What will happen in September 2015?

What will happen in September 2015?

Analysis of my blog stats shows that my most visited post, most linked to post, and the post with the most comments, is Is Pope Francis an imposter? (My answer is no.)

That post, which debunked the now thoroughly discredited ‘Maria Divine Mercy’ hoax, was published in 2013. Three years later, it still attracts new visitors to this blog each week.

It is symptomatic, I think, of widespread millennial fever. In recent weeks, I have received advice from many quarters alerting me to grave prognostications for September 2015. Here’s a few things to watch out for:

  • A European crisis which starts in the Middle East.
  • A global financial crisis which starts in China.
  • A global military crisis which starts in North Korea.
  • A major earthquake which devastates the United States.
  • A deadly comet which devastates the world.

The sources of these prophecies are myriad. Some prophets cite ancient Hebrew calendars; some interpret the dubious verses of Nostradamus; others quote the side research of Sir Isaac Newton of all people; others again claim to have received warning from our Lady.

The sources may be myriad, but still these prophecies and their variants share a lot in common. They’re all feasible, however improbable. No one warns about a military conflict set off by New Zealand, or a financial crisis which starts in Malta. So these prophecies are also very good at alarming people, who are then motivated to pass the warning on.

But what good do they do? None of them lend themselves to preventative preparation. None of them compel prayer and conversion. They just distract and cause anxiety.

There are other prognostications which are better contemplated:

  • This may be the last September in my life.
  • I might die very soon – suddenly, unexpectedly.

I can’t do much to prevent that from happening either, but these ideas are much better for the spiritual life.

Maybe I should call up that estranged friend or relative, and apologise for the injustice I showed them. Or forgive them for the grievance they caused me. Maybe I should join the queue outside the confessional, and reconcile with God. Maybe I should live and love and pray like this is my last week on earth – because maybe it is!

They’re the only what ifs and prophecies I take seriously. Anything else is smoke and mirrors, often deployed by the enemy to distract us from what’s really important. We’ll all live to see our end of the world, when the hour comes for us to die.

Home alone

Home alone

So this thing happened last week, which left me a bit nonplussed. I think readers of this blog could help.

Someone on Facebook asked me for advice. That in itself is no big deal. Priests are asked for advice quite a lot. Usually I can speak from experience, or I can quote the advice of the saints and spiritual masters.

On this occasion, though, I was asked about something which I’ve never considered before, and which maybe I’m not very well equipped to answer. That’s where readers can help!

My Facebook friend is in a novel situation, living alone for the first time in their life. So how do you learn to live alone, in a way that is happy, healthy, and holy?

At first glance, a celibate priest seems qualified to answer. “Celibate” means precisely that – living alone – and the priest, like any Christian disciple, aspires to be happy, healthy, and holy.

But there are a few hiccoughs. Firstly, although I have just turned 34, in all my life I have lived alone for a grand total of 11 months. That’s how long it’s been, since I moved to Casterton last October. So I’m hardly an expert in this.

Secondly, my interlocutor is a lay person who is discerning marriage. Those circumstances are quite different to my own. My celibacy is a permanent state, which permits me to deliberately become a contemplative in the world. I often long to be “alone with the Alone,” because, I suspect, this is how God made me. But a single person who is called to married life is only temporarily and circumstantially celibate. So my already very limited experience may not be relevant at all.

I’ve come up with three pieces of advice:

1. Buy enough food for the next two days only. That means you’re eating fresh food, and you’re not throwing out piles of food that have gone bad. It also means you’re not not-leaving-the-house for days on end. It’s always healthy to frequently encounter people face to face, even if it’s confined to buying groceries.

2. Exploit this time of solitude to grow more deeply in love with God. Foster the habit of visiting a nearby church every day, if only for five minutes, sitting or kneeling before the tabernacle to make a spiritual communion. For a Christian, loneliness is only ever an illusion, because we are members of the communion of saints, and the Lord is always calling us into deeper communion with him.

3. On your way home from your daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament, stop at a café and enjoy a coffee. There’s a strong subliminal message abroad that being alone is something shameful, or at least pitiful. I think that’s an expression of the pernicious materialism which afflicts our culture. It bears repeating: the Christian is never really alone. Becoming comfortable with one’s own company is an important counter-cultural witness to ourselves, much less to others.

I expect many readers can shed more light and share greater wisdom. Have I missed something? Am I wrong about something? Let me know!

Jubilee of Mercy pilgrimage

Jubilee of Mercy pilgrimage

When Pope Francis formally convoked the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy with the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus, he called mercy “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sins.”

His words evoked a passage in St John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis; words which are probably familiar to every priest ordained in the last two decades:

The priest should mould his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity.

The parallel suggests that holy priests must somehow embody the Lord’s mercy, not only in our sacramental ministry, but also in our personality and way of life.

It’s with these ideas in mind that I and a good friend of mine, Fr Michael Romeo of the Adelaide Archdiocese, are planning a priests pilgrimage for next year’s Jubilee of Mercy. We will visit the shrines of three canonised priests who really did incarnate divine mercy:

  • St John Nepomucene, a fourteenth century Czech priest, who is the first recorded martyr for the seal of confession.
  • St Jean-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, who famously attracted millions to his small country church in France, where he heard their confessions and inspired them to holiness.
  • St Pio of Pietrelcina, the twentieth century mystic and stigmatist, who could read souls and affect great conversions from his penitents.

Of course no jubilee year pilgrimage is complete without a visit to Rome’s four papal basilicas, where we will pass through the basilicas’ holy doors which are only open during holy years.

Fr Michael and I are hopeful there may be more priests who’d like to join us on our Jubilee of Mercy pilgrimage. We think that newly ordained priests like ourselves might especially see value in this opportunity for prayer, penance, and formation.

To that end, I’ve set up a website: www.jmpriests.com, which contains details of our itinerary, estimated costs, and information on how to join us. If you know a young priest who might be interested, please send them the link!

And please do keep the trip – and especially its supernatural objectives – in your prayers.

On retreat

On retreat

This week I’m on my annual retreat at Kenthurst, north of Sydney. Five days alone with the Lord. (Notwithstanding another twenty priests also on retreat!)

The retreat director is Fr Max Polak, who was my spiritual director when I was a seminarian. He moved to Melbourne six months before I joined the seminary in 2005, and he was parish priest of St Mary’s, West Melbourne until 2013. Now he lives in Sydney, so it will be great to catch up with him.

I won’t be blogging in real time, but I’ve prepared a series of blog posts during the flight to Sydney, so there will be a scheduled post each day this week. More than my recent average, that’s for sure!

You might remember the retreat centre in Kenthurst accommodated Pope Benedict prior to Sydney’s World Youth Day in 2008. There are some photos at www.opusdei.org.au.

One of the photos depicts the Holy Father presenting a gift to the retreat centre at the conclusion of his stay:


It is a replica of the Mater Ecclesia mosaic which looks over St Peter’s Square. Its installation in 1981 was the initiative of Pope John Paul II, but a few members of Opus Dei also had small roles in its history, so this gesture of Pope Benedict resonated in a particular way.

Kenthurst’s mosaic of our Lady, Mother of the Church, now graces the narthex of the chapel. I’ve asked our Blessed Mother to pray for me especially during my retreat, that I am attentive to the inspirations I receive from her Son, and that I’m faithful to the resolutions I consequently make.

I’ll pray for all my blog readers, as well as my parishioners. Godspeed.

Donald Trump: clown or genius?

Donald Trump: clown or genius?

American presidential elections provide me with hours of entertainment. I love this stuff – especially the “process stories” and “horse race coverage.”

This time round it’s even more entertaining, because Donald Trump is running. But boy, has the media got him wrong! For several months now, Donald Trump has been presented as a clown and amateur, who stumbles from one gaffe to another. And this is the result:

Scott Adams, the author of that comic, is best known for his Dilbert cartoon. He’s also an amateur hypnotist, and author of several books on negotiation and persuasion. He seems pretty good at it. Consider this anecdote from his Wikipedia entry:

In 1997, at the invitation of Logitech CEO Pierluigi Zappacosta, Adams, wearing a wig and false mustache, successfully impersonated a management consultant and tricked Logitech managers into adopting a mission statement that Adams described as “so impossibly complicated that it has no real content whatsoever.”

I think Adams sees a kindred spirit in Donald Trump – who, after all, literally wrote the book on The Art of the Deal. And unlike every other commentator I’ve read, Adams gives a compelling explanation for Trump’s success: the Donald is systematically playing the media, exploiting the visceral reactions of voters, and slaying his opponents. Nothing in his campaign is accidental.

Here is one example:

When CNN anchor Chris Cuomo asked Trump to react to the Pope’s criticism of capitalism, Trump correctly saw it as a trap. If he engaged with the question he would be quoted on this topic and smeared with the association of Trump-capitalism-corruption. Tomorrow the headlines would be some form of “Trump blah, blah, corruption.”

Trump couldn’t bluntly refuse to engage in the question because that would look weak. So how does Trump wiggle out of such a well-crafted media trap?

Trump responds that he would tell the Pope that ISIS is coming to get him, and that they have plans to take the Vatican, which I assume is true, or true enough.

Do you even remember the question anymore?

Now compare the wattage coming from these two thoughts:

1. A boring discussion about corruption in capitalism. (Cuomo’s question.)

2. A mental picture of ISIS taking over the Vatican.

No comparison. Corruption and capitalism are mere concepts that have no visual appeal. The ideas are important yet inert. But an ISIS overthrow of the Vatican is so visual you wonder why it isn’t already a movie. And that visual is all anyone will remember of that interview in a week.

Do you still think Trump’s clown act is random?

Four weeks ago, Adams said that “Hillary Clinton has a 95% chance of being our next president unless we get some surprises. But the other 5% is all Trump.”

Now he says that Trump has a 98% chance of winning the election. He’s the only one saying it, but then he’s also the only one who has been right about Trump so far. It is fascinating commentary. Read it all at blog.dilbert.com.

Birthdays and iBricks

Birthdays and iBricks

I’ve enjoyed a very pleasant first day of spring, which also happens to be my 34th birthday.

(The pressure’s off this year. Last year my spiritual director observed that our Lord had died at 33. Alexander the Great and Catherine of Siena died at that age also. So he suggested I make sure my thirty-third year is a fruitful one!)

I have received a great many birthday greetings via e-mail and Facebook, but I’m afraid I haven’t received any via text message. That’s not to say they haven’t been sent. There are dozens of unread text messages on my phone right now. But the problem is, I can’t see them.

I dropped my phone last week. For a few days I persevered with a smashed screen, but my fingertips were cut to ribbons. I thought an el cheapo screen replacement would do the trick — and it did for 24 hours, but since Thursday the backlight on my phone has malfunctioned.

With the help of Siri I can still make and receive calls, so my phone is not quite an iBrick. But as far as iMessages and text messages are concerned, the situation is hopeless. I’ve tracked down the solution to my problem, but I’m not keen on soldering with a microscope, so I think I’ll have to replace the whole phone — eventually. In the meantime, I’m not receiving messages, so please accept my apologies if you’ve sent one and I’ve ignored it. It’s nothing personal.

Thanks for the birthday wishings and blessings. It’s been a good one!

Wearing the priestly uniform

Wearing the priestly uniform

I live in a town of less than 2,000 people, and I’m the only minister of religion in residence. Not long after I arrived, I was invited to speak and bless the town’s Carols by Candlelight, and in the time since I have presided at several funerals which the whole town attended. Chances are, if I walked down the street right now, people would know who I am even if I wasn’t wearing a priestly collar.

Nonetheless, since I was ordained a deacon in 2010, I have worn the collar every day. There’s maybe four or five days when I have not worn it, when I was on holidays and wearing it was impractical — bush walking for example, or mountain biking. But generally I’m ‘in uniform’ seven days a week, even on my day off. Apart from anything else, it’s a reminder to me that a priest is not his own. I’m called to serve others at the Lord’s convenience, not mine.

After five years of wearing the uniform, it’s not something I’m very conscious of. If it attracts the stares of strangers, I’m oblivious. There are occasions when strangers have spontaneously struck up conversation, either about the Church or about God. And once I was called upon to minister the sacraments. Good! That’s why I make myself identifiable. But honestly, I forget my uniform makes me sometimes stand out.

Reading this article, then, was as surprising as it was bemusing: What happened when I dressed like a priest. The author — a journalist — conducted an experiment, noting strangers’ first reactions to the uniforms he donned.

I bought four uniforms, modified them using the advice of people who wear them for real, and wore each one for a full day to test the reaction. A priest, a security guard, a mechanic, and a doctor. I stitched my name on—first, last, or both when appropriate. But I didn’t forge a thing. No fake lanyards, no ID cards, no crucifix, no rosary in hand. The idea wasn’t to trick people.


The author poses a fascinating question. How much do clothes maketh the man? Or, at least, how much do clothes influence the thoughts and behaviour of people around you? It’s telling that the headline and the bulk of his article focus on his experiences wearing a priest’s cassock or soutane. For myself, I only wear my soutane in the sanctuary and in the confessional, because the soutane isn’t customary street wear in Australia. (In this country, the custom is suit and clerical shirt, or suit and white shirt with lapel cross.) Still, I think the soutane and the collar elicit similar reactions. Reflecting on the article, I can verify its findings.

The author of this article concludes with a soutane-related quandary. I’ll let you in on a trade secret: a good soutane does have pockets (mine does), but every soutane at least has holes where the pockets should be, granting ready access to your wallet.

“It’s a tricky thing to wear in public. There are no pockets,” I said. “I have to hitch the whole thing up to get to my wallet.” I bent a little and started to demonstrate the issue, how I would have to hike up this giant skirt to retrieve five bucks for the valet. Both of them waved me off. “It looks kind of pervy, right?” I said. I asked them if they knew how a priest would have dealt with it.

Neither of them did. “There are some things only a priest would know,” one of them said.

They thought I must be an actor. I told them no. Eventually I asked about their faith, since they seemed to know a priest when they saw one. And when they didn’t.

They told me, too. I just listened. It seemed like what was called for.