Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Why I didn't have my feet washed on Holy Thursday - foot washing is too important to be dragged into a feminist debate

The debate over foot-washing is often seen in terms of simply excluding or including women. But it would seem very different if we were informed by our Christian consciences and not by feminism.
In our ‘post-feminist’ society, we women are told that Christianity is informed by misogyny. That women will now have their feet washed on Maundy Thursday is seen by some as one means of correcting a male-dominated system. Of course, the Pope did not reform the rite for feminist reasons. However, the issue can get caught up in political debates, which is a pity.
I won’t have my marble-white, blue veiny feet washed today. But I won’t object when I hear of a female friend or acquaintance who will have their feet washed; they are doing so in line with the Church’s teachings and they may be trying to reach greater holiness. I’d just invite them to think twice if they are merely having their feet washed in response to feminist propaganda which seeks to turn women against Our Lord, by arguing that He was in the wrong when He did not wash the feet of women.
At Easter, we pledge our gratitude to Our Lord for His Ultimate Sacrifice on the Cross, and if we trust that He shed His Blood to wash away the sins for both men and women, why not trust that he had only our good in mind when He did not wash the feet of women?
At this time of year, more so than any other time, we are contemplating that Christ so loved the world that he gave His life on the cross in atonement for our sins. It’s all very well to go through the motions at Easter, but if we accept the reality of Our Lord’s sacrificial love then it instructs us that Our Lord always, always wants the best for humanity, and to my fellow women, I’d like to say that includes us.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was posted on Holy Thursday of this year, which fell on March 24th. 

Friday, 18 March 2016

Praying to St Joseph for a spouse can have unexpected consequences...

When I was 18, I prayed the novena to St Joseph for the intention of getting a husband of the Orlando Bloom variety. Yes, I know, 18 is childishly young, and at the time I yearned to be a teenage bride with a pale pink lace veil who would dance down the aisle to Chuck Berry’s It Was A Teenage Wedding (I’m not joking – those were my wedding plans).
At the time, it didn’t matter to me if the guy was Catholic or not, as long as he was extremely good-looking and had thick hair. Clearly, my priorities were in order. Needless to say, it did not come to pass and I am still unmarried. Thank you, St Joseph for unanswered prayers.
I did not, however, dare to offer the novena to St Joseph for a devastatingly handsome hubbie during my twenties.
Why ever not? My reason has ironically to do with the fact that I became more serious about my faith. Bear with me while I explain: during the decade-long time between 20 and 30 I heard quite a few men and women say that they prayed to St Joseph for a husband or wife, and that, yes, they got a husband or wife, and that St Joseph gave them what they asked for, but there was a splinter: namely that their spouse was not a Catholic and in some cases their life-mate was anti-Catholic.
I was quite put off praying to St Joseph because I didn’t think my nerves could stand someone who hated Mother Church.  Listening to people who regretted marrying non-Catholics, I perceived that on balance, marrying someone who hated the Catholic Church was far worse than being single. I was afraid the same fate would befall me, finding someone and falling in love, but with a man who was contemptuous of the Church.
But time is a healer and many of the same non-Catholics (mentioned above) married to cradle Catholics have converted and become Catholic. It may be part of St Joseph’s master-plan that he pairs Catholics with non-Catholics so that the Catholic will influence the non-Catholic to convert. The splinter wears away in time, worn away by St Joseph, until things are smooth.
Given his track record of finding husbands and wives for men and women called to marriage, St Joseph’s feast day should really be celebrated on the same scale as St Valentine’s Day. If St Valentine’s Day is a metaphor for romance, then St Joseph’s day could be a metaphor for love and marriage.
February 14 is for bubbly wine and cheap chocolate hearts, but St Joseph’s feast day could become the day when there is a renewal of wedding vows, a time when the wedding dress is brought out and shown to the children (maybe the daughters can try it on) and a time to break out the best champagne. For some Catholics who prayed the novena for a spouse – and got the man/woman of their dreams – it could be a time of offering prayers of thanksgiving...
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald and it was posted on March 11th - the first day of the novena - so that people might start it and finish today March 19th which is the feast of St Joseph. I have offered the novena with another person for a mutually special intention of ours. I will have a lot to write about if the favour is granted, and in my irritatingly private way, that's all I'll say for now.   Happy feast of St Joseph!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

I saved a life by keeping my mouth shut

"The abortion is booked and I’m definitely having it,” said an old friend who is a life-long atheist who thinks that people who talk about God are liars.
“Having an abortion is not a sin – there is no such thing as sin – there is no God who will punish me for it,” my friend instructed me.
Listening to her, I felt trapped. I knew if I spoke about the Catholic teaching that abortion is a mortal sin, I would actually make my friend more determined to ‘prove’ that it was not, and she was adamant that, “Mary – you will see nothing bad will happen to my soul – I don’t have one.”
I only had one option; to listen intently to her – and I discovered that she was of the opinion that she would not suffer after the abortion. I decided to rectify this by getting as much information on Post Abortion Syndrome as I could and showed her a secular testimony from a woman who wanted to commit suicide after her abortion.
Even though she was tempted to brush this off as “not enough evidence” (the same argument she has against faith), she was stunned to learn of studies showing post abortion depression, such as the large scale Finnish study which unearthed that the suicide rate following abortion was nearly six times greater than the suicide rate following childbirth.
My friend swung from the opinion that abortion was “harmless to the woman” to cancelling her abortion and having a baby. She’s become softer on the Catholic Church now because in her view if it’s anti-abortion, it can’t be all bad.
Helping her decide against abortion was horrifically hard, there were sleepless nights spent talking to her, I felt slighted when I was told that people who believe in God are “loons.”
But the experience taught me a lot about how “loons” or people like me can reach out to atheists. We may feel hatred towards atheists because they deride Who we love: God.
Listening to atheists explain why they don’t have faith is crucial; if we don’t know their problems with Christianity, then we can’t help them. My worst fault is that I am a dreadful listener and can’t stop talking about myself, so if I can listen, then that does prove miracles happen.
There is the frustrating task of sidelining our egos, (I have a gigantic, fragile ego, so if I can suffer insults to prevent an atheist from having an abortion, then anyone can).
Most essentially, there is a need for prayer and sacrifice for those who have no belief in God. We don’t need to use a loud-speaker to announce that we are praying for them, praying privately is still praying and God sees our hearts and knows that we have a good intention when we chose not to tell an atheist we are praying for them.
In tandem with prayer, there has to be steadfast example of Christian witness, which is why I think my hero, Fr Hugh Simon-Thwaites was so successful in bringing atheists into the Church. People were attracted to his goodness.
On the subject of Fr Hugh, in January I wrote that I keep photos of him in my wallet, looking at his serene smile is like red bull for my soul and has given me great strength to talk to atheists.
In his article in the Universe, I think that Bishop Declan Lang had a point when he spoke out on the need for people of faith to stand up for persecuted atheists. We are fooling ourselves if we think this is something that only happens in places like Bangladesh where the blogger Ahmed Rajib Haider was slain for merely articulating his atheism.
Thankfully, atheists are not violently punished here in the UK, and to be fair, atheists often have the upper hand over Catholics because it is their ideology that informs most of Britain’s societal trends: which is precisely why atheists are subjected to a form of persecution here that is deadlier, because they are encouraged in their belief that there is no God.
Compassion is needed on our part because atheists are in an unrequited love affair, God loves them, but they refuse to let the love in. 
I wrote this article for The Catholic Herald, in  response to Bishop Declan Lang's comments that practising Catholics ought to defend persecuted atheists. In my life-time, I've spent a lot of time helping pregnant women who are atheists. 
A small note: yes, I did get grief after writing this, with a number of people getting in touch to tell me that I  should not have intervened and prevented an abortion (effectively arguing that the mother of the baby would have been better off aborting her child). Another quibble was that atheists are not necessarily pro-abortion (I never said they were, but simply said that they say we do not have souls, so do not think an action like an abortion will stain an entity which they believe does not exist: the soul). The piece above ignited a lot of disputes and denial of the medical studies done on the link between abortion and depression. 
Well, darlings, thankfully, the 'grief'/ backlash to the article on preventing an abortion has not troubled me.  I'll be candid during my pro-life work - I have helped hundreds of atheist women who were planning to have an abortion - avoid an abortion and give birth to their children. Along the way, I got a lot of 'grief' from the women themselves, their boyfriends and even their families. At times it has hurt, but more often than not, it has not: this is not because I am some extra special person who is less human and less prone to feeling damaged, rather it is God's grace that works on my temperamental nature and makes me get over myself to the point where a pregnant woman can call me a loon because I'm pro-life at 1 pm and I'll still be talking to her at 3 am because unashamedly I think it is in her best interests to cancel her abortion. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Young people bullied for following God’s call could embrace Elizabeth of the Trinity as their patron

"She flipped out,” is how one young man described his mother’s reaction after he told her he wanted to be a priest. “She said I could do so much better than be a priest and said her friends would think me abnormal on account of choosing voluntary celibacy.”
Ever conscious of public image, his mother never did give him her blessing, but she continued to go Mass, “so that the neighbours would not think she was lapsed”. Her son never entered seminary.
I heard of another young man who ran away from home to join a very strict religious order – against his parents’ wishes. When his father picked a fight with the head of the religious order, his son said to him that he had to leave their home in order to follow Christ and that Jesus said in the Gospels that a man who could not leave his parents was not worthy to be His disciple.
The two cases above concern men who are contemporary Catholics. Yet Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose canonisation has just been announced, would have shared their pain. Elizabeth was born in France in 1880; at the age of 14, she felt an aching hunger in her soul to be a Carmelite nun. But when she was old enough, Elizabeth’s mother strongly objected.
Feeling oppressed, Elizabeth wrote, “When shall I have the happiness of entering Carmel? But mama is not willing, I will wait ’til she is resigned.”  It wasn’t that the monastery was far away – they lived 200 metres from the Discalced Carmelite Community in Dijon. Rather, Elizabeth’s mother was determined that her young and attractive daughter would find a good husband.
Having found the “perfect” man for Elizabeth, she was taken aback when Elizabeth rejected the suitor.  Other men asked Elizabeth to marry them, attracted by her striking good looks. In her heart, however, Elizabeth started putting her religious calling first. “The attraction of Carmel is a force that nothing can hinder.”
It wasn’t as if Elizabeth did not have other options. She was a prize-winning pianist who was considered musically gifted. Finally, when she was 21, a full seven years after first feeling drawn to Carmel, Elizabeth made plans to enter the monastery. But on the very night before she entered, her mother tried to emotionally blackmail her into staying in the world, asking, “Why do you want to leave me?”
Elizabeth responded, “How can I resist the voice of God calling me? He is holding out His arms to me telling me He is despised, scorned, forsaken. Shall I abandon Him as well? He wants my sacrifice.”
For five years, Elizabeth was hidden in Carmel, before Addison’s disease ravaged her health and she went to her eternal reward in 1906. It is thought likely that she will be canonised later this year. In view of her health torments, she is considered a patron of sick people. She could just as well be a champion for young people undergoing a white martyrdom on account of the persecution they face when they even so much as look into religious life.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Evil spirits tempt, but when we succumb it is our fault

A devout Catholic friend of mine went to the doctor because she was feeling physically run down. She mentioned that she could be maliciously catty about others and that it drained her of energy, but that she felt lighter after confession. This was her remedy for mental exhaustion caused by being dragged down by the weight of her sins. Probing a bit further, the doctor asked her if she believed temptation may be the work of bad angels. My friend answered “yes.”
The medic, seeing that my friend was calm and collected, said he respected her religious views and he believe in God but that he had to warn her that thoughts of bad angels inspiring people to do bad deeds was dangerous fantasy. Furthermore he thought that people were blame-shifting- they ascribed blame to imaginary spirits and not to themselves.
My friend told her doctor that he had a point – people could blame the sources of temptation – but not take responsibility for themselves. She clarified that God has given each human enough grace to withstand temptations – and that when she spoke badly of others to the point where her listeners thought badly of the people she maligned – that she had been to blame because she had not relied on God’s grace to help her overcome her destructive longing to backbite. Thus she was the one who went to Confession, and not the fallen angel.
Perhaps the difference between feeling tempted and acting on temptation is like the man who becomes violent after too much whisky. If he sees a flashy, provocative ad for hooch, and decides to get drunk, after which he beats his wife and kids, he may say the ad was to blame because it gave him the idea to pickle his brain in spirits.
When we only blame that which tempts us – we are not placing the emphasis on what would prevent us from falling in the first place – relying on God’s grace. My friend got it right when she said that she sinned because she had not sought God’s grace.
So few of us have such humility. We fall into sin often because we doubt God’s love for us – He loved each of us so much – that he has endowed each soul with enough grace to overcome the tailored set of temptations that each of us face.
There are as many temptations as there are sins, but I think there is one temptation that is particularly dodgy for anyone. It is when we use the sins of our past against ourselves. ‘I’m the person who did this and that, I am a hopeless case who may as well give up the fight to do better,’ is often our personal voice-over that accompanies flashbacks on our mind’s cinema of times when we’ve behaved badly.
Tim Stanley admirably tackled this problem of despairing on account of one’s sins when earlier in the week he appeared on Thought For The Day. Stanley shared how shortly after he converted to Catholicism, he went to confession and told the priest that he didn’t think he could make it because he was still sinning. The priest said to him, ‘by the very fact that you’ve come here to confess your sins, you’ve shown that you have changed.’
Stanley reflected that the priest had been right, ‘that I was prepared to go out on a cold evening and confess everything to a total stranger showed that I at least now worried about my faults and cared about putting them right. I had entered into a dialogue with my own conscience.’
Taking Stanley’s example to heart, I suggest opening a dialogue with one’s conscience and relying on God’s grace. Seeking God’s grace can seem so lofty, but in urgency we can offer arrow prayers (“God help me”) and say to our favourite saint, “please pray for me.”
Something that I am starting is praying the Litany of the Holy Spirit, so that I am enlightened as to what might be a temptation. 
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald, you may see my author archive here

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

King Ethelbert: the first English monarch to become Catholic. His influence is barely acknowledged today

An important anniversary took place on February 24. It was the 1400-year anniversary of the death of King Ethelbert – the first Anglo-Saxon king to become a Christian.
Yet across England there was little fuss made and little celebration of the anniversary. Thankfully, there was a Tridentine Mass offered in the seaside town of Ramsgate – at the church of St Augustine’s and St Ethelbert’s – by the Kazakhstani Bishop Athanasius Schneider to commemorate the anniversary. Ethelbert was king of Kent from 560 – 616.
Born and raised a pagan, Ethelbert sought to marry the Christian Princess Bertha. Bertha was the daughter of Charibert, a Frankish king who insisted that a strict condition for his daughter Bertha marrying Ethelbert be that she would be allowed to practice her faith freely and she came with her own chaplain, Bishop Luihard.
For the early years of their marriage, Ethelbert and Bertha would have had what we now call a mixed marriage. Queen Bertha’s reign in Kent saw the beginning of a Roman Catholic influence on Anglo-Saxon society – it is thought that Bertha persuaded Ethelbert to welcome St Augustine and the Roman Mission in 597.
Sent by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, St Augustine was the prelate who was charged with evangelising England, and he was warned that England was “a barbarous, fierce and unbelieving nation.”
According to the historian Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, Augustine and his band of twenty missionaries came bearing a silver cross with a painting of Jesus on a board and greeted Ethelbert by singing a prayer litany.

St Ethelbert was baptised by St Augustine, but it puzzled me why he was not baptised by his wife’s chaplain, Bishop Luihard. I asked myself this, and other questions, when researching this piece. Wouldn’t it have been easier for Ethelbert to have been brought to Christianity by the bishop who gave the sacraments to his wife? Couldn’t Ethelbert have converted to Christianity on or before marrying Bertha? And why did he wait?

Fr Hunwicke wrote an excellent blog that answered my questions. Had Ethelbert been received into the Church by Bertha’s personal chaplain, it “would have made him appear an appendage of her apron strings, if not a vassal of her father”.
Fr Hunwicke goes on to explain, that as St Augustine was sent directly from Pope Gregory the Great, it allowed Ethelbert, “to be instructed that the dedications and the liturgical dispositions and the choral arrangements of the churches being constructed in Canterbury precisely paralleled those of the great City itself, making Canterbury a new, Northern Rome.”
Aside from his great role in enabling the roots of Catholicism to be planted in English soil, Ethelbert also published the first written laws in England and re-established the use of coins as monetary currency. For someone who had such a great influence on England’s destiny as a nation, Ethelbert’s name is scarcely mentioned nowadays.
I wrote this post for The Catholic Herald following the guidance of Luke Coppen and Will Gore, my editors. You may see my author archive here
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