Monthly Archives: October 2010

“It’s not my building, its God’s”.

Well, that isn’t quite the quote, I admit, but it could have been said. I am referring to an excellent article in Saturday’s edition of The Age called “Mad, bad or masterful?” by Ray Edgar on La Sagrada Familia, the Barcelonian Church and dream of Antonio Gaudi, nearing completion and to be consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI this coming Sunday. It is a very good article, which brings to light a Melbourne connection with the Church. Melbourne architect and professor at RMIT, Mark Burry, has been working on the Church as a consultant for thirty years, and the article focuses on his attitude toward La Sagrada Familia and its original architect.

The quotation is actually from Burry himself, who said “It’s not my building, it’s Gaudi’s”, but the whole article points to a controversy in the direction of the heading of this post. At the end of the article, Burry says, in answer to the question “But is it in service to God or Gaudi?”:

“It’s a church,” says Burry. “Its purpose is to afford the congregation of people from all walks of life with a place for one purpose. If they are thinking of architects, they will be thinking of Gaudi and an architect who died in 1926, who had the capacity to inspire people to make money sufficient to get the church started and built, and inspired people to continue that work 80 years after his death.”

And it is precisely this point – that La Sagrada Familia is a CHURCH – that gets up the nose of secularist opponents to this amazing and miraculous project. As Edgar summarises:

While zealots have, over the years, nominated Gaudi himself for sainthood, not everyone is rejoicing in the building’s completion. This landmark of the city, which attracts 2.6 million tourists a year, is also a symbol of the divisions within it. The issues involve heritage, the role of the church and state, and, indeed, the reputation of the architect himself – one whose architecture teacher described him to his students as “a genius and probably mad”. [my emphasis]

He goes on:

Indeed, the cultural tremors surrounding the Sagrada Familia date back decades… After the war, Europe’s cultural elite felt the same way about continuing construction on the site. Architectural luminaries such as Le Corbusier and Gropius signed local petitions against it. More recently, FAD, the key artistic and architectural union in Barcelona, produced the “Gaudi: Red Alert” manifesto signed by the Spanish intelligentsia, including the head of the Reina Sofia museum. Former FAD president Beth Gali herself appears in Robert Hughes’ 2003 Gaudi documentary offering facetious proposals for the new sections of the church – a Christo wrapping, a train station, which Hughes, another opponent, happily endorses. In his 1992 book on the city, Hughes laments, “Nothing can be done about the Sagrada Familia”.

“There’s lots of reasons to think of why you wouldn’t want to continue that building,” Mark Burry says. “That it’s better off as a ruin, testament to a tragic genius, or that it’s better to rethink religious observance for the 21st century in a different form. I asked them myself when I came here in 1979. Why didn’t they adapt it to a secular plan? It seemed like that would be a more ecumenical approach. I was told it’s not my building, it’s Gaudi’s building.”

……Barcelona-based architect David Mackay, a partner in the prestigious architectural firm MBM Architects, who signed the petition against the project along with Le Corbusier, says the church is the product of Gaudi’s deluded obsession, rather than the great man’s best work. Gaudi was in thrall to God and “his mind was stolen by fundamentalism”. What has been created in his wake is “Gaudi at his worst”, says Mackay. [my emphasis]

You get the drift. Gaudi’s creation is an afront to the intelligentsia of Spain because it is a religious testament, and that seems out of step with today’s modern Spanish ideals. As if to prove the point:

A high-speed train tunnel connecting Paris, Barcelona and Madrid passes within 0.4 metres of the World Heritage-listed building’s foundations. Despite the four-year campaign by the Sagrada Familia’s chief architect, Jordi Bonet, and pressure from UNESCO, Spain’s Socialist government commissioned tests and allowed the 12-metre-diameter drill to bore past. To not do so, advocates of the tunnel argued, would be to allow the church to “hold back the progress of Spain”.


As a side note, another thing mentioned in the article that strikes me is the “holism” of the vision for the Church:

“For me the fascination of Gaudi is his holism,” [Burry] says. “Whether it’s structure or construction or decoration or form or repertoire of materials or economics, he seems to be the master.” …The argument follows that like the cathedrals of old, one architect could not possibly finish it in their lifetime. “Gaudi knew this,” says Burry, “and used the models to explain it well enough for others to continue the job.”

The same holistic vision is what appeals to me about our own Cathedral of St Patrick in Melbourne. It is an entire whole, a complete vision inside and out of Wardell’s single architectural plan.

I thank God for La Sagrada Familia and the dedication of men like Mark Burry in seeing it to its completion. Edgar reports that “thanks to Gaudi, the Pope’s visit to Spain will probably receive more attention than his recent visit to London”. In a sense it will be a continuation of the Holy Father’s message in Britain. Gaudi’s Church is a statement that, even in our modern society, there can be no true human “progress” in a society that loses sight of God.


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Your Vote, Your Values

Coming out this weekend in all parishes in Victoria is a joint statement from the Catholic diocesan bishops of Victoria, Archbishop Denis Hart (Archbishop of Melbourne), and Bishops Peter Connors (Ballarat), Joseph Grech (Sandhurst), and Christopher Prowse (Sale) called “Your Vote, Your Values: Issues and Questions for Parliamentary Candidates for the Victorian Election”.

I have been eagerly awaiting this document, as I have been wanting to write to my local member and to the other candidates to ascertain where they stand on a number of crucial issues. This is because things are not simple in the State of Victoria at the moment. The political values of the parties and leaders are not clearly demarcated, and the policies of all parties seem more designed to get themselves elected than to do what is right for the state. There are good and honest and virtuous candidates in all the parties, but their own values do not always translate into the value of the party as a whole or that of their leaders.

But we don’t get to elect a party or a leader, we only get to elect a candidate. So it is vital to know what your candidate stands for. “Your Vote, Your Values” provides a series of issues and related questions on a number of values, including Life, Families, Education, Health and Aged Care, Community, and Religious Freedom. Taking this statement, I have written it up as a questionnaire in table form for my local member and the other candidates (I have turned all the questions into “Yes/No” questions for quick answering, and also added a question about funding palliative care – I don’t know why that was left off the list). I am going to send it to each of them, and request a response. I will inform them also that I am a blogger, and will report on their responses (or lack of response) to my readers on my blog (the questionnaire is rather extensive, and it is not likely that they would go to the bother of answering it unless they knew that it was going to be reported).

I wonder what the response will be?

In the mean time, if you want to do the same, you can download the questionnaire from here from Media Fire (sorry, free WordPress doesn’t support document hosting). You can find out information about the Election and Candidates from this website. Note that official nominations for the 2010 Victorian State election only open next Wednesday, 3 November, so start writing your letters now ready to post next week.

Please share any responses you get with us in the combox to this post, or email them to me and I will post them.


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Our St Mary: More likely to pray for vocations than to challenge for women “priests”

Dr Laura Beth Bugg (a lecturer in sociology of religion at the University of Sydney) writes in the Sydney Morning Herald:

This past week a woman was ordained a Catholic priest in Canada. The church did not sanction her ordination, and she will shortly be excommunicated. Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a movement for women’s ordination that began in 2002, supervised the ordination. Since that time nearly 100 women worldwide have been ordained, although none have been recognised by the church.

These are not women who wish to break off from the church; they want to reimagine it. There are yet other Catholic feminists who understand the very concept of priesthood and the hierarchical structure of the church as fatally flawed. They do not wish to see women as priests, but to see the entire Catholic community as one that is radically democratic and committed to peace-making, justice and community building.

…Perhaps the legacy of St Mary and others like her who have spoken out boldly and faithfully will be to inspire new generations to speak to the structures of hierarchy and patriarchy that choke the church and countless other religious institutions.

Dr Bugg attempts in this article to use (abuse?) St Mary of the Cross MacKillop for her cause. As she herself points out, St Mary wisely advised: “Never see a need without doing something about it”. But I am confident that, rather than trying to “reimagine the Church”, St Mary was and is more likely to follow Jesus’ own directions, as he said: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”


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Taking your (Greek) bible to Church

It is a regular practice for protestants to take not only their hymnal but also their bibles to church with them on Sunday – although these days there are usually “pew bibles” (ie. copies of the bible in the pews already) provided. They are likely to look up the readings for the day and to read along as the lector is reading the lessons. Catholics on the other hand get everything in their missals (except the hymns, but I’m not going there just now), or at least on their bulletin sheets, so, even if they do read along with the reading instead of just listening to it (that is another question too, which we will deal with another time), they don’t really ever get the readings in context. Often too, they are not even aware of where it comes in the bible.

All that being as it is, my issue here today is that I have decided that in the future I will take my Greek New Testament along to mass, because I have become very suspicious of the tranlstion in our missal. We are stuck with the current translation – which I understand are a modified version of the Jerusalem Bible – for at least the next twelve months, when – again as I understand it – we will get a modified version of the New Revised Standard Version instead. That should be an approvement, depending on the level of modification. But it will surely be a relief to leave the JB well and truly behind.

All this is prompted by last week’s gospel, on the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18:9-14. Here is how the missal has it:

Gospel Lk 18:9-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
The publican returned to his home justified; the pharisee did not.
Jesus spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being virtuous and despised everyone else, ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

I have highlighted a word-stem that occurs three times in that story, and (in the missal) once in the short summary of the Gospel at the beginning (which isn’t read aloud). The word-stem is the Greek “dikai-/dikoi-“ stem. I am teaching Romans at the moment for Anima Education, and so my ears are very attuned to this word and its translations. The word can basically be translated in two directions, either as “righteous” or as “just”, from which we get “justification” and “justify” as well. The confusion abounds in the above translation which translates “dikaioi” in verse 9 as “virtuous” (instead of “righteous”), “adikoi” in verse 11 as “unjust”, and “dedikaiomenos” in verse 14 as “at rights with God”. For good measure, the initial summary translates “dedikaiomenos” as “justified”. Reading (or, even more, listening) to this parable told in the Jerusalem Bible translation obscures the fact that the central question of the story is: Who is “Righteous”?

And that of course, requires the preacher or homilist to explain to the assembly what “righteous” actually means – for the one thing it certainly doesn’t mean in the New Testament is “virtuous” (as suggested in this translation). It wasn’t a question for the Pharisee whether he was “virtuous” or not. The point was that he kept the Torah. And keeping the Torah demonstrated that he was among God’s elect, that is, one of the “Righteous”. Not like that other bloke over there who was one like the rest of mankind, like the Gentiles, ie. “a-dikoi”, “UN-Righteous”. (Cf. for comparison Jesus’ directions in Matt 18:17 – “treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector”, ie. not one of the “Righteous”, not one of God’s “elect”). The surprising thing in Luke’s parable is that Jesus says it was this tax-collector, and not the Pharisee who was “shown to be Righteous” (“dedikaiomenos”). It fits amazingly well with the use of the “dikai-” stem in Paul!

But all that is obscured by the Jerusalem Bible translation. The other translations are only marginally better. The NIV uses “righteousness”, “evildoers” and “justified” (in that order), the NRSV uses “righteous”, “rogues”, and “justified”. The RSV is probably best with “righteous”, “unjust” and “justified”, but that is still obscured by the different English stems (“righteous” and “just”) to translate the single Greek stem (“dikai-“).

Of course, all this I only suspected while at Mass last Sunday. I had to wait to check it up when I got home. In the future, I will be taking my Greek bible to Church!


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I have been very impressed with the new version of Sherlock Holmes that has been showing on Channel Nine (BBC One “Sherlock”). I caught only the last one on the telly on Sunday night, and have watched the first episode on the catchup channel on the internet.

A review in The Sunday Age accurately called Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the title role as Holmes a mixture of Hornblower, Dr Who and House. He is a thoroughly interesting and engaging character. Martin Freeman does an excellent Dr Watson. The relationship between the two is filled with good humour and warmth – odd given how cold Holmes is supposed to be.

Clearly this series owes something to the recent Sherlock Holmes film – many of the usual cliches such as the deerstalker are abandoned, and the theme music is very similar – but they go one step further in placing Holmes in modern day London rather than in Victorian England. This has been done before, of course. The Basil Rathbone series was in a contemporary (1930’s) setting, if I remember correctly.

A striking feature of the modern Sherlock is his use of the modern mobile phone to instantly access data from the internet. He also texts. He doesn’t smoke – but clearly he once did as he is using nicotine patches to overcome his addiction and help him think. The drugs are there too (somewhere), and he has a go (unsuccessful) at boxing in the third episode. Mrs Hudson, 221B Baker Street, even the Irregulars are all there in an updated manner.

Really this is very good television.


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Cute, and helpful, even if misdirected

Cartoon by Bill Leak, The Australian, Monday 25th October 2010

Today’s cartoon in The Australian is cute, but a little misdirected. I don’t think it is the Lutherans of Woodside that are making all the noise against the proposed assylum seeker processing centre (Woodside was not one of the 19th Century SA German settlements, although of course, there are lots of descendants living there). Although the historical reminder is worth taking note of. I tell my children that some of our ancestors came to Australia as religious “assylum seekers”. George Fife Angas, a Baptist who sponsored their settlement in South Australia, saw their plight as not unlike that of the dissenters of Great Britain. The South Australian colony at the time welcomed the newcomers as they were a good source of labour and were productive farmers providing much needed food for the new settlement. In the 19th Century, South Australia was one of the most multi-cultural colonies in Australia. Bill Leak’s humour, though misdirected, should at least be a reminder to South Australians that “we’ve done this before” and benefited from it.


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What Ho, Fr Denton! Rector of Domus Australis!

Fr Anthony Denton

Oh, I say. Talk about falling on your feet! Fr Anthony Denton, our one time Vocations Director here in the glorious See of Melbourne, has been dubbed the first “Rector of Domus Australis.

“Fr Denton is currently completing a doctorate in Dogmatic Theology in Rome, is a keen historian, speaks fluent Italian and has an insider’s knowledge of Rome and the Vatican city,” Archbishop Hart said.

Cardinal Pell agreed. “We are very fortunate to have a priest like Fr Denton in this role,” he said, adding that Domus Australia would continue the long established Church tradition of providing accommodation for pilgrims in holy places and that it would also be a religious and cultural centre for visitors to Rome.

“A centre such as this requires an outstanding priest with energy and vision and we look forward to Fr Denton working with us in this role,” the Cardinal said.

I can’t wait to visit Rome again – and hopefully this time I will be able to stay at Domus Australis and experience the hospitality of the Rector. He certainly can’t complain, in this new role, that people are “dropping in on him” from home. I hope that he finds time to complete his doctoral studies. Something about Eastern ecclesiology, if I remember correctly…

In the meantime, have a gizz at this video – no mention of the new Rector, unfortunately.


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Another significant new Cardinal

Archbishop - soon to be Cardinal - Malcom Ranjith

Sandro Magister correctly predicted one of the Cardinals in the latest announcement:

ROME, October 14, 2010 – In Sri Lanka, the bishops and priests dress all in white, as can be seen in the unusual photograph above: with the entire clergy of the diocese of Colombo, the capital, diligently listening to its archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith, who is likely to be made a cardinal at the next concistory.

He was quite right. Malcolm Ranjith, one time secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, is also one of the Church’s foremost proponents of returning to ad orientam celebration of the liturgy along with kneeling to receive Communion and reception of communion on the tongue. Take the time to read Magister’s piece and you will understand where Pope Benedict is coming from.

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“Progressive, rational, independent”… and wrong

Tony Smith (who “holds a PhD in political science. He has taught at several universities including the University of Sydney”), in the October 15 edition of Eureka Street writes a piece about the religious beliefs of New South Wales Premier, Kristina Keneally. I wouldn’t know Ms Keneally from Eve, so what I say here is no reflection on her. It is a reflection, rather of Dr Smith’s praise for a kind of “Catholicism” which has one main fault: it isn’t Catholic.

Dr Smith says that “Keneally’s faith makes an interesting study”. He contrasts her “Catholicism” with Tony Abbott’s “great enthusiasm for Catholic orthodoxy” (although, it should be said, for all that “enthusiasm”, Mr Abbot is no less of a politician than Ms Keneally). He writes that “by contrast Premier Keneally represents a growingly assertive Catholicism which might be described as progressive, rational and independent”.

So, what are these “progressive, rational and independant” beliefs? Let’s look at them (please note, I am commenting on Dr Smith’s assessment of what comprises “progressive, rational and independant” beliefs – I am not judging Ms Keneally’s faith):

1) “Keneally has stated plainly her belief that Catholic women should not be excluded from ordination.” Progressive? Depends what you mean by “progress”, I guess. Rational? Depends what your premises are. Independant? Independant of the Catholic Magisterium, that’s for sure.

2) “In explaining her decision to support a bill to remove anomalies from the Adoption Act so that same sex couples would be eligible to adopt, Keneally noted the importance of allowing all MPs a ‘conscience vote’. She described how her conscience was informed by Catholic teaching about the ‘primacy’ of conscience and the importance of actively developing the conscience.” Is the example here her ideas about “same sex adoption” or her ideas about what “primacy of conscience” might mean? If in regard to “same sex-adoption”, again it depends on what you call “progress” and what your premises are. In regard to “primacy of conscience” this isn’t an accurate application of the doctrine.

Dr Smith says that “Keneally has not compromised her religious faith”. Fair enough. But if what Dr Smith says is true, her witness to her faith cannot be held up as a shining example for Catholics to follow. (Not that I am saying that Mr Abbott’s example can be). It is possible to be “progressive, rational and independant” AND wrong at the same time.


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As if we needed proof…

…that our Western society cannot handle saints.

According to this report in the Herald Sun, Zoo Magazine (called a “men’s magazine” – which is even more insulting to men than calling “New Idea” a “women’s magazine”) has dealt with the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in the only way it can: by sexualisation and ridicule.

This tacky incident speaks volumes about how uncomfortable our society is with holiness. In Australian society, a common way to handle an uncomfortable situation is to make a joke of it. And a well known tactic of the devil (both inside and outside of the Church) to undermine both the holiness of the saints and the holiness of sex within the sacrament of marriage is to pervert both together at the same time.

As I see it, Zoo Magazine has just provided Exhibit A in the case against Western society. Whatever may be said for Islamic societies, you wouldn’t find anything like this there.


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