Monthly Archives: August 2011

All About Family

Over the last few days we have celebrated a lot of amazing saints. Saturday was the feast of St. Monica, patron of mothers, widows and alcoholics (and one of our family saints), Sunday was the feast day of her son St. Augustine of Hippo, who gave the church such a rich theology and one or two difficulties, such as Limbo, to grapple with. The following day was the feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, who died because he dared to preach about the sanctity of marriage and how Herod and his “wife” Herodias  were not married.

Today is the feast of the martyr St. Margaret Clitherow and some of the other women who died for their loyalty to Christ against the onslaught of the Church of England created by Henry and Elizabeth Tudor to serve their own greed for power and wealth.

At the root of the stories for all these saints is the place of the family and the importance of marriage. St. Monica was married to a difficult man who was a pagan and their son grew up to be influenced by his father’s views. He went off into the world, safe in the knowledge that he was a very intelligent young man. He took on a mistress and had a son with her, but had no intention of marrying her. His mother Monica continued to storm the gates of heaven on his behalf and tried to intervene in his life as best she could, in the face of his resistance. But her prayers bore fruit and finally, with the help of that great bishop and saint Ambrose, Augustine returned to the Faith he had been baptised in and became one of the greatest Church fathers we have ever had.

Many mothers who find themselves with difficult children, or children who are drifting from or being pulled from the Faith will turn to St. Monica for her support and prayers. My own St. Bridget of Sweden is another saint for wives, mothers and widows, and she too had a son who went off the rails. It is reported that her husband, the good and holy Ulf appeared to her from purgatory to ask for extra prayers. He explained that he was there because he must expiate the sin of having been too lenient a father and allowing his son to head in the direction of serious sin without properly trying to prevent it.

Just as St. John the Baptist died as a witness to marriage, so in many ways did St. Margaret Clitherow. She was married to a protestant who very patiently paid the fines for her Catholic Faith. But she also helped Catholic mothers deliver their babies and get them baptised by hidden priests, including some Jesuits at a time where being a priest was illegal and attending the Sacraments could get you hung.

In the end Margaret was betrayed by a protestant child she had cared for, which is so tragic. She remained loyal to Christ and would not renounce the Faith. Even though she was nine weeks pregnant she and her unborn child were crushed to death.

In the battle between good and evil we so frequently see the good as those who stand firm for the family life God has designed for us and the evil as those who have destroyed their own family in some way and then set out to destroy others too.

Herod killed John because he was right about Herod’s non-marriage. Henry killed Catholics because they were right about his marriage to Catherine and Elizabeth killed her own cousin because she was Catholic. Elizabeth, who was often referred to (rather horribly) as the virgin queen, because she didn’t wed and because people wanted a replacement to Our Blessed Mother the epitome of family, when she had been removed by the insistence of the crown.

When those in power get greedy they always seem to go after the fabric of the family. They will kill wives and mothers for being Catholic, or do all sorts of things to try and undermine the age old teachings of the Church on the sanctity of the family.

Look at any saint story and almost invariably there is something family based about the story. St. John Bosco was supported in his work with orphans and street children by the hard work and care of his mother, St. Therese the Little Flower is so much part of her family that her parents are beatified.

St. John the Baptist may be considered a proto-martyr but his witness was very much about the family, as he pointed to the Bridegroom who had come, who would raise marriage to a Sacrament when He proclaimed, “What God has put together, let no man put asunder.” It seems to me a great shame that so many Christians have ditched the Sacramental nature of marriage and turned it into a simple contract. The Catholic and Orthodox churches have retained the Sacrament and I believe that some parts of Anglicanism have at least some view of the Sacramental nature of marriage as a covenant.

Even more shamefully in Western Catholicism the understanding of the nature of marriage has slipped to such an extent that contraception and abortion are common and divorce levels are at about the same level as for non-believers. We have some serious work to do.

Timeless Approaches to Prayer by Paul Northam

My friend Paul has written a book called Timeless Approaches to Prayer. Go and have a look.

It’s mainly aimed at young people as part of the Youth Series by Grove publishing. But it’s a short straight forward book that I think has something for young people of any age – even mine.

For one thing, it doesn’t assume that just because you are a Christian that you automatically know how to pray. Even the Apostles had to ask Jesus to teach them how to go about prayer, and that’s how we got the Our Father.

Take a look and leave him a message of support. :)

Science Freebies and the chance for $50. Looks like a good deal to me.

It is often said that great minds think alike – and fools seldom differ, but there’s something telepathic about how Kalei and I have both been busy making science freebies this week!

Kalei offers this excellent resource to help children remember facts about many famous scientists.

Then I added to my History of Science worksets with one on Monsignor Georges-Henri Lemaitre who discovered what was named “The Big Bang” theory.

If that’s not enough Kalei has very generously put forward the chance to win a $50 Amazon.com voucher to spend on those extra bits for the busy homeschool. God and join the competition and see what happens :)

Please pray for the soul of my friend and for her family

My friend Julie died on Sunday. Please pray for her soul and for her family, especially her husband and two young children.

 

Suffering is no excuse.

One of the biggest problems with having a chronic illness with its constant and annoying presence in your life, is the temptation to believe that it mitigates against having to “work out your salvation…”(Philippians 2:12).  It’s too easy to say, “I don’t need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or help prisoners, (Matthew 25:35 -46) I’m ill and I certainly don’t need to bother with the sick – I am sick.” From that comes the temptation to stop caring, or even noticing that your illness automatically impacts on those around you. Why should you be polite and gentle when it hurts and it’s easier to be snappy and short tempered – even rude. All is mitigated by the fact you are ill. You can let yourself off the responsibility to your family or friends, because you are ill. You think about how ill you are, you talk about how ill you are and make darned sure everyone knows just how ill you are. “Peel me a grape!” you can cry as you indulge in the pity-party. Ugly isn’t it?

Fighting illness is a bit of a tightrope. On the one side you might fall into the snarlyness of all that pain, and on the other is the self-pitying martyr. It can be a difficult  rope to balance on, avoiding falling either way. I am guessing that most of us fall off the rope now and then, and have  to apologise to whoever we fell on. But we have to climb back up and balance some more, looking ahead and being willing to reach out a hand to fellow travellors.

The truth is when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He never wrote any small print saying it was only for the able bodied and well. When He called Israel and said, “I place before you life and death, choose life therefore,”(Duet 30:19) he didn’t say it only to the young and fit. There was no “unless you are already at death’s door, in which case you don’t need to bother,” clause.

All very well, you might say, but if all this suffering, sickness and pain, isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card, what’s it all for? The theology of suffering fills many a great tome, but I think the nutshell version is this, God allows bad stuff to happen and He can and does use it to make good-even better spportunities for us who are suffering.We have a choice though, the life or death one. If we take up the cross that to the world might look like “death” we will really have chosen life, whereas if we spend all our energy trying to dump our cross on others we are really choosing death.

So we accept the suffering, the sickness the pain, the facing of our own mortality, and we do so without becoming self-obsessed or trying to force our suffering on others. That’s the plan. Then God will send people across our path who are also suffering, perhaps the same way as we are, perhaps in a completely different way and we are to love them as He loves us and that love is the agape love, or charity from the Latin – which doesn’t mean dropping a quid in a box, or being nicey” it means giving of ourselves (Passion=to pour out) to help the other people.

Many people might find all that the easy bit. You could be nodding your head and thinking, yes, with God’s grace I am managing all of that.

Now then – what about the business of accepting the help of others? How easy is that? Admitting you can’t do it and actually asking for help? Now, that is truly difficult for some of us.

One day when I was really not well at all, I was faced with not only a full on home ed day with my own children, but I was taking care of someone else’s as well. I couldn’t think straight and I knew I needed help. It took me ages to simply pick up the phone and call my friend Donna and ask her to come over. She lived just around the corner and I knew she would say yes, even though she was going through the most horrific depression and life problems at the time. She came straight over and was wonderful with the children and accepting of my incoherancy. I will always be grateful, but I also think she had a lovely day that day.  She didn’t make a big thing of how wonderful she was. She just did it out of love.

The other difficult negotiation is between knowing when to ask for help or accept the offered help, and giving up on even trying to work through the problem. Part of this comes with not dumping your suffering onto someone and then walking off until the next time it comes to dump. Human dignity demands that we try to behave as human as possible and the most human person is Christ. He’s a hard act to follow, but we are supposed to follow Him.

Aha! You might say, I’m Catholic, so if this gets too hard I’m off to Mum. And what does she say? “Do whatever He tells you.”  (John 2:5) So no get off the hook there either.

But it’s not fair! you might be tempted to whine, and you might even give into the temptation. Why should I, who lives with constant pain and is slowly loosing more and more abilities and [insert whatever else here] have to be bothered with other people and their problems?

The answer seems to be that it’s in doing whatever He tells us, that makes the cross we have bearable. If everyone lifts together we can all lift and carry the whole load, but if all we do is carry our own bit and moan about it, well it remains too heavy. And remember, He told us that when we do anything for the least of our fellow men, we are doing it for Him. So when we help someone else He will give us the graces to make the whole thing lighter.

So suffering is there to help us get to heaven, not so we can become so self abosorbed we end up in hell.

Solid as a rock.

While Papa Beni – (pope number 265)is out there in Madrid preaching up a storm while standing in the midst of one, (how very apt),  the reading today is about Christ’s plans for His Church.

Jesus has the twelve standing around Him and his asks “Who do people say I am?” (I don’t think this is one the I AM statements, it being a question, but I could be wrong). The apostles come up with some answers. We could come up with even more and fat worse answers. Some say He is Nice Man, Push over Jesus, Therapy Jesus, Accepts-me-as-I-am-and-doesn’t-want-me-to-change-Jesus. Ditch-your-cross-Jesus and Blind-Eye-Jesus. I am sure there are others out there.

Then Jesus asks them “Who do you say that I am?”

Simon the fisherman, brother of Andrew announces, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Now, to be fair, Simon is not the first person to have recognised who Jesus is. Even if we put aside Our Lady, there is still Nathaniel of Cana. But at this moment, God’s chosen moment, Simon speaks up and Jesus acknowledges the truth of the matter, and that God has inspired Simon.

He then does something very God-like. He changes Simon’s name to Peter – or rather to Cephas the Aramaic form of the name. It survives in some Bibles in this form, presumably because even in the Greek it was written in the Aramaic. [God tends to change the name of those He has chosen to do something big-or to form a Covenant with, such as Abram to Abraham and Jacob to Israel]. They are standing in the shadow of the massive rock at Caesarea Philippi, upon which is perched the pagan temple that Herod had so thoughtfully had built to further his political career.

“You are Peter,” says Jesus, “And upon this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the Underworld will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of Kingdom of heaven, whatsoever you bind on earth is bound and whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven.” (Take a look at Matthew 16:13-20 if you didn’t get to Mass today)

Now, if you were at Mass, or like me, had to do the readings at home, you will have noticed that the first reading is from Isaiah 22:19-23. This reading is the pre-shadowing of what happens between Jesus and Peter.

First of all the old master is dismissed for being corrupt, just as the old priesthood will be dismissed. Then  King Hezekiah who is a type of Christ as he is the immediate fulfilment of Isaiah prophecy that a child would be born – called Eliakim to be his deputy, or Prime Minister. He is entrusted with the robe of authority and receives the keys of the Kingdom. He may open and shut and it will be as he says as he is the peg in the firm place.

But, you might ask, what about those protestants who insist that only Jesus is the rock?

It’s plain from the text and the history of the Church that Jesus isn’t the only rock. Not only is Peter the rock too, but we are told that the Church is the firm foundation, the rock.  However, Jesus is the rock that underpins all of His Church – He is the corner-stone. Even Herod’s pagan temple was built on a rock, which would not have been a firm rock if it hadn’t been formed out of the great rock of the earth.

I have come across some amazing contortions by those who refuse to accept the Scripture as it is written. One woman told how her father insisted Jesus was pointing at Peter when He named Him, but at Himself when he was somehow not handing over the authority.

Then there are those who say Jesus never intended Peter or the apostles to hand on their authority. History, however shows very clearly that they did and that this makes sense in that Christ is a King who continues to rule His Kingdom so there is bound to be more ministers for the Kingdom as there is for any kingdom.

Peter’s first act of binding was at the Council of Jerusalem around the year 50 when he said gentile converts did not need to come to Christ through the Mosaic laws of circumcision and kosher food. He said “Baptism now saves you.”

Book Review: Lourdes by Robert Hugh Benson.

I think the first book I read of Benson’s was “Come Rack, Come Rope” which I confess to have found difficult at the time. But I have come to love the way this man writes. If you have never read Lord of the World for example, you have missed a treat.  But the book I am reviewing by Mgr Benson is Lourdes which I think was published around 1914, but there may have been earlier editions.

This is not the story of St. Bernadette. It is the observations that Benson himself made while there on pilgrimage. He was in the privaliged position of being able to directly observe the investigations that took place (and preumably still do) at the medical centre where those who have a claim of miraculous healing would come to have their case scrutinized.

At the beginning of the book he touches on the infamous behaviour of Emile Zola who had refused to believe anything miraculous could happen even when a miracle happened right in front of his eyes. I had heard this story over the years but Benson added a detail I had been unaware of. Zola wrote a book saying the girl who had been healed had relapsed some time later. This was untrue, she remained well, but as Zola wanted to believe that any healings were about some kind of hysteria, it would not do for the girl to have a normal happy life after her healing – so he lied. I was quite shocked to read that, partly because I thought Victorian times-preWWI were more innocent perhaps, and this was so “modern”.

Benson explains some of the healings and gives us a view of the immense suffering and stoical acceptance of suffering that he saw there. He touches on the mystery, that I battle with so often, of how some people are healed and others are not. How is it, he wonders, that God chooses one and passes by another?

He does say he believes that even those who are not physcially healed, receive the spiritual consolation, even healing, required to continue to carry that cross. One thing he seems to have been surprised and perhaps confirmed by, was that the healings tended to take place during Benediction. I suppose we all tend to think that the healings would take place at the grotto, or the baths, but Benson saw the vast majority of the healings that happened while he was there happened as the priest walked among the sick blessing them with the Monstrance containing the Holy Eucharist. It is of course, Christ who heals. This had a sense of the Wedding of Cana for me as I read. Mary asks her son to provide the miracle and then she gives the one commandment we ever see from her “Do whatever He tells you,” and when they do, the miracle occurs.

I was brought up with the story of my grandfather’s extra five or six years that he won through the water of Lourdes. He was given less than a few weeks to live as his throat cancer was in his lungs and elsewhere. After drinking some water from the grotto he began to feel better and went on to live another five to six years – long enough to make an impression on me, who might never otherwise have known him. I took St. Bernadette as my Confirmation saint in gratitude. (My grandad was never Catholic – he was CofE).

Benson discusses some of the theories of his day as to how healings might take place and notes that although there were many people who seemed indeed to have received miraculous cures, that very few such cases met the rigorous standards of the medical board set up to investigate them.

The story that stands out the most to me is the one of the girl with the severely damaged spine. Doctors had been surprised she was even alive with such terrible damge – but she was healed and got up and walked compleltely free of pain.

I went to Lourdes when I was 14. I remember a lot about the place and Benson’s description was strange in its familiarity. I hope one day I could go back…who knows?…