Edith Stein + Julius Caesar

Edith Stein – St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – is one of my favourite saints and yesterday (9th August) was her Feast Day. This called for a glass of wine in her honour. Before that, however, I went to confession and Mass at Westminster Cathedral. Before continuing, I must here confess two things, though:

  1. I had originally intended to go to confession last week or the week before but for one reason and another had not managed it. When I decided to go yesterday, I hadn’t thought of connecting the visit to Edith Stein’s feast day. I’d love to say that I went to the cathedral in her honour, but this time round, it was just a happy coincidence.
  2. I didn’t only drink a glass of wine last night in honour of St. Teresa Benedicta. 9th August is also the anniversary of The Battle of Pharsalus, the decisive battle in the Roman civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. Had I been alive in 48 BC, I would certainly have sided with Caesar against the Pompey and the Optimates so I am very happy to celebrate his victory every year.

Back at the cathedral, things are returning to normal. Confessions are no longer said standing up in one of the side chapels (usually in the chapel where Cardinal Hume and Bishop Challoner are buried and the baptistry next door) but back in the confessional boxes in front of the Lady Chapel. We still need to wear our face masks while in the cathedral, but are allowed to take them off while making the confession. A piece of glass over the grill protects priest and penitent.

Before COVID, you sat down while queuing for the confessional. Now, you have to stand. That’s a bit rough of people who might find standing for any length of time but, of course, it’s easy to understand why they have been removed. While queuing, I looked up to the domed ceiling above us. If you visit Westminster Cathedral, go to where penitents queue, and look up; you’ll see a net. Behind the net are chalk marks. Before the net was put there, they formed what seemed to me the shape of Africa. I noticed this some years ago. As a result, every time I have gone to confession at the cathedral, I have looked up and prayed for Africa and her people. Unfortunately, the net makes the outline harder to see, but the habit is now ingrained in me.

Twenty-Two and Back

Well, this won’t do. Nearly two months since my last blog post. Time flies. Kind of. In truth, I have spent the last few weeks meaning to write another update but just not got round to it.

For me, not a great deal has changed since my last post. Although we are no longer in lock down (in my last post I said that lock down measures were easing. At which point did they cease? I’m really not sure. I feel like it just happened), I only really go out to go shopping.

Having said that, I have managed to broaden my understanding of what constitutes ‘shopping’; which is to say that a couple of weeks ago I went to Marks and Spencer’s to buy some clothes and have made a couple of trips to Waterstones.

I decided a while ago that I wanted to have a copy of 1984 and Animal Farm on my shelf for future reading. The way the world is going at the moment these seem to be the most relevant books to have. Earlier this week, I picked up a copy of John Garth’s The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien.

1984 and Animal Farm surely need no introduction. J. R. R. Tolkien doesn’t, either, but John Garth is not quite as famous so I will quickly say this: he ought to be. Garth wrote the brilliant Tolkien and the Great War back in 2003. In this book, he gave an account of Tolkien’s life during the First World War. It is full of insight and information; a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in Tolkien’s life. I thought I owned a copy of the book until I looked at my shelf earlier today and couldn’t find it. Did I loan it out ages ago and not get it back? Or did I accidentally throw it away during my book clear out a few weeks ago? Either way, I rate the book so highly I’ll certainly purchase another copy of it.

That’s Tolkien and the Great War. The Worlds of J. R. R. Tolkien is a coffee table book that looks at all the places that influenced Tolkien in his writings. Over the years, I have seen so many – so, so many – places lay claim to having influenced him; it will be good to finally have an authoritative guide to point me in the right directions.

Spiritual Matters
This was the title of my last blog post. Priests have been celebrating Masses ever since the start of July. I haven’t yet attended one; too nervous of doing so to begin with; happy to keep watching them on-line. However, I can now feel myself approaching the point at which I will head off to my parish church. Will it be next week? I don’t know.

I mentioned before about going to confession. I did that. At the start of July, I undertook the three hour round trip from home and walked to Westminster Cathedral. Confessions were no longer in the confessional. We had to queue up a little distance away from their new locations – the baptistry and the Chapel of St Gregory and St Augustine – and await our turn turn. I was a bit nervous about how close we would be to the priest and penitents but I need not have worried – a cathedral volunteer stood at the head of the queue to make sure people were queueing in the right place and guide them to the priest after each confession.

The priest in the baptistry and chapel were both standing. They didn’t wear face masks but instead a plastic face guard. The penitents stood up as well. It could have felt really awkward but wasn’t. In the last couple of weeks, the Government has said that everyone must wear face masks when shopping. I think this applies to churches but am not sure. I will have to find out no later than the start of October: by then it will be three months since my last confession and I will want to go back.

Two Unexpected Gifts
I have received two of late. The first was a tax rebate from the Government! These are always appreciated. As I think I have mentioned before, I work as a free lance now. I am very overdue being paid but am very rubbish at chasing money matters up. A few weeks ago, I would have had to have done so, though, because I was nearly at the end of my overdraft. The tax rebate came at exactly the right moment. Thanks to it, I have been able to eat, buy the above mentioned books and some clothes.

The unexpected gift was a bottle of red wine, which my brother decided he didn’t want. It is on my desk right now and I can’t wait to sip it!

Formula One
Just after my last post, Formula One went racing again for the first time this year. The season has been an unmitigated success so far – at least in terms of keeping everyone safe from the coronavirus. On the track, it’s been great for Lewis Hamilton but slightly less good for everyone else. Happily (eh?), there has been off-track controversy as well – something to keep our minds off Mercedes on-track dominance. This has chiefly been provided by the Racing Point team, whose 2020 car is a copy of the 2019 Mercedes. The stewards investigated the matter and decided it was worth a small fine and reduction of constructor points but – even if the team continues to use the same car – nothing more. As I write, Ferrari and Renault are appealing this lenient judgement. Ferrari, rather amusingly, want transparency about how far teams can copy each other. This, of course, is the same Ferrari that got busted using a (probably) illegal engine last year but managed to keep details of its settlement with the FIA secret. (I say ‘probably’ because the FIA weren’t able to work out what the team had done to make its engine so good. They reckoned it was illegal, though, and told the team to make some changes. As a result, they are running in the midfield).

Inspired by a friend I’ve never met

Corona Chronicles I

I follow Niall Gooch on Twitter. He is a clever and compassionate person and I always benefit from his tweets. A few days ago, he tweeted,

This seemed to me a good idea so on this blog, until such time as the coronavirus abates, I will try and record what’s going on in my little corner of the world – Islington, London, U.K.

First of all, home life.

Yesterday, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, ‘urged everyone to avoid unnecessary social contacts, to work from home where possible, and to stay away from pubs and restaurants.’ This doesn’t affect me too much as I work from home, and don’t have the money to go out very much, anyway.

The above quotation comes from the BBC website, here. The same report states that ‘[p]eople in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.’ My mother and father are 79 and 80 so are definitely ‘at risk’. I still live in the family house so am now part son, part shield. The latter fits my love of chivalry perfectly. Are there any medieval romances where the Knight washes his hands a lot?

A concern for my parents now informs all my actions when going out. For example, yesterday (16th March) I had intended to take a walk across town to Westminster Cathedral to go to confession. Because of the worry that I might pick something up, at the cathedral if not along the way, however, I decided to stay at home. Now that we are being told to avoid unnecessary social contact, I suspect I will not go to confession again until the summer. It’s not ideal but the thought of bringing an unwelcome guest home is even worse.

Now that I am avoiding going out, what about my daily walks? I am going to do more exercise at home, even if it is just walking on the spot while watching a film on Netflix or a You Tube video.

Speaking of exercise, you may recall me mentioning my dodgy leg in last year’s Camino posts. Well, back in January I finally – FINALLY – got round to submitting a request for a physiotherapist appointment with the NHS. I thought I might not get an answer until later in the year but within a week or two, I was offered an appointment. Three weeks ago, I met the physiotherapist and he gave me some exercises to do. I have been carrying them out religiously ever since and let me tell you, while my leg is not perfect, it is SO MUCH BETTER than before. The old pain is almost entirely gone. Not quite, but almost. I am amazed. And all it took was ‘some’ stretches. Unless the medical centre has been closed, I am meeting the physio again this week to let him know how I have been getting on. I can’t wait to tell him.

There is one fly in the ointment – part of the physiotherapy involved walking in a slightly different way and I haven’t managed to perfect that yet. In fact, I am a long way off it, so that’s something I need to work on whenever I do go out.

Away from home.

I mentioned above not going to confession. I will keep going to Mass unless one of us in the house falls ill or until/unless the churches are closed. How extraordinary it is that I have to write these words. Who could have foreseen it, even at the start of the year? It’s like we have gone back to the time of Shakespeare with the closing of the theatres. The other day, someone on Twitter said that when W.S. was quarantined he wrote King Lear. The implication was that you should do something similar. Nonsense, of course, but I hope I can be at least a little creative. I have one or two ideas in this regard and will mention them if I can realise them.

All sporting events in the country have been cancelled or postponed for the time being. The one that affects me most is the calling off of the first few Formula 1 races. I can do without football or even rugby but F1 I miss. Depending on how things go we won’t get any races until May or June.

As I said above, I don’t go out the often. I am the secretary of The Keys Catholic literary group, though, so attend its meetings every month. I had already decided not to go to this month’s meeting but yesterday the Master decided to postpone it. I immediately sent the e-mail to all the members confirming this. Thankfully, the ones who have responded have been very understanding. We haven’t decided what to do about April’s meeting, but as with the F1, I don’t expect there will be another one until the summer.

Further Afield

There is just one thing I would like to write here. Business Insider reports that the American President, Donald Trump, ‘tried to poach German scientists working on a coronavirus vaccine and offered cash so it would be exclusive to the US’. You can read the report here.

If the report is true – the German government says it is, the company for whom the scientists work say it is not – it really is the most diabolically selfish act on Donald Trump’s part. Of course, given his past behaviour, we should not be surprised by this, but I think we may be surprised by the depth of his selfishness in this regard.

Thank you to Niall for letting me quote his tweets in this post! (It’s true I’ve never met him so I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him a friend).


Better Late Than Never, I Hope
Two weeks ago, when I wrote this post about confessions aka the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I mentioned that I had more to say and would try to say it later in the week.

Unfortunately, I now can’t remember what I meant to say! I think I wanted to write some more about my experience of going to confession so let’s do that here.

Seat & Seatability
I’ll start with my visit to Westminster Cathedral today for confessions. I arrived at about midday – confessions began at 11:30am and as it was quite early and today is not a particularly special day in the Church’s calendar, I expected the queue to be quite short. Wrong! There are seats for about thirty or so and every one of them was taken; for the first few minutes of waiting, I had to stand up.

Actually, this was not because not every seat was being used: as penitents head into the confessional, those waiting have a habit of not moving forward to the next seat. It can often happen, therefore, and in fact, invariably does, that at some point you end up moving forward several seats in a one go. This happened today.

With that said, there were still a substantial number of people waiting – 20 at least. In my previous post, I called confessions the Cinderella sacrament, and in the wider Church perhaps it is, but there is definitely a sub-section of Catholics who hold to it. And they are not the older generation, either. Today, I saw one woman who can only have been in her twenties.

Finding Her Way Home
Because of the numbers of people waiting, a second priest arrived. He took the confessional box furthest away from us. If you know Westminster Cathedral, it was the one closest to the Lady Chapel. The woman I mentioned a second ago had to make her way up to him and, if she knew the Cathedral, was obviously not familiar with this confessional. She first headed towards the empty one to the immediate right of where the priest was sitting. He popped his head out of his box to let her know where to go. Except, she couldn’t seem to see where to kneel (from where she was standing perhaps it was just out of her sight) and needed further directions. The poor thing – I hope she wasn’t too flustered.

A Showdown
The worst thing ever to happen to me while waiting in the queue for confessions – apart from the occasion I had to listen to an extra loud penitent make theirs – was witnessing a woman leave the queue to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist at Mass. That wasn’t the problem. The problem came when she returned to her seat and was quietly challenged on what she had done by the man sitting in the seat to her right. I couldn’t hear what he said, but I could certainly hear the woman’s indignant response. People arguing in the queue for confessions is one of those things that really ought not to happen so it all felt very awkward.

My view is that the man was certainly out of order. What the woman did was between her and God. And if he challenged her because he assumed that she was in a state of mortal sin, that too was wrong. Yes, that is one reason for going to confession but it is not the only one. One may also go because one has committed only venial sins as well. With that said, what she said did not look good. It makes one think, hold on, you’re going to communion even though you are aware of sins that you need to confess? But this is my problem to overcome, not hers to take account of.

An Unexpected Gift
On a happier note, after I made my confession today, the priest gave me a miraculous medal! He popped the medal through the grill and handed me an explanatory leaflet over the partition that separates the priest from penitent. I had thought that it was a wall that separated us but it turns out there is a little gap at the top. Anyway, I’m quite chuffed with this gift and it will certainly be coming with me to the Camino.

A Little Laugh
I converted to the Catholic Faith when I was at university in Dundee. In those days, I went to confessions at Dundee cathedral. The Parish Priest there was also the university Catholic chaplain. This meant we could, if we wanted, talk freely after the end of the confession. On one occasion, I went after England had beaten Scotland in the then Five Nations. After saying my confession I took advantage of our friendship and asked the priest if it was a sin to enjoy England’s win. It was, I admit, a You Had To Be There moment but we had a good laugh over it.

I finished my confession today at the same moment as communion was being held for the 12:30pm Mass, so I joined that queue straight away. I rarely finish my confession at this precise moment so it felt quite odd doing so. In fact, I wondered to myself if I should sit down to say my penitential prayer first. I was very unsure and therefore discombobulated; this is why after receiving Our Lord from one of the Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist I forgot that the Cathedral doesn’t distribute communion under both kinds and went to the second Extraordinary Minister. I realised my mistake at exactly the moment as she did and put her hand over the ciborium. Oops!

By the way, the usual penitential prayer is, of course, x number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys. Today, the priest asked me to say the Divine Mercy prayer. I know about the Divine Mercy but not the prayer so if I had sat down to say it… I wouldn’t have been able to; not unless I got my phone out to google it, and that was not going to happen. There would have been nothing wrong with doing so, but I wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself that way.

As it happens, I clean forgot to say the Divine Mercy prayer when I got home and only remembered when I wrote the above, so let me draw this post to an end and go and say it!