Friday, 23 June 2017

Believing with eyes closed

Sister Georgina came to see Father Ignatius in his office. She was a nun living in the Convent nearby and whilst it was not unusual for the nuns to visit the Parish House from time to time this visit was somewhat formal. The nun had phoned the priest that morning and asked him for an appointment.

“Hello Sister … come in … come in …” said the kindly priest, “would you like some coffee … or some tea perhaps!”

“No thank you Father …” she said somewhat shyly as she sat down.

“You know you don’t need to phone to make an appointment …” he said as he closed the door and sat at his desk, “just pop in anytime …”

“Well Father … I wanted to make sure you were available … and we would not be disturbed.” She said. “The thing is … I’m finding it very hard believing …”

“Are you having doubts about your Faith Sister?” Father Ignatius asked gently and soothingly.

“No … no … it’s not that. I believe in God and Jesus and the Trinity …” she hesitated, “Can someone be selective in their beliefs?”

“Well Georgina …” he smiled, “it depends on what one is selective about … I do have my doubts about some of the changes we’re making as a Church … What is troubling you exactly?”

“Well Father …”

“Let’s dispense with the formalities for now …” he interrupted.

“Well …” she hesitated again, “for some time now I’ve had great difficulty in believing in the true presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.

“I can’t quite explain it. Did Christ in the Last Supper ask us to celebrate Communion in His memory … or is it really His flesh and blood? And why would He want us to eat and drink His very Being?”

“It is one of our fundamental beliefs as a Church,” said the priest calmly, “one that has been tested and debated for centuries. You’ve no doubt heard of the Eucharistic Miracle at Lanciano?”

“Yes Father … but how can I make myself believe?” she replied, “I could shut my eyes tightly and convince myself to believe … but at the end of the day my mind says differently.

“I have no difficulty in believing the existence of God … I accept that as fact. I believe in Christ’s Virgin birth, His resurrection, the Holy Spirit and so on … Somehow these beliefs cause me no difficulties and they are part of my being … they are me and have been me for sometime.

“And I suppose that at some stage I must have believed in the Eucharist too. How could I not have?

“I became a nun … studied for years and took on my vocation … and all was well … Yet now, it’s this one aspect of my Faith that I find difficulty with.”

The priest paused for a while and said a silent prayer before going on.

“We’ve all had our moments of doubts and our little stumbles every now and then …” he said.

“It’s our human nature coming to the fore. We’re programmed to think, to analyze … to ask questions and yes … to doubt too.

“It’s what some people call Free Will … and I’m sure you’ve heard the many debates about that and God’s pre-destination of our lives!”

She smiled as he continued.

“God does not want us to work hard at our beliefs. He does not want us to shut our eyes tightly and convince ourselves to believe in this or in that.

“He understands our struggles between total acceptance and the natural desire to examine and evaluate what we’re told to believe.

“He did make us after all … so He knows what makes us tick and how the cogs in our heads constantly turn.

“What God asks of us is to believe like a child. A child never questions the veracity of what he’s told … he just accepts it.

“There’s no need to believe with eyes tightly shut.

“Just accept … like a child. Trust him … like a child. Love Him … like a child.

“And when your mind questions … as it certainly will … just say … Get behind me Satan.

“Look up at God and pray … I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

She left with a much lighter heart and a heavy weight off her shoulders.

MORE FATHER IGNATIUS STORIES HERE

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Instant Love

There's a TV program in the UK entitled "First Dates." I understand they have made similar programs in the USA, Australia and Ireland; and no doubt in other countries too.

The idea of the program is that single people who wish to find a partner in life are invited to a restaurant where they meet someone they have never met before and share a meal together; under the watchful eye of the camera, and indeed you eaves-dropping on their conversation at home.

At the end of the meal they are asked if they wish to meet their dinner guest again.

A bit like a dating agency but in full view of the TV. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose!

What I find interesting, however, is that when asked, all contestants say that they would like to meet someone handsome/beautiful, witty, with a sense of adventure and fun, and so on and on. Surprisingly, not one person says they'd like to meet a miserable ugly-looking Quasimodo with psychopathic tendencies.

Seriously though ... ... ... it seems that without exception everyone wants to meet a good looking fun type person as their life partner. Not one person, has ever said that they'd like to meet someone who shares their values, ethics, beliefs, hopes and aspirations in life. They all mention the physical characteristics which they find vital in a life-partner and not the importance of common goals or standards in an ever changing world. If this is the attitude they have in real life, then no wonder it is  difficult finding a mate and they have to resort to attending a TV program such as this one. Unless of course it is lure of celebrity status that is the real motive here.

At the end of the meal, which I guess lasts an hour or so but is obviously edited for TV, the couple, sitting side by side are asked whether they would like to see each other again.

Once more ... not surprisingly, often one or both of the individuals say they would not like to meet again because there was not that "spark" between them. In this impatient world of today, they seem to want an instant connection in the hour or so they have been together, and if this does not happen then they are not interested and move on in their search for instant happiness with a knight in shining armour, or a princess waiting to be awakened with a kiss. 

A friend told me once that when he first met his wife-to-be, he knew within ten minutes that she was the one for him. But she did not feel the same. Somehow, she did not see that instant "spark" in him. But she persevered patiently, and after many turn-downs, she eventually agreed to say "yes".

Let this be a reminder to many of today's potential couples that sometimes you need to strike more than one match before you light a candle. Very rarely is "instant" the road to happiness.

Notwithstanding the above, we have another show on UK TV entitled "Naked Attractions." And it means exactly what it says.

In this program one contestant has to choose a partner from six potential mates standing in a line, full frontal, totally naked. His (or her) decision should be based entirely on the physical attributes of the naked people lined up in front. The six naked people are not allowed to talk and should turn round when asked so that the contestant and TV audience can compare between them. Accompanied by the show presenter, the contestant moves from one naked individual to another and discusses and compares the shape and size of the private parts of the bodies on display; whilst the camera zooms closer to focus for the benefit of the viewer at home.

What makes a person want to stand up naked in front of a TV camera for their friends, family and work colleagues to see them at home; I wonder. Would you do that? 

Weekly programs, lasting one hour, have either six male or six female nude potential dates. The naked candidates are selected by a member of the opposite sex each week hoping to find their ideal sexual partner based on their physical attraction alone.

When the contestant has eliminated five people and chosen one out of six to go to a date with, then the contestant too has to disrobe nude and be discussed by the chosen individual. They then go to a date where no doubt they put their intention into practice.

So there you have it. Instant Love - without the traditional time-wasting getting-to-know-you old fashioned way of dating.

As they say in French - Vive La Difference!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Why bother going to church?

Do you go to church regularly? Every Sunday? More often or much fewer times?

Why? Why exactly do you go to church?

As far back as I can remember I have attended church most Sundays and sometimes at other feasts too. Over the years I have attended many churches big and small and heard many sermons, some good and memorable and some which put me to sleep as soon as the sound from the pulpit reached my ears - which I understand it travels at the speed of sound.

But, why do I go to church? I suppose it is to be with God. And, being Catholic, to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist. But that's another subject for another time.

The point of this discussion is why people go to church; or to be more precise, why do they not go to church?

In the UK regular church attendance is in decline, and according to various statistics, it is about 5% of the population.

Why? I ask myself and don't seem to hear myself answering.

Is it because people are too busy with their lives, having to work all hours they have to make ends meet, and they have no time to attend church?

Is it because they are too busy enjoying the material things the modern world has to offer to be bothered with spiritual, non-provable, wishy-washy beliefs from a time gone by?

Is it because the message they receive from Christianity is so confused that it has become so unclear almost to be irrelevant to today's modern society?

Speaking for the Catholic church only, their message and teachings on many issues such as marriage and divorce, re-marriage, annulments, homosexuality, contraception, Confession and sin, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, celibacy of priests as opposed to married priests from other denominations joining the Catholic Church; all these issues are so unclear that they not only confuse the congregations but leave many adrift to make up their own rules anyway.

Often you see and hear priests teaching totally contradictory views on the same subject. For example, and this is based on fact, I know of some Catholic priests who openly believe that Christ is not present in the Eucharist, and this is not His body or His blood received at Communion. Yet, these priests, teaching something that is contrary to the Catholic faith, are still in their churches teaching their congregations. No wonder the people in the pews are confused.

No doubt other denominations have their anomalies too. But are these the reasons that church attendances are low and falling; and new vocations are also in continuous decline?

Or is perhaps something more serious and staring us in the face. The elephant in the room we fail to see.

Is it that more and more people simply do not believe in God. They do not believe in a supreme living spiritual Being ruling the universe and what is in it?

A recent survey in the UK discovered that only 28% said they believe in God or a higher spiritual being.  

And as more and more people do not believe in God, for whatever personal reasons, and they exclude Him from their lives; He just gives them that freedom of choice and withdraws, leaving them to their own devises.

No wonder the world is in such a state.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

God Calling

 
Father Ignatius’ policy with the people he met was to be as open and honest as possible when discussing matters or when giving advice or guidance. This included the youngsters he met at both Catholic schools, who, more often than not, asked direct personal questions and expected a straight answer. They were astute enough to know when someone was avoiding the question or giving them flannel.

The discussion during Catechism class was about vocations and the celibacy of priests and nuns.

Father Ignatius had been asked by a young pupil why priests and nuns are celibate.

“Let me see if I can answer this honestly and in personal terms,” said Father Ignatius. “There is, as you know a physical life which we all live right now, and a spiritual life which some people choose to follow at the same time.

“God wants us to enjoy our physical life and for us to live it in service of others so that He may be glorified by what we do. This can be done by being married and raising families and also indeed by remaining single in life.

“People who choose to follow a spiritual life, like Catholic priests and nuns, promise to remain chaste and not get married.”

“Like Jesus …” interrupted one of the 15 year-old students, “why did Jesus never marry?”

“That’s a good question.” Replied Father Ignatius, “in my opinion, I believe that Christ’s mission on earth was so important that He could not allow anything else to detract Him from His main objective.

“As you know, Jesus came to teach us about His Father’s Word; but more important than that; He came to offer Himself in sacrifice by dying on the Cross so that we may be reconciled with God.

“If, as you suggest, He would have married, and perhaps have children, this would have in many ways sidetracked His main mission on earth. But that’s only my opinion.”

“Do you think He ever wanted to get married?” asked another student innocently.

“Being human, I suspect He was not immune to the many feelings and emotions we experience. Yet, being God at the same time, His job on earth was to obey His Father and take on the ultimate sacrifice for us on the Cross.

“He always knew what His mission on earth was and how He would die on the Cross. And although He was tempted before His arrest, and He prayed to God that His ordeal may pass Him by, He knew and accepted that ultimately He had to obey His Father’s will; and that nothing should deflect Him from it.”

“Is it the same with priests,” asked Rose, “is their mission to teach about God and not get married. And to obey the Pope?”

“Father John got married,” corrected Paul, “he left the church and got married. Should he have done that Father?”

“It is not for me to judge what Father John did. Jesus told us never to judge each other,” replied Father Ignatius.

“Father John decided to leave the priesthood and to get married. I’m certain that he did not make this decision lightly. He must have agonized and soul-searched for a long time before deciding to leave his vocation as a priest. Which, I must add, he undertook in an exemplary manner in his time as a priest. Yet, eventually he decided to do what he felt was right for him at the time.”

“Have you ever wanted to get married and have children?” asked directly a pupil sitting up front.

The rest of the class gasped at what they felt was an impertinent question. Father Ignatius smiled and responded calmly.

“It would be a lie to deny it. Many people would like to have a family and raise children, especially if they are as well turned out as you.”

They smiled almost in unison.

“But when I decided to become a priest, I knew full well what I was giving up. Sharing my life with and loving another person, and raising a family, is a great privilege.

“Matrimony is a Sacrament which Christ taught about several times. It is a mission and a full commitment which married couples undertake throughout their lives together.

“However, by becoming a priest I promised and accepted that I would not get married.

“Having made that decision, God has rewarded me by making me a member of all your families here in this Parish.

“You and your parents have welcomed me in your homes as one of your family. I have been privileged to have been invited for meals with many of you at home. I have shared with your families moments of happiness and moments of sorrows too. I have seen many of you grow from little babies whom I have baptized many years ago, to who you are now.

“I am grateful to God and to you for welcoming me in your families.”

“Should everybody get married then,” asked Mark, “except for priests and nuns?”

“Married life is a Sacrament which we should take seriously and it is the best foundation in which to raise a family. But no, not everyone has to get married.

“Remember that God’s wish for you in this life is for you to be happy.

“Some people find happiness in marriage, others prefer to remain single. Celibacy can be a vocation too. Just like marriage.

“I have found that being single allows many people the time to do more for their communities and for the church. Things they would not have been able to do if married; when their main commitments should be to their families first.

“I have just returned from America as you know. I met there a young priest from Houston in Texas. He was brought up in a loving Catholic family and something he said to me still sticks in my mind,

“He said, ‘the way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!’

“His sister is a nun, whilst his other sisters are married and raising their families.

“So you see … his lovely parents created the conditions whilst raising their family that two of their children chose a vocation in the Church whilst the others are raising their children in the same Christian tradition their parents taught them.

“Whether you are married or not, a priest or a nun or not; the important thing that really matters is to live your life in the service of others and to glorify God at every opportunity.”

MORE FATHER IGNATIUS STORIES HERE

Friday, 16 June 2017

Parents


Harvey was 19 years old, so he definitely knew everything there is to know in the world.

He lived with his parents in a small terraced house and went to work at the same factory as his father.

One day, in his spare time, he was helping Father Ignatius paint the wooden fence at the very end of the back gardens; the one separating the Church grounds from the fields beyond.

In conversation, Harvey explained to the wise priest how his parents really knew very little of the modern world. How they lived in ancient times. How their expectations and ambitions were out of sequence with reality. Harvey felt that his parents held him back somewhat. They insisted on his being at home at a certain time … “Can you imagine that? I am 19, and they still want to know who I go out with and where! Archaic or what … I tell you!”

Father Ignatius put down the pot of paint he was holding and sat down on the small step ladder they had brought with them to reach the top of the wooden fence.

“When you look at your parents, Harvey,” he asked, “what do you see?”

Harvey looked at him in puzzlement and replied “I see Mom and Dad … of course!”

“Silly question, I suppose,” continued the priest, “but I’ll ask it again … what do you really see?”

“I don’t know what you’re on about … you’re a bit like them at times Father … you don’t speak straight!”

Father Ignatius laughed.

“It is natural, and a good thing of course, for children to see Mom and Dad when they look at their parents.

“Mom and Dad brought them into this world. Mom and Dad took care of them when they were young. Mom and Dad were involved in their up-bringing and their education. They took time off to attend all the school events such as sports day, music evening and whatever else.

“Your parents did that for you; am I right?”

Harvey nodded. The priest continued.

“Your father often drove you in his old battered car wherever you needed to go to … like the Saturday football games.

“Your mother made sure you had a packed lunch every day at school, and you had clean clothes every day …”

"Yeh … I understand …” Harvey interrupted.

“I am not criticizing you Harvey,” said the priest gently, “what I’m saying is that our parents care for us. I know mine did … even after I left home and went to Italy to study for the priesthood. My mother used to send me packets of a special cake she used to bake in case Italian food was not nourishing enough!”

Harvey smiled.

“And your parents care for you too … they always will. It’s in the genes as they say.”

Harvey laughed.

“But that’s not what I meant when I said what do you see when you look at your parents.” continued Father Ignatius.

“Most people would say, just as you said … I see Mom and Dad.

“Not many people see an individual human being. A woman and a man. People, no different to you and I.

“People who at one time were children themselves. And they grew up with their own hopes, their own worries and their own fears. People, like every one else, struggling in this world to make the best of their lives, and that of their children.

“We do tend to see our parents differently than anyone else. We see Mom and Dad … we don’t see the people beyond Mom and Dad … the people who are Mom and Dad.

“Our parents are people with their own personal abilities, limitations and foibles. People with their own personal emotions and characteristics and personalities; developed and honed through years of circumstances and experiences which life threw at them.

“Our parents may well curtail our freedoms somewhat … they may well appear ancient and from a different age … but I’m sure they mean well. They behave the way they do because they are human and they have their own human characteristics.

“I know my parents meant well when they tried to teach me right from wrong. Do you think yours do?”

“I suppose …” mumbled Harvey.

“Of course they do,” confirmed the wise old priest, “the thing is … parents too tend to see their children as children … they seldom see beyond the child, and see a growing young man or woman with their own characters, weaknesses, needs and so on. A child your age is eager to explore the world around him … nothing wrong with that. But sometimes parents can’t see that … they forget how they were at that age.

“For a parent, a child is always a child … it’s often very difficult to let go. But they do it out of love.

“Do you think your parents love you?” the priest asked directly.

“Yes … of course.” said the young man emphatically.

“Good …” replied the priest, “you’re right of course.

“… And I’m sure you’ll remember that when in turn one day in the future, you too will become a parent and you’ll love your own children just as your parents love you. You too will not be able to let go … And I suspect your children will think you’re an old relic from times gone by worthy of an exhibit in a museum!”

Harvey laughed.

“Now let’s get on with the painting …” continued Father Ignatius.

Harvey smiled as he dipped the paint brush in the pot of paint.

MORE FATHER IGNATIUS STORIES HERE

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A delicate problem


I have a delicate problem to share with you, and to ask your advice about.

As you know, we have new neighbours. They are from "up North" and as such they tend to speak their mind all too often regardless as to whether they offend anyone or not.

We have received a letter from them. It was posted through our letter box this morning. It goes on a bit so I will only quote the pertinent part of it.

" ... even though we live in separate houses, both detached and a few yards from each other, we can still hear you yawning loudly of an evening just about bedtime. At first we thought it was thunder making its way towards us, then we thought it was blockage in the drains which were about to overflow everywhere, then we thought it was an earth tremor and we were about to meet our Maker or perhaps be downtrodden by the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Then we realised it was you yawning. Can you do it more quietly? With your head submerged in a bucket of water perhaps!"

Now many people would be a little upset at receiving such a letter. Be honest; how would you feel if someone wrote this to you? Come on, share your feelings.

Not me ... I was not upset at all. Livid more like. Especially since I do not yawn at all. Admittedly, sometimes in the evenings whilst watching TV downstairs in the lounge, when some politicians are on TV debating something or other, I do get rather irritated and perhaps stifle a sharp intake of breath. But I do so quietly, especially when I am biting hard at the table leg to stop me shouting profanities at them. But yawning loudly ... never ... not me.

Truth be known ... it is my wife who yawns loudly upstairs in the bedroom. Especially when I am being nice to her. Her yawn is so loud it is like a hyena giving birth to an elephant.

But I can hardly tell the neighbours that. Can I?

So ... just between you and me ... please don't share this with anyone else. What do you suggest I do about this dilemma I am faced with?

Monday, 12 June 2017

The New Neighbours from up North

We have new neighbours. They moved in yesterday.

This morning the doorbell rang. I opened the door and there they were. Husband, wife and two children.

"Hello," they said, "we're your new neighbours. I am Alan, my wife is Helen and these are Jack and Jill. We moved in yesterday. We came from up North, near the border with Scotland."

I was slightly taken aback by the direct approach. I don't usually like people I do not know. They say a stranger is a friend you have yet to meet. I say a stranger is a person who should keep away from me!

"Hello," I mumbled, "I saw the moving-in van yesterday!"

"We've come for a cup of tea and biscuits. So we can get to know one another!"

I was further taken aback into my own house. What a cheek, I thought. Complete strangers wanting to get to know me. How do you say "Go away!" politely. I did not know how to respond.

Our dog was barking furiously behind me having been disturbed by the doorbell. At least he was making his true feelings known. That's what I like about dogs. If they don't like you they bite you.

"Oh, you have a dog!" said Helen. "We don't like dogs. We're cat people. We have two cats, a hamster, a goldfish, two rabbits and a macaw. You'll hear the macaw singing every now and then. He never stops actually!"

"Oh really?" I said unenthusiastically. My mind had already made up a list of insults but I chose to keep quiet.

"Aren't you going to invite us in?" asked Alan.

"Well, it's not convenient really ..." I mumbled almost apologetically; wondering why I should be feeling guilty at all. It was them who disturbed me in the first place. Coming all the way from "up North" ringing my doorbell.

And then, I don't know why I said that really, I added, "I am washing the crocodile right now. He gets a bit dirty when lying on the wet grass and mud!"

"I told you people down South are different," said Helen to her husband, "they are not as friendly as up North!"

Alan nodded and said, "Up where we come from people are always calling on their neighbours for a chat and a cup of tea. Or borrowing things from each other, like a cup of sugar, or some eggs, or the lawnmower or such like. Do you have a lawn mower? Is it electric or petrol driven? I prefer electric myself, much neater!"

"Actually I have a goat," I replied, "I let it eat the grass. Much neater than an electric lawnmower because it eats right up to the edge of the fence, which you can't do with a lawn mower."

"Oh ... you don't have to be sarcastic!" said Helen, "is it because we're from up North? Is that why you're being unfriendly?"

At this point the two children started cutting the roses from my prized bush. I kept my cool and said nothing about it.

"No ..." I replied getting a little irritated, "it is not because you're from up North. Let me tell you that I am devoid of all forms of prejudice. I dislike all people equally! And for your information, my wife is from Scotland; that's as far North as you can get without falling into the sea!"

"Well, she made a mistake marrying you then," retorted Helen.

Before I could say anything, albeit my mind was blank, her husband said, "Calm down dear. It's not worth it. He can't help the way he is. You know how some people are when they get to a certain age!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" I asked angrily. "I'm younger than you by all accounts!"

"Well ... thank you for the flowers," added Alan soothingly, "we'd better go and put them in some water. They don't look as if they'd last long anyway!"

Once again I was at a loss for words. If I had a dictionary at hand I would have responded more appropriately ... perhaps by hitting him over the head with it.

As they were leaving he asked, "Does that mean we can't borrow the lawn mower?"
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