Silent retreat FAIL.

So I’ve just come back from my first Carmelite silent retreat. It was awesome.

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With 3 kids and a sick husband i could only commit to going for 24 hours so I was determined to make the most of it. Of course my alarm didn’t go off the morning i was going, so I arrived late and unfortunately i missed the first talk.

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When I did get there I suddenly realised that i had completely forgotten to reply to the original email so there for i had forgotten to book a room, and it seems they were fully booked.

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Thankfully, one of the other seculars was leaving that afternoon, so they allowed me to stay in her room. I apologised, and thanked her – in silence.

Actually the silence was exactly what i needed. I was tired from my stressful morning and 2 hour drive and so the first thing i did was to make a cup of tea and go and find a nice spot in the beautiful grounds to sit quietly on my own. Of course at this point it started raining.

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Never mind. There was some benches undercover, and the chapel was open 24/7. So i had a little explore round silently on my own.

After about an hour i started getting restless. An hour of silence is a complete luxury for me. In fact i would go as far as to say it is completely alien. I have 3 screaming kids and an unemployed husband. My home is NOT a quiet place. I’m just not used to it any more. I didn’t realise how noisy my life had become.

But the real issue was the fact that the silence was making me aware of all the internal noise going on within me. It was actually making me extremely uncomfortable. Ironically, at home, the constant screaming and shouting actually serves to distract me from what is going on inside me. But now i was in a situation where the silence was forcing me to confront the things inside. It was ugly. I didn’t want to admit a lot of stuff. I needed to find a distraction.

So i got my phone out and went on Facebook. In silence.

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When I had finally summed up enough courage to instruct my friends to block me for the next 24 hours because i was on silent retreat (because i have no will power AT ALL) I finally found myself alone. With God.

I couldn’t take it! I just COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! So i started talking to myself. Out loud.

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Thankfully at this point it was time for the second talk which focused on Teresa of Avila and how she described our own personal relationship with God as something that is inseparable from our relationship within our own communities, and how we need great humility to be able to live this active/contemplative life of prayer. And even though the talk was excellent and hit exactly the right chord – this was pretty much the last straw for me.

I had to face the ugly fact that i had been using prayer as a distraction from my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. The truth is that i’m not particularly enjoying my vocation at the moment. It feels like i am completely trapped in a life of screaming kids and “conversations” about the fact that we have not had an income for 18 months and what the hell we are going to do about it.  My home feels like a prison. God is the jailer and my sentence is marriage and family (God forgive me for saying so…)

To admit the fact that i am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and heavily resenting my vocation is something i had been avoiding admitting to myself for a long, long time. Besides – when you are in the situation of constant noise and relentless activity, the exhaustion becomes, well, normal. It is only when faced with silence, real silence, that the external and internal distractions start to melt away and I find myself alone with God. This is Carmel.

“Ok.” I said out loud. “If i’m going to have to face this with You then I’m going to need a packet of Cigarettes.”

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“WHAT???!!!” I hear you say – “A Catholic mother of 3 smoking???!!! On retreat???!!!”  Yes, I’m afraid so. I spent most of the rest of the evening sitting outside in the rain smoking, and and polarising between being extremely angry with God, and begging Him for help. In fact I stayed out there so long into the night, I actually found myself locked out of the retreat centre. In the rain.

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So eventually they let me in and I went to my room to dry my tears and lay down in the silence – until the fire alarm went of at 1am and proceeded to “BLAH!BLAH!BLAH!” until 4am.

Awesome silent retreat. Awesome.

“Dear Louis and Zelie, please help me with my marriage.”

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When I heard the relics of Louis and Zelie Martin were coming to the UK I immediately knew I had to go visit them. Their youngest daughter – St Therese of Lisieux was the one who guided me into Carmel. She has become one of my best friends (yes – some of my best friends are actually dead 😉 ) and to be able to ‘meet’ her parents was a very special honour for me as a secular Carmelite. They had 9 children, 4 of whom tragically died in childhood. They were married for 19 years until Zelie died from breast cancer when little Therese was just 4 years old.

Their relics were on display at Portsmouth cathedral UK. Bishop Egan said Mass and gave a superb homily reminding us all that no man has the authority to change Christ’s teaching on marriage.

There was also time for quiet reflection. And I found myself praying the only prayer I could think of: “Please help me with my marriage…”

Next week Nick and I will have been married for 15 years. The last 18 months have been really, really hard. Nick was diagnosed with CFS when our 3rd child was just 4 months old, and has not been at work since then. We have no idea when or if he will recover. We do not have an income. I now take the kids on holiday on my own. I didn’t chose this and neither did he. I cannot stand to watch him suffer.

But it’s not all bad…

How many fathers do you know who get to spend everyday with their baby? How many fathers do you know who are their for their kids everyday when they get home from school, eat dinner together everyday, read bedtime stories everyday? (I must just add that as husband and wife, being together in close proximity 24/7 has its um… challenges – like refraining from killing each other 😉 )

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“Please help me with my marriage…” I would like to think that after 15 years of wife-ing, I was getting pretty good at it. But I’m afraid I still struggle with my vocation every single day. And so does he. It’s not always a bed of roses.

How it is possible for us to have got married age 20 with 1 days preparation, and then keep that marriage together through thick and thin in every possible scenario for 15 years I just don’t know. I can only put it down to the fact that Jesus is present in our sacrament of marriage. We have tried to split up a few times but we just couldn’t do it 🙂

On one occasion I remember desperately wanting to leave but wrestling with the fact that if I left, I would have to deny Christ – and I just couldn’t do it 🙂 In the end it wasn’t feelings towards my husband that kept me in my marriage, it wasn’t even the fact that I believe children need to grow up with their mother and father present, but it was the fact that Jesus had given His whole life for me on the cross, and now He was asking me to give my whole life for Him by staying obediently in my marriage vows. It was at that moment about 8 years ago that Christ became first place in my marriage.

Louis and Zelie were terrific examples of this. They had Christ in first place in their marriage from the very start. They obviously adored each other, but crucially they did not idolise each other. Christ came first.

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Gosh! What a lesson this is for us today! How many people idolise their spouse, putting them above God? Many, I would say. And it’s not fair, because when you put your spouse first (above God) you are burdening them with a role they can not possibly ever live up to. Your spouse will NEVER be able to fill that God shaped hole in your heart. And it is completely unrealistic and unfair to expect them to. And when you begin to realise that your spouse is not ‘fulfilling’ you like you would like then you actually begin to blame them for it! Crazy isn’t it?!

Personally I’m convinced that this is the reason that so many marriages are failing now. People are expecting their spouse to fulfil the parts of them that only God can fulfil.

By putting Christ first in their marriage, Louis and Zelie kept their marriage holy, and also set the example for their 5 surviving daughters who all went on to become Carmelite nuns. What an amazing couple. What an outstanding example.

Dear Louis and Zelie, please help me with my marriage.

Imagine if we had Facebook at the time of Vatican 2.

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Imagine if Facebook and Twitter had been around at the time just after the Second Vatican Council. The 16 documents had been written and published and the church was looking at a bright new future, secure in the truth and tradition that the church has always had.

However, there were those in positions of power at the time who chose to misinterpret or ignore what was said in the documents and instead chose to forward their own agenda of what they would prefer the Catholic faith to look like, under the umbrella term “The Spirit of Vatican 2”.

I’m talking about things like communion in the hand and the removal of altar rails, altar girls, the priest facing the people all the time (which was never actually intended), lack of metanoia (the priest calling the people to repent & believe the Gospel), closely followed by the idea of “primacy of conscience” (all things are relative and sin is only what you consider sinful), which no doubt lead to the crisis in the sacrament of confession we have had for the past 2 generations.

Also, the way catechises completely changed from solid rudimentary teaching (which some considered indoctrination) to quite frankly – a complete ‘free for all’ in what ever you fancied at the time. Holding hands or copying the priest by having hands out stretched during the Our Father, Bringing things to the altar at the offertory that are not bread and wine. The ditching of sacred music and architecture for more ‘up to date’ er… things. The dreaded liturgical dance…

Churches designed like Theatres, and most importantly – a congregation that over time has learned to demand entertainment during Mass, and priests who have fallen into the role of entertainers ect ect ect…

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Imagine the difference if the layity had the power of social media back then. I don’t think I am exaggerating in saying that if we did, the church may look very different to how it does now.

The point I am trying to make is that these changes did not happened over night in an open and transparent way. Instead they have been quietly and slyly instituted by those in power, and have over time, gradually been accepted as being the norm – which of course they are not, and never have been. And of course, as an average lay person back then with little or no access to the 16 documents, and no real way of voicing your concerns (other than to go to your bishop – who most likely instituted these changes in the first place) then what could you do? Not much.

I suppose you could have gone to the catholic press, but before you do that i guess you really have to ask yourself: Who owns and directs the catholic press? 🙂

Now, fast forward to today. We are possibly on the brink of a massive crisis in the church in regards to communion for the divorced and re-married. We have those in positions of power ie. Kasper trying to normalise adultery under the guise of ‘mercy’. And in contrast we have the 500 faithful UK priests who have signed a letter urging those attending this year’s family synod to issue a “clear and firm proclamation” upholding Church teaching on marriage. Good move boys! Good move!

And while it is a sad day when priests have to band together to defend the faith against other clergy who want to change things, I can also see that the battle ground and weapons of war being displayed here are signifying a major change in the way the hierarchy has done things in the past, and will be able to do things (or not) in the future.

I’m talking about 2 things in particular: Transparency and Accountability.

Now, disturbingly, one signatory, who asked to remain anonymous, claimed there “has been a certain amount of pressure not to sign the letter and indeed a degree of intimidation from some senior Churchmen”.

Following this, a statement has been released by spokesman for Cardinal Nichols (who is not happy about the letter) saying that the press was not the medium for conducting dialogue of this sort: “The pastoral experience and concern of all priests in these matters are of great importance and are welcomed by the Bishops. Pope Francis has asked for a period of spiritual discernment. This dialogue, between a priest and his bishop, is not best conducted through the press.”  The Cardinal refers to ‘channels of communication’ that, in reality (if you ask any decent faithful priest) are either blocked or permit only one-way traffic.

I know several of the priests on that list and I can tell you now that they would rather not have to publicly defend the faith against those higher up the chain who seem intent on changing it – but what choice do they have? The fact that they have had to take this course of action tells us that they obviously feel they are not being listened to by those in charge. One can only imagine the level of frustration (and patience) that these good men have experienced over the years.

So what exactly have these 500 priests done? They have used the power of Transparency to call out those who are trying to quietly and slyly institute these changes. They are bringing it out into the open for all to see. It is in the press, it is all over social media. People all around the world are linking up, talking to each other about what is happening, what is trying to happen and what should not happen. The truth will out… Good move boys! Good move!

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In a world of Facebook and Twitter there is really no where to hide any more. Things can no longer be quietly and slyly instituted without people noticing, until they are regarded as ‘normal’. We all have access to the Vatican documents, the CCC and the history books and we can educate ourselves as to what has been happening and where things have gone wrong. And then we can tell others about it.

The faithful have a voice now, a strong voice and these 500 priests have used this new weapon very effectively in defending the faith. With the power of social media, bloggers, groups and online communities, the role of the ordinary priest and the layity has changed forever. We are able to speak the truth, and to call out heresy, false teaching and those who teach it. When issues are brought out into the open for all the world to see, it forces those in power out into the daylight so they can stand up and be held accountable for what they say they believe.

What those 500 priests have really done is to say ‘Here we are, solid in the truth’. Now the very public question for those who did not sign the letter, and those attending the synod later this year is: Where do you stand?

There is now a petition to support those 500 priests. Please click HERE to sign it.

The truth cannot be suppressed. The Holy Spirit will never be suppressed. The days of being able to masquerade false ideas as the truth are over.

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Sources:

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2015/03/24/nearly-500-priests-in-england-and-wales-urge-synod-to-stand-firm-on-communion-for-the-remarried/

http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/03/cardinal-nichols-attempts-to-silence-faithful-priests-this-will-backfire/

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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Poor Sacramental Prep Waters Down Faith.

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I believe the way the sacraments have been administered over the last 2 generations has resulted in a massive watering down of the faith. I believe not enough time, energy or money have been invested in sacrament prep. And from my own experience, a lot of the sacramental prep out there is heretical gobbledygook.

Here is what you can get in terms of sacrament prep if you live in some of the parishes around my area…

Baptism: 1 hour

First Confession/Holy Communion: 6 months: 1 hour per week for the Kids. Parents get 6 x 1 hour sessions based on what the kids have been learning.

Confirmation: 6 months: 1.5 hour meeting per month + 1 day retreat.

Marriage: 1 full day

Holy orders: 7 years

Last Rights: We don’t talk about that.

Looking at it from an outside point of view it does seem a little strange doesn’t it?

Committing yourself to the priesthood for the rest of your life – 7 years. Committing yourself to marriage for the rest of your life – 1 day? Committing to becoming the primary and most influential educator of a child in regards to the faith for the rest of their lives – 1 hour??? Really???

There seems to be a lot of time money and effort put into Children’s catechises, and very little put into Adult catechises and ongoing formation. Why is this?

Is adult formation not as important? I would argue that it was more important. How can we expect a couple to remain in a marriage without knowing what marriage is? Or who Christ is? How can we possibly expect parents to fulfil their role of transmitting the faith to their children if they do not know it themselves? How can we expect a catholic parent married to a non-catholic to create a ‘domestic church’ when they have not been given the tools and instruction and support in doing so?

I know what you are going to say: “But my parish does it like this…” Which leads me onto my next point: The Bishops.

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(Sorry Bishops, I’m going to hold you accountable again – brace yourselves…) Why do we not have a central recommended programme of Catechises and Evangelisation for each diocese? It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that in one parish you will get brilliant formation and catechises based on Holy Scripture, the Catechism and Papal doc’s, and in the parish up the road you will get a load of heretical nonsense based on people’s own personal opinions of what they would prefer the catholic faith to look like. Why are we playing catechetical roulette? Bishops, are you not aware of this problem?

We are the universal Church aren’t we? Ideally catechises should be the same all over the world (allowing for cultural differences of course). It seems obvious doesn’t it?

That is what I can’t understand. I am not the most organised person in the world – but when I see there is a problem I do something about it. Perhaps the fact of the matter is that the people making the decisions are so far removed from what is happening that they are actually un-aware of the problem. For example: Do the men at the top realise that 90% of parents that come to a local baptism course in my area are not confident in reciting the Our Father? 50% of them are non-practising Catholics (I’m afraid it’s true.)

I hope to God that the answer is “No, we don’t know what is going on in our parishes.”– because if the answer is yes then why on earth aren’t they doing anything about it? Either way there is a shocking problem.

Raising a child in the faith is a massive undertaking. Primarily children learn from watching and copying their parents. How will these kids learn to form a personal relationship with Christ if the people supposed to be teaching then do not even realise it is possible to have a personal relationship with Christ? How can these kids learn NFP or the true nature of the sacramental union of husband and wife, if their parents don’t even know what that means?

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OK, I’ve thrown a lot of questions out there – and rightly so, but what about the solutions?

I believe Adult formation need to be moved to priority status in every diocese. Only then can we break this cycle of uneducated, unevangelised sacramentalising that has resulted in a general watering down of the faith.

  1. When people request to get married or have their kid baptised, Priests need to assess where people are in their relationship with Christ and then direct them accordingly – delaying the sacrament if necessary.
  2. Marriage prep needs to CLEARLY spell out what catholic marriage is. The couple then have to decide if they really want a catholic marriage or not.
  3. Baptism prep should not just be about the sacrament itself – but about building a domestic church.
  4. Each parish will have in place a recognised ongoing Adult formation/evangelisation course recommended by their diocese.

Our parishes have become Sacrament factories that churn out more and more sacramentalised, but uneducated, unevangelised people who are being let down by the powers that be. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s like flying someone out to the base of Mount Everest and expecting them to succeed in reaching the summit armed with only a pair of flip-flops, a can of Coke and a pat on the back.

Bishops, Priests, take care of your flocks – properly.

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Many Catholic Marriages invalid.

With all the hype surrounding the upcoming synod later this year, one issue has been bugging me:

Communion for the divorced and re-married.

I have heard the ‘pro’ arguments from Cardinal Walter Kasper and such like, and i have heard the ‘against’ arguments from Rome and Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto .

But no-one has spoken about the big bad elephants in the room yet: 

1. How can the Bishops expect people to foster a happy and successful Catholic marriages if they give then no proper marriage prep, and no ongoing support?

2. How can the Bishops expect couples to understand the indissolubility of a sacramental union if (due to complete lack of adult formation) they don’t even know what a sacrament is?

3. Why have the Bishops not put proper ongoing practical measures in place to protect and support the Catholics they are responsible for, who are in mixed marriages?

4. Why have the Bishops not promoted and explained the central importance of NFP in a Catholic marriage?

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I am not trying to alleviate all responsibility from people who decide to divorce and remarry, and there are certainly many who knew exactly what they were doing and the consequences of their actions – but my honest belief is that many, many more didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they got married in a Catholic church.

When i got married 14 years ago we had a ‘nice’ marriage prep course about resolving conflict and speaking your partners “love language” (i kid you not…) There was no mention of NFP and no mention of what a sacramental union actually is.

I got married under the impression that Catholics are not allowed to get divorced – which is of course false! (Catholics can get divorced, we just can’t remarry.) I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that if you did remarry you could not receive Holy Eucharist. I had no idea what an annulment was. I wasn’t really sure of what a sacramental union was and i certainly didn’t realise that I was administering the sacrament to my husband and vice versa – I thought the priest was doing it! And i was a regular church goer…

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Over the past 30 years about 55 to 70% of annulments have occurred in the United States. The growth in annulments—at least in the US—has been substantial. In 1968 338 marriages were annulled. In 2006 27,000 were.

Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Roman Rota in 2009, echoing words of his predecessor John Paul II, has criticized “the exaggerated and almost automatic multiplication of declarations of nullity of marriage in cases of the failure of marriage on the pretext of some immaturity or psychic weakness on the part of the contracting parties”. Calling for “the reaffirmation of the innate human capacity for matrimony”, he insisted on the point made in 1987 by John Paul II that “only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent invalidates a marriage”

According to Canon 1095 a marriage can be declared null only when consent was given in the presence of some grave lack of discretionary judgement regarding the essential rights and obligations of marriage, or of some real incapacity to assume these essential obligations.

Please understand i am not advocating Communion for the remarried. I believe in the annulment process. What i am saying that the massive lack of adult evangelisation and catechises over the last 2 generations has been a major contributing factor in why Catholic marriages are not lasting.

Gaining knowledge over time of what a real Catholic marriage is, has definitely strengthened my own marriage and i would go as far to say that in the really dark times it has kept me in it – until the clouds passed and the sun shone again. But i can totally understand why someone who does not understand these truths would want to split up, and then meet someone new, and then try again. 

Bishops – it is and always has been your responsibility to ensure the Catholics in your diocese are properly educated and trained for marriage. The synod is a wonderful opportunity to admit that what you have been doing/not doing regarding marriage over the last 2 generations has been poor. Please discuss…