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Blog of a Country Priest | Fr John Corrigan, Diocese of Ballarat

To the one in ten

To the one in ten

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.”

How to forgive

How to forgive

“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?

One:

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.

Two:

Begin my praising God, and thanking God. Invoke the power of the Holy Spirit.

Three:

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.

Four:

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.”

Five:

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.”

Sources

I adapted the five steps from Neal Lozano’s Unbound: a practical guide to deliverance. It’s a good book. I recommend it.

Hanrahan is wrong;
we won’t be rooned

Hanrahan is wrong; we won’t be rooned

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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.

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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.

The flood of 1946

The flood of 1946

And in 1906.

And in 1906.

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan. But, like the locals, I’m more optimistic.

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.

breviary-closeup

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:

epsicopal-ordination

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.

cardinal-pell-wyd

wyd-sydney-2008

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.

Amen.

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