St George the Martyr, Goodwood
CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR FEELS DIFFERENT. After the last two years of lockdowns and masks, this year there is the feeling that life has returned to some sort of normality. The Show was open in September and the Pageant went through the streets, last month.
Normality is something we all crave at times. One wit once said, blessed is the country that has no history. After seeing the history of wars in Russia this year and the tragedy of millions of people displaced, we can give thanks that we don’t have a history like that. We want a world without pandemics, without restrictions, without masks, where we can enjoy what we have.
Perhaps what we can learn from the last years is that the world is incredibly fragile. Things can go wrong easily and quickly. Yet even in a collapse there are virtues: virtues of selfless caring, virtues of thrift, virtues of perseverance, virtues of respecting the worries of those around.
We enter this season of preparation for Christmas with Advent. It’s a joy to celebrate this year without restrictions. We will sing carols like Joy to the World for this reason, and feel that emotion even more deeply this year. But our true joy will be where our hearts always yearn to be, with Our Lord and maker. I invite you to come to church this year to give thanks for a year past, for the perseverance of the last years, and in joyful expectation of the love of God who comes not only at Christmas, not only at the end of our lives, but also, day by day, in the opportunities that God offers us, with our friends, colleagues and family.
During November we held our annual special vestry meeting to approve our budget for the next year, as well as the AGMs of our associations. Surprise, surprise, our giving in the plate never covers our costs: what covers our costs is the income from the bequests from past generations. I encourage you to leave a legacy to the parish in your will, so future generations may also enjoy this parish and its ministries.
Every year in November we remember the departed, with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, as well as other services, such as Benedictine Souls and Saints. Our faith holds that the dead do not depart as shadows, or envious spirits yearning after our lives, but we are created by God and nothing God makes is ever lost. Therefore the dead are still known to God, and we remember them and pray for them and ask their prayers, as part of the greater mystery of life. As I grow older and older I miss more and more my family and friends, but I have faith in God that they are in God’s hands. I encourage you to write down the names of those you love for the monthly requiems when they fall due, so that we can rejoice in this mystery, acknowledge our grief and pray for our resurrection with the departed.
On 5 November we had the meeting of the Cell of Our Lady of Walsingham, starting the service with the blessing of holy water. One of the themes of Walsingham is the holy well, where pilgrims gather to sip the water or pour it over themselves (being England that means just over their hands usually, we are not into dramatic plunging of bodies). So often with holy sites, there is a holy well, and even after the shrine is destroyed the holy well continues to draw people seeking healing. One of my colleagues, Fr Alan Cadwallader, talked once to us about the well at Colossae, in Turkey, the same Colossae to whom St Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians some two thousand years ago. There are now no Christians there, they were deported after World War I. Yet the well of the Shrine of St Michael is still there and people still come and take the holy water. At Walsingham the Shrine was destroyed on the orders of Henry VIII in the 16th C but although one can destroy shrines and buildings, the water cannot be stopped, and it is still there and still used by pilgrims in the restored shrine. The blessing of holy water has become associated with Walsingham, and we use the rite here in summer before the mass.
In January we expect the first stage of the organ repairs to take place, which will mean that our organ will be out of action for a period of time. We still need to raise funds to cover the costs of the repairs, so if you were feeling generous, and I hope you are, do remember this appeal.
As is our custom here, there will be the children’s service on Christmas Eve, the Saturday, at 6 pm, then the midnight mass will start at 11 pm. As Christmas Day is a Sunday this year, we will have our normal masses at 8 am and 10 am.
New Year’s Eve
We will have our usual mass on New Year’s Eve at 5 pm to say farewell to the old year and pray for the year coming. This short mass will only be around 30 minutes, but it is a way to ask God’s blessing on the coming year.
New History Book
During November we were visited by Michael Yelton who has written several books on Anglo-Catholic figures, including a chapter recently on Fr Wise. He is now writing a new book on the architect of our church, Thomas Lyon, so we look forward to seeing that in due time. St George’s has a rich history with several books on Fr Wise as well the parish history by John Truran and Helen Harrison so this book will be a further enrichment.
Feast Days in December
Well, the obvious feast day for this month is Christmas. But around it is a cycle of other feasts. What is commonly called Boxing Day is also St Stephen’s day, the feast of the protomartyr, which just means the first martyr. So, we follow the birth of Our Lord by the death of the first martyr, for life and death are always closely linked. The day after that we have the feast of St John the Divine, who wrote the Gospel with the beautiful theological reflection that we read on Christmas Day, that in the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was made flesh and lived among us.
Then we remember the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children massacred by Herod in Bethlehem as he searched for the child who would be king and replace him. Evil always threatens, and it is one of the tragedies of living in an imperfect world that evil stalks good, and so the birth of Our Lord also triggered a tyrant to evil. Finally, in the English tradition, we remember the martyr from 1162, the archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket, killed for defying the King. Christmas is surrounded by a feast of feasts, all reflecting on good and evil.
So enjoy this season of Advent as we prepare for Christmas, and I hope you enjoy the short story below.
Rattus Beatus, a short story
by Sara Maitland, The Tablet
A seasonal celebration of a ubiquitous rodent rarely seen in Nativity plays and pictures
It is not much fun being a rat. Everyone hates rats. You lot burble on about universal love, but you are allowed to hate rats.
There is only one lovable rat in all of your literature – adorable Ratty in Wind in the Willows. And shall I tell you something? He is not a rat. He is a water vole – with a squat face, a stubby furry tail and ridiculous little ears. Pah!
You have made the very word “rat” into a sort of universal insult. A loose woman, a dishonest man, a liar, a snitch, any devious sneaking individual. And I bet you think you know that it was mean, filthy, malevolent rats who infected you all with the bubonic plague – even though some decent and fair-minded human scientists are beginning to believe that this is not necessarily true.
It is hard having everyone hate you, and especially hard when it so unfair: it’s unfair because we run round your stupid mazes to help you with your stupid research.
It’s unfair because we make excellent, responsive and loving pets.
It’s unfair because we self-groom at least three times a day, while you all seem to think that one shower is more than enough.
It’s unfair because we are famously intelligent, while also gentle and affectionate.
It’s unfair because we are good parents.
What’s your problem?
So yes it is hard. And, let me tell you, it is hardest of all at Christmas. The crucial role we played that night in Bethlehem is entirely ignored. And if you don’t believe me, go to Google Images and search for “Nativity paintings”. Believe me there are lots and lots, there are indeed millions, of them. And in a very large number of these paintings there are animals. In fact there are an extraordinary number and variety of animals. You start of course with the sheep but move on fast: cows and goats and donkeys and mules and horses; both Bactrians and dromedaries (two- and one-humped camels to you) and dogs and pigs and a rather strange selection of deer. There are lions and cats and a diverse array of birds. There are foxes and bears and wolves and elephants. There are kangaroos for heaven’s sake – I suppose they just hopped across from the Antipodes.
But no rats. None. We have been excluded, discriminated against, written out, diminished, despised and dismissed. And it is not fair.
Think about it for a moment. Here you have a stable – a fairly basic building with a manger in it – pretty near to the pub in a small rural town in the Middle East, 2,000 years ago. There is probably a caravanserai nearby, because there nearly always is, which inevitably means food waste and human waste. There are no public washing facilities, or even closed toilets. The streets are pretty full and pretty restless at the time because of this census thing that is going on, but the shed is tucked away quietly in a back corner. Now, take a deep breath – what wild animal are you most likely to find there? Go on – try to think honestly and face the facts.
Frankly the correct answer is rather more likely to be rats than peacocks or gazelles. It’s a no-brainer.
And, no surprise, we were indeed there. Which is more than can be said for the penguins and leopards and giraffes and company ltd. who have snuck into the pictures since.
It was pretty disruptive at first, as you can imagine. We had just got our five tucked up for the night, all snuggled in straw in the manger. They were just coming up to a month old so they were all grumpy adolescence – no we do not have acne, but we do have hormones, believe you me – and full of overexcitement and cheek and know-it-all swagger. The pubescent rat has quite a lot to swagger about, to be honest, but the weary rat parents can do without it when you are trying to get them to bed and all of a sudden your space is invaded by a whole lot of silliness. You may have noticed how much drama humans are capable of making about getting babies; it is not that difficult, you know. They could take some lessons from us on this as well as other things if they so chose – but oh no.
Well, if they really cared so much you would have thought some of those fat rich blokes could have made some space in the inn for that poor woman: they did not need to send a whole lot of grumbling servants to hang around grouching about moving the horses and mules out into the yard and winding up our little ones. We certainly did not need those two naggy old ladies complaining that no one understood what women had to go through and men were so selfish … and … and … and …
Then after all that palaver he carried her in.
And then … but it is too hard to explain. She was … well she was lovely, but that was not really the point. And she was so tired, you could see she was exhausted before she even began on her weary night’s work, but that was not really the point either. I don’t know how to say it. I want to say that she was like a rat, but you all hate rats so that will not help you understand. But she was like a rat – she was sharply attentive to her task; she was alert, intelligent about the business, concentrated – as calm as she could be, able to bide her time, still and focused, hard-working.
It is not a pretty thing, birthing a baby, but like a rat she brought her whole self to it and made it beautiful. She was graceful somehow; full of grace in her body and in her mind. It is harder for humans to do the birthing work than it is for us rats – our babies have smaller heads and more pointy noses, and actually despite the various other unfair advantages bipedalism makes birthing harder. It is probably a good thing that you usually only have one at a time. But don’t let anyone tell you that it is easy. She did not make it easy, but she did make it graceful.
We kept quiet; we lurked behind a sort of log-pile in a corner and we watched. I doubt they even knew we were there. And eventually, perhaps soon after midnight, the baby was born. I do not really have a thing about small human babies, they seem sort of floppy and naked and moderately useless, but as neonatal humans go this one was rather sweet – all scrunched up with an absurd tuft of black fur on its head and little wrinkled hands and very silly feet. The young man wrapped it up, I have to say rather clumsily, in some long strips of cloth one of the old women produced for them; and then she fed it like you do and handed it back to her man. They were both smiling, but it was fairly clear that he hadn’t the least idea what to do with a baby in a shed in the middle of the night. He just stood there looking a bit awkward and uncertain.
And then I heard a funny scratchy noise and I looked round and there were our five climbing solemnly out of the manger and scuttling silently across the floor towards some loose straw. But I think he must have heard something, because he glanced up and when he saw the manger he looked relieved, went over and put the wee baby in it. I will not deny that I was proud – for all their carry on and talkback, they could see what needed doing and then do it. Just what any decent parent hopes for.
So then there was a little peace and she curled up and went to sleep and he covered her with a cloak – and it was dark and sweet. But it did not last long. All of a sudden the barn was full of people – someone said they were shepherds though my personal view remains that they were all drunks. What a carry on. And no, for your information, they did not bring any lambs with them: it was December, midwinter for heaven’s sake – there aren’t any lambs in December: everyone knows that. They did not even bring any sheep. Who wants to be bringing sheep off the hill in the middle of the night? Do have some sense.
Eventually they push off and it is all quiet again. The young couple sleep wrapped in each other’s arms; there is a huge star overhead, so there’s some light, but gentle as it were. And then it began to get cold. I don’t know if you have ever been in the desert, but at night it can get really surprisingly cold; apparently clouds keep the heat in and there do not tend to be many of those in a desert. It began to get cold – and we started to feel anxious about the baby.
I thought about waking the parents, but they were so tired and sleeping so deeply and sweetly … however it is not good for newborns to be cold, so in the end my partner just climbed into the manger and snuggled up to the child. He was too young to respond in any way – human babies are pretty slow as you may know, but you could see him totally relaxed, his head against her ribcage and her lovely fluffy fur warm against him. Rather sweet really.
Later the young couple woke and he got up and came to get the baby for her to feed. I was anxious for a moment, because on the whole humans tend to freak out when they see rats at all, let alone rats cuddled up with their child. But not him. He smiled, with a deep sort of amusement, scratched the back of her neck with one finger and said, “Thank you.” And he meant it.
That’s it really. But you can see why we resent the fact that we are never in the paintings, never acknowledged or praised or thanked. I know rats are not always sweetness and light, but – let me tell you – nor are sheep, mules, camels or dogs. Nor are humans; especially not humans.
This is a deep ancient story for us rats. We teach it to our children and carry it with us when we travel. We want to remember it, but also we want humans, and others, to remember it – we are like you really, we don’t always behave well but we always want to be loved. Is that such a big ask?
A while back we thought we might go for canonisation – if all those popes and neurasthenic virgins can be saints surely that mother rat could be too? Apart from being owed, frankly, we also sort of thought it might be a way of boosting our public image. And after all, worldwide, there are considerably more rats than Catholics.
But then we discovered the cost. The boss guy in Rome says he wants to limit what you can pay to get someone canonised to €100,000. Unbelievable. It is not that we cannot afford it – believe me. Two billion rats could raise that much overnight. Easily. That is not the issue. It is just too much money.
The World United Rat Committee is making a voluntary donation of €100,000 to maternity services in the Third World. We think that is a better way to celebrate Christmas.
Sara Maitland has written six novels and several collections of short stories, the most recent of which is Moss Witch and Other Stories.
8.00 am Mass
10.00 am Solemn Sung Mass
Monday Fr Scott’s Day Off
Tuesday 10.00 am Mass,
followed by gardening
Wednesday 8.00 am Mass
Thursday 12 noon Mass
Saturday 8.00 am Mass
6 pm Saturday 24 December
Starting 11 pm 24 December
Sunday, Christmas Day
Masses at 8 am and 10 am
New Year’s Eve
5 pm Saturday 31 December
Consider giving to the church; our bank details are
BSB 105033 account 151992640
Please put “offering” in the description if that is the purpose.
1 Charles de Foucauld, Hermit, Servant of the Poor, 1916
2 Frances Perry, Founder of Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne, 1892
2 Channing Moore Williams, Anglican Missionary Bishop to China and Japan, 1910
3 Francis Xavier, Apostle of the Indies, missionary, 1552
4 ADVENT 2
6 Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, c326
7 Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Teacher of the Faith, 397
8 The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8 Richard Baxter, Pastor and Spiritual Writer, 1691
11 ADVENT 3
13 LUCY, MARTYR AT SYRACUSE, 304
13 Samuel Johnson, Moralist, 1784
14 Ember Wednesday
14 John of the Cross, Poet, Teacher of the Faith, 1591
16 Ember Friday
17 Ember Saturday
17 O Sapientia
17 Eglantine Jebb, Social Reformer, Founder of “Save the Children”, 1928
18 ADVENT 4
21 THOMAS, APOSTLE AND MARTYR
25 THE BIRTH OF OUR LORD; CHRISTMAS DAY
26 STEPHEN, DEACON AND FIRST MARTYR
27 JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST
28 HOLY INNOCENTS
29 THOMAS BECKET, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, MARTYR, 1170
30 Josephine Butler, Social Reformer, 1905
31 John Wyclif, Reformer, 1384
1 THE NAMING AND CIRCUMCISION OF JESUS: Solemnity of MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
2 Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishops, Teachers of the Faith, 379 & 389
2 Eliza Hassall, CMS Missionary in the Middle East, 1917
2 Seraphim, Monk of Sarov, Spiritual Guide, 1833
2 Vedanayagam Samuel Azariah, Bishop in South India, Evangelist, 1945
8 THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD (from 6th)
9 BAPTISM OF CHRIST
10 William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645
12 Aelred of Hexham, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167
12 Benedict Biscop, Abbot of Wearmouth, Scholar, 689
12 Dedication of 1st Church, 1882
13 Hilary of Poitiers, Teacher of the Faith, 367
13 Kentigern [Mungo], Missionary Bishop in Strathclyde and Cumbria, 603
14 Sava, first Archbishop of the Serbian Church, 1235
15 EPIPHANY 2
17 Antony of Egypt, Hermit, Abbot, 356
17 Charles Gore, Bishop, Teacher, Founder of the Community of the Resurrection, 1932
18 CONFESSION OF PETER
19 Wulfstan, Bishop of Worchester, 1095
20 Richard Rolle of Hampole, Spiritual Writer, 1349
21 AGNES, CHILD-MARTYR OF ROME, 304
21 Mt Lamington Memorial Day (1951)
22 EPIPHANY 3
24 Companions of Paul, including Timothy, Titus and Silas
24 Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, Teacher of the Faith, 1622
25 CONVERSION OF PAUL
26 Australia Day
27 John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, Teacher, 407
28 Thomas Aquinas, Priest, Teacher, 1274
29 THE PRESENTATION OF CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE (Candlemas) (from 2nd)
30 Charles, King and Martyr, 1649
30 Laying of Foundation Stone of Oratory 1915
Address for correspondence
The Parish of St George the Martyr,
34 Angus Street
Goodwood, SA, 5034