Suffer little children

Two weeks ago I was delighted when my parish priest informed me that we had been allocated tickets to attend the Beatification of Cardinal Newman Mass which is going to be performed by Pope Benedict on his forthcoming visit. Cardinal Newman holds particular resonance for us as a family and it is very apt that we are privileged enough to be able to attend the Mass.

I informed my priest that I did not intend to take my six-year-old, fearing that the long coach journey and Mass itself would be too long, arduous and solemn an occasion for her, one which she would not enjoy or appreciate. I do however intend to take my baby daughter who is 8 months old. I am still breast-feeding therefore it isn’t really feasible to leave her in care, for such a long period of time, particularly as she isn’t used to my being away for more than about an hour at a time. Given her age, she does not require a seat either on the coach or at the event itself, she will happily sit/sleep on my lap. I am also additionally blessed in that, for the most part, she is a contented baby, she is used to being in a church environment and likes nothing better than silently contemplating the candles. Face it, when you’re 8 months old, a church is a fascinating environment for a baby. I attribute it to the fact that she was used to the sounds of lots of church in utero and also I tend to be quite relaxed, for want of a better word, in Church. I’m not tense, stressed about whether or not she is going to scream or babble and thus she doesn’t, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, although she’s becoming rather too interested in my Missal.

Anyway, last week my priest informed me that the organisers had told him that I needed to pay £25 for a ticket for the baby. I was incandescent and still am jolly cross if I’m honest. My priest said that he felt that this charge was quite wrong and suggested that we turn up on the coach and plead ignorance in terms of not having a ticket for the baby. Last week he passed on that the diocesan organisers had been very clear that this £25 charge was non-negotiable. If we want to take the baby we must pay full adult price, despite the fact she will take up no extra room and certainly won’t appreciate the ridiculous “goody bag” containing a pilgrim’s CD and material that is “included” in this price. Apparently the diocesan organiser countered his objections with “well people need to consider whether or not its suitable to bring young children to this event”. So basicallly, it has been decreed that children are an inconvenience/nuisance and not welcome at a Mass. It really is a case of “suffering the little children”.

I am incredulous at this attitude. It is not easy to be a lay catholic at the moment. The Papal visit was inevitably going to attract criticism and the usual round of misinformed catholic bashing, but frankly, the organisation really takes the biscuit. I do not need to be patronised and penalised for choosing to take a young baby to a Mass. Disneyland wouldn’t charge me for her, nor would an airline, recognising that she needs no extra facilities. It is very difficult to defend the church against accusations of misogyny when they seem to be penalising me for the fact that I have a young baby who is totally dependent on me.

For us as a family, an extra £25 is significant and precludes my attendance. I also wonder whether or not it is appropriate to charge £25 for pre-teens? Given First Holy Communion typically takes place around the ages of 7-8, this means that an average family of 4 consisting of 2 adults and 2 children need to pay £100, if they want to attend this special occasion. A weekend at any of the UK’s major theme parks would cost less. I appreciate that the Catholic Church cannot be left in debt as a result of the papal visit and that it is only fair that those attending need to contribute, although it seems very unfair that those in Scotland do not need to pay.

I am deeply disappointed however that the organisation has been such that those of us who are delighted that the Pope is visiting, those of us who believe that he is a truly great man,  and I am one; I believe Benedict XIV is a vastly underrated pope. Faithful catholics who wish to turn up and show him our support are thwarted due to the poor organisation of this visit. I don’t blame the Catholic Church or the vatican or claim it’s some sort of silly conspiracy, I just wish that whoever was put in charge of logistics had done a better job, by organising infinitely more capacity and perhaps more opportunities for us lay Catholics to show our appreciation for the Holy Father. I fear that such an event is unlikely to be repeated in the near future. I also pray that the visit itself does not descend into a shambles.

For those of us Catholics wishing to share and pass on our faith to our children, I find the attitude that children are not welcome, that they may somehow spoil the solemnity of the occasion, more than a little depressing. What message are we giving to our children? Christian parents have a hard enough job as it in terms of attempting to instill a set of values which is completely at odds with today’s society, a society which at times, is actively hostile towards Christian culture. I also do not take kindly to the notion of a charge as being an appropriate deterrent. Surely as a parent, I am able to discern for myself whether or not it is suitable/appropriate to take my children? I was heartened to see a considerable amount of children visiting the relics of Saint Teresa of Lisieux at Aylesford Priory last year.

Still as Pope Benedict himself said “it is not easy being a Christian”. I am sure he would be horrified to learn that the Gospel’s message has been distorted to “let the children come unto me” (and I will charge them £25 for the privilege).

Unashamedly purile

I have been playing a very naughty game on Twitter, entitled “change love to knob songs”. So far I have come up with such gems as All you need is Knob (The Beatles),  A Million Knobsongs (Take That), You can’t hurry knob (The Supremes), All the knob in the world (Dionne Warwick), and so on and so forth.*

Midway through said jape, I was further amused to discover that there is a group on FaceBook entitled Substitute the word ‘wand’ in Harry Potter for ‘willy’.

Totally inappropriate, unashamedly purile and utterly hilarious. Those who have known me for many years won’t be too surprised. I know I should know much better.

This propensity for bawdy humour probably doesn’t bode too well does it? I often wonder about my propensity to be something of a liability. The quote of the evening goes to DH who commented “I don’t think that the bishop is going to be too impressed if he finds out that my wife likes to say ‘knob’ on the internet”. Sometimes it feels like I’m living in a particularly surreal 21st century version of Terry & June.

Still some of the greatest writers in the English language exhibited a taste for bawdiness and vulgarity. Chaucer and Shakespeare spring to mind. Ben Elton and Richard Curtis aren’t averse to a knob-gag or two, and yet their artistic and moral integrity remain intact.

What I can’t fathom out is whether or not it falls into the category of flippancy, which CS Lewis warns about in his Screwtape Letters? I don’t think so, in that bawdy humour isn’t laughter for the sheer sake of mockery, with no actual humour at work. It doesn’t contain personal derision, although  it isn’t perhaps the most intelligent form of humour. I’d like to think that A Million Knobsongs is what Lewis might term a ‘joke proper’ as it is the play on words, the surreal idea of someone singing about the amount of songs devoted to the male genatalia in an attempt to woo, that delights, amuses and entertains. Besides which, the word ‘knob’ is funny as is the idea that there might be literally a million songs about a knob. The double-entendre which allows silly, smuttily ambigous sentences to be constructed, is a rich seam of comic potential, and for someone who enjoys word-play as much as I do, a natural source of mirth. I do concede however, that substituting one word with a rude one, is the type of thing that a 6 year old child might delight in as opposed to an allegedly intelligent and sophisticated person.

Perhaps this is a purely British phenomenon. For me, Up Pompeii, remains unsurpassed in the annals of British comedy. Still, I console myself with the Wikki thought that the acceptance of saucy and smutty humour is a”historical reaction to the intolerance of Puritanism”. I must admit, I hadn’t ever considered the possibility of a theological connection to our humour, although Monty Python married the two beautifully in ‘The Life of Brian’.

And thus I end the post on a classic note. Titter ye not.

* Since original post, it has been pointed out to me that I omitted How Deep is your Knob – The Beegees. Sincerest apologies.

Seeing purple

A long time ago during the process of a job application I was required to take a fatuous psychometric test of very dubious value. One of the questions that stuck in my mind was “which would you rather be, a landscape gardener or a bishop?”. Given that I have a tendency to kill plants as soon as I even look at them, that I can’t bear getting dirt under my fingernails and I hate being stung and scratched, a bishop seemed like the most obvious answer. You get to wear a pointy hat and purple has always been my favourite colour. Twas a no-brainer really!

Of course, being a woman, at the time I took the test, being a bishop was not a career option that was ever open to me, (nor indeed any non-Christians, hence the inanity of the question) but it looks as if that is all due to change over the course of the weekend.

I personally am very sad about developments, and not simply because it seems likely that women are to become bishops. What saddens me is that the Church of England, which previously had a reputation for it’s liberalness, for its open-mindedness, for being a broad Church, is displaying exactly the same kind of intolerance towards opponents of women bishops, which it is professed to fight.

This is not a question of misogyny or intolerance. The opposition to women priests and bishops is not based on fear, intolerance or a sense of male superiority. The Bible is extremely clear on the equality between man and woman,”God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Mankind is created in God’s image, both male and female. Those who are opposed to women priests and bishops base their opposition on theological grounds.

Though, personally, I have absolutely no doubts about whether or not a woman could adequately perform the priestly ministerial duties, we need only look at the complete mess that the English Bishops have made of the Papal Visit (couldn’t be trusted to book the parish hall for quiz night) to realise that their priestly orders haven’t exactly imbued them with admin skills. In fact, whilst I’m on the subject, most priests I know seem to be a little *ahem* lacking in this area, although to be fair, I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about paperwork when He was giving out the sacraments! This is not about doubting women’s ability to perform the role, but what needs to be remembered is that no-one, male or female has the “right” to be a priest or bishop. It is not like a job application with all the ensuing and necessary equality legislation. It is a sacrament, and no one has a title to grace. It is an unmerited gift from Christ.

This may strike some as unfair, if this is a gift reserved for men, but  God has given women other gifts that he has not given to men. For example, women bring the body of Christ (souls) into the world one birth at a time. Men do not have this privilege. Priests bring the body of Christ (Eucharist) into the world one Mass at a time—a gift reserved to them, acting in the person of Christ.

The problem comes for the Church of England in that if despite the best of intentions, women do not hold valid orders and are not in fact priests, this then has ramifications for the future of the Church of England, in that there is doubt as to whether those ordained by women bishops, do in fact hold valid, sacramental orders.

I cannot help but believe that it is wrong for traditionalists not to have any compromise afforded to them, and to be forced to accept the jurisdiction of someone whom they do not believe to be in possession of sacramental orders. This is not about female repression or subjugation. This is not about inequality. Actually the inequality comes from the liberals themselves who are refusing to let the traditionalists keep to their position. It seems to me that the Church of England is saying “there is room for everyone’s views, except yours”. The liberals screaming that they have won and that there can be no room for catholics to be able to keep their integrity intact, that they need to be forced to accept women in the episcopate, is highly unedifying. I hope that some compromise may be reached, not least for the sake of Christian Unity. Whatever happens it is a sad and momentous weekend.

Back to the original question, I guess I would have to accept the landscape gardening position. At least I’d get to sit on one of those fun ride-on mowers!