Story-telling by chocolate

Story-telling by chocolate

Every family has its own traditions. According to today’s Gospel, the Holy Family of Nazareth travelled to the holy city of Jerusalem every year to celebrate the Passover.

Closer to home, and to the present, my own family exchanges gifts straight after Christmas lunch. But before that, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree and sings a few hymns and happy birthday to Jesus, to focus everyone’s attention on the reason for the season.

As readers know, I introduced a new custom this year – the story of the First Christmas told with chocolate – which was successful enough, I think, that it will become a new tradition.

I know some readers ran their own ‘experiments’ in the last few weeks, applying the ‘chocolate script’ in many ways. Here are the applications I’ve heard about:

  • Gifts for the King. As the story is narrated and each chocolate is named, it’s placed before the manger. This is a nice reminder that just as the Magi presented gifts for the newborn King, so can we. Not so much chocolate as kindness, forgiveness, joy in face of adversity.
  • Fill the gap. The chocolates are piled in the centre, and as the story is told, the narrator pauses at the naming of each chocolate. Whoever correctly identifies the chocolate wins it. 
  • Links in a chain. The story is divided into parts, each placed in a bag or box with a chocolate. Each person reads their portion, which ends just before a chocolate is named, and the next person opens their bag to find the chocolate, and the next part of the story. People can start guessing which chocolate comes next.
  • Treasure hunt. The chocolates are hidden in the garden. As the story is narrated, contestants have to correctly fill in the gap, and then be the first to find the named chocolate. (This is maybe not so good in a heat wave!)
  • Pass the parcel. A variation on the links in a chain. Each layer of the parcel contains one of the chocolates and part of the story. The portion of the story stops just before the next chocolate is named, so people can try guessing the coming chocolate before the layer is unwrapped.

This chocolate script is surprisingly versatile. Add your own application of the script if it’s not already covered.

The Visitation

The Visitation

Luke tells us in today’s Gospel that Mary went as quickly as she could to Elizabeth’s. Did you notice that? Mary was a teenager when all this occurred. Like all young people, she was excited and wasted no time.

It’s a good reminder for us to foster spiritual childhood. To cultivate the enthusiasm and the generosity of youth.

When I was a teenager, I remember thinking that it must be easier for old people to be holy. I knew then (as I know now) lots of old people who were holy. So I thought holiness is like experience and wisdom. It comes with age.

But now that I’m older, and a little bit wiser, I know that’s not true. I know that young people can perform heroic feats of holiness. Great acts of generosity towards God and towards their neighbour. Young people are idealistic, and demanding of themselves, and so generous. Again and again at Adelaide’s Catholic Youth Festival a few weeks ago, I was moved by the generosity of the young people I was with, some new to the faith. They are willing to give everything to God. To give everything in service of their neighbour.

But what about us? As we get older, it’s easy to become complacent. We can become attached to small pleasures; unwilling to offer sacrifice. So here we have the example of our Blessed Mother — a teenager — who hastens to Elizabeth without delay. We can ask her to pray for us in these final days of Advent, that we can share her youthful spirit of service.


And then we have the example of Elizabeth and John. The unborn baby leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. I imagine every mother here can confirm the veracity of that tale.

Doctors confirm that babies recognise familiar voices, and respond to their environment well before they are born. Moreover, the bond between a mother and her child is profound. John would have literally shared his mother’s joy. The emotions which moved Elizabeth moved him too. And vice versa.

So Elizabeth and her child share each other’s joy. Please God, we’ll each have the opportunity on Christmas Day to share the joy of family and friends. And what a blessing, if like Mary and her child, we can be a source of joy. So we can ask that favour of our Blessed Mother too. That she prays for each of us, that we can be a source of joy to others.


Today’s prayers, today’s readings, these last days before Christmas all point us to the wonder of the Incarnation. The scandal of the Incarnation.

God became one of us. God assumed our human nature, so that he could redeem us in and through our humanity. And then he asks us to assist him. To become co-redeemers. To offer our own humanity — the daily humdrum of life; small sacrifices; moments of joy — for the salvation of the world.

Christmas invites us to contemplate the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. In the history of the Church, some mystics have suggested that the Lord’s sacred humanity is like a diving board, which allows us to plunge into the mystery of God. Into the wonder of the Trinity: Father, Son and Spirit.

But St Teresa of Avila — one of history’s greatest mystics, a Doctor of the Church — rejects that idea. The sacred humanity of Jesus, she says, and the scandal of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christmas — none of this is a “diving board” we leap from. It’s not something we leave behind. It is the ocean we swim in when we are immersed in God.

Mary carried God in her womb. She nursed God in her arms. And at this very Mass, we can hold God in our hands or receive him on our tongue. Because the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.

Chocolate Christmas

Chocolate Christmas

The genius of Santa Claus is that he builds up children’s anticipation of Christmas. They really look forward to the day. “Nine more sleeps until Christmas,” and all that.

So those presents under the tree on Christmas morning not only evoke the gifts which the wise men presented at Bethlehem; they also provoke the excited expectation which must have captivated Mary and Joseph. It’s good practice for an adult approach to Advent.

The downside of Santa is that he can distract from the religious meaning of Christmas. The North Pole and presents can easily overshadow Bethlehem and faith. So Christian families everywhere deliberately refocus attention on the Nativity on Christmas Day.

In our family, the exchange of Christmas presents after lunch is always preceded by three or four Christmas carols, and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. It works — I grew up a believer, didn’t I? — but this year, I’m going to experiment with an additional item, which places the scriptural account of Christmas front and centre:

The Story of the First Christmas, told with Chocolate!

The story of the first Christmas, told with chocolate!

Basically, I’m proposing a novel excuse to recite the scriptural account of the Lord’s Nativity. Here’s a quick example:

In the days of Caesar Augustus, a census was called which counted every man in the civilised world. So Joseph and Mary set out from Nazareth to Bethlehem, following a familiar but Rocky Road.

Right. I deftly inserted the name of chocolate into the narrative!

Right. I deftly inserted the name of chocolate into the narrative!

I didn’t invent this idea, but I’ve refined and improved it, so that:

  1. the chocolate featured is available at Australian supermarkets;
  2. all mention of chocolate occurs at the end of a sentence; and
  3. the narrative hews closely to the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

You can download my version right here. If you print it at 100% scale on both sides of an A4 sheet, you’ve got yourself a formatted booklet.

This year, I’m collaborating with my three young nephews, who will each have one third of the chocolate cache. When I name one of the chocolates in their possession, they have to jump up, chocolate in hand, and repeat the name. That should keep everyone listening.

Maybe in future years, we can pile the chocolates in the middle of the room, and people who want a particular chocolate bar have to be the first to correctly fill in the gap when the narrator pauses. A contest like that can also guarantee that people listen the story.

We’ll see how it lands this year. Why not try it yourself?

(NB: my nephews don’t read this blog, but some of their aunts and uncles do. The boys intend to surprise the family, so don’t tell them you saw it here first!)

Grace abounding in Adelaide

Grace abounding in Adelaide

Halfway through the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in Adelaide, and I must say, it is outstanding.

I travelled with a group of seven young Catholics from my parishes, and they are enjoying themselves immensely. More than once I have heard them remark how impressive it is – and surprising – to see so many people their own age, who know their faith and love God.

Nearly 4,000 people are attending the festival; most of my pilgrims come from towns with populations in the hundreds. So they’ve never seen so many Catholics in one place before, much less young Catholics.

I remember moving to Melbourne at age 18, and the shock of encountering my peers at church. Not only were they coming to Mass, they were going to confession, and spending time in Eucharist adoration, and constantly deepening their faith. This had a huge impact on my own faith, and I can see seomething similar occurring in my pilgrims.

The formation has been excellent. The plenary sessions, which everyone attends, are a fast-paced blend of music, prayer, and formation, where the bishops feature heavily. Today every participant found rosary beads on their seat, and Fr Rob taught them to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. (His musical version is the best.)

My group has gone to workshops with international speakers like Steve Angrisano and Jason Evert, who have blown them away with their knowledge, and humour, and passion, and empathy. But it’s a local act who has attracted the greatest praise from my pilgrims. Sr Hilda Scott OSB is a captivating story-teller and brimming with wisdom, but it’s her evident love of God which makes her one of the most powerful teachers I’ve ever seen. Remarkable.

But the heart and soul of the festival is here:

The Eucharistic Adoration chapel

The Eucharistic Adoration chapel

Confessionals in the adjoining room

The adjoining Reconciliation chapel

My good friend Fr Michael Romeo is co-ordinating 17 hours of Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession. It’s here, in these two spaces, that I hope and pray ACYF participants deepen their confidence in Jesus, and their love for him.

Over the past day and a half, I’ve answered many questions, and shared many conversations, and witnessed many acts of Providence which have encouraged my pilgrims and many others to encounter the Lord in the sacraments.

Please keep everyone at the ACYF, and especially its participants, in your prayers.

Death of a missionary

Death of a missionary

Today is the Feast of St Andrew. It is also the anniversary of my Grandma’s sister.

On 30 November 1964, Connie Gladman — better known as Sr Mary Rosina, a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart — was murdered in Papua New Guinea.

I have visited PNG twice, and on both occasions I have visited Aunty Connie’s grave and met with people who knew her. I was also able to piece together the remarkable story of her death.

Magien, New Britain

Soon after 8:00, on the morning of 30 November 1964, Sr Rosina left her convent in Turuk and boarded a boat to Magien, a village on an island just off the coast of New Britain.

The Catholic mission of Turuk was only ten years old. The apostolic work was hard and discouraging. The local people were happy to benefit from the missionaries’ educational and medical services, but they were apparently indifferent to the Catholic faith. A week earlier, Sr Rosina had remarked on the mission’s slow progress.

“I would suffer anything,” she said, “to see the situation changed here.”

Sr Rosina was a trained teacher and a supervisor for the Department of Education. The primary school at Magien was staffed by indigenous teachers. It was her task to assess the teachers’ classroom performance and to conduct external examinations of the students.

Before Sr Rosina left the convent, she made some curious arrangements. She stripped her bed of its linen because, she said, she would sleep in the parlour that night. And she organised a substitute teacher for her afternoon classes on the mainland, even though she was due back in Turuk for lunch.

Sr Rosina’s behaviour on the voyage to the island was also unusual. She was normally gregarious, and made a point of drawing conversation out of the shy local girls who accompanied her. Today, however, Sr Rosina was silent, apparently preoccupied with prayer.

Sr Rosina arrived at the Magien school in time for morning assembly, after which she seated herself at the back of the classroom, pencil in hand. The children were at work, the teacher at a cupboard — his back turned to events — when a local man suddenly jumped through the window behind Sr Rosina. A child’s gasp caused the teacher to turn around and confront a horrifying scene. He watched helplessly as the intruder swung an axe into Sr Rosina’s neck three times, severing her spinal cord.

The children and their teacher ran from the classroom, screaming hysterically. “Rapui has killed Sister! Rapui has killed Sister!” Rapui was a local islander who had been detained for attempted murder and only recently discharged from psychiatric care. Rapui apparently nursed a grudge against the missionaries for his cousin’s death in a Catholic hospital.

Civil authorities on the mainland quickly learnt of events, and travelled to the island in the company of several OLSH sisters. Only after police had arrested Rapui, who was waiting at the jetty brandishing a knife, could the missionaries get to the school. There they found Sr Rosina seated at her desk, pencil still in hand. The force of the blows had caused her face to strike the desk before her.

That afternoon, Sr Rosina’s body was returned to the Turuk convent. Her odd behaviour that morning now seemed vindicated — she was not available to teach that afternoon, and her body was laid in the parlour overnight, where the sisters maintained an all-night prayer vigil.

A huge crowd of locals kept their own vigil, packing the mission’s lawns, crying and praying for Sr Rosina throughout the night. The slain missionary’s body was transported to the airport at dawn. A ute was found for the task, but the locals insisted on carrying the coffin themselves. A huge funeral procession, spontaneous and unprecedented, accompanied Sr Rosina’s departure from the Turuk mission.

Extraordinary graces unfolded in the years following. One of the girls who had accompanied Sr Rosina on her last voyage to Magien discerned a religious vocation, joining the OLSH convent. She was one of many who contributed to a 10 year boom in religious vocations.

Four years after the murder, the OLSH sisters, who were at that time predominantly Irish and Australian, withdrew from Turuk in favour of the indigenous Daughters of Mary Immaculate. This was made possible only by a sudden increase in faith among the locals, which occurred in the wake of Sr Rosina’s death. The rush of religious vocations eventually dried up, but the faith of the locals, and their remembrance of Sr Rosina, never waned.

Twenty years later, a schoolboy on Magien was deeply moved by the story. He was often found sitting at the place of Sr Mary Rosina’s death, and as the years progressed, he spent entire nights there. In secondary school, he discerned a priestly vocation, and in 2003, Fr John Bosco was ordained a priest. Fr John-Bosco attributed his vocation to the intercessory prayers of Sr Rosina, and on 30 November that year – the thirty-ninth anniversary of Sr Rosina’s death – the newly-ordained priest offered a Mass of Reconciliation at the site of the murder.

OLSH sisters were present at the mass, as were relatives of Rapui. Rapui himself had died earlier that year, still under psychiatric care, and always agitated by the sight of nuns in habit.

It is conjectured by some of the OLSH sisters whom I met that the Mass of Reconciliation lifted a curse which was uttered against the islanders of Magien by residents of Turuk, who sought pagan recourse in the immediate aftermath of Sr Rosina’s death. In any event, Magien has enjoyed a renaissance of priestly and religious vocations in the years since 2003. Graces continue to flow, it seems, from that tragic and blessed event of 1964.

Originally posted 2012-11-30 13:44:41. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Eucharistic Miracle?

Wow. It’s been a while since I blogged, hasn’t it? This happens every six months or so, because as editor of The Priest, all my “spare time” at the computer is monopolised by my preparations for that august journal.

I’ll send the latest issue to the printers soon, and when I do, I’ll provide a preview here. It’s a great magazine, even if I do say so myself!

Meanwhile, this video turned up in my Facebook feed today:

This sort of thing happens to me. All. The. Time.

1. A sacred host is spoiled.
2. I place it in a covered dish of water as proscribed.
3. It does not dissolve in minutes!!
4. Over a week or longer, it slowly disintegrates.
5. It always turns red.

I don’t think this is a miracle. I think it’s just nature taking its course. I imagine other priests can corroborate this.

That said, I’m a great believer in eucharistic miracles. I hope to visit Lanciano during my Year of Mercy pilgrimage next year. I’m looking forward to that very much.

The miraculous hosts at Lanciano, consecrated over 1,000 years ago.

The miraculous body and blood of Christ, consecrated in Lanciano over 1,000 years ago.

Remembering St John Paul II

Remembering St John Paul II

In April 2005, at the time of Pope John Paul II’s death, I was only a few months into my seminary studies. The whole College assembled in the refectory to watch his funeral, but I have no memory of it.

I can picture the Book of Gospels on his coffin, blown open by the wind. And I can recall then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s evocative homily, describing the late pope standing at the window of his room in the Father’s house, bestowing a blessing upon us. But those moments are easily relived on Youtube, so it may be repeated viewings that engrained them in my memory, not a recollection of the funeral itself.


A few weeks later, the seminary cohort again assembled in the Cluny refectory, again around the big screen, to watch the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI. I remember that occasion much better, if only because a wide selection of German beers were available at the bar!

It’s hard to believe this all happened ten years ago. Some of the current crop of seminarians were still in primary school. That may not be the case for first year seminarian Andrew Kwiatkowski. I think he was already in secondary school — but only just! In this latest instalment of Corpus Christi College’s video series on the saints, Andrew recalls his own memories of the pope’s funeral, and the impact the great man had on him.

Andrew’s reflections remind me of a newly published book that one of the third year seminarians, James Baptist, has highly recommended to me: St John Paul the Great: his five loves, by Jason Evert. It is especially suited to young people, most of whom have a limited memory of John Paul II, and no attachment to him.


This book, James tells me, changes that. It fosters in a new generation of Catholic youth the sort of love and affection which my own generation had for our dear Holy Father. It’s on my reading list; add it to yours!