Holding on to the Phylacteries

It’s been an intense few months since I last posted on this blog. We went on a sea voyage in April, exploring Andalucía, Greece, Croatia and Italy and shortly after that we discovered that we were expecting another baby, which brought with it a whole new set of, now resolved, worries! Soon after that we had the long school summer holiday, so I was fully engaged in looking after my two children, and in the last two months my youngest has started school, initially on a part time basis, necessitating frequent pick ups from school. Suffice to say I have not been able to write for some time.

In fact life has changed quite considerably in this time. I think back to before Easter, to before this pregnancy and reflect on what was my daily routine. Drop offs at school and nursery followed by daily mass, voluntary charity work, writing this blog and cleaning the church. The future seemed quite clear at that point, I had the time to devote my energies to the church and my endeavours were all shaped by a need to be holy and good.

Such a thought made me reflect on Jewish phylacteries, those black leather boxes held in place by strips of leather. I used to have some in the classroom and would show them to my students, explaining their meaning and purpose. I would ask them to think about the key words that they would put inside the boxes, words that would focus them on their life purpose. The answers were always varied, ranging from making money to the Golden Rule. I would tell them that the boxes contain the words from Deuteronomy:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being and all your might.

These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds…’

And so the straps are bound tightly around the head and the arm of observant Jewish men. They remind them of the love they have for God and of how their lives must be holy. My life before Easter was like this, a life tightly bound to God, focused on Him and on his Will.

How easily things can change. As I write this I look outside and see the cherry tree whose sparse leaves are now yellowed and easily persuaded to fall to the ground by just the slightest breeze. Only a few months ago they were full of sap and vigour, luminous in the bright and hopeful spring sunshine. A bit like me, I think.

Yes, those phylacteries have slackened and are no longer tightly bound. School runs, after school clubs, football practice, laundry, housework, groceries and peacekeeping between siblings have all loosened those straps a little, diverting my attention in all sorts of directions.

But maybe this is just how it should be?

I was able to go to mass today, to be still for a while and to consider the words that were being spoken. I am always ready to listen to true wisdom, it is like a thirst that I have. The word of God quenches it with the purest of waters.

It feels like some sort of dessication has begun in my soul when for one reason or another I cannot attend mass, where I am able to hear the word of God and receive Jesus. The recent song, ‘The Great Flood’ by Kevin Heider speaks of this amazing flood of grace washing over the soul.

The Great Flood by Kevin Heider

So at mass today when the priest reminded us that Jesus gives us peace, ‘May the peace of Christ be with you’, I realised anew that trying to be good and holy has to take place in the midst of life’s business. It cannot be something reserved for Sundays. Christ does give peace to the soul, of that I have no doubt. If you could see the story of my soul played out before you like a movie you would see the immense and incredible effect that prayer, mass and a love of God has had on it. Christ does give peace to the soul and in these recent busy, changeable months this has always been there.

But at the same time I have realised again that faith needs to be nourished, prayer has to be my daily sustenance, I have to use the graces and sacraments offered by the church, they are there to help me through this life with its endless dead end distractions and beguiling illusions. It is so easy to have your head turned, which for me is where humility presents itself as a penetrating sword of strength. Putting aside your own will and handing over your life to God allows Him to flood your soul with all those gifts of the spirit…peace, true joy, acceptance of sacrifice, unselfish love, simplicity of desire.

So I must remember to neglect neither God nor my busy life as surely one can be found in the other.

Speak to God from your heart

I think that it can be very hard for people who have no religious faith to understand those who do. There are those non believers who feel unable to commit because they assume that there just isn’t enough concrete evidence to convince them, they may have looked in certain areas but ignored others in their quest for some form of revelation or enlightenment. They may look on believers with just a little envy, wishing that they could just submit to whatever joy and peace it is that many believers appear to contain. But at the end of the day the sometimes questionable demands of the world consume them and distract them, and so their eyes never really lift from the ground beneath their feet.
Then there are those whose hearts have been hardened by the world and who might view believers with just a tinge of hatred, labelling them inwardly as stupid. These might be worshippers of science or the intellect-indeed it is possible that they might consider those with a propensity towards religious belief as suffering from a psychological or emotional illness.
I am conscious that I might sound judgmental but I must state that I speak only from experience, I have encountered these approaches in people.
I am sometimes asked to explain myself in terms of my beliefs. I might be asked to explain my beliefs about life after death, the origins of existence, the nature of God, the purpose of existence. Such questions have been my preoccupation ever since I can remember, which is why I went on to study religion and philosophy to Masters level and briefly to doctorate level, although the demands of motherhood soon concluded that plan!
However despite my endless involvement in these questions, I can say truthfully that I do not know the answers, and I am happy for it to be so, if that is God’s will. I will understand what God wants me to understand.
I found a diary from my childhood recently, I must have been nine or ten, yet page after page contain little heartfelt prayers to God. Please keep my family safe and together, I prayed. Please help us in the world, I pleaded. Help me to be good. It dawned on me that I have always felt the presence of God in my life, I have always been in some form of communication with Him.
An image I love is of Jesus telling his disciples to be like children. Maybe I have misunderstood, but for me he was telling the human race to be humble of heart, to not be seduced by the ego or the temptations of the world. He was telling us that to find happiness we need to trust in God as a child trusts with wide open eyes. We need to be wary of our ego, it can lead us to some very dark and dangerous places…where we begin to trust the shadows.
So when I am questioned about my belief and my faith all I can see is myself sitting at the feet of Jesus, looking up to Him, feeling and drinking in the peace, the goodness and the love which surrounds him, enjoying talking to him about everything, listening to the wisdom of his words.

I have a relationship with Jesus, with God. He is as real to me as my own father. I feel the pain of my separation from Him as I complete my allotted time on this earth and I yearn to be fully in His presence again, if I am ever worthy of this. But I know I deserve some punishment for my vile sins.

Faith for me then isn’t about being able to answer the ultimate questions of life during my time on earth, it is about trusting that one day it will all be made clear. We only have eighty years or so to wait, for some the time is much less.
So faith is about love…loving God, having a real personal relationship with Him, talking to Him from my heart, giving everything to Him to be made good and pure. It is about accepting that I am a child of God, and I bow low in humble, joyful acceptance of this fact.
A starting point for belief then should be in the heart. One earthbound heart speaking to its Father, telling Him of its woes, fears, sorrows, doubts and hopes. Speaking honestly and openly. God loves to hear us and He longs for us to trust Him and to love Him. He longs for us to remember Him.
Speak to Him then, He who is all heart, who made us, who loves us and who desires for us to grow in full knowledge of His incredible love for us.

Having a test of faith-the answer is always in prayer

Is faith for the good times or is faith for the bad times? It is easy to have faith when things are going well, when nothing comes along to test your resolve. The sun shines, the moon shines, the birds sing, the children laugh. All is well and thanks is given to God.
But sometimes the skies darken, don’t they? You can’t feel the warmth anymore and the world seems like a lost place, not somewhere that is lovingly and meaningfully held in the hands of its magnificent creator.
This is when we can feel alone, this is when we can allow the doubts to creep in, speaking to us in deadly whispers, telling us not to believe that there is a greater meaning to it all. It’s so easy to listen when we feel tired and confused by the trials before us. How much easier to anger, to allow those whispering echoes of doubt to double and treble in volume until your soul is consumed by the ultimate act of hatred, denial of the Divine.
I have had faint tremors of this in my life recently. Things have happened which are causing immense worry. I have heard the occasional distant whisper of temptation deep in my soul, it has caused me to glance sideways, to stop a moment and to do the thing which saddens me the most…to doubt and question my Father in heaven.
But when this happens it means that I have forgotten the purpose of my life…to be humble before my God, to accept whatever He gives to me, to doubt no more, to love more fully in a way that can go beyond my own personal suffering, to truly and joyfully believe the Good News.
Grace came calling again, God saw the sorrow in my heart and didn’t leave me. I asked him to carry me and as is often the case I happened upon some words,
‘In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps’ (Proverbs 16:9).
It reminded me of my commitment to a humble life, it reminded me of little Jacinta of Fatima who was so willing to suffer for the salvation of souls and the forgiveness of sins.
It reminded me that I must just humbly trust in the will of God.
The words which I read were accompanied by others, ‘Don’t panic, just pray-if you are worrying about anything, you are not praying enough’ (These words were mentioned by Immaculee Ilibagiza).
So my answer was there. In my fear and anguish I had forgotten to talk to the ones who love me the most. I had forgotten to ask them for help.I had forgotten to truly pray. I had allowed myself to be distracted by myself and I could see how much misery this causes, it is like being trapped in a box. I needed to expand my vision again and to hand over my will to that of God.

I can tell my Father in heaven everything, all my fears and worries, all of my hopes. I have asked him to help me, I don’t know if it is His plan to give me what I want but I must just trust that He knows best.

Washing His feet with the tears of my repentant heart

I love the story of the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. It must have been a remarkable sight, a desperate sight, a sad sight, a challenging sight yet ultimately a sight that says so much about the potential of our relationship with God.
How amazing it must have been to have lived when Jesus walked the earth. Imagine hearing him speak, imagine if he looked into your eyes…
We know that crowds followed him wherever he went, so much so that at one point his disciples thought it best to get in a fishing boat and push away from the shore a little just so that everyone was safe.
I reckon I would have been in those hot and curious crowds, desperately wanting Him to recognise me, to see the agonies of my soul, desperately wanting Him to be the saviour of the world…afraid that he wasn’t but so hopeful that he was.
His miracles and his authority would have gripped me, just as they do now. The stories of those seeking his healing are so human, so familiar-those desperate people with gynaecological problems, deafness, blindness; the forgotten, the lonely; the agonies of parents with sick children…that, for me, they resonate with authenticity. The tales are too timeless to be anything but the truth.
So I can understand how the woman, on hearing of his presence in her town just had to go to Him. She was a sinner, I wonder what she had done? Human nature doesn’t seem to change much so I can imagine the possible nature of her sin, the temptations that she might have succumbed to. I can feel too her repulsion when she entered into a full awareness of her sin. I can feel her sense of being lost.
People would have known of her past actions, so her presence in the Pharisees house would have been acknowledged. There was the sinner, the hysterical woman, the unworthy one.
She will have felt all of that from the people that were there, she will have seen it in their eyes, through her tears.
She needed to cling to Jesus, the source of all hope and love. She may have been afraid to touch him in the room filled with hostile eyes, so she could only weep and weep. She was crouching on the floor close to this man whose beautiful heart could bear all things.
Her tears though spoke to Jesus and he recognised how she was offering her soul to him, asking him to heal her, to make her new again. She kissed his feet over and over again, desperate for the healing that only God can give. She felt in her heart that he could do this, he could redeem her. And he did, he told her that her sins were forgiven.
God knows that we are sinners, that we rarely get it right but He offers us endless renewal and forgiveness if our hearts are truly sorry like those of the woman who wet the feet of Jesus with her tears and then wiped them with her hair.


Living the Heroic life, Living the Moral life

I officially class myself as a bit of a coward.

It hasn’t always been this way, as although I have never thought that my views or opinions have any real significance or consequence compared to those of other people, there was a time in my youth that I felt that I could do pretty much anything I wanted.

Choosing to give up my teaching career, after finally acquiescing to the fact that many teenagers just didn’t want to know about God, morality or the implications of eternity, was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Yes, for these young people the questions were too deep, for them the questions were seemingly too irrelevant; the analysis too tiresome, the answers too subjective and lacking in the sort of scientific rationalism they had grown to trust and worship.

Admitting defeat was ironically a very courageous choice for me, but I knew that the next few years would be difficult as I came to terms with the person I was and the decisions that I had made.

And indeed this has been true. I still feel a groaning sadness when I think of those hopeful and expectant years spent studying Theology, devoting my thoughts and energies to discovering more about the Divine. I feel the deepest dismay and disappointment and indeed still feel the faint echoes of terror and despair, when I recollect the tangible antagonism and aggression expressed towards me as I tried to talk about God.

At the time I felt like I was in a hopeless and treacherous den of lions, each one of them roaring and snarling around me. Why couldn’t I reach them, why couldn’t they hear me!? There was a time when they did, and teaching was the best job in the world… but in more recent years it felt like someone was muffling my voice, distorting my words, playing havoc with the symbiotic relationship that has to be at the heart of good teaching. Oh dear, I pray for all of us.

So yes I believe that essentially I have the mark of the coward etched in my flesh. Someone who let everyone down…God, parents, my pupils, myself. In many ways I feel it even more, that my voice is not worthy enough to be heard.

Strange then how the other day I heard someone talk about how so many today are not brought up to live the heroic life, the moral life. I must have heard this statement about a month ago now but I have been mulling it over ever since, contemplating the meaning of the words.

The speaker said that many people are brought up to think solely of themselves, to make decisions based on the most beneficial and comfortable outcome for themselves. Here in England we have a saying, ‘I’m alright, Jack’. Such a statement and such a way of living makes no allowances for unselfish kindness, free and overflowing generosity or importantly self sacrifice.

As I thought more about living the heroic life, I realised that this is what it means to live a truly Christian life.

Rising to the heroic life calls for sacrifice, it asks us to bravely take up our cross. It asks us to love our neighbour, to look after them.

It asks us to live a life for others. To make those brave and selfless decisions that advance the goodness of humanity and that, like the most magnificent multi faceted diamond, reflect God at every point.

It asks us to do what is right and good, rising above the demands of our passions and disordered desires and appetites.. It asks us to live a prayerful life, seeking to be ever closer to God through following the example of His son in the greatest sacrifice ever made.

It asks us to recognise and to acknowledge that the highest dignity lies in self sacrifice.

So my path is somewhat clearer now.

I want to live the heroic life, the moral life. I want to do good. I want to be humble and quietly courageous in my daily life and decisions, as I hold tight the hand of my Lord. I want to find the strength through prayer, to make decisions that might demand some sacrifice from me. I believe I have already been asked to make sacrifices in order to purge and purify me from my inherent pride and vanity and thus far it has been a very difficult journey.

I am fearful of so many things, I do tremble and cower… so I cannot say with confidence that I will be able to live the heroic life. But I am going to try.

My God, My friend

I know someone who has been a regular church goer for many years, someone who is an active and visible member of their church. This person is involved in many of the groups within the parish which seek to offer service to those in need. This person would be of help to anyone who asked for it. This person has a warm and loving heart.

But this person finds it hard to pray.

I have often spoken to this person about prayer, about speaking to God as if you were speaking to a dear friend. I have spoken also about the effects of saying the rosary, of its quiet, intimate power which somehow manages to suffuse your whole life, offering peace in abundance. But my friend has remained still, a stranger to the intimacy of real conversation with the Father.

I knew too that my words would not help, but that my prayers would.

My friend has expressed an inability to know how to pray. Instead she encounters feelings of emptiness which lead to dismay and despair, which is but a step from a life lived in the shadow of darkness.

‘The words just won’t come’, laments my friend.

How then I was glad and heartened to hear that something had happened to change this.

Just the other day I was told, ‘I no longer have just a religion with God, I now have a relationship with God!’.

Prayers had been said for this person, in the Bible and prayer group to which she belonged. Prayers had been said over my friend in her home and she felt the power of them deep in her soul. She felt the Holy Spirit of God.

It bestowed joy in her heart and a desire within her to cleave closer to her heavenly Father, just as you run to your father as a child… desiring to be held close and kept safe from harm. She now wanted to talk with him and share with him the troubles and the confusions of her heart and the daily happenings of her life.

She had asked and she had received, something that she had not done before.

When I think of this world, of its magnificent beauty I know that my God is a loving and giving Father. He gives endlessly…and I ask endlessly! I do!

But this is because I know that I cannot exist without God. My soul would shrivel in the harshness of this man made existence which is often governed by selfish hedonism and futile materialism. God offers true life, not the empty life offered by this man made world.

So I ask God for everything, everyday. From the moment I wake I ask God to help me that day, to do His will and not my own. I ask God to help me be patient, wise and good with my children, to help me not to be greedy, to keep me safe as I drive along, to be a good wife full of integrity in my everyday chores and the list goes on and on… I believe that God wants this, I believe that He is happy to give to me, because it is clear that I am His and that I love Him and desire to be with Him forever.

But the story of my friend also reminded me of the words of the Virgin Mary at Medjugorje in 1989:

‘In prayer with the heart you shall encounter God’.

I love these words because it is so true. I just wish that everyone could become again like a little child and open their heart to God. Telling God everything that they feel, their hopes, worries, hurts- just as you speak to your best friend. Asking for Him to enter your heart and your life, to guide you and to help you. Recognising that you are a child of a Creator and who has been bestowed with many good things…and from that humble recognition crying out to God from your heart,’ Lord, let me know you!’. 

I sometimes feel that I am in an endless conversation with God, but in many ways I believe that this is the purpose of my existence. God hears and He will answer, He will…He is just waiting for you to ask Him.

Ever sinful, Ever saved

‘Jesus is my Saviour’, ‘He is Risen’, ‘I am forgiven’.

I have always known these phrases, these words-there has always been someone saying them in a voice tinged with euphoric contentment and with a glistening eye on their eternal destiny.

But how empty these words sounded to me…not so long ago.

I could only listen, but my heart was cold to their meaning, my eyes reflecting nothing except the limits of my intellectual reasoning.

Now, however it is I who delight in saying them. My heart has opened up like a flower. They feel like living words, giving me a new life each time I utter them. It’s hard to explain but it feels like having my thirst endlessly quenched, like a perpetual satiation. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing me… but also all of the love, wonder and mystery of the universe, of God- right there behind me and I am endlessly grateful and consumed by it.

I have recently been away, on a ship, cruising around the Mediterranean, visiting places such as Cadiz, Cephalonia, Dubrovnik, Venice and as it was Easter there was a priest on board.

It was strange attending Easter Sunday Mass in a room also used for the game of Bridge and Masonic Brotherhood meetings and it was even stranger trying to concentrate as the ship swayed from side to side in rather rough maritime conditions. The room was on Deck 6 which is quite low down in the ship and it also had low ceilings too and no windows, so my slight claustrophobia was awakened and I found myself going hot and clammy, trying not to panic. Thank God for the lovely priest whose words during the mass enabled me to transcend my immediate environment.

His sermons were characteristically brief and full of humour, peppered with jokes and anecdotes…but it was what he said on Easter Sunday that has stayed with me.

I went to a convent school and there was a crucifix in every classroom, so some form of meditation on the meaning of this image was an accidental preoccupation in certain lessons, in my case usually Maths. However I always encountered some form of difficulty in my ponderings, as I couldn’t quite understand the concept of Jesus as a crucified Saviour.

That was because I hadn’t really sinned at that point.

Now though I speak as someone who has sunk into the depths of sin, I have known how it feels to wilfully indulge in corruption and destruction so vile and I have known how it feels to realise that one has travelled so far from the source of all goodness. I have known how it feels to suddenly realise that you are in a pit of dark despair…yet there is a light above you to which you clamber and crawl.

So in that room, on that ship, on Resurrection Day the priest said that the closer we are to God the more aware of our sin we become.

Yes, I thought, this is true!

I lament the darkness I allowed and indeed allow, into my soul and the dreadful things I have done but now I understand the cross!

Jesus, as my scapegoat and out of love for me… suffered and died but then defeated death and all the powers of darkness, so that by some divine mystery my sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven have been opened for me, allowing me to have eternal peace if I so wish.

Now I can understand how it feels to proclaim that Jesus is the Saviour, because he is my Saviour.

I now look at a crucifix and see the greatest act of love that I can imagine. It humbles me, fills me both with sorrow at the evil I welcomed into my life and also with the greatest hope…as I know that there is God who loves me enough to save me.

Banerjee to Bannerman…carrying the cross

I remember that when I was a child there was some discussion between my parents as to whether they should change my surname to make it more acceptable. My name is a truly Bengali name and carries with it the story of my fathers long journey by boat from a village near Calcutta to the hospitals of London where, early in his career, he worked as a doctor. I love to hear the stories about my dad’s early life in India and also the history of my Indian family too…my Great Grandfather who was a lawyer for the Maharajah but who lost his fortune due to grief when his beloved wife died and the Grandfather who was the editor of the Calcutta Times and who interviewed Gandhi. I wish that there were photographs of these people, but instead I am left to my imagination…
It was thought that I might experience some difficulties in having an Indian surname. I did not participate in any of these discussions but I remember when they occurred. It introduced a little echo of fear into my young life…I began to worry about what might happen to me, would I be hated because of my name and the colour of my mixed race skin, was life going to be difficult for me because of what I was?
In my teenage years and probably a bit before everyone was urged to use moisturizer with sunscreen, I avoided the summer sun and bought Factor 30 sun block as I was afraid of my skin darkening yet further. Thank goodness that I am over all of that nonsense now, as it made my back packing adventures to hot, tropical climes a little fraught with anxiety.
I suppose it was a taste of a perceived persecution, probably imagined… as my life thus far, has not been adversely affected by the colour of my skin.

All those years ago when I felt fear over the ramifications of my heritage, I could not imagine that at some point in the future those feelings would come back, albeit under a different guise.

Did I know back then that my heart would be set on fire for God? Did I know that everything would change when I replaced my will with God’s will? Did I know that love would transform me, lifting me up? Did I know that I would suddenly, as if for the first time, see the incredible truth and eternal wisdom in the teachings of the Catholic church? Me, who had probably broken every commandment ever issued by the church regarding behaviour and conduct? Did I know back then that I would find my life and beliefs at odds with a seemingly powerful current of atheistic and rational humanist thought?
No, I don’t think that I did.
But something has happened, things that have been talked about by numerous men and women throughout the history of the church, namely the time which I feel to be anti-Christ. I am not referring to a specific person here as I don’t claim to know anything about that or about anything really…but I am talking about a time when many of the values behind the laws put forward by those in charge of these things often appear to have come from those who are anti or indifferent to Christ.

It worries me as I too was someone who was probably indifferent at one point- I was probably very concerned with fairness, equality, humanism, rights and might have seen the Christian religion as holding these things back, so I know how easy it might be to believe that laws changing the definition of marriage, laws preventing people from wearing crosses at work, laws which in essence deny God and which trivialise and marginalise Christianity, are in fact right and just for modern society. I may have thought that people should be free to practise their religion, but only within a small and hidden area of social experience almost as if it was some form of a weekend only sports event.
How things change when one truly loves God and feels God’s love- it is real, it is alive, it brings about an internal revolution and you realise how God enriches your life with treasures beyond worldly imagination.
God gives peace…of heart, of mind, of spirit, of body. A peace that lasts and which isn’t dependent on money, our hobbies, other people or any of the other things that we might use to stay sane in this world.
Loving God adds the dimension of eternity to all that we do instead of existing as if eighty years is our lot, it calls us to love others as much as we love ourselves, to sacrifice for others instead of existing within a safe cocoon, to submit ones self to a higher power which is beyond earth bound values, to be humble instead of proud, ready to be a servant and gladly washing another’s feet…
Loving God swells your heart to bursting point but there is still capacity to love, because its origin comes from an eternal source, far beyond the understanding of the world. I am just not sure that an atheistic, rationalistic, humanistic society has this element of eternity within it that transforms all that a person does, thinks and says. I think of 1 Corinthians 13, where it basically says that if I do not have love then I am nothing and I gain nothing:
‘If I give all I possess to the poor…but do not have love, I gain nothing’
I suppose time will tell.
However someone chided me when I complained about this perceived marginalisation within society. I am happy to be chided, as I am always aware that my understanding may be limited. They explained to me that there is no real use in complaining, instead I should worry about my own life and ensure that I allow Christ to live in and through it, despite what might be happening around me. We may experience these troubles but Christ must live on in our hearts and in the little lives that we live, calling us always to be good, kind and courageous. Christ calls us to bring about a new Kingdom where His values reign supreme and it can only start with an individual, heartfelt conversion that shows its effect close to home, indeed it starts within our own home.
We have been told to carry our cross, which I have always understood to be about accepting my sufferings with humility and through devotion to God, but I wonder now if Jesus had another meaning in mind when he said this. Did he somehow know that the time would come when anti Christ forces within the world would seek to hide Him from view?
Was he telling us each to hold up the cross for the world to see, as a symbol of life, hope and love… for a world where the meaning of these things has been lost?

I hand myself over to you, God…

I love the name Grace. I know lots of lovely people who have been honoured with this name…but sometimes I wonder if these people really understand the meaning of the name that they have been given. Do they perhaps see it as a name denoting ease, poise and dignity of physical movement or maybe they see it as a name belonging to someone who has a certain beautiful delicacy of spirit or demeanour?
For me, the word Grace is both a beginning and an end.
It is an end to worldly attachment. An end to all of those addictive and seemingly innocuous things of this world…materialism, power, wealth. How we can spend an entire lifetime seeking to gain more and more of these things. I have written before about how I fantasise about having a home with no mirrors, televisions or unnecessary material objects. How many distractions are contained within my television set and indeed, looking back at me in the mirror? How my mind would be free! What would it then turn to? I know it would turn towards what is real, away from what is not. It would turn to God and to my journey within eternity, my journey back to God. The world makes us forget that we are on this journey, but we must be aware of how it seeks to make us forget…
Grace, for me is an end to self glorification, to selfishness. How we are encouraged to worship our bodies, to ensure their beauty and youthful appearance. How much time and money we can spend engaged in this ultimately futile pursuit? How much time and money have I spent on these things! For me, though, it is all an insatiable distraction designed to turn our heads away from the state of our soul. Have we not been warned about worshipping false idols! If we look no further than our skin then we pay little attention to our soul within…but what an ultimately dangerous game this is to play and we may only realise when it is too late!

Grace for me then, is an end to existence within the confines of this world… where we measure success by how much money we have or by how far up the social scale we might be. How pride and vanity rules when we seek to feel superior to others through the size of our house, our job or bank balance. Grace for me is a letting go of these things, these seductive chains that bind us and blinker us to the real nature of our existence. Something remarkable happens when we do…
So if we let go of our selves, the channels are then clear, our vision is no longer trapped and deceived by the false mirage of the world and we can then open ourselves to the God who is both alpha and omega.
Suddenly, we are free from the fears and worries that bind us to the things of this world and we can look outside of ourselves, we rejoice in the words of Matthew 6:19-34 (look it up!), we can take in the world as it really is, we can see beyond it into eternity and we begin to feel that great and immense power behind it…which is simply, Love. This is the beginning!
This is the beginning of Grace. St Ignatius of Loyola said, ‘Few souls understand what God would accomplish in them if they were to abandon themselves unreservedly to Him and if they were to allow His grace to mould them accordingly’.
I read these words the other day in a Lenten meditation and again I knew it to be true. I know it is true because it has happened to me! Believe me, I am so far from perfect and on a daily basis I do things and say things which I know do not come from God but how I feel the pain of sorrow when I stray away.
When I try to explain this experience of abandonment to God, it is hard to do without becoming too poetic… but it is easy when I envisage myself as I was, in the past when I lived for the world.

Busy worrying about my place in the world, striving for worldly achievement and money, consumed with vanity and pride, a slave to impulsive desires, selfish and ugly. I probably adorned myself with makeup and jewellery- my uniform at the time signifying my worldly addictions.
Now though I see myself standing with my arms outstretched to heaven, bathed in the light which comes from God, my eyes alight with love, seeking only to praise Him, love Him, thank Him for all that he gives to me. Things which are hard to appreciate if you have allowed the world to consume your soul.

My God and your God gives freedom, joy and peace.

He calls me to seek the Light always, to choose to do good, to be prepared to sacrifice, to recognise that I am a creature made in the image of God…which means that I have been made to both feel the love of God but also to show the love of God through my life. This is His call.

Have you?

When I look back, I know that I have always believed that there is a God. In my heart I have always cried out for God to help me in various testing and difficult situations. I have always had an awareness that there is more to all existence than just breathing and seeking ‘good times’, where only fleshly desires are satisfied. God has always been the backdrop of my life, even if I haven’t given to God the love, honour and respect that such an amazing, compassionate and loving Father actually deserves.

For a number of years it was ok for me to inwardly believe in God and believe that I loved God- but outwardly, in my behaviour and in my words… to exhibit the opposite of this.

When I think of all the things that I have done which will have offended God, it is too much to bear. The selfish hedonism, the devouring materialism, the prideful ambition, the ugly vanity, the absolute carelessness, the destruction of innocence. Just writing these words and knowing what lies behind them is a deserved torture.

Just yesterday I read something that Pope Benedict wrote on his first Good Friday meditations on the Passion of Christ. He said that:

‘We have lost our sense of sin! Today a slick campaign of propaganda is spreading an inane apologia of evil, a senseless cult of Satan, a mindless desire for transgression, a dishonest and frivolous freedom, exalting impulsiveness, immorality and selfishness as if they were new heights of sophistication’

I read this several times thinking about each word and for me, I knew he spoke the truth. He is saying these things because he knows how so many souls are in danger, and they don’t even realise it.

I had lost my sense of sin. How easy it is to do in this world! I believe that I have been encouraged to do so and I have not been strong enough to realise what is happening. As I read his words, I knew that I had believed that I could do anything that I wanted-I believed that this was some form of maturity…freedom to do what I want was maturity. Oh, but what a slave I was to frivolous, careless and ultimately destructive hedonism. How at times I have felt the compelling rush of an impulsive desire and succumbed, thus taking yet another step along a deceptively malignant and odorous path, disguised as a ‘good time’.

I had lost my sense of sin, my understanding of what is right and wrong was perverted, and maybe I didn’t even care that it was.

How this period of Lent is such a great time to reflect? I have been thinking about the day when God called me and marked me out for something greater.

The day of my baptism.


The day when heaven gathered to witness my sinful and blackened soul being washed clean, when I asked to come home to my Fathers house, when I was told that a place has been prepared for me in heaven and will be mine if only I can make it unscathed through the endless temptations on earth, the day when the Holy Spirit of God began to run through every sinew of my being.

Those cleansing and purifying waters of baptism and that holy oil tracing the sign of the saving cross on my flesh and in my soul…mean so much to a sinner like me.

But Lent reminds me that baptism is not something that happened once, it is a journey that can take a life time.

So, gladly during this period of preparation for my eternity, I consider again how easy it is to turn my face away from God, attracted by some glistening worldly falsity, how easy it is to blur my understanding of what is good and of what is sinful. I consider those things which prevent me from seeing and seeking the truth of God. I choose to forgo those things, to purify my soul again, to seek goodness and wholeness before God.

I set my sights on heaven and think carefully about the everyday steps that I will take to get there.

I remember that I have been called to seek goodness and purity above all else, as I have been marked with the sign of the cross. Have you…were you once called to the path of goodness and purity?