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.

BOBF: 40 days of what?!?!

As we continue through the Lenten season, we look back today at On the Road's musings on Lent from February 2010. As he asks, how committed are you to the Lenten fast? Two weeks into Lent, how are we getting on?

I have been reflecting on the upcoming Lenten season, my 2nd as a Catholic. I love the journey the Church takes us on leading up to Easter. Culminating in the Easter mass, it is a real time to draw closer to Christ and remember His journey and suffering.

Growing up, when the liturgical season bared little relevance to the nature of the church service, Lent was not much different to every other part of the year, except the pastor was adamant on dressing up the church in purple. Every 2nd or 3rd Lent I would be forced to give up something trivial by my parents, and of course I made out like it was the biggest deal in the world.

This year, I hope to really give myself in the Lenten fast. It is something I have never taken very seriously, but I have realised that it is a great opportunity to unite myself more fully to Christ and His suffering. I have learned recently that we are not called just to 'give something up' and then yearn for Easter so we can have it back. We are called to a true fast, one which daily we are impacted in such a way that we remember who made the ultimate sacrifice for us and that we are to remain masters of our own desires. Fasting does not merely mean giving something up either – but adding virtue everyday. So, in the same manner, we have the opportunity to 'add' something to our day – such as going to weekday mass or volunteering or giving extra for a certain cause.

So how committed are you to the Lenten fast? What are the ways in which you draw closer to Christ during this time of year? While I have chosen what I will be abstaining from (God help me on this one), I would be keen to hear how others give of themselves during this season.

God Bless.

BOBF: What goes on upstairs?

In our continuing Being Frank retrospective, The Dumb Ox asks "What goes on upstairs?" in this post from 2010. Spoiler alert: He's not talking about the choir loft…

I was in Mass a while back, and at one point I found myself looking around the church at everyone else present for Mass (yes, I know, I probably should have been paying more attention to Christ, and less to my fellow congregants!).

It was quite obvious, based on what they were doing, that some of the people at that Mass had no real investment in what was going on, in fact some of them seemed downright bored by it all.

But here’s the interesting thing, many of these people attend Mass at my parish every week, and they show exactly the same sort of disinterest each time.

Please understand that I am not being judgmental or critical at all here, I am simply trying to understand why someone would keep coming back to Mass each week if it doesn’t actually mean anything to them at a deeper spiritual level.

This phenomenon really intrigues me.

I often find myself asking whether it’s because of some sort of loyalty to a family member (did they once promise their mother on her deathbed that they’d attend Mass every week?)

Maybe it’s because they enjoy the social interaction after Mass?

Maybe it’s because they think that it brings them some sort of prestige in certain circles, or will earn them a better chance at getting their kids into a Catholic school.

Maybe they feel an obligation to go each week?

Maybe they view it as some sort of cultural thing that their family has always done on a Sunday, so they do it too?

Maybe they enjoy organ music and singing hymns?

Maybe they carry guilt and other burdens, and they see this as some sort of atonement?

Like I said, I find this a really intriguing phenomenon.

BOBF: Death penalty = travesty

As leaders in Australia and around the world make last-ditch pleas to stop Indonesia's plans to execute two men convicted of attempted to smuggle drugs from Indonesia to Australia, we revisit The Captain's post from November 2007.

Cor blimey. Got breathlessly excited last week when I saw John Grisham had written another book and judging by the cover (as I do so often…) it looked like he'd finally returned to doing what he does best; gritty courtroom dramas (after a smewhat disturbing foray into touchy feely rubbish). So, I skimmed the back cover and bought the book (for four quid – gotta love the UK sometimes!).

Only then did I realise that it's a non-frickin-fiction. About a man condemned to death row in Oklahoma 1987 for a murder he didn't commit. It's a hell of a read so far, and the number of people on death row with him who are innocent is just crazy.

I don't know too much about this issue -with the exception of the occasional Hollywood portrayal of the subject, I haven't seen or read much about it – but, like most people I guess, the more I see the more disturbed I am at the system.

Now, I'm a passionate anti-death-penalty person. In any circumstances. I know we've covered this topic before on the blog, but my happening-upon Grisham's latest book (which I highly recommend) has brought it to the forefront of my mind lately so I wanted to raise it again.

It seems criminally ridiculous – and sinful – that this carry-on still occurs. What's wrong with us as humans that we sanction this? Amnesty International did some work on this recently in New Zealand, getting Helen Clark to add New Zealand's voice to the call for a ban on the death penalty worldwide. I just pray that it's heard.

BOBF: You face Mecca, while I pray the Benedictus…

Tuppence was one of the most itinerant authors in Being Frank's history, writing from as far afield as Africa. In this "Best of" post from early 2009, she reflects on her new home in a Muslim country. 

My voyage on this gargantuously large continent that is Africa has shifted from the East now to the West as I find myself in the predominantly Muslim-populated Senegal.

I can tell you that if you look out my bedroom window then turn 90 degrees to your left, you are facing Mecca. How do I know? My hosts come and plant their prayer mats in that direction right outside my window a number of times each day.

There's no need for an alarm clock (which is lucky, since you can't buy one in Nairobi airport…you can buy plasma screens, irons and car stereos though!)…because you're bound to get woken by the 5am call to prayer that blares throughout the neighbourhood. And in case that doesn't work, there's the 6.30am call to prayer also.

I have to admit, it's very handy. Their call to prayer is my call to prayer. I pull out my Liturgy of the Hours Prayer book and find some rest as I pray the Psalms and other scripture. Sometimese it can be a real challenge to prayer, travelling, being disorientated etc, that I find a lot of comfort in the routine of the Divine Office (aka LotH).

It's a bizarre situation I guess, but in this country there is an incredible tolerance for the Catholics (they don't really have any other sense of there being other denominations of Christian…bad luck for the Proddies!). And there's a respect for and understanding about the fact that you have a faith. In some ways, more so than in a country like New Zealand where faith can seem a bit strange.

Hmm, I think it's time for evening prayer…

BOBF: What a History!

He might be one of the most polarising Popes in recent memory, but that wasn't going to stop Filia Day from giving some blog time to Pope Pius XII. Check out Filia's post from October 2008 on the man hailed as a hero in some quarters and denounced in others.

Often families and individuals go to great lengths to uncover their family roots. I was thinking about it the other day and, as Catholics, we should really be doing the same. Of course, like in any family, sometimes we find villains in our ancestry – in the case of Christianity those who have rejected outright the message of Chraist. As we know from history, and past blogs, Hitler and Stalin feature among the names of those baptised who refusing to follow, in word and deed, the call the sanctity. At the same time, the history of the Church is full of heroes and heroines, those who have responded to grace, would rather die than not follow our Lord will and eventually fallen head over heels in love with Love. Ironically, often these heroics persons are often overlooked, underrated and even criticised. Pius XII is one of our unsung heroes.

I bring this topic up this week because it is fifty years since Pope Pius XII's death in 1958 (one could say it's a family anniversary). Pius XII is often portrayed by the mass media (and in academic scholarship) as cold-hearted and unceasingly on a quest for political power. One of the most strident attacks against Pius XII is that he refused to assist persecuted Jews and persecuted Catholic faithful during the Second World War. Attackers take the position that Pius XII, as a public and powerful leader, should have formally condemned the atrocities against humanity committed by the Nazi regime. However, they refuse to consider the fact that Bishops who had previously openly condemn the regime via letters or from the pulpit were severely punished; Nazi officials responded by deporting more jewish and Catholic civilians to concentration camps as well as increase violence against Jews and Catholic dissenters. Likewise, those who attack Pius XII ignore the fact that Pius XII organised a mass clandestine effort to save as many Jews as possible – hiding thousands in the Vatican (not to mention his holiday home) as well as encouraging the lay faithful to hide those persecuted in Europe at the time.

Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent homily for the occasion of Pope Pius' anniversary adds "How can we forget his radio message of Christmas 1942?" Pope Pius asserted in the address "In a voice stirred by emotion he deplored the situation of "hundreds of thousands of people who through no fault of their own, sometimes only because of their nationality or race, are bound for death or who slowly waste away"

Although he couldn't speak out blatantly against the atrocities, this was a clear reference to the deportation and extermination of the Jews. As a recent study (for the life of me I can't remember the name of the book) showed the lay faithful understood his message clearly and acted to assist those persecuted by the Nazi regime.

At the end of the war and at the time of his death because of his many actions he received many and unanimous expressions of gratitude from the highest authorities of the Jewish world, people like Israel's Foreign Minister Golda Meir who wrote: "During the ten years of Nazi terror, when our people went through the horrors of martyrdom, the Pope raised his voice to condemn the persecutors and commiserate with their victims." He ended by saying "We mourn a great servant of peace."

Pius XII was truly a great man and a great pope. Let us not forget the Church's unsung heroes.