“So… the Pope said Divorce is OK now, right?”

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I have seen plenty of social media discussion recently on the new annulment reforms Pope Francis has brought in. Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge) has brought with very mixed reactions from priests and laity alike.

Predictably, some are saying it is too slack while others say it is not changed the process at all. But there does seem to be the inevitable grey area’s of the document which let’s face it, is something we have come to expect from Pope Francis. For instance one part of the document talks about lack of faith at the time the marriage took place and how this could be a possible contributor to declaring the marriage void. But how is one to determine this?

It’s a very difficult question, and there is really no black and white answer here. I certainly do not envy the Priests and Bishops who are going to have to be making the decisions in these matters.

Of course some people will argue that Pope Francis is just asking for trouble by seemingly blurring the edges or allowing grey areas. What also doesn’t help is the fact that the media do not understand the document or even have the slightest idea of what sacramental marriage actually means. It doubly doesn’t help when they purposefully twist the Pope’s words to make it sound like he has said something he never said at all.

For instance I heard of a priest recently who received a phone call from a lady who wanted to marry the father of her child because she was under the impression that “the Pope said divorce is ok now, right?”.

(Stop. Just take a minute to notice your reaction to that last sentence. Did you laugh? Sigh and roll your eyes? Did you think how stupid that woman must be? Be honest with yourself.)

The woman was told that this was not the case and to consult her local parish priest. Of course this was the right thing to do, but I can’t help feeling this was a blinding opportunity for evangelisation and catechesis that might have brought this woman and her whole family back into the faith.

It was not this woman’s fault that she had not been given the correct information. In fact her statement only highlights the chronic lack of catechesis and pathetic marriage prep that the last two generations have had to suffer. If anything her lack of knowledge shames the church itself.

I have to say I am not totally up to date on the annulment reforms, but I feel it is something that practising Catholics should all gain some basic knowledge of. It cannot be stressed enough how sensitively one must handle a question of this nature. Because for many people, the harsh truth is that they will not be able to marry the Mother/Father of their children or the person they are in love with. Please do not underestimate how painful this sort of news is.

It can only be truly explained in the context of a relationship with Christ – because that is the only way it can be understood, and lived.

Let’s not moan and whine about the new reforms, but instead always try to be at the service of our brothers and sisters, and help them to rectify any marriage issues they may have. And if their situation cannot be rectified, let us respectfully help them to accept and carry the cross that they have been given.

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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Banana Flavoured Altar Cake!

For those of you who don’t know already, I had my own cake business for 9 years. I was sadly forced to close the business after same-sex marriage became law here in the UK last year, and it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that the law was not going to protect my right to follow my religious beliefs in regard to traditional marriage.

After all – I wouldn’t want anyone threatening to sue me now would I? 😉

Well, it just so happens that a priest friend of mine was celebrating a significant birthday recently and I had the pleasure of making him a cake.

I thoroughly enjoyed making this cake. And before someone says “blahdy-blahdy-blah…” not everything is necessarily accurate. I have used a bit of artistic license! It is just a cake after all.

The cake itself was banana sponge, and the flowers are all made out of sugar. The monstrance, cross, pillars, and statue are plastic. The rest is made out of icing. The stained glass window is a giant biscuit filled with coloured melted sugar to make the glass. The whole thing took about 2 days to make. And yes – he loved it!

Anyway, all glory to God!… Enjoy!

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“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.

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.

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.

2 Priests denied joint gym membership, because they are not “In a relationship”!

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I was talking to one of my online priest friends today. He is so funny – he is always cracking me up and I love him TO DEATH! (Of course I would never tell him that as he already suffers from chronic ego-itis 😉 )

He was telling me the story of how he went to sign up for the Gym in full cassock and dog collar but was denied joint membership with his parish priest because they were not “in a relationship”…

“How do you know we are not in a relationship?” he said. “We live together, we work together, we eat dinner together, heck – sometimes we even just chat, for fun.”

The poor receptionist was a little bemused: “But you’re a… a… a priest??!” 

“Yes, and what’s that got to do with it? How does one define what a ‘relationship’ is? Do you have the authority to tell me I am not in a relationship with my parish priest?”

“Are you a couple?”

“Errr… no. But we live together!”

“I’m sorry, the joint membership is only for couples.”

“What if we were gay? Would that be enough to get a joint gym membership?”

“Errr…. Yes! Are you gay?”

“No. But we do live together.”

“I’m sorry I don’t understand what you….”

“You know I could sue you for this under the discrimination act don’t you? What would Peter Tatchel say hey? Not much equality in this place is there? 😉 “

“To be eligible for the joint membership you have to be in a relationship sir.”

“What if I said we were a couple living together in a non-sexual relataionship? Would you give us joint membership then? We could get ‘married’ if that would help?”

“Errr… Yes? I mean no. I don’t know. All I know is that you have to be a couple sir.”

He left it at that, stopped teasing the poor receptionist and begrudgingly signed up for a significantly more expensive single persons membership!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was satire – but its not! It’s a true story! Ha!

Fr Dylan’s Sermons – Meeting Jesus all over again, for the first time…

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Mk 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5.10

I’d like us to consider today what were the FIRST words ever said by the Lord Jesus. Because in today’s Gospel, St Mark gives us what he portrays as the first PUBLIC words of the Lord, the first words He said to the crowds, the first words indicating His MESSAGE.  In contrast, I looked up what we heard in the Gospel last week, which recorded from St John the start of the Lord’s public life, and had His first words as, “What are you seeking for?”(Jn 1:38) -words that’s that weren’t His message addressed to the crowd, but were words addressed in a personal encounter -words that point out how the Lord Jesus satisfies what people are seeking for. This, in fact, is a point that St John repeatedly notes in the various encounters he records between people meeting Jesus. Time and again: People meet Jesus, they sense something in Him that will satisfy, and so the question from Him, “What are you seeking for?” sums this up.

Back to St Mark, however, and those first PUBLIC words, words to the crowds, encapsulating His message. The Church presents them to us today along with our first reading from the prophet Jonah. In Jonah we heard of how Jonah went to Nineveh and brought a call to repentance, and of how the people responded to that call by “renouncing their evil behaviour”(Jonah 3:10). And the point is this: the first public words of the Lord Jesus LIKEWISE brought a call to change: “Repent and believe the Good News”(Mk 1:15). More fully: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent…”(Mk 1:15) -this, as St Mark very deliberately portrays it, sums up the whole message of Jesus and His mission.

Let me be emphatic about a point: MEETING JESUS brings an automatic call to REPENT, a call to change my life.
I noted last week that Samuel couldn’t recognize the call of the Lord because he didn’t yet “know” Him (1 Sam 3:7). I noted also that just as the first disciples were prepared for the call to “follow” Him (Jn 1:43) by first being called to “come and see”(Jn 1:39) -to spend time with Him. And I said that you and I need to spend time with Him daily by reading the Gospels and praying.

There is, however, something MORE that happens when I spend time with Jesus, when I get to know Him. And what happens is this: I automatically start to compare His life with mine; to see how I don’t measure up to the love, the compassion, the generosity, the hard work, the perseverance, and so forth, that I see I the Lord’s earthly life.  And so, to spend time with the Lord automatically brings a call to repentance, a call to change. And I receive that call to change from the same One who empowers me, by His grace, to be forgiven for my past and enabled to live differently for the future.

When Christ came He didn’t just come as another prophet. He came as the fulfillment of all that was promised. And so He said, “the time is fulfilled”(Mk 1:15). He came as the living embodiment of God’s reign on earth, and so He said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand”(Mk 1:15). He came calling us to a new way of life, and so He said, “repent”(Mk 1:15).

And so last week’s Gospel with the PERSONAL call to spend time with Him as the foundation of the call to “follow” Him, is actually making the same point as this week’s Gospel with the PUBLIC call to “repent” and enter into a new way a life -a new way of life that is now possible because we have met Him.

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Edmund’s Friday F A S T – Family Actions – Spirituality Thoughts

Edmund Adamus

Friday January 23rd, 2015

Transmitting the Faith – hands on!

This week I was facilitating the ground-breaking marriage promotion project “Explore” www.theexploreexperience.co.uk in one of our schools with 150 year-10 boys. To see 5 volunteer married couples sharing their stories of love, joy, sorrow, loss, hope and faith with these young men to inspire them, to one day to aspire to marriage was truly edifying and a privileged apostolate to support.

In one of the sessions where pupils are invited to share what their fears are for the future and the prospect of marriage, one student declared he feared ‘having a daughter!’ You can imagine the levels of amused response. But on reflection, it begs a deeper question about why and from where does the lack of appreciative understanding come from between the sexes at such a tender age, apart from the usual and very natural tensions that exist between boys and girls as they grow up?

Boys will pick up so much about how they ought to treat the opposite sex from the way they see the measure of love and respect shown by their father to their mother. And where that wholesome presence, for whatever reason, isn’t and cannot be present through no one’s fault, it just means that as parents, grandparents and even godparents, we have to ‘up our game’ as they say to increase the amount of time and ways in which we positively interact with the young ones in our life. That interaction is so much of an indispensable contribution to their natural and healthy formation in human sexuality; i.e understanding at a sub-conscious level their being a boy or girl is a gift from God in whose image and likeness they are made.

Making images, creating godly things together – adults and children – is so much a part of this development in flourishing relationships. We all know how satisfying – even if it requires special effort – it can be to have a child help us out in preparing a meal or laying the table or completing some type of chore. How much more rewarding can it be then when we choose to make or create something together that is explicitly religious and spiritual like the family crib or prayer shrine in the home?

To that end, I highly recommend the “Jesse Box” www.thejessebox.com. The Jesse Box is ‘an interactive learning tool that helps the instruction of the faith through the narrative of salvation history. It consists of many Bible stories and events that walk students through God’s saving plan from Creation to Eternal Life. Liturgical year stories are included. After reading and listening to the Scripture passage, the children bring to life the Bible story using arts and crafts.’ The one-off purchase of the Box – £25 from Catholic Truth Society – is well worth it as the follow up storylines and materials to create the other scenes are all downloadable for free. This could be a nice gift for a child preparing for First Holy Communion maybe? Or even a birthday gift or no reason at all.

And I’m joining the social wave! You can now follow me on twitter @edmundadamus.

– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster

Edmund’s Friday F.A.ST. – Prayer is done among the pots and pans.

Edmund Adamus

Edmund Adamus

Prayer is done among the pots and pans

This year marks the 500th anniversary of that great Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila. There is a wonderful little exhibition about her life and Carmelite spirituality in Westminster Cathedral – St. Patrick and the Irish Saints chapel – at the moment. Well worth a visit. What struck me about Teresa’s wonderfully simple take on prayer ultimately being a conversation with a Friend, Jesus Christ, was this statement in the exhibition that the Saint, ‘Understands prayer as an activity embedded in daily life. It is not something that can only be done in silence and solitude but amidst the “pots and pans.” ‘

It reminds me of that old adage, “can you smoke whilst you pray? No, but you can pray whilst you smoke.” In other words, the Spirit of Christ is to be found in the seemingly mundane and ordinary stuff of life, so long as we actually make the effort to seek Him and invite Him there.  It’s all part of this ‘Kitchen Table Theology’ I mentioned last year. The Domestic Church in real time if you like – which is why I was struck by another obvious but revelatory piece in this article which stated:

Family dinners have been found to be a more powerful deterrent against high-risk teen behaviours than church attendance or good grades … and that children will learn 1,000 more rare words at table during conversation than being read to aloud. Family dinners or lunches at the weekends have their own interpersonal qualities argues the piece. Well of course they do, which is why every meal shared among loved ones, especially family is reminiscent of the Christ-centred Last Supper and a foretaste – however small – of the great feast of heaven. Hopefully they humanise us in preparation for the great banquet where we will become MOST human, with Christ, Our Lady and all the Angels and Saints.

Meanwhile on another but not altogether unrelated note, please pray for the priests of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy who are behind this timely statement below and who clearly value the family and home as central to their priestly life and ministry.

“The International gathering of Confraternities of Catholic Clergy meeting in Rome (January 5th to 9th 2015), have discussed issues pertinent to the forthcoming Synod on the Family in response to the Holy Father’s call for reflection. The fathers pledge their unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality as proclaimed in the Word of God and set out clearly in the Church’s Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. Confraternity priests from Australia, Great Britain, Ireland and the United States commit themselves to the work of presenting anew the Good News about marriage and family life in all its fullness and helping, with the Lord’s compassion, those who struggle to follow the Gospel in a secular society. The Confraternities, furthermore, affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments and that doctrine and practice must remain firmly and inseparably in harmony.”

You can read more here.

– Edmund Adamus
Director, Office of Marriage and Family Life – Diocese of Westminster