The Internet can be a wonderful thing. I’ve already described how the web connected Kevin Lee and I. Another such “stranger acquaintance” is Kevin Williams, a pro-life activist and (I’m guessing) evangelical Christian who has produced a film on abortion in the case of rape.
It is called Conceived in Rape, and through it, Williams hopes to communicate that an unplanned pregnancy “doesn’t have to be the end of a life, but rather the beginning of two beautiful lives.”
I would like to share a personal story that is what birthed this project.
About 4 years ago I had been expressing my convictions about abortion to just about anybody who would listen. I had some Christians telling me, “I believe abortion is a sin and is morally wrong — except in the cases of rape and incest. Then it should be allowed.”
I was a fairly new Christian and had yet to read a pro-life book (other than the Bible) and had yet to think this aspect out. I was quite distraught over their statements until it occurred to me that I had not simply prayed and asked God for understanding. So while driving down a lonely mountain road I prayed this simple and heartfelt prayer: “Father, what about children who were conceived in rape and incest?”
I was totally unprepared for what happened next. It felt like a river of love started flowing through me. No words were spoken, no knowledge was imparted, but I experienced overwhelming love. I wept.
As soon as I got home I got busy searching the Internet and read every testimony I could find of people who had either conceived or were conceived from rape or incest. A few days later the Lord woke me up in the middle of the night and imparted to me the absolute certainty that he is going to get these stories out to masses of people. The emphasis on God was so strong that I remember wondering if I was going to play any part in it at all.
At this point I can see that the Lord is the one who did it. I feel a little embarrassed any time I or anybody else says that I’m the producer because, I know that GOD is really the producer.
The film is an hour-long series of interviews with women (and a few men) who are either “rape babies,” or victims of rape. The full-length film can be viewed at www.conceivedinrape.com. Here’s a three-minute trailer:
Williams is also eager to have an extended interview with Ashley Sigrest widely promulgated. In her last year at high school, a classmate raped her and she became pregnant. Despite her pro-life convictions she decided to abort her child. She had hoped — as she was advised — that an abortion would permit her to put the rape behind her, and she could start her life anew.
Wrong, she says. In fact, the abortion made things worse. She describes it as “a one thousand pound weight added to the rape.” Her interview is calm, articulate, and compassionate. It may help other post-abortive women in their recovery and healing.
I contributed a guest post to Campion College’s To The Core blog this week, which I had never heard of prior to the invitation.
Moreover, I’ve only browsed the blog since I submitted my post, and it occurs to me that To The Core is a bit more academic than my musings here, or indeed my offering over there. (My piece is on St Thomas More, and will be published some time next week I think.)
It’s a great blog, which boasts a variety of contributors writing on a variety of subjects. I recommend it.
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.
For the past fortnight, I’ve asked many people, in the course of general conversation, to indicate any tips they have on the Melbourne Cup.
To my surprise, the majority of people have responded with blank stares, and explanations like, “I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year,” or “I don’t gamble Father.”
These answers, in themselves, are good! I haven’t followed the Spring Carnival this year either, or any other year. Once at university, and once again in the seminary, I had friends who threw themselves into form guides and Saturday betting, but I could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm, and in a matter of weeks even this limited interest was exhausted.
But I didn’t enquire about the racing carnival, or betting in general. I enquired about the Melbourne Cup, which is a cultural event. It’s a bit like asking someone in Grand Final week who they’re backing on Saturday. “I don’t follow a particular footy team,” or “I don’t watch TV” aren’t pertinent answers to the question, but now that I think about it, I got a lot of these responses in September, too!
I mention this not to criticise my respondents, but to highlight a cultural phenomenon. On Sunday, the parish youth group visited some of our house-bound parishioners. One of the parishioners we visited had emigrated from Holland after the war. She loves Australia very much, but she said there is one thing she has always missed: singing.
In Holland, she said, everyone sang. Even the smallest country parish had three or four choirs, of very high calibre. And every social gathering, whatever the context, incorporated singing. But in Australia, we don’t have that tradition. It’s one of the ways we are culturally impoverished. But, I would hasten to add, we have different cultural riches. The Melbourne Cup is one of them. Or it was. Now, not so much.
Maybe the culprit is atomisation. It’s not that people are too busy now, to review the field, or enter a Cup Sweep. People are always busy, and always have been. It’s just that people have no interest, and more pointedly, no compelling reason to be interested. We had more reason, once, to show interest in things that didn’t particularly appeal to us, because they united an otherwise disparate group. It gave us an opportunity to share something with people we don’t share much with.
We needed to do this — to “confect” common interests — because otherwise we didn’t share anything much with anyone, beyond our family and close friends. But that has changed. The communications revolution has connected whole worlds of people who share natural interests. For example, I can read the blogs of country priests all over the world! Technology reduces the need, I think, to cultivate commonality with the people who actually surround us.
Now, I must confess, this blog has itself become atomised. When I started it, I regularly blogged on a very broad range of subjects, from footy tipping and seminary life to English literature and French philosophy. Now, not so much. Time to revert, I think.
Here are Simon the Pieman’s tips for the big race:
- 3. Red Cadeaux.
- 9. Ethiopia.
- 12. Seville.
- 19. Simenon.
- 22. Dear Demi.
Have great Cup day! Mike Brady and Slim Dusty have both got Cup songs! Have a look on YouTube! Thank you Fr John for letting me put my tips on your blog!
I’m gratified to see that Simenon gets a mention. I’ve liked his form since I first started attending to the potential Cup field a fortnight ago. Simenon started his racing career as a jumper, and the unusual length of the Melbourne Cup is especially suited to him. His odds have shortened a lot since then, but I maintain he is still underrated.
When you follow the link to www.miracolieucaristici.org, you may well be seeing the first website developed by a saint.
Miracoli Eucaristici documents eucharistic miracles which have occurred all over the world. I’m not fluent in Italian, so I can’t comment on the content, but I do know web design, and this is very good web design. All the more so, considering it is nearly ten years old, but still “feels modern.” (Most websites don’t age so well!)
The website was created by Carlo Acutis, who died of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 15. And now, according to Rome Reports, his cause for canonisation is under consideration:
Even if Carlo doesn’t pass the rigorous standards exacted by the Church’s canonisation process, his life and legacy remind us that we’re all called to be saints, and that sanctity is attainable. It can be and should be our daily goal — remembering that holiness is achieved in the little things of today, not in the great maybes of tomorrow.
(Another lesson: somewhere on the web, there is a website that has been developed by someone who will one day be canonised. Hopefully there are many such websites, and many canonisable saints in our midst!)
Today is the anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s papal installation. This time next year, it will be the feast of St John Paul II.
22 October is also the anniversary of my ordination as a deacon, which is the day I committed myself to celibacy for the Kingdom. Since celibacy was one of the things we studied and prayed about during my annual course, I’ve been thinking a lot about it.
I thought I would share some of the practical resolutions I thought and prayed about. Consecrated celibacy is peculiar to a few, but it’s easily related to the virtue of chastity, which is relevant to every Christian, whatever their state of life.
An affirmation of love
Celibacy for the kingdom is a positive affirmation, not a negative denial. It sounds cliched, but I often pray on this. The notion of self-sacrifice, however noble and heroic, is inadequate.
Speaking personally, my primary motivation is love and affection for a person. I’m doing this for our Lord, not for a collective, or for an abstraction.
The struggle to be chaste demands absolute sincerity in spiritual direction and confession. In the first place, this means being sincere with God. It compels me to recognise when my heart desires something that God does not desire. (This seldom constitutes a sin of course, but I’m talking about virtue here, not the avoidance of sin.)
In the second place this this means being sincere and speak frankly with another person, which is hard for me. I demand this of myself not only for the sake of chastity, but much more for progress in humility. I struggle with this, so I often meditate on these words of St Josemaría when I’m preparing for confession or spiritual direction:
How shall we be able to overcome our meanness? Let me make the point again because it is so important: by being humble and by being sincere in spiritual direction and in the sacrament of Penance. Go to those who direct your souls with your hearts open wide. Do not close your hearts, for if the dumb devil gets in, it is very difficult to get rid of him.
Forgive me for insisting on these points, but I believe it is absolutely necessary for you to have deeply impressed on your minds the fact that humility, together with its immediate consequence, sincerity, are the thread which links the other means together. These two virtues act as a foundation on which a solid victory can be built. If the dumb devil gets inside a soul, he ruins everything. On the other hand, if he is cast out immediately, everything turns out well; we are happy and life goes forward properly. Let us always be brutally sincere, but in a good-mannered way.
I want one thing to be clear: I am not as worried about the heart or the flesh as I am about pride. Be humble. If you ever think that you are completely and utterly right, you are not right at all. Go to spiritual direction with your soul wide open. Don’t close it because, I repeat, the dumb devil will get in, and it is difficult to get him out again.
Temperance (= moderation)
I laughed out loud the first time I read these lines from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, because I felt like I’d swallowed “the grand lie” hook, line and sinker:
[The] chief use [of excess in food] is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity. On that, as on every other subject, keep your man in a condition of false spirituality. Never let him notice the medical aspect. Keep him wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple enquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication.
If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favourable to this virtue. How they can believe this, in face of the notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we used the schoolmasters to put the story about — men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for games and therefore recommended games as an aid to chastity.
Lewis’ point is that we often tend to see virtue as the polar opposite of its corresponding vice, but this approach only encourages excess. Authentic virtue is never excessive, but always temperate. Aristotle called virtue “the golden mean” between opposing excesses. (Chastity is not the opposite of lust for example, it’s the golden mean between lust and frigidity.)
Practically speaking, I attend to the details of moderation in what I eat and drink, in my relaxation and exercise, and especially in my use of time. I seldom over-eat, but I’m easily tempted to spend too much time on a single task, upsetting my schedule and my prayer life, which typically precedes a temptation against chastity.
Devotion to Our Lady
I have a friend whose mother trained him to ask, “Would I continue watching this if the Blessed Virgin Mary was in the room?” “Would I be having this conversation?” “Would I tolerate this occasion?” I laughed when I first heard it, but I gradually find myself adopting this measure more and more.
I ask our Lady and St Joseph to pray the Rosary with me, and I commend to them my struggle to be chaste. When I started in the seminary, the Spiritual Director of the College encouraged us to look to St Joseph as a model of masculine chastity, and a powerful intercessor. It’s a good point I think.
I try to renew every day — when it is possible — the consecration and entrustment I made to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on my first day as a priest.
I’m training myself to pray the Memorare out loud whenever I am tempted against chastity. Not for myself. For someone else, somewhere in the world, who is also at that instant afflicted with temptation. My thinking is, even if I fall, maybe my prayer has helped someone else, and built up the Kingdom.
I don’t really have any explanation for why these Marian means work. No explanation based on psychology or anthropology, anyway. But they do work, that’s for sure! It’s purely supernatural I guess.
Today is the feast of St Teresa of Ávila, one of the Church’s greatest theologians and greatest mystics.
Teresa is also unusual, I think, for her eminent common sense, which really isn’t common at all. I quote her often in the confessional and in spiritual direction, and occasionally in my preaching too. I think her insights might be helpful to others only because I find them so helpful myself.
For example, when Teresa was afflicted with one too many crosses, she lamented to God:
“If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.”
This demonstrates not only a supernatural attitude to suffering, but also a good sense of humour, and an easy familiarity with God. That’s three characteristics, right there, that I aspire to in my own spiritual life.
On another occasion, Teresa was very impressed by one of her sisters’ heroic penances, and wished to do something similar. Her spiritual director, however, forbade her from doing so. Teresa complained to the Lord, and apologised. His reply, which she not only recorded but also interiorised, is one worth remembering and repeating:
“I prefer your obedience to her penances.
Teresa was a great ascetic, but she was also a person of attractive and contagious joy. So she also showed in deed what she expresses here in words:
“God save us from gloomy saints!”
(This is the sort of thing I can easily imagine Pope Francis saying.)
Long before I was in the seminary, but perhaps when I was discerning my vocation (I forget the precise context), my spiritual director, whose patience was probably tested, exclaimed:
“The closer you get to God, the simpler you become.”
I remembered this and prayed on it often. (I still do.) Much later I learnt that it came from St Teresa.
I’ll finish with one of my all-time favourite quotes, which speaks for itself:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”