Passion Is a Way Of Life

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Passion Sunday, the day when we celebrate the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, is a defining moment in the Judeo-Christian story.   Fulfilling in its own inimical fashion the prophecy of Isaiah, this is not another pageant in the Easter drama.  Forget the palm fronds and forget the donkey.  Passion Sunday begins the passio of Jesus – his suffering.   Knowing his destiny, certainly his lauded entry into Jersualem after a three year absence must have been bittersweet.  It was a moment of jubilation in a week that had no TGIF factor at all.

I’ve been following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse very closely, especially Case Study 8 which involved the Church’s response under Towards Healing.  John Ellis was a child when he was groomed and abused well into adulthood by Fr Aidan Duggan who, when John Ellis brought his claims to Towards Healing, was elderly and suffering from dementia.   The accused priest subsequently died without being able to be interviewed by the Archdiocese of Sydney or Towards Healing.   However, it was the treatment of John Ellis and his family that defies belief.  It is not excusable more than it is curious that I have had elderly priests say to me, “Well, we didn’t really understand child abuse in the 1950s,” but this was a matter that arose in the 2000s, in an era that had seriously recognised the criminality and affect of institutional abuse.

I suppose what upset me the most when I read the transcripts of this Case Study was the breathtaking arrogance of Archdiocesan personnel and also Towards Healing in their concerted efforts to extend this man’s suffering over years, retraumatising him, mounting a legal team against him to a cost of $1.5 million – more than ten times the amount he had asked for to compensate him for therapy and expenses.  It places the Word of God in stark contrast to the reality of Church governance.   “Who will save these people from themselves?” sprung to mind.  The nasty and cold way the Monsignori and previous directors of Towards Healing presented themselves was shameful and embarrassing.  It was like reading a really tragic and dark episode of “Bless Me Father”.   Cardinal Pell even described one of his advisors as “a muddler” as if that makes everything okay.

Recently, I was assisting a student with an essay about the Catholic Church in modern society and the teacher changed (simplified to the level of lowest common denominator) our contention which was about the history of the Lateran Treaty to comparing Pope John Paul II (two Popes ago) to Barack Obama as a “statesman”.  How ridiculous!  Despite the fact that the pontificate is by no means a democratic process, there is no risk to the Pope for making policy decisions.  The Pope is not worried about being elected out of office.  The Pope is not – and can not afford to be – bothered by popularity polls.  The Pope can easily slot other seventy-year olds into ancient dicasteries in order to give them something to do, or, in the case of Bernard Law, somewhere to hide from prosecution, and afford them time to grab a cappuccino in Trastevere at the same time. The Pope is not a statesman – he is a religious leader, the moral voice for the world.  This makes the Royal Commission even harder to understand.

The Church in Australia is having its ride into Jerusalem.  Smiling and waving, perhaps, but knowing that crucifixion is just a few moments away.   Maybe crucified in the media, nailed to the cross of popular opinion – wouldn’t be the first time.  We will have our Good Friday without the noble cause.  However, redemption awaits us as either the ones who hung beside Jesus in his final moments – will we presume upon our monopoly of divinity to get us off the hook? Or we will simply say, “Forgive me, Lord, I am a sinner.”

And only then will we surely be with Christ in Paradise.

 

 

St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources: 

A reading from ‘The Major Legend of St Francis’ by Bonaventure.

Who would be competent to describe the burning charity with which Francis, the Bridegroom’s friend, was aflame? Like a thoroughly burning coal, he seemed totally absorbed in the flame of divine love.

Jesus Christ crucified always rested like a bundle of myrrh in the bosom of his soul, into whom he longed to be totally transformed through an enkindling of ecstatic love. And as a special devotion to him, he found leisure from the feast of the Epiphany through forty successive days – that period when Christ was hidden in the desert – resting in a place of solitude, shut up in a cell, with as little food and drink as possible, fasting, praying, and praising God without interruption. Francis was born aloft in Christ.

Lord, transform our suffering into joy.  May our Church rise with you in the resurrection that is promised to all of us. Amen.

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Tempting Fate

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Have you ever given in to temptation?  Oscar Wilde said that this was the best way to conquer it.  Were that we could respond like Jesus in the face of temptation.   To know temptation is to know our weakness.

But the devil challenges Jesus to risk his own life for the sake of a proof that is already evident to the Rebel – that Jesus is the Son of God.  “Throw yourself down from here,” says the Father of Lies, “and let the angels catch you.”  How many times have we heard the story of our now disgraced celebrities? Someone only too prepared to give them the world and yet the emptiness of that promise only dawns in the mayhem of self-destruction.

The proof of God is not difficult to establish. The fact that there is faith in the face of cynicism and pessimism, the fact that hope lies within every situation, the fact that love conquers evil – all of these things show us the face of God.  The carrying of our souls on eagles wings is only one of many metaphors that give us comfort when we believe life to have drawn us a raw deal.

Francis was never better than when he was tempted – the Fioretti tells us he rolled in snow, afflicted himself with rose thorns to stave off impurity of thought. He wasn’t the best looking man on earth so we can be assured that he was not the object of a wandering lust.  But for those who are captivated by the things of this world, Lent is a time of liberation and taking stock.

We may never be asked to throw ourselves from a precipice, but we certainly can be called back from the edge.

FOR THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, WE HAVE A LITTLE FRANCISCAN CHALLENGE!

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St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources: 

The Life of St Francis by Thomas of Celano

Francis prayed, “Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner.” With that, he began to lose himself; his feelings were pressed together; and that darkness disappeared which fear of sin had gathered in his heart.  Certainty of forgiveness of all his sins poured in and the assurance of being revived in grace was given to him.

Lord, change us forever and liberate us from those moments when we stand on the precipice and jumpo.  Catch us, Lord, in your net of mercy and grace. Amen.

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The Call of Matthew

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In the most political of all callings, Jesus calls Levi, known as Matthew – “The Gift of God”.

A tax collector, reviled by all for their avaricious ways, Matthew leaves everything and follows Jesus.  He leaves a comfortable yet duplicitous relationship with wealth.  He leaves his goons and henchmen.  He leaves his falsity and double standards.  He leaves Easy Street to walk a journey with Jesus that will conclude with his physical destruction and martyrdom and yet a life of happy fulfillment as a follower of Christ.

At my niece’s baptism, I was surprised to hear the celebrant relate a story of Bill Vlahos during the Sunday Mass, probably because my brother works in the racing industry.  There are parallels to be drawn – a man who is confident in his money-making ventures but does not seem to mind keeping a large portion for himself.  A liar whose outwards image is more important than his integrity.  A chameleon of low-degree who transparently dresses up as a Lord but is, at best, just a clever con-man from the wrong side of Prahran.  Bill Vlahos is gone – nobody knows where.  He could be in Cobram or Shepparton or in any number of small towns on the border.  And all of that money, $197 million, has gone with him.   Bill Vlahos is gone, just as his integrity left him when he went to Dubai to entertain a mythical friend with strippers and escorts.

Bill Vlahos is somewhere, though, awaiting his reckoning.

Francis describes the “lost” as not lost but as ones “who have not been able to read” the words of the Gospel.  Francis was the supreme educator.   Those who are lost can be preserved through the word of God – that Word that is liberation, redemption, love and, most of all, truth.   The echoing of Isaiah, the Prophet whose own words are fulfilled in the New Testament, remind us that God has “carved us in the palm of his hand”.  We are, despite what we have done, an indelible mark on the hand of the Creator who holds his palm upon his heart to bless us daily.

He carves our image and bleeds for us, just as Jesus did on the Cross.

So, let our courage be strong and let our awareness of God’s tender care filter into all of our dealings.

FOR THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, WE HAVE A LITTLE FRANCISCAN CHALLENGE!

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Remembering the Lamb – A Classroom Activity!

St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources: The Earlier Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

In the love of God, we beg all those whom these words reach to receive those fragrant words of our Lord Jesus Christ written above with divine love and kindness.  And let whoever does not know how to read have them read to them frequently.  Because they are spirit and life, they should preserve them together with a holy activity to the end.

Lord, let us love your Word, the revelation of your presence amongst us.  May we always heed the Gospel and try to live out the lessons it contains. Amen.

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To Let The Oppressed Go Free

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“Is not this the sort of fast that pleases the Lord? To break unjust fetters and undo the thongs of the yoke?  To let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?  To share your bread with the hungry and shelter the homeless poor? To clothe the man you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin?”

Archbishop John Bathersby, former Archbishop of Brisbane, once told a story of his visit to Papua New Guinea.   He was at a conference of Oceania-Pacific Bishops and, whilst preparing for the final Mass in Aitape, was vesting with the other clerics in a basic Church hall.  Out of the corner of his eye, Archbishop Bathersby noticed two small children sharing a meat pie – they could have been brother and sister, he said.  As they sat down, the little boy carefully broke the pie in half and offered it to his sister.

“In all my years of priesthood,” Archbishop Bathersby said, “I don’t think I have witnessed a more Eucharistic moment before Mass.  It was the perfect preparation.”

That story has always appealed to me as a sign of liberation and religious inculturation: to make holy what is commonplace is the definition of a sacrament.  These examples surround us if only we attend to them as John Bathersby did that day.

Given its contect, it is also a condemnation of Australia’s only real human rights abuse – our detention centres.   Places devoid of holiness, we sit by and tolerate conditions where…

“Hangings … men cutting themselves open with glass … cutting their wrists … cutting their necks … trying to suffocate themselves with plastic bags … stitching their lips, cutting across their eyes …”

… are permitted to happen.  What a great Easter gift it would be for one of our representatives in Parliament to actually name detention centres for what they are: cavernous borstals where the worst aspects of humanity are allowed to fester, cleaned up for their annual inspection.   These forgotten people who must feel anything but children of God.   Having visited Villawood some years ago, there can be no denying that these are desperate places where all concerned – employees and inmates – are in a state of constant depression and helplessness.  Manus Island and the so-called “Pacific Solution” of Nauru are even worse …

On the everyday level, Marie cites the destruction of women’s mental health at Nauru through being denied underwear and ample sanitary items, the latter considered a fire risk.

Since the interment of the Second World War, has there ever been a group of people more unjustly detained?  Where can we detect God’s presence in such an environment?

St Francis found his calling in a dank prison in Spoleto where, despite the dreadful confines of a medieval Italian prison, he could not help but singing God’s praises to alleviate the suffering of his fellow prisoners.   In the same way, many people we meet are locked in a prison – a darkness that refuses to be illuminated, a hopelessness that can’t find the door to the light, a “field of roses that are all thorns.”   During Lent, it is our task to be those two young children in PNG – to break in half what we have and create a sacrament in the poverty around us.

Even then, the noble can witness the grace that comes with liberation.   I only wish and pray that those who are physically confined will one day walk in the sunshine of our beautiful nation, experience that “half-a-pie” moment of grace and, thus, prepare us for a Sacrament of Christianity that is liberation beyond our knowing.

 

FOR THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, WE HAVE A LITTLE FRANCISCAN CHALLENGE!

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The Forty Crosses Activity – Try This In Class!

St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources: The Earlier Exhortation to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance.

All those who love the Lord with their whole heart, with their whole soul and mind, with their whole strength, and love their neighbours as themselves, who hate their bodies with their vices and sins, who receive the Eucharist, and who produce worthy fruits of penance: O how happy and blessed are the men and women while they do such things and persevere in doing them, because the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon them and make its home and dwelling place among them, and they are children of the heavenly Father who words they do, and they are spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, as your family, we create a home for others in our hearts and in our prayers.  Help us to show compassion for your least among us and thus bring forth your kingdom on earth. Amen.

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The Blessing And The Curse

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“I have put before you the blessing and curse, life and death.  So, choose life.”

In the reminder of our mortality on Ash Wednesday, we are oddly asked to “embrace life”, to rid ourselves of that which hinders our relationship with job.   This puts sacrifice into perspective – that is, to “make holy” those things which consume our attention.  Lent, as we would have heard, is not a religious get-fit opportunity but, rather, a chance to take stock of our habits, relationships and ways of being.

And we can be fully consumed by our bitterness and addictions.   Today, we spoke about hatred and what that really means.  The time and effort extended to those we hate – both individually and as a society – is disproportionate, one could argue, to the time one could spend on the relationships we cherish and perhaps neglect from time to time.   When people dislike us, let them.  When a group fails to include us, find another one.  When people say hateful things behind our back, let it be behind our backs.  When “wicked men revile and hate us”, let us turn our gaze towards the one that loves us.

St Francis was abused and despised to the point where he was pelted with stones, dragged in the mud by his capuche, had the very clothes torn from his body.   And yet, his response was one of wry humour – and this takes enormous self-control and an awareness of one’s true worth.   I have learnt that to spend a moment worrying about the curses uttered by others about me is a moment missed to rediscover the beauty of life which surrounds us at every turn.   So easy it is to see the curse and become blind to the blessings that are a sign of God’s very real grace.

The ten most irritating social habits were delineated recently by Oxford University:  it stated …

1) Those who recline on planes.

2) Those who are intoxicated in public.

3) Those who can’t control their children in public.

4) Those who are too “grabby” and inappropriately tactile.

5) Those who talk too much about nothing.

6) Those who share “too much information” about private matters.

7) Those who are too loud in laughter, manner and movement.

8) Those who have an inflated sense of their own uniqueness (delusional narcissists).

9) Those who have a poor sense of personal hygiene.

10) Those who stand too close and invade personal space.

Yet, the irony is, we have all done this at some time.  Questions have to be asked about the type of intolerance that makes someone compile such a list!  It’s almost as though Victor Mildew is lecturing at Oxford.

And while these things are irritating, they are not life-ending.  Let us, then, spend Lent in a spirit of blessing, remembering that life is short and but a taste of the paradise that awaits us.

FOR THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, WE HAVE A LITTLE FRANCISCAN CHALLENGE!

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Try This Lenten Change in the Classroom!

St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources

Fear and honour, praise and bless, give thanks and adore the Lord God Almighty in Trinity and in Unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Creator of All.

Do penance, performing worthy fruits of penance because we shall soon die.

Give and it will be give to you. Forgive and you shall be forgiven. If you do not forgive people their sins, the Lord will not forgive you yours.

Confess all your sins.

Blessed are those who die in penance, for they shall be in the kingdom of heaven.  Woe to those who do not die in penance, for they shall be the children of the devil whose works they do and they shall go into the everlasting fire. Beware of and abstain from every evil and preserve in good to the end.

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Ash Wednesday: Have Mercy On Me, God, In Your Kindness…

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We have been beset by misery in these last few months.  Luke Batty, Schapelle, Oscar Pistorius, Brett Peter Cowan, Charlotte Dawson, Tony Mokbel, Bill Vlahos.   Some would argue: “What have these names to do with each other?  An innocent child who was murdered with a suspected criminal of passion with a child abuser with a suicide victim with a drug dealer with a criminal extortionist?”   But it is the “with” that brings Lent into focus.   We are, whether we like it or not, whether it is heinous or not, part of God’s family and linked forever in the love that defies understanding.

Of course it is difficult.  True love is never easy.   In every broken heart there is a pain that seeks for oneness with humanity again, to rediscover that life is, actually, good.  St Francis believed this – in his Ash Wednesday homily, all he said was, “Have mercy on me, God,” and walked from the sanctuary.   The full stanza of Psalm 51, rumoured to have been written by King David, was, “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion, blot out my offences and wash me clean.”  It is the appeal of every heart that is broken – that is all of us.

I have so many regrets but, like all of us who see life in balance, they are mitigated against the gentle blessings that God gives us: to read a story with your young nephew, to cherish the sunrise, to embrace a friend, to be told you are loved.  All of this is the cure to a scarred humanity.

Ash Wednesday, when we are returned to the dust of our origins, reminds us, also, of the love that was born in us.  What a capacity we have for loving and yet how so far we are, as a society, from breaking down silly walls of a First World – I even told a Year 12 lad tonight upon a conflict with his Coordinator: “maybe he needs a hug”.   We are all from the earth, the worst of us and the least as equally as the greatest and most noble.  So, Lent need not be a Jansonistic hatred of the body but an embrace because a risk is more difficult than a personal sacrifice.   Embrace the one who reviles, invite to the table the sinner and suspend that word of judgement.

This, to me, would be harder than kicking cigarettes for forty days!

FOR THE FORTY DAYS OF LENT, WE HAVE A LITTLE FRANCISCAN CHALLENGE!

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Or this is great in the classroom!

St. Francis IMG_20120203_093423Reading from St Francis’ Sources

While the holy father Francis was staying at San Damiano, he was pestered by the Superior with repeated requests that he shoud present the Word of God to his spiritual daughters and sons, and he finally gave in.  As they gathered, Francis made a circle of ashes around himself, and then poured the other ashes on his head.

As they waited in stilled silence, Francis remained covered in the filth of the ashes, surrounded by ashes on the ground, no one daring to traverse his circle.  Suddenly he got up – the nuns, adjusting their veils and posture in their seats for a great homily, only heard Francis say quietly, “Have mercy on me, God,” and with that, he left the sanctuary.

They were confused but later realised that words are only ashes – what more can be said?

Lord, who comes to us in the earthiness of our being, respond to our call for mercy.  Spare us and remind us that we are only dust and that unto dust we will return to you, our Creator. We are yours. Amen.

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