Duties of a priest

Duties of a priest

I attended an excellent seminar today on school governance and the principle of subsidiarity.

Put very simply, subsidiarity is the grassroots antithesis of centralisation. Wherever possible, higher authorities and larger collectives should not take over the tasks of smaller authorities and collectives, but rather help them (Latin: subsidio).

So, by way of example, it’s not the government’s business to to bring up children, but the family’s. The state should never use its power to replace parents, but instead use its power to assist parents.

The presenter at today’s conference, Dr Alessandro Colombo, is an expert in the theory and application of subsidiarity, particularly in the European Union. He suggested, quite convincingly, that the Catholic education system in Victoria is a remarkable model which exemplifies subsidiarity and deserves world attention.

There are many practices which contribute to this. Public education funds are distributed and managed not by the state, but by the Church. Another significant practice, which distinguishes Victorian Catholic schools not only from state schools, but also Catholic schools in other states, is the system of governance.

In the first place, Catholic principals are invested with a lot of authority, delegated to them by the canonical administrator. In contrast, the governance of public schools is highly centralised in the Education Department, and principals have little governing authority.

In the second place, parish schools in Victoria are governed by the parish priest or similar canonical administrator, who is typically close to the ground. But the administration of parish schools in New South Wales — and I don’t know how many other states — is conducted by the diocesan education office.

The NSW system is canonically irregular, but it does free priests from administrative duties, allowing them to spend more time on pastoral ministry. As a seminarian, I was all for it. Priests are called to be ministers and pastors, not business managers!

But now I’m not so sure. Firstly, the priestly office is three-fold: teaching, sanctifying and governing. I was too hasty in reducing administration to a distraction from priestly ministry. Secondly, the centralisation of school governance flies in the face of subsidiarity. In the scheme of Catholic social teaching, diocesan offices should help parishes to govern their schools, not take over the task themselves.

The key to effective priestly ministry, I have concluded, does not subsist in the surrender of administrative duties, but in efficient and intelligent collaboration with parishioners.

And, with impeccable timing, the Holy Father reminded me just this afternoon that my first duty is to foster union with God by prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, daily Mass and frequent confession:

On abortion

On abortion

Last Wednesday — on the Feast of St Joseph — a friend reported on a pro-life prayer vigil she joined outside the East Melbourne abortion clinic on Wellington Parade.

I’m reproducing it here, because it gives an interesting and non-threatening perspective on the protesters’ actions and motives.

40 Days for Life praying outside the abortion mill. Two of us, Peter P, already clocking up 1 1/2 hours, then we’re joined by Trudi. Very strongly inspired to pray unceasingly, no chatting whatsoever, do not retort or respond to taunts and do not stop praying for one minute.

First a young woman looking like a MarchinMarch icon, going past several times yelling “You make me sick”.. then gleefully reappearing with a bongo drum. She sits down on the entrance planter opposite us and starts rapping loudly about “choice .. f..’in this and f…’in that. Abortion’s good, etc.” We keep praying steadily; the Glorious Mysteries in honour of Glorious St Joseph.

After a minute her voice starts to go croaky, she screeches, voice wobbles, then she takes off in a hurry. We keep praying.

Two police arrive, go into the clinic. We keep praying.

Ten minutes later another policewoman arrives, follows first policeman and woman. They come out and stand in front of us. We are praying the Stations of the Cross. We finish the station and they apologise for interrupting us. Inform us there has been a complaint by a pregnant woman claiming to be upset by us, abused by us.

No, I say, we have been praying only – not speaking one word to anyone. But a young woman was shrieking and drumming about abortion earlier… maybe pregnant woman upset by her? They ask our names. I say, not doing anything wrong, right to be here, blah blah blah (For crying out loud – babies being slaughtered and they interrogate pray-ers!!!)

Policewomen and man depart.

We continue praying. No, no, no chat. You stop and chat, you have dropped your weapons and God goes. He is there when two or three gathered together in His Name – not when they’re chatting…

Along comes a female who stands right up to us, cool as a cucumber, cursing, lying, swearing, profanities, the usual. We keep praying, eyes down. After 10 seconds she goes. The demons cannot stand prayer, you see.

Respond to these people and they love it. You stop praying, God goes, you are defenceless and they have won.

One hour of penance, but it’s prayer and Glorious St Joseph, whom we have invoked and dedicated this hour to, which has put up a strong shield around us and sends the demons packing.

Meanwhile, MercatorNet has posted a great article on how a crisis pregnancy is dealt with in Downton Abbey, and how things have changed since then, and how they have stayed the same.

I watched the first series of Downton Abbey (and enjoyed it immensely), so I know enough about the characters for this to interest me. Still, you don’t need to know the series the appreciate the video here.

On the other hand, if you do know the series, and you wish to avoid spoilers, don’t watch the video, and don’t follow the link: Downton Abbey and abortion rights.

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.

Good choices, bad choices

Good choices, bad choices

Lent is the season of penance and conversion, so this a great time for children to celebrate their first confession.

In our parish, children do this in grade three. It’s a challenge to prepare them in a way that resonates right now, and also equips them to recognise in the future the value in examining one’s conscience, naming one’s sin, requesting God’s mercy and healing, and all the other ideas and practices which inform the complex concept of Christian conversion.

The best starting point, I think, is always sacred scripture. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) In my experience, children especially like, and respond to, the story of Zacchaeus, and the parable of the prodigal son.

It’s also good, I think, to situate sin and conscience in the context of good choices and bad choices. Am I right in thinking that “good choices” is something children either intuitively learn, or their parents and peers teach them, even before the school years?

In any event, here are two YouTube clips which lend themselves to this idea of good choices and bad choices. I don’t know how pedagogically valuable the first clip is, but it’s certainly entertaining, and illustrates a point the kids are already familiar with.

The second clip is a real godsend. I vaguely recall a friend (then a teacher, now a seminarian!) sending me a similar clip a few years ago, which he used in class to illustrate supererogatory charity — that is, love that goes “above and beyond the call of duty.” The big difference is that the former clip was American, and this one — filmed just last week — is Australian:

Turns out, Brendan’s generosity is even more impressive than the newsreader makes out. You can read the details here: Is 8-year-old baseball fan Brendan the nicest kid in Australia?

TV mass: First Sunday of Lent

TV mass: First Sunday of Lent

More parishioners watch Mass For You At Home than I imagined.

I’m really not a morning person, and since my Sunday routine allows me to sleep until 7am, I’m fast asleep when Mass is broadcast. Not so for many parishioners, several of whom asked me before Sunday Mass began if I was going to deliver the same homily I gave on TV! Fortunately, I had resisted that temptation (boom boom), and prepared something quite different.


I’m absent from TV screens for several months now. You won’t see me again until the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

However, I hope to blog again as soon as tomorrow!

On temptation

On temptation

The saints know more about temptation than you and me. Well, they know more than me, anyway.

It seems a little counter-intuitive at first. Shouldn’t good people know less about temptation? But of course, as soon as you consider the matter, it becomes clear that the very opposite is true. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

As C.S. Lewis noted:

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Maybe it’s no accident that the temptation of Jesus features so early in the Lenten season. Four days in, and many of us have already fallen; we’ve already broken our Lenten discipline.

This isn’t all bad. A lapse in our fast can foster humility, which is “the reason for the season.” More importantly, a fall is an occasion to “begin again,” which is the great secret of sanctity. The more practice we have “beginning again,” the holier we become.

We might see that Jesus resisted temptation, and become discouraged that we are not so strong. But that’s the point! We’re not Jesus. We’re not perfect. We need a Messiah.

Maybe, even as we pray to be delivered from temptation, we should also be grateful for temptations. They can increase our dependency on the Lord.

In the words of St Paul, “when we are weak, God is strong.”