Saturday, 19 October 2013

Finally, Camping

I can't believe it's taken so long. We have an old trailer tent and we finally managed to take a break for a couple of nights after talking about it ad nauseam. We went to Arisaig in the West Highlands (of Scotland), about 4 hours by car. Though, I have to say, I saw the forecast and noticed there wasn't any rain. In fact, there was a hardly a cloud in the sky, which meant a clear view of the Northern Sky at night. It was really wonderful...
Our tent is in the middle on the hill, with the islands of Eigg and Rhum in the background.
The area is also referred to as Blessed Morar, relatively untouched by the Reformation.
In front of the cross you have a superb view of the islands. To the rear of the cross is Loch Morar. There is a somewhat lengthy account of the history of the cross and the area in the context of the Reformation given here. But the detail of how there was a secret seminary on the island after the Reformation and how it's chapel was destroyed is a salutary reminder of how the Catholic Faith survived during difficult times.
And here we have the very train viaduct used in three of the Harry Potter films that we passed in Glenfinnan on the way. (A clear view follows). We also saw the steam train twice! It was lovely. Literally, a blast from the past.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Turning down a no-brainer

Tonight is World Book Night.
World Book Night has a scheme that allows those who are interested to give away free books to those who might not read that much. My wife celebrated World Book Night by giving out free copies of books in our local town today with the help of her sister. Easy, eh? My wife didn't even have to bear the cost of the book giveaway.

Well, not quite. She was ignored mostly, some others were very rude, and one person even shouted at them. There was a cost, even if the gift was free.

The problem is we are so cynical that we don't believe someone could have something for us for free that doesn't come with strings attached or some other vested interest. There are a lot of people being untruthful out there.

So, there's a tip to be learned here about helping others, attempting to better direct them towards grace, the greatest free gift. Next time you're thinking of giving someone some help in a more serious matter, like speaking to someone about having faith, and a relationship with God, think of how it must appeal in this cynical world. The relationship's the thing. Your genuine relationship with God, and your genuine relationship with them. Do you make quiet, hidden sacrifices for love of both? Say interiorly who you're doing it for. This is sincere, genuine love, to sacrifice for the one you love.

I think Bl.John Paul II said 'prayer and sacrifice are the most powerful combination man has ever known'.

And, for Goodness sake, don't start with 'I'm not trying to sell you something'. Honesty is wonderful, great and essential, but you have to be smart as well.

And at the end of the night they were all gone. Persevere!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Stop and Wonder at a Snail's Pace

If wondered what snails ever did for us? Ever wondered what a special child in your family can do for you? Someone once said it's not more wonders we need but just a greater sense of wonder.

Sometimes we have to stop, smell the roses, or ... maybe just play with the snails.
This kept our special son going for, I'd say, about half-an-hour one day.

Get friends who move more slowly than you do and they'll stick around for longer.

Why suffering?

I may have written about this before, but one needs perspective so often. I don't pretend for a second to know of others' sufferings. I only know the loss of my parents within 5 months of each other rocked my faith a couple of years ago. Not knowing some intellectual answers didn't help me. 'Why do we have to have this life and not just be in heaven?' I remember asking myself, and also wanting books from my parish priest to find answers.

One answer that has helped me since then is the lack of contemplation of heaven. No one ever talks about it. We remain silent about God's greatest gift, I think largely because we don't believe it. It's just too good to be true. And in some senses our lives are like a more immediate heaven that doesn't require belief. (Here I don't intend to insult the suffering souls grappling for an answer in their anguish, just explain the general silence.)

My beloved parents on holiday in Austria. Now with the Father. My mum used to tell us she'd look at these views and think 'what must heaven be like?' My brother recalls my dad at a reservoir in Scotland revelling in the view and making a discrete Sign of the Cross from his wheel chair in the last weeks of his life.
When I have started to contemplate it, I have begun to realise that in heaven we may wish we could show this great God just how much we love Him, as a relatively paltry effort in return for eternal, never-ending bliss (I could go on).
It's a simple truth, verified by experience, that proof of love is to sacrifice for the one we love. When we die we can open our hands with offerings of suffering to show we understand the enormity of the gift of eternal life.
But I am truly humbled by those who can, in the midst of great involuntary suffering, say 'I love you God', as we stumble on clinging to faith, not fully knowing the One we talk to. Even Christ felt forsaken on the Cross but called on his Father. Do I suffer? Yet somehow Christ suffered more. I distinctly remember this forsakeness helped me, He had gone through this before me. But I remained hurt inside for a long time, and probably still now subconsciously the trust in God hasn't fully returned. It's a work in progress.

One day, standing before God, I will be properly ashamed of that lack of trust. But, like admitting sin, the first step is to recognise it's there (or in the case of  trust, not there) and work on it. He has, after all, made the first move in making me and giving me true freedom to respond. Then he's shown me exactly how.

A Good Friday all-round

On Good Friday this year we went on an ecumenical walk in Edinburgh across Leith Links. There is a plaque on a large table-like stone at one end of Leith Links that commemorates the world's first competitive game of golf played there (though now it's simply a park). We do this accompanied by adults with learning difficulties welcomed by the L'Arche community of Edinburgh. For most of the walk I had the pleasure of the company of George, who is in the far right of the picture on the previous link. When I first met my wife she was in the middle of a 3-year stint as a voluntary assistant living in Edinburgh. If if wasn't for L'Arche our paths wouldn't have crossed (though, as we discovered, we had been at pro-life conferences without having met).

The whole team with Edinburgh Castle directly above my head. What a cool mum they have! Don't be deceived by the sunglasses. I'd say there was a windchill of -5C up there. I could hardly bear to take my gloves off to take the photo below.
It was a lovely experience and reminded me of what L'Arche events have done through the years for me. Like Pope Francis' call to "step outside ourselves", taking part in their events has always been a very welcome break from introspection and stress, even when it didn't seem attractive to go to one and we went anyway. Thank you L'Arche.

It was a wonderful reminder of the universality of the christian faith as well. I met young people from Germany, France, Wales, and Australia.

Then we decided to go up Arthur's Seat, the high point in the middle of Edinburgh. It's only fair that I should point out that one can take the car on a road half-way up Arthur's Seat, walking the last, steep part of the path for 20-30 minutes or so.

The rest of the team with Holyrood Palace in the middle background.
There was some resistance to this trip up a hill. But, as you can see, it was worth it for a 360 degree panoramic view. Snow-clad hills on two sides (the Pentlands on the outskirts of Edinburgh and in Fife). Fife is over the other side of the River Forth behind us in the photos. This is where you'd find St.Andrew's.

We managed to do the reading of the Passion in the car, not being brave enough to take the little ones and our special son to any 3 o'clock service without a childrens' liturgy, and also the Rosary on the way home.

But the most heartening experience of the day was watching a crowd of 40 or so gather for a Good Friday service, journeying up Arthur's Seat. Accompanied by a priest who was one of their own, a group of pilgrims of Asian-Indian origin were making a Stations of the Cross, complete with beautiful wooden crucifix. There were many children among them carrying their Palm Sunday crosses. It was inspiring and, not knowing how to tell them just how beautiful it was, I knelt down on both knees as they past me.

After all, it's not about us. It really was His day, a Good Friday indeed.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Child and a Half

My son has autism. This is the child and a half.
I don't suppose he'll ever read this (though actually he can read quite well, he's just not going to be interested), so I don't mind revealing it now.
The wonderful thing is his innocence. He is naive. No, he is...straight-forward. Mostly. He delivers some of his lines with perfect sincerity, oblivious to how they come across.

I asked him the other day if he'd had a good day at school.

"Nearly", he said. I love this boy. "Ask me that question again later", he added.

So after dinner, he pipes up "Dad, you know that question you were going to ask me earlier? Ask me it now".

"Did you have a good day?"

"Nearly. My teacher took a note of a recipe I was telling her and she said that we might do it. Then, later, we had a vote and the other boys voted for something else".

This was nearly a good day. In heaven, this boy is going to get all his recipes made. I know it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A True Spritual Father

I've tried to follow Pope Emeritus Benedict's weekly catechesis on Faith for weeks now and, as I've read it and other writings of his over the years, I've been struck by just how well he writes. He is a master teacher. Archbishop Vincent Nichols spoke on BBC Radio 4 of the Pope's wonderful 'turn of phrase' and I was so grateful as that is exactly what I felt too. There seems to be so much he offered those who seek truth.
The Young Josef Ratzinger

A Prophet

Firstly, he was an academic, a university professor, and began to be recognised as an excellent scholar. This beginning was important for the future of the Church. His enormous intellectual ability allowed him to foresee the dangers during the Second Vatican Council. He was seen as 'progressive', as were a handful of his German colleagues, such as Karl Rahner. He jointly authored a document 'much more Rahner's work than my own' which 'evoked some rather bitter reactions' (in his autobiography, 'Milestones' p.128). This perhaps explained how he was seen to be, but was not, as progressive as some make out. As early as 1966 he realised how the redefining of Catholicism being proposed by some would leave anything being possible in theology, Catholicism having been wrenched away from it's Tradition. With the anchor pulled up, it could be tossed in the wild seas (which could be clearly seen and foreseen in the 60s). He spoke in his autobiography (covering up to 1977 only):
As we worked on it together, it became obvious to me that, despite our agreement on many desires and conclusions, Rahner and I lived two different theological planets...His was a speculative and philosophical theology in which Scripture and the Fathers in the end did not play an important role.

What a prophet he was! The significance of there being diverging paths, disunity in the Church, were devastating. Therefore, it became possible for Teddy Kennedy, the brother of President John F. Kennedy, to write of the pro-life vision in 1971:
“when history looks back at this era it should recognize this generation as the one which cared for human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.” (source)
Yet later Teddy Kennedy would help lead the way, from within the powerful Kennedy dynasty, for many Catholics in America to support abortion rights. This is perhaps one of the most powerful illustrations of the leap that was made between between one 'theological planet' and another, with the advice of errant priests.

But Joseph Ratzinger foresaw this and had the courage to distinguish himself from his colleagues' views. He was only an adviser to the Council at that stage but a significant one. Ratzinger himself said in a 1993 interview, "I see no break in my views as a theologian [over the years]". (source)
Thank be to God for his constancy. Lately, once again, he has spoken to us all as a prophet for our times on the defining of what it is to be human. This is a man who exemplifies commitment to the Faith, but will quote the Chief Rabbi of France.
A joyful spiritual father

A Father Figure

But then there is the father figure. I lost my dad in 2010. He was born the same year as Joseph Ratzinger. My dad spoke German well that he learned at school and introduced us to Austrian holidays when I was a teenager (Joseph Ratzinger was born in Southern Germany very close to the Austrian border). When I first read his autobiography it was interesting, but different the second time around. On second reading I noticed his beautiful reflection on his parents' passing. I felt his empathy. His parents were holy people and he loved them and missed them.
Reading Pope Benedict's writings was informative before but now became comforting for me. He was wise, calm, had 'seen it all' including the war years, if only a teenager as my dad was. And he had this 'turn of phrase' that Archbishop Nichols spoke of.

Different vocations, similar humility.

A Humble Servant 

In his autobiography, he indicates that he clearly saw himself called to be an academic. So, when invited to become Archbishop of Munich and Freising he hesitated but accepted on the strong advice of his confessor. Considering Pope John Paul II did not accept his resignation when Josef was Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wanting him to continue in the role, and then he was elected Pope when, in his brother George's view, he wanted to retire, Joseph Ratzinger has truly been a 'servant of the servants of God' all his life. He has conformed his will to God's will all his life.
And in return? He has been vilified by the press. I distinctly remember the - at the time very Catholic-influenced - Daily Telegraph reporting of John Paul II's death as the loss of 'Our Father' in a bold headline. Non-Catholics must have wondered if they had picked up a religious paper by accident. But note the volte-face for the election of the 'Rottweiler'. How cruel. How deceitful. Even, his affluent, liberal German homeland did not accord him the respect his intellect should have merited.
But he showed them the truth, in typical humble style. His first encyclical? Simply, 'God is Love'. His visit to the UK and many other personal encounters left people wondering 'is this the man the media like to maul?' Thus love confounded hatred. Truth trumped Falsehood. Humility defeated Pride. Meanwhile, the media here in the UK had to eat humble pie in the discovery of their own lies and depravity. Even Peter Seewald, the German journalist who interviewed him on several occasions for three published books, made the journey from atheism to Catholicism.
And his final flourish? The so-called Rottweiller humbly resigns his post in favour of another, avowing 'reverence' and 'obedience' to his successor. He is not greater than the Office, the Office of Peter is greater than even that wonderful man, Josef Ratzinger.
Thank you Lord, for the gift to mankind of Josef Ratzinger. And thank you Josef Ratzinger for the gift of yourself to us.

May God reward you.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

God, the casual artist, master painter

A camera capture from the Divine portfolio- 'sunrise'

I was prompted by Testosterhome's delight in the morning sunrise to recall (if only to myself!) what beauty I notice all around me. These photos were taken a couple of weeks ago. I had to stop my journey for the first one and get out the car. I just felt I had to.
It's hard to concentrate when God
is doing His
stuff all around you.
Even today, we had our first real 'heavy snow' (BBC Weather forecast definition), which was both thrilling and frightening (my car nearly didn't stop on an ungritted road). Then it had almost all melted by 3 in the afternoon. God turned that West of Scotland Temperature Gauge up just a notch or two and wiped away His work: just a little fun for the children, a reminder of the season, a brief re-appreciation of the milder weather. It had it's purpose for each person. Two immense books illustrated this small point in passing.
Firstly, in the Diary of St.Faustina God uses the weather to effect the changes He desired in His divine plan for her (para.64). A planned trip had to be postponed, as Our Lord had assured her, due to a very sudden change in weather. Secondly,  there is a story I had remembered from one of my readings of Story of a Soul by St.Therese, the Little Flower, and Doctor of the Catholic Church. Here it is recounted by an EWTN article:
Snow had always had a particular attraction for Teresa. She was born amid the snow of winter. She had a great desire to see the earth clad in white on the day of her Clothing. But the extreme mildness of the day made it seem impossible. On re-entering the cloister after the ceremony she found it covered with snow. Ever after, this was referred to as the little miracle.
A Rolf Harris Magic
Brush Christmas
present of mine circa 1980
It was January, but faith sees the hand of God. However, it is the improbability of snow existing at all that excites me. I am to be persuaded by the world that we are here by chance, that there is no explanation. We just are. What?? When surrounded by such wonders I feel surrounded by God's Love. It's such a benign, non-intrusive, respectful-of-freedom Love. But He draws me to Himself.
And it's great to know I'm not alone on that path. Others are looking up in awe and wondering. They wonder at God, the artist who need only think to create. Here we see more than just something of the artist in his work, we are enveloped in His Love.

Rolf Harris
But, to follow the theme in the Testosterhome post, does God the artist resemble the artistic hero of British childhood?

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Truth and Common Sense (1)

I thought I'd better blog. One reason for blogging in the first place was what good it might do me to 'talk sense' and so make sense of my view of the world (how grandiose)! So perversely, my not wanting to post anything has also been, in part, due to a feeling of 'why would anyone want to know what going on in my head?' It was really a self-put-down. So back to blogging. I'm not that bad.

To the point of the post. Lately I've come to realise the truth about the Truth I believe. So why do so few people believe it? Well, that's a big question but I'd like to suggest a couple of reasons.
Rest to think,
know the truth
and be happy.
One, there is an inertia when it comes to thinking deeply about anything in our culture. In many ways you can't blame people for this. Apart from the culture encouraging just 'feeling good', we also live such stressful, hectic lives that (on the face of it) physically and mentally we really need rest, rather than more thinking. Think 'I need to rest', rest, then think. This is why Sunday is no longer Sunday.
An illustration of this would be where I work. After any occasional discussion that is about religion (even though it's a Catholic school) people (even myself against my better judgement) feel a need to excuse the conversation. Something along the lines of "that was deep" or "I'm glad we've sorted out the world now". Part of the reasoning is because we're at work, which is truly exhausting at times, and we're showing respect for everyone's need to not think much during our breaks. But our continual bustle to this degree isn't healthy. We are no more than living like animals if we don't reflect.
So many of us see the
world through the
 eyes of our stomachs.
Secondly, we are so ruled by our feelings that even if something were to be obvious to us, we can't overcome our feelings, and the rule-of-the-feelings. This can be strong so sympathy is often due but sometimes it is just selfishness. The obesity crisis in developed countries is a good example. On the one hand, some people have medical conditions, inherited or otherwise, that require sympathy and treatment. But on the other, some of us (and I am one who loves to eat) just indulge our senses. We do what we want, not what's obviously good for us. Now, I happen to have great difficulty putting on weight. I always appear slim, it's fair to say (cue great envy, I know) but one day my eating habits may be so strongly ingrained and my metabolism slowing down, that I will reap the rewards of following my feelings. Simply following our feelings is a path to disaster. I know from experience. They have their part to play, but it isn't the main character. The principal is principles.
Doesn't that sound like a neat diagnosis of the developed world at present? There is almost nothing we cannot do and we try really hard to do them all filling all our time. And feelings take the lead. "The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, " (1 Corinthians 2:18 NRV). I had memorised this quote close to it's more literal translation: "But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God" (Douay version). Perhaps in changing the translation we have lost the sense - in more ways than one! But the two translations cover the ground of lack of reflection/prayer and sensuality, respectively.
However, I know regarding the teaching point I should not point the finger elsewhere. The Truth of things is what we each have to wrestle with, taking the time and space to do so. It's obvious to every person they are mortal and satisfying the senses can't solve it and obscures the vision of God's laws of Love.

I don't love because I don't feel like it. I don't change because I don't stop to reflect on it.