When you are Fat and Old.

Well, it’s been almost 4 days since I got back from Rome now and I have to admit I am still not back to normal. I’m having a seriously hard time coming down from the whole experience mentally and emotionally, and physically I am still completely destroyed.

I averaged about 5 hours sleep a night when I was there due to late night restaurants with the most raucous bunch of contemplatives you could ever wish to dine with, and I was getting up at 6.30am. I was also walking at least 5 miles per day.

To be honest with you I’m seriously unfit. I’ve never really recovered from having kids. My tummy muscles are totally shot. I still have a 3 inch gap between where the muscles are supposed to meet on the front of my stomach. That’s never gonna heal – not even with 1000 sit up’s a day. But on the up side I do have a rather nice squishy platform to rest my laptop on while I write this blog post.

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“…it’s like being on a bouncy castle.”

Due to stress and tiredness and laziness and exhaustion I just can’t seem to loose any weight. Seeing myself on TV was a bit of a shock tbh. It not only exposed the fact that I am highly superficial in terms of appearance and attached to the thought of a body that is long gone, but also that I do actually look rather different in reality than I do in my own imagination. I didn’t realise I was that fat! Ha! The truth hurts hey?! Not that it bothers my husband. Nothing puts him off. As far as he’s concerned the more wobbly bits the better. Just this afternoon he enthusiastically described our nocturnal nuptial activities as “…like being on a bouncy castle!” LOL! I told him it was more like Sumo wrestling. Who says romance is dead hey?!

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Sumo wrestlers.

But seriously, I’m 36 next month. Most days I feel like I’m 86. Being a wife and mum is tiring. Being a good wife and mum is exhausting. And I’m not getting any younger. Infact as I am getting older I am finding that I relish time on my own more, and also those precious moments of silence I sometimes get during the day.

Beauty means different things to me now. Beauty is my children, my creative work on my vestments, the fact that me and Nick are still willing to give more, even after 16 years together. Even though my body is long past any point of aesthetic recovery, it is true to say that I have never felt so beautiful internally. It’s because I’m happy, and I know that I am loved. I have never been so secure in my identity in the eyes of God as I am now. Happy people shine, and at the moment even though I am tired and fat and old, I just feel like I am radiating love like a Supernova.

A big, fat, Supernova! Ha!

Gosh I’m tired – time to stop writing now before I say anything more stupider than I usually do.

Omgosh I did a bidding prayer at the Vatican!

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I’m writing this at Fiumicino airport on my phone so I hope it is going to present itself ok?!  Let’s try…

Well… Yesterday I read a bidding prayer at the Vatican, during the canonisation Mass of Louis and Zelie Martin – the parents of St Therese of Lisieux.

This all came about because I am a secular Carmelite. My formation director is friends with one of the Carmelite friars in Rome who happens to be the assistant to the General Procurator (the guy who investigates the miracles attributed to possible saints) and he was looking for an English speaker to do one of the bidding prayers. So she gave him my email address!

We had a practise on the Saturday, but I actually missed our practice slot because I was too busy chatting. Typical me. But in my defence I was chatting to the relatives of Louis and Zellie Martin, and Therese of Lisieux! (but that’s another blog post I am yet to write).

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I was just so happy to be there watching all the preparations to be honest. Let me tell you this: a Papal Mass is one big choreography. It was fascinating to see the organisation going on in several different languages. Lucky for me most people spoke at least basic English, because I can’t speak a word of any other language. I struggle enough with English frankly! But it didn’t matter. There is always someone who is available for a bit of impromptu translation. But I did at least get to go and stand at the Ambo and freak out at how many chairs there were!

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Sunday morning I arrived at St Peters square at 7.45am and there was already hundreds of people queuing to get in. Lucky I had a ‘special’ ticket and was able to go straight through up into the VIP area.  There I met the rest of the bidding prayer crew.

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We were able to have a run through but I have to say, I wasn’t really nervous, just really, really excited!

Then Mass started. We were sitting pretty much in the front row. There were just two suits in front of us who I assume were security, with black briefcases that I assume contained lots of guns and stuff. Seriously – I think we had the best seats in the house.

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Pope Francis seemed to me to be a Father under enormous pressure, who desperately needs the prayers and support of Mother church. It’s not an easy marriage at the moment. I don’t envy his job one bit.

He declared Louis and Zélie Martin saints. The first married couple ever to be canonised together. May they watch over, and be a tangible source of help to all married couples and families.

So then, after the homily, came the moment of truth for me. Bidding prayer time. I’m very happy to report that I managed NOT to trip up, fluff my lines or do a Marilyn Munroe with my dress.

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After Mass their was opportunity to get a quick photo of Papa Franko in the Popemobile.

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He usually takes about 20 minutes to drive around the whole of St Peters square and kiss babies ect. But his drive was cut rather short that day. Probably because he needed to get home pronto to watch Argentina destroy Ireland in the rugby (just kidding!).

The crowd was estimated at about 80k, and spilled out into the roads surrounding St Peters square.

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And I even managed to get a pic of the gorgeous altar frontal – for research purposes only 😉

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Then I had to leg it before security rolled me up in the red carpet and threw me out! Ha!ha!

It was an INCREDIBLE day. Probably one of the best days of my life. I’m in no doubt that my Carmelite sister St. Therese orchestrated all of this for me on her parents big day! I’m forever in her debt. <3

I prayed for you all, and all your intentions xxx

“So Un-Baptise me then…!”

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Poor kid hasn’t even entered the water yet!

I remember that blurry period in my life of hormonal angst and naivety, combined with the self-assurance of the fact that I knew all things. I like to refer to it as my time of self discovery. My parents simply describe it as “The Teenage Years”.

I remember one time announcing to my parents that I wanted to get un-baptised, but I didn’t know how to go about it. After a few seconds of expressionless silence in which they realised I had taken them to new levels of astonishment, they calmly suggested that I “Don’t worry about it too much” knowing that in about an hours time I would have forgotten about it and would be pouring my heart and soul into some new life altering activity.

They were right. And besides – you can’t get un-baptised! Sacraments cannot be undone. You can’t un-make your first holy communion or your first confession. You can’t get unconfirmed or un-make your vows as a priest. You can’t un-receive the sacrament of the sick.

In exactly the same way you can’t un-receive the sacrament of matrimony. The relationship may break down, and you may even decide to divorce (which still leaves you able to receive communion as long as you stay single), but you will still be sacramentally married to that person until one of you dies.

Language is important, and I think it is necessary now for Catholics to start to start referring to it as the Sacrament of Marriage/Matrimony rather than just Marriage – which in secular terms means something very different.

Perhaps if we start referring to it within it’s proper context as a sacrament, we might begin to view it differently, and realise that some things are beyond our authority to change.

Love, love, love and love.

The ancient Greeks had 4 different words for love. I think this is something we could all do with reminding ourselves of as it helps us understand the modern world view of “love” and how far away this has become from the Christian understanding of the same word. I actually think only having one word for love in the English language is a major source of confusion – especially when we begin to speak about Marriage.

The ancient Greek language has four distinct words for love: agápeérosphilía, and storgē. However, as with other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words when used outside of their respective contexts. Nonetheless, the senses in which these words were generally used are as follows:

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Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē) means “love: esp. brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God.” Agape is used in ancient texts to denote feelings for one’s children and the feelings for a spouse, and it was also used to refer to a love feast: (The term Agape or Love feast was used for certain religious meals among early Christians that seem to have been originally closely related to the Eucharist.) Agape is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children. This type of love was further explained by Thomas Aquinas as “to will the good of another.”

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Éros (ἔρως érōs) means “love, mostly of the sexual passion.” Plato refined his own definition: Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Plato does not talk of physical attraction as a necessary part of love, hence the use of the word platonic to mean, “without physical attraction.” In the Symposium, the most famous ancient work on the subject, Plato has Socrates argue that eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth, the ideal “Form” of youthful beauty that leads us humans to feel erotic desire – thus suggesting that even that sensually based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth through the means of eros.

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Philia (φιλία philía) means “affectionate regard, friendship,” usually “between equals.” It is a dispassionate virtuous love, a concept developed by Aristotle. In his best-known work on ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, philia is expressed variously as loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity. Furthermore, in the same text philos denotes a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.

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Storge (στοργή storgē) means “love, affection” and “especially of parents and children”] It’s the common or natural empathy, like that felt by parents for offspring. Rarely used in ancient works, and then almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in “loving” the tyrant.

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It is helpful to know these separate definitions of love when discussing marriage in the modern world. Contemporary modern culture bases its definition of marriage and relationships almost entirely on Éros. In fact I would go as far as to say that our society elevates Éros artificially higher than any other form of love. Éros has become the ideal. And when these powerful exciting feelings of lust and romance fade – then what is the point of carrying on the relationship? Éros is a feeling.

The Catholic view of marriage however is based on Agápe. It is a reflection of the unconditional self sacrificing love that Christ expressed for humanity on the cross. Agápe loves when it doesn’t feel good to love. Agápe loves because of what it gives, not because of what it gets. Agápe is unconditional and unbreakable. Agápe is a choice.

This is of course not to say that love itself as we know it is an extremely messy and complicated set of emotions and most probably incorporates all the ancient Greek definitions of love. The important point is to recognise which is the strongest in our relationship and then to ask ourselves “What is our relationship based on?”.

1 John 4:8 simply tells us “ho Theos agape estin” (God is Love). St Paul gives us the perfect test of what kind of love we have in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. If we substitute the word love for the name of our beloved – or even our own name, then we begin to get an idea of how true our love really is:

………. is patient and kind

………. is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

………. does not insist on his/her own way.

………. is not irritable or resentful.

………  does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

……… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

……… love never ends.

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Feminist Rage and the Power of Meekness.

Meek (miːk/) – adjective: quiet, gentle, submissive.

This morning I was sitting staring out of the window with a worried look on my face, biting my nails. “What on earth is wrong?” my husband asked me.

“I have to write a post on meekness.” I said.

“Bwwaaaaaaahhhh!!!” He guffawed. “But honey – you’re all brash and rumbustious! How are you gonna do that?!”

Yes, well… He’s got a point. Meekness does not come naturally to me. I’m more of a bull-in-a-china-shop sort of girl (and obviously a nightmare to live with! My husband is a SAINT!)

I seriously had no idea where to start. I Googled “meek” and it took me straight to the Beatitudes:

“Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Mathew 5:5

Part of my commitment to becoming a secular Carmelite is to live the Beatitudes. And to be honest – I’ve always generally just skipped over that one because I didn’t really know what it meant and I knew I probably wasn’t ‘it’. Meekness has always struck me as being a bit boring, a bit girly. And it seems I’m not the only one. For many, it is simply assumed that meekness is weakness, and surely not a virtue. The irony is that meekness, indeed a virtue, is the one virtue above all that allows us to remain ourselves in the midst of adversity. It allows us to maintain self-possession when adversity strikes, rather than becoming possessed by the adversity itself. A priest friend of mine described meekness to me as ‘quiet strength’.

Meekness seems to be more synonymous with empowerment than it is with weakness because, as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, meekness makes a man self-possessed. According to St. Hilary, Christ dwells in us by our meekness of soul. When we are overcome by anger, we lose that sense of ourselves that allows God to dwell within us. Anger excludes God; meekness invites His presence.

Meekness is not cowardliness, timidity, or servility; it’s the power that restrains the onslaught of anger and subjects it to the order of reason. While it may be more natural to express anger when one is assaulted, meekness is the higher path. The world witnessed a perfect example of this in April 2014 by Belgian Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard.

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Archbishop Léonard was participating in a debate on blasphemy at the Free University of Brussels on April 23rd 2014 when he became the target of the anti-Catholic feminist group Femen. Four topless women emerged from the attendees and mobbed the prelate, dousing him with water from bottles shaped like the Virgin Mary and screaming accusations of homophobia against him. Their bodies were smeared with slogans such as “my body my rules” and “anus dei is coming.” Throughout this barrage Archbishop Léonard remained calm, his eyes closed, his hands folded. A silent pillar of strength. After the bare-breasted protesters were evicted by security, Archbishop Léonard picked up one of the Marian bottles they had used to insult him with and kissed it.

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And while Femen do not represent all feminists, I think it is safe to say that the women who attacked him were not displaying a whole lot of meekness as far as I can see. Instead they were displaying rage and vengeance. They presumably justified their rage on the basis of the acceptability of revenge for perceived injustices. But in this way Femen are casting themselves into the role of victim (which never ceases to fascinate me about angry feminists. I have noticed this trait of victimology A LOT within the feminist argument, which ironically is often in complete juxtaposition to their outward aggressive persona. And even though I am in no way-shape-or-form an angry feminist myself, I’m shamefully realising that my own brash and rumbustious behaviour is just another example of this.)

In their eyes they had won a victory that day. They had asserted themselves angrily, aggressively, forcefully and pride-fully. They had displayed their ‘strength’ as independent women and as a group. But was it real strength they were displaying?

Archbishop Léonard could have justifiably retaliated and had those women arrested and charged with assault if he had wanted to. But he chose not to humiliate them any further than they had already humiliated themselves. He rose above the situation and refused to cast himself into the role of a poor victim. He did not react with anger or seek vengeance. In an age when victimology is temptingly trendy, Archbishop Léonard stood quiet and still, quietly proving that meekness is a truly anti-modern virtue that can help us address many of the behavioural problems of our post-modern age.

It seems that meekness is actually the complete opposite of weakness. It seems to be great strength imbued with utter magnanimity. It is a paradox, but nonetheless true, that meekness demands largeness of heart and a generosity of spirit towards ones oppressors. The post-modern world thinks of strength in terms of individual power, of ability, self-assurance and aggressiveness. But as Archbishop Léonard demonstrated, real strength – quiet strength – comes from God, and is truly manifested when we submit our will entirely to His.

A dear friend of mine illustrated this description and explanation of meekness beautifully:

“Talking of ‘meek’. I came across an interesting thing recently. Apparently the ancient Greeks used the word ‘meek’ to describe a warhorse, bridled and compliant, ready for battle. If you look at some wonderful dressage clip, you’ll see the horse, bridled and compliant, fully accepting the bit, listening and in tune with his rider, and the result? Beauty, balance, freedom of movement, perfect synergy between horse and rider….. This is ‘meek’. Jesus, ‘meek and humble of heart’ is like this; compliant to the Father’s Will, he is strong, courageous and invincible in battle. We are called to be the same.”

Perhaps it’s time I let God tame me?

Sources:

http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/feminists-attack-but-the-meek-will-conquer

http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-virtue-of-meekness.html

From Gay Pride to True Humility: Joe’s amazing conversion story.

Ash Wednesday marks four years since I rejected the “gay lifestyle” and came back to the Catholic Church. I didn’t have a singular moment of conversion like St. Paul. Rather, it was a slow drip, a series of gradual, often hesitant pivots towards the Church.

The first pivot came when Saint John Paul II died.

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Pope John Paul II had been the only pope I’d ever known up to that time. My childhood parish had a painting of him on the altar next to the tabernacle. I’m from Chicago, so naturally I have Polish ancestry, and a Polish pope was a point of pride when other kids called me a dumb Polak or a Commie. I was a toddler when Pope John Paul II was elected, so I had never experienced a conclave before. A German? They’re calling him “God’s Rottweiler” and he was in the Hitler Youth?

Despite my secular, sinful life, I’d always had a soft spot and sympathy for Holy Mother Church, even during the explosion of the priest sex abuse scandal. I was willing to give Benedict XVI the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to know more about him. Some of the news coverage cited his pre-conclave homily as sealing the deal for the cardinal electors. Then Cardinal Ratzinger declared, “We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything for certain and which has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” That hit me right between the eyes. So I started, occasionally, visiting Catholic websites, learning more about what this “relativism” is. There are some incredible resources out there.

It’s unclear how much of it was sentimentalism and how much was the pursuit of truth. I knew in my heart that my way of living was wrong. But I didn’t change my life. I was Catholic in name only. I hadn’t attended mass in years, despite a parish a block away from my apartment. The weekend gay bar hopping, binge drinking, pornography consumption, and casual hook-ups went on and on. I was young and “you only live once.” Nevertheless, a seed was planted.

The second pivot came when I found an old prayer book.

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An elderly relative had died, and I was helping family clean out their house. I found a copy of “My Prayer Book” by Father F. X. Lasance in a drawer and snuck it into my backpack. For whatever reason, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone I wanted it, or ask if I could take it. Surely they’d have said yes. The book was at least a half-century old and barely used. Most of the pages stuck together. Over the course of several months, I read it cover to cover. It was astounding.

Immersed in that culture that “has as its highest goals one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” in that book I encountered beautiful reflections on self-denial, on forgiveness, even “The Blessing of Pain and Grief.” It catechized me in a way that 12 years of Catholic schools and an ostensibly Catholic family failed to do. A few years later when I lost it, I was able to order a replacement online from Fraternity Publications. I highly recommend it.

The third pivot came after overhearing a conversation at work about the Real Presence.

The Priest says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

I’m not sure how they happened onto the topic, but the office secretary was talking to another employee about Roman Catholics, and she said, “We believe that the Eucharist is the body of Christ.” 

“We do?” I thought? Like, THE body of Christ? Huh? No, it’s just a symbol. What was she talking about? I’d never heard that before, and I’m Catholic. Whatever.

Some online research confirmed what she said. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Again, after 12 years of Catholic schools and Catholic parents I did not even know such a fundamental doctrine of the faith? How was that possible? Had I ever received worthily, validly? If one needs to be in a state of grace to approach for communion, why did everybody go up? Why didn’t my mother go to confession? How come she’d never encouraged us kids to regularly confess? The more I read about the Real Presence, the more ashamed I felt, even betrayed.

The fourth pivot came after reading an article on “the Latin Mass” on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.

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The article preceded Pope Benedict’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum. Several Chicago parishes offered the mass. “Fans” quoted in the article gushed over how transcendent the Latin Mass was, how it was so beautiful they wanted to cry. I’d always enjoyed history, and I knew this was the mass my parents grew up with. So one Sunday, I visited one of the parishes.

I expected to witness the mass I grew up with, only in a different language, with nice(r) music, and with the priest facing the other way. What I encountered was baffling and frustrating. I had no idea what was going on. For long periods, nothing happened. The priest just stood there, facing the tabernacle. He wasn’t talking at all, much less in Latin, from what I could tell. But a realization hit me, seeing the priest there before the tabernacle: This is what mass is all about: the Eucharist!

The night and day difference between the Extraordinary Form and the Ordinary Form sent me back to the Internet. I found some podcasts on iTunes by Dr. James Dobbins that dove into the history of the Extraordinary Form, about how much traces back to the Temple in Jerusalem, the symbolism of ad orientum, and so on. It was like finding buried treasure. I returned to that parish several times, window shopping as it were.

The fifth pivot came when someone asked me to be their child’s godfather.

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For one thing, I never expected that parent to ask me. We weren’t particularly close. For another, I knew this was a serious, sacred obligation I was entering into. It wasn’t merely an honorific title. For the first time in 15, maybe 20 years, I went to confession.

The Lord blessed me with a gentle and patient priest behind the confessional screen. He counselled me that my same sex attraction was, alas, a heavy cross to bear. But he didn’t make me feel dirty, or like a pervert. After he lead me through making an act of contrition, I left the confessional absolved, attended the holy sacrifice of the mass, and approached the communion rail in a state of grace for the first time since I was a child. I slid back into my sinful ways pretty quickly. But I’d poke my head out of the sewer now and then, to listen to Father John Corapi (good preacher, pray for him, sad situation) on Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio station in Chicago, or to attend Holy Week services.

Finally, two years after my God-child’s baptism, I found myself waking up Sunday mornings with my conscience telling me, “You should go to mass.” I’d trek to the “Latin Rite” church and sit in a pew near the back, watching the priest from afar, knowing more now about what was going on. My head knew what was true, but my heart was lukewarm. Sin continued.

The final pivot came came that Lent.

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My conscience had been gnawing at me. “You’re a hypocrite. You can’t call yourself Catholic but live this way.” So I challenged myself: Lent is only about 40 days, right? Six weeks? This year’s Lent, let’s try to do everything the Church teaches, especially as it pertains to purity. No more porn. No more hours wasted on gay hook-up websites. No more lusting. Complete celibacy and chastity. Mass every Sunday. Regular confession.

I did it.

The first two weeks were rough, don’t get me wrong. Whether it was through grace, or the intercession of Our Lady, the saints, somehow I did it.

What’s more, I liked it! It was liberating. I was free of the weight, the rules, the oppressive expectations that the gay lifestyle places on you. Style your hair a certain way. Dress a certain way. Decorate your home a certain way. Think a certain way. Listen to certain music, watch certain television shows. Conform.

My friends’ first hint that I’d “changed” came from seeing my “likes” of Catholic posts on Facebook and from my decision to sit out the gay pride parade despite living so close to the parade route. My social circle has shrunk considerably. My best friend cut me off after I declined to attend his “wedding.” Other friends accuse me of being a “self-loathing homosexual.” Another friend, who I’m still close to, has told me to my face, with all sincerity, that he is worried about my mental health.

Ultimately though, this is not about me being happy or freed or spiritually fed/fulfilled/whatever you want to call it. My conversion was about understanding my role vis-a-vis God, that I was made to know, love, and serve Him in this life –not myself or my ego or its desires– and be happy with Him in the next.

I cannot quite explain why I so readily accept the Church’s teachings on same-sex attraction. It’s all perfectly logical and rationale to me. I’d lived that lifestyle and knew how ugly it was, what a lie it was. If I wanted to follow Christ, I would have to take up a cross. There was no “conversion” in that regard.

In a culture that says it’s all about Me, I realized that no, it’s not, and humility and sacrifice must be part and parcel of my life from now on. He must increase, I must decrease. Perhaps that’s why the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite played such a vital role in my conversion and continued efforts to life out the Faith. The Extraordinary Form is not about me. On that account, one might argue, its silence is deafening. I would not have reverted back to the faith without the Extraordinary Form. It has helped me strengthen my faith, grow in charity, battle my pride, and strive for purity in a way the Ordinary Form, as commonly offered, could not.

I’ve remained celibate since that Ash Wednesday in 2011. I’ve struggled with impure thoughts and actions, but am light years from who I used to be. With frequently confession and the graces flowing from that sacrament and the sacrament of the Eucharist, and His most merciful Sacred Heart, I soldier on in the Church Militant. Oh yeah, I think Our Lady’s on my side too!

Since I was invited to write this story for a family oriented blog, my advice to Catholic parents would be this: Teach your children obedience. Teach them obedience to you as mothers and fathers, and obedience to God and the Church. Model that obedience to them. It will require struggle, humility, and sacrifice, potentially the ultimate sacrifice. Never forget that your role isn’t to be their friend, or to give them the happy or comfortable childhood you never had. Your role is to get them to heaven. Trust in Jesus.

May God bless us all this Lent.

Joe.

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

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My 3 beautiful kids often draw me pictures.

Alex 8, does some pretty good stuff now. He is Mr Logic, and doesn’t care much for creativity (bless him!) but he is pretty good at technical drawing and copying cartoon characters.

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Annabel 5, is the complete opposite and loves to draw emotional things like friendships and love and butterflies and princesses.

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Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

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Now the thing is that when they come to show me their drawings their little faces all beam in exactly the same way! They draw stuff with great effort. And then they give it to me because they love me! My little darlings! I’m not sure what moves my heart more – seeing how hard they have tried, or their beautiful beaming faces as they give me all their hard work.

Now here’s a question:  Which picture do I value the most? I suppose that is as silly as asking which child do I love the most? I love them all the same, and all 3 pictures will be going up on the wall because each one of them is my favourite! Even though Angelica’s lovely scribble is just a mess on a page – I can see that she has put everything into that scribble, and at this point in her development I would not expect any more of her. She has given her all, and it is perfect.

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Isn’t this the exact same way our Mother Mary looks at us with our fasting and prayer?

Some of us are like Alex and can give a pretty good, neat, logical effort. Some of us are like Annabel and pray and fast emotionally and randomly. And some of us – most of us, are like little Angelica: doing our very best with the little skill we have. We are just babies in our spiritual development and we can’t manage too much just yet! But our Mother knows this and she delights in our messy, scribbley, prayerful fasting efforts! Whether we are fasting on bread and water for 40 days, or only giving up 1 cup of tea each day, she loves all our efforts the same, and is incredibly proud of each one of us.

I’m not sure what moves her heart more:  seeing how hard we have tried, or our beautiful beaming faces as we give her all our hard work. But I know this… A mother who loves her children, will cherish all these little things in her heart forever.

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Today I was received into Carmelite formation – and no, I did NOT just become a nun!

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Today I was received into Carmelite formation. Really – I couldn’t be happier! 🙂 It seems as if my whole life has lead me up to this point. Now I am part of a family where I will have the space and the resources to discover and develop a part of myself that has been screaming to get out for a very, very long time.

I have been asking people to pray for me on Facebook regarding this over the last few weeks and to my great amusement, there were quite  a large number of people who congratulated me on becoming a nun! This got even funnier when they realised I was married with 3 kids!

Let me explain…

In the Carmelite (ocds) order there are the First Order – the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order – the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order (or ‘Seculars’) – laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married or single, and diocesan priests. I am becoming a Third Order (secular) Carmelite.  The seculars are fully part of the Order, taking similar promises to friars and nuns but related to their lives as lay people.

The first part of my formation lasts 1-2 years. At the end of this time I will make my First Promise. Then there is a second period of formation lasting 4-5 years. At the end of this time I will make my Final (life long) Promise. After this I will become a fully fledged Carmelite.

The charism (or spiritual focus) of the Carmelite Order is contemplation. But a very important point is to understand that Carmelites understand contemplation and action to be complementary, not contradictory. This is a particularly important point to grasp because I am living the Carmelite charism within my vocation as a wife and a mother. The two actually fit together hand in hand beautifully, and is perfectly described in the famous quote for Teresa of Avila “God is found among the pots and pans.”

The Carmelite Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has a strong Marian devotion. ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order.

We wear the Brown Scapular (which is basically a tiny habit!)

We say the Divine Office morning, evening and night prayer.

We follow the rule of St Albert.

Some famous Carmelite saints you may have heard of are Teresa of ÁvilaSaint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Saint John of the Cross, St. Simon Stock and many more…

It is a way of life. A spirituality focused on the interior life – prayer from the heart, relationship with God.

I am really just scratching the surface here! And lets not forget I’m just a beginner! But I hope this goes some way to explaining what I am doing in my life now and the fact that even though I have just been received into formation, I have not just become a nun!

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The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.

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Another boring Valentines day, Another boring Mass.

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Last week I was visiting a church near to us. I went into the sacristy before Mass to speak to a friend of mine. She was busy getting things ready for Mass and was showing me where all the vestments and altar linens were kept. She asked me if I would like to serve Mass that day. With a heavy heart I said “No, thanks. I’m a girl!”

That threw me a little bit and it wasn’t until i got home later that day that I realised that something very, very disturbing indeed was going on in that sacristy. The used altar cloths – the corporals, and the purificators used by the priests and the ministers of Holy Communion were not being properly rinsed after Mass. Instead they were being tossed straight into an old cardboard box where they would wait to be picked up by the cleaners and put through the washing machine. This meant that small parts of our Lord’s body and precious blood were getting washed down the drain. With our Lord’s body and blood on this linen, this old cardboard box shoved under the sink was in-fact acting as a tabernacle.

I spoke to a priest friend about this and he told me that there is no way in the world this should be happening. I was horrified. I felt sick to my stomach. I was so distressed by this that I didn’t sleep that night. How could this possibly be happening? Did no-one realise what was happening? Did no-one care?

In the morning I cancelled all my plans for that day and set about buying the things that were needed to set this situation right. I bought a glass bowl that the linens could be soaked in, a clothes dryer they could be hung out on, I replaced the old cardboard box with a plastic crate and put instructions for the priests and ministers of Holy Communion explaining how the linens needed to be rinsed by the priest before going into the laundry. I spoke to the sacristan that morning who had never really considered what was happening but agreed with me that it could not continue. I spoke to some of the priests who agreed with me that it could not continue.  I set up all the stuff in the sacristy and said the chaplet of Divine Mercy, begging forgiveness for the way His body and precious blood had been treated. I went home feeling uneasy – but better.

That night I sent an email to the priests of that parish explaining what I had done and also saying “… although there are many clubs, groups and initiatives within the parish, the central focus should always be Jesus in the Eucharist. And if we cannot get respect for Jesus in the Eucharist right, then any other work we do is quite frankly useless…”

I spoke to another priest friend that night and told him about the situation. He was embarrassed to say that he had also been failing to rinse the altar cloths properly after Mass, but that he would not be making that mistake again. It started to dawn on me that this was probably not a one off situation. My heart sank. No, it broke.

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The next morning I got a call from the parish manager. She had removed all the stuff I had put into the sacristy and proceeded to call me a “very naughty girl” for acting without getting specific permission from the parish priest (who’s day off it was yesterday). I apologised and said that in any other circumstance I would agree with her, but on the issue of the blessed sacrament being disrespected then I’m afraid I had no other choice than to act that day. She asked me who was in charge of the parish. I said Christ. She disagreed with me! It seems that by not following strict parish protocol I had somehow offended her to the point of undoing time and space. She was more concerned with the fact that I hadn’t got an email reply from the parish priest, than she was about our Lord’s body and precious blood getting washed down the drain. I told a priest friend about this and he told me not to worry too much. He said “Clare, if she had been around on the morning of the resurrection she would have complained to Jesus that He had left cloths in the tomb!”

So now what was I to do? I sent a letter of apology to the priests:

“…I’m very sorry if I have caused any offence by trying to sort out the used linen situation in the sacristy.
The parish manager called me today and explained that under no circumstances must I act without the approval of the Parish Priest.
I understand and agree with this, but in this circumstance my responsibility was to my Lord. I’m afraid once I found out what was happening, I knew the situation needed rectifying that day. I simply could not be responsible for His Body or Precious Blood being disrespected in that way for a second longer.
I was also aware that if anyone else was to find out what was happening it would cause great embarrassment to the parish.
I’m sorry if I have caused distress, and of course it is up to the parish priest if he wants the linen situation to continue in the way it was? But I assumed that he would have been as horrified as me…”

I just couldn’t understand how the parish priest was letting this happen? Either he didn’t know he was supposed to be doing this – which is a FAIL. Or he did know he was supposed to be doing this but wasn’t bothering – FAIL. Or even worse, he didn’t believe those altar cloths were carrying our Lord’s body or precious blood – MAJOR FAIL.

How was it possible, I thought, that the relationship this priest has with Jesus (assuming he has one) has got so dry, so mundane. How is it possible that his heart has become so cold that he is not moved to tears by this situation like I am?

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And then my husband asked me a question: “Sooooo honey! What shall we do for valentines day this year? Hot crazy sex under the stars? A mad shopping weekend in Paris? A hot air balloon ride over the Pyramids? Or shall we just do what we’ve done every year for the last decade and get a take-away and watch Arnold Schwarzenegga movies?”

“Meh.” I replied. It kinda struck me at that point that I had probably been judging that poor priest unfairly.

Let me be the first to admit that I take my spouse for granted – everyday. We have been married for 15 years. And anyone who has been married for more than about 5 minuets will agree with me that the mind blowing-ness of well, everything tends to wear off pretty soon – well day-to-day at least. Eating dinner together every night, having sex, watching films, conversation, all gets a bit, blah. And of course the relationship will go through good patches and bad patches. And in the bad patches we would rather just not be around each other at all to be honest, but we have made a life long commitment so we just get on with it.

Now who am I to say that this priest is not going through a bad patch in his relationship with Jesus? And who am I to say whether the relationship has just got a bit, blah? This good and faithful priest has said mass pretty much at least once EVERYDAY for the last 40 years or so. And that is besides all his other duties. I can’t even say whether I have the backbone to survive marriage for 40 years?! Who knows? The thought sends shivers down my spine to be honest (and my poor husbands too he!he!).

But, I am also a mother. And if it was my son’s blood on that cloth, and I was standing I the sacristy after Mass, you can bet your bottom dollar the priest would not be throwing that altar linen into a beat up old cardboard box. And for us as laity, do we prepare properly every time we receive Jesus? Or has that become routine too? Forgive us Mother Mary, for routinely disrespecting your Son in this way.

In hindsight I would have approached this whole situation differently by going straight to the parish priest and bringing up the subject with gentleness and compassion. But instead I just reacted, all be it justifiably, but it has still resulted in a massive evangelisation FAIL on my part in regards to the needs of the priest. Now, somehow, I have got to find a way to sort it all out “…That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

Finally, may I ask all the priests who read this blog to have a think about if this is a situation that is going on in your sacristy? If it is, please, please take steps to ensure the Blessed Sacrament is not washed down the drain. And know that I am praying for you. I love you, and I understand that a lifelong vocation is not easy, but it is worth it.