Thursday, 20 December 2007

Missing: a father

We all remember those stories of husbands and fathers who went out one day to get milk/a newspaper/ “fresh air”, and never returned.

Wives and children (I don’t remember women doing this but they may have done) first not noticing, then realising the minutes, watching the hours and finally, counting the days he is gone.

Sometimes there are police searches, hospitals are scoured, hope still thrives in the home.

But, eventually, there is certainty. He is never coming back. He has deserted them. Perhaps he never loved them at all. And the pain kicks in and lasts for many years, if not (especially for the children) a lifetime. The damage is done.

It has been, exactly like that, for me since Father Francis Mary Stone took a “leave of absence” from EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network).

Now, everyone knows how in these ‘housebound’ years EWTN, founded by Mother Angelica a Poor Clare nun in 1981, has been my substitute, earthly, family. The fathers (priests), mother (Angelica), brothers (Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word). and sisters (Poor Clare’s of Our Lady of Angels Monastery), all based in their [Alabama, USA] monastery homes, and with me in mine 24/7. I could not have managed without them.

So, with thousands of others, it came as a great shock and huge sadness to learn of Fr. Francis’ departure.

But how I learnt was just the way it was for the family above. I didn’t know for a long time and, in a way, tried not to know – to admit what was staring me in the face: our dear, ubiquitous, brother was no longer visible.

Not celebrating Mass, no longer presenting Life on the Rock - a series primarily for young people but popular with the whole family (even this one – Tom would often watch if I taped it and especially liked Fr. Francis.) - and not there between programmes with his videos from Assisi on the life of his patron saint.

I don’t know how I missed it. I would have watched on November 1st. Maybe I was just late tuning in. But anyway, I did miss the announcement. From poor Fr. Anthony (I’ve forgotten his title but he’s now
“superior” in the friars’ monastery). And that’s when, apparently, he read out Fr Francis’ letter. And everybody (not me then of course) learnt what had happened. His family at EWTN, and his family in the viewing/listening rest of the world.

Fr. Francis Mary had been “helping” a widow and her family and found himself becoming too “involved”. He had requested, and received, time away from EWTN to “discern his vocation”. He was, heart-breakingly, sorry and realised the enormity of the impact this would have.

It was devastating.

I cannot bear to think of dear Mthr. Angelica, in her post-stroke silence, hearing this awful news. She had personally invited this brother, when still a layman, to join the Missionaries of the Eternal Word, soon after she formed the Order in 1987. She would be heartbroken.

So there, one week, was Fr. Mark Mary, alone. Gallantly going on with Life on the Rock. Presenting in his inimitable, introverted way, as well as he could. And succeeding. But we all know – because Fr. Francis often made mention of it – that this particular brother would rather have his head in books (a bit like poor Cardinal Ratzinger when they elected him Pope and he became Benedict XVI, our Holy Father). He has done as requested of him but sometimes we feel his discomfort.

One week grew into two and into three, and I wasn’t sure any more, as at first I had assumed, that Fr. Francis was on retreat. Or on holiday with his family. He couldn’t have been ill or in an accident (like poor Fr. Benedict Groeschel the other year). I wasn’t sure of anything. No one was saying anything. And I began to be cross with myself – with my MS – for not knowing. Because I knew, for certain, someone would have said something once (either that or I’d gone insane and he never existed!). I thought of ringing EWTN.

But by last Sunday I knew I wasn’t the only one who was cross. It was as though Fr. Francis had caused, or was in, trouble. Even the opening and closing film sequence of Frs. Francis, Mark and the other brothers playing basketball and mixing at events like World Youth Day were gone. There was definitely something very amiss.

While Tom did his Christmas hang-over bit in bed, I Googled the name: Father Francis Mary – EWTN. And there it was. In all its horrible glory. The whole story. I felt instantly defeated. Heavily, heavily sad. Black. Fatigued. All the exhaustion I cover with an air of optimism and oft excitement at good thoughts. Gone. A member of the family had deserted us.

“Discerning [his] vocation”?! What the heck did he mean, “discerning [his] vocation”? Didn’t he do that, back then? When he started out and then took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience? He told us he did (quite recently again on The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi, I believe).

So, I’m cross with Father. And I guess that’s the way grieving goes. We must go through the whole process. Sooner or later I’ll cry. If not for me, then for Mother Angelica, or the other brothers, or, maybe it’ll be for Tom – and everyone like him. The youngsters who admired Fr. Francis. and followed his example. Ooh.

When Tom surfaced on Sunday and wanted to start planning an evening meal, he could tell – even on a still afternoon of the Lord’s Day – something more had gone wrong.Upset his crippled mother in the chair. Oh yes, where was Mass today? He hadn’t heard it. Why had she stopped shouting at him? What happened?

I was cross with Tom for his drinking, but this had to be said. I looked him earnestly in the eyes (they were dark!): “If there was one priest on EWTN who had the most influence on you, who would it be?” (I know he knows most of them and it could easily have been Fr. Benedict or Fr. Corapi, another “character”). He answered, without hesitation: “The basket-ball player”. Ah! You see how big this is? And I hated having to break this news to him.

But, then again, he could – and probably would – use it against, not only the Catholic Church but religion in general - and me. This truly was an horrendous state of affairs. And the Devil must be rolling about in laughter. I was beside myself: “Well, he’s left”, I said. And out it all came.

And, shock! That was it: SHOCK! Tom was utterly shocked. And sad. And I think he felt let down too. I was amazed.

And then the whole night we discussed and debated it. And re-read the letter and perused some of the many comments in blogs and on forums that had come in. A flood of emotion and mixed feelings from right across the globe.

There was a deep sense of sadness everywhere – and, not least, in our own home. It pervaded the night air.

So, what’s left? what is my final comment? Well, there isn’t one. Only prayer is left. I imagine for everybody. That’s all we can do – pray. For Fr. Francis, for the widow and her children, for everyone involved. For his fellow-religious at EWTN and all the staff there. For all the youngsters hurt and feelng betrayed. And for ourselves. That our faith won’t weaken as a result, and that our love, as always, will forgive. May God have mercy.


Sunday, 25 November 2007

This is no way to behave, people!

Someone I thought I really respected has let me down.

So much so, that I bring it to your attention. Because, sadly, they’re not the first to behave in this way and it should never happen again – not to me or anyone in my position.

The person in question is a fellow-blogger and we’d had reason to cross paths (no need to say more). Well, I’d admired their work, didn’t understand it completely but read it carefully and commented accordingly. There were a couple of emails between us and I was led to believe they had also read my blogs. It made me happy to think there was a mutual respect and I could count this person as a friend (albeit, virtual – they all are now!). But: then came the slap...

Right. Everybody turn right! What’s the first word you see on my ‘Profile’? Under the funny, out-of-focus, ‘phone pic. of my face. Not even in the ‘Complete Profile’. No clicks needed. Right there. I bet many of you have already seen it – Profiles are the first thing I look at when I go to a blog. ‘Housebound’. Got it? The first word.

Well, my “friend” didn’t!

In their second email to me, in response to my praise of their posts, came this penultimate line: “If you’re ever in (place name) be sure to call in at the (something establishment)”. Blah, blah, blah.

You can probably tell, I was hurt. Still am or I wouldn’t be writing this. Tom says (always trying to forgive – which of course is right) that it’s just tactless, inconsiderate. Yeah, but he nearly choked on his drink of water as I told him.

I forgive – but it’s not so easy to forget, and the wound still smarts.

It was a bad thing to say. and people should think (in this case also read!). Otherwise, they hurt other people. And in Christian terms (relevant here), that’s not loving your neighbour.

In which case, I must speak out against it. Heck, I’ll speak out anyway, for everybody’s sake.

This is no way to behave, people!

Sunday, 11 November 2007


It was just a coincidence that in Travels with Lucy my last post, written in November, was called ‘Tom is such a hero’. I think. I often refer to Tom as “My hero!” and often he is.

But, then again, it IS November and the whole of the month is dedicated to prayer for the dead in the Roman Catholic Church: All Saints’ Day (Nov.1) for those who with ‘heroic virtue’ have gone straight to Heaven, and All Souls’ Day (Nov.2) for those who, on their way to Heaven, must first be perfected in Purgatory.

I am, of course well aware of this.

Also, that today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK when we remember all those who were/are caught up in wars and, in particular, those ‘heroes’ who gave their lives in both World Wars (l&ll).

I have to admt that as an ardent pacifist, I haven’t always respected this occasion as much as I probably should have done. But I have always known, and related to Tom as he was growing up, stories of individuals in wartime that have touched me. We may not have always marked the two minute silence at 11am but we have, of course, always shown respect. We are grateful for our “freedom”.

I think a lot depends on family (as with everything!) and how close you are to all members, especially of the older generations. Well, there you have it. We, of course, weren’t – for various reasons. It is only as adults in our own lives that we discover the pains of other people’s existence. Become conscious of the society as a whole. And learn to pray.

“Thou shalt not kill.” (Deuteronomy 5:17) And I will obey. It is beyond me that others, calling themselves Christians (so many of the Remembrance Day services will purport to be), do still – even apart from “wars” they “manufacture” – kill. The unborn, the elderly and the infirm.

I know that we must protect ourselves, and others and so I do understand “self-defence”. But for the rest, oh it is hard.

I remember especially all those young men in World War l who, with no choice as to whether they fought or not, had their lives taken from them. I am grateful to the War Poets* for bringing that home to me (as it were). And I pray for them all. It breaks my heart.

And so I remember.

And I imagine my sub-conscious did before the rest of my MS (multiple sclerosis) brain when I wrote that last Travels post. November is the month to remember heroes – all of them.

And may those gone before us,



*Poetry of the First Worl War Published by The Macmillan Press Ltd. ISBN:0-333-26121-6

Monday, 15 October 2007

Environmental Illness (EI)

(or: “Get rid of the perfume, please!”)

Things aren’t quite as good here as I make out.

“Oh, what a surprise.” I hear some of you say. “All that false bravado. It’s getting a bit tiresome.”

Well, okay. Practically-speaking, I admit it. Not so good.

Spiritually? Oh yes, and, praise God, there is a joy in suffering (see previous posts).

But, on a "this world" level? Ah!

Tom, bless him, wants to leave (who wouldn’t?). It’s getting him down all this MS and being trapped with Mum at 27.

And I don’t blame him. I’m sure he needs to for his sanity (if only MS had a “sell-by” date, as one physio. called death!) but no. Someone like Tom thinks it will go on forever and that’s scary (see last post).

Anyway, it would be fine (in theory!) if I didn’t have Environmental Illness (EI) and could have carers.

But I can’t (oh, I’ve tried – agony, in every way). I’m allergic to them. As to almost everything (chemical; food; material; animal (except poodles who don’t shed!)), etc..

And, while I can conrol what I eat (see MS – My Scene: Anti-Candida Diet), I can’t – no matter how hard I try – rid people (especially carers!) of perfumes.

And they make me so ill. Completely defeat the object (which is “to help” I believe). In fact, they make everything, including my MS symptoms, a lot worse.

Environmental Illness (EI).

Chicken and egg.

I have Candida Albicans (see MS – My Scene), multiple sclerosis (MS) and multi-chemical sensitivity (MCS).

But who knows which one came first? We can’t know.

Research proves only a guessing game in medical communitiies as more and more people report problems to doctors. Sometimes sufferers are forced to give up work/change their lifestyles/live, like me, as a semi-recluse. The search for answers grows ever more fevered as the disease reaches a wider proportion of the population. And, note, it’s not a contagious dis-ease being passed from one individual to another. No EI spreads as the environment becomes ever-more dense with toxins.

When it comes to perfumes – and my particular intolerance apropos “carers” – we’re talking not only about the pretty, flowery/musky self-adorned smells here (and certainly not essential oils in their pure state which are fine but synthetic/chemical ones which cause the trouble), we’re talking: biological washing powders; softeners; (I feel sick writing this!) hair-sprays; deodorants; air-“fresheners”; soaps; shampoos; poodle groomers (!); sometimes new clothes; second-hand clothes; carpet-cleaners; carpets; glues, etc. etc. etc..

[Disclaimer: here I must stress, I know nothing about science and much of what follows is just a synopsis (possibly incorrect) of what I understand from my own reading and browsings on the Net.]

And we haven’t even mentioned petrol/diesel pollution yet (I think I should have said ‘agoraphobic semi-recluse’!) Ah, all the carbon/nitrogen/hydrogen gasses and oxides that go to make up the particulates that suffocate lungs. And the Benzene that causes cancer, etc. - commonly found in perfumes.

All these allergens (they cause the mass of allergies which, with their own complex symptoms form EI (someone like me is called a “universal reactor” i.e. reacts to everything)) must be avoided if an EI sufferer is to feel well.

Which brings me to the main purpose of this Comment.

I have used my own situation as an example of what EI can do to a person and the state of things in our society. But, what if that person doesn’t have a voice? What if he/she is a child? Children are suffering as a result of our foolishness.

How many are described as having/diagnosed with Attetion Deficit Disorder (ADD)?

How many have asthma? Eczema?

All these are symptoms of EI (see below). And the list goes on.

Are the teachers/pupils’ own bodies and clothes free from pollutants. How was the journey to school? (Did their drivers add to the problem or did they walk and inhale? Either way it was dangerous.)

When there is a toxic overload things will explode.

So, as well as killing the planet with all our pollutants, we are killing even those children we “allow” to be born (i.e. don’t abort (see pevious post).

Is this really the world we want to leave for future generations? One where only the strongest (and probably most self-serving) will survive?

Ah, but yes. And then the healthy/wealthy among them can do it all over again, when they take over another planet.

Suspected causes of EI:
- Candida Albicans (yeast overgrowth in the gut (see MS – My Scene: ‘Candida Albicans and MS’));
- toxic overload (i.e. massive dose of, or prolonged exposure to, pesticides, perfumes and/or other allergens).

Symptoms of EI:
- chronic fatigue;
- ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder);
- aphasia (difficulty remembering words);
- confusion;
- headaches;
- mood-swings;
- aggression;
- depression;
- skin problems (i.e. eczema);
- itching/watering eyes;
- rhinitis,
- breathing difficulties (i.e. asthma);
- joint pain;
- swollen limbs,
- etc.

Site helpful to those with EI - here

Blog Note: this is my environmental piece for Blog Action Day (today). I’m sorry it was a bit hastily put together. VP

Friday, 28 September 2007

Redemptive Suffering

As you will see, if you look at my ‘Complete Profile’, I describe my ‘Occupation’ as ‘Disabled’. And so it is. And so be it. This is how I spend my time: being disabled (see my other blogs - ‘Travels with Lucy’ and ‘MS -My Scene’ for details!). And that’s what I get paid for (sorry tax-payers!) through Income Support and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – to do it and do it in style, to the best of my (dis)ability. Putting 100% effort into living with this degenerative neurological disease (MS) and making it “useful” for society. (Well, that last bit is not a prerequisite of course, society is judged by how it treats its weakest members and we are, in Britain, (thus far) holding on to some vestige of decency. If not in a Christian way, then at least humanistically, we are bound by that principle to support, in every way, the least “fortunate” among us). No, that’s my thing, to prove my “use”.

Because really I’m being facetious, possibly sarcastic. I am saying to you (some – too many – of you), “Okay, so you think I’m useless, you espouse euthanasia, and you hate me for reminding you that life can be anything but perfect. And I don’t think I owe it to you, but because I know it is the general concensus among you, and now, oh horrors, I know my own son agrees with you (which is what drove me to this piece) I am going to show you why you are wrong and, hopefully, change your attitude – not only to disability but to life in general. It’s not half as bad as you think it is you know!”

You see, I do not want Tom (my son, 27), or any young person to grow up believing life is cheap. Just another part of our throw-away culture.

That babies can be slaughtered while still in the womb, because the thought of their being, was just a little inconvenient at the time of their conception. For abortion/murder to be made acceptable/polite through the verbal engineering of the language we conform to i.e. “human rights” (of mother); “freedom of choice” (for mother), and then, “political correctness” (towards everyone “right” or “wong”), which has us all tied up in knots. We imitate this speech (much of it from the likes of the BBC) at our peril.

I do not want my son to sit idly by, and bat not an eyelid, when another person we don’t hear about gets a lethal injection of morphine. Because a doctor with a smart accent and a God-complex has persuaded kith and kin that their loved one can’t take any more pain.

And I cannot bear that one more person should be the victim of such barbaric murder as was Terri Schiavo (1963-2005) in the Florida Nursing Home when they took away her feeding-tube and intravenous drip. When they starved and dehydrated her though 13 agonising days and nights, till she died. Just because in her, alleged, “post-collapse" "permanent vegatitive state” (arguable), the courts sided with her ex-husband and allowed his choice to end her life.

Even though Teri’s own – Roman Catholic – family had fought to the last minute to take her to their home and tend her for the rest of her natural days.

And all, as our dear Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) – “the Great” – was slipping away to his home in Heaven. Along with his feeding-tube and drip – all the way. To “sleep” with true dignity.

And then we come to “Dignitas” – in Switzerland. Hah!

The secular, “dignified” death of self-willed murder or suicide that the clinic offers you in your own chosen cocktail (or is it a fruit-juice?!) mixed with (I imagine) barbituates!

God protect us from this evil!

I do not want my son to belong, in any way, to this “Culture of Death” as JPII described it.

And so it was that when Tom saw that I had answered ‘Disabled’ to ‘Occupation?’ and queried why I had done so, instead of stating ‘journalist’, as I was, or writer, as I try to be, I was devastated.

Is there something to be ashamed of in being disabled? Something intrinsically degrading? No of course not. But I was repeating myself again. The “lecture” he had reeived, in various snippets and forms, so many times before, had begun one more time.

And I am tired – actually, chronically fatigued – so this time I thought I should write it – as best I can – for posterity!

And for you.

Because it’s good.

Jesus told us (Luke 9:23): “...deny [yourself], take up [your] cross daily and follow me.”


Couldn’t be easier.

As a Roman Catholic I believe that my suffering can be “offered up” to Christ on the cross as a sacrifice. Not only in repentance for my own sins, but for those of the world. That I can unite with His prayers for the sake of the Church and for conversions generally. So that we, as one body, the Church, which is the ‘bride of Christ’ (Rev 21:2), may be beautifully present at the ‘marriage supper’ of the Last Day (Rev 19:9).

Even comatose, people can be living a prayer in their souls.

So don’t ever say to me, “disabled people serve no purpose”.

And don’t ever imagine you have the right to end their God-given life.

One day you might be thankful for their “work”!

RSV Bible online

Friday, 21 September 2007


It’s a wonderful thing that on the verge of publishing my first two blogs – ‘Travels with Lucy’ and ‘MS - My Scene’ – I have nothing to be angry about here.

Wonderful, but worrying.

Because that’s what ‘Comment Column’ was set up for. I needed a platform from which I could unload all my frustrations and annoyances – my blazing angers – with the world. And, right now, I haven’t got any.

In fact it’s worse than that: I just deleted a couple of drafts I had waiting in the wings. I mean, I guess time has moved on and those initial passions are no longer the burning issues they once were (shows why these things should be completed and put out there immediately!) but they do still matter. Just not so much, to me, now.

I’m just not incensed by anything.

So I should celebrate...

St. Josemaria Escriva (founder of Opus Dei – L Works of God) said: “Why look around when you carry your world within you?” and I think, praise God, that’s what it’s all about.

Here, humanly alone (only my toy poodle, Lucy, physically with me) and at peace in my MS "bubble", it is easy to ignore all the wrongs of our times and focus solely (unintended pun), on the time to come. Life beyond this one.

I guess I’m dying (I know my nervous system is).

But blessed, because it doesn’t worry me. I have time and have had time - years now, housebound by fatigue and pain – to be with God. To carry my cross with Jesus. And to call upon the Holy Spirit for guidance, continually.

I feel the comfort of the arms of Mother Mary. Know the friendship, tears and laughter of the Saints.

And by the grace of God have EWTN to travel with me in this world.

Oh, sometimes I get agitated by the basic business of living: the bladder and bowels; Lucy’s bowels!; having to keep clean (enough to be seen by Tom or a priest - and lice-free!). Sometimes it is as though Tom has pierced my heart with the (unnecessary) pain he can cause. But it’s all love.

I love to be alive to have these things to deal with. I love to be able to “offer them up”, to unite with Christ’s Passion for the sake of the Church. And the world and its hurting. I love that I may be able to help others with my prayers.

That’s what it’s all about. And why I’ve got nothing to write about here – today!

I’m here but also there. It’s hard but also easy. I get angry but I forgive.

And Tom – my precious son – will be home soon.