Archive for May, 2013

In these most recent years, my experience of English weather leads me to believe that it is not too often that we get sunny days – sunny and warm enough to sit out in the garden – more’s the pity!  But just the other day was an exception.  In the afternoon, the sun was out and I took advantage of sun and calm, to spend a little time outside, taking in the fresh air and those ‘magic’ waves of heat that travel some 94 million miles to take away some of the chills we have had over the winter and early spring.  It was just sublime!  And I was at peace with the world!

Dwelling on nothing in particular, not concentrating, day-dreaming almost, my attention was at once drawn to something moving – and not too far away from my head.  Then, I saw it was a  spider, an arachnid, small, about the size of one of my finger-nails, body and legs overall.  Now I am not an arachnophobe, but do not necessarily feel comfortable with insects of any kind.  I would not shy away from them, but neither do I seek their company – not out of choice – but this was different, and I began to observe the spider and what it was about.


I saw it first at a point on a ‘thread’ strung between two small Leylandii trees; from there it began to spin its web.  Spirally, my spider travelled ever-outwards from the centre, round and round it spun, until some 30 minutes later, I could then see the web in its entirety, measuring something like 7 inches in diameter, a thing of great beauty, engineered in gossamer threads, each one, weight for weight, stronger than our strongest steel, yet light and elastic.  I saw that in construction it was so perfect as to almost defy belief – the radial threads all at perfect  measured angles from the centre – and the web spiral was made up of circumnavigating threads set at a constant distance from each other.  I did not need to check them against a ruler, but if I had, I would have found each to be very close to 4 mms apart – and not even one out of place.

I gazed in wonderment, and then began to think about …. spiders …. and creation.

Spiders account for around 40,000 different species of arachnids and 99.9 % are carnivorous.  Some of their species are highly poisonous and therefore dangerous to humans, but the ones homogenous to England are harmless to the greatest extent, only the odd one or two kinds able to impart a bite that may need a little treatment.  Yet, there is something intangible about them that gives rise to (often) irrational apprehensions – phobias, if you like – in a fair proportion of the population.  Perhaps that is their inbuilt protection against animals millions of times greater in size.  Skilful in the extreme, for where could we ever find someone (or something) capable of building a web like the one I saw built in around half an hour – created by means of constant supply of silken gossamer from the spinnerets located in its abdomen – absolutely wonderful.

I am told that there are millions of species of insect inhabiting the earth – billions and billions of the ‘blighters’ in total.  Then we come to the fish in the sea, many of their species never having been seen, never mind catalogued.  Add to this, there are the birds of the air in all their multitudes of varieties, and lastly, perhaps, all the different animals that have walked and crawled across the face of this planet for millions of years.  At this point, my mind is beginning to ‘boggle’ at the huge number and complexity of what we would call ‘life’, and all of it inhabiting the earth as we know it.

elephant - dragon

In all of this life, there is a common dependency on climate – heat, light and above all water, for without these essential elements, life-forms in all the different varieties, cannot exist.  There is also an inter-dependency between the indeterminable numbers of life-forms, and here we must not forget the massive extent and life-providing forms of vegetation providing food, verdant in all its different manifestations.

And all of this is concerned with just our earth.  From this we must move beyond – to the sun, our moon and the stars – then to the billions of planets and stars that together make up the universe.  Is that the sum total – the full extent?  We do not know, but can easily suspect that there may be many galaxies, many universes, all of this so great, so huge, so intricate, so complex that our minds cannot grasp – come to terms with – the enormity.

I have now come a long, long way from my little ‘tarantula’, weaving its silken web in my garden.  Now, I am in the realms of the ‘impossible dream’, a ‘world’ I cannot begin to understand; I am in God’s World; God’s Universe; God’s Creation; God’s Profundity; and I am lost.  Please, someone – whoever you are – please, do not ever try to tell me that all this came about by accident, without a Prime Mover, without an Omnipotent and Infinite Goodness – without God who created you, me, and every living thing.  The design and order of this whole magnificent structure – defying all imagination – fits together in so perfect a unison, that I defy anyone to find even a single strand out of place.   And all by accident!  Poppycock!

After some reflection, some time having elapsed, I come back down to earth and begin to wonder at how far, and into what foreign worlds, my ‘itsy-bitsy’ little spider had taken me.  I then begin to wonder at the magic of the human mind and what it is capable of – and all from the lessons learned in the garden one sunny afternoon.  That spider has a lot to answer for – that spider in its own little microcosmic universe, showing me how to weave a web of silken thread.

The spider’s idea was to catch its next meal – a carnivore just like ourselves – and always with an eye on our own well-being.

My response was to begin to wonder again at the munificence of Almighty God, the Loving Father and Creator of us all.



The word ‘Sainthood’ crosses my mind, and the next thought that arises is in the form of a question: “What makes a saint, what is sainthood all about? ”  In answer, I suppose there must be so many different answers – impossible to count – and each of them would appeal in different ways to different people.

For my part, I did give the question some thought, and, off the ‘top of my head’ came some things, some qualities, that must be common to all possible answers.  Some of these include the loss of ‘self’ and of all that this mortal world means or matters, meaning effectively, that one begins to live with no thought for personal stuff – possessions, position, power, money, job, ambition and the like.  In putting aside all thoughts of self, it must also include no thought about clinging on to life.  In many cases, it may even include the welcoming of death – with but one thought in mind – that of joining God, Jesus and Mary, together with all the angels, saints and martyrs that have gone before, in that heavenly paradise.  All this, summarised I think, can be expressed as one essential element of reality – that of putting God before everything – and this out of pure love for Him.  When this happens, then nothing else matters.

Thoughts like these continued to invade my tiny mind, and in the end, I began to think in terms of just two examples, perhaps to point me in the right direction.  The two saints ‘speaking’ to me were St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Saint Teresa of Ávila:

St Teresa of Avila

 A portrait of Teresa, perhaps, most true to her appearance, aged 61, from an original painting of her in 1576 

Also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, she was born in March 1515 and Christened Teresa Sanchez de Cepeda y Ahumada. Without wishing to enter into her life in detail, she spent much of her life in contemplation and mental prayer.  She became known as a one of the most important members of the ‘Spanish Mystics’, a movement concerned in the reform of the Catholic Church, in Spain, during the  16th and 17th Centuries.  She was also a Carmelite nun, a reformer of that Order and the founder of the Discalced Carmelites (along with St. John of the Cross).  She was canonised in 1622, forty years after her death in 1582, and in 1970, she was made a Doctor of the Church, by Pope Paul VI.

Her books include her autobiography (‘The Life of Teresa of Jesus’), and an original work ‘El Castillo Interior’ (‘The Interior Castle’)  They are an important part of Spanish Renaissance literature. They are also at the centre of Spanish writings on Christian mysticism and meditation.  One of her most important works was the ‘Camino de Perfección’ (‘The Way of Perfection’), in which she sets out her way of making progress in the contemplative life.  She called this a ‘living book’ and in it set out to teach her nuns how to progress to God through prayer and meditation

As a nun, she suffered greatly from sickness during her life, and in this, it is said, she experienced periods of religious ecstasy.  St. Teresa describes a personal ‘progression’ from the lowest state of ‘recollection’ through ‘devotions of silence’ (the second stage), to ‘devotions of ecstasy’, the last stage being that of perfect union with God.  Over time, the difference between venial and mortal sins became clear to her, and, in this regard, she began to understand the awful true nature of sin, her own impotence in confronting sin, and the necessity of our absolute subjection to God.

For my own part, I have always taken to heart – with great wonderment – that seemingly so simple verse, ‘Saint Teresa’s Bookmark’ – simple, yes! – but so profound:

St. Teresa’s Bookmark:

Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you.

 All things are passing. God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.

God alone suffices.  

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux:

St. Therese of Lisieux

She was born in January 1873, and was Baptised, Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin. She, too, became a Carmelite nun and was also known as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, as “The Little Flower of Jesus” or simply, “The Little Flower”.

Again, my feeling is that this is not the place to enter into a lengthy treatise on her life as a saint, but simply to refer to her life and her writings, briefly, and in a way that supports my original argument as to ‘What makes a Saint?’.


The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Composed in Latin, 1418 – 1427, (In the Royal Library, Brussels)

Before she was 14 years of age, she began an intent reading of the book ‘The Imitation of Christ’ by Thomas à Kempis, a devotional handbook and religious classic on ‘The Spiritual Life’.  Divided into four books, the text provides detailed spiritual instructions: “Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life”, “Directives for the Interior Life”, “On Interior Consolation” and “On the Blessed Sacrament”. Its approach is characterized by its emphasis on the interior life and withdrawal from the world, and, not surprisingly, it places a high level of importance on the Holy Eucharist as one of it key elements.

Thérèse paid great importance to her readings of this book so much so that she is said to have paraphrased parts of it no less than 50 times in her own writings.  One extract appears to have meant a great deal to her:

“The Kingdom of God is within you… Turn thee with thy whole heart unto the Lord; and forsake this wretched world: and thy soul shall find rest.”

Humble of heart, she said of her own spirituality, “My way is all confidence and love,” and, in the face of her littleness and nothingness, she trusted in God to be her sanctity. She wrote: “I wanted to find an elevator that would raise me to Jesus.  The elevator would be the arms of Jesus, lifting me in all my nothingness.”  She believed that it was not necessary to achieve big things, to perform heroic acts or to do great deeds in order to be holy.  She wrote in her ‘Little Way’:

“Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”

She wrote of her horror of pretence and of hypocrisy, maintaining her love of simplicity in all things, and this gave rise to her main treatise on living a holy and spiritual life, in the simplest possible way – again – her ‘Little Way’:

“Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires. I close the learned book which is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons; perfection seems simple; I see that it is enough to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself, like a child, into God’s arms. Leaving to great souls, to great minds, the beautiful books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.”

And in her approach to prayer:

“For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus…I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.”

In all of this, I return to my original theme of the blog, which is that to be truly holy, one must leave aside the things of this world and live a life focussed on God alone.  Such a life would be very difficult, if not impossible, for most of us.  Saint Thérèse, like Saint Teresa of Ávila before her, lived her short life, (1873 – 1897), in just such a way.  At the tender age of just 24 years, and having suffered terribly from tuberculosis, she said on her death bed: “I would never have believed it possible to suffer so much,” yet she accepted  those sufferings out of love for her Lord and God.  Her last words were: “My God, I love you.”  No thoughts here of the world and what it can offer – no regrets at leaving behind her life in the monastery, her sisters or anything that one may think she had achieved in this world.  Her words, I think, were ones of welcome to the next – and of what was still to come.

And, the answer to my first question, “What makes a saint?” ……. God makes a saint!


Mary, the Mother of Jesus:

The word ‘Gospel’ means good news.  But how do I explain this good news to myself, and to others around me? It seems a very difficult task in today’s world.

Last week Socius sent me his short blog on Mary, wondering if what he wrote was adequate. I was enchanted by what I read. The writing was the result of what happened. He had taken hold of his Miraculous Medal in a low moment, and out came the words from the heart. One phrase struck me deeply: ‘Mary is so holy – so pure – so feminine – so motherly –so helpful – so considerate of all of us, wih our puny problems.’

All my life Mary has been an important protector, a loving presence, a person to venerate and love, a close friend. I thank God for some of the films I have seen that are about the birth of Jesus: they give me a picture of this person whom I love. I have, however, often struggled with devotional statues of Our Lady, or devotional pictures. They seemed to take my Mary away, rather than enhance her – except when they are very simple and straight forward, or of outstanding artistic quality.


  Nativity scene that does appeal to my artistic sense

I have on two occasions in my life been to Nazareth. It is now a sprawling modern town of 75,000 inhabitants. In the time of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, it might have mustered 100 or so. I was struck by the fact that the traditional home of Mary lies about half a mile from the only water supply in that hamlet of old, and I could imagine Mary, each day, walking for water; I can imagine a strong, sturdy girl, used to hard work of all kinds, as well as being a mother, and constant support of Jesus. I imagine that Joseph died, probably, when Jesus was about 16 or so. Of course, I know from my faith, that she is the perfect disciple of Jesus, the model of what each Christian should be, the Icon of the Church and each of its members.

The 17th September 1948 is not remarkable as an important date in any worldly sense. However, it was important for a famous Italian writer called Igino Giordani, and for many others that he influenced. He was a Catholic apologist, forced to live in the safety of the Vatican during the Second World War, to avoid arrest from the Nazi’s and the Italian Fascists. The date I point to was the day of his conversion to a real Christianity, after years of a full Christian life. He was, in fact, an MP in the post-war Italian Parliament by this time. The following paragraph is how he describes his change of heart when Chiara Lubich came to visit him, at the Parliament building in Rome.

“She showed me a new Christianity. Yes, I knew a lot, I felt I was a teacher in Israel, I had written fifty books at least, some translated even in Chinese, Japanese and the Malay language etc. But I discovered there something new; I found that I did know the externals, the doctrine, the history of the Church but I had no understanding of the mystical side what went on within, a spiritual life with God. I had been transformed. I remember that some months later the President of the Senate commented on what he observed: “Giordani, what has happened to you? I no longer recognise you; your writing is no more as it used to be”, because I had been aggressive etc. I used to slate heretics, I was a sledge hammer to destroy them. Chiara told me that I must cover heretics with a mantle. He exclaimed; “I no longer recognise you, whatever has happened?” What had happened was that I had discovered Chiara’s genuine Christianity of the Gospel, much stronger than mine.”

On the first of October 1957, nine years later, another event – like that of Socius and the Miraculous Medal – happened to Igino Giordani, in regards to Mary. This is how he described what happened.

“I was meditating on the mystery of suffering, on the evening of October first, a month sacred to Mary. After prayers, all of a sudden my soul was cleared of human things and persons and in their place Mary entered, together with Jesus who had died, all the blood gone out of him. My soul was filled by her figure of suffering and of love. And with her living in me I grasped the frivolity of my attachment to transient things. This lasted for twenty-four hours. She was there, like an altar holding the victim: My soul was her abode, her temple. But at the end of twenty-four hours, sharing in her anguish and love for her brought about a unity between her and my soul: she was no longer my guest, but I was her guest, so that I could say: `It is no longer I who live but Mary who lives in me.’

“Her presence had, as it were, completely purified my soul; my person had been infused by Mary. My ego seemed to be dead, and in its place Mary was born so that I no longer felt the need to raise my eyes to the street shrines or to statues of Our Lady; it was enough and it is enough for me to turn the gaze of my soul within myself, to discern in the place of the usual grimy and grotesque idol of myself, the All Beautiful One, the Mother of fairest Love. And even this poor, suffering body seems to me to have become a sort of cathedral, where Mary, with the lifeless Jesus, summons the Bridegroom, who in turn assembles the Trinity.

Unless I am the most utter scoundrel I must become a Saint, to be in harmony with this reality.”


 Igino Giordani in his old age.

(The Bishop of Frascati has begun his cause for beatification) 

What I like about this description is that it corresponds to my own experience. It is not helpful for me only to venerate statues, or pictures, of Mary and to feel devotion to her through these images. In fact, the images and statues, for me, sometimes do the opposite; they distract rather than help.  For me, what makes sense is to try to let her spirit live in me, to see things with her eyes, to have her way of looking at people, to try always to see the good in others – especially those who are far away from the presence of God – and, through her, to try to witness to the wonderful Good News that is the Gospel. Writing to Fr. Bonaventure, a Cappuchin who, like me, is somebody deeply influenced by the ‘Charism of Unity’, Chiara Lubich, on 11 May 1948, penned something of her Gospel understanding, that could be liberating to everyone.


“I tell you one thing: the Ideal we’ve embraced is God: Unity-Trinity and so it’s as ineffable as infinite and eternal Love. And because of this, it’s immanent, present (as God) even in the tiniest things, even in the smallest events!

Even from the evil we commit (the only thing that is truly ours), he is able to draw greater good than the good that the evil has taken away.”



        Fr. Bonaventure in his 93rd year in January 2013.

If I wanted to explain the Good News of the Gospel to people around me today, and to my own self, too, this last sentence of Chiara’s is the one that explains it best to me. It is what the mild and inoffensive – but real spirit of Our Lady – would say.

Fr. Jonathan 

May – the Month of Mary:

The following is probably just about the shortest blog I have ever written; however, to compensate for this, its heartfelt intensity is ‘searing’ the paper as I write.

It was evening and getting late, and I was not feeling all that well, a little jaded, a little low.  All at once I clasped hold of the Miraculous Medal I have worn around my neck for many years and my thoughts turned to Mary, the Mother of God and our Most Gentle Queen and Mother.  She is the Queen of Heaven and Queen of Our Hearts.  And thoughts then began to chase themselves through my brain.  The ‘session’ did not last too long, and at its end, I jotted down my recollections of the whole experience.  What follows is a virtual log of those thoughts – reproduced almost verbatim:

Blessed Virgin Mary

May is the Month of Our Blessed Lady – the month when we honour her and her place on earth, in heaven and in our hearts.

Life on earth is often not very easy; we are often troubled by doubts and worries that are many times difficult to explain properly to others, even those closest to us.  In one of our most beautiful prayers to Mary we refer to it as a ‘Vale of Tears’.  It is when we consider situations such as these that we may, at the same time, reflect on just how great a friend we have in Mary.  From her high place in heaven she listens to us and if we ask her to help, with sincerity that comes from the heart, she will always be there for us.

Mary is so holy – so pure – so feminine – so motherly –so helpful – so considerate of all of us, with our puny problems.

Mary is so great an advocate – she can advise and help us in all our most worry-some situations, if only we acknowledge her greatness and ask for her help.  If she cannot act for us herself, she will always ask her Son, Jesus, and we know that Jesus will not refuse his Mother.

Mary is most highly favoured by God; she is the Mother of God’s only Son, Mother of Our Saviour and the greatest woman ever to have lived here on earth.

She has revealed herself to her children on many occasions – we think of Lourdes and Fatima – as perhaps the most famous of her apparitions, but there are many others, not least to Saint Catherine Labouré, an appearance that brought about the inauguration of the Miraculous Medal.  These manifestations of the Blessed Virgin are important in themselves, but even more important is the reason that underlies them – and the reason is simple.  She comes to us in such way, and with no uncertainty, with just one aim in mind: she wishes to bring all of us nearer – closer – to her beloved Son, Jesus.

What more can one say?


St. Catherine of Sienna:

My reflections in this short blog are concerned with all of us, in our present era, in England – we might do well to learn to commit ourselves to what we think God wants of us in life. Only in this way will we learn the secret of how to find contentment and meaning, and so find that elusive “happiness and fulfilment” in life. It depends on our ability to remain committed, a task that seems not so easy in modern England.

Monday each week is a good day for me as it is my ‘day off’, away from Leyland, and there is time to sit, meditate and pray – at peace and at my ease.

Last Monday was the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, a much loved saint and Doctor of the Church. I recall having been to Siena when still a young boy, with my brother, Tim – young boys at the innocent and tender ages of 10 and 12 – together with my beloved parents. I still have memories of seeing the house where St. Catherine lived, the square nearby, where they have horse-racing – with bare-backed riders – dating back to the 17th. Century, but with even earlier, medieval, origins. For me, it was so hard to imagine how racing could be possible, as the square was slippery with the flags and cobbles, but they race twice each year, in July and August, right there, in the midst of the City of Siena. What memories! St. Catherine was a great lady, but the City where she lived, was like many in Italy, with café’s selling all kinds of drinks, the smell of garlic, the heat beating down. It had been a long and hot car journey getting there, and we were two small boys, tired, hot, disgruntled and, truth be told, rather bored. Only much later, last Monday to be precise, could I intuit what a great person St. Catherine was, and how truly beautiful, and historical, is the medieval City of Siena.

St. CAtherine_1

Start of the famous race Il Palio: thousands of people come to watch in July and August 

I read in the breviary the following words written by St Catherine. I was aware that she was just a comparatively young girl when she died, yet what she wrote astonished me greatly:

O eternal Trinity, God, you are an abyss, a deep sea; you have given yourself to me – what greater good could you give? You are a fire, ever burning and never consumed, consuming in your heat all the self-love of the soul, taking away all coldness. By your light you enlighten our minds, as by your light you have brought me to know your truth. 

In this light I know you, and I picture you to myself as the supreme good, the good beyond all good, the blessed good, the incomprehensible good, the inestimable good, beauty beyond all beauty, wisdom beyond all wisdom. 

Could I have written those words in my twenties or early thirties? Quite impossible! So what made it possible for St. Catherine? I did a little research into her life and discovered some astonishing things – things that took me into another world, another culture, another set of values; perhaps we can learn from them.

“She was a twin, born prematurely, and the 22nd child of her mother, Lapa, who gave birth to 25 children and lived to be 89 years old, long enough to see Catherine buried! Catherine’s twin sister, Giovanna, died, as did half her brothers and sisters, in infancy. This was the year 1347, and the ‘Black Death’ had ravaged the area. Catherine had her first vision of Jesus when she was five or six, and Jesus had smiled at her. She made a vow of chastity, for herself, at the age of seven. A little later, her elder sister, Bonaventura, died in childbirth, and her father, Giacomo, wanted Catherine to take Bonaventura’s husband – her own brother-in-law – as her husband. Catherine, then sixteen and utterly opposed to this proposal, undertook a strict fast to demonstrate her abhorrence – a technique she had learnt from her own now dead sister, Bonaventura, who had been treated badly by her husband, and had found fasting helpful in sorting out her relationship issues. Catherine even cut her long hair short so as to make herself less attractive as a potential bride. 

Catherine would later advise her confessor, (and biographer), the Blessed Raymond of Capua O.P., (who went on to become Master General of the Dominican Order), to do during times of trouble what she did then as a teenager: “Build a cell inside your mind, from which you can never flee.” In this ‘inner cell’ she made her father into a representation of Christ, her mother, Lapa, into the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her brothers into the Apostles, so that serving them, humbly, became an opportunity for spiritual growth. In this way, the greater the suffering, the larger her triumph became. Eventually, her father gave up and permitted her to live as she pleased.”

St. Catherine_2

 St. Catherine, cutting off her long hair as a precaution against being forced to marry

Such single-minded determination is amazing, and yet I do not see why it should not happen in our own age. To be honest, it would have been impossible, to vow myself to chastity, at the age of seven, and stick by such a vow. I have, by God’s grace, followed the call to be a monk, from the age of eighteen; similarly, I hope and pray, with God’s help, to remain faithful in this calling, until death. Generally speaking, it would seem not easy, for young people in England, today, to make such commitments, however.

Catherine, I discovered, died at the age of thirty three.  In her short life, she was the adviser of Popes and leaders of all sorts, and involved in trying to heal the sad ‘divided’ Church situation of her times, a time when the dichotomy involving France, Italy and the Papacy threatened the very existence of the Church, itself; she was then, and still is, an inspiration to people all over the world and has been so ever since her death. However, she did not set out to be an inspiration for others; that was not her aim; just to follow God, and his will, was her way.

But my story does not quite end there. The precarious nature of life in the 14th Century – even before – and afterwards – often devolving, together, with large families, goes on until today, even in England. I have in mind Nora, a parishioner, who was one of 9 siblings, and I visited her on Tuesday, in her Leyland nursing home. Her husband, John, was one of 11 siblings. They lived around the corner from each other, in two different Preston streets. The houses had three bedrooms – for families of 9 and 11 – I ask you! What an experience in which to grow up and flourish! What a completely different set of values, culture, hopes and dreams, that we – of a certain age – have experienced in our own life time. Nora told me, “everyone was poor and we were used to it. It was very different from today: but then, perhaps, better!” She knew her husband, John, from her Primary School days, in Preston, and was happily married till John died some 9 years ago. She, too, was able to make a commitment and stick to it. John used to lecture at Blackburn College, where there were many foreign students. She told me that, one day, John came home and said: “I am invited to go and teach in Africa; will you come with me?” Nora said nothing, but went upstairs, and got her empty suitcase, leaving it at the front door. “I am ready now”, she said. Both left good jobs for this, their new adventure, which took them to different countries and lasted until they returned to the UK, to settle in Leyland after John’s retirement. Now I know that this is not quite the same as in St. Catherine’s case, but the commitment, the simple response to God’s call, and a fulfilled and happy life, are all similar.

What are the lessons for us? Let us draw our own conclusions, but let me say that, in today’s world, when so many people do not keep to the commitments they have made – whether married people, priests or religious, we could all learn from example. Furthermore, there are many who do find it so very hard to make a real commitment, in life, in the first place; they cannot decide what their pathway is, and will sometimes for instance, “have a partner, and fail to marry for many years, if at all”. Young and old are the same: they dabble here, and there, in this, and that, and do not come out clearly, one way or another. The old English proverb puts it well: “they want both, their cake and eat it”. But where does that leave all who need inspiration and guidance in life?

Always remember – anyone who stumbles across this blog – that God cannot but love each one of us, always, even in disconnected circumstances. He will hold us in the palm of his hand and teach us, lead us, and do so through the events that happen to us, as long as we turn to him.

Father Jonathan