Sunday, 22 March 2015

Having done it Rite...

A quick happy update. Today the majority of us had recovered sufficiently from gastro, and we made it to the Sydney Cathedral (leaving two behind) so that Albert could finally have his rite of Baptism completed.

Archbishop Anthony was in fine form and delivered a classic Dominican homily, in which he managed to speak about Ambrose, Augustine, Jordan of Saxony, Albert the Great, and (of course) St Thomas Aquinas.

It was great to have his mother and godmother present this time :) and it was a very special moment for the three men who were present for the emergency baptism to finally see it through to completion!

Thank you all for your continued prayers.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Getting it Rite

Just over one year ago, after a long and difficult labour, Susan gave birth to our son Albert. He was almost immediately rushed to an Intensive Care Unit in a children's hospital. I asked the doctors if I could wait for a day or so before having him baptised, but they advised us to organise the baptism as soon as possible. We called two dear friends, one a priest and the other one of the people we had asked to be godparents, and they responded so swiftly that they reached Albert's ward before I did!

With the permission of the (then) bishop of Parramatta, Albert William Holmes was received into the Church by emergency baptism. (picture)

In cases of emergency baptism, the practice is to complete the rite of baptism within a Church setting when that becomes possible.* For various reasons, mostly relating to Albert's health, but partially relating to bishops moving around, it has been difficult to find a suitable date to complete Albert's baptismal rite.

I am delighted to say that we have finally found a suitable time and date.

At 3:00PM this coming Sunday, the 22nd of March, Archbishop Anthony Fisher will conduct the completion of the rite of Baptism which was begun, with his permission, by Fr Sam Lynch.

If you happen to be at the Cathedral on Sunday you are quite welcome, but not obliged, to join us in this short but joyful occasion.

NB: Due to Albert's delicate health there will be no formal celebration after the rite, we will be heading home to give Albert a well earned rest!

Wherever you are on Sunday, please pray with us, and rejoice with us!

(*The baptism is valid as soon as happens. If nothing else happened it would still be valid. It is Catholic practice, however, to 'complete' any part of the extended rite which was not able to performed due to the circumstances surrounding the emergency baptism. The priest completing the rite would note the place of emergency baptism and record the baptism as 'rite supplied'. This demonstrates publicly that the emergency baptism was not separated from the Church but united with her, and the Church receives and welcomes the child as one of her own. In Albert's case he had been baptised with water a year ago but, since he was in danger of death and had many tubes and cords obstructing access to his winy body, almost nothing else was possible. He will receive the anointing, blessings, readings and homily, and his parents receive blessings for motherhood and fatherhood respectively.)

Monday, 16 March 2015

Albert beefs up!

It has been some time since an Albert update I am sorry. This is not because nothing has been happening. It has partly because I have been very busy, but mostly because we are all simply exhausted and I find it difficult to muster the energy to write.

Albert survived a gastro flu that brought about half the household to its knees last week, and he survived a vicious fever that blasted him to 40 degrees Celsius (104F for our American friends) even after five days of antibiotics. Some strong antibiotics and pain killers helped bring down the fever and he seems almost back to normal now, though he still has an infected throat and cries when he coughs. He is understandably tired.

I am writing now to share some excellent news. First, Albert successfully completed his second sleep study and we are waiting on the results. If anyone has seen how many sensors are plastered to the poor child's head you will know that just getting through that night without major drama is quite an achievement!

Second, Albert has had his eyes checked this week. The medical specialists usually recommend yearly checks to keep track of problems that often arise in T21 children, but they warned us he may require more frequent testing if they detect certain problems. After the tests, however, Albert's specialist told us that his eyes were so good that he won't need to see us for another TWO years. Needless to say, Albert was treated to a few high fives.

Third, you may recall that Albert has struggled to put on weight for the last six months or so. We have been juggling his formula, trying different combinations and amounts, and trying to balance volume with his stomach capacity to avoid excessive vomiting. To be honest the constant trial and error was beginning to depress us. Nothing seemed to be working at all. He was 7.00kg in October last year, and by the 12th of February this year (four months later) had only gained half a kilo to 7.52 kg. Today, however, he weighed in at 8.52kg!

We are still not out of the woods. The constant grind of his health care, combined with a large family, a full time job and a PhD on the side, is exhausting all round. We are still waiting for a date for his next serious surgery (on his throat), but for now that can all wait.

Rejoice with us! Albert is growing again.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Cheese List

My wife came home with some Wensleydale cheese recently, and I remarked that I remembered the name from The Cheese Shop skit by Monty Python. While discussing the list, we wondered how many of the cheeses we had tasted. One thing led to another and we have now decided we will try to taste every cheese on the list!  

It is, perhaps, a silly goal. But, hey, we don't get out much these days and everybody needs a hobby. :)

For those who have not seen the skit, here it is.

And the list:

Red Leicester
Bel Paese
Red Windsor
Norweigan Jarlsburg 
White Stilton
Danish Blue
Double Goucester 
Dorset Blue Vinny
Pont l'eVeque
Port Salut
Saint Paulin
Carre de l'Est
Bresse Bleu
Perle de Champagne
Smoked Austrian
Sage Derby
(Greek Feta) 
Pipo Creme
Danish Fynbo
Czechoslovakian Sheep's Milk
Venezuelan Beaver Cheese

And getting us started right away, some Wensleydale, (pictured above), and some Shrophsire Blue for good measure!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Forty ways to do forty days for life.

Forty ways to do forty days for life.

 Most of us are pro-life. We are in favour of defending life, enhancing life and living life to the full!
So when 40 Days for Life comes around each year, we get that urge to somehow get involved. The 40 days campaigns are well run and a good example of what people joined in public prayer can achieve. I want to say up-front that the Forty Days for Life campaign is a good thing, and each and every one of us should consider making the time to get down there and get our knees dirty.

The trouble is that I have a wife, eight children, (one with special needs), a full time job, part time study and a few other good causes on the side. I suspect there are any number of good people in the same sort of position. We are tied up with very good things, and we would have to neglect those good things to be involved in the organised activities. Some people are simply too far away from the organised activities to make it practical.

 The tragedy of this situation is that many of us simply think ‘oh well, I can’t be involved this year… again.’ And, because we cannot commit ourselves fully to the activities, we stop thinking about it. I am writing this to encourage you to think about a way you can be involved, no matter how busy or remote you are.

So, no matter how busy you are, or how far away, here are forty ways to do 40 Days for life!

1. Make time to be involved in the official 40 Days for Life activities! Yes, I know, this is supposed to be a list for people who can’t get involved. But the first step in thinking this through should be to ask myself “Is it possible to organise things differently so I could be involved, even in some of the activities?” Perhaps it isn't, but we should at least ask ourselves the question.

2. Commit to praying with the 40 Days teams. Wherever you are, you can still pray. Ask the teams for some of the prayer texts, or find your own prayers and commit to praying them at a certain time each day. Let the team know you are praying with them, or agree with a friend to pray and encourage each other to pray.

3. Remember that ‘pro-life’ is not limited to ‘anti-abortion’. Pro-life means loving children, thanking God for the gift of children every day and helping them to grow up with a healthy appreciation of the life God has given us all. Instead of just giving something random up for lent, make some small sacrifice that will make your home a more joyful celebration of life.

4. Remember to thank and celebrate friends for being pro-life, even if you differ with people about the best way to be pro-life.

5. Remember that being obnoxious about pro-life issues can sometimes do more damage than not speaking at all. It is about winning people, not arguments!

6. Find out which agency in your diocese deals with ‘life’ issues. Check out their resources and recommendations.

7. Pray for your bishop, for courage to speak up and the skills to speak well on pro-life issues.

8. Pay attention when he does speak, and support his initiatives, even if they are not exactly what you would like.

9. Consider donating to a pro-life cause. Just because you can’t be there does not mean you can’t support them with donations.

10. Check your parish bulletin, website and notice board for ways the parish is involved. Or respectfully ask your priest about the parish’s involvement.

11. Pray for your priests, for courage to speak up and the skills to speak well on pro-life issues.

12. If you are married, thank your spouse for being your partner in life-giving. Again, thanks is not enough, but respect for each other as mutual life-givers it is a good place to start.

13. Love your children. This sounds obvious, but our first duty to life is the lives that have been entrusted to our own homes.

14. Thank your mother, for being your mother! Whatever else she has done, you are here today because your mother bore you for nine months. A simple thanks is not enough, but it is a start.

15. Write to your grandparents. For the same reason as thanking your parents, with bells on!

16. Help parents around you. Drop off a meal or some baking to busy mum.

17. Offer to babysit, so your friends can enjoy a date, or just a coffee together.

18. Give a kind word of encouragement to a parent. The smallest things can make a big difference. Do this even if they look happy. Even happy marriages can benefit from kindness!

19. If you have children, encourage single friends to be involved in family life. It is healthy for them, and helpful for you.

20. Pray for marriages. A marriage forms the nucleus of life giving families. Every marriage has struggles, some more than others. Pray for more healthy marriages and happy homes.

21. Involve your children in your prayers for marriage, for unborn babies, for life and for loving families.

22. If you know someone who has suffered a miscarriage, pray for them, and give them space to mourn.

23. Pray for people who are facing death, in hospitals, in dangerous situations and at the end of life. 

24. Pray for the end of the death penalty, abortion and all things anti-life.

25. Pray for an end to war and violence around the world.

26. Smile at a mother struggling with her children in public. Sometimes the hardest part of being a parent is feeling as if the whole world thinks we are doing a bad job of being a parent. Sometimes pro-life is showing a parent you appreciate the effort they make and that they share their children with society by coming out in public.

27. Pass on some baby clothes, or baby equipment that you don’t need any more.

28. When someone is pregnant, be happy with them. No matter what the circumstances, celebrate life!

29. Write to your Member of Parliament to let them know that life issues will affect your vote at the next election.

30. Write to the Senators in your state to let them know that life issues will affect your vote at the next election.

31. Re-read Humanae Vitae. Seriously, it is not that long.

32. Re-read Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Families.

33. Re-read Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women.

34. Read some stories of saints who have given everything for another person’s life.

35. Make time to listen to a more experienced couple talk about the struggles and joys of marriage and raising a family.

36. Be honest with others about the struggles and joys of marriage and raising children.

37. Try very hard never to make anyone else feel as if they have failed, ever!

38. Share the things that have helped you, and your friends along the way. But do not be offended if it doesn't help the person you are sharing with.

39. Make plans to be better organised for next year.

40. Never stop praying!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Waiting for the knife, again!

Albert continues to improve, albeit at a snail's pace. He has added a few centimetres to his length but has only gained half a kilo over a few months, which is a concern, but not a disaster just yet.

Susie took Albert to see the 'ear, nose and throat' surgeon today, to follow up on the information gleaned from his exploratory surgery (laryngo broncho esophegoscopy and nasoendoscopy) in December. The short story is that Albert has been diagnosed with Type 1 Laryngeal Cleft and Aspirational Disorder. Effectively, Albert cannot swallow a liquid without it flowing into his lungs. The surgeon told us that we have several options on the table. We could do nothing, and keep Albert on a tube in the hope he will improve naturally as he grows up. The nature of this particular problem, however, indicates that significant improvement is not likely without intervention. A second option is to begin with a minor procedure to temporarily reinforce his ability to swallow, as a test to see how effective a permanent adjustment would be, and then proceed to full surgery at a later date. The only advantage in taking this option is that, if it turns out that the benefits of the surgery will be minimal, we would spare Albert the trauma of major throat surgery. The downside would be that he has to wait in line for the first procedure, recover from that procedure, then wait for further testing and analysis, and only then get back in line for the full surgery. Taking a pessimistic estimate of hospital waiting lists, it could be over a year before the problem is dealt with.

After a discussion with the surgeon and a long discussion between ourselves, we have decided to push ahead with the full surgery option as soon as possible. Even though this seems the most logical and practical decision, we did not take it lightly. Operations in the throat area, particularly involving his breathing and swallowing functions, is traumatic and involves significant risks. Albert will be sedated and chemically paralysed for several days, so that an machine can do his breathing for him, allowing his throat to repair the damage caused in the operation. We remember months ago, sitting, standing, praying, and weeping beside his bed as he lay in an induced coma in the same ICU, so we are well aware of what is coming. This time is different in one significant way. It is not a desperate attempt to save his life, but an attempt to make a significant improvement to his future!

So tomorrow we place him in the queue for surgery. It could take weeks, or months. When it comes we will probably have only a few days notice, so we have decided to start praying now. Feel free to join us!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

A different gift

I remember one Christmas, I had my heart set on a particular gift. I was almost certain my parents had hinted I would get it and I was eagerly anticipating that particular gift above all else that Christmas Eve. Unfortunately I had misunderstood my parents evasive answers and the gift they gave was something completely different. My hopes had been dashed, my expectations unfulfilled. So, all Christmas day, I was miserable.

The gift I did receive was amazing. It ended up providing hours and hours of fun every week for the next five years or so, much more than the gift I wanted could have possibly provided. But I was miserable the day I received it.

History repeated itself this year when, after we went to great lengths to discuss, seek out and buy presents for our children, one child was deeply unhappy on Christmas day because his expectations had not been fulfilled. After a few days of seeing him mope around in a bad mood, he finally told me the cause of his malaise. I immediately launched into a long lecture about gratitude, (repeating much of what my own father had said many years ago) and admonished him to look at the qualities of the gifts had had been given, rather than what he thought he was missing, but never had.

Then, in the middle of a long sentence about gratitude, I stopped. I blushed and exhaled a lungful of air in a deflated admission I should be listening to my own lecture.

When Albert was first born I felt a certain amount of hurt and despair. Would my son ever smile and laugh with me? Would he slip his tiny hand in mine and call me "Daddy"? Would he play with me in the park? Would I encourage him as he played sport, studied and made friends at school? In short, waiting for my son to be born, I was expecting a specific package, a child just like the others. I knew that Albert was a gift from God, but he turned out to be not the gift I was anticipating.

Objectively speaking, Albert has been an amazing addition to our family. The advent of Albert has seen a significant change in all of those around him. Our children have grown in maturity and they have learned selfless love. Their parents have learned the same lessons, even if we have been much less gracious about our lessons. Albert himself is an active and joyful child, freely sharing his energy and joy with his entire family. Just as my parents' gift to me so many years ago was a great gift in itself, God's gift of Albert to us has been more amazing than any I could imagine.

I guess it is time I grew up and learned to take delight in the marvelous gift God has given us, rather than pine after the different one I was expecting.

(Printed in the Catholic Weekly Feb, 2015)