So long, and thanks for all the fish

Where were you on the 31st of July, 2006?

While I can't remember exactly where I was sitting or what I had for breakfast, I can at least recall one thing what I was doing: I was writing the first post on New Zealand's first (that we know of) Catholic blog.

And, nearly 9 years later, here I am writing the last official post on that same blog.

I'd be lying to say that I'm not a little bit sad to be saying goodbye to a project that has held a special place in my life.  

When we started this site with Gavin and the team at the NZ Catholic newspaper, none of us were very sure of what the future was going to hold: could we get a team together that would be keen to contribute regularly?  Would anyone even read the posts?  Would people comment and take part?  

In my first post, I said that we created the blog so we could have "an honest, frank and refreshing conversation about our (Catholic) faith and our take as Catholic New Zealanders living in the world," and I asked for people to take part through comments, stories and prayer.  I hoped that if we were a bit more frank about what we believe and what we think, we might even learn more about our faith and each other.  "Wouldn’t that be refreshing?" I asked.

Well, after more than 2,400 posts, 55,000 comments, hundreds of thousands of visits from thousands of people around the world, I can honestly say that it's been a great conversation!  Sure, there have been some arguments…er, I mean pretty animated discussions, but there has also been plenty of good humour, support for one another, teaching and advice shared.  I would also venture to say that many friendships were formed on or through this site, and I still remember attending the first Being Frank meet-up back in 2007 and being taken aback at the number of people who had connected through our humble little blog – enough to fill a pub!  :)

The internet has changed a lot since 2006.  Back then, Twitter was a barely tweeting, Facebook was pretty much only populated with US college students, and no one had heard of Instagram, Snapchat or Vine…because they didn't exist yet!  Heck, the iPhone hadn't even been released at that point.  

Things have changed, and they have changed for the Catholic 'new' media scene as well.  Back then, we were pretty lonesome in terms of company, whereas nowadays there are some really great Catholic blogs out there with brilliant content.  (Case-in-point: if you haven't already, check out Restless Press!)

Being Frank isn't going away, per se, as we're planning to keep the posts and comments up as an archive of this site.  But this will be the last officIal post from the Being Frank team.  

Speaking of which, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to the site over the past decade.  To the original team – Agnes Day (posted on Tuesdays from August '06 through April '07), Peter the First (posted on Wednesdays from August '06 through September '07), The Captain (posted on Thursdays from August '06 through October '08), Methuselah's Beard (posted on Fridays from August '06 to March '12), The Dumb Ox (posted on Saturdays from August '06 to August '10) and eyeWitness (posted on Sundays from August '06 through June '10) – and to all the authors that followed – Filia Day (posted April '07 to May '11), Tuppence (posted October '07 to May '10, then did a second tour from September '12 until May '13), Voice in the Wilderness (posted May '10 to May '13), Joan of Arc (posted July '10 to July '11), Kereopa (posted November '10 to February '13), Inkling (posted May '10 to April '13), On The Road (posted October '08 to May '10), Marty Rethul (posted October '10 to August '14), Mary and Martha (posted April '12 to February '15), Opthomistic (posted July '11 to July '13), How I Met Our Father (posted March '13 to October '13) and Boanerges (posted August '13 to October '14) – thank you.  Thank you for your willingness to answer our call and for taking part so thoughfully and prayerfully in this project.  Without you…well, this ministry wouldn't have existed and wouldn't have reached the people it did.

Special thanks has to go to our erstwhile team editor and manager, Gavin – the driving force behind so many Australasian new media projects now, it's hard to keep track!  Without him, this blog wouldn't have come to be, nor run as well or as long as it did.  Gavin, you're a legend – thank you for all your efforts.

Last, but by no means least, all thanks and glory belongs to God.  If we have done anything with this humble site that has positively moved or improved any lives, it's all due to Him.

So, all good things must come to an end or, as the oft-quoted 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes points out:

"All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven."

I feel refreshed.

BOBF: Washing Feet? Who, me?

As we journey through Holy Week, On the Road's post from 2010 on the Holy Thursday liturgy and the washing of the feet provides food for thought. Could we wash someone's feet? And are we called to literally or metaphorically to wash people's feet?

I was thinking this week – would I wash someone's feet? Talking with a friend about the gospel of John as we approach Holy Thursday, it started me pondering – how much do I love and serve other people? Whose feet is God asking me to wash?

It is so easy to live in my own little bubble. My mind is taken up by my own worries. I consistently seek out what is next for me. Working for Fridays – so I can enjoy my life. I spend my time consumed by my own life, sometimes I do not even notice people.

Then I take time to read John's gospel.

Jesus washed his disciples feet, as they probably sat there wondering who should be on his right and left hand in his kingdom. Washing someone's feet – one of the most demeaning things a person could do for another. It was work fit for a servant, not the master. Afterwards, he could have said, I wash your feet so you may wash mine. That would have been somewhat expected. Yet, he said that they are to go and wash each other's feet. Out of love and humility, we are to serve others, carry their burdens, love them, be Christ to them.

There are some incredible examples of this love. One of my favorites is Dick Hoyt, the father of a disabled son who runs triathlons and marathons with him. That is true love.

But, it does not have to be grand gestures. It could be dedicating 110% to your work, the smile to the annoying acquaintance, being cheerful when you are feeling down, staying up late to drive someone home. As Jesus said, what we do to the least of these, we do to Him…

A brief meditation on this from St. Josemaria Escriva:

It is Peter who speaks: Lord, do You wash my feet? Jesus answers: You do not understand what I am doing now; you will understand it later. Peter insists: You will never wash my feet. And Jesus explains: If I do not wash your feet, you will have no part with me. Simon Peter surrenders: Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head. Faced by the call to total self-giving, complete and without any hesitation, we often oppose it with false modesty like Peter's … May we also be men with a heart like the Apostle's! Peter allows no one to love Jesus more than he does. That love leads us to reply thus: Here I am! Wash me, head, hands and feet! Purify me completely, for I want to give myself to You without holding anything back.

BOBF: I fell for it!

Being Frank has been the site of some serious debate, but also some good humour. On April Fool's Day, we remember a spoof story from 2011 that had Voice in the Wilderness choking on his morning cereal.

April fools day yesterday. This morning I was catching up on some news online. Obviously it's still April fools day elsewhere in the world…

I stumbled on an article on Zenit about the cancellation of the Beatification of Pope John Paul II. As I read on my mouth opened more and more in shock and horror. I even read it out loud to my wife.

And then I saw the line at the bottom… "Just kidding!"

I think the funniest line has to be this one…

Cardinal Bertone, when asked about all of the pilgrims who had already made reservations to be in Rome on May 1st, shrugged and said, "Sucks to be them."

BOBF: Preachers and profiteers

What do we make of people hitting the "Catholic speaking circuit"? Should Catholic speakers be paid to give speeches and, if so, how much? Filia Day tackled the topic in this post from 2010 — and it generated a fair amount of commentary.

The influence of secular thought and ideas inside the Church; in her theology, liturgy, and apostolates, interests me greatly. There are certain problematic tendencies which are to be found in the Church these days:

Relativism in the form of cafeteria Catholicism, thinking that there is no real absolute truth to be adhered to in Revelation, or to be discovered in the natural life, leading to a pick and choose mentality, with all choices being equal and personally determined by one's own individual evaluation of the faith;
Scientific Positivism in the form of a moral theology and Christian ethics developed purely from measurable phenomena in people, as often discovered and expressed in decadent psychology, leading to the rejection of the Church's Traditional teaching on sexual ethics, especially homosexuality; and
Marxism in the form of a certain type of liberation theology, leading to a superficial social activism, and a reduction of measuring the fruitfulness of the Gospel in any given place by material well-being.

That's only a few.

And, even the decadence of:
Capitalism, has found its way into the Church, and some of her well-regarded members, which we see in certain aspects of the American Catholic evangelists/speakers who charge the earth to speak around the world.

For example, if a Catholic speaker was invited to NZ, was having their airfares paid for by those inviting them, and was to give approximately 3 talks per 3 dioceses visited, but was to charge each diocese $7000 per visit, would we feel that this is acceptable from a Catholic viewpoint?

That's $21,000 for a one week visit. $21,000 for one week of work, assuming of course, that a speaker actually worked for 40 hours during the visit. If the money was purely for the talks and time spent in related social tasks, then that loosely correlates to $2350 per talk event. That's incredible money for these types of speakers.

Additionally, what if a particular speaker only gave one type of talk when they were to come? And what about if when they give these talks, they are exactly the same, exactly the same, like a formula, a script, or a recording, word for word? Word for word, as compared with other talks of theirs as found on YouTube, and as compared to other talks given during the same visit? With this approach, one begins to wonder whether such speakers are true witnesses who have deeply assimilated their material in Christ, or merely people who can read a speech well, remember some lines, and play a part. I don't know to be honest. I do wonder though.

Do we feel that this is acceptable, and worth paying so much for? No matter what their own living conditions are, i.e., they have a family to feed, etc, or they have an apostolate to run and fund, is this too much?

Many of these speakers give a good message, are faithful to the Church, and their words have a good effect. As St Paul says, as long as the Gospel is being preached, he didn't care too much for some of the dubious motives and practices involved with some who were doing it etc.

But even so, the question remains: Is this a good thing? Is it something to support? Is this worth it?

If a speaker was brought out here (airfares paid, which is normal), and a collection was taken, and in the process, a good amount was given, as a response to the quality of the talk/speaker, with people wishing to help in covering costs (at all levels), and wanting to support the person themselves, and the goodness and worth of their mission in future endeavors, and support the apostolate that they work for (back in their home country), then that seems very acceptable and normal.

But to charge that amount, a large amountlike an appearance fee, is troubling and worrying to me. Is this a type of commercialization of the Gospel? Is this where certain apostolates, run under certain business models, are thinking of their speakers like business gurus, with a certain expertise, who run seminars for companies, and charge immense amounts for very little actual work?

Is this mode of operating faithful to what Jesus taught regarding preaching the Gospel? $21,000 for multiple release of the same production-line talk.

Did the saints ever do this? That's often a good starting point to look at. How have the saints acted?

What do others think? A worker deserves their wages for sure, but is this too much?

If a man can't make a reasonable living giving talks on the faith, then find another profession, and leave it to those who are willing to be poor for the sake of the Gospel, so as to truly be a witness.

BOBF: Social beings

There are often discussions about how well Churches welcome people into their parish or congregation — beyond the "welcome to any visitors to the parish" at the beginning of Mass or a service in another Christan context. In this 2011 post by Joan of Arc, she wonders if we're doing enough.

I'm pretty certain that God made us to be social (and I'm not just saying that because I'm an extrovert!). This is something that has really struck me in the last week. We need each other.

During the week I have been working with a single mother who called me in tears because she simply had nobody to talk to. To have no friends to share with is an experience I can't even imagine but the situation is not uncommon in society today. People have become isolated. For many of the families I work with professionals are the only people they interact with. You could say: "well why don't they get out there and make some friends?" but that is so much easier said than done. No wonder there is so much depression in our society.

The woman who called me is a member of a church but could not name a single  person from the church who she would feel comfortable speaking with about the 'ups and downs' of her current situation. What has happened to Christian community? Many churches that I interact with in my work are able to respond to requests for help in a practical sense (providing food, etc) but it seems to be so much harder to find a person in their congregation who will just keep an isolated person company and take the time to listen to their story. Christ does not necessarily ask us to 'like' people in our community but He does ask us to love them.

This week has left me asking myself: Do I take time to weep with those who are weeping and rejoice with those who are rejoicing (even and especially when I have something else I would rather be doing)?

BOBF: The Catholic Bart Simpson

The Simpsons has been a source of much inspiration on Being Frank; just check out the titles of the posts from Methuselah's Beard over the years :) In this post from 2010, Inkling offered her thoughts on Bart Simpson becoming Catholic — and what lessons it might hold for non-cartoon Catholics.

I don't normally watch the Simpons, but the episode the other night caught my attention when I heard that Homer and Marge were sending Bart to a Catholic school – and when Bart offered (in all sincerity) to pray a Rosary for someone.  I missed the end (only saw up to the panic-stricken Marge (a Protestant) dragging Bart and Homer out of First Holy Communion Class), but I think any Catholic watching it must have been laughing heartily most of the way. 

Watching Catholic Bart being Catholic with conviction and sincerity (up to where I left it) was interesting, especially watching him doing normal Catholic things in front of his worried 'Protestant' family (e.g. doing the Sign of the Cross before his meal).  I'm highly doubtful as to the evangelising effect a Catholic Bart might have (although who knows – God works in mysterious ways) but to me it showed (strangely enough) how confidence, conviction and sincerity in someone's attitude toward something (particularly religion) is undeniably attractive; it's the thing a good leader has (or is able to show). 

On Sunday, reflecting on the Gospel reading in his homily, our priest observed that sometimes he sees people in restaurants doing this: (he did the sign of the cross super-quick and small across his chest, glancing furtively from side to side).  He had the whole congregation in stitches (though I'm sure the laughter was heartier by the odd twinge of guilt). 

Showing youself to be Catholic in restaurants and public places is challlenging thing, precisely because it lays you open to being judged, derided or challenged – the same is true of anything that exposes some deep truth about a person.  People are funny; we like to wear masks.  But there is a definite difference between standing in the middle of the major intersections on Queen Street waving evangelical banners, and saying grace before a meal in a restaurant.  Doing the Sign of the Cross is not some sort of subversive attempt to convert the table next to you – if anything it is admirable.  I think this is where a lot of evangelicals go wrong; their actions are often more off-putting than anything, and certainly won't convert anyone to Christianity.  By the same token, Christians should not hide their faith – how and where is the balance to be struck?

There is a lot to be said for confidence, courage, and joy.  One thing that gives me confidence is seeing other people being confident:  I think there are few things braver, bolder or more inspiring than one of the best soccer players in the world scoring a brilliant goal, then making the Sign of the Cross and pointing to heaven as his team mates pile on top of him.

BOBF: Guilty?

Christ's great exhortation — that whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do to me — has been an inspiration to many. In this post from 2008, EyeWitness writes about her first time being involved with prison ministry and how it made her think about the prisoners and their lives.

This morning for the first time I went to the Catholic Prison Ministry Service at Mt Eden prison along with The Captain and about twenty others of all ages. I some what nervously entered the prison going through bars and security guards. We went to one particular wing with about forty or so prisoners who surprised me by being really into coming! I didn't really expect the guys to be so attentive and enjoy singing the songs and listening to the bible readings so much. One man was almost in tears during the service and seemed to hang on every word we said. No one seemed proud or happy to be within those rock walls. One man (an inmate) took the guitar from our lead guitarist and sang a song imploring that Jesus be in this place and with the prisoners in such a beautiful voice I actually cried because it seemed so moving, which was a little embarrassing… It also touched me that in the little hole in the front of the cell door I could see opposite me the man inside had placed his ear to the hole and seemed to be straining to hear what we were talking about, but obviously didn't want to actually come. Others watched semi-interested from the balconies above us.

Many prayed for their partners, family and children who they are separated from. It felt really worthwhile to me to do something which Jesus talks about directly in the bible, but more than anything to feel that people were actually getting something from it. We must have sung about twenty different songs with the men seeming to want to sing as many as we could stay for.

One thing which I noticed in myself which I am quite happy about is that I could really feel no judgment for anyone standing face to face with them. Maybe I would if I actually knew what they had done, I don't know. But I don't know their lives. I don't know their circumstances. What I do know is the older I get and the more experiences of people I have is that everyone lives with different circumstances and everyone sins, and even people who seem to live in sparkly houses with sparkly husbands, children and jobs, find life tough too, just like Jesus said (I can trust Him after all I seem to learn more and more!). I have done things I would be way too embarrassed to tell you, so who am I to be the one to cast any stones.

I guess that's another to think about when voting. Obviously we need a justice system, we need protection for society from people who are dangerous to others, we need consequences for actions – but as for judging, I have no idea what you've been through, so I'll try not to judge you, as hard as I find that simply among my own friends and family sometimes.

I think we've talked about it on the blog before but there are details about coming along from leaders within Inner City Parishes (St Bens / St Pats groups) if you're interested in trying it out.