Monday, 21 September 2015

The Seven Sorrows of Homeschooling Mothers

This talk by a FSSP priest contains much food for thought and had me oscillating between tears of laughter and tears of sad recognition: any home educating mother will find something to relate to, and I think this deserves to be more widely shared.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Delighted see that Linen on the Hedgerow is once again viewable. For some reason -- possibly because Blogger doesn't allow deceased authors -- it had been locked down with a violation of terms message for the past couple of months. If you aren't familiar with this wonderful blog then take advantage of once again having the opportunity to explore it; if, like me, you were an avid reader you'll simply be thrilled that it's back live: what a tribute to a lovely man and good strong Catholic. His online contribution to the Faith was immeasurable, and what I knew of his personal offline life reflected the same strength and values.

Richard's death left a yawning chasm in the Catholic blogosphere: things haven't quite been the same since. He is sorely missed.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

This post initially began as a pointer to the Wayback Machine Internet Archive which allows users to see websites that have been removed from the internet (as long as they've been archived). Checking the archive against the live URL I reaslised that Richard's blog was once again viewable in the ordianary way.

The Wayback Machine is still rather amusing should you wish to dig out that first embarrassing hand-coded HTML site you built 20 years ago complete with animated GIFs *cough* and awards. Remember when websites used to be given awards and list them on separate "awards pages". Oh the heady days of 1996 when the 'Net was much less cynical...

Yes, Rat Site Excellence. What we all used to strive for.

Monday, 20 July 2015

A Day with Mary in Margate - pure joy in prayer - Ave Maria!

It's a great pleasure to have something unmitigatedly positive to blog about in a world where negativity and cynicism often seem to have the upper hand. Most readers, I'm sure, will have already enjoyed Mulier Fortis' able description of the wonderful and, as our friend Bruvver Eccles would say, spiritually nourishing Day with Mary at the church of St Austin and St Gregory in Margate. I'm not even going to try to top my dear friend the mantilla'd cat lady's description (go and read it if you haven't already!) but simply share a few thoughts of my own.

I love A Day with Mary - it's something that our family has looked forward to each year since we first encountered this wonderful apostolate in 2011. It's a day jam-packed with prayer and devotion but even so, somehow the whole ends up being much greater than the parts.

My children are particularly enthusiastic - they love the processions and the singing as well as the beautiful medals and devotional items on which they can spend their pocket money. This year's haul included a lovely silver miraculous medal to (finally) replace the one my eldest daughter lost when we were burgled a couple of year ago (it's the first time she's found one that she liked enough), picture medals of Blessed Francisco & Jacinta for my younger daughter who has a special devotion to the little seers at Fatima, some large medals and a crucifix for my eldest son and a glow-in-the-dark standing crucifix for the youngest (6) who said "now I can see Jesus on the cross when I wake up at night."

 I love the bookstall -- I always come away from ADWM with a decent reading list for the next couple of months...

The weather was appropriately glorious for Margate's first ever Day with Mary and the town made a  picturesque backdrop for the devotional procession while the very bricks echoed back the strains of Ave Maria after each decade of the Joyful Mysteries.

One of the many lovely things about ADWM is the variety of people that you meet and the way that parishioners and pilgrims blend together and make friends. There is something wonderfully unifying about a church packed to the rafters with smiling, praying, people singing their hearts out to Our Blessed Lord and his Mother. There is something joyfully transcendent about such an experience: I think that it might be a tiny flicker through a glass darkly of what heaven might feel like.

Another great pleasure of the day was seeing the wonderful Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate whom we have been privileged to get to know over the past few years -- and even go camping with at Walsingham! (OK, they were sensible enough to stay in the pilgrim bureau while we roughed it in a muddy field ... but they did manage to survive the journey home in our van and prayed their office with us before letting the girls visit their convent). We're very fond of them and it was a delight to be treated to their wonderfully pure voices singing the propers to the Solemn Mass and other devotional music throughout the day.

What else can I tell you? You should come and experience it for yourself: words can't begin to describe the graces that flow from a day like this. For me the high point was the consecration of our parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are so blessed at St Austin & St Gregory: not only do we have a beautiful church, a kind and holy parish priest, a diverse and welcoming congregation and a quiverful of saintly patrons (Gregory the Great, St Augustine, St Anne - patron of the other church in our parish) but now we also enjoy the protection of the Immaculate. It feels like having the best ever spiritual security system installed. Not only was the parish consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary but also every individual and family present consecrated themselves to her care.

After the stirring and thought provoking sermons, the hours of prayer, reflection and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the joyful singing, processions, confessions, and outpouring of caritas, I think that a spiritual Geiger counter would have  measured the parish of St Austin and St Gregory glowing for miles around with the positive outpouring of prayer.

The demons must have fled in terror.

Ave Maria!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Amnesty's sad miscarriage story is no reason to legalise abortion in Ireland

It shouldn't be a surprise that pro-abortion campaigners use information dishonestly, but for some reason I expected more rigour from Amnesty.

Among the heart-rending stories on Amnesty's UK website, presumably intended to illustrate why it is absolutely utterly necessary to allow Irish women to kill the living children in their wombs in order to for them to fulfil their destiny as human beings, is the story of Lupe "a woman who was forced to carry a dead foetus for two months". You can read Lupe's story here.

The problem with using Lupe as a poster girl for abortion in Ireland, is that as sad as her case may be, it is (as presented on the Amnesty website) utterly irrelevant to any argument about abortion. Lupe had what is commonly known as a missed miscarriage: her baby died in utero at an early stage, but her body - buoyed by the first trimester hormones secreted by the corpus luteum  - continued the pregnancy. This isn't uncommon. Many women are sad to discover at the end of their first trimester that their baby has died some weeks earlier. In a normal pregnancy the placenta takes over the regulation of hormones from the corpus luteum around 12 weeks into the pregnancy: this is why there is a statistical cluster of miscarriages at this point: most unviable pregnancies end this way. Like Lupe most woman in this situation will begin to bleed and miscarry normally as soon as the hormonal levels drop some time after the 12th week. Until early scans were common, it was not generally understood that the baby had often died weeks before the miscarriage. 

Lupe says that she felt that something was wrong with the pregnancy from an early stage. Again, this is not unusual: many mothers report feeling that something is wrong weeks before a miscarriage becomes evident. In Lupe's case she reports feeling that something was "wrong" around the time the scan indicated her baby had most likely died. I would argue that this is a good case demonstrating a bond between mother and baby; between a human mother and a human baby.

I have had two missed miscarriages, both running well into the second trimester. With one of them I remember lying in bed one night, hand on my tummy, talking to my then 9 or 10 week old foetus and suddenly breaking off to say "you're not in there, are you?" The words had just burst out, and they troubled me greatly. For the next couple of weeks I couldn't shake the feeling that there wasn't anyone in my womb. Thus I was shocked and saddened - but not really surprised - when a 12 week scan showed that my baby had died a fortnight earlier. 

Losing a baby to miscarriage is devastating on many levels: one thing that makes it much harder than it needs to be is that medical professionals are often clumsy in how they deal with miscarrying women. In British hospitals women having treatment for miscarriage are often put into a ward with women having abortions. In the UK much of the advice and guidance given about medical and surgical management of miscarriage is taken directly from abortion guidelines and is therefore not only not best practice, but is often not relevant to miscarriage. I intend to write more about this in another post, but for now will focus on Amnesty and "Lupe".

Lupe's distress appears to come from her perception that her miscarriage was mismanaged and that if she had been offered an abortion things would have been different. This deserves closer scrutiny. The doctors who insisted that Lupe have a second scan were, in fact, doing the right thing. It is a shame that it took two weeks for that scan to materialise, but best practise would suggest leaving at least a week. It is also important to note that the "vaginal scan" (TVS) that Amnesty makes much of is not necessary - an abdominal scan is perfectly capable of verifying foetal demise, although a TVS is clearer.  It is important to make sure that a baby has actually died rather than going in guns blazing and emptying "products of conception" from a mother's womb. This second scan and wait is something that - in abortion-happy Britain - I had to ask for. Which brings me to my second point: the safest method of managing a first trimester miscarriage is to allow it to happen naturally. Given the foetal measurement, likely date of demise and the stage of pregnancy, it was almost inevitable that the process would have resolved naturally. Surgical and medical management of miscarriage bring much greater risks to both a woman's health and her fertility. "Wait and see" might not be easy to hear, but it is actually the right thing to do for most women under the circumstances.  

It's entirely possible that there's something completely urgent that Amnesty left out of their version of Lupe's story, but assuming that there isn't, her treatment seems entirely reasonable under the circumstances. Abortion doesn't come into it because (ta-da!) the baby was already dead. Dead baby discovered by scan = miscarriage.  Nobody "forced" Lupe to "carry a dead foetus for two months": she had a missed miscarriage. Her baby had been dead for most of that time before it was discovered by her initial scan. Whilst the fact of the miscarriage is sad, the way it was managed does not seem either unusual or negligent despite the emotive language used on the Amnesty site. 

Lupe might make a good poster girl for better information to be given to miscarrying women in Ireland, or for better communication skills to be taught to medical professionals, but her story is at best irrelevant and at worst misleading with regard to abortion. For Amnesty to lead her to believe that her human rights have been violated because her miscarriage was not managed as she would have liked is reprehensible. The greatest risk that Lupe faced was her trip to Spain: nobody in their right mind would suggest that a miscarrying woman travel, let alone travel internationally. A miscarriage can be a messy and uncomfortable business, it can be painful and emotionally draining. It *is not* under normal circumstances a medical emergency, however there is always a risk of haemorrhage and for that reason it is inadvisable to travel far. "Stay close to home and wear dark clothes" was the advice I received from a veteran mother. Travelling from Ireland to Spain for what is a normal physiological bodily function seems both risky and ridiculous. If Amnesty encouraged this they should be held to account. They certainly should not be holding it up as an example of how to manage miscarriage, and under no circumstances should they be suggesting that it has any relevance to abortion.

Abortion has never been a treatment for missed miscarriage and never will be. Abortion involves the deliberate killing of a living human in the womb. Miscarriage is when a living human in the womb dies of natural causes. To conflate the two is dishonest and immoral. 

Thanks to Youth Defence for the graphic at the top of this post. Like them on Facebook!

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Human rights have been redefined in the image of the zeitgeist. ( or: What you need to tell chuggers for Amnesty)

Throughout the 1980s and early 90s when I was a student I was a fervent supporter of Amnesty International. I raised money for them, attended benefits and did all the usual studenty activities to raise funds and awareness for prisoners of conscience, victims of torture, and displaced persons suffering from human rights abuses. As I grew older and life became busier and more complicated, my involvement with Amnesty waned but I maintained an interest in what I believed to be a worthy organisation and I continued to support them financially.

Around the turn of the millennium, Amnesty's policy veered into murkier waters, broadening to include less easily defined economic, social and cultural "rights" including easy access to contraception. In 2007 Amnesty - not uncontroversially -  declared that abortion was a "human right".  Catholics (and anybody with an interest in that most basic of human rights, namely to be allowed to live from conception to natural death) found it impossible to support A.I. after this point. Unfortunately though, many people assuming that past practice would inform future policy, stuck with Amnesty and I am constantly surprised by those who insist that they support Amnesty because of the good that the organisation has done in the past rather than what they campaign for today. Don't. Just please don't. If you don't believe me, have a look at the cover page for UK Amnesty today:

There is a lack of logic here - abortion kills. Death is the ultimate violation of human rights. If we cannot protect our most vulnerable then whom can we protect?

Amnesty's own anti-death-penalty campaign page says "The death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights, which is why we're working for an end to its use - everywhere." There is apparently a disconnect between this and what the "right" to abortion entails. 

Amnesty are also involved in lobbying to change the definition of marriage in Northern Ireland (and were instrumental in the 'Yes' campaign in the Republic of Ireland's referendum on same-sex "marriage"). The concept of human "rights" has been redefined in the image of the zeitgeist.

It is worth mentioning all of these because - even if you aren't an active supporter of Amnesty International, it is important to make sure that those who are understand what the organisation stands for now. It is even more important to make sure that those who are are collecting money and direct debits for A.I. are aware what they're collecting for. 

About a year ago I was approached by a chugger for Amnesty on a London street. Rather than politely saying "no thanks" or "I'm busy" I stopped and had a chat. He was a personable young man in his late teens or early 20s. I explained that I had been a big Amnesty supporter at his age, but that since then the organisation had changed its focus. When he asked what I meant, I used abortion as a key example. I said that if an organisation refused to protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our society, they had no business calling themselves a human rights organisation. The young man was horrified: he had no idea that abortion was a key pillar in Amnesty's policies. He thought it was all prisoners of conscience and anti-torture campaigns. Chuggers often don't know a lot about the organisations that they're collecting for, and this particular young black man, coming from a Christian background, was deeply uncomfortable to find out that he was collecting for an organisation that aggressively pushed for abortion to be considered a human right, and funded campaigns for the redefinition of marriage. It was a worthwhile five minutes, and we both left the conversation with something to think about. 

Sometimes the best thing to do in the face of evil is to be informed about the truth, and to speak it as clearly and charitably as possible.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ashers' Bakery vs the Gay bully boys - Support the McArthur family

Bake me a big gay cake ... or else!

There's something beyond bully-boy tactics in this case which I have always thought stank to high heaven. Even somebody not opposed to the redefinition of marriage could reasonably feel deeply uncomfortable with the projection of a sexual relationship (same0sex or otherwise) onto children's television characters. The same-sex lobby's attempt to "queer history" lies somewhere between pathetic and nauseating, particularly in its steamrollering over any notion of celibacy and platonic friendships (all those chaste saints were actually rampant gays and lesbos don'tcha know?)... but the appropriation of children's characters as gay icons is profoundly unpleasant.

For this reason alone - that any adult might reasonably object to a sexualisation of children's icons - it seems that the case against Ashers should have always been a non-starter. Taking into account that the slogan asked for was a political one - for a lobby group - the baker's right to decline the business seems equally reasonable. The McArthurs have always been clear that their problem was with the message on the cake, not with the customer. Ashers is a family-owned Christian bakery. They are protestants. Imagine if someone had asked them to decorate a cake commemorating fallen IRA murderers as heroes: presumably it would be reasonable to decline? What if the Countryside Alliance wants a pro-fox-hunting cake made?  Should a baker who is opposed to fox-hunting be compelled to make it? We all know what happens when a Christian goes into a gay bakery asking for a cake celebrating natural marriage: Some rights are more equal than others. Four legs good, two legs bad.

Today's verdict finding against Ashers defies logic and decency but is right in line with the zeitgeist. I'll bet that Judge Isobel Brownlie patted herself on the back for showing the rest of the UK just how progressive they can be over there in Norn Iron. Just how far they've moved from that repressive Christianity. The saints and martyrs of Ulster must be weeping.

There's not a lot those of us not living close enough to patronise Ashers' bakeries can do to practically support the business. For the sake of the McArthur family I'm hoping that they manage to elide the issue by no longer providing cakes with slogans / writing / messages. Perhaps the whole  decorated cake part of their business will have to fold - and that's a big part of any bakery's trade - because you can be certain that the bully boys and girls of the LGBT brigade will be doing everything possible to trip Ashers Bakery up, to drag them back into the courts, to make an example of them; because they dared to stand up for the Truth.

I dropped a short note in the post earlier today thanking Daniel & Amy McArthur for their courage and Christian witness over the last few months. I also assured them of our family's prayers. I encourage all of you to do the same. The addresses of their bakeries are on their website: the bakehouse in Newtownabbey is the main address, but I'm sure that post sent to any of their business addresses will find its way to them.

May God bless and sustain them in their trial.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The other side of the grille

I first read this humbling and thought provoking article by a priest about his experience on the other side of the confessional some time ago but I came across it again today and thought it worth sharing because it serves as a wonderful reminder of why we often most need to go to confession at those times we least want to.

Getting hung up on the sinfulness of sin -- the shameful, petty, sordid nature of sin -- is an easy pitfall. It's what makes us despair - small daily habitual sins are so tawdry they grind us down and the wretched baseness of larger sins convinces us to lose hope. In both cases the temptation is to avoid - or delay - going to confession. We become weighed down by the sin itself, which blots out our memory of Our Lord's love and mercy that we so desperately need at those moments of despondency.

I think that this is precisely what is meant by the glamour of sin as professed in our Baptismal vows. These days we associate glamour with celebrity (think a glamorous film premiere) or with the demi-mondaine (think "glamour models"). In both cases glamour denotes something with a quality that separates it from ordinary life. Sin exists in a parallel shadow world, and its tentacles work to keep us there wallowing in our failings, luring us further away from the good that God has given us, away from the light. Extracting ourselves from the unhappy magnetism of sin is the key: get to confession, whatever it takes.

As Fr Mike Schmitz reminds us, "Confession is always a place of victory. Whether you have confessed a particular sin for the first time, or if this is the 12,001st time, every Confession is a win for Jesus".  Amen to that and please remember to say a prayer to thank God for those priests who in the footsteps of St Jean-Marie Vianney spend hours of their lives on the other side of the grille for the good of our immortal souls.