Saturday, 30 June 2007

The Pope's letter to China's Faithful

I won't have time to read and digest this properly until tonight at the earliest, but here are some links:

The text of the letter (available in Chinese, English, French and Italian).

My initial thoughts:

This is a loving and understanding letter, which seeks to initiate a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and to reconcile the 'Patriotic' and Underground Churches in China. It acknowledges the difficulties which Chinese Catholics have faced and continue to face, while also acknowledging the progress that has been made in allowing greater communication between the Chinese bishops and Rome.

While recognising that some Chinese bishops have not been consecrated legitimately, the Pope points out that the position of many bishops has been regularised, and that part of the difficulty has been in the failure in many cases to give sufficient publicity to that regularisation.

Where a bishop has not been consecrated legitimately, the Pope states that sacraments conferred by that bishop are nevertheless valid. This will give great comfort to ordinary lay people who have remained faithful in the sincere practice of their religion, often having no choice over whether to attend a Patriotic or an Underground church.

It should be remembered that it is not only the Underground Church which has suffered and which has a legitimate claim to our sympathy and prayers. I see it as very positive that the Pope has not explicitly differentiated between the Patriotic and the Underground Churches in his letter.

The Pope concludes with the words:

May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Queen of China, who at the hour of the Cross patiently awaited the morning of the Resurrection in the silence of hope, accompany you with maternal solicitude and intercede for all of you, together with Saint Joseph and the countless Holy Martyrs of China.

I assure you of my constant prayers and, with affectionate remembrance of the elderly, the sick, the children and young people of your noble Nation, I bless you from my heart.

We can do no better than to pray with the Pope for the people of China.

On a more flippant note, how come every other news source describes it as a 28-page letter, while Time magazine calls it a 55-page letter? Were they alone in getting the unabridged version?

Ten years ago today

T-shirts like this one started to appear in mainland China early in 1992. By 1995, you could find them pretty much everywhere. They were outnumbered only by the 'Beijing 2000' T-shirts and merchandise.

Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese by the then governor, Chris Patten, at midnight on the night of 30 June/1 July 1997. So, did much change?

I have only ever spent a week in Hong Kong, in 1993, and prefer to listen to people I trust on the ground rather than to biased media and those with an agenda. As I've said before, there's a whole industry of people making a living out of presenting as bad an image as possible of China to the outside world. I would be more willing to trust someone who isn't being paid to promote a particular agenda.

I have a relative who had quite a high-powered job in Hong Kong at the time of the handover. Before the handover, he made preparations to return to the UK if necessary. He is still there now, and his job description and lifestyle have not changed.

I'm not an apologist for the Chinese government, and people I know personally in China have suffered abuses because of their religious or political convictions. Their stories are not mine to tell you.

But I live in a country where the government recently passed a law allowing an individual to be arrested and convicted for standing at the Cenotaph and reading out the names of soldiers who were killed in Iraq, where 50 police were sent in to disrupt one man's peaceful protest outside Parliament in the middle of the night, and where an 82-year-old party member can be forcibly ejected from the Labour party's annual conference for daring to disagree with the prime minister. So don't try to tell me the West is whiter than white - particularly after some of the disgraceful erosion of our civil liberties which has taken place under the current government.

If anyone who actually knows first hand can tell me what effect 10 years of Chinese rule have had in Hong Kong, particularly for the ordinary people in the street, I'd love to hear it.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Additions to my blogroll

I really recommend a visit to Red Cardigan at And Sometimes Tea. She has so many good posts that I can't link to all the ones I liked, but do check out this one, which brings out the significance of 7 July for the release of the Motu Proprio.

I found my way there from St Fiacre's Garden, which is another excellent blog, well worth a browse.

Jen Ambrose has also pointed me in the direction of Shanghai Scrap (do you think the ambiguity of his URL is intentional?), which is a good source of up-to-date information on the Church in China. You might want to pay this site a visit after noon tomorrow, when he promises a post on the Pope's letter to Chinese Catholics.

Since you asked...

Someone said they wanted to see a picture of me. Well, being a vain type, and this being summer, I searched around for the last picture that was taken of me looking good in shorts - and here it is.

[Can you tell I'm having trouble concentrating on my work this afternoon....? ;¬)]

OK, I'll talk about it too...

I've just got back from Mass, and today's homily could have been written just for me. The priest started off by saying that he often issues a health warning against reading the Catholic press - particularly the correspondence pages - as doing so can give the false impression that the Catholic Church is at war, with an unbreachable division between hardline traditionalists and woolly liberals (and not a lot in between the two hardline positions).

I might add that you can get the same impression from the blogosphere.

He said people even see this division between Saints Peter and Paul - the 'Rock' on which the Church was built, and the itinerant missionary who wandered around the world spreading the Word as the Spirit moved him. Some have even described St Paul as "more of a Protestant", while Peter was the solid Catholic.

And yet the Catholic Church was built on these two pillars - Peter and Paul. Look at the prayer that I posted earlier today (OK, late last night) - "knit together in unity by thy Spirit". Both had a role to play in the formation of the Church, and between them they helped to build UNAM sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

The best posts I've seen on the Motu Proprio, ones which give a balanced view of what it means for the average person in the pew, are here, here and here (H/T to Esther for the last link).

Unfortunately, I didn't heed Father's health warning, and looked at the Catholic Herald on my way out of church. So here, just to be balanced, I give you the most disappointing thing I've read so far about the Motu Proprio...

(In fairness, I should mention that the Catholic Herald also has a very good editorial entitled "The bishops should welcome the Pope's motu proprio", which you can read here.)

Feast of St Peter and St Paul

Almighty God,
Whose blessed apostles
Peter and Paul
glorified thee by their martyrdom:
Grant that thy Church,
instructed by their teaching and example,
and knit together in unity by thy Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation,
which is Jesus Christ our Lord;
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the same Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Art and nature

Never fear,
good people of an anxious turn of mind,
that Art will consign Nature to oblivion.
Set anywhere, side by side,
the work of God
and the work of man;
and the former ... will gain in dignity from the comparison.
- Charles Dickens, Hard Times
Photo by me, Lincolnshire 2004

We haven't had a blonde joke for a while

A blonde and a brunette in America's Mid-West are struggling to make their ranch survive.

They are down to their last $600. The brunette decides that one way out is to breed their cattle, and for that they will need a bull.

She looks in the papers and sees an ideal one for sale.

She explains this to her sister (the blonde) and says that she will go and view the bull and if it's suitable, she will buy it and send her sister a telegram asking her to hitch the trailer to the jeep and drive over.

So off she goes with the cheque book.

She sees the bull and it is ideal. The only drawback is that the seller wants $599 for it.

She writes out a cheque and heads off to the local post office.

"I'd like to send a telegram to my sister, please," she drawls. "I'd like it to read 'I have seen the bull and it is perfect. Please hitch the trailer to the jeep and get here as soon as you can!'."

The postmaster says, "You do know we charge 99 cents per word, don't you?"

The brunette thinks about this for a bit, realising that she only has $1 left, which means she can only send one word.

"In that case," she answers, "Please send her this," and she writes down "COMFORTABLE" on the form.

"How's she going to know that means 'I have seen the bull and it is perfect. Please hitch the trailer to the jeep and get here as soon as you can!'?" asks the postmaster.

"She's blonde," comes the reply. "She'll read it slowly!"

Happy birthday

I'm forbidden on pain of death (with a menacing "and remember, now I know where you live") to reveal her age, but today is Mac's birthday.

Have a great day, Mac. Oh, and it looks like you might be needing this...

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

My first blogging lunch

Mac from Mulier Fortis came over for lunch today. We had a great time putting the blogosphere to rights, and she was suitably impressed when I showed her my little empire from which I blog. We made a pact not to take photos of each other, and agreed just to take pictures of the food instead...

I realised that my obsession with blogging had become a little unreasoning when, five minutes after she left, I checked her blog to see if it had been updated this afternoon. Hmmm...

Lewis Hamilton

You may have heard of Lewis Hamilton, the British boy wonder who has been electrifying fans of Formula 1 with his debut season and is currently leading the drivers' championship.

Well, I've managed to get hold of some of the earliest footage of Lewis preparing for his career in Formula 1:

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Free will

There's an old story of a very wealthy woman who is walking along, wearing a fur coat and absolutely dripping with expensive jewellery. Beside her walks a servant, who is pushing her teenage son along in a jewel-encrusted wheelchair.

A passer-by comes up and commiserates with the woman, commenting that it's such a shame that her poor son is unable to walk.

"Oh no, you're quite mistaken," says the woman. "He can walk, but fortunately we're so wealthy that he doesn't have to."

I'm not a parent, but I am an older sister, a godmother and an aunt, and many of my friends and family are parents. When their babies are born, they are filled with a fierce, protective love. They never want any harm to come to their babies, and would do anything to prevent them from being hurt.

As the child grows, a loving parent allows him more and more independence. When the child is learning to walk, this means allowing him to fall down a few times while he works out how to balance, in the full knowledge that there are going to be times when he hurts himself in the fall. As he gets older, he learns to ride (and fall off) a bicycle and to run around (and fall over and skin his knees). Then he gets to the age when he wants to drive a car, or maybe ride a motorbike, and his parents have fresh worries about him crashing and getting injured or killed.

The parents also have to watch him make mistakes, fail an exam, lose a game, quarrel with his friends, break up with his first girlfriend, be rejected at an interview, and so on. Each time, they are there with arms open to sympathise with him, comfort him, let him know they still love him.

But they have to let the bad things happen, because without them, there can't be any successes. No baby ever learnt to walk without falling over. Nobody ever goes through life without making mistakes and without feeling pain, and it's often through the mistakes and the pain that we learn and grow. If we were never allowed to feel pain, we would be like that boy in the jewel-encrusted wheelchair - pampered and no doubt loved, but living a life full of restrictions and deprived of innumerable simple pleasures.

One of the hardest questions to answer is "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?". The closest I can come to an answer is: God is our Father. He has given us free will. Just like our own parents, He sees the problems that we're walking into. Some of those problems are of our own making, others are not. Either way, He feels our pain, and He feels the pain of a loving Father who can't prevent us from feeling abandoned, rejected, lonely or in pain. But without being allowed to experience these things, we can't grow - a life with no shadows is only half a life.

And when we cry out to Him in our pain and let Him know that we're hurting, He's there with His arms outstretched, ready to offer us His comfort and strength.

A crucial decision

In this week's sermon, the priest told us the following story, which I hadn't heard before:

There was once a fifteen-year old boy growing up in Ohio. His dream was always to become a pilot. He was working part-time in a drugstore, and every penny he made was spent on flying lessons at the little airport near his home. His goal was to get his pilot's licence as soon as he was 16.

One day as he and his father were driving by the airport, he spotted a low flying plane. Suddenly the plane spun out of control, went into a nosedive and crashed into the ground. The boy and his father raced to the crash site and pulled the young pilot from the plane. He died in the boy's arms as they waited for help. It was especially traumatic for the boy because he knew the student pilot who had died.

The boy was too upset to eat supper that night, and spent the next two days in his room pondering this event, asking God why his friend had had to die at such an early age. Meanwhile, the boy's parents were wondering what effect the tragedy would have on their son. Would he stop taking flying lessons, or would he continue? They agreed that the decision would be his.

On the third day, the boy's mother brought him some freshly baked cookies. As she entered his room, she noticed that his notebook was open on his desk. Across the top of the page was written, "The Character of Jesus" and below that he had written, "Jesus was sinless, He was humble, He championed the poor, He was unselfish, He was close to God."

The mother was proud that in this dark hour her son had heeded the lessons of childhood and turned to Jesus for the answers to the questions he had. She asked her son what he had decided about whether or not to continue his flying lessons. The boy looked into his mother's eyes and said, "Mom, I hope you and Dad will understand, but with God's help, I must continue to fly."

That boy was Neil Armstrong. And on 20 July 1969, he became the first human being to walk on the moon. Few people who watched that historic event knew that it was from his faith in Jesus that he had drawn strength and guidance to make a crucial decision as a teenager which now enabled him to take his place in history.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

My last word on this topic (probably)

I find it too depressing a subject to waste my breath on. I'll just post this joke and be done with...

A young man named Tony bought a donkey from an old farmer for £100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day.

When the farmer drove up the next day, he said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news...the donkey is on my truck, but he's dead."

Tony replied, "Well then, just give me my money back."

The farmer said, "I can't do that. I've already spent it."

Tony said, "OK then, just unload the donkey anyway".

The farmer asked, "What are you going to do with him?"

Tony thought for a few seconds and then said, "I'm going to raffle him off."

To which the farmer exclaimed, "You can't raffle off a dead donkey!"

But Tony, with a big smile on his face, said "Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody that he's dead."

A month later the farmer met up with Tony and asked, "What happened with that dead donkey?"

Tony said, "I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at £2 each and made a profit of £698.00."

Totally amazed, the farmer asked, "Didn't anyone complain that you had stolen their money because you lied about the donkey being dead?"

And Tony replied, "The only guy who found out about the donkey being dead was the raffle winner, when he came to claim his prize. So I gave him his £2 back plus £200 extra, which is double the going value of a donkey, so he thought I was a great guy."

Tony grew up and eventually became the Prime Minister of Britain, and no matter how many times he lied or how much money he stole from British voters, as long as he gave them back some of the stolen money, large numbers of them still thought he was a great guy.

Spot the difference

Three of these pictures are of modern Catholic churches. The other three are of coal mines. Can you tell which ones are which?

But these quizzes could get addictive...

Well, that's not too bad...

61%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Saturday, 23 June 2007

EU agreement

OK, this is an old one, but the latest EU summit made me dig it out...

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility. As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one letter fewer.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Good old NHS

This is a rant. I thought I'd give you fair warning.

Where I used to live, the doctor's surgery had a very sensible system. There was a morning surgery time and an afternoon surgery time. If you were sick and needed to see a doctor, you turned up at one of those two times, queued for a maximum of 45 minutes and were seen by a doctor.

This is the first time I've needed a doctor since I moved to my new house, so my only experience of the surgery has been when I registered with them.

I just called them to ask for an appointment, there being no sensible surgery system in place. The first appointment they could offer me was next Tuesday. Next TUESDAY!!!! That's five days away.

I don't bother the doctor unless I think it's necessary - if I get sick, I always wait a couple of days at least to see if it's going to clear up on its own. In the absence of any chronic illness or long-term injury, I can't think of any possible situation in which it would be acceptable to wait five days to see a doctor.

I just popped into Boots and spoke to a pharmacist, who basically told me the warning signs to look out for of complications. Other than that, between now and Tuesday it's aspirin and antiseptic cream. Oh, and I didn't bother booking that appointment - by next Tuesday, I'll either be recovered or (if it gets significantly worse) have seen someone else.

I'm NOT happy!

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Because these things matter to some people

I think I have cellulitis. I certainly have all the symptoms. If it's no better tomorrow morning, I'll try to get an appointment with the doctor that fits in with my teaching schedule.

So tonight I had to grit my teeth and prepare...

I'm perfectly happy to show the doctor a red, swollen leg which is weeping pus - but to show her a leg with a couple of weeks' stubble on it would be totally unacceptable.

This week...

... has been busy. Normal service will (hopefully) resume next week.

Friday, 15 June 2007

So she can count higher than four

My niece absolutely loves strawberries. So when she saw a big bowl of them in the middle of the table, her little eyes lit up, and she immediately said:

"Can I have sixteen?"

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Cor Jesu, te laudamus.
Te benedicimus, te glorificamus.

Tibi gratias agimus.
Te amamus ex toto corde nostro,
ex tota anima nostra
et ex totis viribus nostris.

Tibi cor nostrum offerimus:
donamus, consecramus, immolamus.

Accipe et posside illud totum:
purifica, illumina et sanctifica,
ut in ipso vivas et regnes
in saeculorum saecula.


Thursday, 14 June 2007

The easiest cake ever

Years ago, I was paying my way through a postgraduate course by doing three part-time jobs. One of those jobs was typing for a print shop - I would stop by the shop every day on my way from classes to my evening secretarial job to drop off one lot of typing and pick up the next lot, and would do the typing at home that night. My computer lived in a walk-in cupboard off the hallway of my one-bedroom flat, and I would sit in the cupboard typing until late into the night.

I typed all sorts of stuff - essays by law students, dissertations on tropical diseases, a whole book on the history of Turkey, novels, a long letter to the queen from someone claiming to be her rightful heir... Some of it was fascinating, some tedious.

One night at about 11:30 pm, I was typing a collection of recipes from round the world. One of the recipes looked so simple that I just couldn't believe it. As I typed, I wondered whether this recipe could really work. I did a mental inventory of my kitchen and realised that I had all the ingredients in stock. As soon as I finished the typing, I rushed to the kitchen to try out the recipe.

An hour later (by this time, about 1:00 am), I had made my first yogurt cake. It was a great success - as was every single one of the dozens of yogurt cakes I have made since then. It's a beautifully light, moist sponge, perfect for decorating for birthdays and other special occasions. It's also so quick and easy to make that a toddler can do pretty much all the work of making it. I've made it with several of my nephews, nieces and children of various friends - and it turned out great every time.

It's also an incredibly easy recipe to remember - so here it is.

Yogurt cake

You can use any flavour of yogurt for this cake - the flavour of the yogurt will add to the flavour of the cake.

1. Pour one pot (individual serving) of yogurt into a bowl.

2. Use the empty yogurt pot to measure out into the bowl: 1 pot of vegetable oil, two pots of granulated sugar and three pots of self-raising flour.

3. Break in two or three eggs (depending on the size of your yogurt pot and the size of your eggs - I usually use three).

4. Mix all the ingredients together until smooth.

5. Pour mixture into a baking tin and cook in a medium oven (gas mark 4-5/180 degrees C/350 degrees F) for 35-45 minutes or until a knife poked into the middle comes out clean.

Try it - it really is as simple as that. And it tastes great too. Oh, and if you're having a big party it works equally well if you double all the quantities and make one big cake.

Some variations:

Use strawberry yogurt for the cake mix and decorate the completed cake with strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

Upside-down pudding - Use peach yogurt for the cake mix, put tinned peaches (without the juice) in the bottom of the baking dish, pour the cake mixture on top and serve hot with ice cream, cream or custard.

Split the cake in half, spread jam in the middle and sprinkle icing sugar over the top.

Flavours of yogurt with which I've made it that have worked well: toffee, hazelnut, vanilla, strawberry, raspberry, peach, pineapple, lemon...

How the tax system works

A friend sent me this by e-mail. Pity our wonderful government can't understand this concept:

Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to £100.

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
The fifth would pay £1.
The sixth would pay £3.
The seventh would pay £7.
The eighth would pay £12.
The ninth would pay £18.
The tenth man (the richest) would pay £59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until one day, the owner said, "Since you are all such good customers, I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily beer by £20."

Drinks for the ten now cost just £80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes, so the first four men were unaffected - they would still drink for free.

But what about the other six men - the paying customers? How could they divide the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share'?

They realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer. So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill proportionately, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so:

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100% savings).
The sixth now paid £2 instead of £3 (33% savings).
The seventh now paid £5 instead of £7 (28% savings).
The eighth now paid £9 instead of £12 (25% savings).
The ninth now paid £14 instead of £18 (22% savings).
The tenth now paid £49 instead of £59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings.

"I only got £1 out of the £20," declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man, "but he got £10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved £1, too. It's unfair that he got TEN times more than I!"

"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get £10 back when I got only £2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up.

The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most monetary benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

The dangers of a vivid imagination

My mother has this thing where she rehearses conversations in her head. She'll provide the responses she expects us to give, repeat the conversation over and over until she's perfected both her side and ours, and then after several days she'll suddenly burst out, "But why won't you come and see us next weekend?" Ummm, well, because you haven't asked me to?

Sadly, I seem to have inherited this tendency. I was talking to my mother on the phone on Sunday and she said something that upset me. The conversation has continued in my head ever since, and got to the stage last night where I was on the verge of phoning her up and saying, "For Heaven's sake, Mother, will you just give it a rest?"

It annoys me like anything when she does it to me. So I'm trying hard to bite my lip and not say anything. In fact, my parents are coming to see me this weekend, so I can actually involve her in the conversation. I might even let her decide what to say for her own parts...

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Is it me?

I was just surfing a few shopping sites, looking for a particular present for a friend of mine, when I came across this here:

Let me just point out so you don't have to click the link to find out for yourselves - the website selling this item describes itself as a purveyor of Catholic goods, and even has a "good faith guarantee".

But don't you find this cross just a little bit, well, blasphemous?

A quote from St Augustine

Love, and do what you will.
If you are silent, be silent out of love;
If you speak, speak out of love;
If you correct, correct out of love;
If you forbear, forbear out of love;
Bear love in your heart,
For from love nothing but good can spring.

Monday, 11 June 2007

I apologise (a bit) for this terrible joke...

An old rabbi, on seeing his son graduate from college, wanted to know what the youth's plans were for the future.

He called his son into his study, and laid on the desk three items: a £50 note, a bottle of Black Bush whiskey and the Bible.

"Son," he said, "I vish to know, vat kind of career are you going to have? If you take the £50 note, you vill become a gambler, and that is very terrible. If you take the Black Bush, you vill become a drunkard and that too is very, very bad. But... If you take the Bible, you vill become a rabbi, like your Papa."

The young lad's mind was blank. He was just out of college and he did not yet know what he wanted to do with his life. After a few minutes of trying to think, he finally decided there was only one answer.

The boy took the £50 note and put it in his pocket. He picked up the whiskey in one hand and with the other he took the Bible, put it under his arm and quickly left the room.

The old rabbi was stunned. He could not understand what had just happened. Then all of a sudden his eyes grew wide, he jumped to his feet, and slapping the side of his face he cried:

"Oy Vay... He is going to become a Catholic Priest!"

Better with words than with numbers...

Last week, a very dear friend of our family celebrated her 94th birthday. As is often the case with the very old and the very young, she has a special relationship with my three-year-old niece - they absolutely adore each other.

My sister told my niece that it was this lady's birthday, and that she was very very old.

"How old do you think she is?" my sister asked.

My niece thought for a couple of minutes, and then, in tones of great authority, said, "I think she's four."

Taking over the world

At the end of today's Mass, we had a little commissioning ceremony for the altar servers. I've never seen a ceremony like this before, and found it quite interesting. One thing that saddened me a bit, though, was that all the new servers are girls ("serviettes", as my family call them).

Girls seem to be taking over so many traditionally male areas, and boys are either being put off for fear of looking girly or being rejected because the girls are considered to do it better. My newsagent recently told me that he had sacked all his paper boys and replaced them with girls, because "the girls are more reliable". Even the scout movement is now mixed in the UK, although girls also have the option to join the Brownies or the girl guides instead (there is no single sex option for boys).

At the same time, boys don't want to move into the areas traditionally dominated by girls, for fear of being called sissy. So they're just getting squeezed out, and we see increasing numbers of bored youths hanging around on street corners, getting up to no good.

Equality is great, but what can we do to build up boys' self-esteem and help them to become good husbands and fathers when society as a whole seems to give them so few role models, and when political correctness prevents us from keeping anything special for them? Oh, and how is it "equal" when girls have the option to stick to girls-only pursuits or to join in with the traditional male pursuits, while boys are prevented from enjoying boys-only pursuits without the girls? When is someone going to stand up and say that feminism has gone too far, and girls can't have their cake and eat it (or at least, not unless the boys are allowed to as well)?

Sunday, 10 June 2007

More bad hymns

Today, the feast of Corpus Christi (and don't get me started on how annoyed I am that it's been moved to the nearest Sunday), the Communion hymn in my church was "Now in this banquet" - not one I've ever heard before in the UK (though I believe it's more common in the US).

The refrain goes:

"Now in this banquet
Christ is our bread.
Here shall all hungers be fed.
Bread that is broken,
Wine that is poured,
Love is the sign of our Lord."

Am I being oversensitive, or do these words seem a little, well, heretical to you? "Bread" and "wine", "the sign of our Lord"? How about "Real Presence"? Or how about "This isn't actually bread and wine you're consuming, chaps, but the body and blood of Our Lord"? (I'm sure those exact words could be worked into one of these modern "hymns" without looking at all out of place - other than in the fact that they're actually expressing Catholic teaching.)

Call me a rebel, but I carefully read the words of that hymn and then turned to another page in my hymn book and silently sang some different words:

"O bread of Heaven, beneath this veil,
Thou dost my very God conceal..."

I'm a native New Yorker...

This is a brilliant post on what makes someone Catholic - thanks for pointing me towards it, Esther.

Feast of Corpus Christi

PANGE lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.

Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex inacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.

In suprema nocte coenae
recumbus cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.

Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.

Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.

Amen. Alleluia.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Bit of a milestone

New Man and I sort of had our first row today. He upset me, I got cross, I let him know I was cross, he apologised, I sulked, he apologised again, I forgave him, we spent the afternoon together, I apologised for being grumpy, he forgave me. Quite an important little milestone in our relationship, I think - we need to be able to show each other when we're upset, work things out, forgive each other and move on.

And then tonight he sent me a text, and for the first time he actually used the phrase "I love you". I've always hated it when someone starts saying those words when they barely know you, within a couple of days of meeting you. But after four months, I think it has meaning. I'm going to bed with a smile on my face tonight.

The first Maltese saint

Last Sunday, St Gorg Preca was canonised in a ceremony in Rome attended by 5,000 Maltese. Born in Valletta in 1880, Gorg Preca almost didn't make it to the priesthood - as a young deacon, he suffered lung failure and was not expected to recover. He attributed his subsequent miraculous recovery, shortly before his ordination to the priesthood, to St Joseph, whom he followed devoutly.

At the time, lay people in Malta were taught very little about their faith, and illiteracy was rife. Dun Gorg founded the Society of Christian Doctrine to teach people about the Bible and about theology. The motto of the Society was "Magister Utinam Sequatur Evangelium Universus Mundus!" (MUSEUM), which translates as: "Master, that the whole world would follow the Gospel!" Today the SDC has centres in Malta, Sudan, Kenya, Great Britain and Albania.

Throughout his life, Dun Gorg continued to teach in all towns and villages of Malta and Gozo. Many were enchanted by his words and deeds, and by his simplicity, humbleness and meekness. His words to the Society were "Teach, teach and teach, something of it will remain."

In Sunday's ceremony, the Pope said Dun Gorg was "a priest totally dedicated to evangelisation: Through his preaching, through his writings, through the spiritual guidance and administration of the sacraments and, above all, by setting a living example". And he appealed to him to always be, in Malta and in the world, "a faithful echo of the word of God".

To the Maltese people, the Pope said, ""St Gorg Preca is the first canonised son of your sweet land. He is your second father of faith after the apostle St Paul. He always prays for you, so that you can be close to the gospel. St Gorg Preca, pray for us!"

The second miracle attested for St Gorg's canonisation was the unexplained cure of a small boy who was suffering from a liver disease. Towards the end of the Mass there was a special moment for that little boy as he received his First Holy Communion from the Pope, with his parents and younger sister by his side.

A Mass is being celebrated in Westminster Cathedral today to celebrate the canonisation of St Gorg Preca. You can read more about St Gorg (and see my sources for these photos) here, here and here.

Friday, 8 June 2007

You turn your back for five minutes...

Before I went away on holiday, there was so much rain that I wasn't able to mow my grass for a week or so. I came back to THIS!

Plus ca change...

I've been following with a mixture of amusement and dismay the flame war which appears to be going on between two people whose blogs, both of which are on my personal list of daily reads, I enjoy equally. I don't know (or care) how it started, or why - but I do worry that it's symptomatic of a wider sickness in the Catholic blogosphere, and wish we could all just play nicely together.

Dissent, of course, has always been with us. I mentioned a while ago that this month's book for my book club was 'A Journal of the Plague Year' by Daniel Defoe - first published in 1722 (and a book which I highly recommend). A propos of nothing, I give you this quote from that book (p 168-170 in the edition I'm reading):

As it brought the People into publick Company, so it was surprizing how it brought them to crowd into the Churches, they inquir'd no more into who they sat near to, or far from, what offensive Smells they met with, or what condition the People seemed to be in, but looking upon themselves all as so many dead Corpses, they came to the Churches without the least Caution, and crowded together, as if their Lives were of no Consequence, compar'd to the Work which they came about there: Indeed, the Zeal which they shew'd in Coming, and the Earnestness and Affection they shew'd in their Attention to what they heard, made it manifest what a Value People would all put upon the Worship of God, if they thought every Day they attended at the Church that it would be their Last.

Nor was it without other strange Effects, for it took away all Manner of Prejudice at, or Scruple about the Person who they found in the Pulpit when they came to the Churches....

Here we may observe, and I hope it will not be amiss to take notice of it, that a near View of Death would soon reconcile Men of good Principles one to another, and that it is chiefly owing to our easy Scituation in Life, and our putting these Things far from us, that our Breaches are fomented, ill Blood continued, Prejudices, Breach of Charity and of Christian Union so much kept and so far carry'd on among us, as it is: Another Plague Year would reconcile all these Differences, a close conversing with Death, or with Diseases that threaten Death, would scum off the Gall from our Tempers, remove the Animosities among us, and bring us to see with differing Eyes, than those which we look'd on Things with before; as the People who had been used to join with the Church, were reconcil'd at this Time, wtih the admitting the Dissenters to preach to them... but as the Terror of the Infection abated, those Things all returned again to their less desirable Channel, and to the Course they were in before.

I mention this but historically, I have no mind to enter into Arguments to move either, or both Sides to a more charitable Compliance one with another; I do not see that it is probable such a Discourse would be either suitable or successful; the Breaches seem rather to widen, and tend to a widening farther, than to closing, and who am I that I should think myself able to influence either one Side or other? But this I may repeat again, that 'tis evident Death will reconcile us all, on the other Side the Grave we shall be all Brethren again. In Heaven, whether, I hope we may come from all Parties and Perswasions, we shall find neither Prejudice or Scruple; there we shall be of one Principle and of one Opinion, why we cannot be content to go Hand in Hand to the Place where we shall join Heart and Hand without the least Hesitation, and with the most compleat Harmony and Affection; I say, why we cannot do so here I can say nothing to, neither shall I say any thing more of it, but that it remains to be lamented.

Bubonic plague, anyone....?

Maybe next time...

Ann Winterton introduced her Bill on counselling for women seeking abortions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, under the Ten Minute Rule. My own MP had written to me in response to my e-mail, saying that she sympathised with the views I had expressed but would be unable to attend the House to vote that day. She also predicted that the Bill would not be passed - and unfortunately, she was right.

Here is a link to Hansard (the record of Parliamentary proceedings) for the relevant time. It records the "debate" (such as it was), together with a record of the vote - you can scroll down and find out whether your own MP was there and if so, how they voted.

The motion was defeated by 107 votes to 182. There are 646 MPs in the House of Commons. I hope the rest were doing something important for the £60,675 annual salary (plus allowances) we voters and taxpayers are paying them.

Personal policies meme

I've been tagged by Esther again. I actually followed this meme back to its origin to see what the original instructions were:

"I think it would be safe to say that we all have personal rules that we live by. Surely it's not just ME. I'm not talking about moral rules, like "Do not kill." I'm talking about the silly policies we impose on ourselves, like "Never eat anything you can't identify," or "Don't step on sidewalk cracks." For some reason, I started mentally listing the quirky rules I follow and got curious about other people's personal rules. Hey, why not start a meme?"

So, here are some of my personal rules:

1. Saying grace silently in my head before I start eating is so deeply ingrained that I even have to do it in large gatherings when we have all already said grace together before I can take my first mouthful.

2. I always end the day by thanking God for the day, listing out things that I'm thankful for and then praying by name for each member of my family, my godchildren and anyone else who needs special prayers. The order in which they are mentioned varies depending on who seems most in need of prayer that day, and some people end up getting mentioned twice, but no name is ever omitted, however tired I am. In the case of some people whose blogs I read, praying for them by name means using their Blogger ID - I presume God also reads the Internet and knows who you are!

3. However cold my feet are, I never ever ever put my socks on before any of my other clothes in the morning.

4. I always salute when I see a single magpie, but in a way that makes it look as though I'm just casually scratching my head, just in case anyone's watching.

5. As soon as I wake up each Saturday morning, I phone my parents. We each have one of those BT programmes where calls are free for the first hour, and very often we'll reach the end of the first hour and then have to put the phone down and redial.

6. Coasters must be used for drinks, and any drips must be wiped up IMMEDIATELY. Apart from those two things, I'm not house-proud at all.

7. NEVER put a wet spoon in the sugar.

8. Remember which cup you were using, and reuse it - you can always rinse it if you're paranoid about germs. I hate it when people get out a fresh cup for each successive cup of tea, and you're left with a kitchenful of dirty cups at the end of the day.

9. I keep my watch seven minutes fast, and always aim to arrive early for everything - and then wait just around the corner until the allotted time. I HATE being late.

10. No piece of work is ever important enough to justify cancelling a prior social engagement - even if it means I have to work straight through the night after I get home from a visit.

Right, that's enough. I have a hunch these people will come up with interesting answers: Suzanne Temple, Jackie Parkes, Leticia, Cate, Mac - and anyone else who fancies it.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Jet lag

Don't you just hate it when you wake up on a crowded train to find your head on the shoulder of the total stranger sitting next to you?!

I think I'd better have an early night tonight...

Geeky mathematical joke

There are 10 kinds of people in this world - those who understand binary, and those who don't.

Monday, 4 June 2007

An Infinity of Little Hours

I promised Esther a review of this book by Nancy Klein Maguire. Well, what can I say? It was the sort of book that, once I finished it, I wanted to start all over again to pick up any details I might have missed. It was also the sort of book that makes me feel torn between wanting to keep it for myself and wanting to pass it on and let someone else enjoy it. It is now in the possession of my sister-in-law's father, and I'm in the market for another copy!

What makes it such a great book? Well, it's a fascinating account of a way of life of which I previously knew nothing. It doesn't disguise the hardships or the strangeness of the Carthusian life, but it is written with a loving reverence for their traditions by someone who seems to feel a genuine rapport with the people whose lives and thoughts she describes. She really gets into their skin and explains both their pleasures and their pain with affection and understanding.

The Carthusian life pre-Vatican II was a life which few could tolerate, and of the five novices whose lives the book follows, only one remained in the monastery - but all felt that the Carthusian experience shaped their lives. A book which could have become a condemnation of a way of life that churned people up and spat them out is instead an exploration of where they succeeded, what they hoped to get out of the life, what they actually did get out of it, and why four of them ended up being unable to stay.

The author spent several years researching the book, and it eventually came out the year after Philip Groning's film 'Into Great Silence'. I am now very keen to see this film, which was recently reviewed (and equally highly recommended) by Dad With Noisy Kids.

Doctors and mechanics

Just before I left Missouri, I asked my brother (a doctor) to remove a couple of moles for me. There was nothing wrong with them - they just got in my way a bit - so he just snipped them off and cauterised the area, as that way the scars will be a lot smaller than if he had cut away a chunk of skin and then stitched it.

Two of the children - the 9-year-old and the 5-year-old - asked if they could watch, so we had a little audience as he chopped me up. When my brother got out the machine that did the cauterising, he switched it on and waited till it glowed red hot. He then pressed it against my skin, where it hissed and produced a little wisp of smoke and a loud smell of burning flesh. The children watched with fascination, until the 9-year-old couldn't contain himself any longer, and asked:

"Daddy, are you welding her?"

How do they learn this stuff?

When we went to the Air & Space Museum last week, my nephew asked me to take lots of pictures. Now, one plane looks pretty much like another to me, but I dutifully snapped away (I'd show you a couple of my pictures, but blogger isn't letting me upload pictures this evening for some reason).

When we got home, my nephew plugged my camera into the television and gave the family a slideshow. When we got to the pictures of the planes, the three eldest boys (the 13-year-old who had been on the trip with me, the 11-year-old and the 9-year-old) all perked up and started having conversations like this:

"Oh wow, neat - it's the F-36-9J, which won the world record for the smallest nut and bolt combinations in its wings in 1952!"

"Yes, and did you know the guy who designed the spanner for those nuts was called Alfred von Nuttenburger, and that's why we call them nuts?!"

OK, that wasn't one of the actual conversations - I don't remember any of the real facts they were batting about. How come they do? And how on earth do they manage to differentiate between all these nearly identical aircraft?

New 4 x 2 meme

Esther has tagged me for this meme. You have to list four things that were new to you in the past four years - four things you learned or experienced or explored for the first time in the past four years: new house, new school, new hobby, new spouse, new baby, whatever. Then you have to say four things you want to try new in the next four years.

Hmmm, I can't think what might make her think I've experienced any new things recently... ;¬)

Well, four new things in the last four years - that's easy:

1. I started a new job, which is still my dream job. It combines elements of all the jobs I have ever done, gives me an opportunity to learn something new every day, to share my knowledge with others and to meet some great people. I also have the flexibility to work from home regularly, a more regular workload so I've got my evenings back, and the world's best head of department to work with (yes, he's the sort of boss that you work with, not for).

2. I moved house, from a one bedroom flat on a run-down council estate in South-East London to a house in the friendliest street in a little market town outside London, but from which I can walk to the station in about five minutes for a direct train to the nearest underground station to where I work.

3. Last October, I completed a marathon. When I started training, I had never run more than about half a mile. It wasn't the world's fastest marathon, but I got a lot of publicity for a good cause. Instead of donating money, I asked people to sponsor me by giving blood (in gratitude for the 17 units of blood which had saved my sister's life the previous year). Over 100 people gave blood, many of them first time donors, and many have now become regular donors as a result.

4. I've taken one of my nieces and one of my nephews on holiday unaccompanied for the first time. The challenges of being responsible for a three-year-old on a seaside holiday and a 13-year-old on a city holiday were completely different, but the rewards were equally great - I loved every minute of both holidays, and hope I have the opportunity to do the same sort of thing again.

And now for four things I'd like to try in the next four years:

1. Marriage would be nice - and I wouldn't complain if it was to New Man (who hopefully won't mind if I describe him as another of my recent new experiences!).

2. Motherhood would be fantastic. Some of my friends have suggested to me that I should consider adopting or fostering on my own, and I have considered it - but although I loved going on holidays alone with my niece and nephew, I don't think I could ever do that. I don't think I could give a child the sort of life that I would want it to have if I were on my own. I have some friends who, for various reasons, are having to bring up their children alone, and they are fantastic mothers - but none of them chose to be single parents, and I don't think it's a choice that would be fair on the child. So for me, 1 would have to precede 2.

3. I never thought I'd hear myself say this (see myself write it?), but I'd love to do another marathon - this time running the whole way. Given the short amount of time I had available for training, I did well just to finish the marathon last year, but I did walk the whole of the last 6 miles and intermittently (probably for about a third of the time in total) during the first 20.

4. I'd like to visit the place in Ireland where my grandparents grew up.

Now, who to tag? I've been a bit out of the blogging world recently, so apologise if you've already done this one - but I'll go for Mac, the Roving Medievalist and Brad.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Home again

Well, here I am back in Blighty, and I think I can just about remember how to get back to my office tomorrow. I'll post properly tomorrow - 5 hours' sleep in 48 hours tends to lead to a certain lack of lucidity...