Friday November 24th
Quarant'Ore at Westminster Cathedral. I met Mother at Victoria station. There are massive rebuilding schemes at that end of Victoria Street, two major office/shop blocks are covered with scaffolding and sheets of plastic, prompting speculation of what will finally emerge. We pottered along to the Cathedral - inside it was a glorious glitter of candles and silence, with people kneeling and the Blessed Sacrament enthroned on the altar. It's very spacious to the mind just to be there without having to do anything else. We stayed on for Mass - good numbers attending - and then went off to the (extremely smart!) shopping centre opposite, called Cardinal Place, for coffee and sandwiches. There are some VERY unsuccessful Christmas decoration swinging from the high roof - it's not clear whether they are meant to be angels or Christmas trees, and Mother thought they were looked like shirts hanging out to dry.
There is a fantastic view of the Cathedral as you walk down the central part of Cardinal Place and look back. Later went into the CTS bookshop in the Cathedral piazza (excellent range of Christmas cards, also some nice Christmas candles, children's books) and then I walked M. back to Victoria. Volunteeered to walk her on to platform, manage the steps etc. "No, I'm fine. See you again soon. It was lovely, wasn't it?" and off she went cheerily....
I haven't been able to write this blog for a couple of days as things have been so busy. Supper last night with a friend, S, who works in a Catholic comprehensive school (not in London) . "It's a zoo" he said. Problems with pupils have included a recent serious vicious attack that left a teacher injured - the assailant was a girl pupil. Few pupils come from intact families with married parents: "You quickly learn that your pupil probably won't have the same surname as the main adults in his or her life". Teaching religion is a tough challenge - there is no real syllabus although battered copies of the ghastly "Weaving the Web" rubbish are still around the school (grim multi-faith syllabus that should never have been approved, incurred displeasure in Rome), along with various other books. He teaches sound doctrine, and the younger pupils are responsive (with the older ones, keeping even a rough semblance of civilised behaviour is the main task) but the essential problem is their homes - few if any are routinely taken to church. It is possible, but challenging, for an 11 or 12-year-old to get to Sunday Mass on his own, ignoring a parent's or step-parent's sarcasm or worse....but it certainly takes courage and a sense of initiative, and it doesn't sound as if most of these children have been trained in either of these.
Not all pupils are badly-behaved, but - and I have heard this from other teachers with whom I have had discussions over the past couple of years - a real problem is parents (or other adults in charge of the pupils, eg mum plus new boyfriend, or whatever) who simply cannot accept that their offspring are capable of wrongdoing. They do not set any standards of behaviour at home - and also do not eat meals together, or have any structured sort of family activities - so the world of school, with its notion of common life and rules and expectations is simply alien.
On the other hand, sometimes in spite of all this the Faith can be communicated, though with difficulty. "A big problem at the religious level is the presence of large numbers of Moslems and Hindus in the school. Often they are among the better pupils, as there is more likelihood of some family structure and committed parents. But when we have a Mass, for example on a Holy Day, everyone attends. It is explained clearly - in school beforehand, and at Mass during the homily - that recieving Holy Communion is something for Catholics only, something for the baptised.....but then you see Moslem pupils just getting up and joining the line - along with the others, they have only been half-listening to much of the Mass, but when it comes to some sort of action, they just automatically join in, because they have been still for a while, and want to move, or because it looks interesting, or for no real reason except that they do it without thinking, just following along."
On cheerier note, have been Christmas shopping. I do enjoy the shops when they are all glittering and with nice Christmas garlands etc....all much more glorious than when I was young, when a British Christmas meant pink crepe paper, tinsel, and little fairy-lights hung drooping from a ceiling.....I always buy lots of small things like bags of choc coins and choc Fr Christmasses to add to gifts, simply because it is fun and merry and I will jolly well do what I like doing with Christmassy things........ Nieces, godchildren etc get BOOKS. One is hoping for "McCavity, the Mystery Cat" and I warmly approve of this so she will get it if I can find a copy. All will get good children's classics....there are still loads they haven't read. A small sticker in each book will indicate that an equivalent sum has been donated to Aid to the Church in Need to send books to children in Sudan and Congo.....on a computer one can easily produce this as a small discreet sticker....I loathe the idea of braggart look-at-how-we-give-to-the-poor stuff, but the object is to get Christmas gifts in some sort of perspective....would value other suggestions from blog readers onm how to do something to counter gross Christmas greed/consumerism without looking Cromwellian or smug.