I was surprised to be welcomed at the North Door into the Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral and to have a leaflet thrust into my hand. I barely glanced at it – ‘a place to reflect’ sums up Agnellus’ Mirror’s feelings about this ancient part of the Cathedral – and put it safely in my bag. Reflection is our business in the Mirror, so I promised myself to read it later.
As always, the silence of the Crypt needed to be filtered out of the background noises. Hear each one, Will, then set it aside. Bangings, sawing noises, crane engines and hydraulic lifts: the army of masons, paviours and other tradesmen were about their work, as they always are. Have I ever seen the building without scaffolding somewhere?
Young voices behind me, coming from the nave. School children? Do they whoop and yell? I remembered that at least two little Turnstone chicks, when babes in arms, discovered the acoustics of the nave, and allowed their happy screams to roll around the space, but they were a choir leader’s nightmare. Worth a smile and a prayer for all the younger Turnstones. At least I’d put aside the whoopers, and found silence, undisturbed by comings and goings around me.
When I got up to climb the stairs to the nave, a solid oak door barred the way. I heard an amplified voice speaking, and remembered seeing a young man in academic dress in the street: I realised it must have been a degree ceremony occupying the nave. Whoops and yells are fair enough under the circumstances.
Let’s pray that the graduands enjoyed their day, and always have room in their lives for reflection and silence.
Oh, the leaflet: it is an excellent guide to the crypt. I learnt that there is a Baptismal Font down there in the Holy Innocents’ Chapel which is encouraging: the main font in the Nave has the Royal Coat of Arms over it, which has always seemed inappropriate to me.
Now four years old, Abel was enchanted when he came to the miniature railway at Bettws-y-coed.* Since he was tiny, unable to walk or speak in words, his fascination with trains has been clear. He would lean in the direction of his local station when being pushed home in his pram, hoping to direct his mother thither.
Full sized trains go places and can be sorted by colour and shape, but they are formidably big. One day a train that grandfather cannot sit upright in turned out to be the right size for Abel. Most of the elements of a railway were in evidence: rails, steam and diesel locos, signals, points, level crossings and bells. Abel felt aggrieved when the signal was red as he passed it, but relaxed when he observed the next light change from green to red as the locomotive pulled the carriages by. I can remember my father explaining this very phenomenon to me on the approach to Birmingham New Street!
Abel was quite right to be concerned. Partly because he likes things to be correct, but also he is aware of the dangers of level crossings and other parts of the railway. His toy trains often crash and rescue services swiftly descend upon the scene.
Despite the inherent dangers, a well-run railway is safe; disciplined staff know their jobs and do them well, thoughtfully rather than mechanically.
A disciplined life is open to the grace that gets us through many dangers, toils and snares, and grace will lead us safely home. All Aboard!
As a young man I felt ambivalent about Catholic devotion to Mary. I remembered how the Redemptorists who staffed the parish and the teachers in the primary school served up what now seems a sentimental soup of hymns which emphasised the differences between us and the ‘wicked men [who] blaspheme thee.’
My father’s well-thumbed rosary has appeared in these reflections before. His convert’s devotion was not stultifying but I had and have difficulty in seeing the Assumption, today’s feast, as central to my faith. but belief in the Assumption of Mary – he being taken up, bodily to heaven at her death – was required of anyone who sought to become a Catholic Christian. Just as well I was a cradle Catholic!
Walsingham helped reconcile me to some Marian devotion. I think it was to do with the ecumenical nature of the town, with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches in close proximity and, by the time of my second visit with L’Arche Kent in 1976, living in harmony.
Another pilgrimage, a few years later, threw new light on the place of Mary for me. We were visiting Lichfield Cathedral from the Dominicans’ conference centre at nearby Spode House. ‘We’ were a group of children with learning difficulties, their parents and friends. We had a service in the Cathedral and afterwards looked around. I was grabbed by one boy who wanted to show me a snake, carved on a memorial tablet: ‘It’s an obsession of his’, said his father.
We then realised that little Jenny was missing. Jenny had no speech, we did not know what she might do.
We found her, curled up in the Lady Chapel. ‘I should have known!’ said her foster-mother. Jenny preached without words but with an eloquence that reached one who is liable to let his head rule his heart even when it should be the other way around.
Lines: only five
evenly spaced and ongoing
there is always room in the universe
for infinity’s seed to germinate, and on the left
of the five lines, the treble sign, inward and reverent,
moves roundly, a pregnant woman, her sweet baby coiled
in her sheltered space: music of life, notes tip-toe on their lines
and spaces, sharps, flats, trills and runs patter and boom, blooming and falling.
Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.
Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.
We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.
We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.
Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.
I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.
Photo by Stan Shebs.
This poem hurts more than yesterday’s, I feel.
They run to meet me, clinging to my dress,
The neighbour’s children. With a wild unrest
And sobbings of a strange, fierce tenderness,
I snatch them to my breast.
But my baby, ah! my baby
In the far loneliness of nonentity,
And holds his little spirit hands to me,
Crying ‘Mother!’ and nearer creepeth;
Beats on my heart’s lit window anxiously,
Shivering and sobbing, ‘Mother, let me in!
Give me my rosy dress, my delicate dress
Of apple-blossom flesh, dark eyes like flowers,
And warm mouth kissed by a red anemone.
Give me my toys–the hills, the seas, the sun,
Loud song, wild winds, the morning’s cloudy towers.
Give hands to hold and ears to hear and feet to run.
Give me my lesson books–fear, love and sin–
All hell to brave, all heaven to win!’
Then, shadowy, wild and wan,
A little face peers in,
Except in dreams unknown even to me,
And like a summer cloud is gone.
It is the neighbour’s children, playing near,
With voices ringing clear.
But far in twilight, like a moon-awakened bird,
Was that another, fainter laugh I heard?
Brockagh School, Co Leitrim, 1969
I’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t usually take my phone to church, even if this one usually stays switched off when I switch it off. Not like the one that erupted into cacophonous life during an Archbishop’s sermon. This habit partly explains why I’ve only just added this picture of a passion flower from Saint Thomas’ Church in Canterbury. We looked at the symbolism of the flower a few months ago after we spotted some on tombstones in nearby Chartham. You can tell the Christian story with it.
Here is the real thing, a promise of summer to come, and also of heaven to come! Saint Thomas’ flower is next to the sacristy door, the priest and servers process by the passion flower on the way to the altar to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus.
As we have remarked more than once, Jesus lived a lifelong passion. He enjoyed the world, loved it. He told us parables about the flowers of the field, trees and fruit, wine and wineskins, seeds and sowers, so it’s appropriate that we should have this little parable in stone in our Church, even if Jesus would not have known one in his earthly life.
Would Jesus have known this plant, the hop? I don’t know, but it was very common in Kent back in the Nineteenth Century when the church was built, and is still grown in the local area for the brewing industry. Hops were harvested by hand until after the Second World War, with whole families joining in; school holidays in Canterbury were adjusted to allow children and parents to go to the hop gardens legally rather than as truants!
The hops can be seen between two arches on the opposite side of the Church. They represent the people of Canterbury, and the work of their hands. So Christ’s offering and ours, depicted in stone on the walls of our Church: Laudato Si!
PS: So far we’ve not found carved passion flowers in any local churchyard that we’ve visited since Chartham.
This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.
It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.
The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.
What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.
An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.
Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family
Jesus spoke to his mother, but Peter was not beside him and Mary. Jesus asked John to care for his mother.
Scripture references: Peter a long way off: Luke 22:54-55; 23:49; Mary and John at the Cross: John 19: 25-27; Peter’s mother-in-law: Matthew 3:14-15.
I was not there, not really there. Back in the crowd I was.
I don’t think he could even see me, and no way could I hear his gasping words, but young John was there, John was listening closely.
Jesus knew John was there, and his mother, Mary. He told John to care for her.
I would have done it.
Didn’t he care for my mother-in-law?
I let him down again.
Let us pray for everyone caring for other people’s parents, and their own; for adoptive and foster children and parents, and for all who work with children.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!
Window, St Mary, Rye, Sussex, MMB.
Peter stood a long way off, but he probably had little choice.
Scripture references: Peter’s boat: Matthew 13:1-3; Let the children come: Luke 18: 15-17; the Crucifixion: Luke 23:33-34.
Everyone always wanted to be near Jesus. We used to try to protect him, to keep the crowds away.
I remember when he sat in my boat, just to have room to breathe!
I remember when we sent the children away. He used to get tired just like anybody else, but No, he said, let them come to me. And climb all over him, arms and legs hanging on everywhere.
Now, no-one can get near, soldiers with swords and spears hold us back while they hammer nails through him and hang him up on high.
No last minute rescue.
The whole world seemed dark.
Let us pray for everyone in prison, especially those held for no real crime at all; and for those separated from their families and loved ones, kept apart by bullying governments and authorities.
Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.
Image from Winchester Cathedral by MMB.