Asperger’s from the inside

Asperger’s from the inside

Here’s a worthy cause to support. And it’s primarily about raising awareness, not money.

In solidarity with the everyday challenges of autism, my friend Paul is chopping off his dreadlocks after 15 years. In his case, that’s literally half a lifetime. I’d cue the proverbial drum roll, but there’s no need. Paul has created a YouTube clip which builds up the suspense beautifully.

Here’s his rationale:

It’s not hard to tell that I love my dreadlocks. I’ve had them for nearly 15 years and to this day I regularly get random compliments from strangers who love my hair too. The problem is I love them too much. So much that I’m terrified of losing them! That’s why I’ve had them for so long and that’s why I’ve decided to cut them off!!

3 months ago I discovered I have Aspergers Syndrome (sometimes referred to as high functioning autism). Since then I’ve come face to face with all the coping strategies I use to make sure you never know I’m struggling. It’s time to leave them behind and face the world without my mask.

Kids on the autism spectrum face hidden challenges every day. I am taking on this challenge in solidarity with them. They need inspiration, encouragement and support, just like me. It’s not easy. It may LOOK easy… but it’s NOT! It’s actually terrifying!! Even though the chop date is weeks away I can already feel my hands shaking as I type this.

My ‘I Can’ challenge is to cut my hair and leave behind my crutch, my gimmick, my safety blanket, along with the image and identity I’ve had for my entire adult life.

So please support me by sharing my story with your friends and helping to raise awareness for AWEgust of AWEtism and the I Can Network’s work enabling kids on the spectrum to achieve their dreams.

And here’s another video of Paul’s, which goes into fascinating detail, not only about the importance of one man’s dreadlocks, but also about the daily lived experience of Asperger’s Syndrome.

I am close to several people on the autism spectrum. No doubt you are too, whether you know it or not. You can learn more at Paul’s blog: Asperger’s from the inside.

If you would like to donate money, which funds the ICanNetwork for young people on the spectrum, visit

“Knowing Jesus” reflection day

“Knowing Jesus” reflection day

Fiona Bradley is one of the most organised people I know. She is the brains behind Melbourne’s Verso L’Alto walking group, among many other things. Now she is organising a reflection day on personally knowing Jesus Christ.

Way back in February she contacted me with this idea, which even then was well defined and ambitious:

In an effort to put my theological studies to some use in my parish I have been working on a number of projects over the past few years with encouraging results. I am organising a reflection day for not only the benefit of the parish but those who have been coming along to the faith talks, the sharing groups, and the book club I’ve been running.

The theme of the day will be Knowing Jesus Christ and the other two speakers will be Dominicans Fr Dominic Murphy and Br James Baxter. I think you would complement the other two speakers wonderfully and I wondered therefore if you would be interested in making the trek out to Nazareth House, Camberwell to give one of the talks at the reflection day on Saturday 18 July?

The talk itself would last for 40-50mins and I’m happy to be guided by you as to exact topic. I did think though that it would be wonderful to hear from you about people’s personal relationship with Christ. Do people really consider his words that what we do to the least of his people we do to Christ himself? Do we consider that when we sin we offend or and hurt him as well as those around us or ourselves? St Augustine taught that earthly things are a means to enjoy or love God — do we see God as our end goal or is God the Son still too abstract for us to develop the kind of love God wants from us? I dunno…they are just some thoughts that come to mind when I think about this. There is certainly great scope for a topic of your choice that fits within the theme.

After some prayer and deliberation, the topics of the three presentations have emerged:

  • Fr Dom: “Knowing Jesus through the Sacraments.”
  • Me: “Knowing Jesus through reading Sacred Scripture.”
  • Br James: “Knowing Jesus in the Rosary.”

My intention is to relate the tradition of lectio divina, with a focus on the different reasons we read the Bible — ie: study, meditation, contemplation — and the contrasting fruits of such readings. I’ll do that through an examination of the lives of a few saints. I think it was Pope Benedict who remarked that the saints are like “living Gospels,” who incarnate the life of Christ in their own time. I’d like to develop that idea.

Can you tell that I’m maybe not quite so organised as Fiona? I haven’t actually sat down yet to draft my talk. But it’s taking shape in my prayers and in my thoughts.

If you’re in Melbourne, you should come. Fr Dom and Br James, at least, will be well worth hearing!


I’m not a Dominican Friar obviously, but it’s a privilege to share billing with them!


Ss John Fisher and Thomas More

Ss John Fisher and Thomas More

Today is the feast day of St John Fisher and St Thomas More. On this day in 1535, Bishop John Fisher was beheaded by order of King Henry VIII.

The newly elected Pope Paul III had named Fisher a cardinal exactly one month earlier. The move infuriated the king, who vowed that Fisher would never receive the red hat in England. He would send Fisher’s head to Rome instead.

The parallels with St John the Baptist are self-evident. Fisher was deliberately killed before the nativity of St John the Baptist on 24 June. But it so happens that 22 June — Fisher’s anniversary (and subsequent feast day) — is the feast day of St Alban, Britain’s proto-martyr!

Although cardinals are dressed in red to demonstrate their willingness to shed their blood for Christ, St John Fisher is one of very few cardinals martyr. I believe the ninth Archbishop of Sydney is his descendent. It would be fortuitous indeed, if Archbishop Fisher one day joins the college of cardinals — hopefully without sharing his ancestor’s heroic but regrettable fate!

Sir Thomas More was executed two weeks after Cardinal Fisher. More needs no introduction to readers of this blog. He is one of my dearest patron saints. I have an oil on canvas portrait of him in my lounge room:


This is one of several cherished items I inherited from Fr Des Byrne.

Tonight, to celebrate this great feast, I’m going to do watch a movie. That might not sound very exciting, but I really love movies, and the only time I watch them is on long flights. But I’m not watching just any old movie either. I recently offered Mass at Melbourne’s Fatima Centre, and I found in that book shop something very rare: a copy of Charlton Heston’s A Man For All Seasons.

I bought the DVD on the spot. I thought it was the find of the century at the time. I’ve been looking out for this movie for many years, and I’ve never located it. But a quick Google search tells me that it is available for free on YouTube. Uploaded last week.


At 2 and a half hours, this is a major time investment, but something worth considering:

As much as I look forward to finally watching Heston’s 1988 adaption, I suspect it cannot rival Zimmerman’s 1966 film. That movie is high in my top ten movies of all time. It is Fr Victor Feltes’s number one favourite, and he has created this short homage to it. “Neat things you never knew about Frank Zimmerman’s A Man For All Season.”

St John Fisher, pray for us.

St Thomas More, pray for us.

Happy feast day!

God is in control

God is in control

I was speaking yesterday to a priest in Ballarat. In recent weeks, needless to say, he and many others in that city were buffeted by roaring winds and crushing waves. But yesterday he had good news. Surprising news.

In the last week, he has been approached three separate times by young adults, people in their early twenties, who have expressed their intention to become Catholic. These are people with no religion, who are drawn to Jesus Christ, and after online research they’ve concluded that the Catholic Church offers the fullness of Christian faith.

Despite recent headlines. Despite the deafening storm. It’s a good reminder that Jesus is in the boat with us. Not absent. Not indifferent.

What is true for the Church, is also true for each of us, at a personal and individual level. I’m about the break the rules of Preaching 101, and tell a story about myself. But this is a story so mundane — so unexceptional — that I think it will immediately prompt the memory of similar moments in your own life.

Some of you will have noticed the damage a kangaroo did to my car a few weeks ago. On Monday, I left the car with smash repairers in Mt Gambier. It was due for pick up on Friday afternoon. I should have known the promise of repairs in one week was too ambitious. On Friday morning I received a phone call advising me the car won’t be ready until “early next week.”

The delay upsets a lot of plans. It’s affected my schedule for the next ten days. I kicked the proverbial furniture and lamented my situation, because there wasn’t much else I could do. Yesterday, I should have been in Ballarat, preparing couples for marriage. But the car thing “grounded” me in Casterton. Thank God. Because in Casterton I was called to someone’s death bed.

A child of God, of immeasurable worth, was called home — and he departed with the consolation of the sacraments. There was no way that would have happened if my car was repaired on time, and I’d been in Ballarat.

For all I know, this departed brother of ours was enrolled in the Brown Scapular years ago, and our Lady honoured her promise to have a priest accompany him at his hour of death. Or maybe a friend or relative down here, or up there, has been praying for many years that he would receive this grace.

Who knows? All I know is that God is in charge. And we’ve all experienced it. Plans fall apart, we limp on with last minute, imperfect arrangements — and unexpected grace abounds.

That’s the moment we are aware that Jesus is on the boat with us, and he’s wide awake. He is not absent. He is not indifferent. But maybe we bemuse him, and he reproves us. “Why are you so upset? How is it that you have no faith?”

God is in control.

Free and thoughtful assent

Free and thoughtful assent

The Franciscan papacy is a curious thing. For the first time in my life, the pope is quoted at “mainstream” (read: Establishment) church meetings and functions like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

I conjecture this must be what it was like in earlier times, before Pope Paul VI, before indifference to papal teaching became an established norm in the life of the institutional Church.

On the one hand, I rejoice at this new-found attentiveness to Rome because Pope Francis is our Holy Father. He is our Supreme Pastor, and we are supposed to heed his words, read his writings, and interiorise it all.

On the other hand, I lament that Pope Benedict XVI was not accorded the same treatment. With all due respect to Pope Francis, Pope Benedict is the superior writer and thinker. The local Church would have gained so much if only he was taken seriously.

But the past is the past, and the present points to the future. I thank God, sincerely, that Francis has revived something of the ultramontane spirit in the Australian Catholic Establishment. Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia.

Papal encyclicals are the second highest expression of the Supreme Magisterium, after Apostolic Constitutions. The pope’s new encyclical on environmental stewardship, Laudato si, is a very important document, which every Catholic should read — or at least heed. But it is not infallible.

I add that qualification because the secular press has reduced the whole document down to climate change. Behold Tony Jones, who is a paid beneficiary of the climate change industry when he’s not presenting himself as a “balanced” journalist:

It is true that Pope Francis decries climate change and rising sea levels. So did Pope Benedict. But these are not infallible statements. The spectre of anthropogenic climate change is a scientific question, not related to faith and morals, so the Church’s teaching authority does not come into play.

I, for one, am a “climate sceptic.” I’ve studied the science as deeply as a layman can study the science, and I’ve noted that the data-driven climate models which predicted extreme global warming have not been vindicated. Nothing in Laudato si convinces me otherwise, and nor should it.

The pope’s encyclical primarily addresses moral concerns, which every Catholic is obliged to heed and act on. But if you find yourself disagreeing with the pope — not to mention me! — on climate science or other such matters, rest easy. You’re no dissident; you’re simply exercising the intellectual autonomy by which we each glorify God.

Even in matters of faith and morals, Catholics are never called to blind and servile obedience. That’s the stuff of Christian fundamentalism and Islamism. Not that this gives us a license to “loyal dissent” either. On the contrary: Catholics are called to free and thoughtful assent.

[R]eligious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

Lumen Gentium, no. 25.

Read Laudato si. Discern what relates to faith and morals. Weigh up its arguments and pray on them too. Assent is a task of intellect and faith. Recall Peter’s words in John chapter 6, when so many disciples rejected our Lord’s Eucharistic teaching. The Twelve could not possibly fathom what it meant, to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus. But they did not walk away. They responded with supernatural outlook:

“Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68)

The perils of sincere speech

The perils of sincere speech

When The Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane​ was asked recently to comment on the Caitlyn Jenner​ story, he said he’s “too savvy to comment on the issue to the media.”

“Once the outrage industry shuts down, I will be happy to have an adult conversation about all of this stuff anytime anyone wants, but, even though I’m on the side of support, I just don’t think there’s any way to … you just got to play it safe because the climate is just too charged. Anything I say can and will be used against me.”

The outrage industry claimed another scalp in Fr John McKinnon, who in the middle of the Royal Commission hearings on clergy sex abuse in Ballarat, visited Bishop Ronald Mulkearns. The media had staked out the retired bishop’s house, for obvious reasons, and as he was leaving, Fr McKinnon gave a (car) door stop interview. It’s worth watching in full:

Since that interview was broadcast, Fr McKinnon has apologised, directly to parishioners and also via the press. Many people were offended. Many more wish he’d said nothing.

Not me. There’s a lot in this video I disagree with. Personally, I’d like to see Bishop Mulkearns take the stand at the Royal Commission. It’s not only that Bishop Mulkearns — and many other bishops in many other dioceses — moved offenders around. It’s also that they lied about it, even to the parents of those poor children. I would go so far as to say that in this interview, Fr McKinnon defends the indefensible.

But I’d also argue that Fr McKinnon speaks with such sincerity, and with such compassion, that he has nothing to apologise for. He was not defensive, and he was not shrill. On the contrary, he was self-effacing and thoughtful. Fr McKinnon did not persuade me through this interview, but he did give me insight into a different time, and different thinking. Far from silencing this sort of discourse, I think we need more of it. It’s the bread and butter of “adult conversation.”

The right to free speech entitles citizens to hear offensive speech. We are entitled to encounter dangerous ideas. These rights, unfortunately, are under seige — not only by present legislation, but also by our bizarre modern cult of “tolerance.”

Without free speech, it becomes impossible for anyone to speak the truth with love. Caritas in veritate is the duty of every Christian. I think this is what Fr McKinnon was at least attempting here. I’m not sorry Fr McKinnon spoke. I’m grateful.

Bridging the chasm

Bridging the chasm

Today — Sunday 14 June — is G.K. Chesterton’s anniversary of death. It is an excellent occasion to start blogging again, with a new found dedication to the controversial questions of our time.

Chesterton is often called a ‘master of paradox’ and ‘apostle of common sense,’ but what most attracts me to him is his unfailing charity in the midst of controversy. Chesterton never sought to defeat his opponent. He sought only to defeat their arguments. I would go so far as to say Chesterton never employed personal criticism at all, but that’s not quite true:

Left to right: Shaw, Belloc and Chesterton.

Left to right: George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, and G.K. Chesterton.

During a public debate between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw, Chesterton observed, “I see there has been famine in the land.”

Shaw replied, “And I see the cause of it.” He continued: “If I was as fat as you, I’d hang myself.”

Chesterton didn’t hesitate: “If I were to hang myself, I’d use you as the rope!”

The fact is, Shaw and Chesterton were close friends, and Shaw was deeply grieved by Chesterton’s death 79 years ago today. Chesterton endeared himself to very many people, friends and foes alike.

Philip Yancey evokes an appealing image of Chesterton on a rope bridge:

We could use another Chesterton today, I think. In a time when culture and faith have drifted even further part, we could use his brilliance, his entertaining style, and above all his generous and joyful spirit. When society becomes polarised, as ours has, it as if the two sides stand across a great divide and shout at each other. Occasionally, a prophet like Martin Luther King Jr arises with power and eloquence enough to address both sides at once. Chesterton had another approach: he walked to the centre of a swinging bridge, roared a challenge to any single-combat warriors, and then made both sides laugh aloud.

I don’t have Chesterton’s wit, much less his intellectual talent, but I’ve tired of staying on the sidelines of controversy, seeking common ground. The times call for more controversialists I think, who foster thoughtful and passionate debate, rather than polite agreement.