Today, the 24th September, apart from being 15th Sunday after Trinity, is also the Festival of our Lady of Walsingham. My interest in this place is because I have visited the Shrine at Walsingham for three times. When I first went in 1974 I was sceptical, but curious about the place. I got hold of a guidebook and started to visit the various chapel, by the time I got to the third chapel I was kneeling and praying – the whole place was permeated with the prayers of millions who had come before me. It was the same on subsequent visits. I naturally became a Priest Associate of the Holy House of Walsingham, and to my surprise I found out that it was largest association of Anglican priests in the world. On my last visit, I spent a whole week there, soaking in the atmosphere of prayer, rest and renewal through the daily masses, Stations of the Cross, and the Rosary after daily Evening Prayer, offering up requests for prayer from around the world.
Every Thursday there is Prayer for Healing and Wholeness. You can have the Laying on of Hands and then, if you wish, the Sacrament of Anointing at the High Altar for Anointing. In the many side chapels people were making their confession. There were so many that I was asked to hear confessions. I was in the chapel until 10pm! What amazed me was that most were making their first confession and they were unloading failings that had weighed upon the hearts. The sense of presence of our Lady and the atmosphere of prayer moved them to unburden their souls and become free.
The first shrine was established in 1061 but was destroyed by Henry VIII. He was odd, for he had visited the Shrine in prayer and pilgrimage in the same year he destroyed it. All that was left was the parish church. Eighty year ago, a new vicar was appointed; Fr Hope Patten. He restored the devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham in the parish church and later, through generous benefactors built a new shrine on a separate site. Over the years, the Shrine has had a growing impact in the Anglican Church, first in England and then around the Anglican world. Walsingham is now is the most visited religious place in England, as people from around the world make their pilgrimage there. It has also become a source of encouragement for many Anglican churches of the Catholic tradition throughout the world.
And Now the Plebiscite
What I am writing about in this issue are my own opinions and are not some part of an official Church announcement. I have previously muttered about this a few weeks ago, under the title, The Love and Worship of God and the Big Decisions of our Day.
My problem is the way the ‘yes’ party and the government are presenting the issue as a simple choice over the equality of marriage for same sex couples. What is being avoided are the consequences for civil and religious rights. Father Frank Brennan, a Master in Law, has explained the issue clearly in 17 August edition of the Guardian, which can be read online. He is actually in favour of same sex marriage, but he is deeply concerned about the consequences for religious and civil freedoms. He points out that in international law religious freedom is an absolute, first class priority, but in Australia it is a second-class right that can be ignored. Instead of protecting religious rights in constitutional law, we find only special exemptions granted in new legislation. That will now become shakier as exemptions can always be withdrawn.
Our country, and many others, have had a cruel and deplorable history in dealing with homosexuality. Now their civil rights are fully protected and they have a proper standing in law. There have been many pieces of legislation that have put this into practice. However, the marriage equality legislation has a potential to affect the religious and civil rights of others. This has been a fact in countries where marriage equality has now been legislated into law.
The government and all party leaders are not being candid or sincere about pretending that this is a just simply and yes or no choice with no consequences. This is not good enough. Unfortunately, this pretending by politicians that everything will OK and you can trust us, when they know from other countries that this has not been the case. Sincerity is about giving solid assurances, and explaining the appropriate legislation that protect rights before the question is put. I think the wooden spoon needs to go to Christopher Pyne, who said on Friday morning on TV, that the yes and no vote should be like two footy teams barracking for their side. In football, a team must lose of course, but that does not mean that the next day civil society changes and religious and civil rights are endangered.