Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Hymn for 2017

By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.
Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
Still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
Oh, give our frightened souls the sure salvation
for which, O Lord, You taught us to prepare.
And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.
Yet when again in this same world You give us
The joy we had, the brightness of Your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be Yours alone.
By gracious powers so faithfully protected,
so quietly, so wonderfully near,
I'll live each day in hope, with you beside me
and go with you through every coming year.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, tr. Fred Pratt Green

World Day of Peace Message 2017

Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace Message for 2017, Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace celebrates the 50th anniversary of this series of Papal Statements. 

This call is one that challenges deep seated attitudes and values among people of good will. 

Pope Francis writes from a pastoral perspective and grounds his religious approach in a language that does not alienate the general reader. This is stuff you won't find in the mainstream media or even on a lot of religious media.The World Day of Peace message challenges all of us and our relationships in the global village.John Dear SJ  reflelcts on the writing of this first statement on nonviolence, in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—in history.

Here is some solid reading for the long weekend that will usher in a New Year. Thanks to Sandie Cornish for providing a framework that helps us engage with the text.

Eighth Day of Christmas: Beware of the Cutters
Welcome to January 1st. In the "Land of the Long Weekend" this is the day to recover from the NYE parties and celebrations. It\s a day at the beach or home with a 'Barby".

In good old Catholic Tradition this day was known as the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord. Yes, it is the only Catholic feast for a medical procedure. As with all great Biblical accounts there is a picture gallery available on google.

Circumcision gets some pretty good press in the Scriptures as a popular practice and metaphor. By the time you have worked through the Hebrew Scriptures and made your way to some of Paul's letters you get to the most cutting of his statements:  "Beware of the cutters,"  (Ph.3:2).  So, there you have it, time to stop infant circumcision!! If Paul was around today he would probably join one of the Facebook pages against infant circumcision.

Circumcision has made its way into the public forum. SBS Insight had a public forum: The First Cut. Two of my good friends appeared as guests Elwyn Moir and Sharon Orapeleng. By strange coincidence they were seated next to each other for the recording.

Thanks to this feast we also have a great new word for scrabble: prepuce.  The Holy Prepuce or the story of the foreskin relics is another contribution of Catholicism to the religious entertainment industry. It seems that we can also learn a bit from Michelangelo about this practice.

And so a new year is upon us. May it bring you blessings of peace and happiness. May we work together to build a community of hope and justice in our neighbourhoods and on our planet.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Seventh Day of Christmas: Day to Take Stock

It hasn't taken long for the "Christmas Sales" signs to be replaced by "Stocktake Sales" in the major stores around our cities.These sales are basically incentives to add to our consumer appetite at bargain prices.

Today can also be a great day to "take stock" of life as the year draws to a close. Our new year resolutions are best informed by the reflection of the previous year.

Today is a day to take stock of core values and commitments. It means I place my commitment in small communities such as L'Arche, in the activism of groups like Amnesty International and Oxfam, in the commitment of NGOs like Micah Projects and Palms Australia to bring about social change.

December 31 also provides opportunities for media outlets and commentators (like me) to review the year. The following offer some of the best of the 2016 reviews:
And if you need something a bit more interactive you can take the ABC Quiz of the Week. and for the more adventurous the USA  Quiz of the Year ( you might need to google some of the answers)

When I take stock of my core values I recognize my duty to use social networking tools for raising awareness of justice and peace concerns and building solidarity with those who occupy our cities for the cause of justice.

I invite you to share the story of your "stocktake" of 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sixth Day of Christmas: Holy Family Day

This year the sixth day of Christmas in the amazing world of Catholicism falls on a day celebrated as the Feast of the Holy Family. 

The  history of the Feast can be traced back to Canada in the 17th Century. Since that time various "Confraternities of the Holy Family" have been founded and you will even find a slightly off beat version available via Facebook  In his Pulitzer Prize winning memoir Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt writes of his experience in the Confraternity in Limerick, Ireland as a schoolboy.

The Feast eventually made into into the Liturgical Calendar  listed for the Sunday in the Octave of the Epiphany. In 1969 just after the release of Humanae Vitae it was moved to the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. Howver this year it is overwhelmed by the fact that Christmas Day and the 1st January both fall on a Sunday so it has been bumped to a mere weekday event.

Long before the feast was added to the liturgical calendar images of the Holy Family were a popular theme  of European art history More recently in 2012 he US Postal Services issued a Holy Family stamp. There is also a new and exciting tradition of queering the image of the Holy Family to embrace the diversity of sexuality and spirituality that is evident in theinage I have used here from the collection of Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

As a single gay man with no children of my own  I belong to those who are usually overlooked in the preaching of today's celebration. So here are a couple of challenging readings I discovered that make this day inclusive and joyful for those who cannot 'fit into" the image of the traditional "Holy Family":

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fifth Day of Christmas: Swords and Brooms

Today the theme of martyrdom again dominates the liturgical calendar for those of us with English connections. Mind you some of those connections are traced to anecdotal stories of previous generations of faithful Catholics being driven from our Celtic lands by the religious zealots of the British monarchy.

Anyway, back to the stories of the day which are dominated by a couple of English Monarchs.. Henry 11 is the first English Monarch to have an Australian connection way back in the 12th century. His mum's name was Matilda and she waltzed around town as the Empress Matilda for a few years.
Henry 2nd other claim to fame is his establishing Canterbury as a a massive pilgrimage site after one of his tantrums resulted in the rather bloody murder  of Thomas Beckett on December 29 1170 Tom was canonised in record breaking time on 21 February 1173.

Henry and Tom  were having a bit of a barney over Church rights and as usual, property rights. Unfortunately for Henry, Thomas's death set off the Catholics in a frenzy and all of Europe was suddenly afire with devotion to the new saint. Henry was in a bit of political bother so he agreed to do a dose of penance and in the style of reality TV he had himself flogged at Thomas's tomb.As a reward for this public humiliation Henry was awarded the right to be called King of England rather than the rather pythonish King of the English.

History in England continued on its merry way with the usual family disputes, the odd war and the Magna Carta However a few centuries down the  track and another Second, Charles of England was chopping heads off  any peer he suspected of participation in the Popish Plot  the best of the 17th century conspiracy theories. Among those peers was William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford who lost his head at Tower Hill on December 29 1680. Bill was beatified in 1929 and is still in line for canonisation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fourth Day of Christmas : The Holy Innocents

Coventry Carol

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

O sisters too, How may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling,
For whom we do sing,
By by, lully lullay? 

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

Herod, the King, In his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might,
In his own sight,
All young children to slay. 

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

That woe is me, Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Nor say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

Today it seems  life returns to "normal" after public holidays and there seems  to be little to do but wait for the festivities of the New Year. However on this day the Church recalls the feast of the Holy Innocents

In the Coventry Carol. a text dating from the 16th century a mother laments the the fate of her child according to the massacre of the first born in the second chapter of Matthew's Gospel.

Today we remember that the context of the Christmas story is one of the exploitation of the vulnerable by State power. We have changed little from the bystanders of Herod's massacre as we watch reports from Syria detailing the impact of the war on children.

As we are confronted by this feast the  Catholic Hierarchy of Rwanda. have delivered a belated apology for the Church’s complicity in the planning, aiding, and abetting of the 1994 genocide that claimed more than a million lives.Among those forgotten in this genocide have been the children born of rape.

I chose the Joan Baez version of the Coventry Carol rather than a Church Choir as a reminder of the call to public protest against war and the exploitation of the poor on this day. Children are still the most deeply affected by wars around the globe - 65% of Afghans are under the age of 18. 90% of those killed in wars are children. On this day I hold in sacred memory and social solidarity  the young Sudanese men who have come among us from the horrific experience of being the Lost Boys of Sudan.

 I stand in solidarity with the istory and intent of the Holy Innocents Peace Procession in Melbourne. You can rea dmore of this event here.

Monday, December 26, 2016

3rd Day of Christmas December 27th A Holy Day for Queers
Lord Jesus Christ and "the beloved disciple", St. John the Theologian
A queer reading of St John the Beloved December 27th.

St John has a special place in my personal history. Two weeks after my birth in 1953 I was taken to the Church of Saint John the Evangelist in North Geelong  to be baptized by Fr Bernie Payne. My parents being of good Catholic stock chose two reliable male patrons for me in Anthony of Padua and Gerard Majella. Both died young and lived celibate lives as religious. I have outlived both of them in years and have  been blessed by a life of human intimacy.

The lovely little Spanish Mission  Church of my baptism stands overlooking a popular beachside spot, St Helen's.  By the strange quirks of history and the preferences of the current pastor, the liturgy of the Church remains pretty much the way it was when I was baptized. I don't think they had any hymns at my Baptism. I am pretty sure that the popular Perry Como 1953 release was not on the Hymn sheet. Perhaps St John had a quiet smile on his celestial lips on that day!!

John Henry Newman :  Sermon 5. Love of Relations and Friends

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Day 2016

There are quite a few things I really like about Catholicism. Amongst others, it has nurtured in me a love of theatre and ritual in my life. The cycle of religious festivals with appropriate colours, symbols and texts provide a rich stimulus to imagination as well as feeding the never ending questions of life.

Christmas is, without doubt far more exciting than Easter. I know the liturgical police and the theological prudes will chase me through the corridors of fidelity for uttering such a heresy. But, let’s face it, cribs, carols, trees, candy cane and the spirit, if not the presence of St Nick all work together to provide a lot more excitement than an empty tomb. And we get 12 days to celebrate as well. I always use this as an excuse for sending Christmas Cards right up until January 6th. Wish someone would tell Australia Post about the 12 Days deal so we could continue using the Christmas stamps after December 31st.

Each year I join the universal competition to provide the mother of all cribs. In my young adult years I lived with a community of Capuchin Franciscan Friars where I was introduced to some of the popular European customs in which the Nativity setting became the impetus for creating an electronic metropolis complete with flying objects and a night sky that would have blown Galileo away.

This year at Casa Robertson’s Domestic Church I have set up my Nativity scene in my bay window after consulting the Vatican Feng Shui web site. The Nativity scene is a hand woven from the Philippines which I picked up from the Good Shepherd Trading Circles many years ago. The shepherds have a bit of trouble getting to the main area due to the presence of assorted characters including the Flintstones and Batman. Other visitors at the scene include a small carved figure of St Francis brought back from Japan and a couple of miniature dolls presented to me by the first Korean students at ACU McAuley.

The most popular figure in my Nativity scene with some visitors is the Power Ranger who gets moved all over the place to watch over the gathering and monitor the behavior of the dinosaurs, kangaroos and mermaids.The multicultural features include a Peruvian angel and the recent addition of a Cajaner.

Out of view (as you would expect) are the Magi.. They are currently on the other side of the room  and will slowly progress to the crib to arrive on schedule for the Epiphany on January 6th. One year I was away and had an external Nativity. A neighbor took on the task of moving the “Three Kings” through the garden to arrive on time. I really think she ducked out late on the night of Jan 5th and gave them an express run through the shrubbery.

I feel sorry for the poor old “Three Kings”. They don’t really get to make much of an appearance as everything gets taken down and put away as soon as they arrive in accordance with a tradition handed down by my wise old grandmother.

So, I hope you are blest with friendship, compassion and solidarity with vulnerable people  on the 12 days of Christmas which take us into the New Year with its promise of joy and peace.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Great Aussie Tradition Comes to Bethlehem

This post was originally published in 2006 and after a refresh I thought it also deserved a new audience!!

I remember as a child that the first sign of the arrival of Christmas was my father taking out his treasured LP and the sound of Bing crooning "It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas" filling the house. Now for you youngsters who read this column, I suggest you open up your Wikipedia site at Bing Crosby for some necessary background reading. .

Ten years ago Australian Cinema. was celebrating the success of  the movie, "Kenny" . It the story of a Port-a-loo plumber described as the "Dalai Lama of waste management". Kenny  established the convenient port-a-loo as a national icon with a status that rivals the Hills Hoist. (Back to your Wikipedia younger readers.). Who knows, perhaps a young entrepreneur will win the tender to provide appropriate Port-a-loos for the World Youth Day gathering in Panama 2019.

But, I digress. The reason I am thinking of Kenny this Christmas is that each year as I set up my nativity scene I incorporate images beyond the traditional manger setting. My nativity scene includes visitors such as the Flinstones, figurines from the Muppets and a larger than usual range of animals including dinosaurs!!!

The presentation of full scale Nativity scenes including the local neighbourhood is a custom popular in many European countries. Without doubt, the most intriguing of these customs is the Catalan tradition of including a Caganer in the Nativity setting.

This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the Bethlehem landscape, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. This is because he is depicted sitting on a “loo” engaged in the most basic of human functions. A popular Christmas game is that children search through these nativity scenes to find the caganer. He is usually celebrated as a symbol of good luck as he replenishes the fertility of the land. The traditional caganer has now been taken over in many Nativity scenes by more popular and famous caganers. In 2006 the first Papal cagener was released  and  you can  order a Pope Francis Cagener to adorn your creche. The latest news is that the biggest selling Caganer of 2016 is the Trump model.

Perhaps our local version could be the inclusion of a Port-a-loo in all our nativity settings. This would add the aspect of hospitality to our cribs as all those shepherds and kings would need to visit the “little room” at some stage. The presence of this great Aussie icon also pays tribute to the long lost sense of sacred space us oldies experienced in the outdoor toilet.

So, have a great Christmas, and among your toasts at the Christmas dinner remember the “Kenny’s” of our community who set up and dismantle Port-a-loos for our convenience at public events!

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Jennifer Herrick: Exposing Abuse

Jennifer Herrick. Photo: Victoria Grant
The name of Jennifer Herrick deserves to be written large in the annals of the history of the Catholic Church in Australia
Her story of a secret and abusive relationship with Father Tom Knowles of the Blessed Sacrament Congregation reached its climax today, 4th Decemeber 2016  when a public apology and news of Knowles laicization was read to the congragation of St Francis Church in Melbourne.
Not only has she exposed the tip of the iceberg of clergy abuse of vulnerable women; Jennifer has also exposed the Achilles heel of the Catholic priesthood. Clericalism and male entitlement are the false idols of the Church which continue to attract a new generation of inappropriate clergy both home born and imported.
If we are to be honest about the Church we love and the power it has for compassion, hope, and dignity of all life then we need to confront the dark truth that roams our sanctuaries like a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Father Tom Knowles. Photo: Newcastle Herald
The beautiful historic Church of St Francis in Melbourne is now tainted by the memory of the abusive behaviour of Tom Knowles. His skill as a renowned liturgical leader is meaningless in the light of his history of neglect of the very vows he proclaimed in public. His removal from priesthood testifies to a culture that needs to be named and confronted. His congregation of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers will need to hold a public ritual of lament before I return to pray and worship in one of my favourite churches.
Is it ironic or a moment of grace  that this news is breaking as we "Orange the World" to end violence against women and girls? It would have been a welcome gesture if clergy adopted orange as the colour of their vestments during this campaign!!