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Wednesday, 31 December 2008



A relatively short post today on this final day of the year, with some photographs to remind us of Christmas 2008 at Our Lady's Chapel, Stronsay, Orkney. As promised in my previous post, I am pleased to show a few photographs of the Crib erected outside our Chapel, virtually at the entrance to the quay, where it offers a Christmas reminder and welcome to those both coming from the ferry, and those boarding it.
These you will find at the end of this post.

Our Lady's Chapel looked particularly beautiful for Midnight Mass which was celebrated there by Fr Michael Mary, Superior of the F.SS.R, with the Rector, Fr Anthony Mary F.SS.R. and the full community of monks from Golgotha Monastery, Papa Stronsay, in attendance. We had a sung Mass with the beautiful plain chant Mass no.2. - In festis 1 classis. 1 (Kyrie fons bonitatis); Credo no.1; together with the full Proper of the 'Ad Primam Missam- in nocte'. Prior to Mass we had carols from 11p.m. to midnight.

The Chapel looked beautiful with an abundance of real flowers, the lovely Crib with the Infant Jesus which apparently had only recently been acquired in Rome, and six magnificent and imposing large silver candleholders with lighted candles on the altar
The Crib was set up on the sanctuary facing the congregation, on the Gospel side and just behind the Communion rail, surrounded by a virtual phalanx of silk flower-heads of mostly gentle colouring, with six lighted candles around. From the impressive ornate sanctuary lamp hanging from the centre of the chapel ceiling, hung four red and gold draperies stretched across the sanctuary, two either side.

This beautiful statue of 'Our Lady of Victories'occupies a special niche in Our Lady's Chapel.

It stands between 3 to 4 feet high.

Outside the Chapel the monks had built a fine Crib, with completion only the day before! It was built using heavy concrete type blocks, with heavy duty roof joists and solid corrugated steel roof, designed and built to withstand the fickle and frequently wild Orkney weather. It was a job very well done, which when lit up and occupied by the Holy Family, shepherds, sheep and cattle, looked very striking - and dare I say it, almost inviting!

Thank you Fr Michael Mary F.SS.R, Fr Anthony Mary F.SS.R, and all you good F.SS.R Brothers, for making our Christmas celebrations at Our Lady's Chapel very special, in particular the lovely Church decorations and the Beautiful Crib, the devout sung Mass and liturgy, the fine singing, and the opportunity to share with all your Community the joys of this great feast-day. Thank you for all you do, seen and unseen, and we thank God and Our Blessed Lady for all the blessings and graces that you bring to us all. This naturally includes Fr Clement Mary F.SS.R. and the F.SS.R Brothers a long way from home in Christchurch, New Zealand. Wishing you all a holy, happy, and blessed New Year 2009.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Cold and wet and windy - DEO GRATIAS

'Snowman' - painted by Sammy, from the Congo, who is in his 11th year of a sentence of Life Imprisonment in Zambia.

To be absolutely honest, this last week has been a time of mixed fortune. The weather has been intermittently wild with winds gusting around 75 mph, with torrential rain, which meant that the house was cold in spite of the central heating and an open fire in the lounge, and even with two sweaters I found it impossible to keep warm. We have a problem when the wind blows fiercely from the S.E. or S.W., as it did most of the time, accompanied by heavy rain, as the water finds its way through the stone walls, ending up dripping persistently onto the window sills of the two large front windows, necessitating the strategic siting of numerous large plastic bowls (including kitchenware), to catch the drips and prevent water damage, plus the spread of several large old towels and sheets over the window sills and on the adjoining carpet! To some extent I blame myself for this sad state of affairs, in as much as I was responsible for removing the rendering from the front of the house two years ago - very necessary as the old rendering was hollow and potentially dangerous, also it was not rain-proof and was ugly, particularly emphasised by the missing rendering from each end of the house which fell off virtually of its own accord, apparently as a result of poor workmanship, some years before we moved in. Up to now these end walls have been no problem with no sign of any damp, but it is the front of the house that is the problem. As far as re-rendering is concerned, both the front and two end walls will have to be done, which involves considerable cost. I also quite like the look of the bare stonework, in fact I prefer it to a rendered finish, and I half-hoped that somehow the rain would not actually infiltrate, and that I could get away with perhaps a modest amount of re-pointing. The experience of the last few days has rather destroyed this myth, and I have decided that something must be done as soon as possible, probably in the spring. The administrative wheels are already in motion, and all being well the days of extraneous buckets and towels are numbered!

Having said that, I must also say that if this is all I have to really worry about, then I am very fortunate. We don’t have earthquakes or volcanoes, typhoons or tornados, devastating floods or droughts, forest or prairie fires, the list of natural disasters is endless, so what have I got to complain about? The answer is nothing at all. Indeed I thank God for all my blessings in life, my wife and family, my friends, my health and material blessings, and above all for my Catholic faith which, through God's goodness, illumines our way in this life and gives us holy hope for the next. We are very fortunate to have here the priests of the ‘Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer’ (F.SS.R), to provide our spiritual needs. Under the Superior General, Fr Michael Mary, the F.SS.R. have recently been reconciled with Rome, having been out of favour for the last 25 years or so as a result of their adherence to the Latin Mass, traditional liturgy, and traditional teaching of the Church, much of which had been relegated to the back-burner since Vatican 2 (1965). There are now recognisable signs and real evidence that the modernist and liberal thinkers have had their day, and that their time is fast running out. The Holy Father, initially single-handed, condemned in particular,the liturgical abuses and malaise of the modern Church, endorsing by word and deed the value and need for a return to Catholic orthodoxy, a view fast gaining favour at all levels of the hierarchy. With the ‘Motu Proprio’(2007), the Holy Father invited, indeed pleaded with, all those ‘out of favour’ traditionalist priests and religious to reconcile fully with Rome, and thus add their considerable numerical and spiritual support to the Church in its mission of Catholic renewal and evangelisation. The F.SS.R responded positively to this invitation of the Holy Father, a response which in their particular circumstances, demanded great faith, real courage, and total loyalty to the See of Peter. Up to that time, the F.SS.R.(also known as the Transalpine Redemptorists) had maintained a close working relationship with the Society of St Pius Xth (SSPX) and were responsible for the production and distribution worldwide of the traditional newspaper ‘Catholic’. So far the SSPX has not reconciled with Rome, and indeed certain members have publicly ridiculed Fr Michael and his community for doing so. Many accusations, conjectures and baseless suppositions,have been made; the sale of the ‘Catholic’ to traditional SSPX congregations in the UK, USA, S.Africa, India, and Asia, has been banned, with significant financial implications for the F.SS.R. You may well ask what the reasons are for this public condemnation and punishment. Surely the acknowledgement of, and practical recognition of, the Holy Father as Head of the Church on earth, is not a crime. Indeed this acknowledgement is obligatory for all Catholics. Only one priest from the Community, Fr Nicholas, dissented from the reconciliation with Rome, and he has chosen to remain on Stronsay, living in a rented house with his mother. The small, but previously close Catholic community on Stronsay has been divided, with some remaining true to, and supporting Fr Michael and the F.SS.R., and others allying themselves to Fr Nicholas. It has to be asked whether such division was necessary, for it certainly is not good. With the ‘Motu Proprio’(2007) of Pope Benedict XVIth, we - the supporters of Fr Michael, have and will continue to have the traditional Latin Mass every day in Our Lady’s Chapel. We believe the same traditional articles of faith that we have always believed, we receive the same traditional spiritual instruction that we have always received, and our traditional priests are in full unity with Rome and the Vicar of Christ. Our priests have full faculties for hearing confessions, which does not apply to Fr Nicholas, and we have the opportunity for daily Communion. We have a resident priest from the F.SS.R monastery staying on Stronsay itself, currently it is Fr Michael, and we have ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’ with the Blessed Sacrament, open for visits during the day. What more can we ask, and how grateful we are. Sadly our 'separated brethren' do not share our joy. Personal conviction, misunderstanding or ignorance, pressure and influence from others, individually or collectively have combined to alienate those Catholics holding rigidly to the SSPX line, and of course Fr Nicholas is in touch with and has the support of the SSPX, who by their words and deeds, seem intent on trying to destroy all that Fr Michael and the F.SS.R community represent. This will never happen, and hopefully time and awareness will combine to soon dispel existing doubts and fears, so that our community may once again be united. On a much brighter note, we are all looking forward to seeing again the five seminarians of the F.SS.R community who are returning to Papa Stronsay tomorrow for the Christmas vacation, from the FSSP Seminary in Nebraska, USA, where they have been since September. They are truly inspiring young men, and a great credit to the F.SS.R , and we pray that God will bless and Our Lady protect them. Every Christmas here on Stronsay, the monks build a substantial ‘weather-proof’ and ‘wind-resistant’ Crib outside ‘Our Lady’s Chapel’ at the end of the quay. This is under construction at the moment, and I’m sure that as usual, it will be rather special! I will try to get a photograph when completed, and post it on this site. To digress somewhat, we constantly hear deeply depressing news regarding the public comments and behaviour of prominent ostensibly ‘Catholic’ lay figures, who scandalise many souls by their disregard for Church teachings. We also hear of prelates who seem to enjoy showing contempt for the person and unique status of the Holy Father, by ignoring his directions or twisting his words. I always remember as a young man attending a ‘Retreat’ at school given by that wonderful Jesuit priest, Fr Bernard Bassett. I cannot pretend to remember everything he said, it was more than 55 years ago, but one thing I do remember was his description of an organisation, eg.the Church, which he likened to a barrel of apples containing both good and bad fruit, and that ‘because some apples in the barrel are rotten you do not discard the rest, and the barrel of apples still remains - a barrel of apples.’ Thus the Church has bad members, but that does not mean that all members are bad, indeed many are excellent, neither does it detract from the eternal truths held and taught by the Church on the authority of Christ. Hence we will think no more of ‘rotten apples', and instead return our thoughts to the good and generous F.SS.R seminarians of Papa Stronsay, and indeed seminarians everywhere, who give us real joy and hope for the spiritual well-being of the Church militant, both now and for the future. In spite of scandals, disappointments and rejection by the world and even by friends, we should remember Our Lord's words and not be afraid, placing all our hope and trust in Christ, who promised that He would be with His Church for all time, even unto the consummation of the world. Our Lady, Mother of Christ and Help of Christians, pray for us.

Wishing all those who have laboured thus far, a very happy Christmas and New Year. Finally in this Season of Christmas, a time of Christian joy and peace to men of goodwill, I ask pardon for any hurt, injustice, or lack of charity, that I may have been guilty of, in any post or comment at any time. I can be contacted by email on '' should you so wish. Thank you. Brian Crowe.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

'Blessed are the humble,for they shall see God'

With Advent upon us, it seems a good time to reflect on the unchanging wisdom of the early fathers of the Church, particularly those holy monks and hermits, whose lives and teachings have been recorded and passed down through the ages. Some of these are included in a fascinating book, 'The Desert Fathers', translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell, and published by Constable, London, in 1936. There is a link on this site to a post in January this year, regarding the life of Helen Waddell.

"There was in a monastery a certain old man, of most reverend life, and he fell into grievous sickness: and he was wasted with great and intolerable weakness and for a long time travailed in distress, nor could the brethren find any way to succour him, for those things which his sickness required they had not in the monastery. But a certain handmaid of God, hearing of his affliction, entreated the abbot of the monastery that she might take him to her own cell and tend him, more especially as she could more easily find in the city such things as were needful to his sickness. So the abbot of the monastery commanded the brethren to carry him to the cell of the handmaid of God. And she received the old man with all reverence, and for God's sake tended him, in hope of that eternal recompense, which she trusted to receive from our Saviour Christ. For three years and more she had watchfully tended the servant of God, when men of evil heart began to suspect according to the itching of their own minds, that the old man was not clean in his conscience towards the virgin that tended him. And the old man hearing it, entreated the divinity of Christ, saying, "Thou, Lord our God, who alone knowest all things and seest the griefs of my sickness and my misery, and dost consider this infirmity which for so long had wasted me, so that I had need of the nursing of this handmaid of thine, who hath tended me for Thy sake: give unto her, my Lord, her great and due reward in the life eternal, even as thou didst promise in Thy mercy to such as showed kindness for Thy sake to the poor and the sick." And when the day of his passing had drawn nigh, many of the older brethren of the monastery, holy men, came about him, and the old man said to them: "I beseech you, my lords, and fathers, and brethren, that when I am dead ye take my staff and plant it on my grave, and if it take root and come to fruit, then shall ye know that my conscience is clean towards this handmaid of God that tended me. But if it does not put forth leaves, know that I am not clean of her." When therefore the man of God had gone out of the body, the holy fathers planted his staff upon the grave, as he had bidden, and it brought forth leaves, and when the time had come, it bore fruit: and they all marvelled and glorified God. Many came from the neighbouring parts at such a miracle, and magnified the grace of the Saviour, and we ourselves saw the little tree: and we blessed God who in all things defendeth them that serve Him in sincerity and truth."

"When the abbot Macarius, carrying palm leaves, was returning to his cell at dawn, the Devil met him with a keen-edged sickle, and would have struck him, but could not. And crying out at him "Great," he said, "is the violence I suffer from thee, O Macarius, that when I fain would injure thee, I cannot: yet whatever thou dost, I do also, and more. For thou dost fast now and then, but by no food am I ever refreshed. Thou dost often keep vigil; no slumber ever falls upon me. But in one thing dost thou overmaster me, I do myself confess it." And when the blessed Macarius asked him what that might be, "It is thy humility alone," he said, "that masters me." He spoke, and the blessed Macarius stretched out his hands in prayer: and the evil spirit vanished into the air."

"One of the Fathers used to say, "Every labour of the monk, without humility, is vain. For humility is the forerunner of love, as John was the forerunner of Jesus, drawing all men to him: even so humility, draws to love, that is to God Himself, for God is love."

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

'And God Created Man...........'

Assisted suicide is not a subject about which I would normally choose to post, but sadly it appears more and more in the news these days, with numerous secular and humanist societies doing everything possible to make it 'respectable' and ultimately lawful. This is a difficult post to formulate, for inevitably there will be some who would say, "What does 'umblepie' know about suffering, real suffering? What right has he got to expound on 'assisted suicide?" With regard to the first charge, I can only admit to experiencing the normal vicissitudes of life, and with regard to the second charge, I believe that I have every right, as has every person, to express a view on this most important subject.

As Catholics we know that suicide is a grave offence against God, as is 'assisted suicide' which really is just a euphemism for 'murder'. We cannot know people's motives nor their most secret thoughts, nor their guilt in the sight of God - only God knows this, however we can make an objective judgement regarding the morality of actions deliberately taken to erase or destroy life. Wilful and deliberate murder, suicide, assisted suicide, abortion, all are mortal sins forbidden by the 5th Commandment- 'thou shalt not kill'.

We are privileged to know from our Catholic Faith, that this short life is but a preparation for eternity, and that whatever we suffer in this life is as nothing compared with the joy and happiness of Heaven, to which with God's grace, we work, pray and aspire. Suffering in this life is inevitable for all of us, and if humbly accepted as God's will and endured for the love of God, is regarded by the Church and by the Saints as an opportunity for great spiritual consolation and grace.

This leads me to the following open letter which was recently published on the BBC website, and which I think is deserving of considerable praise.

Paralysed after being attacked by neo-Nazis, Noel Martin is planning a trip to Switzerland to commit suicide. Here, disabled broadcaster Liz Carr, who met Noel for a BBC Radio 5 Live report, writes an open letter urging him to think again.

Dear Noel,
Having met you last week, I felt the need to write and continue our discussion about your decision to end your life soon. I don't write this as someone with strong religious or pro-life views but as another disabled person, who like you uses a wheelchair, who became disabled and who needs round-the-clock assistance in their life.
Noel, is your life really not worth living?
In interviews, you repeatedly say that because of your accident, you can't feel, you can't touch the world and can only watch as it passes by. I disagree. Throughout the interview, when we talked for example about your beloved wife who you lost to cancer, you filled up, overcome with emotion.

Former builder - aged 49 - lives in Birmingham, UK
Paralysed from neck down after attack by neo-Nazis in Germany in 1996
Racing enthusiast and race horse owner
Wife, Jacqui, died of cancer in 2000

In a different way, when we discussed your ongoing fights for support and assistance with your care providers, you talked with passion and anger.
You proudly showed me the racing magazine where you were "owner of the month" after your horse won at Ascot. You asked one of your staff to read out the poetry you have written since your accident. You are definitely a man who can feel.
As for not being able to touch the world around you - from an onlooker's point of view this again just isn't true. You appear to touch the world in so many ways.
You have staff who clearly respect you and enjoy working for you. You have family, a grandson and friends. Through the neo-Nazi attack that led to your accident, you have become a celebrity, a campaigner against racism, a fighter for justice. You have organised exchanges for young people from Berlin to come to Birmingham to show them that integration is possible.
You have written your autobiography. In fact Noel, it seems to me that since becoming disabled you have actually touched more people and embraced life in ways that perhaps you wouldn't have if you hadn't had your accident. You are very much alive.
I know that at the moment, your situation is frustrating. Pressure sores - the result, you say, of cutbacks in the health service - mean you've hardly been out of your bed, never mind your house, for many months now.

Wheelchair-friendly beaches
You said that as a disabled person you'll never walk on the beach, be able to stand up and cheer when your football team scores, or kiss the head of your prize-winning racehorse. I think it's too easy for society to promote assisted suicide as a right rather than work to overcome the barriers to supporting older, ill and disabled people to live fulfilled and valuable lives.

Liz Carr
I can really relate to the idea that there are now things you can't do. I used to imagine walking hand-in-hand along a sunset beach with my lover. But the reality of not having four-wheel drive on my electric wheelchair and sinking, immobile into the sand, kept me on terra firma.
But if you're interested, I can let you know where there are beaches with sand so compacted that you can wheel on them with ease; others with boardwalks to the sea and there are now even beach wheelchairs.
Like you, I became disabled. But for me it was at the age of seven, following a childhood illness.
I know adapting to your new life and situation can be difficult. I remember as a teenager being too unwell to go out with my friends, thinking I'd always have to live with my parents and that I'd have no choice but to rely on my mum to look after me. Life wasn't much fun and at times I didn't see any point in the future.
Today, I have the assistance I need that allows me to live in my own home, to have friends, a partner and a career as a comedian. In other words, I have a life I could never have imagined back then.
How? I was lucky enough to get support, advice and information from other disabled people who've been in my situation, who showed me that there was another way and who taught me how to get what I need to live my life.
I know you've received only some of what you need in terms of access and assistance, and this has been hard won. Don't you think it's maddening that so many disabled people remain isolated, uninformed and unsupported in negotiating the confusing world of welfare, health care, social services, legislation, assessments and adaptations.

Scared of illness
Maybe that's why assisted suicide seems to be increasingly seen as an option by disabled people, not just those who are terminally ill.
Worn down, feeling like a burden and with their needs unmet, it's perhaps understandable why people like yourself might choose death. But surely before we even consider assisting people to die, we need to assist them to live.
One of the main problems I have with assisted suicide stories like yours, Noel, is that the media perpetuates the idea that to be disabled or ill must be the greatest tragedy of all. Disability inevitably equals no quality of life.
I know when people read your story, many will agree that yes, if they were in your situation then they would want to die too. Most people are so scared of illness, of disability, of getting older, that wanting assisted suicide is seen as an entirely rational desire. What scares me is that views like these will also be held by the doctors, the media, the courts, the government and all the others who have the power to decide if we live or die.
I'm sure by now you know how I feel about assisted suicide. Until the day when good quality health and social care are universally available regardless of age, impairment, race, gender or location, I believe there is no place for legalised assisted suicide.
I just think it's too easy for a society to promote assisted suicide as a right rather than work to overcome the barriers to supporting older, ill and disabled people to live fulfilled and valuable lives. Forget the right to die, isn't it more urgent that we campaign for the right not to be killed?
We may have differing perspectives on this debate but I think what we share is our respect for each other. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for letting me into your life. I hope your one-way ticket to Switzerland is an open one so we can continue this discussion over the coming years.
Until next time.

Liz Scott.

This letter is inspirational, in that it promotes the value and worth of life, even though only from a pragmatic viewpoint, without any obvious religious or pro-life sentiment. One wonders how much more would be the appreciation and respect for life when recognised and acknowledged as a gift from God. Liz Scott is to be congratulated for her principled stand against assisted suicide, and for having the courage to speak out against the sinister and real threat posed by the pro-death lobby and media, and for her compassion and honesty in her plea to Noe
l Martin. We would do well to remember both Noel and Liz in our prayers.


I think it appropriate to quote just a short extract from a recent post on Philip Johnson's blogsite ...'In Caritate non ficta'. Philip is a 24 year old sailor in the US navy, Catholic and single, who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.
'While medical treatment and knowledge should not be avoided or ignored, we must always remember that we serve an omnipotent God whose plan for us is perfect in every way. In my own life, I often look back many years and realize why my prayers were sometimes "unanswered." God was executing His plan for me, and my desires didn't conform to this plan. This must be remembered as we "persevere in prayer," because God's plan is perfect, even if it involves suffering, hardship, and disappointment. As my beloved spiritual father often comments: "God's plans seldom correspond with our own, but His plans are perfect." I strongly recommend this blogsite and urge all to visit.
St Alphonsus tells us that.... 'the exercise which is most essential to be practised by a soul that desires to please God, is to conform itself in all things to the Divine Will, and to embrace with peace all things that are contrary to the senses in pain, sickness, affronts, contradictions, loss of property, and the death of relatives or of other persons who are dear to us.'

Finally to remind us of our absolute nothingness compared with the omnipotence of Almighty God, Isaiah (55:8-
9) teaches, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Nevertheless we know that we are created by God in His own image and likeness, to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in this world, and to be happy with Him in the next.

Human life is God's creation, and it is for God - not man, to give and to take away.

Friday, 7 November 2008

To do or not to do, that is the question......?

I like to try to post at least once a week but I must admit that it is surprisingly difficult to decide on a subject in which I have an interest, and which will be at least of some interest to those reading it. There are only so many subjects which come into this category, although even as I write, my brain is working overtime - I know that to you who know about these things, this might seem rather implausible (I refer to my brain working overtime!), but I discern that perhaps more subjects come in this category than I at first thought; and would you believe it, in the space of yet a few more seconds I have completed a total about-face, concluding that in fact, there are probably only very few subjects that I could not write about! Having waffled this far I have to admit that I would be restrained by ignorance, disinterest, innapropriateness, laziness, and any number of personal weaknesses and idiosyncracies! Thus yet again in the space of just a few more seconds I return to the point at which I began, and unequivocally conclude that yes.. there are indeed only a limited number of subjects on which I could expound. Having got that off my chest, it is now decision time, what do I write about ....? I have discovered over many years that I am reasonably positive when making decisions for my family or other people, but when it comes to making certain decisions for myself I am almost hopeless! Not every decision I hasten to add, but those lesser decisions around which our lives revolve, such as 'Would you prefer tea or coffee?" Or perhaps on those admittedly rare occasions when I go shopping for a new pair of shoes or a pair of trousers or whatever, I find it excruciatingly difficult to make that final choice. Take shoes for example, do you not find that when trying a new pair of shoes for size, inexplicably one shoe always seems much more comfortable than the other? I have discussed this matter with others and understand that it is very common for people to have fractionally different size feet. Whether my confidants were saying this to be kind or whether this is actually true, I'm not really sure. Take trousers now, I can rarely get a pair that is the correct waist size and the correct leg length. I wonder whether perhaps I am slightly deformed but I don't really think that I am- certainly not noticeably so! So why cannot I get a pair of trousers with 38" waist and 30" leg size? I can only ever get 31" leg size, which is just that irritating 1" too long! It doesn't matter how much I pull my trousers up and how tightly I do my belt, the wretched trouser turn-ups, or the place where in days of old the turn-ups were located, always end up splayed, creased and folded across the top of the shoe, making the trousers look exactly what they are -- too long! Thus the reality is, in such circumstances, that my long-suffering wife is obliged to shorten the trouser leg to the correct length, which itself can bring its own problems, particularly if the trousers come equipped with turn-ups. I suspect that this is a chore which my wife really dislikes, getting the machine out and finding enough room on the table, ensuring that the correct needle for the job is in the machine, and then having to replace it as the first one breaks endeavouring to find a way through the thick corduroy; yes I invariably go for corduroys in the belief that they are tough and hard-wearing, and at the same time reasonably presentable and comfortable. To be absolutely frank, I'm not actually convinced that corduroys are that hard-wearing and long-lasting, judging by the number that I seem to discard with serious frays, tears, and splits! So you see, to cut a long story short, or should I say to trim a long leg, I still haven't really decided what to write about! Ah, I know what I'll do, I will show a picture which tells its own story, complemented by a short quote, with thankfully -I can almost hear you say it, very few words from me.

The picture relates to Christ's resurrection from the dead, when the sorrowing Mary Magdalene went to visit the tomb, and found the entrance stone rolled back, the tomb empty and two angelic figures seated there. 'And they say to her, "Woman why weepest thou?" She saith to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him". When she had said this, she turned around, and beholdeth Jesus standing, and she knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith to her, "Woman why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" She thinking him to be the gardener, saith to him, "Sir, if thou hast carried him away, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will remove him." Jesus saith to her, "Mary!" She turned and saith to him in Hebrew, "Raboni!" - that is to say, "Master!" Jesus saith to her, "Touch me not; for I have not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren, and say to them, 'I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God' " (John 20: 11 - 17)

'But there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written every one, the world itself (I think) would not contain the books to be written' (John 21: 25)

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

They died that we might have peace............

This week will see the beginning of the month of November, the month in which the nation remembers those who died for this Country in all wars, but particularly the Great War 1914-18, and the 2nd World War 1939-45.

Some time ago I acquired a copy of a book, ‘Up the Line to Death. The War Poets 1914-1918’ being an anthology of poems selected by Brian Gardner, and first published by Methuen in 1964.

The following poem by Wilfred Owen epitomises the stark reality and obscenity of trench warfare in the Great War:-

Dulce et Decorum est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.-
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen - killed in action 1918

A week ago the English Parliament approved by a significant majority vote, the Human Tissue and Embryology Bill – otherwise known (to me) as the ‘Bill of Death’, which will allow virtually indiscriminate murder of, and grotesque experimentation on the human embryo, on the grounds of promoting scientific and medical knowledge. In medico/scientific circles it is acknowledged that medical research over several years on the human embryo has produced little or nothing, whereas over a much shorter period, the use of human stem cell research not involving the embryo, has been remarkably successful; yet this crucial fact apparently carried no weight with our politicians, particularly but not exclusively, those in the Labour and Liberal Democratic ranks. It seems that there is something seriously amiss here, almost a deliberate concealment of the failure of embryonic stem cell research, and a deliberate policy to ignore the success of alternative stem cell research. Theoretically this matter was fully aired and discussed in the Commons, but I wonder just how many of the MPs present were fully aware of all the relevant facts, especially as I suspect that those most prominent and vociferous in promoting the Bill, were seen as ‘experts’, from whom every pronouncement - for the benefit of the uninformed majority, assumed an almost Biblical significance. This misguided and intrinsically evil Bill appears to be Gordon Brown’s showpiece, which is why the Labour whip was imposed on all party members to vote for the Bill, and with a few creditable and honourable exceptions, this is exactly what happened. Nevertheless why was no serious credence attached to the proven merits of alternative stem cell research? The spectre of wounded scientific pride and ambition, of commercial and conglomerate interests and investment, of big money and fame, creates a grotesque backdrop to this nightmare scenario. Have the majority of our politicians been hoodwinked and blinded by the assurances of the ‘experts’, assurances which are not commensurate with rapidly accumulating evidence that the best way ahead, medically and scientifically, is through morally acceptable stem-cell research?
You may ask what has this to do with the Great War. Well it occurs to me to ask myself what those who gave their lives would have said, if they had known that within a few generations, their fellow countrymen- in the persons of elected Members of Parliament, would acquiesce without any apparent qualms of conscience, in the ‘legalised’ slaughter of probably millions of innocent unborn children, and this does not include the more than 7 million killed since the Abortion Act 1967. Those who fought and died for their country, ultimately did so for the benefit of future generations. This ‘Bill of Death’ makes a mockery of their patriotic and commonly spiritual idealism, their bravery, and their ultimate sacrifice. They did not want to die, but they did, some 880,000 of them, with a further 1.6 million wounded. The Human Embryo & Fertility Bill represents the antithesis of all that they suffered and died for, and must surely be opposed in every lawful way and at every opportunity, by all right-minded people.

The mood of the poets of the Great War seems to range from idealism and patriotism in the early months, a more stoical realism in the middle years, and anger and despair tinged with desperate hope, in the final stages. Wilfred Owen's poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ as above, describes the horror of gas warfare, and Philip Johnstone’s ‘High Wood’, seen below, offers a cynical appraisal of man’s potential to exploit his fellow men for his own selfish ends, even to the extent of commercialising the ‘ultimate sacrifice’- which surely brings us back to the Human Embryo and Fertility Bill - the Bill of Death!

High Wood

Ladies and gentlemen, this is High Wood,
Called by the French, Bois de Furneaux,
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,
July, August and September was the scene
Of long and bitterly contested strife,
By reason of its High commanding site.
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees
Standing and fallen; here is wire; this trench
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands;
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave.
It has been said on good authority
That in the fighting for this patch of wood
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,
Of whom the greater part were buried here,
This mound on which you stand being……….
Madam, please,

You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company’s property
As souvenirs; you’ll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.
As I was saying, all is as it was,
This is an unknown British officer,
The tunic having lately rotted off.
Please follow me - this way ........
the path, sir, please,

The ground which was secured at great expense
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.
You are requested not to leave about
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel,
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.

Philip Johnstone 1918

In this month of the Holy Souls and particularly on Remembrance Sunday, we pray for the repose of the souls of all those Servicemen and women who gave their lives; 'Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.'

We also pray that with God's grace, our Country will once again recognise the Kingship of Christ and abide by His laws. ‘Our Lady, Help of Christians
, pray for us.’

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Render to God the things that are God's

As a zealous pro-lifer, I have been following the Presidential campaign in the USA with increasing concern, although it has to be said that as we live in Orkney my information comes mainly from the internet, and the rest from the Daily Telegraph. However it seems to me that the media, when reporting on events in the current Presidential campaign, rarely, if ever, mention the issue of abortion.
There seems to be a conspiracy of silence, all the more surprising considering that abortion represents one of today’s greatest, moral and physical threats to humanity (more than 48.5 million abortions recorded in the USA alone since 1973), and which issue, according to many Catholic commentators, may well determine the identity of the next President. Abortion is a political ‘hot potato’, and it would seem that the media prefer to ignore it, and somehow pretend that it doesn’t exist. In this context it is uncanny how world events seem to have played into the hands of the pro-abortionists. We have had a major fall in the value of the world’s Stock Markets, closure and nationalisation of Banks, international seizure of assets, increasing likelihood of a world recession, all of which have currently taken centre stage in world news and affairs. From reports on and in the media, it appears that economic and financial matters have become the ‘be and end all’ of political debate and action. In the Presidential contest, McCain is generally backed by the pro-life lobby, and Obama by the pro-abortion. On the abortion issue, with several million pro-life votes assured, McCain surely holds the aces, and the pre- election debates would seem to have been the right time to play these cards. Unbelievably, virtually nothing seems to have happened and the issue appears to have been effectively ignored. The world monetary crisis has resulted in major moral issues such as abortion, human cloning, etc. being put on the political and media back-burner. It seems that Mammon is more important than God, and more newsworthy. This situation must have suited Obama very well, for with his past pro-abortion record, he was surely on a hiding to nothing in any public debate on this issue, but it didn’t happen. Similarly in the UK, Gordon Brown rather like a phoenix arising from the ashes, has suddenly found himself the saviour of the UK banking and monetary system. The current financial crisis has played into his hands, from being in the 'chorus' a few weeks ago, he now finds himself a star celebrity on the world stage. As ex-Chancellor, money is what he knows about, and money is what makes the world go round. In our materialistic society, nominally Christian but effectively pagan, particularly in the current political arena, Christian morality is fighting for survival. Gordon Brown’s current political baby, the ‘Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill’, if finally approved by Parliament this coming week (October 22nd), will introduce legislation which is evil, unjust and totally atheistic. Official abortion figures in the UK are rising annually, with 193,700 recorded in 2006. This Bill goes further than existing legislation, totally rejecting traditional Christian belief and values, and replacing them with a poisoned chalice of death and destruction, blaspheming God and His creation, shaming and demeaning mankind, and leading souls to perdition.Gordon Brown and his supporters, whether misguided or not, are playing God. There is still time to stop, to reflect on the omnipotence of God and the frailty and limitations of man. Lucifer (the angel of light), in his pride and arrogance, challenged God, inevitably lost and was cast into Hell, together with his legions, for all eternity. All men and women of goodwill (God’s will) who oppose this Bill, will continue to fight the evil that it represents. We know from Christ’s resurrection, that finally and inevitably Good will triumph over Evil, life over death. In Christ’s own words, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven …….” Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.

Monday, 6 October 2008

October thoughts........

Martyrdom of St. Peter .. Guercino 1618

Autumn is here and it is time to arise from summer torpor! First I must mention the ‘Pro Papa League’, with its papal fleet, assembled to do spiritual battle for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVIth, with weapons of prayer and penance. Since the ‘Motu Proprio’(2007), the Holy Father has met with widespread and often barely concealed hostility from certain Catholic leaders, from whom he could reasonably have expected loyalty and obedience. Recently there have been signs of a certain mellowing in attitude, and slowly but perceptibly more and more Bishops are following our Holy Father’s instruction to facilitate the re-introduction of the traditional Latin Mass in dioceses, parishes, and seminaries throughout the world. Many believe, as I do, that the freedom to celebrate this dignified and beautiful ‘Mass of all time’, will significantly revitalise and deepen appreciation of our Catholic faith, will keep many in the Church who might otherwise have strayed, and bring back many lost sheep to the fold, with a corresponding increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This is truly encouraging, but there is much still to be done. Daphne McLeod, see Catholic Action UK , has recently published a report in which she places the blame for the current Church crisis on a failure to teach the truths of the Catholic faith to generations of Catholic children, with poor and inadequate catechesis in both school and pulpit. She holds the view that simultaneously with the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass, Catholic catechesis was programmed to accommodate the 'new' liberal and modernist ethos, and it is as a result of this that the Church is in such a critical state. Speaking as a parent, I believe that the 'ecumenical' practice of joint Catholic/Church of England schools has proved spiritually disastrous for our Catholic children. I can only relate to the period of the late 1970’s early 1980’s, when two of my sons attended such a school, and unfortunately by the time the reality became known, great damage had been done.
Things might have improved over the years, although personally and from what Daphne McLeod says, I rather doubt it. Ignorance of basic Catholic doctrine and practice, false ecumenism, modernism and liberalism, provide a recipe for loss of faith and separation from God. Couple this with weak leadership, Protestantised and un-Catholic liturgical practice, closure of seminaries and churches, role-disorientated clergy and religious, lack of priests, and much else besides, we arrive at the grave situation in which we find ourselves today. Bishop O’Donaghue’s recent ‘Fit for Mission - Schools’ promotes the ideal of true Catholic schools, where the Catholic faith and worship has absolute place of honour, and where a full and true grounding in the Faith would be assured for all the children. Similarly the follow-up to this, ‘Fit for Mission-Parishes’, was a no-nonsense, no holds barred, analysis of what it means to be a true Catholic. No liberal waffle, no blurred definitions, no sociological jargon, but a demand that we take a truthful, critical look at ourselves, and that if we honestly wish to be true Catholics, we must accept and obey God’s commandments and those of His Church. It means that we must take up our Cross in the one true Church, for which over the centuries many brave and loyal Catholic men and women, priests, religious and layfolk, have given their lives. In the words of Bishop O’Donaghue, ‘let us pray for courageous and outspoken Shepherds of the Flock’, true to the tradition and teaching of the Church, and loyal to the Holy Father, who will lead the Church out of this sterile winter into a fertile spring of blossoming faith and spiritual renewal. Please consider adding your support to the aims of the Pro Papa League.


I cannot finish without reference to the following slogan which was shown on an American pro-life blog site, and with thanks to that site:-
“Unborn children should have the same right to be born alive, as had abortionists " - this is an undisputable truth which should be imprinted in the minds and consciences of all those who support abortion, in particular our MPs. My own Member of Parliament supports legalised abortion on (quote) ‘pragmatic’ grounds, yet he is proud of the work that he has done to promote laws guaranteeing ‘equal rights’ and ‘social justice’, particularly for minority rights. He appears blind to the absolute injustice of abortion, where the unborn is denied the right to be born alive. In the USA, ‘abortion’ is a major political issue, with the Republicans led by Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin, supporting the ‘pro-life, anti-abortion’ lobby, and the Democrats led by Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Joseph Biden, promoting the ‘pro- abortion' lobby.

Whatever we might think about the American electoral system, it has to be admitted that the American people generally do not seem to be afraid to be publicly associated with moral and ethical issues, and very many are prepared to speak out loud and clear against the evil of abortion. ‘Abortion’ may well be the dominant issue determining the next President of the USA. We must all pray that good will prevail over evil, as we must also for our own country, where in Parliament the debate continues on the Human Fertility and Embryo Bill, in which so far this Government has proved itself anti-God, anti-Catholic, unethical, and totally materialistic. I wonder if a change of Government would promote a Christian pro-life agenda, we do not know, but we must continue to pray and work for this cause.
These two recent offerings from Paul Nichols say more than a thousand words, and reflect only too well the real and deadly threat of the ‘pro-abortion’ lobby. Grateful thanks to Paul Nichols, Catholic Cartoon Blog, for permission to reproduce his work.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

My Aladdin's Cave

I have to confess that I am one of many people who find it impossible to walk past a second-hand bookshop without 'popping in' for a quick browse. Wherever I have lived, worked, or just visited, the discovery of such shops has been immensely satisfying. Once inside, all sense of time ceases, 5 minutes becomes 30 minutes, and 30 minutes anything from 1 to 2 hours. This of course, does depend on the tacit approval of the bookseller, most of whom are quite happy to allow browsing for as long as required, providing that their lunch hour or closing time is not effected! Sadly, I suspect that there are a few booksellers who let the side down, denying the customer the pleasure of a private and leisurely browse, by the simple expedient of watching their every move. From personal experience I know that customers do not like this, and as a matter of principle waste no time in leaving, perhaps never to return. In the past, virtually every visit to my friendly bookseller has resulted in the purchase of at least one book, admittedly prompted sometimes more as a mark of appreciation for a warm, if unspoken welcome, rather than a burning desire for the item purchased! I rarely enter a bookshop with a specific purchase in mind, rather am I enticed by the mysteries of this 'Aladdin's Cave', and what treasures I might find therein! Part of the attraction is the sheer variety of subject matter, most of which one knows little or nothing about. Hence books on such diverse subjects as ‘Canals’, ‘Windmills’, ‘Boats of the Thames Estuary’, ‘Lighthouses’, ‘African history’, ‘Poetry’, now sit comfortably on my bookshelves, cheek by jowl with well-thumbed books on ‘Art’, ‘Military History’, ‘Catholic Church’, etc. As a bonus, some bookshops also deal in maps, engravings, etchings, and watercolour paintings, many over 100 years old, and as such both interesting and collectable, if you can afford them! We live on Stronsay, one of the Northern Isles of Orkney, and a visit to Mainland, Orkney, by ferry can take up to 2 hours each way, which makes ‘popping-in’ to either of the two second-hand bookshops on Mainland, somewhat difficult and rather expensive! Modern technology, in the form of the internet, has compensated for this, by enabling access to ‘on-line’ book auctions and bookshops worldwide, offering a vast range of new and second-hand books at modest cost. I admit that this hasn’t quite the same allure as the 'hands-on' approach, but it’s as near as we can get most of the time, and it can be very satisfying. Over the years, a particular interest of mine has been collecting poetry by relatively unknown poets, usually in paper-back format with anything between 14 and 40 pages, often published privately in limited editions of 50 or 100 copies, and sometimes printed on hand-made paper. I have acquired a few such examples, dating mostly from the 1920/30’s era, much of which I particularly enjoy. As an illustration I reproduce below a poem entitled ‘Children’, written by Betty L Robertson in 1930, and published by Whitby, Light & Lane, Bridgwater. So far I have been unable to trace any record of the poet, but I will persevere in my search. Many of her poems were written in the late 1920’s and seem to share the not uncommon themes of love and hope, in a rather sad world. Remember that this was a period of universal hardship and depression, with the world still struggling to recover from the effects of the Great War, and the fragile peace already under threat. To me, a romantic at heart, this short poem is simple yet evocative, poignant yet imbued with a gentle innocence. On reading it, I am reminded of Our Lord's words, "Unless you become as little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of my Father".(Mark 10:15. Matt. 18:3). I hope that you too, enjoy this little poem.


What should they know of life, these little ones?
Who weep, and then forget why they were sad,
Who crown their lives with golden dreams, ambitions,
And never doubt that they will come to pass.
What should they know of life? Its sordidness
To children is a thing of nothingness.
The earth to them was made for work and play,
With new found joys in every endless day,
What should they fear from life, these little ones?

What should they know of love, these little ones?
Who worship from the depth of heart and soul
More faithfully than older ones can tell,
A simple toy, battered or torn, or broken.
And from the angels comes the love for mother,
Kept sacredly aloof from any other,
A love, deep rooted in the little heart,
That nought, not even death, could wrench apart.
What should they fear from love, these little ones?

What should they know of death, these little ones?
Death, fearful in its great uncertainty,
A promised peaceful sleep, yet how we tremble
To leave this world of ours, and walk with God.
But children do not doubt, Heaven must lie
Beyond the twinkling stars, the tranquil sky,
For mother said that dark was safe as light,
And Jesus watches thro’ the longest night.
What should they fear from death, these little ones?

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Memories of a wartime childhood

                                     BOMB SHELTER IN A LONDON UNDERGROUND STATION

Please be warned, in the nicest possible way, that this is quite a long Blog, I’m in nostalgic mood again, I must really be getting old!
In September 1939 at the outbreak of the 2nd World War, I was not quite 3 years old and lived with my parents in south-east London. During the first 8 months of the war, a period known as the ‘Phoney War’ - because nothing really happened, I remained with my mother, after which time the bombing of London became more and more severe. In common with most young children, I was then evacuated to the country – in my case to a safe haven in Sussex, my mother remaining behind in London where she joined the Ambulance Service. My destination was a very large and grand country house which had been taken over by the authorities for the purpose of housing ‘evacuee’ children from London. The house was at Chelwood Gate in Sussex, and in normal times was the residence of the Macmillan family - Sir Harold MacMillan was later to become Prime Minister of Great Britain (1957-63). I can remember little about my stay there, except sleeping in a high cot in a large room where several other children also slept, and spending a Christmas there with my mother who was visiting me, and looking up at the clear, starry sky on a cold Christmas Eve night and imagining that Father Christmas would soon be coming down from the sky with his reindeer and my Christmas present! This no doubt seems fanciful and a product of an overwrought imagination, but truly this is the one significant episode of my life at that time that has remained etched in my memory!
I remained at Chelwood Gate for no more than a few months, after which I was sent to a small residential school near Reading in Berkshire, which again was considered a reasonably safe haven for evacuees. I have virtually no memories of this establishment, but I still have one memento somewhere around, a photograph of a small boy with other small boys, dressed up as pixies! It is the sort of photograph that doting mothers love and their children hate! The sort that either your best friend or perhaps worst enemy would love to get hold of, so that on reaching a 'landmark' birthday you suddenly see this photograph reproduced in your local newspaper under the caption ‘Happy -- Birthday ----!’. I don’t really know how I come to possess this, but probably Mum kept it during her lifetime, and when she died it passed into the family collection.
My stay in Berkshire was no more than a year, for my mother decided that she would prefer me to live with her sister, my Auntie Kaye, and her two young daughters who lived - wait for it - on the outskirts of Birmingham!. I remember walking to school across a small Common, and playing marbles along the roadside gutter – you could do such things in those days for cars were almost non existent! Yes there was the occasional bus and of course quite a number of bicycles, but apart from the rare commercial vehicle the roads were remarkably quiet, although I don’t suppose things were quite like that in the centre of Birmingham! About 200 yards from Aunty Kaye’s house was a large ‘Prisoner of War Camp’ where Italian POWs were interned. A wall and masses of barbed wire separated the camp from the roadway. The inmates could often be seen strolling around the open areas behind the barbed wire, apparently quite cheerful in spite of, or perhaps even because of, their restricted but relatively safe lifestyle!
My stay in Birmingham was again quite short, probably less than a year, as my mother succeeded in renting a small house in rural Surrey not far from Banstead, and she wanted me with her. She had worked as an ambulance driver in London until about 1943 living with friends or relatives, and she was on her own with my father serving abroad in the army. Much of his war service was spent in West and North Africa and I seldom saw him during these years. He very occasionally came home on leave and although I must have seen him briefly, I can remember little of these meetings. Once he sent me a surprise present, a fine, large wooden model boat, which he had arranged to be made by Italian POWs in Africa, and which was delivered to our new address in Surrey. It was a beautiful present for which I regret that I may never have fully expressed my appreciation. It was only much, much later, that I realised the trouble and expense that my father had been to, in arranging for me to receive this gift. At the time I had considerable difficulty in getting the boat to run. It was battery powered, but I didn’t seem able to make it work, and there was always the problem of where to run it. After numerous failed attempts, I rather lost heart and the boat was relegated to a safe place in our home, where it remained for many years. Of course the boat was made to be used and enjoyed, rather than just stored away, and eventually it went to a good home, an orphanage or children's home, where I'm sure it was received with great pleasure and delight. I know that my dear Dad would have been happy with this. Once settled in rural Surrey, I had to attend the local school which meant a walk across fields and through woods, a distance of probably just under 2 miles. At this period of the war the countryside was covered in concrete ‘tank traps’, barbed wire, and similar obstacles, with all signposts removed, as part of home-defence contingency plans in the event of enemy invasion. To a small boy such things were quite exciting – and dangerous! One day whilst returning home from school, I was testing the depth of the puddles in the middle of the wood -like small boys do, when I found not a puddle, but a large open manhole into which I fell. The hole was much deeper than I was tall, I could not swim and was alone, and the only thing to hold onto was some grass and soil around the circumference of the hole, but nothing strong enough to enable me to pull myself out. My Guardian Angel was certainly looking after me for I had reached the stage when I had begun to tire, when an older boy also on his way home from school through the woods, saw me and was able to pull me out. This boy whose surname I still remember- 'Richards', took me to his house, and his mother dried me off in front of the fire and gave me some warm, dry clothes, and some tea. This boy certainly saved my life and he is always remembered in my prayers.
Our house was virtually on the flight path for enemy aircraft from Europe to London and Southern England, and it was quite common for unused bombs to be jettisoned by these aircraft on their return journey home. There was a large crater in the field opposite our house caused by one such bomb dropped earlier in the war, and a favourite boyhood activity was searching the surrounding countryside for shrapnel of all shapes and sizes from exploded shells, bombs, and damaged aircraft. During this period of the war, the V1 ‘Doodlebugs’ were in vogue and often these passed almost directly over our house. One day I was with a friend in the hilly countryside behind our house, watching a doodlebug flying in the distance, when its engine suddenly cut out and it dropped like a stone, exploding on impact with the ground. It was impossible to see whether it had caused any damage but I suspect that fortunately it had fallen in open countryside. The sound of the ‘doodlebug’ engine was unique, once heard, never forgotten! It was a steady and consistent loud, droning, noise, which you grew to recognise instantly. If you were in an air- raid shelter at home or in the garden, the thing you dreaded most was if the engine cut out when ‘the beast’ was directly overhead! The ‘doodlebug’ was a pilot-less aircraft, and I believe the RAF developed a technique for either destroying them in mid-air or even turning them around so that they returned from whence they came. Our house was quite near to both an American and Canadian army camp whose inmates would have been involved in ‘D Day’ operations. We often investigated these camps from outside, and became adept at obtaining chewing gum and candy from generous and good natured GIs. This was very rewarding for us because sweet rationing was in force, and we were only allowed three quarters of a pound of sweets per month which could only be bought with ‘ration books’. One of these camps occasionally invited the local people to their weekly film show, which invitation included a lift in a jeep to and from the camp. I recall that my mother took me to one of these evenings, and it was very exciting to be travelling in this open American Army jeep, driven by a real American soldier, in true American army style!! In common with many households in that area, my mother offered accommodation to service personnel. Different servicemen stayed for quite short periods, and once we had an RAF man who was a brilliant pianist, possibly a concert pianist in civilian life, who regularly played on our modest, but cherished piano, to the delight of my mother. At one time I found a wristwatch lying somewhere in the house, and removed the back in order to see how it worked. Unfortunately having taken the back off, I found to my horror that I couldn’t get it back on again. Being only 6 or possibly 7 years old and terrified of returning the watch without a back, to its original location, I quite irrationally decided to hide it – under the stair carpet!! Don’t ask me why the stair carpet – but that’s where it ended up! Understandably the owner of the watch was rather upset when he couldn’t find it, and I was too frightened to own up to my misdeed, with the result that the village policeman was summoned. His mere presence was enough to break me, and with profuse tears and apologies the wristwatch was retrieved from beneath the stair-carpet – fortunately none the worse except that the back had been removed. I suspect that I was forgiven by the serviceman rather more quickly than by my mother, who no doubt had been rather embarrassed by the whole incident. Still I didn’t go to prison - as I feared I might!; the watch was duly recovered and restored to its rightful owner – I can’t remember whether this included a back or not, although I like to think it did; and the policeman returned home to his house in the village satisfied with a job well done! I’m sure that it wasn’t very long before Mum forgave me – for it really was a case of genuine childish curiosity that went wrong! I must admit that throughout my life I’ve found it very much easier to take things apart than to put them together again! Things don’t seem to change!
Any resemblance to a ‘normal’ life-style must have been very hard for wives and mothers during the war, with husbands and fathers away, not seen and perhaps not even heard from, for weeks, months and sometimes years at a time, and sometimes not at all. My two sisters were born after the war, so that at that time, I was an only child living with my mother and our dog Bobbie, a pretty brown and white spaniel/ cross bitch, with a lovely temperament - my mother’s faithful war-time companion. When I was safely esconced at school for the day, my mother sometimes travelled to town, which necessitated a long walk to the Station, and then an even longer train journey. One summer day, on one such trip, she was late returning. I had arrived home from school, and as time went on became very upset when she failed to materialise. I resolved to go to meet her, and whilst walking along this interminably long country road and still not having met her, I became even more upset. A lady walking in the opposite direction, stopped as she passed me, and asked me why I was crying. When I told her that my mother hadn’t come home, she gave me a 6d piece (known as a ‘tanner’ in those days), to cheer me up. This was a considerable sum of money to a small boy and certainly was some compensation for my distress, particularly as very soon afterwards I met my long-suffering Mum on her way home! Although food was severely rationed at that time, living in the countryside had certain compensations. In the summer we enjoyed plenty of fresh fruit, with apples and succulent Victoria plums available from the farm orchard nearby. I seem to remember that you could buy a bag of plums for 1d, and even now when I think of them,I fancy that I can still taste them! We lived a long way from our nearest Catholic church and we didn’t have a car and there wasn’t any local transport available, so I’m afraid that we didn’t often get to Mass. Additionally the continual domestic demand on my mother caring both for ourselves and our live-in military guests, must have been both tiring and time consuming.
I was nearly 8 years old when my mother decided that I should go to a Catholic primary school. The nearest was about 1 hours journey away, being part of a larger school taking in older boys. The journey involved a long walk (or possibly bike ride) to the Railway Station, a train journey of 10/15 minutes, followed by a short bus ride and a final walk to school. The journey did not worry me, in fact it was quite exciting. Paradoxically, in spite of being at war, England was a much safer place for children in those days than it is today. The most dangerous part of the journey was crossing the main road near the school, as events were to prove! One day my Guardian Angel was working overtime, for after getting off the bus to walk the final stretch to school, I foolishly ran across the main road in front of the stationary bus, straight into the path of a car. Fortunately the car must have swerved slightly, for I ran into the side of the car rather than the car running into me, with the result that I bounced back off the car, ending up in the roadway in front of the bus, which happily for me, had not yet started to move. All I suffered was superficial bruising and hurt pride, for which I truly thank my Guardian Angel. I suspect that today, the idea of an 8 year old travelling alone on train and bus to and from school, would be condemned as ‘irresponsible’. However in those days, even though we were at war, children generally were safer, were more able to enjoy their childhood years, and I believe happier than most children are today. It is not that children have changed, it is not the children’s fault, it is the society into which they are born and in which they grow up- it is this that has changed. Today our predominantly Godless society has spawned evil, beginning with the legalised murder of the unborn. Materialism and selfishness have been nurtured by a liberal, humanist- based State education system, where God is so often ignored and immorality is taught under the guise of ‘sex education’, starting with children at primary school. In our modern world traditional family values are widely denigrated, pornographic and indecent literature and films are readily available, self-gratification is idealised, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages and sodomy makes that which was previously unthinkable and unmentionable, now socially acceptable! God has been sidelined, if not totally dismissed by so many in our society – to our eternal cost and with so much lost. So many children today have neither the opportunity nor the encouragement to learn of God and His creation, with modern life geared to instant gratification and material acquisition. Childhood itself has become a victim of this exploitation, which promises so much but delivers so little, promises which without God, are totally illusory and unattainable.
We remained in Surrey until early 1945 when we went to live with Auntie Kaye who had moved to Eastbourne in Sussex. She had rented a very large 1st floor flat over a butchers shop situated near to the Town Hall, and Mum and I and our dog Bobby moved in with her and her two daughters. I was just 9 years old, and attended the Catholic primary school which was a bus ride away at the far end of the town. My principal memories of this time are of the lovely Catholic church of ‘Our Lady of Ransom’ which we attended for Mass, which was only a short walk away; watching the Town football team play at ‘The Saffrons’, a superb Sports Ground adjoining the Town Hall. I can still remember the name of my hero, goalkeeper ‘Bob Mallin’; and with my friends, exploring the numerous bombed-out houses and buildings that were everywhere to be seen.
The war came to an end later in 1945, and it became necessary for people to plan for the future – something I suspect few had dared contemplate until peace actually arrived! I was dispatched as a boarder to Westminster Cathedral Choir School which re-opened that year, and within a few months my mother and father, who had been demobbed from the army, moved to a small house in a country village outside Eastbourne. In hindsight, I suspect that it took months, if not years, for my parents to re-adjust to life in peacetime England. Times were still very hard, with industrial unrest, unemployment, and strict food rationing, compounding the widespread physical and psychological problems commonly experienced as a result of 6 years of war, with spouses and whole families growing apart through absence, separation, and all too often - death.
We were very fortunate as a family, having been spared so much during the war. Even so, my parents had lost lifelong friends, both military and civilian. During the latter part of the war my mother took me to see two elderly ladies who lived in a large house in south-east London, who gave me a toy which basically comprised a round metal hoop about 26” in diameter, with a solid handle fixed to the outside. In cross-section the hoop was about 2" wide, convex in shape, rather like the inside of an old-fashioned bicycle mudguard, and the challenge was to rotate a table-tennis ball placed on the inside track of the hoop, round and round the track at a fast speed without allowing it to fall to the ground.This was done by holding the hoop by the handle, and moving it quickly backwards and forwards. It sounds and was very simple, probably a very popular Victorian/Edwardian toy giving endless hours of fun to countless children! It certainly gave me a great deal of pleasure. Anyway, these dear ladies, who were close personal friends of my mother, were both killed instantly when a V2 rocket scored a direct hit on their home late in the war. The V2 was silent, with a range of 234 miles and travelling well in excess of the speed of sound, giving no time for the usual air-raid warnings and people to take shelter. They were fired from huge mobile platforms in secret, camouflaged sites deep in the hinterland of Europe, and if the war had not ended when it did , weapons such as this, together with others being developed, particular the supersonic warplane, could have totally altered the whole course of events, certainly in the short to medium term. Thank God that this did not happen, but who knows what the future may hold? Tragically today, so many people and nations reject God and His Commandments, deny the Divinity and Kingship of Christ, ignore His teachings, and persecute His Church, the one, true Catholic Church instituted by Christ Himself. Mankind must first 'render to God the things that are God’s, then to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s'. Only then will the peace of Christ reign in men's hearts and in the world, a peace which 'surpasseth all understanding'. Thank you for sharing these memories, I hope that you have enjoyed reading them and that you found something of interest therein. ‘Our Lady Help of Christians and Queen of Peace - pray for us.'

Sunday, 1 June 2008

The Spanish Civil War/ Dvorak's 'Mass in D' in Madrid and Salamanca

I must confess that I have always found the history of the Spanish Civil War (1936- 1939) totally confusing, that is until recently when I read ‘The Last Crusade’ by Warren Carroll, published by Christendom Press. This account of an extraordinarily complex and ruthless war, superbly written by an eminent American Catholic historian, provides a welcome and refreshing antidote to the anti-Catholic bias adopted by so many contemporary historians. Carroll defines ‘Crusade’ as a ‘war for the sake of the Cross, a war to protect Christian people from persecution and death on account of their faith in Jesus Christ’. The Spanish Civil War was certainly this - ‘ In 1936, the first year of the war, in just 6 months a total of thirteen Bishops and nearly seven thousand priests, seminarians, monks and nuns were martyred by the enemies of the Church. It was the greatest clerical blood-letting in so short a space of time since the persecutions of the Church by the ancient Roman emperors. Tens of thousands of churches, chapels, and shrines in Spain were pillaged or destroyed. In response, faithful Spanish Catholics proclaimed a crusade. Against all the odds the crusaders triumphed, and the Church and the Faith in Spain were saved.’ This book, in paperback format (232 pages), once started, is hard to put down. I was so impressed that I have bought several copies for various family members to read.
Still with Spain in mind but in a rather different context, I have to admit that I have only visited once - about 9 years ago. At that time I was a member of the Exeter Philharmonic Choir, about 100 strong, and we went to Spain to give two concerts, one in Madrid at the Auditorio Nacional, and the other at Salamanca in the Old Cathedral. Our Conductor and Master of Music was Raymond Calcraft, who as a young man had attended the University of Salamanca and who had been a lifelong friend of the world-famous Spanish composer and musician Joaquin Rodrigo(1901-99). It was undoubtedly through Raymond’s knowledge of all things Spanish and his contacts in the Spanish musical world, that we had the pleasure and privilege of performing in Spain. The first concert was in Madrid and was recorded live on Spanish radio. What I particularly remember about the Auditorio Nacional was the acoustics - or perhaps I should say, as far as it appeared to me, the lack of acoustics. In England many of our concerts were performed in Exeter Cathedral which is one of the largest and most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in Europe, with huge, high roofing-vaults which echo and carry the human voice as ‘on the wings of a dove’. In the Auditorio Nacional it was as though the walls were encased in cotton-wool, you could not hear yourself singing and you could not hear your colleagues, which I found quite off-putting. I remember that our main programme comprised a Psalm set to music by Gustave Holst – starting off very gently, and ending in a thunderous hymn of triumph ; then followed a relatively short choral work- I think for women's voices only, by Joaquin Rodrigo; and finally Dvorak’s 'Mass in D' for 4 voices with Organ accompaniment. We were told later that the broadcast had been well received, so clearly (forgive the pun!) my perception of the acoustics was not reflected in the quality of the broadcast!
Our second Concert was in the Old Cathedral in Salamanca. We travelled by coach from Madrid to Salamanca and I remember thinking how bleak and inhospitable much of the countryside appeared. I recollect small hamlets just off the main road, apparently abandoned with no sign of life except for the storks nesting in the roofs. Salamanca was different altogether, with a wide river and green pastures, and a huge, magnificent central square surrounded by ancient stone buildings and small shops. Dominating the city are the two Catholic Cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and the New, virtually side by side. The former is now used primarily for artistic events such as concerts, and the latter is the main place of worship.
Our concert was in the evening in the Old Cathedral, and when the time came I was amazed to see that the building was absolutely packed, with people standing in the aisles and right up to the front of the stage where the choir were. It seemed as if the very walls of the Cathedral were bulging! I later discovered that entry to the Concert was free and that it was traditional that everyone attended such events – which they certainly appeared to have done! The audience comprised people of all ages and walks of life, all of whom showed genuine excitement and pleasurable anticipation. The extremely close proximity of the audience - you could almost shake hands with those in the front, and the attention, concentration, and appreciation that they showed, was something never to be forgotten. We performed the same programme as at Madrid, with everything going well up unto the interval. Unfortunately when we returned to the platform some 15 minutes later, we found that large numbers of the audience had disappeared! We then learnt that many people had left because they thought that the concert had come to an end, apparently not being familiar with the concept of an 'interval'. Although I’m sure that programmes were available, it may be that most of the audience did not avail themselves, or it may have been that the interval was not clearly indicated. Whatever the cause it was clear that drastic steps had to be taken. The choir then retired for a second time from the platform, and search parties were immediately dispatched to scour the neighbourhood in search of the missing audience. Fortunately the extended interval allowed many, if not most, to be traced and thus return in time for the much delayed second half. Cynics might think that the mystery of the vanishing audience was by design rather than accident, but I really don’t think so. Prior to the start of the concert the audience anticipation, interest and excitement, was palpable, and the enthusiastic applause at the end of the first half was absolutely genuine, as it also was at the end of the performance. In spite of the ‘walk out’, I can honestly say that this particular concert is one that I will always remember and treasure, for to have been privileged to sing Dvorak's magnificent Mass in this historic and grand Old Cathedral, enjoying an unusual intimacy and empathy with a highly appreciative and receptive audience, was an unforgettable experience.
I would love another opportunity to sing in the Old Cathedral. Realistically this is probably unlikely, but I refuse to give up hope! Salamanca itself, with its fine University and mediaeval buildings, its history and Catholic culture, is a 'must' for visitors. Prior to visiting Spain, a big mistake on my part was the assumption that many, if not most Spanish people speak English. In hindsight I realise that this was somewhat arrogant, for why should Spanish people be expected to speak English? Certainly in England you would not expect the natives to speak Spanish! I suffered for this misapprehension on several occasions. Once in particular, when after a tiring morning sight-seeing on my own in Madrid, I decided that I needed something to eat. Endeavouring to find a restaurant, I could find nobody that spoke English. I eventually came across a ‘McDonalds’ type establishment, and through the plate-glass window I could see displayed on the walls, large coloured photographs of particular meals on offer. I deduced that once in the restaurant, I would be able to order a meal by the simple expedient of pointing at one of these photographs, there would be no need to say a single word – and so it transpired! Such was my first and last experience of eating-out alone in Madrid. This was definitely not the most exotic place in which to dine, but highly recommended for those who do not speak the ‘lingo’!
A rather poignant memory is that of attending Holy Mass at 8a.m. on a Sunday morning in Madrid and finding that there were perhaps 12 people in total in the congregation. The church probably held 2/300 at least, a lovely traditional Catholic church, and a devout young priest. This perhaps is a reminder that the Church in Spain is still suffering from the long-term effects of the Civil War, wounds since aggravated by the liturgical and associated disasters of Vatican 2. It is certain however, that the blood of the holy Spanish martyrs will not have been shed in vain.
In 2001 Pope John Paul II beatified 233 of the martyrs of the Civil War, and in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI beatified a further 498 – the largest group beatification ever. Certainly - ‘Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat’.