Saturday, September 30, 2006

Planting a tree

Have you ever watched a new road being laid? There is a great deal of confusion. There are also been many traffic jams and delays.

However, one thing I have noticed is that, on the whole, most people are amazingly good-natured about all the disruptions caused by the road works. In fact, people have become amazingly polite. Suddenly, drivers will stop and signal for another driver to move into the correct lane. I suppose it's because they can see that there is a point to the disturbances. They can see that if, for the time being, people can be patient, the new road will be a great improvement to driving conditions. I'm always sorry to see the number of trees that are cut down in building a new road. I love trees and miss them. I'm glad to see efforts made to plant new ones, but it will be many years before they are big enough to provide the beautiful shade of their predecessors.
Planting a tree is a real sign of hope in the future. A tree takes so long to grow that the person who plants it does not always live to see it attain maturity.

Planting a tree is a sign that the planter believes there will be a harvest. A farmer would not plant his crops if he believed they would not grow. Similarly, trees are only planted in the understanding that there will be people alive to appreciate their beauty when the trees reach maturity.

We all need signs of hope in our lives. What would it be like if all there was to life were to be included in the dreary headlines we see in the daily newspapers? I think it would be depressing in the extreme. Talk about "wars and rumours of wars": there's hardly a day goes by without us hearing of robberies, violence, corrupt politicians and business people, war, AIDS and so on.

At one time someone published a newspaper that only contained good news. It went out of business within a couple of days. We've become used to hearing of all the "doom and gloom". We're like the drivers who deal with the daily traffic jams and forget that there are some days when the road is clear. We see the diversions and forget that there will be, one day, a new road. We see the trees that are cut down and don't notice the ones that are being planted or the trees that were not touched by the axe.

We need hope. We cannot survive in a world that holds nothing but despair. I think that's one of the reasons why God made trees. He's telling us to look at the present, but also to look ahead to the future, a future that we might not see, but which is full of hope. God is saying to us, "Plant now. Sow the seeds of hope in your own little world. Sow those seeds and one day they will grow strong and beautiful. Plant a tree of hope and nothing in this world will ever destroy you. Plant a tree of hope. Make your life a garden in which others will come to rest and find hope." God gave us trees as a sign of hope, his hope, his love for each one of us.

Lord, let me plant a tree of hope in my heart today. Help me to make my life a garden. Let me fill it with promises of love and peace. Let me plant the flowers of goodness, gentleness and kindness. Let me sow everywhere the seeds of joy. Help me, Lord, to plant a tree of hope in the heart of everyone I meet today.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, September 29, 2006

Burning the cakes

There was a very famous English king by the name of Alfred. He lived more than one thousand years ago and, during his reign, worked hard to establish justice in the country. He made many wise laws and rebuilt the navy. Alfred’s reign was quite peaceful at a time when the lives of most monarchs were spent in waging war.

Alfred was a very good king. However, if one asks most English children what they know about King Alfred, they will usually say that he burned the cakes. In spite of all the wise decisions Alfred made during his reign, the one thing for which everybody remembers him is that he burned the cakes.

What happened was that, at one time, King Alfred was escaping from some enemies who wanted to kill him. He decided to hide in a nearby forest and there, in a clearing, he found a small house. A widow lived there on her own, so the king thought that she would be willing to let him stay there for a short time, until it was safe for him to leave the forest and take up his rightful place in his kingdom.

However, that day, the widow was very busy in the kitchen. She didn’t really have time to wait on the king and wasn’t very happy when he asked if he might stay with her for a while. The old lady grumbled a bit and then told King Alfred that if he wanted to stay in her house, he had better make himself useful. She was baking some cakes in her oven, but there were plenty of other jobs to be done. Alfred must take care of the cakes as they baked, whilst the widow continued with the rest of her work.

King Alfred had not expected such a welcome. He was very worried about how he was going to escape from his enemies, stay alive and rule England. He agreed to watch the cakes in the oven, but his mind was occupied with other things.

A short time later, the widow came into the kitchen and discovered the king sitting in front of the oven. Clouds of smoke filled the room. Instead of taking care of the widow’s baking, he had let the cakes burn………..and that is why, in spite of all the good and brave deeds King Alfred performed in his lifetime, the one thing for which he is really remembered is that he burned the cakes.

All of us would like to be remembered for accomplishing wonderful things in our lives. Which of us, when we were children, did not dream that one day we would be rich and famous? Is there anybody who did not imagine themselves performing some incredibly brave act of rescue that nobody else would dare, and thereby saving many lives? If we are honest, we all had such dreams, and, again, if we are honest, most of us are still waiting to be rich, famous and daring. Most of us will never achieve greatness. Perhaps, when we die, we might even be remembered for a silly mistake, just as Alfred is remembered for burning some cakes.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we are never important in the eyes of the world. Each of us is important to God. Each of us is important in the eyes of those who love us. That is of much more significance than the greatest of wealth and fame. Love changes everything and teaches us what is really valuable in life.

Lord, you didn’t call me to be great. You made me very small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, but that doesn’t matter because I’m important to you and to those who love me. It doesn’t matter if people will only remember my mistakes. Grant that they will also remember my love.

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The human face of God

She weighed 1.3kg when she died. When she was born, she weighed 0.8kg and was only slightly longer than the palm of my hand. The nursing staff had already given up the baby as dead and, obeying local traditions rather than their training, didn’t bother to ensure that she was fed. Her mother, desperately ill with TB and AIDS (thanks to the husband) crawled to her daughter and struggled to give her what little milk she had. That baby refused to die, regardless of the staff’s indifference. She clung to life for one whole month, determined to survive whilst her mother and I continued to fight for her. It didn’t cost much to keep her alive: only daily love and one or two teaspoonsful of glucose. That was all. But gradually the struggle was too much for her tiny body. Her mother and I were the only ones who cried at her death.

Then there was the young woman who gave birth in the village and who bled. Her elderly parents hired a wheelbarrow because its owner refused to lend it to them. For five hours through the night, not stopping to rest, they pushed their daughter along swampy tracks and through the bush to our mission hospital. My attempts to remove the placenta, the cause of the bleeding were unsuccessful. The young woman was still bleeding. That meant an emergency two-hour drive to the provincial hospital, along a nightmare dirt road, full of corrugations and potholes. When we reached the hospital the doctor was having his siesta and refused to come. When he emerged from his bed, almost two hours after our arrival, because of the roughness of the roads we’d travelled, the placenta had already delivered itself. The young woman lived because of her parents’ love.

Don’t forget the parents whose 10 year-old had very severe malaria. They walked for eight hours, carrying the child, not even stopping for a drink of water although it was the hot season. By the time they reached us, the parents were too exhausted to speak. The father sat on a chair and slept. The mother also sat beside the bed. She struggled to stay awake, holding her son’s hand, but even she put her head down on the mattress and slept. The little boy lived, not because of the medication he received, but because of his parents’ love.

We look at the Crucifix, but how often do we see the human face of God in the people around us? Mary is the mother with AIDS who forgets her own sickness in order to fight for her baby’s life. Mary is the couple who ignore their own advanced old age and push their daughter, in a wheelbarrow, through the bush. Mary is the mother who was oblivious of her own needs in her concern for her son’s survival.

The world has a human face, and in our midst is the human face of God.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Saints are the people who kept on trying...

Have you ever been so busy that you’ve not had time even for a drink of water, so that, by the end of the day, you’ve been quite dehydrated, but haven’t realised, and by the time you wake up in the early hours of the morning, you’ve had a splitting headache, so bad that it feels as though your skull is going to explode? If you’re anything like me, you’ll put up with the headache for a couple of hours, trying to work out its cause. Occasionally you might even wonder if the pain could be symptomatic of something really serious, perhaps even a brain tumour? In desperation you have that long drink of water that you don’t really think you need…. and the headache goes.

Very early the other morning I had such a headache. As often happens in these situations, my thoughts turned to St. Maximilian Kolbe, who is someone I admire greatly, but for reasons that might not occur to many people. You see, it seems to me that he perhaps took on more than he realised when he offered to take the place of a fellow prisoner. It sounds bad enough to agree to be starved to death on someone else’s behalf. However, if I’ve read things properly, he had nothing to drink and so must have been incredibly dehydrated by the time the guards entered the bunker in order to finish him off. I can’t begin to imagine the headache he must have had. To me, the bigger act of heroism was not offering to die, but putting up with the headache that must have worsened by the hour. It feels bad enough overnight, but after several days, he must have gone through agony every time he moved. I honestly don’t know how he did it.

The other thought that occurs to me concerns his actual dying. The guards entered the bunker and gave Kolbe and anybody else who happened to still be alive, an injection of carbolic acid. I don’t know how quickly that kills, but it sounds unbelievably painful.

Whenever I stroll past the Coliseum, I wonder what it would have been like for the early Christians as they confronted a lion or two. I’m not sure that I’d have been like Ignatius of Antioch, encouraging the animals to “grind him like wheat”!

Neither am I convinced I’d be happy to be boiled in oil. I made that decision when the hot water in the shower was rather too much for me to bear. Yet St. John was apparently thrown into boiling oil not far from here, at Porta Latina. He was unscathed according to the legend, but he still willingly faced a very hot bath!

When I was in my teens, I saw life in shades of black and white. There were very few grey areas. I was horrified when a friend of mine said that he didn’t think he’d have the courage to be a martyr. I disagreed with him entirely. In fact I rather fancied the idea! Oh the ignorance of youth! These days I admit that I don’t know if I’d have the courage, but hope that I would should the situation arise.

Someone defined a saint as ‘the person who kept on trying when everybody else gave up’. I can cope with that. It puts sanctity within my grasp. I somehow suspect you might think likewise.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, September 25, 2006


“What is a weed? Only a flower whose potential has not yet been recognised.” I found that quotation on the front of a card. A weed is a flower whose potential has not been recognised.

A baby is born. Its parents discover that instead of the healthy child they had been expecting, their lovely baby has a disability that can never be cured. How do they react?

I remember the morning a young woman came to me, weeping, with her newborn in her arms. It had something wrong with its knee because it wasn’t quite straight. She thought her baby would be crippled for life. On this occasion the baby’s apparent disability could be easily corrected. I bandaged its knee tightly and instructed the mother not to remove the bandage until the following day. Next morning, the baby’s knee was straight. This young mother’s baby was more than ever a beautiful flower in her eyes.

There was another time when I found a mother crying over her new baby. He was profoundly disabled with something that could not be cured. She wished he had never been born. She could see nothing beautiful in her infant and I knew that when she returned to her village, this baby would not survive. It was tragic. She saw, not a flower, but a weed.

Yet I remember a boy whose disability was far greater than that baby’s. When I knew Brad he was 10 years old but he could only function as if he were a few months old. His mother had to do everything for him. It was pathetic to look at him, to see him lying on the floor, day after day, doing nothing for himself. When he was born the doctor suggested that Brad be left behind in hospital because he would probably not live for any longer than a few weeks. He actually lived for 14 years because of the care he received from his family. The baby that should have died was the longest-living child on record with his condition. The only things Brad ever learned to do were to smile and to laugh.

Many people, looking at Brad would not have seen a flower. They would have seen a weed that needed to be uprooted. His family saw a flower. Even though Brad probably didn’t understand his younger brother and sisters, they never did anything without coming to tell him. When they returned from school, the other children came to tell Brad about their day. He would laugh and then the children would run off to play. Although he couldn’t play, Michele, Stephen and Katie involved Brad in most of their games. They would often play indoors just to give him company. Brad would watch them and laugh.

Everybody in the town knew Brad. They would visit his parents and sit watching the helpless little boy and enjoying his laugh. He nearly died on so many occasions. There was one evening when Brad was terribly ill. His mother told him that although she loved him so much, if he wanted to die and go to Jesus, she would let him go. She wouldn’t hold on to him, however much she loved him and would miss him. On that occasion, Brad did not laugh. A single tear ran down his cheek. Brad had somehow understood his mother.

When Brad died, a couple of years later, the whole town came to the funeral. His broken little body had given laughter. He had somehow managed to make people feel loved. The little boy who had so little potential had enriched everyone who came to know him.

Lord, we pray for the children whose disability leads to their rejection. We pray that they will find love. We also pray for those who are like Brad, whose lives are a beautiful flower, a sign of your great love working through the weakest and most helpless. Thank you, Lord, for the flowers with which you fill our lives. There are no weeds, Lord, you created flowers. We are the ones who were so blind that we called your flowers weeds.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happy New Year!

It sounds a bit odd to be sending New Year greetings in September, but I’m just back from a beautiful Mass in St. Paul’s basilica, a celebration especially for our new first-year students for the priesthood. I suspect that they were all feeling nervous as today is the first day of a whole new way of life for them. They are all ‘late vocations’ and from English-speaking backgrounds, although they are from several different countries and, as older men, have followed very different paths to the start of their seminary days.

The basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the-walls is a very special place to start off the studies for the priesthood: Sts. Paul and Timothy are buried within the beautiful building. St. Ignatius and his first companions took their vows before the icon of Our Lady in one of the side chapels. 1,300 years of Benedictine monasticism have hallowed the place where, today, millions of people from every corner of the globe, come to pay their respects and to pray.

I imagine that Paul and Timothy must have also felt nervous as they themselves began preaching the Gospel. What was it like for Paul, who had been a persecutor, to suddenly start trying to convince people that he had decided that, for him, "life (was) Christ"? Did he have to face opposition? Did people remind him that he'd been the cause of the death of one of their relatives or friends? Did they ask what he thought he knew as a johnny-cum-lately? Was Timothy scared as he accompanied a firebrand such as Paul? Were there times when he wished he was anywhere other than in Paul's company, especially when the going became tough? How long did it take for Timothy to decide that he had to throw in his lot with Paul and follow him as enthusiastically as Paul himself launched into his new role as 'Apostle of the Gentiles'?

Across the world, there must be many new students for the priesthood taking a deep breath and plunging into a new journey towards God. May he bless them and guide them.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, September 22, 2006

Let there be love!

There are advantages and disadvantages to not being an expert!

The inspiration to start a daily e-mail of the reflections from ‘Pause for Prayer’ turned out to be easier said than done. I designed (to my mind) a useful format, staying up very late one night and beginning at 05.30 the following morning in the attempt. Feeling very satisfied with the result, I signed up for Google Groups, only to find that my efforts had not been very useful because their format doesn’t accept mine. No problem. I thought their simpler ideas would do just as well…after all, it’s a free service… only to find that there would be a delay whilst they checked out that I’m not a spammer. Fine by me. As Vatican Radio receives a daily superabundance of unrequested spam and weird messages, I think it’s great that there is a filtering system, even if it caused me personally a bit of inconvenience.

Recently, however, I was really angry when I opened up an e-mail that arrived in my mailbox. After spending 9 months in Nigeria and 12 years in Zambia, I saw a number of children who, through a complication of malnutrition, had half of their face eaten away by an awful condition called cancrum oris. It caused so much suffering to the children and to their families.

You can, therefore, imagine my reaction when I saw that someone had decided to cash in on the awful photos of the children with this condition in an attempt to make money. Whoever it was had set up a bogus online charity, had added some of the worst pictures and had sent it off around the world. It just so happened that the perpetrator had missed out on one or two essential details, merely alerting the slightly more savvy recipients to another e-hoax. However I am equally convinced that some generous souls were moved to parting with their cash.

It is so sad that there are people who are prepared to benefit by the misfortune of others, reducing them to instruments of personal enrichment in the wrong way. There are many occasions when the patience, the insight and the determination of those who are suffering is a deeply enriching experience for observers, whose lives can become ever more meaningful. Yet there are those who see the same suffering only as a means to make money. Doesn’t that turn human beings into things rather than individuals loved by a God who himself knows the depths of pain?

Someone said that there are those who use things and love people and there are others who use people and love things. May God touch the hearts of those who can’t see the true value of others. Let there be love!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On the road

Public transport is often a useful instrument for observing human nature and behaviour. This morning, for instance, in the early morning light, the sequined shoes of one woman not far from where I was sitting shone with a beautiful array of colours. The cotton top worn by another was equally glistening. I couldn’t wear either the shoes or the top, but the play of light was a fascinating distraction as the bus bumped along the road.

At one stage along the road, a man wearing a trilby hat and a grey business suit climbed on board. As he stood, it was obvious that he was one of the many poor people, often immigrants with no work permits, who try to eke out a living in any way that they can. Why? Well, because his suit looked as though it had been in a washing machine and had not been ironed afterwards. He carried in his hand a bottle of water and a window brush. In spite of the man’s attempts to appear businesslike, he was actually planning to spend his day cleaning car windows and was somewhat embarrassed about the job he was about to undertake.

The contrast was marked: there was, on the one hand, sufficient confidence in life and living to be able to face the day with a bit of a show and an ability to shine. On the other, there are those who find drabness and the burden of dragging through each day. It’s almost like an apology for being alive at all.

Yesterday evening, I sat on the train alongside two small gypsy children, one aged about 3 and the other 5 years old. The bigger girl tried to pull the younger onto her knee, only to have the little one slide off. With much giggling, they repeated the process at least ten times before my exit gave them a second seat. It was so lovely to see the children acting as children, not being used for begging, as is so often the case. There was innocence and enjoyment of each other’s company. There were no problems facing them: there was freedom and a life worth investigating.

Life has many ups and downs. There are moments of sheer joy, but there are also those of deep sadness, in our every day living. The wonderful thing is that, at every moment, we have someone with us, who is intensely interested in all that we say, think and do. Thank God!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Welcome to my world

When I was working as a midwife, I could guarantee that the best way of starting off a day well would be when I could help a new baby be born safely into the world. Sometimes I would have been up for several hours before the birth actually took place. Sometimes it might have been a very difficult delivery. However, I truly believe that the most beautiful sound in the world is when a baby cries for the first time.

There were a number of occasions when a new baby did not breathe as soon as it was born. Sometimes it was hard work trying to encourage the infant to take its first breath. There was always a special moment when tiny lungs began to fill with air for the first time and a tiny chest began to move. Until then, everybody would be waiting anxiously. Often the mother would be lying watching and waiting to see if her baby would live. Then there was that special moment, that very special moment, when suddenly the silence of waiting was over and there was a cry, weak at first and then becoming stronger and stronger. The louder the baby cried, the happier the smiles of the mother and the midwives.

For me, as I left the labour ward and went in search of a well-earned cup of tea, it always seemed that the birds would be singing loudly and celebrating the safe arrival of a new baby. It was always as if the sun was shining more brightly and the world was celebrating the new life. It was as if the whole world were shouting out its welcome. For me, I always felt like dancing.

I believe that the safe birth of a baby is always a cause for rejoicing. A baby is a gift from God to its parents. A baby is an invitation from God to a husband and wife, asking them to share in his sacred work of Creation. God is love. He created the world and everything in and on the world as a sign of his love. Every baby, therefore, should be created out of the love of a husband and wife for each other. Every baby should be born into a family where it will find love, acceptance and understanding.

Some years ago I was talking to a young woman who had many serious problems in her life. She was finding it very difficult to cope and was severely depressed. As I listened to her, I discovered that her mother had tried to abort the girl, but had not succeeded. Knowing this had made such a serious impact in the girl’s life that she had never been able to find peace or happiness. Always in the back of her mind was the knowledge that her mother had tried to kill her before she was born.

God did not intend that anyone should be in this position. God created our world and welcomed us into his Creation. He made the world with us in mind. That is why Jesus instructed us to knock at the door of his heart because it would always be open to receive us. He told us to look for him and we would always find him. Every moment of every day, God is welcoming us into his world. He is inviting us to listen to him, to trust him and to love him.

Lord, you are my Creator and my God. You are so great and I am so small, and yet you love me. You created your world for my benefit. Every tree, flower, blade of grass, animal and bird was created for me to love and enjoy. Help me, Lord, to respect and love your world. Help me to treat it with the same tenderness that you show to me. Help me to preserve your world’s loveliness for those who will live after me. Thank you, Lord, for welcoming me to your world.

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Blessed are the Meek: they shall Inherit the Earth

A children’s hymn begins with the words, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild…”, but I have to admit that the children don’t know what it is that they are singing. Neither do some of the artists who try to portray a meek Jesus and instead end up with something sentimental and effeminate.

There is nothing weak about meekness. The meek Jesus was able to stand up to the opposition of the scribes and the Pharisees. He stood before Herod and Pilate. He stretched out his hands and allowed himself to be nailed to the Cross. Meekness is associated with immense strength and courage, not of defencelessness and timidity.

One paraphrase of this Beatitude says, “Blessed are those who let God be God…” Perhaps that expresses something of its essence.

What does it mean to let God be God in my life?

For a start, it means trusting that God knows what is best for me. It means a commitment to follow him in good times, but also in bad, believing that whatever route he leads me will be for my ultimate happiness?

Life can be completely revolutionised by letting God be God. It’s so difficult and wearying when I try to do all the planning and to organise everything according to my own ideas. I find myself trapped inside my own head and within my own environment. I can’t escape from myself or my problems. Life becomes an endless struggle to put things right.

It might take courage, but in the end it’s so much easier to put everything in God’s hands and to trust that he knows best, whatever will happen. There will be times when the way ahead is anything but clear. It is obscure and frightening, as frightening as anything can be. There will be sleepless nights when I will wonder if God really does know what he’s doing because if I were God I wouldn’t do things in such-and-such a way. But that’s the whole point. I am NOT God. I don’t know best. He does. If I am prepared to take a deep breath and renew my resolve to trust in him, somehow things are not so frightening any more. I’m not alone. Gradually I will discover myself coping as I’d never done before, because I have the confidence that God is with me and in me.

Letting God be God in my life means becoming aware of what is right and wrong, both within me and outside in the society in which I live. It compels me to challenge both myself and my society to something more God-like. That can mean confronting injustice and evil in spite of serious personal consequences. Do I accept wrongdoing or do I challenge myself and others to a better life in the same way that Jesus did?

The consequence of Jesus’ meekness was crucifixion. Jesus did not have an easy life. He paid with his life for having confronted the evils of his time. The more closely I identify with the meek Jesus, the more likely I am to find that my way also leads to the Cross. Yet because Jesus allowed the Father to be the Father, the result was the Resurrection. If I am one with Jesus in his passion and death, I will also be one with him in his Resurrection. I shall also have the earth for my heritage.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blessed are the Peacemakers

It is dangerous to be a peacemaker, one who enters the arena of turmoil and dissension and brings harmony. Peacemakers are not popular. They go to the front lines of battle and risk life and limb in the cause of peace. Warring factions both want the peacemaker to be on their own side. Neither wants compromise. Neither wants to recognise truth and legitimacy in the other.

Battle happens when there are factions and neither will give way. Minds are closed and stubborn. Battle means winners and losers, a victor and the vanquished. A peacemaker suggests that there is no need for winners and losers, no need for conquests.

There is a saying that in every argument there are three points of view: your story, my story and the truth. A peacemaker listens to both sides of a dispute and encourages all parties to work towards the truth.

Peace is more than an absence of conflict. A lack of conflict might be no more than an indication of apathy, indifference and lack of involvement.

Look at a family in which the members no longer talk to each other. There might be no fighting as they go their separate ways, but neither is there love and so hearts are not at peace. Where employers and employees no longer share their hopes and dreams for their work, there might be physical togetherness, but there is no shared goal and people become disposable. Instead of peace, there are industrial disputes, hardships, and personal misery.

Peace is active. Peace needs to be taken with both hands and a will to work for its realisation. It demands 100% commitment. A peacemaker sows the light of love where there was the darkness of hatred, pardon instead of injury, faith instead of doubt, hope rather than despair and replaces sadness with joy.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Was he really so poor, the ‘Little Poor Man of Assisi’ on September 17th 1224? Deeply praying that he might be more truly configured to the Lord who was his ‘God and All’ Francis became the first person in recorded history to be marked with the stigmata. In his heart, ever since his conversion, he had been crucified with Christ, now he was physically one with his Lord. A life of agonising pain and sickness lay ahead of him, but from this moment, Francis was truly ‘the richest of poor men’. No wonder he prayed as follows:

Lord God:you alone are holy,you who work wonders! You are strong, you are great, you are the Most High, you are the almighty King, you, holy Father, King of heaven and earth.
Lord God: you are Three and you are One, you are goodness, all goodness, you are the higest Good, Lord God, living and true.
You are love and charity, you are wisdom, you are humility, you are patience, you are beauty, you are sweetness, you are sefety, you are rest, you are joy, you are our hope and our delight, you are justice, you are moderation you are all our wealth and riches overflowing.
You are beauty, you are gentleness, you are our shelter, our guard and our defender, you are strength, you are refreshment, you are our hope. you are our faith. you are our love, you are our complete consolation, you are our life everlasting, great and wonderful Lord,all powerful God, merciful Saviour!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Marked with the Cross

Sunday 17th September is the 772nd anniversary of the day when St. Francis of Assisi became the first recorded person in history to receive the Stigmata. In case you are interested, here is a small reflection from the programme I prepared for Vatican Radio:

The entire English programme can be found at

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, September 15, 2006

Good deeds?

Even I am not THAT stupid!

Coming out of Vatican Radio yesterday, a man in a dark blue saloon car stopped beside me. He needed to find the church of St. Mary Major's. Not too difficult, although as I tried to describe the route he should take, I wondered why he had a problem when he was holding a map in his hand. I also noticed his credit card stuck into a peculiar place (for a credit card) in his dashboard.

During the course of the conversation, the man informed me that he works for Pierre Cardin and that he has two brothers in Rome who are priests, that he is from Mexico and that he speaks no Italian. He showed me his business card. Every other word was one of gratitude for my kindness in explaining his route to St. Mary Major's. He called down all sorts of blessings upon me for doing the sort of helpful deed that anybody living in Rome is called upon to perform time and again.

The man was apparently so grateful that he gave me a leather jacket (Pierre Cardin) to show his thankfulness. I was very taken aback because there had been no difficulty in my good deed.

There was a catch...he'd had his credit card stolen the day before. Could I please give him 10 Euros for fuel? I've heard man stories like that, so I refused. Well, if I couldn't give him 10 Euros, could I make it £10?

No? The jacket was grabbed back from my hands and another conman sudenly found that his car was working after all as he sped off down the road!

Didn't Jesus say something about having to have the same sort of savvy as 'the children of this world'?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A world for praise

My favourite image of St. Francis of Assisi is the true story of when he was walking in the woods and felt so happy and bursting with joy that he picked up two sticks and pretended they were a violin.

Francis was a saint of music and of joy. His Canticle of the Creatures was composed when he was physically broken, blind and plagued by the mice that ran over him as he lay, desperately ill and moving towards his own meeting with Sister Death. At a time when most people would concentrate on themselves and their own illness, his thoughts were of heavenly things and of gratitude towards the God who was his all. Unable to bear the sunlight he loved, with even moonlight too bright for his diseased eyes, he sang, exhorting Brother Sun to praise God the creator. Francis congratulated Brother Fire for its light and warmth, when that very light and warmth had been used with agonising and useless results in the hope that cauterising his temples would bring a cure to his eyes.

For Francis, the whole of Creation was a sign of God's love for the world. I remember that when I saw Victoria Falls for the first time, all I could do was to wonder how anybody could see the magnificent cascade and still say that there is no God.

Lord, open our eyes and our hearts to see your love and your beauty in this world of ours.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, September 11, 2006

A new day

The route is spectacular through the Vatican to the room from where a small group of us broadcast the multilingual commentaries for various Papal ceremonies.

First of all, there is a series of doors, guarded by Swiss Guard in full uniform. Production of the necessary Vatican Radio ID normally results in a cheery smile, a salute and a word or two in whatever language happens to be the one for today. They all speak German, have acquired Italian (except for the couple of Guard who are of Swiss-Italian origin in any case. English is common and, presumably, they all speak French as a matter of course.

There is a lift up to the appropriate floor, but there is also a possibility of going on foot up the beautiful marble steps leading from the Bronze Door. They are tiring and longer than they look. The steps were also deliberately shallow because, at one time, they allowed for horses to be driven up their length. They are, in addition, an interesting optical illusion because, faced with a relatively short corridor, the architects of St. Peter's and the Vatican created this particular flight of stairs to look as though it is considerably longer than is the reality. (Mind you, they are still more than long enough if one is a bit late and is in the desperate hurry that has sometimes been necessary!)

Conscious that one of the side doors off this flight of stairs just happens to be an entrance directly into the Sistine Chapel, there is a big enough surprise when going through the door at the top. It's very heavy but amazingly 'sweet' in the way it swings so easily and silently on massive hinges, to reveal the beautiful frescoes and sculpted marble curtains of the Hall of Kings. Once upon a time, this was the place in which kings waited for their audience with the popes. Now it's just a path that I regularly take, marvelling at the exquisite beauty... but then Raphael was, as were some other great artists, 'just the house painter'!

As the new day dawns, I'm just about to retrace the same path of yesterday, ready for another English commentary for another Papal Mass from Germany. Yesterday's was sheer delight. The music was wonderful, the weather perfect, the Pope looking as though he was enjoying every minute of the celebration. I did too, once the technician had tinkered with a connection to my headphones and I was no longer receiving the German through one ear, an Italian commentator through the other whilst I tried to speak in English!

A new day dawns. Some things can be predicted. Others can't... but isn't that also a sign of God's love? No two days are identical and each day has its own moments of loveliness.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, September 10, 2006

White Night

White Night... La Notte Bianca... the night of the September full moon...and Rome comes alive! Last night, hundreds of thousands of the young and the young at heart crowded in a massive moving phalanx into the centre of Rome, all of them with the intention of seriously enjoying themselves.

In the midst of a wonderfully happy, relaxed atmosphere, with the warmth of a late summer evening, young and not-so-young wandered around free-for-the-night concerts, art galleries and museums.

Frankly, the mood was so contented, it was just lovely wandering around and enjoying other people's pleasure. certainly, there was security: I saw two police cars early in the evening as their occupants began the onerous task of diverting buses and taxis from Piazza Venezia. After that? I don't know that I saw one police oficer, and yet I don't think that there was a single person who felt insecure.

I myself visited one of the several large buildings of 'palazzi', normally not open for public scrutiny. Magnificent! I'd have preferred it had thre not been guided tours as the guide concentrated (at length) on paintings and frescoes, ignoring the incredible architecture and inlaid wooden and marble furniture.

Last year I indulged in the building currently rented by the French Embassy for a peppercorn rent. That particular edifice contains a room in which the frescoed ceiling inspired Michelangelo to paint the roof of the Sistine Chapel! If it inspired Michelangelo, it did more than that for me!

We are surrounded by loveliness. There is so much simple pleasure in sharing happiness. Why don't we share some happiness today?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mary!

Today we celebrate the Feast of Mary's Birthday. Of course we don't know whether or not it is her actual Birthday, but we have the opportunity to rejoice that she was born at all, and that she lived on this earth.

When I was running the Catholic radio station for the Archdiocese of Lusaka in Zambia, we made a point of celebrating Mary's Birthday. There were special programmes. Our younger announcers organised themselves for a 24-hour live broadcast, telling our listeners well in advance that the day was to be special. It was a day of rejoicing, with happy music. Parishes produced programmes with a Marian theme. There were phone-ins with people telling the audience what a difference Mary had made to their lives.

There was no sentimental exuberance about the day: we just wanted to say thank you to our mother for being herself and for supporting our own mothers. We wanted to say thank you because she said 'yes' and brought Jesus into the world. We wanted to say thank you to God for giving us our Mum! We wanted to say, ' Happy Birthday, Mary!'

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


It has been a tiring, but rewarding day. This afternoon I took a visitor to the church of the Twelve Apostles in the centre of the city. It's a church I love , even apart from its history. Somehow it never ceases to be a surprise. Perhaps it's because I've never been there when the lighting has been the same as on a previous occasion. As a result, it's always old and yet always new.

Under the main altar is a 'confessio', steps leading down to what I can best describe as a sort of crypt, but which was actually a Roman villa and which is still virtually intact. It's covered with beautifully preserved early Christian frescoes, including a lovely one of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The Romans couldn't bring themselves to portray the Cross, an all too true horrific reality in their daily lives. This beautiful crypt, with its graceful pillars and alcoves that would have been graced by statues, encloses the tomb of the Apostles Philip and James the Less. There are also the tombs of a couple of other early Christian martyrs, about whom I know nothing.

As far as I can gather, the villa was a sort of 'safe house' during the persecutions. The tomb of the Apostles was kept inside the house so that people could call in to pay their respects, ostensibly as visitors to the householders, but actually retaining a degree of cover for the real purpose of their coming. Seeing its structure today, it is very easy to imagine people being able to slip in and out without attracting too much attention. The main street, visible today, was only a couple of yards away from the tombs.

It is a special privilege to be able to step back in time and, for a few moments, revisit the very foundations of all that I believe. Admittedly, by being in Rome, I have a very precious means of doing that, but I don't need to actually go to a particular place. My real foundation is inside my heart. My real foundation is my God.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Message from God

There can be unexpected treats. This morning I wanted to prepare a reflection in advance for the Feast of St. Francis on October 4th. I'd already decided on the programme content, but as St. Francis is such an Italian saint, decided that I would ask someone from the Italian Programme to read the Praises of God that he wrote for Brother Leo. The accent would be perfect.

The recording was done, so I sat down at the computer to listen to the result. My colleague had read so beautifully that I found myself sitting in front of my computer and praying. With a musical background of the theme from 'Brother Sun, Sister Moon', I couldn't resist playing and replaying the same piece several times.

It seems to me that God manages to put unanticipated pleasures on our paths from time to time, just as a little treat to lighten up the day. They are just a little way of saying, 'I love you'.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, September 04, 2006


Buttons are the single most abundant item left behind on a battlefield, according to archaeologists. They are more durable than human tissue. They fall off during the heat of battle and fighters are too preoccupied to pick them up and save them for later replacement. Buttons are lost when someone is wounded and a comrade has to pull open any clothing before being able to offer first aid...

I thought of buttons after speaking to an Iranian priest who has just returned to Rome to continue his studies in this academic year that will be opening very shortly. He described the difficulties he has in obtaining a visa, the hours he spends being checked at airports when he offers his passport, the rudeness of officials and the unnecessary hassles of travelling. All this from someone who couldn't be more kind, gentle and totally committed to his priesthood and to his suffering people.

This same priest spoke of the fear he met amongst ordinary Iranians, who are caught up in something over which they have no control. They fear that fighting and war are inevitable because governments are bickering over their own interests rather than the real needs of real people who will have to suffer the consequences.

It seems to me that war is something that is made by the people at the top and fought by the people at the bottom. Those in government are the ones who remain safe. It is the lesser people who are injured, made homeless, have their livelihoods and families destroyed and who die.

How many buttons are being left behind today in the places of unrest across the world? How many buttons will remain before there is peace?

When will governments realise that there is more to peace than an absence of fighting? How many buttons will it take?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Who needs fame!

I can’t say that I’ve ever had a relationship with a camel, or a dingo for that matter, but I just happen to have been watching television whilst I had lunch and saw an excellent programme on both animals.

I do remember my first encounter with a dingo when I was in Australia: there was an unearthly howl that sent shivers up and down my spine, which one of my companions told me had come from the throat of a dingo. Well, I was glad it wasn’t a dark night with just the dingo and me out in the outback. I’d have been imagining all the “ghoulies and ghosties and four-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night”!

The next encounter with a dingo was in a wildlife sanctuary, when I accidentally bumped into the wire netting surrounding the dingo enclosure. That was when I saw the force and the speed of the animal’s reaction as it growled and hurled itself in my direction. Thankfully, the netting stayed intact!

It was whilst I was watching the camels and dingoes on television today that I, for some unknown reason, remembered Mr. Yarwood, an elderly man long since dead. He had the most beautiful Border Collie I’ve ever seen, but could he talk! I was in my very early teens when I first met him, and it wasn’t always easy to be polite and listen to all he had to say. Still, I do remember being told about the axolotyl, a creature which sounded like a cross between a lizard and a fish. According to Mr. Yarwood, there was very little that he himself had not accomplished in life, but the axolotyl was the summit of all that he had done: he just happened to have been passing his fish tank when he noticed his axolotyls were in the process of reproducing. It seems he was the first person to see the process and write about it. In honour of this accident, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Not all of the world’s greatest discoveries are made after long years of research and vast sums of expenditure. Many of those that are most important will remain locked inside our own hearts. There’s the discovery of a new and beautiful sunrise, for instance, or of a previously unnoticed birdsong. Perhaps I’ve just realised that an acquaintance has become a friend. My discovery might be as mundane as a different flavour of ice cream. Yet these discoveries are all part and parcel of my daily life, each one contributing to make me the person I am today, each one helping to make my life worth living. I don’t need a great name to enjoy a life that is great in my own eyes and in those of the people who mean most to me.

Who needs fame!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, September 01, 2006

Pride and prejudice

I had an interesting experience this afternoon. A woman climbed on the bus at the next stop to mine and either didn't know or else didn't care that I could easily recognise her as one of the many professionalbeggars who alternate between St. Peter's and St. Paul's.

Today she had been begging at St. Peter's. Once she sat down on the bus, out came her large bag, into which she stuffed her hastily rolled-up, black, widow's weeds. Then she could sit comfortably in her lightweight orange top and royal blue skirt.

A few minutes later, out came the bag for a second time. On this occasion she counted some of the money she had obtained this morning. Shortly afterwards, out came a second clinking mound, which she also counted, pouring both into one of the bag's compartments. At a very rough guess, she had made at least 60 two expensive pairs of children's shoes, which were also examined in detail.

The woman sat quietly for a while before opening up her bag yet again. This time she debated between a rather attractive sandwich and a fresh peach, opting for the peach, which she duly sat and ate.

Eventually it was time for her to disembark. The bag and her over-sized black crutch, normally an essential to her every step, were gathered up and hung over the woman's arm. Without a sign of a limp, she swung her way across the road towards St. Paul's, where she would once again become the crippled, grieving widow, duping unsuspecting pilgrims.

It was time for me to leave the bus. I excused myself to the young man sitting beside me with his book. He'd achieved something I couldn't because I suffer from horrible traffic sickness if I dare try to read on a moving bus. As I clambered past him, I noticed his hands and his right arm. His arm was seriously malformed from birth. His hands both bore only two fingers and a thumb, resembling claws rather than hands. He had such dignity. In no way could I imagine himself begging for help, yet he was so obviously limited in his activities.

I know which of the two passengers earned my respect.

God bless,
Sr. Janet


I'm not too sure what to think. I keep hearing both sides of the immigration argument. It seems to me that there are advantages and disadvantages on every side and that what it actually boils down to is that I want my own country to be just as I would like. I wonder if I am being selfish?

I can trace my own origins in England back to the year 1066, when the de Percey family came across from Normandy with William the Conqueror, and back into Normandy until 865. But, when I think about it, what do I actually want? Well, I want to retain my history and my culture…but then nobody is stopping me enjoying my history. It's all there for me, and as for my culture, isn't that something I can celebrate even whilst I live in Rome and enjoy a different one?

People have been pretty mobile throughout history. Rome has been accepting individuals from every corner of the earth for millennia. This has given it a unique flavour, but there's nobody saying that Rome is not Italian, even with the multinational population of today. Tell an Italian that Rome is not truly Italy and there will be a torrent of gesticulations and words, at the end of which, shoulders will be shrugged and nothing else will happen anyway.

I've been an immigrant in Italy, Australia, Nigeria and Zambia, but somehow that's a bit different. Aren't immigrants 'other people'? I've expected to be welcome as I've moved around. I've expected courtesy and the wherewithal to get on with my life in peace and freedom. I think I've contributed something positive in each of the countries in which I've lived, but I also expect that, one day, I'll probably go back home and spend the rest of my life in England, thoroughly enriched by all that I've seen and enjoyed elsewhere. Isn't that exactly what other immigrants do? I don't think I've been expecting specialised treatment and freebies. I've expected to work. I've expected to make adjustments to my new surroundings. I've made efforts to learn other languages even if I've not necessarily been successful…

I don't know what the answers are to the questions of immigration that I keep hearing. I do know that I can stand in St. Peter's Square and don't need a visa. I can be there because I have a right to be there, simply by being human.

It seems to me that everything boils down to a question of the rights that God gave us. Everyone has a right to a home, to food, clothing, education, health care, but with rights, there are also duties. If the world's resources were to be evenly distributed, would people pour out of one country in order to go to another? Wouldn't it be far more convenient to stay at home?

Whilst I was on holiday, I visited the museums in Liverpool and was captivated by the family group in the photo alongside this reflection. They represent a family who left England, hoping for a better life elsewhere. Isn't that something that has always happened? What would life be like if we were all to have and enjoy all that we needed for a secure, happy life for ourselves and our families? Would we be immigrants or would we simply feel that we had come home?

God bless,
Sr. Janet