Daily Archives: November 1, 2010

“That’s sooooo 20th Century.”

Have you heard that one yet? It’s becoming the latest put down. It’s “like, get with it, man” for the 21st Century. CD’s are 20th Century. Blackberrys are 20th Century. Being opposed to physician assisted suicide is 20th Century…

Well, at least according to Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens. In an article in today’s edition of The Age (“Brown attacks Catholic Church election stance”), Mr Brown says:

”I welcome the Catholic Church or the Presbyterian Church or the Buddhists or anyone having a say in that [euthanasia] – we are a free and open democracy – but it really opens up to public attention the fact that the Greens are a 21st-century party trying to drag the other parties out of their last-century thinking on so many issues.”

Ah. “Last-century thinking”. There’s nothing like pumping up the relentless tide of “progress” to make a political party look as if it has a future. Actually, Mr Brown’s rhetoric sounds rather 20th Century itself. Anyone who knows any social history will recall that in the first decade of the 20th Century, “Victorian values” were condemned as “so last century”, and the newly minted 20th Century was proclaimed to be the “Century of Progress” and “the Brotherhood of Man”…

The Great War broke out in 1914, and the idea of “the progress of man” got a bit of a reality check. We’re only 10 years into this new century, Mr Brown. Let’s wait and see how the 21st Century turns out before we start using it as a positive adjective for our political ideals.

In any case, it is rather telling that Mr Brown has pulled off his gloves and openly attacked Archbishop Hart and the Catholic Church for its opposition to policies which the Greens espouse. By contrast, in Your Vote, Your Values, the Catholic bishops were very careful to make it quite clear that “as bishops we are not advocating any political party. That is not our role.” But according to Mr Brown, the Church is trying to “dictate to people” and “trying to tell parishioners how to vote”. Good try, Mr Brown. In fact, what the Church is doing is what she has always done: guiding and shepherding the flock, speaking the truth of faith and morals, suggesting a “better way”, a path of life and of hope. This is, in fact, what Catholics belong to a Church for. They expect their bishops to educate them in what is right and wrong, and to encourage them to live a morally upright life in society.

Mr Brown retorts that “the Greens embraced Christian ethics and Catholic voters could think for themselves.” Another nice try. For a start it would be interesting to see how Mr Brown defines “Christian ethics”. Are the Greens now claiming a more infallible charism to teach Christian ethics than the Church herself? And yes, Catholics who can think for themselves are precisely what we want, with an emphasis on the word “think”. The Greens are far too complacent in their ability to pass off ideas as “progressive” and therefore “good” for our society. We want a Catholic laity who can think beyond the slogans of Greens policies.

One is not, however, optimistic. In the Letters section of today’s Age, there were nine (9) letters on the subject of the Bishops’ statement. ALL NINE WERE ANTI-CATHOLIC. That’s balance for you. Perhaps – just maybe perhaps – The Age received no positive letters about the bishops’ initiative at all. Perhaps.

A quick review of the letters gives us:

“WHILE Catholic bishops are perfectly entitled to advise their flocks on moral issues such as abortion and euthanasia, they are not entitled to impose those views on the broader society…[I]f every Catholic followed the advice, all members of our society would be affected.” (Dr Peter Evans, Hawthorn)

Thanks, Doc. That’s how democratic politics works. Everyone gets a say in how their society is run. One could turn the tables and say that while the Greens are “perfectly entitled” to their silly ideas about what makes a “progressive” society, “they are not entitled to impose those views on the broader society” – which is exactly what will happen if they gain any real political power. Doc Evans goes on to say “Catholics make up only one in four of our community” – and at last count Greens made up less than one in six. So what’s your point, Doc?

Jean Jordan of Eltham asks why “The Catholic Church’s election guide urges parishioners to ”quiz” candidates on their attitudes to voluntary euthanasia and abortion” but doesn’t mention the war in Afghanistan. Easy one, Jean. This is a State election, and the State government has no powers to commit our armed forces to any engagement.

Then there are two letters, one from Peter O’Keefe and another from John Mosig, which take the predictable line that since the sexual abuse scandal, the “Catholic Church is hardly in a position to lecture us on morality.” As I say, the argument is predictable. And it too could be turned on its head: Does a society that murders its unborn children at a rate of 80,000 a year and a political party that wants us to help sick people kill themselves have a right to lecture us on morality?

Then there is Jason Ball of South Yarra who reckons that “someone should inform Archbishop Denis Hart that three in four Catholics actually support euthanasia.” Is it that high? If so, it is my guess that those “Catholics” that “actually support euthanasia” would be those with whom Steve Clark of Bukoba in Tanzania (they read The Age in Tanzania???) self identifies when he cites those who are only counted as Catholics “because they were baptised as infants but are in no sense now part of the church (like me)”.

To cap it all off, Bob Greaves gives us just the sort of non-sequitur which makes brings us back to the “soooo last century” jibe. In his opinion, “the reactionary opinions of the Catholic Church hierarchy have no place in secular Australian politics”. So, let me get that right, Bob. Are you saying that people who have opinions different to yours shouldn’t get to vote? Or just that religious people shouldn’t be allowed to vote? Or that religious people should forget about their most deeply held convictions and vote like hypocrites?


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Indulgence Season

…is now open. For the Indulgences for the Faithful Departed, available from 1 to 8 November, see here.

Of course, this is a contentious issue ecumenically. Yesterday was celebrated as the Festival of the Reformation in the Lutheran Church, because it was on the eve of All Saints that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517. Ever since then, indulgences has been a flashpoint issue in the dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics.

My children were treated yesterday to a “fun” children’s address in which (according to their report) the one giving the address came into the church crying something along the lines of “Pay your money and get your sins forgiven”. They were then taught that sins are only forgiven through confession and repentance. Of course. That is what the Catholic Church teaches too. Indulgences has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins, and perpetuating this myth is not helpful.

But when I tried to explain what an indulgence is to my children, I found myself floundering. That is because there are at least four ideas behind the doctrine of indulgences that need to be comprehended before the doctrine makes any sense – it is like a picture which is dependant upon the frame for its full understanding. That framework consists of the following doctrines:

1) Purgatory
2) “Merit”
3) Communion of Saints
4) the Authority of the Church to bind or loose

Each of these issues in turn is hotly contended between our two communions, and just complicates the misunderstandings.

I also find that trying to explain the doctrine of indulgences to a non-Catholic comes up against a problem that is a little like trying to describe to someone what a stained glass window looks like, when you are viewing the window from inside the church, with the light streaming in and making it look beautiful and attractive and gracious, and the person you are trying to explain it to is standing on the outside of the church, seeing only the grey dark blobs of glass with darkness behind it. It is a doctrine that looks completely different to someone standing inside the Catholic Church to someone standing outside it.

A related problem is that to the person outside the Church, it looks as if we are doing legalistic “works” to win God’s favour, his love, his acceptance, his approval, his forgiveness. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. It really has to do with one’s relationship to God in terms of one’s attachment to sin and purification from that attachment. I find one of the most helpful analogies being that which my friend Peter once pointed out: there are some things which the Church recommends that you can do for “the good of your soul”. Even the protestant churches have this, of course. They recommend bible reading, prayer, acts of charity, fasting etc. They know that, as our Lord taught us, these things are “for the good of your soul”. They do not “earn” anything, rather they strengthen one’s relationship with the Lord and they purify one from attachment to self and sin.

The Authority of the Church to bind or loose on earth and the promise that this will be granted by God in heaven is also central to our practice of indulgences. The Church has the authority to “recommend” this or that act of devotion or charity which the individual believer may engage in and to attach to it the promises of God. That is a very contentious issue in itself, but Catholics believe that the Church actually has the authority to act in the way in which Jesus said it does. It can determine the guidelines by which this “binding or loosing” may be obtained. Of course, here we are not talking about the “binding or loosing” of absolution – which “binds or looses” from the eternal consequences of sin, but the “binding or loosing” of the temporal consequences of sin. It is about purification from the attachment to sin, not forgiveness or acceptance from God.

They are therefore not a “requirement”, not a “law” that you “have to” fulfill for acceptance by God, but a gracious invitation to those disciplines that are for “the good of your soul”. The doctrine of the communion on saints, of the treasury of “merit” and of purgatory relate to the fact that these acts of devotion can also be shared with others in the communion of saints, namely the Holy Souls in purgatory. They are like the invitation of our Lord to the wedding banquet in the parable. It is all grace. Are there “requirements”? Only in so far as an invitation will often have a “dress code” attached (even in the parable of the wedding banquet, there is a “wedding garment” to be worn – which is itself, of course, a gift from the host). It would be silly to see such a requirement as a “law”, when it is all included in the gracious invitation itself. It is, as they say, “all grace”.


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