Monday, 30 September 2013

Children and childhood

These are some meditations that have been brewing in me based on the Gospel reading for Michaelmas:

and Jesus called unto Him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall  not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven, and he that receive one such little child in My name receive Me.

My meditation concerns the nature of childhood and adulthood as related to this Gospel incident. I do muse often that probably since Victorian times we have sentimentalised childhood and that this in some way helps obscure the meaning of this passage.  We live in a world where childhood has almost become an idol, a thing to be worshipped, a thing of outstanding value, a thing that must be preserved at all cost.

I know a family of very very happy children, they have a great time being children, they have some chores to do and some responsibilities within the family, but essentially what they want, happens.  A mutual friend said that their childhood is "devastatingly happy" and is actually quite worried about them.  She argues that the children have been given nothing beyond childhood, there is no concept of growing up, there is no concept that adulthood is something to aspire to, because their parents only see adulthood as a constant feeding of the desires of their children. I simply don't know whether she is right or not.

However, there are those children for whom childhood is brutally cut short through abuse, violence or having to take on adult responsibilities due to the death of a parent. There are those children who had no childhood, having always been older and instinctively wiser than their immature parents? There are those who were in their innocence, quite horrid little brats who look back on childhood with embarrassment, glad that time has put clear water between their child-self and who they are now as an adult. There are those who simply never understood childhood, never related to other children, never saw the point of it all.

Childhood in itself is not a "good", and once left can not be regained. 

So what is Our Lord telling us about "becoming as little children"? He is telling us a lot about our adult selves.  He is saying that we must come to Him when he calls, like children being called inside to be still, from being all rowdy and mucky in the garden outside. We will be bearing all the scars of adult life; the scars of sin, the scars of seeing too much, of hearing too much, of doing too much, the scars of knowledge of the world.  But when we come to Him we must be humble, we will show Our Lord our wounds, though they are nothing in comparison to His, and we must come to Him in a state of indifference to our scars, no matter how painful.  Our humility is coming before Him in obedience, trying to hide nothing, absolutely nothing.  And that is how we must stand before our fellow adults in a hostile world.  We must cut the sin out of ourselves and be fully aware of the sins of the world, but with an abhorrence of those sins because of the damage they do (the rest of the Gospel passage makes this clear and is not unconnected to the part I have quoted). And for the rest we must trust in Christ to show us the way to love the sinners. The purest of saints like St Philip Neri and St Aloysius had slight moments of vainglory and stupidity as children that led them to such an understanding of the horror of sin that lasted all their lives, though their own transgressions were minor. Adult innocence and purity, which these two saints epitomise, has a full horror of sin and flees fom it, unlike childlike innocence which knows it not.

As adults, we are to go into the lion's den of the world, as it were, armed solely with Christ, we can bring nothing else. A holy trust in the Lord IS our regained innocence, this is how we become "like" little children.

But the world is increasingly infantile and emotionalised, increasingly sentimental and at the same time increasingly brutal.  Basically, it is increasingly abusive of children because it fails to understand adulthood and what it means to be an adult before the Lord and what a shudderingly terrifying responsibility it is to care for children of all ages.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Encounter with Fr F W Faber

My husband had a great devotion to Bl John Henry Newman and I do believe that Newman was with him as he died.  He certainly helped prepare him for death in a very personal way. Newman was present, Newman helped.  Whenever my husband called out to him in mental or physical anguish, he was there.  In his last months he took to reading from Newman's Meditations and Devotions whilst sitting on the edge of the bed before we went to sleep.  Newman's insights leapt from the page, Newman brought comfort, Newman was such a gentle teacher in the ways of suffering and death.

I was tempted to place the book of Meditations and Devotions in the coffin but didn't.  I pick it up from time to time, it is still there by the bed, but I have yet to find it the source of inspiration that it was when it was being read to me by my husband.  A portrait of Newman stares at me from the mantelpiece.  I smile, yet I can't get close.  We have a common bond in our love for one particular soul and Newman hasn't left me as I plod through life. But a lot of the actual help that I get in my day to day spiritual growth has come from a most unexpected source.....

After a hospital appointment in London some time go, I'd popped into the Brompton Oratory to pray. I was a bit emotional and at something of a low ebb.  I find the Brompton Oratory a bit overwhelming and probably not in a good way.  Trying to find a quite corner in which to collect my thoughts, I stumbled upon the resting place of Fr Faber and found myself saying a rather odd prayer.  "Fr Faber, I don't know much about you, but I feel drawn to be here next to you and I ask you to pray for me as I pray for you (if you need my prayers, that is)".  There may have been a reply to this, but it may have been my imagination, so I'm not putting it in print.

The reality is that Faber has become something of a friend through his writings, but it may go deeper than that.  In all honesty, I shouldn't be drawn to him; he's a Scotist and his language is often sentimental and flowery.  However, such gentleness and love flows out of it and I have really felt like he acting as a friend along the way.  I am genuinely now extremely fond of him.  And I'll leave you tonight, the anniversary of his death with a few words of his from his Creator and the Creature:

...we are free, and we are in earth's fair sunshine, and our heart is full of a little but most true love of God, and a whole world of God's blessed love is resting on our single heart, - and shall we doubt, shall we hesitate, shall we tremble, shall we be chilled in the midst of all these fires of love?  O my Creator, my Eternal love! O my Heavenly Father! weary yet full of trust, worthless but truly loving Thee, on earth still and very far from heaven, my home and my rest are still in Thy Fidelity!  In te, Domine; speravi, non confundar in aeternum!*
* From the Te Deum and Ps 70:  O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

rocks, paper, scissors

I've been thinking about the rather tiresome game of rock, paper, scissors.  The aim of the game is to choose an option that is more powerful than your opponents.  You lose if your option is less powerful, you draw if you chose the same option as your opponent.  It isn't exciting.  But  could this (to me) rather sad endeavour (though all kudos to those who take it seriously and attend RPS championships and all that) actually teach us something quite profound?  I think it can.

In our constant battles of spiritual warfare, could we not think of our enemy as perhaps challenging us to a game of RPS, a bit like the way Death played a game of Twister with Bill and Ted (but I digress).

Actually, it is a it more complicated than that as we can't see our opponent, nor can we see his hand, all we see is the consequences of us choosing the wrong option. Indeed we don't actually know who our enemy is, most of the time.  It is usually an amalgam of the World, the Flesh and  the Devil, specially dressed up in such a way as to go for own particular weaknesses.  Best not parley with it, best just to play your hand and be ready to play again if your choice isn't strong enough.

So what 3 "hand shapes" can we play?
We can invoke our will.
We can invoke our heart.
We can invoke our intellect.

We must be ready to invoke all three.

The will: will to follow/live all the teachings of the church, even the ones you struggle with.  And if that is too much of a struggle, just try the follow all the Beatitudes (just!!!).  You will find that by wanting to live the Beatitudes, your niggles over Church teaching will lessen, weakening considerably the hand of your enemy. The pitfall of the will is that if your enemy is playing with your heart and dredging up hurtful memories to colour your feelings, the will can crumple.

The heart: act out of love for God and neighbour.  That disinterested love that is for their benefit only. Desire to give God glory for His own sake.  Desire to do the best for your neighbour at whatever the cost. Be impossibly romantic over this.  Give, give, give and give with joy. The pitfall with the heart is if your enemy is invoking your intellect and telling you that God loves you and will always forgive these things that you are tempted to do.  The enemy will play with your pride and tell you that your niggles with Church teaching are justified and that really through your cleverness you can take the Church into a new millennium of radical change to make God's love all the more apparent to the great unwashed.

The intellect: Be rational.  Remember that God allows certain temptations to happen to us but gives us the faculties to overcome them and become stronger by overcoming them. Think how embarrassing it would be to confess THAT sin in the confessional.  Think of a thousand things that are more pleasurable and that you can be proud of appreciating because God gave you the ability to appreciate them; like watching a sunset, listening to beautiful music, seeing the great churches of Europe, playing Twister with your children....  Here the analogy with RPS breaks down a bit because the intellect is actually quite a bit stronger than we usually give it credit.  It can certainly overcome the enemy playing with your heart, it can overcome the enemy trying to break your will, it can even overcome the enemy attempting to play with your intellect, provided you dump your selfish pride.

So, go play "spiritual rocks, paper, scissors" with your enemy and if that doesn't work, perhaps have a Twister mat to hand.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Chemical Weapons

I'm a little shocked to hear some Catholics seem very much pro supporting the US and their proposed intervention in Syria.  It seems to go hand in hand with a certain poo pooing of the current Bishop of Rome.

Dear traddies, answer me this: in all honesty and using your undoubted intelligence that you so usefully employ to all things liturgical, is is possible to support the US in their moral crusade, when they so freely use chemical weapons on their own citizens, killing thousands each year in the name of family planning?

It is that line in the sand thing.  Are we really so much on the side of right so as to justify our violent actions?  "He who is without sin cast the first stone" and all that.