Monday, 18 April 2016

House of Joy

I have always admired the work of Mother Teresa and the missionaries of charity in reaching out to abandoned children and elderly and my wife and I visited one of their houses in Manila just before we got married; at that time just to drop off a few supplies of baby milk and medicines. It was almost 20 years later before we visited again but this time I came to appreciate it in an entirely different way.

As we entered I noticed an array of coffins lined-up against the wall outside the carpenters shed, and during the Mass there was an occupied one in the chapel too. But as the day unfolded and we met with many of the residents it became apparent that it was by no means a gloomy place.

We visited two teenage girls both bedridden with badly deformed limbs and unable to speak; but when my wife started to sing to them their faces lit up with beautiful smiles. It was as if light beamed out of them. A pure light, emanating from pure souls as they delighted in the hymns being sung. It was like the two of them were lamps placed at the foot of God’s throne, burning brightly as they lay there interceding, through the sufferings of their short lives, for us sinners.

Next we met an old lady, an 83 year old with a skeletal appearance, almost weightless. She was full of joy also and loved to talk and pray with us. Such a strong spirit and another beautiful (toothless) smile. Like all the residents she has nothing and no one in the world and spends her time in prayer and preparation to meet her God and be reunited with her husband and son who had gone on ahead of her.

Through the love of the missionary sisters the tragic circumstances of the lives of the residents meet the majesty of God and although time is short I believe that each one receives what they need before they die.

For visitors too the place is a great blessing. It gives you a more realistic perspective of your own troubles and a clearer understanding of what is really important in life.

Friday, 1 April 2016

On a wing and a prayer

A teacher tells how a salesman called to her school. When he produced his pen, she noticed that a Rosary beads had got caught onto the pens clip and came out as well. “you must be a Catholic” she remarked. “Not really” he said “but a lot of us owe our lives to Our Lady, and I promised her I would always keep my Rosary with me and say it everyday.

The story that unfolded ran: it was September 1940 when we joined the air force. At Halifax we were given an intensive training course because we were needed overseas. We were grouped into squadrons each of which consisted of 6 to 10 planes and each was trained to manoeuvre as a unit. About 30-50 men made up a squadron. They told us that we were going overseas and would be in action right away. We would be on nightly missions over enemy territory.

We eagerly awaited our new squadron leader. As an officer he would, we believed, go straight to the officers quarters. However, this one, Stan Fulton, in full uniform, headed for our bunk house, where he settled in with the rest of us, saying “ There’s a free bunk and I am tired ! I’ll meet each of you tomorrow”.

With that, he threw his bag on an upper bunk. Our squadron leader, an officer, sleeping here with us ! We liked him at once and our admiration grew each day. That first night he knelt on the floor and prayed his Rosary in silence. Astounded we were struck dumb. When he finished he looked at us his friendly smile and said “I hope you guys don’t find a fellow saying some prayers because where we are going we’re going to need them”.

Next day at manoeuvre practice, we found that Fulton was not just our military leader, but our friend. He was one of us. He never tried to intimidate with his rank. Next night, he repeated his prayer session. Although our group had been together for 6 months, I had never seen anyone kneel in prayer, and had no idea that any of our group was Catholic.

The third night 3 of our companions joined Fulton in praying the Rosary. The rest of us did not understand, but we kept a respectful silence. We weren’t slow however on the pick-up. Soon we were all answering the Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s. So, we ended each day in prayer.

Soon enough we were to begin a series of night raids from England over Germany. The evening before, Fulton gave each one of us a Rosary “we shall be in some tight situations, but if you agree to keep the rosary with you and to pray it, I promise you that Our Lady will bring you all back safe”.

“Sure thing” we replied, little thinking we would be in action for 4 years, often in dreadful danger. At such times, Fulton’s voice would ring through each plane “Hail Mary…” and we would devoutly respond ! We must have said hundreds of Rosaries in the skies.
Ours, was the only squadron that did not lose a plane or a single life. We said nothing, but we treasured our secret weapon and knew Our Lady had saved us all