Friday, 11 March 2011

Happy Lent/Fastenzeit!

As ever, you will probably notice the correlation between the amount of work I have to do and the frequency of posts on this blog. It hasn't been that long after all, just a week.

Either way for those of you of a Christian bent the last week saw the beginning of Lent, the forty days (and six Sundays!) leading up to Easter. Whilst in the UK most people mark the end of the good times with a few too many pancakes, topped with lemon juice and sugar, on Shrove Tuesday, before giving up something like - in the case of British folk - sugar in their tea. Not so in Germany. Here, predominantly in the Catholic South and West, there is Carnival.

To be honest I allowed the carnival atmosphere to slip by me. It was evident in the way all public festivities are; fast food stands, broken beer bottles, even stronger Bavarian dialects and a visibly increased police presence. So far so Oktoberfest. The difference is that this time people wear costumes. And I hate costumes. I do not know why, whether it is the memory of stage fright in school plays or some other reason deeply buried in my sub-conscious, but they creep me out. Animal costumes are the worst; then all I can think of is the last scene in The Wicker Man when the Police Officer is pursued by villagers with animal masks ready for the pagan sacrifice taking place...go watch it, it's a great film.

Of course Ash Wednesday arrived and it was time to give something up, or take something on if you're really trendy. This year, as I have been extremely unsuccessful in past years, I have decided to do something a little different. My pledges are as follows:

1. No Internet 'surfing' after 6pm. Emails, online dictionaries and blog updates are exempt.

2. No YouTube at any time.

3. Say the Divine Office every day

I swear like everyone I am internet addicted. I can spend hours surfing the net, going on Wikipedia and reading article after article of useless knowledge. Then there is the behemoth that is YouTube, which Pringle-like is hard to relinquish once one starts watching. Those of you who know me will be aware of what a sacrifice this entails. Most of my favourite television shows are hosted illegally on the site, the majority of which were made before I was born.

I love being able to watch an episode of Minder or half of The Thorn Birds on a whim. Yet there is a pile of books waiting to be read, poems and things waiting to be written and a whole world of experiences I am losing out on because of my love of old television. It is like the Kate Bush song Deeper Understanding, produced in 1988 and possibly the first song about computer addiction back when PCs had the RAM of an electric toothbrush. Anyway, I digress...


The third item on the list above is one inspired by recent events. Right now the word 'Future', like the word 'Life' is capitalised and though I know what I plan to do, it is still vaguely daunting. I have been rereading the work of Blessed Titus Brandsma, O.Carm as part of my research into the life of Br. Raphael. He is an amazing man. Labelled as the first saint to have had a European Rail Card, he was a journalist and educator who was as much at ease among students as he was among academics. In the early 1940s he became chaplain to the Dutch Catholic Press and pressured them to oppose the Nazis in print.

He would give his life for these convictions. In early 1942 he was interred in Schleveningen Prison in the Netherlands, then transferred to other prisons before ending up in KZ Dachau in early June of the same year. He lasted approximately six weeks before succumbing to Ermuedigkeit, fatigue.

His story deserves far more reflection than this, andI will post more at a later date. I should have done so long before now. It was just that I was reading a section of Br. Raphael's testimony on the life of Bl. Titus where he describes hiding the Blessed Sacrament in the camp:

The next morning before inspection we said a short prayer together and he gave me Holy Communion. Interiorly strengthened one could face the day. Father Titus used to say that Holy Communion was not only our supernatural nutrition but also our bodily food. How often did we feel this in Dachau!

To cut a long story short, I haven't been praying recently, and I have been using KZ Dachau as an excuse. It is paradoxical that while the Nazi persecutions are so often used as proof of God's non-existence, the majority of believers who entered the Concentration Camp system came out with a far stronger sense of faith than ever before. Bl. Titus and Br. Raphael's experiences are not unique; there is something in the power of God to help people overcome even intense hunger and maltreatment. I can only pray that I may one day come close to that kind of 'simple' faith.

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