Saturday, 26 May 2018

Chartres 2018: Meditations (1)


Over the next few days and weeks I will be posting the English translations of the meditations provided for the Chartres pilgrimage.

The theme of this year's meditations is St Joseph: Father and Servant

This seems particularly apt to me, as I believe that a major crisis in the modern world is a crisis of paternity. Many of our spiritual as well as our familial fathers no longer now how to exercise their paternity. St Joseph is a good model for us all.




The first day of the pilgrimage was also under the patronage of St Teresa of Avila, and the first meditation invites us to reflect on the relationship between St Teresa and St Joseph.

Dear pilgrims,

Do you know who had a passionate love to, and an unconditional trust in Saint Joseph? Who was at the origin of devotion to him that has spread all over the world?

Well, that person was Saint Teresa of Avila! That's why we chose her as Patron Saint of this first day of the pilgrimage.

Born in the early sixteenth century, she was said to be very pretty, deeply intelligent, of a fiery temperament, with a talented pen, a delicious sense of humour and a wonderful wit. She left the world to enter Carmel at the age of 20. At the age of 40, she was to be converted radically, to experience extraordinary mystical graces and to reform the male and female branches of the Carmelite Order with the help of St. John of the Cross. Canonized forty years after her death, she was to be the first woman proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, by Pope Paul VI.

All of that you probably knew already, but what you possibly didn’t know is the very close connection between this great Saint and Saint Joseph! This is what we will discover in this meditation.

It all started with an illness that lasted three years. But let her explain in what state she was: My extreme weakness cannot be described, for by this time I was nothing but bones... I remained in this condition for more than eight months, and my paralysis, though it kept improving, continued for nearly three years... For when I found that, while still so young, I was so seriously paralysed, and that earthly doctors had been unable to cure me, I resolved to seek a cure from heavenly doctors... I took for my advocate and lord the glorious Saint Joseph and commended myself earnestly to him. He came to my help in the most visible manner. This loving father of my soul, this beloved protector, hastened to pull me out of the state in which my body was languishing..”

Saint Joseph did more than simply healing Saint Teresa, he continued to watch over her throughout her life, because dangers did not fail to arise; especially during her many journeys.

One day when she was traveling to found a convent in Andalusia, she went through the defiles of the Sierra Morena. The drivers of the wagons lost their way and advanced imprudently along a passage so narrow that it was soon impossible to move forward or backward. St. Teresa and her companions remained suspended above the precipice; a slightest movement would cause them to fall down into the chasm.

Pray, my daughters!says the saint. “Let us ask God through the intercession of Saint Joseph that He would deliver us from this danger!

At the same moment, a voice like that of an old man cries to them with force: “Stop, stop! You are lost, if you go ahead.”

But how do we get out of this trouble?they ask.

Tilt your carts on this side, says the voice, “and turn back.”

They followed these instructions; the guides, to their great surprise, immediately found an excellent route and, full of gratitude to their saviour, sprang up on the side where he spoke to them, in order to thank him. Saint Teresa follows them with her eyes, she sees them running at full speed and searching in vain.

Really,” she says to her daughters, “I do not know why we let these good people go, for it is the voice of my father St. Joseph that we have heard, and they will not find him.

Saint Joseph is especially well known for his help in material difficulties. Saint Teresa has benefited from this more than once, as for example during the construction of her first convent where the work was stopped for lack of money to pay the workers: “Saint Joseph, my true father and lord, appeared to me and gave me to understand that money would not be lacking and I must make all the necessary arrangements. I did so, though I had not a farthing, and the Lord, in ways which amazed people when they heard of them, provided the money.”

This convent was naturally placed under the patronage of its benefactor, Saint Joseph. Finally, the whole Order of Carmel will come under his protection and take him as its Patron Saint in 1631.

In her autobiography, St. Teresa explains the deep reason for her devotion to St. Joseph and why she dedicated herself and her Order to him. “To other saints the Lord seems to have given grace to succour us in some of our necessities; but of Saint Joseph my experience is that he succours us in them all and that the Lord wishes to teach us that as He was Himself subject to him on earth (for, being His guardian and being called His father, he could command Him) just so in Heaven He still does all that he asks.

For St. Teresa, Saint Joseph is indeed the universal intercessor! Not only for diseases, bodily dangers, material necessities, but also and especially for the spiritual life. Even for prayer; and knowing that the whole life of a Carmelite is based on prayer (at the very least, two hours a day... ), we can trust the saint when she tells us: If anyone cannot find a master to teach him how to pray, let him take this glorious saint as his master and he will not go astray.

So, dear pilgrims, you now know whom to turn to for prayer or perseverance. Do not hesitate to ask a priest, a seminarian or a nun on the column to enlighten you, since this pilgrimage is especially under the patronage of St. Joseph!

To conclude this meditation on Saint Teresa of Avila, we will gladly let her exhort all of us, once again, to have a true devotion to Saint Joseph: “I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessings which he can obtain from God... I only beg, for the love of God, that anyone who does not believe me will put what I say to the test.

Finally, those who would like to know more about the life of St. Teresa of Avila are strongly invited to read the beautiful meditation dedicated to her life at the website of Our Lady of Christendom.

In the meantime, let us remain, dear pilgrims, in silence for a few minutes to meditate on this magnificent life of St. Teresa of Avila, and ask her for all the graces we need, especially to increase in our souls love and devotion for Saint Joseph.

--

St Joseph: pray for us
St Teresa: pray for us

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

March for Life (2)

Rachel Mackenzie
I have already posted my reflections on Saturday morning. Once we arrived in Parliament Square, we had a pro-Life song from Joy Villa (who famously wore a dress with an image of her unborn child to the Grammy award ceremony), and then some of the most powerful testimonies from British pro-Life women.

The first was Rachel MacKenzie, who now works for Rachel's Vineyard, the organisation dedicated to helping women to recover from the trauma of abortion. She described her own sad experiences as a young woman, including being awake enough during one of her abortions to see the abortionists counting the body parts of her dismembered baby.  She described her long journey through the classic stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; and acknowledged that some of the anger and hostility that we were experiencing from the counter-protestors might indicate that some of them were stuck in the early stages of that process.  Rachel's courageous acceptance of the reality of her choices was very evident in all that she said: about the children she had had aborted, and about her finding meaning through faith and her charitable outreach to others in a similar situation. Rachel's talk may be seen and heard here


Clare McCullough
The second was the indomitable Clare McCullough, founder of Good Counsel Network. Clare was very clear about the need for the frontline work she and her volunteers do: reaching women on the very threshold of the abortion clinics. Her testimony gives the lie to the political posturing of Sister Supporter and their fellow-travellers.  If Clare and her team were harassing or abusing women, then women would never trust them; and it would be self-evidently counter-productive. In fact, many women are grateful for their presence, as it offers them a real choice, to turn away from the path they are - often extremely unwillingly - on, and make a positive choice for themselves and their unborn children.

Alina and her daughter
Powerful as Clare's speech was, it was the following testimonies of two of the women that Good Counsel Network have helped that was most moving.  The first, Alina, told us her story, and how one of Clare's volunteers had offered her love and support, and the belief that she could have her baby.  She had the girl - due to be killed by Marie Stopes International on that fateful day all those years ago - with her on stage.  Alina is so grateful for Good Counsel Network that she now volunteers for them, and it is she who is challenging Ealing Council's Buffer Zones in the courts.


Aurelia
The next speaker was Aurelia, another women rescued from the very jaws of the abortuary.  Again, her situation was difficult, and seemed without hope, until a Good Counsel volunteer approached her and said that she could help. And that volunteer was Alina. Like Alina, Aurelia had her daughter with her: you can watch and listen to her testimony here - and in the background at the start, you will see Clare McCullough carrying Aurelia's baby: 'the best thing that ever happened to me, the love or my life' as Aurelia said.

After Aurelia's story, Alina and Aurelia were joined on stage by a number of other women helped by Good Counsel Network, and their babies and young children.  This is why we do what we do.

--

Shortly after this, I had to leave, as the last train North was unreasonably early!  But as I made my way home, I reflected on the start and the end of the day: on Life's fantastic strategy of reaching as many women as possible at the very start of their pregnancies: trying to help them before they are placed on the one-way path to abortion; and then on Good Counsel Network's heroic work at the other end, snatching life from the jaws of death, and hope from the threshold of despair.

Pray for them all.  And act! As Clare McCullough said, it is no good lamenting the draconian actions of Ealing Council if we are not prepared to do something. Prayer is important; but it doesn't let us off the hook of writing the the Home Secretary and our own MP about the travesty of buffer zones (and drawing their attention to the testimony of women like Alina and Aurelia); and of considering what more we can do to support the essential work of Life and Good Counsel Network, both through alms and volunteering.  

If not us, then who?...

--

Lord, when did I see you pregnant and refuse to help you? Unborn, and refuse to stand up for you?...

Monday, 7 May 2018

March for Life (1)

What a fantastic day!

So much to report...

Liz
The first thing I attended was the workshop run by Life's wonderful counsellor, Liz, and Clare, one of the Education Officers.  They described Life's strategy of reaching women before they get on the abortion treadmill, by maintaining a strong online presence, and using analytics to understand what search terms women are searching for, and making sure Life's name comes up when they do.

This is proving extraordinarily successful: Liz shared some stats, demonstrating how this has greatly increased LIfe's reach - and at that crucial stage.  She also shared some of the stories (changed and anonymised to protect confidentiality) of clients, and how LIfe's counselling and support has enabled so many to keep their babies.  Clare also reported on how the education work goes hand-in-hand with this outreach. All in all, a very inspiring presentation.

Clare
Next up was a workshop by the Alliance of Pro-Life Students. This is a wonderful initiative, ensuring that the pro-life voice is heard on increasingly-hostile campuses, and that there is support, guidance and training for students wishing to establish a pro-life presence in their university.  The workshop was on having pro-life conversations, and the essence was: be brave and be kind. 

I missed some of the other talks as I was collared to hand out leaflets about Life's new campaign to STOP abortion on demand. This is incredibly important: the abortion industry have been lining this up for years - to exempt them from any proper legal framework...

The march itself was vibrant: lots of singing, chanting and camaraderie.  There was a small and vociferous counter-protest, but nothing could dent the good humour of the thousands marching for Life.

More follows...

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Alfie Evans

I have forborne to comment on the tragic case of Alfie Evans, so far, for a few reasons.

One is the general principle that in such cases, the information widely available is rarely complete and almost always inaccurate to some extent, so it is foolhardy to rush to judgement.

Allied to that is my natural sympathy with Alfie's parents: I was intuitively on their side (and indeed have been praying for them and for Alfie over the last few weeks). The risk, of course, is that such sympathy over-rules one's reason.

Moreover, it was not clear to me what good it would have done to add to the furore, from a state of relative ignorance; and it did seem to me that much of the commentary on all sides added more heat than light to the debate.

Now that the dust has settled, I suggest that there are two issues at the heart of the case, from a Catholic point of view.

One is the rights of the parents as primarily responsible for their children's wellbeing.  That is a well-established principle in Catholic teaching; but it is clearly not an absolute. If a parent is deranged, or patently wishes to harm a child, it is both appropriate and proportionate for others - the state if necessary - to intervene to look after the child's best interests.  But I maintain that the bar for this must be set very high: it must be clear and unarguable, evident to the reasonable man, that such is the case - and that criterion was not met in the case of Alfie Evans. I believe the hospital and the state (in the judiciary) over-reached their authority.

The second is the principle of treating nutrition and hydration as 'medical care' which can then be withdrawn at the decision of medical experts. Again, we need to be careful about not making an absolute out of this: there are times, when somebody is actually dying, and when providing nutrition and hydration are causing suffering, when ceasing to provide them is the correct thing to do. However, as Joseph Shaw points out, the principles established in the Tony Bland case have taken that far too far; and that seems also to be what happened in the case of Alfie Evans, at least temporarily.

Please remember Alfie's parents in your prayers at this terrible time; Alfie himself, of course, is in no need of prayer: having been baptised and not yet reached the age of reason, he is clearly in heaven. May he pray for us all here below.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Ill-liberalism

Tomorrow, Ealing Council will be deciding (whether) to impose a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in Mattock Lane, so as to prevent Good Counsel Network and other pro-Life organisations from maintaining their vigil outside an abortion clinic, and offering help to any women who want it.

If imposed, this will be a grave injustice, for a number of reasons.

One is that it removes a last line of defence from women who are being bullied or otherwise coerced into an abortion they do not want. The number of women who have accepted help from Good Counsel Network over the years is significant. Even Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, freely admits that women entering an abortion clinic have not necessarily made up their mind.  So the offer of an alternative - and genuine support in pursuing that alternative - is crucial

A second reason that it is unjust is that it is a wrong use of law.  That is a serious issue.  PSPOs were designed to enable local authorities to clamp down on anti-social behaviour (such as unruly consumption of alcohol in public places) that was distressing local residents. Here the order is being used (at best) to prevent women arriving at a clinic from the distressing knowledge that some people disagree that abortion is a legitimate solution to a crisis pregnancy, and (at worst) to outlaw the peaceful expression of a lawful view.  It is very wrong to use the law in ways so at variance with its intention: bringing the law into disrepute is a serious dereliction of duty for a public authority.

A third injustice springs from the way in which the Council have gone about their decision-making. They have accepted unsubstantiated allegations made against those who hold the vigils there; and have assumed their guilt, claiming that women have been harassed, even when the clinic's own cameras, trained permanently on the entrance to the clinic, have collected no such evidence - and nor have the police ever had to speak to, still less caution or arrest, the vigil-holders. Yet Ealing Council passed a motion to take all “necessary actions within its powers, utilising all necessary resources, to prevent anti-abortion protestors from intimidating and harassing women

A fourth injustice is the way in which the group calling itself Sister Supporter has, for years, been allowed (and even encouraged by Ealing's MP, Rupa Huq) to run a noisy protest, designed to provoke and intimidate those holding the vigil, and to create such a nuisance that the Council would have an excuse to take action.

And of course, there is the fundamental assault on the most basic of our democratic liberties: the rights of association and of freedom of speech. Of course these are not absolute; but they are weighty considerations - and the hypocrisy of Ealing Council and Rupa Huq MP may be readily manifested if one asks oneself a very simple question: would they use PSPOs to prevent picketing in the case of an industrial dispute. And I think the answer is clear: of course they would not. A PSPO is only considered because they are hostile to the pro-lifers.  And that is a very grave injustice indeed - a 'liberal' worldview so sick that it has become illiberal.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

How it works

A local charity provides support for families that are struggling in one way or another. That is, in fact, their focus and their purpose.

One of their volunteers recently wrote to one of the paid coordinators, about a particular family, when it became apparent that the mother was proposing to walk out on the father, taking their young boy with her. The question the volunteer had, was whether anyone had suggested other options to the mother, in terms of support for, or improvement of,  the relationship; or had even told her that this might not be in the young boy's interests (given that this charity is dedicated to family support). The volunteer mentioned that research tended to support this view.

In response he was told that research can be used for many purposes, and while in an ideal world a child would tend to fare better with two parents at home who have a good relationship, if the relationship has broken down, the child would be better off if the parents separate.  And then the kicker: Those of us in the office who have been through divorce, feel it would have been to the detriment of our own children to remain in an unhappy marriage.

There is so much to unpack here. The first is the statement that research can be used for many purposes.  Of course it can. That's not the point at issue: the question is, is the research reliable? And what does it suggest?  For, whatever other uses research might be put to (such as inducing guilt, which I suspect lies behind this comment) an appropriate use is precisely to inform policies of agencies such as this.

The second is the false antithesis: a child with parents in a good relationship, versus a child with parents whose relationship has broken down. That suggests that relationships can be so categorised, in the first place; and secondly that a relationship that has been deemed to have broken down is necessarily beyond saving.  Both are very questionable propositions.

Of course, a child doesn't want his parents fighting all the time. But we know that the vast majority of children want their parents to stay together. So why is it so unthinkable to explore the option of staying together and making the relationship work?

And the clue to that is in the last sentence: because I have had a divorce, and my friends have, it must be acceptable. 

Dismissing research, and then using such an argument is extraordinary. Any researcher knows about confirmation bias: that tendency to notice and lend weight to things that support what we want to believe. And of course a mother who has left her children's father has a strong psychological interest in justifying her decision to herself. She knows she is not a bad person, and would not choose to do anything to the detriment of her children. So of course she looks for (and finds) evidence to support that belief.

Moreover the women in the office have jobs and stability - to some extent they can shield themselves and their children from the consequences of their decisions. But their clients, people who are already struggling to hold their fragmented lives together much lower down the social scale, are in a very different position.

But rather than face the facts - or at the very least, the implications of the research - they flee into denial. The rich and the middle classes indulge their vices, and the poor suffer - just as with pro-abortion campaigning.  That's how it always works.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Oxymorons

I have long been incensed at the effrontery of 'Catholics for Choice.' The 'choice' for which they campaign, of course, is the choice to kill the unborn.  To call themselves Catholics whilst proclaiming this Satanic doctrine is an oxymoron of the highest order. Abortion is a sin of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

I was reminded of this when I learned of Catholic Schools that are proclaiming themselves 'Stonewall Schools.' Whilst Stonewall presents as an organisation that aims to promote equality and address bullying, its underlying philosophy, ethos and anthropology are all contrary to Catholic beliefs.

That reality comes to the surface from time to time, revealing Stonewall’s profound antipathy for Catholicism.  Cardinal O’Brien was awarded the title ‘bigot of the year’ by Stonewall, for standing up for Catholic teaching about marriage; and Stonewall was behind the legislation on adoption that forced the closure of Catholic adoption agencies.

The fundamental point of disagreement, of course, is Stonewall’s belief that homosexual and other non-procreative sexual behaviour is a positive good, and their mission to normalise and gain acceptance for such behaviour. That stands in stark contrast to the Church’s teaching, founded on the words of Christ Himself, that human sex is only good in marriage, when it expresses the nuptial union of a man and a woman, in love and open to life.

That then leads to very different approaches to, for example, the practical issue of education to prevent bullying. Stonewall’s approach is to teach children that 'gay children' (for example) should not be bullied because 'gay' is natural and good.

The Church, of course, teaches that nobody should be bullied, whether we approve of their behaviour or not, as we are all made in the image of God, and none of us is free from fault or defect, due to Original Sin.

So Stonewall’s anti-bullying work is at the service of their larger agenda, which is in contradiction to the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. The construction and promotion of the notion of a ‘gay person’ as an identity is philosophically and anthropologically unsound, and leads children (and indeed adults, including teachers) into error.  That error is compounded with the assumption that ‘being gay’ (ie subject to homosexual desires) can only find authentic expression in the indulgence of such desires. That error then leads people into sin and depravity.

 It is for that reason that it is incompatible for a School to be both Catholic and a ‘Stonewall School.’ And it is for that reason that I am delighted that the lamentable CES document 'Made in God's Image' is being quietly re-written. Let us hope that the next version is Catholic, not oxymoronic.

And let us hope and pray that the relevant bishops have a quiet word with the heads of the 'Stonewall Schools' and put them back on the straight and narrow; for the broad and popular Stonewall path leads somewhere quite different.