Is Genesis Myth?

Thankyou to Tony for his comment on my last post in which he brings up the approach taught by most Catholic Schools in Australia to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. I have come across these ideas before, and I think they are becoming so widespread in the Catholic Church they deserve some attention. In some circles, this approach is called the New Theology and basically jettisons any claim that any of the events in the first 11 chapters of Genesis ever actually happened. That’s everything up to and including the Tower of Babel, so for them, the real history begins with Abraham, and all that came before is called a ‘myth’, which, as Tony points out, may not necessarily mean what you think it means!

The concept of a myth is a very fluid one it seems. CS Lewis has much to say on the subject of ‘true myths’ in some of his essays (can’t remember exactly which ones) in which he more or less concludes that the purpose of a ‘myth’ is the moral or message, and that whether the myth actually happened or not, or whether it happened a little differenty is really of no great importance. I suppose you can think of the parables of Jesus which clearly were fiction, but intended to convey a lesson. Lewis of course was talking generally, but I think that the Catholics are applying a similar approach to the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

I think there are problems with this sort of approach. Once you start categorising bits of the Bible as possibly not having an historic basis, where might this not lead you? I wonder if an extension of this kind of thinking is responsible for people like Episcopalian retired Bishop John Shelby Spong rejecting any historical miracles of Jesus, together with the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection and Ascension and so on.

At the other end of the spectrum you have stubborn fundamentalists who insist that every word of the Bible must be taken as absolute literal truth (LITERAL being the crucial word here) and thus, for example, deny any possibility that the universe is older than about 6,000 years, in contradiction to lots of pretty solid evidence and to the fact that the language of Genesis in no way insists upon this kind of interpretation.

We have to learn from the mistakes of the past. The medieval Church in the West had no business decreeing that the earth was the centre of the universe – what right did they have to do that? The Church is responsible for spiritual knowledge and teachings. The people look to the Church for guidance and wisdom about far more than just spiritual life, but the Church must always resist the temptation that such respect brings and never go outside its limits of competency. On a smaller scale, a parish priest is often asked whether to take this job or that, or to invest in this project, or send the kids to this school. He has a responsibility to make it clear to those who ask for such advice that any advice given is that of a friend, not that of a mouthpiece of God … unless, of course, God has told him otherwise đŸ˜‰

Sure, one can draw inferences from the Bible about the laws of nature, but they will always be nothing more than guesses, and we must beware of giving them the status of Infallible Truths or putting them on a par with the doctrine and dogma of the Church. Science is always changing. If we as a Church throw our lot in with evolution, or the Big Bang, or even quantum physics, there is bound to come a time perhaps centuries later when these things will be superceded and the Church will be left with egg on its face, much as happened in the great crisis over Gallileo and Copernicus. There is no need for this, especially given that the Bible does not seem terribly interested in giving humanity the natural secrets of the cosmos – rather, it is occupied with the spiritual secrets of truth and love and holiness. We must accept that just because we are a Church, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to know everything and have the answer to every question! There are times when the only honest thing to do is to admit we don’t know. Which brings to mind a nice proverb: “He is wisest who knows himself for a fool”.

So, yes, my favoured approach would be to say simply something along these lines:

“The science, as far as it goes, can be comfortably accomodated within the Bible’s framework. But that’s all we can say. Whether the science of today describes reality fully and accurately is not a question for the Church to answer – it is for time to answer.”

Fr Ant

The Evolution Enigma

Last Night’s CCP Meeting was on the question of evolution. An intriguing and often highly emotional topic, it is one of those areas where, supposedly, science and fatih clash.

I’ve been doing a little bit of reading on the topic lately, and I have found there are a few conclusions that I think one is safe to draw about the current state of affairs. Please allow me to share them with you.

1. Evolution as a scientific theory is elegant, relatively simple, and in many ways quite a beautiful concept, if you look at it from a purely scientific point of view.

2. Looked at against the wider background of our existence, it can be a very ugly concept. I have no doubt whatsoever that some of the worst atrocities committed by humans in the past century were justified, whether consciously or subconsciously, by an evolutionary world view. Hitler’s purification of the German race is an attempt to take control of evolution. What gave him the right to do so? Because he was the “Fittest” and it is the fittest who should survive. The deaths of millions in the gas chambers is no more than the necessary by product of this law of nature, and we should not weep over it. Or so he thought.

3. Evolution still has many gaping holes. We started to look at some last night but time constraints meant we had to leave the rest for another session. Chief among the unresolved issues are the incredible probabilities against putting together DNA in the right sequence merely by chance, the vexed question of how the first life could possibly have arisen, and the lack of any sensible mechanism for the introduction of new genes into an organism’s genome. There are more, but these are my favorites.

4. Even if one day it should become apparent that evolution is the true cause of life on Earth beyond a shadow of a doubt, I cannot see how this would affect our faith. The Bible is interested in telling us what God did. How He did it is really His concern, and although we get a glimpse, we must not expect to be able to understand His ways. I still can’t understand how my mechanic diagnoses and fixes problems in my car, much less the mechanism of the Creation of the whole Cosmos! But to me, if the universe really can produce life all by itself, naturally and without any supernatural input, that would be an even greater miracle. I might be able to get some wood together and build a chair. Sure it would take some time, and it would probably wobble, but I think I could do it. What I don’t think I could do is build a machine that builds chairs without any help from me. Now that’s hard! So if God built a universe that can produce life without any supernatural input from Him, that would be a far greater miracle than if He had built each species individually.

5. There is, however, the case of microevolution as opposed to macroevolution. Macroevolution involves one species evolving into another species, and as such requires whole new genes to be inserted into the organism’s genetic code. There simply is no known mechanism for this to happen in most cases, and there does not seem to be any possibility for us finding one. But Microevolution involves the slightest fiddling with the existing genetic code, such as that which produces a tall or a short person, the colour of your eyes, or the resistance of bacteria against an antibiotic. Microevolution is implied in the Bible since all the different races of humans in the world are descended from just one family of eight people (Noah’s family). Clearly, all the variations between races must have arisen by a mechanism such as microevolution. But there is no evidence that I can see that can overcome the need for whole new genes in macroevolution.

6. Many people accept or reject evolution for reasons other than the actual science. If you want there not to be a God, you can use evolution as way of supporting your case that He didn’t have to be around to make us. And equally, if you want there to be a God, you can find the many, many holes there are in the theory of evolution. So how can one come to a genuinely objective Truth? I’m not sure anyone can. I admit freely that I am biased. I believe in God, for many other reason, and so I come to the evolution question expecting God to be a part of the true answer. And I find more than enough evidence to fulfil that expectation. But the fact is that the jury still out. Evolution is not fact, not macroevolution, anyway. So until we find unavoidably compelling evidence one way or the other, I suppose people will continue to choose their side on the basis of other factors.

7. I don’t think we should be ‘afraid’ of evolution. Sometimes Christians speak as though there was a demon called evolution, and we must not dabble with evil spirits, so stay right away! But evolution is not a demon, it is an idea, and ideas have no personalities or motivations. They can be right or wrong, they can tend towards causing evil or good, but in the end, they are just ideas. I think it is good for a Christian to understand the concept of evolution well, and to also be aware of all its shortcomings.

In the final analysis, our understanding of our universe is constantly changing, constantly being updated as new information becomes available. Personally, I suspect that in a few hundred years’ time the theory of evolution will have been replaced by some other explanation that we cannot even imagine today, much as Gallileo could not possibly have anticipated quantum physics.

But I don’t think I’ll be around to see it. Then again, by then I will be occupied with far more important things…

Fr Ant

www.stbishoy.org.au

Pyramid of Principles

Last Sunday’s Gospel, the Paralytic at the Pool who was healed by Jesus after 38 years of patient and fruitless waiting, contained a reference to one of the accusations brought against Jesus by His enemies. He was accused of breaking the Law of God by breaking the Sabbath rest and encouraging others to do so.

In this case, it was His command to the paralytic to pick up his bed and walk. Not long ago, ultra-orthodox Jews in the Sydney suburb of Bondi successfully campaigned for traffic lights that responded to pedestrians wanting to cross the road without them having to push that button. They consider pushing a button to be ‘work’ and thus prohibited on the Sabbath Day. Clearly, not much has changed in 2,000 years:

http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,20938465-5001021,00.html

This brings up the whole issue of how literally to take God’s commandments. Jesus’ approach to Sabbath rest question cut right to the heart of the subject: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Another time He reminded the Jews of the Old Testament quote, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

One way to interpret this might be a sort of hierarchy, a ‘pyramid’ of moral principles. Those principles that are higher in the pyramid overrule the lower principles. If you were asked to create such a pyramid, what would you have at the top? I wonder if your pyramid would agree with mine…

As a general rule in my pyramid, I would always put people higher than things. “People are more important than things” is a great motto that has saved me from awful mistakes many times, and I have always regretted it every time I ignored this concept. Should I go off my head about the valuable vase that my friend’s child accidentally broke? People are more important than things. That makes the decision relatively simple, doesn’t it?

At the top of my pyramid, I would have one single word: Aghape. Not just ‘love’, mind you, for the word can be twisted and misused too easily. By Aghape Love I mean the pure, unselfish, giving, and self-sacrificial love that comes from God; the love so poetically described in I Corinthians chapter 13.

In the lower levels of the pyramid, I would put the more ‘exterior’ virtues; observance of very specific rites such as how exactly one should stand when praying, knowing the tunes of all the hymns of the Church, and so on. All these are no more than tools we use to help us reach God, and it is dangerous to mistake them for goals in themselves, rather than just a means to a goal. This of course was the very mistake of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time; their pyramid was upside down, and not carrying a bed was considered more important than celebrating the miraculous healing power of God. No wonder they didn’t recognise Jesus as the Messiah. He would have probably pushed the button at the traffic lights, just to cross the road and save a soul!!! Humph!

In between would be all the other principles and virtues such as mercy, repentance, practical acts of charity, spiritual exercises and methods, social service and so on. I would try to arrange them such that those that relate to my personal relationship with God were higher, those that relate to the welfare of those I interact with beneath them, and those that relate to the welfare of those I have never met below them.

Isn’t that a bit selfish, putting myself at a higher priority than others? Not if the priority is my own spirituality, my own relationship with God. If you are not a good swimmer, and you see someone drowning in a deep river, you are not really going to do them a lot of good by jumping in to save them and ending up drowning with them! In the same way, I am unlikely to do anyone any good if I am not well connected to God. It is not my own powers and abilities that bring goodness into the lives of others, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit working through me. The best way for me to facilitate that grace is to be as well connected to Him as I can, and then let Him do His work as He sees fit.

As a newly ordained priest, I recall one wise bishop telling me that the best service I could possibly offer to my congregation was to personally be a genuine Christian. The years have shown me the wisdom of those words. It is one of the devil’s favourite tricks to engulf the servant in doing things, keep him or her so busy that they lose their focus, forget their real goals, and lose their connection with Christ. That is the road that ends with becoming a ‘whitewashed tomb’, looking smooth and clean on the outside, but being filled with death and decay on the inside.

I have also put the welfare of those I come into direct contact with above those who are distant since genuine love must seek to serve at every opportunity presented to it, and most of those opportunities are with those closest to us. There is no need to go looking for someone to help among strangers when my own family is in desperate need. You don’t think so? Is your wife falling apart over those unfinished bits of housework? Are your parents freaking out because they think they are losing you? Would a kind word and a little smile from the heart have made any difference to the bloke who sits at the desk opposite you and looked so down this morning? If these or any similar situations apply to your life (and they almost certainly do) then you have more than enough material around you to share God’s love.

That’s not to say it is wrong for us to go further afield to serve. As a community, it makes a lot of sense to delegate some servants or some portion of time to serving those who are far away from us but are in great need. It is quite possible to do the one without neglecting the other. Harder, I grant you, but still quite possible. But to travel hundreds of kilometers to comfort the suffering while there is unresolved suffering in my own home is a bit hypocritical.

So, there’s my Pyramid of Principles. How does it compare to yours?

Fr Ant

I Think I Need A Laxative

Sometimes things get lost in the translation. For example, below are a few of the commonest phrases used in the Arabic language, translated literally into English. See if you can guess their original meaning…


“A Jasmine dawn”

“Every year and you are kind”

“From under to under”

When we read the Bible in a translated language (like English), a lot of the more subtle nuances and meanings are also lost. Often the only way to find them is to read a good commentary (or perhaps go the whole way and learn Hebrew and Greek!) Here is one example…

SPLAGCHNA

Please don’t ask me how to pronounce it! It’s a Greek word that literally means ‘bowels’. It is often used in the New Testament, both as a noun and a verb (‘to bowel’). How? Here are a few verses with the word ‘splagchna’ translated literally…

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

It turns out that in the Greek mind of the time, the word ‘bowels’ was used to describe all the organs of the chest and abdomen, especially the ‘nobler’ ones like the heart, the lungs and the liver. It represented the deepest feelings, feelings that stir an almost physical tingle inside you. While Greek poets tended to use it as a metaphor for the more violent passions such as anger, in the east it came to represent more tender affections like kindness, compassion and pity.

The use of the word in Greek strongly relays the sense of a very deep feeling, a feeling that involves the whole person rather than a superficial one. Anyone who has suffered colic or constipation or, God forbid, a twisted bowel will know exactly what I am talking about! It is a feeling you cannot ignore, a feeling that commands your total and complete attention.

So the New Testament authors who use this word are telling us that mercy, pity, compassion and kindness should not be some sort of superficial coat we put on for the public and put in the closet when we go home. They should come from the very depths of our being. Concern for others should cut deeply into the soft tissue of our inward parts, our ‘bowels’. They should be an inseperable part of us, of who we are. They should be ‘gut reactions’ that flow naturally from our Christ-filled nature.

That is how God loves us, in so far as we can describe God in human terms at least (He has no real bowels):

“Through the bowels of mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78,79)

That is how we should deal with each other – not superficially, not artificially:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on bowels of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12)

And that is what should naturally flow into our actions, automatically:

“But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his bowels from him, how does the love of God abide in him? ” (I John 3:17)

Which is a very apt description of “Compassion Constipation” – the state where a person’s ‘bowels’ are no longer ‘moved’ by care for others. He becomes obsessed with his own inner feelings and pain and can no longer give to others.

What this person needs is something to clear him out – to unblock the obstacle – to free the ‘bowels’. There is no better ‘spiritual laxative’ than love. Love melts the hardened heart and fills the suffocating lungs with fresh clean air. Love takes away our colic and replaces it with a sense of comfort and inner peace. Blessed indeed is the person who is loved.

And we are all loved. Not only by those whom God has given us in our lives to be our family and friends, but especially by God Himself. His love is apparent in His daily care for us, His support and comfort in hard times, and on the Cross, that eternal symbol of His ‘bowel-felt’ compassion for His children. The gut-wrenching agony of the Crucifixion is the greatest image of what love really means.

You are loved.

Let that knowledge move you in the inner parts of your being.

Fr Ant

Jesus on the Mountains

NAHUM 1:15

Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!

Often amidst the Books of the Prophets in the Old Testament one finds little sparkling gems in the middle of passages that are otherwise hard to draw a relelvant meaning from. This little excerpt from the Book of Nahum seems to be a prophecy about Christ. The imagery is beautiful. Set your imagination free … picture in your mind a Palestinian mountain, low by international standards, and largely arid and rocky. A desolate place where the wind plays through boulders and the rubble and the few sparse bushes that survive here. A lonely place. A quiet place. A place where one can think or pray without distractions, where the mind and the spirit can find serenity…

This is the setting Jesus chose for a significant part of His ministry. I had no idea how significant until I did a quick Bible Search of the Gospels:

Matthew:

4:8 Temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:4)
5:2 Sermon on the Mount
14:8 Praying by Himself (Mark 6:46; Luke 6:12; John 6:15)
15:29 Healing multitudes and feeding 4,000
17:1 Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28)
24:3 Outlining the End of the World (Mark 13:5)
26:30 Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:26; Luke 22:39)
28:16 The Great Commission after Resurrection.

Mark:

3:13 Appoints His Disciples
5:11 Exorcism at Gadarenes (Luke 8:32)

Luke:

19:37 Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry
21:37 Resting at the Mount of Olives (John 8:1)

John:

4:19 The Samaritan Woman
6:3 Feeding the 5,000

Acts:

1:12 Ascension

That’s 15 events in the life of Jesus about which the Evangelists saw fit to record that they occurred on a mountain. Clearly, Jesus was quite at home in the mountains, as He was of course at home in the heights of spirituality. That’s not counting the many references to Bethany, the place of His rest, which was on a mountain, or Golgotha, the Hill of the Skull.

Why a mountain? From a mountain, you get the big picture. You feel that you are above the petty events of the plain that look so small and insignificant. The dangers of the plain are far beneath you and you do not need to worry about them. You have the sense of ascending, of striving for a pinnacle … all these are quite conducive to our own spiritual journey and our attitude upon that journey, as we strive to scale the mountain to reach the pinnacle of His Presence, as He awaits us, there … at the top of the mountain.

Fr Ant

Zephaniah’s Zoo

Reading the second chapter of Zephaniah, I found it interesting to see how the overthrow of the evil nations is often portrayed in the Old Testament as a victory for nature. The plants and the animals resume their domination of lands that once were ruled by mighty kings.

It implies that man is, after all, pretty weak. Even his greatest constructions fall to the gentle ravages of time and nature combined – the empire created by God, nature, always wins out in the end. The fragile pelican shall sit as king upon the great pillars, and the mournful cry of the bittern shall replace the trumpets of the King. These inhabitants at least, shall praise the true God, unlike their human predecessors.

It is also a metaphor for getting back to basics, for simplicity, for ‘meekness and humility’. The simple life in touch with the land and the seasons and the beasts somehow instils in us a mode of connection that we miss when we are surrounded by our own creations in the city. Perhaps it is because we can no longer clearly see God’s creation? Perhaps it is because our own urban creations make for an incredibly unbalanced life, one of rush and anxiety and unfocussed vision that leads us to look too much to things that don’t matter? In the city, where is the wonder of the Milky Way at night, bisecting a sky dazzled with uncountable stars? Where is the gentle serenity of a silent walk in the fields with nothing but cows and dandelions for company? Where is the profound meditation that comes from these experiences, building up day after day to a well of wisdom?

It reminds me of a story I once read about an American father who takes his son to an impoverished third world country to teach him about poverty. The child comes home and thanks his father for showing him just how poor he really is. For the child, the simple life of the impoverished citizens, with time to spare, surrounded by people who love you with a love undiluted by material cares and the beauty of nature for your roof, walls and floor is a life of untold wealth. His own life comes a very poor second!

Simplicity.

A topic worth coming back to…

GBU

Fr Ant

The Blog in Your Own Eye

How hard can it be, really?

As a priest, I often hear people complaining about others. For a multitude of motives, people will come to complain to Abouna, perhaps because he is ‘in charge’ at Church, or perhaps because they think he will fix the person up, or perhaps (I hope not) because they think it will benefit them somehow to tarnish the reputation of their enemy in Abouna’s eyes.

Before I go further, I should probably point out that it doesn’t work, just in case you’ve ever been tempted to think it might be fun. Priests in general do not hold a ‘bad idea’ about anyone. We tend to take the view that all of us, (including the priests) are sinners grappling with their own weaknesses and all equally in need of God’s mercy and grace.

But I wonder why some people do so enjoy picking out other people’s faults? We all do it. It’s an easy trap to fall into. But why do we do it?

Does it make the critic feel superior, perhaps?

Or perhaps it makes him feel better about himself: if you can’t rise to the level of others, the next best thing is to bring them down to your own level.

Does it make him feel intelligent, something like: “Oooh, aren’t I clever for picking that up, when the person I’m criticising clearly has no idea!”

Or is it a sort of passive way to get back at someone. You know you can’t punch them in the face, so you fantasise about condemning them.

Does it distract him from the painful subject of his own faults?

I think I would be very unhappy if my self-esteem depended on putting others down. How miserable! And what a waste of time! Surely my self-value is not relative? Whether I am a good person or a bad person depends on who I am, not on how bad others are. If all around me were evil, horrible people, and I was no worse than a simple liar, that doesn’t make me a saint, simply by comparison!

The danger in finding lots of specks in other eyes, of course, is that I might never focus on the log in my own eye. This has two rather undesirable consequences:

1. I will never be able to repent from my sins, for I will never become aware they even exist.

2. When the time comes for me to be judged by the real Judge, He will apply the same degree of mercy to me that I applied to others. Uh-oh…

Now I am getting worried. I’ve been writing a lot of opinions on this Blog. Sometimes, they have been quite critical. Have I been focusing on the specks in the eyes of others, while all the time neglecting the blog in my own eye?

Fr Ant

PS A person whose vision is obstructed by a log is unlikely to have the ability to see something as small as a speck anyway. Think about it….

Is Anyone Hungry?

Last night at the CCP we were talking about the nature of serving God and of the person who serves God when an interesting contemplation came up.

In the passage about the end of the world, in Matthew chapter 25, Jesus tells those on His right side, “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me”.

I find this image quite beautiful. You can almost imagine the surprised expressions on the faces of these people. “When did we do these things for You?” they ask honestly. (It would have been no good just being quiet and hoping He would not notice that this was a case of mistaken identity!) They couldn’t remember ever seeing Jesus and doing something for Him. Perhaps they couldn’t even remember doing those things for “the least of His brethren”. The reason for this apparent amnesia is that they did these services without even thinking about it. Do you remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday? Unless you’re some sort of obsessive gastrophile, the answer is probably ‘no’. Eating is such a normal, basic part of life. For these people, helping others is just as normal and basic in their life. It is something they did without even thinking about it – it just came naturally.

That’s what it takes to get to Heaven.

But that’s not the end of the story. Think about those things that Jesus ‘was’ when they served Him. Sound familiar? In fact, they are all the things we ARE, spiritually speaking. Spiritually, we are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison:

Hunger: we ache for the empty hole in our lives to be filled with the love and the purpose that God gives.

Thirst: we are parched with yearning for the sweet cool living water of the Word of God, the Truth that satisfies.

A Stranger: we are strangers in this world, lost, without a place to rest, not belonging, trying to find our way home.

Naked: our sins leave us exposed before God’s penetrating gaze, and like Adam and Eve before us, we feel the shame that sin brings, and need Him to clothe us with His mercy and forgiveness.

Sick: our thoughts are those of a fevered mind, infected with the plague of worldliness and selfishness, desperately in need of healing and comfort.

Prisoner: we have allowed ourselves to be taken captive by the merciless enemy, the devil, who enchains us cruelly – who will set us free?

So you see, it was not our service for Him that was really important in this whole exercise, but His for us! He saw that we needed all those things, and desperately. He came to us, and did all those things, or at least, He offered to, if only we would accept. And those of us who accepted were so changed that they couldn’t help doing the same things back to others. Much like a little child whose parents always say ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ to her at home, so she goes to school and says ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ to her teachers and fellows.

The key, if you trace the story back, was when the human soul accepts the service offered by Jesus, accepts His feeding, giving drink, clothing etc.

It’s that simple.

And it’s that hard. Do you accept Jesus’ service each day? Do you choose to come before Him with your hunger and thirst and take from His hand His life-giving spiritual nourishment?

When I was little, we got a pet cat simply by feeding a stray for a few days on the back verandah. It decided to adopt us and make our house its home. So devoted was it that we actually ended up getting three generations of cats, and only broke the relationship when we moved house. The person who gets used to coming to Jesus every day (if not every minute) soon also may choose to make His House his home. He becomes part of His family, and remains with Him to the end of his days. Does this describe you?

We started by talking about serving others. We ended by finding that it is we who are in need of service from Christ. If you do not feel that you have this kind of relationship with Him, don’t just sit there … do something about it!

Fr Ant

An Axe To Grind

If the axe is dull and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success.
Ecclesiastes 10:10

There is a lot of power in this simple little observation. When you hear it, you think “Well that’s pretty obvious!” yet it is amazing how often I will keep on chopping with a blunt axe, apparently more willing to invest more and more energy into each blow for less and less result, rather than simply taking a few moments out to sharpen it.

This applies to many things in life, but perhaps most especially to one’s spiritual life. How many people persevere unthinkingly with an unfruitful spiritual activity – with empty prayers, for example, or disasterous ways of dealing with others – and never think to stop and sharpen the axe?

Ten minutes to think and pray about praying could make the world of difference for all the hours of praying I have yet to do in my life! Ten minutes of analyzing what I did wrong, that so upset someone today, could save me dozens of lost hours trying to solve similar future problems, as well as saving both of us the horrible negative feelings that go beside these disputes.

I often desire the sharpness of my axe that will smoothly and effortlessly cut through the red tape of life. Yet far less often do I trouble to stop what I’m doing and walk over to the sharpening wheel.

Fr Ant

Those who are about to HSC

Speaking to some of our Year 12s on the weekend, I noticed a variety of attitudes, with only about 2 weeks left before the Moment of Truth.

Some students seemed pretty relaxed – either they know they’ve got it in the bag, or they don’t care, or they’re pretty good actors. Others though, were definitely showing the signs of beginning to crack up. So I thought this time I might see if I couldn’t bring a little cheer into this momentous period of their lives. If you’ve already been through all this, please let your younger fellows know that there IS indeed life after the HSC…

Now some of you may be aware (I don’t mention it that often) that I very strongly believe in that profound Biblical doctrine that is best summed in these words:

EXAMS ARE FUN

You will immediately recognise that my main Biblical foundation for this dogma is James 1:2

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials

Now some have very foolishly doubted the link between this verse and the HSC, but it seems as clear as the nose on my face to me (please disregard the times when there is a pimple on my nose and it is anything but clear). “Trials”, as you all know, are the last set of exams Year 12 students do before sitting their major Final Exams. That St James, back in the First Century AD, was aware of this is made very obvious if we consider some more verses from his Epistle. For example:

To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: (1:1) is a very obvious reference to the HSC, being a test for Year “twleve”, which is conducted all over the state, with some students even sitting the exam at overseas centres – hence, scattered abroad. Later, he writes:

knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience(1:3)

Ahhhh. What is it now that produces patience? “testing”!!! How much plainer can he make it? Clearly this word, “testing” is to be identified with exam centres, and supervisors, and exam papers – all that stuff we associate with the word. And there’s more:

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (1:9-11)

This is obviously a reference to the total worthlessness of your HSC mark once you have left school. Employers don’t care too much about it, and even universities are now steering away from using it as the criterion for choosing their students, preferring instead to depend on more accurate measures like UMAT (= Unrelenting Mental Agony and Torture) exams or interviews. Yes, the richest of UAIs will quickly fade away like a beautiful flower burned by the hot noonday sun of competition in the real world. Isn’t that a comforting thought!

Why, then, I hear you ask, must we suffer this pain? What’s the point?

Well, the point is actually more: the points. Here are my reasons for hanging on, doing your very best until the end, and diving over the line as hard as you can:

1. For many of you, your UAI will decide your future. Sorry. That’s life.

2. You might surprise and amaze yourself with what you can actually do if you really have to. Believe it or not, what you have to learn for the HSC is pretty measly compared with what you are going to learn at Uni, TAFE or work. The only thing that makes it seem so hard is the pressure of what’s riding on it. Take that away, and you could do it with one hand tied behind your back, with a blindfild on, and while rubbing your tummy and patting your head whilst all the time whistling “Bananas in Pyjamas” in Croatian. (please don’t comment on that sentence. It makes no sense to me, either).

3. You will learn a lot more than calculus and chemistry. You will actually develop really useful things like character, inner strength, faith, patience, calmness under pressure, stamina, self-confidence, resilience and much more. Some of the most important lessons you learn in Years 11 & 12 DON’T appear on your certificate.

4. You will enjoy your holidays an awful lot more if you don’t have a miserable dark cloud hanging over your head and following you wherever you go, with the words “You didn’t try very hard, did you?” stamped across it. It can really take the fun out of everything you do. Including sleep.

5. Many others have trod this path and run this race before you. They stuck it out to the very end – are you gonna let them get away with thinking they’re better than you??!!??

6. God loves you, no matter what.

7. We love you, no matter what.

Is that enough? I’m looking forward to seeing you all at the HSC Liturgy this Saturday 6th October 8:30-10:30an, followed by our traditional pre-exam HSC breakfast (sort of like the Grand Final Breakfast, hey?). The Fathers will be there to offer you their words of encouragement and support (and take any last minute confessions!) and to resuscitate anyone who conks out.

The days to come won’t be easy:

But there’s nothing to prevent them from being enjoyable…

By the way, for a little light entertainment, you might enjoy the following:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CN7VW-12zs

But don’t spend too much time watching – you’ve got work to do!!!

Fr Ant