Smart Loving – reigniting the spark

My attention was drawn to the Smart Loving website in a letter by Edmund Adamus, director of Marriage and Family Life for Westminster Diocese, in this week’s Catholic Herald.

I’ve just spent some time scouting round the website which looks to be an excellent resource for single, engaged and married Catholics and Christians, whether in a relationship, looking for romance or simply wanting to reignite the spark.

Discover your unique love profile or take the quiz to discover whether your relationship needs some work to love smarter. There is also some useful information regarding spirituality and a
guide to getting started if you do not already pray as a couple and eight steps to deeper couple prayer. I cannot recommend strongly enough the benefits of praying as a couple as a way of increasing and deepening intimacy. I think many couples, especially when embarking on a relationship feel very self conscious at the idea of praying with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if the relationship doesn’t work out, or they are worried that the idea might put the other person off, but what can be more natural than wanting to help each other and walk together in one’s journey of faith and quest for holiness? To help each other deepen one’s eternal and everlasting relationship that extends beyond the mere earthly plain.

There is also a smart loving marriage seminar taking place in London, the weekend of 24 November, to enrich and empower married couples, commencing with Mass, opportunities for confession and including input from Theology of the Body.

Definitely worth attending, providing one can get babysitters!

Further thoughts

Something I was thinking about last night when pondering whether or not to pursue police action was that it’s a very telling indictment of society when a concerted online bullying campaign can tip a person over the edge into depression, so much so that she can contemplate aborting her baby and this would be perfectly legal.

Tom Chivers from the Daily Telegraph wrote a thoughtful piece on bullying yesterday and how words can really hurt – they trigger an intuitive evolutionary response and can do real damage.

Using social media to bully & harangue others is an increasing menace. I can well see how others could be driven to extremes and suicide. It’s a tightrope to be walked, but where someone has clearly transgressed the limits of acceptable discourse and actually tried to interfere in another’s real life (such as in my case) then we need to think again.

When a pregnant woman is driven into depression such that abortion is mooted as a solution, something needs to change. When social media is able to whip itself up into such a misguided frenzy of moral superiority, that a pregnant woman pleading with others to stop, for them to at least provide detailed charges and evidence of whatever it is she is supposed to have done as a matter of natural justice, is met with more bullying, derision and accused of using her unborn child as a human shield – something is seriously wrong.

When a well-known pro-abort blogger with a self-proclaimed mission of exposing liars in the media, sends a string of emails accusing you of making a malicious blog comment, evidenced by “it must be you it mentions your nana, don’t even try to deny it, does your good Catholic lawyer know what kind of a person you are”, it gets to you. When he says that he will publish something defamatory about you, but is just giving you the chance to respond, it gets to you. Why should I have to defend myself against something I haven’t done?

When fellow Catholics menacingly and repeatedly comment “tick, tick, tick your time is up” and admit they are working with this person to “expose” you, refer to you as a boil who needs to be lanced, as a person in need of public exorcism, that they are looking forward to seeing you suffer, they’ve bought popcorn, and then piously proclaim that it’s necessary, everyone must pray but I must be brought to my knees in order to repent and apologise, it’s sickening. Particularly when I haven’t done whatever it is I am vaguely accused of and there is nothing to suggest otherwise.

When people are willing to destroy my family through a misguided sense of “justice” something needs to change.

We talk about living in a progressive enlightened tolerant age. Quite how civilised is it to accuse, judge, condemn and punish a pregnant woman, to revel in taunting and abusing her, for the simple fact she has, in their opinion, got above herself and is trying to build a career?

I am a mother, a wife and a university student. My husband is a funeral director on minimum wage. Two years ago we had a lovely big rectory and garden, guaranteed income and lifetime stability and a wide circle of friends and a support network.

Today we are struggling, with reduced living space and no nearby friends or family. I have no idea what the future holds, where we will be living or what schools to think about for my children. Mothers and families crave security. I sometimes find it hard to get out of the house with 2 very small children. I don’t know many people nearby and am loath to invest in friendships locally in that I’ve no idea whether or not we will be living in the area for very much longer. It’s why I had become a bit dependent on the Internet as a support network as many of my real-life friends are there.

I actively encouraged and supported my husband in his decision to convert knowing precisely what this entailed. I knew the future would be rocky and uncertain. As a result of this unfounded hate campaign we could find ourselves homeless and without a job. A zealous Catholic has already described how my university’s Catholic Society has been contacted, to find out if they knew me. The fact that I was unknown (I attend a local parish instead) was held to be damning. There has been talk of contacting our diocese to exact an apology and prevent “scandal” which isn’t commensurate with the gloating over the alleged forthcoming “media sh*tstorm”. The charges are that I pretend to be bullied whilst using this as a cover to bully others.

It’s precisely to protect myself and my family that I am seriously considering what to do next. I didn’t start blogging to build a career, I did it because I enjoyed it and it tied in with some of the previous voluntary pro-life work. It’s a shame if it has to end, but I have to put my family first.

The bully has stated his intent that this “Mallory Towers Messalina”, this “Iggy Pop in drag” should be made to withdraw from the net. To do so is to let him win. Other people have kindly said that I write some of the best pro-life stuff around. I wish that were true.

Maybe the answer is just to solely concentrate on that. The last thing I want to do is cause scandal to the Church I love and the cause I am so passionate about. I’ve been accused of being a terrible wife and mother. I am told I am neglecting them as a result of blogging or tweeting in spare moments either at home or in the university library. It’s provided a great foil to Marxist gender theory. The Internet has been a source of comfort, spiritual inspiration and support.

There is nothing like Christian fellowship, with people who cry, rejoice and share in your sufferings and triumphs. At times of trouble they bear your burdens and lift you up in prayer. (Though it is fair to note that two people who have reached out and provided comfort have been skeptics and atheists.)

The wonders of Christian fellowship renders its failure even more painful. It is always hurtful when someone says horrible things about one, but when they are a brethren in Christ, the pain is magnified. Vulnerability is a key part of Christianity. We open our hearts to each other and to Christ in order to share in his suffering, this can be wonderful.

The word “vulnerable” derives from the Latin vulneris meaning “wounded.” If you’re vulnerable you’ve let down your guard, you are capable of being wounded, which means uncharitable words and deeds are not like water off a duck’s back but penetrate through and pierce your heart and soul.

Pro-life: Prayer, PR or politics?

The controversy about 40daysforLife continues to rumble on, following their appearance on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, which with an audience of over 4 million people, was a massive publicity coup for an ‘organisation’ which is run on a shoe-string.

The amateur nature of 40days is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in as much as without access to any sort of slick PR machine, unlike the abortion clinics and their associated groups, 40daysforlife cannot be accused of back-door lobbying or underhand techniques. There is no flashy website or dedicated social media manager. They are very much what they say on the tin. An attempt to unite Christians and other faiths, in an invitation to attend vigils to peacefully pray for all those inside the abortion clinics. There can be no doubt with regards to the sincerity of the organisers or participants. Credit needs to be given to Robert Colquhoun who brought this campaign to the UK and who has mobilised the prayers of many people, both in front of the clinics and encouraged prayer, meditations and fasting for those at home.

That 40days have appeared on national media, following their appearance on Radio 4, they were then the subject of discussion on Matthew Wright’s show on Channel 5, is a testament to their success. They are certainly raising awareness. There can be no doubt that they have pro-abortion advocates rattled, with the emergence of counter-campaigns and lots of attempts to smear and discredit.

Which brings me on to the flip-side of their efforts. It needs to be remembered that this is a wholly amateur operation. Every single volunteer, from Robert Colquhoun downwards, is unpaid and gives up their free time. They all have day jobs. There simply is not the money to employ anyone. Which means that their social media account is not running in as professional a way as would be desirable. Getting the PR right is an essential part of activism, and social media plays a not inconsequential part. Understandably, 40days sees their main role as prayer and fasting, they are far more concerned with the spiritual than the temporal, which leaves them open to criticism.

More seriously, the amateur nature of the campaign also means that it leaves themselves open allegations of malpractice and harassment such as the filming and harassment of women. The filming of women both on the street and going in and out of the clinic is wholly unacceptable. 40daysforlife do not condone or encourage this is any way. The difficulty for them is, that despite the presence of at least one organiser at every vigil, it becomes very difficult to control the behaviour of other people. Participants do need to sign up to the statement of peace, which explicitly prohibits people from acting in a manner that may be harmful and asks participants to ensure that they reflect Christ’s compassion and love. The difficulty is that Christian compassion and love may be interpreted in a myriad of ways, however we can be reasonably confident that Christ would not condone the filming and invasion of privacy of vulnerable women. Once somebody does start to behave in a way that is unacceptable, they are immediately disassociated from the vigil, but as the participants are supposed to act in a peaceful way and are predominantly concerned with prayer, it becomes almost impossible to force someone to stop doing something unhelpful. Filming in public is not against the law and even Sunny Hundal was not averse to turning up to Bedford Square and filming, although he did not specifically film the faces of women. Unless any specific laws are broken or public order offences committed, though the organisers can politely request people to stop filming or behaving in a way that may be deleterious, they are powerless to act, other than call the police. The filming would appear to be a two way street, participants on the vigil have informed me of being very disconcerted that for the entire duration of their stay (usually an hour) there has been a member of the clinic with a video camera trained directly upon them.

On the Today programme Anne Furedi read a statement from a woman who said that she had been followed to the clinic and then made an allusion to women being pinned up against the wall. Obviously if this has happened it is despicable, however as BPAS are obviously filming the protest, surely if this had happened there would be evidence which should have been passed to the police. Personally speaking, if someone had done that to me whilst entering an establishment, I would have alerted the staff inside straight away, identified the assailant and called the police. There was another accusation of encirclement, followed by an admission that very often there will only be one protestor, which makes encirclement impossible. If one person follows another to the clinic door as alleged, unless they are some kind of super-hero with extraterrestrial powers, or able to bi-locate, encirclement seems highly unlikely.

Whilst loathe to accuse anyone of lying, it seems possible that some distortion has gone on here. The modus operandi of 40daysforlife is that most participants take part in prayer and witness and volunteers take turns to distribute leaflets. The following accusation, is not one of stalking, but of women being followed to the door of the clinic. If this does happen, the zeal is understandable, but it must stop. I have spoken to several participants of 40days vigils over the past few days and none of them recognise this type of behaviour. What usually happens is a leaflet is offered, if the person wants to accept or engage in conversation, discourse takes place, but following anyone down the street is not encouraged and would disassociate someone from the vigil.

40days recognise that women entering the abortion clinic are vulnerable. That’s why they have a big sign “we are here to help” and why they offer back-up support, which I will discuss in a later post. Abortion rights groups are so concerned by the impact of these vigils that they are using every tool in their arsenal to smear and discredit, that they are also targeting the Good Counsel Network, again another voluntary organisation, entirely reliant on charitable donations and who are more concerned with their daily work of actually getting on and providing real practical help, than mounting PR campaigns or properly defending themselves. Those on 40days must ensure that they do not leave themselves open, if a leaflet is offered and refused then that should be the end of it. An opportunity to engage and change hearts and minds has been put forward, pestering women who are in terrible situations is counter-productive. IF this happens, and I’m not convinced it does, but if it does, then organisers need to stamp on this. Though I am in no way vulnerable, I know just how annoying it is when someone attempting to advertise a product or hand out a leaflet won’t take no for an answer. It just puts one’s back up and causes defensiveness. On an everyday level, there is an incredibly pushy group of cosmetic salesmen in Brighton’s Churchill Centre, who seem to target me every time I have the children in the double-buggy. Despite the fact I am clearly preoccupied with manhandling a buggy, stopping child A from pulling child B’s hair or preventing child from clambering out of buggy or tantrums etc, a “no thanks” seems to have no effect, these boys continue to sidle up alongside you, repeatedly cajoling you to try their luscious products. Never mind the hand-cream, it’s Arnica they need if they don’t leave me alone. If unwanted hand cream samples give me the rage, it can only be imagined what a passionate pro-life supporter might do to a woman who is in a delicate emotional state. A leaflet offered is the most that should be attempted and a refusal met with good grace.

Ann Furedi and others have commented that the actions of 40daysforlife are un-Christian in their actions. Whilst I usually attempt to ensure that my pro-life arguments are predominantly secular, a pro-life viewpoint does not necessitate theism, I am not ashamed to admit that I am first and foremost a Christian, and for me, being pro-life follows holistically from my Christian faith. Prayer constitutes an enormous part of Christianity. I don’t talk about my prayer life as often as I should, but that is partly because for me, it is deeply intimate and personal. As personal to me as my intimate life with my husband. I worry that talking about it, somehow violates my relationship with the Lord, but prayer is a huge feature of my daily life. As Christians we should never under-estimate the power of prayer, which is part of the success of 40daysforlife. There have globally been thousands of babies saved.

Some, including Christians, have mooted that this prayer should be in the confines of our own homes. To me, that seems to be pandering to the modern secular agenda. It’s Okay to be a Christian, but we have to be nice mute ones, never causing any trouble. That isn’t what Christ was about, he was a radical, he hung about with the poor, the dispossessed, the outcast and the vulnerable. He drove money lenders out of the Temple and was non too concerned with what view the authorities may take of him. Would he have been outside an abortion clinic healing women before they went in? The answer is most definitely. However, though Christ always meets you where you are, He does not force Himself upon you. All of those who encountered Christ, saw Him and came to Him. He did not chase people, He invited them to follow Him. Which is of course the lesson for those outside clinics. An invitation must be issued, but not forced.

When it comes to the issue of Christians publicly manifesting their faith, we seem to have something of a crisis in the UK, which is feeding into a culture war. Politicians love to tell us that we are a tolerant and diverse society, but what that seems to entail in practice is smiling tolerantly and happily at women in their hijabs or saris or at Gary and Jamie holding hands whilst walking their Gucci-clad chiuaua down the street. Isn’t it wonderful, we tell ourselves, that people can now live their lives without harassment or fear. Whilst that is most definitely true, the same is not said of Christians who could be said to be serious in their faith. We are “fundy nutters” driven by religious fervour and hatred apparently. What is forgotten is that a key part of Christianity is not only prayer, but evangelisation. Spreading the Good News. Clearly this has to be done in an appropriate way, one that is not counter-productive, but in an allegedly tolerant and diverse society, it should be possible, to gently talk about your faith or your beliefs without living in fear of hate-speech or dismissal. If a work colleague wants to ask me my views on something, I should not be too frightened of the consequences to honestly engage.

Far from being un-Christian praying peacefully outside an abortion clinic is an act of witness and of faith, it is a living out of the Christian vocation and should not be eschewed out of fear or because it is thought impolitic. There seems something diabolic behind the notion that Christians should not be praying outside of Churches or their own homes, let alone in front of abortion clinics, where so much destruction of life is taking place. It comes to something when Catholics are suggesting that other Catholics should not be praying in public, for fear of other’s reactions or negative PR.

For those who suggest that their presence is un-Christian in that it potentially upsets women, I refer to my previous post; if abortion is upsetting and traumatic – why is that? This person appears to think that it is nothing of the sort – I love abortion she says. Women must be treated compassionately and sensitively, which must rule out harassment, invasion of privacy or anything that could amount to condemnation, however a presence which offers another choice or point of view, a way back from abortion, does not lack compassion. Abortion is the ending of the life of an unborn child, which hurts not only child, but the mother as well. A pastoral team in my diocese patrols Beachy Head, spotting potential jumpers and offering fellowship, comfort and support, a way back. No Christian would stand back and watch a person hurl themselves off a cliff, because it’s their body, their choice and they were scared of being intrusive. Offering a leaflet or saying a rosary in those circumstances would be a wholly inadequate approach. A pro-life presence signifies to people that they do not have to end the life of their unborn child.

What all Christians need to be aware is that pro-life should consist of the three Ps; politics, PR and prayer, which all have equal import. 40days need to ensure that their wonderful prayer efforts are not undermined by lack of PR or politics. “Professional” Catholic pro-life activists must not forget or deny the power of prayer and public witness.

Responding to Robert Colquhoun’s statement that those attending vigils were there out of a spirit of compassion and love, Anne Furedi requested that they should “take your love elsewhere”. It doesn’t take a genius to work out which of those statements is most in accord with Gospel values.

Postscript

During yesterday’s vigil at Bedford Square, a member of the public arrived and covered the vigil in horse dung. They calmly ignored it, continuing to pray, clearing up the site when they left. That’s intimidation for you!

Gabriel and Gethsemane

One of the reasons I felt so guilty about struggling with this pregnancy is because I look at the example of Our Lady, who upon hearing the news that she was to conceive, something that could have had grave and life-threatening repercussions for her, adultery carrying the penalty of stoning, was instantly accepting of God’s will, and indeed joyful, giving glory to God in her singing of the Magnificat.

My soul doth magnify the Lord.And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid;for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.Because he that is mighty,hath done great things to me;and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations,to them that fear him.He hath shewed might in his arm:he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.He hath put down the mighty from their seat,and hath exalted the humble.He hath filled the hungry with good things;and the rich he hath sent empty away.He hath received Israel his servant,being mindful of his mercy:As he spoke to our fathers, Abraham and to his seed for ever.

No evidence of “aargh, what a nightmare, I feel sick, this isn’t really what I wanted, I’m going to be a pregnant bride, not what a planned, oh no, this is such a disaster, everyone is going to hate me, I hate myself, what if I resent the baby, I’m going to have no sleep, I’m exhausted, we’ve got that journey to make to Bethlehem, I’ll be about to drop, they might kill me and it’s not even as if I’ve had sex, it’s so unfair.”

I’ve clearly got some way to go. But with that in mind, I was recalling Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. His acceptance of God’s will was not “right, OK, gee thanks Pops” skipping his way off to Calvary. The Gospels tell us that he prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, for this burden to be removed from him, he prayed that he might do God’s will, but that God’s will might be something other than the dreadful price that he had to pay. Christ emerges from Gethsemane, covered in sweat, following a night of tortuous agony.

Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. Luke 22: 42-45

Which gives rise to the question, why the different responses, and the potentially heretical thought, was Mary more open to the will of God than Jesus?

I think the answer has to be that Mary did not have the same agency of choice as Jesus. She was presented with a fait accompli and told what would happen. Gabriel was simply the messenger, he could not alter what had already been determined. Mary’s response could have been a lot different, her joyful outpouring of praise is proof of her sinless nature and openness to God, but she did not have the option to refuse, due to her lack of sin, just as Gabriel did not have the option to take away her pregnancy. Abortion would not have been an option in 1st century Judea, while there were probably various herbal remedies and preparations available to women, it was not the society of 21st Century Britain, where every pregnancy is deemed to be a matter of personal choice, there wasn’t a handy Marie Stopes offering abortion in every market for 20 denarii. As an orthodox Jew the idea was simply unthinkable, even if one isn’t talking about disobeying God or killing his only unborn son. Mary did not pray for mercy or respite, she did not complain, she rejoiced, in spite of her lack of control. Gabriel tells her “you will”, she could have refused to co-operate, but she is instantly accepting and believing. I think the importance is in the quality of her yes. God prepared her from all eternity to be the mother of the Redeemer, which whilst not taking away her free will.

Jesus, by contrast, had a more overt agency of choice. He prayed, not that his will was done, but that the Father’s will might be obeyed. Theologians have speculated that being the Son of God, Jesus could at any time, have summoned a legion of angels to remove him from the cross. We know that Christ was capable of performing miracles, there is the account in John of when the crowd at Nazareth rejected Jesus, drove him out of the town and to the brow of a hill in order to throw him off a cliff, and yet Christ serenely walked through the surging crowd intent on killing him and on his way. Christ had a choice and he chose the way of the Cross to Calvary; he choose to accept suffering and death for the sake of mankind and it was this choice that caused him so much torment. He was in agony in Gethsemane because he wanted his Father’s will to be something other than a tortuous death, in order to atone for the sins of mankind. Jesus chose to bend his actions to the way of the Father, no matter the personal cost to himself.

Where does that leave me? Somewhere in the middle. As various comments have noted, it’s not as though I had nothing to do with becoming pregnant, unlike our Blessed Virgin. Whilst I can aspire to the response of Mary and look to her as an example, whilst praying for intercession, I can also look at her son, the Redeemer who took on our human frailties and suffers along with us. He too, found it difficult, His was not an easy choice, it was a path beset by pain and suffering, but a price worth paying, one from which he emerged victorious, having done the will of God.

So whilst not on Calvary, I am still somewhere in the garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops like blood, knowing that the choice I’ve made which seems almost unbearable at times and is certainly full of great physical pain as well as fear, anxiety and uncertainty, will ultimately bear beautiful fruit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is very weak.

Listen to the cry of the baby Jesus

Here is this year’s piece from The Catholic Herald Christmas supplement.

Merry Christmas.

 

This Christmas will be the third consecutive occasion that we have celebrated in the company of a young baby. As the mother of young children it is all too easy to get drawn into the physical narrative of the Nativity, with discussions about the shepherds, wise men and angels while neglecting the theological truth of the Incarnation and our true reason for celebration.

Contemporary culture celebrates the Christmas story in a vague, general sense, with as much emphasis upon the peripheral characters in the tale, as opposed to the infant Christ. When we are invited to consider the birth of Christ, it is purely in the sense of the “cute little baby Jesus in the manger” as opposed to Christ humbling himself by taking the form of a helpless and feeble baby: mankind in its weakest and most vulnerable form. One of the many blessings and privileges of parenthood at Christmas is that it brings the joy of the Incarnation into a much sharper focus. I cannot be the only parent who metaphorically rolls their eyes heavenwards whilst forcing a rictus grin upon hearing or singing about the immaculately behaved infant who never uttered a single cry. The idealised, cloying, mawkish stained glass image of a mute infant Christ is not reflective of the real truth of the Incarnation. A real baby will cry as it has no other way to communicate its needs and so we can be assured that, even if he did not go through the terrible twos, throwing constant temper tantrums out of anger and frustration, Jesus most certainly would have cried to indicate to his mother that he required feeding. Tending to a baby who is totally reliant upon you to meet all of its basic needs is a constant reminder of both the self-emptying – or, to use the correct theological term, kenosis – manifested in the Incarnation as well as the way in which God takes into Himself humanity’s weaknesses without losing any of his divine grandeur.

So much of the Christmas pageantry revolves around a sentimentalised image of the baby Jesus, the plastic dolly or porcelain figure in the manger. A living, breathing baby with all of its bodily functions is a welcome counterpoint. Rooting the Incarnation in the realties of life with a newborn baby is a reminder that Jesus was not some abstract figure but a real human being with inherent physical frailties and bodily needs, and yet at the same time not simply another baby, but the Redeemer of the world. Every year a priest friend of ours, affixes a cross to the cradle on Christmas Eve, in time for the arrival of the baby in the manger, as a reminder of just that.

We are not just celebrating the birth of a sweet baby in inauspicious and unusual circumstances, but the Word of God made flesh. Without Christ’s Passion and victory over death, his birth is meaningless. We cannot celebrate the cradle without celebrating the cross.

As any parent with young children will testify they are constantly changing and growing, often looking entirely different from one day to the next. Inevitably at Christmas we cast our minds back to previous years, and as I look at my toddler chasing about the house, demolishing Christmas decorations and attempting to dissect the undecorated Christmas cake it seems like only yesterday that she was a two-week-old baby fast asleep in her Santa babygro on Christmas Day. It seems incredible when I contemplate that the almost eight-month-old who has recently had a growth spurt and sprouted some teeth, this time last year had just hit the point where she could be considered viable and a person in her own right.

Very often when cradling my baby sleeping peacefully in my arms there is an awareness that this is a brief and fleeting moment in time, which only serves to make the moment more precious: it won’t be long before the baby decides that there are exciting things to discover and explore beyond the confines of my breast. A line from Shadowlands seems particularly fitting: “The happiness now is part of the pain then.” As parents, we witness and guide our children on their journey to adulthood knowing that the way will be littered with moments of great sadness as well as joy. The beautiful innocence and childhood wonderment cannot last forever and we wonder what will become of our children. As we reflect on the image of the infant Christ it is important to remember that this a snapshot in time, like a mosquito caught in amber, not the whole story or the whole person of Christ. We already know the end of the story and part of the pain of the Crucifixion is present in the happiness we feel in the lowly birth of our Saviour. We can unite our fears as parents to those of Mary, who while unaware of the terrible price that her son would need to pay for the salvation of the world, must nonetheless have been filled with trepidation as to the future,having been informed that her son was the Messiah with whatever that might entail. Simeon will shortly prophesy that “a sword will pierce your soul” and Mary’s joy must have been all the more poignant as she contemplated what must have seemed an uncertain and turbulent future for her tiny baby.

Though we must not forget that the baby is not the Jesus who will challenge us on the Day of Judgement, there is still much to be said about the contemplative gaze of love when we look upon the manger, a gaze that is echoed every time I look at my children, whether they are feeding at the breast, marauding through the house or peacefully reading or sleeping. They are yet to acquire any personal sin, and I see reflections of the perfect nature of Christ in them and experience a renewed gratefulness, not only for the gift of my children and the special blessing of a newborn baby, but also for the child of God, fully human and yet fully divine. John’s Gospel tells us of how the Word speaks creation into being, and yet here is the Word made flesh and unable to speak. Here is Emmanuel physically come to be with us in the second person of the Trinity. Here is a physical representation of how God is with us all the time, gazing upon us with reciprocal eyes of love, perhaps best summarised by the French peasant’s conversation with the Curé d’Ars: “I look at Him, and he looks at me, and we are happy together.”

The simple act of a mother fondly gazing at her child with love while reflecting on the nature of God is in itself an act of contemplative prayer. Throughout the rest of the liturgical year we are invited to listen, to engage with and to act upon the words of Christ. The Christmas celebration of the Incarnation is the perfect opportunity to take a step back to watch and to wonder, just to be with God as we contemplate His son in the form of a tiny baby. No matter how we look upon the image of the Incarnation, we remember that to gaze is to love. Our whole soul is in our gaze.

World AIDS day

Thirty years into the AIDS pandemic, UNAIDS estimates that 33.3 million people globally are living with HIV. This number includes an estimated 2.5 million children under the age of 15 years.The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries has increased thirteenfold since  2004, to more than 5 million. However, only 35 percent of people in need of treatment are currently receiving it. Roughly 10 million people cannot get the medication they need.

The Catholic Church is playing its part, operating 117,000 centres to care for AIDS victims throughout the world. 27% global institutions caring for AIDS patients are run by Catholics. The South African Catholic Bishops Conference AIDS office supports projects and programs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa, making it one of the largest anti-HIV/AIDS programmes in Southern Africa and active in many of the countries with the world’s highest rate of HIV infection. The Church cares for orphans of the AIDS epidemic, it works to place them in foster homes and helps to support foster families, it runs education and prevention programs for primary and secondary school students, home care and counselling programs for those who are HIV-positive, it provides patient units for the terminally ill who have no-one to care for them and a program to provide drugs to reduce the incidence of mother-to-child transmission.

The spread of HIV is not confined to the developing world. In 2010, 69, 424 people were treated for HIV in the UK, a 6% increase on the number in 2009 (65,292) and a 166% increase since 2001 (26,088). According to the most recent figures of the UK Health Protection Agency, there were an estimated 80,800 people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2009, of whom 67% were male and 33% female.

A recent review of 14 studies showed that in discordant couples a consistent use of condoms leads to an 80% reduction in HIV incidence.

HIV transmission is reduced by approximately 80% when condoms are used correctly 100% of the time.

80% reduction is good, but it is not enough. Doesn’t everyone deserve adequate protection? There is a method of achieving 100% risk avoidance. Why settle for anything less?  It is World AIDS Day, not World Condom day. There is no such thing as safe sex.

In the meantime we must continue to fight for equal healthcare for all of those affected by the ravages of this dreadful disease.

Stay safe and keep your loved ones safe.

*Sources: The US National Institute of Health & the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Weller SC & Davis-Beaty K (2007), ‘Condom effectiveness in reducing heterosexual HIV transmission‘.