Ginger cake

My decades old paste-in recipe book is a timeline of what families used to eat back in the days before Master Chef and Asian cooking. Flicking through it in a what will I cook foray, I came across a recipe for ginger cake, written on blue note paper in my mother’s elegant handwriting.

Not for the first time a childhood memory had snuck into my adult life and I wanted to roll back time and recapture whatever it was that I remembered.

I recall it as a Sunday night treat, gingery with a filling of whipped cream. So I assembled the ingredients and baked it, anticipating a return to my childhood delight. Either my memory was at fault or my taste buds are more sophisticated these days, but with the first bite I knew without a doubt that this cake definitely didn’t measure up to my expectations. The whipped cream was the best of it. The cake itself was heavy, verging on doughy and the ginger had no palpable zing.

Once again I was being reminded that childhood memories need to be explored from an adult perspective. As we get older we leave behind childish beliefs and perceptions, things like the tooth fairy, Father Christmas and how long summer used to be, and what God looks like.

stained-glass window

Someone has said that religious faith is like chicken pox – if you stay around it long enough you’ll catch it. The faith of ‘cradle catholics’ is usually piggybacked on to that of parents, grandparents and religious education teachers, especially in the primary school years. The inference being that faith, once ‘caught’ in childhood, sets one up for life. That seems to be the reasoning behind the Australian catholic focus on catholic schools.

Faith is a complex reality. There is religious faith – a formal set of beliefs, teachings and a moral code centered in the institutional Church. Then there is the living faith of people whose daily lives reflect the teachings of Jesus, the communities called ‘the faithful’. Lastly, there is the personal faith of each and every one of us, as we recognise and respond to the mysterious presence of God in our lives.

I believe it’s religiously healthy, even essential, to question the way early religious ‘conditioning’ sometimes substitutes religious practices and traditions for the deep truths implicit in doctrines such as resurrection, sacraments, prayer and scripture. The way children express their religious faith can be quite touching, but as they move through adolescence, into middle age and even beyond, it needs to be explored and appropriated in an adult way.

When this doesn’t happen, when religious education stops at First Communion and Confirmation, or never moves beyond the end of secondary school, then we risk becoming a Church of religiously illiterate Catholics.

This concerns me.

My experience in areas of adult religious education has shown me that people have within themselves the religious truths that will enrich their lives, but lack the language and the opportunity to talk about them from an adult perspective.

The Catholic Church in Australia needs to find ways that enable people to name, claim and proclaim the sacred in the ordinary of their lives ways that are more adult and family-friendly. There will need to be an increase in the number of lay people permitted to participate in the 2020 Australian Catholic Plenary Council, if this is to ever happen.

I have no doubt that my child-self enjoyed that ginger cake all those Sunday nights long ago, but along with my shape my food tastes have broadened and deepened over the years.

So has my faith.

Judith Scully (



There were a surprising number of women in Jesus’ life, but he would have had no personal memory of Anna, though it’s possible that she figured in his “Tell me about when I was a baby” stories.

When a Jewish baby was born there were certain traditions to follow. After the home birth the mother was given 40 days to recover physically and to concentrate on her baby. Then, if they lived close enough to Jerusalem and the first-born baby was a boy, the young family went off to the Temple to carry out the customary religious rites. It was there that Anna and Jesus met each other.


Luke’s Gospel tells it like this:
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came in, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)

Over the years she had become a fixture in the Jerusalem Temple, watching families grow, blessing the babies of former babies, a model of prayer, to be admired but not copied. She might have been old and skinny, (well you would be if part of your religious practice had been fasting), but she was fit enough; scooting around the temple precincts 24/7, greeting people, encouraging them, praying for them. From a twenty first century viewpoint she might come across as eccentric or pious, a religious crank who doesn’t seem to have a life outside of religious practices. Then, as now, lots of us have trouble accepting those who are not only different, but old!

There was nothing much wrong with her eyesight and hearing, because she not only saw from a distance her friend Simeon focusing in on one particular baby, but she heard his prophetic words about a sword piercing the heart of the young mother. She knew that bringing up children could be heartbreaking, and words like that weren’t something any new mum would like to hear.

Long before John the Baptizer pointed out Jesus as ‘the one who is to come’ Anna gazed at this six week old baby boy and felt, rather than saw, that this baby would be a light that would flood the darkness of a world groping towards God. Knowing that she had lived to see this day filled her with hope and spilled over into joy, a joy as she shared this with Mary, that young mother, and for the rest of her life with everyone she met. In this baby named Jesus she had glimpsed the face of God.

As I get older it saddens me, and angers me too, that I’ve spent all my life in a church that doesn’t permit me to proclaim the good news of the Gospel whenever Mass is celebrated, that women , the bearers of life are not permitted welcome others into God’s life at Baptism or hand them back into God’s loving care when they die. Because we are women!

Anna sits on the edge of Old Testament as it edges into the New. An elderly woman recognising Jesus as the light of the world, to be followed a generation later by a young woman, Mary of Magdala, proclaiming his resurrection. Now, as then, could God be telling the world something?
Judith Lynch