but he moved to the cathedral when I was nine years old, so he was a familiar priestly presence.

I long identified him with Pope John Paul II. They shared a close physical resemblance — at least to my child’s eye — and they were both Polish. Their accents, though, were very different. Fr Henry was much harder to understand. Perhaps because of that, I listened closely at his Masses.

Fr Henry always prefaced ex tempore remarks with, “My dear people,” and his homilies were liberally peppered with the same. When he preached he exhorted, so even at a young age I differentiated him from most other priests, who tended not to exhort but to instruct. Popes exhort too. Another resemblance between Fr Henry and his compatriot!

In the first month of my priesthood, I lived and worked at the Ballarat cathedral. The first weeks after priestly ordination are filled with wonder and awe. Fr Henry dined late at night, and I would often share a drink with him, which allowed me to debrief. Those conversations demonstrated his great love for the priesthood, but this was even more evident in his spirit of service and his generosity.

I would add, too, that Fr Henry was a man who “thought with the mind of the Church.” That’s not easy, because the mind of the Church is really the mind of God, and our human minds naturally settle for narrower horizons.

When Fr Henry departed Australia last year, Fr Gary Jones — another priest I remember as a child, who did live in my parish! — wrote a warm tribute. It is timely.

More competition!

At last count, eighty per cent of weddings in Australia are now conducted by civil celebrants.

That’s bad, insofar as it reflects the triumph of secularism and the reduction of Christianity.

It’s also good, insofar as it demonstrates the demise of “cultural” church weddings. Getting married in a church is now something intentional. I find that the couples whom I prepare for marriage are sincerely open to theological and moral formation. It’s a great opportunity to evangelise.

Still, I’m weary of the growing numbers who look elsewhere for services traditionally ministered by the priest. It started with weddings and funerals. Is sacramental confession next?

Apparently so, by the looks of this sign outside a key cutters in Carlton!


Simon the Pieman’s tips

Simon the Pieman’s tips

When I think of the Melbourne Cup, I think of many things: horses, jockeys and the weather! But it’s the people that make the day most memorable — like Sir John Kerr’s speech, Pattie Newton, plus Bruce McAvaney and Peter Donegan on Channel Seven.

I also enjoy the ABC radio coverage. They are there all from sunrise to dusk! Especially when the Coobeans are on! Peter Jago who makes hats!

I also like John Letts talking to the winning jockeys. Unfortunately he is not there this year. He has been sick. His horse Banjo is about 20 years old in horse age. Sam Hyland has taken on another horse this year!

Now for my tips for the big race!

I like Red Cadeaux — I know I backed it last year when it didn’t even place in the Cup. This horse has run in three Melbourne Cups and places two Seconds. He is now nine years old, and no nine year old has won the Melbourne Cup. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him, win lose or draw, back next year for another run in the Cup!

16. Brambles — Peter Moody’s most famous charge is Black Caviar. The trainer has high hopes for Brambles, and jockey Luke Nolen ran a good Caulfield Cup. I reckon Brambles can step up to the Cup’s distance and run a cheeky race.

20. Opinion — Another good trainer. Opinion is in good shape and undoubtedly ready for the Melbourne Cup. Last start was a flop, but I reckon that’ll be made up today. But everyone has opinion about the Melbourne Cup, don’t they!

10. Gatewood — Ran last year, but is in better form than last year. So Gatewood might be wiser, and go on to win the Cup.

I must add Calvaryman to the mix. Another nine year old! One for the Christians maybe. Number fifteen is Precedence, trained by Bart and his grandson. Normally wears Din Chan Tim owner colours, but that has been changed to Sir Patrick Hogan colours for the Cup. Yet another nine year old!

Plenty of tips, but are they winners? That’s another question.

Happy punting from Simon the Pieman.

Wikipedia and misinformation

Wikipedia and misinformation

Well, it’s been a long time between drinks. I haven’t blogged, or even been online, for weeks. I’m putting it down to the Easter rush, and the crash which invariably follows.

Now, I’m on holidays. In New Zealand. Cue photos of Hobbiton! Later. For now, I’m catching up on my online reading.

Tonight I’ve finally been convinced to relinquish any faith in Wikipedia. I was a staunch defender once, and a Wikipedia Foundation donor, as well as an editor. It seemed to me that Wikipedia was at least reliable on mainstream and non-controversial topics. And I believed Wikipedia would get better with time. It hasn’t. It has got worse. Meanwhile, other parts of the Internet have got better.

Search engines have given us the power to instantly uncover source material that used to take weeks of library research to find – if it was available at all. Sources can be biased, but at least with other sources you know who has written what you are reading. With Wikipedia, you do not. Everyone has an agenda, but with Wikipedia you never know who is setting it.

Wikipedia: where truth dies online.

Annunciation: 25 March

Annunciation: 25 March

The Annunciation: what a feast! Some scholars believe we celebrate Christmas on 25 Christmas because early Christians counted forward nine months from today, 25 March.

Moreover, it seems the first Christians celebrated the Annunciation on 25 March not because our Lady had recorded the date and advised the Church accordingly, but because they believed 25 March is the anniversary of Christ’s death.

A pious Rabbinic tradition holds that by God’s providence, all the great figures and prophets of the Covenant — Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, etc. — died on the anniversary of their conception. Naturally enough, many Christians surmised Jesus would be similarly favoured.

So, there’s the logic of Christmas. If Jesus was crucified on 25 March, it follows that he was conceived on 25 March, and it follows (not quite as logically, but certainly very neatly) that he was born on 25 December.

The pious traditions surrounding today’s date are fascinating, and I never tire of them. I go into more detail in a post I published this time last year.

The perils and promise of priesthood

The perils and promise of priesthood

Commenters on this blog are allowed to use a pseudonym or remain anonymous, but I do ask for legitimate email addresses.

Yesterday, Jeb Luke Mutters left two comments and a false email address, so I have declined to publish his comments in the pertinent discussion thread.

His first comment is no great loss, anyway. It’s supposed to be a joke I think, but it is not funny, and it is far from edifying.

His second comment, however, is so good that I’m posting it here, despite the false email address. It is not easy reading (though aesthetically it is beautiful poetry), but it is thoughtful and useful reading.

I suspect Jeb Luke is not a priest. No priest would corroborate the prestige and ease he attaches to priestly life. That notwithstanding, there is a lot of truth in these verses. It serves very well as an examination of conscience for priests – or for me, anyway. God forbid I do all of these things all of the time, but God knows I do some of these things some of the time, so there but for the grace of God go I.

I know a priest.
He once left seminary.
He came back because he didn’t own a car.
He hated working for a living.
He hated the idea of being ordinary.
He liked going to his mailbox for donations.
He liked feeling more important than others.
Seminary gave him this.
It wet his appetite for free things.
It made him salivate for human praise.

So he lied to himself.
So he lied to his God.
So he lied to his Church.
He murdered his conscience in cold blood.
He became a priest.
He did it for the wrong reasons.
But that was irrelevant to him then.
It’s irrelevant to him now.
On the worst days, he commutes the bad fit to martyrdom.
But that, too, is a lie.

Since ordination, he spends much time bragging.
He brags about how much freedom he has.
He brags about how well he lives.
He brags about his education.
He brags about how good it is to be a priest.
But who is he trying to convince?
He talks down to others.
He pretends to be an expert on all matters holy.
But he is not holy.
He is his own Bad Karma.

He is marred by immaturity,
He is a teething baby.
He is haunted by his sense of humor,
He misplaces his Celibacy.
But he does not call it “sin.”
He calls it “brokenness.”
He does not call it “sacrilege.”
He calls it his “struggling.”
He does not call it “hypocrisy”
He calls it “being human.”

He insulates himself from the truth.
He must.
He insulates himself from who his Christ is.
He must.
He insulates himself from who his parishioners are.
He must.
He insulates himself from who he is.
This scares him most.
So, he preaches like a detuned radio.
He drones his way around epiphanies.

This is his plan.
He dismisses the truthful.
He outnumbers them by appearances.
He wears his title like a Hitler-hairdo.
He surrounds himself with the unwise,
the uninformed,
the underdeveloped,
the cliquish,
the equally immature.
These people make him comfortable.

He promotes them under himself.
The lowly make him look higher.
The weak make him powerful.
The stupid make him smart.
They make him his own god.
And so he is.
He has attained Enlightenment.
He has entered Nirvana.
Yet, he needs to act badly.
He needs to lose himself.

He is frustrated by his priesthood.
He is frustrated by his manhood.
Together, they’re a bad fit.
There’s no escaping them.
So, he does that which makes him less priestly.
He does that which makes him less of a man.
He has to keep them separate.
He has to keep them from touching.
Together, they form a monster.
So he takes great care.

He plays with toys.
He looks at pictures.
He carries a hand puppet.
He is its voice.
He tells bad jokes.
He makes a sideshow of his faith,
He makes a circus of his priesthood.
He drowns out Christ with a calliope
This brings him
what he calls peace.

If challenged, he fancies himself a martyr.
If applauded, he facies himself a Christ.
But he is nothing like Christ.
He is nothing like the martyrs.
They suffered for truth.
He suffers because of himself.
They spoke wisdom.
He buzzes like a refrigerator.
His truth is what he decides.
He spouts off his faith like a math problem.

But it’s simpler than he makes it sound.
Pride is his god.
Selfishness is his teacher.
Opinion is his confessor.
Together, they wash away who he is.
Together, they absolve him of himself.
Together, they anoint the facade he has become.
They are his Holy Trinity.
They are all he needs.
They kill his devil.

I try not to be pessimistic on this blog, so let me counter this illuminating but cynical perspective with another, no less illuminating but much more idealistic:

This, too, serves as a good examination of conscience I think. The first time I watched it, I spontaneously asked myself, how much am I in love with God? Have I allowed myself to fall out of love? How affectionately, and how lovingly, do I pray my mental prayer?

Lent is the ideal time for self-examination and conversion. I wish you’d provided a real email address Jeb Luke, but nonetheless I thank you.