Friday, February 4, 2011

St Brigid, Real and True

On the Feast of St Bridget in this county people leave a white cloth in the garden overnight to soak up the power of renewal flowing from our great patroness on her special feast. 'Brat Bride', the cloth, is kept in the house as a store of that grace until the next St Brigid's Day. In the county I lived in before people took care to bring a piece of living green - a plant or a branch - into the house first thing in the morning. It had to be the very first thing done, before the fire was lit or the baby fed. This brought in the power of Brigid, and the grace was in the house while the green twig withered behind the clock or the picture frame, until the next twig was brought in La le Bride twelve months. And of course the St Brigid's Cross, that the children weave from water rushes - we used bind up the ends with thin slivers of the rush skin, but now they all seem to use elastic bands. There's nothing wrong with that, but our old way was the more authentic, the way Brigid herself would have made them.

We know that it was with the weaving of a cross that she converted a dying chieftain. The man was out of his mind with pain, but the rhythmical movement of her fingers and perhaps the intriguing shape being born calmed and diverted him. The stories about Brigid, from the mundane to the fanciful, all speak of a real, revered, beloved person. I take no notice of 'New Age' maundering about female deities and nature goddesses. I have the sense to turn down the invitations to 'wise woman colloquies' and 'earth spirit dances' that fly about at this time of year - not, I would have to say, just because they're blasphemous, they're also very boring and involve lots of wine and cribbing about men. Brigid was not a figment, or a metaphor, or even a traditional belief - she was a wonderful person who impressed all who met her, who won souls for heaven. She is rightly revered as a Christian saint.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Evangelist - Moi?

Last night I went out with a Legion sister, knocking on doors, witnessing to the truth of the Christian message as disseminated by the Catholic church. I was scared. I said to my Legion sister when she picked me up, 'I don't really know what we're doing', and to my horror she said, 'neither do I'. I had figured she was the experienced one.
So we motored off to a charming housing estate tucked away from the main roads where the mums stood talking on the footpaths while their children played on the grass. There were good cars in the driveways, and no litter anywhere - a 'nice' place, I thought. Until we rang the first bell....
The lady was angry. She didn't want to talk about the church. She wanted to send us away fast, but despite herself she did talk. I think she was secretly dying to talk, to rant, to question, to even cry. Some of the bad things she believed were quite true, we couldn't defend them. Some of them were straight out of The Da Vinci Code. But there's no difference anymore to her. She's lost her perspective on the church, and I could tell she found it painful. Perhaps the Church had once meant a great deal to her. She wanted it to go away and not come calling at her door. But we were there, tremulous, hesitant, not brave but wanting to be brave, and despite herself she talked to us. No, we didn't make a conversion, but she had the chance to talk to some real Catholics, not those who label themselves 'lapsed' or, even worse, 'recovering' (as if it were a disease), but real, believing, faithful Catholics. My Legion sister was better than I. All I did was stand there. But at least I did stand there, didn't withdraw into my shell when the criticism started coming, didn't say to myself, 'well it's her loss' and leave. I stood there, and listened to my companion talk to her with great gentleness.
This is a milestone in my life: I'm an evangelist.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A New Hymn for Solitude by Edward Dowden

I found Thee in my heart, O Lord,
As in some secret shrine;
I knelt, I waited for Thy word,
I joyed to name Thee mine.

I feared to give myself away
To that or this; beside
Thy altar on my face I lay,
And in strong need I cried.

Those hours are past.
Thou art not mine,
And therefore I rejoice,
I wait within no holy shrine,
I faint not for the voice.

In Thee we live; and every wind
Of heaven is Thine; blown free
To west, to east, the God unshrined
Is still discovering me.

(The picture above is A Monk by the Sea by Casper David Friedrich. Dowden, the poet, rejected organised religion, but I dont think his poem should be rejected on this account. I love it, and hope you
do too.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Flaming Heart - Richard Crashaw, 1612 - 1649

O Heart, the equal poise of love's both parts,
Big alike with wounds and darts,
Live in these conquering leaves, live all the same,
And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame;
Live here, great heart, and love and die and kill,
And bleed and wound, and yield and conquer still.
Let this immortal life, where'er it comes,
Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms;
Let mystic deaths wait on 't, and wise souls be
The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee.
O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,
Upon this carcass of a hard, cold heart,
Let all thy scattered shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy large books of day
Combin'd against this breast, at once break in
And take away from me my self and sin;
This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be
And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me.
O thou undaunted daughter of desires!
By all thy dow'r of lights and fires,
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove,
By all thy lives and deaths of love,
By thy large draughts of intellectual day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large than they,
By all thy brim-fill'd bowls of fierce desire,
By thy last morning's draught of liquid fire,
By the full kingdom of that final kiss
That seiz'd thy parting soul and seal'd thee his,
By all the heav'ns thou hast in him,
Fair sister of the seraphim!
By all of him we have in thee,
Leave nothing of my self in me:
Let me so read thy life that I
Unto all life of mine may die.

(The picture is by Jim Dine, who spends so much time making hearts.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

O Me of Little Faith

The Holy Father has returned to Rome, safe, well, happy, very much alive. I was so fearful before he came, and now feel a little silly. Should I? Looking back to just a week ago, there was non-stop criticism on the airwaves. Most of it was of the level of a Discovery Channel documentary - you know the ones: "because of the tenuous relationship between this vague rumour and that crazy loon THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH". But it was unrelenting. The door was thrown open and they all walked through into our heads. And it got me down. I have to say, it's hard raise your head in a society where you're being told 24/7 the person you admire, and pray for is a neo-nazi woman-hating homophobe baby eater. The British media went crazy on it. The Irish media went crazy on it too, only a few days later. Nobody told us there was all that organisation happening, that schoolchildren were writing poems and drawing pictures to give to the Pope, that families were buying rail tickets and packing picnic baskets, that choirs were practising, practising, practising, seminarians polishing, polishing, polishing, and millions of people praying, praying, praying. I suppose that's not a good news story - 'CATHOLICS DO EXACTLY AS THEY SHOULD' - but it sure feels good to me.

So I'm sorry, iron faced woman who wants to be a priest of a religion she neither loves nor respects, and I'm sorry, gay activist and semi-official public blame apportioner who wants the pope to resign even though of what the pope does and what the pope is gay activist public blame apportioner does not have the slightest clue, and I'm truly sorry, sexual abuse survivor, because you're so, so, so in danger of developing what has been called 'the vanity of victimhood', and now it's time for you to stop surviving on a diet of apologies and settlements and resignations and start living. I'm even sorry for you, charming television personality and successful author atheist. You unfailingly target the Catholic church as your opponent, which is a sort of compliment, I suppose, as if other religions don't really propose or defend a concept of God, and your pride in the disinterestedness of your logic is so irrational it smacks of Robespierre and Co. I'm sorry for you all because you have no love in your hearts. But I'm happy you are all alive because any person can change, and any hard heart can soften, and some day you may be happy to let Catholics be Catholics. Some day, soon I hope, you may feel the way I feel now.

I know, I did'n't have enough faith, but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. I am, as always, surprised and overjoyed by the grace of God.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Two Wrongs?

'All a load of sh*t,' shouted the drunk with the bag of beers and the skinny girl swaying after him...'All a load of sh*t' he roared at the elderly priest who looked back at him with gentle surprise. The congregation was shocked when he staggered in, shouting, just after the Communion had started. He staggered up a side aisle and out in front of the altar, dropping his pearl of wisdom all the time, freely, a phrase so perfect it could but be repeated, never bettered. 'Get out', I shouted - another rare gem of syntax. I heard a few other half raised voices that trailed away, leaving me as the only one who thought both sides of this fascinating debate should be audible. 'Get out'. Was I wrong? But he didn't get out and the congregation sat like lamped rabbits. Why? If it was in the cinema the same people would roar 'down in front' without any hesitation.

I nudged my husband. A few other women nudged theirs. About eight men started down the aisles and there was a kerfuffle and then they were gone.

I felt so angry and churned up I couldn't receive the Eucharist. I wouldn't dare with my mind in such an unworthy state. I fumed instead of prayed. Something about the reactions of the congregation made me almost as mad as the drunk, something about my reactions too.

When Mass was over the congregation applauded the priest for his sang froid. He was chuffed. He had kept his cool, but what had the congregation kept? Its head down?

It will take a long time to work out this one.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

When Wicked Men Blaspheme Thee

Do you remember this old Marian hymn:

I sing a hymn to Mary
the Mother of my God,
the virgin of all virgins
from David's royal blood?

It's a lovely song, and I sang it in my youth to a world where Mary was, if not celebrated, at least respected. The most negative things said came from the sola scriptura side of the house, that Catholics were worshipping Mary as a God. I often had it said to me and I wondered at the lack of subtlety in such minds. Would that that were the worst said about our Virgin Mother.

We're just back from a short visit to Amsterdam. It's a lovely city, full of lovely, healthy people. They're lively and bright, artistic, fashionable, mad about kooky design and....well, yes, that's the problem - kooky design. Our Lady, intercessor for the human race, is now a design element in these kooky knick knacks. I saw a water bottle, to be used while cycling, I suppose, with the inscription 'Holy Water' and a drawing of Mary feeding the water to Jesus. The caption was something like 'the water that refreshes sinners'. It's ironic, you see. Everything is ironic - cocktail shakers are shaped like cows and sharp knives look like soft bananas because it's 'ironic'. T-shirts slogans order people to look and also not to look at the wearer. Marlyn Monroe seems to be everywhere, laughing her great horse laugh, and poor old Che Guevara, once a symbol of revolution, is done in cross-stitch on comfy cushions - ironic. No harm, you say. But in one shop where I rummaged through bins of edgy stuff I saw a t-shirt with a print of the Virgin and the most, most, most disgusting suggestion underneath. Remember, this was a designer shop, not a sex shop or a joke shop or a head shop; this stuff is for educated people who fancy they have taste. In another shop I saw an altar with a plastic blow up version of Our Lady of Guadaloupe adorned with great plastic roses. Automatically I blessed myself, to the shock of the black clad shop assistants with their lacquered, bored faces. I'd forgotten that everything there was 'ironic'.

I suppose Buddhists have for a long time had to look at the Buddha's head in the form of garden ornaments or candles or guest soaps. Do they find it offensive? I don't know, but I never use the religious symbols of other faiths. It's just common politeness, if nothing else. There seems to be an extra delight, though, in demeaning the Blessed Virgin. Embodiment of purity that she is, there is more than irony, there is true viciousness, in these attacks upon her. The dark cannot bear the light to exist, and must try to cover it.

Hey, I wonder if my misplaced respect for the blow-up altar gives us the way to go? When people set up these ironic 'altars' in their shops, why don't we Catholics turn up and say a few decades of the Rosary? I'm sure the post-modern shop keepers would appreciate the irony. And when we see someone wearing a t-shirt with the Virgin's image, thank him/her for bringing the image to us and ask him/her to join us in a decade.

O teach me Holy Mary
a loving song to frame.
when wicked men blaspheme thee
I love and bless thy name.

The painting at the top is by Domenico Veneziano. Please enjoy its beauty. May God bless all the creators of loving, respectful images that bring us closer to our Mother, closer to God.