Friday, 30 March 2007

Name that boy

Ma Beck has a post today about baby names. This is fairly topical for me at the moment, for two reasons - one person at the end of his life and another at the beginning.

My grandmother was one of eleven children, of whom nine survived to adulthood. The two daughters and five of the sons married and had children, and the other two sons became priests. Their mother was French, and following the French tradition, all of the children - boys and girls - were given the name Mary as a middle name, in honour of Our Lady.

The story goes that when my Great-Uncle Laurence was born, my great-grandfather went to register his birth. The registrar (English, and obviously not a Catholic) argued that it was not possible for a boy to be called Mary. Either the child was a boy, and was called Laurence, or was a girl, and was called Mary. After a long and futile argument, my great-grandfather finally gave in - which is why Great-Uncle Laurence's birth certificate names him as Florence Mary!

The last of the eleven brothers and sisters - my grandmother's youngest brother, Christopher Mary - died this Tuesday, aged 93. He had a long and interesting life, including service as a Chindit during the Second World War and over 50 years as a member of the Catenians.

Meanwhile, my brother and sister-in-law have just found out that their second child, due in July, is going to be a boy. Unfortunately, they can't agree on a boy's name for him - they had previously been convinced this one would be a girl, so unless they make their minds up on another name in the next couple of months, their second son could end up being called Rebecca!

They've asked me to help them out with suggestions, and I've given them a few. I also reminded them of the very sound advice that Bill Cosby gave in his book on Fatherhood - if you think you like an unusual-sounding name, stand at the back door and shout it a few times to see what it sounds like, because that's how you'll be hearing it for the next umpteen years.

I know any other ideas would be gratefully received...

Yet another blonde joke

How do you know a blonde has been using the computer?

There is cheese in front of the mouse.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

I have made a few good decisions lately...

See what I mean?!

Your Job Satisfaction Level: 91%

Your job is nearly perfect - you've totally lucked out!

You like what you do, who you work for, and the people you work with.

And it seems like the job you have will eventually get you the job you want.

So enjoy what you've got. You've landed the ideal job!

The career path

That last joke was chosen deliberately, as I've been thinking a lot about careers and vocations recently.

During the first ten years or so of my twenties, I was as poor as a church mouse. I did voluntary work and always managed to make myself available to friends or relatives who needed help.

Then I hit my twenty-eleventh birthday and thoughts of pensions and security started to creep in. After much soul-searching, I decided on a new career with much greater earning power. Four years later, I was frequently working from 6:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night, and felt that I was doing nothing worthwhile with my life.

One day, I got talking to a partner in the firm. He had lived a very interesting life, which included some time spent working with disadvantaged teenagers. This struck a chord, and I asked him, "How do you reconcile what you're doing now with the worthwhile stuff that you used to do?" (Tact and diplomacy have always been among my strong points.)

He replied, "Simple. I'm good at what I do now. I was rubbish at what I did then. However much I wanted to help those teenagers, or to be a doctor, or do any of the other more 'worthwhile' jobs that I thought of, I knew that there were other people who were much more capable than I was of doing those jobs. But those people may not be particularly good at earning money. So as I see it, my job is to do the best I can at what I'm good at, which happens to earn me a lot of money, and then give as much of that money as I can to the people who need it to enable them to do the worthwhile jobs that they're good at."

As a child, I always imagined that by this stage in my life I would be married and would be a stay-at-home mother to seven or eight children. I never wanted to be a career woman - in fact, I secretly despised women who had chosen a career over a family.

Well, the life I've had so far is not the life I would have chosen. There have been many turning points when I didn't know what would happen next, and was as surprised as many of the people around me when I made the decisions that I did. But looking back at the path that I've taken, I think I see the plan God had for me up to this point. A lot of things have come together recently, and my new life is the sum of the parts of what went before.

I would still dearly love to be a mother one day, but maybe one of the reasons I had to take this route was to teach me not to be so judgemental of other people whose lives are different from what I think of as the ideal.

We don't all have the life we'd choose for ourselves, but we can all make the best of the life we're given and the opportunities for service that present themselves in that life. And surely being the best we can be, loving the life we're given rather than regretting the one we don't have, and serving God in the way that He has chosen for us to serve Him, is the best way to happiness and contentment.

Off the road

A sales rep was driving along in his car, and as he drove, his phone rang. It was his boss, calling to say, "You've been promoted to regional sales manager."

The car swerved slightly, then righted itself.

The boss rang up a second time and said, "You've been promoted again, to national sales manager."

And the car swerved again.

Then the boss rang up a third time and said, "You've been promoted to managing director."

The car swerved so violently that it came off the road and crashed into a tree.

The driver was unhurt, but the police were called. On arrival, the policeman took out his notebook and said, "Can you tell me, sir, exactly what happened."

The driver replied, "I careered off the road."

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Never underestimate a toddler...

I was reminded today of the first time I was patronised by one of my nephews or nieces.

My brother and sister-in-law had come to visit with my eldest nephew, then aged about two and a half. My nephew's favourite thing in the world was cars, so when I saw that there was a Lamborghini parked outside my flat, I took him outside to have a look.

I held him up to look over the wall and said, "Look, a racing car."

With great enthusiasm, he exclaimed, "Oh yes! A wacing car!"

After we had admired the car, I put him down and he raced back into the house, shouting, "Daddy, Daddy, I see'd a Lamborghini!!"

Quack cures?

Most of the courses that I teach are stand-alone two day courses. This week's is a bit different - this Thursday and Friday, I teach the first part of a two-part programme. Half of this week's participants are already signed up for part two in three weeks' time. This makes it more important than usual that nothing should go wrong with this course, as it would have a knock-on effect on the next course as well.

For the last two days, I've been struggling with a throat infection which is threatening to turn into full-blown laryngitis. Apart from the obvious "Try to get to bed before midnight", can anyone suggest any miracle cures that might give me a fighting chance of actually being able to teach a class for two full days this week?

A quick blonde joke

Did you hear about the blonde who went to Liechtenstein to learn cross-country ski-ing?

She'd decided she ought to try it with a small country first...

Monday, 26 March 2007

Behold the handmaid of the Lord

Today we celebrate the day that God became Man - Jesus was true God and true Man, and in assuming a true humanity He started, as we do, in that most powerless and vulnerable position - hidden in the womb, known only to His Blessed Mother. He was entirely dependent on her for life - thank God that in exercising her "right to choose", she chose to say yes to God:

"Be it done unto me according to Thy Word."

Earning my keep

No job is ever perfect, and I've always said that the things I enjoy about my work are what makes me get up and leave the house in the morning, while the things I don't enjoy are what they pay me for.

This is a week where I'll definitely be earning my keep - the work is still interesting and varied, but there's also far too much of it to do in far too little time, too many extra meetings and interruptions, and I'm being stretched waaaaay too thin.

When I get very stressed, I hum 'Dear Lord and Father of mankind', and this verse in particular:

"Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease.
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace,
The beauty of Thy peace."

I think I'll be humming it a lot this week...

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Check out this site

Esther has some great posts this weekend - some funny, some profound. I found this story particularly moving.

Have you ever wondered...

... how you package bubble wrap?

... why there is only one Monopolies Commission?

... why abbreviation is such a long word?

... why they call it the "rush hour" when nothing moves?

... why "dyslexia" is so hard to spell?

... who put an "s" in "lisp"?

... why full bottles of helium are heavier than empty ones?

A minor dilemma

I think it's important, if at all possible, to go to Mass in one's own parish and to be a real part of a parish community. So last year, as part of my research on this area, I went to Mass in three or four different parishes - had I not liked the feel of a parish or the way the Mass was celebrated, I would instantly have discounted any houses that fell within that parish.

The parish I settled on is very pleasant - I've already got to know a few people (not always easy for a single person moving into a parish where the majority of parishioners seem to have children), I generally like the hymns we sing (except at the monthly 'Yoof Mass' - why do so many people assume that if you're a teenager, you must like to sing utter drivel?), the priest preaches a good sermon, and it's a reasonably nice-looking little church. The choice of house came second, and I live ten minutes' walk from the church.

A couple of miles away, halfway up a steep hill, is another church which I have admired a lot from the outside. It's a very attractive little building (see photo) - but I couldn't have afforded to live in that parish, and it's not within easy walking distance of any station, so it wasn't included in my little research tour last year.

Well, as I mentioned last night, I had to go to early Mass this morning, so I Googled for Mass times nearby (the only choice in my parish is 10 am or 6 pm). It turned out that the church on the hill had a 9:00 Mass, so I drove up there this morning.

The church is as beautiful inside as it is out - it has proper pews instead of nasty modern chairs and a lovely stained glass window above the sanctuary. As I walked in, there was none of the social chit-chat that you get in a lot of churches before Mass begins - instead, the congregation were being led in the Rosary, and the atmosphere was calm, prayerful and peaceful.

The Mass was celebrated reverently, the hymns were traditional, Gregorian chant was played during Communion, and as I left the church I felt at peace with the world.

So here's my dilemma: I feel I ought to be part of the parish I live in - a parish with which until this morning I was perfectly happy. I also don't like to use my car for short journeys, but the trip to this church is a bit too long to do every Sunday without the car (I'd cycle if it weren't for the hill, but the hill is steep). But this lovely little church ... did I mention they also have a Tridentine Mass at 10:30?

Working together

This weeks' Catholic Herald has the following editorial by Luke Coppen (note the reference to bloggers in the penultimate paragraph):

This has been my most perplexing week as editor of The Catholic Herald. I will try to explain why with a little metaphor: imagine that Benedict XVI is a conductor and the Church an orchestra. Last Tuesday, the Pope took to the podium to lead us in a hymn of praise to the Eucharist through his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. When he raised the baton, the Herald began to play at full volume, devoting pages to the new document and hailing it as a masterpiece. But we were bewildered when we looked
up and saw that great sections of the orchestra were sitting in silence.

There has been a lot of speculation about why the bishops of England and Wales did not join their counterparts in Ireland and America in immediately welcoming the document. Some have suggested that it was to ensure that Benedict XVI's firm liturgical injunctions would never be implemented in this country.

That thought made my head spin: it was inconceivable that the bishops would snub a text which they had helped to shape, echoed their own compelling 1998 document One Bread One Body, and confirmed them in their wish to put the Eucharist at the heart of their diocesan renewal programmes.

Almost a week after the Pope's document was published, I received assurances that there was a "total consensus" among the bishops about the importance of the Exhortation and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor commended the text. I welcome these assurances wholeheartedly, but feel sad that we missed an opportunity to work side by side in communicating the Pope's clear and attractive message to as many people as possible.

The question I wish to ask is: could all the parts of the Church - bishops, priests, the Catholic press, bloggers and committed lay people - find a new way to work together to ensure that the Pope's message is heard not only by all Catholics but also by those outside the Church who are anxious to receive it?

Benedict XVI has said that when all the elements of the Church work together they create an "ordered and harmonious symphony". We have a beautiful and inspiring message to offer, but people will only hear it if we play as one.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Tick tock

Over the last couple of weeks, we here in the UK have enjoyed a brief rapprochement with our brethren in the US. It ends tonight, as we put our clocks forward for British Summer Time and move an hour further apart again.

Tonight I'll be changing 12 clocks (it would be 13, but I managed to pull the knob off the clock in my car while changing it last year, so it's stuck permanently halfway between Greenwich Mean Time and British Summer Time). The changes get complicated, because I have the following special requirements:
  • My watch must be exactly 7 minutes fast, to improve my chances of not being late for anything. (I know this relies on my forgetting that it's 7 minutes fast - somehow, this is something I always seem to manage, especially when I think I'm running late.)

  • The clock in the bathroom must be exactly 9 minutes fast, to account for the extra couple of minutes I always like to have in the shower.

  • The clock on the video machine must be absolutely correct, to allow me to use the timer record function to record programmes. I'm sure one of these days there'll be something on worth recording, and I like to be prepared...

  • My alarm clock must be 2 minutes slow, to give me that extra couple of minutes' sleep in the morning.

  • The chiming clock (1930s, Westminster chimes) must be either slightly ahead of or slightly behind the 'cuckoo' clock (actually a Mini clock - a small car comes out every hour, revs its engine and hoots its horn), so that my niece has time to run from one to the other and appreciate both when they go off on the hour.

I'd better make a start while I think of it.

Note to self for next year: don't invite people round for lunch on the day the clocks go forward. Especially if you get home so late the day before that all the supermarkets are closed and you're going to have to go to early Mass so you can be at the door of the supermarket as it opens in the morning. * Sigh *

Prayer of Pope John XXIII for society

O Jesus, come back into our society, our family life, our souls, and reign there as our peaceful sovereign.

Enlighten with the splendour of faith and the charity of your tender heart the souls of those who work for the good of the people, for your poor.

Impart in them your own spirit, a spirit of discipline, order and gentleness, preserving the flame of enthusiasm ever alight in their hearts.

May that day come very soon, when we shall see you restored to the centre of civic life, borne on the shoulders of your joyful people.


Friday, 23 March 2007

Bedtime routine

My two-year-old niece has requested a visit, so this evening I'll be putting her to bed. I love her bedtime routine, especially the bit once I've read her story and tucked her into bed. Then I say, "What's next?" and she says, "Me me Lord Jesus", so I sing:

"Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask thee to stay
Close by me for ever
And love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children
In thy tender care
And fit us for Heaven
To live with Thee there."

"And what now?"

"Thank you God for a lovely day."

So we thank God for the lovely day, and she tells Him which bits she liked best. She often spontaneously says sorry for the times that she's been naughty during the day. Then we ask Him to bless all the people she loves. I start off, "God bless Mummy and Daddy" and she immediately interrupts - "Don't forget you".

We finish with the Salve Regina, and I watch her as she falls asleep. I can't wait...

Thursday, 22 March 2007

My reaction to the Budget

A nice cup of tea

A true Brit never just has "a cup of tea" - it's always either "a nice cup of tea" or "a lovely cup of tea". For those of you who are not British, here is an example of this usage.

B has suffered some sort of crisis - this could be anything from having to get out of bed before 6:00 in the morning to witnessing her entire home blowing up in a gas explosion.

A says, "Would you like a nice cup of tea, dear?"

B takes the nice cup of tea, sips it and says, with a contented sigh, "Ooooh, that's a lovely cup of tea."

My lovely cup of tea this morning is an English Breakfast blend. At teatime I prefer Earl Grey. I also have Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon and plain Yorkshire tea in my cupboard at the moment.


Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Our impact on others

This has been doing the rounds for years, but I still love it - and I don't care whether it's true or not, it's still a lovely story. I just thought it fitted in some small way with my last post.

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books.

I thought to myself, "Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday? He must really be a nerd." I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends tomorrow afternoon), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on.

As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him. He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes.

My heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him and as he crawled around looking for his glasses, I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, "Those guys are jerks. They really should get lives."

He looked at me and said, "Hey thanks!" There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude.

I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now. I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends. He said yes.

We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him.

Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, "Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday!" He just laughed and handed me half the books.

Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors, we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown, and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem. He was going to be a doctor, and I was going for business on a football scholarship.

Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.

Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found himself during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous. Today was one of those days.

I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, "Hey, big guy, you'll be great!"

He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled. "Thanks," he said.

As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began. "Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach...but mostly your friends. I am here to tell all of you that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story."

I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the story of the first day we met. He had planned to kill himself over the weekend. He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile. "Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable."

I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and Dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realise its depth.

Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life. For better or for worse. God puts us all in each other's lives to impact one another in some way.

Struggles with humility

One of the hardest things that I struggle with is humility.

I'm given plenty of opportunities to practise humility - a lot of what I do goes unnoticed, and there have been many occasions when other people have claimed credit for things that I have done. On those occasions, though, I always want to jump up and down and say, "Look what I did!", "That was my idea!", "I thought of that first!" or something similar to make sure that any praise and glory comes my way.

But how many times do I also fail to give credit to others? Am I so wrapped up in trying to ensure people notice what I've been doing that I fail to notice what others have done? Am I responsible for making others feel as small and unappreciated as I'm sometimes made to feel?

Last night I came home to find a message on my answering machine from the mother of one of my godchildren, just thanking me for the friendship that I give to her family and saying how much they appreciate me and pray for me. It wasn't any sort of special day, and I hadn't done anything special - and that message made my heart glow.

I often pat myself on the back and congratulate myself on how well I think I'm doing at living my faith, but how often do I do little things like that to make a real positive difference to the way someone is feeling?

So today I made a simple resolution - every time I feel that I have been belittled, ignored or taken for granted, I'm going to look around me and see if I can make someone else feel appreciated, whether it be with a card, a letter, a phone call, a bunch of flowers, or even a simple smile and "thank you" or "well done".

Perhaps that'll help me to take my focus away from my own self-centred negativity. And perhaps I'll also be able to make someone's day, the way my friend made my day yesterday.

First words

Great excitement - my brother's youngest child has said his first "word".

OK, so he's a boy, the youngest of seven children, with four lively older brothers. What do you think would be an appropriate first word for him?


Yes, that's right - "Uh-oh!"

One of life's little conundrums

Gordon Brown presents his last Budget this afternoon - he has now been ruining [sic] our country for 10 years. The occasion makes me think of one of life's little imponderables - why is it that a slight tax increase costs you £50 while a substantial tax cut saves you 50p?

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Having sons...

OK, I don't have children myself, but I do have nephews and godsons - and I thought of this, which someone e-mailed to me recently, when I read the beginning of Suzanne's latest post. My favourite is number 7 - I'm sure Suzanne will identify with number 17.

You find out interesting things when you have sons, like:

1.) A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.

2.) If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.

3.) A 3-year old Boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.

4.) If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paintcan, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.

5.) You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball along way.

6.) The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.

7.) When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh", it's already too late.

8.) Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.

9.) A six-year old boy can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old man says they can only do it in the movies.

10.) Certain Lego pieces will pass through the digestive tract of a 4-year old boy.

11.) Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.

12.) Super glue is forever.

13.) No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.

14.) Pool filters do not like Jell-O.

15.) VCR's do not eject "PB & J" sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.

16.) Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.

17.) Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.

18.) You probably DO NOT want to know what that odor is.

19.) Always look in the oven before you turn it on; plastic toys do not like ovens.

20.) The fire department in Austin, TX has a 5-minute response time.

21.) The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.

22.) It will, however, make cats dizzy.

23.) Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.

24.) 80% of Women will pass this on to almost all of their friends, with or without kids.

25.) 80% of Men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

Standing up to be counted - again!

There are now a couple more petitions on the homosexual adoption regulations on the Number 10 website. There's an article here on Blair's abuse of the parliamentary process to force the regulations through.

This one reads:

'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to exempt the Roman Catholic Church and all Faith adoption agencies from the requirements of the Government's proposed new Gay Rights laws.

It runs counter to every British principle of the rights of committed people of Faith to practice that faith, to force them to operate in a way which denies them their beliefs and conscience. It is not acceptable to those of Catholic persuasion - or indeed many others within the Christian or other Faith communities to require them to place adopted youngsters with homosexual couples. It is an intolerable intrusion by the State into personal commitment and religious belief.'

It currently has 2,746 signatures, and the deadline for signing up is 26 April 2007.

This one reads:

'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to amend at the earliest the Sexual Orientation Regulations for England and Wales so that exemptions can be included in order to

i) ensure that the ‘non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation’ provision is targeted correctly at outlawing irrational prejudice against homosexuals whilst

ii) ensuring that Christians are free to continue to adhere to and uphold the Bible’s teaching that all extra-marital sexual practice is wrong.'

It currently has 36 signatures, and the deadline is 2 May 2007.

I've signed both but haven't received the confirmatory e-mail for the second yet. Perhaps that's how they keep the number of signatures down...

Monday, 19 March 2007

Human rights

I just spotted this little article in tonight's Evening Standard:

Poland told to drop anti-gay law

Poland has been warned by Human Rights Watch that a law banning "homosexual propaganda" in schools will promote discrimination. The group told prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski that the ban, whereby teachers can be sacked for promoting "homosexual culture", violates freedom of speech and denies pupils life-saving information about Aids.

Ah, jolly well done, Human Rights Watch - it's nice to know you've got your eye on the important human rights abuses. After all, it's not like there was anything more important for you to be concentrating your energies on. Like this, for instance.

Try Googling "Human Rights Watch" and Zimbabwe - the most recent news item including both terms was five days ago.

Sekai Holland - one of the most seriously injured of the opposition activists beaten up by police when they broke up a prayer meeting on 11 March. Prevented from boarding an air ambulance to receive medical care in South Africa and re-arrested at the airport the day before yesterday.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesman for Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, after being assaulted by security forces as he tried to leave the country yesterday.

The relationship guru

The big news of 2007 is that I've Met Someone. After six years without even the sniff of a date, this is causing a certain amount of excitement, and although I'm cautiously enjoying just getting to know him, I think half my friends have already gone out and bought hats.*

Yesterday I was visiting some friends and was treated to the following relationship advice from their 13-year-old son:
  1. What a man is looking for in a woman is someone who is a good cook, who listens to him and who understands him. That's pretty much all.
  2. If you go out for a meal, don't go to McDonald's, Burger King or KFC. Somewhere with candles on the tables would be good.
  3. Don't go for dates during the day. If you meet in the evening you can make quicker progress.
  4. My mum can fill you in on the rest.

Not sure about number 3 - what do they teach 13-year-olds these days? - but I'll try to make sure I follow number 2...

* Note for non-UK readers: it is traditional for ladies to wear hats at British weddings.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

This week's papers

Just in case you're trying to decide which paper to buy, here's the main story from each of the three main Catholic papers in the UK this week:

Catholic Herald:

Pope proclaims the glory of the Eucharist
Apostolic Exhortation calls for better music and more Latin
Pope Benedict XVI this week issued one of the Church's most authoritative and masterful statements about the Eucharist in an attempt to restore the Sacrament to the centre of Catholic life.

The Pope, writing his first Apostolic Exhortation - one of the most important documents of his pontificate so far - explains clearly how the faithful should preserve the sanctity and dignity of the Eucharistic mystery.

The Universe:
Pope's text on Eucharist confirms Church values
Rules on celibacy and marriage upheld
In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Pope Benedict has reaffirmed Church regulations that prevent Catholics who divorce and remarry from receiving Communion, unless their first marriage has been annulled or they agree to live together as 'brother and sister'.

In Sacramentum Caritatis (The Sacrament of Charity), released by the Holy See on Tuesday, he also confirmed the obligation of celibacy for priests of the Latin Rite.


More significantly, perhaps, Benedict agreed with the synod on "the beneficial influence on the Church's life" brought about by the liturgical renewal initiated by the Second Vatican Council and said "the difficulties and even the occasional abuses" which accompanied it could not overshadow the benefits and the validity of the liturgical renewal.

[The website of the Universe also includes the headline "Pope issues celibacy and Communion ruling".]

The Catholic Times:
Jesuit Sobrino to be silenced by Vatican

[Sorry, can't give you any quotes from this one - I refused to buy it.]

Dreadful 'hymn' lyric of the week

"And all the trees in the fields
Will clap their hands,
All the trees in the fields
Will clap their hands,
All the trees in the fields
Will clap their hands,
When we go out with joy."

You really couldn't make it up...

Things my mother taught me

1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.
"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside. I've just finished cleaning."

2. My mother taught me RELIGION.
"You'd better pray that will come out of the carpet."

3. My mother taught me about TIME TRAVEL.
"If you don't behave, I'm going to knock you into the middle of next week!"

4. My mother taught me LOGIC.
"Because I said so, that's why."

"If you fall out of that swing and break your neck, you're not coming shopping with me."

6. My mother taught me FORESIGHT.
"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case you're in an accident."

7. My mother taught me IRONY.
"Keep crying, and I'll give you something to cry about."

8. My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS.
"Shut your mouth and eat your supper."

9. My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.
"Will you look at that dirt on the back of your neck!"

10. My mother taught me about STAMINA.
"You'll sit there until all that scrambled egg is gone."

11. My mother taught me about WEATHER.
"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it."

12. My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY.
"If I've told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

13. My mother taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.
"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out."

14. My mother taught me about BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION.
"Stop acting like your father!"

15. My mother taught me about ENVY.
"There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do."

16. My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.
"Just wait until we get home."

17. My mother taught me about RECEIVING.
"You are going to get it when you get home!"

18. My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.
"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way."

19. My mother taught me ESP.
"Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you are cold?"

20. My mother taught me HUMOUR.
"When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

21. My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT.
"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

22. My mother taught me GENETICS.
"You're just like your father."

23. My mother taught me about my ROOTS.
"Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?"

24. My mother taught me WISDOM.
"When you get to be my age, you'll understand."

25. My mother taught me about JUSTICE.
"One day you'll have children, and I hope they turn out just like you."

Tortured English

In a Bucharest hotel lobby: "The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable."

In a Paris hotel lift: "Please leave your values at the front desk."

In a hotel in Athens: "Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily."

In a Japanese hotel: "You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery: "You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday."

In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers: "Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension."

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: "Our wines leave you nothing to hope for."

Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop: "Ladies may have a fit upstairs."

In a Bangkok dry cleaner's: "Drop your trousers here for best results."

Outside a Paris dress shop: "Dresses for street walking."

In a Rhodes tailor shop: "Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation."

In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist [my personal favourite]: "Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists."

In a Rome laundry: "Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time."

In a Norwegian cocktail lounge: "Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar."

In the office of a Roman doctor: "Specialist in women and other diseases."

In an Acapulco hotel: "The manager has personally passed all the water served here."

Happy Mothers' Day

Happy Mothers' Day to all mothers out there - especially Ma Beck, who's celebrating her first Mother's Day with the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth.

Those of you in the Land of the Hallmark Holiday may not appreciate that you're celebrating Mothers' Day today - in the UK, Mothering Sunday has been celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent since at least the 16th century. For a long time, it has been a day for giving thanks for all the things our mothers do for us.

About 400 years ago it was considered important for people to visit the nearest big church or cathedral (the 'mother church'), as opposed to their local parish church, at least once a year. It became traditional to do so on this particular Sunday. People who visited their mother church would say they had gone "a-mothering".

The return to the mother church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. It was quite common in those days for young boys and girls to go into service (working as servants for the local gentry) from the age of 10.

Most historians believe that it was the return to the mother church which led to the tradition of young people in service being given the day off to visit their family on Mothering Sunday - this was often their only opportunity to visit their family in the whole year. Maids would often be allowed to bake a cake to take home for their mother. Sometimes they would be allowed to take a gift of eggs, or flowers from the garden or hothouse. In any case, it was traditional to take flowers, as they would have to walk home to their village and would be able to pick wild flowers along the country lanes on their way.

So that's the history. And yes, I have sent something to my own wonderful mother, but I'm afraid I'm not able to go a-mothering this year. I'll see her in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime I hope she knows how much she is loved by her six children and ten grandchildren.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

An Irish joke for St Patrick's Day

An old Irish man is lying in bed, very ill. His son is sitting at his bedside, expecting the end to come at any moment. The old man looks up at the boy and says, "Son, it's time for you to get me a Protestant minister."

The son is astounded. "But, Dad!" he protests, "You've been a good Catholic all your life! You're delirious. It's a priest ye be wanting now, not a minister."

The old man looks up at him and says, "Son, please. It's me last request. Get a minister for me!"

"But, Dad," cries the son, "Ye raised me a good Catholic. You've been a good Catholic all your life. Ye don't want a minister at a time like this!"

The old man manages to croak out the words, "Son, if you respect me and love me as a father, you'll go out and get me a Protestant minister right now."

The son relents and goes out and gets the minister. They come back to the house, and the minister goes upstairs and converts him.

As the minister is leaving the house, he passes Father O'Malley coming quickly through the door. The minister stares solemnly into the eyes of the priest. "I'm afraid you're too late, Father," he says. "He's a Protestant now."

Father O'Malley rushes up the steps and bursts into the old man's room. "Pat! Pat! Why did ye do it?" he cries. "You were such a good Catholic! We went to St. Mary's together! You were there when I celebrated my first Mass! Why in the world would ye do a thing like this?"

"Well," the old man says as he looks up at his dear friend. "I figured if somebody had to go, it was better one of *them* than one of *us*."

Happy St Patrick's Day

And here are the last three verses of St Patrick's Breastplate (go here for the full words and music):

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Six weird things about me

Gosh, how exciting - I've been tagged! Er, thanks, Mac - I think.

People who get tagged need to write a blog entry of their own 6 weird things as well as stating this rule clearly! Three people need to be tagged and their names listed. Finally a comment needs to be left on each tagged person's blog...

OK, six weird things about me:

1. I said in my profile that I'm in my very very late twenties. In a recent post I revealed that 15 years ago I was in my early twenties. This could be the longest decade in history.

2. I'm a little bit accident-prone, and have received stitches in five different countries on three different continents. I had to take one lot out myself a couple of weeks later, because I was nowhere near a hospital.

3. I was once offered sex lessons by a stranger in a launderette. The only response I could think of was, "Sorry, I'm Catholic - I don't do sex before marriage."

4. One of my mother's proudest boasts is that I was potty trained at 16 months.

5. When I was at school, a friend and I decided to abolish the letter R. I can still talk quite fluently, missing out every R in the sentence.

6. I only know a few phrases of Russian, but when I say them it makes Russian speakers fall about laughing, as apparently I speak Russian with a very strong Chinese accent.

OK, now I tag Simon-Peter, Jen Ambrose and Suzanne Temple - Jen and Suzanne, I hope you don't mind, as you don't know me - but I really enjoy reading your blogs.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Holy errors

These are actual clippings from church bulletins. It's amazing what a little proofreading would prevent:

Bertha Belch, a missionary from Africa will be speaking tonight at Calvary Memorial Church in Racine. Come tonight and hear Bertha Belch all the way from Africa!

Announcement in the church bulletin for a National Prayer & Fasting Conference: "The cost for attending the Fasting and Prayer conference includes meals."

"Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands."

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our community.

Don't let worry kill you - let the Church help.

The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.

Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

Interview with Archbishop Li

Here's a link to the full text of the interview with Archbishop Li referred to in one of the articles in my last post. I recommend that you read the whole interview, as a true story from the inside of the position of the Church and the faithful in China.

I was particularly interested to read these responses (the emphasis in bold is mine):

Your excellency, let's begin with the issue of the pope's primacy. What do you have to say about this?

The pope is the head of the Church. The apostolic nature of the church consists in the fact that the Church descends from the apostles, starting with Peter as its first leader. The pope has the right to govern and supervise all the Church's activities, including the election of bishops.

We will never deny the pope has the right to do so, since this is an essential element of our Catholic faith. Now the pope's right to govern must be understand as true while in China, however, we have a religious policy sustaining the Church's independent and democratic administration. How can both be compatible?

I think the Holy See and the Chinese government have the means to resolve this issue. The most urgent problem now involves electing new bishops. Under today's circumstances we cannot go ahead and consecrate new bishops without government authorization. If the government is not against the candidate, we then proceed to present him to Rome for approval. Should the pope not give his consent, then the bishop is not consecrated.

What do you have to say about the so-called "underground Church" in China?

All Catholics in China are united under the same faith. As far as I know, the pope respects both communities and urges us toward reconciliation and unity. Some members of the underground Church say we have rebelled against the pope. I belong to the "open Church". But I am not rebellious, since in no way whatsoever do I deny the pope's primacy. We have the same faith and we both support the Holy Father. Hence we should join together in terms of traditional Church organization and doctrine.

Mgr Anthony Li Duan

I just tried to Google a picture of the church I used to attend in China, and was saddened to see that 'my' bishop died last year. Archbishop Li was a holy, humble and courageous man who was recognised by both the universal Church and the Chinese Patriotic Church. He was hugely respected by many people, including Pope John Paul II, and his passing is a great loss to the Church in China.

May he rest in peace.

Mgr Anthony Li Duan

13 June 1927 - 25 May 2006

Requiescat in pacem

"He was steadfast on the principles of the Catholic faith and did his utmost to dialogue with everyone, always looking for points of agreement and spaces useful for pronouncing the Gospel. He was firm on the principles, serene and meek in giving the reasons for his faith and always respectful to others."
(L'Osservatore Romano - official Vatican newspaper - 1 June 2006)

There's a lovely description of his work and of his funeral here.

And here are a couple of other articles I found about him:

Mgr Anthony Li Duan (Profile - 9/8/2005)
Mgr Anthony Li Duan is one of the most prominent figures of the Chinese Catholic Church. Born on June 13, 1927, he has served as the Archbishop of Xian (Shaanxi) since 1987 and is known for his loyalty to the Holy See. Archbishop Li has steadfastly defended the freedom of the Church against the claims and attempts at control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). Yet, he is loved and held in high regard by both the official and the underground Church.

For this reason, he has often been subjected to controls and interrogations. In the past, he has been detained on several occasions for long periods of time: 1954-57, 1958-60, and 1966-79.

In his many years as a clergyman he has distinguished himself for his active pastoral work and his determined defence of the rights and freedoms of the Church.
As a pastor he has been prudent but courageous and open to working with government authorities without compromising his views on fundamental matters of faith and the rights of the Church.

He refused for example to take part in Beijing's illegitimate consecration of five bishops on January 6, 2000. He also refused to go along with the political campaign against the canonisation of 120 Chinese martyrs.

The Archbishop is vice chairman of the Council of the Chinese Catholic Church. Many have speculated that he might be the cardinal in pectore whose identity John Paul II never revealed.

Publicly though, he has said that he has "never received any official confirmation" to that effect.

Active and determined, Archbishop Li opened the first Catholic Social Service Centre in 2002.

Back in 1997 he inaugurated a training division for women religious at the Xian Regional Seminary.

In an interviewed published last year in Mondo Missione (PIME'S monthly magazine) and then by AsiaNews, the Archbishop of Xian acknowledged that "the election and consecration of bishops" remains the main obstacle to diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican. "Indeed there are difficulties, yet it must be also said that great steps have been taken in the right direction." For instance, in his own diocese, Mgr Anthony Dang Mingyan, 38, was consecrated new auxiliary bishop last July 26 with approval of both Vatican and Beijing.

In 2004, he was diagnosed with cancer and has been undergoing therapy in hospital.
The diocese of Xian has about 20,000 faithful and, during the Cultural Revolution, St Francis Cathedral was turned into a candy factory.

Mgr Anthony Li Duan, archbishop of Xian, dies at the age of 79

Rome (AsiaNews) - Mgr Anthony Li Duan, archbishop of Xian, one of the most important figures in today's Chinese Church died on Wednesday May 24 at 9.17 pm Rome time (Thursday May 25 at 03.17 Beijing time). The 79-year-old prelate had been fighting liver cancer for the past two years and had spent long stretches of
time in hospital for treatment.

Archbishop Li was one of the four Chinese bishops Pope Benedict XVI invited in October of last year to the Synod on the Eucharist. His Catholic witness was known throughout the universal Church.

Member of the official Church but also supporter and friend of pontiffs, Mgr Li strongly backed reconciliation between the official Church on the one hand, and Rome and the underground Church on the other.

Well appreciated by intellectuals and political leaders alike, including non Christians, he rebuilt the Church in Xian (Shaanxi) after the disasters wrought by the Cultural Revolution. In doing so he strengthened local Christian communities and religious schools in terms of their charity work and theological studies. His diocese now includes 59 priests, 300 women religious and 20,000 faithful.

Last year Anthony Dang Mingyan, 38, was appointed as the diocese's coadjiutor bishop with the Pope's approval.

Last week in the midst of the heated debate over the unlawful appointments of bishops wanted by the Patriotic Association, AsiaNews published an interview with Archbishop Li, who was hopeful that it would not be long before China and the Vatican established diplomatic relations. (Source)

Being an ambassador (Part 2)

When I was living in China, I met huge - and I mean HUGE - numbers of people who were curious about religion. The church I went to was absolutely packed every Sunday, and I usually ended up standing at the back, unable to find a seat. At Christmas, every available space was crammed with people standing, and each pew had two rows of people in it - one sitting, one kneeling. I'd say maybe half the people there had a clue what was going on - the rest wanted to find out.

The occasions for sharing my faith were not always appropriately timed - for instance, on my return from Communion one Sunday to my standing position at the back of the church, I was accosted by the person standing next to me saying, "When you go up to the front, what do they give you?" Hmmm - what's the Chinese for transubstantiation...?

We had problems with some evangelical Christians who were not entirely honest. There was a big fuss when it was claimed that one of them had been deported for telling his students about God. Actually, that wasn't entirely true - he had been employed to teach business English, and had been using the Bible as his 'textbook'. He was sacked because he wasn't doing the job for which he had been employed, and as he had a working visa, he had to leave the country when he no longer had the work. Entirely reasonable, I thought - but he went back home to present himself as some sort of heroic martyr to the evil totalitarian regime.

Then there were the students from the big university up the road who would sometimes find their way to my flat, often in states of some distress. To a Chinese person, a teacher really is the fount of all knowledge, and someone to be hugely respected. There were two opposing 'Christian' factions among their teachers, each of which was telling the students, "If you don't join us, you'll go to Hell." Oh, and just for good measure, "If you join the other group, you'll also go to Hell, because we're right and they're wrong."

I spent many hours telling these students that the God I knew was a loving God, that I believed in Him and in the teachings of my Church whole-heartedly, but that they should not feel pressured to join any church at all unless and until they understood what it was teaching and believed that those teachings were something that they wanted to follow.

Funny - the best witness I could give for my Church was to tell people I didn't expect them to join it. That way, we were able to have a proper discussion about the religious, social and moral teachings of my Church and why I accepted them. Knowledge is power, and armed with that power, some people chose to find out more about the faith for themselves. I like to think that in this way, I may have planted a few humble mustard seeds.

Being an ambassador (Part 1)

Suzanne at Blessed Among Men wrote a lovely post earlier this week in which she talked about the rude comments she gets sometimes from complete strangers about the fact that she has more than 2.4 children (or whatever the average is these days). She sees it as important to be polite in return, saying "I see it as doing my part, however small, to help change the general impressions society has of motherhood, of pregnancy, of children, and of large families" and "I am more likely to change hearts with charity than with sarcasm".

Well, I haven't had that particular experience - sadly, God's plan for me to date doesn't seem to have included marriage and children. But I think I have felt a similar sort of responsibility.

Fifteen years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I went to live and work in China. For most of the people I worked with, I was the first foreigner they had ever known. In fact, I frequently visited areas where I was the first foreigner they had ever seen. So the impression that these people had of Westerners was formed largely from the impression that I gave them.

There are huge frustrations to being stared at wherever you go. The smaller the town or village I was visiting, the larger the crowds that used to gather around me whenever I stood still. The first time someone shouts "Hal-lo" or "Laowai" (Foreigner) after you in the street, it doesn't grate too much. When you hear it for the hundredth time in a day, having heard it a hundred times the previous day and the day before that and the... well, let's just say sometimes it was easiest to stay indoors and hide.

I once tried to explain to someone how ennervating it was to have "Laowai" shouted after me wherever I went. After about an hour, I thought he'd got it - he nodded and looked thoughtful, saying, "Oh, I see - it makes you feel uncomfortable and different when everybody who sees you walk past shouts 'Laowai' at you. OK, I won't do that again when I see a foreigner."

I was just beginning to feel pleased with the success of my diplomatic skills, when he began to talk again.

"So, when I see a foreigner in the street in the future, can you tell me, please .... what should I shout?"

Anyway, the point is that, however frustrated I was, however tired, homesick and utterly fed up, when I heard someone shouting "Hallo" or "Da bizi" (Big nose) or "Laowai", if I got angry or reacted in a negative way, they didn't think, "Oh, this person has probably heard that 100 times today". No, they would be more likely to think, "I've just seen my first ever foreigner and tried to greet her, and I don't understand why she was rude to me."

If you knew you were going to become someone's idea of the stereotypical Westerner, how would you ensure that the stereotype was both as positive and as accurate as possible?

And if you knew that you were the first Catholic someone had ever met, how would you ensure that this person went away with a positive and accurate idea of Catholicism?

We don't all have the former experience, but I bet most of us, whether knowingly or unknowingly, have had the latter. So the thought I'll leave you with tonight is this:

What sort of ambassadors are we for our faith?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


One of the things I love about being Catholic is that I can go pretty much anywhere in the world and meet people who share my beliefs, and even if I don't speak a word of their language, I can share the Eucharist with them and be able to follow the Mass with them.

The use of Latin makes that common experience so much more powerful. I have sung the Missa de Angelis in China and the Salve Regina in Russia, and the shared Latin form of the words made me feel that I really was part of "unam sanctam Catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam" (the same words, incidentally, that I saw beautifully carved or picked out in mosaic tiles on the outside of some of the newly-built Catholic churches in the villages near where I worked in China).

A friend of mine was walking down the street in a small town in China and was approached by a local. Neither spoke more than a couple of words of the other's native language, but the Chinese man obviously wanted to communicate with my friend. After greeting him, the Chinese man solemnly made the sign of the Cross, and my friend understood that this man must have seen him attending Mass at the cathedral church in the nearby city and recognised him. Still desperate to communicate, the Chinese man paused for a moment to think, then smiled as he had an idea - and sang "Credo in unum Deum". My friend joined in - "Patrem omnipotentem" - and the two of them walked down the dusty, crowded street, singing the creed together, before shaking hands and each continuing on his way.

What a marvellous moment of connection between these two people who had no other way of communicating - and yet most Catholics under the age of 40 in the West would have struggled to find this connection.

Similarly, on a visit to Russia I was able to join in the singing of the Salve Regina, which I was made to memorise when I was 10. My sister, seven years younger, had never memorised any Latin and so was unable to join in - and she bitterly regretted losing out on this opportunity to unite her voice with those of the Russian people she prayed alongside over several months of living there.

I love feeling part of a universal Church, and I love being able to share my worship and feel a sense of community with complete strangers wherever I go in the world - and that's why I'm delighted that the Pope is once again encouraging the use of Latin.

A little Lenten humour

An Irishman walks into a bar in Dublin, orders three pints of Guinness and sits in the back of the room, drinking a sip out of each pint in turn.

When he has finished all three, he comes back to the bar and orders three more.

The bartender says to him, "You know, a pint goes flat after I draw it; it would taste better if you bought one at a time."

The Irishman replies, "Well, you see, I have two brothers. One is in America, the other in Australia, and I'm here in Dublin. When we all left home, we promised that we'd drink this way to remember the days we all drank together."

The bartender admits that this is a nice custom, and leaves it there.

The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar and always drinks the same way: he orders three pints and drinks them by taking sips from each of them in turn.

One day, he comes in and orders only two pints. All the other regulars in the bar notice and fall silent. When he comes back to the bar for the second round, the bartender says, "I don't want to intrude on your grief, but I wanted to offer my condolences on your great loss."

The Irishman looks confused for a moment, then a light dawns in his eye and he laughs.

"Oh no," he says. "Everyone is fine. It's me - I've given up alcohol for Lent."

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

London Underground

On the way home from work this evening, a very tired and fed-up voice came over the intercom saying, "I apologise for the unexpected delay. I've just received my third set of instructions in five minutes. This is now going to be a stopping service. I think."
It reminded me of the following quotes, which are apparently all genuine announcements that London Tube train drivers have made to their passengers:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I do apologise for the delay to your service. I know you're all dying to get home - unless, of course, you happen to be married to my ex-wife, in which case you'll want to cross over to the Westbound and go in the opposite direction."

"Your delay this evening is caused by the line controller suffering from E & B syndrome, not knowing his elbow from his backside. I'll let you know any further information as soon as I'm given any."

"Do you want the good news first or the bad news? The good news is that last Friday was my birthday and I hit the town and had a great time. The bad news is that there is a points failure somewhere between Stratford and East Ham, which means we probably won't reach our destination."

"Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise for the delay, but there is a security alert at Victoria station and we are therefore stuck here for the foreseeable future, so let's take our minds off it and pass some time together. All together now....'Ten greenbottles, hanging on a wall.....'"

"We are now travelling through Baker Street. As you can see, Baker Street is closed. It would have been nice if they had actually told me, so I could tell you earlier, but no, they don't think about things like that."

During an extremely hot rush hour on the Central Line, the driver announced in a West Indian drawl: "Step right this way for the sauna, ladies and gentleman... Unfortunately towels are not provided."

"Let the passengers off the train FIRST!" (Pause ...) "Oh go on then, stuff yourselves in like sardines, see if I care - I'm going home...."

"Please allow the doors to close. Try not to confuse this with 'Please hold the doors open'. The two are distinct and separate instructions."

"To the gentleman wearing the long grey coat trying to get on the second carriage - what part of 'stand clear of the doors' don't you understand?"

"Please move all baggage away from the doors (Pause..) Please move ALL belongings away from the doors (Pause...) This is a personal message to the man in the brown suit wearing glasses at the rear of the train - put the pie down, four-eyes, and move your bloody golf clubs away from the door before I come down there and shove them up your a**e sideways."

Old cars

I mentioned that I had a spot of car trouble last week.

What I didn't tell you about was the conversation I had with the mechanic. The tow truck had been sent out to me - twice. The first time, the car was 'fixed' by the roadside. The repair lasted all of 20 miles, and then I broke down again. This time, a roadside repair wasn't possible, and I had to be towed to a garage.

The mechanic spent about an hour with his head under the bonnet. When he came back out to me, I nervously said, "So, what would you say is the best thing to do?"

He scratched his head, thought for a bit, and then said slowly, "Well, what I suggest is that you take off the petrol cap .......... and then screw a new car in underneath."

But deliver us from evil

As Jesus taught us to pray, so He prayed for us at the Last Supper: "I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world. I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One... I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me." (John 17: 14-15, 20)
That last verse is awesome (in the true sense of the word). That's us - you and me - being prayed for by the Son of God.
The Catechism tells us that when we say "deliver us from evil", we refer not to some abstract notion of evil, but to Satan, the Evil One, "the deceiver of the whole world". Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be "freed from the corruption of sin and death." Victory over the Evil One was won once for all at the Hour when Jesus freely gave Himself up to death to give us His life.

One who entrusts himself to God does not dread the devil. "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. We see his works all around us in today's increasingly amoral society - in video games, films, television programmes, the media, government policies which sacrifice morality and the pursuit of the common good at the altar of political correctness and expediency, in the greed, corruption and self-interest of our politicians and those with economic clout.

We have our work cut out being faithful to God's Word in today's society. We are surrounded by temptation, our values are treated with scorn, and it's easy to fall down. But we continue to pray that God will help us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and fight the good fight to the finish. And we know He will, because He told us so.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Health question and answer session

Q: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life; is this true?

A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer? Take a nap.

Q: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?

A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable). And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of vegetable products.

Q: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?

A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine, that means they take the water out of the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?

A: Well, if you have a body and you have fat, your ratio is one to one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q: What are some of the advantages of participating in a regular exercise program?

A: Can't think of a single one, sorry. My philosophy is: No Pain...Good!

Q: Aren't fried foods bad for you?

A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!!!... Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil. In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be bad for you?

Q: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the middle?

A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it gets bigger. You should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q: Is chocolate bad for me?

A: Are you crazy? HELLO. Cocoa beans! Another vegetable!!! It's the best feel-good food around!

Q: Is swimming good for your figure?

A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q: Is getting in shape important for my lifestyle?

A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!

Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had about food and diets. And remember, life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways - Chardonnay in one hand, chocolate in the other - screaming Whooooooo what a ride!

Another blonde joke

Once upon a time, a blonde became so sick of hearing blonde jokes that she had her hair cut and dyed brown.

A few days later, as she was out driving around the countryside, she stopped her car to let a flock of sheep pass.

Admiring the cute woolly creatures, she said to the shepherd, "If I can guess how many sheep you have, can I take one?"

The shepherd, always the gentleman, said, "Sure!"

The blonde thought for a moment and, for no discernible reason, said, "382."

This being the correct number, the shepherd was, understandably, totally amazed, and exclaimed, "You're right! O.K., I'll keep to my end of the deal. Take your pick of my flock."

The blonde carefully considered the entire flock and finally picked the one that was by far cuter and more playful than any of the others.

When she was done, the shepherd turned to her and said, "OK, now I have a proposition for you. If I can guess your true hair colour, can I have my dog back?"


These are some of the luxuries of modern life for which I'm grateful. I know they're luxuries because at various times in my life, and for varying lengths of time, I have lived without each of these things and survived quite happily.

As I get older and more used to my creature comforts, I hope I never forget that these things are luxuries that a huge number of people in the world continue to live without, and never forget to be grateful for them.
  1. Hot running water
  2. An inside toilet that flushes
  3. Central heating
  4. A reliable cold water supply
  5. A reliable electricity supply
  6. A telephone
  7. An automatic washing machine
  8. A car
  9. A mobile phone
  10. The internet - especially with a broadband connection (my second newest acquisition)
  11. A dishwasher (my newest acquisition)
  12. Satellite navigation

And lead us not into temptation

Jerome said: "Christians will not be asked how they began, but rather how they finished. St Paul began badly, but finished well. Judas' beginning was praiseworthy but his end was despicable".

Isidore said: "Our behavior is only acceptable to God if we have the strength of purpose to complete any work we have undertaken".

In a secular world, we face so many temptations during Lent - and throughout the year. How do we stand fast against them? We know the theory, and we have great intentions, but we're weak, and we have ways of convincing ourselves we haven't really given in.

This is what my little book of Lenten reflections says about temptation:

"The struggle with temptation is life-long, even if the kinds of temptations we face change. In fact, in this life, it is impossible for us to be without temptation. The challenge is what to do when we are in the midst of them. God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure. We overcome temptation in exactly the same way that Jesus did: we turn to the Father for grace and strength. During His life on earth Jesus offered up loud cries and tears to the Father to save Him and protect Him."

The temptations that Jesus suffered give us encouragement - He suffered the same difficulty that we do, and the enticements were even greater, but He stood firm and never gave in to them.

When we see an occasion for sin, we should instantly turn away. We know that God has given us the strength to resist temptation, and we pray that He will help us to avoid giving in to the temptations that are all around us.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

The real story of the three bears

Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in her little chair at the table. She looks into her little bowl. It is empty.

"Who's been eating my porridge?!!" she squeaks.

Daddy Bear arrives at the table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl and it is also empty.

"Who's been eating my porridge?!!" he roars.

Mummy Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells.

"How many times do we have to go through this with you two? It was Mummy Bear who got up first, it was Mummy Bear who woke everyone in the house, it was Mummy Bear who made the coffee, it was Mummy Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night and put everything away, it was Mummy Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Mummy Bear who set the table, it was Mummy Bear who put the cat out, it was Mummy Bear who cleaned the litter box, it was Mummy Bear who filled the cat's water and food dish. And now that you've decided to drag yourselves downstairs and grace Mummy Bear's kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this one more time...


Friday, 9 March 2007

Ecumenical services

In my time, I've been to a number of ecumenical services. They're usually a very good way of reaffirming my belief that a lot of Christians really aren't all that Christ-like. They also usually convince me that I'm very happy to be a Catholic, thanks very much.

Take, for instance, the Pentecostal "ecumenical" service I went to a few years ago. Christians of all denominations were invited. The MC (yes, there was an MC) kept taking cheap potshots at Catholics - for instance, when he said, "You see, most of us believe that Roman Catholics can't receive the Holy Spirit, but maybe they can".

This prejudice against Catholics is widespread in the Protestant churches. Some other comments of which I have been on the receiving end over the years are:

"I daren't tell my father that I'm friends with a Catholic - he'd be absolutely furious."

"Well, we all know Catholics don't read the Bible."

Person accosting me in the street: "Do you know Jesus?"
Me: "Yes thanks."
Person accosting me: "Oh, so when were you born again? Or are you just a [voice dripping with scorn] nominal Christian?"

OK, the last one is anti-anyone-who-hasn't-been-born-again rather than specifically anti-Catholic, but you get the picture.

So why do I still bother going to these things? This year, I heard that all the local churches had got together to organise a series of Lenten talks - the speakers are Methodist, Church of England, Baptist, Weirdo Born Again and Greek Orthodox (not a Catholic in sight, of course). The names of the speakers were publicised, but not the titles of the talks, and I was kind of intrigued, so I went along this week.

Well, it turned out to be a sort of service with a visiting preacher, and I did feel slightly as though I'd been dragged in on false pretences. We started with a couple of hymns, a reading and a few prayers, and ended with a blessing and another hymn. In between was the talk.

Two things struck me during the "prayer service" bit. The first was during the prayers. I was amazed to see people eating their supper - with knives and forks and all - while praying. How can you give your attention to God when you're tucking into a pizza?

The other thing was that everyone (except the few Catholics there, who looked embarrassed and shuffled our feet because we didn't know the hymns) sang with great gusto - and when it got to the refrain in each verse, all the men and all the women sang different parts, so it was a sort of round. Can you imagine that happening spontaneously in a Catholic church? And how did they know - especially when they were presumably from all the other churches in town and not just from the church where the service was being held?

They're a funny lot - and they think we're a funny lot. But we all believe in the same God, and the same Jesus Christ, and it would be nice if we could get along a bit better, and all show a bit more respect for each other. So that's why I'll probably try to go to the other 'talks' in this series as well.

Update: I've just read Simon-Peter's post on the consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in a Catholic Cathedral. When I say we should get along better and respect each other, I mean we should rejoice in the beliefs that we share and be friendly towards each other - have cups of tea together, pray together and pray for each other.

I also think we should respect the integrity of people of other faiths and other denominations in their sincerely-held beliefs. And I think the respect should be two-way, and they should also show more respect for us.

I don't mean that we should ignore the very real differences between our beliefs, or downplay the importance of those differences.

As we forgive those who trespass against us

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:33).

We are called to forgive as God forgives - to "imitate the divine model".

The Christian theologian Lewis Smedes said, "When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it."

So we are not called to condone evil. We recognise that it is wrong, and we reject it utterly. But our rejection is of the sin itself, and not of the sinner. As St Augustine put it in City of God:

“It is clear, then, that the man who does not live according to man but according to God must be a lover of the good and therefore a hater of evil; since no man is wicked by nature but is wicked only by some defect, a man who lives according to God owes it to the wicked men that his hatred be perfect, so that, neither hating the man because of his corruption nor loving the corruption because of the man, he should hate the sin but love the sinner. For, once the corruption has been cured, then all that is left should be loved and nothing remains to be hated.”

But how does this rejection of the sinful act square with Jesus' exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount to "turn the other cheek"? Well, let's look at what he said in full:

"You have heard how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer no resistance to the wicked. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if someone wishes to go to law with you to get your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone requires you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.." (Matthew 5.38-41)

Does this passage actually require us to love both the sin and the sinner? Should we just be accepting all the evil in the world, forgiving those who do hurtful things and making no attempt to persuade them to stop?

Many theologians believe that this passage does not require us to stand by and accept evil deeds. They point to the fact that Jesus referred specifically to being struck on the right cheek. For a right-handed person to hit the right cheek of a person facing them, they would have to strike with the back of their hand. This was considered in the Jewish society of the time to be a supreme insult.

Thus, Jesus' message is not necessarily that we should accept all the evil in the world, but simply that we should not retaliate when insulted or slandered. This passage follows the words:

"Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness: the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

So, we should not retaliate when insulted - in modern language, we should not stoop to the level of the other person. To do so is to invite anger and bitterness into our hearts. Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that we should simply lie down and accept all the evil that is being done in the world. Nor should we remain silent.

But the person who has sinned is made in God's image, is one of the people Jesus lived and died for, and is someone we are called upon to forgive. As God forgives us, so we must forgive others.