Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Obamatax gambit

I have to say I'm still puzzling over how a health care law got through the US Supreme Court as a tax. I suppose that's why so many are now calling this Obamatax instead of Obamacare. 

Strange law? Or a Supreme Court that would rather 'kick for touch' as the saying goes on this side of the pond? Which is another way of saying that they have been criticized too often in the past for being un-elected lawmakers and decided to let this hot potato burn somebody else's fingers. 

I don't know. As I said before, this is only the beginning. So we'll know more when the Supreme Court meets again for the next round of legal arguments over First amendment issues relating to how this other parts of this law, not addressed by this judgement, might infringe on religious liberty. And of course the November elections will pass a judgement all of their own. People hate new taxes. And this is a particularly strange new tax.

In the meantime, you all seem to be enjoying the cartoons if the recent spike in my stats is anything to go by. Thank you all very much for that. It's nice to know they are appreciated. I'm really enjoying doing them and I intend to keep them up as long as they help put a smile on your face. If I could ask a favour in return? Do please use the share options below to help get more people stopping by for a look see ... it would really help motivate me to come up with more of them if the 'hits' keep growing in leaps and bounds the way they have done in the last week or so! In fact, why not become a follower of this site ... every little helps! 

And, of course, stick a comment in the combox so I know what it is you like about what I've been doing. It'll help me keep this wee barque going in the right direction! 

God bless you all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare, round one

Obama care has survived the Supreme Court challenge. Or at least it has survived this particular challenge. There's more to come. And winning may not turn out to have been the best outcome for the Obama administration. The law is so unpopular in the US it may serve to unite opposition against the incumbent in the November elections. The hope being that his opponent would repeal the legislation if he won. 

In the meantime, there's not a lot of need for me to comment further on the Supreme Court decision. I'm sure you probably heard enough on the radio or television already; and no doubt your newspaper covered it. If you are interested in a selection of reactions from some Catholic commentators (remember, the health mandate as it stands would force Catholic institutions to pay for some things that are against Church teaching) here is a good link to a page that has quite a few (and more here).

I will say this, though. The Supreme Court upheld the law on the grounds that the Federal Gov has the right to levy taxes. Did I hear you say 'huh? I thought this was about health care? What have taxes got to do with it?' Exactly. The law requires one to buy health insurance. Failure to do so results in a penalty. The gov are calling the penalty a tax rather than a fine. Okey-dokey, says the Supreme Court. Sounds good to us. 

What it sounds is a bit perverse. It almost sounds the US gov can do what it likes to its citizens from now on, as long as they work some kind of tax implication into it. (Actually, that gives me an idea for tomorrow's cartoon ...)

Any thoughts?

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

how we may enter the kingdom of heaven

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
Matthew 7.21-23

The above passage was the Gospel reading for Holy Communion yesterday. As I celebrated the Eucharist at a bedside in a local hospital, with only think curtains separating us from the hustle and bustle of the ward, I was struck with particular force by these words. About how important they are for all who would call themselves Christians.  And particularly for those who are ordained - first bishops and then priests - those who have a responsibility for leading & teaching others.  

Perhaps I was thinking this way was because of where I was. It is impossible in a hospital not to be reminded of how fragile human life is. And how near death is at all times.

Perhaps it was because I have recently become rector of a parish. Each day reminds me how great a task it is with which I have been entrusted. It is truly an awesome responsibility to be charged with making others understand that it is not enough for one to say 'Lord, Lord,' but that they must do the will of the Father.

So please pray for those of us with that responsibility. And pray for yourself and all others that you will this day and always do the will of the Father.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Church vs State USA

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Science: it's a girl thing

Pity the poor brainiacs who came up with the Science: it's a girl thing video. Without a trace of irony they decided the best way to tempt young women into a challenging career in science by ... drum-roll please ... portraying female scientists parading around in lippy and high-heels showing as much leg as a runway model! Come on, girls - science really is as much fun as putting on makeup. And look - the gorgeous 'real scientist' man thinks they're hot ... play your cards right and you could get yourself a man out of this! The only thing they left out was to show them out clubbing, dancing with tattooed boy band members as they sank alco-pops!

It's hard to say who is worse: the people who made this ... or the people who paid them to make it. Is it really beyond them to think that the last thing young women need yet more suggestions that if they want to get ahead in the world they need to be pretty and wear a short skirt? And that smart young women might be interested in a career in science more if they thought it was a field where they'd be respected for their brains and talent rather than their dress sense and being 'eye candy' for the 'men' who'd be doing the 'real work' in the lab?


Any suggestions yourself as to how they might have done better?

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Church versus State, USA

Trouble is brewing in the US. The Catholic Church (and other groups) thinks the government is attempting some serious infringements of  religious freedom. A big deal, as freedom of religion is protected by their constitution. The video below gives a flavour of what's going on ...  

In case you are still scratching your head trying to figure this out, not surprising. The health insurance mandate is a complicated issue. The Church's issue is that it would require it to provide cover for contraception, abortificants, and sterilizations, all of which are unambiguously against her teaching.

In fairness, I don't think the administration set out to go toe-to-toe with the Church. I suspect it was a case of ideological blindness: when you are completely caught up with your own agenda, you often can't imagine how anyone could possibly disagree with you. Health insurance is a good thing, right?  Who could have foreseen that the administration would bring down wrath of biblical proportions from many quarters? (yes, the pun was intended!)

Mind you, politicians are the ones who are supposed to be good at weighing up the pros and cons of any move before they make it. And they certainly didn't back down when the Church pointed out their blunder ... quite the opposite in fact ... they reacted quite aggressively ... 

We'll see how this 'failure to foresee' plays out at the polls later this year.

This whole issue hasn't been getting much coverage on this side of the pond. Not sure why. Perhaps because it hasn't been getting massive coverage on their side of the pond. Which is weird ... there have been hundreds of protest marches, lawsuits, even a supreme court challenge to this legislation ... you wouldn't think the media would downplay that sort of thing ... of course, it is all very damaging for President Obama and there is an election coming up, but that couldn't have impact on decisions the media make surely ... 

For my own part, I don't think you have to be Catholic, or even a Catholic who 100% faithfully follows Church teaching, to think that the US government telling Catholic Church run organisations that they have to pay for stuff that goes against Church teaching is crossing some sort of a line. And if it religious liberty can be stepped on there, the self-described land of the free, it can happen anywhere ... 

But what do you think? Is the Catholic Church in the US making too much of this? 

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Monday, June 25, 2012

How to begin each day the Thomas a Kempis Way

Thumbing through my pocket-sized version of St Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ last night at the end of a long and weary day, I came across the following few lines:

Everyday we ought to renew our purpose, and stir ourselves up to fervour, as if it were the first day of our conversion. 

And to say: Help me, O Lord God, in my good purpose, and in they holy service, and grant that I may this day begin indeed, since what I have done hitherto is nothing. 

As our purpose is, so will our progress be.
XIX: 1,2

What an excellent way for each of us to begin the day. Most of us, I think, are soothed by an unmerited complacency about our progress as followers of Christ. We are content to judge ourselves as being 'not too bad.' But we measure ourselves according to some sort of self-created cosmic scale, where on the 'bad' end we place the worst criminals we can think of: murderers, rapists, child-abusers. And by that standard we are indeed 'not too bad.' 

But at the other end of the scale, if we are to be consistent, are the saints. And the saints, like St Thomas, know we can never afford to be complacent. We must fight against self-satisfaction, being pleased with ourselves, with thinking we are good enough. We must struggle and strive daily. And what better way to remind ourselves of how much more we have to do than to begin each day with words to the effect: forgive me for all my past failings, Lord; help me to do better today.

St Thomas and saints like him felt they could not do otherwise. How much more should we?

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Secret of Holy Living: a meditation on the feast of the Birth of St John the Baptist

When I was a kid I loved dressing up as Batman … these were before the days you could walk into a shop and buy a costume that looks just like the TV or film version … basically it just involved a home made cape and lots of imagination … in fact, I actually got into a bit of trouble over making my own cape one time … I asked my mom if I could cut something up for a cape … it was only later I discovered that she thought I has asked if I could cut myself some cake …

It's not surprising I liked him so much … we all need heroes and role models … people we look up to and can try to copy … it's something that we have quite a tradition of in the Church … we don't normally call those people the Church thinks we should try to copy heroes though … the normal word we use is saints … although of course saints are heroes of the faith … I think a lot of people have forgotten this idea … so much so that this can almost be called a lost secret of the church … the lost secret of how we can lead a holy life … because remember, the same word is used in the bible for holy and saint – haigios – and how better to be holy than try to learn the life of some of someone we know lived a holy life …

Today we celebrate the birthday of St John the Baptist … so perhaps we might want to think about what the life of St John teaches us … of course, trying to deal with his whole life might be a bit much for one sermon! So maybe I'll just talk a little about what the circumstances of his birth have to teach us …

Now you might be thinking: hang on a second … what can there be about someone's birth that teaches us a lesson about how we might lead a better life? I'm sure you all remember the story that lead up to John's birth … but just in case, I'll re-cap a little! John's father Zechariah was in the temple doing his priestly duty when an angel appeared to him and told him all about the role that John would play as a forerunner of the Messiah … in fact, this is why Zechariah can't speak at the start of our reading today … he doubted what the angel had to say … he thought he and his wife Elizabeth were too old to have children … so as a sign to him, the angle said he would be struck dumb until the angels words were fulfilled,in part, by the birth of the child …

and of course, as we know, John grew up, went out into the desert and fulfilled the prophesies that had been made about him … so what does that teach us?

Well, looking at John's life reminds us that God has a plan for us even before we are born … the angel came to his father even before he was conceived … and our reading from the prophet Isaiah gives us a prophesy that the gospels tell us was fulfilled in John … that someone would come whose role it would be to prepare the way for the promised Messiah … so God's plan for John didn't just begin before he was born … it began long, long before he was born … it was spoken of hundreds of years before his birth … and since it was connected with the Messiah, we can see that it goes back perhaps even to the beginning of the world …

For ourselves the role we play may not be as unique and dramatic as John's but it is there nonetheless …

The second thing we learn from John's story is that calls us to fulfil the role he has for us … and that he will go to great lengths to help us hear that call … for John there were words spoken by prophets long ago … the visit of an angel to his father … prophesies spoken by his parents themselves … now maybe you think that God isn't calling you as clearly as he called John … there's no prophets or angels in your life … as far as you know … but God calls us all in different ways … listen to your heart … and pray about what it is you think you are hearing … talk to others that you trust … people that you know to be wise and Godly … read your Bible … see the examples of calling there … think about how they apply to you … there are angels and prophets for everyone … you just have to listen to them when they speak ...

And the third lesson from John is that God equips those whom he calls … God does not ask people to do things they are not capable of … but the abilities do not necessarily fall into your lap … sometimes when you hear the call, you have to go and work to get the skills needed to do what it is that God asks you to do … John the Baptist went off into the wilderness and spent many years in prayer and contemplations, no doubt studying scriptures as well, before he was ready to begin … look at the clergy today … we answer the call … and then are sent off for years of training! God doesn't just zap us with what we need … but he does equip us … because he gives us the strength and the will to follow through on what it is he is asking us to do …

and here is the important thing … if you try to follow these lessons of Godly living from John: understanding that you are called, trying to understand what that call is for you, and working to live out that call … then you won't be like a kid trying to pretend to be a comic book hero … you won't be pretending at all … you will be the person that God wants you to be … and you'll be well on the road to being an example of Godly living for others try and follow for themselves … something that I pray for us all: in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit: Amen.

Sermon notes 24 June 2012 

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Who else wants openness in our media?

For years the Irish & UK media condemned the US military's policy of 'don't ask, don't tell.' Now they seem to adopting the same approach about two new reports relevant to the debate on same sex marriage. 

The topic of both reports in the peer reviewed journal Social Science Research  is on the effect on children of being raised by those in same sex relationships. They were released two weeks ago. The New York Times carried a piece about them the next day. But so far nothing in the Irish Times or the Guardian, or anywhere else in the media as far as my Google assisted research can make out. 

What is this nonsense? New York Times readers are mature enough to handle this kind of material, but we're not on this side of the pond? I thought this kind of paternalism went out of style decades ago. 

I've put links to the studies below. Read them or not if you chose. But at least it is your choice. 

To give a thumbnail sketch of them:
one is by Mark Regnerus & says, despite all studies to contrary, there is a significant negative impact on children in such households; the second is by Loren Marks and says the methodology of all the previous studies on this topic are fatally flawed and can not be relied upon. 

I can't comment on how good bad or indifferent these studies are. My first thought is that it is a big ask to get people to swallow the idea that these studies are right and all that went before are wrong. But then I remember that our media didn't trust us to come to that conclusion or any other. And I'm bloody annoyed. 

But maybe it's just me? Maybe nobody else thinks it is condescending for our media to ignore this kind of stuff on our behalf. So what do you think?

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Get rid of fear forever!

Ever had one of those moments when you were sure you were going to die? I have ... actually, I've had a few, but then I was in the army! Never saw combat, but some of those training exercises got pretty crazy ... but the time I was most sure I was going to die had nothing to do with the army. While I was stationed at Ft Bragg, on a day off I was in a car doing 55 on a country road in North Carolina when a car pulled out from a side road in front of me ... and came to a dead stop in the middle of the road! 

I was sure it was the end. 'There's irony,' I thought. 'After all the guns, explosives, & jumping out of airplanes, I'm going to buy it on the public highway like a civilian.' Somehow, I managed to swerve around him ... my car ended up in the ditch the other side of him ... and I just sat there shaking for a long time after.

So life-threatening moments are pretty scary ... and the reason I'm thinking about this kind of thing is that later today I'm doing an end of year service with the local primary school. The reading is Jesus calms the storm. I'll have the kids making all the noises to act it out: howling for the wind, whooshing for the waves, clapping for the thunder. But all the while I'll be thinking the same thing I always do when I read this passage:  why does Jesus ask his disciples why they are afraid? 

It sounds like an odd question: there was a really bad storm & they were out in a boat on the lake … who wouldn't be frightened? Wouldn't you be? I think it was natural to be scared … remember, a lot of Jesus' disciples were fishermen … they were used to be out on the lake in rough weather & if they were scared, they it must have been really, really dangerous out there that day … 

So why did Jesus ask them if they were afraid? They were in a boat that was about to sink … they were all about to drown … who wouldn't be afraid?

But maybe the clue is in the question that Jesus asked next: have you still no faith? What did he mean by that? Did he mean that no one who was his disciple needed to worry about dying? Well it can't be that … we know that all of the disciples died … not that day, of course! Jesus saved them! But they all died eventually … so he can't have meant that to have faith in him meant that you weren't going to die … anyway, he warned them again and again that to follow him was a rough life!

But you know what I think? I think he meant that those who had faith, real strong faith, shouldn't be afraid of anything … not even death … not even of a scary death like drowning … do any of you know why those who have faith don't need to be scared of anything? It's because when you have faith, you know that dying isn't anything to be afraid of … because you know what happens after you die … 

Why be afraid of anything when you know heaven is waiting for you! It doesn't mean you should be in a hurry to die … of course not … but it does mean that when the time does come, we have no reason to be afraid … no matter how scary things are, we don't have to be afraid ever …

But that's me. What about you? 

(based on sermon notes for the end of year service for the parish primary school)

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The summer solstice

Just a thought for all those 'conspiracy theorists' who like to say the Church high-jacked all our important festivals from the pagan world ... you know what I mean ... Easter was the Spring Equinox ... and Christmas used to be Saturnalia, or Sol Invictus, or the Winter Solstice or, ah, something ... don't try to confuse us! You know we're right!

So what about the Summer Solstice? That was a pretty big pagan festival, right? Where's the Christian festival that was brought in to take that one over? Was it just forgotten about? Or maybe with the rotten summers in Europe they decided to leave it out ... why draw attention to it! Or is the idea itself just a teeny bit faulty?

As I said, just a thought!

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God bless mothers

Cherie Blair does not like stay at home mothers. Apparently in her worldview women don't have a choice about whether they should stay home and look after their children. Funny that. I would have thought it was part of the new world order to give women more choices. I guess that only applies if they make what she considers the right choice. But to chose be a stay at home mom - wrong answer!

Way to go empowering women & supporting them in their choices, Mrs Blair ... not to mention standing up for the dignity of full-time mothers ...

No consideration seems to given to the fact that some women make real sacrifices so that they can stay home with their children. Because they love them & think the best person in the world to look after them is their own parent. They had a choice and this is what they chose.

Interesting aside: you don't hear stay at home mothers griping about those with high-flying careers ... so what drives a career women like Mrs Blair to point the finger? Surely it can't be that she's not entirely comfortable with her choice & this leads her to demand that everyone else conform to her  behaviour so that they can feel better about hers? But perhaps it is because the summer solstice is  here & we still don't have much by way of a summer & that's sending her a bit off-kilter? Maybe not ... I'm sure she can afford a good holiday abroad whenever she wants ...

But maybe it's that she doesn't realise what hard work it is being a full-time parent? I did the stay at home dad bit for about a year when the two eldest boys were little ... and it nearly killed me! Your work day starts when your feet hits the floor & it doesn't end until your eyes close in exhausted sleep at the end of the day ... except that it doesn't end then really 'cause little ones are always waking up in the night! So God bless stay at home mothers - speaking as someone who has had quite a few different careers I have to say it's one of the hardest jobs going.

Of course, Mrs Blair is a London QC whose career was probably done no harm at all by being married to the PM. That's not a universal situation. A lot of women I know struggle to earn enough to pay the child minder ... and they make the practical decision that not only would they prefer to stay home, but it makes economic sense that they do so. But perhaps in Mrs Blair's mind the dignity of women is better served working a low paid job that hardly covers the expenses it incurs than the indignity of looking after their own children? 

Maybe to her it's all going out and choosing to be a QC like her or a super-model like Kate Upton or something. But you know, even if those kinds of choices were available to them, a lot of women are going to stay home with their kids. Because their children are precious God given gifts, they love them, they are only little for a short time, & they don't want to miss a moment. And they know that they are doing something really valuable for society ... more valuable that something that any QC can do ... they are raising the next generation. 

What a good choice.

Here's one for mothers everywhere ... because, really, nothing does compare to you!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

keeping the faith

I had a somewhat disturbing conversation recently. During the course of the chat, the person mentioned a priest they once knew. The priest had told them that he didn't believe in the Resurrection. Never had for the whole of his ministry. He saw it more as some kind spiritual event.

The person, not surprisingly, found this attitude confusing. How could anyone calling themselves a Christian say such a thing? How could a priest say such a thing publicly?

The only answer can be that I don't know. To paraphrase St Paul, if Jesus didn't rise from the dead, we got nothing. 

But the incident raises an important issue. Priests in their parish are not the pope of all they survey. It is not their job to think 'deep thoughts' & come up with new teaching. When it comes to the faith it is their job to mediate the faith of the Church to their flock in the best way they can.

We don't get to make it up as we go along. The faith is the faith. We pass it on. 

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The seal of the confessional - again

Homer Confesses at Catholic church

The minister for justice's recent statement that there would be no special exemption for the seal of the confessional in new mandatory reporting legislation is generating a certain amount of interest outside this jurisdiction. The Catholic Herald in the UK is talking about it.  The story has also been picked up in the US (and here & here).

 And yet there is a bit of a silence on the issue in Ireland. Why is that?

This is not just an issue for Catholics, by the way. All traditions which have sacramental confession are affected. That includes Orthodox and even Anglicans (shock for some, I know! but there it is).

Could it be that most people don't see the point of getting too worked up? No priest is going to break the seal. Hmm, law of the land (allegedly ... we'll get to that) versus his sacred duty and the future of his immortal soul - anyone with half a brain cell knows which way that one is going to go. In any event, how is such a law to be enforced? Entrapment by plain-clothes police officers? Courts taking the word, years later, of convicted pedophiles looking for a reduced sentence that O Yes, I did tell Father about that ... it's all his fault (even though it was dark in the confessional & I didn't tell him my name)! Good luck with either of those options.

And just for the sake of argument, if priests would break the seal, then abusers simply wouldn't confess. So instead of this being an opportunity to turn in a bad 'un in, it becomes a lost chance to try and get him/her to repent of her ways, seek help, & possibly even make reparation for the wrong that they have done. Fine legal minds at work or knee jerk reaction to an emotive issue ... you decide.

But you'll remember I said 'law of the land (allegedly ... )' above. Now why would I say that, if the minister is indeed about to enact this legislation? Because the devil is in the detail, as always. And the minister has said that the seal of the confessional will not be given an exemption in the legislation. That is not the same as saying the seal is specifically denied an exemption in the legislation. My understanding is that the seal is not mentioned. Which means that the legal status of the seal remains as it was. And there is precedential case law in Ireland (& the UK which is also factored in by the Irish courts) accepting the privileged status of the seal. So there will be no obligation to break the seal (not just my opinion, lawyers think so too).

In the absence of specific legislation removing that privilege, it stands. And if they did enact such legislation, it would be tied up in the courts for years ... it would have to pass a constitutional challenge ... and then a challenge before the European Courts ... I can't see it happening.

So what's going on here? In my humble (!) opinion, this is just political posturing. The Catholic Church is taking a battering at the moment, so just jump on the bandwagon & try and get a few votes ... and hey, it distracts from all the other things that are going wrong in the country. What's really wrong about this is that it does children not a jot of good as far as protecting them from predators goes ... & it makes it more difficult for those who need healing in the aftermath of the scandal, both the children themselves and all the others who have been wounded by this, to find the healing they need.

None of the above means that we should relax. Stuff like this is intended as an attack on all faiths. It is a direct attack on the Catholic Church; an indirect one on other Christian denominations (all the worse for being a matter of unthinking sectarianism); and it hopes to damage the position of all religion in our society. What else can legislation that is publicly proclaimed as saying the individual has a higher duty to whatever society deems important at the moment than to one's faith mean?

Perhaps those involved in this kind of opportunism should examine their consciences & take the appropriate steps to make amends. Who knows, for some that may even involve going to confession (don't worry, the priest won't tell).

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Photo opportunity

Irish Times Photograph

Interesting photograph this. Presuming you don't know the background, what do you see? 

My first impression is of two men in clerical attire, standing by a cross, heads bowed. The man on the left seems to be praying. The one on the right may be praying or simply observing a respectful silence. The background suggests that they are at a religious site. 

If I tell you that they are the papal legate and the apostolic nuncio and they are visiting Lough Derg as part of the Eucharistic Congress, trying to express the Catholic Church's sorrow about the clerical child abuse scandal and trying to promote healing and reconciliation, does that alter your perception of what you see in the photograph?

Do you attach any significance to the fact that the two men are wearing shoes? Was it something that sprang out at you when you looked at the photograph first? Or was it something you had to peer at hard to check when it was mentioned? A letter writer to the Irish Times today thinks it is an important detail. He writes: unlike normal pilgrims, neither of the reverend gentlemen is barefoot. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. 

The 'normal pilgrims' of which he writes are there for a pilgrimage of between one and three days and will take part in a very stringent ascetic spiritual experience which includes spending the time on Lough Derg barefoot. The papal legate and the apostolic nuncio were not there as 'normal pilgrims' but were there for a very specific event, involving the Congress.

Is it significant that they wore shoes while there to express sorrow on behalf of the Catholic Church? Does it impact in any way on the 'thousand words' expressed by the picture? Does it point in some way to a lack of sincerity, piety, or sorrow?

Or does the reaction of the letter writer to the photo paint its own picture?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day


May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Father's Day … the day when we give thanks for our earthly Fathers … and do not forget, I hope, to give thanks to our heavenly Father also, just as we do everyday …
And, in a way, I think this ties in with our epistle reading today … we heard a very interesting verse in our epistle this morning: for we walk by faith, not by sight … what on earth can St Paul mean? At first reading it is almost as if he is saying that to lead the life of faith is to walk blindly … isn't that what it means to walk without our sight? 

But we must keep in mind that are reading today is part of a longer passage … & St Paul is speaking in the context of reassuring his readers that they do not have to fear death, because they have the hope of their faith … the hope that we all have that when this life is over we will be with our heavenly Father ...

So, I thought we might try a little thought experiment to show what it means when St Paul is talking about walking by faith. I'd like all of you to close your eyes tightly & keep them closed until the end of the experiment. For as long as the experiment lasts you have to act as if you had no vision whatsoever … as if your sight was completely gone … 

Now, I want you to imagine trying to make the journey home like this … think about feeling your way out of the pew … making your way down aisle groping your way from one pew to the next … clutching to find the door to the porch … can you remember which way to go in the porch to turn to find your way out the door? … stretch out your arms and feel your way out into the open air … now stop … because in our experiment you can not use the roads … you must find your way across the fields … crossing streams … struggling through ditches and pushing your way through hedges … clambering over fences … all without the use of your eyes … and as you stand by the door of this church, do you know which way to go … or are you already doubtful as to how best to begin your journey? How many of you at this moment honestly think you could find your way home under those circumstances? And yet for most of you this is a place that you have spent your entire lives … 

All right … let us change the conditions of the experiment a little … you are still blind … but now you may use roads and paths … but you may not speak to anyone … you may not ask for directions … you may not ask for or accept any help … using only memory, try to navigate your journey home from the door of this church to the place where you live … remember, you are not simply trying to think what way you would go … you must imagine walking this journey groping your way … trying to find each turn with no visual clues whatsoever …

It still seems pretty difficult, doesn't it? So let us change the parameters of our experiment again … your eyes are still closed … but this time you have others to help you … others may take you by the arm … others may guide and assist you … they will walk with you … they will make sure you stay on the right path … they will answer your questions ... comfort you when you become anxious or think you can not go on ... they will keep you from making any wrong turns as you journey … they will be there to help you if you stumble … they will be there from the beginning of you journey to the very end …

All right … you may open your eyes now … I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, but I wonder which of those options you found easiest? I have my own thoughts of course … I'm sure that most of you would have found the third option the least arduous … perhaps there are one or two of you who think that the first option was the best … but I suspect that mos people would think it verging on the crazy for a person to chose to stumble blindly through the fields alone if they could chose instead to make their journey on a well trod path guided by good and trusted friends …

But there are people who act like this when it comes to faith … there are those who say they will find their own way blindly … refusing to follow the path that has been marked out by their fellow travellers down through the centuries … refusing to listen to the guidance offered by the Church that was established by Christ for the purpose of helping his brothers and sisters follow the Way that he has called them to … closing their ears to the voices of their brothers and sisters who walk in the light of faith and wish only to help them find their way on their journey home to God, our Father …

St Paul said we have no need to fear death because we walk by faith not sight … but if we refuse to accept the help that God has graciously given us to help us on our walk, then we walk with neither faith nor sight … we walk groping blindly without friend or path to guide us … and where ever that path may lead us … it is not likely to lead us home to our Father … 

And so this morning, I pray that we all will accept the guidance that our Father gives us to make our journey through this life, so that we may all walk with his beautiful gift of faith as we journey to be with him … something that I pray for us all: In the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

sermon notes 17 June 2012 (2nd after Trinity)  

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Saturday, June 16, 2012


I'm sure you know how these things go ... you sit down at your computer of a Saturday morning, planning to write a short fluff piece about how proud you are that you managed to embed a cool clock (a very cool clock) on the blog without the assistance of your teenage son (in fact, you asked for his help, he wasn't able to figure it out, & then you managed to sort it out all on your own). But before you start, you do a little random browsing while sipping your coffee ... and before you know it, you're wiping coffee off your keyboard and screen because you nearly choked over what you just read because you Just ... Can't ... Believe it.

The latest oppressed minority looking for acceptance and understanding are those who engage in bestiality. I am not going to go into any details. Read the article here if you like. But maybe spare yourself. It's a long article. What more do you need to know than they love their animals, they can't help feeling the way they do, they would never do anything to hurt them, it is all consensual, they are not hurting anyone, and who are we to judge?

I'm not going to go into a long rant about moral relativism and this is where we've slid to on the slippery slope or this is the end of civilisation as we know it. Because I am not worried that there is the remotest chance that any calls for bestiality to be tolerated is going to be taken seriously (and let us pray that those words don't sound prophetically stupid a few years from now). What is worrying is that we live in a world where people are willing to publicly declare that this is what they do and if you have a problem with it it's your problem and expect to be taken seriously.

I'm leaving it there. Frankly, I don't want to dwell on it. I'm going to cheer myself up by watching some fantastic Spanish guitar music. I suggest you do likewise (no, it's not fiddling while Rome burns ... it's just a little of 'give my head some peace' which I need right now - the piece is called 'the most evolved' - wonder who it could possibly be talking about). And don't forget to pray for these people ... and pray for the animals too.

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Humanae Vitae?

There was a letter in the Irish Times this morning about Catholic teaching on contraception. The letter began with:

Archbishop Barry James Hickey spoke at the Eucharistic Congress about the church’s teaching on contraception . Without intending to be pedantic, he more correctly could have referred to the church’s monologue on contraception. Teaching happens only when the learners accept the material being proffered.

I would have to award the writer a 'fail' when it comes to pedantry. Someone trying to be pedantic about word usage should at least consult a dictionary (unless, of course, he was serious about not intending to be pedantic, in which case he achieved his intent). The Oxford University Dictionary online edition defines teaching inter alia as imparting knowledge. There is no mention of acceptance or indeed agreement. 

As I do not think anyone would argue that Catholics are not aware of what their Church teaches on contraception (after all, the writer claims 'the faithful' has rejected this teaching & how can one reject what one does not know?), clearly the knowledge has been imparted and the Archbishop is correct in his usage.

But since the writer raises the matter, I wonder how many of 'the faithful' have actually read Humanae Vitae or know what it has to say beyond its condemnation of artificial contraception? Its a surprisingly short document and a fuller knowledge of what it teaches might surprise people. So, let me give my own, patent-pending, Fr Levi down-and-dirty gist of what it has to say (which is to say, my own notion, without any claim towards being even in the slightest way authoritative, & certainly not approved by any ecclesisial body whatsoever). 

In it Pope Paul VI said that to attempt separate the procreative act from its natural consequences would bring about an ever increasing amount of sexual permissiveness. Marital infidelity would increase. Abortion would become more prevalent. Women would be increasingly objectified. Underage sexual activity will be more and more common.  

It says a lot more, of course. It talks about the purpose of human love & its place in God's plan for humanity. It says quite a lot about that actually. It talks about the value of self-discipline and chastity. It warns of the danger that 'public authorities' might 'intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife' (like that could happen - oh wait ... does China's one child and forced abortion if you don't comply policy count?). It talks about human dignity.

Of course, the only bit that people seem to have heard was that about artificial contraception being wrong. Which they promptly rejected. And then all the other stuff it warned about happened. Odd coincidence that.

The sexual culture that Humanae Vitae predicted, I think most would agree, has come to pass.  If you think that is no bad thing, maybe even a positive good, then I guess you'd consider what Paul VI said is pretty irrelevant. On the other hand, if you're wondering where did it all go wrong, as many seem to, well then this 'rejected' encyclical arguably does a pretty good job of pinpointing precisely where it all went wrong. 

Kind of makes you wonder, don't you think? That perhaps whatever  your religious background, that maybe what Humanae Vitae had to say is worth another look? I've no illusions that the genie is going back into the bottle on this one. But no harm to know what it is that what was actually rejected ... and to wonder how different the world might have been if it hadn't been. 

Unless, as I said, you're happy with the way things are. In which case why read what so many others haven't? 

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

babies in the mail

Ever gone into a post office with a parcel & then be stumped when the nice person behind the counter asks you to put a value on the item that you're posting? I'm sure you know what I mean ... it's on that little form when you're sending something abroad that requires you to describe what it is that you're sending along & what it is worth. It's for the customs folk at the other end I suppose. It kind of spoils things a bit when you're sending a present ... the recipient can look at the wee form & know before they open it what it is and what it cost. As long, of course, as you have been honest. And I would expect anyone reading this to be completely honest, of course! Seriously ... true holiness is in the little things.

The reason I'm talking about putting the value on parcels is because of this article. Wealthy people in the west can now have embryos sent by Federal Express to India for implantation in a surrogate. 

Does that idea shock you? It shocks me. There are so many issues around surrogacy ... so many around the reproductive technology industry ... far too many to go into here ... but this has to represent a new low ... sending the baby by parcel post ... So I was just wondering, when they are filling out the forms for these, what value are they putting on them? 

Perhaps they write 'medical item: no commercial value'? That wouldn't be true, now, would it? There are a lot of hopes and dreams riding on that little parcel .. no, I don't mean the hopes and dreams of those who are willing to go to any length in order to be a parent ... I'm talking about the hopes and dreams of those working in the industry of all the money they are going to make on this transaction ... and there is such a lot of money involved ... there is certainly a commercial value on that package.

I suppose the true value should be 'priceless' ... we are talking about human life here, after all ... but I suspect the amount they actually enter is far lower ...

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Church Operations

Humanae Vitae is one of the reasons doctors performed symphysiotomys in Ireland. Really. At least that is what a retired consultant gynecologist says in the letters page in today's Irish Times. His letter was in response to an article on the controversial medical procedure published in the paper the day before (read the article if you want to know what symphysiotomys are; google it if you want more; I really couldn't face describing the procedure in any detail - it really does sound quite gruesome). The article was a preview of a report that is due to be published this week - a report that a surviver's groups is calling an 'apologia' for the doctors involved in the practice. 

The retired doctor calls for 'reasoned analysis and debate that concentrates on the environment that prevailed when these issues arose.' He then goes on to strongly suggest that Humanae Vitae was part of that environment.

Interesting that. I wonder if he had read the full article. Because it says Irish doctors began using the procedure in the mid-1940's. Hmm ... but Humanae Vitae was published in 1968. Difficult to see how it could have influenced the environment that 'prevailed when the issues arose' then. Perhaps the good doctors had access to fully-functional crystal ball?

Odd way to begin a 'reasoned analysis and debate' wouldn't you say? To use a gross factual inaccuracy. A cynic might wonder if the  intent was more to divert as much blame from the medical profession as possible on this issue. But why would a doctor, a retired consultant gynecologist to boot, want to do that? 

One might also wonder why he uses such an obvious error in his argument. Did he really not know? Or did he think no one would notice? Or did he think that no one would care? After all, Church bashing has become the sport de jour of the media. 

And anyway, isn't Humanae Vitae the encyclical it is claimed that everyone ignored? And now we are being told how influential it was. So influential that it made surgeons do things they otherwise probably would not. Curious that.

I have no doubt that the Catholic ethos of these hospitals played some part. But let us not forget that it was not the Catholic Church who came up with this appalling medical procedure. And it was not the Catholic Church that continued to carry it out in the face of mounting evidence of the damage that it was doing to women. That was the consultants who operated with god-like power in their domain at the time (& yes, I did intend the rather awful puns in that sentence!). And no doubt there were many other factors too.

But hey - who needs complexity and nuance when the simple answer is to blame everything on the Catholic Church? I'm only surprised no one has managed to link it to the economic mess that we are currently in. I'm sure one could, if one used sufficient imagination. While we are waiting for that gem, I await with interest the first letter, article, or opinion piece making reference to the clerical child abuse scandal in relation to this one.

If it takes more than three days to appear I will be most surprised. And no, this blog post doesn't count!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Abu Yahya al-Libi

Timing is everything. Motives matter. 

Lately President Obama has been struggling in the polls. Last week a man alleged to be an important Al-Qaeda leader, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan.  

The drone attack is not a negligible deed. A man was deliberately killed. The Pakistani government is understandably furious that their sovereignty has been flouted. International commentators are concerned that the US should behave in a manner that is difficult to justify under international law. Others have pointed out that this type of killing risks so-called collateral damage and endangers innocent bystanders.

If the president has acted solely in the interests of international security, that is one thing. It should still give us pause, because it means that the action was taken in our name, for our sake. Is this the world we want? But if he acted, even partly, in the hope this would play wells in the polls back home it is quite another. It is cause for even greater concern that the first scenario. Because that means that the world we live in is even more sinister. 

Perhaps it was seen as a 'win win' scenario? 'I must do this for security ... but there is the added bonus of a boost at the polls'? How difficult is it for any person to divorce in their mind the reasons for their actions? To say that they only do it for motive A, which is their duty, while motive B, self-interest is also in the mix?

It can not be easy to be the president of the US, to have all that power, to be under all that pressure. And Abu Yahya al-Libi, if what is alleged against him is true, is hardly a figure to elicit much sympathy. However, whatever he may have done, he remains a human being, a child of God made in his image. For that reason alone his life is worth more than to be ended for the sake of improving another's chances of being re-elected.

I hope for President Obama's sake that such an idea did not factor into his thinking when he made his decision. But it is difficult to suspect that it did not. Because timing is everything. And motive matters.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

the St Michael report

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

You may remember there was some talk of sin in our gospel reading today … That got me to thinking about a story I heard once …

One day God sent for the Archangel Michael.
'Good morning, St Michael,' he said. I've got a little job for you.'
'Anything, Almighty One,' said the archangel. 'As commander of your armies, I stand ready to lead them into any battle. Has the time come to unleash your battalions against our ancient enemy?'
'No, not that,' said God.
'Is there another revolt brewing in heaven? Do you want me to crush the rebels and cast them down into the fiery pit?'
'No, no revolt.'
'Do you want me to lead your legions to earth to purge it of all evil and cast all sinners into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth?'
'No, no purging or wailing.'
'Do you want me to …'
'Maybe it would be easier if you just let me tell you,' said God.
'Of course, Holy One.'
'I need a status report.'
'A status report?'
'On how things are going on earth.'
'What things?'
'Basically on how things are getting on down there in relation to sin. I did send my only Son to save people from their sins … it would be good to know where things stand.'
'No battalions, no legions, just a report?'
'I'll get straight on it, Great & Mighty One,' he sighed.

Now St Michael, as we heard, is the commander of God's armies … and like any soldier he tends to be thorough and systematic … so he didn't just jump on the nearest cloud and whiz down to earth. He had a think about it first. He decided if he was going to do a good job he was going to need a check-list … but where was he going to find one that would help him document the state of sin in the world? He wanted to be thorough & he wanted to be fair. And then he remembered that there was already one that he could use … and it had been written by God himself, so it the perfect one to use … I'm sure you know which one I mean … in fact if you turn to page 222 of your prayer books you'll find a copy of it there … I'll give you a moment to find it …

Anyway, St Michael went to earth and had a look around and went through everything on his check-list. Then he returned to heaven and reported back to God. Of course he began by telling God how he had decided to use the ten commandments as a check-list to see if people were being sinful or not.
'Good idea,' said God. 'I've had a lot of very good ideas and they were one of the best … but you've gone a very long while … is there a lot to report?'
'I'm afraid so, Creator of heaven and earth.'
'Hmm. Well, we don't want to be here all day. Just hit the high points. How did they do with the first one?'
'Not too good, I'm afraid.'
'What – they're worshipping idols again?'
'In a way … they have a lot of things that seem to be more important to them in their lives that you … tv, sport, themselves … and a lot more besides.'
'O dear. What about being careful about how they use my name?'
'Put it like this … you might not be very happy if you went into most pubs … or watched most television programmes or films … or just listened to the average conversation.'
'So I suppose there is not need to ask how they are treating the Lord's day?'
'Not really. Some take it seriously … but most think a football match or a day trip are more important … if they think it is important at all.'

God gave a big sigh.
'Not good,' he said.
'I know,' said St Michael.
'Well, moving on. What about honouring their father and their mother?'
St Michael said nothing.
'That bad?' said God.
'I blame the parents,' said St Michael. God shook his head.
'No. Once they are old enough to know better, they have to be held responsible for their own actions. What about murder?'
This time St Michael sighed.
'War & violence is everywhere. And I factored in what your Son said about being angry with people being a sin against this commandment … that really sent things off the scale.'
'Pretty bad … again I'm factoring in here what Jesus had to say about this one, especially the one about lustful thoughts counting … plus, I felt I had to take into account all that St Paul had to say in the New Testament about purity … in their defence, some people have really latched on to the idea that sex sells, so there are pretty explicit images everywhere … tv, magazines, posters … and as for what you'll find on the internet …'
'I'm sure it's not easy,' said God. 'But if I'm going to hold children responsible for their actions, I can hardly not hold grown-ups accountable for much more serious behaviour … anyway, we're almost finished … how about bearing false witness … are most people at least honest?'
'Do you know that old joke about how do you know a lawyer is lying?'
'Yes, yes … his lips are moving!'
'Just think of most people as being a kind of lawyers … of course, the sad thing is that the person that they lie to most is themselves … they tell themselves that their behaviour isn't all that bad … worse, they tell themselves that all the things that used to be called sinful is just being silly and old-fashioned … that they are modern and know more … and that there really isn't anything like sin any more …'
'Wow, that's a pretty big lie,' said God.
'Huge,' said St Michael. 'Of course, lying to themselves comes into it in a big way for the the last commandment, coveting things … they want everything they see … & they keep telling themselves it is OK to want it all … most of which most of them will never be able to have anyway … but they'll twist their hearts and souls into knots over it anyway … all for nothing.'
'It all sounds pretty grim,' said God.
'It is,' said St Michael. 'You want me to get the legions ready?'
'What for?' said God.
'To purge earth of all evil and cast all sinners into the outer darkness where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth!'
'No, no. No purging or wailing. Not yet anyway.'
'You want me to leave things as they are?'
'No, I don't want that either … tell me, with all the sinners that you found, did you find no good people, no holy people?'
'Not many. A few, ' admitted St Michael. 'Quite a lot who were trying … sometimes … but it was pretty easy to lead them astray … there's a lot of things that send them off track, especially others who think if they can get enough people to behave just the same as they do then their behaviour must be all right, no matter how sinful they've been told it is … people who tell them all kinds of things … but there are a few who are genuinely holy, who truly love you, and strive every day to keep you commandments.'
'All right then,' said God. 'Here's what we need to do. We need to encourage the good ones … their example of Holy living is a powerful force in the world … as long as there are a few like them for the others to look to, there there is hope for all the world.'

So St Michael went away & thought about how he might encourage the good people he had found in the world. And he decided that he would send them a letter … and do you know what he wrote in that letter? No? Nor do I am afraid … I, like you, did not receive one!

But if my story was real, and St Michael had gone back to God with such a report, we would do well to think about how we might come to be numbered among those whom St Michael considered good and holy people … we might even hope just to be numbered among those who were trying really hard, even if they were doing as well as they might … we might do well to do as St Michael did in the story with mankind … to assess our behaviour on a regular basis by the standard that God has laid down in the commandments … and to see where we are lacking … and pray for strength to do better … something that I pray for us all; in the Name of the + Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

10 June 2012 (1st after Trinity)

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