Sunday, November 14, 2010

Resurrecting Sentire Cum Ecclesia

Readers who come here looking for my usual blog,, will be glad to hear that I have been able to resurrect (most of) my content in a similar Wordpress platform on my own domain,

Thanks for the suggestion from several readers that I spend a little bit of money for the sake of security. I had started to transfer all my stuff back to this blogger site, but it was very tedious, and I gave up in the end.

Don't leave any comments on this blog, but go to the new domain. Also also, as the Germans say, because it is entirely new, you will have to re-register as a commentator, which will require me to approve your first comment.

Please be patient and we will be back up and running. You will notice I have lost all my links, so if you are a blogger, please be kind enough to email your link suggestions to me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Welcome news on Catholic School funding

As a parent about to embark upon the costly business of sending my children to a Catholic secondary college, this news is most welcome: Bi-partisan support for Catholic school funding:
Catholic education in Victoria received an early Christmas present on 9 November when the Labor Government announced that funding for Catholic schools would be increased to 25% of the cost of education in a government school if it wins the state election...

The Coalition pledged in 2008 to increase funding to Catholic schools to 25% of the cost of education in a government school if it is elected to government on 27 November.

The almost $200 million funding boost, also includes an additional $5m for teacher professional development

In welcoming the decision, Mr Elder said Labor’s commitment would particularly benefit Catholic families in disadvantaged areas.

...[CEO chief executive officer Mr Stephen Elder said:] “Catholic schools continue to serve families in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the state. I have no doubt the decision will be widely welcomed by Catholic school communities.”

...“The personal story of Australia’s first saint – St Mary of the Cross – is a powerful illustration of Catholic education’s mission to serve the most disadvantaged in our community. The announcement will provide funding to Catholic education to continue this legacy,” said Mr Elder.

School fees have been rising steadily, mostly due to a lack of Government funding. My own daughter's fees for next year have risen about %10 from what we were told when we first enrolled her last year. Sending both my daughters to Catholic secondary college will cost me about 20% of my annual income.

If you do the sums you realise that parents who send their children to Catholic Schools are in fact (even under this new funding) saving the government 75% of what it would cost to educate their children in State Schools. I think we need some recognition of that.

All that being said, we are a long way from the days of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. One reason why Catholic schools are costly for parents today (although no where near the cost of other independant schools) is that we no longer have the "cheap labour" force that once supplied teachers for our systems, ie. religious sisters and brothers. What a boost it would be for the Catholic School system if St Mary's vision were to become truly alive again today!

An interesting but all too short interview with a Catholic Luther scholar

HT to Pastor Fraser Pearce for the link to this interview with Fr Jared Wicks. As I say in the title, it is interesting, but I want to know more. I should follow up on Wick's writing on Luther to see what he has to say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hypatia in the Athenian Agora

I have just finished watching At The Movies with Margaret and David, and of course they review "Agora" the new film about the legendary Alexandrian female philosopher Hypatia. Her murder by a Christian mob is one of those scandals, like the Galileo affair and the Spanish Inquisition, which the heirs of the Englightenment like to cite against the Church's record.

Anyway, Margaret really liked it and gave it 4 stars, and David gave it 4.5. Both said that it had real substance and an important message. When I hear these two say that kind of thing, I usually find myself wondering if the message they are applauding is truth or ideology.

Ideology, it turns out in this case. I could write a fair bit here, but others have done the job already. Check out: Fr Barron's piece
The Dangerous Silliness of the new movie Agora at the National Catholic Register; Mark Shea's blog at the same place; "History of Violence: Agora, Hypatia and Enlightenment Mythology" at the Decent Films Guide; Sherry's piece at the Catherine of Siena Institute; and Tim O'Neill's "wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, silly, rather arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard" opinion at his blog "Amarium Magnum".

Peter Kreeft on What Christians can learn from Islam

I have written a review of Peter Kreeft's book "Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims" for the issue of our Kairos magazine coming out this weekend. It is a book I highly recommend. You can read my review to find out what it is about.

Unfortunately, I think that Peter Kreeft will probably lose a few admirers because of this book. But that's Kreeft for you. Just like Socrates, he isn't interested in people liking what he writes. He is interested in the search for truth. This book emulates Socrates in another way too: it is in the form of a dialogue, which doesn't give you the answer. You have work it out. Of course, it is pretty obvious which way Kreeft is leaning.

The important thing is in the title: this isn't a book of what "Christianity can learn from Islam", but what Christians can learn from a serious dialogue with Muslims, ie. the actual practitioners of the Islamic faith. It is a book all about dialogue. All through the book, Kreeft speaks about the importance listening as much as talking. I can't quote the exact way he puts that, as I have given my copy to a Muslim friend to read and give his opinion on whether Kreeft's Muslim character in the dialogue is a true reflection of what a Muslim would actually say. I thought it was, from my experience, but nothing like asking someone who actually knows. (By the by, I would like to see a similar book of dialogues between a Lutheran, a liberal Catholic and a magisterial Catholic...).

In any case, several reviews have misunderstood this point and seem to think that what Kreeft has done in "Between Allah & Jesus" is a part of the Karen-Armstrong-style "industry" that "tries to find common ground with Islam". But that would be entirely out of character for Professor Kreeft, whose only object has ever been to seek for truth, and yes, Truth with a capital T too. I will take as an example of a misreader of Kreeft one reviewer, William Kilpatrick, whose review is called "Christian Misunderstanders of Islam" (note already in the title his mistake in thinking Kreeft's book is about Christianity and Islam, rather than the necessary engagement between Christians and their Muslim neighbours).

Here are some selections from Kilpatrick's review with my comments in [bold italics] writes:
Unfortunately, considering his wide appeal, Kreeft’s latest book is basically an apology for Islam. [No. It is an apology for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.] Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims is devoted to the proposition that the things that we (Muslims and Christians) have in common are more important than the things that separate us. [No again. Kreeft never says this. At the very beginning of the book, he lists the major and essential differences. What he says is that NEVERTHELESS we have to have the dialogue and what we can learn from Muslims is not all negative, in fact there is much that is positive and challenging for Christians.] In fact, writes Kreeft in his Introduction, we have a lot to learn from Islam: “…I also say that Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation.” [That's just plain Nostra Aetate, ie. the Catholic magisterial position.] Instead of fearing Islam, Kreeft says that Christians should join together with Muslims in an “ecumenical jihad” against our common enemies, sin and secularism.

...In Between Allah and Jesus, the strongest arguments for traditional morality are made by the Muslim student, Isa (the Arabic name for Jesus.) In fact, throughout the entire dialogue Isa has all the best lines. [The fact that Kilpatrick can say this means that he is in fact acknowledging that a lot of authentic Muslim standpoints have appeal for him too.] Isa is not only a defender of the sanctity of all human life, he is also a strong defender of the Jews (the six million who lost their lives to Hitler were “martyrs”), and a great respecter of women (“…all I’m doing is defending womanhood and motherhood and families”). In his appreciation of feminine virtues Isa sometimes sounds more like a Victorian seminary student than a twenty first-century Muslim male. [That's true and not true. The character of 'Isa may not be your average Muslim in the streets of Mecca, but I know plenty of Muslim men who would speak just as 'Isa does in the story. I think what this shows it that this reviewer is working from a characterisation and a generalisation of Muslim males, and has probably not actually met a lot of Muslim men, or engaged in dialogue with them.] Isa even makes the case that women in Muslim societies are happier and more contented than women in Western societies because “we let women be women,” whereas Western women are the victims of a sexual revolution which mainly benefits men. [Kilpatrick and other readers are free to disagree with what 'Isa says - it isn't Kreeft who says this, but his character- but this is also a commonly expressed opinion among the Muslim men I know.] One of Isa’s dialogue sparring partners, Libby (a liberated feminist), objects to all this with vehemence, but she is plainly no match for Isa. She spouts feminist slogans; Isa is a master of logical argumentation.

Kreeft advises his readers that he “does not necessarily agree with everything said by Isa as a Muslim,” but his sympathies clearly lie with Isa. [he has sympathies for his character 'Isa, but if you want to know where Kreeft himself stands, you have to listen to Fr Hereema, the priest character in the story] For example, Fr. Heerema, who represents the orthodox Catholic position in the dialogues, usually finds himself in agreement with Isa. [So? I'm an orthodox Catholic too, and I often find myself in agreement with my Muslim friends - more so than with my rather secular friends, anyway.] Moreover the sentiments expressed by Isa are quite similar to those expressed by Kreeft in his Introduction: for example, says Kreeft, one of the most important things Christians “should learn from Muslims or be reminded of by Muslims” is “the sacredness of the family and children.”

“Sacredness of the family?” In this and in other parts of his book, Kreeft seems to be inadvertently transposing Christian notions into Islam. [As far as I know, 'Isa doesn't call the family "sacred". What Kreeft is saying is that the Muslim emphasis on the importance of marriage and family life can be a reminder to Western Christians that Christianity actually teaches the "sacredness of the family" over against "the sacredness of the individual".] While there may be some highly spiritualized Sufi sect somewhere that looks at marriage and family in this light, this is not the picture of family life that emerges in the accounts of ex-Muslims such as Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan. [From here on Kilpatrick spends a number of paragraphs demonstrating that there are plenty of Muslims that show characteristics which contradict 'Isa's standpoint. That's true. But Kreeft isn't talking about Islam or Islamic society. He is allowing the Muslim character to express his point of view.]

...But, as any objective scholar of Islam can attest, this is sheer nonsense. Islam didn’t sell itself through tenderness but through terror. Once, when a Jewish tribe surrendered to Muhammad’s forces, he ordered the beheading of over 700 of the captives. On another occasion he ordered that some captured thieves have their eyes gouged out, and their arms and legs cut off on opposite sides. Inquiring students at places such as Boston College, Calvin College and Wheaton might want to supplement their Kreeft with some samplings from the Hadith and The Life of Muhammad. [In this book, Kreeft is not dealing with what Kilpatrick seems to think is "objective" scholarship about Islam. He is dealing with one particular Muslim dialogue partner. Kreeft is also very aware that there is an "Islam of the sword" and that in many cases this kind of Islam has had the upper hand. But he is honestly trying to dialogue with the many Muslims that we in the West have as neighbours: honourable, gentle, virtous people who do not deserve to be labelled as violent or hateful or dangerous.]

Kreeft’s tendency to confuse Islamic concepts with Christian beliefs continues in his treatment of jihad. The secular media, says Kreeft, has created the false impression that jihad is a duty to wage war against unbelievers. But, according to Isa, jihad, is, in reality, “the inner struggle against evil.” The trouble is, the evidence for this interpretation is minimal. In one Hadith—the one which Isa quotes—Muhammad is reported to have said, “the most excellent jihad is for the conquest of self.” But this is from a Hadith of doubtful provenance and, in any event, the Koran makes it quite clear in several places which is the more excellent jihad. For example: “Do you pretend that he who gives a drink to the pilgrims and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque is as worthy as the man who believes in God and the Last Day, and fights for God’s cause? These are not held equal by God.” (9. 19-20) [Again, none of this is relevant to Kreeft's book of dialogues. The only relevant fact is that this is what many Muslims tell us Jihad is. Every Muslim I have ever spoken to tells me this. Perhaps Kilpatrick speaks to different Muslims. Or does he only read about them?]

...Isa’s attitudes may be unrepresentative of Muslims but, unluckily, Kreeft’s favorable disposition toward Islam is representative of many influential Christians. [Kreeft's "favourable disposition" is ultimately not towards Islam, but towards the many honourable adherants to Islam. And 'Isa's attitudes are not all that dissimilar to those of the many Muslims I know.] He is not alone in his attempt to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground with Islam. Despite the increasingly bloody persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, many Christian leaders still cling to the pious hope that there is some slight misunderstanding between Islam and Christianity that can be cleared up by more dialogue. [Religions don't dialogue, people do. Islam and Christainity may be ultimately incompatible - but human beings can always dialogue, and where there is dialogue there will always be a better outcome than where there is war.] Dialogue with Islam has, in fact, become something of a growth industry. It’s no longer confined to high-level theologians: it’s become the in-thing for parishes and congregations. In the last few years, numerous Christian churches across America have invited Islamic speakers to come in and explain Islam to them. The rationale is that “people fear what they don’t understand,” and once we understand Islam we will see that there is nothing to fear. [So what is Kilpatrick's point? Does he want to make sure that we stay afraid? Whatever happened to "perfect love casts out fear"?]

Kreeft shares that hope. As he puts it, “I think this high and honorable dialogue between two high and honorable faiths will continue…and that something great will come of it.” But what if he’s wrong? ...We are in a high stakes struggle with Islam. It’s one that doesn’t allow for much margin of error. [ie. don't dare to come to agreement on anything!] You can misinterpret or completely ignore the beliefs of Jains or Buddhists, and still rest secure that your life will go on as before. But misinterpreting Islam could turn out to be fatal mistake. If it turns out that jihad is not, after all, an interior spiritual struggle, but rather a serious obligation to subdue non-Muslims, a lot of Western Christians are going to be woefully unprepared for the kind of things that are already happening to Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nigeria. [Note that fear is the overriding theme here.]

Peter Kreeft has written some of the finest works of Christian apologetics of the last four decades. But he’s off base with this one. Seeing that Kreeft has been highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, and is considered by many to be a worthy successor to Lewis, he might want to take a second look at Lewis’ views on finding common ground with an alien faith. In The Last Battle, Lewis’ fictional account of the conflict between the Christian-like Narnians and the Muslim-like Calormenes, the Narnian have been deceived into believing that their God, Aslan, and Tash, the demonic God of the Calormenes actually have much in common. “Tash” and “Aslan” they are told are only two different names for the same God. In reality, “Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.” After a while, the hybrid God is simply referred to as “Tashlan.” As time passes, however, the worship of Tashlan becomes simply the worship of Tash, and the Narnians find themselves enslaved by the followers of Tash. [Ironically, it is exactly here that Kilpatrick seems to have failed to understand Lewis. In the final moments, one honourable Calormene (yes, there is one! Maybe his name was 'Isa?) discovers all along that the "Tash" he thought he was worshipping was in fact truly Aslan. Kilpatrick takes hold of one side of Lewis's picture and loses the other. As Kreeft says, our common enemies are demons, not eachother. Tash is a demon. Those who seek to worship the true God will always find him.]

I am currently reading Hans Urs von Balthasar's "Theology of Karl Barth". That might seem a million miles away from Kreeft's book on Muslim and Christian dialogue, but perhaps not. Here is what he says about the importance of dialogue:
Most polemical confrontations never become real encounters, not because they are polemical and fail because people disagree, but because they really want to meet: because everyone wants to encounter the other rather than be willing to be met. Certainly in many cases we feel that Barth has not really met us, because he doesn not really see where we stand. But still, I hardly know any Catholic writing where Barth would have to admit he has been met, although he has certainly tried to hear what we have to say. But, in a dialogue a willingness to hear out the other is more important than talking. Such eagnerness to listen is in fact a dimension of our very faith and thus our obedience and our prayer, all of which form an indissoluble unity.

I think Kreeft has tried, in "Between Allah & Jesus", to bring his readers to a point where they really meet the Muslim, and to give us a chance to listen to them. He has tried to help his reader see where the Muslim dialogue partner stands, and to realise that it is not impossible for us to stand together.

If you have the time to sit and watch it, this may be of interest.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Summer Retreat for Chant

Okay, this needs highlighing. Thanks to Br. Paul for letting me know about it. Huge grudge against the organisers for limiting it to 18-35 year olds, but hey, let's face it, it is the new generation that really "digs" this stuff, not the old fogies.
Summer Retreat for Chant
27-30 January 2011 - St Dominic's Priory, Camberwell (Victoria)

The Dominican friars in Camberwell Victoria are inviting young people aged 18-35 to an extended weekend retreat to learn a little of the riches of sacred chant. The retreat is being held at St Dominic's Priory Camberwell from 27-30 January 2011. We hope you will come

For full details, see here.

Bishop Silk to Enter Catholic Communion

Well, this is a bit of a surprise. In the latest news that five Church of England Bishops have announced that they will enter the Anglican Ordinariates in full communion with the Catholic Church, there is one surprise: Bishop David Silk is among them. I know Bishop Silk personally from the days when he was Bishop of Ballarat. At that time, he was also the President of the Victorian Council of Churches, when I was the Lutheran member of the executive. We attended a lot of meetings together, and always found we had much in common. I well remember the day when he ordained my friend Tony (who sits at this table sharing the port bottle on occasion) as an Anglican Deacon. I attended the event vested as a Lutheran Pastor. Well, we have all moved on since then, and now it seems that +David is moving on too. (Tony, it's not too late for you, you know!).

Just one observation from the statement from the five resigning bishops: they see Anglicanorum Coetibus as an "ecumenical instrument". Bishop Silk was always ecumenically motivated - that is why he was president of the VCC. The thing is that now they confess that the unity of Christians is only possible "in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter":
This is both a generous response to various approaches to the Holy See for help and a bold, new ecumenical instrument in the search for the unity of Christians, the unity for which Christ himself prayed before his Passion and Death. It is a unity, we believe, which is possible only in eucharistic communion with the successor of St Peter.

A Clip of Papa Benny consecrating La Sagrada Familia

Our Archdiocesan website has this clip on it. You may enjoy it. It gives a good view of the interior of the "Minor Basilica" (which is what it is now classed as) of La Sagrada Familia. I thought the Pope's homily had some interesting points too. Especially the bit about Gaudi's confidence that "St Joseph" would complete this church!

The "Second Coming"??

Well, not quite. I will be "coming again" to St Benedict's in Burwood this Saturday to continue the Anima Education course on Eschatology ("The Last Things"). All are welcome. It doesn't matter if you didn't come to the first half, in which we dealt with teachings of the Kingdom of God, body and soul, death, Heaven and Hell. This Saturday, we will be continuing with Purgatory, Resurrection, the Second Coming, the Judgement and the New Creation. So there is still plenty to get out of this one day seminar. We start at 10am (after the 9am mass in the chapel at St Benedict's) in St Benedict House, a few doors down from the Church (at 301 Warrigal Rd. Burwood), and go through to 3:30pm. There is a small fee ($10 I think) to cover expenses. It should be a great day. Full details here.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Can't see this "open letter" having much effect

There is, apparently, an "open letter" to Anglican "dissidents" considering entering the Church through Anglican Ordinariates in the Tablet. The irony is that it is not on-line, so not very "open", eh? Still, thanks to Catholica for posting it. I don't think it will have much effect on those considering entering the Ordinariates, since "the deeply anti-modernist thinking (and pessimism towards modern culture) which has obsessed Pope Benedict XVI" is exactly what is attracting these folk away from the Anglican communion towards communion with the Catholic Church.

What (Who?) they are preaching at "St Mary's in Exile"

It is always a bit of an education to take a squiz at the Catholica Australia website. A link from their discussion board took me here, to the St Mary's Community in Exile South Brisbane website, and a post entitled "Greg Latemore – Homilist October 30- 31 2010". What was Mr Latemore preaching at St Mary's on "Reformation Day"? Or rather "Who" were they preaching? Not Christ, it appears, but Hans Küng. And to make his point, Mr Latemore drew up the following table contrasting Prof. Küng to his archnemesis, Prof. Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI. To assist us in the grasping of his point of view, Mr Latemore provides us with the following table (I have reproduced it as it appears on the Catholica website)


Not a completely helpful comparison, because it isn't completely accurate, is it? I won't argue about Mr Latemore's description of the positions of Prof. Küng, but I would argue about his characterisation of the Holy Father on a couple of points, viz.:

1) "Apparent vision": Mr Latemore describes Hans Küng's vision as a vision for "an ethical world" and Pope Benedict's vision for the world as "A Catholic World". His description of Küng's vision as an "ethical" vision is true enough, but does beg the question of what "ethical" means in this context. Whose ethics? What standard of ethics? Be that as it may, I think it would be more accurate to say that Pope Benedict has "a Catholic vision for the world", rather than "a vision for a Catholic world". I am sure you understand the difference.

2) "Apparent time scale of interest as a Christian": Mr Latemore says that while Prof. Küng's interest ranges from "biblical origins and the early church to today", Pope Benedict's interest is limited to "from Augustine & Nicea to today". That seems rather bizarre. Has Mr Latemore not read any of Pope Benedict's works, many particular studies of particular biblical themes and passages, and especially his most recent and continuing study of the Gospels? Has he not been paying attention to the Holy Father's long running series on the saints of the Church, from the apostles right up to the current series of the great women saints? To say that Ratzinger has not always been deeply engaged in biblical and early church studies seems to show a total ignorance of any standard bibliography of Joseph Ratzinger. AND I would say that in fact Prof. Küng's focus actually extends beyond "today" to the next generation and perhaps the generation after that. In just the same way the Holy Father's interest in ecclesial eras goes beyond "today" - even further beyond "today" than Prof. Küng's. The Holy Father's teaching and preaching is always focused upon the Eschaton, the end of days, the coming of the Lord, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. When you take that into account, I think that you will see how limited is Mr Latemore's appreciation of Pope Benedict's "time scale of interest".

3) "Apparent Focus": Mr Latemore's "homily" declared that Prof. Küng's focus is "Christianity" while the Holy Father's focus is "Christendom". Again, he get's Ratzinger entirely wrong. Ratzinger's real focus is Christ. One need only read the first paragraphs of his first Encyclical to get that. "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." The teaching and preaching of Pope Benedict is entirely focused on the encounter with the person of Christ. It is true that he is also concerned about what might be called "Christian culture", but only because he believes that the encounter with Christ is not just for individuals, nor even for the Church, but God's intention for the whole of society. In this way, society itself undergoes much the same transformation that takes place when the individual encounters Christ.

4) "Apparent idea of the Church’s vocation": According to Mr Latemore, Küng's idea is "To be partners with the world" and Ratzinger's is "To convert the world". I can't really argue with that. I think he is quite right. I just ask you which you think is closer to New Testament Christianity.

5) "Apparent attitude to other religions": Again, I can't really argue with Mr Latemore's characterisation of Küng's attitude to other religion as "valid paths to salvation", whereas the Pope believes that the Church is the "path to salvation". But I will argue that he is wrong in saying Pope Benedict "recognises but does not value" other religious traditions. He does value them, precisely as the Church does, namely as containing something of the true human yearning for God, and something of God's revelation. He is simply being true to the witness of the apostles in saying that they are not complete or perfect sources of revelation.

6) "Apparent idea of the role of theologians": Again, Mr Latemore is more or less correct when he says that Küng's idea is that theologians are "answerable to scholarly research & conscience". I don't think Ratzinger would argue with that as an important and indispensible element of the work of a theologian. But, as Mr Latemore says, the Pope does believe that (in the final analysis) Catholic theologians are "answerable to the Church’s magisterium". I think that says more about the difference between these two men in their understanding of the purpose of theology. Küng believes that theologians should BE the "magisterium". The Ratzinger recognises a higher authority beyond the theologian's own scholarship and conscience. Küng does not.

7) "Apparent attitude to celibacy": I think the Holy Father is just as aware as Küng and Mr Latemore that celibacy is "Church law" rather than "Divine law" - otherwise how could the Pope recognise the tradition of the Eastern Churches as valid? What the Holy Father understands, and Küng does not is that there is a benefit to the Church in the discipline of celibacy, that it is a "Divine vocation" rather than a "law", which befits the calling to the priesthood. Basically, Küng sees it as a negative and Ratzinger as a positive.

8 ) "Apparently opposes": There are lots of things both Küng and Ratzinger would agree on opposing, but if you want to single out a couple of items, it is true that Küng opposes what he (and Mr Latemore) calls "clericalism & dogmatism" whereas Ratzinger has opposed "secularism & relativism" all his life. I guess the question is: which is the greatest danger to the world today?

This little exercise is indeed, as Brian Coyne says on Catholica, a pleasant "distraction [from] the Melbourne Cup" and other things going on in the world, but I ask you whether it is the stuff that homilies should be made of? In the end, who are we supposed to be preaching: the ideas of this or that theologian, or the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Wanted: A Priest/Parish to "Sing the Mass"

I recently attended a Hindu-Catholic conversation on chanting. Hindus, of course, have maintained a very ancient form of chant that forms an integral part of their prayer and spirituality. The Catholic who presented on our behalf, a priest, brought along the Liber Usualis (you can download a complete copy here) and beautifully and expertly led us in some of the great variety of chants from this resource. And yet, when I asked him afterwards, he said that he does not believe that the chant can or should be revived. "It's time is past", he said.

Is it?

Fr Nick Pearce writes about a new book called "Gut Check" by Tarek Saab. He quotes from Saab's book as follows:
I attended mass at my local parish like I had every Sunday, but I failed to connect with the promise of mystery in my Catholic belief. Absorbing the mind numbing sappy, guitar hymns, or the fiftieth iteration of the “God loves you” sermon from a happy-go-lucky preacher, was a gut-wrenching experience for any man with an ounce of testosterone.” (p124)

...In my local church, like many other, the treasured master pieces of Catholic art were replaced in favour of sandal clad caricatures with all the realism of a Hanna-Babera cartoon. It could have been tolerable if I had sensed any level of reverence from the community, but apathy had found a new home in the cargo shorts and unkempt appearance of communicants, while others claimed to be “on fire” with a form of trendy, secular Christianity.”(p125)

This is such an accurate description of the experience many have of modern Catholic liturgy. Some time ago, Jeffrey Tucker wrote a book called "Sing like a Catholic". I disagreed with Tucker about his attitude to hymnody (which I think can have a positive place alongside the use of the chant in mass) but entirely agreed with him that we need to reclaim our treasured heritage of chant if we wish to reclaim the authentic spirit of the Roman Rite. (Just try to imagine for the moment a liturgy in the Byzantine or Syriac Rite spoken, if you want to understand what I mean.)

I have my own theory about why chant has been completely lost from the Roman rite, and partly it is because when it was done it was only ever done by the Schola rather than the congregation, and partly because the dominant form of liturgy in parishes before the Council was Low Mass, in which no chant (no music!) was used at all. Others argue that the chant has to be in Latin and cannot be in English. But from my experience of the traditional Lutheran liturgy I KNOW that the chant can be in English and that the ordo of the mass can be sung by a congregation (with the propers done by a Schola).

The fact that the new English missal will have the chants for both the celebrant AND the congregation seems a clear enough indication that the Church actually WANTS us to sing the mass (the whole issue of the singing of the propers in English is another thing altogether - see this interesting project by Adam Bartlett and Jeffrey Tucker here). The question is, what are we going to do about it? Where is the Parish or the Priest that will take the bull by the horns and actually schedule a regular weekly mass that puts this vision into action?

There are two papers that I can point to that should encourage this attempt. The first is "Towards the Future – Singing the Mass", a keynote-address to the Southeastern Liturgical Music Symposium by Msgr Andrew R Wadsworth, Executive Director of The ICEL Secretariat given in Atlanta, Georgia on August 21 this year. The second is a comment on this by Adam Bartlett called "An Experiment in Sacred Music Resource Production: Let’s Lay an Egg!". Again, my question is: is there anyone who can put this into practice? It would take either a parish or at least a priest with the vision to give this a go. Let me say at once that if any such parish or priest is willing to take up the challenge, I would be more than happy to be a part of the team helping to bring it to reality.

It's not just the chant, of course, but the whole shebang: ad orientam celebration, kneeling for reception of communion, good challenging Catholic preaching, good solid (musically, lyrically and doctrinally etc.) hymnody, faithfulness to GIRM and the rubrics etc. But if we are going to start somewhere we need at least a priest to be the celebrant, and a parish willing to host such an oddity which can be a model for the whole archdiocese.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Reading the Junkmail

...can sometimes be like reading Tarot cards or tea leaves. Here are the only two articles to arrive in my post box at home yesterday:

Is that spooky, or what?

I have written to Jo Tenner, and to James Merlino (Labor) and to Matt Mills (Liberal) with my questionnaire based on Your Vote, Your Values. Apparently, James (the currently sitting member, a Catholic in good standing and definitely pro-life), would need a swing against him of 6.8% if he were to lose the seat. That doesn't sound likely, but who knows what havoc the Greens vote might cause in Victoria this year. (BTW, self-disclosure: I am usually a Liberal voter - decision will be more difficult this year).

I do think I need to say one thing about the Greens, though, just in case you might take me for a melon-smasher. I thoroughly get the fact that Greens candidates and supporters are sincere in their beliefs and are committed to doing what they believe to be the "right thing". I was saying to DLP Senator Elect John Madigan on the phone yesterday morning (he rang me) that I believe we do the Greens a discourtesy if we treat them as if they were dishonest in their motives, or as if ethics and morality did not count for them. In fact, I believe they are almost as fanatical and zealous in their moral beliefs as we Catholics are.

Where we differ is not in our moral sincerity and honesty, but in what we believe to be "the right thing". Our argument against the Greens should therefore not be an ad hominum attack, but an argument about issues.

Nor are we opposed on all issues. On the back of Jo's flyer is the statement:
"The Greens stand for funding preventative Healthcare and early intervention in Mental Health services as well as making sure Ambulances, GPs and Hospital Beds are available where and when you need them.
That could be taken as a positive answer to the question in "Your Vote, Your Values" which says:
Will you commit to:
•strengthening preventative and early intervention measures [for mental illness], and committing sufficient resources to enable effective treatment?
So some of their policies are good, and some of their policies are ones that Catholics can support. The problem is with with those other policies, the ones on matters of human life and dignity from conception to natural death, on marriage and family, and on the freedom of religion and Church/State relations.

I have a lot of respect for Greens candidates. They stand for what they believe in. I like that. I also like watermelons. I just don't like the pips.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fr Lombardi's "Reformation Day" message

Lutheran readers of this blog will be aware that we have not only celebrated All Saints Day this week, but also "Reformation Day", the anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. Somewhat ironically then (although the irony would have been missed on most Catholics) a small group gathered in Rome on Sunday observed a new "Reformation Day" to draw attention to the scandal of child abuse in the Church (as if we needed reminding!). Gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo, a short walk from the Vatican, a victims group called “Survivors Voice” (led by two Boston-area abuse victims from the United States, Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid) held a vigil last Sunday to call the Church to greater action in this area.

Fr Fredrico Lombardi, the Vatican Press spokesman, met the group and read to them a personal message (not an official statement from the Pope) urging the group to see the Church as an ally in the fight against child abuse, rather than an opponent. Here is his letter (courtesy of John L. Allen Jnr):

On the occasion of “Reformation Day”, organised by “Survivor’s Voice”
By Fr. Lombardi

The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.

This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.

In this, I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again.

I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.

It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.

Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.

It is true that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities, and that there must be a good collaboration between these two, in conformity to the laws and situations of the countries concerned.

I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.

Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.

But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.

The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focussed on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.

This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.

What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.

"The Priesthood of All Believers"

In the "On the Square" column of the First Things website, Peter Leithard has an article on the Lutheran doctrine of "the Priesthood of All Believers". It is quite a good read, and I think that even Catholic readers will be edified by it, especially the reflections on the Aaronic priesthood, and how that reflects in the priestly character of the Church today.

The Second Vatican Council embraced its own version of this classic Reformation doctrine. Essentially, it reclaimed the scriptural teaching that the whole assembly of the faithful are a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9).
"Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God"...

Christ the Lord, High Priest taken from among men, made the new people "a kingdom and priests to God the Father". The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated as a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, in order that through all those works which are those of the Christian man they may offer spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the power of Him who has called them out of darkness into His marvelous light. Therefore all the disciples of Christ, persevering in prayer and praising God,(103) should present themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Everywhere on earth they must bear witness to Christ and give an answer to those who seek an account of that hope of eternal life which is in them." Lumen Gentium 9,10

However, the Council continued to uphold the distinction between the "ministerial priesthood" and the "common priesthood of the faithful" in the following way:
Though they differ from one another in essence and not only in degree, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood are nonetheless interrelated: each of them in its own special way is a participation in the one priesthood of Christ. The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people. But the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.

The distinction between the "priesthood of all believers" and the "office of the ministry" can also be found in Lutheran doctrine, with a corresponding teaching that the difference is one of "essence" and not only "degree", yet Lutherans are usually a little less inclined to actually ascribing the categories of "priesthood" to the "office of the ministry". They see the latter purely in ministerial terms, and not (generally) in priestly terms. This is because (again, generally speaking), they see the Aaronic priesthood to have been replaced soley with "the preisthood of all believers", leaving no place for a order of priesthood within the priestly people of God.

Catholic doctrine is a little different, as it sees a continuation of the Aaronic priesthood in the "ministerial" (ordained) priesthood. Although many people have things to say against him, I have Raymond Brown to thank for the fact that I realised early on - long before I became Catholic, while I was still a seminarian - that the inauguration of the new covenant in the Highpriesthood of Christ does not exclude the existence of a continuing order of priests within and serving the Priestly People of the Church. His little book "Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections" was most helpful in this regard. The Old Covenant People of God was a true priesthood embracing the whole nation of Israel, and yet Israel herself required a priesthood to serve her, to offer sacrifice and intercession for her, and to do all the things for her that Leithard outlines so well in his article. The New Covenant People of God are no different, and there is no more contradiction in having an order of ministerial priests within the priestly community in the New Covenant than there was in the Old Covenant. We, as with the Lutherans, see the Priesthood of Christ as the final fulfillment of both the Aaronic priesthood and the priesthood of Israel, but we say that both the continuing New Testament office of the ministry AND the continuing New Testament priestly community of all the faithful derive from this one Priesthood of Christ.

Where Leithard has it exactly correct is his criticism of the way in which the rise of Individualism has skewed the teaching of the baptismal ministry, to lead to the notion that the idea of the priesthood of the baptised somehow leads to the detachment of the individual from the liturgical assembly. Perhaps he could have taken this a little further and noted that the true New Testament doctrine about "the priesthood of all believers"/"common baptismal priesthood" teaches a priesthood that each of the baptised possesses only in union with the whole community of the Church. It is only AS "the People of God" that we exercise this priesthood.

This is then not unrelated to the doctrine that we often hear from Protestants in criticism of our Catholic practice of canonising particular individual believers as "saints". They object that "we are all saints". Yes, but not individually. Whenever the New Testament refers to "the saints" they are speaking of the whole Church as one body of the sanctified, not of a property that each believer already in this life possesses in and of ourselves in some individual manner.

Catholics can affirm with Lutherans that all the baptised are together "priests" and all the baptised are together "saints", but we pay especial attention to the danger of individualism of which Leithard's short article warns us.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"That's sooooo 20th Century."

Have you heard that one yet? It's becoming the latest put down. It's "like, get with it, man" for the 21st Century. CD's are 20th Century. Blackberrys are 20th Century. Being opposed to physician assisted suicide is 20th Century...

Well, at least according to Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens. In an article in today's edition of The Age ("Brown attacks Catholic Church election stance"), Mr Brown says:

''I welcome the Catholic Church or the Presbyterian Church or the Buddhists or anyone having a say in that [euthanasia] - we are a free and open democracy - but it really opens up to public attention the fact that the Greens are a 21st-century party trying to drag the other parties out of their last-century thinking on so many issues.''

Ah. "Last-century thinking". There's nothing like pumping up the relentless tide of "progress" to make a political party look as if it has a future. Actually, Mr Brown's rhetoric sounds rather 20th Century itself. Anyone who knows any social history will recall that in the first decade of the 20th Century, "Victorian values" were condemned as "so last century", and the newly minted 20th Century was proclaimed to be the "Century of Progress" and "the Brotherhood of Man"…

The Great War broke out in 1914, and the idea of "the progress of man" got a bit of a reality check. We're only 10 years into this new century, Mr Brown. Let's wait and see how the 21st Century turns out before we start using it as a positive adjective for our political ideals.

In any case, it is rather telling that Mr Brown has pulled off his gloves and openly attacked Archbishop Hart and the Catholic Church for its opposition to policies which the Greens espouse. By contrast, in Your Vote, Your Values, the Catholic bishops were very careful to make it quite clear that "as bishops we are not advocating any political party. That is not our role." But according to Mr Brown, the Church is trying to "dictate to people" and "trying to tell parishioners how to vote". Good try, Mr Brown. In fact, what the Church is doing is what she has always done: guiding and shepherding the flock, speaking the truth of faith and morals, suggesting a "better way", a path of life and of hope. This is, in fact, what Catholics belong to a Church for. They expect their bishops to educate them in what is right and wrong, and to encourage them to live a morally upright life in society.

Mr Brown retorts that "the Greens embraced Christian ethics and Catholic voters could think for themselves." Another nice try. For a start it would be interesting to see how Mr Brown defines "Christian ethics". Are the Greens now claiming a more infallible charism to teach Christian ethics than the Church herself? And yes, Catholics who can think for themselves are precisely what we want, with an emphasis on the word "think". The Greens are far too complacent in their ability to pass off ideas as "progressive" and therefore "good" for our society. We want a Catholic laity who can think beyond the slogans of Greens policies.

One is not, however, optimistic. In the Letters section of today's Age, there were nine (9) letters on the subject of the Bishops' statement. ALL NINE WERE ANTI-CATHOLIC. That's balance for you. Perhaps – just maybe perhaps – The Age received no positive letters about the bishops' initiative at all. Perhaps.

A quick review of the letters gives us:

"WHILE Catholic bishops are perfectly entitled to advise their flocks on moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia, they are not entitled to impose those views on the broader society…[I]f every Catholic followed the advice, all members of our society would be affected." (Dr Peter Evans, Hawthorn)

Thanks, Doc. That's how democratic politics works. Everyone gets a say in how their society is run. One could turn the tables and say that while the Greens are "perfectly entitled" to their silly ideas about what makes a "progressive" society, "they are not entitled to impose those views on the broader society" – which is exactly what will happen if they gain any real political power. Doc Evans goes on to say "Catholics make up only one in four of our community" – and at last count Greens made up less than one in six. So what's your point, Doc?

Jean Jordan of Eltham asks why "The Catholic Church's election guide urges parishioners to ''quiz'' candidates on their attitudes to voluntary euthanasia and abortion" but doesn't mention the war in Afghanistan. Easy one, Jean. This is a State election, and the State government has no powers to commit our armed forces to any engagement.

Then there are two letters, one from Peter O'Keefe and another from John Mosig, which take the predictable line that since the sexual abuse scandal, the "Catholic Church is hardly in a position to lecture us on morality." As I say, the argument is predictable. And it too could be turned on its head: Does a society that murders its unborn children at a rate of 80,000 a year and a political party that wants us to help sick people kill themselves have a right to lecture us on morality?

Then there is Jason Ball of South Yarra who reckons that "someone should inform Archbishop Denis Hart that three in four Catholics actually support euthanasia." Is it that high? If so, it is my guess that those "Catholics" that "actually support euthanasia" would be those with whom Steve Clark of Bukoba in Tanzania (they read The Age in Tanzania???) self identifies when he cites those who are only counted as Catholics "because they were baptised as infants but are in no sense now part of the church (like me)".

To cap it all off, Bob Greaves gives us just the sort of non-sequitur which makes brings us back to the "soooo last century" jibe. In his opinion, "the reactionary opinions of the Catholic Church hierarchy have no place in secular Australian politics". So, let me get that right, Bob. Are you saying that people who have opinions different to yours shouldn't get to vote? Or just that religious people shouldn't be allowed to vote? Or that religious people should forget about their most deeply held convictions and vote like hypocrites?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Indulgence Season now open. For the Indulgences for the Faithful Departed, available from 1 to 8 November, see here.

Of course, this is a contentious issue ecumenically. Yesterday was celebrated as the Festival of the Reformation in the Lutheran Church, because it was on the eve of All Saints that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517. Ever since then, indulgences has been a flashpoint issue in the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.

My children were treated yesterday to a "fun" children's address in which (according to their report) the one giving the address came into the church crying something along the lines of "Pay your money and get your sins forgiven". They were then taught that sins are only forgiven through confession and repentance. Of course. That is what the Catholic Church teaches too. Indulgences has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins, and perpetuating this myth is not helpful.

But when I tried to explain what an indulgence is to my children, I found myself floundering. That is because there are at least four ideas behind the doctrine of indulgences that need to be comprehended before the doctrine makes any sense - it is like a picture which is dependant upon the frame for its full understanding. That framework consists of the following doctrines:

1) Purgatory
2) "Merit"
3) Communion of Saints
4) the Authority of the Church to bind or loose

Each of these issues in turn is hotly contended between our two communions, and just complicates the misunderstandings.

I also find that trying to explain the doctrine of indulgences to a non-Catholic comes up against a problem that is a little like trying to describe to someone what a stained glass window looks like, when you are viewing the window from inside the church, with the light streaming in and making it look beautiful and attractive and gracious, and the person you are trying to explain it to is standing on the outside of the church, seeing only the grey dark blobs of glass with darkness behind it. It is a doctrine that looks completely different to someone standing inside the Catholic Church to someone standing outside it.

A related problem is that to the person outside the Church, it looks as if we are doing legalistic "works" to win God's favour, his love, his acceptance, his approval, his forgiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. It really has to do with one's relationship to God in terms of one's attachment to sin and purification from that attachment. I find one of the most helpful analogies being that which my friend Peter once pointed out: there are some things which the Church recommends that you can do for "the good of your soul". Even the protestant churches have this, of course. They recommend bible reading, prayer, acts of charity, fasting etc. They know that, as our Lord taught us, these things are "for the good of your soul". They do not "earn" anything, rather they strengthen one's relationship with the Lord and they purify one from attachment to self and sin.

The Authority of the Church to bind or loose on earth and the promise that this will be granted by God in heaven is also central to our practice of indulgences. The Church has the authority to "recommend" this or that act of devotion or charity which the individual believer may engage in and to attach to it the promises of God. That is a very contentious issue in itself, but Catholics believe that the Church actually has the authority to act in the way in which Jesus said it does. It can determine the guidelines by which this "binding or loosing" may be obtained. Of course, here we are not talking about the "binding or loosing" of absolution - which "binds or looses" from the eternal consequences of sin, but the "binding or loosing" of the temporal consequences of sin. It is about purification from the attachment to sin, not forgiveness or acceptance from God.

They are therefore not a "requirement", not a "law" that you "have to" fulfill for acceptance by God, but a gracious invitation to those disciplines that are for "the good of your soul". The doctrine of the communion on saints, of the treasury of "merit" and of purgatory relate to the fact that these acts of devotion can also be shared with others in the communion of saints, namely the Holy Souls in purgatory. They are like the invitation of our Lord to the wedding banquet in the parable. It is all grace. Are there "requirements"? Only in so far as an invitation will often have a "dress code" attached (even in the parable of the wedding banquet, there is a "wedding garment" to be worn - which is itself, of course, a gift from the host). It would be silly to see such a requirement as a "law", when it is all included in the gracious invitation itself. It is, as they say, "all grace".

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"It's not my building, its God's".

Well, that isn't quite the quote, I admit, but it could have been said. I am referring to an excellent article in Saturday's edition of The Age called "Mad, bad or masterful?" by Ray Edgar on La Sagrada Familia, the Barcelonian Church and dream of Antonio Gaudi, nearing completion and to be consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI this coming Sunday. It is a very good article, which brings to light a Melbourne connection with the Church. Melbourne architect and professor at RMIT, Mark Burry, has been working on the Church as a consultant for thirty years, and the article focuses on his attitude toward La Sagrada Familia and its original architect.

The quotation is actually from Burry himself, who said "It's not my building, it's Gaudi's", but the whole article points to a controversy in the direction of the heading of this post. At the end of the article, Burry says, in answer to the question "But is it in service to God or Gaudi?":
"It's a church," says Burry. "Its purpose is to afford the congregation of people from all walks of life with a place for one purpose. If they are thinking of architects, they will be thinking of Gaudi and an architect who died in 1926, who had the capacity to inspire people to make money sufficient to get the church started and built, and inspired people to continue that work 80 years after his death."

And it is precisely this point - that La Sagrada Familia is a CHURCH - that gets up the nose of secularist opponents to this amazing and miraculous project. As Edgar summarises:
While zealots have, over the years, nominated Gaudi himself for sainthood, not everyone is rejoicing in the building's completion. This landmark of the city, which attracts 2.6 million tourists a year, is also a symbol of the divisions within it. The issues involve heritage, the role of the church and state, and, indeed, the reputation of the architect himself - one whose architecture teacher described him to his students as "a genius and probably mad". [my emphasis]
He goes on:
Indeed, the cultural tremors surrounding the Sagrada Familia date back decades... After the war, Europe's cultural elite felt the same way about continuing construction on the site. Architectural luminaries such as Le Corbusier and Gropius signed local petitions against it. More recently, FAD, the key artistic and architectural union in Barcelona, produced the "Gaudi: Red Alert" manifesto signed by the Spanish intelligentsia, including the head of the Reina Sofia museum. Former FAD president Beth Gali herself appears in Robert Hughes' 2003 Gaudi documentary offering facetious proposals for the new sections of the church - a Christo wrapping, a train station, which Hughes, another opponent, happily endorses. In his 1992 book on the city, Hughes laments, "Nothing can be done about the Sagrada Familia".

"There's lots of reasons to think of why you wouldn't want to continue that building," Mark Burry says. "That it's better off as a ruin, testament to a tragic genius, or that it's better to rethink religious observance for the 21st century in a different form. I asked them myself when I came here in 1979. Why didn't they adapt it to a secular plan? It seemed like that would be a more ecumenical approach. I was told it's not my building, it's Gaudi's building."

......Barcelona-based architect David Mackay, a partner in the prestigious architectural firm MBM Architects, who signed the petition against the project along with Le Corbusier, says the church is the product of Gaudi's deluded obsession, rather than the great man's best work. Gaudi was in thrall to God and "his mind was stolen by fundamentalism". What has been created in his wake is "Gaudi at his worst", says Mackay. [my emphasis]

You get the drift. Gaudi's creation is an afront to the intelligentsia of Spain because it is a religious testament, and that seems out of step with today's modern Spanish ideals. As if to prove the point:
A high-speed train tunnel connecting Paris, Barcelona and Madrid passes within 0.4 metres of the World Heritage-listed building's foundations. Despite the four-year campaign by the Sagrada Familia's chief architect, Jordi Bonet, and pressure from UNESCO, Spain's Socialist government commissioned tests and allowed the 12-metre-diameter drill to bore past. To not do so, advocates of the tunnel argued, would be to allow the church to "hold back the progress of Spain".

As a side note, another thing mentioned in the article that strikes me is the "holism" of the vision for the Church:
"For me the fascination of Gaudi is his holism," [Burry] says. "Whether it's structure or construction or decoration or form or repertoire of materials or economics, he seems to be the master." ...The argument follows that like the cathedrals of old, one architect could not possibly finish it in their lifetime. "Gaudi knew this," says Burry, "and used the models to explain it well enough for others to continue the job."

The same holistic vision is what appeals to me about our own Cathedral of St Patrick in Melbourne. It is an entire whole, a complete vision inside and out of Wardell's single architectural plan.

I thank God for La Sagrada Familia and the dedication of men like Mark Burry in seeing it to its completion. Edgar reports that "thanks to Gaudi, the Pope's visit to Spain will probably receive more attention than his recent visit to London". In a sense it will be a continuation of the Holy Father's message in Britain. Gaudi's Church is a statement that, even in our modern society, there can be no true human "progress" in a society that loses sight of God.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Your Vote, Your Values

Coming out this weekend in all parishes in Victoria is a joint statement from the Catholic diocesan bishops of Victoria, Archbishop Denis Hart (Archbishop of Melbourne), and Bishops Peter Connors (Ballarat), Joseph Grech (Sandhurst), and Christopher Prowse (Sale) called "Your Vote, Your Values: Issues and Questions for Parliamentary Candidates for the Victorian Election".

I have been eagerly awaiting this document, as I have been wanting to write to my local member and to the other candidates to ascertain where they stand on a number of crucial issues. This is because things are not simple in the State of Victoria at the moment. The political values of the parties and leaders are not clearly demarcated, and the policies of all parties seem more designed to get themselves elected than to do what is right for the state. There are good and honest and virtuous candidates in all the parties, but their own values do not always translate into the value of the party as a whole or that of their leaders.

But we don't get to elect a party or a leader, we only get to elect a candidate. So it is vital to know what your candidate stands for. "Your Vote, Your Values" provides a series of issues and related questions on a number of values, including Life, Families, Education, Health and Aged Care, Community, and Religious Freedom. Taking this statement, I have written it up as a questionnaire in table form for my local member and the other candidates (I have turned all the questions into "Yes/No" questions for quick answering, and also added a question about funding palliative care - I don't know why that was left off the list). I am going to send it to each of them, and request a response. I will inform them also that I am a blogger, and will report on their responses (or lack of response) to my readers on my blog (the questionnaire is rather extensive, and it is not likely that they would go to the bother of answering it unless they knew that it was going to be reported).

I wonder what the response will be?

In the mean time, if you want to do the same, you can download the questionnaire from here from Media Fire (sorry, free Wordpress doesn't support document hosting). You can find out information about the Election and Candidates from this website. Note that official nominations for the 2010 Victorian State election only open next Wednesday, 3 November, so start writing your letters now ready to post next week.

Please share any responses you get with us in the combox to this post, or email them to me and I will post them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Our St Mary: More likely to pray for vocations than to challenge for women "priests"

Dr Laura Beth Bugg (a lecturer in sociology of religion at the University of Sydney) writes in the Sydney Morning Herald:
This past week a woman was ordained a Catholic priest in Canada. The church did not sanction her ordination, and she will shortly be excommunicated. Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a movement for women's ordination that began in 2002, supervised the ordination. Since that time nearly 100 women worldwide have been ordained, although none have been recognised by the church.

These are not women who wish to break off from the church; they want to reimagine it. There are yet other Catholic feminists who understand the very concept of priesthood and the hierarchical structure of the church as fatally flawed. They do not wish to see women as priests, but to see the entire Catholic community as one that is radically democratic and committed to peace-making, justice and community building.

...Perhaps the legacy of St Mary and others like her who have spoken out boldly and faithfully will be to inspire new generations to speak to the structures of hierarchy and patriarchy that choke the church and countless other religious institutions.

Dr Bugg attempts in this article to use (abuse?) St Mary of the Cross MacKillop for her cause. As she herself points out, St Mary wisely advised: "Never see a need without doing something about it". But I am confident that, rather than trying to "reimagine the Church", St Mary was and is more likely to follow Jesus' own directions, as he said: "The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."