Thursday, 12 December 2013

Taking a break

I have decided to take a break from blogging.
I have been thinking about the direction of this blog for a while: why I am blogging, should I write about everything I think about writing about, should I focus only on healthcare (and bad hymns) (and mental illness) (and books), etc. However, since Advent began (and with the incessant bombardment that is seasonal advertising) I have realised that whilst I am not annoyed that I am a Christian, I am annoyed that everyone else isn't. I am angry that other people don't love and respect God: they forget his birthday, they cut him out of everything, they sleep around, they lie and cheat and start wars and kill babies, they ignore him at mass, they don't make a place for him in their hearts...and neither do I. There is nothing righteous or motivating about this anger. It is just anger. And impatience. And, let's face it, pride. Blogging involves looking at what's going on and passing comment. There is much more to say when what's going on is wrong or bad or silly. Right now, this means that I get more angry and impatient.
This is all bound up with recovering from depression. With depression, the world is the inside of your head in any given moment. As you get better, it expands to the size of the room you're in, the people who are in it, maybe the building, perhaps the street, perhaps for this hour, this morning, today, this week. I feel like I am waking up after spending 2 years as a zombie and I have all these new criteria for seeing, for understanding, for loving, but mostly I am just really angry. It is possible, I know, to be angry about something in a more detached way. It is possible for anger to be channelled against what is wrong in a useful way. I am not up to it. I need to calm down a bit first.
I enjoy blogging, and I like to think that I have got something to offer in the blogosphere, but right now it's not helping me grow in holiness. But I will be back because, apart from anything else, there is nothing edifying about this nativity set whatsoever  -
- and I am sufficiently opinionated to tell the world. Possibly the fact that I have always disliked Jenga isn't helping.
In the mean time, I wish you all a blessed Advent.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Craving Catholic blogs

I have just discovered (and added to my blogroll) Catholic Cravings which I would say has something for everyone, although not cat posts but that's OK because Mulier Fortis has them nicely covered.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Social healthcare and the A & E thing

I should make it clear from the start that while I don't think the NHS is perfect (not to mention the  recent shambolic develpments across the Pond) I am absolutely in favour of social healthcare. I have seen children in shanty towns in Peru with no teeth, where those living in poverty will walk out of a hospital and die two days later from appendicitis because they can't afford to pay for the surgery. But I also know a man in the USA who had a kidney transplant but is no longer in work and can't afford health insurance which means he can't afford the medication he needs to prevent his transplant being rejected. Fortunately, the local transplant patients basically pool their meds so that if one month someone can't afford their tablets, then they will be supplied by someone else; a situation which strikes me as no less tragic (although on the other side, also restores one's faith in humanity). However, one of the biggest problems with free medicine (and the Welfare State in general) is what happens on the receiving end.
Research shows that people who get free prescriptions visit their GP when they are suffering from a minor ailment in order to obtain over the counter remedies on prescription rather than paying. This has led to the establishment of minor ailment schemes, whereby those people who are exempt from prescription charges can obtain such remedies free of charge. This frees up GP time and resources for people who have more serious problems.
Recently there has been a lot in the news about the pressure which A&E departments are facing this winter, with 40% of those patients seen in A&E not needing to be there: they could have been treated earlier and/or in the community. At the weekends, A&E is often full of alcohol-related (alcohol-fueled) injuries, and sometimes people will end up there because they are seriously ill and it is one of the paths to hospital admission. A while ago I saw an ambulance which bore an explanation of what was meant by a life-threatening emergency. (I was tempted to give my brother a similar list after he woke me up extremely early to ask where Mum was.) Tales of bizarre 999 calls, which often include people who want a lift to a hospital appointment, are frequent and mind-boggling.
Often it is the elderly who suffer, whether because they didn't go to their GP in time (couldn't get an appointment or didn't want to bother them), or because nobody took them or even noticed that they were a bit off colour. The point at which someone realises you have a mild case of cystitis shouldn't be when you're admitted to hospital with a broken hip (more common than you might suspect), because if someone is suddenly acting confused (often the first symptom of cystitis in older people) then your neighbour or your friend or your carer or someone should notice. And if someone is calling the ambulance service because they need help bringing the washing in and the path is icy, or they need a lift to the supermarket, then we should be asking ourselves why. Why is it that this person had to call 999 for help with a simple task? And I fear the answer has a lot more to do with individualism, loss of community and the selfish desire not to be burdened with other people and their problems (which some might call freedom) than the fact that our healthcare is free.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sex, drugs and rock n roll: my parents think I'm mad

And it's not just me.
Recently I have had a few conversations with friends and acquaintances who suffer from a weird problem. Actually it was a relief to me to find I wasn't alone, because after yet another conversation with my Mum which involved her threatening to throw a book which I was reading in the bin because it had the word 'Catholic' in the title I was starting to get a bit stressed out. The only reason that book didn't end up in the bin (or the recycling, at any rate) was because I pointed out that it was borrowed. Others have had similar conversations with their parents about books written by saints or popes. We are Generation Y: hiding our spiritual reading under the bed.
The strange thing is that we were all baptised and brought up Catholic by our Catholic parents and now they don't like it.
Now, I admit that when I discerned my vocation and then entered community I didn't hand it as well as I could have done. Announcing my decision in the car as we were driving along a dual carriageway might have had a very different ending and comments such as 'over my dead body' were perhaps only to be expected. But it started long before that. When I first went to university, there was mild concern over my regular attendance at daily mass. Attending social events at the chaplaincy was also considered worrying. It was the first time in my life I had the opportunity to have friends who were also Catholic, friends who, whatever else they were getting up to at the weekend, would make sure they went to mass on Sunday. The people who thought this was odd were the same people who insisted I came home at 9am after a Saturday sleepover when I was a teenager, so that I could go to mass.
I have a crucifix on the wall and a statue of Our Lady in my bedroom which is considered excessively pious of me, and yet there is a crucifix on the kitchen windowsill (in fact, now I come to think of it, there are two). We each own a copy of the Catechism, but knowing what is written inside it is over the top.
I know that it is traditional and expected for each generation to view the other with mild irritation and bewilderment (music isn't what it was, after all) but praying the rosary, going to confession, not talking in church; these are things our parents taught us which they now hope that we don't do. And then there are the things they hoped we would do, these being 'normal', but we choose not to because we are Catholic: things like sleeping with people we aren't married to, using contraception and talking openly about the fact that we are against abortion rather than just thinking about it. We try to keep up to date with Church news, keep an eye on what the Pope is saying in his weekly audiences, and pray for episcopal appointments. We don't eat meat on Fridays, wish the clergy would dress like clergy and also hold dangerous views about such controversial things
Our parents brought us up to be Catholics, and now that we are, they find it worrying.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Whose conscience is it anyway?

I was browsing my September issue of Regula+e, published by the General Pharmaceutical Council, which is the regulatory body for pharmacies, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, when I came across this article about a pharmacist who had had conditions placed on his practice, by the Fitness to Practise (FtP) committee, for 'imposing his beliefs on patients' (pp24-25).

The pharmacist, during the course of supplying the morning after pill (EHC), told a patient that it was "a chemical abortion, was ending a life, and that this would be on her conscience". The patient was shocked and felt "rotten and horrible". He did not give her the option to go to another pharmacy.

Recently I blogged, among other things, about the weirdness of the fact that while pharmacists do not have to supply EHC, they do have to tell the patient where they can obtain it. This pharmacist didn't tell his patient where they could get EHC, because he did not decline the supply. Yes, apparently he was in the habit of giving what the FtP committee deem 'an embarrassing and distressing lecture' and then giving the patient the morning after pill anyway.
There seems to be a whole lot of weird stuff going on here. The FtP committee, for their part, merely have to judge whether a pharmacist has breached the code of ethics and, if so, whether conditions should be imposed or the individual removed from the register, so I'm going to ignore them. It's the behaviour of the pharmacist in question which puzzles me. If it was for moral or religious reasons that the pharmacist gave these speeches to his patients, why did he then supply EHC? What was he hoping to achieve? Was he trying to absolutely prevent evil (ie the patient does not terminate her pregnancy) or just avoid co-operating (the patient gets upset and goes to another pharmacy instead). But if the latter, why did he then supply? It is a mystery to me (although I recogise that I don't have all of the information about the case). And then there is the patient, who reported the pharmacist because he made her feel "rotten and horrible". I'm not saying the pharmacist shouldn't have been investigated, as his actions come across as a bit odd, to say the least: was this his usual manner of advising patients? But as taking the morning after pill causes side effects of headache, nausea, abdominal pain, bleeding and fatigue (very commonly), and dizziness, diarrhoea and vomiting (commonly), the 'rotten and horrible' feeling was somewhat inevitable, if only on a physical level.
Whether you, healthcare professional, go with a straight refusal to supply or a slightly more in depth explanation as to why not, or an attempt to engage the patient in discussion as to the rights or wrongs of EHC (or whatever other substance), do so with charity and professionalism! Haranguing the inidividual is unlikely to achieve anything, and following the harangue with supply even less.
Interestingly, one of the conditions imposed is that the pharmacist is not to supply EHC in the future. Sounds like good news all round.
PS My viewing stats passed the 10,000 mark this week. The list of referring sites may suggest to me that a lot of these views are not real people, but to those actual people who are reading: thank you :-)

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Is grief a mental illness (and has anyone even said so)?

The American Psychiatric Association have published their new diagnostic guide (DSM 5) and according to quite a lot of people (just google it) they have classed grief as a type of depression. As far as I can tell (without actually buying a copy) this isn't actually true. What has happened is that they have removed the so-called 'bereavement exclusion' which said that major depressive disorder (aka depression) should not be diagnosed following a significant bereavement. They have also listed something called 'Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder' as requiring further study.
Why does it make sense to remove this bereavement exclusion clause? Well, suppose you had got depression already and then a loved one died and you then sought medical help for your depression. You might not be able to get the treatment you needed because DSM-IV said you shouldn't be diagnosed with it and therefore your insurance company would not pay for your treatment. Maybe you didn't have depression before this event. Maybe you just had a tendency, or a past episode, or were just starting mild depression. Given that the causes of depression are not well understood, maybe you didn't have depression at all. The result would be the same. No DSM number, no drugs. As there don't seem to have been any other exclusions (such as job loss, divorce, or other severe stress) it makes sense (to me, at least) to remove this exclusion which might be preventing people who really need help from getting that help.
On the other hand, as there does seem to be a trend for doctors to overprescribe anti-depressants anyway, it does mean that there is now further potential to misdiagnose depressive disorders. Furthermore, evidence shows that many doctors end up prescribing as a way of ending consultations. Also, as all of this is taking place in the USA where prescription medicines can be advertised to the public (not allowed in the UK), there is a possibility that drug companies could target the recently bereaved, who will then go to their doctors demanding anti-depressants which they will be prescribed and which will not help them because they do not have depression, they are grieving. Due to the stigma attached to mental illness it might also mean that some people don't seek the support (by which I don't mean treatment) they need in their grief because they're afraid of the potential diagnosis. All of which begs the question: when did it stop being OK to be sad?
Or perhaps we are sadder than we used to be. With the loss of God from our culture, we have also lost the resurrection and life after death. Funerals are now termed 'celebrations of life' and even mentioning the deceased can be something of a taboo. Deciding whether to tell a friend or acquaintance that you are praying for them and their loved one presents itself as a dilemma (even if praying for them is the first thing you would do).  A friend of mine told me recently that after agonising for some time, she decided to offer her condolences (and prayers) to a colleague whose father had died, with the awkwardness of trying to broach the subject with someone she didn't know that well compounded by the fact that everyone else in the department would fall silent as soon as he came into the room. Some time afterwards, he told her that she was the only person at work who had said anything at all to him.
We no longer seem to know that it's OK to be sad. It is wrong, and therefore pathological, an illness. And in a way, there is something 'wrong' in that sadness wasn't part of the original plan: sadness and grief, like death, are a consequence of moral and physical evil. We have no idea how to talk about death. We worry about exacerbating grief, making someone sadder, or causing offence or embarrassment (as if brief embarrassment on either side could really be worse than the death of a loved one?!). So here it is (for what it's worth), my opinion about being sad: it's OK to be sad. And this may be the key to telling the difference between grief and depression. Grief is not an illness, it is part of life, just as death is.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Wombs to let: £28,000

I suppose a baby factory is the obvious successor to the egg bank, but it wasn't something I was expecting to come across in last week's Metro.
The most ridiculous aspect (and now I've said that I am torn as to which bit is actually the most ridiculous) of this article is Dr Patel's claim that she is carrying out a feminist mission. As the Anscombe Bioethics Centre wrote in their review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act:
Surrogate motherhood involves a further fragmentation and trivialisation of parenthood, in that a woman deliberately becomes a gestational mother with no intention of committing herself to caring for the child she gestates. This practice is exploitative of both the woman and the child, and damages the way conception and gestation are regarded in society as a whole. If surrogacy cannot be prohibited altogether (the option we would prefer), commercial surrogacy, at very least, should continue to be prohibited. We do not believe that agencies should be registered with the Department of Health, as the Brazier Committee recommends, as this would constitute official endorsement of such agencies. (An analogy might be with the case of prostitution: those opposed to prostitution are rightly unwilling to accept the official registering of brothels, as this effectively legitimises their existence.)
Dr Patel is clearly exploiting women; of the £28,000 a couple pay for a surrogate mother, the surrogate receives less than £5,000. For 9 months manual labour (a 'physical job') the mother earns approximately 73p an hour (based on a 40 week pregnancy). And paying a woman for the use of her body is definitely analagous to prostitution. But hey, at least facilities are sterile!
And then we have the desperate couples who choose this option and are willing and able to pay. Are they not also being exploited to a certain extent (albeit in a design of their own making)? This is not a good way to have a family: I know of one woman who regularly tells people how much her IVF twins cost her, apparently believing that their grades should be better than those of other children because they cost more. As they get older, will she dictate to them on the basis that she paid for them? Isn't that a form of slavery? As always it is the child who loses: exploited by both genetic and surrogate parents.
We are now way beyond the start of the slippery slope: there are those who are 'too posh to push', those who choose the gender or disability status of their children. It would not surprise me if there were also designer pregnancies, where the pregnancy happens to another person, whether a woman is fertile or not. Is this the new feminist ideal: the exploitation of one woman to spare another some nine months of inconvenience? Even organs are not commodities to be traded, selected, bought, sold or even rented, so why do we seem to think that children are?

Monday, 30 September 2013

In co-operating with evil, where is the line between reality and paranoia?

Yesterday, my brother Andy* and his girlfriend sat down and filled out a mortgage application. Every so often I was asked my opinion about what I thought certain questions were getting at. I did my best to answer them but mostly, given my total ignorance of mortgages, credit cards and money in general, I pointed them in the direction of more reliable answers. I found myself wondering whether I should refuse outright, be rather more non-comittal or launch into a lecture on how co-habitation is not in God's Plan for them, despite the fact that my big-sisterly-omniscience apparently doesn't extend to morals. Andy and Gertrude** plan never to marry (G wouldn't mind if A insisted, I am told, but A is against it) or have children (A would secretly like to but G is vehemently against) and wish to buy a house together so that they can live happily ever after. My other brother, Chris, married Adele*** earlier this year, and prior to this they had been cohabiting for two years in the house they bought together. Now, when Chris told me the two of them were moving in together I expressed my concern and talked about it with him. He was unreceptive, but there was no animosity. Chris and Andy are extremely different in their openness to different ideas, and Chris at least has some basic appreciation for Christian morals. It was worth a try. With Andy there would be no point.

This issue of what counts as co-operation has been on my mind for some time, and I have a tentative plan to follow up my post on healthcare professionals and the law with one on conscience. Here's the deal: Pharmacists have a conscience clause in our Code of Ethics. We can refuse to do something if it is against our moral or religious beliefs. However we must "make sure that if your religious or moral beliefs prevent you from providing a service, you tell the relevant people or authorities and refer patients and the public to other providers". In general, among pharmacists, it is agreed that a conscience clause is a good idea because healthcare professionals constantly have to make difficult decisions about what the best course of action may be. However, the fact that we have to refer the patient to another provider rather makes a nonsense of it: I won't give you the morning after pill but my colleague here/over the road will.
I often have conversations with people about how we should handle these ethical dilemmas. For practical purposes I think it is virtually impossible for a Catholic pharmacist to work in community pharmacy (ie a shop) because although 'Emergency Hormonal Contraception' is not an essential service under the NHS community pharmacy contract, it is locally commissioned by PCTs and unless you have the luxury of owning your own pharmacy its unlikely that you would be in a position to say that the pharmacy won't have anything to do with it, and in any case you would still have to tell the person where to access said service. In hospital pharmacy it is a bit easier to pick and choose what field you work in. Most hospitals do not supply contraceptives to in-patients (for obvious reasons), but if a patient is usually takes hormonal contraceptives, you still need to clinically check that prescription. So then what? Is clinically checking when you aren't going to supply a problem? Even if you work in geriatric medicine there is still the dispensary slot, the on-call time when you can't hand over to a colleague. Leaving scripts to one side for other pharmacists to handle is practically a hanging offence. One friend and I were shocked to hear that a consultant simply passes over the ethically problematic patients. For us, that is not how it works. Some people would say they wouldn't dispense Viagra, in case the person was not married, or having an affair, or other immoral behaviour...but surely there comes a point when you have to give someone the benefit of the doubt. What if the person is married and erectile dysfunction is placing a huge strain on their relationship? How far can we go down this line of thought: should we even be working in the NHS?
What should we be doing as Catholic pharmacists or other healthcare professionals? Where should we go and work? I don't think the answer is for us to seek out fields of healthcare without ethical dilemmas, because that would also limit our opportunity to transform all of the temporal order which is in contrast to the Gospel (always supposing such fields exist). And I think we definitely need Catholic healthcare professionals. Must we just accept that our career options will be limited, our colleagues will mistrust or despise us and that we end up doing an unfulfilling job because we need to provide for a family?
Answers on postcard, please.
*Not his real name; if I use a psuedonym myself I'm hardly going to reveal his identity.
**Obviously not her real name, but follows a pleasing pattern known only to myself.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Exciting happenings in Manchester this week

The first ordinations at the Manchester Oratory will take place on Wednesday at 5:30pm, with two men being ordained to the diaconate.

And the now annual Marian Procession through Rusholme and Fallowfield starts at 10.30am on Saturday 5th October. There have been about 1,000 people present at each of the last 2 years. Check out their video to find out more and if you live anywhere in the North West then go along and participate.

Please pray for all those involved in these two events (and for good weather on Saturday!).

Friday, 20 September 2013

Trivial problems with having 3 parents

One group of scientists have raised concerns that the three-parent IVF technique may lead to problems with fertility, learning and behaviour, the BBC reports. Other scientists say that the effects of a mismatch between mitochondrial and nuclear DNA must be trvial because otherwise we'd have noticed already. Aside from the fact that biologically we have two parents, and therefore I can't see why we would already have noticed, and the ethical minefiel (OK, so it's not a minefield because there isn't a way through, it's just a bomb shaped like a field) the political problems of having 3 parents should not be ignored.
My parents are divorced, my father is remarried. A lot of people are in this position. I get on fairly well with my dad's wife these days, but I rarely refer to her even as my stepmother, although she has referred to herself as a parent in relation to me. My poor sister-in-law has two women who consider themselves to be her mother-in-law (fortunately she is a keen cook and my brother is keen on eating so there is no danger of accusations of underfeeding). Between 6 step-siblings, we only have 4 names, which is a bit confusing at times. Birthdays, Christmas, funerals and now weddings require hours of discussion and planning dedicated to the 3 parent issue. These problems are time consuming, upsetting, complicated but esentially trivial: they do not touch on our identity. At least we are clear on who exactly our parents are, who we are and where we come from. To those who still struggle with these questions, and to those who are and will in the future be born as a result of 3 parent IVF and other bizarre human interventions, I offer the answer a friend of mine discovered as a teenager (very complicated remarriage situation): first and foremost, we are God's children.

A trip to the egg bank

On Tuesday the Mirror reported that an egg donor bank had opened in London; it has been operating on a trial basis since the beginning of the year. In my health news email digest, it stated that women would be able to choose characteristics of the baby, such as eye colour. (It has got a little more difficult to review these stories since the newspapers realised that people were accessing their articles free online and that they were clearly missing out and should start charging.)
Choosing eye colour might seem harmless enough, and I understand that a woman might well want a baby to bear some slight resemblence to her, but we have already seen the tragic consequences of sex-selection of babies, and allowing and encouraging any sort of picking and choosing definitely sets us on the path to designer babies. Having children is not a right, it is a privilege. Babies are not convenient: they do not sleep or smile or eat when we want them to, they are hungry and tired when we don't want them to be. They are people, and like all people they are creatures. We are created. We are fragile. We are dependent. There are some things that we don't get to choose because we are not in charge.
This was as far as I got when I actually went and read the Mirror's article. I was struck by the fact that the director talked about the 'needs' of people 'needing' donor eggs. Need is not the right word - children are a privilege, not a necessity. It would be more accurate to talk about desire and want. I also took note of the 53 year-old woman who said that she'd always wanted to have children but had never met the right person. There is in that statement a clear understanding that the 'right person' is a necessary part of the process of having children. There is no mention that she has now met that person, but she's decided to have a child anyway. In the same way that we have separated sexuality and procreation (see Humanae vitae and if you haven't read it, then read it) we have also separated the concepts of children and family. Sometimes there are ways of doing things which are just different. Other times there are right ways and wrong ways, and being created and finite we also don't get to choose what is right and what is wrong. We can choose whether to do right or wrong, between good and bad and frankly that is a complete misuse of the precious gift of our freedom. Right use of our freedom is using it to choose between good and better, not between good and bad.
It was at this point that I discovered the Telegraph's article on the same subject and realised how incredibly naive I am. It may be couched in terms of altruism, but this is not some benvolent institution, set up because of tragic needs which we cannot ignore (like, say, a food bank). The donors (something of a misnomer) will receive £750 for providing eggs. How long before we see young women funding their way thorough university by selling their eggs? And the profit margin is presumably quite high, as treatment (purchase of eggs) costs £10,000.
Whilst I have thrown words like right and wrong around, and asserted that children are a privilege and not a right, I do empathise with older women. And I do not wish to generalise or assume that it is only single women who seek IVF in later life, I know women who did not meet and marry their husbands until they were in their 50s and 60s and therefore never had children. My great uncle's second wife told me cheerfully that she had no regrets over not having met her husband sooner as he, a widower, had been married to someone else. There are also couples who are sadly, persistently infertile. Women are called to be mothers, whether biologically or spiritually, and the inability to answer that call for whatever reason must bring heartache. But we also need to remember that our actions always have consequences. The consequences of delaying children by prolonged, repeated use of contraceptives in order to advance a career, go on holiday more often and generally 'enjoy life' might be infertility. We are not in charge and we cannot have it all.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

From bad to worse: politically correcting the hymbook

I have been promising myself this little rant project for some time and so this morning I borrowed a hymn book from (I did ask) and now I am sitting down to enjoy an objective moan (OK, maybe I will allow some subjective whining to creep in) about what they have done with the hymns. Our parish rejoices in Liturgical Hymns Old and New, the sequel to Hymns Old and New with Supplement which continued the trilogy begun with Hymns Old and New. The title is blatantly a rip off of the classic Hymns Ancient and Modern with monosyllables in order to make it easier for the people to understand. You see, I am getting annoyed already. Apparently (I quote from the foreword) 'the significant adjective "Liturgical"' is to do with 'the people...reclaiming the parts of the mass and the celebration of the sacraments that belong to them by wanting - as they should - to sing them'. Wow, I'm really starting to regret reading that page. Anyway, what I am about to say could probably be equally applied to most of the hymnbooks in current circulation. I should add at this point that Bruvver Eccles is doing sterling work on the subject of bad hymns, and today's rant is more about the updating of both bad and good.
The first section is Music for the Mass. This is now all completely out of date because we have a new, improved translation, although this isn't quite true as they do get credit for including the Missa de Angelis, Mass XVIII and Credo 3. However, they lose points for grouping together all the Kyries, all the Glorias etc which does lead to random picking and choosing of mass parts resulting in a lack of musical cohesion. Further points must be subtracted for including Agnus Deis with made up verses. What is it with making up words to the Agnus Dei? I know better than the Church and I don't think they've really got it covered with the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world?
This wasn't quite how I saw this post going. The next section is Hymns and Songs. I don't know if I know what the difference is, and I'm not sure they do either because there isn't a helpful little heading next to each composition saying which it is. Out of curiosity I've just looked these words up on (I have got an OED on the shelf but it's heavy) and apparently a song is 'a short metrical composition intended or adapted for singing, especially one in rhymed stanzas' and a hymn is 'a song or ode in praise or honour of God' which begs the question what are 'songs' doing in a book with the word 'liturgical' in the title?
What I was really going to look at was the way in which a lot of the hymns have been adapted, presumably to make them more 'inclusive', especially for people who can't pronounce their 'th's yet, for women, and because we are all one people and God can't show favoritism by conferring grace or blessings on any one individual over any other. There are problems with this, many of which can be illustrated using the updated version of My God loves me. This was not a great hymn to start with. It is never a good idea to set hymns to popular tunes (see the Hey Jude Kyrie). Maybe I am doing the editors a disservice. Perhaps their efforts on this hymn are to discourage the singing thereof. In this case, changing the first line to Our God loves us was a stroke of genius, making it tricky to locate if you rely on the alphabetical order of the hymnbook (although the inclusion of both options in the index makes me question their motives). Basically what they have done is replace all the singular pronouns with plural pronouns, hence my God becomes our God and he loves us not me. And here are the problems:
  1. Musically speaking, 'us' is not a great word to have on the end of a line. We can sing my God loves meeeeeeeeeeee with no problem. My God loves uuuuuuuusssssssss is difficult on two counts. The u-as-in-us does not lend itself to long notes, and where to put the s is a challenge even for experienced choirs, who annotate their scores to show where exactly it should be places. Our God does not, in fact, love us, he loves hissing.
  2. In terms of the rhyme we come to grief in verse 2, which once proclaimed that 'though storm-clouds threaten the day, he will set me free' which rhymed with the first half in which 'His gentle hand he stretches over me'. Me rhymes with free. Yr 1 phonics. Free does not rhyme with us. This is almost the only rhyme the writer managed to get right (wine/time and endures/secure featuring in verses 3 and 4 respectively) and it seems a shame to take that away from her.
  3. I admit to grammatical pedantry. It annoys me that while they have made the pronouns plural, they have not adjusted the nouns accordingly. Verse 4, therefore, irritates me profoundly, as it contains the immortal line 'and we will live like his child' whereas if we are going to live like anything, presumably it should be his children. Two many syllables.
Thou, thy, thee and thine are perfectly good words. They are not hard to understand. Except, apparently, in the hymn 'Breathe on me, breath of God' where they have been replaced throughout with you and yours.
I personally (subjectivism may creep in) have no objection to the use of man or men to mean all of us 'ere human beings. I do not feel threatened by the word 'mankind'. We have already seen that replacing a monosyllabic word with one of 2 syllables would upset the meter and so there is this rettible tendency to replace 'men' with 'ones' and so the verses of I'll sing a hymn to Mary now end with '... when wicked men ones blaspheme thee, I'll to love and bless thy name'. 'Ones' sounds completely ridiculous. (It is good to note though, that women are being given their credit for wickedness, blasphemey and other wrongdoing as well as the chance to receive peace, grace and love etc.) This is better than the version in Celebrational Hymnal for Everyone in which the end of this verse has been completed altered to remove all mention of wickedness and blasphemy, changing the words to 'O may I imitate thee and magnify thy name'. The same hymnbook also contains an astonishing song which begins 'Oh the Lord looked down from his house up in the sky and said, "I created man but I can't remember why"' which is, at best, anthropologically unsound and at worst, heretical. It's about Noah's Ark. Maybe I should be grateful that it's not in LH&N.
After Hymns and Songs comes Children's Hymns and Songs. I daren't look through this section. There is a lot about butterflies. Then I was excited to see a bit called Chants. DisappointingL it's mostly Taize. Then come the responsorial psalms. I have to say that at least this section should go some way to discouraging people from substituting random songs based on a psalm for the responsorial psalm.
Since the translation of the mass was improved, there have been a lot of complaints centred around the fact that 'we knew the old words and its too hard to change'. Apparently the same complaint doesn't apply to hymns which are to be changed and updated as much as possible.
Now I've got that off my chest, here's some serious advice for anyone planning to write a hymn or song:

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

In the public interest: Law and the healthcare professional

As I understand it from a quick look at the coverage of the CPS's seemingly (wait for it) bizarre decision not to prosecute doctors involved in sex-selective abortions, apparently this relates to two doctors (abortionists) who were asked to carry out terminations on the grounds of the child's sex, but did not do so and were not planning to do so. Prosecution is deemed to be not in the public interest, and better dealt with by the GMC. My Hunt has apparently referred the case to the attorney general. Leaving aside the matter of whether doctors who have not and do not intend to carry out illegal activities need to be disciplined by their regulating body I have been thinking about law, what it is for, and how healthcare professionals should and do see it.
I may be naive, but I have come to the conclusion that any laws we have should, at root, be in the public interest. Whether they protect or promote the rights of a minority, the majority; or regulate the workings of organisations; or stipulate the responsibilities of groups and individuals, all laws serve the public interest. This is not to say that I think all of our laws are right merely because they are laws, but our elected officials have made these laws on our behalf, and therefore they (the laws) presumably exist because of a belief that they are needed and are in the public interest. Therefore it is no great leap to conclude that those who break laws are not acting in the public interest. And, because of the way that the law operates, those who break laws receive some form of punishment, and perhaps the opportunity for public atonement (damages) or rehabilitation depending on the circumstances. (These consequences are, in theory, also in the public interest.) A quick flick through 1897-1927 of the Catechism reassures me that I'm working along the right lines here.
It would seem, then, that prosecuting those who break laws is in the public interest, by virtue of what law itself is. I removed the word 'always' from that sentence because I can see that spending a large amount of public money prosecuting a child who stole a bag of sweets from a supermarket would not be, and there is such a thing as legitimate protest which often necesitates a certain amount of disruption. Of course, in this case the Abortion Act, which permits abortion, is an unjust law and therefore not binding in conscience as authority has broken down (cf. CCC 1903), but I don't think that this immorality clause applies to the parts of the Act which are morally right (that is, abortion is basically illegal, according to the rule of law). I am not a lawyer or a theologian and if anyone would like to expand upon, clarify, or correct any part of this they should do so and welcome.
As an undergraduate I sat through a lot of lectures on Law relating to Pharmacy. Pharmacists are the 'guardians of medicines' and therefore at undergraduate and registration level we are required to pass exams which require intimate knowledge and understanding of the law (it should be noted that while the university standard is 40% for a pass, for the pharmacy law exams it is higher - I think 70% but I can't actually remember). The Medicines Act 1968 arose following the scandal and tragedy of thalidomide; along with the four other Acts we studied, the majority of this law is about making sure that only the people who need and/or are entitled to possess lethal, or potentially lethal, substances are able to do so. For pharmacists, and by extension for other health professionals, the law is important. And not just the law directly relating to our work: last month a pharmacist was struck off for stealing controlled drugs (codeine, morphine) to feed his own addiction, but a pharmacy technician was also suspended from the register for benefit fraud.
Healthcare professionals make life and death decisions on an hourly basis. Sometimes we pharmacists may not even realise the import of our actions, as we re-write the scrawled prescription, annotate the dose, check the patient's allergy status, cross off the duplicated items and manage the drug interactions (collectively known as 'supporting safe and effective prescribing'), but they really are that serious. We need laws which help us in and underpin those decisions because of the magnitude of those decision and the power we derive from our ability to make them. If laws are, in themselves, in the public interest then flagrant disregard of those laws by the very people who should be serving the public, in their capacity as healthcare professionals, is a grave matter indeed. Given that it is held that such people must respect the rule of law outside their professional field in order to function with integrity within their field, then surely a breach of law which impacts directly on their practice must be prosecuted in the public interest and for the public good.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Dating after discernment: teenage angst revisited after consecrated life

Over at yesimcatholic, the Skinny Walrus has followed up her post on What (Catholic) Women Want with one on What (Catholic) Men Want. The former made me laugh quite a lot, especially the part about seminarians. And I agree with her seminarian friend who said that all Catholic men should go to seminary. For some time I have been of the opinion that at the very least all Catholics should set aside some serious time for discernment and also a good couple of years of solid Catholic formation, intellectual, psychological, physical and spiritual. (I not sure if I know what I mean by physical Catholic formation (Catholic physical formation) but we can't ignore the fact that we do have bodies so there should definitely be something.)
When I was discerning my vocation (the first time) I made friends with another girl who was likewise discerning. She had discerned with various communities on and off for years and told me that in between times she had dated quite a few ex-seminarians. There had been, she informed me, quite a lot of theology and not much romance (in case you're wondering, she's now married). I totally get it. If you have been seriously discerning your vocation, have been in community, have been in the seminary, you are bound to be drawn to others who have had similar experiences and have then discerned for marriage because you have been living the same kind of life, but there is bound to be a lot of theology/spiritual talk because you have a common frame of reference. You are going to have a lot to talk about, you are probably going to understand one another quite well, and very possibly you are going to be a little bit better at talking about what's going on inside because you've spent some time (a) working it out and (b) putting it into words. Having said that, it doesn't necessarily mean that you are going to be suited to marriage with each other. 
Personally speaking (and given that the whole depression and anxiety thing doesn't really help) I find it much harder (not impossible) to talk about much beyond the superficial with people who don't have those experiences. I'm not just talking about men, I mean everyone. I don't think one has to necessarily marry a Catholic to have a successful marriage (whoever you marry you should think about it carefully beforehand and the posts above do cover this topic fairly comprehensively) but when you are formerly consecrated it can be difficult to even have a conversation with a non-Catholic because you have to spend so much time explaining yourself and your life. My government-issue employment advisor is very happy and excited about the "unique selling point" on my CV (yes, the 3 most important years of my life come down to that: something more likely to get me a job interview). Some people think I went through a phase. My extended family don't talk about it. Other people say 'oh that's nice' and see it like some sort of gap year experience (everyone who has been to university in the last 15 years or so has met someone whose been to India/Bolivia/Thailand and found that it was a very spiritual place, who now sports hippy trousers and likes to eat rice and beans more often than perhaps is good for them).
But even among the Catholics it's hard work. If I say 'I've discerned for marriage' the majority assume I've met someone and walked out of my community and away from my commitments in order to get married/move in with someone (when did I have time for that?!). So now I say 'I discerned that God wasn't calling me to community life'. However, there are quite a lot of reasons I don't think that's a good way to put it. Firstly, God doesn't call us not to be something. He calls us to something. 'Not community life' isn't a vocation, although it might be a step on the path to finding your vocation. The other reason I don't like it is that a frankly astonishing number of Catholics assume that 'not community life' is some kind of code for 'I want to be a priest'. These are good people, practicing Catholics, many of them living comitted Catholic lives...apart from the part where they hope that maybe I'll be the Church's first female bishop because really the Church has got it so wrong and behind the times and the nice lady vicar next door at the C of E is definitely proof that women can and should be priests and so and so forth until I want to shout: STOP! and run away screaming. And you know what, I am not the only person who has had this experience. That is why sometimes it's easier to talk to the other formerly consecrated women I know, because it's a relief to be able to share these strange, slightly frustrating experiences with someone who understands where you're coming from.
So yes, the ex-seminarian is probably a good bet. Although he seems to have a lot more options than the ex-consecrated woman, with all the unmarried Catholic women queuing up. As a fellow 30something, formerly consecrated, female friend was saying the other day, aside from the fact that now is possibly not the time to embark on dating, there seem to be very few men of our age who aren't either married, divorced or carrying vast amounts of emotional baggage. But, as I try to remember (and succeed fairly well a lot of the time) getting married is not the ultimate aim in life. That would be holiness.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Catholic Guide to Depression - Aaron Kheriaty, John Cihak

This book was lent to me by a friend who also suffers from depression and had found it helpful. I was so impressed by the introduction that I almost sat down to blog about it there and then.
Dr Aaron Kheriaty, an experienced psychiatrist, with some help from Fr John Cihak, a theologian, has written and excellent, extremely readable book about depression. It is the best thing about depression I have ever read, and it is the only thing about depression I have ever read which I thought I could give someone else to read and it would help them understand my condition.
The approach to mental illness, and specifically depression, is grounded in Catholic anthrolopology and a truly integral vision of the human person: body, soul and spirit. It explains what depression is not and how, given the fact that it is an illness which pervades all aspects of the person, the treatment must be likewise holistic. Brief descriptions of treatment options are covered but the most interesting and best part of the book is that it is so spiritual. As I've given my copy back to the person who lent it to me I can't give a more detailed explanation, but I plan to buy one for myself.
As depression is now the 3rd or 4th leading cause of illness worldwide, you will probably find reason at some point in your life to read this book. In the mean time:
  • If you have depression, you should read this book: it will help you understand yourself, your illness and what you can do about it. I found it both practical and consoling.
  • If you are a healthcare professional, you should read this book: medical science, education and practice frequently take a one-dimensional approach to the human person, reducing us to our bodies only. Although specifically about depression, I believe this book goes a long way to addressing that problem, and much of its content is applicable to suffering in general.
  • If you have a friend or family member with depression, you should read this book. It puts into words what they may not be able to, with great clarity.
  • If you are a priest, religious or consecrated person, if you provide spiritual direction, or do almost any kind of apostolate, you should read this book: it gives practical spiritual advice for the person with depression as well as explaining the biological and psychological aspects of the illness.
  • If your parish has a library, you should recommend to whoever is in charge of it that they add this book to it.
  • If you have ever thought that a person with depression needs to pull themselves together, or give themselves a good talking to, you should read this book.
  • If you don't fall into one of the aforementioned categories, then you might not want to read this book now, but you definitely should make a note of it somewhere, because one day you might need it.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Live from Lourdes

In the cafe formerly known as La Terasse and making most of free wifi. Typing with one finger on iPod hence Bridget Jones style of post.
No. Of cappuccinos today 1. With cream. V bad.
Lourdes is v quiet. Fewer pilgrims and volunteers.
Train services disrupted (prob accounts for lack of Italians).
Sanctuaries open and mostly normal.
Underground basilica still closed - no international mass and Eucharistic procession is a non-Procession which takes place near the podium.
St Bernadette's Church open as normal.
Confessions as normal.
Grotto open, some damage to glass around the spring.
Baths open but water change is slower than usual due to damaged filtration system.
Main bridge in sanctuary is damaged but open with temporary railings. Farthest bridge (past the baths) is closed.
Abri St Michel (v important place which feeds volunteers and scouts) v badly damaged and still closed. Restaurant temporarily rehoused in St Frai.
Some hotels still closed - mud reported. Many business owners v demolarised.
All shops appear open.
Best orange juice to be found in the Acceuil Maie St Frai where a glass of the freshly pressed stuff only 2E20. Vg.
This is the Recusant reporting from Lourdes. And now, back to the studio.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Tying knots

My silent Confirmation Group are to be confirmed this Sunday, and I have finally finished their gift: I have made each of them a rosary.

I learned to make these rosaries when I lived in Peru and it has sort of become my hobby, although getting the right kind of thread at a non-prohibitive price seems to be difficult in this country (probably as there aren't many people making fishing nets by hand) and nowadays I tend to make them only when I have someone specific in mind, rather than on the off chance. String is not yet banned on planes, and a piece of string easily fits in your handbag (although does have an unfortunately habit of tying all your possessions together, which then spill over the floor when you pull it out) so it is a good activity for journeys and waiting rooms.
I like to put Marian medals on rosaries and, as these are Confirmation gifts, I thought it would be a good idea to give the Holy Spirit a look-in as well. As I live in the Catholic wilderness, in the end I commissioned a friend in Manchester to get me some medals from the shop at Salford Cathedral. They have had these rather nice ones of the Holy Spirit with the Heart of Mary before, but whenever I have been in there specifically looking for them I have been disappointed. On my own rosary I have medals of Our Lady of Walsingham, Pope Benedict XVI, Blessed John Henry Newman, St Bernadette and St John Bosco. In this way when I pray the rosary I have the experience that I am praying with friends (and I also remember to say a decade for the Holy Father).
These knotted rosaries are rather good for using when unable to sleep (or when you wake up in the night worrying about whatever mad dream you have just had) as if you do drift off while praying, you don't then wake up when you lie on top of them or they fall of the bed with a resounding crash. Theoretically they are also machine washable and won't leach all over your sheets if you accidently bundle them up when stripping the bed/leave them in your pockets. I haven't actually tried this.
Also featured in the photo is the extremely PC hymnbook we use in our parish (borrowed for legitimate purposes), which I have finally found a good use for as background.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The LCP again

I blogged about the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying a while ago (Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here) and basically concluded that in itself it wasn't necessarily bad, but that it's application was likely to be problematic at best.
It seems that the recent inquiry (as reported by the BBC) highlights some of these problems more specifically. The fact that there is a financial incentive to use the LCP is an obviously disastrous initiative likely to lead to patients being innapproriately placed on the pathway and, in some cases, deliberately euthanised.
The comments of the medical student is also merits consideration. She says that "in medical school we focus so much on saving lives that dying is put to one side". I constantly read headlines about prevent deaths from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, you name it, we want to prevent deaths from it. But as finite creatures, death is an inescapable part of reality. As Christians, we know that it is our ordinary route of entry to eternal life. It is bizarre (or perhaps not) that the heady combination of atheistic humanism and aggressive secularism we now see is not sure whether to eliminate suffering by preventing death or to eliminate suffering by eliminating all those who suffer. While we live in a world which labours under the consequences of original sin and is in a state of journeying towards perfection, we experience both moral and physical evil and therefore neither of these contradicting so-called solutions can achieve its aim. The desire to do so shows that the problem is still the same: the desire to ignore our limited nature and be gods without God.

Why? - Sharon Dirckx

Sharon Dirckx is a friend of a friend and because of this I have met her a few times. She is, like me, a scientist and is currently a tutor and lecturer at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. So when I heard that she was writing a book about suffering, I was interested to read it. Apparently it is well up on the Christian bestseller lists.
The first thing I would say about this book is that it is extremely readable. I read it from cover to cover at one sitting (maybe 2 hours), and I don't remember the last time I did that. I have to say that I was a little disappointed when I got to the end, that the book didn't go into more depth. Upon reflection, I realised that I was probably not the intended audience and that this book is not intended for people will a fairly well-developed spiritual life and a certain level of intellectual formation. If you have read and understood Salvific doloris (or at least attempted to understand it) this book will leave you cold. It is a book written for people who are who find themselves crying out to an unknown God in the midst of personal suffering, for people who won't or can't let God in and for those who have taken a few steps towards God but don't then know where to go.
However, this book does look at questions which are commonly asked about suffering as a way of disproving God's existence. Dirckx begins with the time-honoured 'If God exists, then why is there so much evil and suffering in the world?' and moves onto discussing whether this God actually cares. She compares Christianity, Atheism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism in their attitudes towards suffering and (not unexpectedly) concludes that only Christianity has anything sensible to say on the subject.
I don't think I'd recommend giving this book to someone who was suffering and starting to ask the bigger questions. It is, after all, written from a Protestant perspective and while it is general enough for this not to be an issue there were a few bits which I didn't think were particularly helpful (and one short part which I don't think is handled very well at all). Having said that, if you knew someone who was in this position it might be a good book to read. The question and answer format, as well as the 'human element' in the form of stories, in addition to the way 'popular' answers to difficult questions are dismantled might well be a helpful basis to supportive apostolate.
As I said, for a person who already has a relationship with God, practises their faith and has already reflected deeply on their own suffering this book would not be useful on a personal level, except to remind one that not everyone is in the same place as you, and that very small steps are necessary when leading another by the hand.

Speaking in tongues: That new biography of Pope Francis I mentioned is a project very close to my heart. Currently our blog operates in English and Spanish but, who knows? perhaps one day it will be in many more languages. As a small step towards this today we released an original production: Meet Pope Francis (in 4 minutes). This video is available in a total of 15 languages including Urdu and Arabic, because we haven't forgotten the persecuted Church (and also because Canva Ma's animation is so cool that we want everyone to be able to enjoy it!). The links for this are on Catholic Link's page.

Please, please, please share this video.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Remembering Monseñor Alcides

Monseñor, with his serious face on.
Archbishop Emeritus Alcides Mendoza Castro died one year ago yesterday. I was privileged to know him when I lived in Peru and attended mass at his home outside Lima at least weekly. Fluent in Spanish, German, and Quechua, nearly fluent in French, Italian, Portugueuse, he also spoke a fair amount of English. He was ordained priest the same year as Benedict XVI, whom he met at the Second Vatican Council (where he sat next to one Albino Luciani), but unlike the Pope Emeritus he attended as a bishop. In fact, at just 34 when the first session opened he was the youngest of the Council Fathers, having been ordained bishop when he was a mere 30 years old. He discerned his own vocation to the priesthood when he was 7 and was therefore inclined to look on those who entered community or seminary at 18 as late vocations! 

The young seminarian with his mother.
The seminary would not accept him when his mother took him there at the age of 12, because the newly appointed Bishop of Ayacucho had not yet arrived from Spain (it was 1939, after all). However, the young Alcides was advised that the Bishop would have to stop for petrol in his home town when he passed through to take possession of his diocese. Nothing daunted, the small boy waited there every day until March 1941 when the Bishop drove past without stopping! However he was forced to turn back by an incident on the motorway. Alcides abandoned his toy cars in order to seek him out, spent the afternoon talking to him and eventually took him home, informing his horrified mother that Monseñor would be staying the night with them, responding to her remonstrances with a calm, "He's my friend."

As first Bishop of Abancay, Monseñor Alcides discovered that there were 200,000 faithful in his diocese, but only 8 priests and 5 nuns. He had no house and embarked on his epsicopal ministry with only a table and 6 borrowed chairs. As there were no good roads in this mountainous region he travelled on horseback, covering 20,000 km in 9 years. At one point, seeking to raise some much-needed money to build an orphanage and a seminary, he considered competing in (it must be said, an undoubtedly rather dangerous) road race from Abancay to Cuzco. He felt there was a good chance that he could win the cash prize and persuaded Volkswagen to donate a car for the cause, but was denied permission by Rome who said simply, 'we do not have maniacs for bishops'. 

I could go on an on about Monseñor. There was always a twinkle in his eye, he loved to tell stories and jokes and his house was full of the photos to illustrate them. He was devoted to Mary and had a miniture reconstruction of the Grotto of Lourdes in his little garden (complete with a working fountain). He was a loving father and shepherd to all his spiritual children but, above all, a wise and holy priest. His rule of life was, "Eucharist, Mary, humility" which he often repeated to us. I loved Monseñor a great deal and I miss him a lot.
If you can read Spanish, and can get hold of a copy, I recommend the excellent Al Servicio de Dios: Memorias de Monseñor Alcides Mendoza, interviewed by Carmen Elena Villa, published by Círculo de Encuentro, Lima. The photos I have included here (apart from the first) can be found in that book.

The oldest and youngest bishops at the Second Vatican Council: Archbishop Alfonso Carinci on his 101st birthday and Bishop Alcides Mendoza, aged 34.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A new biography of Pope Francis have announced a forthcoming animation about the life of Pope Francis. I have been privileged to see the pre-release version and I have to say it is excellent. At just under 5 minutes it presents brief biographical facts of Jorge Mario Bergoglio's life with a clearly spiritual perspective in terms of the importance of prayer, trust in God and the way in which these enable one to respond to God's Plan.

This is most definitely a team effort on the part of Catholic Link (yes, this is a shameless plug) but special credit is due to Canva Ma, whose eye-catching animation is a delight to behold. The video is in the final stages of production (translation into over 10 languages), but in the mean time, a trailer (which gives absolutely nothing away) can be viewed on their website. Entertaining and informative, this is a definite must see for anyone involved with youth apostolate, but also for everyone else.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Deo gratias! At long last we have a bishop!

Hopes Newton Broadhurst 2011-01-13 cropped.jpgMy daily VIS email hasn't arrived yet, but a kind friend pointed out the Catholic Herald report containing the good news that finally we have a bishop in East Anglia. Bishop Alan Hopes was formerly one of the Auxiliaries of Westminster.

I try to avoid reading comments on articles but I couldn't resist today (in the hope of finding out something more about the new man). There is the usual mix of completely conflicting nonsense, so I will do what I should have done in the first place and listen to what he says instead. Having such a boring name undoubtedly makes him the ideal candidate to follow in the footsteps of Bishops Alan Clark, Peter Smith and Michael Evans. In any case it is good to have a shepherd at last.

May God bless him in his new ministry and grant him the grace and wisdom to govern this diocese in these challenging times.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Credit where it's due

I often complain about the questionable practices in my parish. I often feel that the parish is a little island, cut off from the Universal Church. As a geographically large, rural parish at the farthest edge of a diocese without a bishop, which is in the care of a Religious Congregation rather than a diocesan priest we sometimes seem to "belong" only to ourselves. Never was this more evident than the week Pope Emeritus Benedict abdicated and didn't even get a mention.
I was, therefore, delighted that yesterday we participated in the Holy Hour called for by Pope Francis. It was fairly well attended (I was the youngest person there, but it was a busy Sunday in the parish, with an extra mass laid on for First Communion, and the village, with Open Gardens in aid of the Anglican parish), certainly there were more people there than just the usual suspects.
It was very reverent, there was incense (not seen in this Church since circa. 1995 when we ran out of altar servers) and we sang Tantum ergo (in Latin, a thing unheard of). If there was slightly too much 'Holy Hour input' for my taste, at least none of it was inappropriate, and I recognise that many people are not used to 60 minutes of silent prayer. There was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at a time when the vast majority of people were not at work and therefore able to attend.
The seemingly-Trappist Confirmation group, to my delight, broke their silence yesterday evening to say that they would prefer to have the organ than a guitar to accompany the hymns at the Confirmation mass next month and no-one requested Shine, Jesus, Shine. All in all, things are looking up a little.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Zlata's Diary - Zlata Filipović

Some twenty years ago I was watching Newsround and saw a feature about Zlata, a girl from Sarajevo of my age whose diary had been published. I was fired with an enthusiasm to read the diary, but for some reason it never came my way. To my delight I discovered it recently on the book stall in the doctors' surgery (20p well spent). In fact, it contains an introduction by Krishnan Guru-Murthy (until this moment I had always thought it was Guru-Murphy) who was the presenter of Newsround at the time.

My overriding impression on finishing the book (which was a bit of a struggle to be honest, after all, it was written by a 12 year old) was that I should have read it then. Zlata's diary has been compared with that of Anne Frank which I have not read. However I would imagine that a major difference is that Zlata is told that her diary will be published around half-way through the book; it becomes her passport out of the war-torn city.

Zlata's experiences led me to feel sorrow for her, not so much because of the lack of food and water, not for the daily dilemma of whether the furniture should be cut up for firewood, and not even for her stolen childhood but more for the fact that she does not seem to know anything of God. She writes 'Oh God...' when friends are killed, but there is no answer because it is not a cry to a person. It comes across as just an expression, just empty words.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Cherry-picking sin

Recently my facebook news feed seems to have been filling up with little red equals signs, mostly among my those of my cousins who fall into one of the following two groups: in their 40s or American. (I could do a nice little Venn diagram.) This morning one of them, who descibes herself as 'Catholic....sort of?', shared the Atheist Quote of the Day:

Homosexuality is not a sin. Atheism is not a sin. Belonging to the wrong religion is not a sin. You know why? Because sin is an imaginary disease invented to sell you an imaginary cure.
                                                                                                                  John Allen

A quick google tells me there are rather a lot of people called John Allen. I don't know which one of these he is or how exactly he arrived at his conclusions. Leaving aside the fact that a self-proclaimed Catholic (even if only self-proclaiming as 'sort of') is displaying support for same-sex marriage and showing appreciation for the Atheist Quote of the Day page, leaving aside the rejection of God and the downright relativism in the first half of said quote, the part which interests me particularly is the bit about sin being an imaginary disease and its complementary imaginary cure.

I recently blogged about the loss of the sense of sin, which Pius XII identified as the sin of the century, speaking in the USA in 1946. I and my fellow catechist also recently had a complaint from the parent of one of the members of our confirmation group. The underlying issue was that we had spoken regularly about sin and apparently we were supposed to be 'affirming' the young people and not 'making them feel bad about themselves'. Yes, we have talked about sin. Yes, we have talked about the devil. Yes, we have strongly encouraged them to go to confession. (No, we have not greatly succeeded in this and if anyone has any suggestions they would be greatly appreciated.) But I think I can put my hand on my heart and say that when we have talked about sin, we have always, invariably, talked about the love and mercy of God who is always waiting for us to come back to him.

John Allen is right about one thing: without the disease there is no need for a cure. Take away sin and God is worse than imaginary: he is irrelevant and unecesssary. Take away sin and the immeasurable gift of reconciliation is tossed aside as meaningless. (Of course it works both ways: take away God, take away the absolute and we immediately begin to drown in a mire of relativism without the compass of right and wrong.) If I do not recognise my own sinfulness and brokenness, I have no need of God, no need of reconciliation. Without recognising this I cannot recognise the immense love which God lavishes on me, God who made me for love and out of an overabundance of love, and who holds me in being at every moment. As the Exsultet proclaims:

Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
O truly blessed night, worthy alone to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the underworld!
Sin is not an imaginary disease, it is a reality which each one of us allows into the world because while we may like to count ourselves as 'OK' or 'better' on the basis that we are not murderers, there are no good sins. It is the root of injustice, poverty, famine, persecution, war, suffering... There are many ways of coming to know God, and I do not think that recognising evil can teach us the existence of abosulte good, but the knowledge of sin and our own sinfulness can help us to know how very much God loves us. 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Song at the Scaffold - Gertrud von le Fort

This book was recommended to me by a friend who is a consecrated laywoman (a consecrated laywoman friend?) and shares my passion for books. I bought it to read during my recent visit to Ampleforth for the Triduum Retreat, believing that when on retreat it is wise not to distract yourself unnecessarily with unrelated bedtime reading. Having left my shopping rather late I was delighted to discover that it was available for ereaders from Ignatius Press. The book, which is shorter than I expected, tells the story of a group of Carmelite nuns at the time of the French Revolution. Written in the form of a letter, the account focuses mainly on one of the novices, and her fear.

I think this is a book I need to digest and revisit, because while I enjoyed the book, it was something of a 'Titanic experience' in that the fate of all concerned is known from the beginning, although their paths to that point are not. However, while the story is predictable enough in its way, it is the character of Blanche, the novice, which merits further reflection. For me, it brought me back to the Bible passage which I kept coming back to over the course of the retreat: For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Cor 1:22-25) Blanche is afraid of everything, but so am I. Whilst my fears may not be as extreme and all-consuming they are still as real and as foolish as some of hers. I have put my trust in God (supposedly) and I have had the priviledge to say to him twice, and I know with certainty that his plan is the best plan. Yet still I worry.

The other aspect which interests me is the narrator's response to the events recounted. Without wishing to reveal the ending, I would ask myself two questions:
Do I look for God's presence in my life?
When faced with challenging events, how do I respond? Do I ignore, avoid or hide, or do I meet them on my feet, grounded in faith?