Wednesday, 13 June 2018


When I was planning to come out to Bucharest the biggest headache I had was scything through my book collection. I was determined nothing would go into storage, I wanted this move to be real and final.  I cut down the collection to about 1/5 of what it had been and I still have 3 bookcases worth with me.  One book that didn't make it was Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49. This was a shame, my copy had a really cool cover, but I decided I'd grown out of Pynchon.

How wrong I was.  It has found its way onto my e-reader and it is better than I ever remember it to be.

I am not going to recommend this book to you as such.  I am a good Catholic girl (sic).  Pynchon's world is amoral and postmodern.  Nothing is sacred. His characters are utterly unaware of sin and never have an epiphany, there is nothing redemptive in his work. However Pynchon does tap into something quite deep in the human psyche.  This novel is about the nature of reality and doing things you don't believe in.

His writing is full of the humour of the absurd. There is a club that caters for electronics assembly workers who go wild for Stockhausen on the sound system.  There is a spoof Jacobean Revenge tragedy. There is an underground postal service in competition with Thurn und Taxis. They may or may not have the symbol of the muted post horn.  They may not exist.  That is the central crux of the book. Pynchon's prose style is compact, visually dense and effective and the book is full of Physics in-jokes.  It could have been written for me.

And all the time the characters do things they don't believe in.  Nothing seems real.  There may be some faint whisper just out of earshot that will lead to the truth, but they are too dissipated to follow it.  They let the absurd wash over them and sink into disappointment.

The post modern world seems very much like Pynchon's fiction.  We hunger for something rebellious, something beneath the surface that actually means something, we are fully aware that reality is probably far more terrifying and brilliant that we can hope for and yet we are still too dissipated to do anything than be passive recipients of the surreal, illogical, fantasy that calls itself everyday life.

One image Pynchon throws at us very early on in the book is that of the heroine in a tower, like Rapunzel. She is waiting for some prince to rescue her from the tower, the man disappoints and all that happens is that the tower extends outwards. She goes to Mexico with her lover and yet it is still the tower.  She never gets out.  What appears to be the world outside is just that which has been crafted in the tower.

It is not my life, don't think for a moment that it is.  However, in those moments when the screaming unreality of the world pins you down with its full force and tries to prevent you from breathing-in all that is good, beautiful and true..... then Pynchon's world seems so very real.

Not sure why I'm sharing this with you, other than the fact that I think I'd prefer to be stuck, Rapunzel like in a tower, in a reality of my own creation, than passively accept much of what passes for Catholicism (liberal and conservative) as being part of the beauty of the Bride of Christ. The Church is breaking my heart like no man ever could. But all I can do is scream like a muted posthorn.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

summer nights

A friend e-mailed recently and said "can't wait for the nights to get longer again".  She like me prefers the winter to the summer.  I have happy memories of exploring the graveyards of the Cotswolds with her one Boxing Day, the low light and sharp cold were exquisite.  This year however, absorbing everything that this wonderful country has to offer, I can wait for winter. I'm happy just living each moment and when the current hot and humid is replaced by unbearably hot and dry, I will not mind.

Right now, the cherries are out and are wonderful, as are the heart shaped seductively sweet local tomatoes, and the cucumbers aren't bad either.  The Apostles' Fast is simply inconvenient but it certainly isn't unpleasant with all the summer produce around.

I think I've said before that life is the "school of love". Day by day, I'm just asking God to teach me how to love; loving God, loving those who are easy to love, loving those who tear at my heart because I feel they belong there but currently are far away, loving the difficult to love, loving the loveless, loving myself.  I've stripped life back to basics out here and learning my lessons can be done without distraction.  The lessons are not taking place in quiet contemplation but in the bustle of city life amongst the diesel fumes and apartment blocs. There are plenty of antagonisms and there is something unpleasant around that feels very like witchcraft.  And this is why the light of the mid-summer is good.  Bright light and light hearted prayer are best.  The low light of mid-winter and the accompanying gentle introspection would not help..

A couple of souls I seem strongly linked to are not in good shape spiritually.  I won't let it break my heart  to see and feel them so burdened by the world, so lifeless, so weary, so bitter, so without hope... loving them means being a beacon of light in the dark.  Not a beacon of false optimism, but a small light in their Mordor, as they fight on with fatalism and emptiness. I don't know for sure if any light reaches them, but judging be the state of my heart, I think it probably does. But I'm finding it best not to care; if you give something, you can't then fret about what happens to it or you never truly gave it in the firstly place.

So no time for introspection.  Time to be humiliating myself trying the speak Romanian. I can read OK and I enjoy translating and writing, but speaking is embarrassing, I speak to the beggars and they speak back in English. A surly shop assistant who doesn't like me is convinced I'm Russian, but this allows me to be surly with her in my broken Romanian and stops her replying in English.... I've still got a lot to learn in the school of love.

Time also for plenty of Irish music, I can't understand why it sounds so good right now but it does, I like the punchy, non-political, non-drippy stuff the best:

From the past: the Bothy Band
From the present, the finest ever version of this particular song from the Kings of Connaught
From Serbia: yes from Serbia: the Orthodox Celts.... they make me smile.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

A Modest Proposal

I can't write about it, I can hardly think about it without sorrow, I am glad I am well away from it, I am angry that so many good priests are finding things near impossible and are so weary of it....

But I will not name that to which I refer, because it has no name, but you all know what it is.

It needs prayer. It needs serious and confident prayer. It needs a prayer of thanksgiving for the witness of the Apostles and their transmission of the Faith.  I am so grateful for my Faith, I am so grateful to God for all He has done for me, yet I weep over this thing's presence which manifests itself in the disunity of the Church and the damage to the Body of Christ that result from the confusion.

So today on the great Latin Feast of Corpus Christi, I want to make a request to all Roman Rite Catholics that they who also grieve like me (and that is most of you who read this blog) step back into the Tradition of the Universal Church and so something for Her.

Will you join those of us in the East for the Apostles' Fast this year? You can read about it here.
It starts on Monday and ends with the Feast of St Peter and St Paul on June 29th.

Fasting without prayer is evil.  Fast with joy and confidence.  I really don't want to do it!  The butter and cheese out here are so good, I have found a little old lady to sell me lovely eggs, I love the smoked pork fat that flavours most of the food I cook....

Pentecost was last Sunday and followed directly by Trinity Monday, we are at the apex of the Church's year. This Fast doesn't feel like Lent.  This feels like a very necessary part of the prayer needed for the unity of the Church and the vanquishing of evil from Her midst.

And put on a glad face, be more generous with your time and your charity, love your brothers and pray with confidence to the God who built his Church on St Peter.......

You know it makes sense.

I have personal reasons too.  I was Baptised on the Vigil of Ss Peter and Paul, 49 years ago.  The 49 (7x7) seems significant as does the fact that I would have been one of the last to have had the older, Baptismal Rite.  It took place in Dublin.  I don't feel my connection with Ireland is over yet, but prayers at a distance for Christian Ireland seem best for now.  I do not feel ready for her just yet. The unpleasant, revolutionary, romantic, pagan spirit that created Irish Republicanism (something I find abhorrent), is alive and well in the self-satisfactory smugness of her politics today and her lively embrace of all that is wrong.

For many reasons, this is a year of prayer and fasting.
Glory to God for all things!

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Referendum

Regular readers will know how much I hate referenda.  They are far from being what they claim to be and rarely do any good.  Indeed the only recent referendum that actually asked a sensible question and achieved a notable (and to my mind positive) result was the snap one called by Putin in the Crimea.  And therein lies a moral.  Referenda have nothing to do with a healthy democracy.  Love or loathe Russia, she is not a healthy democracy, but she works, she has maturity on the world stage that surpasses the Western European minnows and she looks after her own. In general, referenda are a tool of mass manipulation, be suspicious of them. In general also, healthy democracy is an oxymoron.

And so my heart and mind turn to Ireland.  Ireland is like a train crash in slow motion, you know what is happening before it happens, and none of it is pretty. As I've said before, the land of my birth is a land of superlatives; the best and the worst.  There is no middle ground. Ireland is going through an adolescence, it is rebelling against a myth not a reality, it thinks itself really cool and "awakening".  It is one crazy teenager.  It is my profession to stand by and support and defend crazy teenagers, I have a fondness for them and I have a fondness for Ireland devoid on any sentiment.

So I am going to do the unthinkable on a Catholic blog and defend the souls who won the referendum, but this is not in any way about defending the abhorrent ideology behind their voting. I just want to speak up for them as human beings.

The thing is, we should all breathe a collective sigh of relief that there is still something so innate in the human condition that it still hungers after compassion and love.  The people who won did just that.  They voted for the side which to them offered the most compassionate, humane and kindest of options.  They are not animals, they are not defective in intellect, they are not any more evil that you or I.  They may be bloody fools, but that is not the point. They believe this is a victory for the good, for the advancement of civilisation, for progress and for humanity. They are wrong of  course because they are thinking like Modernists.  There is no such thing as progress.  Progress is the offspring of dialectical materialism, it doesn't really exist, it is as bogus as World Peace, Father Christmas and Facebook.

A question I wish to pop to you dear reader is this, why wasn't the Church's voting choice seen as the option that maximises the love and compassion in this broken world? We can blame years of Catholic flavoured misery-lit, the shameful state of the Church after the sexual abuse scandals.  We can blame media bias.  We can blame what we like but the Truth is irresistible (sadly grace isn't).  It is my view that very little of the Truth got out, very little of the Truth was able to dazzle and mesmerise souls. Where was God in all of this?

I am going to stick my neck on the line and suggest that the Pro-Life movement take a serious look at itself and ask itself some serious questions.  I will not be the first to suggest that it may be part of the problem, and I won't be the last. This does not detract from the good work they do do, but it is not the whole picture.  Is not the Pro-Life movement guilty of politicising Life? Does that not is some way degrade life? I was not chuffed to see the "heroes" of Irish independence on their banners.  I am also repulsed by any pictures of mashed up foetuses that end up on their material.  They really do not understand how they trivialise Life.

When the Lambeth Conference voted to accept contraception in the 1920s the Anglicans were responding to the reality of what they were seeing in the grinding poverty of the post war slums.  Large families are not  automatically happy families and the families they saw were abject in their misery. The acceptance of contraception was a patronising way to "deal" with the problem of grinding poverty.  What it didn't address was the grinding poverty of sexual incontinence which indeed it has exacerbated.  Contraception will never make you a better lover. Good lovers will have as many children as they are comfortable with as gifts from God, this doesn't mean they have to have breed incessantly. It is the work of dictators like Franco, Stalin and Ceaușescu to set up the large family as an idol. The Church should not do likewise.

When people advocate abortion, it is again always with a misplaced and patronising sense of compassion.  It is failing to look at the hurt at the heart of society that sees sex as a recreational activity, more or less violent, more or less predatory,  but part of our rights as consumers in charge of deciding our own pleasures. And if you do accidentally find yourself prey to unwanted sexual activity then obviously it is most compassionate to deal with the whole thing as clinically as possible and eliminate the one great act that can arise out of the evil that is in itself devoid of evil; the creation of life.

Until the Church on earth is appealing in her beauty, chastity and gentleness, then people will go looking for compassion in all the wrong places.  Don't go blaming those who placed their votes where they did.  They (like teenagers) know not what they do.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Repeat after me ......

I don't care that the pastoral context of the words allegedly uttered by Pope Francis demanded something a bit special. I am left furious that he has actually "come out" and said to someone "God made you gay" (see here) and nobody has denied that it has been said.

Firstly, there is simply not enough scientific evidence to support the argument that we are made gay by nature.  So that can't be what the Holy Father meant.  But if this isn't what he meant, then he is suggesting that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that "refine" our character through our interaction with the world are somehow pre-ordained by God to give us particular characteristics, particular desires and tastes.  I'm not sure about this either. It would suggest that God somehow has a list of characteristics and types of behaviour and he doles out our life experiences to make us that way. I am actually repulsed by this.  My late husband did not feel in his heart the desire to be a priest, go to junior seminary and be repeatedly and systematically sexually abused by older boys, in order to have his sexual "orientation" utterly confused through tasting the Heraclitan honey (to use St Francis de Sales phrase) of homosexual acts.  Would the Holy Father, on meeting him say "God made you struggle with sexuality and various forms of addiction all your life, it was his plan"? Would he then go on to suggest celebrating this brokenness and all the harm he had done to himself and hurt he had caused his parents and others through the hungers and desires he had that had so often overpowered his will and good intentions?  Does God ever want us to sin?  No, never.  God cannot desire that we sin, each sin is a movement away from Him.  It is too risky to say that it is only in moving away from Him that we can understand His love. We cannot ever say that the best path is a path into sin to come out of it from it at the other end.  We cannot advocate sin.  Sin gives the Devil  a foothold on us, and the bastard never lets go. Would you give your child to the devil? Of course not, and neither does God.

God does not make anyone gay, he does not make anyone straight.  These are Modern words.  Classifying people is a Modern preoccupation.  We must break out of it.  It is the devil's taxonomy.  I is not the language of God.  We have got ourselves in a bit of a mess with "love the sinner not the sin"  because we start classifying the sinner according to his predilections rather than loving him unconditionally and indeed blindly.

so repeat after me:

That is how we meet Him and come to love Him, serve Him and be with Him for ever.  We are made fearfully and wonderfully in the likeness and image of God, to start categorising how we are made is abhorrent.

Isn't it time we started talking more seriously about an ecstasy greater than sexual ecstasy; the eternal ecstasy of heaven and how chastity, given as a gift of the Holy Spirit is the ONLY way to draw close to this.

The ecstsay of St Teresa

Sorry I am ranting, but I've had enough, really and truly had enough of the modernism in the Church. 

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Greatest achievements

It is that time of year when those near the top of the "food chain" at my current place of employment have been asking those of us lower life forms the following question: Outside of what you are contracted to do, what have been your greatest achievements this year?

I know how we are supposed to answer this, and it is unsatisfactory.  We are being asked about those things we have done to further the greatness of the institution in which we work. At this point I feel like King Lear's youngest daughter and the answer I give will not be what they want to hear and nor can they hear the truth in what I say.

The answer in my heart is : nothing.  The supplementary answer is: this is not a question I really understand or know how to answer.

In the Venn diagram of Life there are several sets: what we desire, what other people desire, what we try to do, how others perceive what we are doing, the outcomes of our actions.  These sets barely interlock if indeed they interlock at all.  Also there is no causal link whatsoever between what we try to do and the outcomes of our actions. The outcomes depend on how our actions were interpreted not on our intentions in performing them. The outcomes also depend on a whole host of other factors, about which we are completely unaware.

It leaves me realising there is probably only one prayer in my heart that relates to myself: Lord, stop me from doing stupid things, may I never be responsible for causing another soul to move further away from finding You such that their eternal happiness is compromised.

If I think like this, then there is an answer to my line manager's question: "my" greatest achievement is getting out of bed in the morning.  I then hand the day over to Our Lady and this isn't a negation of responsibility, is is the realisation that left to my own devices all that I will do, having got out of bed, is catastrophic harm to myself and others.

Dumnezeule, fii milostiv mie, păcătosului.

Diagram of Appraisal Meetings: when we are supposed to celebrate our ability to be consumed.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Number Seven

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen dost gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldest not?"
[Matthew 23:37]

We see Christ depicted in icons and religious art as the Alpha and Omega, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Good Shepherd, but we never see Christ as Mother Hen.  If not in the static devotional language of the Church, then perhaps the place for this depiction is the liturgy of the Church. Liturgy and public worship are also Icon (or should be seen as such).  Recently, I was struck by this passage from the Anglo-Catholic, Evelyn Underhill, it seems to support my view:

This total liturgical life of the Corpus Christi is not merely a collection of services, offices and sacraments.  Deeply considered, it is the sacrificial life of Christ Himself; the Word indwelling in His Church, gathering in His eternal priestly action in the small Godward movements, sacrifices and aspirations of "all the broken and the meek", and acting through these ordered signs and sacraments by means of these His members on earth.
Worship - Evelyn Underhill (1936)

OK, so in the passage from Matthew, Christ uses the mother hen image as simile not metaphor, but it doesn't stop it being real, it doesn't stop the maternal nature of God from being a truth.

Then on the anniversary of my husband's death, I saw this very icon in the Corpus Christi (using Evelyn Underhill's terminology) and it brought me to my knees.  All the way home from work, I'd been summoning up the strength to go to Mass at the Roman Catholic church.  It really is a marathon here; devout, intense and utterly sad because they squeeze and strain as much as they can out of the Novus Ordo and you just know the  Older Latin Rite (sadly non-existent out here) would sit more comfortably in the hearts of the faithful. I can't bear to see the Roman Church dying. Apart from the priests, I am often one of the youngest there. I went straight home, I couldn't do it, I was exhausted.  Then something forced me out of the house and said, if you can't make it to Mass, you can atleast stagger to the Orthodox church and pray there.  How could I not pray before the Pantocrator, how could I not do this simple thing?

Unknown to me there was a service taking place which happens regularly at that church: the Service of the Holy Oils. It was packed with old and young, rich and poor, men and women in roughly equal numbers. It is a sacramental service of the anointing of the sick, it is not, I believe, common to all Orthodox, but it is big out here. Bread, flour and fat are brought to be blessed by the priests and bought back home to be eaten by the sick. The sick (that is everyone) are anointed, there are seven anointings, seven Gospel readings, seven blessings of the Holy Oil.  It was the seventh anniversary of my husband's death, it will be my 49th birthday (seven squared) on Monday...... I was meant to be there, there was something revelatory about the whole experience: an end with a new beginning.

And there was the icon of Mother Hen.  As each Gospel was read out, priests would stand amongst the congregation, hold their wide soles out before them and many members of the faithful would "hide" under the stoles.  There seemed to be as many as 20 people for each priest. Here is the Word: faithful mother hen and field hospital.  And there I was, deep in something beautiful, at least as exhausting as had I attended Mass and more overwhelming.

I kissed the Pantocrator and wondered "what is it that You want from me?".... I am still wondering, but I am resigned and at peace.

To quote Underhill again: Beauty is simply reality seen with the eyes of  love.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Human Popes

It seems to come as a bit of a shock to some people that Popes are indeed human.  Dad's old girlfriend e-mailed us all recently with words to that effect.  She had attached a video clip of Pope Francis channelling his inner Les Dawson, mesmerising his audience with the deft telling of some fairly stale mother-in-law jokes and she'd provided the caption "At last a Pope who is human, may he be Pope for a very long time!!!".

The Holy Father worked his audience well and they were putty in his hands.  I think perhaps that Les, watching from his place of eternal rest, may offer his successor a wee bit of advice about not letting the audience know your are enjoying yourself too much.  But that is very much the art of British Comedy and Argentinians may do things differently.

the unsurpassed Les Dawson (1931-1993)

I am not recounting this tale because I want to tell you that the Pope is a comic genius.  My reasons are different.  Let's return to dad's old girlfriend again. I don't exactly know how much dad thought of her when they were young, but both sets of parents were keen they got together, it seemed like an ideal match and she definitely had a crush on him.  Neither of them were without good looks and intelligence but more importantly their fathers were both extremely devout if stern Catholics and best of friends. However dad fell in love with a leggy Irish lass and that was that..... The religious zeal of grandfather and his friend did not rub off  on their offspring.  The reason why I am telling you the tale is because I think this is the first time the woman concerned had openly professed to being a Catholic in the last 50 years.

"Fishers of men" heh?

I personally prefer my humans (and Popes) a little more "hard-boiled", mother-in-law jokes are not enough for me and had I been writing in the early 1930s I would have uttered a mighty "Long live the Pope!" on hearing the tale of Pius XI (of blessed memory) grabbing a procrastinating Capuchin by the beard and in a rather intimidating manner saying "when We give instructions, We expect that they are carried out.".

As as for the woman who became my mother, well she recently said "Oh if only the Pope wasn't such a Leftie, I much preferred Old Red Shoes"....

You can't please all the punters all of the time.

Actually the more I think about it, the more I realise that it may indeed be a problem to see the Pope in human terms. Christ does not look on Peter in human terms. Christ is fully human and fully God.  He can see everything.  We cannot.  Christ can see beyond our actions and beyond our words... He does not see people as we do; frustrating individuals who refuse to behave the way we want them to behave.  He sees into our hearts, beyond the words we speak, the things we do, the things we fail to do.... We can not see each other with the pure love that Jesus sees us.... but just perhaps we are capable of looking beyond the purely human in everyone and catching a glimpse of what God sees  but we will only do that if we can get over our preferences.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Out on a limb (2)

Politics out here is very much of the "Polly put the kettle on" variety, there is always a "Sukie" taking it off again and nothing comes of anything.

The referendum I blogged about in the Autumn, to make marriage solely an act between a man and a woman part of the constitution, was put on hold.  It is now being debated again.  The powerful Orthodox church speak about it here.

I still have my doubts about this referendum, though my believing chums see it as a necessary safeguard and a vital thing to happen.  Indeed there is little chance of the referendum failing.  Marriage being solely between a man and a woman will be enshrined in the constitution. Romania is special and I love her dearly. There are few countries left in Europe where this could happen.

But I have my doubts about the whole thing and people wince when I give them my argument, they have not as yet come up with a counter argument.  I remain convinced that God (and this is very much about God) can not be safeguarded by any secular legislation. In much the same way that God can not be defended by a gun.

If the referendum is successful and it is enshrined that marriage is between a man and a woman, there are clever enough lawyers out there to start muddying the waters as to what exactly is a man and what exactly is a woman.

I think that test cases would erode this safeguard. For instance a man who chooses to live as a woman and identifies as a lesbian, could feasibly marry the woman of his choice. Also a woman who identifies as a man and as male homosexual and has had her genitals mutilated so that she appears to be a man could quite happily marry a man she loves.  In both these instances the biological definition of male and female (from the DNA) would make watertight cases for the validity of these marriages under the state rules.  That both couples in the examples given identify as homosexuals makes a mockery of the idea that marriage being between a man and a woman will prevent "gay marriage".  Such marriages would be intrinsically disordered, though they may indeed open to fertility and the production of offspring. ..... And lawyers with an agenda will be only too able to find couples who wish to test the law.

So test cases like the ones above happen and the non-trans gay community are then up in arms because they feel penalised against because everybody is allowed to marry but them.  They will get there way, there will be no more definitions of male and female, just couples that "love" each other and want to marry.

The Orthodox church is right to defend "natural" marriage.and not traditional marriage. However there needs to be more noises made about what marriage actually is.  Marriage is  also "supernatural" as it is a type of Christ's love for His Church.  There also needs to be more of a noise made about what it is to be human; fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

At the heart of all of this are two words that are modern and not capable of being reconciled with God.  These words are heterosexual and homosexual.  Indeed it s worth reminding everyone that "heterosexual" was first coined as a word to describe the disorder of being overtly and uncontrollably sexually attracted to the opposite sex. Then heterosexual became a norm so homosexual (as an identity) was born. Both types of act are nearly as old as human hisotry but heterosexual is disordered and homosexual is just her little sister and equally corrupt.  Ultimately heterosexual and homosexual describe identities based around the act of mutual masturbation.  We simply are not meant to define ourselves by what gives us nice feelings.  Love is indiscriminate, we can feel it for members of the same sex and members of the opposite.  That feeling is there to draw us closer to God as we see God present in the other.  This is incompatible with lust and it is incompatible with nourishing fleshy, transitory feelings as an end in themselves.  This is the very heart of our pilgrimage to know God.  But male and female as created by God have a special vocation. Woman is made for man to help him grow in the knowledge of God, and both the woman and the man should rejoice in these roles that have been given to them by God.

Now I really am out on a limb.  Nobody talks like this.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Cultural Appropriation

If you are expecting something deep and meaningful, look away.  This post is about clothes.

I briefly ventured onto the BBC website, something I rarely do these days and saw this article about an American girl with no Chinese blood in her who decided to wear a cheongsam (Chinese dress) to her Prom. Social media was outraged by this cultural appropriation and said "my culture in not your Prom dress". I think people are too sensitive these days, the girl can wear what she likes. They do look better on Orientals, in my honest opinion, but that counts for nothing. However, the article hit a nerve. I DO have Chinese blood in me (nearly 50%) and I was, at her age definitely NOT ALLOWED to wear a cheongsam. That was  Chinese dress and not for Westerners or "mudbloods".

The thing is, it is a damn sexy bit of kit and I so badly wanted one.

It was my Chinese grandmother who forbade me to wear one.  She said I was too tall, and indeed I am the family oddity, having inherited an extra foot in height and skinnyness from my Irish side. I tower over my younger sisters.  She let my sisters wear them when they came of age despite them looking even less Chinese than I do. But in height and build, they are Chinese, I am not.  I felt like Cinderella, never going to the ball....

This was  almost confirmed when I was allowed to "culturally appropriate" Nyonya dress.  The Nyonyas are the Chinese immigrants living along the Straits of Malacca.  The dress is local and not at all Chinese in origin, it had been culturally appropriated by the Chinese community and made their own.  For the women it consists of a sarong and a kebaya.  I was asked to "look after" some beautiful hand stitched kebayas belonging to my great-grandmother.  I wear them with pride. But they are the dress of the "older woman", the widow, and the unmarried.  They are not the dress for a "hot date".  I illustrate this with a family picture from Singapore in the 1950s. Not my family, it is a photograph I found on the internet.  But it could me my Straits Chinese family. The two ladies  on the outside of the group and the matriarch in the centre are wearing the kebaya.  There is one woman on the left in a very Chinese two-piece costume and then on either side of the central couple in Western dress (nobody would ever accuse them of culturally appropriating that and being offended by it) there are two women in cheongsams.

Spot the Cinderellas.

However, when my grandmother was getting very old and could no longer climb the stairs at the family home, she told me I could go and raid her wardrobe and if anything fitted I could have it.  She must have had over 50 cheongsams dating from the 1950s to the 1990s, and I could fit into some of  them!!! Admittedly they were mid-calf and not floor length like they were on her but it didn't matter. I was now able to wear cheongsams and if I didn't do the strangest thing next.

Some of them were stunning shot silk, some with traditional Chinese embroidered motifs.  Though I fitted into them,  I could not take them. It still didn't feel right. They were too Chinese.  I took several that had culturally appropriated the local Malaysian cotton batik .  I know my place. I'm half Straits Chinese and not even pureblood Straits (there is Dayak in there). I simply couldn't appropriate the stunningly Chinese cheongsams. It would be a lie. Never have I felt more Irish.

But what does it matter, those cheongsams are in a case under my bed in Bucharest (like they were in a case under my bed in Wessex) waiting for some glamorous Summer party that never happens, I've hardly worn them in the 10 years I've had them........ and here the late great Douglas Adams explains everything.  I am a Physicist and as he so rightly said "Physicists never get invited to the right kind of parties".  It is Cinderella in a sarong for me.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Out on a limb

Each of us approaches the faith differently.  We all have our own baggage; our own unique set of hang-ups, weaknesses and talents. More importantly, we all have our own desires; those things that drive us and do so almost imperceptibly.  Our desires haunt us if we oppress them or they can consume us if we feed them with the wrong nutrients.  Faith, to me is finding that path that somehow attunes our desires to God's desires for us so that we neither block them out or let them become distorted and the playground of those spirits that seek to destroy us. In this way faith is a dynamic, we are always having to adjust to the situations and emotions that we have. We constantly have to apply certain little disciplines on ourselves, we have to be constantly open to our faults, we constantly have to remember to trust God. It is like getting to know and old car or steam engine: it works, but you need to treat her with some respect, know her weaknesses and you are constantly having to care for the old girl, and "on a wing and a prayer", she plods on and we don't quite understand why she does.

But my approach is that of a middle aged woman and widow.  My approach very much involves the discipline of mind and body and in that respect seems to alienate me from much modern Catholicism.  The thing is, having been thrust into celibacy due to widowhood, I realised the only way forward was to grow in chastity. Celibacy without chastity is a cruel torture and slow death.   Chastity is a gift, and I had to desire that gift and let it have an effect on all aspects of my existence.  Chastity goes way beyond our sexual selves.  It is chastity that gives you a "holy indifference" to fasting (and I am not just talking about fasting from food), it is chastity that gives you patience, it is chastity that ensures you never take yourself too seriously.  It is chastity which is the foundation of all the virtues.

If we try to develop the virtues independently of the lives we live then it is like going to the gym for the sake of going to the gym.  It becomes a sort of self-worship.  You  become vain in the training of yourself.  You must allow the virtues to be knocked about and tested by the world around us. The development of virtue is just the necessary drill for the discipline of the battle.

But I find myself in a world that seems to ignore virtue.  I find myself in a church that rarely talks about it as if it were an embarrassment or a throwback to some inglorious, primitive past.  I find myself in a church where emotions and feelings are more important than constancy of purpose. I find myself in a church that does not believe chastity is possible or desirable. I find myself in a church that seems to have lost its sense of purpose but seems to believe it can build a better future (something which I personally don't believe it can). There are others in this Body who see what I see and are dismayed by it but who retreat into a grey, humourless, moralistic and rigid ritualism.  Nothing I see in the Church leads me to believe She is fit for battle.

However God is always able to work His best in the weakest and most ill equipped of armies.  It is just that He can't work amongst those battalions that forget Him and forge ahead with their own agendas.

So I'll just wait here, in an Orthodox land, reading Casssian and engrossed in the Psalms and occasionally writing a Catholic blog that I never publicise  I'm out on a limb, but God seems to want it this way, perhaps to protect you all from my stupidity.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Know your enemy

Who is my enemy? I've been thinking about this a lot.  We are commanded to love our enemies.  Surely to love our enemies means to know who are enemies are.

Maybe I've been very lucky in life. Apart from my childhood and some rather odious behaviour towards me from my peers, I can not really think of any one person who has been an enemy.  I did once work for someone who set out to destroy my career.  His behaviour towards me was utterly irrational.  It was also verging on the illegal.  My Union was involved. I  got another job and he was reprimanded quietly once I was gone.  However I don't see him as an enemy. He set out to destroy my career.  I am not my job.  He was not destroying the essence of who I am.  He was something of a tragic figure going through a messy divorce and I was in the wrong place and the wrong time. He could bully me and exercise control over me at a time when his world was falling apart.......These things make you stronger.

Surely an enemy has to attack you personally and threaten your very existence.  This is rare.  Thanks be to God.

Indeed, once you start to see most human interactions as being decidedly impersonal, you start to realise that you are seen as nothing more than a projection into somebodyelse's world  view.  You do not exist for who you are.  You either fit comfortably into a compartment that somebody has already made for you: your behaviour being to type (pleasing or displeasing), or you are a complete discomfort. In the latter case, the person doesn't know what to make of you; you are an irritant because your very existence demands they change their perceptions.

And here lies an apparent paradox.  If we accept that human interactions are rarely personal, but somehow by our very existence we reach deep into another's being and challenge them, then suddenly the interaction becomes very personal indeed!

This reaching deep into another being and challenging them is the essence of being a Christian.  It is Christ who reaches into people, not us.  We only do it if we put on the armour of Christ and reflect His radiance.  But if we are in Christ, then we should fear nothing as no matter how we challenge, our life can not be taken from us.

There are other enemies that we are not asked to love.  These are the enemies that threaten all of  humanity, humanity that has been so fearfully and wonderfully made by God.  These enemies are attacking those who dislike us (and are made uncomfortable by us) more that they attack us ourselves.  They are the enemies of Truth. They are the powers and principalities of this world, they are supernatural and they will attack those who are weak.  Surely we ought to defend them from such attacks.  But you can only fight if you yourself are strong and confident of winning.... and few are.

Our fighting does not mean pitting one ideology against another, or one set of moral  norms against another. Christianity is not one religion amongst many. Our fighting is about being vulnerable enough to reach  into the hearts of individuals and see the need in them and aid their delivery from their supernatural foe.

But to do this, we must realise the power of the weapon that our supernatural foe actually has.  He has a weapon that transcends creeds and tribes. His weapon is to say there is no sin, that all our actions are inherently OK and that by ourselves we will achieve our dreams.  However, the reality is that each of our most trivial venial sins rip the delicate fabric of the universe because they are an affront to the delicate and gentle ways of God. It is only His mercy that keeps it all from unravelling and His mercy demands that we desire, truly desire to do His will and not sin.

The enemy's power is there in the empty rhetoric of the "virtue bombing" in Syria, it is there in the Occasionalism at the heart of the Wahaabi ideology, it is there in the heart of the Capitalist consumer society, at the heart of Communism, at the heart of the prosperity-gospel, at the heart of neo-darwinism, at the heart of nihilism, at the heart of gender-ideology, at the heart of modernism and liberalism, at the heart of Free-Masonry and Rosicrucianism and it is there in Nationalism and Federalism..... indeed there is nowhere it isn't.

Everyone has swallowed some of the enemy's elixir, every one of us has made his ways incarnate in our hearts..... do we really know what it means and the high price we will pay to truly love each other?

Monday, 16 April 2018

Religion in the Public Square

I can't abide stupidity.  It makes me cross. Stupidity is for adults, children are not stupid. Children simply misread the logic of situations and get frustrated with their inability to comprehend.  Children learn quick. In adults stupidity involves wilful disregard for reason, study, and carefulness, it often manifests itself in empty moral self-righteousness, humourlessness, indignation and tantrums. So on Saturday morning at 6am when I looked at the newsfeeds of the missile attacks in Syria, I could only see the stupidity of this and was more than a little glad that I'd booked myself on a train to Braşov in Transylvania. I felt dangerously close to becoming a stupid adult full of all those qualities I so dislike in others. I would be internet free, I would not look at the news.  There are times when one actually sees a situation more clearly, and is able to pray for a situation more clearly when one is away from all the "facts". Indeed, on Sunday Braşov echoed to the sound on the only Fact that matters.

Out here it was "Thomas Sunday" and in that city it was the Sărbătoarea Junilor which has been held every year for about 200 years.  In commemorates the time when Braşov was a Saxon town and Romanian speakers had to live outside the city walls. They were only allowed in on certain occasions. This colourful event marks Romanians entering the gate to the citadel. Basically it is just loads on Romanian men and boys on horseback riding into the city in groups, each with their own distinctive dress.  Some dress the horses beautifully, others themselves. And they shout the Easter Greeting and the assembled crowd shout the response back loudly.

Hristos a înviat! 
Adevărat a înviat!

And that is all that is said apart from the riders singing the Easter Hymn is a tuneless, enthusiastic, blokey, chanting-at-a-Third-Division-football-match way

Hristos a înviat din morți,
Cu moartea pe moarte călcând
Și celor din morminte
Viață dăruindu-le.

A little bit of Latin and you will understand the first two lines, especially of I tell you  călcând means trample.

There are no priests, no overtly religious banners, no fanfare. This is an entirely secular and  civic event but even then without the presence of any civic dignitaries. Nor does it seem to be put on for the tourists.  I could only hear Romanian being spoken in the crowd. Yet it rings out with the Faith, it rings out with the only Fact that matters. And the people say it  like they mean it!  Indeed, it seemed to me that if the riders say the greeting in anything like a half-hearted manner, the response is subdued.  If they say it boldly and with confidence, then the crowds respond with exuberance.  There were some quite young boys on horses and they were learning what to do, it was gratifying to see.

                                           Some men and horses posing for the cameras.

I can't help thinking that if the politically correct got hold of this event the exclamations would be different so as not to offend non-Christians and some loon would pester until women were allowed to ride too.  But this is Romania.

Long live Romania!!! 

I was thoroughly refreshed by my weekend.  It felt like the Sunday after the Resurrection should feel. We must not underestimate the supernatural power of the public proclamation of the Faith.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Of Trolleybuses and Apostolic Exhortations

I didn't meant to sit and read the Holy Father's latest Apostolic Exhortation last  night, but I did.  You will find out what I thought about it shortly.

It was Easter Monday yesterday (well it was for me) and I find it a very difficult day, I always have done.  I am not sure why.  But it is difficult and it can impart the most horrid bleakness into my being.  Therefore, I set out purposefully to "make the most" of the day.  I went to the Liturgy in the morning, to strengthen my spiritual armour and because I was still on a high spiritual cloud after the days before. Then I took myself on one of my "Mystery Tours" of Bucharest.  I have developed a set of rules for my tours and this is what I do: pick a destination not previously visited, go there by Metro, visit destination, then take overland public transport back home, no internet or maps allowed, compass and bottle of water allowed. This may not seem a difficult game, but there is simply no signage anywhere and none of the bus stop have a helpful map or list of routes. It can get interesting.

Yesterday, my destination was the Botanical Gardens.   They were the most underwhelming botanical gardens I have ever visited.  They sit, rather dejected and shabby in the shadow and drone of a Communist era power station and any grandeur they may have had has long since gone.  It is little more than  a local park, albeit one you have to pay to enter.

I wandered and read for a while and watched my fellow citizens.  It was pleasant enough and the interior bleakness was not there.  After a few hours I waited outside for my overland public transport.  Oh joy!  A troleibuz! (The Romanian spelling is very satisfying for a Mancunian) Now, I love those things and I am a bit reckless, I will simply get on one and ride it, I don't care where it is going. There is a thing a bit like London's Oyster card for paying. It is "cheap as chips", I put 100RON (£20) on one in August and it shows no sign of running out, there will be a nuclear winter or the next Ice Age before it does.

15 minutes later, I found myself completely disorientated deep in a forest of  blue-collar apartment blocks. The compass was no help. I couldn't even tell which sector of Bucharest I was in.  I got off the trolleybus and made for a bus, it had a sign on to somewhere I recognised.  But I stayed on till the terminus and it was not the place it was supposed to be.  The driver had not switched the sign.  Several buses later I did make it back home to Sector 3, it was dark and I was tired.  But no interior darkness, as far as I was concerned the day had been a success.

The day had sort of been a metaphor for the spiritual life.  One sets out purposefully.  Things aren't what you think they will be.  You do reckless things for the joy of being reckless.  The ride is interesting and the destination can wait. You get disorientated.  You misread signs.  You read signs correctly but the signs were wrong. You persevere.  You know you can't get lost.  You know where your help ultimately lies. You get home.

After a mooch on the internet, I found myself reading the Apostolic Exhortation: Guadete et Exultate. It is about growing in holiness, it is the Holy Father's equivalent of my day on Bucharest's public transport system. I happen to think it is very good.  If I were still in the UK and still taking Catechism classes, I would use it as the basis for a class or two.  It is a good introduction to the spiritual life  It is clear, amazingly so.  I find most of Pope Francis's work deeply confusing. A treatise on Mystical Theology it is not.  Fr. Adolphe "the Tank" Tanquerey's The Spiritual Life it is not.  But it never set out to be such a thing.  The Pope's Apostolic Exhortation is meant for a different audience; the most basic audience, one hungy for meaning and purpose, but one unlearned and religiously illiterate. He is being most pastoral in producing such a document. It is not perfect, but nothing is, not even Tanquerey's masterpiece. Any sulky criticism from Traddie quarters and it will prove that you have not gleaned one iota of spiritual insight from any of your more learned tomes or your increasingly petulant blogs. I suggest you disconnect the 4G and catch a bus.

RATB- Troleibuz

Monday, 9 April 2018

British Intelligence

This post is about the recent death of two Guinea pigs and a cat, but it will start back in the 14th Century.

There has been something at play in England which I will call British Intelligence but it pre-dates anything which may refer to itself as British Intelligence.  It goes back at least as far as the 14th Century.  It had its first martyrs in the 14th Century which helped seal its identity and those were the Lollards.  However Lollardism is not British Intelligence.

British Intelligence is an oxymoron.  It is not intelligent.  It is self-serving, it relies on the control of people in the name of their freedom, it thrives on moral panics and hysteria, and it needs enemies.  In its early days it was often at loggerheads with the sovereign rule of  England. Her  Monarchs loathed it, it was vulgar, it lacked wisdom and conservatism, and most of all it was entirely secular: it had no need for an Incarnate God and the Eucharist.  Then British Intelligence found a pliable monarch in the boy king Edward VI and British Intelligence became the state under the inglorious reign of Elizabeth I, and Robert Cecil, the grand master of British Intelligence carried its work on into the reign of James I/VI.

British Intelligence has always had an enemy in the form of genuine intelligence.  It is why traditionally the Catholic Faith was such an enemy; it empowers people and frees them.  British Intelligence has had other enemies in the form of genuine Toryism and early Christian Socialism.  Both of which it has effectively strangled.  There is also genuine intelligence in the British Military but because British Intelligence is so intertwined with British Government, that too is effectively starved, emasculated and infiltrated and sent on false errands.

British Intelligence loathes the Russians, probably because the Soviets infiltrated it and were cleverer and the legacy of this is that the Russians see through it.  Russians are undoubtedly cleverer than British Intelligence.

Perhaps Russians did attempt to poison the Skripals, not the Russian state, but some anti-Putin underground with whom British Intelligence would be only too glad to collude. Only such a group would have anything to gain from the episode.  Some half-baked group who found a recipe on the internet and tried to use it.  Then the British Government could say without lying that the Russians did it, but only if they already knew.

But it is frightening when the Russian Envoy to the UN reads out the trial of the knave from the end of Alice in Wonderland and you realise that the whole story line in this horrid affair is a mirror to the absurdity of the book... then you see how far things have gone. Genuine intelligence is not the hallmark of British Intelligence.


And what is the view from Romania?

I am not sure. There is not much interest in the story here.  At first, distrust of the Russians and a genuine fondness for the British meant people were willing to believe what the British Government were sayng. Romaninas are painfully polite, they will not criticise.  However, as things drag on I am hearing the following: Russia is a Christian country, Putin is a Christian leader, Putin works for the good of Christians... but they say it with an air of sadness.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Hristos a înviat!

Adevărat a înviat!

A blessed Easter to all my Eastern readers and Happy Low Sunday to my Western friends!

I feel truly blessed through my first experience of Lent and Easter in the Eastern rite.  Regular readers will know that I have felt stuck at the foot of the cross, that experiencing the Resurrection was something that had escaped me.  That my late husband whose final journey, seven years ago, which started with his final hospitalisation (as to quote the doctors "the sickest man in Oxfordshire") on a Maundy Thursday, as he said: "I will make you experience the Resurrection if it is the last thing I do".  Well, he has done it! Throughout Lent and into this Easter, I can truly feel the Resurrection: thanks be to God and thank you Paul for your prayers and sacrifice! I really don't think I will have another bleak, terrifyingly empty and desolate Easter Monday, and if I do I can give thanks to God for it!!!

And thank you Romania: I love you!

I will confess to spending the Easter Vigil at an Orthodox church.  The Greek-Catholic churches are a good 45 minutes walk away and it was not a journey I was prepared to make at that hour of the night with no food in my belly.

I will confess to enjoying my first Liturgy in an Orthodox church.  Strangely, it reminded me of being at one of the low key gigs of my youth.  I deliberately went for one of the less grand and ordinary churches close to my apartment.  The standing (but with lit candles in our hands rather than beer glasses) and young, blokey priests facilitating "divine music" in a relaxed yet holy manner, rather than some mordant post punk ambiance, the mainly young and t-shirt clad congregation and the robust, manly and playful replies to the Easter greeting, all played into this bizarre comparison. I felt at home, but I kissed the icon of the Pantocrator and left after the Cherubic Hymn (it was 02.15 by then), it seemed wrong to be there for the rest when I am not Orthodox.  I broke my fast with a glass of chefir and a bowl of buttery, cinnamon laden semolina and was in bed to hear the post-Consecration bells ring out loud and  clear in a beautiful Bucharest springtime morning of all mornings.

I went to the Greek-Catholics this morning for Communion.  I feels like home and it was lovely to see the frail elderly there,  many of them are giants of the faith, they will have known the beatified and martyrs of this butchered and near broken church, they have suffered much and as they shuffled in  on sticks and on the arms of younger relatives, it felt an honour to be amongst them.

My mouth is still greasy from my first taste of meat for 50 days. There is simply no point in vegetarianism!

Hristos a înviat! Adevărat a înviat!
Христос воскрес! Воистину воскрес!