Life after Epiphany


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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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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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on discerning whether one is called to religious life or to marriage

The word discern comes from the Latin word discernere, meaning literally “to separate”.

The trouble is that I think many sincere young people try to look at all their options all jumbled up together and they forget that making sense of their life direction is about separating it out and looking seriously at one thing at a time.

On an online forum that I frequent, I encountered the opinion that “one should not consider dating until one has discerned whether they are called to religious life or marriage”. I have to admit – that one made me scratch my head just a little bit! I believe that the motivation behind it was sincere caution, but I think that perhaps this is just a little over-zealous?

If the idea is to separate out the options and examine one option at a time, then one is faced with a decision: Which option do I begin exploring first?This, to me, is something that is often answered quite simply by the circumstances of life. If the person has an interest in someone in particular that he or she might have met, then it would seem that the possibility of marriage is the natural option to begin with.

If one is single and there is presently not a single member of the opposite sex that stands out as particularly attractive in sight, then perhaps that person would do well to consider religious life seriously as their first option. I think its fair to say that God gets through to us oftentimes through the circumstances of our lives and He expects us to use just a little common sense in figuring out where to begin!

It may be that whichever first option was selected is actually discounted in a very short time, or it may be an exploration that takes years. Sooner or later a person has to decide upon the most likely direction in their circumstances, and follow it wholeheartedly, trusting fully that God will close any doors through which He does not want us to walk if we are generously and sincerely seeking to follow Him.

The reality is, however, that if there is not, at a given point in time, an individual to whom a person may be attracted, then it is silly to attempt to explore the possibility of marriage. Marriage is not a generic abstraction – marriage is a union between two individuals – a man and a woman. If you are called to marriage then you are called to marriage with a specific person, and that person is called to marriage with you.

I think a great many young people put themselves under pressure to figure it all out now… perhaps these young people would arrive at an awareness of God’s call sooner if they steadily and patiently examined one thing at a time and trusted God with all the rest?


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turn on the ignition!

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A lot of us are sitting in the driveway in beautiful cars, tanks full of gas, oil in the crankshaft, fluid in the radiator… and we’re sitting there saying “I wish I could go places!”

Turn on the ignition!

Listening to a talk on “Fanning the Flame of Faith” by Alex Jones, I was struck by this remark that he made. How impotent we make ourselves!!

We are so blessed in the Catholic Church to have all we need. We have the Truth, revealed to us in the twofold deposit of faith in both Scripture and Tradition. We have the Sacraments. We have the Saints to show us how the Lord can be followed in every circumstance. We have the Blessed Mother to intercede for us to her Son. We have the Blessed Trinity dwelling within us by virtue of our Baptism… but none of us can benefit from these things or help others to benefit from them if we don’t turn on the ignition!

What is the ignition?

Well.. next time you hear one of our Protestant brothers or sisters talking about a personal relationship with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, DO NOT ROLL YOUR EYES and assume that this is buzz-word rhetoric. Our brothers and sisters in other denominations of Christianity differ with us in some very crucial ways, but on this point they are 100% correct.

You and I – each one of us – needs a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The ENCOUNTER with Christ is the spark that is ignited when the starter engine turns. The starter engine is the movement of Actual Grace – the Holy Spirit at work. Turning on the ignition, then, is surely represented in the action of begging the Lord for receptivity to grace.

The Mother General of the Community to which I used to belong once said to me that the first task of the New Evangelization is RECEPTIVITY TO GRACE. As a religious Novice, cloistered away from what one would generally consider the “mission field” of the New Evangelization, this made a profound impact on me. We need to RECEIVE from the Lord so that we can give to others. We have nothing, NOTHING, without Him. He asks us to give generously, but He first gives that we may then give to others! The life of a Novice is prayer, domestic work and prayer, study and prayer, more prayer. That prayer is less a talkative prayer and more a listening prayer. That prayer is receptivity in action. As a Novice, I was uniquely placed in the privileged position of being able to contribute authentically to the apostolate of my Community by being receptive to grace.

I often think of St. Paul, and the years that passed between his conversion and the beginning of his missionary journeys. Paul needed to be formed and strengthened in the Lord. He needed to receive before He could give.

Now, the Lord has called me away from religious life, but not before teaching me why He called me to that life in the first place. He wanted to give me something precious. The cloistered environment on the other side of the world were precisely the lengths to which He went to enable me to receive the gift He wanted to give to me. Here, out in the world again, I need to concern myself with sharing this with others. Giving myself to others is limited in its usefulness, for I am nothing and He is all. No – I want to give CHRIST to others! Paul tells us “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

Crucial lesson from this: the receptivity cannot stop! My time in cloister is behind me now. But to live a life of effective, authentic service to His People out of love for Him, even as a lay person, requires fidelity to prayer in that inner cell that my patroness, St. Catherine of Siena, teaches us all about. Every day I need to turn on that ignition again, I need to beg the Lord for receptivity to grace and then I need to spend time in prayer with Him, receiving Him that I may share Him with others.

We can really go places. The Lord wants to take us there! So turn on the ignition and see what wonders He works in you!


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an historic day: my solidarity with his holiness, Benedict XVI, as the Church approaches interregnum

Arriving home from an evening out with friends to be told by my father that the Holy Father had resigned was a shock to say the very least… so much so that I haven’t been able to put my thoughts and emotions in order until now.

Two experiences can have a world of difference between them, and yet there can be but a single commonality between them that engenders a spirit of solidarity… I feel this way about the experience of my following God’s call not to make the vows of a religious when I consider it in the light of Benedict XVI’s decision to follow God’s call to step down from the Papacy.

A decision not to proceed with making vows, but rather to leave religious life, can be rash, or it can be prayerfully discerned after a great deal of deliberation on one’s knees. Thanks be to God, mine was the latter.  I feel convinced that in my case, my leaving was a lovingly compliant response to the direction of the Holy Spirit. In the announcement that the Holy Father made on 11 February, he indicated that much careful discernment had gone into his decision to renounce the chair and retire to a life of prayer. Certainly in the case of the Holy Father, one whom we have known to be a man of deep prayer, I cannot believe that his decision could have been anything other than a similarly loving act of obedience to the direction of the Spirit.

The Holy Father’s decision has been subject to a great deal of public scrutiny and criticism, on a massive scale. For me, the scale is very different, but within my own sphere of family, friends and acquaintances, I have likewise been subject to scrutiny and criticism. In both cases, the criticism is coming from people who don’t understand, who have no concept of the conversation with God that has transpired and led to the decision, and certainly no concept of the weight of responsibility that the decision involves, nor the emotional impact of such a decision and its aftermath.

I know what a difficult thing my own decision was. I feel blessed and supported by my Saviour and know that I could not have had the strength to follow through were it not for the grace that came with the prompting. Inspired by St. Augustine, I had long been praying “accomplish in me what You command!” Even with grace and the knowledge that I am infinitely loved by Him, this decision and the monumental changes it has involved have been the most difficult time of my life. Amidst it all has come both joy and peace… and yet at the same time it has involved much trial and suffering, and what feels like God’s absence, even though I know that is only a feeling, and that He is there with me all the time. This is a challenging time, and yet it is a time of hope and of growth. I feel quite certain that the Lord is drawing me closer to Himself… on the Cross.

Knowing what I now know through this experience, I am in AWE of the soon-to-be Emeritus Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Benedict XVI.

My decision was small potatoes by comparison. The enormity of what he has done, and the courage, obedience and love that it must have taken, along with the humility that has been exhibited in the manner of its execution… I just can’t get my head around it! We are witnessing history, and we are witnessing authentic greatness.

Many scare-mongerers have speculated in the news frenzy and on the blogosphere about potential conspiracy theories and power-plays that could be going on behind the scenes, motivating this unexpected move from the Holy Father. I guess this is to be expected, particularly from non-believers and from cynics. This act is outside the norm, even if both precedent and canonical provision exist for it. Without an understanding of, an experience of or a belief in the workings of grace, who wouldn’t think that there was more afoot than meets the eye?

Then there is the bookmaking circus – the bets on the outcome of the upcoming Conclave. Lucky for those involved that Canon Law is more lenient than it used to be!

Despite all of this, I really do believe sincerely that this is exactly what the Holy Father says it is. And I believe that, rather than interpreting these reasons that he has given us as a retreat from responsibility, what we are really witnessing is a call to deeper sacrifice, a yet weightier role. Benedict XVI is being invited up to the mountain, as the Peter of our time, to contemplate the transfigured Face of Christ, and in so doing, is interceding ceaselessly for the needs of a suffering Church as it seeks to more deeply understand the disfigured Face of Christ on the Cross. In a way perhaps chiastically, the Face of Christ does not remain disfigured, but again becomes radiant in the glorified, Resurrected Body.

If anyone feels the need to look for a deeper significance to the Holy Father’s act than that which he has explained to us himself, I would suggest that one need look no farther than the reality that the Holy Father is both a theologian and a teacher. I think it is fair to say that this is the deliberate act of an intelligent man, an act designed to have a teaching significance that will form a significant part of the Holy Father’s legacy to the faithful. His renunciation of the Chair, rather than standing in contradiction to the witness of John Paul the Great’s heroic teaching on the dignity of the elderly and the sick, rather complements it beautifully.

John Paul the Great taught us that a person’s dignity resides in the reality of who they are, not in any utilitarian value that can be placed on their capacity for output or productivity. He taught us that the sick and the elderly are people to be loved, and that loving is never a burden. These facts should be self-evident, yet our society has become blind, unable to apprehend this objective reality without guidance from one who can see. And boy, could John Paul the Great see!!

Now, Benedict XVI teaches us that humility, obedience, love and trust are necessary in the encounter with the person of Christ, and that our responsibility to live in a way that reflects these virtues extends into our senior years. Benedict XVI doesn’t get off the hook just because he’s living the last years of his life – no, massive life changes and suprising commands from God happen even when one is an octagenarian! It is still our duty, in justice to our Creator, to freely choose to obey in love. Benedict teaches us about the freedom there is in obedience. He teaches us that life is a struggle, right up until we breathe our last, but that continuing to struggle is possible, even when one is old and tired! He teaches us that courage is not simply a virtue of the young and the strong.

Most of all, the contrast between these two holy servants of God show us that holiness looks different on different people. No one person’s path to heaven is the same as that of any other.

Thanks be to God! We are living in a time of great saints!

In approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes, the Chair of St. Peter will be vacant. (To correspond with 8pm 28 Feb ROME time). Mary, Mediatrix of Graces and Mother of the Church – pray for us.


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John 21:15-19… a whole other layer of meaning embedded in the original Greek text

Almost everyone is familiar with the reality that there are several words in Greek for ‘love.’ Perhaps fewer are aware that in this famous passage, Jesus and Peter have their wires crossed – 2 out of 3 times, Jesus and Peter are using different words for ‘love.’

15 When they had finished breakfast,GreekMac Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you αγαπας me?” He said to him, “Yes Lord; you know that I φιλο you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you φιλεις me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you φιλεις me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I φιλο you.” 18 Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”

When I was younger I was taught at school and at Mass alike that the reason for the repeated question was in a certain way to ceremonially repair the relationship after Peter denied Christ three times. I’m sure that there is some truth to this; Augustine and Chrysostom both proffer this and their interpretation is not to be sniffed at! What I find so wonderful about Scripture is that there is such depth that can never truly be plumbed!! I find the teaching of the Fathers in this regard to be very beautiful, but I believe that the significance of this passage goes even deeper than this… there is so much to be drawn from it!

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Consider the first time that the question is asked. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him in the sense of αγαπη.The noun refers to a sort of self-sacrificing love for other that has later come to be associated with Christian love – this should give us a beginning. But it is only a beginning… you see, the sense of this word in verbal form equates to following through and proving or acting out one’s love. If the love concerned is of the self-sacrificing variety, then necessarily, proving that sort of love means to sacrifice oneself. Jesus didn’t just ask Peter if he loved Him, but rather if he loved Him in such a way that he would sacrifice himself to demonstrate that!!

Now let us examine Peter’s answer – he uses a completely different word!!

Peter uses another word for love – φιλο. Love in the φιλο sense refers to having a deep sense of feeling for someone as a friend. This is a wonderful thing – Peter feels a strong friendship for Christ. Yet this is not what Christ was asking! I find myself wondering if Christ in His human nature didn’t feel a twang of sorrow at this response.

At the same time, this was a truthful answer on Peter’s part. In that instant he had not been given whatever grace was required to give that genuine αγαπη love to which Christ was inviting him. And not only did he admit as much, but he also demonstrated by what he said that he knew Christ was already well aware of this fact! There is a frankness in Peter that I find refreshing, somehow.

Christ shows us the sort of friend and brother He is; He demonstrates how much He trusts Peter by giving to him the care of His lambs. Then, He Peter to rise to a higher love than which he was at that point capable by his own
strength… He asked Peter if he loved Him with an αγαπη love.

Peter’s response demonstrated that, even in the face of the trust that Christ had placed in him, he didn’t ‘get it’ and he again declared his friendship.

Christ’s third question of Peter is where He brings out the ‘big guns’. This third question is not a repeat of the previous two (unlike what English translations of the Bible lead us to believe.) Knowing, of course, that Peter  is not yet ready for αγαπη love, Jesus asks Peter simply if he loves Him in a φιλο sense. The Scripture passage above tells us that Peter was grieved that Christ had asked him this. Many might suppose that this is because Jesus has just drilled him and nagged him as if He were having confidence issues or as if He didn’t trust what He  heard the first time. That might be how we would respond if we were asked the same question three times in one sitting… we all know, though, that Christ had no reason for confidence issues, and we’ve just seen through Christ’s
entrusting of His flock to Peter that trust wasn’t an issue either.

I think the reason for Peter’s sorrow is the self-knowledge that came of Christ appearing to lower His expectations. Christ was obviously aware of Peter’s shortcomings, but Peter, who had been so ready to declare at the Last Supper that he would follow Jesus even to death (Mark 14:29) came to the realisation that although he loved Christ dearly as a friend, he was not yet able to love Him in that deep, self-sacrificing sense.

Peter, in response to this third question, declares the twofold truth that Jesus knows everything, and that He knows that Peter loves (φιλο) Him. I get a real sense of Peter longing to be able to give Christ the αγαπη love to which He was inviting him, but not being able to let go of whatever may have been holding him back.

The remarks with which Christ closes out this little encounter seem ominous, but really, they are a beautiful promise, a fulfilment of the promise of beatitude to all who seek righteousness (Matt 5:6)! Christ is telling Peter that he WILL be capable of αγαπη in the future and that he will bring glory to God – that he would be able to love the Lord in the way he longed to love Him.

FINALLY, now that Jesus has told Peter exactly what he’s in for… given him all the information he needs to know… He says “Follow me” – He renews the call and allows Peter to choose what He has just foretold.

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Random aside: I find myself wondering if this isn’t the scriptural basis for the standard manner of progression through religious formation. One makes temporary profession and lives the life for a time, and then makes a final profession some years later. First profession is perhaps a symbolic response to the ‘follow me’ Jesus spoke at the nets; the final profession is that response that encompasses a readiness to die to oneself to follow the Lord, and may be seen as the response to the passage above.


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prequel: crossing seas

i always knew
and never did

He wants me, me? me!
not for what i can do,
but who i can be, no, who i am.

soon, I leave Dorothy’s sun-scorched sands behind
white-washed home under star-spangled banner, perhaps, to find.

words describe the scenario, all falls short of the meaning.

– – – – –

                        (A dusty sketch from Friday, 26 November, 2010)