Monday, 20 April 2015

Dog of the Week

Happy Easter, everyone!  Now that we are in the throes of the fifty-day long feast,  I have been skipping out for the odd party and celebration. While popping up to Notting Hill Gate,  I bumped into this jolly creature, a Blue Roan Cocker Spaniel who unreservedly jumped into my arms. 


Cocker Spaniels of all kinds are slaves to their noses, they are always sniffing trails and the skin just around their mouth does often get very bald from continuous  snuffling along the ground. 

In the next photo, the little cocker is sniffing my face, not kissing (I promise). 



Every kind of cocker spaniel has masses of fine haired fur that needs very regular grooming or it gets into knotty tangles that become dreadlocks...   


Friday, 3 April 2015

Good Friday is a day to set all our gadgets aside...

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a post concerning Good Friday, how to observe the holiest day by disengaging with the most mentally distracting parts of our on-line life. 



For my own part, I have modified my blog template to be stark black. A simple idea that I put forward in the Herald post

Also, as a semi-young woman who will be doing the Stations of the Cross in a central London church, I will not be wearing lipstick, my usual being glossy puce or dark red. It's a small thing, among a long list of penances, but one that is of immediate notice to the people around me. Good-time-girl cosmetics are an aberration on the day when all our small and big acts must be made in an effort to observer Our Lord's Passion. 

During Lent 2015, I have deliberately abstained from blogging about my Lenten activities, even though I did undertake much harsher fasting than usual in the hope that certain prayer intentions be answered. It would be flaunting the state of life that allows me to do penance voluntarily. If penances can be done privately, maybe they are meant to be kept private. I'll blog about the lipstick because if one doesn't wear it in public, it is not a private deed. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Dog of the Week

This week, when walking through the mini-shopping centre off Cromwell Road, I met this five year old lady Greyhound. She was extremely sociable, and when I said hello to her, she loped towards me in long elegant strides.

Being a leggy, large dog, she jumped up on me, and her paws reached my collar-bone.  Greyhounds are full of fun, and when my attention was taken away from her, talking to the owner, she would surprise me by jumping at me from another angle.

Greyhounds are graceful dogs, and have very silky coats which don’t get oily or greasy, so they don’t have the dank odour that other dogs do. They shed a lot, and this lady Greyhound left lots of white and gold hairs on my clothes.  The constant shedding is a nuisance, but adult greyhounds have that puppy smell of a brand new, clean coat of fur.

They are sensitive souls, with fragile skin and thin bones. They are physically and emotionally thin-skinned. Their intelligence means they have the mental retention to remember being reprimanded with a sharp tone of voice, and the slap on the nose hurts more because of their thin-skin. Knowing what it's like to be hurt, they are very careful around others.
  
It surprises people that Greyhounds are gentle. That muzzle that encloses their faces as they race gives the false impression of viciousness. The muzzle is needed to protect them from injury and to judge the winner in tight races.  As a domestic pet, the Greyhound has subtle ways of showing their gentle character: when they approach you for a rub or to go outside, they dab you lightly with their paw, like they are a nurse treating a wound with cotton wool and ointment. Or, someone nudging your shoulder to wake you from a nap. 

There is an excellent article here on adopting a greyhound. I don't have the space in my London flat, but you never know... 

There is The Retired Greyhound Trust and they are on Twitter, where they post the most gorgeous greyhound pics on the web. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Pope Francis declaring Mary Aikenhead 'Venerable' is fantastic news for Ireland

You might like to pop over to The Catholic Herald, where I wrote a post on Mary Aikenenhead. A fellow  Cork woman who was born just off St Patrick's Street in the heart of the city (there is, of course, no lovelier city than Cork).

Films such as Philomena and The Magdalene Sisters were not based on the likes of Mary Aikenhead.  

Raised as a Protestant, Mary Aikenhead converted to Catholicism after hearing a sermon at Mass about the poor man Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus went to Heaven, the rich man went to Hell.  It is possible that Mary Aikenhead feared that she would meet the same end as the rich man, and this prompted her to begin a life of dynamic service to the poor. 

200 years ago in 1815 Venerable Mary Aikenhead founded the Sisters of Charity, and sisters in this congregation were the first to visit the prisoners in Kilmainham jail.  Perhaps Aikenhead's most notable achievement was founding St Vincent's Hospital in 1834. 

Úna O'Neill sums up Aikenhead well when she says, 'born to privilege, she left it behind to walk with the Lazaruses of the world'. 


Saturday, 28 March 2015

St Teresa of Avila was a charming, droll and tough-minded reformer

500 years ago today St Teresa of Avila was born.  Over at The Catholic Herald,  I have written a post commemorating that half a millennium has passed since her birth.  

This marks the sixth online article that I've written for the Herald in this month of March 2015.  To see a fuller list of some of my work, visit my author archive






This is my favourite quote from St Teresa of Avila. 



Pope Francis has launched a global prayer for peace in the wake of the 500th anniversary since St Teresa of Avila's birth.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dog of the Week

The Wolfdog has been bred
to be a domesticated wolf 
As I wrote before, West London is a dog-lover's paradise.  This week, when strolling down Gloucester Road, I met a Czechoslovakian wolfdog puppy

I'd always dreamed of meeting one. They are a hybrid of German Shepherd and Carpathian Wolf, the original hope was that they would have the physical strength and stamina of a wolf and the obedience of the German Shepherd. 

In 1955, the Czechoslovakian government bred them to be military attack dogs. I had thought a wolfdog would have a sharp-toothed ferocity. So, never in my wildest imaginings, did I think I could rub and play with one. 

I got a lovely surprise when I cuddled this chap.  He can only speak Czech, but like all dogs, he understood a gentle tone. True to wolfdog form, he cannot bark, but has a low whistling whimper that sounds like a human doing a throaty, 'hmmmmm'. 

His owner told me that the wolfdog has a very tricky and long adolescence. When puppyhood ends and youth begins, they become rebellious, testing their owner and being deliberately naughty, so as to find out what they can get away with.  Perhaps, the characteristic that defines them the most, is their zero-tolerance for isolation. Unlike a German Shepherd, they cannot abide being sequestered in a dog kennel for any length of time. It is unnatural for them to be alone, owing to the pack instinct they inherited from their wolf ancestors that would have roamed together in the wild.  For this reason, I wouldn't own one as a pet, it would be too much of a time-commitment to fulfil their emotional needs and recreate a pack-like environment for them. 

Other people have great sights of the world that they'd like to see, or celebs that they want to be photographed with.  I'm happy to seek out the esoteric breeds of dogs that are marvels of nature. 

One good thing is that I'm becoming less of a dinner-time bore who drones on about my love for dogs. I went out for a lovely meal in Paddington where me and some friends shared plates of the best seafood, and I resisted the temptation to wax lyrical about the Czech wolf dog...



The Czech that bounces...




John Paul had a prophetic message on the role of post-abortion women in the pro-life movement

I was in primary school when Evangelium Vitae was promulgated twenty years ago today. Over the years, it has become my all-time favourite papal encyclical. As a pro-life manifesto, it informs, edifies and encourages. Quite an achievement because a lot of pro-life texts that reveal the nastiness of abortion should have a warning label that they’ll make the reader feel dispirited.

Not all tonics come in bottles, and if you are feeling worn out from fighting the pro-life cause, there is no better pick-me-up than reading Evangelium Vitae.

One reason that it is so uplifting is that Evangelium Vitae put forward great ideas that have been adopted by pro-lifers to tremendous success. One of the best was that St John Paul II tapped post-abortion women as having an influential role. Two decades ago, St John Paul II said to them, ‘as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.’ This has turned out to be prophetic.

We have seen this in recent years with the growth of such noble organisations as Silent No More, Rachel’s Vineyard and the platforms afforded to post-abortion women by parishes and pro-life societies. The advent of the internet has allowed post-abortion women to blog, tweet and put up Facebook statuses that can change the minds of other women who may be thinking of abortion.

It is often quite a heroic sacrifice for post-abortion women to talk about their past, often times they do not paint themselves in a good light. Some of the women have suffered more than others; those who took to substance abuse or those who were never able to conceive another baby. They are being selfless in that they do not want another woman to endure the pain of an abortion and so they speak out, honouring their consciences even at great personal cost.



Very articulate women have come forward, such as Martin Luther King’s niece, Alveda King, who has remarkable calm and credibility. Steven Tyler’s ex-fiancée, Julia Holcomb, tells a harrowing story about how she came to abort Tyler’s baby that would melt the hardest of hearts.


Some years ago, when I was doing pro-life work in New York, I worked alongside an African American lady who had undergone an abortion in her younger years. She was extraordinary in convincing young black women not to have abortions, sharing her own testimony with them and shattering the myths that they would be ‘empowered’ by abortion. First-hand, I saw that she saved dozens of babies.

Women who bitterly regret having had an abortion, and who honestly and with great humility admit their mistake, are a thorn in the side of the pro-abortion lobby.  It is easier to attack an argument, a moral precept or a slogan than a subjective personal experience. Yet, they are often insulted as hypocrites, on the basis that they had an abortion, but speak out against it.

It’s is the pro-abortion campaigners that are the hypocrites, they say they champion women’s rights, but they censor a post-abortion woman’s right to free speech. It is precisely because, as St John Paul II said, these women can be ‘eloquent defenders’ of the right to life that they rattle the pro-abortion providers who took the right to life from their unborn children.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald on the 20th Anniversary of the promulgation of Evangelium Vitae

Monday, 23 March 2015

Pope Francis should pay a visit to Ireland

If Pope Francis were to visit to Ireland, it would not be his first time there.  In 1980, when the Pope was in his 40s, he spent two months in Ireland learning English.



According to comments made by the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, Pope Francis has a love for Ireland. The nuncio also said that a brief trip in 2016 is ‘possible’.  

I fear that if planning a papal visit is not prioritised now, it may never happen. Pope Francis has a foreboding that his pontificate will only last four or five years.  Pope Francis is not a travelling pope, being very certain that he is the Bishop of Rome. But owing to his unassuming personality and his popularity, he has a golden opportunity to change hearts and minds during a visit to Ireland.  

Pope Francis has an unpretentious manner and the Irish, who despise airs and graces, would take very well to him.

There has already been a sea-change in Irish attitudes to the papacy.  Today is St Patrick’s day, and it was revealed in The Irish Times that poet, Paul Durcan has written a poem in honour of Pope Francis in his new book of poems, entitled The Days of Surprise.  In the times of Benedict’s papacy, had a poet paid tribute to Benedict with a poem, he would have been excoriated in the press.


If Francis visits Ireland, then it can’t just be a charming social occasion. Pope Francis could do as Pope Benedict did, and meet privately with some abuse victims.

Relying on his popularity to lend greater influence, it would be a daring move if Pope Francis were to invite the Irish nation to forgive the clergy and nuns who brought the name of Ireland into disrepute by their actions.  As the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis could recite the Gospel passage where Jesus urges us ‘to forgive seventy times seven’. 

I wrote this post for The Catholic HeraldTo see a fuller catalogue of my work for the Herald, check out my author archive

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Why I'm renewing my devotion to St Joseph

St Joseph and the Christ Child by Guido Reni

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a piece on why St Joseph is so powerful a saint.  St Teresa of Avila had a neat explanation; it is that Our Lord Jesus Christ had to obey St Joseph when He was a Child, and so in Heaven, Our Lord still does as St Joseph asks. 

Underneath is the novena that ends on March 19th.  This prayer is not exclusively a novena prayer and may be said at any time or any day for any intention.  If you need an urgent favour from St Joseph, and you don't have nine days, you can say the prayer once. 

Novena to St. Joseph
Oh St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the Loving of Fathers. Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen Say for nine consecutive mornings for anything you may desire. It has seldom been known to fail.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Should we pray for ISIS? Taking Jesus at His word, only prayer and fasting will drive out some demons

It really is the stuff of Hellish nightmares.  While 19 of the Assyrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS in north-eastern Syria have been released, around 200 are still being held hostage. 

Over at The Catholic Herald, I have a post on the need to pray and fast for ISIS terrorists...



ISIS supporters in Libya

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The rewards of a little self-denial in Lent are extraordinary

A Stanford academic, Walter Mischel devised the ground-breaking 'marshmallow test’.  It was a very simple test. They put a young child alone in a room with a marshmallow. The child was given a choice; they could eat the marshmallow straight-away, or wait 15 minutes and be given a second marshmallow in reward for waiting. They were filmed and those kids who succeeded in waiting were given a second marshmallow.

In the decades that followed, they kept tabs on the kids.  In 2013, Walter Mischel was interviewed by Charlie Rose on his findings, notably that the kids who resisted eating the marshmallow got better marks in school, were less likely to take drugs and predictably were less likely to be obese.

Now that we are entering the season of Lent, many of us are a little bit like the kids in the experiment, willing ourselves to ‘give up’ something sweet and pleasurable for a set time.

If we’re giving up chocolate, paying for our groceries in shops that place keyboard sized bars of Cadbury’s around the tills will be a time when self-discipline is required.  Those of us who give up gin and tonics may have to go to functions and parties where the smell of juniper is heavy in the air, but doing our Lenten penance will mean saying no to the offer of a drink.

We won’t be video-taped and a team of psychologists will not be pouring over our responses.  And we’re not doing Lenten penances as some academic experiment to measure our self-mastery. Rather the Christian is doing Lenten penances with the view to being rewarded with grace and growing in holiness.


At the same time that we are trying to grow in holiness, there could also be added psychological benefits to undergoing Lenten penance. Another Stanford psychology academic Kelly McGonigal spoke on the finding that willpower is like a muscle, it gets stronger the more you use it (see seven minutes into the lecture). 

By giving up sugary snacks, beer and wine, we could very well improve our strength of will and feel good about ourselves for having stayed the course.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald.  You may see a fuller list of my work by perusing my author archive

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Don’t denounce the people who go to see Fifty Shades of Grey – just tell them about this book

The film is a deceitful fantasy. 
A book about a girl's murder tells the real story
Many years ago, a Traddie friend of mine was round at my place when they let out a squeak of shock, “Mary, what is this book?!”  It was Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr Goodbar.  It had a book-cover of a dead girl in a bed. After all, it is a novel based on the real-life murder of Roseanne Quinn, a school-teacher who was a lonely singleton in New York City.

In 1973 Roseanne was a 28 year-old Catholic girl who haunted single bars to pick up men for one-night-stands. It is said that Roseanne became addicted to the ‘high’ that she got from having increasingly abusive sex with violent men.

‘Why are you reading it?’ asked my friend.  They began to understand when I explained that it was an honest portrayal of an insecure woman who sought out sadomasochistic sex, until she was slain. Putting it into today’s disgusting language, she wanted to be ‘sexually dominated’.

Looking for Mr Goodbar has themes in common with Fifty Shades of Grey. Yet while I recommendLooking for Mr Goodbar, I avoid the filthy flick Fifty Shades of Grey.  Here’s the difference: Rossner’s novel serves as a truthful story (and cautionary tale) as to what ensues when self-doubting women look to cruel, vicious men to validate their sense of self-worth. Ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey is a deceitful, glamorised fantasy. The nasty truth is that it will pack cinemas because an audience can ‘get off’ on the scenes of a young woman being gladly and gratefully sexually abused.

Even if I wanted to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d have to refuse because I hold that watching it is a sin. It entails looking at impure images which inevitably give rise to impure thoughts.  That said, while I slam the film, it doesn’t mean that I’m entitled to denounce people who will watch it. Looking down our noses and treating them as if we are better than they are – will alienate them from us. We need to have more compassion than reviling them as consumers of filth.

For one thing the film is released on St Valentine’s Day (poor St Valentine – his feast day is being used as a sordid marketing tool). This means that a lot of young women will be forced to decide between going on a date to see Fifty Shades or sitting home alone. 

If you have a friend who is an avid fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, consider ordering them a copy of Looking for Mr Goodbar. It’s the work of a brilliant Jewish novelist, a page-turner and will de-glamorise abusive sexual relationships.  

I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, do visit the magazine for breaking news and lively debate and discussion.