Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Pro-Life Journey

I've been reading a lot on blogs about the horrific situation in the UK with regards to abortion. When I was very very young - I can't quite work out what year it took place - I went with my parents on some kind of pro-life demonstration, a big march in London. I was taught abortion was wrong, but I didn't know what it was about. I grew up knowing that the Church told us it was wrong, but I don't remember ever really being taught what it was all about. Once, when I was at art school, there was a discussion about it in the tea room, at break time. I distinctly remember knowing that I knew abortion was wrong - because I had always been told so, but I didn't want to admit it. My mum worked in the Life office at the time, and I had some vague idea that that involved helping women who wanted to keep their babies. I must've told one of my friends about this, and during the "big discussion" I felt mortified that my friend revealed all about my mum's work! Why did I feel like that? Perhaps because I still didn't KNOW what abortion was all about. When did I find out about it? well, it was years later, when the Good Lord whisked me off, against all my inclinations, to stay with a Catholic community in the USA. They felt called to undertake Pro-Life work, and one day I found myself in a "picket" carrying a placard with the most horrific image of an aborted baby on it, but worse still, I was obliged to view a similar gory image being held by the person in front of me, as we walked and prayed silently around the doctor's office. NOW I knew what abortion was all about, (and felt heartily ashamed for having avoided it for so many years). I also realised, by the reactions of the people passing by, that folks in the US were not indifferent to this topic - they either backed you all the way, or they hated you all the way. The community didn't just "picket"the offices of doctors who performed abortions and tried to keep that side of their career hidden, they also prayed the rosary outside abortion mills; and they provided practical help to mothers in distress, a bit like the Sisters of the Gospel of Life do in Glasgow. They promised to help the woman get a job, or a home, or medical insurance - whatever she needed, and they kept their promises enabling the baby to be born.
Back home again, I knew I couldn't remain indifferent to this issue. I tried volunteering with the Life organisation, and started training to be a counseller, but I couldn't agree to leave my Catholic faith out of my work, I knew I wouldn't be able to let a woman walk away thinking it was ok if she went ahead with her abortion (as one counseller had told me she'd done). "Just make sure you come back for post abortion counselling" - seemed nonsensical to me. And by then, I knew all about the abortifacient effects of contraception too, so I couldn't remain neutral on that one either.
Then I met the man of my life (or rather, of my earthly life). He was madly pro life too. We tried to get people in this country to be moved by the American pro life literature that we had, but we found that any unpleasant imagery turns people off, doesn't stir the good old British conscience. So we did the most pro life thing a young married couple can do, and had a baby. I insisted that I would not be seen by a single doctor who performed abortions. My GP (whom I had chosen because he was a practising Catholic, and was meant to be pro life) was rather surprised by my insistence, but said he wished more women had taken this stance in 1967 - 30 years before. However, because I was considered rather elderly to be having a first child (in my mid 30's!), I was supposed to be under the "care" of a consultant at the hospital. I knew there was a consultant who wouldn't perform abortions in a neighbouring town, but not a one could be found in my local hospital. I insisted, and in the end a compromise was reached. I could be under the care of a registrar who wouldn't do abortions - she was Muslim, so she was allowed to get away without doing abortions. Funnily enough, she didn't really understand why I was so adamant, she sympathised with her fellow doctors who had to do them - it reminded me of that doublespeak "I don't agree with abortion, but I'm not against those who are for it".
So we had our baby - and once we'd got into a routine, we wanted to carry on a more spiritual battle against abortion. So we started to pray outside abortion hospitals. We have always done this on our own, since there were never any organised prayer events wherever we lived. Except for a time, in Bristol, when my husband was in the SPUC group, and more people came along to pray outside the Marie Stopes clinic. Our little lad has always been with us, and has grown up knowing abortion is wrong. He doesn't know the gory details, yet. He will have to be informed when he's old enough - I don't want him to be indifferent to this matter.
Now we pray, on a Sunday, on our way to Mass, outside the PAS building in a nearby town. It is not a job I like doing, I feel self-conscious, but it's just a small sacrifice to make.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Important information for the UK Welcome to the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill Website . There is an online petition to sign, which can be accessed here We must fight this government's anti-life policies.

Friday, 15 February 2008

A Great Catholic Wife and Mother

I've been meaning to post about my confirmation saint, and inspiration for my blog name. We visited her house, in York, several years ago, and I found it very moving to be there, and to be able to pray at her shrine. We even managed to get to see her hand, preserved in a Convent in York. I'm sure I didn't really appreciate who she was when I chose her name, at the age of 11, although I have always been profoundly moved by her story. Yet I'm sure she's had a hand in guiding me through life, and I feel it is significant that she was a wife and mother, as I have become; also that she died on 25th March, the Day of the Annunciation, which is the day my husband and I married. She died for her Catholic Faith, the Truth, which she could not deny - I hope and pray that she will intercede for me if I am ever put in a situation where I have to stand up for the faith.

Her husband was devastated by her death: “Let them take all I have and save only her, she is the best wife in all England, and the best Catholic”.

Here is a short biography of her.

St. Margaret Clitherow, Martyr, called the "Pearl of York", born about 1556; died 25 March 1586. She was a daughter of Thomas Middleton, Sheriff of York (1564-5), a wax-chandler; married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and a chamberlain of the city, in St. Martin's church, Coney St., 8 July, 1571, and lived in the Shambles, a street still unaltered. Converted to the Faith about three years later, she became most fervent, continually risking her life by harbouring and maintaining priests, was frequently imprisoned, sometimes for two years at a time, yet never daunted, and was a model of all virtues. Though her husband belonged to the Established Church, he had a brother a priest, and Margaret provided two chambers, one adjoining her house and a second in another part of the city, where she kept priests hidden and had Mass continually celebrated through the thick of the persecution. Some of her priests were martyred, and Margaret who desired the same grace above all things, used to make secret pilgrimages by night to York Tyburn to pray beneath the gibbet for this intention. Finally arrested on 10 March, 1586, she was committed to the castle. On 14 March, she was arraigned before Judges Clinch and Rhodes and several members of the Council of the North at the York assizes. Her indictment was that she had harboured priests, heard Mass, and the like; but she refused to plead, since the only witnesses against her would be her own little children and servants, whom she could not bear to involve in the guilt of her death. She was therefore condemned to the peine forte et dure, i.e. to be pressed to death. "God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this", she said. Although she was probably with child, this horrible sentence was carried out on Lady Day, 1586 (Good Friday). She had endured an agony of fear the previous night, but was now calm, joyous, and smiling. She walked barefooted to the tolbooth on Ousebridge, for she had sent her hose and shoes to her daughter Anne, in token that she should follow in her steps. She had been tormented by the ministers and even now was urged to confess her crimes. "No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu", she answered. She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agony of fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!" Her right hand is preserved at St. Mary's Convent, York, but the resting-place of her sacred body is not known. Her sons Henry and William became priests, and her daughter Anne a nun at St. Ursula's, Louvain.
Her life, written by her confessor, John Mush, exists in two versions. The earlier has been edited by Father John Morris, S.J., in his "Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers", third series (London, 1877). The later manuscript, now at York Convent, was published by W. Nicholson, of Thelwall Hall, Cheshire (London, Derby, 1849), with portrait: "Life and Death of Margaret Clitherow the martyr of York". It also contains the "History of Mr. Margaret Ward and Mrs. Anne Line, Martyrs".
[Note: St. Margaret Clitherow was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.]
Publication information:
Written by Bede Camm. Transcribed by Marcia L. Bellafiore.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Is the Excitement Waning?

I'm feeling hungry, and it's bedtime. Usually we indulge in a few snacks, a nice glass of wine, a DVD, before bedtime. But so far, I've managed to not buy anything that could take us off our Lenten course. Hubby has broken up for half term today, and we'd normally have a coffee and a bun or two to celebrate. Whilst our son was at his tennis lesson, we narrowly avoided the temptations of the coffee shop by bumping into another "tennis mum" who's very down to earth, and is training to be a social worker - you can imagine what we had to talk about (see previous post) and that took up all our time. She's not religious, but does agree that there is a lot of rubbish being taught on her course. She wants to do things differently, but has to toe the party line until she gets her degree. We wish her every blessing in her endeavours to fight the system. As she said, she'll probably end up getting the sack. This afternoon, I went shopping for the few items we need prior to going away to Bristol, where we'll be staying with my parents for a few days, and I'll be able to boost the family income by doing a spot of picture conservation with someone I know who runs a studio (and calls me in to help her out with my super quick retouching skills!). I only needed milk, & fruit, but ended up wandering through the bakery section. I realised as I strode determinedly past all those cakes, biscuits, and sweets, just how little nutritional value any of it had, and how little so many people in our society appreciate what they have. I thought of the photo of a little African boy I had seen on an excellent blog I'd come across earler, Ecce Mater Tua and could not feel sorry for myself having to give up something that wouldn't even do me any good. I have placed the photo on the side, under the Lamb of God. I just feel how paltry my efforts are. How little I deserve. I thank God for all He has done for me and my family. I pray that I can do something for one of these little ones, as well as pray for them.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Why are we waiting?

I said in a previous post that I should write one with the above title, with regards to our adoption saga. It's a funny thing in this country that we are always being told that there is a great need for adopters, and yet, we have waited for over 5 years for a child to be placed with us. We are deemed "not normal". Our current social worker had to inform us today that the social worker of the baby for whom we were being considered was put off by certain facts about us. We don't feel too devastated, (although we were lead to believe we had a very good chance of being given this baby), since we have been let down on several previous occasions, and we have psychologically geared ourselves up to this likelihood.

So, what's the matter with us eh? Well, the sad truth is, in this day of inclusiveness, where anything goes - even homosexuals being able to adopt, there's just one kind of 'not normal' that social workers can't seem to include, ie, a practising Catholic couple, who homeschool, and who don't have a tv!!! Which of these three things is the greatest block in the social workers' minds, to giving a child a loving stable home, where they will be cherished is anybody's guess.

We started out on this course of self-inflicted disappointment because we thought it would be our way of being open to life, and something that God was calling us to do. We are learning something from all this, but I think it will take some serious prayer to understand what God has been teaching us.
Why did we receive this news today, perhaps it is fitting on a day for renunciation of all attachment to earthly things. Even the desire for another child?
I don't think we'll be waiting any more, it must be time to let go.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Lent Begins

Lent starts tomorrow, and I am looking forward to the Great Fast this year. I don't know why, but I'm really glad it starts so early. Usually I dislike Lent because it always shows me up for the failure I am. But this year I feel almost excited about it! (I'm sure that this won't last long, when I sniff the coffee packet that has to be consigned to the fridge for the next 40 days).

The Station of the Cross above is one that I have been restoring for a local Catholic Church, which was recently renovated, and does look very beautiful, so the Stations now need to be done too. I've just been patching up 5 of them which were damaged whilst being taken down. (So much unneccessary damage is caused to pictures through bad handling!). I tested this one to see if they would benefit from cleaning, and quite clearly they will look much brighter. So the Parish Priest may commission me to do the rest. It is very time-consuming work, so I'll have to do them one at a time, in between my housewifely, and homeschooling duties.

This picture shows a detail, during cleaning, where it can be seen how much dirt has been removed from the Magdalen's cloak.

Now, I may be good at restoring pictures, but to my endless shame there is one thing I can not restore:-

Yes, these are close-up details of my attempt at pancakes!!! I hate "pancake day", it fills me with angst. I can cook cakes, scones, biscuits (ie cookies, to my overseas readership - if you're reading, Alexa!), and a few savoury dishes well, but I NEVER succeed with pancakes. What did I do so wrong this year? I used self raising flour (at least, I think that's what went wrong). My lovely son was very forgiving, and didn't mind that I gave up and chucked them all in the compost. Still, the replacement pudding was eaten so fast that there was no time to take a photo - shop-made meringues, with cream and tinned pears. (Well, it all needed eating up!).

Bye Bye......

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Realities of Homeschooling

Someone left a comment re homeschooling in the UK on my first post - saying,

"is there a Catholic org in the UK that has good advice on homeschooling? You got me interested in the subject."

As I replied, the short answer is there is no organisation, as such. There used to be a Catholic homeschooling network, but that folded a couple of years ago, although there may be moves afoot to start a new one. A lot of the Catholic homeschoolers know (or know of) each other, and try to link up with others in their area, and some families arrange meetings once a week/month etc. There are many different types of Catholic homeschooling families, (as in, ranging from those who adhere very much to the Traditional Latin Mass, to those who are at home with the New Rite,) and each family chooses their own curriculum. What most of the people that I have met are trying to do, is to retain a sense of their Catholic identity, and to pass that on to their children.

A lot of people are disaffected with the state of Catholic education in this country, and the iniquitous "sex education" (otherwise known as child abuse, to my mind), has been gradually adopted by many Catholic schools, starting from aged 5 upwards. My husband is a Catholic R.E. teacher in a secondary school who has children coming to his lesson from the science lesson, where they have just been taught all about contraception. He then has to teach the "Catholic view" on contraception. The children quiz him about this discrepancy - they can see how irrational it all is. He once had a girl arriving at his lesson, wiping her hands, and saying "ugh this stuff is horrible to get off" what was it? Spermicidal jelly!!! In a Catholic school! He did complain about this to his Bishop, and his headmaster. Nothing has happened - and now it's a year on and the lessons are due again - he's wondering what will happen this time round.

But Catholic homeschooling isn't merely being done for negative reasons.

We got the idea of doing it from a Catholic Charismatic Community in the USA that we were involved with a long time ago. I first visited it when I was single, and the children of one of the families there were the most fantastic, well-balanced, and self-disciplined young people I had ever met. I was impressed with them, and their parents, and loved the idea of having one's children around, and educating them oneself. I have watched these children grow, and the oldest batch (they came in two batches, with 4 older ones, and then a second spring, with 4 younger ones, much to their parent's delight) are fine adults, making their way in the world, one training to be a priest. They have all kept the faith.

I knew, once I'd met them that I would, if I were ever blessed with a husband, and children, home educate (given that my husband would agree to it!). Well, I was truly blessed with a wonderful husband, and he visited this community with me after we were married, and he was convinced of the home-education being a good thing too. We in turn were blessed with our son, and I often thought to myself, whilst longing and waiting for more children to come, that I might not be so convinced of home educating an only child. However, since when you have a little child, you spend the first four or five years of their life helping them learn, it seemed like a logical extension to carry that on, and so we have done. He is now ten. We tried to adopt, but no child has been given to us in the five years since we were officially approved to adopt. And so he has been homeschooled on his own, and we have to make efforts to help him to meet up with other children.
We moved into Shropshire two years ago, and have found a couple of other Catholic homeschooling families fairly close by. One in particular, in a neighbouring town, have 3 boys around our son's age, and they all belong to the same tennis club (which has a brilliant youth section, and is very cheap! - unlike the hoity toity clubs elsewhere). So we try to meet up once or twice a week, and I have even begun to teach the boys French each week (which is just about all my rusty brain can stretch to!), and we have started to attend some sign language lessons, which a deaf friend of their family has been offering them for a while.
The situation is not ideal. Children need to be with other children, but an only child, who is homeschooled, has to make extra efforts to meet up with others. Our lad has attended soccer training sessions, but last time he went, he admitted that he had been bullied by two of the boys, and also that several of them use bad language (which he hates). He is quite resilient, and will probably want to go back this week, but I do wish there were some Christian youth teams around - one's that don't make a God of football, but where the children can just play to enjoy the sport.
Homeschooling is not easy, it involves sacrifice, but it is a good option if both parents are committed to it. It doesn't work for all families, some homeschool some of their children and let the others attend school. And it can be an expensive option too. Most families need two incomes to pay the mortgage, due to the ridiculous price of houses - we find it hard to break even most months, and we do not have an extravagant lifestyle, we also have to pay taxes which go towards state-funded education, but don't receive any financial assistance for our efforts! However, if you know where to look, there are plenty of cheap, or even free resources around, at least whilst the children are little. As they get older, it does involve a cost for buying in a curriculum.

We sometimes say to our son that he can go to school if he wants to, then Mummy can go out to work, and we can all go on expensive holidays, but up to now, he has declined the offer! I think he knows he's on to a good thing! He knows that we have chosen this way of educating him because we think it is the best thing for him. He knows his Faith better than a lot of the 15 & 16 year olds that my husband tries to teach. He loves to serve at Mass (Old and New rites - though I think he prefers the Old!). He has always had an amazing confidence, and ability to chat to people of all ages - he can play with little children, and hold conversations with adults - he is the most sociable child I know, despite the so called "lack of socialization" that he is supposed to be experiencing by not attending school. But he can be strong-willed, and lazy, and I do have to deal with that too. Maybe in his teenage years it will get harder, maybe it will get easier - I have to leave my son's future in the Lord's hands, I only hope and pray that we can continue to help him develop into an adult who knows and loves Our Blessed Lord through the Truths of the Catholic Church He founded.