Monday, 30 April 2007

My Sesame Street personality

OK, when I saw this quiz thing on Mac's blog, I couldn't resist - especially as I must be the only person I know who has quoted a song from Sesame Street while lecturing to a group of qualified professionals on the subject of international corporate tax planning...

You Are Ernie

Playful and childlike, you are everyone's favorite friend - even if your goofy antics get annoying at times.

You are usually feeling: Amused - you are very easily entertained

You are famous for: Always making people smile. From your silly songs to your wild pranks, you keep things fun.

How you life your life: With ease. Life is only difficult when your friends won't play with you!

Fringe benefits of being Catholic

Here are some of the benefits they don't mention to you at RCIA classes - I'm sure you can add some of your own:

1. If you're a cradle Catholic, you're highly unlikely to have been saddled with an outlandish name like Apple or Pixie Frou-Frou, since your parents had to ensure that your name was not "foreign to Christian sensibility" (Canon 855).

2. All that Latin really helps the development of your vocabulary and spelling.

3. Catholics have the best parties - all those saints' days, feast days and celebrations of the sacraments are so good that non-Catholics are constantly wanting to join in the fun.

4. How many other people actually understand the difference between the terms "first cousin", "first cousin once removed", "second cousin", etc, and can name people who bear each of those relationships to them?

5. If you feel like putting your feet up, opening a cold beer and watching a film on a Sunday afternoon, you have the authority of the Catechism to allow you to do so, since "on Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work..." (2185).

And that joke was topical because...

This is how I spent my weekend:

It's a few days since we had a silly joke...

There was a Scottish tradesman, a painter called Jock, who was very interested in making a pound or two where he could. So he would often thin down his paint to make it go a wee bit further. As it happened, he got away with this for some time.
Eventually the bishop decided to do a big restoration job on one of the biggest churches in the diocese. Jock put in a bid for the painting work and because his price was so competitive, he got the job.

And so he set to, erecting the trestles and putting up the planks, buying the paint and... yes, I am sorry to say, thinning it down with turpentine.

Three weeks later, Jock was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly done, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder. The sky opened and the rain poured down, washing the thin paint from all over the church and knocking Jock right off the scaffold to land on the lawn.

Now, Jock was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he fell on his knees and cried, "Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?"

And from the thunder, a mighty Voice spoke:

"Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!"

Kicking the habit

Fr Dwight has a great post this week about the wearing of habits. Here's how he sums it up:

That's the value of the habit. It's an evangelistic outfit. It preaches on its own. It says to the world, "There is another set of values. There's another set of beliefs. There's another way of looking at everything." It says to the world, "Think again. Stop, Look and Listen."
I still remember when I was about nine, and my parents took me to see the convent boarding school that they were thinking of sending me to. My father commented to the headmistress on the fact that the nuns at this school had stopped wearing habits. I can't remember her response, but I do remember what my father said.

He told the story of a young woman who was walking down the road and was very upset when a group of labourers starting wolf-whistling and making suggestive comments to her. She tried to ignore them, but the comments continued and, if anything, grew lewder.

Spotting a policeman, she went up to him and said, "Excuse me, officer. Would you mind asking these men to behave themselves? I'm a nun, and I find their behaviour very disturbing."

The policeman looked at the ordinary skirt and top that the young woman was wearing and responded:

"And tell me, Sister - how did you know I was a policeman?"

A sad day for democracy

I'm reminded by this post on Fr Stephanos' blog that the wickedly undemocratic Sexual Orientation Regulations come into effect today. Catholics in the UK, and in particular teachers in Catholic schools and the Catholic adoption agencies, are no longer free to follow their consciences.

It is now illegal for Catholic children in the UK to be told what their Church teaches about homosexual acts, and illegal for a Catholic parent who is forced to give up their child for adoption to specify that they would prefer their child to be brought up by a mother and a father.

I was reading yet another article about Tony Bliar [sic] this weekend, claiming that he was a "committed Christian" and wants to be the "vicar of the world" after he steps down as Prime Minister. He rejected the plea of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales that Catholic adoption societies be allowed an exemption from the new regulations.

May God have mercy on those responsible for this abuse of democracy.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Favourite hymns meme

I've been tagged for this one by Catholic Mom in Hawaii. I've had great fun thinking about it, and it was VERY difficult to get it down to just a few hymns - and impossible to find some of them on the net, though I've put links to as many as possible. I was also fascinated to see how many of these hymns have alternative tunes - I've only posted links where they are to the tune that I know.

I've changed the format slightly:

Favourite Latin hymns

Salve Regina
Cor Jesu te laudamus (can't find this one on the net)
Tota pulchra es, Maria (nor this one)
Pange lingua
O salutaris hostia (scroll down to the bottom one on the left for the version I like - though I do like it played at at least twice this speed!)

Favourite traditional hymns in English

Fight the good fight (words here, tune here - again played a bit slower than I would normally sing it)
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Faith of our fathers (words here, tune here - top left)
Soul of my Saviour
Sweet Sacrament divine

Favourite 20th century hymns

As the deer pants
The Servant King (not a brilliant recording)
Lord of all hopefulness
I would be true (to the tune of 'Londonderry Air' - or, as a friend of mine calls it, "London Derriere"; full words here)
Be not afraid

Favourite hymns for particular occasions

Christmas: It came upon a midnight clear
Easter: Battle is o'er, Hell's armies flee (especially if sung at the Easter vigil - I can't find this anywhere on the web)
Funeral: Be still, my soul
Baptism: Oh, the word of my Lord
Wedding: Fill my house (words here; I haven't been able to find the tune - there's a bit of liturgical incorrectness in the line "eat my bread and drink my wine", but "join with me as one in Christ-love", "all I own and all I do, I give to you", etc - I don't understand why the only weddings I've ever heard it at were ones where I had helped to choose the hymns!)

And now I tag Mac, with whom I've spent many Sunday afternoons sitting over coffee in Starbucks with a hymn book and a Missal, selecting hymns for the next few weeks. And anyone else who feels the urge...

Thursday, 26 April 2007

I know this won't be a popular view in some quarters...

OK, I've read what everyone's saying about the new ICEL translation. In particular, I've read Fr Tim's e-mail exchange with Peter Finn, the comments on Fr Tim's post and the posts that various other people have written linking to it. All appear to agree whole-heartedly with Fr Tim.

Well, I'm sorry, but although I agree with much of what Fr Tim says, I can quite see the ICEL's point of view. I've already said that I'm in favour of the use of more Latin, and that I love the Latin Mass. I'm a linguist and a lover of both poetry and prayer, so obviously I'm in favour of the use of liturgical language which is beautiful, meaningful and faithful to the original text. I'm also not a theologian, and have to bow to the superior knowledge of those who have studied theology and understand things that I don't.

But just hang on a minute. Let's not assume that everyone who writes a Catholic blog, or everyone who goes to Tridentine Masses, or everyone who has read dozens of books about Catholic theology, is typical of your average person in the pew. And let's also not assume that your average person in the pew doesn't need to be considered in all this.

When the Novus Ordo Mass was introduced, there was a huge amount of fuss about it. Some people never got over it, and have barely been back to church since. Now, I could act all 'holier than thou' and say maybe it was good riddance, that they were the chaff that needed to be separated out, that they can't have been very devoted to God and the Church if they left the Church altogether because they didn't like the new form of the Mass.

I could, but what about "Feed my lambs"? What about "more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents..."? How does anyone other than God know what was truly in those people's hearts, and how their lives could have been different had they not felt alienated by their Mother Church?

Now, some will say that the reaction against the Novus Ordo Mass was correct, or at least understandable, because of the poverty of its language in comparison with the richness of the original language. They might argue that there will be no such backlash against the new translation, which brings back the beauty and the full meaning of the original words.

But that's not the whole story. People generally don't like change, particularly in something which is as ingrained in their psyche and as much a part of their identity as their form of religious worship.

It's all very well to say the new translation is more faithful to the original, and that it mirrors more closely the wording of the Mass in other languages. The fact is that most British and American people only speak one language, and nobody under the age of 40 remembers what Mass was like before Vatican II. That's a lot of people to alienate if you get the introduction of another change wrong.

You're going to be telling people that the Missal they were given by their late lamented grandmother as a First Communion present and have used for a quarter of a century is now defunct. You'll be telling them that they'll no longer be able to join in the Mass throughout the English-speaking world without the need for a written copy of the text to help them to follow along. You'll be telling people who (as so many have) have fallen away from the Church for a while and are making the first tentative steps to come home again that home isn't the way it was when they left.

All these things take adjustment. The feelings of people who have only ever known one way of doing things need to be taken into account. Obviously, this is not a reason for change not to happen. But it is a reason to exercise some caution and sensitivity in introducing that change. Let's not assume that every Catholic in the English-speaking world is going to welcome the new translation with open arms.

One of the commenters to Fr Tim's post said, "I don't normally advocate going against the teaching authority of the Church, but in this case I hope some loose cannons among the clergy decide to take the law into their own hands and introduce the new translations."

I sincerely hope they don't. I would be as disturbed to find that some priests were taking the law into their own hands on this issue as I am to see some of the liturgical abuses of the woolly liberals that have been highlighted on various blogs recently. Disobedience is disobedience, no matter how wrong you think the instruction is.

Let's have a bit of patience on this, chaps - and perhaps a bit more humility as well, and understanding that ours is not the only point of view that needs to be considered.

A slightly surreal experience

My brother-in-law often talks about the slightly surreal experience he had once when visiting Westminster Cathedral.

On the wide piazza in front of the cathedral, slightly to one side of the steps, was a large group of women from the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary together out loud.

On the other side of the steps, facing off against the Legion of Mary, with hostile stares being exchanged on both sides, was a group of wimmin from We Are Church, waving placards and singing 'We Shall Overcome' or something similar.

My brother-in-law was amused to see this stand-off between the traditional and liberal wings of the Church. And because it was May Day, or perhaps St George's Day, the tableau was completed by a beautiful touch of surrealism.

In the No Man's Land between the two groups, who stood glaring at each other, each group praying or singing ever louder to try to drown out the other, there was a troupe of morris dancers, doing one of the traditional dances of Merrie Olde England.

I'd love to have been there to see it for myself!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Gosh, this is a busy week

Close on the heels of the two birthdays we've celebrated in the last week, today is my parents' 43rd wedding anniversary.

For her birthday last year, my father gave my mother a card which said on the front:

"Grow old with me, the best is yet to come."

They're best friends, they support each other when times are rough and share in each other's happiness when times are good. They've laughed together, cried together and brought up six children together.

They're a fantastic role model for their children and grandchildren. I hope they have many more happy years together.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Favourite saints meme

I've been tagged by Brad at Leave Your Head At The Door (you see what happens when you add a chap to your blogroll?!) - and it seems I've been a bit slow at responding to this one... I have to list my four favourite saints, one favourite blessed, and one person I think should have been a saint. In no particular order, here we go...

First up is St Benedict - his Rule gives us all a lot of wisdom about how to live a Christian life. Plus one of my brothers was on the point of entering a Benedictine monastery at one point, so I have a certain amount of affection for the Benedictines. Plus there are churches all over Europe each of which claims to have an arm of St Benedict amongst its relics, and who could fail to have a certain affection for a saint with twelve arms?! He should be the patron saint of multi-tasking women.

Second, St Peter - he struggled to live up to the high standards Jesus set for him, and sometimes failed, but he never gave up trying and Jesus rewarded him by trusting him to build His church.

Third, St Madeleine Sophie Barat - she founded the order of nuns who educated me, my mother and my sisters. Her philosophy is part of who I am.

Fourth, St Thomas the Apostle (Doubting Thomas) - he wanted so desperately to believe, but was unable to do so without proof. How many times have I identified with that...?

Next, Blessed Jeanne Jugan - foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. She told her nuns, "Be like a mother to the grateful ones, and also to those who don't know how to be grateful for all the things you do for them. Say in your heart, `I do it for You, my Jesus!"' (Incidentally, by analogy to the Little Sisters, I heard the other day that in some circles the Benedictine monks at Ampleforth are known as "the Big Brothers of the Rich"!)

And finally, someone who should be a saint - who else but St Christopher? Yes, I know the story of him carrying the Christ-child across the river probably isn't true, and there's some doubt about whether he even really existed - but I've had itchy feet all my life and have travelled extensively, always with my St Christopher in my pocket. And I chose him as my confirmation saint, so I feel a bit cheated when people tell me he's been discredited...

And now I tag Ma Beck, Dad With Noisy Kids, Esther and, by popular request, Jen Ambrose.

Silly joke for St George's Day

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman were in a pub, talking about their sons.

"My son was born on St George's Day," commented the Englishman. "So we obviously decided to call him George."

"That's a real coincidence," remarked the Scot. "My son was born on St Andrew's Day, so obviously we decided to call him Andrew."

"That's incredible, what a coincidence," said the Irishman. "Exactly the same thing happened with my son Pancake."

Happy St George's Day

Tortured genius

I hate to say it, Brad, but it appears I'm only 9% slack-jawed moron:

You Are 91% Tortured Genius

You totally fit the profile of a tortured genius. You're uniquely brilliant - and completely misunderstood.

Not like you really want anyone to understand you anyway. You're pretty happy being an island.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

A teenager

Today my eldest nephew, who is also my first godson, became a teenager. He's growing up into a fine young man, is a good role model for his six younger siblings, and is a delight to be with.

My only gripe is that I don't see enough of him, as he lives (according to 5,067 miles from me. So I can't wait for his birthday treat - his parents have agreed to lend him to me for a few days next month, and I'm taking him on a trip to Washington DC. He's been once as a very small boy, and I've never been, so we'll have great fun exploring together. You may well hear more about this over the next six weeks or so...

A situation with only losers

Today I went to Mass in a parish I hadn't visited before, as I was on my way somewhere and needed to find an 8:30 Mass.

At the end of the homily, the priest read out a message from the Cardinal, saying that the former priest of that parish (who I believe had left quite recently) had "been the subject of some allegations in relation to child protection" and had been immediately suspended from his post while the allegations were investigated.

I was shocked to hear this, and immediately offered up a prayer that the investigation should be as quick and painless as possible for all concerned, that it should come to the right conclusion and that God should forgive the sinner and give strength to the victim and comfort to the parish as a whole.

What I didn't know was which of the people involved was the sinner and which the victim - if the priest was guilty, the answer would be obvious. If he was innocent, the person who has made the false accusation has ruined a man's life. Either way, this has caused immense sadness and confusion to a huge number of people and possibly created a rift in the parish which could take years to heal.

As I looked around the church, I saw a number of people crying openly. I also saw parents hugging their children protectively, and saw and heard a number of parents struggling to answer their children's questions about what was going on.

As soon as Mass ended, people erupted out of the church, some shouting and swearing about "troublemakers in the parish". All those I heard were vehemently on the side of the priest and refused to countenance the idea that the allegations might be true.

Whether or not the allegations are true, they have cast a dark shadow over the life of that parish. Please remember these people in your prayers.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

'Thank you God for a lovely day'

Between the ages of 15 and 17, I lived in a house which was a couple of miles from the nearest town. The road between home and town was not exactly hilly, but it was gently undulating, and I only ever cycled into town along that road twice.

The first time, I was a little disgruntled to find that the journey appeared to be almost entirely uphill in both directions.

Six months later, the same journey was almost entirely downhill both ways.

How could this be? Well, obviously, the road itself hadn't changed. I wasn't any fitter than I had been six months previously, and I was riding the same bicycle.

The change was within myself, and it was that second bicycle ride which brought home to me how much I had changed in six months. In my early teens, I tended to focus on the negative, to make heavy weather of the uphill stretches, to expect the worst and be unsurprised when it happened.

Since my late teens, I have started to focus more on the positive, appreciating the freewheeling times of life and gradually developing a state of deep contentment and gratitude at the way my life has turned out - despite the fact that it is currently nothing like the dreams that I had for my future as a child.

I'm sure that in large part the thing that brought about this difference was prayer. Not just any prayer, but the simplest one of all - the one that I have said every night since I was about 16 and have taught my niece to say:

"Thank You, God, for a lovely day."

There were times when it stuck in my throat - it had been an absolutely dreadful day, everything had gone wrong, I was angry, miserable and uncomprehending about things that had happened during the day. I could thank God for giving me the day, but how could I call it a "lovely" day?

But I forced myself not only to say the words, but to mean them. And meaning them often meant searching through everything that had happened during the day and finding something for which I was grateful.

I still do it, and even on the very worst days of my life (and by the time you reach my age, you're pretty unusual if you haven't had some fairly dreadful ones), I have been able to find that thing - the support of someone who listened and gave me a shoulder to cry on, good weather and good health so that I could walk/run/cycle off some of my frustration, or even simply that the bad news wasn't even worse, and that there was still some hope.

It's the simplest of prayers - the words aren't fancy or complicated, and even a two-year-old can say it and understand it - but it's probably been the most important in shaping the way I view my life.

And isn't that yet another thing that I can be thankful for?

Bedtime again

You can always tell where my niece has been - she leaves a trail behind her of dolls/soft toys/plastic figures/plaster ornaments which have been tucked up to go to sleep under whatever is to hand.

Last night I found a plastic Noddy asleep under a flannel in the bathroom, a rag doll asleep under some bubble wrap in the spare room, a doll asleep under a pair of my niece's knickers in her bedroom, and a small bust of Lenin ('Lemon', as my niece calls him - he was purchased during my sister's six month stint in a Russian university) under a book on the landing.

She always goes through some part or other of her own bedtime routine as she tucks them up, and the bit she never ever ever misses out is, "Thank you God for a lovely day."

I was very excited to find this beautifully carved wooden doll's cradle for a knockdown price in an antique shop this afternoon. I know her birthday was yesterday, and I really shouldn't be spoiling her any more, but I couldn't leave it behind.

It was only when I got it home that I discovered the reason it was so cheap: one of the four posts is riddled with woodworm. Since I live in a Victorian house with stripped wooden floors, the cradle's being banished to the shed until I can be certain the woodworm (a) isn't active and (b) isn't going to spread and start eating my house. Any suggestions...?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

What's in a name?

My niece has a teddy bear called Bear, a mouse called Mouse, a rabbit called Rabbit... I think you get the idea.

I think all these innocuous-sounding names go back to the time my brother-in-law got a bit silly naming the soft toys she was given as a baby.

I can't find an exact picture of it, but the one that became her favourite looked rather like this:

For a long time she wouldn't sleep without it, and as it was more and more loved it became more and more manky-looking.

So we got a bit concerned that she'd be starting nursery school, clutching this horrible, scraggy, worn-out, flat thing in her little hand, and her teacher would look at it with an expression of polite horror and say through gritted teeth, "How lovely - what's it called?"

To which my niece, of course, would reply with the name that my brother-in-law had chosen for it the first time he saw it, before we knew that it would become her favourite:


Another birthday

I can't remember what the misdemeanour was, but for some reason I was withholding the 'Bob the Builder' DVD which my niece often watched for a treat when she came into my room in the morning.

This was a punishment which actually entailed more effort for me, as instead of sitting her in front of the electronic babysitter while I rolled over to get an extra few minutes' sleep, I ended up helping her to set up a picnic for an assortment of soft toys.

On this particular morning, we'd been playing together for about quarter of an hour, and she said something particularly engaging. I laughed and said, "Oh F., you are a darling girl."

Her little face lit up, and she turned towards me with her arms open wide and a huge beaming smile on her lips ("Ah, she loves me too," briefly crossed my mind) ... and said:

"If I'm a darling girl, can I watch Bob now?"

My darling girl's going to be three tomorrow - I'll be finishing work early to go and see her blow out her candles, and then stay the night. I can't wait - we might even get to have another picnic with Bear, Big Brother Penguin and Mrs Sneetch.

Read these

Shamelessly linking to other people's work in an effort to disguise the fact that I was too busy to post yesterday, I bring you ..... today's recommendations.

Something to make you think from Carolina Cannonball and a nun on charity - my sentiments exactly, and beautifully put by the nun.

Something to make you weep on Suicide of the West (via this post from Esther at Catholic Mom in Hawaii).

Something to make you laugh from Fr Dwight.

And something to bring back happy memories from Mulier Fortis - I don't think I'll ever tire of watching that moment: "Annuncio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam"!

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

"Working from home"

My lovely brother-in-law taught my niece to do quotation marks in the air with her fingers when she says that I'm "working from home". I lived with them for three months while I was between houses, and one day when my sister wasn't feeling well, I took my niece into my office to fetch some stuff so I could look after her for the rest of the day and somehow fit in a day's work as well. My niece did the "working from home" thing beautifully while talking to my secretary!

Anyway, that's what I've been doing today. I'm very fortunate to have a job where I can work from home regularly and to have a study now which is a separate little building at the end of my garden, so that work and home life are kept somewhat apart.

I went into the study and logged onto my office computer at about 9:30 this morning, and logged off and came back up to the house at 10:45 pm.

In the meantime, I've had my own computer switched on in the background so that I could keep my blog addiction fed during my tea breaks, I've had a chat with the roofers who've nearly finished doing my roof, taken a delivery of garden furniture and assembled it straight away because I couldn't wait, taken two phone calls from my niece, eaten lunch and tea, loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the deck in preparation for the garden furniture to go up.

I also worked from home yesterday, during which time I managed to chop the dead branches off the tree outside the study door, drill holes and put some pictures up in the study, put the rubbish out, fill in and post my voter registration form for my new address and nip down into town to pay some bills and buy a birthday present for my niece.

All that was done in between writing worksheets and preparing a powerpoint presentation to accompany the two day course I'm teaching at the end of this week, reading several articles on the latest developments in the subject and incorporating the relevant points into the course materials, and writing a major case study to round off the course.

Quite a productive couple of days, dontcha think?!

Getting late

Whenever my niece doesn't know what to call something, she just makes up a word or phrase. Sometimes the words are total gobbledegook, but sometimes you can tell where she's got it from.

For instance, a number higher than she can count (which currently means above about 12) is either "eleventeen" or "bobteen" (she's a fan of Bob the Builder).

Today my sister took the girls to the doctor's surgery to have the baby weighed. The appointment was at about 2:00, and they were home by 3:00. Talking to my niece on the phone at bedtime, I asked her if they had gone to the play park on their way home.

"Oh no," she said. "It was half past teatime, so we went straight home."

Time for another quick blonde joke

Why did the blonde leave an empty milk carton in the fridge?

In case anyone wanted black coffee.

Shock value

Whenever people complain that the world is getting more dangerous, and talk about how it's not safe to let their children play outside in the way we used to as children, I point out that it's not necessarily the level of danger that has changed, but the level of reporting.

Here in the UK, we can name each of the children who has been abducted and murdered by a stranger over the last several years, because the disappearance of a child has been the trigger for wall-to-wall coverage by all of the electronic and print media.

Similarly, when there have been incidents such as yesterday's shootings in Virginia, worldwide coverage and comment has been instantaneous and extensive, and the incidents and their victims are remembered for years afterwards.

As soon as reporters heard that tennis player Andy Murray was from Dunblane, they latched onto this and soon worked out that he must have been in the school when the shootings took place there - so he is frequently described as "Dunblane shooting survivor Andy Murray".

As long as the media make such a fuss about events like this, we can take some comfort from the fact that they are rare, isolated incidents. That's what makes them news - things like the daily carnage on the roads and the daily death toll from abortion are not newsworthy, because they happen every day.

Out of idle curiosity, I just searched Google News for any reports of the Tesco shooting in Thornton Heath that Mac mentioned yesterday. There weren't any. Now, maybe nobody was hurt. But I'm sure there was a time when the criminal use of a gun in a busy public place in England would merit the odd column inch.

For that reason, perhaps we should see the Thornton Heath episode as more worrying than the Virginia Tech incident. It's tragic that these people were brutally murdered in Virginia, but the incident was a one-off, and nobody seriously expects to encounter a madman on a murdering spree on a daily basis.

The Thornton Heath episode was a piece of casual brutality and criminality that has become so commonplace in Blair's Britain that we would never even have heard of it if it weren't for Mac's friend actually having been there. The fear of such incidents affects the way people live their lives on a daily basis. Because it's not reported, the government feels able to ignore it - even on occasion to blame us if we become victims of crime (for 'flaunting' our possessions, for instance).

Do we really have to wait for some incident with higher 'shock value' before the deterioration of our society and our quality of life is ever addressed?

Monday, 16 April 2007

Who's to say who's to blame?

There's been a tragic incident in the US, and the blame-blogging has begun. At a quick glance, I see that in various different quarters the blame is being placed on:
  • The fact that Virginia Tech is a gun-free zone, because it meant students and staff were unable to defend themselves (so a multi-way shoot-out would have been better???).

  • Radical liberalism, for its failure to be proactive in young people's lives (whatever that means).

  • Too much tolerance, because it creates indifference to the world around us.

  • Muslims, because it appears the gunman was Asian.

  • The same selfish individualism that causes us to ignore the warning signs of global warming.

  • The campus police/college administration/anyone in authority, for failing to prevent the tragedy.

  • Violent films and TV programmes.

Then there are the conspiracy theories, the people trying to leap in first with their defence of the gun culture and the filth that's shown on TV, the people claiming extraordinarily tenuous links with Virginia Tech so that they can feel part of the drama, and the media vultures swirling overhead.

As Simon-Peter says, the blogosphere is full of people using this tragedy to further their own political ends. It's also full of people emoting helplessly and hopelessly.

Thank God it's also full of people praying.

For the dead: Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen

For their families: Lord, whose ways are beyond understanding, listen to the prayers of your faithful people: that those weighed down by grief at the loss of these young people may find reassurance in your infinite goodness. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

God bless our Pope

Words by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman (1802-1865)

Full in the panting heart of Rome,
Beneath th'apostle's crowning dome,
From pilgrims' lips that kiss the ground,
Breathes in all tongues only one sound:

'God bless our Pope, God bless our Pope,
God bless our Pope, the great, the good.'

The golden roof, the marble walls,
The Vatican's majestic halls,
The note redouble, till it fills
With echoes sweet the seven hills:

'God bless our Pope, God bless our Pope,
God bless our Pope, the great, the good.'

Then surging through each hallowed gate,
Where martyrs glory, in peace, await,
It sweeps beyond the solemn plain,
Peals over Alps, across the main:

'God bless our Pope, God bless our Pope,
God bless our Pope, the great, the good.'

From torrid south to frozen north,
That wave harmonious stretches forth,
Yet strikes no chord more true to Rome's,
Than rings within our hearts and homes:

'God bless our Pope, God bless our Pope,
God bless our Pope, the great, the good.'

(This is the version that I learnt at primary school - I had to do a search for the full words, and found them here.)

I blame the parents

We had another 'yoof Mass' yesterday. One of the children providing the music was a small boy of about 10 or 11 who played the drums (not my instrument of choice, but there you go) beautifully.

The choir and musicians sit up on the sanctuary during Mass, and as they came down for Communion I noticed that this boy was wearing a t-shirt which said in big, bold letters, "BLAME MY PARENTS".

He was at Mass. He played his chosen instrument beautifully, which had obviously taken a lot of practice. He genuflected before the Blessed Sacrament and took Communion reverently. He had the confidence to sit up there, in view of the entire congregation, and participate actively in the celebration of the Mass. He looked happy and well cared-for.

Yes, I blame* the parents - how much of all that would he be doing without their love, their care and their example?

* Partial dictionary definition - blame (blām) tr.v., blamed, blam·ing, blames. 1. To hold responsible.

Just follow the directions

This is very funny - I found it over at Enjoy the Journey (which, by the way, is well worth a visit if you haven't been before).

1. Go to

2. Click on "maps"

3. Click on "get directions"

4. Put NEW YORK in the from box, and LONDON in the to box

5. Click enter and scroll down to #23 in the list of directions.

More holy errors

The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict.

Smile at someone who is hard to love. Say "Hell" to someone who doesn't care much about you.

Miss Charlene Mason sang "I will not pass this way again," giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be "What Is Hell?" Come early and listen to our choir practice.

Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment and gracious hostility.

Potluck supper Sunday at 5:00 PM. Prayer and medication to follow.

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.

Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet this Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.

Sunday, 15 April 2007


"What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep and cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."
- W H Davis

This weekend I planned to paint my front room, unpack some of my books onto the new shelves, clean the house, do a bit of work on lesson plans for next week, pay some bills and deal with my pile of boring admin correspondence.

What I actually did was to spend yesterday with my sister, brother-in-law and their two children. It's always a joy to see my nieces, and both were on fine form. We had what will hopefully prove to be the first of many barbecues in my new garden, I got plenty of baby cuddles and toddler cuddles, the two-year-old took over my study for some sort of elaborate game and the girls had their bath here before they all set off back home at bedtime.

Today, New Man came over after church. He's been away on business and just got back yesterday. He brought me a present - a DVD of Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'The Gospel According To St Matthew', which I'm looking forward to watching this week. We sat out in the garden chatting, had leftovers from yesterday's barbecue for lunch, then I drove us over to a friend's house for supper and dropped him back home late this evening.

This weekend has been a real gift - and as I contemplate the half-decorated front room, the boxes of books, the pile of unpaid bills and unanswered letters, the unhoovered floors and dusty ornaments, and the mountain of work which awaits me tomorrow, I'm pretty sure I made the right decision.

All those things can wait, but if I'm always too busy for my loved ones, one day I'll be ready to see them and I just might find they're all too busy for me.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

The internet is an amazing thing

I went on Google Images to look for a picture of a tomato for that last post, and was led to these instructions on 'How to crochet a psychotic tomato'.

Other must-have craft ideas include:

My sister joined a knitting group just after my niece was born, and they spent most of their time making breasts for midwives and health visitors to use in breastfeeding demonstrations.

According to this article, there's still quite a demand for knitted breasts in the NHS. I was interested to see that they're produced "in a variety of skin shades". The ones my sister made were neon pink, orange, green (presumably for breast-feeding Martians), red, purple... Yes, I think you can call that a "variety".

Aphorism of the day

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

Wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad.

Friday, 13 April 2007

God against the scientists

Humans reached a point where they were so technologically advanced that they could now make a living, breathing person. A summit of scientists believed that because they now had the power to create life, God was no longer needed. So they all decided that someone should go and tell God this.

One man volunteered to go. He climbed a mountain and called upon God.

"God! We humans now have the ability to bring people back from the dead. We can create our own life, and we don't need you any more, so you can leave us alone."

God listened to the scientist and nodded.

"Okay, I'll tell you what, if you can really create life, let's have a competition. If you can create a better person than me, I'll go, but we'll have to do it the way I did it in the old days."

So the scientist agreed and began to collect some dirt to make his person.

God simply watched him and finally asked him what he was doing.

"I'm using the dirt to make a person."

God smiled, looked at the scientist and replied, "Go and make your own dirt."

Gosh, how nice!

My site was nominated for Best Blog About Stuff!

Thanks for the nomination. I have a whole vote as well!

If you want to double it to two votes, you can go here...

Update: My lonely vote does indeed now have a friend - so thank you very much to both my readers!

Thursday, 12 April 2007

Blogger's Choice awards

The current front-runner in the 'Best Religious Blog' category is an atheist blog.

Get voting, chaps - I know registering is a pain, and it almost put me off, but it doesn't take THAT much effort.

The blogs nominated include Jen at Et tu, Jen (who got my vote), Amy Welborn and The Cafeteria is Closed, as well as a few other Catholic blogs.

Update: Fr Stephanos has pointed out in a comment at The Curt Jester that once you've registered, you can go back and vote for as many blogs as you like. I've just gone back in and voted for all the Catholic blogs - let's see if we can get all the top ten!

A tiny grave

I learnt something new about my great-uncle in yesterday's eulogy. I knew he had a son and a daughter, but his son said yesterday that his parents had had three children, one stillborn.

Christopher and his wife had been married for 64 years when she died in 2005. She was cremated, and her ashes were buried in the coffin with him yesterday.

The plot next to theirs in the cemetery had a tiny little mound in it. The cross at the head of this little mound bore a name and a single date in 2006.

Is it coincidence that they, having lost a child more than 50 years ago, have been buried beside another little baby that didn't have a chance at life? I wonder if it would comfort the parents of that little boy to know how my great-uncle and aunt could identify with their own pain. I like to think they'll be looking out for him in Heaven.

Doing death

We Brits really don't "do" death very well. Mention that you're going to a funeral, and people shuffle their feet and look embarrassed. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me of people being so unsure of what to say that they would cross the street to avoid having to talk to the bereaved.

Contrast this with the attitude of the Irish. It's been said that the only difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake is that there's one less drunk at the wake. My grandparents met at a wake, and the deceased lives on forever in family memory.

I've only been to Ireland for a funeral once. From the time of death until the funeral was over, the widow was never alone. People were constantly dropping in, and they would bring plates of sandwiches, cakes and scones and make endless pots of thick black tea (the sort my grandmother used to call "mouse-trottie" tea, because it was so strong you could trot a mouse across its surface).

For the funeral ,the church was packed with people of all ages, including children. There was no embarrassment, no awkward shuffling of feet and clearing of throats - death was accepted as part of life, and we all gathered together in honour of a person who had been much loved. People instinctively knew that the important thing is not whether you're saying the "right thing" - it's that you're there, showing your solidarity, celebrating the life of a person who will be missed but whom we believe we will meet again one day.

My great-uncle's funeral yesterday was a celebration of a long and rich life. He was 93, had achieved a tremendous amount in his life and was much loved.

He was also the last of his generation, so we mourned again the passing of a generation that fought for our freedom in two world wars (he was born in 1914, the year his 16-year-old brother ran away to join the army). My parents' generation were also conscious that they had lost their final buffer against mortality - they are now "the older generation".

But it was mostly a happy occasion - we are sure that he has gone to his eternal reward and is now reunited with his wife, his brothers and sisters and all the others who have gone before him. And hearing the large congregation belt out "Thine be the glory" at the end of the funeral Mass made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle - what a send-off!

His name was Christopher - please pray for the repose of his soul.

More tube trouble

These are the exact words that the driver used when I got on the train to come into work this morning:

"This is hopefully going to be a fast Aldgate service. We're having trouble with the brakes, so if you notice a burning smell in the middle carriages, try not to worry about it. This train should hopefully get us there."

Nice to see a bit of hope in the air...

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Why didn't I say that? (3)

Here's another old one that I've been meaning to link to for a while, this time from Suzanne Temple.

I really relate to this. OK, Suzanne's talking about praying at home, but the sentiment is the same. I feel very strongly that too many people don't welcome children in church. It's a fact of life that it's not always possible to keep babies and toddlers quiet.

Does this mean that they should be kept away from church until they reach the age of reason? Or maybe that we should have special Masses where children are welcome and the liturgy is dumbed down for them, and keep the "proper" Masses for the adults?

Children need food, and sometimes when you give a toddler a bowl of food, it ends up all over the walls and floor. Sometimes it rejects the food you have offered, and just screams. Do we decide to wait until the child is old enough to eat nicely before offering it any more food? No - and nor should we wait to give spiritual nourishment.

My niece isn't always very well-behaved in church. I'm sure there are times when she distracts the people sitting around us. Knowing her as we do, we have sometimes let her carry on quietly climbing on the benches or making faces at the people behind, because that's preferable to the screams that would ensue if we tried to stop her.

Most people are pretty tolerant of this, and appreciate the difficulty of making a toddler sit still and keep quiet. The intolerant glares and tuts usually come from little old ladies, for some reason.

But before she was a year old, when we said, "Where's Jesus?" she would point to the crucifix.

She was almost exactly two and a half the first time she joined in appropriately with part of the Mass - one of her bedtime songs is the Salve Regina, and she can sing it all the way through. My parents attend a church where the Salve Regina is sung at the end of Mass every Sunday, and on a visit to my parents, my niece joined in and loudly and confidently sang the whole of the Salve Regina with the rest of the congregation. (A friend of theirs went up to my father at the end of Mass and said, "Well, I was going to boast that my granddaughter could sing 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star', but there's no point now"!)

She now joins in most Sundays with singing the Alleluia before the Gospel. She has joined in a couple of times with familiar hymns. And the other day she was walking round the garden shouting something. We opened the door to listen, and found that she was reciting the Creed at the top of her voice.

So has it been pointless taking her to church? A toddler is learning all the time. She has absorbed the words of the Creed without us ever knowing. She knows about Jesus, she knows (in theory) that she should be quiet in church, she does her own version of the Sign of the Cross, she loves going up to Father for a blessing at Communion time, and we try to make sure she says a few prayers while she's in church.

Balance that against the possibility that an adult has been inconvenienced by the fact that a child made a little bit of noise and maybe disturbed their concentration. I'm afraid that I think the awakening of the spiritual life in the child and hopefully the birth of a life-long love for the Church is more important.

But then, who am I to judge?

Why didn't I say that? (2)

This time it's something that Fr Tim Finigan said last week. He was referring in general to people who talk in church - and it was a message that I needed to hear, as I'm quite big on the hostile glare when I hear people talking.

Imagine if that was someone visiting the church for the first time, wondering if Catholicism was for them. And imagine that the "idle chatter" was actually a Catholic friend explaining to them what was happening. And imagine that my hostile glare put the visitor off and meant that they didn't pursue their interest in the Catholic Church any further. Shouldn't that possibility, however remote, be enough to make me keep my hostility to myself in future?

I've often been told not to help beggars, because they're probably con artists/drug addicts/alcoholics/not in as much need as they make out. I know for a fact that I've been conned on several occasions. But what did I lose? A couple of pounds that I could have spent on a cup of coffee or a magazine. What would they have lost if their story was genuine? A lot more than a cup of coffee or a magazine. I'd rather play the odds - for every 99 times that I'm conned, there may be one time when I am genuinely able to help someone who didn't know where else to turn.

Similarly in church - 99 times out of 100, people might just be chatting disrespectfully. But should I take the chance that I might be criticising the one person who has another reason for being noisy? Again, who am I to judge? Why not just give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and offer up a prayer for them? I'll look after my own spiritual welfare, and they (and God) can look after theirs.

I was once at a Mass where the priest gave the congregation a severe talking-to at the beginning of his sermon. He said that the previous week, a woman had come to Mass and sat at the back of the church with her four children. The children had been quite noisy, and several people had turned round to glare at them, shaking their heads and tutting.

The priest told us that this woman was a lapsed Catholic who had been thinking of coming home to the Church. Her husband had recently left her, she was unemployed and two of her four small children were autistic. After the reception she had been given in church that Sunday, she had told the priest that she wouldn't be coming back again - it was too hard, and she couldn't face the shame of being stared at so disapprovingly.

He told us to examine our consciences, and to think about the courage it had taken for that woman to walk into the church that day after a long absence, the unhappiness she had felt and the consequences for her and her children of her feeling rejected by the parish community.

If I can't concentrate on my prayer because someone else is too noisy, maybe it's my levels of concentration that are at fault. I have certainly found recently that it helps my focus immeasurably if I close my eyes to pray when there are too many distractions around.

We don't see what's in everyone's hearts. We are not God, and the church is God's house - NOT OURS. Let Him be the judge of whether someone is behaving reverently and worshipping Him sincerely.

Why didn't I say that? (1)

I've been meaning to link to this post for a few days now. What Carolina Cannonball says here makes an awful lot of sense to me, and reminds me not to get too "up myself".

I suppose it all started with my post about my dilemma. There are times when I'm disappointed with the Mass in my own parish. They have this awful "Yoof Mass" once a month, where the choice of songs (I can't call them hymns) is truly dreadful. Some of the children are badly behaved. I hated the Palm Sunday Mass.

But here's the thing. I live in a community. If there's something I don't like, I can vote with my feet - the thing I don't like will carry on happening, but I won't be seeing it. I can shut my eyes and put my fingers in my ears and pretend everything's fine.

Or maybe I could stay in my own parish community and give something back to it. When I didn't like the music in my old parish, I joined the music group and ended up selecting the music myself. If anyone complained that they didn't like my choices, I told them they were very welcome to help me. If they didn't want to help, and didn't have constructive suggestions of their own, I wasn't prepared to listen to their complaints.

If I'm not prepared to join the choir in my new parish, I have no right to complain about what they're singing or the way they're singing it. They demonstrate a commitment that I'm currently not prepared to make. It's very easy to criticise, but Mass in my parish is generally celebrated reverently, the choir practise hard and often sing beautifully, and who am I to sit at the back and grumble because they're singing hymns I don't know?

I'm going to have another rant in a minute about behaviour in church, so I'll leave that for now. But the big thing I want to say is Who am I to judge? Who am I to criticise my parish priest, or anyone else in the parish?

I started writing a blog at the beginning of Lent for my own spiritual development. Sure, I chuck in a few things that I've found funny - I love telling jokes. And I don't keep a diary, so bits of my personal life get chucked in for good measure. But I wanted to focus my mind on my faith and on what it meant to me, and writing things down has helped me to do that.

Unfortunately for me, I discovered (thanks, Mac!) Sitemeter. I found that other people were reading my blog, and I started trying to write things that I thought they would like to read. I wasn't always true to myself, and I started to get a bit arrogant. I also started to censor my own thoughts, in case readers were put off by what I really thought.

I have to say here that I have also found a number of the comments I have received very helpful. Partly because of the comments (particularly from Simon-Peter), I have been more rigorous in reading round certain subjects before posting on them, and have learnt a lot in the process. For that I'm very grateful, and I hope people will continue to give me helpful comments and to start a discussion when they disagree with me. But some people may find that in future, they disagree with me a bit more.

As the Cannonball said, I love the Church and I'm grateful that I'm a Catholic. But I worry that some Catholics interpret their faith in a way that is frankly more narrow-minded and judgemental than I'm comfortable with. In the last few days, I've been quite upset at the level of hatred displayed in some of the blogs I've read.

Jesus' message was one of love, and I don't want that to get lost among discussions about whether one person is a better Catholic than another because they attend a four-hour-long Latin Mass and criticise all developments in the Church since Vatican II.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Irish dancing

It's reported that an ancient undiscovered book has been found in an attic in Ireland. Its pages are still uncut, and the dust on the cover shows that the book has been long forgotten. Today I can reveal the title of that newly discovered book:

Catholic Heaven

A complex relationship

Over the weekend, my niece and I had one of those pointless arguments that you can have sometimes with a two-year-old:

Me: Did you know Aunt M. is my little sister, just like B. is your little sister?
Niece: No, she's my godmother.
Me: Yes, she's your godmother, and she's my little sister.
Niece: NO! She's MY godmother!

I often wonder if God sees some of the disagreements between followers of different religions in the same way.

Taking just the major monotheistic religions - Islam, Judaism and Christianity (in all their different forms) - there are some things that we all seem to agree on. There is a God. God loves us. We should love each other. We should try to do what God wants us to do.

This is the way I used to put it to the people who would come to me in China confused because two different groups had each said theirs was the only true way: imagine that you met my sister, my oldest friend and one of my tutors from university.

Each of you sees a different side of me, and each of you knows different things about me. It would be pointless for you to argue about whether I was a sister, a teacher, a friend or a student - because I'm all of those things, and many other things besides (daughter, aunt, granddaughter, niece, colleague, etc). What you need to know is what my relationship is to you as an individual, and then get to know me in that way, because nobody can know everything about me.

Of course, it's possible for people to tell lies about me, or to claim to know me when really they know nothing about me. It's perfectly possible to have an argument about whether I'm, for instance, a teacher (yes), an accountant (also yes), a secretary (also yes - I've had a varied career), a nurse (no, that's something I've never done) or a prostitute (absolutely not - no way).

It's even possible to imagine someone using my name to get something out of other people: "Oh, I was talking to her earlier, and she said if you could lend me £100 she'll pay you back next week." Such false claims are obviously to be rejected, as is the claim of someone who has never met me that because they have no proof that I exist, I obviously don't.

But if I, a mere human, have so many different facets, how many more facets are there to God, who is omnipotent and omnipresent? If God has revealed one side of himself to one person but kept another side hidden, which is then revealed to the second person, then whose view is 'correct' - the first person's, or the second?

I think the answer must be that they're both 'correct'. It would be wrong for my mother to claim that I wasn't her daughter, and it would be equally wrong for my student to claim that I wasn't her teacher - but that doesn't make me two different people, or make the core part of my personality any different.

Maybe when someone comes home to the Catholic Church, it's because God has chosen to reveal Himself to them in a way that reveals their own 'correct' relationship to Him.

They might already have been aware of God's existence in a vague kind of way (maybe as a distant uncle, or even a favourite uncle), but one day they find that He is actually their long-lost father, and they begin to develop a relationship with Him as father and son or daughter.

Or maybe the long-lost father has not been in their life at all, and the son or daughter learns that a complete stranger (of whose existence they were previously unaware) is actually their father, with all that this relationship entails. The thrill of discovery may or may not be instantaneous - the son or daughter may even reject this stranger who claims to be their father at first - but the relationship develops gradually, and interaction with other members of the family, family photographs and stories help in that development.

I have to think of it this way, because I truly believe that the Catholic Church has it 'right'. The teachings of the Church help me to develop a loving relationship with God and they give me a road map along which I try to move in my journey towards eternal life with God.

But I also know people who are not Catholic but have equally sincerely held beliefs and strive at least as much as I do, and probably more, to live in the way that they think God wants them to live.

Maybe some of them have been told things that are just plain wrong, and we shouldn't sweep their errors under the carpet. But maybe some also have a relationship with God, but one which is different from that which we have as Catholics. Same God, different relationships.

In any case, I don't think we'll be alone with Him in Heaven. And thinking of that last joke I told - try googling "They think they're the only ones up here". You can find practically every Christian denomination named in that punchline - and we each tell the same joke against ourselves.

The corridors of Heaven

A man died and went to Heaven. When he arrived, St Peter met him at the pearly gates and offered to show him round.

They walked down a long central corridor, which had a number of corridors leading off it. As they walked, St Peter pointed to left and right, saying, "The Buddhists are down there. That's the Muslims. The Hindus are on the left here. The Ba'hai are down to the right, and the Sikhs are next to them..."

Eventually, they turned down a long corridor, which had doors on each side. "This is the Christian wing," St Peter explained. He pointed to the doors as they went past, saying, "Here are the Methodists. In this room are the Baptists. The Presbyterians are on the right here..."

Then St Peter suddenly stopped, bent down to take his shoes off and whispered, "Now, we must go very quietly past this next door."

They both tiptoed past the door in their stockinged feet.

When they got to the other side, the man asked, "What was that all about, then?"

St Peter explained, "Oh, that was the room where the Catholics are. They think they're the only ones up here."

Going topless

No, not me - my house. My roof was taken off today, preparatory to being replaced, so I'm now praying for fine weather for the rest of the week.

This house purchase has been interesting. The people I bought the house from were evangelical Christians - the husband makes a living through work for his church and is quite well-known in certain Christian circles.
I think that's why, after bending over backwards to accommodate their wishes (including making myself homeless for three months to fit in with their desired timeframe and paying several hundred pounds to put all my belongings in storage for that time), I was particularly disappointed by the following:
  1. Certain items which were part of the fixtures and fittings and therefore legally belonged to me, since they were not specifically excluded from the sale, were removed from the house without my permission before I moved in. They have been difficult (in some cases, so far, impossible) to replace, and large ugly holes have been left in the walls from which these items have been removed.

  2. I haven't actually been able to put anything in the garden shed yet, as it's still full of the large and heavy pieces of junk which were left behind by the previous owners. Eventually, I think I'm going to have to hire a skip to have these things taken away, as they're too bulky to fit in my car. The junk left between the shed and the side wall is also causing damp in the side wall.

  3. Several sacks of rubbish were left in the garden for me to dispose of.

  4. The previous owners' children had a sandpit in the garden. I know this because the sand has been dumped out of it into a big heap in the flowerbed. To make it more difficult for me to clean up, the big heap is between a little picket fence and a large and prickly shrub.

  5. The day I moved in, the kitchen sink was blocked by a large amount of gunk - mostly old bits of food - which I had to remove by hand before I was able to use the sink.

I could go on, but you get the idea...

Is it just me, or should I have expected better of someone who makes a living out of telling other people how to be good Christians?

Monday, 9 April 2007


I probably shouldn't do this when I've just pressed the button to ask for my blog to be reviewed for spam, but I couldn't resist...

I got back from my weekend away to discover that I can't post on my blog without word verification. On pressing the help button, I find that this is because "Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog".

Apparently spam blogs "can be recognized by their irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site". Well, I don't have that many links, and they're all to different sites.

I suppose that must mean that the robot has decided my vague musings are irrelevant, repetitive or nonsensical.


Computer woes

All the comments that were left on my blog over the weekend seem to have been eaten by my computer - I read them, pressed 'Publish', and they promptly disappeared into the ether.

They must be floating around somewhere with the several-weeks-old comment that always proclaims its presence ('You have 1 comment waiting to be moderated') but has never allowed me to read it ('No new comments found').

I hope they're very happy together... and thanks to those of you who left comments. As a teacher, I'm always glad of any signs that at least some of my audience are awake.

Happy Easter

Right, I'm back, and here's what I would have been saying if I'd been here...

First and foremost - a huge welcome to our new brothers and sisters in Christ who were welcomed into the Church this weekend. I haven't had time to do much reading since I got back a couple of hours ago, but Jen has some fantastic posts about her experiences over the weekend - I couldn't just single out one to link to, because it's all so good, but do read back at least as far as her first Confession (continued here), which brought tears to my eyes.

I celebrated the Triduum in three different churches - Maundy Thursday Mass in my own (geographical) parish, Good Friday in the church on the hill and the Easter Vigil in my parents' parish.

This was a real departure for me - the last several years, I was responsible for selecting the music in my old parish and helping with the choir. I pretty much knew what was going to happen and when, and the beauty and the frustrations were the same every year. And what with choir practices and the fact that a huge parish and a packed church meant that each Mass was extra long, I seemed to spend most of Holy Week in church.

My old parish was huge, vibrant and very multicultural. Every year at the Easter Vigil Mass we had at least 25 people being baptised or received into the Church. One of the frustrations was that the font was underneath the choir loft, so that we couldn't see (or hear properly) what was happening, but I loved being part of the celebration.

I was a little bit sad that we didn't welcome any new Catholics into our midst in my parents' parish this Easter - but since I was holding a slumbering two-year-old niece throughout the Mass, I suppose I was a little bit grateful that it meant we weren't in church for as long as I have been the last few Easters.

One thing that surprised me on Good Friday was that once again, during the reading of the Passion, nobody knelt as we reached the moment of Jesus' death - and the reader didn't even pause. Is this something new? I can't remember ever having heard the story of the Passion without pausing and kneeling to pray at that point, and yet in the last week it has happened twice, in two different (though contiguous) parishes.

The weather has been gorgeous this weekend, one of my brothers brought a girlfriend home for the first time, my prodigal sister was briefly back from her prolonged trip round Europe and spent the weekend with us, my niece found her bodyweight in chocolate eggs hidden around the house, the roads were relatively clear at the times I was travelling, and the car didn't let me down.

A great weekend - and I hope yours was too.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Off air

I'm off up north to sunny Yorkshire after the service today. My parents have an antediluvian dial-up system and a houseful of family visiting, so I probably won't be able to blog again until Monday.

Have a happy and holy Triduum, folks.

Good Friday

Thursday, 5 April 2007

The old ones are the best...

What do you get if you pour boiling water down a rabbit hole?

A hot cross bunny.

[Note: If you don't get this joke at all, this link may help. Or it could just be that you don't share my preschooler's sense of humour.]

Maundy Thursday

"I give you a new commandment: love one another; you must love one another just as I have loved you. It is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognise you as my disciples."
(John 13:34-35)

When evening came he was at table with the Twelve. (Matt 26:20)

Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from table, removed his outer garments and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'

Jesus answered, 'At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.'

'Never!' said Peter. 'You shall never wash my feet.'

Jesus replied, 'If I do not wash you, you can have no share with me.'

Simon Peter said, 'Well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!'

Jesus said, 'No one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.' He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said, 'though not all of you are'.

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. 'Do you understand', he said, 'what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. (John 13:3-15)

As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. It was night. (John 13:30)

Then he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.' He did the same with the cup after supper, and said, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-20)

'Father,' he said, 'if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.' Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength. In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. (Luke 22:42-44)

He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour? Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak.' (Matt 26:40-41)

Suddenly, while he was still speaking, a number of men appeared, and at the head of them the man called Judas, one of the Twelve, who went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of man with a kiss?' (Luke 22: 47-48)

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Regular housekeeping

I once inadvertently caused a certain amount of scandal when staying with one of my uncles as a child. I had previously stayed with another uncle, who was not renowned for his housekeeping skills. On this particular visit, my cousins and I were helping with the housework on Saturday morning and I mused aloud, "It's much more satisfying doing housework at Uncle J's house - you can really see the difference when you do some cleaning there."

I'm also reminded today of the story of Queen Elizabeth I. It was said that she always insisted on having a bath once a month, "whether she needed it or not".

The reason I thought of these two stories today is that this evening I went to the parish penitential service. Now, I admit that I don't go to Confession as often as I should. As I waited to go into the confessional today, I went through the usual examination of conscience and thought, "But however hard I try, it's always the same sins, and I just don't know whether I would do any better at resisting them if I went to Confession more often."

Then I came home and read the following words of Pope Benedict XVI (quoted here, in an article on promoting confession):

"It is true: Our sins are always the same, but we clean our homes, our rooms, at least once a week, even if the dirt is always the same; in order to live in cleanliness, in order to start again. Otherwise, the dirt might not be seen, but it builds up.

Something similar can be said about the soul, for me myself: If I never go to confession, my soul is neglected and in the end I am always pleased with myself and no longer understand that I must always work hard to improve, that I must make progress. And this cleansing of the soul that Jesus gives us in the sacrament of confession helps us to make our consciences more alert, more open, and hence, it also helps us to mature spiritually and as human persons. Therefore, two things: Confession is only necessary in the case of a serious sin, but it is very helpful to confess regularly in order to foster the cleanliness and beauty of the soul and to mature day by day in life.”
I love the feeling of having been to Confession - in my mind's eye, my soul is washed clean again, whiter than white. But for me, it's usually a major spring clean - getting rid of a build-up of cobwebs and dust that have built up over the months. Apart from the spring clean, I would only think of going to Confession if there'd been a major spillage which immediately needed to be mopped up - and I like to think I don't have too many of those.

But now that I've cleaned out the dust bunnies of my soul, I've resolved to make a real effort to keep it tidy with a bit of regular housekeeping rather than wait for the next major blitz. You never know, it might even help me to conquer some of those recurring stains that I just can't seem to get rid of...