Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Experts on the Firewood Collection

I've got a nagging health problem - not even a problem, more a possible symptom - that worries my husband more than me. This morning I'm going to the doctor (about an obvious, mundane medical problem) and he once again reminded me to raise this matter, have it 'checked out'. I sighed. I would love to have it 'checked out'. I would love to find the expert who would check it out for me but, at my age and with a long history of things being 'checked out', I know this is not possible. I can get appointments, go for scans, have the results interpreted by a consultant and then go for a re-interpretation to my GP. I can do all the right things but that doesn't mean that anything will end up 'checked out'. Worried experts will furrow their brows over scan results and say with authority, "Hmm, Mrs Peasant, I see from this you're going to owe us a lot of money", but everything else is tentative. The myth of expertise is a fragile thing. Most of us let go of it in the end, some earlier than others. I used to hold on to it really, really tightly, and spent a lot of money and gave myself a lot of heartache in the process. Most old people (I mean the over 80s, loveliest part of the population) have well given it up. My dad was like that. He wouldn't take a tip on a horse from anybody younger than himself.

I present for your instruction this little story. Surely apocryphal, it's on many web sites, but I never saw it before, so in the best tradition of the anecdote I here present it as my own discovery.

It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Chief in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets. When he looked at the sky he couldn't’t tell what the winter was going to be like.
Nevertheless, to be on the safe side he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared. But being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?” “It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded.
So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.”
The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find. Two weeks later the Chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?”
“Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.” “How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked. The weatherman replied, “The Indians are collecting firewood like crazy.”

Monday, December 28, 2009

Should Bishops Resign?

The bishop is the shepherd of his flock, chosen through the line of Peter coming from the Good Shepherd Himself. Should that bishop resign when he has been found wanting? Like the hireling man, should he abandon the flock and run away. I say no - bishops should stay with their flock, be they ever so guilty, ever so negligent, ever so small in the eyes of the world. Why? Because it is not the Catholic way to give up. And resignation is to give up, to say, 'I cannot be your bishop, I am not good enough'. As a Catholic I must say, you have not had the courage in your heart up to now, but think of St. Peter - if he had resigned after the cock crew, if he had gone to the disciples and said, 'I'm afraid when the moment came I was found wanting, so now I must wander back to Galilee and contemplate my failings, and leave you to find someone else', where would the Church be? It would be nowhere. Christ chose him because He knew Peter could be the rock. And Christ knew Peter would betray Him three times. How forgiving our Master is, and how flinty we are. How practical Christ was, and how foolish we are.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lesson of the Penal Cross

This is the penal cross. It has shortened arms, a pot and a cockerel at the base. It was'nt designed - it developed, a swift adaptation to the Penal Laws, laws that meant a priest or anyone acting in place of a priest could be killed by the state. What does it tell us? Firstly, it was designed to be hidden. The slimmed down shape allowed it to be hidden in a sleeve or a boot.

Secondly, the iconography communicates a message. At the base of the cross there is a flying or leaping cockerel and a cooking pot. Some people say the cock represents Peter, and was a reminder of the ease with which our fear will lead us to betray our Saviour. This was apt, as if a suspected priest did not swear the Oath of Allegiance (to the King of England as head of the Christian church) he would die in the most horrible way. But the more correct source is a medieval legend of Judas Iscariot, recounted by Douglas Hyde in Legends of Saint and Sinners:

After Judas tried to give the silver pieces pack to the Sanhedrin, and failed, he went home, resolved to end his life. He found his wife sitting and cooking a cockerel, and he said to her: "Rise wife and get a rope ready for me for I mean to hang myself as I deserve. But his wife said to him: "Why speakest thou like that?" Judas replied: "Know that I have unjustly betrayed my master, Jesus, to the evil-doers who have taken Him before Pilate to put Him to death; but He will rise again on the third day and then woe to us." But his wife said to him: "Speak not so and believe it not. For it is just as likely that the cock roasting on the coals will crow, as that Jesus will rise, as thou sayest." With that the cock leapt up from the pot and crowed three times.

There is the lesson the people needed in penal times - certainty of resurrection, despite appearances, despite all that seems probably or even possible. They believed the Catholic Church would win through, and it did. This is also the lesson for the present times. What will happen is what is prophesied, not what seems most likely. We see only a tiny part of the causes of anything, and even less of the affects. In this Church, which we treat as a dull and rather dubious department of state, we are actually dealing with the miraculous. As in the penal times, let us have faith.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Dear, I've just found out I'll never be famous.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Family Values Burning Bright

Tiger tiger, burning dim
What an awful man is him:
Betrayed his wife, cause for censure,
And even worse, betrayed his sponsor.

Tiger Woods played golf like an angel. He also advertised shaving products, promoted a few good causes with a little of his billions, and is a father (probably good) and a husband (very bad), And, oh yes, he was a spokesman for 'family values'. This I learn from the Irish media, via the UK media, from the US media, who seem to draw it from the very air they breath. There is no doubt: Tiger Woods represented 'family values'. He ran on that ticket, stood on that platform, espoused that cause, so now he deserves to be driven from that office which, since it's one he won by popular acclamation, involves a process of popular denigration. 'Family values' will not be cheapened by association with this wretch, say the divorced, part-time parent spokespeople for the abortion promoting, porno providing US media networks. 'Family values' are too important.

Let's unpick this conceptual knot. Sure, he appeared in public with his wife and appeared affectionate towards her. But so does every adulterous hound. Does walking across a golf-course with a woman say at every step, 'I am being faithful to this my bride'. No. Marriage has an inside and a outside, everyone who's been married knows that. And the media people have nearly all been married - lots of times. So why was it imputed? And why, once imputed, so valueable?

If family values exist in any workable way, they must be values that make family life viable - things like charity, constancy, selflessness, honesty, thrift, stamina, humour - each of us would put them in different order, in our own family's special recipe. Balzac, in Cousin Bette, said 'family life would be impossible without a great deal of forgiving'. Truth is, 'family' values cannot exist independently of moral values. And the media widely holds moral values to be relative. I mean, if Woods had announced he was gay or about to undergo a sex change they media would have supported him, the sponsors not dare drop him. But would his wife have been any less heart-broken?

America is a land of broken families. And it's a land bewitched by illicit sex. Seems to me it treats the concept of family values like a sort of crown jewels - they're really valueable, too valueable to be used, in fact, but they're pretty to look at when locked safely in a glass case in a maximum security palace. Poor Tiger found out that palace was his own luxury Floridian mansion.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where To, Lady?

You know in the beginning the Irish women's movement was about families and children as much as women. We talked about things like bringing the baby to work, or getting women back to breast feeding. There was a touch of earth motheriness about us, because we were also deep in hippiedom: herbal remedies because we did'nt want to make our babies antibiotic junkies, yoga for toddlers to calm them down without punishment, home births and water births because we did'nt want pregnancy treated as a disease. My take on those things has changed a bit, but that's hardly a betrayal because the Irish women's movement has changed a lot: changed from a unicorn into a dragon. Now, well it seems it's all about helping women to get away from children. Think of it - contraception, childcare (by others), now, maybe, abortion. All ways to remove the baby from the woman's life. Who'da thought woman hated babies so much?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Peter Again

I said we never hear about Peter, and suddenly he's being mentioned by everyone. I read two letters in today's papers that included the quote from Peter 1:8: Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. There is the feeling of being devoured at the present. But there is also an unstoppable spring of hope within me, and I dont know why that should be. Can anyone tell me why I feel most hopeful when things are most bleak? It's something about learning...age has taught me that a day when you truly learn is a day when you truly live, all true learning draws us closer to God, and we learn by suffering.

As a child learning bored me. I got it into my head the first time, but the class kept on repeating it and the teacher fretted about whether or not we really knew it, and by the time they were finished I had no use for that beaten up rag of knowledge. I liked to forget stuff that did'nt entertain me. Now I can only learn through suffering. What does this suffering tell me? That I cannot imagine my life without the Church. Lord, look not on our sins but on the faith of Your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom, where we will live for ever and ever.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

St Peter is our rock, but you hardly ever hear people talk of him, or write about him, or hold him up as the example. Last year, it was all St Paul.....and I really got into the reading and study, taking up a theme from my earlier life. But it's taken me until now to realise, without Peter there would have been nothing. Jesus gave the highest honour to Peter. Why dont we? St Peter's a given in every catholic life. And he gets no notice at all.

Now I've been struck, forcibly almost, by my need, perhaps I can say 'our need', to understand the first disciple - what were the qualities that made him the right man, one strong enough to be the foundation for two thousand years of history? Because we need to find strength now. Enemies are circling the church. We need to know how to recover from our fear, just like Peter in the palace courtyard. Have you every wondered how we know what happened in the couryard? Because Peter told us. He was the only disciple there - his companion had gone off to find his relative - so if Peter had'nt told, the other disciples would'nt have know, or been able to put it in the New Testament, to come down to the whole world as a lesson. And this is the lesson we need now. We must face the shame of our weaknesses, by know that does not give us an excuse to fail. Let us face our fears, face what they do to us, speak openly of them, and forge on.

When Jesus walked on the water, and Peter jumped out of the boat to go meet him, well he seems sort of dumb and sort of embarassed (at least that's how we interpret it) that he cant get away with the walking on water trick and has to be rescued by the boss, and he gets a ticking off into the bargain. But maybe it's not like that at all: he's braver than any of the others, and his faith - his desire to have faith - is greater than that of the others. He goes over the side when it's the craziest thing in the world - even looking at Jesus doing it, it's still the craziest thing in the world. How great was Peter's longing for Jesus? When he saw Him he just had to go to Him, even though it was the craziest thing in the world. For a moment he was the man he longed to be, with total faith, total courage - the saint he was to become.