Mormons, Muslims and Lazy Christians

Posted: 10 April 2016

Bored, overweight man sits on the sofa

Australia’s mostly widely read weekend newspaper recently carried a front page story in which we were informed that a popular Rugby League player would no longer play or train on Sundays so that he could attend his weekly church service. Canterbury Bulldogs star Will Hopoate negotiated the clause into his contract due to what the newspaper called his “staunch devotion to his Mormon faith”. The article went on to quote the 23-year-old who spoke about his desire that Sunday be maintained as a day set apart for rest, worship and charitable work.­ The coverage not only spoke about Hopoate, but carried positive information about the Mormon religion and other high profile Mormon Athletes.

I have no problem with the young man wanting to have a sacrosanct day in his week dedicated to prayer and refection. The world would be a far better place if each one of us, religious or otherwise, also took a day each week to stop and reflect. What I found most interesting in the article though was the obvious novelty seen in what Hopoate was doing. Actually perhaps ‘interesting’ is the wrong word, maybe I should have chosen ‘disappointing’, and for two reasons. First, only two generations ago a newspaper article would have been more likely commenting on the novelty of professional sport actually taking place on a Sunday. Second, it’s disappointing because mainstream Christianity has basically sold out on what were once its core values and that has been left to be picked up by groups such as the Mormons. How many Catholics, Anglicans or Orthodox do you notice standing up for the value of Sunday? How many are instead spending Sunday worshipping at the Cathedral of Saint Westfield or singing the joyful praises of Macy’s?

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Are Jesus and Mary Appearing Today?

Posted: 26 July 2015

Virgin Mary Image Appears On Chicago Expressway Underpass

Believers crowd around an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary located on a wall of an underpass in Chicago, Illinois. 18 April 2005.

The mainstream media in Sydney was recently abuzz at the report of a number of parishioners from a local Catholic church claiming to have witnessed the lips on an icon of the Virgin Mary moving during Mass. The video, which was filmed on a mobile phone camera by a worshipper, has since been seen hundreds of thousands of times and has attracted, understandably, very mixed commentary. The parish priest came out at the time and clearly stated that if anything did occur it was “a personal experience” not to be misunderstood as a public miracle.

This incident of course is not the first time that a miracle or apparition has been alleged to have taken place. Just a few suburbs over from the above mentioned church is a regular suburban house that has supposedly been weeping oil from the walls for close to ten years following the premature death of the resident family’s teenage son. While the family stills lives in the house it has become a virtual shrine adorned with images of Jesus, Mary and the saints; there have even been reports of the oil curing those who make pilgrimage to the house.

Yet topping both of these in the contentious miracle stakes is without a doubt the alleged apparitions which began in 1981, with six children from the small town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina claiming to see the Virgin Mary, not once or twice, but continuously for the past thirty four years. The messages have been seemingly worthy ones, calling for people to undertake more prayer, fasting and penance. And while the site attracts more than one million visitors a year – putting it just behind the Church-approved apparition sites of Fatima and Lourdes – it seems that after many years of investigation the Vatican is set to reach the conclusion that the apparitions of Medjugorje are inauthentic.

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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 »

In Google We Trust

Posted: 12 June 2014

213 GoogleI love Google. I use that little search bar numerous times every day. If I want to know what to cook for dinner, study the history of sandpaper or find out the time in Nigeria the method is always the same…Google. And it is a rare occasion when Google lets me down. Sometimes I have only fragments of information but sure enough, more often than not, Google knows what I am after. There are even times when I know the information I need is written somewhere very close by, but instead I’ll search for the information online. There is no doubt that our ability to find information so quickly on so many popular and obscure topics is one of the primary advantages of life in the 21st century. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, so every silver lining has a cloud.

Google was given its name as a derivative of googol which is the number one followed by a hundred zeros. The mission of Google’s two founders was to organise the seemingly infinite amount of information on the web. And it would seem that they really have succeeded. With over 2 trillion searches made through Google last year it’s clear that the world is keen to get its hands on as much information as it can. And rightly so, for information is a wonderful thing. The word ‘information’ is derived from the Latin stem informare meaning a sort of “formation of the mind”. This etymological meaning helps us to see that information is not only stuff we surround ourselves with, but in a much more profound way it shapes our very thoughts and thus the way we respond to situations. Read the rest of this entry »

Street Preachers – Giving Christianity a Bad Name

Posted: 28 April 2014

Street preachersEvery major city has its street preachers. Standing near train stations and bus stops, in parks and public squares, they hold up signs, handout leaflets and proclaim messages about sin, death, heaven and hell. ‘Sinners deserve hell’; ‘Judgement is coming…seek Jesus now’; ‘God hates the wicked’. Whether purposeful or not, these preachers often come across as angry with a threatening message: repent or burn in hell. Every city may have them, but that does mean they are a positive addition to the tapestry.

I am convinced about one thing in regards this style of evangelist, they give Christianity (and religion in general) a bad name and create an even wider gulf between the non-believer and faith. In fact it’s not only non-believers who are their target; Hindus, Muslims and an assortment of Christians (Catholics, Pentecostals, Mormons) are informed in no uncertain terms that their faith is of the devil. Then of course there are the ‘standard sinners’ under attack as described via their placards; ‘fornicators, thieves, abortionists, liars, drunks, adulterers and sodomites’.

Open-air preaching is certainly nothing new. The great philosophers and sages of the ancient world discussed some of the noblest ideas in the public forum. Jesus of Nazareth spent three years in public ministry with much of that preaching to huge crowds on hillsides and in the market place. The mendicant friars of the middle ages such as the Franciscans and Dominicans were renowned as the wandering preachers of Western Europe. The Protestant Reformation has spurred numerous passionate preachers, with Billy Graham, affectionately known as ‘America’s Pastor’, topping that list. Lastly, one shouldn’t forget Bishop Fulton J. Sheen whose weekly television shows in the 1950s and 60s drew up to 30 million viewers per week earning him the title from Time Magazine as the first ‘televangelist’. 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 »

Catholic or Protestant…Does it Matter?

Posted: 9 July 2013

pope and queenMy wife and I were travelling recently and we found ourselves on a shuttle bus from the airport to the car rental terminal. While sitting in our seat studying the map, a somewhat friendly man decided to spark up a conversation with us. This man, named Doug, was on his way to an evangelical Protestant retreat weekend with several hundred others from across the country. Upon finding out that we were Catholic, Doug shared that he was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic schooling but had some years back found his way into his particular brand of Protestantism. He didn’t seem too concerned by his change in identity. In the few minutes we had left I tried to offer Doug a few reasons to consider again Catholicism and with a smile reminded him that he was still a member of the Catholic family and an empty pew awaited him at any time.

Doug’s story is neither new nor unique, on that trip alone I met another two former Catholics-turned-Protestants. You probably have family or friends in a similar situation, perhaps you are in that situation. A recent US study identified that one in three people raised as Catholic (that is baptised Catholic) no longer identified as such. The figures would not be hugely inaccurate for Australia. Almost half of those who leave the Catholic Church become unaffiliated from any faith and most of the other half become active in a Protestant denomination. Those who leave Catholicism to worship in a Protestant community are by no means lazy Christians; in fact the same study showed that Catholics who became Protestants had a higher weekly church practice rate than those who remained Catholic. 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 Scandal of Unfaithful Priests

Posted: 10 June 2012

I had a few ideas in mind for this particular column but on the day I sat down to write it the story broke of a popular Sydney priest who had just announced to his congregation that he had secretly married a woman one year earlier and had since been living a double life. Immediately this priest was across the media in print and radio stating his case and decrying the Church for her laws on clerical celibacy. And as was to be expected the majority of commentary came out in favour of him and against the Church. This priest has always been very diligent in teaching the faith and bestowing the sacraments which makes the story even more disappointing but what is most disappointing is the harm and scandal such a situation does to the Church and to the people of God.

First it must be said that we are all fallen. Each of us has our individual temptations and we often struggle to be faithful to the higher ideals we know we should embrace. Some struggle to moderately use alcohol, others struggle with lust, others struggle with anger. The scandal is not in our struggle and the scandal is not even in our falling into sin. The scandal is when we portray our vices as virtues, try to justify our erroneous judgement and then sell that judgement to others as a truth to be believed. Read the rest of this entry »

Not a faith of rules but of perfect love

Posted: 25 September 2011

For many of us – myself included – we can say easily and without much thought “I trust in God”, but in reality how many of us really do, and to what extent? There are some beautiful words from Christ in chapter seven of Saint Matthew’s Gospel:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your son asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.”

These are the very words of Christ, the Son of God and God Himself. They should fill us with great hope. If we cannot believe these words deep within our being, then there are no words we can believe. Admittedly, these words are not easy. Yes, they are easy when everything is going as we desire but when life turn sour or when our plans tend to differ from God’s, it is then that we face the temptation to turn and walk our own way. Essentially all sin and all vice is us deciding to walk our own way. It is us not trusting that God’s only desire is to provide for us out of His love. Read the rest of this entry »

Choosing Religion, Buffet-style

Posted: 22 September 2011

I recently went away to a monastery for a time of silent retreat. As there were a few other people staying at the same time, there were brief conversations shared during meals.

On one of the evenings we were having dinner, Darren, who had just arrived for a “getaway”, was proceeding to tell us a little about himself. Darren was a young man in his mid-30s, the sort of guy you would not want to get on the wrong side of, well built with tattoos down both arms but a genuinely kind man. He was sharing how he was fascinated by different religions and loved to learn about what different faiths believe.

One of my fellow retreatants asked Darren what religion he was, to which he replied that he was a “Buddhist Jew”. Now, of course, there is no official religion of Jewish Buddhists and I would be willing to wager that Darren was officially neither a Jew nor a Buddhist. It was far more likely that his name was scribed into the baptismal register of the local Protestant denomination as a child but that he was not actively raised in any faith. Read the rest of this entry »