Monthly Archives: December 2009

Some Christmas Pictures

I don’t normally clog up my blog with personal pictures. But we have had a good Christmas, and so I thought I might share a few memories with you.

Our Christmas Tree and our "new" lounge suite ($300 from the Salvos!)

Our new nativity set - on sale at the closing down of Unibooks in Little Collins Street. Missing Boy and Donkey. Not essential characters...

The Christmas Tree at St Paul's Lutheran Church Box Hill - for scale, see the door on the left!

Mama's Christmas Plum Pudding (see the flames?)

A very nice bottle of wine which I received as a gift from one of my students which I shared with my honourable mother-in-law on Christmas Day.

At every family celebration at the in-laws there is a competition to see who can get the streamers from their poppers to hang on the chandelier above the dining table

My brother's speed boat on the Murray River. Yes, I did go water skiing for the first time in 20 years. Not very elegant.

The local accountancy firm in my brother's town. I was amused by the rather ecumenical partnership.

My brother is looking after a friend’s Bentley. Now that’s style!

My father and brothers with the Bentley down by the river.

Mia jumping of the "jetty" down by the river

Me taking flying lessons. Unsuccessful.


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Ratzinger bagging Hindus? I don’t think so…

I received a strange comment (unpublished) to an old 2007 Christmas post on this blog. The comment was:

it is interesting that no one has picked up on the pope’s citation of Origen in the homily–namely, Origen’s insistence that pagans such as Hindus can’t love or reason. I’m surprised India hasn’t objected to the insult.

The homily to which this comment refers is the Holy Father’s Midnight Mass homily for this Christmas Eve (given just after he was jumped by a woman from the congregation and pulled to the ground – nice to know that our 82 year old pontiff bounces – I fell over myself the other day and am still suffering the bruises, so I hope that Papa B is okay. Poor old Cardinal Etchegaray wasn’t so lucky. He ended up with a broken hip…

Reader: Get ON with the story!

Schütz: Ok, ok… keep your shirt on… just thought you all might be interested…).

Right, where was I? Oh yes, the Holy Father’s reference to Hindus in his Christmas Homily. What, you say? You didn’t hear him mention Hindus? No, neither did I. Yet that did not stop the anonymous author of the “Insight” blog (not to be confused with the “Insight Scoop” web page of Ignatius Press) from publishing this commentary: “Ratzinger at the Vatican: Hindus can’t love”.

Of course, the reason why there has been no reaction from India is that the Holy Father said nothing of the sort. What he said was:

God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).

So, the author of the “Insight” post is surely drawing a long shot by equating Origen’s “pagans” with the Hindus. Those who follow the Hindu religions (and there are many of them) would hardly self-identify as worshippers of “stones and wood”. For that matter, it would be unlikely that any modern day (neo-)Pagans (I met one at the Parliament of the World’s Religions – an interesting coversation…) would identify with this either.

The Holy Father’s point is surely this: God revealed himself in flesh not in stone. This corresponds with the prophecy “I shall remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36). It is the heart of flesh which has passions, feelings, and, yes, love, not the heart of stone.

The irony of today’s situation is that the general religious Zeitgeist has turned from (as in Origen’s day) worshipping “stones and wood” to worshipping “pure spirit” – which actually rejects the flesh. My guess is that “pure spirit” religion can end up being just as passionless, unmoving and unloving as “stones and wood” religion. The Pope’s Christmas message challenges us to see God in the sign of the flesh and blood baby in the manger and the flesh and blood man on the Cross.

He wasn’t bagging Hindus.


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A funny, scarey, and possibly too real look at what happened at Copenhagen

I’ve been meaning to blog on this article (“The truth of Secret Diplomats’ Business”) for some time. I tore it out of last Saturday’s Age and have been carrying it around in my pocket since, waiting for an opportunity to blog a bit.

Forget all the other commentary you have been ploughing through in relation to the Copenhagen meeting. This one short article explains it all. Here is the essence of this (very funny) column by Neil Brown:

UNLIKE most people, who think Copenhagen was a failure, I think it was a great success. It has preserved the golden rule of international diplomacy.

Years ago, when I was a young fellow and started to go to international conferences, an old hand who was about to retire took me aside. ”I’ll be shoving off into retirement soon,” he said, ”so I thought I might pass on the golden rule of international conferences.”

…”The most important item on the agenda at any international conference,” he resumed, ”is to fix the date of the next meeting – and of course the location.”

However – and it was a big however – if a conference succeeded in wiping out poverty or pestilence, there would be no prospect of trying to go to another conference the following year on the same subject. Concentrating on the date of the next conference would guarantee poverty and pestilence would still be there the next year and would provide the excuse for another year’s travel, entertainment, spending other people’s money, passing pious resolutions and generally being self-important, all of which are the only reasons for being in politics or diplomacy.

…Thus, despite the fact that almost everyone says that Copenhagen was a success because it narrowly avoided being a failure, the cognoscenti know it was a great success because it was such an appalling failure.

…[S]ince Kyoto and again since Bali, we were told incessantly that Copenhagen was the last chance to prevent the world being plunged into a watery grave. Everyone was going to Copenhagen in the belief that it was a last chance to save the planet.

When I heard this, I mourned for the international political and diplomatic brotherhood of which I was once a part; they clearly were not going to be able to stretch climate change beyond Copenhagen as the excuse for more conferences, new taxes, tougher and more complicated laws and the perpetual extortion of money from poor workers in rich countries to rich kleptomaniacs in poor countries that foreign aid has become. Some other issue would have to be found.

Fortunately, this has turned out not to be the case. Mercifully, climate change will be there for at least another year to take its vengeance on a profligate and decadent world. It will provide the excuse for conferences next year and for years beyond.

This article would be simply a funny bit of writing except for one fact: it rather seems to explain everything. It is simply too believable.

There is another little snippet in the middle of the article that bears repeating too. Had me chuckling for hours.

Sir Owen Dixon told me that when he was appointed the first UN troubleshooter on Kashmir, he went to New York to recruit an assistant. Someone recommended a young man in the UN building who, believe it or not, actually had the job description ”to bring peace to the world”.

”Do you like your job?” Sir Owen asked. ”Well, at least it’s permanent,” he replied.

As Jesus said, “The poor will be always with you.”

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Catholic means “Here Comes Everybody!”

I have just finished reading an article by Sandro Magister (“Go forth and baptize”) on the situtation in the Catholic Church in Argentina.

The problem concerned rigorism in application to the question of who should be admitted to baptism. As Magister puts it:

What reemerges here is the ancient and still unresolved dispute between a Church of the elite, a pure, minority Church, and a Church of the masses, populated also by that immense sea of humanity for whom Christianity is made up of a few simple things.

This is relevant to a comment Christine recently made on Acroamaticus’ blog. She commented of the Catholic Church: “A “baptized” membership of billions, even though many are practically unevangelized pagans.”

The whole article by Magister is worth reading in this regard, but I am reminded of a comment that James Joyce originally made in his novel Finnigan’s Wake: “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody'”. By the sheer fact of the universal nature of the Church, we do not have the luxury of requiring a high degree of catechisation of everyone who wishes to be a member of it. The problem is, as Magister points out, a perennial one, but it is one that we live with for the sake of the gospel. Rigourism was rejected by the early Church (against Tertullian and others). We are not about to reintroduce it now.

Christine made another similar comment at the end of the same string on Mark’s blog in response to something I said:

The price of full communion is full acceptance of Catholic doctrine.

Hmmm. Forgive me for being cheeky, but perhaps the Catholic Church ought to work on that premise for her own before requiring it of others 🙂

Well, from my experience, those whom I admitted into membership of the Lutheran Church when I was a pastor were always better catechised than those who were already members of the congregation and who had not had any formal catechisation since their confirmation. I think this is normal. We often require a greater degree of acceptance of the public teachings of a community at the point of admission and initiation than we do of those already in the community. The same goes for immigrants, who are often expected to show a degree of knowledge about our country and loyalty to it which is much higher than that required of those who are born here!


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“Ave Maria” at St Paul’s Lutheran Church

Well, we did have an enjoyable Christmas this year. Our children are growing up, so instead of going to the 6:30pm Family Mass at their school’s mass centre, we went to 8:30pm Lessons and Carols at their Lutheran Parish of St Paul in Box Hill. I then went to Midnight Mass in my parish, and in the morning we were back at St Paul’s so the rest of my family could make their Christmas communion. That also gave us time to have a relaxed Christmas Eve dinner of seafood together, before opening the first gift – a new Nativity set.

Midnight Mass at my parish was a bit of a disappointment. Except for four carols instead of four hymns, it was just spoken mass like any Sunday. No incense, no carols, no chant (not even sung congregational pieces of the liturgy), in fact, come to think of it, I didn’t even see a Christmas tree! The young woman who played the piano and led the singing was very good (a great talent, even), but she wasn’t given much scope for anything other than the carols. It was all over in 45 minutes.

Lessons and Carols at St Paul’s, however, was a great treat. The choir and organist there are top notch, and their selection was brilliant. I have listed the full program on my other blog, together with a discussion of one of the carols, “Est ist ein Ros”.

But what I wish to discuss here is another short piece they did, a setting of “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebel. This is a sublime setting, which they have used before at other services. BUT, you say, how can Lutherans sing the Ave Maria? I’m glad you asked.

Back when a former assitant pastor was at St Paul’s, he (who shall not be named so as not to embarass him) suggested that instead of “Sancte Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.” they should sing “Domine Jesu, Agnus Dei, ora pro nobis…etc.”

It works musically. But does it work theologically – either from a Catholic or a Protestant point of view? My thought is: NO.

Why is this? Because it demotes the role of Jesus as the One Mediator.

This arises from a point which Lutherans constatly miss about the Catholic practice of invoking Mary’s prayers. They say we treat her like God, because you can only pray to God. In fact, what we are doing when we invoke the sants is asking our brothers and sisters in Christ (living or dead) to “pray for us” THROUGH the mediatorship of Christ.

We fully recognise that the Scriptures say that both Jesus and the Spirit “intercede for us” at the right hand of the Father. That isn’t in dispute. But the fact is that “pray for us” is an invocation that the Christian tradition has always and only addressed to human beings. Nowhere in the whole tradition do we ask JESUS to pray for us – or the Holy Spirit for that matter. Thus, to replace Mary with Jesus in the Ave Maria as the opposite effect that Lutherans would want to achieve by such an alteration. Rather than exalt Jesus as the One Mediator, they demote him to an intercessor among others.

There is another, unrelated, idea that sprang to my mind while reflecting upon this. Protestants say that praying to the saints is a practice that is unallowable since nowhere in Scripture are we told that we should or can do so. I have tried elsewhere to explain why this is an allowable and venerable practice, and had my explanation dismissed as “speculation”.

The fact is – note this well – there is nowhere in Scripture where we are told to pray to Jesus either! Nor do we find anywhere in Scripture where Jesus is prayed to, rather than the Father through or in the name of Jesus (I am discounting here for the moment the places in the Gospels where blindmen and lepers etc pray “Kyrie eleison” to Jesus as he is passing by – that is not, in those contexts, strictly a prayer to the exalted Christ).

I do not wish to reject the devotional practice of prayer to Jesus – or the Holy Spirit, of course (it should be noted that in the liturgical tradition of the Church – with very few exceptions which prove the rule – prayer is always offered to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit). But I am saying that we justify the practice based on a theology of the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God, a theology that was worked out (speculated?) after the completion of the Scriptural writings.

Just another “tradition” that Protestants have not rejected, and which a strictly “sola scriptura” approach should reject.


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Another bit of proof that all religions are different

A Jewish friend rang me this morning to ask what she could do about a situation in Indonesia where a Catholic Church has been attacked by local mobs. We were both made aware of this from a circular newsletter from an Indonesian Catholic whom we met at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. I said that there does not appear to be much that we can do, and that the locals appear to be handling the situation. I recommended however that we need not be “bystanders” – “Write back to him and say that you will keep the situation in your prayers”, I advised, since praying is often the most affective thing we can do in cases like this.

“But what if you don’t believe in God?” she answered. I was not aware that my friend was what is called a “secular Jew”, that is, a person who follows all the Jewish religious laws and cultural traditions, but is, in fact, an atheist. It may come as a surprise to readers of this blog that in fact the category “secular Jew” is one of the dominant kinds of Judaism represented in Australia. Another friend told me that there are even synagogues for secular Jews now…

So I was not particularly surprised – in fact, I guessed when I saw the title on my igoogle news widget – that this article “Why we need religion, but God is optional” was written by a secular Jew.

Which is proof once again that the word “religion” is used so very many ways, that it is practically impossible to come up with a “one size fits all” definition. Oddly enough, even Zwier puts forward a rather standard definition of religion “as being represented by God, Revelation and Truth”. But this simply isn’t the case. It is well known that Buddhism does not have a deity (properly speaking). And as this article demonstrates, it is quite possible to be an observant Jew AND an atheist. I have heard of “secular Muslims”, but they usually don’t go as far as the secular Jews in rejecting faith as such. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is strong 20th Century “tradtion” of Christianity which rejects “religion” in favour of God.

Just an observation.


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This has to be a joke, right?

Okay, I’ve checked the calendar, and it is definitely St Stephen’s Day, not April Fool’s Day. So someone pease tell me that this is a joke?


(Actually, I guess there is always the possibility that it IS a joke, only the author doesn’t realise it…)


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Happy Christmas to all SCE Readers

Where it all began! The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Dear Reader,

Thank you for loyally following this humble blog throughout 2009 – with all its changes to WordPress and everything.

Sentire Cum Ecclesia and its author wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas. Stick with us for more fun and ecclesiastical commentary in 2010!


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St Bart?

Well, they may not like Harry Potter or Twilight, but they like the Simpsons. Those crazy guys at L’Osservatore Romano have, according to the Catholic News Service, described “The Simpsons” as simultaneously a:

“tender and irreverent, scandalous and ironic, boisterous and profound, philosophical and sometimes even theological, nutty synthesis of pop culture and of the lukewarm and nihilistic American middle class.

High praise indeed! So, Fraser Pearce, when are you going to publish your “Simpsonian theology” ?


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Vatican Note on the Heroic Virtue of Pius XII

There really hasn’t been all that much negative reaction, as far as I can tell, from our Jewish brothers and sisters to the recognition of the “heroic virtue” of Pope Pius XII. The usual characters have made a noise – Foxman (Anti-Defamation League) and Heir (Simon Wiesenthal Centre) – but otherwise fairly quiet – unless I haven’t been listening. Yet this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald reports a rather definite point of view from Sydney Rabbi, Jeremy Lawrence. According to the paper, the Rabbi said that:

Pope PIUS XII was a moral coward and his advancement towards sainthood demeans the memory of Holocaust victims and the Christians who helped them.

”How can one venerate a man who showed such cowardice, who was so close a bystander that he seemed to give his passive permission to the Nazis as the Jews were prised from his doorstep in Rome?” Rabbi Lawrence said. The decision demeaned all the ”truly holy” people who had previously been beatified and canonised.

”He insults the memory of the innocents who were martyred [in the Holocaust] and the saintly and courageous souls who risked and gave their lives to save others,” said the rabbi, who is adviser to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

Well, Rabbi Lawrence seems to have a better hold understanding of what was going on in the heart and mind of Pope Pius than many would claim with any certainty.

According to the same SMH story, the president of the NSW Council of Christians and Jews, William Szekely, said that “‘There is a moral ambiguity about Pius’s actions.” It is ambiguous because we simply don’t know. Yet given Pius’ positive actions to help the Jews of Rome and elsewhere, it would seem a little incongruous to interpret Pius’ “silence” during the Shoah as arising from malicious or even merely culpable neglect of the needs of the Jewish people. Such evil simply does not fit with the rest of what we know of Pius XII. So let’s not argue, and rather agree on two things:

1) Although it appears to many that Pius’ “silence” caused and increased the suffering of the Jews at the hands of Nazi’s, we simply cannot know if that is the case or not, because we do not know what would have happened if he had spoken out more clearly and forcefully.

2) We will never know the mind of Pope Pius XII in making the particular decision not to speak out publically about the danger to and plight of the Jewish people at the time. Not even Paul O’Shea, in his book on the matter, comes to a conclusion about that.

But there is also a third thing that we can be certain of, thanks to a Vatican Note issued yesterday by the Vatican Information Service. In the “note”, Fr Lombardi says that:

“When the Pope signs a decree ‘on the heroic virtues’ of a Servant of God – i.e., of a person for whom a cause for beatification has been introduced – he confirms the positive evaluation already voted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. … Naturally, such evaluation takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed (his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection) … and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions”.

“At the beatification of Pope John XXIII and of Pope Pius IX, John Paul II said: ‘holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in them’.

“There is, then, no intention in any way to limit discussion concerning the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he lived. For her part, the Church affirms that these choices were made with the pure intention of carrying out the Pontiff’s service of exalted and dramatic responsibility to the best of his abilities. In any case, Pius XII’s attention to and concern for the fate of the Jews – something which is certainly relevant in the evaluation of his virtues – are widely testified and recognised, also by many Jews.

“The field for research and evaluation by historians, working in their specific area, thus remains open, also for the future. In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. … Yet for the complete opening of the archives – as has been said on a number of occasions in the past – it is necessary to organise and catalogue an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years’ work.

So, at least in the eyes of the Vatican, Pius’ policy of silence during the Shoah has no moral significance as regards the judgement of Pius XII’s “heroic virtue” (that we can be certain of, anyway), and its historical significance is still wide open for study and interpretation.

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