Daily Archives: March 18, 2008

Fasting and Abstinence in the Lutheran Tradition

Pastor Weedon has a blog on the question of “Is there a Lutheran way to Fast?”. Surprise, surprise, he concludes “Yes”, and, even greater surprise, the way to do it is to go without food.

Glad we cleared that up. Quite different from Catholic fasting, of course. Or Muslim fasting. Or Buddhist fasting. Of course, Buddhist monks fast every day after 12 noon, and Muslims observe a complete fast even of fluids from sun up to sun down in Ramadan, and Catholics in Australia fast only on two days of the year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) when they are allowed one normal meal and two smaller ones (one colleague once asked a priest what a “small” meal was and was told “A beer and a sandwich”…)

Okay. So there are different ways of fasting, but the same thing is meant. Fast = go without food/drink.

Problem is that Pastor Weedon confuses fasting with abstention, such as the “no meat on Friday” custom. He seems to suggest that Lutherans, faithfully following St Paul and in contradistinction to Catholics, do not make a “distinction of meats”, and don’t fast to impress God. In fact the practice of abstention, especially in Lent, differs among the Lutherans I know almost in no way from that of the Catholics I know. Here in Oz, the “no meat on Fridays” rule was relaxed some time ago, although many continue to observe it voluntarily. My nine year old Lutheran daughter decided on Ash Wednesday that she was going to do a completely non-meat Lent (fish included, however) and in general we have all joined her on this one.

Now I’m not saying that the oven-fried frozen calamari we had for tea tonight wasn’t very nice, but it wasn’t meat. An Australian farm boy notices these things…

Overall, our “meat-less” diet has made us much more conscious of Lent this year than ever before.

And while we are at it, check out this Thomistic argument on the matter of whether you can substitute carob for chocalate during Lent on Ironic Catholic.

Which raises the question, what would the Lutheran confessions have had to say about chocolate during Lent?

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Evangelical Catholicism: John L. Allen Jnr realises that you can have the same name for different things…

“You know that something is changing in society, in history, in culture, when you have to find a name for it,” Cadegan said. “Sometime within the last decade or so, a number of different people at more or less the same time realized they needed a name for things that were changing, especially among younger Catholics. … The name that came to be attached to this changing way of being Catholic at the beginning of the 21st century was ‘evangelical Catholicism.’ The ideas surrounding it are still taking shape, which makes it a powerful and interesting moment to start talking about it.”

So, according to our favourite journalist on “All Things Catholic”, Una Cadegan, director of the American Studies program at the University of Dayton, introduced a conversation between William Portier (Mary Ann Spearin Chair in Catholic Theology at the University of Dayton), David J. O’Brien, (Loyola Professor of Roman Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross) and John L. Allen himself on the topic of “Evangelical Catholicism”.

Yes, I know that “Evangelical Catholic” Lutherans will say these guys stole their own preferred moniker for self-identification, but seriously, I haven’t come across anything that would indicate that Messers Allen, Portier and O’Brien have any idea that the term “evangelical catholic” is older than their own personal inventions.

Not that they are able to agree on what this “new” term for this “new” style of Catholicism actually means.

Allen reckons it has to do with the politics of identity, and describes it as “the most powerful current at the policy-setting level of the church”. Portier reckons it has to do with an “attraction” among the young to certainty amid a “maelstrom of pluralism”, yet they bend and blure the typical boundaries of the conservative/liberal dichotomy. O’Brien thinks it has to do with a grass roots personal relationship with Jesus and a contact with the Gospels.

Allen shows himself a real sport in citing yet one more dissenting voice, Fr Neuhaus, who wrote that so-called “Evangelical Catholicism” is “really just “Catholicism,” no more and no less”.

Yeah, maybe to all of this. Myself, I reckon that Allen is on the money with his claim that “evangelical catholicism” is a reality at the highest levels of “policy setting” in the Church. And I reckon that Portier is right when he says that the attitude of “evangelical catholicism” is about real conversion and the motto “You either evangelize, or you die.” O’Brien seems least on the ball for me, although he is right to stress the connection with Scripture and with the person of Jesus in particular.

Personally (and I know its easy to say this after the event) when I entered the life of the Catholic Church in Melbourne in 2001, I discovered a very strong subculture of “evangelical catholicism”–especially among the young veterans of World Youth Day, but also among many older Catholics who were drawn to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal community because of its emphasis on the “new evangelisation”, “Christocentricity” and loyalty to the magisterium but were not really “pentecostal” in the normal sense of the term. In other words, they were connected to CCR because there was no corresponding “ECR” movement. Perhaps Neuhaus is right. How can you have a movement within Catholicism to be simply what Catholicism is?

Well, actually perhaps that is just what we do need. My own opinion is that the definition of “evangelical Catholicism” is really much simpler than either Allen, Portier or O’Brien make it. It is simply that way of being Catholic today which is confident in its own identity (Allen is right), centred on Christ (O’Brien is right) and at the same time is, well, active in evangelisation (as Portier appears to be attempting to say). Evangelical Catholicism = Catholicism that Evangelises. That should be pretty simple. And yes, by its very nature, this is the sort of Catholicism which we will see growing in future decades…

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Anima Education: "Walk through the Scriptures" (Ballarat 4-6 April), "Reading St Paul" (starts 14 April), & "Word Made Flesh" (starts April 23)

A small initiative of the Anima Network (nb. website hasn’t been updated for 2008) and Catholic Women’s League in Melbourne has produced “Anima Education”, a series of Catholic Adult Education classes.

Yours truly is teaching two of these courses this year, and one of them is coming up in about a fortnight AT BALLARAT (so here is a chance for all you Western District’s readers). The course is my usual six week “Walk through the Scriptures” compressed into one weekend course (more of a “100 yards dash through the Scriptures” really). There is an opportunity of “living in” at the Nazareth House convent and making a real retreat of it.

Click on this picture to download the flyer with full info.

Then for the rest of the year, I am leading a group called “Reading St Paul”. Perfect for the Pauline Year, this 25 week course will be a reading group rather than a lecture, and we will familiarise ourselves with these earliest documents of the Christian Church and learn something about the man behind them and his message as well. This will be at Mary Glowry House 132 Nicholson Street Fitzroy, starting Monday 14th April at 6pm.

Click on this picture for the flyer and full info.

Then there is Anna Krohn’s subject “The Word Made Flesh” on the theology of the body.

Click on this picture for the flyer and full info.

If I keep this up, I will probably be at risk of losing my Amateur Catholic Blogger status (“…we don’t do speaking tours…”), but take this as my general invitation to all devoted readers of Sentire Cum Ecclesia to come and chew the fat (or rather, the meat) of the Scriptures with me.

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William Golding: Lord of the Flies and The Spire

I have just finished listening to an excellent recording of Lord of the Flies by the author himself, complete with introduction and prologue giving his own thoughts on the work. I never really understood this book when we read it in year 10 English at school, but it really came alive for me in this recording. The choice of the title (Beelzebub in Hebrew means something like “god of the flies”), talk about “the beast”, and the reflection on why it “all went wrong”, are just a few elements in the book that give rise to a deep reflection on human nature and, what Christians would call, original sin. The final scene, where Ralph narrowly avoids being killed in a hunt by the “little boys” who have become complete “savages”, puts all this in stark contrast when the naval officer asks “But aren’t you all British?”

My personal favourite in the Golding opus is The Spire. If you are not familiar with it, get it out of your library and treat yourself.

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