Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin made news earlier this month for his remarks about a young priest wary of ‘the Francis Effect.’ His words as reported — and the response from Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests — were, I think, justly criticised.

To be fair, I haven’t read the Archbishop’s speech in full. It seems to me that his broader point about ideology was a good one, but his example was imprudent. Be that as it may, when Archbishop Martin speaks, I listen. His 2011 address at the University of Cambridge related to the state of the Church in Ireland, but it is equally applicable to the Church in Australia.

More recently, he shared a compelling vision of what the Church can become in the wake of the clergy abuse scandal:

The Church must not just be transformed into a place where children are safe.  It must also be transformed into a privileged place of healing for survivors. It must be transformed into a place where survivors, with all their reticence and with all their repeated anger towards the Church, can genuinely come to feel that the Church is a place where they will encounter healing.

Ireland co-hosted the 2014 Anglophone Conference in Rome, which brought together bishops from all over the world who shared best practice on how to respond to clerical abuse. I think Archbishop Martin’s introductory speech is worth reading in its entirety. Here’s another worthy extract:

The words of Jesus about leaving the ninety-nine to go out to find the one who is lost, refers also to our attitude to victims.   To some it might seem less than prudent to think that the Church would go out of its way to seek out even more victims and survivors.  There are those who say that that would only create more anguish and litigation and that it would be asking for trouble and would be more than a little ingenuous. The problem is that what Jesus says about leaving the ninety and going out after the one who is lost is in itself unreasonable and imprudent, but, like it or not, that it precisely what Jesus asks us to do.


Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke

Cardinal Burke arrived in Australia last night, and will attend several public functions during the next week.

Cardinal Burke, you probably already know, is Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, which makes him the Church’s chief canonist, after Pope Francis who is Supreme Legislator. In some ways, he could be likened to the Chief Justice of a nation’s highest court.

He is also a refreshingly outspoken prelate. You’ll never hear Cardinal Burke indulging in the beige and politically correct messaging that afflicts so many bishops. Just google “Cardinal Burke” if you doubt that.

He is primarily in Australia to address the World Congress of Families in Melbourne next Saturday. But as I said, he will also share his wisdom at several other functions in Sydney and Melbourne. I’ll meet him on Thursday, at an ACCC-sponsored event for priests.

Other notable events include:

  • Benediction at St Mary’s Cathedral. Followed by drinks in the Cathedral Crypt. 5:30pm, Tuesday 16 August.
  • Q & A at the University of Sydney. 12 noon, Wednesday 17 August.
  • Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form at St Mary’s Cathedral. 7pm, Wednesday 17 August.
  • Theology at the Pub conversation at the Pumphouse Hotel in Melbourne. 6:30pm, Friday 20 August.
  • Pontifical Mass & Confirmation in the Extraordinary Form at Bl John Henry Newman Parish, North Caulfield. 10:30am, Sunday 22 August.

For more information on the Cardinal and his visit, go to Oriens.

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my ecclesia

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my ecclesia

The setting of today’s Gospel is like a cross between Lourdes and Las Vegas.

Caesarea Philippi is like Lourdes because there was a grotto and spring there, which was a place of pilgrimage. The Greeks built a pagan Temple dedicated to Pan at the grotto.

Caesarea Philippi is like Las Vegas because it was a place of outrageous excess. Immoral rituals occurred in the temple sanctuary. Sacrifices were thrown into the cave. If victims disappeared into the water, that was a sign that Pan had accepted the sacrifice. But if blood from the sacrifice turned the spring red, that was a sign of Pan’s displeasure.

For all these reasons, “Pan’s Grotto” was also known as “the Gates of Hell,” or a portal into the underworld.

So that’s the setting of today’s Gospel. Our Lord obviously planned this interaction with his disciples. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” he asks. But he probably wasn’t very interested in the answer. That was just a lead in to his second question. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter gets it right! So Jesus then makes one of those divine calls which resonate down the ages — as significant as God’s covenant with Abraham, and His Law given to Moses.

“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my –”

We know how it finishes. Jesus doesn’t say, “I will build my Temple.” He doesn’t say, “I will build my Synagogue.” But in that same spirit, nor does he say, “I will build my Church.” In this instance, the English language betrays our Lord’s meaning.

What our Lord actually says is, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my ἐκκλησία.” “My gathering of people.” “My popular movement.”

It’s an important distinction. A growing movement has to grow and has to move. But the very human response is to build walls which contain that movement. So maybe there’s some psychological explanation to the English translation of ἐκκλησία. “Church” doubles as our Lord’s assembly, and the buildings in which they gather. Strictly speaking, an ἐκκλησία is a constant work in progress, but a church is a finished structure.

This contrast was underlined at an Evangelisation conference I’ve just returned from. The whole focus of the conference was on the parish. How to inspire the churched. How to attract the unchurched. How to rebuild our Lord’s popular movement.

The conference was attended by 500 people from all over the country. Nearly ten per cent of those people came from parishes in the Ballarat diocese. This is a huge investment of people, time and money from a small diocese.

This week’s conference showed how we can arrest the Church’s decline, and get the movement growing again. In the weeks and months ahead, you’ll hear how we can do this at a parish level. You and I need only look around this church to see one symptom of the decline. There’s lots of empty pews.

We can look at our own families and see something similar. There we find people whom we love, people whom Our Lord loves, people who love our Lord, but they’re not going to Mass. It’s discouraging. It’s disheartening. It can foster something like the Church’s decline in our own hearts.

But today’s Gospel reminds us that the Church Jesus built isn’t about walls and structures. It’s a popular movement. A work in progress. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

How to evangelise effectively

How to evangelise effectively

By all accounts, the Catholic Voices workshop was one of the standouts of yesterday’s Proclaim Conference. I was not there myself — there were lots of great workshops, which I’ll blog about in future — but a good number of Ballarat delegates attended, and they were impressed.

The workshop’s title — ‘How to explain your faith without raising your voice’ — tells you everything you need to know about its contents, and derives from a similarly-titled book by Austen Ivereigh, co-founder of Catholic Voices in the UK.

The good news is that similar workshops are now available for schools and parish groups. At present, CVA has not expanded beyond its base in Victoria, so the workshops are advertised for parishes in Melbourne and schools in Victoria. However, I’m sure the team will field enquiries from schools and parishes further afield.

Catholic Voices has produced a simple brochure which describes the workshop:

I think the feedback from a participant in Chelsea sums it up:

“When Catholic Voices came to our group I didn’t know what to expect. I was so inspired by this professional and practical presentation. It is our responsibility to evangelise our families, our friends and the people we meet. Catholic Voices has given me the tools to do this with compassion, joy and love. This way of speaking is in line with Pope Francis’ call for every Catholic to be a witness. This presentation must be given in all parishes and groups!”

Proclaim Conference

Proclaim Conference

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has organised a national conference on the new evangelisation. The goal is to get a whole of leaders together and focus on how the parish can evangelise.

This focus on the parish is very good for me personally. I’ve long been dubious of the relevance of parishes. My adult faith was nurtured through chaplaincies, youth groups, and new movements. The parish didn’t play a part at all. Apart from that, people are much more mobile now and geography no longer defines community. As the Church’s resources diminish, I’ve wondered if we shouldn’t focus our energies on new apostolates, organise ourselves in new ways, and dispense with the parish model.

The Holy Father thinks otherwise:

The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community.

Evangelii Gaudium, 28.

So in personal terms, Pope Francis has issued a challenge, and this conference gives me the means to respond.

Today’s keynote speakers were Fr Michael White and Tom Corcoran, co-authors of Rebuilt: Awakening the Faithful, Reaching the Lost, and Making Church Matter. The book relates the authors’ successes and failures in rejuvenating their modest parish in Maryland. It’s great reading, and I’ll review it in depth some time.

I number among the 44 delegates from the Ballarat diocese — a cohort which constitutes 9 per cent of the total conference attendance of more than 500 people. This is a huge investment of people, time and money from a comparatively small diocese.

Conferences like this generate a great deal of practical wisdom and enthusiasm, but it can quickly dissipate when participants reinsert themselves back into the daily grind. The fact that Ballarat has sent so many people will hopefully mitigate that pattern. I have high hopes that we can return home, share what we have learnt, and effectively apply it. With God’s help, parishes all over the diocese will be blessed and renewed.

I hope and I pray.

Cinema and evangelisation

Cinema and evangelisation

Blogging occasionally offers unexpected side-benefits. I’ve just watched a full preview of The Identical — a film which won’t be released in US cinemas until September. Who knows when it will hit Australian screens?

All I have to do in return is write a review. Not an advertisement or an endorsement, but an honest review. Sweet!

I’ll write the review some other time. First, I want to consider the marketing of this film. The Identical was described to me as “a Christian film,” which in my mind conjures unfortunate and unwanted associations with Fireproof and Courageous. The production values of those films meet Hollywood-standards, but the acting is mediocre, and the writing is very heavy-handed. I’d call it “excruciating in its preachiness.”

To clarify, Fireproof and Courageous are movies I enjoyed. I would consider showing them in a parish setting. But I wouldn’t show them to secular friends anymore than I would bash them over the head with my bulky Jerusalem Bible, or hand them The Catechism of the Catholic Church as recommended reading.

There’s smarter ways to evangelise secular friends. I’ve often recommended C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters — the book and the radio play — as a user-friendly introduction to supernatural outlook. In the past six months, I’ve given away several copies of Matthew Kelly’s Rediscover Catholicism. And I’ll never forget the life-changing impact St Josemaría Escrivá’s The Way had on me, which is why I’m always ready to share that book with others.

Movies can evangelise too. By that, I mean they can sow seeds. Subtly. In a way foreign to Fireproof and Courageous.

Of course, the danger of subtlety is that the message can become so subtle that it is lost. Don Jon is a case in point. A year ago, I was lauding the film — albeit cautiously. Since then I’ve read enough reviews to know that Don Jon is part of the problem it claimed to critique, and I don’t regret its aborted release in Australia.

The Identical, however, is a much more successful effort at subtle and effective evangelisation. Again, by that I mean it can sow seeds, presenting the Christian faith in a positive light, and engaging in the big issues which faith tackles. Ain’t nobody gonna convert after watching this movie. But they’re not going to sin either, which really is something when you consider the moral sewerage Hollywood retails these days.

The beauty of The Identical is that it meets Hollywood production values and it has a superb cast of recognisable and talented actors and its Christian themes are universal. That’s the genius of Christianity at its best, of course. It speaks to the universal human condition.

Consider this trailer, which is cut for secular audiences.

And then consider this “faith trailer,” promoting exactly the same film:

Both trailers do justice to the film they represent, but they’re a fascinating study in contrasts.

Receiving Communion 101

Receiving Communion 101

Kids never cease to amaze me. I’m speculating, because the option was never proposed to me, but I reckon when I was in grade three, receiving communion on the tongue would have horrified me.

In contrast, the children I’m presently preparing for communion seem to prefer it. With just a few weeks to go, we practised how to receive holy communion today. St Cyril helped out:

Make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen.

I’m conscious of kids not liking wine, and making faces after tasting it, so we also tasted some altar wine today. The reaction was precisely what I expected. “Yuck!”

“Even if you don’t like the taste,” I told them, “remember that it won’t really be wine at Mass. It will look the same and taste the same, but it will be the Precious Blood of Christ. You don’t have to receive from the chalice, but I think it would be a wonderful thing to receive our Lord’s blood on your first communion day.”

So then the negotiations start. “Can’t we dip the bread —” (Fr John clears his throat) “— I mean, can’t we dip the body of Christ into the chalice?”

I guess someone, somewhere, had seen that practice. So I explained to the children that the Catholic Church doesn’t allow that, because the Precious Blood might drip onto the floor. “But in some places,” I added, “the priest dips the host into the chalice, and then he places the Eucharist on your tongue.”

That intrigued them. They all wanted to try it, and having tried it, most of them seemed to prefer it.

I promised them a funny video next week, which explains the dos and don’ts of receiving communion: