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: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jb23Z5X3uhA

All the best.