This is not a post about Mary…


…or Marina for that matter. It isn’t about a personality – and it isn’t really about World Youth Day either.

But it would be very remiss of the Catholic Church in Australia if it didn’t do a bit of soul searching in reaction to the the news that “Mary”/Marina Dickson has decided that for the sake of her relationship with God she has to leave the Catholic Church and join the pentecostal Sydney mega-church Hillsong:

Last week, Ms Dickson, of Pennant Hills, told The Sun-Herald: “I have only good things to say about the Catholic Church but I have this hunger for God. I wanted to learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God.”

Let’s get two things out of the way first, so we can concentrate on the really important thing:

1) World Youth Day certainly gave young Catholics a taste of what a vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus could be

2) WYD exposed Catholic young people to the experience of the spiritual “high” that can result from being together with other joyful believers committed to their faith and celebrating it with upbeat and soul-touching music (much of it provided by Hillsong)

Right. Now the important thing. Ms Dickson specifically mentions that she “wanted to learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God.” And you know what? That is a very, very healthy desire for any Christian, Catholic, Pentecostal or otherwise.

And you know what else? We Australian Catholics don’t do that well. At all.

I’ve told you about the time I began a lecture series called “A Walk through the Scriptures”, and of the 15 or so Catholics who turned up, not one of them brought a copy of the bible.

The opportunities for everyday Catholics to learn and know about the Scriptures are simply far, far too few. Very few Catholic parishes have regular bible study groups. Most preaching does not “open the Word” for Catholics, that is, it doesn’t send them back to the Scriptures to study them for themselves. It is as if the dots between in-depth bible study and growth in personal spiritual life have simply not been connected by our pastors and pastoral assistants.

And on top of that, many Catholic communities in Australia actually seem scared that too much bible study might actually promote a kind of “evangelicalism” in the Church.

The fact that Ms Dickson felt that she had to go to Hillsong in order to “learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God” is an indictment upon Australian Catholicism. May the Lord give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “This is not a post about Mary…

  1. Sharon

    The fact that Ms Dickson felt that she had to go to Hillsong in order to “learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God” is an indictment upon Australian Catholicism. May the Lord give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

    I totally agree but will anything change?

    I think that the problem is that most Catholics don’t feel confident to start a bible study. There are many, many orthodox bible study programmes available in America and we could use them until we grew in confidence. Jeff Cavins’ Series is a good one; I have been watching it on EWTN recently.

    Most of the Americans who run bible study programmes are converts from Protestantism who know the bible much better than Cradle Catholics. Maybe some of our converts could develop a bible study programme for use in Australia.

    The Archdiocese of Sydney has a bible study programme for Lent entitled Christ Our Hope. If it is as good as the 2008 programme it will be excellent.

  2. Vicci

    ( Will the real David Schutz please stand up….)

    Lovely post, David.
    One can hear your Heart.

    More, please.

  3. Schütz

    I am a many sided character, Vicci!
    🙂

    Truly, readers will misunderstand me if they take me for a traditional Catholic traditionalist.

    You will perhaps understand me best if you grasp that I am an evangelical Christian, with a deep love for Christ and his Church, an equally deep love for all who desire to draw near to God with a true heart, and a deep belief that (for better or for worse) the Catholic Church is the Church established by Jesus for the spreading of his Kingdom to all people.

    A bit of an odd bod to be involved in interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, no? Well, you have to see my involvement in dialogue through the same lense to understand that too.

  4. Son of Trypho

    Are you at all surprised when you see the ongoing intellectual poverty of much of the Australian clergy nowadays? Imagine biblical exegesis by Fr Kennedy or Dresser – both PP’s. Lamentable.

  5. Peter

    For the record, The interest in deeper Bible studies in Catholic Churches has at least quadrupled after WYD, as has the interest of young people in decent contemporary Catholic music.

    Unfortunately many well meaning Catholics are too busy trying to feed the youth what they THINK was good for youth back in the 70s to notice. The flipside is that the old school Catholics spend so much time denouncing the evils of ‘modern’ styles of music and Bible study they miss the excellent Catholic developments in those areas.

  6. Tony

    You are a many sided character David!

    A thousand or so people involved in a dynamic growing parish challenge the way things are normally done in the CC, but make it clear they want to stay in the church and you say they’re ‘backing the wrong horse’.

    One mega-star (albeit in an ‘Andy Warhol’ sense) actually leaves the church and ‘May the Lord give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches’!

    Well cut off my legs and call me shorty! How do you figure that?

    opigrap: offering an opinion after a long session with rough wine

  7. Sharon

    A thousand or so people involved in a dynamic growing parish challenge the way things are normally done in the CC, but make it clear they want to stay in the church and you say they’re ‘backing the wrong horse’.

    Tony the administrator of this parish and his followers say they want to stay in the church but the church they want to stay in is not the Catholic Church as orthodox Catholics understand it. These people, led by Peter Kennedy want to remain in the church which has evolved over 28 years under Peter Kennedy’s leadership. They can’t have it both ways – stay under the Catholic unbrella but have their own way of doing the Liturgy, their own way of celebrating the sacraments and not abiding by the precepts of Catholic Church Canon Law.

    It’s sort of like the adult child who wants to live at home but won’t obey any of the rules of the parents’ house and tries to tell the parents what rules they should have in their house.

    When/if the SSPX finally become reconciled with the Church they will have to obey Canon Law regarding the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass and the celebration of the sacraments. The Anglican use parishes of the USA also have to obey Canon Law.

  8. matthias

    Hey Tone Stuff st marys for the moment,and ask yourself is what schutz talking about indicative of the rest of the Australian RCC? Is there a lack of emphasis upon the need to study the Scripture?
    I do not like Hillsong because of its emphasis upon the prosperity gospel,and the poor handling of pastoral abuse some years ago. They apparently have a drop out rate of between 19-26%. I would be concerned that such an obviously talented young woman could become disillusioned and I wonder if this she had considered Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
    Off to see if a friend needs help as they live in Upwey and there is a large bushfire burning there now

  9. Tony

    You miss the point Sharon. David sees one move in terms of ‘listening to the spirit’.

    Why isn’t the Spirit speaking through the people of St Mary’s?

    28 years you say? I believe Marina Dickson is around that age.

    Oh the irony! 😉

    cancts: the opposite of cancs.

  10. Son of Trypho

    Why isn’t the Spirit speaking through the people of St Mary’s?

    -because they are not performing valid sacraments?

  11. Tony

    -because they are not performing valid sacraments?

    And this benchmark doesn’t apply to a 20-something actress who has — to use the modern expression — ‘dissed’ the church? Again, how do you figure that?

    Hey Tone Stuff st marys for the moment

    Well I’d rather not because I think the speculation about where we ‘hear’ the spirit is pretty interesting.

    … and ask yourself is what schutz talking about indicative of the rest of the Australian RCC? Is there a lack of emphasis upon the need to study the Scripture?

    I’m a cradle Catholic, what would I know? I do know that if I want find out more about the bible I don’t have to look very hard.

    Good luck with fires. If your weather’s coming from our neck of the woods, it’s going to be a tough week.

    preocy: any town or destination just outside the Oklahoma border.

  12. Schütz

    Tony,

    I don’t know if you quite get what I’m talking about.

    That’s okay, because cradle Catholics – whether left- or right-leaning – generally don’t.

    What I am talking about in this blog is evangelical discipleship.

    Such discipleship includes:

    1) a love for the Lord
    2) submission to his will
    3) hunger for his Word in the Scriptures
    4) obedience to his commands

    Within the Catholic Church, such “evangelical discipleship” will also be characterised by:

    5) love for the Church
    6) submission to the pastors of the Church
    7) hunger for the sacraments
    8) obedience to the law of the Church

    In short, it is recognising the Lordship of Christ in all aspects of my personal and communal life as a Christian.

    The difficulty is that Catholics end up arguing about items 5-8 on the list above (as is the case with St Mary’s) while completely ignoring that they only make sense upon the foundation of items 1-4.

    Were our Catholic parish communities more committed to fostering 1-4, we would have far less argument about 7-8.

    In the case of Ms Dickson, her decision was made precisely because she could not find 1-4 in the Catholic Church here in Australia. I don’t think she would have been any more likely to find it at St Mary’s than anywhere else.

    So my point isn’t just that we should have “dynamic growing parishes”. Hillsong is a “dynamic growing parish”, but, despite the great good they do, I agree with Matthias: I have deep suspicions of its individualistic and materialistic ethos.

    Jesus did not give us the command to go out and make “dynamic growing parishes”. He sent us out to “make disciples of all nations”.

    Until you get that point, Tony, you will not have a clue what drives me.

  13. Schütz

    To put it another way, Tony, it is one thing to say:

    “I have only good things to say about the Catholic Church but I have this hunger for God. I wanted to learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God.”

    And another thing to say, as Ms Hughes did in her piece:

    “Fundamentalists are so afraid of freedom. The deity they believe in is one whose morals are like any sociopathic despot’s: toe its line, obey, don’t commit a thought-crime or it will chuck you into a lake of fire for all eternity. Do these worshippers ever think how they would judge a human who was such a sadistic tyrant as this nightmarish torturer-god?”

  14. Tony

    I’m not comparing the thoughts of Marina Dickson with Juliette Hughes.

    I’m trying to find out more about this formula you’ve stumbled on for ‘listening to the spirit’.

    Apparently the words and actions of Marina Dickson have moved you to ask ‘May the Lord give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches’ but, for reasons you haven’t made clear, you seem to have decided that the spirit can’t be speaking to us through St Mary’s in terms of recent events.

    What’s the clue here David?

    Does St Mary’s need to appoint a pretty young 20-something to speak on its behalf? Does St Mary’s need to defect, en masse, to Hillsong? Does St Mary’s need to lament about the lack of access to bible studies? What’s the key?

    … but I have this hunger for God. I wanted to learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God.

    If you applied the same level of scrutiny to this quote as you have done to the quotes eminating from St Mary’s you might have asked how much this women sought to satisfy her ‘hunger for God’ in the CC. You might have also asked how hard she tried to find out more about the bible within the CC.

    You may, if you were in a challenging mood, have asked, ‘is she looking to maintain the high she experienced at WYD in the gritty reality of post WYD life’? Or something similar.

    I have nothing against this woman, good luck to her, but the notion that someone can say, in effect, ‘I can’t get closer to God or learn what I need to learn from the Bible through the CC’ is somehow a ‘message from the Spirit’ and a growing, dynamic, sustained parish of nearly 3 decades is not, just mystifies me.

    sionds: ways of saying ‘yes’ in different languages

  15. Schütz

    No, Tony, you still are not getting it.

    What Ms Dickson was looking for she should have been able to find in the Catholic Church.

    What the St Mary’s folk are looking for does not belong in the Catholic Church.

  16. Louise

    I’ve told you about the time I began a lecture series called “A Walk through the Scriptures”, and of the 15 or so Catholics who turned up, not one of them brought a copy of the bible.

    I must say, that although I like going to scripture classes (when there are any) I generally prefer to *listen* than read along. I do normally take my Bible but I’m just as likely to listen rather than read along.

    I prefer to take scripture aurally (except for private devotion obviously).

    Indeed I’m of the (fairly firm) opinion that people should *listen* to scripture in the Mass and Church liturgy for several years before reading it for themselves.

    Protestants may read a lot of scripture, but they don’t necessarily understand it.

    faccede: to give way to your opponent in a light-hearted debate.

  17. matthias

    Louise I see where you are coming from,but you are wrong when it comes to fair dinkum protestants.We are Taught that the Scriptures are a light to our paths,from an early age, Sin and Christ’s Death and resurrection were gone over with us at home and in Sunday school.
    I think the problem that schutz refers to re RCCs being unfamiliar with the Bible,has been encapsulated in your comments that people listen to scripture in mass and liturgy then after several yearslook for themselves .The problem is that many may not do that and may not be encouraged to do so ,however I note that the Pope instigated a Scripture program late last year,so hopefully many Catholics will join him. It is the people who “populate” this blog site-Catholic or not- who give me hope for the future of Christianity in this country.
    my friends are okay but my son is now out fighting the fires

  18. Thomas Pietsch

    David old chap, just a small comment off topic. While I know you like going against the grain, your tech-terminology is a tad off target. One has a blog, and posts on that blog. A blog is filled with many posts, not with many blogs. So, your current post may have been more aptly titled ‘This is not a post about Mary…’ because, due to your laudable commitment to the fullness of the catholic faith, this is, in part, a blog about Mary. Keep up the good work!

  19. matthias

    Is this Pastor Pietsch formerly of St Johns Southgate? If it is where are you know pastor? Sounds like an ecclesiastical version of where’s wally?
    The there is the definition of what constitutes a theological thrombus -a clot in the pulpit

  20. Tony

    What Ms Dickson was looking for she should have been able to find in the Catholic Church.

    So the ‘voice of the Spirit’ — the one we should be listening to — says you need to go to Hillsong to get closer to God and find out more about the Bible?

    What the St Mary’s folk are looking for does not belong in the Catholic Church.

    Except St Mary’s is part of the Catholic Church! As you, and others have said, nobody’s been excommunicated. The priest has just been sacked … er terminated.

    So again, if you can claim the Spirit is speaking through a young woman who is (unambiguously) leaving the church — you’re still claiming that, right? — others can claim that the Spirit is speaking through the community at St Mary’s who at least have the credibility of not leaving.

    They also have the credibility of being something in the region of a thousand in number, and the credibility of sticking with the church over the best part of a generation (despite the tensions).

    It maybe that the Spirit is speaking through both, but the case for ‘Mary’ is substantially weaker unless you come up with key I spoke of earlier.

    sinnil: victimless crime

  21. Salvatore

    Isn’t there a danger of a slight over-reaction here? After all, whilst I’m sure that Ms Dickson is a lovely girl and a talented actress, I can see no reason why we should assume her analysis of the pastoral deficiencies of the Catholic Church is more accurate or profound than that of any other twenty-something, outer-suburban “beauty therapist.” Maybe she’s just wrong. I’m certainly not persuaded that the Church will fulfil her charge to “make disciples of all nations” more effectively by turning herself into some kind of ersatz-Hillsong. At least the attempts thus far have proved rather the reverse.

    Phyclos – a sharp pointed wand used to maintian order in liturgical processions.

  22. Past Elder

    Don’t you get tired of trying to find a Protestant church that’s Catholic so you can feel better about it?

  23. Louise

    Matthias, I understand what you are saying and as far as “cradle” Protestants are concerned, I think you’re right. New (adult) Christians are another matter altogether.

    I think the problem that schutz refers to re RCCs being unfamiliar with the Bible,has been encapsulated in your comments that people listen to scripture in mass and liturgy then after several yearslook for themselves .The problem is that many may not do that and may not be encouraged to do so

    In fact I was not disputing the need within the Catholic Church for more study groups (and formation generally). I whole-heartedly agree that the Catholic Church (in my experience at least) has been completely hopeless at providing this formation including scripture study. My point was really about the Catholic inclination to listen to, rather than read, the Bible, even in a study group context (and even when we do have our Bibles!)

    my son is now out fighting the fires

    God protect him. Matthias, you must be proud of him (in addition to the concern you must have for his safety). We love the firies! God bless him!

  24. Louise

    Again, and to put my concern slightly differently, why isn’t this an indictment of Ms Dickson?

    Personally, I think it is. It is possible to attend Bible study groups in other churches without abandoning your own. Which is exactly what I did when I was younger. This is grass roots ecumenism. And very important in our secular age, as I think Matthias alludes to. We must publicly and strongly confess Christ.

    Having said all that, Ms Dickson’s action is *also* an indictment on the Catholic Church, for as David points out, Bible studies etc belong in the Catholic Church, but “alternative” baptisms and various capitulations to the Spirit of the Age, do not.

  25. Louise

    BTW, for Lent, the Disciples of Jesus in Hobart are watching a DVD presentation by +Coleridge on St Paul. We’re having it at our house. 8 half hour sessions, until Holy Week (we started before Lent to fit it in).

    In fact, if you go to the CatholicLIFE website, you can download the lectures for about $13. Bargain! Check it out.

  26. Peregrinus

    Having said all that, Ms Dickson’s action is *also* an indictment on the Catholic Church, for as David points out, Bible studies etc belong in the Catholic Church, but “alternative” baptisms and various capitulations to the Spirit of the Age, do not.

    Um, Hillsong also practises alternative baptisms (rather more radically alternative, in fact, than the baptisms of South Brisbane). And, if I were to suggest that in many respects the theological and liturgical tradition represented by Hillsong has “capitulated to the spirit of the age”, I don’t think I’d be Robinson Crusoe.

    I think Tony has a point. Ms Dickson’s position is, if anything, rather more heterodox than the position of the community in South Brisbane, and yet David and others have a much greater willingness to see the promptings of the Spirit at work somewhere within it.

    I think there’s nothing wrong with being open to seeing the promptings of the Spirit where conventionally we might not expect to. God constantly astonishes. My concern is that a similar openness should be brought to bear when addressing the very sad situation in South Brisbane.

    [i]Aftsodi: slightly bilious, esp. as a result of drinking too many carbonated sugared beverages.[/i]

  27. Schütz

    Tony keeps asking what difference I see in the case of Ms Dickson and the case of St Mary’s.

    The difference, I believe, lies in this:

    There are some things that a Catholic has the right to expect of the Church – and somethings he does not have a right to expect.

    A Catholic has a right to expect that in the Catholic Church he will:

    1) Hear Christ and his Gospel proclaimed
    2) Learn the Scriptures
    3) receive valid sacraments
    4) receive pastoral care
    5) be formed as a disciple of Christ
    6) be catechised according to the Catholic faith

    He has a right to expect that his pastors, his parish priest and his bishops, will:

    1) celebrate the liturgy according to the rites of the church
    2) be faithful to the law of the Church
    3) preach and teach, uphold and defend the Catholic faith
    4) govern wisely and responsibly in imitation of Christ and his apostles
    5) live lives in accordance with Catholic morals.

    Above all, he has the right to expect that the Church which calls herself “The Catholic Church” will BE “The Catholic Church” (at least to this degree, PE and Christine are correct and fully justified in their critique of the contemporary Church).

    He does not have the right to expect that in the Catholic Church he will, with the Church’s blessing, be allowed to:

    1) believe and teach what is contrary to the Catholic faith
    2) behave in ways that are contrary to Catholic morals
    3) alter the way in which the sacraments and liturgy of the Church are celebrated according to his own tastes or reasons
    4) break or ignore the Church’s laws
    5) attack and defame the Church’s pastors when they act to uphold the faith and morals of the Catholic Church
    6) bring into doubt and question the teachings of the Catholic Church
    7) claim authority which he has not received from Christ or his Church
    8) teach as “God’s Word” that which God has not spoken.

    Above all, a Catholic does not have the right to expect the Catholic Church to be anything other than what she is, namely, the Catholic Church.

    In this, and in this alone, namely, in what a Catholic has a right to expect from the Catholic Church and what he does not have a right to expect, lies the essential difference between the cases of Ms Dickson and St Mary’s. She expected that the Catholic Church would provide her with something that she had a right to expect it would provide her. St Mary’s expect that they have a right to things which they do not have the right to expect the Church to provide them.

  28. Schütz

    Perry said:

    “I think Tony has a point. Ms Dickson’s position is, if anything, rather more heterodox than the position of the community in South Brisbane, and yet David and others have a much greater willingness to see the promptings of the Spirit at work somewhere within it.”

    You chaps – Tony and Perry – were the ones who made the connection between Ms Dickson’s case and St Mary’s. I didn’t. Just like like Ms Hughes made the connection between St Mary’s and the SSPX excommunications. To me, they are quite separate issues.

    But in any case, I do not “see the promptings of the Spirit” in either case. In case neither of you know, the phrase about hearing “what the Spirit has to say to the Churches” comes from the Apocalypse of St John, where Jesus composes seven letters, each to a particular Church in Asia Minor. Each letter ends with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” This, in each case, refers to the criticism, warnings and challenges that Jesus has for each particular Church.

    The only thing about Ms Dickson’s decision to join the Hillsong Church that I defend is her desire to “learn more about the Bible and have a deeper relationship with God”. I was not defending in any way her decision to leave the Catholic Church – a decision which pains me as much as Christine’s recent decision to return to the Lutheran Church, and PE’s decision decades ago to leave the Catholic Church. But her desire as such is a good one – and one which she had a right to have fulfilled WITHIN the Catholic Church. She should never have been led to believe that this was not possible, or that it was more possible in Hillsong. Whoever led her to believe this – well, there are passages in the bible about millstones.

    On the other hand, I laud and praise the good, decent, spiritual folk of St Mary’s for wanting to remain within the Catholic Church. Yet I cannot for the life of me understand how it is that they think they can do this while continuing to behave in a way that seriously harms that communion – which in fact (as the Archbishop himself has pointed out) puts them outside this fellowship. They want the name and status of belonging to the Catholic Church, but are not prepared to actually be Catholic.

    The two cases are chalk and cheese. I don’t see how or why you have connected them in your mind and in this discussion.

  29. matthias

    Thanks for that Louise ,and for prayers for my son.

  30. Louise

    Hillsong also practises alternative baptisms (rather more radically alternative, in fact, than the baptisms of South Brisbane). And, if I were to suggest that in many respects the theological and liturgical tradition represented by Hillsong has “capitulated to the spirit of the age”, I don’t think I’d be Robinson Crusoe.

    Well, I’m not defending Hillsong’s doctrine, if that’s what you were thinking! I was also not defending Ms Dickson’s transfer to that church.

    I must say, I didn’t know that their baptisms were even more alternative than St Mary’s. What do they do (just out of curiosity)?

  31. Louise

    You and he are very welcome, Matthias.