Friday, 29 May 2009

Forgive my manners

As an Englishwoman I should have better manners so I am issuing a good old apology - British style. Dear friends please forgive me for not replying promptly to comments left in the comment box of late. I am having difficulty with sporadic blogger ID so that even if I am signed in the comment box is not recognising me and refusing to let me sign in again. When it does recognise me I am getting in those replies. So please know three things 1) I am reading and appreciating your comments 2) I am not ignoring you 3) a reply will come - eventually.

Thank you as always for your kindness and patience

Thursday, 28 May 2009


When I am preparing students for exams it is always so easy to forget what it is like to be on the other side of that preparation and lose patience. I was going through an old diary this morning and I came across this little piece of writing. The voice that spoke to me from these pages seemed so much younger and seemed to have so much less perspective yet it was written only three years ago. The thing that surprised me was how much perspective I seemed to lack. I was rather ashamed at my own self indulgence and self importance. At the same time I remembered all that pressure which you carry when there is a weight of expectation upon you. It is funny now the recollection of my former self begins to teach me lessons. Perhaps I needed a gentle reminder to help me better understand those I am supposed to help and support with patience...even if they do seem to lack a little perspective.

I find myself back at the beginning again with the same mountains to be climbed; a staircase of thick beautiful novels with their own specific scents. A mixture of that fresh, sharp bookshop smell - newly printed ink on clean white paper and the seemingly ancient texts allowed to mature on library shelves like vintage wines until they have a musty aroma. It is in these pages I find both my tranquility and my challenge. Over and over again I will break the spines of young books and dissect their core into the early hours of the morning with no one as my companion but the shadow of dead writers that put pen to paper many years ago when an idea burnt freshly upon the flesh of their young mind and the searing sting of genius carried their words across the paper. Now they are gone and every one of their images is left standing strong as when it was first created awaiting my scalpel to  slice deep in to its heart and find its purpose. If I cannot find one I shall have to force one upon it. The writers have no words with which to argue, their shadows are silent, their words are said but mine are not and I must try to piece them together and make them enough.

Pretentious and self important....a winning combination but also a good reminder for me of what it is like to think that exams and all the blind fury which surrounds them really are the most important thing in your life.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Finding the beads

I searched high and low for my beloved Rosary beads today. I put my beads in their little pouch in my pocket yesterday and, of course, at the time I questioned whether this was a good idea. It wasn’t. How far can they travel from my pocket? Far enough is the answer.

I love these particular beads and if I can help it I like to say my Rosary on them, I know it shouldn’t make a difference but I can’t help it…I have favourites (You can read about them here Beads of hope for 2009). They continue to help me touch upon the World Church as I pray because they speak of those suffering persecution yet still able to create such beauty for the love of a mother; a mother who draws close to the children who live their lives to glorify a beloved son. They make me aware, when I start to consider how hard I find things sometimes, of the fact that at least I can say my Rosary freely and I feel so lucky to be able to do so.

Thankfully St Anthony came through for me and I found them safely tucked up in their little patch near my bed.

To me (on a good day) the Rosary is like a window and, just for an instant, I feel like the veil between this world and the other falls (or at least thins).  Sometimes that doesn’t happen – I get distracted, look out the window or start thinking about making my next cup of tea – lose the rhythm. However, on the occasions I get it right its like catching a glimpse of something and knowing its real.

I wish I got it right more often than not…I don’t. Even so I am so thankful for this gift of a prayer which always seems to me like fluttering wings.  Saying the Rosary is learning. I feel I can always get better at it – closer, more focused, stronger - and this is the beauty of it. When I was younger we used to say it as a family but saying as an adult is different. It starts to take root in you and becomes an anchor of peace. I am still learning but I would rather face the journeys ahead of me with these beads between my fingers than without them.

I never get bored of the well known statement made by John Paul the great "the Rosary is the rhythm of life". 

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Giving thanks for Faith

Faith, the little baby I wrote about in the post a couple of days ago died just a few hours ago. Her very short life has been a witness to the power of love and the soul. I am certain she has been welcomed in heaven with open arms. Her mother Myah wrote such a beautiful post on her blog (click here). Of course I have never known Faith or Myah personally but my heart has been deeply touched by them both and I think it will continue to be so for very many years to come. I will continue to pray for Myah in her grief, though I know that her faith in God will help her, and I thank her for sharing Faith's life with us.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A witness to Faith & prayers needed!

I wanted to just write a little reflection on the writings of another blogger who never ceases to inspire me. I am sure nearly everyone who has read this blog has already been following The Story of Faith Hope which is written by Faith's Mum (or Mom) Myah. For anyone who does not know the story of Faith she is a beautiful little girl born three months ago full of smiles and gurgles. Faith has a condition called anencephaly which means that she has no brain.

Myah was advised not to carry Faith to term because there would be no purpose in doing so. This is where the miracle begins. Myah chose her own path - you can read her own inspiring words on her blog but I just want to say that I think that she is a woman of tremendous strength. Did I mention Myah is only 23?

Well, not only did Myah recognise that her baby deserved to be born she began to write about her journey and witness to her decision. The result? An incredible witness to the sanctity of human life but also to the beauty of human love.

The hospital sent Faith and her Mum home with a memory box and information on bereavement- even though Faith was alive. The more I read about Faith, like thousands of others, the more I see God's finger prints all over her- and by association the rest of us. Faith can be seen on Myah's blog cuddling her Mum, gurgling away and smiling.

Faith is living proof that the brain doesn't mean much if you have a soul. She is a witness to the amazing power of individuality and love which God gives to us all. I just wanted to personally thank Myah for her strength and the gift of sharing Faith Hope with us.

The reason I wanted to write this post is to show support forMyah who has received hate mail and even had websites set up about herself and her daughter. I won't spend much time considering the individuals that level abuse at people who choose to give birth to their children and love them unconditionally. I think they must be rather sad and rather bored. Instead I just wanted to make the point that far from being a witness to that hate, Faith is a witness, as her name suggests, to the hope and love which we can hope will save us from such futile evils.

What more cause for celebration and hope could you ask for than seeing this child?

Thanks Myah and Faith Hope!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


I love the Miraculous Medal and all that it stands for as a contribution and witness. I was given mine for my First Holy Communion and it is one of the most precious gifts anybody has given to me. You can read about my sadness at losing it earlier this year (The loss of a little witness) and the delight I felt when I found it(

I have included a beautiful prayer which you can use in meditation upon the medal which comes from the Malitia of the Immaculata

What I love about the medal is the inspiration it has provided others like Fr Kolbe who in 1917 founded the Malitia of the Immaculata - check out the website to find out more and even join! There is loads of great information about the medal, how to live its message and how Fr. Kolbe lived its message Here is the prayer

Oh Mary, this medal is a sign and a guarentee of your presence.
You are present because your power is present, your voice is present and your love is present.

Therefore, O Immaculate Conception and mother of the Church, we call on you now to fulfil your guarantee. Rain down upon us the great graces you promised to those who carry this medal, especially to those who wear it around the neck. Make us perceive your presence now and always.

Make us consciously experience your power, love and guidance, that in your meditation we may begin to share your perfect respnse to God and to each of his creatures, and to join in your war against the ancient serpent.

Help us to abandon our self-centred feelings and preoccupations. Help us to accept our sufferings, offering them back to the father through you.

Teach us to listen and learn, that by becoming one with you in purpose, we might more fully respond to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, participating in the life and unity of the Trinity through your intercession. Amen.

Babies born at 22 weeks in novelty news story

Of course no one wants to make it too explicit but the bottom line is that the babies featured in this story were 22 weeks. However, they have tried to gloss over this somewhat.

Abortion at 24? Cetainly no one can tell us that we don't know what we are doing

Thursday, 14 May 2009

CELEBRATION! (It's a May thing)

The other day I wrote a post which looked at a criticism which is often leveled at Lourdes. My objective was not so much to defend Lourdes (which certainly doesn't need me to defend it) but the fact that Lourdes, as well as being a very holy place is a very human place with all the trappings that accompany six million people. I suppose I wanted to covey the reality of it as well as the divinity because in a way I think that is the beauty of the place. However, I don't think I did a great job on that front (the comments left by readers were so much more elegant and well put than my actual post :-) ) So instead I thought I would just share some images from my most recent trip to Lourdes showing you why it is special ( generally special but also special to me) rather than just ranting on in my usual polemic style. I hope you will all forgive me for my lack clarity. I usually come to my computer at the end of the day or when I can grab a few minutes during the day and at the moment my brain is totally fried. Thank you all for your continued kindness

1) Reason 1 - because in Lourdes you can paint an image like this on a wall in the middle of a pedestrian street and it is met with affection and love. When I first went to Lourdes I was amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by pilgrims. I have worked in both kitchens of the hospitals and helping to bathe pilgrims and I have never been so humbled by the love people are filled with here. Perhaps it is not just images it is easier to show. In Lourdes people can be unguarded and free in their faith and expression. All around you are reminders of the best aspects, not just of Catholicism, but humanity, humility and faith - you are constantly absorbing or being exposed to the goodness of others and the simple truth of their faith.

2) Reason2 - Lourdes is a refuge for the people who deserve to be respected but are often overlooked in our secular, material, success driven world. In Lourdes the sick and disabled always go first -no matter what. Here they are treated as the teachers - we follow them. It is the one place where prejudice is turned on its head - the least important in the eyes of the world are the most important. Just as Christ said it should be. We step aside for them and treat them with the respect they deserve. People can wait for hours for to get into the baths for example, or to walk around the grotto because wheelchairs and the disabled will be put before them. If there were no other reason for the existence of this place - this one on its own would be enough.

3) Reason 3 - The miracle of serenity. Being at the grotto brings a peace to the soul that is the real miracle of Lourdes. When I first went there a Canadian chaplain told me that people tend to think of Lourdes as a place of, or even come to Lourdes looking for great physical healing- which is fine but it is about more than that. What they receive is something else - quite different but no less great or magnificent; the miracle of serenity. Bernadette herself believed that the healing springs were not for her. The graces of having seen Our Lady were enough to sustain her.

4) The beauty of Lourdes. Pure and simple.

5) The good example of those who first knelt at the grotto. This year Lourdes is having a special year to bring peoples attention to Bernadette. A good reason for this is that she can be quite easily forgotten in the buzz of the sanctuary. This is of course her aim and achievement - the brush Our Lady used to sweep up with and then put back behind the door - was how she described herself. Bernadette withdrew from Lourdes and sacrificed not only the grotto she loved but being close to the family she loved. Her devotion and love of God is a true example to us all. She wanted to give thanks for graces she believed were given to her because she was the "poorest and most ignorant" child heaven could pick out of obscurity "if she had found someone more stupid she would have chosen her" Bernadette told the commission which declared Lourdes genuine within four years of the vision. One of Bernadette's habits is displayed in a small, out of the way museum in Lourdes.

If you go up into the town you can also visit the grave of Peyramale Bernadette's greatest critic at the beginning of the visions and her staunchest defender by the end. I visited his tomb for the first time this year. I found it very moving. He is buried in the crypt of parish church where he served his community. There is no fuss surrounding him.

6) The love of a mother who brings us with her to the foot of the cross, to the body of her son; sacrificed and risen, to the day of Pentecost and to the grotto where she asks us to pray for sinners and cries "Penance, penance, penance!". To look upon the place where she stood.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

A sign of contradiction?

As part of a little series of posts dedicated to Mary in her month of May. A reflection on how Lourdes appears to some from the outside:

If you look at Lourdes on Wikipedia you will find the following

"Modern Lourdes has no shortage of glitz on display. Some visitors may dislike the commercialism practised in parts of Lourdes, with neon-emblazoned gift shops overflowing with what Malcolm Muggeridge, although a supporter of the shrine, called "tawdry relics, the bric-a-brac of piety".[8] Critics argue that the Lourdes phenomenon is nothing more than a significant money spinner for the town and the region, which therefore has a strong vested interest in keeping the pilgrims coming;[9] however, the trinket shops are privately owned, and hawkers and souvenir stalls are strictly forbidden inside the sanctuary itself."

Lourdes is, on some levels, a place filled with contradictions. Aside from that little grotto (of great spiritual but no particular geographical magnitude) it is just an ordinary little French town. However, you can't put that little grotto aside and because of it Lourdes is awash with all the things you would expect when a small town is overrun by 6 million plus tourists a year. Every building is a hotel, hostel, inn, restaurant, coffee shop or most contentious of all a shop selling devotional objects. If they were small, pleasant or tasteful devotional objects I am sure there would be little contention but I am afraid that they are usually none of these things. They sing, they glow in the dark, they tick but few of the statues and rosaries could claim to be anything exclusive to Lourdes - it is only the sheer number that makes them noteworthy. It is possible that the need to cram what seems like a million of pretty much the same shop selling pretty much the same thing into such a small space is enough to level criticism at Lourdes. However, the truth is that these fairly harmless shops are just a fact of life (a superficial one at that). They have nothing to do with Lourdes itself and I have to admit I quite enjoy looking around them. They are an inevitable oddity which arises because human beings like to sell and buy things (they are not anywhere near the grotto!!). The town of Lourdes is not the grotto - the domain, where the actual holy sights are based, is walled off completely and protected from this mass tourism. When you are at the grotto the busy tourist town seems a million miles away. That grotto draws you to it with an immense promise of peace and it makes all the trimmings that surround Lourdes utterly irrelevant. Even the grotto itself is often filled with activity of one kind or another but I always remember it as being very still. All I can remember hearing is the Gav river flowing beside it.

Lourdes is a real place and while the grotto may be the closest thing I think the soul gets to a taste of heaven it does not change the fact it is still on earth. Of course we will surround it and change it but its truth remains untouched - like the eternal truth, it remains unchanged. People may claim Lourdes is a contradiction- that it preaches one thing and does another. I would say it is nothing of the sort - it is a wondrous, jangling mix of languages and praise. This may confuse people but these this place only exists in its current form because of the love of a mother - magnified and resounding. There is no contradiction of the message of Lourdes or Bernadette's unflinching truths here only human beings in all their complexity but Lourdes is truly the one place where there are no contradictions of the soul- and as for contradictions of the other kind- they are found in every place. Yet Lourdes a safe haven where the streets are filled with rosaries. You can carry your rosary openly and display your faith, you can plaster pictures of the Pope all around and you can be Catholic in all its beauty without fear, in fellowship with people from all different nations. How can this be anything but a sign of hope at a time when Catholicism is becoming less welcome on our streets, in our schools and on our televisions? Lourdes is unity and love so who wants to waste time talking about singing, ticking statues in the midst of it? Certainly not me.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Celebrating Mary and mothers

When I was at a cafe doing some marking yesterday the guys on the table next to me were talking about mothers day. They then asked me whether it was mothers day in England (neither of them were English) to which I replied that our Mothers Day tends to fall in late March or early April. This got me thinking - I thought how nice it would be to have mothers day, like so many other countries in this great month of May. To all in America I wish you a truly happy belated Mothers Day.

In order to celebrate May on this blog I thought I might try to construct something I have been aiming to put together for a while now. Anyone who has visited this blog on a reasonably regular basis will be aware of the fact that it has a particular tendency for posts on Lourdes and St Bernadette. It may also surprise those, and other readers, to know that when I fell into the world of blogging I had no intention that the blog would be so heavily devoted to the message of Lourdes.

However, with hindsight, which lets face it is always 20/20, I should have realised this would be the case. On Thursday I was at a small gathering for Catholic adults in their twenties and the aim of the evening was to discuss the impact Mary has had on us personally. We all told our stories and I put in at some point:

'I often wonder if I had not bumbled my way into a trip to Lourdes in 2004 would I be the same person? I don't think I would. Its not that I went to Lourdes and a gigantic thunderbolt hit me or that I would be in a spiritual sphere radically different from my current position in life(which sadly is not one of great virtue anyway :-)) if I had not gone. However, it simply did change my life - in ways I might never be able to explain'

On the way home my flat mate (who is also my closest friend) expressed surprise about this. I would have thought it was rather obvious - she did concede that while it is true she could probably have worked out I felt this way she had never heard me say it - so - with that in mind- this is me saying it.

Over the next few days/ weeks - depending how much free time I can grab - I will try to explain how I came to understand Mary and my own life a little better through a lens provided to me by a little grotto in France. At the moment - in a world filled with endless teaching tasks it is the best I can offer in this great month of May as a small contribution to celebrating the great love and beauty of our precious advocate.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Revelation 12:1,5 (RSV) And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

I took this photo of the domain statue in Lourdes (the bottom one is the original). I found whether I darkened (top) or lightened (middle) the colouring it was quite incredible. I just wanted to share it. Back to the marking! :-)

Monday, 4 May 2009

I miss my blog

Lately I just don't have the joy of writing at any length because I am spending all my time trying to help the kids in the run up to their exams. I really miss blogging and while I have the time I wanted to share a little story about on of the kids I teach (because all I can think about at the moment is teaching)

I teach a very bright boy from the Czech Republic who recently won himself a place at Cambridge to study Theology. I am not exaggerating when I say he is a real joy in every way and the whole school staff light up when you mention his name not because he is clever but because he is actually a great kid to have around. He is always full of life and relish- he bounces into the classroom as though to be there is a delight- he loves literature and philosophy. Sometimes I have found him quietly saying his Rosary in the chapel or sitting reading his Bible or St. Augustine in a corner somewhere. That is brave for a teenager who is already marking himself out with an intelligence and enthusiasm which many of the other kids I teach resent because of jealousy. They don't like that he understands Shakespeare better even though he is learning in his second language. They often push him to the outside. He never pushes himself to the front or patronises anyone, he stands back and is quite often forgotten.

When you correct him he takes it with a smile and a quip. He loves to involve everyone in discussion and debate. Sometimes he will stay after the lesson to ask me all kinds of questions about writers and great works of literature simply because he is interested. I am not saying he is better than the other kids but I can't deny that he is a likable character.

Today we asked if he would like to buy the anthology of the kids work that we have just produced and had published for charity. He came every Tuesday lunchtime to help edit it. He smiled and shook his head and said quietly that the amount we were asking (relatively little) was the amount his father earned a day (his father is still in the Czech Republic). It is easy to forget peoples struggles and difficulties- especially when you spend your time moaning about your own. It just woke me up a bit to all the opportunity we have (even in this economic crisis). From this happy, well adjusted chap came an unexpected lesson about appreciation and value. It is not the the student in question I am pitying in this tale it is all of us (especially me) who lose sight of the value of things and complain when we can't have what we want. Why? when there is so much to appreciate in life. There are always plenty of people with less (materially) who may well be better off because they have a sense of their own worth. The said student knows how hard he worked on the editing of that anthology but he doesn't need to have it in order to satisfy himself- the knowledge of the finished product, the fact it is good and appreciated by others is satisfaction enough. I can't help admiring that quality. I don't think I have it...yet.

(Just a note to say we will find a way of giving him an anthology anyway - we just haven't quite worked out how just yet- we don't want to embarrass him or hurt his pride)
It feels good to write a post


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