25 April 2009


In the winter of 1993 - July or August, I think - in a 'usenet' Christian group on the infant World Wide Web someone mentioned a Reformed pastor who had become a Roman Catholic. I was electrified. I had been mooning about inwardly about the Catholic Church for a year or more before that. There were a couple of self-avowed Catholics on the list who astonished me. I had not even known that I had silly preconceptions about Catholics until I found myself amazed that these persons seemed far and away the most interesting, straightforward, intelligent, and 'normal' people I had encountered.

I was electrified, but I was terrified. For all that part of my mind knew perfectly well that these prejudices were ridiculous - and, indeed, that two writers whom I admired enormously - Tolkien and Chesterton - were Catholics - still I feared the Catholic Church more, even, than the Devil. Christ had overcome Satan; but there was nothing in Scripture about Christ having overcome the Roman Catholic Church.

I was afraid of reading anything by a Catholic, and afraid of letting anyone know of my interest. I did find out that the 'Reformed pastor' was someone named Scott Hahn, but the University of Auckland library had no book by him, and though I did eventually listen to audio recordings of talks he made, which played an important part in my becoming a Catholic, I had at the time no opportunity of getting anything by him.

But Newman I knew of. Newman was, after all, the well-respected author of "The Idea of a University" - concerning which the Wikipedia article on Academia says:

A substantial part of what we now know as a "university" came from the philosophy and work of one man, John Henry Newman, who wrote a book called The Idea of a University.

So reading Newman was respectable. To be sure, I had inherited, from something that Francis Schaeffer had said on an audio tape, the idea that Newman's conversion to the Catholic Church had been more an act of intellectual and moral cowardice than a matter of conviction. I doubt Schaeffer intended any such thing, but that was the idea I had.

And from Schaeffer I knew that Newman had written the book "Apologia pro Vita Sua" - and the University library certainly had that.

I was stunned by what I read. Whatever the source of my prejudice, it was shown to be nonsense. And Newman had written, after six years' trying to decide about the Catholic Church, "Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine". This book, also, I read.

This was the beginning of a 27-month process which brought me, and, as it happened, though the choice was their own, my family into the Catholic Church.

That event took place on 24 December, 1995. Over the next several years I read little of Newman. I was busy reading everything I could get my hands on about my new faith, and about living it - particularly trying to make essential changes in my character.

But around about 2000 I began seriously to read Newman again. I read several biographies of Newman. I read all his books that our library has - except the 32-volume (each close to 1,000 pages) collection of his letters and diaries. I began to feel I knew this man - and became more and more drawn to him as a person.

By about 2001 I had learned about the 'cause' for his canonisation and began to pray for its success. I began reading the volumes of letters. I have found it the most amazing experience. I am currently in Volume X, and have got to 15 January, 1845. On 6 October, 1845 Newman surrendered. The Hound of Heaven had run Newman to ground.

Newman was declared venerable in 1991. This is the first step towards canonisation. It means the Church has examined his life and finds him 'heroic in virtue,' worthy of imitation. The next step is beatification - the Church's declaration that the 'Servant of God' is in Heaven. This step requires one verified miracle - almost always a miracle of healing - that is without doubt to be ascribed to the intercession of the candidate. By 'miracle' the Church means that the event cannot be explained by any natural means. The requirements both for the miraculous nature of a proposed event, and for its ascription to the intercession of the proposed beatus, are quite stringent.

Given my devotion to Newman, therefore, my prayer for his cause, and my deep interest in his writings, I need hardly describe the emotion I felt about a year ago when it was reported that a cure was attributed to Newman's intervention. For a year or so I have continued to pray - as have many many others. And now this:


I am so happy.

20 April 2009


Every year about this time Susan goes on her one-week theology course and I take annual leave and do her paper deliveries.

Of course I do not have to take a full week off to do two mornings' work. The University, in response to pesterings for higher pay, has gradually, over the 23 years I have worked in my present job, increased our annual leave (well, yes, we have had pay rises, as well, but would have preferred more pay and less leave). So now I get six - I believe that is correct - weeks' annual leave, in addition, of course, to statutory holidays of which I think we in New Zealand have more than the United States.

So in addition to taking leave on Fridays before concert week-ends and the Monday following, I take three weeks' leave starting the Monday after Palm Sunday. It is admittedly restful and pleasant, and that is why Johnny came at that time.

The week-end following Easter - the week-end of Divine Mercy Sunday - is the Eucharistic Convention which Sue and I attended - and a wonderful time it is, too.

And the Monday after - today, in fact - Susan goes to Auckland for one week.

So I am alone. Johnny left Friday the 17th. Susan left today, Monday the 20th. She will come home this coming Saturday, the 25th - ANZAC Day!

I always feel that this week of solitude should be a bit of a retreat time for me: a time for prayer, meditation, resolutions. And in a way, it is.

On retreat, too, I am restless; must frequently resist temptations to break the solitude by talking to others; spend time being 'busy' rather than in prayer. Now of course I am not on retreat. Nevertheless, I am alone and, difficult - extremely difficult! - as that is for me, I think it is a good thing that I deliberately choose some silence, some apparent idleness, and some practice of the presence of God. It is a gift. My solitude is a gift. It is a eucharistic - a 'thanksgiving' - gift. Let me learn truly to appreciate it rather than to run from it.

12 April 2009

Easter 2009

Holy Thursday - Mass of the Last Supper - Good Friday - the deep silence of Holy Saturday - and then Easter Vigil Mass last night - I suppose this can sound like the usual routine; it is never that, and I suppose it could be. As a Protestant, I never quite 'got' Easter. Christmas was the big day of the year.

It is not so now.

Johnny came over (Diane couldn't make it) last Saturday, the 4th of April and has been with us this week, and will be for the next. Eddie and Eveline came down today for lunch and we went out to visit the house in Patumahoe that Susan and I are supposed to go and live in early next year. Tomorrow morning, Sue, Johnny, and I will head up to Parakai, pick Eddie up, and take off for just a couple of nights. We will be visiting David and Jodi Van Boxel, our friends who live up on the Hokianga - stops in Kataia and Ahipara on the way.

And then home. Johnny leaves on Friday the 17th; Sue and I will attend the Eucharistic Convention on the week-end; and then Susan will go off to her annual theology course.

So things are a bit busy and I won't say more now, but Johnny borrowed a friends 'camcorder' and here are some videos from the week-end, including bits of the house in Patumahoe. The site will download them whether you click on them or not, so when you click on that link, be patient. It takes a few minutes before it has finished and is ready.

Resurrection blessings on you all!

04 April 2009


In the United States - at least when I was a child; I don't know what current practices are - 'first grade' is the first year of obligatory schooling, and begins, as I understand it, at the beginning of the school year in September after you turn six years old.

Actually, I don't know if that is strictly true. What would happen if you turned six at the beginning of October? Would you not start school for eleven months? In my case, anyway, my sixth birthday was 22 September, 1948, and I began first grade then.

The ages of schooling can be a little confusing for New Zealanders - and vice versa. In New Zealand you start school on or about your fifth birthday. If your fifth birthday falls in the middle of the school year (which starts in February), you will start school in the middle of the year. How things progress then depends, I suppose, on your progress. Susan knows much more about this than I do, as she taught our children at home and had to know the rules.

The result is that New Zealand children appear to begin school a year earlier than do American children. It all evens out at the end, however, as there is a 'thirteenth grade' in New Zealand, rather than a 'twelfth grade' - what used to be called 'seventh form' and was for those intending to progress to University.

Nevertheless, I started official public schooling at age five.

No, not because I was precocious. In New Zealand there are things called 'kindergartens,' but they are places that, I think, are not part of the State system, but rather local sort of pre-schools. They tend to be only for a few hours a day, and I think mothers normally are there with their children.

I - and at least very many other children, who were my classmates - attended kindergarten at age five, and it was a full school day's worth - I think.

And at age four I went for part of a day - with my mother in attendance for part of the time - to something called 'nursery school.' And this was voluntary, not part of the State system.


It appears to me, on reflexion, that at least for me, I started schooling of a mother-assisted variety at age four - just as many New Zealand children attend mother-assisted 'kindergarten' at the same age. And I started full-day State-run school at age five. But it was called 'kindergarten' rather than 'year one' (as current New Zealand terminology has it). And there I first began elements of reading and writing - just as New Zealand children do.

So apparently I had the same number of years of pre-University schooling as a New Zealander has.


I don't know, but I do know that my first 'real school' - kindergarten - was Roosevelt Elementary. It is still there, still located at 2324 Verde Street - though this 'Rough Riders' stuff is new to me. We never had such pretensions :-) I started there at age five, in kindergarten - September, 1947. Nursery School I remember, but not the name nor much about it, except that I was terrified the first day - I was only four, remember!

Miss Harding was our principal. I can even remember some of my teachers' names. I don't recall my kindergarten teachers - and there were two of them. I think we were a big class, maybe as many as 50, I seem to recall my mother saying. My second grade teacher was Miss Reynolds, and she told us a story that horrified me - and to this day I don't know whether to believe it or not. She told us of a class of children in New York City somewhere - a place as exotic to me as Timbuktu - who had never known anything but the concrete jungle of the city. When asked to draw an apple tree, they drew a pole with a flat board on top with a nice pyramid of apples on top, as they had seen in the grocery store.

Sounds a little unlikely to me now, but I remember the story vividly because it rather upset me.

And Miss Cappell was my fourth grade teacher and she showed us the first aeroplane I had ever seen. I remember this with great clarity. One day, as we were in the classroom, we heard a buzzing sound outside. She quickly hurried us outside, so we could look up and see this marvellous site. This was 1951, and I am surprised now that they were so rare, but I suppose they were rare around Bakersfield. We were not on the way to anywhere. Presumably there was an airport. But the population of the town - now an astonishing 330,000 - was then only about 30,000 and its location made it a sight she wanted us to see.

And it was in third or fourth grade that I first fell in love. Karen Stone was her name.