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.

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.

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.