Formed by Friendship

My friend in faith and spiritual sister is not well.

She first told us last Good Friday that the cancer had returned. We journeyed Passiontide in all it’s fullness last year. The Triduum was suddenly horribly real.

This week she called again.

She was worse.

For the past year we had refused to believe that she was not going to get better. We had besieged heaven with our prayers, our novenas, our Masses.

She Was Going To Be Well. It was going to be ok.

And we waited. We waited for the news that the chemo had worked.

While we waited we grabbed greedily at any opportunity to meet. We had afternoon tea in town, we went to the theatre, we had dinner, we phoned weekly. Then the news came, the chemo had worked, she was not out of the woods but things were on the up.

Over Christmas and in to the New year, things tailed off slightly and so did my conscious prayer for her because I began to forget. And I was justified in forgetting because when we spent time together, even last Saturday: She. Was. Well.

Really Well.

Three days later her reality shook me out of my comfort zone. I have to face up to the fact that my lovely, wonderful, talented, beautiful, faith-filled sister will not be alive for as long as I would like her to be. For as long as she would like to be.

And so this week I have been reflecting on the difference she has made to my life, the richness she has brought to it. 

There is no doubt she, through our friendship has formed me. I am not the person I was when we first met, all those years ago on holiday (www.catholicpeoplesweeks.org.uk).

Through our friendship she has constantly affirmed me,
as a mother,
as a friend,
as a liturgist
and as one who is beloved of God.
She loves me, in spite of my shortcomings.
She both prays with me and encourages me to spend time alone with God.
She enables me to see where to find God alive and at work in my life.
She laughs with me, oh how we laugh!
And this week, not for the first time, she cried with me.

Yes, she is still alive but I want to tell her how much she means to me before it is too late.

I want her to know how very blessed I am because of our friendship.
I want her to know that I love her, and that I will miss her.
I want her to know that if we never make another memory it doesn’t matter.
I can never forget her – I carry her with me in all that I am today.

May I ask for you to pray for her and her family…and those who also love her.

Fish messages for Jane

Perhaps this post should have been called the inadequacy of words, or maybe that’s for some other time.

One year in

Last Saturday I opened the first diocesan meeting held by A Call to Action (ACTA) in the Archdiocese of Southwark.

I began by talking of Vatican II and its wonderful documents. These documents are our most authoritative teachings. They are beautifully written, every line carefully crafted often to say something new, or to shine a light in a new way. Yes, sometimes you will find contradictions in the texts, but that is ok.

What I hadn’t registered was that this week it had been a year since Benedict XVI’s resignation. And whether we like it or not things have changed. There is a new focus which invites us to live out our baptismal mission in a renewed way.

It might be easy to assume that the documents of Vatican 2 came out of nowhere. Whilst that is true of the invocation of the Council, the shift in thinking that produced the main documents had been taking shape for many years before that. Take for example, Dei Verbum. DV invited us to place Scripture at the heart of our Mass and our lives. It was of equal importance to the Eucharist. Furthermore Scripture was to be read and studied by the laity. This last reform echoed the encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1943. Many other reforms can trace can be found to begin many many years before John XXIII asked for the windows to be opened.

The tectonic plates had begun to shift and eventually surface cracked. The renewal and reforms of Vatican II were just waiting to happen.

The same is true of ACTA. This meeting is the result of years of courageous conversations, years of people yearning to live-out the ecclesiology of Vatican II, years of believing there has to be a better way, years of loving the church and brave enough to make a mark in the sand.

There is a story told of the early Christian communities. Christians; a hunted and persecuted people could trust only those known to them. On encountering a stranger they would idly draw an arc in the sand whilst passing the time of day. If the stranger recognised this they too would draw an arc in the ground with their stick beginning at the end of the first line and intersecting it near the end:

Fish 2 (349x145)

That is what the priests in Ireland did when they began to talk about their disillusionment. It is what the Priests did in Austria too. And it is what the group of priests here in England and Wales did before they wrote to the Tablet in June 2012. The tectonic plates were shifting. They left their mark in the sand.

Before the letter in the Tablet, I had followed the other groups with interest and just after Easter I said to my boss at the time, when will it be our turn? When will we be able to stand up and say there are things that are not right and more importantly be HEARD? Two months later ACTA was born.

There followed a meeting at Heythrop where so many people turned up the meeting had to be moved across the road. And from that meeting ACTA had its second annual meeting last September with the third already booked. Every diocese in England and Wales has an active group meeting and having those courageous conversations.

The groups of priests in Ireland and Austria and ACTA have many things in common but for me the most important one is that we all love the Church. We love it deeply. If we didn’t we would just walk away – as if that is even possible, (that’s the content for a whole other blog). And when we act we do so out of this great love.

There is another group who also act out of a place of love. There are those who believe, that to seek to change any part of the Church, to draw a line in the sand, is to be disobedient to the hierarchy, that those of us here are dissenters, that we are seeking to harm the church, a church that they love too.

No wonder they find it difficult to countenance what we are about.

In the 1970’a Cardinal Bernardin spoke out about the polarisation he was witnessing and invited all parties to dialogue with him and one another. He noted that there was a certain ‘mean spiritedness’ which to him was incongruent with Gospel values.

We must remember that we are all the People of God.

One of ACTA’s main aims is to provide a safe space where courageous conversations, dialogue, can take place. In fact under we carried the strap-line ACTA: a time for dialogue. On the website it says ACTA: promoting dialogue in the Church.

In Paul Valelly’s book ‘Untying the knots’ Pope Francis says:

“Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.

 It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.

 Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a pre-emptive condemnation.

 To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defences, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.”

Since April 2013, a new wind had swept through the church. True, Pope Francis has not made any sweeping doctrinal changes. I am not sure it was realistic for us to even think he might. But for me this new wind has changed things, it allows the questions to be asked, it allows for the courageous conversations to be spoken. It invites dialogue.

And this can now happen in the open, bubbling up from deep within, at the surface (and service) of the Church.

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Mothers and Sons

And Mary thanked Simeon for his lovely blessing.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook will know that my eldest son has left home and returned more than once. The first time was to take up a position for one year as a Lay Clerk at Norwich Cathedral. He returned home for the following year to make an album. September he started his Music degree (finally). The house he was planning to move into fell through at the last minute and although he half moved out a couple of times he always came home.

Of all of my children, this DS is the one whom fills me with pride and irritation in equal measure. It would be true to say that the reverse is also (probably) true.

I am of the firm belief that to enjoy all that university has to offer, students should not live at home. I have supported all my children in their strive for independence. Or so I thought.

On the way to Mass on Sunday, he blithely informed me that they (the members of the band) had found a house and were all off to look at it this week. This should not have come as any great surprise. Over the last few months they had mentioned more than once that they had been looking at various houses in the hope that they could all move out of the parental home into their own. But it did come as a surprise and my heart stopped for just a moment. My son was moving out and I would miss him. All of him!

And when the Gospel was proclaimed an epiphany occurred, like Mary, my heart too was pierced, and will continue to be so. For that is the cost of being a parent. Not that I would want it any other way.

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‘—and you yourself a sword will pierce—’ Luke 2:22-40

Picture is of a sculpture at Downside School, Bath.