Monday, June 30, 2008

On Love

Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And he raised his head and looked upon the people,
and there fell a stillness upon them.
And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you
so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth
so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height
and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots
and shake them
in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you
unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant:
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire,
that you may become sacred bread for
God`s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you
that you may know the secrets of your heart,
and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life`s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only
love`s peace and love`s pleasure,
Then it is better for you
that you cover your nakedness and
pass out of love`s threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught
but from itself,
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed:
For love is sufficient unto love.

When you love you should not say,
"God is in my heart," but rather,
"I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course
of love, for love, if it finds you worthy,
directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires,
let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving:
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love`s ecstasy:
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
and a song of praise upon your lips.

Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where are values?

‘The child who is decked with prince’s robes and who has jewelled chains round his neck loses all pleasure in his play; his dress hampers him at every step.

In fear that it may be frayed, or stained with dust he keeps himself from the world, and is afraid even to move.

Mother, it is no gain, thy bondage of finery, if it keeps one shut off from the healthful dust of the earth, if it rob one of the right of entrance to the great fair of common human life.’

These words of the poet Tagore from his wonderful poem ‘Gitanjali’ remind me of St. Thomas More, who wrote of the mythical land of Utopia.

In Utopia, adults, in order to teach children of the worthlessness of gold, used it for the most mundane and ordinary things in life. The more disreputable an item’s use, the more likely it was to be made of gold. In that way, children grew up to see the yellow metal as having no value and therefore felt pity for those individuals who, not having had the ideal upbringing of Utopians, fought to collect as much gold as possible.

A few days ago, walking through London, I passed an art gallery where three paintings were to be auctioned. Admittedly one was a Monet, but all three were valued at £1,500,000- £3,000,000.

A short distance down the road, a very attractive sculpture made from pink stainless steel was valued at £12,000,000 and has 24-hour security throughout the several days that it is on display.

Where are values? To quote four former neighbours of mine from Liverpool, “Money can’t buy me love.”

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pray, pray pray

All we can do is to pray, pray, pray for Zimbabwe as they go to the ‘elections’ tomorrow. We hear that people are being pressurised to attend rallies and are to be ‘frogmarched’ to the polling stations. Some of the priests are offering Mass at the risk of their lives.

Perhaps John Bradburne, the ‘vagabond of God’ who allowed himself to be murdered rather than desert his beloved leprosy patients, should take a special interest in the progress of his adopted country. (If you don’t know of John Bradburne, then listen to two programmes I made about him whilst I was at Vatican Radio and which are available online at

May God love, bless and protect Zimbabwe tomorrow, restoring peace and dignity to all those who are suffering.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Gift of Time

It just so happened that the story below was e-mailed to me by a friend just a few hours before I heard of the death yesterday of an elderly Sister in my Congregation.

Sister Leo was loved by all. When I first came to know her, she looked after the refectory in our Motherhouse, an important job but not one that would take up so much of her time that she would not have a chance to rest a little…but Sr. Leo refused to rest. She bustled about everywhere, always busy. Yet, however busy she was, she always had time for others, always a smile, a few words and a determination to do whatever she could to ensure their comfort. Nobody would ever starve if Sr. Leo was in the vicinity!

As I read the e-mail announcing Sr. Leo’s peaceful and long-awaited journey home to God, I thought of the story below…and yes, I will be going to her funeral next week if I can possibly manage.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

It had been some time since Jack had seen the old man. College, girls, career, and life itself got in the way. In fact, Jack moved clear across the country in pursuit of his dreams. There, in the rush of his busy life, Jack had little time to think about the past and often no time to spend with his wife and son. He was working on his future, and nothing could stop him.

Over the phone, his mother told him, 'Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.' Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days. 'Jack, did you hear me?'

'Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It's been so long since I thought of him. I'm sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,' Jack said.

'Well, he didn't forget you. Every time I saw him he'd ask how you were doing. He'd reminisce about the many days you spent over 'his side of the fence' as he put it,' Mom told him.

'I loved that old house he lived in,' Jack said.

'You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man's influence in your life,' she said

"He's the one who taught me carpentry,' he said. “I wouldn't be in this business if it weren't for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important...Mom, I'll be there for the funeral,” Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser's funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time.

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossingover into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house wasexactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture.....Jack stopped suddenly.

'What's wrong, Jack?' his Mom asked.

'The box is gone,' he said.

'What box?' Mom asked.

'There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I musthave asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he'd ever tell me was'the thing I value most,'' Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

'Now I'll never know what was so valuable to him,' Jack said. 'I betterget some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.'

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox. 'Signature required on a package. Nobody at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,' the note read.

Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. 'Mr. Harold Belser' it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack's hands shook as he read the note inside.

'Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It's the thing I valued most in my life.' A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch.

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved: 'Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.
'The thing he valued most time'

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. 'Why?' Kate, his assistant asked.'I need some time to spend with my son,' he said. 'Oh, by the way, Kate, thanks for your time!'

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cry, my beloved country

Cry, my beloved country. How many Zimbabweans must be thinking just such thoughts at this present time?

Zimbabwe certainly was a beautiful country and probably still is, if its loveliness can be seen through the veil of tears shed by its own sons and daughters.

I look back in time and visualise the vast expanse of the Hwange Game Park with its magnificent wildlife. There is the crashing force of the Victoria Falls as millions of gallons of water cascade over the rocks into the Zambezi River far below. Rocks covered with paintings dating back many millenia are almost commonplace in the wonderful scenario of the Matopas…

… and then, in the town of Victoria Falls, there is, on one side of the town, the luxury that caters for the tourist and, on the other, a shanty town where the ‘houses’ are made from black plastic bin liners… the story continues…we all hear, day by day, of the horrors visited upon the country by Rent-a-Mob thugs who call themselves ‘war veterans’, too young to have struggled for independence, but old enough to inflict unnecessary suffering on the innocent who crave freedom.

Cry, my beloved country and we will shed our tears with you. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May he turn his countenance upon you and be gracious to you. May he bless you and give you peace.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, June 19, 2008

An Old Lady's Poem

She forgets, when she speaks to me, that I might be old, but I’m not in my dotage.” Thus spoke an elderly friend of mine a short time ago. Her health is not the best and she herself has become considerably slower in her thoughts and actions than even one year ago, but her mind is still considerably clearer than would be suggested by her physical condition. “She speaks to me as if I were a small child”, my friend complained of her caregiver.

I felt sad because my friend is a highly intelligent woman whose clarity of thought and quickness of understanding were among her many great strengths of a special person. Her words reminded me of a poem that was found in a nursing home in Scotland when its elderly author died. I’m sure that you might have seen it before, but its message is timeless and so I append it here.

May God watch over, bless and protect the elderly and all those who have care of them.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

What do you see, nurses, what do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a stocking or shoe.....
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill....
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten ...with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty -- my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more, babies play round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old woman ...and nature is cruel;
'Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart,
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years ....all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
...Not a crabby old woman; look closer ...see ME!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Double trouble… or doubly blessed?

In one sense, there was nothing unusual this morning about seeing a mother standing waiting at the roadside with her twins. What was unusual was that she had two pushchairs, with a twin in each. The boys looked as though they were aged about 7 or 8 and quite severely mentally and physically handicapped. Both of them were so alike and bore such a close resemblance to the woman accompanying them that she simply had to be their mother, waiting for someone to help her with the twins. With the best will in the world, nobody could have managed to single-handedly push the two prams down the busy road. That she had succeeded in reaching the spot where she was standing meant that the helper had to be nearby, if invisible to my eyes.

Who was that woman? One can only imagine the pain experienced on discovering that both of her sons would be incapable of leading a normal life. Did she have the support she needed or was she kept at a distance by her disappointed family? She was a Bangladeshi. Did her husband blame her for ‘imperfect’ sons, or was he as devastated as she, trying to come to terms with his disappointment and give his family all the love and care that they needed?

For sure, the two boys receive great care and attention. Even a brief glimpse in passing by served to reveal as much. They were beautifully clean and tidy, well-dressed and comfortable in their chairs. Their very appearance also testified to the heroism and the love of their parents.

For any parent, the birth of a disabled child is a cause of sadness. It is inevitably a challenge. There have to be the unanswerable questions, “Why me?”, “Why my baby?” For a couple to have to come to terms with more than one disabled child is even harder and even more deserving of the understanding and prayers of others.

The woman at the roadside this morning did not know that she was setting the world an example of heroic and self-sacrificing love. May many people have open eyes and hearts that will receive the lessons that she, unknowingly, taught as she stood and waited patiently.

May God bless her and all parents in her position in life, giving them the courage and strength that they will need as they put love into practise.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Little Madonna

She is young and beautiful, wrapped in a blue cloak, her head covered in a gold-coloured, patterned, scarf. As she looks upwards, a small baby in her arms sleeps peacefully, its little arm resting so trustingly and naturally on her breast. The baby’s pose is so realistic, that there is no way in which the artist, Ferruzzi, could not have painted his exquisite portrait of ‘The Little Madonna of the Wayside’ from life.

Yet how many millions of people, including myself, have seen and treasured this picture, have seen it as a representation of Our Lady, not knowing that Ferruzzi himself had merely painted an 11 year-old girl by the name of Angelina Bovo as she tried to keep her little baby brother Giovanni warm?

The captivating story behind the Little Madonna can easily be read online by going to but briefly, for those who don’t have access to the Internet, let me just summarise by saying that an American orphan, who later entered Religious Life, in trying to trace her family, discovered from her mother’s relatives in Venice, that the beautiful painting, that she herself had taken to be of Our Lady, had been modelled by her mother and one year-old uncle!

It is easy to see why the artist had seen something beautiful and innocent, gentle and deeply touching about the child sheltering from the cold. I myself have held this image as saying something so real and utterly genuine about our Mother, that I was amazed to hear the story behind the picture. Even knowing the story, the ‘Madonnina’ (Little Mother) is still, indisputably, Mary.

Take a step backwards in time.

Who was Mary? Wasn’t she just a simple village girl who lived a perfectly ordinary life in the midst of perfectly ordinary people? Perhaps she was, to her contemporaries, remarkable only in the same way that any of us would look at a child and see that there was a depth and genuineness beyond the commonplace. Never did she expect to be singled out for any special honours as she carried the jug to the well and chatted with her friends.

What were her thoughts as she held her Baby in her arms for the first time? What did it mean to her as she realised that she had become a mother in a way that never, in her wildest dreams, could have occurred to her? How did Mary approach being a mother? What were her hopes and fears for Jesus? Surely some of them would have been the same as those of any other. Yes, she had to cope with his looking for an early morning feed, dirty nappies, sniffles, bumps and bruises as well as enjoying his smiles, gurgles, first words and first steps. But what was it like to know that this baby was different and had a future that only God knew and only He could predict? Was Mary scared? What form did her trustfulness take? How did she experience God when His Son was born to her?

What does it mean to be a mother? Is it possible to summarise all that we expect of a mother or to encapsulate in a few words all that we have received from our mother? In Mary we have enshrined all that it means to be ‘mother’, all that is means to be ‘woman’. There is nothing feminist about her, but, instead, everything that is feminine.

If, as women, we are called, in a special way, to imitate Mary, even if we have never given birth to a child, what does it mean to imitate her motherhood? What does it mean to be a mother, not only in a family, but within the Church, within the world? Sort that out and the answers to many of the world’s problems fall into place. Suddenly there is a real answer to the needs of a hurting world for the presence of someone who is nurturing, caring, faithful, enabling, sustaining…

The world needs a Mother. It needs Mary. 2008 will be all the more loving, fulfilling and meaningful with her presence in our midst.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Love makes all the difference

His traditional Marathi dress made him stand out in any crowd, but especially on this Saturday morning when the sun shone. As I had just been grumbling to myself about the difficulty involved in keeping white clothes white, rather than off-white, I envied his dazzling attire as the man hurried along the road ahead of me.

He was in late middle age and was accompanied by a young man pushing a brown-paper-wrapped, large picture frame on a porter’s trolley. The youth was noticeable only insofar as the trolley appeared unwieldy, conspicuous and decidedly inconvenient in that part of London at 09.30 on a Saturday morning. Yet they successfully dodged the uneven parts of the pavement, intent on reaching some unknown destination.

A few minutes later, I found the pair standing beside a large building, confused and lost. The elder asked for directions as his companion balanced the picture frame with a great deal of discomfort. In excellent, although strongly accented, English, he named a street of which I had never heard. His costume was not only brilliantly white, it was also brand new, probably worn for the first time.

The two men were deeply anxious to locate the address. One of them pulled out a piece of paper, an agenda for a study day about a Guru of whom I had also never heard. He was almost pathetically eager to make sure that I had not misunderstood him. They both looked very worried, as if they did not know what to do next. It happened to be a rare occasion when, not only did I have time to spare, I also had an A-Z street map with me. It took only a few minutes to solve the problem.

Their abundant gratitude has been in my thoughts throughout the week.

Who was that man in white? Was he, perhaps, one of the speakers, perhaps the keynote speaker?

Although unknown to the vast majority of people in the area that Saturday morning, was he, perhaps, more than ‘just another Indian’ as I was ‘just another Englishwoman’? Would his arrival at his destination mean a special welcome and celebration? Did anybody outside his immediate circle of acquaintance know that there was someone special in their midst? Did his young companion feel himself ‘touched by greatness’?

Since most of us can boast of possessing a head, two arms and two legs, to outsiders, it is difficult, if not impossible, to assess a person’s qualities and talents at a glance. It is entirely possible that at least one person we meet in the course of a day, however ‘ordinary’ and ‘unspectacular’ that individual might seem to be, is extraordinary in the eyes of someone else.

A few days ago, on a station platform, I whiled away the time by chatting to a young man, a total stranger, about the baby girl in his care. The whole world could have seen, had they cared, that he was a father for the first time. No other child in the world had ever smiled, gurgled or been as well-behaved as she.

Love makes all the difference in the world!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Deal and Converse with others in the Lord

Years ago, Shakespeare grumbled about the shortcomings of young men in their teens. He was quite intolerant, unless it was only on that particular occasion when it seemed that boys were more interested in socializing than taking life seriously. I am not sure that the Bard meant it to be a humorous piece of writing, but it was. His complaints, now 400 years old, could just as easily have been written today. I thoroughly regret that it is something that I’ve never since been able to find, because I would love to re-read his grumbles.

Really, people do not change over time. Our ways of feeling, acting and reacting bear a remarkable similarity through the centuries.

All this is by way of introduction.

It was hard to believe that the contents of the e-mail that arrived this morning dated back to 1538. They were actually from a letter written by St. Ignatius of Loyola to two of his companions, Salmerón and Broët, when he sent them to Ulster, but it seems to me that they are every bit as relevant today as when they were first written.

Perhaps, across the centuries, Ignatius still has something to offer as good advice in relating with others!

God bless,
Sr. Janet
“In all your dealings be slow to speak and say little, especially with your equals and those lower in dignity and authority than yourselves. Be ready to listen for long periods and until each one has had his say. Answer the questions put to you, come to an end, and take your leave. If a rejoinder is required, let your reply be as brief as possible, and take leave promptly and politely.

In dealing with men of position or influence—if you hope to win their affection for the greater glory of God our Lord—first consider their temperaments and adapt yourselves to them. If they are of a lively temper, quick and cheerful in speech, follow their lead while speaking to them of good and holy things, and do not be serious, glum, and reserved. If they are shy and retiring, slow to speak, serious, and weighty in their words, use the same manner with them, because such ways will be pleasing to them. I became all things to all men [1 Cor. 9:22].
You must keep in mind that if someone with a lively disposition does not deal with another who is likewise lively, there is very great danger of their failing to come to any agreement, since they happen not to be of the same mind. And therefore, if one knows that he himself is of such a lively disposition, he ought to approach the other, possessing similar traits, well prepared by a close study of himself and determined to be patient and not to get out of sorts with him, especially if he knows him to be in poor health. If he is dealing with one of slower temper, then there is not so much danger of a disagreement arising from words too hastily spoken.

Whenever we wish to win someone over and engage him in the greater service of God our Lord, we should use the same strategy for good that the enemy employs to draw a good soul to evil. The enemy enters through the other's door and comes out of his own. He enters with the other, not by opposing his ways but by praising them. He acts familiarly with the soul, suggesting good and holy thoughts that bring peace to the good soul. Then, little by little, he tries to come out of his own door, always portraying some error or illusion under the appearance of something good, but which will always be evil. So, we may lead others to good by praying or agreeing with them on a certain good point, leaving aside whatever else may be wrong. Thus after gaining his confidence, we shall meet with better success. In this sense we enter his door with him, but we come out our own.

We should be kind and compassionate with those who are sad or tempted, speak at length with them, and show great joy and cheerfulness, both interior and exterior, to draw them to the opposite of what they feel, for their greater edification and consolation.

In everything you say, especially when you are trying to restore peace and are giving spiritual exhortations, be on your guard and remember that everything you say may or will become public.

In business matters, be generous with your time; that is, if you can, do today what you promise to do tomorrow."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At the end of the conference

There were approximately 200 people of every shape and size at the meeting which lasted from Monday morning until midday Wednesday. We’d come from every nook and cranny of England and Wales for the Churches’ Media Conference, held in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, far from the noise and bustle of London .

Not everybody was Catholic and, in fact, we were in a very small minority, mainly because the organisation was started by Evangelical Christians and then spread out to involve the other Churches in a very serious attempt to network with other Christians involved in the media.

Approximately one quarter of those at the conference were religious broadcasters from the BBC, since this is their annual occasion when they themselves can meet each other and also key players in spreading the Word and making effective their own ministry around the UK.

At the end of a couple of extremely valuable, albeit packed and totally exhausting days, all I can say is that it is a wonderful experience to spend time with other faith groups, sharing in their insights and commitment to the one Lord. For everybody present, the priority was to search for ways to make God better known and loved.

What more could one ask?

Changing the subject, I have uploaded some new programmes on the website, so, pause and hear!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sunday afternoon

Admittedly it was Sunday afternoon, with the warm sun shining brightly and enticingly over the Thames, inviting even the most reluctant soul out-of-doors and, admittedly, St. Benet’s church is inconspicuous, the haunt of the Welsh-speaking Church of Wales (even if in London), but the door stood open invitingly.

Curious because its name suggested considerably greater antiquity than its architecture would have implied, I decided to explore.

The minister and his congregation were putting their heart and soul into the celebration of Evensong…but the congregation consisted of one lady and an unseen organist.

The trio offered a laudable example of commitment and perseverance. It must take a fair amount of faith and willpower to continue in such a situation. What happens if one person does not come to church? What if the minister himself is, for some reason or other, unable to participate? Presumably Evensong would have continued in the absence of an organist, but if a congregation is only three people, there are not many options available to the parish. There are not many people in London who speak Welsh and so the numbers of those attending any church services are always going to be small.

Yet small is beautiful. Tucked away, out of sight of the passing world, there were three people praising God on a Sunday afternoon. May God bless them…

And may he bless you, too.
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Beating Retreat

‘Beating Retreat’ is a custom that is hundreds of years old and dates back to the days of the walled towns where, for protection, the gates were closed at dusk. However, lest there be any enemy in the vicinity, the local garrison would give a show of strength, marching around the city walls, playing martial music. Then, having created the correct impression, the soldiers would retreat within the protective walls.

Nowadays, the massed bands of the six regiments of Guards, on two evenings during the first week of June, Beat Retreat at Horseguards Parade in a wonderful hour of music and military drill. I counted two hundred infantry and, I think, the same number of Household Cavalry, with their magnificent plumes and gleaming armour.

My plan had been to stand, free of charge, in the cordoned area reserved for the ticketless, but God had other plans. A sergeant-major marched towards us. Some of the complimentary tickets were unused: would we like to have one?

Sitting in the front row, enjoying a wonderful evening, surrounded by the flags of all the Commonwealth countries, listening to the bandsmen playing ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ was a unique experience.

We talk about the Will of God, often as though it is a burden to be borne…but what about the times when the Will of God is for a treat? Do we remember to say thank you?

Do we count our blessings as readily as our woes?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A drunken night

It was just not fair!

30th May was a busier than normal for a Saturday night. To mark the new regulations banning alcohol from London’s buses and Underground, some highly irresponsible individuals called for a massive party.

On Sunday morning, London awoke (if the capital had been allowed to sleep) to discover that thousands of people had flooded into the city, leading to a massive amount of gratuitous damage at the hands of drunken louts, the closure of six main stations, trains so defaced that they have been taken out of service, 17 arrests, multiple injuries and an uncalled-for impact on the emergency services and on the many people who were not a part of the alcoholic revels of those who probably boasted of ‘a great rave’ when they emerged from their hangovers. Of course, they were not part of the clean-up of litter or the repair of damage. Neither did they offer to assist the police or medical staff with the paperwork and tidying of police stations, cells and the Accident and Emergency hospital departments.

Whilst the ‘party’ was in process and throughout the night, there was an almost unbroken stream of police and ambulance sirens. Although the alcohol ban only began at midnight, by then the drinking had resulted in drunkenness and its accompanying effects.

How often do those whose drunkenness impinges on others spare a thought for the victims of the road accidents that they cause or for the hospital staff who have to deal with the disgusting aftermath of sodden, vomiting, incoherent intervals reeling in their corridors?

Some years ago, I listened to a police sergeant who had spent Christmas morning dealing with the follow-up of a road accident. A drunken driver had a head-on collision with another car, resulting in the death of a man and his daughter’s boyfriend. The girl herself had multiple injuries, including two broken arms. The drunk escaped without even a scratch.

The policeman managed to deal with the aftermath of the crash and then, on Christmas morning, visited the hospital to speak to the daughter, by then conscious. “What hurt most”, he said, “was seeing the girl with both arms in plaster and unable to bend her arms to wipe the tears from her eyes.”

Then there was a member of the London Ambulance Service. “I never like going to a road accident because I never know in advance what I am going to see or what I am going to have to do. Sometimes it is really hard to remove the images from my mind when it is all over and done with. It can be finished on the road, but my brain is another matter altogether.”

Moving away from London, one morning, whilst still in Rome and on my way to work, I saw a car being lifted out of the River Tiber. A young woman, on her way home from a party, had driven through the side of the bridge and, carried by the car’s momentum, hurtled into the stone wall on the riverbank. Rebounding, the car crashed onto the paved pathway and tumbled into the river. Flattened and crushed both horizontally and vertically, the young driver, a law student, had no chance of survival. The vehicle, frighteningly distorted, was a horrendous indication of the scene that faced the men who had to cut the girl out and carry what was left of her to the ambulance. Perhaps the fact that the ambulance drove from the scene of the accident without a siren (an unusual scenario for Rome) and without speeding said more than words could have expressed.

How many people were affected by the party that the girl attended in the last few hours of her life?

How many have been affected by the thoughtless antics of the yobs as London bade farewell to the drinking of alcohol on buses and trains?

Why should the irresponsibility of the few impinge on the lives of the many?

Why is it so difficult for some people to reflect on the impact of their actions? There is a saying that it is impossible to ‘put an old head on young shoulders’.

Yet, recently, I saw a photograph of some of the Ugandan martyrs, taken shortly before they were captured, tortured and died. Twenty-two, some of them children, have been canonised. St. Kizito and his companions were so young and vulnerable and yet, aged 12, on June 3, 1886, they allowed themselves to be bound in straw mats and set alight rather than betray their Lord.

Daily, I see the ivory-coloured tunic of one of at least 8,000 Korean martyrs. Did it belong to St. Peter Yu Tae-chol, a 13-year old boy, tortured and strangled on October 31st, 1839? It is so small and still bears the stains of his suffering. Was he not terrified in his agony? How did he manage to be so strong and determined as he faced such terrible treatment at the hands of others?

The bad behaviour of the few young people damages the good names of the vast majority … but is it not incumbent upon adults to show the example? What are the precedents that we set?

St. Kizito and St. Peter Yu Tae-chol did not ‘just happen’. Young as they were, there was already something in their lives, nurturing and sustaining their faith, that gave them the incredible courage, as children, to lay down their lives.

Could there be something in my own life that might engender a similar faith in those around me? Would it not create a rather more positive memory than a night of revelry and binge drinking on the London Underground?

God bless,

Sr. Janet