Thursday, 29 September 2011

A Michaelmas miscellany

Holy Michael the Archangel is one of our family's favourite saints: the clue's in the blog title, really. St Michael is the patron saint of this blog. We have pictures of him in several places in the house which are comforting reminders that his aid can be invoked in time of need. We pray the "Saint Michael" prayer at least twice daily, and I like to think of Saint Michael poised to help us in our hour of need. He's traditionally been invoked in times of war, is the champion of warriors (including the spiritual kind, I have no doubt) and is usually pictured carrying the scales of judgement and often simultaneously casting Satan down into Hell.

Until I returned to the Church, "Michaelmas" didn't really mean much to me. I knew that it was the name of the first term at Cambridge (and the other place, apparently as well) but assumed that this was down to an old and long forgotten English folk tradition. Basically, I didn't have a clue. (That's where going to a heterodox Catholic school in the 1970s will get you!)
Later on I learned that St Michael is patron of the Church, especially called upon in times of great need or crisis; he is also the patron saint of the dying, of the holy souls in purgatory, of the Jewish nation, sick people, mariners, and grocers.  He is the Captain of the Heavenly Host, the fearless warrior angel who banished Lucifer to the depths of Hell; for this he has been known as the "love that conquers pride". 

Years later, I realised that Michaelmas wasn't just the feast of St Michael, but also of all the angels: the other two archangels mentioned in the canonical scriptures are Sts Gabriel and Raphael. No other angels are mentioned by name in the Bible.

Michaelmas is bound up with folk traditions: one of the most well known is that on his eviction from Heaven, the Devil supposedly landed in a bramble patch and spat upon the berries in his anger. This is why it's said that  blackberries are no good after 29 September, and why blackberry pie is traditionally eaten on this day (Quick! Use them up before the Devil gets them!). Goose is the meat traditionally eaten at Michaelmas in Britain, but I think that this may be a protestant addition as it supposedly dates back to Queen Elizabeth hearing the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada whilst eating goose, and declared that goose should always be eaten on Michaelmas Day. Perhaps she was eating what was already a traditional meal for the day - does anybody know?

The Benedictine monastery at Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy was built by St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, and according to the legend, by direct command of the Archangel Michael himself, who appeared to the Bishop in a dream on three separate occasions. Some versions of the story  claim that the bishop ignored the Archangel's repeated requests until St Michael burned a hole in the Aubert's skull with his finger. Ignore an Archangel's request at your peril! 

If you have a waffle iron or waffle maker you might like to try this French recipe for "St Michael's Waffles". Obviously to keep it authentic you'll want to make a blackberry syrup to eat them with. Failing that, fresh blackberries (picked before today's feast) and whipped cream would be delicious as well.

(St. Michael's Waffles)

2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4-1 cup milk
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Blend eggs and sugar. Add flour and milk alternately. Beat hard. Add butter and vanilla. The mixture is thin and should spread evenly on the preheated iron. If Gaufres tend to stick, butter both sides of the iron. Serve hot or cold. (thanks to Catholic Cuisine for the recipe)

St Michael's name is invoked four times in the Bible (all texts in full below): twice in the book of Daniel 10:13 and 12); IN the Epistle of Saint Jude where the Jewish tradition of a battle between Satan and Saint Michael over the body of Moses is alluded to (Satan attempted to dupe the Jewish people into the sin of hero-worship by disclosing Moses's tomb to them; Saint Michael had previously concealed the tomb to avoid subjecting the Jewish people to this temptation); and, probably most well known,  in the book of the Apocalypse when Saint Michael and his army of angels vanquish Satan and his demons - the battle at the end of time reflecting the battle at the beginning of time. Interestingly Jesus describes the fall of Satan from Heaven in Luke 10:18: "And he said to them: I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven". Lucifer's fall from grace is described in Isaiah 14. 

Daniel 10:13 But the prince of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days: and behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, and I remained there by the king of the Persians. (Princeps autem regni Persarum restitit mihi viginti et uno diebus : et ecce Michaël, unus de principibus primis, venit in adjutorium meum, et ego remansi ibi juxta regem Persarum. )
 Daniel 12: But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who stands for the children of your people: and a time shall come, such as never was from the time that nations began, even until that time. And at that time shall your people be saved, every one that shall be found written in the book. ( In tempore autem illo consurget Michaël princeps magnus, qui stat pro filiis populi tui : et veniet tempus quale non fuit ab eo ex quo gentes esse cœperunt usque ad tempus illud. Et in tempore illo salvabitur populus tuus, omnis qui inventus fuerit scriptus in libro.)
 Jude: ...When Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he dared not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command you.(Cum Michaël Archangelus cum diabolo disputans altercaretur de Moysi corpore, non est ausus judicium inferre blasphemiæ : sed dixit : Imperet tibi Dominus. )
Revelation 12:7  And there was a great battle in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought, and his angels.  And they prevailed not: neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world. And he was cast unto the earth: and his angels were thrown down with him.(Et factum est prælium magnum in cælo : Michaël et angeli ejus præliabantur cum dracone, et draco pugnabat, et angeli ejus: 8 et non valuerunt, neque locus inventus est eorum amplius in cælo)

The Catholic Encyclopedia also says " According to the Fathers there is often question of St. Michael in Scripture where his name is not mentioned. They say he was the cherub who stood at the gate of paradise, "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24), the angel through whom God published the Decalogue to his chosen people, the angel who stood in the way against Balaam (Numbers 22:22 sqq.), the angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35)."

There are lots of recipes for St Michael's Bannock on the internet -- Bannock is a cakey bread traditionally eaten in Ireland and Scotland. Here's one that's easy and sounds tasty (we haven't tested it yet) from Our house of joyful noise

 St. Michael’s Bannock

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix together:
2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cut in 2 tablespoons butter (not margarine)
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
handful of raisins or currants
On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, then pat into an 8 inch round loaf, and bake on a greased baking tray for 40 minutes... and enjoy!

... I think all this post is missing is the obvious:

Holy Michael, the Archangel, 
defend us in our day of battle. 
Be our safeguard 
against the wickedness and snares of the devil. 
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; 
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, 
by the power of God 
thrust down into hell 
Satan and all evil spirits 
who wander through the world 
for the ruin of souls. 

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, 
defénde nos in proélio, 
cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium. 
Ímperet ílli Déus, súpplices deprecámur: 
tuque, prínceps milítiæ cæléstis, 
Sátanam aliósque spíritus malígnos,
 qui ad perditiónem animárum pervagántur in múndo, 
divína virtúte, in inférnum detrúde. 

Sancte Michael Archangele - defénde nos in proélio - Ora pro nobis!

Monday, 26 September 2011

Toddler catechism fail

We've been using the Baltimore Catechism at home with the children: it's so simple, and straightforward that even the youngest one picks up bits and pieces. As he's only two, we focus on the easy stuff like "Who made you? / God made you" and I thought that things were going well in his little head until...

...yesterday evening he toddled in from the garden with a smeared and dirty face, evidence of a feast in the blackberry bushes. "How did your face get so dirty?" I asked as I wiped his cheeks. The little brows furrowed for a moment, then he suddenly beamed and announced with the certainty of one who has learned his lesson well: "God make my face so dirty!"

I guess we still have some way to go...

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Every life has value

Twitch of the mantilla to Fiorella @ Monstrous Regiment of Women for this utterly inspirational video.

I'd love to know more about this young man's family. After watching this video I couldn't help but think about the baby at the centre of the successful $4.5 million dollar "wrongful birth" lawsuit in Florida. That baby was born with no arms and only one leg; his parents sued as had the ultrasounds been read correctly they would have aborted the baby because of his disabilities.

Given the current moral and ethical climate today,  I wonder whether Nick Vujicic would have been allowed to live, or whether his parents would have had to fight his corner against medical "advice". 

I think this video should be shared widely -- it's a wonderful rebuttal to the "quality of life" arguments put forward for aborting disabled babies. Equally importantly, I think that lack of familiarity with disabled people creates an environment where fear of the unknown panics mothers into aborting children with even minor disabilities. Seeing a person like Nick Vujicic living a happy, fulfilling life goes some way to redress the balance.  Please share this, and show it to your children.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday Menu ideas 2

No photo this time, I'm afraid, but a blissfully simple, very tasty meat-free meal that's scalable from a singleton portion to an extended family. I'm not even going to give weights and measures - just use common sense and make enough to satisfy however many you need to feed... This is also a great fall back as it's a store-cupboard recipe - you can keep everything (except the potatoes) on hand for when you need them. It comes from an American friend of mine: I think that Americans are really good at simple, tasty recipes of this kind. I used to be somewhat snooty about this sort of meal - made from tins from the larder; now I'm grateful for the time saved on days when I'd rather be doing something fun with my children than spending hours in the kitchen. I usually make this with milk or cream, but to get the full benefit of the American store-cupboard cooking it's best made with cream of mushroom soup.

Easy Tuna-fish pie

tinned tuna (drained)
sweetcorn (tinned or frozen; drained if tinned)
potatoes (mashed - with milk, butter, salt and pepper -- or however you like them).
cream of mushroom soup (tin)  - OR milk or cream
optional - grated cheese

Mix tuna, sweetcorn and soup (or milk/cream) in the bottom of a baking dish.
Top with mashed potato.
Sprinkle grated cheese on top, if you like that sort of thing.
Bake at a sensible temperature (say Gas mk 4 / 180C / 350F) for 20-30 minutes.
Enjoy with steamed green beans on the side, or a salad.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Ban on "street prayer" fuels attack on pro-lifers

A French commentator has claimed that the recent French ban on "street prayer" was a critical factor last Saturday's attack on a peaceful pro-life protest in Paris. More than 200 pro-abortion militants from the Partie de Gauche attacked a small group of pro-life advocates who were protesting peacefully and legally outside a hospital that has recently resumed performing abortions (see the full story here). The pro-lifers, from SOS Tout-petits had to be protected by police who were forced to charge to leftist militants on two occasions in order to protect the group of seven pro-lifers praying the Rosary. The militants mocked the pro-life protesters, shouted blasphemous slogans, insulted the Blessed Virgin Mary and slandered the Catholic Church. They physically and verbally attacked protesters on several occasions; "it was pure hatred" said a witness. 

Eyewitness and photographer Anne Kerjean, writing on Nephtar et Nephtali, points out that the leftists have never before taken the risk of mounting a counter-demonstration until the ban on street prayers came into force. This view is supported by the call to action on the Partie de Gauche website which refers to SOS-Tout-petits as "Catholic fundamentalists" and, with reference to the proposed Rosary protest, declares that "the Partie Gauche reminds you that religion has no right to interfere in our secular republic and denounces the fundamentalists who attack women's rights."   Anne Kerjean writes that within a day of the ban on street prayer legislation, the Partie Gauche "demonstrated their cowardice by physically and verbally attacking a small group of men and women who were, thankfully, well protected by numerous policemen". 

She had intended to join the protest, but lost her way and, arriving late, was bewildered to find a large and belligerently aggressive crowd shouting pro-abortion and anti-Catholic slogans where she had expected to find a small, quiet group praying the rosary. Blending into the crowd she took photos, trying get a record of this unexpected event. As she came through the crowd she spotted a line of police officers in riot gear and realised that behind them were seven pro-lifers, quietly praying the Rosary. they looked frightened, and she exchanged glances and smiles of recognition with them. Unfortunately this gave her away as one of the "enemy" and she found herself physically attacked by leftists demanding that she give them her camera; she reports that she was grabbed, pushed and hit, and had several people trying to take her camera and backpack from her while screaming abuse. The police intervened and put her in the "safe zone" with the pro-life protesters; she was later escorted to safety alone by the police.She has put her photos of the event online, and has subsequently been inundated by abuse and threats from members of the Partie Gauche.

Another witness, Jean Vincent at Lesalonbeige, reports that there was originally a larger group of pro-life protesters but that they were split up by aggressive action by the Partie Gauche, leaving the group of seven "stranded" against the hospital railings - cornered (which is why they needed police protection). This second group were (deliberately) prevented from joining the rest of the pro-life group by the Partie Gauche extremists, but  managed were to pray the rosary unimpeded until the 4th decade when they were pelted with eggs by the pro-abortion group which then attacked them from two sides. The police were confused by the tactic, and the protesters were outnumbered more than 5 to 1. The priest who was leading the Rosary and several others were assaulted, thrown to the ground and beaten.
"It is one thing to disagree" writes Jean Vincent, "but to attack peaceful people, praying the Rosary, with a ratio of five to one is shameful". 

Anne Kerjean notes that the groups that had a "call to action" against the Rosary protest included Alternative libertaireLes marxistes révolutionnairesLe parti de gaucheL'Union Syndicale SolidaireLe front de gauche, and Les anarchistes de Montreuil -- or as she puts it wryly "...feminists, transexuals, homosexuals ... and not there for a Techno-Parade -- they were all there for us!"

We saw extraordinary pictures recently from Madrid of warped protesters verbally attacking children praying in the public arena; last Saturday in Paris it seems that the public recitation of the Rosary was as much a motivator to the pro-abortion rainbow coalition as anything else. I've not commented until now on the French law banning street prayer because I've not been sure how I've felt about it. on one hand I sympathise with those who do not want roads provocatively taken over by Muslims on Friday afternoons: this is the supposed motivation behind the legislation. On the other hand, Christine at Laudem Gloriae makes the apt point that the new law could be just as easily applied to a Eucharistic procession or the Paris-Chartres pilgrimage. I think that it's essential that prayer remains in the public sphere, that prayer doesn't become something invisible, something that only happens behind closed doors between consenting adults. So what can we, the average pewsitter, do about this?  Here are a few ideas: say grace when you're out in public. No, it isn't rude or weird or antisocial. Nobody bats an eyelid when people raise a glass of wine in a toast; how much more important is making the sign of the cross, saying grace, and then making the sign of the cross again?! Over the years our family has grown in boldness with this: we used to only say grace if we were in a semi-public space -- having a picnic for example. Then we started saying it in restaurants, and now we say it everywhere. Nobody has ever taken offense -- if we're in a home where grace isn't said, we'll say "we usually say grace at home before a meal, do you mind if we do the same here?" Nobody has ever minded. My husband and I say grace before our meal when we eat out together; we don't flaunt it, but nor do we hide it. We just say it.  OK, perhaps somebody somewhere will think we're a bit odd, but more importantly it's a witness to our Faith, to Our Lord, and is a small sacrifice to make for all the good things that we've been given. 

I was recently at the Treasures of Heaven exhibition at the British Museum with a small group of families on a tour led by a priest. As there are many relics, including more than one relic of the True Cross, we were reminded that these are objects worthy of veneration, not simply "exhibits". Accordingly the priest led us all in adoration of the relic of the True Cross. It was humbling and powerful to kneel and pray in that secular space. I suspect that some people viewing the exhibition might have been a little taken aback, but I'd be surprised if anyone had been offended. I don't know if I would have had the courage to do that if I'd been at the exhibition on my own, but I felt that kneeling and praying before a relic of the cross on which Our Lord suffered and died provided both a powerful witness whilst buttressing  my faith. 

Public prayer can be awkward whether you're used to it or not. Human beings have a natural fear of ridicule, of looking silly, of contempt by our fellow humans. But here's a thought to bolster your courage: look at the photo at the top of this page. Next time you feel sheepish about saying grace in Starbucks or Pizza Express, just think about the seven frail elderly people praying the Rosary surrounded by a violent and baying mob. A few funny looks isn't much to put up with really, is it?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Neonatologist: fight against abortion reflects end of humankind

A French neonatologist involved in the pro-life movement has commented that  the fight against abortion is “eschatological,”, that is, a reflection of the end of the world, the destruction of mankind. LifeSite News reports Dr. Xavier Dor's comments which followed violent attacks by pro-abortion counter-protesters on a legal and peaceful pro-life protest outside a Paris Hospital which has recently re-started performing abortions. The pro-life protesters had to be defended by the police who were forced to charge the counter-protesters twice in order to prevent them harming the pro-life group. The pro-lifers, a group called, SOS Tout-petits (SOS Tiny-ones), managed to pray a complete Rosary under police protection before being escorted away by the police for their own protection. 

Dr Dor commented that the well organised and violent reaction to his group's protest shows how seriously the power of prayer is taken, even when only a few people gather to pray the Rosary for the victims of abortion - babies and mothers - as well as for those who participate in this evil. Apparently there have been no violent reactions to pro-life demonstrations by SOS Tout-petits in the last 12 years, but Dr Dor fears that things are changing. 

His comments remind me of what Mary Wakefield wrote in the Spectator a couple of weeks ago about the change in social attitudes towards abortion : "that abortion is not just a necessary evil, but a jolly good thing. That being pro-choice no longer means just accepting that a woman has a right to decide, but that abortion must be celebrated and all doubters deemed religious nut jobs". This sort of attitude gives protesters a perverse permission to attack pro-life demonstrations as the pro-lifers are seen as "beyond the pale", expressing socially unacceptable opinions. The debate about abortion is changing - the pro-abortion lobby is finding it harder to make any argument based on logic or science (there aren't any), and has to resort to subjective  "rights" and "choices". This makes the pro-abortion reaction "personal" and emotional. I hope and pray that we do not see scenes like those in Paris here in London. Given the current disproportionate bias against Christian belief in the public sphere, I wonder whether our police would protect the legal pro-life protesters or see them as trouble-makers and ask them to move on?

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I never thought I'd like a bouncy-castle church...

...but this inflatable church, made in Poland to be used in Russia is absolutely brilliant! Father Krzysztof Kowal the Catholic parish priest of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the far East of Russia had requested permission to build a Catholic church in the area but had been turned down repeatedly by the uncooperative local government. A novel solution was proposed by a Polish friend, Robert Wojcik, whose usual business is  building inflatable toys for children in Kolobrzeg, Poland. Wojeck created an inflatable gothic-style chapel, weighing 100 pounds and easily transportable. Being a temporary structure and inflatable means that Fr. Kowal can dodge the planning restrictions that have thus far thwarted his efforts. The inflatable chapel will be the first Catholic church on the Kamchatka Peninsula. 

"This is a real Gothic structure which stirs a lot of interest. Many people are unaware that there is a Catholic priest in the city, as there is no real Catholic church; and when we get together at home people think we are some kind of a sect," the priest said. Before the arrival of the inflatable church local Catholics gathered in homes, hotel rooms or outdoors near rivers or lakes for Mass. Because the inflatable chapel is portable Fr. Kowal will be able to move it to suit the needs of his congregation in the winter months when the weather is often -40'C. I can only guess that there aren't many Catholics in the region, as the inflatable church appears to be tiny.

Clearly this isn't an ideal scenario -  you can only imagine the potential for abuse in the wrong environment - but the various news reports about this consistently point to a local government unwilling to allow the construction of a Catholic church, simply because it is a Catholic church. This isn't an unusual situation in Russia -- two days before the inflatable chapel arrived in Kamchatka, a chapel boat carrying the relics of eight saints began a voyage down the Volga in an attempt to reach communities where there is no church. The chapel boat is an ecumenical project between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church and carries the relics of John the Baptist, Anne, Bartholomew the Apostle, the martyrs Stephen and Lawrence, George, John Chrysostom and Cyril, the missionary to the Slav people, all of whom are important to both Churches. The relics are a gift from the Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the boat has been paid for by Aid to the Church in Need who help the persecuted church with both practical and spiritual aid. Help them to help priests like Father Kowal.

Hopefully the publicity generated by this story - and by Father Kowal's novel solution to bureaucratic intransigence - will encourage the authorities to allow the construction of a dignified, permanent church for the Catholics of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Things could be much worse -- and much more expensive: an inflatable church might not be your cup of tea, but at least it looks like a church unlike this

or, closer to home, this.

Photo Credits: (inflatable church),  and Wikipedia (Liverpool and LA Cathedrals)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Who says traditional habits aren't cool?

OSB: The original hoodies
Photo: BroDavidOSB

We've had a really nice Benedictine Brother visiting our parish recently, much to the interest of my eldest son who is 9.   After Mass this morning I reminded my son -- as always -- that it's anti-social to walk around with the hood of his jumper worn up.

"Sorry mum, you can't ask me to put my hood down any more..." was his reply "...I'm practising to be a Benedictine."


Friday Menu ideas 1

I'm delighted by the reestablishment of the Friday penance. Although we've been observing the traditional meatless Friday since the children were small only a few Catholic families that we're friends with have done the same which has lead to comments ranging from "ooooh, aren't you good" (not particularly, actually, but we do make an effort to do the penance)  to "isn't that a bit old fashioned" (your point is?) and "my Granny used to do that". Now we're not the only Friday fisheaters on the block, and I'm really glad -- not because the silly comments will cease, but because my children will see their friends doing as we've always done which will reaffirm and confirm a small part of their Catholic identity.

Given how expensive a lot of fish is, and how gloriously tasty a good vegetarian Indian take-away can be, we've added a few other rules over the years. We try to keep things simple, modest and inexpensive on Fridays in addition to cutting out meat, although as I've had to point out to one of my  sons, this doesn't mean that we aren't allowed to enjoy our food ("Mum, this soup is too tasty for a Friday!" Oh dear!)

I'm going to try to share a few easy Friday meal ideas over the next weeks -- take them or leave them, change them or adapt them. The best recipes are the ones that you try and tweak to make your own. Bon appétit!

Spinach Soup (it's a meal in itself with some good bread).
(serves 10 as main meal - reduce proportions for smaller number or save the rest: it freezes beautifully):

1 kg frozen spinach
500g onions
6 med/lg sized potatoes peeled and quartered
6 crushed garlic cloves (or to taste - we all like Garlic)
salt *or* Marigold vegetable stock powder
glug of olive oil

Sweat onions and garlic in olive oil until soft in large casserole, then add potatoes and cover with water (approx 2l). Simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes coming apart. Add spinach - cook for 4-5 minutes, gentle simmer. If using frozen spinach, stick it straight into the pot (don't bother to defrost) add a few minutes cooking time. Add salt and pepper to taste. Or add pepper and  Marigold vegetable stock powder to taste.

If you have a stick blender (hand blender) whizz up the soup until it is smooth. Otherwise do the same with a potato masher. It's thick, tasty and satisfying and, unbelievably, children (even sceptical visiting ones) love it.

Speedy method for cheats: buy your spinach, onions and garlic pre-chopped and frozen (Waitrose or Sainsbury's both do decent chopped onions and garlic). If you keep these in the freezer you'll have a potential meal ready with the addition of a few potatoes.

Cost for 10 people: less than £5; considerably less if you buy your potatoes at Lidl, chop your own onions and garlic and use frozen spinach. Practically free if you grow the stuff yourself.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A tale of two murders: where the logic of abortion leads

Dead seals: not as shocking as dead babies 

Two news stories about murder caught my eye this week, both in western Canada. One was, thankfully, a non-murder -- the abduction of a young child from his home in the middle of the night -- everyone feared the worst, but he was returned unharmed to the family home. The other case was that of a newborn, strangled after birth by his mother, and his body dumped over a neighbour's fence. This, as reported by Lifesite News,  was also a non-murder, at least according to the judge who downgraded the mother's sentence from Infanticide (4 years) to a suspended sentence last Friday in the Alberta Court of Appeal. The sentence had already been downgraded from murder (with a maximum life sentence) to Infanticide (with a maximum of five years in jail) last May. The most recent downgrading of the sentence means that the mother will serve a maximum of sixteen days in jail for the crime of disposing of her baby's body by dumping it over a fence, but no punishment at all for the murder itself. 

The judge, Justice Joanne Veit of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, explained that the logic behind this relates to Canada's lack of abortion laws which, she said, reflects that  "while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support," and went on to say that "Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant's death, especially at the hands of the infant's mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother."

Ahhhh. So this is basically just a late term abortion then? And that makes it OK. And abortion is a "less than ideal solution"? A solution for whom? And "less than ideal" for whom?  

You'd imagine that this shocking case would be all over the Canadian media, and that there might even be a debate about whether or not abortion and infanticide are legally equivalent, and perhaps whether or not it might just be a good idea to consider implementing some abortion laws just in case somebody decides to, say, "abort" their pesky teenager when they get fed up with them. But no. I've just done a cursory search of several national and regional Canadian papers, and unless you actually search for this case by name, nothing appears. What there *is* a lot of is "what if" and "wouldn't it have been awful if..." articles about the abducted child. 

I'm not trying to minimise the awfulness of having a child abducted, nor the horror of what might have happened. But I'm rather shocked that there isn't at least as much furore about what just happened in a courtroom where the murder of a born child was swept under the carpet because, hey, people don't mind killing the unborn here in Canada so we need to be a little more understanding of those mothers who can't cope with their born children. Presumably if the abducted toddler's mother had simply decided to strangle him and dump his body in a neighbour's garden, then it wouldn't be a news story at all. 

And before I'm accused of having no compassion for the mother who killed her child, I can assure you that I do, and that I have prayed and will pray again for both her and her child. However this does not change the fact that she murdered her child and that a judge, echoing the views of Princeton Bioethicist Peter Singer ('Simply killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person.'') decided that murder of a newborn simply isn't murder. 

Lifesite News has a good angle on the argument that cases of postpartum depression should excuse infanticide:
Post-partum depression, this decision would seem to indicate, serves as an excuse to strangling your newborn. If you can prove you were depressed, killing your child is something that is understandable and if you listen to this judge, acceptable. If abortion advocates actually believe that women are so fragile after childbirth that strangling their child is understandable, I wonder what they would say if the same judge proposed that new mothers have to prove their sanity before taking custody of their newborn children? It is absurd to simultaneously claim that women are strong enough to do anything they choose in the world, but that childbirth, something they are biologically designed to do, will result in a spasm of murder. The only natural instinct abortion advocates believe women lack is the maternal instinct.
None of this should be surprising:  if you allow abortion without restriction, the next logical step is to legalise infanticide. I mean, you could argue, theoretically, that any baby could possibly have been born a few days later, which would mean that they could, theoretically, have still been in utero when they were killed, so it's not infanticide, right? Wrong. Just plain wrong. 

Pro-life advocates have warned about this sort of slippery slope thinking for years, and have been called alarmists. How could abortion possibly lead to infanticide? It's easy when you can make the argument that infanticide is more ethical than abortion. Two bioethicists have published an enthusiastic defence of the Groningen Protocol, and in 2005 a pair of Dutch doctors belonging to a team who use the Groningen Protocol to end the lives of newborns reported that 600 of the 1000 babies each year who die in their first 12 months in the Netherlands die as a result of a deliberate medical decision: either passive (withdrawl of treatment) or active euthanasia. 

Welcome to the Brave New World.

...And if you're wondering why there's a photo of a seal hunt at the top of this post, it's because if you google "Canada's shame" you get loads of stories about why it's wrong to kill baby seals. But not one about why it's wrong to kill baby humans. 

Photo credit: Russiablog

Monday, 12 September 2011

Unambiguously Pro-Life cover story in this week's Spectator magazine

There's an interesting article on abortion in this week's Spectator. Assistant Editor, Mary Wakefield outs herself as a "religious nutjob" (read: "Catholic") but makes a cogent argument for the the pro-life case without recourse to her religious belief, thereby making it accessible to anyone with a scrap of logic or humanity in them. She points out that "you don’t have to be Catholic, or even Christian, to think it odd to adopt a completely cavalier attitude towards the unborn."

Science is on the side of the pro-life movement. Presumably this is why the pro-abortion movement's rhetoric circles with great sophistry around the false mantra of "choice" (for whom?) and avoids the stark realities of icky science bit. You know, the bit that makes it impossible that the pre-born are not human. The bit that shows what happens to those tiny human beings who don't have a "choice" but who are the victims of somebody else's "choice". This week James Preece makes the point that the Wikipedia account of the abolition of the slave trade does not "tell the charming story of how William Wilberforce suggested abolishing the slave trade and everybody said "what a jolly good idea" but of "a long protracted campaign that had to contend with vested business interests and even claims that those who opposed slavery were traitors in the war against France. It tells of lost vote after lost vote after lost vote." He draws an acute parallel with the campaign to bring an end to abortion. I think that ending abortion is an even more difficult battle as the multifarious vested interests permeate all levels of society on a global scale, and the victims are easier to push "out of sight". The parallel still holds though, and the difficulties in the struggle are no reason to let up the pressure to end the mass slaughter of millions of innocents every year.

There is a personal twist to Mary Wakefield's article. She and her twin brother were born at 29 weeks, she writes, at a time when the upper limit for abortion was 28 weeks. " I was a premature baby, my twin brother and I were born over two months early, at around 29 weeks. We were tiny and I was covered in hair like a spider. As we fought for our lives in incubators, at that time in the mid-Seventies, the abortion limit was just a week earlier: 28 weeks. As we struggled to breathe, elsewhere, a few of our tiny, spidery peer group were being killed. And so I feel this one personally, from the perspective of the voiceless pre-born."

She attacks the "strange and unpleasant consensus which has risen up .... not just on the left, but across the centre too, and throughout Westminster ... from the debate about [Nadine Dorries’s ill-fated abortion bill] ... that abortion is not just a necessary evil, but a jolly good thing. That being pro-choice no longer means just accepting that a woman has a right to decide, but that abortion must be celebrated and all doubters deemed religious nut jobs".

The article describes the commentariat's hysterical reaction: [they said] "first of all, it’s absolute nonsense to say that we need fewer abortions. Second, those who frown on abortion might be awarded contracts. Christians for example." Oh the horror. We have come to a place in human history where believing that killing a child in the womb might not be the best outcome for both mother and child is controversial and would exclude anyone holding it from being involved in counselling women with "crisis pregnancies". Have mercy on us!

Wakefield acknowledges that most Catholics were against the Dorries proposal anyway, but wonders why the simple act of publicly questioning whether it might be a good thing to reduce the abortion rate is so controversial, citing the hounding of Dr Liam Fox for stating that he would support any measure that reduced the number of abortions in the UK: "I think the level is far too high" he said. What ensued was what Wakefield calls a "Fox hunt": "Instead of commending him on an uncharacteristic burst of common sense, a Halloo! went up across Fleet street and spread across the Twittering classes. What on earth does Fox mean, ‘too high?’ What a bigot! What a misogynist!"

I was surprised and pleased to see such an unambiguously pro-life article as the cover story of an influential mainstream publication: Mary Wakefield deserves praise for this. She makes many interesting and logical anti-abortion arguments including the ethical/utilitarian (adoption), politically correct (father's rights), neuroanatomy (if scientists think that dolphins should be "given rights", how much more deserving are unborn humans?), and blunt ("so how do you feel about killing kittens then?").

Wakefield's overarching point is that "it doesn’t make you a bigot to be melancholy about the considered killing of 200,000 embryos a year ... it just makes you human". It's worth going over to and reading it now before it goes into the subscriber's archive.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Litaniae Beatae Virginis Mariae

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

Happy Feast Day of Our Lady's Birth!

I found this exerpt from a sermon by St John Damascene (A.D. 676-754/787) thought-provoking reading for today's celebration:

Joachim and Anne were the parents of Mary. Joachim kept as strict a watch over his thoughts as a shepherd over his flock, having them entirely under his control. For the Lord God led him as a sheep, and he wanted for none of the best things. When I say best, let no one think I mean what is commonly acceptable to the multitude, that upon which greedy minds are fixed, the pleasures of life that can neither endure nor make their possessors better, nor confer real strength. They follow the downward course of human life and cease all in a moment, even if they abounded before. Far be it from us to cherish these things, nor is this the portion of those who fear God. But the good things which are a matter of desire to those who possess true knowledge, delighting God, and fruitful to their possessors, namely, virtues, bearing fruit in due season, that is, in eternity, will reward with eternal life those who have laboured worthily and have persevered in their acquisition as far as possible. The labour goes before, eternal happiness follows. Joachim ever shepherded his thoughts. In the place of pastures, dwelling by contemplation on the words of sacred Scripture, made glad on the restful waters of divine grace, withdrawn from foolishness, he walked in the path of justice. And Anne, whose name means grace, was no less a companion in her life than a wife, blessed with all good gifts, though afflicted for a mystical reason with sterility. Grace in very truth remained sterile, not being able to produce fruit in the souls of men. Therefore, men declined from good and degenerated; there was not one of understanding nor one who sought after God. Then His divine goodness, taking pity on the work of His hands, and wishing to save it, put an end to that mystical barrenness, that of holy Anne, I mean, and she gave birth to a child, whose equal had never been created and never can be. The end of barrenness proved clearly that the world's sterility would cease and that the withered trunk would be crowned with vigorous and mystical life. Hence the Mother of our Lord is announced. An angel foretells her birth. It was fitting that in this, too, she, who was to be the human Mother of the one true and living God, should be marked out above every one else. Then she was offered in God's holy temple, and remained there, showing to all a great example of zeal and holiness, withdrawn from frivolous society. When, however, she reached full age and the law required that she should leave the temple, she was entrusted by the priests to Joseph, her bridegroom, as the guardian of her virginity, a steadfast observer of the law from his youth. Mary, the holy and undefiled, went to Joseph, contenting herself with her household matters, and knowing nothing beyond her four walls. In the fulness of time, as the divine apostle says, the angel Gabriel was sent to this true child of God, and saluted her in the words, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Beautiful is the angel's salutation to her who is greater than an angel. He is the bearer of joy to the whole world. She was troubled at his words, not being used to speak with men, for she had resolved to keep her virginity unsullied. She pondered in herself what this greeting might be. Then the angel said to her: "Fear not, Mary. Thou hast found grace before God." In very deed, she who was worthy of grace had found it. She found grace who had done the deeds of race, and had reaped its fulness. She found grace who brought forth the source of grace, and was a rich harvest of grace. She found an abyss of grace who kept undefiled her double virginity, her virginal soul no less spotless than her body; hence her perfect virginity. "Thou shalt bring forth a Son," he said, "and shalt call His name Jesus" (Jesus is interpreted Saviour). "He shall save His people from their sins." What did she, who is true wisdom, reply? She does not imitate our first mother Eve, but rather improves upon her incautiousness, and calling in nature to support her, thus answers the angel: "How is this to be, since I know not man? What you say is impossible, for it goes beyond the natural laws laid down by the Creator. I will not be called a second Eve and disobey the will of my God. If you are not speaking godless things, explain the mystery by saying how it is to be accomplished." Then the messenger of truth answered her: "The Holy Spirit shall come to thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. Therefore He who is born to thee shall be called the Son of God." That which is foretold is not subservient to the laws of nature. For God, the Creator of nature, can alter its laws. And she, listening in holy reverence to that sacred name, which she had ever desired, signified her obedience in words full of humility and joy: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word." 

St Anselm's prayer written  in honour of Our Lady's Nativity

Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O sacred Virgin; give me strength against thine enemies, and against the enemy of the whole human race. Give me strength humbly to pray to thee. Give me strength to praise thee in prayer with all my powers, through the merits of thy most sacred nativity, which for the entire Christian world was a birth of joy, the hope and solace of its life. 


When thou wast born, O most holy Virgin, then was the world made light. 
Happy is thy stock, holy thy root, and blessed thy fruit, for thou alone as a virgin, filled with the Holy Spirit, didst merit to conceive thy God, as a virgin to bear Thy God, as a virgin to bring Him forth, and after His birth to remain a virgin. Have mercy therefore upon me a sinner, and give me aid, O Lady, so that just as thy nativity, glorious from the seed of Abraham, sprung from the tribe of Juda, illustrious from the stock of David, didst announce joy to the entire world, so may it fill me with true joy and cleanse me from every sin.
 Pray for me, O Virgin most prudent, that the gladsome joys of thy most helpful nativity may put a cloak over all my sins. O holy Mother of God, flowering as the lily, pray to thy sweet Son for me, a wretched sinner. 

Mater Amabilis, Ora Pro Nobis!

Prayer and St. Anslem's Sermon from Fisheaters
Maredonian Icon of  the Birth of The Theotokos, from IconStudio 

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

What is "Catholic Coke" doing on the YouCat website?

I don't know who has editorial control of the YOUCAT website, but the inclusion of the "Catholic Coke" video on a page that describes its function thus:
What moves you? Two minutes can flitter away quickly ... But in two minutes, you can also say a lot - and learn a lot! Have a good listen...
 seems utterly inappropriate, not to mention scandalous. Am I missing something or is this really offensive? What is anyone going to "learn" about the Catholic Faith from this video? It makes me feel queasy.

(I'm not sure how to link directly to the embedded video on the YOUCAT page, but have linked to the source on YouTube).

Monday, 5 September 2011

Living the Faith, Radically. Make up your own mind!

For those who weren't at the talk, here it is. Listen and make up your own minds. Listening again, I still think it's great. Oh, and you can play spot the blogger in the audience as well. Extra points if you spot two Guild of Blessed Titus Brandsma bloggers sitting side-by-side.


Yesterday we said goodbye to a young Romanian woman who has been living with us for the last four and a half months. She's not Catholic - she's Romanian Orthodox, but (like most young people she knows) very lapsed. Initially she came to Mass with us because we asked her to, but she soon began coming because she wanted to, although not every week. She made Mary's crown for our Parish's Crowning of Mary, and immersed herself in prayer during our EF parish masses. She's also often joined in enthusiastically with our family prayers.

As we said our last goodbyes, I gave her a rosary, a miraculous medal and one of the ACN rosary leaflets. She welled up with tears at the rosary and said that she'd always wanted one, but didn't know where to get one. I think she's going to use it. She said that she's going to try to find a Catholic Church when she gets home.

Please join me in praying that she does.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Campaign for Real Catholic Camping

We've just returned from a camping trip in the North of England where mud is thicker, stickier and, well, muddier than it is down in the soft southern climes that we're used to. It was cold and it rained and the wind howled up on the moors but we were safe and warm and cozy in our very Catholic tent.

Catholic tent?

Well, if you can split digital technology into Catholic and Protestant as Umberto Eco apparently did* then I don't see why you can't have Catholic tents. And if there is such a thing as a Catholic tent, then my lovely bell tent is it. Here's why:

  • Tried and tested - design hasn't changed significantly since the 12th C, and not at all since the 18th. The design is simple and elegant, strong and utterly weatherproof. There are modern versions -- we can call then Episcopalian bell tents if you like -- with nylon guy-ropes (ugh!) instead of hemp, and spring-loaded metal poles instead of wooden ones,  and zips (zips!) instead of dutch lacing, and rubber mud-flaps instead of hessian, but these are about as Catholic as a Barbie Doll in a Biretta  and quite frankly if you aren't going to have the real thing you'd be as well going the whole hog and getting a nylon pop-up tent.
  • It's often the last tent standing: we've been the only tent remaining after severe weather on several occasions over the years, when our fellow campers have blown-away, had plastic (poly-carbon-wotsit) tent-poles snap, had leaky roofs, wind-torn nylon walls and have been forced to pack up, our tent has remained solidly anchored, built to withstand whatever weather it encounters.
  • People are curious / hostile / amused by it at first, but often impressed in the long run. We're often asked "why" we chose this tent over a "normal" one - the answer is easy: it's fast to pitch (one person can do it in 10 minutes, two in 5), utterly weather-proof, has beautiful light inside, is warm in the cold and cool in the warmth, and, for those of a green bent, is utterly ecologically sound - it can always be repaired easily if need be, but if abandoned, it will eventually break down leaving only a few metal eyelets to show that it existed. I have a friend in her late 50s who has a bell tent that her parents acquired when she was 10; they had been given it second hand from a woman who had owned it for at least 30 years before that. My friend still uses her tent several times a year and reckons that her children will be using it for decades once she's past her camping days.

Bell tents are simple yet robust - traditionally they slept up to 13 men each, each sleeping with his feet up to the central pole. They're inexpensive to buy, and last pretty much forever. If you forget to bring your pole, you can do as a friend of mine did and simply cut down a sapling and use it in place of a pole. Bell tents are still used by the army for relief work in trouble spots, particularly camps for displaced persons, as they're robust, yet comfortable enough for a family to live in, if need be, for an extended period. The light that comes through the white canvas is lovely as well. They do have a downside -- they're heavy: you wouldn't want to go hiking with one, but as most people go camping in a car, the downside isn't really relevant.

Oh, and every Catholic tent needs a good Catholic flag! I highly recommend getting a telescopic flagpole to take camping with you, and flying the Papal flag: we've been doing it for years. The supervisor at the top secret location we were camping in said to me on our last morning, "You know, your papal flag has caused no end of consternation this week"  (verbatim). I think he meant interest, not consternation, but what I thought was most curious was that people had *recognised* the flag. Is Lancashire still Catholic at heart?  Apparently he had been asked if there was a "Catholic group" camping, "no, just a Catholic family" he'd told people. Usually we just get hippies hiking past saying "cool flag, man" clearly not having a clue what it is. People fly all sorts of crazy things around their tents when camping - we've got some whirly-dragonflies and a windsock as well as some colourful bunting -- so why not a papal flag as well? Why not give it a try next time you're camping?


I want some papal bunting too. I noticed that Father Simon Henry has some particularly fine bunting made from miniature papal flags at the entrance of St Catherine Labouré when we traveled across Lancashire for Mass there last Sunday. It was well worth the trek for the Sunday morning Low Latin Mass, lovely to see Fr. Simon again as well as meeting a priest friend of his. We were given a really warm welcome, despite being slightly scruffy, having spent several nights in a muddy field on the moors.

The church is a really good example of how a previously soul-less modernist space can be salvaged with a little thought and some traditionally-minded reordering (or should that be retro-ordering?). The wooden High Altar is particularly fine, and there's a lovely statue of St Catherine Labouré. I wanted to get a closer look at the Tabernacle but it was obscured by the Mass cards; it looked rather beautiful from what I could see and I'm going to keep an eye out next time we're up there.


**(btw, I'm so not an Apple person, largely because I find their "hey, are you a cool Apple sort of person like us or some kind dorky loser who uses a PC?" campaign offensive. Not to mention that the last time I upgraded my computer (admittedly 4 years ago so things may have changed), it would have cost twice as much to have the same spec on an Apple as it did on a Dell. I decided that I was happy to be an unhip-PC-using dork and save a grand).