“May you always be filled with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit… ..” It was with these words that, just a few days before, Father Ambrose gave us his blessing. Then, Bishop Ambrose (he preferred Fr. Ambrose) died peacefully on Tuesday at 3pm. Somebody said that God took him at the same time as Jesus left this earth, after his agony on the cross.  Seeing my friend, Ambrose, some ten minutes after his death – my companion, Fr. Paul, and I, got the news as we were driving to the hospice, knowing that his passing was near – we were struck by the fact that in the stillness of death, he seemed to be asleep.  It was a moment of grief, for me and others present, who loved him, and yet, remember the eighth station of the cross, and Jesus’ words to the weeping ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children”. (Luke 23: 28).

 This morning’s Divine Office of Reading has the following beautiful psalm, and if Fr. Ambrose had still been alive, he would have been the first to the Chapel at Leyland, there waiting for the rest of us monks and laity, to gather and pray with him. In Psalm 89 (90), the ‘Grail’ edition of the Breviary seems to accentuate the poetry and imagery that, I imagine, describes the essence of the Hebrew original:

O Lord you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

Before the mountains were born, or the earth or the world brought forth,

You are God, without beginning or end. 

You turn men back into dust and say: ‘Go back, sons of men.’

To your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone, no more than a watch in the night. 

You sweep men away like a dream, like grass which springs up in the morning.

In the morning it springs up and flowers: by evening it withers and fades.

 So we are destroyed in your anger; struck with terror in your fury.

Our guilt lies open before you; our secrets in the light of your face. 

All our days pass away in your anger. Our life is over like a sigh.

Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong. 

And most of these are emptiness and pain. They pass swiftly and we are gone.

Who understands the power of your anger and fears the strength of your fury? 

Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart.

Lord relent! Is your anger for ever? Show pity to your servants. 

In the morning fill us with your love; we shall exult and rejoice all our days.

Give us joy to balance our affliction for the years when we knew misfortune. 

Show forth your work to your servants; let your glory shine on their children.

Let the favour of the Lord be upon us: give success to the work of our hands,

give success to the work of our hand. 

Last Saturday evening was the Vigil of Pentecost. The local body of monks, who come together, at this time, to pray the Divine Office of Readings, decided that we would gather in Father Ambrose’s room at the hospice, and pray together with him. This was something we had been doing, in his room, in-so- far as it was possible, while he was still with us at Leyland, for the different ‘Offices’ of the day. At the end of our prayers, someone asked Father Ambrose if he would give us his blessing; this, to all of us gathered, was a very special moment. Here was our brother monk, by God’s gift chosen to be a successor to the Apostles as the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, 1992 to 2004, gathering all his energy to bless us – we  whom he had also served – friend and contemporary, for many years, in our monastic life. 

He thought about this request, and one could see it was not easy for him to focus his mind as, by this time he was weak, physically and mentally;  then, from the depths of the silence, came these words: 

“May you always be filled with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and may he teach you to love one another always and be filled with the joy of his Love so that you become more and more united, and may God bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.  

It is said that the last of the apostles to die was St. John, and that at the end of his long life, in the frailty of old age, his constant prayer and blessing for the few and insignificant number of first Christians was that they “love each other” 

This experience has been one that, I hope, I never forget, that its lesson will never be lost on me. People have such different temperaments and attitudes. In fact, people have said, about Fr. Ambrose and me, that we are so different, as to be like ‘chalk and cheese’. His meticulous ways, his focus on what he was doing, his clarity of thought, and his scientific ways were simply not mine. My mind, my character is not laid out that way and, in fact, I know that I was sometimes the source of some irritation for him. Yet we ‘got on’ better and better, as time went on. His blessing came from a profoundly lived – and living – experience. 

His blessing also reminds me of St. Paul and his famous Chapter on Love, (1 Corinthians).  I am told that there are some members of our own Church, who write very critically, and with a tone of bitterness and cynicism, about what is happening in the Church, locally; some were evenly disposed to write words, in the same vein, about our deceased brother, when he was, then,  Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. I suppose it is not surprising, in our modern world, when people feel so strongly that they are right and believe they know what the Holy Spirit wants for the Church, that they pronounce in this way. In a much more positive way, the words of St. Paul, and those of Fr. Ambrose, are a help for me: 

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.       (1 Cor. 13, 4-7). 

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