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.

Communion with the dead

Communion with the dead

Long before he came to the Vatican, Joseph Ratzinger was renowned for his prolific writing. He is probably the greatest theologian of his generation, and a remarkably gifted writer.

If Pope Francis is a genius at the prophetic gesture, then Pope Benedict is a genius at the written word. Here is something he wrote about the souls of the faithful departed:

We know that the souls of those who have died are alive in the resurrected body of the Lord.

(When a person is baptised, of course, they’re incorporated into the Body of Christ. They become a member of his body.)

Ratzinger continues:

The Lord’s body shelters them, and carries them towards the common resurrection.

In this body, which we are permitted to receive, we remain close to one another, and we touch each other.

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

When we visit a person’s grave, we are in the presence of their mortal remains, which are slowly disintegrating. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But when we receive the Living Body of Christ in the Eucharist, then we encounter the spiritual presence of the saints in Heaven, and the holy souls in Purgatory.

“We remain close to one another, and we touch each other.”

Imitating Pope St John Paul II

Imitating Pope St John Paul II

Today is the feast day of Pope St John Paul II. He is the only saint (so far) who directly impacted me in his own lifetime.

I met him once. Sort of. I was in St Peter’s Square on 6 October 2002, when he canonised St Josemaría Ecrivá. I was one pilgrim among half a million, but it was an exhilarating moment. He was my Holy Father. I loved him then, and I love him now.

Maybe my faith would be weaker without his influence. Maybe I wouldn’t love our Lord so much. Certainly, I wouldn’t be a priest. JP2 was a big factor in the discernment of my vocation.

I think John Paul impacted me because he was a saint. But not only that. He impacted me because we had a relationship, however remote.

I have many relatives and friends who weren’t impact the same way. Why? I think it’s because they weren’t in a relationship with him. Wojtyla was like a third grandfather to me, so his words and gestures and witness had a profound influence.

That’s the thing about saints. They’re not magic. Relationship is key. That’s why it’s important for you and I to become saints. JP2 may have had little or no impact on some family and friends, but we can have an impact, precisely because we are in relationship with them.

John Paul II was a rockstar pope, with a name and face recognised by millions. He was also a mystic, who apparently received extraordinary graces. In one sense he’s not the easiest guy to imitate. But in another, more important sense, we can follow his lead.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Polish pope’s press secretary, tells the story of the first time they prayed the rosary together. When they reached the first Our Father, and Navarro started reciting it, the pope raised a hand to quiet him, and explained apologetically that he liked to chant the Lord’s Prayer. Would that be okay? (Navarro, of course, consented.)

Navarro began by praying each Hail Mary at the normal pace he was accustomed to. But gradually, he fell into a much slower pace, following the lead of the pope, who almost relished each syllable. A prayer he normally prayed in 20 minutes took twice as long when he prayed it with John Paul II.

Bishop John Magee, the Irish bishop who was ‘secretary to three popes’ (Paul, JPI and JP2), relates a story which occurred just a few days after Wojtyla was elected pope. It was early in the day, before normal working hours, when Magee received an urgent request from some VIP to see the pope. He checked the chapel, then the pope’s office, the private sitting room, the dining room, and the pope’s bedroom, but the pope was nowhere to be found. In a state of mild panic, he told the pope’s Polish secretary, “We’ve lost the Holy Father!”

His Polish counterpart was dubious. “Did you check the chapel?”

“It was the first place I looked.”

“Look again. More carefully.”

Magee returned to the darkened chapel. The pope was not at his seat, or his at prie-dieu. But he was in the chapel after all: at the altar, embracing the tabernacle, crooning a Polish lullaby.

Now I’m not advocating slavish imitation of these practices. But it’s something we can adapt to our situation.

I spend a lot of time in the car, and I usually pray the rosary there. Mostly attending to the road (and kangaroos); only partly attentive to the mysteries I’m contemplating and words I’m praying. If your rosary is something similar, keep it up. It’s better than not praying the rosary.

But it’s not so hard to pray an extra decade some other time during the day, more closely imitating John Paul II’s way of praying. It must please our Lady very much.

I’m not in the habit of hugging the tabernacle — and I’m a priest, with after-hours access to churches, when no one else is around! If I had only normal access, I’d be even less eager to approach the sanctuary and make a spectacle of myself.

But still we can pay a short 5 minute visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and sing a song to the Lord under our breath, sitting in the pew. We can bring our smart phone, and show him the interesting photos we took this morning. We can repeat the exciting news a friend told us, or complain about the lousy customer service we experienced this afternoon.

I think our Lord craves that sort of easy familiarity. It’s not uncommon to speak to our closest friends for a just a few minutes, but every day, and about the every day. Why not Him?

I think if we live this way, coupling small acts of affection with more pious practices (not least frequent communion and frequent confession), we can have the impact of a JP2 on our circle of family and friends. The ‘orbit’ is much smaller, but the love of God is not.

The Synod ends

The Synod ends

The present Synod of Bishops concludes today, but I’ve already tuned out. The cynical manipulations (mostly vanquished thankfully), are all too unedifying.

I need to note, though, that I was wrong on one of my facts in my previous post. Cardinal Müller denies calling the interim report shameful. “I do not speak in that style,” he has told reporters. I quoted news reports in good faith, but I still need to apologise for misleading readers. Sorry.

For those who are still interested in the synod, Sandro Magister has an excellent rundown on its history and proceedings. (My single misgiving: he credits Cardinal Pell with “with the physique and temperament of a rugby player.” I suppose we must forgive Italians their ignorance of Aussie Rules.)

For everyone else, I recommend a post Fr Ray Blake published several weeks ago, which deftly anticipated the political shenanigans of the Synod:

What I really am beginning to resent are men with ‘ideas’ (Francis’ ideologues?) but who never seem concerned about Christ or the Gospel or holiness or ultimately Eternal Life, who turn the Church into a debating chamber. I hate their squabbles, I detest their clever solutions. The spiritual life is about muddling through, the muddle is the wound of concupiscence, I just wish we had men who recognise the muddle for what it is and point to Christ as our hope but no, it is about clever schemes to deal with the previous clever schemes that have got us into the mess we are already in. Why do so many of our Bishops and senior clergy sound like Enda Kenny or Nick Clegg rather than Christ? Why the strong reek of the politician?

Thanks to Cardinal Pell and others, transparency won the day at the synod. But behind-the-scene machinations will continue to afflict the Church. Fr Blake’s post is a nice antidote.

Lessons from the Synod debacle

Lessons from the Synod debacle

“How,” I’ve often wondered, “was the Second Vatican Council so artfully reinvented, that the very bishops who attended the Council implemented changes in its name which they had never envisaged?”

Books have been written answering that question, and I don’t think the answer is settled even now. But there’s another question — a related question — which I think is being definitively answered at this very moment.

“If the Council were to occur today could it be manipulated and reinterpreted as it was in the 60s?”

I’ve suspected not. In the first place, the media is much more democratic these days. It was possible, at the time of the Council, to mould and control a media image. But the abundance of independent media voices — especially online — now makes that impossible. Just ask any government, anywhere. (North Korea excepted.)

In the second place, within the Church unquestioning obedience is a distant memory. At the time of the Council, if the local bishop made a decision, priests would faithfully communicate and execute that decision, and the vast majority of lay faithful complied. That doesn’t happen anymore. Not in the West, anyway.

The present Synod of Bishops, which has become something of a debacle, proves these points. I think there was an attempt to manipulate the synod, just as the Council was manipulated, but it hasn’t worked.

Proceedings of the present synod are closed to the media: an unprecedented innovation which enables the General Secretariat to control information flow. Synod Fathers are unable to publicise the speeches they table, but they’re free to speak to journalists outside session. So they have — and many have openly criticised the control of information.

Following convention, Synod Fathers elected representatives to draft the synod’s final report. In another unprecedented innovation — which as pope he is entitled to do — Francis appointed six of his own nominees to the task. But the official news bureau of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference underlines the political significance of this intervention:

The fact is worrying those who want to maintain the current discipline of the Church regarding these issues, considering that all the persons named by the Pope are of a liberal tendency, unlike Erdö.

In yet another unprecedented innovation, the General Secretariat has published an interim report. And this is where the attempts at manipulation have really unravelled. The report is, to say the least, problematic — both in its content, and in the fact that it doesn’t represent the synod. Archbishop Gądecki, who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference, has called it unacceptable. Cardinal Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has called it “undignified and shameful.”

But the most damning evidence of attempted manipulation? During the press conference which followed the report’s release — a press conference which left at least one Catholic journalist unedified — Cardinal Erdö, who is charged with officially speaking for the Synod Fathers, handballed a controversial question to his assistant, effectively disowning a document bearing his signature:

The Hungarian cardinal […] gave the floor to Mgr. Forte because, he said, “he who wrote the text must know what it is talking about.”

I have only quoted the misgivings and criticisms of Synod Fathers. A cursory glance at the Catholic blogosphere will reveal even greater disquiet among disinterested observers. Much of the online commentary is overblown and hysterical because the Internet is a hot house of wild opinion and speculation. But even so, the online response demonstrates that resistance to the attempted manipulation is widespread and savvy — a phenomenon which wasn’t present 50 years ago. If the Internet had existed during the Second Vatican Council, I think the implementation of that Council would have been very different.

On pilgrimage

On pilgrimage

In a first for this blog, I’m posting from 30,000 feet in the air, somewhere above the north west coast of Australia. I’m about halfway through a flight to Singapore; from there I fly to Dubai; from there I fly to Madrid.

Don Alvaro Portillo will be beatified next Saturday, and I’ll be there! I don’t think I’ll be blogging much, though, until my return to Australia next week.

The mother of a priest

The mother of a priest

Three years ago today, at the conclusion of my ‘First Mass,’ I placed flowers before an image of Our Lady, and consecrated my priestly ministry to her Immaculate Heart.

But immediately before that, I presented my own mother with a special gift. The previous day, the bishop had anointed my hands with the Oil of Chrism. I used a specially bought cloth (an embroidered purificator, I recall) to remove the excess oil from my hands. It was this cloth, perfumed by the Chrism, which I presented to Mum after my First Mass.

This custom is the modern variation of an old and venerable tradition, wherein a newly ordained priest presented to his mother his manitergium.

The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) is a long cloth that was used in the preconciliar rite of ordination. It was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the Bishop anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism. The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites.

The manutergium (from the Latin manu+tergium = hand towel) is a long cloth that was used in the preconciliar rite of ordination. It was wrapped around the hands of the newly ordained priest after the bishop had anointed his hands with the sacred Chrism. The purpose was to prevent excess oil from dripping onto vestments or the floor during the remainder of the ordination rites.

According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. When she is buried, the cloth is placed in her hands. In the case of an open coffin, it serves as a reminder that one of her sons is a priest — a rare honour given to few.

The practice also evokes a pious legend, which imagines that when the mother of a priest finally meets our Lord face to face, and is asked that fateful question — “Did you love me?” — she can reply in the affirmative, presenting as part of her case, her Chrism-fragranced hands. This demonstrates that she loved our Lord so much, that she gave to him one of her sons, to serve him as a priest.

The literal details of that legend are of course superstitious, but I don’t think the gesture can be reduced to superstition. I think the presentation of the manutergium recognises and honours something profound. Not being a mother myself, I can’t very well describe it. (Perhaps I should ask my mum!)

In the meantime, we can consider this very moving footage from the ordination of three priests in Melbourne last June. If pictures tell a thousand words, then a motion picture must tell millions.

This video shows Fr Michael Kong, Fr Matthew Baldwin, and Fr Vinh Nguyen processing out at the conclusion of their ordination, and receiving the congratulations of their brother priests and seminarians. Then it cuts to Fr Michael blessing his mother, who is deeply, deeply, moved. That scene speaks volumes, I imagine, to what every woman of faith experiences, when her son becomes a priest.

H/T Bucky.