At our parish Women’s Group tonight, we read Chapter 3 of the First Letter of St John.

One of the Bible translations used the word conscience while others used the word heart….and so we talked about our conscience and thus being right before God.

In the back of my mind, a quote kept nagging at me. From Cardinal Pell, on Blessed Cardinal Newman, on conscience.

I could remember the gist of the message but not the actual words of the quote.

So, I didn’t share but instead came home to find that quote. To quiet my nagging mind!

Anyone in a real life situation that requires moral strength, honesty, and accuracy would surely be repelled by the advice that “morality has nothing to say about the details of your choice; it’s all up to you.” This is purely abandonment of people when they most need and expect guidance. …” (Cardinal Pell, Newman and the Drama of True and False Conscience).

Very true. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that our consciences need to be formed. It lists the many ways in which a conscience may be formed and includes the “wise words of others” in the list.

So we do not abandon others to despair, to making poor or ill-informed choices, to repeating mistakes…we share our love ..and the Truth. Perhaps by words. Perhaps by actions. Perhaps simply by the way we live.

We are made free to choose what is right; this is not freedom without constraint but a freedom guided by our conscience.

Thus, a formed conscience is formed in virtues (so we have strength to follow our conscience, to do what is right even if it is hard) and is also formed via learning i.e. learning what is good. “When he listens to his conscience, the prudent man can hear God speaking.” (CCC 1777)

Our judgment involves our intellect; it is not a feeling and is not based on intuition.

It is based on reason; we say that it is both formed and informed.

Conscience relies on judgment.

When faced with a choice or an action, it is our judgment that tells us the morality of such a choice or action. We, formally or informally, go through stages of judgment as we use our conscience to make a moral decision. We consider the ideals of morality (to do good and not evil); we apply these to our given situation; we make a judgment about the actions or possible actions and finally we choose an action, in accordance with our judgment i.e. in accordance with our conscience.

Conscience has an important role to play in our life.

It guides us, it helps us choose actions that may be morally right or wrong; it helps us reflect on our actions and to feel a sense of guilt when we perceive that an action has been morally incorrect.

“Conscience is a law of mind…Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. “ Blessed Cardinal Newman

Conscience helps us in our witness and example to others. We show others how to act, what we believe, what is right and what is wrong by our actions borne of our conscience.

“…They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them “ Romans 2:15

Conscience acts as our guide and helps us to act with charity, as an example for others, teaching others, by word and deed, of moral law.

And it is conscience that prevents me from rationalising my sins away; prevents me from putting the blame on the other and stops me from seeing myself as blameless; it is conscience that stops me from falling into self centred sadness ( it’s not all about you, dear).

Conscience is my little, inner nagging voice.

My heart.



I heard a homily yesterday.

A good homily.

One thing Fr. mentioned was obedience. The rich man, in the Gospel reading, failed to get to heaven not because of the fact that he was rich but because he set his eyes, his mind, his heart. on earthly treasures alone.

The poor man got to heaven not because he was poor but because he was humble, he was obedient to the call of God.


By the other virtues, we offer God what we possess; but by obedience, we offer ourselves to Him. They who obey are conquerors, because by submitting themselves to obedience they triumph over the Angels, who fell through disobedience….Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Obedience can be a touchy word in homeschooling, unschooling circles.

Do we, should we, make our children obey? How much choice, how much reliance on free will, do we give our children?

And does obedience have to conjure up images of a strict parent, standing over a child, breaking a will?

In fact, as Fr pointed out yesterday, we all have free will. We all make chocies. Some for good. Some for bad. For better or for worse.

In one sense, you could almost say that obedience is trust.

Trust in another’s person’s rightful authority, in their decisions, in their love.

I don’t really make my teens obey. I never really overly enforced obedience over little things when they were little themselves .

I trusted in their love, their wish to please, I tried to lead them to the right things. I gave them choices over many things. So, ultimately, when obedience was necessary, obedience wasn’ t unduly hard. Obedience became trust in my track record as a parent. Trust in my husband’s track record as a parent.

The kids would more willingly obey because of our past history of familial trust.

Reading about the saints, I see that sometimes a saint has been asked to to do a thing, to forgo a thing, under obedience their spiritual director ( St Elizabeth of Hungary) …to their Superior (St Bernadette of Soubirous)…to their religious order.

What enabled these saints, what enables religious, what enables married couples, to accept obedience is I think, in part, that trust. Trust that the Holy Spirit is at work, was at work, through their vows. A vow of obedience, of poverty, of chastity. A vow of marriage.

Religious, I guess, I surmise, ( I mean, how would I know) , trust that through their dedication to their religious vows, God will work, even if (perhaps) a decision from those in authority seems unfair or illogical.

Married couples trust in the sacrament of marriage, in its graces, in the seriousness of the marital vows, especially during a rocky or stormy period. They trust that though things might seem a little rough or might make no visible sense, their vows are a sign of God’s fidelity to them, a symbol of the rightness of their commitment. A reason to trust…to trust in the sacrament of marriage and its graces, to trust that God will see them through, in good times and in not so good times. They choose to remain obedient to their vows and trust that the Holy Spirit is at work through their obedience.

Obedience and trust.

Whoever wishes to live happily and to attain perfection, must live conformably to reason, to rule, and to obedience, and not to his natural likes and dislikes; such an one must esteem all rules, must honour them all, must cherish them all, at least in the superior part of the will; for if one rule be despised now, another will be so tomorrow, and on the third day it will be no better. When once the bonds of duty are broken, everything will be out of order, and exhibit a scene of confusion….Saint Francis de Sales
religion, Unschooling

The Examen…and Unschooling

I love journeys. Going on holiday. On adventures…like a child in an Enid Blyton novel…or in Swallows and Amazons series…or from The Ballet Shoes or other Noel Streatfield books.

I love tales of journeys. People’s travels, their explorations, their thoughts, their transformations.

Their metanoia.

I am currently reading a journey book.

I am reading, amongst many other books, My Life With the Saints.

The author, a Jesuit, writes of his journey…from a lukewarm Catholic childhood, as a child with an unexplained penchant for St Jude , to the corporate world and eventually to the priesthood.

And he writes of his companions, his mentors along the way. St Joan of Arc. St Therese of Lisieux. St Jude.

And, of course, St Ignatius of Loyola.

Until the age of twenty-six he was a man given over to the vanities of the world…from The Autobiography of St Ignatius Loyola.

Any understanding of the spirituality of St Ignatius begins with his work, The Spiritual Exercises.

Human beings are created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save their souls.

St Ignatius described a form of prayer, called the examen. An examination of conscience, yes, and also a way of noticing where God is active in your life.


It contains in it five Points.

First Point. The first Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.

Second Point. The second, to ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.

Third Point. The third, to ask account of our soul from the hour that we rose up to the present Examen, hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts, in the same order as was mentioned in the Particular Examen.

Fourth Point. The fourth, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.

Fifth Point. The fifth, to purpose amendment with His grace.

Our Father.

Or, as My Life With the Saints describes…There are five steps in the examen…first, you ask God to be with you. Then you recall the events of the day for which you feel grateful (you ask for the grace to know your sins)…. The third step is a review of the day. Here, you try to notice God’s presence in the day, seeking an awareness of where you accepted , or did not accept, God’s grace….This leads naturally to the fourth step:asking forgiveness for any sins. The fifth step is asking for the grace to follow God more closely during the following day…

St Ignatius wrote of purifying oneself.

Reflecting on my day, and on my life, I see how many people, and yes, how many saints, have been my companions, my mentors, along the way.

To Catholicism. To motherhood. To marriage. To homeschooling. To unschooling.

Though not especially in that order.

And I thought…how could one make this examen, first, as a spiritual exercise, as a way of purifying oneself..and then, as an unschooling exercise…finding God in all things, to paraphrase St Ignatius, albeit succintly and imperfectly.

St Ignatius recommended that the examen be prayed, be undertaken, twice daily.

Ah, the dailiness, the effort of twice each day…I guess both a discipline and a grace in itself for someone like me, who struggles to make (almost) daily mass, to pray the morning and evening prayers of the Divine Office, to perhaps pray the psalms, to perhaps read my missal and to read the saint of the day with the kids, to workout, to complete tasks on my To Do List, to spend time with everybody, to work, to read for leisure, to hang out, to talk with my unschooling teens, to study, to write, to text, to Facebook, to blog, to get my nails done…. Let alone to cook dinner and do laundry and housework!

I do all these things yet I feel constantly strapped for time…

So, the examen could be both a means of developing self discipline and a source of grace. For me. Even if undertaken occasionally, not as frequently as St Ignatius described.

And the examen could also be applied to my life as an unschooling mother.

If a spiritual examen helps in purification of oneself, perhaps an unschooling examen can help in clarifying just what is achieved or produced each day in what can seem to be a scattered, cluttered unschooling life.

Again, a discipline (taking five minutes to log or to think..just what is it we did today?) and a grace (thank God, we are on the right path..or… dear God, help me to do better tomorrow).

And so, I have to admit that the Spiritual Exercises got me started on thinking about an unschooling examen. (Not very spiritual of me!).

But very unschool-ish ( learning is everywhere and everything counts!)

As I said above, by unschooling examen I mean thinking about a few things each evening – a few things for which I am grateful , in unschooling; a few things that I have seen that have been learned or experienced that day; a few things where I have seen God’s hand in our family, in our kids, in our unschooling, in my life; a few things for which we need prayer.

Here is my unschooling examen for today…I am grateful for…the time to be with my teens, to share lunch at McDonalds today and to laugh..when other teens are stressing about homework and exams and not often talking to their mums about life. Today my kids have learned…well, some Maths, some Latin…Thomas started on The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc….some philosophy as we have discussed Alexander’s college reading. Today I saw God’s grace…at mass, at the Tyburn convent, receiving the Eucharist, with prayer and peace and thanksgiving….at coffee with friends, their friendship and acceptance…in some of my sons as they empathized with a situation in which I find myself, once again. I am praying for... a very special intention!

The universal call to holiness is…an invitation to remember the sacramentality of everyday life and to realize the great goal God has set for us: sanctity….The call to sanctity is an invitation to friendship with God. It is a call that transformed the lives of the saints into gifts to the One who loved them into being….from My Life With the Saints.


Thinking about the cross and St Francis of Assisi

Tuesday was the solemnity of The Exaltation ( or Triumph) of the Holy Cross.

We adore thee, Oh Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy Holy Cross Thou has redeemed the world.

We made Hot Cross…Rockcakes to go with dinner ( no time for waiting for bread dough to rise for Hot Cross Buns; rockcakes seemed an easier solution!).

And I changed our dining table centrepiece, as I do on feast days and throughout the liturgical year.

I also had reason to ponder the cross; to ponder the fact that Christ became man; to ponder Christ’s humanity and what this me.

Things happen, things that bring me to contemplate Christ and the cross.

Praying at the mass for the Stigmata of St Francis and at the solemn profession of vows of one of the friars ( Order of Friars Minor Conventual) also brought me to think of St Francis and of St Bonaventure, and of their writings on Christ’s love and on His Cross.

In the solemn consecration of the professed, we heard…Among these you raised your servant Francis who professed evangelical holiness so that at the command of Christ crucified he might in himself and his brothers repair the Church, your dwelling, and renew it through holiness of life. Therefore, O Lord, look upon our brother whom in your providence you have called to follow the poor, humble Francis, the lover of the Cross. Pour into him the fullness of the sevenfold Spirit so that what he has promised today with joy and gladness through your giving, he may with the divine assistance observe faithfully to the end.

Then I read….And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14).

The Gospel of St John tells us, explicitly, that Jesus Christ , truly God, became flesh, took on a human form and became one of us, like to us in all things except sin. (Gaudium Et Spes ). We acknowledge Christ’s humanity, we understand from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that Christ was true God and true man

He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord, became a man and our brother. CCC 469

And we see in the Incarnation Christ’s love for us and also how we as men should then live …He emptied himself… Philippians 2:1-15.

We can know Christ’s humanity through Church teaching; we can come to know Christ by reflecting on His humanity, on the Incarnation and thus on His Love and example for us all.

Faith is in the intellect, in such a way that it provokes affection. For example: the knowledge that Christ died ‘for us’ does not remain knowledge but necessarily becomes affection, love. To paraphrase St Bonaventure

So, I reflect on Christ’s humanity; that He died for my sins and I am brought to my knees by this love.

I wonder… how to share this love with others. And if I can strive for spiritual perfection, to be an example of this love, to love others more fully.

In knowing and gradually understanding the humanity of Christ, one can grow in relationship with Christ. As St Bonaventure said ….wisdom seeks contemplation (as the highest form of knowledge), and has as its intention “ut boni fiamus” that we become good, especially this: to become good.

It is through the Incarnation that we, as humans, benefit. We can come to know and love Christ, to have that which St Francis of Assisi described, in his Admonitions, a Living Faith in and love for the humanity of Christ.

We can have a personal encounter with Christ, true God and true man, as St Francis did in the church at San Damiano. In fact, the San Damiano cross, an icon of the humanity and divinity of Christ at his crucifixion, can then be seen as an icon of personal encounter with the transfigured i.e. with Christ, God made man.

As we are drawn to the humanity of Christ, just as St Francis was drawn to the icon of Christ crucified, we see Christ as a model of what we should be, a model of our holiness. Jesus said Love one another as I have loved you (John 15:12).

We see how we, as human beings, should live…Christ is our model of humility, of expropriation (giving up for God…Philippians 2:1-15. Or, as St Francis of Assisi, wrote There is the great paradox of our journey; that by letting go we gain, by losing we find.). We can come to know and love Christ; we can follow Him in love, in self-emptying, in caring for others, in prayer, in carrying our cross, in holiness. He was truly man and we can emulate His perfect example as man.

Christ’s humanity means that we, as people, can become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Jesus, through his assumption of our human nature and through His Baptism in the Jordan, allows us to share in his divine nature (for the Son of God became man so that we might become God ….St Athanasius). We see that, too, that Jesus has ‘been there, done that” i.e. that Jesus, by becoming man and living among us, has experienced our human nature, its limitations and its weaknesses.

Ultimately, as I was reminded at reverent Holy Mass, last night and this morning, Christ’s humanity means that He, Jesus Christ, will always be with us, in a real way, in the Eucharist. Christ remains with us always, in His humanity and in His divinity, in the Eucharist. We are Eucharistic people because of Christ’s humanity, because He died for our sins, because of God’s love.

Thus, I hold before me this humanity, with love and adoration; I grow to know Him more, and try, strive, always failing, to follow Him and His example.

I read some of St Francis, I pray at Mass and I see, I know, I understand, I love, I truly know that , as St Francis wrote….Everyday, Jesus humbles himself just as He did when He came from His heavenly throne into the Virgin’s womb; everyday He comes to us and lets us see Him in abjection, when He descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the priest at the altar.

The challenge for me is to live this out. In my life. As a less than perfect wife and a wanna-be-good homeschooling mother and friend.


The Mass

The Mass is the most perfect form of prayer. – Pope Paul VI

This week, I have asked some friends from my parish to pray with me and my family at Masses in the Extraordinary Form.

We have gone to Mass and shared a meal after. And talked. About Holy Mass. About the Latin mass.

And about the interior of our churches, after a visit to an abbey and prayers at a chapel.

What is the place of mass in our lives? Is it really about us and the community?

Christ died for us on the cross. By His sacrifice , Christ “justified” us – by this I mean, He mde satisfaction to divine justice for our sins, the sins of mankind. He thus makes us “just” by reason of His own justice…He gives us a share in His life.

The mass is Christ’s own sacrifice perpetuated on our altars.

Not the bloodied death, of course, but the sacrament which makes present that which happened on the cross.

This seems basic to Catholic theology but is something that bears repeating. For, we have all been present at masses that have become vehicles for humans and for community…giving out certificates, clapping, celebrating a life at funerals…and so we can sometimes forget what it is that mass is about.

We, my family and parish friends and I, have discussed this, after quiet, reverent masses in the Extraordinary Form. Masses where we are left with no doubt as to the central act of mass. The worship of Our Lord, the re-presentation of His sacrifice , on the altar.

However, just as in the work of our salvation God does nothing for us without our co-operation
(we have free will), so, too, it is in mass that we need to make effort, a certain effort, as we take part in the sacrfice of the mass.

Effort? But shouldn’t mass just make us feel good, said a friend.

Yes, effort…all good things come with some effort…and with grace..but effort, firstly, by our presence at mass. If we believe, as the Church teaches, that the sacrifice of the mass is that of the sacrifice of the cross, then we as Christians should make an effort to be present at the mass. And we should have what has been called adherence…we adhere to the truth of the cross, we unite ourselves to the sacrifice and example of Our Lord…death to sin and life for God. So, at mass we unite our will, we engage interiorly.

But what about the community? Do we get that sense of community in mass in the Extraordinary Form.

Well, yes.

As we pray, as we unite ourselves with Christ, so, too, we are united with all Christians. We pray with those around us; as the priest lifts his eyes upward, we are reminded of the saints who also pray with us and for us. It is thus a collective action, a community of saints.

But what about the homily? Wouldn’t it be nice for Father to remind us to say hello to our neighbours?

Well, no. And yes. Nice to be reminded. But is this really what a homily is about? What does this teach us about the Faith, about the Gospels? And are we at mass to hear the words of men?

We are there not to hear human words but to hear the word of God. As we gather together as Christians, we gather to worship Our Lord, to receive Him in the Eucharist, to take part in the central act of the Church.

We hear the divine message, throughout the year; we receive this word in a context of praise and prayer; and in the Eucharistic sacrifice we seal, yet again, the eternal covenant…that in which Christ sacrificed Himself for the Father and gives Himself as food.

One friend asked again to go to Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Which, as my son Greg pointed out, demonstrates the truth of the belief that people are actually hungry for reverent masses, for their souls to be fed and that they will come to appreciate a reverent mass, a God centred liturgy, over a people and community driven liturgy.

Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.St. Peter Julian Eymard


Completing Many Things

Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven. St. Rose of Lima

Today I completed many things on my To Do Lost.

This is a Red Letter Day for me. I rarely complete many, many things from this never-ending list…I never complete everything..there are too many things and there is too little time.

In sitting to read my missal and in sitting to blog, I realise how much blogging ( or, in reality, writing) is a part of my life.

When life is too hectic to blog ( or write)…as it has been this week… I feel out-of-sorts. I feel lost. I feel set adrift in a sea of thoughts and ideas and feelings which I cannot quite capture. Unless I write.

And as I look at my life, as far back as I can remember, with coherence, that is, I see that I have used writing as tool for life.

As an eight year old, I wrote escapist fiction. I read those ubiquitous boarding school books (especially the Dimsie series and the Chalet School) and I wrote my life, tucked away from others, hidden in odd corners, so no one would notice, written in old, discarded, a few-blank-pages-left school exercise books.

But not really my life, with its ins and outs and peculiarities. I wrote, instead, my life as I wished it. To be, in a dormitary with other, nice, normal girls. With regularity. With fun. With adventure. With caring adults. With rhythm. With prayer. And chapel. And that Catholic influence in The Chalet School. And books.

In secondary school, I wrote poetry. And poetry. And poetry. Most of it pretty bad. Most of it about the world around me. Most of it cynical. ( How Can They Speak of Love? This civilization of ours…a poem for which I won an award but which still makes me gasp at that fourteen year old cynic, who did not believe in love..who could not see love around her…)

As a young mother, I wrote in snatches, those little parcels of time garnered and collected and hoarded and held close, as mothers do with time. I used child care time, for an hour here and an hour there, to write. Journals. Odd, miscellaneous entries. And that poetry again. (He is sucking me dry…he is draining me…)

So, today, as I finally find time, make time, demand time, to write and to blog, I feel calm. I go to work happy. Sorted. As my life and thoughts are sorted.

Thinking about Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Monday lunch, in honour of St Rose of Lima.

We read this of St Paul in the Epistle, 2 Corinthians. …for I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God. For I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

I was struck by the thought in this Epistle. That St Paul used the bond of marriage as a comparison, when describing his ardent desire that all Christians should belong totally to Christ, in the purity and faithfulness of that love which consecrated virgins often demonstrate.

The bond of marriage is used often in Scripture, to describe Christ’s love for His Church. And our response in the here and now…of how we should then live.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…Ephesians Ch 5.

If we love each other as Christ loves the Church, how do we act – today..tomorrow?

That has been the direction of my thoughts.

How do I live? And how do I love?

Self sacrifical? (Ow!!)

Is love a competition, carefully measured out and weighed?

And does one need to know love, to experience love, in order to love?

Love comes, sometimes, and is, sometimes, borne from pain and from suffering. And brings more suffering. More love. More graces. As St Rose of Lima describes above.

Love is a careful, honest and sometimes brutal choice.

Love is deliberate. It lasts, not because of how I feel about another – but because of my dedication, my commitment to another.

Pope John Paul II wrote that Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.…in other words, freedom is the ability to choose to do good.

It is easy to do what we want. It isn’t always as easy to do what is right.

And when we choose to do right by another, to another, especially when it is not our inclination or in our interests to do so, we thus exercise our capacity for love.

In my writing, in my reading, in my praying, in my childhood, in my life, I see, murkily, darkly, through the mist, that human love is not just some gooey, runny, warm, fuzzy emotion we feel . I begin to understand that human love (imperfectly) mirrors the love of Christ, of He who laid down His life for us, in that it exists most fully when we act in a way that is loving. That considers another.

And so I write. And think. And get a few things “sorted out”.

On love.

Yet again.