Saturday 28 October 2006

St Jude, Patron of Hopeless Cases

Today was the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude. I have a particular devotion to St Jude, but always felt that St Simon gets rather left out: St Jude being the patron saint of hopeless cases rather steals the limelight!

I heard a story about why St Jude became the patron of hopeless cases which appealed: how true it is I don't know, and since it relies on the premiss that people in medieval times were a credulous and superstitious bunch, it probably is an invention (see The Stripping of the Altars by Duffy for a more accurate description of religious beliefs and practices in the medieval church.) But I like the story anyway.

The idea is that because Jude (aka Thaddeus) is named "Judas, son of James" in the Gospel of St Luke, people were not terribly keen on invoking him just in case their prayers were "misdirected" and ended up with Judas Iscariot. As a result, they would only pray to St Jude when they had tried everything (and everyone) else. The prayers were then answered, and St Jude became the patron saint of hopeless cases.

I was told about St Jude shortly after my return to the Church. I had a very Protestant view of the saints: they existed, but really all this devotion to them went a bit far. I was happy to pray to Our Lady (though I wouldn't say I had a devotion to her) because after all, Jesus was a dutiful and loving son, and every good Jewish lad loves his mother. But the saints were for less "intellectual" people. I preferred to go straight to the top. No intermediaries for me, thank you very much.

Anyway, I was seriously ill when I came back to the Church: in constant pain, and almost immobilised, needing crutches to get around. I'd had several years' worth of attention from various doctors, surgeons and hospitals and I'd been told that it was probably all in my head... I finally had discovered a surgeon who believed I was suffering from something physically wrong, and duly went on the waiting list for an operation that might just work. Eventually.

After about a year on the list I rang the hospital to find out how things were progressing. The bed manager at the hospital had only bad news: due to funding problems, the theatre time for the whole orthopaedic department had been slashed to 25% of the normal caseload. She reported that I would be lucky to be called in for an operation before another nine months had passed, and more probably not before a year.

As I put the phone down, I thought that the situation was hopeless... which made me remember St Jude. I had a copy of the novena prayer from the Shrine of St Jude in Faversham, and I decided to give it a go.

I was so ill that I didn't actually manage to complete the novena (I was taking morphine tablets and concentrating on anything for any length of time was a little difficult) but on what would have been the ninth day, a letter arrived from the hospital telling me that I was scheduled for surgery at the end of the month, and asking me to ring to confirm.

Unsurprisingly, I rang back immediately. I spoke to the bed manager again, and asked her why there had been the sudden change - she had been so definite the last time we spoke. She told me that she had no idea why I had been bumped to the top of the queue, the surgeon had just told her that I would be next.

I was just managing to go to Mass each day at this point, so I went to say "thank you." I was utterly convinced that I had experienced a miracle, though part of me was still terrified that nothing would actually work. You can imagine how I felt when the Gospel was read out, with words that went straight to my heart: "Pick up your bed and walk."

Needless to say, my views on the value of prayers to the saints have changed considerably... and I have since laid claim to more patrons than you can shake a stick at. I shall take great pleasure in having the Litany of my favourite saints sung when I renew my vows (Sorry Fr Tim, I forgot to mention that I want the Litany sung!! I hope you're in good voice!)

Friday 27 October 2006

Time Off for Good Behaviour

I was in a good mood - the priest we had yesterday and today was one of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. They don't do cheery at Mass, or muck about with the words of Consecration. But they do do sermons. Long ones... I can live with that, especially as today's was on the subject of Purgatory... (Yesterday's was on Confession.) As time off for good behaviour (all that marking, and not a word of complaint... well, not many) I decided to go for a little trip-ette to Bluewater.

I like Bluewater - I think it was a brilliant use of a disused quarry, and the designers really thought about their customers... I mean, all the parking spaces have double lines between them - brilliant for women who can't park (like me) or for women with pushchairs. There are lots of places to stop off and have coffee (about every five shops along) and it's all indoors.

That's about as much free advertising as I'll allow on this blog.

However, in view of the large pile of marking still to be completed, I decided that my visit would have to be brief, and solitary. Otherwise I'd get sidetracked...

I had to pick up my next batch of contact lenses, so I parked at John Lewis and sauntered towards my opticians through the make-up and perfume department. I needed some more of my favourite foundation as I'm running low, so I stopped off at the Clinique counter. They were offering free makeovers. I can never resist playing with makeup - when I was younger I used to paint each of my nails different colours and then do my eyes in coloured stripes to match. Luckily my aversion to being photographed means that there is no documentary evidence to be hauled out at inopportune moments...

I indicated that my normal colour choice tended towards the minimalistic these days. The assistant who was doing the makeover thought that I should try a little colour, just for a change. She seemed terribly keen, so, against my better judgement, I consented to try the pinky-violet combination on offer.

It was a mistake. When confronted by my reflection, I tried very hard to say something positive. I was able to say I liked the way she had applied the eyeliner...

I then popped over to the only shop in Bluewater that really caters for large women. Unfortunately all the skirts were rather on the short side (I'm tall as well as wide, and I like my skirts to be mid-calf) and the tops were skimpy, clingy and cut too low. I've already put up a post on modesty in dress. I spotted a black blouse which wasn't too bad, and so I bought that. I might need to go back to making my own stuff... I'd do it more often if it wasn't so time-consuming!

Oh well, now that brief interlude is over, I guess it's time to get back to work...

Thursday 26 October 2006

Progress at Last

I had to go to the hospital for an early physiotherapy appointment this morning. Usually I go at the end of the day so that I don't need to take time off work, but I thought I'd take advantage of the half term week to show the physiotherapist what my ankle was like first thing in the morning.

I'd had ultrasound treatment in the summer, and there had been some improvement, but it was difficult to tell if it was the treatment or the extended rest which had caused it. I then changed to a different hospital (partly because my physiotherapist was going to change anyway - staff rotation - so I thought it would be easier to pick a hospital nearer work) and the new physiotherapist was convinced that the ultrasound couldn't have been responsible for the improvement...

After about six weeks without any sign of improvement, my physiotherapist finally decided that it was worth giving ultrasound therapy another go last week. I think she only suggested it because she couldn't think of anything else: she had previously explained that with the ankle injury being so old, ultrasound was unlikely to have any effect.

This morning, I was able to report a real improvement in pain levels and mobility. It is still sore, but it's a lot better than it was last week. And although I've been on holiday, I've been fairly busy, and haven't been resting at home with my feet up. So I was given another bout of ultrasound treatment and told to come back next week, with orders to continue with my exercises and monitor pain levels when I'm back at work... this space!

Wednesday 25 October 2006

An Up and Down Sort of Day

Today has been one of ups and downs... I tried to give thanks for the "ups", and to offer up the "downs" but with little success, I fear...

I started on a positive note: I didn't oversleep, and made it to Mass in plenty of time. Things started to go downhill rapidly when the supply priest proceeded to start Mass with a cheery grin and several comments on what a nice day it was and how happy he was to see us all. I don't do cheery in the morning, still less at Mass.

It was Novus Ordo at its worst: well, almost: we didn't have to sing any ghastly hymns, which was a blessing. The Kyrie was "made up" in that the sentences used to preceed the "Lord, have mercy" and "Christ, have mercy" were vague references to how we might have upset other people. And we got a homily which seemed to be the priest "sharing" his thoughts about nothing much in particular. Unfortunately he took over five minutes to share these thoughts. The bit that upset me most was the fact that he changed the words of Consecration - he substituted the words "all people" for "all men."

Quite apart from the fact that no priest has the authority to muck about with any of the words at Mass, still less at the Consecration, the gratuitous use of so-called inclusive language really gets up my nose. It is downright patronising... I resent the implication that I, as a woman, will not have the intelligence to understand the meaning of the word "men" as used in the context of the Mass, and will be offended by my perceived "exclusion." I really shouldn't let it get to me, but it winds me up something rotten...

I then drove to Eastbourne to visit my mother. Traffic on the M25 was pretty grim, but once I turned off on the A21 towards Tunbridge Wells it improved. Unfortunately the weather didn't: I cast rather envious thoughts towards Fr Tim who was, no doubt, sunning himself in the Eternal City. I also chatted to a friend of mine, Christina, on the mobile phone (I used my hands free kit) and she said that she would try to make it down for my renewal of vows along with her family.

I spent a pleasant afternoon chatting to my mother and stepfather - slightly marred by the news that my sister and her husband had been involved in a minor car crash on Saturday when they'd visited Eastbourne. No serious damage but my sister is pregnant, and so it was a little worrying. She has recovered from the shock, and I shall be visiting her on Saturday afternoon.

I also got to play with my mother's new cat. Jess is the cutest kitten, she's five months old and in fact it is her picture on my profile at the moment. My cat, Sylvester, being black, doesn't show up so well in photos! Anyway, Jess has six toes on each paw, some sort of genetic mutation quite common in cats, and she also has the most enormous paws. If the proportions work out the same way as for dogs, she is going to be a pretty large cat when she grows up.

I managed to snaffle one of my mother's paintings before she threw it out - she's a really good artist IMHO, but very self-critical. It's a picture of the Houses of Parliament, a sort of sunset-scene, in acrylics, and it needs framing, but I'm very pleased I managed to rescue it.

After a very nice dinner of spaghetti bolognese I made my way back home. The traffic had improved, but the weather hadn't, and the journey took just under two hours. Having fed Sylvester, I then proceeded to check out my favourite blogs. And now it's time for bed... I have an appointment with the physiotherapist tomorrow morning before Mass, and I wouldn't want to oversleep....

Monday 23 October 2006


On my holiday musings through the Blogosphere I stumbled upon a post from Antonia's World, all about the need to pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.

It's not really fashionable to talk about Purgatory: these days, everyone talks about how our loved ones are in heaven. It's nice. Visions of wings, white fluffy clouds and harps spring to mind...

Yeah, right. And while we're comforting ourselves that Great-Uncle Fred has finally learned to sing in tune, he's busy roasting in Purgatory because no-one is bothering to pray for him. (Apologies to St. Bernadette for mangling that little quote!)

If a saint like Bernadette could consider that she needed to go to Purgatory before being ready to meet God face to face in heaven, then I'm pretty sure that I, with all my faults and failings, will be going there too... assuming, that is, that I don't end up in Hell (you never know... in my old age I might turn into a trendy nun, demand ordination and get myself excommunicated...)

And so, knowing that I am likely to fetch up in Purgatory, it is wise to consider those souls who are already there. The month of November is traditionally known as the month of the Holy Souls, and we're encouraged to pray for them, because they can do nothing for themselves but rely on our charity and that of God.

When I first came back to the Church, I found a little book called "Prayers and Heavenly Promises" by Joan Carroll Cruz (published by TAN, 1990). It's a lovely little prayer book which explains some of the stories behind many popular prayers and devotions (like the promises attached to the wearing of the Brown Scapular.) One section is on prayers for the Souls in Purgatory, and it describes the Heroic Act.

The Heroic Act, approved and encouraged by Pope Benedict XIII, is...

"...the completely unselfish offering to God of all the satisfactory value of one's prayers and good works - plus the value of any that may be offered for one after one's death - for the benefit of the souls in Purgatory, rather than for oneself. The "satisfactory value" of a good work is its value with regard to making up for our sins and reducing our stay in Purgatory.

"...a person who has made the Heroic Act may still pray for himself, friends and other intentions.

"...Its actual ratification depends on the will of God. By making this act with purity of intention, one is relying on the mercy of God and the prayers of the Communion of Saints to assist his soul after death."

I must confess that I didn't actually think it justified being called "Heroic" until many years later, when it suddenly dawned on me how much you would have to rely on prayers for the Holy Souls, because of the bit that included anything offered specifically for you after your death...


O my God, for your greater glory, and to imitate as closely as possible the generous Hear of Jesus, my Redeemer, and also to testify my devotion to the Blessed Virgin, my Mother, who is also the Mother of the souls in Purgatory, I place in her hands all my satisfactory works, as well as the fruit of those which may be offered for my intention after my death, that she may apply them to the souls in Purgatory according to her wisdom and good pleasure. Amen.

Sunday 22 October 2006

Extended Invitation

Thinking about it, I've decided to extend the invitation: if any of you trad Catholic blogger types are in the vicinity of Blackfen, England on Saturday 2nd December, you would be most welcome to attend my renewal of vows. Fr Tim Finigan (of Hermeneutic of Continuity fame) will be presiding, and there will be a Litany of Saints in Latin, and prayers to Our Lady and a few other things, followed by a bit of a bash in the Parish Hall...

Directions can be found on the parish website, and the ceremony starts at 1pm. For anyone who's interested, the parish Saturday morning Mass is at 10:30am followed by Exposition (with opportunity for Confession - in a proper Confessional with a fixed grille!!), and Benediction at 12noon. First Mass of Sunday is at 6pm, and there's Confession beforehand from 5pm-5:30pm.

Renewal of Vows

This half term has been very busy, and I haven't had time to reflect on my life properly: having arranged a session of spiritual direction for Saturday meant that I had to force myself to do just that.

On 1st December 2002 (the First Sunday of Advent) I took private vows to remain a single woman living and working in the world, giving my life in service of God and his Church. I had originally intended it to be very, very quiet: me making the vows, my spiritual director and a couple of friends as witnesses. I'd found the initial decision difficult to make (it's not easy to give up all ideas of a husband and family), and although I was convinced that this was what God wanted from me, I wasn't at all confident of being able to explain it to other people. I was naturally wary of announcing to all-and-sundry that it was my intention to become a mad old spinster haunting the pews... spiritual director and the friends I asked to be witnesses knew that I was already a mad spinster haunting the pews, and decided that it would be worth having a little dinner party afterwards. And so a few more friends were invited...

On the day itself, much to my surprise, Fr Tim produced leaflets with an order of service on it. And a few of them were left behind accidentally in the church... where they were discovered by other friends who hadn't known what I was up to... (boy, did I have some explaining to do!!)

So a year later, when I renewed my vows, I decided to have a proper party afterwards. The day was changed from Sunday to Saturday to make it easier for people to come along, and I decided the day before the First Sunday of Advent was the best one to plump for (being nearest to the original.)

Although I strictly speaking do not have to renew my vows (as far as I'm concerned, that's it for life), it is actually quite nice to re-affirm my committment to God and his Church in this way. It's a reminder to me that I'm not single by default, that I'm not waiting to meet "Mr. Right", because effectively I have met him: Jesus Christ, my Lord and God.

It was only in preparing for my session of spiritual direction that I realised that there are only five weeks to go until Advent. So I've got to get my act together... I checked with Fr Tim, and booked him for the occasion, and I booked the large hall for the party. Now I've got to see about getting the bar opened (absolutely vital) and food... oh, and I need to tell all my friends!

Sunday Blogging

I help set up for the 6pm Sunday Mass so I allow myself the luxury of a lie-in on a Sunday morning. And today I haven't got to get ready for work on Monday morning, so I have had the extra treat of a few hours' uninterrupted exploration of the blogosphere.

I don't often get very far: my home computer is old and slow, and it sort of takes its time in loading pages if they have lots of pictures. But Irenaeus and I have been together a long time - he was state-of-the-art when I first got him (I used to joke that the only thing he couldn't do was make the tea... and that was only because I didn't have the right attachment!) He'll have to go soon (yes, Fr Tim, I will get a new computer eventually) but not just yet...

Anyway, during my explorations I stumbled upon Cally's Kitchen, an amusing blog run by the dúnadan.

I particularly enjoyed the post on Berrydict the Papal Cat, and his recent meeting with Paisley Mouse. I shall be sure to check that my own cat, Sylvester, is a practicing "Catolic"...

(UPDATE: Thanks, Ma Beck, for the tip on accents. It worked, as you can see!)
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