Monday 31 December 2012

Meditating on the Joyful Mysteries

I continue to be plagued by a tendency for my thoughts to drift off while saying my prayers.  One of the oddest things about it is the realisation that my brain is carrying out two functions at once.  When my attention returns to what I should be doing, I find I have come to the end of a particular prayer, or all my morning prayers, or a decade of the Rosary.  So part of my brain has been saying the words all through my wanderings.

When saying the Rosary, I find it helps enormously if I have a little phrase, mostly from Scripture or sometimes from some other devotional source, to pin down the flighty half of my mind while I say the prayers for each Mystery.

We are all different, and certain things resonate with one person while others are more inspiring for another person, or at another time.  And that's absolutely fine.   I thought you might be interested in what I have selected for my own meditation on the Joyful Mysteries.  I keep tinkering with them, but this is the current version.  For each Mystery, I meditate on the title and four phrases, and I do this twice, so that there is a line to occupy my mind for each Hail Mary.  I rather like the repetition; it seems to reinforce the meditation.

The Annunciation to Mary
“Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28)
“Be it done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
He shall be called “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us.” (John 1:14)

The Visitation to Elizabeth
“How is this, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)
“The child in my womb leapt for joy.” (Luke 1:44)
“My soul magnifies the Lord.” (Luke 1:46)
“He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy.” (Luke 1:54)

The Nativity of Our Lord
Joseph and Mary “went up to the City of David.” (Luke 2:4)
“There was no room for them at the inn.” (Luke 2:7)
She wrapped her Son, and laid Him in a manger. (Luke 2:7)
The shepherds “went with haste” to see the Child. (Luke 2:16)

The Presentation of Jesus
“They brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.” (Luke 2:22)
“My eyes have seen Your salvation.” (Luke 2:30)
The light of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. (Luke 2:32)
They “marvelled at what was said about Him.” (Luke 2:33)

The Finding in the Temple
“The boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:43)
The teachers “were amazed at His understanding.” (Luke 2:47)
“Your father and I have sought You, sorrowing.” (Luke 2:48)
“I must be about My Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49)

Friday 28 December 2012

Alessandro Manzoni: "The Betrothed"

I am nearing the end of reading, in translation, Alessandro Manzoni's great novel, The Betrothed ("I Promessi Sposi").  
It has something for every reader:  a sweet love story, and a rattling adventure, wrapped around a long and harrowing historical account of the Great Plague of Milan which ravaged northern Italy (and many other parts of Europe) during the Thirty Years' War.  There are dreadful scenes of suffering, and of wickedness;  and scenes in which God's power and love shine through it all.

It has been hard going at times, but I now have that feeling one has at the end of certain books, that I have been enriched by the experience. 

Thursday 27 December 2012

Eat for Victory; Make Do and Mend

Here is another chatty post for the Christmas holiday season, inspired by that World War Two heroine, Mrs Sew-and-Sew.  A saying of the time was:  "Eat it up or wear it out.  Make it do or do without."  That seems rather sensible to me, as a fall-back position for when belts have to be pulled tighter and tighter.

These are straitened times for many people.  Fortunately, help is at hand, in the form of inspirational books and internet resources.  Those of you who are keen to economise while continuing to enjoy the simple pleasures of home, may like to read the following.

A few years ago, two very interesting books were published.  They were compilations of official instruction leaflets for housewives, issued during and just after the Second World War.  One is called "Eating for Victory: Healthy Home Front Cooking on War Rations."  This is fascinating.   Many of the recipes would be considered very acceptable today.  I like the fuel-saving idea of cooking a casserole on the hob, with a pudding steaming in a cocoa tin in the centre of the pan.   I can't think when I last saw a cocoa tin, but if we were a family who were keen on puddings I think I could contrive something.

The other book is "Make Do and Mend: Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations".  This is very good on darning, patching and repairing , turning collars and cuffs on shirts (but I think I'll give that one a miss), and making new clothes out of old garments.  The one drawback is that all the garments are of the complicated type of that period, with (to our eyes) unnecessary gathers and pleats, and plackets, which are very fiddly to insert; thank goodness for zips! But the basic techniques could easily be adapted for our simpler modern clothes.

There are two other books which I have had since the early years of my married life.  They are both by Jo Hatcher:

"Cooking on the Breadline: Tips and recipes for cutting food bills yet still enjoying a varied menu"; and

"Home-Making on a Budget: Cost-cutting and time-saving ideas for beating inflation on the home front"

My attention turned to these resources again recently, and to the cheery picture of Mrs Sew-and-Sew, after the work I had been doing for Mother-in-law on her admission to the care home.  She is almost completely blind, and so she is naturally unable to see any little mending requirements that develop in her clothes.  Taking charge of her things gave me the opportunity to do quite a bit of mending and darning.  I was able to save some garments of which she was particularly fond. 

During my childhood I had no interest or skill in sewing.  It was in my late teens that I started to have a go at making some of my clothes.  After initial guidance from my mother, I became largely self-taught.  The craft of sewing has stood me in good stead all my life since then, both for clothes and for household things such as curtains.  It is very satisfying, both in terms of practical economy and in the pleasure of creativity.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

The Pleasure of Keeping a Diary

I thought I might publish one or two random, rambling posts, for those of my readers who feel like checking their computers as a change from Christmassy things. 

This one is about the pleasure of keeping a diary.  The desire to keep a diary can strike at any time; I was in my late 50s when I took it up. It wasn't even New Year's Day when I started, but early December.  I don't know what possessed me, but it has been several years since then, and I haven't missed a day.

Like all late starters, I suppose, I think back with frustration at the adventures I might have recorded as they happened, instead of having to rely on memories whose details gradually fade.

By the way, New Year's Day is a terrible day on which to start keeping a diary:  too many expectations and high resolutions, and by the third day all one can think to write about is what one had to eat.  But why not, say I.  Parson Woodforde's wonderful diary is full of detailed accounts of his meals, enabling us to savour the delights of Pigg's Face and various other Georgian delicacies.

No half-measures for me: my diary is A4, with a full page for each day.  I promised myself I wouldn't worry if I wrote just a few lines on any day. Momentous news or trivial witterings: it didn't matter.  Nor would I worry about style; I wasn't writing a work of literature.  Thinking along these lines helped me to overcome any initial self-consciousness, and gradually it became very natural and a part of me.

Sometimes I have had to record the events of a few days in one batch, such as the time when I was whisked off to hospital for an operation.  Holidays are dealt with variously.  I take the diary with me if we are going by car.  If we fly abroad, I sometimes take a thin notebook, write each day's entry in it, and transcribe the lot on my return.  The first time I thought it would be tedious to write everything again, but in fact it was a pleasure to re-live the holiday in this way.  You see what an addict I have become.

A surprising pleasure has been the diary's contribution to family reminiscences.  More than once my son has said, "Do you remember when such-and-such happened? "Yes," I say, "and I wrote about it in my diary."  I turn to the time in question in one of my old diaries, and it is as though the memories have come alive again, much to his delight.

I hope you have found this little post entertaining; and I hope it will encourage you not to throw away that Christmas-present diary just yet, but to tuck it away somewhere.  As the year progresses, the number of blank pages will increase, but it doesn't matter at all.  You never know: after an unknown number of weeks or months, and however late in the year, the words may suddenly start to flow.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

The Kindness of the Innkeeper's Wife

God bless us, every one!

The only character I ever played in a school Nativity play was the innkeeper's wife.  I haven't read the Holy Father's new book on the Infancy of Christ, so I don't know if he mentions the innkeeper and his wife among those persons and animals who are absent from the Birth narratives in the Gospels. 

On account of the crowds that had arrived in Bethlehem for the census, there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn; and so they had to make the best of things in a stable.  It is interesting to let one's imagination roam over this scene.  Let us, in particular, consider the innkeeper's wife.  There must surely have been such a person, a capable woman, knowledgeable in the ways of the world as well as in the business of childbirth.  As soon as she saw Mary, she would have assessed her condition in an instant.  Clearly this poor young woman was not fit to go a step further.  But "there was no room."  Perhaps literally so; or perhaps in the very practical sense of there being no possibility of privacy for the dramatic business of childbirth.

The idea of a stable is pretty grim.  How big was the stable?  Was it divided into stalls?  Some of the guests might have arrived on horseback, in which case many of the stalls would have been occupied by their horses, with their associated sounds and smells.  Did other animals share the stable, in particular the ox and the ass, those beloved creatures of our Crib scenes?  This imagined stable is getting to be quite a lot bigger than the one we are used to from the traditional illustrations.

Let us, for the sake of this exercise, imagine one of the stalls, swept and made ready in haste by the good innkeeper's wife: a little private space, its floor covered with new straw, its manger lined with fresh hay.  I can see her escaping from her domestic duties at intervals, to see how things were progressing, and to check that the couple were warm and had enough to eat and drink.

And then, the moment she had been looking forward to.  Was she present at the birth?  The instincts of an experienced mother would naturally be on the alert and ready to help with the arrival of a young woman's firstborn, especially when the young mother was so far from the comforts of home and family.

In the midst of that busy time, with so many guests to attend to, I'd like to think that this good woman experienced the delight and joy of the occasion, and a sense of modest satisfaction that she had done her best in difficult circumstances.

I wonder what she thought when a group of shepherds turned up at the door in the early hours, with a very strange story, asking to see the baby?

Monday 24 December 2012

Jesus our Emmanuel

I remember reading, long ago, that in certain instances where the Scriptures spoke of a person being called by a name, it was not merely an identifying label.  It was a statement of the inmost reality of that person: the purity of his or her identity, known only to God.

In the life of Our Lord Jesus, we know that only one of His given names was His name in the normal earthly sense.  In St Luke's account of the Annunciation, Mary is given three names by the Angel:  "You shall call His name Jesus;" "He will be called the Son of the Most High;" "The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

In St Matthew's account of the revelation to St Joseph, we are told the significance of the names "Jesus" and Emmanuel":  "You shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins." ( I understand that the name means "The Lord is salvation".)  Matthew then says, "All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  'Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us).' "

In Chapter 6, verse 45 of St John's Gospel, in that extraordinary encounter in which Christ speaks of His flesh as the bread of life, He says
"It is written by the Prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learnt from the Father comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father except Him Who is from God; He has seen the Father."
I wish all my readers a very happy and blessed Christmas.

Sunday 23 December 2012

The Original Countercultural Father

I have borrowed "Countercultural Father" from Ben Trovato, the paterfamilias whose excellent blog has that name. 

Lately, I have been doing some work on the Mysteries of the Rosary: specifically, writing down short snatches of text to help me to meditate as I pray the Mysteries.

A few minites ago, while continuing this task I had set myself, I was re-reading the account of the angels' appearance to the shepherds, to announce the birth of Christ.  To these ordinary chaps, probably with minimal education, the Heavenly message is given in all its richness and theological depth:
Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour Who is Christ the Lord."
This is not the only occasion on which God speaks to mankind in such a countercultural fashion.  At the other end of Christ's earthly life - indeed, a step beyond the end - the Resurrection is first announced to a few of the Lord's female disciples, who have come with such loving devotion to tend to His corpse.  They are the people whom the Apostles are least likely to believe.

God chooses His hearers and His messengers, as He knows best.

Picture from, via Google Images

Monday 10 December 2012

"No, you are not married."

Good words from Bishop Egan of Portsmouth and Bishop Devine of Motherwell on the Prime Minister’s push for same-sex couples to be allowed to marry. Incidentally, hasn’t it been fascinating, in recent times, to compare the styles of Catholic Churchmen - and indeed the general tenor of political and social debate - north and south of the border? They don’t mince words up there, do they?

I published a post on this topic a few months ago, which I link here for readers’ convenience. It is astonishing, even after the subject has been simmering ad nauseam, that PM David Cameron still talks as though he thinks that it is actually possible for persons of the same sex to be married. Whatever the law of the land eventually states, and whatever word the law applies to the ceremony or to their status,  they will not in fact be married.

What is driving the PM? Or more exactly, what things are driving him? It feels as if there is more to his decision-making than a detached intellectual study of the matter, leading to a calm, considered decision, however erroneous. Calm, intellectual consideration is not exactly what springs to mind in reflecting on Mr Cameron’s style or on his political record.

Is it something to do with his friends? Dare I say: is it something to do with Eton, his old public school? Its reputation in these matters has long been (whether exaggeratedly or not) rather notorious.

Is it something to do with his work experience before entering Parliament? I understand that he was a public relations man, selling his employers’ image, putting the desired impression across: that sort of thing. The attractive picture, to gain as many profitable customers as possible. Public relations can, I am sure, be an honourable and integritous career. But in the nature of things it must be vulnerable to the danger of becoming a thing in itself, an exciting skill, distinct from the value (including the moral worth) of what it represents.

But having said all that, I am left with this practical and sobering thought, regarding what lies ahead. If this law comes to pass, will one of us become involved at some point in the following exchange with a person who has celebrated a same-sex ceremony? However courteous the discussion, and however clearly and charitably we have set out the truth about marriage, in the end it may come to this: “Am I married or am I not?” “No, you are not.”

It is often said these days that in large measure it is the judges who make the law in our country, case by case, precedent by precedent. Which of the law’s opponents will be the first person to be charged with having given offence, and put on trial, not so much for a precisely-worded crime, but, as the police have sometimes said in other cases in recent years, “to test the law”?