Sunday, August 18, 2013

Parents against children

Luke 12:49 - 53

In these troubled times, we often refer to the divine origin of the family.  Heck, we even sometimes mention the commandment to honor our parents.  

But in Luke 12: 49-53 the Lord says:

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 

From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

What is envisaged?

The saying envisages a family of five living together: a father and mother, the son and his wife, and the daughter.  (The daughter is single, because otherwise she’d be living with her husband’s family.)  

It's interesting that the division is generational, with the two parents set against the three younger people, which reminds us of the cryptic promise in Malachy 4:6, “And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and strike the earth with anathema” (Douay-Rheims).  

And the point?  

The point is, of course, that if our family tries to hold us back from following Christ, then there has to be a parting of the ways. 

It may be simply leaving the living room to avoid an objectionable TV program that the folks are watching.  It may even involve having to leave home if we're kicked out for having joined the Church (and, yes, this does happen sometimes).   

Christian witness can provoke all sorts of bitter and recurring comments. But the thing is that the calls of the Gospel are paramount and override any anything else, no matter how deserving.  The most important thing about us is that we're washed in the blood of the Lamb and are now part of the family composed of God’s adopted sons and daughters.    

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vatican legislation on line!

The Internet is a great tool in legal research, and I’m constantly using AUSTLII for researching Australian statutes and decisions.  There are similar guides for other jurisdictions, such as BAILII which provides a guide for British and Irish materials. 

And now World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII) has a new site: Vatican City Laws. 

Vatican City Laws only gives six statutes at present, but it includes the texts of the following documents: 

·                the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (in an English translation)

·                the Fundamental Law of Vatican City State issued by Pope John Paul II on 26 November 2000 (in an English translation)

·                the Law and Governance of the Vatican City State issued by Pope John Paul II on 16 July 2002 (in Italian).

But there’s much to be done.  For example, the Lateran Treaty is filed under 1871, instead of 1929.  And it would be useful to be told the language of the normative text.  (Do Vatican canonists still use Latin or have they lapsed into the vernacular Italian?)  

Still, it’s an encouraging move towards increased transparency and the rule of law.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

The marriage at Caana

Christmas and the Epiphany give two aspects of Christ's coming.  Christmas celebrates His birth and coming to the Jewish people.  Epiphany is about His manifestation to the whole world, ie to the non-Jews or gentiles.  (The word Epiphany is from the Greek word phainein, meaning to show).

In celebrating the Epiphany, the Church meditates on three events: the visit of the Magi, the Lord's baptism by St John the Baptist, and the marriage at Caana.  So it's appropriate for yesterday's Gospel to be about the third of these.  (In the Novus Ordo lectionary, even if though today is listed as a Sunday in ordinary time, rather than a Sunday in theEpiphany season.) 

While the wedding feast at Caana shows the practical  charity of Mary and Our Lord, this is not the main point.  St John includes it in his gospel because it manifested [Jesus'] glory and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:11).  And it does this in three ways.

First, St John (who was actually present) quotes the Master of Ceremonies.  While other people used the best wine first, and brought out the cheaper wine when the guests were inebriated and less critical, the MC says in surprise But you have kept the good wine until now.  For St John, this indicated a deeper truth.  After the Mosaic dispensation, Christ has now come and provides the good wine.

Second, when Mary points out the lack of wine, the Lord says, My hour has not yet come.  For St John, this was a reference to the passion on Calvary, and the water and wine at the wedding feast pre-figure the water and blood that come from the Lord's pierced side.

Again, John was an eye-witness at the Crucifixion and later mentions the water and blood coming from the Saviour's side (John 19:34).  He continued to meditate on this, noting in one of his letters (1 John 5:6) that Jesus Christ [came] not by water only but with the water and the blood.

Third, the humble wedding feast prefigures Heaven, which is characterised as the marriage of Christ and His Church. 

This is touched on in the other Gospels, which quote Our Lord's statement that He is the Bridegroom and the parable about the wedding feast. But it is St John who - in the Book of Revelation/the Apocalypse - describes how the marriage is celebrated at the end of time, after all this world's tribulations have passed (Rev 19:7-9). 

As the angel said to St John, Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.  The point is adverted to in the Novus Ordo, when the priest proclaims, This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper

And, as wine is meant to bring joy (Ps 104:15), let's ask Our Lady to pray that we may be admitted to the feast.  Cause of our Joy, pray for us.   

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Barak Obama and the US Supreme Court

Perhaps the worst thing about Barak Obama’s re-election is that he has an excellent chance of making appointments to the US Supreme Court, so that it has a liberal majority.  Here’s an excellent commentary by Half Sigma, an American blogger, on this topic.  

A certain commenter said that it doesn’t matter who appoints Supreme Court Justices because the current Supreme Court hasn’t declared Obamacare to be unconstitutional and they haven’t overruled Roe v. Wade, so it doesn’t matter.

This viewpoint is incredibly wrong. And based on a misunderstanding of the philosophy of the conservative justices, which is basically:
(1) uphold stare decisis (in other words, previous Supreme Court precedent);
(2) enforce the original intent of the Constitution, unless that conflicts with stare decisis, and
(3) enforce statutory intent, unless of course that conflicts with the first two.

And you know what? The conservative Supreme Court has done this for the last three decades!

Do you know what happened before we had a conservative Supreme Court? We had a liberal supreme court which ignored precedents, ignored the Constitution, and ignored statutory intent, in order to implement their liberal vision.

Liberal control of the Supreme Court meant that the Court could move society to the left even though there was not enough support to get laws passed that would do that. ... They discovered a constitutional right to contraception. And then a constitutional right to abortion.

It’s foolish to think that if liberals get control of the Supreme Court, they won’t revert to their earlier ways and use that power to do liberal things that can’t get done though the regular political process. What is likely to happen?

Among many other changes, it will become unconstitutional to deny gays the right to marry.

And freedom of speech won’t apply to “hate speech.” And then this blog gets outlawed. The end.


Monday, November 5, 2012

First thoughts on the Book of Daniel

I’ve been trying to read the Book of Daniel recently.

It's structured on seven visions.  First, three dreams/ visions are given to other people and the interpreted by Daniel, each vision being followed by a brief story.  And, secondly, Daniel himself is given four visions.

I’ve glanced at several commentaries and none of them make this point.  It seems a basic structural feature, and I think this confirms C S Lewis’ assessment that most modern scriptural commentators miss very obvious literary features (in his essay, “Fern Seeds and Elephants”). 

The first three dreams/visions involve a progression.  The first dream tells the Babylonian king, that his empire is splendid but will be followed by lesser empires at some unspecified time.  The second dream is more threatening, telling the king that he will lose his sanity but will later be restored to his throne.  And the third vision tells the king’s successor that he will lose his throne the same night as the vision appears. 

Perhaps there's another progression involved, with each vision being less hidden than before.  In the first, the king doesn't remember the dream, and Daniel has to reveal both the dream and its meaning.  The king remembers the second dream, and Daniel again reveals the meaning.  But the third vision is more public still – written on the walls of the king’s banquet hall.  

Or at least, following my childhood picture Bible, I’ve always assumed that everyone saw the writing.  Actually, we’re told that the king saw it (Dan 5:5) and that the wise men “could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant” (Dan 5:8).  I think the wise men could see the letters but could not decipher them, let alone provide an interpretation.  But I’ll accept that it’s an open question and perhaps the writing was seen only by the king (and by Daniel). 

It could perhaps be like the situation where Daniel later sees the angel at the Tigris River.  His companions cannot see the angel, although they sense there is something there and flee in terror (Dan 10:4, 7).  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jesus meets two women

One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.  Seeing Jesus he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.”

… There was a woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years.  She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had.  Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
Mark 5:21-43

This was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago (in the Ordinary form).  I’ve been meaning to blog about it but have been ruminating on it instead. 

I recommend ruminating on the Sunday gospel.  Ideally, the gospel reading should set the spiritual tone for the ensuing week. 

And if a passage of Scripture resonates with us, we should stay with it for as long as useful, rather rushing on to something else. 

(Of course, this doesn’t apply if we’re reading Scripture systematically to get an overall picture.  In this case, it’s probably best to keep reading.  We can make a note of interesting passages and return to them later.) 


Returning to the Gospel passage, there’s a symbolic identity between the two women.  Both of them relate to the number 12, the first woman having been haemorrhaging for 12 years and Jairus’ daughter being 12 years of age. 

We can take it further.  As Jairus’ daughter is now 12 years old, she is about to start menstruating and will undergo– in a healthy manner – what the other woman has been experiencing. 

(I don’t think it’s inappropriate to point this out– the Gospel shows that our Saviour doesn’t see such things as unclean or inappropriate.) 

Looking further, there are two twelves.  Different interpretations are offered, but I suggest they represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles of the Church.  It’s not accidental that Jairus is a ruler of the synagogue.  (I also suggest that they parallel the 24 elders in Rev 4:4.) 

The numerological significance continues when the Lord enters the house.  When He raises the girl from the dead, there are 7 people present. (They are Jesus, Jairus and his wife and daughter, and the three apostles, Peter, James, and John.)

Another point of symbolic identity is that both are called "daughter". But, while the little girl is a daughter of the synagogue, Jesus acknowledges the haemorrhaging woman as His spiritual daughter.  Later He addressed the women on the Via Dolorosa as “Daughters of Jerusalem" (Luke 23:28),  but it is only the haemorrhaging woman whom He calls His own daughter.  


Of course, nowadays, we’re not used to reading for numerical significance.  We may feel uncomfortable with such “mediaeval” ways of thinking.  But it’s clearly in the text. 

In particular, it’s in St Mark’s account of the feeding of the four thousand (chapter 8).  After the miracle, the Lord asks the apostles how many basketfuls of pieces were there (twelve) and how many basketfuls were left (seven).  Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

So what is the answer to the Lord’s question? 

The symbolism has levels of meaning, but I think the immediate answer is that twelve stands for Israel and for the Church, the new Israel.  And that seven stands for the Sabbath, because “...the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). 

To digress, this point achieves a greater significance when we realize that the Lord rose on the eighth day, the first day of the New Creation.

(See for example, St Peter’s reference to eight in 1 Peter 3:22.  The point is spelled out in the early Church document, The Epistle of Barnabas, 15:8, 9.) 


Turning to another issue, the Saviour tells the healed woman “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”  And in last Sunday’s gospel, St Mark tells how He could do little for the people of Nazareth and was “was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:1-8).  

This makes for a contrast between the two women in the Mark 4. The haemorrhaging woman has a courageous faith but the little girl, being dead, cannot be said to have faith.

Perhaps we could say that her father had faith in Christ.  Or it might remind us of St Paul:  “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  And note how, of the two women, Jairus’ daughter received the greater miracle. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Conservatives should welcome the Australian High Court's decision

The Australian Government thinks that it's good if schools have chaplains. So it’s been contracting with various organisations, funding them to provide chaplains.  

(In Australia, Government schools are the legal responsibility of the State Governments. As they also think that school chaplains are a good idea, this doesn’t create a problem.)  

But Mr Ron Williams wanted his children to have a secular education. He asked the High Court to stop the Australian Government from funding the chaplains at his children’s school.  And, on Wednesday last, the Court did so. 

The High Court is Australia’s top court – our equivalent to the US Supreme Court.) 

Despite immediate appearances to the contrary, I argue that conservatives should welcome this decision. 

The Court looked at two issues.

First, it didn’t accept Mr Williams’ argument that, by funding chaplains, the Government had breached section 116 of the Constitution (dealing with the separation of Church and State).  In fact, the Court’s discussion on this point was brief and dismissive.  
So there’s no intrinsic problem with this program, and the Australian Government has announced that it will seek to continue the funding. It looks as though Mr Williams’ elation is likely to be short-lived.

The Court also decided that that the Australian Government can’t fund programs just because it wants to.  This is a seismic shift from the way that lawyers have previously been reading the Australian Constitution.

In effect, the Court said that the federal Government (the Executive Branch of Government) can only do so if the Australian Parliament (the Legislature) has given its authority by passing a law to authorise the proposal. 

(Actually, it seems the Court might permit the Government to directly approve some kinds of payments in cases involving the internal administration or the status of the Commonwealth as the national government.  The latter concept is rather vague and is likely to lead to more court cases!) 

The result of the decision is that the Government will need to pay more attention to the Parliament.  This means the decision involves a restriction on the power of the Executive. 

At present, the Greens have a significant representation in the Australian Senate.  By enhancing the role of Parliament, the High Court’s decision will also enhance the Greens’ power. 

In the short term, this is not a good outcome for conservatives.  But they should welcome the broader effect of the Court’s decision, because it restricts the power of the Executive Government. 

There’s also an issue about the State Governments.  The Australian Government sometimes asks the Australian Parliament to pass legislation, giving grants to the State Governments for various purposes.  This avoids difficulties in the federal parliament funding the projects outside its constitutional power. (See section 96 of the Constitution.)  

Following the High Court’s decision, the Australian Government will probably increase its use of this process.  If so, this will give more power to the State Governments (which might object or have questions about projects). 

In short, the decision should disappoint people who want a secular Australia and who want a central government with fewer restrictions on its capacity to spend public money. And it should be welcomed by conservatives.