Friday, 31 August 2007

Matthew 25: 31-46

There is a cathedral city not too distant from here. The city, in common with most others has a visible and sometime quite vocal “problem” with homeless people. We were talking with the Christian evangelicals who run the outreach work for the homeless. They know where to find the rough sleepers, they will provide them with any essential items they require and they always take a moment to pray with them and for them. In a very non judgemental and matter-of-fact way an outreach worker told us that they have helpers from all walks of life and most of the Christian denominations are represented. Guess who doesn’t help; most of the Anglican groups (except the “smells and bells lot”) and the Catholics, I assume from the way he was speaking that they have been asked. He did go on to say that the previous, elderly Catholic priest in the city centre used to make up food each evening for the homeless and he had a regular clientele of grateful gentlemen.

I pass no judgement on any of this, just thought I’d let you know.

What price a life?

Read this article from the Guardian, weep and pray for those with the courage to speak out.

Chinese parents fight forced abortions.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

English Martyrs

Direct, we beseech You, O Lord, our actions by your gracious assistance, that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from You, and by You be happily ended, through Christ our Lord. Amen
Today is the feast day of Ss Margaret Clitherow, Margaret Ward and Anne Line, women who paid with their lives for undertaking the Corporal Works of Mercy on their brother priests.

May we pray for the many hundreds of people in China for whom this is a daily reality with similar consequences.

May we also pray also that the blood of the English and Welsh Martyrs will continue to inspire and strengthen the Church under siege in this beautiful land of ours.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Vocation (3)- So you want a Catholic Wedding?

I rekindled an old annoyance of mine the other week when I found a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” on my mother’s bookshelf. A few years back I got very annoyed when a dewy-eyed mother of a bride read this out at a church wedding with a beaming priest looking on. I’m sorry, but it is adolescent drivel. I should know, I used to write stuff like this which has now thankfully been filed in the archives of oblivion. It is not a Catholic view of marriage let alone a Christian view of marriage, in fact it could be better employed as a teaching aid explaining what marriage isn’t.

This is the offending piece of writing called “The Marriage”;-
Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"
And he answered saying:
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
This is my personal view on the passage:-
Firstly, we are made by God to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next. Our vocation is our calling from God as we are now and for what we are to become. We have four basic states within this vocation: single, consecrated single or married or priest. If we seek Him with a sincere heart, God in the most Holy Trinity lovingly guides us and works with us and through us on our journey through life.

The first statement is “you were born together”, I’m afraid that reeks of predestination. God knows us and loves from the moment of our conception. In some senses He is a heavenly matchmaker, but aways in the context of our free will, and sometimes the 'right one' runs away.  We make our choices with our free will guided by God, we must then submit totally to the will of God for our salvation to be achieved through these choices. The passage does not show God to be intimately involved in our every movement, God is strangely distant in Kahlil Gibran’s text and this is just plain creepy.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness” sounds at first to be a reasonable statement because marriage shouldn’t make us like David and Prue Harris-Jones from The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin who were always together, said the same thing and wore the same clothes. However, Christian marriage stresses the oneness of the relationship This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body- Gen 2:24 and later They are no longer two, therefore but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.- Matthew 19: 6.
It is the oneness that is divinely sanctioned in the marriage not the separation. Kahlil Gibran opines, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of heaven dance between you”. ABSOLUTELY NO WAY! We wish to be consumed by the winds of heaven, there is no way I’m going to just let them just breeze on past.

There then follows some truly dismal poetry about loving, drinking, eating , singing and dancing. Each time it is the separate nature of the individuals being recognised and celebrated. Each of the activities of the couple are for pleasure only, this is hardly a song of fidelity. If anyone can explain the line “but only the hand of Life can contain your hearts”, I’d love to hear from them. It sounds like drivel to me.
Marriage involves the promise of commitment to each other before God. It is a sacrament and as such gives us a foretaste of the wedding feast of heaven as the fulfillment of God’s covenant. It involves sacrifice; loving as Christ loves, even unto death. Marriage has purpose, it has common purpose (knowing, loving, serving each other and God, faithfulness to God and each other, and openness to fertility) it is not some random pleasure trip for individuals as shown in Kahlil Gibran’s writing on marriage.
When I’m feeling charitable, I think this writing is just harmless, sentimental cr*p. However, the number of people who read this and want it at their weddings makes me really question if they truly know what they are doing.
The Church has something so rich and beautiful to offer through the sacrament of marriage it is so annoying to me when it is obscured by this type of cheesy schmaltz.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Two Great Saints

Fresco by Benozzo Gozzoli - "The School of Tagaste"

Gosh, I love this mother and son! This is a “back to school” picture with a difference. St Monica on the left taking St Augustine for his first day at school. See already the signs if the brilliance and confidence in the young scholar. What times are ahead for them; the son following his intellect and desires and frequently ending up in places it’s best not to go to, the mother patiently praying for her son. How many times has this been repeated over the centuries?

It is always encouraging when an errant youth comes good. People will continue to fight over the intellectual legacy of St Augustine. It has been argued that differing interpretations of his work was one of the driving forces behind the reformation. All I know is that reading his "Confessions" helped bring me back Home.

St Monica and St Augustine- pray for us.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Oh dear...

Photograph of the late Dick Emery in vicar mode from the BBC
I fully appreciate the seminary is not a charm school. I have much affection for some crusty, bad tempered priests, some priests with halitosis, the priest who married us wearing a dirty chasuble, those priests who find it impossible to say thank you...but there are some things they really shouldn't leave seminary without getting out of their system.

Firstly; "vicar vowels". Think Dick Emery, think Vicar of Dibley, most definitely no Catholic priest should sound like that, especially during Mass.

Secondly; the limp handshake. I know that some cultures do not fully grasp the significance of a firm handshake and like the bear hug, it is not universally recognised as an appropriate gesture. However for an English priest in England, a firm gesture is what is needed. It is a sign of brotherly love and sincerity. However, when it is delivered with all the seeming sincerity of a year 10 girl receiving her prize for "meritorious effort in French public speaking", the disappointment buds start tingling in the recipient of the handshake. Personally, if I received a limp priestly handshake after a wedding or funeral of a close relative, I could be deeply hurt.

It is too late once priest is amongst his flock. Signs, symbols and gestures are so very important both within the liturgy and during ordinary, everyday interactions. My grouse is with the seminaries, but I do not know how to tackle them about this one, or even if I can.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Spindle and distaff

Ah, paid employment! I know it is a lovely bank holiday weekend, and I hope you are all doing better things than blogging. However my thoughts are turning once more to work.

At work I meet some wonderful people, full of enthusiasm, life and vitality. I enjoy my work, I like the challenges and the intellectual stimulation. I like the comradeship, the humour and the chaos. If I occasionally make a difference to someone's life for the better, this is good too.

However, I make a poor circus dog. I hate jumping through the hoops and I have no interest in the rewards on offer. The work demands a committment to and a belief in the system that I just don't have. What gets me down so often is that my inner child, the one I usually listen to on all things important, is tugging at my skirts and saying "But look! The Emperor isn't wearing any clothes."

It's time I did some serious housework.

Friday, 24 August 2007

My First Love

This is a picture of my first love. I think he’s beautiful, charming, mysterious and dangerous and I still have a crush on him. He has a name you can keep saying and never get tired of hearing (Physics, physics…physics). He can take up whole days of my life as I get engrossed and obsessed with some trifling problem he sends my way. He’s a terrible flirt and often dismisses my efforts like he really doesn’t care. Actually, he really doesn’t care, he was supposed to make me rich and he didn’t.

The thing is, he is so liberating; stay with him for any length of time and the mundane slips away. I am no longer trapped by determinism and clock-work inevitability, everything has a lightness of touch and a sort of dazzling, fuzzy interconnectedness. It is like the universe is caressed with light and energy far beyond our control or understanding. He blows my mind away with his logic and brilliant, rebellious insight.

Physics may be arrogant and self-centred but without realizing it, through his limitations, he brought me to something far better, the truth that is not confined in code and does not require esoteric knowledge, the truth available to small children and the uneducated: the truth that provides unconditional and unending love.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Just a Thought

Psalm 64: 11-12

Fill up plentifully the streams thereof;
multiply its fruits: It shall spring up and rejoice in its showers. Thou shalt bless the crown of the year of thy goodness; and thy fields shall be filled with plenty.

OK, so the streams round here got a little too full and there wasn't much rejoicing in the "showers" we've experienced. But on a day like today, when the plum tree is bloated with yummy fruit, the roses look perky and the bees seem quite happy to go about their business, it would be so wrong if we forgot to praise God for the goodness He gives us.


If you have never checked out the site of the youngest, coolest, bravest Catholic Apologeticist I've seen on the web, I suggest you do. Not only is his work of a high standard, his honest approach to being young, in-love and fully obedient to the Church's teaching is very admirable. I've highlighted something by him that is of relevance considering the stick some of them have been getting from the blogsphere.

phatcatholic apologetics: Respect Your Bishop

The double meaning is delicious (if unintended) but this T-shirt says it all: obedience, continence and chastity!

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

St Rose of Lima - pray for us.

Tomorrow is the feast day of St Rose of Lima, patron of Latin America.

Pray for her intercession at this difficult time and I'm sure she won't mind interceeding on behalf of all the people of the Caribbean, Mexico and N America currently being battered by appalling weather.

Andrew at Unam Sanctam has a very moving post about the aftermath of the Peruvian earthquake.
Unam Sanctam: Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis

It made me shed a tear.

Of St Rose herself; the depths of her mortifications make me wince, but I know my heart isn't as full of love as hers....

She also made beautiful lace and this has got me thinking, us ladies should be learning how to make lace and praying whilst we do that we can produce cottas and altar cloths fitting for the celebration of the Mass. Even making our own mantillas would be a start! Continuity...continuity...we can't let the old skills die out. Shortly, I'll have piles of work to do each evening and this noble idea will go on the back burner, but I can dream for now.

I wonder if they'll be saying this about the felt banner makers in years to come, then again there hasn't been a saint I know of who was partial to making them.


The Blasphemies by Louis MacNeice. This is a poem about the five ages of moving away from God. This is a poem about people I know and care about. How can you begin to describe the hurt you feel because of their attitude, knowing how much they are hurting themselves?

The sin against the Holy …though what
He wondered was it? Cold in his bed
He thought: If I think those words I know
Yet must not be thinking- Come to the hurdle
And shall be damned through thinking Damn-
But Whom? But no! Those words are unthinkable;
Damn anyone else, but once I- No,
Here lies the unforgivable blasphemy.
So pulling the cold sheets over his head
He swore to himself he had not thought
Those words he knew but never admitted.
To be damned at seven years old was early.

Ten years later, his Who’s Who
No longer cosmic, he turned to parody-
Prayers, hymns, the Apostles’ Creed-
Preening himself as a gay blasphemer,
But what is a practical joke in a world
Of nonsense, what is a rational attitude
Towards politics in a world of ciphers,
Towards sex if you lack lust, towards art
If you do not believe in communication?
And what is a joke about God if you do not
Accept His existence? Where is the blasphemy?
No Hell at seventeen feels empty.

Rising thirty, he had decided
God was a mere expletive, a cheap one,
No longer worth a laugh, no longer
A proper occasion to prove one’s freedom
By denying something not worth denying.
So humanism was all and the only
Sin was the sin against the Human-
But you could not call it Ghost for that
Was merely emotive; the only –you could not
Call it sin for that was emotive-
The only failure was not to face
The facts. But at thirty what are the facts?

Ten years later, in need of myth,
He thought: I can use my childhood symbols
Divorced from their context, Manger and Cross
Could do well for Tom Dick and Harry-
Have we not all of us been in a war
So have we not carried call it a cross
Which was never our fault? Yet how can a cross
Be never your fault? The words of the myth,
Now merely that and no longer faith,
Melt in his hands which were never proved
Hard as nails, nor can he longer
Speak for the world- or himself- at forty.

Forty to fifty. In ten years
He grew to feel the issue irrelevant:
Tom Dick and Harry were not Christ
And whether Christ were God or not
And whether there was a God or not
The word was inadequate. For himself
He was not Tom or Dick or Harry,
Let alone God, he was merely fifty,
No one and nowhere else, a walking
Question but no more cheap than any
Question or quest is cheap. The sin
Against the Holy Ghost- What is it?

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Vocation (2)- Nun Envy

One of the joys of finding my husband was that together we both reverted fully into the arms of Holy Mother Church and have never been happier, however as much as I love my hubby and my vocation, I have to admit to a great fault of mine: nun envy. I’m talking here about the cloistered variety not "trendy nun at C&A" (showing my age, and theirs).

§ I hate shopping- nuns don’t have to shop.

§ I dislike wearing trousers – nuns don’t wear trousers.

§ I dislike the tyranny of hairdressers* so much that I keep my hair very long and tied back as a sort of anti-fashion statement, getting a trim just once a year- nuns just don’t have to bother on this one.

§ I dislike the tyranny of being invited out for a 3 course meal, I just don’t want to eat that much- nun food is simple and devoid of gluttony.

§ I want to pay full attention to all the subtle nuances of the liturgical calendar that being a wage slave means it is impossible to do.

§ I like getting up at 5am.

§ I like going to bed early.

§ I like silence.

§ I love singing in a choir provided it’s sacred choral music, I do not like singing songs from the shows (but I’d miss the basses and possibly the tenors).

§ Nuns don’t have mortgages.

§ Nuns don’t have loans or have to pay for car tax, insurance or petrol.

§ Nuns don’t have to feel guilty about polluting the environment or the size or their carbon footprint (however I avoid guilt too, guilt’s only really for lapsed Catholics )

§ Nuns show obedience to superiors who share the same faith- we have to show obedience to politically correct directives and protocols.

§ Nuns don’t have to bother with the tyranny of depilation, out of respect to husband and colleagues the plucking must continue for me.

*All those impossible to answer questions about holidays in the sun and Chris Moyles.

There you have it; raw envy! Pray for our cloistered sisters who always pray for us, and pray for an increase in vocations to the consecrated single life.

Troubled by Potterworld

Many thanks to the ever brilliant Western Confucian who has provided a link to an excellent article about the more troubling aspects of the Harry Potter books. To me this article clearly states, better that I ever could, why although they are a good read, they are just so inexplicably empty.

Bad Smells

I am currently involved in a battle of wills with the daughter of an elderly lady who is very dear to me. The elderly lady lives in a small apartment and the daughter has filled every unused plug socket with those insidious “air fresheners”. When one visits her flat the smell is totally overpowering but the elderly lady is so terrified of what she might smell like that she sees the air fresheners as a good thing.

Every time I visit I turn them off only to find the daughter has turned them back on again, I’ve even started hiding them, but it has no effect. These devices are the essence of evil; aromas are fats and fats will be absorbed by the body, these fats were not meant to be there. The aromas owe more to the oil refineries of Widness than to any “natural” essence. I read somewhere that as study had been done to show that post-natal depression was more in evidence with women who lived in homes full of this type of smell. The elderly are more confined to their homes than nursing mums but no serious research has been done on them. The elderly do suffer from depression, surely it is going to be worse when God’s good clean air can’t make its presence felt.

These devices are everywhere; in public toilets, on trains, on hotel corridors….what is wrong with the smell of humanity? What is pleasant about masking a natural, biological smell with an overpowering, cloying, brain numbing aroma with some dumb name like “forest berries” or “ocean spray”?

If a devil wanted to break my resolve, he could do a lot worse than leave me trapped in a room with a sickly plug-in room fragrance. Short of deliberately hurting or starving myself and concentrating on the pain, I’m just not sure how I could pray in that environment.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Vocation (1)

My vocation is as one half of a married couple. My aim is to do everything possible to be a good and faithful wife and to make sure my husband gets to heaven.

I get a little cross when people in certain quarters dismiss the exhortation at the end of the Book of Proverbs to the "perfect wife" as anachronistic. So many times I've wanted the priest at Mass to base his sermon round it, when it comes into the cycle of readings, so many times I have been thwarted! I have been thwarted by embarrassed priests who concentrate on the other readings, by Bishop's pastoral letters, and even by the substitution of the Mass for the dead, falling as it does near remembrance day.

I find her an uplifting role model and I think she has wider significance and this is why:-
In the Sunday missal it is used for the 33rd Sunday of the Year (B),with the letter from St Paul to the Thessalonians 5:1-6 Let not the day of the Lord overtake you like a thief.
And the Gospel according the Matthew 25:14-30 The parable of the talents explaining the Kingdom of Heaven.
To me the Perfect Housewife is not a dated, sexist, patriarchal fantasy of perfect womanhood as some commentators claim (even preferring not to use it on the designated week). If this were the case then surely it would be full of meekness, submission, the fulfillment of masculine desires, obedience and feminine fulfillment through child-rearing (not that there is anything wrong with any of these in the right context!). It fascinates me because children are mentioned so little (just in verse 28 and then they are singing her praise!).
The woman in a perfect housewife is more like an ideal estate manager, perfectly complementing the husbandry of her espoused.
To me she is the embodiment of the ideal supplier of our temporal needs. She is affluent (v.22), shrewd (v.16), frugal and charitable (v.20). She operates with wisdom and diligence. The point of all this is that it only happens because she fears God. Even when considering only our temporal needs, it is important that they are satisfied with a full fear of the Lord. The author tells us that our temporal needs can only be met if our spiritual house is in order.
I want “to be clothed in strength and dignity”, I want to be able to “laugh at the day to come”, I would dearly hope to have “kindly instruction” on my tongue. We are being told how we should conduct ourselves in our community (household). These are the outward signs we should all exhibit.
We are being told this so that we make the best possible preparation for the Kingdom of Heaven as the subsequent readings remind us. Life is there to be lived, and our “truly capable woman” shows us the way. Men and women should take more notice of her virtues before dismissing her as an anachronism.

Sunday, 19 August 2007


The picture at the top of this blog is a still life by my favourite counter-reformation artist, Zurbaran and it isn't very tigerish, but that's the point. There is something about Zurbaran's still life paintings, they are just sooooo still. Most still life paintings are a little fleshy and look prone to decay, Zurbaran's look timeless. There are so few colours and so few objects, but nevertheless I just want to stare and stare.....

Unfortunately, Zurbaran, in my opinion, couldn't paint women (shortage of models perhaps). Most of his male models were monks and the "holy countenances" of nuns would be unavailable due to their cloistered existence. When he does paint women, they are too soft and too saccharine. When Zurbaran paints objects or men (usually saints) what you see is what you get. There are no sheepish looks on the faces of his men, no coyness, just pure raw masculinity. His male saints are very real and very passionate and to me show his devout faith because he reaches inside the human and pulls out everything that is searching for God. The picture on the left is his painting of St Andrew.


The title comes from Louis MacNeice's poem entirely.

And if all the world were black or white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.

My eyes are firmly fixed on heaven, but the mundane aspects of life can and do cause me problems. This blog is my attempt to deal with them.