Saturday, 26 December 2009

Sacred Made Real exhibition is coming to Washington

I know that the US is a rather large country and that Washington may well be the same distance and duration by plane for some people living in the USA as it is for me here in London. Nevertheless, I got a book for Christmas about the exhibition I attended in London a couple of months ago (you can read the post here) and found that the exhibition is off to the National Gallery in Washington in February and staying a few months- you can read about it here. I was really pleased because I remembered some people over the Atlantic leaving comments saying they'd love to go- hopefully some now can - hooray!
The book is available at Amazon - it was a great present to receive because it was one of those lovely things I never would have got for myself (bit of an extravagance). It contains so many beautiful pictures and is really very special.



Thursday, 24 December 2009

A word from our sponsor (St Bernadette at Christmas)

On Christmas Eve 1871 Bernadette attended midnight mass and sat with her fellow sister Victoire Cassou, who later gave this account:

With her veil drawn around her, nothing could avert her attention. After holy communion, she was so deep in prayer that she did not even notice that everyone had gone out. However, I remained close to her for I did not like the idea of going to the refectory with the other sisters. I contemplated her for a long time without her noticing me. Her face was radiant and heavenly as during the ecstasy of her apparitions. When the sister responsible for shutting the chapel doors came, she made a lot of noise with the bolts. Then Bernadette came out of what seemed to be an ecstasy.
Bernadette's body (left) and the chapel at Nevers (right).

This week is my blog's birthday and Bernadette has been a big part of its content so that seemed appropriate. Thanks to you all for reading and a very Merry, peaceful Christmas to you all!

Only 31/2 hours to go till midnight mass in the UK!

Final advent reflection

Yesterday I had the remarkable experience of climbing the clock tower of British Parliament, affectionately known as Big Ben- all 334 steps to the top. I touched the clock faces on the inside of this world famous monument and then went up to watch Big Ben (actually the name of the bell rather than the tower) strike 12 - midday. It was so much fun and we were the last group to be able to do so in the year 2009. At the very top, where the bell is, you can see out across London itself and watching it from up there I felt a great affection for my city. Watching little read buses, the Thames and the London Eye on this cold Tuesday before Christmas everything seemed so pristine and perfect; so free of imperfection and chaos. There was so much life and hope, an aura of it from the silent height of the tower that has given London its rhythm and time for 150 years. There was a security in standing somewhere that survived four separate bombs during the war and came out chiming.

Yet, things are not always as they appear. I am sad for the character of my country because Big Ben may still be chiming out, peoples' hearts may still be filled with good and much that is positive has changed here since that first chime 150 years ago, I want to say that first because it is important to remember. Yet our moral compass in this nation has certainly not proved to be as resilient as our iconic clock, this year alone has seen Christians and the pro-life cause battered further as bills were passed in the building I was standing directly above at that moment in time. In fact the building the tower is connected to is, obviously, the building where all anti life bills have been triumphantly passed. As a mortal being man finds himself caught by time and the era in which we are living is one that does not want to recognise its own mortality or look back to that time 2000 years ago when all humanity, regardless of time, was marked to receive its greatest gift. The gift that we await now in these last days of Advent. Our ego in this time of Hawking and Dawkins is often great enough to think we don't need a God.

Waiting is something that seems to have been lost in a world where we are pushed to get what we want when we want it, something I found myself back in the midst of fairly quickly after I returned to ground level and the bustling consumer streets of central London; trying to find a sign of REAL Christmas was very difficult. Trying to find that sense of order, hope and peace I experienced looking out over the same streets from the advantage of height and distance seemed impossible. Being up there was a privilege and a joy which I will not soon forget but it did make me think about looking at things, including ourselves, as we really are. Sometimes receding from the chaos, surveying the overall picture can make you appreciate how fortunate you are, the beauty and the good things which are so vital to hold on to. Yet on its own this view would blind you from the reality and truth of the ways things are when you get close to them. In its own way it was a sort of mountain experience.

It can become a sort of metaphor for the way we look at ourselves and examine our conscience.

From a distance, surveying my actions and my personal truth I may consider myself to be ticking along nicely. Yet Advent is about coming down to the ground level of our soul, getting into the midst of the streets of our being. Can I find signs of the real Christmas within myself, not the self that I want to see from a pleasant distance but the self that is real and unromanticised- the bustle of my working soul. Where is Christ's birth within me? Getting into the muddle is about seeing the plank in my own eye and coming to the crib with humility, not just the gloss of the way I think I appear. Its tough to let go of the way I think I am and confront my own actions, desires and purity of heart. Confront my own ego.

It is a simple revelation but an important one, if I am to learn anything for Advent, my final prayer for this beautiful time of waiting is that I will be able to get down to the nitty gritty of those "streets of my soul" and examine them. Can I discern what I need to work on in the coming year to stop myself getting caught up in things of little significance which will only serve to throw my own moral compass off course? I want to clear the cluttered roads of my own desires so that every little part of my soul has Christ's name firmly sign posted. I hope that the aura of hope, the life may really be thriving at the very core - not just on the surface. It is a tall order but Christmas has to be about hope, the hope that we might be worthy of the great gift of life we are asked to receive. We only have to bow our heads and accept and then perhaps we will create a life for ourselves more resilient than any clock tower, more resilient than time itself. What greater hope can there be than this?

(Thanks to Soph for organising the trip yesterday- it was amazing!)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Hanging out with Carthusians (in spirit)

With a lack of Internet access in my life over the last month or so I have been spending my time doing lots of extra reading - you don't need technology to procrastinate and I'll always find a way. So what have I been reading dear readers, who have been kind enough to return after I have neglected you for so long? Well, among other things the writing of various, unnamed, Carthusians. This has largely happened by accident. It's strange when things seem to converge and by coincidence several people give you things to read which are connected and that is what happened to me at the end of the summer. I was given a book of Carhtusian writings and then a friend sent me a few extracts from the book he had been reading and before I knew it I was hooked. John Paul II said there is no such thing as a coincidence and I think I quite agree.

 Despite their enclosed nature it quickly became clear to me that these guys have a better handle on human nature and the modern world than those of us trapped in the grind. Advent, though it is almost at a close, has been the perfect ground for nurturing this reading for it has been born in the stillness and the silence of waiting and for this reason it is profound in its simple truths. I just wanted to share a little of my most recent reading with you, from a chapter entitled 'Christmas':

"For the world has need of love, for love alone gives joy. And grace is of itself fruitful; it cannot burn within us without lighting up other souls.

May the Blessed Virgin, hidden and silent in the cave of Bethlehem, help us to imitate her in her recollectedness and purity"*

I hope you all have a blessed and peaceful close to Advent.

*PAGE 89 The Prayer of Love and Silence, Gracewing, 2006 (originally published in 1962 by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd.)
COPYRIGHT - The Carthusian order in England

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Advent! It's good to be back!

I am glad to have had some temporary internet access this weekend to update my own blog and catch up with some of my favourites. I wish you all a deeply peaceful season of advent. If you are reading this near the 8th of December check out my little post
Also, a little advent poem here

The Immaculate Conception

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is nearly upon us. One of my favourite feast days of the year (though I say that about an awful lot of feast days). This feast seems perfectly suited to the run up to advent when we come to consider a fusion of divinity and humanity. Okay, and it obviously does link quite nicely to the message of Lourdes (you knew it was coming!). The message of Lourdes was, in a sense, the divine confirmation of a recent doctrine, on the 25th of March 1858 the lady finally revealed her name to St. Bernadette:

It had been 20 days since the last apparition. Bernadette felt internally compelled to go back to the grotto and, as ever, could not resist the call. However, as of today the Lady would no longer be Aquiro; today, on the feast of the annunciation, she revealed her name. Bernadette would later write; "She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception) ."

It is difficult to comprehend how alien this phrase was to Bernadette - there was no thunderbolt moment for her after speaking with the Lady- where she suddenly realised who she had been talking to. Instead, terrified she would forget the name she repeated it to herself aloud all the way back up the hill into the main town of Lourdes. When she reached the house of Peyramale she simply blurted out 'I am the Immaculate Conception' which understandably caused the priest to stop in his tracks and stare at the little peasant girl in front of him.Peyramale had been requesting the name of the Lady for weeks- now here it was.

Of course Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin. Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma). Of course the priest was not - he questioned Bernadette about how she knew this phrase and discovered fairly quickly that she obviously had no idea what it meant and nor did anyone with whom she had come in to close contact. Now the priest was troubled more than ever- he could see Bernadette was sincere and for the first time he was wondering....could it be?
(from the post The 16th Apparition)

However, Bernadette's connection with the feast day does not end there. Bernadette left for the convent at Nevers in 1867. Five months later on the 8th of December her beloved mother Louise died. It seems to me no coincidence that Louise, who had suffered a great deal in her life and had struggled through the period in which Bernadette had her visions died on this day.

Bernadette herself was appropriately canonised on the 8th of December.

The Immaculate Conception remains a bastion of hope and faith in our world; the woman who is the embodiment of the goodness God intended for us all. Surely one of the most essential aspects of goodness is compassion and for this reason we can be comforted because she is listening and ready to come to our aid. Our struggles in this life are many but we await the next with open hearts.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Joy of the Sacred

Yesterday I went to the National Gallery to see the 'Sacred made real' exhibition. Like the average person on the street I can enjoy looking at interesting pictures and sculptures - I deeply appreciate it as a gift from God- but I cannot claim to understand it with the great depth and knowledge that others do. I know nothing of the name of techniques and brush strokes - as much as I admire the effects. The one sculpture in my life that sent shivers down my spine was the pieta in St. Peters. We always had a model of it at home but when I stood before it I was amazed by it, what it could tell me and how it could inspire me.

I saw 'The Sacred Made Real' exhibition advertised on a poster on the tube and thought it would be worth a bash. I had no concept that it would actually be a spiritual experience. These sculptures were carved from wood and a method called polychroming was used in order to make them appear life like. The statues were exhibited with paintings of a similar time that borrowed ideas from sculpting to create a sense of the 3D. These sculptures are without doubt the most beautiful and awe inspiring I have seen and they indeed seemed to me to be very sacred. Most of the have never left Spain and are still in the convents, monasteries and churches which the were commissioned for- they have been loaned under very particular circumstances. One picture at the end of the exhibition was taken from the room where monks of the Mercedarian order were laid out, awaiting burial. How could one fail to be moved by the peace and symbolism of this? The fact that seeing some of these works together again would be highly unlikely after the end of this exhibition added to the sense of privilege and intimacy one felt standing before them. They have been, and still are, treated as objects that are sacred because they aid prayer and transport us into meditation. I was surprised by how this was the case even in an art gallery and London. The Mater Dolorosa exhibited in Room 5, the room called Meditations on Death is felt to be so sacred that it was only loaned to the gallery on the condition that it was no to be photographed. One can understand when you look upon the true expression of sorrow etched on the face. No one could capture it on camera, but by some amazing grace this artist was able to capture it in wood.

The art form itself is little known outside of Spain because it was thought by many protestant groups to feed idolatry they believed those "crazy catholics" practiced but suddenly the walls have fallen and the National seems to have taken a gamble in recognising a thirst for the sacred here. Certainly, I never thought I would see the day when Rosaries would be sold in the secular shops of the National Gallery but God is great and indeed nothing is impossible for Him - I think we are starting to see the proof of that here in England. In the most unlikely of times there is work afoot. A journalist from the Times newspaper said this week:

"With the arrival of The Sacred Made Real at the National Gallery, however, I think we can safely conclude that the Reformation in Britain is finally over, and that admirers of the remarkable popish art gathered before us here will not now be dispatched to the Tower. Henry VIII’s revolt has run its course at last." (source here)

To be fair it has been nearly five hundred years- its about time we got a break. I certainly am not carried away with the idea that all our troubles are over- far from it- you only have to read the full 'Times' article to get an idea of the underlying resentment people still feel for our Church. However, at least there is hope and more than that - perhaps even opportunity for people to encounter something of the divine.

The exhibition encouraged more than a passive observation - it was about meditation with music specially composed to accompany the pieces. One was asked to reflect in quite a deep way on what they were looking at - with commentary by a Jesuit priest. This was more than just showing art that has not been see before. This was about the sacred and I was surprised by that. In a world where we throw words around, often without a full regard for their meaning I had expected something beautiful, unusual, ethereal even, but probably not sacred. To use a somewhat colloquial phrase I was blown away, my soul responded.

There were five rooms in total and each of them held a separate aspect of meditation. One room called Saint Francis in Meditation was dedicated to depictions of Saint Francis in ecstasy and one could see something in that art of revelation. No artist could have created that expression on the face of Francis without some interior life. They rendered something beyond my own vocabulary. They rendered something we can all understand - the effect of God on a man who is completely focused on God. (There was also a rendering of St Bruno meditating on the crucifix that made me think the same)

I could probably go on all day about the aspects of Christ shown through this exhibition with one room dedicated to Meditations on the Passion and another, as already mentioned to Meditations on death. My words can never do it justice. Many of these artists were quote aesthetic in their own way and before beginning their work would fast, receive communion and pray. The effects are very clear.

I wanted to just share with you some of my delight and joy at having the privilege to encounter this exhibition. It is a very personal reflection but if you want to find out more the website is here

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Praying to Christ with Mary

Jesus invited us to turn to God with insistence and the confidence that we will be heard: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). The basis for this power of prayer is the goodness of the Father, but also the mediation of Christ himself (cf. 1Jn 2:1) and the working of the Holy Spirit who “intercedes for us” according to the will of God (cf. Rom 8:26-27). For “we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom 8:26), and at times we are not heard “because we ask wrongly” (cf. Jas 4:2-3).

In support of the prayer which Christ and the Spirit cause to rise in our hearts, Mary intervenes with her maternal intercession. “The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary”. If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Way of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us the Way. “Beginning with Mary's unique cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit, the Churches developed their prayer to the Holy Mother of God, centering it on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries”. At the wedding of Cana the Gospel clearly shows the power of Mary's intercession as she makes known to Jesus the needs of others: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3).

The Rosary is both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son. She is “all-powerful by grace”, to use the bold expression, which needs to be properly understood, of Blessed Bartolo Longo in his Supplication to Our Lady. This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm in the experience of the Christian people. The supreme poet Dante expresses it marvellously in the lines sung by Saint Bernard: “Lady, thou art so great and so powerful, that whoever desires grace yet does not turn to thee, would have his desire fly without wings”. When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.


Pictures taken on my visit to the convent of Nevers 2008

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The crime against Down Syndrome babies in England

Sitting here watching the news, in the most cold and calculated way, I have just been subjected to a report on how 93% of babies with down syndrome are aborted in this country (you can read the article here). Amazingly the BBC chose to interview a mother and some really positive things came out of that interview. Of course, this was not the subject of the report, this was just an "interesting" side issue. The topic was how women are waiting later to have children and the fact that this results in children with down syndrome was simply an interesting point for study. It made me feel ashamed of this society of ours which talks about the eradication of almost 100, 000 people as "a decision".

What arrogance exists in this society of ours? A society that preaches inclusion and equality. This is a genocide based on the fact that we consider the people who have this condition to be unworthy of life. UNWORTHY OF LIFE! What right do we have for such an awe inducing "decision"? Here are people killed before they are born because they do not meet our apparently high standards for existence.

It is a true tragedy that we lose people who have every bit as much to contribute to this society as you and me - PROBABLY MORE!

What disgraceful arrogance in human beings allows us to "decide" that somebody does not deserve to live?

For anybody who feels that the decision to give a child with down syndrome a death sentence is just and right - stand back and think of the implications- not just for the child but for all. To destroy someone with love to give, with words to say, who without intervention would have a place in this world. In my head and my heart I go back to my own experience of friends in my life with down syndrome. How much these people had to give -how much they have given me- SO MUCH!

I go back to Jean Vanier a man who has learned more from people with down syndrome, and various other conditions, than from any others he has come into contact with- which include famous politicians and academics. This was a man who taught philosophy at university and yet NO college student and NO volume of Aristotle ever taught him more than living in community with those with "disabilities". There are hundreds of L'Arche communities all over the world filled with assistants who make the same claims as Vanier himself.

When you don't give somebody a chance at life how can you make claims about their value?

I have lived with someone with a supposed "disability" in my own life and to be perfectly honest he was a lot less disabled than the rest of us and so utterly alive. These days doctors would encourage mothers to abort babies with the same condition Garvan had. What a terrible hole in the world; not to have lost him in our family but NEVER to have had him. Below you can see him dressed as a spaceman at a party and also, with me when I was born.

There can be no worse crime than for a society to deny other human beings their right to life simply because, deep down, the rest of us think we are worth more.

The fact it is done silently and legally does not make it better - if anything it makes it worse.

How can you have October without virtual Lourdes?

A little visit to virtual Lourdes in honour of the Rosary. What better place to celebrate than at the grotto where praying the Rosary was overseen by Our Lady herself? She joined in the Our Father and followed silently as Bernadette prayed the Hail Mary. This was the case from the earliest vision. How many rosaries have been said there since? It must run into trillions! Hooray!

From a personal point of view I think it is where I learnt to fully appreciate this most beautiful and powerful of prayers.

Remember that your prayers went there too and all those thousands of Rosaries surrounded them. I so hope that those prayers are being answered. I believe they are - perhaps already have been?

The Ave Maria being sung in the midst of the Rosary procession

Monday, 26 October 2009

To respond with love

Last Friday I spent the day packing boxes full of peoples' donations for parts of Eastern Europe where there is extreme poverty. I went to help because the woman who collects the donations in her house (who was working for this charity since before the fall of the Berlin wall) is now ninety and, as a severe asthmatic, has been told she should no longer lift anything, how ever small. This hasn't stopped her. The donations will be couriered through Poland until they reach a religious community there. When it gets to the Fathers it will be divided up in order to share it among communities in need and then it will be taken on to parts of the Ukraine, Belarus and among others, communities still affected by the Chernobyl disaster, where babies are still being born without eyes. It will be taken by the Fathers themselves who will go back and forth tirelessly with fairly limited transport until it is all delivered. It is only scratching the surface, yet because of the personal response of all these people children will have toys, elderly people will have soap, mothers and fathers, teenagers will have clothing. Without that van of aid they would not. It really is as simple as that.

It is difficult to describe how humbled I felt being around Vi, the woman in question. I packed for a few hours and was tired; she has people in and out of her house at all different hours of the day all the time. Each day friends from church come in and do some packing. Yet all of us are purely bathing in the light of her true goodness- since this is one of her many projects. She never loses patience with her packers and insists on making us tea and cakes, she answers thousands of questions from those of us who have no idea of the severe customs laws, she painstakingly copies out labels for every bag and box in Polish - she has looked up and checked all the words and has to copy them from her hand written list. This is a woman whose favourite Birthday present was 900 tea bags for her parcels. In parts of the Ukraine people can't afford tea, all they can drink is hot water. Vi has responded to them, but more than this, she has responded to them with love.

There are so many forms of poverty in the world, in our own lives. One of the great examples of love in our world today is Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche community. It is his belief that each of us is poor and handicapped in our own way so we shouldn't get any ideas about our own greatness, nor others lowliness. Each of us can give and each of us can learn from one another but no human being is less valuable than another in the sight of God. I understand all of this as best I can - with all my own flaws.

Nevertheless, I feel an increasing concern in my own life about how I am responding, personally, to the cries of the poor. I feel a stronger pull towards walking with them in my own life in some way. In Western terms I don't come from a particularly wealthy family but I have been given so much in my life in terms of love and the education I received- I believe that this privilege is a responsibility- the tools I need to respond. My university chaplain constantly warned us of this- if you are given opportunity then it is your responsibility to turn this into a chance to love. I know that I have written in the past about when I was in Tanzania two and a half years ago, about how the children I met there have burrowed into a place in my heart. I think about their lives often and I think about their pain. It is easy for me to see snippets of lives of those who suffer, to be briefly united to them and to feel compassion for them. It is much harder to know what to do about these feelings. How can we help those who most need it? How can we turn these feelings into a loving response in whatever way that might be possible?

I don't have any answers to that one (obviously) except the one that we all have, the one that Christ ultimately gives us - respond with love. How we do this is deeply individual and personal (again, sorry I am stating the obvious). As long as we respond. Action through prayer is certainly a highly powerful response and you can see it working in our own missionaries.

I just feel that I need to be working on improving my personal response. I am grateful as always to be part of a Church that does so much for the poor, no matter the criticisms levelled, I have seen it in action. Where there are no others, the Church is there at the heart of poverty. Thus we are all there.

Below is a video I filmed of the kids singing in the Fransalian school in Tanzania. It was the happiest school I have EVER visited and it is one of the many projects the MSFS are responsible for in just this one area. You get to hear me laughing away at the end as I was treated to another rendition of my 'favourite' song. It makes me smile whenever I watch it. Projects like this are hope personified in a world where there is no infrastructure whatsoever to support the average person. Education is a light of strength. Christ lives in the hope of each one of these children.

I ask for your prayers as I am deciding a few important things in the coming months. I believe I have been offered an opportunity to respond more fully on a personal level - I ask for your help that I will do His will. That I will respond with love in the particular way he wishes me to.

I promise to keep you informed as things develop.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Back to Bernadette

It has been a little while since I have had a chance to talk about St Bernadette and you all know that I love talking about St. Bernadette - a book I have just been given allows the perfect opportunity. Hooray!
It is called "We Saw Her" and its comprised of witness accounts from those who were there in 1858 and saw the events. Before I go to bed I can't help but share this with you:

"It was no longer the same Bernadette - the angels in heaven must be like that. At times she listened with a sad and dejected air; then her lips moved again. Once more I heard that long sigh which made me so happy. Ever since, when I wake at night I try to reawaken the picture of her face and above all that smile and those lovely bows" LOUIS BAUP *

Me too and I wasn't even there! :-)

*We Saw Her, B.G. Sandhurst, Longmans, Green & Co, London, 2003 (first published 1953)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Relics of St. Therese

On Tuesday I arrived at the Cathedral piazza, which I know so well, to see a screen with Mass being streamed and the whole place lit up and filled with those waiting to get close to the relics. Those lights which shone out into the Autumn twilight were indeed very literal. However, there was a greater light behind them, a light of united hope. To me the greatest gift of seeing the casket containing the relics, and running my hand over the glass casing that surrounds them, was not so much about personal desires and intentions but the hopes of all those who have come close to it since it begun its travels. Of course I believe that St Therese is ready and willing to intercede for us, listening for our individual, hopeful and heartfelt petitions, yet the symbolism of this event was certainly about something greater than this.

I felt that the most valuable thing created was a connection between the faithful of the world, in all their trials, around somebody who lived with the simplicity of love. It was about being aware of the power of that simplicity, of what a desire to love can do, how it is still bringing people together in a community of sorts. A community of hope and I am so grateful to Therese for that. Beyond the value of any ornate casket is the value of the prayer uttered by each of those who have looked upon it, prayer that will never lose its value, nor the ear of she whose relics are within.

Whoever wished to make others believe that there is little faith on this island of ours has been aptly corrected and we are left with that sense of hope, that faith, which comes with a shower of graces. Need I say more? I think not - the answer to prayer is already so clear and so present. We are already thankful, yet I am sure this will not be the end of the thanks - I am sure there are many still to come. All we need do is wait and pray...

Pictures of the relics tour of England on the bbc here.

I pray that the next journey will be as successful but doubtless it will. St Therese pray for us!

Prayer to St Therese of the Child Jesus

Teach us how to open our hearts without reserve to the Holy Spirit as you did, to seek and find God's will in all the crises and choices, in the joys and disappointments of our lives. Gain for us too the grace to do his will with courage and untroubled hearts, so that we may radiate a joy and gladness like yours in service of Our Lord.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


My Year 9 (aged13-14) were looking at Darcy's letter to Elizabeth the other day. We came across the word humility and I asked them what they thought it meant

The girls said admitting you're not good at something

The boys said not letting on that you are good at something.

Interesting difference in gender perspective. I found it amusing.

I did my best to correct BOTH about the ACTUAL meaning of humility.

I am off to see the relics tonight and I am so looking forward to it - I hope to be able to post on it sometime soon and will remember you all when I get to the casket.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Trials and hopes

My lack of posting recently has probably been an implication to visitors and friends that all in my camp is not running quite as smoothly as it usually does. I have to say I have never experienced a start back to school quite like this one and myself and the kids have been struggling not to buckle under the new pressures placed on both of us by the institution we share and the systems that govern that institution. I am not afraid of a bit of hard work, but lets just say this has taken things to new lengths. As a result I have not been too well with a bug I just can't shift in the last couple of weeks (it is not of the swine variety) and I am now on antibiotics which I hope will help. I know I sound like I am moaning but I promise you I am not, on the contrary I am really just explaining myself. I miss posting but probably more than that I miss visiting the blogs of others and sharing thoughts, prayers and ideas with inspirational Catholics from all over the world. I remain blessed in so many ways and I cannot even attempt to complain in any way about the life I lead when I have so much (just thinking of the Gospel today). So on to a few cheery things I have been party to of late, of a more uplifting nature.

I am sure that no one here in England can fail to have missed the wonderful shower of hope being poured out upon us by the relics of St. Therese which I look forward to visiting in Westminster this Tuesday. So in preparation for their arrival lots has been going on this weekend. Yesterday at the Cathedral there was a day for Mary which I attended and found filled 1) With people 2) With hope. Who can be downcast when we have a mother who offers such love and leads us to her son and the hope of serving Him with real strength and honesty? Young Catholics here are responding and you can see it in their attendance at events such as these. There was further evidence of the on the afternoon procession.

In the afternoon we went to the 'Rosary Crusade' which has now been running for 25 years and led by the statue of our Lady of Fatima we walked through the streets of central London with the traffic stopped for us while we prayed the Rosary. We were permitted to walk on the roads, because of our large numbers. It was awesome! In the true sense of the word as Catholics of all ages joined together to pray in the heart of our city. We started in Victoria and walked through Chelsea and Knightsbridge to Brompton Oratory praying the Rosary with a special intention for our priests and the affect of St Therese's relics here. These busy consumer areas were brought to total standstill on a Saturday afternoon, just for a few moments by Our Lady and her powerful prayer. It was a great witness and I have to say I had a lot of fun walking down Sloane Street, Kings Road Chelsea and bypassing Harrods with the likes of Prada and Louis Vitton dominating, and watching people's bemused but interested faces. Of course I am under no illusion that many of them probably thought we were nuts but who cares? Our Lady is a powerful advocate and the act itself was just a tool - who knows what a witness like this might do? Only Christ knows. I know being part of it was wonderful and I am so grateful for this privlidge.

So there is hope, our country has many flaws indeed but one side of its desire for total freedom is that we are free to witness to Truth. We didn't try to intrude upon any body in a combative way we simply brought our prayer to the street, and to be totally honest, I found people ultimately respectful of that. Our Church is alive! For all that our media tries to insist it is not, for all our struggles against the terrible, crushing wrongs which our law supports and promotes we are here and we have something that can never be broken: we have FAITH and through faith we have an endless sense of hope and possibility. We cannot deny or put away our struggles but we can say that we will face them in a united way with an unbreakable sense of what Truth is.

For anybody else who is having a tough start to Autumn lets not forget that light in our lives and remember all those who can't quite find that light. My life would be so dark without it.

Dear friends you are always in my prayers.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Handy refreshers

Found this great little book from CTS in Westminster Cathedral this week which is to help prepare us Brits for the arrival of Saint Therese of Liseux's relics in the UK. It is excellent preparation and is both a handy refresher if you are familiar but, I think, would make a good introduction too. It also has where the relics will be and when. Check it out at here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

When the praying gets tough

During the second world war there was a relatively unknown diarist called Etty Hillesum who had a unique and beautiful style of writing. She spent a great deal of time in the Dutch transit camp of Westerbork where she suffered with her fellow Jews and had to watch train after train full of human beings , including babies, women, the elderly, sick and infirm, get sent to Auschwitz and an "unknown destiny". Etty was also a deeply spiritual person and this love of religion colours her writing and elevates her soul in order that she can cope with what she sees. I found a tragic yet beautiful passage as I was reading her letters the other day and I found the part where she talks about the entrance of some Catholic-Jewish religious in Westerbork. She tells how "There was a remarkable day when the Jewish-Catholics or Catholic-Jews arrived, nuns and priests wearing the yellow stars on their habit."* She describes how one priest had not been out of the monastery for fifteen years "yet his gaze remained unwavering and friendly above the brown habit, as if everything was known, familiar, from long ago"*

Etty had no reason to write this way, most of the people she was writing to had no interest in the Catholic clergy. There is no bias in what she writes yet she is able to convey a beautiful serenity. I think we know it, I think she recognised it as the serenity of grace. Grace in a place where, as you can read in the rest of Etty's letters human suffering is abundant and devastating. Yet together human beings went on , whether Catholic or not just hoping and trying to bear what was happening. She continues that a man tells her:

"he saw some priests walking one behind the other in the dusk between two barracks. They were saying their rosaries as imperturbably as if they had just finished vespers at the monastery"*

I love this idea because it is proof that faith does not die when the sense of humanity in those around you does. People may be persecuting you, may be harming and destroying life all around you but you do not give up. You hold on and Etty asks in her beautiful mystical way :

"And isn't it true one can pray anywhere?"*

This I will try to remember next time I feel that internal call to prayer but tell myself I will pray later when I am less stressed, distracted or busy. Surely these people must be our models for prayer.

Etty died in Auschwitz on November 30th 1943 aged 27. She was proudly Jewish and in the course of the last years of her short life had become a proud lover of God. She took her Talmud and Bible to Auschwitz with her.

*All quotations were taken from Letters from Westerbork, Etty Hillesum, Grafton Books, Uk 1987

Monday, 31 August 2009


A little way from Taize is the village of Cluny where there used to be a gigantic monastery - fatherhouse to 1000 others of the Benedictine order in France. Here are a few shots of what remains - only a few feet shorter than St Peters itself when in its full glory. It was destroyed during the throws of the French revolution. Yet its ethereal beauty has not been wholly lost. You can just sense it is a place of holiness.

A very kind blog award

I am so grateful to Roz at Our Beautiful Catholic Faith for awarding me such a kind blog award. She writes a beautiful blog of reverence and prayer with some stunning photography to boot. I thank you truly and I would like to pass it on to:

Jennifer at My Chocolate Heart
Andrea at Arise to Write

The official rules are as follows:

1. Copy the picture above and post it on your blog.
2. Pass it on to who you think who is/are deserving.
3. Leave a message to them.
4. Pass as many as you want.
5. Message back or leave a comment to the owner.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Paying a visit to St. Catherine Laboure

While in France this summer I had a chance to drop into the Miraculous medal chapel on Rue de Bac where Our Lady appeared in 1830 to Catherine Laboure. Catherine died in 1876 and was canonized in 1947 - when exhumed her body was found to be incorrupt and supple.  She and St. Bernadette died within three years of one another, although Catherine lived a much longer life, in terms of their humility, poverty  and love of vocation as well as (obviously) a devotion to Our Lady there are striking similarities. Catherine's body is now on view close to the alter in the chapel where she had a total of three visions. In all truth I didn't get to spend all that much time at the Church compared to somewhere like Nevers and I would love to have had more to explore its beauty. I was truly blessed to be able to kneel at the alter and say my Rosary ( I remembered all my "bloggy"-friend's intentions there whatever they might be) before her body. Unfortunately my camera battery died and so I managed to get fairly useless photo evidence apart from the following offerings:
Catherine is the saint who the miraculous medal was revealed to. At this time in France there remained political instability and persecution of the clergy.  Our Lady gave us the prayer inscribed on the medal O Mary, conceived without sin,  pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Catherine was a poor farm girl who had lost her mother at a young age, she had turned to Marian devotion in the depth of her grief.  She came to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul at the age of 24. Our Lady revealed the medal Catherine was to have struck in some detail and told her to ask her confessor to carry out the instructions. It took Catherine two years to convince her confessor of the verity of her visions, she had to write out several accounts and after this time he concluded that she was a practical, honest, sane person. The first two-thousand medals were delivered on June 30, 1832.  Nobody but Catherine's confessor knew the identity of the nun it had been revealed to and its  spread through France was miraculous in itself. It quickly earned the title we all associate it with while Catherine retreated in silence to work with the elderly and infirm in the countryside - no one realising her link to the medal.  She is often called the saint of silence for this reason.  It was only in the year of her death that she admitted to another nun that she was the recipient of the medal instruction. 

In many ways it was a vision that leads us to the clear confirmation at Lourdes "I am the immaculate conception".  

I was given my own miraculous medal for my first holy communion at the age of 8 and have increasingly come to value its significance.  This summer I joined the Malitia of the Immaculata, which is a worldwide ecclesial movement founded by Maximilian Kolbe in 1917. It is a movement of prayer based around the prayer and medal as revealed to Catherine Laboure. Its principal prayer is:

O Mary,conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you, and for all those who do not have recourse to you, especially enemies of the Holy Church and all those recommended to to you.

I really like how St Catherine's medal is quietly linked to so many other saints and events in our Church, much like the woman herself, it remains a powerful witness of hope.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Memories of Nevers

It is now a year since my beautiful visit to Nevers, Bernadette's final resting place, and now a place where earthly souls can rest for a little time bathed in peace before returning to the world. I can't really describe the beauty of being able to stay at the convent at Espace Bernadette and being able to be beside her body in the chapel late at night when nobody else was there. During the day I liked to watch children peep in at her with fascination and kneeling pilgrims tilt their head beside her while in a deep kind of conversation of prayer. Yet I also loved it late at night before they closed the chapel, I could simply kneel before her tiny structure and marvel, I could enter into that deep, deep peace that she emanates.

When I started this blog the first thing I wrote about was that trip to Nevers in the dying days of August - a trip that sustained me for the long winter ahead and sustains me still (You can read that post here). I met many of you through that early post because in this world there is a surge of warmth from many when you talk about Bernadette. She is a true spiritual giant. My journey to her was a privilege and in my darkest moments I cling to her words:

"I shall forget no one" 

I have complete faith that this is true whether one is beside that little body or millions of miles away, across oceans and seas.  For, of course, Bernadette is now on the other side of that veil which separates us from those that have gone before us - amidst the communion of saints. 
St Bernadette - pray for us!

I thought I might share some of the happy snapshots from that trip:

Grapes growing in the convent gardens
Beautiful St. Bernadette - awaiting the day when she will wake
The room in which Bernadette died is one where she lived and prayed through the last months of her life, suffering deeply. Her bed, like all the others in the infirmary was covered with a white drape. As she suffered, finally unable to walk she called it her white chapel. The place where her bed stood is now marked by the tabernacle, covered in a symbolic white drape. Words fail the powerful presence of peace in that room. Oh so beautiful! I go there often in prayer.
The spot where Bernadette actually died, sitting up as she struggled to breathe. The floorboards, the fire place, the statue are as they were.  I knelt before them deeply touched by Bernadette's own hidden life of love and prayer.
This is Our Lady of the Waters, a statue which has its place at the back of the convent, hidden behind hedgerow. Bernadette would often steal herself some peace here, away from what was often an extremely difficult life in the convent.  She was not a big fan of statues of Our Lady, she found them beautiful and showed them reverence but was always very aware that they could not reflect the real beauty of what she had seen. Yet she felt that this statue had "something" of the beauty she had seen in the Lady at the grotto.  This is a similar stance to the one the Lady took when she revealed her name to Bernadette: 'The Immaculate Conception"
St Joseph's chapel where Bernadette rested till 1925 is the perfect place to hide away and say your Rosary.  It was here that many early visitors to her burial site were said to have experienced miraculous cures through the intercession of Bernadette.
The front of the convent where Bernadette lived out her vocation, directly through those doors is the main chapel where Bernadette's body now rests.
The actual chair in which Bernadette died.
The clothes Bernadette wore to the convent.
The few possessions Bernadette brought with her from the hospice where she had been living in Lourdes until the age of 22

Friday, 28 August 2009

Poem for Friday



The silence

Watches over

Without the eyes of the

World to meet him.


You will not look to seek him,

Even though

He is just a little way behind.


He is the strength

Touched by gentility of mind.


He is keeper

And the leader,


Who sought Him



The calm on the flight,

The clarity of sight,

When all around

Was panic and slaughter.


Protector in the stillness;

The silhouette in the distant desert

Whose feet met the sand,


In the unfamiliar land,

While the blood

Of innocence was behind.


And so he lead

And we will never know what was


Or what passed between the


Throughout their journey


We can only know the stillness,

The depth of willingness…


Of what it is to love.


We can only touch upon the


Of one who was so


And so

Willing to become the



Who lived the hidden life,

Bathed in the

Greatest gift of light...

Which is given to us all.


Listen for the call…


For in the still,



In the whisper of the dream...

It shall come.

Sleep in the knowledge

And comfort

Of silence.


Only now are the lessons I learned at Taize beginning to take hold in my life.  I think they have been marinating in the midst of my own reflection and prayer over the last couple of weeks and now they are starting to take root and grow.  What struck my heart most there was a recognition of the value of every human being and a prompt to live simply, in communion with the poor and with one focus - GOD.

You wake to prayer with the community, it is at the centre of the day and at its end. For each of these three daily prayers the brothers take their place before the alter and we watch - we wait- we stop. There is chant but then it ceases and there is silence. For ten minutes this church, filled with thousands, is rendered silent. You find yourself looking forth into the light of the alter and perhaps grasping just for an instant what it is we are waiting for. When you stop before that table, that symbol of sacrifice do you ever just wait silently for a few moments to consider what that sacrifice has really done?  That the temple was shattered, that we were taken beyond the realms of the visible, that there are no longer walls between us and God.  He is. We are. We are His.

Sometimes this revelation can be terrifying. God is so huge, we cannot hope to comprehend or understand Him in this life, we are too little, too flawed. Yet we can leave ourselves open to the awesome nature of His truth - the truth that comes with His son.  The Christ that comes to lead us. Looking into those flickering lights you start to feel that sense of immense possibility that dwells in each of us to really live in the presence and knowledge each day, even the days we feel exhausted and shattered  Simplicity and prayer help to bring the world into focus and that is what Taize does for people.  It lifts the exterior away for a short while leaving only the interior.
Even language becomes rather fluid. In chants that encompass world languages one begins to feel deep prayer emitting from the heart without the words being in your own language or even a modern language, the translation is printed in the song books, but one does need this to comprehend the sacred.  I was having breakfast one morning with a new friend from the Russian Orthodox tradition. She said much more articulately than I had been able to express, "You feel as though the words you speak are your own" The beauty of them is that they ARE - they are the words of each one of us because they are the words of hope and love expressed by all Christians whose souls are constantly before the alter of the world...waiting....watching...waiting for that we KNOW lies beyond.

To read what the community say about the prayer through song click here

To check out the translations of the beautiful chants click here

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The end of the summer journeys

I'm back home from the last of my summer trips having utterly neglected my blog in the past couple of weeks.  So I thought I would mark my return with the simple story of somebody  I met this summer in Taize.  In three weeks time this particular chap is going to enter a Benedictine monastery.  He is bright, gentle and has a wonderful life to his faith.  He showed a tremendous ability to communicate with people, especially those struggling in matters of faith.  As it turned out we were at the same university at the same time and he grew up in the town where I teach now.  He is just 25 and he has taken a great deal of effort to discern his calling over the past two years.   To meet somebody like this who has an excellent law degree and could have carved himself a very different material path really was so uplifting.   His love of God and desire to follow that above all else has been something wonderful to encounter this summer and I thought I would share this encounter with you. I wondered if you might be so kind as to pray from him since I am sure he will be an asset to our Church but, like the rest of us, needs a little support long his way.

The tabernacle and picture of Our Lady next to the altar

The altar and cross used for veneration at Taize

Areas where the brothers pray, sing and meditate

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Coming Home

Coming home from a place where you have been surrounded by a deep sense of spirituality is always difficult.  There is a feeling of coming down from the mountain.  Taize was a challenging place in many ways. Yet it is also a place of high ideals and goals - somewhere that attempts to allow people  dialogue and give people a sense of their value in the most real sense; not their academic or material value, but their infinite value in the sight of God. The four thousand young people present there each week in August are evidence of the thirst for this truth amidst the often parched shores of Europe.

The brothers in the Taize community are made up of various Christian denominations, including Catholic, and are also truly international as well as inspirational.  The Vatican fully supports the work of the community and their close relationship goes back to the Papacy of John XIII. John Paul II visited and said mass there while the prior of the community meets with Pope Benedict every year. While I was there two Catholic Bishops stayed for a number of days and it was lovely to have mass said for the Assumption by a lovely French Bishop on Saturday, The Taize community does not ignore differences between denominations but brings us together in a united love of God and what it is to be human.  It brings us together to show there can be at least one place on earth where we can accept unification and dialogue.

It does this mostly through prayer- drawing those four thousand young people in to the church of reconciliation each day to pray through the unique Taize chant three times a day. It is humbling to see all these people drawn into the daily rhythm of very beautiful prayer. The rest of the day you work to contribute in some way to the daily running of the community- helping to cook, clean etc. and you are also involved in a group discussion led by a brother followed by small group meetings which offers the opportunity to share ideas with people from different cultures and denominations.  The discussion groups strongly echo Catholic social teaching and often the notes site encyclicals. There is also plenty of time for some solitary reflection.

In many ways it was not an easy week and I found myself challenged and confronted with many ideas.  Yet coming back I feel renewed. What I take with me most is the deep prayer I entered into amidst the Taize chants and readings.  The repetition of simple phrases and the meditation upon these was enlightening in the most simple of ways. It is simplicity that I also keep with me from Tiaze; living in unity with those who have less and stripping away the superficiality our society imposes so that all that remains is time with God.  I couldn't even charge my mobile phone and it was really good for me to be in this situation.  As Brother Roger lived his life he moved gradually from his own Luthran background towards a deep unity with the Catholic faith.  He was a man of true peace and beauty- unfortunately this beauty was too difficult for a woman who suffered chronic mental illness to cope with and on the 26th of August 2005 he was murdered at evening prayer- of course she was not responsible for what she did. His community was heartbroken yet their ultimate answer has been peace and compassion. I hope to share a little more of what I learnt over the coming weeks.

As for me, its A Level results day tomorrow so I will be in school (hopefully) celebrating with my students.  

Saturday, 8 August 2009

See you in a week!

I am off to Taize in France tomorrow  (I am sure there are many familiar with Taize chant) where I will be staying and praying with the community for the week, camping with others. I think it might involve a fair old bit of singing as well as washing up and earning our keep. I have never been there before and I am excited about it. I will be driving with four others so won't arrive till Sunday morning. I have to say I am not the best camper in the world but for peace and prayer and experience I will try my best. I invested in a pink rain coat for the occasion.  If you want to read more about Taize you can do so here.

Please know that you will all be very much in my prayers and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Rest in Peace Private Patch

I can't help but be moved by the funeral of the last surviving British Tommy from the trenches of World War I - he was 111. Harry Patch wanted his funeral to spread a message of peace and reconciliation.  He wanted people from both sides to be present at his funeral and he wanted no guns or cannons fired.  He was a gentle peaceful man and we are proud of him. Read it here.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Reflections on a quiet morning outside the abortion clinic.

Because I am flying out from Heathrow tomorrow I am staying with my parents so I went to the abortion clinic this morning to pray outside with my Mum.  This clinic, unlike the one closest to my own house on the opposite side of the city,  is BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service).  Marie Stopes (the one closest to my house) and BPAS (the one closest to my parents') are the two largest abortion providers in Britain.  Most of these abortions are government funded - funded by the taxes I pay.  The worst thing about it- and brace yourself for this because it actually hurts me when I think about it- the building used to be a Catholic Convent.  Ouch! It is a huge,  beautiful Victorian building and now it is used for this..

We just stood quietly on the opposite side of the street and prayed our Rosary as a witness.  I find it so hard to watch those girls going in and out -I so want to hep them and stop them causing this pain to themselves and their child.  I looked up at that building I noticed something striking: the psychology of it. I realised I have never stood outside an abortion clinic that doesn't have the blinds down and the curtains drawn in almost every room. In a quiet Liberal Democrat, residential area this seems totally unnecessary unless, somewhere within, you feel what you are doing needs to be hidden. It was an empty street on a Thursday morning, a side street at that - rain rather than sun - why hide? That got me thinking about the parallels to Nazi concentration camps- the attempts to sanitise everything and keep the realities from prying eyes. To keep people asleep to the realities because what they don't see can't hurt them.  It was also interesting how everybody going in did so with their head down and rung the doorbell impatiently while they waited a short time as though they were anxious not to be seen.  It wasn't us bothering them - we were just two people standing on a street. I think they felt, even on a subconscious level, that they did not want to be associated with this place or what was happening there.

The thing is there is hope in this because what we can hope that peoples' consciences will one day open their eyes to what is right.  Nothing is impossible for God.  Sometimes we seem to have come so far from our centre of morality that we can perceive no way back. Yet there must be a way back -as with ideologies of the past- as long as there is prayer.

A quick nod to Saint Martha

I know I am a day late but I just wanted to mark the feast day of my confirmation patron Saint - Martha.  Martha liked to get things right but in her hurry to do so she got them wrong- I picked her for this reason- because I can relate. The thing that I like best about her though is her willingness to learn - it is not easy to be criticised by someone you love and respect. It is hard to then take this criticism to heart and learn from it.  Martha is a good example of how to do so graciously and I pray to her that, when I am corrected, I will act to correct the error of my ways, that I will listen carefully to what others have to say. 

When the bishop asked me why I chose her, I did tell him "Because she had to learn the hard way" He looked rather shocked but I stand by it.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Link to some great posts on Lourdes

Just wanted to tip you off about some great posts on Lourdes which I have been really enjoying over on Poetry, Prayer, and Praise  - they can be found here.  

henna hand

My friend is getting married tomorrow and last night I went to her henna party, she is from an Asian background and this event traditionally prepares the bride for her wedding.  The brides friends also have the opportunity to have henna - I thought I'd show you how mine turned out.


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