BY JOHN WINSON SAC
ALLOCUTION FOR MAY 2010.
Scandals and the Vatican
It seems to me it must present a major sense of sorrow to our Pope Benedict XVI that in the very year that he designated as a "Year of Priests", he is now confronted with so many allegations against the honesty and sincerity of so many bishops and priests; allegations and accusations naming names of those who have failed in their duties of justice and sensitivity to the most vulnerable of all in the Church- namely the very young.
And so I think it right that I say something about this topic that predominates in so much of the Media these days. But firstly, about scandals. The gospels tells us that scandals must occur in the Church. Jesus said "Scandals will necessarily come and make people fall: but woe to the one who has brought it about ." (Lk 17.2) However this is no excuse for anyone in the Church to distance themselves from facing the reality: the reality of a dark side of the Church that still needs redemption. Rather it should send us to prayer. For Jesus made it perfectly clear that the Church will always contain both saints and sinners.
But donít expect to get all the facts and truths merely in the newspapers, even if there is a great untold story yet to emerge. Even the Catholic press is limited in giving answers. But some things which I have gleaned from the Catholic press are the following.
In the issue of The Tablet for April I read, according to statistics, "Catholic clergy do not offend more than the married clergy of other churches"; and "Some surveys even give a lower level of offence for Catholic priests. They are less likely to offend than lay school teachers, and perhaps half as likely as the general population." This supports the point that celibacy is not an issue.
However there is this other issue of what is called "cover-ups". Of course since the Church is in the business of forgiveness and secrecy regarding confessed sins it must have some degree of cover Ėup, the question must be asked about those bishops who have moved offending clergy around, hoping the problem will go away, or not acknowledging a crime for what it is. Some of this could be due to a naivity about the psychological damage that can happen. It seems there have been some cases (too many) whose crimes have not been reported to police. (The Church in both America and Australia have had guidelines about this procedure for some time.)
Fr Timothy Radcliff makes the point that "we owe a debt of gratitude to the press for its insistence that the Church face its failures. If it had not been for the media, then this shameful abuse might have remained unaddressed." Many of us would agree on that.
But it must be said that the Church has always taught that everyone has a right to keep his/her good name until they are proved to be guilty. This principle of respect and having regard for rightful silence is hardly understood by the media at large. And it does make for difficulty in dialogue between Church and Media.
The Church has one duty to those responsible for wrongdoing, and by that I mean forgiveness when appropriate. On the other hand there is the duty of real compassion towards the victims of injustice meaning those suffering from sex-abuse.
Our particular Pope Benedict XVI has so far shown a correct balance in these regards, as is especially evident in his travels abroad when he receives victims while also speaking forcefully to bishops. Letís pray for him. And letís be careful about how we speak of these things without calumny or detraction.
ALLOCUTIO FOR JANUARY 2010
The adventure of Marriage.
Marriage and Christian families has always been a struggle for its members. But as a converted Christian in the Second Century AD , Tertullian a great theologian , was able to write:
"How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service ! They are both brethren and both fellow-servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit".
Unfortunately the dark forces of evil have spoiled this ideal picture, even though marriage is part of Godís original creation and his creative plan.
The fact that material poverty cannot altogether destroy this picture of marriage and family is illustrated by a slice of the life of Blessed Mary Mc Killop. She was born in the 19th century of immigrant parents, and was one of eight children . We are told "While her youth was rich in education, the family was extremely poor and often without a home of their own. They frequently found themselves reliant on friends or relatives for support."
The fact that a Saint of the Church can arise out of this situation speaks volumes for the power of Godís grace working in adverse circumstances. There is nothing wrong with marriage; it is how one co-operates with Godís plan that can make a success of it. In fact marriage has been defined a "domestic church". Perhaps many of us here have been products of imperfect families. This should not disqualify us from the struggle to be holy in whatever circumstances.
In his Apostolic Exhortation on marriage in "Familiaris Consortio" Pope John Paul II tells us :
"But it is especially necessary to recognize the unique place that, in this field, belongs to the mission of married couples and Christian families, by virtue of the grace received in the sacrament. This mission must be placed at the service of the building up of the Church, the establishing of the Kingdom of God in history. This is demanded as an act of docile obedience to Christ the Lord. For it is he who, by virtue of the fact that marriage of baptized persons has been raised to a sacrament, confers upon Christian married couples a special mission as apostles, sending them as workers into his vineyard, and, in a very special way, into this field of the family."
Since Mary McKillop was a product of this kind of family, it has been said of her that:
"From the age of sixteen, Mary assumed financial responsibility for her family, as a governess, a clerk for Sands and Kenny and as a teacher in Portland. In 1866 greatly inspired and encouraged by Father Woods, Mary opened the first Saint Josephís school in a disused stable in Penola".
Surely there are young people in the Church today with this kind of spirit? Time will tell, and do you have to hold your breath till then? Such a person may come even from the Legion in Melbourne.
ALLOCUTIO FOR JANUARY 2010.
Firstly I want to thank you, all of you who have offered to pray for my healing since my operation in October. I believe such prayer is already being answered, especially I thank the couple of praesidia who offered a spiritual bouquet.
This allocution right now is the last Allocutio to this Senatus. Maybe thatís not a bad thing if a few of you are breathing a sigh of relief. My style of presentation and preaching may not be the style that appeals to all. But one thing I know and that is I have benefitted A LOT from my whole experience of the Legion, and especially your sincere love shown on many occasions
So what have I been trying to convey to you as a priest and spiritual director. Basically I am aware that you, collectively and individually, are a cross section of the Church as a whole, but on the other hand I am also aware that you represent mostly that mature age group, with a similar experience to mine of church from earlier days when the shape and style of the church was different. Some of you would have experienced the pre-Vatican II days and in that you would differ from the present day younger generations. Therein lies a sadness and a challenge: a sadness on account of the younger ones, a challenge because of our experience. And so we are still in a stage of transition, from one era to another which asks the question: How should I behave in the new times? I find I am a mixture of conservative and realistic trends in myself; so perhaps do you.
But personally I have reacted against the old style and customs. Pre-Vatican theology and feeling was based largely on the philosophy (of Thomas Aquinas).This means that the old style of theology used language of abstract words like "the Sacrifice of the Mass, Transubstantiation, Indulgences, and the seeking of merit before God"; such phrases which I avoid when in teaching mode. I was taught the language of philosophy but I had to change. After my Ordination in 1964 I set about re-organizing my understanding of my churchís teachings and so I studied up on, firstly, the Word of God (or Scripture) and then, pastorally, to get more links with modern life as it is lived, thus it led to emphasizing the language of personal relationships, of dialogue, of scientific efficiency , of human beingsí different stages of development, (awareness of needs of generations), etc..It also leads to an appreciation of Scripture as "story telling", as it speaks to us. But basic to all these influences, was ,and is to reckon how the Ďimitation of Christí equates with these approaches. We are all called to follow Christ in our actions, but that is the one line of consistency with the old church.
For I understand that what the unbelieving world needs is not argument or polemic, first of all, but to see examples of empathy and Christ-likeness emerge from all the theory that the new Catholic Church offers, realizing that good theory leads to the best practice. Even seasoned Catholics must work hard to discover the beauty of Truth and enjoy it in the world of today.
What our bishops are telling us these days emphasizes the close link between Church and Eucharist. Each benefits from the interaction between the two. (And vice versa, a weakness in practice of the one mirrors that of the other.) To deepen our understanding of both, therefore I suggest we put ourselves in the scene described in Acts 1.14, which pictures Mary, Mother of Jesus at the centre of the prayer group, praying and encouraging us to pray and leading the Apostles in her role as Queen of Apostles. This is a practice which we can profitably make a habit of, by copying , by repetition and perseverance. We Pallottines have as a prayer symbol a picture of Mary Queen of Apostles. This is what I have learnt as a Pallottine and I pass on that wisdom to you as members A Marian group. Following this kind of spirituality leads to a Marian centred church. As one theologian says, "A church without Mary is a sad church". It was Pope John Paul II who outlined such a way too. I rejoice to hear that he is to be beatified in May.
At the bus stop you will notice two age groups of people. There are those who are silent and wait with some patience for a bus. But a younger generation is there too, who donít believe in such silence and must speak on their mobile phones after much fingering of their hand held instruments. Of course it is easy for me to say they are scatter-brained or impatient, but a better voice within me tells me they have understood something in this electronic age about the dialogical nature of the human person: that the human species is not just a spectator of human affairs, but an involved participant who wants to be in vital vocal contact with a neighbour. Without any intellectual pretensions they manifest their grasp of what world leaders try to solve the worldís problems with what they may call the "I and Thou relationship". And the silent onesóare they perhaps wrapped up in their own kind of selfishness ?
Pope Paul VI gave us a lead when he wrote, "The Church should enter into dialogue with the world in which it exists and labours. The Church has something to say, the Church has a message to deliver; the Church has a communication to offer." (Ecclesiam Suam #65)
My prayer is that one day the younger ones will discover they are created and so already wired and connected so that they may dialog with God Himself.
St John Cassian was a monk who lived in the 5th century, in fact as a contemporary of St Augustine. He wrote two books for beginners in the way of a prayer life. The following is an extract from one of them called "Conferences". His aim was to get every monk to be aware of the presence of God at all times. "To keep the thought of God always in your mind, you must cling totally to this formula: "O God come to my aid; O Lord make haste to help me." (This comes from Ps 68.2)
He gives many every-day examples of difficulties felt in a typical life. The unruly desire for eating when it is inappropriate; the feeling of sleepiness due to sleepless nights; the lack of enthusiasm for work; feelings of rage or gloom. For example he expresses it like this: "I am tempted by boredom, vainglory, by the surge of pride. My mind takes pleasure in the negligence of others." And so on for three pages of script. And the answer to each of these difficulties is always to pray: "O God come to my aid; O Lord make haste to help me."
Of course, the legionary is not called to live the life of a monk, but there are lessons to be learnt in this advice that we can take advantage of. The practice of "saying aspirations" is a healthy one, and is not incompatible with the lives of busy people. These prayers may be described as holy arrows directed heavenwards. And they train the mind to keep a "purity of intention": in our mind in the midst of busyness. They may not quote from the psalms as monks might, but they have many variations in addressing favorite saints or the person of the Blessed Virgin. One traditional short prayer says "May the Blessed Virgin with her divine Son bless us each and all." Perhaps that says it all.
Meanwhile, waiting at the bus stop is an opportunity not to be lost for me to dialog with heaven. To get away from selfishness and join in the chorus of those who pray and at the same time pray for the needy who need us just to survive.
ALLOCUTION ON PRAYER
Prayers of Asking.
Ronald Knox summed up an address he gave on prayer by concluding the following-
"Ask and you shall receive". God does not want us to puzzle our heads over the machinery of it all, he wants us to go to him like children, not ashamed to tell him what we have set our hearts on. Only, at the back of it all, the object of prayer is not to make God want what we want, it is to make us want what God wants- in his will lies our peace."
(Pastoral Sermons. R. Knox)
On earth Jesus told his disciples about prayer on more than one occasion. When He found his disciples asleep while he was in agony in the garden he said, "watch and pray lest you enter into temptation". On another occasion he said "you ought always to pray."
Even if we heard Jesus give no other instruction ( and he gave many) those words about prayer are to be valued and treasured as crucial for our spiritual journey towards our objective in heaven. Prayer has been treasured as important by those also of other religions and even those who disregard all religions. Communication with our Maker is surely to be esteemed as vital for a meaningful existence on our planet. Otherwise you become, as Psalm 1 says, "like chaff dispersed in the wind".
Since we are made in the image of God there is something in the soul of the human person that wants to cry out to the Totally Other that is the mystery of God. That thought led St Augustine to say "Our hearts are made for You O Lord, until we come to rest in You."
And so there is a restlessness in the human soul whoever that person is. Unfortunately a sinful inclination also there seeks to satisfy that restlessness in ways that are unlawful and wicked. We are made with the power of exercising our love, but the danger is that we use this power to love wickedly instead of lovingly; it matters a lot about what we love. And so the person seeking God comes into a area of dilemma and conflict. How can I approach God in his goodness when I am frustrated on every side with a contrary movement also in my very being. Therefore I just fight this radical sinfulness, and spiritual sloth. And yet Jesus says, "I have overcome the world". He has the power to help us.
And yet one must acknowledge a call to holiness. Now this word holiness is closer to the word for completeness called "wholeness". Sometimes they can be interchangeable. There are so many disparate elements in life that we must seek to integrate all these elements and find one or two that unite all the rest. But this is done in prayer for Godís grace which is absolutely necessary. Without Him we can do nothing. "While God made us without asking us, he will not save us without our co-operation". So much does he respect our freedom.
Therefore we can say that true prayer results from a freedom of the heart that operates from a grateful and loving response. True prayer can never be a "performance", like an actor on the stage. "Saying prayers" too is not just a recitation of whatever words others have created. But it can be made holy if the heart truly believes in these words. This is important for formal community prayer. We should beware of merely performing.
As Knox wrote, "The object of prayer is not to make God want what we want butÖ to make us want what God wants." But it is alright to complain to God at times. Someone has said that a complaint to God " presupposes a problematic situation in which Godís sovereignty is temporarily eclipsed." A nice way of putting it.
When Jesus prayed in the garden, "Father take this chalice from me, but not as I will, but as you will it.", He was expressing the dilemma of all who pray- that there is at times a conflict between our spontaneous desire and Godís will. Here is where the human being finds it hard. It may look as if God is being cruel. But Wisdom has a depth to it that we may only grasp by experience after the dilemma has been resolved. Suffering must still be borne with patience. The vertical beam of the cross meets the horizontal beam which is our will.