Monday 28 March 2011

Another sign for our times

Thanks to the Spanish Bishop's "Campaign for Life 2011" for this expression of the renewed pro-life message.

Sunday 27 March 2011

A sign for our times

For many parishes the New Evangelisation will start here - leaving the door of the church not simply unlocked, but wide open. This is especially important when Mass is being celebrated. Many churches do leave their doors unlocked, but for the newcomer or passer by the door may as well be locked. The church door needs to visibly open. An open door is both a sign of welcome and a sign of life. Some of the parishes where I have been Parish Priest liked to keep the church doors closed during the Mass; this is a sign that a congregation has gone into 'private members club' mode and that the focus of the parish is inward looking, or has become, simply, neo-pelagian. I had to work hard to convince my parishioners that an open door was a better sign to give. In one parish, the church was on a main road which clogged up with peak-hour traffic twice a day. I was so glad that when the doors were eventually left open, the slow stream of drivers crawling along could look straight in through to the altar and see the early morning Mass happening. Moreover, a slow realisation grew in the district that this was one church that was actually used each day - becuase, unlike the others nearby, people could see that this one was opened up everyday and that daily Mass was celebrated there.

Incidentally, the churches where I was Parish Priest all had a second set of glass doors within, which kept the church warm in the colder months.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Something new in the harbour

It was very good to see, the other day, that one of the Watsons Bay ferries is named after Australia's first saint. Many will see, or journey on, this ferry between Circular Quay in Sydney and Watsons Bay near the South Head. This a avery fitting gesture to this saint who is, and was, so active in witnessing to the Redemption in Australia.

Sunday 20 March 2011

A Roman visitor

Last week Cardinal Raymond Burke the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature came to Sydney, his first visit to Australia. Much of his time he gave to young people. His address to the Australian Catholic Students Association was very well received as he addressed the contemporary challenge of living and building the Christian Life in a neo-pagan culture. A summary of his talk has been published by Zenit.

The Cardinal also spoke at the tremendously formative monthly "Theology on Tap" in Parramatta (photo above). He addressed the question of how to concretely promote the Culture of Life: I was present for this talk and was very struck by how the Cardinal held the attention of maybe five hundred young people in a city pub. The new generation of young people in Sydney are so keen and so glad to have their spiritual fathers come to visit and are happy to hear any message of truth.

The Cardinal also treated us to a celebration of a Pontifical Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The Mass was celebrated in a city Parish Church and drew one of Sydney's Auxiliary Bishops together with a huge throng of young people. It is a rare occasion today for people to witness the older form of the Liturgy with full pontificals, and to experience the Liturgy as it used to be. First of all, it is essential that young people have a point of reference in the old Liturgy so that they can see where we have come from - what the Liturgy used to look like. Fortunately this is possible today, and clearly the young Catholics of Sydney were very grateful to Cardinal Burke for allowing them to experience this rare form of the Liturgy. For a number of decades, people both young and old were denied this experience (apart from England and Wales where from 1971 a Pauline Indult had allowed the use of the older Liturgy), and the opportunity for having a greater appreciation of the Church's Liturgy.
Many young Catholics are seeking "form" both in the Liturgy and in their Spiritual lives, and it is appropriate that the Church is now responding to this desire. I think that it is also necessary that the other part of the equation be attended to; namely, to provide formation and catechesis about the older Liturgy and its structure, so that Christ rather than Liturgical forms might be whole focus of these expereinces. In other words, as well as the older Liturgy being celebrated, it needs to be studied and appreciated from the perspective of Christ, rather from that of mere ritual.

Friday 18 March 2011

A renewed vision

I have been reading Scott Hahn's recently published book "Covenant and Communion" and am full of praise for this masterpiece. Scott brings together some of the main seams of Benedict XVI's theology into a unified Biblical Theology. The Vatican Council asked that Theology be renewed upon the foundation of Sacred Scripture; Scott Hahn shows us how the Holy Father has done this, giving us not just a renewed appreciation of the Scriptures, but of God's plan for us expressed in the Church, the Liturgy and the Eucharist. This is not a beginners Theology book, but I do recommend it particularly to priests and all those who have already gone some way in studying Theology. Scott's new book shows us just how far our very dear Holy Father has taken us, by remaining so close to the message of Truth given in the Sacred Scriptures.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

A sacred language for the Liturgy

Zenit reproduced a fine article, on 11th March this year, by Fr Uwe Michael Lang about "the sacred language" of the Liturgy. You can visit the link here. It is always good to have Liturgical formation at this level.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Placing the text

The study of Sacred Scripture is related with Theology; I offer here a schema to show the basic relationships which are involved.

Fundamental Theology concerns the study of Theology in itself; what it means to study God. Its methods, sources, parameters and its relationship with other sciences. Sacred Scripture is here, one of the sources of Theology.

Theology is the science of revealed religion; a disciplined reflection on divine revelation (as against the "study of religions" - which is a human science.)

Within Theology there are three main branches:
1. Positive Theology, which is an inventory of dogma and draws on the two soucres of Revealed Truth - Scripture and Tradition. It also includes the historical development of dogma.
2. Scholastic Theology, which is a systematisation of the Faith into a unified structure, using reason.
3. Biblical Theology is the unified understanding of the saving truths contained in the Scriptures which are given to us in the Church's Tradition. Biblical Theology draws only upon Scripture and its work is to collect the results of exegesis, so that they can be compared, assigned a place in the history of Revelation, and so that Scholastic Theology can be given with a firm foundation. Biblical Theology then, flows out of exegesis and is the foundation of Scholastic Theology.
A word about exegesis. Exegesis is the interpretation of biblical texts. Its method, which has come out of the Enlightenment, is analytical and scientific; it looks at the parts of the whole.
Biblical Theology, on the other hand, is synthetic; it looks at how the parts of Scripture relate with the whole. As such it complements exegesis by making exegesis a Theological discipline, rather than it being a purely secular study. Biblical Theology bridges the gap between exegesis and Theology: the Second Vatican Council taught that Sacred Scripture was to be the soul of Theology. In the past, Theology sometimes tried to do its work without referring to the Scriptures. However, Biblical Theology is not autonomous, it is not the whole of Theology as it draws only on Sacred Scripture. Theology must draw on both sources of Revelation, Scripture and Tradition.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

XT3 moves into Lent

XT3's new Lent Calendar App. is available to download now with daily readings, reflections, podcasts and video apologetics. The Sydney-based Catholic Network have produced a tremendous resource here for young people and are making very good use of their presence in the digital world. Congratulations and thanks to the XT3 team. Visit

Fr Benedict on Scripture, Part 2

Continuing and concluding my notes from a talk given by Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR in Leeds in 2002, we can begin to appreciate Fr Benedict's own clarity of understanding about the nature of Scripture scholarship during the twentieth century, and particulary the impact of rationalism in the form of the "historical-critical method" of interpreting Scripture, which came to the fore in both Protestant and Catholic circles as a result of the Enlightenment. Fr Benedict in his talk continued to present the problem for the Church which came from a rationalist perspective on Scripture.
Today’s Catholic Scripture Scholars have arisen largely from the pro-Enlightenment group. In other words, today’s Catholic Scripture Scholarship is the Enlightenment’s enlightenment of Scripture. And this project does not sit well with Mystery; it is Mystery which makes rationalists ill at ease with the New Testament. The basis of this movement is the idea that the human mind can understand everything, and that we are embarked on an irresistible upward human journey, that science and reason are all powerful. This project, in effect, came to an end with the two World Wars.

A contemporary example of this current is Fr John Meier’s book “The Marginal Jew”, which endeavours to propose that common understanding which Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Agnostic Scripture scholars would agree about what Jesus said, did, knew and meant. Intending to refine the essential truth which lies at the heart of Scripture. However, asks Groeschel, what is an agnostic, or a Protestant, or a Catholic? But, since no one can really define these categories, how can one determine the essence of Christianity from such vague premises?

At the end of the Kulturkampfe a remarkable priest emerged: Fr Matthias Scheeben, who was able to see that Scripture scholars had reshaped the Mysteries of Christianity upon the basis of rationalism. His great work, “The Mysteries of Christianity” is a masterpiece of Catholic thought in the midst of a rationalist and mystery-denying era.

No one however, saw the Rationalist impact on Christianity as it was happening, better than Newman. We Catholics tend to know better the devotional side of Newman, yet his clarity of theological vision in the context of the impact of rationalism is most important. (See Fr Bouyer’s book “Newman’s vision of faith”.) Newman speaks about faith submitting reason to Mystery; having faith in spite of the darkness that surrounds me, removing the obstacles to faith so that the mind can believe in God. That Faith is a thankful and obedient experience. That Sacred Scripture are the words of God, and that we cannot therefore treat them like the words of men.

Concluding his talk, Fr Benedict indicated the place from which to start the study of Scripture: that Scripture is given to us by the Providence of God to guide us on the way to Salvation (CCC,107), and that this is the primary purpose of the Scriptures.
As an end note, could I just point out that Pope Benedict has, in his Apostolic Exhortation "Verbum Domini", declared that the "historical-critical method" has an important role in Scripture Scholarship, but that it needs to undergo a self-purification in order that it can be uselfully applied to the Scriptures without it adding its own agenda.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Shadows of men

It should not surprise us at all, nor should we be condemnatory, that in our secular age which has lost sight of the love of God, an age in which by and large people do not believe that they are really cherished by God, that many men should enter into the culture of homosexuality.
The great platform upon which human life is lived is the relationship we have with God. Are we on our own in facing life? Is God concerned about us at all, or is He merely moved from afar when we encounter all that is bad in the world, Himself remaining hidden and silent? How could we be expected to believe that God has become man and entered into the very situation of our lives? Could this be true?
The Christian transformation of men, in history, through the action of the Gospel has revealed the greatness of masculine personality and character. What do the Apostles, St Paul, St Augustine, St Thomas More, Bl Louis Martin (the father of St Therese of Lisieux) have in common? They all pointed people towards God. In the light of Revelation which shows the first man blaming his wife and then hiding in the bushes, male greatness comes about when, in the Gospel, men accept God's company and lead others towards God. When is a man truly a man? When, by his life and example, he directs others on the path towards God.
Historically, we can see a number of contexts, in both the Church and society, where men truly embrace their masculinity. In the family, a father and a husband takes up an essential role of guiding, fostering and protecting the spiritual life of his wife and children. Bishops and priests have an indispensable Christian role of fatherhood, pointing out and leading the way. Single men also have assumed their God-given personality. It is the case that most men take up the role of becoming biological fathers, but before embracing this vocation all men have the vocation to spiritual fatherhood.
In our age, which has turned its back on the Mystery of Faith, it is sadly true that many men instead of aspiring to the fullness of their mission in the world, embrace a lie about themselves instead. Does God love and cherish these men? Of course he does. Can these men be saved? Of course they can. But that is precisely the point; it is not Salvation which is at stake, but our willingness to embrace that relationship with God which Salvation reveals.
There is a great need that today, many men will be open to God and to being loved by Him in Christ, and shake off the cultural lies that prevent them from embracing their true greatness. Every society, every community needs real men, men who point out to others and lead the way to God.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Speaking about Scripture scholarship

Reading Pope Benedict's new letter 'Verbum Domini' put me in mind of a talk which Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR gave in Leeds in 2002 about Scripture scholarship during the twentieth century. He outlined very simply the origin of the main difficulty - rationalism - which we have had to deal with in Scripture scholarship, together with that attitude that leads to a genuine embracing of the Scriptures. I took notes during Fr Benedict's talk and enclose a summary of my notes here. Acknowledgements to Fr Benedict Groeschel CFR.
At the beginning of the twentieth century many Catholic Scripture scholars, people like Loisy and Tyrell had gone into the rationalism of Protestant scholarship and taken Scripture with them. So, in order to protect the Scriptures Pope Pius X commanded Catholic Scripture Scholars to get out of contemporary Scripture studies because of where they were going.

Almost half a century later in 1943 Pope Pius XII reversed the command of Pius X and opened dialogue between Catholic theologians and the Critical Methods that had been used by Protestants and in secular studies of the Bible. In his Encyclical - Divino Afflante Spiritu - he made many cautela and limitations, which as the Catholics moved into academic circles tended to be ignored. But in any case the Catholic Scholars had to enter into this circle with the rules that were in play.

The environment which the Catholic scholars encountered in 1943 was materialistic, sceptical, reductionist and profoundly anti-supernatural. One of its most important protagonists was Rudolf Bultman, whose basic hypothesis was that Scripture exists for preaching (the truth is that this is only one of its purposes), and that you can only preach that which people will believe. For Bultman, modern people do not believe in the miraculous and, he would go on to propose that the miraculous doesn’t even exist. This attitude comes from scientific reductionism, which says that if there is something which you can’t comprehend, pretend that it isn’t there.

Later, Raymond Brown the Catholic scholar, following this tradition, would propose in his book “Jesus, God and man”, that Jesus did not know who he was. In this book he declared that the only words in the Gospel which we know Jesus said are “This is my body”. These words are so extraordinary that they could not have been made up by the evangelists. However, Brown fails to ask how someone who doesn’t know who he is could have said these words, unless he thought he had divine power. The problem which all these exegetes have is a problem with accepting Mystery.

The origin of this whole attitude to the Scriptures is rationalism, which entered into Scripture Scholarship in Germany at the time of Von Bismark’s Kulturkampfe (1871-1878). This was a basically non-political attempt to bring cultural unity to the newly unified Germany. It’s principal goal was to bring Catholics into line with ‘enlightened’ Protestants. By the end of the Kulturkampfe Catholics were divided into two groups: those who embraced the achievements of the Enlightenment, represented today by Karl Rahner (that it is possible to Baptise the Enlightenment, including Kant and Freud, and get something good from it), and those who would not embrace the Enlightenment, represented by Romano Guardini, Karl Adam and von Balthasar.
(To be continued.)

Thursday 3 March 2011

The mustard seed, again.

A new initiative has begun in parishes in the UK; small groups meeting informally to grow in faith using as their guide "The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church". I wish that there had been such groups in my parishes, when I was a Parish Priest. Visit the website to find out more. From small beginnings ....