Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Debilitating Church Moral Teaching?

Cape Robin-Chat

I became extremely ill some years ago from a severe rare incurable lung disease.  This disease imposed restrictions on me and these restrictions have now led to me spending a fair amount of time in the quiet of the garden at my home. 

I say now because I didn't always spend time in my garden.  In fact I seldom spent any time at home, even though I have lived in this house for more than 12 years.  There were more important things like chasing a career, earning good money and so on.  This required being at work, not chilling at home. 

When my illness progressed I resisted the truth of the restrictions that the disease was imposing on me.  I stubbornly tried to continue as normal, refusing to acknowledge that I simply wasn’t physically and mentally capable of working and doing all the things I had previously been used to doing. 

When I finally realised and accepted that I had lost that particular fight and couldn’t work as I had, I stupidly sat bemoaning how dreadfully cruel life is.  

How can I, at just 42 years of age, have become so restricted in what I was able to do.  This was the silly question I used to focus on.  Instead of looking around at what was still there for me, I focused instead on looking at that which I felt I had lost.

Thankfully I soon came to realise that I have been blessed, not cursed, by this disease.  To put it into secular language, I have come to the realisation there is actually really a silver lining in every cloud.  The restrictions that have been imposed on me have led to greater joy and happiness, not to the sadness and despair that I was initially convinced the restrictions would cause me.

Mark's Chapel
One of the silver linings has undoubtedly been the ability to have the time to enjoy my home; the chapel, the garden, the bird life and the other things, which I had never really noticed during the previous twelve years that I have lived here. 

Prior to my being disabled, to experience the beauty of nature and enjoy some quiet time, I always felt it necessary to pack up the family and travel to some faraway exotic place, where I would pay a small fortune to enjoy the beauty and serenity of a holiday resort.  I now don’t have to do this anymore.

Let me share briefly. 

Today, after praying Matins and Lauds in front of the Blessed Sacrament in my chapel at home, I went to have coffee and breakfast in the relaxing environment of my garden.  

I had some new visitors join me today who are not normally in the garden helping me to relax and contemplate life.  The new visitors were this pair of Green Wood-Hoopoes.  It’s the first time they’ve been to the garden that I am aware of, although that's probably not true at all. 

Green Wood-Hoopoes
The newness of their arrival probably speaks more about how my lack of being restricted for the last twelve years has caused me to completely fail to notice all this beauty right here in my own garden.  

I am sure those Hoopoes were in fact sitting there and commenting to one another about me being the new visitor to the garden.

Green Wood-Hoopoe
In addition to these two new visitors today, I also got to see my regular daily visitors. The Crested Barbets popped in, as they usually do.
Crested Barbet
So did the Cape Wagtails, who were today being seriously bothered by two of the other regulars in my garden.
Cape Wagtail
This Dark-capped Bulbul kept rushing at the Wagtails whenever they caught a worm, intimidating them into dropping the worm so that he could steal it from them.  A complete thug if you ask me.
Cape Wagtail with worm, watched by Dark-capped Bulbul
As if that was not enough competition for the Wagtails, my 10-year-old Rottweiler, Odette, was also competing with them for the worms.  She loves worms and spends the day grazing.  This is something that I had never noticed in the ten years she has been our pet, though my son tells me this has always been the case with her.
Odette- Female Rottweiler

One of the Greater-eared Starlings also came for a drink.
Greater-eared Starling

The Speckled Mousebirds were discrete as always, with this one keeping a watchful eye on what was happening in the garden from a distance.
Speckled Mousebird

Finally, just before I came inside, the wannabe parrot, known as the Grey Go-away-bird (Grey Lourie), also popped in for a drink and helped to turn another day of severely restricted activities into a truly wonderful experience.
Grey Lourie
Today’s wonderful experience would not have happened if I had not accepted the restrictions, which my disability imposed on me.  It is because of my accepting the restrictions and learning to live within the confines of those restrictions, that I became aware that I have an exotic holiday resort right here where I am. 

It was always right here, just waiting for me to notice it and enjoy it.  All that I needed to do was to accept the restrictions that had been imposed on me.  The longer that I resisted the reality of the restrictions that were applicable to me, the longer I was and would remain blinded to what was already right there at my fingertips.

I suspect that this is the case with how some people view the Church’s moral teaching; an extremely restrictive illness; frequently described as counterintuitive, out of touch with modern society and oppressive. 

The Church’s moral teaching, unlike my illness, does not impose restrictions on us.  Unlike my illness,  it is love for God that leads me, guided by the moral teaching of the Church, to impose restrictions on myself in response to God's love.  However, like my illness, these self imposed restrictions, don’t lead to sadness and despair.  They are not oppressive and restrictive in the sense that we and the secular world may initially imagine them to be.  Instead the moral teachings of Holy Mother Church, once they are embraced, as I did with my debilitating illness, open us to all kinds of blessings that we have no possible idea exist because we are just not open to them until that moment when we embrace the restrictions.

I hope and pray that during Holy Week this year I will learn to and have the courage to embrace all of the morals that God teaches me through Holy Mother Church, even when they seem, viewed through purely human eyes, to be counterintuitive, out of touch with modern society and oppressive.


This is the prayer from Lauds (Morning Prayer) for Maundy Thursday:

Love of you with our whole heart, Lord God, is holiness.
Increase, then, your gifts of divine grace in us,
so that, as in your Son’s death,
you made us hope for what we believe,
you may likewise, in his resurrection,
make us come to you, our final end.
Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever. Amen


  1. Mark, I love this post (and have enjoyed your posts for a few weeks now after having run across your site)! I do have a question though - you said you were praying at home in your chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I didn't think having the Eucharist in one's house was allowed unless a dispensation was granted. Is this something you have permission for? If so, how were you able to get that permission?

  2. Hi Ben, good question about the Blessed Sacrament in my chapel at home. Yes one does need special dispensation and it was not easily obtained. I had at some point in the application process eventually resigned myself, after many, many months had passed, that I would never be granted permission. It is, I am told, rarely, if ever granted.

    I will explain briefly.

    For years prior to my disability I was in the habit, like thousands of other people, of attending Mass daily, without fail. In addition, I also was in the habit of spending an hour in prayer every evening in front of the Blessed Sacrament at my parish before going home after work. My parish believes in keeping the church open with a security guard on duty to make that possible. My disability sadly brought these many years of daily prayer in front of Blessed Sacrament to an end. This really upset me.

    Our priests motivated to the Bishop on the basis of the above and that they would personally visit the chapel and care for the Blessed Sacrament. This was crucial. Without the priest's commitment to attend to the chapel just like he does his own church, this would not have been possible. Big commitment considering how busy the priests are.

    It should also be noted that the logistics to have the Blessed Sacrament at home before being given authorisation are significant. One has to have a completely separate room in the house that can never be used for any domestic purposes again. It must lock and be extremely secure. The Tabernacle is itself a challenge. It is not just a box on the wall. It has to be beautiful but also as secure as a safe. It is bolted to the wall. not sure how we will ever get it off. Costs of Tabernacles are themselves prohibitive.

    There is also the sanctuary lamp that burns continually. It is not electric. It is an oil lamp that must be filled daily. We never leave the Blessed Sacrament alone at home. There is always someone home, mostly obviously me.

    Final important point is that only the priest can actually gain access to the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle. He brings the Blessed Sacrament when he brings me Holy Communion so that it is changed all the time.

    The decree was granted in writing in accordance to all the norms of Canon Law. The decree ends on my death and the Blessed Sacrament will no longer be reserved.

  3. Wow - that was a far more detailed reply than I expected, but I'm very grateful for that. The rules you pointed out were probably things I would have eventually thought of had I given them some thought (like giving the priest 24x7 access to the chapel). Either way, it was great to read! Thanks so much for sharing, and glory to God for your wonderful priests and bishop who helped allow you to be able to continue to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament! That is such a blessing!! By the way, the tabernacle itself is quite beautiful!