Friday, 30 July 2010

Status Update

Thank you dear readers for your prayers and concern.

That was a much nastier test than the one I had in January probably because I'm so much less well in myself. Still no signs of any results, but then this is the strange world of endocrinology and biochemistry (you go to hospital in order to have your body pushed to the limits to see how it responds). It all seems like "tinker tinker fiddle fiddle" science, to quote Dr Bunsen Honeydew (from Muppet Labs). It takes ages for any results to come through and then there is even more fiddling and more tinkering.

I probably shouldn't have tried to re-read The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa during this ordeal. Most of you know by now I'm a rubbish reader of novels but I'll make an exception for this sumptious, sensual and wise book. The only problem is that it left me dreaming of large dishes of macaroni, peaches, beautiful light biscuits made in convents, rabbit and game birds whilst I was fasting...and whether I should develop a taste for Bourbons to balance out all the Garibaldi's I'd munched as a kid.

My blood sugar nosedived and I wasn't able to read much more.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

What profit is there in my blood...

I won't be online for about a week. Time once again to go stay in hospital and be a human pincushion (no food, just water for 3 whole days). Let's hope they do it properly this time and get some meaningful results.

J Gillray (London 1804)

I'm hoping the doctors involved are a little more skilled than the last lot. 7 attempts to get a cannula into my arm is not acceptable. Not that it's used to take any samples, the cannula is in case I go hypo and they have to get some glucose into me fast.

Me no like.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The trouble with tribbles

Infinity is a bit big too big for us to handle. It may be best if we just marvel at it rather than it become common place in our lives. If we divide 1 by infinity the answer is zero, an emptiness that is also quite intangible. A mathematician would say the reciprocal of infinity is zero. Reciprocal meaning here, turning any number into 1 divided by that number, turning our view of it on its head.

Physicists are used to working with reciprocals that aren’t just for numbers. A crystal is essentially an repeating arrangement of an extremely large number of particles. It has a certain symmetry, but the sheer number of particles involved makes it an unwieldy beast to handle. So the physicist spends her time working in the reciprocal space of the crystal, making something very large into something chunky and manageable. The reason she can do this is because the symmetry of the object is preserved when flip it over in this way. The reciprocal (usually called a diffraction) pattern for a crystal is shown below.

There are certain “things” that really only have a “substance” in this reciprocal space. They are strung out and nebulous in real space but are a definite something in reciprocal space. We can observe the effects they have on matter in our own real space but their identity is best quantified in reciprocal space. In a crystal they are called “quasi-particles”. I spent some post-graduate years chasing these things.

Now, dear reader, about this Higgs Boson. The reciprocal space to the “space” occupied by a quantum object like an electron or a quark (the fundamental building blocks of matter) is called “momentum space”. The Higgs Boson really only has “essence” in this momentum space. Below is a momentum space diagram showing how a Higgs (H) may be formed from 2 gluons (g). Incidentally gluons are another type of virtual boson that only really has essence in momentum space.

I am telling you this (if you didn’t already know) so that you will correct people who go around calling it a particle. It isn’t a matter based particle as we would commonly understand this. It is a theoretical entity, which may turn out to be real but a particle it isn’t. We will never capture one because it isn’t an entity in our space to capture. If found, it will be virtual in our world but it will be real.

Does it matter? Yes, IMHO it does matter whilst it has been given the moniker of the “God Particle”. This is a stupid name and I don’t want anyone having ideas that somehow the discovery of the Higgs will upset our daily lives or open up a Pandora’s box of nasties. Nor do I like the way it has become like some esoteric or even Gnostic truth only to be revealed to a few. Some scientists will look at you with that pained expression on their face and say “well, it isn’t really a particle you know, but it is too hard to explain”, and I don’t like it when scientists do that.

Hmm, is there a theological analogy to all this? On second thoughts, don’t go there.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

meme thing

Patricius has tagged me with the "favourite prayer" meme. I've decided to interpret "favourite" as in "favourite food", something you love but don't necessarily have every day, as opposed to "favourite cardigan" something reassuring, habitual and comforting. I think our "cardigan prayers" are all much the same. The rules for this meme appear at the end of the post.

In no particular order:

(1) This is a stunner, for quiet devotional prayer. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity's prayer to the Trinity. (here)

(2) This one if for saying out loud, very loud, especially when the chips are down. It is so ancient and so wonderful: the Te Deum. (here)

(3) The stations of the cross (to be said privately or in a group, always profound, genuflect aswell, and kneel, make it hurt, this is prayer with discipline of the body too): (here)

Most bloggers I know have already been tagged, but I would like to know how Ttony, Deb, Shell, Tom and Autumn would respond to this. But I fully understand if you've taken your bat home for now.

I was tempted to include my misappropriation of Psalm 143, often said when teaching "Deliver me Lord, from the hands of strange children"

The rules, which need to be posted: Name your three most favourite prayers, and explain why they're your favourites. Then tag five bloggers - give them a link, and then go and tell them they have been tagged. Finally, tell the person who tagged you that you've completed the meme... The Liturgy and the Sacraments are off limits here. I'm more interested in people's favourite devotional prayers.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Through the lens of continuity, I do find myself looking at books inspired by the Second Vatican Council. Material written around the late 1960s is of particular interest as it can show considerable orthodoxy almost in spite of its desire to seem radically different in its approach. The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) is one such example.

I’m currently immersed in Genesis, with Adam and Eve at the Fall, this is because I may be doing some work with Confirmation classes this Autumn and I think it is so important the Fall is dealt with engagingly and properly. I never feel I do it justice. This is the passage I’m currently up against.

Genesis Chapter 3 vs 16
To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows and thy conceptions. In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

This is the assistance we get from The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) :
The present condition of woman as wife and mother is seen as punishment of the first sin…. man dominates woman in the domestic and social order. Man’s domination, although part of the order of creation is intensified by sin beyond the divinely willed measure.

What is missing from the commentary is any concept that verse 16 is prophesying Eve’s sorrows over the death of her second born at the hands of her first born (and many mothers’ subsequent sorrow over their children). But that doesn’t bother me here. What is of interest is the whole framework into which “Man’s domination” of women is put.

God mentions man “shall have dominion over thee” as a matter of fact (divinely willed), it is NOT a commandment. The Jerome commentary makes it clear that the manner of this dominion depends on the level to which those involved sin. It is giving us an order for society.

I can live with that, surely we can all live with that. Also there is no contradiction with 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Colossians 3:17-19, Ephesians 5:21-28 and 1 Corinthians 11.

Seeking equality is an act of rebellion to this order, and in doing so perpetuates that first sin.

Women can have no authority over men in their teaching and other visible hierarchies within the church. There can be no female priesthood because that would imply equality in the social ordering of the Church on earth where it can’t exist. That our souls are of equal worth in the eyes of God is of no doubt. That women can be and are often more powerful soldiers in the Church Militant is not in question either.

Men rule, for women it is ordained to remain somewhat anonymous and spread the gospel quietly, unobtrusively, submissively and under the eyes of the radar (devastatingly brilliant stuff if done correctly).

Deal with it my feminist friends, the answers are all there in scriptures and commentaries inspired by Pius XII’s modernizing tendencies and the clean breeze blowing through Vatican II!

Eve - Jan Van Eyck

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Topical Ramblings

Some subjects are best approached sideways. In this way the side that is right may be able to work with the side that thinks it is right. The drivel that follows is an attempt to do just that with regards to the role of women in the Church.

There is a generation of church goer that holds out considerable fascination for me, those loyal Catholics in their late 80s and 90s. It is amongst these people that you often find considerably lax views with regards to the Church’s teaching. Views you’d expect from the recently retired baby boomers who found the sixties fun and fab. These older Catholics had a level of maturity during the 1960s which would lead you to presume a grounding in faith and morals that would see them through any crisis. In other words these people were the age I currently am when the cr*p hit the fan. It is amongst this older generation that you will find considerable support for married clergy and even female clergy.

Listen to them and find out their reasons for supporting these views. Firstly, they can have a certain level of clericalism that makes them say “If Father says it is good, then it must be good”. Afterall, had they not had this clericalism and deference to their priests that would not have survived the liturgical rupture fostered upon them in the early 1970s. They would have ended up like my Chinese grandfather and many like him; tragically clutching his Padre Pio prayer card, his Missale Romanum and doggedly saying his rosary in Latin long after he “felt any need” to attend a Mass he couldn’t recognise.

Secondly, there are a whole string of reasons that have little to do with Church teaching but throw considerable light on attitudes to sex. A very elderly lady I know who thinks priests should marry gives the reason that “well men need their comfort, don’t they”. In getting to know her, it becomes apparent that when she was married men got their “con-joo-gulls” when they wanted them. Indeed some priests would encourage wives to see to the needs of their husbands in this way. Having sexual intercourse because “men need it”. Perhaps it is no surprise a tolerant attitude to contraception is then not far behind. Nor is it a surprise that a drop in vocations to the priesthood is put down to men feeling lonely and needing the comfort of women. An elderly gentleman, in talking about his late wife said to my husband “you know, she never refused me, she was so good to me”. His wife was on the contraceptive pill as soon as it came out, and the poor man was left floundering like a child when is wife died, he’d never even washed himself in the bath, let alone washed a tea cup during his married life.

Thirdly, in the twilight of their years, many are not interested in church politics (as they see it) and if they get more attention from the local Anglican vicaress than off their Catholic priest, so be it. They’ll convince themselves “sacramental grace” isn’t what it used to be and a Christian is a Christian is a Christian.

So, back to where I started. Men: shape up, talk about chastity (make it masculine once again) and live chastely with your wives. Women: don’t pander to every need of your man (or your son), don’t turn him into a big needy kid. Priests: desire heaven for all your flock. The Holy Father will approve and it may quieten down Tina Beattie .

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The One with the Squeaky Orange

Six years ago, somewhat desperate to find Sunday Mass whilst on holiday in Spain (a harder task than we’d anticipated) we stumbled into a neat, new but reassuringly classically designed church that seemed to be under the care of the Passionists. My heart leaps for joy when I see the Passionist badge and a cassocked priest with said badge greeted us at the door, I felt reassured.

The rest of the congregation were all German ex-pats; well dressed, well groomed and monied. We were made to feel at home, though perhaps they were too friendly as before we’d even sat down we’d been co-opted to read at the Mass. The readings would be in English but the rest of the Mass would be in German. The next outburst of friendliness came when one of the parish helpers came round with what can only be described as a box of toys (I was the youngest in the congregation). From this box was produced a squeaky plastic orange for my husband, I was given two well polished blocks of wood and my intrepid mother-in-law was given a maraca. Every member of the congregation had some such object.

Mass started. The “toys” were for shaking/banging/squeezing during the Gloria and the Sanctus. It was probably one of the most bizarre liturgical experiences of my life.

It was obviously a parish where (for what ever reason) every subtlety and nuance had been beaten out of the phrase “active participation” with a large assortment of noisy plastic fruit.

Staggeringly, I still felt like I’d been to Mass and did not feel I could not attend that church again. Mother-in-law had the casting vote however and as the timing of their Mass meant some discomfort due to her taking of “water tablets”, we managed to find a Spanish, Spanish Catholic church the following Sunday evening to suit her bladder.

Sadly, I feel that these days with my more refined view of the liturgy, I’d have been outraged by that Mass. Has all this searching for liturgical perfection done anything but make me intolerant; too easily shocked, too easily offended and too dissatisfied with the Mass as I find it. Indeed, is intolerance and outrage ever the right response, even to indefensible puppet, teddy bear, football and clown masses? What is the point self-righteous indignation? I will end up worse than a dog chasing its own tail, at least the dog derives some pleasure from its activities.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Holy Mass

Some memorable masses (memorable for the right reasons).

Malaga- Iglesia Santo Cristo de la Salud (10 years ago)
Aged and frail priest on two sticks, sat perched on a bench for the entire Mass. Beautiful, dignified vernacular, lunchtime Novus Ordo Mass. Can’t understand Spanish, but it didn’t matter. The congregation all over the place, standing, kneeling and sitting seemingly at random (as happens a lot in Spain), but there was something special in the level of concentration both of the priest and us his rag-bag congregation of smart dressed business people, dusty tourists and toothless old ladies in black.

Santo Cristo de la Salud

Manchester- Holy Name (15 years ago)
Tridentine Mass, never have I been so far from the sanctuary but so fully absorbed in the consecration that I was left breathless. The church was packed with young people, shabby people, joyful people from all over the world. It was my first Mass where a deacon and sub-deacon were used. I felt holy fear approaching the altar rails for communion.

Salford- (15 years ago)
When I was unemployed, I’d often attend daily Mass at the one of the local churches (4 and a convent all in easy walking distance), especially if there was a funeral on, it meant we may be able to muster a choir together, singing the deceased’s requested hymns with a gusto the congregation could not muster. This particular Requiem Mass, there was no congregation, just the undertaker and 5 of us in the choir loft. How small the Church Militant seemed, but how great the Church felt that day.

Oxford- St Aloysius (1 year ago)
After a difficult, sickness-filled and hard lent, and an exhausting Triduum, Easter Sunday, solemn sung Novus Ordo Mass in Latin left me in tears. It really felt like the first day of a new life. Tangible joy in disciplined reverence. I’d always struggled with “feeling” the resurrection, and this was an answer to my prayers. Thank you, Oratory Fathers your self-discipline and reverence are infectious.

What do they all have in common? It was not the ability to understand the words. It was not the charisma (or otherwise) of the priests. It was not the direction in which the priest was facing. It wasn’t how well I’d prepared myself for Mass. It was not the friendliness or the self-discipline of the congregations. It was a sense of closeness to the ineffable, beautiful, boundless love and mercy of God. There’s no one magic formula for that. It is an unmerited gift from God.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Ooh you've got an 'ology

Some people seem to be getting their 'ologies mixed up:

That women give birth – biology
That men and women have constantly reevaluated their roles in society – sociology
That women can not be priests or bishops – theology

Simple, isn't it? Apparently not for some.....

We sometimes forget that we are already one (a very broken one) through our baptism with our separated brethren. A crisis in an ecclesial community knocks at the heart of our faith and will cause ripples throughout the Christian world. There are just too many Catholics who are itching to see women in the priesthood and anyone who contradicts this hasn't been near most provincial Catholic churches with congregations with an average age over 50.

Why Caravaggio’s painting of Judith slaying the pagan Holofernes keeps popping into my head at the moment isn’t quite clear. However, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be loyal to the Kingdom of God, are slowly being revealed. For sure, it will be messy and we will be totally misunderstood. But the secular mindsets that are intent on imposing themselves upon the Church must be removed from the limbs that are muscling their way in and it may just be that it is the loyal, lay Catholic women who will do the business most effectively. For this to work we must be prayerful, feminine, attractive and brave and before we go rushing for our (metaphorical) swords, I feel now is the time to start acting more like St Colette who sorted out disunity amongst her Fransiscan brethren through silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

How deep is your lace?

Was it all so bad? All that optimism in the 1960s? All that belief that the world could change, that all people were inherently heading for the same good, if only they could be loosened from the shackles that bound them.

40 odd years on, it looks to me like everybody had their own optimism and saw shackles on everyone else that were not really there. People were trying to change people even when they had no desire for change. The 1960s young adults behaved like the boy scouts on the Muppet Show; a cry of “You need First Aid” and bandages wrapped round every unsuspecting creature whether needed or not.

Then again I wasn’t there. I come from a deeply cynical, dark generation whose parents had gone around breaking shackles, finding new freedoms and inventing their own truths. Some of us were left high and dry, no moral guidance (you’ll find your own way, your own truth), nothing to cling to, no prayers etched on our hearts, no knowledge of our guardian angel, nothing to cling to with child like trust when things got really bad.

So now, reconciled with the Church, I hunger after Truth, I yearn for continuity and tradition, I seek beauty and silence and yet there is something dark within my soul. My parents’ generation sought to find Christ in all they met, they broke down barriers, they tore away at conventions, their love was radical and in many ways long lasting. Is my love deeper than theirs? I don’t think so, some of the light that drove them cast a deep shadow on me, leaving me introverted, introspective and suspicious, not exactly brimming with Christian virtues.

Many of those who entered the priesthood 40-50 years ago, have that radical love and it remains within them. They are caring pastors who will go the extra mile for anyone in need. They have effectively stuffed clericalism into the trash can where it belongs. They love Christ and are His devoted servants. Yet they feel something dark, they feel their light is threatened, they feel betrayed. They think they see in the Church today, something that shouldn’t be there, a return of blessings upon the elder son at the expense of a welcome for his “prodigal” brother. Yet their “kvetchings and mumblings” of betrayal leave them, to me, sounding like the Pharisees that Our Lord just couldn’t get through to no matter how hard he tried. In other words, they have become the elder son; loved but unloving. However this doesn’t stop me feeling for them with deep sorrow and love.

We are in a time of testing, we are being purified on our pilgrim way. It is only Christ who will lead us all home.

Remember folks, this is about “How deep is your love?” not “How deep is your lace?”

Monday, 5 July 2010


I'm getting a little narked with the newspapers going on about the increasing cost of the Papal Visit for us UK Catholics. It doesn't make any sense and it is doing a very good job of stirring up the grumblings of the less fervent members of the flock who increasingly do not want this visit to go ahead and resent the cost.

I'm suggesting a rebranding so that the government would see their way to funding the Papal Visit, as they should because it is a state visit.

In fact rather than see it in terms of a state visit, we should see it a series of days celebrating Chaste Pride. The leader of the world wide Chaste Pride movement is visiting and is meeting with representatives of other groups with an interest in chastity. The movement is the biggest NGO in the world. There is special reason to celebrate because of the special recognition being given to that great historical figurehead for chaste love, John Henry Cardinal Newman. The events should allow people to come out and openly celebrate their chastity as only they know how, without fear of stigma and discrimination. In an inclusive society this event is of serious importance and should be supported and funded lavishly by Dave C and friends, especially in recognition of all the discrimination faced in the past by chaste people having smut and immodesty thrown in their faces and pornography thrust upon their children during the Sexual Revolution.