What is the single most important predictor of a group’s effectiveness? See this post at Jericho Tree.
Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category
The parish of Brentwood Cathedral has just posted some ideas for parents who are bringing their babies, toddlers and children to Mass each Sunday.
Some of these ideas were tested here on Bridges and Tangents a couple of months ago, which generated a great discussion in the comments section. You can see the final results at the Jericho Tree site.
I’ve been involved in a new Catholic website called Jericho Tree.
You can visit the site here. Do subscribe to the email list in the right-hand side-bar.
You can visit the Facebook page here. Please do publicise the site by liking the page.
If you’ve got any feedback it’s most helpful to leave it on the site itself - on the feedback page here.
Here is the blurb from the ABOUT page.
Jericho Tree is a magazine-style website bringing together articles and videos about faith, culture, lifestyle and news – from a Catholic perspective.
The title ‘Jericho Tree’ refers to the meeting between Zacchaeus and Jesus in Chapter 19 of the Gospel of St Luke. As Jesus enters Jericho, Zacchaeus longs to see him, but he is too short, and the crowds are too big. So he climbs a tree in order to get a better view.
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.
“When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.
“All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’”
The idea is to create a forum for great Catholic writing, mainly from a UK perspective, but with some international contributors as well; and to link to other articles and videos that take a fresh look at the world from a Catholic perspective. Quiet a few people have promised to write, and a few have already started. We’ll see how it develops over the next few months!
I was at a funeral in Poplar last week, near the London Docklands. It’s the first time I have visited the Catholic church there, or wandered round the area.
This was the old ‘Chinatown’, before the Chinese moved to Soho in the 1950s and 1960s. I had no idea that the memory of the Chinese presence endures in the street names:
One friend who grew up here remembered a nearby Chinese restaurant owned by ‘Harry’. Another friend who grew up round the corner in Limehouse told me years ago about the wok maker who lived on his street when he was a child.
There are lots of ‘local history’ and ‘ethnic history’ type books about the Chinese experience in London, I just haven’t gone into them very deeply. There is, amazingly, a famous protestant pastor who ministered to the Chinese in the post-war period. His name? Pastor Stephen Wang! I’m not joking; I have a book about him – available here on Amazon.
There are personal connections for me in all this. My Chinese great-grandfather first came to the UK at the very end of the nineteenth century, and his route was through the Liverpool docks. But when his son, my father’s father, emigrated with his Chinese wife from Canton in the early 1930s, they arrived at the docks in London, went straight to Chinatown (i.e. Limehouse/Poplar) to stock up on Chinese supplies, and then travelled to Sheffield to set up the Chinese laundry that kept them in business for many years. Maybe they stayed with friends on Pekin Street or Canton Street or Nankin Street…
Whenever I meet an elderly person from Sheffield I ask them if they knew the Chinese laundry on Ecclesall Road in Sheffield, and it’s amazing how many remember having their shirts ironed or collars starched by my grandparents all those years ago.
It’s a common question: what do you do at Mass when your children are unsettled – babies crying, toddlers toddling off in random directions, younger children talking or fighting or banging toy tanks and fire engines, older children perhaps reluctant to be there. I collated a few suggestions in the Ten Ten Parents Booklet last year.
A priest friend of mine, who works in a large parish just outside London, has been mulling over these things. After discussions with parents, parishioners, clergy and the parish team, they have put together this leaflet to distribute to parents. It’s always a difficult one this. How do you encourage people, and be clear about some of the expectations and boundaries within the Liturgy, without creating a list of pharisaical rules or being unsympathetic to the huge struggles of parents and families.
This seems like an honourable try to me. What do you think? Any comments or suggestions in the comments box please, and then you can help my friend develop this as it goes along.
For parents at Mass with babies, toddlers or children
The presence of so many parents at Mass with their babies and children is a real blessing for our parish. It shows how vibrant, joyful and alive our community is. Seeing so many families really warms my heart and gives me great hope for the future. So, a huge “thank you” to all parents with children who faithfully come to Mass. You are, indeed, the first and best teachers of your children in the ways of faith. You are doing a great job.
Sometimes parents ask me about what is the best thing to do if their baby or child is behaving in a way that is distracting to others. Having asked the advice of parents, priests and other parishioners, here are some ideas and practical tips that might help and support you:
1. Talk to your children about the parish church. This is a special place because Jesus is there. When we come into God’s house, this is “quiet time” where we speak to Jesus, our friend, in our hearts, as well, as with our prayers and songs.
2. Weekly Mass attendance is important. When attendance is irregular, broken or happens rarely, then it is more difficult for our children to develop the ways of behaving that are appropriate at Mass.
3. When you come into the church, why not bless your child with holy water or, if they are old enough, allow them do it themselves and learn to make the sign of the Cross? These simple rituals will help your child to appreciate that they are in God’s House.
4. Try to get to Mass a little ahead of time, so that you can settle your child for this “quiet time” with Jesus. If parents are rushing into the church at the last moment or arriving late, this is almost impossible to do. It can also be distracting for other parishioners who are trying to prepare themselves spiritually for Mass.
If we are flustered and distracted, our children will pick up on this. If we all work to create a prayerful and composed atmosphere in the church, this will help our children.
A little time before Mass spent preparing your child for the “quiet, special time” with Jesus will help them to understand that the church is a different place to their homes, the park or the school playground. It will help them to distinguish between ways of behaving that are appropriate to different places and circumstances.
Maybe you could kneel down together and say a simple prayer? You might read or get your child to read the words of the opening hymn and reflect on it? Or just sit, bow your heads and offer thirty seconds of quiet time to God?
5. At the church we have a family room where parents can take their children if they are very unsettled. Please make good use of it.
6. We all need to be sensible about noise at Mass. After all, this is public worship with children. But, we all need to be aware of where we are, the sacred things we are taking part in and to have a real respect for those around us. So, don’t rush to take your child out if there is some very “light” noise or murmuring, but if a baby is crying or a child’s behaviour is disruptive, take them to the family room, go into the lobby or, weather permitting, have a wander outside the church.
7. Some parents find sitting between their children helpful, especially if their children talk or tease each other.
8. Walking toddlers around the church during Mass can be distracting for the priest and the congregation. If your toddler is restless then take them for a wander outside the main body of the church.
9. One of the toilets has a changing table for babies if parents need to change nappies. Older children should be encouraged to go to the toilet before they come to Mass. Children going back and forth to the toilet disrupts a prayerful atmosphere.
10. If your child needs distracting give them a “soft” toy or for older children, colouring or religious books. Bunches of keys or “hard” toys made of plastic or metal being shaken, squeaked or banged on the floor can become very distracting. Why not put together a “Jesus” bag or rucksack that has a couple of things in them and becomes part of the weekly preparation for going to Mass?
11. It is perfectly acceptable to bottle feed infants or to give your child a drink of water, but the use of food snacks should be kept to a minimum.
12. Parents must consume the Body of Christ when they receive Holy Communion and NOT give it to their children to play with or eat.
13. After Mass finishes, why not visit the Blessed Sacrament Chapel with your child? If they are old enough, teach them to genuflect before the tabernacle and to light a candle. Then, give them a few moments in “quiet time” thanking Jesus for his friendship and love. These rituals will help your child to appreciate that the Mass is where we meet Jesus in a very special way.
14. After Mass, make sure you bring your children to high-five or say “hello” to the priest or deacon.
15. Coffee and juice are available after the “Family” Mass – this is a good way for parents to get to know each other and for children to make new friendships.
16. Can we strike a balance between an appropriate firmness so that our children learn proper behaviour at Mass and also a certain “light-heartedness”? If our children are to love their Catholic Faith, I think we can.
All families and children are welcome here in the parish church. I thank every one of them for being part of the life of our marvellous parish community.
May God richly bless and protect you and your children.
There have been a few articles recently about the advantages of the one-child family and growing up sibling-free.
Colin Brazier, Sky News presenter and father of six, puts the other side. The title of his piece is ‘Why having big families is good for you (and cheaper)‘. Here are some highlights.
Some of the most startling literature comes from medical research. It has long been known that siblings – by sharing germs at a young age and mutually priming immune systems – provide some protection against atopic conditions such as hay fever and eczema. But the latest breakthroughs suggest growing up with a brother or sister can also guard against food allergies, multiple sclerosis and some cancers. For reasons that have yet to be fully fathomed, these benefits do not apply to children simply by dint of spending time sharing bugs with other youngsters – as they would, for instance, in day care.
The other “epidemics” of modern childhood, obesity and depression, are also potentially reduced by exposure to siblings. A clutch of major studies from all over the world shows that the more siblings a child has, the thinner they will be. Put simply, siblings help children burn off fat. One American study honed its analysis down to an amazingly precise deduction: with each extra brother or sister, a child will be, on average, 14 per cent less obese. Reductio ad absurdum? We can scoff at such a definitive conclusion, until we realise that no one in medical academia has suggested that having a sibling ever made anyone fatter.
None of this is rocket science. When we compare like with like, regardless of family background, children with siblings tend to enjoy better mental health. Obviously, again, this is to generalise massively. The world is full of jolly singletons. But dig into some of the big data sets out there and unignorable patterns emerge. On experiences on which nation states hold a big corpus of statistics, events such as divorce and death, for example, strong correlations exist.
Cause is not always correlation, but it stands to reason that when parents split up or die, a child will benefit from having a sibling to turn to. That solidarity runs throughout the lifespan. After all, a sibling is for life, not just for childhood.
Indeed, policymakers with an eye to areas beyond elderly care may need to wake up to the shifting sands of family composition. In the late 20th century, the received wisdom among sociologists was that it mattered not a jot to society at large whether more people were sticking to one child. Now that assumption is being questioned. Is the valuable role played by siblings in elderly care factored into the welfare debate? Will an economy with fewer creative middle children be as competitive? How easy will the state find waging war when more parents are reluctant to see their only child march to the front?
More broadly, the last decade has seen a major evolution in academic thinking about siblings. They have ousted parents as being the key driver behind personality development. And where, 30 years ago, academics such as Toni Falbo argued that to be born an only child was to have won the lottery of life, now research is running in the opposite direction.
A slew of reports by serious scholars, such as Prof Judy Dunn of King’s College London, have chipped away at the idea that family size is the product of a consequence-free decision. Researchers have shown that “siblinged” children will have stronger soft skills and keener emotional intelligence than single children. They will be better at gratification deferment (because they have learnt to wait their turn) and hit motor milestones such as walking and talking more rapidly than those without sibling stimulation.
Some of the most recent evidence even suggests that a child with a brother and/or sister will have more evolved language skills and do better at exams. This information is truly revolutionary. For decades, the assumption of academic ideas such as the Dilution Theory has been that less is more.
Have too many children and, as a parent, you will not be able to leverage your resources on to a solitary stellar-achieving child. Indeed, for parents who cannot stop themselves hovering above and over-scheduling their hurried offspring, a sibling for their one-and-only can be the antidote to pushy parenting.
I don’t think this is about a binary ‘right or wrong’, with the consequent stigmatising of one size of family over another. There are many different reasons why some families are larger and some smaller. But it’s good to be aware that some of the alarmist articles about the costs of raising children are extremely one-sided.
After eight years working at the seminary, I’m on the move…
I saw my bishop recently (Archbishop Vincent Nichols), and he asked me to take on a new appointment at Newman House, the University Chaplaincy in central London. I will be very sad to leave Allen Hall – I’ve never been more settled; but I am delighted to be moving to Newman House and involved in student chaplaincy.
The official title is the Catholic Chaplaincy for the Universities and other Higher Education Institutions in the Diocese of Westminster. So there is the hands-on pastoral role of being a chaplain, as well as the role of coordinating the chaplaincy provision throughout the diocese. What an adventure…
There are still a few weeks to go at the seminary. Lots of trying to tie up loose ends, and preparing the handover. It’s wonderful that Fr Michael O’Boy has been appointed to take my place as the Dean of Studies.
I’ve copied below a short piece I wrote for the Chaplaincy newsletter if you are interested.
I am absolutely delighted to be moving to Newman House in September and taking over from Fr Peter as Senior Chaplain. I have had eight very happy years on the staff at Allen Hall seminary, and it will be hard to leave. But I’m thrilled at the thought of being at the University Chaplaincy, working with the team there, and getting to know the students and staff of the universities and colleges.
It is a strange kind of homecoming for me. My parents met when they were both students at University College Hospital, and I was born at the old UCH site on Gower Street! Not many people can say they are living and working on the same street where they were born…
I am a great believer in student chaplaincies. When I went to university (before seminary) I had only been a Catholic for six months, and the Catholic chaplaincy became a second home to me. I learnt so much about my faith, grew in my love for prayer and the liturgy, made some wonderful friends, and was really challenged to take this faith out into the world and help others to see its beauty and its relevance to their lives.
When I made a ‘secret’ visit recently, Fr Peter gave me a very warm welcome. It will be hard to take over from him: I know how much he has given to the Chaplaincy over these years, and how much he is loved. It simply wouldn’t be possible, as the phrase goes, for anyone to ‘step into his shoes’. It feels more like I am ‘moving into his slipstream’. I hope that all the energy and dynamism that has been part of the Chaplaincy over the last few years will carry me along in its wake.
Please pray for me over these next few weeks, as I finish my time at Allen Hall and prepare to move to Newman House. I will be praying for everyone involved in the life of the Chaplaincy, and for all those who are beginning their studies in the autumn. And I wish Fr Peter all the best for his new appointment – wherever it may be!
I look forward to meeting you all in September, if not before then.
Posted in Art, Culture/Arts, Morality, Psychology, Relationships, tagged acting, authenticity, David Mamet, drama, emotion, experience, Method Acting, sincerity, Stanislavsky, the Great Actor, truth on May 26, 2013 | 9 Comments »
I’ve just finished re-reading one of my favourite books: True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, by playwright and director David Mamet.
At first glance, it’s a trenchant attack by an experienced and opinionated drama teacher on Stanislavsky and the whole theory of ‘Method Acting’. Method Actors try to get inside the mind and heart of the characters they are playing. The more they ‘become’ the character they are playing, and the more they identify with the experience of the fictional person they are trying to bring to life, then the more authentic – so the theory goes – their portrayal will be.
Mamet says this is just nonsense. The actor just needs to act. Their inner experience has nothing to do with the effectiveness of their acting. The good actor, as opposed to the ‘Great Method Actor’, simply plays the part, using all his or her skills and experience of the stage. The success comes through the strength of the writing, and the extent to which the actor can communicate the ‘practical’ intentions and concerns of the character: what they want, where they are going, what they are worrying about, why they are excited, etc.
It’s this dynamism that makes a character interesting. This is what makes drama dramatic. We are not moved by a character’s emotion (that’s a cheap response); we are moved by the dramatic situation that causes the emotion in the character. So the primary task of the actor is not to simulate the inner experience or emotion of the character, but to put his or her dramatic situation onstage in front of us. They are quite different tasks.
You can apply this to so many different situations, and not just to acting – which is why I find the book so inspiring. It’s about discovering a different kind of authenticity from that which is normally on offer in our culture. To be authentic is not to go inwards, to summon up great depths of emotion, to express ourselves without self-restraint: this is authenticity as ‘sincerity’. To be truly authentic is simply to act for something worthwhile, to live a life worth living. It’s more objective, more matter-of-fact.
There is still a kind of transparency (which has a great currency in our culture), but this is because when you see what someone is striving for, it helps you to understand who they truly are. You don’t always need to go inward; you don’t need to get them on Oprah.
This is basically Aristotle. It’s the telos (the end, the purpose) that defines a person’s actions; and it’s the telos that defines the person. I don’t discover who you are by having you pour out your heart to me (although that might, in some situations, be an important moment in our relationship!); I discover who you are by seeing how you live and what you care about and who you love and what you would die for.
It’s the action, the life, that makes you the person you are, and makes you interesting or not so interesting. The inner commentary that you may offer me, or the emotions that you may experience, may help me to understand you a little bit better, but they won’t actually show me who you are. I need to discover that by the way you act. This is what Manet and Aristotle know.
Here are a few of my favourite quotations from the book:
Nothing in the world is less interesting that an actor on the stage involved in his or her own emotions. The very act of striving to create an emotional state in oneself takes one out of the play. It is the ultimate self-consciousness…
The good play does not need the support of the actor, in effect, narrating its psychological undertones, and the bad play will not benefit from it…
In ‘real life’ the mother begging for her child’s life, the criminal begging for a pardon, the atoning lover pleading for one last chance – these people give no attention whatever to their own state, and all attention to the state of that person from whom they require their object. This outward-directedness brings the actor in ‘real life’ to a state of magnificent responsiveness and makes his progress thrilling to watch…
Great drama, onstage or off, is not the performance of deeds with great emotion, but the performance of great deeds with no emotion whatever…
The simple performance of the great deed, onstage or off, is called ‘heroism’…
Preoccupation with effect is preoccupation with the self, and not only is it joyless, it’s a waste of time… Only our intention is under our control. As we strive to make out intentions pure, devoid of the desire to manipulate, and clear, directed to a concrete, easily stated end, our performance becomes pure and clear…
There is much, much more to this simple book – 127 pages, large print. Do take a peak.
Posted in Relationships, Religion, tagged Alpha Course, Catholic, Catholic Church, Christopher West, church growth, churches, commitment, Fatima, fervour, HTB, leadership, Our Lady of Fatima, salvation on May 18, 2013 | 3 Comments »
It was good to be at the HTB Leadership Conference on Monday and Tuesday. They filled the Albert Hall, and still managed to sell a few hundred extra tickets for the overflow venue at Holy Trinity Brompton Road.
There were some very powerful talks and interviews; an incredible array of seminar topics; lots of prayer and discussion and networking; and some fantastic music from the Worship Central team. And there was, interestingly, a very strong Catholic presence: Cardinal Schönborn, for example, was one of the keynote speakers; Christopher West led a series of workshops over two whole afternoons about the Theology of the Body; and the Carmelite Church in Kensington was packed for the celebration of Holy Mass (followed by breakfast for all present), as part of the conference programme, on the Tuesday morning.
I won’t even attempt to summarise the content of the talks. The phrase that struck me most was from Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in the States. It was a throwaway line in the middle of a very practical talk about creating a vision within your core team. Here is the line: “You know, we sometimes forget this: that it’s natural for churches to grow!” In other words, if a Christian community simply lives its faith to the full; if Christians simply become the disciples they are called to be; if we simply believe and pray and love and hope and serve as we are meant to: then of course our churches will grow. What should baffle us is not why they sometimes do, but why they usually don’t. As St Catherine of Sienna said: ‘If you become who you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire’.
There was an intensity about the conference, a passion for souls, a Christian fervour, that you don’t often experience on an average Sunday morning. I was wondering to myself if this intensity was something attractive only to those ‘professional’ Christians (like myself) who sign up for conferences like this, and whether it might alienate ordinary Christians. But the conference started on Monday, 13 May, and I started to connect it with the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
In the morning, I had celebrated Mass in the local parish in Chelsea and given a short sermon. I spoke about Our Lady of Fatima’s passion for souls, the sense of urgency which she communicated to the three shepherd children, the seriousness of her message, and the unconditional commitment to the gospel message of salvation that she expected from the children and from every Christian. Then I walked up the road to the HTB Leadership Conference. When you see things from the perspective of the call to conversion and the invitation to salvation, there is not a great distance from Fatima to Holy Trinity Brompton.
The best film of the year? Go and see The Place Beyond the Pines. I know, it’s not even May, and this may be a bit premature. But it’s certainly the best film of my last twelve months, and I’d put good money on it remaining in the top slot until 31 December.
I absolutely cannot tell you any plot, and please don’t read any reviews or watch any trailers, because there were some beautiful moments of revelation that would have been destroyed if I had known what was coming. All I’ll say is this: it’s perhaps the most profound study of fatherhood I’ve ever seen on film. And if there is a topic that needs real consideration in our culture today it is this.
This isn’t meant to be a reflective post, just an advert! If you want to see a serious, thought-provoking, beautiful and thrilling piece of film-making, go and see this before it disappears onto the small screen.
I managed to find a YouTube clip that is not a trailer. Take a look at this bravura extended-take opening scene. The film is much more than this; but what a way to start!
Posted in Morality, Psychology, Relationships, tagged Arlie Russell Hochschild, childcare, children, commercialism, culture, decluttering consultants, elderly-care managers, hyper-personal services, love, nannies, online dating, outsourcing, outsourcing of the self, Relationships, The Outsourced Self, wantology on March 28, 2013 | 6 Comments »
When I was reading about Want-ology last week, I came across this wonderful phrase: the outsourcing of the self. It says so much, without needing to be explained; it gives enormous satisfaction by filling a definite lexicological gap.
This is how Rhys Blakely got onto the subject:
Look no further than the growing list of intimate tasks, or ‘hyper-personal services’, that can be outsourced to paid strangers in LA.
There are nameologists to name children, who are then potty trained by hired baby-whisperers; there are ‘elderly-care managers’ and professional graveside-visitors; there are love coaches and ‘decluttering consultants’, and I once met a banker who hired somebody to read his children bedtime stories down the phone.
So is it really surprising to learn that you can now pay someone to tell you what you want?
[Times2, p4, March 14, 2013]
It’s hard to believe some of this Californian excess, but there are plenty of more mainstream examples.
I don’t know if she actually coined the phrase, but Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of The Outsourced Self. This is from a review by Judith Shuleviz.
In “The Outsourced Self,” Hochschild talks to love coaches, wedding planners, surrogate mothers, nannies, household consultants and elder-care managers, but also, and with deep empathy, their clients. A majority of these people are middle-aged or near middle age; the main thing is, they’re not young, which means they are not yet used to a virtualized and monetized social existence and can still express doubts about it. Most are women, who have long been the main providers of care, love and charity.
Hochschild’s consumers buy hyperpersonal services because they lack the family support or social capital or sheer time to meet potential mates, put on weddings, whip up children’s birthday parties, build children’s school projects, or care for deteriorating parents.
Or these folks think they just couldn’t perform such tasks as well as the pros. The providers sell their services because the service economy is where the money is, or because they take pleasure in helping others. Everybody worries about preserving the human element in the commercial encounter. Very few succeed.
Shuleviz gives this example:
Evan Katz is a love coach who teaches would-be online daters “How to Write a Profile That Attracts People You Want to Meet.” One of his clients is Grace (virtually all names have been changed), a divorced 49-year-old engineer who wants to search for love as methodically as she solves an engineering problem. Katz tells her “to show the real you through real stories.” When Grace comes up with a story about learning humility by scrubbing toilets at a Zen monastery, he reels her back in: “That might be a little too out there.”
On a mass medium like the Internet, the best “real you” is average, not quirky: “Everyone needs to aim for the middle so they can widen their market,” Katz says. He encourages daters to rate themselves from 1 to 10, and not to aim higher than their own rating.
On the other hand, he worries that daters will objectify themselves and others so zealously they’ll equate dating and shopping: “They want to quickly comb through the racks and snap their fingers, next . . . next . . . next. . . . You can be too efficient, too focused on your list of desired characteristics, so intent on getting the best deal that you pass over the right one.” Luckily, Grace escapes that trap when she agrees to go out with a tattooed, bald musician who doesn’t fit the criteria on her list, and falls in love.
We are outsourcing the self all the time. It’s part of what makes us human, that our personal lives are never completely separated from the culture, and that there is often a transactional element to this.
We share tasks; we give and take; we are responsible for each other in different ways. The line between what is personal, familial, cultural, technological, and commercial is always being re-negotiated. That doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes or cross a line into a kind of existence that is almost depersonalised. This is the real question that Hochschild is raising.
I’m half-way through a lovely book by Leo Maasburg called Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait.
It’s an easy read, being simply a collection of anecdotes and stories. Here is the blurb:
Mother Teresa’s life sounds like a legend. The Albanian girl who entered an Irish order to go to India as a missionary and became an “Angel of the Poor” for countless people. She was greatly revered by Christians as well as Muslims, Hindus and unbelievers, as she brought the message of Christian love for one’s neighbor from the slums of Calcutta to the whole world.
Fr. Leo Maasburg was there as her close companion for many years, traveling with her throughout the world and was witness to countless miracles and incredible little-known occurrences. In this personal portrait of the beloved nun, he presents fifty amazing stories about her that most people have never heard, wonderful and delightful stories about miracles, small and great, that he was privileged to experience at Mother Teresa’s side. Stories of how, without a penny to her name, she started an orphanage in Spain, and at the same time saved a declining railroad company from ruin, and so many more.
They all tell of her limitless trust in God’s love, of the way the power of faith can move mountains, and of hope that can never die. These stories reveal a humorous, gifted, wise and arresting woman who has a message of real hope for our time. It’s the life story of one of the most important women of the 20th century as it s never been told before. Illustrated with photos.
This story really struck me, about the generosity of a newly married couple, told by Mother Teresa herself:
I never forget, some time ago, two young people came to our house and gave me lots of money. And I asked them, “Where did you get so much money?” And they said, “Two days ago we got married. Before marriage, we decided we will not buy wedding clothes. We will not have a wedding feast. We will give you that money.”
And I know in our country, in a Hindu family, what that means, not to have wedding clothes, not to have a wedding feast. So again I asked, “But why? Why did you do like that?” And they said, “We loved each other so much that we wanted to share the joy of loving with the people you serve.”
How do we experience the joy of loving? How do we experience that? By giving until it hurts. [p.68]
I’ve blogged before about the Wedding-Industrial Complex and the pressures on engaged couples to create the perfect wedding. This is such an impressive story because it is not about trying to fight the system for its own sake, but about being motivated by love to see things in a different perspective, and discover possibilities others would never have dreamed of. What a great way to start your marriage! (I hope/trust that the parents approved of the decision!)
Celibacy is in the air again. Or rather, Cardinal O’Brien’s recent comments have stirred up a debate about the obligation of celibacy for Catholic priests in the Western Church.
I thought I’d copy here a personal reflection on celibacy, and then some historical notes. The personal reflection is from something I wrote for the BBC News website three years ago; and the historical sections are copied from a recent post by Fr Tim Finigan.
This is the short piece I wrote for the BBC:
On 13 July 1997 I made a lifelong commitment to celibacy. In a chapel overlooking Lake Albano on the outskirts of Rome I promised to remain unmarried ‘for the sake of the kingdom and in lifelong service to God and mankind’.
I had a real sense of peace that day, but a few months earlier I had been in turmoil. I knew all the theory: Catholic priests were following the example of Christ; celibacy gave you a freedom to serve others, etc. But it hadn’t become real for me.
I was wrestling with all this one afternoon that spring. I realised that I had been seeing celibacy in negative terms: ‘No’ to marriage, ‘No’ to sex, ‘No’ to children – when in reality it was a profound ‘Yes’. It was a way of putting Christ at the centre of your life, of giving your whole heart to those you would serve as a priest. It was a way of loving others with a generosity that wouldn’t be possible if you were a husband and father. Celibacy wasn’t a negation or a denial – it was a gift of love, a giving of oneself, just as much as marriage could be.
My experience over the years has confirmed this. Yes, there are practical aspects to celibacy. You’ve got more time for other people, and more time for prayer. You can get up at three in the morning to visit someone in hospital without worrying about how this will affect your marriage. You can move to a bleak estate in a rough part of town without thinking about how this will impact on your children’s schooling.
But celibacy is something much deeper as well. There is a place in your heart, in your very being, that you have given to Christ and to the people you meet as a priest. You are not just serving them, you are loving them as if they were the very centre of your life – which they are. I think Catholics sense this. They know that you are there for them with an undivided heart, and it gives your relationship with them a particular quality.
It’s true that you can’t speak from experience about every aspect of human life. But you gain an awful lot of understanding from sharing in people’s lives over the years. Husbands and wives will confide in a sympathetic priest. You end up drawing on this experience as you preach and counsel people. Besides, people want a priest because he will show them the love of Christ, and not because he has lived through all ups and downs that they live through.
There are struggles. Times of loneliness; sexual desires; dreams about what marriage and fatherhood would be like. I don’t think most of this is about celibacy – it’s about being human. The husbands I know struggle with the same things, only they dream about what it would be like to have married someone else! What matters is trying to be faithful, instead of pretending that another way of life would be easy.
You need balance in your life, you can’t be giving all the time – this was emphasised in our training. You need affection and human intimacy. I’ve got some wonderful friends. I get home to see my family every couple of weeks. I escape to the cinema now and then. And I pray. Not to fill the gaps, because some of them can never be filled, but because the love of Christ is something very real and very consoling.
I’ve been incredibly happy as a priest over these twelve years. I don’t think about celibacy a lot now – it’s just part of my life. But I’m aware that it gives me a freedom of heart that is a unique gift. It helps me stay close to Christ, and draws me closer to the people I meet each day.
And these historical comments are taken from Fr Tim Finigan’s post, “Some notes on clerical celibacy“:
In the synoptic gospels we hear of how Our Lord cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from fever. In the discussion of clerical celibacy, this text is routinely brought out as a knock-down argument. The apostles were married so why can’t priests marry? Oddly, though, we never hear anything of St Peter’s wife, or indeed of any of the wives of the other apostles.
“Then Peter said: Behold, we have left all things, and have followed thee. Who said to them: Amen, I say to you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive much more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. (Lk 18.28-30)”
This suggests the possibility that St Peter had in fact left his family to follow the Lord. Such a course of action would be unacceptable in our time, but in the culture of Palestine in the time of Our Lord, the extended family would mean that it was possible.
Then we come to St Paul’s injunction in 1 Timothy 3.2 that the Bishop should be the husband of only one wife. It would be improbable to suggest that St Paul was dealing with a problem of polygamy. Much more likely he was saying that the Bishop should not be someone who had married a second wife after his first wife had died.
These indications from scripture are tantalising but need further illumination. Fortunately, there have been a number of studies that have cast light on the historical practice of the Church, arguing that the discipline of clerical celibacy is of apostolic origin.
Christian Cochini presented the historic debate between Bickell and Funk over certain key texts from the Council of Nicea, the Council of Elvira and others. He also exhaustively examined all of the cases from the first seven centuries of the Church’s history which were relevant to the issue of clerical marriage. His work supported the thesis that there was an apostolic rule of continence for those clerics who were married and that the legislation of the Church against the clerical use of marriage is witness to this ancient tradition.
Roman Cholij examined in particular the Council in Trullo of 691, concluding that the Council’s permission for the clerical use of marriage was an innovation, giving rise to the legislative anomaly in the East (and occasionally in the West) whereby married men may be ordained but ordained men may not marry. This law, which is still a part of modern codes of canon law, makes little sense apart from the historic rule of continence…
Cardinal Stickler’s brief account is a most useful summary of the case for clerical celibacy. He notes that there have been a number of important recent studies devoted to the history of celibacy in both the East and the West, and that these studies have either not yet penetrated the general consciousness or they have been hushed up if they were capable of influencing that consciousness in undesirable ways.
This unfortunately remains the case as articles continue to appear without finding it necessary even to address the research of these scholars.
The later imposition of a rule that clerics should be unmarried was a recognition of the growing impracticality, with the development of marriage, and the problems of inheritance, of ordaining men who had been previously married, even if there were a rule of continence. It obviously makes sense today when people would find it hard to understand a system in which men who are married would be expected to change and live a life of continence…
Throughout the history of the Church, the discipline of clerical continence or celibacy has been transgressed by some clerics. The Church has consistently fought to reform the life of clerics in the face of immorality which has been greater at some times than others. Today we live in a time when reform is needed again. We should remember that when St Charles Borrommeo went to Milan, the vast majority of his priests were living in concubinage – and he reformed his diocese. The Council of Trent was largely successful in reforming the clergy.
At the present time, we should give thanks for the faithfulness and purity of most students and young priests. They have been formed at a time when appallingly bad example has been given by some of their senior brethren. They have reckoned the cost and turned into the storm with courage and resolution. Let us pray that they become the vanguard of the new reform of the clergy, following in the footsteps of their forbears in the counter-reformation and at many other times in the history of the holy Roman Church.
ReferencesCholij, R. Clerical Celibacy in East and West Gracewing. Herefordshire. 1989Cochini, C. The apostolic origins of priestly celibacy Ignatius. San Francisco. 1990Heid, S. Celibacy in the Early Church. Ignatius. San Francisco. 2000Stickler, A. The case for clerical celibacy Ignatius. San Francisco. 1995
This is a great prayer initiative, just in case you haven’t seen it yet. Adopt a Cardinal.
You go to the site, give minimal details (name, email), and then they give you a randomly generated cardinal to pray for over the next few days and weeks (I presume he is randomly generated; I’ve no reason to think they are stacking it in some strange way!).
Why bother? This is just my quick interpretation of why I got so excited! (1) Prayer is good, full stop. (2) ‘Focussed’ prayer is good; when you name things and name people; when you speak like a child and ask the Lord to help a particular person with a particular need. (3) Making a concrete commitment to pray is good, even if it’s through a computer and a website. (4) It makes you realise you are praying with the whole Body of Christ, with Christians throughout the world. (5) It makes you feel personally involved in the whole process of the forthcoming election, more connected. (6) It opens you up to the life of the Church in a completely unexpected way: my cardinal is Polycarp Pengo, Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I’ve never heard of him; never been there; yet I feel profoundly linked to him already. (7) It’s fun!
And no, I don’t think it’s about praying your cardinal into the Papacy; but praying that they are blessed by the Lord at this time, and truly open to the Holy Spirit in all that they do and decide.
This is the blurb from the website:
What about you? Do you feel the same way too?
- Are you infinitely thankful to God for having given us such a wonderful, wise and benevolent pope in Benedict XVI.?
- Do you sincerely hope that the Church will be granted a worthy successor: a rock of faith, a leader open to the Holy Spirit, a pope prayerful and holy?
- Do you as an important part of the Body of Christ wish to contribute through the power of your prayers so that the Holy Spirit may guide, protect and enlighten our Cardinals when they determine the next successor of St. Peter?
You now have the opportunity to actively be part of this providential endeavour by having a Cardinal assigned to you, who you will support through your prayer and intercession during the coming weeks before and during the conclave and for three days following the election.
As I type there are 83,350 people signed up.
Posted in Philosophy, Psychology, Relationships, tagged behaviour, choice, Downton Abey, freedom, Girls, hierarchy, individualism, marriage, sexuality, society, status on February 21, 2013 | 3 Comments »
I’ve seen half an hour of Downton Abbey and absolutely nothing of Girls, so don’t think I am recommending either of them. But Anand Giridharadas has a very thoughtful piece about how they represent the shift from the socially-determined self of early 20th century Britain to the chaos of total self-determination experienced by the single women of contemporary New York.
On the surface, all they have in common is their Sunday airtime, at least in the United States. One television show is about English aristocrats, crisp, proper, well-dressed even in bed. The other is about four young women, often lost and very often unclothed, in a setting quite different from Yorkshire: Brooklyn, New York.
But “Downton Abbey” and”Girls”, both hugely popular, sometimes seem to be talking to each other. And it is a conversation of richer importance to our politics and culture than the nudity on one show and the costumes on the other might initially suggest.
On issue after issue, Americans continue to debate the limits of individual freedom — whether to abort a fetus or own a gun or sell stocks or buy drugs. And in different ways, the two television shows address the promise and limitations of the modern, Western emphasis on — even sacralization of — the individual.
“Downton” and “Girls” serve as bookends in an era defined by a growing cult of the self. “Downton” is about the flourishing of selfhood in a rigid, early-20th-century society of roles. “Girls” is about the chaos and exhaustion of selfhood in a fluid, early-21st-century society that says you can be anything but does not show you how.
This is Downton, where people still, just about, know who they are:
Set on a manor in which the hierarchy and fixedness of the country — indeed, of the Empire — are especially concentrated, “Downton” is a world where there is a way to do everything, from cleaning spoons to dressing for dinner. Status has been and still seems immovable, and servants must act at least as convinced of their inferiority as the masters are. Novelty and that great leveler, money, are reflexively suspected.
The drama is this world’s cracking under the pressure of new ideas like individualism. Thus the family driver, believing in equality and marrying for love, runs away with the family daughter; thus the men wear black tie instead of white to dinner one night; thus a new generation of servants is less servile, more willing to question.
Mary McNamara, a television critic at The Los Angeles Times, has described “Downton” as “the tale of an oppressive social and economic system that is finally being called into question.” The drama comes from watching our world slowly, inevitably defeat theirs: “the bondage of social bylaws and expectation, the fear of new technology, the desire to cling to old ways.”
This is Girls:
The daughters of the sexual revolution are depicted without much agency: Far from being conquerors, initiators, even equals, the girls of “Girls” are reactors, giving in to an ex who changes his mind, or a gay man wanting to try something, or a financier seeking a threesome that he manages to upgrade to traditionally twosome marriage.
What begins on “Downton” as a welcome questioning of age and status roles has snowballed by the “Girls” era into grave role confusion: parents who cannot teach their children how to live because they feel guilty about parenting, or want to be friends more than guides, or still dress like teenagers and call their offspring “prude.”
Nowhere is this overshooting truer than with the roles of the sexes. If “Downton” shows a world in which women are starting to claim their own sexuality, “Girls” portrays a sexual dystopia in which those women seem to have negotiated poorly: Men now reliably get what they want, while women must often content themselves with scraps, as when the character Hannah celebrates “almost” satiation in bed as the best she is likely to get…
“Girls” is about atoms that desire in vain to form molecules; about sex lives that breed more confusion than excitement; about people with the liberty to choose every day, on various dimensions, whom to be — and who grow very tired of the choosing.
And this is one of the Girls – Marnie:
I don’t know what the next year of my life is going to be like at all. I don’t know what the next week of my life is going to be like. I don’t even know what I want. Sometimes I just wish someone would tell me, like, ‘This is how you should spend your days, and this is how the rest of your life should look.’
Posted in Psychology, Relationships, Spirituality, tagged Adam, Day of Judgement, fear, fears, Garden of Eden, God, innocence, judgement, love, nature, Providence freedom, psychology, the Fall on January 10, 2013 | 11 Comments »
What is the root problem for us as human beings? What is the root problem at the moment of the Fall itself, and in our daily personal struggles? Sin? Disobedience? Selfishness? Alienation? Pride? Possibly all of these.
But St John, in Chapter 4 of his First Letter, points to something else: Fear. It takes us right back to the Garden of Eden, just after the Fall, when the Lord God goes searching for Adam. And when he speaks to him, Adam replies: ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself’.
St John is very simple: ‘In love there can be no fear, but fear is driven out by perfect love.’ And he even sees the defeat of fear as a sort of test for whether we are ready to enter heaven or not. He writes, ‘Love will come to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgment without fear’.
Is he being harsh and unrealistic? Is it fair to say that fear is a sign that we are not loving? At one level, this doesn’t ring true. Fear, as a human instinct, as a response to difficulties and dangers, seems to be natural and unavoidable; it’s part of a healthy physiology and psychology.
But many of our fears have other causes that are not so innocent, even though they may feel very normal and natural. We are afraid because we can’t get our own way; or because we are too attached to something and scared of losing it; or because we are worrying about what others think of us; or because we won’t trust God and hand over our future to him. These are unhealthy fears, and they stop us loving God and loving others.
Here is a tip: If you notice that you are afraid of something, big or small, don’t just ignore it. Stop. Reflect on it; pray about it; try to see what is at the root of the fear. Very often, this will be a moment of grace; it can lead you to see an area in your life where you are not free, not yet willing to trust God. It can reveal the extent to which you are still hiding, like Adam in the Garden – unable to trust others, to trust the Lord, to trust in his Providence. It can allow you to hear a very personal call from the Lord, to come out, to meet him. And that can lead you to a new step of faith and a new kind of freedom before the Lord.
Yes, perfect love casts out fear. It’s also true that fear, and facing the roots of our fears, can lead us to a deeper love.
(But don’t misunderstand this and get over-analytical! It doesn’t mean that every time we are afraid it is our fault or a sign of sin…)
Posted in Culture/Arts, Morality, Relationships, tagged children, drama, friendship, love, parenting, Relationships, sexuality, Ten Ten, Ten Ten Theatre, theatre, Theology of the Body on December 22, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Stepping away from the politics and polemic surrounding marriage for a moment, how do you actually form children and young people – in an age-appropriate way – to understand the true meaning of love, friendship, sexuality and relationships?
I happened to see this article by Martin O’Brien that appeared in the Universe this month.
First of all, he recognises the challenges:
Educating children and young people with a sound understanding of Church teaching on relationships, sexual morality, love, marriage and family life remains one of the most challenging issues for any Catholic school. Problems arise: How we do we speak to children in their own language and culture but avoid reinforcing it? Beyond the rules and regulations, what exactly is the Church teaching? How am I supposed to teach it if my own life and values don’t live up to the ideal?
It was within this environment six years ago that Ten Ten Theatre – an award-winning Catholic theatre company – began devising, writing and producing a programme of Catholic Sex and Relationship Education which has now been established in hundreds of primary schools, secondary schools and parishes throughout the UK.
We take our inspiration from Blessed John Paul II’s teaching known as The Theology of the Body. It has been our task over the last few years to identify some of the core values of the teaching and write accessible, contemporary stories to explore these ideas. Karol Wojtyla himself was a keen actor and dramatist who believed passionately in the power of story and character to examine the human person. At Ten Ten we aim to do the same, encouraging our children and young people to reflect on their own lives and experiences in order to understand more deeply their Call to Love.
Then he gives some examples from their work with teenagers:
The play “Chased” for the 13-14 age group follows the story of Scott and Carly who are so confused by the world they inhabit – pressure from friends, influence of the media, physical development – that they almost lose sight of their core dignity. And yet through the story they begin to understand the deepest longings of the heart: to be honourable, to be cherished, to be loved and to love as Christ loves.
By taking the characters on this journey, and following it up with discussion, sharing, reflection and prayer, the young people understand what it means to be “in” the world but not “of” the world.
This begs the question, which O’Brien asks: What about primary school children? How can we promote these values without corrupting children with sexual imagery and inappropriate information?
One example is “The Gift”, a lovely play for 7-9 year-olds. It tells the story of twins Harry and Kate who learn about the preciousness of gifts: Kate’s treasured musical box, given to her by her Auntie who passed away, is accidentally smashed to pieces by Harry. Harry doesn’t understand why Kate is so upset. “After all,” he says, “you can get another one from the pound shop… for a pound!” Through the story, both Harry and Kate (and the children watching) learn about the true value of gifts, what it means to make a gift of yourself and the importance of forgiveness.
These are precisely the same values we promote through the play “Chased” but at an age-appropriate level. In the follow-up workshop to “The Gift”, the actors ask the children to think more deeply about the best gift they have ever been given, who gave it to them and why is it so special. Sometimes the responses are material: Playstations and puppies are always very popular. Other responses tell of something deeper: my life or my baby brother.
However, a few weeks ago at a school in Merseyside, one particular response really touched us.“What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?” we asked. “My mum,” said the boy. “And why is she so special?” “Because she adopted me and without her I wouldn’t have been brought up happy,” said the boy. The boy’s mother, in fact, also taught at the school. Later that day, when she was told what her adopted son had said, she crumbled into tears.
I can understand why. This woman has likely given her entire life as a gift to the boy, making a decision to love him, protect him and care for him with all of her heart. Surely this is one of the greatest gifts that a person could choose to give. And yet it is a gift that people throughout the world make moment after moment, day after day. Now, as a result of the visit of Ten Ten, this particular mother knew that her seven-year-old adopted son valued and appreciated the great sacrifice she has made.
Posted in Psychology, Relationships, tagged 3G, agape, eros, Google, iCloud, love, meaning of love, most popular search topics 2012, philia, religious life, Scientology, search, searching, what is love on December 18, 2012 | 11 Comments »
In the category of ‘What is X?’ searches for 2012, Google found that the most most popular search for the year was ‘What is love?’ And after love came: iCloud, 3G and Scientology. It’s fascinating what we seek when the door is closed and the computer switched on.
The Guardian, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the question “once and for all” (I love the emphatic nature of the quest!), gathered writers from the fields of science, psychotherapy, literature, religion and philosophy to give their definition of the much-pondered word ‘love’. This included the perspective of ‘The Nun’, Sr Catherine Wybourne, a Benedictine sister. You can read the responses here.
The most interesting is from Philippa Perry, ‘The Psychotherapist’, who says – just as Pope Benedict did in Deus Caritas Est – that we simply need more words to describe the stuff we usually put under the crude heading of the word ‘love’:
Unlike us, the ancients did not lump all the various emotions that we label “love” under the one word. They had several variations, including:
Philia which they saw as a deep but usually non-sexual intimacy between close friends and family members or as a deep bond forged by soldiers as they fought alongside each other in battle.
Ludus describes a more playful affection found in fooling around or flirting.
Pragma is the mature love that develops over a long period of time between long-term couples and involves actively practising goodwill, commitment, compromise and understanding.
Agape is a more generalised love, it’s not about exclusivity but about love for all of humanity.
Philautia is self love, which isn’t as selfish as it sounds. As Aristotle discovered and as any psychotherapist will tell you, in order to care for others you need to be able to care about yourself.
Last, and probably least even though it causes the most trouble, eros is about sexual passion and desire. Unless it morphs into philia and/or pragma, eros will burn itself out.
Love is all of the above. But is it possibly unrealistic to expect to experience all six types with only one person. This is why family and community are important.
And it’s telling that in the Guardian headline to the article (‘What is love? Five theories on the greatest emotion of all’), and in the Perry passage above, the starting assumption is that love is nothing more or less than an emotion. Sr Catherine is brave enough to use the phrase ‘theological virtue’, by which ‘we love God above all things and our neighbours as ourselves for his sake’; but there is not enough space to unpack this in the article, and to explore how love might be much more than simply an emotion.
Posted in Culture/Arts, Morality, Relationships, tagged children, Christmas, fairytales, fantasy, Father Christmas, home, imagination, Jesus, lies, love, motherhood, parenting, Santa, Santa Claus, stories, storytelling, trauma, trust, truth on November 21, 2012 | 6 Comments »
I had a great discussion on Sunday with a group of young adults about the morality/wisdom of telling your children that Father Christmas exists and delivers their presents each year.
Is it a form of lying? Is it, rather, a kind of mythology or fairy-tale that does no more harm than reading them bedtime stories, and actually does them good in helping them to develop their imagination and sense of wonder? Is it simply harmless? Or does it lead to a traumatic break in child-parent trust when they finally realise that the reality they have been told about by their parents is simply not true?
And – an extra question for Christian parents – if you are telling them stories about Santa Claus and Jesus at the same time, with the same awe-struck tone of voice, does it mean that the Jesus stories crumble as easily as the Santa ones a few years later?
I think your answer partly depends on your own experience. Some people never really believed in Santa anyway; there was some sixth sense that told them it was just a story, an act of make-believe. Some people really are traumatised when they discover The Big Lie that everyone around them has been conspiratorially involved in; and there is a questioning of what it means to trust their parents.
Others, much more low-key, remember a sense of disappointment and minor shock when they found out – they made a connection for themselves, or a big brother or sister told them, or they found the presents in their parents’ wardrobe the week before.
The other issue that came up was the fact that your decision as parents has an influence on others. Does it mean that your enlightened three-year old goes into the play group and tells all the other children it’s all a load of nonsense – to the consternation of the other parents?
Me? I can’t remember ever believing it – Santa Claus; reindeer; coming down the chimney; etc. I’m not saying I never did, I just can’t remember; and I can’t remember a moment of discovering it wasn’t true. My memories, perhaps quite late (5 or 6 years old?) are longing to fall asleep, knowing that mum and dad wouldn’t bring the presents in before then.
Comments please! Did it traumatise you? What do you tell your own children about Santa?
Posted in Relationships, Religion, tagged Anglicanism, christian prayers, Christianity, civic religion, common good, Cross, cross of jesus, faith, Harpenden, hymns, Jesus Christ, life after death, memorial service, Olympics, Paralympics, prayer, prayers for the dead, purgatory, Religion, war memorial on November 14, 2012 | 1 Comment »
By chance I was in my home town of Harpenden on Sunday, and after the 9.45 Mass many people from the Catholic church went down the road to the United Service of Remembrance round the War Memorial on Church Green.
It’s years since I have been present for this. I have memories of a few hundred people scattered around the green in the centre of town. But this Sunday there must have been a crowd of over two thousand people, spilling onto the surrounding roads. Perhaps it has been growing over the years; perhaps it was particularly large this year.
It was very moving, and very Christian! Prayers, hymns, readings. The names of the dead were read out. And it’s so easy to forget, but the whole town was gathered round a standing cross (see the old postcard above). I’ve wandered across the green a thousand times over the years (we moved to Harpenden when I was four), but I’ve hardly stopped to reflect that the focus of unity for the town was and still is the Cross of Jesus Christ. And when people want to reflect on death and life, remember their loved ones, or just come together as a community conscious of itself and its history – they gather round the Cross.
I’m not suggesting that everyone there had faith, or even that Christianity is on the increase in Hertfordshire (who knows?). But the huge crowds present this Sunday made me wonder if there is a deepening hunger for community and for a sense of connection with those in the past. Maybe we are more aware of our military than we used to be; maybe it’s the patriotism of the Jubilee or the communitarianism of the Olympics and the Paralympics; maybe we just long to feel more connected.
This was civic religion at its best: people still broadly connected with the nation’s Christian faith, even though there would be various shades of belief and unbelief; people finding that this faith gives them a unity with each other, and a way of making sense of their human struggles, that perhaps they wouldn’t find in any other place.
And a final note about purgatory: It was an ecumenical service, but I was fascinated how each prayer spoken was actually a prayer for the dead. We kept hearing phrases like: ‘May they find the fulfilment in God they were longing for’; ‘May they rest in peace’; ‘May they come face to face with the Lord’. All of these ‘may they…’ prayers suggest, theologically, that there is still something to be achieved or worked out for those who have died. In other words, this wasn’t just a service of remembrance – whatever the service sheet suggested – it was also a service of prayer for the dead. I don’t think this was very conscious or theologically explicit, but it shows how hard it is to just remember the dead without actually praying for them – at a psychological level. And a Catholic would add that this makes theological sense as well!
Posted in Morality, Relationships, Science/Technology, tagged abortion, assisted reproduction, conception, contraception, fertility treatment, infertility, IVF, Life Fertility Care, medicine, NaProTechnology, Pope Paul VI Institute, reproduction, science, Thomas Hilgers on October 22, 2012 | 2 Comments »
There are so many reports in the press and adverts on the tube for IVF that you’d think it was the only form of fertility treatment on offer to couples who are struggling to conceive a child.
A friend of mine, Leonora Paasche Butau, has been studying bioethics, theology of the body, and fertility management for the last few years. I recently read this report from her on the ICN website about the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, and the pioneering alternatives to IVF that they have been developing.
The Pope Paul VI Institute is the brainchild of the bold and courageous Dr Thomas Hilgers, MD and his wife Sue Hilgers who founded the institute in 1985 as a response to the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Pope Paul VI, in this encyclical letter, expressed the Catholic Church’s longstanding tradition on marital life and love and called on “men of science” to direct their research to reproductive healthcare which fully respects life and the dignity of marriage and women. Dr Hilgers, as a young medical student in 1968, felt that the Church was speaking directly to him through this letter and by December of that same year he started his first research project to better understand natural fertility regulation and women’s health care.
The results of years of study and research have been phenomenal. The Pope Paul VI Institute has developed a new and superior approach to women’s reproductive health care which embodies the best principles of medicine and builds up the culture of life in a world which finds its solutions in contraception, sterilisation and abortion.
The Institutes 30+ years of research has seen the development of the highly successful Creighton Model Fertility Care System (CrMS) and NaProTechnology (Natural Procreative Technology) which has reached 14 countries around the world.
NaProTechnology allows a couple to observe certain biological markers to determine when they are naturally fertile and infertile so that they can either avoid or achieve pregnancy. In addition to this, it is a very effective tool in identifying and treating underlying causes of infertility with success rates up to three times higher than In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). It would seem that the current philosophy of reproductive medicine does not seek to treat underlying diseases meaning that millions of women suffer from infertility without ever knowing the reason. Although IVF is by far the most common approach to the treatment of infertility, the women who undergo treatment using IVF would still remain with the underlying diseases which are causing the infertility to begin with.
As well as being used to treat infertility, NaProTechnology helps to obtain proper diagnosis and effective treatment for a range of other health and gynaecological problems and abnormalities such as recurrent miscarriage, premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and abnormal bleeding ‒ offering great hope to women.
Another of the unique contributions of NaProTechnology is the empowerment of women that comes with the knowledge and self-awareness of their bodies and their reproductive cycles.
Dr Anne Carus, a NaPro Specialist doctor from Life Fertility Care in Leamington Spa, states: “with NaProTechnology couples cycle charting empowers them through education. We find couples value the active contribution that they are able to make to the diagnostic and treatment process. NaProTechnology provides an individualised medical support. Our annual audit indicates that 89% of our clients would have found it helpful to receive information about NaProTechnology from their GP practice. Couples find it difficult to find real support to natural conception within the NHS.”
The research of Dr Thomas Hilgers – at a time when it is difficult for many obstetrician-gynecologists to practice their profession without prescribing oral contraceptives, carrying out sterilisations or referring patients for procedures such as IVF ‒ is testament to his faith in Christ and commitment to responding to the challenges of Humanae Vitae.
For more information see the website of the Institute here. See the articles here from the UK Life Fertility Care site. And for more general issues about fertility and for practical help in the UK see the Life Fertility Care site itself.
Do you love someone for who they really are or because they happen to match the person you have longed to love in your dreams?
Posted in Psychology, Relationships, tagged attraction, dreams, fantasy, freedom, love, marriage, Relationships, romance, romantic comedy, romantic love, romcom, writing on October 15, 2012 | 7 Comments »
Go and see Ruby Sparks. I nearly walked out after fifteen minutes, because it seemed like the most saccharine and cliché-ridden romantic comedy. But then she appears – the writer’s dream becomes his reality – and you realise that under the guise of a good-natured rom-com there lies a dark and disturbing psycho-drama and a clever philosophical meditation on love, power, freedom and identity. It’s one of the most thought-provoking films I’ve seen this year.
Minor plot-spoilers follow, but not much more than is in the trailer. He is a writer; he starts writing about a woman who has appeared in his dreams, and he creates the perfect woman who will fill his lonely heart. Then she appears, for real, and after the slapstick scenes of him and his brother coming to terms with that, he has to get on with the business of really knowing and loving her.
And of course the person he has created stops fitting into his model. So he breaks his self-imposed rule, and starts re-writing who she is, even as he is in the middle of the relationship. It goes funny, and pear-shaped, and self-defeating, and then very, very dark, before the inevitable (and I thought quite beautiful) light-filled resolution.
Like any good fairy-tale or parable, it presents in an outlandish form something that is so normal we have stopped seeing it. In this case, that we are attracted to people (not just romantically) because they match what we find attractive, what we hope to find in another; and that – often – we subtly and not-so-subtly pressure and manipulate people to conform to our expectations of what the relationship should be about.
So there is a joy in discovering ‘the other’, but the other is objectified and can become a projection of our own hopes. Then we realise that they are more than the person we want them to be – they are the person they want to be, and a person we may never appreciate or even understand.
Is the first kind of attraction inherently narcissistic and manipulative? Is all love, at least at the beginning, a form of fantasy? How do we keep the delight in finding someone who fits with our dreams at the same time as giving them the space to surprise and unsettle and disturb? We objectify someone, but we can’t live with an object for very long.
And if, to take the questioning much further, the person begins to realise that they have in some sense been created by another, where does that leave them? How do we set them free, without losing everything? How do they set themselves free? This isn’t such a fantasy: think of the myriad ways in which we have all been ‘created’, formed, by others – by parents, teachers, friends, culture, society…
I’m being very heavy, because I came away with my head spinning. It’s not as heavy as I have made it out – in fact it feels like a bit of fluff. That’s what makes it so clever, it’s a breezy romcom that reads, afterwards, like a lecture in philosophy or psychology. It’s intriguing and great fun.
Posted in Psychology, Relationships, Spirituality, tagged alone, being single, consecrated life, couples, discernment, happiness, husband, loneliness, marriage, religious life, sing;e, vocation, wife on September 28, 2012 | 5 Comments »
Helen Croydon’s article about why she isn’t interested in getting married got me thinking again about the meaning of being single for a Christian man or woman.
I think there are two extremes to avoid. One is to say that being single is a meaningless transitional state of frustration and unfulfillment on the way to the endless happiness of marital bliss, priesthood or consecrated life. This is to define singleness negatively, as ‘not-yet-married’ (or ‘not-yet-whatever…’). The other extreme is to suggest that being single, in itself, is a Christian vocation which you are called to embrace wholeheartedly; because many people do not have a sense of being called by God to the single life, it’s just where they happen to be – and perhaps they are longing and praying to move out of it. So to define being single, without qualification, as a vocation, is not quite accurate or fair to people’s experience.
I had to think through some of this when I was writing my pamphlet on How to Discover Your Vocation. I thought it would be worth copying here the ideas I put together about the different meanings of being single.
The single life. People are single for many different reasons. If you are single at this moment, whatever the reason, you can believe that your life right now has immense value. Every person is called to a life of holiness, and in this sense every person who is single is called to live out their Christian vocation, wherever it might be leading them in the future. Your work, your study, your friendships, your care for your family, your service to others – these are all areas of life in which you are meeting Christ and bringing his love to others. Give thanks to God for your life and for the opportunities presented to you.
It would not be quite right to say that every single person has a vocation to be single, in the sense of a lifelong commitment – and we must be careful in the way we talk about the single vocation. It would be best, perhaps, to say that the single life is a concrete vocation only when it has been chosen as a response to a sense of calling; or at least when it has been willingly accepted as a long-term way of life in response to circumstances. This chapter lists some of the situations that single people find themselves in, and gives one or two thoughts about how to approach them.
Just getting on with life. Many people are single and happy about that and just getting on with life. You might be doing some fulfilling and worthwhile work. You might be hard at your studies. You might be involved in some all-consuming project. You might be too young or busy or distracted or happy to be thinking big thoughts about future commitments. That’s fine! Be happy and be holy. Just make sure that now and then you stop to think about your vocation as a Christian, and to ask the Lord in prayer if he has any other plans for you. You have every right to make the most of this situation, without undue anxiety – as long as you are open to other possibilities as well.
Those who are searching. Many single people are hoping to discover a more particular vocation and to make a lifelong commitment to marriage or priesthood or the consecrated life, but they are unsure about which one. Or they are clear about wanting to get married, but still looking for a husband or wife. Or they are dating and wondering if this is the right person. If this is the case, you can follow all the suggestions in this booklet about how to discern your vocation and how, at the right time, to come to a decision. Remember that your happiness does not just lie in the future. God wants you to find peace and to live a life of holiness in this present moment, even if your future is unclear. He wants you to trust him: to do everything you can, but to be patient as well.
Those who are struggling. Some people are single not through choice but through circumstances. They wish they were not single, but they cannot see any way out. Perhaps you are not drawn to marriage, or unable to find a husband or wife. Perhaps you want to be a priest or live a consecrated life, but you have been ‘turned down’ by the diocese or religious order. Perhaps you are caring for a sick relative or a child and you are not able to take on any other commitments. Perhaps you are sick yourself. There may be other difficulties in your life that make you feel you cannot pursue the vocation you would like to. Or perhaps you have a valid marriage, but are now separated from your husband or wife, without any apparent hope of reconciliation or of being granted an annulment; so that your day-to-day life is like that of a single person, only without the possibility of entering into a new marriage.
In all these situations it is so important to trust in God and to believe that he knows what he is doing with your life. There may be very real suffering and disappointment involved, and you can certainly hope and pray that the situation will improve. But you also need to accept that this is God’s will for you in this present moment, tocarry this cross with as much humility and love as is possible. Don’t give in to despair or self-pity. Live your Catholic faith, and trust that this is happening for a reason. Your vocation right now, without a doubt, is to show the love of Christ in these difficult circumstances. And through that love, if it is his will, he will lead you to a new stage, or help you to find new meaning in this present situation.
Committed to the single life. Some people have in effect made a personal commitment to lifelong celibacy, even without taking any formal vows. Some choose celibacy because they wish to give their lives in service to others, or because it allows them to follow a particular path in life. Some recognise that they are unlikely to get married, for all sorts of different reasons, and they willingly accept this and commit their lives to following Christ and living their faith as single people.
Those who accept the single life in this way, for whatever reason, can rightly think of this as their vocation – a call from God to live a life of holiness in this context, which will bear great fruit and will be richly rewarded. But perhaps we should not necessarily think of this form of celibacy as a lifelong vocation, because the circumstances might change. If you are single, and at peace about being single, but then something unexpected comes up, and you feel pulled towards another vocation – then you are perfectly free to look into that!
Consecrated single life. Some people do take lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, but continue to live and work in the world. Their vows mean that, in the language of the Church, they are living a consecrated life. Those who are consecrated have the assurance of God and of the Church that this is indeed a lifelong commitment and vocation.
What do you think? Does some of this help you to make sense of your single life – at the moment? Or do you have another take on what it all means?
Posted in Books, Morality, Relationships, tagged abortion, abortion grief, abortion politics, bereavement, children, Melinda Tankard Reist, morality of abortion, mouring, Politics, post-abortion grief, pro-life, Rachel's Vineyard, stillbirth, suffering, trauma on September 17, 2012 | 5 Comments »
Since the 40 Days for Life vigil during Lent, I have been thinking not so much about the morality of abortion, but more about its effects on individual women and men, and on society as a whole. I read for the second time the seminal book by Theresa Burke, Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion – I’ll try to post about this later, together with something about Rachel’s Vineyard.
But the book that really hit me was a collection of personal experiences from Australia collected together by Melinda Tankard Reist, called Giving Sorrow Words: Women’s Stories of Grief After Abortion.
In some ways it is a much harder read than Forbidden Grief, because there is not the faith perspective, so many of the women find no resolution or reconciliation, just an outpouring of grief with nowhere to go. Even this heartbreaking acknowledgement of what they have truly been experiencing, however, seems a gain, compared to suffering in silence or having their grief denied.
Reist put an advert in various Australian magazines and newspapers asking for women who would share their experiences of the effects an abortion had had on their lives.
Two hundred and fifty responded, and many said that for the first time in their lives just seeing the heading of the advertisement (‘Abortion Grief’) had itself given them permission to open up, perhaps for the first time, what they had been going through. Eighteen stories then found their way into the book, to represent the breadth and depth of the responses, with many more quoted in Reist’s Introduction.
Reist’s Introduction sets out some of the convictions she had as a pro-life feminist before she started – convictions that were reinforced as the project came to fruition.
The women who tell their stories here have all suffered abortion-related grief: a depth of grief they were not prepared for and which many still carry.
But they go unheard. Emotional trauma after an abortion is treated with disdain; dismissed by abortion’s advocates as an invention…
Conventional wisdom has it that abortion is mostly trouble-free. Because of this, those who are troubled are made – indeed, often forced to be – invisible.
The grief of the women documented in this book is real. But their stories, and the stories of women like them, have been disqualified – even by those who say we must listen to women’s voices and credit women’s experiences.
Attitudes towards women overwhelmed by grief following abortion demonstrate a cruel indifference to women’s pain. Their suffering is considered a figment of their imagination; their guilt and remorse a byproduct of social/religious conditioning. In short, they are an embarrassment.
There is another constraint on their expression of grief. The politics surrounding abortion has drowned out the voices of women harmed by it. Women whose lives are shattered by the abortion experience… are cast aside as over-sensitive, psychologically unstable, big teams of socially constructed guilt. Their experience is trivialised.
A woman’s abortion pain is discounted and minimised due to the prevailing view that a termination is really no big deal, ‘just a currette’, an easy fix. Abortion is promoted by many who dominate the discourse on the subject as a procedure without repercussions. Because of this, attempts to discuss women’s abortion suffering have been constrained.
Suffering post-aborted women feel a resentment towards a society which ignores or neglects their suffering. They are not allowed to acknowledge or mourn their loss openly. The disdain for women suffering after-abortion trauma sends the message: you’re only upset because you’ve chosen to get upset…
This sort of response to women’s abortion-related suffering makes them feel they’re being melodramatic, over-sensitive, attention-seeking. But many women are suffering emotionally from a procedure which was portrayed as emotionally benign. They are filled with feelings of self-loss, daily haunted by their abortion experience…
Their arms feel empty, they don’t like looking at babies, they often cry. They ask: What would my baby have looked like? Was it a boy or a girl? Would-have-been birthdays are quietly marked year after year.
As Margaret Nicol points out in her important work on maternal grief, it is a myth that a mother only bonds with her child after birth. A woman never forgets the pregnancy and the baby that might have been. When the baby is lost and there are no memories of visible reminders of the baby, ‘The feeling of emptiness and nothingness becomes pervasive and it is this an easy and anxious avoid that makes women wonder if they’re going crazy.’
I’m sorry the book is not more widely available in this country. There are a just three copies here on Amazon UK from other sellers as I write.
But hang on: I just found these excerpts from the book here – well worth looking at:
I don’t know much about Reist. You can see her website here.
And just in case you see this and don’t see a follow up post about Rachel’s Vineyard, you can see their website here, which offers support to women and men who have suffered an abortion. The Good Counsel Network help-page is here (they are based in London). And the ARCH website is here (Abortion Recovery Care and Helpline) – I don’t know much about them, but I saw a leaflet for their services recently.
Posted in Relationships, Spirituality, tagged Bruce Willis, commtiment, faithfulness, God, love, marriage, marriage rite, ritual, sacrament, symbolism, Unbreakable, wedding bands, wedding rings, weddings on August 27, 2012 | 13 Comments »
I was at a beautiful wedding recently, and I had a small moment of revelation about the meaning of wearing a wedding ring. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my understanding was turned completely upside down.
I’ve always thought that wearing a wedding ring was a sign of the commitment you are making to your spouse and to your marriage. Not to pretend that it all depends on you – because it’s about a relationship and a vocation, and about God’s blessing on that relationship. But to see the wearing of the ring as a constant sign of your own re-dedication and re-commitment to this relationship, and to make this continuing acknowledgement of your marital commitment public by wearing a ring. The ring becomes, as it were, a public profession of your marriage and what it continues to mean to you. This is why in those films (cf. Bruce Willis in the first scene of Unbreakable), when a husband meets a stranger on a train and starts plotting how he might hook up with her, he quietly slips his wedding ring off and puts it in his pocket.
But I heard the words of the wedding rite as if for the first time, and this is absolutely not what the wearing of the ring signifies. Here they are:
Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So the ring that is given is a sign of the love and fidelity of the one who gives it. The ring that you wear, that was placed on your finger by your spouse on your wedding day, does not represent your commitment to your marriage, your love for your spouse, your faithfulness to this relationship and to the vocation God has called you into, etc. It represents the commitment, love and faithfulness of your spouse to you.
The ring is not there, first of all, as a sign of your continuing commitment to this person (although of course it can come to mean that as well). It’s an ongoing reminder of the promise that the other person has made to you. It’s a sign of the covenant that your spouse has made with you, and that God has sealed, and that you have freely embraced and entered into. The same covenant that you have also made with your spouse.
I know this is obvious – I’m ashamed to say that I’d just never thought of it before. It changes things. I’m sure I’ve given lots of wedding sermons about looking down at the ring on your finger and choosing to live your marriage and love your spouse. It’s all true, in one sense. But the symbolism of the ring is not, ultimately, about your own efforts or decisions or commitments, it’s a reminder of the promise that another has made to you, and of the promise that God has made to you both. I know that life, and marriage, are not always tidy or easy, but I think there is a truth worth pondering here.
Do contradict me, and write in the comments what your wedding ring has meant to you over the years!