Wednesday, April 30, 2008


It was a tiny, inconsequential but thought-provoking incident. An elderly woman glared disapprovingly as I pulled out and used a hairbrush. I knew it wasn’t the place for it, but tossed up between good manners and tidiness. She was not to know that I had just worked an eight-hour shift and walked four miles in the wind and rain to reach the meeting.

How often do we jump to conclusions about others, especially when they are complete strangers? How often do we make allowances for circumstances of which we know nothing?

How often do we allow charity to triumph over our own, possibly faulty, conclusions?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, April 28, 2008

“We need to know”

There was a press conference immediately following their meeting with Pope Benedict at the Wednesday General Audience. It was then that I had my first contact with Kate and Gerry McCann, although Kate and I attended the same school (some years apart) and her parents live close to my own family.

When I saw Kate and Gerry, I was utterly convinced of their innocence, and remain so after one year of frequent conversations with Kate’s parents. I have been deeply humbled by their faith and courage, the persistence of their prayers even when the days have been dark and pain-filled.

Knowing the widespread concern for Madeleine and her family, I thought that I would reproduce the article from tonight’s Liverpool Echo as my own way of marking Madeleine’s anniversary, as my own little offering of support to a suffering family who also represent the anguish of similar families across the world.

May God bless, support and comfort the McCann family and all families in their situation. May missing children come home, safe and sound and may all the wounds be healed.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Madeleine McCann - if she's dead, we need to know
Apr 28 2008 by Paddy Shennan, Liverpool Echo
IN the first of a two-part series, to mark the first anniversary of the abduction of Madeleine McCann, chief feature writer Paddy Shennan talks to her Liverpool-based grandparents, Brian and Susan Healy

IT’S A tough question to ask and an almost impossible one to answer.
As they approach the anniversary of the disappearance of their first grandchild, Madeleine McCann’s grandparents bravely face up to the horrendous possibility of their worst nightmare coming heartbreakingly true.
For Brian and Susan Healy, who have spent the past 12 months doing all they can for Madeleine and all they can for her mother, their only child, Kate, the agony and the anguish can only intensify on the anniversary no one wants to see come round.
We are sitting in their suburban home in a quiet, tree-lined street off busy Allerton Road, a house where the gates remain bedecked with yellow and green ribbons. A house where the first and last thing you see, as you enter and leave, is a framed photograph of their smiling granddaughter, Madeleine, in her Everton top.
An ordinary family photograph which is now, for all the wrong reasons, familiar to millions of people around the world.
It is here, then, in this seemingly unremarkable, ordinary and everyday world, that these devoted parents and grandparents fight a daily battle against thinking the unthinkable and saying the unsayable.
So do they now, after all this time, believe little Madeleine is dead and, if she is, would they rather face this devastating fact – or continue living in ignorance, with only their daily turmoil and torment for company?
Susan, 62, takes a deep breath, and says: “I think Kate feels she needs to know what’s happened to Madeleine, because her imagination . . .”
Her voice trails away as the enormity of what she is saying hits home, before she adds, softly and sadly: “Kate said ‘If Madeleine is dead I need to know’. That goes for us as well.”
But explaining the trap they fear falling into, Brian, 68, says: “If you say ‘We want a resolution’ you are tempting fate . . . If I was talking about any other child, I would probably think ‘She’s gone’. But it’s Madeleine, and so we have hope.”
Susan, as if grasping hold of that most powerful of four-letter words, stresses: “We still have a lot of hope, because we have no reason not to have.
“Sometimes when I’m having a bad time – which has been most of the time recently – I would be quite fearful of the chances of Madeleine being found alive. Then I’ll read something or speak to someone who will say ‘You WILL get her back, you know’. That makes me feel a bit ashamed, so I pull myself together.”
And Kate? Is she, as some newspapers have suggested, on the verge of falling apart?
Susan says: “I can’t believe how strong Kate is. I just don’t know where she gets this strength from. Prayer does give you strength. If nothing else it’s something that has kept us going . . . prayer and the support of other people.
“I do fear for the future, of course I do. But as for her appearance now, Kate’s always been thin and I don’t think she’s any thinner than before. I’ve looked at pictures in the early days when people said how cool she looks and, to me, she looks in anguish.
“I think, if people can’t see the anguish in her face, they are blind, they really are.
“No one takes less time on themselves than Kate. She’s not into make-up. She comes across in pictures quite well. She looks very attractive, though she wouldn’t think that.
“But some people want to write anything at all to make her appear less caring about her children and more caring for herself.
“I am absolutely amazed at the strength she has shown. I know she feels she let Madeleine down. The only way she can cope is by trying 100% to get Madeleine back. She can’t possibly give up because the twins deserve everything they had before.”
This mention of three-year-olds Sean and Amelie, as with so many things the grandparents say during the course of our conversation – a conversation punctuated by the tears which occasionally fall down Susan’s face and the unutterable sadness in Brian’s eyes – prompts memories of happier times.
“When you see the two of them laughing together now,” says Brian, the proudest of grandads, “it’s always in your mind that there should be three of them laughing.”
So much has happened in this past year from hell – and yet, so little has happened. Nothing, essentially, has changed since Thursday, May 3, 2007 – Madeleine went missing that night in the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz, and she is still missing.
It’s impossible to imagine what Madeleine’s family have gone through and continue to go through – and it’s hard enough for them to comprehend what has happened and is happening to them.
Susan says: “It’s quite frightening to think that 12 months has almost gone by – 12 months since we were sitting in this room and just expecting the ‘phone to go, and hearing they had found Madeleine.
“Maybe the way I’m feeling at the moment – and I’m feeling probably the worst I’ve felt for the whole year – I suppose I am a bit frightened and panicking that we still haven’t got Madeleine back.
“I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Madeleine now; what she’s doing, who she’s with and is she OK. There’s almost a feeling of panic and of needing to know the answers overtaking me. I am struggling more than I have before.
“When the six months was marked I felt . . . I was quite happy with the buzz going out and busy organising things. But I feel a bit flat now and I don’t want this stage to be reached.
“And if anything needs organising I want it done without me taking part. I don’t feel I have the strength. I feel quite squashed and depressed.”
Fighting back the tears again, she adds: “In the earlier days it was new and we were coping with our emotions because we were kept busy organising things.
“I think, now, we have done all that and, somehow, there’s nothing to protect you and you are thinking constantly about Madeleine and her situation. And there’s a fear, I suppose, that people will accept that Madeleine has gone.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Meditation by Cardinal Newman

God has created me
to do him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission -
I may never know it in this life,
but I shall be told of it in the next.

I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught,
I shall do good,
I shall do his work.
I shall be an angel of peace,
a preacher of truth
in my own place
while not intending it -
if I do but keep
His Commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am,
I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness,
my sickness may serve Him;
in perplexity,
my perplexity may serve Him;
if I am in sorry,
my sorrow may serve Him.
He does nothing in vain.
He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends.
He may throw me among strangers.
He may make me feel desolate,
make my spirits sink,
hide my future from me -
still He knows
what He is about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The phone call

The phone call was one that I had postponed for days. There was no way in which I wanted to phone the utility company in question, even though I have usually found them helpful and accommodating. Generally, the company from which I needed help would be at the top on the list of the ‘unloved’ for most people in Britain.

Eventually, I could delay no longer. I dialled the number and, as always, was put in a long line, waiting for ‘one of our assistants to answer your call’. I was not particularly impressed when the recorded voice informed me that my contact and custom were valued. Finally, someone responded and told me that I had dialled the wrong extension… Stubbornly, I continued and was finally connected correctly.

I do not know the age of the man to whom I eventually spoke and can only say that he was a Londoner and had possibly been near a church once or twice in his life, possibly even a Catholic church, for that matter. Whilst he worked on the subject of my phone call, we chatted. Soon we were both laughing over each other’s stories and jokes.

As our conversation and business drew to an end, I heard that, only a few days ago, this same man had responded to two, consecutive, abusive phone calls, the second of which was so bad that he put down the receiver. This afternoon’s had been rather different! “Thank you for your fantastic call,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed it.”

To be honest, so had I and a potentially major inconvenience had turned into a very pleasant interlude.

There is no excuse for rudeness and abusive behaviour. So much can be done by courtesy. Of course there are moments of intense irritation when any one of us would like to explode with all the pent-up frustrations that have hitherto been held in check. But we rarely know all that our intended object has also been bearing. I might have been another person’s ‘last straw’ every bit as much as they might have been mine.

The story is told of a monk with a very quick temper, who died in the midst of one of his outbursts. His community decided that he could not possibly have been forgiven by God for such rage and so they didn’t bother to pray for him. Then came the night when the abbot had a vision. God told him, “You thought that your brother died because he lost his temper. I know that he died because of his efforts to control it.”

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, April 21, 2008

On the way

Memories are a strange and wonderful thing. In 1973, when I went to visit my Great-Aunt Ena in Stratford-on-Avon, it was to say goodbye to her before I entered Religious life. Sadly, we did not meet again as she died a short time afterwards.

Attending a Catholic teachers’ conference at the weekend, where Mission Together (Holy Childhood) had a display, there was the opportunity to wander around early in the morning, looking for the street where she used to live.

Interestingly, even though the town is extremely beautiful, it was as if it were the first visit. Everything was so new and so fresh. There was almost nothing of the actual town of Stratford-on-Avon that I remembered after a 35 year absence…and yet, as fresh as the architecture appeared, so did the memories of conversations with my great-aunt. They remained after the images of buildings had long ago disappeared into oblivion.

Is it not a sign of what is really important in life that we can forget beautiful sights and sounds, but remember people, with their words, smiles, gestures and essence?

It really is so silly to look for material goods: they are so passing. Graveyards are full of lichen-covered stones from which time has obliterated names and epitaphs. The stones are obscured with the passage of time, yet what remains is the knowledge that the stone marks a person, a family, a history.

It was exciting but nostalgic to find the little street where my great-aunt used to live. Time passes and caries with it so many rich and varied experiences. It is the people we meet on the way whom we carry with us for ever.

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Thursday, April 17, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A new life

When I met the man below, he made such a deep impression that I wrote the article below, which was published in Britain's Catholic Times last week. He made such a deep impression on me that I wanted to share it with those of you who read my blog. Since I had the privilege of being in such close proximity to this young man, whenever anything has not gone as I would like, I remember him and find the courage to keep on going. May he also give you hope and courage.


To all intents and purposes, he should not have lived, the young man who stood beside me on the London Underground.

I would not have noticed him had he not pulled his hand out of his pocket in order to grip a newspaper more firmly. It was then that I saw he had no fingers or thumbs on either hand. Instead, he had swollen stumps, heavily scarred and still newly-healed. What had he been holding when he was caught in the fire that had removed his fingers and thumbs? Was it a steering wheel? There was no way of knowing.

From my initial shock at seeing the destroyed hands and catching a glimpse of burn-scarred arms, I looked upwards. Beneath a cap with the peak pulled low down over his face, the young man had no hair, but then he had also lost his ears, part of his nose and, presumably, most of his face, judging by the marks of plastic surgery, probably just in the very early stages of rebuilding a shattered face.

The young man stood beside the carriage door, his head bowed and pressed against the window, hiding from the other passengers the remnants of his face and arms.

How old was he? It was hard to judge because there was so little that remained as evidence. From his build, I would have guessed him to be in his early twenties. He left the train at Embankment, leaving me to continue my journey. For such terrible injuries, this had been no ordinary accident. This young man had faced, and survived, a major fire. From all that I could see, he must have been holding something when he was caught in a blast that hit him full in the face and chest.

How had he survived? What were the reactions of his family? They were probably devastated, lost as they tried to work out how to support one of their own whose life had been turned upside-down before it had scarcely had a chance to begin.

Was my fellow passenger perhaps a member of the armed forces, returned from Iraq or Afghanistan? Had he been a victim of a bomb blast? This was a likely explanation for such injuries. He was a survivor. He had nearly died, but he had lived. He had not been beaten by circumstances, but, instead, had risen to challenge them. He was facing the world, greatly changed, but standing tall in spite of all that had happened to him. This young man was brave beyond anything that most of us could ever achieve. He stood there, teaching all those who would listen, that death is not the end. It can be beaten by sheer courage, determination and by prayer.

This young man, whether a Believer or not, personified the Resurrection. His is a courage that the rest of the world can only admire and only with great difficulty, imitate.

Likewise, his family and friends. For the unexpected passenger to have boarded a train during the rush hour, at a time when his injuries were most visible to the world, suggested a backing of strength, love and support that had also succeeded in rising from the ashes of despair and pain. They, too, although not present on the train, were truly there in spirit. They, too, were a lesson in the meaning of the Resurrection.

Resurrection is not something that happened 2000 years ago. Resurrection is today, if only we could open our eyes and hearts to those around us. We are surrounded by people who face and overcome tremendous hardships and suffering, and, through their experiences, finding a new life and new beginnings. The fresh start might be cripplingly difficult, but it is a new life.

Young man on the train, whoever you are and wherever you may go, we salute your courage. May God be with you as you walk forwards into a new life. In spite of all that has happened to you, or perhaps because of it, you have your own unique beauty. May you walk into the fullness of the light and joy of the Resurrection of which your mere existence bears testimony.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Airport wisdom

An enforced wait in an airport lounge can be a salutary experience. For instance, there was the stubbornness of the toddler who, pulling a luggage trolley taller then herself, refused to accept help from her mother, even though merely turning the trolley so that the wheels rather than its colourful plastic touched the ground also made dragging the luggage considerably easier. Incipient cries turned to a broad grin when the child’s mother insisted on releasing the little girl’s tight grip of the handle. There are truly occasions when age lends wisdom to a complicated situation. Suddenly the toddler discovered that not only could she pull her case: she could even run.

A different sort of wisdom showed itself in one of the eating areas of the airport. A young man with Downs Syndrome proudly sported a uniform identical to that of his colleagues. Smiling and courteous, he worked his way between tables, clearing away the detritus left behind after would-be passengers had eaten and drunk their fill. With the thoroughness of those who have different gifts from the majority of society, each table that he cleaned was left sparkling.

One small cluster of customers found their plates tidied away faster then they had planned. The eldest man in the group was about to complain… and he saw the youthful staff member with the tiny eyes and protruding tongue. Without a second thought, every cup, serviette, plate and piece of paper disappeared from the table onto the waiting tray. Delighted with himself, the ‘differently-abled’ youth carried the tray to the waiting receptacle, where he cleared and stacked it on the pile.

As for the group of people? Their faces expressed the same feelings as those which coursed their way through my own heart. Here was someone who was performing an excellent job of work that differed from that of his colleagues only insofar as he was not responsible for the cash register and attending to the food orders of the customers. Perhaps, in some ways, his was a menial task but, in fact, he was holding down paid employment, enjoying himself and, more importantly, was showing the world that, just because someone has Downs Syndrome, it does not mean uselessness. The young man’s smile and his obvious enjoyment of life were a treat and a lesson to all those who had eyes to see. Whereas the toddler needed the wisdom of her mother in order to see her job through, here was someone functioning independently and bringing pleasure into the lives of others.

A third type of wisdom appeared at the departure gate as a middle-aged man with dark glasses found his seat, thanks to a black Labrador with a white and luminous yellow harness. Comfortably sprawled on the floor, the dog’s eyes and ears moved constantly… and so did its tail! Master and guide needed each other. The tangible bond between them generated smiles and interest, unseen by the blind man.

Wisdom comes in many shapes and forms, offered to us in the most unexpected places. Sometimes it is a learning that comes in solitude and through personal experience. Sometimes that same wisdom appears as a result of communication with others.

There is nowhere on earth that God cannot make himself known: even in the departure lounge of an airport!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, April 07, 2008

At the airport

Observing human nature can be very interesting.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to observe plenty of it during an enforced 7-hour wait in Gatwick airport’s departure lounge. Britain was struck by an arctic blizzard, causing a snowfall of about 2 inches in not many more hours. The sight of children playing snowballs, trees etched in exquisite tracery against the heavily-laden grey sky… all of that was wonderful.

Then came the airport…

At first, recognising that there was little that could be done, people were friendly and peaceful, accepting the inevitable. Within a very short time, complete strangers chatted as though they had known each other for many years, finding amusement in the antics of some of the children dotted around the departure lounge with their parents. Two small Irish boys had been with a Scot and were trying out the Scottish accent (without any success, I amight add) added to their new catch phrase, "I don't know, brother." They were fascinating in their attemepts.

But time passed and still there was nothing happening to the departure board. Irritation leves started to rise, imperceptibly at first and then more noticeably, as increasingly frustrated individuals tried to remain polite towards completely blameless fellow would-be passengers. Staff at the Information desk, pressurised beyond belief with questions they could not hope to answer, did their best, although I watched one young Asian being brusquely sent away because his plane as not due for another two hours whereas the packed throng around the desk had already been around for six or seven hours.

The British Airports Authority decided to step in and offered a chocolate to hundreds of waiting passengers, who, meanwhile, were becoming increasingly impatient and rude as they clustered around the Information desk. There, the beleaguered staff were admirable in their composure although even they were becoming increasingly flustered.

Where was the earlier goodwill?

Helplessness is something that none of us enjoys. We like to feel in control and, in uncontrollable situations, find it increasingly difficult to remain in control of even our own emotions.

Lord, when I am unable to organise my own life, help me to remember that my life is yours and that you are really the one who is leading me and guiding me. Help me not to vent my frustrations and irriation on the helpless. Help me to look for peaceful solutions for myself and for others. Amen

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

An apple

An apple is my favourite fruit. I never get tired of eating them. There is an English proverb which says that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Well, that is not the reason why I eat apples, although I suppose they might have something to do with the good health I usually enjoy.

I’ve never found two apples which taste exactly the same. That’s why it’s almost an adventure to take the first bite. I like them best when the apples are cold, straight out of the fridge. That’s when they are most crisp and juicy.

Apples come in many different varieties. There are Golden Delicious, which are green and crisp and are seen on sale everywhere even though, in my opinion, they are ‘short on taste’. There are Bramleys, which are native to Britain and can grow to the size of a new baby’s head. These are very sour and are mainly used for cooking. I like to eat them raw, however, as I enjoy their flavour so much. There are red apples and green apples, sweet and sour…….they look different and they taste different.

The other day I didn’t manage to eat my lunchtime apple until the afternoon. It looked beautiful and tasted wonderful at first. As I bit into the fruit, however, I discovered that the inside, around the core, was rotten. Instead of beautiful white, crisp, fruit, it was brown and soft. It just couldn’t be eaten.

What a disappointment to discover that the beautiful-looking fruit was, in reality, rotten.

One can have a similar experience with people. If we only look at the outside, we can be betrayed by good looks, pleasant manner and fine clothes which can hide a rotten interior.

In English we have a saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. When we first pick up a book, we don’t know whether or not we will enjoy it until we start to read. It’s like the apple that looked so tasty but which was rotten inside.

If we deal with people according to the way in which they look or dress, we run the risk of finding the bad apple. That’s why God looks at the human heart. That’s why he knows what a person is really like. Sometimes the best people are not particularly attractive to the eyes, but are very attractive to our hearts.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that all the good-looking people are bad and those who are ugly are good. Far from it. There are good-looking people who are also good inside. There are ugly people who are also evil.

There was an experiment performed in England some years ago. A man dressed in rags and didn’t shave. He found that he was treated badly, was given little respect and really suffered. After some weeks, he shaved, cut his hair and put on a suit. Immediately he was given respect. People had looked at his clothes, not at his heart. Do we do the same?

Lord, teach me to look inside people, at their hearts. Teach me to see appearances as unimportant. Help me to see others with your eyes, your eyes of love. Amen.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The butterfly

A wooden butterfly lies on the bookshelf in my room. It's only about 1½ inches in height and 2 inches wide. It is hand-carved, but in little detail, and that is, perhaps, its beauty . I've had the butterfly for several years and, literally, God alone knows for how long its previous owner had enjoyed its simplicity.

The thing that makes this particular butterfly precious is that Maria, who gave it to me, died unexpectedly a very short time later.

Suddenly a simple carving was transformed into a valuable memento.

The things that are really priceless in life are not those of monetary value: they can easily be stolen or destroyed. Rather they are the, perhaps, commonplace objects that have their worth because of the people associated with them.

When St. Thomas More wrote 'Utopia', he described a people who gave gold and jewels to their children as toys, so that, by the time they were adults, they could see them as valueless and something to be outgrown.

Does any magnificent orchid have anything like the importance of a wilted, bedraggled weed, offered by the hot and dirty hand of a small child as "a present for Mummy"?

When there is a fire or a flood or any other disaster, isn't that the time when people complain that they have lost a photograph album? Everything else might have gone, but the item that is really missed is a collection of old photos.

What are the most precious belongings in my possession? What would be the things that I would miss most if they suddenly went missing from my life? Who were the people who made the deepest impression on my life? Why?

There could be some surprises!

God bless,
Sr. Janet