God is not a concept

Having attended a Catholic High School, God was never off limits during lunch time debates. Some girls would vehemently declare that there were too many contradictions in the Bible, and so therefore this discredited God (this despite never being able to give any concrete or intelligible examples). Others wanted more proof that God was there, some sort of visual proof or miracle in their lives. Others still thought that God should intervene in all the bad things that happened in the world, and that his silence on matters of evil meant that even if God existed, it was not a God they wanted to know. For others yet, it was about organised religion, and not wanting to be involved in an organisation that was outdated, particularly on issues they were passionate about.

Then there was me, and a couple of other friends who were so sure about our faith. Looking back, my friends probably represented the general views of our society.

Despite our debates, each of my friends struggled with their faith – was God real or not? I would have conversations with them one on one and discover that they had been praying during a difficult time in their lives, had felt at peace, and felt loved in that moment. However it didn’t take long for their “rational” brain to take over, and dismiss any feelings of God in their lives to simple biology or some other “logical” reason. This would continue as a pattern in conversations I have had with many friends over the years. “Yes I prayed, yes it felt good, yes it might be God…” turns into “God can’t exist, I haven’t seen any proof, organised religion is bad and the Bible is inconsistent.”

A young man stayed with my family for a year, and in that time we would have similar discussions. He one time outright asked me for proof that God exists. I spent the next week at work typing a 12 page document on the proof, to me, as to why God exists. It would certainly be a very different document now, but I still consider it one of my better pieces of writing, and I still stand by a lot of what I wrote. And yet still, this young man was unmoved. It really highlighted to me that God can never simply be forced on someone as an intellectual concept. How can someone believe in God if they don’t stop thinking of God as a concept, and start relating to God as a reality?

One of the criticisms of religion is that it brainwashes children into believing in an “imaginary man in the sky” and “fairy tales”. What someone who has never experienced God can never know is that childhood is the best time to experience God as children are less concerned with the arguments that adults conjure up to deny the existence of an existential being. They are open to experiencing God, and this openness gives them great opportunity to feel God in their heart. When my eldest daughter was 3 years old, I remember distinctly she woke up one morning and declared “Mummy, I FELT God! He’s ALIVE and He’s REAL!” Up until then, I had not spoken to her about God in that way. It came purely from her. She has since become a great little pray-er, and sometimes prays when she feels scared, or anxious, and even says her own prayer before dinner at times. She now drives her own faith in God and the way that she relates to God. I’m not saying she won’t struggle with her faith as she grows, after all, there is so much out there to tell her that she is foolish for believing, that God cannot exist, and that believers are delusional. I just hope her solid foundation of faith as a child can help her overcome these.

God is not a concept. He is more than just an idea that someone long ago conjured up. God is ALIVE and God is REAL. I tell my children that if God is everywhere then He is also in your heart, and that is where we will find Him. God is not “out there”, or distant from us, watching with a bucket of popcorn in the sky. He is active in our lives, urging us to do what is right, pushing us to holiness and greatness. None of the arguments and barriers that adults use to debate God’s existence can ever take away the powerful and profound experience of God moving in your life. That is what I believe. That is what I live by. That is what I want my children to know.

Mother Teresa’s Prayer for Daily Life

Mother Teresa is known for a great many things. For me, I will always know her as the one who began with “Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.”

There is nothing more beautiful than imagining that beautiful scent, like the fragrance of your favourite meal wafting through the house. How we love to recreate that comforting smell and share it with the ones we love. So too, we are called to bring the comforting, beautiful fragrance of Jesus where ever we go.

This prayer, originally by John Henry Cardinal Newman but adapted by Mother Teresa’s is one to be meditated over. Each sentence bringing new meaning to how we should live our life. Using Mother Teresa as our inspiration to living, may this prayer inspire you to great holiness too.

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Amen.

The Australian Government’s White Lie Policy

This week, compassionate Australians have been shocked at the secrecy of their Government regarding the outcome of a boat load of refugees bound for the Australian shore. Today, we learn that the High Court is giving the Government a run for its money, contesting that the Government is acting within International Law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Refugee Convention of which Australia is a signatory. To place some weight behind the High Court claim, more than 50 legal scholars from 17 universities were signatories to statement claiming the actions of the Government to be in violation of International law. Somehow, the fearless Australian Leader Tony Abbott has still had the audacity to claim that “what we do is consistent with our legal obligations and safety at sea.” Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison has similarly claimed that the policy implemented to “Stop the Boats” has been successful, and has in fact saved lives that may have instead died at sea. While I am certain this is technically true, it is a thinly veiled white lie by omission of the reality for those refugees returned to their home country so “safely”. It is all enough to make thinking, compassionate Australians shift uncomfortably in their softly padded sofas.

Christians, humanitarians, lawyers, psychologists, refugee rights groups and others have all criticised the Government for their contemptible policy, and yet the Government hails its policy a great success, stopping the boats, turning back “illegal” immigrants and hitting the people smuggling trade. Meanwhile, the price of this policy in monetary terms seems inconsistent with the claims by the Government of a “Budget Emergency”. Claims before the September election spruiked the idea that Labor’s Offshore Processing policy was expensive, and the only solution to save money in this area was to “Stop the Boats”. Unfortunately, this Myth has been busted, with figures showing that allowing a genuine refugee to live in the community costs nearly a quarter of a million dollars less than offshore detention/processing. One can only begin to comprehend the cost of involving the military to continually guard the seas, “protecting” Australians from the influx of desperate people wanting a safer, better life in our beautiful backyard.

All of this is much more galling when one considers the fact that the fearless Australian Prime Minister hails from a Catholic belief system. It seems unfathomable that not only is this policy shaming Australians on the International stage, but also Catholics on the secular stage. Internationally, Australia has been slammed by news agencies such as the BBC, al-Jazeera, the Irish Times, India’s Business Standard and Zee News. As Catholics, we can barely utter the words “Tony Abbott is a Catholic” without feeling utterly betrayed, when his policy on Asylum Seekers is so distant from the compassionate position of the Australian Catholic Church.

Morrison’s claims that the refugees have been safely returned home into the hands of Sri Lankan police should send chills up your spine. In the same breath, he will also tell you that those refugees have broken Sri Lankan law by attempting to leave the country illegally, and he may also suggest that each refugee has less than 50% chance of torture or death upon return, and so therefore were deemed safe to return to their homeland. This does not mean that each person has less than a 50% chance of torture or death, but that up to 50% of those refugees are highly likely to be tortured or killed. How anyone can claim this to be a successful policy leaves me breathless.

The biggest criticism of the Government has to be the completely inadequate screening process which took place at sea. Four questions were asked of the boat people, including “Why are you coming to Australia.” Apparently the response “to find work” was sufficiently enough evidence to condemn the entire boat back into the hands of the Sri Lankan government. Although at face value, one might use this as purely and simply evidence of a group of people attempting to gain access to the rich employment fields of a first world country, it cannot be judged as such. It may actually be true that they are seeking work, however it is due to the persecution faced in their home land which prevents them from being lawfully employed, and not simply to climb the World’s Richest Person ladder. For instance, the Sri Lankan government uses discrimination techniques to severely limit employment opportunities for the Tamil minority group as a way of dispiriting them and maintaining control over their social status. And so, although their initial response was not “to flee persecution”, it may have been discovered through more rigorous questioning. 

Sri Lanka is known for its Human Rights violations. To turn around a boat full of vulnerable, fearful and persecuted individuals, and put them into the hands of a government known to imprison, torture and kill ethnic minorities and others fleeing persecution is morally contemptible. To say they have been returned “safely” back to Sri Lanka is utterly detestable. We must stand up against this reprehensible government, and pray that the High Court creates a precedent which makes them reconsider their position before we have more blood on our hands.

Rolf Harris – Hate the sin, Love the Sinner

With more Facebook inspiration from my previous post Rolf Harris is a Dirty Word, I have come to some new conclusions about why we must harden our resolve in rejecting Rolf’s works, at least for the time being.

We all know the phrase – hate the sin but love the sinner. Christians might be surprised to know that this is not a Bible passage at all but something that Ghandi is known for saying. The Bible does actually say something of this sort in

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

However the less religious version is the oft repeated one.

Hate the sin but love the sinner carries with it the belief that all sin is equal. That lying to your mother is equal to the sexual molestation of a minor. That murder is the same as stealing a loaf of bread. That abortion is the same as sex before marriage. That being a sociopath is the same as acting in anger or yelling at our children. Somehow we like to think that if the grievousness of a sin could be measured, God would deem them all the same. Perhaps it is just my humanness coming through, but I don’t believe this for one minute. Yes it is true that God died for all sinners, and for all their sins, but the next step is always this – that we accept that love, that we accept our sins and their consequences, and turn to God for help to overcome that sin. Due to the nature of some sins, this can be practically impossible.

Harris’s sexual crimes against young people is one example of such a sin. His molestation of at least 12 minors, and sexual penetration of a trusted family friend were not just one off incidents, but a pattern of behaviour. Having had many opportunities to reflect upon his behaviour, he must have deemed them acceptable enough to repeat them. Not only this, but decades later on the witness stand to have the resolve to deny they even happened, and to label his accusers as liars. Victims of abuse are often quoted as saying that the first step towards forgiveness of their abusers is when they admit they have done something wrong. How can we expect a victim to feel free from their abuse if the perpetrator continues to deny it even happened? Harris’ denial must be particularly stinging due to the public nature of the trail and Harris’ public profile.

God too requires us to acknowledge our sins, big and small. For how can we accept that we need God’s help if we believe ourselves to be sin-free? The nature of some sins makes acknowledging them much harder than others. For instance, it is much easier to acknowledge that the lie we told our friend was damaging to the friendship than it is to acknowledge that we have ruined a person’s life due to our sin. But God requires us to take this step for each and every sin. In the meantime, the distance between God and ourselves grows. Similarly in our human relationships, the distance between us and the sinner grows until the sinner acknowledges the wrong they have done. Yes, we can continue to love the person, but love does not mean pandering to them. Love is challenging. We like to skip over certain words in our favourite love passage

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

There are a few things in there that we need to point out. The first is that love is not “easily” angered. It does not mean it never gets angry. It just saves its anger for those moments that are justified, like for instance, when a trusted member of society sexually molests a number of young victims.

The second part to remember is that “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. We must not delight in the works of Harris due to the access it gave him to his young victims. Simply put, we must not continue to revere the works of a man who continues to abuse and damage his victims by denying the occurrence of the abuse. The truth for those victims is that their lives were irrevocably changed by the abuse, and it is that which we must consider, and not the man himself. We must rejoice in their lives, build them up and support them as the heal from the damage caused by the abuse. The best way we can do this is to stop the revelry associated with his works.

God requires of us certain steps in order for our sins to be cleansed. It is the same for all sins, the big and the small sins.

The first step is to acknowledge that we have sinned.

The second is to acknowledge that our sins has caused trouble to other people and to God.

The third is to turn to God or our victims for forgiveness.

Lastly, we must continue to turn to God for help to overcome the presence of that sin in our lives.

If Harris had been able to do this, with or without the acknowledgement of God in the process, he might have had some more sympathy from his fellow Australians. Until he is able to take this steps, we must harden our resolve and distance ourselves from him and his actions. Pray for him, but do not glorify him. Love him as a human being, but do not dismiss the crimes he has committed. Do not give him fuel to continue his denial.

Rolf Harris is a Dirty Word

Its been a few days since Australian artist and musician, Rolf Harris, was convicted and sentenced to what could be the rest of his life in prison for the sexual abuse of a minor. It has been big news, but at the same time, not much is really being said about it. Its not a topic I hear people talking about over coffee, and there has been precious little in my online world. I’m pretty sure Brittany Spears had more said about her when she opted to drive with her baby in her lap instead of in a child restraint. All this uncomfortable silence may be because it leaves his much loved and admired work in ethical limbo. As my Facebook friend said – What now of his work?

My response was this  It is a shameful truth that pedophiles seek work which brings them closer to children, and positions of trust and admiration. Therefore I can only guess that Rolf pursued a life in the limelight to achieve this trust. How can we view any of his work as anything other than the means by which a pedophile gained the trust and position needed to get closer to children. What would I say to my children in 10 years when they figure out what he did,why we continued to hold him in high esteem? He might be locked away, but sexual abuse has a way of rotting everything it touches. May Rolf Harris be a dirty word for ever more.”

It is about as harsh as I can get really, because I have no sympathy for people who abuse the trust of a minor. 

When the question was first posed, I had a moment of “well, its not like he is abusing my children through his music” but I quickly made the comparison to an abusive priest. If I am ultimately pulling my support for any priest who similarly abuses the trust of his congregation, or any clergyman who hides this truth and continues to allow an abusing priest to serve, then I cannot support a convicted pedophile or any of his works.

I feel very strongly about this despite the obvious conundrum of “Love the sinner but not the sin”. I suppose my severity is derived from knowledge about how abusers work. As stated in my above response, pedophiles, and sexual predators, often find positions of power, authority and esteem in order to reach their victims. We know this as “Grooming”. Grooming can sometimes take the form of favouring a child, showering them with gifts and attention, elbowing themselves into a place of trust and esteem in a child’s life. Grooming can also be an abuser finding a place of trust in many children’s lives. Who would question a man like Rolf Harris, the famed and glorified entertainer for instance? This instant access and trust gives a pedophile a lifetime pass to abuse children. (I am in no way saying that ALL children’s entertainers are abusers, just that the life of a children’s entertainer is a legitimate way for a pedophile to access potential victims).

If this is what Rolf Harris has done, then any of his music can only been seen as an attempt by a pedophile to gain the trust and access to abuse children. If he has just happened to find himself in a very tempting position, and took advantage of it by abusing children, then this is also abhorrent. How can we hold such a man in esteem, or even his work, if it has allowed him to break the trust of children who looked up to him?

Similarly, what message does continuing to glorify his name send to victims of abuse? Any abuse – not just his victims? That we can continue to revel in the works of a convicted pedophile despite the obvious harm he has done in the lives of his victims? We must hold true to our convictions – that sexual abuse is wrong in any and all circumstances, even when it means allowing what we once loved to go to mud. Any person, no matter their position – children’s entertainer, priest, family friend – cannot and will not be held in any esteem in my household. Rolf Harris’ has just become a dirty word.

Its because I’m religious, isn’t it?!

I’m not entirely familiar with what is happening in Australian politics and the whole School Chaplains debate at the moment. I know that there is some debate about funding for school chaplains, it being challenged in a High Court, and that the funding was dealt a blow when the court ruled the funding “Unconstitutional”. Apparently just one father in Queensland thought it a fair enough gesture to challenge the funding based on his own personal belief that there should be no religious influence in his child’s school, nor should his taxes be paying for it. Meanwhile, this same father doesn’t seem to have the same passion for thousands of children locked in Australian detention centers, all funded by his taxes.

But as little as I know about the ins and outs of the debate, I feel that those who oppose the whole School Chaplains idea are doing so out of a very obvious and long standing discrimination against religious people. While I don’t have much of an opinion on whether or not the School Chaplains idea is a good one, or whether it should be a federally funded initiative, I do have a strong opinion on the discrimination it highlights.

The view by opponents of the idea is that qualified school counselors and psychologists can do the job just fine, and that there is no need for an outwardly religious person to do the same job. Afterall, what is their motivation? Does their title of “School Chaplain” give them the ultimate right to proselytise to young, impressionable and perhaps vulnerable school students? Wouldn’t a secular counselor or psychologist be better suited?

While I do not doubt that social workers and psychologists are FANTASTIC additions to a school community (afterall, I AM one!), in certain situations, it might be more appropriate for a chaplain to step in.

But before you jump up in arms about what I have just said there, I want to first highlight the complete and utter discrimination that is going on here. Lets assume for a moment, that a school has hired a school counselor and that school counselor is me, or someone like me. Ultimately, I am motivated by a love for God to do the work that I do at that school. God loves people, and wants people to be helped and supported during their most difficult patches, and I am called to be that person. I understand that my role is not to bring people closer to God by sharing the Gospel in ANY way, but just being with them helps them to be closer to the person God wants them to be. It would be completely unprofessional for me to, for instance, start asking a young girl about her relationship with God whilst she is sharing that her father has been molesting her. Somehow, in our society, we believe that a School Chaplain would have a different set of standards, and would breech that confidence, targeting instead the religious, instead of the very real concern for that girl’s safety. And here lies the discrimination. For we don’t fear the good that a school chaplain could do, but we fear the damage. Somehow, secular society doesn’t have the same confidence in an unpredictable, religious person hired to do much the same job as a counselor or psychologist, with a slight difference, which I will come to.

Religious people are often thought to be intolerant of different beliefs, fanatical, preaching on the streets, handing out flyers, warning of the end of the world and militantly converting whomever they think needs saving. Not only this, but they are often laughed at for having an “imaginary friend”, believing that the world was created in 7 days and that somehow, Darwinism ultimately disproved the existence of God. Society hails people like Richard Dawkins as heroes of Athiesm, using his claims (which most are unaware of) as a sword against religiousity. Religious people are stupid, misguided, brainwashed types who somehow have a slight mental illness. This discrimination is what is fueling the debate against School Chaplains. Somehow, it gets lost on people that Chaplains also need a university education in order to qualify as Chaplains (but those religious institutions are not REAL educations, right?). As a rule, schools always require at least a Diploma in Education for all their employees, presumably also for Chaplains. And yet still, a psychologist or counselor is considered more capable, more qualified, and more suited to the school environment. In my view, all three would be a valuable member of a school community.

There is one instance where a school Chaplain might trump a counselor or psychologist, and that is during times of trauma for a school. In both my Primary and High schooling, a student passed away suddenly. Both were very distressing times for myself and the school. I remember distinctly the feeling on the school grounds when the whole school had been informed. It was as though the joy had been sucked out of the school. Despite being a Catholic school, there was no whole of school approach to the news in either case apart from being offered to go to the funeral. This left us all feeling a little bit lost when it came to how we grieved. There was no continuity in regards to school personnel, and no-one really to talk to about how we were feeling. Of course, there was the school counselor, but they usually counseled the students directly affected by the death. In Primary school, I wasn’t in the grade affected, but in High School, it was one of my friend’s sisters who passed away. The closest we came to being supported was having a brunch with the nuns, my friend and my group. I can only imagine that a public school would have struggled with how to help students such as myself who were not directly involved, but who were deeply affected by the loss.

Public schools have also to recognise that while not all students are religious, there are some that are, and there are also some who may be spiritual but without a recognised religion. A school chaplain in such a case as the death of a students could help those students more profoundly than a school counselor or psychologist. For instance, a school counselor might ask how the student’s faith might be helping them during that time, whereas a Chaplain would be able to join in the discussion or perhaps even pray for that student (shock, horror!). The support of an older person in such a way can have an even more powerful effect than simple empathy.

School Chaplains could provide a valuable option for a school willing to participate in this federal program.  A Chaplain is like a big brother or sister in the school, whereas a counselor or psychologist is often locked up in a small room talking to a select few, a chaplain gets out there and provides a safe haven during the good and bad times. The discrimination against School Chaplains is simply based in a fear of what being an outwardly religious person might mean in a school environment. In my view, that fear is completely unfounded. Not all School Chaplains are fanatical Christians, just like not all Christians are fanatical. It is absurd to suggest that a psychologist or counselor would do a “better” job simply because they are not religious positions. It is equally absurd to suggest that a School Chaplain would do a worse job. Neither is better, or worse. They are all options, and all very good options. Both have their strengths, and weaknesses, and neither is suited to all school environments at all times. And yet, opponents of School Chaplains would have us believe that one trumps the other which is simply untrue.

School Chaplains are not just “well intentioned”, but highly trained individuals just like their counselor or psychologist counterparts. Their religiosity does not preclude them from employment in a secular school, but respects that even amongst secularism, there is a level of spirituality that cannot be addressed by secular means. The driving force behind opposition to the Chaplaincy program is purely and simply religious discrimination, and the desire to keep religious influence away from “impressionable” young minds. In my view, this is unfounded in the same way that any discrimination in our society about religious people is also unfounded.

The true meaning of Easter – love or judgement?

I love Easter. It is my absolute favourite time in the Christian calendar and it has nothing to do with bunnies or chocolate. Its that love the Easter Tridium. That’s it. I love Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday (or if I’m lucky, the Saturday night Vigil). These three days summarise the very basis of the faith of the church – my faith. Every year, I feel so invigorated by the message of Jesus, I question my life, the way I live, and what I could be doing to love God through my life even more. This year was no different.

However I came across a feeling I am also familiar with at this time of year – feelings of shame. Not shame for my faith, but shame for the message that often comes across through from a member of the clergy which often rears it’s head at Easter. This year, it was the fill in priest at the Parish I have been attending recently. He said, right at the end, these words

It is wonderful to see so many of you here. Jesus is truly alive in each and every one of us, and that is why we are here. But we do not celebrate Easter just once a year. Easter is celebrated EVERY Sunday. If you do not come to Mass every Sunday, through your own fault, then you are committing a serious offense, and you should not be receiving Holy Communion. The Church allows us to miss Mass on a Sunday for only three reasons. 1. If we are sick. 2. If we are caring for a sick person. or 3. If there is no Priest to celebrate the Mass. For any other reason, you are committing a sin. Let us give Jesus our time every week, and continue this fervour, this passion throughout the year.

I can fully understand the frustration that a Priest might feel every Easter when the Church’s are full to overflowing, and yet there are empty pews every other Sunday of the year. However I do not believe that shaming those people who have not come every Sunday is the best way to encourage them to start doing so. Even though I do go every Sunday (except for any of those three reasons), I felt embarrassed for those people who do not, and I was, honestly, angry that the message of Easter had changed so dramatically. Is Easter really the time to be hounding people? Easter, in my view, should be a time of reflection of the importance of our faith in our life. If the message is still as true today as it was 2000 years ago, then surely we don’t need to be guilting people into Church attendance. The inspiration, faith and experience of Christ in their life should be enough.

Jesus taught a message of love to the people. He did away with all the “shoulds” and “should nots”.  In fact, it was because of all the “shoulds” and “should nots” that Jesus died in the first place. The Pharisees were threatened by someone claiming to be of God, who went against everything that they taught about how to live a devoted life. Wasn’t it Jesus who sided with those outcasted by the religious leaders of the day, teaching them about how much God loves them anyway? Yet here we are, on Easter Sunday, being hounded by all that we “should” be doing according to the Church.

Pope Francis this Easter said there was a need to recover “the fire which Jesus has kindled in the world and to bring that fire to all people, to the very ends of the Earth”. How are we to rekindle a fire, if, whenever a person returns to the Church, a wet blanket is thrown over them? If Jesus’ message is to inspire, then Easter needs to be about love, not judgement. It needs to be about how we can use the passion and fervour we find at Easter to change the world, not change what we do on a Sunday. If, in our commitment to bring Jesus to the world, we discover that the Church nourishes us and supports us, then wonderful.

The Francis effect has made me ponder about the message of love v. judgement in our church. For so long, we have become accustomed to the fact that the Church will attempt to guilt us into doing what it deems important, or worthy. It is interesting to note that the Pope has been so popular in the mainstream, not because he has changed much about the position of Church doctrine, but because he has a focus of service. St Francis of Assisi once said “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching”. It seems our Pope has appealed to the mainstream because of this truth. He is willing to get in amongst the people, he is willing to give up the usual luxuries afforded to a Pope, and he is willing to show the same compassion Christ showed the people of His day. In short he walks the walk. He hasn’t changed much about the position of the Church, but people are more willing to listen now that he has showed them that he is a genuine vessel of Christ.

There is a lesson here for the clergymen of the Church. People on the fringes of the church are not interested in hearing what they “should” or “shouldn’t” do. They want a genuine leader who they can see is walking the walk, and who meets them where they are at. Anything other than that leads to disillusionment. We need to be a Church that does just what Pope Francis is doing or else the message of Easter will get lost amongst the judgements. You can be sure, less people will come to Sunday Mass then!

Cardinal George Pell and Chruch Inadequacies

A few weeks ago, Cardinal George Pell was questioned for two days over his role in the mishandling of the John Ellis case at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The very first Sunday after he was questioned, I attended Mass only to hear my local Priest refer to him as “Our Beloved George Pell” – I almost choked on my communion wine.

I want to say right from the start that I have met the Cardinal on more than a couple of occassions. He once told me that the parish I was working for was the “Jewel in the Crown” of the archdiocese. I have even had lunch with him with my Parish team when I was youth minister. I always found him congenial and engaged, however also dull, emotionless and full of himself. My overall opinion of him is that he is doctrinal rather than relational, authoritarian rather than democratic, and dismissive of opinions other than his own.

I also want to say that I watched the Cardinal being questioned during the Royal Commission (this being quite a difficult task with two littlies vying for attention!) I read many of the articles, both for and against the Cardinal. However I have one thing that is different from the casual observer in this case. My parents, in the 90’s, were heavily involved in the revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and my own mother is a clergy sexual abuse survivor.

With all this behind me, I feel that I am quite able to comment on the happenings at the Royal Commission less than a month ago.

Some people have praised the Cardinal in the past for setting up a response to church sexual abuse whilst the archbishop in Melbourne, saying it shows that he was and is committed to addressing the issue. It may seem to be so on the surface, and I have no doubt in my mind that Towards Healing was a positive and revolutionary step by the archbishop. It most certainly would have been better than nothing.

My quibble with the Archbishop has more to do with his moral compass. It seems to me that his true North no longer points to Jesus, but to the Law. In the cardinals mind, and at his own admission, he was acting according to legal advice which he thought to be sound and reasonable. The legal advice was this – that John Ellis be questioned in court about the authenticity of his claims that he was sexually abused for 10 years by his parish priest. This was despite the fact that the position of the church is to always believe people who claim to have been abused by clergy. So, if under Towards Healing John Ellis was to be believed, why did the cardinal resort to legal action to validate the claims? This is hardly a move by someone compassionate to the impact of sexual abuse on its victims.

During questioning, the Cardinal was asked if he had any knowledge at all on the impact that sexual abuse had on its victims. His response was basically that he had done no research on the issue. How then could he make a judgement call as to whether John Ellis was as broken a man as he claimed to be? Ultimately, the Cardinal made the call that John Ellis seemed too together to be a victim, and must therefore be swindling the church of money along with his law buddies. The severity of this mistake broke John Ellis’ life beyond recognition as it forced him to reveal the depth of pain he had suffered at the priest’s hands, under legal scrutiny.

Why should a man of the church take such a legal position? The hero of the Commission in my view was John Usher, the head of Catholic Care, who could see upon his appointment to this position that things were not going in a morally upstanding way, and made steps to rectify his misgivings. The Towards healing program was favouring the church at the time, however it was clear that there needed to be a shift in favour of the victims. Certainly, a man of God would see that this was a shift that was essential!

I cannot help but think of the Pharisees and compare them to the attitude of the cardinal during all of this. There is a sort of superiority complex going on in someone who believes that they know better than another about the genuineness of their claims, or who pushes forward with something that would be morally unacceptable if it did turn out the claims were indeed true. How dis-compassionate of the Cardinal.

In any case, Jesus lives in the broken, the marginalized, the poor, the disillusioned and the abused. Perhaps the Cardinal needs to turn off his legal blinkers, and open his eyes to the real Jesus in the lives of those he meets. Maybe then, the apology he gave John Ellis at the Commission – an apology he made without looking once at the man – would mean more.

Facebook and Faith

It is Lent, and this year, I am doing something that I have never done before. I have given up Facebook.

I have been a Facebook member since 2007. I joined on recommendation of one of the youth leaders in my team as a way to connect with the young people in my Parish (where I worked as the Youth Minister). From the moment I began Facebook, it became my addiction. I used it not only to connect with those young people, I used it to reconnect with old friends, create groups, play games, post photos, share personal and ministry information, stalk the young people I was ministering to… and well, waste time. From that day onwards, I did not go for more than 3 days without checking into Facebook. When I got my first Smart Phone, I started logging in several times a day.

So, giving up Facebook this Lent was not an easy decision. I believed it would be difficult, that I would miss learning about the mundane activities and opinions of my friends, family and acquaintances. The reality has been much different. In fact, I haven’t missed it at all. I have, however, learnt a thing or two along the way that has opened my eyes to the impact Facebook has been having on my life. So here they are in no particular order

1. Status Mutterings – I spent an inordinate amount of time considering my next status update. Every moment of the day was a potential status update. I would toy with how it might be worded to make it more entertaining so that I would get more likes. Once decided upon, I would spend the next hour watching how many people would like it. My real validation came when some friends of mine who I rarely see, said that they love my posts because they always make them laugh. Since my fast began, I have only spent one day considering status updates…. the first day. It took me just one day to overcome that particular addiction.

2. Phone Focus – I’m actually not addicted to Facebook at all… I’m addicted to my Smart Phone. Although I have removed the Facebook App from my phone so that I don’t get the notifications anymore, I still check my phone a fair bit during the day. Although I have to admit, it has more than halved since my fast began. Perhaps a WordPress fast might be in order?

3. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) – there is this little saying amongst mothers, that all babies suffer from FOMO. Since my fast began, I have noticed that I have strong FOMO. I fear that I won’t hear when that baby is born, the minute it is born. I fear someone will announce something big, and I will hear it weeks, or months down the track. I fear someone will invite me to a party and I won’t hear about it any other way. I am afraid people will forget me.

4. Picking Fights – ok, so I’m a fight picker on Facebook. When someone has said something that I outright disagree with, I don’t just let it sit there (unless they are a valued friend). I get into fights about faith, about netiquette, immunisation, Climate Change, TV shows, parenting and politics. Anything really. Its draining and simply pointless. I have lost count of how many times I have lost sleep because I’ve been Facebook fighting with someone who’s opinion really means nothing to me.

Last Lent, I gave up on TV after 5pm. Since then, my evening TV habits have changed considerably. I no longer HAVE to watch TV before bed, and can engage myself in a number of different activities to occupy my time. This has given me more balance and allowed me to be more productive. In the same way, I am hoping that my Facebook fast will help me to re-evaluate how I use Facebook. Already, I am determined not to re-install the app on my phone which will significantly reduce the temptation to check my account whenever that delicious little bell rings.

I’m not entirely certain how my fast has helped me come closer to God, however I am sure that it cannot draw me further away. The less I am occupied with the mundane of my life (and that of others), the more room I will ultimately have for God.

Why Pray Anyway

A few months ago, I was watching my usual 6.30pm news-type program, when they had an interesting segment about a couple who had converted from Christianity to atheism. Their fall was a spectacular one. They were a prominent couple at their Church. They were both leaders in the community. They had children who they were bringing up in the faith. It seemed like a typical Christian family, strong in faith, and sure of where their spiritual lives were going. However, something was looming underneath all of this. The woman had a secret yearning for her prayer life to bear more fruit. The interview revealed that she would pray however, not much was changing due to her prayers. “Was God listening to her prayers?” she wondered. “Was there a God at all?” Suddenly, one evening, she revealed to her husband that she was having doubts. Clearly this was the beginning of an avalanche, as their faith quickly fell away and they now identify as atheist.

The one thing that stood out to me from this segment was this poor woman’s lack of understanding about prayer. It has certainly not been my experience of prayer that people are miraculously healed, or that marriages are miraculously brought back together, or that stolen items are miraculously returned to their owner (or whatever miracle we are asking for). If we are searching for tangible evidence of the power of prayer via miracles of this sort, then we will not find it*.

When Jesus taught us how to pray, he basically told us to follow a formula we now call the Our Father. Step 1 – praise God. Step 2 – Pray for the strength to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Step 3 – pray for that which sustains us. Step 4 – Seek forgiveness from God. Step 5 – Pray for the ability to forgive. Step 6 – ask for help to withstand temptations.

Where in this formula does Jesus say that we should be asking God for tangible changes?

I have had some wonderful prayer experiences. For the most part, prayer does not change anything that I can see. But it does change me.

When I was a young adult, a young guy landed on our doorstep, homeless and needing a place to stay to get back on his feet and finish his HSC. He was known to me, and I was not pleased that he was going to be staying with us. However, my parents being the kind of people they are, decided that they must give him the security he needs. He was put into a room with one of my brothers (who promptly moved out) and that was that. I prayed and prayed that God would change this boy, that He would move in his heart and make him more tolerable to live with. The more I prayed for him, however, the more I changed. I started to change my prayers too. I asked to be more patient (Your Kingdom come on earth). I asked that I understand how his life had become as it was (forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us). I began talking more with him and although there was a lot about him I would never really understand, I saw him for who he was. So although HE did not change, through my prayer, I did.

Prayer is also comforting. When my first daughter was born, it was quickly apparent to the pediatrician that she suffered from Developmental Dysplasia of the Hips, which required multiple ultrasounds, a harness at 10 days old, too much grief to begin writing about, and curious stares from onlookers. I prayed and prayed for my daughter to be healed, that she wouldn’t have to endure surgery at such a tender age.

At 6 weeks old, I took my daughter to see the orthopedic surgeon who promptly informed me that the harness was not working and that she would most likely need surgery if things did not improve in the next 4 weeks – which he didn’t believe they would. I heard what he had said – it was my worst nightmare coming true. But I felt a calm, and I said to him “No, I don’t think she will.” In hindsight, I must have seemed a real piece of work telling the professional to stick his opinion up his ar*e, but I truly felt it.

After my meeting with the doctor and on my way to the Orthotics department, I stumbled upon the Hospital’s chapel. I had taken a few steps past it, but decided that I had more than enough time between appointments to stop and pray. I was in an odd space, mentally. Having just been told my daughter may need surgery, I was quietly confident and I couldn’t pick why. I just had this CERTAINTY that she wouldn’t. I can’t explain it any other way. In the chapel, I sat quietly and suddenly heard “Your daughter will be fine in 4 weeks”. I just knew it. I knew she would be fine, and I knew it would be in 4 weeks. Exactly 4 weeks later we had a follow up ultrasound, and it revealed that her hips had been healed.

I do not believe this was a miracle, and I’m not proclaiming it as such. I just felt that God was keeping me calm, and giving me the confidence to assert to anyone that my daughter was going to be fine. The fact that I knew she would be better in 4 weeks proves to me that God really was comforting me and assuring me that things would be fine. God did not heal my daughter, but He was surely there helping me through what was a tough time.

Everyday prayer does not move physical mountains, but it can move us to action.

Everyday prayer does not have an outcome that we want, but an outcome that we need.

Everyday prayer is not about what we can get from God, but what God can get from us.

Everyday prayer cannot provide the scientific proof of God, but it can be the transforming element of our faith.

Everyday prayer brings us closer to God, and brings God’s Kingdom closer to those around us.

We should not be asking what has changed around us because of our prayer, but how has our prayer changed us. How has it inspired us. What have we been more courageous in doing because of our prayer? Whom have we brought closer to God because through our prayer, we have become closer to God’s own heart?

I don’t really know what the woman in the interview was praying for. One could presume it was for healing of friends, or to find a parking spot at the shopping center. I don’t know. But what I do know is that prayer for me, is not some kind of sure bet. What we pray does not always happen, especially in the way we want. But then, we already knew that… right?

*I am not saying that miracles do not happen. All I am saying is that miracles are miracles because of the rarity of them. If they happened each time someone prayed for a miracle, then what would be special about them?