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.


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