Choose you this day…

It’s election day in Australia. This election, like that in America, will have no winners. I mean, one candidate will win but the people of Australia will lose. We might as well be voting for either Tweedle-Dee or Tweedle-Dum. 

It seems hard when options are limited. It’s hard when little by little things dear to you are denied and restrictions become tighter. I don’t claim it to be anything like that in countries in the Middle East, in Northern Africa or in some parts of Asia – for such are the differences in culture – but nonetheless a slow decline in standards continues here as in much of the West. 

It is said that some people hope for  the things we take for granted, and it’s true. It is said because we in the West don’t seem to appreciate what we have. Our disposable country sees a high level of consumerism blended with a shallow yearning for the newest or the or latest. 

But it’s not just “things” that we need to appreciate: it’s life, freedom, family, employment opportunities, equity, dignity, security, stability, education, and so, so much more. Yet many of these things in one way or another will become lessened with the change of government. How can someone balance this up? How can one favour employment opportunities over education? Or equity over life? And stability!? Both governments have contributed to the sacking of Prime Ministers continuing to make a mockery of this political system. But despite its many failings and the failures of those within it the system largely works. This too we need to appreciate. 

When shining beacons dim, when the polish of greatness begins to stain, when the vibrancy of life well lived begins to fade, and all that makes a country great is threatened by those who lead it, hope begins to evaporate. But all is not lost. 

Today is Election Day, compulsory here. And so I must make a choice. Chose you this day whom you wish to lead you. As for me and my house, we will follow the Lord. 

Finding the Heart of Christmas

I had the heart of Christmas shown to me today, and not from a place I thought I’d find it.

I went in search for Christmas ‘s heart following an editorial in our local “rag” which called for expelling Christians, indeed Christ, from Christmas which of course will never happen for reasons I hope I don’t need to go in to. Nonetheless the writer’s premise to Christmas is ‘thank you so much for what you have done, Christians, but we can take it from here’ making the suggestion that the essential elements of Christmas are already in place, we no longer need Christ. Ludicrous if you ask me. There is a no more christo-centric celebration. Taking Christ out of Christmas is like taking the linchpin from a wagon’s wheel and we know how that ends up. As analytical as I am though I genuinely couldn’t find what could be celebrated by secularists at Christmas that was not celebrated at other times of the year. What did Christmas mean for them? 

Conversations with my sister and sister-in-law, who are not (atheistic) secularists per sé but associate with many, know their way of thinking well and who comfortably transition between secular and sacred without dismissing the qualities of each, started where I expected them to start: at family. Christmas is a time for families to gather and be nice to one another; to which I said why at Christmas? This could be done at a family reunion or the like. Surely? Well, it’s a time of peace and love – which of course it is. But why at Christmas? I asked. Surely the whole year should be a time of peace and love? Slowly the layers were peeled back until in desperation my sister says that it is a time of recognising the value of the person; a person who you might have been fighting with all year but who still holds some importance to you. Gift giving is a way of recognising the dignity of the person, of who they are. But couldn’t this be charity then? Conceding it is they add, but it’s more. It is in a special way. It’s charity within the family; putting aside differences that otherwise hold us back. 

This, I sense, is the spirit of Christmas: the setting the side of differences so that unity can be found with others which recognises the dignity of each human person expressed in charity and service through which we find peace, love and joy. For those of us that know Jesus we see him at every step; for those that don’t, each step draws them closer to him. Strange how secularist thinking has brought me that much closer to Jesus (and the editor wants to rid Christmas of Christ!).  

It’s easy to get caught up in the religiosity of Christmas. I love the carols, the liturgy, the wreath, lights and all the trimmings. But these are expressions of the greater truth: that he who is born this night unites all things to himself; he breaks down barriers and differences that divide us so that we may be one; he brings dignity to every person no matter status or faith; through his sacrificial service his is Charity; and ultimately in him lies our eternal peace, our purest love and our ultimate joy. Now go and enjoy your Christmas, secular or otherwise. Merry Christmas. 

The Unitivity of the Sacraments

During the Easter Vigil mass Catechumens at parishes everywhere are brought into the faith to whichever degree is most appropriate.  Adults who may have been suitably baptised in churches outside full communion with the Catholic Church need only to receive First Communion and Confirmation. In many diocese children do not receive confirmation until a given age.

One of the lasting effects of the sacraments is their ability to unite. Jesus will draw all men to himself, the devil conversely looks to separate us like stray sheep without a shepherd. Through a series of visible signs and symbols grace is confered to its recipient through the sacramental celebration. To recap, the sacraments are Baptism, Reconciliation, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Anointing of the Sick (the order in which they are received in my diocese, and I think all those in Australia). Going through this order let’s look at how each of these unites one thing to another. 

Baptism

…Person to the community

Usually received a short time after birth baptism is a rebirth in Christ, one is effectively born again. And yes, Catholics are born again. So is anyone validly baptised. Through this sacrament one is brought into the community of the faithful, the chosen people of God. In effect then the sacrament unites the individual to the community. This is done by God’s grace which removes the stain of original sin, the one prerequisite of becoming the chosen people of God. Outside the community you are a welcome guest but a guest nonetheless. Join the community and the benefits and responsibilities become yours. Much like a guest in a house. 

Reconciliation 

…Person to the self

The confession of sins: the recognition of our wrongfulness and our desire for reparation. While sin separates us from God it separates us from the community too. Returning to God requires we first return to the community, but returning to the community requires us to repair our sinful nature like that done in baptism. So in God’s grace he has given us this merciful gift of reconciliation which reinstates our integrity and allows us to be reunited personally with God. The many unitive effects of reconciliation is based on the one unitive act of the integration of the person, once sin is gone the person is again made whole in Christ. 

Holy Communion

…Person to the Divine (Christ)

The most intimate gift; God himself. The Eucharist, we believe, is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the person of Jesus Christ. A bit hard to get your head around I know. I don’t think we will ever know how it works. But through this mystery Jesus is received physically into our very being. A plethora of graces are found in the Eucharist which is the most powerful of sacraments when taken in the right conditions. 

Confirmation 

…Person to the world

Having been united to the community and to God, having been integrated with the self and made whole, and hopefully having been catechised correctly, we are sent into the world to proclaim the Gospel. This mission of all the faithful unites us to the world differently as it unites us to community. As we are in the world but not of it (or as St. Mary of the Cross puts it, “we are but travellers here”) we are united to the world like one might be united to their home, to their school or to their workplace. It is the battlefield of life in which we search for souls. 

Marriage

…Person to another

Probably the most common and clear example of the unity of the sacraments marriage not only unites two people but also any children produced from such an intimate bond. This particular unity becomes a symbol of humanity: the unity of man to woman and of adult to child and thus reflecting the image of God as relationship. In its wisdom the church recognises that because all the necessary elements are there the family is the first church and the nucleus of society; the building blocks of humanity in which we are called to bring salvation. 

Holy Orders

…Person to church

The church exists primarily for the salvation of souls, for redemption of fallen humanity. As such it offers to the community the complete means to salvation. Being then a servant to the people of God the church herself needs people to fill the role of servants in a special way. Just as in marriage (entered into by a sacrament) all the elements of church exist so to, obviously, that the church reflects these elements. Entering into by the sacrament of Holy Orders priests (Fathers) commit themselves to the church and her children (the community). This by the way becomes one good reason why only men can become priests as the role of Father is most perfectly filled by a man. 

Anointing 

…Person to death

Having lived through this life with the strength of sacramental graces so one can enter the next life with that same strength. This sacrament prepares us for death, the threshold of the new life, and helps us to be thankful for what the earthly life has given us, and us it. Often given with viaticum and reconciliation anointing, being the ancient sign of kingship, enables us to be closer united to the people of God in heaven and enjoy his glory. We quite literally become saint like. Praise God for his great mercy. 

The State of Play

Evil in the world is spreading. It’s many forms prowl around us like lions. Yet not too many people are aware of all the goings on and the threats to Christianity: Protestant, Catholic, Coptic, and many Orthodox churches. 

The way I see it there are three great shifts: the rise and rise of ISIS (this one is well spotted internationally but the wars are not working, a new approach is required but no one has any fresh ideas and of course freedom of religion is brutally decapitated in the meantime), the feeble yet popular rainbow serpent – as I have liked calling it now (the new enforced orthodoxy of LGTB… whatever, whose current flagship is gay marriage but will quickly decline into more forms of sexual “freedoms” but not religious freedom), and the third is the sleeping giant of Russia. 

The Russian government and religious ties are tight. While the military is the strong arm of power Russian Orthodoxy is the soft arm of power, and the two have been working very well for at least a century. Of course all Orthodox Churches are nationalistic and where the country grows so does its religion. The converse is true too and this plays into Russian hands. But the Russian flavour of orthodoxy is also poison for those who are perceived as heretics – American Protestants first, but also Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican et. al. These do not directly promote Russia’s agenda and therefore need suppression. There has been a history to support this, but has there been enough change to refute it? 

Perhaps I’m sounding alarmist or like a conspiracy theorist. But there are changes afoot. A Third World War? Perhaps. But we must cling close to Christ. Under his direction all will be well. Whatever brand of Christianity they are coming for us. And when the wolves are at the door feuding brothers unite for the good of the house. Be strong brothers. 

Where have you been?

Boo. I’m back. Did you miss me? Probably not. No doubt life pushed on with its ongoing demands as each one of responds in the best way we know how. If you’re like me it is usually too late to have done anything of any great impact and promise to do better when the next opportunity arises: it’s the old, “I should have(said/done/thought/been) this”; the endless “If only’s”. Since I last wrote much has occurred in my life, as is usually the case. In a quiet 15 minutes before I leave for mass I have chosen to (finally) blog a little and provide a reason behind my absence. For sympathy? No. For justification? Perhaps. But more for understanding. It would be great if I could tell you I’ve been on sabbatical at some exotic destination (Rome I consider exotic).  But alas. We have been consumed selling a house (deciding to build a new one), and moving house. Anyone who has done this will understand that quite some time is taken in preparing a house for sale and the decisions required in building a new one. As recent as last Monday the family car was involved in fairly serious single vehicle crash. Thank God everyone walked out with no more than a bruise. Yesterday we bought a new one (a second hand one but new to us). I have also started writing a book (does that make me an author or does being published make me one?). My eldest son has entered high school and is doing very well. Amid a house of unopened boxes and a busy kitchen bench I hope to do better over the next chapter of life. As routine begins to re-establish itself I hope I can blog on a regular basis as used to before, perhaps more so. I hope I can say I will do better next time, but my failed human nature will likely prevent me. That, and laziness.

But Jesus died that Friday! Why is it “Good”?

Most of us live to a certain standard, a way of life that we hope others could appreciate, summed up in The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do to you. In one form or another this sentiment is found in all major religions and is in effect the underlying moral guide. Yet despite its subjectivity this is frequently and easily breached. 

The objective moral standard of God founded first in the Ten Commandments then lived in the person of Jesus makes breaching this tougher standard more likely. Add to the equation our fallen nature and, hey presto, we have a moral challenge with every decision every day. 

But this moral deterioration is not inevitable. Nor is it permanent. The model of moral living is the life of Jesus, yet he is more than mere exemplar. By his sacrifice on the crucifix he became the means through which our shortcomings are purified, perfected, or purged. 

Because of his self-sacrifice we have been made clean, we have been made whole, and what has been left short and wanting in our moral choices has now been made up. This is just the beginning of his making all things new. This is why this day is “Good”.  

You better watch out – Santa Claus is coming.

This article (of the same name) is lifted directly from the Catholic World Report, not with permission but with love. Coming up to Christmas we celebrate the feast of St. Nicolas. Here is a great summary of his witness to Christ.

“There are hundreds of stories about St. Nicholas of Myra. He was born in Lycia on the southwest coast of modern Turkey. His wealthy, pious parents, Theophanes and Nonna, read to him the Holy Scriptures and faithfully taught him his prayers, but apparently died while he was still young. His uncle, Bishop Nicholas of Patara, ordained young Nicholas and made him his personal assistant. The zealous youth proved himself an inspiring catechist in the Christian community and an obedient servant to his uncle. During these dutiful years he showed great kind-heartedness and generosity by distributing his inheritance to the poor.

During this time, the three grown daughters of a formerly rich inhabitant were in danger of being sold into slavery because of their father’s pennilessness. Hearing of this, young Nicholas secretly visited the man’s house at night and threw gold in at the window to provide a dowry for one of the girls. The eldest daughter was soon married, and Nicholas again made clandestine donations for the other two daughters, with equally felicitous results. Modern children who awake to an orange or to gold-foiled chocolates in their stockings reenact this story because, by all accounts, one of Nicholas’ gifts landed in a sock that was hanging by the fire to dry.

The young Nicholas was blessed with a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the voyage, a storm came up that terribly frightened the crew but, through the prayers of the saint, the waves of the sea were becalmed and the passengers saved. According to Palestinian Christians, Mar Nkoula (St. Nicholas) lived in a cave as a hermit for three years after visiting the holy places. In a vision Nicholas was told to return to Lycia. Years later an Orthodox Church was built over the hermit’s abandoned cave at Beit Jala, and Palestinians still commemorate this saint by giving gifts to children on December 19.

Not long after his return to Asia Minor, Nicholas was made archbishop of Myra. Difficult years followed for the archbishop and his flock, who were forced underground by the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s brutal, expansive persecution of Christians. During this time the good archbishop, who had the charism of bi-location, often appeared to imprisoned members of his flock as a model of gentleness, kindness, and love, until the day he too was discovered in hiding. In jail Nicholas continued to sustain and exhort his fellow believers to endure torture and death for the love of Christ. After Diocletian’s death, Nicholas was released and returned to his sacramental duties as a “confessor of the faith”—a titled given to Christians who were imprisoned and tortured for their faith during this period, but not executed. They were extremely revered and respected by their contemporaries.

Archbishop Nicholas attended the first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (325), where he allegedly assailed the heretic Arius. In the middle of his hearing, Arius stood up on his seat in order to be better heard. Enraged by Arius’ denial that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, Archbishop Nicholas strode quickly over to Arius, pulled him down by his beard, and punched him in the face. The scandalized council fathers sprang upon Nicholas, stripped him of his pallium, and threw him in prison for his brutish behavior. That night Nicholas was visited by the Holy Family who loosed his bonds and vested him again in his apostolic garb. The bishops were astonished by this miracle and realized that Nicholas’ anger was righteous. He was honorably restored to his chair—where the aged prelate slept through much of the remaining proceedings.

During one of these naps, the holy confessor of orthodoxy bi-located again, this time to save more sailors at sea. When he awoke in Nicaea he was resentfully charged with sleeping through the entire council, whereupon the venerable Nicholas is said to have answered, “While you were talking, I was busy rescuing a disaster-driven ship at sea.” Some of the pious brethren took the ship to be an analogy of the Church. Others dismissed his words as the babblings of an old man. But not long after the council, the rescued sailors returned safely home and, traveling through Myra, recognized Nicholas as their deliverer. Not surprisingly, every Greek and Slavic Christian sailor for the past millennium and a half has sailed under the protection of St. Nicholas. In the midst of a storm, Greek sea captains still keep the ancient custom of promising St. Nicholas an effigy of their ship, called a tamata, if the holy wonderworker will save them from calamity.

Archbishop Nicholas peacefully fell asleep in the Lord on December 6, 343. He was immediately recognized as a saint and as the patron of travelers. He is called upon by Christians round the world for deliverance from flood, poverty, or any misfortune. He has especially promised to help those who remember his parents, Theophanes and Nonna.

St. Nicholas’ incorrupt relics were venerated for centuries in the local cathedral church of Myra. Like those of many other saints, his bones exude sweet-smelling myrrh. This holy myrrh has been used by Christian faithful to heal all manner of infirmities. During the Middle Ages the Turks conquered Byzantine Asia Minor and hitherto pose a constant threat to Christianity in that region. Because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, his stories have spread to every Christian nation. In 1087, solicitous for the safety of St. Nicholas’ venerable remains, Italian sailors, who were devoted to this saint, plotted to steal the body and bring it back to their home village. St. Nicholas’ relics were thus taken from Myra and translated to the city of Bari, where the saint’s body continues to exude holy myrrh (in Italian, “sacra manna”) 17 centuries after his death.

A thousand years later, Italians are still hardcore devotees. It is difficult not to envy them sometimes. They’ve not only made St. Nicholas their “tooth fairy,” but once a year they commemorate the pirating of jolly ol’ San Nicola’s bones, sailing around the harbor at Bari with giant statues of the saint in their boats followed by a solemn harvesting of his tomb oils. Bari’s annual “Festival of the Translation of the Relics” is a three-day carnival with fireworks, processions, reenactments, fire-eaters, and Holy Mass, held every May 7-9. After High Mass on the 9th, the rector of the basilica crawls into a small opening in the crypt to drain the sacra manna out of St. Nicholas’ tomb into a glass vial. The manna is diluted with water and serves as an anointing sacramental and souvenir for pilgrims to Bari from across the globe.”

The truth of St. Nicolas points to the truth of Christ. Whatever you tell children, to me this story beats any other. But why let truth get in way of a good story.