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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Sullivans Cove, you might remember, was recently named best whisky in the Southern Hemisphere. For very good reason, I can verify.
By happenchance, Landline this week broadcast a segment on the Tasmanian whisky industry. Fr John, a retired priest whom I live with, watches Landline every Sunday at midday, at the same time allowing himself the one alcoholic beverage he drinks each week: a shot of single malt.
I don’t watch Landline myself, but since Fr John alerted me to it, I viewed the episode on iView. Here’s the pertinent segment, which at twenty minutes is a significant time investment, but one which promises significant return. Even if you have no taste for whisky, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this clip. It’s a fascinating report on an unlikely success story.
Now lest you think I’m becoming an unbearable whisky snob, I’m also posting this clip, which I first watched in my first year at university, and which has flashed through my mind ever since, any time that I think I’m at risk of becoming a snob.
Rex Mottram — the Canadian who waves around that absurd fish-bowl of a glass — is the intentional villain. Waugh has Rex’s wife characterise him this way:
He wasn’t a complete human being at all. He was a tiny bit of one, unnaturally developed; something in a bottle, an organ kept alive in a laboratory. I thought he was a sort of primitive savage, but he was something absolutely modern and up-to-date that only this ghastly age could produce. A tiny bit of a man pretending to be whole.
Charles Ryder is supposed to be more sympathetic. He’s a semi-autobiographical portrait of Waugh after all. But I must confess I find Charles’ character almost as loathsome as Rex’s. They’re both patronising snobs, which is a defect I pray God spares me!
Here’s a new year’s resolution for you. If you haven’t already, read Brideshead Revisited. It’s a literary masterpiece. If you haven’t already, watch Brideshead Revisited. It’s a television masterpiece.
And sample a Tasmanian single malt while you’re at it. You won’t regret it.
If I had to choose a favourite Christmas carol, I’d be torn between O Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy. The former evokes the majesty and grandeur of Christ’s birth; the latter is more sentimental and maybe even childish.
Every year, it seems, someone somewhere writes an article lamenting the strong association of Christmas and children. ‘Christmas is for adults!’ they cry, ‘Forget the kiddy sentimentality!’ I get what they’re saying, but still I think they’re wrong.
Instead of wresting Christmas away from children, I think it’s better for us grownups to remember the Christmases of our childhood, and to behold Christmas again through the eyes of children.
Children are perfectly capable of recognising the significance of Christ’s birth in the midst of Christmas presents and Santa Claus. For all the time they spend admiring the Christmas tree, they’re as likely to admire the nativity scene too. And they have little trouble comprehending the idea that the small child lying in the manger is the Son of God, King of Kings, and Prince of Peace.
Apart from that, as Pope Francis recently observed, Christmas teaches us tenderness. In the same way, children teach us tenderness. So seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child amplifies that lesson of tenderness.
That’s why I like The Little Drummer Boy. That’s why, too, I love this telling of the Christmas story, An Unexpected Christmas: