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.