Oh dear oh dear oh dear

I swear that my credit card company has entered into a conspiracy with Mesh Computers to drive me utterly, howling-at-the-moon, certifiably insane.

Wind back the mists of time to the beginning of March this year, when I decided that my computer, which came from Mesh Computers lo these many moons ago and has done me sterling service ever since, was starting to make funny noises whenever I asked it to do anything more complicated than send an e-mail or run Tweetdeck. This is a bit of a pain when you take as many photos as I do.

March being annual bonus time, I went onto Mesh Computers’ website, specced up a nice grossly-overpowered-for-what-I-need-it-for new computer, thinking “my previous computer came from Mesh, they can sell me a shiny new one with many things that light up and go twing! and everyone will be happy. They will have lots of my money, and I will have a nice computer that doesn’t sound like it’s choking to death.”

Like a complete idiot, I didn’t do anything sensible like put “Mesh Computers complaints” into the search engine of my choice.

I ordered my computer. I paid for my computer. I put the money aside into my savings account so that when the credit card bill came in, I could pay it off in full, like the sensible grown-up I occasionally pretend to be (stop laughing at the back, it’s not nice).

Mesh promised me that I would take delivery of my shiny new computer “within 10-14 days.”

14 days after my order was placed, my computer was still being built.

I phoned them up.

“About those fourteen days,” I murmured, gently. “Were those business days or week days?”

“We’re waiting for a part. It will be in on Tuesday, you’ll have your computer by Friday of next week.”

Friday of next week, I phoned them up, for lo! the status of my order was still “parts being allocated to the machine.”

“We’re waiting for a part. It will be in on Tuesday, you’ll have your computer by Friday of next week.”

Bad Things Happen To Boys Who Tell Lies. Or, you know, I throw a strop and cancel my order, one of the two.

“You’ll have your refund in fourteen days.”

“Is that the same sort of fourteen days that you promised me my computer in, or an actual fourteen days?” I enquired, somewhat frostily.

“Ahahahahaha. Um.”

Fourteen days came and went, with nothing of note happening, apart from the non-appearance of vast quantities of Her Majesty’s wine vouchers in my credit card account.

A further sixteen days, making thirty days, the legal limit for failing to refund a customer, came and went with nothing of note happening, apart from us moving offices. They’re nice, our new offices. I have a lovely view of the bins. Oh, I cycled to Oxford as well. You can still sponsor me, if you like. It was great fun and nobody fell off.

Mesh Computers’ accounts department phone is not merely “not answering,” it’s not even ringing.

I finally spoke to someone in the accounts department, “um, yes, your refund has just been authorised by my manager, you should have it in three days.”

Yes, quite. Is anyone believing them at this point? I’m not, and I’m a trusting soul…

I phoned the credit card company’s disputes team, log a dispute, and wait for the forms, which arrived on 17th May (after I phoned them on 10th to raise the dispute). I filled them in, signed them, took them into work to scan them and put them in the post.

[cue tumbleweed]

I phoned their helpline on 31st May.

“Oh, we’ve not received your form.”

“Can I e-mail it to you?”

“No, but you can fax it.”

I had to ask someone where our fax machine was in our new office. Turns out that it’s down in the basement, in a lonely corner of the post room. If anyone is looking for the Ark of the Covenant, you could probably start by looking there.

So off I trotted to the basement, clutching six pieces of paper, and faxed the form off.

Being completely paranoid by this point, I phoned the credit card company that afternoon.

“It’s not been logged onto the system yet, but call us in the morning.”

I phoned the next morning, as instructed.

“No, it’s not been logged onto the system yet.”

I called them today, with the loud ticking noise of an approaching deadline echoing in my ears.

“No, it’s not been logged onto the system yet. I’ll chase it up urgently and call you back.”

Faxes, I ask you. Hello, the 1980s called, they want their technology back. The thing is, as far as I can tell, the faxes arrive, are printed off and then scanned onto their system. Why can’t I e-mail them a PDF?

I swear, if I’ve not heard back from them by lunchtime, I’m going to my nearest branch and handing it over to the staff in person.

And the really, really, really annoying thing? I still have to source a new computer from a company that won’t use me as a source of free business finance whilst they slowly go bust and tell me lies.

Now is the point where I’d normally say “don’t touch Mesh with a ten foot pole and definitely don’t ever give them any of your money,” but at roughly the point I was thinking “faxes? What the heck?” Mesh Computers went into receivership, prompting me to pull the world’s least-convincing surprised face, and was sold to PC Peripherals, so I don’t think you can any more anyway.

Meanwhile, if you want me, I’ll be up on Hampstead Heath, howling at the moon.

So…

In the immortal words of one of my friends, and in answer to this comment left on a previous post, “Why did you, who doesn’t like to stand up and preach to people or do this sort of thing generally, join the ORDER OF PREACHERS??????”

And it’s a good question. Why not be a Benedictine, or a Carmelite, or a Franciscan? I look better in brown and grey than I do in black and white, for starters. And it’s all about the clothes…

It’s also one of those “how do you explain red to a colour-blind person?” questions. But I’ll have a go.

(Insert usual “if you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve met one Dominican,” disclaimer. This may or may not ring true for any other Dominican who had been asked to write this).

I think it goes back to when I was first converting. Most people who convert don’t do it because they fancied a change, or because Our Lady and St Thatguy down the road does a Mass which is more convenient than the times of service at the local Anglican or Baptist Church, but because they are genuinely seeking after the truth.

One of the Order’s mottoes is “Truth.” Whilst the truth of the faith is a treasure which belongs to all Catholics, seeking after and preaching this truth belongs, in a special way, to Dominicans, just as Carmel has a great and noble tradition of contemplative prayer. All Catholics, all Christians, are called to contemplate the Lord, but Carmelites are called to it as a special part of their ministry and mission to the Church. It is through prayer and study that we, as Dominicans, seek, however dimly, to grasp some of the truth of God, and, to pass that truth on to others.

Study, reading and writing have always been important to me. I’m not so keen on the “public speaking” bit of preaching, but there are more ways of preaching than talking to people – writing, teaching catechism classes, answering colleagues’ strange questions on obscure points of doctrine before I’ve had my morning coffee. I think my finest hour was explaining Purgatory in fewer than 140 characters on Twitter. And nerves about public speaking will lessen with time and practice – I was less nervous leading the study than I was the first time I did, for example.

The Dominicans grabbed at me as soon as I knew of their existence, that summer where everywhere I went I was being stalked by people in white tunics. The most striking thing was the balance between work and prayer, the contemplation and passing onto others the fruit of that contemplation. I’ve always been a both/and kind of person, not an either/or. The woman seeking after Truth had found the Order for whom that Truth was the special charge and beauty.

But I checked out other Orders, as well, just in case it was me saying “I want be a Dominican,” and not God telling me “I want you to be a Dominican,” (that search for “truth,” again, if you like), but none of them tugged at my heart the same way that the Dominicans did. Other Orders are nice for a visit, and they have many, many great Saints, who are jewels to their Order and ornaments to the Church, and ways of seeking and encountering Christ which are truly beautiful, but for me, the best way I can follow Christ, the poor preacher, in the footsteps of the apostles, is as a member of the Order of Preachers.

Ultimately, “Dominican,” is as much part of what I am as having grey eyes, a dreadful temper, being five foot two and a serious book addiction.

I am, actually, genuinely, mad as hell.

There has also been drink taken, so this post may end in me sobbing over my copy of The Dark is Rising, proclaiming “I love you, I really love you, you’re my best mate you are,” and hiccuping.

This post is also written whilst surrounded by books. In Rosamundi Towers, I might be living off Tesco Value pasta and tinned tomatoes, but there is always money for books and coffee. Always.

Literacy is a gift and a treasure, a key that opens doors to other worlds, a light and a guide to better things, an exerciser of the imagination and a balm to the soul.

And so the government are removing their funding from Booktrust from the next financial year.

This is insane. A Booktrust book is often the only book a child owns. How dare, how dare our smug millionaire cabinet sit there and slash the funding to something which does such immense good for, actually, very little money? An annual £13m in government funding generates a further £56m in sponsorship, which is a handsome return on investment by anyone’s standards, not counting the immense benefit gained from a lifetime of literacy.

I pay my taxes, Mr Cameron, and I want them spent on literacy programmes and the NHS and care for the disabled and stopping my local school’s roof leaking, not on bailing out your mates in the banks so they can pay billions in bonuses whilst still being owned 80% by the taxpayer. You remember the taxpayers, don’t you, Dave? The little people? The people who don’t have offshore trust funds to cushion the blows you are raining down on them?

Someone asked me, recently, “Where did you learn to put words together in such a fashion?” To which the only answer I could come up with was “I buy books like normal people buy food.” Don’t starve our children, Dave.

So, what else have I been up to?

Mostly, I have been learning how to sew, and whizzing about the district on Zephirine, my bicycle. Occasionally, I have been combining the two, as in this sewing project:

Lumatwill cape and hat

Lumatwill cape and hat

Yes, it’s a cape for cycling in with integral reflective threads, which, in the words of a London cabbie is “bloody brilliant,” because “it scared the living daylights out of me.” From my point of view, it’s ace because it’s lovely and warm, and isn’t bright yellow lycra, and under normal lighting, it’s just a rather nice blue-grey tweed with red and pale grey stripes.

I don’t cycle in the matching hat, because all the reflective tweed in the world wouldn’t save my head from abrupt contact with a kerb.

For those playing along at home, the cape is McCall’s Pattern 5764 and the hat is Vogue 8440

Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare

This is a slightly edited version of a talk that I gave to a group of Baptists on Spurgeon College’s “Equipped to Minister,” course, which is a training course for preachers, lay pastors and other church members. This is my own, personal view. As the saying goes, “if you’ve met one Dominican, you’ve met one Dominican.”

The Order was founded by a Spaniard, Dominic de Guzman, and given Papal approval in 1216. The order was founded as a mendicant order, rather than a monastic order. Monastics, like Benedictines, are mainly cloistered and have no restrictions on owning property. Mendicants, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, owned no property and survived by begging. Unlike monastics, Dominicans move from place to place – they enter the order as a whole, rather than a specific community.

Dominic was travelling in Southern France in 1203-1206, and encountered the Albigensians. They taught that the physical world was evil, a heresy which devalues our own humanity, devalues Christ, Who is truly God and truly man, and devalues the sacramental life of the Church.

St Dominic spent all night debating with an innkeeper in Toulouse, and realised that there was a great ignorance regarding the teaching of the Church. He saw the great need for preachers who knew and could teach the true faith. And so began the itinerant, mendicant life of the friars, not settled in one place, but moving from village to village, preaching and teaching as they went. It is said of St Dominic, that he spent all his time talking to people about God, and talking to God about people.

And so the Order spread, arriving in England in 1221, settling in Oxford so that the friars would have access to the University. As the New World was discovered, the friars followed, to preach the Truth to the native peoples, and, later, shocked by the actions of the conquerors, to advocate and fight for their rights.

The Reformation lead to the destruction of every single priory in England, apart from Norwich, which was bought by the secular authorities, and is now a concert and event venue. But the main trace of the pre-reformation presence of the order in England are placenames such as Blackfriars in London.

The Order is split into four branches, who all follow the same Rule (written by St Augustine), with variations according to style of life.

The First Order is the preaching Friars. They may or may not be ordained during the process of discernment; it depends on their particular vocation. They live a fraternal live in common, but are not tied to a particular monastery – they are called to “make the world their cloister” as they preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls.

The Second Order is the cloistered nuns. Unusually, they were founded first, some ten years before the friars. These women, free for God alone, live cloistered from the world, dedicated to praying for its needs, for, “just as in the Upper Room, Mary in her heart, with her prayerful presence, watched over the origins of the Church,so too now the Church’s journey is entrusted to the loving hearts and praying hands of cloistered nuns.” (Verbi Sponsa).

The Third Order is split in two. The Third Order Regular is Apostolic Sisters, they live in community, follow a set of rules & constitutions, have a common prayer life, generally have a particular apostolate, or work they do in the world, such as teaching, nursing, etc.

Whilst the first three groups make the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, the Third Order Secular do not – we are free to marry or not, and are called, like all Catholics, to fidelity within marriage and chastity outside it. Lay Dominicans have secular jobs, and the Order as a whole has no call on my salary, other than such donations as charity deems prudent.

There is a period of discernment which is roughly the same for all branches of the Order, and is laid down by Canon Law:

Postulant – up to one year. “Postulant” comes from the Latin “Postulare,” “one who asks,” and this year is a year of asking God and the Order if this is where you are called.

Novice – 1 or 2 years

Temporary Vows – 3-5 years

At the end of temporary vows, you either make vows for ever or you leave. The period of discernment is to see if you really do have a call to live that particular life, in that particular community.

During the discernment period, which is anything up to 8 years, you are free to leave at any time, and even after you have made permanent vows, if you really, really, really decide you have to leave, you can – you’re not locked away for ever and ever and ever. It is all a period of gradually deepening the living of the life, seeing if this is what you’re called to. The Church recognises that you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole, and nor can you make a Carmelite out of a Dominican.

As the church is made up of many parts, but we are all one body, so each religious order has its own charism (mission), and the Order of Preachers’ particular charism is the preaching and teaching of Truth – one of our mottoes is “Veritas.” This charism is expressed in a four-fold way, under what are referred to as the four pillars of Dominican life – Prayer, Study, Community and Preaching. A Dominican friar will express the charism differently to a cloistered nun, who will express it differently to an apostolic sister, who will again be different to a lay Dominican.

The order is incarnational, as a challenge to the Albigensian heresy that it was founded to counter. Life is good, and to be valued and cherished. Dominicans are pro-life, and try and balance the spiritual and the physical.

The order has always had a deep devotion to the Mother of Christ, and that devotion is expressed in a variety of ways, through the rosary and through various prayers and traditions. Our Lady said to Blessed Jordan of Saxony that every time the Dominicans sang the Salve Regina, she prostrated herself before her Son, asking His blessing on St Dominic’s poor and lowly band. It is said that the Rosary was a gift to Dominic from Our Lady to aid him in converting the Albigensians. Mary is honoured as the queen of Preachers, and we turn to her maternal intercession every night as we sing the Salve Regina after night prayer.

The order is prayerful. Despite being a mendicant, active order, we pray the Office as monastics do.

The order is penitential. Please forget anything that Dan Brown might have come up with about hair shirts and spiky metal things, I cannot imagine our chaplain’s face if I were to ask him for permission to wear a hair shirt – but we try and fast on Fridays, we donate to charity, and there are times when we cannot do something fun because it clashes with our religious obligations – a birthday that falls on a Friday in Lent usually has its celebration moved to a more congenial day after Easter!

As preachers and teachers of truth, we are called to seek that truth through prayer and study.

And the Dominican life is a communal life – a lone Dominican is a rare thing indeed.

Prayer
“Lord, teach us to pray.” Dominican prayer is always seeking after the One Who is Truth, so that we can preach Him to others. And so we do not have many special ways of prayer, we seek to pray as the Church prays, with the Mass, the Liturgy of the hours, contemplative prayer, vocal prayer, and from that, we hope to make every action a living prayer. It is from prayer that everything else flows, the community life, the study and the preaching.

The Mass is the source and summit of Christian life. By hearing the Word of God, receiving Him in the Eucharist, we receive the strength we need in order to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We are encouraged to go to daily Mass where possible, but if not possible, then prayerful meditation on the Scripture readings for the day’s Mass is to be encouraged.

The Liturgy of the Hours arose out of the Jewish tradition of saying certain prayers at different hours of the day and night – we find in the Psalms expressions such as “I will meditate on thee in the morning”; “I rose at midnight to give praise to thee”; “Evening and morning, and at noon I will speak and declare: and he shall hear my voice”; “Seven times a day I have given praise to thee” and so on. And so there are eight “hours” of prayer, Matins, traditionally said at some time during the night (that one is generally reserved to cloistered nuns), and the seven Offices of the day, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. The hours are spread through the day, with lauds and prime being morning prayers, Vespers is evening prayer and Compline is the last office of the day, said just before retiring for the night. As a lay Dominican, I am required to say Lauds and Vespers as a minimum, but I try and say most of them. Compline is particularly lovely – a thanks to God for the day just past and asking his blessing on the night to come.

All of the hours are based around psalms, readings from the Old and New Testament, Gospel canticles and readings from the Church Fathers. Between the Office and Mass, all the Bible is read in a year.

Another of the Dominican mottoes is “Contemplata aliis Tradere” – to contemplate, and to pass onto others the fruit of that contemplation. The Divine Office is the golden chain of grace that binds all the members of the order together, whether it is prayed in the stillness of a Monastic chapel or at the kitchen table of a flat in London with a cup of coffee in one hand and pigeons peering in the kitchen window. And by praying, contemplating the Divine Word, we can, like Mary, who “pondered these things in her heart,” pass on to others the fruit of this contemplation.

There is plenty on the Rosary, the quintessential Dominican prayer, here.

Active Prayer
As Dominicans, we are not only called to contemplate God, but to pass onto others the fruit of that contemplation. We are an active order as well as a contemplative order – lead by the Spirit, we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit prisoners, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead. We also instruct the ignorant,counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead. Some of those are easier than others…

The idea is that the contemplative prayer is the wellspring from which the active prayer is given its impetus – St Catherine of Siena spent many years in contemplative prayer before emerging to do her work in the world, helping the ill and the poor, and striving for peace between the republics and principalities of Italy and for the return of the Papacy from Avignon to Rome. She carried on a long correspondence with Pope Gregory XI, also asking him to reform the clergy and the administration of the Papal States.

Through the Divine Office, the Mass, the Rosary, and our own private prayer, we pray for the needs of the world, the Church, and the Order.

Study
The Dominicans have always been associated with study. They settled in Oxford when they first arrived in London, and have been associated with the great universities wherever they travelled to.

You cannot preach without studying first – “first the bow is bent in study, before the arrow is loosed in preaching.” (Humbert of Romans). Study is the other half of Dominican contemplation, balancing with prayer to ensure that both our hearts and our minds are nourished in our love for the Truth, which is Christ himself. Study is an act of love of God, a way of seeking Christ and pondering His love.

Dominicans hold St Thomas Aquinas as a teacher and model of the Dominican life, for he displayed a thirst for truth and a willingness to seek it wherever and from whomever it may be found. We are mendicants, beggars after truth. As St Albert the Great said, “the whole word is theology for us, for the heavens proclaim the glory of God.” And so study causes us to marvel at God’s creation, to wonder at His greatness, and to humble ourselves before Him. Fr Timothy Radcliffe wrote that “it is through study, seeking to understand things and each other, that we recover a sense of astonishment at the miracle of creation.

Community
Dominican life is a communal life. Each fraternity meets once a month. We share a common life as far as we can, by praying, studying and discussing together. In this way, the different gifts of each member enrich the group as a whole, and in turn, the whole Order and the world. Each member of the fraternity has different talents and responsibilities, and those gifts are offered to God through the community. Many of the Order’s greatest saints have seen this community life as an echo of the friendship and love that God has for all of us, and the community is the school of love whereby we learn to show that love to all.

It’s not easy, and can in fact be the hardest part of the life, because we are all fallible human beings. Someone will send you demented with some habit or other, it’s inevitable, but the school of love helps us to see past the way that someone drives you up the wall, and instead see the image and likeness of God.

We are called to accept and embrace each other as members of the same body, “different indeed in talents and responsibilities, but equal in the bond of charity and profession” (Book of Constitutions and Ordinations of the Friars of the Order of Preachers). In this way, our Dominican life reflects, through a glass, darkly, the life of the God whom we seek after and preach to others.

Our monthly meeting follows a set pattern. We go to Mass together, we pray together, we eat together, and then we study together. Each year we have a theme for the study, and we are all expected to take a full part in the discussions, which are led by a different member of the community each month. Every member has something to offer the study, whether it is knowledge of Biblical Hebrew (not me) or knowledge of how the Ancient Israelites made bread (me. What can I say? I know weird stuff). By sharing the fruits of our knowledge, all are enriched.

Preaching
Whilst we are an Order of Preachers, the Preaching follows from everything else – we cannot preach the truth of Christ if we have not sought that truth through prayer, study and community.

As lay Dominicans, it would only be very rarely that we would preach in church, and we would not give the sermon at Mass – per Canon law, that is a privilege reserved for Deacons, Priests, and, under certain circumstances, the superior of a female religious community.

However, St Francis said that we should “preach the Gospel at all times, using words if necessary,” as the grace that flows into us through prayer, and community life, and study, should, inspired by the Holy Spirit, flow out through our lives, which should be a continuous preaching of the Gospel.

As Timothy Radcliffe said, “We meet in each new age the challenge of new ways of seeing the world, new technologies, and new intellectual tools,” and so many Dominicans have blogs, including various monasteries of cloistered nuns, and use Facebook, Twitter and internet forums to preach the truth of Christ.

“I do not consider myself worthy of anything in this Order, for I have been nothing but pleased with it.” Blessed Reginald of Orleans, OP.

Talking to the Baptists about Mary

Well, it beats talking to the taxman about poetry.

An alternative title for this post could have been “always do, sober, the stupid things you say you’ll do whilst drunk.”

I was at a Shipmeet in, err, January this year, either immediately after grandma’s funeral or in that “waiting for the other shoe to drop,” period of time between a death and a funeral.

One of the other attendees at the meet teaches the Spirituality module of Spurgeon College’s “Equipped to Minister,” course, which is a training course for preachers, lay pastors and other church members.

So, there I was, in the pub, talking about being a Lay Dominican (as one does, obviously), and Tony very cunningly waited until after I’d finished my glass of wine before saying “would you come to Spurgeon College and talk about Dominican Spirituality for this course I teach?”

“Sure, why not? Brilliant idea,” I said, brightly.

Ooooooh, there’s nothing like the cold feeling of dread you get when you wake up and Memory comes up behind you and smacks you round the head with a cheery “hey, remember this?” is there?

Because the thing is, you can’t talk about Being A Dominican without talking about the Rosary, and praying for the dead, and Mary and her maternal care and protection over the Order, and the intercession of the Saints in general, and penance, and the Mass, and other such distinctly non-Baptist things.

Um.

Panicpanicpanicpanicpanic. Is it too late to join the Trappists?

So, that’s where I’ve been for the last month, writing an hour-long talk on Being Lay Dominican, and What It All Means, etc.

Anyway, the talk was Saturday just gone, and it went really well, although I was really nervous.

I got to South Norwood station, and clearly must have looked a bit lost, because someone stopped and said “are you ok?”

“I’m going to Spurgeon College, not sure where the buses go from,” I said.

“Oh, I’m going that way, it’s not far to walk.”

We got there, Tony met me, gave me coffee, and we went into the lecture theatre. My talk wasn’t until 12, but I stayed and listened to Tony’s presentation, which was on things like Celtic spirituality, the rosary, icons, prayer ropes, etc.

Then he introduced me, and off I went, still wondering if it’s too late to make a break for it and run away to Mount Saint Bernard, in Leicestershire. However, I remembered just in time that Mount Saint Bernard is a monastery of Trappist monks and I lack a couple of basic requirements…

Hurrah for lecterns. They don’t just give you somewhere to park your notes; they also give you something to hang onto for grim death when you’re shaking so much you might fall over.

Got through the talk rather quicker than I’d planned, which left plenty of time for questions (foolish, foolish woman).

I’d mentioned things like praying for the dead, so someone picked up on that, which lead into a discussion about Purgatory, and I’d been careful to say “we ask for Mary’s prayers,” all through, rather than “pray to Mary,” so there was a bit of a discussion about the difference between “praying to,” which is what we do to God, and “asking for the prayers of,” which is what we do with the saints, illustrated by the quote from Hamlet about “here’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, pray you love, remember,” it’s quite clear that Ophelia is not praying to Hamlet at this point, but asking him something. Oh, and there was a bit about Papal Infallibility, and so on. So, nothing tricky there, then…

My snarky comment about Dan Brown got a laugh, which was nice.

Got some lovely comments afterwards, I’d said something that Timothy Radcliffe had said, which is what drew me into the Order in the first place, about “if our faith is true, it is the most important thing in the world, and if it’s not true, why are we here?” that someone had said really struck them.

And then I got possibly the finest compliment of my entire life, when someone said “it’s clear that you really are a Christian!” in tones of wonder.

Tony was kind enough to e-mail me afterwards and said that I’d done really well, and was a powerful witness for the Church and the Order, simply and straightforwardly stating the case for the doctrines of the church – confident and unapologetic. I thought I spent most of my time saying “um,” and “err” and looking hunted – clearly I’ve mastered the art of swan-like calm – gliding along placidly on the surface, paddling like stink underneath…

I think I’ve agreed to do the talk again when it rolls round in two years (foolish, foolish woman). If I do, I’ll make sure I have better scriptural references for stuff like Purgatory than “err, I think it’s somewhere in Corinthians about ‘purifying as in the refiner’s fire.’”

I totally deserve points or a medal or something for slipping this little quote from Verbi Sponsa in: “Just as in the Upper Room, Mary in her heart, with her prayerful presence, watched over the origins of the Church, so too now the Church’s journey is entrusted to the loving hearts and praying hands of cloistered nuns.”

There was a bit of a gasp at that point…

(The talk is going up on here at some point, but it does need a bit of an edit).

For the Fallen

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With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon