The First Year students of Corpus Christi College are on pilgrimage this weekend. Their destination is Penola, where St Mary MacKillop founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
The seminarians departed Carlton yesterday, and stayed in Hamilton overnight. During their stay in Hamilton, they visited and prayed at the grave of Mary’s father, Alexander MacKillop.
The last two years of his life, Alexander lived with his brother’s family in nearby Dunkeld. He frequented Hamilton’s Victoria Hotel, where he figured prominently in public debate over a variety of political issues.
It was here that he was afflicted with a stomach haemorrhage on Thursday 3 December 1868. Alexander’s illness was reported in Hamilton’s local newspaper, The Spectator.
His wife, who resides in Portland, was informed by telegram, and arrived last evening. Mr MacKillop has of late associated himself with public matters in Hamilton, and cannot fail to be recognised.
Sadly, the same newspaper reported his death a fortnight later.
Mr A. MacKillop, whose sudden and serious illness was referred to in our last, expired in the Victoria Hotel at about 6 am on Saturday morning. [19 December 1868]
It is satisfactory to know that his wife was present at the time of his death, and that he breathed his last in apparent peace. Mr MacKillop was a Roman Catholic, and was at one time intended for the priesthood. He leaves a large family to mourn his loss. The funeral took place on Sunday last.
A great many pilgrims stop by the parish, and Alexander’s grave, on the way to Penola.
May God bless the seminarians on their own pilgrimage, and inflame their hearts with the love and generosity which inspired Mary.
St Mary of the Cross, pray for them.
Peter Jackson has posted the first trailer of the second instalment of The Hobbit. It’s look pretty good!!
The film will be released in Australia on Boxing Day.
A short time later — probably mid-January — I’m going on a holiday to Hobbiton! A friend is organising a tour of New Zealand which will include visits to the scenes of Middle-Earth, and she has asked if I’d like to join the group as a chaplain.
It’s a holiday of course, not a pilgrimage. I’ll pay my own way. I love being a priest — it gives me energy — so I don’t really see this as work.
Many of the saints, in their asceticism, disdained holidays. I’d never go that far. Recreation is important, and it is good. But I can see the wisdom in St Josemaría’s approach:
“Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.”
That’s what this will be. A real vacation, but also “a change of occupation.”
Details are still to be arranged, but if you’re interested in a trip in New Zealand in mid-January, let me know. I can keep you in the loop!
Heads up. Emily Stinson has a great post over at CatholicVote.org.
1. Pornography is a problem.
2. Pornography is addictive.
3. Pornography messes with a person’s understanding of reality.
4. Romantic comedies mess with minds too.
5. Loving another person is a high risk, high reward endeavour.
These themes are also raised in a thoughtful blog post written several months ago. Greg Bottaro, a clinical psychologist, distinguishes between pornography as we commonly understand it, which arouses and manipulates desire in men, and emotional pornography — the sort of romantic fantasy perpetuated by chick lit and chick flicks — which arouses and manipulates desire in women.
I don’t know yet if I’ll bother with the film, but both blog posts are worth consideration: The truth about men, women, love and porn (in 2 minutes and 37 seconds) at CatholicVote.org, and Emotional Pornography at CatholicPsych.com.
Last month I helped commission a new “Mini Vinnies” group which will operate at one of our parish primary schools.
I hadn’t heard of Mini Vinnies before, so I visited the Gr 3-6 students at St. Joseph’s School Penshurst, on Friday to get the run down. It’s impressive stuff!
Here is the explanatory speech that Madeline, the vice president of the Mini Vinnies group, delivered on Sunday the 2nd of June 2013:
The St Vincent de Paul Society (Mini Vinnies) is a great part of our world. They help the poor, the homeless, and the starving. They help by giving food to the starving, a home for the homeless, and money to the poor.
Recently we’ve been discussing whether we (our school) should start a Mini Vinnies group. We’ve decided to make it a school activity. We have all gathered here today to support our school in this mission. All across the world, people are homeless. We can prevent this from happening.
I know you might think this is a big job for little people, but we’ve got big ideas — to maybe save some poor or homeless person’s life. We can only make this happen with your support, so please give us a chance to make Mini Vinnies a success.
When Madeline says the students had been discussing this before taking action, she really isn’t kidding! Someone from the St Vincent de Paul Society first visited the school last December, proposing what Mini Vinnies is and what it involves.
So for about six months, the senior students have considered the project, at an individual level and at a class level. The teachers are supportive, but it was the students’ call, and it’s their initiative.
On Friday, the students explained to me that as Mini Vinnies, they will be especially attentive to seeing, thinking, and doing. Lots of people do one or two of these steps, but Mini Vinnies do all three of them.
That’s based on the Cardjin method of course, which Pope John XXIII recommended in Mater et Magistra (1961):
236. There are three stages which should normally be followed in the reduction of social principles into practice. First, one reviews the concrete situation; secondly, one forms a judgment on it in the light of these same principles; thirdly, one decides what in the circumstances can and should be done to implement these principles. These are the three stages that are usually expressed in the three terms: look, judge, act [see, think, do].
237. It is important for our young people to grasp this method and to practice it. Knowledge acquired in this way does not remain merely abstract, but is seen as something that must be translated into action.
The students also told me about St Vincent de Paul and Bl Frédéric Ozanam, and how these saints demonstrate that the Mini Vinnies mission isn’t just about financial assistance, but also — and more importantly — it’s about love.
I told them a story about Bl Teresa of Calcutta, and they agreed this is the sort of thing Mini Vinnies is about. When Mother Teresa visited Australia, she famously advised her listeners not to give money to street beggars. If we’re able, we can offer to buy them a meal at a nearby café or McDonald’s, but the most important thing is to look them in the eye, shake their hand, and have a conversation with them. Human contact, she said — love and affection, basically — is much more beneficial than money.
That’s all very well in Melbourne, of course, but there aren’t any street beggars in Penshurst, Victoria (pop. 461). This doesn’t daunt Australia’s newest Mini Vinnies.
The Penshurst Mini-Vinnies have already formed four groups: a Public Relations group (advertising), a Communicators group, a Prayer group, and a Setterupperers group. (How’s that for a neologism!) They will meet once a month, they have started raising funds already, and they are determined to see and think and do — both as individuals, and as a group.
May St Vincent and Bl Frédéric intercede for them!
Today is the feast of St Barnabas, who sounds like an especially likeable fellow.
It is sometimes said that to live with a saint, one must be a saint. That’s testament to the fact that saints are typically strong-willed. I imagine it would be very hard to live with a Saint Paul, or a Saint Jerome, or a Padre Pio. But there are other saints who were by all accounts delightful company: St Thomas More, St Thérèse (after she’d grown up), St Josemaría.
I think St Barnabas belongs in the latter company. He first attracted attention among the early Christians for a remarkable act of generosity. He sold a field which belonged to him, and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:37)
Later, it was Barnabas who welcome the newly-converted Paul to Jerusalem. The apostles were understandably wary of their erstwhile enemy. Saul was one of the Church’s most vicious persecutors. He was no mere bystander at the stoning of Stephen. The executioners had places their garments at Saul’s feet, indicating he had presided over Stephen’s judicial murder. (Acts 7:58) But now, having heard of Paul’s conversion, Barnabas intercedes, dispels the apostles’ suspicions, and facilitates Paul’s reception.
In today’s First Reading, St Luke describes him as “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith.” (Acts 11:24) Through his efforts in Antioch, “a large number of people were won over to the Lord.” It sounds like Barnabas’ apostolate in Antioch was fruitful, but that didn’t stop him travelling to Tarsus and requesting Paul’s help. Barnabas was not only generous and good-natured, but also humble.
For several years, Barnabas and Paul worked as a remarkably successful duo, until a disagreement over Mark (Barnabas’ cousin) came between them:
Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. Barnabas and Paul had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:37-41)
I don’t pretend to be an expert, but it’s easy to imagine that Paul was unyielding and stood on principle, while Barnabas was compassionate and forgiving — perhaps to a fault. In the words of St Jerome (who was himself the stern type!):
Paul sterner, Barnabas kinder, each holds on to his point of view. The argument shows human weakness at work. (Dialogus adversus pelagianos 2, 17.)
St John Chrysostom adopts a more supernatural outlook:
The gifts of the two men differ, and clearly this difference itself is a gift . . . if they go different ways, in order to teach and convert people, there is nothing wrong about that . . . If only all our divisions were motivated by zeal for preaching! (Homily on Acts, 34.)
In any event, Paul and Barnabas were not estranged forever. Paul always wrote of Barnabas in glowing terms, and he himself later worked with Mark. According to tradition, Barnabas was stoned in 61 by his Cyprian compatriots. Mark was present and dutifully buried him.
I think Barnabas is a good model. It sounds like he was naturally likeable, he was inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt, and he was quick to forgive. His real name was Joseph, but he was nicknamed Barnabas: “Son of Encouragement.” His apostolate was fruitful, and yet he is eclipsed, really, by Paul and Mark, both of whom were indebted to him.
Quite frankly, St Barnabas reminds me of our Lady — at least as I imagine her. Compassionate. Loyal. Approachable. Eager to work in the background.
St Barnabas, pray for us.
Christopher Pearson died on Friday. He was only 61.
I always enjoyed his weekly column in The Weekend Australian. Here’s a memorable article of his; an account (of sorts) of his 1999 conversion to Catholicism.
At the time friends reminded me of how, in 1982, British author Malcolm Muggeridge had described his conversion as “a rat swimming towards a sinking ship”, prompting a telegram from B.A. Santamaria: “Welcome aboard.”
Although Catholicism wasn’t in quite as parlous a condition in 1999, I knew how they felt. The church has often been described as “the barque of Peter” and Benedict XVI wasn’t the first pope to remark that it was storm-tossed and often seemed on the verge of capsizing.
Flannery O’Connor was another writer who was notably unsentimental and ambivalent about an institution she nonetheless accepted as divinely inspired. “I think that the church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the church as for it.”
Despite my apprehensions that Catholicism wasn’t going to be a bed of roses, it was clear to me that if I wanted to return to the practice of the faith, there was nowhere else to go. I could never have been happy as a gay Christian – with or without a rainbow sash – because it always seemed to me a contradiction in terms.
There was no getting around the fact the New Testament said we were all meant to be chaste or monogamously married and I had reluctantly concluded that St Paul was right about homosexual sex.
In any case, prudence in the plague years meant I gradually became all but sexually inactive from the mid-1980s and no longer saw much point in defining my identity primarily in terms of sexual preference.
Apart from Rome there was Constantinople, but the rites of the Eastern Orthodox were another, alien world. The Anglican Church I’d known as a teenager had since taken to reinventing fundamental doctrines in conformity with the spirit of the age.
Aside from the fact belief in the resurrection had become optional, Anglicanism was beset by strange, divisive fads.
For example, given that a male priesthood had always been a distinctive element of Judaism, preserved in the new covenant by Christ at the Last Supper, ordaining women was ultra vires. In the face of nearly 2000 years of continuous tradition, nothing 80s feminism had to say on the subject could be in the least persuasive. It was perverse and ahistorical to see the theological question of holy orders through the prism of equal opportunity, as some sort of entitlement.
Thirty years before, after reading John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua at the age of 17, I had begun to doubt the validity of the Church of England’s orders and its claims to continuity as a branch of the universal church. Newman also had mounted a powerful argument that the only way the Reformation churches could sustain their preferred versions of their institutional identity was by systematically ignoring most of ecclesiastical history, especially the more inconvenient aspects of the early church and patristic theology.
Some of my friends said at the time that I must have crossed the Tiber for the sake of beautiful music and ceremony. But as Gerard Manley Hopkins told his family in reply to similar charges, if it had simply been a matter of aesthetic preferences, the Church of England would always have been far more congenial. Hopkins deplored the kitsch that mostly characterised Catholic devotional life in England then. Heaven only knows what he would have made of the banality of the present-day English liturgy.
What I most wanted was not beauty, crucial though it is, but certainty: immutable doctrine and valid sacraments. As an Anglican, the closest I had come to “the peace which passes all understanding” had been through the sacraments: in the confessional and at the altar rail. By my late 40s it felt like time to come back to them.
Making a commitment to regular examination of conscience was unexpectedly therapeutic. It led me to trade in my double bed for something more austere, observe the Lenten fast and try, for the most part, to avoid low bars. I read again the Confessions of my patron saint, Augustine of Hippo, who had famously prayed: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet”, and knew how he felt.
The welcome I got, especially from people in the Latin mass community, was a warm one. Mostly Irish and working class, its gatherings often involve shucking oysters or shelling prawns, washing them down with Guinness and singing folk noir ballads, as black in their way as Nick Cave’s, about convicts, moonshine and infanticide. The same men and a bunch of their home-schooled children thought nothing of driving 100km each way to sing anthems by William Byrd in an Anglican church at my mother’s funeral last year.
Having come from a cosseted middle-class background and a career in publishing, I had not seen their kind of piety and their respect, bordering on veneration, for the clergy, despite a shared conviction that the church has been going to hell in a handcart since Vatican II. Because the overall standard of preaching in Catholic churches here has been woeful for as long as anyone can remember, the congregation in the churches I frequent tend to tune out during the sermon.
There is another strand, Irish in origin and much less appealing, still heavily represented in contemporary Catholicism. I’m talking about the lace curtain brigade. They tend to a continental form of Puritanism called Jansenism, are obsessively concerned with the sins of the flesh and pride themselves on their instinctual anti-intellectuality and indifference to music. Frances O’Brien, in the ABC TV series The Librarians, epitomises the type.
Still, say what you will about Jansenists, at least they are in no doubt about the reality of evil. Many Catholic clergy don’t seem to take the notion of sin and its consequences seriously any more. I am sick of going to funerals where the deceased are spoken of as though they are already in heaven and have no further need of our intercessions. Typically the celebrant wears white vestments, rather than customary black. The coffin, like a pharaoh’s, is littered with grave goods for the journey – a football scarf, a stubby and reading glasses – rather than a pall. Make no mistake. Father O’Bubblegum, Auberon Waugh’s caricature of trendy clergy of the 80s, is alive and well in the Australian church.
When I converted, as an adherent of the Latin mass I became a member of a minority, as marginalised and persecuted as the first generation of out-and-proud gays. In fact, it was a lot like reliving the 70s. I also got the distinct impression that a number of acquaintances in the hierarchy had been more cordially disposed towards me in my unregenerate middle age. Perhaps they wondered whether it was really necessary for me to make what pastoral care jargon calls “lifestyle sacrifices”. All I can do is quote another of Muggeridge’s paradoxes: “One of old age’s pleasures is giving things up.”
Incidentally, I’m not familiar with Auberon Waugh’s “Father O’Bubblegum,” but if it’s anything like his father’s devastating and funny portrait of “the modern clergyman,” then I’d better remedy that. If only to avoid resemblance with the caricature!
Having prepared a short class last week on the history of the Hamilton parish, the story of Mgr Shanahan — Hamilton’s longest-serving parish priest — has made quite an impression on me.
Fr Shanahan was appointed to Hamilton in 1886; an assignment which spanned forty-five years! He was there so long that he became known as “the Grand Old Man of the Western District.” Everyone in Hamilton knew him, and the vast majority had great affection for him — and his white horse, which he continued to ride into his nineties.
In the words of the bishop, when Fr Shanahan arrived in Hamilton, “he found the place completely wrecked, and he found Coleraine, Penshurst and other places all but defunct.” He had already built several churches and schools prior to his new assignment. As parish priest of Hamilton, he built new churches at Coleraine, Macarthur, Penshurt, Dunkeld, Glenthompson, Glen Isla and Wallacedale. He completed the construction of the church in Hamilton, which was designed by William Wardell, and he also built three schools and a convent. On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee in 1914, it was said “no priest alive in Australia has built as many churches, schools and presbyteries.”
To commemorate his fifty years as a priest (and nearly thirty as parish priest of Hamilton), in 1914 his parishioners raised £1,200 with the intention of building a new house for him. The old presbytery was an old pile of blustone: dark, damp, and built too close to the ground. Fr Shanahan refused to spend the money on a house for himself, and erected the spire instead.
On another occasion, his parishioners presented him with a gift of 100 sovereigns, to spend on his one and only holiday back in Ireland. He graciously accepted the gift, and quietly spent it on the parish schools.
In 1916 the bishop appointed Fr Shanahan Dean of Ballarat, and in 1917 the pope made him a monsignor. In 1924, when he was 87, the bishop decided to lighten the Dean’s workload by appointing a younger priest as Parish Administrator. But it was young Fr McAuley, not old Mgr Shanahan, who died that year!
At Easter 1931, Mgr Shanahan finally retired, though he stayed in residence. He died that same year, on Sunday 6 December, at the age of 94. It was First Communion Day, and a great crowd was at Mass that morning. Partway through Mass, Mrs Gaffney (the housekeeper) approached the sanctuary and told Fr Conellan that Mgr Shanhan was dying. The priest interrupted Mass to minister the Last Rites. “The Grand Old Man” died almost immediately thereafter. At the time of his death, he was the oldest priest in Australia.
The Dean’s funeral stopped Hamilton. The crowd filled not only the church, but also the church grounds. The cortege which followed the hearse included several hundred marchers and two hundred cars, and the road to the cemetery — a three kilometre route — was lined both sides with spectators. A great many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, felt a personal loss at Mgr Shanahan’s death.
I have visited his grave, which is not far from Alexander MacKillop’s. I pray for him, and I hope he’ll pray for me!