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.

When the unthinkable becomes thinkable

When the unthinkable becomes thinkable

Although I’m not getting much done in the way of blogging, I’m certainly getting a lot of other things done. More on that tomorrow.

For now, why not read a much better post than I could ever write on the subject of abortion, choice, and hope.

And on the thirty-minute drive home with my mom at the wheel, the sobs continued even as I had no tears left to cry. Devastation made way to numbness the more the reality set in. And in a moment of truly facing my reality, I considered the option that Dr. Wilson had put forth. Abortion. Such an awful, horrific word it had always been to me. Until this very moment. Until it was ME. Until it was MY life interrupted. MY heart writhing in pain. MY mind in a torrent of fear and shame and despair.

This could all be gone JUST.LIKE.THAT.

Dear Young Woman, Devastated and Afraid.

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done

Maybe the greatest thing Opus Dei offers me is ongoing formation.

Formation is what Opus Dei “does”, in the same way that Dominicans do preaching, and Carmelites do contemplation, and Jesuits do teaching. All these groups do all these things, but each has its main charism and focus.

So Opus Dei does formation, which includes, in my case, a regular talk on some spiritual practice, and on one of the virtues. The topic of these talks is determined by a cycle — in other words, they aren’t tailored to a perceived need — but it’s funny how often the right talk comes at the right time. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit I guess.

A recent talk rehearsed the benefits and means of order, and good use of time. At about the same time, I was contemplating a job offer of sorts, which would require a commitment to write 800 words every three weeks. I ran it by my parish priest, who being older and wiser than me, often gives me good advice. His response? “If you take this up, what will you give up? You’ve only got finite time and energy, and you don’t want to burn out.”

I hadn’t considered this at all. It relates, of course, to order and good use of time. So the juxtaposition of that talk on order and that conversation on burnout gave rise to a resolution. Six months ago, I started reading a book called Getting Things Done. Ironically, I never got around to finishing it. But I picked it up again, and read it cover to cover.

Reading mediocre novels is like drinking bad wine. Life’s too short! So I have a rule about novels: unless it’s personally recommended to me by someone I trust, I only read classics and cultural phenomenons. In the case of classics, if a novel remains in print over several generations, it is obviously worth reading. In the case of contemporary novels, if it is storming public consciousness, it’s probably worth reading even if it’s bad, just for the sake of cultural awareness.

Without consciously deciding this, I’ve applied the same rule to self-help books. I’ve only read two in my life. Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People (1936) basically founded the genre, and certainly meets the definition of a classic. I’m glad I read it, I occasionally re-read it, and I recommend it.

David Allen’s Getting Things Done was published in 2001, so it can’t be called a classic yet, but maybe it will become one. It’s certainly a bestseller, translated into 28 languages and heralded by TIME Magazine as “the defining self-help business book of its time.” In any event, I’m committed to it now, and I must say it has already helped me foster order and be more productive.

One GTD principle is to get “stuff” out of your mind and onto paper or electronic files. That’s all stuff — be it professional or personal, urgent or optional, tasks for tomorrow or aspirations for 2020. The idea is to implement an organising system which gives your brain a break. It works. Many of the distractions that used to bother me as I was meditating before the tabernacle or praying the Rosary are now in a reliable system, so I can easily dismiss them, if they bother me at all.

Another principle is to make filing easy by dispensing with formal categories — use a simple A-Z system, and be prepared to introduce a new manilla folder with a new category name for only one item, if that’s what it takes to file everything. I’ve also constructed a “tickler file,” which is worth implementing even if you reject the larger GTD system.

Weird name, great idea. Here's a good explanation.

Tickler file: weird name, great idea. Here’s an explanation.

GTD is a system, intended to inform one’s entire life, not just professional work. It has attracted criticisms for being cult-like, too rigid, too systemic, suspiciously New Age. I’ll deal with criticisms of GTD, many of them valid, tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, in the interest of full disclosure, I recommend it. Its positives outweigh its negatives, and it has already had a positive impact on my time management and workflow. I hope and expect this will translate into more consistent blogging!

Grief, loss and presence

Grief, loss and presence

The tragic and horrific murder of eleven year old Luke Batty — killed by his father at cricket training — leaves us all speechless, I think. Except, remarkably, in the case of Luke’s mother, Rosie Batty, who has had a lot to say, and said it graciously.

It’s worth watching her extended press conference. She eloquently relates the ubiquity of domestic violence, the profundity of a parent’s love, and who Luke was. Her poise obviously belies the desolation and grief which afflicts he, but even on the subject of her grief, and what she needs right now, she is articulate and compelling.

The most famous quote of the Second Vatican Council relates to this situation.

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

Gaudium et Spes, 1

In other words, the Church asks us — our Lord asks us — to make Rosie Batty’s grief our grief, and to support and assist her.

But how do we do that? What do we do, to empathise with the afflicted? To become to them an alter Christus, another Christ?

I think in the first place, we have to be present to grieving friends and acquaintances. It’s so much easier to avoid grieving people. On the one hand, “we want to give them space.” On the other hand, we don’t know what to say. We have nothing to offer them anyway. We’ll only get in the way.

But this is wrong. Followers of Christ have to be present. “Giving them space” only increases the experience of isolation and loss.

In the second place, we have to acknowledge what has happened. We need to tell them we are sorry for their loss. We need to talk about the loss — name the person who has died; share memories. Sometimes a person might tear up, and we’re compelled to look away. We’d like to change the subject. But it’s better at that moment to listen. And sometimes “listening” means attending to the silence.

One of the greatest supports we can offer the bereaved, I think, is to mention the elephant in the room. This gives them the opportunity to share their memories and grief.

Of course there are other, pragmatic, supports. A meal. An errand. When we offer to help in these ways, we need to be specific. “Can I mow your lawn on Saturday?” “Can I bring around a meal tomorrow? It’s easily frozen.”

Now having said all that, being present and giving our time and support shouldn’t be invasive. People do need some space. And we can say the wrong thing.

“I know how you feel.”

No. We can’t know. So we shouldn’t say it.

“They’re with God now,” or “Death isn’t the end.”

These statements, of course, are true. But they aren’t always consoling. At the wrong time, they’re offensive. Talking about the resurrection too easily, and too soon, denies the reality of loss and death.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows

We can only imagine the pain and anguish of Mary the mother of Jesus, standing at the foot of the cross. It would have been easier for her to stay away — especially since she expected to see her son again on the third day. But she didn’t. Before rejoicing with her son on Easter Sunday, she suffered with him on Good Friday.

Our Lady’s faith in the resurrection wasn’t diminished by her grief. Nor is ours.

So we don’t look past the cross; we attend to it. We are present at people’s Calvary. And like Mary — who stands for the whole Church — we pray for the afflicted, and we accompany them, in their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties.

Edward Ekari, RIP

Edward Ekari, RIP

Many of my prayers and thoughts have been for Edward Ekari, his family, and the seminarians at Wagga’s Vianney College and Brisbane’s Holy Spirit Seminary. Eddie was only 33 years old when he was killed in a car crash on Monday.

I didn’t know Eddie well — we had met; we were Facebook friends — but still a story like this cuts close. I’m reminded, too, of the untimely death of Br Jason Duck OMI, whom I did know well. Whenever I come across the prayer card from his funeral, I always stop and wonder at God’s designs, and sincerely pray for Jason.

I wonder at God’s designs because a seminarian, especially late in his formation, when the question of discernment is more settled, is whole-heartedly focused on ordination. Ordination signifies the culmination of many years’ work and study, but it’s also the start of something: a new life of ministry, and also something more personal and eternal. “Once a priest, always a priest,” as the saying goes. (Cf CCC 1582, 1583.)

Once a man is a ordained, I think, the only future milestone that compares to ordination is death. I think if I was married I would look forward to the birth of my children. And the birth of grandchildren must be a massive milestone too. And then, of course, there is also the death of a spouse, which half of all married people must experience.

For a priest, I think, the measure of milestones is very different. It’d be nice to celebrate my golden jubilee one day, certainly. Fifty years of priesthood is a great thing to celebrate. But I don’t look forward to it the way I looked forward to ordination.

Is that how I look forward to death? Not in an eager I-can’t-wait-til-I-die fashion, no. But I do look forward to death as the only life-changing event that compares to ordination. Of course, dying is a very different proposition for consecrated celibates. We live a life of total dedication to the Lord, which also demands a certain detachment. We don’t have the sacred and sublime commitments — a spouse and children especially — that interfere with a married person’s death. I’m not saying that dying is any easier for a celibate, but it’s certainly less complicated.

I also look forward to death in another way. I hope I can die without regret — without looking back, and only looking forward. We can only die the way we have lived. I can only die “looking forward, not back” if I try to live every day like that.

In Eddie’s case, and Jason’s, I feel they were cheated. They aspired to holy orders, but they died before receiving them. The second milestone intervened before the first. “Too soon!” “They was robbed!” It’s ridiculous of course. Please God, both these men now enjoy the Beatific Vision, which surpasses the joys of holy orders.

But apart from that, both men were young. Eddie’s mother now has the unhappy task of burying him. I think we can all intuit the injustice of that.

Facebook users may like to visit a tribute page to Eddie.

May he rest in peace.