Thursday 25 December 2014

A new presence in the Church.

Our long wait is over and there is a new presence of Christ in His Church. 
Christmas greetings to all my readers. This Christmas I was joined by the newly ordained deacon, Lewi Barakat, who is now completing his preparation for the Priesthood in Rome. Deacon Lewi, who is training for the Sydney Archdiocese began his seminary formation in Sydney in the same year that I joined the staff there. It has been a great joy and honour to welcome Deacon Lewi to the parish and to the celebration of this great feast.
Warm greetings to all our Australian colleagues and friends - may our fraternity in Christ's mission bear much fruit.

Friday 19 December 2014

Inspirational staging posts

In speaking about the recent Supreme Court rulling on the Scottish midwives, Bishop Keenan describes them as "inspirational staging posts". These two humble yet courageous women may wonder at this description of themselves.
For my part, I think of this description as similar to John Paul II's words at the World Youth Day Vigil in Toronto 2002, when he called on those young people present to work with God in building, brick by brick, the civilisation of love.
For anyone of us to be called "inspirational staging posts" is today an extraordinary honour. We are called to obey the State, yes. But, if the State is wrong, then we have to tell the State that it is wrong. Today, our society says that our conviction has nothing to do with reality and, to a great extent, we have accepted this judgement of us by society. Society tells us that our view of reality is actually a refuge from reality, and many of us have to some degree probably accepted this trivialisation.
No, Christian faith does not cut us off from reality, but rather it enables us to embrace the reality, dignity and destiny of every person.
Abortion is not a Catholic issue, as our society likes to think of it. Abortion is wrong, not because the Church says that it is wrong, but because abortion corrupts the reality, dignity and destiny of the human person.
There are indeed two visions here, one which is cut off from reality, and the other which refuses to set reality aside. Much of our society has a vision of life which is very far from reality, but there are many in our midst who have not capitulated to this "worn out logic of meanness and fear", and who even now are forerunners for the life and freedom of many.
God bless Connie and Mary.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Reality unveiled.

Bishop John Keenan of Paisley has spoken about the High Court ruling over the two Scottish midwives, who were seeking the protection of law from being involved indirectly with abortions in the hospitals they worked in. The High Court has ruled against them. However, Bishop Keenan's words, the text of which I include in its entirity below, distinguishes with clarity the two cultures which today stand side by side, one is a culture, the other, an anti-culture - he says: "We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples." His tremendous words here unveil, as it were, what is real and true in the midst of an inauthentic version of human life which we all daily jostle with. And, in so doing he points to true human culture as the only viable course for us. Indeed, he says, it "is surely only a matter of time" before the anti-culture in which we live will be overturned - as has been the case with every single ideologically led civilisation. Enjoy digesting Bishop Keenan's words.

I read with disappointment and concern the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court judgement against two Scottish midwives, Connie Wood and Mary Doogan, who have today been denied their basic human right to freedom of belief in the course of their employment in the NHS. In short they have lost their jobs because they were pro-life. At the same time the courageous and convincing witness of these two women, ready to take on the might of the establishment no matter what the personal cost, makes me and many others more certain than ever that the final victory of a free and pro-life generation is surely only a matter of time.
Years ago Connie and Mary went into the midwifery profession following a call of the heart to be there for mums giving birth to their children. They devoted themselves to this work faithfully until the NHS management decided to move an abortion provision into their unit and demanded that they made up the abortion rosters. When Connie and Mary made a request to be exempted because of their beliefs they were refused, with the ultimatum that they would be sacked if they did not comply. The NHS management pursued the case all the way to the highest court in the land at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money. Mary and Connie had to fund their own legal costs. Today the Supreme Court backed their NHS managers and Connie and Mary lose their jobs even though it would have meant the most minor of adjustments by NHS managers to get other nurses to see to the rosters. So let us be clear right away that this case was not about depriving women of abortion services. It was about forcing nurses who had trained to deliver babies to become involved in medically killing them. We should be in no doubt that this was a battle between competing proposals of the kind of country we want: a project propping up a culture of death by means of oppressing any legitimate opposition to it or a vision promoting respect for the life and freedom of all peoples.
When Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament last month he spoke of a once great Europe that used to have confidence in humanity not so much as citizens but as men and women whom it respected as persons endowed with transcendent dignity. This same Europe, he said, had somehow become old and haggard, less an innovator of a better world and now increasingly aloof, mistrusted and even suspect. He added, ‘What kind of dignity is there without the possibility of freely expressing your thought or professing your religious faith? What dignity can there be without laws to limit the rule of force’ over the freedoms of others.
The decision handed down today, the collaboration of supreme judges and NHS managers, is that of an old and tired establishment that has run out of ideas and vision as to how to bring about a brighter and better future for our people. Having committed itself to supporting a culture of death in the past generation it now sees that to preserve this culture into the next generation it has to become an oppressor of the basic human freedoms of ever increasing numbers of its citizens and all, with ultimate irony, in the name of being pro-choice. It has ended up in an intellectual bankruptcy plain for all to see.
Out of all of this, however, two of the most genuinely unlikely of heroes have emerged. Today Connie and Mary have lost their jobs, their livelihoods and their legal arguments but will have won the respect, good will and admiration of thousands upon thousands of their fellow citizens up and down the land who work and hope for a better world tomorrow, for a society that celebrates heroes who refuse to be silenced as a voice for the voiceless and who will stand up for human life and freedom, whatever it takes, against any reactionary forces peddling their worn out logic of meanness and fear.
As Pope Francis said; “In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe no longer fertile and vibrant. . . which once inspired but seems to have lost its attraction, having been replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions. Such an establishment has lost its right to inspire the young.’
Connie and Mary, on the other hand, will, without doubt, some day be seen as pioneers of a fresh start, as inspirational staging posts for a new generation determined that it does not have to be this way.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

First guardian and catechist.

When I first read the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, and learned about St Juan Diego, what most struck me about him was that once the spernatural nature of the image and message of Our Lady was recognsied, Juan Diego dedicated himself to that image and message, becoming as it were, the first guardian and catechist of the new Shrine of Our Lady on Tepeyac Hill. For the rest of his life he lived in a small room behind the new chapel - effectively, in the sacristy - and gave himself to welcoming visitors to the chapel and in speaking about Our Lady to them. He became a catechist of the Mystery of Christ, being an agent of that Mystery in the first shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Yesterday, on his feast day, I asked his prayers for those who will be chosen to be the new guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Since the Marist Fathers will be departing the shrine soon, it seems to me that the prayers of this humble servant of Our Lady of Guadalupe should be sought. England's Nazareth will soon need new guardians - to welcome pilgrims, to pray with them and to lead them deeper into the Mystery of Christ.
The pattern of St Juan Diego's life after Our Lady appeared to him, is a tremedous model for any shrine's guardians to seek to follow.

Friday 5 December 2014

What does the land say.

Fr Thomas Tunstall was born in the small village of Whinfell, which was in the countryside about four miles north east of Kendal in Cumbria. The village no longer exists and the name 'Whinfell' is now little more than the name of a part of the parish of Kendal. The photo above shows the place of Whinfell, the last village before the Pennine hills of east Cumbria. The land, now as then, is farming land and, where there was once a village, there are now only occasional farmhouses.
This territory was once very Catholic and, during the 1600s, through sequestration of lands and heavy fines, the Catholics were diminished and livelihoods changed hands. Even so, this location feels like a place of grace, a place which welcomes and is nurtured by the Gospel. The religion of this State is not Catholic, but the religion of the land is.
Not far away, a little nearer to Kendal, one of those Catholic houses still stands. This region underwent huge challenges in the 1600s, yet the house and chapel at Dodding Green are still there, testimony to the originl religion of the land.
Three hundred years ago this territory was littered with such homes, homes which welcomed the priest and the Holy Eucharist. All it takes is for us to scratch the surface a little and there we find beauty and the desire to be Catholic.
It is good to remember, not just the martyr, Blessed Thomas Tunstall, but also the many families who payed a heavy price in order to remain Catholic. The land, at least, still honours their witness.