Friday 24 October 2008

Dangerous Beauty

The sea in not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it. On the contrary this adds to its beauty.
Simone Weil, Waiting for God

Saturday 18 October 2008

Jasmine in the evening...

Sometimes you should just avoid taking a hungry vegetarian walking in the evening. In my defense though, it smells great and I think it might be addictive.

Thursday 16 October 2008

The collar

We  talked briefly today about loving poetry. This poem did not come up, but I do not have John Donne with me here, and this is my very best second.

I love this poem on many levels. Most simply perhaps because I associate myself with the idea: My lines and life are free: free as the road, loose as the wind, as large as store. But, as the poet so carefully suggests this is a human paradox. Ultimately, perhaps it is an illusion. Whatever the religious context of this poem, I find that it is a spring board for many other thoughts, and for this reason alone, it amuses the more bizzare thought processes of my mind!

I struck the board, and cried, 'No more.
I will abroad.
What? Shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the road,
Loose as the wind, as large as store.
Shall I still be in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me blood and not restore
What I have lost with cordial fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn,
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the year only lost to me?
Have I no bays to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pretty thoughts have made, and made to thee
good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and would not see.
Awake: take heed,
I will abroad.
Call in thy Death's head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child:
And I replied, My Lord.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Faith Index

Ben XVI - Education and Inspiration

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Reading Index

Authors and Posts

Father Christmas - The Monks of Tibhirine

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Index of Stations

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Cloister Feasting

Find food for fasts and feasts, or choose something you fancy from the recipes - 

Fourth Week of Advent
Fourth Week of Advent 2
John the Evangelist - 27th December
Christmas Octave - Holidays and Holy Days
St Agnes - 21st January
Francis de Sales - 24th January
The Conversion of St Paul  - 25th January
St. Angela Mercini - 27th January
St. Thomas Aquinas - 28th January
St Thomas Aquinas - 28th January 2
St. John Bosco - 31st January
Our Lady of Lourdes - 11th February
The Chair of St. Peter - 22nd February
Shrove Tuesday
Ash Wednesday
Simple Lent Supper 1
Simple Lent Supper 2
Simple Lent Supper 3
Simple Lent Supper 4
Simple Lent Supper 5
Sunday in Lent
St. Patrick - 17th March
Easter Sunday
St Pancras - 12th May
St Dominic - 24th May
St Madeleine Sophie Barat - 25th May
St Philip Neri - 26th May
Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary
Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary 2
Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary 3
St Thomas - 3rd July
St Ulrich - 4th July
St Benedict 14th July
St. James - 25th July
St James - 25th July 
St James - 25th July
St Maximillian Kolbe 14th August
St Bernard of Clairvaux 20th August
St Monica 27th August
St Aidan of Lindisfarne 31st August
Fast Friday Friendly Hug
Fast Friday Luxury

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Monday 6 October 2008

Change of Season Cravings

I am sure that many of you think that recipes and food can have very little to do with odd whatnot. However, never one to disappoint, I though I would just share with you a delicious dish which is great shared with friends AND some folklore about the ingredients. 

Rosemary Oven Roasted Potatoes

Peel and chop into little 1/2 inch cubes some fresh new potatoes and place them into a non stick oven dish. Drizzle them liberally with olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grab a good sized handful of rosemary sprigs. Taking two or three of the sprigs, hold each one upright and run your forefinger and thumb down the central twig to release the leaves. Stir these into the potatoes and tuck the remaining whole sprigs into the dish strategically. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes turning the little gems over frequently until they are golden. 

This is a great side dish at a barbeque, alternative to chips, snack served in paper cones....anytime really.

Now, the folklore:

Rosemary originated in the Mediterraean, but has now spread to most temperate climates. It holds the ancient Latin name lamiaceae, which means 'sea dew'. You may thing that this is because of the oceanic colour of its' flowers, and perhaps you are right, but there are more entertaining stories to be had about its' foliage. Rumour has it that during their flight into Egypt the Holy Family had cause to hide from some soldiers. Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush and knelt behind it with the child, Jesus. When she rose again, in safety, the flowers of the sweet smelling plant miraculously turned from white to blue in her honour.

You might think that one miracle story would be enough for rosemary, but no. The plant is also said to bloom at midnight on Christmas eve (no I have never checked, don't spoil it). It apparently will only grow for 33 years, the age of Christ, and then will wither and die.

Shakespeare's Ophelia famously says 'There's Rosemary, that is for remembrance", and indeed, it used to be common practice for mourners to throw rosemary onto the coffin from the graveside. Strangely, it has also been a traditional plant for the bride to have in her bouquet and is said to bring happiness to the couple. Often grown at the front of the house Rosemary has the reputation of being able to keep spirits, thieves and witches at bay. Medicinally it is a good cure for headaches and, the oil makes both excellent antiseptic and insect repellant.


Put the first new potato of the year in your overcoat pocket and you will be cured of rheumatism for life, so says the oldest folklore cure. The humble potato once fetched £300 a pound as an aphrodisiac. For Irish Farmers the best day to plant a field of spuds is the feast of St. Patrick, but should this day be missed Good Friday is a close second. Traditionally potato fields in Ireland were dressed with the blessed Easter Palm in the hope of a good harvest. At 'Lughnasa', celebrated on the Sunday nearest the 1st August, the first new potatoes should be tasted by the whole family for prosperity and good health to flourish during the year.

Now you are fully informed you can choose the most prestigious day on which to mix these two yummy ingredients!

Friday 3 October 2008

An excellent reading from Job

From the heart of the Tempest the Lord gave Job his answer. He said:

'Have you ever in your life given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its post,
telling it to grasp the earth by its edges and shake the wicked out of it,
when it changes the earth to sealing clay and dyes it as man dyes clothes;
stealing the light from wicked men and breaking the arm raised to strike?

Have you journeyed all the way to the sources of the sea, or walked where the Abyss is deepest?

Have you been shown the gates of death or met the janitors of Shadowland?

Have you an inkling of the extent of the earth? Tell me all about it if you have!

Which is the way to the home of the light, and where does darkness live? You could then show them the way to their proper places, or put them on the path to where they live!

If you know all this you must have been born with them, you must be very old by now!'

Job replied to the Lord:

'My words have been frivolous: what can I reply?
I had better lay my finger on my lips.
I have spoken once...I will not speak again;
more than once...I will add nothing.'

This was the first reading of the Mass of today. I haven't read Job in ages, and this just reminded me to go back and read it again. The symbolism and imagery here is amazing. Writers of all ages have picked up on it: the janitors of Shadowland, the Abyss, the idea of giving orders to the Sun; Job the man who argues with God, Brilliant.

I also thought it was appropriate material for reflection for me - going off to study a PhD and all. No matter how much you can teach yourself about something, it is never ever going to be possible to know very much at all.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Cordoba - A house of prayer for all nations

The strict boundaries between inside and outside seem not to exist in traditional moorish architecture. The prayer space of the mesquita of Cordoba would have once blurred with the 'patio de los naranjas', a classical abloutions court where the faithful prepared for prayer. All 19 naves, once open onto the courtyard, would have shed brilliant shafts of sunlight onto the majestic columns which continued the linear pattern of fruit trees, drawing them into the mosque.

Today, the cathedral exists in a mysterious half light; it is so awe inspiringly beautiful it could make you cry. The pillars create a forest to be explored. Inside each of the naves are tiny side chapels, each dedicated to particular saints and filled with religious ornaments, paintings and peculiar pieces of renaissance furniture. History is here; the brokenness of humanity is in every brick. The mosque was begun upon the ruins of San Vincente, a visigothic construction, in 785 under the direction of Abd-ar-Rahman I. Three further muslim architects would envision and complete the work upon what was to be considered the most important sanctuary of Western Islam. 

King Ferdinand III reconquered Cordoba in 1236 and the mesquita became Cathedral. It was not until 1523 however, that the Cathedral Coro was begun. Its construction came about amid a sea of controversy since the ingenious architecture of the mosque was easily recognised by all. Carlos V, who sanctioned the work, repented afterwards, saying: '
You have built here what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique to the world.' 
The coro stands unrepentant in the middle of the sea of columns, blocking what must have once been a clear view from the 'patio de los naranjas' to the mihrab on the far Eastern wall. It is the contrast between simplicity and detail which strikes you first. The features of the mesquita are clean, focused and simple; against it the renaissance detail and gold is an overpowering distraction. Under the canopy of pillars I felt free to reflect upon the greatness of God, but in the coro I was led to more mundane thoughts, such as; 'where did they get that gold?'

There was one chapel which was beautiful in its conception and execution. The Blessed Sacrament chapel, at the heart of the cathedral, was set apart from the coro, I think due to restoration works which were taking place. It was in the majestic forest of stone, facing up towards the eastern walls. The Blessed Sacrament was presented simply, humbly with a crucifix and sanctuary lamp. I liked it there. It was possible to think about all the people who has used this place as a space for prayer. I could not sense the obvious divisions and struggles for power that dominated the rest of the building. The confusing thing about Cordoba is, I am not quite sure what God would make of it. In the simplicity of a quiet corner of devotion, it was possible to see that the history of bitterness, power and division over religion really was not 'The Plan'.

There are more pictures to follow: I am waiting on Gemma!!!!

Sunday 28 September 2008

My Voice

Today, on the way home from an emotional journey, I read a poem. It melded with my thoughts about many different things; I loved it for what it was, and for what I could make it to be.  

I come from a distant land
with a knapsack on my back
with a silent song on my lips

As I travelled down the river of my life
I saw my voice
(like Jonah)
swallowed by a whale

And my very life lived in my voice.

Kabul, Dec 1989.

My Voice: Partaw Naderi (b. 1953), translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Sounds of Silence

Sitting in darkness on the balcony of the flat in Guejar Sierra, Andalucia, the sound of cicadas, crickets, bats, dogs and the odd car on the mountain can be heard from the landscape. The moon is full and shines down on the mountain casting strange shadows on the trees. Leonard Coen is singing from the ipod in the front room where Gemma is reading. 

The first night of our holiday and already, quietly, everything is beginning to stop. There is a quietness here, and a stillness that many people search for in hustle and bustle. But, it is not a physical stillness; this place is alive. The steady release of everyday concerns, and a break from worrying about the working treadmill allow other delights to call for attention.

People say there is no such thing as silence. Perhaps they are right, but paradoxically, taking time to note the sounds of silence projects stillness into the landscapes of our holiday retreats. People say: 'It is so beautiful here; so quiet, so still'; very rarely is that true, but it speaks volumes about what happens when everything stops long enough to hear your own heart beat.

Here are my top five sounds of silence:

1. Buckden Towers - The fens of Cambridgeshire
You could hear the A1 from the retreat centre I used to work in; not close, but in the distance. There were always groups of children running around the grounds; people ringing the doorbell or calling on the phone. The heavy oak doors slammed. Outside there were birds in the trees, and creatures rustling in the undergrowth. Sometimes the local farmer grazed his sheep on the field.
2. Creeping off the street - The Blessed Sacrament met
In Salamanca the busy city was always wide awake, but tucked between the shops and the cafes were Churches whose doors opened during the hours of business. Nipping into the coolness of the twilit chapel the sounds of the street become muffled, not absent but separate. New sounds are present, the creak of old wooden benches, the scrape of their movement on stone; sometimes you can hear the breathing of others in prayer, the footsteps of someone walking. When the door to street opens all the hustle and bustle floods in, ebbing back out as the door slowly re-closes.
3. Parish Church - The community prepares
At 9.05 the Church is full; there is only one mass in my Parish of a Sunday. Everyone is talking, the children are meeting each other in the aisles, the ushers are welcoming people to their seats, a few brave singers are gathering to form the choir; the organist practices a few notes. Some people kneel to pray, some read the newsletter. Then with the sound of a bell at 9.15 a silence descends, and the community stands to celebrate the mass.
4. Camino dawn - The pilgrims watch sunrise
The crunch crunch crunch of heaving boots walking on gravel scraped to halt as the sun peaked over the tip of the mountain ridge; a dawn sunrise. The birds, jumping through the wheatfield trebled their chorus to greet the day. Crickets and cicadas chirrup and hop across the pathway. Stillness. Then, the thud of a rucksack hitting the ground, and the sigh of a pilgrim hunckering down to watch this spectacle of nature in more comfort. People breathing heavily after walking the first few kilometres of today's pilgrimage towards Santiago de Compostela - a long day ahead. Expectation.
5. Lourdes - The bustling town
The sound of a million people talking in different languages, shouting out, singing, laughing, joking. There are cars, lorries and buses squeezing through small crowded streets sending pilgrims in wheelchairs and pedestrians into tacky shop displays to escape from the crush. Here the hustle and bustle is equal to a city going home of a Friday; everything smells -  food, drink, people, petrol. Stopping to watch; everything and nothing - all human life is here.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Old Soul

It has happened again - someone has commented that I must have an 'old soul' to continue believing when everything is marching onwards towards a 'new secular reality'. In this instance it was my new venture to study for a DPhil Theology that brought about the remark.

What does it mean to have an 'old soul'? I have heard the expression many times but never really understood it. Perhaps people are referring to traditional religious beliefs. In this context I could identify myself and many of the people I love best as 'old souls'.  I have sometimes lovingly thought of people with more conservative views and preferences in Catholic liturgy as 'old souls', perhaps because many of them are young, similar in age to myself. 

I was thinking about the Tridentine rite the other day, as you do. I had been listening in on a conversation at school. Someone dismissed the Latin mass as 'holy mumbo jumbo', and then later as debate hotted up as 'dangerous goobledegook.' I do not like stepping into these debates about preferences or 'tastes' in liturgy; I am not qualified, and anyway I feel comfortable in most settings be they charismatic, evangelical, traditional or tridentine. Putting aside my conviction that a mass faithfully celebrated cannot be regarded as either 'holy mumbo jumbo' or 'gobbledegook' without causing grave offense, such strong opinions as these often strike me as divisive.

I am not able to appreciate the Latin mass in its fullness because I lack the education. Latin was never taught at school, it was not part of my religious upbringing and I did not choose to study it at university. Therefore, for me, going to a Latin mass is a bit like watching a film that I know very well dubbed in a foreign language. I can only be moved by it if I can remember the lines. Some parts seem unfamiliar or new, some I have forgotten, and some parts I would recognize no matter what language was spoken. They say that boredom is a lack of imagination, but sometimes it is also a need for education. It is quite likely that, were I to attend a long Latin mass, I would be bored; not because I lack the imagination to enter into the sacred mysteries, but because I lack the education to understand how they are being reflected upon.

With all of this in mind, I think I will learn Latin this year, and then when someone calls me an 'old soul' again I will be able to give them another reason for doing so.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Chasing after grace...

There are conversations that stay with you and repeat in  your mind, gaining greater significance as you think about them. Lourdes is a place for those conversations, and although they rarely seem important at the time, they come back to you in prayer, in dreams and in reflection. The Wednesday of Lourdes is always a special day for me; I try to make it to the baths, confession and the Blessed Sacrament Procession all in one day. I do this for two reasons; firstly because once I have found the courage for the baths, confession seems a doddle; secondly, it means I am free for service to others every hour of every day at all other times. I have my day, and that is all I need. 

On Wednesday evening this year I joked with a friend. When he commented: 'You made it to confession?' I replied: 'I am surprised you cannot see my state of grace! I have been bathed, confessed and blessed today.' He replied something like: 'There is no such thing as cheap grace, and you, of all people, should know that.' I may not be accurate but, it is this thought I would like to consider because, whatever the comment of my friend, he set me thinking about the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.

'Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sins, the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price, grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance, and since it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?'
Bonhoeffer goes on to explain passionately that the cost of grace was the death of a son, and that this cost, if it were anything, was not cheap. Costly grace, he responds calls people to follow the teachings of Christ, to change. It has very little to do with the processes and ceremonies of religion. His tone is echoed in the writing of Herbert McCabe OP:

'The only true God is the God of freedom. The other gods make you feel at home in a place, they have to do with the quiet cycle of the seasons, with the familiar mountains and the country that you grew up in and love; with them you know where you are. But the harsh God of freedom calls you out from all of this into a desert where all the familiar landmarks are gone, where you cannot rely upon the safe workings of nature, on spring time and harvest, where you must wander over the wilderness waiting for what God will bring. The God of freedom will allow you none of the comforts of religion. Not only does he tear you away from the old traditional shrines and temples of your native place, but he will not even allow you to worship him in the old way.'

In the light of the religiosity and traditional piety of Lourdes, it seems difficult to make sense of what these two great thinkers are getting at. Do the religious traditions of Lourdes mean nothing? Teach us nothing? And what of the sacraments of the Church? For me the answer is found in the revelations of a woman in love, Catherine of Sienna. In her Dialogue with God, she describes grace as the fruit of a desirous heart for union with God, the Infinite good. He replies to her:

'No virtue can have life in it except in charity, and charity is nursed and mothered by humility. You will find humility in knowledge of yourself when you see that even your own existence comes not from yourself, but from me, for I loved you before you came into being. And in my unspeakable love for you I willed to create you anew in grace....

Pressed by my servants prayers I look on them (sinners) and give them light. I rouse the dog of conscience within them. I make them sensitive to the perfume of virtue and give them delight in  the fellowship of my servants....

The eye cannot see, nor the tongue tell, nor the heart imagine how many paths and methods I have solely for love. and to lead them back to truth that my grace may be realized in them.'
I have seen and written of Lourdes: 'At communion...people seek out priests from whom they should receive the eucharist....I was touched by the need in the faces of the crowd, they were chasing after grace.' Of my own experience 'part of being in Lourdes is about taking the time to stop hiding from yourself. There is a call to pay attention to who you are, and attention to the eyes of God looking upon you.' Costly grace is caught up in a desirous need for God, revealed in the love of our neighbour, the most vulnerable, the poor and the sick. The sacraments of the Church, so readily available, are not cheap. They are tools for the expensive grace of self discovery and atonement in its truest sense; to be honest, they can be a bit of a shock. Wednesday in Lourdes is about rediscovering a desire for God in my life, and having made that discovery, resolving to change my pattern of living to be more in tune with the Gospel, whatever that may take.

Photo: Incense Bearer at the Blessed Sacrament Procession taken by Bro. Lawrence Lew OP

Wednesday 27 August 2008

'Do it again!' - For all of you who think prayer is repetitive....

I recently heard it said, and I have often thought the same myself, that prayer, or more specifically, Mass, is repetitive. Having recently come home from Lourdes I could say that my experience of praying the Rosary is definitely repetitive. I am not even sure if I manage to think too much about saying all those words. Sometimes I am just drawing a blank. 

In the last chapter of Sing a New Song: A Christian Vocation Timothy Radcliffe OP reflects that repetition is not always the bad thing that  everyone sees it to be. When I am in love I tell someone 'I love them' many times a day. I may also tell everyone else lots too, and I am sure they appreciate that! It is not enough to say 'I love you' once.

GK Chesterton argues, says Radcliffe, that repetition is characteristic of the vitality of children who like the same stories again and again, not because they are bored or unimaginative, but because they delight in life. Chesterton writes:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again'; and the grown up person does it again and again until he is nearly dead, for grown up people are not strong enough to exult in  monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun; and every evening, 'Do it again,' to the moon. It may not be automatic necessities that make all daisies alike; it may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in nature may not be mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.'

Why should prayer be about thinking? Simon Tugwell OP wrote: 'I do not think about my friend when he is there beside me; I am far too busy enjoying his presence. It is when he is absent that I will start to think about him. Thinking about God all too easily leads us to treat him as if he were absent. But he is not absent'

This post is indebted to the work of Timothy Radcliffe OP in Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation. You should buy it!!!! This is pages 297 - 298!

Dreamer - Patrick Kavanagh

'A fool you are,' she said,
'weaving dreams of blue
deceiving sky. Evening folds them all,
and what are you?
Squanderers of centuries and hours
Hold only faded flowers.'

'And why should I,' I answered,
'Walk among the dead?
And you are dead a million years,
The wolves are fed.
A fool who eats the leavings of the Wise,
Who tells me that he dies?'

I read this poem and it reminded me of two things. Firstly, I thought about the Gospel of a few weeks ago - the Canaanite woman who pesters Jesus until he relents to heal her daughter. She is a lady from the 'other side' of society, outcast because of her race and her personal life, but she has within her the faith and courage to ask for everything. I like her.

The second thing that came to mind was starting in Oxford. Who am I? I never thought I would make it this far. What on earth is a Catholic woman doing starting on the path of academic scholarship in Theology? It beggars belief. Yet, this is my path and I will not turn from it. I am determined. Who knows what will become of this adventure?

'Lord,' she said, 'Help me.'He replied: 'It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the little dogs.' She retorted, 'Ah Yes Lord; but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from the masters' table.'

Matthew 15: 26 - 28

zed donk and rab

zed donk and rab
Originally uploaded by gemma.hutton
Everyone needs their familiars. Zed, Donk and Rab are the best familiars there are. Nothing can happen without them. They are family.

Friday 22 August 2008

Just one prayer

The rosary seems to be a complicated prayer when you first get to know it. There are lots of prayers to learn, and sometimes, when you hear it recited in public, there will be a pious old lady who knows different prayers, and different orders to say the words you have managed to learn. Obviously her words are the right words, her ways the right ways.

I took be a long time to work my way around the scary sound of the rosary being said in public. It sounds like cultic worship. If you are unsure of what is going on it can be very intimidating. I remember when I was 19 being sent to pick up a contingent of Polish priests at Heathrow Airport. All was going very well with my mission until, as I was reversing out of a particularly tight spot in the car park, they began to pray the rosary. I did not know what was going on; it worried me so much I stalled and then bunny hopped the car into a crash barrier. Classy.  

But, at its heart the rosary is simple. It is a meditation designed for people with busy minds who, in order to concentrate properly on one thing, benefit from a distraction for their hands and wandering thoughts. Ultimately, the praying of rosary is a simple exploration of the life of Christ, taking with you for your guide the most reliable witness, his mother. For me at least, it is imaginative prayer.

Recently I have been using just one line from scripture to help me think about the different events in the Gospels. Each line I choose builds up a prayer founded in the reassurance that Christ will listen.

The Joyful Mysteries would be meditated upon like this:

1. The Annunciation - 'Be it done unto me according to your word'
2. The Visitation - 'Why should I be honoured my a visit from the mother of my Lord?'
3. The Nativity - 'Emmanuel'
4. The Presentation in the Temple - 'At last all powerful master you give leave to your servant to go in peace.'
5. The Finding of the Child Jesus - 'Did you not know I would be about my Father's business?'

It might not be intellectual, but I am not able to hold a very long piece of scripture in my head. This way I can think more clearly about the scenes from the Gospel, and I can relate them to what is happening in life. It seems to me to be a simple method that means that I am not looking for a book to find a relevant piece of scripture every time I come to pray the rosary.


'Tony, Tony, look around! Something is lost that must be found!

I am not sure that organized people can understand what it means to have a devotion to St. Anthony of Padua. You see, I lose things. Lots of things. Many times a day.

Today, on the way home from my sisters house I lost the key to my bicycle. I even heard it drop and can place the exact place on the road where it fell. Many people might not consider this particular key lost. But I did not stop, and cycled on merrily thinking I had run over a bottle top, or some other innocent item of tinkling litter. I got home under cover of darkness at around 11pm, and discovering the key missing realized my mistake. Now, at first light I will have to set off to recover the fallen key.

Many people might suggest that this is a mission with a lost cause, and finding such a thing is an impossibility. But, such faithlessness is not my path. I retain my hope with three factors. a.) St. Anthony is my friend. b.) my keyring has Blessed Damien de Veuster on it, and although his speciality is contagious skin diseases, he inspired my conversion back to Catholicism and wouldn't see me walking around desperate. c.) I have remarkable luck and practice with such things.

As you can see in this photo by Brother Lawrence Lew OP, St. Anthony is, at the best of times, overworked. Many many people rely upon him as their most blessed saint. He joined the Order of St Francis becoming their first theologian 'proper', and later leading the Order as their Minister General. He died in 1263. You might think he is out of date, but let me re-assure you that he is still very much in vogue, and can work miracles on the subject of lost keys.

St. Anthony of Padua is a favourite of mine because he files like me, finds things for me and prays for me.

Amen to that.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Finding Love - Inside Lourdes

On Monday, just before the evening's torchlight procession, I escaped on a solitary mission to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel on the far side of the domain. I felt as though I was going against the status quo a little because the Dominicans had kindly organized exposition at the hotel, but I wanted privacy. It was selfish, but in a way I wanted a chapel all to myself!

The domain was crowded. I had to weave my way through thousands of tightly packed pilgrims to get to my destination. Walking across the bridge over the Gave the noise was intense as people from all around the world announced their presence, shouting and singing through loud speakers. There were people everywhere laughing, singing, talking, arguing, praying. I hurried on, driven by a mission to be alone and have some space.

The far side of the grotto, the meadow, is often quieter than the rest of the domain. Walking through the door of the chapel was a moment of transformation. There was stillness and quiet. I could still hear the cries of greeting outside, and the choruses of Ave Maria as the procession got underway. Inside though was cocoon of quiet. There was only one other pilgrim, and he was gently snoring with his head on the bench in front.

I had come with an agenda. I wanted to properly prepare my confession for Wednesday. I knew there would be gravity to this reflection, but I was determined. I had not been to confession in ages. To be honest it makes me nervous and, although I admit that the words of absolution are the most powerful I have ever heard, I still manage to avoid them most of the year around. Coming to the Eucharist with a preset agenda is always a very bad idea. 

Every time I looked towards the altar I was knocked back with a sensation of love. This annoyed me. It was frustrating and not what I had planned. I tried to think about the numerous ways I thought I had offended God in my attitude and ways, but I could not concentrate. In the end I had to give up and pray about love instead.

I thought about how lucky I am never to have felt unloved. It was clear to me that I was surrounded by people who struggled day by day to believe that they were loveable. Love for me has always been unconditional, given and received. No matter what I did in life my family would look out for me. Even on the pilgrimage there were people I would rely on to love me no matter what I did, even it was the most stupid thing in the world. This was not a reflection about wishy washy soft love. It was love that seeks the happiness of others before it looks to the needs of self; love demanding of the greatest sacrifices. I would give everything to the people I love, and I would hold everything back. Knowing that you are loved gives you freedom to make all sorts of mistakes. There is always the option of starting again. I am happy for the people I love to lose their temper with me, and I am happy to lose my temper with them because I am confident that neither party intends any lasting damage. Love doesn't hold grudges.

All this musing brought me to think about judgement, and the sadness which I sometimes recognize in others. People are afraid of the judgement of God - I have known people to have more faith in that than in his love. This can be an isolating experience. I am not sure I have ever been afraid of God's judgement. This is not because I am perfect, I am in fact, quite the opposite. But God cannot be wrong, and therefore judgment can be nothing but liberating. It makes me sad to think of people who worry so much that God is angry that they cannot see love. God is never angry outside of love. The judgement of God is not the reason I rarely make it to confession. I just do not like embarrassing situations and have a lot of pride. 

I am not sure this all makes sense and I am certain that there is no conclusion here. But, that is what I thought. And, when I had thought it I went home feeling loved and lucky.

Saturday 16 August 2008

France's naughty nun recalls her flapper past

I am rushed off my feet, and demotivated. This is a combination which is not terribly helpful to me. However, to cheer me up I have found a distraction: the inspiration of the female human spirit.

The following is the work of  Lizzy Davies in The Guardian, Saturday 16th August 2008.

She was a bright young thing of the Parisian annees folles, the inter-war 'crazy years', who danced into the night with smartly dressed boys and lusted after the latest throw-away fashions. Proud, wilful and flirtatious, she once fell in love with a man for his seductive intellect and beautiful handwriting. (From E: Haven't we all fallen in love with a man for this?)

Paris is in thrall to a  scintillating new volume of memoirs but they are not those of a bohemian writer or 1920's film star. After a life of devotion to charity and Catholicism, France's favourite nun is revealing her naughty side. 'I'm no saint', declared Soeur Emmanuelle in a collection of interviews to be published next week ahead of her 100th birthday. (100? Excellent work sister!)

"I'm bad tempered. I'm vindictive, angry; sometimes malicious. People say I'm hard, capricious and proud." (Sounds like a description of someone I know....)

For the country that views the nun as a national treasure, this self criticism will be hard to swallow. Soeur Emanuelle, born Madeleine Cinquin in 1908, has been dubbed the French Mother Teresa for her work among the poor of the third world. Her popularity has not waned with age: this month she was voted France's sixth most popular personality in a newspaper poll, ahead of Carla Bruni, Gerard Depardieu and Theirry Henry. (Who? Eeewww! and 'oh, yeah - him')

But the image she portrays of her youthful self is a very different woman: a girl torn between a craving for 'immediate pleasure' and an awareness that her vocation was calling her elsewhere. 'I thought only about having fun, dancing, going to watch films, going to the theatre,' she said. 'I loved dancing, preferably with nice looking boys. My mother used to say to me, 'You want boys to like you, to admire you. And of you become a nun...' And I would tell her, 'For God, I would leave the boys alone.'
(And for this, if nothing else, you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven!)

Speaking from a peaceful retirement home in the south of France, the Belgian born daughter of a lingerie manufacturer recalled hopping between European capitals in a quest for new thrills with no thought for the cost. 'That was how I behaved,' she said 'Money was no problem for me.' (Ha! Her parents made knickers!)

After taking her religious vows in 1929, Soeur Emmanuelle travelled extensively, teaching for 40 years in the Middle East and North Africa. It was in Tunisa that she met the 'intelligent and seductive man' that she fell in love with.

'I knew what it was to have you heart beat fast.' But she never told him how she felt. 'We were taught never to tell a man you loved him. I thought about it. But I had chosen God. I have no regrets' (Really, none? But, how much did it hurt to love and not say?)

At 63, after she saw the poverty of Cairo's slums, she began working among street dwellers. Her experiences led her to espouse unorthodox Catholic beliefs. She saw no reason why clerics should not wed, while working with young girls who were regularly falling pregnant in Cairo led her to write to Pope John Paul II in support of the contraceptive pill. (A woman who takes both her faith and the practicalities of living very seriously, hoorah!)

This formidable spirit defines her, says Jacques Dufresne, co-author of 'I'm 100 years old, and I'd like to tell you....' 'In a world where people feel that they are being lied to...we love those who put in to practice the ideas that they proclaim.' (What a strange title for the book - say it how it is, sister, don't hold back.)

You can see it now, can't you? I am going to end up buying that book. There is a lot I could learn from this lady.