Reclaiming May in Catholicism

serversmallAs a young boy I was fully inducted into my privileged state  in the Catholic Church. I was a altar server which meant I had access to the sacred in ways that my revered grandmother would never know.I was taught the ritual language of Latin and dressed in robes that marked me off from others in the Church.

The elite male caste of clericalism is one that can easily trap a young boy with religious interest,imagination and dreams of adventure. Although I had my share of comic book heroes, some of whom were military monsters, I also read of the martyrs and wonder workers of my faith tradition who ranged from the hard working to the eccentric. Few of these stories were of women whether  in comic books or biographies of saints.

I spent a number of years as a young adult within this culture of male clericalism. I learnt much from this  experience. My choices meant that I lived in a  multicultural religious community of men. This nurtured a  new appreciation of cultural diversity that has stayed with me since.It also gave me insights into masculinity that have led me to a new understanding of my sexuality as a gay man.

My passion for social justice led me to an awareness that at the core of my life was a deep injustice both personal and systemic. It was an injustice deeply rooted in  the very culture I had taken on board as my  source of meaning and fulfillment.

Patriarchy is the elephant in the room of Catholicism and much of Christianity.In my younger days I took it for granted that males had rights and privileges.When I was a young altar boy there was one Sunday in the year when girls took centre stage in the Church.

The annual crowning of Our Lady’s statue was a high  religious festival in May. It involved  flowers, lyrical songs and young girls dressed in white strewing rose petals on the nave of the Church, There was even a “WHS” factor ignored at the time, when one  special girl in full white wedding gear had to climb a ladder to place a wreath of flowers on the head of the statue. Many observers would see the day as a bit of Goddess worship Catholic style where women had their  15 minutes of religious fame. But after all the processing and drama of the crowning we went back to hearing a male priest tell of the glory of Mary.

In  2012  the NCR  published one of the best pieces of writing I have ever read by Sr Joan Chittester : Silence about the global treatment of women is disquieting. Chittester concludes this item with this call:

From where I stand, it seems to me that male “protection,” paternalism and patriarchal theology are not to be trusted anymore because the actions it spawns in both men and women have limited the full humanity of women everywhere, and on purpose.


Isn’t it time for us all to really be converted, to say the real Truth about women from our pulpits, from our preachers, from our patriarchs, until both they and we finally believe it ourselves? Then surely the actions that make it real will follow.

I am all for keeping May as a month of “woman awareness”. I believe we should rediscover the mythology and person of Mary of Nazareth in our day. My preferred text for such an approach is Marina Warner’s “Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary“. It speaks with far more religious and feminine insight the Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary.

I have  my own Marian Shrine in the back garden. “Our Lady of the Milk Crate” is a local devotion inspired by the appearances of Mary at Coogee Beach. Readers may be surprised to know that the Virgin Mary had made an earlier visit to Coogee in 1911 to a young woman, Eileen O’Connor who founded Australia’s Brown Nurses.


On a practical and pastoral response perhaps our Churches could begin by recognizing May as Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month with the same enthusiasm that goes into devotions to the Fatima visions.

My many women friends continue to challenge me into the full maturity of my masculinity. I recall with gratitude the women of global influence I have been privileged to meet or know online and through their writings. I honour the work of Dorothy Day, Jean Houston, Helen Prejean, Pauline Coll, Julia Cameron. Marina Warner, Janet McKenzie,   Mirium Therese WinterOdetta, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Maureen Watson, Oodgeroo  Noonuccal  Mirium Rose Ungunmerr Baumann and so many more.

Easter Greeting 2017

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Welcome to the season of Easte
r. Yes, it runs much longer than tomorrow’s public holiday and the end of Easter specials on offer.

Thanks to joy filled Christianity there are 50 days for the greetings, the chocolate, the hot cross buns, and the ‘Alleluia” refrain that will echo with hope in worshipping communities.

As we Christians complete our Easter celebrations on June 4th we will join our sisters and brothers of Islam who will commence their holy season of Ramadam on May 27 .

Truly this is a season of new life, peace among peoples and universal hope for the future of our planet, May this time of renewal and f33cf-fullsizerenderpeace find a home in our hearts.

The tee-shirt I wore to services on Good Friday and for the Easter Vigil. Alongside the First eoples image of the cross is the sticker placed on each of us who attended the Lamentations at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Dormition of Our Lady, Mt Gravatt

The Easter spirit is captured in the burst of light across the top of the tee.

Safe Schools Coalition

downloadI was a student at St Joseph’s College Geelong from 1965-1970. They were days when it was not safe to even hint of your interest and orientation being different to the dominant culture. They were days of silent loneliness and anxious awareness. As young men of that era we didn’t show any affection to each other regardless of our sexuality. The Catholicism we encountered also failed to engage us in a healthy body image or intimacy.

Now an older gay man and a life member of the St Joseph’s College Old Collegians I am welcomed back to share my journey with a new generation of young men who comfortably express their affection for each other and have built a community that welcomes diversity and challenges abuse and bullying.

The Safe Schools Coalition offers an opportunity for students and staff to create communities that are healthy, welcoming and as in the case of my alma mater, affirming of the wonderful spectrum of masculinity.

I applaud the decision of Paul Tobias, the staff and community at SJC Geelong to implement this program. I hope my family and friends in Geelong will also stand by the College in the face of the fear and intolerance of those who oppose the Safe Schools Coalition.
‪#‎sjcgeelong‬ ‪#‎safeschoolscoalition‬

 

Christmas 2015

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Catholic Missions Australia Christmas Card

As we celebrate the 12  days of  Christmas I greet my diverse social media  network with the universal message of peace on earth and good will to all.
I wrote this piece last year. It bears repeating just as our work of building peace and community is a constant refrain to life’s song.
May the ancient story of a child born in occupied territory open our hearts to the work of defending human rights.
May the birth of every child call us to our communal responsibility to protect children,to take them on wild adventures and to let them grow into the unique person they care called to be.
May the the image of a family forced to seek refuge and asylum far from their home inform our political choices as citizens of a global village.
May our messages of good wishes and happy holidays not blind us to the work of justice making and non-violence.
May the lights and decorations of the season remind us of our mission to bring light to the darkness and celebration to life.
May our gifting be generous as we remember those who live in situations of poverty and exploitation.
May we hear angelic voices singing our dream of peace on earth

I Support Queensland Parliament Civil Partnership Legislation

The Relationships (Civil Partnerships) and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2015 proposed by the Queensland Parliament seeks to reinstate legislative provisions removed in 2012 in respect of legally recognised partnerships between two adults, to:allow a state-sanctioned ceremony prior to registration of a civil partnership

  • allow such a relationship to be registered as a ‘civil partnership’, rather than a ‘registered relationship’. 
  • The Bill would also support the transition to a digitised births, deaths and marriages registration service, establishing electronic lodgement as the means of lodgement for births and deaths.  It would recognise the validity of digitised copies of source documents relating to registrations of life events, the same legal status as the original paper versions.


This legislation first step on the journey of honouring the human dignity and commitment of same sex couples. It is also a basic human right that protects the legal status of the relationship. Written submissions addressing the Bill’s proposals as outlined above are now invited, and will be accepted until 4.00 pm on Monday, 19 October 2015.A guide to making submissions is available here.

I find it bizarre that so many of my fellow Catholics get upset by this. The Church blesses all sorts of inanimate objects including  houses, cars, footballs,  statues and buildings. It has blessings for all sorts of people from students to pilgrims but won’t even offer a blessing ritual to same sex couples.

The official book of blessings however does include a Blessing of Organisations Concerned With Public Needs so perhaps Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group  could qualify for that. 

For Those Who Come Across the Seas

Our anthem is sung from small school assemblies to footy finals. Most know the first verse and are even surprised to discover the second verse with its lines that challenge Government refugee policy of recent times:

For those who come across the seas
We’ve boundless plans to share

These lines will now be given life and fire as the title of this year’s Social Justice statement from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council The statement  summary in video format may not have the  the grandeur of a full choir and orchestral setting.of the anthem, however it  presents lyrics that touch our hearts.

It is a subtle presentation of the facts about refugees and asylum seekers in our world and local community.It is also a challenge and an invitation to action.

We all have a role to play
What can we do as individuals and a community to help our brothers and sisters and work for a conversion in our nation? The task is not easy, but there are many things that we can do.

First, we can make sure that Australians understand the issues better. Quiet conversation and
example are powerful tools for conversion.

We can also support the organisations that work to help asylum seekers: organisations like the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Social Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Asylum Seekercentres and many others.

We can work within our parishes to ensure that they are welcoming places. Creating social events, organising or joining support networks, introducing refugees and hearing their stories: all these are ways in which we can recognise the humanity of those who have come in need of protection.

Politicians need to know that we feel passionately about this issue, and not just at the ballot box, when we cast our vote. Writing to local members and ministers does have an effect, and can give encouragement to those in Parliament who also seek a better way.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office is a valuable source of advocacy and information. The Office provides education resources for schools and materials for the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees – the last Sunday in August.

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council distributes a Ten Steps leaflet that will include ways in which we can work to promote understanding and help such people in practical ways.

Many dioceses have very active Justice and Peace offices that can make suggestions about practical steps you can take or organisations you can support.

At the Brisbane launch we sang All are Welcome, a song that gains new meaning in the light of this statement.

 

Australian Catholics For Equality

I have recently accepted an invitation to join the advisory board of Australian Catholics for Equality.

This new role provides guidance to the Council of Moderators on issues affecting LGBTIQ Catholic persons, their family, friends and allies. The Advisory Board provides practical and strategic advice to support the total work of the organising community, improving the lives of LGBTIQ Catholics, their families, friends and allies to promote a just and inclusive church and society.

I look forward to the challenge and the opportunities of this new and exciting project.

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Tony Robertson, Advisory Board Member
Tony is a Brisbane based social worker, who also uses his skills as a photographer to promote social change and equity in the community. He spent six years with the Capuchin Friars as a young adult and has been involved in various public ministries of the Church as a speaker, educator and retreat leader. Tony is an occasional commentator on LGBTI issues for the ABC and has extensive media experience writing press releases and responding to interview requests. He is currently the Spiritual Life facilitator for the L’Arche community in Brisbane. Tony is a member of the Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group and supports Gar’ban’djee’lum Network an independent social network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, sistergirls and brotherboys (GLBTSB) in and around Brisbane.