Although a regular receiver of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as the Sacrament of Confession) for many years, for a long time I struggled with the concept of confessing my sins and how the sacrament helps me. In fact, I rarely felt the sense of interior freedom that I would expect from being cleansed of sin and I would leave feeling restless. Also some people would be in the confessional for 20 minutes and I would be there for 5; not because I was holy, because I did not know what to say or was too scared to open my heart to the mercy of God. I would leave dissatisfied with myself and with a questioning feeling of whether I really confessed properly. I had a real desire to change this, so I started asking questions and reading books (most notably The Gift of Confession by Fr Michael de Stoop). Here are some things that have really helped me.
When I was a younger man I embarked on a personal pilgrimage to visit sacred places in Europe and the Middle East. As part of the pilgrimage I visited the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I had studied Christian art and architecture as part of my theological education and in class this former Orthodox Basilica had caught my particular attention. Whilst in Istanbul I stayed in a youth hostel and got to know some fellow travellers. Among the hostel guests there was the couple from New Zealand, a thoughtful young man from California, a German holiday maker, two Australian young women and a South African young man who strongly identified as Jewish.
In the period leading up to Christmas my street is one of those streets that attracts rows of cars full of people eager to see Christmas light displays. Some of the houses still have the lights in place. Despite some of the lights of Christmas still being on display I have noticed in my local IGA signs advertising Hot Cross Buns. While as a Church Lent has yet to begin in the marketing plans of the retailers Easter is the next big thing. For those preparing to be initiated into the Catholic Church in their local parish during the Easter Vigil this year Easter is indeed a very big thing.
In between the Cricket and the Tennis that seems to dominate our television screens at this time of the year the networks are promoting some of their big new shows for 2014. One promotion that has caught my eye is the latest instalment in the Underbelly series Fat Tony & Co. I have not viewed any of the earlier “Underbelly” programs and I am a little uneasy about the commercial, stylized portrayal of violent criminals. I particularly notice this promotion as Alphonse Gangitano I am reminded that we went to the same school.
I am big fan of Baz Luhrmann movies. I revel in the energy of Strictly Ballroom, the drama of Romeo + Juliet and I am attracted to the wide open spaces that accompany Hugh and Nicole in Australia. With Baz love is often in the air. When the remake of The Great Gatsby was screened last year I was there in the cinema taking in the movement, colour music and darkness of a story of a man essentially living a lie. As the images washed over me I found myself making comparisons with the 1974 film of the same name starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
In the 1920’s colleagues of the American author Ernest Hemingway bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in just six words. Hemingway responded by writing the following. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He won the bet. This six-word story prompts a whole series of questions, which of course is the point. “Why are the shoes being sold? Why would someone purchase baby shoes if they did not have a baby? Were they a gift? Associated ideas that arise are ‘still-birth’, ‘miscarriage’ and ‘failure to conceive’ as the range of different circumstances in which baby shoes might be bought or received is considered. The story might also engender the image of a young widower selling the shoes following the death of his wife and child in childbirth.
Over the last five years I have gotten to know the man in the local computer repair shop quite well. As a family we have a fair bit of computer equipment and there seems to be always something that needs fixing.
I love this season. There is a sense of anticipation; waiting and preparation in all we do. The presents, unlike birthday gifts, sit waiting underneath the Christmas tree and high stress-level tasks are all being completed in preparation for Christmas day. All this for just one day! Yet we can all agree that despite the patience required the weeks before, it is one of the most special and joyous days of the year. These somewhat consumerist ideas of Christmas go hand in hand with the Church’s liturgical season of Advent.
The other morning I got out of the wrong side of the bed. I will not dwell on the details so in short, a lot of things went wrong. It was almost as if one thing set off a chain reaction of negative events – it is like when you say “It can’t get any worse” and then it does. During this downward spiral of bad fortune, I wondered what catastrophic disaster this could possibly climax to.
Around this time of year commercial shopping centres and brands hit the ‘desert season’ – there seems to be a gap in national festivities with Father’s day in the background and Christmas too far away to be tinselling the town (although Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier every year). But I’ve noticed, for some reason, Halloween is seeping into our culture. As a child my parents would speak of it as “an American thing” and a “commercial trap” – and even though it is not so popular here as it is in the US, it’s becoming more and more culturally accepted as a festivity. Ironically, Halloweens origins are rooted in feast of All Saints, yet it has eclipsed it in popularity and celebration, at least in the commercial world. Yet what does it even mean? Why do we even celebrate it?
I begin this blog on October 15th the feast of St Teresa of Avila. For those for whom this name is new Teresa was a Carmelite nun who, with St John of the Cross, established a reformed order of Carmelite nuns and friars called the Discalced (no shoes) Carmelites in 16th century Spain.
I am a fanatical Sydney Swans supporter. The last couple of days have been something of a whirlwind. I have had family members sending SMS texts with simply one word, “Buddy”. For those sending the message and for me as the receiver nothing else needed to be written. For those of you who live in places in which AFL is not the major football code or if you have no interest in the game a little background is needed. Lance “Buddy” Franklin is arguably the most flamboyant character in Australian Rules football. He is a very talented footballer and something of a wild lad. On the field he has the capacity to turn a game from certain loss to victory in just a couple of inspirational minutes. It has been reported that the betting odds on the Swans as Premiers next year fell dramatically when the signing was announced.
I have many friends who are Catholic priests and deacons. I also have a number of friends who are ordained ministers in other Christian denominations. I recently had the pleasure of sharing a meal with a friend who refers to herself as an Anglican priest. She is a woman of God, a woman of prayer, a scholar and an excellent minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a difficult and demanding pastoral setting.
Over the last couple of months I have made a real effort to join the online generation. I purchased a Smart Phone and Tablet and upgraded my mobile phone plan to include data downloading. Finally I was catching up. There were Apps to download, some I had to pay for, e-books to be read and YouTube clips to be watched. It was all very exciting. Like everyone else in the train on the way home I could look at a screen and feel connected. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for wearing headphones and playing a game in what looks like sweets moving around a screen. I am not sure that as human beings we were ever designed to travel like cattle in enclosed spaces, so anything that helps to make the daily commute easier gets my vote.
I normally catch the train to work. If I leave early enough I get a good seat and the whole experience is reasonably pleasant. I have got into the habit of doing two things as the train rattles through the suburbs of Sydney, crossing the harbour bridge on the way. The first activity is somewhat cyclical, the second more creative or constructive. On the way to work the carriage is usually quiet and I am able to pray “Morning Prayer” from the Prayer of the Church. With more difficulty, on the way home, in a crowded train, I attempt “Evening Prayer”. Following this time of prayer I read. Most of my reading is in the form of theological research on one topic or another; usually with a view to writing.