Tuesday, 30 December 2008


In England we are burdened by endless and soulless reality TV shows which are full of noise and the desperate pursuit of fame. I have so much enjoyed the beautiful peace and depth of Christmas. Yet all that seems to be blaring from the TV is adverts for shop sales and the new series of Big Brother. For me they do nothing more than highlight how sad it is that people no longer consider themselves valuable or unique unless they are being stared at or loudly applauded. Last month a young English boy of 23 flew to Switzerland to commit assisted suicide because he was paralyzed and could no longer play rugby. He felt that without rugby he was without value and my heart breaks for him and his family. We have failed him. What cuts me deeply is that the organisation which promotes this clinical suicide is called Dignitas. It seems such a hurtful lie when dignity can never be achieved through ending another beings life by giving them a concoction of drugs.

The person I always go to when I feel hopeless about the state of the current world is Karol Wojtyla. This man saw the intrinsic value of life- if we will only allow it to touch us. While the beautiful lands of Poland were being used to perpetrate terrible crimes of hate the vocation of a young Wojtyla was blossoming in Krakow. By the end of the Second World War, which had exposed him to one of the worlds most vicious regimes, he was a priest. This young, bright light was already preaching a love that asked people to destroy and reject hatred simply by loving. Wojtyla was able to see beyond man's superficial sheen and destruction to the radical truth of love and sacrifice. Wojtyla saw, and consequently dedicated himself to teaching, that setting the world alight, that becoming the person we were born to be is often found not in adulation or applause but in the tiny actions of life that lead to great chains of events. Veronica dried the face of a man destined to die on a cross (a small act of kindness), Simon was told to help him carry the instrument of his execution (a small act of solidarity), a Bethlehem inn keeper pointed a couple to a manger where there was some room for them (small gesture of compassion). Small events in a great chain that we are still trying to understand the deep and mystic meaning of. This is life.

It is not to say that looking nice and feeling good is pointless but simply that if your whole life is centred on a need to be accepted on the basis of looking acceptable then we have let down a whole generation of human beings. Pope John Paul II bore witness at every stage of his life to the divine dignity of all human life but perhaps his most profound witness was at the end of his life when he was never more fragile...and never more beautiful.

It is not how other human beings see us, it is not even how we see ourselves that reveals how unique we are-it is how God sees us; each of us a reflection of Christ. It is this living refection which makes each of us equally valuable and equally unique for we are all our own fragment of the great reflection of Christ and our own part in the body of the Church. Being weak and vulnerable does not make us less valuable, on the contrary by exposing our weakness to the world- as John Paul II did at the end of his life- we have the power to reveal our true interior strength and love.

You are loved
You are unique
You are beautiful
And whatever your value in the world of men you have a deeper inestimable value, which can never be diminished or destroyed.

Real dignity means recognising this is true of every living being - especially those who do not have a voice.

A little poem to uplift you


 The Fulfillment of the Journey


Arise my love, my dove, my beautiful one

Listen to the voice-

                         The quiet, constant hum

The Lord who opens your palm like a flower –


He who gives you the words

And infuses with power.


The still small voice

In the ruffling wind

That brings you to silence,

                        That compels you to kneel

And asks you to feel -


To acknowledge a vision of truth

That not everybody sees.


You are the child.

The fire of the light

The strength for the fight,

                        That comes in the silence,

That reigns without violence

So you learn to turn the other cheek.


Arise- awake like roses from the dust

And trust.



The dove that sweeps,

The voice that speaks,


The eternal heart that beats in time with your own-

You are not alone.



By Edel-Anne Byrne

Saturday, 27 December 2008


At this time of year there is so much joy and life in the darkness of winter. Christ who brings such hope in the mystery of the little cave and in the humility of coming so gently into the world to rest with the poor and the powerless. I think a lot about Mary and her courage and love in the midst of this darkness; her joy, her worries, her responsibilities and her ultimate trust in something much greater than all of us. Her trust in that great mystery which had brought her to the manger in the first place. I think of Joseph; her quiet and valiant protector who must have had to grow in trust and strength in order to rise to the challenge of being so close to the humanity and divinity of the little baby he looked upon that night in Bethlehem. Bernadette said whenever you can't pray go to Saint Joseph because he knows how to speak to Mary and Jesus- he was husband and father- no one was closer yet he is so often forgotten about. Before she was found to be intact and exhumed Bernadette lay in the little chapel of St Joseph. This seems fitting.

Christmas is also a lovely time to reflect and sometimes that brings a little sadness. I have been reading about the FOCA bill which Obama plans to pass in the US when he becomes President in January. In England most of those things contained within the FOCA bill are already being practised and it is a terrible thing. America has held fast for many years and this is important considering its population. The possible implications of this bill fill me with a deep sadness especially at a time when we gather round the crib. Do not forget the unborn - as Mother Teresa reminds us- it was the unborn child, John the Baptist, who leaped for joy; who first recognised the incredible identity of Jesus. It fills me with joy that American Catholics are up and fighting already. I join my prayers to theirs and though I may be far away I am thinking of them and their noble mission. We should never give up hope for we have been told- 'My immaculate heart will triumph' and if the Christmas story teaches us anything it is that trust is key.

Happy Christmas!

The photograph is of 'Our Lady of the Waters' the statue Bernadette said bore the closest likeness to Our Lady .

Sunday, 21 December 2008

From Lourdes to Nevers

A Trip to Nevers

There is no way to convey the chasmic depth of holiness that surrounds the body of the little visionary from Lourdes. There are parts of the Convent of St. Gildard where there is such stillness that it seems your soul is suspended in it. Time and words and regular communication are rendered unnecessary for God has found a way to express beauty and hope, the beauty and hope of Bernadette, in a way that we cannot understand but, like Lourdes, we can feel.

It is in the power of simplicity that Bernadette lies in her casket; the tiny body of the spiritual giant. Neat and unassuming, hands so meticulously and gently folded on her breast she sleeps on. She sleeps with the the prayer surrounding her even though she has gone beyond the confines of this world. One can still see her own prayers in the peace of her face and feel them in this place. And in the presence of one so humble one cannot help but feel truly humbled. I am privileged to be in this place, where she came to walk away from the world.

At the feet of the Dame de la Eau there is a sense of the kindness which the lady who looked upon the ecstatic little girl from the mountains possessed. One can imagine how Bernadette might have knelt before her remembering her 'poor grotto' and longing for it.

What joy to follow just a little in the footsteps Bernadette and even more of a joy to share it. Whenever I feel hopeless I consider this little girl from Lourdes and I am filled with the knowledge of hope. Bernadette spoke only in uncomplicated truths and because of this she still speaks to the world today.

Today Bernadette lies in the chapel of the Sisters of Charity, Nevers where she died 130 years ago. Her body is a testament to her timeless beauty. It is intact and almost as it was the day she died. I wanted to start my blog by telling you what I felt while staying at the Convent of St. Gildard which I visited this year as a pilgrim. The photo above is one I took as I knelt before her.

The world is a very strange and wonderful place which none of us really understand but this blog is my attempt to share a little confusion and recognise the great mysteries. Do not be afraid! 


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