Monthly Archives: June 2009

Pope confirms scientific analysis of Paul’s Tomb

This report in Zenit is very interesting, as the Holy Father himself took the opportunity of today’s feast of Ss Peter and Paul to make the announcement. This is what he said in his homily at the Church of St Paul Outside the Walls where the tomb is located:

“An authentic scientific analysis seems to confirm the unanimous and uncontested tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle Paul.”

“A tiny hole was drilled into the sarcophagus — which over many centuries had never been opened — in order to insert a special probe, which revealed traces of costly purple colored linen fabric, laminated with pure gold and a blue fabric with linen filaments,” Benedict XVI explained.

“Grains of red incense and protein and chalk substances were also discovered,” he continued. “There were also tiny bone fragments, which were sent for carbon-14 testing by experts who were unaware of their origin. These were discovered to belong to a person who had lived between the first and second centuries.”

The Zenit report has other interesting facts about the tomb which you might like to read.

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Your move, Pope Benedict.

Well, that’s gone and done it. Apparently the SSPX have gone ahead with their planned ordinations, despite warnings of the consequences for the future communion of the group with Rome.

As I say above, your move, your Holiness.

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Are you “going to heaven” when you die?

As you know, dear Reader, I am experiencing something like a fixation with the wrightings (sorry, that should be “writings” – see the depth of my problem?) of N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham.

His scholarship is first class, and there is much that he has to say that extremely good. His skill is to get us to take a “fresh look” at scriptural passages we thought we knew well, by placing them in the context of the 1st Century Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman worlds.

But there are some things… Well, I am not prepared to go as far as American Baptist Mark Seifred who says that when Wright is “good he is very, very good, but when he is bad, he is horrid”, but it is true that he proffers a good many opinions on the meaning of Scripture that would need to be put through the filter of Catholic tradition before we could truly embrace them.

One such area is Wright’s take on personal eschatology, or what is commonly known as “the afterlife”. He wrote a book a few years ago called “Surprised by Hope” on this subject, and many (for instance, Richard John Neuhaus of blessed memory) had that “good/bad” reaction that readers of Wright commonly experience. Here is Neuhaus’ opening summation:

The first part of the book is a reprise of his argument for the historicity of the resurrection, which will be helpful for those not prepared to take on his more comprehensive Resurrection of the Son of God. Most of the book is devoted to making the case for a greater accent in Christian piety and liturgy on the final resurrection of the dead and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Or, as Wright likes to put it, we need to recover the biblical focus on “life after life after death.” I believe Wright is right about that. As he is also on target when he insists that the resurrection “is not the story of a happy ending but of a new beginning.” But his argument is grievously marred by his heaping of scorn on centuries of Christian piety revolving around the hope of “going to heaven,” and his repeated and unseemly suggestion that he is the first to have understood the New Testament correctly, or at least the first since a few thinkers in the patristic era got part of the gospel right.

Wright’s argument is repeated in miniature in his new book “Simply Christian”. I actually like this book very much – it achieves much more successfully, I believe, what C.S. Lewis set out to do with “Mere Christianity”. An alternative title, however, could have been “Simply Tom Wright”, as it offers a short potted account of Wright’s own view of the Christian meta-narrative.

In the second to last chapter of this book, he writes

Despite what many people think…the point of it all is not ‘to go to heaven when you die. …

Paul and John, Jesus himself, and pretty well all the great Christain teachers of the first two centuries, stress their belief in resurrection. ‘Resurrection’ does not mean ‘going to heaven when you die’. It isn’t about ‘life after death’. It’s about ‘life after life after death’. You die; you go to be ‘with Christ’ (‘life after death’), but your body remains dead. Describing where and what you are in that interim period is difficult, and the New Testament writers mostly don’t try. Call it ‘heaven’ if you like, but don’t imagine it’s the end of all things. What is promised after that interim period is a new bodily life within God’s new world (‘life after life after death’).

That’s his position in a nutshell. All that needs to be added is that the “new world” that Christianity (in Wright’s perspective) is looking forward to after resurrection and the general judgement (what we traditionally call ‘heaven’), is in fact the continuous with this world in much the same way that our resurrected bodies are continuous with our current bodies. The old heaven and the old earth will pass away and be replaced with a renewed (note that) creation consisting of a united heaven and earth.

God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world of which he said that it was ‘very good’. He intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. …In God’s new world, of course, Jesus himself will be the central figure. …He is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible viel that keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture and our work with the poor, where the view seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted, earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities. This is what the Christian vision of salvation…is all about.

Okay. So much for Wright. But is he, according to the Catholic faith, right?

For the moment, a quick scan of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will have to do. We find a good deal there on “life after death”, and a surprisingly small amount on what Wright calls “life after life after death”. But, and this is a surprising but, I think that if we take away what Neuhaus rightly calls Wright’s “scorn” for “centuries of Christian piety revolving around the hope of ‘going to heaven’”, we find that Wright is, in fact, right.

First, the corrective. As cited by CCC §1023, Pope Benedict XII issued the following definition in 1336 (retrospectively, perhaps, we could include this on the list of infallible papal definitions?):

By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints … and other faithful who died after receiving Christ’s holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died, … or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death, …) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment – and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven – have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature. [Benedict XII, Benedictus Deus(1336): DS 1000; cf. LG 49].

In other words, when you die in a state of grace, you DO “go to heaven”. Or at least your soul does, because Papa Benny XII is quite clear about the fact that it is your soul, not your body,that “goes to heaven”. He is also quite clearly talking about what Wright calls the “interim period”, or the “life after death” that comes before “life after life after death”.

Even here though, it is worth asking what we mean by “heaven”. Is it a “place” where we go, or a state of being, or something else? Pope Benedict XII is obviously quite clear that to be “in heaven” is to have “joined the company of the angels”, but also that it is to enjoy the “beatific vision” of God, “face to face, without the mediation of any creature”. The Catechism, immediately after citing the above passage, states in §1024 that

“This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

And yet, while this experience may be the “ultimate end and fulfillment of deepest human longings”, it seems that God has even more planned for us – in the words of Aslan in the final Narnia Chronicles book, it is “further in and further up” (!) – because the Catechism goes on, in §§1042-1050, to describe what comes –in BXII’s words – AFTER “the souls of all the saints…take up their bodies again” and AFTER “the general judgement”:

§1042 At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed…
§1043 Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth” [I1 Pet 3:13; cf. Rev 21:1]. It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” [Eph 1:10].
1044 In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men [cf. Rev 21:5]. …
§1045 For man, this consummation will be the final realization of the unity of the human race, which God willed from creation and of which the pilgrim Church has been “in the nature of sacrament” [cf. LG 1]. …
§1046 For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man… [Rom 8:19-23].
§1047 The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, “so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just,” sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ [St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 5:32:1 PG 7/2, 210].

This, then, shows that what Wright calls “life after life after death” has been there in Catholic teaching and tradition all along. Perhaps, he is wright (sorry, “right”) that it has not been sufficiently emphasised as the form of our final hope and salvation. Certainly, I balked to hear prayers offered at the vigil mass last night that the souls of our faithful departed may be “raised up to be in heaven forever”. That is not what “raised up” would mean even in terms of the Catholic Catechism, let alone the writings of Tom Wright.

Of course, for Wright, there is also the fact that he is trying to combat a kind of Christianity which rejects any concern for this world as it is today, because, after all “it is all going to hell in a handbasket” and we are all “going to heaven when we die”. No one could deny that there are Christians out there who believe that sort of thing, but it isn’t Catholic Christianity, as evidenced by this paragraph from Gaudium et Spes (cited by the Catechism §1049)

“Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come. That is why, although we must be careful to distinguish earthly progress clearly from the increase of the kingdom of Christ, such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society” [GS 39# 2].


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Encyclical “in the next few days”?

Cathnews today featured an article in The Guardian by Hugh O’Shaughnessy which opens with this line:

In the next few days Benedict XVI is to sign a new encyclical letter to be called Caritas in Veritate.

The “next few days”? Is it really that imminent?

But I have to agree with O’Shaughnessy’s assessment that:

Many Catholics have been champing at the bit for Rome to bring out some more coherent view of the economic state of the world than that left behind by Benedict’s Polish predecessor… Now is the time for fresh thinking, is the cry heard from many theologians… The details of the pope’s attitude to the capitalism are unknown since he has not written much on economic subjects, but he has long been on record as thinking that an economy without any ethical or religious foundation is destined for collapse.

Personally, I am looking for an approach to social justice and economic ethics that “fits” with an authentic Catholicism. I am eager to hear what Pope Benedict has to say, and I am hoping like blazes for something fresh that I, as a Catholic who wishes to “think with the Church”, might grab hold of with both hands and take forward into the real world in which I live.


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Indulgences for the “Year of the Priest”/”Year for Priests”

So. Is it the “Year of the Priest” OR the “Year for Priests”? From what I gather it is, in Latin, “Annus Sacerdotalis”, in other words, the “Priestly Year”.

Any way, which ever it is, it is now on for young and old, lay and ordained. But what, as Blessed Martin might have said, does this mean for us – ie. the great un-ordained populace of non-priests? What are we supposed to be doing in this year?

Well, get your diaries out, because, there are a couple of dates on which you can do something really good for your soul (or for the souls of the departed faithful, lay or ordained) while at the same time supporting the ministry of our priests in prayer: INDULGENCES!

Herewith the details from the official decree:

During the Year for Priests established by the Holy Father on the occasion of the anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the gift of special indulgences is granted.

Shortly the day will come on which will be commemorated the 150th anniversary of the pious departure to Heaven of St John Mary Vianney, the Curé d’Ars. This Saint was a wonderful model here on earth of a true Pastor at the service of Christ’s flock.

Since his example is used to encourage the faithful, and especially priests, to imitate his virtues, the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI has established that for this occasion a special Year for Priests will be celebrated, from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010, in which all priests may be increasingly strengthened in fidelity to Christ with devout meditation, spiritual exercises and other appropriate actions.

This holy period will begin with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a day of priestly sanctification on which the Supreme Pontiff will celebrate Vespers in the presence of the holy relics of St John Mary Vianney, brought to Rome by the Bishop of Belley-Ars, France.

…May priests commit themselves, with prayer and good works, to obtaining from Christ the Eternal High Priest, the grace to shine with Faith, Hope, Charity and the other virtues, and show by their way of life, but also with their external conduct, that they are dedicated without reserve to the spiritual good of the people, something that the Church has always had at heart.

The gift of Sacred Indulgences which the Apostolic Penitentiary, with this Decree issued in conformity with the wishes of the August Pontiff, graciously grants during the Year for Priests will be of great help in achieving the desired purpose in the best possible way.

BULLETIN no.. 0328-12.05.2009

A. Truly repentant priests who, on any day, … [we’ll skip this bit on the assumption that a. priests know this stuff already, b. you, dear reader, are a layperson – a thoroughly gratuitous assumption, but there it is…]

B. The Plenary Indulgence is granted to all the faithful [ie. you, dear reader] who are truly repentant [nota bene – that’s the the important bit] who, in a church or in a chapel, devoutly attend the divine Sacrifice of Mass and offer prayers to Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest, for the priests of the Church, and any other good work which they have done on that day, so that he may sanctify them and form them in accordance with His Heart, as long as they have made expiation for their sins through sacramental confession and prayed in accordance with the Supreme Pontiff’s intentions: on the days in which the Year for Priests begins [forget it, if you are reading this today, you have missed it] and ends [plenty of time to plan, you are looking at June 19, 2010], on the day of the 150th anniversary of the pious passing of St John Mary Vianney [ie. August 4, 2009], on the first Thursday of the month [there you go…first opportunity Thursday July 2nd] or on any other day established by the local Ordinaries for the benefit of the faithful…

Lastly [something you can do everyday if you like!], the Partial Indulgence is granted to all the faithful every time they devoutly recite five Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glorias, or another expressly approved prayer, in honour of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, to obtain that priests be preserved in purity and holiness of life.

This Decree is valid for the entire duration of the Year for Priests. Anything to the contrary notwithstanding.

Given in Rome, at the Offices of the Apostolic Penitentiary on 25 April, the Feast of St Mark the Evangelist, in the year of the Incarnation of our Lord 2009.

Cardinal James Francis Stafford
Major Penitentiary

+ Gianfranco Girotti, O.F.M. Conv.
Titular Bishop of Meta, Regent

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Congratulations +Christopher, Lord Bishop of Sale

The Bishop of Sale

The Bishop of Sale

Well, the other boot has finally fallen. It didn’t take a fortune-teller to predict that our beloved Bishop Chris Prowse was the Bishop-most-likely to be assigned to Sale. I wasn’t the first to hear the news, but I can say that I heard it from the man himself, as I ran into him in the car park before the start of the Solemn Vespers for the Inauguration of the Year of St Paul.

They have certainly been patient out there in Sale, but God has blessed their waiting. Expect great things from the East in the near future.

Of course, that means we are one bishop down again here in Melbourne. Talk about musical chairs…

And speaking of falling boots, I just love this Goon Show episode:

GREENSLADE: Meanwhile, unknown to Seagoon, a different expedition has already reached the forest of Ying-Tong-Iddle-I-Po, collecting moss for the BBC. At this very moment indeed, its members are bedding down in their tents under the jungle moon.

MINNIE: Oh dear, yim-bom-biddle-oh, melodies divine. Have you tucked the ends of the sheets in, Henry?

HENRY: Yes, yes Min, yes.

MINNIE: Oh dear. Have you put the hot water bottle in?


MINNIE: Good, good good…

HENRY: Oh Min!

MINNIE: …It’s very hot tonight, I think I’ll have a cold water bottle.

HENRY: Here, we will have to get these tents redecorated.


HENRY: The wallpaper is peeling.

MINNIE: Oh dear, I’ll get a new roll from London, Henry.

HENRY: Good, good, good.

MINNIE: Yes, it is good.

HENRY: Did you put the tiger out, Min?

MINNIE: Yes, I did, I, I put the tiger out, Henry.

HENRY: And don’t forget to tell the camel driver no milk tomorrow.

GRAMS: Loud dull thuds, continue under following conversation:

MINNIE: Ohhhhhhhheeoh. What, what’s that? What’s that? Ohhh.

HENRY: It’s all right Min, it’s just those noisy people in the tent upstairs. (calls) Who’s that walking about upstairs?

ECCLES: (off) I’m the famous Eccles! I got friends in.

HENRY: He’s the famous Eccles and he’s got friends in, Min. (calls) Do you mind taking those noisy boots off?

ECCLES: (off) OK.

FX: Two thuds.

MINNIE: Ahh, that’s better.

FX: Thud

MINNIE: Ohh, I didn’t know he had three legs, Henry.

HENRY: He hasn’t, Min, he hasn’t, he has a one legged friend. Goodnight Min.

MINNIE: Goodnight, buddy.

FX: Thud.


HENRY: He’s got two one legged friends!

FX: Thud.

MINNIE: That, or one three legged friend, Henry.

HENRY: Yes. Well goodnight Min.

MINNIE: Goodnight, little mmnnnn naughty Henry. Goodnight little Henry! … Goodnight.

And continuing the boot jokes…

Bishop Prowse having his sole heeled on the streets of Istanbul

Bishop Prowse having his sole heeled on the streets of Istanbul


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A spike in hits on SCE

Astounding. I have just spent some time trying to work out why today my site had about 200 more visits than SCE has been averaging lately. Turns out that Fr Cutie has gone and married his girlfriend. All the extra visits were due to my post on this saga and took place in the early hours of our morning, ie. about evening news time in the States. Simply astounding.


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Alas, poor Hagrid…

Maddy and Hagrid

Maddy and Hagrid

Hagrid the guinea pig is dead.

After an accident a week ago, he has not been able to eat. He was a very fat guinea pig, a non-stop eating machine, but in seven days he just about used up all his reserves and had begun to die. So tonight was the visit to the vet. He is lying in state in a shoe box with his name on it, on the lamp table in the lounge room with green candles and a lava lamp burning around him… You get the picture. We’ve stopped short of the traditional rosary for these occasions. His grave is ready in the garden for the funeral in the morning.

So I went hunting for prayers for a pet who has died on the internet, and found this one, by a Rabbi, which I rather like.

Prayer for the Death of a Beloved Pet

By Rabbi Barry H. Block

O Lord our God, we come before You this day in sadness. Hagrid, who brought us so much joy in life, has now died. His happy times in our family’s embrace have come to an end. We miss him already.

Help us, O God, to remember the good times with Hagrid. Remind us to rejoice in the happy times he brought to our home. Let us be thankful for the good life we were blessed to give to him.

We are grateful to You, God, for creating Hagrid, for entrusting him to our care, and for sustaining him in our love for a measure of time. We understand that all that lives must die. We knew that this day would come. And yet, O God, we would have wanted one more day of play, one more evening of love with Hagrid.

O God, as we have taken care of Hagrid in life, we ask that You watch over him in death. You entrusted Hagrid to our care; now, we give him back to You. May Hagrid find a happy new home in Your loving embrace.

As we remember Hagrid, may we love each other more dearly. May we care for all Your creatures, for every living thing, as we protected the blessed life of Hagrid. May his memory bless our lives with love and caring forever. Amen.

That, plus a few verses from Psalm 104, and a round of “All Creatures Great and Small”, ending with the Lord’s Prayer, ought to do the trick.


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A “positive story” on clerical sex abuse?

Barneys Blog

Barney's Blog

Last night, after the ordination of Bishop Les Tomlinson, I bumped into Barney Zwartz from The Age, and we went together over to the Park Hyatt where drinks and nibbles were being served. One always has to be careful what one says to a journalist, but then one (even if that one is a journalist) always has to be careful what one says to a blogger…

I asked Barney what the latest religion story was for the paper, and he said “Sex abuse”. I thought he was talking perhaps of the Irish report, but it turns out he was talking of a report that has just been released by the Anglican Church in Australia. “It’s a positive story,” he said, “about the way they are really dealing with it.”

A positive story, perhaps, but we are still talking The Age here. Now I know that the author of any piece of writing in The Age has no control over the headline the editors decide to give their pieces, so I can’t blame Barney for the loudly negative headline that they gave to Barney’s otherwise “positive” piece. In both the print and online editions, the headline screamed: “Don’t leave clergy alone with children: report”.

In fact, in the story, what Barney has written was “They recommended clergy and youth workers should never be alone with adolescents where abuse could occur, such as a home, church or car.” As a measure, it could be called over-reactionary, but then one has to acknowledge that this measure is rather more directed than some previous “blanket” approaches. As Barney writes: “The report said the church needed to concentrate its effort on the areas of most risk, such as youth groups, rather than its present blanket approach.”

Aside from the measures being taken, it is interesting to note that according to statistics, there is little differentiation between the Anglican Church’s experience in this area and the Catholic Church’s. Which does at least tell us one thing: mandatory celibacy laws are not the (or even a) reason for the pattern of abuse in the Catholic Church, and relaxing the discipline would not be an effective measure in lowering the numbers of cases of abuse.


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N.T. Wright on interpreting the bible “literally” or “metaphorically”

Something one of our commentators said below on the “After Darwin” post prompted me to post this quotation from Tom Wright’s “Simply Christian” (p164):

‘Some people take the Bible literally,’ I recently heard a lecturer assert with great emphasis, ‘while others of us see it as metaphorical.’ What does it mean to ‘take the Bible literally’? What would it mean to read it ‘metaphorically’? Is this even a helpful way of putting the question? Broadly speaking: No, it isn’t. …

In fact, every Bible reader I have ever met, from whatever background or culture, has known instinctively that some parts of the Bible are meant literally and other parts are meant metaphorically. When the Old Testament declares that the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and burnt it down, it means, quite literally, that they captured Jerusalem and burnt it down. When Paul says that he was ship-wrecked three times, he means that he was shipwrecked three times. Equally, when he says that a thief will come in the night, so that the pregnant woman will go into labour, so that you mustn’t fall asleep or get drunk, but must stay awake and put on your armour (1 Thess 5:1-8), it would take a particularly inept reader not to recognise one of his most spectacular mixed metaphors.


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