Life after Epiphany


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My sunburnt country: Bushfires near Bilpin, NSW

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The Australian Flag flying proudly against a backdrop that threatens a terrifying summer.

My home is one of the many that lies on the projected fire path of the State Mine bushfire that is currently blazing a devastating trail through the Blue Mountains. We are watching the Rural Fire Service updates and we’ve cleared the leaves out of our gutters and we’ve kept the ground around our house moist. At present we don’t need to evacuate, but we may have to with very little notice… all we can do is watch, and wait, and try to fit as much normal life into the gaps in between the half-hourly bushfire updates on our local radio station.

The updates for the fires and instructions to residents can be found at: http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_content.cfm?cat_id=684

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The colour of the flames reflecting from just over the horizon.

If you chance across this post and would like to help those many people who have lost their homes and everything they own, you can do so over the phone by calling the Red Cross donation phone line: 1800 811 700

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Huh? The sky is BLUE, you say? Not here in the Mountains. Apricot is the new blue.

Our gratitude goes out to the many volunteer and career fire fighters who are trying to contain these threats to our homes. Also to the many wonderful volunteers helping victims and running evacuation centres.

The Holy Father Pope Francis, ever mindful of those who suffer, has sent word through his Secretary of State to encourage Australians at this time:

MESSAGE FROM THE HOLY FATHER ON THE AUSTRALIAN BUSHFIRES

His Holiness Pope Francis has asked me to express his concern for the people of New South Wales and all who are affected the devastation wrought by the extensive fires in the region.

He prays especially for those who have died and for those who have lost their homes and workplaces, as well as for the numerous personnel working to combat the fires and provide comfort and care for those who are suffering.

Invoking the spiritual gifts of solidarity and perseverance upon the communities touched by these trying events, the Holy Father sends his blessing.

+Archbishop Pietro Parolin,
Secretary of State

From the Vatican, 19 October, 2013

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The billowing smoke on its approach as it settles over the Mountains like a pall.

The photographs included here were taken last Thursday from the vantage point of my front yard. This was just the beginning. The angry sun, the apricot glow and the smokey haze have all intensified as the situation has worsened. Please pray for all those who are affected by this disaster!

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel seas
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me.

~ Dorothea Mackellar

The Angry Sun: Fluorescent Pink!

The Angry Sun: Fluorescent Pink!

Burnt leaves and ash have been falling in the yard.

Burnt leaves and ash have been falling in the yard.

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Feminists fighting females, socialists being anti-social… the types of people who think abortion is OK

I was on retreat this weekend. I switched my phone off, I left my laptop at home – I voluntarily disengaged from all news and contact with the outside world for 2 short but precious days of silence, prayer, and growth.

I returned home from that relative calm to read a report of chaos and violence in the following article:
http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/opinion/the-left-reveals-an-ugly-face-in-antiabortion-rally/story-fni0ffxg-1226739222330

As I read the observations reported of what transpired in Melbourne during the annual March for Babies, I have to admit that as disgusted as I was, I wasn’t really all that surprised. This behaviour is GENTLE compared with the murderous practices for which these people are campaigning.

Fanatical feminists attacking women whose opinions differ from their own; socialists denying the right of ordinary people to rally against oppression… it is no wonder that the journalist reporting felt the need to conclude that the left in Australia is the “natural home of the totalitarian and the bully.” That is precisely what we are seeing here.

In this demonstration I saw socialists and feminists betray almost every principle they profess to hold.     ~ Andrew Bolt

Let it be understood that I am not promoting the right side of politics in Australia either. Both extremes are far from perfect and both hold unconscionable views on a range of issues of ethical import. On the issue of abortion, however, the ideological opposition to truth, goodness and beauty does appear to have its primary thrust from the left.

As we pray and work and try to make Australia better, there is something important that I think we need to keep in mind. Our well-intentioned efforts to make the world a better place can result in consequentialist behaviour, in the loss of our own ability to love God and others, if we go about things the wrong way. Father Paul Scalia teaches on this far better than I could, and so I direct you to his article and sincerely recommend that you read it with an open heart, lest we who wish to see peace fall casualty to our own battle against evil: http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-church-militant-or-the-church-belligerent


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Prayer to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (taken from the book “Blessed be God”)

O servant of God, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who in thy dying moments did say: “I will spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth,” hasten to let fall upon me a Shower of Roses that I too may be inflamed with that fire of love which burned so brilliantly in thy breast and which brought thee so gloriously to the arms of Jesus, my Lord and my God. Amen

Happy Feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux!
If you prayed the novena with me, I thank you!

The book Blessed be God: A Complete Catholic Prayer Book with Epistles and Gospels for Every Sunday and Holiday of the Year  by  Fr Charles J. Callan OP and Fr. John A. McHugh OP (reprinted in 2010 by Preserving Christian Publications) is a real little treasure. It was published in 1960 so it is modelled on the old Roman calendar rather than the current calendar, but it is absolutely teeming with beautiful prayers and devotions. Vinyl bound with gold edging on the pages and a page-marker ribbon, just beautiful!It includes aspects of catechesis on the virtues and whatnot, too (c’mon, the authors were Dominican!) and I can’t recommend it enough. I received mine as a gift from a friend just last week. It is already well-used and well-loved!


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Novena to St. Therese of Lisieux – starts Sunday 22nd September

EWTN as always have proven just to be an awesome Catholic resource, a great contributor to the rebuilding of Catholic Culture.

I’ve mentioned before that St. Therese of Lisieux has a very special significance to me. In anticipation of her upcoming feast day on the Roman Calendar, I’ll be praying the novena that EWTN have published on their website:

http://www.ewtn.com/therese/novena.htm#pray

Please do consider joining me!


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tears

2468946This past week in Australia has seen public outcry at the fact that the newly announced cabinet includes only one woman. Whilst I will plainly state my opinion that this is a cosmetic and transparently partisan complaint of little substance, given that our leadership should entirely be selected on capability and merit rather than meaningless gender quotas, I do not want to get stuck on this point. Rather, I would like to acknowledge that the vocation of woman is different to the vocation of man, and I would like to explore one aspect of this vocation of woman.

Now before the radical feminists of the world get all up in arms let me be very clear: I am NOT saying that there is not a role for women to play in leadership or government in this day and age. Absolutely not. There is overlap between the roles of women and men, but there are also characteristics of serving the Lord and building up the Church that tend to be unique to femininity and masculinity. I would envisage women as leaders to fall within the overlap, but perhaps a woman’s style of leadership might then veer into the area of what is unique to femininity.

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Fr. Gerald Vann OP, in a book that is a personal favourite of mine, Heart of Compassion: The Vocation of Woman Today, appeals to the teaching of St. Paul in the Mystical Body of Christ and its composition comprising many different parts with different roles (1 Cor 12:21). He tells us that we will not achieve the freedom and dignity of woman by trying to make her a man – and then goes on to examine some of the ways in which the differences are complimentary. His underlying thesis appears to be that the woman’s contribution is ESSENTIAL to the success of the masculine vocation, and that the masculine vocation helps to give meaning or context to the feminine vocation.

After an examination on a generic level, Fr. Vann moves to a detailed exploration of the ‘Vocation of Tears’ that I found very striking… and moving. It is of course fitting that he establishes the Blessed Mother as the exemplar of a feminine vocation well-lived… she who kept all things and pondered them in her heart.

stMarysCathedralMAR2013 021What a precious gift, that the woman is, by nature, receptive and contemplative! Pondering deeply will almost always entail some kind of personal response, and often this is one of compassion. Maternity, whether biological or spiritual, requires compassion, and the Mother of Sorrow, depicted in the pieta holding her precious Son, teaches us trust during despair and courage in the face of suffering.

“We cannot think adequately of woman’s vocation within the Mystical Body of Christ without thinking of the mystery of vicarious suffering and expiation”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p70, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann further illustrates with a look at St. Monica, quiet and patient over many years weeping and crying out to the Lord on behalf of her son, St. Augustine. He tells us that St. Monica would take part in the philosophical discussions that were involved in St. Augustine’s catechetical preparation for Baptism, but emphasised that the conversion came much earlier, a movement of the Spirit in St. Augustine’s life, an answer to prayer… the fruit of tears, not words.

“We are concerned with the tears that express a deep feeling of responsibility in the sight of God, that are themselves a prayer and a sacrifice to God, and that are part of the vocation of Christian motherhood because the love of the son who causes them is in itself an aspect of the love of God. It is tears such as these that can be the channel of saving grace; it is the children of tears such as these who cannot perish.”

~ Fr. Gerald Vann OP (p72, Heart of Compassion)

Fr. Vann exhorts women to learn to pray the De Profundis, i.e. Psalm 129 (130), on behalf of humankind, and in so doing, to unite our very prayer life with the one efficacious sacrifice made by Jesus on the Cross. If we look around us, we see so many reasons to despair, so many reasons to weep. Our tears, though, are not tears of despair. Our tears are fundamentally an expression of hope, hope in the love and mercy of the Father who keeps His promise to His children.


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Excluded Middles: Quitting Facebook

I really think there is a great point to be made here about the way we experience things. The Facebook phenomenon is that so many people have forgotten what it is to live an experience and drink it in, enjoying it for what it is, living in the present moment. Now, experiences are lived with the future in mind – experiences seem to be lived for bragging rights. I think John Mayer made a similar point pre-Facebook, in his song “3 x 5” from his 2001 Room for Squares album…

Good Things Run Wild

Originally published as “The Sosyal Network” in the Manila Bulletin, October 26, 2011

I recently shut down my Facebook account. This is partly for pragmatic reasons: doing so has saved me a lot more time for work and leisure reading. It is partly for security reasons: like most people, I live with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and am in constant fear of creepy strangers looking at my bikini photos.

I do not regret it. Getting rid of my Facebook account has liberated me from the bondage of constantly keeping up with my peers. I no longer know where everyone else is going and with whom and what they are doing there, and I no longer feel bad or uncool about not being there too. It has also saved me the trouble of trying to find good photos of myself to post, and evaluating my self-worth on the number of…

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blowtorch

I love when word-play accidentally hits upon a truth and makes it fun.

Last night, I attended a priestly ordination in the Diocese of Parramatta. With two of my relatives (my brother, and my cousin) currently seminarians of the Diocese, it was for me an exciting glimpse into the future, at the same time as being a joyous occasion in its own right.

Please pray for the newly ordained Fr. John Paul Escarlan!

Anyway, this is all just setting the scene. My family and I were walking back to the car after the evening and somehow there was a context in our conversation for the word “asceticism” to come up.

My father made a classic, tragic “Dad Joke” and asked: “isn’t that what you mix with oxygen to make a blowtorch work?”

Dad was just trying to be funny, but actually, he was stumbling onto a deep spiritual truth about which mystics have been writing for centuries.

Enter John Cassian. He tells us that asceticism bears fruit in contemplative prayer. When we investigate contemplative prayer, even at a surface level, we come across John of the Cross and his famous poem The Living Flame of Love. We encounter Therese of Lisieux’s triumphant discovery of her love-vocation as she prays

O Luminous Beacon of Love! I know how to reach you, I have found the secret of possessing your flame…Yes, in order that Love be fully satisfied, it is necessary that it lower itself, and that it lower itself to nothingness and transform this nothingness into fire.

~ Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul

Far from being monopolized by the Carmelites, we see it in St. Catherine of Siena’s injunction to be what we should be so that we set the world on fire. We see it in Bernard of Clairvaux’s fourfold breakdown of love.

We read a very striking account of Blaise Pascal’s “night of fire” where he was gifted with an experience of contemplative prayer of which he wrote and sewed in to the lining of his coat so that he could carry that experience with him always.

Just as acetylene and oxygen fuel the fire produced by a blowtorch, so asceticism nourished by the oxygen of the Sacraments and the Word of God produce the Living Flame of God’s Love in our lives.

Nice work, Dad 🙂


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the end of an era.

There are some in Australia right now who mourn the end of an era of government.

I am NOT among them, and look forward with (measured) hope to better times under the new Coalition government, even if my own electorate is stuck with a member of the opposition holding our seat. I intend to be an active constituent and make her work for the right to be there, put it that way. As far as I can tell, she is not on EMILY’s List, and that is encouraging, at least.

But really… lets put things in perspective.

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It truly IS the end of an era… because THE BEATLES GRAFFITI WALL has been knocked down!! Since 2002 I’ve enjoyed it each morning that I’ve passed it on the roads. And now its gone! Add it to the list of Great Beatles Sites that No Longer Exist.

Some walls simply have to come down. The Berlin Wall – it had to go. But really? The harmless Beatles wall that lent such delight to the morning commute?

This Sydney driver mourns.


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Is freedom of religion in Australia a thing of the past?

I’m currently looking for work.

The part-time role that I have been covering since I returned from the convent is about to come to a close; it was only ever a temporary arrangement and I’m nearing the end of it, and trying to look for an alternative to move into when this one has finished.

I received an email today from a recruiter for a company with whom I have actively sought to obtain employment. Here is an extract from the letter:

I wanted to reach out to you to introduce myself and ask a few questions to learn a bit more about you and see if we can match what you’re looking for.
1. Availability
Were you seeking Part-Time or Full-Time position with us, and what days would you be able to work? Please note our Part-Time requirements are at least four full days of availability, including full availability over the weekend. Our Full-Time requirements are seven full days of availability.
Yes folks, that’s right.
This organisation requires availability ALL DAY on both Saturday and Sunday.What about people from Catholic, Jewish, Seventh Day Adventist and various other denominations of Christianity or other faiths that entail obligatory worship on either Saturday or Sunday?
The email closed with:
We are committed to diversity. <COMPANY NAME> are an Equal Opportunity Employer.
That sounds like they’re committed to diversity so long as you are prepared to waive your right to freedom of worship.
Is this even legal?
I’ve noticed that most organisations in the Retail industry are imposing similar availability requirements as a matter of policy. This sounds like institutionalised religious discrimination to me.

Having spent 24 hours considering all of this (and fuming over it!) I realise that the odds of getting any momentum behind an effort to do anything about this in any serious way is zero to none.And so this particular post remains a soapbox rant. Nothing more.

Seriously, though – am I the only one tired of a society where this sort of thing is OK?


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Addicted to numbing agents

IMG_0003The experience of dining alfresco on a fine day with a light meal and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc … perhaps with laptop opposite me on the table, or with a good book in hand. This was something I learned to enjoy whilst completing my Masters degree, back before I entered the convent. A research student isn’t anti-social by design, but does end up spending a great deal of time alone, working away at reviewing the available literature on a given topic, or updating the latest chapter in the dissertation that is the object of his/her research. When I couldn’t tear myself away from what I was working on, but needed a change of scene, I’d find a nice restaurant or cafe and I’d nerd it up in style. 🙂

Since returning home from the convent and obtaining some modest employment, I’ve found that I’ve returned to the practice of dining alone at a nearby cafe, with either a laptop or a book to keep me company. In the early stages of my PhD, this is unsurprising, I suppose. It was a winning study formula during my last degree – why not stick with what worked?

The thing is, I think I’m addicted. No – not to the sauv blancs or the lattes. Not to anything you would have THOUGHT would be called an addictive substance. I think I’m addicted to the ambience, to the joy of discovering a new, quirky cafe or a new favourite menu item to delight the taste buds. I’m addicted to the experience.

IMG_0001As part of my personal campaign to do better, I’m looking honestly at some of the things that get in the way of my peace with myself and my relationship with God. Dining out at cafes is definitely a good to be enjoyed… but I think its important to look at HOW we enjoy things, and why.

Often, for me, the experience of dining out is an escape… a sort of numbing agent. If I am finding my post-convent lack of direction and peace troubling, and if I have a little bit of disposable income available on a given week, then I’ll go and cheer myself up with an afternoon out. Oh – I’ll take my research with me. Nothing worse than spending an afternoon unproductively and feeling guilty about it later. But in a sense I remove myself from my regular environment and place myself somewhere that is pleasant in numerous sensory ways. I distract myself from what I am feeling so that I don’t have to face it, process it, pray about it, work on it.

Lately, I’m realising, though, that not even my subconscious is fooled! I picture in my mind’s eye “the perfect afternoon,” note down all the things that need to happen to make it so, and then execute the plan… and come up dry. The lack of peace doesn’t disappear, and even though I’ve eaten lovely food and had a comfortable afternoon and enjoyed some time to myself, I come out the other end unsatisfied.

I’m looking for peace and happiness in all the wrong places, all over again.

Distracting myself from my need for God is unhelpful. I need to frankly admit my need of Him, to Him. Numbing my frustration, trying to escape – they are different ways of describing the classic self-lie. And the dis-ease that I feel is the evidence that even as I try to lie to myself, I really do know the truth. Maybe that constant yearning for Him that I really do feel is my prayer when I’m not consciously/deliberately praying? My lack of satisfaction with the things and experiences of the world, my lack of comfort with the holding pattern that post-convent life seems to look like just at the moment – all of these things just ARE. They’re my experience of reality right now. They’re the things that I need to be honest about WITH MYSELF so that I can, in turn, be honest about them with God, and take them before Him.

IMG_0002The next time I go out to enjoy a bite and a nice glass of something, I think I really will enjoy it more – because I’ll know that, even though life isn’t perfect, and that the afternoon won’t be perfect, life is good. It really is good. And God is with me in my need. And I’m not running from the things in my life that aren’t just right. I’m sitting there at the table, with my glass of wine, my frustrations, my insecurities and a good book. There at that table, I’m not hiding anymore, because I’m sitting at a table for two, and He is with me.