Tag Archives: tourism

29 July: Saint Martha

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Looking ahead to Pilgrimage 2020, Vincent lent me a guide to the Pilgrims’ Way from Winchester to Canterbury, which claims that the Church of Saint Martha near Guildford is the only one dedicated to this friend of the Lord. There’s one nearby, but it’s Catholic, so doesn’t count for this writer! But then he also notes the Reformation loss of Saint Peter’s in Winchester without mentioning that the beautiful Catholic church nearby bears that Apostle’s name. No doubt Simon Peter was welcome to the home in Bethany of Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

Martha is the welcomer, just as much as Mary.

Here in Canterbury we are well into the swing of summer, which means visitors, tourists and pilgrims, most people a bit of both: hundreds of continental school students every day; Americans, Japanese and Chinese on package tours, and some travelling independently; families feeling the heat – altogether more varied than the crew who travelled with Chaucer. Some of them produce questionnaires testing my knowledge of Canterbury history – by no means A*; or asking which shops I use most often – I could not identify ten from the list, even if I found five I never visit with consummate ease.

Like Martha, we must be welcomers, some hidden in the kitchen, some paid to serve visitors, all of us readily pointing out directions or speaking a few phrases of whatever language we picked up at school. Is it my inner Martha or my inner Mary who answers the questionnaire, points out the way to the cathedral coach park, or railway station? Peu importe, as they say; does it matter?

It was Martha who went out to meet her Lord after her brother died. Perhaps she’s the one to look to when a visitor to our church has not heard of Saint Thomas, or at the other extreme, wants to reverence the relic; when two coachloads, that is 100+ teenagers, are crossing the road in an orderly (German) or ragged (French) line and holding up traffic, meaning me on my bike.

Welcoming visitors, even when I don’t want anything to do with them, is welcoming the Lord. The day after writing this I sat in the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral; at first the two coachloads were very intrusive, but that gave way to quiet. Some of them stopped to light candles; they were being shepherded along, so could not stay to pray; they let their little light shine though!

 

 

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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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.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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October 2: What Would You Do? The Beggar, I.

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Our good friend Christina Chase has allowed us to use this story from her own blog, ‘Divine Incarnate.’ It’s always worth reading her reflections; the second half of this will appear tomorrow. And thanks to her father Dan for the picture, which shows Christina’s hands cradling a family heirloom – a tin cup used by her grandfather in logging camps. Thank you for a glimpse into your family’s eternity!

It happened on a chilly September day, a simple moment that’s never left me. I was a young adult with my parents, following my eldest French-Canadian cousin in a tour of old Montréal. I remember the colourful splashes of garden amidst stone buildings, the glassed-in eatery where we had hot chocolate and poutine, and, indelibly, the old man begging outside of Notre Dame Basilica.

When I saw him, I was being pushed in my wheelchair by my father, because the sloping, cobblestone roads had tired me too much to power it myself. The imposing structure of the Basilica came into view from the sidewalk, soaring above us, and there, ahead of us, resting against the thick outer wall, was a man with grizzled gray hair, wearing faded clothes, and holding out a little cup in his hand.

Having lived a fairly sheltered life, I had never seen an actual beggar in person. Homeless people I had seen with their shopping carts downtown, but they were not beggars because they didn’t ask for anything. This man, however, this old bearded man with beautiful, wide-open eyes was holding out a little begging bowl, silently requesting someone, anyone, to help him.

What I Did

My cousin, an inhabitant of Montréal, was walking ahead of us and obviously saw the beggar, but didn’t stop walking and passed right in front of him. My parents followed suit, and so, I did too, literally pushed along with them. Perhaps they were thinking that any money given to the man could be used to buy alcohol or drugs and they didn’t want to take part in enabling his habit, but this thought didn’t occur to me.

In my youthful idealism, the sight of the beggar was a call to action. My immediate impulse was to put something into the old man’s cup, to do something for him, to at least give him my coin-sized care. In order to act on this, however, I would’ve had to stand out from my little group of people: asking my father to stop pushing my wheelchair and to take some money out of my bag to put in the little begging bowl. Easy enough, but thinking about the reactions of my group, I intimidated myself.

Of course I knew that my parents and cousin would think warmly of me if I asked to put money in the beggar’s cup. But that’s precisely what I didn’t want. I felt like a little girl, like any little child who gleefully wants to put money in every donation bucket that she sees. I still looked like a child, and often still felt like a child because I had to be cared for by my parents, but I was supposed to be an adult and I wanted to walk, so to speak, in the company of adults, not sticking out as the child among them.

Giving in to my pride and cowardice, I chose to go along with the crowd—a rather childish thing to do.

As I passed directly in front of the beggar and looked into his sky-blue eyes, it was as if we were both suspended in a chasm of time where I felt, where I knew, that I was about to pass by an irretrievable moment, an irreplaceable something. He did not look down at me, his gaze remaining straight and above me, and perhaps this was what made me look up to him so completely, experiencing the lowness of my place, as though I were down on my knees, dejected there on the pavement.

Broken away from that moment, I squirmed and fought myself to ask to turn back. But I didn’t. I let my childlike desire to help go unspoken, and as the beggar receded further and further into the background, I didn’t experience remorse so much as petulance. Like a petulant child, I thought only about my inabilities, placing fault on the others beside me while really angry with myself.

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29 May: Before the tourists arrive, Canterbury Cathedral is quiet.

 

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I wandered into town before most of the shops were open, an errand to run for Mrs T.

Job done, I took myself to the Cathedral, expecting peace and quiet. At first glance the nave was empty but as I crossed this vast space I saw that there was a scaffold at the East End in front of the choir, there were boards high up below the roof vaults, and hard-hatted men in a human chain, passing more boards vertically up to the top of the scaffold. Purposeful activity with no fuss. I remembered poor William of Sens, the mediaeval architect, who was badly injured falling from a scaffold in the rebuilding after one of the Cathedral fires.

I also remembered that the scaffold had gone from the great South Window. Even on a grey morning, it was a joy to behold the ancestors of the Lord in their rightful place.

So down to the crypt where it’s always quiet. Not quite today. The workers could not help a degree of banging penetrating below ground. Someone seemed to be tuning the organ, then playing a hymn or two, softly. The first tourists – or pilgrims – were already on site; builders strode past: the place was alive!

Alive at many levels not all of them noisy. It does not take long to stop fidgeting, physically and mentally, in such a sacred space.

Maybe one day I should light a candle.

WT

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