Monday, May 20, 2019

Skyping God


I was in a conversation recently which stemmed from a young mother lamenting the practice of churches being locked in the evenings, a time which was one of the few windows she would be able to spend some time in Eucharistic Adoration.  

As we know, our western culture has fallen far from the Christian roots on which it was built.  Values such as care for each other, our environment, regard for things belonging to other people and even more so, the things of God, were Christian values embedded into culture by Christians living them.  Since casting off Christianity, the West has been piggybacking on the remembered habits of Christianity. Concepts such as kindness, manners, forgiveness, respect are products of Christianity.  Christianity humanised the culture, imparting dignity on our interactions and, though it’s politically incorrect to say this, it put a stop to the oftentimes savage practices such as, in the extreme, human sacrifice and cannibalism.  Read the eyewitness histories of certain now desirable tourist destinations and you will be thankful that Christian missionaries landed their boats in those places, many times paying the price of martyrdom. Pre-Christian Society was not a pretty sight. 

 Have you ever flown in an airplane over a shipping passage such as between Ireland and Britain or Ireland and France? It never fails to astonish me how a ferry or cargo ship can have almost reached it’s destination yet it’s white wake is still visible quite from the point of departure.  The sea holds the memory of the ship passing long after it has passed over the horizon.  I think that sight is a good analogy for today’s Europe and America.  Western culture is currently treading water without lifejackets in the fading wake of Christ, the ship from which we so gleefully cast ourselves.  We thought our strong legs, strong arms, strong lungs where self sufficient. The sea was azure and so enticing.  However, our bodies, our culture and habits, were strong precisely because they were linked with those attributes of Christ.  We did fine for a while, we’re just dandy,  check us out riding the briny waves not a care in the world, basking in the wake, the illusion which has bit by bit by bit been fading and losing the flavour and essence of Christ.  Without Christ, our legs won’t hold out much longer, our once strong arms are waning and our lungs are ever tiring, less and less able to fill with life giving oxygen, less and less able to dispel choking toxins.  

Without the ship there’s just the deep, deep, deep sea.  
The surface sparkles were enticing to us.  We were tricked into believing that casting off the ‘restrictive’ security of Christianity we would somehow attain something greater of our own invention.  We made the error of Adam and Eve,foolishly believing we could be our own God.  We could hew our own personalised furrow without him, not stoping to realise that the sparkles are not the sea but mere reflections which mask the grave danger beneath.  The sea, mankind unguided by God, has a merciless appetite and will devour the weary and the foolish and give nothing back. 

This is where our culture is now.  An ever darkening, ever more frightening place with neither rock nor ship on which to depend.  And it seems the depths are fathomless. We are returning to a state of pre-Christian savagery where the strong devour the weak. we’re back to child sacrifice, or ‘post-birth abortion’ and a total(itarian) abandonment of rational thought as is so grandly displayed in bully-boy rainbow flags and gender ideology.  We no longer leave our bicycle leaning against a wall and expect it to be there when we return.  We cannot leave our homes unlocked because they will surely be ransacked.  And now, inevitably, we cannot leave our churches unlocked.  Once the place of sacred asylum, of peace, solace and oftentimes physical shelter for the weary, the worried, the unloved and the homeless, the churches must now be locked because they are no longer considered untouchable safe places.  

When I was working in the inner city I used to attend lunchtime mass in a Franciscan church.  Several of the regular attendees would pass the time during mass sleeping slumped on a pew bench.  Shabby homeless old men who had nowhere else to go except for the shelter of God’s house where they would at least be warm and receive some human contact and be treated as humans by the bare-footed friars.  I passed that church recently with my daughter and had to mumble to her not to make eye contact with the small assembly of drugged addicts bickering on the steps of the locked church.

 I’m sure it was a difficult and heavy hearted decision for the Franciscans to lock their doors.  How many times had they cleaned up syringes and excrement from that consecrated place.  How many handbags and wallets were taken, how many altercations took place before they had to padlock the doors, opening only at times when security was available to keep people safe?  

Some years ago my own parish, a respectable town, had to make the sad decision to lock up at sundown, not because of drug addicts but because of teenage brats urinating for bravado, pilfering the pennies from the poor box or simply using it as a place for what my father used to call ‘blackguarding’.  As we know, countries such as France have concerns more serious than schoolboys up to no good.  One by one desecration and fire is the fate of unguarded Catholic Churches.

How did I get from inconvenient Eucharistic adoration times to desecration of European churches? Oh yes, the necessity of padlocks and keypads on churches because neither buildings nor people are automatically safe in the sanctuary any more.  I put forward the suggestion that if actual adoration isn’t available due to the church being locked, or illness or caring for little children, that many parishes have 24 hour webcam focused on the tabernacle and the flickering sanctuary lamp which tells is Jesus is home, and that it could be a nice idea to spend time with Our Lord in that way.  I commented that it was nice that at the same time that churches need greater security and shorter open times that God, with his usual finesse,  had left us a way of being present of keeping him company, albeit by webcam.  

A friendly debate ensued with some thinking that was a good idea and others disagreeing.  A priest was quoted as saying that only adoration in person was acceptable as the other was no better than looking at a printed picture.  

I disagree.

I’m going to make the case for Skyping God:

My nephew’s children’s maternal grandparents live on the other side of the world.  They are not humanly able to spend long periods of time physically close.  However, with the technology each of us carries around in our pockets and handbags, those children have a well established intimate relationship with their adoring grandparents.  Between Skype and FaceTime they check in regularly, have long chats, show their artwork, their wobbly teeth and send virtual kisses to their very present though distant Grandparents.  

One of the connector pieces on EWTN promotes Eucharistic Adoration.  I love the bit where the girl explains 

‘I look at Him, and He looks at me’.  

That is the precise essence of Eucharistic adoration.  A two way gaze. I look at my Love and My Love looks at me. Love transcends proximity.   God’s love transcends both time and space. He is not limited by pixels or bytes.  He is already closer to us than water is to a fish.  

Every Christmas and Easter the Holy Father gives his traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing..To The City and To The World.  This blessing is received by millions of the faithful via satellite link, via radio, tv, internet.  It is God’s blessing, in no way lessened or diluted on it’s trip into space and back.  St Josemaría Escrivá tells us to often cast our hearts to the tabernacles near us, to unite with them during the day, to keep our Lord company by greeting him as we drive past churches or other places where the Blessed Sacrament is present.  Our Lord gathers these loving greetings with great joy.  He is never outdone in love and he rejects none of our loving offerings, even if they are just from a passing car. 

When my children were smaller we would regularly pass by my husband’s workplace as we went to and fro from shops, schools and so on.  We’d look out to see if we could spot Daddy’s car parked in it little space beside the ancient yellow cottage which is his surgery.  Sometimes it wouldn’t be there if he was on a house call.  However, it was typical that they’d excitedly spot his car, like the sanctuary lamp, indicating that Daddy is there.  I’d tell them to blow a kiss because he loved getting unexpected caresses while he was working.  How lovingly those little wind-borne kisses floated my husband’s way.  I would ring him later to inform him he had received those kisses.  He’d hug them and tell them how happy and loved he would feel when those invisible kisses came his way.  Personally I have faith that my husband was indeed helped through his sometimes difficult or heart wrenching days by his little children’s love filled thoughts, because what is love but heart connecting to heart?  Either way, my husband was always delighted that his children were sending him kisses as we drove past where he was.  For sure, the children benefitted, their love for their father was enriched by those little acts of devotion. 

  A number of years ago,  Bishop Javier Echevarría, then Prelate of Opus Dei, was on a pastoral visit to the people of Opus Dei, their extended family and friends in The Philippines.  One of the major struggles families in The Philippines encounter is the reality that employment can be very difficult to find and oftentimes either the mother or the father has to work abroad simply to keep the family above water.  At one large get-together with 10,000 people, The Father, as he was affectionately known, spoke about this in very very clear and urgent tones.  This physical separation is a grave danger to families.  Long distance marriages are very difficult to maintain over extended time.  The absence of physical presence, day to day life, marital intimacy all create unique struggles for those families.  He encouraged those who find themselves in these difficult circumstances to do all in their power to keep those separations as short term as possible, to try if at all possible to keep the family as a physical unit. Then he went on to advise those couples to remain intimate as best they could even though apart.  He suggested connecting on the internet through the likes of Skype to talk about family life, to pray together, to just relax and enjoy each other.  The love of husband and wife, on which the children and the family depend even more than economic security, was to be urgently and consistently nourished with the use of the technologies which are widely available today.  This surely must be one of the greatest benefits of the Internet.  

In my own family, our eldest daughter was able to join in her smallest sister’s birthday party via FaceTime from France.  Oftentimes during that year away from home she would just leave FaceTime on as she pottered around her room, just so that she could enjoy family life from afar.  We weren’t even always talking just as you wouldn’t always talk to someone in the same room.  You just know they’re there and enjoy their company. As St Francis is so often (though erroneously) quoted as saying “...sometimes use words..”  

This is how I feel about checking in on Adoration either from some grand and exotic shrine or from your humble and ordinary local parish via webcam. 

 I think the priest mentioned earlier may have mistakenly thought the person was asking whether Sunday duty may be fulfilled by watching mass online (it isn’t).   I don’t think any man would suggest a person not FaceTime their mother because it’s not as good as being with her in person.  Perhaps if the mother was living locally and we only interacted with her via a phone screen instead of actually visiting her, it may indicate a serious relationship flaw. However, if we regularly visit our Mom, it doesn’t exclude the delight of FaceTime chats at other times.  Certainly if visiting in person is not a possibility,  FaceTime is, quite literally, a Godsend 

I’m reminded of the computer homepage my husband used some years ago for quite some time.  It was the Vatican TV webcam from St Peter’s Square, Rome.  He used to say that he’d feel connected to the universal church by glancing at the great basilica, hear the fountains and watch the pilgrims milling about. He was reminded to pray for the Holy Father whose then apartments were visible on the webcam.  Obviously it was a far cry from being in Rome but I thought it was a very filial thing to do.  I am sure that God saw and delighted in his loving son doing that very simple act to stay connected in a tangible way. 

Jesus is our spouse.  He is our Divine bridegroom.  Like any bride we long for that connection with our spouse.  So the church is locked? So we’re bedridden, disabled or just a plain old overwhelmed mom keeping all the plates spinning and not always managing.  Do you think for a second that the Bridegroom who waits for us in the quietness of the tabernacle is going to avert his gaze from us because our connection is in computer pixels and therefore not good enough? 

I love when my husband texts or phones me for tiny moments during the day, I love that continued conversation, those little connections which remind me that I’m on my spouse’s mind, that I’m in his heart.  I’m excited and hopeful that some day my husband can retire and was can spend all day chatting, I still have so much to tell him like ‘y’know who I saw uptown’ and important questions such as ‘would you like some tea?’. In the meantime I’ll delight in those technology enabled moments of heart onto heart with my spouse.  Is God not the greatest spouse? Does he not long for connection with us? Does he not desire our simple bits of news and childlike questions?

God sees us anyway.  We are always in his gaze.  He sees our efforts.  One of my favourite scenes in the Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with Nathaniel.  Jesus says to him ‘I saw you under the olive tree’.  We don’t know what Nathaniel was doing when Jesus saw him.  We know it was something good, perhaps it was as simple an act as trying to tune in the live webcam from his local parish church which happened to be locked because other people have forgotten that it was precisely Jesus who gave us this great civilisation with it’s beautiful, now locked Churches.  

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Great Unmentionable

'We have tested and tasted too much, lover –
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.'

(Advent.  Patrick Kavanagh,  1904-1967)

With the fall of Ireland to the cult of abortion I think it’s pretty much glaringly obvious that we are in a mess, not just Ireland, we, all of us, we’re in a mess. There’s so much to say about it, analysis and dissection about where it all went wrong, was the campaign lacking, did we do enough, maybe the posters could have been better, maybe the leaflets could have been done differently, could we have talked to more people, started sooner and so on and so on.  Nothing of that counts now, we are where we are and the world is a mess.  People are unhappy in spite of wealth, in spite of better health, more freedoms.  We have everything and nothing and we’re left there like children surrounded by too many toys yet having a tantrum.

 As the children’s song goes ‘I want this, I want that, and then I want some more...I like this, I like that, I like the whole store, the more I see the more I want, the more I want and see, I want the thing I saw yesterday on TV’

We wanted it all, we wanted other people for ourselves and for our pleasure and entertainment and for our satiation, and that is precisely what we got.  We grabbed, and took and still not satisfied we kept and keep grabbing and consuming to the point that to kill another because they’re too young, or too old, to add to our personal quest for comfort and convenience and pleasure means nothing.  We cheer and weep for joy at the thought of it, as if the very killing itself is a satiation of pleasure or of some perverse thirst. Humans have always derived pleasure from death.  Look at the Roman arenas, look at the public executions all over Europe where ordinary folk vied and shoved for front row seats,  look at the bestselling true crime books and rags, the more grisly the higher the sales.  We love death and it seems we love it’s author.  In the trail  of our  march toward ‘freedom’ and ‘autonomy’ what have we left but carnage?  We’ve embraced a culture which glorifies death, which promotes it,  where other humans, even those we profess to ‘Love’ are disposable and dispensable, where a healthy body is seen as a disease and it’s healthy consequence seen as a disaster or an encumbrance.  

Abortion isn’t the cause of the problem, at one time it was an unthinkable evil for the vast majority of people.  Yes it took place but it was never thought of as the great Goddess it’s now hailed as. It was looked upon with rightful horror, because the concept of a mother killing her child, whatever her despair, for despair it must be, was so opposite to the maternal human nature which was the norm.  Most women were maternal and children were treasured. Most marriages were intact, most children had their parents and knew that siblings and cousins and little neighbours were just normal parts of normal life. 

And now we have abortion.  Cheered and sacramentally adored as the mark of women’s advancement.  We have wails and tears of elation because now we don’t find any shame in the idea that a child is ripped from the womb, the safe harbour to which she is entitled.  The womb is where the unborn child belongs, not the incinerator, not the trash can, not the pearlised coffin we had crafted for her before we had her killed because she was imperfect, or a twin or because we love you but not now, maybe another time...maybe later, yes, maybe later when the time is just so. 

Abortion didn’t cause itself. Something else caused it.  We caused it. We caused abortion the minute and day we decided to grab and take and consume the other and simultaneously decided to not give, to not sacrifice, to not love.  In every war the innocent always suffer most.  In every war children, being the most innocent suffer more than everybody else, they’re dependent on bigger people to keep them safe.  In war big people tend to not keep children safe.  And the war here is that between men and women.  Abortion is simply the carnage.  Contraception is the bomb. 

There, I’ve said it. 

Fifty years ago the world was warned.  Fifty years ago the holy and gentle pope who warned us paid a heavy cost.  Fifty years ago,  in the year of free love and protest and the rapid  acceptance of the ideology that sex was not about marriage or love and even less had it anything to do with new life and our responsibility to that new life, our quiet shepherd stood alone against a baying and dissenting world and wrote in black and white what the consequence would be if we chose that severing of the intimacy between man, woman, sex and fertility.  In the beautifully tender and short encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI reiterated God’s plan for the transmission of human life and for the intimate relationship between love, marriage and babies.  In 1968, so sure that the Church was going to change the teaching, which until the 1931 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church, had been taught by every Christian denomination that artificial contraception was intrinsically wrong and damaging to the bond of marriage and indeed as so eloquently described by Mahatma Gandhi, a truly good man, to the widening society starting from the natural male/female relationship and infecting every other aspect of culture from there out, that many, of not most Catholics and Catholic priests and seminaries had already adopted a laissez faire attitude to the practice and it was neither corrected nor discouraged since it was going to imminently change anyway.  Then came the encyclical, all hell broke loose (quite possibly literally).


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Barely was the ink dry on the page than the dissent began.  Like petulant teenagers priest after priest, theologian after theologian added their disobedient Non Serviam to the list of those who thought they knew better than Christ’s Vicar.  Instead of being Christ’s shepherds lovingly leading his sheep and little ones into the safe fold, they became guardians of what Pope St John Paul II would later call the Culture of Death.  Seminaries rather than teaching seminarians the content of Humanae Vitae were instead lectured on how the pope was wrong and not with it and he's old and celibate and wears a dress so what would he know.  He knew all right and he wrote down what would happen.  In a profound tragically prophetic manner that saint who suffered told the world the disaster which awaited.  But so enamored were we with the idea of more sex, more fun, less encumbrance, less of those pesky babies which so cramped our style that we shouted him down and closed off our ears.  So for fifty years Christ’s little lambs have not only not been taught about Christ’s loving plan for man and woman, or about how children are the greatest gift, even when they mean inconvenience or even suffering, they have been actively DENIED such teaching.  The wolves have been devouring the lambs ever since.  


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And that’s where we are today.  Everything Pope Paul predicted has come to pass. 

Infidelity and moral decline? Who among us can look around us and claim that we live in a sexually faithful and noble culture? None of us.  

Lost respect for women? Check.  So lacking that we don’t even respect ourselves any more.  A woman in her natural state is seen as something flawed.  Femininity is some sort of betrayal to the ‘sisterhood’, everything which for centuries was considered beautiful about women, in particular her life giving nurturing faculty is disdained as at best simply a path to personal fulfilment  but more usually an impediment, a disease to be medicated away.  Contraception and her conjoined twin abortion are the only two elements of medicine which take something healthy and break them, which make them unable to function.  

There's nothing new under the sun, for thousands of years women have been made to mutilate or suppress their healthy female bodies so as to make them available for sex whenever a man (or indeed, she) so choose without the natural result which is sometimes new life.  Demeaning methods from intimately inserting camel dung or other concoctions to usurp fertility, to ingesting or wearing all sorts of poison or disgusting talismans or animal entrails, always the woman, always to enable consequence free sex.   But hey, the pill changed all those dangerous demeaning practices.  Or did it? Instead of poisons and animal excrement women ingest  a pretty little pill in pretty packaging, pink you know...because feminine.  A pretty pill of artificial hormones which affect every cell of their bodies and psyche.  Hormones which affect every detail of ourselves from how often we blink to mood to the type of man we find attractive. Sure, people always went to lengths to avoid pregnancy but by and large womanhood, marriage and babies were things which were respected.  Children were considered a blessing and a joy.  Even a disabled child was believed to have been kissed by an angel whereas now the diagnosis of disability all too often hails the kiss of death. Oh how things have changed. 

Some years ago I had a friend, actually more an acquaintance, who confided in me that she was expecting her seventh child and regardless of the delight of her and her husband, was afraid to tell anybody else, apart from me, because of the remarks she would surely get.  18 years later I currently have a friend nervous to announce the news of her third pregnancy because she is fully aware of the disdain which will follow.  THREE, hardly Guinness record breaking, yet scandalous and shocking...’Handmaid’s Tale’ and all that. Because having children is demeaning and un-modern and there’s something a little bit dirty or common about it.  That’s how little we regard that integral part of womanhood, our fertility is shameful and nasty and just fix it!! 

Women are not broken or faulty, they are beautiful, and healthy and to give life and feed that life is not an illness to be medicated or surgically ‘fixed’ like we’d fix an oul cat.  
Female fertility is not something to be so hated or mocked.  We have taken a beautiful meadow and doused it in paraquat lest anything should flower in it.   The mother a disease to be medicated, the child in the womb, a mere weed to be plucked out and tossed.  

Abuse of governmental power? 

Need we look any further than western aid programmes which impose population control, forced abortion and forced sterilisation across the developing world.  Barely can an aid agency receive funds unless they commit to birth control programmes or the pushing of abortion.  Need we look further than European governments which cap children’s allowance at two children? Need we look further than individualisation of tax systems which essentially fine one income families? Everything working against the natural family and motherhood as things of great value. 

The illusion of unlimited dominion over our bodies?

Well that can of worms is well and truly overflowing.  The chemical and surgical mutilation of even children’s bodies in the name of gender identity is so scandalous and yet cheered and hailed as the Golden Calf.  We believe we are masters of life and death.  When we want to die, or our elderly or sick to die, that’s our choice.  The unwanted child?  A clump of cells to be discarded, but not before we make maximum profit from the body parts of that clump.  By and large we don’t want children but when we do want one the human cost to others, including that child, is not even an afterthought.  I want, I get. Simples. 

Indeed we are in a mess. The human race is in a mess and we are suffering even through the cheers and tears of ‘joy’.   The scenes of adulation in Dublin last month struck more to me like the spectacle of an overwhelmed indulged child in a toy shop, she wants everything she sees but cares for none of it.  She wants the packaging because it’s shiny and attractive and looks like it will fulfil the desire for happiness.  The next man...or woman, the next party, the next career, the next whatever is the latest next thing. What that child needs is not shiny marketed tat, she needs her one safe comforting doll which gives security and grounding and calm which is there no matter how rough life gets, but she is not being offered her doll, because Repeal, and because Patriarchy.  Instead of empowered strong women all I see is a herd of broken girls, longing for the thing they don’t even know how to look for.  What deeper desire than to be loved and known unconditionally.  What deeper desire than to be told ‘I accept you, all of you, forever, you, your body and yes, your life giving ability, I love YOU because you are the only YOU’? Where are they hearing it? Nowhere. You cannot give what you do not have so how can these girls give sacrificial unconditional love to a helpless unborn child when it is likely they have never known it themselves, instead of Love we have ‘hot’ instead of I give myself to you we have I take of you, I love you except...babies.  And men too, how broken is manhood when it too is seen as a disease, when masculinity is seen as a danger to the world? Where computer games and teenage pursuits are still the priorities of  the 30 something teen man.  Oh indeed we are broken and lost and wailing.  

You know when you look at a mess so bad that even beginning to fix it is unimaginably difficult.  You pick up one thing,  look at it and, not knowing where it should go because there isn’t anywhere to put it, you just put it back down again walk away despondent because it looks like it will always be like this.  It’s easier to drift along in chaos than to set to, than to pick up one piece and tend to it then the next and the next.  

The answer is there and has been there all along except it is the great unmentionable.  When you look at each problem and start to unravel it further and further you find that the threads are all leading to the same root.  The relationship between mankind and sexuality is severely damaged.  For the sake of consequence free sex, for the desire for the pleasure but not the cost which looks like suffering and work and inconvenience but is actually deep deep joy and fulfilling love, the man woman relationship has changed from a union of equals to a battle of power.  Just as the Pope saint predicted.  He knew his words would have a personal cost, he knew he would suffer.  In fact, nobody realised until after his death just how much.  It would have been easier to go with the world, he would have been praised and adulated as progressive and compassionate and woke and we would have hurtled forward in delight at our newfound freedom and free love and childless dissipation.  Had he done that, fifty years later we would have no prodigal son’s father to return to.  We would have no father waiting and watching to lovingly RUN to meet us when we realise that eating pig fodder from a trough is not happiness.  We would have no father to embrace us and hug us and reclothe us in the dignity fitting the son of such a loving father, the sin forgotten and forgiven.  Lord, I have sinned against Heaven and against you, such simple humble words which resulted in a banquet.  

The banquet is waiting, all we have to do is turn up.  We have grabbed and spent our inheritance but however low we fall, that loving father is waiting to run to us.  He won’t impose himself but he has been there all the time.  Waiting patiently for his pitiful broken children to turn to him. The feast is there, Humanae Vitae is the answer to our problems,  Karol Wojtyla, and later Pope John Paul II left us food and medicine.  His works Love and Responsibility and later, the greatest treatise on the human person and sexuality ever to be written, ‘Man and Woman He Created Them’ now better known as Theology of The Body, are potent and healing medicine, if only we turn to the doctor and admit we’re sick...nay, we’re dying...please save us! 

I am convinced that we will never even start to rid the world of the great evil of abortion, that we will never even start to heal the wounds carried by the now adult children of divorce, that we will never even start to repair the crime and poverty and hopelessness of so many communities until we start to restore the male/female relationship to it’s original state.  Jesus himself told us ‘but in the beginning it was not so’.  Before our hardness of heart took over God’s plan for man and woman was self giving love.  Our hardness of heart has led to self love taking, quite the opposite thing. 

Contraception has done us no favours.  Women haven’t benefited.  Men haven’t benefited and as sure as hell, children haven’t benefited, especially the little ones killed in their millions.  Unless we address the great unmentionable, the great false god of contraception, we cannot begin to heal. 

Maybe the 50 year anniversary will be that year when we start.  I hope so. 



x

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Maybe Grandma Was Right.

The advice for a long life seems often to boil down to eating proper dinners 'like grandma used to make'.  That is, cook from scratch and eat food that remembers where it came from.  I read an article today by a cardiologist saying precisely this.  Our low fat, low carb, processed ready made diets are doing us more harm than good.  He suggests returning to eating the way we did in the past, with dinner beginning with a chopping knife...just like Grandma would have done.

Interestingly, what did our grandmothers have in common? They were by and large in the home caring for families. They had time and the esteem of society on their side.  By contrast we have an incessant drive to get women OUT of the home, to cast off the shackles of motherhood and into any old menial job so that they can have dignity and the stimulation which the 'mind numbing' tasks of home and family can NEVER provide.  We have a subliminal attitude that women at home are doing nothing, that they don't have a job, that they are bored, lacking stimulation and unfulfilled. Wasting brains and ability.  I've heard it a million times.  Mind-numbing and home are two words which have become inextricably linked, simply by repetition.  Personally, not once has my mind ever been numb while caring for my home...many's the time I felt my brain cells had rotted when I was in meaningful employment.

Can any of us remember our grandmothers as stressed, over scheduled, under appreciated and resentful?  Can we remember them as bored, unproductive and consider what they did as a waste of ability? I know I remember both my grandmothers and my own mother as amazing capable ladies whose cooking abilities I could only dream of imitating.  My mother and grandmother were master crafts women, my grandmother able to knit complex Aran Sweaters in a few days while holding conversation.  I have tried knitting Aran patterns and have barely managed a line or two without having to unpick my mistakes.

I'm not saying that women who don't engage in paid work are always considered unproductive.  Once we are involved in something else...something separate from the home.  In that case we may well be fulfilled.  Be it volunteering, study, a cottage business, writing, blogging...In those things lie our value as seen from the lofty ramparts of our society.  Women are encouraged to do something...anything  so that they can identify as that thing and not as the 'nothing' status of SAHM.  But the precise work of the home?  Nothing is considered more demeaning, more backward, more 'submissive', more  unfulfilling for a woman than making a bed, cleaning floors, hanging laundry in one's own home for one's own family.  So much so that rarely does a week go by as some article laments how women are still doing this stuff.   Mind you, were a woman to start a small business and receive money do for others what she freely does for her family, now that would be contributive to society, that  woman would now be a business lady with status and value even though she is doing exactly what she previously did.

Or perhaps we can still identify as the thing we did in a different life, in a distant memory.  I remember filling out a birth registration for my fourth child.  I had LONG given up my old job with zero intention or desire ever to return to it.  The lady taking the registration asked what was 'Mother's Employment'.  I replied Full Time Parent.  'Oh no...snigger...we can't have that!  What were you BEFORE?'   So against my will, my child's birth certificate falsely identifies me as something I wasn't and which I had no desire to be.  All to protect me from the shame of what I actually was.

I wonder if we look back at those home cooked dinners, breads and cakes, at the cosy clean homes we would return to daily and rejoice that those days are gone?  Are we delighted that all too often we are so busy and stressed and overworked that the best we can hope for at dinner time is something ripped from a printed box and shoved in an oven? Is that a big life improvement over that of the women who cooked and cleaned with babies in tow and who afterwards sat down to pick up their knitting and who always seemed to be calm and content and spread that to their families? Do we look back in dismay that children walked to schools and activities because the family had one car, if that, and women weren't tied to evening traffic leaving little to no time for chopping vegetables or stirring pots?  My memory of my mother strongly revolves around kitchens and the aroma of cooking food and chatting to her as she prepared meals or knitted cardigans and blankets for the next baby.  My memory of my mother, my grandmother and every other woman in my circle of experience is women who were highly valued, around whom life revolved, women whose worth was never questioned.  In a lot of ways they were the ideal.  As C.S. Lewis once put it: 'The homemaker has the ultimate career.  All other careers exist for one purpose only - and that is to support the ultimate career'  Not so now, my dear, not so.

I'm not saying life was idyllic and rosy. Sure, they worked hard, sure times were tough but I think we know enough by now to realise that tough times and hard work aren't impediments to happiness and equally that prosperity doesn't necessarily equate contentment.

Where has contentment gone?  It took leave of us without us noticing.  We've been too busy to notice the stealth with which it departed.  In retrospect, it doesn't take much effort to see the effects of it's loss.  Remember homes were places of peace where we would recharge instead of centres of rushed coordination of activities where mothers are reduced to cart horse event managers who might love the idea of sitting down to knit or paint...or to cook a dinner from scratch, but just don't have time? Who exactly has benefited from the downgrading of the role of  women at home? It sure as hell ain't women! Or children, Or health, Or marriages, Or family life. Who has benefited?  That's what I'd like to know.  The processed food industry is the only thing I can think of.

No wonder our hearts and bodies are rebelling.

Could it be that Grandma had the right idea.  Could it be that the way things were done might possibly have been...better?  Just a question.






Saturday, May 13, 2017

Young Teens And Fatima

This morning, 13th May, I was dropping our two younger middle children, now young teens,  to various places involving about 20 minutes in the car.  I told one who is singing in the choir for the school's 1st Communion to wait in the church for me to pick him up after the initial crowd has dispersed because the church and the parking area are both small. 

I suggested he spend those 10 minutes praying and maybe considering the children of Fatima and the lives they lived.  They asked me why I am talking about Fatima these days and I told them that today is the 100th Anniversary and asked them whether they knew anything about it or the children.  Being younger in the family, it's easy to fall through the stools as regards religious formation (Fatima coming under the category of things we would do well to believe but not necessary to the faith).  We sometimes put so much effort in giving the older children a strong moral, doctrinal, philosophical education that we forget to do the same for the younger ones.  It's something parents especially of large families need to constantly be aware of.  Osmosis has only a part to play, they must also be personally instructed (that's my theory anyway). 

Anyway, it turns out to my shame that they knew little to nothing about Fatima.  So in the space of the short drive I summarised what had happened and how it has fitted into European history.  How they have been praying the prayer the angel told the children to recite during the rosary.  About communism and it's rotten fruit, about angels and Pope Leo XIII.  They were absolutely fascinated, full of questions and dying to watch some of the programming which will surely be on EWTN today.




I dropped off the first child and had time alone with the other, the older of the two, as she needed to go to the other side of town.  That short conversation led to her opening her heart about her faith as regards her peers, how she can live it in a world in which religion, and especially Catholicism, is considered strange and how to stay joyful even when it's difficult. 

She was especially drawn to the explanation of how love frees us from laws with the example that it's not law which prevents her from killing her beloved little sister, it's love.  The law doesn't even apply to her because she doesn't want to do that thing anyway.  The more we fall in love with Jesus, the less we are bound by laws.  That is very freeing knowledge to have...that 'The Truth will set you free'.  Can you even imagine how liberating that is for any teenager who thinks, and whose friends think, that God is a party pooper and that religion is nothing but oppressive rules.  When she sees the 'rule' being her love of her sister there's no hint of coercion or oppression. 

On the other hand, I pointed out how Jesus was always so tender with sinners, especially sexual sinners such as the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well because he knew they were looking for him, just in the wrong place like so many young people are doing, even some she already knows.  God's little ones wandering precariously, objectively blameless, because who has ever told them? Just like the biblical sheep without a shepherd, and how she needs to be tender toward everyone, never thinking badly of them.  She was drinking it in!! As she got out of the car she turned and said "This is so INTERESTING!" 

Two things:

(1) Don't be afraid to talk to your children, all your children not just the first one or two, about faith.  They are dependent on you because nobody else is going to tell them. Don't underestimate their thirst.  Don't presume they'll find this not boring topic boring.  If you are still amazed they'll pick that up.  How can we not be amazed at all these things? 

(2) Time and again I have found the best conversations with my children have been in the car while I am driving.  It makes it easier for them to open their hearts.  I wonder if it's because there's no eye contact and it's a calm environment.  It reminds me of confession, where the priest leans in a listening pose as opposed to a conversational one.  It's easier for the penitent to offload what can at times be embarrassing.  

(3) It's still morning on 13th May and already I'm seeing fruits blossom. What a great day this is! 

(4) You cannot tell your children what you don't know yourself.


Yes, well spotted, that's four things. A girl can change her mind. 



Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Will There Be Ballet In Heaven?

At the moment I am grieving.  My father died recently.  You think you'll be ready but you never are. Something is gone from my life, moments which can never be relived or re-enacted.  I wasn't ready and never could have been.  My mind is overwhelmed with memories.  Every minute of every day my father is on my mind.  That is not to say I feel sad all the time.  Sometimes I'm wondering whether I am a bad daughter because I feel normal today and then like a wave it hits again like yesterday as I was stopped at traffic lights up the town I 'saw' him in another man wearing the familiar sort of hat he'd wear on a sunny day.  Or like last week when I found myself stuck in traffic behind the car he'd sold last year when he'd gotten good test results and decided to change his car since he'd be here a bit longer.  Those moments I just want to get home.  Other moments I'm fine and 'normal'.  Grief is an unpredictable thing.

He's on my mind every minute of every day.

So I'm so sad but something else has swept me off my feet.  I'm happy!! Yes, I repeat that, I'm overwhelmed with this unexpected joy.  That's what this post is about, not the grief, that's mine and I'll stumble through.  Joy though was never designed for privacy.  Joy is something the mountaintops shout out.

Why am I happy my father is dead?

I'm not happy he's dead, I'm happy he's ALIVE!!

Since the day he died I've found myself drawn to two things.  One is Mass.  I've always gone to Mass every day apart from when I mistakenly thought I was too busy with little children and they were too naughty and noisy and that I may as well not be there at all since I was so distracted and if I was any further back in the church I'd be out the door and that I was distracting the other people.  Believe me, that was a mistake.  Mass benefits everyone even when we're distracted and stressed.  Sometimes the only prayer I've managed to mumble has been "Lord, give me peace". Prayer indeed.

I don't look for my father in the smell of his shirts still hanging in his wardrobe waiting for him to put them on.  I don't look for him at his graveside though I do like to go there.  I look longingly at the chair at my table he sat at when'd he'd call in around 11am and we'd have tea together and he'd bring me back to earth like the time I sat and complained about this child did this and the other one did that and they don't this and they mess up that... He listened to my long rant then laughed and said "So you're trying to say they're normal?  Oh how I miss that sort of wisdom. How I miss my friend.   But where I really look for, and find, my father...and my mother...is at Mass. I don't feel anything sentimental or feel a spiritual high, but that's where I find them.  That's what I look forward to each day...finding Daddy.  At Mass.  I wouldn't miss that daily encounter.  And beside him, the woman, my lovely mother, whom he grieved for 16 years and now I'm thinking...what was that but a flash?

If you're grieving and longing for a loved one, try Mass.

And what's the second thing I'm drawn to?

Beauty.

I've always had this idea and I've written about it before that beauty is not an optional extra and that somehow it points to something far above itself, a signpost so to speak. Now that with time I've become more 'learn-ed' (hehehe...read, just realising how much I don't know!) I'm realising that the desire for beauty is indeed one of the Transcendentals - the embedded insatiable longings within us which point to an existence more perfect than our own.  Let's call that existence Heaven.

What are these longings? You'll recognise them when you read them...I did.

The longing for perfect knowledge/truth

The longing for perfect justice/goodness

The longing for perfect love

The longing for perfect beauty

The longing for perfect home/being.


I'll give an example.  There's a road in Connemara, Ireland which is called The Sky Road.  Aptly named because there earth and sky seem to marry.  On a sunny day I think it must be one of the most beautiful sights known to man.  I was there recently very soon after my father died.  The day was perfect and though I'm posting a picture, no camera can capture the breath catching beauty unfolded in front of you.  It is truly magnificent.  However that day it particularly struck me that however beautiful it was and is, something was missing.  I cannot grasp that beauty and make it mine.  I cannot own it or embrace it, it can't unite itself to me.  It cannot satisfy, it leaves a pain of longing...to own and be owned by it.  What do we say to babies and little children? "I love you so much I could eat you!"  Nothing fully satisfies that longing which haunts us.  What beauty is is the signpost to something higher...so much higher...to the Beauty that will satiate, the Beauty which will own and be owned by me.




One rainy evening I was driving my 13 year old home from ballet class when a song came on the radio.  At the end of the song she asked me why we can feel some songs in our chest? I think it's because some songs touch that transcendental dissatisfaction, the longing for an untouchable and the hope that one day we will touch.

My father was a very holy man.  By Holiness I don't mean piousity which is actually not holiness at all. His was a holiness with it's feet on the ground.  One time while holding one of his newborn grandchildren he said that he thought that babies are a glimpse of the Beatific Vision...as close to pure beauty and goodness and being as we can hope. Which of us could tire of looking at our baby, or one close to us? Every eyelash and minute little hair follicle delights us.  The desire for beauty is completely superfluous to our survival, it fits uncomfortably with the survival of the fittest narrative which would favour only the functional and useful.  Why should we care whether the sky is golden or pink or colours we can't even name? Why should a waterfall delight us but a concrete wall leave us unmoved? Why do we long to be home or to have a home if we're lacking one? Yet when we sit down and the sun shines in we see the dust and the work we need to do.  We need to lock our doors and our windows, we need to guard against intruders and hazard.  We're home yet still dissatisfied no matter how lovely it may be.

Two Christmases ago my father's house burnt down.  He was home in the shower at the time but managed to escape wearing what his friend joked later to be a 'biblical' outfit...that which Adam wore before the fall. It's a long story but while the house was being rebuilt he and my sister and nephew moved from my home, to a house loaned by a friend, to a horrible brown 'rental' which reeked of stale cigarettes, before they could move home.  Such an upheaval would have finished off many octogenarians, not my father.  When asked how he coped so cheerfully with moving from temporary accommodation to temporary accommodation. He laughed and said "This life is temporary accommodation." He wasn't put out at all because even home is our temporary accommodation.

So why did I call this post ' Is There Ballet In Heaven?".  I've been thinking about all the above thoughts very very much in these last weeks and how they connect to my father's death, my own mortality and what lies beyond.  Oftentimes as Christians, as Catholics, we rattle off prayers without thinking at all about their content.  Sometimes they aren't prayers at all but mumblings rising to heaven with neither heart nor mind accompanying them.  We say The Creed...the list of all we believe...I believe in One God etc etc.  Do we even know what we're professing half the time. I think a lot of us forget this line.. "I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come."  We believe that in Heaven we will be reunited with our body!! Hey! How cool is that? And...we'll be just lovely...perfect in fact.

I'd have loved to have learned ballet.  Sadly living in Ireland in the 1970s, neither opportunity nor funds were readily available.  I still love ballet and some of my girls have the bug.  It was during  their recent performance that this post came to me.  The human body is objectively God's most beautiful creation.  Pope John Paul 2 goes into this in great detail in his astonishing catechesis Theology of The Body.  We are the only creatures who experience all these non-survival-related longings. In my opinion, ballet is perhaps the most beautiful the human body can be. In it's classical element goodness wins...the desire for justice is vanquished...the evil witch fails.  The prince who rescues with nobility and goodness is not mocked as he is in our culture.  Dare I say it, marriage...the full 'knowing' of the other...true beauty, which sees beyond the face...happy ever after and home is still seen as a great good even if our culture has rejected it. All of the transcendental desires are embraced in classical ballet. So beautiful. (These are the thoughts I was having during a children's ballet show.) It made me remember the resurrection of the body.  If we'll have our bodies, we'll have things that bodies do, like laughter and singing...and dance.  If they delight us here, do you think God will exclude them from Heaven?  We don't change species, we don't become angels, we'll still love the things and the people we love...only in an unhindered way.

Oh YESI think there'll be ballet in Heaven.

And if there is, I hope they have lessons for beginners.





Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye 2015

Is any year less than strange?  I can't remember a single year this last decade that I've said I'm sorry to see the back of it and yet I wonder whether that says more about me than it did about time gone by.  

I've been reading Dickens over Christmas and it's interesting what he has to say about the bah humbug folk.  Basically that no year is without ups, downs, tears and laughter.  In general those goods are dished out roughly in equal measure yet there are those of us who go out of our way to only remember the bad, to only remember the tears and the worries and deliberately whitewash over all the joys, the prayers answered, the unexpected surprises and the people we've shared them with.  

What is this need for self pity, this clinging on to illness almost as though we desired it? In Ireland we laugh that we're never happy unless we're miserable. Funny...and true. 

So this year I'm not going to throw 2015 a boot in the rear as it slinks away...indeed there were low moments, and many, there are friends permanently lost over the cause of marriage and children's right to a father and mother, yes there were days my children and even more so my extended family suffered because of some weird notion that 'you're Catholic therefore you hate'.

There was the pathetic sight of a little girl so filled with fear they almost had to cancel her little operation.  There was crappy weather and ISIS and the mess that is the Middle East and the attacks on France which I love so much & which has done so much for my family.

And there was cancer...there's always cancer lurking waiting to ruin your year.

But hand in hand with all those sorrows...there were doctors.  Doctors who cure.  There are doctors who give hope for a future.
There were the heroes who stood up and were counted in the face of a totalitarian heave of intolerance of even debate.  There were heroes who took planes to help the suffering refugees.  

There was France, beautiful France who knew how to restore drooping morale with her vineyards and sunflowers and the smell of summer holidays and sun cream which means we are having golden time with our ever growing children.  There was the moment she learned to swim when we had been told she probably wouldn't walk.  There were numerous times we had movie nights with our children's little gang who are more like cousins than neighbours...and there are the real cousins and new babies and the new life which arrived only yesterday in the form of beautiful baby Elsie.

There was my big girl and being thankful for Skype so she could join us for family moments, and then she came home so happy and grown up.  Worry...you serve no purpose in life.

There were friends who shared funny times, meals and long chats, sometimes over a supermarket trolley, sometimes in the secret world of hidden Facebook groups. There were meet-ups with old friends in Rome and in our home and new ones in England. There were grandparents and Halloween costumes and starting school, ballet, Taekwon Do and the music of piano which sometimes reluctantly filled our house.  Teenage chats and discussions about the state of the world and the meaning of life, how I love discussions on the meaning of life.  There were weepy movies with my girls and the spectacle of Star Wars. 

And best of all there was PINK.  This was the year of pink. Right in the middle of 2015 on some unremarkable date, our little girl finally became pink.  And when Santa was considering a wooden fairy castle for Christmas then realised that this pink girl is not a playing fairies indoors sort of gal but an outdoors at every opportunity one, he changed track and gave her a go-Kart because girls who have been promised no quality of life tend to kick ass and expose those doom and gloom folk for what they are...wrong. Oh so wrong.

So 2015, thank you for your moments.  Thank you for your sufferings which made me so proud to be a member of my family.  Thank you for the tears which made me realise just how much I love them. And THANK YOU for the smiles.

And thank you for the one constant never flinching presence of John.  Thank you for him.

Goodbye 2015.  I close the door on you, but gently...and tiptoe away.  All I ask of you is one thing...please take your useless weather with you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On Grieving For Paris

I've been reading a lot of social media posts asking why people seem to be more concerned about the recent horrific terrorist murders in Paris than they are about similarly motivated atrocities elsewhere this week.  There is a suggestion that this is a disingenuous reaction, that we are unconcerned about the deaths in Lebanon and elsewhere and only interested in Paris because Facebook has told us to be.  Why has Facebook turned red, white and blue and not the other colours?

I don't think it's necessarily true that people care less about the terrorist victims in places other than Paris this weekend.  I think the overwhelming reaction to Paris is a very human phenomenon related to proximity.  When we hear of a road traffic fatality on the radio the first thing we all do is listen to hear where it happened.  If it is far from us we move on but if it has happened in our town we immediately turn up the sound to hear further details. The reason is because we now have something important in common with that victim.  The more we relate to the victim the more their death affects us.

Practically all Irish families have connections to France.  I know in our home texts were passed back and forth checking on the wellbeing of French friends and their families. We have visited France and her restaurants and concert halls.  The small
Metal concert is the sort of event my own husband could have been at. Last year my daughter did her Christmas shopping in the market village which saw the jihad motivated attack just a week later. These attacks relate directly to many of us.

I don't think our concern reflects a disdain for the others but the grief that comes from losing part of our own. And also the very real fear motivated not by hatred or racism or all the multiple 'phobias' we so love to accuse each other of, but by the realisation that that could have been me or mine and it may very well be me or mine next time.

So just as we sympathise and objectively grieve the road death far from us, we connect with and subjectively grieve the particular teenager of our own town who we might not have known, but we know his grandma, we know the school he went to, he was best friend of my friend's son...we personally relate.

I think this is normal human behaviour because unless our grief is selective we would definitely all buckle under the burden of every atrocity everywhere in the world.  It would be shallow to post about Beirut if we are not also posting about North Korea, Thailand, Burma,...dozens of other places.

When I was in Africa and saw the most abject poverty and subsequently witnessed and was there when a corrupt government bulldozed the shantytown of up to a million people, my mind definitely went into protective mode by blocking me from really believing what I was seeing.  It was like we were watching it on television not really happening right in front of us and we were directly involved in the evacuation. I heard war photographers describe similar experiences. There is only so much horror any of us can process, we cannot take on every single burden but we take in some and that is not hateful.

One thing is certain these days, humanity weeps.

(photo ABC News)