Monday, 25 November 2013

Aunts Gertrude and Philomena

If there’s anything more testing than having Australian Aunt Gertrude staying with us for a (long) time it is having Aunt Philomena join us as well.
Let me explain.
Aunt Gertrude is from Australia and has not met her cousin Aunt Philomena, who lives somewhere in Wales with a long and unpronounceable name, for a long time. (That’s the place which has a long unpronounceable name, not Aunt Philomena – her surname is rather short: Tet).
Anyway, as I was saying before interrupting myself; the two Aunts have not met for many years. Gertrude went to Australia in her early twenties and Philomena married a Welshman and lived in Wales since she was a similar age. If I remember well, the two ladies are six months older than each other, but don’t ask me who is older than the other since ladies never reveal their age.
Have you noticed, by the way, that old people, men and women, never reveal their age directly. They say: I’ll be 79 next September, rather than I’m 78.
Anyway, I seem to have interrupted myself once again. Must stop doing that. It confuses my train of thought.
Have you also noticed how trains seem to run less frequently than in the past? They announced at the railway station over the loudspeakers that trains were cancelled due to shortage of staff. Why can’t they employ taller people?
As I was saying, or meant to say, the two Aunts are in their mid to late sixties and haven’t met for many years.
As soon as Aunt Philomena arrived Aunt Gertrude greeted her and then in her pronounced Australian accent declared “You don’t half speak funny cobber! Do you all speak like that in wheels?”
Yes, she pronounced Wales as wheels.
After a short period of greetings and reminiscing about the past, which lasted about half a day, the two ladies started to exert their authority like two animals marking their territory. Never mind my family and I living here in the first place. We became unwilling bystanders whilst the two Aunties sorted out who was boss.
Aunt Gertrude made the first move by declaring that she was the appointed nurse to look after the household’s “invalid”. That’s exactly what she called me. It was her way of saying to Aunt Philomena, “Keep out. He is in my care!”
Aunt Philomena hissed sotto voce in a broad Welsh dialect “No wonder he’s not getting any better!”
The rest of the family exchanged knowing glances and smiles and said nothing. Better not to interfere when two giants take centre stage on life’s comedic drama.
I must say though, the two Aunts, working independently, proved a great help to our family as they took on various household tasks. It allowed life to go on as normal even though I was often left at home alone with the two of them. I dreaded what they would say to each other, or do, to try to help me get better!
“You’re not giving him soup again?” said Philomena on one occasion, “you’ll have him run to the toilet every few minutes!”
“Better than the stew you prepared yesterday, cobber!” went the quick Australian response, “it looked like road-kill!”
“It was not road kill. It was the best cut of lamb!” was Philomena’s hurt response.
“I bet the lamb was quite happy to have it cut!” retorted Gertrude resulting in a game, set and match win to her.
On another occasion, a light bulb in our lounge reached its end of life. I suggested we leave it until the younger members of the family arrived and then it would be changed. The two Aunts would not hear any of it. They had to prove they were perfectly capable of changing a light bulb.
They fetched the step ladder – well, Gertrude went for the ladder first followed by Philomena with a replacement bulb.
They simultaneously placed the step ladder under the light fittings on the ceiling. I suggested they let things be, but neither heard my pleas. They were determined to get the bulb changed and each wanted to claim the credit for it.
Gertrude tried to climb the ladder first.
“No … let me” said Philomena still holding the replacement bulb, “I am fitter than you!”
This was like a declaration of war to Aunt Gertrude who replied “What do you mean cobber? You’re fitter than me? You probably meant fatter but I could not understand your wheelsh accent! I’m surprised your thin legs can carry all that weight!”
For a few seconds there was silence. I cowered in my seat and prayed for peace.
Gertrude climbed up the ladder shakily whilst Philomena held her legs to steady her as she went up.
“Let go my legs cobber!” said Gertrude “I’m perfectly capable of climbing by myself!”
“I’m only helping” replied Philomena as the ladder shook from side to side.
The inevitable happened. Gertrude lost her balance and as she leaned to one side Philomena attempted to help her by grasping at her hips. Gertrude fell pulling Philomena with her and both crashed onto the nearby couch which broke their fall.
They landed onto the couch with legs flying in the air. It was a sight not for the faint-hearted.
Luckily I was sitting on the easy chair opposite providing me with a vantage viewpoint from a safe distance. Had I been on the couch I would have been crushed by a surplus of Aunties!
I waited a few seconds to see if either of them had died or broken any bones or limbs.
To my surprise, they both got up and burst into fits of laughter.
I knew that all was well and my prayers had been answered. Peace had returned once again. From that day both Aunts became the best of friends. I dread their new found collaboration into nursing me back to good health.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Silence the priests

Whether Confession is in an old style Confession Booth where the priest does not see the parishioner, or whether it is in a face-to-face situation; there's no doubt that in a number of cases the priest knows full well who is at the other side of the curtain.

This being the case, what is a priest to do when he knows more than what is being said in the Confessional.

Here are some scenarios:

SCENARIO 1 - The priest knows that a married parishioner is having an affair with another woman. This sin is not confessed, and the priest knows that the behavior continues.

Does the priest raise the matter in the Confessional?

Does he give absolution for sins confessed, knowing full well there are others not confessed and not repented over?

By giving absolution, is he making a mockery of the Sacrament of Confession?

By giving absolution, is he condoning the sin; by turning a blind eye to it?

By giving absolution is he being fair and right to the injured party (the wife and children)?

Is it his job to "interfere" or should he just give absolution to the sins confessed and ignore others which he knows about?

SCENARIO 2 - Is the priest influenced by what he hears at Confession? Should he be? Can he NOT be?

He is supposed to "forget" the sins he hears, but is this really possible?

A man confesses that he often steals from his employer. Small things like stationery, ink cartridges, that sort of thing. He also steals from shops - a bar of chocolate every now and then.

The man applies for a job at the church - church secretary, or such like admin job.

Should the priest be influenced by what he heard at Confession?

If he ignores the confessed sin and gives the man the job; and the man subsequently steals from the church; where does the priest stand?

Was he true to God in offering the man the job?

Was he true to the church and his bishop by putting the church at risk?

Should he tell the bishop he knew of the man's habitual sin?

SCENARIO 3 - the priest knows that the man who manages the Sunday collection is stealing from the plate. He has hard evidence of this.

No doubt he has a duty to raise the matter with the individual in order to protect church funds.

The man is repentant and confesses this in discussion, and again, subsequently at Confession. He is absolved of his sins.

To keep him away from temptation he stops dealing with the Sunday collection.

The man applies for a job and asks the priest for a reference.

Does the priest mention the collection wrong-doing in the reference he is to write?

If he does not, is he being truthful to the potential employer, and in the eyes of God?

If he does not mention the man's bad behavior, and the man gets the job, and is caught stealing, and it is discovered that the priest knew of this habitual practice when he wrote the reference; where does the priest stand in the eyes of God?

Just three scenarios for now. No doubt you can think of others.

I'd welcome your views.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The long trip of coffee

It was a few years ago when my work colleague Jennifer and I drove to the city for an important meeting with some clients. We'd decided beforehand that she'd drive her own car, giving me the opportunity to read a financial report I needed for the meeting.

On the way back home Jennifer decided we stop at a cafe for some refreshments. She knew that this place served every kind of coffee you could wish for, and of course, she was right.

It was mid-afternoon when we set off again on the way home, Jennifer in the driving seat, and I sitting beside her making notes about the meeting and every so often seeking her advice and opinions on financial matters. She was a keen accountant equal to no one, so her views were invaluable.

An hour into the journey home we met a delay on the highway. All three lanes were full of cars as we slowed down to a snail's pace. Pretty soon we stopped in what turned out to be the longest car park I'd ever seen. Ahead of us, for as far as we could see, there were stopped cars in all three lanes. Behind us, within minutes, a longer queue of parked cars developed into eternity.

Every so often, we moved forward a few yards and stopped again. There'd probably been an accident ahead, or perhaps road works. There was no way of knowing. We were travelling at about 5 miles an hour if not slower.

And that's when the coffee came into play!

I felt I needed to go to the men's room; but unfortunately Jennifer's car did not have such a facility. At first I put up with the slight discomfort which, with every passing minute, grew into ... a more pronounced pain.

"Why are you fidgetting in your seat?" she asked me.

Embarrassingly, I told her. She sympathised by hoping we'd soon be out of this slow traffic.

Fifteen minutes later I became desparate. We'd been at a standstill for quite a while with cars parked all around us.

Jennifer said she had an idea. She got out of the car, opened the boot, and came back holding a small potty in her hand.

"We always keep this in the car for my young son," she said, "perhaps you could use it and then discreetly empty it on the road."

"What?" I asked in a panic, "I couldn't possibly ... besides, it's too small ..."

"I'm not asking you to place it on the ground and stand on the seat aiming at it!" she said irritably, "just do it sitting down."

"With you here beside me watching me? It's too embarrassing ... " I replied crossing my legs together.

"Forget it ..." she said with gritted teeth as she drove forward a few yards and put the brakes on suddenly turning my pronounced pain into extreme agony.

"What I meant ..." I said soothingly, "the potty is too small for me to use fully ..."

"Do it in stages ..." she replied increasing her level of irritability.

"I can't just turn it on and off like a faucet" I pleaded sheepishly.

And that's when I realised the reason for her uncharacteristic bad temper.

"And I can't exactly lift my dress and sit on the potty inside the car, can I?" she hissed under her breath, "or would you prefer me to sit on the potty in full view in the middle of the road?"

She was obviously in the same coffee predicament as myself.

We drove silently for about twenty minutes when we eventually reached an exit on the highway. As soon as we left the highway I asked her to stop by some woodland and I ran behind a tree and some bushes to commune with nature.

Jennifer, on the other hand, was much more of a lady than I ever was, or will be. She got out of the car and asked me to drive.

I sped to the nearest diner a mile or so ahead where we welcomed a much earned comfort break; and then we sat down and enjoyed their variety of coffees.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Events at St Vincent

Sometimes in life a chain of events is set in motion, no doubt with the full knowledge of God above, yet for us down here it doesn’t half cause us a lot of trouble and confusion.

This is what happened one beautiful Saturday at St Vincent Parish Church.

Father Donald was away traveling and Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, had gone away to spend a few days with relatives.

Father Ignatius, the Parish priest, was not quite alone however, for on the Friday evening he welcomed a newly ordained priest, Father Clement, who had been sent un-announced to St Vincent by the Bishop to gain some experience before being posted to another Parish.

Father Ignatius intended to introduce the young priest to parishioners and to the nuns in the nearby Convent on the Saturday but unexpected events changed his plans.

At about eight on Saturday morning Father Ignatius received a phone call asking him to go to the hospital urgently as one of his parishioners had been admitted in a serious condition. He had no time to explain this to the young priest who had not yet come down for breakfast. So Father Ignatius left a quick note asking him to hear Confessions at 9:30 and left him a set of keys to the church and Parish House.

A few minutes later, Father Clement came down to the kitchen, helped himself to breakfast and set out to the church to prepare for Confessions.

St Vincent had one of those old fashioned wooden confessionals which consisted of a small stall with a seat for the priest to sit in, and two positions on either side where the people would kneel, and speak to him in turn through a small window.

Father Clement entered the confessional and shut the door behind him. He made a point of explaining to each person seeking Confession that he was a new priest and that he’d be at St Vincent for a few weeks.

He heard Confessions for about an hour or so until eventually everyone had left the church. He stayed in the confessional for a few minutes longer in case there was anyone else to confess, and then, as no one came, he tried to get out of the confessional. Somehow, the handle to the confessional door broke in his hand and the door would not open. He was trapped in a small wooden room with no means of escape. He called out for help but there was no one there to hear him.

The young priest kept his cool as best he could. He sat there praying and every so often, if he heard a noise, real or imagined, he would bang on the confessional door and call for help. But no help arrived for there was no one there to help him!

Eventually, at about eleven o’clock Stuart entered the church.

Stuart was an elderly gentleman of about seventy years of age. He had served in the military many years ago and was a strict no-nonsense man always wary of any wrong-doings and suspicious of anything that was not the norm. It was his turn to clean the church on Saturday and having called at the Parish House for the keys and received no response he then called at Mrs Davenport’s cottage and got no response either. He looked for the priest’s car and that was missing too. He called at the church and to his surprise found the door open. Courageously, he entered the church to find it totally deserted. His keen mind jumped to several wrong conclusions all at once and somersaulted over them time and again.

On hearing the church door closing Father Clement banged on the confessional door and called for help. Stuart was startled and his septuagenarian heart nearly had a cardiac arrest. His aching knees knocked together in rhythm with his heart and the butterflies in his stomach had their knees knocking too. Even his goose bumps had goose bumps of their own. He steadied himself against one of the nearby pews and took one or two deep breaths to recover from his fright.

Despite his courage, Stuart decided to walk out of the church slowly without making a noise and once out he rushed to the nearby Convent to call the police.

The police arrived in force moments later and let Father Clement out of the confessional. There was no one to confirm his story and the nuns had not been told of a new visiting priest. Having a bunch of keys in his possession did not help the young priest’s case who was taken away to the police station pending further enquiries.

At the police station Father Clement was put in a cell with a man who had spent the night there to recover from too much drink on Friday evening. He had been picked up sleeping on a park bench with no means of identification on him.

“Have you been drinking too Father?” asked the man in the cell.

Father Clement protested his innocence and explained what had happened to the incredulous cell-mate.

“That’s a good story Father. I must use it next time they bring me here!” he said.

“Next time?” asked Father Clement.

“Oh yes … I’m a frequent visitor of the constabulary … usually it’s the police station in town. This is my first time here. I normally sleep at the Mission House in town … got nowhere to live …”

The young priest spent the next hour or so getting to know his companion in the cell until eventually Father Ignatius came to verify his story and he was let out.

Over the next few weeks at St Vincent Church Father Clement visited the Mission many times to see his prison friend. With the help of Father Ignatius they encouraged him to seek professional help to stop drinking, and they helped him find a part-time job at a nearby farm.

And God looked down and smiled at the turn of events.

Friday, 8 November 2013


I've just lost a game of chess to a vacuum cleaner.

Let me explain.

I like playing chess, especially when my opponent is good and I have to plan a few moves ahead. Shall I move the knight? Or the bishop to trap my opponent?

Anyway, I brought out my white and pink chess board given to me as a present years ago and set out all the pieces.

I then got my chess book recording games from the old masters and set out to role play an old game. Me against an old master.

First I played the master's move by placing his chess piece as recorded in the book. Then I hid the rest of the text in the book, and decided where I would move my piece next had I been playing this game in real life. Then I checked the book to see if I made the right decision.

Slow and labourious perhaps, but it's a great way to learn how old champions played each other.

After about half-an-hour, to my dismay, two pages in the book where stuck together with old age. Married for life and not to be pulled apart until death doth separate them.

Rather than risk tearing the book, I left it aside and went searching for an older book I had in a box in the living room, hidden behind a piece of furniture.

In my eagerness to find the game I was playing, for I was sure it was in that book also, I forgot to wipe the book clean first. Some dust from the book fell on the chess board and the pieces.

I got the vacuum cleaner and with the tube I tried to clean off the dust on the chess board.

The vacuum cleaner sucked off all the pieces from the board and won the game !!!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Friar Alessandro

Voice of Joy is a collection of traditional Christmas carols, seasonal melodies, and sacred arias. All of the artist proceeds are directed to The Order of Friars Minor, a registered charity benefiting Franciscan efforts worldwide.

Friar Alessandro has captured the hearts of people around the world with his beautiful voice and enormous warmth. His new album is set to fill those same hearts and many more with the purest of joy.
The Franciscan Friar is a sanctuary guide in Assisi, Italy where he was born. His hope as the first Franciscan Friar to be signed to a major record label, is that his voice will have the ability to foster a stronger Catholic presence in contemporary art & music.
Voice of Joy is available on AMAZON and other good retailers.
Listen to Friar Alessandro singing Adeste Fideles below.


Monday, 4 November 2013

A Hell of Question

There are times when children ask us questions which make us stop and think. Our answer needs to be well thought out and considered before our mouth is engaged into action.

Father Ignatius was at the local Catholic School for his usual Catechism class. This is what happened when a ten years old girl asked him her question.

“Father … is it OK to pray for those people in hell?”

The priest took off his spectacles and cleaned them of imaginary dust in order to gain some thinking time.

“Why do you ask?” he said gently.

“Well …” she hesitated, “we pray for the souls in purgatory so that God forgives them and they go to Heaven.

“Why don’t we pray for those in hell? They were bad when they were alive but now they are dead they are in hell for ever. I feel sorry for them!”

“It’s good of you to feel sorry for them,” replied the priest, “it shows a charitable spirit … it shows you’re very kind and considerate.

“But we must remember this. No one goes to hell by mistake.

“As you say, these people were bad when they lived and they had plenty of opportunities to be good and to do what God asks. They had many chances to repent and ask God to forgive them and to do good. But they disobeyed, time and again, and they turned their back on God.

“God is merciful and He forgives … but He is just too. Those who are in hell have sent themselves there by their behavior.”

Another child raised his hand and asked a question.

“But Father … Sister Josephine when she was here yesterday, she said that Jesus told us to love our enemies. He said to God to forgive them when they put Him on the Cross.

“The people in hell are the enemy of God. Why does God not forgive them? Does He not love them?”

Father Ignatius prayed silently for inspiration before answering.

“Of course He loves them” he replied after a short pause, “God loves everybody because they are His creations. I suspect He even loves those in hell and He is very sad that they are there.

“But there are times in life when people put themselves out of God’s loving nature.

“Let me explain it another way.

“Suppose your parents bought you a puppy for your birthday. You love that puppy very much and you play with him every day. But as he grows up he becomes a little threatening and he growls at everyone. One day he bites your hand. And he continues with this bad behavior to the point where you can’t come near him in case he bites you again.

“For your own safety, and that of others, your parents decide to take the dog away and put him in a Dog Rescue Shelter where he’s looked after by other people.

“It’s the same with us. God loves us all when we’re born and we’re babies. But as we grow up, some people turn against Him and become bad. No matter how often these people are told to do good they never ask God to forgive them and they continue to do bad things all their life.

“When these bad people die they go to hell because of what they have done … God still loves them. Just as you love your dog in the Dog Shelter!

“In fact I believe God grieves for those in hell. He’d rather the place was empty and we were all with Him in Heaven. But some people put themselves in hell by their bad behavior.”

“So do we pray for those in hell or not?” asked the original questioner.

“There is nothing wrong with praying,” Father Ignatius replied, “God will listen to your prayers, as He does all prayers, and will respond in an appropriate and just way. When you pray, say to God how sorry you are that there are people in hell, and ask Him to help you be good all your life.

“Every one of us, young and old, like me, must always pray that we do not give God reason to grieve by behaving badly and ending in hell.”
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