Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Dog of the Week

Here I am near Paddington with this charming Chihuahua. You can see a lot of Chihuahuas and 'toy breeds' in the vicinity of Paddington Train Station because they are dogs beloved by commuters who can easily travel with a Chihuahua on their lap in the busiest train carriage at rush-hour. 

I've often been tempted to get a Chihuahua, and become a walking cliché: walking in kitten heels, wearing a cocktail dress on my way to some party with a Chihuahua sticking its fluffy head out of my handbag. The joy of having a Chihuahua is that they are so light they can be carried for long periods of time. They say that a Chihuahua is 'a little dog with a big personality', and Chihuahuas can have very dominant personalities, evidenced by the way many owners need strong dog harnesses to restrain a dog with such a slight build. Chihuahuas can have very mild personalities. Their genetic inheritance dictates the kind of personality they will have, and someone looking for a Chihuahua with an even-temperament needs to ask a lot of questions of the breeder as to the personality traits of Ma and Pa Chihuahua. 

I will resist the urge to get one. My heart belongs to Greyhounds and whenever I go on a date, my friends have started asking me, 'is his place big enough for a Greyhound?!'  An important question indeed.  So far, my favourite Dog of the Week is the the Lady Greyhound, whose paws reached my collar-bone.  



Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The heroism of St Peter and St Paul still has power to win souls

Over at the Herald, I have a post that was done for the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, celebrated yesterday June 29th.  Were they alive today,  I think Paul would have fallen victim of a PR guru who would have told him to soften his words and not rebuke the Pope in public...


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The dangerously contradictory elements of Laudato Si'

Over at the Herald, I wrote a piece on saints who could be models for the green movement, even if they didn't intend to be. 

I share with Pope Francis a devotion to the Little Flower and St Francis who had a great role in the formation of my favourite saint, St Anthony. 

I don't, however, subscribe to climate change theories and so I am at odds with Pope Francis here. 

But even if I did agree with the Pope on 'human induced climate change', it is still a cause for great concern that Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is so close to the Holy Father and exerts such an influence on His Holiness.  Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is pro-population control.  William Oddie's latest piece raises a disturbing issue, regarding Hans Joachim Schellnhuber's views on educating young girls to use contraception so that they may have smaller numbers of children and thus limit population growth.  I would go one step further than William Oddie and say that Schellnhuber does not state any opposition to abortifaciant contraception.  It does seem contradictory that Pope Francis's encyclical Laudato Si' denounces abortion,  yet gives a seat at the table to Schellnhuber who shows no opposition to abortifacient contraception. 


The Holy Father is from a family of five children. He is the first born and is very close to his youngest sister, who is number five.  I doubt that Schellnhuber has been so crass as to suggest to the Holy Father that his mother, Regina Bergoglio had too many children in having a metric half-dozen. Oh, silver tongued Schellnhuber would never raise a point so close to home, he's too clever for that. Such a personal and even rude assertion might anger the Holy Father and mean that Schellnhuber would be shown the door, thus limiting his public platform that he uses to place the responsibility for population growth on the shoulders of women who we must 'educate' so that they don't reproduce so much. 


I have thought very carefully before writing the next part, and have debated with myself as to whether it is rude or crass, or if I'm crossing the line to the commentators who endlessly pick at the Holy Father.  Bear with me, because I would like to raise a question. Maybe it is not my place to raise this question, being an ordinary lay-woman who has always supported the Holy Father. But why is His Holiness happy to bolster the career of Schellnhuber who chauvinistically opines that millions of ordinary women should have less children?

I hold that it is my place to ask such a question. Let me explain: I am certainly not a feminist, but I am one of those ordinary women in my child-bearing years, who is the target of Schellnhuber's number one solution for reducing the population: controlling women and teaching that women's fertility is the enemy of the earth.  The Holy Father may not agree with Schellnhuber on the point that women must be trained to have less children,  but in not clearly articulating where he does not agree with Schellnhuber, there is no stopping Catholic women becoming targets of green chauvinism. 

Precisely because I am one of Pope Francis' flock and I would like to think that his fatherly care to all women who follow him would extend to decrying the means of population control extolled by Schellnhuber which works on the basis of making women feel guilty for having the reproductive system that bears babies. 

Perhaps I'm in good company, Pope Paul VI was the first to argue that contraception would be used as a coercive force in Humanae Vitae and Pope St John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae developed many of the points made by Paul VI in the light of the events of more modern times. 

PS -  LMS Chairman, Joe Shaw has a post on 'the contraceptive mentality'
where he explains that a married couple's intention not to have any children (while still having a sexual relationship within marriage) is contrary to the vocation of marriage. Maybe I should have written, "marriage", because it is grounds for annulment when two people go through a marriage ceremony and become "married" while all the while having no intention of *trying* to have a baby. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

"Nobody else can offer Mass, nobody else can absolve sins"




I think there ought to be many more videos made just like this. It is something that I would love to do. For starters, I would like to learn film-editing so that I can made very short films like this.  The content is what sets it apart, the structure and the detailed and clear answers make it as good as anything on commercial TV.  Brogan Martin is the film-maker and her film series is called Modern Lives. 

Short, succinct and straightforward. Fr Jonathan's precise sincerity won him credibility. 

Twitch of the mantilla to both Fr Ray and Bones who posted this video on their blogs, where I first saw it. 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

A simply marvellous time at the Oremus garden party...

Yesterday, I popped along to the courtyard behind Westminster Cathedral for the Oremus summer party.  It was hugely enjoyable. A high summer celebration of the magazine Oremus and the people who make this magazine such a success.  Oremus is Westminster Cathedral's monthly magazine.  It became free in 2013.

On arrival, we were greeted with glasses of Pims, but I sought out a glass of dry white wine and soon I had a plate that was heaped with delicious salmon sandwiches, canapés of mushroom and goats cheese and strawberry shortcake. My only regret is that I did not take a photo of the lovely spread. 

Oremus is edited by my friend of many years, Dylan Parry who commissioned my piece on Padre Pio's vocation story. Dylan made it onto The Catholic Herald honours list at Christmas 2011 for his role in founding the bloggers' guild. 











Dylan spoke a few words, in the presence of Cardinal Vincent Nichols. Reflecting on the role of Cardinal Vaughan who died 112 years ago that day, Dylan spoke on the fact that +Vaughan had not only built Westminster Cathedral, but also founded the Cathedral magazine.  Dylan placed the magazine under the protection of Our Lady, something that will keep it in good stead.


Dylan Parry, editor of Oremus





Then it was Cardinal Nichols turn to take the floor.  Cardinal Nichols said that Dylan's decision to make Oremus a free magazine was 'brave', gave credit to Dylan for attracting advertisers and said that the magazine was doing very well on account of it being a free publication that reaches so many people. 




A celebratory cake with candles in the form of champagne bottles was brought out, which had an Oremus cover done in icing, the cover being the re-decorated interior of Westminster Cathedral.  

























The garden party was a lovely occasion for meeting with friends old and new. I bumped into my friend of ten years, John Newton, whoops, I mean Dr John Newton.  John and I were both teachers at Chavagnes International College in France and he was a great colleague, whenever I had a teaching dilemma, I could say to John, 'I've no idea how I'm going to teach this!' And John would find me a solution. Here we are with Farm Street's Fr Dominic Robinson. John and I had a fascinating conversation with Fr Dominic about the real-life exorcism that inspired Blatty to write The Exorcist. John has corresponded by email with Blatty and Fr Dominic knows the Jesuits in Georgetown where the film was set.   


Dr John Newton, Mary O'Regan, Fr Dominic Robinson





















Dylan introduced me to Philip Smyth, who hails from Northern Ireland. Philip knew Sr Gen O'Farrell, the gusty sister who defied the IRA and who was known as 'the only man on the Falls'


Ben, Fabio, Philip and Dylan

















Many more photos are available on the Flickr site. There's also a photo of me and Keith Day, who shares my love for dogs. His dog, Cocoa has her own Facebook page and Helen Mirren has sent Coco a friend request. Peter Sheppard, Chairman of The Catholic Herald and I had a chat about The Go-Between, LP Hartley's most famous novel, and the meaning of the infamous line, 'the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there'. 

A great evening was had by all, in the surrounds of the warm red brick walls. A big thank you is due to Dylan for his hard work and painstaking efforts in making Oremus a great magazine: everyone who has a role in the mag can be very proud of their work. 

Monday, 15 June 2015

Underwear Parade

When I was a child, and leafing through the British Sunday papers, I used to see reference made to 'the underclass' in the headlines, and I thought this meant men and women who wore only their underwear in public! It struck me as an impossible fashion choice because Ireland is notoriously wet and windy, so anyone who would go out so exposed to the elements would surely have a pneumonia wish. 

The Round Pond, Kensington Gardens
Now that I'm enjoying a warm summer in London and walking through Green Park and St James' Park as often as possible, I have written a type of diary-entry for the Herald that seeks to draw attention to the ever worsening fashion trend of men not wearing belts, letting their trousers/shorts fall down around their hip bones and showing off underpants. Or just wearing underpants as they sun-bathe by the Round Pond in Princess Gardens. 

I'd like to add that reasonable standards of modesty for both men and women (neither extreme of puritanical drowning in clothes or skimpy clothes) is not just about sexual purity for adults, but it is being mindful of parents who bring their children to the park on a sunny day. 

Do pop over to the Herald for the full piece


Saturday, 13 June 2015

Happy Feast of St Anthony - the perfect saint for generation debt

During the winter just passed, I was out with a friend. The temperature dropped and there was a bitter chill in the air. Silly me, I had come out without a hat and the cold was freezing my skull.  My friend kindly gave me a loan of their hat, which was made of deliciously soft grey cashmere.  When we met up again, I returned the hat to my friend, but missed it, so I asked St Anthony if he could find me one.

Then a funny thing happened.  On my birthday, another friend of mine gave me a grey cashmere hat with the words, ‘I saw it and knew you’d love it.’  I had not said a word to her that I was on the look-out for this exact type of hat. True, I love warm hats.  But it is very ‘coincidental’ that I would pray for a grey cashmere hat and be given one as a gift. Perhaps it is not so out-of-the-ordinary when you consider that I prayed to St Anthony.  

Now, on the whole, the 13th century Franciscan Friar is renowned for his intercession in finding lost or stolen goods. In the past, I’ve been admonished for giving ‘shopping lists’ to St Anthony, but I believe that he is good to young people like me who are not rich and who can’t buy a new woolly hat unless it comes from Primark.

Me in the grey cashmere hat 

When you consider his short life, St Anthony was remarkably effective in fighting on behalf of the poor. He came from a Portuguese family who were reasonably well-off, and in his youth, he did not have to endure grinding poverty which would have made him experience hardship first hand.  He was, however, an Augustinian for ten years, before leaving them to become a Franciscan, where he voluntarily embraced austere poverty.  It was to be the making of St Anthony – he was able to rebuke wealthy people who gave nothing to the poor – while never being called a hypocrite.

In 1231, St Anthony lobbied the Council of Padua to pass a law in favour of debtors who could not pay off their debts.  The museum of Padua still exhibits a copy of this law.  Once St Anthony was invited to preach at the funeral of a loan-shark.  While giving the sermon, he said that the rich man’s heart could be found among his treasures. Apparently, the usurer’s family went to look inside the usurer’s treasure and sure enough, miraculously they found his heart among the coins.

St Anthony may have gone to Heaven a long time ago on the 13th of June on 1231, but he could become a great intercessor for the generation of young people who found themselves on the jobs market after the crash of 2008, and who have been racking up personal debt without knowing how they will ever pay it back. 

I wrote this for The Catholic Herald, where people are swapping stories of St Anthony's intercession underneath my article. 

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Did a Corpus Christi procession stop a deadly plague in France?

At the Herald, I did an article in honour of the feast of Corpus Christi where I related a miraculous turn of events that happened in France after a procession took place.  In my own estimation, I think it is one of my better pieces, but then I've been advised that writers are often the last people to judge their own work correctly. Nip across to the Herald and decide for yourselves. 

Here are photos from the 2013 Corpus Christi procession at my parish church, the London Oratory, which is five minutes from Harrods and a hop, skip and jump from the V&A, so the procession took place where crowds of tourists could see. Twitch of the mantilla to New Liturgical Movement for posting these gems of photos. 









































Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Flannery O'Connor wrote as though there were a skull on her desk

Today, I did a piece on Flannery O'Connor in honour of her gracing a new US postal stamp. In 2012, I included her on a list of Amazing Catholic Women Who Changed the World.  A proper reading of O'Connor means understanding that she was obsessed with the mortality of the body and the immortality of the soul - that the body will turn to dust but the soul will live forever. It's not an accident that O'Connor would send peacock feathers to her friends and admirers - the peacock is a symbol of the eternal soul. 

O'Connor was destined for literary stardom - but she was an outlier Catholic among her peers in the Deep South of Georgia - who were predominantly Bible Belt Protestants.  In contradiction to her Protestant peers, she didn't believe that one was instantly "saved" but that a person had to spend their entire life earning their salvation and that the fear of death and contemplation of The Four Last Things made someone a better person.  No where is this clearer than one of O'Connor's greatest short stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, where the central character is just called 'the grandmother' and never given a Christian name. She indulges her personal failings, but most of all she is very manipulative and on a family vacation she sets in chain a series of events that leads to tragedy. At the end, when she is shot by the misfit, he remarks, 'she would have been a good woman if there had been somebody there to shoot her everyday of her life.' This betrays O'Connor's credo that people must live each moment as if it is their last. 

The implicit message from O'Connor being that had the grandmother been more conscious of her own impending death every minute of every day, she would have been a good person.  



Listening to O'Connor's voice as she reads A Good Man Is Hard to Find, you can't help but hear this Southern drawl when you read her other quotes such as... 

Sunday, 31 May 2015

The great delight that is afternoon tea

My American friends have asked me over the years if we still go in for afternoon tea in London. Oh, yes we do, with gusto! 


During May I was invited to afternoon tea in the Royal Overseas Club and it was scrumptious. In winter, afternoon tea is best enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. In summer, it is optimum when sitting on a balcony, overlooking Green Park with a summer breeze cooling the Earl Grey tea. The egg sandwiches were prepared with granary brown bread, and the cucumber sandwich was made with very finely sliced cucumber layered on top of each other with lashings of butter on the bread. Resist judgement of this noble sandwich if you have not tasted it. The cakes did not have icing or frosting - those swirly toppings on the cakes that you see is in fact zesty, fruity mousse! The lemon variety being topped with a blueberry. 

I drank three pots of tea, and enjoyed a very edifying conversation on many things, including the life and times of Zélie Martin, the recent referendum on gay marriage in Ireland and why feminist ideology can be taken too far. 

My blood was fired up with caffeine and I went home by walking the long way across the park, watching the late afternoon sun shine pools of gold in the Serpentine.  That night, I was in especially zippy form, and did a lot of good work with the American author, whose brilliant book I have been editing and which will be published soon. 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Did St Philip Neri play a practical joke on me?

For St Philip Neri's feast day, which was celebrated on May 26th, I did a post for the Herald on the witty, quirky Italian saint. 

I've known people who pray to St Philip who say that when he answers your prayers, he arranges for a practical joke to happen at the same time that the prayer is answered. 

I wonder did St Philip Neri play a practical joke on me. Tuesday, May 26th was a very busy day for me, so I was up at 6 am with the plan of writing the post on St Philip Neri, filing it early and turning my full attention to a book that I'm editing for an American author. I thoroughly enjoy working during peaceful early morning, hearing bird song and drinking several pots of strong English breakfast tea.

That morning I was researching the jokes that St Philip Neri played on the extremely earnest Cesare Baronius. St Philip Neri sent him to the wine shop with the strict instruction to taste all the wine and make sure he found the best one, after Baronius had wetted his palate with every type of vino, he told St Philip that he had found the right one, only for St Philip to tell him casually, 'I only need half a bottle'. 

Well, when I was writing up this account, my laptop shut down suddenly and the screen went black. There was no battery left - and no way of powering the computer because the electronic flex had broken and looked like a rope that had been pulled apart. Would I make my deadline?  I imagined ringing my editors and telling them that my copy would be late because I'd have to write the piece, using my thumbs on my mobile phone... Then I had the bright idea of getting a new electronic lead.  Once procured, the laptop came alive again, but my piece had not saved and I had to write up the account of St Philip sending Baronius shopping for wine.  In the same way Baronius had to taste wine over and over, I had to write up that story twice.  Maybe it was for the best, I'm not likely to forget beleaguered  Baronius seeking out the right wine any time soon! 

Recently Restored Statue of St Philip Neri in my parish, the London Oratory. This photo was on Facebook. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Irish have chosen secularism over faith and have not just abandoned Catholicism but religion altogether

At this time of writing, I don't think that I've written a piece that has attracted so much debate.  On this sparklingly clear morning in West London,  there are now nearly 900 comments left on The Catholic Herald article that I wrote on Catholic Ireland becoming the post-religious country where same sex marriage has been enshrined in law by the will of the majority of the people. 

Other journalists have been busy analysing why 'Ireland said yes to gay marriage and no to Catholicism', which was the title for Tim Stanley's article that admirably captures the mood of post-Catholic Ireland.  I would go deeper still and say that Ireland said 'no' to Christian tradition.  A point that scarcely gets made is that when tens of thousands of Irish stopped practising as Catholics, they did not en masse turn to any other Christian denomination, or even ad hoc Christian worship, and the influence of the Gospels waned in Irish life. The passing of gay marriage into Irish law shows that the power and influence that once was wielded by the Church, is now wielded by the forces of secularism. 


Yes supporters celebrate outside Dublin Castle, May 2015






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