The present Synod of Bishops concludes today, but I’ve already tuned out. The cynical manipulations (mostly vanquished thankfully), are all too unedifying.
I need to note, though, that I was wrong on one of my facts in my previous post. Cardinal Müller denies calling the interim report shameful. “I do not speak in that style,” he has told reporters. I quoted news reports in good faith, but I still need to apologise for misleading readers. Sorry.
For those who are still interested in the synod, Sandro Magister has an excellent rundown on its history and proceedings. (My single misgiving: he credits Cardinal Pell with “with the physique and temperament of a rugby player.” I suppose we must forgive Italians their ignorance of Aussie Rules.)
For everyone else, I recommend a post Fr Ray Blake published several weeks ago, which deftly anticipated the political shenanigans of the Synod:
What I really am beginning to resent are men with ‘ideas’ (Francis’ ideologues?) but who never seem concerned about Christ or the Gospel or holiness or ultimately Eternal Life, who turn the Church into a debating chamber. I hate their squabbles, I detest their clever solutions. The spiritual life is about muddling through, the muddle is the wound of concupiscence, I just wish we had men who recognise the muddle for what it is and point to Christ as our hope but no, it is about clever schemes to deal with the previous clever schemes that have got us into the mess we are already in. Why do so many of our Bishops and senior clergy sound like Enda Kenny or Nick Clegg rather than Christ? Why the strong reek of the politician?
Thanks to Cardinal Pell and others, transparency won the day at the synod. But behind-the-scene machinations will continue to afflict the Church. Fr Blake’s post is a nice antidote.
“How,” I’ve often wondered, “was the Second Vatican Council so artfully reinvented, that the very bishops who attended the Council implemented changes in its name which they had never envisaged?”
Books have been written answering that question, and I don’t think the answer is settled even now. But there’s another question — a related question — which I think is being definitively answered at this very moment.
“If the Council were to occur today could it be manipulated and reinterpreted as it was in the 60s?”
I’ve suspected not. In the first place, the media is much more democratic these days. It was possible, at the time of the Council, to mould and control a media image. But the abundance of independent media voices — especially online — now makes that impossible. Just ask any government, anywhere. (North Korea excepted.)
In the second place, within the Church unquestioning obedience is a distant memory. At the time of the Council, if the local bishop made a decision, priests would faithfully communicate and execute that decision, and the vast majority of lay faithful complied. That doesn’t happen anymore. Not in the West, anyway.
The present Synod of Bishops, which has become something of a debacle, proves these points. I think there was an attempt to manipulate the synod, just as the Council was manipulated, but it hasn’t worked.
Proceedings of the present synod are closed to the media: an unprecedented innovation which enables the General Secretariat to control information flow. Synod Fathers are unable to publicise the speeches they table, but they’re free to speak to journalists outside session. So they have — and many have openly criticised the control of information.
Following convention, Synod Fathers elected representatives to draft the synod’s final report. In another unprecedented innovation — which as pope he is entitled to do — Francis appointed six of his own nominees to the task. But the official news bureau of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference underlines the political significance of this intervention:
The fact is worrying those who want to maintain the current discipline of the Church regarding these issues, considering that all the persons named by the Pope are of a liberal tendency, unlike Erdö.
In yet another unprecedented innovation, the General Secretariat has published an interim report. And this is where the attempts at manipulation have really unravelled. The report is, to say the least, problematic — both in its content, and in the fact that it doesn’t represent the synod. Archbishop Gądecki, who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference, has called it unacceptable. Cardinal Müller, who heads the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has called it “undignified and shameful.”
But the most damning evidence of attempted manipulation? During the press conference which followed the report’s release — a press conference which left at least one Catholic journalist unedified — Cardinal Erdö, who is charged with officially speaking for the Synod Fathers, handballed a controversial question to his assistant, effectively disowning a document bearing his signature:
The Hungarian cardinal [...] gave the floor to Mgr. Forte because, he said, “he who wrote the text must know what it is talking about.”
I have only quoted the misgivings and criticisms of Synod Fathers. A cursory glance at the Catholic blogosphere will reveal even greater disquiet among disinterested observers. Much of the online commentary is overblown and hysterical because the Internet is a hot house of wild opinion and speculation. But even so, the online response demonstrates that resistance to the attempted manipulation is widespread and savvy — a phenomenon which wasn’t present 50 years ago. If the Internet had existed during the Second Vatican Council, I think the implementation of that Council would have been very different.
In a first for this blog, I’m posting from 30,000 feet in the air, somewhere above the north west coast of Australia. I’m about halfway through a flight to Singapore; from there I fly to Dubai; from there I fly to Madrid.
Don Alvaro Portillo will be beatified next Saturday, and I’ll be there! I don’t think I’ll be blogging much, though, until my return to Australia next week.
Three years ago today, at the conclusion of my ‘First Mass,’ I placed flowers before an image of Our Lady, and consecrated my priestly ministry to her Immaculate Heart.
But immediately before that, I presented my own mother with a special gift. The previous day, the bishop had anointed my hands with the Oil of Chrism. I used a specially bought cloth (an embroidered purificator, I recall) to remove the excess oil from my hands. It was this cloth, perfumed by the Chrism, which I presented to Mum after my First Mass.
This custom is the modern variation of an old and venerable tradition, wherein a newly ordained priest presented to his mother his manitergium.
According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. When she is buried, the cloth is placed in her hands. In the case of an open coffin, it serves as a reminder that one of her sons is a priest — a rare honour given to few.
The practice also evokes a pious legend, which imagines that when the mother of a priest finally meets our Lord face to face, and is asked that fateful question — “Did you love me?” — she can reply in the affirmative, presenting as part of her case, her Chrism-fragranced hands. This demonstrates that she loved our Lord so much, that she gave to him one of her sons, to serve him as a priest.
The literal details of that legend are of course superstitious, but I don’t think the gesture can be reduced to superstition. I think the presentation of the manutergium recognises and honours something profound. Not being a mother myself, I can’t very well describe it. (Perhaps I should ask my mum!)
In the meantime, we can consider this very moving footage from the ordination of three priests in Melbourne last June. If pictures tell a thousand words, then a motion picture must tell millions.
This video shows Fr Michael Kong, Fr Matthew Baldwin, and Fr Vinh Nguyen processing out at the conclusion of their ordination, and receiving the congratulations of their brother priests and seminarians. Then it cuts to Fr Michael blessing his mother, who is deeply, deeply, moved. That scene speaks volumes, I imagine, to what every woman of faith experiences, when her son becomes a priest.
Three years ago today — three years already! — I was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
I have to admit, this anniversary would have passed me by, except that my grandmother called last night to congratulate me. Which meant she also inadvertantly reminded me.
I think if she hadn’t called, I’d have realised today’s anniversary when I prayed this morning’s Office of Readings, which commemorates the Feast of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian. That would have jogged my memory.
But actually, it wouldn’t have come to that because dozens of other friends have also contacted me today, sending me their congratulations. I may have forgotten, but others didn’t. Thanks everyone!
The last few days have been a wonderful way to celebrate. On Saturday, I attended the ordination of three priests and six deacons in Melbourne, among whom are some of my dearest friends.
Here’s some photos taken by Junray Rayna, a Sandhurst seminarian who will himself be ordained a deacon this Saturday:
This was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of my own ordination. I was able to renew my promises and my consecration, and to share with my brothers the joy of priesthood.
In his homily, Archbishop Hart remarked on the value of friendships forged in the seminary, but he added that as important and blessed as this fraternity is, a priest’s relationship with the people entrusted to him is even more important and grace filled. I know what he means. The following day’s First Communion celebrations in Hamilton were another excellent way to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination. Nothing compares to preparing children to receive into themselves the Real Presence of Jesus Christ . . . except maybe all the other sacraments a priest is called on to minister!
Still, Ordinations and First Communions are my two favourite days in the year (after Easter and Christmas). So this last weekend was a great double whammy which has renewed my gratitude for the holy priesthood. Deo gratias.
I bet lots of people have brought cameras today, to take First Communion photos. After all, today is a very important day! People want to remember it, and photos help us to remember special events. They’re also a great way of remembering people.
Think of two people, who love each other, but who are forced to part. They would like to stay together forever, but they can’t. Maybe one of them has to go overseas. Or maybe one of them is dying. For whatever reason, they have to say goodbye. So they exchange gifts, or cards, or a photograph. These are symbols of love, which help us to remember. In fact, they help us to love.
The cross is a bit like that. We can look at this big crucifix in the sanctuary, and remember that Jesus loves us so much, that he died for us. He loves us so much, that “everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
But this cross is just a symbol. Photos are just symbols. It’s not the same as actually being with the person we love and miss. It doesn’t matter how much we love someone. It doesn’t matter how much we desire to be with them. Human power is not as great as human desire.
But God’s power is much greater. What we cannot do, our Lord is able to do. Jesus doesn’t just leave us a symbol; he leaves a reality. Jesus has ascended to the Father, but he also remains with us. He has left us, not simply a gift which will make us remember him, not just a photo which fades and yellows; he has left us himself. Under the appearance of bread and wine, he is with us — body and blood, soul and divinity.
Our First Communicants have been preparing all year for this day. But I know someone who has been waiting even longer. For 2,000 years, our Lord has been present in the Tabernacle, knowing that this day was coming! He loves our First Communicants so much. How pleased he is, that he’ll now be in communion with them.
Two thousand years! That’s a long time to wait, so I won’t preach any longer!
I remember a time when my blog posts were exclusive to my blog. Those were the days when I had much more time to write. Those were the days before I was a priest!
Now that I am a priest, time is at a much greater premium. Anything I write will end up here, sooner or later. So here’s something I wrote today for an entirely different audience.
1. Why did you become a priest?
When I was nine or ten years old, I read The Story of a Soul, by St Thérèse of Lisieux. Thérèse taught me that God wants all of us to be saints, and she taught me how to be a saint. That conviction waxed and waned over the years, but it never left me.
When I finished school and moved out of home, I started going to the occasional weekday Mass as well as Sunday Mass, and soon I fell into a crowd of young Catholics who knew their faith – and knew Jesus Christ – much more deeply than I did. My resolution to pursue holiness was renewed. This had nothing to do with the priesthood though – it just meant falling in love with God, living a good life, and starting again whenever I fell away.
For a long time, I believed I could be a saint and be a husband and father and pursue a professional career. St Thomas More was an inspiring example. When I realised, through prayer, that God was calling me to be a priest I was shocked. This was not something that I wanted, but I knew this is what God wanted, so I signed up for the priesthood. God knows better than us what will make us happy.
2. Have there been many times that you have struggled with your faith?
My faith is shaken when I’m confronted with suffering.
About half way through my seminary training, a film was released in cinemas which related the crimes and cover-up of paedophile priests in America. My bishop saw it, and he recommended I watch it. So one Saturday evening, I went alone. (It’s not really the sort of movie you’d invite friends to watch.) I don’t cry at movies, but this time I did. At the end of the film, as people moved out of the cinema, I overheard a lot of derogatory remarks about priests and the Church. I walked back to the seminary, and sat alone in the chapel. I wasn’t really alone of course – I was sitting in front of the tabernacle. I asked myself why on earth I was giving my life to an institution which was capable of the evil I just watched on film. But I didn’t just ask myself questions – I asked Jesus a lot of questions too.
This is just one example. As a priest, I encounter people suffering in all sorts of different ways. This often challenges my faith, and I have to take it to prayer. If I don’t pray about it, it becomes an obstacle between me and Jesus. I become remote from him. This is my biggest struggle with faith. I think there’s symmetry in that. Goodness – especially the goodness of the saints – inspires my faith and nourishes it; evil and suffering challenge and even undermine my faith.
Two or three times in my life I have doubted the whole thing. “Maybe it’s all made up,” I suddenly think. “My whole life is a lie.” But this is a more superficial struggle. I keep praying and serving the Lord, and as suddenly as those doubts appeared, they just as suddenly disappear.
3. If you weren’t a priest what would you be?
Before I discerned a priestly vocation, I was pursuing a political career. Maybe I’d be working for a politician, or maybe I’d be in parliament myself. I’d probably be married by now, and maybe I’d have a few kids. I was very attached to these dreams once, but now they seem distant and unreal. I may as well imagine living 1,000 years in the future, or 1,000 years in the past.
4. Have you ever regretted being a priest?
When I realised God was calling me to be a priest, I grieved a lot. I had to bury my dreams of a career and family. The day I signed up for the seminary, I was very sad. I met the vocations director in his office, near St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, to start the application process. After our meeting I walked into the cathedral and knelt before our Lord in the tabernacle. I thanked him for the grace of my priestly vocation, but I asked another favour from him. “You’ve called me to be a priest. Now help me to love that calling.” At that time, I had no love for my calling at all.
Eight months later, I finally started my seminary training. By then, my prayers had been answered. God gave me a love for my vocation. In the ten years since, I have never regretted saying yes to God. I only regret those times when I have been less generous with him. It’s not enough just to say yes to God once. It has to be repeated every day, since our circumstances are always changing, and the implications of God’s will change too.
5. What has been your best moment as a priest?
The greatest days of my life were the day of my ordination and the day of my first Mass. That was the culmination of eight years study and discernment, and the beginning of my life as a priest.
On a more day-to-day level, I think my favourite moment of priestly life is hearing confessions. People suffer a lot, but they have so much faith in God, and they come to him with a humility and simplicity that moves me. In a sense, I’m an eavesdropper, listening in on a very personal encounter between God and one of his children. I learn so much from these encounters. I learn how to grow in humility; how to become more child-like. Very often, I find myself giving someone advice which must come from the Holy Spirit, because even as I’m saying it to someone else, I’m thinking, “This is good advice! I’ll follow it myself.” The Holy Spirit is a great teacher.
6. Is there any advice you could give to anyone thinking about becoming a priest?
Anyone contemplating a priestly vocation should first resolve to be a saint. A saint is someone who loves God more than they love themselves. This is what we’re created for, and God gives everyone the means to become a saint. The world needs saints.
Spend time with Jesus. Get to know him – by reading about him and thinking about him, but especially by talking to him.
Fall in love with God. That’s my advice.