Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Force is strong with this one... (No spoilers)

After a year of tense anticipation during which we have been tantalised by cleverly crafted trailers and TV spots which gave very little away, today was the day I finally got to see Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Since the news broke that George Lucas had sold Lucasfilm to Disney and that Episode VII would begin production, I had caught between between contrasting emotions: giddy with excitement at the prospect of a new Star Wars film, haunted by the spectre of the immense disappointment that was Prometheus (the last film I anticipated with such great expectations), worried that the mistakes of the prequels would be repeated in the sequels. The trailers were a resounding success, the character and look of the originals leapt of the screen, so I dared to dream; I am happy to report that Star Wars: The Force awakens is a resounding success.

The real triumph of Episode VII is that it manages to maintain the spirit and tone of the original movies as it integrates the new characters into the legacy created by the old. When I realised that the film was coming to it's climax, I found myself thinking that I could quite happily have continued watching the film for another four hours. The pace is enthralling, the action sequences are a visual feast, the dialogue is light years away from clunkiness of the prequels and a perfect balance is achieved between answering questions raised by the 30 year gap from Return of the Jedi and raising new ones to be addressed in Episode VIII.

Being hyper critical, one could argue that Episode VII is a little too deferential to the original films; many of the plot devices (and one could argue some of the minor characters) are recycled and tweaked ever so slightly. An attack on a First Order base which should be a gargantuan undertaking is actually accomplished with relative ease, perhaps because it is simply a stage on which to set the emotional finale.

Star Wars: The Force awakens is a welcome addition to the Star Wars cinematic universe and I look forward to seeing it again, and again, and again and again. In case you're wondering, yes, I did cry during the film. I'll wait for you to watch it and see if you can guess where and why!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Little lights

The candle is one of the most enduring images of Advent and those which adorn the Advent wreath remind us that we wait in anticipation for the coming of Jesus, the light of the world. This year, I've ordered a wreath for our home and in doing so, I was reminded of the song "All the little lights" by Passenger.

The span of human life is often likened to that of a burning candle which will inevitably go out but "All the little lights" has a slight twist on this theme as the singer suggests that "we're born with million of lights shinning in our hearts" which "die along the way" till "we're old and we're cold and lying in the dark" because "they'll all burn out one day". In the course of the song, the source of these lights is revealed to be love, the loss of which also leads to their death, and the singer takes us through few life events which resulted in the extinguishing of his own "little lights". These include lying to his mother about smoking, the occasion his uncle's cancer and unnamed occurrences in the backstreets of Manchester, a bus stop in Edinburgh and an English park.

In many respects, despite the sweet accompaniment by the xylophone, this is a rather sad exploration of the human condition. To be sure, sin and the difficulties of life can extinguish our "little lights" leaving us in darkness and despair but, thankfully, two essential elements are missing from the song's narrative; hope and grace. We are certainly capable of extinguishing the effects of Grace within our souls but, thanks to the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary which demonstrates God's great love for us, this need not be the end. By seeking forgiveness and reconciliation, God is willing to expose us once more to the light of His Grace. Confession is the "little light" lighter par excellence. Likewise, Jesus is the personification of Hope; this is not a hope to cling to despite the odds but rather a relationship of Love capable of healing any wound.

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Sunday, 29 November 2015

A path in the wilderness

Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year and the time during which the Church reminds us of the historical reality of Christ's birth into our space and time. In commemorating the Nativity, we come to understand that the incarnation is an invitation to all to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus, sent that we might be freed from our sins, finally to realise our true dignity as sons and daughters of the Father. At the first Christmas, Jesus entered into history and, each year, the liturgy of Advent helps us to renew our resolve to accept and make a place for Christ in our own lives.

Advent is not merely a time of joyous anticipation of Christmas day; properly observed, it is a time of spiritual preparation which will necessarily include penitential observances. The penitential character of Advent is perhaps more imperative than ever given that Christmas is increasingly subsumed beneath layer upon layer of secular largess and sentimentality.

This Advent, I have decided to give up social media and I hope that I will have the discipline to use the time I would otherwise spend trawling through my Twitter feed on prayer and spiritual reading. As a theme, I have decided to reflect upon Isaiah 40:30, "The voice of one crying in the desert: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God". Though this passage is usually used to allude to the role John the Baptist played in preparing the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah, I have chosen to focus on the requirement to "make straight" the "paths in the wilderness". I perceive that within myself, I posses (and perhaps have cultivated) spiritual deserts which are not a fitting places to receive Jesus, God made man. I hope that this Advent will help me to identify those aspects of my life which are responsible for these wastelands so that I might pray for the graces to water their arid soils.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

My hopes for the synod

When the synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" was announced, it had my wholehearted support. As a result of poor catechises and a failure to challenge destructive social trends, the Catholic vision for family life is misunderstood by many Catholics, woefully misrepresented and choked by the vagaries of prevailing western culture. Catholic families (and families in general) now struggle for life in societies which assault and undermine them from every conceivable economic, moral and spiritual angle. 

As the synod nears its end and prepares to produce its final document, I hope for three things.

1. Reaffirmation of the beauty and necessity of the Christian understanding of marriage

The starting point for any discussion on marriage should be incredible dignity it affords to the human person. Marriage is fundamentally a reflection of the communion of the Trinity, the source of all goodness and beauty. Yes, we need to recognise that we live in a fallen world which has produced a staggering array of brokenness in our relationships but we should start with the glory and the promise of the original marriage, God, one in three. If we are to start with the brokenness, we face an insurmountable climb to the summit but if we begin instead with God's grace and vision for marriage, we can begin to understand that "all things are possible to God". We should not be afraid to proclaim the Catholic understanding of marriage; people will wrangle over words claiming offence at this term or that but if they are utterly opposed to the very concept of sacramental marriage, semantic gymnastics will not make them more disposed to accept it. We need to be bold - profess what we believe to be true and allow people to accept or reject it. 

2. Better catechises

The release of the answers to the Church wide survey in England and Wales in preparation for the Synod shows the startling depths of the problem of catechises in this country [1]. Though we all have some share in the blame for this sorry state of affairs, the buck stops with the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales who have utterly failed us. Nobody can love what they don't know and this is incredibly problematic as the sacrament of marriage is "an encounter with the risen Christ". If we do not understand the sacrament of marriage, how can we expect to help married couples love Christ?

A plan of action needs to be drawn up to catechise the entire country and the "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world" is the perfect place to start because it touches almost every aspect of Christian life. 

As a starter, perhaps every parish should have a prepared sermon on the first Sunday of each month on the theme of marriage, taking the Catechism as its template. The talk could be followed up by workshops and discussion groups with a special focus on the examples of the saints and how Church teaching is backed up by current research. The goal should be to help people understand and live Church teaching and to help them articulate our beliefs to others.

3. Better support

From my own experience, and from what I've been told by a few people I have left, the Catholic Church in the western world is rather poor at building living communities. This is perhaps even more detrimental to Faith for those who find themselves in difficult family situations. If the Church really is to be a source of mercy and grace for such people, our parishes need to take on some of their burdens. This could include practical things like childcare, clothing and furniture, opportunities for socialising and prayer groups which attempt to address the particular spiritual difficulties they encounter. The support structure of each parish should be geared towards strengthening those who attempt to live the Christian idea of marriage. It should also encourage those who want to move away from lifestyles at odds with that ideal in their efforts. 


Monday, 19 October 2015

A test of faith

I do not pretend to posses a heroic or saintly Faith but what little I do have has sustained me in my darkest hours. Despite my sinful inclinations, I have tried to make it the basis for my growth as a human being and it has been all things to me: an inspiration, a crutch, a source of strength and of weakness, a friend, a guide, something quite profound, something beautiful. Though I have often experienced a spiritual dryness, rather less dramatic dark nights of the soul, I have never suffered a sustained test of Faith. When I felt furthest away from God, I still knew He was there despite not being able to understand the reason for His distance. The papacy of Pope Francis however has presented me with something new - it has provoked the greatest crisis of Faith I have known.

Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies
I have written about my misgivings regarding Pope Francis (after an initial period of great hope) in a previous post. [1] Over the last year, those misgivings become serious doubts which have sadly been confirmed by the great debacle of the Synod on "vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world". When the synod was first announced, I believed it would be a great opportunity to re-present the beautiful teaching of the Church on marriage and family life. Catechises in this area is sorely lacking and the consequences are self evident - society is built upon the bedrock of marriage and the family and it is beginning to crumble. I knew that some liberal minded priests, bishops and cardinals together with their lay supporters would attempt to use the synod to vocalise their dissent from Church teaching but nothing could have prepared me for the reality: they have centre stage and an ability to control proceedings. The pearls of church teaching are being substituted for swine fodder.

The synod has been a shambolic farce from the attempt to doctor the Relatio Synodi of the 2014 sessions to the gerrymandering of the committee which will produce the final report of 2015. There has been a complete lack of discipline amongst the attendees who have used the opportunity vent every kind of liberal spleen and hair brained scheme imaginable. It has shown the Church to be divided, disorganised and woefully lacking in understanding with regards to the modus operandi of modern media.

Why has all of this been a challenge to my Faith? One of the most beautiful things to me about Catholic teaching is its paradoxical simplicity and complexity. Each teaching is part of a wider web which gives it structure, meaning and purpose. If you destroy one thread, the whole is compromised. The threads put at risk by the outcome of this synod are the Church's teaching on the Eucharist and Marriage. The marriage union is a mystical symbol of the unity of the Trinity and the Eucharist is body of Christ; as such our very understanding of God is at stake. Even if no changes are promulgated by the synod, it has been made known that Pope Francis intends to commit to the Church to a process of synodisation which will give greater scope to local bishops' conference to determine their own practice. Faith is as Faith does - changing practice changes doctrine. What we are facing is a profoundly un-catholic and un-Catholic Church, no longer One, no longer Holy, no longer Apostolic.

Catholic teaching is presented as universal - it applies to all equally across time and space because its source is God who made the human heart to be restless until it rests in Him. The thought of being part of a Church which changes its teaching to match the prevailing social wind or allows for local variation in its application is anathema to me. Such Faith is pointless as it will necessarily pander to human weakness - its ultimate destination is idolatrous self-worship.

In previous years, safe in the pontificates of Saint Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI, I always believed that the institution of the Church was a mighty bullwark against those within the the fold who would seek to harm the bride of Christ with misguided teaching. To see them now, emboldened at the centre of the Church, to recognise the head of one's own bishops' conference among them and to believe that the Pope favours a course which will bring ruin to something I have come to love is a terribly sobering experience.

In all this, I can perhaps perceive that I am being taught a lesson. Maybe, I have placed too much trust in the personality of the Pope rather than the promise of Christ. It is after all Christ that I follow, not man. It was Jesus who promised that "the gates of hell should not prevail" against his Church, not Peter. In feeling a little helpless amidst the events at the Vatican, I have turned to prayer and that is no bad thing. For man, a positive outcome may be impossible but not to God. For God, all things are possible.

Please pray for all the fathers of the synod, especially for Pope Francis. Pray also for the Church that it may be truly One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

St Michael: Pray for us.
Holy Mary, Exterminatrix of Heresies. Pray for us.



Thursday, 24 September 2015

Pray, Hope and Don't Worry

It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. [1]

The tomb of Padre Pio
Today is the feast day of one of my favourite saints; Saint Pius of of Pietrelcina, known to the Catholic world as Padre Pio. My father has a strong devotion to this enigmatic friar from Italy and spent a lot of time in the years preceding his canonisation spreading his message around the country. From an early age, I remember attending Padre Pio Days which included talks on his life and ministry together with slide shows, film reels, book stalls and piety stalls. I was amazed (and rather terrified) by the stories of his battles with devil and marvelled at his ability to bilocate, prophecy and discern the true state of a person's soul (For those who don't know much about him, I've included a short biography at the end of this post). Padre Pio's life was marked by extreme physical suffering, mental anguish and spiritual assault yet he was able to inspire others to live holy and fruitful lives: 

Joy, with peace, is the sister of charity. Serve the Lord with laughter.

This year, towards the end of May, I managed to fulfil a life long ambition and make a pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo with two friends. Here, I use pilgrimage in the loosest sense of the word; we flew to the closest airport and stayed at a four star hotel literally a stone's throw from the shrine but I believe we all received immense spiritual benefits from the experience despite cheating.

San Giovanni Rotundo is located in Apulia region of Southern Italy. It's set on a plateau at the foot of a small mountain range in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. As we had limited time, we decided to hire a car and drive from the airport so we were able to appreciate the geographical characteristics of the region. Driving in Italy is a thoroughly nerve wrecking experience especially when one's SatNav decides take routes through the narrowest streets in town or over a ten kilometre stretch of road which hasn't been built yet. I am quite sure that Padre Pio was largely responsible for returning the car to the hire firm in the same state in which it was leased to us. As taxing as driving was, the car did afford us one of the highlights of the trip - we were able to visit Monte Sant'Angelo and the shrine of Saint Michael. In doing so, we had a better understanding of why Padre Pio had such a strong devotion to the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts.

Mass at Saint Michael's Cave
Apart from Gargano, the land was only a little above sea level and most of it was given over to the cultivation of olives, fruit and grains. Though nearby Foggia is a large city, the rest of the countryside appeared to be sparsely populated with isolated farm houses and the odd coastal town. It was great to get a feel for the landscape in which Padre Pio would have undertaken his ministry. Though a lack of time meant that we weren't able to explore San Giovanni as much as we would have liked, it owes most of it's modern character to Padre Pio and the pilgrims he attracts. May appears to be a very quiet period for the shrine and the town itself felt a little empty.

View from Monte Sant'Angelo to the sea
Due to the nature of its expansion over the years, the Padre Pio shrine complex is set on several levels (though we only discovered this on the penultimate day). The new Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church is a massive structure with an upper and lower church, a blessed sacrament chapel, a museum, shops and a huge piazza. Designed by Renzo Piano and completed in 2004, it can accommodate 6500 pilgrims in the upper church and 30,000 outside. To my eye, the upper Church is a monstrosity; it looks like the set off one of the alien films and I didn't find it at all conducive to prayer. Thankfully, the lower church which houses the crypt and the tomb of St Padre Pio is far more intimate and I spent many hours there either in prayer and discernment. The walls of the passage way to the lower church and the interior of the church itself are decorated with mosaics designed by Fr. Marko I. Rupnik. Though the style of the mosaics is not to my taste, the theology behind them (gratefully explained to us by a friend who joined us from Rome) is both profound and awe inspiring. They tell the story of Padre Pio with collieries to the life of Saint Francis and depict scenes from the Bible.

Mosaic of Padre Pio and St Michael
The Holy Family
The piazza
The lower church
The second church on the site is Santa Maria della Grazie and it was built in Padre Pio's lifetime, again in response to the number of pilgrims visiting San Giovanni. Unfortunately, as it was built in the 1960s, it had little to please my more classical tastes. It does however posses a striking mosaic of Saint Pope John Paul II, a beautiful statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus and houses the confessionals made available to pilgrims during their time there. Going to confession under the patronage of Padre Pio was a deeply significant spiritual experience which strengthened my commitment to a sacrament which has been a great source of solace to me in recent years.

Santa Maria della Grazie
Unfortunately, I only discovered my favourite church in the shrine complex on the last day. Originally dedicated to Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1529, it is the original church attached to the monastery in which Padre Pio would have heard confession (the confessional he used is on display there). It was small, intimate and very prayerful and proved to be the perfect spot to reflect on the the life, sufferings and message of Saint Padre Pio. 

Santa Maria degli Angeli
I am truly grateful for my quasi-pilgrimage to San Giovanni Rotundo and I definitely intend to go back, hopefully for a longer period of time and perhaps in a more penitential manner. In the Year of Mercy, there could be few better patrons than Padre Pio; Pray, Hope and Don't Worry!


Born in Pietrelcina, Italy on May 25th 1887 to a deeply religious family, and given the name Francesco, Pio was thrust into spiritual battle from an early age. He regularly suffered physical and spiritual attacks from the devil but was able to find solace conversing with Jesus, Mary and his guardian angel. In 1903, at the age of 15 and with the blessing of his parents, he took the Habit of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and selected the name of Pio in honour the patron saint of Pietrelcina, Saint Pius V.

In response to Pope Benedict XV's call for prayer to end World War I in 1918, Padre Pio offered himself as a sacrifice for peace. In August and September of that year, he received several visions of the crucified Christ from which he received the physical stigmata. For the next 50 years he would exercise his priestly ministry in San Giovanni Rotundo, becoming renown for his devotion to Mass, confession, guardian angels and the rosary, for his fortitude in the midst of immense physical and spiritual suffering and for a mystical union with Christ which granted him miraculous gifts. On occasion, he was able to be in two places at the same time (bilocation) whilst in the confessional he was granted the ability to see the true state of a penitent's soul. Padre Pio's physical suffering led him to establish homes for the relief of suffering whilst his spiritual suffering encouraged him to set up prayer groups to spiritually sustain the patients in their care.

As news of Padre Pio's unique gifts and charism spread, pilgrims flocked to San Giovanni in their hundreds of thousands and this forced the church to ascertain the veracity of his character and vocation. On June 9, 1931, the Feast of Corpus Christi, Padre Pio was ordered by the Holy See to refrain from all activities except the private celebration of Mass. Padre Pio humbly submitted to his superiors and eventually restored in all his priestly faculties. By the early 1960s, he was attracting pilgrims from across the world and they came in such numbers that a new church, Santa Maria delle Grazie, had to be built to accommodate them. By the time the church was completed, Padre Pio's always precarious health began to deteriorate. He died in the early hours of September 23rd 1968, shortly after making his confession and renewing his religious vows.

Following his death, Padre Pio's cult continued to grow; over six million pilgrims visit his shrine in San Giovanni every year. In 2004, an even bigger church, the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church, was opened to accommodate the influx. The small town is also home to one of the finest hospitals in Italy, constructed at his behest and paid for by donations made by pilgrims. 

Padre Pio was canonised in 2002 by Saint Pope John Paul II who named him "a living image of Christ suffering and risen". [2]

[1] Colossians 1:24 (Magnificat, September 2015, p330)
[2] Magnificat, September 2015, p331

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Out of the depths

Today, Twitter offered an inopportune reminder of the deplorable depths to which some which some liberal demagogues have sunk. Under the hash tag "shoutYourAbortion" women were encouraged to let the world know what a positive event the abortion of their unborn children had been in their lives.

I cannot begin to describe how disgusted the hash tag made me feel or how much I loathe an ideology which promotes such a callous and misguided approach to an incredibly sensitive issue.

I believe that every abortion ends the life of a human being and that it has the potential to irreparably damage the lives of the men and women involves. Abortion is an assault on the dignity of the human race and it denigrates every society in which it takes place. I understand that not everyone feels as strongly about abortion as I do but I cannot fathom how it could ever be considered something to "shout about". I thought that even the most liberal of protagonists would agree that abortion was at best a "necessary evil" but it seems that I was sadly mistaken. For some, it seems, it is something to take pride in.

Attempting to fathom the logic which underpins this grotesque trend has given me a headache; the only thread I could grasp as the the hashtag was retweeted in my timeline by those who wished to draw attention to its horrors was that it was somehow designed to give women the courage not to be ashamed of their abortions. There is however a radical difference between offering support and compassion in dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic ordeal and attempting to not only trivialise the event but re-brand it as positive life experience.

This particular brand of feminism is not only morally repugnant, it is also dangerous. Trying to convince society that abortion is a trivial procedure will do little to help those who struggle with remorse in the future. Nor will it hide the fact that it is a risky medical procedure which can have long lasting physical consequences.

Why is abortion such a corner stone to this particularly odious brand of militant feminism? It seems to be that it underpins their mantra of "bodily autonomy". Women need to be able to live life as they see fit, free of any consequences, particularly when it comes to sex. In doing so, they gain equality with men and share in that El Dorado of sexual autonomy.

The tenets of this philosophy have never made sense to me. If feminism truly is concerned with the "advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes", then it has to have worthy archetypes for men and women. It seems to me that the feminism responsible for this hash tag is attempting to gain equality for women with the lowest common denominator amongst men. Sex always has consequences, unitive and procreative, and to pretend otherwise is to foster a lie. Both men and women are called to bodily responsibility; a feminism which fails to recognise and accept that women are designed to bear children is not worthy of the name, just as a man who refuses to honour this fact is not a real man.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. [1]

God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image ... God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. [2]

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2393
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2331

Saturday, 19 September 2015

I'll be back

After the last few days of disappointment in the gym, I wasn't too optimistic about my prospects for today's back session. As I arrived at the gym to a gridlocked car park, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to make it through the front door so when I eventually made my way to the bench area, I had rather low expectations.

I've never had a gym partner but today my schedule overlapped with the friend who recommended the routine to me in the first place so we performed the exercises together. It was great to have Stacy there to encourage me out of my gym funk and I am convinced I had a much better session today because it. All today's exercises were supersets so there were no opportunities for spotting each other but simply exchanging notes during rest periods improved the efficiency and quality of the workout.

As a routine, I thought today's exercises had a high degree of reliance on secondary muscle groups which might detract from the targeting of the back muscles. For example, close-gripped lat pulldowns place a lot of stress on the biceps whilst the dumbbell pull engages the chest more than the back. I also missed attempting dead lifts which I am finally beginning to make a little bit of progress on. Next time I perform this routine, I will try moving the wide grip lat pulldown and cable face pull superset to the start of the session because one of my major goals is to be able to complete fifteen pull ups. I found that by the time I got round to the wide grip lat pulldown I was quite tired so I had to perform it at a far lower weight than usual.

The only new exercise today was the one armed lat pulldown; I don't think I have the mechanics of the exercise quite right so it didn't feel particularly beneficial. I aim to go through the videos of all the exercises I struggled with during the week tomorrow so I will hopefully get some pointers on how to improve things.

Tomorrow is a rest day according to the routine but as I took a day off in the week and had a disappointing cardio week, I'm going to try an ab session followed by a 10k run. I'll probably throw in some bench presses as they continue to be a source of frustration to me. I'm a sucker for punishment.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Life gym; but not as we know it

Today was day five of the Erin Stern Elite workout and it was absolutely terrible. After day three's rather disappointing cardio session, I took a rest on day four because I didn't feel in the right frame of mind for the gym. I was late finishing work so I decided to cut my losses and go home and watch the football instead.

To make up for the missed day, I resolved to combine day four with day six's cardio session as I play football after work on Friday. I should have been attempting a back routine but as a friend is doing the same session tomorrow, I agreed to swap it for a chest and shoulder routine so that we could do the back session together.

Ever since I began using the gym, I have struggled to make any progress with upper body strength and I find it exceedingly frustrating. Today was one of the worst gym session I have ever had. I was well below even my usual inept bench press mark and I failed to make it anywhere near the personal best I set in the dumbbell shoulder press last time out. I ended the session rather deflated, wondering if it was worth all the time and effort.

Unfortunately, football didn't improve my mood either. Our usually competitive game was rather one sided, I received a dead leg five minutes into the game and we had less than 35 minutes playing time as someone had booked the pitch straight after us. I don't think I raised a sweat during the whole game so as a cardio exercise it was pretty pointless. If I hadn't received a dead leg, I would have gone for a run after it.

Everyone has bad gym sessions but knowing that doesn't make them any easier to accept. As things have gone so poorly, I've decided to add an extra session on Sunday with some chest, abs and cardio sessions. At least tomorrow is a new gym day...

Thursday, 17 September 2015

This vale of tears

Yesterday, the church commemorated The Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows or Mater Dolorosa (Mother of Sorrows). Following on from Monday's Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, Tuesday's memorial invites us to meditate on the sorrows which befell our Lady as a result of her unfailing obedience to God's will and her love for her Son. Her "Fiat" at the annunciation would ultimately lead her to the foot of the Cross.

As St Alphonsus de Liguori suggests that whilst "the martyrs endured their torments in their bodies; Mary suffered Hers in Her soul.” [1] The theme of martyrdom is likewise taken up by St Antoninus who says of Our Lady of Sorrows:

“While other martyrs suffered by sacrificing their own lives, the Blessed Virgin suffered by sacrificing Her Son’s life – a life that She loved far more than Her own; so that She not only suffered in Her soul all that Her Son endured in His body, but moreover the sight of Her Son’s torments brought more grief to Her heart than if She had endured them all in Her own person." [2]

It is the maternal bond that Mary had with Jesus as sorrowful mother which is the key to understanding the meaning of this devotion. Mary shared in Jesus' suffering in a unique way and as a consequence, she has a unique share in its ultimate end, the Resurrection. From the Cross Jesus gives Mary to us as a dying gift where he says "Behold, your Mother". Mary's compassion as Sorrowful Mother can therefore be a source of strength for us when we feel afflicted by our own suffering and sorrow. Contemplating the depths of these sorrows can bring us closer to their subject, namely the person of Jesus Christ.

One of the great maxims of Faith comes to us from St Anselm who was reflecting on Saint Augustine when he said "I believe that I may understand" (credo ut intelligam). The point each was making is that without Faith, some tenants of Christian belief and practice are beyond comprehension. For some, suffering and the problem of evil are an impenetrable barrier to belief whilst for others they begin to erode the foundations of Faith to such a degree that it eventually collapses.

At present, as I look at the suffering and sorrows of family, friends and colleagues, I feel a little under siege. I find myself questioning its purpose and how God can allow such apparent injustices to occur on his watch. Why aren't my prayers good enough? Why has nothing changed? Sometimes I lose heart and become angry with God; other times I am reminded by a Psalm or a reading I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to feel this way. Ultimately, I am left with the notion that the answer, if it is to be found, exists only with Christ, crucified on the Cross, and his Mother, sorrowful and compassionate at its foot. Credo ut intelligam.

Stabat Mater

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.

Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?

For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent.

O thou Mother! fount of love!
Touch my spirit from above,
make my heart with thine accord:

Make me feel as thou hast felt;
make my soul to glow and melt
with the love of Christ my Lord.

Holy Mother! pierce me through,
in my heart each wound renew
of my Savior crucified:

Let me share with thee His pain,
who for all my sins was slain,
who for me in torments died.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Virgin of all virgins blest!,
Listen to my fond request:
let me share thy grief divine;

Let me, to my latest breath,
in my body bear the death
of that dying Son of thine.

Wounded with His every wound,
steep my soul till it hath swooned,
in His very Blood away;

Be to me, O Virgin, nigh,
lest in flames I burn and die,
in His awful Judgment Day.

Christ, when Thou shalt call me hence,
be Thy Mother my defense,
be Thy Cross my victory;

While my body here decays,
may my soul Thy goodness praise,
Safe in Paradise with Thee.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

One step forward, one step back

In general, I'm a poor sleeper. It usually takes me hours to drift off to sleep and I rarely wake up feeling refreshed and raring to go. This is problematic for frequent gym use as good sleep is essential for muscle growth and healing.

Erin has some great advice for deciding if you need a break or not which resolves around the answers to six questions [1]:


Recently, I'd been enjoying much better sleep but that ended last night as I was agitated and couldn't get my mind to settle. It's possible that aches from the first two days of the new routine but I can't be sure.

Day three of Erin Stern's Elite workout is dedicated to cardio and abs. I was keen to complete today's session as I'm still carrying some extra holiday weight but when the time came to make my way to the gym, I felt over tired and a little sick. I walked over hoping a bit of fresh air would make me fell better but I didn't feel well enough to hammer the treadmill. I therefore decided to try 5k at a pace I usually wouldn't have any problem with.

Though I wasn't comfortable during the run, I did manage to complete it. After a lengthy rest, I completed the core circuit with low weights just to try the movements.
When I first started using the gym, one of my goals was to run 10k in under 45 minutes. From time to time I would make progress, managing to get under 50 minutes but I would always end up with an injury (ankle, knee, achillies) which meant I would have to start again. Unfortunately, I don't think I'll ever get close to my goal now as I have developed a rather annoying habit where I trigger a panic attack if I become aware of heavy breathing through my nose. I don't think it's an actual physical issue (I did have a check up at the doctors to be sure) so until I manage to forget about it or overcome it mentally, I have to be careful about how far I push myself. It's incredibly frustrating but I'm thankful it's not put a complete end to my cardio and football sessions.


Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Leg Day: Joining the Ministry of Funny Walks

Today was day two of my new gym routine and I started my day with a session at the Swansea University Osteopathic Clinic [1] which is helping me with my shoulder injury and lower back pain. I highly recommend the service as I came out feeling a lot freer in movement and confident in the advice I'd been given. 

I made my way to the gym at 4:30pm aware that today's session would bring me up against my old nemesis, legs. I'm not the only person approaches leg day with dread though recent improvements have given me more confidence in doing major exercises like squats. That won't stop me from joining the ministry of funny walks tomorrow.

Today's routine featured something I'd never done before: Plyometrics. The theory behind this type of exercise is that rapid and repeated stretching and contracting of the muscle will lead to increases in power. In today's workout, this consisted of bodyweight jumping and leaping movements. I'd never performed any of these exercises so I enjoyed attempting 10 reps of box jumps, 180 jumps, tuck jumps, depth jumps and dynamic step ups. I thought I'd done quite well until I re-read the plan and released I had to complete 3 sets. By the end I was absolutely dripping with sweat and absolutely shattered!

After completing the plyometric circuit, I was on more familiar ground with squats and a supersets of good mornings and calf raises. Though I have done good mornings in the past, I'm not particularly comfortable performing them as I don't like the pressure the bar exerts on my neck. I've tried holding the bar lower down but I still can't seem to get comfortable.

The final superset was supposed to be leg extensions and reverse hyperextension but as we lacked the equipment for the latter, I performed leg curls instead.

Again, I very much enjoyed today's session, particularly as plyometric exercises are new to me. I really felt I was working hard by the time I got to my third set of squats and was a little concerned at one point I wouldn't be able to complete the full 5 sets. In retrospect, I took my foot off the gas for the remaining exercises and my lack of ease with the good mornings may been the trigger for that.

Having looked after my physical health, I made my way to Mass to tend to my spiritual needs and followed that by a nice pork dinner. I've now sat down to watch the football with protein shake and a handful of nuts. My shoulders are just starting to ache a little after yesterday's session. Today was a good day.


Monday, 14 September 2015

A break from the old routine

On returning to the gym after a three week absence (during which I managed to put on an extra 3 kilograms largely a result of consuming copious amounts of pasta, pizza and beer whilst on holiday in Sicily), I thoroughly expected to struggle in every aspect of my workout. Though this was true for a few exercises (my chest press is exceedingly poor) and I noticed a general reduction in stamina, I actually managed to set a few personal bests.

Despite this pleasant surprise, I've decided to change my routine as I've been following it for a while. I'm hoping that in doing so, I may be able to make more progress in areas where I've been struggling for months.

On the advice of a friend who has caught the gym bug and has made some fantastic progress, I've decided to try Erin Stern's Elite 4 week plan from [1] Today was my first session with the new routine and I very much enjoyed it. Day one is shoulders and arms [2] and it contained a number of exercises which I'd never performed before:

Push Jerks
Though I'm used to doing seated shoulder presses with dumbbells, I'd never used my legs to augment the exercise. I managed to do the first five reps at 35kg but found that on the second set, my lower back couldn't handle the same weight again. I therefore dropped it down to 30kg.

Cable Rear Delts Flyes
These were great fun and I managed to complete four sets at 5kg. I'll definitely go higher next week.

Front Cable Raises
I'm used to doing dumbbell raises but there was something about the cable variation which made them more difficult. I have a long standing right shoulder injury which may have inhibited the exercise further. Though I have managed 12.5kg front raises in the past, I only managed 2.5kg on the cables.

Drag Curls
The drag curl appears to place more stress on the forearms than the regular curl so I found this quite difficult. I started off at 20kg but dropped it to 15kg when I was struggled to complete the full 10 reps.

Plank to pull up and diamond push ups
I'd never performed either of these exercises and I struggled to complete even one rep of each so I decided to replace them with a cable row and close grip bench press. My cable row is also rather poor and given the lower back weakness I experienced in the Push Jerk, it's definitely something I need to try and address.

Ab roller
This was another exercise that I couldn't complete, again it appears because my back is too weak.

I'm looking forward to trying new exercises tomorrow. Wish me luck; it's leg day!

Sunday, 31 May 2015

More adventures with the Old Rite Mass

Today I attended my second Mass in the Extraordinary Form with the The Confraternity of the Holy Cross. Though I had intended to try and make attendance at these Masses a regular occurrence, for various reasons, I haven't actually managed to make one for almost a year. I include below how attendance at my second mass made me feel. It shows my gross lack of understanding of Mass in the Extraordinary form but I hope that it may prove useful in highlighting some of the difficulties devotees of the rite may come across in reintroducing it to Catholic practice.

In a previous post, I related how my first experience of Mass in the Old Rite left me feeling curious rather than spiritually enriched, especially as I perceived that there was a greater divide between the role of the priest and that of the laity. I felt this to be particularly evident during times of silence when the priest appeared to be performing his tasks for which the laity were irrelevant. [1] On this occasion, this impression was lessened by the fact that the Mass was accompanied by an organ and a choir. I was able to concentrate on the beautiful music and this drew me into the Mass to a degree I had not experienced on my first visit. I even chanced my arm and joined in for the Credo and Sanctus.

As I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing during the periods of silence so this time, I decided to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet as Mass started at 3pm. I was able to concentrate on the chaplet to a greater degree than was usual which was a pleasant surprise and spiritually gratifying.

Though I left Mass feeling slightly more comfortable than last time, I still have more questions than answers. I find it rather odd than the laity can be saying or singing prayers whilst the priest whispers his own at the same time. Likewise, the priest asks for the people's assent to his prayers at various times through out the Mass but for all we know, he could have been thinking about his shopping list or asking to win the lottery.

I definitely need to put some time and effort into understanding what is expected of the priest and the laity during Mass in the Extraordinary form if I am to address the frustrations I experience when I attend it!


Monday, 20 April 2015

The Force Awakens (Me)

Last week, we were witness to a truly remarkable event - the release of a new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer. I had begun the week rather feeling rather lethargic and downcast but upon my first viewing my Midi-chlorians had be performing somersaults.

The first teaser trailer had whetted my appetite - it offered me the new hope of a return to the values of the original trilogy, revealed beautifully crafted shots of Tatooine, the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings and Tie-Fighers and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the new protagonists. The major talking point for most was the Sith with cruciform lightsabre but for me, the most striking aspect of the original teaser trailer was the production values - it felt and looked like a digitally superior vintage Star Wars.

Kylo Ren
The first teaser trailer arrived at the end of last year and I was beginning to get impatient for a further Star Wars fix and when it finally arrived, I wasn't disappointed. I'm a massive Star Wars fan at the best of times but I the second trailer sent me into overdrive. My reaction was remarkably similar to that of Fr Roderick Vonhögen (though less cows were involved) and I think I actually sat for a few minutes of contented silence after watching it.

Here are a few things I spotted in the trailer which may pique your interest:

1) Most of the Imperial Fleet was destroyed at Endor. How did this Imperial Star Destroyer end up on Tatooine? Has it been sitting there for 30 years since a post Endor Battle (Tatooine is a long way from the core and the Imperial Remnant) or does its crash form part of the narrative of  the film?

Edit: A friend has informed me that the planet depicted in this scene is not Tatooine. It is a new planet called Jakku and is the home of Rey. The Star Destroyer has clearly been at rest on the plannet for quite some time so I doubt it's demise will have taken place in the present of the film.

2) "The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. My sister has it. You have that power too..."

"My father has it" is evocative of the present. Is Luke referring to Anakin Skywalker's ghost presence or had Vader been resurrected, perhaps by cloning?

"The Force is strong in my family" suggests that Luke is not talking to a son, niece or nephew as he would probably have said "our family".

3) This scene looks like Luke is at a funeral pyre. Is it a flashback to Vader's or has another major character passed into the Force? The scene focuses on R2D2 - has C3PO gone to meet his maker?

4) Vader's mask was burned along with his body on Endor - someone has gone to some trouble to retrieve it. An apprentice? An heir to his legacy?

5) Are those moisture vaperator in the background? Is Kylo Ren om Tatooine?

6) That's snow in the background. Is this Hoth? Maybe it's a flashback to Alderaan and the return of the Sith Empire? Is that the Emperor in the centre?

7) The soundtrack reveals further evolution of the icon Star Wars theme which is equal parts sombre, heroic and exciting.

So, I guess you could say the trailer has me hooked and very excited! I like the fact that it entices us into the new with glimpses of the old but doesn't give any plot details away (despite my attempts to squeeze them out).  I agree with Han, "Chewie, we're home!"


Saturday, 18 April 2015

What becomes of the disenfranchised?

On May 7th  2015, our country will go to the polls to elect our next government. As I have related in a previous post [1], thanks to my Grandfather, I have always considered it important to exercise my democratic right to vote. The Catechism of the Catholic Church impresses upon the faithful the importance of making informed decisions with regards to politics where it suggests "by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will... It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer." [2]

As with most major elections, the Bishops Conference of England and Wales have released a letter [3] which it believes highlights the most pressing issues for Catholics. Though I  have found some previous letters poorly veiled attempts to support a particular party (Tony Blair's New Labour for example) or lacking in a fully Catholic vision, this year I think it's balanced, helpful and prescient. The headings alone match most of my concerns for this election: Respecting life, Supporting marriage and family life; alleviating poverty, Educating for the good of all, Building communities, Caring for the world.

Despite my best intentions to vote in a positive manner I still feel disenfranchised by the British political system. If anything, the feelings of alienation from and ambivalence towards the prevailing culture have worsened since the European elections as the political classes continue to enact policies and make decisions which undermine the moral fabric of society, run contrary to social justice and threaten religious freedom. The rejection of the Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill, derailed because abortion is a seemingly untouchable bastion of the existing liberal consensus, revealed to me the truly duplicitous nature of British politics. The Bill would not have altered the law but clarified that the sex of a child could not be a contributing factor to any of the criteria required for a an abortion. Among the spurious reasons given for voting against the Bill, MPs suggested that it would risk criminalising women who were being pressured to seek a sex selective abortion and that the terminology conferred "personhood on the foetus" even though the term "baby" is already present in the existing legislation. So called feminists should be particularly ashamed of their failure to vote for the Bill as female children are disproportionately affected by the issue. Is abortion really the lynch pin for all that "feminists" hope to achieve? 

I believe that the primary responsibilities of government are to promote virtue and enact policies which promote the cohesion and stability of society. Virtue is most effectively encouraged in the family and for this reason, society should be built upon family and families should be placed at the center of governmental strategy. This does not mean that individuals have no place in society, that their voices should remain unheard or that they should not be cared for - on the contrary, they will be better served by a society in which respecting individuals is part of the moral and social fabric. Society has a duty of care to to all it's members but this is particularly true for the poorest and most vulnerable. 

In the lead up to the previous General Election, I agreed that in order to tackle the government deficit which had steadily been accrued by the irresponsible spending of the previous Labour government, some form of austerity would be required. In addition, recognising that some of this debt was necessary to protect the country from the impact of the financial crisis precipitated by the selfish and greedy actions of businesses and banks, I hoped that the new government would seek to promote more ethical practices throughout the sector which would ensure greater fiscal and social responsibility. Additionally, with personal UK debt standing at over one trillion pounds, I wanted the government to do more to dissuade people from going into debt and to ensure that those that did were not held to ransom by banks and lenders. Five years on, the promises of the Conservative and Liberal Coalition on debt management have not been entirely met and I believe that the austerity measures disproportionately affected many of the most vulnerable in society.

Given the issues which matter to me the most, I cannot in good conscience vote for any particularly party. The Conservatives appear to be under the sway of vested economic interests and the Labour party appears to be fiscally irresponsible, forever keeping us in a spiral of boom and bust as it spends money we don't have, waiting for the next government to take the unpopular decisions required to redeem the country's finances. All the major parties have long supported the progressive liberal social agenda which is so antithetical to the Christian understanding of the dignity of the human person whilst the Green party manifesto reads like something from a distopian novel. Despite their protestations, UKIP are a rather one dimensional party which attracts some of the more unsavory elements of British society. There is nothing inherently racist in opposing immigration but many of those who claim to support UKIP do so precisely for that reason. I am personally not against immigration but I would like more confidence in the system if only to ensure that those people we welcome into our country intend to do us no harm. As an affluent country, I believe we have a duty to give aid our international brothers and sisters so UKIP's promise to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget by two-thirds strikes me inhumane as some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world depend on the UK for food, medicine and education.

As I could not bring myself to vote for a particular party, I decided that I would be willing to vote for a local candidate if I thought they would represent my concerns in parliament. I therefore emailed (details below) the candidates for Swansea West for the Conservative, Liberal, UKIP Green and Plaid Cymru parties to see if I could give my vote to one of them (I didn't bother with Geraint Davies our current Labour MP as his voting record is exceedingly poor). Unfortunately, not one of the candidates has replied to my email. 

I hope one day to be sufficiently convinced of the qualities of an individual or party to be able to vote for them but until a party or movement emerges which is brave enough to take on the liberal hegemony, I am set to continue the time honoured practice of spoiling my vote.

Email to Candidates

Dear XXX,

I believe that it important to use our right to vote in an informed and considered manner. Despite this belief however, I have long felt felt alienated by the British political system and its parties and therefore am inclined to register this dissatisfaction with a spoiled vote. As I feel unable to give positive assent to a particular party, I am willing to consider voting for an individual candidate based on their own convictions. In order to help me decide whether or not to vote for you in the upcoming election, please could you answer the following questions:

1) Had you been an MP in the previous parliamentary term, how would you have voted on

a) Abortion (Sex-Selection) Bill -
b) Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 -
c) Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 -

2) If elected to parliament, how would you vote on the Assisted Dying Bill (, if it were to be presented?

Kind Regards,

Luke O'Sullivan


[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 898

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Easter Triduum and the Synod on the Faimily

Today sees the start of the Easter Triduum, the liturgical celebration which begins on the evening of Maunday Thursday, continues with the remembrance of Good Friday and ends with Evening prayer on Easter Sunday. As it recalls the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus it is, as Pope Francis has said "the apex of our liturgical year and it is also the apex of our lives as Christians". [1]

The liturgy of the "great Mass" which begins with the institution of the Eucharist and Priesthood on Maunday Thursday, continues with the remembrance of the Passion at 3 O'Clock on Good Friday and ends with the celebration of the resurrection in the Easter Vigil is truly a work of art which cannot but touch one's soul and raise one's heart and mind to God. I look forward with anticipation to the beauty and hope that is contained in the great Easter Exultet.

To make the most of these great celebrations, I will be turning off my phone, closing my laptop and refraining from use of the television. I try to let secular concerns have as little influence on my life as possible during this period so all my reading will also be of a religious nature.

Before I enter this time of reflection, I would like to encourage you to offer your Easter observances for a successful outcome to the Synod on the Family which will take place later this year. It is painfully obvious that marriage and family life, even within the fellowship of the Church, is in dire need of support and reinvigoration. The great pastoral mission of the Church for families cannot be achieved by rejecting Christ's teachings on the nature of marriage - we need rather to rediscover the beauty of God's plan for mankind in this regard which finds it's ultimate template in the communion of the persons of the Trinity and the heavenly nuptial Mass of Christ and his bride, the Church. The Church also needs to be far better equipped for dealing with the consequences of marital and family breakdowns - it is the ultimate conduit of mercy and hope for those who suffer. In addition to healing those in the present, it also needs to look to the future. Young people need to be better equipped to deal with the responsibilities and trials of marriage and this will only be possible if they understand its beauty more fully and delve deeply into the graces it affords those who make the effort to life it faithfully.

The threat to this vision and to the unity of the church is very real. Confusion abounds and it is clear that there is a sizeable body of Cardinals and Bishops who dissent from Church teaching who are determined to push their agenda through at the Synod. Please consider reading @ccfather [2] and @otsota [3] to understand the gravity of what's at stake. Please also consider signing this petition [4] in support of our priests, families and Church.

I wish you a blessed Easter Triduum!    


Sunday, 29 March 2015

In support of our priests, our families, and our Church

You may have seen the recent letter from more than 450 priests in support of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

I would like to invite you to sign the letter below, to be sent to the press in support of them, and to encourage others to sign it.

To sign, please email your name and diocese to one of the coordinators:

Mark Lambert (
Andrew Plasom-Scott (

The Letter:

Dear Sir, We, the undersigned, wish to endorse and support the letter signed by over 450 priests in the recent edition of the Catholic Herald, As laity, we all know from our own family experiences, or those of our friends and neighbours, the harrowing trauma of divorce and separation, and we sympathise with all those in such situations.

It is precisely for that reason that we believe that the Church must continue to proclaim the truth about marriage, given us by Christ in the Gospels, with clarity and charity in a world that struggles to understand it.

For the sake of those in irregular unions, for the sake of those abandoned and living in accordance with the teachings of the Church, and above all for the sake of the next generation, it is essential that the Church continues to make it quite clear that sacramental marriage is indissoluble until death.

We pray, and expect, that our hierarchy will represent us, and the Church’s unwavering teaching, at the Synod this autumn.

Yours faithfully,

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sacred Heart Statue Update

In my previous post [1], I related how I came across a statue of the Sacred Heart in a Swansea bar which had been adorned with a gas mask and a sign for the toilets. I wrote a letter to the proprietor of the bar to register my protest and to try and explain why the statue was an affront to my faith. I was not sure I would get a reply but, a week later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter [see below] from Noah Redfern, the owner of Noah's Yard. The contents of the letter were likewise somewhat unexpected - I assumed Noah would appeal to the concept of Freedom of Speech and Expression to justify the disposition of the statue but they instead followed a quasi-theological route.

In his letter, Noah let me know that the statue was not a planned display; it rather came about piecemeal as various items were added to it over time. He intimated that though he was a Christian, he did not associate the statue with the person of Jesus because it did not match the likely physical characteristics of a man born in Palestine. Noah also suggested that the prohibition on worshiping idols meant that Christ would not condone the Catholic use of statues and images as aids to worship. Finally, he expressed his hope that the statue would provoke debate on religion, war and world issues such as the occupation of Palestine and kindly invited me to discuss the matter further with him over a Mojito.

In responding to Noah, my primary concern was to try and get him to accept that though he did not consider the statue to be offensive, many Christians would, with good reason, have cause to take issue with its presentation as he seemed to indicate in his letter that I had no justifiable reason to react as I did. I'm not sure if I managed to do that as I have yet to receive a reply but I hope that I have managed to "give reason of that hope which is in me". [2] I am very grateful to my friends from whom I asked advice before I made my response as I was keen to make sure that I pitched it in terms more likely to result in a positive outcome. I have shared my correspondence with the parish priest of the area so I am still hopeful the statue will find a more suitable home. I will not be returning to Noah's Yard unless it is removed and I urge fellow Christians and those who respect my position to make their opinions known.

[2] 1 Peter: 3:15

Noah's Letter
Dear Luke,

Thank you for the letter regarding the Catholic statue and also for the kind words regarding the quality of drinks and service.

I am very sorry that it offended you on your visit, but I feel it is definitely not Jesus and stands as just an icon of plaster and paint which to some people it may look like Jesus. I personally believe he had fairly dark skin and features, having been born in Judea and his parents being from Mesopotamia. To this day nobody has any proof of what he looks like, and whether he was of African decent, Arab or of white skin.

I have a wonderful relationship with God and Jesus myself but choose not to go to church. The old statue was rescued from an antique auction and forgetting about any religious connotations it has, this object has been hand crafted and painted to a very high level and is a thing of beauty in its own right. 

I absolutely love it for these qualities and not for it being a religious icon to some people of the
Catholic Church. I imagine you are Catholic with a name like O'Sullivan ? I did study the bible many years ago and my uncle being the Bishop of Derby (Alistair Redfern ) I discussed this matter with him. I am very certain that Jesus made it very clear in his teachings that he did not want any icons or false gods to be treated as holy and in this case there is nothing Holy about the plaster cast
that is in my premises.

From my records the statue would have been made by a tradesman somewhere in Ireland in 1920's and the Church would have been deconsecrated when the building had stopped being a place of worship.

King James 2000 Bible
You shall make no idols nor graven images, neither raise you up a standing image, neither shall you set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God

I am certain that the statue creates great debates about religion, war and world issues at the premises and gets people talking about real issues for example the occupation of Palestine, I am sure that your faith is strong enough not to be offended by a icon, if you are offended surely the sight of a person of an opposing religion would cause you offence.

Well there you have it, that is my 'motivation' for the installation. I would like to point out none of it was planned it just happened. ( I was given the safe, the statue turned up at an auction, the toilet sign had no where else to go, the broom is used every night at the premises, and the gas mask was randomly in the Stock room and a member of staff just placed it on his head one time)

I would like to take this opportunity to give you my apologies and I am sorry that you have interpreted this in a negative way, its purpose was to create debate and if you would like to discuss this matter further over a Mojito I would be happy to do so.

Your Sincerely 

Noah Redfern

My Response
Dear Noah,

Thank you for your reply to my letter regarding the statue of Jesus which you have on display in Noah’s Yard. I appreciate the courtesy you have shown me in your response and your willingness to engage with me on this matter. I hope you will indulge me a little further with my own response to some of the issues you raise in your letter.

You are quite right to surmise that I am a Catholic and so you must therefore understand why I have taken a particular interest in what you have identified as a Catholic statue. Indeed, the statue would be instantly recognisable as that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to the vast majority of Catholics and a similar one can be found in my own Church in Gendros. The Catholic Church in Morriston is actually called “The Sacred Heart”. As Christians, Catholics rightly reject all forms of idolatry but along with the Orthodox and Eastern Churches, many members of the Anglican Communion and other denominations, we believe that the use of statues, images, signs and symbols are means by which we can offer worship to God. We do not worship the statues or images themselves, but rather use them to give praise and glory to God who alone is worthy of our worship.

Throughout the bible, God speaks to his people in signs and symbols so it should come as no surprise that our response to Him should also be made through such signs and symbols, perhaps most emphatically in Jesus’ association of his own Body and Blood with bread and wine. There are several instances where God explicitly directs his people to make use of statues or figures in divine worship. For example, in Exodus 25:18-20, God commands Moses to carve two cherubim which would sit on top of the Ark of the Covenant and in Numbers 21:8–9 he is likewise ordered to make a statue of “a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it shall live”. In the later case, the fact that the faithful had to actually look at the bronze statue of the serpent to be healed shows that statues can be used in religious practice, not just as decorations or works of art.

The Sacred Heart statue in my own parish has accompanied me on my journey of faith my entire life and I have been inspired to offer many prayers to Jesus in its presence. It reminds me especially of Jesus’ love for us because it depicts His heart which was pierced by a lance as he suffered and died for us at his crucifixion. I have lit many candles in front of it as a symbol of my prayers for myself, for loved ones and for those who have died. Unless it is smashed to pieces, the statue in your possession will always retain its religious significance because it depicts the Sacred Heart; it cannot be divested of this original purpose and meaning even though it is rather ignominously being used a sign post to the toilets and profaned with the addition of the gas mask. The juxtaposition of a gas mask with proximity toilets is suggestive of a rather crude toilet humour. When I saw how the statue was being used in Noah’s Yard the first thing which came to my mind was another scene from Jesus’ passion and death: "And the men that held him, mocked him, and struck him. And they blindfolded him, and smote his face. And they asked him, saying: Prophesy, who is it that struck thee? And blaspheming, many other things they said against him."

Regardless of what He actually looked like and despite the fact that you do not regard the statue with religious significance, I believe that the vast majority of people would certainly identify it as a statue of Jesus and recognise that it has religious significance for some Christians. Its primary debating point is therefore likely to be regarding the disposition of a religious statue in a profane manner and, unless you are supplying your own context to your customers, I do not see how it is likely to provoke a debate on war or Palestine. I would respectfully suggest that whilst provoking debate can be a very useful tool in opening people to new possibilities, it should not be at the risk of causing offense. As Saint Paul suggests in Corinthians, "Never do anything offensive to anyone - to Jews or Greeks or to the Church of God; just as I try to be helpful to everyone at all times".

In this response I hope to have at least convinced you of two things:

1) the way in which the statue is displayed is offensive to me and others because we believe that figures and images serve a legitimate role in offering praise and worship to God and that the misuse of such objects is an affront to our Faith

2) The majority of people will associate the statue with the person of Jesus and understand that its display in such a manner will be regarded as irreverent or offensive to many Christians

As a Christian, I believe it is my duty to “stand up for Christ” and I feel that I would be denying that Faith if I did not take issue with how you have displayed the statue. As you say that you have a wonderful relationship with God and Jesus, I hope that you will forgive me if I have stated anything which is rather obvious to you; I suspect we come from quite different Christian traditions so I was a little concerned something might get “lost in translation”. As I have given up alcohol for Lent, I am afraid I will have to respectfully decline your offer of a Mojito. I have included my e-mail address with this letter however in case it is more convenient for you to reply there.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express my opinions,
Kind Regards,

Luke O’Sullivan