Sunday, December 20, 2015


At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation, when
Heaven and earth in little space
became one, as the English early Tudor hymn (ca 1420) puts it.

Yet, the Incarnation began nine months earlier, in a happening rich with significance for a Christian life.

Probably the truest, therefore the best, representation of that moment is the painting of the Annunciation by an artist of no great fame, Domenico Veneziano.

In a bare room, without a prie-dieu or a prayer-book, the angel and Mary face each other. That she is hortus conclusus, an enclosed garden, is implied by the wall around the garden, whose door is shut. The path from it has no footprint.
There is no dove descending in a ray of light. The angel genuflects even as his hand betokens a request. With crossed arms, Mary bows as though sheltering the One who is within. She has already spoken her “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”; already the Lord who sought her acquiescence has found in her his “little space”.

It is a moment of heart-stopping mystical wonder, beauty, and love. Love, humility and obedience, without which there is no Christian life. In Judaeo-Christian tradition, the brightest angel, whose mind was nearest to God’s, fell, “like lightning from Heaven,” as Jesus once said, because he would not bend the knee to any of humankind. They were, as he judged, inferior to angels. He would not do it from obedience, nor even for love, and humility was unknown to the one who became The Adversary.

If the room is bare of material things, it is brimful of love, humility (“let it be done to me,” says Mary, NOT “I accept”), and obedience: in Mary and the angel, and in the One who is unseen but present already in Mary’s womb.

That is what Christmas reminds us of, what it invites us to renew within ourselves. As the hymn concludes:
Leave we all this worldly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth;


The maiden was at her prayers,
silent, removed
from garden path and barr
èd door.

No whisper of wing, no footprint on path,
Gabriel kneels before her,
wondrous greeting giving;
bringing the Word to her open heart.

In time she will bring forth
the Timeless One, incarnate.
But now in a quiet corner
she bows to her God within,
and the angel kneels to both.

©2012 by Ruth Heredia

Thursday, December 17, 2015


The Nativity took place once, for all time. If Christmas is a feast to celebrate the immeasurably great mystery of the Incarnation, then every day should be a day for Christ his Mass. For so gloriously generous a gift that no amount of thanksgiving suffices, Christmas every day is not too much by way of an attempt.

There came to the Infant the humblest and the highest. That the Magi brought gifts we are told; that the shepherds brought gifts we suppose. What gifts may I give, asks Christina Rossetti, and concludes, “give my heart.” Peter Cornelius had much the same idea:
Thou child of man, lo, to Bethlehem
the Kings are travelling, travel with them!
The star of mercy, the star of grace,
shall lead thy heart to its resting place.
Gold, incense, myrrh thou canst not bring;
offer thy heart to the infant King.
Ivor Atkins made of the poem a beautiful carol, which can be heard here:

Robert Herrick’s poem, edited for John Rutter’s exquisite setting, ( ) comes to the same conclusion:
We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart.

(Don’t miss the third line in the verse above.)

Here is a slightly different point of view:
Child, born in a borrowed shelter,
laid in a borrowed crib,
Man, stowed away in a borrowed tomb,
Word, leaping down from royal throne
to be swaddled moveless, wordless,
on the breast of her you gave life to,
what gift may I lay in the straw beside
gold, myrrh and frankincense?

Set down the needless burdens, daughter.
Regret for past follies; harboured hurts
not merited; sorrow for that
which you could never mend.
Borrowing is for me: flesh like yours,
to hunger, grow weary, be wounded,
hung upon a tree. For you
here are gifts: my mother,
my body, my blood, my love
unending. Your acceptance,
daughter, is all I seek.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


“The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:” (King Jesus hath a garden)

Although not numbered by the Catechism among the Seven Virtues, Patience is the virtue, the foundation, or the well-prepared field, for many of the other virtues.

Pati is a Latin verb meaning to suffer. Long-suffering is a word often used interchangeably with patience. Patience can be a prolonged suffering, borne largely in silence – if one does not count talking to God.

Jesus was patient. Yes, even when he cleansed his Father’s house of sellers and buyers. He only used a whip made of cord. Moses or Elijah might have chosen a more drastic method. But the truest example of Jesus’ patience began in Gethsemane and ended on Calvary. That was patience as the ultimate suffering, when everything is taken away. First he was stripped of his clothing, and with that of his dignity as a human being. Then he was stripped of his self-hood, what Kierkegaard calls his task*, which drew from him the terrible plaint, “my God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Yet, just before Jesus himself gave up his spirit to the Father, came that amazing exultant cry, the cry of the victorious athlete; of the artist who casts down pen, brush, or chisel required no more: “Tetelestai,” “it is accomplished.” “A worm, and no man,” said Isaiah of the Suffering Servant. Yet a triumphant one.

Patience through pain and loss of self-hood can bring about transformation into another self. Wheat grains ground up are turned into bread. Grapes are crushed to make wine. Jesus died and rose again, and thereafter ascended to his throne from which, “when peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run the half of her swift course” (Wisdom 18), he, the Word of God, had leaped. And as St Paul says
His state was divine,
yet he did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
(Phil. 2:6-8)

Is it strange to recall the Crucifixion just before we celebrate the Nativity? In T. S. Eliot's play, Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas Becket does not think so. Eliot gives him a Christmas sermon founded on historical record of the text on which Becket had preached. The sermon is a wonderful setting out of Eliot’s vision of sanctity; of what is the true meaning of peace as Christ gives it. E’n la sua voluntate
è nostra pace, in His will is our peace, as Dante expressed it.
“I wish only that you should ponder and meditate the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord ; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men'; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overborne by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy; so it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word 'peace.' Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

“Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.' Did He mean peace as we think of it...? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember then that He said also, 'Not as the world gives, give I unto you.' So then, He gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

“Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

“Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no
accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. It is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of being a martyr. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, and are seen, not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.” (Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot)

While the Saviour of the world sighs, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” the repentant robber humbly understands, but still also as a relief, that it is not God who has abandoned him, but it is he who has abandoned God, and repenting, he says to the one crucified with him: Remember me when you come into your kingdom. It is a heavy human suffering to reach for God’s mercy in the anxiety of death and with belated repentance at the moment of despicable death, but yet the repentant robber finds relief when he compares his suffering with the superhuman suffering of being abandoned by God. To be abandoned by God, that indeed means to be without a task. It means to be deprived of the final task that every human being has, the task of patience, the task that has its ground in God’s not having abandoned the sufferer. Hence Christ’s suffering is superhuman and his patience superhuman, so that no human being can grasp either the one or the other. Although it is beneficial that we speak quite humanly of Christ’s suffering, if we speak of it merely as if he were the human being who has suffered the most, it is blasphemy, because although his suffering is human, it is also superhuman, and there is an eternal chasmic abyss between his suffering and the human being’s. ~ Soren Kierkegaard, 1847 Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, Hong p. 280

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


This is the translation of a Dutch carol, made by the Rev. George R. Woodward. A lovely image of Heaven!

1. King Jesus hath a garden, full of divers flowers,
Where I go culling posies gay, all times and hours.
There naught is heard but Paradise bird,
Harp, dulcimer, lute,
With cymbal, trump and tymbal,
And the tender, soothing flute.

2. The Lily, white in blossom there, is Chastity:
The Violet, with sweet perfume, Humanity. Refrain

3. The bonny Damask-rose is known as Patience:
The blithe and thrifty Marygold, Obedience. Refrain

4. The Crown Imperial bloometh too in yonder place,
'Tis Charity, of stock divine, the flower of grace. Refrain

5. Yet, 'mid the brave, the bravest prize of all may claim
The Star of Bethlem - Jesus-bless'd be his Name! Refrain

6. Ah! Jesu Lord, my heal and weal, my bliss complete,
Make thou my heart thy garden-plot, fair, trim and neat. Refrain

Hear it sung beautifully 
("the tender, soothing flute" sounds sweetly soothing!) during the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols 2007 in the chapel of King's College, Cambridge:

Monday, December 14, 2015


Lord, why may I never find
One single soul to whom my mind
I may lay bare, and know it must be
Perceived with perfect clarity?

Do you not speak to me, child dear,
And have you said aught I did not hear?
Leave other minds, and turn to me;
I never fail to hear or see.

I know, Lord, that from nothing I was made,
And to nothing shall my body come
When in the earth I’m laid;
Yet my soul to thee shall home.

All I have is by thee given;
If thou shouldst ask it of me again,
All shall from me be riven,
Thou shalt not ask in vain.

For, Lord, I do bethink me well
Of thy sacrifice which saved me from hell.
If I must today be plunged in sorrow,
My soul shall rise to thee tomorrow.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia

Sunday, December 13, 2015



‘Twixt night and day
A star shone bright,
When leapt God’s Word
Unto us to be the Light.

‘Twixt ox and ass
On a bed of hay,
The Pearl of great price
Sleeping lay.

Among the beasts why didst thou stay,
That might in silken bed have slept?
A silken robed man sought me to slay,
Alas, and many mothers wept.
A man of my own did me betray;
How many were they their promise kept?

My heart, my treasure,
I would I might know
That love without measure
Which I to thee owe.

May I that strive ‘twixt soul and beast,
Find through the Way my singleness;
That when I come to thee, Orient Star,
My soul be clad in robes for thy feast.

©2015 by Ruth Heredia


Today, Gaudete Sunday, a day when Christians are urged to rejoice, it is fitting to recall the carol, TOMORROW SHALL BE MY DANCING DAY.

Anonymous and very old, this unusual carol tells the story of the Saviour’s life in his own voice, using the image of a dance. There has always been a link between religion and dance, but the imagery here is mystical. The words “to see the legend of my play” may indicate that this was a danced song preceding the performance of a Mystery Cycle.

God Unknowable, God Transcendent, chose – for love – to become also God Immanent, Emmanuel (God is with us) visibly for a space, and then mystically in the Blessed Sacrament, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Who is Jesus’ “true love”? It might be the individual soul, or equally aptly the community (ecclesia) of souls.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Between an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard I from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love's dance.

The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.

Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


“What a dour religion you preach, however eloquently. Is a Christian to have no fun? Must a Christian always walk in dark valleys?”

One look at the beaming faces of St John XXIII, St John Paul II, and Pope Francis should answer the charge of dourness. They are evidently having a great deal of ‘fun’ – presumably modern shorthand for enjoyment – in being Christian. The question is what is meant by ‘fun’?

Before turning to Scripture let’s look at some Christians having fun. There is the legend of the Jongleur de Notre Dame. Driven by poverty and hunger, he asks to be enrolled as a monk. All the other monks have some service to offer to God but the jongleur-turned-monk knows only his own skills. Having nothing else to offer to Our Lady, he performs his routine before her, juggling and tumbling, thinking no one is around. Someone does see him and reports to the Prior, who is scandalised. But the statue of the Virgin seems to come to life. She smiles at the jongleur and stretches out her arms in blessing. Only a legend, but the Benedictines did have a lot of ‘fun’ in their various monastic activities, and even cloistered orders have hours allotted to recreation.

How many saints there have been, some unexpected names among them, filled with the mirth that is the product of godliness:
Philip Neri, Bonaventure, Dominic Savio, Paul of the Cross, Théophane Vénard, Clare of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola are only a few. Francis of Assisi was famous for the joy he manifested and proclaimed. Joan the Maid from Domremy had the simple sense of fun of a country girl, an innocent but intelligent, courageous child of God. Once, while Teresa of Ávila was travelling to a convent, she was knocked off her donkey, fell into the mud, and injured her leg. “Why did you let this happen to me, Lord?” she asked, and heard the response: “That is how I treat my friends.” In keeping with her playful relationship with God, this Doctor of the Church replied, “No wonder you have so few of them.” She was known to be witty, and lively. Florence Nightingale, a devout Christian, could be funny in a letter about the horrifying conditions in which she worked in the Crimea. About the multitude of rats she wrote: “if they had but unity of purpose, [they could] carry off the four miles of beds on their backs, and march with them into the War Office, Horse Guards, S.W.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins the Jesuit priest, and George Herbert, the Anglican pastor, wrote joyful and beautiful poems expressing their faith. G. K. Chesterton, the Catholic convert, and C. S. Lewis, who returned from unbelief to the Anglican fold, wrote with great humour. All these clearly had ‘fun’ being Christian. As did J. R. R. Tolkien, a hobbit himself, as he once wrote to a fan: “
I am in fact a Hobbit (in all but size). I like gardens, trees and unmechanized farmlands; I smoke a pipe, and like good plain food (unrefrigerated), but detest French cooking; I like and even dare to wear in these dull days, ornamental waistcoats. I am fond of mushrooms (out of a field); have a very simple sense of humour (which even my appreciative critics find tiresome); I go to bed late and get up late (when possible). I do not travel much.” He was a Catholic convert fervent in his practice of his faith.

J. S. Bach was a notably Christian composer, who wrote the monumental Mass in B minor and the St Matthew Passion, besides other works for the glory and worship of God. He also wrote the bubbly Coffee Cantata in praise of drinking coffee! Handel, who was by no means a model Christian, but a sincere one, wrote Messiah, one of the pinnacles of composition in Western Classical Music. Who has heard the joy-filled choruses from it without being moved to a like joy? Gabriel Fauré was irreligious, although he earned his bread mainly as a church organist. On the Requiem, which is one of his best-known works, he made the irreverent remark that he wrote it mainly to please himself, investing it with “everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion.” God, who frequently chooses most unworthy instruments to work his will, had the last laugh. Fauré’s Requiem is in consonance with the spirit in which the Church now conducts a service of requiem, after the Second Vatican Council.

Another markedly faulty instrument is the director and actor Mel Gibson. Yet he surely was inspired when he wrote and made The Passion of the Christ. In it, Gibson has a passage between Jesus and his mother which is far from being untrue to the spirit of the Evangel in the New Testament. Certainly it added to the poignancy of the rest – and was so intended – but it is not the less true for all that. True to the spirit of Jesus, true to the Holy Spirit of God. A moment of ‘fun’ as Jesus journeys through a dark valley.

God the Creator seems to delight in the comic. He created ducks.

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – (Holy) Wisdom in the Old Testament – the writings collected in the books of Psalms and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, 2 Samuel, and Exodus all contain references to joy; to eating and drinking; to singing and dancing; to shouting and laughing. Does St Paul appear a kill-joy? He wrote this: “
Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor. 5-8)

And so to Jesus himself. ‘Glutton’ and ‘drunkard’ they called him, who saw him at a meal with sinners. But was he encouraging the sinners to carry on sinning? Was he condoning their sin? Evidently not. Zacchaeus the tax-collector utterly reformed his life. Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to a meal at which a woman once notorious as a sinner washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with costly ointment. She had been forgiven many sins. From her actions Jesus drew a lesson for the Pharisee which he may, or may not, have learned.

Jesus worked his first miracle at a wedding feast. He turned water into the finest wine anyone had tasted. Nothing dour about that. No dark valleys. After he called back the daughter of Jairus from death, Jesus said, “Give her something to eat.” He was evidently concerned with feeding people; and with food and drink. Also with feasting and celebration. Many parables speak of feasts and weddings. Dark valleys?

Jesus also manifested a sense of humour, as when Philip brought Nathaniel to him. Philip possibly roused his friend from a nap under a fig tree. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” grumbled Nathaniel, but he went along. Jesus said, at sight of the two advancing, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” We need some explanation here, which his disciples did not. Israel was the name given to Jacob. And Jacob was known by all Jews to be one of the Patriarchs, but known also as a trickster. He tricked his father, and his father-in-law. Jesus could have said “son of Abraham” instead, but – surely smiling on account Nathaniel’s grumble about Nazareth – he said “Israelite”, and proceeded to confound the now wide-awake Nathaniel by talking of his having been under a fig tree. If, as might be the case, Nathaniel is the same as Bartholomew, this guileless Israelite went on to lay down his life for his faith. That was a dark valley. But beyond it was boundless joy; joy everlasting. It’s true that Michelangelo didn’t give that impression in his Last Judgement, but then old Buonarroti was himself a dour man, young and old, and painted his face looking miserable on the flayed skin of the saint...

Since the time draws near to celebrate with anthem, carol, and hymn; with bells and light; with food and drink, the birth of Jesus our Saviour, let us turn to a hardworking, poor, shepherd filled with joy because
While by my sheep I watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright:
How great my joy...
(Trad. German carol dated to the 1600s).

And to the simple shepherd bringing humble offerings to the new-born Child:
Lo, merry He is!
Lo, He laughs, my Sweeting!
Ah, a very fair meeting!
I have held to my telling:
Have a bob of cherries.
(Wakefield OR Towneley Plays in a version by John Russell Brown (1983): Second Shepherds’ Play).


Friday, December 11, 2015


“Hypocrite!” Not a pleasant epithet. Jesus addressed it to those who, obstinately, and with hatred, opposed him. For what reason did he use that word to them? Because, he said, quoting Isaiah:
This people honours me only with lip-service,
while their hearts are far from me.
The worship they offer me is worthless.

What will Jesus say to those who go to Sunday Mass with filth in their minds, which they spread to fellow Christians immediately after leaving the church, (even making a comment indicative of their awareness that others might still be at Mass), and these recipients express their enjoyment? What will Jesus say to those who, marinating in lewdness through the first week of Advent, post obscene or cruel and dirty stuff on social media even on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his mother?

When such self-described Christians come face to face with Jesus at their journey’s end – if, indeed, they have the brazenness to look him in the face - what will Jesus say to them?

Are hypocrite Christians truly believers? It seems inconceivable that someone could believe in God – Omnipresent God – and use foul words, think foul thoughts, broadcast foulness.
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear?
he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? (Ps.94:9,10)

There is no such thing as innocent smutty talk, nor harmless double entendres, and porn is not popcorn. Indulging a taste for anything that degrades the mind degrades the soul. That is bad enough: “you must kill everything in you that belongs only to earthly life... evil desires... all this is the sort of behaviour that makes God angry. ... now you, of all people, must give all these things up: ... dirty talk” (Col. 3:5-8). What shall be said to those who spread degrading matter? Is the mother of Jesus a pagan deity to be propitiated with a patter of words and with lighted candles when one is in need of intercession? Shall there never be a thought given to who she is, to how she lived, to how she bears witness?

Ah well, when God is so disrespected; mocked by the sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist while in a state of serious sin, why should Our Lady be taken for a role model?

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap, Preacher of the Pontifical Household, in his first sermon for the Advent season this year (Pope Francis in the congregation), said: “Whatever Christ himself was not able to experience ‘in the flesh’ – since his earthly existence, like everyone else’s, was limited to certain experiences – is now lived and ‘experienced’ by the Risen One ‘in the Spirit’ thanks to the spousal communion at Mass.”

“If my eyes have become Christ’s eyes and my mouth has become Christ’s mouth, what a reason not to allow my gaze to indulge in lustful images. One can only shudder at the thought of the terrible damage that is done to the body of Christ that is the Church,” the papal preacher said, about this sort of self-declared Christian.

It is easy to live like a ‘good’ pagan: don’t kill; don’t steal; don’t lie (much); don’t cheat (much); give spare cash and unwanted things to the poor; sympathise with friends in distress; take them some food. All this is fine. But what is Christian about such a life if there is no honest attempt to commune with God? To do that requires a clean mind and a clean heart: “Happy the pure of heart; they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)

Last year, on the feast of St. Stephen, Pope Francis said at the Angelus: “To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. While not all of us are called, as St. Stephen was, to shed their own blood, every Christian is nonetheless required in every circumstance to lead a life coherent with the faith he or she professes. Christian integrity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord. To be coherent, to live as Christians rather than merely saying, 'I am Christian' while living like a pagan.

True Christians do not think they are saints. They know they are sinners. But after each fall they get up and climb on, following the blood-stained trail left by the Saviour. They focus on God, not on themselves, preening before cameras. Certainly they do not spout second-hand pieties out of one side of the mouth while obscene jokes come out the other side. They are not hypocrites.

Passages to reflect on:
Matthew 6:22-23
The lamp of the body is the eye. It follows that if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be all darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkness, what darkness that will be!

Matthew 15:18-20
The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and it is these that make a man unclean. For from the heart come evil thoughts...

I Corinthians 11: 27-28
anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to recollect himself before eating this bread and drinking this cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.

I Corinthians 6:19-20
Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received him from God. You are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for. That is why you should use your body for the glory of God.


The two ways

Happy the man
who never follows the advice of the wicked,
or loiters on the way that sinners take,
or sits about with scoffers,
but finds his pleasure in the Law of Yahweh,
and murmurs his law day and night.

He is like a tree that is planted
by water streams,
yielding its fruit in season,
its leaves never fading;
success attends all he does.
It is nothing like this with the wicked, nothing like this!

No, these are like chaff blown away by the wind.
The wicked will not stand firm when Judgement comes,
nor sinners when the virtuous assemble.
For Yahweh takes care of the way the virtuous go,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


A problem with English is that in some important matters its vocabulary is inadequate.
God loves me and I love God are not the same use of ‘love’ as
I love ice-cream.
Today a very popular excuse for not doing the Christian thing from want of courage is to come up with the first part of a verse
from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7
Do not judge and you will not be judged;
but leaving out the rest
because the judgements you give [not make] are the judgements you will get and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. (1-2)

The context of the bandied about truncated quotation makes it clear that one is not to ‘sit in judgement’ or condemn hypocritically, or self-righteously. BUT Scripture constantly urges the believer to exercise judgement, meaning discernment, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which enables the believer to evaluate, and to discern between good people and bad people, good things and bad things.
A spiritual man, on the other hand, is able to judge the value of everything, and his own value is not to be judged by other men. (1 Corinthians, 2:15)

Discernment is what is required from a Christian, not criticism. And after discernment, for which praise God, comes action, which almost invariably requires another gift of the Holy Spirit, fortitude. After that come yet more gifts: piety and fear of the Lord, two which hardly anyone comprehends because hardly anyone reads the new Catholic Catechism – already some decades old – or can be bothered with such ‘extras’ as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why not just let everyone do what he or she likes and all have a merry feast?
Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces. (Matt. 7:6)

Jesus was not afraid to say to some of those he cured, “Go, and sin no more.” Another much bandied about phrase is ‘unconditional love’. God is said to love unconditionally, and all will be forgiven, all will be made welcome. When put to the test of reasoned argument and the Gospel accounts of what Jesus said, this maxim needs to be very carefully defined. Else, we should expect to find Stalin, Hitler and their like playing harps in heaven. It makes nonsense of the deposit of faith that we have received – or should have received – from the earliest years of our lives.
Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. (25)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Not Peace but a Sword

from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 10
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. (34)
Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. (38)

Laissez faire Christianity is Christendom’s betrayal of Jesus Christ, on account of which the world is as it is 2000 years and more after the Nativity. Of what use to celebrate Christmas, and cover up the Crucified One with decorations? The pilgrim way is a hard road, full of obstacles, and full of tempting side paths which seem to promise an easier way around those obstacles. How full of convincing arguments is the Father of Lies. “Don’t be ‘judgmental’.” “Everyone does it.” “Be real, be practical.”

You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. (22)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (28)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


An excellent custom obtained at the Sachivalaya (Secretariat) in Ahmedabad, after the state of Gujarat was formed in May 1960. Every Friday evening, at a fixed hour, the officers gathered to take tea, with the Chief Secretary presiding. It was an informal meeting, at which someone might relate a funny or a strange experience he had had in the course of that week’s official work. From one of these Secretaries’ teas, her father brought home an account heard from a junior colleague who, as it happened, lived with his family in the flat (at the Government Quarters) above theirs, and who, with his wife and children, had become good family friends. This story is a retelling of his account.


Babubhai was a clerk in the PWD.  During breaks he partook of tea and gossip; gossip from his cronies, tea out of a glass tumbler.  It was not an unusual specimen; one would not have thought it likely that this tumbler’s history would be enshrined in a government’s archives, but appearances they say. . .  Babubhai had inherited it from his predecessor.  He intended passing it on likewise.

However, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the tumbler and the lip.  It slipped out of Babubhai’s grasp and took its last tumble.  Babubhai thought over his predicament.  The tumbler had come to him along with a well-furnished desk, almirah, waste-paper basket and clay water pot, on his promotion to the rank of UDC (Upper Division Clerk)Ergo, it was government property.

Babubhai put up an indent for a glass tumbler.  That deceptively simple request travelled through the department like the Flying Dutchman, to and froIt acquired adjuncts and soon reposed in a burgeoning file.  Keener intelligences than the average person’s, worked on it and came up with queries of surpassing shrewdness.

To begin with, who had sanctioned the original purchase, and when?  This proved, after much investigation, to be as hard to trace as direct descent from Adam.  A query about the tumbler’s original cost met with a similar response – in due course.  Then arose the question, had it outlived its useful life.  Which in turn brought up the problem of how one could establish the length of ‘useful life’ in the case of a glass tumbler.  This byway was extensively explored and abandoned reluctantly when progress became impossible.

Someone then inquired how the tumbler came to need replacing.  Much paper-work later, came the inevitable question: how had Babubhai contrived to drink during the year and odd months since the aforesaid tumbler was broken?  Babubhai, now justifiably incensed, replied that he used improvised paper cups.  Back came the query, what paper did he use?  It was a promising line of inquiry, shedding light on the subject of what constitutes ‘government paper’: used envelopes, from non-government sources were adjudged not ‘government paper’.

Meanwhile, one ministry fell and another took over, resulting in a change of Secretary for Public Works etc.  The file came his way when the point was reached of asking Babubhai to show cause why the cost of the tumbler should not be recovered from him.  The Secretary carried the file home on a long weekend.

Come Monday morning, he asked some questions: what was the current price of a glass tumbler; what was the estimated cost (to the taxpayer) of paper and man hours expended on this exercise; could he write finis to the saga if he paid for the tumbler himself?  After this, sanction
came rapidly for the purchase of a five-anna glass tumbler whose actual cost by then, at a moderate estimate, amounted to Rs 500.

As was said at the outset, Babubhai was a clerk in the Public Waste Department.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


It needs no Magus to discern that a tangible possession is more readily acquired by inheritance than an intangible quality, she thought, and passed in review a parade of unworthy children. Yet a remarkably gifted child might be the offspring of unlikely parents. And, of course, there was the kinship of the spirit, much more reliable and enjoyable than the hazardous kinship of blood, which too often brought forth a venomous toad.

But what was one to make of the fine women and men one would wish to see replicated but never would, because they had no children, or were kept from marrying? There might be a larger pattern invisible to her mortal eye that explained such things, but to her it seemed only another of those melancholy mysteries of human life.

And so, from generalities her mind passed to the particular, from which passage emerged two bright memories of her early years.

Clara Peres, born circa 1912, was eleven years younger than her good friend, Eugenia Alvares of Margão, and twelve years older than her very good friend, Eugenia’s daughter Susana, married to Clara’s ideal human being, Senhõr Fred.

Clara was plain in appearance, but she had much intelligence, a craftsman’s skill, fortitude, willingness to work hard, seemingly unquenchable liveliness, boundless generosity, and a most loving heart. She effaced herself so completely that, of all the many times she came to stay, diligently stitching clothes and embroidering linen for the family, only one photograph accidentally captured her in a corner of the image, her face almost in profile.

Extreme right, seated, Clara Peres, Nadiad, September 1955

Clara could have married. There was once a man who desired that. Her father, who begrudged his three daughters the expenses of marriage, packed her off to her friend Susana in India, with dire warnings. Clara did not consider board and lodging that might be lost through disobedience, but she loved her mother, and never again thought of marriage, she who would have been such a fine wife and mother.

All three Peres daughters were dressmakers and seamstresses. Clara earned a living in Bombay, and from time to time, following the call of her yearning for family love, she came to visit the beloved family wherever FJH was posted in Bombay and Ahmedabad. She was welcomed as visitor or as guest, always cheerful, always kind, a shrewd observer of humanity; willing to lend a sympathetic ear but never betraying a confidence. “Aunty Clara” she remained to the children long after they knew she was no kin to them by blood. Yet she was more nearly, more dearly tied by bonds of love.

The loss of Clara Peres in April 1982 was a severe blow. Her bubbling sense of humour, her girlish laugh, the twinkle in her eye, her warm embrace, the glee with which she took gift upon gift out of her bag, were long remembered after the Shepherd had lifted his sheep in his arms and carried her to his home.

In 1954 her father was posted to Kaira, a district undesirable to his colleagues but welcome to him and to her mother. Almost his first act was to become acquainted with his staff as individuals. That was always so in any office all through his life, and served him well.

One bright-eyed young man caught the Collector’s attention. He had a long, narrow face and a look of alert intelligence.

Natvarlal Brahmbhatt, 1950s

It was a look that did not deceive. Alert, intelligent, and what is invaluable, trustworthy in every way required of a ‘personal assistant (PA) and camp clerk’ - which was the designation of Natvarlal Brahmbhatt.

As “Natubhai” he became known to the Collector’s family, remaining so for the next half century and beyond. After he married, even his shy wife, poor lady, came to be addressed as “Mrs Natubhai”, overwhelmed by the strength of her husband’s personality.

Natubhai came into Bombay Government Service from Cambay State Service and he was promised that his earlier service would count. The promise was broken. There came a GR to state that seniority in Bombay Government Service alone would determine pay scales. This was followed by talk of retrenchment, the latest recruits to be let go first. Natubhai presented a petition to the Collector who had preceded her father. The officer said he could do nothing. Madhavlal Shah, a local politician who would later grow in power, also declined to use his good offices.

A GR is not lightly rescinded, if indeed it ever is, nor easily side-stepped. It was knight-errantry to even try. But FJH was never afraid to try. His previous post had been that of Motor Transport Controller and Director, Government Transport Service, Bombay State, and his Minister was Babubhai Jasbhai Patel of Nadiad, one day to be Chief Minister of Gujarat. FJH had made a crowd of friends in Gujarat, which region he had to visit on duty. Many of them were Congressmen, local leaders, politicians of a quite different stamp from those that followed after. He was certainly on excellent terms with the Minister, as he was with a large number of colleagues in the civil services, ICS and IAS. The Collector of Kaira wrote to persons in Government, with a copy to his Minister, drawing attention to the injustice that Government was dealing out. How the affair was managed she did not find out, hearing this story only after her father’s death, but managed it was. Natubhai was confirmed in his employment, with his former service taken into account.

In April 1956 her father was transferred to Kolhapur to do some trouble-shooting. (This was during a period of turbulence across Bombay State, with two simultaneous agitations, one for Mahagujarat, the other for Samyukta Maharashtra.) Natubhai remained in Kaira. The new Collector of Kolhapur managed a very tricky situation with his usual mix of excellent intelligence work, winning ways with influential local leaders, and brilliant, inspired improvisation at a climactic moment – matter for another tale. Meanwhile turmoil in Ahmedabad had boiled over to bring forth a crisis. Time for the man known to be capable, fearless, tactful, clever (wily, said some), sympathetic to the injured, formidable to those who transgressed the rules which govern a civilised society.

In the third week of October 1956 FJH was informed by telephone of his immediate transfer to Ahmedabad, a State Government Beechcraft flying him next day to Bombay en route to his new post. (Her mother was left to pack up and prepare to move!)

It was evident at once that with a demoralised staff and loyalties under strain – for this was a sort of civil war – the Collector would need an exceptional PA. Natubhai’s transfer was contrived by the resourceful Divisional Commissioner, D. D. Sathe ICS, and he was given lodging in a room at the top of the inconspicuous stairway leading from the Collector’s offices below to the residence above. There he remained for six to eight months until living quarters had been built for him, and for Sathe’s PA, in the grounds of the Commissioner’s small palace.

So continued a long friendship between the Collector, his family, and Natubhai, which endures to this day. Clara Peres and Natvarlal Brahmbhatt - their like is not to be found any more.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

GLOSSARY for FJH stories

Bahadur – a great man; a brave man.
chaprassi - office servant; messenger (from chapras - brass buckle worn on belt). See also peon/ pattewala
chit - letter; note
civil list - Warrant or Order of Precedence, also known as the Green, Red or Blue Book
Collector - chief administrator of district, originally collector of revenue (see 'D.O.'). His office had an English department whose head clerk was called an aval karkun; and a vernacular department, whose head clerk was a chitnis. A deputy chitnis served the Collector’s other official duty, that of District Magistrate, and he had to be well up in the Police Act, and all law & order matters. The head of several talukas in a district was a pranth officer unless belonging to the IAS, in which case he was an Assistant Collector.
compound - enclosed area surrounding bungalow and servants' quarters
dacoit - robber, thus 'dacoity' - robbery
dak - post, thus dak-wallah - postman and dak-bungalow - government staging house.
dal/ dhal - lentils
D.O. - District Officer, executive head of district known as Collector, Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate
dhoti -loose loincloth worn by caste Hindus
dhurri - rough cotton rug
goonda - bad character
GR – Government Resolution
hamal- house servant
hazur/huzoor - sir, honorific (lit. 'the presence')
heaven-born - honorific often used to denote the ICS
hill station - stations above 5,000 feet to which state and central governments transferred in the hot weather
hoshiyar – wary; careful; and by extension shrewdly watchful.
hullaballoo - uproar (from holo-bolo - to make a noise)
khansama - cook
khas-khas tatti - screen made of grass matting and hung round doors in hot weather
kutchery either used for a court or for an administrative office, particularly that of a District Collector; includes treasury.
lathi – heavy bamboo or wooden riot-control sticks.
mali - gardener
Mamlatdar - the officer in executive charge of a taluka, land records keeper of 70 to 80 villages (in the 1950s). There is a sub-treasury in every taluka.
memsahib - lady, from 'madam-sahib'; sometimes shortened to mem
mofussil - up-country; the provinces
naik/ jemadar – the head pattewala, with grander uniform including a turban; Naik for an Assistant Collector, Jemadar for a Collector. His first duty in the morning was to walk ahead of the Collector as the latter made his way from the residential part of the Bungalow to the office: “Saheb, if I don’t go ahead of you, how will anyone know who you are?”).
nilgai - largest Indian antelope; an adult male is thought to look like an ox and so is often called a blue bull
pattewala/ peon - office servant; messenger, (from patta, the sash over the shoulder and across the chest – with a brass buckle worn on a leather belt).
pi dog - mongrel found all over India (abbrev. of pariah)
pukka – proper
PWD - Public Works Department
raj - kingdom, used in twentieth century chiefly to denote British rule in India from 1858 to 1947
sahib/ saheb - sir; European, also affixed to rank, thus 'Collector saheb'
salaam - salutation
sambhur - large Indian deer
satyagraha - civil disobedience on Gandhian principles of non-violence
shabash - well done
shamiana - marquee
shikar - sport (shooting and hunting)
solar topee - heavy pith helmet
Swaraj - Home Rule
tahsildar - local tax collector
taluka - (in South Asia) an administrative district for taxation purposes, typically comprising a number of villages. Each taluka has on an average two or three head clerks (aval karkuns), one each for the office, the treasury, and rounds of village inspection.
tamasha - spectacle
tank - artificial lake
teapoy - small tripod table
verandah - open gallery around bungalow
wallah – man; also as in box-wallah derogatory term for service in a (business) company as opposed to the civil or the armed services. Refers to boxes carried by door-to-door salesmen.

Some of the technical terms in the Administration are as near as I can manage from old hastily pencilled notes made as my father reminisced - when he did reminisce in those last years.....