The many useless things I remember.

The Catholic Church had me until I was seven, and then for another few years. It was Aristotle who said ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ and many years later Ignatius of Loyola quoted it, and so it became a mantra of Roman Catholicism. But there’s some truth in it; what we learn as children, the attitudes we see around us, even the words we hear, they stay with us, even when we deliberately ditch them, shred them and put them out with the rubbish. As I did. Over and over again. But they had me for 16 years, 16 intense years, and I was an impressionable soul who really wanted to believe, and some of those lessons remain in my sub-conscious, like a dusty old wallpaper, always there but barely noticed and not even liked.

Today there’s a daft but satisfying little quiz in The Times – ‘How well do you know your saints?’ and I couldn’t resist it. I don’t believe in the canonisation of anyone. I can’t be doing with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, but I will always have my childhood knowledge and affection for the traditions and people of the Catholic Church. It’s a bit like loving the idea of The Shetland Islands, but never wanting to live there.

Todays’ quiz posited 5 questions, and introduced them by saying ‘In an age of mass illiteracy, symbolism was used to help peasants identify saints. So, can you work out who the saints are based on their portraits and the symbols they are associated with?” and then they reproduced 5 old paintings, with a question below each one;

  1. Which saint is associated with a cup of sweet-smelling oil that intoxicates men?
  2. Which saint is often shown half-naked in the wilderness, punishing himself for his sins?
  3. Which saint was tortured with a wooden wheel studded with spikes?
  4. Which saint is often depicted as tied to a tree and shot with arrows?
  5. Which saint was depicted with his head split open with a cleaver?

And without even trying, without having to put on my thinking cap at all, I got them all right. “OBVS!” I chortled at the screen, “Easy rotten peasy!” But I had surprised even me! These saints, the answers , are really obscure (have you heard of Jerome of Stridon? Would you know the difference between Peregrine Laziosi and Stachys the Apostle?) And then I remembered a book I was given when I was about ten years old – a leather bound, very grown-up looking, Book of the Saints. I remember poring over it, fascinated and horrified, and yet somehow envious of all the martyrs and all the suffering on those pages. Blood thirsty illustrations, gruesome prose, a sort of religious pornography; Hippolytus being torn apart by galloping horses, Elmo being disembowelled, and Sebastian … well, he had a rotten time of it, first he was tied to a tree and pierced by loads of arrows and then, when he survived that and carried on preaching the Word, he was beaten to death. Perhaps the most chilling illustration of all belonged to my namesake, Lucy. She was shown with her face bloodied and gruesome, holding a plate on which were her two eyes.

A ten year old poring over all that grim gore in her bedroom! And believing it!

The stories that surround Lucy are many and vague and kinda off-putting. In some she’s a maid who wouldn’t work on a Sunday, and so had her eyes gouged out. In other accounts she’s a virgin who was offered in marriage to a pagan and she made herself unwanted by blinding herself, and in yet others she was betrothed to be married to a man she loved but she loved God more and so she gouged her own eyes out so that the temptation would go away. Hmmmm.

I’m saying nothing. Well, I’ll just add that Lucy means ‘bringer of light’ . I have a granddaughter called Lucy, and she is a shining, wonderful light.

This morning I heard a great sermon, the sort of sermon that makes you go ‘YESSSS!” and punch the air. It was all about creation, using Psalm 19 as its text

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

It’s a powerful text and it was a great sermon, and I know that when I’m paddling in the sea tomorrow, or plodding on the sand, I’ll look around at the hills and the rocks, and down at the sand and up at the blue blue sky (we are supposed to have good weather all week) and remember the God who made it all. And thank Him.

Romans 1:20

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