31 January 2011


I remember the first time I ever prayed - I feared that a certain terrifying event might follow certain immoral behaviour of mine.  I prayed intensely that it might not be so (it wasn't :-)).

The odd thing is that if at the time - I was only 16, I think - anyone had asked me whether I believed in God, I would have laughed and said "of course not!" - so natural is it to ask for help when we have passed the hope of human efforts.

When I first believed in Christ, at the very end of 1969, and began to receive advice from mature Christians to dedicate a time each morning that my Campus Crusade for Christ called my 'quiet time,' and that I should spend that time in Bible reading and prayer.

The Bible reading part I understood.  I began then a regime which I have continued pretty continuously of reading the Bible through once a year.  That is not my only Bible-reading, but it is a basic background to the rest - of study, meditation, reading books about the Bible.  I have ever been glad that I have done this.

The prayer part I really did not.  I thought, I suppose, the same thing about prayer as I had at age 16: prayer is the way we ask for things from God that we cannot do ourselves.  I began a routine of praying for the conversion of persons.  At one point - I have abandoned this since - I had a large set of 5" x 3" file cards with names on them, and I prayed through these regularly.  I did not, it is true, have a very clear idea what such prayer should consist of - but I did pray for the salvation of others; I still do, of course.

Nevertheless, the whole business seemed, in a way, artificial.  God knows, surely, that men need to be saved.  The Father knows, Jesus tells us, what we have need of.

As I understood more of Christianity, I read that the reason for prayer is for us - the ones praying - to be changed.  This, I am sure, is so.  Yet I really didn't think that my prayer was changing me very much.

When I became a Catholic, what I heard about prayer began to change - ultimately to change pretty fundamentally.  Prayer, I was told, was a way for me to get to know God - as a man gets to know his friend, I was often told.

I am a slow learner.  Only this week-end did I reflect on what to know God means and implies:
...then shall I know even as also I am known (I Cor 13:12)
...we shall see him as he is. (I John 3:2)
and above all:
...this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3)
I cannot say that any of this has made prayer any easier.  In a way, it makes it harder.  The number of ways I have of deceiving myself in prayer is legion.  I think, "I want to know God."  Well, there is the Bible.  I read the Bible - but find I am actually more involved in theologising - or historicising - or even doing linguistic analysis - then finding God there.  I can talk to God - so readily I am talking to an idol of my own creation, a sort of idea of God.  I can listen to God - oh, the temptations there!  Feelings?  Are these God?  Thoughts?  Are they from God or just from me (or from a lower source!)?  Often, what I call listening to God is just being in kind of revery - the state that Ste Teresa warned her readers against, sitting there in silence como unus estupidos - which I think means, rather than like stupid people, something akin to like stunned mullets, if I may use a New Zealand colloquialism.

I must not rest in seeking.  Seek and ye shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.  But I know what I am looking for now - or, rather, Whom.  Prayer is not, in a way, the means to an end; if prayer is knowing God, then prayer is the end.  It is what we are made for.

22 January 2011

The sins of the fathers

...I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me... (Exodus 20:5b) 
I am colour-blind - specifically what is known as red-green colour blind.  I suppose I have the commonest form, deuteranomalous red-green colour blindness (neat big word!).  Because colour-blindness is on the X-chromosome, and because males only have one, this means both my daughters are carriers of the colour-blindness gene (even more interesting, either of them might be a tetrachromat, which sounds pretty cool, thought I don't know what, if any, practical consequences this may have).  Their sons have a 50-50 chance of being colour-blind like me.  My mother was a carrier; at least one of her brothers was colour-blind.  My brother is not colour-blind; I am.

I (probably; theoretically could be Susan, but most likely me) have passed on another dodgy gene to at least one of my children.  Adele is a carrier for the gene causing Tay-Sachs Disease.  This was discovered when she was pregnant with Thea.  Thea's father, Adele's husband Luke, is Jewish.  It turns out that the gene for Tay-Sachs is of higher than average frequency amongst persons of Ashkenazic Jewish descent (gosh, I'm getting to put a lot of links into this one, am I not?).  They were worried lest he also be a carrier.  If Thea were homozygous for the gene, her life expectancy would have been something like four years.  Fortunately, Luke is not a carrier - but Thea may be.

It so happens that persons of French Canadian descent have a higher than average incidence of T-S.

Adele's fortune is probably due to me, therefore.  My paternal grandmother was an Ashkenazi Jew.  My material grandmother was French Canadian (or at least her parents were).

All of which is to say the obvious - that - quite without their having any say in the matter - our children may be the heirs of genetic troubles from their parents, from their parents' parents, from their parents' parents' parents - and so forth.

In - when? I think 1997 - I began to despair of overcoming my tendency to bad temper (putting it mildly).  I was, after all, a Catholic.  If my dates are correct, it was in July or August of 1997 that I went to Father Aquinas McComb at the Newman Centre at the University of Auckland, and asked him about counselling.

I had been receiving the Sacraments of the Catholic Church since 24 December, 1995.  My mind and heart were clearer than they had ever been regarding the truths of the faith - and the reality of my sinful nature, and of my sin.

I think - I do not impute such beliefs to other Protestants - but I think I thought, as a Protestant, that anything like psychological counselling was a sign that one didn't really trust God.  But I knew that the Catholic belief was not that Grace annihilated Nature, but that Grace perfected Nature.

So I asked Father Aquinas for advice about counselling.  I was a little taken aback when what Father Aquinas recommended was not counselling, but what he referred to as a Mass for Healing of the Family Tree.

This is, in origin, an Anglican idea, but it has caught on in the Catholic Church.  Preparation took some time.  I needed to write out something of both my and Susan's family trees - what we knew of them (in Susan's case we knew quite a lot).  I also wrote out a sort of plenary Confession (which Father John Moss did not read - he burned it!).  Sue and I, with Helen, Eddie, and Adele, went to the Mass - Johnny was living the the United States at the time.  But the Mass was offered for several not present.  Our friends the Waldegraves - not yet Catholics at the time - attended with us.

As Susan said, after that "all Hell broke loose."

Perhaps that line is more accurate than it seems.  We did have a burst of new troubles.  It is a long time ago now, and I do not know how long they lasted - not long, I think.  In about October of that year I went to my first Opus Dei retreat, and can scarcely express what that, and all the subsequent, retreats and other ministries from Opus Dei have meant for me.  Susan eventually joined as a member.

My temper?  Well, the John Jensen whose tendency to shoot off is still the same person.  I can only say that if my behaviour had continued after that Mass as it had done for the many years before, I do not know if I would still be married - perhaps not still alive.

All of which is a pretty dramatic way of saying that things have changed, and for the better.

There is obvious truth in the idea that our sins affect our children - and our grandchildren - and so on.  This effect is, in part, purely natural.  Being reared by a blow-top father cannot be good for your own self-control.

There may, however, be a certain preternatural 'genetic inheritance' as well.  I do not know and do not wish at all to claim it.  There have been some who claim that the families who inherited the monasteries that Henry VIII dissolved have been the heirs of some sort of curse, or bad luck, or something.  I do not know and hope and pray that it may not be so - certainly our instinct is to say that those who quite innocently inherited land should not properly suffer for the sins of their ancestors.

I do know one thing, though.  Whatever we have inherited, whether through genetics, through this 'spiritual inheritance,' or by any other means, is a gift from God if we turn to Him in love and thanksgiving:
...And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6)
and, though we suffer the consequences of some of this inheritance:
...all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

14 January 2011


It would be impressive if I could explain that the reason for my silence over the last few weeks has been some great crisis in my life - even some tragic circumstances that I have had to deal with.  The reality is more prosaic: just my usual writer's block.  I have had one or two possibly good ideas.  Each time I have faced a kind of fear of doing anything about them until they became stale.

And that is still my situation - so I thought I would at least retail a few of the happenings over the Christmas-New Year period.

Johnny came to stay with us from just before Christmas until the 2nd of January, when he went home.  We went driving with him only once - to visit Nick and Helen Alexander in their new home in Matatā.

Johnny had one very distressing experience on Christmas Eve.  He was sitting up in his room, on the front of the house, just before midnight, when he heard a woman outside screaming.

There are screams and there are screams.  This, he decided, was not the angry scream of someone in a 'domestic' - and it continued for minutes.  Johnny went outside to investigate.  A few hundred yards down Helvetia Road from our house a crowd was gathered.

A man had been hit by a car and left dying in the street.  This article mentions Johnny as he was interviewed by the Herald reporter.  It was pretty ghastly, I guess.  Johnny said the ambulance took at least twenty minutes to arrive.  The man was dead by then.

Despite this, it was wonderful to spend time with Johnny.

On Friday the 7th of January Sue and I went up north for our annual trip to the commemorative Mass on the Hokianga.  This trip is a bit of a pilgrimage for us - the Mass commemorates the first Mass in New Zealand on 13 January, 1838, on that spot.  We always drive up on the Friday, spend Friday through Sunday nights at the Van Boxels' in Whirinaki, and come home on the Monday.  This year we visited Frances and Simon (Frances is Robert Hensen's sister) in Kerikeri on the Friday (Simon was actually at work, though), and my old workmate Lorri O'Brien and her husband Chris on the way back.

What a boring recital!  But I felt I must say something!  I have been on leave this week - back to work on Monday!  Maybe I will think of something better to write next week...