Mother Angelica’s last gift to us.

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I was watching the solemn mass last night on EWTN held in memory of Mother Angelica. It was beautiful.

The homily was given by a priest very close to mother Angelica who was privileged enough to be with her through her last few days. He said that she did suffer terrible pain towards the end. On good Friday she was crying out from the fractures in her bones, caused by spending so much time bedridden. But, he said, she did seem to calm down after 3pm – the time our Lord gave up His spirit.

It seems obvious to me that mother Angelica was participating in our Lord’s pain and passion. I can say this with confidence because she had proved at earlier times in her life that she understood the value of suffering.

The priest said that despite the concern expressed by her doctors and fellow nuns, she had asked to go onto a feeding tube a few weeks before to prolong her life as long as possible. This was because she understood the infinite value in one more glance to God, one more act of redemptive suffering offered with love. This of course is the exact opposite mentality of the euthanasia movement who wish to eliminate all pain and suffering, and old-age ‘uselessness’.

He reminded us that she suffered a huge brain hemorrhage in 2001 which meant that from that time on she spent most of her time back in the cloister. God had called her back into a life of prayer and contemplation, where she was going to be most valuable to Him.

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We are so quick to dismiss suffering. It is almost always an unwanted gift, but none the less, one of the most valuable.

In my own experience of suffering I have learned that it is how we suffer that is important. Just like fasting, I believe suffering only bears fruit if it is offered with a prayerful loving and generous heart. I believe suffering to be the biggest untapped spiritual resource we have as Christians.

Let’s choose to embrace our little crosses and allow ourselves to participate in Jesus’ pain and passion, not just at the end of our lives, but today and everyday, just like mother Angelica did.

Someone make that woman a saint!

When God heaps crap on your life.

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Some smiting taking place here.

Well, as you know I am trying to give up worrying for lent. I have discovered so far that beauty has an important role to play in this as it reminds us that God is bigger than us and that He is good.

The next thing I am beginning to realise is how little time I spend praising God. Beauty inspires us to praise Him. But praising Him when we are going through a trial or period of suffering is not so straight forward. After all – why would I want to praise a God who is allowing me to suffer? Sometimes I think my bad attitude lends itself much more naturally to just lamenting about the fact that I generally feel so smited. I’d much rather just attend my own pity party.

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This sort of question about suffering cuts through to the real depths of our faith. I suppose the first answer here is to recognise that God allowed his Son to suffer. Does that make God a bad God? No, because through the suffering of His son is revealed our redemption, and God’s incredible love for us sinners.  Suffering, in accordance with God’s plan, achieves stuff.

Does it?

Yes. But we often can’t always see how or what it is achieving until we have come the other side of it. Then we can look back and realise how much we have grown.

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But it’s not easy, is it?

No. It’s not.

In my own experience  over the last two years I feel like I have been completely stripped back down to the bone in every area of my being: mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. God has then taken my bones and ground them down into dust – just to make sure He is getting His point across properly 😉

But  perhaps He is right? (Of course He’s right – He’s God!) But seriously, there must be a plan in all this right? That is what separates those with faith from those with no faith. I couldn’t imagine facing lifes trials with no faith in God’s plan because then the suffering would just be meaningless. In that frame of mind there is the opportunity to find utter despair. But with faith there is always hope – and openmindedness.

I had a rather good plan for my life. It involved us having lots of cash and a nice big house and a nice big car and me not having to work. And we were doing that. But it seemed that for all our hard work and planning, God had a different plan.

It seems that God thought it was much more important for my husband to have the opportunity to spend much more time with the children, to reassess where his life was taking him, and also to test our marriage and our faith in Him. I guess we were lacking in several areas right?!

Well, I was. I have never taken responsibility for myself as an adult. I absolutely made an Idol of my husband who has basically looked after me like a Dad for the last 17 years. That has to change right? God wants to be in first place in my life. And He wants me to live according to His will. It seems that for all my good intentions I was still living according to my will.

I guess my lack of praise to God only illuminates the self centred nature of my heart. My bad. I didn’t realise quite how little room I has given Him. I claim to love Him, yet when it comes to the crunch I am not happy to do His will. I guess sometimes God has to strip us back down to our bear selves and then crush our bones to be able to revive and rebuild them in His image. If I would just co-operate… the whole procedure would be a lot less painful for the both of us!

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This is me.

Psalm 51 says it well:

“…Indeed you love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom. Purify me, then I shall be clean; O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear rejoicing and gladness, that the bones you have crushed may revive. From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt. A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit. Give me again the joy of your help; with a spirit of fervor sustain me, that I may teach transgressors your ways and sinners may return to you. O rescue me, God, my helper, and my tongue shall ring out your goodness….” – Psalm 51

There is also my favorite Gospel, Luke 13:6-9, The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree:

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

In a nutshell, this Gospel tells us that if you are not producing enough good fruit, then God will heap a load of crap onto your life and agitate you until you do.

And on that note… enjoy your day 🙂

Hestemøj

 

Beautiful Lent.

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‘Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge’ – Monet.

How’s your Lent going?

Are you finding it easy? Then perhaps do a little something extra.

Are you struggling? Then perhaps ease off a bit and try something a little easier.

You see, it is not how much we are fasting, but with how much love we do it that charms the heart of Christ (St Therese of Lisieux). Sometimes the smallest things require the biggest effort. God sees all of this. It’s not an endurance test 🙂

I have been giving up my first cup of tea in the morning, and also trying my best to find a way of giving up worrying. My worry habit exposes my lack of trust in God and my reliance on myself. This is something that needs to be addressed, but it really is easier said than done. However, I have found one little thing that really has seemed to make a difference.

I was at my Mum’s house on Ash Wednesday and she handed me a CD. “You should listen to this – it’s really good!” (You know you are approaching middle age when your Mum recommends you music – and it IS actually really good!) It was a CD from Medjugorije made by the young men and women of the Cenacolo Community. It was basically a praise and worship CD – but she was right, it was REALLY good!

I found that listening to people who had allowed Christ to be in complete control of their lives, who were worshiping Him with such enthusiasm and openness really lifted my mood. The whole thing was just so good, so beautiful, that it seemed to remind me that there were things bigger than me and my problems.

I had the same experience today in the car when I accidently turned on Radio 3. They were playing Vaughan Williams and I don’t know what it was, but the sheer beauty of the music seemed to have the most profound calming effect on me. It was just so beautiful. I swear the medical profession should start using beauty as a treatment for all sorts of ailments. Yeah – beauty therapy! I guess that would make composers like Vaughan Williams and artists like Monet beauty therapists!!

I think beauty is extremely important during difficult times in our lives. Real beauty is an intensely spiritual thing that simply cannot be rationally explained. Beauty – I believe – is a purely human experience. I don’t think animals are touched in the same way by a piece of music or a beautiful sunset. I believe real beauty speaks directly to our immortal souls. It is God giving us a foretaste of the life to come. And that is perhaps what I find so calming about it – to know that this life’s problems are only temporary, and they will not exist in heaven.

I suppose you could look at beauty as being an incredible act of mercy – giving us hope and inspiring patience, forbearance and also creativity within us. It reminds us that God is bigger than us, and that He is good.

I found that my response to this beauty was not just awe and wonder, but incredible gratitude. And I feel that is a most appropriate feeling to dwell upon as we go further into Lent and head towards Holy Week.

When God’s Love Hurts.

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Fulton, before the accident.

When God’s Love Hurts – By Cassandra Poppe

“On the Way of the Cross, you see, my children, only the first step is painful. Our greatest cross is the fear of crosses. . . . We have not the courage to carry our cross, and we are very much mistaken; for,whatever we do, the cross holds us tight — we cannot escape from it. What, then, have we to lose? Why not love our crosses and make use of them to take us to Heaven? But, on the contrary, most men turn their backs upon crosses, and fly before them. The more they run, the more the cross pursues them, the more it strikes and crushes them with burdens. . . . If you were wise, you would go to meet it like Saint Andrew, who said, when he saw the cross prepared for him and raised up into the air, “Hail O good cross! O admirable cross! O desirable cross! receive me into thine arms, withdraw me from among men, and restore me to my Master, who redeemed me through thee. “ — St John Vianney

Crosses. Suffering. The human race has been plagued with hardship ever since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve desired more than the goodness God had already given them. And from that point on, most viewed suffering as a punishment from God – until that first Good Friday when Our Lord transformed punishment into a blessing. It seems natural for us to try to alleviate hardships when they come. A painkiller, a massage, an adjustment to the thermostat. How many little things do we do each day, each hour, to tweak the comfort level around ourselves? As these first 2 paragraphs were written, I have already adjusted my posture, scratched an itch and taken a sip of my drink. All actions taken almost without thinking and all done to increase my comfort.

But what happens when our discomfort becomes full blown suffering? Suddenly our pleasure and comfort seeking instincts are challenged and no matter what remedies we try, our suffering is not eased. Cancer. The loss of a loved one. Crippling persecution. An accident. These crosses do not refine and perfect our souls in little ways, as the everyday annoyances in life can. No. These crosses are life changing, redirecting our souls directly towards Calvary, to bring about in us a profoundly holy transformation. But only if we are able to see the love that is hidden within the cross.

While we may not cheerfully embrace our crosses, our Catholic faith teaches us of the immense value in suffering. We have Crucifixes to remind us of Our Lord’s suffering and sacrifice, inspiring us to mortify ourselves for love of Him. We understand that suffering is a part of life and a tool we must use well for the sanctification of our soul. Others avoid suffering, seeing it as either a punishment or from Satan.

And while this view may be correct in certain circumstances, we must always remember that all suffering is allowed by Our Lord. If He allows it to happen, we must treat it as an invaluable opportunity to grow in holiness, and give glory to God. No matter what. I do not say this lightly, as it is indeed both a joy and a burden to be trusted by Our Lord. He requires much of those He loves – sometimes more than we think we can handle. But we may rest in the fact that as long as we remain firmly at His side and under the loving watch of Our Lady, all things are possible.

When Our Lord redirected our lives that fateful January morning, I felt it more than I heard it. That deep percussion-like boom one hears when a firework is sent skyward, before it explodes. This was immediately followed by my husband’s unintelligible cry. Flying to the kitchen window, I saw what will haunt me forever. My four year old little boy was slowly moving away from the burn barrel, completely engulfed in flames from his waist to his head. His hands were clenched at his sides, moving them up towards his face in slow motion, pieces of his fleece jacket peeling away and falling behind him.

What followed could rival the goriest scenes in a horror movie. Grey, cadaverous forehead. Deformed ears. Skin still bubbling from the heat trapped within. Long strands of flesh hanging from little hands and arms like a partially unwrapped mummy rising from its tomb. Shrieks of pain. Tears of terror. As my son was laid at my feet on the kitchen floor, I collapsed before him, unable to do anything for him before the ambulance arrived. And so I prayed. The two prayers that came to me were, “Mother of God, be with us,” and “Thy will be done.” And looking back, I understand why.

From that moment on, Our Sorrowful Mother took me as her child, showing me that sometime God’s love looks very ugly on the surface. I had gotten a taste of this truth before, when my husband and I struggled to make our marriage work, and again when I cared for my father in his home as he died of cancer. But this by far was the most crippling form of suffering I could have endured. I wanted to take on Fulton’s burns as my own. “Lord, let me suffer these pains for You!” I prayed. “He is too little!” But I see now how that would have been the easy route for me. I already understood redemptive suffering, binding physical pains to the wounds of Our Lord on the Cross as an offering of love. But I could not do that for my son. This emotional anguish was new – and so instead of suffering with Our Lord, I suffered at the foot of Fulton’s cross with Our Lady. If she saw the love hidden within the Our Lord’s Cross, surely I could find the love in Fulton’s suffering. And that is what I needed to find. Otherwise, his suffering made no sense. I did not want to be a bystander on Calvary, disgusted by the scene before me, or to be one to rage against God amid the pain.

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I have known far too many bitter souls in my life who, do not take the time to examine their crosses and embrace them for the gift they are. Help me find the gifts, Sweet Mary. Help me find the love! And what love there was! Just as word spread of Christ’s suffering and brought about conversions, so too did Fulton’s suffering inspire others to the faith. I received letters from people who have returning to a life of prayer because of Fulton’s powerful story. Some grasped for the first time what it means to ‘offer it up’ and embraced their own crosses with a new found love for God. They saw through Fulton’s and my experience, that love cannot be complete without some form of willing suffering or sacrifice, choosing to participate in God’s plan through the cross laid upon their shoulders, even when they could not yet see the love.

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Truly, His call to take up our crosses and follow Him was a call to suffer for Him that others may be saved. And for the first time I understood the words of St. Paul when he said, “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” (Col. 1:24) when hearts previously unmoved by Christ’s Passion were moved by the sufferings of a little boy. Praise God!

Two years after the accident, the love continues to reveal itself. Patients in the hospital are learning Fulton’s ‘brave breath’ techniques to help them get through the pain. His burn cards, a social reintegration solution we invented together, have given confidence to other burn patients who are struggling with re-entering society. And his mere presence in restaurants or the mall have brought people to tears, once they talk to him and see how strong he is. He has brought hope and healing to adults who suffered various crosses in silence, inspired for the first time to face their own past hurts. His scars show them their own woundedness, and come to realize their scars are proof of their strength, not their weakness.

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Fulton, through the cross he carries and the scars he bears, has touched far more souls than he ever could have before the accident. And only in Eternity will we know how many hearts he helped return to the Church and into the loving arms of Our Father. Please Lord, may I be numbered among them, for I have learned so much.

My trials have taught me that every crisis forces one to redirect his life. We are handed a cross, designed especially for us, and asked to choose. We cannot choose whether we will take the cross. No. The cross is ours to bear no matter what. But we can freely choose how we respond to it.

Do we accept that cross and prayerfully carry it to its completion? Do we give hope to others along the way? Or do we curse our cross as it grows in weight and model for others how to stumble and rage against the One who gifted us?

I have tried both responses to the carefully chosen crosses Our Lord has sent me in my life. I can assure you that while cursing those things in our lives that cause us to suffer may feel more natural, embracing our suffering is by far the easier response, for it is the only response that coincides with God’s will.

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My prayer for you this Holy Week is that you open your heart to the cross God has given you and cherish it as a priceless gift. Just as Christ’s Passion draws hearts to love Him more, may you draw others closer to Our Lord through your suffering. Praise His name through your pain. May God be glorified through you!

“Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. And Jesus hearing it, said to them: This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God: that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” John 11:3-4

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Fulton’s next big surgery is coming up on April 14th 2015. Please pray for Fulton! Come and see his progress on his Facebook page ‘Pray For Fulton’

Cassandra Poppe’s blog is Let us kneel

I will NOT throw eggs at Tina Beattie. REPEAT: I will NOT throw eggs at Tina Beattie.

Professor Tina Beattie

Professor Tina Beattie

“Those of us who tried to answer the questionnaire honestly and in a way that might be helpful to the synod on the family are misrepresented by Edmund Adamus’s ‘reflection’.

Like most other Catholics I know, I respect the Church’s teaching on marriage and parenthood. I also know from experience that marriage and family life can induce agonies of guilt over our inevitable failures and shortcomings. However, I do not experience guilt over deciding in good conscience to use contraception to limit the number of children we had. I do not feel ashamed of my adult children for cohabiting with partners who have enriched our lives by their friendship. I do not feel compelled to pass negative judgement on the loving relationships of my gay friends. I am glad that some of my divorced Catholic friends have found joy in second marriages, and I want to share the sacraments with them. In other words, I’m like the vast majority of Catholics whose answers to the questionnaire have been made public.

I seek from the Church the formation I know I need most – formation that has to do with love and generosity of spirit, with faithfulness and integrity, with wisdom and discretion, with prayer and discernment. The list is long, but it does not include learning to regard contraception, premarital sex and homosexuality as intrinsically evil, nor does it include regarding divorced and remarried Catholics as people uniquely barred from the forgiveness offered by Christ in the sacraments.” – Tina Beattie

Her lunatic theology also includes:

  • In an examination of the morality of abortion Prof. Beattie justifies  the argument that the embryo is not a person by using the doctrine of the Trinity.
  • Prof Beattie uses the doctrine of the marriage between Christ and His Church to support gay marriage.
  • Prof Beattie condemns as ‘perverted’ a CTS booklet defending the Church’s doctrine on divorce and contraception.
  • Prof. Beattie describes the Mass as an ‘an act of (homo) sexual intercourse…’. ‘God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate’, p.80.
  • Prof. Beattie supports same-sex marriage.
  • Prof. Tina Beattie imagines the apostles and women disciples having sex in her meditation The Last Supper According to Martha and Mary(2001) which the publishers describe as ‘part fiction, part Biblical reflection’.

She has been banned previously banned by Archbishop Leo Cushley of St. Andrews and Edinburgh from addressing the Edinburgh Circle of the Newman Association. In a letter quoted by ‘The Tablet’ the Archbishop criticised both Beattie and Joe Fitzpatrick, a theologian the Newman Association previously hosted, saying:

“Professor Beattie is known to have frequently called into question the Church’s teaching. I would therefore ask you to cancel this event, as it may not proceed or be publicised on any Church property in this archdiocese.“

The Archbishop’s intervention has been attributed to the Vatican’s official position on banning Beattie from Church events, as ordered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Vatican’s watchdog on orthodoxy. She has also been banned from speaking in Clifton diocese for the same reason by Bishop Declan Lang.

The CDF ordered her banned from Church properties after she signed a letter, in 2012, to the Times, in favour of same-sex marriage, along with a number of other Christian theologians who wrote “it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

So you can imagine my surprise to hear that the Wimbledon branch of the Newman circle had invited her to come and give a talk at Sacred Heart Parish next week entitled ‘From Synod to Synod: Families in focus in the church of Pope Francis.’

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My initial reaction to hearing the news that Tina Beattie was coming to speak at my beloved childhood parish was to lie in wait, and then at the appointed time ambush her with a meteor shower of raw eggs. “Well! That sort of raucous behaviour is not very becoming of a good catholic!” I would ask you to remember that St Nicholas delt with Arius by punching him the right in the face at the Council of Nicea (Arius, of course was using his intellect and position of authority to destroy the true Faith from within the church and implement his own lunatic theology.) And of course there was last Sunday’s Gospel where we are reminded that as Catholics, flipping tables and whipping people is not entirely out of the question!

Anyway, knowing it was most probably sinful to blissfully enjoy the thought of egging a heretic, and to laugh hysterically at the fact that my spell-checker auto corrects the words ‘Tina Beattie’ to ‘Tuna buttie’ I decided to take it all to confession.

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A Tuna buttie.

Holy Mackerel! My poor priest. He took a quite a while to consider exactly what he should say to me.

“You should aim for meekness.” He said.

MEEKNESS!!! ME???!!!

It was lucky he couldn’t see my face at the time. I’m not exactly sure how to describe the expression on my face at that precise moment, but my mouth was wide open and there were no words coming out – which is, unusual.

He went on to draw possible parallels between Tina Beattie and St Paul:

“St. Paul was so sure of his own political convictions in regards to the Christians. He would kill them quickly from the outside, with the sword. Tina Beattie is similar in this regard, although she kills people slowly from the inside with her ideas and theories. But there is one important thing to remember – before his conversion, St Paul had Christians praying for him – praying for his heart to change.”

Then he said to me:

“Anything you say or do should lead to her conversion of heart.”

Wow. Now there’s a challenge. It is all too easy for me to look at Tina Beattie and hate her. But to hate her would be to de-humaniser her, to objectify her to something less than she is.

My Lord Jesus still looks on Tina Beattie as His beautiful little child, just as he looks at me, and Kim jong un and Lady Gaga and all the members of ISIS, the paedophile priest, the gay prostitute, the Queen of England and the Pope. We are all just human beings. Sinful, broken human beings who need to turn away from sin and back to God.

St. John Paul II teaches us about this topic of de-humanisation and objectification in his masterpiece ‘Theology of the Body’. Funnily enough, Tina Beattie despises Theology of the Body:

“Having spent years researching and writing about ‘theology of the body’, I think it functions more as a vehicle of resistance to feminism and homosexuality than as a genuinely viable account of human sexuality…” – Tina Beattie

How ironic that Theology of the Body is helping me to see her not as a de-humanised object of hate that I would like to throw eggs at, but as a child made in the image and likeness of God.

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I am doing the 33 day consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the moment and yesterday we learned through the writings of Mother Teresa that our Lord Jesus doesn’t just love souls, He thirsts for them:

“Just put yourself in front of the tabernacle. Don’t let anything disturb you. Hear your own name and “I Thirst.” I thirst for purity, I thirst for poverty, I thirst for obedience, I thirst for that wholehearted love, I thirst for that total surrender. Are we living a deeply contemplative life? He thirsts for that total surrender.”

So if my lord Jesus thirsts for Tina Beattie, then it is my job to quench His thirst by bringing her back to Him – to bring her to total surrender. How am I going to do this? I have no idea, but I’m guessing meekness is going to play a pretty pivotal role here. After all – isn’t meekness the thing that feminists misunderstand the most?

I guess it’s a bit like David and Goliath. She is a professor. I got chucked out of school age 17. I am no challenge to her intellectually, but that doesn’t really matter. I am not fighting an intellectual battle I am fighting a spiritual battle. And I am not even fighting her as such, but the powers and principalities that are whispering in her ears day and night, seducing her with her own pride and hardening her heart.

From her writings and theories it is plain to see that Mrs Beattie (bless her heart) is spiritually weak and sickly. She is utterly consumed with the idea of a comfortable ‘man centred’ faith (or should I say ‘person centred’?!). But as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “…you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!” All her theories revolve around the idea that we can side-step the cross. And she has warped the faith and moulded it into a pale comparison of itself: she has divorced love from suffering.

Where does this idea come from? Does suffering frighten her? It frightens me. Perhaps there is something in her life, something in her past that is just too painful to face? I don’t know. It all sounds a bit fishy to me. All I do know is that Jesus tell us that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” You can’t have Jesus without the cross. Love demands sacrifice. It’s not easy.

I will begin by offering my prayers and fasting for her. As part of my 33 day consecration I am letting go of everything I am to Mother Mary so I can become an instrument in her immaculate hands. I am allowing her to use me in any way she sees fit to ‘crush the serpents head’. And even though it would give me indescribable pleasure and satisfaction to throw eggs at Mrs Beattie (or custard pies, or fish sandwiches) I will not be doing so because after all – what I want is not really that important is it? It’s what God wants that is important. THY will be done, not My will be done. Says it all really.

Blessed Mother Teresa pray for us.

Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us.

Mother Mary, Queen of heaven, pray for us.

Sources:

http://tina-beattie.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/the-family-reflecting-on-view-from.html

http://www.cuf.org/2014/01/thirst-mother-teresas-devotion-thirst-jesus/

http://protectthepope.com/?p=10153

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2012/09/11/bishop-cancels-lecture-by-liberal-theologian-who-argued-for-same-sex-marriage/

How Tinnitus Prepared me for Carmel.

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I was recently sent a rather snooty message by a diocesan priest who used to be a Trappist monk. He was telling me that it was basically impossible for me to live a contemplative life in the context of a family home. He told me my children would not find my ‘requirement’ for silence much fun. He also told me it was impossible to be a contemplative without silence. I decided not to reply. But I do hope he reads this blog post.

The Lord began preparing me for contemplative life at home 5 and a half years ago – two weeks before Annabel was born – by giving me Tinnitus.

It was nothing other than torture. It was 9 months before I began to have even brief periods of not noticing the noises. At its worst it was louder than the phone ringing. In my left ear I had (and sometimes still have) a Morse-code style beeping. In my right ear there was a high pitched whistle. In my head there was a low pitched rumbling, and every so often I would get a really loud pure-tone that would drown out ALL other outside noise. So I would go completely deaf for a few seconds which was absolutely terrifying.

The worst part was that my brain was registering the noise as an outside threat, which meant that I would experience high levels of anxiety during the day and insomnia at night. I would lie awake at night listening to the noise. I had a new baby which meant that when I did manage to fall asleep, I would soon get woken up again by the noise of a crying baby. Then I would feed her, in the silence of the night, all alone in my prison of noise. Then I would take sleeping pills to knock me out. In the morning I would wake up, and the noise was still there. It never went away.

My husband couldn’t hear the noises going on inside my ears. No-one could hear it except me. It was so loud. I was so alone. I am not over dramatising this – tragically, earlier this year a 47 year old woman chose Euthanasia because she was unable to cope with her Tinnitus.

It was too much. I knew I couldn’t die because I had kids to raise, so just accepted that the rest of my life would be filled with a cacophony of beeping and whistling and rumbling.

As I began to accept and improve, my tinnitus therapist kept asking me if my tinnitus was holding me back in any way in my life. After careful consideration I told her “No, I can still still do everything, but… I would like to be able to pray.” She suggested mindfullness. Initially I found this to be life-changingly helpful. It did help me accept the intense suffering I was experiencing in a calm way, but it soon became apparent that there was a fair bit of *wacky* stuff that accompanied it. So I dropped it. But it did lead me into how my own faith viewed suffering. I kept remembering a line I must have read years before, something about “Joy in suffering”. It took me back to the saint who had claimed me for her own 11 years previously – St Teresa of Avila. I didn’t know why she was making an appearance in my life once more, but all I can tell you is that I felt her with me very strongly throughout that time of noise.

As time passed and my life continued in a strange sort of way. I accepted the noise. I cried because of the noise. I masked the noise with the TV and radio and found relief from the noise in my crying baby and my raucous 3 year old son. I couldn’t pray – or so I thought. I cursed myself for wasting all those quiet moments I had previously. I cursed God for giving me tinnitus. I cried and screamed at Him because I was at my wits end and I couldn’t think because of the noise. I told Him I didn’t understand – that there was no point to this. It wasn’t achieving anything. I begged Him to take it away. But He didn’t.

Usually I feel God very close to me, but at that time it was like He was withdrawn to a distance. I felt as if God had abandoned me, like He was enjoying torturing me. I wanted to hate Him, but I loved Him too much to hate Him. I thought about all this a lot.

The removal of silence from my life changed me. I had to concentrate on not becoming overwhelmed by the noise. I got very good at this. It’s amazing what you can do when you are pushed to the brink. As my anxiety began to decrease I used to experiment by sitting down and facing my noise – instead of trying to run away from it. I would actually sit and listen to it – develop a relationship with it almost. But in hindsight what I was actually doing was finding the deeper silence within myself, the silence of my soul. Teresa was guiding me, I could feel that, but I didn’t quite know how.

No-one on the outside could hear my noise. In fact here were only 2 people who could hear my noise – me and God. And when I would sit and listen to my noise, God would be there too. I began to realise that there must be purpose in all of this, but I didn’t know what that was. I allowed Him to sit with me while I explored my noise, and the place inside it was directing me to. He was in that place. My noise had driven me into the desert. Only me and Him were in that place. I was at the core of who I was in Him, and I found peace there. Not audible peace, but spiritual peace.

I began experimenting with this ‘place’, this desert. I began going there more often. I was not afraid there because He was there. Pretty soon I was finding myself in this place all the time throughout the day. It became totally natural to be in this place of extreme calm and inner silence, while I carried on with looking after the children – with the noise was still ringing in my ears.

As I began to recover from the tinnitus I did begin to experience times of real silence once more – something I thought would never happen again. During these times of real silence I would sit and just listen to the silence. Beautiful silence. I would let the silence surround me and go in me and through me and touch my heart in a way I didn’t really understand. It was if the peaceful desert my tinnitus had lead me to was now on the outside too. I felt the silence, and God was there.

It was another 5 years before I had any indication whatsoever of why God put me through that period of suffering. But in hindsight it is now obvious to me that there was no better preparation for the life of a secular Carmelite than this. To be a ‘contemplative in the world’ meant I would most likely be surrounded by noise all the time – which I am. I have the noise of the hoover, the children, my husband, the car etc. Are these bad noises? No! They are beautiful noises – they are the sounds of my primary vocation. “Doesn’t it distract you?” No! How can they distract me – they are the point of my focus! “But when do you get time to pray?” I am praying all the time. I can be here in my kitchen making the dinner, and at the same time I am in my desert with my Lord and Creator. And when I do get quiet periods during the day I sit and enjoy the silence – perhaps in a way you cannot understand if you have not had tinnitus. You could be a Trappist monk for 50 years, but I don’t think you really understand or appreciate silence until it has been force-ably taken away from you. Teresa will tell you that.

Last month during our Carmelite studies, I laughed out loud when I discovered that during her life Teresa had tinnitus too!

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

St Paul, pray for us.

St Louis de Montfort, pray for us.

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

Fr Aidan Kieran

The Little way of Fasting – by Fr. Aidan Kieran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fr Aidan.

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My final post on suffering for 2014, and my prayer for 2015…

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My prayer for 2014 was “Lord, teach me about suffering.” My goodness I have learned so much! And I am so grateful. Here are a few of the main points I have learned:

1. To watch someone else suffer can be harder.

Sometimes it is harder to watch someone else suffer than to suffer yourself. I have known this all too clearly this year. I’ve had to watch my husband go through the ravages of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do to take that suffering away – not even a little bit. This killed me. I would have done anything to take it upon myself – but that is not how God wanted it to be. There is purpose in my husbands suffering that I do not understand, but I do understand that this is his cross. So, sometimes I will be his Simon of Cyrene and help him carry it. Sometimes I will be Mother Mary and walk along side him. And sometimes I will be John or Mary Magdalene and will simply be with him as he is crucified.  Even though I cannot take this suffering upon myself, I can be there – so he does not have to suffer alone.

2. Crucify yourself as soon as possible.

I have come to the understanding that the worst kind of suffering we can experience in this life is to be separated from God through our own sin. I have experienced this in a massive way this year. I have been hanging onto a sinful thought that has indeed been damaging my relationship with Jesus all year. I was hanging on in false hope of a situation that I knew could never be because it was outside of Gods plan for my life. This has caused me so much needless suffering this year I can hardly begin to explain. It could of course have been entirely avoided if I had just stopped rebelling and instead accepted the situation for what it was by crucifying my own wants and desires immediately as soon as I saw the situation developing. It came to a head last week when the Lord asked me how long I intended to keep carrying this cross for before I would finally crucify myself and accept the freedom that this would bring. If I had crucified myself at the start, I would have saved myself a whole year of needless cross carrying! Through His grace, obtained for me by a dear friend who willingly offered to suffer for me, I have managed to let this crucifixion of self take place and I am now reunited with Christ with a pure heart. My peace has returned and now I have come through the crucifixion process I am enjoying the fruits of the resurrection I am now experiencing in my life.

3. Suffering is a gift.

Most Christians (including myself up until very recently) have no idea how to suffer. We will all suffer in this life – that is for certain, but we can either decide to do it in line with Gods plan or outside of God’s plan. When we suffer outside of Gods plan it is because we are sinning. Our suffering in this way is self-inflicted and entirely avoidable. When we suffer within Gods plan through no fault of our own we are presented with an opportunity to accept this suffering (bizarre as it may seem) as a gift. To offer this type of suffering in prayer for others is one of the most powerfully loving things we can do as human beings. Personally I have experienced a seismic shift in my attitude in regards to suffering when I have started offering it for other people. I have found that offering my suffering for others intentions not only gives it meaning and purpose, but also fills me with the most profound sense of joy. By willingly and joyfully offering my suffering for others I am imitating my Lord, and loving others in a sacrificial way that seems to touch hearts deeply. It also seems to remove the fear from suffering that I used to feel. Once the fear is gone, there is room to love. And where there is love, there is God. I never in a million years thought I would ever feel a desire to joyfully suffer – to actually be attracted to it, but I am. My Carmelite sister Therese of Lisieux is helping me to understand this.

4. The little way of suffering.

Suffering is the biggest, most un-tapped resource we have as Christians. Can you imagine if every Christian opened their hearts to the power of redemptive suffering and what effect that would have on the world?! Sometimes God gives us huge sufferings to bear, but usually on a day-to-day basis it is just little things we are given. A headache, someone annoying us, a boring job, being lonely etc. Imagine if every Christian joyfully used these little gifts to pray for the conversion of their loved ones, or for the souls in purgatory who once in heaven could intercede for us, or for priests, bishops and the Pope. It would utterly transform things! You can also give little things up to produce a suffering: sleep without a pillow, give up 1 cup of coffee and have water instead, hold your tongue in an argument (that’s the one I really need to work on! Ha! Ha!). There are billions of Christians all over the world. One little suffering each day offered joyfully in prayer from each of us would renew the church. It would renew face of the earth.

And that leads me on to my prayer for 2015…

One suffering that is dominant in western society is loneliness. This comes from a lack of depth in our relationships with each other, and more profoundly from a lack of depth in our relationship with God. If we only knew how much He loves us. If we could only understand and accept that He loves us so much He would rather send His only son to suffer and die, than risk spending eternity without any single one of us. As we begin to learn the incredible spiritual power of suffering this mystery becomes more and more understandable. Do we love someone enough to die for them? Do we even love someone enough to give up our morning cup of coffee to obtain graces for them? How many people in your parish do you know who would willingly give up their morning cup of coffee for you? My guess is that if you asked them they would probably look at you as if you were mad – or they would make some excuse as to why they could not do it. We are so weak aren’t we?!

The great North African theologian Tertullian (160–220 AD) recognised the love expressed in suffering in Christian relationships. He imagined pagans looking at Christians and saying, “Look . . .  how they love one another … and how they are ready to die for each other…” And on the same subject Christ even tells us that “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

If we understood and imitated Christ’s sacrificial love for us within our parish communities – is it possible that any of us could ever be lonely again? We are called brothers and sisters for a reason. But I think perhaps in our modern world of comfort and consolations we have forgotten how to love each other properly. Love and suffering go hand in hand.

Faith has become a solitary pursuit – rarely discussed and often compartmentalized. Suffering has become taboo and is associated with failure. Yet it is the cross that unites us as brothers and sisters, and we come together in church each week to be part of this. The key to this whole issue is here right in front of us. If we personally accepted the sacrificial love that occurred for us individually on the cross, and understood that this is the way to love each other as a community, we would never be lonely again. But many, many Christians, many Catholics do not understand these mysteries – because they have never been taught.

So, my prayer for 2015, and the subject I will be predominantly blogging about is: “Lord, teach me about the Mass.”

I hope you will join me on this voyage of discovery!

All I want is a cuddle.

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My dressing gown hangs in the back of my bedroom door. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly sorry for myself, I put the sleeves round the back of my neck and my arms round its middle. Then I can pretend I’m having a cuddle; with Jesus, with my husband, with whoever. I just want to be picked up and cuddled.
What a sorry, sad, soppy piece of sulkyness I am.
Today, when I am feeling particularly sorry for myself for several different reasons, I want it to be Jesus. Unfortunately for me, Jesus is having none of it.
“You’re looking for consolation.” He tells me. Not in a bad way, He’s just stating the fact.
And yes I am. Unfortunately for me, now He’s pointed that out, I know I’m not going to find any.
“Lord, teach me how to suffer…” – Why did I ever ask Him that at the start of this year??!!!
Therese talks about how to suffer. All this year I have only suffered badly. I now realise that my unquenchable thirst for consolation has only doubled, no tripled the suffering I have encountered this year.
I search for consolation by stuffing biscuits into my face. I search for it by counting the number of likes on my Facebook posts. I search for it in demanding attention from other people. I find it in dwelling on thoughts for hours, that I really should not be dwelling on.
Well, now He’s made me aware of how I’m doing it, I know none of those things are going to satisfy me anymore.
Oh dear.
It looks like I might actually be maturing as a human being.

Love is a bitter little pill.

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As we head into November and the year starts drawing to a close, I can’t help looking back over this last year and seeing how much I have learned.

My prayer this year was ‘Teach me how to suffer…’. I have been particularly interested in the relationship suffering has with other things especially love, and fear. I think I would even go as far to say that in terms of suffering, love and fear are polar opposites.

In practical terms, I have certainly had to face these things over this year. I am ashamed of my lack of courage in regards to my husband’s illness. He is a much braver person than me. But I have also come to the understanding that it can be much harder to watch a loved one suffer and walk along side them when there is nothing you can do to take that suffering away. That is a heartbreak I still cannot come to terms with. I would give anything to be the one who is suffering rather than to watch helplessly from the outside. But of course in a marriage, if one spouse suffers, the other suffers too.

Mary has been with me in a special way this year. She has taught me that when I hold the Rosary it is really her holding my hand, and I should be like a sunflower – always turning to face the sun (her Son).

Mary had to help her Son walk towards the cross for 33 years. And at the end of those 33 years she stood beneath the cross and supported Him as he died. Her courage and selflessness are things I need to learn. She once said to a friend of mine “If I can stand at the foot of the cross, then so can you.”

Suffering can be scary. We are all hopelessly attached to comfort. I would go as far as to say that our attachment to comfort doubles no, triples the fear we associate with suffering. I am certainly guilty of this. My attachment to money, health, and carefree living has certainly been exposed, but I have at least taken the first step and stopped running, and have turned round to face my attachment to comfort. Everybody wants an easy life…

I sit and contemplate all these things and then think myself ever so clever for rationalizing it all. But what good is that?! I still need to put the simple truths into action. Love is greater than fear. Love conquers all things.

But love is not easy. Love can sometimes be a very bitter pill to swallow. Pray for me…