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Golden Priest, Wooden Chalice, by Fr Tim Norris
GOLDEN PRIEST, WOODEN CHALICE
At a time when the Catholic Church in Australia struggles in the face of secularism and declining practice levels, it is reassuring to find, here and there, that the faith remains rock solid, often thanks to the leadership and witness of particular bishops, priests, religious or lay people.
A case in point is Irish-born Fr Tim Norris, parish priest of St Kevin's, Geebung, Brisbane. He, along with other dedicated priests around Australia, is one of the Church's true heroes who against the tide stick to their guns and set good example.
Mother M. Xavier McMonagle writes in her foreword: "Thank God for Father Norris. Thank God for his faith and example ... Thank you, Father Norris, for such a much needed faith-restorer, in our critically sad times."
Cardinal George Pell, who opened the Pope John Paul II building at St Kevin's in 2004, commented: "No wonder people are already saying 'Thank God I've been alive while John Paul II and Benedict XVI were Popes and Father Tim Norris was parish priest of Geebung'. From the village Mass Rock he knew as a child in Ireland to his commentaries on the challenges we face in 21st century Australia, Golden Priest, Wooden Chalice is full of substance and interest."
The book commences with recollections of an Irish childhood, the signposts of faith and colourful details of Church and family life in Ireland that were prompted by a return visit to Ireland in 2005.
Fr Norris writes: "And what great characters I knew growing up. If anything irritates me as much as the dreadful cliché 'as Irish as Paddy's pigs' it is the sometimes sneering references one hears to the 'bog Irish'. Year in and year out I footed turf in a bog over the summer holidays, from the age of 12 or 13 until the time I left Carlow College for Rome in 1953."
He later adds: "Pope John Paul II once said he learned as much quarrying stones in Poland as he did at university, and I can truly say the same about footing turf in the bog and working on Jack Mack's farm. The honesty, simplicity, devotion and shrewdness of these people have been a tower of strength to me in my years as a priest. Their perseverence in hard times, their innate ability to grasp the essence of problems and cut through the sham was remarkable. They'd make very short work of much of the rubbishy 'spin' put out to defend many of today's absurdities."
In the second part of his book, Father Norris provides a selection of his homilies dealing with key Catholic doctrines - the Eucharist, Resurrection, the Papacy, Our Lady, God's forgiveness, Christ's divinity - with a clarity and insight that would have done Fulton Sheen proud.
The third part includes a selection of articles contributed to the Brisbane Courier-Mail, "in response to controversies in public life, relevant to the Church".
Father Norris anticipates the thrust of Benedict XVI's first encyclical (see page 3) in his comments on the proper role of the Church in the public arena: "Talking to people every day, following their challenges and dilemmas and reading the newspapers to learn of the latest controversies over embryonic stem cells, the possibilities of cloning and genetic engineering and so-called 'gay marriages', I believe the need for the Church to be heard across the wider society has never been greater."
The book concludes with an overview of his role as parish priest of Geebung since 1959. He remarks: "Ultimately, I know that parishes, under the pastoral leadership of parish priests, always have been and always will be the backbone of the Church in Australia. Experiments with 'other models of Church' and with parishes led by lay pastoral workers and the like will come and go, and inevitably, be found wanting. There is no substitute for traditional parishes led by parish priests ...".
Golden Priest, Wooden Chalice provides some much-needed spiritual oxygen for those tempted to give up on the Church.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 19 No 2 (March 2006), p. 18
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