S C O O P ! GIVING THE EUCHARIST A FACE-OVER

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I think that I can safely claim to be the first person in the world to propose to the Vatican a revolutionary aid to marketing the Eucharist, inspired by an item in …NEXT week’s TIME Magazine (July 28, 2014). Some will say that the Eucharist needs no marketing; it is already the central act of Catholic worship. But in a world dominated by technology, the professional and social media, and the revolution in photography which has permitted instantaneous worldwide diffusion of images, including selfies produced by a smartphone, the Church would do well to exploit these means to reinforce belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in those circular wafers of bread become His Body.

A novelty company, according to TIME (7/28/2014, page 49), has unveiled a new product which allows you to personalize your toast. The toaster is called “Toasted Selfies” (TM), which makes it possible for you to burn a photo of your face onto a slice of bread (more detail on the Web, “Geek Alerts”, July 15). I imagine Mass-goers receiving Holy Communion, the consecrated host, in their hand, saying “Amen” to the words “Body of Christ” – and seeing a likeness of Jesus right there on each wafer. The words “Mass production” would take on a whole new meaning.

In comments on earlier posts concerning the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano, where bits of Christic flesh are said to have been seen to appear stuck onto the host, our dear departed Jim/Helen brought this solemnly approved miracle to our attention. There is nothing miraculous or even technically complicated about putting an image of the face of Jesus on the wafers, or even His whole body (not the one on the Shroud of Turin, which has the downside of making Jesus look very dead, but a picture, say, of Him rising from the tomb).

I do not expect royalties or even a Plenary Indulgence for coming up with this inspired idea. But it’s an idea whose time – wait for it ! – has come. (Maybe the hosts could be given an edible chip, electronic not potato, with a recorded message activated by saliva as the host touches the tongue : “Enjoy !”, or “Bon Appétit”, or “Buon Apetito !”. I’m only trying to help.)

                                                                         RIDENDA   RELIGIO

TIME OUT

“Ein und swanzig”, “drei und swanzig”, “Big Mac and fries”, “Bob’s your uncle”, “tempus fugit”. If you start counting the seconds, you’ll soon go nuts. “La pendule au salon qui dit ‘oui’, qui dit ‘non’, qui nous attend.” Time ticks on, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I knew you’d like to learn that.

Kids and people the better side of thirty never wonder how much time they have left. People my age, hitting eighty, do. I don’t. I’ve got too much to do to worry about how much time I have left to do it. God, life is great, as long as it lasts ! And mine has been a lot of fun. It will soon be over, but I’m in no hurry to see it end. Que serà, serà. Now I have to get back to writing something a little less trite. Carpe diem, mates; let’s get on with it.

VIVE LA VIE !

“DOCTRINE BEFORE COMPASSION , DOGMA BEFORE HUMAN DIGNITY ?”

The question is Lord Carey’s, His Grace the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury 1991-2002, in an article he wrote in the “Daily Mail”, reported in today’s “The Guardian”, in which he admits that he has “changed his mind” about his Church’s teaching on assisted dying.  He is now “less and less certain of (his) opposition to the right to die”.

When will the Pope and the Catholic Church make such a public confession ?  An eminent rabbi, Dr Jonathan Romain, welcomed this “sweeping away” of “theological dust”.

While we can only applaud the belated enlightenment of blind churchmen leading the blind, it is somewhat pathetic that their opinion on such matters matters.  I used to be one myself, a Franciscan priest-theologian, but am now committed as an atheist to exposing in my Blog the illusions I had and preached forty years ago.

I posted the last two sentences above in today’s “The Guardian”, July 12, 2014 at 8:44 a.m.

                                   RIDENDA   RELIGIO  

DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE IN THE “REAL PRESENCE” ?

There are many Catholics who have often wondered about the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist. Even priests have been known to have their doubts about the bread they are supposed to have transformed into the Body of Jesus. Protestants, of course, have rejected the literalist Catholic doctrine for five hundred years. As I have already have had occasion in this Blog to remark, respected Catholic theologians sometimes speak of the Eucharist’s “symbolic reality”, which I have always considered a somewhat jesuitical way of denying the Real Presence without getting into trouble with Rome. The Sydney priest-theologian who wrote the book on that concept was himself the Archdiocesan official Censor whose approval was necessary for publication …

But you Believers on the Brink out there, even if you still buy the bit about transubstantiation, there are some doctrines which you have already ditched. Maybe it’s the Ascension of Jesus or the Assumption of Mary or the officially approved miracles necessary for canonization or those miraculous cures at Lourdes declared to be authentic. Why do you still accept certain doctrines and feel comfortable rejecting others ? Surely it must have occurred to you that the whole ball of wax is a fabrication ! I really don’t understand how you can pick and choose. Reread my post on Cherry-Picking.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

NEW COVENANTS

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He used to be the “Big A”, the most feared gangster, assassin and drug-dealer in contemporary Copenhagen. Abderrozah Benarabe is his name. Recently he got religion, and is now “doing the Jihad” with Al Qaida against Assad. The reason for this extraordinary metamorphosis (though murder is murder, whether in Denmark or Syria; in a video he says he wonders what Allah thinks about those he has already committed) is worth noting. Apparently he promised Allah that if his brother recovered from cancer, he would walk the line, stop slitting Danish throats and become a model Muslim. Naturally his brother no longer has cancer and the righteous rebels have a new recruit.

Such a conversion, such a pact, such a covenant, is not without precedent. I have already in another post referred to a Sydney priest who was an Australian naval chaplain during World War 2 in the battle of the Coral Sea. Floating in said Coral Sea and in danger of drowning in his uniform after his ship went down under, he promised the Virgin that if she saved him he would build a church in her honor. She did and he did, and I once preached in his church in the Sydney parish of Penshurst, where every year the U.S. Seventh Fleet was represented in the annual commemoration of the Coral Sea battle, dedicated to thanking God and His Mum for the victory and to reinforcing Australian-American friendship.

One cannot but think of other contacts and contracts with the Deity and its delegates, Mary and lesser Saints. Lourdes would never have happened had Bernadette not had her visions and agreed to have a basilica built. The history of France would have been significantly different if the Maid of Orleans had not heard those voices urging her to oust the Brits with her own precocious “Aux armes, citoyens !” (Even Grand Opera would have been different and much poorer without the legend of Faust and his pact with the Devil.)

Like NDEs – Near-Death Experiences – personal supernatural revelations and experiences forge unshakeable convictions, especially when they involve “proof” of their authenticity. When God holds up His side of the bargain by working the miracle requested, the beneficiary feels a certain obligation to hold up his, like the Big A and my sacerdotal colleague. St Francis of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Avila, Padre Pio are among the many models for the credulous who believe they too have had a direct contact, and even a contract, with God. How many of them try to cajole Him into working a miracle for them ? When it works, their faith is set in concrete.

There is little hope of shaking such faith. One can only applaud conversion from immoral, dishonest, cruel or criminal behavior, at least when it does not result in murderous fanaticism. But surely rational, sensible people will recognize how infantile and stupidly naïve it is to believe that they can negotiate with a creation of their own imagination.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

“CALVARY”

Once again we are indebted to Thom for the following post. Everything he writes is worth reading, as not only readers of his numerous comments on this blog can attest, but the millions of his readers of the Sydney Morning Herald who for years have appreciated his limpid prose and pertinent, penetrating perceptions. His anonymity will not be affected by this affirmation of my admiration. For one thing – well, two – his writing is always apropos and, More-over, avoids abusing alliteration. (“Sapienti sat.”) He is a master of tongue-in-cheek, but can be, as he is here, as serious as he is insightful.

“The film ‘Calvary’ opens dramatically in the darkened confessional of a small Catholic Church in Ireland. An unidentified man tells the priest that he will kill him in seven days because he was sexually abused long ago at the age of seven by another priest who is long dead. The film charts the interaction of the priest, brilliantly acted by Brendan Gleeson, over the following days.

One critic described the film as a black comedy. There are moments of levity in the dialogue but otherwise little to laugh about in this coruscating critique of the seaside community’s lived experience of their Catholicism. The film is not necessarily about the sexual abuse mentioned in the opening scenes. It is about an experience of Catholicism in a particular time and place. The film will not therefore be the experience of Catholics everywhere, but the fact that it will resonate with some anywhere is cause enough for concern. All the characters in the film are damaged in some way – the unstated implication is that their unhappiness is rooted in their experience of their religion. The word ‘Calvary’ necessarily denotes suffering – the sacrifice of the Cross. There is suffering aplenty in this brilliant film. A black, black comedy indeed.”

RIDENDA RELIGIO   ?   or    LACRIMANDA  RELIGIO  . . . ? 

NO FLOWERS , NO FUNERAL

It is a striking coincidence that right after posting “Macrocosm, Microcosm” in which I speak at some length (as usual) about dying, news arrives from Down Under of the death of a very dear, unique friend, John Haswell. He died, “after a long battle with cancer”, yesterday, Independence Day. The word defines the man.

His name appears on a couple of occasions in this Blog, the very existence of which owes more to him than anyone else. I shall try to be brief, but his passing, and especially the life of a classmate who became an eminent scientist, a militant atheist and my gifted co-author, deserves to be recorded here.

John was a timid, self-effacing, brilliant man who was, during the eight years we spent together at Marist Brothers Kogarah from 1945-1952, always at the top of the class. Fast forward fifty years : the first-ever reunion of the “Yahoos”, the 1952 Leaving Certificate class, celebrating its Jubilee at the Rocks in Sydney in 2002. I had not seen John and many other former classmates for half a century. The reunion renewed acquaintances, “mateship” and a measure of mutual appreciation of the sexagenarians we were. With John it was the beginning of a bond that held strong for the last twelve years, until yesterday.

John and I rapidly discovered our separate and very different histories, as well as the itinerary we had in common, which ended in atheism. Before long we decided to co-author a book, which we were to entitle “From Illusions to Illumination. The Itineraries of a Scientist and a Priest from Catholicism to Atheism”. Faithful readers of this Blog will recognize a certain similarity with the title of the book I later published solo. The lady who had edited one of Richard Dawkins’ books told us that our joint-venture was not publishable. “Le style c’est l’homme”, and the cohabitation of ours within the same covers did not work. Hence the book of which this Blog is the extension.

John would not have wanted me to write a eulogy here. He asked his wife Rita not to organize even a funeral. (I have expressed my own Last Will and Testament in the book, page 95.) John Haswell was the incarnation of our title “From Illusions to Illumination”. I have lost not only a friend but an interlocutor as precious as Dr (Professor Emeritus) Ron Vernon and our esteemed engineer-legal eagle, Thom. My deep regret is that the three of them never met : all erudite gentle-men of science with remarkable talents and a tolerance totally undeserved by your bereaved blogger.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

THE MAN FROM EARTH

For many years I have had on my mantle-piece a portrait of … me. Without letting me know, my son-in-law had painted it from a photograph. The reason I keep it there among photos of the family is not what you might think. It’s because I need to check it regularly since I have noticed, over the years, that my face in the picture is getting progressively older, while I …

You don’t believe me, of course, and probably see no point in pursuing the perusal of this prefabricated piece of pathetic plagiarism. (If that’s not enough, the awful alliteration alone should do the trick.)

You can’t spend as much time as I have thinking, reading, writing and, in the distant past, preaching about death and dying without being sensitive to stories like Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray” and Jerome Bixby’s “The Man from Earth”. My book has a whole chapter on death (“From Illusions to Illumination”, pages 93-112), and there are references throughout it and this Blog to ageing, dying, disintegrating and disappearing definitively after our allotted (?) life-time – precociously, or after a respectable four-score-and-ten, or even at age 128, which was my “desiderium privatum”, my wishful thinking, expressed in my “poem” “Now I’m 64″ in the book (page 115). Of course, I could well be dead and gone like Clementine by the time you read this. To allow myself a terribly original and insightful cliché : we all die …

But the Man from Earth didn’t. In the movie and stage-play (the movie is itself virtually a filmed stage-play in the one-room setting of the home of the Cromagnon man who is its hero), we meet a University professor who reveals to his friends that he is 14,000 years old. He not only does not look his age (like me) but has retained the features he had when he turned … 35 ! Whether he likes it or not, he just can’t croak.

I’ve already written a couple of Reflections in this Blog about the efforts of some to delay, postpone or eliminate their death. Some nutters who can afford it have paid a fortune to get themselves deep-frozen, to wait for that medical breakthrough that they hope will one day prolong their life or even eliminate their ultimate demise.

The New Testament and expressions of the Christian religion are full of references to overcoming, “conquering”, death as Christ did, and to the eternal life He promised His followers. At Requiems we pray that the Faithful Departed enjoy a perpetual Paradise (along with the total boredom the Church calls “eternal rest”). In my recently adopted new profession as a star of the Big Screen, I attend the Hollywood funerals of confreres whose believing colleagues pray that perpetual limelight may shine upon them and later on all of us.

People just can’t accept death, the term of our natural life. The Church does not accept the deliberate destruction of life through abortion but also by active euthanasia. It teaches that we should all live as long as possible, whatever the pain involved. It proclaims itself “pro-life” and says it treasures life, but the rest of us know that it won’t be too happy if science ever eliminates death. Already we are prolonging life significantly and consider the 120-mark as an attainable objective, if not the 190 evoked by a scientist in “The Man from Earth”, though not the 140 centuries chalked up by its hero. For the foreseeable future, we will continue to die. But the elimination of death would be bad news and a serious financial challenge for undertakers and other people in the death business, including the clergy, to say nothing of the chronic overcrowding of the planet and the extinction of the human race. We are, for the nonce, in the realm of science-fiction. But, more seriously, death will continue to haunt and terrify many, whose only consolation is the chimera of an after-life.

Some atheists fear or remain at least unresigned to death, not because its sequel is uncertain, but because it means the fun’s over. Dying is often accompanied by physical pain and always by the definitive separation from loved ones and the cessation of all that made life worth living. Apart from that, there is nothing to fear. For some it will be a liberation from suffering, misery and injustice. For me it will be the end of a life I was lucky enough to enjoy for many years, especially its latter half since I discovered that only people blinded by wishful thinking, or worse, could take seriously fiction like that of Oscar, Jerome, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

RIDENDA RELIGIO

MACROCOSM , MICROCOSM

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13.7 billion years ago the Universe was a tiny, compact atom – or more exactly, a Singularity of quasi-infinite density – ready to explode into a continually expanding complex of galaxies we call the Macrocosm.  78 years ago I was a tiny speck of organic matter, the product of a victorious sperm and a receptive ovum, almost as infinitesimal as the afore-mentioned somewhat singular Singularity at the beginning of the Universe.  I was a microcosm.  I’ve put on a little weight and volume since, to the point that my doctor has pleaded with me to stop expanding.  The similarity between the macro and the micro is striking, to say the least.  A few statistics are worth quoting : our brains – well, yours at least, whatever about mine – contain 85,000,000,000 neurones and 1,000,000,000,000 cells, which is more than the number of stars in the Milky Way.  Our brains have an electric cable network, throughout our bodies, measuring some 180,000 kilometers – nearly five times the circumference of the Earth.  I don’t know about you but I find that pretty impressive.

We know how I happened.  I’m still not sure why I did, but I’m glad I did.  I have no idea how I turned into me.  But WYSIWYG : what you see, mate, is what you get.  We not only do not know why the Universe happened; we don’t even know how it happened.  It’s not enough to say with Père Georges Lemaître and everyone else since this Belgian Catholic priest-scientist, a friend of Einstein, theorized about the original cosmic  explosion that it was, according to Hoyle, because of a really Big Bang.  The implicit question remains : how did the initial Singularity happen ?  It must have had a cause.  A nano-second before my father’s spermatozoïde met my mother’s ovum, I didn’t exist.  The sperm and the ovum did.  I didn’t.  A nano-second before the Big Bang, did that initial atom exist or did it explode immediately it came into existence ?  What brought it into existence ?  What chemistry was at work to equip it with its mind-blowing potentiality to become the Cosmos ?

The temptation is overwhelming for some to assert not only that a pre-existent Force was its cause, but that a pre-existent Person or even a Trinity of Persons created it.  The reason I opt for the former is that the latter is too convenient a short cut to “Intelligent Design”, a jumping to a conclusion entirely without evidence or justification.

I am amazed that somehow I became a collection of cells and finally the complex thinking animal and creative (albeit modest !) creator of this Blog.  But at least I can attribute all this to a sperm and an ovum.  No one has the foggiest idea to what we can attribute the primeval Singularity, destined (the word is a loaded one …) to become the Universe.  But of one thing I am sure : there is no reason to attribute it to the Person(s) many call God.  Because most people cannot tolerate not knowing the Cause, they invented a Creator.  It makes sense to say “something” caused it.  It is by no means obvious that “Someone” caused it.  And it makes no sense at all to identify this “Someone” with a figment of primitive, prescientific imagination called Yahweh, the Blessed Trinity or Allah.  The cell I used to be turned into me.  The atom at Point Zero turned into the Universe.  I can identify my parents.  No one can identify the cause, let alone the “parent(s)” of the cosmos.  Whatever caused it, it is pretty hard to believe that it resembled the God so many people worship.  I, for one, am not going to worship an unidentifiable, unexplainable, impersonal chemical trigger of an astronomical chain-reaction.  I guess that’s too much to expect from most people who need the comfort that comes from the God to whom they attribute both the macro- and the micro-cosm, and who has been created to explain the beginning of everything and even to assure them that though the former, the macrocosm, will one day cease to exist, they, former microcosms, will not : God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Eternal Creator of the Universe and their Father who art in Heaven is waiting to bestow on them eternal life and allot them one of the many mansions He has reserved for believers.

There is an exchange in the Ridley Scott sci-fi movie “Prometheus” :

“How do you know ?”

“I don’t.  It’s what I choose to believe.”

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

 

 

 

 

 

CREEDS , CREDENTIALS , CREDULITY

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I know nothing about medicine (only recently I heard for the first time about “coeliac disease”).  I should have had enough “general knowledge”, after eleven years of tertiary studies, to recognize the symptoms of my own heart-attack some years ago.  My ignorance almost killed me.

I would love to have been a lawyer, a barrister in fact.  I became a theologian and know nothing about Law, Common or otherwise (Canon Law excepted), and have to depend on legal experts like Thom to defend my rights.  (Our Thom, indefatigable commentator  of this blog, was as an adolescent, like me, in a Junior Seminary, but unlike me got out in time to learn something useful.  He became both an engineer and a lawyer.)

I once built a play-house for my kids in our backyard in Bennington, Vermont.  But I know zilch about building (as my creation proved), nothing about carpentry, electricity or plumbing, which many professionals and even amateur handymen who never finished High School master perfectly.  Engineering, Information Technology and Rocket Science and most of the other subjects on University curricula are foreign to me.  I am a theologian.  All I know is what other theologians have said and written about religious beliefs, in particular the ones I inherited from my family and the Sacred Book and traditions which are their foundation.

You don’t argue with your doctor about his diagnosis.  You might seek a second opinion, but from another doctor, not the lady next door.  When you need expert advice, you go to a pro, an expert with the necessary credentials which establish his expertise.  You may express your opinion on multiple subjects, from politics to literature to economics to cinema to the breeding of cocker-spaniels or the sexual behavior of snails in New Guinea.  If you are talking with an expert on one of these subjects, the value of your opinion does not measure up to his.  Sometimes the “expert” is out of his depth, unfamiliar with the details of the subject being discussed, or simply mistaken.  But one tends to acknowledge and respect the “expertise” of the expert, whose education, sanctioned usually by academic degrees, or at least his track-record, confirm his credibility.  If an historian tells me that Napoléon died on Saint Helena on May 5, 1821, I accept what he says, pending proof to the contrary.  If he asserts that Montholon poisoned the Emperor over a long period with small doses of arsenic, I take his opinion seriously, but in view of the dissident opinions of other experts, I do not equate it with established fact.  Even experts can disagree among themselves.  But at least we recognize them as experts.

“Experts” in Religion and Theology are unique in that people with far less education, erudition and even intelligence feel perfectly qualified to dispute and disagree with their opinions.  The theologian may have spent his life studying the sacred texts and immersing himself in the literature they have spawned.  But the man on the street or in a public arena feels comfortable contesting his dogmatic assertions, and he is perfectly right to do so, because his opinion is as good as that of the theologian, who like me spent years acquiring credentials that prove only that he is more familiar with the subject than most.  He – and I – know just as much (i.e., as little) as you do about God or the “after-life”.   We may know a lot more facts about religious belief and practice and the literature which we can quote chapter and verse, but none of this knowledge gives us authority to defend – or in my case, attack  -  articles of faith.  Creeds state not facts but beliefs.  Whether you accept them or not depends not on credentials but credibility.  I know.  I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and I’m glad I crossed over.  If you’re still a believer but beginning to have doubts about some of your beliefs, I hope this blog – written by an “expert” – will deepen those doubts and motivate you to recognize your credulity, and abandon your creed – not because of my “credentials” but because what I have written, I hope, makes sense.  You don’t need to have my degrees to share my opinions.  In matters of faith we are all equally (un)qualified.  I hope you make the right choice.

RIDENDA   RELIGIO

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