Tuesday, 19 July 2005

Another 'film thought'

I love good dramas, and, as far as film versions go, I'd give "Vera Drake" five stars. It was totally absorbing - acting superb - excellent ensemble. Imelda Staunton was outstanding.

Obviously, film reviews are not what I provide here. :) Yet the character of Vera brought several points to mind. When Vera is 'helping girls in trouble,' one never knows whether, based on previous experience (her own?), she does not expect there can be dangerous effects, or whether she is aware of but chooses to ignore this. The girl who nearly dies as a result of the abortion is saved only because she was not alone when she began to convulse. Vera is totally distraught at the news - and it appears that such a possibility would never have occurred to her.

At first glance, Vera seems to be a good-hearted sort who would drop in on anyone with a problem - even if only to offer a cup of tea. (That in fact is Vera's suggestion in any circumstance - and, for all that my own cups of tea are highly therapeutic, and I can think of no situation where a cup makes things any worse, her involvement with others is peripheral. Perhaps her sister-in-law, who sees Vera more as a busybody than having a 'heart of gold,' would not be alone in that assessment.) Yet there is complexity here which reminded me of an attitude I've seen in many, including those within the church, who seek to be involved in others' lives - with good intentions but a lack of prudence. Vera chooses to ignore the underlying problems.

We see Vera perform several abortions before the one which nearly causes a death, and several of the ladies clearly are deeply worried about possible consequences, one actually amazed that Vera will not be returning to see if she is all right, another asking point blank if she can die. ("What you need now is a nice cup of tea, dear.") The question is unanswered. Is Vera narrow of vision, where her own experience is the boundary and no other possibility admitted? Or does she not care to look at gruesome alternatives?

I made mention, in another post, of how those within the church too often are ready to shrug off those in need with stock answers. Lesson one in pastoral care (in any sense) should be "do not assume you know others' experience."

Pax et Bonum... it is a bit too hot for me to develop this now but, be forewarned, it is a topic to which I shall return. :)

Sunday, 17 July 2005

"That's all they're showing this year"

I happen to know two women, who have no connection with each other, both of whom are hairdressers. I would imagine that their customers go on about various details of their lives, and coincidentally both of them use the trite line I quoted as header for this post. Mention to either one that you painted your kitchen a particular colour, have a certain decor, are wearing a new outfit, whatever, and the inevitable comment will be, "That's all they're showing this year."

I suppose some people find that complimentary - I would not. Whether I have designed a room, a dress, curtains, or an Internet site, I value personal style and creative expression, not the opinions or trends which "they" would encourage "this year." I, in fact, would find it insulting that anyone would think my selections were based on trying to conform to some silly trend.

The hairdressers, of course, are using a stock line that is harmless. Yet it is unfortunate that, in my many years of church work, too many people, who were in positions that involved education or counsel, or who spoke or published for the masses, had a tendency to parrot trendy lines. For example, in answer to a serious question or criticism, I knew one Sister in a prominent position who would always say, "That's the way the church is moving." Another would respond, in similar situations, invariably with, "You have to be very open to change." That is not an answer - only a way to cut off a question.

In pastoral situations, it could be worse still. When I worked in a university campus ministry, one nun loved for people to confide in her, and indeed encouraged this immensely. Yet those who truly wished some sort of response or guidance would inevitably hear, "We like our lives tucked in neat little boxes."

No one loves words more than I, or clich├ęs less. Most of the time, when another is troubled, there is nothing we can do - but, in such situations, listening in itself is preferable to cutting people off with a stock phrase. The latter only shows that one is not caring for the other, but just wishes to seem wise.

Friday, 8 July 2005

A wee tale of the value of casuistry

Between a question I was asked recently, and what I've been reading about the proper Victorians' shock at Alphonsus Liguori's casuistry, I wonder why 'Catholic guilt' is given such emphasis. Then again, my family is from the diocese which bordered on Alphonsus', and I have no genetic pre-disposition to excessive guilt. Our attitude was that God was, after all, our Father - and, anyway, we were very close with His mother. :)

If I were to be Thomistic for a moment, Thomas treated of grave sin as that which involved reflection and consent. In brief, casuistry admits that, if there is any doubt that gravity, use of reason, or consent of the will were deficient, such doubt cannot co-exist with certainty! I dare say that Alphonsus knew a person or two who would justify even murder, depending on the victim. (Of course, I think that, deep down, we know that the grave sins usually did involve reflection and consent... and the surest sign of certainty is when we are doing mental gymnastics to determine that we lacked use of reason or will in relation to our own sins... Alphonsus did not intend his instructions in moral theology to be a 'do it yourself' kit.) :) But I should like to share a little story I heard in childhood which is profound in its simplicity.

Terrence was the son of two thieves and, from earliest childhood, his parents had taught him the craft. One day, when he was sent out to pick pockets, a harsh rainstorm arose, and he ducked into the local Catholic church (where he'd been baptised - though he'd not been much of a visitor since) for shelter.

A group of children were gathered there, listening to a sermon explaining how to make one's first Confession, preparatory to their doing so that day. Terrence's interest was sparked, and he decided to join them.

Terrence confessed his disobedience, in that he had sat listening to the sermon when he'd been sent out to pick pockets.

Thursday, 7 July 2005

Briefest of thoughts on the day that London was 'blasted'

To my knowledge, all of my friends are safe, and for that I am very grateful. When I am upset, I tend to (to quote my spiritual father) worship at the altar of fear, rather than that of the true God - and so it has been today. I therefore encourage my readers to visit Father Gregory's blog, where one may find a reflection that has wisdom spiritual and earthly! :)

There is little that I can say, because I shall never understand attacks of this type. Why, since Cain and Abel, has a desire for power or control tended to equate to violence?

God grant us peace. As shaken as I am by what happened today, I tremble the more to think of what certain world leaders (I'm thinking of one who used a terrorist attack a few years back as an occasion to threaten eleven nations, none of whom were even involved, with atomic bombs*) might use this as an excuse for unleashing.

Auschwitz and Hiroshima (just as two examples) indeed cured the world of the mindset of Victorian optimism (and God keep us from ever falling into that again, because we can only meet God and neighbour in the real world, however fallen.) It is a shame that it did not cure mankind of the desire to crush and kill and destroy.

*My mentioning that the nations were not involved in the attack is not to be taken to mean that I think atomic warfare is moral in any case!!