Saturday, 31 March 2007

Wanting to stir up the magic

No, my friends, the vision of me at a cauldron is highly inaccurate! :) Yet, romantic that I am, and now fired with enthusiasm about Holy Week and Easter, I'm longing to have powerful emotions, perhaps be swept away with an intensity such as Teresa of Avila would have placed at the seventh mansion. I must comfort myself remembering that Teresa, whose life was filled with 'consolations' where mine is pure orthopraxy, actually thought the special experiences were a bother. Not to mention that, given my temperament, were I to be swept away I'd probably end up on Alpha Centauri and unable to return.

I just checked my inbox - as always for one who has her own domain, it's cluttered with junk that gets past the spam filters. It seems that many 'singles in my area want to meet me' (why? for an exhortation to repentance?). As for the notices that I've won lotteries and the like, were they all true I'd be able to buy Harrod's and establish branches in ten major cities, where the most extravagant purchase I ever made in Harrod's was to go to the loo. (Quite an elegant one, I must mention, though it is less expensive to visit the one of even finer design that is in the Knights Templar pub.)

I'm restless this evening, hoping the Hosannas ahead tomorrow get me out of my rut. Right now, Tudor music is playing, my best incense burning, and I am savouring a glass of red wine. I still feel banal... (I doubt that one can 'feel' banal, but I can manage it if anyone can.)

Now and then, I receive e-mail from sincere but confused souls who, having seen my site, are surprised that mysticism can be Christian. (Get me another gin... but I've seen the works of Julian of Norwich classed as "New Age" on a book site, so I should not be surprised.) Many of them are looking for magic in other ways. Yet the 'real magic' is not power, or secret knowledge, or (yes, even I shall admit this...) falling in love with God (or whatever one considers his equivalent, and it is hoped that is not oneself.)

Magic is transformation - through worship, self knowledge and concurrent self forgetfulness, love of God and neighbour. It is not obtaining power, but seeing both the powerlessness of a crucified man and how limited we are in our perception, how incapable of grasping the divine image. This is quite wonderful, though it frightens us. Once we see that the divine is beyond any image we can grasp, we can further see a 'journey' (bear with me - religious of my generation were always on journeys, which is why, after three decades, they still cannot find themselves) that is love, burning white hot, but always just a glimmer. In this life and the next, there will always be growth, never reaching the total knowledge of God. It's a quest to match anything the Holy Grail crowd can imagine.

No - it is not the wine! :) I'm just reminding myself that romantic feelings, minor ecstasies (which, taken any further, would leave me acting like a half wit), and all that for which the romantics such as myself pine are not the 'truth' at all.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Lentils again

Somehow, one of the most appealing ideas (of the pragmatic rather than ethereal variety) which comes to mind as Lent draws to a close is that I shall not have to think of more ways to make lentils appealing for another year. I'm a master of Lenten menus, of course. (Though the Orthodox are on their own, since I am nothing approaching vegan.) I long ago learnt that just about any vegetable I love can be made into a gourmet treat with a little olive oil, garlic, and a good dash of goat cheese. (This goes for eggs as well.) Tonight's lentil dish was mixed with curry spices and indeed quite palatable.

My second thought today (with my mind not in gear lately, a second is a bonus) was that 'blogging' has a lot in common with preparing Lenten dishes. I was looking through my previous posts, and noticed that many of the ideas which come regularly to mind already have been treated. I'd love to be original - but, after only two years, any passage I begin to outline sounds as if I'm quoting myself.

So here is a small diversion. I shall confess that one of my guilty pleasures (and this on a par with my love for Cronin novels and theories about the Ripper) is 'sword and sandal' epics, especially near Holy Week. I know full well that many of them have literary and historical deficiencies at which one with a background in literature should shrug. The theological defects are worse yet. As one glaring example, the 1960s version of "King of Kings" makes it appear that Jesus had at best a vague notion of what he was up to, but his mother was far more penetrating. (Witness the prophetic, "The chair will never be mended!") Jesus seems disassociated from the miracles, rather like a spectre who passes in the night leaving puzzled blind men with sight. The Sermon on the Mount, amazing for an era before sound systems, seems attended by not only all of Palestine but a reunited diaspora. Still, to this day I get a shiver when Lucius, disgustedly setting Barabbas free, scoffs, "Go! Look upon Him who is dying for you!"

Yes, I own all of the videos - King of Kings, Barabbas, Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis. My very favourite is Franco Zeffirelli's brilliant, and superbly acted, "Jesus of Nazareth." My reasons are many, but one major reason I favour this portrayal is that Jesus and his entire flock are real. Volatile Peter, confused Judas, the Thomas who must see, even the comic relief in the 'bad thief' who insists (with pardonably poor grammar...) "It was him who did the murder, not me!" - they are believable and natural, not characters who, lest irreverence be suspected, have the appearance of illustrations on a 19th century Sunday school calendar.

Palm Sunday brings its challenges. I must remember to keep the palm far from the grasp of my cat, because Mirielle, whose tendency to chew things (newspaper, magazines, the covers of paperback books, plastic) is amazing, has a particular love for teething on palm. And I must be careful to be so wrapped in the glory of the liturgy that I dwell on neither that those who shouted "Hosanna!" probably were the same "go with the crowd" types who shouted "Crucify him!" later in the week, nor that most of my family members whom I would have visited on Palm Sunday (it's a huge feast for Italians) are dead.

The more I become immersed in my studies of the Hebrew scriptures (by which I mean not only Torah, but all of the prophetic and Wisdom books), the more I realise that there was no concept of a Messiah who would be crucified, nor, as far as I can see, one who would be divine. There is no atonement theology, nor any concept of the fall as Christians know this. Until after the resurrection, though indeed there were those privileged to see that Jesus was a great prophet and one possessed of much holiness, his unique identity could not be grasped even by his closest associates.

I'm sure that, on that first Palm Sunday, the apostles were more than happy to be seen as the closest friends of the Son of David. Four days later, Peter was denying he even knew Jesus, and the others had fled. (Understandably! I would be terrified under such circumstances, and, had Peter not been an impulsive sort, I doubt he'd have been hanging out in the court of the High Priest in the first place.) So, disjointed as my mind is at the moment, I shall leave my readers with this little thought. We never know when divine power is at work, or what is in store.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Amazing growth of the early Church

Recently, I read a post on a theology forum where someone was puzzled that, when Peter gave the Pentecost sermon described in Acts, there were only a few hundred people present. He (the contributor, presumably not Peter) questioned, on this basis, why the growth of the infant church was 'so slow.'

I'll admit that, engrossed though I have become in scripture studies, there are times when it's slightly disappointing to realise that some of the New Testament includes insights from Christian prophets and from the awareness of the early Church herself. It would be stunning to think that Peter (whose behaviour on the night of his ordination was not precisely exemplary... and, yes, I know the Last Supper was neither the Eucharist nor an ordination, but allow me some nostalgia), just fifty days after the crucifixion, with Caiaphas still high priest and Pontius Pilate still governing, would have been so filled with the Holy Spirit that he gave a sermon for all times. Romantic though I am, nonetheless, I know it is very likely that Acts is capturing what would take place in the very early church - this is not necessarily a literal account of a sermon.

Still, the post I mentioned in the first paragraph was rather puzzling to me. I am amazed at how quickly the early Church grew. It is astonishing that, by the time Paul wrote his epistles, just a few decades after Jesus' resurrection, there were Christian communities in Rome, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and so forth. No glory had come to Christian believers - there had been no toppling of Roman rule - hardships were no less (and, for many, had increased as a result of their Christian commitment.) Even today, it is easy to wonder if the world is any better than it ever was - and Christians await the parousia yet know they have no more idea of what it entails than... well, first century Palestinian Jews would have expected a Messiah who was cursed by hanging on the tree.

Indulge me once again, because, though this may seem silly, it is a thought that always strikes me when I hear the gospels about Jesus' temptations - which mostly are to power. Jesus' being the divine Person did not mean that he did not accept full humanity, with all the limitations that entails. I can picture Satan, in saying he'd give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he'd fall down and worship him. "Who do you expect to embrace that Trinitarian theology - certainly not the Greeks?! Look on the glories of Egypt - you certainly cannot imagine your message will get a foothold in northern Africa. Above all, it would be total folly to think your message would ever have any effect in Rome."

I know my history - know my theology - have had the privilege of reading the works of the greatest theologians of the patristic era and of studying the New Testament in depth. I shall never write this on an exam paper, of course, but only divine power, only the Holy Spirit within the Church, could explain why the message of an itinerant preacher - a prophet, like many others, in life - a man who worked wonders, but who was not alone in doing so - could have a massive effect on most of the civilised world within a few centuries.

Recently, in my Old Testament studies, I've gone into great depth about Deutero-Isaiah, as I mentioned in a previous post. There is no consensus on who is "The Suffering Servant," and indeed it appears that there is more than one 'servant' in the passages. Christianity can claim Christ for the servant with a strong basis - he was the representative of Israel, the fulfilment of promise, a great prophet. (The passages in Isaiah do not refer to an Incarnate Logos, which was not a concept at that time, nor to a Messiah who was divine.)

Why am I rambling so? Well, I was partly teasing before, when I said it was hard to read, for example, Peter's Pentecost sermon and allow for that it might not be literally true, for all the truth it embodies. What is in the scriptures is truth - but not history as we would call that today in many cases. This is no threat at all. Jesus hardly appeared on the day of the resurrection and said, "Happy Easter - I am the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity," then devoted the next fifty days to giving the fishermen et al a crash course in systematic and sacramental theology. Divine revelation allows for our human capacity. Christ speaks through His Church, and, if for example the Trinity was not formally defined for several centuries, that does not mean it was untrue.

We (the Church) grasp many truths at prayer before definition is possible. The awareness of Jesus' divinity, of the Trinity, and other points of doctrine which would have been unthinkable during Jesus' lifetime (grasped by others only in light of the resurrection), was beginning in worship long before it was discussed at an oecumenical council.

Deutero-Isaiah, and the Hebrew scriptures which were revised substantially following the same Babylonian captivity in which Isaiah found himself, hardly contained any smugness or certainty. Yahweh was the only God to be worshipped - but it still was unclear that the Hebrews thought there were no other gods. In fact, many of them feared offending Marduk in Isaiah's time! Isaiah's faith was one of awareness of divine glory and power. All of the Old Testament, for all of its confusion, shows that human beings could not know God fully (whether he walked in a garden with Abraham or appeared in a burning bush), but that our calling was to be icons of the transcendent God. We were to worship, and to act, in a way to make this reflection of his glory present.

Deutero-Isaiah (as elsewhere, but here particularly emphatically) stresses Israel as the servant, the nation bound by sacred covenant, the messianic agent - what I term the Icon. Jerusalem was to be the light to all of the world. This may have no connection, but since the blog, unlike my essays, is just a recording of reflections, I see an interesting paradox. Jerusalem has at no time been an empire or major world power, on a par with Persia, Alexandria, Greece, Babylon, or Rome. Lord knows that the history of the Jews was (and still is) a tragic but inspiring tale of fidelity despite constant trouble and oppression. Yet the three great monotheistic faiths all see Jerusalem as the holy city.

Jesus, though himself divine, had this "icon" calling in his Incarnation (naturally to a degree that we cannot match.) Perfect creative power submitted to being powerless amidst human misunderstanding and intrigue. Perfect love saw betrayal, violence, scapegoating, mockery, abandonment by those whom one loved best. The King of Kings was mocked in a crown of thorns - the Second Person of the Trinity condemned for blasphemy.

I have no 'answer' here - but, for those looking for a Passiontide meditation, it might be interesting to ponder what Jesus taught us not only of our own calling but of the nature of God.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Mind, heart, and soul, anyone?

Here I have not had so much as a cold since New Year's Eve 1997, and I have had two sinus infections since December. I'm not suggesting, of course, that this is of general interest, but, with its being unexpectedly debilitating, I'm not quite up to the Passiontide posts I'd love to be creating. (Let alone the essays I'm planning for my Internet site.)

So - this is a mere 'rant' - flavoured with puzzlement. I enjoy good company, and love very few things more than a decent conversation. I'm not the sort for clubs, and I'm weary of such things as volunteer service, of which I've already done enough for five lifetimes. I gave myself permission to have some fun, finally, a few years back, and am sorry that it's very difficult to find anyone with which to share this. My generation have become frumps, and, worse yet, totally health obsessed. People have feared death since the expulsion from Eden, but, until recently, I believe they were resigned enough to its inevitability not to constantly be dwelling on sickness and death unless these were a present, personal reality. Those of my age group, who have reached the age that would have been considered 'old' a century ago, cannot admit to a fear of decline and death, but rather seem to think that the right 'fitness programme' will mean being still in middle age at 90 and never dying at all.

A few years ago, I saw an Internet site which was about meeting new friends. (It was not a romantic site.) My interests are many and varied, and I had hoped that I could find a few new companions with which to talk, hear a concert, share a gin, watch an art exhibit, and so forth. I posted a summary of my interests at the site... and the few responses I received made me resigned to being a hermit.

Recall, now, that they came to me! Responses were along the lines of "had I changed my entire lifestyle" since I posted. (Note that my description did not describe a degenerate - merely one who has the sort of interests listed in my profile here.) Others wrote "I am concerned that you did not mention a health and fitness programme." (John Cassian's version is good enough for me. Not to mention that, if I take after my dad's family, at age 80-93 my heart will stop, and that, if I take after my mother's, I'll eventually be 104 wishing it would stop.) A few "helpful" souls thought that, for example, my mentioning an interest in the arts was a plea for someone to get me to abandon such pursuits to spend more time out running.

Of course, judging from the few Yahoo groups of which I've been unfortunate enough to be a temporary member, lots of Internet junkies are in "self help" mode. They seem to thrive on being self absorbed, having all sorts of meddling to justify as "concern," and to enjoy playing at being mentally ill. In case this was not obvious, the groups on to which I would sign were on topics of interest to me, but the nut cases always find their way.

I'm not disparaging people's having an interest in sport, fitness and the like. One of my blog members is a marathon runner. What I'm criticising is two-fold: first, an obsession with "fitness" which blots out all other interests and, second, a degree of self absorption which makes one assume the new, improved 'you' is so wonderful that everyone on the planet is looking for your advice. (With this infection, I just don't have the strength to write a scorching denunciation of capitalist gimmicks - false needs which are presented to turn some vendor into a guru on which one's life depends - but I'll get to this at another time.)

Earlier in this post, I mentioned John Cassian, a great master of ascetic theology. His wise emphasis was on disciplining thoughts, to remove distractions to intimacy with God and love of neighbour. It is quite difficult, but a great gift, to embrace the asceticism of this type, because it means letting go of the false self. Yes, this is a process for a lifetime, and I'm not suggesting I'm far along. But love is ultimately about self forgetfulness, not self absorption.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Brief reflection for the feast of Saint Joseph

He is Holy Joseph,
because no other saint but he
lived in such and so long
intimacy and familiarity
with the source of all holiness,
Jesus, God incarnate, and Mary,
the holiest of creatures.
- John Henry Cardinal Newman

I'm a bit unwell today - unable to write the meditation I'd love to present. In Italy, of course, this is a great feast day, marked by celebration. After all, how many fathers had to put up with the likes of what Joseph faced? I remember well how distressed my mother used to be at the incident of the 'finding in the temple,' where the child was so busy confounding the scholars of the temple that he was oblivious to his parents' great worry.

So - for the moment - I'm leaving you this tiny reflection from Cardinal Newman. Blessings to all for this great feast.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Pain that cannot be shared

Be forewarned that this is not likely to be a witty, or perhaps even insightful, post. Yet I am sharing this for two reasons. First, it might lead some one of my readers to not be ready with 'all the answers,' and to realise that smug (if well intentioned) responses do not facilitate communication - they only chop it off. As well, the particular example that I am going to cite is one poorly understood, and perhaps this post can cause someone to think twice.

It is 26 years this week since I was forced out of convent life, against my will. I shall never forget receiving that horrible letter: "Easter is coming. New dawn, new resurrection. You will be going home, and can rejoice in knowing God's will for you." Charming, is it not? It was several years before I could meditate on the resurrection (previously, and later, a favourite topic) without chills and tears. Granted, there is no kind way to tell someone "we don't want you," but to imply that one expects the other to be 'rejoicing' in such knowledge is about as crass as it gets.

I am a very private person, and am not about to share all of the heartbreak which followed. Yet it was an especially intense, dreadful pain because it could not be shared with others. Friends and family were delighted that I was 'out,' and thought I had come to my senses. (One Roman priest, who saw me shortly afterward at a funeral for a mutual friend, had the gall to say to me, "Oh, you left - oh, good! Keep the veil off, honey, you'll have a lot more fun." I shall reserve comment on what that might indicate about his attitude towards his own vocation.) I had hoped that religious Sisters would be compassionate (one or two were), but the usual attitude from that camp was either that I should be relieved that God had not willed my religious life, or that 'all these new lay ministries' (of which I knew plenty - I'd filled many of them) were replacing religious life, or that some 'new theology of marriage' meant that celibacy was passé and that "God might want you to be a married woman."

By far the most painful, and common, response was along the lines of "with how they need people today, what did you do that they would dismiss you?" (My own father insisted "there must be something you're not telling us.") I suppose I was lucky - today, those dismissed from religious life are probably assumed to be criminals. Yet I have known many in the situation who are of impeccable moral character, devotion and so forth. People can be dismissed from religious life for any reason and no reason. It is based on a superior's (not God's!) assessment of whether one 'fits in' to the life, agenda, whatever.

Why do people love to hear details of others' pain? Here, I am not referring to compassionate listening, but to a love for 'the dirt.' Ask anyone who has been a victim of a crime, or suffered through a painful divorce, or who was sacked from a job. Those who hear of a death want to know all the details (they'll ask the widow at the funeral), and half of them also will decide what the deceased did 'wrong' to be such a failure, as if death could be avoided. On the other hand, the fools who want to have all the answers (either shrugging it off with 'everyone has problems,' or 'God's will,' or 'you're just feeling sorry for yourself - or the mega-fools who think everything can be cured by therapy, doctors, nutritionists, self help groups, or exercise) just make one want to hide, rather like a hedgehog.

It is a denial of another person's pain! Smug, silly ego games - because we fear having situations we cannot handle, and it helps to think this cannot happen because we know what everyone else should be doing. The uncertainty of life is frightening to everyone. All of us know that any misfortune can be round the corner. In our fear of this, we want to believe that we have all the answers. Anyone who had misfortunes did something 'wrong' - and we would know better, or would never let it happen to ourselves.

The rarest of gifts, I believe, is to truly listen and to have compassion. God grant us this.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Brief thoughts about Rafaellina and Padre Pio

It is astonishing how popular devotion to Padre Pio has become, considering that he died less than 40 years ago. Unfortunately, much of what is written of him centres on the weird - inevitable, I suppose, for those who have stigmata and were alleged to bilocate. In all fairness to Pio, I have no idea if he actually made the 'predictions' which his devotees quoted during his lifetime (and which were about as accurate as those on a psychic hotline). The other side of Pio should be better known - the mystic, the pastoral father, the earthy Capuchin who wrote candidly of normal spiritual struggles, not only diabolical appearances and bearing the wounds of Christ in his hands.

Now and then, I will receive a gift of a well-worn devotional book, and I happened to come into a copy of letters between Pio and Rafaellina, the latter a lady for whom he was spiritual director. His letters to her are lengthy, insightful, loving, and wise. Since I'd always heard that Padre Pio was (if you'll forgive the terminology) a holy terror as a confessor, I'd expected his letters to be strong, and was surprised that quite the contrary was true. (I'm wondering if his reputation for roughness stemmed from that many people visited him as if he were an attraction - rather like the Roman house where lots of visitors from Purgatory left hand marks in the walls - and were not truly 'confessing' but wanting to say they once made confession to Pio.) My surprise doubled when I read Rafaellina's missives. She was unquestionably devout, probably contemplative, and possibly saintly, but she wrote a 'wicked letter.' The correspondence contained many an example of what might be termed 'correction' - but it always was directed to Fra Pio.

Rafaellina, dramatic as is usual amonst those who have southern Italian blood coursing through their veins (myself included), did attempt to write humbly; but, with the possible exception of Francesco, the naturally humble Mediterranean is as likely to be encountered as a pterodactyl on one's front porch. Our friend would, in one paragraph, bewail her wrethedness: "Ah, Fra Pio, I ask your counsel, though a worm like myself realy does not deserve this..." In the next, one may read, "Now, Father, I really don't think you are answering my questions, and I have already asked you twice, to I would appreciate a response at this time. Your last letter was much too short..."

All of us who sincerely desire spiritual guidance can be disappointed when that which we receive does not seem 'special' or original enough. Fra Pio, who assuredly had a double dose of the proverbial patience of a saint, once wrote a beautiful letter (six pages, typeset) in which he spoke of divine love, detachment, and resignation to the divine will. (The letters date from the early decades of the 20th century - when Pio was often barred from public exercise of his apostolate.) Rafaellina responded to the effect that he was not answering her questions.

Sad but true: even if we taught 60 first communion classes that the way to holiness was prayer, common worship, fasting, almsgiving, and the like, we personally would prefer a more novel approach. Whether we receive direction from a living confessor or a canonised author, we refuse to accept that the way to intimacy with God, constant for centuries, must be the same for us as for countless other 'saints.'

Rafaellina, probably irritated that Padre Pio's long and eloquent letters of direction contained concepts that are as old as the Church, must have thought he was throwing her a bone. I wonder if the stigmata was the most painful and inconvenient cross our Servant of God had to bear. (Of course, there is one bright spot. At least Rafaellina did not add the tired line that Fra Pio was talking down to her because she was a woman.) Though the relation between the two topics is strained, I'm recalling how the only confessor who Margery Kempe found acceptable was a man who spoke only German... and heard her daily, general confessions (naturally, in English.)

I think my own director, a man of few words but insightful ones, will not mind my quoting a line which, in full, was a response to one of my own flights into Rafaellinadom. "Try to repose in God's care and shut up your internal monologue so He can participate in the dialogue which is the point of your vocation anyhow."

Friday, 9 March 2007

Some sins we all find quite capital

(The link in this title refers to a previous blog entry about how pride takes weird forms.)

It must be the winter blahs - I'm wondering seriously if it may be Eastertide before my brain thaws out and I can get back to this blog. Just yesterday, when I was engrossed in a study of Deutero-Isaiah, I had all sorts of marvellous ideas about divine transcendence and immanence, and of our being his icons, if you will. One of the most challenging parts of studying the Hebrew Scriptures is detaching oneself from the Christian interpretations... but entering into a spirit of exegesis in the spirit of the time is difficult, considering that the Old Testament is just so ancient and edited. So, my treatise on the Suffering Servant (who could be Israel, an ideal Israel, God Himself, the prophet... fortunately, in my programme of studies we are allowed no shortcuts, and must consult all the scholars), shall have to wait for a time.

To divert myself, and to remind my readers (are there any left?) that I am still among the living, I'm lapsing into one of my sillier modes. I read recently of a distinguished church which was presenting a series of talks on the seven capital sins (I'm a medievalist, so it sparked ideas of journeys through purgatory and the like... I'd hate to end up in what Dante pictured as the location of the lustful). This brought back a memory of when I was a financial manager for a major archdiocese. When a priest who was on the archbishop's staff (a delightful man, but sometimes a jokester) phoned me to ask if any one of my own staff were free to serve as chauffeur during a visit from Cardinal Sin, I commented that I'd see if Lust or Avarice were free, but doubted that (two elderly couriers) Anger and Pride were available.

Naturally, had the reference been to the 4th, 14th, or even 19th centuries, I might have had a clue that Cardinal Sin was primate of the Philippines. But I'm useless in the 20th and 21st centuries. Current events stymie me - because I think we need perspective, hindsight of a century at the least, to see anything clearly.

Well, enough of that diversion. I shall begin my series on the 'principle defects' with a sin which most of us find to be quite capital: pride. I received a noble inspiration, from a most unlikely source, which prompted this reflection. In view of my own great humility, writing on this topic is not easy, but I shall make my best effort.

The source of the inspiration was a dinner at a fine restaurant, to which a friend was kind enough to treat me. Friend, who had been unable to finish the ample and expensive main course she had ordered, took the course of action I would take were I ever to find myself in that situation (which is unlikely, since those who live on scrambled eggs and minute steaks with the consistency of shoe leather never leave a restaurant plate full), by asking that it be wrapped for her to take home. However, to my great annoyance, the request was ended with the despicable phrase "...for my dog."

Naturally, my irritation was piqued not only by the thought of what it would be like to have a dog who enjoyed Shrimp Creole (imagine walking it!), nor by the action of lying. It was an illustration of the vice of pride, albeit a minor one: one like said friend can order a gourmet dish in a restaurant, yet feel compelled to insure that the waiter believes that one finds it fit only for an animal once it makes its initial appearance at table. (Where I come from, one can recycle the rare joint of good beef for a week.) You can imagine what I think of the odious characters who really do give fine food to a dog, but that is a topic for another lecture.)

While those who live holy poverty ( to call it something other than raw poverty) do not have problems related to prawns, and assuredly never give fancy food to four legged friends, even Religious have been known to have problems with pride. If you doubt it, watch the weak ones around you now and then. Herewith I present some of the major varieties of this malady:

(1) "I am not canonised only because I am still breathing" Syndrome: Seen in those who, after reading of the seventh mansion of Saint Teresa or gulping "Spiritual Canticle" on a day or recollection, comment that they remember when they went through "that," years before. (Those making this statement, incidentally, are often 19 at most.)

(2) "Worm and No Man" Syndrome: This form of internal pride makes one's faults attractive because one feels one is practising heroic humility in admitting them. (Even to God, who would not know about them unless we told Him.) Major symptons include the tendency to silently begin one's confession with "Bless me, Father, for I am a saint with a delicate conscience...," the desire to publicly accuse oneself of minor 'failings' (such as not reading the seven penitential psalms last night, not that anyone ever really had to be penitent) whilst acting as if one fears eternal condemnation for this omission; the sense that making one's confession is evangelisation rather than accusation, since one's confessor must be edified greatly to encounter anyone with such enormous humility and zeal.

(3) "Hotline to Heaven": Found in all who tell others that the grass is green and believe that, in doing so, they will attain a reputation for having an unlimited measure of infused grace. Varieites include those who quote prominent theologians sans source (as if these ideas just popped into one's head); those who decry any learning or intellectual pursuit (they get their daily jolt of the Holy Spirit in the 10:00 vision); those who learn what others should do with their lives in visions; and charismatics who pray, endlessly, in every language except one known to earthlings. All should beware especially of dreamy pronouncements begun with "God is here - right in this room!" (Whether what follows is divinely inspired may be open to question - but is there any doubt that He is there? )

(4) Feast and Fast Dilemma: Found in those who do not need to eat, and make sure everyone knows their degree of self inflicted deprivation, because they are over fed by the admiration they assume others have for their starvation.

(5) Swoon School of Mysticism: Similar to disease number 2, except that it requires one to preface one's profound statements with gulps, sighs, a facial expression cum hand pressed to forehead reminiscent of an advertisement for paracetemol, and the description of what colour auras one sees at the moment.

(6) All Things to All People: A popular dance number, dependent entirely on the company of the moment - slide to the left, dip to the right, take a bow.

(7) Mount Everest: "Well (sigh)... if that's what is important to you... I've no objection.... we cannot (sigh) expect everyone to reach our level.."

(8) Self-Righteous Indignation: Self-explanatory, an example being found in nuns who pretend shock if a student uses mild profanity, or a Sister uses a handkerchief without holes in it, or any Religious laughs out loud. Characteristic is the intense feeling that anyone who watches anything on television except the news, or listens to anything on radio except a weather report, is a Communist and/or Freemason. Those who love art, as I do, will come under fire - we're supposed to pretend that anything on a wall except a poorly constructed crucifix distracts us from prayer.

(9) Regular Guy: One who thinks that, since one never acts like a Religious, everyone will envy one's relationship with Christ, which is 'beyond' that of others.

(10) Shirley Temple Revisited: This causes one to desire that one be known for extreme cheerfulness and pluck, but only if it is understood how much one suffers and always has.

(11) We Are Not Amused (apologies to Queen Victoria) : Manifested in those who lower their eyes and slightly smile when some peasant speaks; or who make comments such as "Oh, I am so horribly embarrassed! The superior just told me she has never known a nurse more dedicated than I!"

(13) Hey, Look Me Over: In the early stages, this is evidence in the pressing thought, en route to receiving Holy Communion, that everyone in the church is watching one's obvious piety. Later, it advances to one's making profound genuflections and kissing the floor, or reciting the rosary with arms extended... but only in the parish church, and only if it is full.

The treatment, I suppose, is to remember that humility is truth. But that is quite hard, because we cannot bear being that real. It's so humiliating!