VICTOR S E MOUBARAK

Sunday, 31 March 2013

EASTER - Lies and Realities

As we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord let us remember that this particular event gave rise to many speculations and rumours all those years ago, and indeed over the years since then.

Let’s consider the facts as we know them.

A man claiming to be the Son of God was crucified and died a most horrible death.

After His death, His followers claimed that He rose from the dead as He had said He would.

Now let’s look at the rumours and the conspiracy theories.

It is possible that Christ’s disciples and followers stole and hid the body of Jesus to perpetuate the story that He is the Son of God and that His Father raised Him from the dead.

But if that were the case; what benefit is there to them to disseminate this story knowing full well that it is a lie? Why suffer persecution, imprisonment, torture and death for something you know to be false? Would you do that?

The other theory is that the Jews, the Sadducees or Pharisees, removed the body in order to stop any beliefs that Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God.

But if that were the case; then why not produce the body once the disciples said that Jesus rose from the dead and invalidate the story of the Resurrection right from the start? Isn't that what one would expect in such circumstances?

Another hypothesis is that Christ never died at all. He just lost consciousness or was in a coma, and He woke up once again and walked out of the tomb.

But the Romans were very thorough people. They made sure that those crucified were indeed dead by breaking their legs whilst hanging there. They did not do so to Jesus because when they checked He was already dead. Even so, they did pierce His side with a spear just to make sure.

And then; there is of course the fact:

Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Father Ignatius makes a discovery


There are times when a light turns on in your head and you see something clearly for the first time and understand something new you’d never realized before.

Father Ignatius was a studious type of person spending many hours reading the Bible as well as many books on theology, ancient history and similar subjects which would soon send any lesser head spinning widely.

One evening he retired to the room he called “my meditation corner” and after reciting the Rosary he started reading the Bible and cross-referencing certain passages with other books to better understand what God is teaching through His Word.

One passage in particular caught his interest. After Christ’s death and burial, we are told that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb and found the stone rolled away from the entrance. She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple and told them what she had seen. Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb. When Simon Peter got in and went inside he noticed the linen wrappings lying there, but the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded and lying to the side.

There it was, in the Gospel of John Chapter 20 Verse 7.

Father Ignatius puzzled about this for a moment or two. He’d read that chapter many times and nothing specific occurred to him. But this time, as if a small voice buzzing in his head, he kept wondering the significance of what he had read.

“Why are we told that the cloth which covered Jesus’ head was folded and lying to the side? What’s so important about that?” Father Ignatius asked himself.

Yet somehow, John thought it important enough to mention it. Why?

Father Ignatius checked the other three Gospels but they did not mention this fact. “But why did John consider it so significant to point it out” he wondered silently.

After hours of searching other books and checking on ancient traditions he came upon something he’d never known before.

In ancient Hebrew tradition the folded napkin was symbolic between the master of the house and his servant.

When the servant set the dinner table he made sure that everything was perfectly set out as the master wished and then he would wait out of sight until the master finished eating.

The servant would not clear the table until the master had finished.

When the master finished his meal he would wipe his fingers and mouth with the napkin and then toss the napkin on the table.

The servant would then clear the table, because in those days a tossed napkin meant “I’ve finished.”

However … and this is the significant bit which Father Ignatius discovered for himself, if the master left the table but neatly folded the napkin and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not touch the table.

Because the folded napkin meant “I’m coming back!”



“He’s coming back …” mumbled Father Ignatius in wonderment.

That’s what John was trying to tell us in his Gospel.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Washing of feet



This week, many churches re-enact the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet before the Last Supper. The priest washes the feet of 12 people representing the disciples. You can bet that the chosen 12 have ensured that their feet, (or foot, because usually one foot is washed to speed the whole procedure), are/is as clean as could be, to avoid embarrassment during the re-enactment.

At the time of Jesus, however, things were different. Streets were not as modern and clean as they are now in our towns and cities. They were dusty, muddy if it rained, and no doubt full of deposits from horses, camels and cattle. People wore sandals or even walked in bare feet.

So when they entered a house as guests washing their feet must have been an essential task rather than the symbolism it is in today’s churches. A task left to the servants to undertake.

When Jesus offered, insisted even, in washing His disciples’ feet He was teaching them, and us, a very important lesson.

Here is God Himself, born in poverty, raised in poverty, living in poverty, submitting Himself to perform a task reserved for servants.

Perhaps the disciples didn’t understand the significance of what Jesus had just done. Maybe we don’t understand it ourselves right now.

Yet, He was preparing for an even greater submission and humiliation for us.

Dying a most horrible and painful death on the Cross.

Just for us.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Visiting the Health Club



Years ago when I was a reporter for a radio station I was sent to a new Health Club which had just opened in an old country manor out in the countryside.

I took with me a young reporter trainee who had just started at the station.

We were met by the owner of the club who was most eager for the free publicity. After the obligatory talk about the importance of being healthy and eating well we were invited to participate in a session which had just started in the Grand Hall of this ancient and prestigious manor.

We left our tape recorders and other gear and entered the Hall to discover that I was the only male there. My trainee looked at me and the smirk on her face said it all.

We were asked to join the group of “Club Members” right at the back so as not to disturb the session. There were about 30 or so women standing on tiptoe with arms stretched above their heads and listening intently to their instructor up front.

My colleague and I stood at the back and copied the same position as best as I could. I was never good at standing on tiptoe because of my big feet. Whenever I stand on my toes my head hits the ceiling!

Our instructor then said “Relax … arms by your side for a minute or so … now assume the plough position!”

I was suddenly faced with a dozen female bottoms pointing upwards as everyone in front of me lay down on the floor lifting their legs forward and over their heads whilst arching their back as best they could.
This was more than a hot-blooded young male could handle!

Why is it that women who go to these gym classes have to wear those skimpy leotards made of almost transparent material?

I tried unsuccessfully to copy the plough position much to the amusement of my colleague beside me. She bent forward and collapsed in a heap on the floor in a fit of stifled laughter.

The instructor then asked us all to sit on the ground cross-legged with our hands resting gently by our sides.

This is easy to do if you are slim and svelte like all the ladies in that room, including my colleague. But it is impossible in my case.

My legs just would not get crossed with each other or remain crossed. The more I tried the more I failed as I wobbled from side to side. My failed attempts were yet another source of hilarity to my colleague as I could see from her shaking breasts that she was stifling an uncontrollable fit of the giggles. The more she looked at me the more she shook like a jelly trying not to disrupt the class.

Our leader asked us to close our eyes and hum “Ommmmmm” continuously.

Apparently this helps you relax better, or in my case forget the pain in my abdomen as a result of sitting in this unnatural position. Why not let us hum whilst lying down on an easy chair?

As I hummed quietly I noticed an echo from somewhere. It was some trapped wind deep within me which had been disturbed and looking for a new location in which to travel. As it moved deep inside me it made an uncontrollable sound which led to my friend giggling a little louder.

“That’s right …” said the instructor, hearing the noise from the back, “breathe in deeply as you hum!”

My friend giggled even more to the rhythmic rumblings of my insides. I have never been pregnant, my friends, but I assure you I could feel the movements of my little baby within as I wobbled from side to side.

Our next instruction, for reasons far beyond my understanding, was to lie flat facing downwards on the ground with our legs wide open – a sort of Y shape if you could imagine that.

As I lay facing down I could see from the corner of my eye that my friend’s giggles had turned into uncontrolled laughter.

“Stop it!” I whispered sideways.

“I can’t,” she said, “your nose pointing down looks like a woodpecker trying to drill a hole into the parquet floor!”

Now that’s not a nice thing to say is it? So personal too.

A few more exercises later and the ordeal was finally over. I can assure you I’ve never been to a Health Club since.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

UNCLE HERBERT



Uncle Herbert came to visit us the other day. He’s a lovely old gentleman much liked by the whole family for his kindness and extreme generosity.

He always arrives laden with gifts for everyone and I must admit to looking forward to my large bottle of vintage single malt whisky every time he visits.

He certainly is an expert at choosing great gifts that we can all love and appreciate, Uncle Herbert is. Anything from something decorative or useful for the house to lovely toys and various presents for the children!

All are received gratefully with open arms … as well as Uncle Herbert himself of course. If there’s any spare space available in our open arms he is received gratefully there too.

Even the lazy dog lying on the mat opposite the TV reacts to Uncle Herbert’s arrival. He looks up … yawns … and goes back to sleep.

The cat of course hurries in the corner of the room and consults his book of tricks to see how he can embarrass me in my own home in front of my own family and friends.

Oh what a lovely meal we had last Sunday when Uncle Herbert called.

The best steak that money can buy, all sorts of roast vegetables, with Yorkshire pudding, gravy and all the trimmings. All washed down with fine wine (and orange juice for the kids) followed by a steamed plum pudding with custard and a glass or two of port – just to celebrate you understand.

After such a sumptuous meal the rest of the family decided to go out to the park for a walk to help the digestion … and I was left alone with Uncle Herbert.

He settled in front of the TV in his favorite armchair and pretty soon he felt the effects of the food and drink and followed the lazy dog into the land of nod.

I sat on the settee for a while relaxing and pretty soon the conniving cat was up to his tricks again. He jumped on the back of the armchair just behind Uncle Herbert and gently tried to paw his head whilst he was asleep.

I should mention at this point that Uncle Herbert wears a wig. It’s pretty obvious to anyone I think except himself. He’s obviously self-conscious about his bald head and prefers to cover it with some falsies instead …

Hey, why not. If it makes him happy why should we interfere?

Sensing a potential disaster with the cat standing just behind Uncle Herbert’s head I quickly, but silently, tried to entice him away with a morsel of food from the dinner table.

Eventually, the cat moved away and I cleared the dinner table and went to the kitchen to wash the dishes, leaving Uncle Herbert and the dog fast asleep.

Half an hour later when I’d finished washing up I returned to the living room to find Uncle Herbert still asleep in the armchair minus the wig.

What could have happened … I panicked. Surely the cat did not take it away without waking Uncle Herbert!

I searched everywhere for the missing wig. First behind the armchair … pretty obvious place. Then on either side of the sleeping man in case the wig fell by his side. Then … as usually happens in these circumstances … I widened the search area.

They say when you’re looking for something it will always be in the last place you think of looking … again, pretty obvious … because once you’ve looked there and found it, then it will be the last place and you’d stop looking. The thing is … where is this last place where the wig is supposed to be?

It was one of those quick and frantic searches yet carried out very quietly because I did not want to wake sleeping Uncle Herbert. It had to be done hurriedly before the children came back from the park and discovered that their uncle had detachable hair.

I prayed to St Anthony to help me find the missing article, but the Saint must have been busy with something else that day because the wig was no where to be found.

A cold sweat covered my forehead and trickled silently into my eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest like a drum sending my blood pressure to new highs.

Think … think … think … where else could it be? I even looked in the fridge and in the washing machine … although why it should be there is beyond anyone’s imagination. But when I panic … I really panic … I’m expert at it.

And panic makes you do stupid things … like go out in the back garden hoping for inspiration … or just to escape from being inside where all the panic is.

How could I possibly explain to Uncle Herbert that his wig had disappeared?

What if the family came back and the children asked him if he'd shaved his head as a fashion statement? Do you think he'd be angry enough to want his whisky back?

Questions ... questions and more questions ran through my mind as I stepped into the garden for inspiration.

Just as well I went out because that’s exactly where the wig was … right in the middle of the garden. That wretched cat will be the end of me one day …

I can read it in the Medical Journal already … heart attack induced by family cat!

I picked up the wig which was by now covered in dirt and cat’s saliva. How do you clean a wig? Anyone know? More questions.

I can’t put it in the washing machine … the spin dryer would turn Uncle Herbert into a curly head.

I can’t vacuum clean it … it would get sucked up in the machine and transformed into a mop.

I can’t beat it hard against the wall to knock off the dirt … it would probably moult and lose or shed hair … and poor bald Uncle Herbert would have a bald wig to cover his bald head.

I rubbed my hand across the wig gently and slowly wiped away the cat’s saliva with a clean cloth. I then tiptoed into the living room and tried to replace the hair-piece onto its rightful place … one problem … which way is forward and which way is backwards … it all looked the same to me.

I gently let it drop on Uncle Herbert’s head and quickly sat on the settee pretending to be asleep just as he woke up and straightened his wig to its pre-destined position without any care or notice.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

I cannot forgive



Father Ignatius got an unexpected confession when sitting in his confessional on Saturday. The unknown voice on the other side of the small window of the wooden confessional said clearly “Father, I cannot forgive!”

The priest waited a second or two before asking “Have you tried to forgive?”

“Yes Father,” said the voice, “I’ve tried and tried and I cannot forgive. I don’t see the point of being here right now. Even if you absolve me, I just cannot forgive!”

Father Ignatius said a quick silent prayer, as he often did when he needed Divine help, and then said “Why don’t you wait in church for a while. After all confessions are over, perhaps we can have a chat and discuss this a bit more!”

When confessions had finished the priest got out of his confessional to find a well-dressed man in a pin-striped suit sitting alone at the front of the church, just by the statue of the Virgin Mary. The very place where Father Ignatius often sits to recite the Rosary.
The priest approached him and asked “Are you waiting to see me?”

Moments later the two men were sitting in the sacristy. The man started “Father, you don’t know me. I don’t come to this church …”

“There is no need to know you …” interrupted Father Ignatius, “feel free to tell me what’s on your mind!”

The man smiled and continued “I’ve had a health scare … the doctors aren’t happy with my condition.

“I’ve come here to make my peace with God, but I just can’t. It got to the point where I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer because of that bit about forgiving others’ sins.”

The priest nodded encouragingly and said nothing.

“Some years ago we had a family dispute,” said the man, “As disputes go this was really a big one … and as you can imagine we were all at fault. Everyone took entrenched positions and every one was of course in the right … as we all thought at the time.

“The result of this is that one individual hurt someone close to me very badly … so badly that it is still affecting their life even now. That individual has now moved on and we no longer communicate. But I cannot forgive the hurt done to my close relative.

“I was hurt too … and somehow I think I can forgive that. I was just as guilty as anyone else I suppose. But I just cannot forgive the hurt that was done, and is still being done, to my close relative who was innocent and not involved in the dispute!”

The man stopped talking. His clenched fists on either side of his body betrayed long-held pent-up anger and frustration.

Once again the priest asked for Divine inspiration in a silent prayer for this stranger and his family.

“Look at that painting on the wall …” he said eventually, “It depicts the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of her Son just as He has been brought down from the Cross.

“Moments earlier He was hanging up there in agony as He breathed His last at the hands of His enemies.

“Moments earlier he had asked His Father to forgive His enemies. I don’t know how He did it. I would probably not have forgiven them had all this happened to me. But He did forgive them. That’s very important.

“Now look at Mary’s face. Look at the pain still in her heart, having witnessed this most cruel of deaths to her innocent Son. She gave birth to Him and raised Him from a baby to the Divine man He became. And now here He is, dead in her arms. Can you imagine the agony of this mother at this particular moment in her life?

“Do you think she forgave the people who did all this? The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Romans and all the enemies of Christ?

“I suppose at the time this painting depicts she probably did not forgive them. We have no way of knowing of course. I’m only guessing. How can a loving mother forgive what has been done to her Son when emotions are still raw and the pain at its most intense?

“But I’m sure that with time she did forgive them. Especially when she saw her Son rise again in Glory.”

The priest stopped for a while, as he often did, to accentuate what he had just said.

“You still hurt …” continued Father Ignatius, “not so much for yourself, but for your close relative who still suffers the wrong done to him or her.

“You know … this is good.

“It is good that you still hurt. It shows a generosity of spirit and a love towards your close relative that is Christ-like.

“I believe that when Jesus met the poor, the destitute, the lame, the blind, deaf, dumb and all those who were ill … even the dead and their grieving relatives. He suffered with them. He felt their pain and their agonies. He took pity on them and He made them better.

“Note that on every occasion … on every occasion … He approached the individual on a personal basis and spoke to them and helped them as individuals.

“He was all powerful. He could have clicked his fingers and all the sick people in the crowd would have been healed.

“But He did not do that. He stopped and approached the blind man shouting His name in the crowd. He talked to the woman who dared touch His gown to be healed.

“Your love for that close relative of yours is portrayed in the way you still carry their hurt. Even though you may not be aware of it!”

The man brought his hand to his eyes pretending to wipe some imaginary dust from his eye lid.

The priest continued “And now … what do we do with the situation regarding your lack of forgiveness towards the person who caused the hurt?”

The man sat straight in his chair.

“In difficult situations I always delegate upwards!” said the priest with a smile. “I ask God for help. I tell Him honestly how I feel and ask for His help and guidance.

“Tell God how you feel about the situation … just as you told me. Tell him that you find it difficult to forgive and ask Christ’s help, and Mother Mary’s too.

“And when you feel the resentment and anger towards that person who created all this hurt, why not pray for them?

“Just like Jesus, ask God to forgive them. Tell him you still feel the pain and you would ask Him to forgive them instead. Hold these people up to God.

“The hurt in your heart may never go away; but let it be an opportunity, every time it surfaces, to hand over these people to God and to ask for His forgiveness.”

The man brought his hand to his eye once again and said “It’s very dry in this room … it must be the air-conditioning!”

“I’m sure it is …” replied the priest, “now go in peace and consider yourself absolved. This has been Confession … Part 2!”

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Adultery


Once upon a time there was a priest who got fed up with the number of parishioners who confessed that they committed adultery. Every week, in the confessional, it was the same thing - adultery.

One Sunday he said in his sermon that he was angry about this continuous sin of adultery amongst his congregation. He promised that if he heard this sin one more time he'd give up the priesthood and leave town for ever.

His congregation loved him and did not want to lose him. They agreed a secret code amongst themselves. From now on, instead of saying they committed adultery, they would say they have "fallen".

All went well for years until eventualy the bishop moved the priest to another Parish and replaced him with a new one.

The new priest did not know the code. He was most disturbed that so many parishioners kept falling so he complained to the Mayor that the sidewalks in town are un-even and that he should do something about it to stop people from falling.

The Mayor, knowing the code, laughed out loudly.

The priest said: "I don't know what you're laughing about. Your wife fell three times this week."

Do you remember when the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught committing adultery?

According to Jewish law she had to be stoned to death for that sin. We’re told in the Gospel of John that Jesus wrote in the sand with His finger. We’re not told what He wrote. I guess He wrote ‘Dear God … will they never learn?’

But that’s not important; what is important is that after He said let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone, and when they all left one by one, Jesus turned to the woman and asked ‘Is there no one left to condemn you?’

She said ‘No one …’

And Jesus replied ‘I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.’

Now Jesus did not mean do not sin any sin whatsoever ever again for the rest of your life!

He knew that that would be impossible. The woman was human, and it is natural that she would sin again. Jesus knows our human nature and He knows that we are liable to sin again and again …

What Jesus said to the woman is, do not commit that particular sin again … it is serious enough to get you into a lot of trouble with the Pharisees as well as with God Himself.

And that’s what Jesus is saying to us today.

He knows we are weak … He knows that we will sin … which is why we have the Holy Sacrament of Confession.

By saying ‘do not sin again’ Jesus is warning us to beware of those particular sins which are serious enough to lead us into damnation, and into an eternity of exclusion from our Father in Heaven.

As we prepare for our weekly confession we need to consider carefully the seriousness of our sins. Which ones are venial sins; and which ones are grave enough to exclude us from God’s ever lasting love.

In our propensity to sin, God is loving and caring enough to forgive us again and again.

But with our confession there should also be remorse and guilt for what we have done. Confession should not be just a laborious recitation of the same old sins; and a futile exercise which serves no one and certainly does not fool God Himself.

Without true remorse, and a genuine resolve not to repeat our sins; then confession means nothing. And it would be better not to go to confession at all. At least that is honest in the eyes of God.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The dead


Today, I wish to talk about something that is perhaps a little controversial, especially amongst non-Catholics: praying for the dead.

As Christians, we believe that our souls live on after our death. And that we shall be with God in Heaven, unless …. OK – no need to go there for now.

So if our deceased relatives and friends are in Heaven with Jesus; should we pray for them as some people do?

They are already in a happier place than down here on earth. Are we praying for God to look after them? – He is already doing that. Are we praying to them and asking them to intercede with God on our behalf? Well, here’s a subject for a debate if there ever was one.

There are people who believe we should not pray to anyone but God alone. So praying to dead relatives (or Saints) to intercede for us is perhaps a step too far.

Or is it?

As Christians, we believe that people like Mary, the mother of Jesus, Joseph, his earthly father, Peter and the other disciples are all in Heaven with God.

Is it wrong therefore to speak to them and say something like: Peter, in your moments of torment and confusion, you denied Christ three times; I’m sure you understand how I feel right now that my Faith is weak. Please help me in increasing and maintaining my Faith. (Or words to that effect).

Is it wrong to relate to a particular person (Saint) who once lived on earth and to communicate with them as we would with God?

In doing so we are not by-passing God, going behind His back, to obtain favours that He would not approve of. We are perhaps, in our human way, relating to someone human like us, who has lived on this earth like us, who has found favour in the eyes of God.

Having spoken or prayed to these individuals, the next question is: Do they respond?

How do you explain the many instances of miracles that happened, and still do, in the name of Saints?

I am thinking about Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje as well as other miracles performed as a result of prayers said to people like Padre Pio, Pere Charbel Makhlouf and others.

Did these people have anything to do with the miracles performed? Did God grant the miracles of healings asked for in their name? Or did these people (Saints) themselves perform the miracles (i.e. their living souls)?

Remember, the disciples performed miracles when here on earth – so why not perform them in Heaven?

Certainly questions for interminable debates. Yet, at the end of the day it all boils down to one’s beliefs and one’s Faith.

If we really believe that our departed relatives live on – then why not speak to them in prayer? Why not tell them what kind of day we’ve had? Why not ask them to speak to God on our behalf?

Is it truly that far-fetched a proposition?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Shoes



I was out walking in the countryside the other day taking some exercise and breathing the fresh air. It was a little cold and it was spitting slightly. That light drizzle which you get sometimes in Britain and it goes on for ages creating damp, wet and gray everywhere.

I kept walking down the country lane towards a village a few miles away, looking forward to a sit down in a pub with a pint of Guinness. Might as well wet the inside as well as the outside; I thought.

Anyway, as I walked on I noticed that I had a hole in my shoe; and it was letting in water. My left foot started to get cold and damp.

I stopped at a bus shelter which you sometimes find in the countryside and took my shoe off. I had miles still ahead of me; so I decided to make another hole in my shoe with my pen so that the water that came in from the existing hole could go out of the new one.

In the countryside buses come round every ten years or there about, so I had a long wait and time to kill. I sat there ruminating about everything in general and shoes in particular.

Do you realize that shoes are the most important invention in humanity?

Without shoes the human race would not have got very far. They would have stumbled their toes against a rock or stepped on sharp objects and got no further.

Armies of soldiers over the centuries would not have gone further than their barracks. The Romans would not have conquered anything and their politicians would have spent their time washing their feet from animal deposits left in the streets instead of telling everyone what to do.

It is fair to say that without shoes humanity would not have progressed at all.

Shoes are the most important item of clothing ever invented. One can be totally naked but without shoes one would go nowhere and be there for all to see.

My thoughts, for some reason, turned to nudist camps. You know the ones? Places where people go to air their differences.

I don’t know why people go to such places; but many do. Even on very cold days, I understand!  

I wonder if nudists wear socks with their shoes! I mean … how can they possibly play tennis in bare feet?

And if they play cricket or baseball, do they wear gloves, helmets and those thick leg pads? Or hats and sunglasses when it is sunny?

At what point does a nudist cease to be a nudist, I wonder?
Is a person wearing a hat, sunglasses, gloves, leg pads, socks and shoes - and nothing else - still a nudist?

My reverie was interrupted by the bus coming down the hill. I got on and dreamed of a cool Guinness waiting for me!


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Musical Matters



I’ve always wanted to be able to play a musical instrument.

I started with something simple – the harmonica. All you have to do is suck and blow and suck and blow as you move the instrument left and right in your mouth. It was fun and easy. Sadly, it made the cat climb up the curtains and the dog howl whilst the rest of the family screamed at me all at once.

So I tried taking lessons at playing the guitar. We started with tuning exercises. I had to hold the strings tightly against the neck of the guitar with the left hand and pick at the strings with the right hand!

The problem was that my left hand did its job all right. But the right hand kept moving up and down frantically a few millimeters away from the strings. When the instructor suggested I move my hand a little closer somehow my fingers got all tangled up in the strings with a horrendous sound. I just could not co-ordinate both hands to do what they were supposed to. Sometimes my left hand moved up and down on the guitar neck, whilst the other hand pushed the fingers into that hole you have in the main body of the instrument.

My patient instructor suggested I use a plectrum. That’s a small triangular piece of plastic which you hold between your fingers to pick at the guitar strings.

As I tried to hit the strings with the plastic bit it flew out of my hand and hit the instructor straight in the eye. Would you believe it? It could have gone anywhere … but NOOOOO !!! In my case it went straight in his eye.

He was taken to hospital and the rest of the class blamed me for a ruined guitar lesson. I mean … why not blame the stupid plastic triangle?

I gave up the guitar and decided to self-teach myself the violin instead. No plectrums or picks … just a long stick which you move up and down over the strings and sound comes out.

I bought myself an expensive violin and decided to learn at home using a book and a CD I got from the library.

It made some good sounds I tell you. The cat still climbed at the top of the curtain and the dog hid in his kennel. The rest of the family chose to go out shopping instead!

It was then that I noticed that whilst playing the violin I had a tendency to walk up and down the room instead of standing still. At first I did not know why I was doing this; then I realized that the music I was playing had been written for the bagpipes.

So I sold my old Stradivarius at a garage sale and used the proceeds to buy a set of bagpipes and drums.

I practiced for hours in our garden sometimes marching up and down with the bagpipes, and at other times using the big drum whilst playing back a recording of my bagpipes practice sessions.

I became really good at the pipes and drums and could soon play Chopin’s piano concertos as well as a number of other famous tunes written by all the well known composers. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Michelangelo … I could play them all. 

However I noticed that our neighbours had become a little un-friendly and somewhat uncharitable. One suggested that I play far away but I could not find the sheet music to that tune.

I tried practicing indoors but there was not enough room to march up and down. So I walked on the treadmill whilst playing the bagpipes and watching TV at the same time.

I sometimes practiced in the garden at night so as not to wake up the rest of the family.

A jovial neighbour always opened his window and shouted “Stop banging that **** drum at three in the morning!” What a laugh that was!

I could even play “Silent Night” on the big drum, you know. For some strange reason our priest refused to let me play it on the drum at the Christmas Carol Concert.

I eventually gave up on the bagpipes due to several letters received from various solicitors. They were all written in the same threatening tone of voice … including the one sent on behalf of my wife.

The thing is … I love music. Putting a piece of paper over a comb and humming quietly doesn’t sound quite the same. Does it?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Motivated by fear


“Father … is it wrong to go to Confession for the wrong reasons?” asked Leonard one day whilst helping Father Ignatius in the Sacristy.

“And what do you consider the wrong reasons?” asked the priest gently.

“Well Father … I think a lot of Christians are hypocrites … they only go to church and go to Confession because they’re afraid of going to hell!”

“I would have thought these are the right reasons,” replied the priest with a smile, “but I see what you mean …”

“The thing is …” interrupted Leonard, “if there was no hell, or fear of hell, I wonder how many people would bother to go to church?”

Father Ignatius laughed.

“Many have said that the church invented hell to keep the faithful under control.” said Father Ignatius, “but then … Jesus did warn us many times about hell … so it must exist.

“When God loved us He also invited us to love Him back in return. He did not wish to force our hand in any way … It’s a choice we have to make freely. To love Him back or not.

“God’s love for us is so much that He wishes us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. That’s His invitation to all of humanity.

“The alternative to going to Heaven is going to hell. To be separated from God and from His love for ever. It’s a bit like the many parables that Jesus told about someone having a party, or a feast, and inviting everyone yet people choose not to attend.”

The priest paused a little, as he usually did when he wanted to press home a point.

“God loves us … and He invites us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven,” repeated Father Ignatius slowly.

“Or we may choose to turn down His invitation and spend eternity in hell.

“Now is that forceful on His part do you think? It seems a pretty clear choice to me … go to the party or the feast to which you are invited … or turn Him down and go freely your own way …

“I can see how some people might think this unfair … and that we really have no choice because the consequences are so horrendous that any sane person would choose to accept God’s invitation. Yet … having said so, there are many who do turn down the invitation, and choose not to believe in God’s very existence, never mind accepting His love.”

Father Ignatius stopped once again. He thought that maybe this was getting a bit too heavy for poor Leonard to grasp. He tried another approach.

“Ideally Leonard … we should go to church because we want to … because we want to thank God for what He has done for us … and because we wish to receive Him in our hearts through the Holy Sacrament of Communion. It’s like visiting a friend whom we like very much, and we like being with them and in their company.

“Ideally … we should go to Confession because we are truly sorry that we have hurt God … because we feel remorse for what we have done … and because we promise we will genuinely try to do better with our lives. It’s like making up again when we’ve fallen out with a friend over an argument …

“This is all ideally … as I say.

“Yet … as you say … some people do these things out of fear. They attend church out of fear, take Communion out of fear and go to Confession for the same reason. They see God as a vengeful master who will punish them unless they do these things.

“It shouldn’t be so Leonard … and I suspect God is hurt when He sees us doing things out of fear. This is the very God who sacrificed His Son who died horribly on the Cross for us. He did it out of love … not as a means to command fear from us …”

“Yes Father …” mumbled Leonard.

“OK …” continued Father Ignatius, “let us consider how that fear you speak of … the fear of hell … gets into this whole matter and muddles our thinking.

“Who introduced fear into the equation do you think?

“It is the devil … is it not?

“He whispers into our ears … you really don’t want to be here in church do you? Especially on a lovely sunny day like today. You’re only here because you’re afraid of God. In fact everything you do is because you fear Him … take courage … stand up to Him.

“Sounds familiar does it not? Almost the same words whispered to Adam and Eve when He told them to stand up to God.”

“Gosh … I never saw it this way …” said Leonard.

“So to answer your original question Leonard …” said Father Ignatius, “it is wrong to go to Confession, or to church for the wrong reasons …

“But the wrong reasons are not the fear of ending up in hell, these are genuine reasons all right … the wrong reasons are listening to the devil and putting credence to his tricks …

“Do you see and understand the subtle difference?”

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Hard-hearted Unforgiving God?



WARNING - This article is likely to make me unpopular.

There’s a tendency amongst Catholics to classify sin and to attribute to God a judgemental nature based on that of man.

Our Church has stated that if an individual dies with an un-confessed mortal sin then he will go to hell. It seems there’s no debate or any movement or deviation from that doctrine or stance.

But is this really always the case?

The Church states that a mortal sin is a grave sin indeed. Something really serious. Like breaking one of the Ten Commandments.

There’s no argument with that.

The Church also says that to commit a mortal sin the act itself must be a grave offence as already mentioned. The second condition is that the individual must know that what he is doing is a serious offence against God. And the third condition is that the individual deliberately commits the sin without undue pressure from anyone else.

To the human eye this seems fair and simple. But is it really the case viewed from God’s perspective.

There are those who believe that to commit a mortal sin you must also clearly and categorically break your relationship with God. You consciously and deliberately reject Him as your God and stand against Him.

This is an interesting concept which has given rise to a lot of debate amongst Catholic scholars and many others.

Whilst I do not deny that some sins, like stealing, murder, adultery in themselves imply a total break with God since they deliberately go against His Commandments; there are other sins which, I hope and pray, are viewed with more tolerance, love and compassion by Our Lord when He comes to judge us.

Let’s for example look at the third Commandment.

The Lord said to keep the Sabbath holy. The Catholic Church has interpreted this to mean we should go to Mass on Sunday (or Saturday) and that not doing so is a mortal sin. This means if you miss Mass on Sunday and you die you’re off to hell with no debate or excuse for your defence.

But, I ask myself, is this really so?

Let us assume that I miss Mass on Sunday because I have guests staying with me that weekend and I have to look after them.

It is a serious offence; I accept that. It is a mortal sin, and I committed it knowingly and deliberately because I had other things to do. We can debate whether it was a valid reason or not to our hearts’ content.

Now let us assume I died that very night with the mortal sin on my conscience. Am I destined straight to hell?

In this case, there has not been a breakdown in relationship with God. The individual still loves God and obeys Him as best he can but, on that one occasion, for debatable reasons, Mass was missed.

Sinning is an active act. When we sin it follows that we WANT to sin and we KNOW we are sinning at the time when we do it. A deliberate act in defiance of God.

It follows that to get right with God once again we must WANT to be forgiven and that we ARE actually sorry for what we have done.

Similar mortal sins would be missing a Holy Day of Obligation, or not fasting and abstaining when required, or breaking other Church rules or edicts.

Would a loving caring God use a human yardstick to judge us and send us to hell? Or would He see beyond the act of sin and judge what is in our hearts? Was missing Mass on that occasion an act of defiance and rebellion against Him? Or was it done, willingly I admit, but under extenuating circumstances?

I’d like to think that God would not condemn a soul to eternal hell for one misdemeanour. That’s not the God I was taught to love and respect.

Now, I am not saying that missing Mass is not serious … of course it is. Because it can lead to missing another Mass, and then another and gradually we can distance ourselves from God. Hence a breakdown of relationship occurs as other sins become unimportant in our eyes.

What I am saying is that God does not see things as black and white as the Church does; and that missing one occasional Mass, whatever the reason, does not constitute rebellion against God deserving eternal damnation.

He is far too big and far too loving to be really hurt by the occasional failing; and He is not as harsh and unforgiving as He is perhaps painted to be.

What do you think?


Friday, 1 March 2013

Medical Matters



Why is it when you visit an optician he always checks whether you can read before he examines you? Every time I go for a check up the optician asks me if I can read the alphabets from a chart on the wall. What has knowledge of the alphabets got to do with an eye examination? And why do the letters get smaller as you read? Are they trying to save ink?

The last time I went, the optician had a small TV monitor on the wall with the alphabets on. He was called out by the nurse to answer a phone call. So I memorized all the alphabets on the screen to show him that I could read as well as anyone else.

When he came back he clicked on his computer and put on new letters on the screen. That is cheating I think.

A friend of mine went to the same optician and complained that he could see blurred pink elephants everywhere. They were big and pink, but all blurred.

The optician asked him to read the alphabets and then gave him some spectacles asking: “Is this better?”

My friend replied: “Yes … I can see the pink elephants much clearer now!”

Going to the doctor is not much better.

For a start they all have very ancient magazines and newspapers in their waiting rooms. I’m told it is to help you remember the good old days. Although I was saddened to read that a ship called Titanic sank the other day!

Whilst at the doctor’s waiting room there was a very old man all bent down with back pain and holding on to his walking stick. He struggled in to the doctor’s and a few minutes later he came out standing all straight and proud. Everyone thought it was a miracle.

He said “No miracle … the doctor gave me a taller walking stick!”

When I went in to the doctor’s I told him I get a pain when I raise my arm up, like when putting something on a shelf. He said: “Don’t raise your arm up!”

I also told him I get a sharp pain in my eye when I drink tea. He said: “Take the spoon out of the cup first!”

I explained that sometimes I envy my dog. All he does is eat, sleep and go for walks. He never bothers about paying bills or bad news on TV. The other day I was out in the garden cleaning his business and my dog looked at me as if to say: “That’s great … I get to poop where I want. And you get to pick it up! Who’s the boss now?”

The doctor asked me: “How long have you envied your dog?”

I said: “Ever since I was a puppy!”

He asked me to lie down on the couch. I replied: “I’m not allowed on the couch!”

He then threw his stethoscope at the corner of the room and I told him to fetch it himself.

After the doctor’s I went to the dentist to make an appointment which I can miss later. You hear all sort of horror stories about dentists don’t you?

I nearly got killed by a dentist some years ago. I was driving down a country lane and he came at me at speed on the wrong side of the road. Now I avoid all dentists at all costs.

At the chiropractor I was asked whether I get back pains early in the morning all down my spine accompanied by pains in the knees and elbows. I replied: “No … why do you ask?”

The practitioner replied: “I’ve been getting them all week and I wondered if you knew what it was!”

I told him I’d only come to fix the carpet which was a bit loose in his room. He said: “Whilst you’re down there can you pick up my pen, because I can’t bend down with back pain!”

A friend of mine went to hospital so they could check her hearing. When I picked her up she had half a lemon stuck in each ear. I asked her if this was a new type of hearing aid. She said: “No … lemonade!”