One of the traditions particular to Saint Mary’s, South Brisbane as a parish church is that anyone is invited to make their own petition as part of the Prayers of the Faithful. This is a tradition that has – happily – continued under the new administration. For a while, I’d been contemplating praying something like this:

For all those in this parish that practice and teach the Catholic faith that has been handed down to us from the Apostles, may we be reunited as one flock under our true shepherd, Jesus Christ. We pray to the Lord.

I may still do so. But I was really pleased and touched that Father Ken Howell, the administrator of Saint Mary’s, was moved to compose his own ex tempore prayer at the vigil Mass tonight for Trinity Sunday:

We pray for Father Peter Kennedy and all those who gather with him. May they be brought to the truth. We pray to the Lord.

I think there was a little more to it than this, but that’s the bit I recall.

In light of recent events, I think it was a very appropriate and generous gesture. No one in the local church, I think, has ever wanted to be separated from those who regard themselves as truly Catholic, and the separation that has occurred is a source of pain. We all hope it will not be an enduring one.

From AeschylusOresteia (in the Michael Evans translation):

The god who keeps us on the road to wisdom, he made it law that men learn from experience. But still, in sleep the pain of memory drips down inside the heart; the calm of reason comes to even those who do not want it. I think the favours of the gods who sit on sacred thrones are gifts that hurt.

I’m working my way up to writing on St Ignatius of Loyola‘s Spiritual Exercises and the theme of discernment of spirits. Though in a way there’s something of a somewhat dry structuralism in his Sade/Fourier/Loyola, Roland Barthes‘ analysis of what work the Spiritual Exercises actually does as a text has a lot of value. To simplify things a little, Barthes observes that the text has various addressees, including the exercitant and the Divinity in addition to the director.

I’d like to say more on the structure of the work at a later point. Suffice to observe now that there are a number of appendices or supplements to the Exercises (more explicitly addressed to the director than the text proper) among which is the “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”.

I’m still studying this text in its conjunction with the Exercises, but the Fifth Rule in the initial sequence struck me as very good advice indeed, for all sorts of conjunctures. So I’m resolved to try to heed it:

In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.

One word we – collectively – now seem to have an impoverished understanding of is ‘tradition’. We live in a post-traditional society, sociologically speaking, and although there’s much literature on that, not much of it reflects on the fact that the idea, concept and notion have themselves largely been destoyed – ‘tradition’ fails to signify, as it were. Tradition cannot just be textual, but must be lived, a point Yves Congar grasped in his important work The Meaning of Tradition:

…”tradition” connotes something more than mere conservatism; something deeper is involved, namely, the continual presence of a spirit and of a moral attitude, the continuity of an ethos. We might even say that just as rites are the expression of a profound religious reality, so these traditions, which enshrine and safeguard a certain spirit, should comprise external forms and customs in such perfect harmony with this spirit that they mold it, surround it, embody and clothe it, so to speak, without stifling its natural spontaneity or checking its innate strength and freedom.

Tradition, then, is not just a matter of the text and its transmission or dissemination, even, after Jacques Derrida, its citation and iteration throughout the ages. The German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer – exponent of hermeneutics in a somewhat phenomenological mode – insisted, rightly, that tradition is a relation. We are thrown into the world, and our horizons of understanding are inevitably situated within our culture. But it would be completely wrong to see this as some sort of linguistic relativism or historical determinism. Rather, we constantly negotiate through and beyond texts – mediated by our lived experience – with the past that has been handed down to us and by looking forward to those who will come after. We live, and speak to ghosts, and spirits live in us. It is a matter of understanding, and harnessing, the good that moves in our hearts.

If the hermeneutics of living tradition is in part a process, then, it is also a creative one. It offers us options, within a particular field, for re-appropriation, reshaping and creativity. But it also requires of us a responsibility to those who have gone before, a relation to the truth, and an appreciation of the endless horizons of the things we create and inhabit. Tradition, then, is an ethical thing. And there is a freedom, a true freedom because one which is lived in response to the other, within a tradition. Read the rest of this entry »

A funny thing happened on the way to…

I was watching the Australian Story episode tonight on Peter Kennedy, Terry Fitzpatrick and the St Mary’s In Exile crew. I don’t want to comment much on it – except to note that for a pair who are supposedly opposed to patriarchy, the trope of ‘fatherhood’ and ‘fathers’ was at the heart of its rhetoric. And that in a way, it was a weird sort of coming out story. [Not implying that Peter and Terry are anything but heterosexual – if anything, perhaps they’re too much. Paul Collins, whose commentary was by his book, did hit on something when he referred to ‘alpha males’…]

It must also be said that the show approached the genre of hagiography, and was full of half-truths at best. Unfortunately, Australian Story generally appears to be an outlet for PR spin, under the guise of human interest, and almost every episode, really, is quite an indictment of what the ABC should be about… But, for my thoughts on the continuing life of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, South Brisbane, see here. Anyway, the show, through a sort of association of themes coalescing into a memory and a spirit, did conjure up a remarkable spirit for me tonight.

A memory – or rather, a set of memories – I hadn’t recalled for years was summoned up. Perhaps because I was thinking – pace Peter’s discourse – about what being a ‘radical Catholic priest’ actually means. [To be fair to Peter, I think that interpolation was made editorially by the programme, and not a label he applied to himself, though I wouldn’t swear to it.]

One of the things I have a problem with in the Exilist discourse is the implication that Peter and Terry are somehow the only Catholic priests – living or dead – in the Brisbane Archdiocese who are living social justice. Whatever one thinks about their good works, that is simply a falsehood. And somewhat of a pernicious one, if I may say.

In my previous post, I referred to the Discernment of Spirits.

I thought of Father Ferdy Parer OFM tonight, a most remarkable priest. I first met him when I was a teenager, attending mass at the Little Flower Church at Kedron, which was was (and is) under the care of the Franciscan Fathers (perhaps better known through its attachment to Padua College).

Fr Ferdy had a remarkable life, which is documented in a book by Mary Mennis. I used to own a copy. It appears to have disappeared. It may come back one day, or if not, I’m sure it’s doing what books do, when like cats, they just wander off to do their thing in the world. I must buy a new copy!

Ferdy helped me when I was very troubled, around 1981, when I was 13. He resurfaced in my life about ten years later. I was at Labour Day, after the annual march. Back then, the Labour Day speeches, market day and general merriment used to take place in Albert Park. Albert Park itself has many stories to tell. But, in any case, I was wandering around, looking for some friends, or someone to hang out with and have a beer with, I guess. It was another confusing time in my life. Read the rest of this entry »

My friend and flatmate Michael Carden has written another blog post on the St Mary’s in Exile community, reflecting on a recent homily by Terry Fitzpatrick at the TLC building.

Michael discusses Terry’s equation of himself with those on the margins, and questions how that equation can be effectively articulated without a reflection on Terry’s own privilege.

Michael zeroes in on the rather odd ‘Buddhist’ references in the homily. I think it’s absolutely right to query how Terry has gone about composing the margins of his own discourse. I have no objection to, and rich praise for, those who find points of articulation with Buddhist traditions and their own cultural background exploring those – and many do so from a place of absolute respect. Sociologically, we live in a post-traditionalist society where one can’t simply say that because of ethnicity or heritage that ‘we’ are Christian.

While we – in this place and at this time – no doubt remain within a broader culture that’s been formed by Christianity – there are many for whom their own life and formation is not in any real sense Christian, and some for whom ‘other’ faiths and mysteries provide a point of articulation in their own spiritual practice. I, myself, am becoming increasingly interested in (or perhaps reinteresting myself in) some connections that can be made between Taoist motifs and a certain sense of time and the articulation of events to each other that could be named Jewish. It’s a work of thought, and a practice, that I think is bearing immense fruit for me.

But we do need to question our own place in regard to margins, and whether, why, where and how we inscribe them.

Read the rest of this entry »

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