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A common view about the date of Christmas goes something like this:

“Well, it was a pagan festival, something to do with the sun, and the Christians pinched it to try to make their religion more popular.”

This is one of those things people just ‘know’. But like many things everyone ‘just knew’ at one time (eg, the Sun goes round the earth, older women with moles are witches), we now know this to be false.

The belief that Christians appropriated a pagan festival and made it into Christmas started with Paul Jablonski, a German historian writing in the 17th century.

A radical protestant, Jablonski wanted to show that the Catholic faith was unreliable because it had almost immediately started absorbing pagan beliefs and customs. Jablonski believed, and wanted to prove, that ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone) was the only safe foundation for faith.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. the winter solstice fell on December 25th. It seemed obvious to Jablonski that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one.

He was wrong.

In fact the feast of Sol Invictus, or the invincible sun, was instituted by the emperor Aurelian in 274AD. By this time Christians had been celebrating the birth of Jesus on that date for many years.

Hippolytus, a priest in Rome, wrote thirty years before this that Jesus’ birth “took place eight days before the kalends of January,” that is, on December 25th. St John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, also confirms that Christians had celebrated the birth of Christ on this date from the early days of the Church.

It was the pagans who attempted to bolster their falling numbers by appropriating a Christian festival, not the other way around.

How could the Church have known when Jesus was born? The simplest explanation is that Mary, Jesus’ mother, told His disciples what had happened, and they remembered and told those who came after, just as they related the other facts of Jesus’ life and teaching.

A little additional confirmation comes from John Chrysostom. He explains that the date is confirmed by Luke 1 which says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told him his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist.

During the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary was also visited by an angel and Jesus was conceived. She then went immediately to visit Elizabeth, who was her cousin.

The 24 classes of Jewish priests served by roster in the Temple. Zechariah was in the eighth class. Jewish tradition tells us the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70.

Calculating back from that, Zechariah’s class would have been serving in October in the year before Jesus’ birth. That is when Elizabeth became pregnant.

Mary visited Elizabeth six months later, just after her visit from the angel Gabriel. That is, in March. Jesus was born nine months later – in December.

So Happy Christmas!

Iran has warned Switzerland of “consequences” over a referendum banning the building of new mosque minarets, and urged the Swiss government not to enforce the ban.

As I noted a couple of days ago, the Swiss decision is not about freedom of religion.

Muslims in Switzerland are free to worship, to proselytise, and to build more mosques. They just can’t build any more of those big towers with massive PA systems where people screech at the entire populace three times a day.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey that: Values such as tolerance, dialogue and respecting others’ religions should never be put to referendum.

Excuse me?

This from a country which two months ago formalised approval for the death penalty for anyone who converts from Islam, and where it is illegal to publish the Bible or other Christian literature.

More Islamic Religious Persecution from Doug Bandow at National Review Online:

Islamic governments are in no position to complain about Western intolerance and “Islamophobia.” Most Muslim nations are repressive or offer only limited political freedom. More often than not, Islamic states violate basic human rights; and almost all persecute Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions 2009 opened this week in Melbourne. “Major speakers” include Jimmy Carter, Joan Chittister and Michael Kirby.

Miss Jean Brodie said it best: “For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.”

A visit to the Parliament’s website makes it clear that environmental issues are a key concern:

The Melbourne Parliament will draw forth the sacred nature of the environment from all religious and spiritual traditions, led by the Indigenous peoples of the earth. It will also showcase the partnership between communities and other guiding institutions in pursuing practical approaches for reversing climate change and its effects.

John Cleary, who presents a religious program on the ABC on Sunday nights, says there are parallels between the Parliament of Religions in Melbourne and the climate summit in Copenhagen.

Cleary does not have in mind any sense of religious fervour, which I suspect will be more in evidence in Copenhagen than Melbourne, but the fact that both are concerned with “healing the planet”.

George Browning, former Anglican Bishop of Canberra/Goulburn, says in the document Common Belief:  … if Christians believe in Jesus they must recognise that concern for climate change is not an optional extra but a core matter of faith.

But there is a huge leap in the claim that being a Christian means an obligation to take action to prevent climate change.

Being concerned for the responsible exercise of the Christian duty of stewardship for creation need not involve church leaders rushing to grab a share of the latest climate apocalypse action.

John Cleary said in his conversation with Derek Guille that the knowledge that “God so loved the world” should lead to a sense of global responsibility, and that such a sense of responsibility could add “real grunt” to the climate change debate.

Christians have two key things to offer to any debate about the environment and our role in it. But neither of them is a vague sense of responsibility, or “grunt”.

First is a right understanding of who we are in relation to the rest of creation. Because of the incarnation, we know that the material word is not evil, or something to be used or ignored. It is the product of a loving and rational God. It is good. It will be redeemed. On the other hand, it is not a god. There is no Gaia. Awe inspiring and beautiful as it is, the material world is not to be worshipped for its own sake.

Second, because Christianity is a faith based on reason and evidence, Christians ought to be buffered from, and help to buffer others from, ideology or wishful (or alarmist) thinking. Christians who are true to their calling will think, research, pray, consult and consider before arriving at a conclusion about how to respond to any particular issue.

Pope John Paul II pointed out that “Reverence for nature must be combined with scientific learning”. (Pastoral Statement, Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.)

Maybe the church’s climate scare collaborators could try it.

And maybe, as the scarecrow did, they will think of things they never thunk before.

One of the reasons I was not able to post anything on Friday was that I had a number of clients whose computers I needed to attend to urgently.

The other reason was that I was writing a longish article on climate change discussions at the Parliament of Religions in Melbourne.

The lines above are a brief summary. Visit The Australian Conservative to read the whole thing.

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an informal interdenominational network of Christian congregations, has released a statement saying:

Global warming alarmism is based on biased science, sloppy economics, and misguided theology …

Global warming policies would produce unethical results that would:

•destroy millions of jobs.
•cost trillions of dollars in lost economic production.
•slow, stop, or reverse economic growth.
•reduce the standard of living for all but the elite few who are well positioned to benefit from laws that unfairly advantage them.
•endanger liberty by putting vast new powers over private, social, and market life in the hands of national and international governments.
•condemn the world’s poor to generations of continued misery characterized by rampant disease and premature death

The result of all these sacrifices will be at most a negligible, undetectable reduction in global average temperature a hundred years from now. …

such policies are wrongheaded, destructive, and detrimental to the poor.

Why is that kind of clear sightedness, attention to evidence, and moral sense so hard for mainstream Australian church leaders?

I have a number of friends who are members of The Voice of the Laity, an organisation of lay people in the Anglican Diocese of The Murray.

Their website was recently hijacked. They have started a new website at murraydiocese.org

The contents are an older copy of the original website, so some updating needs to be done, but it is still interesting reading.

The situation in relation to the leadership of the Bishop of The Murray is complicated by two factors – one legal and one political.

The legal complication is that each diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia is a separate incorporated body.

The Primate or Archbishop can ask for an enquiry or tribunal into a diocesan bishop’s behaviour, but the bishop concerned is under no legal obligation to co-operate with any such enquiry, nor is he obliged to act in accordance with any recommendations such an enquiry may make.

In the case of the Diocese of The Murray, the Diocesan Council has already passed a vote of no confidence in the bishop. This was ignored.

The Bishop has indicated he will not co-operate with an enquiry, and that he will not comply with recommendations made by any tribunal.

In these circumstances the only purpose of an enquiry into his behaviour as bishop, or a tribunal to consider whether he has acted in ways which are scandalous or bring the church into ill-repute, is to give the Synod of the Diocese, or Diocesan Council, which is Synod’s standing committee, a clear and legally defensible reason for ending his employment, and the courage to do so.

The political complication is that there have also been moves in the Diocese of Ballarat to force an enquiry and tribunal into the behaviour of Bishop Michael Hough.

Enquiries and tribunals are expensive, time-consuming and embarassing.

But the real difficulty for the Primate and for the Archbishops of Adelaide and Melbourne is that the Dioceses of Ballarat and The Murray are the last two traditionalist Anglo-catholic dioceses in the country. Starting tribunals into both bishops at the same time may look like persecution by a large liberal power group of a small, unpopular and largeless voiceless minority.

The traditionalist minority in the Anglican Church of Australia (I am part of this minority) has been quick to claim persecution, and quick to demonise its liberal opponents. It is possible, even likely, that claims of theologically based persecution would be made in the media if tribunals were called into both bishops.

It would not be persecution. For the sake of the complainants, the persons complained of, and the wider church and community, allegations of abuse of any kind need to be promptly, carefully and impartially investigated.

I am not suggesting there is any parity between the situation in Ballarat and in The Murray. I have little knowledge of allegations made against Bishop Hough, and have deliberately distanced myself from events in The Murray.

From publicly available information and news reports, it appears the complaints in The Murray are largely from lay people, with some 200 written complaints made to the Archbishop over the course of Bishop Davies’ ministry, and nearly 100 statutory declarations made in support of a tribunal, the declarations alleging various kinds of verbal, spiritual and emotional abuse.

In Ballarat, the move for a tribunal seems to have come largely from a group of disaffected clergy.

In both cases answers and closure are needed.

Maryam and Marzieh Languish in a Teheran Jail

Maryam and Marzieh Languish in a Teheran Jail

Maryam and Marzieh are Christian women. They are from Islamic families. They live in Iran.

So of course, they are in jail.

They are denied medical care or contact with the outside world. One of the prison guards told them they should be executed for apostasy. They were arrested in March. Neither has yet been charged, but when they are, the death penalty is a real possibility.

Maryam and Marzieh’s story in detail at Elam Ministries.

Elam is a Iranian Christian ministry and advocacy group. Support them if you can.

Two interesting articles from FrontPage Magazine.

The first is an interview with Coptic priest Fr Zakaria Botros. He has been denounced as Islam’s public enemy number one, and Al Qaeda has said they will pay $60 million for his head.

From the FrontPage article:

I am a Copt. In my early 20s, I became a priest. Of course, in predominantly Muslim Egypt, Christians—priests or otherwise—do not talk about religion with Muslims. My older brother, a passionate Christian learned that lesson too late: after preaching to Muslims, he was eventually ambushed by Muslims who cut out his tongue and murdered him. Far from being deterred or hating Muslims, I eventually felt more compelled to share the Good News with them. Naturally, this created many problems: I was constantly harassed, threatened, and eventually imprisoned and tortured for a year…

Ibn Taymiyya, who happens to be the hero of the modern mujahid movement, explained the prerequisites of prophet-hood very well.  One of the things he stressed is that, in order to know if a prophet is in fact from God, we must study his sira, or his biography, much like the Christ’s statement that “You shall know them from their fruits.”  So, taking Ibn Taymiyya’s advice, I recently devoted a number of episodes analyzing the biography of Muhammad, which unequivocally proves that he was not a prophet, that his only “fruits” were death, destruction, and lust.  Indeed, he himself confessed and believed that he was being visited and tormented by a “jinn,” or basically a demon, until his wife Khadija convinced him that it was the angel Gabriel—which, of course is ironic, since Muhammad himself later went on to say that the testimony of a woman is half that of a man.

And from an article about Fr Botros on National Review Online:

The result? Mass conversions to Christianity — if clandestine ones. The very public conversion of high-profile Italian journalist Magdi Allam — who was baptized by Pope Benedict in Rome on Saturday — is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, Islamic cleric Ahmad al-Qatani stated on al-Jazeera TV a while back that some six million Muslims convert to Christianity annually, many of them persuaded by Botros’s public ministry. More recently, al-Jazeera noted Life TV’s “unprecedented evangelical raid” on the Muslim world. Several factors account for the Botros phenomenon.

Another reason for Botros’s success is that his polemical technique has proven irrefutable. Each of his episodes has a theme — from the pressing to the esoteric — often expressed as a question (e.g., “Is jihad an obligation for all Muslims?”; “Are women inferior to men in Islam?”; “Did Mohammed say that adulterous female monkeys should be stoned?” “Is drinking the urine of prophets salutary according to sharia?”). To answer the question, Botros meticulously quotes — always careful to give sources and reference numbers — from authoritative Islamic texts on the subject, starting from the Koran; then from the canonical sayings of the prophet — the Hadith; and finally from the words of prominent Muslim theologians past and present — the illustrious ulema.

Typically, Botros’s presentation of the Islamic material is sufficiently detailed that the controversial topic is shown to be an airtight aspect of Islam. Yet, however convincing his proofs, Botros does not flatly conclude that, say, universal jihad or female inferiority are basic tenets of Islam. He treats the question as still open — and humbly invites the ulema, the revered articulators of sharia law, to respond and show the error in his methodology. He does demand, however, that their response be based on “al-dalil we al-burhan,” — “evidence and proof,” one of his frequent refrains — not shout-downs or sophistry.

More often than not, the response from the ulema is deafening silence — which has only made Botros and Life TV more enticing to Muslim viewers.

The second FrontPage article is by David Horowitz. Horowitz points out that despite the distortions of history, and the failure to mention terrorism or Islam’s history of vicious conquest of Christian and other countries, there were some good things in Obama’s Cairo speech.

I certainly agree that ather than simply condemn Obama’s failures, we should applaud what he gets right – and amidst the jumble, he got a lot right in Cairo.

Here is a substantial chunk, but the whole thing is worth reading:

As for the Middle East conflict, Obama  began – began – by telling the Muslim world that the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable, and by opening the wound of the Jews that made a homeland for them a moral imperative: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.”

And then he characterized Holocaust deniers like Ahmadinejad as despicable, and identified them as a cause of war in the Middle East, and announced that he was going to Buchenwald the next day (clearly to underscore that fact): “Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed – more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction – or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews – is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.”

And while Obama made false parallels between Jews and Arabs as contributors to the intractability of the Middle East conflict and rewrote some history, he also said in no uncertain terms that it was Palestinians who had to renounce violence (and here he drew no parallels and no moral equivalence) and had to recognize the Jewish state — something even the “moderate” terrorist Abbas refuses to do.

And to underscore this point he drew a parallel between the struggles of American blacks for civil rights and Palestinians. But unlike Condoleeza Rice who not too long ago drew the same parallel to aggrandize the PLO terrorists as civil rights activists, Obama drew a sharp and revealing line of distinction between them: “Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding.“

And that was really the core of Obama’s speech. It was a defense of America’s founding and America’s mission. We are a tolerant nation and a peaceful nation Obama told 1.5 billion Muslims and we will accept and embrace you if you reject the violent and hateful among you and walk a peaceful and tolerant path. And this tolerance must extend not only to the Jews of Israel, and other infidels, but to Muslims among you who are oppressed, specifically Muslim women:  “The sixth issue that I want to address is women’s rights. I know there is debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the Wes that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”

Of course the good things do not excuse the distortions. Robert Spencer points out in a careful, step by step review of Obama’s speech, also on FrontPage, that those distortions are substantial and damaging.

I forgot to mention, when talking about my islamic teacher friend, that she had also told her class about the many islamic inventions taken for granted and not acknowledged in the West.

She talked about the number system, coffee, chess, arches (in architecture). Students were sceptical. And rightly.

I am not sure whether she had read this article from The Independent a couple of years ago. It lists 20 world changing islamic inventions.

Except not one of them really is an islamic invention.

If you don’t know whether you are a Mennonite, a Muslim or a Mormon, this quiz will help you work out where you belong.

I found a few of the questions had no right answer, so a couple of times I had to pick the least wrong answer.

My results were:

1.  Eastern Orthodox (100%) 
2.  Roman Catholic (100%) 
3.  Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (94%) 
4.  Seventh Day Adventist (88%) 
5.  Orthodox Quaker (79%) 

There was no listing for disgruntled Anglican.

Some interesting observations here on healing, hope, and homosexuality.

The article is not long, and is worth reading in its entirety. This is an excerpt:

I saw a genuine love and acceptance of men and women who were struggling to move away from behaviors they themselves viewed as destructive and dangerous, possibly deadly. They were choosing it, freely and voluntarily.

Psychiatrist and physicist Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a world authority on homosexuality, a man who describes himself as a skeptic about religion, says that the scientific evidence all points to the possibility of change. For over 35 years, his profession has believed the lie that homosexuals form a “class” whose boundaries are defined by a stable “trait”. It is not true, he says.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, whose new ground -breaking book, “Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy”, says homosexual change is both possible and advisable. His book shows that initially conceptualizing homosexual attraction as a striving “to repair gender deficits,” has moved to the realization as a striving “to repair deep self-deficits” and as a “defense against trauma to the core self.”

Writes Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, after he attended a Leanne Payne conference, “I met a large number of people who had left the lifestyle and changed their sexuality. There I met hundreds of people struggling with that issue, and many who had successfully emerged on the other side and were married with children. As I got to know them, I found them to be quite remarkable. The struggle to be healed had left an indelible imprint. I saw a humility, an empathy and a fearlessness about life. They knew exactly what it meant to stand up for what they believed in, since the struggle to become who they truly were had exacted such a cost in suffering. Since then I have met plenty of people who have moved away from same sex attractions.”

I am trying hard to imagine what the real Notre Dame, the Blessed Virgin Mary, would make of a Catholic university named in her honour, and I presume, relying on her patronage and intercession, inviting someone who publicy opposes Catholic teaching on the sancitity of human life to speak to students at commencement.

Speaking at commencement is about giving students direction for their lives as they complete their studies. At a Catholic university, or any Christian university,  it is also about the reason for those studies in the context of the needs of the world and the mission of the Church.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Notre Dame University is also presenting Obama with an honorary degree. For what? A book of memoirs written by Bill Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist?

Local diocesan bishop John D’Arcy said ‘President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.’

This support for the direct destruction of human life extends to withholding care from children born alive after an attempted abortion.

I am not a Catholic, and I find this baffling. It is hardly surprising that it has turned into a public relations disaster for both Notre Dame and the White House.

A petition of more than 300,000 signatures has been delivered to Notre Dame’s fellows and trustees, asking them to think again.

The University hoped to soften some of the (clearly unexpected – and that tells a story in itself) backlash by awarding the Laetare Medal to Mary Ann Glendon, a pro-life Harvard law professor.

It then announced: “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former US ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

But Glendon would not be used in this way, and said she would not accept the medal. This is the first time the award has been declined.

The always interesting Amy Welborn has posted a homily by Bishop Wenski, preached at a Mass of reparation prompted by Notre Dame’s decision to honour Obama.

In his homily Bishop Wenski says:

Notre-Dame chose to defy the Bishops of the United States who have said that “the Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The hurt felt by many throughout the United States is real, for Notre-Dame’s actions, despite its protests to the contrary, seem to suggest that it wishes “to justify positions that contradict the faith and teachings of the church; to do so, as Pope Benedict reminded Catholic educators in Washington, DC last year “would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission.” At the very least, Notre-Dame’s actions suggest that, unlike a beauty queen from California, it lacks the courage of its convictions.

Some of the comments to this post on Amy’s blog are dismaying, if they come from Catholics. To paraphrase:

‘We live in a diverse society, and have to accept that others have beliefs which are different from our own.’

Yes, but accepting that others believe differently does not mean we have to deny what we believe.

‘We have to respect the views of others.’

Do we? Do we have to respect the views of a religious leader who says it is OK to have sex with a nine year old girl? Do we have to respect the views of a man who thinks it is his right to beat or rape his wife?

Then why do we have to respect the views of a man who thinks it OK to partially deliver a living human baby, and then crush its head?

Canon Barry Greaves pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court last Thursday to seven counts of indecent treatment of boys under 17 and two of indecent treatment of boys under 12.

I was sorry to read this. I know Barry a little, and had always liked and respected him. He seemed a straightforward, caring and intelligent person.

Barrister Mark Johnson said Greaves was deeply ashamed and sorry for what he had done to the boys. Mr Johnson said Greaves was also remorseful for the shame he brought upon himself, his family and the Anglican Church. ‘He deeply regrets what’s happened,” he said.

Any kind of sexual interaction with children is appallingly wrong. And in Barry’s case, a betrayal of the trust of the church, and of the boys and their families.

But in a way I cannot help feeling sorry for Barry and others whose sexual attraction is towards adolescents.

No one would choose to have those kind of feelings. I have visited protection prisons including Ararat in Victoria. Most of the convicted child sex offenders I spoke to there had struggled all their lives to overcome or redirect that attraction, and were deeply ashamed of the times they failed.

Most of them had naively hoped that the boys (it was usually boys) returned their affection, and enjoyed the attention. Often they did, but harm was still done.

Boys (and girls) in their early teens and younger cannot give meaningful consent to sex with an older person. Even if they seemed to consent at the time, even if they seemed eager at the time, they almost always ended up feeling used, sullied and hurt.

No matter how willing the young person seemed to be, harm was done. It was up to the adult to set the boundaries and keep to them. There is no excuse for not doing so.

Some of those who ignore those boundaries are monsters who knowingly and uncaringly hurt children and use them for their own pleasure. Such people deserve our anger and condemnation.

But not all are monsters.

Most people who are disorded in their affections, and whose only feelings of sexual attraction are towards young people, know all of the things I have written above. Many go their entire lives without any genital expression of their sexuality at all. This seems to me an almost heroic level of self-denial – one we would not expect of any other group.

It is easy to judge – and sometimes that judgement is right. But it is not so easy to know, if we were in their place, whether any of us would have the strength of will required to deny ourselves any form of physical expression of our sexuality for the whole of our lives.

I am not surprised that some fall, and while I condemn their behaviour, I cannot so easily condemn them.

So (blinding flash of religious insight) Barack Obama must be wonderful, and Sarah Palin is really, really bad.

Just overlook the fact that Bill Clinton was also a governor. Because he was like, you know, cool and stuff. And so supportive of women. Lots of them.

But just ask yourself: ‘Who of Obama or Pailn is more likely to ask himself (there’s a hint right there) “What is truth?” and then to wash his hands of it?’

I think when it comes to washing your hands because of condemning innocent blood surely this is the modern Democratic party. When it comes to abortion, cloning, ESCR, Euthanasia, and even some cases infanticide then surely you hear the sounds of washing hands from the likes of Obama and company. State Senator Obama determined that it was more politically expedient to let children die that were born alive after a failed abortion to protect abortion. Pilate would have understood Obama’s politically expediency since he did the same thing.

David Keohane, 29, was on his way home from a party in Coogee in Sydney when he was beaten beyond recognition in August last year. He had been in a coma in a hospital in his home town of Cork in Ireland, but awoke on St Patrick’s Day and is now talking.

Doctors had been unsure he would ever recover consciousness. His family are attributing his dramatic recovery to the intercessions of Australian Josephite nun Mary MacKillop, whose prayers for him they had constantly asked.

Catholics don’t pray to the saints (although they may sometimes loosely use that expression). Instead, they ask the saints, their friends in heaven, to pray for them in the same way as other Chrisians ask their friends on earth to pray for them. Catholics (and some other Christians) believe that if we are united in Christ, even death cannot separate us from those who have gone before, and that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ continue to care for us.

Mary MacKillop was beatified by John Paul II in 1995. The process leading to the Church recognising her as saint began in 1925, so it has certainly not been rushed. The final stage is canonisation, which really means ‘being added to the list.’

The Pope doesn’t make anyone a saint – only God can do that. Every Christian is a saint, in the sense of being sanctified, set apart for God’s purposes. But the Church acknowledges certain people through whom the light of Christ has shone so clearly that their heroic dedication to the will of God is an inspiration to others. One of the requirements is two confirmed miracles attributed to the intervention of the person. Mary MacKillop needs a second miracle.

During his visit to Australia in 2008, Pope Benedict said: ‘She will be canonised, we’re waiting for the miracle.’ The recovery of David Keohane may be that miracle. But it will be a long process, and any medical testimony will be thoroughly tested.

Still, this might be it – Australia’s first saint.

This is the Mary MacKillop Prayer, as prayed by her own order, the Josephites:

Most loving God,
We thank you for the example of Blessed Mary MacKillop,
who in her living of the Gospel witnessed to the human dignity of each person.
She faced life’s challenges with faith and courage.
We pray through her intercession for our needs……..

May her holiness soon be acknowledged by the universal Church.
We make this prayer through Jesus the Lord.
Amen.

I have enjoyed some of Safrans’ work. He can be genuinely funny. But when people are kind and harm no one, mocking their values and beliefs is not funny. It’s just try-hard.

I can sort of understand the practice in some parts of the Philippines of being crucified on Good Friday. It’s a symbolic identification with Christ in his sufferings, an expression of a desire to share the burden he carried.

I think it’s the wrong thing to do. But I still respect the sincerity and faith of the people who do it.

John Safran dressing up in ‘Life of Brian’ type wig and pleading to share in this ritual just so he can belittle the people involved is not something which is fair or amusing.

Devout Christian followers of Good Friday’s crucifixion rituals in the rural Philippines village of Kapitangan were devastated to learn that John Safran’s nailing to the cross alongside local penitents was a TV comedy show stunt. In this isolated part of Bulacan province north of Manila the arrival of a faithful foreigner in a jeepney who pleaded to take part in the gory Easter ceremony and didn’t chicken out was at first applauded. Villagers were bewildered to learn on Saturday that Safran was not even a Christian. Student Jhoan Caparas, 18, who saw Safran’s crucifixion, said his actions had been disrespectful and immoral. “Why does he want to come here and laugh at us? We don’t laugh at his culture and his beliefs. So he should respect ours.”

Yes he should.

Now that’s a question.

We were all there when he was crucified. Every person who has ever lived and ever will live. Our cruel words are lashes on his back, our contempt for others the spit in his face, our self-righteousness the nails in his hands.

Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel

But were you there when he rose? Because if you were, you have a choice. You can go back to fishing, or whatever your daily life was. But that is a kind of death, slow coming though it may be.

Or you can be a witness to what you have seen, what you know. You can be part of something bigger. You can share in the purpose for which all things were made. You can have real life, everlasting life.

You can be a new creation, healed, sins forgiven. You can be part of the same family as Mary Magdalene, Peter and Paul and all the faithful men and women through the ages.

You can say in your life and words: Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

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