Sunday, 14 March 2010

Christ rules (on both sides of the Tiber)!

“What separates the Jensen brothers from Cardinal George Pell?”

The answer to this quintessentially Sydney joke - “Hyde Park”- will be a mystery to those unfamiliar with the city’s geography (or the history of one of our more famous beats), and even less funny to anyone not well versed in the ecclesiastic quirks of Australia’s largest city. In which case I thoroughly recommend James Franklin’s brilliant Catholic Values and Australian Realities for an understanding into why this acerbic quip is so apposite.

Saying so will undoubtedly cause my two regular evangelical "admirers" to summon their cast of imaginary identities and furiously begin to post comments fantasising about the demise of my previous marriage, but the reality is that despite the fervour with which Sydney’s Protestant and Catholic fundamentalist leaders have sought to continue pursuing sixteenth-century battles their similarities are as obvious as they are ironic.

Yet the Gang (well at least the two members who are both adult and human - some details are still lost on Mr. 2 and the dogs ;-) was struck by the inspiring message on the front of the pew-sheet Mrs. Caliban brought home after attending St. Mary’s Cathedral last Sunday. It's reproduced here in full:

Third Sunday in Lent
Readings: Ex.3:1-8,13·15; 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9

The resource I use to help couples prepare for marriage has questions for them to think about and discuss in between sessions. One of the quotations at the end of one of the chapters is, 'What effect would adultery have on your marriage?'

In one sense this hypothetical question is absurd. Dealing with the consequences of any sin requires time and place, context and contrition. It is even tougher to imagine the effect of any destructive behaviour in one's marriage even before the marriage has begun. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how this question usually leads the couple to have a very fruitful and frank discussion, not about adultery, but about their values, family history, commitment, fidelity and growing old together.

Sometimes, however, I cringe when the prospective bride or groom seems to give the green light to their future spouse by saying, 'Well I guess if he or she went looking elsewhere it would be my fault' or 'I love him or her so much that I know we could go on regardless'. Others say very clearly that it would alter the trust and respect of the relationship, but they hope they could look at the circumstances and rebuild the relationship.

The most mature couples do not wipe over the seriousness of the sinful action, but want to hold on to compassion, forgiveness and a commitment that it will not happen again. Couples like this have clearly understood the power of today's readings. The third Sunday of Lent is all about second chances. In Exodus we have a bush that is alight but does not burn and in Luke we have a fig tree that does not bear fruit, is earmarked for the chop and saved by the gardener. In both cases where we would expect to find destruction we find new opportunities for growth, nurturance and flowering.

Over the centuries the goodness of God that always gives us another chance has not been proclaimed as vigorously as it should have been. We have focused on Gods justice as though it was a once and for all, shape up or ship out sort of message. These ideas can be deducted from today's second reading where Paul seems to argue that God killed the chosen people for their complaining and infidelity. Paul was a tough man and for him Christian commitment was. no picnic. He was aware of how people were suffering and dying for the Gospel, so he was at pains to teach the people of Corinth that the commitment demanded from the Gospel could entail everything they had. His reading of why the Israelites died in the desert, however, needs to be read against the second chances of the other reading, especially the Gospel.

We believe in Lent that we enter a holy time in our year and visit a holy place in ourselves where the fire of God's love should burn brightly within us. We are offered these weeks to re-examine our values, family history, commitment, fidelity and growth so as to chart how best we can grow old with God. To do this sometimes requires lacing up to our sinful behaviour and making choices to change our lives. We can only do this when we trust that the fire of God's love is not about destruction, but compassion, forgiveness and a second chance.

May this Eucharist be nurturance for the foundations of our lives and a moment to take stock and to assess with honesty the fruitfulness of how, as a sign of Christ's light within us, we live out our faith in our marriage, at home, at work, and in the world.
Richard Leonard SJ
For all the criticism which can quite justifiably be levelled at Cardinal Pell, it can’t be denied that there’s no way you’ll ever find his Anglican counterparts permitting something as inspiring, touching, and challenging as this to be printed on a St. Andrew’s Cathedral pew sheet. Which might well help explain why Sydney’s largest Christian (and first multi-cultural) denomination continues to grow, and despite a desperate shortage of clergy continues connecting with the lost and disenfranchised at an unprecedented rate. While the second largest denomination has just concluded a year-long evangelism program with less influence, increased segmentation among congregations, and vastly fewer assets than when they commenced. And a whole stack of The Essential Jesus mouldering in the corner of nearly every parish’s entranceway.

Credit where it’s due, Cardinal Pell, your Cathedral is indeed ministering to the people of your city. And thank-you Fr. Richard, thank-you.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

In Memoriam: Catherine Peters.

It's been a year since Catherine rose beyond these Shadowlands, and a great many people have wept a great many tears. We never met, but catching up again with her parents Bosco (author of the incomparable and Helen was for me the highpoint of our family trip back to Christchurch last Christmas. Before going for coffee at the nearby Christchurch Arts Centre (where our waitress turned out to have been of Catherine’s best friends) they shared something of their wonderful daughter, who so remarkably transformed the lives of everyone around her.

It was her gifts as a photographer that startled me most: if I close my eyes I can still see the images Bosco shared. Witty. Insightful. Perceptive, with a wisdom vastly beyond her years. Her greatest areas of academic achievement may have been in languages and biology, and her ambition to have become a vet, but she observed life with the eye of an artist. She saw. And with seeing, she thought, and in so doing inspired others to also think.

It doesn’t take more than a few moments with anyone who knew her to realise Catherine lived with an exuberance that’s breathtaking. For her that life continues in a way we’ve yet to experience; for us there are tears, and questions, and memories, but if we’re prepared to listen her voice still urges us to continue living with the same fascination, wonder, and laughter which she brought to everything she touched Such are the blessings of the God whom she knew, and knows still. And in whom we shall all together, one day, dance again.

Please, as you read this take a moment to remember Bosco and Helen, and her brother Jonathan, and all her family and friends. If prayer forms part of your spirituality, then pause and pray for them; if not then uphold them in whatever way feels most appropriate. Either way, don’t stop thinking, or challenging yourself in the face of the incomprehensible adventure that is life. A remarkable young woman wouldn’t accept anything less.