Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation - Fr Kevin Bates, 2010-11

Kevin Bates SM is the parish priest of Holy Name of Mary parish, Hunters Hill/Woolwich, NSW, and author of numerous albums of liturgical and reflective music. His weekly reflections for the parish bulletin often include isses of social justice.     Visit Fr Kevin's web site

Click for Fr Kevin's reflections:   2012-13     2014

This page:   Split infinitives    Inherent value     Keeping our balance      WikiLeaks     Bodies on the line      Blowin' in the wind      Seldom what they seem     When trust goes bung      Climate change     Minarets, mindfulness & mission

Split infinitives




When many of us were learning to read and write, and were discovering the riches of the English language, one rule we were taught was that we were to never use the split infinitive.

You know the one, where another word is put in between the “To” and the Verb which follows.

It all came to a head this week when both President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard used a number of split infinitives at their press conference in Canberra. 

The ABC news broadcasts these linguistic aberrations  through most bulletins. 

They seem to be everywhere and we are powerless to stop them! 

“So what?” you might rightly exclaim.  To sometimes break a rule, doesn’t seem to matter much anymore. 

This week at the Premier’s spelling bee, a contestant missed out on first place when she was asked to spell the word “eschew.” 

The judge mispronounced the word, enunciating a “T” which the competing child duly included. 

A check of any dictionary will not have a “t” included as part of the pronunciation for this word. 

This mispronunciation on the part of the judge, cost the child a chance of winning the competition.

This time the breakage of a rule was of some importance, especially to the person involved.

Recent generations have broken away from rules, structures and the frameworks of the past and imagine that there is a freedom in all this. 

To radically break away from long held social mores, may indeed provide a feeling of exhilaration and freedom for a time. 

Then comes a tragic consequence of one’s choices when one finds that the world doesn’t  quite fit into the new paradigm that I have created for myself. 

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I have left myself without a workable framework around which to base my most important decisions. 

To recklessly have abandoned a view of the world which pretty-much worked for generations, and to lithely replace it with my changing whims and moods, leaves me, and our society without a moral or social compass.

And we wonder at the degree of unhappiness in a land of such wealth. 

We ponder the rate of depression and loss of meaning people experience. 

We are bemused at the arrogant dismantling of belief in God by so many, and its replacement with a mass of  amorphous if cleverly constructed principles of self-interest.

Our best response to this is not, as some seem to be doing, to desperately seek refuge in a rigid observance of rules and laws. 

Nor is our peace to be found in passively surrendering to the prevailing culture of “whatever!”

Jesus is always clear that law is meant to serve people’s happiness, to liberate them, to keep them safe, to give them direction. 

For him, people always came before the law,  however he came not to carelessly destroy the law but to lovingly bring it to fulfilment.

For him the fulfilment of the law was to be found in Love, always Love.

This Love,  who is poured into our hearts by the Spirit,  alerts us to the values and meanings that the law is meant to serve.

Which decisions will we make this week that will enhance the well-being of people, of creation, of ourselves? 

It might be good to thoughtfully ponder as Advent approaches.  In the meantime split infinitives continue to annoyingly rule!!

See if you can count how many split infinitives appear in this reflection along with at least one other grammatical error!!

Posted Christ the King, Nov, 2011



Inherent value



The platform of the ALP and therefore the Government, contains a bold statement that asylum seekers held in detention will be treated with care and respect and that the “inherent value of each person” will be honoured.

Quoted on last Monday’s “Four Corners” program, this text was put alongside stories and images of the treatment that many people seeking asylum here, endure during their extended stays in our various places of detention.

Stories were reported of the misuse of psychiatric drugs, extensive self-harm, depression and suicide attempts.

Even after people had been released into the community, the trauma occasioned by their stay in detention is reported to take months and years to ease.

The program held up to the light some of the stories of these people, people who have committed no crime other than to flee homelands where they and their families are in danger of losing their lives.

Most refugees flee to countries near their homelands in the hope of returning some day.  Those who reach our shores are carrying such a degree of fear that it brings them half way round the world.

In spite of UN Declarations to the contrary, some still hold that these people are “illegal” arrivals, that they are jumping queues and that they obviously have the money to get them here ahead of others who are waiting for years in camps.

They are not illegal in any sense, being recognised under the United Nations Charter of Human Rights,  and they have had no opportunity to join a queue let along jump one.

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These arguments aside, these people are here and their inherent dignity as persons requires to be honoured even if their application is rejected.

Programs such as “Today Tonight” continue to beat up fear and prejudice among the population by misreporting the facts regarding the entitlements refugees receive on their release from detention, and so our debate becomes more and more mired in fear rather than reason or a spirit of justice. 

A look at last Monday’s “Media Watch” reveals the dishonest tactics used by such programs.

What would we have these inconvenient visitors do? Should they return to their homelands where their lives would once again be at risk?

Many asylum-seekers who have been returned to their homelands have been “disappeared”.  Many of them have been discovered to have been murdered.

Eminent Jesuit priest and social commentator, Father Frank Brennan has noted recently that the present Labor policy and practice is more inhumane than that of the Coalition.

No one seems to have a handle on what the best practice should be, though the recent failure of the  Government’s “Malaysian Solution” is forcing their hand to act marginally more humanely through the use of bridging visas.


Posted 31st Sunday of the Year, 2011



Keeping our balance

This week Qantas announced the axing of 1000 jobs so it could open up a couple of new airlines in another Asian country, so as to recover diminishing profits in its international sector. 

One wit writing in the Herald quipped that Qantas’ theme song could now conclude with “I still call Malaysia home!”. How do we balance workers’ welfare with profit-making?

This week Blue Scope Steel announced the loss of 1100 jobs due to the high value of the dollar and local manufacturing costs. 

A news article at the same time noted that of the current huge iron ore output in the present mining boom, only 10% of that resource is processed here in Australia. 

The rest is sent to China and other cheaper labour markets. 

Keeping the shareholders happy is obviously a higher priority than the economic and social welfare of the wider community.  Again where’s the balance ?

The week, orchestrated by Sydney’s best known commercial radio guru, a smaller-than-expected convoy descended on Canberra to protest at just about everything the Government is doing. 

When a Sky TV reporter pointed out an error of fact in the radio jock’s assertions about the reason for the smaller than expected turnout, he was met by a strident personal attack. 

The same fate befell a Herald reporter when she dared question our guru on a similar matter. 

His strongly-held ideological position could not be allowed to be discredited by the facts!  Once again we can wonder about our sense of balance.

In the Church and in Catholic schools, we have to make sure that anyone involved in any capacity has a clean bill of health legally before we can trust them to act on our behalf. 

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Trust is only possible when fear of litigation is eliminated or minimized. 

Once again we can wonder where a proper balance is to be found.

People well-informed about the above issues can argue well and cogently for the way business is done in all these instances.

However, no one ever questions our goal of maximising or increasing profits. 

No one ever seems to note that greed by its very nature is insatiable and so our profit-seeking will never be satisfied.

Our billboards and advertisements that confront us daily, seek to increase our desire for goods, services, pleasures that are not currently in our possession. 

Creating false needs through marketing and advertising is the main game in town. 

No wonder we have trouble finding our balance when our advertising is all designed to tell us how unhappy we are with what we’ve got and how frightened we need to be in case someone takes what we already have from us.

Jesus’ idea for a better more equitable, more trusting world still struggles for air, even in the Churches which bear his name. 

His gospel is and always will be a challenging, radical alternative for us. 

While ever we turn him into a sort of comfortable religion that is all about personal salvation, then we will miss his meaning.

This week in Libya the Gaddafi dictatorship looks as though it has fallen.  Just maybe for the gospel to get a clear run, we could take a lead from the “rebels” and consider whether some kind of re-balancing revolution of the heart might do the trick.


Posted 22nd Sunday of the Year, 2011



WikiLeaks and privacy

Every news bulletin over the past weeks has featured the latest diplomatic cables to be released by Wikileaks.

The reaction of governments has been predibly angry. The reaction of the media has been predictably voracious. The reaction of many of us has been one of some puzzlement.  What are to make of this strange new phenomenon?

Throughout much of history, when people lived in villages and communication tools were limited to voices, the odd smoke signal or a drumbeat, everyone pretty-much knew everyone else’s business. 

Privacy as we’ve come to know it in the western world, is a relatively recent happening.  Privacy is something that we have come to value.

Often we are so private that we give very little of ourselves away to anyone, even to members of our families in some instances.

Governments of course have fine-tuned the privacy business to the point where so much of their activity is never known by the public they are elected to serve. 

So much communication between governments has been kept secret, until now that is.

We are told that there is so much more to be revealed in the coming weeks and months. Many public figures are running for cover. 

While we may enjoy the sight of their discomfort, we can wonder at the benefits all this “outing” of people’s foibles, failures and private attitudes will bring. 

What the outcome of all this will be is still unknown. 

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Knowing everything about another person can be destructive when a person’s legitimate rights to protection and privacy are violated.

The same principle would seem to apply when it comes to global relationships.

The balance between the village where everyone knows everyone else’s business and today’s society where  we  hide behind the ear-pieces of our Ipods, is a very difficult thing to achieve. 

One can surmise that it is this balance that the international community needs to seek, rather than a world of complete secrecy or a world where every mistake and piece of maladministration is hung out for everyone to see.

Let’s pray as this Advent season comes to a close, that the revelation of God’s love in Jesus becomes the model for all of us who believe in him. 

Discovering the meaning of Jesus’ coming is the project of a lifetime, just as the discovery of the heart of a beloved one is the work of a lifetime.  Knowing it all at once would be just too much for all of us!

Posted 4th Sunday of Advent, 2010



Putting our bodies on the line


It’s State of Origin time again, time to don the maroon and the blue jerseys and to put our bodies on the line for our cause!! This week we’ve observed people putting their bodies on the line in order to break through the naval blockade at Gaza. This week at your house you’ve almost certainly put your body on the line so that your children could be fed, listened to, comforted, encouraged or challenged.

Putting our body on the line is what we do when love calls, when justice cries out, when fear looms, when hunger abounds or when ignorance goes unchallenged.

Another phrase for “putting our body on the line” could well be “The Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us.” God’s own Word, God’s very self becomes one with us, takes flesh as we have done and enters into the human drama not as an outsider, not as a sort of email attachment, but as part of the body of the text if you like, as one of the family. God’s body is on the line and this is what we celebrate this weekend as we focus on the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is the source of endless reflection for us all. It is the subject of countless books, theses, poems, songs, works of art. It is the Sacrament that after Baptism, so clearly defines us as Catholics.

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Our strange unerring belief is that somehow through this simplest of symbols, Jesus puts his body on the line for our nourishment, healing and delight.

For all the great intellects that have pondered this mystery, it is ours to hold, to cherish and to engage, in our own language, on our own terms and in the setting of our own heart’s story. For here, our God comes to make a home with us. Here God surrenders with utter trust into our frail hands. Here God shows us in the plainest and clearest of terms, how love behaves and what love requires.

The bread is taken, set aside for special nourishment. The bread is blessed in such a way that its nourishment becomes the nourishment of God’s own presence. The bread is broken as a call to us to break open the bread of our lives for all who may hunger for our gift. The bread is shared and nothing is held back in reserve, no conditions are attached and no caution is taken in the sharing. Talk about putting your body on the line!

This Sacrament is our State of Origin on our own home ground!! The ref has blown his whistle so let’s play!

Posted Corpus Christi, Jun, 2010



Blowin' in the wind

Jessica Watson’s homecoming last weekend was a most notable community event. Huge crowds turned out to welcome her. People argued the toss about the pros and cons of her trip. The wind had no such problem. It simply blew her right around the world!! Sailors have known the power of the wind for centuries. We’re starting to wake up to its value as a source of renewable energy now. People argue the toss about its value in this regard, but it is blowing nonetheless, ready to provide its benefits for us all.

The disciples at Pentecost got a good nudge from the wind and here we are still blowing merrily along, with a Spirit as fresh and new as ever. People thought the disciples had been partying too hard and argued the toss about what they were up to as well. The Spirit just kept on blowing!

Whenever the Spirit blows, some of us get excited and allow the breath of the Spirit to carry us along. Others of us get frightened and hang on tightly to what we know for sure, because we’ve no idea where the wind is going to take us. The problem with hanging on like grim death is that we end up looking like grim death and in a bizarre twist of logic, claim that we are truly traditional. Even then the Spirit blows!

Our own growth is not served by a fear-filled response.

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The growth of our Church is hindered also, and we do indeed end up looking uncomfortable, nervous, suspicious of anything that moves that is not in our control. A good recent example of this is the fear that has been expressed about the introduction of an ethics course in public schools as an alternative to the Religious Education program. Rather than embracing and seeking to integrate what is of value in this program, many in the Church are trying to have it squashed. It’s always more sense (and truer to our tradition,) to have conversation rather than confrontation with people who are offering something that could well be of value to all of us.

“The wind blows wherever it will” says Jesus. “You don’t know where it is coming from or where it is going. This is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.” Thank God the disciples at that first Pentecost got the idea and allowed the breath of the Spirit to take hold of them. Please God that same breath is still blowing well and truly in our parish so that people can be enlivened by love rather than frozen by fear, challenged by justice rather than entombed in prejudice, embraced by compassion rather than isolated in lonely suffering.

Happy Pentecost everyone, the birthday of a Church that is blowin’ in the wind!

Posted after Pentecost, 2010



Things are seldom what they seem

Earlier this week, someone asked me: “Can you tell me when Ascension Thursday is this year?” I replied “Next Sunday!” Lots of us grew up of course marking the Ascension on a Thursday. (I remember serving my very first Mass as an altar server on Ascension Thursday. The year was in the 1900’s sometime!)

If Channel Nine can have “Hey Hey it’s Saturday” on a Wednesday, I suppose there’s nothing to stop us having Ascension Thursday on a Sunday!! As Julie Andrews sings in “The Sound of Music” – “Things are seldom what they seem.”

The Scriptures reflect often enough on the mysteries of the human heart and our capacity for devious behaviours. We love discovering these behaviours in each other but not of course in ourselves!! So when Jesus tells us to stop judging each other he’s onto something important. The faces we wear, the names we give events and things, the masks we use to protect ourselves all have their place when you think about it a bit.

We need them when we are in grief, when we are ill, when we are struggling with relationships or employment or parenting problems that are not the business of other people. And at that time we need others to accept our story and not to pass judgement on us.

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We need to deal with our issues more privately in order for our hearts to find peace and for good order to be restored in our lives and at the same time maintain our good name in the community.

Of course at times, we can use these masks or these euphemisms to avoid facing the truth about things. One example that crops up often enough occurs when someone describes the death of another person by saying “He or she passed, or passed on”. Now this could indicate a person’s spiritual awareness or just as easily it could reflect our culture’s fear of talking directly about death.

Our masks of course as we are painfully aware in the wider Church can be a means of our carrying on with serious and damaging untruthfulness.

It’s probably not a bad thing for us as we mark the old “Ascension Thursday” this Sunday, to take a look at some of our euphemisms, our masks, our protective behaviours and make sure that the things we are hiding are sacred things that need protection rather than unholy things that won’t bear honest scrutiny.

Our Catholic tradition of a good honest examination of conscience each day has lots to recommend it.

Posted after the Ascension, 2010


When trust goes bung


Our most natural tendency seems to be towards mischief and mayhem rather than peace. Almost without knowing it we descend into chaos as often through inattention as through intention. The Federal Government’s disastrous home insulation program is a case in point. Inattention to detail opened the way for every opportunistic operator in the country to grab for a quick dollar and of course through their inattention and lack of proper supervision the government has had to wear the consequences

We’d like to think we’re all good characters and trustworthy. We’d like to think that given the opportunity, we’ll always do the right thing by each other. We’d like to look for the good in each other and hope that this sense of goodness will shape our world..

Sadly our world runs along different lines. We only move when we are pressured enough, when fear of our own survival is at stake, when our comfort or our bank balance is threatened. We might espouse high ideals and noble goals, but unless there’s something in it for us, we won’t really act. Pleasure and pain provide the engine room for most of our behaviours. A good honest examination of our own hearts will tell us that this is so often the truth about ourselves.

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Along the same lines, our economies lurch about in search of the best advantage for their investors, regardless of the cost to those who have nothing to invest. Just this week we see the reaction of the mining companies to the government’s super-tax hike being touted as normal and acceptable! No wonder we need saving!!

If Jesus’ rising from the dead means anything at all, we surely must allow it to impact on this most base and basic source of our behaviours. Dare we allow him into the core of our being where our deepest life-choices are made? Dare we engage with him as he rises to life and calls us to integrity, to a love that is selfless, to a heart that is unburdened, to a life that is transparently true and good?

As the people who claim faith in the Risen Jesus our mission is surely to break through the culture of inattention that leads to chaos, with a gift of trust that believes in people’s potential for growth and goodness. Even if our trust seems to go bung and we are let down by the ones we trust, can we rise from our disappointments again and again, continue to trust and so make present the rising from the dead that we claim we believe?

Posted May 07, 2010


Just the time for climate change

“Lord make us turn to you, let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

This is our refrain as we respond to the first reading of today’s liturgy. Advent has arrived and along with it God’s perennial call to conversion, to re-birth and to a radical form of climate change!

We are not talking about a miserly 20% reduction in our negative impact on the world, but rather a complete turn-around. John the Baptist once again emerges into our consciousness with his ever-relevant call to conversion and form reversal. There’s no tinkering around at the edges and then tentatively putting off the day of decision. There’s no passing the buck so that we don’t have to take ownership of our own part in the planet’s problems. There’s no pandering to sectional interests or taking from the poor and leaving the big end of town to suit itself. There’s no ambivalence, no hesitation, no half-measures here. They simply won’t work.

Once the Word becomes Flesh among us, like it or not, climate change occurs. History can never be the same. Life’s sacred frame now holds a clear image of the Love that infuses everything that lives and everything that is.

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It’s always been there but now we have a name for this Love, and furthermore a living encounter with this Love becomes possible for us.

It’s possible to be a “cultural Catholic” and think that’s good enough. It’s possible to be an “occasional Catholic” and think that that’s the best we can do. It’s possible to be a “skeptical Catholic” and stay on the edge of the community, critiquing the rest of the tribe from somewhere beyond their reach. It’s possible to be a “comfortable Catholic”, going through the motions year after year, but still harbouring our old prejudices, fears, limited perceptions of the world and world events, and thinking that we’re doing just fine. It’s possible to be a “private Catholic” who proclaims to anyone who will listen, ‘You don’t need to go to Church to be a good person” and think they’ve got the devil off their back!

Where’s the passion in any of that? Where’s the joy? Where’s the challenge and where’s the life? The climate change for those who really engage with the gospel is radical, long-lasting and constantly developing. It’s a mighty adventure. It’s a daunting challenge. And it’s exactly what happens when we really allow the Word to become Flesh within and among us. Have a climatically invigorating Advent!


Minarets, mindfulness and mission

This week in Melbourne, the Parliament of the World Religions has gathered. It will feature participants and presenters from all of the world’s main religious traditions. Its purpose is in large part, to explore the stories of each tradition in order for us all to find a deeper understanding and acceptance of each other, and even to grow towards a common vision for our little planet.

This week in Switzerland, the country voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to ban the building of new minarets on local mosques. This move was not supported by the Christian Churches or the Jewish community, but rather it seems to have been a politically orchestrated campaign of fear that led to the result of this vote.

The outcome of the vote has been seen by many as an expression of the growing level of fear of Moslem people that is spreading across Western Europe. Given the history of recent years when the headline-grabbing terrorist events have been mostly attributed to Islamic extremists this fear is understandable. Also the expressed purpose of some Moslem people that their mission is to take over every country where they live and make every land a Moslem stronghold.

So the fear increases and the memories become shorter! It’s not so long ago that the Christian and our own Catholic Church saw our mission as exactly this, the conversion of all people to the Church.

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Now the boot’s on the other foot we don’t much like it!

Our Advent spirit of adventure, passion and hope can come into play here. Rather than sitting around being frightened of what might transpire, we can engage in conversation with the people around us who celebrate their faith in ways different from our own. A little good will and openness goes a long way in creating acceptance, understanding and even a shared heart as we seek what is most sacred for each of us.

Rather than buying the glib one-liners that thirty second news reports use to describe the behaviours of our neighbours, we could do well to engage with them and we may find that what we have in common is far more substantive than the things that differentiate us.

Finally we could commit ourselves to the spread of the gospel with new energy and purpose as a way of ensuring that our story of faith still holds a living place in the hearts of our families, our local community and our wider world. After all, we do believe that in Jesus we believe we have humanity’s best hope of peace, dignity and salvation, don’t we?

Thus engaged, we’ll find life too interesting and enjoyable, to be spending it in fear and mistrust. The God who comes to life in Jesus is broad enough to cope with all of us!