Sunday, December 30, 2007

Closing and opening

2007 is drawing to its close. Probably you are also looking back over the year that has almost passed. It is natural. We all feel a sense of closure at this time. We all feel ourselves to be standing on the threshold of the unknown.

Of course, it is entirely possible to make some predictions. Day will follow night. There will be clouds and sunshine. There will be winds and breezes, showers and downpours. There will be some mornings when it will feel hard to face another day, hard to climb out of bed rather than to curl up and go back to sleep. On some occasions there will be late nights and very early mornings, perhaps with sleeplessness and anxiety. On other occasions, a sense of excitement and anticipation might mean that the dawn cannot come soon enough.

It is possible to make other predictions: the year will incorporate mealtimes, conversations, journeys (if only into the next room or in a dream), washing and dressing….

The year that is closing has held these same qualities that can be anticipated for the next twelve months. Similarly there will be the unexpected joys and sorrows, just as much as those that could be foretold. There will be some things that we regret just as much as those for which we will remain ever grateful.

As St. Augustine said, “Leave your past to the mercy of God; leave your future to the providence of God; and leave your present to the love of God.”

Yesterday, I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Revelation, a 7 minute bus ride from here, plus Tre Fontane, just opposite, where St. Paul was beheaded. (I’ve mentioned the Shrine of Our Lady of Revelation before: it’s a spot where Mary appeared to an Italian Communist who was planning to assassinate Pope Pius XII but changed his mind after seeing her. I’ve never yet found the Shrine empty: its prayerfulness is profound.)

In both places I prayed a Rosary for all those who will read this message, for yourselves, your families and all those whom you love and for whom you care, for all your needs. May God and his Mother be with each one of us as we move from the old into the new year. May he strengthen those who need courage, gladden the hearts of those who need joy, give companionship to the lonely, healing to the sick, bring home those who are lost and be with us at every moment of every day in all that we say, think and do.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas in St. Peter’s Square


The attention to detail is spectacular. No wonder it took from the beginning of November until Christmas Eve in order to finish the Crib in St. Peter’s Square!

Unusually, this year, instead of locating the Holy Family in a stable in Bethlehem, they are firmly ensconced in Joseph’s house, complete with its carpenter’s workshop to the right and the ‘eatery’ to the left. Large, jagged cracks run between the bricks on the outside of the building and, on the inside, crumbling plaster on the walls show the poverty of the village carpenter even if the faded green curtains separating the house and the workshop haven’t been noticed. Outside, a hen and a rooster, several sheep and two goats and, yes, the ox and ass, are clearly visible, as are, inside, Simeon and Anna.

In the ‘eatery’ (did whoever wrote the description intend to use that word or another?), whilst one person kneads and rolls out the dough, a man with a long-handled shovel (for want of a better word) turns to put a loaf into the oven for baking. A woman carries out a small tray with a carafe of wine and a cup to a man sitting at the table.

The carpenter’s shop is beautiful with its workbench, tools and a wooden stool. The occupants are hard at work. What are they making as the curtain billows in the breeze? How many hours did Joseph and Jesus spend together as the Boy learned his trade?

Within the single room of the house, the battered and ancient staircase stretches upwards to a balcony whereon are two angels, whilst a third hovers over Mary and Jesus, protecting them from harm. Only slightly beneath their feet is the start of the road that will take them to Egypt. It is green and flanked with plants of all shapes and sizes: olives, palm trees, poinsettia, cyclamen and others…

Yet it is not only the front of the house that has been lovingly created. At the back, a small wooden veranda and steps support large bunches of rushes, drying in the sun…

Towering above the Crib, the magnificent tree, the gift of the Tyrol, shimmers in the sunlight, laden with silver and gold baubles, tinsel and other decorations. As is the custom in Italy, they will remain until 2nd February, the feast of the Presentation, for everyone to see and enjoy. Behind them, hidden amongst the wonderful Bernini colonnade, an exhibition of Cribs from the town of Trentino is nothing short of captivating. Not all of the figures within the various scenes are expertly made: in one of them, Jesus looks about 10 years old as he lies in the manger! Yet what exquisite pieces of driftwood! How perfect they are in creating stables and caves! Where on earth did people manage to find such beautiful pieces of wood?

…and the carvings! So much love went into their creation…

The beauty about the Nativity is not only the story of God becoming a human Baby. It is the involvement of a family and real people. Most of us can identify with a mother and child. Most of us can admire the generosity, love and fidelity of Joseph, who took on a baby who wasn’t his, but became his child through adoption. The story of Christmas is the story of a family. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so much love is expended in recreating the events of that night so long ago.

God bless,
Sr. Janet
PS Check out my website at http://pauseandpray.com/. I have added some recordings that you might find of interest. Eventually there will be a page of podcasts, but for now, you can have a taste of more to come….

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Prayer

Within a few hours, it will be Christmas. Around Rome, there is a tremendous sense of waiting. Just a couple of yards away from me, one of my Community is busily arranging the Nativity scene under the altar in our chapel. Downstairs, in the main chapel, one of our seminarians is likewise engaged. Both will be beautiful. Both will be peaceful and silent.

There is a special peace about Christmas Eve, even in the midst of all that needs to be done for the Feast. Yes, life is busy, but it is also purposeful. Wrapping gifts is also beautiful: it is people centred, other-centred. Christmas is not about ‘me’, but, instead, is about ‘you’ and ‘us’. As I walked through the market this morning, it seems that the entire population of Rome will receive stalls.

For my own part, I have been deeply touched by the e-mails I have received as a result of breaking the news of my forthcoming move. Even as I write, my room is littered with the inevitable sorting of papers, books etc….and I think of a young couple who travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem with no more than could be conveniently carried on the back of a donkey.

What were their feelings? Did they panic as Mary realised that she was going into labour? Did Joseph worry that a slight stumble on the part of the donkey would hasten the birth, so that Jesus might be born on the roadside, with no shelter other than the love that he and Mary would shower on him in abundance?

Fortunately, their worst fears were not realised. Jesus was born in a stable, but it was a shelter from the cold and dark. There was a fire and some degree of comfort. There was joy and peace.

…and I think of those people for whom this Christmas will be a time of anxiety, loneliness and, perhaps, despair. May they find some peace, companionship and hope.

May those who are hungry and thirsty find food and drink, those who are searching, find the object of their search, those who are homeless, find shelter.

For so many families, Christmas is a time of togetherness. May those who are divided by discord, or by illness, or by death, know comfort and unity. May those who are waiting at the bedsides of their loved ones be at peace.

Where parents have lost a child, may they be comforted and may their child come home to them, at least in their aching hearts if not physically.

May those who are happy know even more happiness.

May the Christ Child be born in our hearts, in our lives and in this beautiful world that is sometimes a little bit crazy. I can never forget that, during the funeral of Pope John Paul II, when so many world and religious leaders turned towards each other and offered the Sign of Peace, for a couple of minutes, we truly had world peace. May that peace spread throughout the world this Christmas.

God bless you and all those whom you know and love,
Sr. Janet

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Arrivaderci a Radio Vaticana

Well, the title is written with apologies to whoever it was who wrote the original song, which was saying goodbye to Rome rather than to Vatican Radio, but it has a certain appropriateness in the circumstances.

My piece of news for today is that yesterday was my last working day at Vatican Radio as I finished four wonderful, fulfilling and very precious years there.

As of 11th January, I shall also no longer be living in Rome, because I shall be heading back towards England after working outside the country for the past sixteen years.

On 28th January, I will be taking up a new position as Communications Coordinator for the Pontifical Mission Societies, (PMS) also commonly known as the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF), and will be based in London. (Check out the website at http://www.missionsocieties.org.uk/ )

That sounds a very ‘bald’ statement, but in fact, I am tremendously excited about the opportunity the new job. There will be enormous scope for working with all the Catholic and secular media within the UK, the dioceses, Catholic organizations… and you name it!… in order to promote the mission of the Church to reach out to the whole world and to proclaim the Good News.

It has struck me on so many occasions that most people do not see the amazing work that is done in their name by the PMS. So often, people collect money ‘for the missions’, making an act of faith that their hard-earned cash will be used wisely, and not always seeing the schools and hospitals that they build, the textbooks and medicines that they buy, the hungry whom they feed, the thirsty to whom they give a fresh water supply, the boats, vehicles and motorbikes that make it possible to reach the most remote places on earth, or the students they train for the priesthood. Hopefully, through my new job, I’ll have the opportunity to tell people even a fraction of all the good things that they are achieving on behalf of others through the work of the PMS.


Hopefully there will be the possibility of saying that in this day and age, where there is so often pain and suffering, there are also tremendously good people, giving of themselves to others. It will be an opportunity to proclaim God's goodness from the rooftops and to tell the world that it's not always easy, but that knowing God is there gives total meaning to everything in life.

Of course, it was sad leaving Vatican Radio yesterday, and leaving Rome will also be painful. It has been a wonderful experience working so closely with the radio station that is ‘The Pope’s Voice’ reaching out to the world. During those four years, I’ve had the privilege of presenting more than 100 live radio and television commentaries on papal ceremonies, including the Mass offered only hours after Pope John Paul II died, his funeral, the opening of the Conclave, the closing of the Conclave, the inauguration of the papacy of Benedict XVI, and so on. It has been an amazing and deeply humbling experience to know that my own voice could be, not only an instrument of the Church, but one that could touch people whom I would never meet in ordinary daily life.

Leaving Vatican Radio and heading towards the Pontifical Mission Societies does not mean that there will be an end to the website, the prayer board, the blogspots or the daily e-mails, as I’ve set these up in such a way that they can continue.

May I take this opportunity of thanking you for your support, your faithfulness and your prayers. Please pray for me as I launch into a new era, as I will continue to pray for you and yours, and for all your special needs.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

From Zimbabwe

The message which follows came from someone I would prefer not to name for his own safety. Just take it that he is someone who risks his life in order to speak out. To me, his message of love in the midst of suffering is the true message of Christmas.
God bless,
Sr. Janet

When a child is born you wish the little one all the best: the journey through life is hazardous. Even the most loving parents cannot protect it from war and violence, from disease and catastrophe. This world is beset by evil and full of hatred.


The Child born in Bethlehem was to meet evil and hatred head-on. Precisely because he was utterly good and loving he would be hated by the proud and arrogant whom he would challenge. Precisely because he would make the love of God present in this world the forces of evil would rally against him, and in his life and in his very person clash with God’s goodness. He narrowly escaped the massacre of the innocent children of Bethlehem - for the moment. The forces of evil would eventually catch up with him in Jerusalem. They would destroy him physically, but his love would triumph over their hatred.


Zimbabwe has become a DANGER ZONE. Its leaders are driven by hatred for their enemies, not by love for their own people. Hatred is a destructive force. It does not build anything, it only tears down and demolishes. The potholes on the roads, dead traffic lights, power and water cuts, patients left without treatment, empty shelves and empty stomachs, empty spaces where Murambatsvina demolished homes, witness to this. Fear of police brutality and torture is all-pervasive and ever-present.

Christ showed up the irrationality of hatred. That is why he did not meet hatred with hatred, releasing a lethal virus and starting a doubly destructive pandemic. He saw the humanity even of his opponents, though damaged by sin, and restored it by reaching out to them, in other words by love.

Our ears are ringing with the din of hate speech, and yet love is not dead. There are people caring for HIV positive babies, and others resisting torture and healing the tortured, there are thousands toiling away in foreign lands for their destitute loved ones at home, there are some left speaking the truth in the midst of lies and deceit.

Hatred shouts and screams, love is quiet and inconspicuous. But the outcome is certain: love will overcome. Perhaps not fully in our lifetime, nevertheless love will overcome. That is the message of Christmas, of Christ, of this Child, vulnerable and yet unconquerable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jonathon

God is so good! Who could ever think that his attention to detail would encompass even the beautiful, golden-ringed eye of a seagull and who would think that he would make it possible to watch its snowy-white head, first at one angle and then at another as, in turn, it watched me, hoping for some food?

Jonathon, for we have named him after Jonathon Livingstone Seagull, has begun to stand on the window ledge of our office at Vatican Radio, peering through the window. He’s much larger at close quarters than he would appear when his broad wings suddenly spread and lazily take him over the buildings on either side of the Via delle Conciliazione. Sometimes he soars over the Tiber. Sometimes he merely circles before our admiring gaze. He is beautiful.

On occasion, Jonathon will even take food from an outstretched hand. For sure, we all know that, as with other seagulls, he is greedy, but there is something almost magical in the way he waits, judging his security before he stretches out his beak for a piece of bread or a biscuit. Yes, we know that bread and biscuits are not the normal food for a seagull, but the food is offered almost in grateful homage for the unique privilege that Jonathon offers: a completely wild and free bird coming to share our lives for a moment. Even as he stands for our admiration, he makes sounds that none of us knew to be part of a gull’s repertoire. There are not only the high-pitched cries so typical of the species, but also gentle noises that cannot be heard from a distance: a soft, mewing that has its own beauty and peacefulness.

This morning, Jonathon had a companion, an immature bird still marked with some of the dusty-brown freckles of youth. The newcomer tried to take its share of food, but was driven away by the older, stronger, Jonathon. It was a treat to watch the brief squabble. Neither bird was hurt and, as they overbalanced from the narrow ledge, we were rewarded by the sight of a double beauty circling and soaring before the window.

God is so good! There is such beauty around us, if only we can be patient. Jonathon would never have come into our lives had it not been for Linda’s gentleness that made the first overtures. Gentleness and beauty can transform the mundane and the ordinary into the exciting and the extraordinary if only we have the patience.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Ready and waiting

The Christmas tree looks wonderful in the early morning. Emerging from the station at the Coliseum early on Friday morning, whilst the rest of Rome was still in darkness, the blaze of white light against the dark silhouette of a massive pine tree was unmissable. Behind it, the terracotta-coloured magnificence of the Coliseum created its own unique and unforgettable scenario.

As with the rest of the world, Rome is accelerating towards Christmas. Streets are festooned with beautiful arrangements of white lighting and increasingly ornate shop windows. Laden with bags of pre-Christmas shopping, people scurry backwards and forwards. Adverts in prominent positions on the public transport announce free ‘shopping buses’ in central Rome during the last few days before the feast.

Hidden from the rest of the world, finishing touches are added to the Cribs in churches throughout Italy. In many places there will be competitions and exhibitions where, hidden in scenes of towns and villages, the Nativity is set in the midst of a bustling humanity, firmly locating the Incarnation in the midst of everyday life. Often, just as in real life, it is necessary to search before, tucked away in the corner, the Holy Family comes to view.

Amazingly, some confectioners have, in their shop windows, cakes that are surely, too perfect to eat, with their cascading chocolate-covered ‘rocks’ and tiny plants made from icing sugar providing a wonderful shelter for, not only the traditional Nativity scene, but also shepherds, Magi, animals and villagers. Were they not on display in bakery windows, anybody would feel justified in thinking that the base had been created from wood, clay or some such material rather than a very edible sponge cake.

What preparations am I making for Christmas? Am I feeling frazzled because there is just too much to do and too little time… or is there a little place in my heart that is ready and waiting?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cry, my beloved country

Many years have passed since my last opportunity to wander down Oxford Street in order to enjoy the Christmas decorations…Hah! What a change! Selfridge’s window, where once there was a magnificent display of the history of the Christmas card, is, this year, festooned with sexy models in colourful if rather scanty clothing. Nowhere in the street was there any reference to the real meaning of Chrsitmas and, thanks to political correctness, not only is there nothing to offend the Muslims, there’s also nothing to delight the Christians!

Liberty’s, at Christmas, is usually a magnificent sight to behold and, sure enough, a huge amount of trouble had gone into the decorations even if, once again, instead of the beautiful d├ęcor I once associated with the shop, there too, the model lying across a counter with her back arched and legs in not-very-ladylike positions, rather spoiled the tastefulness of the rest of the shop….and then, just as I was marvelling at the Christmas card for £295 and the crackers costing £150 for two (containing, for him, socks and a sleep-shade and for her, a sleep-shade and jewellery roll), a Japanese girl really did buy a handbag for £850!

Hamley’s, the largest toyshop in the world, was, as ever, filled to overflowing with all sorts of toys. Beautiful hand-made teddy bears (not one of them named Mohammed!!!) emerged with exciting regularity within the skillful hands of the young girl who received the empty shell from an eager child. Everywhere, toys had been laid out for the adults, as well as the children, to test. Just like everybody else, I enjoyed hearing Winnie the Pooh laugh and chatter in time to music, watched a salesman demonstrate a sort-of illuminated bolas and played on a laptop computer designed for five year-olds.

…and then I saw a young couple, thin and worried-looking as they wandered around Hamley’s. It was difficult not to see some of the gifts that they had bought. How on earth would they manage to pay for them? Are they to be in debt for the next year because of their spending-spree at Christmas? Did they really need to pay £19.99 for some coloured pens? Why not buy similar ones for 99p at the local market?

Where is Christ this Christmas? Has He been lost altogether? Do people have more money than sense?

Cry, my beloved country. You are letting Jesus be hidden in the Christmas rush. Bring him back! Then, you will laugh.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Inconvenience

Travelling down from Liverpool to London yesterday was an experience.


Torrential rain and cold weather did its best to make sure the journey had a good chance of being miserable: it was long, but not really a source of misery. Roadworks stretching for several miles, slowing traffic to a snail's pace lengthened the trip considerably. Then, on a Saturday afternoon, there is no congestion charge operating in central London. The congestion charge might be a pain for motorists, but it is a wonderful invention for some of us commuters, especially those of us who were stuck in long traffic jams and gridlocked crossroads. Christmas shoppers bustled to and fro, inseperable from their umbrellas as the torrential rain became even heavier.

Arriving at Victoria Coach Station was something of a triumph. When the bus driver apologised for the delays which he said were none of his making, everybody agreed with him. Still, much as the passengers staggered from the coach, there was something exciting about emerging, even in a torrential downpour, into the sights and sounds of a London evening with only a few days to go before Christmas. There was a thrill about being warmly wrapped with an effective umbrella, the inconvenience of the bus journey a thing of the past.

...and then there were the homeless along the way: a woman tucked up in a soggy blanket, a man pushing a trolly laden with plastic carrier bags of belongings...

Inconvenience is relative. Does a long wait in a warm, dry,bus compare with a longer wait through the night in a shop doorway, a wait that is continuing from one night to the next because there is no home at the end of the road?

Spare a thought and a prayer for whom 'inconvenience' has become a way of life.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Friday, December 07, 2007

Interesting

Have you ever met people who leave you with the feeling that you would love to spend some time with them in order to learn more about what it is that they are doing?

During my time in Rome, I’ve discovered that my colleague’s father is the one who invented striped toothpaste. Then there was the young computer programmer who is designing a programme for butter packs in which the butter is already cut into four segments. There was the woman who works as an engineer for NASA and designs spaceships…

People are interesting. Every one of us has something that is fascinating to others. Are we not silly when we don’t open up to others and miss out on seeing the wonderful beauty within them? What would happen if God were to decide that we were boring? What would it be like if we truly thought God could be bored by our requests? Are we not fortunate that God thinks that each and every one of us is fascinating?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hold His Hand


Ever been frightened by somebody else’s reaction to a situation?

Yesterday I flew from Rome to London and found that, as we travelled across southern England, there was a great deal of turbulence. Yes, I was frightened and, yes, out came my rosary, prayed ever more urgently as the plane bobbed around in the high wind.

The trouble was that a group of youngsters, a couple of seats in front of me, were thoroughly enjoying the ups and downs of life at that moment and made strange whooping sounds with every bounce of the plane. It was scary! The more they shrieked, the more urgent my prayers became. They made what was probably unimportant something of danger and immediate threat to life.

Of course, we landed safely. Had that not been so, then I would not be writing at this moment in time.

When we are in danger, it is very normal to immediately start to pray and to have God’s help uppermost in mind. Everything else disappears in the attempt to reach out to Him and hold his hand.

When the danger is over, is there the same urgency to say ‘thank you’? He deserves it!

God bless,
Sr. Janet