Sunday, 31 August 2008

Recently, I've been reading some of the writings of S. Francis and S. Clare and among the many good letters, prayers and rules for monastic life, what struck me most was the simplicity of S. Francis' prayer before the crucifix:

Most high
Glorious God
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me, Lord,
a correct faith,
a certain hope,
a perfect charity,
sense and knowledge,
so that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

The tradition is that S Francis used to pray this at the foot of the crucifix in the church at San Damiano and one day, Our Lord spoke to him saying "go and repair my house, which as you see, is falling completely into ruin". This command guided the rest of his life. This simple version of the prayer was transmitted through various Italian idioms before becoming more widely known through translation into Latin. A manuscript in the Bodleian Library (cod. Can. Misc. 525) contains the Latin translation and a note that this will enable others to benefit.

In the past weeks, I've often prayed this in front of the crucifix on my wall at home, in church, and sometimes after communion. At the moment, when God's will for the Church of England seems so hard to discern, and for those who are attempting to stop it all from falling into ruins, it seems particularly appropriate.

The translation is taken from Armstong and Brady (1982): Francis and Clare, The Complete Works.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008


It seems that the organiser of the nuns' beauty contest is now in a little trouble: see here and here. In a way this seems a shame, as it had the potential to provide an insight into nuns' lives, works, prayers and vocations, but dressing it up as a beauty contest was just too loaded. Possibly, an idea with good intentions but not tactfully presented?

However, I've been reading about this everywhere from the Telegraph to London Lite today -how often do women's vocations to the religious life get this much attention in the newspapers?

Here is a less controversial piece about scholarly dedication and the importance of historical records: Charles Wesley's diaries deciphered.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Bless me, Father

1970s. Comedy. Roman Catholic parish life. Arthur Lowe. Nuns. Solid catholic teaching.

Put all these (slightly incongruous, perhaps) elements together and you find yourself with "Bless me, Father", a rather wonderful sitcom first shown in 1978. Arthur Lowe stars as Fr Duddleswell, the Roman catholic priest of St. Jude's, a parish in the London suburbs circa 1950. In episode 1, he encounters his new curate, the young (and I must ashamedly say rather dashing) Fr Neil Boyd, played by Daniel Abineri. Their comic exploits are observed/encouraged/endured by Mrs Pring, the housekeeper, Mother Stephen, rev. mother of the local convent, Billy Buzzle, the local book-keeper and others. (The Anglicans are very amusingly depicted, particularly the curate who comments to Fr Boyd, taking him for the new Methodist minister, that he thanks God daily for not making him a Catholic...).
As a sitcom this really is delightful. Yet the most wonderful, and remarkable, thing about this series is how teaching it is. The characters are often laughable, sometimes downright reprehensible, but the viewer is always given a clear and sincere dose of catholic instruction. (The friend who introduced it to me suggested that the writer had simply sat down with a copy of the catechism and constructed the script around it...). It is unashamedly straightforward about the blessings of Christian life.
I urge you to find a copy and watch it. It really is worth it.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

What the Papers say

Bank holiday weekends are for reading the newspapers while thinking that you should be doing something exciting and worthwhile because it's a bank holiday. That hasn't happened yet but I have found two stories: one which made me cheerful and one which made me cross. There are no prizes for guessing which is which.

From The Times: Beauty Contest for Nuns

At first glance, I wasn't sure about this -after all beauty contests don't have a brilliant reputation and nuns are supposed to be, well, above that kind of thing. But, underneath the frivolity, this may well have the effect of drawing attention to the religious life as a possibility for women and perhaps destroying a few stereotypes at the same time. As the organiser said "Nuns deserve much more attention than they get". However, as this is supposed to be about spiritual as well as physical beauty, why is the age limit set at 40? Surely, Fr Rungi doesn't wish to imply that female religious over 40 are "wizened, funereal old ladies"? I think they might well have something to say to him about that... I shall be watching this with interest.

From The Daily Telegraph: Buffy v Church for women

So here are the results of an academic study of falling church attendance sensationalised for public consumption by throwing in Women Bishops and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As you will see, this article ends up making little sense. I won't deconstruct it at length as that rather spoils the fun of reading and doing it for yourselves. However, I will draw your attention to one of the more sensible comments which points out that this article doesn't seem to rate female intelligence very highly at all in suggesting that women base their religious beliefs on a fictional television series which hasn't been shown since 2003*.

But they seem to have, incidentally, touched on an important point, that, "while looking at women in the pulpit we have taken our eyes off the pews". Don't laywomen, who believe that they should remain so, have some justification, at the moment, in feeling completely ignored?

*Watching Buffy teaches the useful lesson that one should treat all librarians with great respect. It deserves admiration, if only for this.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Causa nostrae laetitiae

And my joy this evening is caused by a present from Bruges* -images of Our Lady in delicious marshmallow. I've posted before about food as an opportunity to learn more about faith and it strikes me that this is the perfect example. It was a little strange at first nibbling these with a cup of tea, but we soon started on the tableaux: the three Marys at the foot of the cross, the empty tomb (ok, that's Mary of Magdala), the apparitions at Lourdes...

This might all seem very silly to you, but those sweets have just made two twenty four year olds spend Friday night creating scenes from Our Lady's life using household objects! Food for thought?

*Or perhaps by too much sugar

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Excellent Women: St Jane Frances de Chantal

How would you react if someone shot your husband? And no, the answer is not, ‘it depends on the husband'.

Though possibly, it depends on the wife. When one of the Baron de Chantal’s friends mistook him for a wild boar during a hunting party, his widow Jane Frances publically showed forgiveness to her husband’s killer by insisting that he act as sponsor for her son. But, Jane Frances ran a fairly remarkable household. When first married, she had found her husband’s home in disorder and near ruin due to his frequent absences at court and so, she decided to lead by example: morning and evening prayer, daily mass and taking all her servants to mass at the parish church every Sunday. The Baron was rather perturbed by his wife’s new regime, but she encouraged him to attend as much as possible, saying “"Nothing influences so much as example; and how can these poor people know their duties to God, if they do not see us fulfilling ours? How could they love religion, if they did not see us practising it ourselves?". Although, typically for the time, it had been an arranged marriage, they grew very fond of each other. On the rare occasions he was at home, she would relax her daily rule to arrange diversions and amusements. When he was away, she behaved and dressed so soberly that she was often criticized, but replied , "The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here".

A rich young widow might have been expected to marry again, but she would not and, in fact, took a vow of chastity. She became drawn to the religious life and decided to found her own order. The convent of the Order of the Visitation at Annecy was inaugurated, with Jane Frances as superior, by her spiritual director St Francis de Sales on Trinity Sunday 1610. This order, inspired by Francis de Sales’s insistence on humility and meekness rather than the austerity and ascetic practices of the time, made the religious life a possibility for a much wider number of women, especially widows, like Jane Frances herself, and those in poor health. Within thirty years, eighty six houses had been established. Originally the women had been intended to work in the outside world but the church authorities unfortunately forbade this on the grounds that unenclosed nuns were not respectable. Attitudes began to change quite soon after this as other founders had more success in establishing unenclosed orders.

But Jane Frances had to sacrifice her family life. When she decided to enter a convent, her two daughters had married, but her son was still only fifteen years old. When the time came for her to leave the family home, he threw himself across the threshold sobbing. This nearly broke her resolve, but she stepped over him. He grew up to be a trial, fighting so many duels that she used to pray that, if he were to die, it might be an honourable death in battle. Unfortunately, this was granted as he died fighting the English at l’Isle de Ré, leaving behind a young daughter, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, who was to become known as the Marquise de Sévigné.

St Jane Frances de Chantal is an inspiration to me because, rather than gaining a reputation for extreme acts of piety, or asceticism or even, one could say, fierceness, she drew others to faith by providing a moderate and humble example of a life devoted to God. This is perhaps reflected in St Francis de Sales’s advice to the sisters of the Visitation:

"If there be any sister so generous and courageous as to wish to attain perfection in a quarter of an hour by doing more than the Community does, I would advise her to humble herself and be content to become perfect in three days, following the same course as the rest. For a great simplicity must always be kept in all things: to walk simply, that is the true way for the daughters of the Visitation.”

She died on 13 December 1641 at the age of sixty nine and she is buried at Annecy. She was beatified in 1751 and canonized in 1767. This post comes a little late for her feast on the 12th of August, but just in time for its original date of the 21st.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Not dead yet.....


Not mine

No really, we're all still alive I promise. And at a time like this, what could be better than cake, especially this Tarta de Santiago. I came across the recipe while trawling the internet for new things to cook and decided that this would make a delicious treat for the feast of St James. Unfortunately, I was a few days late so it ended up being a St Martha cake instead but it was still delicious despite, as always, not looking quite like the picture. One day, I would very much like to walk to Santiago de Compostela and eat a real one, although I would be likely to be the one who ends up getting eaten in the mountains by wolves, or possibly bears.

Unlike my attempt adorned with blackberries, the real cake is decorated with the cross of St James, of which the lower part resembles a sword blade symbolising taking up the sword for Christ. Apparently, crusaders would carry small crosses like this which could be stuck into the ground for devotions anywhere or at any time and so it became the emblem of the Order of Santiago. Don't worry, I'm not about to preach a crusade, but just delighting in my new cake recipe and thinking how I can (figuratively) take up the sword for Christ.

This has made me wonder what other recipies could be used to mark feasts or seasons as an opportunity for edible catechesis. There are, of course, the obvious ones such as hot cross buns or simnel cake but I shall try and hunt down that which is obscure, tasty and educational. Results will be posted here for admiration or mockery.