Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One of those days!

I came to work bright and early this morning, hoping to accomplish several tasks in the course of the day. I asked two of my male colleagues to record some passages from Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict for a programme I’m making. I need a man’s voice on this particular occasion…but neither of my colleagues will have time to help me out until later on today, and I’d hoped to have the programme finished by now.

Blocked there, I approached the technicians to ask them if they are able to improve the quality of sound on a telephone interview I did over a poor quality connection. It’s possible… but come back later when someone else is around.

Thwarted in my plans, I headed towards the Music Department to ask for a song I need for a new series I’m planning. The computers throughout Vatican Radio crashed at that moment! Undaunted, I went to another section of the Music Department, only to find that they had never heard of the piece that I want (why? It’s a popular hymn that has spread throughout the English-speaking world in the 35 or more years since it was issued.)

…and so the morning has continued, believe it or not, with every attempt to do something constructive foiled by circumstances totally beyond my control.

Still unable to begin my day’s work although I’ve been in the building for two hours and have really tried to begin something, it occurs to me that everybody has ‘one of those days’. Mine seems to be today. I’m trying to get around the frustrations by reminding myself that God must have a better plan in store for me this morning, although I can’t see what it is.

It’s not always possible to see the path ahead, even if the certainty that I need is only stretching a few hours into the future. For the future to make sense, it is necessary to walk with God in the present, with the assurance that there is no need to worry about what lies ahead because He is there too. It is perfectly possible to rise above the difficulties of the present and, flying above the mundane minutiae that are part and parcel of daily life, to see the world with God's eyes

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Assisi flowers

Superabundant wild flowers flanked the path through the fields yesterday as I walked towards Assisi, the magnificent Basilica of San Francesco straight ahead. Birds sang in the hot sunshine that bathed the surrounding hills. Surely much of all that I was seeing had changed little, if anything, since the days when Francis and Clare also walked the same path, perhaps both of them, individually and unknown to the other, pondering their future direction in life.

Surely the wild flowers in their hues of blue, white, yellow and purple, were also there when Francis was born and when he died. Morning Glory, so deeply blue that it was almost purple, grew in untidy and beautiful confusion through the branches of a small bush, whilst other flowers, some of which I could identify and others that I couldn't, simply raised their faces towards their Lord.

Later on in the course of the day, walking the path towards San Damiano and the church that Francis rebuilt after his conversion, a different profusion of growth and colour revealed itself. Abundant golden berries added their own unique loveliness to a scene that shouted out to the world the greater fruitfulness of a loving God.

"Praised be you, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs."

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Counting blessings

"God has gifted me with so much!" Those were my thoughts during yesterday's Mass in St. Paul's basilica as I looked around the little chapel. The monks were chanting the pasalms in their lovely Gregorian chant. The early morning light showed the newly-restored frescoes to their best advantage, and there I was, at the Eucharist, in a basilica that millions of people only see because they have been willing to cross the world, whereas I only need to cross the road.

I never expected that I would, one day. be living in Rome and I have no idea for how long I am likely to remain in the city. I look back to my teens and my near obsession with ancient hiistory, when I pored over every book on ancient history that I could find in the local library. I envied the archaeologists who could spend their days digging up artefacts that counted their age in millenia. Now, as I travel to work, I see the ruins that I had previously only seen in books and on television. I wonder what is behind the newly-erected screens that surround some of the places where attempts are being made to create a new underground railway system which is continuously delayed by collisions with previously unknown and unexcavated archaeology. Before any progress can be made, excavations must be carried out...hence the screens, with their signs telling one and all that this is what is happening. What a gift to be 'in on the act', even if, because of the obstruction to my view, I can't see what is happening!

Every day is filled with gifts and blessings if only I open my eyes and my heart. What a cause for rejoicing if, instead of counting my woes, I count my blessings!

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Approaching Autumn

There's a great deal of similarity between mere mortals and the leaves on the trees around Rome at this present time.

The leaves are slowly heading towards Autumn, gradually losing their bright green as colours darken towards the varied brown and gold that will clothe the trees entirely in a few weeks time.

Last night many trees along the Tiber were trimmed and branches, some of them still young and healthy, lopped down into the road to be gathered by the lorry following the path of the tree surgeons.

We all grow older as each day passes. This does not mean that we become increasingly useless, but it does mean that we develop a colour and beauty bestowed by life experience, love and those whose paths have crossed ours.

Some people never reach old age. We don't know why God calls them to himself before we think they should go. God knows.

All life is in the hands of a loving God. All we have to do is to trust him.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The slave trees

The transatlantic slave trade has been occupying my working hours during the past few days. I'm in the process of making a four programme series for Vatican Radio and it really has been very interesting and enjoyable, even though the subject itself is pretty grim.

Looking back to my days in Zambia, I will never forget driving towards the town of Kashikishi, up in the north of the country. The town is on the banks of the magnificent Lake Mweru, so big that one could be forgiven for mistaking it for the sea.

As we approached Kashikishi, the ancestral home of my passenger, he pointed out a long, single line of palm trees that stretched from some point in the east towards the shores of Lake Mweru. There were no other palms in the area, so they were easily seen against the deep blue sky. The trees marked the routes taken by the slavers and their sad company of slaves. During their journey towards the Congo on the far side of the lake, the slaves had been made to sit down and eat. The line of palm trees was the result of the discarded seeds after the fruit had been eaten. Tragic!

Yet slavery continues today. I remember sitting on the bus beside a Sudanese bishop who told me of his dilemma. Slavery abounds in Sudan. If he pays a ransom for the slaves, they are freed, but their captors simply go out to find replacements. If the bishop doesn't pay the ransom demanded, the people in front of him remain in slavery.

Some people face decisions and conditions that are unknown to the rest of us. I thank God that I don't have the difficult decisions of that bishop. I thank God that I was born, and that I live, in freedom. I pray for those who are enslaved by their greed or by physical servitude.

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Gypsies

Five Gypsies boarded the bus this morning: three women, a young girl and a man. As always, the women were colourful, dressed in ankle-length skirts, their heads bound in bright scarves. Bronzed and healthy, they chatted amongst themselves in their own language that nobody else on the bus could understand.

Yet it was interesting to watch the reactions of other passengers.

Whilst the Gypsies were on the bus, every move that they made was watched. people kept a close watch on their pockets and bags, fearful lest there should be some pickpocketing in store. Even though it was obvious that the Gypsies had their own business and were uninterested in the contents of pockets and bags of others, they were regarded with suspicion.

Admittedly Rome's Gypsy community is notorious, but I wonder what it is like to be automatically regarded as a potential thief just because of one's racial background? What is it like to be seen as unreliable, a con artist, beggar and scoundrel because one's clothes proclaim membership of a particular culture? How does someone who is honest, hardworking and upright even start to find equal footing with the rest of society? Doesn't such a person find an uphill battle from the start? Is there any hope of true equality with the rest of the human race?

Is this racism in the midst of an apparently non-racist society? What would God say about it?

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, August 21, 2006

The passenger

His blue shirt was brand new, worn for the first time, with every crease in its prisitine condition. He was immaculately dressed in smart jeans and his new shirt as the middle-aged man boarded the bus and stood in the aisle, not far from where I was sitting.

He was in my direct line of sight, so when I turned my head from looking out of the window, my heart gave a sudden painful lurch as I realised that my fellow passenger, so obviously on his way to work, would be spending his day cleaning car windscreens at some set of traffic lights in the centre of Rome. He had gone to so much trouble to look good, even for such a menial task that most of his customers wouldn't have spared him a second glance. I felt sad. He had so much self-respect that, even if he would be ignored by the majority, he would still do his best.

How many people do I see but not see in the course of my daily life? Do I truly see the newsagent, postman, refuse collector, street cleaner and the others who go to make my life comfortable or do I take them for granted? Who are these people? What are their own joys and sorrows, successes and failures?

Yet God has counted every hair on their heads also, not just on my own.

God bless,

Sr. Janet

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The loveliness within

We become used to seeing stone monuments in our older cities. Some of them are very beautiful, some hideously ugly.

What were the sculptor's thoughts as he created this lion? Was he thinking of the lion as the King of the Beasts, as an animal of pride and majesty in order for him to have given it such an incredible amount of expression? Had he ever seen a real lion or had he ever looked at its life history?

Naturalists tell us that the male lion is actually a thoroughly lazy beast, with most of the work of hunting and protecting the young cubs being done by the lionesses. Yet it is the lion itself that claims the credit for fearlessness and prowess. Certainly, a lion is beautiful with its mane cascading over its head and onto its shoulders.

Physical beauty is not everything that is important in life. I remember an occasion when I watched a rather unattractive child and saw that, for some reason, she was very much loved by her friends. I wondered what made her so appealing and important to them...and then I saw her when they were together at a party. The child's green dress was unsuitable and did nothing for her appearance. Her classmates looked lovely in their clothes that were obviously more expensive than hers. Still, the difference appeared when it was time to wash the dishes: the little girl who was so unattractive physically was the most beautiful of the lot. She pulled aside her friend whose hands were immersed in the sink. "You're wearing a new dress", she said. "Let me do the washing up instead so that you don't spoil it."

True beauty lies within the heart.

God bless,
Sr Janet

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Past, present and to come

The abbey walls were 1,000 years old. Their ruins still somehow resounded with the sonorous chanting of the monks as they prayed together. Sun slanted through windows that, long ago, had been filled with stained glass and beautiful images instead of straggling weeds and blades of grass. Modern paths had been edged with blocks of broken pillars, pillars that no longer supported roofs, because all that remains of the abbey is open to the sky.

Jervaulx Abbey in the north of England, covered a huge area. The 11th century building was vast and, judging by a miniature reconstructed from evidence around the abbey original site, must have been impressive and beautiful.. Even today, the ruins are impressive and beautiful, but they are also lonely. Centuries have come and gone. The monks died. The monastery died, abandoned as it was during the Reformation. Today, the ruins stand, a sad, lonely, witness to very different yesterdays.

As my friend and I walked through the twists and turns of early corridors, rooms and the chapel, blue skies were our glorious canopy. Trees, bushes and wild flowers were colourful intervals in honey-coloured stone. I knew a physical pain in my heart as I looked at the remains of a great building and mourned the fact that I could never see them in their entirety. I was angry that the actions of the past had removed something precious from my present. It wasn't fair. This abbey was and is, my heritage, my history. Why should anybody have held it from me by their thoughtlessness and lack of care?

Then I looked again. The monks were still chanting, but in my heart, from where they cannot be removed. The abbey might be in ruins, but someone with enough love today had cleaned up the area, restored ancient pathways and had tried hard to make the site beautiful and reflective once more. Anger and pain gradually gave way to gratitude.

What is past is past. The future does not yet exist. All we have is the present. God asks us to make our today beautiful and to ensure that some of its loveliness will form the today of those who will live tomorrow.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Instruments of peace

There were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat as the bus headed into Stansted airport on Sunday morning. There had been nothing wrong at all with the journey from central London. The earliness of the journey had ensured rapid, traffic-free progress throughout the 75-minute ride. Pleasant music played softly throughout the vehicle. Passengers dozed or chatted quietly.

Why tears?

They appeared unexpectedly. It happened just as the bus pulled into the confines of the airport, revealing several policemen, armed and waiting lest there be the threatened attack that had caused the heightened security. It hurt to see weapons in the hands of a police service that has, since its birth in the 19th century, carried nothing more dangerous than a truncheon. The tears were because this sort of thing should not be happening in the country that I call home. The guns did not make me feel more secure: they made me feel helpless, deeply saddened and betrayed, less secure and much more vulnerable. I felt very sorry for our ‘Bobbies’, who also don’t want to have anything to do with guns.

Entering the airport with a marked degree of apprehension, one of the first things that I saw was a group of police officers, male and female, having their breakfast. They had removed their headgear. No weaponry was visible. They were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, occasionally chatting to passengers who passed by their table. In fact, apart from their increased numbers of police officers around the airport, there was nothing out of the ordinary about the friendly watchfulness that I have known throughout my life.

I looked back to Friday and Saturday and my many hours of walking through central London. It was good to see the lack of fuss, the absence of hysteria in the city, the balanced precautions around Buckingham Palace, Horseguards Parade, Whitehall and Downing Street. We’ve been embattled before throughout many centuries, and have survived. We’ve learned to take things in our stride and to keep on going. There’s no need to get too worked up.

The milling tourists were uninterrupted in their search for good photo opportunities. Everywhere felt safe, familiar and normal… except for the one location that had taken security to extremes and which merely made me laugh with a certain amount of mixed sadness and cynicism. Some people create their own ghettos!

Strolling through Hyde Park and enjoying the last few hours before take-off, I decided to head towards Speakers Corner and a beautiful dancing fountain. As I walked, a policeman patrolled his beat, heading in my direction. He probably didn’t realise that he could be heard for quite some distance as he whistled a tune that I couldn’t identify. I thanked God for his whistling. He was at peace and he created peace.

It seems to me that peace and security mean an absence of weapons. They mean the freedom to sit and relax with others, the liberty to stroll through a park, whistling. It seems to me that peace is more than an absence of war, more than an absence of security measures that tell me Big Brother is watching.

God made us to live in freedom and in joy, in love and in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Check it out

Please check out the Pause for Prayer website at

I've just done some updating and have added a Prayer Board. I will try, as far as possible, to keep it up-to-date, although I might not be able to do so on a daily basis. It all depends on time!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lost and found!

Who said that prayer doesn't work? I've just had one answered on my own behalf!

Before I went on holiday, in the interests of foiling any would-be burglars, I decided to avoid hiding money in any of my 'usual' places. I wouldn't need Euros in England, but I'd certainly need them on returning to Rome and, with a public holiday for the feast of the Assumption, any food buying would need to be done immediately on arrival.

Guess what. I'd foiled the burglars, but had also caused problems for myself as I couldn't remember where the 'safe place' was. As I turned everything upside-down after just having tidied up the place, I thought of the parable of the lost coin. Jesus must have seen his mother looking for the occasional drachma that had been misplaced somewhere around the house in Nazareth. He must have heard her sigh of relief when it was found, apparently in exactly the same place she had searched earlier on. He must have heard her call out in pleasure to himself and Joseph, and perhaps to a friend or two, when the missing coin was in her hand once more.

I know how she felt. Next year, when I go away, I will not hide money under winter woollies, especially in the heat of a Roman summer!

Thanks, Lord, for remembering the whereabouts of all those missing items and for pointing them out when we run out of ideas for locating them. Thanks, too, for finding all those people who think they have been lost. They never were lost: you knew exactly where to look for them.

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The listener

This morning's Mass in St. Paul's basilica was celebrated by a monk whom I'd never seen before, but who spoke with some considerable authority... and in simple Italian!

His point was that the Rule of St. Benedict enjoins the monks to pray with their eyes closed, not to shut out the world, but in orer to listen more attentively. When the Rule was translated into Japanese, the character that was used for the expression 'to listen more attentively' means 'to listen with fourteen hearts'. Mary, the one who really heard God's Word and pondered on it, was truly the one who listened with fourteen hearts.

Nice thought!

Happy feast of the Assumption and may God bless you with fourteen hearts also!
Sr. Janet

Monday, August 14, 2006

Back to Rome

Most of today was meant to be spent unpacking after returning to Rome last night. I hate that part of going away. It seems to take so much longer to put things away than it did to put them in the case in the first place. Still, I'd arrived back safely and that's the main thing.

With the increased security at Stansted, I had been worried, but there was absolutely no need. The airport staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful if they had tried. The only mishap was the removal of a packet of potato crisps and the equivalent of about £3 in small change during the added security check here in Rome!

Today should have been spent unpacking but instead it's proved to be a good opportunity for some housework instead. However pleasurable, busy and exciting life might be, those little mundane details seem to be lurking just around the corner. I suppose there is a degree of satisfaction to be obtained through dusting and polishing. The place looks better after it's been cleaned...but isn't it interesting that it's precisely that bit of housework that makes a house into a home? Perhaps I shouldn't undervalue a bit of tidying up!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oh for peace!

I'm on my countdown for returning to Rome and to work. My case was packed, weighed and ready for the journey when I went to bed last night. Today I've had to re-pack and am about to have another go at the luggage, all because of the news that I first heard in the early hours of this morning, that some people have been planning a horrendous mass murder.

I pray for a world where there is no more hatred, violence, bloodshed or unnecessary deaths.

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Clare of Assisi, a patroness of peace.
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love."

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Thank God for the elderly!

Mass was an especially reflective time this morning, here at the Motherhouse of my Congregation. Godalming is a beautiful village in Surrey and Ladywell is just as beautiful as the village itself, which dates back to pre-Roman times.

Mass was reflective, as I said earlier, because I was at the baclk of the chapel and had a good view of our older Sisters, who sit close to the altar so that they can see and hear more easily all that is taking place. They are remarkable women and covered five Continents in the collective hundreds of years of missionary activity spanned by their lifetimes. More than one was responsible for setting up clincs, dispensaries and schools in some of the most remote areas of Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Certainly, my great friend Sr. Ignatius, who is, I think, 89, can tell wonderful stories about travelling by canoe across the crocodile-infested waters of Lake Bangweulu in Zambia, where she worked as a nurse and midwife for many years. She is equally able to relate the events of daily life in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan where she also spent a lengthy and eventful period of her life.

Yes, people age, but the only difference between an older and a younger person is life experience and the number of stories that they can tell to those who have the time to listen. Youngsters are still in the process of building up their repertoire. Thank God for the riches that the older generation give to the rest of us who are still following, sometimes haltingly, the paths that they had the courage to blaze for us!

God bless,
Sr. Janet

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hello and goodbye

Holidays with families are always very special times. There is the chance to see just how much the children have grown, to hear the latest stories from their parents about the most recent words of wisdom from the youngest members of the family, and the opportunity to share memories. Sadly, the time draws to a close all too soon and it's time to say goodbye.

It's a small thought that can also be a consoling one. We can only say goodbye because there has also been the chance to say hello, to come to know and love someone. The farewell might be painful, but it doesn't compare to the greatness of the joys that have been shared in the togetherness. Those joys are irreplaceable.

God bless,
Sr. Janet