So I’m on my annual course this week and next, which mostly consists of study. We’re studying Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis, and doing some always useful revision of the Catechism and moral and pastoral theology.
But the annual course isn’t all work. There’s a few sight-seeing trips, and an occasional movie. I don’t watch many movies — the annual course and long haul flights is it, generally. I think this makes me more discerning, and demanding, than less. I used to persevere with average movies (— and mediocre books, and bad wine —) until the bitter end, but now I walk away much sooner. Life’s too short for bad wine. And the rest.
Hence I’m very confident that anyone who heeds my advice on this occasion will not be disappointed. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a great movie. It’s laugh out loud funny and fast paced. It evokes a sort of Harry Potter universe, wherein the kids are responsible and the adults are insane. But it’s not fantastical — it’s mostly observational humour, and occasionally absurdist.
It’s also unmistakably Kiwi. Anyone who liked Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby will love Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s much more family friendly than Gormsby, which is also a big plus. Rotten Tomatoes gives this one a very fresh score of 98 per cent. It is a very safe DVD purchase. I guarantee you’ll love it.
And — refreshingly — the trailer is very true to the movie. So here’s a useful preview.
One thing’s for sure: the 2016 US Presidential election has ruined my interest in future campaigns. Other election cycles will never be as interesting as this one.
In the meantime, though, I can enjoy reading and thinking about what’s left of this campaign. Scott Adam’s prophecy of a landslide victory to Donald Trump may not come to pass. If the lewd hot mic video in the present media cycle isn’t enough to kill Trump’s candidacy, the release of similar tapes may finish it.
Or maybe this is a storm in a teacup, which won’t impact voters who have already made up their minds. All will be revealed soon — on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, when Americans vote.
Here are my thoughts.
1. The video should surprise nobody
What Trump says in that video is gross and indefensible, but none of it is surprising. Everyone knew already that Trump is a womaniser and an adulterer. His sexual immorality is notorious, and so is his crass language. As soon as I watched the video, I recalled an article published ten months ago, wherein Trump is quoted saying something similar:
About 15 years ago, I said something nasty on CNN about Donald Trump’s hair. I can’t now remember the context, assuming there was one. In any case, Trump saw it and left a message the next day.
The quoted message, like the hot mic video, is lewd. Follow the link at your discretion.
Many people are offended by Trump’s personal values and sexual behaviour. I’m one of them. But his values and behaviour isn’t news. Trump has been a playboy since, forever. The hot mic video doesn’t bring anything new to the table. I doubt this will sway Christian voters who were already holding their nose to vote for him anyway.
That ten-month-old column makes the point well:
You read surveys that indicate the majority of Christian conservatives support Trump, and then you see the video: Trump on stage with pastors, looking pained as they pray over him, misidentifying key books in the New Testament, and in general doing a ludicrous imitation of a faithful Christian, the least holy roller ever. You wonder as you watch this: How could they be that dumb? He’s so obviously faking it.
They know that already. I doubt there are many Christian voters who think Trump could recite the Nicene Creed, or even identify it. Evangelicals have given up trying to elect one of their own. What they’re looking for is a bodyguard, someone to shield them from mounting (and real) threats to their freedom of speech and worship. Trump fits that role nicely, better in fact than many church-going Republicans. For eight years, there was a born-again in the White House. How’d that work out for Christians, here and in Iraq?
2. Much of the criticism is transparently opportunistic
I like Senator John McCain. I’ve followed his career since his presidential run in 1999, when he almost vanquished George W. Bush. I think he would have made a good president. But I think his recent conduct towards Trump is cynical and opportunistic.
The same goes for all those critics on the right, who initially endorsed Trump, only to rescind after the hot mic video was broadcast. If what Trump says on that video disqualifies his from office, then so does his myriad of public affairs and serial divorces. If Trump’s character is a problem to them, McCain and the others had no business endorsing Trump in the first place. They were either insincere in the first instance, or insincere in the second. Or, most likely, they were insincere both times.
Trump’s critics on the left, meanwhile, are hypocritical. The progressives who insist Trump’s private vices have disqualified him from public office, have previously insisted that Bill Clinton’s private vices had no bearing on his public office. But even more galling is the progressives’ pretence at offence, when most of them are moral relativists. Here’s a well-reasoned article which calls out the double standards:
For years, Christians in particular have been attacked and silenced as they’ve tried to challenge the immorality that is pervasive in today’s society. When they tell people casual sex is wrong, they get the inevitable, “You have no right to tell me what I can or can’t do.” If they oppose sexual immorality in any form, including adultery, they’re maligned as sanctimonious puritans by lovers of libertinism.
Those who are complaining about Trump today have no basis for their moral outrage. That’s because their secular amoral worldview rejects any basis for that moral judgment. Any argument they make against the “immorality” of Trump is stolen, or at least borrowed for expediency, from a religious worldview they have soundly rejected.
The faux outrage of the unapologetic architects of our cultural decline is almost enough, in itself, to compel a vote for Trump. If I could vote. Nonetheless:
3. #NeverTrumpers deserve an honourable mention
A month ago, another priest and I debated the merits of Trump’s candidacy. I think, if I was American, I would probably vote for Trump. My friend could not countenance voting for him, because Trump’s character flaws are disqualifying.
I see his point. It’s one shared by Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas, who insisted that only the most virtuous should lead the polis. Many #NeverTrumper conservatives have invoked this rationale for their position.
Joshua Mitchell put it well (again, last month, well before the hot mic video), in an excellent survey of the intellectual currents informing this year’s election campaigns. He called it ‘The Aristotle Problem’:
One can say that Trump has revealed what can be called The Aristotle Problem in the Republican Party. Almost every cultural conservative with whom I have spoken recently loves Aristotle and hates Trump. That is because on Aristotelian grounds, Trump lacks character, moderation, propriety and magnanimity. He is, as they put it, “unfit to serve.” The sublime paradox is that Republican heirs of Aristotle refuse to vote for Trump, but will vote for Clinton and her politically left-ish ideas that, while very much adopted to the American political landscape, trace their roots to Marx and to Nietzsche. Amazingly, cultural conservatives who have long blamed Marx and Nietzsche (and German philosophy as a whole) for the decay of the modern world would now rather not vote for an American who expressly opposes Marx and Nietzsche’s ideas! In the battle between Athens, Berlin and, well, the borough of Queens, they prefer Athens first, Berlin second and Queens not at all. The Aristotle Problem shows why these two groups—the #NeverTrumpers and the current Republicans who will vote for Trump—will never be reconciled.
Kudos to the #NeverTrumpers, whose criticism of Trump is consistent, and depending on the election results, may well be vindicated.
The last word goes to Scott Adams, just because his blog posts and tweets have so enhanced my enjoyment of this very long election campaign. He’s good at one-liners:
On Friday I was privileged to assist with a nine-day novena organised by the Legion of Mary.
The novena, which prayed for world peace and deliverance from the ISIS scourge, concluded with a Mass and Holy Hour celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This feast commemorates the Battle of Lepanto, wherein a Western alliance initiated by Pope St Pius V repelled an Ottoman invasion of Europe.
Here’s my sermon, which is really an historical survey of that great victory:
The Defence of Malta — 1565
Soleiman the Magnificent was the greatest sultan in Ottoman history. He reigned for 50 years, and he expanded the Empire’s borders in every direction. His greatest dream was to conquer Rome. Then history would truly judge him as an equal to Caesar. Moreover, the conquest of Rome would permit St Peter’s Basilica, then under construction, to be converted into a great mosque – just as Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia had been converted a century earlier.
It was the dream of Roman conquest which caused Soleiman to turn his attention to the island of Malta in 1565. From the harbours of Malta, the Ottomans could bombard the western coast of the Italian peninsula, Rome included. By 1565, however, Soleiman was an old man. He recused himself from battle, but sent, in his stead, an army of 45,000.
Malta fielded an army of 6,000 to defend the small island. The rest of Europe looked on, presuming that Malta would fall as Rhodes had, at similar scale, decades earlier. On the eve of battle, 700 Knights of Malta assembled in their chapel. They each made a good confession, and assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. Afterwards, the Grand Master addressed his men:
“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island. These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defence of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”
Many of the knights did just that, laying down their lives. Nonetheless, during the four month seige, Malta’s small army of 6,000 withstood the Ottoman barrage. Three quarters of the Ottoman forces were killed during the assault, and eventually the Turks returned home, defeated and exhausted.
Land invasion — 1566
Soleiman was furious. “I see that it is only in my own hand that my sword is invincible!” Twelve months later, he assembled a massive army of 300,000 soldiers, and marched them towards Vienna. He would take Rome by land, using one of the largest armies assembled since Antiquity.
When the Count of Szigetvar, a Hungarian fortress east of Vienna, led a successful raid on Ottoman supply trains, Soleiman wheeled his massive army around. Szigetvar, he declared, would be wiped off the map.
For nearly a month, wave after wave of Turkish infantry were thrown back from the walls. Soleiman tried to bribe the Count. He could be puppet king of Croatia, if he would yield his city. The Count refused: “No one shall point his finger on my children in contempt.”
Eventually, the Ottoman artillery breached the fortress walls. The Count assembled his last 600 men and, holding up his sword, he rallied them:
“With this sword I earned my first honour and glory. I want to appear with it once more before the eternal throne to hear my judgement.”
He charged his men into battle, and the small band was quickly swamped by superior numbers. Soleiman, however, did not live to see the final battle. He had died four days previously, of dysentry. His soldiers, furious at the losses they sustained, and grieving their sultan, slaughtered the civilian population and razed the city to the ground. But the Ottoman army was exhausted, and turned home. Although the city of Szigetvar was eliminated, it had saved Europe.
The conquest of Cyprus — 1570
Soleiman’s heir, Selim II, was cruel and barbaric. The new sultan invaded Cyprus in 1570. Although the garrison of 500 surrendered on terms, when the city gates were opened, the Ottomans rushed in and slaughtered them. Then they set on the civilian population, massacring twenty thousand adults. The children who survived were shipped to Constantinople and sold at the slave markets.
But in 1566, God had raised up one of the Church’s greatest popes. Pope St Pius V solemnly declared:
“I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.”
The state of the Church in 1570 is comparable to the Church of today. Corruption and laxity were rife. But then, as now, a cohort of holy and virtuous clergy endured. Their prayers sustained the pope in his negotiations, and in 1571 he formed ‘the Holy League’ — an alliance of Christian kingdoms and city states which set aside rivalries and jealousies to join forces against the Ottoman threat.
To their shame, France and England excused themselves. (Perhaps this is why Lepanto is not so well-known in the English-speaking world.) Both kingdoms, in fact, furnished assistance to the Ottomans, for tawdry political and economic gain.
Selim’s forces, meanwhile, performed atrocities which are comparable to the modern day efforts of ISIS. In 1571, still in Cyprus, the Ottomans again violated terms of surrender, and enslaved men who had laid down arms. A commander was cruelly and horrifically tortured — his nose and ears cut off, and his bleeding wounds cauterised by hot irons. He was bridled before his men and terrified civilians, and dragged around camp on his hands and knees. He was strung up for many hours, and skinned alive.
It is a mistake to think the scourge of ISIS is without precedent. History is full of cruel horror and sinister evil. Just as the challenges are similar, so are the remedies. The Holy Rosary has saved the Church before. It can do so again.
The battle of Lepanto — 1571
Pius V had granted a plenary indulgence to the soldiers and crews of the Holy League. Priests of the great orders — Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits — were aboard the Holy League’s ships, offering Mass and hearing confessions. Every man was assigned standard weaponry, and also something non-standard — a weapon more powerful than anything the Ottomans possessed: the Holy Rosary.
On the eve of battle, the Holy League’s soldiers knelt on the decks of their ships and prayed the Rosary. Back in Rome, and all over Christendom, the lay faithful responded to the pope’s request, and filling their local churches, they too prayed the Rosary.
At dawn on 7 October 1571, the Holy League’s fleet sailed east, against the wind. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by design, the four navies assumed a cruciform. The massive Ottoman fleet sailed west to meet them. Again, perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by design, the Turkish forces assumed a huge crescent.
As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals of the Ottomans. The soldiers stood on deck, silently praying. Priests held large crucifixes, walking up and down deck, exhorting courage and hearing last confessions.
The forces met at midday — the hour of the Angelus. The hour of the Incarnation. Perhaps all those rosaries, and the intercessory prayers of our Lady herself, had something to do with the wind. It changed suddenly. Abruptly. Radically. The wind turned 180 degrees, filling the sails of the Holy League, and causing disarray among the Ottomans.
Battle ensued for 5 hours. At first, the outnumbered Holy League and massive Ottoman force fought as though evenly matched. One soldier of the Holy League, driven to despair, took his sword to the ship’s crucifix. The blade instantly shattered. Years later, the sword was re-forged, but when the new blade was pulled from the fire, it too fell to pieces.
The crucifix aboard the main ship twisted itself to avoid a Turkish cannonball. It is now displayed and venerated in Barcelona’s cathedral.
Another of the ships carried aboard a unique gift from the king of Spain: a rare image of our Lady. Exactly forty years before the battle of Lepanto, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a peasant boy, leaving a miraculous image of herself on his smock. The bishop of the region commissioned an artist to paint five copies of the image, and he touched each image to the original. Our Lady of Guadalupe was present at Lepanto.
Eventually the battle turned in the Holy League’s favour, and then a rout ensued. Thirty thousand Ottomans perished. Not until the First World War would the world again witness such carnage in a single day’s fighting.
In the days that followed, news of the victory made its way back to Rome. But Rome knew already. On the day of the battle, St Pius had been consulting with his cardinals when he paused and peered out a window. He was favoured with a supernatural vision which he then related to the cardinals present:
“Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”
Lessons for us
The courage and fortitude of our forebears should inspire us. The men and women in Malta, in Hungary, and at Lepanto are owed our remembrance and gratitude. But we can also imitate them, and engage in our own battles against sin and evil with equal fervour. We should fear sin more than death itself. We should rather die than offend God and goodness.
Let’s resolve, too, to renew our spirit of prayer, and devotion to our Blessed Mother. She told the children at Fatima that the Rosary has the power to save the world. The world had learned that previously, at Lepanto. But the world too easily forgets. Let’s not forget again.
Holy Mary, Help of Christians, Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
In 2011, the total number of people at Mass in Australia on a typical weekend was about about 12.5 per cent, or one-eighth, of the total number of Catholics.
This parish will participate in another church census later this month or in early November. But let’s assume the number has dropped a little bit more, so that about 10 per cent of Catholics attend Sunday Mass.
That makes everyone sitting in this church like the Samaritan in today’s Gospel. “Eucharistia” is the Greek word for thanksgiving. You and I are literally here to approach Jesus and thank him.
Our Lord is entitled to ask, “The other nine, where are they?” But that’s his prerogative, not ours. The Church has never changed its teaching on the Sunday obligation, but through no fault of their own, many Catholics don’t know that. So I won’t condemn those who aren’t here. But I do want to thank, on our Lord’s behalf, you who are here.
The Lord loves you so much. He is interested in every detail of your life. He longs for communion with you — where he dwells in you, and you dwell in him. And you’ve responded with generosity. It would be easier to stay home on a Sunday morning. Linger over a leisurely breakfast. Or sleep in. But here you are at Mass. You’ve made God’s day.
Our attendance at Mass doesn’t make us righteous. None of us have earned our way into Heaven. You and I are like the Samaritan. We are not entitled citizens. We’re foreigners. But in his mercy, our Lord may look at us and say, “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.”
A good aspiration for us to keep — a helpful phrase which we can repeat throughout the day — is: “I am a sinner, madly in love with God.”
“The Holy Spirit always encourages. Never discourages.” That’s a golden rule in discernment of spirits, and it’s not a bad rule in life.
People of the Holy Spirit — people who model themselves on Jesus — choose words and actions which encourage.
Today’s Gospel is a great example of that. The Lord is halfway through his public ministry. The apostles have been living with him, learning from him, for more than a year. They’ve watched Jesus perform miracles. They’ve learned how to pray and minister so that miracles happen through them too. They don’t tire of learning more. Of becoming better disciples. So they say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” Change us.
St Luke doesn’t give much detail about our Lord’s reply. But I imagine him smiling. “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed . . .” In other words: “You don’t need to change. You’ve already got the means. Your faith is small, but God does the rest.” The Lord encourages the apostles, and he encourages us too, because we’re in exactly the same boat.
The context of today’s Gospel is important. The apostles have just been challenged by a doctrine which challenges us too. “If your brother wrongs you seven times a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry,’ you must forgive him.”
To forgive as Jesus forgives. Easier said than done! But only two things are needed. The first is willingness. The second is faith. How much faith is needed? Faith the size of a mustard seed. God does the rest.
When we find it hard to forgive, seek out the Holy Spirit! Ask for divine help. I propose five steps to forgiveness, which are in fact similar to the steps in the sacrament of reconciliation. And why not, if we are to model our behaviour on God’s?
Pray with someone else. Our Lord tells us: “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” So find someone you trust to pray with you.
And — this is important — we need to pray out loud. Why? The spoken word has power. The spoken word can change reality in ways that silent thinking does not.
Begin my praising God, and thanking God. Invoke the power of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for forgiveness. Make an act of contrition, just as we do at the start of every Mass. None of us can give what we have not received. So to forgive others, first we have to be forgiven.
Situate yourselves at the foot of the cross. Place the person who has hurt you there, beside the priests and scribes and soldiers at Calvary. (You and I stand in that company too.)
Contemplate our Lord’s prayer from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Isn’t that a powerful prayer? It’s powerful in what it says. And it’s powerful in what it does not say. How often, in the Gospels, does Jesus directly forgive others? “Go. Your sins are forgiven.” But he doesn’t do that at Calvary. Why?
We can’t speculate on our Lord’s inner thoughts and then declare them gospel truths. But we can imagine. Remember, Jesus is all things to all people.
I’ve heard a story told of a young Christian woman, a university student, who was violently attacked by thugs in a park. For days after, she was in a coma. For weeks after, she was told by others, “You have to forgive your attackers. Until you forgive, you won’t heal.” But she couldn’t forgive. Her assailants were never identified, let alone arrested. The injustice was too great. She tried, but she could not forgive.
Until she contemplated our Lord’s prayer from the cross. “Father, forgive them . . .” Maybe, at that place, in that hour, Jesus felt what she felt. He couldn’t say, “I forgive you.” So instead, he prayed to the Father.
That insight may or may not be an historical fact. Regardless, it brought spiritual healing. So, in the same way, we pray to the Father too. Repeat the words of Jesus, directed now at the people who’ve hurt you. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Think of the person who hurt you, and what that person did. Feel the pain. Forgiveness takes a deeper hold when we forgive from the place of pain. Once you’re in touch with the pain, say: “In the name of Jesus, I forgive so-and-so for such-and-such.” Be specific, and pray it out loud.
The person praying with you may be able to give words to your pain. For example: “I forgive so-and-so for humiliating me and rejecting me and making me feel worthless.”
That’s it. Two things are needed to love as Jesus loves. The first is willingness. The second is faith. The tiniest faith. Faith the size of a mustard seed.
And let’s not be too proud of ourselves for adopting a supernatural outlook. After all, “we are merely servants; we have done no more than our duty.”
It’s pretty wet out here. Early Friday morning, the Glenelg River burst its bank in Coleraine, submerging the highway and dozens of homes and businesses.
The flood waters had receded by Friday afternoon, and then the clean up began. Then it was Casterton’s turn. The Glenelg burst its banks here on Saturday. Here’s a harrowing video filmed on Sunday, when the flood was more or less at its worst. The film shows the natural beauty of the land out here — rolling green hills peppered by majestic redgums. I live in a really beautiful part of the world. But the sinister sight of brown floodwater isn’t so pretty.
It’s raining again now, and the experts predict the waters to rise again tomorrow. There are also fears for Harrow. I offered Mass there on Sunday, and although the river had burst its banks there too, the water hadn’t inundated buildings. Yet.
I drove through a flooded road to get to Sunday Mass. I won’t do that again. I’ve since learned that only 15cm of water is enough to wash your car off the road. I was more circumspect when confronted with flooded roads yesterday, and aborted my drive to Edenhope. I’m due there again on Thursday. Here’s hoping it’s possible.
All that said, media reports — and probably this blog post too — relate a tone of crisis and sorrow which isn’t true to the attitude here at all. I’m generalising of course, but I think there are two reasons country residents, when faced by adversity, are better equipped than their city cousins:
- Firstly, memories are long. History is a living thing — it not only lines the pub walls in framed photos; it also animates pub conversation.
- Secondly, everyone pulls together, because everybody knows everybody. Hence the ubiquitous attitude: “We’ve prevailed before; we’ll prevail again.”
As far as history goes, here’s some pictorial context. The floods of 2016 aren’t good.
But the locals have seen worse. The flood of 1946 is living memory for many, rivalled only by the legendary flood of 1903. On both occasions, I am told, the houses I drive past before ascending the hill to the Catholic church and presbytery — were almost completely submerged.
It’s hard for me to imagine such a deluge. But many people don’t have to imagine it — they remember it, which puts the present floods into perspective.
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan. But, like the locals, I’m more optimistic.
During my silent retreat, which has just ended, all the retreatants prayed the Divine Office in common.
The Divine Office, aka the Prayer of the Church, aka the Liturgy of the Hours, is a series of vocal prayers constituting psalms, hymns, scripture readings, intercessory prayers and other sacred texts. It is an ancient form of prayer — an adaptation of the Jewish prayers which our Lord himself would have prayed with his disciples, and maybe also as a child, with Our Lady and St Joseph.
People are often surprised to learn that priests are not obliged to pray the Mass every day. Daily Mass is certainly encouraged, and strongly recommended. Hence this advice from St Bede, a Doctor of the Church:
“A priest who without an important reason omits to say Mass robs the Blessed Trinity of glory, the angels of joy, sinners of pardon, the just of divine assistance, the holy souls in Purgatory of refreshment, the Church of a benefit, and himself of a medicine.”
Nonetheless, daily Mass is encouraged, not required. Praying the Divine Office, on the other hand, is required. Clergy and religious all over the world pray the Office every day, and a growing number of lay faithful also pray it, privately or in common.
These sacred texts can be prayed all in one sitting (it would take about an hour), but that’s not ideal. The prayers are intended to sanctify different “hours” in the day. Sometimes life in the parish obliges me to pray Evening Prayer at midday, or Morning Prayer late at night, because that’s the only time available to pray. (Never let the perfect become enemy to the good!) So it’s nice, on retreat, to pray the hours as intended, at the corresponding time.
Which brings me to this:
That breviary would have resembled my own breviary once, which I acquired eleven years ago, when I joined the seminary. I don’t use mine much — I tend to use the Universalis app on my iPhone — so my breviary is more or less in mint condition:
Every day of the retreat I looked at that breviary in awe. It is a testament to 40 years of daily prayer, observed faithfully. The breviary’s owner has in fact been praying the Office since the 1950s, but the English translation was only published in 1973. I won’t name him, to save him embarrassment (not that he frequents blogs), but by all accounts this priest is a holy man of God, as devoted to the spirit of poverty as he is to prayer.
I received many helps and graces during my retreat, and this priest’s unintended witness is one of them.