Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Introduction to The Holy Irritant Chapel

Welcome! A bit of background about the Holy Irritant: Originally published in April 2006 this post is republished in 2018 along with other memorabilia to celebrate the preparations for the 2020 Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia.  Links have been revised where old material is no longer available.

This is me soon after my birth and most likely the day of my baptism in 1953. Part of Catholic culture at the time of my birth was to name children after great saints This was my parents choice rather than dedicate me to Troy Donahue or even Bing Crosby one of my father's idols. Family lore tells that I was entitled to be called "Alexander" in the custom of my father and grandfather as a first born son. However, Irish Catholicism won the day and I was named in honour of St Anthony (of Padua) and St Gerard Majella. Both these men have been associated with working among the poor and being pretty passionate about life. Pity most of the popular images of such men portray them as insipid blokes with total disinterest in the world around them.

My parents initiated me into a Catholicsm that continues to be a core community of faith and challenge in my life. At the heart of this community are relationships that have nurtured and sustained my questions, my passions and my spirituality. Finding these relationships has been a life long journey from the Irish clericalism that dominated my Primary education through the machismo of life at a Christian Brothers College and the exposure to a global vision in a community of Capuchin Friars. My mentors in faith have included women like Margaret Oats, "Mum" Shirl, Dorothy Day.

The power of symbol in Catholicism has always attracted me and came home to me when my parents renovated our family home some years ago. During my childhood in the era prior to the Vatican Council, the living room in our family home was dominated by the image of the Sacred Heart. The eyes of the image could spot you wherever you were in the room. When the house was renovated in the 70's the picture was moved to a discrete position above the front entrance where it would be the last image seen by visitors leaving the house. This was particularly effective for JW's and Mormons as most visitors used the back door. What is more interesting is that the space in the living room which had been home for the Sacred Heart for almost 25 years was taken up with a mirror. The new image reflected God's eyes in the members of our family.

I make a clear distinction between the faith community of Catholicism and the structural processes which have contributed to much of the alienation of family and friends from the Church. The popular metaphor of "cafeteria Catholicism" where we pick and choose what we need is more appealing than the fixed menu at an exclusive restaurant. which seems to be the preferred model for Church leaders such as Cardinal George Pell . Our history suggests that we have failed to feed the hunger of the diversity of the human family for whom Jesus lived and died.

I have been Catholic across two countries three states, four Archdioceses one religious order, numerous professional associations, groups and everything Catholic!!!I remain "in the Church" because I cannot be elsewhere. I have a right by baptism to membership and participation in this community. Its ambiguity and its weakness are part of my reality and give me a context for personal conversion and commitment to maturity. I remain as a "holy irritant" among those who conserve a stifling patriarchy.

I live my faith as a a gay man challenging the theology and practices that have alienated sexual minorities for too long. My sexuality has been a catalyst for moving into a religious commitment that takes me to the edge of the church. At the edge I find a new centre that offers opportunities and relationships affirming that which the church denies and I find a vision of the Divine which embraces new realities and great dreams for the planet and humanity.


Ss Peter and Paul's Ashby, Geelong West where my parents met and married. The parish where I joined the Altar Servers, the Crusaders of the Blessed Sacrament and the Tennis Club which was the first catholic group I joined that included girls! As a young boy I was member of the choir which in those days was accompanied by a young Roger Heagney who would go on to lead St Francis Church Choir in Melbourne.

Peak experiences include:

  • Suffering Catholic Trauma at my first communion mass with the anxiety of the host getting stuck in the roof of my mouth
  • Endless childhood confessions admitting to sins I could barely pronounce
  • Induction into the Guild of St Stephen by the famous Guilford Young at our first National Conference for Altar Boys (as we were in those days !!)in 1964.
  • Taking vows of poverty chastity and obedience in a Franciscan community with the Capuchin Friars and then discovering that 2 out of three wasn't a pass.
  • Falling in love with Bing Crosby instead of Julie Andrews

Education History
St John's Primary School, North Geelong
St Patrick's Primary School, West Geelong
St Joseph's College Newtown
Catholic Theological Union Hunters Hill
Australian Catholic University McAuley Campus

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Celebrating Anthony

One of the significant days of this month is June 13th, my name  day. My parents made sure I would spend my life gaining easy and instant recognition as a good Catholic boy by naming me after St Anthony of Padua whose feast-day falls on this day

Now this saint should not be confused with the many other holy Anthonys who have front row seats in the celestial realm.


My "Anthony" is a one of Catholicism's pin-up boys. He is patron for a number of a eternal chores that occupy most of his working days 


In his spare time he poses for thousand of popular images and statues that adorn churches homes and religious houses.


Somewhere along the timeline he also found time to star in a series of movies. My favourite is this classic from the silent movie era made long before the days inter-religious dialogue.


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It's always good to remember that saints are often given to us to admire rather than imitate. Anthony was part of the weird and wonderful world of medieval Catholicism  in the early 13th century. He died at 36 in 1231 and never had an intimate relationship. So far I've outlived him and have not found the queue for the call to lifelong chastity.

Anthony was a great public speaker and had a pretty sharp intellect. Catholicism has a quaint practice of awarding posthumous PhDs to smart cookies and Anthony eventually got his in 1946.


Iconography of the saints is a big business as Churches, Monasteries, Convents,Schools, Oratories, Retreat Centres,Presbyteries and the humble domestic house have all gone shopping for their heavenly personalities to decorate walls. Anthony has quite large choice for the discerning shopper. 


This feast falls within the anniversary of the death and burial of Anthony Foster who won't make it into the Litany of Saints but will be remembered for his  passionate challenge to the Church.and its sad history of clergy sexual abuse.  Anthony Foster's legacy has ensured that the Church has to undergo a shift in culture.  Perhaps it is time to replace the popular 17th Century image of St Anthony with the child Jesus as no longer appropriate. Despite an attempt to theologise the image I suggest it is one that has well passed its use by date. The icon used in this blog is from the work of Robert Lentz OFM.

Tourism is also part of every saints working life after death. Anthony has inspired a series of Churches and Basilicas. In Melbourne the local Capuchins applied for an extension of their friary chapel back in the 1950s. By the time they finished Power Street Hawthorn was adorned with its very own Italianate Shrine to St Anthony.

I have also discovered that Anthony himself goes  on tour for special events. He last appeared in 2010 when his less than attractive remains were taken for a lap of honour around his home base Basilica. Close up pic here.  However, it seems that  the locals may have been short changed as a bit of his floating rib goes out on tour minus the rest of the bones.

Behind the saccherine hagiography lies the story of a man of faith and service, a man of his time with passion for truth, people and the needs of his era. Yeh, I still invoke him when things go missing and he has been part of my community of faith since my childhood days when his pic used to hang in my parents house over the bathroom door!!!.

So here's a call out to all those who share variants of the name Anthony! Celebrate, eat some good bread, indulge in some Italian or Portugese wine and make a public statement about  your passions

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Pope Francis Prayer Intention for Social Media

Social media, used well, can help us to learn about and dialogue with each other.
That social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects others for their differences.
Pope Francis - June 2018
The Internet is a gift of God, but it is also a great responsibility.
Communication technology, its places, its instruments have brought with it a lengthening of horizons, a widening, for so many people.
It can offer immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity.
May the digital network not be a place of alienation. May it be a concrete place, a place rich in humanity.
Let us pray together that social networks may work towards that inclusiveness which respects others for their differences.