At the Campion Day Mass at Stonyhurst, the pupils bring in the cart which drew St Edmund Campion to his martyrdom at Tyburn. He had to create a printing press from scratch to publish his “Brag” against the government. Now with all our vast outpourings on this, the internet, we have no more impact individually than he with his four dozen hand-printed copies.
We were hearing about the Saint Catherine Labouré who created the cult of Mary’s medallion. Mother Teresa left one under a potted plant when she visited Mrs Thatcher at Downing Street. In a sense, a magical medallion seems ridiculous. I’m not so sure. If you believe, anything is possible.
The reading is about the poor widow putting her last two pennies in the offering bowl. I was taken with what the priest told us at mass that we have to give our last two pence in love. I thought how impossible with strangers that is though.
I happened to be reading about Mary, Queen of Scots, and noticed it was the feast day of Margaret of Scotland. Her main feature seemed to be that she had had a happy marriage.
Again, a place to start.
I went to a lovely Remembrance Sunday parade in Gainsborough. The prayers of intercession were sung. “O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer, When I call answer me. O Lord, hear my prayer, O Lord, hear my prayer, When I call answer me.”
I was trying to remember the words in the middle of the night and could not. Eventually I got up and did so. It was a nice way of getting back to sleep.
Yet all this praying to God and begging him to listen. Does he want all this stuff? I know I wouldn’t. But I tried an authentic prayer – “O Lord I know you’re not there. When I call, there’ll be no answer.” Immediately, I had a horrible, almost painful feeling as if I was doing something wrong. I reverted to the Christian prayer and immediately felt much better. To me this is part of my theory that we can only know God rationally by his shadow by his effect on us through the cloud of unknowing that separates us.
As usual when I lit the candle before the statue of Jesus after Compline in the great, dark, empty abbey church, I felt inexplicably moved as I said my prayer dutifully.
But one of my recurring doubts about whether God exists is doesn’t he find all these prayers rather tedious? All those importunate requests, like demanding disaffected clients. All those people never saying thank you. Would he prefer us not to ask for anything, just say thank you politely and be done with us?
Father Alexander told us this rather good story in our oblates meeting. There were some grubs living in the bottom of the murky pond. Every time one would climb up the stem of a plant into the light above it would never be seen again. Eventually one promised to come back and tell the others what it was like up there.
The grub climbed up and went to sleep in the sun. He awoke to horrible pain. He was dying, his skin peeling away but suddenly he realised that the skin was growing a wing. He was transformed. He took off in great delight.
He looked down at the dark surface of the water. I cannot go back. Firstly, he couldn’t. Second, they would never believe him if he could. Of course, it’s what the rich man was told in the story of Lazarus.
I did get to confession and for my penance I was asked to think of four good things God has given me. I can think of four easily. Health, wife and family, a job, and faith (if a bit questioning).
A replica of the famous icon was visiting Westminster Cathedral. I thought it was going to be a normal quiet day and I could go to confession. No chance of that: the place was seething with Poles! The queue was enormous. Actually I quite like Poles, but another thing to confess thwarted by the enthusiasm of others.
The House of Commons was in recess. There were only four of us at mass in the crypt. The reading was from Luke about the ten lepers whom Jesus cured: only one, “The Man was a Samaritan”, turned back to thank him.
The nature of humans is a vague regret about something which is different for all of us. Perhaps one antidote is a thank you.
The first reading today ends with the great Hebrew prayer, the Shema. Listen. What a pity we Christians (sic) don’t have a similar tradition of reading this essential bit of our religion three times a day: “Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the Lord.”
The priest at Mass reminded us that Jesus draws together this belief from Deuteronomy with his teaching to love your neighbour as yourself. He said something important which struck me and marked a milestone for my spiritual journey. It is not enough to believe in God, you must also love him.
I realise that I have no difficulty in loving God, only in believing in him. But through the cloud of unknowing is this not a start? We can never prove our belief or otherwise in God, but we can feel the effects of his presence through that cloud.
Once again, I read this week that most people nowadays crave spirituality but reject religion. I am the opposite. I have difficulty with unquestionable belief in God. I love religion. We must not agonise too much over belief, only accept the effect.
By chance I went to a full sung mass for All Saints’ and the next day, early in the morning, a small mass for All Souls’. This seemed appropriate.
On All Souls’ I felt everyone in the small congregation was concentrating on their own loved ones. I have a long list: parents, grandparents, friends, a brother. We all do.
In the mass we Catholics have a great gift. Sometimes a tear rolls down my cheek with the emotion of what is presented to us. The real presence of our Creator in our midst. Literally to Hell with rational doubts: enjoy.