2005 October, Newsletter
Tidings from Ty Mam Duw 2005
With the nights beginning to draw in and November round the corner, it is ‘Tidings’ time again, always one of grace as we pause to reflect on the events here during the past year. Our loving greetings go out to all our friends far and near, as we compile this newsletter to share with you something of our own lives, as you have shared your own joys and sorrows with us. On the world scene there has indeed been much darkness with overwhelming natural disasters, and added to these the incidence in terrorism and violence, together with the sufferings of the poor and oppressed in so many countries. As Poor Clares, sisters in God’s great family from which no one is excluded, we have continued to enfold all these in our prayers - and especially too the many ordinary people who have become living channels of God’s love and mercy in these tragic situations. The Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand, which does wonderful work for abandoned and disabled children, somehow managed to take in a further 300 orphans in the wake of the tsunami, and we were glad to hear that Praew and Samyot, the two children we are sponsoring there, are doing well.
The theme of our 2004 Advent carol service was the coming of the three Magi with their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh - traditionally from somewhere near present-day Iraq. Into this was woven the legend of the fourth king, who discovered the face of Christ in the needy and despairing whom he helped on his way, though he himself never reached Bethlehem. The theme of the need to make a choice to use our own gifts of faith, hope and love to help others was stressed with slides of the Iraq conflict. These were combined with a moving background tape of testimonies of those caught up in it. These ranged from an Iraqi prisoner in Abu Gharib jail, to a young British soldier tormented by the death of a 12 year old boy whom he mistook for a suicide bomber, and ended with the witness of Margaret Hassan, the courageous relief worker abducted and -apparently - killed by extremists. Then came a meditation on the Eucharist, and on the Magi finding Jesus, the Bread of Life, at Bethlehem, ‘the house of bread’. Three Sisters with oriental head-dresses, carrying fans performed a star dance, and led the Magi, singing, to the tabernacle. There all expressed their worship in a simple song accompanied by sign-language.
In the days leading up to Christmas, we accompanied Our Lady on her journey to Bethlehem. Each evening we went in procession with coloured lanterns from one Sister’s cell to another, carrying a picture of Our Lady and her Child on a tray decorated with a cloth, flowers and a votive light.
The Sister receiving Our Lady had chosen the hymn or carol for the procession and stood by her cell door, ready to greet her with a prayer of welcome. It was heart-warming to fall asleep at night watching the reassuring flicker of the votive light with its rays reflected by the gleaming golden frame of the picture. This year we used a very lovely old icon, given by a friend. As we all longed to be blessed by Mary’s presence and that of her unborn Child, we started early enough in Advent for every Sister to have a turn!
Our shared Advent reflections took many forms, including a talk by Sr Joanna, based partly on Frank Sheed’s masterpiece “Theology and Sanity” and illustrated with epidiascope pictures.
Sr Pia translated a short Advent story, which she had discovered in a German magazine. (It was originally written by Agatha Christi of ‘Hercule Poirot’ fame!). Sr Elizabeth produced a brief outline of the dramatic and enigmatic Book of Revelation, illustrated with her own inimitable art.
This year we were given an exceptionally stately Christmas tree, to shelter the many-scened crib in the sanctuary of our chapel. Both Marianne and Sr Damian are now old hands at high-rise decorations, and fearlessly balance on ladders perched precariously on tables to put lights and stars on top branches!
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was spent quietly before the Blessed Sacrament as a time of prayer and reflection. Since the opening of the International Year of the Eucharist in October we have been trying to play our small part in it by having an extra 15-20 minutes of Exposition in the small hours of the morning after the Night Office. The Eucharist also had a prominent role in our Advent reflections, which returned constantly to the symbol of the pelican. In the Middle Ages this was often associated with Christ, as in legend it is said to feed its young with blood from its heart. Sr Agatha and Sr Damian had made a pottery pelican with feathery wings.
They invited us to add a spoonful of oats to the bowl which formed its nest, as a token of any extra act of charity performed for Christ present in our Sisters, during Advent.
At the end of Advent they gathered all the accumulated oats and turned them into oatmeal bread, so we all benefited physically as well as spiritually from our preparations!
We spent a very exciting two days putting up cribs with all sorts of themes and settings in the choir, round the cloister and in the main rooms, and on Christmas Eve followed Dear Mother in procession singing carols, as she blessed each one with holy water and said an appropriate prayer.
The Christmas Vigil was simple and very lovely, basically a combination of the psalms and canticles of Christmas Matins, interspersed with carols which echoed the themes of the psalms. Sr Amata had written music for the Messianic canticle in Isaiah chapter 40, “Comfort ye, my people”. During the Te Deum two Sisters dancing and carrying joss sticks, with another lifting high the Bambino, moved slowly and gracefully up the choir and placed the Christchild in the manger before the altar.
Fr. Paschal OFMCap celebrated the beautiful midnight mass that followed. Afterwards we kept watch at the crib with carols, music and spontaneous prayers for all who had asked us to remember them there. Then at 4 am we danced along the cloister to a welcome breakfast animated by much talk and laughter. Our holly trees had not been so thickly laden with bright red clusters of berries for many a year, but this did not herald a hard winter. We had a token ‘white’ Christmas but not even enough snow for a mini-snowman.
During Christmastide we each take it in turns to share reflections on the themes of our respective cribs. That of Dear Mother and Sr Joanna was in a glorious setting. Its sparkling scene of golden trees and lights served to remind us of the new Paradise which we are now able to reach through the saving birth of Christ. Dear Mother spoke of the need to keep our eyes fixed on it as the final goal of our earthly life. As St Augustine put it; “We are wanderers with no permanent home on earth; that is in Heaven, and we do not know when we shall hear the call, ‘Come, set out for home’.”
On New Year’s Eve Sr Amata and Sr Ruth shared some reflections about their crib. Its setting was the cloister garden of our mother-house, the Notting Hill Monastery, copied from a drawing of it made in 1878. This occasioned much reminiscing by the those among us who had originally entered there. The theme was the three great Franciscan devotions - to Christ in the manger, on the cross and in the Eucharist. Saint Francis and Saint Clare, representing Our Lady and St Joseph, had been lovingly and painstakingly ‘painted’ on the computer by Sr Amata, and at the end we sang a carol composed by one of the first Notting Hill novices in 1859.
We began the New Year with a very lovely vigil based on Pope John Paul’s New Year message for the World Day of Peace. It contained a litany we had compiled of people through the ages who had forgiven those who had harmed them and worked for peace and reconciliation. These ranged from St Francis of Assisi, who blessed his father when he was cursed by him, and Saint Clare who did not resort to weapons but to the saving power of the Eucharist when threatened by Saracen soldiers. And in our own days there was the Trappist monk in Algeria, who wrote to his unknown future assassin months before his death: “For this life lost, I give thanks to God. In this thanks I include you, my last-minute friend, who will not know what he is doing. I commend you to God, whose face I see in yours; and may we find each other, happy Good Thieves in Paradise, if God wills.” Included too was Chris Carrier, who, as a ten year old was abused, knifed, and shot in the head by a disturbed alcoholic. As an adult he searched for the man, helped, visited and forgave him, and was the only person at his bedside when he died.
The popping of local fireworks ushered in 2005 just as Mgr Peter Fleetwood reached the consecration at holy mass - especially propitious timing in this Year of the Eucharist.
The refectory crib combined the motifs of crib, cross and Eucharist. Sr Damian and Sr Agatha had fashioned a large central pelican out of material with five wounds in its breast, each betokening a major problem challenging the Church today. Reflections on these were followed by spontaneous prayer on related issues, and the singing of the invocation: ‘By thy birth, ... By thy sorrowful passion .. By thy glorious resurrection, have mercy on us and on the whole world.’
Sr Seraphina treated us to a delightful crib sharing in the noviciate. The setting of her crib was a children’s party under a sunny tropical sky, the figures being large cloth dolls. We were each given a conical hat to wear inscribed ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus!’ and a star badge with a Christmas quote on it, to fit us to be participants. In the background was a large hammock strung between two palm trees. She told us that the hammock represented our dear Mother Mary, there to support and enfold us in her love, and the trees represented fatherhood and St Joseph, sturdy, sheltering, supporting, and providing nourishment and oxygen to sustain life.
Sr Elizabeth and Sr Juliana produced an hilarious Christmastide recreation set in one of the Catacombs. The owner, St Pringilia, had become charlady in the Emperor’s palace. By the end of the play everyone seemed to be chasing everyone else round in the darkness of her catacomb -
Saints Peter and Paul were there searching for each other, with the Praetorian guard brandishing swords and hard on their heels. Not only Mrs Pringle but two Roman soldiers (both in love with the same Christian girl, who wasn’t sure whether she wanted to be martyred or not), ended up being baptised, along with the Emperor himself.
More amiable than Nero, he chuntered to himself from beginning to end whilst fleeing from his formidable wife Herculea. He exited along with the rest to the strains of the Hallelujah chorus in the direction of the Colosseum, to be thrown to the lions as a Christian!
The next day Sr Coletta shared a reflection on her crib, which showed Our Lady standing lovingly and protectively behind her toddler son. The background setting mingled holly, ivy and bamboo from our garden, with modern glossy decorations, and expressed our Sister’s experience of life in both rural and urban areas in the Philippines. We ended by singing the Magnificat, united with Our Lady in thanksgiving for God’s blessings.
Our Christmas also featured an excursion abroad (Ty Mam Duw style) to the island of Montserrat under the guidance of Sr Yolanda and Sr Juliana. Our ‘virtual reality’ outing was introduced by Caribbean songs and a very real and delicious dinner of Caribbean food, which they had prepared. A friend living on the island, which exploded into public consciousness with the eruption of its volcano some years back, supplied the background information and some of the edibles and décor. Our Sisters had created a 3-D map of the island and gave us a talk on volcanos in general and the Montserrat one in particular, complete with slides. They taught us several Caribbean dances and related the island’s chequered history. We were invited to take part in an hilarious home-made game they had devised, in which we raced baby cardboard turtles down a beach into the sea before they could be picked off by hovering vultures or caught for soup. (Some of us have lived at very close quarters for several decades, but there is nothing quite like such games for bringing out unsuspected traits in people’s character!)
At the end of our happy three weeks of Christmas, we spent a busy four days, taking down decorations and packing everything away.
Unfortunately a large tree on adjoining property came down in high winds during the festive season and damaged our enclosure wall. It also landed on some recently planted gooseberry bushes, but mercifully they survived to bear fruit in the summer.
On the Feast of the Presentation we were united with the Church throughout the world in thanksgiving for the gift of religious life in its many forms. A number of Sisters from active Orders in the Diocese came for the service at which Bishop Regan presided.
We managed yet another ‘overseas’ trip before Lent, this time to the United States. Sr Beatrix and Sr Pia, spent many hours assembling all the relevant information - as well as providing us with American fare for our journey. We boarded our (invisible) Boeing 747, and were furnished with refreshments by our charming air hostess, Morning Star. The pilot gave us an introduction to the great country we were to visit, and on landing we were ushered to the chapter room
There our guides had made a very large map of America, with the state boundaries marked out. They then gave us each 3 or 4 labelled cut-out figures of individual states on coloured card, inscribed with basic information.
This was followed by a long and fascinating talk in several stages on the history of the United States. As each State came into its own, its cut-out figure was added to the map. After some time Sam Stripe (Sr Beatrix) gave us a break from history, by talking about American football, beside which even rugby seems genteel! We were then invited to take part in a game ourselves - to our relief of a considerably less perilous nature, not requiring padded armour for sheer survival! Instead it was ‘blow football’ with a small football field marked out on a table,The aim was for the teams to propel a ping-pong ball into the appropriate goal by blowing through straws. For all that, the excitement generated by the opposing ‘Stars’ and ‘Stripes’ would have done justice to a full-scale match!
In February too we had our annual mass in honour of St Colette, at which those present are blessed with her relic. About fifty people came for it, a number with small children and, thanks to the internet, we were able to include among the intercessions a prayer in thanksgiving for the safe arrival of a baby born a few hours before in America, and whose mother we had been entrusting to the intercession of St Colette.
The paschal tableau in choir, erected during Holy Week, was one of stark simplicity. The focal point was the upended stump and twisted spreading roots of a six foot tree from our garden, painted black. From one angle it resembled a contorted human form, shoulders hunched in sorrow or pain, with outspread arms ending in long twisted hands and fingers. Balanced on its outspread arms was a paper sculpture of the bridge between heaven and earth.
During the Veneration of the Cross at the Good Friday Service, several Sisters brought up pictures or symbols, representing the sufferings of our world today, and laid them at the foot of the cross. The day ended with the placing of a figure of the dead Christ in a dodecahedronal tomb under the blackened tree.
The Easter Vigil opens with the blessing outdoors of the holy fire from which the great paschal candle is lighted. All the intentions sent to us during the past twelve months, which we had typed out on slips of paper and prayed for individually, ascended to God with the flames of the Easter fire. In so doing we commended them to Our Lord’s victorious love and mercy as we celebrated His own triumph over hatred, sin and death.
The song of Moses “I will sing a song to Yahweh” (Exodus 15:1-18) after the Israelites’ dramatic crossing of the Red Sea, was danced by two groups of Sisters, one representing the Israelites and the other the routed Egyptians. The psalm “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good” was also interpreted by two groups, with a Sister carrying ‘butterfly chimes’ (given in providentially the week before!) weaving in and out of both sets of dancers. The sombre colouring of the paschal tableau had been transfigured by colourful lighting, of red, orange and gold. A mirror sphere shone myriad patterns of moving light on the sanctuary walls, and each of the composite faces of the dodecahedron comprising the tomb was pierced, as by an explosive force from within. Through the holes radiated a red glow - the fire of Christ’s new life and boundless love, which no force on earth or in the underworld could henceforth conquer or hold captive. The risen Lord stood on the bridge between heaven and earth
Among the figures in the Paschal tableau was one of Pope John Paul II representing St Peter. It had been carved in 1978, in the days of his full health and strength soon after he became Pope. For the past decade it had served as a special reminder for us to pray for him in thankfulness for his undaunted spirit which continued to the end to be a real witness to God’s power and a sign of encouragement and hope to many others in their suffering. A close friend and Claresharer from America was among those who spent hours praying beneath his window during his last day on earth, a moving experience, which we all shared in spirit. When news came of his death, we moved the figure of our dear John Paul the Great onto the bridge to heaven, where Our Lady could be seen presenting him to her Risen Son. We were deeply touched by the number of friends who, while not sharing our Catholic faith, yet wrote to express their condolences at his death - for us, as for so many others, he was not only a great Pope and a man of vision, but also someone we felt we knew personally, as a much-loved spiritual father in our Ty Mam Duw family.
During the following momentous days for the Church and the world, we were able to keep in touch with events through the Eternal Word Television Network. The funeral mass was unforgettable, with its mingling of sadness at his death and thankfulness and joy at his loving service and
gospel witness till the very end. This sadness and joy resonated yet more deeply
in our own community that week. Our dear Sr Modwena, whose cancer had degenerated was admitted to the Nightingale Hospice for further tests. We were deeply impressed by the loving care of the staff there. Two days later and she was found to have kidney failure. She was already too ill for us to bring her home to spend her last few days surrounded by her Poor Clare family, as is generally our hope when a Sister is dying. Dear Mother and Sr Agatha took it in turns to be with her. Canon Quigley came to anoint her, and Bishop Regan stopped in to say the rosary by her bedside with Dear Mother. She died peacefully at 11 pm, on 5 April, just when the Matins bell was ringing back here at Ty Mam Duw - it was her task for many years to ring it to wake us for the Night Office - which begins with the words “Light your lamps, for the Bridegroom is here. Go out to meet Christ the Lord.”
At her requiem Mass, Canon Quigley spoke of Sr Modwena’s welcoming smile in her days as portress and as sacristan, and of her pilgrimage of faith, through which she was led into the Catholic Church and later came to realise that God had called her to serve Him in our Poor Clare way of life. Taking our cue from the requiem of the Holy Father, we sang the Litany of the Saints as we processed out to our small cemetery to lay her to rest with all the older Sisters with whom she had shared so many years in God’s service.
We celebrated our Dear Mother’s feast the following week with a two-part presentation in choir of all 20 mysteries of the rosary. Each was illustrated in some form by several Sisters, with slides, Tai-Chi and dance, readings, poetry or song.
Sr Seraphina starred as the angel of the resurrection, sweeping on to the sanctuary and removing the long black mourning veil shrouding Our Lady’s face as she meets her Son risen from the dead.
In the Philippines and other parts of the world, the
event is represented by the meeting of two statues carried in procession. We gather that the honour of being the angel who removes Our Lady’s veil is generally given to a small child, who is suspended at an appropriate point from the ceiling. We settled for scaffolding!
Like the Church throughout the world we prayed long and earnestly for the Cardinals gathered for the conclave, especially after seeing them filing solemnly into the Sistine Chapel. When news came just a couple of days later that the famous white smoke had been sighted, we all gathered excitedly in the community room. With bated breath we tuned in to the live telecast from the Vatican to await the appearance of our new Holy Father on the balcony and his first ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing. Great was the general jubilation among us at the announcement of “Ementissimus Josephus ..” We ourselves felt no need to wait for the surname before cheering!
Despite the drama of such great events, we still had to attend to more humdrum needs on our home front. The changeable spring weather notwithstanding, we finished erecting the netting cage over our large vegetable patch and planted out our runner French beans.
In no time they thrust down roots enthusiastically into the ground and were reaching for the nearest supporting strings.
By the end of the season we had to forcibly deter them from growing through the roof of the cage! We were also kept busy planting out lettuce and carrots, clearing weeds from paths and flower beds, and planting out flower seedlings. We were delighted to have a pair of blackbirds and one of grey wagtails (which despite their drab name sport a yellow breast) nesting in the cloister courtyard. There they were able to rear their families successfully out of reach of our dogs. This year we had two fledgling crows in the main garden, anxiously watched over by the parents (and by us!) Until the fledglings were airborne, the dogs were confined to their spacious run, and only allowed out on a lead for daily walks round the garden.
Millie our small dachshund normally looks a picture of ladylike charm, but on sight of one of the baby crows startled us all by screaming with frustration at her inability to get at it!
We celebrated the great feast of the Body and Blood of Christ in this special Year of the Eucharist, by having Exposition from the end of holy mass till 4.30 pm. It was a joy shared by a number of people who popped in during the day to unite their prayer with ours before the Lord for the Church and the world. At the end of October we had three similar days, as we know it is often difficult for people to visit their parish churches outside the times for holy mass.
Here in Wales we rejoiced in an exceptionally lovely summer with bright sunshiny days and intermittent heavy downpours - combining to make ideal growing weather. The flowering shrubs and climbers, from clematis and hydrangeas, lilac and buddleia, to the roses and the large old rhododendron bushes have seldom looked so lovely, as did the forty or so hanging baskets, which grace the cloister garden and the area outside the novitiate. The large stone statue of St Francis at the end of the vegetable garden was up to its knees in geraniums and French marigolds and other colourful blooms, lovingly tended by Sr Coletta, who delights in bedecking the several shrines in the cloister with bright home-grown bouquets.
In July we welcomed two Poor Clare Abbesses from Germany, Mother Maria of Paderborn and Mother Ancilla of Munster, who stayed with us for a couple of days. We had a special Vespers while they were here and a very happy recreation in the cloister garden, to which each Sister contributed something in the way of song, music, dance or mime.
The following week some of us spent busy days swapping workrooms, a process during which all sorts of things one thought lost tend to turn up unexpectedly! Sr Damian and several enthusiastic helpers also repainted Dear Mother’s room for her, one with a lovely view of the garden.
On the feast of St Clare we were treated to a unique spiritual pilgrimage, a ‘journey of the mind into God’. It followed the itinerary mapped out by St Bonaventure in the 13th century in his book of that name, which also reflects the spirituality of St Clare. Dear Mother and Sr Juliana provided not only an introduction to each of the six “wings of the seraph” by which we are lifted up to God, but also slides, and music. We were even treated to a packed lunch and left free to find a quiet corner of the garden where we could enjoy it and reflect on our pilgrimage.
For Dear Mother’s profession anniversary in mid-August, several Sisters completed the first of a very lovely new series of silk-painted vestments for Mass here at Ty Mam Duw.
From 18 - 21 August we were thrilled to be able to watch much of the live coverage of the Holy Father’s visit to Cologne for World Youth Day. One moving high point was his memorable visit to the synagogue of Cologne, where he spoke of his desire to continue to build bridges between Catholics and Jews on the basis of our common heritage as children of Abraham our “father in faith” We were amused at one anecdote of ‘Papa Bene’ and his dinner with twelve young Catholics from all over the world. They were served omelettes while he was given trout. Apparently he asked if he too could have just an omelette, as he didn’t think he could manage to juggle four different languages and cope with fishbones at the same time!
We did not see the telecast of the all-night Vigil at Marienfeld with adoration there of the Blessed Sacrament - we had our own Office to sing at midnight in our choir! - but the next morning watched the closing mass at which over a million young people were present, including one from our parish. It was a tremendously joyful occasion, not only for all those present, but for the millions more, like us, who shared in the television coverage. We found it a real antidote to the darkness of so much of the world today and a beacon radiating faith and hope for the future.
September as usual saw us busy pruning our fruit bushes, and tidying up the vegetable garden and flower beds. We are especially grateful to all who brought us produce from their Harvest Festivals this year. And a heartfelt “God reward you” goes also to the many friends who have brought us gifts in kind throughout the year, and helped us in so many ways. Your ongoing kindness and support makes our life of prayer and praise in God’s service possible.
Towards the end of the month Dear Mother went into hospital for keyhole surgery on her knee. By way of consolation for her absence we watched a remarkable video,
“No Going Back: Confessions of a Catholic Priest”. In it Fr Don Calloway speaks passionately and movingly of God’s mercy in his life, of his conversion to the Catholic faith from a life of drugs and violence, and of his call to the priesthood. To our relief Dear Mother returned to us a day later and is progressing.
After a series of large retreat groups the items in our small shop had become depleted. So we spent several happily hectic weeks working together at tables set out in the cloister, decorating candles, painting pottery figures and plaques, dressing dolls, making and mounting cards, and creating all manner of things for our Autumn Fair in late October. Now that she is not engaged in gardening, our dear Marianne has taken up a crochet hook instead of a spade, and not only produced a number of shawls for the Fair, but also short woollen kerchiefs for us all - for which we duly sing praise to God when we get up for Matins in chilly weather!
And now, we not only look back and count the blessings of the twelve months with all their joys and sorrow, but also look forward to Advent. We will be preparing once more to welcome Christ in a new way into the world and into our lives to be our future and hope in the months ahead. And you can be sure that each of you whose lives have touched ours in 2005, will continue to be enfolded in our hearts before the Lord in the year ahead.
With loving prayers,
from your Poor Clare Sisters at Ty Mam Duw
(November Boston Catholic Journal, Loved to the end, the Eucharist in daily life. 2005 copyright TMD )
Loved to the end
Living the Eucharist in daily life
He always loved those who were his own in the world.
When the time came for him to be glorified by you, his heavenly Father, he showed the depth of his love.
While they were at supper
he took the bread, said the blessing, broke the bread
and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Ty Mam Duw
I What is the Mass?
In the winter of Zimbabwe, thousands of people, some of them sick, some of them children, are sleeping on the streets. They have no shelter, no homes, no food. Every day the sisters and people of the local Catholic community, with their priest, try to bring food to as many as they can. They have very little more than those on the streets - but what they have, they give.
In Zambia, our Poor Clare sisters may go hungry themselves so that they do not have to refuse anyone who turns up at the door, begging for food. Once, when the portress was rather slow in coming back from the door, Mother asked her what kept her? “I was hulling maize” the Sister answered, “for a man who wanted food.” Mother answered gently, “Could you not have let him hull it for himself?” “Mother,” the sister answered, “He had no fingers.”
The liturgy which culminates in and flows out from the celebration of Holy Mass, is the summit and source of our life as Catholic Christians .
The word ‘mass’ is taken from its concluding words, ‘ite missa est’, which can be translate not merely as “The Mass is ended”, but “This is the commissioning” and “Go! you are sent forth.” Our hunger for life and love has been fed on the bread of heaven and we are sent forth to reach out to our brothers and sisters and break with them the bread of heaven - and earth. For God, who feeds us on his very self says to us, in effect, if I, your Lord and Master have fed you, you also should feed oneanother: for I have given you an example that you should go and do as what I have done to you [cf Jn 13:14].
We are co-missioned, but what is it that has comissioned us? And having fulfilled our mission to what shall we return?
The shortest answer is the gateway of heaven on earth .
The night before he died, he took bread in his hands and said the blessing, and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, This is my body which will be given for you... This is my blood which will be shed for forgiveness.... Do this....
It is because we are fed by God that we can feed each other. It is because we are loved totally by God that we can love each other.
This is the work of God, the opus Dei into which God’s love carries us. It is threefold - or if you prefer, fourfold. It is the work of adoration, reception and bestowal - and with it, thanksgiving, which is the root of the word Eucharist .
In the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit adore each other, receive each other and give themselves to each other. And the Mass sweeps us into this tide of loving exchange.
The Church believes together, not as an assembly of individuals, but as a living body so tended towards unity that even in her sins and struggles she can say in the Creed, “I believe. ”As the body of Christ, the Church [Col 1:18] and as myself, I adore the Lord, the Living God; I receive his body and blood sacramentally and in him, I receive the gift of all life - of this world and the next - and I bestow on others, freely, in service and love, in breaking and giving away the life given to me.
I am the thanksgiving that I make. Love bends down to earth in the Word that is made Flesh and gathers me up into heaven.
This is the motif of the great evangelist of the Eucharist, St John: the bread comes down from heaven; the Lord goes up to Jerusalem. John’s Gospel is punctuated by two directional bearings, in Greek: kata and ana - the going down and the going up. The liturgy is there for us to relive the life of Jesus. The cross is the swing point of the descent to earth. It gathers us to heaven. Cardinal Ratzinger, viewing this mystery from the perspective of earth, calls this the exitus and the reditus  - the going out and the return. “To celebrate the Eucharist means to enter into the openness of a glorification of God that embraces both heaven and earth .”
In the mass we are caught up in the tide of love; the falling fire and the flowing waters of heaven. The liturgy, as Archbishop Marini describes it, “is the prolongation of the fire of Pentecost, the stream of life giving water flowing from the side of the Saviour which, even now, flows from the throne of God and the Lamb” .
This pilgrimage of love is not independent of us. It begs for our participation. There is “indissoluble unity between the descending movement of sanctification and the ascending movement of worship ”. The coming down is the work of God, “the work of the Father through Christ, in the Spirit” and the rising up is the response of humanity who, “through ritual in the Spirit of Christ the High Priest, give all glory and honour to the Father and strive to co-operate in his plan of redemption” .
This is the liturgy of our poverty. We have nothing worthy to give, nothing possible even to contribute, except ourselves, every fibre of our life and being. This is the exchange of time for eternity of which St Clare speaks . We come to behold, hold and enfold this mystery, this wonder that is totally beyond us, so that we can be caught up in a love beyond description
II The Mass as a Sacrifice
Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan had scarcely been ordained Coadjutor Bishop of Saigon before the Communist Vietnamese government, seized him and kept him in prison for thirteen years - most of them in solitary. He was a man of hope; at the roots of the most terrible desolation there was, for him the seed of hope. To celebrate the Eucharist he used to lie on his side with a few drops of wine held in the palm of his hand and a few fragments of wheat. He never returned to his diocese. When the government released and banished him he went to John Paul II who appointed him to the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, and subsequently made him a Cardinal. He died of cancer in 2002.
Elizabeth also lives in Rome. She wears a slim ribbon across her forehead because it disconcerts her if the eyes of the people to whom she is listening, stray to the band of tribal tattooing across her forehead. She loves beautiful and expensive clothes. The long sleeved blouses and the short kid boots she wears are always tailor-made, but there is a reason for it. When she was a teenager Elizabeth was caught up in an African tragedy. She was abused, beaten and crucified on the wall of a church. She is marked with the sign of the cross. Attending Mass with her is an experience; just hearing her say the Our Father is to grow in faith. If you ask her how she managed to forgive, she will look at you, surprised and amused. She will say, “What is there to forgive? I am alive - hundreds of thousands of my people died, but God chose to place his hand over me. I can look at the scars in my hands and feet and side and know how much God loves me....”
The Mass “is at once the exercise of the priestly office of Christ, of the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and of the universal priesthood of the people of God” .
The Eucharist is something that God does, that our ordained ministers do, that all of us do.
In spirit we all extend our hands in the gesture of Christ as he held the bread on the night before he died. But we, the universal, royal, priestly and prophetic people of God take, not a piece of bread, but our lives, our very selves; we offer our bodies, as St Paul says, as a living sacrifice [Rom 12:1].
If I am the father of a family, I offer my work, for I take and break myself in the daily giving of labour for my children and my wife.
If I am a mother, I give life to my children who were nourished on the blood in my womb, and I act out this bestowal of love in all I do: I give my life.
If I am a consecrated person I give my body and my blood, my capacity to work and transmit life for all my brothers and sisters and children in the Spirit. I lay down my life in its totality: I offer my time and space, and God gives me a hundredfold in return. This is God’s promise to those who leave all to follow him in poverty, chastity and obedience.
If I am a priest, truly, I bring the offering of the father who serves his family, the offering of a mother who nurtures life, the offering of a celibate who renders all his time and space to God. And I bring God’s unique and sovereign gift conferred on me in priesthood: the power to mediate the sacrifice of heaven to earth. I make the offering of a father and a mother and a celibate as my very least response to the gift of God, not because I deserve it or have paid for it. God makes me another Christ: he makes me a mediator between himself and humanity. It is an objective conferral of grace. My priestly gift does not in any way depend on my fine character or moral goodness. But I am offered the chance to live what I give and give what I live.
We all are.
This is our mass. We are the offertory procession. In our yes to God, a miracle takes place. We become what we receive . We can receive the body of God in a dreary indifference, we can receive it in unbelief and ignorance, and it will still be the body and blood of the Second Person of the Trinity. But it is not advisable to do this - it is more destructive than feeding pure sugar to a sick diabetic who has no insulin. It is a form of death. God’s self-giving is absolute and objective, yet it leaves us free. It is a real event in time and space.
The High Priest
We have worked outward from the common priesthood of all the baptised to the priesthood of our ordained ministers - without whom the mass is a non-event - to our participation, as ordained and non-ordained together at this mystery.
We lift up our eyes and look at the hands of Jesus as they held the bread in that cool upper room, two thousands years ago. It is the same gesture now made by our priests, our bishops and the successor of St Peter. At the heart of the mass is this gesture of the simplicity of love [12 ] .
The hands that break the bread do not yet bear the marks of the nails. He says to us, “This is my body and blood,” not “This will be when I have offered it up on the cross and laid down my life in death.” The gesture does not increase in meaning because of the offering, death and resurrection that is to come. The Lord only has to say the word to bestow himself on us. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was made flesh [Jn. 1:1]. St John is not merely the Evangelist of the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of his gospel; the Eucharist is already previsioned in the prologue . The Lord came to his own and his own knew [received] him not [Jn I:11-12]. It is we who need the images of the passion and resurrection to drive home to us what we receive.
There is a lot that we can learn from the sacramental system of the Old Testament, but the best place to start in understanding sacrifice is from where we are. A primitive willingness to suffer for love is built into our make, regardless of cultural background. No human child would ever, anywhere, reach maturity if its mother, at least, was not willing to suffer a measure of inconvenience on its behalf.
A very suffering woman who had endured an abortion, once told me that she did not have space to have her unborn child; her career would not support the time-off entailed; her job depended on constant physical fitness. Her social life was essential to her, both from the employment and personal aspect. Her own psychological wellbeing required a great deal of freedom and space. For happiness she demanded easily accessible, but otherwise uncommitted, sexual relationships. A child, at best, would cut drastically into all these things and would diminish her as a person. At worst, it would destroy her and take away her freedom. If she had told me that the four inch fetus was an entire totalitarian state, I could not have been more impressed. And I agreed. A baby might well do these things. Then she broke down and cried desolately for fifty-seven minutes, because she had destroyed the child within her.
We are built to understand sacrifice and to make it. With faith it can become a constant joyful choice. With love it can turn a life of hardship and drudgery into a song. In the end, far fewer people crave to be loved as much as they crave to have someone to love.
This fits us to understand love when it is broken for us under the sign of bread and poured out under the sign of wine.
It fits us to understand the extravagant tenderness of a crucified love.
It fits us to believe and truly enter the unbelievable joy of the resurrection.
The matrix of faith.
We come to the New Covenant, ideally, prepared by the Old. The Church keeps the Old Testament in the Bible so that we should understand the New and so that we should see how God prepared his people for the revelation of his Son. The Word of God is a life-work of reflecting mirrors, of finding the old in the new and the new in the old.
The first five books of the bible are the history, commentary and the Altar Missal of the sacramental system of the Old Covenant. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus, beginning with Moses, interprets to his disciples all those things in the scriptures concerning himself [Lk 24:27]. Some commentators isolate Moses’ one-liner: He will send you a prophet like myself”[Deut 18:15] as the contribution to prophecy alluded to. But Jesus is not a prophet! He is God!
The prophesy of Moses is the Mosaic sacramental law; it points to the Messiah. This gripping truth is outlined in passages that many pass by. Leviticus Chapters 1-9 [mostly] is the old General Introduction to the Missal!
It tells you how to meet God and communicate with him.
It is detailed and practical. You make an offertory procession and you place your gift before the altar; it is a bull calf, or a lamb or a goat or turtledoves or two young pigeons or unleavened bread, grain, wine, salt, incense. A person brings the gifts to have them burned up or to have them consecrated and returned for him to eat - or for the priest to eat. An individual, a family, a parish group shall we say, bring their gift to the altar. They are seeking peace, forgiveness of sin, absolution of guilt, healing. They offer thanksgiving. If they are eligible and have been called, they come to be ordained. The ordinandi and the sick are washed in the waters of regeneration and anointed with oil. All this is rivetingly familiar; it is the prefigurement of our sacramental system. But the flesh and blood that we offer to give thanks, to make peace, to bring forgiveness and healing, absolution and consecration, is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of all the signs of the Old Covenant, two are presented to us by the Lord for our service in the Eucharist: unleavened bread and wine [with water].
This is my blood of the Covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins [Mt. 26:28].
The sacrifice of the Lamb
When you have lived with the sacramental system of the Old Covenant and you see them take the Lamb of God and bind him to the altar [the altar of the tabernacle in the wilderness was wood, unlike that of the temple which was stone] and drive a spear into his heart, and pour out the blood at the foot of the altar, you become very conscious of what is happening. The Lord who has already made the communion sacrifice is making the sin offering that remits our guilt.
This is the whole theme of the Letter to the Hebrews:
When he had made purification for sins he sat down at the right of the Majesty on High [Heb 1:3].
We see Jesus crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death: so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone [Heb 2:9].
He had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make expiation for the sins of the people [Heb 2:17].
He holds the priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them [Heb 7:25].
He has appeared once for all, at the end of the age, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself [Heb 9:26].
Through him, then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God [Heb 13.16].
This is the New Covenant, the priestly order of Melchizedek, who offered bread and wine to the Lord, his God. This is the work of Christ the High Priest in us. This is the archetype of human existence and the canticle of love that can nail our heart to joy and praise at every celebration of Mass.
This is the “defenceless power of love which submits to death on the cross and dies ever anew through out history... and ushers in the kingdom for God” .
III The Mass as communion
Communion is the keyword for understanding the gift that John Paul II and Benedict XVI make to the Church. Communion is the Church’s Christian name. It is a communion of order and a communion as family, “cultivated by a spirituality of communion which fosters reciprocal openness, affection, understanding and forgiveness” .
We walk as pilgrims out of our cultural and personal differences, gathering in faith at the table of the Lord to share what is great and sovereign in each culture and each human life. “A Church of communion... sees diversity not as an essentially negative element but as an opportunity for the enrichment of unity” .
I share with a friend, Kris, whose parents first language was Gudjirati. The community has done some small thing to help and she says, very formally, “I thank you!” and then adds, “What a useful language is English. In Gudjirati there is no word for thankyou! The best we have to offer is a phrase which means “You should not have bothered.”
Our diversity enriches us. We have a value that we can share and see in a new light.
A Welsh speaking friend of the community, Dyfrig, on the other hand, teaches us a new courtesy. In Welsh there is no word for ‘No’. To an untruthful statement you may say, “It is not so.” But other forms of refusal require you to amble ceremoniously around the point. It teaches you, when ‘no’ is an essential answer, to say it very gracefully. By our communion, we enrich each other.
The Church is a communion of holiness. It is the Communion of Saints, as we call it in the Apostles Creed.
“The Communion of Saints refers first of all to the Eucharistic Community, which through the Body of the Lord binds the churches scattered all over the earth, into one Church. Thus the word Sanctorum [translated Saints in the Creed] does not refer to persons, but means the holy gifts, the holy thing, granted to the Church in her Eucharistic Feast, as the real bond of unity.” .
What defines us as a Church, as a gathering together in love and mutual enrichment, is the broken flesh and outpoured blood of the God we worship and adore. The Eucharist becomes our new language for each other: a language which means thankyou and whose answer to God is always, yes.
When we come together as a priestly people with our ordained ministers, we are not only in communion with our brothers and sisters across every cultural barrier, but our union extends beyond the frontiers of death to all those who have passed through the waters of Baptism, received the one Spirit and have partaken of this one bread and the one cup.
“The Communion of Saints must be understood as the Communion of the Sacraments” . By eating the Body of Christ we become what we receive as one flesh with each other. My bonds with African, Asian, Oceanian, and American Christians whom I have never met, are deeper than the mere ties of blood which may unite me to my human family, and wider than the union I may share with my spouse. God’s flesh permeates my flesh. God’s blood flows in my veins; in our flesh and our veins. Together we live the language of the Eucharist though it may be celebrated in tongues we do not know.
“One cannot become a Christian by birth, but only by rebirth”, as Cardinal Ratzinger says, and he goes on to point out that the Holy Spirit, the Gift of God, is at the centre of the Church and “not a group of men” [of which, as Benedict XVI he is now the most prominent!]. This turns the human person towards “a new being that he cannot give himself, a communion which he can only receive as a gift” .
“ ‘This is eternal life: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent [Jn. 17-3].’ Deliverance from death is at the same time deliverance from the captivity of individualism, from the prison of self, from the incapacity to love and make a gift of oneself” . “Resurrection builds communion. It creates the new People of God” .
We live out of Christ’s sacrifice and into Christ’s family. We are a real family, reborn by water and the Holy Spirit. And we gather facing the table of the Lord, lighting candles for festive celebration , and not as a sign of the continuation of the fire on the altar of holocausts of the Old Covenant, as this gesture has sometimes been presented. Christ sacrificed himself in blood to make us a family and we sacrifice ourselves in love, to build up that family.
In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and gave himself for us [1 Jn 4:10]
We are swept back into the great descending and ascending music of adoration, reception, bestowal and thanksgiving. But now we are travelling as the family of faith.
“In the Eucharist, we ourselves learn Christ's love. It was thanks to this centre and heart, thanks to the Eucharist, that the saints lived, bringing to the world God's love in ever new ways and forms. Thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew! The Church is none other than that network - the Eucharistic community! - within which all of us, receiving the same Lord, become one body and embrace all the world.” 
IV The Mass as Masterpiece
In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s Christ of the last coming raises his arm in power; the Mother of God, under that raised arm, turns away. Out of featureless blue sky, the Saints and angels race towards us. And directly behind the altar, the dead rise and the damned fall.
All this takes place under the sign of the Prophet Jonah, the last of the prophetic figures that Michelangelo placed on the ceiling. These frescoes cover salvation history from Creation to the Second Coming. Overhead, the prophets are interspersed with the Sibyls, prophetesses of Apollo, who, by tradition, also foresaw the coming of Christ. It is the Renaissance’s world view of the coming of age of Man.
The pontiffs who ordered its creation [Julius II and Clement VII] did so between personally conducted wars. But nothing can take away from the fact that their successors, ultimately, have stood in the presence of this masterpiece to accept the final, personal and public responsibility for truth unto death, on the day they were elected Bishop of Rome.
Four centuries and a turn of the compass away, is the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, also in the Vatican. This is John Paul II’s gift to the people of God, and was created with the monetary alms that the cardinals gave him for the golden Jubilee of his ordination. Uniting the thought and approach of eastern and western art, its mosaics depict the life of Christ, culminating in the glory of the saints, in an intimate combination of iconography and childlike joy. At one end, the Mother of the Redeemer with her Son on her lap surrounded by rejoicing saints, gazes down upon the altar. At the other, Christ in glory seems to leap from the wall above the celebrant’s seat. In the middle is the ambo for the word of God, and the family of the Church that gathers round it faces choirwise. From the ceiling above the ambo, Christ Pantocrator, one hand in blessing, the other holding the scriptures, gazes down.
The mosaics were created by Father Marko Ivan Rupnik and his collaborators from the Pontifical Oriental Institute. This is to “foster the encounter with the Christian East and the Christian West,” so that the Church, in the words of John Paul II, might breathe with both lungs; and also, perhaps, that it might beat with one heart.
If I had to sum up the Latin liturgy with one prayer, it would be: Lord have mercy. It is the offering of awe, love and need. It is the cry of the two blind men [Matt 9:27], of the Canaanite woman [Matt 15:22], of Bartimaus [Luke18:38] to the Son fo David, and it is the cry of the lepers [Luke17:13] to Jesus the Lord: the new Testament prayer that may be retained in the original Greek of the Gospels. This is the human cry that almost hesitates to raise its eyes to heaven, yet dares to know that God can be asked to give mercy.
To my mind, the prayer of the Divine Liturgy of the Greek rite used by Catholics and Orthodox, seems to me to be gathered up in that most ecstatic cry: The doors, the doors! In Wisdom, be attentive! The sanctuary of a Greek rite church is screened. The clergy enter the sanctuary as Christ entered Heaven, and they return to earth carrying the body and blood of God - through the doors.
In response to our cry of mercy the doors of eternity fly open and God descends. He comes down to us in the Incarnation, in the Eucharist and at the Parousia, the second coming of the Lord. And we are gathered up with him in the circle of life, worship and glory. The doors await, open wide to receive us.
Like the fresco of the Father creating the sun, moon and stars on the Sistine ceiling, the Mass is a work of art. It is the greatest work of art on earth. In shining simplicity it combines symbols of creation and the revealed word. It relives the gestures of Christ in time and eternity. It gives what it is. Surrounding it, like a frame, are the works of God and humankind.
In the still point of this masterpiece, human hands, anointed by the Church in the Spirit, take bread, and a voice that begins from beyond time says: This is my body. Surrounding this still point is the shock of adoration, joy, awe, mystery and heart-breaking happiness.
Before the step of the sanctuary of earth and heaven I receive and become the body and blood of God.
I stand before the altar as Christ stood to walk from the tomb on the third day. I am a new creation.
Stretching above me is the ascent to heaven from the threshold of the sanctuary on earth. I can lift up my eyes and see through time and space to the sanctuary of Heaven, to the new city of the heavenly Jerusalem where Christ is the light, and his living body is the visible temple. I can see the perichoresis of the Trinity, the dance of love that gathers me into its embrace. With this vision, which is a reality, I can look at where I am, in the centre of creation between Heaven and earth.
I stand before the sanctuary, in the body of Christ, in a building that is a church, that stands in a sacred outer court that comprises the whole earth; which is a temple, so to speak, in the vastness of the cosmos. In the perfection of Heaven which I have just touched, I can see the fallen loveliness of mother earth, the original sin that matts her hair and mars her face.
In the strength and love I have received, I can go forth. - Ite missa est - go, you are commissioned. I am a pilgrim, a missionary - from Heaven. I have entered the Body of Christ, and now I become what I have received. In the empowerment of the Holy Spirit whose other name is Love, I set out to live the love I have received. I will be a healer, a witness, a lover, a servant, a confronter of evil in myself and in others. I will be a friend and I will find the hundredfold: brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, houses and lands, not without persecutions [Mk. 10:29-30], that he has promised me as his disciple.
I have eaten the body of God and drunk his blood. Maybe the priest was perfunctory, the congregation dreary, the liturgy dull or not to my personal taste, the church ugly and dirty. It does not matter. God, the creator of heaven and earth and the whole universe, was there. He gave himself into my hands and lips. He penetrated my heart with his love. I would have liked the frame to match the picture, but if the picture - God’s presence and passion in the Eucharist - does not get me on my knees, lovingly willing to improve the frame of the human, temporal and spacial circumstances, nothing will!
The Making of the Masterpiece
The mass of the Western rite  begins in silence, and out of the silence the word is heard, preferably in song.
We are coming to the altar of God, the God of our gladness and joy.
We have gathered here. As I set out from my home, as I walk into the church, I am making my first act as a liturgos - a liturgical person - and we are all liturgical people because the Church has called us to “active participation, spiritual formation, and ministerial co-responsibility.... the People of God in its totality, is a priestly people, and, with due respect for the distinction between ordained and non ordained ministers, all laymen and women are liturgical subjects capable of liturgical ministry in its various forms” .
We have come before the altar of God. We walk into the presence of the Living God, we bless ourselves with Baptismal water, we reverence the Lord in adoration in some manner that arises from our culture and is appropriate to our abilities. I, as a Poor Clare Colettine, bow down and kiss the floor as I enter the church. I go barefoot, in poverty and in awe, because I am in the presence of the burning bush, like Moses, who also took his sandals off.
Our gathering together is expressed by the procession of the ministers to the sanctuary. We have come individually or in families to adore, and our ministers have gathered up our separate comings in one solemn gesture.
Our first approach to participation is our spiritual identification with what is happening. I am able to identify what I do myself with what is done in my name. I may be called to be part of the procession to the sanctuary or other duties may devolve upon me during the celebration. They may not. But I am still crucially, actively involved. I identify with the actions which are choreographed before me; and they are there to lead me to the ultimate deed of active participation, when I rise to my feet and approach the altar of God to receive his body and blood.
On Sundays and solemn occasions, the cross and the book of the Gospels precede the ministers on their way to the sanctuary.
The word of God is alive and active. It cuts like a double edged sword [Heb 4:12]. It is the Spirit speaking to us. It is the presence of God. The cross is the icon of love to which we open our eyes and our hearts. And our celebrant greets us in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Before mass, a white cloth was laid over the table of the altar, festive candles were lit, lights turned on, incense possibly prepared. Our ministers are robed in white - a permanent reminder of baptism. We unite ourselves with this symbol of innocence by cleansing our hearts from sin and crying out in the words of the Gospel; Lord have mercy. We have come to the altar of God. And now we can have gladness and joy, because the Lord has taken our sin away and we are washed clean in his love. If it is a feast or Sunday, we express our joy in the fifth century prayer of the Gloria. Then we focus on the oration - prayer - of the day. If we have a copy of the text we could also use this prayer to start and end our own day. The opening prayer of the Mass that focuses the whole celebration is for us; it is a takeaway; it is really worth living with.
Speak to me
We sit down. In the west we are used to the idea of sitting down and getting to business. We now settle ourselves to focus on the first reading and the psalm. This is my daily bread. Whether I am able to get to daily mass or not, I can follow the readings. Sacred Scripture is the Holy Spirit’s food for the mind and heart, as the Bread of Life is food for the body and the spirit. The word of God can become a consuming delight. It is not a thing of mere scholarship for experts only. It is God speaking to me. In private reading we work from the Gospel outwards and we discover how the New Covenant fulfils the Old Testament in its prophecies and images, and how the life of Christ becomes the life of the Church in Acts and the Apostolic Letters.
The celebration of Mass presupposes an acquaintance with Scripture. So it does not start with the Gospel; it culminates in it.
For this we stand. Whilst we have been seated to reflect on the first reading and psalm, we now stand to attention to receive the Lord’s command. And we greet it with joy, singing, Alleluia - the Hebrew cry of praise to God.
We listen to the Gospel, not as a piece of pleasing poetry [though it contains the most superb literary forms and has created our language, imagery and mind-set] but as directives for our daily life. The Gospel is for me. After the Gospel we should be able to sit in silence and listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to us. Then the celebrant, who has been anointed with the Spirit’s power for the service of the Word, should be able to explain the scripture, as later, he will break the bread.
In this sense, every mass becomes a breaking of the bread and the word and an encounter on the road to Emmaus in company with the Risen Lord.
What do I believe?
The purpose of the homily of the priest is to teach the faith which arises in our hearts from the revealed word of God and the working of the Holy Spirit.
Faith is a personal choice. We, plurally, do believe in God; but we do not believe it as ten or a hundred or a billion odd individuals. We believe it as one person - as the Body of Christ. This is why we say or sing the creed on Sunday. We profess our faith together as one person, just as we will eat the one bread of life that brings us into intimate communion with each other. This leads us naturally to pray for each other and for the Church and the world, as we do on Sundays in the intercessions. The prayer of the faithful looks towards our unity in the person of the visible head of the body of the Church on earth, the Supreme Pontiff [that is the Ultimate Bridge!], through whom we receive the ministry of our Bishops, and in turn through them, the consecrated priesthood. Our prayers look to the civil and secular world in which we live, the needs of the Church and our own specific aspirations as a family of faith in Hawarden, in Boston, in Paris, Berlin, Manila, Tokyo, Rome. And we pray in silence the prayer of our own hearts and - unique to England and Wales - we invoke the Mother of God to pray with us. This concludes the Liturgy of the Word.
Receive, Lord, and bestow
We now come to the first point in the Mass, in which every person present is an indispensable ingredient.
We are beginning the Liturgy of the Eucharist and we are called upon to prepare the gifts. Some of us may be invited to bring the gifts - bread and wine, the offering for the poor, and the contribution to support the parish - to the altar in procession. This is a great privilege. If it is bestowed on you, you are making visible what the rest of us are doing and becoming.
The bread placed on the altar, is my life, my work, my body, mind, heart and soul and spirit that, presently, Christ will take into his hands and transform into his body. The wine that is taken and offered is my joy, my pain, my prayer, my mission and vocation, my understanding, memory and will, that Christ changes into his blood so that I can become part of his redeeming work. Literally, I give myself under the symbol of bread and wine so that God may give me himself. I enter into an exchange with God. “Love knows no why, it is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self”.
In prayers which date back to post-exilic Judaism, the priest blesses God for these gifts. These blessings are still used in a similar form in the Passover and Sabbath meals of contemporary Jewish communities.
With growing excitement...
We have gathered momentum. Earth is giving thanks to heaven. It is not just the right and fitting thing to do, as the prayer meekly acknowledges. It is overwhelmingly irresistible. Eternity is about to descend into time and space. And this is perilous. Truth and freedom is about to call upon our world of half lies and bondage. The purity of goodness is about to insert Himself into our mixed-up cruelties.
At the beginning of mass we confessed our sins, and they were taken away. But this is still a broken world, and each mass has in it an anticipation of the Last Judgement.
At the end of time, we will see God in his glory and truth and we shall be able to choose him or reject him. He passionately wants us to choose him. Incarnate in time, Jesus came to us as a baby; and we beheld him as a dying man on a cross. God came to us in vulnerability, so that we might not fear him. He offers himself now, in the humility of a piece of bread, in the simplicity of love - so that we can adore and receive, so that we will be able to bestow and give thanks. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loves us.
Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy [Eucharistic prayer II].
We bring you these gifts. We ask that you make them holy by the power of your Spirit [Eucharistic prayer III].
Father, may this Holy Spirit sanctify these offerings [Eucharistic prayer IV].
We are here in the goodness of God. The absolute demand of goodness is that it have something to which it can give itself away. God is not a lonely monarch; he is a love-affair. Whatever the Father possesses, he gives completely . He gives himself to his Son, and the love between them, the breath of his kiss, is the Holy Spirit.
The Consecration sweeps us into this circular tide of supreme mutual intimacy .
We hear the urgent, compelling voice of Jesus exclaiming: accipite et manducate: take this to yourself, receive, accept: and, literally, chew it. Set your teeth in it and [only by a transferred and metaphorical sense] eat it. Our Lord cries out these words. They are in the imperative; they are orders like the commands an officer shouts out to his men, like the demands the emperor makes on his slaves, like the urgent appeal of a dying friend.
We hear these words, addressed to twelve men in an upper room, echo down twenty centuries: “Manducate! Bibete! - Eat! Drink! All of you! It is one of the deep mysteries of God’s relentless love that this sacrifice is offered for many, but all are invited to eat and drink. This is love. Love is urgent to give itself away. Utter, total and final goodness cannot do without someone to love.
It is not that we, by our puny efforts, may love and adore God. No! In this is love: that he loved us!
At the end of the prayer of consecration, the celebrant exclaims mysterium fidei [Let us proclaim] the mystery of Faith.
We sum up the creed we have already professed.
Christ who died, is risen and will come again! He just has! This is what, after the doxology at the end of each of the Eucharistic prayers, we say yes to. Amen - we agree - let it be so! Fiat.
Like Mary at the Annunciation, our assent is invited to the Incarnation of the Word made flesh now on the altar - an assent that we will ratify when a portion of the broken bread of life is offered to us at communion.
Father in heaven - kingdom on earth.
We are invited to pray the Our Father.
The Lord revealed this prayer to us in the Sermon on the Mount as a secret prayer, a prayer of the heart. Yet the early Church placed this prayer at its public gathering of love: the Eucharist. The hidden place in which we pray together is the heart of the Son; for only in him and by the Spirit, can we call God our Father. Father is a name so uniquely belonging to God that our Lord also said: “Call no man on earth Father, because you have one father in heaven”[Matt 23:9]. This love - the love affair of the Son’s heart - has nothing to do with the virtues or sins of the men whom we may have called ‘father’ on earth, according to the flesh. The Son of God invites us into his heart, to desire the one whom he loved, and to surrender to that love - as we wait in joyful hope for our gathering-in when our Saviour comes.
Peaceful and broken
The next act is like the preparation of the gifts; it is something we are called to do. We make peace. This does not come down to us from the altar; it goes up from us to the altar. It is our contribution towards the giving that makes the Church holy. We give peace to each other so that the Lord may come to us. Peace is the bond of unity [Eph 4:3], and as our father on earth, Benedict XVI said, “We can only receive him in unity”- there is no comm-union without community - “we cannot communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with each other” .
While this is taking place the choir sings the prayer, Lamb of God who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.... grant us peace, and at the same time the celebrant, in perfect compliment to this gesture, breaks the one host [when and where this is possible] into pieces for the community. The Breaking of the Bread is the earliest name for the Eucharist. It is found in Acts 3:42. Though our human peace may be limited, we pray, look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom.
Say the word
We pray the prayer of the humble Roman Centurion who begged for the healing of his servant: Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof, but only say the word and my servant shall be healed [Matt 8:5]. But now the roof under which I receive the Lord is my head, and it is for my soul that I seek healing.
I am now invited to make my third, fully active participation in the Eucharist: I have offered my gift, I have shared God’s peace, I receive the Lord.
Once more this great choreography of grace takes me, and I am gathered in by the upward sweep of the Eucharist.
This is the bread that has come down from heaven and I go up to meet the Lord. He calls me by my name. We have sat in the upper room. We have stood under the cross. Now we are in the garden of the resurrection [and most probably it is early morning]. He calls my name as he called to Mary Magdalen, and I answer with an endearment, as she did [Rabboni is an affectionate diminutive: little teacher]. I am stunned and awed at this love; it fills my heart with reverence and excitement, and - real fear. For I am now dangerously close to God. I am making a lover’s act of surrender and it will change me. Yet with this awe is intimacy, and the playful delight of a love who places himself in my hands, who touches my lips, who fills and completes me.
There is something deeply freeing at this moment of intimate personal exchange with Jesus: I am not alone. I am part of a community - one among many, some of whom I may not even know - exposed to this hunger and fulfilment. And I take part in this act which, as the earth rolls round the sun, is taking place throughout the twenty-four hours of the day, all round this planet. Yet the Lord calls my name and I call his.
The movement of this divine choreography returns me to my place and I pray in a posture that is appropriate and sustainable. Prayer is an invitation. It is not the raising of the heart and mind to God - we can’t get there, even the holiest of us does not have that much pneumatic lift-off! It is the humble descent of God’s heart and mind to ours. In the words of St Bonaventure, Jesus is our way and our open door, our ladder [like Jacob], our chariot [like Elijah] he comes down and takes us up . He just has.
I have adored, received, will be led to bestow, and now I give thanks. There is a thankfulness and wonder that is so big it does not need words in our language; it teaches us the language of heaven. We only have one set of words for saying: I love you. In heaven there is a vocabulary for every nuance of adoration, awe and praise in love. In the tongue of eternity you can go on saying I love you, for ages unending, without ever repeating yourself. You cannot pick this tongue up off a website! But you can ask the One who speaks it best to teach you. Try it. You are enfolded in the love of the Trinity. The love of the Trinity is a person: the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God. Let the Spirit breathe in you the prayer of love.
The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Annunciation and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. It does not say she spent three days in prayer, pondering on God’s gift. It says she arose in haste, and went to her cousin Elizabeth [Lk 1:39]
With the gift of love comes the invitation to serve. It may possibly permit you to spend time in thanksgiving in church after Mass - but equally, it may send you out with your children, with those who depend on you and to those who depend on you. If you love me keep my word [Jn 14:15]. Bear in mind that to love God with your whole heart and your neighbour as yourself is the greatest commandment of the Old Covenant and that you live in the New Covenant whose new commandment [and it is new!] is: love one another as I have loved you!
Ite missa est. Go - you are sent. Go out now and break yourself for others as I have broken myself for you. A thoroughly broken heart is the loveliest thing in heaven. Unite yours to it. Graciously go out and bestow what you have received.
VI The Four Quartets
We go forth - but we carry the prayer of the mass at our heart. It is living in us. We live the prayer of our thanksgiving through the day.
At the heart of the mass stand the four great Eucharistic prayers. These are the settings in which the Lord’s words of consecration are enshrined. These settings are the great masterworks of our faith before which we live and pray.
The Second Eucharistic Prayer
For our sake he opened his arms on the cross
The surviving writings of the early Church Fathers, whilst they describe the general format of the Eucharistic Vigil, indicate that the actual prayers said were primarily left to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the actions of the presiding Bishop. Nevertheless two copies of the Apostolic Church Order have survived, that were written down before the year 300. The text of the Second Eucharistic Prayer is drawn from these. It is lovely in its brevity. It expresses the faith of the persecuted Church with the simplicity of a fresco on the walls of the catacombs.
It talks of Christ's acceptance of death - a choice Christians in an age of persecution made when they joined the Church. Our age, too, is an age of persecution.
Lift up your head, and remember that his love has made you a holy person, that death is over and you are destined for the resurrection. Take to heart and memorise this prayer:
For our sake he opened his arms on the cross;
he put an end to death
and revealed the resurrection.
In this he fulfilled your will
and won for you a holy people.
The First Eucharistic Prayer
With praise and thanksgiving.
This, too, is an ancient prayer. It was old before it was written down in the fifth century. Some Post-Reformation scholars , working from a description given by St Isidore of Seville (C.215), have even tried to see in it the Eucharistic prayer of seven parts used by St Peter in Antioch.
But this is more properly called the ‘Roman Canon’. It includes as an intrinsic part of its structure, the invocation of the Apostles, and Roman Martyrs and the first popes to follow St Peter: Linus Cletus, Clement and Sixtus. This magnificent poem has an almost architectural structure. It is a Church built of human words - a Church, moreover, that emerges into civil society. It is no longer speaking from the perspective of persecution for it says: “You know how firmly we believe in you.” We are no longer amidst a people whose faith is violently put to the test by public witness - God alone knows how firm our faith may be.
We offer this sacrifice for our loved ones, for the whole family of God on earth and in heaven. The words remember and memory are the refrain of this song.
It has a unique omission: it does not explicitly invoke the Holy Spirit to perform the work of consecration but it asks indirectly that our offering be made in spirit and truth - a formula from St John’s Gospel [Jn. 4:24]. And after the consecration it brings in a unique image. Amongst the gallery of the holy ones: the Apostles, the Martyrs, Abel, Melchizedek and all those who sleep in Christ, there appears an angel who waits by the altar to take our sacrifice up to heaven.
The prayer out of which the angel emerges contains another Johannine formula: grace and blessing [Jn 1:10].
This, too, is a prayer to take to heart and remember, for it beautifully encompasses the circle of ascent and descent of the Mass and enables us to place into the angels hands our own life in sacrifice.
we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice
to your altar in heaven.
Then as we receive from this altar
the sacred body and blood of your Son,
let us be filled with every grace and blessing.
The Third Eucharistic prayer
From east to west.
This great prayer was constructed to reflect the liturgy of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Delicate allusions to the liturgy used by Catholics of our Eastern rite Churches and by the Orthodox Churches, transfigure this concise text.
John Paul the Great said, ”The words of the west, need the words of the east, so that God’s Word may ever more clearly reveal its unfathomable riches” . Like many of the prayers of the Eastern Rites it focusses on peace, holiness and reconciliation. Above all, it places the Mass in the framework of the words of Jesus: many shall come from the east and the west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [Mt. 8:11].
As we gather for this perfect offering let us reflect on what it means to belong to a people of every tribe and tongue and nation [Rev. 5:9].
Father, you are holy indeed,
and all creation rightly gives you praise.
All life, all holiness comes from you
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
by the working of the Holy Spirit.
From age to age you gather a people to yourself,
so that from east to west
a perfect offering may be made
to the glory of your name.
The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer
Again and again you offered a covenant to man.
You taught him to hope.
This is, truly, the ultimate masterpiece of our age. It took two thousand years for the Church so to know her Lord and Master that these words might rise out of her heart. It reaches back beyond the sources behind the third Eucharistic Prayer to St Cyril of Jerusalem and the early Church. It compasses the whole of salvation history from the unapproachable light in which God dwelt before the dawn of creation to the Second Coming of the Lord and the song of every creature - of us - in the kingdom of glory.
It is a text so precious and so unique, that is is only used with its own preface, which may not be exchanged for that of a saint or other feast. Its use may take precedence over the seasonal weekday liturgies. And it may be used on any Ferial Sunday 
It is a catechesis - a teaching - of the Faith and the Catechism of the Catholic Church alludes tirelessly to it in the section on the Creed.
If you want a one line prayer, take it from this great song. And say to yourself with a wondering heart: Lord you taught us to hope. [It’s taken us two millennia to get there, but we are learning!]
This is the prayer of the covenant, the prayer of the promises that God keeps, the prayer of hope not just for the living but for the dead - “Those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.” This is the prayer of the poor, the captive, the sorrowful, who now can hear the good news.
Though one should, obviously, never attempt to join in with the priest when these prayers are said on the alter, it is a unique gift for personal prayer to have memorised the whole text of this Eucharistic prayer.
The final summing up of the whole meaning of the Eucharist comes in the last phrase of this prayer before the institution narrative, taken from John’s account of the washing of the feet:
He always loved those who were his own in the world.
When the time came for him to be glorified by you,
his heavenly Father,
he showed the depths of his love.
This is it. In the Mass, in the Eucharist, we see just how deeply we are loved.
The Eucharist is my home, my dwelling place; the awe of my heart and my joy, my freedom, my peace: my place.
“The liturgy is the endless glorification of the thrice-holy God and the sanctification of human beings now restored to their original beauty in the image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26) of the Creator.” 
I have come to the heart of the Trinity, and I am a new person.
God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God [1 Jn. 4:16].
Love has brought us into the house of faith, and he will lead us to our home in heaven. Here and beyond, we, filled with the Holy Spirit who is love, will be swept into the great wave of love that flows through the Trinity and made holy and beautiful. Our grave clothes will fall from us and we will stand revealed as the image and likeness of God’s heart; friends and co-beloveds in the heart of the Trinity. We have come home. We are no longer strangers and pilgrims.
The Eucharist has become our life, in heaven as it was on earth. “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this Mystery of Faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing ... They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all. .
These are not just words; they are our life. They are the most tremendous and exciting thing that can happen to us on earth and in heaven.
When we eat the body and blood of the Lord we are lifted up as new people into the heart of the Trinity in which the Father is endlessly and eternally begetting his Son. His love for his Son is so tremendous that this eternal act knows no end. The Father cannot part from his Son; he is always in the ecstasy and intimacy of begetting the second person of the Trinity. And the love between them is so tangible that it becomes the Holy Spirit - the third person of the Trinity.
The sacramental image of the Spirit is anointing. This is because oil penetrates the skin and nothing can insert itself between the oil of sacramental anointing and the human person. If the Spirit is that close to us, imagine the closeness of perfect love in the Trinity. And to this we have been called; into this our reception of the body and blood of Christ inserts us, beyond time and space, in a love so penetrating and so complete that eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him. “This is the prolongation of the fire of Pentecost, the stream of life-giving water flowing from the pierced side of the Saviour (cf. Jn 19:34), which even now flows from the throne of God and the Lamb (cf. Rev 22,1). It is the radiant light of the Risen Christ which illuminates his Bride, the heavenly Jerusalem, resplendent with the glory of God, with the Lamb as its lamp (cf. Rev 21:23)”
“I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares... This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation. The Son of God became man in order to restore all creation, in one supreme act of praise, to the One who made it from nothing. He, the Eternal High Priest who by the blood of his Cross entered the eternal sanctuary, thus gives back to the Creator and Father all creation redeemed. He does so through the priestly ministry of the Church, to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Truly this is the mysterium fidei which is accomplished in the Eucharist: the world which came forth from the hands of God the Creator now returns to him redeemed by Christ.” 
“By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, Jesus anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence, from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). In their hearts, people always and everywhere have somehow expected a change, a transformation of the world. Here now is the central act of transformation that alone can truly renew the world: violence is transformed into love, and death into life. Since this act transmutes death into love, death as such is already conquered from within, the resurrection is already present in it. Death is, so to speak, mortally wounded, so that it can no longer have the last word. To use an image well known to us today, this is like inducing nuclear fission in the very heart of being – the victory of love over hatred, the victory of love over death. Only this intimate explosion of good conquering evil can then trigger off the series of transformations that little by little will change the world. All other changes remain superficial and cannot save. For this reason we speak of redemption: what had to happen at the most intimate level has indeed happened, and we can enter into its dynamic. Jesus can distribute his Body, because he truly gives himself.
“This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there, on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own flesh and blood. We all eat the one bread, and this means that we ourselves become one. In this way, adoration, as we said earlier, becomes union. God no longer simply stands before us, as the one who is totally Other. He is within us, and we are in him. His dynamic enters into us and then seeks to spread outwards to others until it fills the world, so that his love can truly become the dominant measure of the world.” 
1. Sacrosanctum Concillium 10.
2. Ibid. 8.
3. Archbishop Piero Marini [Former Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies]: Liturgy and Beauty 2 & The Fortieth Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concillium III.
4. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI]: Following the Spirit of the Liturgy pg 29.
5. Ibid. pg 49
6. P. Marini: Memories of an Experience 6.36
7. P. Marini: The Fortieth Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concillium [and SC 5-7]
8. P. Marini: Memories of an Experience 4
9. St Clare: 1st Letter to Agnes of Prague.
10. P. Marini: Memories of an Experience 6.36
11. St Augustine: Sermon 272
12. P.Marini: Liturgy and Beauty 2.2
13. Benedict XVI Marienfeld Vigil 20th August 2005
14. JohnPaul II Mane nobiscum Domini 21
15. P. Marini: Liturgy and Beauty 1
16. J.Ratzinger:Introducing Christianity
17. Catechism of the Catholic Church 951.
18. J. Ratzinger:Introducing Christianity
19. J. Ratzinger: Following the Spirit of the Liturgy 5
21. General Instruction of the Roman Missal 307
22. Benedict XVI: 1st Homily in the Lateran May 7th 2005
23. P. Marini: A Gift to the People of God.
24. Sometimes called the Latin Rite, regardless of the language in which it is offered, to distinguish it from the other major rites of the Roman Catholic Church which have their own distinctive and ancient liturgies
25. P. Marini: The Fortieth Anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concillium III
26. Benedict XVI: Address to the Seminarians at St Pantaleon 19 August 2005
27. St Bonaventure: Itinerarium mentis in Deum 6.3.
28. St Bonaventure: Itinerarium mentis in Deum 6.2.
29. Benedict XVI Homily, Bari 2005
30. St Bonaventure: Itinerarium mentis in Deum7.1
31 Johannes Emser and followers.
32. John Paul II: Orientale lumen 28
33. GIRM 322 e. [1969 not altered in the 200o edition]
34. P. Marini: Memories of an experience 7.36
35. Sacrosanctum ConcilliumII 48
36. P. Marini: Memories of an experience 7.36
37. John Paul II: Ecclesia de Eucharistia 8
38. Benedict XVI: WYD Mass 21 August 2005
2005 September, North Wales University (NEWI), Conversions
Landmarks to God
Ty Mam Duw
Conversion Originally appeared as a as series of articles in the Catholic Pictorial and the Catholic Times and is published here with grateful thanks. Understandably, the names given and some of the details of theses stories have been changed.
From where we are
Working it out on my fingers - the only mathematics of which I am capable - the family of our community [by which I mean Us] is 83% convert; of the 17% cradle Catholics, only two went to convent schools, and one of those was expelled!
Sr Marian is a convert. She got the classic treatment; her parents would not have her baptised in infancy so that she might be free to choose when she grew up. She chose Catholicism and there was a riot, all that nice, broad-minded, twentieth century tolerance vanished like the morning dew.
Sr Elfine’s father was a freemason [he was also a newspaper editor!] she herself gave Buddhism a whirl, which in no way offended Dad - but when she intended to become a Catholic, she prudently left the country of her birth and has never returned...
Sr Laetitia variously walked barefoot to Aldermaston with a Y stencilled on her T-shirt and camped on Greenham Common. She had a decco at most Christian Churches - she felt particularly at home with the Elim Free church [Sr Laetitia is a free spirit!] But when she took to playing Gounod’s Ave Maria, someone broke the record...
Sr Athene was a hippy, Sr Sophie was a biker, Sr Paula at one point lived in a cardboard box - and the kindest anyone could offer on their conversion was, “Well, at least we know where you’re sleeping at night.”
All these have something in common; they made the jump when young. They counted the world well lost - and believe me, they lost it. They were pagans, they did not own any spiritual real-estate - or the other sort. They were the kind of people for whom Chesterton wrote “The Catholic Church and Conversion”. They joined the Church for what it is - a perpetual youth movement. For Catholicism is the final revolution - the revolution into sanity.
We at Ty Mam Duw are a community of encloesed contemplative nuns, wespend our lives living a prayer; and we remember all those who are seeking God. For all who trully seek will find
But it is one thing to fight your way out of 21st century 'Lessness' and quite another to leave the family and the given trust of another religious faith or Christian denomenation.
Sr Beata is a former bank clerk, and also our bursar; she balances our finances, such as they are, sees to it that the men working on the roof don’t fall off, and does a few dozen other things, like looking after the bee hives. Sr Beata was a practising Anglican before her conversion, her Grandfather was the president of an Orange Lodge in Northern Ireland a place where intereligious dialogue has scarcely got off the ground.
“My Catholicism,” She said, in her very gentle way, “Was just a progression from my Anglicanism; I did not reject the Church of England or quarrel with it - I simply grew out of it. I felt, then, that it was fine as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. I wanted to give myself completely, but it seemed to place a limitation on my giving.
“Ours was just a middle of the road Parish, I did not really come across high and low Anglican approaches until I went to college. My friends and I visited varying sorts of Anglican and Methodist and Baptist churches. Funnily enough we never went to a Catholic Church; I decided to become a Catholic before I had ever darkened the door of a Catholic Church. You see, I desperately wanted to know more about the Anglican faith and I went to the Library to try and find something. What I found was a book called “Why I am not a Catholic”, [I can’t remember to this day who wrote it]. Anyway, I read it and it absolutely convinced me. All the things he was against, I already believed i that settled it - I obviously had to be a Catholic!
“I was grateful to the Anglican Church for the good grounding it gave to me in scripture and for the love of the psalms in the wholehearted community singing of Matins and Evensong. When our old Canon retired, he asked me if I would like to have a picture, and gave me a copy of Our Lady at prayer by Philippino Lippi, in a small wooden shrine with doors. I said to her you are not just Our Lady but my Lady. I was allowed to keep the picture in my bedroom, providing I did not not hang it up, and providing I kept the doors closed.....”
The price of open doors, however, is invariably a hail of stones. Can we assure those who are travelling this path and who are more conscious, just now, of the bruises than the fresh air, that we have been there too - and it is worth it.
From Buddhism to Catholicism
Anna Li is a product of the Liverpool Docklands, her father was a Japanese merchant seaman from Sakhalin and looked like Yul Brenner used to. Her mother was born a supporter of Liverpool City [and an opponent of Everton]; neither parent troubled overly about her religious education. She did not trouble herself until her school religious studies class set up fundraising to install a Buddhist prayer grove for the use of devout prisioners, in a well known British jail. Anna was a bright kid who brought oriental efficiency and push to Liverpuddlian pragmatism.
TMD What interested you in the project?
Anna Well, when I was a teenager, I loved organising things [still do, in a different way,] the mere act of getting something going always appealed to me. So I wanted to know all about it. Buddhism that is. Also I thought it was part of my roots and after Dad’s death, that started to matter [Not that Dad had any religion...]
TMD Why did it appeal to you?
Anna Because it stepped off the roundabout. The Buddhist image of life is the Wheel: an endless circling multiplicity of act, which you are invited to come through and get off. And because I am a person who acts first and thinks afterwards, this really helped me. I was into Zen, too, and to meditate, to concentrate my mind to a point, to narrow down the options and to realize there were [and are] a lot of things that don’t really matter genuinely helped me to get my life together.
TMD Where did you find the limitations in Buddhism?
Anna At first I was as happy as a lark. New technique. New lifestyle. New foods,e ven. I had half my class at school into Zen archery and the martial arts.... So I set off to University as a Rampant Buddhist! But of course, I had to get to the top - this absolutely had to be my last life in the earthly cycle. So that meant that everything I touched was maya - illusion. My friends fell in and out of bed promiscuously. But that wasn’t for me. Other people were bound to the cycle of decay - but Anna wanted out! I’d set my heart on going ‘home’ to Japan and being a Buddhist nun.
TMD What stopped you?
Anna Two things. Firstly I met a real Buddhist! I mean, I was a book Buddhist. And it brought it home to me that Buddhism in the real sence was atheistic. That is, it is a Philosophy in which, in the end I would become pure spirit and be - this is a horrible over simplification - and be god. I would lose myself completely. And I thought I wanted to; until it came to the crunch. Sop I was not worshipping anything [except, perhaps finally, myself.] But, please don’t make this a judgement on other Buddhists. I mean I must have been a pretty bad Buddhist. This is mere philosophy, but I felt I was declaring the earth and the cosmos an illusion as a get-out because, in the final analysis, I could not control it, I could only abolish it. Then the other thing that pulled the bottom out of it was love!
TMD Is Buddhism against love??
Anna No and yes. We got our grove set up in the prision exercise place and we got hold of a visiting Indian Buddhist monk to act as a sort of chaplin. He was charm and kindness personified. He went and blessed the grove and ministered to his ‘parish’ and we drove him home. He thanked us with gracious courtesy and said that we had ‘gained merit!’ It took a long time for that to sink in. I wanted to do things from love - and that is how I’m made. I was not looking to ‘gain merit’. And who, in the world of Buddhit philosophy was there to award me ‘merit’?
TMD What led you to the Church?
Anna Well. According to my family the desire to inflict on them the maximum hurt. Something painful and political happened in my life that isn’t directly relevant [We omit it] My family said I’d just gone out of my way to do the most damaging thing possible. I could not convince them that they did not come into the picture and that the last thing I wanted to do was hurt them. But I had to leave home - and university - and start fending for myself. Then I met St Francis.
TMD Yes, well, St Francis is a rather transcultural experience.
Anna You get me not! I had already encountered him as a transcultural experience. Now I met him as someone who insisted irritably that all the brothers be Catholics. A real Francis, who dealt deferentially with Popes whose ideas did not even run parrallell to his own, who was cold, and hungry, and distressed, and whose family loathed him. Money was short and I was trying to kill time and keeep warm in the local library and I picked up George Elliot’s ‘Romola’, a rather terrible and naive book. One almost irrelevant line stuck into me. “It takes very little water to make a perfect pool for a tiny fish.”
I was already having instruction in the Catholic faith, and finding all sorts of difficulties, but, suddenly, it hit me what Christianity was! It was as if I saw St Francis’ hands wounded with the wounds of Christ, cupped together, scouping up a handful of water: “Sister water: lowly useful precious pure..” and everything I’d wanted to beleive stood on its head. This world is a sign it is not an illusion. It is the sign post to God - a God who loved it enough to become incarnate in it 2000 years ago.....
From Islam to Catholicism
Fatima Murrypuree was born in Kenya. Her family were [and are] devout followers of Islam, and initially she found the Church a hard bargain.
Fatima I loved the faith of my family and I still love it. If I think of my childhood I think of what seem like uninterrupted hours of silent prayer at home - and in the mosque, reciting the suras and praying the subha in my heart, loving and adoring a God who was One, Holy and Other than I. My father was a very gentle man and very kind and tender to my mother who was always ill. They loved each other devotedly though theirs had been an arranged marriage (old school) and they had only met tow or three times before the wedding. In the end when she was completely paralysed he did everything for her. He used to say to us children “Ours is a way to God committed to a holy war but the first holy war must always be against evil in ones own heart.” He tried to love us all equally. He used to tell us a story about the prophet, who when he was talking to a man, noticed that the man sat his little son on his knee and pushed his little daughter away. The prophet reproved the man for this and begged him to love both children equally. And my father used to say “Now me I love my daughter more - may Allah forgive me!”
He was never happy about my eldest brother who belongs to a Shiite extremist group. My father would make a wonderful Christian - if he had faith.
TMD What led you to Christianity Fatima?
Fatima My eldest sister and I were out with my father in Nairobi and we passed the Catholic Cathedral there. On the peak of the frontage towering over the city is a statue of Mary Immaculate bebi Mariam as my mother would have called her. She whom the prophet praises in the Koran. My father looked up and remarked “It is a pity that a religion that places a woman in glory on top of its edifices should treat women so badly.”And my sister laughed and said “Bapu, you live in a glass house! Islam treats women even worse!”
“No” my father answered seriously ”You must not mis-judge the truth of your faith because it is so badly lived by those who follow it.”
TMD And it occured to you that this might also apply to Christianity.
Fatima Yes. But then I only thought that it meant my father had proposed a bad argument - that he was wrong.
TMD Had you met many Christians?
Fatima I thought I had. It was one of the aspects of being brought up in three cultures and four countries. We went to a convent school - because my father valued good education and wanted us to have the best. Mrs. Bandaranaiker and Mrs Gandhi also had a Catholic education - and so for that matter, did the Empress of Japan. I find my nuns unimaginative to the point of harshness. I found the squabbles between Catholics and Protestants in what you would call ‘bad taste’. Wealthy missionary societies came with money and medical supplies and literally bought the poor. I had not read the calendar of saints I had only seen Christians who, if they loved one another hid it well.
TMD What led you to Christianity?
Fatima The lack of an umbrella. No really. You need not laugh. I was going to a lunchtime concert in London with a friend. I parked in the wrong place. We got out and started to walk. And it started to pour I took shelter in the doorway of St. Etheldreda’s. My friend wasn’t a Muslim and he had no scruples about going in. I followed him rather reluctantly and we sat down and God was there. The place smelt the way stone buildings tend to smell in a wet climate like Britain. I started to cry. I sat there crying then.
My father took us all on a pilgrimage to Mecca when I was 14; it was wonderful, the sense of being one with hundreds of thousands of other people. The heat, the light, the sense of belonging, the combination of exaltation and humility but when I gazed into the Qibla (the apse that focuses the direction of Mecca in a mosque) it was just that empty. All the peripherals were right but the heart was cold. I’d never heard of the Last Supper. I didn’t know what the Mass was and the words ‘reservation of the Blessed Sacrament’ weren’t included in any of the languages I’d learnt, but I knew, rivitingly that He was there.
My friend was horribly embarrased I gave him the car keys and he drove home and left me. The Fathers were very kind to me at St. Etheldreda’s. They thought I must have had a bereavement. I could only shake my head and say (it was wonderfully true, too) “No; not dead, not dead”.
From Hinduism to Catholicism
Lakshmi Patel is English. Her grandparents came from India, her father was born in Gudjurat, but her mother was born here. She and I - at that time, both emphatically non-Catholic non-Christians - went to the same state school.
TMD Lak, you’ve probably forgotten, but when we were about sixteen, you took me home for tea. Your mother solemnly took incense sticks and waved them before a mantelpiece statue of Ganesh (the elephant-headed god of good luck). Taking you to be as cynical as I was, I raised an eyebrow at you and murmered: “Josie, (the only Christian in our class at school) Josie would call that idol-worship.”
Lakshmi I’ve not forgotten! I gave you a dignified lecture over pakoras and tea. Anyway, I thought you were insulting my poor little mother. Ba didn’t have the chances we’ve had - she left school at fourteen to work in a factory and was married at sixteen.
TMD When you were a Hindu, how did you regard the vast Hindu pantheon: the literally thousands of gods, goddesses and devas?
Lakshmi For myself, with a sort of indifferent equanimity. But I have to say, going back to my teenage years, that when I said that offering incense before a statue was not ‘worshipping an idol’ I had my marbles counted. I doubt if any Hindu in his right mind would say that an image of something was the reality. To me, then, the statue stood as a symbol of Ganesh and Ganesh stood as a symbol for heavenly kindness: for a sort of casual amiable goodness that (even at seventeen) I preferred to have on my side.
I suppose, to me, they were like particularly good fairy stories about goodies and badies. We favoured the goodies wherever we found them. We used to have one of those rather lovable Hindu calendars with Shiva and Krishnan and St Antony and St Francis and the Sacred Heart. My mother prayed to St Antony when she lost things ...
TMD How did you find Jesus, Lak?
Lakshmi Well, I went on with the lump method, roping in all good things indiscriminately, yet believing in a God of whom all these lesser divinities were but fractions and signs, until my husband Roger died. He’d been a rather vague Christian until he knew he had cancer of the liver and that it would be a matter of weeks. Then suddenly it became important to him. He wanted to see a priest, to make his confession, to have Communion and peace. And I just wanted anything that would make him happy. Anything.
Angel of Death
It almost seemed to me that I’d never really loved Roger till then and our love for each other, which we’d almost taken for granted, became a sort of paradise of kindness, of making every second last. Simply looking at each other, touching each other, having a bowl of tea, or a flower, or a kiss. (I’m sorry, I’m crying.) It seemed as if every second lasted for ever. He wanted to be at Mass daily - and naturally I wanted to be with him. He looked at the Elevation of the Host at Mass and I looked at him. I staved off the future, the fear, the numbing terror of being alone for the rest of my life (we’d no children and I was thirty-two) and our love for each other became a sort of wonder. They gave him a transfusion; he wasn’t ill, just tired. And one morning I woke up just before dawn and I knew even without moving that he was dead beside me.
TMD What kept you alive?
Lakshmi Very little initially. Even the day he died, I got through the formalities. They took his body away and I went for a long walk. For some reason I could only seem to walk right on the kerbstone, I think I must have been unconsciously looking for a lorry to throw myself under.
TMD Could you pray?
Lakshmi I went home in the evening (I was out of my mind, really) and I picked up a prayer wheel that hung on the wall. Some decorative trinket that a friend picked up in North India, and pulled it and heard the beads rattle. And that seemed to be all it was. A rattle of sound.
TMD Were you alone?
Lakshmi No, my sister stayed with me. But for all the difference it made, she might as well have been anywhere. I made the right noises on the outside but there was no human contact left. I went to Roger’s Requiem and I really felt like an outsider. I don’t mean that the bits and pieces of the Catholic Church I was touching weren’t trying to welcome me, they were. I just didn’t even feel the funeral was my husband’s funeral or that the whole thing meant anything to me.
TMD What changed that?
Lakshmi We got to the point at the end of the Requiem where there is always a sort of silent gap; the pall-bearers arrange themselves, the priest comes forward and blesses the coffin and then someone starts singing ‘May flights of angels’ and the coffin goes out. I looked up at the crucifix over the altar. And I said to myself: If you’d ever been human, you wouldn’t let this happen. And the enormity of my thought hit me like a brick wall.
God - really alive
The God Roger had worshipped had been human, he’d let men torture him to death. And suddenly the cross seemed like a real thing that was happening there and all the sorrow and pain and love and horror that I couldn’t seem to feel for Roger’s death swept over me - but I felt it not for Roger, but for the dying God on the cross.
From Judaism to Catholicism
April Stone started life out in Bethnal Green (really - not a symbolic cliche).
When she was a teenager her parents, market stall-holders, moved to Liverpool and she went to King David School here, before going on to university. A qualified Doctor, she is tall, thin, with delicate features and fine henna-coloured hair. She does not look Jewish, she does not look Catholic (whatever that amounts to). She looks like a typical well-dressed post-modern in platform shoes.
TMD What was your first encounter with Catholicism?
April To get to our synagogue on Sabbath we had to pass the Catholic Church - the two were in the same road. The church had a large crucifix outside, which my father scrupled even to see. When we went past the church he used to put his hand on the back of my head and say: “Keep your eyes down, kid, don’t look!” One Saturday the priest had what I now know to have been his First Communion class on the steps. He must have been trying to explain respect for the crucifix. We pattered past as usual with bowed head and averted eyes. And the old priest exclaimed with a resounding Irish brogue: “Ye see, children, even the Jews reverence it.” My father gave him a look that was meant to kill.
TMD As a child, did you know many Christians well?
April I don’t think I knew any at all. I went to a Jewish school and belonged to a Jewish youth club - about the most I did was play netball against the Gentiles - and it seemed a point of honour to beat them. (We generally did, too.) The first Christian I met was in print, Albert Schweitzer.
TMD How did he attract you?
April There’s a proper name for it - I think it might be the “Alastair Crowley Syndrome” - he looked like lots of people to whom I was related. Yet he had such a gentle, loving face and he spent himself caring for others. So I was all fired off to train as a doctor. And naturally my family was pleased; Mother’s idea was that we should all become brain surgeons and university professors. She never forgave my brother for becoming a professional footballer.
TMD Did you meet Christ at university?
April No, Sister, he met me! I met loads of people who must have been Christians (I mean born and baptised non-practisioners) but that didn’t make much impression. They just struck me as lacking human intensity. (Whatever else you could say about us Jews, practising or non-practising, we don’t lack human intensity!) Christ met me because I wanted to show off!
The back door
Hebrew is not necessary for the study of medicine, but I kept mine up. One evening a friend who had picked up a book in Hebrew at a second-hand bookshop threw it at me at a student party and challenged me to read and translate. I opened the book at random and read: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life ... it was a Hebrew New Testament! I was a little bit shaken. I borrowed the book and took it off to my room, trying to find the passage again. I had to read quite a lot to get it! I thought, we’d be prepared to respect this Jesus as a man, but we’re wrong! He was mad, he was out of his mind. Nobody could say I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, or, the Father and I are one, or before Abraham was, I am, unless they were mad.
Or unless it was true.
On this horrid thought I shut the book firmly and closed my mind firmly and got my degree and went and did my hospital training.
TMD Did God let you leave it at that?
April No! After I had trained I offered my services VSO to go to Africa (Schweitzer again) and I worked in a Christian mission. The dear African Matron used to refer to me as the “hard-headed Jewish lady” because I preferred penicillin to sympathy. As Sir Thomas Browne says: “Many of my patients predeceased me.” I dealt with disease efficiently and was pleased with healing and displeased with death. But by this time I was a materialist - no religion had anything to say to me. Life was the body and you had to keep it alive.
The faith of Abraham
Then they brought me an old man whose baptismal name was Abraham (!) I understood enough Xotho by then to follow him. He had been caught, going to get the morning milk, in the crossfire of an encounter between police and rebels. I knew that he could not live. I told him so, he kissed my hand and said: “Ahh, I go to Jesus.” Then he closed his eyes and waited peacefully for death. I was shaken.
I started to think about death. I thought of the Rabbi of my childhood wearing his lacy shroud on the Day of Atonement. I knew all about death. You fought it - sooner or later it beat you - then they buried you. And the awful poverty of my own philosophy rose up like a flood of despair. Matron kept leaving Christian Bibles around and I picked one up and opened it. My eye fell (you can see what’s coming, can’t you?) on: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
The people I worked with were Protestants. I didn’t go overboard all at once. I asked for information, for books to read, said it would help my work, and so on. I was baptised as a Lutheran, and later, as I learned more and came to understand history, I was received into the Catholic Church. This was still in Africa. My Lutheran friends didn’t quarrel with me. They said if that was how God led my conscience it would be presumptuous of them to interfere. I still hadn’t told my family. My mother and father were both dead. I could quite see aunty going into sackcloth and the uncles having the funeral service read over me. But my brother took it equably. “You heard the one about the 3 rabbis?” he asked.
Son of GOD
“Well, it was the eve of Shabbat and the first rabbi went into the synagogue and knelt down and wept. Well, he heard someone coming, so he hid. It was another rabbi, he too knelt and wept. Full of professional kindness, the first rabbi asked the second: “What troubles your soul, old friend?” The second rabbi looked over his shoulder and, seeing they were alone, whispered: “Friend, my son has become a Christian.” “Baal shem!” exclaimed the first rabbi in a whisper. “You, too! My son has also become a Christian!” Then they wept together. But they heard the door opening, so they went and hid round the side. It was a third rabbi. He too knelt. He too wept - and his son too had become a Christian. The three rabbis wept in concert. Then, first as a dim echo, but growing louder, a voice came from heaven. The voice of God. God, too, was weeping. The three rabbis clung to each other. The eldest confessed: “Adonai, we here are weeping because our sons have become Christians. So what’s your hang up?” God wept louder. “My Son, too,” God exclaimed, has become a ....”
Church of England to Catholicism
In all these conversion stories TMD (out of respect for its friends) has changed the names and scrambled the information a little. But this one is straight off the shorthand pad. We shall therefore, not offer Stella even a fictitious surname and limit our description to the revelatory: female, middle aged, lower middle class, (or upper working class - take your pick) Liverpool mother of 2.3 average children.
TMD What difference did you find between the Church of England and the Catholic Church?
Stella Well, in the Church of England we had quarrels about trivialities in the vestry. There was a strong social element and my husband and I didn’t belong to the ‘in’ set. The Sunday sermon was boring and it did not teach us about Christ! There seemed to be so little commitment among the congregation and they said the prayers with agonizing slowness and I wondered what the rest of them were doing there, and there was this disagreement about the ordination of women. So we became Catholics. You probably know what’s coming, Sister.
You heard this before?
In the Catholic Church we had quarrels about trivialities in the sacristy. There was a strong social element and my husband and I didn’t belong to the Irish Club. The Sunday homily was irrelevant and didn’t teach. There seemed to be virtually no adhesion between the terribly mixed congregation, and they said their prayers with agonizing speed. I wondered what they got out of it. And there was this insubordinate feminist bunch who didn’t agree about the ordination of women ... (Stop laughing, Sister.)
But I’ve been converted. God became a really human being, and he loves really human beings in their poverty of heart and general messiness, and I’m one of them! Praise the Lord! And by a miracle of grace he has tucked all these horrible mortals under his wings and he loves them and gives himself to them. Praise the Lord! I have been saved - from myself, at last.
The joy of the Lord is my strength
I mean, Sister, I wouldn’t say this to anyone but you (Sister, what are you taking notes for?). But I needed saving. I feel so free. I could swing like Tarzan off the light fitting, I’m so happy, but I’m trying to keep respectable. So don’t tell anyone.
I mean, if you want a sensible answer about fidelity to apostolic tradition and the Real Presence and so forth, come back when I’ve finished my Open University Degree and I’ll write you one. But at present I’m just happy. You don’t mind, do you? I haven't really been happy before. I want to get the best out of it. I just fell out of my pram and landed on my head and I feel wonderful. Have you got any more questions?
TMD No, Stella. Thank you. I think you’ve pretty well said it all.
from Catholicism? to Catholicism!!
Martin McGonagle had the faith handed to him on a plate. He went to a first class North Wales Catholic school (it subtly resembled St Richard Gwyn’s, Flint in some respects) where he received excellent instruction and great support. It washed over him like water off a duck’s back.
TMD What do you most remember about your First Communion?
Martin The breakfast.
TMD What do you most remember about your first confession?
Martin Listening on the sly to my friend Tony and being a bit surprised. (Well, we were only seven ...)
TMD (still trying) Well, what do you remember about your confirmation?
Martin The holy row I had from Mum when I got the new shoes scuffed on the way to church, kicking a stone.
TMD All right. We give in. What was your earliest religious experience?
Martin Well, Sister, you can take your pick between Sister Evangelist (I have to say she had tears in her eyes) reproving me forcefully when I, er, accidentally threw a brick through the gym window and a rather indescribable sensation when watching a repeat of “The Bells of St Mary’s” on TV.
TMD (faintly) Thank you, Martin. Give me a second to assemble the next question. I am myself a convert to Catholicism from something else. So are most of my sisters. To simply eat the crumbs that fell from the rich Catholic table we had to sell everything we had, be thrown out and cut off by our families and shoulder our pack and literally walk out into the dark. And here you are, with the whole thing gift wrapped and what have you done with it!!!
Martin There, there, Sister, keep your veil on!
TMD (austerely) Thank you, Martin! This is the new Millennium. If it is not the End of the World, it is at least an end of a world. Where do you stand?
Martin I don’t. I’m kneeling. Bit late, I know. You people got saved by God’s goodness. Okay. Well, I got saved by my badness. God is still God. I was not redeemed by the benefits of education and upbringing and the reception of the Sacraments in proper order. God must have given me all those good things to prevent me from becoming even worse.
Thou shalt - preferably
My trouble was the ten commandments. Especially the Thou shalt not that everyone knows thou shouldn’t. My girl friend was a leader in Youth 2000. You could say, I suppose, that I belong to the teaching Church. I didn’t quite stop us us living [together], in the usual style. I once got scruples (after a Taizé evening) and went to a priest who knew us both. He should have put me on the carpet and told me straight to follow what really were the clear promptings of my own conscience and stop evading the truth of God’s law. Instead he said something like boys will be boys and virtue is a counsel of perfection and if you can’t be good be careful. Three months later he left the priesthood. And I thought: what am I bothering for, writing moral articles in the Catholic press that I don’t live by. Why don’t I go out and become a pagan and enjoy myself uninhibitedly. If I weren’t a Catholic I could have had a really good time.
TMD (repressing an inarticulate moan) If a bus ran you over tomorrow, Martin, what would you have to offer the Lord?
Martin My honesty, Sister. Now you can’t say I’m not honest.
TMD Can I recommend you a good confessor. Father O.H. is the best Priest I know. He is the confessor you need. We send all our wacky friends to him. Just mention our name...
Six months later
Martin You got my letter, Sister?
TMD Yes, Martin. I got them all. None shorter than 16 sides A4.
Martin Don’t be frivolous, Sister. You love God, too. But to me it’s like a new toy. Just being loved, just knowing God loves me. It’s - I don’t know, Sister - it’s like walking into open arms. Its’ like being fed when you’re hungry. I wasn’t hungry before. I just ate the religious hash indiscriminately because I had to more or less stay alive.
I had had the Catechism explained to me, I thought I knew the religious theories, but now it’s different. My God Sister! I mean. have you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church?!
TMD Frankly, Martin. I have
Martin I mean, Sister, the Pope! You only have to look at his dear suffering face. What did we do to deserve a man like that?
TMD Nothing Martin. We are a bunch of Shepherds without a sheep.
Martin And, Sister!... The Eucharist. He’s really there, Sister, he said it was his Body and Blood and it is. He is for real. Sometimes I used to think I talked too much. But I’ve said less words per day in the last six months than any time in my life. It’s too big for me.
TMD How did your girl friend take it?
Martin She took it very hard. I realised for the first time that she loved me and I wasn’t just an entertainment at weekends. It was letting go of her that made me really see her as a person. She wanted us to marry. I think it’s about the hardest thing I’ve ever done, Sister, because for the first time I could really see her as a person whom I was hurting and humiliating, whom I had taken for a ride, but who still wanted to give herself to me. And I had to say no. In fact, the last temptation was the worst - to wrap myself up and offer her myself as a sacrifice. But it would have been building on a lie and in the end she wouldn’t have thanked me. I pray for her every day that she finds what I’ve found. She doesn’t write to me, but I hear from friends, and I know she hasn’t found it yet and is just bitter. So I ask you very much to pray for her.
TMD We’ll pray for you both, dear. May God’s blessing rest on you in fullness and peace as you start your novitiate in the New Year and may the love you have found be the gift you can share with others.
2005 13 May, A response to We are Church
A walk in the direction of Emmaus
Thank you for offering the possibility of dialogue with We Are Church.
May the Lord bless you for your willingness to let yourself be known. May he heal the wounds that you bear and the bitterness that you feel, and may he fulfil your desire to find his freedom and love.
I belong to a community of contemplative nuns.
You are not naive and you know that contemplative nuns do not run away from life. They run into it. One humble sign of that may be that we have been on your news list for the past seven years. During that time we have placed your ideals, your needs, your anger, your pain and your disillusion before the Lord.
Very occasionally we have seen a way to answer some practical request made in your letters, and in our poor way, have done so.
Until now you have not offered a forum for dialogue, even though you may have presented instances of debate and discussion.
In our understanding, a debate is a head-on collision of conflicting opinion, and a dialogue is a non-combative presentation of differing positions. As a member of a seventeen strong enclosed community whose first prayer is to live together as a family in love, and who have nowhere to run away and hide from their failures, I have found that much can be gained from listening and accepting, and very little, from throwing bricks.
May I venture, humbly and with great respect, to offer in the simplicity of love, a response to your five points in the light of listening to you silently for the past seven years.
WE.... WOULD LIKE OUR CHURCH TO BE:
A CHURCH OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST IN WHICH ALL ARE EQUAL,
IN WHICH EACH PERSON’S GIFTS ARE RESPECTED AND USED;
IN WHICH DECISION-MAKING IS SHARED BY ALL;
WE NEED A CHURCH WHERE THE GAP BETWEEN LAY AND PRIESTS IS CLOSED .
Are all equal? I am far from being equal to you [and I am probably about to demonstrate that convincingly!] If we have gifts it is because God gave them. We did not create our own potential. To be a contemplative nun I chose to lay aside large areas of God-given human potential. You, if I rightly understand a sharing you once offered, chose to lay aside a religious vocation and become a wife and mother. God’s gifts are so great that we cannot hope to use them all. They are a jewel case and we select or - [rightly or wrongly] let others select what we wear. As Tolkien says: “It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger, some one has to give them up to lose them, so that others may keep them.”
A decision is a solitary act. After hearing the evidence, sharing the dialogue, responding to the debate - on any issue - there must come a decision. Decision is defined by person: there must be a real person to make a real decision. The Church, in the final sense, does not make her own decisions. If God is omnipotent, omnipresent and goodness, the decisions are his.
The author of Sirach [a keen debater who obviously hadn’t discovered dialogue or inclusive language!] said,”Utterly foolish are all men who cannot discern God from the things he has made.” God is discernible. The evidence is quite heavily in his favour. We used to administer Dr Hans Wijngaard’s course,”Making sense of God,” and we can confidently say that many people do! But apart from God’s evident existence, we can discern nothing of God’s nature unless God reveals it.
All of us who are Roman Catholic Christians agree, unreservedly, that he did so in Jesus Christ. He was born, grew, taught, healed, died and rose again, to speak to us all in word and deed, the definition of God.
I am a convert to Christianity - the majority of my community are converts. Around a million adult converts come into the Universal Church every year because they believe that it represents the decision of God which they make in their own person. We do this because we believe that the Word of God speaks an inalienable truth to which we want to answer yes. Our decision-making is not about the content of the faith but our willingness to accept the nature of its revelation. Many of us, to live out our decision, have had to accept the rejection of our families, the contempt of our friends and in some cases, the loss or depreciation of our livelihood. We chose Catholicism at a high price because it was what we wanted. We did not have to choose it; it was not wished upon us by parents or circumstance. We chose it because we were not it, and we do not want to remake it in our own image and likeness.
In that revelation of God in scripture, we were able to see the continuity between the Church of the Gospels and the crowds in St Peter’s Square.
Closing the gap
I respect greatness but I do not lose my identity or value because most people are greater than I. I belong to an order that was founded by a man who said,”If St Michael the Archangel were to descend from heaven and request my attention whilst I was speaking to a priest I should say, ‘Hang on in there, Michael, I am just speaking to this priest who, though he may be the worst priest in the world and his life utterly corrupt, it is through his hands that I receive the body and blood of my Lord Jesus Christ - and that is all I may see of Christ on this earth.’” You appreciate that I am a Franciscan and that Francis is engaging in hyperbole.
There is a gap between the priesthood and the lay. It is not, as I understand and accept it, a value gap, but a service gap. However good or bad that servant is, he is still performing a different service - one more costly than mine.
A CHURCH WITH A NEW ATTITUDE TO WOMEN
SO THAT IT BECOMES INCLUSIVE AND ACCEPTING,
SO THAT WOMEN HAVE ACCESS TO LEADERSHIP AND SACRAMENTAL MINISTRIES.
WE NEED A CHURCH WHERE WOMEN ARE ACKNOWLEDGED THEIR FULL DIGNITY AND EQUALITY IN RIGHTS
The Ministry of Women
Though for myself, I do not feel any call to the priesthood, I do live with and deeply love others who have from early childhood, longed for this gift. They are among the rarer members of my community, who were converted to Christ from inside the Catholic Church. They share this same tension with two great doctors of the Church: St Thérèse and St Catherine of Sienna.
These two women longed for the priesthood because they wanted the better to be able to love and serve the children of God. They gave no evidence of expecting the Church to change her understood definitions in their favour. They witness to their ache for this gift because they longed to be able to give themselves more perfectly and serve others better. And God gave them something even greater.
I am trying to offer this possible interpretation with great love and with the greatest respect for the very deep pain involved, and if I cannot share the aspiration, I do humbly ask to share the suffering.
The Eucharist is a sacrament, it is the giving of a sign of a greater reality that is consummated in eternity; the actual giving of oneself is a consummate reality, now as well as in eternity.
Where a priest offers the Body of Christ to the Father, for the many, St Thérèse and St Catherine offered their own selves: body, soul, mind and spirit, to the Father, to be taken and broken for the many. And they were broken. For the flesh of the Son of Man that they would have given to others, they gave themselves. They broke the bread of their hearts as a gift. Christ is absolutely equally present in his Word as in the Eucharist, and the Word also equally feeds and nourishes us. In the Discourses and in the Diary of a Soul they broke the bread of the word to share with others, and no priest would presume to claim to have fed as many souls on the bread of life as they have fed minds on the words God gave them.
I know - I am not a fool - that this does not take the ache away, for them or for us.
Whether people, in or out of this or any other Church, acknowledge our full dignity or grant us our due rights, does not affect our free sovereign dignity in the eyes of God, unless we choose that it should
A CHURCH WITH A RE-EVALUATED PRIESTHOOD
SO THAT THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL THE BAPTIZED IS ACCLAIMED,
SO THAT BOTH CELIBACY AND MARRIAGE ARE OPTIONAL FOR ALL,
SO THAT THERE ARE CLEAR CODES OF CONDUCT FOR ORDAINED PRIESTS;
WE NEED A CHURCH WHERE THE CLERGY CAN FREELY CHOSE TO HAVE A HUMAN PARTNER
The Priesthood of all the Baptised
We all get to offer our sacrifice at the altar [even if we don’t all experience the fullness of feminine genius bestowed on Catherine and Thérèse!]
“Do this in memory of me.”
In me is the memory of Christ.
I come every day, every week, to place on the altar, my priestly offering. I offer God’s call to me:
as a family father offers his call to be a priest in his family to transform himself, literally by work, into the bread they eat;
as a wife and mother offers her calling to give life to her family, literally, in the blood that flows in her children's veins;
as a single person whose total service in a committed vocation offers his or her time that others may be transformed;
as a consecrated person offers not only the time but the space in his or her life in adoration to God and service to others.
Our priests offer with us, Christ’s gift. We offer our own. The body and blood of Christ on the altar is only a sacrament - a real sign of a future reality. We have to offer the reality. Now what we offer is our own. What we receive is God’s. This is the reality of the New and Everlasting Covenant.
In your mercy and in your compassion as a fellow human, I do beg you to consider the human partner.
To serve God as a priest requires the offering of all the lay ministries above. A priest is already a father feeding his family, a mother putting blood into their veins, a single person whose time is fully committed and a consecrated person who has no space left for himself. Would you truly sacrifice another person to comfort and compensate the priest in his few spare moments? You would require of a person: let us be specific, a woman, whose dignity and rights you sincerely seek to promote, an inhuman existence to make a priest happy, occasionally? In a rural existence with a ministry of limited commitment, clerics might just about be able to live in both worlds. The Church in the west tried this, and noticed it wasn’t working well, a thousand years ago.
Have you studied the statistics of marital disaster in the Reformed churches? The position of the Clerical wife has not improved since Kirk & Leary. As one clergy wife remarked “I’ve been married on my own for twenty five years!” Or as Joanna Trollope has one of her characters remark, “I married the man not the job. I am not an outboard motor, I am another boat.”
People with no where to turn tend to bring their problems here. There must be something about the wrought iron grille across the parlour that encourages confidences. Several women who were once married to protestant clergy, have, one way or another found their way here. One of them stays in my mind, she said to me: “It was not enough that he lived outside me; I had to answer the phone and tell people where he wasn’t. He went out early and came in late. He really was a good priest .... available to everyone, day and night - except me.” And, one of the saddest remarks, “It hard to compete with God.”
Some of you, and some of us, have experienced what life is like for the one parent family. If the cleric is a sincere man, his ministry will reduce his wife to a one parent family. There are only twenty four hours in a day and even practical geniuses cannot manage on less than four hours sleep.
God’s love is not an image of marriage, marriage is an image of God’s love - cosmically, a very small image of a very enormous reality. God’s love is so enormous and so totally embracing that it can swamp us all with ease. The love of a perfect marriage is a triviality compared to the love of God which is free, true and full: spiritually, physically, emotionally and psychologically.
A CHURCH WHICH AFFIRMS:
THE GOD-GIVEN GIFT OF SEXUALITY, BUT AVOIDS OBSESSION WITH SEXUAL MORALITY;
EVERYONE THEIR HUMAN RIGHTS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, MARITAL STATUS,
AND THOSE WHO LEAVE THE ACTIVE PRIESTHOOD OR RELIGIOUS LIFE;
THAT A PERSON'S INDIVIDUAL, INFORMED CONSCIENCE IS FOREMOST IN THE MAKING OF MORAL DECISIONS,
E.G. BIRTH CONTROL, FREEDOM OF SPEECH, CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION; COMMITMENT TO PEACE, PUBLIC AND DOMESTIC NON-VIOLENCE, SOCIAL, RACIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE, THE ERADICATION OF HOMELESSNESS AND POVERTY, THE PRESERVATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT;
WE NEED A CHURCH THAT AFFIRMS THE GOODNESS AND SACREDNESS OF SEXUALITY AS A GIFT OF GOD
AND ACKNOWLEDGES THE MORAL CAPACITY OF WOMEN AND MEN TO MAKE SOUND DECISIONS ABOUT THEIR LIVES.
The Church affirms conscience
Conscience is the highest norm, according to Newman. It is the voice in whose vocabulary God speaks to each individual. Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom, so as to personally make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience, nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience [Dignitatis Humanae]. You are not asking for anything which the Church has not already given you. You are not even asking for something that God has not from the foundation of creation, vouchsafed. You are free to choose - even to the point of rejecting God.
A person’s informed conscience is first and foremost in the making of moral decisions.
A well informed conscience is upright and truthful, and it formulates its judgement according to reason. Creating it is a life long programme. Rooting it in the revealed word of God will make it grow and charity will set it free. If we have worked on this premise this and still made a mistake, God has promised by the authority of the Church, to show us mercy on the last day.
The Church exists solely to keep the dialogue of truth in our hearts.
You may, Lord, have shown your might and majesty to a nation of sinners, but that was your beloved will. The size of your gift and the unbounded extent of my responsible freedom is shattering Love is my only limit.
The Church most devotedly affirms the God given gift of sexuality, fights unceasingly for the rights and dignity of the human person, is committed to peace and opposed to war in a manner most aggravating to world powers. It supports those who refuse in conscience to join in wars, removed the just war clause from the Catechism, abhors public and domestic violence, is the foremost amongst those who seek racial and economic justice to the point of frequent martyrdom, and ploughs its people, prestige and funds into the eradication of poverty and homelessness and the preservation of the environment. And under many headings it does this as a virtually lone voice, in the face of greed, violence, oppression and indifference. It is one of the reasons why I myself became a Catholic.
A Church of survivors
There is another reason why I became a Catholic: it is the Church of Sinners, and I am a sinner. There is no sin in the face of which she will close her doors, there is no chain of oppression, of fear, of self-destructiveness that she does not seek to break free.
The world I came from humiliated women and turned them as they emerged into apparent social and political emancipation, from sovereign individuals to sexual objects primarily by means of clinical birth control that damaged them physically and psychologically
The world I came from told women they could mercifully destroy their unborn children and it would not hurt them. It does hurt them - not the children - the mothers. I am a praying person in a praying community. People write, phone, email and come here personally, for prayer. For many, this is the final recourse because they have reached the end. But of all the people whose burden I and my sisters have shared, the most grief stricken are usually those who - often out of fear, or for sincere motives - have destroyed a child and twenty years afterwards, still bear the intolerable scar.
The world I came from told men and women that they were not free, that they lived imprisoned in four genders, two of them bound to frustration and impotence. Ours is an end time and, as history shows, end times collectively refuse to invest in the future: An end time is a time in which the future has become so uncertain or so intolerable that its citizens try to avoid having children and cultivate alternative social patterns. The decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the collapse of the 4 BC Hellene States and the end of the Byzantine Empire are examples of this. My conscience compels me to apply these facts in truth and reason. End times not only have no confidence in the future, they have no confidence in the present and they have no confidence in themselves.
The Church offered me a culture of life, forgiveness, healing, transformation, and [though I feared it] responsibility.
I have lived in a world where biological, sexual orientation and real marital status were marginalised. I have seen dear friends, who struggle for human maturity, trapped in a sexual philosophy that was based first and foremost on faulty biology. Developing non-rational animals engage in sexual play to define their gender. When they have discovered and affirmed their sexual status, they act upon it and mate. But if you take an animal from its environment and cage and expose it in a zoo, it can start to manifest all manner of aberrational behavioural patterns.
For the men and women friends whom I have known and love and who now consider themselves homosexual, I would willingly lay down my life, if God would permit, to give them the key to their cage and cover their exposure.
I lived in the world which had these values.
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of this world, but because I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John 15.18-19.
I found it hard to accept that the world was not on my side.
I found it difficult when my family rejected me because I chose Catholicism and they chose post-modern indifference.
I found the smiles and sneers of friends more than humiliating.
I did not want to be hated.
Moreover, I found that the faith stripped me to the bone and the Word of God challenged me intolerably.
But all that I have undeservedly received is infinitely, marvellously greater than what I have had to leave behind.
Because God has given me a Church that is a human family:
A CHURCH THAT IS MATURE,
WHICH ACCEPTS RESPONSIBILITY, OPENLY ACKNOWLEDGES AND IS ACCOUNTABLE
FOR WRONGDOING AND ABUSES OF POWER.,
WHICH WELCOMES ALL UNCONDITIONALLY,
RATHER THAN CAUSING GUILT AND FEAR,
WHICH SUPPORTS, ENCOURAGES AND WORKS FOR RECONCILIATION AND JUSTICE IN THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL.
A CHURCH OF COMPASSION THAT WELCOMES THE POOR, THE MARGINALISED, THE EXCLUDED, THE PERSECUTED,
ALL THOSE WHO NEED COMPASSION,
BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN CREATED IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.
A Church that is alive.
Thank you for considering this viewpoint.
2004 25 July, Catholic Pictorial
The other side of inside
Ty Mam Duw
The northern approach to Hawarden is up a hill. Originally it was so steep that in the eighteenth century, the top had to be dug out to get carriages up. South and west Hawarden trails back into a plateau. We discovered the north view when we had some trees by the wall cut down, and found ourselves contemplating in due order:- a herd of bullocks, Mancot, British Aerospace, the Dee Valley, Shell’s Oil refineries, and the approach to Speke airport. Sorry, to the John Lennon International!
That is straight ahead. Off right you can see Chester and the Night Club of the North on Helsby Hill: scintillating on the night they had lasers up there, showing green hoops of light across the night sky, and causing the susceptible to wonder what had gone wrong with the Second Coming.
We look forward to the maiden flight of the new European Airbus which is being built at Broughton.
There is a lot out there.
But there is more in here.
Seneca, the Roman philosopher, said we all prefer our visitors not to admire the furniture but to meet us. This is one of the reasons why, on our website http://www.poorclarestmd.org, we have never brought ourselves to merely put up a picture of the frontage of the monastery. The community is us; the inside.
We are part of the curriculum of several schools [ mostly not the Catholic ones who generally have no interest in religious life!]. They bring groups to the parlour. Contacting a religious community is part of the curriculum.
They ask questions: “Sister, have you got hair under your veil?”
Mother, replying politely: “No. Feathers!”
Small boy: “Can you pray for my father to back a winner at the Grand National?”
“I can pray that God will bless you and all your family.”
There was a time when a list of FAQ’s would have begun with the angst-ridden: “What are you sisters trying to escape from? Why don’t you live in the real world?” In the post 11/7 world people rarely ask this. It has occurred to most that we are not getting away from it.
If you are trying to escape, go in the opposite direction. Try something comfortable. For those who have money the options are limitless, but drugs, sex, alcohol and the other forms of hyper-stimulation that can keep you dumbed down, are fairly accessible to all. That is the road to escape the third millennium. People who want to live a family life with sixteen others, who want to adore God and pray for the needs of the world - however inadequately - are not running from it. They are running into it!
2004 January, Boston Catholic Journal,
On the existence of the Human Soul
A shade of commonsense
We are all sitting, confidently, on an assumption.
We have faith in the existence of the law of gravity. Had it ceased to function in the time it has taken to type this sentence I should be sitting approximatetly 27.9 km behind the computer, give or take a kilometer - which makes a difference when you’re typing!
The received wisdom claims an iron core for the planet. This inner core is deemed to begin 5,150 km below the earth’s crust. We are not able to drill that far to prove the hypothesis. Were we so able, it would possibly be imprudent to make a crack that deep down in the old sphere. It might cause a problem.
We deduce the presence of this inner iron core as we deduce the presence of the human soul, not by its localization but by its action.
In both cases a sudden cessation will cause us to sail off the surface.
The arguments for gravity are well known, “proved” by experimental science, and taught to infants in our schools.
However, we have been sitting-in as as observers on an unparalleled exposition of experimental method for the past 25 years - and even Cardinal Ruini appears not to have noticed, despite living next door to the lab.
The soul, like the iron core, manifests itself by the gravity of its actions. It is not a case of where it is located but how it acts. In the last 25 years the Church has processed the causes of 476 saints and 1,320 blessed. For all who were not martyred there had to be an experimentally provable miracle that could be clearly attributed to the intercession of each saint.
Some of these holy people are very recent, and all of their brains and bodies are still on earth. Even those who died in gas chambers are still part of the earth’s carbon. Portions of some of them are in reliquaries. Some of them are intact, their bodies preserved naturally or unnaturally, but all of them are indisputably brain-dead. And none of them have enjoyed the final resurrection.
However, vast dossiers of hard evidence, literally tons of paperwork and megabytes of memory, are devoted to the fact that all these new saints are in heaven and every effort has been made to see that the overwhelming evidence of their power to act in concert with God is not all delusion.
Their sphere of action is not in their brains or their bodies. Having settled this by experimental method we are, I think, left with one conclusion.