All Souls Day · Catholic · Catholic Prayers · craft · Uncategorized

All Souls Day Flower Display

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I love Autumn. If you go to my Instagram account you’ll see some pictures of a lovely autumnal walk I took at the start of the season. There’s something about walking in a landscape brushed with gold, bronze and red, bright apples peeking through foilage, the air crisp and cool. It’s such an exciting time.

However I’m not such a fan of Halloween. I don’t know whether its because having been in the police when I was younger I’ve seen enough gore, but the innocence of halloween that I experienced as a child seems to be being replaced by vivid depictions of horror and overly sexualised costumes for women. Bleugh!

Having moved to France, a country steeped in Catholicism, even though it’s state is sadly secular, I’ve been reintroduced to All Souls with new eyes. Perhaps the protestant nature of England has resulted in an inherent skepticism of this feast, and the following All Saints day, due to the rejection of the doctrine of purgatory. But here the end of October brings swathes of chrysanthemums to be placed on family graves even as the stores fill with the tacky halloween decor. All Souls sees family members visiting the graves of loved ones, praying for their dead and showing their love to those who have gone before.

This really is the point of these feasts; we’re recognising that through Christ we are saved and that we will be in heaven with all those we love again one day. How awesome is that?

So I wanted to have some decor which I could build on each year to celebrate this under-rated feast and I started with this table centrepiece. It’s on a tray, so moveable which is oh so important when you have little ones about. It’s also has lost of autumnal things so can be brought out before the feast itself – pumpkins, pine cones, silk chrysanthemums and varying silk heathers.

The pumpkins are just ceramic ones I bought for a Euro each, I spray painted two of them as I didn’t like the colours. The pine cones I gathered with the children and my daughter later painted them with clear, glitter paint. This was a wonderful opportunity to start talking with her about what this feast was about.

The silk flowers were arranged and the stalks blended to fit the box, the glass tea light holder was placed in the middle with the pine cones around it, and the pumpkins were placed there too. The central candle is a deliciously scented pumpkin spice.

Around the outside of the tray I wrote the ‘Eternal Rest‘ prayer that every Catholic knows. There have been times when I have suffered real grief and the prayer just seemed to resound in me, giving me such consolation. It felt like I was connected to all the Catholics who had ever said it in time and space, on Earth and in heaven.

If you don’t know how to transfer lettering to wood like this I thought I’d write down how I did it.

  1. Write out the prayer on whatever word document you have. Chose the font that

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    you think most suits your project. As my tray had handles I knew I’d either have to make the script really small, to make sure it all fit beneath the holes of the handles, or vary the size of the script according to where these holes where. As I wanted the words to stand out I chose the latter, choosing the parts of the prayer I find most significant to make bigger.

  2. Whatever way you chose to approach the handles problem you need to ensure that the text size is appropriate for the space you have and I did this by simply printing it off and placing it on the tray edge. Due to my text variations I had to selectaively place mine so I also cut the text, sperating the words, so I could place and replace them. When I was satisfied with the text position and size I photographed where everything was and continued on to the next step.
  3. On the back of each piece of paper I outlined the script which shows through when you print in black. You have to make sure you have a thick line.
  4. Replace the paper where it needs to be and then with the pencil press hard, rubbing over the outline. This causes the graphite on the other side to imprint on the wood.
  5. Once you have finished use this outline to guide you to draw the letters, I used a pen like this one as it has a ‘paint’ effect that works well with wood. I also used a silver ‘sharpie’ style pen to highlight important lettering.
  6. There was one problem; no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make the text size fit the underneath of the handle. So I chose two different illustrations that fitted it and followed the same method. I just put “black and white, drawing of angel”, for example, and chose a suitable one. I embellished them, but the use of the template was invaluable.

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I love the fact that it’s something I can bring out every year, that I can add to and that my daughters have contributed. What do you think?

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Catholic · Just Moved · Learning French · Preparing The Children

Le Baptême

img_9040With our second move last year just before Christmas I got behind on my things to do list, namely arrange the baptism for La Jolie Fille. Originally we had wanted to have it done in our nearby cathedral, but as a more permanent move was on the cards we thought that it would be better to do it when we were involved more in a community.

Since our arrival in this corner of La Manche we’ve been going to our nearest church for mass and the congregation have been incredibly welcoming. It’s funny, but it’s the same parish that my husband and I visited over a decade ago and, as we where stood there, said how we’d like to live in France.

Each week the parish priest calls all the youngesters up to say The Our Father in the mass and he gets one of the older children to read a part of the liturgy. One of the first weeks we were there Le Marie was away and I was on my own with Les Petites. Trying to concentrate on mass in a second language, whilst trying not to kill your kids for being naughty, is no mean feat (only joking about the killing part, they’re adorable 😕) and I suddenly realised when I heard the word ‘poussette’ that the priest was talking to us.

The next week it seemed like their was a bit of an organised ‘get the poor strangers involved’ thing going on as one of the older men came up and offered to take La Belle up to the alter. It was so lovely to be invited in like that.

So today off I went to speak with the priest about the baptism and we have Easter Sunday booked with two other children being baptised in mass on the same day! That makes it even more lovely.

The priest (whose name I still don’t know, because I couldn’t quite make out the pronunciation) seemed intrigued to have English people as part of the congregation; there was no mention of any other English, so I presume we’re the only English in the village as Little Britain would say. He kept randomly stopping people in the parish office and asking “Do you speak any English?” and then having a little chuckle to himself.

He also said how the baptism service would be in French and asked if that was ok; so that’s me looking up the service to translate now then.

 

Catholic · Christmas · Holidays · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Our First Christmas Chez Nous

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My parents moved here over a decade ago, so this wasn’t our first Christmas in France. It was, of course, the first Christmas we’ve spent in our own home in France. What a blessing we got to move in before Christmas; even if the move itself was taxing.

The night before Christmas Eve La Belle Fille and I were in the nearby town of Coutances with its imposing cathedral. La Jolie Fille was at home with Le Marie as she’d been poorly with a tummy bug, but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for my eldest to get out of the house and meet with her relatives who’d come to see my folks.

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As we drove into town and saw all the Christmas lights I couldn’t help but be struck by last year’s visit on a similar day. The town’s beauty had impacted upon me then too and I had been filled with excitement at the prospect of finally moving to France this year. Now living here that visit seemed eons ago, and our life in France the norm. It’s funny how quickly I’ve become accustomed to the idea of this being our home.

This, however, was the quiet before the storm. When La Belle and I arrived home the whole family has supper together. I remarked to Le Marie that my stomach had started to feel a bit funny. Then by the early hours of Christmas Eve it was obvious I had come down with the bug too. I had to spend nearly the whole day in bed and drank water all day, opting for a crust of bread in the early evening like a Dickensian period drama extra.

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The worst thing was our plans were going to be affected. You see, some weeks earlier I had taken to Le Bon Coin to find a puppy to purchase for the little ones as their main Christmas gift. I had found a Tebetin Spaniel, coincidently the same breed of dog my family had had when we were children. I’d arranged for the owners to keep it until Christmas Eve, when I’d take it to my parents to look after until Christmas morning.I had been due to travel to the vendors home to collect it, but Le Marie had to go in my place.

On Christmas Day the children slept in late, as did I. They were still asleep at 9 when my husband came in, worried they weren’t awake yet. Perhaps we hadn’t made Christmas exciting enough for them? I think you can figure out my response.

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Inevitably I didn’t go to mass, which I still feel guilty for, as we did go to my folks. I took tablets to keep the virus at bay, but felt worn out throughout the day. But you can’t exactly cancel Christmas plans with two little ones can you?

We got to my parents with plans of how we were going to introduce the kids to their new puppy. Code words were exchanged between the folks and us about hiding it just prior to our arrival. We got in the house and, as the kids settled in, I snuck off to get it. We presented the puppy and waited for the reaction….. We got, what can only be described as really, a “Meh”.

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So Christmas Day was spent with little indulgence in the land of the gourmet, my ignoring the infant Jesus at the mass and a completely luck lustre response to what is meant to be the gold standard Christmas present.  Ah well. It just goes to show; you can move country, but your life won’t suddenly be perfect. Your problems come with you. Or, as Ecclesiastes says….

The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?

Well, part from the God-child lying in the major of course. You know, the one I’ve ignored. Catholic guilt anyone?

Catholic · Uncategorized

Do The Events In Normandy Show The Wisdom Behind An All Male Priesthood?

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The atrocity in Normandy, France this week has proved a good example of the wisdom of Jesus’ keeping the priesthood for men. This is a controversial statement nowadays so I thought I’d explain firstly the evidence to show that Jesus chose only men to be priests and then explain how we can see in this current climate the necessity for that. Obviously there are going to those that not only reject the truth of the Church, but of the reality of God. However for brevity those are all debates for another time and perhaps another place.

The Catholic Position On Priesthood

In the catechism its stated;

The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry….The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.

For Catholics the priesthood was instituted at the same time as the Eucharist at the Last Supper. At this meal only men were present; in fact even out of all the men it was only the selected apostles that were there. It is therefore understood by the Church that the particular understanding of priesthood that we’re discussing here, as opposed to a general one that all Christians (and it can be said Jews) engage in, isn’t universal. It’s a specific calling to some and directed at a sex – the same sex shared by Jesus.

What Is Equality Anyway?

In the current political understanding of equality this is tantamount to heresy. After all arguments for equality now encompasses treating everyone at turn either;

a) to ensure that there is equality of outcome in all roles, even if that means changing standards of entry to certain roles to suite the biological differences between the sexes, or perceived disadvantages as a result of prejudice (see the physical standards of entry required for armed services, or all women short lists for MP selection),

b) to have different but equal access to facilities or association based on biological differences, but which can be accessed by members of the opposite biological sex if they identify as that sex (see the current bathroom saga or the opening of female sports to those born male, but identifying as female)

c) to be treated as their identified gender whilst maintaining access to facilities which are available for those of the original, biological gender (see ‘women’ who have had operations to replicate the biological sex of men, but who are then able to access IVF treatments to enable them to function biologically as women).

Therefore the complaint that Jesus treated the sexes differently can be seen as a heresy – but is it a secular or religious heresy?

Jesus In Contrast to His Culutural Expectations

Jesus treated women, shockingly to his disciples and the observers of the day (though the Old Testament has many passages respecting women) differently from the social norms of the day and therefore highlights the dignity of women. For example as opposed to the social customs of the day Jesus;

a) taught women, which was against the standards of the time. In fact when Martha asks Jesus to stop teaching her sister Mary and tell her to aid her in the preparations for the disciples entertainment Jesus says clearly that Mary had chosen the better part and that it wouldn’t be taken from her (Luke 10: 38-42).

b) Jesus not only taught women, but He revealed Himself as the Messiah to one – and an ‘unclean’ one at that! A Samaritan woman who was living with a man who wasn’t her husband and who had had several other unorthodox relationships nonetheless. This, it’s stated in the Bible, was shocking to the disciples as not only did Jews not associate with Samaritans, but they didn’t associate in public places with women who were not their relatives. (John 4)

c) As His treatment of the Samaritan woman showed Jesus held women to the same standard morally as men, whilst demonstrating the same level of mercy. It was Jesus after all that taught men that having lust for women in their hearts was as bad as adultery at a time when, despite Job living up to this understanding and demonstrating the expectation of God in The Old Testament to do so, Moses’ allowance for men to divorce their wives for any reason was followed. Also, men were being held to a different standard as regards adultery as well as other demonstrations of real inequality in this patriarchal society. In contrast Jesus forbids men to divorce their wives and doesn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery (but tells her to go and sin no more).

d) Jesus, although showing mercy for genuine sin, didn’t see women as being inherently sinful or unclean due to their biology. When the woman who had suffered from bleeding from her womb touched Jesus in the hopes of being cured, He doesn’t admonish her but praises her faith. This was at a time when women weren’t even allowed in public when they were ‘unclean’ and being touched by a woman on her period was seen as contaminating.

e) Just like His revelation to a woman about who He was, the risen Jesus was met by women and they were encouraged to tell the disciples i.e. teach them of his resurrection.

So Would Jesus Want Women To Be Priests?

Some would argue that this demonstrates Jesus intended for women to be priests; but their absence from the last supper would challenge this assumption. The argument that’s normally presented in response is that Jesus didn’t do so because of the social constraints (particularly Jewish constraints – there were priestesses in other religions) at the time. However the very evidence that can be used to demonstrate that Jesus saw womanhood as having dignity and respect undermines that argument I think. After all, why would Jesus challenge all these preconceptions to then submit unjust bigotry? It wouldn’t be a consistent approach and therefore would lead to confusion when He had come to bring clarity. It would also suggest that He who was without sin, well, sinned.

It would appear then that there is a logical position for Jesus’ not ordaining women. Why would Jesus, whilst treating women as equal, treated them differently?

The obvious answer, currently being rejected, is that there are differences between the sexes and that these differences demand different expectations of roles and actions, but that the respect attributed to these roles should be equal.

In terms of the priesthood this would seem, even for those who would agree with this position, as being irrational. After all, many who would point to the armed services as an example to demonstrate that the general physical differences between the sexes points to this conclusion as being based in reason. By contrast a priest stood in front of the alter and offering it to God would seem a very poor example of why this distinction would be necessary. After all, what physical difference would justify the distinction?

The Church’s response can feel unsatisfactory; that is the belief that Jesus is present imageat the mass not only in the Eucharist, but in the priest himself as he offers the mass (or hears confession etc), and therefore as Jesus was male it requires a male priest. Also, as the examples of current, secular ideas about what equality means in reality show, current ideas of ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ add a dimension to the apparent inadequacy of this position.

Furthermore, along with Jesus being present through the priest, he is present in the assembled people at mass (and elsewhere) when they pray and sing – male and female alike, (Mt 18:20) and when the unordained fulfil the sacrament of baptism – male and female alike. This would seem to suggest a conflict with the position of a priest needing to be a male to offer the Eucharist.

The Priesthood As A Position Of Power?

This brings me back to the title of today’s post. To answer it we need to consider – why is the issue of women as priests considered so important? Matthew chapter 20: 20-28 springs to mind;

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—  just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The mother wants her son’s, and one could say herself by reflection, to share in Jesus’ glory. At this moment in time this is all that can be seen. He’s performing miracles and extending this power to his disciples, preaching against the corruption of the Pharisees and the High Priests – He’s The Man! Wow!  Who wouldn’t want to share with that?

Although women were accepted as deacons in the Early Church, they were also forbidden to teach in church. Nevertheless the calls for a female priesthood can be seen to have gathered a pace as a consequence of the liberation of women that started prior to the first world and, in particular, the society following on from the industrial revolution. However I would say these calls are based in some part to the same false perception as the Zebedee’s unnamed wife.

In the West Christianity itself is experienced as being powerful and the memory of the catacombs is far behind us, let alone society in general. The more recent periods of Christian persecution under secular authorities are denied; for example the Nazi oppression of Catholic priests in Poland are ignored and the secular nature of Nazism subverted, whilst the tenuous Christian links of that organisation are emphasised.

Other periods of interdenominational persecution are just seen as evidence of the ‘irrationality’ of religions. Now that religion has largely been left behind, at least in the West, the impression has come to pervade that peace will prevail.

The Priest As A Suffering Servant

The recent attack has left us in no doubt that, as Jesus response suggests, the role of a priest is a dangerous one and implies the sacrifice not just of his personal self for his flock but, when required, their lives too. All those present when Jesus instituted the Eucharist gave their lives for the priestly role; John’s survival, like the recent past, was the exception, not the rule.

This has been the experience for Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere throughout the world for some time now.

But Would This Sacrifice Be Necessary?

Not only has our society lost sight of the physical threat that Christians face, it has also lost sight of an objective, deontoligical morality which sees ethical positions as being unchanging in the face of new circumstances. The subjective morality of today has seeped into arguments espoused by those claiming to be Christian, who limit Jesus’ teachings to simply wanting us to be happy.

Jesus wants our happiness, yes. However this happiness can only ultimately come from doing good and, as every person who is acknowledged that ‘evil happens when good people do nothing’ must on one level know, to withstand evil one must sacrifice and therefore there must be in this world material and physical discomfort – even unto death.

If one accepts that Jesus is God, and the Eucharist is in reality Him, then it also follows that those who have taken the vow to represent Him on Earth in times of peace and prosperity cannot withdraw in times of peril. Even if to do so would make them really, really happy. Jesus must be made present – it is essential if evil is to be ultimately overcome.

The apostles, being human, fled in the face of danger at Jesus’ arrest. Although Peter attempts to stand and fight he is at a loss when Jesus removes this as an option. The response of him and the other as a result is to flee. The newly formed priesthood flees in the face of danger.

When Jesus meets with them after His resurrection He, lovingly, admonishes them. In particular Peter, who denied Jesus three times, is given the opportunity to redeem himself – Jesus asks him three times if he loves Him. When Peter responds yes, the reality of that yes is once again given to Peter. It is made clear to him that he will die, laying down his life for the flock that Jesus has entrusted to him.

When viewed in this way the distinction between men and women when it comes to the priesthood can be seen in a similar way as that between men and women in the military at present (althghough moves are afoot to change that at present). Men are called to sacrifice their lives in a public arena.

How Do Women Sacrifice?

imageNevertheless the Apastolic Church also taught us that the role of women can be, at times, no less heroic. It was the women who stood, witnessing, at the foot of the cross; fulfilling their obligations of unordained priesthood that all Christians have as a resonsibility.

By not having the overt duty of being a priest women can focus their attention on the domestic church – care of their children, the elderly and disabled.

I am frustrated when women are depicted as being only capable of screaming during times of trouble by filmmakers, and even more so when feminists happily indulge this stereotype of a weak response in their desire for the prestige of the armed soldier. In my recent fears of the terror attacks I was left with the image of myself in a mass gathering my brood, a preschooler and a toddler, to safety. This can only be downgraded by those who haven’t had, or forgotten what it’s like, to herd small children around a supermarket, let alone a sudden and life threatening scenario. I have no doubt that my four year old would freeze, crying, rooted to the spot. Could I manage to carry them both? Imagine the scenario with a large family? One with elderly relatives or neighbours!

Women’s self sacrifice is quiet, but just as heroic.

Equal, but different.

Catholic · Moving To France · Uncategorized

Death and Fear

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Yesterday I spent the morning ironing when I briefly turned on the news. Of course I was met with the death of Father Jacques Hamel. The 85-year-old priest celebrating mass who was killed horrifically by Islamic terrorists…..words fail me.

I am embarassed to say that my thoughts were not just with this wonderful, dedicated priest though.

About ten years ago now I taught RE and Islamic terrorism had just started to happen. The atrocities of 9/11 and 7/7 were still fresh in my students mind. I was at pains to describe the peaceful side of Muslim worship – although when I first studied Islam I was shocked by the teachings and actions of Muhammad and how different they were to those of Jesus. However, I knew that many Muslims lived peaceful lives and, like all my colleagues in the department, wanted to stem any backlash against them.

When my pupils would say that religion causes war I encouraged them to examine this – the majority of which were over land and money. The IRA, for example, were the Irish Republican Army. At no point in the Irish peace process was the place of Mary discussed, nor the real presence in the Eucharist. Just who held the power.

I would joke; if 9/11 and 7/7 were religious wars, the aggressors would have strapped explosives on their back and gone to blow up the Vatican. This was after all the highest profile, Christian landmark in the west.

No, I explained, the very fact that the targets were the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon, and the London financial district pointed to the conflict being based on financial matters. Their targets spoke for them.

However this was pre the Islamic State. Last year I went on a retreat were I met Italian missionaries who told me their fears in relation to the migrant influx. Threats of attacks on the Vatican were being written on paper and held up in front of St Peters and filmed for distribution on the Internet. A clear threat of religious persecution. My jokes came back to haunt me.

Then attacks started happening in France and my friends asked ‘Are you sure you still want to go?’ ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘they’re not going to happen in Normandy are they?’ So you can imagine my reaction when I first saw the headlines of the attacks in Normandy. I don’t think I’m going to joke anymore.

Last night I couldn’t sleep thinking about it all. I said my rosary and offered it up for the peace and safety of my family, for God’s blessing on our move as well as the martyred priest. My husband verbalised my fear. We’re sending La Belle Fille to a Catholic school in a cathedral town in Normandy. ‘What should we do?’ I asked.

Unfortunately, as statements have confirmed today, the threat level is just as high in the UK as on the continent. Armed forces personnel have recently, unsuccessfully thank God, been targeted for attack. You may not have seen this, happening as it did amongst the atrocities which just seem to keep coming this summer.

So as ‘Where do we go?’ doesn’t seem to have a satisfactory answer, ‘What do we do?’  seems to be the next question.

Do we put our daughter in a non-denominational school? What about mass? Do we stay home? I go to mass during the week with my youngest; can I risk this anymore?

One thing that has always struck me about reading St Paul’s story is how he is repeatedly warned that he will be martyred – and one of those warning him literally binds himself with rope to indicate his imprisonment and death – yet he continues to go to where he will die.

It has always made me wonder – does God warn those who will die? Does he do it so the martyr in some way accepts their death through free will? That they lay down their life?

Of course an argument against this is all of those who die unwillingly; I’m constantly thinking of all the Jews who died in The Holocaust as well as Christians presently dying in churches all over the Middle East. Did God warn them? It would appear not.

The problem of evil still haunts Christians. However my physical experience of the presence of God and my life of faith means that, like C S Lewis who puts it so much better in A Grief Observed, I can’t turn from my belief in God. It’s not a crutch, as many atheists suppose, but real.

In terms of those dying because of their faith an answer may be that for some there may not be a relationship with God; an openness or a belief that we can hear and communicate with Him. This is no reflection on their faith or holiness, just a statement of our expectations of God. I know for many years my prayers were in the form of an answerphone, were I’d live my message and cut off the link, hoping that God got it. In this relationship the opportunity of responding to God’s warnings, no matter how faithful, would be lost too.

Today, while asking God for His help and guidance, I opened my Bible to the book of Acts, 16: 6-10. God’s spirit keeps Paul from going to Asia and away from danger, presumably. I just pray that, maintaining communion with God, my family is kept from danger too. After all, danger is everywhere. The threat of terrorism, by its very nature, is everywhere. Therefore even if I do hide away, remove my children from anything associated with our faith, we are prone to violence too.

In fact by hiding, and denying the God of love that I have faith in means that witness to His light is less in a dark world. I am not a brave woman, but history shows us where cowardice like this leads.

So I am left with the words of today’s psalm, 59:2-4, 10-11, 17-18;

“Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, protect me from those who rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. For, lo, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men band themselves against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD, O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee; for thou, O God, art my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. But I will sing of thy might; I will sing aloud of thy steadfast love in the morning. For thou hast been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee, for thou, O God, art my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.”

Catholic · French Culture · Uncategorized

5 Cultural Differences Between France And The U.K.

Many of these cultural differences have been written about elsewhere and, as my parents have lived in France for the last ten years, my frequent visits have meant that I’ve felt that I knew the French way of life. However, this last visit has brought those differences between the two cultures into focus as we prepare to move to France in less than eleven weeks.

Sundays and Lunchtimes

I did say some of these have been written about many times before – but the upcomingimage move has meant that I’m more aware of it. Apart from the bakers that are open for a short time after mass and the Carrefour express in the town centre everything is shut on a Sunday. It reminds me of Sunday’s as a child. Driving down the road you’re struck by the stillness present.

This isn’t just a religious ‘Be still and know that I am God’ thing either. It means that families truly have time to be together. In the UK we don’t live very far from our family, but as everyone is always working there is little or no time to get together. I haven’t seen most of my family since Christmas because of this. When you add marital breakdown and blended families into the mix it makes things far more difficult.

We met two groups of English people this Sunday and both remarked at how different the Sunday culture was in astonishment. We’re so used to a non-stop consumer culture that being met with quiet is a shock.

Despite the small inconvenience though this is actually something I’m really pleased about. Perhaps having family here makes a difference, but that time to bond and come together is something I hope we’ll treasure.

I’ve put lunchtimes in this category because the stillness at lunch is also palpable. Driving into town after 12 o’clock I’m struck by how few people are around and in the supermarkets, on the whole, you only seem to hear English voices.

The Politeness

Again I’ve read many books and blogs that have talked about the politeness of France and experienced it firsthand, but the everyday reality of it is starting to hit home. This isn’t a criticism, I was just unaware how some of those social niceties had slipped.

I’m always polite in the sense I say please and thankyou, and expect my children to do the same. I would say that I have the demeanour of someone who is friendly. Yet the custom of greeting each person before you start a transaction with a simple ‘bonjour monsieur’ or ‘madame’ had caught me out a few times. Partly because I’ve been so focused on getting the French right, but also because it’s not part of my rhythm of speech.

I actually really like this formality – it is making the point that the person you’re speaking to is of importance, not a side note to your business.

When I first started coming to France I missed this out, even though I knew it was expected, because of shyness. Now though I focus before entering a shop and remind myself, as a priority, to greet each person I’m speaking to with this simple greeting. It’s especially important because, coming to live in a community, means I don’t want to be known as rude – and I especially don’t want my children to be known as rude.

So each time we enter a shop I encourage La Belle Fille to say it too.

Kissing Babies

imageThe French are like American politicians standing for election as president and will kiss any baby or child within close proximity (well, at least any politician going for election prior to our current suspiscion of any man we don’t know).

La Belle Fille, at the tender age of 4, looks at me mortified as her hair is ruffled, her cheeks pinched and she’s kissed and ‘coucou’s are thrown at her in abandon. It is obvious in her expression that she’s not used to it as she has a kind of ‘what’s happening?’ look about her. She’ll get used to it!

Wine

I’m British. As anyone who’s watched Bridget Jones knows – we like to drink and we swear a lot. At least my generation anyway. Swearing has almost, unfortunately, become a form of punctuation.

In the 90s there was an emergence of what was called ladette culture and to behave like rowdy young men became de rigour for young women too. That means there was heavy drinking from both sexes as no one was applying the brakes (everyone knows that sober people find drunk people annoying so any guy trying to chat up a girl had to curb his enthusiasm for the grape and grain beforehand).

Wine is drunk in far less quantities than the UK, at least in the farming communities I’ve come to know in the north.

My liver will like me and, you never know, I might finally start to act like a lady after all these years.

Faith

You don’t have to be embarassed of religion in France. Despite it being a secular imageculture Catholicism is still permeating everyday life. You go to the local bakers and there are little cake toppers signifying children taking their holy communion.

In the hyper markets there are the robes worn at confirmation on display for sale.

As you walk down the lanes there are nooks dedicated to Jesus, Mary or other saints.

You drive through areas and see not only churches but Calvary crosses on the highways.

I love that. I feel like I truly am about to come home to the ‘older sister of the church’.

 

Catholic · Uncategorized

May; Devotion to Mary, Lillys

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In today’s society Catholicism is castigated both within and without because of it’s stance on women priests. Without realising it the many people place the dogma of equality and diversity; they see the priest as a powerful position and symbol which should be available to women too. Unfortunately the humanity of the Church has meant that power and the trappings of power have all to often been on display, even if there is also the inevitable misrepresentation of the Church by evil, so you can understand this confusion.

However by focusing on this and the apparent injustice of it we eventually fall just as each generation has before us; “Did God really say….” (Genesis 3:1). Notice how in Genesis Satan introduces his temptation with an exaggeration of what it was that God has said; that God has said we cannot eat the fruit from any tree. Satan tempts Eve twice, the first time she successfully rebuts him by referring back to what God actually said and also why God has said it – that if eaten, the fruit will kill.

The Fall comes after the second temptation – that Eve will be able to dictate what it right and wrong.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” “

How often do you hear the debate about women’s ordination couched in these terms; “Did God really say that women were not equal with men?” Notice the exaggeration about the effects that none ordination has – that women are seen as demeaned, as less powerful. Yet this results in both the priesthood and the role of women being misrepresented. The priesthood should be one of service, not power. The role of service that women have, motherhood, is correctly identified but often demeaned by those presenting this argument. In failing to see the importance of service and grasping at the elements of power the arguments surrounding ordination miss out on one of the core messages of the Gospel; it is only by thinking less of ourselves and serving others will the Kingdom of Heaven be created here on Earth.

Mary served. Without fanfare or high praise, having a child outside of wedlock would have unjustly led her to have the opposite of praise in fact, she served. She served when she taught Jesus in the home, when she cleaned Him and fed Him, when she let Him start on the path that would lead to His death, when she stood quietly by His cross and held his broken body in her arms, when she travelled with Her sisters to anoint His body, when she prayed with His disciples in the upper room at Pentecost. She didn’t need the position of priest to do this – just as Jesus didn’t have the earthly position of priest to fulfil his priestly role (after all, he wasn’t born into the tribe of Levi). However it’s not as glamorous as having on colourful robes in front of a room full of people watching your every move.

By focusing on power and dismissing service there has been a hollowing out of women’s status in society. That’s a surprising thing to say; everyone from politicians to Hollywood stars are talking about women’s equality and opportunity. However, by referring to just power and money they actually reduce women to what they have.

In Catholicism Mary is elevated because she was a mother. That’s was enough. Her devotion and love, humble a role though it was even in society’s eyes of the time, was enough for God’s appreciation. Irrelevant that women and their children were kept in an outer court in the temples and synagogues, in God’s eyes. Mary is Queen of Heaven because she was Jesus’ mother.

We have forgotten the value of motherhood and focus on what we do as well, as if motherhood is a diversion, a job you do to get to the more interesting stuff. That’s why appreciating Mary is important; we appreciate women in all their glory as God made them.

I’ve shown my love for my mother in law Mary with Lilys. They are actually the Lilys I had in my actual wedding bouquet to my earthly husband. Although they have come to represent funerals in this country this is as a result of their original symbolic meaning of hope and faith. However they also stand for motherhood and innocence. Fitting for my thoughts this week.