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'.