Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Some Bad News

O God, come to our aid.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
The opening of Lauds this morning has never seemed so appropriate. I am, with my family, in great need of God's help today.
Yesterday my father received the news that his recently discovered cancer cannot be cured, and that people in his position only survive for an average of three more months. This has obviously been difficult, if not fully unexpected news for us to take; my mother and sisters were teary as I recounted what the doctors had said to him, and I spent much of yesterday holding back tears myself.
I do not blame or 'hate' cancer, as many current Facebook memes would encourage us to do. I will have trouble coming to terms with the news, but am able to find some consolation, as I hope will my family, in the fact that death, as surely as life, is God's will. My recent prayers for my father have not been for a cure, and will not now be for a miracle; they have been, to quote our Lord's prayer, simply that God's 'will be done'. This will continue to be my prayer and while of course a miracle would be nice, I believe there is also a need to pray for my father's relationship with God during this difficult time - that he may face what comes with dignity, grace and above all faith in what he has proclaimed during and through his life. He was his usual, enviably stoic self yesterday; he took the news well, and I hope that he will be able to remain strong in the coming months.
Please keep my father, Martin Casey, in your prayers.
Today is the Memoria of the Guardian Angels, and I will close this post with the beautiful hymn from today's Morning and Evening Prayer; the final verses of which have taken on a special significance today:
They come, God's messengers of love,
They come from realms of peace above,
From homes of never fading light,
From blissful mansions ever bright.
They come to watch around us here,
To soothe our sorrow, calm our fear:
Ye heavenly guides, speed not away,
God willeth you with us to stay.
But chiefly at its journey's end
'Tis yours the spirit to befriend,
And whisper to the willing heart,
'O Christian soul, in peace depart.'
To us the zeal of angels give,
With Love to serve thee while we live;
To us an Angel-guard supply,
When on the bed of death we lie.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Fatherhood - Part One

I am writing this post at 11 O'clock at night, in a field near the New Forest; I have a campfire burning low in front of me, and my 4 year old daughter asleep next to me. My wife and infant son are already tucked up in our tent - the only one in the field, given that it is a Monday night. The world is silent, save for the crackling of burning wood.

We have come to the south of England to celebrate my niece's birthday, and the past few days have been filled with the hustle and bustle of a family gathering. We return home tomorrow, and I am taking this opportunity to reflect on my life as a father.

I have often said in passing that whilst I knew my parents loved me as a child, I had no idea of what that love was like until I had children of my own. When I think of the things that I did as a child, I realise now how heart-breaking they must have been for my parents; and I dread the inevitable times when my children put me through the same.

Over the past 6 months or so my daughter has matured so much; she has always been a model child, but recently she has become very much a little girl. She will, to quote my mother, 'always be my baby', but outwardly her infantility seems to be a thing of the past. For example, she lay outside with me until after 1am last night talking about the sky, and was very excited to see her first shooting stars; she would not have had the patience for this even a few months ago.

So why am I writing about fatherhood on a faith blog? To answer that question simply I would turn to the fact that everything we do should be for the greater glory of God, but I feel more explanation is needed to do my view of fatherhood justice:

On our wedding day my wife and I promised to 'accept children lovingly from God' and raise them in the faith. This vow is, like all the others we made to one another that day, indissoluble and means that our interactions with our children are more than simply 'bringing them up' - each cuddle, each game, each firm word takes place not just to churn out another capable member of society, but to give thanks and glory to God and to form the faithful of tomorrow. Indeed I hope and pray that my children will be a credit both to us and to God, and that they will be counted my greatest achievement when my life on earth is done.

Why though, is it necessary to thank God for children - after all they have the power to cause emotional turmoil that ranges from delight, to anger, to sorrow, and back to delight again (sometimes within minutes). For the answer here I will quote my daughter, who, whilst saying her prayer before bed one evening said 'thankyou God for making the trees for the birds to live in, and thankyou for making the birds to live in the trees'. Cryptic, but the (perhaps accidental) essence of her prayer is that trees were created for birds and birds were created for trees in a beautiful complementarity. In the same way, I believe that husband and wife (both in gender and in sacrament) were created for children and children bring an additional dimension to the love between their parents. I challenge anyone to hold their new born child and consider the complete, yet miniature, person in their arms to claim, at the instant at which the child opens its eyes and looks at you, that there is no God. It cannot done.

The final thought of this post turns to why we love our children. It is certainly not out of a duty to God; there are ample parents in the world who do not believe in God and yet love their children dearly. However, for those who do believe, the innocence and helplessness of children is more than nature taking its course; it is another beautiful complimentarity - children need to be protected and educated by their parents, and it is through protecting and educating that the loving bond between parent and child is strengthened.

I do not doubt for a moment that fatherhood is a subject that I will return to in this blog, as it is a topic which is obviously key to my life; but I will leave my thoughts here for the time being.

Best wishes


Thursday, 27 June 2013

Reverence for the Blessed Sacrament

This blog post was inspired (if that is the right word) by a conversation I had with a priest after a school mass last week. There were 600 or so students, all aged 11-14 at the mass with their teachers. I was supervising the altar servers so was in the sacristy after mass when the priest commented to me that he thought there was a distinct lack of reverence in pupils as they recieve communion. This post will explain my thoughts on 'appropriate reverence' for the Blessed Sacrament.

From a personal point of view, anything we do with regard to the Blessed Sacrament is not reverent enough. Given the belief that there is the real substance of our Lord in that host, kneeling does not go anywhere near far enough, we should prostrate ourselves in such a presence. Given the need for unity in the liturgy, kneeling is the most appropriate, whilst still widely usable, posture to adopt, but there are times in mass or during adoration when I feel that kneeling doesn't come close to the reverence I believe is due.

There are three areas I would like to address in turn; firstly being in a church or chapel with a tabernacle, secondly the exposed Blessed Sacrament at mass or adoration, and finally in the context of recieving holy communion:

A church is a very special place of course, particularly during holy mass, but it is the tabernacle that makes even an empty church an extraordinary place; there is a Real Presence of our Lord in that place, all of the time (with the pedantic exception of the latter part of Holy Week). Most people have an idea of 'how' to behave in a church, but it seems that many do not know 'why' they should behave that way. A genuflection as you enter a pew - many people do this as a matter of course in any church, tabernacle or not; this seems to suggest a misunderstanding of 'why' they are genuflecting - are they genuflecting to the altar? or the crucifix? I suspect if one asked the question many people would say it was as much out of habit as out of reverence. Similar statements could be made for being silent in a church out of reverence - reverence for what? To finish this idea with a quick example; it is often said as pupils enter the school hall for mass that 'this is our church' for the afternoon, with the term 'church' being the thing that demands reverence. Discounting the fact that a hall is most definately not a church, there is a clear indication in that statement that we are reverent in a church because we are in a church, rather than because there is, thinly veiled, the Real Presence our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Adoration is a truly beautiful part of our faith; we are given the opportunity to be close to our Lord, to pray, meditate and contemplate in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As mentioned, kneeling is the common posture to adopt during adoration but I will often, after a time kneeling, sit in order to be more comfortable, as I find this helps me think more deeply. The peace that comes with being in the presence of Christ in this way is incredible, and could easily be a whole post in its own right. With regards to the reverence due when the Body of Christ is exposed for adoration, the rule I learnt as a child was that one genuflected on one knee to the concealed Blessed Sacrament and on both knees when it is displayed in a monstrance. This rule is seemingly old-fashioned now; I can find no current reference to both-knee genuflection but there is nothing contradicting it either, so I still follow it and see many others doing the same. Some might say why should there be a difference in our behaviour towards the reposed Sacrament compared with the exposed. A fair question, to which I cannot give an answer beyond asking the return question - why behave differently after the consecration at mass? There is the concealed sacrament present in the church before the consecration but there is a perceptible change in a church during the Eucharistic Prayer, Communion Rite and distribution of communion (or at least there should be).

So this leads to my thoughts on actually receiving communion at mass. This itself has three parts: Firstly in queuing to receive communion my mind is focused on what I am about to do - not receive, but do; in the sense that I am about to enter into the most intimate connection with my Lord and God. It is all too common to see people talking to those in the queue next to them as they approach the sanctuary. At times I have found myself getting irritated at this and it distracts massively from trying to obtain a peaceful and open state of mind - I do my best, but if it is distracting one person it is probably distracting many. Secondly, actually receiving communion is a very simple thing to do and is over very quickly. It would be (and is) very easy to overlook the importance of the actual act of receiving in the extended prayer before and after. The significance of this cannot be overestimated, in that tiny space of time we take the real and complete substance of Christ into our bodies and by the same act express our desire for him to stay with us in spirit. There is a huge debate to be had over whether one should recieve on the tongue or in the hand and I don't want to digress too much into that here, but given my thoughts in the second paragraph it will probably come as no surprise that I prefer on the tongue. The final part of receiving communion for me is the returning to my pew and kneeling quietly considering what I have just done (again, done, not simply received). I know many people have particular prayers that they say after communion, and I always include the 'O Sacrament Most Holy...' prayer, but the contemplative prayer I experience immediately after communion is most rewarding - I have a real sense that God is with me, within me and all around me.

I should add as a final note that it is very rare that I use a personal, rather than collective pronoun in relation to God ('my Lord', as opposed to 'our Lord'), but receiving communion is to me a very personal moment; all are called to receive, and to the same end of connecting ourselves to God more closely, but we each experience the sacrament in a personal way.

Regardless of the context in which we interact with the Blessed Sacrament, the idea recurs that it would be virtually impossible to show too much reverence to the Real Presence of our Lord.

Best wishes


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A Catholic Identity

This post continues on from a previous thought - how does one recognise a Catholic? And gradually turns to thoughts on how we can encourage young Catholics to witness to their faith.

There are a great many stereotypes associated with Catholicism - most people in England imagine Catholics to be mainly old women who kneel and say the rosary at a hundred miles an hour in front of a statue or other image, before getting out a few dozen prayer cards to as many different Saints and praying each in turn. 

Whilst these stereotypes are not entirely undeserved, they are often badly misunderstood, and younger Catholics have, by and large, and for a fair number of years, concealed their faith from those around them; for fear of mockery or even derision. This is something I see every day in the Catholic school at which I work - there are those who are clearly nervous about coming into the chapel to say the rosary, or joining the school choir, or reading at mass; and this mentality is being carried through into young Catholic adults. So the stereotype of Catholics being old exists not because there aren't young Catholics, but because they are not as open about their faith.

So what might young Catholics (teenagers onward) do to show their faith? There are easy answers to this question; wear crucifixes or rosary bracelets, talk openly about their 'faith' behaviours (how many Catholic teenagers would omit mass when asked by a peer "what're you doing this weekend?") and discuss their faith openly when appropriate.

The more complex answer is that we must encourage the young to be active and effective witnesses in everything they do. Far from rubbing people's noses in the faith, this is perhaps an even more subtle change than those mentioned above. The outward signs are important, but they must support a fundamental change in our approach to life - to quote Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, "kindness has converted more people than zeal, science or eloquence"*

Of course these things are easy to suggest, but most teenagers are social animals, and will not want to be the one who initiates this change in their circle of friends - faith is, almost by definition, a personal experience and for many teenagers is hidden even from close friends. So how do we encourage the young laity to take up the outward signs of the faith? The great work of institutions such as Soli House and Alton Castle helps immensely, but the encouragement must stretch beyond a weekend's retreat into their scholastic and familial relationships too. 

Social media is much condemned in education as a whole new way of bullying; and pupils are subjected to assembly after assembly about how poorly people behave on the Internet. Why should we not be encouraging the use of social media as a way to share their feelings? Indeed a perennial feature in those assemblies is how easy it is to be brave from behind a computer screen, to say something you might not if you were in front of the person; why not harness that to a positive - we should be encouraging young people to refer to their faith in their status updates, tweets and blogs.

I will finish with what may be the most controversial comment of this post: In my experience those young people who remain with and develop their understanding of their faith into and through their twenties are those individuals whose experiences or preferences (often both) of Catholicism are notably conservative. This is not to say they do not also embrace more modern church practices, but they have a distinctly old-fashioned approach to many areas which, whilst never officially changed, have developed into new practices by themselves. For example the practice of holding hands with the person next to you during the Our Father at mass - I know the use of the orans position for the laity is common in parts of the world, but the holding hands as far as I can tell is an entirely new innovation. I have seen some families doing this in mass, and I was encouraged to do it whilst at a Soli House-like retreat during secondary school, but I have never seen it done by a group of young people who have come to mass of their own volition. Even the tangible outward signs mentioned above are considered old fashioned, but it seems that it is those who do wear crucifixes and say the rosary who are most likely to remain with the church into their adult years.

Best wishes.


* quote taken from a tweet by Ashley Kiczek - @1sistersR4ever

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Some Thoughts On Sin

I have been thinking a lot over the past few months about sin. This post is an attempt to give (some of) my views on what sin is and how an increased awareness of my sins has changed my outlook to life.

The Catechism, in points 1849 and 1850, describes sin as being an offence, both against eternal law (CCC 1849) and against God (CCC 1850). These would seem to be linked, given that God established eternal law in the scriptures. I have struggled to find appreciable differences between eternal law and natural law, but that could be a whole other post... 

To describe sin as being an offence against reason, truth and right conscience seems to indicate that everyone has an instinctive sense of right and wrong which is linked to our notion of sin. The key difference in a belief in wrong-doing being sinful is that wrong actions carry a consequence - a loss of grace in our relationship with God. If one does not believe in God, what consequence is there to wrong-doing besides that which society imposes in the form of our judicial system? To some the threat of imprisonment is cause enough to keep them from wrongdoing, but for those who believe in God, the idea of being separated from Him is far more of a deterrent than the possibility of a policeman knocking on our door,

So this leads to the idea of different types of sin - mortal and venial. Until very recently I was barely aware that these two 'classes' of sin existed - indeed I asked a class I was covering recently if they could tell me what was meant by mortal sin and out of the 10 who had made their first communion and been confirmed, not one could tell me anything substantial. This ignorance (including on my part until recently) points to either poor catechesis at first communion and/or confirmation or a lack of reinforcement since; given that I can remember my preparation for both sacraments I suspect the former. 

Venial sins are those which are not grave, or serious, offences, and which, while they damage our relationship with God, can be wiped away by remorse and an act of contrition such as that at the start of mass. Mortal sins are serious, committed knowingly and committed willingly; they destroy our relationship of grace with God, and can only be removed by sacramental absolution during confession.

When I have committed venial sins I feel dispirited, particularly during an examination of my conscience, but there is a sense of relief after making a heartfelt and spiritual act of contrition. Over the past couple of years I have tried to do this everyday, usually at the start of Compline (Night Prayer), and would strongly recommend it.

Mortal sins however are very different. The shame and anguish of being in a state of mortal sin is depressing even to consider; I have a real sense that I am missing a part of my life, knowing that I have offended God in such a serious manner. However, in the same way as the anguish of mortal sin is a thousand times worse than that of venial sin, so to is the satisfaction, elation even, that I feel after making a considered and frank confession.

I am very conscious that I have barely scratched the surface of my thoughts on sin, but I will finish this post with a short story of an experience of a confession which I think illustrates the idea of sin damaging or destroying our relationship with God:

I had gone to Lourdes with a school trip; I hadn't been to confession for a number of years (during my time at university and in my first years of teaching), but I felt inspired to go during my time there. I found out the timings of English confession and was half an hour too late, but made a note of the times and luckily I was able to receive the sacrament the following day. It was a beautiful day in Lourdes - it was all sun cream and sunglasses, but I remember coming out into the warm sunshine and appreciating it in a whole new way. I genuinely felt like God was with me in a way that I had not felt for years - my relationship with him had truly been restored.

As always, comments are welcome.

Best wishes


Friday, 31 May 2013

2nd Friday, May 2013

Friday 10th May was the monthly meeting of the 2nd Friday group at St Chad's Cathedral in Birmingham. I've only been to a couple of 2nd Friday gatherings but have found both thought-provoking and, frankly, inspiring.

Firstly, a brief explanation of 2nd Friday: Organised as a group for young people in the archdiocese, the group meets on the second Friday of each month (hence the name) for confessions, mass and a themed talk afterwards. The evenings are advertised mainly through social media - a search on Facebook for 2nd Friday or on Twitter for @bhamcatholics will bring up the relevant pages.

This month's talk was given by Bishop Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, on the topic of Dignitatis Humanae - The 2nd Vatican Council document on religious freedom.

Bishop Davies' talk was, as I have already mentioned, inspiring, and I came away with a great deal of things whirring around my mind. One particular aspect came out during the short group discussion following the talk that I have been considering in more depth; it is perhaps best to phrase this as a question:

What are the challenges facing the Church in its role of
protecting and spreading the faith in the world?
This is a poorly paraphrased version of one of the questions Bishop Davies asked us to think about in our groups following his talk. I do not claim to have all (or indeed any) of the answers to this question, but it is one that the Church must be constantly asking within itself. The more we discussed this the more the idea came out that this question is becoming more and more pertinent in today's world - the challenges seem more serious than many that have come before and, most worryingly, far more widespread. In particular we noted challenges such as decreasing numbers of practicing Catholics, more casual sexual morals, increasing abortion rates and the push to legalise same-sex 'marriage'.
The challenges we noted seemed to fall into two categories: Firstly there was the problem of people loosing their identity as Christians and falling away from God and secondly there were those problems which seemed to stem from a societal loss of identity as a Christian country. The two seem to be similar in regards to an 'identity' but vastly different in scale.
We discussed various ways of approaching the challenges we had noted, and covered a range of possibilities from Prayer (always useful) to some frankly right-wing political approaches to controlling Society's religious expression (obviously not in any seriousness) and while we were able to agree on what would not be constructive, we were unable to reach anything close to a consensus on possible solutions.
As I thought more about the two problems on the drive home it occurred that there is no quick solution to either problem, but rather that they might be seen together and dealt with slowly. 
The Church does not have the direct political weight it once had. This is largely down to the advent of democracy in the western world and, whilst not necessarily a bad thing, means that statements by the Archbishop of Westminster and the Bishop's Conference can simply be ignored by politicians if they so choose. I believe the Bishops should certainly continue making these statements publically but perhaps they should also use their influence over the Catholic population to exert a political pressure - how would politicians react if the Archbishops of Westminster and Canterbury made a joint statement asking Catholics and Anglicans to not vote for a party which advocates same-sex marriage (in essence to make a 'protest vote', as all three major parties support the legislation)? Of course many would ignore the Archbishops' request - but if only 10% did as they were asked, what would the effect be on the general election results? Could the politicians ignore this effect? 
But I digress; the Bishops could use their influence in a far more fundamental way, by encouraging people to be active witnesses to their faith in their day-to-day lives. I am ashamed to say that there are times when I have had the opportunity to share the moral teaching of the Church, and my own strongly-held views, but have remained silent out of fear of derision. This has become incredibly widespread - Catholics are worried about displaying their faith outwardly as this can, today and in this country, lead to accusations of being against the secular norm, which can in serious cases lead to disciplinary action in one's job or even court actions. If every Christian practised and witnessed to their faith every day, in every action, then there would be a fundamental shift in society away from the secular, ultra-inclusive, direction and back towards a country built on sound morals and natural law. Such a change is not going to happen overnight, and will not come about through the action of one person; whether he is a layman, a priest or even a bishop; it must come from a concerted effort to encourage every Christian in the country to take up the vocation of their baptism in a very real way. 
I read an article recently (unfortunately I cannot find it again to give the author credit) which contained a proposal that falling attendance to church was down to Catholics lacking an identity. The author posed the question 'how does one recognise a(nother) Catholic?' This is a wonderful question and can be extended to include the word 'Christian' in place of 'Catholic'. There are dozens of things which have been done in the past which have fallen out of use; for example: saying the phrase 'God rest him/her' after using a dead person's name; making the sign of the cross as a hearse passes by, or before a meal; stopping to say the Angelus at noon; the list goes on. The re-emphasis (or perhaps re-introduction) of the Friday fast by the Bishops' Conference is a good example of how this can be done, but, whilst not aiming to laud the practice over others, perhaps the laity should be encouraged to explain why they fast on Fridays to those who ask. By encouraging simple devotions and practices the article suggests that Catholicism (again 'Christianity' could be substituted to a similar end) would become more recognisable and 'main-stream', rather than being a hushed thing people do just for an hour on Sundays. This in turn would lead to people asking more in depth questions about the faith and returning to or discovering the Church (and more importantly, Christ) for the first time.
What started as a simple post about 2nd Friday has stretched into something far more. I will proof-read what I have written, but will try not to make too many changes; my apologies if I have rambled at times, but as I said, I do not intend to give answers, just observations from my current point of view.
Best wishes

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

An Experience in Lourdes

Another retrospective post, but one that is very important to me, and appropriate given that today (April 16th, although it's actually just into the 17th here) is the Feast Day of St Bernadette:

An Experience in Lourdes from 2011 (written 12th August 2012)

I have been reminded of my experience in Lourdes with an Italian man from the Knights of Malta and as I have now begun to write about my spiritual journey I thought I should include this.
The meeting occurred whilst in Lourdes with pupils from school during the Easter holidays of 2011; it was the night of my 25th birthday (actually the early hours of the following day). Meeting with him (I can no longer remember his name) was probably the most spiritual event of my life.
I had gone down to the grotto once the pupils were in bed, and I was the only one there; I settled down and began saying the Rosary. Whilst I was there this gentleman came over and simply said ‘rosario’. I replied yes and we said the rosary together, with my parts in English and his in Italian. Afterwards we sang a few hymns, both of us choosing Marian hymns that had at least parts in Latin (one I can remember was ‘As I Kneel Before You’). We then walked back up to the town together, talking as we went; despite not speaking a word of each other’s language we were able to communicate what we did, why we had come to Lourdes and various other bits of information about one another. I went back to the hotel with the most incredible feeling of relaxation, contentment and simple happiness.
Thinking afterwards about why I found this experience so moving I settled on two things: Firstly, this was a very real, personal experience of the global nature of the church – despite having no language in common, we were able to communicate our love of Mary, and through her, Christ our Lord. Lourdes in general is a fantastic place to see this international nature, but this was a direct, personal interaction brought about by a shared faith. Secondly, the example of that man; he was Christ’s reaching out personified – we could have both been there, prayed our rosary and left, but both of us were moved in our faith so much more by his act of reaching out; he has been in my prayers many times since.
Best Wishes

Monday, 15 April 2013

Francis's Birth

Below is an account of how I found out about the birth of my son, Francis. I hope that the incredible emotions of that night come through.

Hail Mary after Francis was born (16th December 2012)

Following closely from my previous post; Sam underwent an emergency caeserian for which she needed a general anaesthetic (her temperature was too high for the local anaesthetic).  This meant that I was unable to go into theatre with her, so I was left in the delivery room on my own.  After she left I paced the room for a short time, wondering, as I suppose anyone would, whether there was anything we could have done to make the labour easier. After a minute or two I sat down with my head in my hands and prayed; perhaps more intently than I have ever prayed – I used no words, I just felt that at that moment I was close to God, or rather, God was close to me. I thought back to that Rosary from the night before, particularly the Nativity Mystery and began saying a Hail Mary for the well-being of Sam and our child. My heart, mind and soul were despairing (this may be a strong word, but it is the most appropriate word I have). As I came to the traditional split in that first prayer (…of thy womb, Jesus) the door opened and the Consultant who had been looking after Sam came in and told me that we had a son, and that they were both OK. I thanked her and as she left I continued my prayer. For anyone who does not have children I cannot think of a comparison to the feelings washing over me; intense joy, happiness and a thousand other synonymous words, but all permeated by an immense relief that Sam and the baby were both OK. Within one short prayer I had gone from perhaps the lowest point emotionally of my life to one of the highest. I have always found the idea of asking for and/or being granted intercessions by our Blessed Mother or the saints a difficult thing to believe in, but in that moment I truly had no doubt that Mary was with us and praying for us to Christ.

A Special Rosary

Given that my last post was in reference to my son's baptism, I thought I'd put up a couple of thoughts from when he was first born:

Rosary while Sam was in hospital (15th/16th December 2012)

Sam [my wife] went into hospital in the afternoon of the 15th of December as her temperature was very high. The doctors decided that the best thing to do was to keep her in overnight, try to lower her temperature and if it hadn’t come down, induce her in the morning. So we ended up spending the night in the hospital with Sam receiving all sorts of antibiotics, along with vast amounts of saline and giving lots of blood samples.
Sam slept very fitfully, but during one of the periods that she was asleep I began saying a rosary. The joyful mysteries seemed to be sensible, given the situation, and whilst saying that rosary I found my meditations on those mysteries were deeper than they ever had been before. Although the memory of my thoughts faded all too quickly in the hours that followed, I will recall what I can:
The first mystery (Annunciation) made me think of both what Mary experienced not just at the annunciation but after it too; she had consented to be the Mother of God, but she had also consented to be a mother, with all that that entailed. I am reminded of girls at school who have a life-like doll to look after for the weekend and who are utterly unprepared for what motherhood involves; almost certainly Mary was not so ignorant, given the times she lived in, but having a child would have been for her (and still is today) a massive undertaking. This led me to think about how we found out Sam was pregnant, both with Teresa and with the new baby; it is very straightforward now, the tests are virtually infallible and a woman’s pregnancy is monitored continuously to ensure that the baby is OK; what must it have been like for women before such monitoring?
The second mystery (Visitation) made me think of the visits we had made to family, and that they had made to us. They have such expectation and it is difficult to know how to respond. How must Mary have felt in those months? The expectations of her child would be far beyond those of any child before or since.
The third mystery (Nativity) was, unsurprisingly, the most poignant and again I sought comparisons between our situation and that of Mary; a hospital with doctors and midwives against a stable with only her husband – a comparison made all the stronger by the fact that we were in the hospital because Sam was unwell. I cannot recall the details that went through my mind but I can remember the closeness that I felt to Our Lady and Christ as I prayed that mystery; genuinely one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
During the fourth and fifth mysteries I considered the things we have to look forward to as our children grow and prayed that they will have happy and fulfilled childhoods.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Francis's Baptism

My son Francis was baptised last Sunday, Deo Gratias!
Through Baptism each child is inserted into a gathering of friends who never abandon him in life or in death. ... This group of friends, this family of God, into which the child is now admitted, will always accompany him, even on days of suffering and in life's dark nights; it will give him consolation, comfort, and light. 
Pope Benedict XVI, January 8th, 2006.  


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Hand During Prayer

I've had a very busy week - both of my children have been ill (by turns, not both together) and we've been preparing for my son's baptism, which takes place tomorrow. I've not had time to finish my post about the Easter Vigil, but I will get to that in the coming few days I hope.

In the meantime I'll share the first entry from my offline log - below is a post from July last year (2012):

Hands During Prayer (July 2012)

I’ve gradually started putting my hands palm-to-palm as I pray, something I’ve never done before (maybe as a child, but I cannot remember it). I feel that it focuses my mind in a new and peculiar way – having my hands raised in front of me seems to make the prayer in my mind (both the words and the deeper intention) more intense.

Until now I have always had my hands clasped in front of me, which seemed to be respectful, but not to be contributing to my prayer. Having my hands palm-to-palm gives me a much more spiritual feeling; strange for such a simple thing, but it is the case.

Whilst I have been making the most of this new-found aid in concentration during the divine office and whilst saying other prayers, I have found it more difficult to sit/stand/kneel with my hands like this in mass. It is easiest to do this whilst kneeling, perhaps because of the comfort of a pew-back in front of me; but prohibitively difficult whist sitting or standing. This is, I believe, a result of self-awareness, and not wanting to seem overly ‘holy’ (maybe devout is a better word, but I suspect ‘holy’ would be the one people use) in other people’s eyes. I’m not sure yet of a solution for this.
Now, 9 months on, I am still holding my hands like this during prayer whenever I can. I still find it difficult to do when standing or sitting in mass, although I have tried it (and found a similar focus) when standing to listen to the Gospel.
All the best

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is my favourite liturgy of the year. The dark church, despite being a church, definitely has an air of death and dismay about it, considering how well lit it usually is. This contrasts beautifully with the candle-lit church of the service of light; not as bright as the electrical lighting of course, but the fact that the candlelight doesn't reach the depths of the church adds to the sense of Christ in a world which does not yet wholly believe, and emphasises the missionary work of the Church at large, both at home and abroad.

The intonation of 'Lumen Christi' never fails to stir a deep feeling of joy within me, even if I am (as this year) still outside of the church building. I remember being younger and the choir singing 'the light of Christ, has come into the world'; this remains one of my favourite snippets of Church music.

The Exultet was sung by a layperson, in the long form. This is another wonderful piece of writing and music that must be listened to in its entirety if one is to fully appreciate its beauty. It was during the Exultet that I noticed something I've never seen before, but which seems incredibly appropriate - the cold weather has been clinging on here in Birmingham and there were a good number of people holding the plastic covers around their lit candle as one might hold a cup of hot chocolate on a winter's night. The light of Christ which they had just received was literally providing them with a basic, physical necessity - warmth. I pray that as this physical need was being met, everyone present had some recognition of the spiritual need that was met when Christ rose from the dead.

The highlight of the vigil for me was our parish priest leading the Litany of the Saints. I don't think I've ever been to a mass where this was sung, but it was truly inspiring. I have heard it sung before but singing it myself has made me go looking online for nice versions. The only improvement would have been if it was in Latin. My current favourite online version is here:

All the best.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Good Friday Service

The Good Friday Service is usually the part of the Triduum that I find most emotional, but this year it ran a close second to the Mass of the Lord's Supper the night before.

That said, it was still very touching. The Passion was read by two young people, along with the priest, and they did a very good job. I always find the Passion account of Saint John to be less heartfelt than those of the other Gospels, perhaps due to the scripture references that are included - I know they are there because John's Gospel was written later and for a different purpose, but they do break up the narrative in places.

Even so I was able to focus on the words and consider the Passion deeply as it was being proclaimed. Over the past year I have begun to appreciate the Liturgy of the Word a great deal more than I ever have before; this I think is down to the fact that I actually listen to them and look for the relationships with my own life. Anyone can hear a reading from scripture and not relate to it, even look for the fault in it; but to see its meaning in our own lives requires us to be open to the deeper meaning in what we hear. Again this may be an idea that I explore more fully in a future post.

After the Proclamation of the Passion came the Veneration of the Cross. This is an action that I always saw as quite matter of fact when I was younger, and I am not sure I fully appreciate the significance even now. I have read recently about whether the word 'veneration' or 'adoration' is more appropriate when dealing with the cross (and indeed any cross or crucifix). There are different terms in Greek for worship of God directly, worship of Our Lady and worship of the Saints; these terms translate as adoration (as in ~ of the Blessed Sacrament - as the real presence of Christ) and (high) veneration (of Our Lady and the saints). Given that the cross is not a real presence of God, venerate would seem to be the correct word, but I have seen it listed as 'adoration of the cross' in a number of places. Going up to venerate the cross, there was a nice hymn playing, but it still felt a bit of a functional thing to be doing; it is not that I do not have the highest regard for the Holy Cross, but I would rather spend some time in quiet contemplation (and do, regularly) than queue up to kiss the foot of the cross directly. As I say I think need to consider the significance of the clear, public nature of the veneration of the cross on Good Friday.

Best wishes.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Mass of the Lord's Supper

I know this is a little belated, but over the next few days I will try to put down my thoughts on the different elements of the Triduum, beginning with the Mass of the Lord's Supper:

I truly love attending this mass each year. Whilst recognising the significance of the consecration at any mass, Jesus' words in the Eucharistic Prayer on the evening of Maundy Thursday seem even more powerful than usual.

This year I was asked to be one of the twelve who had their feet washed during the service, and of course I said yes (I couldn't really turn the priest down when he asked directly). This was a very unusual experience. I do some small works in my parish as I am needed to, but always with the deference to the priest that was instilled in me when I was only a child. Now I found myself sitting on the steps of the sanctuary letting a priest wash my feet. In honesty it felt very awkward, but then we had just heard in the Gospel that it was awkward for the apostles. I cannot help but draw other parallels with that Gospel passage: The priest is a servant of those whose feet he washes, whilst at the same time being deserving of respect and of the authority he holds; to turn the priest down would be to recognise one part of his priestly function and ignore the other. I do not claim that the theology behind these parallels is defined, but they did occur to me during and after that part of the mass.

The mass ended with the transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. I was disappointed that the Pange Lingua Gloriosi was not sung - I think it is one of the most beautiful hymns ever written; but I will say more on music in the liturgy in a future post. The stripping of the sanctuary after this mass is a terribly sad thing to witness; particularly the removal of the sanctuary lamp and the cloth covering the tabernacle.

I stayed at the altar of repose for an hour or so after mass and went through the first parts of the Passion in my mind; the agony in the garden certainly, but also on into what happened to our Lord over that night. I was struck with a sense of despair that I have not felt before; although it seemed entirely appropriate. The closest thing I can liken it to is watching a sad film that you have seen before; you are willing the characters to do something different, to avoid the unhappy ending; but of course they will not - it is the same film as the last time you saw it. How must it have been for Christ in that garden? He knew the ending of his story, and wanted dearly to avoid it, even had the option to avoid it, but he saw it through nevertheless.

To sum this post up in two simple thoughts: The moving example of Christ's service in the mass; followed by the despair of knowing what had to come next.

Best Wishes.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

7 Last Words

Yesterday (Wednesday of Holy Week) I visited the Church of Our Lady and St Bridgid in Northfield (Twitter - @OurLadyStBridgid) for an evening of reflection, meditation and music arranged by a group from the 2nd Friday movement. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

The evening was built around the seven last statements of Christ, each accompanied by a reflection and piece of music. Most of the music was new to me and a little more contemporary than my usual taste, but it worked well with the modern style of the reflections.

In the quiet, candle-lit atmosphere of a beautiful church there was a real opportunity to spend time contemplating the significance of those simple phrases. I will try to find time over the next couple of weeks to share my thoughts on at least some of the phrases in turn.

Best wishes.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

First post... Very new to this...

So I'm very new to the idea of blogging, let alone doing my own, but I hope that this blog will become an insight into my faith and how I view my relationship with God.

For a first post I think I should explain why I have decided to put what has, until now, been a private diary of my faith journey out into the public domain:

I been seeking spiritual direction from a priest I know, and discussing various aspects of my faith with him. He advised me to seek a range of views on some matters, so as to better make my own conclusions. We discussed some different methods of how to do this, and as well as reading and talking directly to people I know, the idea of a blog came up. I am hoping that this blog will do two things - firstly, I hope that it will form an account of the development of my faith over time, and secondly it will give people a chance to share their experiences, be they similar or contradictory.

I cannot promise frequent or regular updates, although I'm sure at times there will be both. Perhaps that is a first insight into my own (and I'm sure lots of others') faith - there are times when our faith is rightly at the forefront of our minds, but others when it equally appropriately plays second fiddle to short-term, but vital, personal matters.