False doctrine is toxic bread

False doctrine is toxic bread

On Tuesday, Ballarat’s Courier published an article about St Columba’s Parish in Ballarat North.

Hundreds of parishioners were surveyed. Almost half had no objection to homosexual behaviour and supported gay marriage. An overwhelming majority supported IVF and favoured divorce and remarriage without annulment.

I bet this article resonates with every one of us. We all struggle with the “hard sayings” of Christ and his Church. That’s why they’re called “hard sayings.” The parable of the wheat and the darnel addresses this.

Darnel is a common weed in the Middle East. It resembles wheat so closely that even the farmer’s practiced eye cannot distinguish it until the stalks begin to mature. Darnel is toxic to humans, and if mixed with wheat flour, it will ruin bread.

Many Church Fathers understand the darnel to be a metaphor for false doctrine, which is not easy to distinguish from the truth, especially at the beginning. But when error is allowed to flourish, it has catastrophic effects on the people of God.

We can see how relevant this parable is today. While Christians have slept, the enemy has sown bad seed with impunity. There’s practically no truth of the Catholic Faith which hasn’t been undermined.

The Courier quoted a parish spokesman, whose words are a good mix of wheat and darnel. Consider this quote from the article:

I’ve always found the Catholic Church to be a rather broad umbrella in which a multitude of views are contained. It seems to me that some non-Catholic commentators see Catholics as unthinking automatons, blindly following decrees from the top. I don’t think it’s ever been like that, to be honest. People have always made up their own minds, and continue to do so.

The Church is a broad umbrella. Catholic means, “here comes everybody.” And Catholics can’t be unthinking automatons. Blind servility offends God. He gave us reason, and He gave us freedom, and we honour God when we exercise these gifts.

But, as Catholics we are also obliged to assent to our Lord’s teachings, and the teachings of his Church. St Peter is our model in this. When Jesus insisted we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to gain eternal life, many of his disciples left him. It was a moment of crisis in our Lord’s public ministry.

He turned to the apostles, who were probably as bewildered as everyone else. Maybe even scandalised. “What about you?” he said to them. “Do you want to go away too?”

Peter spoke for the Twelve. He speaks for us too. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is our model of assent. Blind servility, no. Humble faith, yes. When we struggle with one teaching or another, we can’t accept it without thinking, but nor are we free to discard it. We must grapple with it. Pray with it. Ask for Peter’s faith.

Here’s something else the parishioner said:

A lot of people, as we become more educated, are accepting of the modern realities of life. It’s not enough to say “you’ve done this wrong and we don’t agree.” It’s about how we continue to include people who are part of our family or part of the Church … not cutting them off because of their sexuality or decisions.

How true. Isn’t that the crux of our Lord’s parable?

When you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest.

Even while we insist on the truth of our faith, and reject false doctrine, we never write people off, or abandon relationships. We must keep open the channels of grace. It’s not our task to weed out the darnel. Occasionally, it is the task of the Church to “isolate” parts of the crop.

Pope Francis did this last year, when he excommunicated an Australian priest who defiantly celebrated public Mass when his faculties were withdrawn, and repeatedly endorsed gay marriage and the ordination of women. He isolated another part of the crop last month, when he declared members of the mafia were excommunicated.

Excommunication isn’t a nice business, but this act of quarantine takes seriously the second part of today’s Gospel:

At harvest time I shall say to the reapers: ‘First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.’

Darnel ruins bread and false doctrine ruins souls, so we must be judicious. Where is the darnel in my own heart and mind?

Praying for priestly vocations

In his Message for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis explains the rationale of Good Shepherd Sunday.

The Gospel tells us that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages… When he saw the crowds, he was moved with pity, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. So he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”

These words surprise us, because every farmer knows that it is necessary first to plow and sow and cultivate. There is a lot of work before an abundant harvest. But Jesus says instead, “the harvest is plentiful.” So who did the work to bring about these results? There is only one answer: God.

Therefore, when we pray for priests and priestly vocations, we’re really praying for God’s kingdom: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Moreover, I think our Lord wants us to pray for holy priests. A priest who isn’t striving to be holy does great damage to the Church. That’s not just true of priests who do evil. It’s also true of priests who settle for mediocrity. To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to pray for holy priests.

Always winter, never Christmas

Always winter, never Christmas

I was nine years old when I read C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can still remember the dread which these words carried:

“I’m crying because I’m such a bad Faun,” sobbed Mr Tumnus. “I’m in the pay of the White Witch.”

“The White Witch? Who is she?”

“Why, it is she that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!”

Always winter and never Christmas! I did think of that, with all the horror a nine-year-old can conjure. Even now, the idea stops me in my tracks (which is admittedly odd, considering our antipodean winters are always Christmas-free).

Perhaps Pope Francis was channelling C. S. Lewis when he recently declared, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Lent without Easter. There’s another idea which must fill children with dread!

It’s no coincidence that Lent is forty days, and Easter is fifty. That’s forty days of fasting, followed by fifty days of feasting.

To feast is to welcome and approve the luxury of excess. We eat and drink too much; we laugh too much; we even sing too much. Feasting does not frown on excess. It embraces excess with intemperate merriment.

Feasting and excess are closely linked to joy. Joy is never temperate. That’s an oxymoron. It’s always and everywhere excessive, and it’s necessary to connect with the transcendent. We need festivals, festivities and feasts, because we need to express our joy — and our gratitude — for life and love.

Feasting is something Christians should heartily endorse, but maybe there’s a secret Puritan lurking in each of us. The Puritans foreshadowed Narnia’s White Witch by outlawing the feast of Christmas first in England and later in the American colonies. Christians have since re-claimed the feast and the practice of feasting, but the spectacle of modern-day excess might undermine that progress.

The unprecedented prosperity of the modern world lends itself to excess, and the consumer economy depends on it. Consumerism exploits the poor and diminishes the spiritual life, so it’s clearly incompatible with the Christian worldview. But there’s a danger that in rejecting consumer excess, we reject feasting too.

Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century German philosopher, proposed in Leisure: the Basis of Culture that feasting and excess are essential to Christian worship. Moreover, he argued that Christian puritanism only feeds consumerism. If we have no time to give thanks for what we have and who we are, we become engrossed with acquiring more and joining the rat race. “Cut off from worship of the divine,” he warns, “leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

When was the last time you gave yourself permission to do something purely for the joy of it? That’s the essence of feasting, and it’s what we’re called to do in Easter.

Many Christians observe the forty days of Lent by “giving something up.” Small acts of self-denial can unite us with Christ on the cross, and help us to foster detachment.

It’s not implausible to observe the fifty days of Easter by “taking something up.” Something which puts a smile on our face. It might be as simple as deliberately indulging at a café or pub with a friend, or taking the family to the cinema.

The excess of feasting can express the joy of faith, which can in turn help us to attract others to Christ. And feasting reminds us that there is more to life than work, and more to love than pleasure.

The Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed.

(H/T Christina Kennedy.)

Prayer saves lives

Prayer saves lives

There was a time, many years ago, when I thought the best place for pro-life prayer vigils was before the Tabernacle. To pray outside an abortion clinic, I thought, was too provocative. And too earth-bound. Didn’t our Lord tell us to pray in our rooms, not in the marketplace?

I have since heard many conversion stories which have changed my mind. To pray before the Blessed Sacrament is of course invaluable, but the power of prayerful witness in a person’s hour of need is also compelling. Some pro-life friends in America have just sent me another good news story.

I just got this text a couple hours ago. I was jumping up and down and shouting Hallelujah! Jake was looking at me like I was weird.  I tried to remember everyone who was there praying along with a few pro life hearts that I know will rejoice with us.

In case any of you don’t know the story, this couple was brought down from South Dakota by the girl’s mother for an abortion. They came over to talk to us when we called out to them. It was clear the father didn’t want the abortion. The girl was undecided but her mother was pressuring her because she is still in high school and had a bright future. The mother thought it would ruin her future and the family was struggling financially.

It seemed clear that the parents didn’t want to abort. They answered in the affirmative when I asked right out if they wanted to keep the baby. I asked if I went up to them if I could get a hug and pray with them. The girls face went from looking beat up to a huge grin. I got their phone number so I could follow up. As I was holding their hands praying with them the mother was all the while holding Planned Parenthood’s door open screaming for them to get their butts inside.

After they went in it looked like we might have lost the battle. We were storming heaven for probably 30-40 minutes refusing to be handed a defeat. Suddenly Pastor Randy Rivers said “Hey … they just left. The Lord told me to stand right here.” (Where he had a clear view down the sidewalk.)

We no sooner moved to where the Lord told us to stand and we saw the three of them come out the door. They went and got in their car and just left.

We have been in contact with them and told them Pastor Chuck’s church would pitch in to help out with the baby expenses. We connected them with a pregnancy center pretty close by. I assume that is where the  ultrasound was taken.


Along with the picture Janelle texted this:

20 Wks today. Its a girl! Yay!!  Thank you!  You guys changed my life for the better and Im so glad she’s going to be here in our lives. Just to hear the heart beat and see and feel her moving is awesome…Thank you again.

Meanwhile, a recent news story claiming that pro-life counselling centres had indulged in dishonest online advertising, and Google had banned them, has been exposed as a hoax. I’m glad I ignored repeated requests last week to sign a petition condemning Google and blog about the issue. Facts are important, but they’re easily obscured in the immediate aftermath of breaking news.

It always pays to wait. Especially on the web!

Bethany in the Antipodes

Bethany in the Antipodes

I was already in secondary school I think, when it dawned on me that our family holidays to Warrnambool and Torquay and Coolangatta, weren’t so much ‘holidays’ for Mum.

For my mum, and mothers everywhere, family holidays offer the same routine lived at home — meals, laundry, cleaning, etc — albeit with a change of scenery. I think Marge Simpson mentions that in some episode, but I can’t find it on YouTube.

We all helped out of course, and having Dad around lightened the load, but there’s no getting around it: if you’re a mother, family holidays are as hardworking as the regular routine. Mums don’t get vacation time.

That’s really a video for a Mothers’ Day post, I know. But all this lends itself to consideration of priests holidays. Being a priest is no more a job than being a mother is a job. It’s a vocation. A life. So just as a mother keeps up a working routine on the family holiday, so too the priest.

That’s the ideal I aspire to. My lived experience, however, is something quite different. It’s a struggle to stay faithful to my daily prayer even in the routine of parish life, so staying faithful during rest and recreation requires even more effort. Fortunately for me, St Josemaría was alert to this too, which is why he proposed annual courses for priests in Opus Dei.

That’s what I’m doing in New Zealand. It’s kind of like a working holiday — a cross between a retreat and a vacation and a conference. Prayer is scheduled into the day: meditations, Mass, the Divine Office, the Rosary. So is study (we’re working through Evangelii Gaudium) and recreation: sight-seeing; sport; ‘tramping’ (that’s Kiwi for bushwalking).

If anything, my interior life deepens during this time. I imagine it as time in Bethany, joining the apostles as they rest with Martha and Mary and Lazarus. And, of course, our Lord.

And what a Bethany it is. I’m staying at a retreat centre which until very recently was a bed-and-breakfast resort.


Wikipedia and misinformation

Wikipedia and misinformation

Well, it’s been a long time between drinks. I haven’t blogged, or even been online, for weeks. I’m putting it down to the Easter rush, and the crash which invariably follows.

Now, I’m on holidays. In New Zealand. Cue photos of Hobbiton! Later. For now, I’m catching up on my online reading.

Tonight I’ve finally been convinced to relinquish any faith in Wikipedia. I was a staunch defender once, and a Wikipedia Foundation donor, as well as an editor. It seemed to me that Wikipedia was at least reliable on mainstream and non-controversial topics. And I believed Wikipedia would get better with time. It hasn’t. It has got worse. Meanwhile, other parts of the Internet have got better.

Search engines have given us the power to instantly uncover source material that used to take weeks of library research to find – if it was available at all. Sources can be biased, but at least with other sources you know who has written what you are reading. With Wikipedia, you do not. Everyone has an agenda, but with Wikipedia you never know who is setting it.

Wikipedia: where truth dies online.

Change your passwords

Change your passwords

Have you heard of the Heartbleed security vulnerability? Neither had I. Some people are describing it as “the biggest security threat the Internet has ever seen.” That may be an understatement. Highly sensitive data, including credit card details, have been exposed for over 2 years.

The discovery of the Heartbleed flaw has apparently been news for over a week, and only now have I read about it. But somehow, I heard about the death of this guy within hours of its airing:

And I don't even watch Game of Thrones

And I don’t even watch Game of Thrones

Anyway, if you have a Facebook or Gmail or Youtube or WordPress account — in other words, if you use the Internet — you’d better change those account passwords. Read more here.

And if you really must, here is Joffrey’s final scene.