Life after Epiphany

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A Shakespearean prankster and a stubborn Egyptian dead guy… the importance of the little choices we make

Harmless mischief, the little white lie, the throwaway hurtful comment… such little things really. Really?

Iago certainly thought so.

“An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.” Crass? Yes. But boys will be boys, right?

That is where it started. Later in Shakespeare’s play Othello, through a chain of choices that each represent only small increments of movement away from respectability, we see that that Iago has been drawn into something over which he no longer has full control. His agency has been compromised. His mischief has escalated beyond the category of harmless prank and entered the realms of the sinister… and as one watches the play unfold, one very much gets the impression that Iago is less and less free to choose a way out of his pattern of increasingly destructive behaviour – through circumstances that he himself orchestrated. The consequences of his earlier choices limit his options in later choices. Whilst his evil was not originally intended, it was still originally chosen.

choicesJumping back into the ancient text of Exodus, we see a similar scenario. Have  you ever read or listened to the passage about the famous showdown between Moses and Pharaoh, where God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and thought that something didn’t quite add up?

After all, if God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart, wasn’t He forcing his hand, limiting his freedom? Perhaps, had not Pharaoh’s heart been hardened by forces beyond his control, he would have made a more merciful and reasonable choice and allowed the Israelites to go free without the need for all of those firstborn sons to die?

Ah… but look at the passage again. God did not “interfere” by hardening Pharaoh’s heart until he had already stubbornly refused to let the Israelites go on several occasions. Each time Pharaoh chose against the good, the just, the merciful – he influenced his own future and limited his own agency. God, in hardening the heart of the Pharaoh, was simply allowing the consequences of Pharaoh’s own earlier choices to come to fruition.

WE CHANGE WHO WE ARE with EVERY choice that we make, however small.

In our choices we could be constructing for ourselves a prison of our own making, or we could be slowly getting better at identifying and selecting the good.

Never give up the struggle to choose the good in the decision you have before you in the present moment. There is ALWAYS grace in the present moment, that precious help from God, to do as He would have you do.

Be encouraged! You may have made choices you regret in the past – no matter! By consistently responding to God’s grace – fighting against the attraction to the easy-to-attain compromises and by persevering in the struggle to choose good, you will slowly but surely develop a predisposition, a habit in choosing good – virtue! Over time, doing good becomes more a reflex action – muscle memory of the will, so to speak. Now THAT is freedom!


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The telos of beauty

Beauty – that transcendental, objective reality – should raise the mind to the Author of beauty. We should find His vestige in all things beautiful, and we should offer it back to Him in thanksgiving. 

This imprint of the Creator in all things beautiful – this is a form of self-gift. This is just another way in which God gives Himself to us. When we allow ourselves to be moved – when we allow our minds and our attention to be elevated and directed to Him – THIS is the manner in which we give ourselves back to Him. This mutual self-gift, rather like a marriage, gives birth. The fruit born of this marriage is thanksgiving, and the act of thanksgiving shapes our capacity to further behold beauty – thus the cycle of giving starts again. What is the telos of beauty? It is this – the wedding of humanity to God through the contemplation of His gratuitous love for us. We could call it communion – the answer to the prayer of Jesus during the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel where He prayed that all might be one in Him. The telos of beauty is indeed beautiful in its own right!


Art was once the bastion of beauty, the stronghold of the sublime. Now, the castle has been stormed and the vestige of the Creator that exists in the work of our hands has become obscured and difficult to distinguish.

All this at the hands of a defeatist phenomenon existing in the world today known as the cult of ugliness – a movement in active pursuit of the subversion of beauty.

Defeatist seems an odd descriptor, you say?

I stand by it. I propose that the cult of ugliness is a defeatist movement because I believe that it is born of a sense of inadequacy surrounding one’s ability to truly uplift, to contribute to the further generation of beautiful works and artefacts. In such a mindset, the only way to make a name for oneself in the world of art is to move the goal posts, to set a different benchmark of greatness. To be successful in art whilst working within the transcendental reality of beauty, one is required to be truly excellent, truly unique. One must have more than just a sense of the aesthetic, more than a yearning for self-expression. One must actually have elite artistic ability with one’s chosen medium and one must be able to unite this talent with both desire and capacity for expression. Taking it a step further, this unity of talent and articulation must be wedded to some participation in the otherworldly for the resultant artwork to truly move its beholder, to truly uplift an audience.

Our natural human desire to create is itself a vestige of our Creator. We know that unlike Him, we cannot create ex nihilo and so it is perhaps more appropriate rather to suggest that in art, we innovate. Whether our art is music composition or performance, whether it is sculpture or painting or calligraphy or architecture or any other form – we draw together in a unique combination of things that already exist – that which we have already seen, that which we know; then we add a little of ourselves to present in turn something different, something new. We work with established techniques and paradigms and we add our experience and worldview.

In the cult of ugliness, the ‘artist’ is defeated by this task before he begins. He is intimidated by the beauty he has perceived and his own inadequacy as an artist alongside another’s greatness. His response is to innovate through shock and he knows that to shock he must maim. He torments beauty, he teases it and turns it on its head. He produces something that runs away from beauty in much the same way as an angst-affected adolescent runs away from parental constraint, moving out of home before he is truly ready. Thus ’emancipated’ he spirals downward as he experiments with forms and subjects that are not objectively good. Perhaps short-term satisfaction is achieved, but ultimately good is not served because the sense of final direction, of purpose, is lost in a sea of endless possibilities. Such an artist thinks himself free; rather, he is imprisoned by the self-lie of his inadequacy.

This very cult of ugliness has infiltrated the realms of Sacred music, Sacred art and Church architecture. It can’t be questioned – one glance at Parramatta’s award-winning Cathedral “restoration” will confirm my claim. The case can be strengthened by one visit to the average youth Mass where one hears music in which the compositional priority is to comply with the constraints of a certain sub-culture; it almost seems that glorifying the Lord with the music is just an incidental thing.cathedralinside

This cult of ugliness has penetrated our defences – but the most devastating result of this is NOT the absence of beauty that COULD and SHOULD be present. That alone is a loss to the community, but the real travesty is the DIVISION that this has caused.

tabernacleopenparraI still attend Mass at the Parramatta Cathedral, because Our Lord resides there in the Tabernacle, even if the Tabernacle DOES look like Calel’s escape shuttle from Superman IV. I still attend Masses with sub-standard music when something more preferable isn’t available and I will sing along with a wholehearted intent to praise the Lord. I would rather sing the Ave Verum than One Bread, One Body but I will sing the latter when that is being sung because even when it DOESN’T feel like it, the reality of the Mass is that it is a participation in the Heavenly Wedding Banquet.

A few thoughts, then, on how we can assess whether art is suited to a Sacred purpose:

Sacred art should make the heart skip a beat for the original Artistan.

Sacred art should draw us closer to the Sacred Heart.

Sacred art should NOT be divisive.

Sacred art should NOT massacre the notion of beauty.

Our response to Sacred art, and our cultivation of it, should be ordered toward an authentic Communion with God AND His Church – a participation in the Divine Marriage to which we are all called.

Only thus will the telos of beauty be realised.

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A mystical means of making your entire life one massive act of worship…

An illuminated extract from Canon 607, 1983 Code of Canon Law. Calligraphy and illumination by Rebekah Griffin. Copyright 2013.

An illuminated extract from Canon 607, 1983 Code of Canon Law. Copyright 2013.

This is literally an invitation presented in gold leafing and calligraphy, calling you to consider whether or not God may be calling you to religious life.

For the religious who has made public vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, there is a strange wedding of the soul to God that renders ALL acts done in religious obedience, even the tiniest (like getting out of bed at the first sound of the alarm/bell or even just making your bed before you go about the business of your day) to be acts of divine worship. By getting out of bed, even if all you’re thinking about in that first moment is “my head hurts” – you are worshipping God! HOW AWESOME IS THAT??!!

If you’re discerning, consider taking a leap of faith. If it is true that He is calling you, how could you possibly pass up this mystical means of making your entire life a prayer?

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Critiquing a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis

Consider a view that discards theology and puts philosophy at the service of natural science, which is crowned king of the disciplines in the pursuit of knowledge. Prevalent since the Enlightenment, this ironically unenlightened view of epistemology directly resulted in a world unprepared for the discoveries of nineteenth-century natural science. In this rearrangement of the epistemological hierarchy many truths were rejected by and consequently lost to mainstream academia; among these, a sound conception of the human person. A purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis, i.e. of the origin of mankind, has been proposed in the milieu of this loss.

Is such a view even tenable?

It is my claim that a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis is, in fact, inconsistent with a philosophically sound conception of the human person.

How can one determine what IS a philosophically sound conception of the human person?

I propose a threefold standard in which the first two criteria are directly anthropological, and the third criterion epistemological.

  1. A sound conception of the human person is necessarily bounded by his unique ontological status
  2. The reality of the spiritual dimension of the human person must be conceded, for it is demonstrable that  a person consists of more than the physical matter of his body.
  3. The truth of the human person should be universally consistent. Not to be confused with the statistical measure known as “universal consistency,” what I am proposing here is that claims about the truth from the standpoint of any given discipline should be consistent with verified claims from other any other discipline (each verified via the methodology proper to that discipline) in such a way that tested in various different ways according to the different ways of knowing, the same truth consistently holds and is therefore found to be universal. Many disciplines can supply a different component of truth, none of which will contradict each other if they are authentic truths. (Pope John Paul II, Message to the participants in the Plenary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)

Now the scope of the term “naturalistic” in this critique refers to philosophical naturalism. In contrast with methodological naturalism, in which scientists seek to explain natural phenomena by exploring causal chains of natural processes, philosophical naturalism is a position that imposes those principles that belong within the realms of natural science onto the philosophical domain; such a position necessarily denies the existence of causes other than those which are verifiable using the processes of natural science. A purely naturalistic approach to anthropogenesis clearly oversteps the boundary of the domain of science. A complete account of the origin of man, to which science can contribute only a part of the truth, falls rather within the purview of both philosophy and theology (Pope John Paul II, Message to the participants in the Plenary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.)

Naturalistic anthropogenesis relies upon a materialistic conception of man, which considers factors such as molecular structure and genetics, yet denies a man’s spiritual dimension on the basis of the reductionist error that suggests man as a whole is no more than the sum of his parts. Such a position is demonstrably false, because a human person in the moment after his death still retains all the physical and chemical components that he had the moment before his death. Something apart from the physical completeness of his body is required to supply life. Consistent with the hylemorphic view of matter and form, the human is a composite being comprising body (matter) and soul (form) wherein the soul is the animating principle. Philosophical naturalism only acknowledges the existence of the matter of the human person and ignores the substantial form, the very principle of intelligibility!

Proponents of philosophical naturalism maintain that humans are just another type of animal and suggest that humans evolved from an animal ancestor. There are several facets of human capability that demonstrate a marked ontological difference between the human and the animal. Linguistic capability, risibility and secondary intention (the ability to have a thought about another thought) are possessed by the human person, but are beyond the capability of the animal. Each capability just listed illustrates the rational powers at the disposal of the human person. Just as animals operate on a different level to plant matter, so humans have a different ontological status to animals. It is not possible to hold to a purely naturalistic theory of anthropogenesis if this ontological difference is recognized.

A purely naturalistic anthropogenesis is not a universally consistent position in that its claims,which are conclusions derived from scientific facts, contradict the philosophical truths about the human person. These philosophical truths are entailed in the other two criteria; naturalistic anthropogenesis fails to respect the ontological difference between humans and other animals, and it fails to give an account of the spiritual dimension of the human person. Measured, therefore, against the threefold standard of what constitutes “a philosophically sound conception of the human person,” a purely naturalistic approach to anthropogenesis fails to qualify as a viable theory.

This is a modified version of a short piece of work that I once submitted for a philosophy unit I undertook as a postulant. I decided to post my work here due to an increasing number of encounters online with people who seem emotionally attached to a number of questionable arguments that overreach themselves epistemologically, philosophically, rationally or all of the above! It is precisely this collection of arguments that seem to inform pop-science and much of the discussion in society about education policy and even environmental policy. For my part, I felt it important to “publish” my attempt to articulate the truth of the matter. Copyright 2013.

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on knowledge: babel-onian captivity

it’s a strange world in which i live,
the fruits of a cultural rebellion.

the perpetrators would no doubt cringe
at this choice of words –
“Revolution,” they would attempt to correct.
“we liberated the human mind.”

but i can see past their self-important claim.

i was not alive to watch
as the wise and dignified flag of academia was violently divorced
from its proud, long-fought

and trampled underfoot
by those who would hoist the new
cloth of childish insolence.

this new flag is naught but the symbol
of a misguided collective of individual clones,
hell-bent on drowning out the battle-hardened, even voice of experience
with the clamour of their unified disparity.
no, this occurred before my time,
but it is i and my brethren that suffer the consequences.
the arrogant son wins academic recognition
through the cruel subversion of his father’s work.
we fail to grow, we – a tired humanity.
we exhaust ourselves trying not to be dumped
by the wave we are riding
as the next big one rolls in behind to supplant it.
with each generation
we tear down that which our elders have built
foundations and all
and we fool ourselves into thinking we are the great achievers
as we watch, with misplaced pride,
our own building grow taller.
what fools we are!
our children will tear it down when we are done,
to callously make room for their own toy tower.
gone are the days when knowledge persisted
from generation to generation.
persisted – expanding on that which existed
and grew – building on that which we knew
representing so much more than could be achieved
in one, short lifetime.
for as long as this world continues to believe
they are faster
and stronger
and more intelligent than their predecessors,
reinventing the wheel thrice as often as the passing of Halley:
so shall human minds stagnate in chains.
the legacy of the 20th century.

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give thanks to the Lord for He is good… (JGL 3)

… His love endures forever! I experienced God’s love this past week:

  • in the Father’s Providential gift of a new job
  • in time with my beautiful niece an nephews over the Easter Octave
  • in some beautiful, prayerful Masses throughout the Easter Octave
  • in the reception of Communion AFTER Mass one day last week when I had been unable to partake during the Mass due to having missed observing the 1 hour fast by about 10 minutes – Blessed be God in the gift of the generous priest who stayed back to ensure I could still receive our Lord!
  • in some wonderful quality time on Skype with a dear friend who lives on the other side of the world 🙂
  • in the terrifyingly beautiful sky yesterday afternoon during the strangest storm I’ve ever seen. Made for extremely dangerous driving conditions, during which the Lord kept me safe
  • in some financial relief from an anonymous benefactor as I settle back into lay life; she requested that her gift of money in an envelope be delivered to me with the message “its from Our Lady” – what a beautiful person this benefactor must be, and what a relationship with the Lord and His Mother she must have!
  • in a timely and inspiring homily
  • in a good amount of quiet to counter-balance the time spent with people over Easter

– – – – – – –

NB: JGL = Journal of God’s Love
What IS the Journal of God’s Love?

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Thomas of Surry Hills – the blind taxi driver who discovered love

lovepoursitselfoutThere was a doubting Thomas living in Surry Hills, Sydney. He was a sworn enemy of the Christians in his community and determined to sabotage whatever he could of their activities that in anyway moved beyond the confines of the building in which they worshipped. Any initiative of theirs that involved public spaces or common property? He made it his mission to campaign against it.

This particular gentleman – and we’ll call him Thomas in honour of today’s Gospel, was in the process of bringing a lawsuit against the local Baptist church in his area when he discovered that due to serious illness, he was going to rapidly lose the use of his eyes. He was a taxi-driver by trade and this meant the loss of his livelihood.

One of his neighbours, a member of the very Baptist church on the other end of Thomas’ legal action, learned of his condition and began a huge fundraising campaign to raise the money for surgery that could salvage his sight. He was a little taken aback, of course, but refused the money and opted  against the surgery. Love never takes offense, and neither did the Baptist community. They simply asked if there was anything they COULD do for him.

He responded that since he had lost his livelihood, he would appreciate a little help with his household expenses. Expecting occasional cheques of $10 or $20 here or there, you can imagine how stunned he was at regular cheques of $400 or more – substantial living assistance. This constituted a very real sacrifice on behalf of the community providing the money… this all took place during the worst of the global financial crisis; yet nothing was asked or expected in return. Thomas had never encountered such unconditional, sacrificing love and it began to change him. He began to learn what real love was. His atheistic objections to Christianity slowly weakened and disappeared.

In 2012 he became a Christian and joined the community that treated him like a brother, before he had even realized that he was!

What a beautiful example of love our non-Catholic brothers and sisters have set for us here in authentic love that pours itself out for another. When Our Lord showed His wounds to Thomas, He was showing the badges of authentic love that pours itself out. It was this love that enabled Thomas then to see.

Fr. J shared this little anecdote as one component of a multi-pronged homily today for Divine Mercy Sunday, Low Sunday in the Easter Octave. Fr. J, if you ever see this – thank you! You were ON FIRE today 🙂

And thank you for the reminder regarding the formula for the Act of Contrition during the sacrament of Confession. It was SO GOOD to see so many lining up for confession today!! God is so good, He is working wonders in the hearts of ordinary people all over our diocese – what a privilege to see that work in action today! We all need His Mercy – the love that pours itself out.

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Benedict XVI: For the record

This post, on a blog I stumbled across this morning for the first time, is a wonderful tribute to the Pope Emeritus. None of this detracts from Pope Francis, whom I believe may just prove to be as saintly a Pope as his more recent predecessors. But the media ought to be ashamed of themselves for failing to report the real story. The real story here is the CONTINUITY of humility, the CONTINUITY of holiness in the Papacy. Slightly different styles, slightly different emphases… but CONTINUITY where it counts. Fidelity to Truth. Fidelity to Love. Fidelity to God.

I believe that all of the media circus about Pope Francis is an attempt by the media to gain some kind of leverage in shaping the direction of the messages that come out from Rome. I kind of almost get the feel that, due to Pope Francis’ country of origin being in Latin America, they are trying put an insidiously subtle liberation theology spin on everything he does…

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Does the devil have a girlfriend? (…and other bizarre things that 9-year-olds say)

I used to teach Catechism to a combined 3rd and 4th grade class at our local public school.

I didn’t have a whole lot of confidence. I was confident in my grasp of the Faith, holding postgraduate qualifications in theology – but how do you boil that down and give it to a 9-year-old in a way that he/she will understand and in a way that moves him/her to respond? I am NOT very good at teaching children. I love children – but I’m NOT very good at teaching them.

And lets face it – the degrees are meaningless at the end of the day. Can we share our Faith with others? THAT’S what counts. Can I help any given man, woman or child to encounter Jesus and begin a relationship with Him?

God willing I’ll gradually grow better at this.

Anyway, in this class there were two boys that were ringleaders for trouble. We’ll call one of them Tom, and the other one Harry.

Tom swears that his grandfather was best friends with Bl. Pier-Giorgio Frassati, which told me that he had already had some exposure to someone very devout, such that he understood that knowing a saint in real life is exciting!

Anyway, the class started one day with them all calling me Mrs Myname. I corrected them and explained that I was Miss because I wasn’t married. Harry piped in with the astonishing remark “but you’re so pretty!!”

Well, if that didn’t just melt my heart! Here’s the toughest kid in the class, the one who encourages all sorts of shenanigans that disrupt the class – but he starts the lesson with a compliment!

By now? I was on my guard already. I was NOT going to be distracted from the work we had to do. A compliment is NOT collateral against future mischief.

So I can’t actually remember what the class was SUPPOSED to be on, because it only took a few minutes more and I WAS distracted. The class turned into a general Q & A about all sorts of things to do with the Faith, things that they were generally too afraid to ask an adult because the questions were never taken seriously.

They asked me about Heaven and Hell, about Grace, about Angels, Saints, the devil… stuff that technically didn’t get covered as part of the course (but perhaps SHOULD be covered). One kid was asking me all sorts of strange questions about the nature of God and His attributes:

“Can God expand His size?”

THEN Tom did what I knew he couldn’t resist doing… he asked a silly question for cheap laughs from his classmate.

“Miss Myname, does the devil have a girlfriend?”

Aha. You’re not getting the better of me here, Tom! Nope. Sure you got your laughs… (even *I* had to stifle a giggle!) BUT… you didn’t bargain on getting a serious answer to your question, did ya?

Well… I told Tom to think about when they’re all out in the playground, how they don’t like hanging out with the kids who only talk about themselves, who are “full of themselves” as it were. I said that the devil was just like that – he was totally full of himself and he was such boring, tiresome company that no girl would want to be his girlfriend! We used this as a Segway to talk about pride and humility and how to be humble like Jesus.  It was a bizarre little turn to take in the conversation, but it actually opened us up to some really fascinating and worthwhile topics.

This is the favourite memory I have from my time as a Catechist – I remember this lesson and how much I enjoyed answering their questions and seeing them get all fired up and excited about their faith. The more they asked, the deeper their questions got – it was an absolute privilege to witness the growth that happened in that one lesson.

I’m a hopeless teacher. But sometimes the Lord works even through that.

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Did not our hearts burn as He talked to us on the road? An Eastertide Scripture reflection

This beautiful Emmaus Painting can be purchased as a print from the original artist, who has other work for sale also:

I LOVE the Emmaus pericope.

Our human experience is so often characterized by our confusion at what is happening to us and around us. We get preoccupied with trying to make sense of it all and without our recognizing it, Jesus draws near.

How often we are oblivious to His presence!

Nevertheless, Jesus walks with us. He is present to us in our pain and confusion. Perhaps He is silent sometimes – but He is there.

Verse 16 tells us that the eyes of Cleopas and his companion (Luke himself?) were kept from recognizing Christ. I wonder if God doesn’t do this sometimes to help us see our need for Him, to help us desire Him more? Just like the lover in the Song of Songs, whose relationship with His beloved is characterized by alternating periods of presence and absence… yet even when He is absent, He leaves behind his fragrance, the rememberance of Him… is He ever TRULY absent?

The question He asks next seems indicative of an invitation to prayer. Jesus knows the answer to the question He asks – He is the Risen Lord, after all! He asks the question to prompt a conversation. Jesus wants us to bring our troubles to Him, even though He already knows about them. He helps us to reflect thoughtfully… and then He asks us to listen to Him.

The thoughtful reflection is important, but the crucial step is the listening, for it is then that our hearts burn. We are made for union with God. God is our ultimate end, our absolute good. It makes sense that as we listen to Him, something inside us starts to sing. “Only the lover sings” as Josef Pieper would say! Yes – something inside us starts to sing, and our deepest desires are revealed to us. The Lord knows our desires – but do we? Really?

The journey on earth is long and arduous at times, and it would perhaps be cruel if the Lord were to heighten our desires but never to satiate them. Whilst our desire for fullness of union with God, and the ability to see Him as He is, can never be realized until the next life, we can receive a foretaste of this union at the Mass, our portal as it were into the heavenly banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

This very account is the Scriptural basis for the structure of the Mass. The Mass consists of a celebration of the Word where we allow the Lord to speak to us through Scripture, and the priest in his homily seeks to help us understand the Gospel message by explaining the Scriptures in the broader context of Salvation History such that we can see how it points to Christ. Then we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist, a representation (in the Hebrew understanding) of the once and for all Paschal Sacrifice. Time and space diminish in their relevance – all of the angels and saints are truly present at each Mass, where heaven is united with earth, and it is NOT a repetition of the Sacrifice that transpires – rather it is the very same Sacrifice – we become mysteriously present at Calvary.

It is here, in this place, during the breaking of the bread, that we are able to recognize the Lord and understand what He has spoken to us.

“O Sacred Banquet – in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is recalled and the pledge of future glory is given to us!” – St. Thomas Aquinas

Do you desire intimacy with Christ?
Come to Mass and meet Him there!