The problem with the Church of ‘nice’.

happy-family

Perfect family…    …perfect teeth.

I am not a perfect wife. I am not a perfect mother. And I don’t pretend to be – anymore.

I fight with my husband and my kids all the time. Most of the time it is over silly little things. They drive me mad. I drive them mad. We all have to live together.

I often used to think that I was doing something wrong. Everyone else seemed to have these perfect ‘nice’ marriages and perfect ‘nice’ families, and my marriage and family were just not like that. It became a point of shame for me that we were not as perfect as other people and really started to get me down.

Satan would whisper things in my ear like “Your marriage is not working… You are not cut out for motherhood… You are failing.” Of course the Father of lies is the master of keeping himself hidden, so I believed that what he was saying was true.

I think the biggest lie I believed was “You are not good enough.” My response to this was to try harder. Mistake.

6817926-Happy-family-Father-mother-and-children-Over-white-background-Stock-Photo

*Puke*

The scales began to fall from my eyes when one day a close friend who had the perfect marriage and family confided in me that her husband was obsessed with work and never spent any time at home, and she was in love with another man. She was terrified I would judge her. I didn’t of course because she was my friend and I loved her – but I couldn’t understand how her perfect marriage had got into that state?

I kept her confidence, and marveled at how they managed to keep it together at family events – still projecting the facade that everything was still ‘nice’.

The second eye opener for me was when a family member got divorced. It came as a complete shock for everyone because they seemed to be the perfect couple. It seems there was major troubles within the relationship that no-one knew about.

The third and most painful eye-opener was when I decided to hide my post natal depression. I was so ill, but I was so ashamed of not being as good as all the other mothers – or so I thought at the time. Then I found out that another friend was on antidepressants and that she also felt utterly trapped in the unending cycle of nappies, feeding and crying.

When I recovered from the depression I began to see things in a new light.  I looked at all my friends and their marriages and families and realised that all of us were struggling. It still makes me smile now when I see newly weds, or first time parents desperately trying to convey the ‘nice’ picture of perfect domestic bliss, because I know that Satan will be whispering the exact same thing into their ears as he was into mine. They are gonna have to work it out for themselves just like I did. I wouldn’t have believed it if anyone had tried to tell me anyway…

happycouple

*Real life*

This culture of perfection that we all seem to be striving for is based on pride. The fact is that none of us are good enough to carry out God’s plan for our lives. That’s right – I just said we are not good enough. Well, the truth is that we aren’t – and that was the final piece of the puzzle for me.

“I can’t do this Father, but You can. Please, I need You Father, I need You.”

It is amazing how the weight of my whole life just lifted off me at that moment. Realising that I was incapable was the most freeing moment of my life because it finally allowed me to rely entirely on God. And for the first time at that moment, it made sense that I should be entirely truthful with other people about how I find marriage and motherhood incredibly difficult at times. If I was ever going to be able to give an authentic witness to the sacrament of Marriage or to motherhood, then I was going to have to let people see that I was not perfect, and that that was ok.

What better witness to the truth is there than letting people see God’s mercy made perfect in my weakness? I am in need of a saviour. I need my Father.

o-CHURCH-CONGREGATION-facebook

I bet these nice people don’t sin.

This exact same principle applies to the Church at large. People do not need a perfectly veneered version of the church. In fact I would say that this is probably the most off putting, disingenuous way of presenting things. If you try to give people the Church of ‘nice’ you are leading them to believe that everyone in that church is already perfect. Then they try to be perfect, and fail, and then try to cover up their shame and get totally put off because they can’t live up to your churches unattainably high moral standards. You know – they are probably terrible sinners, just like you are.

People need to see the truth, and the truth is that we as the church are just a big bunch of helpless sinners in need of a saviour. That includes the laity and the clergy. My role in evangelising amounts to nothing more than me being one beggar, telling another beggar where the bread is.

Eucharist-resources

People aren’t looking for ‘nice’. They are looking for truth. And the truth is that none of us are perfect, yet God still loves us unconditionally and wants us to totally rely on Him, and return to Him again and again through the sacrament of Confession.

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.

bouncy

“…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?!

Sumo

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.

Dolly make-under :)

Doll

After watching the wonderful Tree Change Dolls video in which grubby old dolls get changed into pretty little girl dolls, I thought I’d have a bash at it myself. And although my one was no way near as good as theirs, I did have loads of fun, and now my daughter has a much more appropriate looking doll to play with. I always thought these old dolls looked very over sexualised.

All I did was to remove the existing features using nail varnish remover, and then painted on a new face. Tree Change Dolls uses acrylic paint I think,  but I didn’t have any so I just used my own nail varnish (of which I have every colour under the sun!)

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

What is really funny is that the new doll has been re-named Lily, and seems to have developed a new personality. Now apparently Lily is in charge because she is ‘prettier’! Ha!ha!
I’ll have to give her ugly sister a make-under too…

The Little Way of Fasting – A Mothers Perspective.

20141214_164115-1

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.

angry-birds_1_000000045838_1

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

girl_and_fairy

Angelica 1, likes to do stuff like this:

8_1408620462_67617188a26d03f294dc48758a8c5122

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.

Mary

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.

Jamiedrawingprint copy

 

 

Too ashamed to pray.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

Elsa, trying to hide her deepest darkest secrets.

I don’t know why I have put a picture of Elsa at the top of this post. I think it is because one of the things I most enjoyed about Frozen is the fact that Elsa has to carry the heavy burden of hiding the deepest darkest parts of herself.

I was talking to a priest friend recently about this very subject. There is a wall that effects pretty much everyone in regards to prayer – and that wall is shame.

I think shame effects us the most when we don’t quite measure up to our own false expectations of ourselves. Perhaps we are not quite as good as we thought were eh? Or as good as we thought we should be?

Now, everyday the enemy encourages us to think or do something sinful. We quite often oblige him – especially if we are tired, or upset or under pressure. Then it comes time to pray. “Oh I can’t…” we tell ourselves “I’ve just been watching porn! I’ll pray later when the memory of naked ladies is not so fresh in my mind.”

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the stupidest thing we could do. Why did Jesus die again? Oh yes – it was to TAKE AWAY MY SINS!

Another stupid trap I have fallen into in the past was to only show the good parts of myself to God during prayer – a bit like being on my best behaviour. I would try to please and impress God with all the ways I had been good today, and ask for help with the things I had found difficult. But I sure as hell was not going to tell Him about the deepest darkest parts of my heart because otherwise He might be cross with me or not like me any more.

STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! That is the enemy talking. Do you really think you can hide stuff from God?! He made you for goodness sake – ‘even the hairs on your head have all been counted!’ (Luke 12:7) You might as well come clean and tell Him – He knows it all anyway! The only person you are fooling here is yourself.

But sometimes we do something that makes us too ashamed to even look ourselves in the mirror. An abortion, an affair, an addiction. This is exactly where the enemy wants you to be: feeling worthless, isolated, ashamed, beyond hope. He will lie to you and tell you that God does not love you any more. He will tell you that God is angry and hates you for what you have done. He will confuse you with notions of justifying your actions to regain your lost pride in yourself.

Pride. Hmmm. Pride is the enemy’s favourite sin. It takes true humility to admit we have done something wrong. True humility is not easy.

If I’m totally honest with you here I have to admit that I’m not too badly effected with shame. Is that because I never think or do anything wrong? No! Of course not – I sin everyday, we all do. I think I am not bound by shame because I am a brutally honest with myself, I am totally in love with confession, AND because I am so solidly anchored in my identity in the eyes of God:

I know how small and wretched I am compared to Him – and I’m totally OK with that.

What I find more difficult is that fact that the creator of the universe would consider me so lovable, so marvellous and interesting and funny and delightful, that He would rather die for me than risk spending eternity without me. But He did – ‘while we were still sinners…’ (Romans 5:8) I know who I am in Christ. I know I will be in need of His forgiveness at the end of every day, for the rest of my life. I am a sorry, forgiven sinner, and I am not ashamed to say it.

So please, do not let shame get in the way of proper true prayer. Tonight, tell Jesus that thing that you keep hidden in the darkest depths of your heart. He wants to take it from you – you don’t need to carry it any more. Tomorrow, do yourself a favour: go to confession. He has the power to take that sin away.

I kinda wanna break into song here and start singing “Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more…” But I’ll spare you all 😉

Elsa-from-Frozen-singing-Let-It-Go

 

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

Profile pic

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.

meeting-jesus320

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

The romance of Christmas child vomit.

20141226_132224-1

There is something actually quite romantic about cleaning up toddler sick together at 11.30pm on Christmas evening. I actually had other ideas of what I would be doing with my husband at that time of night – but it seems that was not to be. Luckily God has granted that my cycle coincides with Christmas perfectly this year, and Christmas is of course 12 days long – so there’s always tonight 😉

Anyway… amidst the tsunami of child vomit and lack of sleep, I was reminded that this was not so far from the truth of what would have been happening on Jesus’s original, 1st or 2nd birthday. Mary, no doubt – like any other mother would have spent many a sleepless night dealing with the normal duties of motherhood: dirty nappies, vomit, teething, bumped heads, lost bedtime toys, you name it…

And by her side would have been Joseph. Amazing, kind Joseph who had committed his life to protect and care for a woman he knew he would never sleep with, and a child who was not biologically his. What kind of man is this?! What kind of love is this?! Joseph – my confirmation name, my son’s middle name. Joseph – always there, but always in the background. Obtaining such graces for our family. Solid, gentle, dependable, selfless Joseph.

So as my husband and I look up at each other over a mountain of wet wipes and antibacterial spray, we smile! Our baby is feeling much better now she has been sick, and really that’s all that matters. Despite the hellish, chronic fatigue ridden, unemployed, emotional roller-coaster of a year we have had, Christmas day has been wonderful. And I am here cleaning up sick with a man who could never love me more than he does right now 🙂

Father Dylan’s Sermons – 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

Profile pic

Jn 1:6-8,19-28; 1 Thess 5:16-24

If you were given the opportunity to stand before the European Parliament and tell them what you thought was wrong the modern world, and, more particularly, what you thought was wrong with Europe, what would you say?
Two weeks ago Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament and told them what he thought. Many people were surprised at what he said. I, too, was rather surprised when I read his diagnosis.

As we all know, Pope Francis has spoken much about poverty. He has also spoken a lot about evangelisation. However, when he spoke to parliament the issue he focussed on was LONELINESS. He said that Europeans have forgotten that they are “beings in relationship”, instead, they think of themselves as primarily being individuals. And, unsurprisingly, we have created a society of isolated, lonely, individuals. And he attributed the neglect of the poor, the neglect of the elderly, etc, to all be symptoms of this more general social problem.

We are all lonely. And a great many people have sensed the truth of his words, because you can be lonely when you’re alone, but you can also be lonely in a marriage, and lonely in a house full of people. You can be lonely in a crowd.

Pope Francis attributes this to something even deeper, namely, to the fact that modern Europe has forgotten God. We have forgotten the One who is our Father, the one in whose image we are all made, and so it is hardly surprising that we have forgotten the deep identity that binds us all together as a family, that makes us –“beings in relationship” (as he put it). We ARE “beings in relationship”, we ARE all made by the same one Lord, but we live in a world that does not SEE it.

On a different note, in the Gospel today we heard about something else that was not seen, was not recognised, namely, John the Baptist told the people that there stood among them, “unknown to” them (Jn 1:26), the One they were waiting for. The Church gives us this text today to give us a reason to “rejoice” as our entrance antiphon and second reading put it (1 Thess 5:16): rejoice because, even while we wait for His Christmas coming, He is already present among us.
Holy Mother Church knows that the preparations for Christmas can be an ordeal in themselves; she knows that we need to be reminded of a reason to “rejoice” –and the reason we are given today is that He who we long for is already with us.

Let me draw this to a conclusion by tying those two thoughts together:
I can live the final couple weeks before Christmas in a lonely isolated state, even if I am in the midst of people, full of nothing but pre-Christmas busy-ness. Or, I can recall the presence of the Lord. I can recall that every Christmas card is being written to a person made in His image. I can recall that every present bought is for a person that God wants to relate to as their Father. I can remind myself that every person I am tempted to PUSH and shove past in a queue is actually someone who is called to be part of the same spiritual family that I claim to belong to.
And if I do that, then I will have less of that sense of loneliness that the Pope speaks of, and I will cause less of that loneliness in others, and I will “rejoice” in the presence of the One who “stands among you, unknown to you” (Jn 1:26).

images