Wednesday 27 July 2011

Helping Auntie.

There are times dear friends when one thing leads to another and a collection of events follow each other as if conspiring to make ones life, or my life to be precise, ever so difficult and embarrassing.

There I was visiting an old aunt in the countryside the other day. She lives in a lovely cottage in a small secluded village where everyone knows everyone else. It’s not a big house, two up and two down as they call it in old parlance, meaning that apart from the bathroom and toilet she has two bedrooms upstairs, and a living and dining room downstairs. Not forgetting the kitchen, of course.

She made me a nice pot of tea and biscuits and we sat by the open fire reminiscing about the past and how different life was then.

Whilst chatting with her I noticed that the smoke from the log fire tended, every now and then, to blow back into the room rather than flow gently up the chimney. A typical sign of a blockage somewhere in the chimney, I thought.

As it was the weekend, it would be almost impossible to get the services of a chimney sweep. You know the kind, a Dick Van Dyke sort of fellow like in the film Mary Poppins. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen such a fellow ever; especially now that most people live in air-conditioned and centrally-heated buildings. Not much call for chimney sweeps most of the time, let alone weekends.

Being a kind sort of fellow, as I usually remind myself, I tried to sort things out for my old aunt.

Big mistake!

I went outside to see if there was smoke coming out of the chimney and noticed, quite visibly, bits of twigs and straw like pieces on top of the chimney. It was obvious that a big bird had attempted to build a nest there.

This can be easily removed, I thought, as I put the ladder against the wall and climbed up quite confidently. Once up top, my confidence began to wane.

How do I get to the chimney, which was situated some distance from the edge of the house? In the center of the roof, in fact!

I eased myself gently onto the roof, stood up gingerly, and attempted to walk very slowly and extremely carefully towards the apex of the roof to reach the chimney.

I looked down and saw my aunt standing there, Rosary in hand.

There are times, believe me, when a Rosary does not inspire much confidence; and this was such a moment. All I needed is a priest and an undertaker standing there beside her to drain any remaining ounce of courage still lurking within me.

I smiled at her and moved on ever so slowly until I reached the chimney.

I reached for the offending debris in order to remove it from the opening and … dash it all … it slid gently down the chimney.

I grasped the chimney tightly with both arms hugging it for dear life as I almost lost my footing.

What do I do now? Do I leave the straw there and climb down, having made a bad situation worse? Or do I manly continue with my mission to help an aunt in distress?

What if I reached inside the chimney and try to grab the straw out?

I courageously stood up straight, still holding tight to the chimney, and slowly let go of my right arm and reached down the chimney.

Can’t find a thing … a little deeper … yes, I can feel the bits of straw … reach in a bit more.

Panic! I’m stuck. I can’t pull my arm out. Help somebody!

“Are you OK?” I hear auntie calling. She can’t see me from where she’s standing, so she crosses the road to see me stuck there up her chimney.

“I’ll call for help!” she shouts as she vanishes away. I wish she hadn’t. A crowd is now beginning to gather; mostly her well-meaning neighbors and other villagers.

“What’s he doing up there?” I hear one of them say.

“Poor fellow is threatening to jump and end it all!” replies and elderly man, “Can’t blame him, the economic situation being what it is. If I had the energy I’d go up and join him”.

“I’m not suicidal …” I think to myself, “but I’ll soon be if I don’t get out of this embarrassing situation. I wish I hadn’t had that second cup of tea!”

To make matters worse it starts to rain. Not much … just a drizzle, which is enough to make me wet and cold.

The onlookers are not deterred however. They bring out their umbrellas and stand there on the opposite side of the road looking at me. My aunt is not amongst them. Where is she? No doubt inside the house making tea and serving biscuits to her new found friends. She’s never been so popular until now.

I’m getting desperate now. The tea inside me and the rain outside me combine to nudge nature into action. I’ve really got to go … can’t hold it any more!

What’s this I hear? A siren from a distance, getting louder as a fire engine is seen coming down the hill.

Minutes later they extend their mechanical ladder which slowly edges ever closer to me with a fireman standing on the platform at the end.

He gently wriggles my arm around and somehow manages to set me free.

As the ladder platform gently lowers me to terra firma I rush into the house for the toilet to the sound of applause from the welcoming crowd.

So … what have I learnt from this experience? Two things really!

First, when I got home that evening and re-played the event over in my mind, my thoughts turned to those people who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof so that Jesus may heal him.

What Faith they must have had. It’s obvious this was not their house, yet, they felt confident enough to climb on the flat roof with their friend, take away the tiles or whatever it was that covered the roof, and lower the sick man through the gaping hole regardless of any trouble they may get into with the house owner.

Sometimes we’re too tired and ill to even pray, let alone muster enough Faith that the Good Lord will help us. It’s at times like these that we have to rely on the Faith of others praying for us and believing that God listens to all prayers, including those made on our behalf.

The second thing I’ve learnt from my roof experience is that it is just impossible for Father Christmas to get down the chimney and leave presents for children everywhere. There isn’t enough room inside a chimney for your arm, never mind a well-rounded jolly old man carrying a sack full of toys. Perhaps he gets in through an open window or by tampering with the door locks!

Friday 22 July 2011


After much thought and deliberation I have come to the conclusion that bicycles are dangerous and should be abolished. I don’t mean motorcycles; but common old pedal cycles.

Let me explain.

In an effort to be environmentally friendly and to save the planet I’ve decided to cycle to work instead of taking the car. “Quite laudable”, I hear you say; and you’d better say it because I’ve risked life and limb to save this planet of ours from pollution and whatever else it suffers from.

Besides, gas (petrol) costs so much these days, so a bit of cycling would save me money, I thought. These days when I fill the tank it costs me more than the value of the car itself.

As I was saying before I interrupted myself … I bought a new bicycle and with it a book entitled “How to ride a bike in one easy lesson!” You should read it I think … all one hundred pages of it!

My first difficulty was reading the book and attempting to cycle at the same time. Can’t be done! Not enough hands to hold the book and handlebars simultaneously.

So I rode the bike, leant on a nearby tree on the sidewalk, and read the book.

Passers-by wondered what I was doing but I fooled them by looking at my watch every now and then and pretending I was waiting for someone.

Eventually, I was ready to go. I put the book in the little pannier at the front of the bike, and eased myself gently away from the tree.

For some unexplained reason my feet froze on the pedals and the cycle did not move. It stood still for a second or two and then fell horizontally to the left.

I hit my head hard on the grass verge, but luckily I was wearing my new helmet which softened the blow somewhat akin to being punched hard by a champion boxer. I waited for a count of ten before getting up again.

I leant against the tree, re-read the first chapter of the book, and started again.

Success! This time I fell horizontally to the right and hit my head hard on the firm tarmac. The helmet was not as effective at softening the blow.

Several falls later, five to the left and four to the right, I decided to change strategy.

This time I pressed hard on the pedals as I moved away from the tree. The bicycle moved forward a few yards but then lost momentum and fell … to the right I think!

My determination egged me forward as I eventually managed to turn the pedals a few more times and move further on … wobbling as I went.

And then disaster struck. My trousers got caught in the chain contraption near the pedals and the bicycle jumped forward like a bucking bronco throwing me head first over the handlebars and landing me hard on my back with the bike on top of me still attached to my trouser leg.

The next day I tried again. I really had to master this new mode of transport over the weekend if I’m to cycle to work on Monday.

As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

I think I’ve invented, or to be more accurate, discovered, a major improvement to be incorporated in the manufacture of bicycles. They should all be fitted with satellite navigation systems as a standard feature.

This is essential, I believe, to avoid the dangers of cycling at some speed into trees, lamp posts, letter boxes and other street furniture.

As I managed to gain forward movement I noticed that my cycle always managed to go straight for a stationary object rather than avoid it as a car would do.

Somehow, the handle bars would wobble left and right yet still propel the bike towards the obstacle it is meant to avoid.

Anyway … what’s all this leading to, I hear you say.

Basically, it’s that this latest experience reminded me of a story an old priest friend of mine told me years ago.

Once upon a time there was a young boy of six who’d been taught by his parents that Jesus is always with him. Protecting him, helping him, and guiding him throughout life.

One Sunday afternoon they all went out cycling in the park. Mom and dad on their bicycles followed by the six-years old on his small tri-cycle!

They cycled gently until they reached a small hill. Easy enough for the parents to climb; but a little hard on the little boy, despite his parents' encouragement.

He pedaled as hard as he could with his little legs but the tri-cycle would not move forward; in fact it was sliding backwards somewhat.

Eventually the boy got off his cycle and said: “It’s no use Jesus. You’ll have to get off the bike and help me push!”

Now why can’t we have as much Faith?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

I lost my bow tie.

There I was the other day in a hurry to attend an important meeting when … dash it all … I could not find my bow tie!

You know the one; light turquoise with small pink flowers!

I looked everywhere and could not find it. Perhaps my cat had taken it and used it as a toy … it had vanished and I was in a hurry.

I prayed to St Anthony to help me find it but I think he was too busy searching for something else. So I chose my spotted ordinary tie instead, put on my best hat, and off I went.

Whilst in the taxi I thought about that old lady in the Bible who’d lost a coin. When she found it she held a party for her friends and neighbours to celebrate. Well, I certainly won’t be doing that if I ever find my bow tie … cheaper to buy another one, I thought. Although light turquoise with small pink flowers is somewhat rare, I tell you.

Then my thoughts wandered about what else people can lose and feel really bad about.

Money … jewellery … prized possessions … someone’s love perhaps … or even worse, a loved one.

It must be terrible when we lose a loved one and, although we believe as Christians that people go to a better place when they die, their departure does affect us greatly. We miss them … and to miss someone means that their presence had a good effect on our lives. Now they’re gone we feel the pain and anguish of their absence.

My empty brain was freewheeling now with one thought following another aimlessly through the various dark recesses of my mind.

What, for me, would be the greatest thing I could ever lose; something from which I would never recover, besides my turquoise bow tie, that is?

A small voice deep into my cranium whispered:

My Faith.

Friday 8 July 2011

Sleepwalking into hell.

 Father Ignatius’ sermon started with a warning.

“You will not like my sermon today!” he declared.

“In fact I don’t like it myself and I would rather be giving you a different sermon. A gentle one which tickles your ears and makes you feel warm and comfortable.

“The reason I don’t particularly like this sermon is because perhaps it speaks to me too as well as all of you.

“When Jesus was raised to Heaven He gave His disciples and all of us a Mission. He asked us to go and preach the Good News about God and about Him.

“But are we doing as He asked? I mean each one of us in our daily lives, within our families, at work or wherever we may be? I don’t mean of course that you need to stand on a soap box in the middle of the street and shout at the top of your voice. Or knock from door to door and try to convince people on their doorsteps. Some people do just that and I admire their courage and determination.

“What I mean is” he paused for a moment to concentrate his listeners’ attention, “what I mean is, do people who know you recognize you as a disciple of Christ?

“Is there anything in your behavior or your character that is different? Something which makes people say ‘he or she is a Christian you know!’ Even in a derogative sense; at least it shows they’ve recognized something in you which is different.

“St Francis of Assisi advised his followers to preach the Gospel by the way they live.

“When people look at us do they see Christ in us?

“More important, when you look at the mirror in the morning do you see Christ there?”

He stopped again to ensure his point struck home. He then repeated slowly.

“When you look in the mirror do you see Christ?

“Our Lord said ‘Not everyone who calls me 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my Father in Heaven wants them to do.’

“In other words we can assume that there are no parrots in Heaven!”

The congregation laughed silently. Father Ignatius went on.

“God requires from each one of us action throughout our lives. Each one of us is tasked, to the best of their abilities, to do something in their lives, just a little, day in and day out, to put Christ in someone else’s life.

“We can’t all be Mother Theresa and leave our native land and go help others elsewhere. And indeed God does not ask us so to do … not all of us anyway.

“To most people He asks that we live Christ everyday … in our families, at work, at play or wherever we go and whatever we do.

“It is not enough to go to church on Sunday, and then get on with our own lifestyles the rest of the time.

“Nor am I saying that we should spend our lives on our knees collecting scars and calluses. That is not the first thing that St Peter will check for when you get to meet him!”

They laughed quietly again.

“God does not want us to endure this life. He wants us to enjoy it. And at the same time He wants us to tell others that there’s better to come when we meet Him in Heaven.

“We can each do as God asks in our own way … and best of all by living the Gospels day after day.

“Instead … I fear; there are too many so called Christians who are sleepwalking their way into hell!”

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Old Henry’s sin

As Father Ignatius arrived at Old Henry’s cottage he recognized the doctor’s car pulling away, so he parked in the vacant space and rang the doorbell.

The seventy-five year old opened the door ashen faced and not having shaved for a few days.

As the priest went into the house he asked tentatively, “That was the doctor leaving … have you not been well Henry?”

The old man sat down and said: “I’ve been in terrible pains since Friday night. Shivering and feeling cold yet sweating and with a temperature. I felt tired and light-headed and thought my time had come!”

“Since Friday night?” asked the priest, “did you call the doctor then?”

“Yes I did. There was no one there. And they don’t work during the weekend either. The doctor finally came on Monday … and he came again today. You just saw him leaving!

“He gave me a variety of pills … all different pretty colors like sweets, and said if I don’t improve he’ll take me to hospital.

“Fat chance! I can’t go to hospital and leave the dog at home alone.”

“But … if this started on Friday night, why did you not call me Henry? I would have come straightway!” said Father Ignatius.

“Oh … I thought you’d be too busy Father” Henry replied, “I bet you had the church full of sinners at every Mass this weekend. Am I right?” he asked with a glint in his eye.

The priest smiled.

“The thing is …” continued Henry, “at my age I don’t have much opportunity to sin. I don’t think I’ve broken any of the Commandments. I haven’t killed anyone nor stolen anything … and I doubt I have the energy to covet anything my neighbor might have … either his wife, who is ugly and as large as a gorilla, or his donkey … because he hasn’t got one!!!” He chuckled to himself.

“But I’ll tell you something Father …” he continued, “I did despair with God over the last few days … Now that’s a sin I’m sure!

“I was in terrible pain and although I prayed He didn’t listen. Too busy with someone else I suppose … I begged Him many times to take the pain away, but it got worse. At times I did pass out and sleep for hours then the pain would wake me again.

“I though God had abandoned me.

“I still believed in Him you know. I believed in His power to heal and His love for us. I knew He could heal me … but I felt He did not want to.

“Now why would He do that?

“He can heal, yet He withholds His healing power for some … including me. I suppose I lost my Faith in Him.”

“That is not so,” said Father Ignatius gently, “when we are in difficulty, or as in your case, in great pain, we doubt and we question, but we do not lose our Faith.

“Our human nature can’t understand what is happening to us. But deep inside we still believe.

“You said yourself that you still believed in God. So your Faith remained intact.

“But your pain and your fears said otherwise. The trauma of it all overwhelmed you.

“It’s human nature. God knows that.

“When Jesus was on the Cross, His human nature thought He’d been abandoned. But His Godly nature, as part of The Holy Trinity, knew otherwise.

“So have no fears Henry! God loves you and He has already forgiven you.”

The old man smiled feebly.

“Now tell me,” continued the priest, “did the doctor say what you can eat?”

“He said toast and butter would be OK, and tea with lemon, not milk.”

“I can do that … how about a hot meal?”

“He said chicken soup with bread … something light!”

“Mrs Davenport, our housekeeper, makes a great chicken soup with vegetables.” said Father Ignatius, “I’ll ask her to bring you some this afternoon.”

Over the next few days Father Ignatius made sure that a group of people took turns at visiting Old Henry until he was up on his feet and ready to sin again. Small sins of course!