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!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Why I wouldn’t want to be a female deacon

"Mary, why wouldn’t you become a deacon?  It seems like the only logical next step for a woman like yourself who spends so much time availing yourself of the sacraments, why not help out in administering the sacraments?” Long ago, I got used to hearing such suggestions and at times I feel undermined by people who think the less of me for maintaining it is not my place to be a deacon.
The same people who push other women to be female deacons often – not always but very often – seem to imply that one can only have a vocation if one is in ordained ministry, conveniently overlooking lay vocations and vocations to religious life as consecrated Brides of Christ who can do wonders for the lives and souls of others.
Whenever these people talk about the lack of female religious and that some orders of sisters and nuns are not getting new postulants and are having to close convents, I can’t help but think this is also a fruit of undermining the vocation to be a Bride of Christ because women are told this profound vocation is somehow ‘not good enough’ and that women religious are taking second-best by not clamouring to be in ordained ministry.
In my early teenage years I had a negative encounter with a nun who had problems. She made inappropriate remarks about peoples’ weight and was given to prolonged ranting. But later on I had a good experience with nuns at a convent school in Bandon, West Cork, and had it not been for their kindness, I do not think I would be a practising Catholic today. So it is perhaps thanks to them and the noble pursuit of their time-honoured religious vocation that I am writing this piece.
The push for female deacons is sadly becoming a tool of manipulation whereby there is pressure being put on Holy Mother Church to ‘prove’ that She is ‘doing something’ for the advancement of women by agreeing to ordain women deacons. Given the unfortunate level of ignorance surrounding Church history and tradition on this question, and the potential manipulation of what data and reasoning remains from the historical record, there is good reason for Pope Francis to launch a study into the role of female deacons in the early Church, and why that practice, if it occurred as some contend, did not continue.
Women, like myself, who are not called to be Brides of Christ are told that we ‘could be so much more’ were the Church to allow us to be ordained female deacons. This is specious, again implying that we are somehow ‘not good enough’ even if we are striving to live our challenging discipleship as true Christians (each of us has something that is very hard; in my case I find forgiving others for slights quite difficult).
Given the need for more nuns and sisters, and the difficulty of persisting in holiness in the lay state, I respectfully decline to support that women be ordained deacons, but instead prefer that we deepen and recommit to the various states of life entrusted to us by the continuity of long tradition, which is challenge enough for me. 
I wrote this piece for The Catholic Herald. To read my full author archive, go here

Sunday, 15 May 2016

It may get you called a freak, but Marian devotion is indispensable

If you ever want proof that I’m in the Densa category, reference this fact: it has taken me the past 10 days to figure out ways to develop my love for Our Lady during this month of May which is dedicated to her.
My normal routine is to offer the Rosary every day of every month as Our Lady asked us to do at Fatima, and to write pieces that spread devotion to the Holy Rosary.
Yet when I started preparing to write this exact piece, I felt self-doubt, asking myself if I’m like a broken record, constantly repeating that Our Lady asked us to offer the Rosary each day, without putting the spotlight on spiritual classics concerning Our Lady that open our minds to appreciate why devotion to Our Lady is so incredibly important. Even the mere words “incredibly important” seem inadequate, but they are the best words at my disposal.
As we are in the midst of May, I have been studying St Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. I recommend this book with every fibre of my being, if like me you are seeking ways to grow in understanding for Our Lady’s role, but most especially for people who believe in God but feel indifferent towards praying to Our Lady, or who sadly feel it is futile. St Louis de Montfort extols us to “pour into the bosom and heart of Mary all your precious possessions, all your graces and virtues. She is a spiritual vessel, a vessel of honour, a singular vessel of devotion. Ever since God personally hid Himself with all His perfections in this vessel, it has become completely spiritual and the spiritual abode of all spiritual souls.”
If we undermine Our Lady and think we are too good to pray to her, we are cultivating a very deadly, sinful pride that separates us from God by way of looking down on the very “vessel” in which God Himself was carried into this world. St Louis’s True Devotion is a challenging work, it makes us question ourselves as to times when we have not given Our Lady her due respect, but it is the perfect read for May.
Even in the glorious month of May it can feel lonely when one is trying so hard to honour Our Lady. I’ve been called a freak, and experiencing the very real disdain that some have for Our Lady can be almost nausea-inducing. I have, however, discovered an amazing writer, one Melissa Presser, a Jewish lawyer in the US who has become Catholic and blogs at God is in your typewriter. Reading her supremely sincere posts is like a tonic for the soul – I have found it healing to read her accounts of doing her utmost to love Our Lord and Our Lady more – even when she is in times of great personal stress. Melissa has a very genuine love for Jesus and Mary and writes in a self-giving way that is designed to invite the reader to love them, too. In reading about Melissa’s journey into the Catholic Church, you can’t help but know interiorly that Melissa wants you to have the same the gift and privilege of faith that she has.
These May days I am offering The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Personally, I have found that I barely have the patience to pray it (I keep thinking of how much I’d like to watch Netflix instead which is a poor indictment of my loyalty) but I keep in mind various friends and loved ones and offer it for their intentions and then find it can be good for my motivation to tell them, because they might ask me to offer the Little Office for them again.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald.  I discovered Melissa Presser after she got in touch with John Carmichael and wrote a lovely post on Drunks and Monks (she said she doesn't think she breathed while reading it) and left a review on Amazon describing Carmichael's memoir as, "the best book I have ever read in my entire life". She had initially bought Drunks and Monks after hearing me breathlessly champion it on the  Jennifer Fulwiler show. A very spirited, generous lady, Melissa bowled me over because she is offering to purchase copies for anyone who can't afford it.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

I'm taking up the Pope's challenge to pray for other women

The Pope’s video for May is a series of prayer intentions which asks us to pray for the betterment of women the world over. Pope Francis’ prayer that, “in all countries of the world women may be honoured, respected, valued for their essential contribution to society” got me thinking.
I felt twinges of guilt because it is a prayer intention that I wasn’t aware I was neglecting. The reason for my oversight is that I don’t agree with liberal feminism, and have wrongly labelled praying for women as supporting feminism, which is an incorrect and illogical thought process. I realise that you don’t have to be a feminist to pray for other women.
Padre Pio's favourite painting of Our Lady
Womanhood is cherished by God; it was a woman who was mother to His Son. So praying for the good of other women, even those we do not know is something for every Christian to take to heart and to pray very earnestly for.
How precisely do we pray for such an intention?
One way is to pray specifically for the particular intentions of our female friends around us – and one excellent way is to offer the Rosary.
When meditating on the Visitation, we contemplate that when Our Lady was pregnant she prioritised visiting Elizabeth so she could help her elderly relative who was pregnant with John the Baptist.
Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salve that Our Lady was the first missionary because she carried Our Lord in her womb as she travelled to Elizabeth.
Praying the Visitation may call to our minds the intentions of pregnant women and even women who are having exceptionally difficult pregnancies, thus each time we offer these intentions it can be a pro-life work.
A lot of attention focuses on how the Church as an institution can do more to value women.
When I was taking my university degree, it was thought by feminist academics that women would only be honoured by the Catholic Church if women were ordained alongside men. When I would proffer an alternative view, I was shut down and increasingly excluded from ‘the debate’, I was one woman they did not recognise because I held differing views.
Much less discussion is given to how Catholic women can do good by their fellow women on an everyday basis. There are those of us, and I accuse myself of this, who are hypocrites in this regard.
I have cheered and cooed at dinner parties that Hermine Speier was the first woman to be employed by the Vatican in 1934. But I can’t remember the last time I had enough generosity of spirit to find and congratulate a female Catholic near me in London who has broken the glass ceiling for women in her area of work.
Now that I am praying in tandem with Pope Francis that women be ‘honoured’, I will be more conscious of honouring other Catholic women, not just for their achievements, but also if they seek to do good to others and who make the Church proud of her female members. 
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald. For the full selection of my work, see my author archive

Friday, 29 April 2016

John Sullivan SJ: a saintly priest whose story the world needs to hear

Telling the tale of the saintly John Sullivan SJ’s life of heroic virtue could do some good to Ireland’s reputation. Were the life of this priest better known it would go a little bit towards counterbalancing the damage done to Ireland’s standing on the international stage by the clerical sex abuse committed by criminal priests.
John Sullivan SJ did not have the typical upbringing of an Irish Catholic, never mind an Irish Jesuit who voluntarily takes a vow of poverty. His father was a Protestant who was very rich and a highly esteemed barrister who housed his family in Georgian Dublin. John was raised Protestant, even though his mother was Catholic.
John Sullivan converted to Catholicism and was received into the Catholic Church in London’s Farm Street Jesuit community in 1896 when he was a 35-year-old barrister. Throughout all his years as a Jesuit, which were spent in County Kildare, Ireland, there was a touch of Pope Francis about him. He had tremendous affection for the poor, sourcing and making gifts of goods that for the impecunious were ‘luxury’ gifts such as tobacco, fruit, snuff and even drink so that they could have a wee dram.
I find it all the more noble that a cleric who came from such a privileged background was able to identify with the underprivileged people of Ireland in the early 1900s despite never having experienced their hunger pangs himself.
Yet the part I find most impressive is that as he aged and grew in holiness, more and more people spoke about the great efficacy of his prayers, especially for the seriously ill. A cleric who did not allow his ego to inflate with each favour granted by Heaven, he never claimed that his prayers were the reason for miraculous cures.
This week, I believe that praying to Blessed John Sullivan SJ won me a favour. I had been feeling anxious, but after inviting Blessed John Sullivan to pray for me, I felt my burden was lifted and I was granted a sense of serenity about the future.
John Sullivan SJ’s prayers were answered during his lifetime and now that people are praying to him and getting graces, the Vatican is putting him on the path to sainthood. If it is God’s will and if Blessed John Sullivan is a soul in Heaven, then the process of making him a saint will show that Ireland is capable of producing exceptionally kind-hearted, benevolent priests.  
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald in the wake of the news that the miracle has been approved which will allow for John Sullivan SJ to be beatified and thus one step closer to sainthood. 

Mother Angelica would have been 93 this month, the most successful woman in television history was an 'unwanted' child

Had our cherished Mother Angelica lived, she would have celebrated her 93rd birthday today. I put forward that a birthday present we could give Mother would be to do our best to use her life story and great achievements to counteract what St John Paul II called the culture of death.
This may seem lofty, and could remain just a nice thought, but I think we need not be afraid to discuss Mother Angelica when we are having pro-life discussions, and to help others who think it’s “for the best” if an unwanted unborn child meets their end in an abortion clinic.
For starters, we can retell the story of Mother’s humble beginnings to refute the dire predictions that we hear about “unwanted” children, namely that their being unwanted by one or both of their parents leaves them with emotional scars that keep them from achieving anything in life. The culture of death tars all “unwanted” kids with the same brush.
Mother Angelica’s father John, on finding out that his wife Mae was carrying his child, tore out Mae’s hair and was incandescent with anger. According to court records, he was physically and verbally abusive to her and they had severe financial constraints that caused them to fight constantly.
93 years ago, Mother Angelica’s mother Mae was having a very difficult labour, bringing the 12-pound baby Rita into the world. Mae never flinched from telling little Rita the gory details of her birth. After her parents split, Rita’s father reneged on giving them any financial support and Rita and her mother often had only scraps of bread and a bit of bologna for a meagre dinner.
Her mother learned the dry-cleaning business and the customers collected their clothes, promised to pay, but often did not. On seeing her ex-husband John date other women, Mae would become suicidal and would say to Rita that she wanted to die by her own hand. Mother Angelica later recalled that “when I came home from school, I never knew if I would find her dead or alive”.
Yes, Rita was from an extremely emotionally and materially deprived background, but she became Mother Angelica, the only woman to found and run her own TV network for over 20 years. For an “unwanted” child, that ain’t half bad. A child who had to cope all alone with a mother who had untreated mental health problems would establish a TV network that currently reaches 264 million homes worldwide.
Telling Mother Angelica’s story can edify and encourage our peers as to the fact that an “unwanted” child from a poor family can go onto great things.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was published on the date of Mother Angelica's birthday April 20th. I read and re-read Raymond Arroyo's amazing account of her life
 Mother Angelica, please pray for us. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

On Turning 100. Mary O'Regan interviews John H Carmichael

Drunks and Monks by John H Carmichael

Q: So you garnered 100 Amazon Reviews in 9 months, almost all of them quite good. How do you feel about it?

A: It is strange to think one would in any way “mark” or take note of “100 Amazon Reviews.”

But Amazon in general and their reader reviews in particular have become important in our time.

And what a strange time it is.

What did we do before we could express our opinions so freely and so permanently about books?

We were at the mercy of professional reviewers, with their dry, arch, sometimes too-clever-by-half musings, meant not just to promote or demote a book, but also to reveal the professional reviewer's acumen, to contribute to an alternative genre of literature -- the literary review. Not so with the reader reviews on Amazon, which sometimes blurt out painful truths akin to “This book sucks!” Or, “Meh. I just couldn't get into it. Two hours I will never get back. I should’ve watched Dancing With The Stars instead.” To be clear, I respect professional reviewers but the reader reviews have a guileless and immediate quality that cannot be denied.

As you said, most of the reviews for Drunks & Monks have been good so far, so that makes it easier to take and I am very appreciative of each and every one.

Q: How important do you think the reviews are?

A: A book marketing expert I know says that after about “100 reviews on Amazon” there tends to be a snowball effect that takes place, so he recommends offering the book to beta-readers for honest reviews to get those numbers. I read somewhere recently that since we are inherently social creatures, we do prefer to read things that other people are also reading. So in that sense, perhaps, nothing succeeds like success. I know I read the customer reviews of books I'm interested in and probably put a little more stock in them than I do the professional reviews. That may or may not be a good thing, but that’s the way it seems to be now.  

Q: What are some of your favorite ones?

A: It is true that more than a few have stood out and touched me on a personal level.

I like the ones where somebody says they went back to Church, or tried to quit drinking, or thought more deeply about the Sacraments because it affirms my hope that I am doing something serious for a serious purpose.

The reviews that praise the writing or the style are very gratifying because I put a lot of effort into the imagery, rhythm and diction and that was the enjoyable part of it for me. 

I combined a lot of post-modern elements with very old techniques and just sort of hurled it out there, with your fine editing, hoping it would fall well on the reader’s ear and release some power at the end. 

A few reviewers objected to the post-modern style, but many more than that liked it. I am not a fan of post-modernism for its own sake but it suited this story somehow. The most important thing is I tried to write about human brokenness and how the Catholic Faith helped me and to offer that to other people. Even if they don't like the “Catholic part” of it I hope they feel some companionship and some hope for healing, or for having a better life, for being less self-destructive. 

When the reviews say that they felt my compassion toward their own sufferings or longings, those are my favorite ones.  

Q: Any other thoughts?

A: It is a common dream to be able to make a living as a writer, or any kind of artist really. Many people have that dream and I certainly have it. I don't know if that will be possible for me long term, but I do know I am not holding anything back in this effort.
The only way to really make a living as a writer is with a contingent of readers, so each individual reader becomes like gold to me.
Each review is of vital importance. That anyone would even take the time to read a book at all these days in between all the distractions and pressures of modern life, is really quite astonishing. 
I hope Drunks & Monks is well received and that I am able to write more books. I have immense tenderness for those people who have written to me and have had more than a few very moving personal interactions.
The reviews are a form of communication and I read each one carefully. I’ve written back to a few people but don’t remark on reviews very often because many people wish to just leave their review and be done with it. I hope the book marketing expert is right and the triple digit reviews spark a buying, reading and reviewing frenzy. Further deponent sayeth not.
There was an error in this gadget