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31st May, 2016

EBBS AND FLOWS



Nowadays we Catholics often despair of the present state of Faith and Church. And, indeed, there are reasons for concern. But it's so important to look at Church history. So often we can be surprised!

I was reading about the trauma the Church suffered in the 19th century when Pope Pius IX was exiled from Rome and the Church lost the Papal States in 1870 - which had long been a symbol of the Church's earthly 'power'. And yet, less than a generation later, the global Church was experiencing a surge of growth. Religious life had experienced a renewal and growth which would have been unimaginable a generation earlier, not merely by the expansion of existing Religious Orders, but by the creation of new ones, many of them dedicated to apostolic work in schools, hospitals and other charitable institutions.

By 1877, there were 30,287 male religious and 127,753 female religious in France alone, most of them dedicated to working with the most vulnerable sections of society.

So, what lesson are we to take from history? Well, the fact that history is not a linear thing, but ebbs and flows. We should also recall that Christian Faith teaches us, that in times of what may appear to be exile, God is preparing us for something new and life-giving.

In 2008 my own group of Religious Brothers around the globe began to embrace a new way of living and mission. Our Way into the Future is a programme of  transformation of the way we work with those made poor in the developing world. Our Way into the Future is not simply attempting to adjust what we have been doing. It is presenting something totally different.        

27th May, 2016

REFLECTING

Today I enjoyed a rehash of that great old music hall production, THE GOOD OLD DAYS,  presented by Leonard Sachs. It was filmed in 1973 from the stage of the City Varieties Theatre, Leeds. Guests include Charlie Drake, Wilfred Pickles, Lorne Lesley and Hugh Paddick.

I was especially struck by two items that give great scope for thought:

"When I Leave the World Behind ":
http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/w/whenileavetheworldbehind.shtml

and the little poem "Not Understood":
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/not-understood/

16th May, 2016

BEARING FALSE WITNESS

As we all know the Inquisition was one of the most frightening and bloody chapters in Western history; Pope Pius XII was anti-Semitic and rightfully called “Hitler’s Pope,” the Dark Ages were a stunting of the progress of knowledge to be redeemed only by the secular spirit of the Enlightenment, and the religious Crusades were an early example of the rapacious Western thirst for riches and power.

But what if these long held beliefs were all wrong?

Raised as a Lutheran, Rodney Stark who has identified himself as an agnostic but has, more recently, called himself an "independent Christian" has written a powerful book  in which he argues that some of our most firmly held ideas about history, ideas that paint the Catholic Church in the least positive light are, in fact, fiction. Where lies the truth?

http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/4766/why_is_this_noncatholic_scholar_debunking_centuries_of_anticatholic_history.aspx

WINDOWS is constantly asking me to prove I'm human. I have tried to respond but failed. I wonder will this get through?

11th May, 2016

HOMELESS

In recent times I feel 'homeless'. I no longer feel ‘at home' in our contemporary culture and for some time now I have felt resistant to the media calling me to be 'progressive'.

Nor do I feel ‘at home' with the concept of God I have grown up with; that focused on God as an elsewhere presence who banished humanity, and on Jesus as the one who won back humanity’s access to God’s presence; a concept of disconnection, of exile, and concentrated on the ‘next’ life.

Neither do I yet feel ‘at home' with the ‘new' concept and experience of God I feel drawn into of late that focuses on God as the ground of all being, the sustainer of all that is; who is everywhere; a God present and active in the universe and in whom we are connected with everyone and everything. This belief of course is not new. What is new is today’s broad worldview that gives us an expanded understanding and appreciation of ‘everywhere’ and ‘everything’. This is really a new context for spirituality, for being Christian, for liturgical practices, for a new way of being human. It’s a new way of being with Mystery.

Perhaps it's humanity’s present destruction of life on the planet and its seeming indifference to the implications of its own greed that is at the heart of my disquiet. Is it any wonder I feel ‘homeless’?

8th May, 2016

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

What is the nature and role of prayer in my life today, I ask myself? Yesterday and today our Catholic young people (and one adult!) are making the Sacrament of Confirmation. Despite a Catholic education in our schools does it really mean anything in their spiritual life today or for the future? If not, why not?

Has my concept of God and prayer developed at all as I have grown into old age? When a mother asks me to pray for her son who is taking exams, I ask myself, what has she in mind? What is her concept of the Mystery we call God? Is it the same concept of God she had when she was a child? What concept of God are those who have left the formal "Church", rejecting? Are they rejecting merely their childhood concept of God and have found nothing else to replace it?

In the photo below why are the boy’s friends laughing at him? Have they reached an understanding of theology that he has not yet achieved? Is it just because he is “different” or because he has faith?

5th May, 2016

SUPER TRAWLERS

Some people love to track the movements of planes and ships. Today the second largest super trawler in the world is fishing off the coast of Mauritania in west Africa but some times fishes off the Irish coast.

It’s called MFV Margiris and it drags a net bigger than a football field and could hold 3 super jets. This gigantic vessel can process over 250 tonnes of fish a day and, if stood on its end, it would be almost twice the height of Ireland’s tallest building. It flies the Lithuanian flag. Imagine the damage it is doing to our fishing stock.

This exact same vessel is already banned in Australia after a huge people-powered movement forced the government to ban it from their seas – a great example of what can be achieved when we come together to stand up for the environment and local communities.

Europe’s fishing industry is already catching far more than current fish stocks can bear. Super trawlers like Margiris have no concern for sustainable fisheries or over-exploited stocks.

Ireland needs low-impact, sustainable fishing industries that support regional jobs in coastal communities, not monster trawlers that send profits offshore, put at risk our high value recreational fisheries and kill protected marine life.

Our message is clear, Stop Super Trawlers on Irish Waters.

4th May, 2016

HEDGE-SCHOOL TEACHERS

This being National Teacher Week in the US, I am reminded of that courageous, but little-known group, the Irish hedge-school teachers who sacrificed comfort and security for the sake of truth, goodness, and beauty in seventeenth-century Ireland.

From very early days, classical education was highly valued in Ireland. By the seventh or eighth century, Ireland had a fully developed written language with an elaborate grammatical structure.  It had also become known as a bastion for learning in Latin and Greek. Some believe these classical languages were brought to Ireland by learned people, mainly monks, fleeing Gaul in the fifth century when barbarism was sweeping the continent of Europe. But, however Latin and Greek came to Ireland, they remained and were taught here for centuries long after these languages had fallen out of favour throughout the rest of Europe. As with all lands in medieval times, the masses of the Irish people remained mostly uneducated. Yet, a solid classical education was possible. Irish, Latin and Greek were the common languages.
That Ireland’s commitment to classical and religious education was strong is evidenced by the fact that there were so many laws in the Penal Code attempting to quash it.

Acts of parliament (1695) required every incumbent of each parish to keep a school to learn English and provide that a public Latin-free school be constantly maintained within each diocese. “No person of the popish religion shall publicly teach school or instruct youth, or in private houses teach youth”. The native schoolmasters were treated as criminals and shipped off to the West Indies. These laws however, usually had not the desired effect .

Despite all of this, the people of Ireland maintained a quiet rebellion. They were determined to keep classical education and Catholic tradition alive through what was called the “hedge school”. A hedge school was what it sounds like. Lessons were sometimes conducted in secret by Irish teachers out in the country side, often behind hedges or large rocks or in barns. The students would take turns keeping watch for the authorities. Throughout those dark days the hunted schoolmaster, with price upon his head, was hidden from house to house by local people. They were hunted like animals, half-starved and in danger, yet these men devoted their lives to the continuation of classical education in Ireland. They kept their own language, literature and religious tradition alive in the minds and hearts of their pupils, along with the classical languages. The pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty could have cost them everything they had. It is because of these courageous teachers that it was often boasted that “in the mountains of Kerry, cows were bought and sold in Greek”.

Must we bring back hedge school teachers to keep a classical and Catholic education alive today in Ireland? Political correctness has pretty much done away with Catholic education and a sound education in general. Our history is a sad reminder that the faith and truth which our ancestors fought for with their lives we today are throwing it away with little or no resistance.

Best wishes to American teachers as they celebrate “their” week.


 

1st May, 2016

PEACE

My goodness, but hasn't the world become a noisy place! There seems to be no escaping it. I hate 'pop' music, but it is everywhere. To me it is simply noise. When I see a guitar, I run. Everyone seems to think he/she can sing and play a guitar! As I grow older it gets worse and more annoying. Where can an older person find peace today?

We all need a bit of peace and quiet to restore a sense of balance and harmony in our lives. Without it we become sour and crabid. I suppose we must look for it first and foremost in ourselves, in our own heart. From there it can radiate outwards.

I remember hearing a story about two artists who, in a contest, were asked to paint a picture on the theme of peace and contentment. One painted a rural scene of stillness, a dreamy, leafy landscape of rolling hills, a still lake and a beautiful sunset. Yet it was the other artist who won the prize. His work showed a thundering waterfall so realistic that one could almost hear the roar of the water as it crashed on the rocks below. If one looked closely, however, one could see among the rocks a small tree with a bird and her chicks in a nest. The scene conveyed the message that the important thing about peace is that it can be achieved even in the midst of turmoil.

Alas, I haven't reached that point yet myself. I must try harder.

30th Apr, 2016

MIND YOUR WALLET

My post yesterday spoke of living the simple life. People with big wallets beware.

The Mirror newspaper is warning us to be careful if we keep our wallet in our back pocket! If one's  wallet is jam-packed with bills of all kinds - even money - it suggests it might be a good idea to start using a handbag or something else! Not because the wallet might be stolen, but because it's putting one's back, hips, neck, pelvis and even one's bottom at risk!

A doctor explains how sitting on a wallet "creates an asymmetry or imbalance that distorts the pelvis and hips." Having one hip sat higher than the other causes the back and neck to compensate for the unevenness and can lead to problems in these areas.
He says that, over time, this could lead to serious problems for joints, muscles and discs, resulting in pain and maybe worse.

I must check if I can get a nice fashionable clutch to carry around with me!

29th Apr, 2016

EXPERIENCING FREEDOM

I was reading in Facebook the other day about a restaurant owner in Kerala who has installed a 24-hour running refrigerator outside his property which is open to those in need of a meal but can't afford it. His fb page asks his friends to help stock the fridge with any leftovers they can spare. I don't know what insurance companies in the area think of his initiative! We all, I suppose, tend to hold on to what we have, whether we need it or not. We are very slow to let go of things even though they may be of use or service to others.

It's nothing new of course. Remember the story of Savonarola who in 1497 encouraged his friends and followers in Florence to throw their unwanted and un-needed stuff into his great Bonfire of Vanities? He was directing his words especially at the Church with all its "gold and silver." I'm sure he would be greatly scandalized at how we ourselves hold on to useless things when so many go hungry? If I myself were to put a cardboard box in my room, would it take long, I wonder, to fill it with things I really could do without?

When I'm at it, maybe I could, metaphorically speaking, also strip myself bare of all my spiritual "vanities" in a mighty demonstration of  new-found freedom. Into it I could throw each of my vanities, my pretences, my pseudo-religious attitudes, my collection of accumulated masks, my false images of god . . .  and become spiritually bare like Matisse's dancing nudes.

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