Sunday 13 December 2009

The wrong venue

Should the Holy Father beatify Cardinal Newman at Wembley Stadium? No, of course not. Remember what John Henry Newman gave up in life and what he embraced; the challenges he faced, the greatest thinker which England has produced in centuries and the learning he gave to the Church. His beatification is not a stadium event, but is an event of great dignity. What about Westminster Cathedral, or St Chad's or the Oratory in Birmingham, or Oscott College?

There is a major blog-gap coming up now as I take a break over Christmas. I'll be back later in January.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Spirit of the age

Recently, I have been in conversations with a number of young people on the subject of Richard Dawkins, whose secular brief is puzzling many. The comment which I made in these conversations was that Dawkins is a product of this age and, as such, we shouldn't be at all surprised by his approach.
In the contemporary age we have become estranged from the Great Mystery - that God wants us to share His life. In the new, abberative, vision of life, our spirits have been relegated to the domaign of psychology and our bodies have been likened not with God, but with animals. Dawkins proposal is entirely in keeping with this age - that our bodies do not receive life from the Spirit, and that man ceases to live as a person but is engaged in a battle for existence, the desperate search for gain.
With modern rationalism being so opposed to the mystery of man as the image and likeness of God, it is only fitting that this human project should throw up its public advocate. However, Dawkins will not be able to prevent the Wedding from taking place, for our Redeemer is the Bridgroom - the primordial and unique source of human life and love.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Up close

Recently in the skies above Sydney a small plane was writing in smoke. I captured a part of its progress on camera. Eventually the words read "Jesus is Life", then it went on to write "Jesus is Lord", before beginning a third phrase which I didn't have time to see. A good sign.
Another day, on the outskirts of Sydney, while out walking, I came upon a herd of wild Kangaroos - my first encounter. They let me approach to within 30 ft of the female with the joey in her pouch. The presence of two huge males in the centre of the herd convinced me to come no closer.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Community and reality

Everyday we are subjected to oppressive demands from the artificiality which characterises our societies. Today, climate change and its corresponding taxation are leading us to focus our lives upon an idea of human community as a basis for living, traditionally advocated by socialists, and further away from the essential basis of human community.
Any idea of human community, when placed next to the actual reality of human community, will always be somewhat unreal. Human community does not lie 'out there', but has its origin and its essence in the family. Nor is there a tax owed to governments for this essential human endeavour. Our contemporary societies are misplacing their focus.
The Gospel, on the other hand, invites us to consider all our relationships as agencies of Christ - how can we be brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers to each other. Such a call applies to the whole social community, but most of all it applies to the family. Here, and not in the Committees of the State, do we find the whole focus of human community.
Aidan Nichols in his book "Christendom Awake" has a superb chapter entitled "A society of households", in which he presents the foundational truth about all political and social life. How, for instance, this first community can live in such a way that it respects the order and providence of creation, living frugally and always seeking God's light. In Australia for instance, a third of women have had an abortion. How unreal is that!
The advocates of the global community and governments who apply more and more tax are not the leaders we need in the world right now. We should not allow our focus to be diverted by political trends or neuroses. We need leaders who will lead us to rediscover our identity as human beings, created and redeemed, and to grow in our family relationships first. Christian spouses - may God bless and lead you all!

Monday 7 December 2009

Following up

Fr Percy and myself invited the iwitness leadership team round to the seminary last night for a little reunion in the wake of the iwitness congress. Not all the team were available, but seven of the team were able to come. Thanks are due to them for making the iwitness initiative a reality in the lives of so many young people.

Sunday 6 December 2009

A Congress of the young Church

iwitness 2009 - a congress for young Catholics was a very impressive event. Held at Collaroy, overlooking one of Sydney's northern beaches, it drew 250 young people from around Sydney as well as a small number from other states. It reminded me of the many Youth 2000 festivals which I have been a part of in the UK in the past. The Liturgy however, at iwitness was a few steps up from that of Y2K.

iwitness (2008) was created last year by a group of young people as a spontaneous response to World Youth Day in Sydney; young people stepping forward as a new generation of leaders and enabling others to become leaders too. School-leavers, uni students, graduates and those newly employed took part, all seeking a richer life of faith in the Catholic Church for themselves and their peers. iwitness is just one way in which young people in Sydney have responded to Yorld Youth Day and which has been embraced by the Church. The Cardinal was interviewed, on the last evening of the Congress, by the youngest participant, Tom. Bishop Porteous came on the last day to celebrate Mass for the delegates. A range of speakers came and delivered some very impressive and well received talks. The days were punctuated by prayer. A very fitting adoration chapel was established, with the Blessed Sacrament exposed from late evening till early morning each night.

On the Saturday afternoon we all took part in the iwitness pilgrimage. Teams of young people pitting themselves against one another in a range of outdoor challenges. It fell to me to administrate the hilarious Thunder Volleyball challenge - using water-filled balloons. Behind me was the Water Slide and, to the front, a panoramic view over the Pacific.

We are all extremely grateful to the iwitness organising team for what you have given to the Church in Australia. You have begun something very powerful here which God is using to build up His Church. What a tremendous place for young people to come together to encounter Christ and His Church, to spend time with one another. This is one of the finest Catholic events for young people that I have taken part in. Thank you!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Pressing on

The academic year might have finished but it's full steam ahead for the young Church. Last week I took part in a week-long parish mission - the Parish of Christ the King, Sydney - which lead me into schools, to house visiting, to street evangelisation and to address the parish on the subject of the Church's call to mission.
Also, a month-long residential formation course has begun on the outskirts of the city, the third time this course has been held. The course looks to form young people for the life of the Church in Sydney. The other day I gave some teaching to the young people on the subject of the New Evangelisation.
Last night, I took part in a end of term thanksgiving event for the "Theology on Tap" group. This group, which is inspired lead by young people, has created a new context for the formation of young Catholics in the Sydney area. There was much to celebrate as a lot of hard work goes into holding the monthly TOT sessions. Here I am below pictured with Fr Percy and some of the Nashville Dominican Sisters. We were joined by many of the Capuchin Novices from Sydney.

This coming weekend I shall be taking part in the iWitness Conference, also in Sydney. Again, this is organised by young Catholics and will be the second such conference to be held in the wake of WYDSYD.

Saturday 28 November 2009

New season

On a separate, but not unimportant, note Australia produces a very fine apricot harvest; it is just in season and I have made a magnificent batch (18 jars) of apricot and blanched almond jam. It is exquisite. (The bottle at the end got in the pic by mistake. It was a superb Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra - "Craftsman".)

Friday 27 November 2009

A year ends

Yesterday saw the final day of the Academic Year at Campion College. The celebrations began with many from the College community, together with family members and friends, taking part in a Sung Mass on the campus. After the Mass, and after drinks and canapes on the lawn, we took part in a formal dinner under canvass. During the meal, which was puntuated by a number of speeches and tributes, someone commented: "What could be better than eating outdoors in summer, in Sydney, in the evening sunshine!" The celebrations were a very fitting culmination to the fourth year of the life of Australia's first Catholic Liberal Arts College. May the College go from strength to strength. But for now - the holidays beckon!

The Manhattan Declaration

I recommend that you take a look at the the site and sign this magnificent declaration:
The number of signaturies was 157251 when I signed.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Can Christians be pagans?

Practically speaking, yes. Paganism is essentially about me; old-fashioned selfishness, me first. Christianity on the other hand, is about God and what He is doing. Being a man or being a woman is a part of what God has done and is doing. There is no difference between the dignity of man and of woman, but both express, and are called to express, the way in which we relate with one another and with God. Men, by being masculine, express the way in which God relates with man; women, by being feminine, express the way in which man relates with God. Which is it better to be: man or woman? This question is, of course, absurd. The one doesn't have a dignity greater than the other, but both are called to submit themselves to the order which the Creator has established. According to Brant Pitre, the most masculine words ever spoken were: "This is my body, given for you", and the most feminine words ever spoken were: "Be it done unto me according to your word". Christ, in these words, reveals what it is to be a man. Mary, in her words, reveals what it is to be a woman. The love God has for us He has inscribed in our very nature. Women seeking the priesthood is like Eve reaching out to take the Divine Life for herself rather than waiting to receive it. Taking it for herself, rather than receiving it. The contemporary confusion over what it means to be a man or a woman, especially with regard to the question of women priests and civil unions, is a form of paganism, for it is a rejection of the prerogative of God and of His plan of love for us. The mission that men have to image God, and the mission that women have to image humanity, goes right to the heart of human life before God. To do away with these missions is to set ourselves up in defiance of God and to live in way which does not image God's plan for us, but our own plan, which of old set us against Him.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Down in the flood

"Now when the king heard these words, he was astonished and sore moved: whereupon he laid him down upon his bed, and fell sick for grief, because it had not befallen him as he looked for. And there he continued many days: for his grief was ever more and more, and he made account that he should die. Wherefore he called for all his friends, and said unto them, The sleep is gone from mine eyes, and my heart faileth for very care. And I thought with myself, Into what tribulation am I come, and how great a flood of misery is it, wherein now I am! for I was bountiful and beloved in my power. But now I remember the evils that I did at Jerusalem, and that I took all the vessels of gold and silver that were therein, and sent to destroy the inhabitants of Judea without a cause. I perceive therefore that for this cause these troubles are come upon me, and, behold, I perish through great grief in a strange land." 1 Maccabees 6: 8-13.

England, cherish the baby in the womb. It is already late in the day!

Questions again

The lecture delivered, by Archbishop Williams, at the Gregorian University in Rome two days ago reveals the myth under which much of England has lived for almost half a millenium. Telling the Catholic Church that its refusal to ordain women is an abstacle to Christian unity, is a living sign of just how far gone is the English myth. A myth created by Elizabeth and her father, and embraced by the whole establishment: that the English way, which we have devised for ourselves, is right and proper, just about the best the world can offer, and that everyone should think of giving it a go.
I wonder how God will get through to England again!

Monday 16 November 2009


What a spectacular movie! I went to see the new 'end of the world' film yesterday and was thoroughly entertained. It contains possibly the best special effects that I have yet seen from Hollywood, although it is very low on acting. Youtube videos of volcanos and tsunamis are paltry in comparison with the way the earth is devastated in '2012'.
However, as a portrayal of the end of the world/age, the makers of this film have got things the wrong way round. In the film, the end of this age ushers in the Kingdom of Man without God, a new world order in which man, liberated from any residual reference to God, can make a fresh start. It is noteworthy that any characters in the film who are still 'tied' to God, in prayer for instance, are all swept away in one of many enormous tsunamis. Only those who 'wisely' rely on themselves survive. It is a film made for a world that is expecting its own judgement.
The truth about the end of the world is quite the opposite of this; God will establish His Kingdom through a total renewal of Creation. For those who rely on Him there will be nothing to fear, for God, and not man nor any other power, will be victorious.
The Great Tribulation, the AntiChrist and the appearing of the Restrainer, are certainly a part of the age in which we are living, but this period of Tribulation cannot prevail against God and the establishment of His Kingdom - which will occur at the end of time. In fact, Satan is already defeated, so what we experience in this age is a Spiritual warfare - that there are forces which are trying to hold out against God, in the face of defeat. The Resurrection of Christ from the dead is the central event of human history, and Christ is offered to us, by God, as the way in which to live during these times. Christ died and rose that God may be all in all. At the end of this age, Christ will destroy all fallen powers, sin and death, and will inaugurate the Kingdom of God: the world made new. Those who have lived in Christ will be raised from the dead, in glory. Their resurrected bodies, and souls, will be subject to God and not to sin. There will be no dishonour, decay, disease or death. We will be free to live complete communion with God and with one another. This age in which we are living is then an age of the testing of human beings - to be for God or against Him, and for our proving in grace.
But it is not at all surprising then, that we should see cultural forms which express a lie about the present age and the age to come, placing human self-affirmation as the essential ingredient of human history, and expressing the spirit of the anti-Christ. Who are these film-makers and Hollywood subject to? To which authority do they submit? God or the anti-Christ.
By the way, our planet is amongst the most stable planets in the known Universe.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Campion on the road

Here at Campion we have a new College mini-bus, appropriately decorated with images of our first Graduating Year together with the central, leafy, College entrance. If you see us out and about on the road, give us a supporting salute!

Monday 26 October 2009

New England all the way

The final segment of my trip to Brisbane was the return drive down the New England Highway. I set out to drive the 1000 kms between Brisbane and Sydney over two days. Having driven on both the Pacific and New England Highways during this trip, my clear preference now is for the New England. It has much less traffic and takes you through, arguably, finer scenery, climbing up to the tablelands of south Queeensland and into the pastures of New England around Armidale, which reminded me of the rugged terrain of Avila Province in Spain. The road takes you through a number of small country towns, such as Uralla (pictured)- my first real sight of the rural interior of this vast land and its open Bushland.

I stopped overnight in Tamworth, from there the New England drops down into the glorious wine region of the Hunter Valley, and so onto Sydney.
I also saw my first wild Kangaroos, big greys - some of them very big - and lots of them. I was amazed to see how many kangaroo carcasses lay by the side of the road, presumably having been hit by passing vehicles. Some of them were enormous; I wonder what damage they did to the cars that hit them! There was probably a carcass for every kilometre I drove, and yet I imagine that this doesn't make the slightest dint in their population.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Wednesday 21 October 2009

First encounter

In Brisbane I stayed with some friends and on my first evening stepped out onto their veranda and straight into the path of a seven foot snake. Having never encountered a seven foot snake before at such close quarters I was somewhat concerned. But recovering from the shock I intuited that it was not a fast-moving variety of snake, and secondly that it was in fact a Carpet Python (which are non-venemous). I ventured to touch it; cold and clamy is how I would describe it. It reacted very little to my presence as it was obvioulsy keen to investigate the interior of a large planter which was on the veranda. Eventually, it took the whole of itself inside and curled up at the bottom for a good nights sleep. We all peered down in amazement at its fat and silent coils.
What was, perhaps, more alarming is that twenty minutes earlier I had been out on the veranda and had been drawn by a sort of coughing noise to look down into this planter where I beheld a whole family of possums. What had become of them was not at all clear!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Continuing the Brisbane visit

On my first day in Brisbane a friend showed me round some of the city. Nestling in the heart of the CBD is the Catholic Cathedral and, next to it, the tiny chapel of St Stephen. How graciously providence has situated the presence of the Church within this city. But inside, oh dear!

The Blessed Sacrament chapel in what was the apse: very worrying! Yes, that is the tabernacle on four spindly legs.

The statue of Blessed Mary McKillop in the small St Stephen's chapel - sinister rather than loveable. What is it that has overtaken the Church here, I ask?

Saturday 17 October 2009

Back on tour

During the past two weeks John Pridmore has been on a speaking tour in and around Sydney. Last year, I welcomed John to Campion College on my second day in Australia; what an unexpected joy then to welcome him here again. As part of his tour, John spoke to four hundred young people at "Theology on Tap" in Parramatta and visited Campion College twice. He is pictured below with a group of Campion students after speaking to them about being open to God's Holy Spirit.
Whislt making the distance between the UK and Oz seem, for me, shorter, John's visit was received with evident enthusiasm by all those he encountered. The style of John's message, given through his testimony and personal witness to Christ, is possibly quite innovative in the Catholic world out here. However, young people, as well as the not so young, flocked to hear him at the various venues he spoke at, and his message opened up many hearts.
Finally, following a tradition indicated in his book "From Gangland to Promised Land", I was able to offer suitable hospitality and make John another fine meal.

Friday 16 October 2009

The glistening city

The Pacific Highway takes you all the way to Brisbane and, after taking you through long stretches of suburbia, the Freeway turns and you see the shimmering heart of the city - a Manhatton of the southern hemisphere. The CBD is built as on a peninsula, for the Brisbane river bends and coils, offering the traveller some magnificent views. Brisbane is a magnificent city and next time I come I shall take the CityCat all the way. (The CityCat is a bus, by way of a boat, that takes you from one end of the city to the other, and back, whilst making convenient stops along the way.) The river was lined with blossoming Jacaranda trees and there is a pervading sense that here is a city that knows how to live and work in a relaxed sort of way. I visited the University of Queensland, built in a quiet suburb of the city next to a bend in the river; its main golden sandstone buildings, majestic, colonnaded and set in their own parkland - what a place to study in - possibly the finest University Campus I have ever seen.
It is shame that after visiting Brisbane twice, I do not know the city better - but hopefully that will be resolved on my next visit.

Dylan sings Latin

"Venite adoremus" - probably the most well known Christmas Carol chorus, performed in his own inimitable fashion on the new album "Christmas in the heart". Today is the release date for Bob Dylan's latest album, so I called into the music shop in the Burwood Westfield to get a copy, casually enquiring if anyone else had bought a copy there today. No, I was the first. Having heard the album through, I was put in mind of the new generation of animated children's movies such as "Shrek" and "Finding Nemo", and I thought how well Dylan's voice might fit an elderly animated walrus, singing Christmas tunes to himself on an ice flow. This album sadly doesn't have the extraordinary complementarity of the "All the tired horses" et al songs, but represents shallow and commercial Christmas culture. Still, who would ever have thought that we would hear Dylan singing in Latin!

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Moving up north

Continuing my drive north after a lovely stay at Port Macquarie I stopped briefly at another lively coastal port: Coffs Harbour. From there I headed up the Pacific Highway stopping at a delightful small town called Lennox Head. Here I parked up again and, taking off my shoes and socks, went for a long walk at the water's edge on 'Seven Mile Beach'. What a lovely treat my feet had and what a lovely beach for the people of Lennox Head to have on their doorstep.

Moving on up the coast, I made a final stop before Brisbane at the coastal 'resort' of Surfers Paradise. This place with its languid and baking beach, its towering appartment blocks and its bars put me in mind of the Industrial Revolution, but in the sun. I think that this is the most unpleasant place I have encountered yet in Australia.

Monday 12 October 2009

Tales from a Billabong

My entry into Australia has allowed me to see animals which I have never seen before in my life. Just outside Port Macquarie is a small animal park called The Billabong, so on my second morning in the Port I ventured out to see more of the strange fauna of this continent.
Of course there were the ubiquitous and half-intoxicated Koala. I patted and stroked one which seemed to be on a Bromide 'high' and then photographed this mother with her beautiful baby.

We also got a chance to pat and stroke Dingos. I was surprised how small these dogs are - about the size of a fox (and as cunning). As the dingos were receiving the attention of the visitors I made my way to the reptile house, and there, peering at me was a crocodile. It's better to be attacked by a shark than a croc, becuase if one of these gets hold of you there's no coming back! It waited patiently while I photographed the rest of it, under water.

Amongst Australia's huge variety of native snakes is the Taipan - probably the most poisenous snake in the world. And here he is, looking for all the world like a rubber toy!

Finally, after trying to get a good view of the Cassowary I discovered, after exiting the park, that I could get close up to one through a break in the fencing.
The Cassowary is an Emu-type bird that lives exclusively on a peninsula in northern Queensland. As you can see, it is very 'Jurrasic Park' looking, and here's a glimpse of its toes - known for their eviscerating capabilities. This is not a bird that you would want to stumble upon in the jungle.

The one animal which The Billabong did not have was the Platypus - an animal which I will be very interested to see one day.

Sunday 11 October 2009

But for whales

On my drive north to Brisbane, during the mid-semester break, I took the Pacific Highway and stopped off first at the endearing coastal town of Port Macquarie. This town began life in 1820 as a thriving gaol and, for about thirty years had a convict population of some 300 men. Today, Port Macquarie is a free town; some of the old buildings remain such as the Royal Hotel (below) but the street plan itself has changed.
Such was the engaging nature of this little town with its shallow harbour that I stayed here three nights. On the first morning I arose and walked over to the harbour to find a Rib just ready to set off with a small complement of tourists and go to see whales. I have never seen whales before, so I paid the money and stepped on board.

The morning was idyllic: bright sun, scarely a breeze and a very light swell. The two 200hp engines took us briskly out and, about a mile from harbour we encountered some whales - an adult and a juvenile. I imagine that they saw and heard us before we saw their 'spouts'. They rose and dived, circling the boat and, nodoubt, wondering who these beings with digital cameras and life-jackets were.

We were told that mother whales bring their young in close to shore so as to escape shark attacks. Sharks, as you know, hunt in deep water, spying their prey above and then charging upwards from the depths to take a chunk. In the more shallow waters off the beaches, they cannot do this.
We were thrilled to see the whales so close to our Rib, and how lovely it was to be out on the peaceful Pacific in the early morning sun.