Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Someone worse off

Today was the day I was going to have a good old moan. I started writing the post a few days ago, but it had grown to mammoth proportions. I considered holding onto it, releasing it in several parts to give it its full force. I played around with the wording, honed the text and generally wallowed in my little pity-fest. Because, you know, I have a husband who adores me, a beautiful house, a job I enjoy, a large and loving extended family, some wonderful friends, and this week I got another promotion - but that doesn't mean I can't find something to grumble about.

The one thing I never changed about the form of this post is that it ended with a request for prayers. For me. For something I want and can't have.

Anyone who doubts the existence of God should try being me for a few days. Ever since I started writing that post, He's been giving me the most crashing and unsubtle signs you could ever imagine that I should stop whinging and count my blessings.

The thing that finally made me delete my huge long draft post was receiving an e-mail from an old friend this afternoon.

This friend had an abusive husband, and ended up fleeing in the middle of the night with nothing but her small son and the clothes they stood up in. She rebuilt her life in another country, settled her son in a school where he had to learn a new language, and worked on providing him with love and stability. He began to thrive, and threw himself enthusiastically into an array of after school activities with an ever-growing circle of friends.

Her e-mail today told me that her mother died very suddenly a couple of weeks ago. Although they lived a continent apart, she described her mother as her best friend. They used to speak at least twice a day, and there was no sign that her mother was ill.

Her father, on the other hand, suffered brain damage during an illness a couple of years ago. As well as this damage, he is thought to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's. My friend has decided that she must cross continents once again to go and look after her father. She has to uproot her son again, and he will have to get used to another school system, another set of friends, and another language.

She has no idea how much longer her father will live, but she does know that he is unable to appreciate what she will be doing for him, and that he will be increasingly difficult, grumpy and demanding. She goes willingly, because she loves her father, but the man she'll be looking after is a shadow of her real father, the shell of his body carrying none of what made him the loving and intelligent man he once was.

So if you can spare a thought, please pray for my friend, that she has the strength to cope with this latest upheaval in her life, the wisdom to help her son adapt yet again to his new circumstances, and the patience to deal lovingly with her father.

Monday, 29 September 2008

My latest new toy

Every September, my job requires my entire department to spend two weeks away from home with our new graduate recruits. This ends up being an expensive fortnight for me, as I always seem to come home with some new piece of gadgetry. Two years ago, it was an iPod docking station. Last year, I broke the trend by buying clothes instead (a whole new winter wardrobe). This year, it was this.

It's the most incredible piece of kit. It's about the size of a slim paperback, and with the leather effect cover on, it really feels as though you're holding something akin to a book. It comes with 100 free books - they have to be out of copyright, so it's an eclectic mix of classics, many of which I expect to read for the first time over the coming months.

You can download books from the Waterstone's website, which I haven't tried yet. What I have done, though, is to download a couple of free pdfs - one of them being the document by Bishop O'Donoghue that I referred to yesterday.

The other was a piece of legislation that I needed for teaching - all 766 pages of it. I was able to set electronic bookmarks for the sections that I needed to refer to, and it was very easy to flick through it as I taught. I love the way you set a bookmark as well - you fold down the virtual corner of the virtual page! (Not something I'd ever do on a real book, mind you...)

The battery life is brilliant - it charges through the USB cable when you connect it to your computer, and after I had it switched on for most of the day, flicking extensively between pages as I taught, the battery indicator still had the maximum number of bars on it by the end of the day. This is largely due to the technology which the reader uses - the screen is not backlit, and the print is a special type of electronic ink which apparently only uses power when the page is being turned.

Unlike a computer screen, the screen on this thing can be viewed from any angle, and you can read it clearly even in direct sunlight. It doesn't flicker, and so is much easier on the eye than a computer monitor.

I also find it very intuitive and easy to use, both when loading stuff onto it from my computer (simple drag and drop from the e-library software provided, and it's easy to import pdf files into the library as well) and when reading material on the screen. I can see this being something that goes everywhere with me, along with other essentials like my mobile phone and my wallet.

For me, this will never replace actual books - I love the feel of a book in my hands and the look of it on the shelf, and I wouldn't feel comfortable taking this thing in the bath, which is one of my favourite places for reading for relaxation. But it will give me access to a lot of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise have read, it'll save me from lugging huge numbers of heavy books around for teaching or when going on holiday, and it'll mean I'm never caught short of reading material.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Welcome to the cafeteria

I was involved in an online conversation the other day with someone who was very excited because she had decided she was interested in Catholicism and had arranged to go to an initial meeting for an RCIA course. She said she knew very little about Catholicism, despite her vague interest, and wanted to know what to expect and if anyone could tell her a bit more about it.

Some of the responses she received were along the lines of, "It doesn't matter if there's something you disagree with - just pick the bits you like" or "I'm Catholic and I don't follow everything they say. I think these days you're allowed to just choose."

I had to wade in... I said that some people these days do seem to pick and choose the bits that they want to follow, but that the Church is NOT happy with that. She had specifically asked about Confession, and the general consensus seemed to be that "nobody does that any more". I told her that people DO "do that", explained what its purpose was and pointed her to a few sites where she could read more. It was an open forum, and I didn't want to cause World War III, but I had to point out as strongly as I could that the Catholic Church is not a cafeteria.

She has subsequently asked me various other questions, which I have answered to the best of my ability. I wish she'd asked me a bit later - after I'd read Bishop O'Donoghue's new book 'Fit For Mission? Church'.

In his book, Bishop O'Donoghue asks whether we have forgotten what it means to be Catholic. He says:

Those who ignore their responsibility to God and neighbour forget they are Catholic.

 Those who deliberately miss Sunday Mass forget they are Catholic.
 Those who never pray forget they are Catholic.
 Those who deny they are sinners and avoid confession forget they are Catholic.
 Those who live oblivious to the suffering of the poor forget they are Catholic.
 Those who dissent from the authority of the Church forget they are Catholic.
 Those who use contraception, IVF and embryonic stem cell research forget they are Catholic.
 Those who use pornography forget they are Catholic.
 Those who have sex outside of marriage forget they are Catholic.
 Those who commit homosexual acts forget they are Catholic.
 Those who exploit their power and position forget they are Catholic.
 Those who cheat on benefits or taxes forget they are Catholic.
 Those employers who exploit their workforce forget they are Catholic.
 Those who have racist, sexist or homophobic attitudes forget they are Catholic.

Our parish priest has read extracts from this document to us over the last couple of Sundays, and has talked about what it means. I've just downloaded a copy and will be reading it over the next few days - it looks as though I might need it...

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Some things I love about being married

We've been married for almost four months now, and I find it hard to imagine what it was like being without New Man. I've been working away from home for the last two weeks, and it's been the first time we've been apart since the wedding. Every evening, I would rush back to my room to wait for his phone call, and the hour or so that we spent chatting inconsequentially about this and that was the high point of my day. I came home last night, and it's great to be back - so I thought I'd do a little post about some of the things I love about being married to him.
  1. I love lying in his arms chatting for a few minutes after we go to bed and then drifting off to sleep beside him.
  2. I love waking up, turning off the alarm clock and turning to him for a good morning kiss - and the first words I hear in the morning are always "I love you".
  3. I love his willingness to learn to cook, pick up after himself, hang his towel on the towel rail and do all the other things that he never thought were important before he moved in with me.
  4. I love pretending to get cross when he accidentally addresses me as "Wifey".
  5. I love the fact that he makes sure I always have some of my favourite chocolates in the house - he checks the box every time he's going near the shops and buys a new one if I'm getting low.
  6. I love the fact that he thinks I'm beautiful.
  7. I love surprising him with little presents, and how appreciative he is of them even when they're quite boring - like the nice leather belt I brought home for him last week.
  8. I love the way he gets up and brings me a cup of tea before he leaves for work on days when I'm working from home.
  9. I love the fact that my shy, buttoned-up man who used to be totally uncomfortable with terms of endearment now occasionally calls me "My Love" - he says it totally naturally, and I know he means it.
  10. I love referring to him as my husband, and hearing him refer to me as his wife.
  11. I love the fact that we have a similar sense of humour and laugh together over the silliest little things.
  12. I love his patience and tolerance, and the fact that I can bring up fairly difficult topics and he'll discuss them with me and reach a compromise without turning a disagreement into an argument.

I'll keep the list down to a dozen for now, but yes, married life is pretty good really. We have our difficulties, which I will also be telling you about, but I love this man and I'm so grateful that we found each other.

Friday, 26 September 2008

A life worth celebrating

My mother is a church organist, and frequently plays for funerals. There are those which are attended by a scattering of parishioners, who sparsely populate random benches throughout the church. There are the funerals of the regular churchgoers which are attended by a few members of the family, who have clearly not darkened the door of a church for years, and many of whom have not visited the deceased for some time before their death.

And then there was the funeral she played for this week. The church was packed with people of all ages. All were there to celebrate the life of a person who had clearly had a very important role in their lives. They knew him from the many different activities he had participated in, and from the many different groups of which he had been a member. My mother was struck by how much this man had been loved, how well he had been cared for and how central a role he had had in so many lives.

She attends on average at least a funeral a week, and has done so for many years, but she found this funeral a particularly moving experience, because of the love that so many people clearly had for the deceased.

The man whose life was being celebrated was not a young man, and at birth he had probably not been expected to live so long. In fact, the majority of mothers these days who are faced with the prospect that their child may be like him choose never to let that child see the light of day.

This man who was so loved by so many people had Down's Syndrome.

Thank God for his long, happy and fruitful life, and may he rest in peace.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Wedding presents

For our honeymoon, New Man and I spent a week in Hawaii, then broke the journey home with three days in Chicago. We did a LOT of walking in Chicago, and stopped for a little breather in the Pauline Bookshop, where we ended up buying each other this wedding present:

New Man didn't much like the Extraordinary Form of the Mass when he first started going with me. He couldn't follow what was going on, and found it quite uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

I knew he'd come round to my way of thinking at the end of the Mass we went to in Kaua'i, when he turned to me and said, "I really miss our own church."

I love the Mass in both forms - I've been to numerous Novus Ordo Masses over the years which have lifted up my soul and filled me with gratitude that I'm a Catholic. But I love the calmness and prayerfulness of the Extraordinary Form. The more I go to this Mass, the more I enjoy the feeling of lifting up my mind and heart to God, and the less bothered I get by external distractions (which have always been a bit of a problem for me in the past).

And having this Missal has really helped both New Man and me to appreciate the Mass more deeply - we can follow what the priest is saying and doing, and understand why he's doing it. And we can follow the readings, which was something I missed when I was just hearing them in Latin.

I also love to look at the loving little inscription New Man wrote in the front of my Missal before he handed it over. I couldn't have asked for a better present, and I feel doubly blessed that he appreciates his Missal as much as I appreciate mine.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Back at last!

Well, how nice to see that some people are still stopping by - I admire your perseverance! I finally have my computer back and a working internet connection, so I'll be gradually trying to catch up over the next few days.

I've got loads that I want to blog about - some conversations I've been having with someone who's thinking of becoming Catholic, some debates I've been having with myself about the issue that most preoccupies me at the moment, the latest piece of electronic gadgetry I've invested in...

Unfortunately, I'm teaching for five hours tomorrow on a subject about which I currently know next to nothing, so I'd better do a bit of preparation for that first. Watch this space...