Screening for ‘choice’

A few weeks ago I wrote an article published by Mercatornet comparing how abortion, which was brought onto UK statute books, supposedly for emergency and desperate case circumstances only, with the so-called safeguard of requiring the signature of two  independent doctors, has been automatically built into the health care system, meaning that in all stages in pregnancy women are presented with the virtue of our age – choice.

It’s inevitable that if assisted suicide is eventually enacted into legislation, euthanasia will drift exactly the same way. Any decent or civilised society should not be putting the option of whether or not to kill another person on the table, let alone committing the act for you.

I mentioned before how this incorporation of abortion into part of the package of ‘health care’ options offered to pregnant women, not only violates the Abortion Act itself, under the terms of which one might expect the request to be led by the woman herself, rather than suggested by the clinicians. My experience of the past few weeks, which to be fair is no different or more outrageous than in previous pregnancies, more than illustrates this.

This time I have been fortunate, there has been no doctor or midwife attempting to hector or pressure me into considering abortion on the grounds of not having adequate spacing between the children. Two years ago, I remember sitting in tears in the midwife’s office as she loudly tutted and suggested that I really ought to think about what I was doing and consider counselling for abortion and sterilisation while I attempted to pacify two bored and noisy toddlers as I hadn’t been able to arrange childcare for that particular appointment and had been told that there wouldn’t be another slot available for another 5 weeks. In the pregancy prior to that a self-identifying Catholic GP had proceeded to lecture me about how the Church was wrong about contraception and abortion and again suggested abortion, this time as a cure for acute morning sickness.

So actually this time has been a picnic, but nonetheless abortion has been subtly suggested as an easily accessible and acceptable pathway. Many readers will note this approvingly, however when so many women find this such a difficult and heart-wrenching decision and suffer agonising physical and emotional consequences, it is worth asking on those grounds alone, along with the  irrefutable fact that abortion ends a life, whether it ought to be treated so lightly on the NHS. It’s always there, always looming over you as an option, and for most women has the effect of adding pressure and really having to justify continuing with a pregnancy.

So let’s consider what happened to date. Firstly, I couldn’t manage to get the obligatory GP appointment wherein I turn up and say “OK doc I’m pregnant, I’ve done a positive test” and they say “right okay and you are fine with that?”, I confirm, it gets typed in on the computer screen along with dates, and from there I am allowed to proceed to book in with the midwife. The GP appointment does nothing useful for the pregnant woman, there are no blood tests, no care plan suggested, it’s nothing other than a gatekeeper appointment for those who have perhaps experienced an unplanned pregnancy or are undecided. If you are pregnant, happy about it and want to proceed straight to midwife, in my surgery, it is not allowed. With 4 children and a lot on my plate, it’s an unnecessary hassle.

Due to holidays and an early threatened miscarriage I managed to circumvent that particular rigmarole, helped by the fact that I had presented at the Early Pregnancy Unit who had directly booked me in for a 12 week scan, rather than having to go via midwife. It meant that a swift appointment needed to be found with a midwife to ensure that I had a set of notes with me and so they managed to slot me into a cancellation without first seeing a GP.

But even at the Early Pregnancy Unit, before I had even been scanned to find out what was actually happening with my uterus, the very first question I was asked, was whether or not the pregnancy was planned, which seems something of an insensitive irrelevance when a woman wants to know exactly what the status of the embryo or foetus (from 8 weeks) is.

I wanted to know whether or not the baby was miscarrying. Did it really matter at that point whether or not it was planned, or would it have affected my treatment? The only possible reason for that question was to discuss abortion options if necessary or work out whether or not it was worth attempting any preventative action which could save the baby.

The next question was “do you accept the pregnancy?”, which was fatuous. Either a woman is pregnant or she is not, regardless of whether or not she accepts the fact. It’s a clear euphemism and again presents an option on the table for a woman to think about. Why should the first thing that a woman anxious that she might be miscarrying a baby be asked, is whether or not she planned her pregnancy and whether or not she ‘accepts’ the baby.

I’ve said before, this question always reminds me of the questions asked of parents in Baptism and is for me a public confirmation and affirmation of the life inside, but nonetheless it was a disconcerting irrelevance. Would this happen in the diagnosis of a terminal disease. “Do you accept the prognosis and traditional plan of palliative care?”. Putting a big fat elephant in the room as to whether or not you are truly making a ‘moral’ choice by selfishly continuing with your life until its natural end.

From there on everything proceeded smoothly and as I said earlier in the week on Conservative Woman, I declined the option for Downs Syndrome screening.

One of the comments in which a woman claimed that I had no idea what I was talking about, did give me pause for thought as she outlined how a diagnosis could be helpful even if you were not planning on abortion, as Downs carries lots of risks for the child in utero. Technically a care plan should be tailored to ensure the safety of both mother and child, but when you are faced with the screening options, this is never specifically outlined in terms of your decision making and many women report being given very little in the way of positive support or information when told that their child has a genetic abnormality.

 Indeed the leaflet warns that once you have had the screening, you cannot turn the clock back and that unless you are prepared to cope with the stress of knowing that you have an increased likelihood of a child with Downs, or are prepared to consider a further diagnostic test (with a 1-2% chance of miscarriage) then you might be better off not having the screening at all.

Screenshot 2014-08-29 10.08.10

I declined because I didn’t want to be worrying about it. If the baby has Downs then while it will be far from easy, especially  as I already have a number of children. I’d rather meet the challenges and difficulties as and when they come, rather than spend sleepless nights worrying about hypothetical scenarios. Furthermore the leaflet states that the primary purpose of all the risky invasive tests is to detect Downs Syndrome, although other conditions may be discovered.

Screenshot 2014-08-29 11.13.01

So the scan went ahead yesterday. As predicted, I was asked to confirm whether or not I wished for the nuchal translucency test for Downs, which combines a screen result with a further blood test. When I said no, I was pretty candid about it, stating that the only thing that I was hoping to see on the monitor was a live baby after what happened last year.

The sonographer was very sympathetic, but nonetheless they said that she would still measure the nuchal translucency, i.e. the amount of fluid behind the baby’s neck to see whether it was within normal parameters. An increased amount of fluid is a strong indicator of Downs Syndrome. If the measurement was high, she would inform me in order to give me the option to change my mind about having the full screening!

It turned out that the measurement was well within normal limits. That doesn’t mean that the baby definitely does not have Downs Syndrome, but in all probability there is a lower risk.

I’ve been left feeling disconcerted as though I somehow went back on my word. When they told me that they would measure the fluid anyway, I should have firmly stated “look I’m not interested either way” but at that point, when you are lying on the table, there is a sense of having ceded control and powerlessness. I just wanted them to hurry up and switch on the equipment so I could see whether or not there was still a heartbeat.

I also have to confess to a slight sense of relief which goes to show that even the most pro-life amongst us are not immune from the insidious pressure and notion that a Downs Syndrome diagnosis is a catastrophic thing. All of which adds to the stigma, both for sufferers themselves and their parents, which Dawkins did his best to stoke, adding unrepentantly that he’d only upset a small minority, in any event. If the NHS didn’t make such an issue of flagging up Downs Screen for pregnant women, going so far as to suggest that it can be such a problem that women ought to consider risking their baby’s life, most probably wouldn’t give it much of a thought.

It’s not that I reject the idea of pre-natal screening or wish to demonise those who opt for it, but surely it ought to be offered purely for theraputic reasons, to alleviate and treat conditions, either in utero if possible, or to prepare future healthcare strategies and plans for mother and child, rather than continually  present the issue of whether or not the child ought to live. Screening the unborn for disabilities does nothing to help advance research into therapies to help sufferers.

It doesn’t feel as though the NHS has got the balance right, when they are being so proactive in terms of continually presenting abortion as a consideration.

Blogging apologia

Eagle-eyed readers may have notice that I have updated my previous strapline, which was typically flippant and suggested by my husband as a joke, when I couldn’t think of any better way of describing myself.

I never set out to write A Catholic blog, the cassock-loving thing was a play on the fact that I was married to a man who wore one and also to give a small hat-tip in terms of liturgical preferences.

A Catholic woman blogging about life, suits me, and the flavour of this blog much better. It was never my aim to write about liturgy, ecclesiastical politics, lobby for any political cause (the pro-life stuff just happened organically), give theological or homiletical insights (way beyond my skill-set) or show-boat my superior humility, modesty and piety!

No, the impulse that triggered this blog, was 1 Peter 3:15. I just wanted to demonstrate that rather than being the perceived Amish smock-wearing recluse who forced her children to wake up at 5am for prolonged periods of bible study and blushed at the use of a naughty word and who had no experience of ‘the real world’, actually, like most of us, I’m a  seasoned and regular sinner.

This blog was simply to explain some of my weird beliefs in a relatively simple and straightforward way, initially to those who, when I explained how excited I was about Pope Benedict’s visit and defended the Regensburg address, promptly attributed this to psychotic religious fervour, brainwashing or madness.

That's Caroline Farrow that is!
That’s Caroline Farrow that is!

I never imagined that it would take off in the way that it did which was probably why I was so woefully unprepared for the negative sides to blogging or expressing your views in public, which in my case meant that I became subject to a prolonged and still ongoing obsessive hate campaign, the intensity of which has at times, utterly floored me.

But with the help of regular confession, prayer and spiritual direction, I’ve managed to pick myself up, restore my equilibrium and it’s thankfully business as usual!

Mary O’Regan has suggested that bloggers need to become more Catholic, a suggestion with much merit, which got me thinking.

While I might endeavour to make this blog more solidly Catholic, my focus has never been to write solely about Catholic subject matter, probably because others such as official news agencies and publications, can do that better.

My aim gentle reader is to continue as a Catholic woman, a wife, a mother, someone with a passionate interest in the pro-life cause, who is a bit of a news junkie, offering her outlook and perspective on current affairs, the world around us, interspersed with a bit of what’s going on in my own life and some of my own experiences. That’s it I’m afraid. Life as a normal Catholic woman.

For those who think well Caroline, your experience is not that of a normal Catholic because your husband, yadda yadda, in some ways that’s right, but then I’m willing to bet, in fact I know, that there are plenty of Catholic women who are far more pious in terms of daily spirituality and Mass-going than I am. I wasn’t brought up by a ostensibly Catholic family, so I’m having to learn a lot of basic habits and customs for the first time and make a conscious effort to integrate them into family life. Plus with 4 children and school runs and the like, daily Mass, even regular adoration is sadly unfeasible and an undreamt of spiritual luxury.

The Catholic blogosphere has turned rather meta of late, people blogging about not blogging. My output has been tailing off simply for practical reasons. I’m busy with the  family, busy with children, busy with the new dog who is a bit of a handful, busy with my weekly Universe column, busy with Universe Catholic Radio, busy with Catholic Voices, busy putting newly acquired public speaking skills into practice, busy with other writing work, in short it’s all go.

I haven’t got time or excess emotional energy to worry about mad trolls, what Pope Francis may or may not be saying or who the next curial appointment is going to be. Which  is  also why I’m not blogging so much.

Plus I’m pregnant again and due to my advanced age, am finding it’s exacting a much greater physical toll than it did a few years ago. I’m only just coming out of the woods in terms of being able to look at my computer screen.

So I’ll probably continue to blog as previously, namely whenever I get particularly exercised about something or other, from loony Lib Dem sex ed policy, deeply dippy Dawkins or Tina Beattie’s latest (definitely more on that anon), sometimes erudite, sometimes critical, sometimes political, sometimes analytical, sometimes flippant, sometimes even pop culture, but always from the perspective of a Catholic laywoman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister, friend, who loves God, loves the Church, loves the Saints, who does her best and who sometimes gets it wrong!

Message of support for Vicky Beeching

Last year, the prominent religious broadcaster Vicky Beeching (presenter of Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 and frequent reviewer of the papers on Sky News) asked me for an interview on Catholic perspectives for her faith and feminism website.

As is standard practice these days, she used the medium of Twitter to publicise her various interviews. At that point, my personal painful story of abortion was not common knowledge, however a former friend whom I had confided in, sent Vicky a series of messages in which she informed her of my secret and claimed it as proof that I had probably had multiple abortions (not true) and was secretly pushing a pro-choice agenda.

Again and again she messaged Vicky, her messages becoming increasingly urgent and demanding in tone, “what about her abortion, how can you interview her as being pro-life” the recurring theme.

Thankfully Vicky paid no heed and published the interview here, one which, I hope does give a good account of Catholicism in relation to women. Almost within 5 minutes of the interview being posted, another woman who has displayed obsessive tendencies in terms of her strong and frequently posted contempt for me, wrote a comment in which she too, mentioned my abortion, accusing me of hypocrisy, of sanctioning abortion for myself and no-one else, failing to understand that my experience of abortion made me realise what a terrible thing it is, for mother and baby alike.

Though healed, at that time I was still in the early stages of the pregnancy with Raphael (who died in utero) and not ready for this information to be outed, especially not on in the comments box of such a public website.

I therefore asked Vicky to remove the comment and she immediately edited it, much to the chagrin of the original poster, who repeatedly hectored her on Twitter “why did you delete my comment about Caroline Farrow’s abortion”.

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but shortly after the interview was published Vicky repeatedly found herself tagged into a series of vitriolic and very personal comments, about her appearance, her intelligence and her motivations by the person who had messaged her, using the pretext of something else Vicky had said publicly, with which she disagreed.

Vicky could, if she was unprincipled and unscrupulous have published all this information, in an attempt to show me up as a hypocrite and undesirable person whose position on abortion was untenable, especially as she herself has a pro-choice view. The fact that she didn’t speaks volumes about her honesty, integrity and decency as a person. As does the fact that she also passed a series of radio interviews my way about the forthcoming papal conclave back in 2013, feeling that I would make a better pundit on the subject.

I’ve only met Vicky in the flesh once, (when she told me about the trolling she had received in relation to me) but found her to be an immensely charming, genuine and sincere person, who has treated me with utmost Christian kindness, despite the fact that she must have found my views on same-sex marriage difficult to accept, and going by her interview in today’s Independent, in which she comes out as same-sex attracted, potentially quite hurtful.

A lot will be written by many Christian commentators about this, but I’d like to publicly offer my love, prayers, support and thanks to Vicky who has modelled Christian behaviour, tolerance, compassion and understanding to someone with whom she is ideologically opposed. I owe her at least as much.

To support Vicky in her coming out, is not to necessarily endorse any of the choices which she might make, but to accept that what she has done is extraordinarily brave, not least because many of her target audience will strongly disagree with her. There has been talk of boycotting her music and this admission could well affect her commercially, although I suspect it will consolidate and further her position in terms of mainstream broadcasting. It must also have been difficult coming out with parents who take the traditional and orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. I should imagine she will also be subject to a fair few salacious and sexually derogatory comments, especially from certain newspapers and media outlets.

Vicky’s experience of public exorcisms are not the way in the Catholic Church, most would agree that this is no way to help and support anyone struggling with feelings of same-sex attraction, however it does highlight the plight of many young Christians who believe themselves to be gay.

Reverend Peter Ould in his response on Facebook, offers some typically sensible thoughts:

1. It’s almost always better this side of the closet. Locking away such a huge part of your emotional life leads to the kind of stress Vicky describes. Being truthful about your feelings is normatively liberating and tends to be much more about living with yourself than living with others (and their perceptions of you).

2. Coming out as LGB does not necessarily mean endorsing a particular sexual ethic. It is perfectly possible to be open and honest about your sexual attractions and still hold to a traditional position on sex and marriage. The sign of an emotionally and intellectually stunted and repressed person is not that they don’t act on their attractions, but rather that they think a person has to act on their attractions and emotions in a particular way to be spiritually healthy.

3. Coming Out narratives, with their accompanying emotions, need to be reviewed with the passage of time. As C S Lewis so clearly indicates with the story of the Queen of Glome in “Till we have Faces”, the victim narrative many of us tell is in fact often a denial of responsibility for our own sinful decisions and responses that have shaped who we are today. It’s too easy just to ignore inconvenient facts from yesterday that distort (even contradict sometimes) the picture you’re trying to paint today.

4. When Vicky says “The Church’s teaching was the reason that I lived in so much shame and isolation and pain for all those years” and then describes that teaching as ” I am attracted to people of the same sex and I’ve been told God hates that”, it’s worth pointing out that such a teaching is not Biblical. The Bible has plenty to say about the sinfulness of some sexual practices but it does not say that God hates people for being gay. And if we shape our future theologies and lives on a reaction to incorrect previous ones, we need to pick up “Till we have Faces” again.

(The Catechism of the Catholic Church says similar and goes on to say that people should never be treated unjustly on account of their sexual orientation)

Peter goes on to note the choice of Patrick Strudwick as interviewer, who is certainly no friend to either the Evangelical or Catholic churches as a result of their teachings about homosexuality. A few commentators describe the choice of interviewer as a ‘punch in the gut’ and highly political.

Peter Ould wonders whether or not the Independent would be prepared to run full and front page spreads of the equally brave testimonies of those who publicly identify as having same-sex attraction but have chosen to live celibate lives?

I might disagree with Vicky about the direction in which she wants to take the Anglican church, but from her testimony it is clear that more needs to be done to help young gay Christians identify their true vocation and not to alienate them from God, who, as she says, still loves loves them regardless. If nothing else, certain denominations ought to seriously re-think the practice of public exorcisms or the idea that a sexual orientation is indicative of demonic possession!

I strongly believe that when it comes to Christians who are attempting to reconcile their sexuality with a strong love of the Lord, as in Vicky’s case, Pope Francis’ words are the most salient “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge”.

It is not for us to judge the heart and mind of another Christian, all we can do is explain our own stance and why we believe God has asked us to live a certain way and leave the rest to Him. I certainly can’t claim that my heart is any purer than any other Christian seeking to deepen their relationship with the Creator and who at the same time wishes for a lifelong partner.

I disagree with many of Strudwick’s narratives and assumptions, which are coloured by his personal judgement, but I am sorry that Vicky has experienced such a tortuous and painful time, including a debilitating illness and like many of my good Catholic friends, I have no interest in eschewing her on account of her sexual preferences.

Talking of her parents’ attitude to the theology around homosexuality, who disagree with her, but love her all the same she says “it’s a picture of what is possible, even when you don’t agree, that love can supersede everything”

A sentiment that we all ought to bear in mind.

My children and Lourdes -time to get ‘tradismatic’?

If you read the Universe or follow me on social media, you may be aware that I have just returned from a pilgrimage to Lourdes.

One of the things that struck me about this particular trip is the response of my children, especially that of my ten year-old and four year-old. I guess this is how ‘indoctrination’ or enculturation really works – not by verbal barracking or proselytising but what Pope Francis would probably term a ‘culture of encounter’. My experience demonstrates why accusations of indoctrination against Catholic schools are so far off the mark. If a family does not practice the faith at home or introduce their children to Catholic traditions, then any seeds planted in school are likely to fall upon fallow ground.

If we begin with the ten year old, when asked what her favourite part of the trip (which included hotel party nights and lots of opportunities to socialise in a small group consisting of children her own age) her response was ‘doing the high stations of the cross’. For those who have never been, there are two sets of stations of the cross in Lourdes; one high up on a hilltop which give an imposing aerial view of Lourdes which I’ve never done, the steep slope rendering them impossible for wheelchairs and buggies, the other on the flat plain, adjoining the river. The lower stations are huge modern interactive sculptures, designed to be touched, whereas the high ones consist of larger than life tableaus, which really bring the Passion to life. Both are beautiful.

Jesus falls the first time, High Stations of the Cross

The Crucifixion, low stations of the Cross

I have to confess that upon hearing that her favourite part had been the Stations, I did shed a few tears of both pride and joy and no doubt any non-Christians reading this would cite this as proof of emotional abuse, ‘fancy,’ they would say, ‘making a ten year old walk in Jesus’ bloody footsteps and gruesome death on her holiday, how deranged and bizarre, robbing her childhood and imposing your ideas upon her’, but the point is that she was given the choice whether or not to do the more grown up version and chose to do it on her own. Furthermore, the Stations of the Cross, while constituting the penance that Our Lady requested that pilgrims to Lourdes must make, are invariably joyful – they have a happy ending and demonstrate Christ’s love for us. The Passion, the crucifixion is a central tenet of our faith. It does pre-teens no favours to infantilise them and in any event, the figures, while incredibly lifelike, go nowhere near as far as the realism of the Mel Gibson, Passion of the Christ movie.

So anyway, the other things that our eldest child enjoyed were the torchlight procession, perhaps unsurprisingly, what child would not enjoy walking with lit candles through the twilight and darkness, and full immersion in the baths, again, something that I have never done, both on health grounds (last time I went I was 37 weeks pregnant) and the logistics of 3 under 5s. In terms of the baths, again (and I know this reads like a smug mother post, really I don’t care) I was delighted that one of the adult helpers commented upon how quiet and thoughtful she was during the two hour wait, joining in with all the prayers and actually setting the tone for the other children. She didn’t think it was a weird thing to do at all, Our Lady asked for pilgrims to bathe in the spring and so that is precisely what she did. At the service of reconciliation, her age group was taken off to have some age-appropriate preparation prior to confession; she was one of the last to queue up and make her confession because according to the leader she wanted to have a little bit more time to think about things, rather than rushing straight up to get it over with.

Now I certainly can’t take the credit for producing such a thoughtful and reflective child, but I do believe that having a family that practices our faith at home, not in an ostentatious way, but just in little everyday habits, along with being away with a group all with a similar attitude towards Christianity, has definitely helped, in a way that being lectured at would not, which most children find deathly boring and is counterproductive.

The big surprise of the trip however, was not my eldest child, but the response of the four-year old, who tends to stubborn, wilful boisterousness and what this has to demonstrate towards the Church, particularly those who make certain assumptions about the young and ‘traditionalism’.

While away I read Joseph Shaw’s excellent blogpost on children and Latin whose experience mirrors my own. One of the things that the eldest loved while on the torchlight procession was being able to join in with all of the Latin chants. She may not know what every single word means, but in a procession consisting of several languages, whenever the Salve Regina, Paternoster, or Gloria Patri cropped up, she was able to join in and belt it out with gusto, a smile of recognition and excitment lighting up her face. This is what we sing at home, and wow, we are singing it here. She loves this whenever we go to a certain N.O. Mass here in Brighton. What we sing should never be about how it makes us feel, but given that this is cited so much as justification for ditching the Latin and plainsong, I suspect like most children, mine loves it because being able to join in makes her feel included and actually the Latin, quite grown-up. Children savour big words, they adore feeling as though they are adults, words like consubstantial make them feel all clever and sophisticated, like they too have been let in on a secret.

So on to the 4 year old, and also the 3 year old. Most of the basilicas in Lourdes, frankly aren’t very inspirational, especially the basilica of Pope Pius X, which resembles a giant underground car park, draped with flags of the saints in an attempt to give the place a spiritual air, but which from a distance could pass off as advertisement posters. The children absolutely loved the place. Why? Because it gave them licence not to concentrate and to run about in several different directions. Church meets play area, the low benches providing plenty of opportunity for imaginative young minds to double as hurdles, balance beams, places to hide underneath, swing off and climb over. Their attention wasn’t focused, all they could see was the play potential of the place.

Interior of Pope Piux X basilica – lots of potential for adventurous toddlers and not much to capture their attention

On being informed however, that our final mass would take place in the Our Lady of the Rosary basilica, I have never seen the children so excited. For the uninitiated, this is the Church that Our Lady requested was built, on top of the grotto where she had manifested to Bernadette Soubirous over a period of 15 days. The building itself is incredibly imposing and ornate, decorated with irridescent gold mosaics, surrounded by statues and topped by a golden crown, signifying that of Our Lady, Queen of Heaven.

Catholic bling for children - a golden crown, what's not to like?
Catholic bling for children – a golden crown, what’s not to like?

The children could not wait. It was for them, like going to Cinderella’s castle, all week long they had been pestering us to climb up and down the stairs of the side of the basilica going to the ramparts, the Church was a source of amazement and fascination, like something out of a fairytale. They were drawn to it and dying to go inside, knowing that it was a special place, ‘guarded by statues.’

Move over Disneyland, exciting looking Church - who's inside...
Exciting looking Church – who’s inside…

When inside, they were not disappointed. Every single wall is covered with a gold mosaic, depicting one of the mysteries of the rosary. We were seated by the Nativity mosaic, to which the children went running up to “look mummy I can see Baby Jesus…and the wise men…and the angels”. They were transfixed, not knowing where to look next, but engaging with what they could see, instantly recognising the scene, despite the fact that some would claim that Byzantine iconography upon which the tableaus are based isn’t child-friendly, and wanting to walk around the church and stare. And stare. Inevitably towards the end of the Mass, they did begin to get fidgety, due to the prolonged announcements, but there was a considerable period of time where they were happy just to sit and gaze in wonder, and a curiosity was aroused to ask more – what’s that picture over there, who’s that, why are the windows round, and so on.


Part of the Nativity scene that my children instantly recognised

During the Eucharist, presumably the ciboria belonging to the Basilica were used, and again, they were an object of wonderment to the children, having an obvious golden lustre. ‘What’s in there mummy’, asked the 3 year old, ‘is it treasure?’, ‘well actually yes it is’, being my response, ‘it’s the body of Jesus’. ‘Can I have it too’ she asked for the very first time.

Upon leaving the church, the children asked if they could go there every time they went to Mass and have repeatedly asked the same thing since returning home.

This is what the iconoclasm of the Reformation and to some extent the post-conciliar era, have deprived our children of – their cultural heritage which they are hungry for and able to engage with, which needs no dumbing down. I’ve never ever seen the children so excited about a church before, nor indeed so willing to engage. Not only with the basilica, but the whole spirit of the place; despite some of the tacky tourist overtones, the holy sites themselves in Lourdes retain an aura of great reverence, this really is the place where the veil between this life and the next is extremely thin. The 4 year old asked us whether or not Bernadette was sad when she never saw the beautiful lady again and insisted upon the lengthy story being read to her every night at bedtime, proving that when she wants to concentrate and engage, she is able to. To put things into cultural perspective, I was sent to a Catholic secondary school but had no idea who Bernadette was, what had occurred at Lourdes, other than it was something to do with Catholic superstition and the name of Madonna’s daughter!

For those who would say that the Church ought to concentrate all of its resources on the poor and embrace simplicity in all things, including buildings, vestments, ciboria and so on, I can only point to John 12:5. Yes, we must help the poor, but not to the exclusion of everything else, it helps no-one to lift them out of poverty if we then exclude them from the richness of the Gospel. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are here to serve God, spread the Gospel and not just get caught up in single issues, whether that be the pro-life cause, or fighting to get rid of poverty, something which in any event, will never be accomplished.

The money is well spent, if, as with my children, the surroundings of a building really helps draw them closer to God and want to engage with and understand what is going on inside. The fact that a 3 year old thought that a ciborium contained treasure, demonstrates the importance of the symbolism. No complex theology was needed to draw her eye to and cause her desire for the Eucharist. She could see how important and valuable it was for herself.

Reflecting on this later with an older religious sister, she disagreed and said what a shame it would be if the Church were to go back to a more formal liturgy, roman chasubles and so on and doubted whether or not altar servers ought to wear robes. She thought that a modern style was so much more universal and engaging, especially for the children. When I told her my experience, she was rather lost for words, believing that my children had a unique privilege due to their parents, but actually our family faith and habits are no more sophisticated or complex than the average Catholic, 50 or 60 years ago. There is nothing difficult, elite or complicated about being able to repeat a chant that you hear regularly in Church. Nothing deeply erudite about saying grace before meals, bedtime prayer or having a holy water stoop by your front door, or some statues or icons somewhere in your house, which can be picked up extremely cheaply.

The main objection seemed to be that traditionalists (as good a description as any can be found here) are concerned with ritual, rubrics and nothing else, whereas charismatics have their heart of fire for Christ. To me this seemed grossly unfair, why is a traditionalist deemed incapable of burning with love for Jesus and the Gospel, simply because they prefer the Extraordinary Form? The two traits are not mutually exclusive.

My children aren’t traddies, we don’t go to the Extraordinary Form often enough, none of us wear mantillas (so as not to draw attention to ourselves as much as anything else, although I bet the girls would love them) but they certainly responded far far better to a traditional version of Catholicism and the simple piety on offer in Lourdes, than anything they have in this country, although when we do go to a NO Mass at local church in Brighton which does celebrate the EF, their behaviour is markedly improved – the solemnity with which Mass is celebrated and the disposition of the other Mass-attenders has an impact.

A young seminarian whom I discussed all this with on the train journey home, posited that we need a new word to describe a new culture, noting that the pendulum is still swinging back into position since the extremes immediately following V2 and that nothing yet is settled, we are still on shifting sands. He coined the phrase “tradismatic”, a combination of traditionalism and the overt burning passion and fire for God manifested by the charismatic movement.

I’ve been rather taken with the phrase and the idea. The future’s bright, the future’s tradismatic! I hope it takes off.