Monday, December 31, 2018

Seventh Day of Christmas Putting the Stamp on Christmas

Often when doing  an online search for material I use the Google Image search tool as I am a visual type of person and love the images that take me to text.  During these 12 Days of Christmas I suggest you visit the Google Image site for Australia Post  Christmas Stamps.

The history of Christmas stamps is rich and diverse.The Wikipedia article notes that: "The choice of secular or religious designs is frequently a bone of contention; church leaders often see secular designs as diluting the meaning of the holiday, while postal officials fear that overly religious designs could lead their secular customers to avoid the stamps, leaving millions unsold, and even expose the postal administration to charges that they are violating laws prohibiting the promotion of a particular religion.

In the United States, annual discord over "secular" versus "religious" designs was resolved by issuing some of each; typically a group of 4-6 related secular designs, plus a Madonna and Child design. To avoid difficulties attendant upon contracting for original designs with a religious theme, the designs are based on Old Master paintings hanging in U.S. galleries, thus qualifying as depictions of art. The British Royal Mail resolves the difficulty by issuing "religious" and "secular" themed designs in alternate years."

The 2017 Australian Christmas Stamp set included a Madonna and Child image that has great personal significance." The 65c Christmas-card-rate stamp shows a projection from the 2013 Lights of Christmas display. The painting is a copy of a now lost work by Italian artist Roberto Ferruzzi (1853–1934). The much loved original painting, known as the Madonnina or the Madonna of the Streets, was awarded a major prize at the 1897 Venice Biennale. Often reproduced as a devotional image, it survives in countless copies."

This is an image that sat on my mother's kitchen window sill for most of her 85 years. It sat in a small circular frame above the sink where she spent many quiet hours while the rest of the household were at work or school. Behind the image is a fascinating  family story (Use a translation tool to read an English version)
My childhood Christmas memories include the never ending series of cards  that my parents received from relatives and friends. I think we even swapped (posted) cards to the neighbours. I'm not sure we followed the Christmas etiquette although I suspect the posting was done in time for cards to arrive before  Christmas Day.

I now have a custom of sending the cards during the Christmas season of the 12 Days as a bit of a protest that Australia Post only allows the use of the Christmas stamp up to the end of December.  You can of course use if after the 31st but they expect you to add the extra 5c stamp to cover for normal postage rates.

Here is the set for 2018

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sixth Day of Christmas: Holy Family

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. 

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. This year I pay tribute to Sr Wendy Beckett who died on Boxing day 2018 with her reflection  on Janet McKenzie's The Holy Family.

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 the image I have used above  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":

Friday, December 28, 2018

Fifth Day of Christmas: St Thomas Beckett

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 Britons.

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 canonization.

When I was studying for my HSC in 1970, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot was one of the set texts on the theme of Authority and the Individual.
The tension between politics and religion has been one of the formative features of the Westminster model of Government that we have inherited.Our history has been played out in the theatre of controversy between the interests of the State and the Church.
Some of my earliest memories of this conflict was learning that the Irish Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix stood in public opposition to the conscription of young men to the First World War by the Government of Billy Hughes.

Today's image is my appearance as the herald in Eliot's play. The performance was staged at St Anthony's Church Marsfield in about 1976.

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!

The Boxing Day sales are over  and life returns to "normal" 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 and read the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse

The children of well as those caught up in the Srebrenica massacre,and the child victims of the Rwanda genocide are only a few of the tragic litany of violence in our own day.

Yet in the midst of all this ancient and contemporary horror a cry goes out from our Christmas celebrations that "God is with Us'. For the one who comes among us as a vulnerable child has broken the cycle of human violence in the image of a man on a  cross.
Mothers will weep for the lost children of our history and fathers will grieve with heavy hearts. But our belief is that the killing, the abuse, the exploitation and neglect of children is a political situation we can change.
This is also a religious moment when we recognize that God is there in the midst of suffering, bleeding, crying and abandoned because the cycle of violence has been broken by the prince of peace.
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  those who had their childhood taken from them in Institutional Care 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Third Day of Christmas: A Holy Day for Queers

“John the Apostle resting on the bosom of Christ,” Swabia/Lake Constance, early 14th century.
 Photo by Andreas Praefcke. (Wikimedia Commons)
The third day of Christmas is the feast of St John.Popularly known as the evangelist and the "disciple whom Jesus loved", John is the author of a Gospel and the Book Of Revelation.

The unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved” is referenced five times in the gospel of John (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:22, 21:7, 20). Church tradition identifies him as John himself. 

The Beloved Disciple reclined next to Jesus at the Last Supper, resting his head on Jesus’ chest. He was the only male disciple present at the crucifixion. From the cross, Jesus entrusted the Beloved Disciple and his mother Mary into each other’s care.
There is even a medieval European tradition that John and Jesus were the bridal couple at the Cana wedding feast. The story of Jesus' first public miracle  as told in  John 2:1-11 does not name  those getting married. In this feast there is a subversive undercurrent that invites us in the spirit of the traditional Christmas story to encounter humanity with open eyes and hearts. As we celebrate this feast in Australia we are called to add our recognition of same sex marriage to the angelic chorus of "Gloria in Excelsis Deo
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.

 St John's Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane. is an intentional inclusion space  for LGBTIQ people.This welcome was most evident at the 2017 funeral service for Brisbane singer, Carol Lloyd.


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2nd Day of Christmas: December 26th: Feast of St Stephen

Catholicism has a disarming way of subverting the dominant culture. As the crowds throng to the temples of commercial transaction the Church shakes us out of our Christmas slumber with a series of days that  focus on death and martyrdom.

Today is the second day of Christmas and the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr. This is a feast that is older than Christmas Day and rich in legend and culture. In Brisbane a small crowd of the faithful will gather for the patronal feast of the city's Catholic Cathedral. 

From the earliest beginnings of monasticism in Western Christendom, St Stephen's Day was the day when the alms boxes from the monasteries and churches were opened and the money given to the priest or used to help the poor and needy. This is the origin of our "Boxing Day"   Good King Wenceslas, is set on St Stephen's Day and outlines how the Catholic King of Bohemia in the 10th century made charitable attempts to give food to the poor. (Source: Ian Elmer)

In Ireland it is a good day for racing to honour the saint's role as a patron of horses.  According to  the good old Catholic Culture page, it was a general practice among the farmers in Europe to decorate their horses on Stephen's Day, and bring them to the house of God to be blessed by the priest and afterward ridden three times around the church, a custom still observed in many rural sections. Later in the day the whole family takes a gay ride in a wagon or sleigh (St. Stephen's ride). In Sweden, the holy deacon was changed by early legend into the figure of a native saint, a stable boy who is said to have been killed by the pagans in Helsingland. His name — Staffan — reveals the original saint. The "Staffan Riders" parade through the towns of Sweden on December 26, singing their ancient carols in honor of the "Saint of Horses."

Another Celtic tradition of this day is that of the wren boys

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The 12 Days of Christmas

Welcome to my readings for the 12 Days of Christmas. Here you will find a bit of history, some quirky insights and all the reasons you need to celebrate Christmas beyond the commercial drive for tinsel and gifts.

This series was  originally posted in 2012.  I hope you enjoy them and invite your response. Come back each of the 12 Days to read a new post.

Christmas Day 2018 The First Day of Christmas

There are quite a few things I really like about Catholicism. 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 after consulting the Vatican Feng Shui web site. The main icon 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 other cultural personalities which include a small carved figure of St Francis from Japan and a couple of miniature dolls presented to me by the first Korean students at ACU McAuley.

The multicultural features include a Peruvian angel who hovers way above the scene and the recent addition of a couple of papal  Cajaners. With Catalonia  providing some of the more  passionate political news my Benny XVI and Francis cajaners bring  a contemporary feel to an ancient creche.

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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Green Catholic Christmas

Jesus Christ is born to all Creation’
Archbishop Peter Chong’s 2018 Christmas Message
Christian tradition celebrates Christmas as the birth of Jesus to Mary. Christian faith holds that Jesus is both human and divine. Hence, Christians gave Jesus the titles, The Christ, Lord, Messiah, and Son of God. For Christians, Jesus Christ is the medium of God’s revelation to the world. In other words, Christians come to know God through Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God to Christians. Jesus’ life, teachings, healings, suffering, death and resurrection revealed to the early Christians God’s salvation.
The question that our world faces today is not about the existence of God but rather, how God and our faith can save our Mother Earth and human suffering. Pope Francis calls us to hear the cry of Mother Earth and the cry of the poor. The question for Christians during this Christmas season is: How does Christmas help us to see Jesus in the cry of the Mother Earth and the cry of the poor?
The Cosmic Christ
It is interesting that the early Christian communities saw Jesus in a universal and even cosmic context. Mathew’s gospel places the story of Jesus back to Abraham, father of the Hebrew people. Luke gospel places Jesus in the entire history of humankind, beginning with Adam. John’s gospel traces the origins of Jesus the Christ into the very mystery of God:
“In the beginning was the word … the Word was God … and the Word was flesh.” In the Year 50 AD when Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians, (before the gospels were written) he said that belief in Jesus Christ has to do with the mystery of creation: “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist.” (1Cor. 8:6)
Paul’s letter to the Colossians states that Jesus Christ is the center and source of all creation:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-17)
Pope Francis in his letter to the world, ‘Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si” also teaches the cosmic presence of Jesus Christ: “The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, and this has already been obtained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things.’ (Laudato Si, 83). Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light.” (ibid; 100, 221)
While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, it also tells us that the Christ, the Word of God is born into to the whole of humanity and creation. Christmas calls us to see Jesus beyond the crib in Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Christmas impels us to see Jesus in the whole creation and to work with the breath of God that is renewing the face of the earth. Our Christmas celebration should help us to see Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh in humankind and planted in the flesh of the earth. Christmas draws us into the heart of humanity and the heart of creation. Christmas therefore is not only for Christians but for all who share this common home, Mother Earth. Christmas is a time to care for others and our Mother Earth.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I take this time to sincerely thank you for your support and prayers for the Archdiocese of Suva’s pastoral mission. I wish you all a ‘Green Christmas’; eat less or no meat, plant more trees, and protect our Mother Earth.
Yours sincerely in Christ
Archbishop Peter Chong

Friday, December 14, 2018

Advent 2018 Week Three: Gaudate!!

Zephaniah 3:14-20 3:14

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.  On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak.  The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing  as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.


Shrine for Victims and Survivors of Institutional Abuse

Friday, December 07, 2018

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Reading That Touches Your Heart:

Latest Edition - Bridges - December 2018

  • The Editorial reflects on speaking & listening (p.1).
  • I report on The Parliament of the World’s Religions(pp. 6-7).
  • Interfaith Dialogue Feeds the Soul (p. 8).
  • Rather than speak in the abstract, share personal experience (p. 9).
  • Distinguishing “Islam” and “Islamism” enable us to speak without denigrating Islam and Muslims (p. 10).
There are the familiar pages: Centre News (pp. 2-3), World News (pp. 4-5) and Coming Events (p. 11). 
In November I attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto.  The word “Parliament” comes from Old French, “parler” = to speak, and gives us the theme for this issue of Bridges, speaking and listening.
Click here to download the Bridges #81, December 2018
Download bridges
Let us speak well to, and of, each other;and let us listen deeply to each other.
I wish our Christian readers a happy and holy Christmas;I wish all our readers, safe holidays and every blessing in the New Year.
May people of all faiths grow in human solidarity as sisters and brothers together.  
Rev Dr Patrick McInerney
Director, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations

Monday, December 03, 2018

A Question for All Australians From the Catholic Church

How can we renew your TRUST? Will you connect with us on this question? It is a step on a shared journey.

This is pretty bold. The Catholic Bishops acknowledge that trust has been broken. Given the growing number of empty pews that are normative on most Sundays this is pretty obvious.

There is no room for new wine in the old skins as those skins are covered in parasites We now know them as clericalism, entitlement and ontological change. In so may ways we are in an era of re-founding of Catholicism.

So, friends, give them your tuppence worth and check the culture of current responses. Will it make any difference? Well, at least we can create ripples in the stream of consciousness out there!!!
If you would like to share your answer it will help the Catholic Church in Australia forge a new path. The answers will help establish a deeper understanding of how better embrace our communities now and in the future.


Saturday, December 01, 2018

Advent 2018 Week One

Advent is now out there on a shelf near you. Advent Calendars are up there with other themed goodies in supermarkets, up market stores, street markets and online. The rush of end of year parties, break-ups, annual general meetings and the hot sticky climate of December in Australia all tend to be exhausting. Yet the liturgical season is one of pensive waiting, reflective awareness and active living in the climate of grace.Al these movements challenge the dominant commercial glitz that can overwhelm us in these wonderful four weeks.

Anticipation of a coming
Desire for salvation
Voices of prophets
Expectation of something new

Time to prepare

I have gathered some reflections that  I will be using each week of the season. I hope you too find them nurturing at this time.  You will find more resources on the Sojourners page here

If Jesus is the archetype of what the gift is and how a gift is given, Mary is the archetype of how a gift is received.

The amazing thing is that the Scripture says nothing especially positive about Mary. No credit rating is stated; it doesn’t say she prayed a lot or regularly went to the temple. No heroic anything. Mary seems to know she is nothing according to her own Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). She clearly knows and fully accepts she stands under the total mercy of God. Mary knows she did not earn this. It was all mercy, mercy, mercy. Divine choice says something about the chooser much more than the one who is chosen. In the spiritual world, all worthiness is given. Our only job is to fully and freely receive. Mary was a supreme receiver station.

From an unpublished talk given in Tucson, Arizona Richard Rohr

As we begin the church year, we are facing an overwhelming apocalyptic situation

Father William Grimm, Tokyo