Friday, 30 December 2016

Call me old fashioned.....

This should be my last musing over Amoris Laetitia. I will be found guilty of picking up the telescope and looking through the wrong end but there are times when an alternative perspective is needed, no matter how nonsensical.

Finding one's spouse ought not be difficult.  There is a match out there for everyone (who so desires marriage) and most of the time feats of heroism are not needed in order to secure the match.  It is quite an ordinary thing in many ways: companionship, friendship, trust and fidelity. Man find his mate, recognises her and calls her to be his for life.  It is there from the beginnings of scripture: Adam recognises the flesh of his flesh, that which makes him whole. Fundamentally it is that way round, women are far more adaptable (and less passionate) than men, a man has to know that he has found the right woman and he has to tell her.  [The woman already knows, but it is pointless to tell a man anything, he has to work it out for himself or he will be miserable for life. His happiness is everything for her and better that he never recognises her (God will find her another), than she ever thinks of coercing him.] This is more than tradition, it lies at the heart of the supernatural differences between men and women. It lies at the heart of God's desires for us.  As many as the species of angels are the ways in which marriage works, each couple is unique, there is no blueprint for a perfect marriage, but it ought to be very rare indeed for a woman to propose to a man. If both parties then do their best (by the grace of God) to live by 1Cor13, then all is fine and dandy.....

Christian marriage is raised to the heights of a Sacrament and a sacrament that the man and the woman bestow on each other.  The outward sign of inward grace is given. All Sacraments are a bringing forth of Christ; making Him manifest in the world. Christian marriage is not an insular thing, it is something to show the world and if both spouses are Christians then they should be plunging headlong into a growing relationship with God and a bringing forth of His desires in a world that so desperately needs to see the strength and beauty of God's plans for His creation. If one of the partners is not Christian, then the marriage is sanctified by the Christian witness of the believing spouse.

Marriage is the best expression of the 'little way'.  It is the domestic church, it is small and it its smallness it is most powerful. It is small but it is not insular, it is not holed up in an enclosure or behind a large privet hedge in the suburbs, it is to be seen in public, in the time and space that has been allocated to it. A married couple  do not openly proselytise, yet their Christian witness can be profound.

So much for the idealism.  Now for the rant against my fellow Catholics (all stripes, I make no exception, though Trads annoy me the most)....

The understanding of Marriage is a mess and here is a possible reason why:

We are still living with the Counter Reformation's failure to answer the "movements of  the spirit" encapsulated in the Haus der Liebe, Anabaptists, Quakers and their ilk [somebody please tell me I'm wrong here, this is my own home baked reading of history, but it feels to me as if the Puritans eventually won].  It is these Puritan movements that "spiritualised" sex, that abhorred celibacy and forced sex into marriages as a good in itself that must be had. [You can't force love, love and force are opposites, and sex without love is an abomination] Indeed we have accepted their ideas wholesale, seeing the Catholic perspective of the time a being at fault.  The idea of sex as a gift from God is a Puritan one. Sexual incontinence starts here.  The whole 'theology' is person centred (masquerading as Spirit centred) and not God centred.

You don't have to trawl too far on the internet to find you tube sermons from trad Catholic priests (mainly Americans and therefore far too tied to the Mayflower than they realise) exhorting that the "marriage bond" (which they interpret as sex) be fulfilled, that it is a mortal sin not to do so regularly, that it is a moral sin if women go out to work rather than keep breeding their quiverfull of children. That large families are everything, that family life is a breeding programme to make more righteous people just like them. It is all about breeding; bringing forth Christ is absent from their rhetoric, chastity and continence are absent from their rhetoric, spiritual growth and learning to love God more are absent from their rhetoric, humour and understanding of the companionship of marriage are absent from their rhetoric, understanding that some couples simply can't have children is absent from their rhetoric, the freedom of children to walk away from the faith is missing from their rhetoric.  Love is absent.

Love is also absent from our trendy liberal friends too.  They too have swallowed the Puritan lies wholesale and come up with a different but equally anti-God conclusion: that by nature we give into our sexual urges, we can't help it, but they are God's gift so it is is OK.  That it is merciful to recognise sexual activity is certain circumstances outside of the sacred bond in which it is meant to exist. It is not just the true love between creatures that is absent, it is the lack of God Himself that is so worrying..

I'll leave it to my reader to ascertain prayerfully what it is that God so desires in the marriage bond that He so generously gave us in order that we could begin to comprehend the depths of His love for us through His unbroken Covenant with us. It will be different for each of us.....

fifth Edition of Pagit’s Who’s Who of rebels: the Heresiography. (A list of Heretics against Godly Order): yes I am being ironic but it is a fascinating piece of history! I am trying to be a loyal daughter of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church: a Papist.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Yellow camellias

One of the books I liked to read at my grandfather's house was about a medical missionary working in pre-War China along the old silk roads.  It was understated in its Christianity but vivid in its descriptions of a long lost world.  One of the stories concerned a rumour that there was a yellow camellia growing in one of the Buddhist convents and our intrepid medical missionary goes out investigate.  Yellow camellias are rare and far more rare back then than they are now. He was met by one of the nuns who said quite plainly that yellow camellias don't exist.  It took a lot of persuasion for him to be allowed to look further, but there was indeed a yellow camellia in the grounds of the enclosure.  There was absolutely no recognition from the nun, she was sticking to her belief even when confronted with the shrub.

Throughout my life,  keep feeling I meet that Buddhist nun in various guises; a complete absence of curiosity, a lifelessness, a dull sense of righteousness, a lack of hospitality....

And there have been various yellow camellias that I have been chasing, but every time I get a hint that I may be close, she's stood in the doorway telling me to go away, there is nothing to see here. If I am not careful, she sucks the life out of me, she is very persuasive and I am by nature far too passive and obedient. Sometimes I give up.

Right now I have a somewhat ephemeral yellow camellia in my sights.  I know that I am not thriving in the life I am living, it is more than the sum of my job and my illness (though something very bizarre is happening on that front- see footnote*). I know I have to do something and am resigning from my job, I will see out this academic year, but I will not be doing another. And she is there, telling me all the consequences of my actions: giving up a very cushy salary, losing the ability to keep renting this house or running my car, moving away from the network of people I like and who seem to like me.... She's speaking for the wisdom of this world that says that ephemeral yellow camellias don't exist, that the life I am living is as good as it gets, that I'm a fool. However, this runs so deep and action is needed and I'm not scared or anxious, but I am weary and I'm in the process of simply and silently squeezing past her. I KNOW there is something better, something that I am supposed to be doing, some way of being the person I was created to be.... but at the moment it is sadly a Rumsfeldian known-unknown, but one that needs action in order to reveal itself fully.


Today: Feast of the Holy Innocents, we are reminded that innocence is so often the first casualty when we stand up to our enemy.  Innocence has no voice of its own. We can never regain that innocence once it has been lost, but there is something childlike that we need if we are to overcome the world.  Even with our world-weary eyes and bodies, we can have a child like trust and joy that allows us to run into that unkempt garden beyond the convent walls and discover what we know to be there.

I do like today's Collect:
O God, Whose praise the martyred Innocents rendered this day not in words, but in their death; mortify within us all vices, that our lives may declare in actions the faith which our tongues profess in words. Per Dominum nostrum....

A rare yellow camellia

My illness coincided with the growth of a lump on my body.  It was diagnosed as a lipoma and therefore considered harmless and nothing to worry about and nothing to do with my complaint. My health care provider refused to see the need for its removal.  It grew to be larger than a hen's egg and I got so fed up that I paid to have it removed privately. It was certainly not a textbook object, the surgeon greeted it with a "gosh that is unusual!", but the original diagnosis stuck. The operation was performed under GA two weeks ago.  The hypos have stopped (they were mainly nighttime ones and ones when I was sat for long periods of time)..... physically I am a lot better.... could this lump have been excreting something that triggered insulin production?  I'll never know....  

So it is now definitely not illness that is making me walk away from my comfort zone..... my inability to thrive goes way deeper than that....

Friday, 23 December 2016

Brave New World (5)

Once upon at time, when there were knights and ladies, there was a thing called Courtly Love. A knight would be very much in love with a woman.  He would see his entire role as being one where he would honour the purity and sincerity of that love he had. If he only got one smile out of her once in his lifetime it would be enough, she may not even know he loved her. He would serve God and he would fight for his king in an honourable way, because not to do so would dishonour the purity of the love he had for his lady.  It was a sacrificial sort of love and rather beautiful in its own way in its chastity and chivalry.  Then they started to codify it and give it all sorts of rules and human nature being human nature it became cultish and lost its innocence.  It all came to a sorry end.

Moving on to more recent times, chastity was a given, and indeed very ordinary and mundane.  Read the novels of Anthony Trollope if you don't believe me.  It is chastity that allows two close male friends to walk down The Strand linked arms and holding hands. It is chastity that underpins the quiet heroism of some of his unsung greats like Lucy Robarts or Mary Thorne.  They risk losing everything for a point of honour, they love to the nth degree, but will quietly watch that love drift from them because they love so much.  (Though Trollope usually gives his readers a happy ending)

We have lost something and lost it quite recently and that is an organic understanding of chastity and its fundamental role in our being human. This is the narrative that we need to regain. This underlies all the parables of Tradition, indeed much of Holy Scripture and the witness of the early martyrs makes no sense unless viewed throug this lens. Sadly the recent theology of the Church has tended to underplay chastity, overplay and even sacramentalise sex and our sexual feelings.

Chastity does two important things. One: it acknowledges biological gender differences and clothes them in modesty. (note to white Trads: no need for Amish-chic, modesty is enough). Two: it cuts through the artificiality of masculine and feminine stereotypes, to look at the dynamics of relationships; a masculine interacting with a feminine.  This is remarkably fluid in its relationship with biological gender and everything to do with the wholeness inherent in the bond between a man and a woman. For example, men find their 'female softness and compassion', women their 'masculine fortitude and magnaminity'. Chastity stops you from worrying that you don't fit, that others are different from you, that you are in the wrong body. Wrong body and right body are irrelevant terms because you don't "use" your body when you are chaste.  If you are married, you give your body for procreation and for the protection and happiness of your spouse, is is not about use, it is about freely given sacrifice and detachment.  If you are single and chaste, you still give your body in your work for others, you are not using your body for your own ends.

Chastity allows you to see people as they really are and to reach into their souls and love them for who they are and in proportion to their needs of that love (we don't love everyone in the same way).  The game playing stops and the beauty is serious and serene. Chastity allows you to love creatively.  Chastity is a pure heart that is naturally generous and patient.  Many celibates are not chaste without ever even breaking their vow and are often quite miserable too.

Surprisingly you don't obtain chastity through rigorous self-denial and mortification. Chastity comes through 'putting on Christ' and when that is primary, then chastity comes to us through Him and in Him, just as He and His Blessed Mother and St Joseph were chaste. Chastity is the state we are supposed to be in.  It was the state of our first parents before the fall. Chastity comes through the liberality of God, not through our efforts, but we must desire it because we love Him and wish to honour Him.  We can not truly honour Him if we are not. [Mortification to strengthen chastity will come in due season if needed......]

And there is something beautiful in a chaste married couple; a man and a woman totally and completely comfortable with each other, totally in love yet without lust that will have anybody even remotely taken up with the zeitgeist saying "I want a bit of what they have".

Chastity is uncompromising, it demands you obey, but the letter of the Law killeth, chastity is not a set of regulations, just like there are no regulations as to how to breathe; we are meant to breathe, we are meant to be chaste. Chastity is gloriously simple. Chastity ought to be the focus of our narrative and our relationships with the world and all we need to do is 'come out' and be chaste.

And the Lover says to the Beloved: vulnerasti cor meum, soror mea sponsa.
(and you've been wounded by her (in a good way).... ever since she was removed from your rib) 

Without chastity we cannot even begin to be credible witnesses of the Beauty and Truth encapsualted in the picture shown above.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Brave New World (4)

Caveat lector: this post is personal but necessary to explain why I think the way I do....

I had a very liberal education and upbringing. The reason why I'm the rabid, uncompromising Catholic I have become is because sexual freedom, finding myself and exploring the possibilities of self actually bored the living daylights out of me.  I desired some discipline and found the uncompromising rigidity of the faith liberating.

It is time for some personal details of the days before my faith meant anything to me...

Sexual freedom had a dark side, I was a student in Edinburgh in the late 80s when it was dubbed the "AIDS capital of Europe". At least 1 in 10 sexually active men was said to be carrying the HIV virus, no distinction was made for the sexuality of those men.  Indeed the 'gay scene' seemed to be little more than a self-help group for those who were a little insecure and needed affirmation.  Sex just happened, it didn't need labelling.  If you were confident, you didn't need a club. I was bored but the risks associated with having sex out of boredom didn't seem worth the game. I was a keen swimmer and preferred using the wonderful old Infirmary St baths in the centre of the city (sadly long gone). It was a known hang out for gay men, it was the best place to swim and be ignored (if you were a woman). The other women there tended to be elderly matriarchs, in the other pools there was a fair amount of covert posturing from younger women, I knew the signs, and I was tempted. Women seemed immune to the AIDS tag in those days and there was a burgeoning sense that sisters should be doing it for themselves.  Luckily for me, one day out of the blue, a stunning Brazilian woman in a leopard print cat suit just happened to invite me to the Turkish Baths in Portobello.  I turned up but never went in.  There was a seedyness about the place back then, a sense of fakery (I don't even think the sand at Portobello is real sand), I headed back and outside a chippy near the bus stop something happened.

There was a man in a wheelchair and he smiled at me.  I had never seen such a beautiful smile.  I smiled back, we were connected in some way. Indeed for the first time in my life I actually felt connected to another human being, we were looking into each other's souls. I was loved and loved back.  I never saw him again, but it didn't matter, that was not the point, something else other than sex was necessary for relationships between consenting adults, and that something was beautifully liberating.  My friend in the wheelchair and me let go of each other, but in doing so we blessed each other's futures. Some people we meet are angels in disguise.

A few days later and I was out drinking with the boys from the course.  It was 3am, the only pubs officially open were the ones for the printers of The Scotsman, we lived close by and it prevented the need of attending the notorious 'lock-ins'. One of the lads turned to me and said "here I am buying a moderately attractive woman a drink at 3 in the morning and I don't want to get into bed with you, what is going on?".  Another smiled at me and turned to him and said, "she's one of us, can't you see".

I'm still not quite sure what he meant.... but in his comment I sensed something of a hidden truth about the nature of relationships that could be forged between men and women. I could connect to him, not near as intensely as to the guy in the wheelchair, but from then on I knew that we knew each other..... connections were being forged... life no longer seemed so boring.

The point of this look into my past is to try to show that we have to look beyond sex and sexuality.  There is a hunger that will only be satisfied if we look beyond the physicality of our bodies. Sexual desire is intoxicating, but there is something even more potent, something far more liberating and something far more capable of bringing us to understand why we love and are loved. Indeed, ironically, it is something that is absolutely necessary if sexual activity is to be as good as it was intended to be.

Welcome to the strange world of chastity (which isn't the same thing as celibacy) and it is just about the queerest thing imaginable.
Tomorrow's post will be the last in this series, I promise....

Infirmary St Baths

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Brave New World (3)

So, in my previous post I got us into the correct space for us to think about what we are up against and to consider carefully what will count as success if we are to get our narrative across to those who are so ignorant of it.

Now let us consider the position of the world; the narrative which makes the world buzz with excitement at its own beauty and creativity.  It is an impenetrable fortress.  We cannot compete with it.  All we can do is demonstrate an alternative and the reason why I have give these posts the tag out-queering queer may become apparent. Is it not our desire for those inside the fortress to start to see it as a prison and wish to break out into a new and lasting freedom? We certainly will have no success if we attack the fortress, those inside will only find stronger and stronger reasons to defend it. Souls will have to walk out of their own free will, confident in the fact that what has been revealed with our help and witness is actually their path to true fulfilment and lasting happiness: we will have to out-queer queer.

The fortress is built around the concept of self-actualisation and the world believes this to be the height of spirituality. The world will say: find yourself and you will find your inner peace and your connectedness to the universe.  This self-actualisation is entirely a matter for self, you fulfil your own destiny; you can be totally material and self-actualise, or you can be an aesthetic or anything inbetween.  The key though is a celebration of self; a growing sense of carving an identity for self, a need to be affirmed in your sense of self and to celebrate your beautiful individualness with other beautiful individuals.  It is humanistic, it is egoistic and it is spiritual in that it does not seek solely to connect to the material but looks beyond that towards energies and creativities and flourishings. It is a work in progress and reaching for a new horizon, a pushing out towards new-frontiers with the infinite capacity that man has for believing in himself and his own bullshit. He is grazing on bits of pseudo-science here (left-brain/right-brain seems very persuasive right now), assimilating cosier bits of religion there, discarding what he believes to stifle freedom and concocting an inaccurate,  history-less narrative that this is how people have always been, but were too repressed by 'powerful institutions' to ever realise that this was the truth.

The mistake that Christians make is try to parachute God into this fortress.  He's already there!  He will rule in the midst of His enemies, as the Psalmist says. It is simply our job to be His back-up, to reflect His beauty, His glory and His peace.  In other words, we are just there to enable some flicker of True light to scatter into the fluorescent fakery of the brave new world.  And we will no doubt fail, that is what we do best.

Queerness is obsessed with beauty, it is hard-wired to find it, we just need to out-beauty it.  The danger for us lies in assimilating a fakery the masquerades as beauty because we are actually ourselves far more confined within the walls of this fortress than we realise. You probably don't have to be 'gay' as such to be queer, it is simply about stepping beyond the normative, and 'gay' is ever so normal these days.  Queerness is about change, about self-actualisation and the finding of self-brilliance, and it is the very 'fluidity' inherent in the queerness that means it can be out-queered without compromise on integrity and without all the self-actualisation nonsense.

Smaug- lover and hoarder of fine things

So how do we reveal our beautiful narrative?
Stay tuned and I'll tell you what I know.  It isn't a method but it is uncompromising....

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Brave New World (2)

There is a lie that sadly most of modern Christianity (including most trad Caths) believes.  The lie is that if you  show love and are a loving person, the world will change for the better.  It simply isn't true, it wasn't true for Christ, it can't be true for us. That doesn't mean that you don't love, that love isn't everything; love is everything.  Just don't expect any results (apart from crucifixion). Love is about giving unconditionally, about not expecting a return.  Love begets love; this is true.  But if you are expecting an outcome, then it is all about you and not about love, you start to become possessive over that love and all sense of the liberality, generosity and freedom of love will be lost.  Love loses its beauty and is lost.

If we are going to engage with this brave new world that I spoke of in my last post, if we are going to be ambassadors for Christ amongst those who can not comprehend or have no knowledge of the parables and poetry of the Truth, then I think the 40 Martyrs of  Sebaste may offer some encouragement. (Some information is available here.) They went to their martyrdom of freezing to death in a lake, one of them failed and ran towards the shore, and one of the soldiers overseeing this, warming himself by a brazier suddenly saw a vision of heaven, he saw what the martyrs saw and willingly ran into the freezing water to take the place of the one who failed.  We must always believe that there is one who will see, one who will change, one who will desire what our hearts desire.  You see, it isn't about us, it is about Christ.  We will look foolish, our experience of the world may by worldly standards be pointless, but if we are going to narrate the parables that are ingrained in our hearts, then we must be prepared to be the convincing story teller, and we can only do that if we 'put on Christ'.  Then just maybe others will be able to strip off everything and join us in the freezing and uncompromising waters of His Love.  If true loves exists between humans, it is captivating, it has a peace and a restlessness at its centre and it is about having a common purpose to spiral headlong, ever deeper into the depths of what the Lord has prepared for us.  There can be no love without Christ.

We will never have a platform on the TED talks or their like in which to tell our story.  The world finds Christianity faintly embarrassing (as do most Christians and that is why they try to change it to accommodate the world).  We will tell our story where we are, to those whom God has placed around us.  The Martyrs of Sebaste were Roman soldiers, just like those who were instructed to kill them.  We have to be fully and convincingly engaged in the world if we are to make Christ manifest beyond the seductive and articulate messages of secular society. Our narration is not about ramming Christianity down people's throats, it is a lot more subtle and subversive than that, and thankfully most of the time, we won't have to tell the story at the cost of our lives.

If we don't what will happen?
Consider the following:  The secular world in its obsession with sexuality is increasingly sexualising children.  It is certainly possible that in the future children may increasingly commit indecent sexual acts on other children and infants.  It is certainly possible that children may demand sexual rights and I have no doubt that they will have the backing of many 'well intentioned' adults. The LGTBetc community will not be culpable for this though we might want to make them out to be. Personally, I think this nightmare is quite possible and I for one don't want to bear any responsibility for making the Angels weep. This is about us so called 'good Christians' and our culpability.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Brave New World (1)

I like the TED talks and I recommend them to you.  Here's one from this month.  Watch it.  These two speakers are really cute and very lovable. Tiq and Kim are a cis and a trans and are very much "in love". [How I wish cis and trans were still just terms you would find relating to chemical isomers.] Absorb what they have to say, it is compelling in a way.  I do not decry them for saying what they say, indeed I applaud them for doing so.  What is worrying is that the whole Judeo-Christian tradition can not stand up effectively (or with so much cuteness) for the integrity, wholeness and beauty of its beliefs.

This is something Tiq says in the talk:

The possibility that we are practicing is about reinventing time, love and institutions. We are creating a future of multiplicity. We are expanding the spectrum of gender and sexuality, imagining ourselves into existence, imagining a world where gender is self-determined and not imposed, and where who we are is a kaleidoscope of possibility without the narrow-minded limitations masquerading as science or justice.

So imagination becomes reality if you give it enough publicity. Think on. Consider the consequences
of this. This is the death of science. This is the death of religion. (I happen to be quite fond of both) This is a reality based purely on how you feel and how you wish to create yourself. 

To try to explain why I find this so in need of a persuasive counter argument, here is a quote from the Physicst, Wolfgang Pauli, speaking in about 1927.  His work on Quantum Theory was starting to show that the false separation (created by the Enlightenment and very much part of the cultural baggage of many his fellow scientists) of the purely objective (here called knowledge) and the purely subjective (here called faith) was breaking down.  His words seem prophetic:

It's all bound to end in tears……society is in such danger whenever fresh knowledge threatens to explode the old spiritual forms. The complete separation of knowledge and faith can at best be an emergency measure, afford some temporary relief. In western culture, for instance, we may well reach the point in the not too distant future where the parables and images of the old religions will have lost their persuasive force even for the average person; when that happens, I am afraid that all the old ethics will collapse like a house of cards and that unimaginable horrors will be perpetrated

The existence of the "gender spectrum" and the carving of your identity through your sexuality are now taken as a given.  It is neither knowledge or faith (small f), but it is the reality of the moment. I think Pauli is on to something; only the parables and images of Tradition can make a stand for an alternative and ultimately more compelling, beautiful and whole picture of who Man is and why he loves and is loved. However these parables and images are now virtually unknown or seemingly incomprehensible to the majority of people.

In the next few posts, I will unpack this further.  Tiq and Kim's vision of a beautiful future is only beautiful if a greater beauty is unknown.  We are drawn to beauty, it captivates, if we Catholics are who we claim we are then we must live the reality of that greater Beauty and show it to the world.
Stay tuned.


Sunday, 11 December 2016

A grave matter

Sorry for this folks, but Amoris Laetitia is still bothering me, so I'm still thinking out loud and putting in up on the web as I do.

I am going to tell you about a trip I had to make to the confessional several years ago:

I went in to the box and said to the Father on duty, "I'm sorry Father but I'm not sure you will be able to forgive this one, but I am wretched and I do need to confess it, even if an absolution is not forthcoming"

The priest* knew me and went "hmmm, we'll see about that"

I responded that I had committed a grave sin (details of which I am not broadcasting) and that I was still in the process of committing this grave act, I hadn't stopped.  Also I was unable to stop because  I would actually be committing an injustice if I stopped.  There was a time limit on this, it would stop, but at that time I simply couldn't.  I was  wretched, I wish I'd never embarked on this in the first place and I knew it was wrong and offended God. I asked him if I should I wait till it had come to its sorry pass before making my confession, or could I confess then. If I died tomorrow, post confession but still sinning, what were the chances for my soul?!

The priest rather disconcertingly laughed. He thanked me, he said he didn't think he would ever hear anything new in the confessional again, he thought he'd heard it all, but I'd come up trumps.  I'd made his day.

Encouragingly,  he then went serious, and agreed that it was a grave matter.  He paused.  He  thought.  He thought some more.  He said "you are in a predicament if you can't stop because it would be unjust to stop, but what you are doing is most definitely a sin. However, it is finite, you are wretched, you wish you'd never embarked on this, I will grant absolution and then I'll go and  I'll have to think about this a bit more, but that is not your problem, it is mine".

*of the "rigid" variety, saturno-less but fond of fine clerical attire and the Old Rite.

Are there some similarities in what I did to the irregular and sinful situations described in Amoris Laetitia that the Holy Father wishes to be treated with an unbounding sense of charity? I think there may be. I'll leave anyone who is reading this to decide for themselves. What swung it for my confessor was that I was wretched, it had finite time scale (2 further weeks), it was coming to an end, and I loathed the sin and wanted it to stop.

I'm enormously thankful for the pastoral sensitivity shown towards me. 

Friday, 9 December 2016

The path to sainthood.

A post by Piers Paul Reid in the Catholic Herald has I think got to the root of the issues surrounding the fallout around that weighty and worrisome document Amoris Laetitia. However, I thoroughly disagree with his line of argument and with his tentative conclusion. You can read the whole post here. I am going to attack it here from the quiet seclusion of my blog. My attack will somewhat oblique and what is written below will stand up for itself and doesn't need the background of the article in the Herald.

Here goes:

The spiritual life has often been considered as a long ascent towards God.  As I see it, there are stages in this ascent.  At the base is a garish seaside town with many distractions, you have to climb up a cliff to break free from them.  The path is well trod and it is fairly obvious where you ought to stick your feet.  The path meanders away from the town and as you climb you realise that at the base of the cliff is a surging sea and unpleasant looking rocks.  This path can go on for what seems like an age.  It is easy to double back and return to the town, the path is boring and doesn't seem to be going anywhere.  Whilst the rocks look unpleasant, you feel fairly sure the path is sturdy and you won't be falling back anytime soon, what does it matter if you go back?  It only matters in the fact that the next time you try to climb, it will provide you with fresh challenges and you will have less and less resources to deal with them.  Sin weakens your ability to see the path clearly and sin makes what you do away from your spiritual life seem justifiably OK.  Each time you attempt the climb you will make less progress. Worldliness will give you blisters and discomfort.

However I am sure saints have been made who have hardly begun the ascent: their constant battle to even begin the climb has been a struggle of heroic virtue for them. They have been truly full of contrition in the confessional and been frequently, they have made good use of the sacraments and they have a holy fear of offending God. These are the souls who often die shortly after overcoming some sin that they have been going to the confessional for years with.

For those who see nothing of interest in the town and climb because they don't know what else they should be doing, the gradual distance from the town and from the rocks below the path are a comfort of sorts and they plod on.  Falls can be painful, the path becomes ever more treacherous and the climber knows they are ever more reliant on God.  And the souls here learn the praise of God and learn to sing it all the more frequently. There are saints who have never got further than this.  It is the spiritual enemies they have had to overcome to get this far that have brought them into the arms of their loving God. A less good hearted person on this stage who dies before reaching the end of it will most certainly make purgatory.

If you get to the top of the cliffs, what lies beyond is terrible.  It is a flat plateau and in the distance rise some magnificent mountains.  Overhead eagles circle. The plateau is boggy, there is no clear path to the mountains.  In this stage lies isolation.  There is silence.  In this spiritual place you are alone with God, and often simply alone.  Yet in the real world, you will be surrounded by souls who need your assistance, who look to you for advice, who consider you to be a good and holy sort of person.  You don't believe a word of it.  You have lost your moral compass, you no longer have any sense of anything other than trust in God. Moral arguments and virtue stop meaning anything, but it is the abhorrence of sin and the holy fear of offending God that keep you able to sing His praise in this wilderness.  Spiritual death can happen here usually at the hands of despair  as you deliberately fall headlong into the bog rather than trusting God to lead you along the path you can't see towards the mountains that aren't getting any closer. And the devil will be bellowing in your ear that it is pointless, that you are wasting your time, that nothing is worthwhile, that there is no happiness to be found in what you are doing, that what you are doing must be wrong because it brings no reward. And the devil attaches weights to your arms and legs and you plod on.

You see, there is no predestination.  God wants us all to be saints and that is our calling.  We can become saints at any stage along the way provided we trust in God and humbly know we are incapable of anything without Him.  We can end up in hell from any stage through trusting in ourselves and through allowing worldly distractions to take over.  The way to hell  feels a lot pleasanter than the road away from hell until it is nearly too late to escape from it.

You see, we all need the sacraments.  We all need the grace of God.  We all need to cast off the old Adam and let our souls flourish as we learn to love God more and more.

But the sacraments aren't a right.  Nobody has a right to receive.  Nobody is worthy of receiving the Eucharist. If the sacraments are the food on the journey, then like ordinary food they need to be digested properly, but there can be a thousand and one things wrong with the gut. It is wrong to say that frequent reception of the sacraments will be a sure fire way to make progress, in the same way it is wrong to say that eating is always a good thing.  It is wrong to say they in some way they are a nutritious tonic that can only do good. That turns them into magic and magic they are not. The sacraments are more the resting places along the way than the food taken on the way.  They are the holy rest in the arms of God. So if the sacraments are taken in order to be busy, like a nutrition bar to help you climb, you will sooner or later slip up again and everything will become so much harder.  The sacraments aren't about you.  They are about God. And God will provide you with all you need for the journey, provided you humbly rest with Him along the way.

My point being that the sacraments are not a panacea and should not be treated as such. They won't always do you good. Especially if you are presumptuous enough to believe you have a right to them.  Surely there is a great sin in encouraging souls to approach the sacraments as a never failing, sweet tasting medicine that will cure you as if by magic in isolation to everything else. The real cure lies in a change of lifestyle, a clearer determination to follow the path, receiving the sacraments worthily and giving yourself over totally in loving submission to the will of the Divine Physician.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

sine dolore .....

sine dolore non vivitur in amore....

To me this is the reality of love, and there can be no amoris laetitia (joy of love) without this sorrow.  Sorrow is not part of sin, sorrow is the healing and moving away from sin and the love in sorrow goes something like this, (let George Tyrell explain):

It means the perfecting of our instinctive affections; recognising in them the impulse of the Divine will drawing men first to one another, and through one another to Itself, as the Supreme Lover, and centre of all attraction.  It means restraint and sacrifice and the sword of separation shrinks from no present pain for the sake of after bliss ..... And it will show itself in ceaseless toil and labour for the beloved; in endless endeavour to communicate with him what we see and to love what we love; to break down every wall of separation or unsympathy that stands between soul and soul; to find ever richer treasures ourselves that we may have more to share, more costly and precious fuel to feed love's flame; to learn new arts and sciences that we may impart them to the beloved; to wean our hearts from all that is spurious, untrue, lest we hurt so much as a hair of his head ..... ; to find God alone that pearl of great price, that common Friend who is the bond of all friendship, in whom all other pure and noble sympathies are united.

So sorrowful love isn't crushingly unpleasant, but it is the reality of love, the love that comes from our Faith, it is how Christ loves us.  This love is the love that should exist between a man and a woman, but it is a love that makes no distinctions, it is also the love that can and should exist between members of the same sex in true, close friendship.

And this is why I find Amoris Laetita such a disappointing document. It is a pastoral document to deal with love which has fallen short of this sorrowful ideal.  Yet the pastoral approach has already been  made, and made somewhat reluctantly by St Paul when he says in 1Cor 7:

 But for fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.  Let the husband render the debt to the wife and wife also in like manner to the husband... Defraud not one another except, perhaps by consent, for a time, that you may give yourself to prayer, and return together, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.  But I speak this by indulgence not by commandment.

Surely 'the debt' that is to be rendered is our affection, our constancy and trustworthyness?  It is not enforced sex 'for fear of fornication'.  I have a cd at home of a talk given by a sincere, well meaning but utterly stupid priest of the 'traditional' persuasion that at one point blames women for not having sex with their husbands, if the husband goes on to masturbate or have an extra-marital.  Whatever happened to being responsible for your own sins?  And I am reminded of a sweet old lady, long dead who sighed when we started talking about sex, how she found it so utterly unpleasant, but how 'he needed his comfort', like jam sponge and custard and warm slippers, it was just something else she provided to see to her husband's 'needs'.  In this case, the man is hardly living up to an ideal of masculinity and the wife is not helping him to.

Surely it is the striving for chaste love within a marriage that is the goal? Surely chaste sex is a reality?  Indeed it is precisely because sex at its most beautiful is meant to be a chaste experience, it is precisely because its end is a sharing in the creative forces of God's love that no further concessions other than the one St Paul speaks of (to defraud each other occasionally- ie. consentual lust within the bond of marriage) are necessary.  Sex per se is not a good.

At this time we should be looking no further than towards the parents of the  Blessed Virgin as we approach the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Let us not forget their role in the Immaculate Conception.  They were not hapless, unwitting 'vehicles' for God's will, no, God loves us all too much for that.  Ss Joachim and Anne would surely agree with Tyrell's description of love if the stories of their love are true as I believe them to be.  Indeed in the Immaculate Conception, there has never been such an act of chaste love between two married people, and in language that I may have borrowed from Douglas Adams; that was "the best bang since the big one". Good sex is that important, that precious, that capable of bringing forth all that is good, beautiful and true.

So let us not kvetch over unanswered and possibly unanswerable dubia (the nature of the document may make the dubia unanswerable).  Whatever state we find ourselves in, can we not strive to be ambassadors for Christ in our chaste, wholesome and sorrowfully joyful love for each other.  The document ceases to have any relevance at all if only we embark on this journey, and that has to be a good thing.

Jam sponge and custard


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Saint Sernin

Toulouse is the only city in France I've ever really got to know.  Indeed the more I got to know it, the less "french" it seemed.  Maybe "french" only exists in the imagination, maybe once you get to know anywhere in France it is just like anywhere else and all that near mythical "frenchness" vanishes. There is something about the French and France that is in love with itself and apart from the Russians (whom they seem to get on very well with) I have never met people with such belief in themselves.  It is a type of pride I quite like, but simply don't ask me to buy into the reality of their superiority in cuisine, culture, language and sex. I could never shake it off in Paris, and I found Paris claustrophobic, self-obsessed, rude, arrogant and empty as a result.  Toulouse isn't charged like that, it just gets on with being an important regional city and its food and culture are nothing to write home about.  It is a city, and it gets on with being one without any mystique.

Today is the feast of St Saturnius, the martyred first Bishop of Toulouse, (+257AD).  The last time I was at the basilica dedicated to him, I was sat outside with a good friend downing a diet coke, it was a few years ago. She is a religious sister from Pondicherry, outwardly gloriously un-pious and this being France, I looked more like a professed religious sister than she did.  I can look dour and drab and always wear a cross. She was in a brightly coloured shalwar kameez. We were trying to work out what it was that God wanted from us.  Why had she become a religious sister in Pondicherry to find herself in France getting shouted at by elderly French sisters for never doing anything right? Why was God agreeing with the wishes of my dying husband that I should re-marry when I'm hardly a prize catch?  Yet that is the calling I have had and the approach God desired I take to become a wife again involved such passivity, chastity and modesty, 'modern man' would pull away from any sense that we may actually be soul mates because I didn't respond in a modern way to his advances. He'd chase something easier. I puzzled him too much, there was no manual to explain me. Besides why would 'modern man' want a skinny bint, past her prime with poor health and too many brains? That day in late summer in Toulouse was full of questions with no answers.  Perhaps I was just in training and had not yet found the match God wanted for me.  Perhaps my friend was destined for something better, once she learnt to curb her mobile phone use and her daydreaming.  We were both well aware of our own faults.

God's ways and desires were puzzling us greatly. We hadn't got our wires crossed, we were trying to follow our vocations, there was a gradual getting closer to God and a growing sense of peace in the process. Our paths were real and right.  But they were also frustrating.

Nothing changes.

Dear Saint Sernin does seem to have a message for me today.  He never envisaged being tied to a bull that had been meant for pagan sacrifice and dragged through the streets of Toulouse till his brains and blood were spattered all point of the compass.

But isn't that the way of the Christian, at least metaphorically, if not literally? We get tied to the raging bull of the world and it will destroy us, but in the process little bits of us will be left here and there, like blessings, working who knows what miracles. bringing who knows what lights into the lives of others? Well, that is how we ought to see ourselves, n'est-ce pas?

St Saturnius pray for us.

Friday, 25 November 2016

dubia problem solved

The most recent colleague to join the science department is a Bearded Dragon, he joins a lively department of weary but good natured humans, rats, stick insects, fish, snails and a Leopard Gecko. Indeed the rats even took an excellent Physics lesson the other week on the difference between scalars and vectors for which I take no credit whatsoever.

In finding out about my new nearest neighbour, I came across references to their favourite food. I'm just wondering if the Cardinals know that their dubia could have been eaten by any number of hungry lizards and amphibians. It would certainly explain the Holy Father's current inability to address the critters.

More than 5 dubia roaches

Image result for dubia roaches

Sunday, 13 November 2016

The elephant in the room

Does voting for any political party, voting in any referendum, indeed voting for anything actually build up the Kingdom of God.  In other words is voting a human act whose outcome ever has merit?  Because, if we are going to get all Catholic about this, and we ought to be getting all Catholic about this (if that is who we are), then the only merit there is, the only rewards of our acts that have any meaning at all are those which brick by brick build up the Kingdom of God.

Here are some possible tests of the intrinsic worthyness of our vote:

(1) It must be done to please God. We can vote, or not vote (which is still a type of voting) based on this consideration.  Though in any day, most of our acts will be far more pleasing to God that this occasional act.  God's unfathomable love for us probably doesn't register elections and voting as more meritorious or delightful than a gentle smile to a disaffected youth at the supermarket checkout, or remaining civil whilst speaking to persons in distant call centres.

(2) Voting must be disinterested.  It must be done without a wiff of self-interest.  It must be done in charity, thinking entirely about "the other"; ie thinking of God and neighbour. I'd say we can vote in this manner, but it is not easy.

(3) If our acts are to be meritorious then they must be morally good (as opposed to bad or indifferent). I personally think voting is morally indifferent. It is something that happens and it affects us all.  You can be involved to a greater or lesser extent. It is part of the fabric of society, but the act of sticking a cross on a ballot paper is morally indifferent. That the choice of vote may cover some morally troubling issues, some gravely so, doesn't lessen this fact.  Choosing the "lesser of two evils" is still choosing evil.  We cannot do this.  Therefore our participation in the voting procedure has to be amoral. Morality is not the be-all and end-all of everything.  Charity "trumps" morality.

(4) A necessary outcome of any meritorious act in ourselves ought to be greater humility.  It is only in our humility that we can serve God. So when "our party" wins, so when a referendum goes "our way", there ought to be no smugness, no dancing on the tables, no elation.  We ought to act like the losers we are and see the faults in our arguments, see the goodness in the opposition (and there is some) and get on with getting the message of the Gospel out in whatever subversive manner we are called to do so.

Far more important than any media-hyped vote is to be a voice for God in the tragically secular world; standing up for His rights, His laws and our dignity as His creation.  And what happens on election day is trivial compared to what we ought to be doing the rest of the time.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Through the window.....

The news that Rome is thinking of accepting the nomination of Bishops put forward by the Chinese Government should have sent me into a seething rage.  But I cannot summon up an emotional response. It isn't that I don't care.  I care deeply.  I have and always will support the Underground Church in China.  I do not think it is wise of Rome to do what it is thinking of doing.  But I've got beyond feeling pain now about anything that happens in the Church.

I feel like Michal, King David's first wife watching him through a window as he cavorts near naked before the Ark of the Covenant, impressing the slave girls but not impressing her much.  She thinks his behaviour is inappropriate, she thinks it doesn't honour God as God ought to be honoured, but he does.  Many years ago, Michal had loved David, loved him so much that she risked her life to save him.  She helped him escape from the murderous intent of her father, Saul, sacrificing any future happiness they may have had together to save his life.  Saul then married her off to another man, and now Saul is dead, David has reclaimed her (more to make a legal point than out of love), leaving her poor husband heartbroke.

So there she is looking at the man she loved so much and wondering what he has become.  She is coldly repulsed by him. There will never be conjugal relations between them, though the marriage remains.

And this is the point;  neither David or Michal have broken the First Commandment, there is no lack of love of God from either of them.  But there is unbridgeable gap between them as to how to go about loving God.  They literally can no longer 'make love' together.  Neither is wrong.

So how does the story unfold?  David is blessed by God and promised unfathomable greatness in his descendants, Christ will be born of his line. Michal fades into obscurity, probably helping to look after David's many offspring from his other wives and concubines.  David will go on to commit two great sins.  One, a sin of middle age, staying at home and not fighting; becoming lazy and lustful and going after Bathsheba and having her husband murdered.  One a sin of old age; surveying what he considers to be his prosperity and taking a census rather than properly attributing it all to God and belonging to God.

Michal's life may very well be the more blameless of the two.  Only God knows which of them loved Him the most, but I suspect it was David.  The love of God of a repentant sinner is a work of the utmost glory.

God has a place for both of them in His heart.  And it is the spiritual fecundity that comes from our love of God that matters not the estrangements in our human relationships.  It is much of the human manifestation of the Church that I feel estranged from not its supernatural nature, and I have to keep reminding myself of this fact and somehow keep 'loving my neighbour'.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

life in Sleepy Hollow

My enforced absence from the interwebs here in Sleepy Hollow, deepest Wessex, came to an end last Thursday.  The only real casualty being Ollie Bear who has lost his Blogger Account and is livid.  I have a new internet service provider, a much reduced monthly direct debit and should I require assistance, I am put through to some cheery souls in Northern Ireland who seem to know what they are talking about.  Our conversations have had a background noise of police sirens and I've found this strangely reassuring.

Whilst I was without, life was frustrating.  I'd have to go into work at weekends to use my computer there just to do the day to day things of keeping in touch with distant friends, preparing teaching materials, banking, property management AND chatting on-line with the ever so polite young ladies in India that BT employ to keep their customers at a distance and in the dark.  Work is 25 miles away. This was all extremely irritating.

So what happens when I am reconnected?  Is life suddenly richer, more productive and enjoyable? Hmm, I just seem to be wasting hours in the evenings with music videos on You Tube!

Well it beats thinking about the state of the Church.  It beats trawling round the Catholic blogs and the apocalyptic tone a lot of them are taking.  We've been living in the End Times for 2000 years GET OVER IT!  Get on with loving God and neighbour, delight in the creatures that are in your care (and every person you meet is in your care to some extent, that is the responsibility we have as Catholics).

Back to the videos, I am on holiday, afterall.
Song of the moment to be found here Take it away, dear Ofra (R.I.P)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Critical Dumplings

I've just had a conversation with an A'level student where she wished to discuss, light, heavy and critical dumplings.  I asked her if she meant light, heavy and critical damping and she remained adamant that she wished to discuss dumplings not damping. I felt like I was going pleasantly insane,

But it was damping that she meant, she just couldn't see the word as it was written.  And there I was just about to launch into a talk about how heavy Czech dumplings are, how to make a good suet dumpling and the difficulty of trying to get hold of good Chinese dumplings in Blighty.

The world is full of misread words.... and blogger is the place for them to congregate.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Church of the boy-zone mind

I was recently reminded about returning to school one September back in the early 80s, it was an unpleasant experience because, over the summer holidays my peers had decided they were going to re-invent themselves and become tribal teenagers.  I was just terribly un-cool.  The girls would ascertain which tribe we belonged to by asking as series of probing questions.  Firstly: are you a Durannie or a Culture Clubbie? Secondly: which one is the fittest?  This second question would be posed with the centrefold of a recent Smash Hits open on some pop group or other, and I think the unwritten rule was ‘don’t pick the drummer’.

What a strange time the 80s were! 

I failed miserably with the questions.  Firstly, apparently you HAD to like either Duran Duran or Culture Club, liking neither was not an option.  But I knew more about sackbuts, crumhorns and Stravinsky that I did about Simon le Bon and Boy George so the question was illogical.  As for fancying pop stars, I simply didn’t get that, so by sheer random fluke, I picked the drummer and they laughed nervously.

Igor- never knowingly a Smash Hits centrefold

The girls were then in a bit of a dilemma about which tribe to stick me in. I was neither a Durannie nor a Culture Clubbie and I obviously didn’t understand the rules about what constituted a ‘fanciable male’ so therefore I was a puzzle.  Some girls got away with being different.  Charlie got away with not fitting-in because she was more experienced with boys than most of us and she was into Heavy Metal which nobody argued with.  As for myself, they decided, that I’d simply have to be re-invented by them.  I wouldn’t do as I was, I was too weird.

Two ‘Durannies’ took me into their care, they lived near me, we caught the same bus home.  They painstakingly tried to ‘improve’ my wardrobe with trips into town to visit Chelsea Girl and Top Shop and they encouraged me to listen to the trendy DJ on the local radio station.  I found most of the music and the banter boring and I soon retuned and found John Peel on Radio 1 and was mesmerised by Jamaican dub and post-punk weirdness, and if Peel was playing some tripe, there was always classical music on Radio 3. Luckily, they soon gave up trying to make me look the part too.  Their little bit of social engineering had failed and I made my own stubbornly independent way through the teenage maze.

There is no direct analogy here to how I find myself in the Church.  Though I’m definitely someone much more at home in the older rites than the novus ordo, this is very different from expressing a preference for a certain pop group.  I do not want ever to think that I have been sorted into a tribe because my tastes in liturgy are one way and my theology is definitely not nouvelle.  I do not ever what to be called a ‘trad’.   However, there are those who have a tendency to sort the church into ‘Conciliar’ and ‘Trad’ and in all honesty it is little more than what my peers were doing all those years ago. There is only one Body.  The Church is One because Christ is One.  We are part of the same Body as anyone else who receives the Eucharist and the only way to make that body more Christ-like is to clear out all the crap from our own selves that doesn’t conform to Christ.  Everything else flows from that, and we can only strive for this end if we let Him transform us.

We cannot afford to become insular, navel gazing, smug and filled with 'victimhood', though this is certainly how I find many who would define themselves as 'trad'.  Nor can we attempt to re-design others who are not like us. Souls will be drawn to Christ if we are holy, gentle, generous, kind and good natured, yet also authoritative and uncompromisingly truthful. Souls will not be truly drawn to the Church if they are primarily drawn to a ‘movement’ within the Church.  Beauty, goodness and truth are part of the unity and do not reside in any one subset of the body.  We are creating unnecessary divisions. The real divisions, those which create the biggest battles, are the ones we have within ourselves, the ones linked to pride in our own achievements, our own righteousness, our own sense of self importance, and our own understanding of God. The false understanding that boxes Him in, makes Him into an idol of our own ego; there to do our bidding because we are right, and 'they' are wrong.

(ps: my epic battle with BT  is now in its 4th week).

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Schrödinger’s Chat

 This post may go some way towards explaining my recent absence from the interwebs.  I know my legion of fans are missing me, I can only apologise that the explanation I am about to give does demand some basic familiarity with Quantum Mechanics.

The purpose of having a telephone line is really quite simple.  It is there so that we can communicate instantly with the outside world.  Our landlines may one day become obsolete, but whilst I can, I use my mobile rarely (I’m still using an aged Nokia housebrick and am highly amused by its cult status and the amount of ‘street cred’ it has). I loathe telephones. The broadband connection resides in the same network and is part of the same infrastructure.

Since the beginning of September I have been subjected to something resembling Quantum weirdness in my dealings with the telecommunications giant that manages the infrastructure in the UK (BT), indeed I am left wondering if at some level, Quantum events can take place in the macroscopic world, provided that world is suitably illogical.

One of my neighbours moved out and their phone line and broadband use stopped.  My line was also cut, it had been playing up and was far from stable but now it died.  Apparently other villagers have noticed that if something happens with the line at one house, some other house, not necessarily the nearest, is also affected. Non-locality and ‘spookey action at a distance’ or what?  The wavefunction collapses at one dwelling and another is also affected! (hmmm)

A day or so later, I managed to get through to BT and they said all would be resolved in 24 hours.  I checked on the internet at work to reveal the status of the fault and it was reading both ‘resolved’ and ‘in-progress’ on the same page.  Both quantum states were obviously equally likely and it would take an observation of my router to ascertain what was actually going on.  Working 25 miles from home has some disadvantages.  Anyway, when I got home and observed the router, the wavefunction had definitely collapsed in the ‘not fixed’ state.  The following day I checked the status on-line again and the page still read ‘resolved’ and ‘in-progress’.  I decided to contact customer services using the online chat mechanism. We ‘chatted’ and they assured me it was fixed, I assured them that it wasn’t.  They then decided it wasn’t a broadband problem and it was a problem with the landline which may be causing a secondary issue with the broadband.

A landline engineer was duly summoned and fixed what was wrong with the landline.  I then had to book an engineer to get the broadband working again. I had 24 hours of functioning landline and then in an act so random it lies beyond the realms of quantum physics, engineers working at the exchange made an error and cut off the whole village.  This was a fault that they then did not rectify and it took us all a while to realise that what we were supposed to do was register each fault individually so that they could get fixed individually.  However, unless we are in possession of boring 3G or 4G enabled mobile phones (not uber-cool aged Nokia housebricks), this is equivalent of getting the cadavers to complain about the skill of the executioner.

And in some parallel universe I’ve had broadband all month, because I’ve just received an e-mail telling me that I was close to my 12Gb download limit for September. Parallel me also doesn’t pay her phone bills, I’ve been mistakenly accused on non-payment this week.

And now the fabric of space and time is unravelling and the end is nigh because I have categorically shown that the multiverse exists and indeed communication with other universes is inevitable if you are a BT customer.

I wonder if parallel me is in good health, happy in her work, free from technical incompetence and living out the vocation to which she has been called…? 

ps: still no interwebs at home.....

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The school of love

Life is school.  This bothers me, I don't like school, but life is a school; a school of love.  We are here to learn how to love and we finish our training with death.  There are no repeats if we don't get it right first time, if we don't do as well as we ought to have done. At the moment of death, the stark reality of the depth of our love will be made known, and that is the 'grade' we will have for eternity.  There is no increasing this grade after our bodies have been separated from our souls.

This school throws challenges our way and all we are asked to do is respond with love and in responding with love, learn even more about love and how to love.  Some challenges are part of everyone's curriculum and discipline; the boring everyday work of growing in virtue, the discipline of regular prayer, the 'duties of state' we must undertake and do well and do with goodness in our hearts.

Some challenges are more random and we may wish never to experience them, but they will happen.  Sometimes they are life changing 'accidents', like being caught up in earthquakes, floods or severe illness.  God doesn't coldly sit on His heavenly throne and say: hmm today I'll send an earthquake and see how my little ones react.  Earthquakes happen, floods happen, illness happens.  The fabric of the universe is broken and the cause of that brokenness is our first disobedience and every sin, even minor ones are capable of ripping that interconnected, beautifully weaved, delicate beyond measure fabric to shreds.  It is only God's mercy that prevents this from happening.  But the earthquakes and floods don't mean God as stopped being merciful or somehow forgot to be merciful to prevent them happening. They are part of our school of love.

Most things we learn at school aren't the things on the curriculum or things carefully incorporated into the timetable.  And this is how it is in the school of love.  Random things come our way and the challenge is to respond by putting God first and responding with love.  We cannot plan for them.

Some challenges are part of our vocation.  A vocation is a known path to the Kingdom of God, and there are really only three; priesthood, consecrated religious life and marriage.  God gives us a path to follow, and that path becomes our means of sanctification and everything that happens subsequently is part of that vocation.  Many of the 'lessons' on this course are interior struggles.  Many of the 'lessons' seem nearly cruel, or would be cruel if you didn't respond to them with love. For some, the vocation never gets off the ground, it is never 'consummated' on earth, but the rebellion against it and the battling with the enemy who hates it are what brings us to God.

I was married to a man who should have been a priest, though he never made it through seminary.  But the priesthood was his vocation, God doesn't make mistakes [that men enter the priesthood who shouldn't is not of His doing].  It doesn't mean our marriage was invalid, it doesn't lessen the vocation of marriage, it doesn't mean our marriage wasn't fruitful in love and loving witness to God (even if it was childless).  But as we grew in our faith (returning to the older rite of Mass had a massive impact), he remembered his vocation and he became more and more wounded.  He saw how the enemy had constantly put horrendous things in his way (most of which he submitted to, including sexual abuse in seminary) so that his vocation eventually became an impossibility (before he met me he'd procured an abortion for someone and that is automatic disqualification from the priesthood). But the vocation was still there, and the longing in his heart grew, and he just handed it over to God as the strain on his body became too much.  My husband had taken on probably the most difficult classes in the school; the class of failure and disappointment.  This class leads to God, it cannot fail but lead to God, if you respond with love. He died beautifully.

I'm not sure whether I too am on that path of failure and disappointment. I'm not sure where I am, or why things are as they are for me. I don't even know what my classes are in the school of love though I do feel like many of the classes I am attending are not ones I should be at. I don't think I'll ever be more than a mediocre pupil in this school but I am a fighter and there are some things that I know I must fight for even if I lose.

Friday, 19 August 2016

What I'm really thinking....

Public examination results for the UK's senior school age pupils are out this week and next.  For various reasons, professional and personal, I get to hear about a lot of the results.  I think I'm supposed to rejoice with the happy and commiserate with the not-so-happy.  I find it all so difficult and do my best to hide from having to act in this way.

My big problem is that to me it has such a hollow ring to it and I'm reminded in particular of three deaths.

Two pupils I have taught (separated by years and location) who were recognised nationally for their intelligence and aptitude were dead within a year of their results (misadventure and natural causes) and a third who'd never been recognised for much but who was a gentle, sensitive soul committed suicide at this time, fearful of what lay beyond the safe envrionment of school.

So excuse me, my dears, if the smile on my face as you tell me how well you have done looks a little fake; it is.  I want, like St Philip Neri, to question you as you tell me your plans, I want to say like him: and then what.......? and I want to repeat it and repeat it until you see that something is missing.

You see, my dears, you are living a lie and one I (as a teacher) am partly responsible for propagating.  The lie is self-betterment, self-determination, achievement and progress.  The lie is that you are climbing a ladder, one rung at a time and you have it in you to reach all the way to the top, and that reaching the top of that ladder is somehow important. The lie is to believe in your results, that they are part of who you are, that they help you become more of who you are. Don't most school assemblies echo this sentiment?  And even if you happen to be religious, there is a danger you are turning God into your own little "genie in Cath Kidston bag", something to charm you up the ladder and see to your needs and your goals.

And, my dears, life is so much better than this, the only progress we are celebrating with your results is the fact that you are becoming more likely to end up an overworked apparatchik of the God-less state.

So instead, tell me about your creativity; tell me that you still paint or sew, write poetry or play in a band.  Tell me about the work you do with your hands; the things you have made, the creatures you have nurtured.  Tell me you see enchantment in the world.  Tell me you love life and the more you live it the more you love, even amongst illness and death and difficult things. Tell me you love learning for its own sake, not for qualifications.Tell me you love doing nothing; tell me you can rest and be content. And then perhaps you are finding the God who loves you so much.

And if I see a glimmer of genuine happiness in you, then I too will be happy and the sad stares of those who have died will not haunt me as much as they do.

Saturday, 13 August 2016


Today is the 395th anniversary of the natale of my one of my patrons, St John Berchmans and the 48th anniversary of my conception.  I celebrate his sainthood, it would be a bit odd to celebrate one's conception as well as one's birthday, and as one gets older, birthday celebrations get more and more muted. I got 3 birthday cards this year (4 if you count an e-card from Sergio Aguero and everyone at MCFC). However, Saint John came to find me a few years ago (I did not pick him, he found me) and guided me through some difficult times. It was only more recently when I discovered the coincidence in the dates, that I have got to wondering if our conceptions aren't somehow celebrated in heaven.

I never paid any attention to my conception until one night when a teenager, I'd come home from some grotty Manchester music venue on the last train to find my parents still up and somewhat merry on fermented grape juice. (I've never understood the fascination with wine).  Mum, disgusted as I 'fragranced' the kitchen with the stench of beer, sweat (I was a mean if somewhat unorthodox regular on the dancefloors) and cigarette smoke, blurted out "anyway you were a burst condom and it was your father's fault".  She then proceeded with an unrepeatable tale involving a hairdryer, clothespegs and the scarcity of prophylactics in Ireland.

This tale had a strange effect on me. I found God. I mean, if my parents hadn't been planning me, but I came into their lives, I was still planned, I was still wanted and it was God who wanted me to be conceived at that time, on that day, with those parents (whom He must love greatly in giving them to me).... for His good purpose.

He shoots, He scores.
So, what exactly is God's good purpose for me? He's not for saying, but He is leading me on. Where to? I don't know, but He is in charge.  I think I might know, but it is best not to say.

St John Berchmans, who by the grace of God, found holiness in the ordinary 'duties of state' done with love, pray for me.

Friday, 5 August 2016


This started off as a much needed clear out of my late husband's stuff.  Stuff had to be burned.  Much of his research work involved interviewing category C prisoners, this was stuff that needed obliterating.  I'd successfully seen to all the digital material some years ago.  The volumes of paper needed tackling. Today seemed like a good day.  The farmers were doing something similar in the nearby fields.  A bit more smoke wouldn't be noticed.

Paper doesn't burn very well. There is an art to keeping the incinerator going and stopping it smoking.

I like the irreversibility of burning.  Stuff just goes.

It was just a bit more difficult letting go of my own stuff.  Several weeks back the cottage had a serious attack of mildew.  It was virtually overnight.  I told one of the men in black and he raised a thoughtful eyebrow and suggested I get the place reblessed.  He may be onto something, he may not.  One has to be careful who one prays for, there can be consequences, but if the worst the enemy can do is make a mess of my furniture and stain a wall, then so be it. Praising God, liberal doses of Old Rite Holy Water and a dehumidifier work wonders. The alternative theory for the mildew was a man-made change in the microclimate around the north facing wall which is made of very porous chalk lumps. The sad thing was that the sum total of all my academic work in Physics was left a soggy, stinky mess; from A'level to the completion of my Thesis the whole lot, gone.  It wasn't in a great state before this, it had been stored in various unsuitable places over the years. Digitally, there was nothing apart from some 3 and 1/2 inch floppy discs (showing my age). My achievements were all on paper.

It was the burning of the rotten lab books that really hurt.  Damn, I was good! I was neat, I was thorough and the work was cool.  I have just one academic paper to my name.  There should have been more.  Those lab books mostly contained work I was doing for greater beings, higher up the food chain than I. One never gets any credit for doing this type of work.

I now have nothing to show for my life in my late teens and well into my twenties.  It has all gone.  Perhaps one day this will feel liberating.  Right now it hurts, oh the vanity, oh the pride!  Though the irony of my main love in Physics being the Second Law of Thermodynamics, irreversibility and Entropy has not been lost on me.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Family (3)

Last year I went to my father's birthplace, the reason for going had little to do with family but it ended up being an important trip to 'lay some ghosts to rest'.  My visit coincided with the Chinese festival of the Hungry Ghosts and there were constant reminders of the dead and remembrances of the dead. The Taoist devotions are colourful (I love Chinese Opera), but to me their underworld is a very real hell.  It has overlords and material goods are constantly needed for the happiness of the dead and the overlords need keeping 'sweet'. I have no living family left in that part of the world and I felt like I was walking with the dead as I travelled through the back streets away from the tourist routes, retracing my grandfather's trips to work and visiting the cafes my grandparents had frequented since before the Japanese Occupation.  I went to the churches where they heard Mass, were married, acted as godparents to a significant part of the area's Catholic population. Praying before the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor that my grandfather had prayed infront of every day of his working life, I felt like I was stepping back into his past and offering prayers for his intentions, and there was peace in praying for those.  I was praying for those who went missing during the war, praying for the victims of the war and the Communist insurrection that followed and I prayed for my blood family, Taoist and Catholic, the figures in the shadows, those hardly talked about, the fugitives from China, the murderer, the abused, the good, the heroic and the wicked.

This year, there is a calling to do the same in my mother's birthplace, Dublin.  There is even less of a narrative for me to go off here.  My grandmother disowned her own family except for one aunt who came over to England and was living on the Wirral. My mother is an only child and the narrative she tells is never consistent.  Grandfather was an engineer and a gentle man and grandmother a fiercely independent and head-strong, self-made woman who ran her own fashion house, I remember them well but we never discussed our history. I simply don't know what pain there was in my family's past in Ireland, just that everybody seemed to be running away from something and I just want to go and stare it in the face.

 And that seems to be the point, I know there are some deep wounds, but the story behind them has got lost and indeed is not important because the telling of any tale distorts the truth and it becomes legend. Place is important and walking streets and visiting places of significance can do much to heal wounds if approached prayerfully (it certainly worked in Penang).

Dublin is also the place of my own birth.  I feel the need to connect to that too, there is something restless in my own soul, some connection with place that needs to be reestablished.  I need to visit places important in my own history: it is almost as if I'm being told to 'go home' one last time, pick something up that I carelessly left behind and have forgotten about but will recognise when I see it and wonder how I ever survived without it..... Or perhaps I simply have too much time to think.....
The Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin, where my journey of bewilderment and 'wrong turns' started over 47 years ago.