Dr Peter White's Blog

Thoughts and comments from Dr Peter White -- political, philosophical, spiritual, musical and more

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

I am retired from the Uni. of Queensland, and have numerous interests inside and outside of the uni. I play classical, bluegrass, country and folk guitar (hows that for a mix?) I am a member of the Australian Labor Party and am currently branch secretary of the Mt Coot-tha branch. I'm also involved in developing virtual reality builds and websites. Never bored!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas reflection

Are there more genuine Christmas wishes this year, or is it just me? Last night I went to the Christmas service at St Mary's in Brisbane; the church was so full that people were literally looking in the windows because there was no room in the church. Terry Fitzpatrick, one of the priests, gave a short and poignant homily, based on the "no room for them in the inn" theme. He cited Thomas Merton, who was concerned that there is no room in our world anymore for quiet, reflection, and common acts of courtesy, kindness and charity [love]. Terry went on to talk about the experience of one of the workers at St Mary's last year, when a family in need was given help by her at the parish house.

This leads me to think that perhaps more people of good will just might take the Christmas messager further than Boxing Day, and work throughout the year to achieve that necessary room for themselves, and for us all.

It would be nice to see the scoreboard change from Mammon: heaps; God: very little, to one of deep loving of each other, our earth, and the beginning of deep spirituality which matched by an awereness of deep ecology.

So, from me, Merry Christmas, and may 2005 be a better year for all of us; it will be if we work at it!

PB White

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Words and actions

It's almost been a month since my last posting, which is probably due to an intense disgust over the political situation stemming from the recent elections.

On top of that, the church I go to is currently involved in real stoush with the local archbishop, and hence the Vatican.

The church is St Mary's Catholic Community in South Brisbane. The priests there are Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick. Peter has been there for over 20 years, and has rejuvenated a parish that was almost dead to one that is packed to the rafters every service. Terry came on board a few years later, and his ministry is as dynamic as Peter's.

The problem is that both priests practice a powerful form of what might be called liberation theology. The parish is inclusive, turns no one away; it has a very strong social justice belief, and was very dynamic in the liberation of East Timor, and is solidly behind the move to free refugees incarcerated in camps in Australia.

The liturgy has also been altered from the traditional Catholic Mass -- different words. Baptism has used different words.

And this last bit is what is sticking in the craw of traditionalists (right wing), the archbishop and through him, the Curia in the Vatican. These latter folk are now threatening to close the parish and fire the priests because of words. The trigger was the baptism rite which Peter and Terry use the term "Creator, Liberator and Sustainer of life" or some such, instead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The people love it. The hierarchy loathes it. And thus, said hierarchy is simply telling the priests to go back to the traditional formula, and furthermore, all the baptisms that were carried out using the "Creator, Liberator" tag are invalid and will have to be done again.

In the meantime, this very active parish is growing, whereas most other parishes are fading away, and not simply due to the lack of priests.

What's happening at St Mary's is, I think, a microcosm of the overall move within the Catholic Church by the hierarchy to become more strict, more to the "letter and less of the spirit" of the law, pushed by a very conservative pope amply supported by the Curia in Rome. Many Catholic people, however, are still imbued with the ethos of Pope John XXIII and Vatican II, and are more keen on making their actions reflect their Catholic beliefs, rather than the words.

On reflection, my strategic approach to the problem would be to let the hierarchy have their words -- but carry on with the social justice practices; the community involvement practices (everyone says Mass, for example); the inclusivity practices (there are more Protestant clergy attending St Mary's than anywhere else), and this inclusivity includes homosexuals, divorcees, non-Catholics, Aboriginal people, the poor, mentally ill, dispossessed, refugees, wealthy professionals, judges, lawyers, adademics, single parents, teachers, nuns, brothers, and the list goes on. This is a debatable point, but I think that it is very important for this community to remain in the Church, and giving away some words to carry out its gospel mission is more crucial. Lots of people will disagree. OK, that's fine; maybe it's time for a second Reformation?

St Mary's is a distincitive community, with people coming back week after week, many for over 15-16 years. The young people in the community are actively involved in all sorts of social justice and political issues. There are meditation groups. There are cluster groups where people discuss relevant social and spiritual issues.

They are, in short, a community which follows the founder's command: love one another.

Yes, actions do speak louder than words. Let us hope that the words to not trigger actions which destroy the life of St Mary's parish and other kindred communities throughout the world.

Where there are humans, there shall be politics. Pity the politics also dictate the spiritual paths...

More later

P.B. White