Tuesday 26 October 2010

Dominique's 12th Party

It was Dom's 12th birthday party at the weekend - and Bernie ran it brilliantly. They got off to a great start with a silly name game, as not everyone knew everyone else. That involved throwing coloured bean bags (little ones!) at each other whilst calling out names etc. Structured at first and rapidly descending to hilarious chaos.

Then Bernie had them running around the village on a treasure hunt - she'd planted cryptic clues all around the place, which after 30 minutes of manic charging around finally led them to a packet of chocolate coins as the treasure.

After that, she got them making sculpture out of food - biscuits, marshmallows, cocktail sticks, smarties, and so on.

Then a series of games, from pictionary to hide-and-seek. And finally birthday tea and cake.

All in all a great success. I was delighted, as there's a tendency towards competitive party-giving (swimming parties, laser-quest parties etc) that seem a bit focused on each being more extravagant than the last. But this low-tech, low-cost party was thoroughly enjoyed by all: a number said on leaving it was the best party they'd been to.

And it was great for Bernie, too...

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Bishops too holy?

I've been toying with this idea on and off for some time.

Are our bishops too holy? When they read some deficient school textbook, do they read it through such Catholic eyes that they interpret everything in the most Catholic sense they can? When homosexual activists tell them that they approach Holy Communion in good conscience, do the bishops assume they mean a clear, well-informed Catholic conscience? And so on...

It might explain a lot (though not perhaps all)...

Monday 11 October 2010


Anna found a bit of paper scrunched in the bottom of Charlie's school blazer pocket. ' Important dates for this term.' It included the fact that Charlie has an exam today - first part of his English GCSE, so moderately serious.

Somehow, with his big sisters, we would have known about this, we would have been given the bit of paper, we would have had the dates in the family diary, and so on.

But I'm told by other, more experienced, parents, that boys are different like that - and I reflect ruefully that Charlie is very much as his dad was a that age...

Tuesday 5 October 2010

The Fear of the Lord: an outdated notion?

The old language – of mortal sin, for example – was, he says, a misguided attempt to motivate the faithful.
"Fear is never a good motivation. The whole point of the Catholic journey is that it is a journey, and we try to hold together high ideals and understanding. That is the same for people who struggle in whatever way with their sexuality. It's an aim."

Thus +Vincent Nichols, according to Neil Tweedie.

But I seem to remember learning that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

And further, I am sure I was taught as a child that fear of punishment (I believe Hell was mentioned, so I'm really showing my age) was a sufficient motive for penitence, even though Love of God was the gold standard.

And as for the concept of mortal sin: surely if there is something I can do which is so terrible that it can put my soul at risk of eternal damnation (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states) then my bishops and priests should let me know?

Pray for our bishops...

Sunday 3 October 2010


Last post, I wrote about Bernie’s trip to London to see the Holy Father, and the huge impact that has had on her. One of the things she always mentions is the beauty of the music at the Mass in Westminster Cathedral. The Cathedral has a fine choir, and they sang Byrd’s five part Mass. This is an early polyphonic Mass written in the late 16th century when Catholics were still being persecuted in England. It is indeed stunningly beautiful – and it reminds me powerfully of one of the reasons I kept my Faith as teenager.

I was lucky enough to sing in a good Catholic choir: we didn’t sing the Byrd 5-part Mass very often, but the 4-part Mass was a regular part of our repertoire. We also sang great masses and motets by Tallis, Gibbon and others of that period, as well as music from very century since – and indeed some chant, from the preceding centuries. We also sang three or four hymns every Sunday, of varying quality, from truly wonderful to fairly dire.

But what all this means is that there is a permanent soundtrack to my life, in the background, as it were, of fantastic music. And the words associated with that music are the words of the Mass and various passages of scripture used as motets.

So I’ll be walking along, and a tune will come into my head, and almost without noticing it, I will be singing a prayer. It might be Kyrie eleison, or it might be Praise to the Holiest in the Height. But surprisingly often, it is incredibly apt for the moment, either what is going on, or what I am thinking, feeling or worrying about…

It also means that I have in my memory a huge amount of scripture: not because I’ve been made to learn it by rote, but because the best way to learn words (for me, at least) is to attach them to a tune.

Our kids haven’t had the opportunity to join such a choir as there isn’t one locally, but I have tried to give this gift to them in a couple of ways. One is to get them singing the plainchant at the local Cathedral’s Extraordinary Form Mass once a month. In that way, they know the words of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster, and Agnus Dei. It is in fact one of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council that we should all know these in Latin (except the Kyrie, of course, which is Greek!) And I haven’t had to make them learn them off by heart: simply by singing it regularly, they have learned them – and will probably never forget them.

The other thing we do is to sing at home: and this links to a post I wrote a few weeks ago. We try to sing something that relates to the season of the Church’s year. So at Easter, we sing the Regina Caeli and a few favourite Easter Hymns. During Advent, we always sing O Come O Come Emmanuel as part of our Advent Wreath ceremony at prayer time. Christmas, of course, is celebrated with Carols, and Pentecost with the Veni Creator. One of the lovely effects of that is that when they are confirmed, they recognise and can join in with the great chant of the Church, just as when they sang the Credo in Westminster Cathedral, Bernie felt truly at home amongst thousands of strangers.

Saturday 2 October 2010

More on Bernie and the Holy Father

Bernie, (17) was chosen as one of our diocesan youth representatives to go to London to see the Holy Father. She was one of a (relatively) small crowd in the piazza outside Westminster Cathedral for the Pope’s Mass there and then marched to Hyde Park to be one of the huge crowd for the Papal Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

She came back absolutely buzzing: “the Holy Father’s a legend!” she proclaimed.

She was already secure in her Faith, and I think likely to remain so, but that pilgrimage has been a huge boost for her, so I was interested in her reflections.

“Well, of course, it was meeting the Holy Father himself!” He is so evidently a good and holy man, and his well-chosen words at Mass, after Mass and at Hyde Park made a huge impact. Essentially his message to young people was a call to personal sanctity.

“But also it was all the people: the crowd was immense – and really Catholic. We roared for the Holy Father, but you could have heard a pin drop during Adoration.” Clearly, there is something here about community. Practicing Catholics are in a small minority in most parts of the UK; certainly where we live. So it is easy to feel that we are insignificant and have little impact. Being part of a crowd of 80000 all cheering the Holy Father - and then all absolutely silent in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – was incredibly exciting and affirming for her.

“And the kids on the coach were great, too. I made a couple of new friends. And outside the Cathedral was fantastic: all those kids desperate to hear what the Pope had to say.” So a particular aspect of this is about peer relationships. In the area where we live, we are one of very few Catholic families. Bernie doesn’t meet many people her own age who practice the Faith on a regular basis. But as part of the Diocesan Youth Pilgrimage, she travelled to London on a coach full of other young committed Catholics. Then at Westminster, their coach-load from our diocese met all the other coach-loads from every other diocese in England and Wales.

“And of course going with Fr Philip made it really special.” This aspect is perhaps more unique: the chaplain for the trip was a priest whom we have known for a long time. Many years ago, we spiritually adopted a seminarian: we promised to include him in our family prayers every day, and invited him to dinner occasionally etc. So for as long as they could remember, the kids have been praying for ‘Philip our seminarian.’ We went to his ordination, of course, and since then pray for Fr Philip. So it was a real treat for Bernie to have his spiritual direction for the trip.

But because of his spiritual leadership, the other distinguishing feature of the trip was that it was a pilgrimage, not just an excursion. The young people were praying, discussing their Faith and so on, not just chatting idly.