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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

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The pro-life world is currently in uproar about remarks made by Chelsea Clinton at a recent fundraiser for her mother, Hilary, in which she claimed to have left the Baptist Church at the age of 6, thanks to its stance on abortion.

 I was raised in a Methodist church and I left the Baptist church before my dad did, because I didn’t know why they were talking to me about abortion when I was 6 in Sunday school.

Going on to defend her faith and that of mother’s which she believes is wholly compatible with a pro-choice viewpoint, she said “I recognized that there were many expressions of faith that I don’t agree with and feel [are] quite antithetical to how I read the Bible…But I find it really challenging when people who are self-professed liberals kind of look askance at my family’s history.”

The subtext is clear – support of abortion is compatible with Christianity as evidenced by her family’s own religious faith. Many people would take issue with how far the Clinton family exemplify Christian values, but let’s be charitable and accept her belief that her family are all God-fearing Christians. It still doesn’t mean that their interpretation of the Bible when it comes to abortion is the correct one, and billions of Christians around the world, would vehemently disagree as to whether a Christian can sanction the killing of the unborn. But I can accept that this is a genuinely held, if theologically flawed, point of view.

Where I do take issue, is the idea that voters are being asked to uncritically accept the idea that the six year-old Chelsea had such a prodigious intellect that she was able to criticise the appropriateness of abortion as a topic in Sunday school and make a conscious decision to reject the Baptist church thanks to a theological difference of opinion. It stretches credulity to say the least.

A far more likely explanation is that upon being asked about what they learnt about in Sunday school that week, little Chelsea piped up something about abortion and Hilary whipped her out sharpish and promptly attempted to unpick any pro-life sentiment or ideas which may have taken root in the impressionable six year old’s brain.

How many, even precocious, six year-olds would really object to being given a pro-life point of view in Sunday school, believing that abortion was a vital necessity and one which could be supported by a certain interpretation of Scripture?

Either Chelsea’s recollection of events is distorted, or she is telling blatant untruths, but either way it displays an unhealthy narcissism. Does she genuinely expect voters to believe that hers is such a brilliant mind that she was able to critically engage with theology and the thorny issue of abortion as a six-year old? In effect she is saying, ‘I was so wise and wonderful, that I knew, even at the age of tender age of six, that abortion was a great, wonderful and necessary tool for women’s empowerment. I am descended from the great tribe of political and academic heavyweights, listen and look upon my mighty intellect, ye proles, and take heed’.

Where pro-lifers are wrong however, is to assume that if she is telling the truth, that this is evidence of abusive or bad parenting, on the basis that no six year-old ought to know about abortion. If that is the case, then the Baptist Church which was mentioning such things to six year olds, deserves criticism. Although pro-choicers like Chelsea, ought to be honest with themselves as to why? If abortion is simply more than a removal of unwanted tissue or cells, and not a real human being, then what is the problem with telling children about it, in similar terms to describing a tonsilectomy or other similar minor procedure?

I remember losing a glut of Facebook and Twitter followers, who were all ironically pro-choicers, who were appalled when I mentioned that I’d had to discuss abortion with my eldest child, who was about seven at the time. It was felt that children wouldn’t be old enough to fully understand abortion and therefore shouldn’t be told. Which is in itself an admission that there’s something more moral and fundamental at stake that just putting a stop to a pregnancy. There’s also the feeling from both pro-lifers and pro-choicers that the role of parents is to protect their children from life’s horrors, until they are able to contextualise them. Again, an implicit understanding that abortion is not a ‘nice’ thing or a suitable topic for children.

I was forced to broach the issue, albeit in very gentle terms, with my daughter when she was in Year two or three, simply because she could read. She saw a leaflet from a pro-life organisation that was kicking about the house and asked what the word meant. She also overhead an answerphone message from a media outlet inviting me on a show to discuss abortion.The final nail in the coffin was having to drive past large displays of graphic images outside Brighton’s abortion clinic. She could see for herself what they were. I don’t believe in lying to children, or treating them as though they are stupid, but answering their questions in age-appropriate ways. Ours is a household in which lots of things are discussed calmly and sensibly, without ever once inviting scorn or hatred upon people. My daughter’s school was taken over by the notoriously progressive Brighton College – therefore we found ourselves forced to broach certain difficult and taboo topics, living as we did in a hub of LGBT activism with a disproportionate amount of the population who reject heteronormatism.  It’s ironic that many of those who are campaigning for children to be taught sex-education including the topics of homosexuality and transgenderism in schools from the age of 5, are recoiling at the notion that children could be told about abortion.

It was perhaps inevitable that a child in my household would become exposed to the concept of abortion, although interestingly it hasn’t yet cropped up with my younger children, the oldest of whom is now also six. So I don’t blame Hilary Clinton for Chelsea’s exposure to pro-choice views from an early age, because to some extent this was inevitable, although I would question anyone, on either side of the debate, who decided to sit down and explain the concept of abortion with a young child. I don’t have a problem with taking young children to pro-life events, or even with them joining in with prayer vigils outside clinics – it can very simply be explained without having to go into the specifics of abortion.

Most children, when they learn about abortion, are naturally horrified. They know instinctively that it’s an abhorrent and upsetting thing, which is why caution needs to be exercised and the topic needs to be discussed sensitively.

The horror and disgust levelled at Hilary Clinton is because, if Chelsea is to be believed, then she must have put in quite a bit of work to overcome a young child’s natural revulsion and convince her that abortion is a perfectly acceptable act. Children instinctively look to their mothers to protect them, they understand that their mothers have carried them in their tummies and the thought that a mother might decide to kill or get rid of a baby in her tummy is the stuff of childish nightmares and anxieties, especially if they believe that it’s something that their own mother might do at some point.

Heaven knows, I have some terrible explaining of my own to do at some point, which is why I was so distressed to be so publicly outed and betrayed by a former friend about my own abortion, a few years ago.

But where we do need to be careful, is in our condemnation of Hilary for her supposed indoctrination of Chelsea. No matter how heinous her views, as a parent, she has every right to pass them down to her children, and tragically this seems to have been the case. Chelsea obviously feels immensely proud and privileged to have been the recipient of such an upbringing and that her mother did the right thing in imparting her views.

The rights of parents as primary educators of their children is integral to Catholic teaching and therefore it is hypocritical of us to attempt to abuse or denigrate others for exercising those very same rights that we lay claim to when it comes to our own  children. We don’t have to tolerate the ideas which others are passing on to their children, but we must respect others’ rights to educate their children into their own value system, with the proviso that these views do not encourage, condone or coerce vulnerable youngsters into acts of violent terrorism.

The same accusation of harm or abuse, that we could level at militant atheists or devoted pro-choicers, could and often is, similarly and far more frequently lobbied at those of us with religious and socially conservative views.

As a 35 year old mother, Chelsea Clinton has had ample opportunity to reflect upon the values instilled in her as a child and either accept or reject them. But her experience bears out what both Catholics and left-leaning socialists accept. The family remains the most powerful source of political and religious evangelism there is and a family who not only expresses, but also positively lives out their convictions or views without hypocrisy are infinitely more likely to pass them down to future generations.

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Rotten fruit

04Rot

A younger friend of mine introduced me to a bizarre tautology in conversation about her romantic life, complaining that her male friend did not enjoy ‘PIV sex’.

I’m going to regret asking this, I thought to myself as I asked her the inevitable question, imagining all kinds of peculiar practices involving animals, vegetables and minerals. It transpired that PIV is merely an acronym, for normal heterosexual intercourse, namely taking the first letters of the male and female sex organs and their relation to each other in the act of lovemaking.

It struck me how distorted cultural notions of sexuality have become that straightforward common or garden sex between a man and a woman needs to be explicitly defined as though it is some kind of niche practice with its own specialist term. While it would be absurd to portray myself as some sort of wide-eyed innocent ingenue, I’m obviously aware of other acts of a sexual nature, to me the term ‘sex’ in the context of a relationship between a man and a woman referred to ‘PIV’ intercourse. If someone tells me that they are having sex with someone else, perhaps naively, a situation involving ‘PIV’ (urgh still sounds awful, horribly clinical in its stark description) would be what I would imagine, hence the tautology, the term PIV being superfluous.

It turns out the phrase is in common parlance which is concrete evidence of the damage that pornography has inflicted on the sexual psyche of the nation, when you have self-identifying heterosexual males expressing a distaste for sex in the natural order of things, something that is designed to be pleasurable in order to secure the continuation of the species. It brought to mind shades of Prufrock, will this be the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper as our minds get turned away from good old-fashioned traditional sexual intimacy, in favour of clinical, sterilised, empty self-pleasure that we can only administer to ourselves or on our own, unable to experience the sexual joy of the other and requiring specific external stimuli as essential to sexual fulfilment?

Quite understandably, my young friend wondered whether or not her male squeeze may have homosexual inclinations. In the course of advising her and guiding her (i.e. do a runner and find a man who values you for who you are rather than what niche  and frankly stomach-churning sexual services you can perform for him, sex should never feel like hard work or a performance) it turned out that the guy had a prediliction for pornography which he believed to be ‘harmless’ and that his entire peer group seemed to share his preferences. Good taste and charity prevents me from outlining what they were in explicit detail, but they certainly wouldn’t figure in the repertoire of most men and woman I know and I can hardly claim to have led a sheltered existence – years as long haul cabin crew, not indulging in, but  witnessing some sexually louche lifestyles, certainly opened my eyes! My advice was that this group behaviour of individuals, who were admittedly all perfectly well mannered,  charming, respectable, professionally successful and well-educated people, should not be considered the norm and that they were all reinforcing each other in their deviancy.

The spread of internet pornography has enabled people not only to seek out material pertaining to acts and practices that would previously be considered taboo and removed the resulting stigma or shame as people have realised that they are not alone in fancying next door’s pet cat, or wanting to dress up like a Roman centurion to use deliberately surreal examples and thus their behaviour or inclinations have been validated and online communities formed, defining themselves purely by their sexual interests. Not only does the internet reinforce unusual inclinations, but it also provides suggestions of new potentially exciting and exotic ways of seeking out sexual stimulation and like a narcotic, research demonstrates that online sex surfers eventually seek out stronger and stronger stimuli, as the old images dull and lose their power to excite. Yourbrainonporn is an excellent resource for further scientific research, articles and  information on this phenomenon.

The ethic of personal autonomy doesn’t cut it morally: when men and women are eschewing traditional sexual activity in favour of a manufactured sexual hit at the expense of the other and potentially the procreation of the species, this is clearly contrary to human flourishing. We should not be aiming for a scenario of sexual pleasure like the one depicted in the popular science fiction film Demolition Man and this increasing phenomenon is an inevitable consequence of what happens when you divorce sex from procreational purposes.

Married couples should be enjoying penetrative sex with each other on a regular basis, rather than treating it as a duty or obligation for the purposes of procreation. As those of us in healthy relationships will testify, when we go through periods of abstinence for one reason or another, it is a privation, one of spiritual and physical benefit, but a privation nonetheless! Anything which leads to a lessening of natural God-given sexual intimacy between man and woman should be decried as a tragedy. I wanted to bang the aforementioned gentleman’s head against a wall, as indeed I do with many people and say “look, when you avoid PIV with your long-term committed (i.e married) partner you really don’t know what you are missing”. Sex is a God-given gift and as your relationship deepens and strengthens with your spouse over the course of a shared lifetime, it really does get better and better!

To put the cherry on the cake, I chanced across this piece, currently trending on the internet, so much so that the author has had to close comments, in which she, a radical feminist, claims that regardless of consent “PIV” sex is always rape. Sadly it is not a parody and one can only surmise that the writer has experienced some trauma which has led to various neuroses – this is an unhealthy and harmful way of thinking about sex and from a female point of view, I strongly object to many of the offensive assertions made, not least the audaciously unscientific “Penetration of the penis into the vagina is completely unnecessary for conception.” 

Thought like this demonstrates the theory that the feminism which is rapidly being adopted as the new cultural religion of the  media is becoming the New Puritanism in spirit that seeks to banish sex as a repugnant act. Feminism should be about encouraging female flourishing, it is difficult to see how rallying women to see a mutually enjoyable sexual act that enhances relationships, strengthens intimacy and pair-bonding as an act of violence, is conducive to happiness.

While ever wary of CS Lewis’ famous admonishment about the equal and opposite errors in thinking about the devil, one cannot help to see diabolical fingerprints all over contemporary thinking and ideas such as these about sex. God has given us something that is infinitely good and wants us to enjoy his gifts with thanks for our pleasure, for human success and His Glory. Who else would want us to convince ourselves that this fruit is thoroughly spoiled, rotten and harmful and we should instead search elsewhere for a replacement?

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Taken from the Catholic Universe 13 October 2013

pietro-perugino-tobias-with-the-angel-raphaelHaving shared my pregnancy news with Universe readers in order to advocate breaking the taboo and stigma of early pregnancy, I am now reaping the downside of being upfront following the discovery during a routine scan that our unborn child had died in utero, right at the end of the first trimester.

As we were unable to verify the sex of our baby, born on the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels, we therefore chose the name Raphael in honour of the Archangel, who in common with all angels is pure spirit and therefore neither male nor female in the earthly sense. Furthermore Raphael is also associated with the healing ministry of God.

When explaining the reason for our choice of name, I was taken aback by the amount of Christians who while aware of the name of the archangel, associated it more with the Renaissance artist and knew nothing of the Biblical connotations.

 Raphael makes an appearance in the Book of Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha, in which he is sent by God to heal, protect and guide Tobit and his son and daughter-in-law Tobias and Sarah. The story of Tobit’s family is one of the hidden gems of the Bible, the message of which is that God is just. Tobit, Tobias and Sarah suffer many trials and difficulties but yet remain steadfast in faith during their time of testing and enjoy God’s blessings and mercy, with St Raphael being sent to them as answer to their prayers for deliverance and making the longest recorded speech of an angel in the entire Bible!

Like Tobit we are called to trust in God and live in accordance to his plan. Suffering is not a punishment but a test, it is not our struggles that define us, but our response to them – do we rail Job-like against God, or put our faith in him, trusting that though he has not willed terrible things to happen, he will work to bring good out of our pain.

 The book of Tobit is a great guide to Catholic spirituality, presenting the sanctity of marriage, angelic intercession, a reward for good works as well as emphasising the importance of prayer, almsgiving and fasting in our daily lives.

Upon re-reading it this week and explaining its significance in the choice of our baby’s name, it once again struck me as what a tragedy it is that so many of us Catholics don’t seem to know our bible as well as we ought. Not only does this mean that we are often left floundering especially when in conversation with our evangelical brethren, but that our faith and knowledge can lack richness and depth. Christianity is a revealed religion, about what God has shown and told us, most of which can be found in scripture.

If our knowledge of the bible is sketchy, as well as hindering and impairing our faith, it also means that we are missing out on a wealth of cultural richness. As a former English literature student, I was frequently taken aback at how much my fellow students were missing out on, by having almost no knowledge of the basic Old and New Testament stories which were a staple of basic education only a few generations ago. Without a good grip on the bible, it is impossible to appreciate staples of the English canon such as Beowulf, Chaucer, Blake and DH Lawrence to name but a few.

 This week the schools watchdog Ofsted have reported that more than half of England’s schools are failing pupils on religious education. A great deal of this has to do with the manner in which RE is now taught, in an impartial and objective fashion, laying out the tenets of different faiths from which children are taught to take a pick and mix approach, drawing out strands of truths from various religions, without being equipped with the basic knowledge to be able to make such critical decisions.

I was lucky enough to have old-fashioned scripture lessons at primary school, which was akin to a period of story-telling, music, art and drama. I remember the class sitting with rapt concentration to tales of King David, singing songs about the walls of Jericho tumbling and drawing vivid pictures of Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot, the memories of those lessons remaining with me today, almost thirty years later. Despite attending a Catholic secondary school, my knowledge of the Apocrypha was until quite recently, limited to being purely theoretical, even though it is a key part of our Catholic cultural inheritance.

If Religious Education teaching is lacking, it is time to reintroduce unashamed scripture lessons, which as my experience shows does not need to be an exercise in aridity, in order that all children are not denied the richness of their country’s spiritual heritage, regardless of whether or not they are adherents to what is still, our national religion.

 We cannot be surprised or shocked by the current proposals that the Bible should be removed from courtrooms, how can we swear a serious oath of truth upon it, or how can grieving parents or those suffering with the burdens and trials of life, absorb the messages of  consolation and hope from the Bible, if we don’t know what is contained therein?

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(Perhaps this is what the Archbishop has in mind?)

Archbishop Vincent Nichols must be feeling quite justified. He gives a homily in which he appears to denounce blogs, saying that people are attracted to them because we love to hear complaints and are attracted to gossip, followed by a sentence saying that they should have no place in the Church, and surprise surprise, the Catholic blogosphere goes apoplectic and complains about it, thereby proving his point quite nicely.

The problem is twofold. Firstly the sentence “They should have no place in the Church” is placed (perhaps deliberately) after the sentence which explains why we are attracted to newspapers and blogs. It therefore creates an ambiguity. Is Archbishop Nichols talking about newspapers and blogs having no place in the Church, or rather gossip and complaints? Or both?

He (Pope Francis) knows that we live in a society in which complaining and gossip is a standard fare. They sell newspapers and attract us to blogs because we love hear complaints and to read gossip.

But Pope Francis is clear: they should have no place in the Church

But actually the excellent homilies from Pope Francis to which the Archbishop refers, makes no mention of newspapers and blogs, he talks about how complaining dashes hope, as well as the evils of gossip.

But is Archbishop Nichols really saying that newspapers and blogs have no place in the Church? I don’t think this can be the case, not least because the Vatican has its own newspaper and blog. It might have been more helpful had he been a little more precise, i.e. newspapers and blogs that are solely devoted to gossip and complaining have no place in the Church, although this too would have aroused ire. The Archbishop in a bit of a no-win situation whatever he says regarding blogs and the internet.

The other problem is in the assertion that people are attracted to newspapers because they are attracted to gossip and like to hear complaints. This assumes ill-will or bad intention on behalf of the reader which is not always present. I don’t read the Catholic Herald, for example, because I want to hear gossip, (not that the Herald publishes any) if I wanted ecclesial or clerical gossip there are much juicier sources, but because I like to read about what’s going on in the Catholic world as a whole and read some informed, educated and orthodox commentary from those whose opinions I might respect. The same goes for the blogs, my favourites being the priest bloggers (Valle Adurne is a particular treat, I love Fr Sean’s gentle perspectives) and the blogs I regularly read which are written by the laity, again are the opinions of those people who I respect and might well be able to add a different perspective or dimension to an issue which I have not thought about, the most recent that comes to mind is Counter-Cultural father’s outstanding posts on abortion. Likewise I don’t think one can accuse Mark Lambert‘s weekly scriptural reflections as being full of complaints or gossip. Many blogs are genuinely a place of spiritual nourishment.

So, I can well see that backs have been put up by this homily, not least because it assumes bad intent on behalf of bloggers and their readership. Frs Ray and Henry both do a good job in explaining the importance of blogs in democratising the Church as well as explaining the difference between good and bad gossip. Gossip tinged with calumny is the food of Satan.

With all that in mind, I am going to say a few words in defence of Archbishop Nichols and it is very telling that I slightly nervous and mindful of doing this. What kind of situation are we in when an orthodox Catholic is concerned by the reaction that she might receive from the blogosphere, when it comes to defending the most senior Catholic in England and trying to act in good faith?

I understand where ++Vincent is coming from, even though I don’t agree with him. Most members of the CBCEW still don’t quite ‘get’ the internet, although it’s heartening to see Bishop Egan tweeting and blogging. I suspect this is partly a generational issue as well as a not inconsiderable workload. The priest bloggers don’t blog every day, they have their flock to attend to and I’ve been watching the pattern of blogging and noticed (yes priest bloggers, I’m stalking you all) that almost all of them tend to blog in the evening, when they can finally snatch a bit of down time. I suspect that many bishops just ‘don’t get it’ and therefore all they hear about the internet is the bad stuff, i.e. the complaints, the grumbling, the ‘somebody must do something’ and it has perhaps unsurprisingly, coloured their judgement, they don’t get the positive benefits.

Plus, whilst the internet does enable voices to be heard and important concerns to be aired, as we’ve seen with the Gosnell case this week, it does also enable keyboard warriers and online zealots. The internet is a big place which has its fair share of ‘characters.’ Whereas twenty years ago folk would write letters in green ink, now we have the internet which needs discernment and filtration. Here’s a helpful piece that illustrates the usefulness (or otherwise) of Twitter for a mainstream journalist, referring to the aftermath of this week’s tragedy in Boston. Most parishes have at least one, really dedicated and loyal parishioner, who has a particular bugbear who regularly gives anyone who will listen a good earbashing about it. The problem is, that by permanently complaining and finding fault, no matter how legitimate the grievance, over time, repeated grumbling loses its impact.

Those bishops who look upon the internet with scepticism, probably equate it with a troublesome parishioner who never stops grumbling and who never has anything good to say, at least to him, only seeing the difficult or troublesome aspect. If any of them look at the comments boxes on some of the major blogs, their suspicions are confirmed, even the Catholic Herald has its share of ranters. Some coms boxes put me in mind of the bar in Mos Eisley from Star Wars. As Obi-Wan says to Luke Skywalker, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” It’s fair to say that charity is sometimes lacking.

So look at it from Archbishop Nichol’s point of view. Bloggers seem to be forever telling him how awful he is, what a terrible job he’s doing and speculating over whether or not he will get, or deserves a red hat. No matter how deserved bloggers might think their criticism, the Archbishop is human, as well as our father in God, that kind of thing would seriously cheese me off too, particularly when they are always threatening to complain to Rome or the Nuncio. We all need not to get carried away by a sense of power.

It’s also fair to say that there are certain blogs and bloggers who do seem to revel in gossip, naming no names. This does have the potential to be dangerous and lead people into error. We have to remember that if we are going to publish a rumour, that there are always two sides to every story, there have been occasions when I’ve read stuff and realised it to be utter bunkum, but I’m not in a position to disabuse it, because to do so would entail breaking confidences and be just as bad as the original piece. It is nevertheless frustrating to see rumour, which like all good gossip has a grain of truth in it, propagated like it is Gospel.

Should anyone be in any doubt about the attraction or power of blogs, Robin, like many Anglo-Catholics, both present and former, used to absolutely devour the blogs, especially Damian Thompson’s, at around the time Anglicanorum Coetibus was issued. It drove me absolutely potty, but is a habit which he has long since eschewed. The reason being, was like many in his position, he had no idea what was going on, didn’t actually know that many real-life Catholics or Catholic clergy and wanted some idea of what was happening and what kind of a welcome or reception he might expect from the Catholic Church should he convert, and also just to get a sense of it. Which is why again, bloggers need to be careful, many of us have crossover readers, internecine squabbling (of which I have been guilty) doesn’t create the best of impressions of UK Catholicism or do much to further the Kingdom. What frustrated me about the blog-checking habit was that to me, what bloggers were saying was utterly irrelevant as to where the Lord might be calling, but I can well see that at a time one feels out of control and uncertain about events, sinful nature leads us to try and be masters and controllers of our own destiny.

Ultimately, if we want to be taken seriously as a force (and I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else here) we need to exercise discernment and ensure that our output is always balanced, reasonable, charitable as well as orthodox and not merely a place for discontented rants or to air personal grievances, again something that I’ve learnt over time. Accusations of clericalism go both ways, neither the hierarchy, nor bloggers and the blogging community should consider themselves beyond reproach or untouchable.

We have to ensure that whatever we do on the internet lives out and advances Gospel values. Otherwise, as Pope Francis says, we run the risk of not recognising Christ walking alongside us.

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For those who haven’t seen it over there, here’s my thoughts on the remarks made at Pope Francis’ General Audience today. This theme of women and motherhood and what that means, is going to need much more analysis and apologetics.

Quite early on in this blog, I had several non-denominational Christians as well as general enquiries, wanting to drill down a bit further into the notion of women as mothers. The inherent dignity, importance and value of motherhood needs to be emphasised, whilst taking care not to alienate women who are not physical mothers, as being some sort of lesser beings, or somehow lacking in innate femininity. It’s a tricky tightrope, whilst the goods of motherhood must be reclaimed, care must be taken not to fetishise mothers in an unhelpful way either.

Here’s the post anyway.

Speaking in his General Audience today, Pope Francis emphasised the importance and role that women have to play within the Catholic Church, as unselfish communicators of the Gospel.

The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart.

Contrasting the implicit faith of the women who are the first human witnesses to the Resurrection with that of the male Apostles, Pope Francis says:

The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands.

The very act of returning to the tomb, to anoint the body of Christ is a manifestation of this faith and also trust. Why did they return to the tomb? They would have been aware that the tomb entrance was sealed by an enormous boulder that would have been impossible for them to roll away without some assistance, as well as the fact that guards were posted at the tomb’s entrance, who were unlikely to have been amenable. And yet still they trusted.

Reinforcing the historicity of the Gospel accounts, Pope Francis reminds us of Christ’s radicalism. Women were not considered credible or reliable legal witnesses in first century Palestine, this was a role reserved to Elders or men over thirty, and yet it was to women that Christ first manifested his Resurrection, as a reward for their faith and in recognition of their love.

This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love

Beautiful and inspirational. What can be more important than being witnesses to the Resurrection and the love of God? Those very first witnesses, who were so convinced by what they had seen and so determined to spread the Good News, to the extent that they would lay down their lives and suffer the most excruciating and painful deaths, played a crucial and key role in the development of the faith. Women are called to witness, whether that be as physical or spiritual mothers, to pass down and impart the joy of the faith to their children and in their families, in a way that only they know how. That the Pope has chosen to affirm and link women with motherhood should not be overlooked.

Christ called Mary Magdalene by name in the garden in acknowledgement of her simple and uncomplicated love, faith and trust. Furthermore Mary Magdalene is no plaster saint or unrealistic model of womanhood. Her lack of inhibition and emotive displays are often embarrassing or discomforting and yet Christ loves because of her innate feminine authenticity and total lack of guile and self-awareness. Whilst Our Lady set the pattern of motherhood, in the encounter in the garden, we see Christ conferring a vital vocation upon St Mary Magdalen as the first female missionary.

Traditionally depicted as beautiful, sensuous and possessing an unrestrained yet totally pure love of the Lord, she accepts her vocation through a direct encounter with Christ, with no thoughts as to what may be in it for her in terms of status, earthly or material reward, and neither does she stop to compare herself with the Apostles. She has no need. Christ has already reaffirmed her equality, as St Mark awkwardly relates. Not only does Christ make his first appearance to a woman, but one who was once demonically possessed.

St Mary Magdalene allowed herself to be won over by Christ and gave herself over to him whole-heartedly and he rewarded, affirmed and entrusted himself to her in all of her femininity.  This is the message for contemporary women today.

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I was delighted to see that Lazarus had nominated me for a Liebster Award, not only because I really enjoy his blog and find him a voice of common sense and sanity on the blogosphere, but because it gives me an opportunity to unashamedly prattle on about myself. Which probably tells you all you need to know. I also saw I’d been nominated by Rhoslyn Thomas and was tempted to naughtily pick and choose on questions, but Lazarus got there first. I’ll give Rhos a plug anyway because she deserves one. Young, pro-life, Welsh traddie. What’s not to like?

Liebster-Award

The point of the award is to encourage blogs to link to each other and so boost their profiles and traffic.

Here’s what you do:

1) Post the Liebster award graphic on your site. (Google to find it if needed)
2) Thank the blogger who nominated the blog for a Liebster Award and link back to their blog.
3) The blogger then writes 11 facts about themselves so people who discover their blog through the Liebster post will learn more about them.
4) In addition to posting 11 fun facts about themselves, nominated bloggers should also answer the 11 questions from the post of the person who nominated them.
5) The nominated blogger will in turn, nominate 9 other blogs with 200 or less followers (We’re guessing for our nominees) for a Liebster award by posting a comment on their blog and linking back to the Liebster post.
6) The nominated blogger will create 11 questions for their nominated blogs to answer in their Liebster post.

So, done the first two tasks. Here’s the eleven facts about me. (I go on a bit, I didn’t include that brevity or conciseness is not my forte).

  1. One of the most surreal things I’ve ever done is approach Paul O’Grady of Lily Savage fame, in the Telephone Bar in Bangkok and throw water at him. He didn’t mind, it was Thai New Year which is celebrated by sprinkling water over other people as a sign of good luck. In recent times it has degenerated into a giant 3 day city-wide water fight, where gangs of adolescents prowl the city on the backs of jeeps and motorbikes, with industrial water tanks strapped to their backs connected to elaborate water pistols, in order to drench passers-by. Probably something of a mating ritual, but if you ever go to Bangkok around the time of Thai New Year, be sure to wear either a swimming cossie or plastic overalls.
  2. My skills of prophecy are summarised by the occasion I looked at a battered old orange 737 sitting on the tarmac at Gatwick airport in 1997 and opined “No Frills airlines. That’ll never work”
  3. Fr John Glynn of I watch the Sunrise, fame, was the priest in charge of my school. He used to stalk the Alyosius Corridor, singing and smiling and leant his guitar against the altar. I used to confuse him with Ralph McTell.
  4.  My favourite book of the Aeneid is Book VI. It evokes memories of GCSE Latin and moments of Billy Bunter-esque stupidity in class. Virgil describes an eclectic mix of characters including “The hundred armed Gyles Brandreth” and, much to the amusement of privileged Essex boarding school pupils, with terribly middle-class names, a ferryman called “Sharon”.
  5. I’ve always wanted to give Cathy and Heathcliffe a hearty slap.
  6. I can’t touch vodka following an unfortunate incident involving Highlander II, popcorn on an empty stomach, a litre of Blue label Smirnoff, a chincilla and a poodle who resembled Roly in Eastenders.
  7. If I had to chose a final meal it would be infinite oysters, with a dipping sauce made out of shallots and red-wine vinegar, a dash of lemon and tabasco, washed down with Veuve Cliquot served the temperature of liquid nitrogen.
  8.  I have to work a lot harder on the asceticism and Evangelical Poverty thing.
  9.  I will forever harbour an unashamed crush on the young Stiff Pilchard Cliff Richard in his heyday. Cor. 
  10.  I’d like to have the sublime Faure’s Requiem at my funeral and wangle a way of getting in the Cantique de Jean Racine also.
  11.  Compline is my favourite part of the Divine Office. It hands everything over to God at the end of the day.

So here are the questions I had to answer:

What inspired the title of your blog?

My name. Original huh?! Actually, it was originally called asnailinmypocket, which was a favourite phrase of mine back in the day, being an equivalent to Monty Python’s hovercraft full of eels. Very often in my days as a flight attendent, we’d operate domestic European flights for a non-English airline, between cities such as Cologne and Dresden. I once told an unsuspecting German with no command of English, that I had ‘a snail in my pocket and I think I’m about to use my vest’, instead of telling him to stow his hand luggage under the seat in front of him, much to the hilarity of my colleague. He seemed to get the gist. Perhaps it was the hand gestures? Anyway the phrase stuck and it was the first thing that came to mind when setting up the blog and summed me up. Random, surreal and probably quite juvenile.

What is your personal favourite post on your blog?

No idea, although I’d like to think that I’ve done some very solid investigative pro-life writing. BPAS are regular readers. *waves* 🙂

What has been the most popular (most viewed) post on your blog?

Oh lawks, not sure we should go there. It was the Babyworld post of DOOM. To cut a long story short, I used to be a member of a Mumsnet type website called Babyworld, which had a ‘Discus, Debate and Deliberate’ forum. In the run up to the Papal Visit, things got extremely heated and being the only practicing Catholic in a forum predominated by liberal mummies was something of a recipe for disaster. They simply didn’t get it and I should have realised that it was always going to be a waste of time.

There were threads upon threads of the usual old cliches and every single time, I tried to bust the myths or engage in any sort of apologetics – KAPOW, they’d all go nutty. I remember one member who indignantly C&Ped huge chucks of the Catechism, in order to heap her scorn and vitriol upon this disgusting religion and its doctrine.

Others just couldn’t work me out. On the one hand I seemed this perfectly nice, reasonable, quite fun woman, who didn’t walk about dressed like a member of the Amish, but there I was espousing hateful bigotry and homophobia. At one point it was suggested that I was brainwashed or had cognitive dissonance “I don’t think Caroline hates gay people, she obviously doesn’t, she seems a nice person, but her attitude is homophobic and that causes her problems, which is why she tries to explain it away”.

Finally, my patience blew during yet another homophobic Catholic church debate (I think people decided to deliberately start inflammatory threads) during which posters posted the most inane and theologically illiterate statements I’d ever seen, which were as hilarious as they were offensive. “Face it, you can’t tell me whether or not Jesus was a breast or a bum man with any certainty”, said one, and in my frustration and amusement, I C&Ped some of the choicest comments onto here for the delectation of my gentle readers, along with the Bad Vicar sketch from Mitchell and Webb. Well, it was funny, a bunch of women screeching about how terrible Catholicism was, how they had spent some time in Rome and decided that I had read too many books and therefore wasn’t ‘spiritual’, reminded me of the classic line about “hastily assembled internet philosophies”.

Anyway, they didn’t like it much, linked the blog to Babyworld and the stats went stratospheric. Much silliness ensued about petitioning WordPress to get the site taken down for breaching copyright (despite the fact I’d done nothing illegal and hadn’t mentioned identities) and a huge amount of cross comments, for taking their comments about Christ’s alleged sexual preferences out of context!

I left shortly afterwards, it all got a bit much and I lost patience with the “oh no, my child’s Christian school is teaching them that God exists and about the crucifixion and Resurrection, how very dare they”, but they still link to here from time to time, bless them.Christian mummies, stay away from mainstream mummy forums, no good can come of it, unless you are married to Giles Fraser.

Which post on your blog has attracted most comments?

This one. About finding out I was pregnant, the week that Robin left the Anglican Church.

What other hobbies or interests (beyond blogging) are you prepared to admit to?

Not that much time, with the children, so it’s mainly reading and playing the piano. Beethoven Sonatas with their crashing chords can be most Cathartic, but tend to wake the children. I also love Bach prelude and fuges as well as Mozart sonatas. I adore ragtime, probably not very PC, but I’d like to be able to play Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk without making any mistakes before I shuffle off this mortal coil. It’s fiendishly difficult.

What’s your favourite song?

Cemetry Gates by The Smiths. Timeless and with puns worthy of Philip Sidney.  Perhaps the wittiest and cleverest pop song there is. It is a deliberate paradox, being the embodiment of the traits that it knocks- pretentious and pseudo-intellectual and reminding us that all writers and fans of literature and the arts are self-conscious, angst-ridden inadvertent plagiarists at heart.

What’s your favourite novel?

I’m going to cheat, because I can’t possibly chose. Three of Maupassant’s short-stories, Boule de Suif, La Parure and En Famille. All tragi-comic, demonstrating his immense ability as an original story-teller, who describes his subjects and their physical and mental flaws with affectionate, painstaking and earthy detail. Maupassant holds up an uncomfortable and discomforting mirror to human nature. Though none of these stories have an aspect of redemption, they demonstrate the nature of sin. When I recently re-read them, the compelling subtext for me, was how they highlighted the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Actually upon re-reading that, I should say, Brideshead Revisited because it sparked my return back to the Catholic Church. When my eldest was born, I spent hours sat nursing her with a book in hand. One of them was Brideshead which I had never previously got around to. As I turned the back cover, tears were streaming down my face and I thought to myself, “well it’s too late for me, but I am going to make darned sure that my daughter is saved” and resolved to have her baptised. I then attended the local baptism course and things progressed from there.

Complete this sentence: ‘I think religion is….’

I’ll go with St Augustine’s definition. I think religion is the thing that binds us to God in voluntary subjugation.

How good a dancer are you?

Dreadful. I don’t do dancing, unless it’s of the Gay Gordons, or the basic ballroom variety that we had to learn at school. I am hopelessly uncoordinated, more embarrassing that your grandad and don’t enjoy it at all. I never know what to ‘do’.

Which do you prefer: tea or coffee?

Tea. Coffee is the devil’s own brew.

Have you ever been a smoker? (Of tobacco…!)

Yes. I used to smoke an unhealthy amount of Marlboro Reds. I still crave a cigarette whenever I have a gin and tonic in my hand, but on those occasions where I’ve grabbed a crafty puff of someone else’s, have wanted to throw up. I gave up in 1998, following the smoking ban on long-haul flights. My smoking habit was never curbed by the cost of cigarettes, seeing as I used to be able to buy them very cheaply in various destinations. At one stage I had a stash of about 2,000 in my room, for personal use, and never had to husband or ration cigarettes due to spiralling costs, unlike British smokers. It was easy-come, easy-go. I figured that if I could manage on a flight to Sidney without a puff, then, it was just a matter of gradually extending the period of time.

So now I have to nominate 9 other blogs with under 200 readers. That’s the hard part. I don’t tend to do compare and contrast on stats, so really I’ve no idea whether that’s readers or subscribers or what? I’d love to ask some of the priests such as Fr Ray Blake, whether or not he used to practice playing and pretending he was celebrating Mass as a little boy, or whether Joseph Shaw is secretly scared of spiders, but I guess that would be disrespectful and they have well over two hundred readers, so my list is a little random. I’m struggling, because most of those whom I would nominate, have already participated

  1. MyBattlementofRubies – my absolute heroine of all time. Clare, Catholic Homeschooling mother of six who has the most fabulous turn of phrase along with buckets of wit and common sense.
  2. Abudance of Rainbows – Lovely, lovely Lucy
  3. Laurence England – who doesn’t need the plug, but has written some outstanding stuff of late, and hasn’t yet participated
  4. James Preece – Oi James, put down your Latin books, forget the gerundives and answer some inane questions. Your public demands it
  5. Five feet above sea level – this is swiftly becoming a must-read, the wonderful and inspirational Katherine Rickards.
  6. A Miscellany of Musings – ‘The Idle Rambler’

And erm, I give up. Feel free to join in by all accounts, if questions inspire.

  1. Do you have a favourite Evangelist?
  2. What are the best and worst aspects of blogging?
  3. If you were able to choose your final meal, or God forbid you were on Death Row, what would it be?
  4. Favourite Saint?
  5. What book do you have on your bedside cabinet?
  6. What has been the most popular post on your blog?
  7. Which blogpost has attracted the most comments?
  8. What did you want to be when you were a small child?
  9. If you had a Harry Potter invisibility cloak for one day, what would you do?
  10. What inspired the title of your blog
  11. Favourite prayer or novena?

And that’s me done.

 

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I first heard this piece, from Pietro Mascagni’s opera, Cavalleria Rusticana at the funeral of Robin’s elderly uncle. The evocative and rousing melody along with the proclamation of the Resurrection seemed absolutely perfect for the occasion as well as for Easter morning. Perhaps most poignantly, the recording that was played as the coffin departed, featured the voice of the deceased who had sung this in a recent amateur production. How many of us get the opportunity to sing at our own funeral?!

This is a piece of music that never fails to reduce me to tears, it is so incredibly moving. Utterly breathtaking, beautiful, audacious and as triumphal as the event it portrays.

Happy Easter.

O rejoice for the Lord has arisen,
He has conquer’d the power of the grave,
He has broken the gates of the prison,
He has risen in His glory to save;

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