Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Chocolate dresses on a rainy day...

I got a lovely present of some chocolate dresses from my friend Helen. Not to be worn, you understand, but for eating. Chocolate always tastes best on cold, blustery and rainy days. I have never experienced a wetter week in London; the sky is like a giant shower head that someone forgot to turn off... If you venture outside the door for a few minutes, then you can be soaked to the skin.

I have been walking to Mass looking like a refugee who is wearing all their items of clothing, one on top of the other. I don a layer of leggings, tracksuit bottoms and trousers; when the rain drenches the trousers, then the tracksuit bottoms might absorb the damp and I won’t catch a chill. It’s a trick that I learned from growing up in Ireland where it rains for weeks on end. I have a huge hood that hangs over my forehead to protect my hair – it makes me look like Darth Vader with a fringe. After Mass and then dinner today, I’m promising myself a chocolate dress as a little indulgence.

At least my chocolate is elegant!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Manuel: "I am English...oh hullo Major..." A treat on St George's Day

Happy St George's Day to everyone! A tiny bit of the best of English comedy to put you in a good mood on this feast.

Friday, 13 April 2012

St Anthony, my printer-paper white skin and the blusher

“You’re Irish; I know you are because your skin is so white!” This is something that I hear weekly.  I don’t mind having skin that’s white as printer paper: I’ve accepted that I’ll never have a tan, but will turn the colour of a prawn in the sun. Being as white as I am causes a stir in some quarters.  When riding the subway in the South Bronx, I was sometimes the only white person on the train, which once prompted an elderly black man to exclaim; “sweet Moses – a white girl!”  There was another occasion when I was travelling from the South to the North Bronx and a guitarist boarded the train and started singing and passing round a cap for money. He started serenading me with, “this song is for the white girl…I got sunshine on a cloudy day…when it’s cold outside I got the month of May…Talking about my white girl…”  Everyone on the carriage laughed and clapped along.
But being white as china is difficult because it’s hard to find the right kind of blusher, the powder that highlights the cheekbones.  In the past, I’ve bought blusher that looked good in the shop. But when I wore it in daylight, I was told that I looked like a china doll that had been painted.
Recently, I ran out of blusher and didn’t want to traipse around the shops looking for the right shade. I found myself praying to St Anthony to find me the right blusher; that was cheap rather than expensive, “sorry St Anthony to bother you again, you have more important things to do than find cosmetics, but is there any way that some blusher could just show up?”
I forgot about the prayer. And then one night I came home to find a pot of blusher on my table next to a box set of DVDs. It was almost like the blusher had appeared out of thin air.  I had lent the DVDs to an acquaintance of mine and I got in touch with her to ask if she had left the blusher as a present for me.  “I just knew that blusher was for you… When I saw it, I thought of your milky skin and just knew that the pale pink would suit you,” she said with conviction. 
Since wearing the sparkly blusher, I have been asked if I have been on holiday, because my cheeks glow. It could just be coincidence, but did I not ask St Anthony for a very obscure type of blusher, and that it could ‘just show up’?  The right type of rare blusher showed up – as a gift – and it came at the right time. I include a picture of it underneath.  Many Thanks, St Anthony.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Blazing Saddles on and Easter egg in hand...

Ah, the joys of a Bank Holiday! I have been saving Blazing Saddles for a rainy night such as this one where rain runs down my window and the wind makes the trees in the garden dance in a waltz. But shall I watch A Man for all Seasons instead? My choice in movies is very bathetic; from the sublime drama of Paul Scofield's finest hour in the role of St Thomas More ("I was the King's good servant, but the Lord's first") to the comic-tastic Gene Wilder slumping against a prison wall murmuring, "my name is Jim, but most people call me...Jim." Blazing Saddles came number 6 among the American Film Institute's Top-100 Comedies. A Man for All Seasons won 6 Oscars, and don't have to be religious or 'a Roman' to enjoy it, as the trailer will attest.

I still have a few shards of Easter egg left...  A movie night is like the intermission in 'real life'.


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Dear Readers – which blog design do you prefer?

To convey the sorrow of Good Friday, I changed the blog to a solemn black background. And now in honour of Our Lord’s resurrection, I have changed the blog to a green-grass template because green represents new life and a fresh start.
It’s not written in the Catechism that our blog colours and backgrounds must reflect Church holidays.
But, which  background do you like best?
The green background is appropriate for us in London, now that we are leaving a cold winter and enjoying the first glimpses of spring. Even in the middle of busy London, the air does taste of a certain spring sweetness; peppered with pollen and gently warmed by a shy sun.The concrete coloured sky is now giving way to a china blue spring horizon.
But the black template was a good ‘frame’ for my multi-coloured pictures. Like the way jewellers use black velvet to highlight their diamonds and gems, a dark background can bring out the best in photos and pictures.

Seeing Jesus on your wall...

HAPPY EASTER! He is Risen!

Wishing everyone heartfelt Easter blessings. May you have a wonderful Easter Sunday.

Lent is over! I’ve just had two delicious cups of coffee this morning. As many of you might know, if you abstain from high-octane caffeine for a while, coffee has an extra kick. After my milky coffee, I now feel like a three year old who has had three red bulls! Much as I love coffee, it has a tendency to give me headaches; it’s a type of unrequited love; I love coffee, but it doesn’t love me back! Having a coffee was my way of celebrating Easter. And didn’t I hear somewhere that it’s a sin to fast on a feast day?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Padre Pio and the mother of five who came out of a coma at Easter

Padre Pio is a saint – but he has a reputation as having been a tough priest who spent all his time telling people how they had sinned.  But a lesser known fact is that Padre Pio pronounced Paolina, who was a local woman in San Giovanni Rotondo, to be such a good person that she had no faults in her soul. In other words, she was fit for heaven. One Lent, the saintly Paolina suddenly became seriously ill with pneumonia. It was 1925: and the fact that there was no penicillin available meant that Paolina’s infection was life-threatening.

The doctors despaired and said that Paolina would die soon. 

Paolina’s husband and their five kids went to Padre Pio. Two of Paolina’s children wept and tugged at Padre Pio’s brown habit. He was aggrieved by the children’s sorrow. He promised to pray for their mother – and for them – and he said, “tell Paolina to have no fear - since she will be resurrected with Our Lord.”

On Good Friday, however, Paolina fell into a coma. This made people question what Padre Pio had said – was he really serious when he said that she would be resurrected with Our Lord?
Her relatives started making funeral arrangements for Paolina – they saw no hope of her waking from the coma. And there was no possibility of medical intervention.  Paolina was a third order Franciscan, and so they made plans to bury her in the brown habit of St Francis. 

Some of her relatives ran to Padre Pio and asked him if there was any chance of a miracle.
Padre Pio left them and went to celebrate the Easter Vigil.*  When Padre Pio sang the Gloria and the peel of bells announced Christ’s resurrection, Padre Pio’s voice choked with sobbing and his eyes brimmed with tears.  At the very instant that Christ was proclaimed resurrected from the dead, Paolina resuscitated.*  Without anyone lifting a finger to help her, she rose, knelt down and prayed the Creed three times. When asked what had happened to her after she departed this life, Paolina answered, “I travelled up and up, until I entered into a great light, then I came back.”

We may note that the ‘great light’ that Paolina saw was a heavenly glow. But doesn’t it seem mysterious that this wife and mother, who had a flawless soul, was struck with sickness and went into a coma before she was ‘resuscitated’? Why would someone with such goodness need to be purified by physical agony?  What we do know is that she suffered her painful trials during Lent – and that she suffered simultaneously with Our Lord.  Paolina fell into a coma on Good Friday, when Our Lord’s scalp was punctured with thorns, and when he hung from the cross.  When Our Lord’s resurrection was announced by the bells in the church, Paolina woke from her unconsciousness. From that time on, she was well.

* This miracle is listed in the collections of miracles attributed to Padre Pio for his canonisation process. It has it that Paolina recovered from her coma on Holy Saturday Morning.

* On Holy Saturday morning the Gloria bells sounded during the Easter Vigil because at that time the Vigil was celebrated on the Saturday morning. This was before Pope Pius XII’s reforms of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me...

1. Just as I am, without one plea, 
 but that thy blood was shed for me, 
 and that thou bidst me come to thee, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

2. Just as I am, and waiting not 
 to rid my soul of one dark blot, 
 to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

3. Just as I am, though tossed about 
 with many a conflict, many a doubt, 
 fightings and fears within, without, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

4. Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; 
 sight, riches, healing of the mind, 
 yea, all I need in thee to find, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

5. Just as I am, thou wilt receive, 
 wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; 
 because thy promise I believe, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

6. Just as I am, thy love unknown 
 hath broken every barrier down; 
 now, to be thine, yea thine alone, 
 O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 

'And now there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.' Change of blog colour and design in honour of Our Lord's Passion

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Donkey by GK Chesterton

Ireland needs a papal visit - to begin healing

Once upon a time, Irish villages and towns with roadside statues of Our Lady were seedbeds of missionary vocations. Young priests and nuns from Gougane Barra, Knock and Navan were so passionate about giving the faith to others that they travelled to the ends of the earth to spread the Gospel. Until recent times, Irish politicians fawned over parish priests and Vatican officials.

The days of old seem like a fairytale.

In today’s Ireland, there is an annihilating absence of young people in the pews. The reports into clerical abuse have shown that in the past there was great loyalty to the Church, but that much was hidden. I was reduced to angry tears by the part of the Cloyne Report into the Church’s handling of abuse allegations that described the situation in East Cork was such that in most cases the clergy and the families of the victims failed to bring knowledge of the crime to the authorities.
Many of these families have since lapsed; they have lost their trust in Mother Church.  The reports into clerical abuse have been crucial in the search for truth and justice. But an unhealthy national fixation on the sordid details of the reports has ensued. Blame-shifting has followed, where the Vatican and the Pope are wrongly thought to be culpable for all the evils in the Irish Church. At worst, Benedict XVI is caricatured as a callous villain who was in cahoots with child abusers. The Irish, at large, have not fully confronted the sad fact that a number of Irish bishops abandoned their own guidelines for handling accusations of abuse.

The attempt to close Villa Spada, the embassy to the Holy See, mirrors the wider problem: seeking separation for our Catholic past, and wanting further isolation from true Catholicism. Éamon Gilmore insisted that closing the embassy would save money. But is saving a few euros more important than maintaining ties with Rome? But vestiges of our Catholic past remain: in Gaelic, “gilmore” means “servant of Our Lady”.

Ireland is a proud island nation, but Catholicism in Ireland has become a victim of its own insularity. If the image of Pope Benedict as a cartoon crook persists, my generation may never have a true concept of the Vicar of Christ. This is why even the thought of the Pope making a visit to Ireland is so clarifying: it brings the kindly face of Benedict XVI into greater focus. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has said that the Pope is giving it “serious consideration”. If we have learned anything about this papacy it is that Pope Benedict doesn’t procrastinate. The presence of the Holy Father in Ireland would mean that my fellow twentysomethings could personally witness his grandfatherly smile, his gentleness and that he has great respect for the positive contribution that their ancestors made to the history of the Church. If the Irish will not embrace Rome, Rome can embrace the Irish.

Doom-laden reports abound that the Irish would begrudge the cost of a papal visit and that the political elite would be disrespectful towards the Pope. But to think that he would be put off by rumours of hostility is not to know his courage. If the Pope can come to Britain, with militant atheists vying to arrest him, then he would not be daunted by a trip to Ireland in the summertime.
The suggested timing that the Pope could visit during the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin couldn’t be better. The 44th congress will give the Irish Church an opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices that, in previous centuries, Ireland made for the Eucharist. There will be a new confidence remembering times past: the centuries when celebrating the Mass was driven underground, and priests and laity risked their lives so that they could celebrate the Eucharist. In June 2012, with hopes for sunny weather, Mass Rock Masses will be taking place under cliffs in West Cork, and under crags in Galway.

There are still some vibrant parishes in Ireland, such as those in Donegal and Mayo, which do not get the attention they deserve. Isn’t it possible that young people from these rural spots will welcome our Pope? We’ve seen it happen here: when Paschal Uche greeted the Pope outside Westminster Cathedral the mood of the papal visit to London became joyful. In Britain, Catholics enjoyed a “Benedict Bounce” after the Pope’s visit when we had greater confidence in sharing our faith. Presently, in Irish school curricula, the role of the Pope is sidelined and even heavily criticised.

But if the very young got to know our benevolent Pope then they may not inherit the “bad baggage” that the older generation has with the Church. Relations between Ireland and Rome are likely to improve in the next few months, largely thanks to Archbishop Charles Brown, the first Irish-American to be papal nuncio to Ireland. He is a close friend of Benedict XVI and worked at his side for over 10 years in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Before travelling to Ireland, in order to understand the crisis in the Irish Church, Archbishop Brown studied the Murphy, Cloyne and Eliot reports into clerical abuse.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s laity is awaking. An organisation by the name of Ireland Stand Up is reminding politicians that the the country’s embassy to the Holy See was paid for by the Irish voters. The group arranged for 73 senators and MPs – almost a third of Ireland’s elected politicians – to meet in Dublin and protest against the closure. Enda Kenny’s mixed etiquette of saying that the Pope “is welcome to come”, but being hesitant to issue a formal invitation won’t appease them. Ireland Stand Up has promised to campaign until Mr Kenny formally invites the Pope to the Emerald Isle. These are the same people who could line the streets to cheer and welcome our Pope.

If we are waiting for “the right time” for the Pope to come, it may never happen. A papal visit is the grace that the Irish Church needs to begin the healing process. Just as prevention is better than cure, the youngest generations of disengaged, nominal Catholics should not be further infected by anti-papal invective. Pope Benedict has always been at pains to tell a global audience that “Christianity is a person”. Pope Benedict, as Christ’s Vicar, by his presence and his prayers in Éire, will allow the grace for – the start – of recovery in the Irish Church.
I wrote this for the March 30th Catholic Herald.
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