Archive for April, 2010

Certain Good News

Ampleforth Abbey and College – April 2010 

Last week was a ‘Retreat Week’, back at the Abbey, in Ampleforth, and throughout its duration, it was a joy to be free from the calls of the ‘front door’ and the telephone for a ‘wee’ while.  It was a time to commune, also, with nature and to begin to understand the meaning of the idea that, in the post Resurrection era, we live in a ‘new’ Creation. I saw signs of new life, in nature, as the photographs show.

 Lambs, heifers and ponies playing in the fields above Ampleforth Abbey – April 2010

The retreat was based on St. Mark and the retreat-giver pointed out that there are 16 Chapters in Mark’s Gospel which begins: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. The Retreat giver led us to reflect on the story of the death of John the Baptist, (Mark 6, 14-29), which he described as one of the best ‘bits’ of literature you will find for its economy of words, together with the drama and content of the occasion. But then he asked: “Where is the good news in that?” I suspect the mystery is hidden in the words proclaimed by John the Baptist in the first verses of the Gospel:

“The one who is more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”. (Mk 1, 7-8).

 The last verses of the Gospel describe the terror manifested by the women.  Mark 16 reads:

 “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”,

Despite these words and their frightening aspect, I believe that, by following Jesus, in his deeds and in his words, we too will live under the Spirit – given to us, by Jesus, at our Baptism and Confirmation.  Good News, indeed!

Reflecting on all this, I think we are certainly in need of some good news in our country – and in our world – at the moment.  The General Election is looming and by the end of this day, next week, the ‘die will be cast’ for the foreseeable future and beyond, though there may be some ‘working out’ to be done.

During the last week, somebody sent me a ‘Power Point’ image depicting the world as if its entire, population was composed of just 100 people, living in a global village. Should anyone be interested, you  could find the ‘Power Point’ at:

In this imaginary ‘village’, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 Americans (North, Central and South) and 8 Africans. Six people – all from the USA – would possess 59% of the wealth, 80 would live in poverty, 70 would be illiterate, 50 would suffer from hunger and malnutrition, one would be dying, one would be being born, one would own a computer and one would have a university degree! The ‘model’ has some other very interesting things to say about poverty as well: “If you currently have money in the bank, in your wallet and a few coins in your purse, you are one of only eight of the privileged few amongst the ‘100’ people in this make-believe world.

Last evening, after a busy day, I went to our well-stocked ‘fridge’ looking for a bit of something to eat, and as I did so, I could not help but think how ‘lucky’ I am.  And, I would hazard a guess that, probably, most of the readers of this blog find themselves equally fortunate. However, it may be that we do not always feel quite so ‘lucky’. On this point, I remember the joy of meeting Cardinal Basil Hume, our former Abbot of Ampleforth, in 1981, at Bamber Bridge, a few months after the National Catholic Congress of the Church, held in Liverpool.  The Congress proclaimed with joy that “We are the Easter People and ‘Alleluia’ is our Song”, and as he came into the Priory House, where we monks were waiting for him, he said he had seen an old man, with a scowl on his face, at the railway crossing on Station Road: reflecting that there was a 50/50 chance he would be a Catholic, he gave a hearty laugh, and wondered if that man was a good advert for “The Easter People”?

Cardinal Hume with H.M. The Queen shortly before his death in June 1999

Thank God for so many things! We should always be wise and look at the world as if the ‘pint pot’ is ‘half-full’, rather than ‘half-empty’. Thank God, there are so many ‘ordinary’ folk; people who will never recognize their greatness, who will never know what a great help they have been for me. Take, for example, Frank Harrison, our former Head-teacher at the High School, in his 91st year, who is so optimistic and positive, even about his crippling arthritis and his continual ‘tinnitus’ that provides him with constant – often annoying – background noise. Or Maureen, the widow of Frank Worthington, who is so gracious and grateful – even though she has just lost her partner of 56 years!

The ‘root’ cause of our joy being so ‘rock’ solid lies in the first words of St. Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. May Jesus and his ‘Good News’ influence our own lives more and more, our families, our public institutions and such things as the economy, art, politics, medicine, science, sport, and the whole of our world relationships, for, in Him, we have the answers to all the challenges of our day.

Patience Is A Virtue

“Patience is a Virtue”

Just the other day, I was reminded of the old saying: “Patience is a Virtue” when in conversation with an old gardener.  Spring is very much a time for gardens and gardeners – hard work, I know, but very rewarding when the garden comes into full bloom during the summer months.   It does not happen immediately, at once, or within hours or days. No! One must wait and bide one’s time, to let God’s creations –  the bulbs, the plants, the trees, do their work.  The old man hit the ‘nail on the head’ when he came out with: “It cawn’t ‘appen aw’ at once – tha mun wait fer’t God to get busy – an ‘e teks ‘is time o’er things like this!”

Patience, a gift of the Holy Spirit, (or more properly defined as one of the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit) does not get much a of a mention these days.  It never hits the headlines – does not figure in the news, and we, young and old, often fail to understand its true value.  Conversely, I think, in many cases, we also fail to fully understand the consequences of  our lack of it.  Impatience at work, and around the home often results in rushing and a job poorly finished – accidents in the home – and we all know what can happen on the roads when impatience takes over – when drivers become impatient.  The results can be catastrophic – even fatal!

I think God takes his time over many things, and in many instances we do not understand God’s timing.  We pray to Him and ask for things to help us in our lives.  Sometimes, it may be that we ask for things that, in the long run, are not good for us, and God will never give us things that are going to be detrimental or harmful.  But, what about things that, perhaps, will be good for us?  We may be aware of this when we ask – but are we prepared to wait?  When we do not receive the ‘favour’ from God straightaway, could it be that we then lose patience with Him and take the view that God is turning a ‘deaf ear’ to our prayers.  I believe that God hears every prayer we ever make – and all of them are answered – but not always in the way we may expect.  God will listen and then do what is best for us – he loves us with a love, so great, we cannot comprehend its magnitude.  Similarly, we do not always understand His ways – our impatience impedes, and ‘clouds’, our understanding.

God is infinitely patient with us.  When we go our own way and offend his great love – when self and selfish desires get between the Father in heaven and we children on earth – this puts us at odds with Him.  Surely, this provides the basis for most of our sinfulness, but the Father in his infinite wisdom and mercy has given us the way back to him.  Knowing what would happen once human beings were given free will, God gave us his Son as a way of getting back on the right ‘track’ – a way for disorientated children, to say ‘sorry’, receive forgiveness for our sins and re-establish that great joy which comes of being close to Him.  God knows all this – far better than we do – and he is patient with us when we stray from his side.  He knows we will return – and He is prepared to wait.

Given God’s patience with us, I think it behoves us also to be patient – patient with ourselves and with others.  All too often these days, we are in such a hurry that we can’t wait to get this or do that – can’t wait for that special occasion – a day out, a meal or that holiday we booked months ago.  The same happens when we see something we feel we need – that new computer,  music player, tv, or piece of furniture, and are desperate to have it today – not tomorrow, or even next week, and so we use the credit card – borrow in order to buy – then find ourselves ‘up to the eyes’ in debt before the ‘penny has dropped’.  How much more pleasurable it would be, to wait until we had the money to hand, and then to buy – with no debt to worry about.  Surely, our patience would be rewarded with much greater satisfaction and pleasure.

And so it is with others – if we are impatient with them – our relationships suffer and love goes ‘up the chimney like a puff of smoke’.  If family member or neighbour make mistakes and upset us – we should be forgiving and patient with them and, together, we  would then achieve much more.  This is especially so with children.  Patience and kindness – love in other words – is so important with others and where children are concerned, and everything that is given, in this patient and kind way, will be repaid a hundredfold.

It may be that patience comes easier to the person as he or she gets older – but even then it’s not always easy – things that are worthwhile never are!  The younger one happens to be, the more immediate appears to be one’s wants and needs, and though patience is certainly not the sole preserve of the elderly, I think older people will find it easier to realise that ‘Rome was not built in a day’ and will be prepared to wait a little time in order to achieve that special thing – that special time – that special feeling.  Children, especially when they are used to getting the things they want, in quick time, will no doubt find it hard to wait a little time for their desirables.  Even the elderly may find this virtue difficult – especially if they are more than ever aware of the fact that, for them, time is short.  It may be that time will not always be on their side!

So, although ‘Patience is a Virtue’, as the saying goes, it may be that for the majority of us, the realisation of its quality may not always be achieved easily.  Moreover, the difficulties associated with it may well be magnified for those of us who live in the well-developed, prosperous countries of the world.  Almost certainly, we will have been ‘spoiled’ to some extent – used to getting what we want, when we want.  People who live in the ‘Third World’ could, perhaps, teach us something about patience.  Materially, they have very little, and may have to wait, and wait, and wait – even for their next meal.

Perhaps we should all take a ‘leaf’ out of our gardener’s ‘book’ – he has to have patience – his garden does not grow according to his, or any other human time scale.

Confusing Times

At yesterday’s audience in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict said:

“We live amid great confusion about the fundamental choices of our life; there are so many contrasting philosophies, which arise and disappear, creating confusion about the fundamental decisions”.

However, as promised in the Gospel, the Lord has compassion on his “sheep without a shepherd,” and the Pontiff then continued:

“The Lord, moved by compassion, interpreted the word of God; he himself is the Word of God, and thus he gave guidance. This is the function ‘In persona Christi’ of the priest: to render present, in the confusion and disorientation of our times, the light of the Word of God, the light that is Christ, himself, in this our world.”

The Holy Father then went on to explain that the priest,

“… … does not teach his own ideas, a philosophy that he himself has invented, has found and that pleases him; [... …] but, in the confusion of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word, his way of living and of going forward.”

But the one who epitomises confusion – confusion personified, if you like! – was Jesus on the Cross, when he felt that he had lost his relationship with his Father – the centre of his life.


Jesus Forsaken on the Cross

The waters grow muddier, however, because all this comes at a time when, I must confess, that recent newspaper and media articles about scandals among priests, accusations against Bishops and even the Pope, himself, had left me confused and rather depressed. How are we to cope in confusing times? 

I would like to illustrate from some more stories of priests that I have known: they are three monks of our Abbey that nobody outside the abbey would have known. All have died, and all were contemporaries more or less in our monastery as they joined in the same year, about 1936. They each helped me in moments of confusion and doubt for me.

Fr. Bruno Donovan, was an Irishman from Galway. He was my novice master and, because of his great gifts of empathy, sense of humour, compassion and kindness, God used him to enable me to make a firm decision and remain a monk of the Abbey.

Fr. Bruno Donovan OSB

Without any shadow of doubt, Fr. Bruno had a real and profound understanding of human beings: he, himself, had suffered in life, because he had a slight physical deformity – a hair-lip. I remember he told me, while I was still a novice, that for 30 years he was very self-conscious of this: but then, at some point, he managed to accept it and from then it did not bother him. Furthermore, he was a scatter-brain, a gifted talker and raconteur, but no organiser.  Consequently, he almost always arrived late for prayer duties, and, at once, “swung himself” into his place in choir (i.e. where we meet as monks seven times each day to pray). He ‘swung’ by grabbing the edge of the wooden choir stall and pulling himself round into his seat in one hectic movement – quite erratic! He had mannerisms that were, at the same time, endearing and annoying: one ‘cropped up’ in his teaching of Scripture or the Rule of St. Benedict – even in his homilies – when he would add the little phrase “you see” quite often, between sentences. On one occasion, we novices decided to count how many times he ‘used’ it in one session and the total was well over 50! His other ‘problem’ was that he was Irish, and our monastery – in the middle of the English countryside – had a majority of monks who were English. He felt ‘out of it’ he confided, though he could well ‘fight his own corner’.  Even so, this was a challenge. To make matters worse, he could not sing well, and this frustrated him, because as monks, we do a lot of singing, each day, in Church.

His greatest gift was that of friendship with people, and many used to come and consult with him, ask his advice, and share their problems – myself among them.  My experience of him was that he never gave the ‘standard’ answer: rather, I should think things through for myself, though he would stand beside me. I remember one crucial moment when I posed the question, “Should I leave the monastery, or stay?” At this, he did not say to me, “Of course you must stay.”  (By that time, I had already been in the monastery for a few years). Rather, he told me to consider my decision carefully and prayerfully. Still in confusion, I remember my firm decision to stay, coming – in the midst of my turmoil – when Fr. Bruno caught my eye across the Church and gave me a wry smile – a smile full of affectionate kindness. Isn’t it strange; isn’t if ‘funny’ how God works! Now, is that not an expression of the ‘Word of God’ in a person, expressing itself, not in speaking, but in a whole and long-lasting relationship of friendship? Fr. Bruno used to say of himself: “I am always glad to see my name in the Benedictine Yearbook each year – it’s still there despite everything”.  I am sure it was his ‘suffering’ that made him so wise.

Fr. Robert Coverdale was solidly English. Just look at his name! It reminds me of the Coverdale Bible –  the first full Bible in English – and from the reformers in the 16th century.

Fr. Robert Coverdale OSB

He was a very independent man, and for years the ‘Procurator’ at Ampleforth. He did not ‘take fools gladly’, had quite a ‘short fuse’ and found the monastic life not really ‘congenial’ to his temperament. Yet he remained a loyal and steadfast servant of our community right ‘to the end’. One day, I plucked up courage and went to him for confession, and from then on, he was my confessor for some years, until 1973 when I moved to my first parish. Going to him was one of the best things I ever did. He was a human being of high quality – even ‘nobility’ – in his outlook.  One day I told him of my usual problems, which were all to do with problematic relationships, in that a lady had ‘latched’ herself onto me, and it was difficult to know how to handle the situation. I well remember, he used to say to me: “Jonathan, God did not make you an angel: he made you a human being with all the weaknesses and difficulties that we face – so don’t worry too much. Had He wanted to He could have made all human beings like angels, but God didn’t want that.” This was just the sort of advice and support I needed in my confusion. On another occasion, when I confessed to reading a novel, and it was against the rules to read novels except in holiday time, he said that it was probably the best thing I could have done, because had I not had some time to relax, I might have had a nervous break-down, and then the rest of the community would have had to ‘pick up’ all the work I was doing: so much better, to relax, than to fall by the wayside! “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath”, and his advice made sense to me, even if ‘rules are rules’. His wisdom came from his evident perseverance in the monastic life, despite its way of life not really being a way conducive to him.

My final ‘example’ is that of Fr. Aelred Graham. He wrote various books and one of his last had a double meaning: “The End of Religion”.

Fr. Aelred Graham OSB

Fr. Aelred had been asked to become the Prior of Portsmouth Abbey (then called Priory) in the USA, and after a few years, the monks elected him as their Prior. After 16 years in the job he had become very interested and attracted by Buddhism, so much so, that on his retirement back to the Abbey at Ampleforth, and after a sabbatical touring the Far East – meeting up with Buddhist and Hindu gurus –  some of the brethren thought him more of a Buddhist than a Christian. I always liked him, and never felt that way about him. He was so calm – like an oriental Buddhist monk who has found his way – very friendly and fascinating in his ideas.  Because of him, I read the Upanishads and other Hindu and Buddhist literature. I found the writings beautiful, spiritual and helpful. Later, I was to learn that the second Vatican Council teaches that there are ‘seeds’ of the Word of God, in all the great religions of the world, and this ‘confirmed’ my enjoyment in ‘dipping’ into those Hindu and Buddhist writings. It was a confusing time during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Some of our monks became a bit ‘too interested’ in non-Christian religions: but then, monastic life pre-dates Christianity – the Buddha lived about 500 years before Jesus – and there are influences of the Oriental religions, certainly, in the Gospels.  Also it should be said, many Christian monks feel an ‘affinity’ with the non-Christian monks.  Fr. Aelred ‘suffered’ in a way because of his being so different to the traditional English Catholic ways of our Ampleforth brethren. Yet, he always seemed to me to be able to resist criticism, peacefully keeping to the path that he had found, and over the years, he continued to influence and to help me. Those years – post Vatican Council – were confusing times, however, and there was a tendency to see all religions as if on an equal footing, and I, too, was confused. Fr. Aelred died a loyal and respected member of our Ampleforth community, and for me, he illuminated a whole new world – a new theology – that still fascinates me, as dialogue between the Catholic Church and the entire world religions continues to this day.

My conclusion in the confusing times in which we live is to recognise that this is ‘nothing’ compared with the confusion Jesus suffered when he thought he no longer had a relationship with God his Father, when on the Cross.

Pope Benedict said yesterday: “In the confusion of all the philosophies, the priest teaches in the name of Christ present, he proposes the truth that is Christ himself, his word, his way of living and of going forward.” Jesus, in his sense of being forsaken on the cross, lost the whole meaning of his life which was founded in his relationship with his Father. That was taken away from him, and so He then, taking on the most serious confusion that He could experience, is really fully the Word of God who throws light onto the situations we find so confusing in life. Every one of our confusions is found in what Jesus experienced. Jesus remained suffering in that confusion, and in great faith and love said just before He died, “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit”.

It is confusing and distressing to read about all the present scandals within the Church: perhaps, some Catholics will actually leave the Church as a result. I feel very sad, downcast at times, and upset for the victims of any maltreatment. I find the accusations against clerics very disheartening, especially, the evident satisfaction the publicity seems to provide for those who are enemies of the Church and all its values, and those involved in the media. Then I see the face of Jesus suffering on his Cross; Jesus is suffering today in this situation in me, probably in many laity, priests and Bishops and even in the Pope. There are plenty of other sufferings also: but in all this, I see the suffering of those three monks. Their sufferings led them to become role models for me – role models for me to learn from and to follow. I, too, can stay in my confusion and share the same faith as Jesus, continuing to hope against hope that God will sort it out. And the teacher of those three monks? I believe they learned from the One in whom they lived – and moved – and had their being, and in this way they became the ‘Word’ for me and in that I found a solution to my confusions. Jesus, himself, was their role model! I hope he is mine and yours too, and in Him we find the solution to any present confusions!

Some Interesting Ordained Priests

Within the Church, we are still celebrating “The Year for Priests”. On this most important subject, we have had interesting discussions – within our Pastoral Council – on the best way to help parishioners be more aware of their own vocation, that of the ‘laity’ in the Church, on the vocation of the ‘Royal Priesthood’, and also concerning the vocations of an ordained priest and a person in religious life. Priests and those in religious life are, themselves, essentially part of the ‘Family of the Church’, and so we cannot really grasp the ‘calling’ to become a priest or a religious, without understanding our own ‘calling’ as ‘baptised people’ within the Church – the underlying, basic vocation. Fundamentally, our ideas have turned on the question of how best to help our parishioners, and to do that we must first listen to them. Hence we propose to air two questions along the following lines:               

“What do you expect, or hope for, from your priests?”

“Why do you come to Church?”

Following on from parishioners’ answers, we will discuss and plan what to do next, and this has caused me to ask of myself: “If I were a lay person, what would I expect, or hope for, from a priest?”

Over the years, I have known many priests. I suppose this experience began within my own family, when priests would come and join us for meals: my parents very much enjoyed asking priests to come to us for meals. From my earliest recollections to my years as teen-ager, my dad was in the army and so the majority of these visiting priests were Catholic army chaplains, and I still remember, as a young boy, how much I enjoyed their company. In those days, it would have been difficult for me to have answered the two questions posed above, but certainly, I used to love their good humour, their stories and their jokes – sometimes it seemed like never-ending jokes – all of which left me with a good feeling towards priests.

“What do you expect, or hope for, from your priests?”

“Why do you come to Church?”

Returning to the questions – from an adult, lay person’s point of view, and among other things – I would like my priest to be reliable: to be a person I could trust, to help me, when I needed help: a person who knew God, and so could help me to know God.  In my view, he must, preferably, be someone with a good ‘friendly feel’ about him – somebody I could talk to, and somebody of whom I could never be afraid.   Underlying all of this, I suppose, there should be that certain ‘love’ – generated out of kindliness, integrity and truth.  But, is this reaching for perfection?  I do not think so!  

In my adult life, as priest and monk, I have also come to know many priests. Here, I choose just three from their number –  a small selection from so many – and as I reflect on them and their impact on me, I wonder what kind of challenges and opportunities they faced in their lives as they made their “holy journey to God?” In the context of today’s ‘bad press’ concerning ordained Catholic priests, maybe all of us might ponder in our hearts, and reflect, whilst praying, I hope, for all priests; within the body of the Church, ordained priests are essential – a vital part of our Catholic Communion of Faith.

But, to return to my selected ‘fathers’, there was one diocesan priest, in a previous diocese, who used to come to deanery meetings; he was an ordinary man from Manchester – nothing special about him –but he was known to be very popular in his parish. One day, the priests were talking – as they do – and he said something rather strange, for a seemingly contented man. He expressed, frankly, how much he disliked the people, the place where he was and the Parish Priest: all he wanted, was to return to Manchester. This ‘outburst’ appeared so odd, because he was such a ‘good’ priest and so popular with the people.  At this, I asked him why he thought he was so popular. In reply, he said: “Because I do whatever they want me to do!”  – a reply that has remained with me down the years.  On the whole, it strikes me as being a wise way to act. After all, in behaving that way, he was not ‘pushing his ideas’, his own ego, to the exclusion of other peoples’ wants and needs; instead, he was serving the people, and as long as they were not making demands that went against – contradicted – faith or morals, then isn’t that a pretty fair way to behave?

The first parish in which I served was St. Mary’s, Warrington, a town centre parish, with an old-fashioned Edwardian-type presbytery and, I remember, in each room, there was a gas fire that one had to light with a match. I had come straight out from the monastery, where life was pretty austere; heating in the monastery rooms had come from large 9″ water pipes  – invariably lukewarm and not subject to one’s control – so the gas fire in my Warrington room was a great luxury. But, to make things even more ‘wonderful’, the Parish Priest, Fr. Gabriel Gilbey, one of my fellow monks I had never ‘really’ met before, and with all the courtesy of the great man that he was, led me outside into the yard at the rear, where he showed me the garages and dangled a set of car keys in front of my eyes. Handing them to me, he said: “That little Renault is for you to use: just be careful as it has a gear stick you push in, and out, at the side of the steering wheel, but you should have no difficulty”. That was January, 1973, and there I was, a young monk, ordained just 18 months, and with a car to drive – something quite impossible within the monastery – and a huge room with its own gas fire, making everything feel so homely. Cars were – still are! – essential to do our work, as we were chaplains to the Warrington Borough General, a hospital to which we were called out, at any hour, of the day or night – a journey of some 10 minutes to drive there. What I loved about Fr. Gabriel was the way he placed his trust in me – a young and very inexperienced monk, ordained only 18 months previously, and completely un-trained in parish life. I soon got to love that parish – its Parish Priest – and trust and feelings of ‘love’ were very quickly to become mutual. He died over 20 years ago and is one of the few monks buried in Warrington – among the people he loved – and for whom he spent his life, as best he could.

The third of my chosen three, was another man who died only in the last 12 months.  He was Fr. Dan Cadogan, a diocesan priest and an Irishman, born and bred on Clear Island, County Cork. He was Parish Priest of Euxton, St. Mary’s, and though I never worked with him, we did, indeed, belong to the same Deanery. He, too, I found to be such a ‘good’ man – a person I could not only trust, and admire for his evident prayerful, priestly life, his innocence and charm – but also because of his real interest in me.  He trusted me as a fellow priest – young it is true  – and again not very experienced.

The synthesis of the effect these three priests had on me, as a fellow priest, leads me to appreciate the gift of “Godliness, loving care and good humour” in my fellow priests. …. And prayers for priests will never go amiss!

“What do you expect, or hope for, from your priests?”

“Why do you come to Church?”

Having digressed a little, I now return to the questions posed and the answers that the people will give, we hope, concerning these very important matters.  I think it will be good – essential , unless I am widely mistaken – to listen to what our lay people think, and, at the same time, we hope it will be helpful to our Parish Pastoral Council!   We wait, in eager anticipation, your considered views.


Contentment – the name we give to that quite wonderful quality I saw in a granddad, just recently, who smilingly, said to me, with two of his grandchildren around him, and in his Lancashire way: “Ee lad, it’s grand to be owd! Now’t like it”.  That ‘simple’ exchange reminds me of Pope John Paul II, whose fifth anniversary occurred yesterday, Good Friday. In 1999, he wrote a letter to the elderly, and Section 8 contains the following paragraph:

The teaching and language of the Bible present old age as a “favourable time” for bringing life to its fulfilment and, in God’s plan for each person, as a time when everything comes together and enables us better to grasp life’s meaning and to attain “wisdom of heart”. “Length of days is not what makes age honourable,”, observes the Book of Wisdom, “understanding, this is grey hairs, untarnished life, this is ripe old age.” (4:8-9). Old age is the final stage of human maturity and a sign of God’s blessing.


Pope John Paul II

I remember watching a video of this Pope as an old and contented man, and yes, with Parkinson’s disease, and a shaky voice! The Pope was greeting a group of Bishops, and as he was leaving, he turned back to greet them with a smile. He smiled and twirled his walking stick as though shouting with joy: “Hey Ho!” while bidding farewell. All this gives me great encouragement, as I reflect that God has led me, faithfully, through the passage of time – this year into the later sixties – always with the feeling that there are marvellous things to look forward to – with hope.

Jesus never experienced old age. He was ‘cut off’ in the ‘prime of life’, but St. John puts words into his mouth that are nevertheless a sign of quiet contentment: “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4).  Jesus did not need to live to old age, because he had completed the task he came to perform, whilst still a young man – a life of some thirty-odd years, only three of which are chronicled to any extent.

A prisoner I know, one who is new to prison life, reinforces my thinking on this subject.  Having committed an offence that has taken away his liberty, he appears, in certain ways, to be unlike other prisoners, largely because he, too, exhibits a special contentment; he speaks, easily, of his life and family, and with a ‘twinkle’ in his eye. He is an ‘older’ young man, and he, too, teaches me what contentment is, even from the confines of his prison.

Certainly, contentment is not the sole preserve of the elderly; however, I think it may be more difficult to achieve by those in their earlier stages of life; it may be that it is harder for them to be able to say with conviction: “This is my life and I am happy and content with it,” given the many and varied challenges they face.  Children – still growing in wisdom and knowledge – are all too often taken by rebelliousness, and believe they have a revolution to win.  Often, in their ‘teens’  they think they know quite a lot, whereas in later life they may come to realise how little they know, and just how much they still have to learn.   I wonder how many husbands and wives – partners if you like – ask themselves the question, “Is this the same person I married / partnered?”, and, “Where has he, or she, gone?” All too often money, ambitions, careers take over and then, where is contentment? Illnesses and addictions of one form or another – alcohol, drugs, etc – all seem to mitigate against that feeling of being ‘happy’ with one’s life – one’s lot – and contentment may then seem very far away – unassailable – unachievable!

Giving – rather than taking all the time – self-discipline, and realistic assessment of self, come more easily, I suspect, to those with a few decades ‘under their belt’, once life that has been lived to the full –  but even then, it is not automatic. To be able to ‘step back’ from the situation I am in, and see it in an objective and positive light, is what is required – not easy, if my thinking is prejudiced by disordered emotions, or unrealistic dreams of self. The experiences of those in ‘older youth’ or in ‘young middle age’ are not usually helpful to the achievement of that contentment which arises out of wisdom and true understanding. Indeed, for many of us, some of our well known – well used – proverbs ring true: “The person who never made a mistake never made anything,” or “You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.”  Our mistakes, if we learn from them, very often show us the way to wise contentment.

Yesterday, Good Friday, thoughts and emotions surrounding Jesus’ passion and death, rise very easily to the surface.  A human being, like us, and out of love for us,  He completed the work his Father gave him to do; in the process,  He lost his peace and contentment in the agony of his suffering and death. He lost the joy of his union with God – suffering on the Cross – so that we may be free from anger, and able to find peaceful contentment, in our union with God. But, after his Resurrection, he entered into a perfection of contented peace – a peace and contentment that will be ours, if we abide in Him. We await, with ‘bated breath’ during this wonderful ‘hiatus’ that is Holy Saturday, for the victory of Jesus.  Will it happen again, just as last year? This is our hope, and “.. .. hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom 5; 5).

Would it not, indeed, be a very worthwhile ideal – the achievement of that peaceful contentment as enjoyed by ‘our’ granddad, with whom we began; should we be able to, it would give glory to God; it would be to our own good and the good of many who remain an essential part of our lives?