Wednesday 31 October 2012

House Pumpkins 2012

Two Saints for All Saints

This photograph was taken in 1889. It shows St Marianne Cope OSF praying, with one of her brethren, by the funeral bier of St Damien de Veuster SSCC. It is the earliest, and perhaps the only, photograph of two canonised saints in the same frame. New Advent published it earlier in the week.

Of course, friendship between the saints has lit the way for many centuries: Damien was a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, founded for men and women through the friendship of Pierre Coudrin and Henriette Aymer de Chevalerie. On Christmas Eve, 1800, amidst the turmoil of revolutionary France, Pierre recited his vows at 11.45pm: I Marie-Joseph take the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as a Zealot of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, in whose service, I wish to live and die. Mother Henriette renewed her vows shortly thereafter. By the time of Coudrin's death in 1837 the SSCC had 276 brothers, 1125 sisters, working through the charism that pair shared together.

Marianne was a member of the Sisters of St Francis of Syracuse, New York. Who has not heard of the friendship between St. Francis and St. Clare? She left home at 18 to go and follow his example, his way of finding God, Christ, salvation.  Then, there's Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal - of their friendship Francis himself wrote in An Introduction to the Devout Life: It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. 

So, it is not the friendship between these two great saints that is surprising. The two worked in parallel to help those suffering with leprosy on the Hawaiian islands. Marianne took on the management of a hospital O'ahu in 1883, which cared for sufferers from all the islands. Damien came from the leper colony on Molokai to visit her for the dedication of the chapel. However, by 1888 he was very ill, having finally succumbed to leprosy. Marianne moved to nurse him. He died the following year, on the 15th April. Marianne shouldered his work, and continued living with the people on Molokai. She opened a girls' school, and named it after him. In 1895, at her suggestion, four brothers of the SSCC came to the island to care for the boys. The friendship of Marianne and Damien began on earth and endures in heaven.

No, their friendship is not the surprising thing about this photograph, nor their beautiful shared mission to love for love of others. What is surprising is the photograph itself. It is timeless. It is sharp, as if it were yesterday. Damien, dressed for burial in a fine chasuble, ready to offer Mass, looks restful - although his skin is marked from the leprosy that hastened his death. Marianne, mourning the loss of her friend, also seems at peace - she knows he will be cared for in the life to come and, she will continue his mission in this life. I sat next to a nun in church with a habit like that last Sunday.

Here they are then, two saints. Two modern saints. Looking, for all the world, as if they could be in the next room. What is remarkable about this photograph is that instead of time traveling through centuries, or peering into the distant medieval past, these two bring sainthood hurtling into the present. That's the power of a photograph.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Jesteś królem

Every now and then I dream in another language. Mostly this is Spanish, but last night it was Polish. This was odd. I do not speak Polish, but I have been on one wonderful, memorable pilgrimage there. I was with the SSCC in 1999. For any of you who read this blog, and were with me on that pilgrimage - here is a blast from the past - my charismatic days.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Home with Claret

The 24th October is the Feast of St. Anthony Mary Claret, founder of the Claretian Missionaries.

So, on the 24th August 1998 I left home for the first time. I packed all my possessions into a rucksac and moved into the religious community of the Claretian Missionaries at Buckden Towers. I was 17. I do not remember giving my parents much warning of this decision in my life - in my mind I just got up and went. Perhaps that has been indicative of the way I have made big decisions ever since.

Nevertheless, the Claretian community I lived with gently taught me many things about developing a relationship with God and about being more patient, they taught me about living in community, about people, their doubts and uncertainties, and about my faith. They helped me to understand a little about what it means to feel called to the religious life even though this has not been, and was never meant to be, my path.

My daily routine went from doing pretty much what I wanted, when I wanted, to being set out by the rhythm of prayer, mass and work. Each day began with Morning Prayer from the Divine Office, and closed with Evening Prayer. There would always be Mass. I worked as an assistant on retreats for children and young people, and helped the house keeper to keep retreat centre tidy and in fresh linen. I was guided in my work by Fr. Paul who led the work of the retreat centre, Fr. Chris who was superior of the house and Parish Priest, Br. Billy who had lived in that community for many many years, and knew the place inside out and backwards, and Denise, my fellow lay member of the house, who had recently left contemplative life with the Carmelites. I loved that house, and I loved living in that place. Often, there were days on end where I could walk in the country, or climb high onto the roof tops of the tower and look out over the Cambridgshire fens. Sometimes I was left to my own devices to polish the floors of The Tower - a job that took all day, and I was quite happy to hum little tunes to myself and keep busy. On Monday nights we had 'community night', and would meet together to play canasta and chat about the week.  I looked forward to that. I loved looking after the grounds and the sheep and lived for days when I could help light a big bonfire, or ride on the tractor.

I learnt many things during the year I spent with the Claretian Misisonaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Living with that community showed me the everyday realities of feeling called to religious life. I observed then something I have never been able to describe since - people working, truly and in the heart, for the love of God. The Claretian Missionaries were founded by St. Anthony Mary Claret, and they often spoke about the heart of the missionary being 'on fire' with zeal to spread the Gospel. This sounds confusing to those who do not often hear such language. The year I spent in Buckden Towers taught me that being 'on fire' with the love of God often equates to getting up every day with the determination to complete the tasks of the day with joy, grace and compassion. Sometimes it means getting on with something you might prefer to avoid, but doing it with good grace. Sometimes it means setting your mind to seeing goodness in the heart of those around you, even though they are in a foul temper. It always means doing everything within prayer. 

There were 'big' days in Buckden Towers, and I learnt all sorts of new skills. I still remember very clearly the week of the Claretian Chapter. All the Claretian Missionaries in England and Ireland came - I knew many as I had worked with different groups from their parishes in Gorseinon, Durham, Hayes and Leyton. I was tasked with cooking breakfast - as the cook did not arrive until later in the day. Rustling up a full English for 35 fellas for 7am was no mean feat - but I was trusted to do a good job of it, and enjoyed the challenge. There were also quiet days. In 1999, after I had been away to university for a year, I was called back to The Towers. Once again the brethren were having 'Chapter', but this time at another venue. I house sat the complex for a week! I opened the church each day, and locked up at night, answered the door and the phone, looked after the 'gentlemen of the road' that called looking for a place to stay, and tried to make friends with, rather than be terrified of, the many creeks and bumps in the night that go with a building in which Queen Katherine of Aragon spent time under 'house arrest' - sent by her husband Henry VIII.

At 17 I was very young. I am going to be 33 this year. Time has passed very quickly. I am still learning the lessons from my year in Buckden Towers. I know now what I did not know then. I am a teacher. That is my vocation. It is a lay vocation and I am delightfully happy in my job. 

I took the photo of the Chapel of St. Claret above. It was in that chapel I made many of the 'big' decisions in my life: to be confirmed, what subjects to take at A-Level, to join the lay community at The Towers, where to go to university, what to study. It was in that chapel that I decided to walk to Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage on which I decided to train to be a teacher. My brother, Stephen, was married in that chapel. I turned down the option to move straight on to a PhD at Liverpool there, and moved onto jobs in social services, time in Spain and working for Parish Communities. I chose to take up an MA whilst teaching there, and later made the choice to study a DPhil at Oxford. I returned to Buckden when my money to complete the DPhil fell short and things went awry, and I worked my way through resolving to begin again in that place. On my phone this picture is labelled 'home'. Next week, during my half term, it is my ambition to go to that chapel again. I am fiercely independent, and always have been. I blame it on my Ma, whose birthday it is today, 24th October, and who taught me everything I know. I tend to make big decisions quickly and with little consultation. Once again I am at a point in my life when big decisions must be made, and I know the only place I can make them securely is in that space of my 'home', my chapel. St. Claret, I ask your prayers.

In honour of St. Anthony Mary Claret, and in thanks for my formative year in the company of your brethren whom I pray for on this feast, there should be some delicious spanish food.

Basque Chicken Pie 


4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp flaked sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 12 wedges
1 green pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
1 red pepper, halved, seeded and sliced
3–4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
150g/5½oz chorizo sausage, skinned and cut into thin slices
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 large ripe tomatoes (each about 100g/4½oz), skinned and roughly chopped
2 tbsp flour


225g/8oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting

1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
75g/2¾oz unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 medium egg yolk
4–5 tbsp cold water
1 egg, beaten, or full-fat milk, to glaze

Preparation method

Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and sprinkle over the paprika, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Rub the seasoning into the meat and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions and peppers with the thyme and bay leaves for 3 minutes, while stirring. Add the chicken and seasoning and cook for another 3 minutes, turning the chicken regularly until it is starting to colour. Add the chorizo and garlic and fry for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes or until they are softened and juicy, stirring regularly.

Tilt the pan so that the liquid runs to one side and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, chicken and chorizo. Stir it in quickly, then set the pan level and stir the cooking liquor into the flour. Doing it this way should prevent little clumps of flour – but don’t worry if you do have a few, no-one will notice. Add more salt and pepper if necessary and continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and tip everything into a roasting tin or ovenproof dish, measuring about 25cm x 30cm/10in x 12in and at least 4cm/1½in deep. Leave to cool.

For the pastry, pulse the flour, baking powder, salt, butter and egg yolk in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly pour in the water with the motor running, blending until the mixture just comes together as a dough (you may not need to use all of the water). Form the dough into a ball.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Roll the pastry out into a rectangle about the same size as the tin. Place it over the pie filling and tuck the sides of the pastry down around the filling. Brush with beaten egg or milk to glaze.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling is hot.

H/T The Hairy Bikers!

Thursday 18 October 2012

Helpers fail and comfort flees

I didn't want to have to write this. Not yet. It is not fair.

On Monday, after a cold weekend under canvas, working for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I changed my facebook profile picture. I changed from a horse to my Woodruff. He was all curled up, as a kitten, on his soft cat bed, holding onto his toy mouse, snoozing. I envied him. I wanted to be all curled up too. Woodruff taught me to treat myself gently sometimes, to take time to cuddle up with the sofa or my loved ones and to feel loved. Woodruff was good at accepting love. Woodruff was good at showing love.

My brother Stephen was the one who told me. He sent a message. History repeats itself. Woodruff was dead. He had been knocked down by a car.

I had been taking comfort from Woodruff's picture. Teaching myself to slow down, relax, take comfort. But, comfort had fled. He was gone. I had been planning a day on Sunday, curled up on the sofa with his soft fur and purr for company - a day of gentleness and peace - He was going to be my help. Now, no more.

Woodruff was only just a year old. He came to our house to sooth the grief of another lost loved pet, Juniper. Now he had met the same fate she did before him.

Woodruff loved life. He liked mice and birds and mischief. Once, when I cruelly refused to let him pounce all over my bed in the morning, he went into the bathroom and pulled all the loo roll onto the floor. He liked exploring. Every now and then he would climb up the chimney. He ate your toes and ran up your jeans. If you weren't looking he would have the food off your plate. He only drank fresh water from a dripping tap. He has been known to get in the bath. Amidst all this activity though, Woodruff always had time to snooze. And, when life was too hectic, and stress was starting to make me crack at the seems, Woodruff time would set me straight. Relax, he advised. Curl up and let the world go by. Let everyone rush about. Sit still. Listen to their hustle and bustle. Hold on. Cuddle your loved ones. Wrap up in a blanket. You are a human being. Stop doing. Be. Stay.

When all was calm and everything still, up he would hop. Woodruff time.

It will take me a long time to recover from the death of Woodruff. A long time. His death was too sudden, too unexpected, too shocking, too sad. He brought me comfort and with his loss I have felt comfort flee. Woodruff will make heaven a cosier place to be.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

The night of wind and rain and fire

 The anniversary of the reception of Newman into the Church comes round so quickly. I cannot believe the passing of time. On the his first feast I thought marmalade cake was best; on his second, warm bread toasted over the open flames, covered with butter and lime marmalade fitted the bill. Now, here we are at the third anniversary of his beatification. Once again I am looking forward to a weekend out in the elements, under canvas, hoping we might have the warmth of a camp fire to ward off the cold and damp. I really am beginning to associate Blessed John Henry with wind, rain, cold and fire. (O bless the Lord). The Duke of Edinburgh has a lot to answer for.

I am tired to my bones. My throat is sore. I wish with all my heart that Newman had the power to get me a few days rest. What is it he says? 

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission—I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his—if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends, He may throw me among strangers, He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—still He knows what He is about.
No getting out of my weekend of camping, my marking, lesson planning or teaching there then. Such is life. Unsurprising from a man so caught up by zeal that he made his confession and was received into the church a by a Passionist priest, Blessed Dominic Barbari, who was still dripping with rain from his journey: John Henry knelt before him as he dried himself by the fire. 

There is, of course, only one thing for it: a cure. Since I am a simple soul, and know my limits, I cannot suggest anything complicated for such an occasion - I am sure that Newman wouldn't like it. I still think of him as a granddad who would appreciate simple treats. Therefore, I propose: Jam Rolypoly and custard or, in the absence of time to make Jam Rolypoly, strawberry and vanilla swiss roll and custard! Bird's Eye Custard was made in Edgebaston, Birmingham after all - the place where the first Oratory of England was established (on the site of an old Gin factory).

Come wind, rain and fire - I am ready to do some definite service.

Saturday 6 October 2012

A re-post: Bruno's Soup

As luck would have it there was spinach in the garden and potatoes in the basket, so I decided to jazz up the supper of the Carthusians in Into Great Silence. Similar budget here, I am unemployed after all. So, two handfuls of spinach, three potatoes about the size of your hand, three small onions, two cloves of garlic, vegetable stock and grated nutmeg. And some pepper for seasoning. No salt though, the stock is salty enough.

I sliced the onions and garlic finely, and gently fried them in a little oil. Then I grated a generous amount of nutmeg over the top. It smelled yummy. Then I roughly chopped the three potatoes, skins on and threw them into the pot. A few minutes later I sprinkled a teaspoon and a half of the vegetable stock powder over the top of the frying potatoes and boiled the kettle. When the water was hot I poured enough over to just cover the potatoes, put the lid on the pot and made a cup of coffee to drink in the garden. Once the potatoes were soft I added the spinach and put the lid on again for a few moments. Then I whizzed the whole lot gently with a hand held blender. My un-Carthusian touch was a splash of cream to serve. Eat with fresh crusty bread.

Ages ago I wrote a post about my favourite sounds of silence, and today, thinking about Carthusians has had me remember it. Silence is really very noisy, there are so many sounds to a very quiet place. I made this soup while the house was quiet, just taking the time to myself. I could hear the birds, the sounds of the kitchen, the passing of a car on the road outside. Here - listen! The sound of the making of Bruno's Soup. :)

A re-post: A bear called Bruno

I had a bear called Bruno when I was little, so I will always associate the name with him and with a frantic search to find him under the bed before I could possibly consider anything so restful as sleep. (Okay, I still have a bear called Bruno, but he just sits quietly on a cupboard now). Saint Bruno, whose feast it is today, was born in 1085. He was educated in Paris and ordained priest - he taught theology. However, wanting to lead a solitary life he founded a monastery called La Grand Chartreuse. He didn't get away with that peaceful existence for long though, he was called to be an advisor to Pope Urban II. He died in 1101.

The thing about Bruno, aside from the bear, is that he also reminds me of an adventure to see a film in Cambridge some years ago. My brother was home from one of his many travels. Into Great Silence (2005) was on at the Cambridge Arts Cinema and I really wanted to see it. But, having explained the plot (?) to a few people I couldn't get any takers. The film, directed by Phillip Groning, is an intimate portrayal of everyday life in the Grand Chartreuse. Groning proposed the film to the monks in 1985, and 16 years later they contacted him to say they had agreed to his project. Everything takes time. Groning then went, by himself, to live with the monks in the monastery where visitors are not normally allowed. He stayed 4 and a half months from March in 2002. The sounds in the film were recorded by Groning alone. No artificial light was used to create the remarkable images. My brother said he would come. So, we booked tickets and drove the 30 or so miles to Cambridge, parked the car and went in. For me, it was one of the most amazing films I have ever seen. I loved it. Dan said afterwards it wasn't so much a film as a meditation, and I guess that is right. There is no commentary, just the sights and sounds, the rhythm of monastic life. I bought it on DVD afterwards and used it in the classroom. Then I lent it to someone and never saw it again.

I guess there is a theme here. Bruno - the bear - has to be found for peace to reign, but Bruno -the Saint - shows that silence can never last forever, there are jobs to be done. The film was just a moment to be caught and appreciated like the precious silences that come our way, every now and then.

Those of you who saw the film might remember this still image of dinner. Okay, so it is spinach and potatoes - very simple - but you have got to be able to do more with it than that. Simplicity is no excuse! With that in mind, two books that might help can be found here and here. Cook with them quietly! If I grab a moment today I am going to make spinach and potato soup, and maybe a loaf of bread.