Review: All the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured Church

All the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured ChurchAll the Beautiful Things: Finding Truth, Beauty and Goodness in a Fractured Church by Beth Doherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an intensely personal reflection on the nature of the Catholic Church in Australia as experienced by the author. Given all of her particular experiences and the results of a survey of family and friends, Beth Doherty writes passionately about a Church that she continues to love even as it occasionally causes her frustration and anger.

Much of what Doherty writes I can easily identify with. However, there are some parts that I cannot if only because my experiences of Church, my understanding of the way things are, are different to hers. Such should be no surprise given the very nature of the Church, an age difference, and the reality that I have been in a different role and place within the Church for the last fifteen years of my life. However, none of those differences diminishes the power of Doherty’s own experiences and how they are expressed in this book.

My only ‘criticism’ – and it has more to do with me than anything else, I suspect – is that I found some parts of the book difficult to grasp from the perspective of style and flow. These passages took me a little longer to grasp and comprehend than other parts, though they ultimately did not distract from the power of what was written.

Anyone who has even the slightest amount of care and concern for the Australian Church in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would do well to read this book.

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Homilies: 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C

My homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year C. This was preached during my sabbatical leave at a location outside my usual preaching locations. This particular occasion was a 9am morning Mass.

The readings proclaimed were Acts 14:21-27; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:13-35. Today’s psalm is Psalm 144: “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God.”

“Jesus tells his disciples to love one another and to do so as he has loved them. The love of Jesus for his disciples – and us – is made manifest in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, which he willingly embraced for our sake. It manifested God’s glory to Jesus’ disciples. Our love for one another – a love as complete and absolute as Jesus’ love for us – allows God’s glory to shine out into the world here and now, in this time and place.”

Review: Aidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New World

Aidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New WorldAidan of Lindisfarne: Irish Flame Warms a New World by Ray Simpson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of St Aidan of Lindisfarne has always been of particular significance to me. It perhaps explains why I took ‘Aidan’ as my name when I became a Benedictine Oblate many years ago.

This book by Ray Simpson, someone who has ‘lived with’ Aidan on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, tells Aidan’s story in a fictionalised many, by which I mean as a story, not as a history. In that sense, this tome is entirely in keeping with Aidan’s Irish heritage, coming as he did from that country with many a great storyteller as a faithful daughter or son. In telling the tale of Aidan, Simpson manages to inspire the reader – or this reader at least – to take up Aidan’s mantle as one called to preach the Gospel in his time and place in ways that are responsive to the needs of the world then and there.

Reading this particular book and tale during my sabbatical leave has invigorated a desire to do as Aidan did wherever I end up when my leave concludes. Like Aidan when he started his journey from Ireland, I am not sure where that will be. However, the Good Lord will reveal that to me in God’s good time. My challenge, like Aidan, is to respond with an open and generous heart to God’s call.

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Review: Reformed Sacramentality

Reformed SacramentalityReformed Sacramentality by Graham R. Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has sadly been sitting on my ‘to read’ list for close to 5 years. I always knew that I would get around to reading it ‘one day’, but there was always something more pressing, more necessary, that usurped this tome’s place in the reading order. It has taken the rare opportunity of sabbatical leave for it finally to get to a place where it was ‘in order’ to read this fine contribution from the late Graham Hughes.

Although written from a different denominational tradition than my own, the scholarship of Hughes contained in this book has provided an impetus to give some time and thought to the nature of sacramentality from my own tradition. It may surprise some to know that there are many similarities between the two traditions of author and reader, as well as more than a few differences. And the interplay between traditions, between author and reader, is one of the many fruits of (finally) reading this text that directly examines the approach to sacramentality found in the Reformed Christian tradition.

Hughes’ scholarship is superb, and his ability to hold many different facets of his presentation together in a manner that is accessible makes this book one that anyone interested in sacramentality (and I think Hughes would argue that should be any and all Christians) should read at some point in their struggle to grapple with the challenge of sacramentality in their own tradition.

Highly recommended.

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Entering God’s Presence

It is at just this point, then, that my earlier note about the distinctive spatial imagery attaching to the two orders of sacramentality reenters our discussion—the difference between “being in” and “entering.” In the first place, the formulation “to enter God’s presence” can only bespeak human action, human intention. God occupies no particular space, or better, I suppose, God fills all space and time. It is we who live in defined times and spaces. So that to encounter God’s presence in or through these consolidated symbols means, ipso facto, coming to them wherever they are (or into them if we are talking about sacramental space or time) and at a specified time. “Coming into” God’s presence, then, is the marker of human limitations, not of God’s (ubiquitous) presence.

Gerard R. Hughes, ed. Steffan Losel Reformed Sacramentality (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2017), 23.

Worship Before Intimacy

One of the oft-heard comments about an inability to have every and any church building remain open, regardless of the ability to celebrate the Church’s liturgy in that building, is an appeal to ‘what about the community?’. It is, in my estimation at least, false and faulty thinking from the perspective of Catholic liturgical theology and ecclesiology, finding more foundation in non-Catholic thinking.

And, finally, I have found a Protestant theologian who seems to support my position!

Many mainline Protestant churches have developed a culture of intimacy for its own sake, so much so that intimacy has become “a primary liturgical value.” As Hughes points out,

Intimacy, or even community, however, is not the point and purpose of an assembly ostensibly gathered for the worship of God. By all means it may be a hoped-for byproduct of corporate worship, but when the priorities are reversed, the one becomes the other’s sublimate.

Steffan Losel, “Introduction”, in Gerard R. Hughes, ed. Steffan Losel, Reformed Sacramentality (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2017), xxvii, quoting Gerard R. Hughes, Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 251.

Review: Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971-2017

Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971-2017Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West since the Cold War, 1971-2017 by Simon Reid-Henry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a BIG book, running to just short of 900 pages. It was the kind of book that I would never have the chance to read if I were not on sabbatical leave and have all the time in the world to read these kinds of books.

The author goes to great lengths to support his thesis in the pages of this tome, and I am glad that I am reading it in 2022 on the cusp of a federal election. In doing so, I have been both entertained and enlightened about the root causes of what I see as problematic in civil society here in Australia (and, I am guessing, around the world). There is much in Reid-Henry’s thesis that explains the way things are in the world at the moment.

This book is not an easy read, both because of its length and the subject matter being address, but it is a book worth persevering with.

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