Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

Lourdes.

For those of you who don’t know Lourdes, let me tell you about it. It is no ordinary place, and there is a feeling of profound hope, and healing, that strikes you immediately. There are mountains, souvenir shops for Catholic pilgrims, and the sanctuary itself.

Oh. I said that “C” word again. Except this one doesn’t rhyme with “punt.” I am unashamedly Catholic, and had drifted from the church, but I wanted to drift back.

When people go on pilgrimages, even unofficial ones like this, we talk about the voyage being almost as important as the destination. This is, of course, not just the physical journey, but the mental, and spiritual voyage also. I’ve wanted to return to Lourdes since I was 9, and this time I took my son with me.

As a parent you can only do so much, and part of my faith is to know that I can’t control everything in my life, let alone in the lives of others, and that there is something else that is beyond my comprehension. I wanted to help my son in his life, and despite maintaining a dialogue, I had done as much as I could. I could do no more, so I asked Our Lady to look after him. We all need a mother, and most of the Jewish people that I know, seem to agree that a Jewish mother is the best. And you don’t need to be a Jewish to be a Jewish mother. It’s a state of mind. And if God decided on a Jewish mother for His Son, then it was good enough for me. As a Catholic, we see Mary as being a mother to all of us. So when the proverbial **** hits the fan, you ask your Mum if she can help, before you ask your (heavenly) Father. Mums have a way of talking to Dads that help make things alright.

That’s something I understood once I became a father myself. God has that relationship with us. In Judaism, and Christianity, He does anyway. A father loves his child. Even when that child is “naughty,” we still love them. We might punish them, but we always want to forgive them. God is the same with us. You could argue that it’s a way of showing humanity through divinity.

Wow, this got heavy all of a sudden!

Anyway. I went to Lourdes to try and reconcile myself with God. To ask forgiveness for my many sins, to make reparation, to heal, and to try and return towards my Father. We do this with our own fathers here on earth, and so it was the same process for my soul. Does that make sense?

My son was my carer, and he did his job admirably. He also benefitted from his trip. In the Sanctuary there is an overwhelming sense of peace. We went to the grotto, and prayed. We did the night time procession and recited the rosary holding our candles. We bathed in the baths with the water from the source that appeared when Mary asked Saint Bernadette to dig. That source is still there and provides water for the many pilgrims. We put some of that water into bottles to take home with us. I went to Confession.

We also went up a mountain, and came down again. It was almost as much a religious experience as the rest of the pilgrimage. When Moses goes up the mountain to receive the ten commandments it is to be closer to God. At the top of that mountain we saw a nun talking to a young friend. They were laughing and taking selfies. We saw a priest praying from his Brievery. It was a moving experience seeing the cloud coming over the summit. We saw the clouds clear, and we looked over the valley to the other mountains. I still don’t understand how people can look at that scenery and doubt the existence of a creator.

Anyway. Let’s talk about the photos. They were taken with the X100F which is compact enough not to be noticed, and a little less heavy than my DSLR and all the lenses that I use with it. It limits me, but makes it all simpler. No unnecessary questions about which lens to use etc. Feel free to comment on the article or the photos. Any feedback is always welcome.

St Nicolas Basilica, Nantes

Do you remember me saying that in one of my previous articles that I would show you the inside of the Basilica? Chose dite, chose faite. As I say, I will do! You may be a Catholic, you may not be. I’m not going to judge anyone. You may even be a convinced, and militant atheist. I am going to present a building to you that was designed by men for the glory of God. Everything in it was made to centre on God and the presence of God in the Tabernacle.

Even though you might not share those beliefs, a church is not an ordinary building. It is not just a place. There is something special, as there is in any place of worship. We see the hopes and wishes of men being handed over to something that is a power beyond them. These are the prayers represented by the candles in the Catholic tradition, and the statues to remind us of the piety of certain saints and the symbolism that is included in the representation in those statues. The same is true in the artwork. It is what it represents to the faithful. The stations of the cross which retell the story of Jesus’ final sacrifice here on earth, and the sacrifice of the mass.

It is a place of contemplation. So let’s contemplate…