Lord, Prepare me.

The world seeks to constantly make my life “easier”. Time after time I am surrounded by people telling me they have the answer to all of my problems, to make my life more comfortable.
A secular society has no reason, or purpose for my pain and it therefore can’t seek to even begin to relieve it. Merely stifle it, stimulate me so I forget about it or worse eliminate those who feel it, or the reason they feel it at whatever the cost.
Religion, however, does not shrink in it’s response to pain. On the contrary. I don’t follow a theory, I don’t follow a magical ideal that will make everything better. I believe in a person, I follow a man. A man, with a mum and dad – a family that knew pain, that lived it and did not seek to have that pain, or confusion relieved. They bore it, humbly, asking only for God’s grace.
When the Angel Gabriel told St Joseph that he must lead the holy family to Egypt Joseph did not reply with uncertainty or questions. Would anyone blame the saint if he had replied with such things as, how shall we get there, who will protect us from our enemies if we stay and for how long shall we stay? And what, still, about the Mother and new born baby? And why should I trust this Angel who, has no wisdom above the new born Christ incarnate who, surely, in His own way could have revealed this information to His earthly father.
It is only, suggests St Francis De Sales, our “too great care” for ourselves which holds us back from achieving perfection. St Joseph asked no questions, his humble obedience led him potentially into turmoil.
It’s this too great care which society seeks to glorify, to make us precious and pander to every small circumstance that ruffles our tranquillity.
But St Francis does have a point, life is messy and it’s tough and faith isn’t free of that. Jesus never said follow me and no one will ever question you, you’ll never find this difficult and you’ll never wonder why. In fact he said you are blessed when people speak evil against you, you’re blessed when they persecute you.
People would often tell me that this is reason alone to turn away from God and live a life full of earthly comforts and temporal satisfaction. There’s a great scene in one of my favourite TV series in which a girl explains that the devil is not red, hoofed and horned; the devil is beautiful and seductive. As such these “quick fixes” regularly cross my mind. What’s worse it’s often easy to try and justify these actions, because of my dejection or my misery. The (not so harsh) reality is that there is no “acceptable evil”. We all make mistakes, and some times we can look open another’s fault and sympathise because we’ve been in such a position where we’ve felt led astray in a similar way, but no matter how many people follow that same path of sin, it doesn’t and will never make it right. It is in these moments that we must repeat boldly the prayer of St. Michael, and ask for our guardian’s protection.
If we did not let our misery or dejection govern us, and instead governed ourselves by reason we would have to, I think, conclude that if it was good to serve God yesterday, in joy and prosperity, it is good to serve Him today in indifference and still good to serve Him tomorrow in struggling and in pain. It is this same reason that calls us to love our neighbour, though they may hurt us and stray from the path we know to be right (let’s face it, none of us are perfect) we are reminded that they are God’s children, and therefore worthy of love, even if we’re not sure quite why at the moment.
For these reasons, I have recently discovered, pilgrimage is essential. I’ve spoken many times before, in blogs, in testimonies, in conversation, about what pilgrimage means to me. I hadn’t, however, quite managed to pin down just what it was that had captured my soul on those journeys. It struck me however, upon reflecting on the Camino that it was really quite simple. We are earthenware jars (we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing…), when I walked the Camino I did everything at a base level. I ate and drank only to sustain myself, I slept through the night, no lie ins, I walked or I didn’t get dinner. I looked at those walking alongside me and I knew, in no small part, their pain, their struggle, their desperate prayer. Everything we did was simply to sustain ourselves, and anything over and above that was for the good of those around us; lacing up their walking boots, helping them on with their back pack, stirring their chocolate powder into their hot milk. During this time each of us, bit by bit, gave up on ‘self’ and the less of ‘self’ we have in ‘jars’ the more space we have.
In these holy spaces, where heaven meets earth, Christ is trying to fill us with His grace. What gets in the way is that “too great care”, its the umming and ahhing that St Joseph never had. The slothfulness which makes us procrastinate in serving the Lord and discerning His will is our destruction. We’re too scared that this path might interfere with our comfort.
Once we set this all aside, with no grumbling, God begins to fill us with His grace, because “God never uses any one greatly until he tests them deeply”. It’s through these tests, these struggles, this pain that He teaches us to make space for Him.
And this flooding of heaven to earth that we find in holy places such us Lourdes and Santiago, is the fuel that will sustain us, relying on His providence to remain firm in serving God boldly, bravely and without being swayed by temporal things. We are always called to fuel this flame in the Holy Scriptures, in praise and worship of His sacrifice at mass, in our penance and in our praise.
Here we find our tranquillity and our joy. For, as the Psalms say: Joy is not the absence of suffering, it is the presence of God. As this blog has been Salesian through and through I’ll leave you with one last quote

When the lake is very calm, when the winds do not agitate it’s waters, on a very serene night, the sky with all it’s stars is so perfectly reflected in it that, looking down into it’s depths, the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we looked on the sky.
So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares it is very capable of reflecting our Lord.

Never Forget What Happened Here.

Our bi yearly trip to Lourdes is to my faith what an MOT is to a car, during those days I’m able to seek out the cracks and the malfunctions and put them right. To go back into the world fresh and full of Christ. I’ve blogged many times before about Lourdes, and the amazing things I’ve gained from my many pilgrimages to the shrine. All of the many words I’ve written and spoken about Lourdes previously boil down to one thing: Lourdes teaches me a lot about life.
Life is beautiful, life is an adventure, its joy, its celebrating, it’s falling in love and laughing until it hurts. Saying that, I can’t tell you how many time I’ve held a close friend while they’ve cried at the feet of our Blessed Mother and I myself have been known to shed a few tears in Her presence. Where better, after all, to let it all out in the very place where the weak are made strong through prayer, where this pain is elevated in joyful devotion, where we are surrounded by people to pick you up and to build you up. So, in order to be truthful I must say, life is beautiful, but it hurts. It will crush you occasionally.
Usually when I get to the end of a week in Lourdes I feel complete, full up and ready to go on; like everything, all the pain, I had come to Lourdes with had been fixed. This year I left with more pain and more disquiet than I had gone with, and that I had ever felt before. It wasn’t going away.
It dawned on me just how intricate and fragile humanity really is. We’re sinful, we’re broken, we’re nasty. It was humanity that nailed Jesus to the cross, commit abhorrent acts in His name, it’s us who start the wars, it’s us who corrupted what was once good and vital, it’s us who abuse our power.
Our ultimate call is to holiness, to be with God. Sometimes it feels like He hasn’t given us a fighting chance. (or just me?)
It often occurs to me in discerning a vocation that my path is already planned. So I’m not just choosing what I want to do for the rest of my life, but rather I’m trying to find out what God has chosen for me to do for the rest of my life. That’s a terrifying thought.
This is no more overwhelming than when you are at your weakest and it all seems a little too big for you. In the early hours of this morning, watching the sun rise as I tried desperately to fight back tears I was kind of ready to give up. throw my hands in the air and decide not to try any more. Life is hard.

But life is beautiful.

Lourdes is beautiful, the place itself is a truly one of God’s great works of art. The one place I know that still looks beautiful in the rain. It’s beautiful not just because of the setting, but the very essence of it. Everywhere you look it’s plain to see, this is a place of the weak, the broken, the sick. A place of comfort, of safety and more than that, a place to be strong.
But here is the very centre of that beauty: the people. Out of the heap of humanity that I had written of for being corrupt, power-hungry and just generally a bit awful, here is a town full of people devoting every hour of the day to making each other strong.
So in the cold and rain at 6 am this morning feeling the pain of God taking away the one thing I had wanted so much. Feeling frustrated for caring. Feeling angry at God. Later that day, after a nap, a mass and a marathon netflix session, I was reminded so powerfully of just what made life beautiful. It’s people.
Yeah, people can be awful, we’re sinners by design, broken jars, we’re weak. But aren’t we spectacular despite that?
Fulton J Sheen says that Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them. Brother Angelo told us of how when he goes back to visit home, he goes with an empty bag and his family fill it with gifts for him to return with. This is how we must be before God. Empty. He makes us weak so we can be made strong again. In that process we come ever closer to Christ and as with every journey it’s much more fun to go together. Walking through the domain behind a mother and her young daughter holding hands Fr Paul said to me “When we see a mother and child we’re reminded of our basic need to be loved. We never lose that need, we just try to hide it”.

It’s an age-old question; how do I bring home what I’ve learnt in Lourdes? How to I hold on to what’s happened in my heart here?
Bishop Alan had a great response. He said “never forget what has happened here”. Never forget what has happened to you, those moments that changed you. But never forget what happened for humanity; Heaven met earth so that the sick may be healed. A place was created for us all to go in our weakness, in our pain, and to be carried to God’s mercy and His grace. Those cracks we have in us, the splintered parts that make us a little broken, God speaks in them. The tears of frustration you cry for yourself and for you brothers and sisters in Christ, God speaks in them. In the sunrises you watch after you’ve been up talking all night, God speaks in them.

His Precious Blood, His Holy Wounds.

I’m a practical learner, even if I’m not practical in any other way. I like to set things in motion to see how they’ll turn out. I’ve spoken about pain before, but this week I’ve had a brand new experience of understanding physical and emotional pain. In true youth service style a conversation erupted recently about the seven sorrows of Mary and St Rita’s stigmata.

In St Paul’s letter, he tells the Galatians that he “bares on his body the marks of Jesus”. This mark might be similarly translated as the kind of branding you give an animal, a sense of ownership. Now that’s something I can get behind. Belonging to something is an incredible feeling, and I get really sentimental about the marks which indicate that belonging.

So stigmata have always been intriguing to me. I remember berating every poor person who foolishly walked near me on the Camino about stigmata and the Holy Wounds. The thing was, the more a I googled it the weirder it got. There were a whole host of people claiming to be stigmatic, seemingly without the humility or prayerfulness that I would have expected. Some say they hurt, others say they don’t, One even claiming that her stigmata glow in the dark.

faith palm

 

So googling was getting me no where. Neither were my constant questions (e.g. If the wounds bleed perpetually how do you stop getting blood everywhere?”) Until one day, whether out of pure wisdom or just exasperation, a priest gave me the words that would answer all of my questions in one go; “It’s personal”.

Of course! Stigmata represent a personal relationship with Christ, as does every prayer and every devotion. Every human being is marked with His fingerprints, each unique and precious, irreplaceable and unrepeatable. We can not possibly fail to recognise the value of that uniqueness when Christ shed His Precious Blood for us without discrimination.

So my personal journey with the Holy Wounds began when I was in school, during a Lenten service in the parish attached to the school. That particular church was beautiful and almost opposite of my home parish. Because of this contrast I found myself studying the interior. One thing I found particularly puzzling was the cross. In my parish we had a “resurrection cross” and while I’d seen other crucifixes before I’d seen nothing like this. It was enormous, much bigger than me and for some reason propped up against the back wall rather than hanging over the altar. His expression broke my heart and the blood. Oh the blood. At that moment, as a 13-year-old girl, I wished more than anything to be able to take His hand down from the cross and hold it.

Since then, year on year, as I heard the passion read my heart grew more and more restless as I heard of our Saviour nailed to the cross. Like most things in my life it grew and grew. From every year, to every mass, to every prayer time in the front of my mind I remembered that Jesus died so I could live.  I’ve spoken before about the true presence of Christ, but what I sometimes fail to remember is that where there is the Body, there is the Blood. Yet, somehow, this is the true magnitude of the sacrifice; His body cannot be separated from His blood, because he was a living, human person. This is precisely why it becomes our precious salvation. Nothing shows a greater sign of complete commitment than the sign of blood (blood in, blood out).

I’ve been told I can be a little harsh on myself. I’m a sucker for penance. I once told a priest that I thought he’d let me off too lightly.  As I said before, I’m a practical learner, I wanted stigmata because I wanted to know just how it felt it be crucified (excruciating, apparently). I wanted to know how it felt to endure the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, how do you live through that? To be sinless and in such pain. I guess there’s not really a clear thought processes in my head. All I know is that when Sr Teresa said that traditionally people walked the Holy Mile from Walsingham bare foot I was 100% up for it. Not just that, I wanted everyone else to be up for it too. We walked most of the way on gravel and it was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I’m not sure I can really explain why. Something about the pain was a great call to prayer, to beg forgiveness for my sins and a minute reminder of the agony of the Passion. Then there were moments when my feet had light relief through a puddle or a muddy patch and I’ve never praised and glorified the Lord more in my life, another minute reminder, but one all the same, of his infinite mercy and tender love in our times of pain.

In studying the cross, and meditating on the Holy Wounds we come to know one thing for certain; Jesus did not give something that He owned, He gave Himself. And what is more ‘you’ than your own blood. When we focus on the cross we are challenged to do the same; it’s not enough to give Him something that we own, we must give of ourselves, in service and in sacrifice.

This blood serves as an armour against the evils of the world. Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi calls it “a means of defence, salvation, deliverance and fortification”. I can’t think of a more perfect way to put it. We must meditate on the Precious Blood, because it is by it that we are healed, it is the Precious Blood that threw satan from his grip on us.

“For I am His and He is mine – Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”

Joy and Sanctity

“Each of you has a personal vocation which He has given you for your own joy and sanctity”

–Pope Benedict XVI.

These are words that I find a lot of comfort in, Papa Benedict has always reminded me of a grandparent who shares great wisdom in few words and makes you feel better about yourself very quickly. Here he makes me feel safe knowing that my calling though it may be hard is for my greater joy and will bring me to God’s grace.
A few times now I’ve been told I’d make a good priest. Now my initial reaction has always been one of mortification, the first time it happened in fact I struggled to sleep that night out of fear I had found my calling – which is actually quite ironic now when I look back on it! Currently (at least) I am not discerning the priesthood, but in my line of work as a catholic youth worker I am surrounded naturally by many people who are considering the religious life as priests or nuns. But only recently, while I was in Rome, upon hearing a friend of mine being complimented as he was told that he would be a great priest, a new perspective was opened up to me.
This in fact in a huge compliment! To even be compared to a priest is to say one imitates Christ! And this goes for nuns too, and all those who offer their life in service of God.
If you have ever been on the receiving end of this statement you will know the mix of confusion, fear and joy that it brings – if not I can tell you it is genuinely terrifying, but in fact these words reveal a simple truth about the person they are spoke about.
Priests for example are leaders of people, they guide them like a counsellor, they educate them like a teacher and most of all they care for them like – as the title reveals – a father. Therefore to be told one would make a good priest implies one would naturally be good at some, if not all of those things too.
So maybe someone’s vocation may lie in one of those, or the countless other professions that a priest has the innate qualities of. And all of these things can be performed in offering to honour and glorify God, so we need not fear our vocation, simply by doing what we excel at is pleasing to God.
Nuns too, similarly reflect the image of Christ through their actions. What does it mean to be a sister? It is to teach, to console, to love, to be an equal to those they serve, much like a sibling does. The same also for a religious brother, having met some recently for the first time, there calming and simple way of life immediately made me feel at home in their friary and I really knew these were my brothers in Christ.
So there need not be a fear about being told one would make a good priest or nun or brother, in fact it is something to revel in. These figures are hugely respected and embody so many good qualities that they bring us closer to Christ by simply being in their presence and listening to their words. But we should not feel pressured into religious life simply because people say it would suit us in 1 Corinthians 12 it says “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit” and this says to me that Jesus has filled us all with his Holy Spirit but it is up to us, with his help, to discern how he wants us to use these gifts and that is where we will find our calling be it religious, employment, or in the family.
I therefore ask you to go out and tell people they would be great in the religious life, because it is a most powerful compliment and who knows what they will take from it.

Written By Joseph Beattie, off of Walsingham House.

Aside

Let’s Get Traditional

 I find romance in it and move in circles steeped in it; I’m a girl in love with tradition. Some people say family is loyalty to each other, I suggest that it is the loyalty to tradition that makes you a family. Generation to generation customs are passed down and they become the thing that brings us joy. From what goes on the table at Christmas to where you spend your new years eve, and woe betide any one who comes between a Gallagher and their rightful caterpillar cake on their birthday, or any one of us and that light blue polo. Most importantly we are part of a universal family drenched in ceremonial tradition.  

So I’ve made my point, I love tradition. It’s consistency is secure, its “the living faith of the dead”. Maybe this is why I didn’t do well as the bohemian starving artist I had dreamed of being during college. Many of my heroes scoffed at tradition calling it the jail of creativity and the antidote to innovation, saying that when the mind is secure it begins to decay. Maybe this is why many youth workers steer clear of tradition with their young people. Constantly trying to be creative with the liturgy, this saddens me somewhat. The more I’ve learnt about tradition the more I love it, and this time its not just habit got out of hand, it’s tradition with real meaning. 

I recently learnt about a couple of traditions that got me really excited and I learnt them during a latin mass. Firstly I learnt that the priest puts water in the precious blood to symbolise the water that flowed from His side as He was pierced. Secondly I learnt that the priest puts his amice on his head because it represents a helmet. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians talks about “the armour of God” and so the amice is the helmet which protects the mind from assaults by the devil.  

It’s not often I get to watch a priest vest up, but in the retreat centre were I worked the sacristy was a cupboard so priests would often put on their vestments as I set up the chapel for mass. It always fascinated me about the different layers and the different meanings. It wasn’t until recently, though, that a priest told me about “vesting prayers” as I bugged him about the significance of his amice. He told me that when he puts on his amice he prays “Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.” (Place on me, O Lord, the helmet of salvation, so I may overcome the assaults of the devil.)

The catechism, as ever, speaks quite poetically of tradition; calling it a “living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit”.  The catechism tells us that tradition is how the Church breathes in the next generation.

 “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.”“The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”

So why does the word ‘tradition’ seem to terrify so many people? I remember telling a friend that I had just been to an Extraordinary From Mass. His face dropped when I told him I had really enjoyed it and eventually he came out with “I didn’t realise you were traddy…” as if I had just confessed to enjoying witch hunting of a weekend. On another occasion I remember pulling a mantilla on to my head as I walked into my parish church. Again, I may as well have just popped a wet fish on my head. 

Some times when the older generation sees a young person wearing a mantilla, or indeed enjoying a bit of latin, they react as if we’ve opened the long-lost trunk in the back of the attic and are trying on nanna’s wedding dress. They’re a little taken aback that you found the trunk but they find it quite twee that you think you know what you’re doing. Some of the older generation love it, they see a true sign of personal ownership of faith in the gesture. For others it just makes them angry, I’ve been told that covering my head is a step back for feminism in the Catholic Church. (interestingly only by men.) 

Some praise it, some are cautious, and others are just baffled. So let this blog go some way to explain my personal reasoning for wearing a mantilla, as I think each person’s varies slightly. It began well over a year ago when, in my preparation for lent I began reading the gripping tale of Rachel Held-Evans’ challenge to live a year of ‘Biblical Womanhood’ in which she tackled the virtue of modesty. At the time I wrote about standards of modesty, but what really caught me about this particular section of Rachel’s journey was the fact she covered her head during every prayer. To me it seemed like a little prayer bubble. I love praying in community but I’m often distracted, particularly during adoration, by other people twitching or shuffling, it seemed that this simple gesture of covering your head would keep all of that out (it sounds ridiculous but I find it to be true). Looking back on it, I suppose, it’s similar to the amice in some way, a helmet to protect you from distraction in your prayer. 

At this time I spoke to a friend who was in seminary and I told him that I wanted to cover my head, he told me to back myself. As Easter drew closer I found myself being part of an acting out of the stations of the cross. I was Mary (obviously) and I thought that because I was Mary, I would have to cover my head. After that my mantilla got put away for a little while. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I realised it’s importance to me. In the place where I worked, we’d go in and out of the chapel for prayer several times a day. It’s not until you have those profound moments of prayer, that inescapable realisation of the true presence that you realise, this isn’t just another room in the house. In those moments you realise what the words “this is God’s house” really mean. Not least that, in that chapel over the last three years had been some of the most profound turning points, the really deep moments of conversion of heart. In that place I had, and still do, shed many tears, shared many laughs, many signs of peace and many, many prayers. This place was special, it is the centre of all I did that year and whatever happened in it required a special level of reverence.

I struggle in adoration, they say that creative types aren’t supposed to be made to sit still for too long. Every tiny noise or movement seemed exaggerated in my head. It suddenly dawned on me exactly what I needed, a prayer bubble.

Towards the end of the year I started wearing my mantilla more and more, and it had a strange effect on me. It was like a helmet, when I put it on it reminded me that the place I was sacred. It reminded me that the only focus should be on Him, who bought me here. My mantilla, I feel, became a visible and tangible for me that which I feel in my heart. 

I’ve tried to explain this to people before, when they’ve asked me about wearing my mantilla. Sometimes they don’t really get it.They don’t understand how it helps me to pray and to feel God’s presence, but also they don’t get how my hair could distract others. People say it’s a pretty old-fashioned way of thinking, that, just as it is no longer obscene to have one’s ankles on show, your hair is no longer a cause for attraction and therefore has no place being covered. St. Paul would disagree, and who am I to disagree with St. Paul? 

I nourish my hair (it may not look like it) but if I was to go out for the night, I wouldn’t go out without doing my hair first. So Paul says “if a woman nourish her hair, it is a glory to her” so it only makes sense to cover it, because it is His glory that is our focus. In this small act we reflect, in a tiny and as ever insufficient way, Our Lady. This submission to God’s glory above our own, by taking part in something so deep-rooted in ecclesiastical tradition and in scripture (“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age” – Catechism, boom), the counter-cultural step towards modesty, we can find ourselves coming closer to Our Lady, who in turn brings us closer to Her Son, with each point. 

I don’t think covering my head is as stuck in the past as many people think. More and more I see other women covering their heads, and for many different reasons I assume. I must admit it felt a little strange at first, something that was designed for modesty that quite obviously made me stand out, but once I settled into it and remembered why I wear it, it really did become like a helmet for me. It now stays in my bag always, just incase, even on Copacabana for the Papal Mass, I’ve never seen a mantilla more covered in sand than this one when I got it home!
Image

 

I know this is a very specific tradition that I’ve spoken about, but it’s one that I feel really reflects my love for and the importance of tradition. Moreover the importance of asking questions, being ever more curious about our faith, like little children. 

Darling, Don’t Be Afraid.

I like to think I’m a generally happy person.
I know there are a few people who know me really well who are probably chuckling at that idea right now. I’m emotional. I feel everything x100. I cry at everything, I’m angry, I can be aggressive, I shout, I once punched a dent into my macbook because it wouldn’t load the sims.
When Jesus told us to be like little children, I’m not entirely sure he meant petulant. I throw tantrums. I feel pain, and I feel it often. I pray every day that I can be more patient, more understand and more gentle.
I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy. To the point where I genuinely think that another two episodes and I may just be a qualified MD. One particular episode that I watch again and again features a young girl who thinks she is a super hero. As the Doctors examine her, they find more and more cuts and bruises, one particular cut is closed up with a staple gun. It later transpires that this girl has no cognitive sensitivity to pain. She can’t hurt and so she thinks she is indestructible. She able to climb the tallest trees, fight courageously, do whatever she wants without the fear of getting hurt.
Imagine the things we could do without the fear of failing, of being hurt. We’d be superheroes, surely? We’d be the people we always dreamed to be. We’d love, we’d give, we’d do everything without fear. So why do we have to feel pain? As a child, and well into my teen years I thought that we suffered pain because we’d been bad. I thought it was a punishment of sorts. God let us hurt because we hurt him with our sin. If not, why would God create humans with the ability to hurt, and worse still how can he create a human (that he loves so much) and that person have a willingness to hurt themselves, to cry alone, or worse to die. And how are we, then, as humans in pain supposed to believe in an all-loving God, let alone open ourselves to his will?
When I think of hurting, and I’m talking emotionally speaking now, I think of Mary. She was born without sin, and yet she suffered more than I could ever Imagine. When I think of her triumphant acceptance of the Lord’s will in her life I’m inclined to remember the joy and grace that would bring her. Less often do I think of the consequences. When Mary said yes to bearing the Son of God, she also said yes to open ridicule and disgrace as a pregnant, unmarried woman. She said yes to potentially losing the love of her life. And she had an understanding of what would happen to him. She said yes to scorn and misunderstanding, even rejection from her peers. It’s not just coincidence, I’m sure, that this suffering is reflected in her Son’s passion and he is ridiculed, embarrassed and abandoned.
Then later Mary loses Jesus (not for the last time) for three days in the temple. She’s done nothing wrong, she is sinless, and yet she goes through the pain of losing her child. At this point Mary and Joseph are unaware of the mysteries of faith. When we hear the words “after three days” we must automatically turn our minds to Jesus’ death on the cross. To continue the parallel the Child Jesus is found in His Father’s house, accomplishing His Father’s work.

“After three days He is found in the temple, that it might be for a sign, that after three days of victorious suffering, He who was believed to be dead should rise again and manifest Himself to our faith, seated in heaven with divine glory.” – St Ambrose

Mary speaks her words much more tenderly than I ever could in my pain, confusion or loneliness. “Son, why has thou done this to us?”. This ought to be a lesson to us in our pain. Mary doesn’t demand or accuse, she wants to learn, to be taught this mystery.
So, cognitively speaking, why can’t we be super heroes? Why is pain important? Well, as we all well know, pain is a warning sign. When something hurts our attention is drawn to it so that we may take special care of that area. That pain teaches us a lesson, that falling down hurts, and we must be more careful in the future.
So why aren’t we all hermits, wrapped in cotton wool? Well, our miraculous brains have the ability to control the pain signal.
The controversial “Dr Death” Jack Kevorkian suggests that if you aren’t satisfied with life you must choose death. This is a logical conclusion, but it’s cold and unfeeling. Death is the easier option, I guess. But satisfaction is the more… satisfying?
God wants to satisfy us, he wants to fill us. Mary went through agony so that she could learn and she quietly contemplated all these things in her heart. When we hurt, emotionally, God is telling us to pay attention to certain aspects of our life. In Psalm 81:10 he tells us to open our mouth wide so that he may fill us. This word wide speaks of not just creating space, but making room. When we want to fill our wardrobes with nice new dresses that will make us happy it would be illogical to buy a bigger wardrobe. No, you get rid of the dresses you no longer wear, or don’t fit you. no matter how pretty they are. You must make room for God, like you make room for desert. We don’t have to grasp at things, God wants to fills us, but we must be hungry for Him. He wants to fill us in such a way that it overwhelms us, saturates us. But, he can’t if we are full of other things.
So, back to my earlier question of how can we open ourselves to this? If we are scared or in pain? If we can’t understand the fullness of what we are opening ourselves to. Think of baby birds, they’re so tiny, they can’t see. They’ve no idea what is around them, but they open their mouths and cry out until their mother feeds them. This is how we must be towards Our Lord. In our fear and uncertainty, we must trust that what we need will be given us. We are nourished by God as we are told through out scripture.
Fighting without consequence isn’t bravery or courage, it’s just logic. We must have faith in God’s plan even if we don’t understand it. That’s true faith. If I want God to make me more patient He has to test my patience, if I want to be stronger, He has to test my strength.
Let us be open to what God is trying to teach us, to pay special attention to the areas that we need to nurture in God’s light. Most importantly let us not lose our patience with God. Let us, just as Mary did in the temple, ask God to open us up to His will.
When I remember all of this. I remember a song with the words “darling don’t be afraid I have loved you for a thousand years and I’ll love you for a thousand more.”
The song is so cheesy but it reminds me that through my pain, loneliness and confusion there is a plan because God doesn’t just love me now. I’m covered in His finger prints. He thought me out, he created me body and soul and most incredibly he loved me so much he gave me purpose, he gave me a vocation and through that, in the words of St Catherine, I will set the world on fire.

Obedientia et Pax

I’d been getting a little emotional that John XXIII has been a little over looked in the recent celebrations. The more I read about him, the more I begin to see that he was over looked in his own time also, and many of those who write so fondly about him now say that his ordinariness is what made him so special. I must admit, if it wasn’t for my combined love of Italy and books, I may not have known much about him either. 

I was desperate to go to the canonisation, outwardly because I’d never been to one before, but also because I love Italy and was desperate to go to Rome. The iminent canonisation of two saints and had prompted me to try to read some of JPII’s books, as I was already a large way through Theology of The Body. During my Amazon search JXXIII’s ‘Journey of a Soul’ came up in my recommendations, so I bought it and added it to the bottom of a pile of JPII literature I was reading. A while later I went to see a friend who absolutely raved about the book. I’ve probably mentioned before that I love journals and letters; they speak so so deeply to me and it’s no surprise that I fell in love with JXXIII’s words in his.

Born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was a stretcher bearer in the first world war and as Pope Francis puts it, alongside JPII he “really knew the pains of the 21st century, but wasn’t overcome by them”. This really hit home for me. I’d read about the lives of both Popes and how much they’d been through, to hear these words from Pope Francis gave me a new fire and a new courage to fight through adversity for my faith. 

 

I find affirmation in Johns own encyclical, he says of missionaries and priests “They have overcome many obstacles and inconveniences and given themselves to God so that other men might gain Christ.” John, as ever, is thorough in instructing the faithful in his fatherly way. When faced with obstacles, in faith, or in life, John urges us to turn to Our Loving Mother and reflect on the words of the Apostle: “In all things we suffer tribulation, but we are not distressed; we are sore pressed, but we are not destitute; we endure persecution, but we are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we do not perish; always bearing about in our body the dying of Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodily frame.”
JXXIII really was in touch with the world, through his journaling it’s clear to see that he really did know the pains of society. He never put himself above them, nor separated himself from them and yet, as Francis, says he did not drown in them. “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” It’s clear in his encyclicals that this was a message close to his heart. He saw the changing of the world around him and he cracked open the windows of the church to let some air in.
I can see why Pope Francis liked him so much, and why he was called the Good Pope. In his writings he talks with a gentleness which is paternal, a fatherly advice, and since I’ve become an over emotional soppy blogger, I’d like to say it makes me feel a little bit warm and fuzzy. He was exceptionally humble and his simple motto, obedience and peace, reflected his humility and is in turn reflected throughout papacy.
JXXIII spoke fondly of the Cure of Ars, celebrating St John’s humbleness and self-denial, which he urged all holy men to consider. His passion in being “aflame with charity” was clear and he believed in being generous to others in your self-denial. “Not even his (the priests) thoughts, his will, his feelings blond to him, for they are rather those of Jesus Christ who is his life.” It astonishes me that a man can make self-denial complete, down to the realisation that even your thoughts and prayers belong to Christ. You owe your entire being to him. It is through the example of his beloved cure that he is able to do this, the example which, JXXIII says, “attracts and practically pushes all of us to these heights of the priestly life”, and indeed for us lay faithful and religious John Vianney is still an incredible example of holiness and dedication of faith and we ought to exert every possible effort in this direction.
It’s often in my mind as to how St. John Vianney managed all of this, such “pastoral zeal” and dedication to the Eucharist whilst enduring lack of food and sleep . JXXIII says “his only motives were the love of God and the desire for the salvation of the souls of his neighbours.” and in another place, John XXIII says that “in all that she does the Catholic Church is motivated by heaven’s inspiration… all of her children contribute with a selfless and dynamic will to mutual respect, the fraternal union of mankind, and solid peace.”
John XXIII talks so fondly of souls. In his encyclical on the Rosary, he talks about the need to pray the rosary for the church, her missions and social problems. Again, he gives us gentle, fatherly encouragement. He affirms us that he grows all the fonder of Mary’s rosary and we “should never fail to turn in spirit with ever greater confidence to the Virgin Mother of God, the constant refuge of Christians in adversity, since she has been made a source of salvation for the human race.” And we must always remember to pray for rulers of countries and other people. Again, he talks passionately of the urgency of the need for peace. Mostly he urges leaders to remember that “individual souls of men were created by God and destined to possess and enjoy Him.” and to never forget that He is “our refuge and our Redemption”
In general John XXIII was a kind and witty man, he talked so fondly of his humble upbringing and the town that he was from. His wonderful words confer the image of a kindly, fatherly man who speaks with compassion and understanding. He spoke of priests and even his predecessors with abundant gratitude. The man was a saint… oh wait…