Tuesday, 6 December 2016

My interview with Aurora Griffin, author of How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard. How was Aurora a devout Catholic going to Harvard?

It was nothing short of providential that I would meet Aurora, a rising star when she was in Boston at the headquarters of the Catholic TV station to promote her book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard. John Carmichael and I found ourselves in the studio of Boston Catholic TV at the exact same time as Aurora; we were there for filming; John and I were interviewed in studio for a show called The Gist that will be broadcast next fall.

After a few minutes of chatting, Aurora and I joined the dots and found that we had several people in common; I had co-hosted Episode 2 of Extraordinary Faith a show showcasing a dynamic group of Harvard students where I interviewed on camera some of Aurora's college friends. Prior to meeting Aurora, I had been curious about her, knowing of her from afar as someone steely and spunky who stood up to satanists in Boston when they attempted to hold a Black Mass.

Aurora ascertained I would be going to Los Angeles for an extended period, and that we would be sharing the same city. That's not all we have in common; Aurora grew up with a brother who has autism, and I grew up with a brother who has autism. I can't help but see the hand of God giving me a friend like Aurora.

At Aurora's Westlake Village home
Back in L.A. Aurora gave Drunks & Monks an insightful review and John Carmichael gave Aurora's book a stellar endorsement. Then recently one Saturday when the sun shone a honeyed gold John Carmichael and I drove to Aurora's neck of the woods; Westlake Village for hot tea and a chance to get to know each other in depth. There was a beautiful painting of St Anthony hung on the family's kitchen; I held back from hugging it, such is my love for the saint.

John, our intrepid attorney got to the heart of the matter in one of his questions to Aurora, how was she Catholic going to Harvard? This formed the basis of the interview that I did with Aurora. As you will read, Aurora gives some very generous answers that are more than food for thought, rather food for souls. 

Aurora, you were born and raised in Westlake Village, Los Angeles, describe your childhood faith; what made your heart sing when you were little?

It’s funny: I don’t remember being a particularly saintly child. I hesitate to ask if my parents concur, but it seems to me that my childhood was a time when seeds were sown deeply without many external signals of progress. My parents invested in me for years, having no idea how it would manifest itself -- this is true of my faith, and of academics, and any number of other areas.

Aurora, on the occasion of her First Holy Communion
We prayed together as a family every day. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, and then family intentions. We prayed about serious themes that I didn’t yet understand -- for example for the “babies in their mommies’ tummies” instead of “abortion.”

We were busy, like most families, but always made time to get to weekly Mass. My brother and I rode horses, so the family would often be at shows on weekends. We’d request to be moved up in the order or forgo certain competitions to go to Sunday Mass. It instilled in me the deep sense that Mass was not optional: it’s something you do every week no matter what. That attitude has remained with me my whole life.

What form did your preparation for your First Holy Communion take - what made you cherish the Eucharist?

In addition to taking us to Mass, my dad made a point of teaching my brother and me from the Baltimore Catechism. Formation at local parishes and Catholic schools at the time wasn’t great, and he wanted to be sure to pass along the fundamentals of the faith. True to the form of the Catechism, dad would ask us questions (“Why did God make you?”) and we’d memorize the answer (“To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven”).

Now, those answers get a lot more complicated when it comes to the Eucharist. I’m sure we didn’t memorize those, but instead learned the essentials. The most important lesson here, apart from the True Presence of course, was that some things about the faith were hard to understand. And my dad didn’t back away from them: he taught us the Truth, and let us conform ourselves to it instead of watering it down for us.

This instilled in me a deep sense of the significance of the Eucharist, if not a holy affection. When I was about seven, a babysitter took me to Mass and received communion even though she wasn’t Catholic. The minister just handed her a host, and she had no idea what to do with it. So she put it in her pocket, and took it out in the car, asking me what to do. I immediately consumed the Host, and told Jesus I was sorry for the whole ordeal.

Was there any single event in your upbringing that made you graduate to a higher level of Faith?

I received such good formation as a child that I instinctively understood how the Catholic worldview fit together long before I understood the more complex theological arguments. In other words, I knew how the conclusions followed from the premises and respected the logical axes around which the Faith revolves.

There comes to be a time in everyone’s life, however, when she must accept the Truth of the Church for herself. For me, this came in high school. There was a time that I knew how things fit together, but didn’t believe the premises on which theology was founded, so I rejected it all. The story of how I made my way back could be the subject of a different discussion. It wasn’t so much a single event as a good group of people who were able to slowly point me to good sources. I was into the existentialists at the time (e.g. Camus), so I started with the Christian existentialists, like Kierkegaard. Slowly, I found my way back to believing the fundamental Truths of the Catholic faith.

Most importantly, these people helped me see that a relationship with Christ is the most precious thing in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI liked to say, Christianity is not about arguments, but about an encounter with a living person. Once I recognized that, the formation I received as a child came back into play, and everything fit together once more.

Did your father and you ever disagree on a matter of Faith and how was that resolved?

Aurora and her father, Paul at the Sea of Galilee
When I was old enough to understand what it was, I found the Church’s teaching on contraception appalling. All I knew was that some kids in high school were having sex, and if you wanted that and were a good Christian, you had to wait until marriage. I thought it was wildly unfair that the Church had anything to say about your sex life after that.

My dad and I didn’t argue about it: he pointed me to Janet Smith. She has a beautiful talk called “Contraception: Why Not?” I listened carefully, and came out a changed person. I realized that the Church’s Teaching on sex is not about prohibition, but true flourishing. I think it was a good idea that dad pointed me to Janet. I was open to hearing her talk about it in a way that I probably wouldn’t have been with my dad.

For young women in particular, what do you think is their most important battle against sin, and why fight it at all?

I’m not sure if this is for young women in particular, but I can certainly speak to my own experience. The most effective tool I have found in fighting sin and cultivating virtue comes from a framework I learned from the Legion of Christ. The basic idea is that you try to identify your root sin. Instead of rattling off a list of misdeeds in confession, you think about your motivation for each of your sins and see if you can find a common theme. Am I doing it to make myself comfortable? To make others like me? To glorify myself? These people deal with sloth, vanity, and pride, respectively. Most of us have all three, but one will be pre-dominant.

When you take the time to identify the root sin, you can work on it directly instead of trying to merely suppress its results. I have found that extremely helpful.

Why fight it at all? I’ll go back to the Catechism and to Aristotle on this one. The Ethics tells us that on a human level, we all desire to be happy, and happiness comes from virtue. On a supernatural level, we were made for God. We can only find happiness and fulfillment of who we are when we’re connected to Christ and living virtuously. I believe it. I’ve experienced it.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The precise reason Padre Pio refused absolution to a woman who had an abortion and why he eventually granted her absolution

Throughout my adult life I've been surrounded by young female friends who tell me that they view me as a Latin Mass Catholic who takes sin and the sin of abortion in particular too seriously. They wear rictus smiles and claim it's not really so dire a sin when a woman employs a doctor to slaughter the little one inside her because she wants to prioritise her career or doesn't want a child with her current boyfriend. Or they reiterate the reason that I heard from the lips of hundreds of women when I was with them during their crisis pregnancies: that they can have a baby and provide for one, but they do not feel ready. 

In response I have often tried to defend the Church's teachings on the gravity of abortion as a mortal sin by reminding my coffee companions and colleagues that Padre Pio took the sin of abortion so deathly seriously that he was known to have refused absolution if a penitent confessed to having had an abortion.

While this has led to the smiles melting from faces and shocked silence (and to my temporary satisfaction at having had the last word) I have unwittingly portrayed abortion as the unforgivable sin. In wider circles of the global Catholic Church if most people assume that Padre Pio never gave absolution when a woman or man confessed involvement in procuring or having an abortion, it may discourage post-abortion women (and men) from confessing abortion, they may think it is a stain on their soul that can never be wiped clean. They may also feel painfully at odds with Padre Pio, if the great mystic refused absolution to others, had they darkened his confessional, would he do the same to them?  

I wanted to find if Padre Pio ever granted absolution to someone who confessed abortion and if so what were his reasons for doing so. In the case I will relate Padre Pio refused absolution to a woman who had had an abortion - but some time later - Padre Pio granted absolution to the very same woman.

It was the late Dónal Enright who gave me his eye-witness account.  Dónal was a dear friend of Padre Pio's. As his name suggests, Dónal was an Irishman who hailed from the same part of Ireland that I hail from, Cork. During Padre Pio's lifetime, Dónal spent many long days at San Giovanni de Rotondo, ever ready to lend assistance to Padre Pio mostly by comforting and be-friending penitents who were trying to save their souls with the help of Padre Pio's window to their souls, enlightening them as to what they had done wrong and what they needed to confess. 

When he was still living I visited Dónal at his home in County Cork, I asked him pointedly if he had known a woman who had been refused absolution because of having had an abortion. Dónal told me of one such post-abortion woman who gave him permission to re-tell her story. 

Dónal first met her mere minutes after she had left Padre Pio's confessional.  She was in great emotional distress having been refused absolution. She was, however, receptive to meeting Dónal who greeted her calmly with his soft Irish lilt. Dónal offered her the chance to talk things over with him and she agreed.  Dónal did not pry - and did not ask prying questions - an atypical Irishman one might say. But the lady felt at ease in his company and volunteered the information that she had suffered much following her abortion, and knowing it was a sin, she took it with her to Padre Pio's confessional, but Padre Pio had refused her absolution by saying to her, "you are not truly sorry for your sin". This is the key: Padre Pio could see her soul and could see that she was not sufficiently contrite or "truly sorry" to use Pio's exact words. 

Emotional guilt, the sort that causes distress and depression and genuine contrition where we are sincerely sorry to God for offending Him - are different and in their pure forms entirely separate phenomena.  After being refused absolution, the lady had to pray for contrition. Interestingly, it is when offering the Mystery of the Rosary 'The Scourging at the Pillar' that we ask for true contrition for our sins. In my view true contrition and the personal cultivation of it has not gotten much attention in the Year of Mercy which ends this November.

True contrition did not come easily to the lady in question. She struggled for months: she was firmly of the mind that her post-abortion guilt was the same thing as contrition for her sin. Dónal (and I'm sure Padre Pio) prayed very much for the lady. It took her one whole year - but she developed true contrition which entailed  sorry to God for arranging the death of her little one who had not asked to be conceived. When the searing ache of true contrition pierced her soul, she returned to Padre Pio's confessional and once again confessed to having had an abortion.  On this occasion, Pio did not refrain from granting her absolution, and said, "now you are truly sorry, I can give you absolution".

I wrote this article for the current edition of The Latin Mass Society Magazine, the Winter 2016 edition. It is the first edition under our new editor Tom Quinn, and you may read the entirety of the mag here

Friday, 7 October 2016

We are living during the unfolding of the Third Secret of Fatima

Today, the feast of the Most Holy Rosary, I'd like to share with you my latest column for The Latin Mass Society Magazine.  HAPPY FEAST!

On my tombstone, I'd like the inscription At Fatima Our Lady asked us to offer a daily Rosary, please do so in my memory.

Now we are in Autumn 2016, we are beginning a vital year of preparation: Autumn 2017 will be the month dedicated to the Holy Rosary one hundred years after Our Lady appeared at Fatima. How can we use the coming 12 months to ensure that Our Lady's requests at Fatima are better observed?

I think we are living during the unfolding of the Third Secret and I wonder if we are meant to spend our time making better known the theories that surround the Third Secret. The Third Secret, of course, is one of the distinct revelations granted to Fatima visionary Sister Lucia in connection with Our Lady of Fatima's Church Approved Apparition in Fatima Portugal. 

One of the great controversies in the Catholic Church and in the world in the Twentieth Century was the expected release of the Third Secret in 1960. At that time, the Vatican did not release the Third Secret as many expected, causing widespread speculation as to why it was not released and what it contained. On May 13 2000, the Vatican released a text entitled The Third Secret. While some have questioned whether the released text was the full text of the Third Secret or not, for purposes of this reflection, I shall take that text at face value and restate it here for reference:

After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!'. And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it' a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father'. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God. 

Since the election of Pope Francis, my mind has attached various meanings to the words of Sister Lucia, who gave the description of seeing a Bishop dressed in White who gave her 'the impression' that he was the Holy Father.

Is one permitted to wonder whether, in this anomalous time of a "Pope Emeritus" and a reigning Pope, whether one of them could be the "Bishop in White" referred to by Lucia? This is made perhaps more curious by Pope Francis' strong emphasis on his role as the "Bishop of Rome," which he referred to soon after his election.  

Or, indeed if the Holy Father that Lucia saw (in the vision Our Lady gave her) passing through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow is either Pope Benedict or Pope Francis?  This could be reading into appearances, but given Benedict's advanced age, it could be that he is the Pope of 'halting step'. 

The text of the Third Secret has tended to perplex some people because they have assumed that the Bishop in White and the Holy Father are the same person. Is it possible one is Francis and one is Benedict? There could be a hint in the date that Pope Francis ascended the Throne of Peter: 13 March 2013.  I wrote to Pope Francis and connected the date he became the ruling Pope with the fact that Our Lady appeared at Fatima on the 13th of every month:, "Your Holiness, You ascended the Throne of Peter on March 13, 2013. There are two 13s in that date, one is for each living Bishop who bears the mark of the Papacy on their souls. Could it be that there is one 13 for you and one 13 for Pope Benedict? Could it be that You and Pope Benedict are both implicated in the 3rd Secret?"  

While I think it is of the utmost importance to take the Third Secret very seriously, I have to spend everyday as an ordinary laywoman prioritising the precise role Our Lady has asked someone like me to take. My one claim to consistent Marian devotion is that I offer a five decade Rosary each day. Had Our Lady not repeatedly asked Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco to make known her request that we offer a daily Rosary, I think that I would only offer the Rosary in times of great suffering. 

I'd still do my utmost to go to Tridentine Mass each day and tell myself that I was doing 'better' than offering the Rosary each day, which is a trap that many fall into, thinking that just because they assist at Holy Mass that they can 'skip' the Rosary, but they are not doing as Our Lady requested. 

What I suggest is that each of us, every single last one of us, take it seriously to offer the Rosary every day for one person in particular and offer the particular intention that he recipient of our daily 50 Hail Marys starts to offer their own daily Rosary. 

Gently and with great tenderness make it known to the person you care about that you are offering the Rosary each day for them.  Then make yourself available to answer any and all questions they may have.

You may think you are only one person and that if you only get one other person to offer the Rosary that this will be a small result.  But if you consider that the readership of this magazine hovers around 4,000, then if each reader gets a new person to offer a daily Rosary, that will then be 8,000 people offering a daily Rosary. 

Wish to read the entire Autumn issue? You may do so here.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The doctors' union admits that pro-life medics face discrimination and harassment

The British Medical Association has given written evidence to members of Parliament that confirms pro-life doctors face pressure to take part in abortions, and discrimination if they do not comply.  There is a full and detailed report by Simon Caldwell, which I urge everyone to read. 

In the wake of the BMA's presentation of such evidence that will form part of an inquiry into the working of the conscience clause of the 1967 Abortion Act,  I am re-posting a story I wrote for The Catholic Herald which chronicled the challenges pro-life doctors who are practising Catholics have to overcome. I'd like to draw attention to one point that was made by Richard, a medic who I 'followed':  "As students we were given a lot of misinformation. We were instructed that if we didn’t want to be involved in an abortion that we ‘must’ refer a woman. The 1967 Abortion Act does not state that doctors ‘must’ refer, and neither does the General Medical Council. But we should tell a patient looking for an abortion that they are entitled to a second opinion."

A Catholic doctor could save your life,  from The Catholic Herald, March 30th 2012

Trust in doctors has been shaken recently because of a sting operation by the Daily Telegraph. Recorded footage shows doctors who were willing to hastily sign abortion papers for pregnant women who wanted abortions because the baby was a girl. 

The general public is starting to ask if these are just isolated examples or if this has become the norm. The investigation also throws into sharp relief the modern clinical setting where many Catholic medical professionals train and work. Do Catholic med students have to compromise their ethics and perhaps even absorb the culture of arranging illicit abortions? 

Over the past few months, I have interviewed Catholic m
ed students and newly qualified doctors about their non-academic trials. 

Richard is in his 30s and is a final-year med student at University College London.
He says that he benefitted from going into medicine a little later than teenagers and twenty-somethings: “I was more mature in my faith, had a better understanding of the Church’s teachings and have been better able to hold my ground.

“My experience is that med school is designed to scotch opposition to abortion and conscientious objection. As students we were given a lot of misinformation. We were instructed that if we didn’t want to be involved in an abortion that we ‘must’ refer a woman. The 1967 Abortion Act does not state that doctors ‘must’ refer, and neither does the General Medical Council. But we should tell a patient looking for an abortion that they are entitled to a second opinion. My professors have always referred to ‘a woman’s right to choose’.  During one tutorial a consultant gynaecologist talked about the bad times “when you couldn’t get an abortion for a pregnant girl who was in a dreadful situation” and then the consultant  joyously exclaimed: “Isn’t it wonderful that women now have the right to do with their bodies what they wish... isn’t that wonderful?”

Catholic med-students doing medical research can also find themselves in tight spots. Francesca took a year out of her medical degree at York, to do research at Manchester University, where she was studying heart failure by testing adult human tissue. A predicament arose when on two occasions; she was presented with foetal tissue to test which made her feel “very intimidated”.

She said: “Using the human life that had been destroyed as a means to an end was a repulsive idea. To work so closely with aborted tissue could also create scandal. We owe it to our patients and colleagues to be as straightforward as possible about our ethical stance. However, some argue that you could justify using foetal tissue taken from an aborted baby, because you haven’t done anything to cause the death of the body from which the tissue was taken.

“But before the abortions, women are asked if they would like their aborted foetus to be used for medical research. The women are glad that ‘some good can come of this dreadful situation.’ So, if you agree to testing aborted foetal tissue, you can be indirectly sanctioning the procedure by which you got the foetal tissue.”
On both occasions, Francesca explained to her professors that she would not test the foetal tissue. She said that she wasn’t happy about the process where the tissue had been gathered. 
“They were very respectful of my decision. But it can be hard because you know that if you did test the foetal tissue, then you could get more research done, more papers written, and get on more easily with your colleagues.”

Andrew is 25 and a newly qualified doctor. He attended Barts and believes that “medicine is a vocation first and foremost; you are there to serve and grave responsibilities come with the job”. One challenge that he faced was that he was called “an extremist because I don’t agree with abortion in the case of rape or with emergency contraception or IVF”. Nonetheless, he earned the respect of senior doctors when he reminded them: “Pregnant women are not presented with all the options that would help them keep the pregnancy. And there is not nearly enough coordination between the medical profession and groups like Life Pregnancy Care. If there was, we would see a drop in the number of abortions carried out.”
During his time at med school Andrew was told that it was illegal to send a woman for an abortion for reasons of gender or race. But Andrew suggests that there is a lack of clarity in the way med students are taught to find reasons for abortions, because “as medical students we were taught that abortions must be always allowed for unwanted pregnancies”.  Do not “unwanted” baby girls fall into this category?

But Andrew thinks that doctors who arrange terminations for baby girls are “especially dishonourable, they are complicit in direct eugenics”. He found his obstetrics and gynaecology placement “the absolute hardest time” and when I ask him if he would become an obstetrician he says “no way”. Andrew is more interested in other specialities, but concedes that “obstetrics is a minefield for a Catholic”. 

It’s not an accident that there was a spectacular decline in the number of Catholic obstetricians following the 1967 Abortion Act. Catholic obstetricians and gynaecologists are now a rare breed. Their absence poses problems for ordinary Catholic women who want to be treated by doctors who understand the decisions that they make about women’s health and childbirth. It also means that our faith, which has a very strong voice on the sanctity of life and the dignity of each human person, is not being heard in a vital area of medicine. But the question in 2012 is: do the moral dilemmas continue to deter Catholic med students from becoming obstetricians?

Richard would “think strongly about becoming an obstetrician” but won’t because “it’s effectively closed to Catholics. I’m already nervous when I have to see a female patient of child-bearing age. I couldn’t take this 30 times a day. For I thought of becoming an obstetrician, but now it has to be bottom of the list.”

It is forbidden, by law, to discriminate against a student who wishes to specialise in an area of medicine on the basis of their religion. But it is not illegal to discriminate against someone because of their pro-life stance. One obstetrician told Richard that pressure was put on junior doctors to participate in abortion “with the implicit understanding that participate or you won’t be progressing”. In the February edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly an article mentions that one trainee doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology was denied a post because of her refusal to do abortions.

Richard met intolerance from some of his peers for people with religious views. A former friend said that she thought people with strong religious views should be banned from becoming doctors. Richard responded: “Would you prevent people of talent from coming into medicine – to help save lives – because your secular views are at odds with their religious ones?” This silenced her, but the friendship soured. 
Richard’s experience highlights a shared theme for all the med students that I spoke to. They pointed out that their fellow med students found it strange that someone would be religious and faithful to teachings such as not having sex before marriage.

Francesca notes: “It’s always best to be very courteous. No one has ever been rude to me about my views, but it’s important to have an answer ready. When I’m explaining why I don’t agree with sex before marriage, I point out that young people can be used for sexual pleasure as opposed to being valued for themselves.”
 While there are unexpected challenges, the majority of the medics that I interviewed would wholeheartedly encourage other Catholics to become healthcare professionals. Richard says: “We need as many staunch Catholics as we can get! We need less of a heartless and cold approach to illness, and far more genuine compassion and a love of humanity shown by clinicians. True Catholics will be prepared to go the extra mile for their patients, and not see patients as a ‘case’, but as a human person behind the hospital lists.”

Francesca points out that a lot of debate focuses on the friction between Catholic teaching and modern obstetrics, but says: “You have to make many sacrifices to be compassionate and diligent. It’s all very well standing up as the Catholic doctor who doesn’t prescribe contraception, but you have to develop the virtue of charity and perseverance to get mundane things done.”

Richard corroborates Francesca’s point about diligence: “It’s hard work. But the reality of being a Catholic doctor is never as bad as you fear it will be. It’s also an honour that patients tell you stories from their lives that no one else knows.”

Richard has a heart-warming example of how one Catholic on the wards might prevent someone’s early death. On a ward round, Richard met an elderly male patient who had been put on the Liverpool Care Pathway, which is described by its supporters as “slowly withdrawing life-prolonging treatment at the very end of life, to allow the patient to die with dignity”.  But in hard clinical terms, it involves having food and fluids withdrawn. Richard noticed that this 98-year-old patient’s blood results were improving and he suggested that the old man be taken off the Pathway. The consultant gave this some thought, and the man was taken off. The elderly man continued to improve and in days was stretching out his hand for a drink of water…

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Now for something other than Brexit, a piece on Jennifer Fulwiler, the author of Something Other Than God

I hold Jennifer Fulwiler in very high regard.  I got to know her after she got in touch with me regarding John Carmichael's Drunks and Monks.  Jen was the first radio host to have John on her show, you may listen to the first ever interview here at 43:40  I may know this radio interview by heart, as I listen to it many nights before falling asleep in my West London nest.

Today for The Catholic Herald, I have done a post on Jen and the new e-book that she edited, The Our Father Word by Word:

If you’re like me, you have a set of snippets from favourite You-Tube videos that you watch to cheer you up and inspire you.

One that puts me in a good mood is American Catholic author and radio host Jennifer Fulwiler’s conversion story, where at 17 minutes in she shares the moment that she came to offer her first prayer.
Until that moment, Jennifer had been a life-long atheist, and the catalyst for causing her to question if God did in fact exist was the overwhelmingly strong love she had for her first born son, Donnell.
When she was holding her newborn, transfixed by the fluttering of his eyelashes and possessed of a great love for her infant, she challenged herself as to whether the love she felt was merely the result of chemical reactions in her brain. Deciding that her love for her son was more than ordinary human love, she became aware that her maternal love had a higher ‘Source’, and reaching out to that ‘Source’, Jen said, “I don’t know Who You are, I don’t know What You are, but if You’re out there, holler at me.”
This first prayer set in motion a chain of events that led to her converting from atheism to Catholicism, which would be the subject of her memoir, Something Other Than God, where she shared her revelation that through her love for her children, she began to fathom that God loved her as His child.
Now Jennifer has edited a book entitled, The Our Father, Word by Word, which is a collection of essays by various Catholic writers. Not done with the profit margin in mind, Jennifer is giving away the book for free.
Each essay is dedicated to a word of the Lord’s Prayer and seeks to elevate the reader to greater holiness. Underestimating the e-book, before reading it I asked myself how an author would wring a meaty treatise out of a word such as ‘into’, as in “lead us not into temptation”. I was pleasantly surprised and not a little humbled by the piece devoted to ‘into’ which is written by Jennifer.
In a gutsy way, Jennifer details the importance of not getting ‘into’ near occasions of sin by showing that sin makes us less loving towards others: “During my conversion, I discovered that sin — objective right and wrong — does exist, and I saw just how damaging our sins are to ourselves, to others, and to God…And so, this idea of avoiding near occasions of sin was a great revelation. I found that there is hope for overcoming those bad things we do that keep us from being loving — and it all starts with not getting into situations where we’ll be tempted to do them.”
If Jennifer’s realisation that her love for her son had its source ultimately in God and caused her to offer her first prayer, now her awareness of the effects of sin as an impediment to love inform an important theme of this book on the Pater Noster.
Indeed, the ways in which we distance ourselves from God’s love are an integral theme of Jennifer’s writings. But the discovery of God’s love is the beating heart of Jennifer’s Faith life, her memoir Something Other Than God and now this dynamic e-book, written out of a desire to love and honour Our Lord and to bring others to love Him.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The papal broadcast on 'the loss of the sense of sin' that healed my suffering

A good few years ago someone took advantage of me for money. At the time and for years afterwards I felt mistreated, yet the loss of money and was never the reason for my pain. No, the sickening sorrow that stirred in my gut accrued with interest because the person who did something regrettable to me thought they had done absolutely nothing wrong.
I wasn’t looking for the money back. Yet they strangely claimed they had done something positive and told me they were being “charitable” by “persuading” me into doing a “good work” that benefited them. It didn’t matter that I suffered hideously.
At that point in my very young life I believed in God and understood that the Church taught about sin, repentance and forgiveness but truly it was all a bit of an abstraction still. I was confused and scrupulous and learning that the world at large didn’t concern itself with ‘sin’ as a supernatural affront to God’s order, or even really acknowledge it, except in the context of that which was clearly criminal or proscribed by the coarsest of secular norms. As a Catholic woman growing in my faith however, I did make some effort to discern my own sin.
The only itchy contention I had was that whenever I was sinned against, I felt I had to keep quiet, for it seemed somewhat hysterical by modern standards to say I had been the casualty of sin. You can say ‘wronged’ or ‘mistreated’, but you will get called judgmental and told you are a hypocrite for uttering the s-word, that dark relic of the Victorian or Medieval ages. And how dare you note sin in others, especially when you sin yourself?
In any event, it seemed plain to my younger self that most modern folk don’t even want to be reminded of the concept. So for years I told myself that the person who took advantage was not the problem; I was the problem for ruminating on their obliviousness to the pain they had caused me.
But then I found healing – when I read the text of Pope Pius XII’s bracing and brilliant radio message from 1946 – where the war-time Pope boldly articulated that ‘perhaps the greatest sin’ of our times is ‘the loss of the sense of sin’.
I read this quote for the first time when I was editing John Carmichael’s Drunks & Monks, as he recounted his own startling discovery of it, and the clarifying effect it had on him before making his general confession.
Pope Pius XII gave the radio broadcast to a catechetical congress in America.
Now 70 years later, reading his words finally made plain to me that God is offended when we sin against ourselves and others. As Pope Pius XII explained so compellingly, ‘to know Jesus crucified is to know God’s horror of sin; its guilt could be washed away only in the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son become man.’
When we sin and when we are sinned against both events are repugnant to God. But in our times, those who are wronged have a difficult time knowing healing because the wrong done to them is denied because the guilty party has, in the words of Pope Pius XII lost all sense of sin. St John Paul II took up this point of Pope Pius XII’s in his 1984 encyclical, Reconciliation and Penance and the Polish Pope embellished that Pope Pius XII had really hit the nail squarely on the head.
What I’d like to suggest very simply is that reading Pope Pius XII’s rousing radio broadcast can actually be a healing experience, it lays waste to the confusion of whether or not being sinned against is really all that serious.
To know the lengths God the Father went to in order to save us and others from our sins, you just have to look at His beloved Son nailed to a cross.
I wrote this piece for The Catholic Herald, it was quite an agonising experience to write about someone who manipulated me to such an extent. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby are continuing St Augustine's work on Facebook...

Live Q&A between Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols

The first Archbishop of Canterbury, St Augustine, was no coward. Yet when Pope St Gregory the Great sent him to England, Augustine turned back en route. He lost his nerve when travelling to England after he heard tales of Saxons savagery and feared he would fall prey to them.
In earlier years, missionaries had come to Britain. But after the Saxon conquest they had retreated to the margins of society, keeping quiet about their faith.
When Augustine returned to Rome, Pope Gregory encouraged Augustine with the news that Ethelbert, King of Kent, had taken Bertha, a Christian, as his wife. A far-seeing Holy Father, Gregory believed that Ethelbert would give Augustine his blessing and help in evangelising the English. And he was right.
When St Augustine and his band of 40 brothers arrived on the shores of the isle of Thanet, King Ethelbert was there to greet them. Augustine was from a high-born Italian family and Ethelbert was impressed by his good manners and gentility. Giving Augustine free rein to convert as many people as he could, Ethelbert also gave him the church of St Martin of Tours as his base.
Ethelbert himself was baptised in 597, after which many of his subjects were eager to become Christians. On Christmas Day 597, Augustine baptised 10,000 people – this was only months after Augustine’s arrival.
Ethelbert did not compel his subjects to be baptised. To have compelled them might have had the effect of reverse psychology, meaning that those born and raised pagans would have revolted.
If anything, the amazingly successful mission of St Augustine owed a lot to Pope Gregory’s foresight and to the humility and goodness of King Ethelbert, who was not so proud of his pagan roots that he clung to them and resisted the Gospel.
All of us who are Christians in England today have inherited a share of St Augustine’s spiritual bequest. It is auspicious that the live Facebook Q&A with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols is taking place today, on the feast of St Augustine. Archbishop Welby and Cardinal Nichols will, in effect, be continuing the work of St Augustine.
If St Augustine consecrated pagan temples so they could be used as sites for Christian worship, then Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop Welby are hoping to turn a corner of Facebook into a place that inspires modern people to worship Christ. Facebook is a place where many engage in empty self-worship, and this is exactly where such direct evangelism is needed which invites us to reorientate our lives towards Christ.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, it was my sixth piece for the month of May.  

Sunday, 22 May 2016

What should you say to a woman pregnant through adultery?

I was having lunch with a Catholic acquaintance who mentioned St Rita of Cascia is popular in the Philippines because the rate of domestic violence is high and battered wives beseech her for graces to cope with bullying husbands. Thoughtlessly, I said I would look into praying to her. The person sitting opposite me raised an eyebrow and asked if I was having “man trouble”. Quickly, I clarified that I wasn’t, but was eager to pray to St Rita for work and money intentions.
It is not surprising that some of my female friends say they become tongue-tied when St Rita comes up.  Our being tight-lipped is due to St Rita’s reputation as the saint for heartbroken women, victims of punch-throwing husbands and those in unhappy marriages. Were we to admit praying to her, we fear others may wrongly draw the conclusion we have been or are being abused at the hands of our boyfriends and husbands.
St Rita herself was in an abusive marriage – she had been married off as a child of 12 – even though she wanted to become a nun. It was the late 1300s, and her husband Paolo Mancini was as wretched as any cad drawn from an EastEnders plot. He lashed out at her, beat her and was unfaithful to her.
On that last point, the fact that Rita suffered because her husband cheated on her places her as a saint for those who are victims of adultery. Our thoughts immediately fly to the grown men and women who find out their spouses are carrying on with someone else. But there is another set of victims in mind, who are not grown men and women: the unborn children conceived in adultery who are “evidence” and who risk being destroyed.
During the course of my pro-life work I have met dozens of women who were pregnant as a result of affairs with married men.
One case concerned a man who told a very young woman that he had to put his kids and wife first, and that she would help him by aborting their baby. I remember saying to her, “Congratulations”. She looked at me like I was a loon, and said, “Why would you say ‘Congratulations’?'” I answered quietly, “You’re pregnant and that’s why I say ‘Congratulations’.”  When she had had the baby, I found out that this one moment jogged her thinking and made her to view the pregnancy in a new light, the baby was a cause for champagne corks sounding, and did not deserve to be maligned on account of the shame she felt.
Another woman who was pregnant from an affair, kept making appointments at abortion clinics, but could not make herself go through with it. I found out that the pregnant mother’s own mother had conceived her during an affair but had decided not to abort her, so she kept the baby becasue she had been conceived in the same circumstances as her baby.
It is unthinkable for many people to ask a saint like St Rita to intercede for pregnant women who have carried on with married men and for their unborn children.  They, however, need our prayers to St Rita so that they may avoid abortion and so the innocent party can live. 
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald. Today, May 22nd is St Rita of Cascia's feast day,  happy feast!
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