Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Robin who Fanned the Flames

There is also another tradition of the Robin and how he gained his red breast. This one is more to do with Christmas.

It starts as before, with God creating the robin grey and brown, lacking colour, but this time it was not courage he lacked, but just something which made him different, something which defined him against the other birds.

It happened that on the eve of Christmas, the poor family of Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem. Indeed the town was crowded, and no matter who you are or what your state, there was not room, no decent place to stay. Eventually, they were given permission to spend the night in a stable.

They arrived during the night. A cold night. The Virgin had been sitting all day, stiff and cold, heavily pregnant, knowing that the time was near, but (miraculously) without the pain that that should bring.

Joseph, honourable and devoted to his wife, gently helped her off the donkey and bade her rest herself next to the stable wall. It was not a good place. It was somewhere, but it was no where near perfect. There was dirt, and animals, mangy animals, but now the problem was the cold. It was so cold. There was no door, and the walls were broken planks of wood. The wood lay all around them, where the animals had charged into it and broken it. And poor Mary's frame shook as the bitterness of the night bit into her flesh. They had had little space to bring clothing, and had not thought that shelter would have been such a problem.

Joseph shooed the animals away and set about blocking up the worst of the gaps. And the rest of the wood he gathered into a small mound. He knew that setting a fire in a stable was not really a good idea, but if it was that or the life of his beautiful wife and the child she carried, then he would do it.

The wood was gathered, and a little dry straw, and he struck the flint. It caught, and a little flame, with light and warmth, entered the world. But the wood was damp and the flame kept dimming. Joseph brought Mary closer to the little fire and gently blew on the damp wood to keep the flame alive.

The animals stopped their noise and their movement. The very air itself stilled and silence hung in the air. Joseph turned to his wife and saw that the moment was come. But the light and the warmth and the comfort of the fire was failing. He moved to Mary's side - she was more important than the fire.

To have a child born in the darkness and cold!

At this moment a little brown and grey bird flew into the stable. It knew, as all the animals knew, that this was the moment to stand still to cease their activity and to feel the change in the world, because of the birth of this boy. But the bird knew that it, of all the creatures, had to pull against its nature, its innate command to cease and to adore. It flew down to the fire and gently beat its wings. The swirls of air it created fanned the charred wood and a flame flickered into light. It would make sure that this child was born in the light and warmth.

As the birth took place, and silence reigned on the earth, everything in all creation stood still. All beasts fell silent and knelt in adoration. The stars and planets in their course hung in space. No sound, no movement throughout the whole of creation when God became man.

Except for the beating of a tiny wing, the gentle crackle of the fire. In that moment of birth, which lasted for all eternity, the bird never ceased in its task. The flame rose and filled the stable. The place was warmed by the wondrous blaze and the darkness was illuminated by the light that the fire brought.

Christ was born surrounded by His family, and by His creation and bathed in light and warmth.

And then the Angels sang! And how they sang. The Holy Mother's eyes were filled with tears of joy that something so beautiful could come into the world, and Joseph was humbled with honour. The beast fell to their knees. They knew that their God had come. And a little frail body lay next to a roaring fire. The flames had burnt the birds chest and singed away its feathers. But it had never allowed the fire to die. It had worshipped its creator and given Him heat and light.

The baby tore His eyes from His Holy Mother and glanced at the poor bird. The angels came at His silent command and carried away the near dead body. St Joseph in his heart said thank you to the little bird.

But even as the whole of creation worshipped God, the sound was not full, the scene not complete.

At that moment the same little grey brown bird flew through the opening of the stable and perched on the side of the manger. And as it too raised its voice and completed the song of the universe in praise of this child, the bird's chest glowed with the flame of kindness, compassion and love. A red glow - amid the dark feathers.

It flew off knowing that it's brother birds would meet this man again, and the glow of red would be fixed forever by the blood of God.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Christmas Robin

I mentioned before my desire to have a stuffed (or at least a fake) robin on the Advent Wreath. Well, let me tell you, that it has opened the flood gates of discussion, questions and ideas as to why the robin is associated with Christmas.

Yes it is a pretty bird (by the way it is a rouge gorge in French), and the brown and red provide a nice counterpart to snow and Christmas logs, but there has to be more to it than that. Just look at Christmas Cards, and you will see the omnipresence of the robin.

There is the tradition that the robin was created brown and grey and God told it that it would remain that way until it earned its badge of courage. When the little bird, one day, saw a poor man being laughed at and derided, being dragged through the streets and spat at, being tormented and in so much pain, its heart was broken. So it flew to help the man, so afflicted, and though people shouted at it, and threw stones, and laughed and jeered, the little bird flew on. It saw that the man was covered in blood, and carrying a heavy cross. It could not help with that for it was too small, but it saw that there were cruel thorns sticking into the man's head, and so the little robin flapped its wings and tried with all its might to pull one out, and so to ease the suffering of this poor unfortunate man. He pulled and pulled, though being such a little bird, he could not pull it out. The man fell, and the poor bird was almost crushed. Soldiers shooed it away, kicking it and threatening it. But as soon as the man stumbled on his way, the brave little robin flew back, and tried again.

When he was growing as tired as the man, and had almost given up hope, the robin pulled again, this time with all his might, knowing that he only had the strength for one more attempt, but he could not allow the man to suffer alone. Though he could do so little, he was willing to risk his poor frail body so that the man's suffering could be eased just a little. And so he pulled. His beak was wrenched, his wings beating to exhaustion. And then, when he had almost given up, the thorn came from the poor man's brow.The robin tumbled down, spent, into the dust.

The man was being beaten again and nailed to the wood he had been carrying and the robin could feel the pain of the nails as they tore into the flesh of the man. But he was not imagining it, for the thorn that he had struggled to pull from the man's head had stuck in his own breast. The robin's blood seeped onto the brown and grey feathers of his breast. And the man's eye turned and looked at the little broken mite, and saw with what courage and compassion this little bird had come to him, when he was alone and suffering such agony. The bird's heart quickened, and the blood from his breast dried up and vanished, leaving only the badge of honour, love and courage.

On the wreath, the robin reminds us that at this time of rejoicing and celebration at the birth of this little child, this God made Man, we must remember that in his life there will be suffering, pain and death, for our sins. This baby will die for simple love of us.

Monday, 28 November 2011

New Gloves

Genuine Altar Boy (you can tell by the wax on the sleeve of the cassock) wearing white gloves

Just before Advent we started to wear white gloves to serve Holy Mass. Well, I have one set, so the crucifer wore them, and when we did not have a crucifer, then the MC.

Of course if there is communion in the hand (how long, O Lord, how long...) this is a little tricky, but we are enlightened here in Chavagnes, so after my Christmas break, it will be white gloves all round.

Who can say that they are simply not better!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent comes

Advent Wreath

The rites which surround Advent are very important for us. I know people, priests included, who pour scorn on the whole Advent Wreath and candles bit, but to my mind it is important to heighten the changes in the Church's liturgy (and yes, before I am innundated by complaints, I know that it is para-liturgy). We do have senses and it seems more sensible to use vaguely tried and tested images, and not make them up as we go along. My only sadness so far is that I have not been able to find a stuffed robin. It has always been my practice to put a stuffed robin on my Advent Wreath.

So we have our Advent Wreath. Rather spiffy if you ask me.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Old Postcards

Petite Seminaire Chavagnes-en-Paillers

A delicate trawl through the Internet can pick up lovely pictures, so here are some I have found of the College.

College Chapel

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Against Hope

Little bit of a play on words there, as our opponents in Rugby was the School L'Esperance ('hope' in French, see?).

Well we lost. I included extra prayers at Mass, and we called down the protection help and intercession of Our Lady of Vengeance, but all to no avail.

The arrival of the opposition

Well that's nor really true. We were like gods on the field, but they, through chicanery and any manner of nonsense managed to get through our defenses. There was a swollen up ankle, a smashed nose, a cracked tooth, I walked back with a handful of blood soaked tissues... so who could not say that it was not a successful game. And by God we'll get them next time.

Some boys did not join in the general eagerness

Their chaplain/headmaster M. L'Abbé came with them. As a member of the FSSP he is of course correctly dressed. Suspecting that this might be the case I donned a Tricorn hat and cloak. I may not be playing rugby, but my job is to chivvy the troops along, and I must do this by the splendour of clerical dress. HA!

But then he pulled out his breviary and started walking up and down the touch line reading it! Too low for words! So out came my rosary and the battle continued...

You can see M. L'Abbe Lodde to the left, suspiciously not wearing a tricorn hat
Our boys were so aggressive, it was excellent! We later found out that some of their juniors were older than our seniors. So that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Boys of Chavagnes - truly we rock!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Prieuré Notre-Dame de la Grainetière

Last night I went to this near by Benedictine Abbey. It dates from the XII century, and like all things, was variously destroyed in wars of religion, edict of the state and greed of man.

The restored round Tower.

I was refounded in recent times by this Benedictine community. You can read about it here (in French). It is quite wonderful. The community explicitly welcomes those with disabilities of various sorts. It is a good reminder that the vocation of a monk is not always dependent upon obvious abilities... not in this monastery anyway!

Ruins of the Abbatial Church

Chapter House now serving as the Community Chapel

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Statues in the Parish Church

One of the good things about French Catholic Churches is that they have not been smartened up. You know the kind of thing...

"Oooh we don't want that old thing, the hand has fallen off the statue, and all the paint is flaking. It looks terrible when someone walks in, and then it drops all over the new carpet. And no one really does anything with them any more (of course you are too polite to mention that one of the reasons why they do not go to the statues any more is that candles have been banned because they might get wax on the flaming new carpet!), and you can have a nice picture instead, or better still, nothing, because then it can be nice and clean and fresh and lovely."

So they get consigned to a cupboard, and then they get more and more smashed because people cram too much in the cupboard. And then they get thrown away, because now they really are trashed.

And you're left with a lovely, antiseptic Church for a lovely antiseptic religion. Pity our lives are full of blood and grime and dirt.

Sheesh. No wonder there is a disconnection between religion real life! Who wants a religion that tastes of disinfectant?

So... I was very pleased to see all these wonderful statues in the Church. Suitably falling apart and flaking and positively reeking of prayers!

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Wars of the Vendée

Someone sent me this link to a trailer for a film about the Wars in the Vendée. I'll definitely get it when it comes out.

It seems to be done with young actors and looks wonderful. The website link for the company is this. There is an explanation of why and how they do this in the following clip. The motivation is wonderfully Catholic.

On Becoming a Rugby Blog

This is a genuine photo, and not posed. I found it just so funny that there would be a rugby boot on top of a TV in a computer room. It could only happen in a male environment!
Having explained my lamentable experiences of the rugby field before here, it is with some horror that I return to this subject.

However, we are playing L'Esperance at Rugby this week, Wednesday to be exact, and Mr McDermott reminded them that to play with honour is the true end of all sport (and then went and messed it all up by saying that they'd be in deep trouble if they did not win!).

We should win as we have a good team, but you just never know.

So prayers are needed. I was also informed...

" Fr Rowe will give you a good pep talk to help you play well, and a special blessing so that you can beat them."

YIKES! I will now have to spend my time looking up "Blessings to be used when trying to defeat another school at rugby" - there must be one, as I found the following blessing in the Roman Ritual...

I have no idea why this is upside down. It is the Blessing of an Electric Dynamo. Perhaps they have to be upside down to work.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Theology of Altar Rails

Since mentioning the Altar rails in our parish Church here, and also the lack of them in Chapel, I have been thinking much about knees.

First, I would like to assure you of the manner in which our boys here receive Holy Communion. We may not have fixed altar rails, but half way down the Church there are pew fronts which serve the same purpose. Between this and the Altar, the pews face inwards, collegiate style, and are use by the choir on Sundays and greater feasts.

So our boys receive Holy Communion kneeling. There are issues here, with a little jostling now and again, but there is not that terrible queue that you get in parish churches. I dread to think what it would be like to do that in a school! With boys pushing and even brushing past each other. It would most definitely not help reverence at the moment of receiving the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

I have long been unsure about the queueing practice for Holy Communion from a practical point of view. With the best will in the world one is always going to be more distracted when one has to do something physical, such as walking and something which one cannot do unthinkingly; after all one must think about advancing at a particular pace. Of course this is going to use some mental effort even if it is only a little. Add to that that our minds and thoughts will drift into many different areas (indeed that is what the Devil wants it to do, so that we do not truly focus on the Lord Our God who is coming to us in Holy Communion). If our mind then wanders, and our body is moving, we simply will not be ready when we get to the front of the queue. We can bang on as much as we like about the inner disposition of the soul, and how the person must try to think only of God, but it is unfair if we make the process as difficult as possible.

Similarly this is a grave danger with singing hymns at this point of Mass. It is as if we are saying "Go on, sing along, you know this one, join in the congregation, try to remember the words,carry a hymn book..." Then suddenly you find yourself in front of the Priest, and then you hear in your soul "How bad and wicked you are, because you have not thought about or focussed on the Blessed Sacrament."

To receive Holy Communion  and to believe it is hard enough anyway, I do not see why we should make it even more difficult.

I fear that this holy shuffle and constant singing from the moment the Priest descends to administer Holy Communion, is really more than the people can bear. Truly we bind up heavy burdens and lay them on men's backs, as the Good Book says.

It is not good.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Stop Press





Monday, 14 November 2011

But why an Owl?

The Own of Chavagnes
I have been inundated with requests for further explanations of the Owl of Chavagnes. First of all, people have been clamouring to know something of its provenance, something of its history before it came to Chavagnes (for most surely it existed before we knew it), and its ultimate meaning.

So what do we know of the Owl of Chavagnes, before it came to us? We know that this wooden form was made in 1943. And perhaps that is all that we can know for certain. The rest must be supposition and guess work.

The Owl, leading men to God
From ancient times the Owl has of course been the symbol of Wisdom and foresight, notably with Athena the Greek goddess. And one must not forget that also the Owl has been viewed as the guardian of the afterlife, thus possessing sacred knowledge.

All of these things are brought by the Owl of Chavagnes... for it is true wisdom that we seek to impart not just the ability to know or to do things. And it is these things that will lead to a life well lived, a death well died and an eternity in the presence of Almighty God.

The Owl of Chavagnes shows us the way...

Friday, 11 November 2011


The Calvary at Chavagnes International College
I always hold Armistice Day dear. As Catholics we have an obligation not just to remember the dead, but also to pray for them. 

In France today is a holiday (some of the younger boys thought that this would mean that they would not have any classes... poor fools!) but as elsewhere, this does not mean that there is greater amount of piety. Here in Chavagnes the civil Act was moved to 10.00am and shortened to five minutes or so.

We had planned our day around an Act of Remembrance in the town at 11.00am, so all of that went by the board. Luckily we have our own Calvary in the grounds, and we were planning a school Act of Remembrance there anyway.

Catafalque for the Requiem Mass, with added candles.
It is especially poignant for us, as this Calvary was erected for the Priests and boys who died in the Great War. There names are inscribed on the plaque. I will write them below.

The boys were exemplary. There is always a worry I suppose, boys being boys, that these moments of solemnity can be destroyed by foolish behaviour. But it was not. They were men and behaved accordingly, with dignity and solemnity.

We then passed to the Church for a Requiem Mass for the Dead who have fallen in conflict.

View from the Calvary to the College
I told the boys that this is our honour and duty. Sometime, quite often I'm sure, they do not want to go to Mass, and of course I worry about that... but not today. This is an obligation upon them, a sacred trust given to them, to join their prayers to those of the Priest in the great offering of God to God, in the Holy Mass. The Mass was not for the boys, it was for the dead.
Mrs McDermott's Memorial in the entrance to the Chape
From our school, of your charity, pray for the repose of the souls of:

M. L.Abbé Raffugeau
M. L’Abbé Bernier
M. L’Abbé Audureau
M. L’Abbé Gabard
M. L’Abbé Durand

Frédéric Robin
Etienne Maraiteau
Henri Bicon
Adrien Payraudeau
Paul Merlet
Armand Faureau
Armand Fort

Requiescant in pace.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hibou or chouette?

The Owl of Chavagnes
When the Owl of Chavagnes came into our lives, we had to know what manner of creature it was. Of course in English this is easy... It is an owl. But, as it turns out, there are two main words for owl in French. There is 'L'hibou' which means 'owl', and 'La chouette', which means, 'owl'.

The Little Owl - Athene nocturna
When the Owl of Chavagnes was revealed to the boys, amid gasps of astonishment and open eyed amazement, the hushed murmur ran round the Refectory... "Mais, c'est la chouette". The reverence was palpable. I believe that even if they had never set eyes on the Owl of Chavagnes before, somehow its essence, its existence, which had seeped into and oozed from the very building and spirit of the School, had given them a readiness, an openness to knowing the Owl when it arrived. It could come as no surprise that those who had never thought of the Owl, would immediately recognise it when it came. For which boy, or man for that matter, is not really waiting for such a thing as the Owl of Chavagnes, and is not ready to welcome it when it comes?

The Long-eared Owl - Asio otus
note the ears
How then are we to understand the acclamation: "Mais, c'est la chouette"? Are we to call the Owl La chouette, or L'hibou?

Will we recognise it at its coming?
Will we call it by its proper name?
Will it answer to another title?

Is it La chouette de Chavagnes or L'hibou de Chavagnes and what will the consequences of a miss-title be? Such things rightly tax us. But one thing we do know for certain, the Owl is here, and our lives are accordingly different.

Professor Augustus Barclay Yaffle - well known Owl, possible related to the Owl of Chavagnes.
Both show an understanding and wisdom which at first sight seems proud and haughty, but which on closer inspection can be seen to come from a deep and abiding concern for those around them.
Or, as one of the Masters said it might be that the French have more words for an Owl than the English. And it may be all to do with the tuftiness of the ears.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Owl of Chavagnes

In School we have a House system. The four Houses are these:

Henri du Vergier, comte de la Rochejaquelein (August 30, 1772 – January 28, 1794)
 Rochejaquelein (Colour Red)

François Athanase de Charette de la Contrie (2 May 1763 – 26 March 1796)
Charette (Colour Blue)

Jean Baptiste Pierre Constant, Count Suzannet (13 February 1772 - 21 June 1815)
Suzannet (Colour Yellow)

Jacques Cathelineau (5 January 1759 - 14 July 1793)
Cathelineau (Colour Green)

The boys earn Housepoints for good work, good behaviour etc. This is convertible into privileges for the individual boy, and they are also added up so that there can be an inter-House competition. So far we have just kept a running total, but obviously that does not work so well. For in individual it's fine... he knows that he has a number of Housepoints and so can do this or that, but the 'House' part of 'Housepoints' needed to be reinforced. And thus flew into our lives the Owl of Chavagnes.

The history of the Owl and its mystical significance will follow in the coming days...
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