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!
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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. 

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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…

Lourdes.

What an amazing experience. It was nothing like I expected! Nearing the end of my 20 hour coach journey the only thing I could look forward to was seeing my two big sisters. Yes, the two sister I’d grown up with, the two sisters I’d seen just 20 hours previously. I was growing a little frustrated with myself as the mountains came into view and still I couldn’t get excited about all the new experiences, all the new friends I’d make, all the new things I’d see. I got off the coach and went straight to my room, where, thankfully, I found the suitcases belonging to my two sisters and when the came through the door and gave me a big hug I realised; maybe Lourdes isn’t about the new friends, or the new things to see. It’s about strengthening what you already have. Your relationship with God, and our Lady. Your own beliefs and your own personality.

When we first arrived in Lourdes the river running through was gentle, and so clear and shallow that you could see the bottom. But, by the third day of torrential rain the river was almost bursting over the banks, the water was running fast and even the strongest swimmer wouldn’t be able to conquer the torrent. In reconcilation on Wednesday we were asked to liken this image to the love of Christ, flowing through us like a mighty torrent that no one could conquer. Romans 8:38-39 says

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I believe this is also a more than fitting analogy for our young people. By the second day they’d become like brothers and sisters (bickering included), but above all the love and passion the Christ had poured into them shone out, to other young people, to the pilgrims, to the strangers in the street and even to the Diocese of Liverpool. Everything they did was whole hearted, and without complaint. Their enthusiasm was inspiring.

But, in the end it was only on the steps of the Basillica waiting for our disocesen youth photo to be taken when we burst into a chorus of “lean on me” that it really hit me. That I did really come away with more than new friends and new expierences. I came away with a deepened relationship with God, with a family in the BCYS, and that to me is a massive part of the miracle of Lourdes. If I could every day be touched by the love and passion that I saw every hour of every day in Lourdes I would be an exceptionally privaliged person.

The Lourdes spirit