Saturday, 31 December 2011

I’ve had the loveliest Christmas…

I felt called to stay in London for Christmas and I’ve been enjoying the festivities with my housemates who are Indian and Latin American and very far from home.
London is transformed at Christmas – the usually colourful city fades and is replaced by a Victorian ghost town. The streets are no longer teeming with seas of people; the frazzled business men and tourists have vanished. The streets are so empty that you can see the pavement stretch out before you and there’s that strange sound of silence.
Kensington becomes like an abandoned film set that was once used for some period drama like Howard’s End or Upstairs Downstairs. The shadowy houses have a look of broken light bulbs and there is not one wreath or Christmas tree in sight. During the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, you can hear birdsong and the wind blowing old newspapers down streets in this international city. It verily is like time has stood still and stopped. Time will begin again in early January. I think.  But in the meantime, it’s calming to be in the midst of such stillness.
London may be the city that Christmas forgot, but the season is always what you make of it. Where I live, we have a round, plump Christmas tree that is draped with red tinsel and red fairy lights.
On Christmas Eve we gathered for a dinner of salmon. I was delighted when my friend Taru Sugandha, asked me if she could accompany me to Christmas Day Mass.
Some of us had the bright idea of staying up all night on Christmas Eve, albeit one of my intentions was that if I stayed up all night, then I wouldn’t be late for Mass the next day! I dozed off at 5 am, after exhausting all the Christmas songs.
Taru joined me for 9am Tridentine Mass at the Oratory, which was bedecked in velvet-petal red roses. Taru is a Hindu and this was her first time at a Latin Mass, after which she said, ‘it was so grand…this Mass is something that every human being should experience…I felt invigorated after the Mass’
After the main Mass, we wandered into the side chapel to see the crib. To the right of the crib, we stumbled upon Fr Rupert who was offering a private Mass, bowing low offering the prayers at the foot the altar of St Thomas More.
We had a delicious Christmas lunch of roast turkey and Jack Daniels spliced Christmas pudding. We turned off the lights, and I had the job of making the pudding ‘light up’, of putting the match to the surface of the cake and watching the blue flame dance around the pudding. Afterwards, we visited a few sick people who were unable to leave their flats because of sudden winter illnesses.
I was the recipient of some very thoughtful gifts from my generous family and friends, which were a delightful mix of the religious and secular, as well as a red hat that is both religious and secular; religious because red is the colour of martyrs and secular because it may be worn for warmth.
A friend gave me a blessed Rosary from the Vatican. The colour of the Rosary also coordinates with many outfits; it's an absolute priority that these rosary beads hanging from my hands match my purple skirt :-) 

A box of goodies had arrived earlier in the week from my mum. I shook it and heard a jingle. I saved opening my presents for St Stephen’s Day, as a way of making the excitement of Christmas last.  Some other very thoughtful gifts included a key-ring-of-a-dog to remind me of my beloved sheepdog, Polly; the dog who I believe got a cure from St Benedict.
But the highlight of all my presents was this coat; it fits perfectly and snugly, and was designed by my fashion-designer mum and then tailored for me. It reminds me of the coats that late 1940’s and 1950’s journalists used to wear.  It has a shawl collar, small waist and full flair in the style of Dior’s post World War II ‘New Look’, when clothes were made to rejoice in the new abundance of fabric after the restrictions and ersatz cloth of the war years. It's made from Italian wool and the lining is raw silk. Forgive my vanity in posting a picture of myself in my mum’s coat; but I think you’ll agree that the coat is spectacular. You can see a tiny bit of snow dusting me in the photo below, we might have a white January yet.

For Unto Us a Child is Born - Handel Messiah - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Friday, 30 December 2011

Vatican's 10 top stories of 2011 - in under 4 minutes

#8 The Pope's Visit to Africa, where he is greeted by hordes of young people singing and dancing to welcome him. Interesting that the secularist groups that wage a hate-campaign against the Pope and who wrongly blame him for the spread of Aids in Africa - do not recognise or acknowledge how the African people honoured him.
#2 It's quite touching to hear Pope Benedict speak German in his soft Bavarian accent to the politicians of his home country.

Let's take the road before us and sing a chorus or two...

Padre Pio’s favourite painting of Our Lady: its Christmas significance

This depiction of Our Lady of Grace is painted on the wall and ceiling behind the altar in the church of San Giovanni Rotondo, where Padre Pio had his ministry. In the painting, Baby Jesus is reaching for his mother’s milk, which represents grace. We are also the children of Mary, and may partake of this grace.
At Christmas, the very centre of our celebration is that the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ who is God and therefore the creator of all graces. The Blessed Mother is the Mediatrix of all graces, since Baby Jesus grew in her womb, and was nurtured from her milk and loved by her embraces: all of this is portrayed in Padre Pio’s favourite painting.
In the majority of crib scenes we do not see Our Lady or Baby Jesus wearing crowns. At the time, such honours of regal coronets had not been bestowed on the child in the manger and his humble mother. But in Padre Pio’s favourite painting, Our Lady wears the golden crown signifying that she is queen and Baby Jesus wears a smaller fit-for-a-baby crown. It is our tradition in Europe that the wife of the king is the queen, but in Jewish law the queen was the king’s mother. So, in effect, Our Lady was made a queen when she became Jesus’ mother.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The poisoned friendship of St Thomas Becket and Henry II, as portrayed in the film Becket

The film Becket has its flaws; not least the fact that the title leaves out the word 'saint', meaning that someone could think that the film was about the Irish playwright Beckett. The film places a lot of emphasis on King Henry and Becket's reputations as being wild lads who seduced simple barely-able-to-speak peasant girls.
But the triumph of the film is its colourful portrayal of Henry II's persecution of his dear friend St Thomas Becket. Peter O'Toole in his role as Henry II is the eyes-darting, much-younger-than-Becket king who resents that Becket's vocation to the priesthood has distracted him from being his close pal, and that Becket's allegiance to the Church comes first. At times it's as though Henry II wanted the Church to serve him, rather than he serve the Church. Henry II has other reasons to be jealous - he shakes with anxious envy when he hears accounts of Becket's charisma and his ability to effortlessly draw adoring crowds and command respect without being a tyrant. The film captures a fine sense of Henry II, who preferred Becket to his wife and children, and who was mad with grief for the loss of his friendship with Becket, not least the fact that Henry felt betrayed and embarrassed that Becket refused to obey him and rebelled against the injustices of his reign. Some would say that Peter O'Toole overdoes the role of the immature monarch who fiendishly chastises Becket because the saint had outgrown their boyish, high-jinks friendship. Many consider the scene in the clip below - when Henry II attempts to excommunicate Becket - to be the best in the film.

Read a very good and well-written account of St Thomas Becket's life here.

Although it's been said many times, many ways...

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Of all the soaps in all of London… St Anthony found this one for me…

St Anthony found soap for me? You must think that I’ve lost it. You might think that I’m a Sense and Sensibility short of a whole set of Jane Austen novels. First St Anthony finds me tea during the holiday season and now soap?  But bear with me, while I explain this astounding chain of events.
Looking for Christmas presents and shopping for treats for my godchild  - is my excuse and pretext for going into TK Maxx on Kensington High Street. And TK Maxx is always full of manic shoppers who bruise each other as five of them frantically root in bargain bins, rifle through shelves and scour rail after rail of designer polyester. Then there’s the toiletry department where you can buy Armani perfume, and smell the same as though you had paid a fortune in Knightsbridge Armani central. The heavy-lidded sales assisstants stagger under the piles of clothes that they dump onto plastic shelves. They may get good peace-keeping training when they beg the customers not to gouge each other’s eyes out when several pairs of manicured claws grip a red hand bag at once. I’m sure you could get a job as a peace-keeper in any war zone on earth by merely saying; I managed to keep the ladies who were fighting over the purple shoes apart… There is a shop-in-Manhattan atmosphere in TK Maxx: everyone is searching every corner, and crawling on their hands and knees trying to find the right gear so they may look like the rich, sophisticated, label-designer dressed chic lady or gent for a fraction of the cost.
So during December, the height of shopping-fever, I found myself being jostled along by the elbows of my fellow shoppers in TK Maxx. Of all the cheap, glitzy evening dresses and of all the killer, spiky black heels – the one thing that really caught my attention was a box of rose soaps. I lifted the box to my face and inhaled the delicate but overpowering smell; like being in a rose garden in the middle of spring. I turned away from the tray of soaps; I’ve got to buy other presents and it doesn’t feel ‘right’ to buy a present pour moi when I have a ‘proper’ list of needed items. I turned back and smelled the box of soaps once more; there was something about the crazy flowery, butterfly-obsessed packaging that I loved too.
Another day, I carried the box of soaps to the till, but lost my nerve and returned them to their shelf. It’s ridiculous to buy fancy soaps as a selfish treat; this is 2011, not the Victorian era when soaps were all the rage.
But the smell of roses lingered, and I asked St Anthony; I’m not going to buy them for myself, but is there any way that I could get the rose-soaps?
The advertisers love telling us to buy gifts for ourselves, but it still feels lonely to buy oneself gifts at Christmas.  And I made myself forget the soaps and never thought to mention this love-for-a-box-of-rose-soaps to anyone, not least the girls that I live with or my dearest friends.
Then a friend of mine, M L, gave me a gift-bag laden with wrapped gifts and goodies to be opened over Christmas. On St Stephen’s day I started merrily opening the packages; and to my utter amazement found the Exact same soaps that I had longed for.
I had to close my eyes and open them again to look at the box of soaps; were they really the soaps that I asked St Anthony for? Yes, they were. A hidden feature is that when you take out the soaps; you have a desk caddy, a gorgeously smelling tray that holds post-its and staples. Now, there must be hundreds of thousands of different soaps in London; why of all the soaps in all of London, England did my friend pick out this very set?
Some New Atheist friends of mine might say that it is a very intriguing coincidence and that because my friend knows me so well that she would have picked out rose soap for girly, over-feminine me. But look at the packaging; it doesn’t look like rose soap and I never told my friend that I like rose soaps or that I’d prayed to St Anthony for this one.
I used to think that it was perhaps coincidental that I’d prayed to St Anthony for HP printer full-of-ink: St Anthony, there must be someone out there who has a HP printer that they don’t need.  Then I became friends with E R when she moved into my neighbourhood, and when she was moving away, she asked me ‘I’ve a HP printer with good ink supplies, want it?’
As for my lapsed Catholic friends who think this is just another one of my eccentric experiences, why not give St Anthony a try? ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ is a Bible truism, and it aptly applies to St Anthony as well, he won’t mind if you ‘taste’ him and invite him too find tea, soap, a printer or whatever your necessity. You might be pleasantly surprised by St Anthony’s efficiency.  And here’s a promise; I won’t smile triumphantly if you tell me that I was right about St Anthony…

Pavarotti - Adeste Fideles

I think that I prefer the Pavarotti version to the Andrea Bocelli one. Which do you prefer?

Andrea Bocelli - Adeste Fideles

Monday, 26 December 2011

Have you met 10 Amazing Catholics of 2011?

1. Shahbaz Bhatti

On March 2 masked men sprayed Shahbaz Bhatti’s car with bullets as he left his mother’s home. Shahbaz, a brilliant lawyer and the only Christian Minister in the country’s government, was murdered for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. David Cameron called his assassination “absolutely brutal and unacceptable”.

In his role as Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz frequently criticised the abuse of the blasphemy laws, saying they were used as a pretext to persecute innocent Christians. He knew that he was endangering his own life by speaking out. Pakistani law can impose execution or life imprisonment for offences against Islam. Shahbaz had received death threats since 2009. He predicted his death in a video, in which he said bravely: “I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us… I’m living for my community… and I will die to defend their rights.”

In August 2009, after reports of a Koran being desecrated in the Punjab province, anti-Christian mobs killed eight people. Shahbaz called for better civil and legal protection for the Christian community. He was also the most vociferous speaker in defence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row because she was found guilty of insulting Mohammed.

In 1985, as a university student, Shahbaz put his head above the parapet when he co-founded and led Pakistan’s Christian Liberation Front. His early work of sticking up for Christians proved good preparation for becoming the chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance in 2002.

Shahbaz only served 28 months in government, but from the beginning he took several courageous approaches in support of religious minorities. He launched the national campaign for interfaith harmony and proposed to make hate speech illegal, as well as proposing the introduction of quotas for religious minorities in government posts.

Shahbaz also pioneered the establishment of a National Interfaith Consultation in July 2010, which was the impetus for bringing together senior religious leaders from all religions and from all over Pakistan and resulted in their signing a joint declaration against terrorism.

Shahbaz was the recipient of many prestigious awards, from the Human Rights Award in 2004 to the International Freedom of Religion Award in 2009. He was also awarded a PhD by South Korea University in recognition for his interfaith work.

The fact that Shahbaz paid the ultimate price for standing up for his fellow Christians is inspiring others to continue his work.

On July 2 Aid to the Church in Need and the British Pakistani Christian Association delivered petitions with over 6,000 names to 10 Downing Street. The petitions called for action to protect Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.

2. Dylan Parry

The “reluctant sinner”, as Dylan Parry is known to those who read his blog, masterminded the creation of a pioneering guild for Catholic bloggers in Britain. Aiming to unite bloggers in the “real world”, the guild arranges events and meetings for Catholic bloggers to meet face to face and share about the joys and woes of evangelising views online.

Dylan took inspiration from St Paul who exhorts us “therefore encourage each other, and build each other up”. Last May, Dylan was invited to the Vatican meeting for bloggers where he met Mgr Paul Tighe of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications who supported Dylan’s idea of setting up a guild that would benefit both the Church and bloggers. The guild adopted Blessed Titus Brandsma, killed by the SS after he criticised anti-Jewish marriage laws as a patron.

The guild held its first official meeting on the freakishly hot October 1, when 15 Catholic bloggers came from all over Britain to guild chaplain Fr Tim Finigan’s parish of Blackfen. The guild is open to a diverse mixture of Catholics and has done nothing that challenges the independence of bloggers.

From the growing success of the guild, to its great contribution to Catholic life in Britain, so much gratitude is due to Dylan. His blog imparts a palpable sense of love for the Lord and His ways. While Dylan’s blogposts offer a strong defence of Catholic teaching, they are never hard-hearted or condescending.

3. Mgr Keith Newton

Pope Benedict personally appointed Mgr Keith Newton as Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, after he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in January, having resigned as a Church of England bishop last year.

On April 1 Pope Benedict received Mgr Newton in a private audience. This was taken as a sign of the Holy Father’s continued support for the ordinariate. Mgr Newton, accompanied by Cardinal Levada and Bishop Hopes, presented the Holy Father with gifts on behalf of the ordinariate.

A tireless champion of the ordinariate, Mgr Newton cares for each Anglican group swimming the Tiber. He values catechetics highly and knows precisely how each group is benefiting from catechetical programmes like Evangelium. He spent much of 2011 travelling around the country and meeting ordinariate groups, from the Black Country to the community of St Luke’s in Kennington, south London.

Last July Mgr Newton led members of the ordinariate to their spiritual home during the Pilgrimage of Reparation and Consecration to Walsingham. He was the main speaker at the Towards Advent Festival at Westminster Cathedral where he gave a talk on “Joy and Hope in the Church” and described his spiritual fulfilment at being in full communion with the Pope. A large crowd heard Mgr Newton’s talk. After he spoke he was greeted with resounding applause.

Mgr Newton has never lost his optimism and good humour, even when he has faced limited resources, including inadequate funds and a lack of accommodation for clergy and their families.

4. Bishop Mark Davies

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury was only installed as bishop in October 2010 but has already established himself as one of the most articulate, astute and prayerful bishops of our times, living by his maxim: “My task is to announce the Gospel.”

In October Bishop Davies responded to a report from the Care Quality Commission that underscored the failure in many hospitals to care for elderly people by saying that “the neglect of the elderly… may be a symptom of the ‘culture of death’ that has grown out of the loss of respect for human life following decades of abortion”.

The following month he addressed an audience at a synagogue in Manchester on how the Holocaust teaches us to be vigilant in defence of life. Bishop Davies stressed that we must fight “the return of eugenic thinking directed against the unborn and the most vulnerable deemed unfit to live or threatened with mercy killing”.

Bishop Davies warmed the hearts of traditional Catholics when he agreed to the establishment of the first house for the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in England and Wales in the Wirral. This church is becoming a centre for the Extraordinary Form Mass.

A firm advocate of the rosary, he often prays this prayer for the priests of his diocese and the rest of England and makes them aware that he does so. Renewal and support for the priesthood is a motif of Bishop Davies’s preaching and actions.

He is fond of the St John Vianney quote: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” Bishop Davies has arranged for a relic of the patron saint of parish priests to tour his diocese in July.

5. Thomas Peters

Thomas Peters is like a modern-day St Paul of the Catholic blogosphere. The 26-year-old founded his blog, American Papist, in 2005 with the intention of documenting his journey of following the Pope and hoping to attract fellow “papists.” Six years on, and now combined with, his blog is read by tens of thousands every day. As it continues to gain popularity, Peters gathers what he terms “web elves”: Catholics who give him information and details that furnish his blog posts.

Peters was voted the best Catholic to follow on Twitter in 2011 and was the most active participant in the Vatican Meeting for Bloggers, during which he asked if the Vatican would make Catholic bloggers privy to sensitive documents in the same way they do the mainstream media outlets.

Peters was homeschooled, got his university education at Ave Maria, Florida, and did extensive postgraduate study in theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit. He has often said that it is his study of theology that underpins much of his success in communicating the eternal truths of Christ on the web.

Peters works in Washington DC as communications director for the American Principles Project, an organisation founded by Dr Robert George with the aim of upholding the values of human life, traditional marriage and safeguarding the innocence of young children in the US Constitution.

He has been quoted by such major media outlets as BBC News, CNN and the Daily Telegraph among many others.

6. The Mizens

In May 2008 Jimmy Mizen was celebrating his 16th birthday with a visit to buy a lottery ticket when he and his brother were attacked by a local troublemaker, Jake Fahri. Coming to the aide of his sibling, Jimmy was stabbed in the neck and bled to death in his brother’s arms.

Jimmy’s devout Catholic parents, Barry (pictured) and Margaret, have since devoted much of their lives to fostering peace. In May 2009 they took part in an ecumenical service called “Building a Legacy of Peace” at Westminster Cathedral, conducted by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and with close to 1,000 people in attendance, including the Prince of Wales, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker and Jimmy’s school friends. Barry and Margaret spoke at the Hyde Park vigil during the papal visit, sharing how their Catholic faith has helped them overcome losing Jimmy at such a young age, a talk that brought hushed silence to a crowd of 90,000 people.

They founded the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, which aims to organise practical initiatives that bring out the best in young people. So far they’ve arranged apprenticeship placements, and the foundation helps young people find employment with local businesses. This year, they raised enough funds to buy “Jimmy buses” for local scout groups in Lewisham.

Barry and Margaret, who have eight other children, travel around England giving talks to parents, young people and teachers. In schools, prisons and youth clubs they speak about the grave necessity of anger management and preventing violence.

7. Robert Colquhoun

The British pro-life movement has been waiting for a dynamic young leader like Robert Colquhoun for some time. Robert led two 40 Days for Life prayer events in 2011, with 1,000 pro-lifers (including countless newcomers) taking part. Members of pro-life groups such as the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants and SPUC stood side-by-side to pray and offer pro-life literature to pregnant mothers. During the last event at least eight women decided against abortion.

Robert has diligently articulated pro-life apologetics to the secular media. He was interviewed by Liz Ashfield, who wrote in the Times that pro-lifers are often much better in reality than the distorted image projected of them.

Some of his lesser-known achievements in 2011 include being involved in public awareness days around London, inviting Dr Janet Smith to come to the Carmelite Priory, Oxford, and lead a Theology of the Body weekend retreat, which was attended by 25 young people, and organising a Theology of the Body symposium co-organised with St Mary’s University in Twickenham, which was attended by 260 people.

Robert is a committed Catholic but wants to engage with people of all religions in the struggle to end abortion.

8. Mother Assumpta Long

Mother Assumpta Long is the Michigan-based superior and co-founder of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. This is a relatively new religious order and is brimming with young vocations. The average age of vocation is 21 and the average age in the whole community is 28.

It all started in 1996 when Mother Assumpta was inspired by John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, which invited members of religious orders to revitalise their vocation. Mother Assumpta and three other nuns founded the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. After their canonical establishment, Mother Assumpta accepted an invitation from Bishop Mengeling to teach in the Diocese of Lansing. Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan gave them start-up funding and asked them to teach in the Spiritus Sanctus Academies. Mother Assumpta’s sisters are trained to be teachers and the Spiritus Sanctus Academies will grow as the order produces more vocations.

They now have many convents in several US cities and the Sisters were twice profiled by Oprah during 2010, after which more vocations came. Mother Assumpta holds retreats for young women to help them discover if they have a vocation, and the order’s website is perhaps the best of its kind.

9. Sister Valsa John

On the night of November 15 in Jharkhand, eastern India, Sister Valsa John was dragged from her bed by 30 to 40 people and hacked to death with sickles and axes. The nun from Kerala was only 53, but was a sworn enemy of the “mining mafia” of Jharkhand’s coal-rich region. For 20 years she had been a whistleblower on the displacement of tribal people, the expropriation of their land by the coal miners and pollution from the coal mines, and she even caused one major coal company to shut down.

The Sister had for years received death threats and was continually intimidated by people connected with the coal miners. Her family have revealed that she received a death threat a few hours before her murder.

She was arrested in May 2007 on the grounds that she had protested against the forced acquisitions of lands for Panem Coal Mines, but was not charged, and after being released she made a compromise where Panem could acquire the land in exchange for alternative land, employment, a health centre and free education for the children of the exiled tribal families. Sister Valsa then ran a school that offered free education to 140 children and provided a dispensary with free medical aid.

Thousands of people attended her funeral which was concelebrated by 50 priests.

10. Mary Kraychy

Mary Kraychy is the Chicago-based founder and director of Coalition Ecclesia Dei, a Catholic lay movement that seeks to widen the use of the Extraordinary Form Mass and Gregorian chant. She is the creator and publisher of the ubiquitous A5 Red Missals. She has industriously worked to make the missals for following the Latin Mass readily available all over the world.

After Blessed Pope John Paul II issued his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei, Mary started sending out a monthly newsletter and directory of Extraordinary Form Masses in north America since 1988. In 2007, Mary changed the Ecclesia Dei website to promote the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, as well as taking advantage of the eased restrictions on the Extraordinary Form Mass to form links with seminaries teaching the Tridentine Mass and Catholic publishers.

She is as devoted to Catholic social action as she is to liturgy. In 1978 she co-founded Aid for Women, an organisation providing practical help to teenagers and other women in crisis pregnancy so that their circumstances wouldn’t force them into abortions.

For six years Mary has been the Vice President of Una Voce America. Perhaps the folk song writer Laurence England will be inspired to write a ballad about her contribution to the life of the Church.

I wrote this ten-profile spread for the Christmas edition of The Catholic Herald.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Clancy Bros at Christmas

Mulier Fortis could swing her cats to this. And Rocco Palmo could practise his Irish language skills; Rocco is quite the fan of the Irish language.

Happy Christmas - Nollaig Shona daoibhse

'Nollaig Shona daoibhse' - Happy Christmas to you all!

May the Divine Son and the Blessed Virgin Mary pour upon you the richest Christmas blessings and joy. May you have fun, fine wine and good cheer.

I pulled a Christmas cracker at lunch and got the joke; 'what do you call a train full of professors? A tube of smarties.'

Saturday, 24 December 2011

When you rejoice in the birth of the Christ Child, please pray for this fighting-for-his-life six inch baby

I promised an update on the Catholic lady – a good friend of a journalism colleague – who had been planning to have an abortion after learning of her surprise pregnancy.  Let’s call the lady ‘S’. ‘S’’s situation is so ambiguous that I was never sure that I could write ‘she has not had an abortion’ – for fear that she would have 'the procudure' while I was typing.  ‘S’ is still pregnant, but has not decided against abortion.  ‘S’ was in blind panic and had been going to have an abortion as soon as she could lift the phone to arrange an appointment, spring to the clinic with her NHS number handy and later go to confession ‘to make it all alright’. But between her hysteria at learning of her unexpected pregnancy and today Christmas Eve – it’s almost as if she has ‘forgotten’ that she’s pregnant. Her housemates do not know that she is pregnant and her employer is oblivious to the fact that if she keeps the baby, that she may not show up for work on the day of delivery, sometime in May. ‘S’ has decided to overlook the pregnancy for the time-being, a sort of, ‘it things get better then I’ll have the baby’ and ‘an abortion might feel better tomorrow’.   
‘S’ is now a little less than 18 weeks, so the little babe now weighs a little under 190 grams, about the same weight as the very heavy piece of Christmas pudding that I’ve been promising myself, or the weight of 28 Euro coins. ‘S’ boyfriend is indifferent; he has stuck with her but has said, ‘anything that she decides is alright with me.’  To be clear; ‘S’ may have an abortion if life becomes tougher, but if life becomes easier then this will be her ‘sign’ that she may continue the pregnancy.
It is certain that ‘S’ will not go for an abortion tomorrow. She will be at Mass and will celebrate a turkey dinner with her friends, who do not know that there will be a secret guest present as they pull crackers and drink red wine.
I feel an urgent call to ask you for prayers for ‘S’ tomorrow – that the image of Baby Jesus in the crib will kindle in her heart thoughts of making a definite decision to keep the baby. If ‘S’ continues to plan that she may have an abortion when times turn harder, then it’s as if the sword of Damocles hangs over the little mite.
Life has such highs and lows. There will be challenges ahead for ‘S’, who is very vulnerable to any instability. ‘S’ may get a big bill, receive a cross word from her employer and have a falling-out with a friend, all these could cause her to rush into an abortion.
One fact about abortion in British society that I have learnt from bitter experience is that – it does not prize reflection on the major decision: ‘S’ might run into a clinic as soon as she says that she wants an abortion – they will ask her for her address and date of birth and then take her to a room for a scan that won’t be shown to her and then to another room…
There are lots of festivities going on in my house for Christmas Eve, we had a delicious salmon supper with sauvignon blanc and someone dug out a Cliff Richards’ record and we were serenaded by Mistletoe and Wine. We’ve been having a jolly, grand old time of it. But, truly, I feel an urgent need to ask for your prayers tomorrow; that we may join in prayer and that we will be like a chorus, with each new voice making our petition more distinct. 

Friday, 23 December 2011

The forbidden word...

Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph, I learned that Members of the US House of Representatives have been banned from using ‘Merry Christmas’ when they address their constituents. They may only use the ‘have a safe holiday’ type of bland, trite greetings that could possibly have the word ‘merry’ as in ‘Merry Holidays’, but certainly not…dare I type it…’Christmas’. The ruling does not prevent congressmen from using greetings per se – just greetings that mention Christ.

What would the punishment be for a member of the US House of Representatives if they did use the forbidden word? Would it be too unlike the cartoon above depicting children getting into trouble for cursing obscenities? The irony is that while the word ‘Christmas’ may not be used by the members of the House of Representatives in their official mail, for fear they insult a party who do not believe in Christmas, it actually offends the silent majority of Christians who may be affronted that the name for the-time-when-we-celebrate-Christ’s-birth has become a forbidden word, as though it were an obscenity.

Santa's Identity Crisis

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...

A 21 year-old Judy Garland stars in Meet me in St Louis. Margaret O'Brien who plays Tootie won an Oscar for her portrayal of the child who is heartbroken that they are leaving St Louis, and who declares; "I'm taking all my dolls, the dead ones too!"

Thursday, 22 December 2011

From Padre Pio's handwritten diary - Jesus's newborn cries were "the first ransom for our redemption"

"Far into the night, at the coldest time of the year, in a chilly grotto, more suitable for a flock of beasts than for humans, the promised Messiah – Jesus – the savior of mankind, comes into the world in the fullness of time. 
There are none who clamor around him: only an ox and an ass lending their warmth to the newborn infant; with a humble woman, and a poor and tired man, in adoration beside him.  

Nothing can be heard except the sobs and whimpers of the infant God. And by means of his crying and weeping he offers to the Divine justice the first ransom for our redemption.
He had been expected for forty centuries; with longing sighs the ancient Fathers had implored his arrival. The sacred scriptures clearly prophesy the time and the place of his birth, and yet the world is silent and no one seems aware of the great event. Only some shepherds, who had been busy watching over their sheep in the meadows, come to visit him. Heavenly visitors had alerted them to the wondrous event, inviting them to approach his cave.

So plentiful, O Christians, are the lessons that shine forth from the grotto of Bethlehem! Oh how our hearts should be on fire with love for the one who with such tenderness was made flesh for our sakes! Oh how we should burn with desire to lead the whole world to this lowly cave, refuge of the King of kings, greater than any worldly palace, because it is the throne and dwelling place of God! Let us ask this Divine child to clothe us with humility, because only by means of this virtue can we taste the fullness of this mystery of Divine tenderness.
Glittering were the palaces of the proud Hebrews. Yet, the light of the world did not appear in one of them. Ostentatious with worldly grandeur, swimming in gold and in delights, were the great ones of the Hebrew nation; filled with vain knowledge and pride were the priests of the sanctuary. In opposition to the true meaning of Divine revelation, they awaited an officious savoir, who would come into the world with human renown and power.
But God, always ready to confound the wisdom of the world, shatters their plans. Contrary to the expectations of those lacking in Divine wisdom, he appears among us in the greatest abjection, renouncing even birth in St. Joseph’s humble home, denying himself a modest abode among relatives and friends in a city of Palestine. Refused lodging among men, he seeks refuge and comfort among mere animals, choosing their habitation as the place of his birth, allowing their breath to give warmth to his tender body. He permits simple and rustic shepherds to be the first to pay their respects to him, after he himself informed them, by means of his angels, of the wonderful mystery.
Oh wisdom and power of God, we are constrained to exclaim – enraptured along with your Apostle – how incomprehensible are your judgments and unsearchable your ways! Poverty, humility, abjection, contempt, all surround the Word made flesh. But we, out of the darkness that envelops the incarnate Word, understand one thing, hear one voice, perceive one sublime truth: you have done everything out of love, you invite us to nothing else but love, speak of nothing except love, give us naught except proofs of love.

The heavenly babe suffers and cries in the crib so that for us suffering would be sweet, meritorious and accepted. He deprives himself of everything, in order that we may learn from him the renunciation of worldly goods and comforts. He is satisfied with humble and poor adorers, to encourage us to love poverty, and to prefer the company of the little and simple rather than the great ones of the world.
This celestial child, all meekness and sweetness, wishes to impress in our hearts by his example these sublime virtues, so that from a world that is torn and devastated an era of peace and love may spring forth. Even from the moment of his birth he reveals to us our mission, which is to scorn that which the world loves and seeks.
Oh let us prostrate ourselves before the manger, and along with the great St. Jerome, who was enflamed with the love of the infant Jesus, let us offer him all our hearts without reserve. Let us promise to follow the precepts which come to us from the grotto of Bethlehem, which teach us that everything here below is vanity of vanities, nothing but vanity."

Twitch of the mantilla to Frank Rega.
There is a Facebook page with St Pio's meditation. 

Christmas blog make-over. Envy of Mr Frost's web design.

May I ask what you think of the new Christmas template that I've just added? The majority of the templates that I've seen are like children's wrapping paper from 1980. I picked this one because it had holly and a good dusting of gold (one of the gifts brought to the Christ Child by The Three Kings). Not to mention its green colour scheme that symbolises Irishness; quite important for a mick-chick like me.

In the coming days The Kitsch Police may have grounds to arrest me - I'm taking a shine to those winking  Merry Christmas blog signs, I'm an inch away from posting Wham's Last Christmas and Judy Garland's Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.  

Ah, I admit it: Jack Frost's website will always be the best.

The holly and the ivy...

For the love of dogs…

‘Cherie, let everyone on the tube see how beautiful you are!’ cooed the man before getting down on his knees and rubbing the shiny brown mongrel; ‘Cherie’ was a type of half-terrier, half hound with ears that curled into furry balls. We were on the crowded Piccadilly Line and when the dog-owner knelt down to pet his dog; his head collided with the other passengers’ legs. Cherie was an adored canine; she had a pink flowery dog collar with her name on it. The man fed Cherie some dog biscuits, and soothed, ‘now love, the journey won’t be much longer.’
‘She’s doing fine…’ the dog-owner’s exasperated girlfriend said.
The 20-something girlfriend tried to put her hand in her boyfriend’s. But he turned from her and praised Cherie, ‘you’re being such a good dog.’ The girlfriend left a tiny sigh escape. This was ignored by the boyfriend whose eyes never left Cherie. Maybe he was trying to give his human girlfriend a message. Poor Cherie then passed some wind, and her owner became very concerned; he turned to his girlfriend and started discussing the food that Cherie had eaten that may have caused this un-lady like behaviour.  Had I been the girlfriend, then I’d have left the train at the next stop and never looked back.
Walking from South Kensington tube station, I saw a woman approach wearing a tiny purple sling; a black hairy head could be seen from the top of the sling and a body with a strange, sack-shape inhabited the custom-made-to-size sling. When she walked past me, the face of a pug with eyes like rolling marbles veered out from the sling. The proud dog-owner bent her head down to kiss her pug in his sling.
Over the past number of years; I have noted a difference in the way babies and dogs are treated in London Churches.  Once at the 9 am at the Oratory, I saw a young mum trying to soothe a cranky baby, only for another woman to turn around and repeatedly hiss, ‘sssh! Go outside!’ But in the past week, there have been a few dogs brought into the Oratory, some have been tied up and have whined a little; other people praying in the church soothed and smiled at the dog as they passed by.
Babies don’t bite, but I’ve yet to see a baby being treated with such tender affection as reserved for four-legged friends in London society.
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