Sorrow like only a woman can know

Amidst all the endless commentary in the aftermath of the atrocity that happened in my home town of Manchester, England last Monday night and [sadly] and the appalling murder of the Coptic Christians on Friday on pilgrimage in Egypt; I could not help but wonder on [100 years after the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima and her universal message of conversion and penance to save the world] how her Immaculate Heart must be in pain and sorrow over the events of the last week. It put me in mind of that mournful but beautiful song of Mary Black and Eleanor McEvoy about the unique pain and sadness “only a woman’s heart can know” [see the clip above and words below for the lyrics]

Mary Our Mother [in these pain-filled days of barbaric fundamentalist Islamic led murder] knows pain of such intensity over the loss of life -more than any of the mothers, wives, grandmothers and friends connected with the victims- that in the end it will be her most perfected of human female hearts that will be a channel of inestimable, immeasurable grace for the souls of the dead and the grief of the living that is beyond our comprehension. So in these last remaining hours of May, the month dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, I commend the victims and their families to her powerful intercession and as Ramadan begins when so many of the peaceful majority of Muslims seek to purify their hearts through extended fasting and prayer; may it be She, of Fatima [so cherished and honoured in the Quran] who brings the message of the Prince of Peace to the whole of humanity,  to somehow penetrate the hearts and minds of those, who even now are plotting with evil intent to commit further massacre and bloodshed.

http://hiddengem.catholicfaith.co.uk/pictures.html

My heart is low, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know
The tears that drip from my bewildered eyes
Taste of bittersweet romance
You’re still in my hopes, you’re still on my mind
And even though I manage on my own
My heart is low, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know
When restless eyes reveal my troubled soul
And memories flood my weary heart
I mourn for my dreams, I mourn for my wasted love
And while I know that I’ll survive all alone
My heart is low, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know
My heart is low, yes, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know
My heart is low, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know

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Explain yourself….

Children have the remarkably annoying habit of interrogating us don’t they? They’re obsessed with the fundamental nature of things, why the world is the way it is, and how to logically connect it all together. The endless “why”? questions. It can be maddening at times. The way they can question the punishments we mete out, the routes we take when driving, and the food we eat; why the TV cannot be on, what’s wrong with staying up and not going to bed, and so on and so forth, you get the picture. I empathize with parents who resort to the tried-and-true “Because I said so” reply; I really do but it’s rarely an explanation that will satisfy and in the end it just becomes a sort of excuse for not putting greater effort in to helping them see the bigger picture or going through that struggle with them (like God’s patient wrestling with Jacob in Genesis 32: 22-32) so that they naturally arrive at the same place as you do, even if we or they might have to swallow some humble pie at the end of it.

Not only should I (try to) answer my children’s questions to help their cognitive development, I should even help them formulate better and harder questions! It isn’t like I don’t have questions of my own that I pester God with: How was the world created? How can we be happy? Why is there suffering? Why is so much evil in the Church permitted? These are tough questions, but I’m better off for having asked them and brought them to my prayers and worship and I do believe that God respects it when we ask such questions and even at times show Him our anger and frustration when life seems hard going. Even someone like the biblical figure Job, who gets an answer along the lines of, “You’ll understand when you grow up,” is listened to and engaged by God. God’s answer is never “because I said so.”

And that’s the challenge the authority in the Church faces now. Like a parent who knows they cannot brush off the inquisitive mind or challenging behaviour of a child by simply saying “because I say so,” neither can the Church simply say “because this is what we believe” or “as the Code of Canon Law says” etc. Not that these things, like tradition and discipline are not true, they obviously are.  But it’s a question of how we impart that truth so that, in time, the beauty and wisdom of Catholic truth wells up from within a person and is confirmed by the voice of God in other things, rather than just what might feel like a cold set of rules imposed from without. As I said last July ‘effective communication and dialogue’ can only come about if, as St John Paul II said, we don’t invent a new programme but simply declare the Person of Jesus Christ by whom and only in whom we can be saved. That doesn’t mean amending, adjusting, reformulating the image and message of Jesus to our own whims and caprices, but praying for, working at and humbling ourselves repeatedly towards a deep, deep serious conversion to Him. And the key to supercharge our conversion to Jesus is, chastity, cultivating a purity of mind, heart, and body that will bring all the other virtues and values to fuller expression and new life in our souls and with all whom we interact. As Pope Francis states in Amoris Laetitia:

“Chastity proves invaluable for the genuine growth of love between persons.” (Para. 206). That’s putting it mildly, for when we look at the impact and power of this virtue in the lives of the Saints, what the pope is saying, or rather how he says it, can come across as a bit of an understatement, but its essential truth is there. And if it’s true for individuals, it’s true for families. Why else would St. John Paul II have declared in Familiaris Consortio (the lens through which we must read Amoris Laetitia) that families can and must “release formidable energies.”  It is a moral and spiritual power that is not possible without chastity.

“M” is for Mary

Since starting my new job last November I find myself finding to do a lot more driving from home to work and back again and in between destinations for work all over the diocese of Portsmouth. Naturally until I get to know and remember routes to various places I need to rely on a very helpful SatNav device to show me the way. The other day [along with all the usual ‘icons’ and signs on the screen that indicate different things, like where the speed cameras and fuel stations are] i noticed that it also indicates where the next “McDonalds” restaurant is with its well known “M” logo in Red. Personally I can’t stand McDonalds, neither their food nor their outlets. I find them bland, dull and certianly the food is about as unnutritious as you can get. So when I saw the “M” on my SatNav screen I was reminded of the George Ritzer theory of the McDonaldisation of society   http://www.mcdonaldization.com/whatisit.shtml

For a moment I was mildly irritated that McDonalds marketing had found their way in to my quiet private space of my driving time where and when I often do my reflecting and praying.

But then I realised that this occasional “M” appearing on the screen of the device might be something I could use for my spiritual edification and the brief but sporadic intercession for others. So when I am not reciting the Holy Rosary whilst I am driving I have now decided that every time I see the McDonalds “M” on my satnav, I shall recite an an additional prayer or supplication to the Mother of God, for it is She who is our truest compass who can direct and re-direct us to Christ; it is She, the Immaculate one who gives us the most trustworthy and reliable coordinates for the “map” of life so we can navigate our course in day to day challenges and sorrows and joys with the hopeful confidence that we shall arrive at our eternal destination.

So next time you’re driving along and feel tempted to refuel the body with a ready-meal [junk] fast food; instead turn to “M” – Mary your mother asking her to fill your deeper hunger with the spirit of her son, who alone can satisfy our deepest needs and will feed us with an abundance of delight at His heavenly banquet.

Happy Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Saint Jacinta pray for us. Saint Francisco pray for us.

Parent Power

Earlier this week the news of the Duke of Edinburgh deciding to step away from his public duties at the age of 96, made big headlines. One commentator said that on a personal level the Duke would really be baffled by all the fuss over it. After all he is 96! But more than that; there was one quote recalled about the Duke which really struck a chord with me. He has said that his role in public life was quite simple; “to support and help others be better at what they do best.” I rather like that phrase. It has a down to earth feel about it and in once sense sums up and describes what I have been trying to do with this weekly blog since October 2014 just prior to the first synod on the family; i.e, I have in some small way been trying to encourage, edify and boost the confidence and faith and spirituality of mainly parents but others too in understanding better but also fulfilling their God-given duties at being the primary educator and protector of their children.
This daily battle to keep one’s hearth and home together morally, spiritually and materially gets increasingly harder and [sad to say] unsupported [practically-speaking] by the bureaucratic church. There is hardly a week goes by when I don’t get an email or call or message from someone anxious about ‘gender theory’ and or “transgender” rights etc. It does appear to be a minefield. And apart from one or two quite helpful statements from the Pope about “ideological colonisation” of our children and denouncing experiemental educational programmes that treat children like “guinea pigs” there isn’t much practical guidance for parents on this in relation to their own children or what they might be exposed to in society and even at school. Thankfully there is a really excellent and well researched website [totally set up devised and managed by parents] that I highly recommend as the go to place on this burning issue. The website is    
https://www.transgendertrend.com/ The people behind the website have no religious affiliation whatsoever. They only deal in facts and want the facts to speak for themselves. Being factual is what most parents are best at when it comes to the overall well being of their children. This site will help them be better I hope. Their raison d’etre is clear 
  “
We wanted to create a site which balanced that view with some research and facts which challenge the prevailing acceptance of an ideology which is new, untested, and invariably based on personal belief systems.”

A Powerful Force…

Earlier this week the famous British children’s comic artist Leo Baxendale died (RIP) He was probably most famous for his characters like Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx, and the Bash Street Kids in the Beano comic. I wasn’t much of a comic reader when I was a child but I can appreciate their appeal to the young reader for harmless fun and mischief- at least they were when I was growing up in the 1970s.

There have been many tributes to this talented artist this week in the British news items, media and press and one of his fellow cartoonists quoted him thus:

‘Once the imagination of a child is set alight, it takes persistent dousing with cold water to put out the fire.’

I was struck by that comment. Not least because from a positive perspective a child’s imagination is a marvellous thing, and it can be a delight to see a child’s creativity come alive in the way they make up songs, dances, imaginary friends, spectacles and role play. It’s all part of childish fun and healthy development

And then I got to thinking about explicit sex education and Leo Baxendale’s observation. Just as the nation is about to vote for a new government, no matter who wins [and it’s most likely to be the Conservatives] the juggernaut to make so called “relationships education” compulsory from age 4 with all that that implies means that it will take “persistent dousing” of the “holy waters” of sanctifying grace and prayer for conscientious parents to de-tox their children when they arrive home from school. One day a future generation will bitterly condemn this generation for what they exposed the young imagination to ….and whom many have and will pay the price of lost innocence.

A word from our sponsor

So often when we hear that phrase we know it’s going to precede a marketing gimmick or plug for some kind or other organisation behind a particular event or related group. It got me thinking as I prepare myself spiritually and emotionally to “sponsor” a young cousin of mine [a young woman of 18] who will receive the sacrament of confirmation this weekend. Apart from feeling honoured to be asked by her to support her in this momentous soul-changing moment and event in her life, it causes me to pause and reflect on just how much a responsibility it is and will be ….

It also causes me to refresh my own sense of being sponsored by my patron saints, but also and most importantly by the Spirit of God Himself. I know the Spirit inspires me to pray for without Him I cannot pray but  I also know I don’t pray directly to Him enough for his sponsorship of me. So as I stand behind my cousin tomorrow with the reassuring hand of an older brother in the faith on her shoulder as she kneels before the Bishop to be “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” – I shall be asking for that same Spirit to teach and guide me in to continued dependence on the Father, so that I too may promote (sponsor) the well being of others in my daily life especially by my words.

A blessed Eastertide

 

Silence gives consent

This evening after first vespers of the fifth Sunday of Lent we enter the beautiful but solemn season of Passiontide. And since the great events of Holy Week are always challenging to enter interiorly [not least because of the increasing demands of everyday life and distractions] I heartily recommend reading [in sections over the next two weeks]
The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion – Discourse 16 by Blessed John Henry Newman

here is a link to the complete text. Find time to read it in quiet, silence and peace. Immerse yourself in its richness of language and descriptors and increase the levels of silence in your daily life between now and Holy Saturday, where and when the Grand Silence of the Lord in the tomb is where he awaits our consent to join our sufferings to His

http://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse16.html

 

A Daughter’s Love

I wish to share with you all this additional and very special guest blog (see below).

It comes from the pen and heart and soul of a daughter of a good friend and colleague of mine whom I was privileged to meet a few weeks ago. Christina, who you will read about below is 15 years of age.

I was so struck by this young lady’s grace, the depth of her spiritual/emotional maturity, her poise and innate sense of dignity that I felt compelled under the Holy Spirit to pay her father [and indirectly his wife and her mother] a huge compliment on their parenting skills which have evidently borne fruit.

Her father told me that amongst all the many things that he and his wife have done for their two daughters, they are convinced that a decision they made a few years ago for the overall well-being of their youngest [difficult and as challenging as it was] the graces and blessings of that tough love are plain to be seen.

So I asked him if she’d be willing to share that decision her parents took out of love for her and its consequences from her perspective.

She agreed and what you have below is the result of her generously and bravely deciding to do this. Indeed I am honoured that she has done so with her parents’ consent and full support.

I also post it today on Mother’s Day as a tribute to all Christian parenting. I’ve entitled it “A Daughter’s Love” because as I read Christina’s account with all the virtuous qualities inherent in it due to the grace-filled influence and example of her parents.

I will let the blog speak for itself as a message of encouragement for all parents, and for our children and a special word of hope and quiet trust in God for our young daughters that they may grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord to be the best mothers they can be themselves one day, if God wills.

– Edmund

A Daughter’s Love: How my parents protected my purity during my teens

My name is Christina and I am nearly 16 years old.

I am in Year 11 approaching my GCSE exams in May. My parents decided that it was best for me not to have a mobile phone throughout my school years. I asked them many times throughout my early years at secondary school to allow me to have a phone, but they never wavered.

Although I understood the reasons why they refrained from allowing me to own a phone, I didn’t agree and I thought that they were just being too protective and controlling. Only in the last year or so, have I come to realise that the decision they made was right.

But most of all, I came to realise that the decision they made was necessary, since I live in a secular society and because I am surrounded by people with different beliefs and morals. Now as I look back at my years at secondary school, I am very grateful to my parents for the decision they made.

If I was given a phone, I know that I would have made many mistakes and jeopardised my relationship with my family and with God.

The many of the times I have been out with my friends I am left feeling bored and unimportant. It seems that their phones are much more interesting than I am! I find that some teenagers today are poor at keeping conversation with those of their own age, let alone talking to adults. Their social skills have not developed so well over the years since they are absorbed in social media and their phones more and more.

I have noticed that some teenagers find it difficult talking face to face and prefer to message people. On reflection, I think that my upbringing has enabled me to mix with people of different ages more easily.

Social media allows people to post horrible pictures or phrases with the aim to hurt another person. This ridicule of others deeply upsets me, as some of my friends talk to me about how upset they are, due to what has been said about them online. I am aware that in the past some people have posted mean things about me, but I did not experience them first hand since I have not grown up with social media.

This means that I am not directly involved in the culture of slander and I have not developed the anxiety of what other people think of me, unlike my peers.

This anxiety is especially evident among my girlfriends. Many girls feel pressurised to look a certain way in the pictures they see posted. Boys and girls often comment on other people’s pictures which makes them overly self-conscious and increases their awareness of their looks.

Thankfully I have not been involved with the sexualised culture that is evolving. For example, I hear at school many pictures that are posted on Snapchat that are indecent. This make girls feel that the only way to get attention, especially from boys, is to pose in a sexual way, which is creating a disgusting culture that uses people.

As I look back at my earlier years of secondary school, I realise that if I had a phone it would have been far easier for me to disobey my parents and talk to whomever I liked, even if they had a bad influence on me. As I had not fully developed all my morals I could have been so easily swept along by our secular culture.

It would have meant I would have engaged in inappropriate conversations that would have led to sin and opened doors to temptation.

I am so very grateful to Our Lady for giving me parents who are helping me to protect my purity, and to my sister who helped me to stay strong along the way.

Christina Hogan.

A Very Bitter Lent

In September 2015 I was privileged to meet the Maronite Archbishop of Damascus Samir Nassar during the World Meeting of Families.

I was deeply moved by his accounts of the bitter suffering of the Syrian people during the relentless war, then almost 2 years ago.

Now with an eyewitness record of a suffering people who have endured longer now than the Second World War itself, I want to share with you his words which he posted to me personally last week.

Remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria; never forgetting that it was en route to Damascus that Saul was converted by Christ so must we pray for such deep conversion and an end to all bloodshed.

– Edmund
A VERY BITTER LENT

1) An Apocalyptic Scene – In six years of war, the face of Syria has changed quite a lot.
It is a huge disaster zone of debris, carbonized buildings; burned down houses, ghost neighborhoods and towns destroyed to the ground.

More than twelve millions Syrians, 50% of the population, are lacking a roof.

They form the largest mass of refugees since the Second World War. Several million have left the country in search of more merciful skies. Many are waiting for mercy in camps of misery, some have drowned attempting to leave, and others are in line at embassies, nomads in search of a welcoming land. How can they leave this Syria of torments?

2) A Shattered Family – The family, which fortifies Church and Nation and has saved the country in the past is heavily shaken.

Seldom is a complete family found.

Violence has scattered this basic cell of society. Some family members are in graves, others in exile, in prison or on the battlefield. This painful situation is the cause of depression and anxiety and forces those few left without support to beg.

Young fiancées, separated by this exodus, the immigration of their partner or military mobilization, cannot marry. Crisis surrounds them. A hope for their future has crumbled.
How is it possible to follow course without a family or with a broken family?

3) A Sacrificed Childhood – The children are the most fragile. They have paid a great price for this merciless violence.

According to UNESCO, more than three million Syrian children haven’t attended school because they have to prioritize their physical wellbeing.

Those that have been to school witness the demise of the quality of teaching due to fewer faculty and students in remaining schools. These overwhelming circumstances impose academic failure.
The centers of psychological support cannot overcome the number and depth of wounds and psychic blocks.

How do we restore the spirit of these children destroyed by violence and barbaric scenes?

4) Threatened Parishes – Parishes have seen the number of parishioners diminish and pastoral activities reduced considerably. The priests are deprived of the means to provide human and spiritual support.

The Church of Damascus has witnessed the departure of one-third of their clergy (27 priests).

This is a hard blow weakening the place and role of the Christian minority already in decline.
The priests struggling to remain without any reassurances consider negotiating their eventual departure. They only wait for humanitarian agencies to arrive to assist broken families.

How do we fix this alarming hemorrhage? Can we imagine a Church without priests?

5) Between Pain and Freedom – The Syrian people are no longer looking for liberty. Their daily combat is finding bread, water, gas and fuel, which are harder and harder to find. Electrical shortages have become more frequent and lengthy.

These darken nights and reduce any social life.

The search for lost brothers, parents and friends is a very discrete, anxious and hopeful undertaking.

Finding a little room for shelter in a country in ruins has become an impossible dream for families and even more for young fiancés.

Fighting for liberty or searching for bread, what course should one take?

Final thoughts 

This little Syrian population lives this reality with pain visible in silent looks and streams of tears.

This bitter Lent of 2017 offers us time in the desert to take a good look at our commitment to the Church in the midst of faithful in distress, to lead the way towards Christ Resurrected. Christ Light of the world who knows the hearts of men and women says: “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Samir NASSAR
Maronite Archbishop of Damascus
Translated from French by Sarah Sierra and Sr. Margaret Kerry, fsp

A helper on the way

These thoughts come to you on the eve of his solemnity the 19th March. Last year I had a few ideas about how this great Saint can and must play a significant part in our family and faith life.

The urgency of our need for his heavenly intercession hasn’t waned. Indeed, in these deeply uncertain times, I believe it’s in his divinely appointed role as Protector of Holy Church (just like he guarded and protected the Mother of Christ and Jesus Himself) that St. Joseph really comes into his own.

My wife and I are just at the conclusion of a novena to him for some special intentions, and I for one have felt the power and effect of his intercession in a very real and concrete way only this last week. So take it from me, if you call fervently on him, he won’t fail you.

Novenas I think can be done both before and after a Saint’s feast, and I’m sure Jesus doesn’t mind if we turn to his earthly guardian and foster father for help even during the season of Lent.

After all, one of the titles we attribute to St Joseph is “Terror of demons” and since Lent is all about exorcising our idols out of our lives, then he’s a great supernatural aid to invoke especially half way through our journey to Easter.

To that end, I recommend the Devotion to the Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph as a fitting way to help prepare for Holy Week.

Be blessed,

– Edmund