27 December 2009

Another anniversary

Yesterday evening, when I 'phoned Susan at Helen's house, Susan reminded me of another anniversary. On the 27th of December, 1969, with Candace - Susan's sister - riding pillion, I rode my Yamaha 50cc motor scooter to Greg's house, in Manoa Valley. It was to be my last night as an unbeliever. The 'Greg' in question was a friend, a fellow taxi driver, an apostate French-Canadian Roman Catholic, and a keen Scientologist. I was myself more than interested in Dianetics and Scientology, but was unqualified to be audited for two reasons:

  • use of psychoactive drugs - Scientology is incompatible with such substances, not for moral reasons, but because the drugs interfere with auditing - I had taken LSD that evening - a frequent practice of mine at the time
  • lack of money - auditing is expensive

(Perhaps the two factors are related - drugs are expensive, too :-))

Poor Greg! He had been a good friend and had been seriously trying to help me (I very badly needed help) with Scientology, when I show up with Candace, and announce - maliciously (I wanted to see some fun) - that Candace is a Christian. In the end, Greg lost me to his cause. As he said when I left that night, "they [Scientology] would have to get 'round to "clearing" me once "this sector of the galaxy" was clear."

As I have described in a kind of testimonial, it was I who was caught. Greg began attacking Candace's Christianity; I listened - the only time in my life I had ever heard anyone talk about Jesus in a personal way - and at about 5AM the next morning, at Bill Arnold's flat in the basement of his father's church, knelt and told God that my life belonged to Him.

That was forty years ago now. I have had so very much to learn, and am still so very far from where I should be - but that God took pity on me - pretty much down and out at age 27 - is inexpressibly good.

I only regret that in the forty subsequent years I have responded so poorly to His grace - yet He has kept me thus far from the ultimate disaster of rejecting Him; has given me, indeed, the wonder of being a Catholic now; and I hope and believe will grant me the grace of final perseverance. May He do the same for you who read this, and for many!

25 December 2009

Happy Anniversary!

In 1995 Christmas acquired a new meaning for our family, for it was on the 24th of December, 1995, that Susan and I, with Helen, Eddie, and Adele, were received into the Catholic Church, the Family of God. Johnny was living in Seattle by that time, but he was already under instruction then for his own reception three months later, at Easter, 1996 - the 7th of April.

This Christmas we are scattered around the world. There have been changes. The future is still to be seen. Yet I count that date, Christmas, 1995, as a real rebirth of our family.

As I write - evening of Christmas Day, 2009:

  • Susan is with Helen and Robert and Georgia Grace and Gus in Newcastle (the one in New South Wales, not the original one in England :-))
  • Johnny is with his wife Diane and Diane's family in their family bach near Sydney
  • Adele is with her husband Luke and their daughter Thea in (freezing) Highland Park, New Jersey
  • Eddie and Eveline, with Robyn, Jonny, and Julian, are in Helensville

And Helensville is where I spent Christmas Day. I went to Mass this morning in Helensville (I didn't go to Midnight Mass last night - the first time I have missed since becoming a Catholic - as I knew I had to get up quite early this morning), then to Eddie's house, for lunch. We had a wonderful time together - but just wished you could all have been there, and particularly that our family could be together again for a while.

This coming Sunday is Holy Family Sunday - so I pray that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph will pray for our little family, for our love for God to increase, and that, at the end of all things, we will all be together again, inseparably and eternally, with Him Who is Father of us all.

19 December 2009

Angels Unawares

There are persons whose entry into one's life has far greater importance than, perhaps, the persons themselves ever suspect.

My high school physics teacher, James Anthony Rossas (known to us as JAR, of course) was one. He suffered through my pretty gross junior and senior years (5th and 6th form equivalent) - I mean my grossness in those years; the years themselves were ordinary years :-) - and bore with my failure to apply in time for University, so pulled strings to get me in anyway. Later, when I became a Christian, still writing to him, he was delighted - only to have me lecture him on the errors of his Catholicism.

I wish he were still alive now, that I might ask his pardon. But if, through God's grace and infinite mercy, I am granted the inexpressibly good gift of eternity in His friendship, I expect to find Jim Rossas there - and to be told how much his prayers helped me merit the gift of faith.

When I became a Christian, at the end of 1969, I rushed into my friend's office at the University of Hawai'i in early 1970 to convert him. To my astonishment, Greg - a reader of this - exclaimed, "that's impossible! My adult Sunday School class has been praying for you for two years!" :-) I had not known that Greg was a Christian. I had scarcely known that there was such a thing as a Christian.

Over the succeeding years Greg was such a friend! He still is, although he lives in Hawai'i and we in New Zealand, so we have - alas! - little contact.

Father Horgan is a very special case.

Greg's own encouragement, in 1974, led us to Yap, in 1976 - and to Father Horgan.

I was very suspicious of anything Catholic in Yap in 1976. Nevertheless, Father Horgan somehow became our friend. I remember that I never thought of talking to him at all of matters of faith. We spoke - and I think this very accurately expresses the reality of the situation - a different language from that of Catholics. I did not know how to talk to him.

Every Thursday evening he came to our house - quite near the Catholic Mission in Yap - and we had ice cream together and talked of family matters. Once, indeed, religion got involved. When Adele was born, the local Protestant church would not baptise her - they had decided they believed only in "believer's baptism" - they meant "confessor's baptism," of course. And of course it never occurred to me to have a Catholic priest baptise her.

Our Protestant church in Auckland gave us authorisation to baptise her, which we did - with Father Horgan signing as one of the witnesses :-) Father's aunt (Rita??) rather adopted us overseas waifs, sending us Christmas gifts and writing letters to us. The importance of these persons in our lives cannot be exaggerated - yet I little recognised it at the time.

In about 1986, as I recall, Father Horgan was enabled, using Frequent Flier points, to visit us in Pukekohe. Some years later he told me that he had been a little hurt that we had not invited him to come to our Protestant church worship. I had, in fact, been almost afraid of our Protestant friends' finding out that we had a Catholic priest staying with us.

One of the greatest joys of my life was my being able to tell Father, in 1995, that we were about to be received into the Catholic Church. And I think our joy was matched by his astonished surprise.

Father Horgan is now in New York, after many years in Yap as a missionary priest. Sue and I talked with him yesterday. He does not know what his future holds. He is a reader of this blog, so I can only say, Father, what a blessing it has been to know that you are our friend, and that you pray for us. We pray for God's blessing on your ministry and life. May we be finally united indissolubly in His presence!

12 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

Well, I was thinking about writing another entry in the closely-followed reality-blogging series 'Memoirs - Dad' and I thought I would write about my memories of family Christmases.

Then I realised that I (practically) haven't got any.

Not really true, I suppose. As I begin to write I seem to recall doing things like string alternate cranberries and bits of popcorn, to put on a tree - or was that something that Edna and I did?

I think I only distinctly recall one Christmas present. I suppose I was - what? - seven? eight? It was a pistol belt with two holsters and two cap pistols. What I cannot recall was whether I was the recipient or Peter, because I do seem to recall some strife between us about it. Did he receive it and was I jealous? Did I receive it and was I selfish?

I have not a clue - perhaps Peter can enlighten me. What I think it may tell me is that the importance of Christmas presents is, if not small, at least evanescent. And of course our family had no tradition of religious activities at Christmas - except there was that one fascinating memory of going to Mass with Kenny's kids, my cousins. I feel sure that was Christmas Eve Mass.

But I do recall vividly and with great pleasure two other sorts of holiday during the year: Easter and Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en was "Trick or Treat." I have heard that things are a bit less innocent today. At the time, we dressed in conventionalised symbols of death - shirts with printed skeletons on them, masks - and went door to door, half a dozen or so of us together, knocking and crying "Trick or Treat!" I do not recall ever being disappointed, and I do not think any of us would have thought of 'tricking' had we not been 'treated.' If All Hallows' Eve is no longer innocent fun, I am sorry. In the early 1950s - we did not do it in Oroville, as we lived on the farm - it seemed harmless (except possibly to our teeth :-)).

Easter - again, am speaking of Bakersfield, in the early 1950s - was Easter eggs! My mother boiled eggs and we coloured them. I loved that process almost more than the hunt. On Easter morning we had our hunt, but the local council also put on an Easter egg hunt in a park. These were always hard-boiled eggs. Susan tells me she remembers chocolate eggs; that is as may be. I never heard of a chocolate Easter egg until we moved to New Zealand, in 1973.

When we lived in Oroville, there were no Easter egg hunts - at least I do not recall any - nor trick-or-treating (but my mother did host neighbour kids at a Hallowe'en party at our house, complete with rubber gloves filled with ice cubes to pass around, and grapes (as eyeballs, you see)). But I had my first introduction to Easter as a religious event. In high school I played my horn in the brass choir, at Easter sunrise service in the graveyard. That was the first inkling I had that Easter had anything to do with dying - and with rising again.

Christmas blessings to all of you! This year Susan is flying to Sydney on Christmas Eve, and I expect I will see Eddie and Eveline and the kids on Christmas Day. I will, I hope, write something again before then. Tomorrow is, after all, only the 3rd Sunday of Advent. But I thought of Christmas today, and wondered to think how little I remember of early Christmases.

08 December 2009


Or Sehnsucht. What C. S. Lewis called "the 'inconsolable longing' in the human heart for "we know not what."

Taawureng is the Yapese word for it. I know that will not trigger anything in the minds of anyone likely to read this, but it does for me. 'Homesickness,' 'longing' - I know of no English word that quite does it.

The concert is over. The review was good - and William Dart is hard to please, so I suppose we did well. But the concert is over. And I am ... sad, I suppose, I must say. I am listening to the Tchaikovsky now. Foolish me!

Sehnsucht - taawureng -is the deep heart-ache that says, "if only I ... if only I do this, do that ... the ache will be stilled."

It will not be. Nothing will quench that thirst but Heaven, but God Himself. As we approach a concert I feel it so strongly; when the concert is over I am let down. The ache cannot be given peace.

But I will not live without it. We think of the theological virtue of hope as something cheery, light, perhaps. It is not. It is this ache, this deep longing for home. It will be - God grant it! - finally swallowed up in fulfilment. But not by anything this life can offer.

The paradox of hope is that the things - music, beauty, joy - that bring Heaven closest to us are the things that cause that wound to ache most intensely.

We would not do without these reminders of the Thing we hope for for anything. That way lies despair.

I thank God He has given me the inexpressible gift of music.