In case you thought otherwise, let me tell you that becoming a saint is a real hassle!
I had plans of becoming a saint before I made my First Holy Communion. By the age of 7, I had already decided that I wanted a place in Heaven and that I was going to do whatever I could to get there. Somehow, I was always thwarted. I tried to attend an ordination in the parish (the church was opposite my home) but my father, who was the Master of Ceremonies, told me that I was too little, so I marched up and down the street, singing hymns at the top of my voice in the hopes that someone would hear, realise how desperately I wanted to see what was happening and let me in. They didn't and I quickly bored of my protest. In any case, in those days, I knew very few hymns by heart.
Then my teacher, Miss O'Connell, read us the life of Pope St. Pius X. He apparently used to go to Confession every day, so I thought that might give me a quick entry to Heaven. After less than one week, one of the priests told me that he didn't think I needed to go every day and that perhaps I should let some of the grown-ups have a chance!
Then Miss O'Connell read us the life of Blessed (now Saint) Julie Billiart. Well, I thought that the possibilities of escaping from my pursuers in a hay cart were rather remote, especially as I lived in the city. I liked the idea of a miraculous cure, but I didn't fancy being paralysed for several years and having to hang around for the miracle. Also, I didn't know the Novena to the Sacred Heart, apparently at the end of which Julie was healed.
St. Francis appealed to me, except for his habit of throwing himself into rose bushes and thorns. I've always liked nature and have loved the image of Francis strolling through the woods, using two twigs as a make-believe violin and bow. Francis fasted. So would I. I gave up sweets for about 18 months…until my mother bought me a Mars bar…and if you've never eaten one, then you have no idea of the exquisite luxury of nibbling the chocolate, first from the top, then from the sides and lastly from the bottom of the bar, before tucking into its equally luxurious centre. Since that moment, I've never decided to avoid sweets for the rest of my life. Sugar in tea and coffee was a different matter. The penance of giving it up has been replaced by a complete dislike of the sickly-sweetness of tea or coffee with sugar. Again, sanctity has been thwarted!
Recently, I had the privilege of attending Mass in the Jesuit chapel at La Storta, a most artistically unimpressive wayside chapel not far outside Rome. It was there that St. Ignatius had a vision of Jesus carrying the Cross and that he understood his vocation to be a companion of the suffering Jesus. As I understand it, La Storta was the real beginning of the Society of Jesus.
As I sat in the little chapel, I could 'see' an uncertain Ignatius, perhaps a bit scared, perhaps anxious that he might not be 100% accurate in the way in which he saw the road ahead. It was, maybe, a bit like St. Francis heading off to Rome to ask the Pope for permission to preach penance. Onlookers probably thought they were both idiots! Perhaps they were.
At the end of it all, it seems to me that sanctity is not about certainty in one important sense. Just because someone became a saint, it doesn't mean that he or she had all the answers and that the road ahead was clear, without the normal uncertainties of everybody else's life experience. It seems to me that a fair bit of their road was nothing more than sheer muddling through, doing the best they could with the little that was available to them, the only certainty being that it was all done in the hope of coming closer to God. I reckon that hopeful muddling is the path open to most of us. It sounds inconvenient, but at least it gives me a chance to go to God as I am, not as a poor copy of someone else. That sounds okay. Jesus said that God loves me as I am. That suits me, too. Life quickly proves that I can only be me. I'm not a Pius X, a Julie Billiart, a Francis of Assisi or an Ignatius of Loyola. I am me. I have my own way of coming to know God and it is in my own life that God will make himself known.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
In case you thought otherwise, let me tell you that becoming a saint is a real hassle!
Monday, October 30, 2006
I’d been mentally preparing my programme for the broadcast on Wednesday, which also happens to be the feats of All Saints. Knowing that I had a short feature on the process of changing an ‘ordinary’ person into a saint, I wandered into the office this morning and happily tried to transfer the recording from my little recorder to the editing system at Vatican Radio.
It was a disaster! The interview part was fine, but it sounded as though I’d done it in front of Victoria Falls, so loud and intrusive was the background noise. I tried everything that cam to mind, but without success. If I managed to eliminate the waterfalls, I’d been equally successful in cutting out the useful material also. Yet I had to keep on going because I knew that the sound was perfect if played back on my recorder.
In the end, I gave up and admitted defeat. My last hope was that one of the technicians might be able to perform a miracle. He did. In less than five minutes, he had achieved success whereas, in the space of one hour, I’d managed failure. All he did was to convert my stereo recording into mono and, lo and behold, the cascade of water disappeared! It was so easy: the only obstacle was that I hadn’t known that all I had to do was to click the computer mouse in the right place.
Life can be very difficult sometimes, but often, it’s my own fault. If I can be humble enough to recognise that someone might have one or two answers more than I do, then the solution is already halfway achieved. I create more problems for myself when I recognise that I’m in partnership with God, but try to make myself the senior partner and to make him fit in with my own ideas.
Yesterday I listened to a recording of a talk given by a Benedictine monk about the miracle of Cana. Somewhere towards the end of the talk, Fr. Augustine remarked that if we go to Mary for help, she will give the same advice that she gave to the attendants at Cana, “Do what he tells you.” It sounds so straightforward but can also be frightening. What happens if Jesus asks more of me than I can supply? Yet, all the attendants had to do was to put water into some containers. Jesus did the rest.
God is not going to ask of me more than I can give him in response. He will do all the complicated bits and pieces. He has the know-how. I don’t. That’s why it’s sheer commonsense to go to him for help. It’s easy when he knows how!
PS Check out the new page http://pauseforprayer.com/abbot.htm
Posted by Sr. Janet at 2:05 pm
Friday, October 27, 2006
Travelling on over-crowded public transport is a wonderful opportunity for distractions. This morning was no exception. I’ve only been on one Italian bus where the driver has decided that it is really too full. On that occasion, he pretended that the bus had stalled, waited until another vehicle following the same route appeared behind him. Most of the passengers on my bus disembarked in favour of the one behind…and then, guess what? ‘My’ driver suddenly found that there was nothing wrong with the engine or the lights after all and sped off… fortunately, with me on board (and about 50 million others who had been too canny to move!)
This morning’s distraction was of another variety. I was again fortunate to have a comfortable seat, but only because mine was only the third stop on the bus route. I had all sorts of profiles presented before my gaze as passengers found themselves trapped and unable to move. Everybody simply had to make the best of whatever space they could find. As a result, from my distinctly advantageous position, I had an uninterrupted view of people’s noses.
Have you ever noticed noses? They are short, fat, long, thin, straight, curved, bent, small… and, this morning, one of the largest noses I have ever seen in my life. In fact it was the cause of my comparing it with all the others around.
Now I don’t actually think that my own nose is anything to boast about. I’ve often referred to it as ‘the blob’, the fact of wearing glasses doing little to improve its appearance and, in fact, emphasising its presence rather more than I would like.
There’s nothing particularly attractive or appealing about a nose, but wouldn’t we look stupid without one? Would we breathe through our mouths or would we have been provided with some other means of breathing? Do noses actually look more attractive if they are decorated with rings or jewels? I once sat on the train opposite a young girl who wore so many rings between her ears, nose, eyebrows and lips that I idly imagined threading a piece of cotton through them all for no other reason than to see what it would look like.
I have no idea whether my fellow passenger with the large nose liked or disliked his ‘konk’, but presumably he will have it for some years to come. The thing is that he has to decide whether he, as a person, is bigger than his nose, or whether it is bigger than he is. Both decisions have consequences.
If the nose is the larger, then he is reduced to one unsightly but rather useful olfactory organ which is going to get in the way of all his activities and relationships. He is going to be so conscious of his nose that he, as a person, somehow disappears.
If, however, the man concludes that he is more important than his nose, it wouldn’t matter if he looked like Pinocchio. Life would somehow have the correct perspective and balance.
Lord, if I become too hung up on my physical appearance, please give me a shove. Help me to realise that what matters is the appearance of my heart and its ability to give and receive love. You made me who I am and as I am beautiful in your eyes, that is all the loveliness that I need. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:23 pm
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I am very pleased to announce a new addition to the Pause for Prayer website. Abbot Timothy Wright OSB has very kindly joined us and has his own page, which I've called 'Abbot Timothy's Page'. Check it out at http://pauseforprayer.com/abbot.htm.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:41 pm
One day, as a little six-year old girl and her grandfather were walking beside the lake, the child looked up at her grandfather. “Where is God?” she asked the old man.
Her grandfather turned towards his granddaughter. “Look in the water”, he said. “What do you see there?”
The child looked in the lake. “But all I can see is me!” she exclaimed to her grandfather. “And that is where I find God”, he told her. “Whenever I want to find God, I just look at you and there he is, looking at me through your eyes.”
We don’t need to go very far to find God. All we need to do is to love someone and to be loved in return. In that love we will find the God for whom we are all searching. Someone else once said that she didn’t need to ask for proof of God. She declared, “I know that there’s a God. He lives within my heart!”
Sometimes, however, we can discover God in the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times. There is nothing that exists independently of God’s love. If we are looking for God, we can find him in anything and everything.
I remember nursing an elderly soldier, Colonel Dudgeon, blind in one eye, who was about to have a cataract operation in the days when that meant spending ten motionless days in bed, with a bandage over the affected eye. He lay there, waiting for the anaesthetist to visit him, and said, “I think I’m the luckiest man alive! God didn’t need to give me two hands, two arms, two legs, two kidneys, two lungs and two eyes, but he did! I’m a walking mass of spare parts! I think I’m the luckiest man alive!”
Lord, sometimes I can be blind to your presence in my life. Help me never to take another person for granted, or any part of your creation. Everybody and everything is telling me about you. Lord, let me look for you and find you in every moment of my life. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:24 pm
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
The difficulty comes later, when the editing begins. How can I frame something I’ve just shared into a thing of beauty that will do justice to its loveliness in the eyes and heart of the one to whom I’ve been speaking?
Recently I’ve been making several series that I found deeply enriching. I ‘did’ Ignatius, Xavier and Jesuit spirituality with some Jesuits, a series on the Mass with an Archbishop and two Jesuit priests, the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a priest who has spent 53 years in the confessional, Benedictine and Cistercian monasticism with a Benedictine abbot and some Cistercians. I loved every moment of the interviews.
Now I’m in the middle of creating a series on Sts. Francis and Clare after speaking with three friars and a Poor Clare Collettine. Oh boy! I freely admit that I hung on to every word that they said and added a few of my own during the course of the interviews, but whilst it’s a sheer joy to be working on them, it is also very difficult. I’d like the programmes to be perfect. They won’t be. They’ll be the very best that I can do, but that tends to be some distance short of perfection!
Whilst doing the interviews, I felt so privileged that I thought of the words of Peter on the mountain of the Transfiguration, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” But Peter, James and John had to return to the grassy and perhaps, rocky, slopes of the mountain. Perhaps, after seeing Jesus transfigured, they stubbed a toe or picked up a thorn on the way back. They were probably tired and hungry at the end of the day, even if they had a special memory to sustain them for the rest of their lives.
Life consists of both the transfiguration and the mundane. We need both in order to survive. We need those moments that lift our eyes above the ordinary and unspectacular, but it would be impossible to stay there. Perhaps if we did live in the extraordinary and spectacular, it would become boring. People with “their feet firmly planted in mid air” are a nuisance precisely because we are meant to be grounded.
Many years ago, a blind, deaf friar by the name of Fr. Terence remarked, “Isn’t it wonderful that an apple tree always grows apples and never grows a rice pudding?”
He had a point!
God didn’t mean us to reach perfection: he only told us to try. There’s a difference!
Posted by Sr. Janet at 12:09 pm
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
I’ve just been eating some of the ‘Wiggly Worms’ that were a recent Birthday present from one of my sisters and her three small children. (I wonder why I suspect that Robert, aged 9, and Andrew, aged 7, had something to do with their choice?) Fortunately, the worms are made of sugar-coated jelly and are very tasty.
As I chewed, I thought back to an afternoon when someone gave me a slice of cake, which I ate and enjoyed with a cup of tea. I’d intended to wash the plate on which the cake had been served, but, with one thing and another happening, I didn’t get around to it. I went out, forgetting that, on the table, were some cake crumbs and the remains of some icing.
When I returned, there was the plate, still on the table where it had been left. The plate, however, was crawling with ants. Because of even more interruptions, I still didn’t manage to wash the plate before I left for town. What surprised me when I came back a couple of hours later was that the plate was as clean as if it had only just been washed. The ants had done a better job of cleaning the remains of the cake than I could ever have managed.
As I write this ‘Pause for Prayer’, I occasionally visualise the plate on the table and marvel at the wonderful work done by the ants. How many ants were working to remove every scrap of evidence of my piece of cake? How did they coordinate their efforts? From where did they come and to where did they go when they finished their feast?
The ants on the remains of the cake reminded me of the journeys I sometimes made between Serenje and the Luapula River in Zambia. For some distance along the road through the swamps, the land on either side was marked by literally thousands of small anthills. Every time I travelled along that stretch of road, I wondered how many millions, perhaps billions, of ants lived in that area. How far do their territories stretch? How does each ant find its way home when it leaves its own anthill? Is one ant accepted in another anthill or is it treated as a stranger and an outcast?
From thinking of ants, I began thinking about people.
People have been on earth for many thousands of years. If there are supposed to be two billion people alive at this present time, then there must have been billions of people who have died in the course of the centuries. Jesus said that his father knows each one of us and knows all our needs, but I find it amazing that God is able to know billions of people. If I look at the ants on the plate, I would find it impossible to identify one ant as opposed to any other ant. They all look identical to me. Yet the amazing thing is that not one of us is identical to anybody else in the eyes of God.
Not only that, we know that God has known our names from all eternity. He said that he has called each one of us by our name and that each one of us is his….and that means that he distinguishes each one of us from billions of others who have been around during human history.
Still looking at the ants, I also found myself wondering about Heaven. There will be billions of us with God: people of every time, race, nationality and social situation. I wonder if we’ll be chatting together about our lives on earth? It could be very interesting….or will we be spending our whole eternity thinking of nothing other than God? Who knows! Really, ants provide a very interesting insight into the nature of God’s relationship with people. Perhaps I should leave out a dirty plate for the ants more often!
Lord, you have made this world such a fascinating place. I find it amazing that you know me from any other person in history. Lord, you are incredible! I love you. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 12:46 pm
Monday, October 23, 2006
When I sat at the computer, I put on some quiet background music from a CD I’d been given by my cousin as a Christmas present. Fiddling around with the computer, I discovered that it had a programme I’d never seen before, one that makes all sorts of patterns whilst music is playing. As I sat and watched, I repeatedly stopped what I was doing in order to watch the patterns on the screen. They are so pretty as they move and change colour according to the music. Certainly I could never produce such lovely patterns and I’ve no idea how they are created.
As I sat and simply watched the computer screen, I thought how grateful I am to God that there are so many wonderful talents in the world. I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for all the gifts God has so generously distributed around the world. I don’t feel at all envious of the artist who created the patterns for my computer programme. I’m very glad that he or she has an ability that I don’t because in that way I can enjoy something I could never have produced myself.
It all made me think that jealousy and envy are such foolish emotions. All they do is to create unhappiness. People waste so much time and energy looking at others and comparing the haves and the have-nots. They refuse to enjoy their own special gifts from a loving God.
We see so many examples every day: so many people feel that they have no value unless they are at the top of their profession or their class that they destroy their own lives through envy.
There is an English expression “to keep up with the Joneses”. What it means is that some people are in an unending struggle to maintain similar standards to those of their neighbours, regardless of the cost.
I will never forget an old road sweeper to whom I was talking one day….or, rather, who was talking unendingly to me. At one stage in the conversation, and, really, because I didn’t know what else to say, I made the remark that everybody is trying to keep up with the Joneses. He laughed. “I don’t mind that”, he remarked, “because I am Jones. Everybody must be trying to keep up with me!”
That old man had something in what he was saying. He was a road sweeper. He was paid very little. His home was only a small cottage and yet, there he was, sweeping a road surrounded by forest-covered mountains. At the edge of the road the hedges were full of wild flowers of every colour. He spent the day listening to the music made by the birds. His life was happy and contented. In having nothing, that man was rich. Yet, I’m sure that there would have been very few people who would have changed places with him. They would have envied his happiness, but would not have been prepared to work hard at a humble job. As those who are supposed to be following the poor and humble Christ, let us not waste what time we have in life by envying others.
Lord, you did not make me the most gifted or the most talented person in this world. Instead, you made me who I am. You gave me my own, unique assortment of abilities. You called me to know you, love you and to serve you in this world so that I might be happy with you forever. Keep me, Lord, from jealousy and envy. Help me to rejoice in the gifts you gave to others. Help me to celebrate the gifts you gave to me, especially the gift of your love. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 6:54 pm
Sunday, October 22, 2006
More than one thousand years ago, there was a king by the name of Canute. He had many courtiers who spent their days telling Canute that he was wise and clever. They told Canute that he was so powerful that he would even be able to command the sea and it would obey him. With flattery such as this, the courtiers filled Canute’s days until he really began to become quite tired of listening to them.
One day, when the courtiers had again been telling Canute that he was so powerful he would even be able to command the sea, the king decided to teach them a lesson. The courtiers were instructed to carry Canute’s throne down to the seashore. He would show them whether or not he could command the sea.
The king chose a time when the tide was coming in. The waves were gradually creeping up the shore. Canute sat on his throne and spoke to them. “I command you to turn and go back’, he said. The waves ignored him. “I am the King. I command you to turn around and go back the way you came.” Still the sea ignored Canute.
Watched by his courtiers, Canute repeatedly commanded the sea to go back. Every one of his orders was ignored. Gradually the waves crept up the shore until they touched the feet of the king. It was time to go. Canute had made his point.
When people flatter us, they are rarely telling us the truth. There is a big difference between flattery and a compliment. A compliment tells us the truth when we are least expecting it. A compliment tells us something good about ourselves. It helps us to grow more confident and to appreciate our value in our own eyes and in those of the people around us. A compliment is never given with the hope of payment. The pleasure given by the complimenter to the complimented is its own reward and strengthens a relationship.
Flattery, on the other hand, can be a lie or a half-truth. It is usually told because the flatterer wants to extract some benefit from us. Canute’s courtiers wanted to be more important in the eyes of their king. They wanted favours. They thought that if they were to tell him even the most fantastic stories, the king would be so pleased with them that he would give out some reward. Yes, as king, Canute had a certain amount of power, but only God has the sort of power that orders the sea and it obeys.
We all need a good compliment from time to time. It helps to make life more pleasant. None of us needs flattery. Flattery makes us conceited and proud. A compliment can make us grateful. Flattery causes us to make ourselves the centre of the Universe when we are not. God is at the heart of the Universe. The devil flattered Jesus in the wilderness when he told Jesus to throw himself from the Temple because God would rescue him. The devil hoped Jesus would be flattered and would make a display of his power. Jesus refused. Jesus gave the glory and honour to his Father. It is only through God that we are of any importance in this world. Our value does not lie in power and wealth. Our value is in goodness. Our value is in love.
Lord, there are occasions when someone will try to use flattery as a means of getting some favour from me. To some extent, flattery is pleasant. It makes me feel important. But, Lord, flattery makes me feel important for the wrong reasons. Lord, really all I want out of life is to be important to you and to the people I love. Help me to reject flattery when it appears. Help me just simply to concentrate on being a loving person. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 5:48 pm
Friday, October 20, 2006
Have you ever been hurt by someone you love? I suppose you have. Most of us have had the experience of being hurt by someone who loves us. It doesn’t take much. Someone who loves us is able to hurt us much more deeply than someone who doesn’t love us. An action or a word that could have been ignored if it had come from another person is not easy to ignore or to forget.
Suddenly we find questions in our hearts and minds. We find an ache that will not easily go away. We think our questions have been put to one side, and then they start all over again. We try to search for a reason why the hurt has been inflicted upon us. The more we love the one who has hurt us, the more we struggle to find a reasonable explanation for their behaviour. It is all the harder if we cannot find that reasonable explanation.
When I was nursing in London, I remember looking after a man who had been beaten by his son. The man’s tongue was very badly cut and the bleeding was profuse. The son had been looking for money for drugs. His father had refused to give him the money he wanted.
Time and again the man said that the real hurt was not the physical wounds his son had caused. The real wound was in his heart, where we couldn’t see. The real injury was the knowledge that his own son could beat his father.
Joseph must have also felt very hurt when he realised that Mary was pregnant and that the baby in her womb was not his. There must have been so many questions he would have asked. Why did she do this to him who loved her so much? How could Mary be unfaithful? How could someone who seemed to be so good seem to have done something so wrong?
Joseph did not know what to do. He was a normal man. He didn’t want to marry a girl who was pregnant with someone else’s child. What sort of marriage would it be?
Yet Joseph knew that if he made public the fact that Mary was not pregnant by him, she would be stoned to death. Could Joseph bear to see the woman he loved being insulted by the people of Nazareth? Could he see her put on trial? Could he watch everybody drag her to the execution site and throw rocks at her until she was killed and her beautiful body broken beyond all recognition?
No. Joseph was an honourable man. He was a good man. That is why, of all the men throughout history, God chose him to be the protector of Mary and Jesus. Joseph must have been so grateful to the angel who appeared and told him that Mary had not been unfaithful to him. He must have felt so humbled when he gradually began to realise that there was something very special about this baby. He must have felt very inadequate when he realised the importance of the vocation God had given him. He must have thought many times that God was choosing a strange way in which to save the world. God had chosen a village girl and a carpenter to be the family to which he would send his Son. What a strange way to save the world!
Lord, it’s not always easy to see your plans for my life. Sometimes, when situations cause me pain, I find it hard to accept that you are helping me to grow towards you. I find it difficult that you are leading me to fulfil the vocation you gave me. Help me to be like Joseph. Help me to trust you and be faithful to your plans for me. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 12:16 pm
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Posted by Sr. Janet at 6:45 pm
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Four blind men met an elephant one day. The first blind man grabbed the elephant’s trunk. “An elephant is long, thin and flexible”, he said.
“You are wrong”, declared his friend, who had hold of the elephant’s leg. It is tall and solid like a tree trunk. I can put my arms around the elephant.”
“What are you two talking about?” asked the third blind man, who was feeling the elephant’s side. “An elephant is large and flat and very hard. An elephant is like a wall.”
“You are all wrong!” cried the blind man who had grabbed the elephant’s tail. “An elephant is like a piece of rope. I can hold it in one hand.”
The four blind men continued to argue about the elephant. They did not realise that all of them were right and all of them were wrong. They did not know that they each had only part of the picture, not the whole.
How often have we all met with similar experiences in our own lives? We’ve all been in arguments in which all the participants had part of the truth only. We’ve all been in discussions in which each person was convinced that he or she had the full picture when in fact nobody did.
The putting together of pieces of a picture is interesting if we happen to be reading a detective story. We like to watch the detective pull together the threads of a story until he or she has a case. It’s very different in real life. We all know people who are like the blind men; each determined to hold on to his own understanding.
Without openness and listening to the other blind men, the one who held the elephant’s trunk would have been convinced that the trunk was the whole elephant and that this was all there was to know about an elephant. The man who held the elephant’s leg would have had just as limited an understanding.
When someone holds on to his or her own point of view and is determined not to listen to others, we describe that person as pig-headed. Now I’ve never been able to travel inside the brain of a pig in order to see how it works. However, I have the impression that when a pig wants to do something, nothing will divert it from its intentions. To act like a pig is not to act as a human being. It’s not acting courteously, for a start. To act like a pig means to push other people, with their thoughts and ideas to one side. It means to be selfish and greedy. It means to ignore the fact that other people also have a right to their own point of view. It means to be even blinder than the four blind men who met the elephant.
How do I approach life? Am I like one of the blind men? Am I like a pig? What do I have to do in order to become more human, more like God? Can I be more open to other people? Can I be less greedy? Can I become a listener to others needs and ideas?
Lord, sometimes I am blind. Sometimes I am pig-headed and like to hold on to my own ideas. Help me, Lord, to be open to the thoughts and ideas of others. Help me to be more human, more like you, in the way in which I deal with other people today. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 4:27 am
Monday, October 16, 2006
In the part of Nigeria where I was based for a while, if someone wanted to be really insulting, he or she would describe someone as eating like a chicken.
I was intrigued as to why eating like a chicken could be such a terrible insult and asked for the reason behind the saying. The explanation I was given was that a chicken never stops eating. From the time it wakes up until the time it goes to sleep, all it does is eat. If someone is described as eating like a chicken, it means that his or her life is consumed by an uncontrollable greed.
In Britain, if someone is very greedy, we describe that person as a pig, but that also implies that such an individual is extremely bad mannered and has no regard for the needs of others.
On the other hand, if someone is just very hungry and eats a large meal very quickly, they could be described as eating like a horse.
If you think of it, we use animals frequently in our everyday speech. We can swim like a fish, be as sly as a fox, as slippery as an eel, as peaceful as a dove, as timid as a deer and so on. Even Jesus used similar expressions in his own speech.
Why do we use animals in order to describe the behaviour of other people? Perhaps it is because we can watch animals and identify something we see reflected in those around us. Some of the behaviours are pleasant and even complimentary. I have no problems with being described as being as playful as a kitten or as peaceful as a dove. I don’t want to be known as a snake or an ass.
For some individuals, animals replace people in their lives. They find that they place trust in an animal that they would never place in another human being. Sometimes such people are just terribly lonely and have never learned to relate to others.
Some years ago, I was walking down a road in London, when I saw an elderly lady pushing a pram. I turned to see the baby and, to my surprise, saw not a baby, but a dog, dressed as a baby. At about the same time, I was nursing an old lady who was dying. When the ambulance crew had collected her from her home, they had found that she had more than 30 cats. She was going hungry because all her money was being spent on feeding the cats!
I really felt very sorry for the two old women. I think that they must have been very lonely people. An animal can never really replace a human being.
Similarly, nobody can replace God. No thing can take the place of God and give us real happiness. Some people try to put money, success or power in his place, but they never find happiness. Some of the unhappiest people I have ever met have also been amongst the richest. As the song says, “Money can’t buy me love.” If that is so, then why don’t we just fill our lives with the God who is love itself?
Lord, you made animals and love them, but people are more than mere beasts. You have given me the ability to think, to reason and to love. You have given me the ability to make choices. You give me the freedom to choose between right and wrong. Sometimes, Lord, people choose to love animals rather than people. Help me, Lord, to make the correct choice, the choice that will bring me closer to you. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:24 pm
Sunday, October 15, 2006
The little boy was quite angry as he tugged on his mother’s skirt to attract her attention as the bus left the stop this morning to head towards St. Peter’s. He was about 5 years old and was sitting on the knee of a girl of about 8. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed the two children, except that when I saw them I had just realised that the group of adults surrounding them were all signing, so most, if not all, were deaf. What was fascinating about the little boy was that he showed, in his anger and frustration, that he is already fluent in sign language. His little fingers flashed backwards and forwards, leaving his mother in no doubts about what he was saying.
It was the first time that I have ever seen a child communicating through signing, and the first time I’ve ever seen someone express anger. It was every bit as articulate as using a voice! I sat mesmirised by his rapidly-moving fingers.
As the bus carried along the road, it occurred to me that, although he didn’t know it, that child had given me a gift this morning.
One of the four new saints canonised this morning had a great concern for those who could not speak or hear, so it was good to see that, as the Mass progressed, there was, alongside the Pope or whoever else was speaking, someone who gave a simultaneous translation for the deaf. Amongst the crowd of many tens of thousands, there were others who, presumably, were doing a translation into English, Spanish or French. Since I was myself doing the English commentary for Vatican Radio and Vatican Television, with my colleagues doing likewise in Spanish, Portuguese, French, German and Italian, it was intriguing to watch a completely different type of commentary taking place in St. Peter’s Square.
This evening, there are huge crowds of people across the world celebrating four new saints. Me? I freely admit that my greater joy was found in the fingers of one angry little boy and those of colleagues-who-didn’t-know-they-were-colleagues presenting the events of this morning’s canonisations for those who couldn’t hear what the rest of us were saying. They made my day! Isn’t it amazing the way in which differing abilities can enrich others?
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:39 pm
Friday, October 13, 2006
Standing in my room is a pretty little mouse made from a piece of coal, a present given two weeks before a friend's heart attack and sudden death in 1987.
That little mouse is worth very little as far as money is concerned. In my heart, it is priceless and is something I could never give away. It is the last tangible contact I have with someone who meant a great deal to me.
Also in my possession is a letter, written on a single sheet of paper forty years ago. My grandmother, who died when I was only fourteen years old, wrote it. The letter was written to congratulate me on passing an exam at school. Once again, that piece of paper is of no monetary value whatsoever, but nothing would make me willingly part with it.
It’s an interesting fact of life that some things only acquire value because of their association with someone whom we love dearly. That connection makes something valuable that, in the eyes of the world, is without any value at all. How could a piece of coal and a sheet of paper become so precious that I could not think of letting them go from my possession? Simply because seeing them and holding them bring back to me people who are no longer present with me on this earth and can only come to me in my memory and my thoughts.
Looking at that letter, written by my grandmother, I can see her smile and I can feel her cheeks, which always felt smooth and cold when I kissed her. I can remember pretending to fall asleep on her lap just so that I could have her all to myself for a long bus journey in which we were sitting together. One piece of paper brings back memories of the time she would visit us on a Thursday. I can enjoy again our conversations, even though they took place forty years ago.
Loving someone means that a very small gift becomes more meaningful and precious than the greatest treasure given by someone who does not give with love. How many mothers, for instance, will take a gift of a half-dead flower from the sticky hand of a small child and will put that flower in the best vase in the most important place in the house for everyone to see? Most mothers will do that and won’t think they have done anything special. In fact, they will talk about how much it meant to them to be given that half-dead flower.
There is a song that says that love changes everything. It does. “Love makes the world go around”, says another song. Yet another says “I cannot live in a world without love”. None of us can.
In the Old Testament, we hear of Joseph being given a coat of many colours by his father. Perhaps it looked silly, but it meant something to Joseph because a loving father gave him the coat. He wore the coat because it was a sign of love. It’s love that makes life special. It’s love that makes even the smallest gift priceless.
Lord, help me today to appreciate the people who love me. Let me be full of gratitude for the gift of love. Help me, Lord, to always celebrate your gift of love that makes my life worth living. Teach me to give love generously to all those who will cross my path today. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:05 pm
Thursday, October 12, 2006
The day came when the Titanic was to make its first trip, its maiden voyage, from England to America. People came from all over the world so that they could have the chance of being on that very special journey. In a blaze of glory, the ship left Southampton in the south of England and set sail towards the United States.
On board ship, every luxury was provided. No expense had been spared to make sure that the passengers, most of who were very rich, would have a journey they would never forget.
Gradually, as the Titanic approached America, the temperature began to grow colder. There was a warning of icebergs floating on the sea. Nobody was particularly concerned for their safety because, as they had been told, the Titanic was unsinkable.
However, by a tragic mistake, the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank. More than one thousand people died in those bitterly cold waters of the Arctic.
After the sinking of the great ship, some interesting stories survived. The radio operator, even though he knew the ship was sinking, stayed at his wireless, sending out distress signals. He knew he would die, but he would give his life trying to save the lives of other people.
The ship’s orchestra, throughout the short voyage, had been busy playing music to entertain the passengers on board the Titanic. The story that remains is that, even though the ship was sinking, the orchestra stayed together, playing music to calm people down as they struggled to find places in the lifeboats. There were not enough lifeboats for the passengers and crew, so everyone knew that many would drown. There was panic as people tried to squeeze into small boats that were already too full to accommodate everyone. Yet, even though the ship’s orchestra knew that they would soon have their own names included in the list of the dead, the musicians played their instruments. Soon it became obvious that the Titanic could only stay afloat for a few minutes longer. The musicians changed their tune. They died playing “Nearer my God to thee”.
Did the members of the orchestra and the wireless operator feel no fear as they approached their own deaths? Did they not think of their families and friends? I’m sure they were just as afraid as everyone else on board the Titanic. I’m equally sure that their last thoughts were of their families and friends whom they would never see again. However, they were brave with a courage that only comes from God.
The musicians and wireless operator of the Titanic were truly brave. To be brave does not mean that someone feels no fear. The musicians and wireless operator were brave because they were absolutely terrified but put the lives and safety of other people before their own. The music “Nearer my God to thee” was appropriate. They were very near to God. They were very dear to his heart.
Lord, we pray for all those who risk their own lives to save the lives of others. We ask you to bless them and reward them for their courage. Bring them very close to you. Let me also pray with them “Nearer my God to thee”. Let me come close to them and to you. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:59 am
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Britain has a number of beautiful mountains, but my favourites are in North Wales. There is something about Wales that is so wonderful that, as soon as I know I have crossed the border into the country, I feel myself relax. As soon as I see the road signs change to half-English, half-Welsh, I feel all the burdens lifted from my shoulder. There comes a feeling that, if I could live in Wales for the rest of my life, nothing would ever again give me a moment of worry or anxiety.
When I was at school, I used to love the occasions when I had the possibility of going into the mountains. One such occasion happened on New Year’s Day, when one of the teachers took me and some classmates to the most famous mountain in Wales, Snowdon.
Most of the mountain was covered in snow that, in places, reached my thighs. It was difficult to make my way through such deep snow, but at the same time, it was very exciting. The sky was blue and cloudless, the weather so perfect that it was easy to forget that it was also very, very cold.
We had lunch sitting on the snow, underneath a huge, frozen waterfall. Some of the icicles were the length of an adult and, as they melted and fell in the warm sunshine, they looked like swords made from rainbows. They were magnificent.
As we climbed higher up the mountain, we reached a very dangerous place called Crib Goch. This was a very narrow ridge that we had to cross by sitting down and edging our way slowly across, with a sheer drop of several hundred metres on either side. It was difficult and I think we were all scared, but there was a tremendous sense of achievement in succeeding in doing something so difficult we had even risked our lives.
At the top of the mountain there was a magnificent view. We could see for mile after mile. Wales looked even more beautiful as the sun shone on the brilliant white snow. We were so thrilled that we had reached the top of the Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.
Suddenly, without warning, a heavy mist fell from nowhere. All of a sudden we were in the middle of what is called a ‘White Out’, when the mist was so thick it was impossible to see my own hand in front of my face. It was extremely dangerous. We couldn’t stay on the top of the mountain because we could die of exposure. If we climbed down the mountain, we couldn’t see where we were going and could easily fall and be killed. We made a decision and, very slowly and carefully, made our way, step by step, down the mountain to safety.
Climbing mountains can be risky. There can be moments of sheer joy and moments of fear. There are beautiful views, but there are also great dangers.
Living is like climbing a mountain. We never know from one day to the next what challenges we will find. Sometimes we will be feeling full of hope and courage. Sometimes we will be very afraid of what is happening to us. What is important is that we never lose sight of our goal. We must struggle onwards until we find our dream. We must not lose our trust in the God who is walking alongside us at every step of our journey.
Lord, sometimes life is like climbing a mountain. It is not always easy. I need your help. I want you to be with me at every step. Give me your courage. Give me your strength. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:12 pm
Monday, October 09, 2006
In 1998, when I was in Zambia, I found myself with a radio station to set up....with absolutely no previous experience or training. Completely unasked by me, I discovered that, time and again, the solutions to really big difficulties had some link to Sts. Peter and Paul. It was fascinating and more than a bit scary. In the end I found myself going to them for help, not because I was looking for miracles, but because I felt that I was trying to continue their job of evangelisation, but in my own century and so could do with a few ideas and a bit of extra support. It certainly wasn't because they were anywhere near God on the scale of importance, but they seemed to have been taking an interest in what I was doing.
I've had a similar sort of experience with Mary. She's nowhere near as important as her Son, but there are times when I appreciate having her around just as another woman. When my mother was critically ill last year and now, when my young nephew has been accused of a crime he didn't commit, I've found that I need her as my Mom. Because she's a woman and a mother, I feel that she knows how to give my family a big hug in the way that, however wonderful a father might be, only a Mom knows how to give.
On the question of saints, it seems to me that my experience would be the norm: the saints are friends and Mary is my Mom. God is far, far beyond them and is all-important in my life, but just parents teach their children to love God, that's all that Mary and the saints are doing. Yes, we have only one Mediator, and that is Jesus, but they exist only to bring us closer to Jesus. Again, if I can use an example.
I trained as a midwife. Time and again I saw that a mother would almost sink into the background when people came to visit her after the birth of her baby. She wasn't invisible, but she would be so happy to let the new baby take centre stage. She knew that she had a lifetime of experience and 9 months of pregnancy to offer, and that she was very deserving of praise and congratulations, but she was happy to allow everyone to look at the baby and make lots of comments about how big/small/beautiful/sleepy/wide-awake/ like her/like its father the baby was. The mother's responsibility was to bring that new life into the world and to allow it to be seen in all its beauty.
Mary brought Jesus into the world and made it possible for him to grow to adulthood and follow the path towards Calvary and the Resurrection. I don't know how best to explain what is in my heart because I'm running short of words, but Jesus is all-important. Nobody and nothing can compare with him. He is the Son. He is God. Mary's role is simply to make our understanding of him clearer and more real so that we can approach him ever more honestly and realistically. When we pray to Mary, it's really only asking her to help us to know, understand and love him more.
Again, if I can use an example. I have, in my room, two statues of Mary holding the Baby Jesus. One of those statues I bought only because I saw it being sold on the roadside in a most inappropriate situation. The other I bought because I thought there was such tenderness in the statue that I fell in love with it at first sight. I'll attach them to this e-mail (I hope) for you to see. The one statue holds out a smiling Infant and I see, not so much the mother, but the mother who made Jesus smile. In the other, I see the mother who was a real mother. In both cases, she is the Mom, not the Baby, the Life-bearer, not the Life itself.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:58 pm
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful country called Zimbabwe. There were wide roads, a blissful treat to encounter on driving across the border with Zambia. Suddenly potholes laced together with thin strands of tarmac gave way to highways on which driving became a pleasure.Suddenly, there was time to drive and to keep a lookout for the occasional elephant or warthog. Baboons were spotted regularly. There were peasant farmers working fields with their donkey-drawn plough. On these roads, at strategically regular intervals, picnic areas gave a welcome opportunity to sit and enjoy an attractive stretch of bush or the occasional massive baobab tree, to wonder at its upside-down appearance.
Once upon a time, coming down from a remote village in Zambia, I went into the town in Bulawayo, wanting to buy a ballpoint pen. I found that I had a choice of eight and, what surprised me was that I panicked and couldn’t make a selection. I had to walk around the department store and calm down before I could buy that pen. It sounds silly, but it’s true. It was just that the contrast between nothing and abundance, within the space of a few hours, had been too sudden and my brain hadn’t adjusted.
Once upon a time, I wandered around Centenary Park (was that its name?) in Bulawayo and thought that I was seeing the most beautiful park it had ever been my fortune to visit. There was the fascinating animal orphanage in Chipingali and the breathtaking magnificence of the Matopas, a vast expanse of rocks, panoramic glory and the ancient rock art of the Bushmen.
Once upon a time, coming over the border from Zambia into Zimbabwe, I could give myself a treat and buy an ice cream. I could wander along the Zambezi and sit on the rocks at the top of Victoria Falls, watching the mighty torrent cascade into the abyss, its roar drowning out any sounds of traffic, but somehow allowing birdsong to rise into the air with the soaking spray.
Once upon a time, I drove around the town of Victoria Falls and felt my heart contract in pain as I saw the contrast between the tourist areas and the part of the town where the ordinary people lived in hovels made from pieces of wood and sheets of black plastic that I associate with binbags. If I remember correctly, it was nicknamed ‘Plastic City’.
Once upon a time, I thought of Zimbabwe and thought of so many beautiful places and smiling faces. There was hope…and that was only four years ago.
… and now? I’ve just watched a video showing a Bulawayo, a Beitbridge, Harare, barely recognisable for what they were. They show the new reality of deprivation and hunger, of destitution and despair. There are many ‘Plastic Cities’…and I feel helpless.
God help Zimbabwe.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 5:44 pm
Friday, October 06, 2006
They’ve been a wonderful example to the rest of the world. Having followed the news reports of the terrible killings in Pennsylvania a couple of days ago, I reckon that the response of the Amish is the most beautiful illustration of the Gospel in action. The whole world can point to their efforts to forgive the child murderer and to embrace his widow, whose heart must be breaking beyond anything she could ever have imagined possible. Sure, some of the reports I’ve seen on TV have been over-sentimentalised, but they have not taken away from the quiet dignity of the Amish. I’ve never met anybody from the Amish community and don’t know too much about the concrete details of the way in which they live out their faith, but one thing I do know from the events of the last couple of days: they have a lot in common with the One who prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:57 am
Thursday, October 05, 2006
When I was a child I used to wonder why it was that my mother would pick up the newspaper and turn immediately to the announcements of births, marriages and deaths. I could never see what it was that she found of interest. In fact, when I heard that the column was also known as ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’, I quite enjoyed using this title for my mother’s favourite newspaper column.
Hatches, matches and dispatches. Births, marriages and deaths. These three events are some of the most important in the life of every one of us. We are all only born once. We only die once. Hopefully, most people only marry once. When a couple marry, both families and all of their relatives and friends wish the bride and groom a long and happy life together.
Some time ago, there was an interesting BBC interview with a couple who had married each other nine times and were just about to marry for the tenth time. They decided that they were going to sample as many different cultural weddings as possible. So they travelled around most of the world. They had a traditional Japanese wedding. They had a traditional Australian aboriginal celebration. They travelled to Ethiopia and had a marriage celebration there in one of the villages. Eventually they planned to head back to America and have a church wedding there.
It all sounded a bit crazy, but not half as mad as the man who married his motorbike! It’s true. He was so crazy about his motorbike that he actually decided to marry it and found someone to conduct the wedding ceremony. I saw part of it on the news. The man and his motorbike then went off on their honeymoon!
There have also been a number of couples who have decided to have their weddings in strange places. This often reaches the news. For instance there have been several underwater divers who have chosen to be married on the seabed. There have been those who have decided to celebrate their wedding on the top of a mountain or somewhere else unusual.
When I hear about these unusual weddings, I often wonder about the bride and groom. Do they really understand what is meant by marriage? Do they have any plans for a lifetime commitment? Do they understand the sacrifices that are all part of a happy marriage? There is a time when every newly-wed discovers that life is not going to be as romantic as had been imagined. How many husbands and wives have woken up to hear the snores of their spouse and have realised that snores are going to be part and parcel of the rest of their lives?
I remember reading an interview in which a young couple was asked, the day before their wedding, if they thought their marriage would last. They did not expect it to last for very long……so why marry?
An English couple recently celebrated their 83rd wedding anniversary. He was 103 and she was 98. That was a marriage! A marriage really is made in heaven….and so is each one of us. Marriage is for life, gives life and lasts until death. That’s why my mother finds it interesting to read the births, marriages and death announcements in the newspaper.
Lord, today we pray for all married people. We pray for those who are planning to marry. We pray that they might have the right understanding of, and commitment to, a life together. We pray, Lord, that you will bless them at every moment of their lives together.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:48 am
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
There was one occasion when Francis visited a town called Gubbio. He learned that the people were being terrorised by a fierce wolf. In typical Francis fashion, he went out of the town to find the wolf and to have a meeting with it. Now normally people don’t have meetings with wolves, but then most of us are not like Francis.
The result of the meeting was that the wolf agreed not to frighten the people of Gubbio if, in exchange, they would give it food. The townsfolk agreed. In fact the wolf and the people kept their bargain so well that when the wolf died, it was given a solemn burial.
But Francis was not only interested in wolves. He also earned himself a reputation for speaking to birds. On one occasion he sent out a large flock of birds with instructions to spread God’s word. The birds flew into the air in the form of a large Cross and then travelled north, south, east and west to obey the instructions of the Little Poor Man of Assisi.
On another occasion, when Francis was preaching, the birds were singing so loudly that he was distracted. He was worried that his listeners would not be able to pay attention to his words. He turned to the birds and told them to be quiet and pay attention. Immediately the birds fell silent until he had finished speaking.
Francis also had a special love for flowers. In fact flowers have often been described as ‘the Franciscan luxury’. When Francis died, his friends and early companions remembered that he had told his brother gardener not to plant vegetables everywhere, but to leave a part of the garden for hardy plants that in time would produce our sisters, the flowers.
How often do we take for granted the animals, birds, insects and plants that are around us? Do we follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi such that the sun and moon are truly our Brother Sun and Sister Moon? If we were to see Creation as our brother, sister and mother, we would treat them with respect. We would be able to look at them and see God. We wouldn’t waste our Sister Water, who is so precious and pure, humble and useful.
Francis praised God for Brother Fire. We use fire every day. It is part of our lives. We are the only part of creation that has learned to use fire as a tool. Do we ever think of thanking God, not only for its usefulness, but also for the beauty of the dancing flames?
Lord, today I thank you for my Brother Sun and Sister Moon, for brother Fire and Sister Water. I thank you for all your beautiful Creation, which tells me of your greater loveliness. I thank you for every creature you have placed on this earth, because you have made everything out of love. Lord, Francis called Sister Earth also our Mother because she gives birth to all living things. I too am part of your Creation, Lord, and this tiny part of all that you have created itself desires to praise you.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 5:06 am
Monday, October 02, 2006
Every morning I listen to the news on the radio. At night, before I go to sleep, I listen to the news. Then, next morning, once again, I listen to the news.
One thing I notice is that there is really little difference between the news bulletin last thing at night and the one that follows it early in the morning. Really, it’s not surprising. Only a few hours have passed between the two bulletins. However, sometimes I half-expect the world to have changed during those few hours when I was asleep. Of course, sometimes there is a major change. There might be a serious earthquake or a plane crash during the night that is so important that it becomes the first item on the news.
For the most part, however, the political negotiations, which are taking place in one part of the world or another, are more or less at the same stage today as they were yesterday. The financial crisis in which one country or another finds itself will be the same tomorrow as it is today.
It would be wonderful if, overnight, whilst the rest of the world was sleeping, two countries, which had been at war, could announce peace. Imagine the effect if, overnight, a country could suddenly find all its economic problems solved. What would it be like if, at night, someone who went to bed hungry, cold and unemployed, could wake up and find himself or herself well-fed, warm and employed? We’d look on the event as something miraculous.
However, life is not like that. I know from my own experience that the problems I take with me to bed are usually still with me when I wake up in the morning. Often they are not solved by the end of the day. There have been so many times when I would have loved to snap my fingers and suddenly find all my difficulties at an end…..but life is not like that.
There is a children’s film about a special teacher by the name of ‘Mary Poppins’. One day Mary wants to help her two pupils to pack their cases to go away on holiday. She clicks her fingers and suddenly, all the children’s clothes and toys find their own way into the suitcases. Within the space of seconds, the suitcases are packed and Mary Poppins and the children are ready to go away on holiday.
That sort of thing does not happen in my life. If I plan to do a job, the job takes time to be planned and to be put into effect. Results do not come instantaneously. Yet it is not always easy to take life one day at a time. I can be impatient for results. I can be impatient for success. I can be impatient for my difficulties to come to an end.
An Indian writer by the name of Tagore wrote that when God created flowers, he made them to open slowly and gently. If a flower opens too quickly, it is destroyed. If we do not take our life one day at a time, we might miss out on the most important lesson that God might want to teach us that day.
Lord, help me to take one day at a time. You know I am only human, but sometimes my human limitations are also frustrating. I’d like to work a few miracles, but then that would make me equal to you. I prefer you to be God and for me to be me. Help me to be patient, Lord. Help me to take one day at a time.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:27 pm
STATEMENT FROM ARCHBISHOP VINCENT NICHOLS IN RESPONSE TO BBC PANORAMA PROGRAMME, 'SEX CRIMES AND THE VATICAN', ON BEHALF OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN ENGLAND AND WALES
The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, and Chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA), has issued the following statement on behalf of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, in response to the BBC Panorama Programme, 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican', broadcast on BBC 1 at 10.15pm on Sunday 1 October 2006:
"The BBC Panorama programme, 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican', makes clear the suffering of those abused in their childhood. But as a public service broadcaster, the BBC should be ashamed of the standard of the journalism used to create this unwarranted attack on Pope Benedict XVI.
"Viewers will recognise only too well the sensational tactics and misleading editing of the programme, which uses old footage and undated interviews. They will know that aspects of the programme amount to a deeply prejudiced attack on a revered world religious leader. It will further undermine public confidence in 'Panorama'.
"There are two strands to the Panorama programme 'Sex Crimes and the Vatican'. The first is a graphic and explicit account of the evil of child abuse and the personal damage it causes to its victims. This is horrific and deeply distressing.
"Those abused as children have been grievously offended. This is especially so when the abuser is a priest. The film is a reminder to everyone of the need to work ceaselessly in the protection of children and in response to the needs of victims. The Catholic Church in England and Wales is doing so, with transparency and care, and, in every case, cooperating fully and immediately with public authorities.
"The second strand of the programme is an attack on the Vatican and specifically on Pope Benedict XVI. This aspect of the programme is false and entirely misleading. It is false because it misrepresents two Vatican documents and uses them quite misleadingly in order to connect the
horrors of child abuse to the person of the Pope.
"The first document, issued in 1962, is not directly concerned with child abuse at all, but with the misuse of the confessional. This has always been a most serious crime in Church law. The programme confuses the misuse of the confessional and the immoral attempts by a priest to silence his victim.
"The second document, issued in 2001, clarified the law of the Church, ensuring that the Vatican is informed of every case of child abuse and that each case is dealt with properly. This document does not hinder the investigation by civil authorities of allegations of child abuse, nor is it a method of cover-up, as the programme persistently claims. In fact it is a measure of the seriousness with which the Vatican views these offences.
"Since 2001, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took many steps to apply the law of the Church to allegations and offences of child abuse with absolute thoroughness and scruple."
Archbishop Nichols added: "This statement is endorsed by the Bishops of England and Wales. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, as President of the Bishops' Conference, is writing to the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, to protest about this programme. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor's letter will be made public later this week."
Also, listen to a Vatican Radio report on this dreadful BBC programme
Posted by Sr. Janet at 3:15 pm