How Many Catholic Churches Are There?

Posted: 13 October 2014

Eastern Catholic ChurchesIf someone were to ask you how many Catholic Churches there are in the world, what would be your response? Not small ‘c’ churches referring to church buildings, but rather, Church with a capital ‘C’, indicating the grouping of believers who call themselves Catholic. You may very well respond to the question that there is one Catholic Church and to a large extent you would be correct. One can look to the Scriptures to see that the Lord deliberately founded a living Church built on his Apostles in order that his teachings and sacraments would continue down through time. Indeed the word Church comes out of the Greek verb ‘to gather together’, so the Church at its heart is a gathering of people.

While there is one Catholic Church though, that Church is made present in 23 Churches. Yes, that is correct, there are 23 Catholic Churches, and only one of those Churches is the Western, or Latin Church. The other 22 Churches are collectively termed the Eastern Catholic Churches but they are by no means all the same. Some of the Eastern Churches include the Melkite, Maronite, Ukrainian and Coptic Churches. And nor are these Eastern Churches mere annexes of the Latin Church. Each of the 22 Eastern Churches are autonomous and self-governing with their own Patriarch, Major Archbishop or Bishop. While these Churches were born in places such as the Middle East, India and Eastern Europe, they are not primarily cultural groups in the same way as one might be a French Catholic or an Indonesian Catholic (both of whom are still members of the Latin Church). Each of the 22 Eastern Churches preserve unique liturgical, devotional and theological traditions that demonstrate the authentic universality of the Catholic Church. For the most part, the Eastern Catholic Churches choose their own Bishops yet they remain Catholic because they are in full communion with the successor of Peter.  Read the rest of this entry »

Pope Francis Marrying Sinners Is No Surprise

Posted: 28 September 2014

Pope Francis weddingThis month Pope Francis seemed to shock the world by marrying twenty couples in a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica. Aside from the fact that Popes don’t get the opportunity to preside at weddings all that often, what provided the real shock value was that amongst the couples, some had cohabited, one had a child out of wedlock and another had a previous marriage annulled. Some of the hundreds of headlines read, “Pope’s Marriage Celebrations Hint at Coming Changes for the Church”, “Pope Francis Spent His Sunday Marrying Dirty Cohabiters and Other Sinners”, and “Pope Breaks Taboo by Marrying Cohabiting Couples”.

I realise of course, that editors and news producers love to create a stir, but when you digest the actual reports, it becomes clear that there is real ignorance around what the Catholic Church is actually on about. There was a false assumption by the media that the ceremony was a sign that Francis is about to dismantle the “Vatican rules” about marriage. One report boldly stated that by his actions the Pope had “redefined” Catholic doctrine. Another report felt the need to actually clarify that the Pope didn’t marry any homosexual couples in the ceremony, however hinting that this may be the beginning of some openness towards that. The general theme was that because the Pope married people who the media deemed as sinners, 2000 years of Christian understanding on the nature of marriage and sexuality was somehow up for grabs.

The Pope and the ceremony did not redefine anything, least of all any doctrine. The ceremony certainly included a mix of couples including some very active in their faith and others who in the past were less so. Unlike the media, the Church does not look to people and define them as ‘sinners’, she states what sin is, but never attempts to read the heart of an individual and cast judgement: that is generally left to God. What we saw was the same spectrum of couples that are married in churches every day across the world. The truth is that not every couple who stand before a priest to get married are saints, in fact I guarantee you that none of them are. But that’s the whole point of marriage. The sacrament exists so that couples mutually sanctify one another through their life together. Every married couple should go to their death bed as saints but there is no obligation to be canonisable at the start. Each of the couples who the Pope married were prepared by their local parish priest and were ready and willing to embrace marriage. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion is Meant to be Used

Posted: 4 March 2014

Chris Ashton RugbyMany years ago I was active in the Legion of Mary, the largest apostolic organisation of lay people in the Catholic Church, with over 3 million members in almost every country of the world. One of the tasks our praesidium (local group) undertook was weekly home visitations assigned by the parish priest. We visited many different people; some were very active in the faith and our visit was a friendly social call, some were new to the parish so we may have been offering particular information or assistance, and others had made contact with the priest because they may have wanted to get their child into the Catholic school.

In visiting this latter category we would often find people who meant well but knew very little about Christianity. Many of them were technically ‘Catholic’ but the last time they entered a church was to make their confirmation when they were twelve years old. As the Legion of Mary is a spiritual group (in comparison to the St Vincent de Paul Society which offers material assistance), we would make all our visits armed with a mix of prayer leaflets, miraculous medals and rosary beads, which we would freely offer to those we visited. Many of our Catholic-but-non-practicing contacts would gladly accept these items. On a number of occasions I recall they would momentarily disappear into another room before bringing forth, with great pride, a venerable box full of brand new medals, rosaries and unused prayer leaflets. In a way that was rather touching they would tour us through this box pointing out each piece and when it was given to them and by whom. These boxes for the most part contained the sum total of their religion, what they knew about faith was inside that box and that was where they would, with enthusiasm, place the new spiritual items we gave to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Have Yourself a Very Adult Christmas

Posted: 24 December 2012

Once again, Christmas is upon us; Santa is out in full force, shopping centres are playing Bing Crosby and the ‘spirit of giving’ is in the air. You may be planning to attend the local Christmas Carols at some point. If it is a religious caroling event, the children may be dressing up as shepherds and angels; if they are the larger ‘commercial’ carols you will be more likely to see the little ones dressed as elves and reindeer. However Christmas is celebrated though, it is well and truly a season that lights up the faces of children everywhere.

From a marketing point of view Christmas is like manna from heaven, the car parks are crowded, the food courts are full and the EFTPOS terminals are running hot. While many families, including my own, go with the ‘Kris Kringle’ method of present giving, (meaning that each adult buys for one other adult in the family), the children always receive individual presents from all the members of the family. Outranking gifts from mum and dad however are the gifts children receive from the jolly man in the red suit. Once based in the historical personage of the gift giving Saint Nicholas, from the early 20th century he has strangely morphed into a man living at the North Pole with a large team of magical elves and flying reindeer.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wedding: Church or Garden?

Posted: 15 August 2012

I was recently speaking to a Catholic woman whose daughter is getting married later this year. I enquired about what church the marriage was to take place in but the mother replied that while the daughter liked the look of the parish church she had opted for a garden wedding so she was able to design more of the ceremony herself. The mother didn’t seem to be aware of any concerns stemming from this decision.

Catholics leaving their parish for a scenic wedding is no longer unique. Until recently even the most distant of Catholics would appear in the parish to be hatched, matched and dispatched, that is, for their baptism, wedding and funeral. But a growing proportion of young couples are marrying ‘outside the Church’ (to use the classical phrase). Some do so because they have such little connection with their faith it makes no sense to them, others dislike the Church for one reason or another and some simply felt an outdoor wedding would be more picturesque. Read the rest of this entry »

The Stations of the Cross and the Marital Bed

Posted: 11 March 2012

This Lent, as you pray the Stations of the Cross and recall the Passion and Death of the Lord, you might add to your reflections the connection between Christ’s act of love for his bride the Church and the love of a husband and wife. The great spiritual writers have long spoken about the comparison between the Cross and the Marital Bed but in bringing it to mind again we can undergo a renewed appreciation of these two great life-giving realities.

The 10th Station recalls that after the arduous walk to Calvary, Christ is stripped of his garments. It is not often that one finds a Crucifix in which the Saviour is completely naked; we usually leave a conveniently-placed loin cloth to protect our somewhat prudish sensibilities. Let us not be confused though, Our Lord was stripped of all his garments; he hung upon the wood of the cross in the same way that he came into this world, naked. At Christmas we often speak about the humility and simplicity of the baby Jesus, but in this season we would do well to recall the utter humility which was forced upon the man Christ as he lay before his tormentors with nothing between him and them. This nakedness is not only a historical fact though. The first Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he understood he was naked; his disobedience brought forth death and the feeling that his nakedness was shameful. Christ, the second Adam, would return to the tree once again, but in his nakedness he would bring forth life and redeem mankind from the curse that had been laid upon him through Original Sin. Is it not also in nakedness that a husband and wife continue to this day to overcome the sin of our first parents? Where but in the marital embrace can a man and woman experience that pure and beautiful gaze which Adam and Eve knew every day before the fall? It is in their nakedness that man and woman approach the marital bed to make of themselves a gift in the way that Christ makes himself a gift to his bride. Read the rest of this entry »

Science vs Religion…Why the Battle?

Posted: 29 January 2012

The other night I was watching a TV documentary on the ‘debate’ between intelligent design and evolution. The program captured the turmoil in 2005 that tore apart the community of Dover, Pennsylvania in a battle over teaching evolution in public schools. A pointless debate if ever I heard one…allow me to explain.

The debate around creation vs evolution did not begin in Dover, Pennsylvania; in part we could trace it back to Rene Descartes, the 17th century French philosopher who is famous for his phrase “I think therefore I am”. Descartes posited that all we could really know was in the mind and his legacy was a split between the physical world and the spiritual world. Prior to this type of thinking, people understood the supernatural to be more real than the physical space they inhabited.

The other split that began just before Descartes was the Protestant Reformation. The reformers who objected to the doctrines and structure of the Catholic Church held as their foundation principle that of sola scriptura – Bible alone. No longer would all of Christianity believe that the bible should be interpreted by the Church (which actually compiled the book) but rather it would become something that could allegedly be perfectly interpreted by anyone who wanted to read it. This individualistic reading of the bible divorced from Sacred Tradition led to a literal fundamentalism among some of the Protestant denominations (and this is where the good people of Dover fit in). Read the rest of this entry »