Category Archives: Christian

Sitting on a hard bench.

I can’t remember where I heard this but someone, sometime said s/he thought the reason churches had wooden pews was so that the pew-sitter didn’t get too comfortable. Christ isn’t a comfortable person.

This weekend we have had the ember days of the Triumph of the Cross and Our Lady of Sorrows. Both uncomfortable remembrances. The Triumph(or exultation) of the Cross came about like this:

St. Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) had found the true cross at Jerusalem and rescued it. She left part of it in Jerusalem at the Holy Sepulchre and took the rest back to Rome. Around 614 the Persians stole the portion of the cross from the Holy Sepulchre. Things went wrong for the Persians after that (an echo of what happened to the Philistines when the stole the Ark of the Covenant). In 629 the Emperor Heraclius took the cross back and carried it in fine procession back to Jerusalem and Calvary. However, upon reaching the city he found he couldn’t go on. Bishop Zacharias pointed out that Christ had not been so finely dressed when He carried the cross. The Emperor changed to a penitents robe and carried the cross the rest of the way.

We are proud to preach Christ crucified and know that He has commanded us to take up our cross each day to follow him. A hard bench in church is perhaps a very small reminder of that.

Our Lady of Sorrows with her seven swords of sorrow comes the following day. Despite the great suffering laid on her she continually said “yes” (Fiat) to God.

imgYesterday I listened to the Catholic Answers programme with Steve Ray talking about the horrible persecution and mass martyrdom of Christians in the Middle East. He spoke of a nun whose entire family had been slaughtered and a Christian man whose heart was cut out and eaten raw by one of the the Muslim terrorists. We know what’s happening in Syria and some of us at least are horrified that our Governments want to aid the terrorists who are murdering as many Christians as they can get hold of.

Then after Mass yesterday a man spoke to us. He had come from Bethlehem with some of the beautiful olive wood carvings that he and his fellow Christians make. It’s all they can do to stay afloat there. The wall has done them much damage and they are trapped between Israel’s need for security on the one side and Islamic persecution on the other.

If you can possibly buy some olivewood carvings that will help Elias and his fellow Christians.  They are sold HERE and at ACN HERE 

Olive wood, he told us, is the second hardest wood in the world. Some of the carvings, which must be done by hand, take 8 months of work.

There’s nothing comfortable about that.



On the desperate need for support for mothers with youngsters or a crisis.

I’ve been going on (and on and on) for some years about the terrible lack of support for mothers in today’s culture. Both the nuclear and extended family has broken down in many ways. Coupled with the lack of children born to many families over the last couple of generations – or perhaps only the last generation for those who held on to the Faith, means there isn’t much support for mothers, like there was in the old days.

It has been noted that one of the reasons young mothers in particular feel isolated with their new borns and toddlers is that they are at home in a ghost town. Every other person in the street has gone to work. They are simply alone and too often that can lead to post natal depression and anxiety problems.  Many mothers who would have chosen to be home and care for their children then feel forced back into the workplace.

The Anchoress writes on this suggesting that parishes need to set up some kind of network of older mothers, with experience and now less responsibility, could help the newer mums coming through. I think there is also an absolutely desperate need for parish support for families in crisis. I do know that thankfully a lot goes on under the radar.

Have a pray about this. Is God asking you to do more to support someone in your family or parish?

Dad’s need to be on the ball with this too. Adam’s role as Bridegroom and father was to care for and protect his wife and children.”Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church pouring Himself out for her” (Eph 5:25). That pouring out was His Passion (which literally means to pour out), where He poured out every drop of blood for us.

Dad’s need to be aware of when their wives are struggling and not expect her always to be able to give well thought out coherent instructions about what help she needs. When things get rough dad’s who have to go to work and leave the wife to it should be phoning around and asking for someone to help her.

The same goes the other way around. When I knew in advance I was going to be in hospital for a long while I phoned around asking people to help my husband with food and support while he was left caring for the children and still needing to come up to the hospital. It worked well. People really responded beautifully, making offers and accepting requests.

Having a parish based group of people who will help out, going over and spending time with a mother,  or reading to one child while the mum gets the baby settled., or even something as simple as holding the baby so she can go to the toilet ALONE.

It’s not just mothers with young children who need help. I was talking very recently with a mother who is in a long-term crisis situation. She desperately needs a fellow woman to just help with the children so she can get all things done and care for her husband. Her father is brilliant and does a lot, but taking care of teenagers is full-on parenting and just a second pair of hands could make all the difference to her.

We actually discussed the possibility of putting out a plea in her church asking if anyone feels God nudging them towards this sort of pastoral care.

There is also an absolutely desperate need for something like this to help those of us who have had crisis situations with seriously ill children. I wish someone could have helped me during all those times I was in the Children’s with a very sick child.  The experience has left deep scars I’m afraid. Ironically after one of the most difficult admissions with a very sick child, when I was pretty ill myself with a roaring chest infection, it was a fellow mother with lots of children who came to my rescue. After being told over and over by nurses that my fever was keeping my daughter’s fever high – what was I supposed to do!?! she finally became well enough to be discharged. We had been in hospital over a week. The following day my friend took me to the doctors. I was so very ill the doc said she was calling an ambulance to have me sent into hospital straight away! Thank God – and I do- my friend was there and she promised to take care of me; which she did and I escaped admission. She took us all to her house and kept me in a chair while she ensured meds and fluids were put into both my daughter and me. Bless her for that.

In Japan there was (perhaps still is) a system where relatives sit with a person in hospital to take care of their needs. It means that sick people don’t dehydrate or starve for being too weak to feed themselves. It’s a beautiful service that is an extension of the family cohesion found in the Shinto religion.

As Catholics we are called to this sort of thing. To be fair, while I don’t know about “official” parish programs, (which we do need) there is a lot of quiet support going on under the radar.  We are all called to be Simon of Cyrene at some point in the journey, and to accept a Simon when we need to. Maybe we just need to be a St. Veronica. Whoever we choose to be in the face of someone else’s suffering, let it not be Pilate.

On a slightly side note, I think the way home education works can offer this sort of support automatically. Those of us with older children will help out with younger ones in lessons or groups so that there is support. Perhaps some of the best home ed groups do work like extended families a little.

Joshua and the ‘ban’ of Jericho.

Divine Office at the moment is covering the story of Joshua leading Israel through the parted waters of the river Jordan to Jericho. The story makes it very clear that God is in charge of these events. He parts the river; He organises the Ark of the Covenant where He is present to be carried in procession around the city, and all Israel has to do is follow Joshua into the city and …well, this is where the atheists and many of us Christians find a massive stumbling block – God places a “ban” on all the people of Jericho. Joshua is to kill every last one of them, men, women and children, apart from the hosuehold of Rahab.

Either Joshua is making this up and he’s a monster or else it’s true and God is the monster. So is there another explanation?

The soundbite answer I’ve heard too often is, “God is the author of life. If He wants to demand the death of everyone in a city, it’s up to Him.”

To be fair, the answer is true, up to a point. But the root of the question about the “ban” isn’t really about whether God has the right to have people slaughtered – I suppose He does – the root of the question is “WHY would a good, loving God, have people He made and loves, slaughtered?”

We are also made very uncomfortable by the notion of holy war. Thanks to a recent history of truly unholy wars, it’s difficult to see how any war could be done at the direct command of God. So if we accept that the Scriptures have this right, what was God up to?

There are a few clues in Scripture. When God is choosing Abraham, changing his name and making the Covenant between them, He gives Abraham a prophecy in which He warns that Abraham’s descendents will live away from their land as slaves for 400+ years until “the sins of the Amorites are filled up (Gen 15:16).

Finally the sins of those people will be so low, that God will destroy them all, but not before He gives them signs and warnings. The sins of the Amorites, Canaanites and relative tribes included child sacrifice, incest, and the whole money, sex and power gamut of truly vile behaviour.

God sent the Israelites to reclaim their land and they were supposed to be so holy a nation, so willing to follow the Presence of God in the Ark (fire and cloud- Shekinah) that the other nations would clean up their act.

Unfortunately Israel failed to be truly holy even with God right there, and the nations refused to change their ways even in the sight of the mighty deeds God was doing with Israel. Rahab confesses to the spies that enter Jericho that they are all aware of Israel and Israel’s God, but nothing was changing.

If the people refuse to listen, refuse to repent and refuse to surrender to God, then He’ll find a way to clean up the mess.  He might not have needed to demand so many killings if Israel had been better, but they had only survived the golden calf incident marginally and their priesthood was gone. A temporary ( God’s temporary can take a while) priesthood was set up with the sons of Levi, but that shouldn’t have had to happen.

Israel was supposed to help the nations clean up, but instead she was always on the edge of joining in with the mess they made. But Israel often repented and came back to God. And while the Jews are a scattered people, God still holds them. But the nations who sacrificed their own children for wealth, detroyed themselves. We ought to remember that.

One of the problems we have with the “ban” is in accepting that God has a right, and even a duty, to punish sin.  Partly this is rooted in the “fluffy Jesus, my nice friend” approach to Christianity, and a bigger part is rooted in our wanting to do whatever we like and not have to face any consequences. We certainly don’t want to accept that our sins cause wars and other disasters – that we are in fact, our brother’s keeper.

As recently as 1917 Our Blessed Mother came with a message from her not so fluffy Son warning that if we don’t change our hearts there would be another war. She said there would be a sign of lights in the sky, so we could even have a last minute chance of turning things around, (as Nineveh did when Jonah preached to them). We didn’t do it and the lights appeared in 1936 followed by the Second World War in 1939.

Those who want to play with death will meet it. Simples.

All sort of places to visit once you pop your clogs.

limbo of the Fathers by Domenico Beccafumi

As it’s November I thought I might speculate about where various people get to go either to stay or visit after death.

We know from Scripture and Tradition that when Adam and Eve sinned and got evicted from the Garden that the gates of heaven were closed to them. Until the coming of Christ and His Salvific act we were locked out.
Before Jesus came there were plenty of very good and holy men in among the people of Israel and probably quite a few pagans who had tried to live good lives.
So where did they go?
Where did Elijah go when he was assumed in that fiery chariot? Where was Enoch taken to?
According to Tradition there was a place for the dead, the Limbo of the Fathers as it was called. This was not heaven but it was a paradise where those who had died could await the opening of heaven.
Jesus tells the story of Dives and Lazarus. When Lazarus dies he is held in what Jesus called “The bosom of Abraham.” This would seem to be the Limbo where Lazarus awaits heaven.
Jewish Tradition had it that there was heaven, Sheol and Gehenna.  Now we see from Scripture and history that Gehenna was a place on earth. It was the accursed place where the evil king Manasseh, having apostasised from his Jewish faith, sacrificed his children to Molech for riches and power. In the time of Jesus it was a burning heap of rubbish, and as such was a symbol or metaphor for hell.
Apparently Sheol was thought to be a place beneath the Temple where the souls of the dead went, but as the Greek word used is Hades, it seems more like the murky land of a sort of purgatory, not the Limbo of the Fathers or Bosom of Abraham.
Jesus died for us and rose again and the gates of heaven were opened wide. On Holy Saturday we celebrate what is rather misleadingly called The Harrowing of Hell. It was Hell that was harrowed, it was this other place, Sheol and/or the Bosom of Abraham/Limbo of the Fathers. All those who had waited so long as so patiently were welcomed into heaven. In art and tradition (small t tradition) Adam and Eve are the first to be called from their graves.
So, I wonder now, do any of these places external to heaven but not hell and not purgatory still exist? Or are they part of purgatory?
And where are Enoch and Elijah?
We know that heaven is for those who are perfect and at the Resurrection will be where the perfect with their resurrected bodies will live. We know that Our Blessed Mother has her resurrected body, from the Assumption. It would also explain how her appearances to people are more “solid” for want of a better word, than those of other saints.
But neither Enoch nor Elijah have died or received their resurrected bodies yet. So are they in the Paradise – Limbo of the Fathers? How much of the Beatific Vision have they already had? I don’t suppose there are answers to these questions at this point.
Interestingly I notice that just about everyone who has received either visions or visits to purgatory or visits of people from purgatory report on the matter as though, like Dante’s epic, there are chambers and grades that souls work through. The final chamber or circle or whatever is like paradise, but not yet within the full Presence. People in this place sometimes get permission to visit those who have prayed and offered for them and say thank you. I like that 🙂
I suppose I can’t  miss out dear Saint Augustine’s view that there may be a Limbo of the unbaptised. This is one of those things that has caused many of us mothers who have miscarried babies to struggle. Thankfully the Church has said that we leave our unbaptised children in the Mercy of God. Whether the Baptism of desire works from parent to child isn’t decided on I suppose.
We do know in the very end there are only death, judgement, heaven and hell. So I suppose that even if these other places do still exist for any reason that in the end, they wont – and that has to include St Augustine’s Limbo, if it’s there.

What is forgiveness? final ramblings.

One of the aspects of forgiveness which I think cannot be truly about forgiveness is the “forgive and forget” bit. I am quite sure, thanks to my appalling memory these days in fibro-fog that I really have forgiven and forgotten and forgotten I’ve forgiven, but there are some things done to a person that they simply cannot forget. I think the “forget” side of forgiveness is not that we no longer remember what was done, or not done, but that we do not allow ourselves to dwell on it and become angry and resentful about it all over again.

Again this goes back to forgiveness being an act of the will and not a mere feeling or emotion. In fact the will has to fight those emotions quite hard at times.

But there’s another aspect of forgiveness that to be honest, I hadn’t thought of. Dr Ray Guarendi talked about how some people consider themselves forgiving when they forgive the other person magnanimously for something that doesn’t even need forgiving. I must admit I don’t think I have come across this, but I assume it happens. I assume its those kind of people who forgive you for not getting out of your hospital bed to give them a lift to the pub or something like that.

I think most people who struggle with forgiveness do so because what they must forgive is genuinely serious.

One other aspect of this, and it’s something Dr. Guarendi has talking about now and again, and that’s the fact that so few people say sorry any more. The general view is the victim of that other person’s horrible behaviour should simply carry on as though it never happened and the perpetrator should make an apology or attempt to make it right, but then I guess, that’s just something else we have to forgive.

As a mother though, I am trying to teach the children to say sorry. It’s one of those things that they resist doing. Not when they are little, but as they get older. What’s at the root of that I wonder? Bloomin’ concupiscence who needs it?

What is forgiveness? Out of virtue.

Rita, very astutely pointed out in the comments box of my last post that really forgiveness cannot be taught or learned in isolation from the virtuous life. We should be learning to live the seven virtues and in so doing we will come to understand what forgiveness is and how it is woven into life. I think she is right to say that chances are the separation of forgiveness out of the foundation of the virtuous life has lent towards the confusion over what it is and how it works. That certainly made a light go on in my dull brain.

It seems very much to grow out of charity and from there temperance and fortitude and in for many examples, courage too.

I thought I would start by looking at how Jesus forgave during His Passion.

The Church in her wisdom has given us a whole library load of names of those she knows are in heaven. The list of saints, Blesseds and Venerables are long indeed and there’s plenty of those who may likely be declared so as time goes on. She has never named anyone as being in hell. On those names she remains silent.

There is only one person in history that I am aware of where we could say there is a high possibility they ended up in hell, and that’s Judas and the suspicion is based on Jesus’ stark words “It would be better for that man had he never been born.”  But even then we are not told definitely that Judas is damned. He is, however put to us as the image of a man who despaired rather than repented and is juxtaposed against Peter who denied Christ and repented in deep sorrow. Jesus forgives Peter and he then goes on to get the Church under way.

From the cross Jesus asks His Father to forgive the men who were crucifying Him because, He pointed out, “they know not what they do.”  They cannot in justice be condemned for doing something for which they had no intention of evil. They thought, presumably, they were executing a criminal and in doing it in such a horrible way were offering punishment, justice and a warning to others, all for the common good.  It’s difficult to imagine they didn’t have some idea that what they were doing in some aspects was utterly evil, but we don’t know.

Then Jesus has a man on either side of him. St. Dismas repents and asks for forgiveness. Jesus gives His promise that Dismas would that day be with Him in Paradise. Gesmes doesn’t get any such promise. He hasn’t repented and so there is no evidence that he is going to make it to Paradise (although again, we can’t be sure as we don’t know his exact situation at death).

From this it might be assumed that Jesus only forgives those who are sorry. But is this true? We are told He died to save Mankind, and although the shedding of blood for the many (pro multis) implies that plenty of other people are not going to receive God’s forgiveness. Is this because God is a big meanie or that Calvin was right after all and there are the elect and the rest?

The answer seems to be that God offers the gift of His forgiveness for every single human being, and all we have to do is turn around (repent) and receive it.

Jesus gave the apostles the authority to bind and loose. “Those sins you forgive are forgiven,” He said, “And those sins you retain are retained.” So we see priests and bishops can retain – not forgive sins. The time this might happen would be if the person goes to Confession and says some sin he has no intention of doing anything about, which is not the same as habitual sin the person is working hard against of course.

So, down to the ordinary person like me. Can I say, I don’t need to forgive everyone because look at Jesus He hasn’t? Er, no. He has forgiven everyone, just everyone hasn’t accepted forgiveness. In accepting forgiveness we accept healing.

So does this mean I have to tell everyone I have forgiven, just as the priest in Confession does, or can I forgive someone without them ever having to know I have forgiven them?  I think all forgiveness is essentially between me and God, so if He is forgiving me, then I have to actually receive the forgiveness and He does this through the Sacrament of Confession which has the added wonderfulness of grace to help with healing and avoiding the sin in the future. But I can’t give grace so when I forgive I might not have to tell anyone other than God? Is forgiveness is as much for my sake as the other person? In fact if the other person doesn’t even know they are forgiven, then it’s all for my sake.

In practical terms what am I to do then, if this forgiveness is going to happen? As Shana said in the previous post, we really are not expected to stay in contact with people who have seriously abused us, aren’t sorry, will continue to do so and may very likely do so to our children. There is nothing in forgiveness about putting yourself and children in the way of other people’s malice. In fact surely by removing the temptation to malice you are doing them a service.

Should we always tell the other person they are forgiven? Shana wrote to her relatives to say so. I think that is probably a good thing to do in many cases. In my personal case, I did once but never again.

The forgiveness is letting go of anger, resentment and on a very basic level knowing that you really do not want to see them damned. It might often mean letting go of any hope of justice this side of death and handing it over to God completely. That is not a feeling. It’s a terrible spiritual battle and requires a massive act of the will.  It is not a short process, for most of us, and can sometimes be a repeated exercise. Just when you think you have forgiven them, that old nightmare comes back and you wake up with all the old feelings and have to start again.

Clare, rightly points out that it is easier to forgive others when we realise how much we have had to be forgiven, and this goes back to Rita’s point about forgiveness stemming from the virtuous life.

I do wonder though, if this has a limitation. It does seem easier to forgive the things we are also guilty of, or at least could imagine getting up to on a bad day. The big wall gets hit when someone does something so truly horrible we can’t get our head around it. Or even just amazingly selfish and neglectful.

I think it is much harder to forgive something we truly don’t understand, than to forgive something, even horrible, that we “get” in some way. I did work with a counsellor for a while trying to work out the “why” of what had been done to me, before I could get on with the process of forgiving. However, there were no answers to that question so I had to do the forgiving without ever getting to understand how someone could do that.

Interestingly, once I had really made the act of will of forgiveness, which was a bit like climbing a sheer rock face with a thin rope in a blizzard: thank God for God and His grace – then some of the extraneous problems such as nightmares actually stopped. Brilliant! Is that the same for everyone I wonder?

I don’t remember feeling anything other than relief that the spiritual battle was over (for now) and a bit of trepidation that I might have to ever fight it again. So I didn’t “feel” I had forgiven anyone. It was, very much an act of the will, with the heart being dragged along I think. Thankfully, despite the odd moment, I never have had to fight it like that again, and like Shana I did get some good advice when I needed it, thanks to Providence. I really do recognise that there is no way I could have done this alone. God had to be there, or I would still be angry, resentful and worse I am sure.

So, I think on this first point, Rita is right. We need the grace for the virtuous life, which doesn’t mean being without sin before we can forgive (thankfully) but does mean that in charity and temperance we don’t dwell on or actually try to commit revenge and we truly do not want the person to end up in hell.

Just in case you struggle with not hoping they end up in the fire, read some of the saints on hell. St. John Bosco’s visits there and St. Teresa of Avila should give you a good sense of just how much you don’t want to hope anyone ends up there.  This is where Clare’s excellent point that judgement is God’s comes in. When Jesus said don’t judge, this is what He was talking about. If we start deciding who we think should be in hell, chances are we’ll end up there ourselves, for after all, what could be worse than wishing eternal damnation on someone else?

But is there more to forgiveness that hoping and praying the person who has done the evil doesn’t end up in hell?

What is forgiveness anyway?

I know, I know, I’ve asked this question before. I’ve considered it and listened to what people have to say on it, and I am still a bit lost as to what it is exactly. When Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother seventy times seven, I get that he meant just keep forgiving, but I don’t get what it is Peter is supposed to “do” or even “feel” or “will” as he keeps on forgiving that brother over and over again.

Now there’s eight of us living in this house, and Al and I have been married for 23+ years, and as neither of us are impeccable, there’s been some forgiving to do. So, somewhere in there, I must know how to do it, because I have done it. My guess is, without going over the details of who did what to whom, that the reason forgiveness happened was because we were sorry. Chances are that with perhaps some rare exceptions, we didn’t mean it and the other person knew we didn’t and so forgiveness is given and received and life goes on. All that seems easy enough to me. I am guessing you don’t really need to be a Christian to get your head and heart around that. I might be wrong and I suppose that all forgiveness is found from God’s grace, but I don’t think most people would bear a grudge over a forgotten book of stamps or whatever.

It’s the big stuff I wonder about. The OT reading this morning was a strong admonition against taking revenge, and that makes sense, but that leaves the question of revenge versus justice and of course defense. It is the anniversary of the horrific 9/11 attacks right now. I am sure that day has images scorched onto the memories of most of us, leaving us specific people to pray for even if we don’t know their names. There must be many untold stories of families who have learned to forgive the people who did this to them. But again I am left wondering what form this forgiveness takes.

I had come to the probably inaccurate conclusion that forgiveness means not taking revenge, putting aside the thoughts of anger that might lead to wanting revenge and not wishing damnation on the other person. I have also come to the conclusion over all that it is a lot easier to forgive people who are sorry, or who do horrible things in a non-malicious way.

Jesus offers forgiveness to all, but as the new translation says He shed His Precious Blood for “many” which seems to imply there are plenty of people who don’t want to be forgiven. Hell is a choice after all.

Still, how to forgive…it’s a biggie.

Are we supposed to keep in contact with people no matter how often they abuse us? Is going back for more part of the seventy times seven Jesus spoke of?

Does forgiveness mean not asking for justice, and what is the difference between justice and revenge?

How do you forgive someone who isn’t sorry, but with whom you must have contact anyway?

Is it unforgiving to break contact with a person who has abused you?

Does forgiving mean forgetting = and how does that work?

Does God forgive everyone, and if so, what’s hell for?

What is the process of forgiveness? Does it happen in a flash or words, or does it take time?

I think I might have a go at these questions on the blog – and who knows maybe there’ll be a lesson set out of it.