SOME FELL ON ROCK
by Fr John O'Neill
(Red Hand Books, 2003, 67pp, $10.00 plus postage from Ignatius House Services (07) 3279 7415; Cardinal Newman Faith Resources (02) 9637 9406)
Fr O'Neill, parish priest of St John Vianney's, Doonside, Sydney, is well-known to those who have been struggling for years to keep things in the Church truly Catholic. His articles and books have been more than a help to many, while his plays, singing and recitals have been delightful entertainment to his audiences.
His last literary work, The Old School Tie, was a good-humoured and enjoyable tale very much based on real events (and some real people). Readers have asked Fr O'Neill for a sequel. This little book is not it. This is no novel, but a hard-hitting and uplifting commentary on the current state of the Church in Australia. It is written from a priestly heart full of zeal for Our Lord and His people.
Fr O'Neill shows that he has not forgotten the mental training and theology of his seminary years at St Patrick's College, Manly, where he gained his Roman bachelor's degree in theology in 1960. With this background, and his pastoral experience of over 40 years, Fr O'Neill is well-equipped, like a good diagnostician, to identify the causes of the Church's problems - and like a good physician, to supply us with the remedies.
He takes us into some metaphysics (that much neglected but essential discipline for all theology) and into some very helpful understanding of Scripture. He knows that Scripture must be read in union with the Church, but he also knows that profitable Bible-reading is not the preserve of "scholars". Not lacking in intelligence himself, he is not intimidated by academics, and encourages ordinary faithful Catholics not to be either.
This booklet covers a variety of topics: sound thinking and philosophy, liturgy, Australian politics, false theology, modernism, the priesthood, and the unity of the Church.
Fr O'Neill communicates his thoughts with a simple but deep faith, and writes as one for whom the vision of reality in the light of Catholic faith comes naturally. He never lacks depth or learning, but writes in a popular style that makes profound things accessible.
On tolerance: "It is all very well to be tolerant, but we simply cannot survive false tolerance, or better, tolerance of false principles. Each person has the right to his views, but no person has the right to remove those supports which uphold a workable society: among others, the individual's right to life (from conception to natural death), the family as the basic unit of formation of sound citizens (family being a male father, a female mother and their children, and including its extensions)" (p.23).
At the same time, this book offers a challenge: "This is today's essential work of charity! Those who remain inactive or silent for fear they might hurt someone's feelings, when charity demands they act or speak, should bear this in mind: if Jesus Christ had been like that, nothing would ever have been revealed, and no salvation provided. He was slaughtered for his truth and goodness. Heaven is not for the faint-hearted" (p.14).
This little book brings to the surface a thousand thoughts that many of us have half-formed but never expressed, and certainly never articulated with so much conciseness and wit.
The key themes that animate the book are charity, unity, love of Christ, and love for the Church as our mother. Chapter Six, "A simple guide for spiritual growth", is a beautiful presentation of that topic.
The reader will enjoy this small book of Catholic vision, common sense and spiritual challenge.
Fr Peter Joseph is Chancellor of the Maronite Diocese of Australia, and is based in Sydney.