Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do we refuse to marry people? And George Herbert.

This quite interesting comment was made in our weekly parish newsletter:

Sometimes unpopular things need to be said. It's not easy and very often I have to mull over
things for a while wondering whether or not I should say them. This weekend I am away as
part of the Engaged Encounter Team – a weekend course for couples wishing to marry in the
Church. So often I get requests for weddings at Trinity from couples who never come near the
Church – it's happened a number of times in recent weeks. It is perplexing to me as to why
the Church has no place in their lives and yet when couples decide to get married they want
a “Church wedding”. The reasons vary – “I want it to be like the movies” to “It‟s what my
mom really wants” or “It‟s my Gran's dream for me”. Sometimes couples do decide to come
back to Church after being married in the Church but, in my experience, these are not the
majority. I guess the real nagging question for me is who is actually being disingenuous:
Couples? Me? Both? I find weddings to be the most difficult part of my ministry because so
often integrity seems to be lacking. I believe that couples do mean what they say to each
other but I am, sadly, often sceptical about why they want to get married in the Church.
There are couples (and I am always grateful for them) who do take the religious side seriously
and truly want to live their marriage in midst of the Church community. Sadly, I cannot say
this for all and  sometimes am really tempted to advise them to forget about a Church
wedding and go to the registry office because it would be much more honest of them and me.
A few months ago I wrote a column for The Southern Cross on weddings (filed on their blog
page under “Southern Blogs”). It‟s a tough call but at one point have we sacrificed our
integrity and honesty?                                  - Fr Russell Pollitt SJ    

And there was a stronger note on marriage:

For those intending Marriage 
People wanting to get married should marry in their Parish Church  – i.e. the place they
regularly attend. Archdiocesan regulation stipulates that you have to see a priest at least 6
months before your proposed date of marriage. Couples wanting to get married in the Catholic
Church have to do the necessary preparation – an Engaged Encounter Weekend. Couples that
wish to get married in the Church should be practicing their faith: i.e. attending mass regularly
and be involved in the Parish community. Unfortunately we, at Holy Trinity, do not conduct
weddings at venues.

It's quite difficult, this one because, theoretically, it can be a means of reclaiming people for the Church even if it seldom is in practise.  I would have thought that erring on the side of leniency is best.  When I was in Bloemfontein I always remember the Administrator of the Cathedral preaching on an awareness of people's needs and how important it is to take a funeral because decency is expected and that means a priest or minister being present.  (He had just conducted a funeral at the crematorium when no other denomination would.)  If just one couple a year come to Mass on a regular basis as a result of being married in the church it is worthwhile.

A discussion amongst Anglicans on Ship of Fools brought up the topic of George Herbert, one of my favourite Anglican characters.  (another is Hensley Henson....some other time!)  I happened to mention that I found two verses from "The Elixir" very useful as prayers when driving!  Here it is...verses 1 & 3 are the ones I mean.  It appeared in his book "THe Temple" published in 1633 just after he died.  he was rector of Bemerton in Wiltshire for only three years before dying of tuberculosis but was renowned for his caring ministry, visiting the sick and taking them the Sacrament and the image I always have of him is of tolling the church bell so that the villagers would know that he was saying Mattins or Evensong and praying for them.

¶   The Elixir.

    TEach me, my God and King,
        In all things thee to see,
And what I do in any thing,
        To do it as for thee:

        Not rudely, as a beast,
        To runne into an action;
But still to make thee prepossest,
        And give it his perfection.

        A man that looks on glasse,
        On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it passe,
        And then the heav’n espie.

        All may of thee partake:
        Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture (for thy sake)
        Will not grow bright and clean.

        A servant with this clause
        Makes drudgerie divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
        Makes that and th’ action fine.

        This is the famous stone
        That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
        Cannot for lesse be told.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reflections on Corinthians & Secular Distractions

The second reading on Sunday was from I Corinthians 7: 29 - 31.  Corinth was the 4th largest in the Roman Empire and a very new city at that!  Ancient Corinth had been completely destroyed by the Romans in 146BC, the men being killed and the women and children sold into slavery.  Julius Caesar had re-established the city in 44BC so when St Paul arrived there in 51AD it was just over 100 years old.

I couldn't help thinking that there are many parallels with modern Johannesburg.  It was a city based only on making money, it was cosmopolitan with many Jewish inhabitants...hence St Paul's visit.  Money came from trade, not mining, so there was a constant influx of peoples and no doubt a lot of people surviving on the fringes of the city.  St Paul in his two letters is well aware of the problems of living in a city like this.  If we take out his assumption that the parousia will take place almost immediately, a lot of what he says speaks to us as inhabitants of a secular city with no real traditions.

St Clement also wrote to the Corinthians - I don't think he wrote the second letter attributed to him - and that is encouraging for us because he also addresses the issues of Christians assailed by secularism and what Pope Benedict calls relativism.

Corinth became untenable because of earthquakes!  Maybe St Paul had a point!

The two main topics hitting the International Catholic Media at the moment are the new Health Care provisions in the USA that states that all Plans must cover free contraception and sterilisation and in the UK that Clinics offering abortions will be allowed to advertise on television.  What worries me about the Catholic outrage at these and other issues is the way that so often it can distract from our spiritual  life.  Don't misunderstand me.  I am not saying that we should ignore issues that we find in conflict with our Faith but it is so easy to lose focus and forget that we are here to worship God.

If we think of people who always work in the front line of human misery such as social workers it can be very difficult not to think of anything other than the people you are working with and only to see life in that context. Everyone needs to disengage and needs support from others if they are working with people in stressful environments.  The problem is exactly the same in a Catholic context, that we can only see situations where the Faith seems to be losing ground rather than keeping our eyes on that which is good and true and positive.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philipians 4:6

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Moral Issue that so often works against us.

This cartoon from The Independent newspaper in the UK following the pro euthanasia report submitted to the British Government sponsored by its supporters says far more about "pro life" than the shrill pro-life lobby.

I am quite naturally pro life as well as being a Catholic but the pro-life movement I find generally repellent with its gory videos, it's fanaticism and its inability to see that not everything is black and white;  that there are shades of grey!

I find it particularly difficult in circumstances where people are kept alive by artificial means with minimal brain activity.  "Thou shalt not kill but need not strive officiously to keep alive."  I would agree with that and I hope that applies to me, if necessary.....not that I'd know anything about it either way!

St Margaret of Antioch, Patron of Pregnant Women
Similarly to whip up emotions over abortion and to equate it with murder, which it is not, has resulted in real murders in the USA.  It's the inability to engage in argument and only to shout slogans that does the cause and the Church much harm.

The pro-choice group is not much better and I think the reason for this is that it seems to be impossible to discuss the issue without it being emotive.  Pro-life should be something positive but so often it comes across as being purely negative.  When you think about it 99% of people are opposed to abortion, the disagreement is on how to handle the catastrophic problems of unwanted pregnancy:  those who see abortion as a solution of last resort and those who do not and both groups claim the moral high ground.
St Aloysius Gonzaga, Patron of AIDS caregivers & sufferers

The slogan shouting is at its loudest in the comfortable world of developed countries where there are options ( and I don't mean pro-choice options). In countries like this where newborn babies end up in rubbish bins and shallow graves and so many are born HIV positive the Church's priority is to assist people in their distress and show compassion and that, to me, is the moral high ground.

The most important thing is prayer for everyone involved, no matter what side they are on, and not to neglect the victims.

To end on a lighter...or maybe heavier.....note a wonderful Catholic joke I picked up from The Hermeneutic of Continuity Blog:

A Higgs Boson particle walks into a Catholic Church. So the priest comes up to him and says "Oi you! Higgs Boson! You can't come in 'ere."

So the Higgs Boson particle says, "Without me you can't have any mass."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In Vino Veritas

I have recently received an email from Dave Hughes, the well known wine commentator, on the Mass he organises every year in the Cape Winelands.  Catholics are probably outnumbered by non-Catholics at an event like this...isn't that what the 'New Evangelism" is all about?  If just one person changes a negative attitude towards the Church as a result or one person becomes interested in Catholicism then Dave Hughes has achieved something special.  If you are in the Western Cape at the time do make an effort to be there.  Saint Nicholas Catholic Church is a converted 18th century wine cellar so it is an appropriate venue for the Mass.

Dave Hughes is an Umtali boy - if you are able, please support this function - Hospice has been kind to many of our members.
For those out of the Western Cape please consider a donation to your local Hospice. Eddy Norris

Umtali Folk


The 18th Annual Winemaker and Distillers Mass will be held on Wednesday 25th January, 2012. 

NOTE Wednesday and not Thursday as before.
The Mass will begin at 11.00 hrs at Saint Nicholas Catholic Church in Paul Kruger Street, Stellenbosch. After Mass we will adjourn to La Pineta for lunch.

Feel free to bring your own wine as no corkage will be charged. However, La Pineta has a fine wine list to choose from. The meals and wine purchased will be for your own account.

The collection will go to the Stellenbosch Hospice. Hopefully you will be as generous as in the past and hopefully we can set a record of over R20,000.

As ever, we will have an interesting homily.

If you can make it, please let me know so that we can cater accordingly.

Please pass this info on to anyone else who might be interested to attend.

Most winemakers/distillers bring a bottle or two to the church to go into the Offertory Basket at the entrance. These donations will go up to the alter with the Offertory Procession. The bottles are shared with the clergy after the Mass. (Don’t forget your wine and/or spirits for the lunch.)

Further information on the subject:-
Confrerie des Vignerons de St. Vincent de Macon

During January, St. Vincent of Saragossa, the patron saint of winegrowers, is honored throughout Europe with celebrations, prayers, weather-omen ceremonials, and, of course, wine tasting.

St. Vincent of Saragossa died in the year 304, martyred during the last great persecution of Christians under the Roman Emperors Maximian and Diocletian. By early medieval times, St. Vincent had been adopted as a patron saint by vineyard workers and winemakers in Europe – perhaps they identified their struggles against drought, mildew, frost, insects and all of the other tribulations of wine growing with the legendary tortures suffered by St. Vincent.

A story is told that during the Middle Ages the Catholic Church had brought some relics of St. Vincent to Burgundy. The region had experienced multiple poor vintages, but after the Church blessed vineyards with the relics of St. Vincent there were a long string of exceptional vintages that followed.
As devotion to St. Vincent spread, new legends sprang up to seal the identity of the saint with the particular locality.

Read the full article by visiting the link below.
Information on La Pineta Restaurant

Many thanks and hope you will be able to attend.

Phone (021) 865 2175 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            (021) 865 2175      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      end_of_the_skype_highlighting      end_of_the_skype_highlighting Fax (021) 865 2740
e-mail hughesd@iafrica.com

The patron saint of wine who appeals to me is St Trifon the Pruner. 1 February, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church honours Saint Trifon, a healer who was glorified by the miracles he performed. However, this national holiday is also celebrated on 14 February according to old customs, which just happens to be Valentine’s Day as well.

Trifon Zarezan was born in AD 225 to a poor Christian family in Anatolia, then part of the Roman Empire. When he was 17 years old, he healed the seriously ill daughter of Emperor Gordian III and was richly rewarded by the imperial family. Just a few years later, in AD 249, Decius Traianus took the throne. During his brief administration, he persecuted many Christians because of their faith. Trifon refused to give up his Christian beliefs and was tortured until his death.
A curious fact is that Saint Trifon’s Day (Trifonovden Трифоновден in Bulgarian) is celebrated by vine growers, winemakers, falconer, gardeners and publicans because people believe that Saint Trifon was the protector of the vines. The day is called also the Day Of The Vine Growers.
In the Bulgarians mind, Saint Trifon is embellished with many legends which are not in conformity with his real life and Christian faith. One of them, for instance, is the legend that he cut his noise whilst pruning vines – this is why his name is Zarezan, which means notched, thus Tryphon the notched-nosed.
Trifonovden traditions also intertwine different occult rituals, many based on pagan worship of Dionysus from Ancient Greek mythology. In fact, some of the practices during the celebrations, such as pouring out the wine and getting drunk, are part of the rites of Dionysus worship. This confusion of Christian and pagan makes the holiday more a day for having fun and drinking good Bulgarian wine than for honouring the saint and his contribution to people’s life in the past.
Festive Rituals
Early in the morning, women knead bread and cook a hen which is traditionally filled with rice or bulgur. The bread, the hen and a wooden wine barrel are placed in a new woollen bag. With these bags on their shoulders, the men go into the vineyard. When they get there they make the sign of the cross, take a sickle and cut three twigs from different vines. After that, they pour wine onto the vines. This ritual is called zaryazvane (cutting).
Having finished this, they then have to choose “the king of the vine”. Then the real feast can start and the vine growers give to the king two wreaths made out of vines – one he puts on his head and the other on his shoulders. After that, he sits on a cart and the vine growers carry him to the village or the town singing and playing bagpipes, kettle drums and fiddles. They stop in front of every house and women come out with a pot filled with wine and give the king some to drink and then to the other people. The woman then flings the remaining wine on the king and says a blessing.
Then the king goes home, changes his clothes and, with his wreaths on his head and the shoulders, sits down at a large table to receive people from the whole village. Usually a wealthy person is chosen for a king because he has to offer all the guests food and drink.
The holiday is also called Trifon drunkard because the king must be drunk – this means that there will be prosperity in the vineyards.
The following days, which are called Trifuntsi, are honoured as days for protection from wolves.
Maybe Robertson District could work on something like this though it is unlikely that pruning would start in February!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas, Mary, Mother of God & The Epiphany all rolled into one!

From Advent to the Feast of Theotokos, Mary Mother of God.  Quite a leap, missing out the Nativity all together as my son and his family arrived from Denmark and having guests, including small children, is not conducive to blogging!

I hope you all celebrated Christmas with due solemnity as the Incarnation is a truly astounding occurrence.  I believe that Neil Armstrong made a comment to the effect that man's footprints on the Moon are nothing compared to God's footprints on Earth.  Not only that but His continuing tangible presence in Bread & Wine.  I used to have a two hour programme on the radio on Christmas Day and I always read this poem:

Christmas by John Betjeman
The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
And Christmas is still with us.  It didn't finish with the shops closing on the 24th December.  As Christians we must reclaim our 12 days of Christmas and make a great fuss of the Epiphany, the visit of the Magi and as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer puts it, the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.  TS Eliot took the opening phrase from a sermon by the Anglican Divine, Lancelot Andrews for his famous poem, 

The Coming of the Magi:

                                             'A cold coming we had of it,
       Just the worst time of the year 
For a journey, and such a journey.  
The ways deep, the weather sharp, 
The very days of winter.

Let's hope that the Church has the wisdom to return the Epiphany to the 6th January.

And what of Our Lady, whose feast it is today.  Mother of God, Theotokos, underlines our faith in the Incarnation and gives the lie to much of the incipient Arianism that sentimentality often allows us to slip into almost unawares.  One of the carols we sang today was "Away in a Manger".....Little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes....   Child birth is a messy process and babies are equally messy and noisy, especially when most births are still not in the antiseptic conditions of a modern day nursing home.  It makes the Incarnation even more astonishing.

It's not a big leap from Jesus the Good Baby to Jesus the Good Man and Jesus as God becomes uncomfortable.

China is going to to increasingly dominate our world in 2012 as it strives to again becomes the world's biggest economy after a very short period of about 250 years when it wasn't in the top spot.  The Church has great difficulties there so pray for the Church in China both the underground Catholic Church and the official State approved Church as I am sure there is considerable overlap.