A Cause to Pray For

IN RECENT WEEKS came news of the approval of another miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. John Henry Newman. This means that there is now a high probability he will soon be canonized. October seems the propitious time for all things Newman, and if it comes on my birthday—13 October—I shall be chuffed indeed!

Also in recent weeks came news that the courts have finally directed New York to surrender the body of Archbishop Fulton Sheen to Peoria, the diocese of his birth and upbringing. This unseemly squabble between two dioceses has not been edifying to Catholics, and a cause of mirth, or worse, to non-Catholics. Hopefully this means the cause for canonization of Fulton Sheen can now advance. The first prelate to engage with modern media, he was new-evangelising before the term New Evangelisation was coined. First on radio broadcasts and then on the new-fangled television, he cut no Catholic corners, but spoke in terms both dignified and comprehensible that made his message attractive. Chalk in hand and standing before a clean blackboard, garbed in full episcopal fig—including ferraiolo—he would be seen as quaint today if he did the same, and probably clericalist, given that the mob simplistically equates clericalism with clerical dress. For his time, however, he was an adept and engaging preacher of the faith and even Protestants were impressed. Of course, since he cut such a fine figure and moved in elevated and even fashionable circles, he was accused of vanity and self-promotion. Self-conscious and self-confident he was; utterly faithful and, when it really mattered, selfless he was in equal measure, if not more.

Both these men are worthy of canonization, not least because they were men of their day, aware of contemporary spiritual needs and adept at serving them. Both were of towering intellects, though Newman spoke more directly to the upper and more educated classes, whereas Sheen had a gift of distilling complex teaching into digestible servings for the ordinary man and woman.

Just as importantly, they remind us that there is more to holiness than being merely nice, or generous, or kind. Continue reading “A Cause to Pray For”

Tilt-shift wonders

Despite all its faults (primarily its poor planning over time, and the wholesale architectural destruction of the 1960s), Sydney, the city of my birth and upbringing, is a place of which I still feel immensely proud.

So when a teacher of mine from my days in the Junior School at St Aloysius’ College in Sydney discovered the little film below, it was hard not to be thrilled. Doubly thrilled in fact. Tilt-shift photography has appealed to me since it first became prominent. It seems to miniaturize its subjects, and turns real cityscapes into model towns. Even the ugliest city can have charm added to it this way. Moreover, it somehow seems to put us back into proper perspective, for we are not as big as we might think we are before the gaze of God.

So if you have 90 seconds to spare, watch this little aerial tilt-shift tour of Sydney (make sure you click the little box next to “Vimeo” at the bottom of the video, to get the full-screen experience). At 52 seconds you will see the large white cross that adorns the harbour-facing facade of St Aloysius’ College, a subtle reminder that not everything nor everyone has been secularized in that secular city.

Let’s hope other cities get this treatment.

Tiny Sydney from Filippo Rivetti on Vimeo.

Sometimes things really were better back when…

As a Sydney-sider born and bred I have more than a token soft spot for the harbour city, even after the modernisation has has robbed it of so much of its charm. My super sister-in-law, Joan, spotted a classic film from 1966 on life in Sydney, part of a series called Life in Australia. Without having tried to research the series yet, it strikes me as being aimed at potential immigrants. Those were still the days Australia almost begged for immigrants, even going to the lengths for some time of paying Britons to come over – the “ten-pound Pom“. Now, of course, the payments flow in the other direction… though I suspect the nation might consider paying Britons to leave now! 😉

Being a child of 1968, I missed a good deal of what is shown in the film, but not all by any means. For example, the various vehicles of public transport lingered on into my teen years, not least the “red rattler” trains which first came into service in the 1960s. The style of life portrayed we might envy now, even taking into account the rose-tinted glasses the viewer is made to look through. Shown as normal are going to church on Sunday is included, and families all together in the lounge room on a Sunday night, the eldest daughter’s boyfriend included… how times have changed.

Barry Humphries, in what may well be one of his most brilliant works, produced a 4-part series in the late 1990s, entitled Flashbacks, which is a social history of Australia, from the 1950s to the 1980s. He uses his characters (Dame Edna, Sir Les Patterson, Sandy Stone) as “eyewitnesses” being interviewed for the documentary. Humphries is not afraid to take the mick out of his homeland, but it is clear that even as he satirises the nation’s relatively provincial mindset back then, still he regrets what Australia lost as it desperately tried to modernise, socially and culturally, and feel more a part of the big wide world. The process destroyed many of the very things that gave Australia its attraction and charm: architecture is one area that Humphries focuses on; national innocence is another. It is available on DVD, thank heavens!

Anyhow, if you have 20 minutes to spare, do watch. I defy you not to be charmed. Probably Sydney was better back then. In fact, I suspect Sydney really rocked in the 1960s!

Eternity

If you have not yet been to Mass, or have forgotten the readings for today’s Mass, then read them again, in particular the first reading from the prophecy of Habakkuk, and the gospel from St Luke.

One thread running between the two readings is the need to keep before our eyes the big picture, the fuller perspective within which the events of our lives play themselves out. If we refrain from reacting rashly and have faith in God’s will for our ultimate good then we can go about our lives with some degree of contentment. Faith, even in the midst of the most bitter trials, is the key to rising above our trials and not wilting beneath their weight. Faith gives us access to the big picture in which our lives are a scene among many. The big picture is eternity.

Stace caught in the act for the only time

In Sydney, Australia, one man’s mission for almost 40 years was reminding people, in the simplest of ways, of the reality of eternity. From the early 1930s to the 1960s the word “Eternity” would mysteriously appear overnight on Sydney’s footpaths, chalked in an elegant script. Over more than 35 years the word appeared almost 500,000 times on the streets of Sydney. The identity of the one responsible was unknown and became the subject of urban legend. The Sydney city council even sought to prosecute him for defacing the public footpaths. Yet it was not until 1963 that he was caught in the act by a photographer. But after 1967 there would be no more chalked reminders of eternity on the streets of Sydney. The writer had died.

An example of Stace's handiwork

The apostle of eternity was a man named Arthur Stace. Up to 1930 he had been an alcoholic and petty criminal. In 1930 he was converted to Christianity after hearing a sermon at St Barnabas’ church, in Broadway, inner Sydney. From this day he gave up drinking and crime. Not long after his conversion he heard a sermon in which the preacher exclaimed, according to one account, “Eternity! Eternity! I wish I could shout ‘Eternity’ through the streets of Sydney!” The words echoed in his head and he felt a call to do just what the preacher desired – to emblazon “Eternity” across the streets of Sydney, and so after the service he bent down and wrote the word on the pavement for the first of many more times. Remarkably Arthur was illiterate and could barely write his Christian name legibly, yet he wrote the word “Eternity” with the most elegant and consistent script, a phenomenon he could never explain. Several times he tried to expand his repertoire of messages, but they never lasted and he always returned to “Eternity”. It was truly his vocation to write that one word.

Arthur Stace’s life was one little life among millions that formed a part of the big picture that is eternity. Converted to Christianity from poverty, alcohol abuse and petty crime, he proved that it does not require great gifts of mind to grasp the reality of eternity which gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and within which our lives will be judged. A simple man with few skills, nevertheless he has left an enduring impact on a city of millions. On the eve of the Millennium in Sydney, his famous word in its classic script were lit up on the side of the Harbour Bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, 31/12/1999

Perhaps we might spend a minute considering to what extent we live our lives with an eye on the bigger picture of eternity. After all, Arthur Stace spent more than 35 years pondering and proclaiming this mysterious truth of our existence.

On one of the few occasions that Arthur wrote something other than “Eternity”, he showed that he was not without a sense of humour:

Arthur is Jesus’ brother and is the poor devil who cops the lot.