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.