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.”

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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…

Adoramus Te, Christe.

I’ve been neglecting my discernment recently. I’ve just deleted two paragraphs justifying this, but I guess that’s not important. What is important is what I mean by that. My vocation story isn’t one I share often because, well, like most other things in my life – It’s insane. 

When I was 15 I remember sitting on a bus going from Billericay back to my home in Basildon. (the details aren’t important, I just like to set the scene.) I was thinking about evangelisation. I had two particular thoughts. I was young, I had a lot of questions, but my first, overwhelming, thought was that I knew I wanted to love and serve the Lord. Secondly, I knew that I wanted other people to know this. At that moment I envisaged myself boarding the bus in a full (grey) habit, wooden rosary beads in hand.

You may think this is the start of a wonderful story of how I lived a prayerful life discerning my vocation from a young age. It is not. I wish it was. All of the time, I wish I had taken these thoughts seriously. I wish I thought it was possible or even plausible. I feel like this may be a problem for a lot of young girls. I ignored this, for a long time. I ignored my faith for a long time, I ignored the things that being a Christian meant in my life. I essentially forgot about the things I had really desired on my bus journey. They just faded out. 

Not long after I had turned 18 I met a sister, who was attached to our parish. I’d never met a religious sister before even if she had been in our parish for some time. I’d never really spoken to her. One day I did, I was really curious about her life and what she did. I’d always imagined nuns to be locked away, constantly praying and usually silent. Yet, here she was. Definitely not silent, or locked away. The back bone of our parish, a true woman of valour and a real inspiration. I asked loads of questions, about what she could and couldn’t do. She was so patient with me and I will always thank her for that. 

Through all of this my life had it’s complications. I became something of a tear away. I got swept up with the ‘worldlings’ I craved excess in every aspect of my life. My life became a blur, everything was fast, and surrounded by a cloud of smoke. Looking back I was a mess. My skirt was always shorter than the hem of my fur coat, my tights always laddered, I wore last nights eye liner to college and I constantly had a cigarette stub hanging out of the corner of my mouth as I picked at some sort of scab on my hand or arm, scribbled down notes, or did some sketching.

I struggled with depression and a social phobia so I never gave myself much time to think. I played super mario on the bus, spent my breaks smoking, my evenings drinking and my weekends in the arms of my boyfriend. I made so sure that I never had to think that my faith never crossed my mind. Church was just another thing to add to the long list of distractions. I’d never anticipated that my faith might one day save me. 

Not long after I turned 18 I became a confirmation catechist. My first trip to Walsingham House didn’t exactly make me fall off my proverbial horse, but it did change me. I was already passionate about my faith, but only in the same way I was passionate about pound a pint night. I enjoyed my weekend, I had fun, I learnt some stuff. I didn’t think it had really affected me at all, but as soon as I left something wasn’t right. I felt just ever so slightly unease about a lot of things. Stuff didn’t feel right any more, didn’t bring me the same satisfaction any more. Slowly they began to destroy my last few teenage years. But that’s a story for another time.

Exactly a year later I returned to Walsingham House with my confirmation group. Again, I didn’t fall off my horse. But, an unstoppable chain reaction began. I’d arrived with great troubles. My entire life had begun to crumble on the foundation of a succession of some monumentally bad decisions. We had a reconciliation session and I knew I had to go to confession. I’ve always disliked confession, I never know what to say or quite how to go about it. Some people make good confessions, I think. Some people are good at it. Me, I’m uncomfortable, edgy, and probably a little suspicious. I had to prepare myself. 

I’d never given myself much time to just talk to God. Prayer wasn’t a huge part of my life, unless I genuinely wanted something, or was grateful for something specific. We never just chatted. I found myself alone in the chapel, having the first of my many chats with God. By the time I had finished my prayers, people had come and gone, hours had come and gone. I felt God’s true presence, and though I could never explain it at the time something changed inside me. I was some how glued to the spot, lent against the back wall staring at the tabernacle. I felt like my heart ached for something. Like, when you’re hungry but you don’t know what it is that you fancy. I felt a need, a desire, a want, but I couldn’t think of what it could be for. I felt like I’d been plunged into cold water. I took several deep breaths and began to cry. 

They say that most people don’t know the affect they’ve had on your life. Some people know exactly what they’ve done. Michael is one of those people. It’s a story I’ve told many times and perhaps I’ll tell it again one day but not here. To cut a very long and emotional story short, I arrived in Lourdes and that week changed my life. On the steps of the rosary basillica I felt that same pull, and it overwhelmed me, like my heart had stopped. 

Another year later and I’d been accepted to join the Walsingham House team. Not long had I been on the team when something major in my faith journey happened to me. The tiniest of gestures became my biggest moment. I’d returned home for the first time to see my parents. My dad disappeared for a while and when he returned he had in his hand something magical. It was his breviary. He’d had it since he was young, younger than me I suppose. He’d bound it himself in leather and embossed the words “Daily prayer” on the front. It closed with a popper and was filled with all his prayer cards. As a child in mass I remember his matching missal, filled with similar prayer cards. I remember these books being precious, we weren’t allowed to touch them and now they were in my hands. I felt that thing that I’d felt in the chapel and in Lourdes. It was the prayers of others. How many people have sat were I sat, stood where I stood and prayed, praised, glorified, begged, pleaded, bargained. In this book were the prayers of my father, for his intercessions, and soon it would be filled with mine too, and God willing, maybe even my children’s.

In our first month (or so) a quick succession of spectacular things happened to me. One evening we went out for dinner, perhaps the wine had got the better of me, but half way through dinner I proposed this question to the table “Do you think I’d make a good nun?”. I heard the words leave my mouth and I was as shocked as the rest of those who had heard me. Firstly, I’d never actually thought about becoming a nun, it wasn’t something I had felt I wanted to do. I had a boyfriend, who I loved very much. It was almost as if someone else had said it. Thankfully, the replies were in jest and I laughed a long as if I had intended to make the joke. 

On another day we were invited to watch a sister of the community of Our Lady of Walsingham profess her vows. The service was simple, and beautiful. I was growing quite frustrated with the fact I no longer seemed in control of my emotions. I couldn’t work out what it was that I was missing, and in my desperation I turned to prayer. Whole heartedly emptying myself before the Lord, handing myself over to him. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was more something I needed. Imagine Esmerelda at the feet of Mary. 

Finally we come to the pinnacle of my vocational tale. We took a trip down to Walsingham for a little pilgrimage and informal catechises. In the slipper chapel it hit me. Like the kind of shock you get when you get bad news. When it hits you in the chest. I knew I was being called to something bigger, something greater and something just for me. 

I worked to be praised, and that’s what was lacking, a true vocation. My true calling.

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
― George MacDonald

There was my joy, there was my fullness. In following this path that had been chosen for me I would then be complete. Sounds perfect. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much I would sacrifice, and here’s why abandoned my discernment.

Any wise person will tell you that every good thing comes at a price. J.M. Barrie tells us that we can have whatever we want in life if we are willing to sacrifice everything for it. On the floor of the Chapel at Walsingham house I promised to change my life and standing under several wax limbs in the room of prayer at Apericeda I consecrated my life to Mary. I knew that this meant giving things up, turning wholly away from sin and towards Jesus because, well, you can’t be half a saint. There are days when these sacrifices seem worth while, and you remember why you made them and then there are dark times and you’re not quite sure just why you’ve made these promises and would it be so bad to break them. Of course the toughest sacrifices are the ones you don’t see coming, when we don’t have time to come up with a strategy, to pick a side, or to measure the potential loss. When that happens… when the battle chooses us and not the other way around, that’s when the sacrifice can turn out to be more than we can bare.

Unfortunately life is not a spectator sport. You can’t just make promises in the quiet and in the still and in the peaceful and then be happy and content that you can carry on this way. Life is a game, and there will be plays you never expected. You made a promise and you said a prayer, you spoke to God and he spoke to your heart. You’re off guard. Those are the times to make promises. The messy times, the dark times, the 3 am when you’re chocking on your own tears times, the perched on the edge times. 

Tonight a Norbertine priest told me to be myself in a way that I’d never quite considered before. He said you can’t wish to become like someone you’re not. Theres no use wishing to be a Tyburn Benedictine, yessex, it’s just not who you are. You make sacrifices whether you want to or not, some of them you understand and some of them you don’t. You must be you, you must open yourself completely to Christ so that he may fill you with his grace. 

I don’t know much about life, or myself for that matter. I know that before I begin to establish who I should be, I should probably figure out who I am. I know that I adore Christ and to be in His service is my greatest desire. I know that, in the words of Edward Sharpe, “reaching for heaven is what I’m on earth to do”. I know I must have trust. 

Sometimes it feels that you’re being pulled and you find yourself in a situation that is just too big for you. You can feel too much. Too much sadness, fear, joy or anticipation. You can feel like the pull is taking you to somewhere too great for you to handle. Dr Sues says that there’s no one youer than you. God knows that too. He wants you to be bigger, to be greater. Just trust. I can’t tell you how, just trust. 

It’s being praised as a “powerful” deconstruction of gender stereotypes in the workplace, leaving women feeling like they could take over the world. It’s being likened to Dove’s triumphant “Campaign for Real Beauty”. Though it had it’s flaws the sketches video, that came from this campaign,did cause us to reflect on ourselves, and urged us to give ourselves a little more love. The greatest piece of advice I ever heard, was that if I was in a sitcom all the quirky, embarrassing, socially awkward parts of myself would be the parts that other people love. However, I don’t really need soap to tell me that and least of all do I need that soap to tell me that beauty is the reason I can love myself and that others should. 

While I fully applaud this move away from beauty being the yard stick against which women should measure themselves, I can’t quite whole heartedly back Pantene’s empowerment for women’s success as much as the internet suggests I, as a young, independant woman, should. I’m not alone, feminist bloggers everywhere aren’t buying what Pantene is selling. The thing is it’s not even selling it that well. I’m not quite sure what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg found particularly powerful about what is essentially another spot from a beauty company where skinny, gorgeous women flick around their long, glossy hair. Somehow, despite Pantene clearly trying replicate their feel-good success, there’s nothing of the ‘Real Women’ that dove tried to promote and while I do admit that most days my mood is determined on how good my eyebrows look I don’t think how seriously people take me professionally is determined on how shiny my hair is, and nor is how ‘Strong’ I feel. In fact, is there anything more sexist than suggesting it might? 

Pantene and the many, many bloggers backing their spot, have come up with some startling statistics that make me want to wash my hair and therefore be more accepted by men in my place of work. For example “70 percent of men think that women need to downplay their personality to be accepted.” and where men are “smooth”, women are “show offs.”, where men are “neat” women are “vain”. I don’t know about you, but I know men who have been teased (by women) about their beauty regimes. I’ve heard women talk about men’s suits on the tube as ‘too flashy’ and debate whether the amount of buttons a man has undone is ‘just showing off’. These playground jibes aren’t the end of it. Kelly Services, a staffing agency, released an incredibly interesting study that shows that nearly 35% of men said they believed they had experienced sex-based discrimination over the past five years at work. 

So maybe 70% of men have a point. Maybe these 70% of men have been personally victimised by Regina George.  Another study showed that the mean girls spirit goes far beyond high school. 95% of 1,000 working women polled believe they had been undermined by another woman at some point in their careers. So maybe you are bossy, or pushy. Poor you, that must be tough. Well. at least you have beautiful hair. Go you. But, seriously… 

Mrs Norbury. :’)

If you feel like you have to be a hard-nosed business woman to get by then back yourself all the way. But it comes with consequences and some of those consequences involved being labelled “hard-nosed”. Mrs Norbury was pushy, but she didn’t mind, because it got results. Don’t let Pantene be the thing that backs you. I’ve somehow managed to find myself working in some very female-heavy environments, I went to an all girls convent school, and yes we play dirty sometimes, and yes we get labelled as bitchy, bratty or a princess. Now, I’m not trying to knock Pantene for creating an advert that portrays inequality in the work place. It is not, in my opinion, a powerfully positive image of women in advertising. It doesn’t make me feel strong, and it doesn’t encourage me to whip it. What it does it remind me that some people are going to unfairly judge me and also that my hair is kind of ratty and I have an uncanny ability to fall over whilst standing still. This ad kind of makes me think I need to be spoken up for, and worse; that I need to be spoken up for by Proctor and Gamble. I’m quite capable, I think.
I myself, have a very real oestrogen-fuelled need to look at big glossy ads that make me want to exercise harder, that tell me how to have beautiful hair, make my eyes pop, and cover up all the things that make me anything less than a china doll. As long as people exist there will be perceptions, and standards of beauty. I’m not some sort of hermit, I know the boost my self-esteem gets when I indulge it a little and yes, in order to fuel this demand I know that companies will use dirty tactics to make me buy their products. Don’t let beauty be your yard stick for the rest of your life. Your self-confidence needs topping up from the fact you believe in yourself and all that you can do. Also, don’t let men be your yard stick. They’re a completely different beast.
I’m not here trying to say that you should hate Pantene for creating an advert that prays on the insecurities of women to sell their product, because it would make for very hateful TV viewing and lets face it, it’s why I own the things I own. I guess I’m trying to sell an alternative.
People are going to call you names, they will give you dirty looks. I know I’m guilty of rolling my eyes when the beautiful girl who has just arrived at the bar next to me gets served first, I’m frequently at odds with overwhelming shoe related envy and I did once think about cutting off another girls stunning strawberry blonde curls. Because I get jealous, I’m not perfect, and I let it get to me sometimes. But my primary school teacher told me (as I’m sure everyone’s did) “don’t stoop to it”. You’re a woman, you’re not a man, take joy in that difference, don’t try to measure yourself against them.
Don’t let this empowerment be as shallow as another glossy television ad. Don’t let this empower you to do your hair. Let this empower you to be compassionate to one another, to open your hearts and judge less. So let’s swap the airbrushed, tiny girls of our magazines for women with a little less Photoshop and a whole lot more bad-ass-ness.

People will call you names, Hagar got relentlessly bullied by Sarai, driven wild with jealousy. If you are disenfranchised, despised, or despairing, listen for the voices of angels. You may find your courage is only a prayer away. (and also if you do find yourself staring daggers at the pretty girl across the bar, think of Hagar.)
Rehab, the original tart with a heart, teaches us to use our wiles effectively and with great love. After all, the life you save may be your own. Respect your power and wisdom like Deborah did. While I’m not trying to convince you drive a spike through someone’s head, let Jael’s story remind you that though you may be small in stature you have a lion’s heart, don’t mess. Ruth, the gentle heart, with her steadfast love and loyalty, changed Naomi’s bitter heart and led them both to a glorious destiny. Bathsheba (bear with me, I do have a point here) after God went all kinds of wrath on her unborn, illegitimate child, He then had mercy on her a blessed her with Solomon. She believed in His mercy and began a brave new life. Teaches us that even after our discretion if we repent the Lord will teach us how to live again. Esther was my favourite growing up, she just decided she deserved to be royalty and totally backed herself. This was my mantra as a teenager, I deserve to be royal, so I shall put in the work and act it, and people shall treat me accordingly. But, as a young adult, I find a little more in Esther’s story that I can learn from. She stood up (in the face of possible death) to save the lives of the Jews. “If I perish, I shall perish” she says. She taught me that I don’t always need to fight, I need to be imaginative and courageous in standing up for those who need my help. Mary, the mother of Jesus. I wont go into detail, please refer to everything else I’ve ever said for why Mary is an incredible role model. The woman at the well, smashing a bit of evangelisation early doors. The fearless Mary Magdalene. Mary and Martha! If you want a good balance between being dedicated in your work and in your spiritual life look to this pair. As my twitter bio says (in the words of Augustine of Hip Hop) Martha in my work, Mary in my devotion.