August 1 – Sunday
THE WONDERS OF CREATION – DEATH
night people realised there were going to be a few hours to fill this morning so
the solution for some was to ask me to do a guided meditation.
It was warm enough by 10.00 to do it outside for those who wanted.
The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius begin with asking us to be aware of
our senses in nature. Go for a
walk, listen to the sounds of the trees in the wind and the birds, etc. Touch the leaves, smell the flowers. Open your eyes to the beauties of God’s creation.
If you go for a cup of coffee try and appreciate even more the taste.
Be alive to the presence of God around you.
Be grateful for the gift of life. I
made myself available in one of the sitting rooms.
There was no feed back, but I saw someone going around later still
fingering a leaf they had found.
Mass the readings gave a choice of St Paul warning about avoiding fornication
and impurity, etc or Ecclesiastes and the Gospel telling us that all is vanity
and don’t forget that death could be around the corner: “Fool, this night
God requires your soul.” I went
for the latter, also because it fitted in with one of the Questions in Glasgow
on Wednesday: “What does it mean in night prayer when it says, Into your hands
I commend my spirit/my soul”? At
one level it seems a bit unfair giving people in their 20s and 30s a sermon on
death. On the other hand, if you
are going to do it then a Mass outside on a sunny day provides the best
opportunity not to freak people out. In
the story Jesus told the rich farmer thought that he could build new barns and
enjoy a life of leisure for the rest of his life.
Little did he know that he was going to die that night.
Sometimes we make plans or think that we’ve got everything sewn up, but
God’s ways are not our ways. We
are called to live life to the full, but our lives are in God’s hands.
We never know what he is going to ask of us next.
It might not be death, but every time we let go of something it can be a
little death. The offertory song
reminded us that it is not only all that I am and all that I do that we are
invited to offer to God, but “all that I’ll ever have I offer now to you”.
It’s easier to say that on a day like today when the sun is shining, but beware of trying to give words of consolation to someone who has just suffered a bereavement. Or when someone has experienced another kind of death, when for example their boyfriend/girlfriend has just split with them and they thought they were the one!
In previous generations there was more of a ‘devotion’ to death. Saying Mass in a primary school on the Feast of St Joseph I asked the children what they knew about the father of Jesus. One of the infants gave the succinct answer: “He died”. I couldn’t stop giggling for the rest of the Mass, even though I knew he was trying to express what his teacher had told him, that Joseph was the patron saint of dying, traditionally having died with Jesus and Mary beside him. The Little Sisters of the Poor had a prayer for the dying which went: ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul with you in peace. Amen.’ One of my parish priests used to say this prayer at the end of Mass every day. A three-year old memorised it and one day, when his protestant father was listening to his night prayers, he heard the nipper going on about “assist me in my last agony”. It took a lot of explaining to convince him that his wife had not lost it completely.
Christians we believe that this life if just the beginning.
“I’m going to live forever”, is not just a Fame song.
Nobody particularly likes the idea of death, but like trains never
leaving early we just need to get used to the idea.
But, hey! Life is beautiful. Creation is wonderful. God
knows what he is doing and the best is still to come.
August 2 – Monday
OF MR LANAHAN
attended the funeral of the father of Leo Lanahan. Leo was the first to do the newsletter for the 30s in the
North-West. He moved to Scotland
last year when he married Ailish who co-ordinated the 30s in Glasgow.
They met at Malpas at the Holy Week gathering.
His father had moved to Scotland as well.
The funeral was in his home town of Hyde, which is just next door to
Stockport. It was the first funeral
I had attended that was connected to the group.
friend from Seminary, Fr Peter, was there as well. He had known Mr Lanahan in his parish and was able to speak
knowingly of him at the end of Mass. This
contrasted with the difficulty faced by the Parish Priest in speaking as he
didn’t know him at all. As a
priest that happens quite often. Someone
dies in the parish and you don’t know them, and you have to say something
about them. Though these days we
are encouraged not to give a eulogy or talk much about the person in the sermon,
but to leave it to someone from the family to say a few words at the end of
of the most difficult funerals I had to do was for a sixteen year old lad who
was attacked by people his own age in his own town. I was only looking after the parish for the summer.
One of the attackers was a Catholic who claimed that he had tried to stop
it going too far. His family were unable to visit him in prison so they asked
me to go and say to him that he should tell the whole story to the police.
At the funeral the mourners walked from the chapel to the cemetery
through the centre of the town with all the shops closed as they passed.
you can never presume how the bereaved are feeling. On another occasion I was called to a death of a man in a
neighbouring parish. I expressed my
condolences to the family. “No
need to give us that, Father”, came the reply from one of his middle-aged
daughters. “We’re glad the old
so-and-so has gone”. It turned
out that he had been abusive to his wife and family when they were younger.
They had only taken him back in again when he became terminally ill, and
he had continued to be abusive to them right till the end.
priest, like those in the caring professions, has to learn to compartmentalise
to a certain degree. You could be
doing a funeral in the morning and a wedding in the afternoon etc, yet you can
never forget how important occasions are to the people involved. Let’s
remember Leo and his father in our prayers.
The 30s in the North-West received notification by email of the death and
quite a few had sent emails to Leo for which he was grateful.
Anyone else can send a message to email@example.com
and we will pass it on.
August 3 – Tuesday
A BREAK. HAVE A …..
everyone is able to take a holiday or a break over the summer.
Even if we can’t get away it is still important to have some space for
ourselves if we can. And the summer with the better weather gives us more
opportunity for that, even if it is just a walk in the park or sitting outside
in the sun. If we keep going day by
day on the same routine we can get stuck in a rut.
It can be a way of avoiding important issues. It can also mean that we are keeping God out of our lives.
the Gospel used at weekday mass Jesus has just heard that John the Baptist has
been beheaded, so he went off with his disciples to a lonely place where they
could be by themselves. He did this
at other times when things got too busy or when he had an important decision to
make like choosing the Apostles. He
needed time to think and to pray to the Father. At other times he just needed a rest, like when he fell
asleep on the boat. Often the
people guessed where he was going so the time of quiet did not last very long.
Sometimes it can be hard to get away, or when we’ve found some space
something happens to spoil it, but the important lesson is to be on the look out
for opportunities to get a break.
haven’t done badly myself recently for getting away. Things like Lough Derg and the West Highland Way would come
under ‘work’ for me, but they are also great opportunities to step outside
the usual programme of life. This
afternoon it occurred to me that it had been a while since I had an evening off.
On office days I usually take a good break off after lunch, then go on
till about 8.00 pm. I had preached at the daily Mass about the need for a change
of routine on occasions, and it occurred to me that I should practice what I
preached. I knew that what I had to
do this evening could easily be done tomorrow.
I didn’t have any plans of what to do but it was just nice to say about
5.00 pm “that’s me finished for the day”.
few people have written recently to say that they have arranged to go on a
longer retreat this summer to a monastery or religious centre.
That’s when we can really get the pay-off of some quiet time.
Everyone should try that at least once.
What are you afraid of? Next
summer there will be a Monday to Friday retreat at Malpas in the last week of
July. If you’ve never stopped to think where you are going in
your life put that week in your diary for next year.
Kit Kat have just decided to drop their slogan “Have a break”.
They could be making a mistake.
August 4 – Wednesday
LIBRARY FOR EMAILS. JULY HITS.
Is it right to feel sympathy for those who do not have email? I’ve always worried that those on the postal list miss out because they don’t get the reminders and reports and updates. But today it hit me how easy it is to have an email address by going along to your local library. On Monday my modem started playing up. It says it’s already ‘online’ when it isn’t, so nothing responds and no emails can come in or get out. The problem is just on my personal email address. All the Project 2030 emails go through to the office. I daren’t think how much money it cost yesterday ringing alternately the Wanadoo and Dixon’s helplines as they tried every trick in the book to free up the modem and then passed me back to the other company. I knew there were emails waiting from the groups coming from Europe for Malpas next week and I am expecting things from India. But it was easy going to the library this morning for an hour and logging on, and it doesn’t cost anything to use their computers. I might even do that all the time. It would give me a good break from the office.
took the chance in the library to check up the stats for the web diary.
In May we had 444 hits (visitors), but I think that was inflated as it
included every time I or the office uploaded or checked the web page.
In June there were 181, but much of the time the diary was on holiday.
In July there were only 150 hits, but that excludes those who are now
receiving the diary by email every week (see end of page for how to do this).
When I started the web diary someone who was doing a similar kind of page
impressed me by saying they got 200 hits a month.
After May my expectations were higher.
They are now more realistic, but the main thing is that I enjoy writing
and enough people enjoy reading it. The
style of the entries has changed according to the response of the readers, so
don’t be shy to let us know what you think and make suggestions.
If anyone has experience as an editor your ideas would be particularly
August 5 - Thursday
DAY OFF. REFLECTION ON SURVIVING
One of the questions raised at the Q &
A session last week with the Glasgow 20s was how can we as Christians survive
the atheist media. The media is a problem for a lot of sectors of society.
Football managers will say that they never read the papers. It just makes
them mad to see the way stories and gossip are manipulated to produce a
sensational headline. The controversy about Sven-Goran Eriksson and the
English FA has become about because journalists again decided it was time to
have a new manager. They are now saying how silly the whole thing has been
but they don't see that they are at the root of the problem and they do not
want to face up to their own role. So it is not just Catholics and
Christians who get a hard time. If you are a social worker, police,
teacher doctor politician etc you are not going to like how the media represents
you. The biggest service the media provides in our society is to inform us
of the truth of matter. If anyone tries to deceive them in the slightest
way they will come down on them like a ton of bricks. Yet journalists are
the biggest offenders against the truth. Stories will be manipulated,
innuendos will be added, rumour will be put across as truth - all for the sake
of sensationalism and bigger sales.
The public are to blame as well because of
our appetite for scandals and bad news. If people complained about the
ridiculous hysterical reporting they would change their tune. If sales
went down every time there was a sensational headline about a public figure they
would stop doing it. When people express their disquiet to me about the
media I usually ask them if they have written and complained about it.
Unless we make our feelings known things will never change. I wrote a
piece about Big Brother last week but I never sent it to Channel 4. I gave
up reading the Guardian for a year once. The choice was that or writing to
them every day, as there was always something they were getting wrong about the
Church or other related issues. I already saw the title of the book of
letters in my head: 'The Guardian - Angel or Devil?’, but it would have been
too big a commitment at the time to write something every day. The
Guardian has got a bit better in recent years and much of that is due to a
campaign by The Tablet to make them aware of their anti-Catholic reactions.
Their response to the Vatican's recent letter, which also spoke about feminism,
has less misquotes than other papers and they published the following letter on
”True the Pope writes about women, having
been celibate for 85 years - but many doctors diagnose and hope to cure cancer
without ever having had the illness. Let's face it. Pope-bashing is
just another kind of bigotry”.
The Church is not above criticism and we can learn from the caricatures and prejudices that people have against us. But we shouldn't be afraid to speak out against misinformation. Don't write if you feel very strongly about something. Cool down first. One of the problems that journalists have with Christians is the amount of rabid letters they receive from them. At its basis the problem with the media is one of power. There are very few institutions or individuals who have the nerve to speak out against them or to criticise. Also the Church stands for many things that are against the spirit of the age and which help to sell papers. Anyone who sticks their head above the parapet will be slaughtered. When Lord Irvine said in Westminster that he was going to do something to regulate the media he was reviled for everything including his wallpaper. I am often tempted to go more public myself because the pharisaical burdens that are placed on people by the media are causing great harm, and not just to Christians. But Jesus hung around a while before going to Jerusalem, and I don't feel ready for crucifixion yet.
August 6 - Friday
ENJOYING A GOOD PANIC
People who are worriers say that this worst thing is to wake up one morning and find they have nothing to worry about, and then they really panic. I feel the beginnings of panic sometimes, and I was getting that way the last couple of days. For the past few weeks there was always something on the agenda to be sorted out about the gathering in Malpas next week and the weekends for our European visitors in Liverpool and Scotland - when and where are people arriving, transport, accommodation etc. It was only when all the main things were in place that I began to worry about the smaller details. Even though yesterday was my day off I was tempted to make some more phone-calls until I persuaded myself that they could be made today. Panic is often a reaction to make sure that we do something important, like get out when there is a fire, but usually if we act in panic we make things worse, or we waste a lot of time doing stuff that doesn't get us anywhere. The best thing and the hardest thing to do when we are really worried about something is not to do anything at all. Stand back, cool off, even forget about it for a while and then a solution can present itself. Swimming instructors say that the last thing you should do when you see someone struggling in the water is to jump in yourself. More people get drowned that way and the original person is often rescued by other means. Is there a life-jacket or a stick or a bridge nearby?
Today I have been getting back to my more relaxed self, just as well, because I spent four hours typing the diary and other stuff in the library to send to the office by email and lost most of it. My own computer has seized up, so off we go to the library. After two hours typing I tried to send the email and it just disappeared. This afternoon I went back again. This time I saved the first bit to draft and that worked okay but when I came to save the main part later it just disappeared again. Doing this now on the parish priest's computer. It better work.
I was intending to go to London this evening to be there for the picnic tomorrow but it is now 6.00 pm and I'm not going to be able to make it. It will just need to be up and down in the one day, and the trains are delayed by works. It took 5 hours to go to Wimbledon last week. People are arriving from Italy, Portugal and Finland tomorrow in Liverpool for the gathering at Malpas next week. I was tempted to go there to meet them but we haven't promised them any programme over the weekend, just, a few extra days holiday and they can look after themselves.
Because the office is closed for the next 10 days and I'm going to be too busy to write much for the diary, so the next 10 days is going to be written in advance, giving an idea of what is going to happen on each day. You can use your imagination and fill in the rest. I might make some comments on what happens later, or maybe just leave it to the email report that one of the group will write on Malpas.
August 7 - Saturday
FOR THE NEXT 10 DAYS THE DIARY HAS BEEN WRITTEN IN ADVANCE BECAUSE THE 2030 OFFICE WILL BE CLOSED AND IT IS GOING TO BE TOO BUSY DURING THE GATHERING ETC TO WRITE MUCH.
Today the groups in London are having a picnic in Regent's Park. And very nice too. We are bringing in caterers and there will be a marquee in case it rains. Jean organises this kind of thing for her company. It's Ł18 per ticket and proceeds will go to the Dehonian Missions in India. Last week there were about 60 already booked for it, so that could rise to 80 or 90. Ronan is organising some games. Yes, our insurance covers this. We might even play Frisbee Football like we did last weekend on Wimbledon Common. 40 a side, that would be something.
Pity that the picnic was arranged after the Europeans coming to the gathering had made their plans for going to Liverpool. I had originally been encouraging them to stop off in London en route and meet up with the groups. Next time.
August 8 - Sunday
MASS AND PARTY IN LIVERPOOL.
The last of our European visitors arrive today and we are having a Mass, buffet and disco for them this evening at the Stella Maris Centre, Bootle near Liverpool. We will be joined by the 20 and 30s groups from the North West. People from the other groups who are going to Malpas for the weekend could have found a bed at the Stella Maris for the party, but most of them are going direct to Malpas tomorrow afternoon.
The Stella Maris is run by the Sacred Heart Fathers for sailors whose ships come into the docks to unload their cargo. Many of the sailors come from Catholic backgrounds in the Philippines, India and Poland, and they appreciate the opportunity of somewhere to have a break and get any help and advice that they need. These days the ships are unloaded so quickly that they have hardly any time to enjoy the facilities, so centres like Stella Maris could close and the chaplains will go on the boats for a few days while they are travelling to the next port. I quite fancy that myself.
August 9 - Monday
TO MALPAS FOR THE GATHERING.
Besides the 19 coming from Europe there will be 15 from the groups in Britain and Ireland at Malpas. The bus leaves Liverpool at 3.00 pm stopping at Chester station to pick up those coming from London and Dublin by train. We'll be at Malpas by 4.00. St Joseph's Centre is on a small hill just a few minutes walk from the village. It overlooks the Dee Valley and the Welsh Hills. The first evening will be mostly settling in and getting to know each other, and there are some nice pubs in the village.
August 10 - Tuesday
MALPAS DAY 2
Tuesday and Thursday will be spent in and around Malpas. The theme for today will be 'LISTENING to each other, to God, to ourselves and the world.' There will be an opportunity for everyone to do three workshops. We are following the 'Market Place' system. Anyone can raise a topic and if others want to go into that further they can do so in a smaller group. Other gatherings you go to have important speakers and interesting workshops, but you can come away feeling that you have not had a chance to explore the issues that are most important to you or to hear what other people really think. People have been asked to come with issues in mind that they would like to explore further. You don't need to be an expert on the topic or even to lead the small group. You go to what interests you and if you don't like what you are hearing you can go and join another group.
Some of the issues that have been suggested in advance are:
- surviving as a younger Catholic today in our modern society.
- the Church and sexuality
- my experience as a lay person on the missions
- how can we get involved in our local parish and Church.
- the Church in Finland. How can we help?
- what can we learn from dehonian spirituality for ourselves.
- how can we best support one another as young Catholics
These are just some of the topics I can remember. As the days go on other issues arise and the idea is that we gradually come to discuss the issues that are most important to us and maybe even reach some conclusions and recommendations for ourselves and the Church. Hopefully it will produce ideas that will be interesting for the Review Meeting of all the groups 17-19 September at Malpas.
During the day there will be time for Mass, prayer, going for a walk in the lovely countryside, and Liam is thinking up some games for us. Frisbee football? This evening the Gideons will be coming to present us with copies of the Gospels or the Bible. This fits in with the theme of listening to God and we hope it will be a nice present that our visitors will appreciate as a memento of their stay with us.
August 11 - Wednesday
DAY TRIP BY COACH
We'll be out all day today. Shall it be Alton Towers or Blackpool? Maybe even Chester and North Wales. Will anyone else want to climb Snowdon? Taking bets. If we try and discuss where to go will it just descend into chaos? Watch this space.
August 12 - Thursday
Today will follow a similar pattern to Tuesday, but by now we should be getting to know each better. The theme for the day will be: 'TALKING to each other, to God, to ourselves and to the world.' The quality of the week could be decided by how good the party is tonight on our final evening. Jealous?
August 13 - Friday
Parting is such sweet sorrow, or as the French say: 'Partir, c'est mourir un peu.' The bus will drop people off at Chester station while the visitors will be heading on up to Smithstone House, Kilwinning about 25 miles south west of Glasgow. If the driver is okay we will make a detour into the Lake District. By the time we reach the Sacred Heart Community in Scotland, Fr Stephen Motroni, a master chef in the Italian tradition, will be getting the barbecue ready. We'll be joined by the 20s and 30s groups from the West of Scotland.
August 14 - Saturday
Edinburgh is a fascinating place at any time, but during the Festival it is abuzz with activity. There is street entertainment on nearly ever corner. We'll catch the train to the capital and spend the day there. Next year we will likely have a main joint event weekend in Edinburgh during the festival, staying in Glasgow as it is almost impossible to find accommodation in the east.
August 15 - Sunday
LOCH LOMOND AND THE HIGHLANDS
Martin has been able to borrow a minibus and with a few cars we'll get up to Loch Lomond and the beginnings of the Highlands. I have this feeling in my feet that I was up there recently. I was speaking to Martin today (Friday 7 August) and he was saying that on the day after they finished the West Highland Way they went to a local Highland Games. They put a team into the tug of war and only lost 2-1 in the final. I don't think that's covered by the insurance. After Loch Lomond we'll come back on the ferry from Dunoon. That's where the Pink Panther goes on his holidays. Just keep saying it: 'Dunoon, Dunoon ...' Our visitors might be disappointed that we don't go as far as Loch Ness. When foreigners think of Scotland, after whisky and kilts they think of the monster, or maybe that comes after Scotland Yard. We'll just tell them that one of the other lochs we pass is Loch Ness. They'll never know the difference, and their chances of seeing Nessie anyway are pretty slim. I've only seen it a couple of times.
August 16 - Monday
Most of the visitors are going today. The rest can look after themselves. I've had enough.
August 17 - Tuesday
BACK TO STOCKPORT
If God should spare us it will be back to Stockport today. If you didn't see the note earlier and you haven't guessed so far, THE LAST 10 DAYS OF THE DIARY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN IN ADVANCE. The advantage is that you can use your imagination about what might have happened. We could even take bets on what might or might not have gone down. How about these for odds:
- someone breaks a leg at the London picnic or climbing Snowdon 100/1
- it doesn't rain for the 10 days 1000/1
- nobody from Europe brings a guitar 2/1
- we get banned from the pubs in Malpas 200/1
- we see the Loch Ness Monster 11/2
- Fr Stephen forgets to do the barbecue 20/1
- at Malpas we solve the problems of the world BETS ARE OFF ON THIS ONE.
- this email does not get through again and the diary is a blank 7/4 ON FAVOURITE
- someone actually tries to put a bet on EVEN STEPHENS.
Any other suggestions for bets or for what really happens over the next/last 10 days will be respectfully received.
August 18 –
THOUGHTS ON THE GATHERING – FOOTBALL
It might seem sad to people who are not sporty that my abiding memory of our summer gathering and the weekends spent with our European visitors will likely be that I played football 5 out of 6 days. When you get to a certain age any game of football can be an achievement even though I gradually played more and more in goal. First one leg got injured, then another. When the arms started to go I felt like the knight from Monty Python who refused to stop fighting even though he had no limbs left. The Italians would have played football all day. But we didn’t disgrace ourselves. Dave and Liam were our stars at Malpas, and Martin proved a ‘galactico’ in Scotland.
We didn’t do a systematic assessment at the end of the week in Malpas, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The market place of topics created its own momentum and there were some deep discussions. The few whose English was not very good struggled a bit, but everyone gelled together and we had lots of fun. Ian helped to break the ice with his games from Dehon House. Michael will be writing a report on Malpas. Yesterday the Europeans had a review of their experience before they left Smithstone House. The one thing they wanted more of was time for quiet and meditation. We had Mass and prayers in the morning and evening, but there was not enough space for reflection for them. That was the same complaint we had in our earlier retreats. If the English-speakers felt the same that would be a good sign for the retreat next summer at Malpas. We hope to repeat last week’s experience in 2006 for the 2030 groups and then open it again to other countries in 2008.
One significant development for our own groups was that the visitors kept talking about our founder, Fr Dehon, and dehonian spirituality. What does this mean? The Europeans tended to come from near Sacred Heart parishes and communities. They don’t have the same countrywide groups like us. By popular demand I gave an introductory workshop on dehonian spirituality on the last day which a majority of the native English speakers attended. There are many different spiritualities in the Church based on founders of communities, like Franciscan, Benedictine, Ignatian, etc. Leo Dehon’s is a spirituality of the heart, based on the love of Jesus. The cross with the heart in the middle is an obvious sign of this. At the end of the workshop people asked how do you become a dehonian. I’ll say more about this in Thursday’s reflection.
Besides the people from the groups who were at Malpas, our visitors also met a good crowd at the Mass and party in Liverpool and the buffet in Scotland. Some of them also joined the Scots for a ceilidh on Saturday on the way back from the Edinburgh Festival. We got the best of the weather for our days out in Chester, Edinburgh and Loch Lomond. We also received an official invitation to visit Finland, and we would be made welcome if we ever decided to do a tour of Italy or Portugal.
Had to go back to the Stella Maris Centre near Liverpool this afternoon to pick up my car which I had left there when we headed to Malpas by bus last week. On the way back I was listening to a discussion on Radio 5 about Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’. They had to cut off a priest who was going to reveal how the book ends. No-one told him that Radio 5 is as much entertainment as news. I got into trouble for telling how Spiderman 2 ends, so look away now if you don’t want to know the score. The essence of the plot, if I picked it up right, is that Jesus is supposed to have married Mary Magdalene, and their descendents are still around today, but the Church is always doing its deadliest to suppress the ‘facts’. The priest thought it was a deliberate attack on Christianity, but another Catholic scholar who was on felt that it was just a hotch potch of conspiracy theories and did not need to be taken seriously.
I’ve been hearing quite a bit about the book since it hit the best-seller lists in the States and here. I didn’t think I would read it, just as I would avoid documentaries on the Church on certain TV stations – you know what the agenda is. Then I picked up the free copy of summer reading that Borders are giving away. Amongst the selection of extracts of ‘hottest titles’ was a couple of chapters from Dan Brown’s “Deception Point” It was a real page turner with a plot that kept you on the edge – someone who works for the presidents turns out to be the daughter of his main rival for the presidency – you get the drift. That made me decide to read the Da Vinci Code. My switch-off reading is usually fast moving, no thinking, page turners, and there are very few authors who do it for me these days.
As it turns out my brother gave me his copy of the book when I went to say Mass for his 35th wedding anniversary on Monday. I’ll do a review when I’m finished. Meanwhile I’d be glad to hear from anyone else who has read it, or who has heard about it. It seems that some people have been disturbed by the book, but I don’t think that even Dan Brown expects us to take it seriously. Every generation comes up with these dramatic speculations. In the 80s it was the film ‘The Last Temptation of Jesus’ when he is supposed to hallucinate on the cross about what it would have been like if he had married Mary Magdalene. At the end of his life/hallucination the apostles get angry with him that he didn’t fulfil his destiny, and the camera pulls back to the cruxifiction. A journalist once went to visit an author who specialised in writing books about conspiracy theories and religion. “You know they are a load of rubbish – why do you do it?” he asked. The author replied: “I’d rather not answer that, but if you would like to see my million dollar house I’ll give you a lift there in my Rolls Royce.”
I got into trouble for my review of Big Brother a couple of weeks ago. Someone, who knows I know their style, wrote: “Hi Hugh – enjoying your musings on life, the universe and every mad thing (especially Big Brother). I have to ask you one bewildered question though – how could you possibly ask the question, in principle, as to whether or not we (presumably as Christians) should be watching Big Brother? Is it not the greatest waste of precious God-given time to actually consciously sit down and watch a bunch of self-obsessed, sex-obsessed, fame-obsessed narcissists and allow them to consume valuable time and reflective resources??” My excuse back was: “I have to know how the other half lives, but then I also enjoy watching the monkeys in the zoo.”
August 19 – Thursday
FR DEHON AND DEHONIAN SPIRITUALITY
At the gathering last week people were curious to know more about Fr Dehon and the dehonian spirituality that our visitors from Europe were going on about. So by popular demand I led a workshop on it.
Leo Dehon was born in North-West France in 1843. From a young age he wanted to be a priest. His father tried to put him off by sending him on long holidays, including a tour of Britain and Ireland in 1862. Eventually he began his studies in Rome and was ordained in 1869. He was sent to St Quentin, a large industrial town near his birth place of La Capelle. Full of energy, he started a Catholic newspaper and set up a group for workers, especially young workers who were in danger of being alienated from the Church and brutalised by the Industrial Revolution. Gradually he realised that he wanted to be a part of a religious community, but no group would take him on along with the works that he had begun. In 1877 his bishop suggested that he begin his own community on condition that he set up a much needed college in the town.
He called his group Oblates of the Heart of Jesus. Other communities imitate Jesus as a poor man (Franciscans), or as a preacher (Dominicans), etc. For Dehon, it was the love of Jesus that motivated him, especially when he looked upon his heart, pierced by the soldier’s spear on the Cross (John 19:37). Each day Dehonians are invited to say an act of oblation or offering, to give themselves to others and to God in the same way that Jesus did out of love. He felt sad that many people, especially the poor and those whose lives were affected by sin, didn’t realise how much God loved them. Not only did he want to get that message across, but he tried to change the unjust structures that prevented workers and their families from achieving their full potential.
The new community got off to a slow start and was even closed down for a while in 1882 because of problems with the Bishop, but when it started up again months later as Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus it began to spread quickly. Within a few years missionaries were sent to South America and Africa. We came to England in 1936, Scotland in 1969 and Ireland in 1977. There are 2,500 Sacred Heart Fathers and Brothers in 40 countries. Leo Dehon is due to be beatified, made Blessed, next year, in recognition not only of his own holiness but also the impact that he has had on the lives of others.
At first we mostly kept the spirituality of our Founder to ourselves. Gradually we realised that it was a way to holiness and wholeness for everyone, especially those attracted by the love of Jesus, and by the way it is lived by the followers of Leo Dehon in our time. In many other countries there are groups of lay people who live this spirituality of love and self-sacrifice. The dehonians in Britain and Ireland will be having a meeting next year to look at ways of opening up our spirituality more to lay people. Watch this space if you feel the need for more community support and help in following Jesus more closely in the paths of love. Although Jesus was the Son of God he was also human in every way like us. His is the life we want to imitate. The experience of Leo Dehon and those who have come after him can provide us with insights to help us live our life to the full, discover our true humanity and experience a love that will enrich us, until it is no longer we that are living our lives, but Christ who is living within us. As St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians 2:19-20 “With Christ I hang upon the Cross, and yet I am alive, or rather, not I, it is Christ that lives in me. True I am living here and now this mortal life, but my real life is the faith I have in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”.
August 20 –
“Paper keeps the world going round” used to be one of those claims before email and mobile phones. “If it’s not written down it doesn’t exist”, still applies to me, and even if it is written down you might forget to read it. Some people carry diaries with them. My travel notebook is an A4 sheet folded into eighths (I’ve only ever lost one of them, so if I never got back to you once in the dim and distant, that’s my excuse. The worst is when someone asks you for “a bit of your paper”. All they see is a scrappy sheet, while to me it’s quite precious, as our friend Gollum from Lord of the Rings would say.) A few times after being away for a while I’ve written in the diary about relevant emails, phone-calls or post that was waiting on return. The past couple of weeks have produced some full pocket notebooks, which help give an idea of what is germinating in the group at the moment. Here are some details.
NOTES FROM THE LONDON PICNIC:
· Someone wants more details on our India mission. They give a tenth of their income to the Church and wonder if it should go to India this time.
· Marta is going to organise a week in Poland in September 2005. Based around Krakow, Auchwitz optional. January’s skiing trip is fully booked. She hopes to do two skiing trips in 2006.
· A few of the 20s travel up regularly from Brighton. They intend to do some publicity in the parishes in that area and form a sub-group. The office can help with letters and posters to the PPs as well as the mailing lists, etc.
NOTES FROM STELLA MARIS PARTY, NORTH-WEST
· Liam is going to organise a last-minute overnight at Stella Maris the last weekend in August. Email all the groups. Possibility of a ceilidh there in October. Contact the people who are organising the Christmas meal. If they haven’t come up with anything it could be at Stella Maris again.
· Ian is going to be the North-West contact for the Glasgow weekend in October. People asking for more details on London weekend.
· A few go to the Grand National every year. Would this interest other groups as a main event next year?
· Some-one was going to organise an overnight lock-in at an old police station as a sponsored event for India. Chase this up.
· Is M thinking or organising a trip to Alton Towers. Email to encourage this. Could also be a main event for next year.
NOTES FROM SMITHSTONE HOUSE, SCOTLAND
· Most of the 20s who come for the buffet with the Europeans have not been at Smithstone House before. They want to have a retreat here soon. Fr Stephen gives us some dates. Ideas for places for retreats around London and speakers in the North-West also appear in the notes.
· Arrange delegates for Review Meeting in September in Malpas. Notes on this and suggested names also from other areas.
· Someone has ideas for walks. Email to encourage this and other ideas floating around.
· Fr Chris gives me dates when he can go with a group to India next year in early January. Fr John can do July.
· A few people take the chance to give me their new address or email.
· Found this information at Malpas which I pass on: “When you go online please click on www.maketraidfair.com and www.thehungersite.com - companies will donate money and food to charities when these sites are visited.
· Other memos. Need to decide next week about Belfast if we are going to begin the groups there this autumn. Book flights to Portugal for dehonian young people meeting in October. Find a B and B in Stratford for this weekend. 35 are going from the groups.
August 21 –
JOINT VISIT TO STRATFORD ON AVON, SHAKESPEARE’S BIRTHPLACE
In August’s midst did five and thirty make their way
To Avon’s banks and there didst spend two day
With Bard who full four hundred years ago
Hath trod these streets and watched the river flow.
Six came here driven by a north-west squall
While one brave soul came south from Hadrian’s Wall.
Most journeyed north from London’s golden shores
Where Will did write and love the south bank roars
That rippled round the Globe and make his skill
Most famed in all the world with pen and quill.
The cruxifiction night we met at Thistle Inn
And many an hour we keep our drinking thin.
On Saturn’s morn we walk the very ways
Where he grew up and passed his early days.
His native house breathes airs of middle wealth
Though genius did he show by means of stealth.
The capital him called to tread the stage
And write the lines that mirror us his age.
When noon had come we make our way to Marks
Then took our bread in one of Stratford’s parks.
With sun still high we oared our way by boat,
Some strong, some fast, some glad to stay afloat.
By night we watched the Prince of Denmark’s fall
From grace through madness to the loss of all.
Forsooth he lived such weary, troubled years
With ghosts and plots and skulls to bring on tears.
August 22 -
STRATFORD (DAY 2)
The Lord’s Day too much hours of heat did pass
We met by morn and raised our hearts at Mass.
From thence the Earl of Warwick bade us come
To spy his castle and with thousands some
To see the jousts and creep the dungeons oe’r
Where many a Knight had lived and died right sore.
Then did we on the Sunday e’en depart
And wend our homesome way with gladsome heart.
The weekend, you might imagine, brought out among the group a plethora of Shakespearean quotes and misquotes and other anecdotes. While not all these are mine, I take full responsibility for them:
· “Friends, Catholics (Romans), Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar not to praise him”.
· “Shall I compare thee to a winter’s morn?”
· It’s not surprising that a son of Anne hath a way with words.
· During the rowing and accidental ramming: “Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war”.
· “To be or not to be, that is the answer, question, problem, etc”.
· “Methinks the lady doth protest too much”.
· “To thine own self be true”.
· “Alas poor Yoric, I knew him well – he got a gold at the Olympics for skulling. His calling was to row ding-dong merrily on Avon”.
· And so to bed “perchance to dream”.
· I enjoyed telling the ladies that my favourite quote from Hamlet was: “Get thee to a nunnery”, which brought the accusation that I was on a commission. If someone was hungry this could become “Get thee to a bunnery, perchance to cream”.
· As we came out of Hamlet on the Saturday evening someone expressed surprise that they’d left out the bit with the cigar. Like the guy who went to see ‘Les Miserables’. Afterwards he said: “I enjoyed it, except I couldn’t work out who Les was”.
· Shopping in Stratford sounded almost patriotic when described as “ye retail therapie”.
· I knew a priest called William Shakespeare. This is true. He told us how he went to the cottage of Anne Hathaway (Shakespeare’s mum) and signed the visitors’ book. The Curator was upset. “We expect this from adolescents, Father”, he said, “but not from priests”.
· Not many people know this, but the inventor of crosswords is buried in Stratford cemetery. If you ever go there the stone is easy to find. It’s five down and four across.
August 23 –
The advert reads: “Our dog is missing again. Mongrel. Bad limp. Blind in one eye. Responds to the name ‘Lucky’!” I consider myself lucky to be involved in something where part of my work is to go on weekends like we’ve just had at Stratford on Avon. Should a priest be talking about luck, I was once asked. I’ve always seen ‘good luck’ as ‘God luck’. God look (luck) after you.
The Oxford Dictionary says that the origins of the word ‘luck’ are unsure. Whatever, I consider myself lucky not just to have an enjoyable time but feel I am privileged to know so many wonderful younger people, to share their joys and sorrows, to experience their enthusiasm and freshness, to know something of their worries and struggles, to see their faith and kindness. Like the many like Chris at the weekend who are prepared to put in so much effort for the group and the smooth running of an event. And there is so much that I learn from the group, and not just how to make better use of my mobile or computer. These are a few things I have learned recently about people, without mentioning names, which have not only impressed me but made me think how I go about things.
Someone approached me a while back to know more about our missions in India. Every year they tithed, or gave a tenth, of what they earned to the Church for those in need. Tithing was a strong tradition in the Old Testament from the time of Abraham. It maybe got a bad press in the Gospels when Jesus talks about the Pharisee who boasts that he is better than the sinner because he pays tithes on all he gets (Lk 18:12). Protestant Churches put a lot of stress on it. While the Catholic Church encourages people to give generously, giving a tenth is not an idea that it pushes, though Jesus often stresses that the more we give the more we can receive. I’m not saying people should start tithing, but it might be good in general terms to stop and think what you give to the Church for its work and for the needy. You might be surprised how much you give already, or maybe not.
Planning our future and what we do and give is something I learned more about recently from someone else in the group. They set themselves goals for the time ahead – next week, month, year, and even further ahead. I will try and do this. It is so easy to drift along and not think about the future. All the things that have to be done can seem overwhelming. Better to break them down to manageable proportions and set targets. For this person it also involved what they could do for the group. I can’t do anything in the next newsletter, but the one after that I can. Next year I can do something better, more challenging. And they’ll do it too. Someone once told me they were thinking seriously about the priesthood, but the pressure to decide was becoming too much, so they decided to give themselves five years. It can help to take the pressure off, but at the same time it is good to put a stake in the road ahead. In life we need more than luck. We trust that God looks (lucks) after us, but there is also the saying: “God helps those who help themselves”. My old theology teacher used to say: “We need to believe that everything depends on God, but to act as though everything depended on us”.
August 24 – Tuesday
RETREATS – TIME OUT – GETTING HELP
In the Rule of Life for the Priests of the Sacred Heart it used to say that all the members of our community should do a day of retreat every month. A number of years ago this was changed from being a rule to a recommendation. And, as happens with these things when they are no longer obligatory, they can get neglected. Or it you continue to do it you feel you have to justify taking the time out. We are still obliged to do a week’s retreat every year, but if we were not obliged you would almost feel guilty as it is such a beneficial experience and we are lucky to have to do it.
It’s important that we take time out in this way. It is called a retreat because you are stepping back from things. If you can’t find the time or the money to do a retreat it is still important to find some space at home where we can stand back from life and spend time with God. He also wants to have the chance to spend quality time with us. Over the summer a number of people in the group have told me they had the opportunity to do retreats or other similar courses. Some people mistakenly called the gathering at Malpas last month a retreat. Maybe that’s what put some people off, but it wasn’t a retreat, even though at the end our European visitors said they would have liked more time for reflection. When we held our first retreats for the groups I was surprised how well they were attended, and often with a higher proportion of males. There will be the usual overnight retreats this year at Advent and Lent. People are also asking for day retreats some time. And next summer there will be a longer retreat at Malpas at the end of July.
Last week I decided that it was time that I did a day of retreat for August and booked yesterday at the Shalom Centre in Stockport, where the North-West had a day in July. If you are facing a decision take some time out. If there has been something getting to you for a long time there is usually someone at a retreat centre you can talk to. Around London, you can go to the Friars, Aylesford –firstname.lastname@example.org . People don’t realise that Malpas is available for individual retreats during the year. You can also just go along for the day or a shorter visit if you just want to talk to somebody. Contact Fr Chris on email@example.com . If you want to do a retreat at home Chris also posts a meditation every week which some in the group use on www.malpas2000.freeserve.co.uk . In Ireland, Fr John, at Inchicore Rd, like Fr Chris, is qualified in spiritual counselling. Contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org . Not to leave Scotland out, Fr Stephen at Smithstone House can be contacted on email@example.com . They are all available to help. A full list of centres for retreats and other courses in Britain and Ireland can be found at www.retreats.org.uk
August 25 – Wednesday
Yesterday I wrote about stopping and taking stock of our lives by doing a retreat. We also need to do that as a group. From 17 – 19 September representatives of the 20s and 30s groups from around Dublin, Glasgow, London and North-West England will be meeting at St Joseph’s Centre, Malpas to review how Project 2030 is going, learn from each other, look at mutual problems and make recommendations for the future. We had a meeting like this two years ago. These are some of the issues that are likely to be raised:
· What is our experience of Project 2030?
· How can we help others to get involved?
· Advertising, magazine, make best use of the web page. Links with other parishes.
· Keeping a separate identity for the 20s and 30s.
· Do we need to set an age limit for the groups? How about 32 for the 20s and 43 for the 30s?
· Is there a need for a Fortysomething type group?
· Fund raising. Encouraging members to make a contribution? Raising funds from other sources. Paying back by raising funds for the Dehonian Missions.
· Starting other groups? What advice would we give? How can we learn from our mistakes?
· What is our identity? What are we trying to achieve?
· What do people get out of the group? How can we build on that?
· Keeping open to new ideas. Avoiding becoming just a social group.
· How do we organise our area groups. Area review meetings. The experience of the diary secretary (support for the secretary – Think tank Group – Steering Committee). How to produce the best programme of events.
· Off-programme events? Is this a problem?
· Role of Hugh as Director and Chaplain. Project 2030 office
· Keeping our informality v improving our organisation.
If you have any other areas that you feel need discussing please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org Many of the above questions will be turned into a questionnaire that will be sent round all the groups next week. We’ll be able to use the new London 20s web page to collate the answers. And people will be able to raise other issues.
August 26 – Thursday
13 GOING ON 30
Last month I did a film review on Spiderman 2 which could be said to be the male equivalent of ’13 going on 30’. That review, and the idea that Spiderman 2 was almost a film about celibacy got a stronger response from the guys than anything else I’ve written in the diary. So I’m going to take a chance and say something about the film I saw today on my day off, ’13 going on 30’. I heard some of the females in the group talking about it a few weeks ago and the preview looked quite funny, but mainly I went to see it because it was the only decent looking film on before noon when the prices go up, any excuse.
At the beginning of the film I felt I had made a big mistake. It was all about a girl, Jenna, turning 13, the friends, the party, the growing up, etc. She’s not excited about becoming 13. She wants to be 30 and go straight to where all the action is. She starts hanging round with the wrong set. She turns against her best friend, the boy next door, a more conventional type who made her a doll’s house for her birthday, sprinkles her with ‘stardust’ and encourages her to believe that she can get what she really wishes for. She gets her wish and wakes up 17 years later but still acting and reacting like a 13 year old. Except that in the intervening years she’s become a … (rhymes with which), editor of ‘Poise’ the kind of magazine for girls that spoiled her innocence in the first place, estranged from her family and shacked up with a moron of a footballer. She doesn’t like what she has become and tries to make sense of it all, still acting like an innocent big kid in an adult world.
She manages to trace the boy next door who is now a photographer. He helps her to make sense of what has happened, and she employs him to take the kind of photographs that will give the magazine back its poise. There are various sub-plots, but the main thread is that she is still in love with her childhood sweetheart who is due to be married soon to a worthy wife that he doesn’t really love. She turns up at his house on the day his wedding is to take place there. She doesn’t try to make him change his mind. She realises the mess she’s made of her life. Before she goes he gives her the doll’s house which she had thrown in her face on her 13th birthday as she marched off to join the ‘in’ gang. As she sits next door on the porch listening to the sounds of the wedding some of the original stardust blows over her again and, you’ve guessed it, she transforms into the bride and the wedding is hers.
There’s a powerful message here which could be lost on most teenagers, given that the pathways to unhappiness are much wider and more well trodden. There is a message for us all, whether we are 30 or 53. Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. If we could appreciate what we’ve got already, the good things around us, then we’d be much happier. It might seem like other people are better off, but they rarely are. I think it was G K Chesterton who said: “We spend most of our life reaching for the stars, and forget that we are standing on one”. We can’t put the clock back but, with God’s help, we have some say over the time that we march to. And there’s always the possibility of a fresh beginning.
August 27 –
I said one of the Sunday Masses in the parish at the weekend. The Gospel told how Jesus had been invited to a meal by one of the pharisees and he notices how the guest went straight to the best seats. His advice was to go to the bottom of the table. If you take the best place someone more important than you might have been invited and then you would need to give up your place and take the lowest one. If we take the lowest place the host might come along and bring us to the top of the table. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. The last shall be first and the first last.
In the sermon I told the story of my experience as a young priest. My training had been done in England. The first year after ordination I was in Scotland at Kilwinning. In that part of Scotland at weddings the priest was the MC and not the best man. You had to introduce the speakers at the reception. You were always at the top table. On one occasion they placed me in the centre between the bride and the groom. “Oh no, you can’t put me there, “ I said. “I’ve just married them. I’m not going to split them up so soon. What God has joined together let no man put asunder.”
The following year I was moved to a parish in Lincolnshire in the east of England. My first wedding was a big occasion with seven bridesmaids etc. At the reception they announced “Will everyone who is not on the top table please sit down”. This was said several times, even right in my ear, but after my experience in Scotland I was presuming that I would be on the top table. I was wondering what all the delay was. Then to my horror I saw them set another place at the end of the top table for me. It must have looked a pretty picture. The bridesmaids were all in a row in descending ages, down to three and a half years old, and there was me perched at the end of the table. It was the lesson of Sunday’s gospel in a nutshell.
What happens when you get a group of Christians together who take today’s Gospel seriously? I knew a situation where it became a bit farcial when people were vying for the lowest place. In a paradoxical way that had become the place of honour. So then you have to try and find a place somewhere in between.
Where do we place ourselves in the groups and hierarchies that we belong to. We might be quite happy if A gets more attention and honour than us, but get upset if B seems to be in the queue ahead of us. St Ignatius spoke about the three degrees of humility. There are those who would not commit a serious sin to gain any advantage. Then there are those who would not commit even a venial (less serious) sin for an advantage. But the highest degree of humility is to desire to be despised, rejected, treated as a fool like Jesus was. It might seem a bit much to actually want this. But if our desire is to imitate Jesus and be like him then these things are going to happen to us anyway, so we might as well aspire to them. We shouldn’t feel disappointed if we are not very far along the road of imitating Jesus. It is a lifelong process and it wasn’t always easy for him. And we don’t need to do all the work ourselves. Let’s allow God to work in us in God’s own good time.
August 28 –
SEX, CONTRACEPTION AND ABORTION
When extracts of this diary were first sent round in
April people responded mainly to the information about the group and to the bits
about my own life and background. Recently it has become clearer that
regular readers are looking more for reflections on the Church and the world.
They want to hear opinions and to be challenged to think about issues. A
while back I wrote about some comments I had sent to the media. One of
those letters was published in the Tablet. This morning, while chewing my
cornflakes, I decided to write to The Guardian about a report in today's paper.
This is not the kind of subject I originally intended to raise in the diary, but
things evolve. Let me know what you think.
To the Editor of the Guardian
Thank you for the report by John Carvel entitled:
'Abortions at record level, despite better contraception services.' (28 August,
p.5) Could it not be that abortions are at a record level precisely
because of the increase in contraception services? We have tried to
seperate having sex from having children, but nature does not work that way.
More abortions are just the sad outcome of our contraceptive mentality.
Thank you for the report by John Carvel entitled:
'Abortions at record level, despite better contraception services.' (28 August,
p.5) Could it not be that abortions are at a record level precisely
because of the increase in contraception services? He quotes the
Department of Health saying: 'No contraceptive method is 100% effective.'
While everyone knows this, there is not enough emphasis put upon it. There
are couples who use contraceptives who are ready to accept a child if that is
the outcome, but others have already subconsciously decided to have an abortion
if they conceive. Sections of our society today have tried to seperate sex
from having children. They believe they have a right to carefree sex,
and the media conspire in this with terms like 'safe sex', but nature does
not work that way.
Previous generations used to laugh at people who did
not understand the birds and the bees. Today we have developed a
collective amnesia about how procreation works. In every culture
there have been those who live at the edges of sexual morality. It
used to be just the rich who could get away with it. The twentieth
century saw the democratisation of promiscuity and today the misuse of sexuality
has become mainstream. This puts impossible pressures on us all, and
particularly on the young and the vulnerable. It encourages
people to have sex where there is no stability or commitment.
Contraception just becomes a killjoy and more unwanted children and abortions
are the result.
The quotes from
the former Family Planning Association ('It is encouraging to see access to
abortion speeded up....') and from the British Pregnancy Advisory service ('We
don't see abortion as a problem ....') are a bit scary, and it is a pity that
there are only two sentences from one group that is defending the life of
the unborn child. Pro-lifers are right to be concerned that the Government
is withholding information on the reasons for abortions for foetal abnormality.
Is the Rev Joanna Jepson not to know if she could be still be put down the
sluice for her cleft palate?
The whole issue calls for more analysis and I hope
you will ask one of your feature writers to have a dispassionate look at the
situation we find ourselves in. The most important challenge to any
culture is how it passes on life. No generation ever gets it quite right,
but there are serious and obvious problems with the solutions we have come up
with. The contraception utopia will never work. In the 1960s
one of the Popes warned us about this and he got pilloried for it. We need
to get back to believing that it is irresponsible to have sex if we
are not committed to one another and to any possible child. Otherwise we
will continue to be a society that sacrifices our weakest. And are people
enjoying sex any more today? It would seem not. Let's get back to
August 29 –
BRONTE COUNTRY – WALK – NEWSLETTERS
Not done any serious walking since the West Highland Way so it was good to get out with the North West groups for a hike on Haworth Moor. The heavens opened as we drove up to Colne near Burnley, but the afternoon stayed dry for the three hours we were out on the hills. We got to Duncan’s in time to see the boxing final when the lad from Bolton went a punch too far. When it comes to the Olympics I always say that I’m not going to watch much but then I get sucked in. My strongest memories are rushing my breakfast in Stratford to see Pinsent and crew just make it and the surprise of the 4X100 mens’ relay. My worst memory was missing Kelly Holmes’ second gold and then having to endure three hours of coverage while the BBC commentators went on about the greatest night of athletics ever while not showing any decent footage of it.
It’s a long time since I read any of the Bronte sisters. We saw the parsonage where they lived, their father’s church next door and the school where Emily taught. The town is well preserved and worth a visit. I remembered one of our Brazilian priests in Rome who, when he discovered I was from Scotland said: “Ah, you are from England. My dream is to come and visit the house of the Brontes”. He never did and I never bought him a postcard. We made our way out onto the moor – very Wuthering Heights 1847 (Emily). A few of us had a stab at doing a Kate Bush. Barney the dog came nearest. Jane Eyre (Charlotte), also 1847, is the one I remember most. In Chapter 12 she shockingly wrote: “Women are supposed to be very calm generally; but women feel just as men feel…they suffer from too rigid a constraint, too absolute a stagnation.” Looking round Haworth today you can get a sense of what she must have felt.
But it’s not just a fun day. There is business to be done. For the first time I hear a few people share together that maybe it is time to seriously think about a Fortysomethings. The newsletter editors, Nick (20s) and Elizabeth (30s) are both here and with new programmes due out this week it gives us a chance to finalise a few events. We agree to go with the Christmas meal in January at Malpas. We used to have an overnight at Dehon House the weekend after Christmas, but this year the feasts fall on the Saturday. We go for a day out in Chester with Evensong in the Cathedral on the 28th December which will still be a bank holiday.
It’s great to get a lift back to the door. The dark nights are fair drawing in. It’ll soon be Christmas. Dig out the cocoa, warm the slippers. No, just joking. Add your own. It’s school and studies that will soon be back. Who’s going to do a night class this year?
August 30 – Monday
BANK HOLIDAYS. TO WORK OR NOT TO WORK. BELFAST
As a priest you can have an ambivalent attitude to Bank Holidays. We are more likely to take the day off for the Sacred Heart or another feast day. Sometimes you can enjoy working in the knowledge that you could really take time off. But that just makes up for the times you’re having a break when you know you should be working.
It’s exactly a year since I came to Stockport. One of the things I was looking forward to here was playing the big church organ. It creates a great din when you pull out all the stops. When I was at college there was no-one who could play the organ, so I tried to build up from my Grade 3. I got to the stage where I could play easy hymns, then someone joined the community who was virtuoso and that put an end to my career as a concert pianist. I still like to punish the ivories occasionally, which I did yesterday afternoon for a while, the church being thankfully locked. That was only about the second time this year I’d turned on the blowers. The ears are still hurting, more from the noise than the quality of the sound, I might add.
I’d spent an hour in the morning trying to book flights for the Dehonian young people’s annual meeting in Lisbon, 2-6 October. Chris and Mary from London are coming with me, and was trying to get the cheapest flights at reasonable times that connected with Manchester. Of all the options on the internet it came back to BA, but the web page wouldn’t allow the cheaper combinations. I cheered up a few people doing their Bank Holiday stint on their helpline, I’m sure. The mistake was spending another hour at it too late in the evening on the strength of the break in the afternoon. I felt okay at the time, but the Gods of sleep and the sentinels of stress will not be impressed and might take their vengeance this night (PS: they did. It would never have happened on an ordinary day.)
A more important issue facing priests is what kind of work to do. The Apostles in Acts 6:1-6 decided to appoint deacons to help them in the daily distribution of food so that they would be freer to devote themselves “to prayer and to the service of the word”. These days the priest can have many different people helping him in the parish and the office to do things he would previously have done himself. Often the parishioners can do these jobs more competently, and this frees the priest up to do the things that only he can do. I’m still frittering away too much time in the office, doing things that could be done more easily by someone else. Things are in motion to get me more help in certain areas so that I can have more time and energy to develop this ministry to people in their 20s and 30s. I had hoped to start the group in Belfast after the summer, but that has had to be shelved for the meantime.
August 31 - Tuesday
COMPUTERS – A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP
Computers, don’t you just love them? No. I have to be careful what I am saying as people who are reading this are sitting at their computers and might get upset if I start being offensive about their best friends. (Not everyone reads the diary at the computer. One I know prints it out to read at leisure A man after my own heart). If I can avoid the computer I do, which is not easy these days. They pickle the brain and suck the life-blood out of you. They stop you from thinking straight when you have to concentrate on so many other fiddly things. And this is coming from someone who can touch type to readers who, if you didn’t like computers presumably wouldn’t be seeing this.
There is a theory that the group could be controlled by computer buffs. They are the ones who volunteer to do the newsletters, the web page and the magazine. They are more willing to be contacts for events, respond to questionnaires, send in suggestions, do reports, will let you know what they think. Could we be unbalanced as a group? People who come to events are proportionately more likely to have email. Thank God there are still some people out there without access to computers. Look at them. They are the more natural, relaxed, down-to-earth ones who have still to be taken over. They keep us sane and uncomplicated. They have natural reactions, but of course, they won’t be reading this. They don’t know how much we need them to help us keep sane.
No, I haven’t been to see ‘I Robot’. It’s just that I have been unable to send or receive emails on my computer for a few weeks. The office computer and email@example.com have still been working okay, but I’ve spent hours and run up phone bills on helplines at Dixons and Freeserve. We tried everything, reprogrammed, replugged and rejigged (note the computerspeak) without success. Until someone noticed I was still under a coverplan. Dixons would send out an engineer. But not until I had tried wiping everything off the computer and starting from scratch. That worked this afternoon. I got my emails back, but I’ve lost so much stuff. All the important information is in the office computer, but it still means re-installing everything and now I can’t even find Access to do a Word document.
In 2000 I entered a competition looking for a phrase to sum up the 20th Century. My title was ‘The Century of the Screen’. Not the most exciting slogan, but it summed up each quarter of the century dominated culturally by silent films, talking movies, television and computers, with mobile phone screens appearing just before the millenium. So don’t be offended. I accept the importance of computers. In fact I’m even thinking that if I learn to love them they may love me in return. Different types of brain react differently to certain activities. Here is a challenge to development. Every crisis is a crisis of growth. I repent of taking pleasure in the delete button. Come back, all is forgiven.
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