Who is in The Driving Seat Now?

a driverless car

No steering wheel?

It is reported that driverless cars will be allowed on UK roads next year. Many people are expressing concerns about safety. Mind you, the old story goes that the most dangerous component in a car is the nut behind the wheel, so perhaps removing that will prove to be no bad thing.

Years ago I read about traffic polls taken of cars crossing the Oakland bridge in San Fransisco. Chrating the number of occupants by year it showed that as time went on the number of occupants was steadily reducing as more people bought their own cars and became drivers rather than passengers. The statistics showed that if the trend continued, before the end of thetwentieth century one in four cars would be crossing the bridge with nobody in it. That was a fair joke back then but now it seems to be coming true. How are we taking the news?

I started off by saying that some people were expressing concern. Of course, most people don’t seem to be concerned. Why should that be? Perhaps we hav become accustomed to things proceeding without human control. Who sits and stares through the window on the washing machine to make sure that the clothes are being cleaned properly? We have become relaxed about lack of control. Our political systems seem to have gone the same way. The recent economic crash which the world is still trying to recover from showed that those who were supposed to be regulating the financial systems were doing nothing of the kind.

Policies in the UK just seem to go in a random, haphazard fashion. Take our outlook on homosexuality. In the recent past such things were deemed illegal and people could be prosecuted for behaviour that was deemed indecent. All that changed and the world became a more tolerant place. Now it is becoming illegal hold an opposite view. If you don’t believe that homosexual behaviour is acceptable you can lose your job. One intolerance has been replaced by another. Who is steering this place?

We seem to have a government in the UK where things just drift along from one crisis to the next; a bit like a learner driver who hasn’t got the hang of steering and manages to bash every car parked along the street as he passes. People might see a computer driven car as a much safer option than anything driven by our politicians.

No steering wheel? Well, what’s the point?

Glasgow Taking 2014 to Heart

Well, the Commonwealth Games are underway and Glasgow is pulsating with games fever. The city has pulled out all the stops to make this a great experience for the athletes and all the visitors who have come to join in. Roads have been closed off, facilities taken over and peole are working all hours in the heat.

Yes – the heat! Who would have imagined that Glasgow would stay dry, never mind sunny during the annual Fair Holiday? The weather has surpassed anything we can remember for this time of year. The whole city is getting in on the act – even the old buildings.


Partick Image 1

Even the non-sporty types (like me) are enjoying the fun. It’s great to walk around the city with voices  in various languages coming from all sides. At last we have no need to apologise to visitors for bad weather spoiling their visit. Glasgow is truly continental. This has been a wonderful experience for us and even although we know the weather can’t possibly last, we feel that Glasgow has lived up to all it promised – and more.


A gable end but not the end.

Thank you to all the workers who have prepared the city for the games and thanks to all the visitors – you are most welcome.

The Seventh Station – Jesus Falls the Second Time


Jesus Falls the Second Time

Jesus Falls the Second Time




This month I’m looking into the seventh station on the Way of the Cross. Jesus falls for the second time. The second fall should not be unexpected. Jesus was getting weaker with loss of blood. Yet a second fall brings with it the warning that this will continue. I wrote earlier about tripping on a kerbstone in Paris and the shock of the fall. The problem is when tripping becomes normal.


Last year I found myself suffering with sciatica. I thought it would go away by itself but it got worse. What can you do? I went to the doctor and he sent me for physiotherapy. I thought that was helping but found I was stumbling when I walk. It now appears I have a worn hip so I just keep taking the tablets. When I walk I sometimes find my foot doesn’t go where I meant it to go. Tripping and the consequent fall has become a feature of life now.


Jesus’ second fall is a metaphor for sin. Just like my occasional fall, falling into sin becomes a feature of life. We can think of a fall from grace or a fall into sin. Falling into sin makes sin sound like a trap and so it is. I don’t know about you but I can excuse myself by thinking that a sin is not serious or is not harming anyone. That’s the trap. Just like my problem with tripping falling into sin is a normal part of life. We need to be aware and ready for the unexpected.


Now, in sin, I’ve changed my perspective. I’m seeing things slightly differently. When my perspective is distorted my decisions get distorted too. I’ll give you an example. I’m six foot two and I can reach for things on high shelves but often get into bother because if you measure me I’m only five foot eight. I have a similar problem with cameras that don’t capture my full head of hair. I think you get the picture.


If my view of reality is distorted then my relationship with others will be too. My sin distorts my view of the world unless I realise that I am wrong and do something about it. To return to the analogy of the fall, you can’t get up unless you know you are down.


This was brought home to me recently when I read on Twitter about a woman in America who threw her children out of the window. That was disturbing, shocking. What was more disturbing were the comments added by other readers. They posted all sorts of suggestions about the sorts of torture that the woman should suffer.


The comments were based on the view that this woman is evil. Nobody suggested that she might be suffering from some psychological disorder and be in urgent need of help. Was this based upon the perception that we are good and guiltless and the woman must be evil? If so then we are in the trap of sin. None of us are without sin. Once we realise that we can look with compassion on others.


Another example I found in the news was the funeral of Fr. Kenneth Walker who was murdered trying to defend his fellow priest in Phoenix, Arizona. A group of protesters from Westboro Baptist church demonstrated with placards at the church. They are an unaffiliated church and have been demonstrating at the funerals of service personnel who died in Afghanistan. They claim that these things are God’s punishment.


I suppose that’s an old idea of God. It’s a picture of a vengeful God who is watching out for us to fall into sin and take revenge on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus came to save us, not condemn us. The sufferings and falls we contemplate in the Way of The Cross are how Jesus took the punishment for our sins. God is always ready to forgive. We just need to turn back to Him.


How often have you heard people talk about Catholic guilt? The story goes that we are brought up in an atmosphere of sin and guilt. This causes all sorts of psychological problems that are only solved when you give up religion. Of course it’s all nonsense. Being aware of sin and the effects of sin on our lives gives us the opportunity to change and improve life. As Catholics we have the sacraments to help us be reconciled with Jesus and rid ourselves of any burden we feel.


If we are forgiven, free of sin, then we are in a position to treat others in the same way. We should be able to “forgive those who trespass against us”. How much evil in the world is committed because of perceived wrongs others have done to us? There are wars in Africa and the Middle East caused by real and imagined wrongs. How much better the world could be if we were more ready to forgive.


We can look to South Africa for a great example of this. The black people in that country had faced oppression under the Apartheid regime for decades. Families had suffered great injustice and brutality. When the regime fell there could have been terrible bloodletting as people took revenge. Instead there was a system of Truth and Reconciliation. People could own up to what they had done and were forgiven. The bloodbath was avoided.


So how do we get out of the trap? It’s not easy. You know the story about the man who took a shortcut on his way home from the pub. He cut through the cemetery and fell into a grave dug for a funeral next morning. Try as he might he could not get out so he sat down to wait for morning. Soon another reveller fell into the same grave and tried to climb out. The first man tapped him on the shoulder and said “You’ll never get out.”. But he did with one jump.


Who can give us the tap on the shoulder? Who can help us out of the trap? Obviously Jesus is the one to turn to. In Jesus we can find the compassion we need to help us. We can find him in the sacrament of reconciliation. Some of us find that very difficult. We can’t shrug off the feeling of guilt and can’t bring ourselves to take that step into the confessional. In this second fall we see Jesus, in his agony, get up and take an even more difficult step. He encourages us to do the same.


I had a friend who had been away from the Church for years. After attending the funerals of two lifelong friends in succession he decided it was time to set things to rights. He told me he went to confession, ready for a hard time from the priest. He was surprised to find that rather than a hard time he was welcomed back and his sins forgiven. There was a visible change in him. He was a happier man in his dealings with everyone.


When we see Jesus get up from his second fall in the seventh station we should be reminded that no fall is too great for his compassion. No matter how far we fall or think we have fallen Jesus is there to help us up again. So let’s forget about guilt and concentrate on forgiveness. Jesus is ready to forgive us and we must be ready to forgive one another.


Joseph McGrath

When Falling Becomes a Habit

My monthly column should be bublished early this month. I’m told it will be in this weeks issue of The Scottish Catholic Observer. It deals with the seventh Station on The Way of The Cross, Jesus falls the second time. Is this about falling over? What could it really be about? Does it have any meaning for you and me?

Get your copy of the paper this weekend. If you are off to Turkey or some other exotic place you can get the full text here next week.


A View On The Killing


Life Savers

Apparently the Care minister has changed his mind on the Euthenasia question. He now thinks Lord Falconer’s bill should be supported. Even the former Archbishop of Canterbury has  decided the time is right for us to choose death over life. In fact he goes further than the bill which proposes to relax the law in cases  where someone is suffering a terminal illness. Lord Carey refers to cases of people with locked in syndrom but not in a terminal state.

And so it goes on. The half truths are being rolled out to persuade a compassionate people (thats you and me) the it is wrong to let patients go on suffering in pain and it is better to kill them. The half that is true is that it is wrong to let people suffer in pain. The half that is wrong is that it is better to kill them. Whe have the technology to relieve pain; that’s what the hospice movement is all about. Of course it is cheaper to kill people.

Life is fragile. We take all sorts of steps to support life. My twin grandsons were born seven weeks early almost a year ago and the technology and, above all, the wonderful, professional care they recieved in Glasgow hospitals helped them to live and I now have two great wee boys. We spend lots of money on pedestrian crossings to keep people alive when crossing the road. Our emergency services are there to save lives. Why all this? Because life is important. We are either for life of for death.

That might seem a simple choice but it is not. Life costs money. Hospitals, hospices and carers cost. Death, on the other hand, makes money. We make millions from selling weapons, bombs and bullets whose purpose is simply to kill. We are currently remembering the First World War. That war caused millions to be slaughtered in the most horrible conditions imaginable. It was called “The War to End All Wars”, to stop the killing.

In the second leg, World War Two, we saw the killing grow into an industry. Apart from the fighting we saw millions murdered by the German regime because they were ‘subhuman’, handicapped, politically different or someone you don’t like. The Neuremburgh trials punished some of the perpetrators. Unfortunately the lesson has not been learnt. When you choose death over life killing becomes the answer to all sorts of problems.

Some will point out that the bill is restricted to the terminally ill and will be regulated. Well, they said that about abortion and we see the number of babies killed soaring. The archbishop’s outlook on this has already moved beyond the terminal cases. It’s a slippery slope and we are about to step over the edge.

Just hope you are allowed to grow old without developing some problem that the ‘Death Squads’ will deem to be too serious and have you put down.

Airwars – A Frustrating TV Series

This programme broadcast on Discovery History on Friday 11th July told the story of the battle of the Atlantic. It used some remarkable film and photographs of ships and aircraft. This is one of the series of history programmes from Dr. John Sweetman, Editor Matt Hale, series Producer Audrey Healey, a Cromwell Productions film.


My problem with the series is the poor match between the commentary and the footage. In this film the commentary told of liberator bombers and showed flying boats; talked about Swordfish and showed Albacores. The text about escort carriers was accompanied by film of the USS Hornet and the Doolittle raid.



This is a Swordfish – Open cockpit

This is common in the series. We are told about Hurricanes and the film shows Spitfires. I’ve just spotted a Vietnam era carrier landing while the commentary is talking about escort carriers. Why do this? The only people who watch these films are old geeks like me who can easily spot the difference between a catapult Hurricane and an old American biplane



This is an Albacore – closed cockpit

Why do I watch these films if they frustrate me so much? Well, the research is good and the film clips are great. They should be a great resource for anybody who wants to find out more about history. The problem is in the editing. The clips should be properly indexed so that the film editor can match the right clip to the commentary.


As one of the old geeks I think these resources should be properly preserved and indexed so that some of these little known aircraft will not be forgotten and not shown incorrectly labelled.


A great opportunity missed by careless media indexing.

Too Clever By Half?

A graduate

Is this guy too scary?

I see the politicians are promoting the idea of more people going to university to make them employable. See the BBC article here.

I wonder if this is really the case? Labour are arguing for ‘Technical Degrees’ that are not academic but focus on skills. This is to raise the status of technicians I imagine. I have two reservations about this.

First, I have found examples of the difficulty of having a degree recognised as worthwhile. My daughter with her first class M.A. and M.Lit with distinction was advised by the ‘consultant’ at the Jobcentre to remove any mention of a degree from her CV if she wanted to get a job. I assumed this was an isolated thing ’till yesterday.

A friend has just completed a Ph.D in his spare time. He is currently employed by B.T. but is about to be made redundant as the work he does is being sent to India. He was told to revise his CV and did so. On submitting his updated document he was berated by a senior manager for including his university qualifications. He was told that anyone with a degree in their CV would not get an interview in BT. The manager would not give details of his own university education.

It would appear to me that the problem we have is not one of lack of education in the applicants but we have the wrong people in influential positions in our industry, especially big companies. Let’s remember that BT was originally Poast Office Telephones which had the monopoly of telecoms and is now a poor relation in that field. Is it any wonder?

There is a malaise here in government bodies and some employers. They make the excuse of lack of education and training as the cause of unemployment. I think they are looking in the wrong direction. I remember a meeting of physics department heads being addressed by a representative of industry complaining that young people were not being taught the right skills. We asked him what skills he would like to see taught. “Honesty and reliability” was his reply. Not exactly skills and not something we often find demonstrated by governments and employers either if recent revelations are to be believed.

My second reservation is the idea that there are no suitable technical qualifications for the non-academic. There have always been good college courses and national qualifications. The problem is that industry is not giving the recognition these courses deserve. Changing the name to a degree will make no difference. Blaming the youngsters, the schools, colleges and universities is dishonest and serves no purpose other than to pass the buck. Government and employers need to shake up their ideas and put the right people in place to get the economy moving, with more jobs.

Are you too clever or are you afraid some young gun with a degree will take your job?

The 100 Year Old Man Must be Watched

“The Hunderd Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared” is a film of the book by Jonas Jonasson. It concerns a man who decides to skip the birthday party being organised in hs old folk’s home and go off on an adventure.

The may seem implausible and the outcome unlikely but I laughed. You will laugh too and cheer on the old fellow. Director Felix Herngren and the cast Robert Gustafsson, Iwar Wiklander and  David Wiberg have made a memorable film. It might help you to change your outlook on life and open up new possibilities.

I don’t want to go into detail to spoil the film for you but suffice it to say that tomorrow morning might just see a man climbing out of the window of this house. I may not be around for a while.

If you don’t believe me have a look at the trailer here



Old Prophesy, New Times

At mass today I was struck by the Old Testament reading.

It’s a reading from the prophet Amos and was obviously written a long, long time ago. Despite the age of the passage I found it amazingly pertinent to the world today. In our period of austerity imposed by the Coalition government the poor have been badly hit and the rich seem to be prospering. This is obviously nothing new as Amos rails against those who cheat the poor.


I repeat the passage here.


Amos 8:4-6,9-12

Listen to this, you who trample on the needyand try to suppress the poor people of the country,you who say, ‘When will New Moon be overso that we can sell our corn,and Sabbath, so that we can market our wheat?

Then by lowering the bushel, raising the shekel,by swindling and tampering with the scales,we can buy up the poor for money,and the needy for a pair of sandals,and get a price even for the sweepings of the wheat.’

That day – it is the Lord who speaks –I will make the sun go down at noon,and darken the earth in broad daylight.

I am going to turn your feasts into funerals,all your singing into lamentation;I will have your loins all in sackcloth,your heads all shaved.

I will make it a mourning like the mourning for an only son,as long as it lasts it will be like a day of bitterness.

See what days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks –days when I will bring famine on the country,a famine not of bread, a drought not of water,but of hearing the word of the Lord.

They will stagger from sea to sea,wander from north to east,seeking the word of the Lordand failing to find it.


I wonder how that would be received by our government today. They have recently prompted the idea of teaching our young people traditional values. Well traditional values would be old values and you don’t get many older than the Old Testament.


Do you think the Coalition might recognize themselves in the passage? Perhaps that’s just seeing it my way.

The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The Sixth Station

Veronica Wipes The Face of Jesus


This month I’m looking at the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. This is a really puzzling station. In our story of Jesus men seem to get the main parts. Peter gets to be the head of the Church. John gets called the beloved. You can understand how people see the Church as a man’s world with women in the back ground. I’ll not get into the discussion on woman’s place in the Church, not today anyway.


This station gives us pause for thought if we think women have no prominence in our story. We have been considering the final journey of Jesus as he walked to his death. The scene is one of brutality, oppression and fear. Where are Jesus’ faithful companions? One of them has betrayed him and the others have run off. Jesus is struggling under the weight of the cross, his loss of blood so weakening him that Simon has been pressganged in to assist him. The crowd is shouting abuse and the guards are pushing them back. Into the middle of this Veronica forces her way through the crowd, ignores the guards and places a towel on the holy face. The face is streaked with blood from the wounds on his head. Veronica absorbs the blood on the towel to give a little comfort to Jesus. As she is pushed away she is left with the imprint of the holy face in blood.


I have no scriptural evidence for this but it is traditional. It is interesting to note that the name Veronica comes from the Greek icon meaning image and the Latin vero meaning true; the true image. The tradition seems to have come from the Eastern Church and became popular in the Roman rite about a thousand years ago. I’m more concerned about the message this story has for me than the history.


The first thing that strikes me is the courage displayed by Veronica. Many Jews had become followers of Jesus, some of them prominent like Nicodemus. Yet even prominent men were afraid to come forward to intercede. It was this lone woman who broke through the crowd and ignored the soldiers to bring some small relief to Jesus. The amazing thing is that she got away with it. Why did she act in this way?


I have no doubt that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit. There lies the first message. When the Holy Spirit moves you, you have nothing to fear. You will succeed. Now I had always imagined that the Holy Spirit would act through the Apostles, their successors in the Church and the saints. Veronica was just a wee wummin as they might say in Glasgow. She was not one of the elite; a bit like you and me. The message is clear. Be prepared to act as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. As ordinary people we can and will be called upon to act.


It may not be in a dramatic way like Veronica but in a small way. It might be to give that kind word to a stranger that gives them encouragement to carry on in a difficult situation or you might be moved to speak out against an injustice. The words just come to you. I remember Magnus MacFarlane Barrow describing how he came to found Mary’s Meals. He was just an ordinary young man, too shy to continue his university course who found himself starting a charity. He didn’t recognise what was happening at first but when he did he followed the Spirit. You know the rest.


The second message I get from this station is about the role of women in the Church. Not just women but all of us ordinary people. Critics of the Church often point out that we are a church of men and women are only good for making the tea. I think that is to fail to see how the Church works. It is true that our priests are men and the hierarchy is exclusively male. However, the vast bulk of the Church is not comprised of clergy and religious.


The Spirit acts through all of us. I think of the hierarchy as the management, the priests as specialists who alone can bring us to Christ through the Eucharist and the rest of us as the workforce whose job it is to get on with the work. The Church is not a club we join, pay our dues and draw the benefits. The Church is a way of life, new life in Christ.


Now I can hear the voice of reason tut tutting in the background. That’s all very well but we have lives to lead, families to look after, work to go to. We live in this society and we must fit in. We go to mass; we say our prayers. What more do you want?


I’ll let Veronica answer that. I’m sure she prayed and fulfilled all the requirements of the Jewish faith. Veronica did not stop there and she certainly did not fit in. She didn’t just stand out from the crowd; she elbowed her way through it. Do I stand out from the crowd or do I just try to blend in so that nobody will notice me? Veronica has shown us a great example. What she did was just a simple thing, mopping the face of a man in pain. The thing is, she did it publicly, her actions in stark contrast to the baying of the crowd. We don’t need to fight the world, we just need to be seen to live as Christ taught us and be a living example for those who don’t share our values. It takes a little courage to stand out. Where could I find the strength to live like that? I’ll have to double my prayers to the Holy Spirit.


The last message I see in this station is about the image that was left on the cloth Veronica used. At school I learned that Jesus left this image of his face as a reward for Veronica’s kindness. As Christians we are all seeking the face of Jesus. There are all sorts of pictures made by great artists but none of them is the real face. It’s not uncommon for great leaders to have their face shown to everyone. Kings, queens and presidents all have their image in the newspapers and on television.


Jesus is not going to appear on the box one night as we sit down to watch the news. If we want to see his face we must seek it out. I feel I need to take a leaf out of her book. I should be living my life as a true follower of Christ. If Christ’s teaching is at odds with the norms of my society then my life should reflect his teaching and be seen to do so. Do I meet the beggar is the same way Christ did? Do I speak out against falsehood and wrongdoing?


Perhaps if I try to live more like Christ and see people as he did, not just strangers but fellow children of God, loved by God just as much as I am, then I might just reach my goal and see God, face to face as it were. I’m fairly sure that if I continue to ignore my responsibilities to my neighbour then I might end up seeing a face I’d rather avoid.