The unintended witness of a well-thumbed breviary

The unintended witness of a well-thumbed breviary

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:

My neighbour’s breviary — the prayer books which contains the texts of the Divine Office.

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:

This is not my actual breviary. You know you need to pray more if your prayer books are still wrapped in plastic!

This is not my actual breviary. My prayer life can always improve, but none of my prayer books are wrapped in their original plastic!

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.


Blessed be God.

The coming Trumpslide

The coming Trumpslide

A full year has passed (hard to believe) since I blogged about Donald Trump: clown or genius?

Back then, the first primary elections were still four months away, but already Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, was predicting that Donald Trump would win in a landslide. Trump certainly did win the Republican nomination — setting a new record for the most GOP primary votes. But the primary election polls always presented Trump as the Republican front runner. The general election polls have him lagging behind Hillary Clinton, where he’s been for many weeks now.

So does that mean that Trump will lose the general election after all? Scott Adams doesn’t think so, and neither do I. First, here’s a 3 minute clip presenting Scott Adams’ case. Donald Trump, he says, is a master persuader who has manipulated people’s emotional responses and will achieve “one of the biggest margins of victory in history:”

But what about all those polls predicting Hillary Clinton’s victory? There are reasons to doubt them. (This is my own analysis now, not Scott Adams.) The polls presume more Democrats will vote than Republicans. In 2012, Democrats who voted outnumbered Republicans who voted. But this year, all the energy is on the Republican side:

  • The last open primary was in 2008. Compared to that contest, this year the Democrats attracted 8 million fewer voters while the Republicans attracted 10 million more.
  • In August, both candidates held large rallies to energise supporters. That was the plan, anyway. Trump held 29 events, attracting 168 thousand people. Clinton held 11 events, attracting 10 thousand people.

Given these contrasts, I’m not convinced pollsters are wise to apply 2012 figures to voter turnout.

Then there are the “October surprises,” which can reshape the race. As Scott Adams argues, Trump has forward engineered his campaign to exploit a number of possible developments. If terrorists attack, or the economy tanks, or a political scandal breaks, it fits into Trump’s narrative and he benefits. The only October surprise that benefits Clinton is something directly implicating her opponent.

So I maintain that Trump is still on the way to a landslide victory in November. Of course I could be wrong. This is just for fun. Aussies don’t get to vote!

Silent retreat

Silent retreat

My annual retreat begins tonight. It’s silent, so there won’t be much blogging this week. (Just a few scheduled posts I’ve cobbled together during the flight to Sydney.)

I’m looking forward to a week of rest at the beautiful Kenthurst Study Centre — but not too much rest. Spiritual retreats may be physically restful, but they are still hard work. I’ll have to be generous in the time I spend in prayer. I’ll have to fight sleep. I’ll have to combat boredom. I’ll have to put my own concerns on the back burner, and attend first and foremost to the Lord.

Since the retreat begins on the day of her canonisation, and we celebrate her feast day for the first time tomorrow, I’m asking St Teresa of Calcutta to pray for me during the retreat. With her prayers and God’s grace, I hope to match Mother Teresa’s spirit of prayer, and her generosity of time in prayer — at least for this week. As a start. I’d be very grateful if you could pray a short prayer accordingly.

I’ll keep in mind the intentions of all my blog readers. It sounds a bit funny, because I have never even met many of you. But then again, I’m always having to pray for “whats-her-name” and “whose-it” in the parish, recommending “faces” to the Lord on the assurance that he knows their names and intentions. So praying for anonymous readers isn’t much of a departure from the norm. God knows what He’s about.

St Teresa, pray for us!

Marjorie Liddy, RIP

Marjorie Liddy, RIP

A beautiful woman of faith died this week. Some call her a mystic. Marjorie Liddy died on Wednesday, en route to the Tiwi Islands, returning home from priestly ordinations in Melbourne.

In his opening remarks at Wednesday’s episcopal ordination Mass in Sydney, Archbishop Fisher brought our attention to the chasubles worn by many of the concelebrating bishops:


These were the chasubles designed for the papal Mass at Sydney’s World Youth Day. On the back of the chasubles is an image commonly called Marjorie’s Bird, although Marjorie herself has a more beautiful title: The Day The Holy Spirit Visited Marjorie And Her People — the latter being all the people of Australia.



You can read about Marjorie and her image, and how it emblazoned Sydney’s World Youth Day, in this article dating back to 2008. But if you can spare half an hour, it’s much better to watch Marjorie tell the story. (If you can’t find the time, I recommend you make the time!)

Here is an interview which first aired on community television in 2006:

I never met Marjorie, but after watching this interview, I wish I had. I have met Denise Kelly — she’s friends with my grandmother — who collaborated with Marjorie in several writing projects. (Denise, not my grandmother.) Both Marjorie and Denise claim to have received extraordinary gifts from the Holy Spirit, and both women are also remarkably humble and faithful daughters of the Church.

Here’s a snapshot into Marjorie’s character from the linked newspaper article:

Liddy will be one of a number of indigenous women who will form a guard of honour for the Pope in Sydney on Thursday, and she has a letter from Cardinal George Pell naming her as a World Youth Day VIP.

“When I first heard that on the island, I just grabbed a handful of dirt, threw it all over myself,” she said. “I felt unworthy.”

There are similar snapshots in Marjorie’s TV interview. Her demonstration of unadorned faith and spiritual childhood is like a breath of fresh air. Eternal rest grant unto her O Lord. May perpetual light shine upon her, and may she rest in peace.

The last word belongs to Marjorie, who in the Spirit of Life interview was asked her advice to anyone who struggles to hear the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit:

Open your hearts. Let Him in. Let Him in. He will help you to know and understand Mother Mary and Jesus. There’s so much love the Lord has for us. So much love. He wants us all to love Him. To go back — to go to Mass, go to confession, and receive Him. And our love will grow, grow. But let the Holy Spirit start a new life.


“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

“Just remember, you’re only Richard Umbers!”

You may have heard of, or perhaps watched yourself, Andrew Denton’s recent contribution to the debate about legalising euthanasia.

For the most part, his address to the Australian Press Council was thoughtful, because Denton is a thoughtful and intelligent man. He did, however, reveal defective thinking (or something worse: pernicious illiberalism) in his call for the religiously minded to disqualify themselves from the national debate.

Peter Kurti presents a good summary and rebuttal in the latest Australian edition of The Spectator.

‘I urge you, step aside,’ Denton said, directing his remarks at those ‘whose beliefs instruct you that only God can decide how a human being should die.’ If you’ve got religion, in other words, sit down, shut up, and don’t be a pest.

This is the new sectarianism where all Christian traditions are equally unacceptable. When it comes to making medical decisions about who can die and when, the new sectarians apparently already know everything there is to know about human suffering. Those who agree with them are welcome to speak up; but any with opposing views must remain silent.

Meanwhile, Fr Richard Umbers has been on retreat at the beautiful Brooklands Retreat Centre in New Zealand. I very much doubt he was even aware of Denton’s proposal when he posted this video on Sunday, but his remarks on faith are very pertinent:

. . that consideration on a retreat of faith, hope and charity: what we have as Christians to offer our society. Faith which is a light: it helps us to see the world in a very different way. It’s a gift God gives us, to see things from His perspective — the meaning of suffering; the meaning of our lives . . .

Since concluding his retreat, Fr Richard has returned to Sydney, where he will be ordained a bishop on Wednesday. Judging from his online activity in recent weeks, Fr Richard will quickly become the most prolific Australian bishop on the Internet:

Keep him, and Msgr Tony Randazzo, in mind on Wednesday evening. Maybe we can pray Fr Richard never forgets his mum’s sage advice:

“Just remember: you’re only Richard Umbers.”


Judgement Day: the narrow door

Judgement Day: the narrow door

During World Youth Day, I was interested (but not surprised) to learn that pilgrims wanted to know more about heaven and hell.

As chaplain, I’d spend each day with a different group — exploring Krakow, attending events, finding food, waiting in queue. (There were a lot of queues!) In conversation, I kept to ‘secular subjects.’ I’d start conversations about school, or politics, or the footy, or travel, or whatever.

Conversation turned to the supernatural or spiritual only when a pilgrim raised those subjects. And then the audience would grow. Suddenly there were three people in the conversation, or four, or six, or more. It became informal catechesis — pilgrims would ask questions, and I’d do my best to give the Catholic answers. And then the discussion always — always — moved to heaven and hell.

So I can imagine that the question Jesus fields in today’s Gospel — “Sir, will there be only a few saved?” — was probably asked of him many times.

Our Lord replies in typical fashion. He doesn’t give a direct answer. He doesn’t say, “Only a few will be saved,” as the Pharisees taught. He doesn’t say, “Most or all will be saved,” as the modern world teaches.

Instead, he moves the focus away from general statistics and towards the individual. He looks his interlocutor in the eye: “Try your best to enter by the narrow door.”

I wish I’d thought of this gospel in Poland, when I fielded similar questions. I did, at least, apply its principles. What Jesus wants is clear:

  • he wants us to be responsible for our choices;
  • he wants to lead us to heaven;
  • but he needs us to follow his lead.

We have to do our part. It’s not enough to have a superficial knowledge of Christ. We have to have a living, lasting, growing friendship with him. Friendship always involves effort and self-sacrifice, time and energy.

We don’t earn our way into heaven. Even the greatest saints are in heaven because of God’s mercy, not because of justice. But imagine what it must be like at the moment of judgement, standing before Jesus. There we are: our sins exposed by the light of truth; our lukewarm love ice cold in comparison to the burning fire of divine love.

It must take a lot of humility to stand there and seek the Lord’s mercy. It must require profound intimacy with Jesus; a sincere confidence that his love is greater than our sin. Standing there before him must demand a self-forgetful love — I think I could stand it only for his sake, not my own.

It would be easier, less painful, more self-satisfying, to turn away, to demand his departure. To condemn ourselves to hell. This is why Jesus insists we strive in this life to enter through the narrow door.

So let’s ask ourselves: what more can I do to know Jesus? To love him? To serve him?

How is my prayer life? Daily prayer and frequent confession are essential aspects of the Christian life.

How do I relate to my neighbours? We love God only as much as we love the person we like least.

How do I mould my character? Habitual acts of self-denial foster self-discipline and freedom of the heart.

But of course, our Lord doesn’t ask us to navigate the narrow door all by ourselves. He constantly helps and strengthens us, especially through holy communion and the other sacraments.

He loves us so much. Let’s try our best to enter the narrow door.

Signs in heaven

Signs in heaven

The First Reading in today’s Mass of Our Lady’s Assumption shows John’s Apocalypse at its most vivid. Here’s an extract:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth . . .

And on it goes. Veritable libraries have been written interpreting these “signs in heaven.” It’s very interesting, I think, that next year the stars happen to align and interact in such a way that at least some of these signs are retold.

Patrick Archbold, the brains behind Creative Minority Reportpublished an article on this last year, in The Remnant. It’s well worth reading his entire article. Here’s how it starts:

On September 23, 2017, we will see the constellation Virgo with the sun rise directly behind it (the woman clothed with the sun). These events transpire during the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of “the woman clothed in the sun,” Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. What does it mean?

[Editorial Note: In the following article, I intend to present a series of facts and observations from which I draw no definitive conclusion. Yet, these facts and observations are of such a nature, for no other reason than their observation and reporting, that lend themselves to misinterpretation. So let me be clear, in the following article, I predict nothing. I am offering my observations on some upcoming phenomena, both heavenly and man-made, potentially of great import, that people might find interesting and of which people should be aware.]

I included his editorial note in full, because that’s especially important. Many of my readers probably suspect that we are in the End Times. I suspect as much myself. That’s all well and good, insofar as it informs a truly supernatural outlook, by which we strive for sanctity, and pray like there’s no tomorrow, because maybe there won’t be a tomorrow. As Our Lord advises, “when that day and hour will come, no one knows.” (Mt 24:36)

On the other hand, “millennial fever” is no good at all if it distracts a person from the interior life. Stockpiling food and water, and poring over calendars and prophecies, can be very destructive to a person’s faith — and the faith of those around them. It can also leave a person looking a bit cray-cray, which is really not a good way to attract others to Christ.

Of course, it’s also worth considering that there are people in every generation who think theirs is the last generation. Just ask the apostles! Be that as it may, there’s little doubt in my mind that we live in extraordinary times. Ours is a time where evil abounds, but grace abounds even more.

Deo gratias.

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