Sunday, 31 October 2010

Unique for a reason

The Bishops of the United States have produced a new website to defend and promote marriage. You can find the link here.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Virtue today, part 3.

How extraordinary must the virtue of faith seem in our secular age; that of all possibilities, it is this virtue which has the capacity of establishing human beings in reality, and how great that reality is discovered to be - the love of the Living God. Today, the virtue of faith appears like a flower in a desert. The welcoming and the integration of this gift into life takes place in the person through an authetic experience of freedom: freedom in the face of all that life offers, and above all, freedom of will in being able to make decisions on the basis of Light - the light of Christ - and to give oneself for the building up of God's Kingdom.
Faith then, is not about self-improvement, it is about the exercise of all the virtues, that the whole person might be perfected by grace. Do we want to live the virtues? Then we must look beyond the secular vision which we have unleashed upon ourselves to He who comes to us, the Christ of God.
This call has a particular urgency for the Church, for in his new Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper, the Holy Father quotes JPII's Christifideles Laici: "Without doubt a mending of the Christian fabric of society is needed in all parts of the world. But for this to come about what is needed is first to remake the Christian fabric of the ecclesial community itself present in these countries and nations."
Yes, the world needs to convert, but it needs us to convert first so that we can be the instruments of grace that God is looking for. Will we be the first today to listen to the words of the Messiah and to take them as the basis of life?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Virtue today, part 2.

That which virtue seeks is truth; truth that you can reach out for and take into your life. It is by virtue that human beings are moulded as persons; it is virtue that makes us more genuinely human.

Now, for those who are not content with the secular vision and who are motivated to look beyond its confines, the human virtues are already quietly in play. Thuse of us who are doing this have simply not accepted the secular dynamic, which says that we are all emerging from an era of repression into an era in which we wil all be able to live life to the full, but instead have simply discerned that the secular vision is insufficient.

For Christians, virtue has another, greater, power - virtue is the way that they seek conformity with Christ. For them, the Kingdom of God is their explicit goal, and a more 'human' humanity means a grace-filled humanity, one that is enriched by grace-filled virtues.

The starting point for Christians is not that there is something lacking in the culture which they must seek to put right, but rather that there is something lacking inside them and that it is they who must change. Even so, self-motivation will take a person only so far, and thus Christians seek to open themselves to the gift of grace which is a greater calling still. It is by welcoming the truth of grace, by applying it in their lives, and by struggling with challenges to faith, that they live by a new dynamic. Hearing the invitation to Eternal life, being received into the companionship of Jesus Christ and deciding to live in His light, is the route to a totally different life, a life which engages all the virtues.
And so the Holy Father in Ubicumque et Semper declares that the Church "has never tired of making known to the whole world the beauty of the Gospel as she preaches Jesus Christ, true God and true man, the same 'yesterday, today and forever', who by His death and Resurrection, brought us salvation and fulfilled the promise made of old. Hence the mission of evangelisation, a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus, is necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature."
How imporatnt then, is the clear proclamation of the Gospel in today's anodine climate, in enabling a humanity worthy of the name, a humanity that finds its full flourishing in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Where is virtue today?

Today's culture of moral relativism and scientific determinism does not lead us to engage the virtues. In such a context, one either sees a wonderful opportunity to live the virtues, especially the theological virtues and be a light in the darkness, or one can't see virtue. But we are living (in the West) in a culture which sees itself as emerging from a hierarchic, oppresive and impoverished past, into an era of economic and social freedom, free from the moral structures of the past and its traditional values. Our culture sees itself as a victim of the past, at last recovering its true life through new-found freedoms. For a few, there are designer lives or training schemes based on notions of success, wealth and beauty. And for these newly conceieved life-styles one needs character traits, not virtues, traits such as efficiency, self-confidence and credibility. For the rest of us, these same goals are presented in a virtual way by the mass media. Where in such a vision of life does virtue belong?

The Holy Father in his Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper declares that today we have seen a loss of "a common understanding of basic human experiences: ie, birth, death, life in a family, and reference to a natural moral law. Even though some consider these things a kind of liberation, there soon follows an awareness that an interior desert results whenever the human being, wishing to be the sole archtect of his nature and destiny, finds himself deprived of that which is the very foundation of all things."

Prophectic words indeed. Yet the secular vision of a humanity transformed through new opportunities, at last within our reach, has captured the gaze of the world. And even the concurrent realities of disillusionment, failure, depression and loneliness, do not moderate the sheer power of this secular dynamic. In such a culture, Christiuans and others whose seeking has not been overwhelmed by contemporary culture, tend to live their lives cautiously, not wanting to appear naive about the truth of human nature. In such a context as this, the New Evangelisation is being engendered - in this culture, at once so full of overweening attitudes of self-affirmation and yet empty of, or insufficiently possessing of meaning, and which leaves others defeated or resigned to passivity, where do we begin to locate virtue?

I pose the question here and will return to this theme in the next post.

The new Motu Proprio

I can't say how glad this makes me; the Holy Father's Motu Proprio Ubicumque et Semper in which he establishes the Pontifical Council for promoting the New Evanglisation - a small thing perhaps, but like Martin who cut his cloak into two pieces in order to share it with a beggar, there were huge consequences. You can read the whole Motu Proprio here. In it the Holy Father declares:

"Making my own the concerns of my venerable Predecessors, I consider it opportune to offer appropriate responses so that the entire Church, allowing herself to be regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit, may present herself to the contemporary world with a missionary impulse in order to promote the new evangelization. Above all, this pertains to Churches of ancient origin, which live in different situations and have different needs, and therefore require different types of motivation for evangelization: in certain territories, in fact, despite the spread of secularization, Christian practice still thrives and shows itself deeply rooted in the soul of entire populations; in other regions, however, there is a clearly a distancing of society from the faith in every respect, together with a weaker ecclesial fabric, even if not without elements of liveliness that the Spirit never fails to awaken; we also sadly know of some areas that have almost completely abandoned the Christian religion, where the light of the faith is entrusted to the witness of small communities: these lands, which need a renewed first proclamation of the Gospel, seem particularly resistant to many aspects of the Christian message.
This variety of situations demands careful discernment; to speak of a “new evangelization” does not in fact mean that a single formula should be developed that would hold the same for all circumstances. And yet it is not difficult to see that what all the Churches living in traditionally Christian territories need is a renewed missionary impulse, an expression of a new, generous openness to the gift of grace. Indeed we cannot forget that the first task will always be to make ourselves docile to the freely given action of the Spirit of the Risen One who accompanies all who are heralds of the Gospel and opens the hearts of those who listen. To proclaim fruitfully the Word of the Gospel one is first asked to have a profound experience of God."

How can we not harken to such a call!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A new presence in the Church

During the two and a half years that I have been in Sydney, Bishop Porteous, one of the auxiliary bishops, has published three books; quite an undertaking. His latest book published recently, called "New wine and fresh skins", is a presentation of the new communities and ecclesial movements which have appeared in the Church largely since the late 1960s. The presence in the Church of the new movements is something which most of us do not really understand, precisely because they break the mould of convention and do not readily submit themselves to categorisation. Nonetheless, there is something providential about their appearence in the Church, and successive Popes from Paul VI have reached out to embrace and guide their growth.
Bishop Porteous' book is like a snap-shot of the Church today, making explicit the experience of the Christian life which many baptised people presently rejoice in.
I hope that this book, the only one of its kind that I am aware of, will be read widely, because it is such a thorough presentation of the contemporary phenomenon of the new movements, many of which are becoming very robust expressions of Catholic faith and life, life-giving to many.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Holiness for Australia

Holiness is Australia's first call and greatest challenge. Today Mary of the Cross is proclaimed a Saint of the Universal Church; she who made the Gospel visible in Australia is Australia's first saint. Her name tells us much - St Mary of the Cross exchanging "MacKillop" for "the Cross" - has claimed Australia for Christ. Who could have expected that this humble, but very real woman, would in this very secular age stand at the very forefront of Australian civilisation and reveal its true calling. Australia will not be the same from this day; the character of holiness is subject to no earthly forum. The Church, for all ages, will now give thanks to God for having raised up such a noble woman, such a beautiful saint in this Southern Land.
Some weeks ago the seminary community made a pilgrimage to her tomb in the Josephite church in North Sydney. The very dignified tomb of St Mary MacKillop has been drawing huge numbers of pilgrims, both the baptised and the non-baptised. Indeed, St Mary of the Cross is the pioneer of the movement of holiness in Australia, and she is already the friend of a multitude.

Last week the Catholic University of Notre Dame in Sydney held a day of Festival in her honour. The photo below was taken in the University courtyard just before the afternoon Mass. How wonderful that a whole generation of students are having their young lives impacted by the joy, sensibility and holiness of the grace of Australia's saint - this will have a greater effect on the life of this country than whole empire of modern secularism in all its pathetic emptiness.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Hot off the press

How small the world is: a mile from the seminary in Sydney is the parish of St Dominic, where its Parish Priest, Fr Peter Joseph, has spent the last few years working on a new and enlarged edition of Richard Simpson's 1867 biography of St Edmund Campion. What an extraordinary work this 650 page volume is; Cardinal Pell in his forward to the book says that his prayer is "that this biography of St Edmund may help Catholics to appreciate the grit and heroism of our Saints, and inspire and challenge other Christians to understand more fully the reasons for the turmoil that led to their separation from the Catholic Church."

And how important it is, especially for Catholics in Britain, that they might be lead to rediscover their roots, and be better motivated and guided to live the Christian life in today's context and be channels of grace to others. St Edmund Campion is a leading figure and saint of the English Reformation; he was a real Christian leader in England in his day. Through his priestly life and preaching, through his witness under trial, and by his martyrs death, numerous conversions occured. How did this happen? Because he allowed the light of Christ to shine even in the most difficult and complex of circumstances.

I look forward to getting into this new biography. Thank you, Fr Peter, for renewing the legacy of this great saint in our day.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A new statue of the great martyr

On entering the grounds of Campion College in Sydney, the visitor is now welcomed by two statues; to the left, the older statue of St Peter Chanel whose mortal remains were once held on the site, and to the right, a newly made statue of St Edmund Campion. This striking image of the saint now holds a worthy position in the College grounds.
What a great model he is for us today, and especially for the people of Great Britain. Campion stands out precisely because he did not simply follow the prevailing culture of his day, but rather, from the midst of a so much change and confusion, he looked to build his life upon the genuine foundation of Christ, even at great cost to himself. He sought a formation that would really build him as a Christian man, a man who was surrendered to God. And this seeking lead him to become a priest, and ultimately to give his whole life in service of the Gospel, even at great cost to himself. Ultimately he gave his life in service to Christ.
What great inspiration he offers us today, pointing us to Christ who live in today's context of change and confusion, to seek our true greatness in Christ. He shows that we can step beyond today's bewildered culture to take hold of the life of grace. How timely and how valuable are his story and his witness for us today, especially in England, that many may aspire to and embrace a genuine vision for buidling up the Christian life there, where once Christ was so loved and welcomed.

Monday, 11 October 2010

A recurring theme

Hardly a week goes by when the Holy Father does not speak about friendship with Christ. In his General Audience on 6th October he said that the "school of Christian life, of the straight path, which shows us that the center of a happy life, of a true life, is friendship with Jesus the Lord."
This friendship, the Holy Father said, "is learned in love for sacred Scripture, in love for the liturgy, in profound faith, in love for Mary, so that one will increasingly really know God himself and thus true happiness, the goal of our life."

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Friars new mission in the Sudan

Fr Sylvester CFR who I worked with in Yorkshire has just been appointed to the new Friary in the Sudan where Fr Herald Brock has already begun their mission. Fr Herald was the very first friar of the Renewal who I met. He and I joined forces with the Youth 2000 group for Paris World Youth Day in 1997. You can follow their mission on a new Blog: I am glad that these friars have been able to establish this Blog because they really are at the 'cutting edge' and it is good for us to have some idea about where the mission is in today's world.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A silent terror

Yes, the Salt Water Crocodile at large! The day after visiting the Reef, John and myself hired a self-drive boat for a few hours and, crossing the estuary from Cairns - some 200 mtrs - we encountered our very first wild croc.
It was lying still and silent waiting for some unsuspecting visitor to come within range. It was about 7 ft in length. Shortly after we spotted another one amongst the mangroves. Then suddenly, our engine packed up and we were drifting back towards our first croc! Fortunately, help was only a mobile phone call away and we were soon on our way again, eventually sighting a third croc further up the Trinity Inlet. We thoroughly enjoyed these our first sightings ever of this deadly predator. On average there is one fatal attack each year in Australia. Trinity Inlet then remained quiet and undisturbing for its two passing visitors in a light craft.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Plunging into the Coral Sea

Of all the things that one can see and do in Australia, the one experience that so many Australians have said is top of the list is seeing the Great Barrier Reef. So, with a few days break from work I set off with John Pridmore, who is currently on a speaking tour in Australia, to the tropical north of Queensland in search of the Great Barrier Reef. We flew to Cairns and caught our first sight, from the plane, of parts of the Reef; turquoise and coral patterns glistening in the azure blue sea. We had three day trip and, on the first day, we booked on a catamaran to go out the next morning to the Reef. We left at 8.00am and had a journey of one and a half hours to the first location where we stopped to explore. It was at a part of the reef which is called Flynn Reef. The photo below shows some of our company preparing to snorkel.
A part of the reef if visible in the photo, just below the surface and reflecting back the light of the sun. Onboard I was loaned some prescription goggles and a snorkel. We entered the sea, which was an immensely pleasant 27C and set off to explore. Well, even now I find it hard to describe the experience or to describe what I saw. What I saw under the ocean's surface was beyond all expectations, and I found myself thanking God for the wonder which He had brought us to. We snorkelled for about an hour and a half before coming back onboard for lunch. The boat at this time took us to another location - Tetford Reef, where again we doned our snorkels and explored for an hour. There were sharks, three of them, maybe two metres in legth and maybe twelve meters away; we had been told not to worry about them so we didn't. I have been swimming with sharks! The second photo, below, I didn't take. Eventually we set of back to Cairns arriving about 4.30pm.
I first heard about the Reef way back in the early 70s on 'Blue Peter', but I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would visit it. The Reef is so beautiful that it is hard to take it in. And to be snorkelling in and around the various coral formations, with fish of all kinds going about their business, is a sheer wonder. I have to say that this visit to the Barrier Reef and seeing it in the way that we did, is the most wonderful experience that I have had. If I have the opportunity, I would certainly return.