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 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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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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charity begins at home… Pope encouraging grassroots change

We saw major steps in ecumenism and cultural interchange with Pope Benedict XVI. This movement on the “big picture” was truly beautiful and enriching for the Church.

It certainly seems as though we are now receiving enrichment of a different kind; Pope Francis in his preaching and in his public messages to date seems to be honing in on the individual and his/her relationship with God.

Pope Francis’ recent Twitter feed is my case in point:

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And most recently: “Never speak poorly of others.”

These tweets are all short extracts taken from recent homilies and addresses. Each speaks to an aspect of one’s personal relationship with Christ and the nature of how that relationship expresses itself in relationship with others. It is the encounter with Christ that is important! Pope Francis is inviting each one of us to take a good look at ourselves, to stand as we are before the Lord and to receive His love and mercy and seek to live out the love we have received. His messages are simple but important…  and potentially very powerful in their effect, if we take them to heart.

Its almost like Pope Francis is acting as a personal spiritual director to every single individual in the Church throughout the world! How amazing that such a thing is even possible! Changing hearts. This can only be done by the Holy Spirit. It seems that He is working through our Holy Father in this way… we need to open ourselves up to these graces!

Both the “big picture” and the “grassroots growth” need attention. Each of us needs a shepherd to help lead us to Christ as individuals, and we also as the People of God, as a Church, need a shepherd. Both men are different, and the Holy Spirit has given each individual holding the Office of Pope a different task. Isn’t encouraging to see that all of us are being well tended?


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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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Blessed John XXIII’s Decalogue

Having just moved house this weekend, I find myself in an area with about 3 different Catholic parishes almost equidistant from my new home. Two of the parishes are familiar to me so I thought I’d try the new one this past Sunday. Slipped into the parish bulletin was a document entitled “Decalogue for Daily Living.” It read:

Pope John XXIII wrote a Decalogue for Daily Living, his own commandments for daily life. They reflect his depth, his simplicity and his humility.

  1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
  2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance; I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticise anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Only for today, I will do one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.
  8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself; I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils, hastiness and indecision.
  9. Only for today, despite appearances, I will firmly believe that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in the world.
  10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Some of these sound like they might take a bit of practice to really be able to live them well! But that’s what a virtue is… an acquired habit, a firm disposition to do the good! These practices that Blessed John XXIII established for himself seem to me the kind of goals that, apart from the Lord, are frankly unachievable… but with the Lord? Such practices would surely result in a joyful, grateful person that truly reflects the love of Christ, and finds both his strength and his rest in Him. Way to be a signpost to the Kingdom, JXXIII!!


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the premise

Some two thousand years ago, three men travelled a vast distance as they followed a sign in the heavens. Their journey led them to a Child who was born to be King. Their encounter with this Child has been recorded as one of great reverence and honour. The aftermath was described as follows:

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they
departed to their own country by another way.

– Mat 2:12        

The literal meaning of this text is clear and odds are that this is exactly what St. Matthew intended to convey when he wrote his Gospel… yet I can’t help but wonder if the Holy Spirit, as the Divine Inspiration behind the work of the human author, doesn’t sometimes allow us a little creative license in our meditation? As I sit with this text, taking “another way” to be referring to “another way of being” as opposed to a different geographical route, I start to be drawn into prayerful ponderance of what it truly is to have encountered the person of Jesus Christ and be so transformed by the encounter that nothing I do can be done in the same way as it was before…