Saturday, May 10, 2008
Happy Whitsun to All the World- A Holy Spirit Story
Newport and the Whitsun Marches
When I was small, I was not a Catholic. In fact I was christened an Anglican and never really understood more than I had to be good and nice. This was really important and as my Mother being not being British, was a Lutheran, once a month we went to the Lutheran church and as soon as I could play the piano I played the organ. I did speak German, so I did understand what was going on, but never felt very comfortable. The sermons were long and I was small, although the people were very kind and loving. . My sister and I used to go to the Baptist church Sunday School and had collected a plethora of prizes for a diligent study of the Bible which I must say I have always been grateful for, but Catholics were quite beyond the pale as they were 'brainwashed' and 'anti christ'. Even more sinister, they did not go to 'normal'Schools!
The Newport Whitsun March
One thing they allways did well, though, was the 'Whitsun Treat'. Pentecost is known as 'Whitsun' in Britain or 'White Sunday' and a lot of fuss was made of this because we did not have 'Corpus Christi'. For weeks before hymns would be learned in Sunday School from special books. Then the week before was a rehearsal in one of the big chapels and at the rehearsal the prizes were given out. I was always told off for not buying 'proper' books. I always chose 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table' and such books. On Whit Sunday all the Sunday Schools would gather outside the Chapel and it was tradition to always have a new white dress. Each Sunday School marched behind its banner and hymns were sung as we marched through the streets.The parents lined the streets and the traffic was stopped for the long march in which I believe all the SAnglican Sunday Schools took part.
The Whitsun Treat
When we reached the Castle over the bridge we turned and marched back to the other side of town where we had started and then everyone went home. The New St Julians Junior and INfant School was chosen for the 'Whitsun Treat'.In the afternoon at 2pm we all went there and all afternoon, there were races and competitions, a fete and refreshments. We really loved it, even though I was not all that keen on the races-especially the one where you had to crawl through a ladder! I remember it was always a fine day, the field (Whitsun Field) always smelt of new mown grass and a long afternoon laughing with friends. There were always ice creams galore and a lovely couple Mr and Mrs Hancox donated a lot to keep it all going, and we really looked forward to the day. So Whitsun was always a strong memory.
I remember looking at a picture with a narrow path and a wide path going up a mountain. The good people always chose the harder path and the slack people always chose the easy way but it did not reach to the top, you kept going round. It was a sort of Babptist St John of the Cross and Mr Carmel. But I had a lot of questions about this. How did God teach you to be good, why did he not help you? What had this narrow path got to do with Jesus. How was life going to be hard.Why did Jesus have to die?
However, rebel that I was,when I went to grammar school, we had a lady who was a very High Anglican teaching us Religious Instruction. She began by getting us to learn important chunks out of the Bible. We had to write them in elaborate writing and decorate the outside of he pages with Christian Symbols we could find. She suggested looking in her church which was always open for prayer and looking for these symbols. One day she marched us over there and the minute I went in, I thought, this is more like it. The altat reredos (carvins behind altar were amazing full of great angels and it looked like they were leading to heaven .I was captivated. I thought of the little mission hall we had to go to for the Lutherans and the chapel we havd for the baptist, but what drew me most of all was the magnificent staue of Our Lady full of grace, who stared down on me. It was like meeting someone for the first time-at the age of 11! Hi May I said .Lovely to see you. I would often sneak in there to see the statue and had never really considered about Mary-never spoken of really except at Christmas where she belonged to the Nativity set.She belonged on out mantlepiece with Joseph and the Baby Jesus in a crib three shepheards and three Magi.
Mrs Coles, my RE teacher gave us a much deeper view of the Bible, we knew the stories but not really the meanings.I had been quite worried in the Baptists about the 'Plagues'. I knew God sent them because the Egyptians had been horrible to the Isaelites etc but thought killing the first born was awful. What If God did that to us-I was a first born! I was enjoying my little trysts with the statue of Mary. It always drew me back. Of course it was a sculpture but fascination with what she represented drew me to a sense of a much greater truth behind the scripture.
Suddenly my mother told us we were to be confirmed in Germany in the Lutherans. My grandmother was very ill and not expected to live and it was her dearest wish to see us before she passed away. I did wonder at it, but My mother said 'You believe in God, don't you?' and so we began to have visits from the Lutheran Pastor who gave us long and earnest talks and a copy of 'The Little Catechism'. I always feared what God could do and the Pastor was not an inspired teacher. We learnt the apostles creed, but with 'I believe in the Holy Christian Church' in it. We went to Germany we bought lovely white dresses and there was a huge family party of nearly eighty people on the lawn of my grandparents' house. We had lots of presents. Only one thing stood out. We had to pick a verse from Scripture and I cost 'For lo I am with you always. even unto the end of time'. Mary was gone here and there was a big church, very modern with next to nothing in it. I remember thinking 'What am I doing?' The Pastor had told us earlier when I was asking about Tobias and the Angel and Judas Maccabaeus that Luther had decided to drop these books from the Bible as they were 'less true' and I remember saying to the Pastor 'Who said he could do that??' I don't think he was pleased.
I still slipped out to Mrs Coles Church. My history teacher was Catholic Irish and she would often explain a quite different version of the history served up in the history books concerning Henry VIII and his various wives. We later learned the history of Ireland for A level and I actually felt for the Irish people and was fascinated by its stories.
University and the Carmelites
I went up to University in Wales and there I met some friends who invited me to go to Mass with them. I started going and liked everything about it. It always took about an hour (churlish to say this-but anyone who has had to listen to long long sermons will understand) There was a nice statue of Mary and I was introduced to the ordinary portions of the Mass. I was thrilled that when we sang the plainsong Kyrie-people all down the ages from the beginning of the Church had sung this. I was fascinated by the Gloria-the Credo-much longer and The Sanctus and Benedictus and Agnus Dei (not sure about the lamb and why he was there but found out that it was Christ and not one of the lambs from the Christmas Story! In fact how had I got to University and understood nothing? One of the Carmelite Brothers, Father Fitzgerald answered all my questions faithfully and I did ask a lot. Suddenly I realised my whole life and the whole of Creation was part of an amazing plan of Salvation. I suddenly week by week being catechised by this amazing priest, realised the enormous love of God, and that I wasn't going to die. I understood Mary ad been calling me to her Son. Irealised he was Love so amzing so Divine and what a miserable little nothing I was compared to all this, but he still wanted to bother with me anyway.
My 'Journey Home'
I was in a quandary, but decided on balance not to have aconfrontation with my parents. It was not negotiable and decided I would have to be devious about it. They did not go to church much. My Dad was a fantastic man, very loving and caring, always putting himself out for others, but not really understanding church.My mother went once a month . The pastor was still the same but I was aways from home and spared the long sermons.When I got married I would have to tell them, but it would give me the time to learn answers to my questions. When she did find out she was gutted, but realised my conversion was a deep seated thing. It did not impinge on the love in our family and I never mentioned it when I was with her out of respect. She would say to the (thankfully new Pastor) 'Oh she's gone and become a candle now' and I would grin and shamfacedly smile! Eventually she did come to my wedding and to my son's baptism and Confirmation, even though according to my sister she laughed when the bishop had a job to put his hands on my son's head because he was so tall.
Since then I never wavered. My involvement through my theatre work with Catholic Stage Guild, and one or two amazingly lose encounters with God and studying at Maryvale, and more recently with the Frends of Our Lady of Tintern, where we are now trying to raise some money for votive candle stands and arranging some masses and pilgrimages in what was a miraculous statue. You can read about it else where on the blog, but these statues , whilst not being Mary herself, who is up on high with the Father now, have a way of focusing the mind and drawing us to the son. We don't worship her, but we give her honour as the Mother, and God specially picked her to be the mother of his Son on earth. And yet she did tell me the other week, 'Yes-but he picked you too!'
Holy Spirit draws you inexorably to God
So what is the moral of the story? When the Spirit calls you, respond! All the goodness, good intentions with Wisdom, Understanding,and Courage have to do with you.Confirmation gives you these gifts.When you realise, that like a giant TV screen of pixels you are just one, and your light has to shine or people can't see God's picture is when you have got it. One day you will see it all clearly. In the meantime I am glad I am in a church of sinners, as Jesus in the Eucharist is always on hand to help, with his helper, the Priest.God bless the Priests today, and above all Father Fitz that brilliant mind at Aberystwyth.
Veni, Creator Spiritus
One of the most widely used hymns in the Church, Veni, Creator Spiritus, is attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856). It is used at Vespers, Pentecost, Dedication of a Church, Confirmation, and Holy Orders and whenever the Holy Spirit is solemnly invoked. A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite it. A plenary indulgence is granted if it is recited on January 1st or on the feast of Pentecost.
VENI, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora
COME, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made
Qui diceris Paraclitus,
altissimi donum Dei,
fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
et spiritalis unctio.
O comforter, to Thee we cry,
O heavenly gift of God Most High,
O fount of life and fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.