Writings » Autobiography of Elizabeth Wang, Part 1

This text forms part of Elizabeth Wang's Falling in Love: A Spiritual Autobiography (1999). It tells the story of her life and of her spiritual journey as she came to know Christ and His Church.

You can find the other sections here on the main WRITINGS page.

Please note that some of the text formatting has not transferred from the printed copy to this website.



Many years ago, as a young adult, I thought that I was looking for God. I didn’t realise that He is infinitely kind and had already been ‘searching’ for me, so to speak, in my darkened heart and mind.  He had been drawing me towards Himself, by His grace.  I began to practice  again what I believed were the essentials of the Christian faith, as it had been taught to me in childhood in my Anglican home.


When I turned in prayer to God, at twenty-one years old, I was a free soul, at last whole-heartedly acknowledging my dependence on Him; and I was able to pray with confidence and hope because of the grace given to me long before, in Baptism.  Even though I had forgotten or ignored for a long time that great gift of Divine Life, I discovered, through prayer, that the Giver was still living within my soul, ready to receive me into His life and love, through Christ.  Resolving to pray regularly, I began to behave as well as I thought a Christian ought to behave, trying to be more charitable and - through my struggles - becoming aware of my many faults.


I met many difficulties. I was not only ill for a long time but was lonely, and afraid.  One night, I called out to Jesus, and I asked for help, with more faith than I knew I possessed; and suddenly He was with me.  He had responded, in Love. He came to me instantly.  I didn’t see Him with my bodily eyes but with the eyes of my soul.  I saw Him standing beside me; and I was dazzled by His blazing Glory!  How foul and dark I saw my own soul to be.  I saw years of selfishness exposed in the brilliance of that burning radiance, and so I turned away, appalled, but wholly repentant of every failing, and determined to do what was necessary to ‘put things right’ with God.  My faith was obscure and inarticulate, but nothing could have kept me from reparation, penance, prayer and thanksgiving.


Soon afterwards, I discovered the existence and the sure teachings of the Catholic Church.  I worshipped in familiar ways for three or four years; then, after much study and prayer, I asked if I could be received into the Catholic Church.  I entered into full Communion on February 22nd, 1968, on the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, in Manchester, in the church of the Holy Name.  Amidst the pain and loneliness of that time, I was honoured by the extraordinary, invisible presence of Our Blessed Lady, suddenly made known to me on the day of my First Holy Communion, in a church full of strangers.  I didn’t know what had happened, and soon forgot about it, as I plunged determinedly into regular and silent prayer at home, no matter how busy I was each day. I marked the hours by simple prayers, whether the ‘Our Father’ or the Rosary; also, I prayed the psalms from a small Breviary, every lunch-time when my first baby was sleeping; and I recited the “Jesus Prayer” whenever possible, devotedly and silently, from morning until night, for the next twenty years.




After many years of gruelling work, and struggle and failure, with illness, too, and other trials, and - throughout - utter darkness in prayer, I was near despair, but was unwilling to turn away from God.  I was a failure in more than one sense, and was ashamed of setting a bad example; but, thanks to God’s grace, I didn’t give up prayer; nor did I lose hope.  I struggled to be faithful in the darkness, not realising that Christ was waiting at the bottom of the pit.


Then, one terrible day, I was reminded of the extent both of my sinfulness and God’s holiness.  I was appalled by the chasm.  That very day, I decided with all the power of my heart to turn to Christ in faith and trust, in every circumstance.  I vowed that I would never compromise; I would love my neighbour as Christ had loved me: that is - at any cost. I would do God’s Will at every moment, rather than my own. I would bear sickness patiently, relying on the grace of God; and I’d shoulder all difficulties for His sake, even if interior darkness were to continue for the rest of my life.  Also, I resolved, I would never, ever, willingly or deliberately offend against Him or against His love or against His laws again, in the least degree.


After Reconciliation in the local church I went about my work in darkness again, but my heart was at peace as never before.  At last, I was willing to let Christ lead me into whatever way of life He had chosen for me.  I was content to accept outward and inward changes for His sake, and to walk silently - in the spiritual life - along the bottom of my particular ditch, for as long as He permitted.




Soon after I had made that resolution I was utterly astonished to find that the habitual darkness of prayer was occasionally lit by great shafts of light.  As I shall explain more fully later on, my usual dry, dark, humiliating prayers during Holy Mass or after Holy Communion were frequently “pierced” by an unsought and wordless “knowledge” which explained or unfolded aspects of our Faith.


In this way, every few weeks and then every few days, I was taught much more about God, and about Heaven, then about Christ and His Church, and about grace, prayer, and souls.  I learned nothing new; but many truths already known by faith, study, and worship were marvellously given anew and were clarified.


I didn’t choose what I would learn in prayer; but each “teaching” was given suddenly and unexpectedly in the silence of my wordless prayer during or after Mass and Holy Communion. Each was about some aspect of our Catholic faith, usually about the spiritual life, but with frequent stress on God’s Love for us and on our duty to love Him, and to love our neighbour for His sake.


Throughout my years of study, I had learned from the great teachers and writers of the Catholic Church that we’re foolish if we try to cling to experiences of a Person, rather than to the Person Himself; so, although I longed to know God, I neither looked for consolations in prayer, nor hoped for unusual spiritual experiences. I knew that we please Christ most surely when we continue in our usual fervent daily efforts to love Him and our neighbour.  I eventually realised, however - despite all my sins and failings - that God sometimes chooses to teach us things in prayer, for His own purposes.  Our initial fear and reluctance about paying attention to His ‘showings’ is praiseworthy; but if God Wills to teach us in this way, I have found, He will do so.  Nothing but our ill-will or lack of love can stop Him; however, when we have tried to keep to the usual paths in prayer, but have been thwarted, and are puzzled by our experiences, we ought to turn to our advisors in Christ’s Holy Catholic Church.




The whole notion that God can teach people in this way was foreign to me, since the early “teachings” - by their simplicity - bore no resemblance to the visions which I’d seen recounted in various spiritual biographies.  Also, I was amazed that He should teach a person like myself.  But when it became plain that the “teachings-in-prayer” ought to be written down so that others could share them when the time was right, I tried to record in very simple manner what I had learned through Christ about His love for us, about the Most Holy Trinity, about the Incarnation of Our Lord through the Blessed Virgin Mary, and about other truths of the Catholic Faith.


The reader should take for granted that everything explained here in the “teachings” about the Christian faith and about the Christian spiritual life rests upon the sure foundation of the teachings of the Catholic Church as held and preached by her throughout the whole world and in every age.  If I had found I was being given a teaching which contradicted any of the truths of our Faith, I would have rejected it with all my power.  I would never have recorded anything contrary to the teaching of the Church, since I know that God doesn’t contradict Himself; and so I knew that anyone receiving such ‘teachings’ would be receiving them from another source.


Many of the “teachings” were personal, and so don’t appear in this book.  Some which were strictly private haven’t been written down at all.  But I’m duty-bound to share the others, as Christ explained to me quite plainly, in order to strengthen the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ and to bring others to know and love Christ, and to delight in the Glory of the Holy Trinity.


Certain of the teachings which have been given to me - whether wordlessly or with words -have been accompanied by an image; and that’s why, during the past ten years, I’ve drawn more than one thousand pictures which represent aspects of the Truths that I’ve been taught by Christ in this way; also, I’ve written brief accounts of what He has explained on hundreds of occasions, with the words He has used.  The greatest of the “Teachings-in-prayer” were wordless and imageless, as I said, and also infrequent, and puzzling at first.  None of them can be fully explained or displayed; but those which I’ve tried to describe are “displayed” only because God has made His Will plain to me in several ways, more recently by inviting me to translate His wordless teachings into my own language, so that other people can delight in His encouragement.


When I plucked up courage to record the teachings, that “First Version” was hesitantly-written and poorly-arranged.  Not until late 1994 did I write a “Second Version” which clarified the content of the “teachings” and also the way in which I was taught.  However, the “Third Version” was compiled solely because, on November 3rd 1995, Christ invited me to re-write His ‘teachings’ in a different manner.  My new task, I learned, was to list most of His plain instructions about what I must do if I sincerely wish to please Him and to become holy; and Christ invited me to write ‘in the first person’, so that other people can receive His teachings in the sort of direct and simply way which it’s been my privilege to experience.




It seems to me as though these teachings have been “squeezed” by Christ through the substance of my daily life as water is squeezed through a sponge; and the image I’m using is of the sort of blood-soaked sponge which is used to wipe the face of an exhausted man in the corner of a boxing-ring.  Without the pressure of Christ’s urgings towards greater fervour and self-surrender, and without my at times agonised consent, the ‘water’ of His instruction about our spiritual journey couldn’t have ‘poured out’ for so many years, through prayer, into my daily  life and so into my notebooks.  I mention this because Christ has been producing, through my daily life and work, a sort of catechism of the spiritual life.  Of course, He has already given us all that we need for Salvation; but it’s His wish that we be reminded of various truths about the Holy Mass and about prayer, and about sacrifice and penance, for example; and He longs to remind us of His tremendous love for us.  He wants to offer a reminder - from within the life of someone fearful and sinful, whose days have been cluttered with problems and anxieties - that His is a constant and forgiving Love.  He admires our weak faith and our pitiful efforts to love Him and to love and serve our neighbour.


Throughout His instructions and occasional reprimands, Christ has scattered numerous compliments.  He has been encouraging me just as any good teacher encourages a child; yet I’ve omitted some of the compliments from my writings; and I was tempted to omit even more, and also to omit my own name from the text; but I’m loathe to remove this evidence of Christ’s kindness. The ‘falling-in-love’ of the title of this book was made possible precisely because of Christ’s constant kindness and tenderness towards me.  It once seemed to me as though I was ‘falling’ into misery and near-hopelessness at the knowledge of my real nature; but that falling was followed by the astonishing discovery that we not only live ‘in’ God, as creatures of a Divine Creator; we can live ‘in’ His own heart, so to speak, and can share His Life.


I discovered the strength of His love for us, and also the depths to which He has stooped in order to help us.  I experienced His tenderness in prayer; and so began my ‘falling-in-love’ with God, as His radiant Light began to shine within my soul.  And that’s the reason why I hope so fervently that people will believe in His Love as well as in His scorching purity and His infinite majesty; and we are reminded of this marvellous Love in Holy Scripture, where God says: ‘I have called you by your name; you are Mine!’ (Is 43:1)


It was a marvellous discovery for me, when at last I realised that Christ’s Love for each one of us is personal and tender; and I long for everyone to know it.




When Christ first began to offer me His ‘teachings’, He was addressing them, for His own good reasons, to someone who was already baptised.  He Himself taught me the importance of repentance, and so I made great efforts to serve Him.  Despite my failures, I kept turning to Him in regular prayer.  As the teachings continued, He was building, therefore, on a foundation which He Himself had placed within my soul.


Stage by stage, as this work has progressed, Christ has revealed to me further details of His plan.  Many people will be helped by the ‘teachings’, Christ has shown me; and others will shun them.  My only concern, He says, must be to produce them, obedient to Him, and to leave the results in His hands.  But those who are glad to read them can be assured that everything within these pages was taught to me - whether implicitly or explicitly - by Christ Himself, usually during prayer.


The publication of this story about my journey of faith, and also about the “teachings”, is an act of obedience to the One Who asks that I “stand up and tell them all I command you.  Do not be dismayed by their presence” (Jr 1:17).  I bear in mind, too, another passage from Holy Scripture: “Follow right to the end the way I mark out for you” (Jr 7:23). “they have not ... paid attention; they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors ...  You must say all these words to them” (Jr 7:26-27). ... “come in; let us bow, PROSTATE OURSELVES, AND KNEEL IN FRONT OF JAHWEH OUR MAKER, FOR THIS IS OUR GOD ...” (ps 95:6-7.)


Christ has shown me, on several occasions, what He witnesses today; He sees that many people - even in the Church which He founded - not only disobey His Commandments but mock the teachings of the Church and lead others to do the same.  He sees, too, how few have given Him their hearts, entirely, and how few make sacrifices for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel given through Himself and His Apostles.  This was true in past ages, and it’s still true, today; but Christ strengthens the faith of His children in ways which He devises, and He has told me that these writings are to play a part in His work of encouragement.  Since April 1992, in accordance with His wishes, and longing to comfort and encourage others and to bring them to a renewed friendship with Christ, I’ve been speaking more freely about His teachings, to family and friends and acquaintances.  I’ve handed out books of teachings to anyone who has expressed a wish to read them. 




In all my own failures, I’ve come to see that Christ understands our human weaknesses.  He knows the trials and temptations and agonies of this earthly life.  He sees that we, His children, are struggling daily amidst all sorts of things that might lead us away from the practice of our faith; so He assists, by his grace, everyone who turns to Him; and He forgives every repentant sinner.  It’s when we consent wholeheartedly to His action or grace in our hearts, admitting our faults and resolving to love God and our neighbour, that we find that we don’t struggle alone.  Christ our Lord guides us; His Holy Spirit strengthens us and leads us towards the Father, in the company of all who belong in the One Body of Christ, which is therefore truly called Christ’s Holy Catholic Church.


That is why I’ve plucked up courage to write the story that Christ wants me to tell, though I couldn’t have undertaken such a task if I hadn’t been sure, first, that it was my duty, and, secondly, that nothing I’d written would contradict the teaching of the Church.  Since the Church is guided by Christ now, as in every century, through the Pope and the Bishops, and also through the Bishops’ representatives - our priests, I’ve gone to our priests for advice; and I’ve been reassured about this present path.


By the time I began to make notes about the ‘teachings-in-prayer’, I’d been praying regularly for more than twenty years, attempting to love God and my neighbour no matter what the cost, though failing often. For every ‘teaching’ or extraordinary occurrence mentioned in this Prologue, I’ve left out ten or a hundred episodes of simple prayer or acts of faith.  It should be taken for granted that my routine prayers consist of the sort of Catholic devotions which I describe in various writings  Like many other people, I pray the “Morning Offering”, centred on the Holy Mass, with acts of faith, hope and charity, and with devotions to Our Blessed Lady and to all the Angels and Saints, as well as Scripture-meditation.  My prayer-life has always been very ordinary, based upon vocal and mental prayer and attendance at Holy Mass, whether or not ‘extraordinary’ experiences have also been given to me - for God’s own purposes.  It’s true that prayer has become altogether more simplified and joyful in recent times, as I’ve learned to follow God more swiftly and frequently into the prayer of contemplation; yet I hope that I shall never think of entirely discarding the vocal prayers which, at different times of the day or of the week, are so expressive and fruitful.  What a wonderful treasury we have in our Catholic prayers: so many long-cherished, safe, good and useful methods of expressing our love for God and our sorrow for sin.


Although I have written, here and elsewhere, about the degrees and categories of “prayer-in-union”, generally known as “contemplative” prayer, I ought to add something here about the manner of my ‘seeing’ truths in prayer.  All that I’ve seen - whether images or persons - has been seen solely with the ‘eyes of the soul’.  I have never seen anything before me, with my bodily eyes, except what anyone else would see there, too, in normal life.


I’ve rarely used mental images in my worship of God.  I’ve used my imagination when meditating on the Gospels, and also in intercession, as I remember, visually, those for whom I’m praying; but in ‘pure’ praise and adoration I’ve followed the traditional Catholic teaching which recommends a whole-hearted reaching-out of the heart and mind and will towards the God Whom we cannot see, but Whom we approach with confidence because of our union with Christ.


Long ago, I began my determined efforts to brush aside, in prayer, all images and distractions, ruthlessly trying to seek God as He really Is, just as I tried to seek His real Will, without trying to picture the future, amidst the hum-drum tasks of daily life.


It must be emphasised that my ordinary, daily life and worship centres on normal Catholic prayers and devotions - above all, on attendance at Holy Mass.  I’ve looked for nothing novel or extraordinary in prayer.  It’s best that we try to turn to God in sincere love and repentance, week by week and year by year, following in the footsteps of our spiritual ancestors, and also ‘open’ to the continuing guidance of the Holy Father and of the other Catholic Bishops who are in communion with him.


It still astonishes me that Our Lord should have given me this work to do.  I’m astonished and delighted, daily, thinking about all the gifts and graces to be found in the Catholic Church, which I entered as an awed and grateful convert thirty years ago.  But when I entered, and began to make even greater efforts to meet God in prayer, I had no desire for novelty; nor had I any understanding of how God can teach people in prayer in a swift and lavish infusion of knowledge; nor did I understand what I’ve heard in the Gospel about Christ leading us to the Father; so that’s why I took almost no notice of the earliest ‘teachings’ - although I never forgot them; rather, I continued with my fervent efforts to find out more about the Catholic Faith through the normal channels, to the degree that this is possible for a busy wife and mother. Through those early years when God was persistently teaching me in the silence of prayer I was content with the authoritative teachings of the Church, on every subject. I sought advice from reputable, wise and saintly authors, and gratefully absorbed the truths which come to us through the Holy Father, the Pope, and through the prayers of the Liturgy, the Scripture readings and the homilies.


I was first aware of ‘being taught’ when I was fourteen years old.  There were two long periods of my life when such teachings ceased, as part of my spiritual training; but this way of learning spiritual truths in prayer eventually become a part of my life of prayer: first, at intervals of several weeks or days, and now, daily.  When I was being first taught by God in prayer I had no idea of the mission for which He was preparing me; whereas now I know that His plan is to provide encouragement, through this work, to members of the Catholic Church in an era when the Faith is under attack not only from outside but from within, and in a time when the concepts of duty and obedience are widely derided.




In order to please Christ, I’ve written a great deal within these pages about sadness and spiritual darkness.  It’s been necessary in order to explain those periods of the spiritual life which are unusually called the ‘night of the senses’ and the “night of the spirit.”  I shall say more about those, later; but I can’t even mention them without saying that today, the darkness has vanished.  Through the astonishing goodness of God my life was changed profoundly on December 11th, 1985: on what I now call the ‘Alpha and Omega day’. Christ has rewarded me for my efforts, Love for love. He includes in His gifts a pure joy for me at the mere sound of His Name.  I hear ‘Jesus’, or say it, and can hardly bear the joy which the sound or the thought or the Presence brings to my heart: such a pang as I never expected to feel again, when I was merely enduring everything for Him, sustained in hope and love by dry faith alone.  I’ve learned that there’s no music, sound, sight or touch more sweet and beautiful than the silent, invisible and true presence of Christ within the soul; and it’s a marvel to me that this should have happened in the life and soul of someone who has been so reluctant to serve Him.  And now, I live in hope that many people will be led to love Christ more fervently, undaunted by transient worries and difficulties, and therefore to love His Holy Will, which is our only lasting happiness. I hope that, despite the evident flaws in my writing, someone will become more interested in God and perhaps will dare to believe that it’s true that God is alive and active - and good.


Everything that I’ve written here was put down in obedience to Christ; and everything contained in these pages is the truth as I see it - though it might not have been explained very well and some minor inaccuracies might have occurred: for example, about dates.  I’ve been writing at great speed and haven’t had the leisure to check every word several times.




It is no use my apologising for the stilted style, or the laboured phrases; I’m not pretending to be a professional writer, and besides, this task was extraordinarily difficult, because I could hardly bear to put pen to paper when I first began writing about Christ’s work in my life. I was appalled at my impertinence at attempting such a task, whilst being utterly convinced that it was  what God was asking me to do.


I haven’t attempted to produce a lively script or witty pages.  I’m not capable of it; so I hope that this can be seen as just a simple story, simply told.  And since the colloquialisms of one era are frequently the dead phrases of another, I’ve tried to avoid them.  Some of this work, I believe, will be used in times and cultures unlike our own.


A further reason for a very plain recital of my experiences is that - as I’ll explain - the “Teachings” which God sometimes gives to the soul in prayer are always light, clear, calm, and simple, yet stately.  So it seems appropriate that simplicity should be my watchword not only in my recital of the “Teachings” but also in this “prologue” or spiritual autobiography.




It’s been necessary for me to say a great deal about the reasons why I felt impelled to ask for Reception into the Catholic Church; and now it occurs to me that perhaps I shall be challenged for saying so much that seems critical of Anglicanism.  I must proclaim that I believe that God is at work in the Church of England, as He is at work wherever those who belong to Him or yearn for Him pray to Him in Christ’s Name and cherish the Holy Scriptures.  Yet since I don’t believe that any ecclesial body except the one which I entered in 1968 is the One Holy Catholic Church which Christ founded on the Apostles, I’ve had to explain in detail exactly what I was taught in childhood about the meaning of ‘Church’ and why, not unreasonably, I grew dissatisfied with that explanation.




-           There has occasionally been a gap of several days between teachings.  That’s why the subject matter sometimes changes quite abruptly between one sentence and the next.


-           Every ‘teaching’ is numbered. Each ‘T’ (for Teaching) is followed by a number, and sometimes by a paragraph (#) number; and these correspond with the numbers of the same ‘teachings’ in earlier versions, and with the numbers in my notebooks, and also with the numbers on the associated illustrations in either water-colour or oil, which can be seen elsewhere.


-           I’ve recorded most of Christ’s instructions chronologically, as clearly and as simply as possible.  Where a teaching has been given to me as a pure, precious and clear but soundless instruction, I have made it ‘concrete’, in my own choice of words, as He has requested.


-           This ‘making concrete’ is more like a work of translation than of composition, since I have ‘translated’ real but inaudible teachings - given on specific occasions - into English, the language I know best; and you might see, therefore, that any grammatical errors or clumsy phrases - though regrettable - are like flaws in the work of a poor translator; and the ‘original text’ is Christ Himself, Whom I believe to be my Infinitely-wise Teacher, and indeed to be the source of all Truth ever found in prayer.


-           There’s a wealth of detail later in these volumes not just about Christ our Saviour but also about the life of all Three Divine Persons within the One Godhead.  Whenever you read an instruction which mentions “Us” or “We”, Christ is explaining something about the Most Holy Trinity - in Whom we believe because Christ, when on earth, revealed more than had ever before been known about God’s Life and God’s nature, and Christ the Son of God spoke - as we Christians believe - “with authority”.  Because of the revelation given through Christ and His Apostles, we believe in the Father Who created us, in Christ the Son Who redeemed us and in the Holy Spirit Who makes us holy: Three Divine Persons Who are a Trinity-in-unity. They are One God, Whose Life we now share in a marvellous way, because of our baptism.


            Jesus Christ, we believe, is the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  He is the Son of God.  We say that He ‘descended’ from the Father in Heaven in order to come to earth to take flesh from Our Lady, so that as God-man He could live on earth amongst us, instruct His disciples, die for our sins on the Cross, rise from the dead and ascend to Heaven in glory.  Thus, Jesus the Saviour and Redeemer made a Way in which all who believe in Him can follow; and we can follow with confidence, despite our weak nature and life’s difficulties.  Even in our own time, Christ is at work.  It’s through His Spirit that He guides the one Holy Catholic Church which He founded and of which we can seek membership. Within it, we can follow the Way of the Saints and feed on the Sacred Scriptures.  Christ Himself is teaching us through the Holy Father, and also through the Bishops who are in Communion with him.  Successors to St. Peter and the Apostles, Our Pope and our other Bishops - as one - preach Christ, preach repentance and salvation, teach us truth, lead us in the Sacred Tradition, and give us Christ’s Divine Life and graces through the Sacraments.


            As Christ’s Divine Love pours within our hearts and transforms us, it can lead us to a deeper repentance of sin and a greater determination to love and serve God and neighbour.  We can prepare for Eternal life where we hope to enjoy, in the presence of the Holy Angels and in the Company of the Saints who have gone before us, the glorious and blissful sight of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - One God, Who is more holy, loving and beautiful than the most fervent heart could ever begin to imagine.


-           Scattered throughout the teachings are passages which convey what I can only describe as God’s ‘knowledge-given-in-words.’  God the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - has sometimes communicated teachings in whole phrases or sentences as if from Mind to mind, in prayer, and wholly beyond the realm of imagination.  These words are reproduced in lower-case italic type; and whenever such words are shown with speech-marks it is because these particular words were spoken to my soul in prayer in a real though interior conversation, rather than being simply ‘given’ in a way which I’ve tried to explain in the Appendix.


-           A different typeface is used for the major teachings which I have received from God our Father.  Nothing like this appears in the early part of this spiritual autobiography because I hadn’t received teachings of this type during the period from 1957 to 1993.  I have recorded these real but wordless teachings by ‘translating’ them into my words; and I distinguish them from Christ’s own teachings - by the use of a different typeface - only to emphasise God’s generosity.  That the typefaces are different doesn’t indicate that Father and Son are not equal in dignity; and of course we Christians believe that Father, Son and Spirit are One God.  Yet when I’m being taught nowadays, in prayer, I am taught not only a particular spiritual truth; I am also taught which of the Three Divine Persons is at that moment instructing me; and this is why I speak of God’s generosity.  I believe that this is more for the eventual benefit of other people than of myself; and so I’ve made special efforts to record these things as accurately as I can.


-           I must say a few words about the use of a special typeface, from Volume Three onwards, to indicate which are the special teachings of the Holy Spirit.  The method of identification used at first, in Volumes One and Two, to make plain the teachings of Christ and of the Father, was sufficient; and I explained - about the Holy Spirit, and His ‘part’ in these teachings - what I believe to be true: that the whole work is His ‘script’, in the sense that it’s only in the Holy Spirit that we can  pray “in Christ” to our Heavenly Father, or be taught in prayer, or receive good inspirations or moments of ‘illumination’ about the truths of our Faith.  I believe that some of those who know Christ’s Spirit will recognise His signature on what I’ve produced at His prompting, recognising it despite all the flaws and weaknesses; but when I had begun work on Volume Three, I was shown, in prayer, that the time was ripe for me to identify the particular teachings of the Holy Spirit much more plainly; hence my use of italic capital letters.


There were three reasons for my efforts to be obedient in this matter.  First, it was the Will of God; and that was sufficient reason for me; but, also, I’d been shown that the Holy Spirit will be more glorified, if I show out His work in a clearer fashion; and those who read several volumes of this work can receive a ‘picture’ not just of a soul being led by Christ to the Father, but a ‘picture’ or an education - albeit through someone very weak and ignorant - of life lived in a true union with God at the ‘Heart’ of the Most Holy Trinity where the Three Divine Persons are ‘at work’ as They share Their joy and Their knowledge of Themselves not only with One Another within the unity of the Godhead but with someone who has been drawn into that Divine Life.  Now that I’ve been taught something about the ways in which They are ‘at work’, I’ve been shown that it’s both my duty and my privilege to share that knowledge with others, as an encouraging reminder of God’s great love for us.


In response to Christ’s promptings, I’ve tried to show, throughout the whole body of teachings which I’ve recorded so far, that Christ’s teachings are received by me - through His Will - in a different manner from that which is used by the Father; and the Father’s awesome teachings are different from the sudden ‘illuminations’ of the Holy Spirit.  But the difference lies not in the Persons Who, though distinct, share the same Divine nature.  The difference of which I write lies in my perception of the different methods of approach which, I notice, have been adopted by the Divine Persons.  I can only try to explain this by declaring that Christ’s teachings are received with heart-aching tenderness (or grief, as when, long ago, He occasionally rebuked me), whereas the teachings of the Holy Spirit are received with heart-lifting clarity and brightness; and the Father’s teachings are received, it seems to me, (and this is why I have to show the difference, through the use of different typefaces), with an astonishing combination of heart-stopping intimacy with unquestionable power.  It’s my belief that through His differing approaches in prayer God is giving reminders of various aspects of His loving nature, aspects which, when considered all together, might convey something of the astonishing Majesty of the Holy Trinity, whilst also indicating the tender concern of God for every unique soul which He has created: as I shall explain in Chapter 20.


-           Although I had no plans to alter the style of the books, as I began Volume Four, I was shown that each of the teachings in the fourth volume should be prefaced by one of my brief prayers to the Most Holy Trinity or to the Saints.  Only in order to obey Christ, therefore, did I put my sincere but common-place words near His own; but He had shown me that people will be helped if they see how kindly and generous a response we receive from God to our most common-place or even trivial requests, even though nothing in our lives is really trivial in His sight, since He loves us and therefore makes our concerns His own. He can’t be repelled by our foolish preoccupations.  But He explained to me, as well, that those who see the beauty of His Wisdom set beside my modest phrases can see something like the counterpoint which is found in paintings or musical compositions.  His Wisdom can shine out more brightly when His teachings are set beside some of the phrases which reveal so plainly my human weaknesses.  He wants to encourage weak people to put their trust in Him, and to believe in His undying love for each one of them - whatever their problems and however dreadful or merely tedious the circumstances of their lives.


            It’s the Will of God, also, that - through the visible ‘counterpoint’ of His generous answers placed beside my little queries - people are reminded of various ‘aspects’ of His nature.  It’s evident that when He so marvellously replies to my questions, He answers some of them very simply, yet answers others in an ‘oblique’ manner, and thus casts light on some aspect of the subject which I’ve ‘held’ before Him in prayer, yet also gives me knowledge about associated subjects, where a different ‘angle’ or a greater knowledge of things would be beneficial to me.  At other times, for various reasons, His answers have been ‘minimal’, though always loving; and it’s His intention that the ‘demonstration’ through this book of every sort of answer will demonstrate - despite my deficiencies both in understanding and writing - His extraordinary goodness.


-           Some of the teachings appear in a style which might seem, in our day, to be strangely formal.  The reason is that although Christ - Who is true man, and very tender, as I said - is never less than loving and courteous in His dealings with me in prayer, He is never ‘less’ than Risen-and-Glorious: my Incarnate God.  So even His briefest and most personal remarks have  a majesty about them which I can’t convey very well but which I’d entirely fail to suggest, were I to translate His teachings into more ‘colloquial’ language.  Of course, the teachings which I receive from the Father and from the Holy Spirit inspire in me the same degree of awe and astonishment, mixed with gratitude.  Some formality is evident, therefore, in all of the teachings, even when - on various occasions - the teachings have also been intimate and gentle.  [By the way, I’m known to my family and to my childhood friends as ‘Lizzie’; hence Christ’s use of that diminutive - as you will see later on - whenever He speaks my name.]


-           You can see that the numbering system is peculiar.  When the ‘Teachings’ commenced, I was very puzzled and extremely cautious. I had no idea that the first two hundred teachings would be followed by another two thousand and more. I numbered things as well as I could; but by the time I realised how much more efficient I might have been, it was too late to begin again. Hundreds of paintings bore numbers which corresponded with parts of the lengthy text; so the ‘system’, I have decided, must remain as it is.


-           During the early stages of ‘teaching’ I numbered a few incidents in prayer which were private, though I learned later on to record only things which were to be shared with other people.  But this explains the few dozen gaps in the first half of Volume One of the “Teachings-in-prayer”.


-           The illustrations which I mentioned earlier are monochrome reproductions of the images which I have received from Christ in prayer: simple images which for a long time I tried to ignore, but which I’ve realised, at last, have an important place in Christ’s lengthy programme of ‘Teachings-in-prayer’.  That’s why a few of them can be found in each of the volumes of the ‘teachings’; and that’s why, at the end of certain teachings, you will see (WC ....) which means Watercolour, or (WC + OIL ....) whenever I’ve completed the same image in oils, also.


-           The reason why I’ve placed only monochrome illustrations in most of my books is that my blue watercolour sketches reproduce most truly the various images and sights which Christ has graciously shown me in prayer.  Almost everything which I’ve seen with the eyes of my soul has been ‘composed’ of mixed Glory and darkness, and almost never of colour, whether in the background or in the details.  It’s as though colour is something which is admirable, yet earthly and emotional rather than spiritual; and so it’s not something which is needed during moments of ‘Teachings-in-prayer’.  I’ve used colour, later, when I’ve reproduced some of those same images as oil paintings; I’ve done this as an artist who makes legitimate re-workings of a simple original, in order to emphasise aspects of the message implicit within the primary image.  A few of these oils are reproduced in the Appendix; and, as some readers will have seen, I have placed colour reproductions in the book entitled “My priests are sacred”: and it was Christ’s wish that I included so many.


-           Volume One of ‘Teachings-in-Prayer’ is entitled: “SPIRITUAL TRAINING.” It covers the time immediately around conversion, and beyond.  It has a blue cover which signifies the spiritual cloud in which the soul is hidden during its spiritual infancy.


Volume Two of ‘Teachings-in-Prayer’ is entitled: “SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT. It covers the time of painful but sure growth in the spiritual life.  It has a green cover which signifies  the good Food which  the  soul  receives through prayer “in Christ” and through the Sacraments.


Volume Three of ‘Teachings-in-Prayer’ is entitled: “SPIRITUAL WORK.”  It covers the time when the soul experiences a more profound and more fruitful Communion with the Most Holy Trinity.    It has a red cover,  which  signifies  the  fiery  Life and  Light  of the Holy Spirit,  by Whose gifts the soul is drawn into the Work of contemplation.


Volume Four of ‘Teachings-in-Prayer’  is entitled “SPIRITUAL LIFE.”  It covers a time of almost unbroken joy and Light within the soul.  Its  yellow cover signifies the brightness of the Glory into which the soul is drawn as it reaches the ‘heights’ - or ‘depths’ - of the soul’s friendship with God the Father, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit. The new format - of excerpts from what can truly be called conversations between myself and the Three Divine Persons - has been used only in order to obey Christ’s request; and I call this a true dialogue, even though several “voices” take part, because it consists of one human being speaking with the One God: the Holy Trinity.


Volume Five of ‘Teachings-in-Prayer’ is not yet completed, but is entitled “SPIRITUAL PEACE”.  In it, the dialogue continues, as I am reminded of various truths - already known through Christ and His Church - about the life of grace, about Salvation, and about the Holy Trinity: both about God’s Work and God’s Nature.










Normal type is used for Christ’s clear but soundless prayer-time instructions, which I have ‘translated’ into words.

Lower case italic type is used for words which were ‘given’ to my soul by God: by Father, Son or Holy Spirit, although the words were not spoken.  This typeface is used, also, where the words are enclosed in brackets, to indicate some of my own prayers to God.

Lower case ‘italic type with speech marks’ is used for words which were spoken to me by God: either by  Father,  Son or Holy Spirit,  yet which  were  spoken only within my soul, during prayer.

SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS, also, are used after T:1264 #4 for the silent yet powerful teachings which I have received from God our Father.   I have ‘clothed’ these vivid but soundless teachings in my own words - and have placed them at the centre of the page.  Italic type has been inserted wherever - in the same teaching - God’s own words have been received, either ‘given’ or spoken. (See above).

ITALIC CAPITAL LETTERS, also,  are used after T:1750 to show out the specific teachings which I have received from the Holy Spirit.  Such an identification was not requested of me at the time when I was writing Volumes One and Two of “Teachings-in-Prayer”; but it has been the Will of God, from the time of writing Volume Three onwards, that I use this means of providing a clearer ‘picture’ of the work of all Three Divine Persons within the soul, when the soul is more fully ‘immersed’ in God’s Life in the later stages of the contemplative journey.

Bold type is used throughout for teachings which were given to me with especially-great power or glory.











                        “ ... God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

                        Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families?  No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen - those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.  The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become  our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom.  As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.” (1 Co 1:25).









Life, like a river.


Today, I was gazing once again at the waters of the River Cam.  It’s a warm sunny day in Cambridge at the end of September, 1998; and I’m here on a short break, to finish writing this book about my  life: such a peculiar subject which I would never have dreamed of beginning, if Our Lord hadn’t asked me to write a spiritual autobiography.  He’s told me that weak people will be helped by the story of someone weak who has found peace and joy through His love.


The whole of my Catholic life has gone by, as if in a flash, in the time since I stood on this very same bridge at nineteen years old, gazing at the river, but then accompanied by my fiancé and a crowd of friends.  We were posing for a group photograph before dashing off to drink and to dance for hours; and I was happy and puzzled, worried and excited, all at once: living in a haze of uncertainty which was life-without-Christ; and I wouldn’t swap the peace I now enjoy, or my present bliss and fulfilment, for any past worldly health or hope, or strength, agility or youthful radiance. 


My adult life has consisted of  nearly thirty years of struggle and pain - though with many huge and marvellous joys which I can’t describe in this story, which must be primarily about the soul’s spiritual journey, from the beginning until almost the end.  But my present joy is so great that I’m yearning to assure those who will listen to me to put their trust in Christ, and to step out bravely to do His Will no matter what it costs.  There’s no better or safer way of living, and no surer way of pleasing Him and deepening one’s friendship with Him; and it’s in order to obey Christ and to share my story that I’ve begun, tonight, by speaking about a river.


As I leaned on the balustrade once more to look into the darkening water, I saw that my very ordinary life shares something of the water’s mystery.  The river below the bridge has a surface coating of pond-weed which is swept aside by each passing swan, or by the oars of the punts, in summer; and yet the river, in its depths, races swiftly and unhesitatingly in one direction.  My life, like the river, might be judged, at first glance, as being only shallow and sluggish. It is overlaid on the surface with several preoccupations; it is interrupted by strange events and new responsibilities; and yet, in its depths - I trust - it is flowing swiftly and serenely towards the complete union with God in Heaven for which I long.


Shadows and sunlight.


It’s in obedience to Christ, only, that I’m writing about myself; and it will be plain, quite soon, that this examination of spiritual problems and struggles has produced a story which sounds far gloomier, at first glance, than someone else’s glowing account of successful pastoral work, or another person’s lively piece about conferences and travel.  I hope that anyone who perseveres with this book will see, towards the end, something of the Light and Bliss which are God’s gifts to all who try to love Him and who are willing to accept His purifications; but the descriptions of darkness seem to be necessary if I’m to do what Christ wants, which is to describe the traditional path of the spiritual life in its entirety: from childhood, through the ‘Dark Nights’ of the soul, and onwards to the transforming union.


If I say that much of this story is ‘dark’ and sad, the dark patches can be compared with the shadowy areas which I just mentioned in writing about a river.  Caught forever in these depths are wrecks and relics which no-one knows about except those who have shared bits of my life with me - whether family members, friends or priests; and some of the things which are scattered about in the darkness have never been seen by anyone except myself; and I have explored the darkness so thoroughly only because of the Light which God Himself has shone down fiercely in prayer in order to change me and to make me ready to do His work; and this work includes several volumes of ‘Teachings-in-prayer’, as well as this book, and numerous other parts of Our Lord’s whole project. 


The task given to me by Christ, therefore, is not to write much about persons and places but rather to examine the ‘depths’ where prayer begins, just as scientists who study aquatic life-forms begin by exploring the rich mud on the river bottom and not the clear bright water.  I suppose the richest-possible story we could read would be one in which several levels of someone’s life were examined, but this is not that sort of book: apart from a small number of brief ascents to the ‘surface,’ to make the chronology plain.


A very simple examination is required of me, by Christ - as is usually required, I believe, whenever people write about the spiritual journey and the life of the soul.  There just isn’t enough room for an adequate presentation of all the ‘layers’ of this ‘river’ - nor is it necessary to write about them all.  But the mere fact that so much has had to be left out is bound to make the story appear rather gloomier at first than it might otherwise have been.  I suppose that few people would imagine that a river were something to be enjoyed for boating, swimming, washing - or fishing - if they had only seen a film of the areas which lie in near-darkness.


God’s ‘Canticles’.


Having spoken about ‘gloom’, I must say that there’s a great deal here about love: not about my love for God, although that’s included, but primarily about God’s Love for me: and for everyone.  I can’t compare the style or approach, but I can say that the subject is the same as that of Saint John of the Cross, in his “Spiritual Canticles” - though I’ve only come across little extracts.  The Lord, I have to say, has ‘sung’ me His ‘canticles’; and He wants me to record them, and also to reveal my spiritual journey, to make plainer to other people how ‘mad’ with Love He is - for all of us.  He delights in us.  If people really knew what He’s like, they’d refuse Him nothing; yet so many of us have chosen, at times, to be blind, and to fulfil our own ambitions rather than to make the sacrifices which are necessary so that we can allow all that ‘blinds’ us to God’s Love to be torn away.  Only when we are single-minded about God can His Light, beauty and astounding Glory fill our souls and our lives.


It’s true that I haven’t yet reached ‘Home’.  But I hope and pray that God will keep me faithful, and will let me see Him face-to-face one day.  What would be the point of life, without that hope?  Meanwhile, He keeps me close to Him in a way of prayer and conversation which, when I first began to learn about prayer, I had never even dreamed might be achieved on earth; and I’m writing this not to boast about where God has led me, but in order to be obedient to His wishes. 


He wants other people to read the story of a weak and reluctant Catholic Christian so that they will see how faithful and patient He is: never put off by anyone’s sins, but always tender and encouraging.  I know from experience that God truly guides and teaches all who turn to him in sincere prayer; and I’m encouraged by the verses in the Acts of the Apostles which describe the rulers’ astonishment at the activities of Saints Peter and John  “...considering they were uneducated laymen; and they recognised them as associates of Jesus” (Ac 4:13); and that’s all I want to be: not a priest - which is impossible - or a leader, but an “associate of Jesus” (Ac 4:13): someone who spends a lot of time with Him, and who loves to share with others the joy of that friendship; and it’s now, when Christ has invited me to tell this story, that I can share the “GOOD NEWS” of that friendship (Ac 8:25) more widely.


A further request from Christ has been that I place a sequence of little photographs of myself within this book.  That’s why each chapter title is aligned with a snap-shot, despite my reluctance.  By this evidence that this book has been written by a real person, in  a particular place and era, Christ wants to demonstrate that He chose me for this unique work, as He chooses each one of us to do a different task.


It’s not as though Christ sat in Heaven, ready to offer this particular task to the first person He happened to see.  When there’s special work to be done, He’s not like a farmer who asks every passing stranger to come and help with the harvest and to earn some money at the same time.  No, that’s not how He works in times when there are special problems; and it’s because there’s so much loss-of-faith in this era that Christ chose me, taught and trained me, and invited me to put Him first and to undertake this work - a work tailored to my weaknesses - so that people in this place and era can be given a vigorous reminder, through books and paintings, of the eternal truths of the Catholic Faith.



[A personal story.


Except for the very early part of the book, in which I’ve written about a Christian upbringing and about conversion, there’s little information here about my immediate family: about personalities and foibles, and almost nothing about highlights or holidays.  Quite deliberately, I’ve scarcely begun to describe the numerous places where I’ve lived; nor is there much about my friends.


My husband and children are very much alive, for which I thank God; but none of us is entirely free to write about family life or about friendships without considering the thoughts and feelings of the precious people involved.  A particular respect is due between spouses.  No married person should forget that he or she is half of a couple, whether in the present way of life, or in shared memories, or in matters of mutual loyalty on certain topics.  Furthermore, Christian married couples who have experienced the wonder and sense of responsibility which come from having been allowed to ‘create’ and to carry to birth and beyond other human beings have become founders and foundresses, we can say, of little Christian communities of the family; and we who have been so privileged are not free, therefore, to lay bare the details of the lives of the members of our families. All that is good is a cause for gratitude to God; anything not-so-good is already forgiven; and I who write this hope and pray that I’m forgiven, too, for every scrap of pain or bad example.


Aspects of life and society.


There’s very little within these pages about the society in which we live, or about national or international events; nor is there much about social or cultural events, or politics.  But this doesn’t mean that I’ve led a sheltered life, or that I’m not interested in any of these things. I’ve had to concentrate, in these writings, on the highways and byways within the human heart and soul; and it’s not part of God’s plan that I include much material about external matters.


Having said that, I must say very briefly that every good aspect of our earthly life has fascinated me.  So much of what we see in persons or things is either beautiful or intricate, or puzzling or awesome.  I’ve been stunned by the sights and sounds of earth: by beauty in art and nature and music - and also in human hearts; and there’s no denying that we can be led some way towards God through the beauty which He has created. I’m aware, also, that the ways in which we develop spiritually during earthly life are bound up with the ways in which we live, move, suffer, celebrate and ponder, in our bodily lives in a material world; and I know that the tactile and practical ways in which we express love for our neighbour, as we help and console by physical work and gestures as well as by prayer, can have eternal consequences. 


Nevertheless, few of those things are relevant to the telling of this story.  I must deal, here, with my more immediate and direct discoveries about God through thought, and through the gift of faith; and I must say even more about the subject of prayer.  These topics will serve as an introduction to Christ’s instructions, which have been given to me first through His Church and then through His own Person, in prayer.]



God’s invitation.


It seems timely to repeat, here, that only God’s invitation has led me to write about my own life at length, as an introductory volume to several volumes of “Christ’s Instructions.”  Nothing could have made me sit at my desk to write this book except Christ’s explanation that it’s essential to the whole task; but now that I’ve started, I’m aware that some people will ask why on earth this work has been entrusted to me - to a married woman.  Why hasn’t it been given to a priest in our Church, or to a nun, or to a single person in ‘the world’ in a position of influence? 


It is so that someone who is involved in a very ordinary life - the sort of domestic and social life experienced by so many other people - and who has known ‘ordinary’ yet wonderful human love in various forms - as child and as daughter, as wife, as mother, and as friend - can say to every other ‘ordinary’ person: “The Love of God has been shown to me; and I assure you that His Love surpasses, astoundingly, everything that is known in the most fulfilling and joyful good human relationships.   His Love is worth any sacrifice.”  This is something which - the Lord has decided - needed saying by a married person at the end of the twentieth century: in an age when, sad to say, celibacy and religious life are derided and when, therefore, the wise words of celibate monks, priests and nuns are discounted.  But there’s something else to be explained. 


It’s God’s wish that people be shown, through my life, with its mixture of shame and glory, and struggle and fulfilment, that union with God is possible for anyone who will respond to His loving invitation.  It’s possible for those who love the world’s beauty and also for those who are meditative and solitary.  He wants to demonstrate, through me and my weakness, that union with Him is possible for housewives as well as for priests or religious.  It’s possible for those with no advanced education, as well as for the sick, and the lonely, or for those with a thousand pressing tasks to do, and for those whose hours of pain pass by very slowly.


There’s no age at which we’re disqualified from finding God.  No state of health, enemy, place or group can chain us in a Godless darkness, if we are willing  to take the steps which will lead to union: if we are brave enough to abandon ourselves to God’s care, in love and contrition: utterly determined to please Him; and it’s because I want to say more about that sort of abandonment that I’ll now dive deep into the ‘river’, to return to my life’s beginning, and to speak about how I was led steadily towards Christ despite early parental problems, confusion, unhappiness, puzzlement, ill-health and hesitation.  He cannot be defeated; I mean that He cannot be prevented from giving His gifts and joys to someone who is willing to keep looking in His direction and who pleads for His help.



A special date.


If I look back to the very beginning, I can say that the date of my birth has given me more joy in adult life than ever it did when I was a child. 


When I was small, I was told that the twenty-fourth of August was the feast-day of an obscure Apostle called Bartholomew.  But I discovered many years later, with increasing glee and thanksgiving, that August 24th was the date on which one of my heroes had died after all his literary and spiritual labours.  His name was Father Ronald Knox: an author who had cheered me with his “Spiritual Aenaeid”, and with “The Creed in Slow Motion.”  Also, the great Saint Teresa of Avila had founded the first of her reformed monasteries on that day. Even better, it was the date on which the astonishing St. Rose of Lima had entered Heaven; and  I was delighted to realise that the French Bishop, Saint Ouen, whose feast-day is August 24th, was the very Saint whose church I had explored in Rouen when I had wandered around as a lonely adolescent, marvelling at the echoing interior of the church dedicated to his name; and the reason for my delight in these discoveries was that I had entered the Catholic Church, in full Communion, at twenty-five years old.  I was thrilled with all the riches she offered me, treasures which included real friendships with the Saints.


But on August 24th, 1942, I was born in a nursing home near Slough, and then was brought back to Broad Oak Court where there was a two-year-old sister to greet me.  Our parents were devout and hard-working Christians, temporarily separated by war-time duties.  My mother was a Leith from Fifeshire in Scotland; and although she was christened Catherine Isabella she was known first as “Kitty” and then as “Kay”.  My father was a Morley from Rochdale in Yorkshire.  He was baptised Alec - and always regretted not having received what he called a ‘proper’ name.  ‘Alec’ was seen as a pitiful abbreviation.


At the time of my birth my father was somewhere far away, serving with the Royal Corps of Signals, in the British Army; so my mother took me for christening at St Peter’s Anglican Church, Chalvey, within a few weeks of my birth, without him. I was baptised “IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT” (Mt 28:19) on what I would later recognise and celebrate as the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi: on October 4th.  But in infancy - at the pouring of water, with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, and the gift of the names of Pauline and Elizabeth - I was brought into the life and grace of God unaware of my Heavenly friend, and temporarily ignorant of the great gifts that I’d received; but I lived a life of wondering innocence, despite my failings, until later, in a time of prolonged misery, when I carelessly turned away.  This book is the story of that early ‘life of grace’, and of the path along which Christ led me when at last I’d decided to give Him first place in my life.  It’s also about many of the setbacks, failures and torments which I have endured in the course of the journey.


Trust and confusion.


There seem to have been three main dark ‘areas’ or eras of my life.  The first of these was brief.  It lasted from my first memories of faces, places and furniture until the sudden arrival of light and consolation when I was three.


My general impression, from about one or two years old, was of confusion about the various people who looked after me.  It seemed that I was frequently led away from a familiar room to sit and play somewhere else.  I never knew what to expect next, and my mother only appeared in the evenings when I was tired.  I didn’t understand the reason for all this moving about from place to place.


Since I was puzzled and even lonely I was sometimes cross and impatient.  But I never had temper tantrums.  For the first few years, I was trusting and docile, and very affectionate.  I suppose that some longing for warmth must have remained in my heart when I was eased off my mother’s lap by the baby brother who appeared when I was sixteen months old.  It was the absence of any steady pattern of family life, in war-time, that also contributed to my general sense of puzzlement.  My father appeared occasionally, on leave from active service, and then disappeared once more. When I was a toddler, there was no sense of routine.  I blindly followed instructions, learning to accept all that occurred, though doing so with more bewilderment than joy.  In different ways we experienced grief and fear and darkness.  We never knew whether, in an hour’s time, we’d still be playing in the garden, or would be hiding in the chest-of-drawers again because the bombs were falling on the town once more; and every evening was spent huddled in our little kitchen.  The rest of the flat looked utterly forbidding, from that oasis of light.  All of the windows were covered in ‘black-out’ material, and we couldn’t afford to run up large electricity bills.  It must have been gruelling for my mother, coping alone with three lively toddlers in an small flat, with all the sleeplessness and trials brought by childhood diseases, war-time regulations, and sheer loneliness. With very few luxuries, she was struggling to make ends meet on the pay-packet of a private in the British Army. 



A Providential meeting.


Hardship was no novelty to my mother. Both of her parents had died by the time she was sixteen.  To use her own words, she had been ‘devastated’ by the loss.  Also, her life of devout but leisurely gentility with her music-teacher mother had ended.  When she had spent two years living with her sister and their two elderly guardians, and had finished her school studies, she left for St Hild’s College, Durham, where she trained as a teacher.


It was in Durham, when she was staying at a youth hostel near Gilesgate, that my mother had a brief encounter with a person who seemed as lively, strong-minded and high-principled as herself: and as ready to share a joke: the man who would be my father.  And when, by Providence, they were unexpectedly brought together again in the Lake District, on holiday, after a six-month gap, they were overjoyed.  They married in 1936, and moved ‘down South’ to begin what they both hoped would be a better and more prosperous life.  My mother was twenty-one years old, and my father five years older.  When they were eventually able to buy a little house of their own, they named it “Gilesgate.”


My father, too, had trained as a primary school teacher, and had managed to find work in Aylesbury before their wedding.  My mother resigned her teaching post on marrying, to become an adventurous housewife.  She learned about cooking and entertaining; and the pair of them enjoyed the company of French friends at a southern seaside resort in the long, hot holidays each summer.


From what I was to hear later on, they were very happy during the first three or four years of married life.  She was a fervent Anglican and he a devout “Quaker”, each tolerating and visiting the other’s place of worship.  Or perhaps ‘tolerate’ is too mild a word.  They were very strongly bound together by their trust in God and in Holy Scripture. I learned from my mother that in early married life they had embarked on a six-month residential training course, expecting to be posted as teachers to a Quaker school in Madagascar.  My father reminded me on many occasions that I might have been born there, instead of England.  For fun, he used to call me not just “skinny Lizzie”, but “my Malagassy lassie!”


But there was something sad connected with that episode.  What he didn’t tell me but what I learned much later on was that before the course had ended, it was gently put to my father that he wouldn’t be quite suitable.  Whether the reasons were to do with education or social standing, or with my mother’s unwillingness to leave the Church of England to join the Society of Friends, I can’t be sure; but although my parents were disappointed, they didn’t let their sadness diminish their faith.  My mother’s missionary instincts were not to be frustrated. She became vigorously involved in Anglican church life in the town where she was to spend much of her life.  She also demonstrated her commitment by teaching Religious Education for many years at the Secondary Modern School where she was first a form-teacher, then deputy head-teacher,  during  the nineteen-fifties and  sixties; and during  the same era, my  father  was promoted, to become head-master of a little Church primary school; then he trained enthusiastically in his spare time to become a lay-reader in the Church of England.  I remember him making a new wooden box for his preaching expeditions. 


He used to fill it very carefully with his new surplice and stole, with his bible and prayerbook. and other items.  He was thrilled by his additional qualification. Once a week, he set off to preach a sermon in one of the tiny villages which could no longer support a resident vicar.



Defence of the family.


To return to the nineteen-thirties, my parents enjoyed only three years of normal married life before the sudden and horrifying approach of ‘World War Two’ brought turmoil to the whole nation.  In the last days of August, 1939, they were in the South of France, visiting friends; and then they made their way back to England unaware of the narrowness of their escape from a country whose approaching conquerors were trying to extinguish Christian civilisation.


My father didn’t remain a teacher for much longer. As a ‘Quaker’ he had supported the pacifist movement sincerely until the moment when Britain was threatened by a Nazi invasion. Then he became convinced that it was his Christian duty to defend his wife and baby.  He decided, too, that he couldn’t stand aside and let another man “do his fighting for him,” should Nazi tanks roll Northward from English Channel ports.  He believed that plain evil shouldn’t go unchallenged.


Within a year or two he was a soldier in the ‘Royal Signals,’ far from home, although allowed back on leave a few times during a five-year campaign: hence my own birth in 1942 and that of my brother in 1944.  But those years brought him more than the noise of battle. During a time of quiet endurance in the North of Scotland, long before the Normandy landings in which he would play his part, his musings on duty and Church led him prepare for Confirmation and so for communicant status in the Church of England; and when he returned home on leave and told my mother his news, it was greeted with delight.


From what I’ve heard, my mother coped very bravely without him.  It was during the war, and before any of us was born, that good school positions became available because so many male teachers had left to join the Armed services.  Married women were delighted to fill the vacant posts; and my mother seized the opportunity to use her training: determined to keep on teaching even after she became a mother. 



A sense of order.


My mother so enjoyed her work, and the company of fellow-teachers, that she left my elder sister and me - and then our new young brother - in the care of various neighbours during the day.  We were sometimes unhappy, although my mother wasn’t unaware of it at the time; but we were too young to make comparisons.  Moulded by circumstance, we became very stoical and adaptable, accepting it as normal that our mother had a full-time job.


­­­­­­­­­Our way of life changed dramatically, however, when our father returned home to stay.  Life in our flat was wonderfully transformed by his breezy affection, imaginative ideas and sense of order.  I was three years old when he arrived as a strange soldier at the front door.  I remember the very moment of his arrival.  As he scooped me up for a big hug, I felt his moustache tickling my face and his uniform jacket scratching my arms; and I wondered who on earth was this man who acted as though he knew me, when I thought he was a complete stranger.


In only a few hours, I was thrilled to have someone in our home who was so generous and amusing.  He was very strict about good manners and telling the truth, and about doing one’s chores before amusing oneself; but I didn’t mind a bit.


Things were rather different for my mother, of course.  I learned in later years how difficult it had been for her to re-adjust to a normal family life.  She had grown used to making all the important decisions during my father’s absence; and he had been conditioned by war both to give and to demand instant and absolute obedience: something easy for a child to adapt to, but not for an independent-minded wife.


He was a good, generous-hearted man, trained in a hard school, who expected others to embrace life and its toil with the same fortitude and single-mindedness.  During the past year he had jumped off a landing-craft on “D-day  plus one” to help in the liberation of France.  In addition, he had entered the camp at Belsen only twenty-four hours after the gates were opened to the liberators.  His force was part of the ‘clean-up’ squad.  Never in my life did he speak about what he saw there; his tears told me.  But it was partly because he had witnessed and endured so many horrors during the war that he found it hard in later years to be patient with people who were hesitant or complaining as they faced lesser trials.


I saw him weep only twice in my life: once when I, the first of his daughters to ‘leave’ him, was ready for my wedding service, and once - only a year or two earlier - when we had heard a radio programme about the war.  My father had sat listening in silence as tears poured down his cheeks.  We longed to know what was troubling him, but he didn’t utter a word.



A different flat.


Just before my father’s re-appearance in 1945, we had moved a few yards along the road to a downstairs flat. A short path led from our new home to a small back garden, where we could sometimes help with the weeding and play with our friends. Until then, we had been forbidden to run outside.  Air-raid shelters - vast holes in the ground - had been constructed in the grassy space between our flats and the main road; and so we had rarely played outside unsupervised.  Our flat was dark and unattractive, and it grew even more crowded every few months, when our only living grandparent came to stay.  She was confined by illness to a bed in a dark back room.  My mother took care of her to relieve her sister-in-law who cared for her day after day in Reading.  But that’s why we were thrilled by our new freedom to go outdoors.


As I shall tell, we had very few relatives; but those we had were valued.  For example, we left home each Sunday morning throughout my young childhood to drive to church, but would rarely return before three o’clock, or even later.  When the church service was over, we children were taken to Reading, then were left to amuse ourselves by playing outside.  My parents spent the time visiting Granny, no matter how tired they were; and what good lessons we learned, by example.  Those were outwardly fruitless visits to someone barely able to speak; but they were part of the warp and woof of a faithful family life: simple duties to be undertaken without excuses or complaint.


A Catholic school.


Soon after my father’s return from abroad, and when I was still three years old, I was greeting a further new experience not with delight but with howls of fear.  I remember the short walk across the grass on the day when my mother took me to St Anthony’s school, a mere hundred yards away from our flat, for my first full day in a nursery-class. 


The peace and order which I experienced there were so far beyond my experience that they were rather unnerving.  But I grew to cherish the atmosphere of calm and safety.  None of the staff was ever hurried or angry.  The lessons and the afternoon naps delighted me, although some uneasiness persisted in the playground.  For a reason unknown to me, we were made to feel that we didn’t belong.  My later discovery that St. Anthony’s was a Catholic school brought no enlightenment; I didn’t know the meaning of the different religious labels.  My Anglican mother had been welcomed there, on her return to infant-teaching; and of course it made sense for her to have her own children taught in the same establishment.  My father would never have chosen a Catholic school; but he was away when the decision was made.  My mother had learned to make her own decisions, as I mentioned earlier, as she coped alone during the course of the war.



God and His Creation.


The pattern of life had improved by the time I was four or five years old.  My most vivid memory of that time is of the large crucifix on the wall of the school Assembly Room.  I used to look at the figure on the Cross - far above my head - as I wondered to myself who He was, and why He was there.  I was untroubled by the sight, because He had a peaceful face; but I  loved to learn more about Him from our teachers.  Everything I heard about Him in class seemed reasonable as well as exciting; and for a little while longer I found some similarity between what I was told about Christianity at school and what I learned about it at home and at church.


Church-going was central to my parent’s life, so we three children were shepherded, weekly, to St. Peter’s Anglican Church where we had each been baptised.  Children were made thoroughly welcome; I remember being fascinated by the coloured Gospel pictures on the stamps which were handed out to us each week.  It was thrilling for me to stick them in a book of my very own.


During that time, my great delight in church-going stemmed not only from the stamps, but also from enjoyment of the lavish breakfasts provided for the whole congregation after each Communion Service. This was in the days when food was severely rationed; and the  generosity of those who made us welcome led me gradually to relax and observe, and pray.  Everything to do with God proved interesting to me, and I was happy to kneel in prayer, to sing hymns or to watch the people around me.  It was impossible to be bored, since I had a strong and fascinated belief, even at that age, in God.


The notion of God as our Creator seemed self-evident, because of the wonders of nature.  Birds, leaves, cloudy skies - even worms, bees and snails fascinated me; and new marvels could be seen each time we were taken for a walk along the leafy roads near Farnham Royal.  I was amazed by all that God had made.


A special name.


It seemed as though I had a special connection to God through my own name, as well as through the natural world, and through my prayers in church.  My mother had said, when I was young, not that ‘Elizabeth’ was a Saint’s name, but that it was a Bible name which meant “Beloved of God”; and that delighted me.  I wasn’t as happy with my second name, Pauline, which I associated for several years with a book called “The perils of Pauline.”  It was a name more suitable, I thought later, for rich girls in gymslips who played lacrosse, and who always had neat clothes and shiny hair.  But when Saint Paul became my favourite Saint, after Our Blessed Lady, I was more than content to have the feminised version of his name.


Looking for truth.


As firmly as I believed in God, at five years old, I refused to believe in some of the other things which people spoke about from time to time. I couldn’t persuade myself to believe in fairies, or Father Christmas, whatever other people said.  There was no proof - and I had no power of invention.  One year, when I was about five, I kept myself awake after hanging up my Christmas stocking, determined  to prove to myself that the gift-giver wasn’t a mythical “Santa”, but was my own father.  I succeeded, and felt very gratified by my experiment.  Knowing the truth was more important than allowing myself to slide into pleasurable fantasies based on falsehood.


It seemed extraordinary to me in later years that some children cherish ‘imaginary’ friends. I was taught so firmly in childhood to distinguish between fact and fancy, and all lying was regarded by my parents with such utter horror, that I was quite unable to ‘invent’ anything at all.


One great blessing which arose from that ruthlessness was that I can’t recall ever having been frightened by ‘the dark’, or by “the Supernatural” as it was commonly portrayed in comic books or advertisements.  I knew that God is invisible, but I accepted that fact happily.  I also learned that He is all-powerful; and my faith in that truth was so great that I never worried about ghosts or goblins, nor about other creatures who were rumoured to interfere with our lives.  My parents and teachers told me boldly that God is Good; and it seemed to me that the “God” whose existence I accepted so easily had distributed plenty of evidence of His Beauty and Intelligence.  Furthermore, the concept of God as some sort of judge seemed logical, since I understood even before I was seven the difference between right and wrong.  My conscience was at work: very well-formed by my mother and father.



Quarrels about truth.


In that secure and contented time of my life, there was only one cause of real alarm. I encountered jovial scorn whenever I repeated at home certain truths put forward at the Catholic primary school.  I was full of questions, as many children are; but the answers were contradictory.  Home and school authorities disagreed.  Most of our queries at home - whether about God or Creation - were welcomed, and answered; yet if ever I spoke at home of what I had learned at school about the Pope being the successor of Saint Peter, to whom Jesus had given “THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN” (Mt 16:19), or about the Blessed Virgin Mary, I was told that my teachers were wrong and that I’d been misled.  This was distressing for me, for a simple reason; and I didn’t even consider that my feelings had been hurt. I wanted truth, even at that age.  It seemed astonishing to me that I’d been sent to a school where un-truths were taught; and I wondered why my parents had permitted this, if truth - as they insisted, at home - were paramount.


On a few subjects, parents and teachers were in agreement.  For example, in further lessons at school, I learned more about the soul, and how it can become “stained by sin”.  This truth seemed obvious to me, and my parents didn’t disagree.  I wasn’t quite sure where my soul was, but various adults said quite firmly that it lay “within”.  I pictured it, briefly, as a large, round, white object lying somewhere in the region of my stomach.  I supposed that it became ‘spotted’ here and there whenever I was rude or selfish, but that it was restored to its pristine whiteness by some marvellous invisible action of God, whenever I was ‘sorry’. The knowledge didn’t upset me; far from it.  It made me happy because I believed in the essential truth of this process.  It seemed logical, and it harmonised with the way I felt about wrong-doing, whether or not I was found out or criticised.  My ‘soul’ or conscience felt ‘spotted’ if ever I was unkind or greedy, even if no-one else knew about it; and whenever I said ‘sorry’, I was forgiven, and felt better; and since my parents didn’t harbour grudges, I received wonderful lessons in the beauty of repentance and reconciliation.


In every aspect of life, I wanted to know the truth about things, and to reach to the heart of each mystery. I asked ‘Why?, How?, Where?’ and ‘When?’, not just about spiritual teachings but about the working of the gadgets on my father’s carpentry bench: indeed, about everything which I couldn’t work out for myself.  My sometimes careless investigations seemed to bring me nothing but trouble.


A symbol of their love.


When I was four or five, I was given a doll by my parents, at Christmas.  It wasn’t a rag doll, but a proper doll, with a moulded face and  limbs.  It even had a beautiful nylon hair-do, and I was pleased and very grateful.  It was a total surprise to me.  Children like us didn’t make lists of things we required.


Only much later did I realise that such gifts were not only unusual but expensive, so recently had the war ended.  The gift delighted me because it was beautiful and had moving parts. I had no desire to cuddle it, since it wasn’t soft and warm like my old knitted Teddy; but what I marvelled at most were the eyelids which opened and closed, and the lashes which stood out in a stiff fringe around each perfect glass eye.


Alas, I forgot my manners.  After a brief and delighted “Thankyou!,” I looked at the doll closely, but failed to do the expected thing.  Kneeling on the floor, I began to take the doll apart, fascinated by how it had been fitted together.  Immediately, I was roundly condemned for what was seen as vandalism, but which was truly - although I could hardly have pronounced the words - an act of scientific enquiry.  When I protested that I’d only wanted to see how it was made, I was told how much it had cost and how thoughtless I was.  Alas, I’d been careless.  First, I hadn’t behaved as little girls were expected to behave; and - much worse - I’d failed to see the doll as a symbol of my parents’ love. I’d treated it merely as an object, just as I treated my brother’s construction set:  the ‘Meccano’ which kept us busy for hours, and which I preferred to girlish things like miniature tea sets or embroidery hoops.



Security and joy.


After two years spent in the nursery, and a year or two in the primary school, in Slough, I was very pleased when we were asked by our father if we would like to leave in order to attend a school in Amersham, many miles away, to which he had just been appointed as Head.  With great excitement we accepted his offer, even after learning that for many months we’d have to travel a long way each morning and afternoon, the five of us crammed into a little car: five, because my mother would come with us as well, for part of each journey.  She was to be dropped off daily at the village school to which she had recently been appointed as Head; and we’d collect her on our way home.


Our father organised the daily departure with military efficiency.  But it was wonderful to be with him and none of us complained.  When, eventually, we moved to a council  house three miles away from the new school, we attended the local Anglican Church and made new friends.  My father’s new post was in a “Church of England Mixed Infants School”, called St. Mary’s.  We had strict instructions to call him “Sir,” not “Daddy”, between nine o’clock and three-thirty, in an attempt to spare us being teased as “teacher’s kids.”


Sad to say, future punishments were more severe than those meted out to other children, who might occasionally experience lenient judgements; but my father dared not act “soft” with us, he later explained, in case what might have been seen as favouritism should cause discipline to be eroded.


For at least one year, he was my class-teacher as well as my Headmaster.  I found out first-hand that he was a gifted teacher.  Every subject was brought alive by his enthusiastic explanations.  He knew his subjects and had a fund of fascinating stories.  After giving a vigorous explanation of some science problem or history theory he was able to bring things alive with home-made visual aids.  He could draw and make models, effortlessly, with any bits of available material, doubtless helped by his years of ‘make do and mend’ in war-time army camps; and his crisp and comprehensive diagrams clarified Old Testament history so marvellously that I was sad when each lesson ended.


Childhood impressions.


When I was a child, I heard my parents speak reverently of “THE WORD OF GOD” (Lk 5:1) or of ‘The Bible’ through which, I was informed, God spoke to us.  But despite all that I was taught, I didn’t understand how God could ‘speak’ to us through a large, dusty black book which was too heavy for a child like myself even to lift onto a table from the bookshelves.  However, for a few years, I listened to my elders and betters, very puzzled about all sorts of things, but interested in God and in Creation.  I was happy to believe that others knew much more than I did, and that every mystery would be fully explained one day; and so I enjoyed the lessons from my father in which the Bible was explained to some degree.  We were told, in simple words, how God had revealed himself to the Jewish people, long ago, and how He had prepared them for the coming of Christ.


It made me very happy to listen to Old Testament stories, and to draw pictures in my exercise book, as instructed, and to copy lists of Israelite Kings or Prophets.  Most eight-year-olds enjoy drawing and painting. But the New Testament presented me with problems.  I remember wondering exactly who Christ was.  How could He be the “SON OF MAN” (Mk 10:33) and also the “Son of God” (Mt 14:33); and why should a person be called ‘The Word’?


My other cause of mild distress was the archaic phrasing of our King James version of the Bible.  I was never happy, trying to read large chunks of text.  Middle-aged people said it was beautiful; but it sounded merely obscure to me.  Later, in my ‘teens’, when I began to prefer everything ‘modern’, and when my heroes were not just Matthew Arnold and Rupert Brooke but Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly, things were even worse; I became thoroughly repelled by what I had decided was merely quaint and old-fashioned.  There seemed to be no place for those ancient texts in my anguished adolescent life in a non-religious state school.


Thoroughly happy.


From the ages of seven to eleven, however, in the junior school, life was wonderfully fulfilling. I was never bored, and was rarely frightened.  My stutter disappeared.  All that had made me feel an outsider at the Catholic School was forgotten, as I went gladly to my class each morning, happy to be amongst friendly people and thrilled to have so much to do and to learn. I didn’t realise that - through the weekly religious instruction, with visits to the Parish Church of St Mary’s - we were all being led firmly along the Anglican path, away from the ‘Roman’ influence which my father deplored.  Meanwhile, all the activities at the school thrilled me. 


I accepted the peculiar lunches, which were kept warm for hours before their delivery at school in huge metal containers.  The strict discipline, the outside lavatories, and the teeth-chattering play-times in winter when the wind swept over the fields behind the school: these were already part of our daily life. But the school building was small and cosy. I loved the work and the busy jolly atmosphere.  I was never half-hearted or idle, and took for granted the little successes which came with my new security and happiness.  Even the punishments were an accepted part of normal life: silently endured, since I was determined that I wouldn’t give further satisfaction to the punisher by weeping, but soon over and forgotten.


A deliberate sin.


During that period of my life I can remember only once being truly unhappy; I don’t mean that I didn’t experience pain or teasing.  These, with cold weather and other trials weren’t a worry.  Once, and once only, during that time, I was weighed down - and for the first time - by an uneasy conscience.


Thirty years later I was to describe to my elderly father an incident in the recreation ground opposite our school where we children had been allowed to play each day, supervised by a teacher.  I confessed that one lunchtime I had grown impatient of queuing half-way up the steps on the children’s slide.  Deciding to bypass the queue, I jumped over the hand-rail; and  although I was normally agile, I tripped and fell onto the concrete paving, breaking my arm.  I wasn’t upset by the injury but by its aftermath.  I was so desperate to avoid punishment for my silliness and impatience that when I was questioned by a teacher about the fall I claimed that I’d been pushed.  It was my first deliberate sin and I was seven years old.


I knew I’d done wrong, not just because my parents had always praised us for being truthful, but because the whole issue was so obviously ‘black and white’.  Any lie is, by definition, an un-truth, against Truth: a misuse of mind, heart and tongue. I couldn’t have explained it, but it was written in my bones.


What I said was: “Someone pushed me.”  As soon as the words were out, I was appalled at myself.  I didn’t know how to put things right, feeling too cowardly to face the consequences of a confession.  Broken arm or not, I would have been punished.  So I kept silent, and the incident was eventually forgotten by everyone else, though so strong was my sense of alienation from God, Whom I now know to be perfect Goodness and Truth, that I’ve been scrupulously careful about telling the truth, ever since.


At least the experience of a private tussling with conscience was to lead to renewed efforts to be straightforward and good; but what appalled me at the time was that by that single act - and without exaggeration - it seemed as though a door had opened, inviting me into another world.  It was a place where, alas, in future years, I would see that lying can be seen as normal, as is every sort of sin, for those who live in the grim slavery of rebellion against God and against His loving laws, a slavery which always masquerades as “choice”.


By the time the plaster was removed from my arm, or within a few months, my parents found a house within reach of all our schools.  They informed us that our long journeys from Slough to Amersham would soon be unnecessary.



Village life.


My father’s school - St. Mary’s - was in Old Amersham; and high on a hill above us, in New Amersham, was the Anglican Church of St. Michael and All Angels, which was favoured by my mother for its “high” churchmanship.  We remained faithful to that congregation for the next decade and more. The only place of worship close by our new home was a Congregational Church.  My parents explained that it wasn’t like the Anglican Church, in which we had a hierarchy of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

From the edge of Slough we had ‘graduated’ to a pretty country village called Hyde Heath, only three miles from Amersham; and there we took joyful possession of a spacious ‘semi’, which was newly-built on a small leafy Council Estate, amongst high-hedged lanes.  We thought the whole experience Heavenly: with plenty of space, and our own path to the front door - and a front garden.  In and around our new home, soon after the move, I was almost overwhelmed with joy at all my new discoveries.


We children explored the village common, then the nearby farm, and, not much further away, a little wood beside a railway line, where we’d soon be leaping almost daily onto the footbridge, to cling to the guard-rails and to shriek with exhilaration as each steam-engine thundered past beneath us.  Never before in my seven years of childhood had I been able to run about freely without worrying about traffic; and I was fascinated by everything to do with country life.




During our first two or three years in the Council house, while we were still small, we were driven to school each day in our ‘new’ car, a little “Morris 8” which my father had bought so that he and my mother could arrive punctually and dry-shod at their respective schools, each day in term-time.  But as we children grew older, we frequently walked the six miles from village to town and back.  I was energetic, healthy and adventurous; and for a few years more, I was contented and obedient in class and at home, indeed, I was so happy that I can say about that period of my life that it was idyllic - on both the natural and the supernatural plane.  All was peaceful within my soul, because I had a clear conscience, since I was never aware of deliberately doing wrong, although I had innumerable faults, such as impatience, and was very thoughtless about the needs and worries of other people; and in everyday home life, I felt secure. 


The framework of our lives meant that there was usually someone to turn to in little crises.  Some of our friends had stay-at-home mothers who would always welcome me with a smile and a kind word - or an offer of a sandwich.  There were always new and exciting things to do in one’s free time - and a whole horde of friends to play with.  I used to work hard at school, and also when school was over: tearing through the chores-of-the-day which were listed on a notice board inside the kitchen door.  None of us dared to start playing before the work was done.  But eventually, I’d be free to play outside whatever the weather and to explore the country-side with friends: and everything I saw outdoors entranced me.


During each passing year, I was thrilled by the seasons, and by all the wonders I could see in the lanes and fields which surrounded our village, whether I was looking at horse-chestnut trees with “sticky-buds”, at little birds in spring, or at hedges covered with soft white veils of “old man’s beard”.  We could have told any questioner excitedly of the nuts and berries which appeared on hedges and low branches at different times of the year.  We knew when the coots were nesting on the pond, which chick would hatch first amongst the birds in the garden, and what sound a hedgehog made as it plodded round the house at dusk, its quills covered with dead leaves which brushed against the wall.


When I watched migrating birds flying in formation I was astounded by their beauty and precision.  As for summer sunsets, and intricate ice-patterns on our windows in winter, spiders’ webs, and ripples on the village pond: when I wasn’t marvelling at these things and at many others, or working, I was racing through woodlands with a gang of friends.  We collected items of interest for our ‘nature museum’.  We climbed all the tall trees on the common, and played ‘hares and hounds’, rushing across the dry grass in the summer holidays, taking turns at being the hunter or the hunted.


On a more practical level, my store of country-lore was tested and enlarged in the village hall, in the Brownie pack, and, later, in the village Girl Guide troop, when young Guides still cooked soggy pastry on camp-fires and learned how to send semaphore messages with flags.


An August heat-wave.


On three occasions in that time of great joy, when I was still at primary school, I was taken away to a summer camp: twice with a group from our school, and once with the Girl Guides. I remember the pleasure of walking in the dewy grass at five or six o’clock in the morning.  We went swimming, just before the ‘polio’ epidemic, in the river which meandered through the field where our tents were pitched.  All of this incredible pleasure was to be renewed in my heart several years later when I discovered Wordsworth and the nature poets.  They described so perfectly the pure, glad wonder I felt in the freshness of the early morning air, and described what I had sensed: the Presence of God gracefully infiltrating His creation.


Each day took me tumbling through a succession of joys, each delivered like a blow to eyes or ears or heart; and the sight of a dewy spider’s web, or a sudden flight of birds, would distract me from any activity or conversation.  As an untrained puppy darts off towards every sudden-appearing delight, I darted, temporarily undisciplined, towards wonder upon wonder.  Several times each summer I’d be lying in the dry, pale yellow grass at the height of the August heat-wave, gazing up, first, to the astonishing turquoise of the sky, then looking down  to the ever-present little insects which were making their way up and down grass-stalks or crawling across my little hand; and my heart would be aching with wonder at it all: almost bursting with longing to tell someone about my wonder or to thank Someone for the beauty.  This was a true, spontaneous instinct for worship; yet it didn’t occur to me to pray out-of-doors.  Prayers were something that people recited at bed-time, to the invisible Law-giver; or they were offered up in church by a respectful and properly-garbed minister. 


It didn’t occur to me that God would delight in hearing my expressions of delight in His creation.  I was sure I was far too unimportant to be of much interest to Someone so grand.  Yes, I’d heard that Jesus died for us because He loves us, but I had no notion of what it really meant.





It seems right to interrupt my reflections with a declaration that in these early years I enjoyed many other gifts and blessings which were quite unrecognised by me.  As I’ve thought  about how predictable and therefore how stable was our usual family routine, I’ve begun to appreciate my good fortune at having parents who remained married, and who set me a great example of obedience to God’s laws and of loving concern for one’s neighbour, though I didn’t appreciate the fact for many years.  Despite their very different temperaments they remained loyal to each other until death parted them, forty-four years after their marriage.  For much of their lives they differed earnestly on various aspects of religion, yet set a tremendous example both to neighbours and children by the simple goodness of their Christian lives. 


During my first eighteen years on earth, truthfulness was like a steel thread woven through the fabric of our family routine.  It was a thread so fine that I barely noticed it, yet so strong that it supported all the other ‘threads’ if ever they were under strain.


Something else I took for granted was that we generally had neighbours who were friendly and kind. In our society, then, people could be relied on to keep their word.  Nobody was seen to sulk for hours, or to leave work for others to do.  Discipline was strict, in all the homes we knew; and we were expected to be cheerful and punctual; but the various rules and regulations gave much security.


It was taken for granted that everyone who was well would be employed in some way: some in paid work and others working for the church in voluntary organisations.  It was an age in which it was easy to find employment, but also an age when the people we knew wouldn’t have been content to be idle: job or no job; and so we children were never surprised to be given work to do; and we expected to leave home to earn a living for ourselves, not to stay at home supported for a moment more than was necessary.  It was also taken for granted that we could draw encouragement from our Christian beliefs in order to behave dutifully and unselfishly to everyone around us; and so the whole community shared the same outlook, tried to be neighbourly and provided some “RICH SOIL” (Lk 8:8) in which good influences could take root.



An ‘Anglo-Catholic’ parish.


For a few years I was co-operative at home and prayerful in church, glad to join in the activities which were suitable for a youngster.  I believed in God, as I said, and relished the external joys of Christmas time, especially the fun of acting in the Parish Nativity Play. I was tremendously moved by our lovely hymns, and by the sad ceremonies of Holy Week.  Each year, we looked forward to gazing at the Easter Garden, with its mysterious cave, which the vicar had created during Lent and had placed on a table set against one of the side walls in church.


There was an impressive santuary lamp in church; but the most exciting feature, for me, was the newly-installed reredos behind the altar.  It was deep blue, and was patterned by a stylised ‘Tree of Jesse’, in gold; and the little tree-trunk at the centre bore an image of the crucified Christ.


Every Christian sign or symbol helped me to learn something more about the Christian Faith - and also about reverence and about communal worship, in that soothing prayerful place.  I loved the picture of the “Virgin Mary” embroidered on the Mother’s Union banner which was prominently displayed in the sanctuary; but it puzzled me.  I wondered why these women should be proud of a picture of Mary if what my father had said was true: that we had been freed, three hundred years ago, from Catholic superstition.  I had no idea that ours was an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ parish. 

The pictures which were scattered around the church were fascinating.  At home, I could find Bible illustrations, as well, and a few reproductions of paintings by Margaret Tarrant or Holman Hunt.  Then one day I saw a wonderful image of Christ’s Face; I spotted a “Sacred Heart” picture, when I visited a neighbour’s house, on our new estate.  On seeing my interest, she gave me the badge.  It had a label which read “The Apostleship of the Sea”, which meant nothing to me then; but the picture became my greatest treasure, even though I wasn’t sure exactly Who was on it, or why He was pointing to His Heart. 


My mother was greatly encouraged at seeing my interest, and imagined I was very devout.  She bought a small luminous crucifix for my bedroom wall.  That was precious, too - but mostly because we had few personal possessions; I was thrilled by gifts of any kind.


Prayer to “Our Lady”.


One of our friendly neighbours spoke very confidently about the holy pictures in her house and about the truths of her Catholic Faith.  She was quite matter-of-fact about it all and seemed dumbfounded by my ignorance about certain feast-days and Saints.  She explained something about “prayer to Our Lady” and said that the Blessed Virgin had sometimes appeared on earth, and had even worked miracles through pictures and statues.


Eventually, when I was about ten years old, I put on my bedroom wall a picture of the “Blessed Virgin” - a gaudy thing made of blue and silver tin-foil which I’d probably found in one of our local jumble-sales.  I stared hard at it, once, for about two full minutes - but was quite unable to persuade myself that the “Blessed Virgin” had moved, or had spoken to me; so I moved on to the next task quite unconcerned.  That was the first and last time in my life that I half-hoped to see a vision.  I assumed that if ever she had come down from Heaven, Mary had appeared only to Catholics, which seemed logical. I’ve learned that many Anglicans revere Our Lady: but amongst my own family, I only heard her described as a long-departed holy woman who, though once important, had fulfilled her task nearly two thousand years before, and had been buried in some unknown grave, and was no longer of much interest.


When I became a Catholic, later on, it didn’t occur to me to hope for ‘favours’ or apparitions.  As soon as I’d committed myself to regular prayer, I was content to accept - in prayer - whatever God chose to give me: whether darkness or light: His Presence or His apparent absence.  His Will alone counted.  By then, I knew so much about my own sinfulness that I was content to rejoice in the appearances of the Mother of God to her dear Bernadette and Catherine - and to Lucy, at Fatima - who, unlike me, had been patient and good.



Christian family life.


Despite  my genuine ignorance in childhood about many Catholic teachings which I now know to be enormously important I can see what a great grace it was that I was educated in my early years in a firm Christian tradition, and that I spent a few years experiencing Christian family life.  Despite failures, we were shown that we ought to attempt to care for one another, not only in routine work, but in feasts and festivals too. Although some aspects of life were strange or downright sad, an attempt was made to live in harmony.  Sunday lunch together was important, despite the squabbles and the food rationing. We sat together round the table, supervised with strict discipline, sharing our news and opinions for half-an-hour, grievances usually suspended.  Also, worship as a family was regarded as a normal event.  We had no tradition of praying together at home, beyond a brief recital of ‘grace’ before our Sunday meal.  But in our parish church we were welcomed by worshippers of all ages; so I looked forward to the weekly Holy Communion, and to the social events, especially the jumble sales which provided the treasures we could neither make for ourselves nor afford to buy at the shops.


We all spent a lot of time in church, because of choir practices as well as other events. It was through twice-weekly practices and regular singing at the Eucharist in the Church choir that I learned psalms, hymns and beautiful prayers - and was grateful for the few extra pence earned at weddings.  We misbehaved a great deal, and played the fool, but it was wonderful to be able to follow the seasons of the church, and to celebrate glorious feasts year by year.  I liked Christmas and Easter, each for its own mysterious holiness, and for the traditions and festivities.  But the Feast of the Holy Trinity fascinated me above all, as I considered the great Mystery in quiet puzzlement and wonder.  Even as a child, I was happy to sit still and think about the Godhead.  I was content to believe in Something or Someone too grand and glorious for a mere human mind to comprehend.



Disappointment and distance.


Obediently following my parents in the Anglican way, in both worship and Confirmation, I understood little, but was happy - for a few years - dutifully trying to believe that others knew much more than I did.  Yet when rebellion came, it wasn’t puberty which fuelled it, primarily; nor was ‘religion’ pushed aside by time-consuming hobbies.  It was thinking that unsettled me, or, rather, not thoughts, but unsatisfactory answers to the questions I framed, after thinking. But before that turmoil arose I was confirmed as an Anglican in the church of St. Mary’s, which was intimately linked with the Church-of-England Primary School in which we’d attended Confirmation classes.


After listening to weeks of instruction in preparation for my Confirmation, I was ashamed of myself when I felt no surge of power from the Holy Spirit during the solemn ceremony; after all, we had been told that God would be with us even “more strongly”.  I assumed that God was displeased with me for being distracted at the very moment that the Bishop laid his hands on my head.  My mind had been full of half-a-dozen things at once, as usual: thinking where to go, what to do, and - longing for a familiar face - looking at the choir stalls to see if my friend David was looking in my direction.


At only eleven years old, and puzzled at what seemed like a ‘non-event’, I accepted disappointment and distance as the essence of my relationship with “Almighty God”.  So many times, I seemed to fail. I’d been frequently assured that He is an ever-watchful guide and that a stern morality is the “Way” (Mt 3:3); and so I couldn’t see how He could possibly be pleased with someone like myself who was impulsive and impatient.  I had no idea how one could grow close to Him, if one were so very imperfect.  Heaven seemed a long way off, as if at the end of an incredibly-long earthly life; and I imagined that since it was a place for old people it was bound to be boring.

Regular worship.


As we grew older, the rules and regulations seemed to multiply.  I realise, now, that devotion to God-made-man as a personal and loving Companion didn’t predominate in what we were taught at the time.  There was mention of ‘Christ’ in discussion or casual conversion, at home and at school.  We heard about ‘Redemption’ and ‘sin’; but I couldn’t understand quite who Christ is. His Divinity was understated, and His titles confused me; so I continued to be puzzled for several years.  Also, I wasn’t sure of how to find Him.  It didn’t make sense to hear from my mother that she received Christ in Holy Communion, through obeying His command that she “EAT MY FLESH AND DRINK MY BLOOD” (Jn 6:54), when my father’s belief - about the same Holy Communion Service - was that he only received bread and wine.


Much more straightforward were the routine lessons given in the Church Primary School about Old Testament History, and then about the travels of Saint Paul.  These were to prove extremely valuable later on, as was the firm teaching about a Church Militant on earth and a Church Triumphant in Heaven.  At about ten years old I couldn’t have explained to anyone the real meaning of “Church” or sin, redemption or salvation.  But for that short stretch of life I grasped the broad picture given to me, that all the apparatus of church rules and organisations and celebrations served one main purpose, which was to make sure that God Our Creator was properly worshipped and that we poor creatures improved our terrible behaviour.


My faults seemed ineradicable.  They were listed out loud so frequently, and I saw so often what a nuisance I was, that I couldn’t imagine how God could ever be pleased by my words or actions.  I used to jump up and down with impatience; I was always in such a hurry to go and do exciting things that I was clumsy and sometimes forgetful. But I was full of goodwill, and liked to make other people happy.  I even enjoyed praying in Church, where I felt that since I was surrounded by so many good people God wouldn’t notice me or my faults and I could just enjoy taking part in the lovely hymns and prayers which ascended from our community.


Saint Michael, and other Saints.


Our vicar was an intelligent yet marvellously simple man who loved Christ dearly.  The sermons were rather long, and I found it hard not to fall asleep half way through, but some of Father Caunter’s reverence and awe filtered through my childish understanding. I liked to hear him speak about Angels and Saints.  He gave an inspiring talk at the end of September every year, on our patronal feast of St. Michael and All Angels, but I was puzzled once again by the apparent importance to him of Saints and Angels when they had little importance in the life of a devout Christian such as my father, who was even then training to be an Anglican lay-reader.


As I mentioned earlier, I’d been told that Protestants like us shouldn’t pray to the ‘Saints’, since that sort of practice was unnecessary for modern Christians who had been freed from foolish mediaeval ideas.  That’s why I came to see the Saints only as dead persons, now reproduced in stained glass, or listed in encyclopaedias.  Their very names were old-fashioned, for example: Cuthbert, or Dunstan. They had all lived a thousand years ago, it seemed to me, and their exploits were as remote and irrelevant to me as King Alfred with his burning cakes. 


We were encouraged to honour the role of the “Virgin Mary”; but she was only one more legendary figure from Biblical times - nothing more.  Our only source of information about her, the Bible, seemed to suggest that Christ had kept her in the background.  We were taught to pity all the Catholics who “idolised the Blessed Virgin”.  It was quietly suggested to me that the Church which they obeyed with great loyalty was a superstitious organisation whose members took part in idolatrous practices and who were as muddled and unenlightened, although in a different way, as an extreme Protestant group which was also spoken of with amazement.  It was mystifying, I was told, that apparently good persons could steadfastly believe what they were taught by their Italian Pope. This was said to me with real pity and exasperation.


It can’t have occurred to my informant that the ‘mysterious’ beliefs of Catholics might have been the cause of the manifest goodness of some of our neighbours.  Despite this extraordinary information, it seemed to me that everyone I knew was kind and devout, and local families were always helpful and polite to one another.



Busy in the garden.


There was usually a friendly atmosphere on our estate.  My brother and I were part of a gang of children who played together at every spare moment. When not attending our separate schools, we all played together on the common, or helped on the nearby farm; and when there were fewer friends around, I’d build little altars in the flowerbed, decorating them with flowers and small pieces of lace.  I was very happy, except when busy with housework or gardening; and when I could escape, I’d be off to explore the nearby woods again, and the beautiful village common, longing to climb trees and to build secret ‘dens’.


The gardening I mention was sporadic. I’d been given a little patch to cultivate, near a six-foot laurel hedge, but I despaired of being able to keep it under control.  Then one day someone showed me how to make a miniature garden in an old sink - or an old roasting tin - and I was entranced by the resulting beauty and order. I planted miniature hedges, and made imitation ponds out of old mirrors which we’d found in battered leather handbags at jumble sales.


Much time was spent in inventing ‘clubs’ - with a friend or with my brother - with hand-made badges and membership forms, and special passwords and rules.  I also found time to complete my Brownie projects, and to bury dead birds and animals in a little cemetery near the compost heap.



A musical event.


In writing about the joys of those years, I must say a few words about music; all five of us were untrained, but fairly musical.  We were content with simple instruments: with the human voice itself, and recorders.  We couldn’t afford extra lessons of any kind: but through the school choir and the church choir, too, we fulfilled our longings to be involved in such beauty.  We sang together, lustily, on every family outing in the car, belting out “Tipperary” and “Gentille Alouette” or  English folk songs such as “The Ash Grove,” or “Greensleeves,”  as well as our favourite hymns.

A Christmas gift I received during that time from generous and puzzled parents gave me tremendous joy.  Quite oblivious to the noise which I was about to inflict on the family, I proudly unwrapped and played the small ukulele for which I’d been yearning.  Wind instruments bored me; it was harmonies which thrilled me, rather than a succession of individual notes; and so I’d asked for what was a possibility - a ukulele - instead of foolishly pining for something expensive, such as a violin.  If I carry the story a little further, on the subject of music, I can explain that after about five years of my energetic strumming, I persuaded my father to buy a guitar for my birthday, from the local music shop.  I yearned to produce music that was haunting and beautiful; I was tired of cowboy songs and George Formby ditties.  But I’m only mentioning this because it seems strange to me, even now, that by our comparatively minor choices or enthusiasms, God’s Providence can lead us into pathways which, otherwise, we might never have taken.  I mean, for example, that it was only through my guitar-playing that that I was invited, many years later, to join in a certain musical event; and through it, I met my future husband; and therefore I bore the particular children who have given us so much joy and who, I am sure, will play a part in God’s wonderful plans for His Church.



Jesus’ Real Presence.


If I were to choose the most strange and mysterious event of those early years, I would select without hesitation the occasion on which I was taken by a Catholic neighbour to visit the “Blessed Sacrament” at a local Convent school.  Our little outing might have seemed entirely insignificant, but I realise now that it was a special gift from God: a gift I didn’t brush aside when it was offered.


New facts excited me, although I don’t mean gossip.  I’m speaking about nuggets of information about our family tree, or about nature-study - or about the towns and villages through which I passed with my father on occasional outings in the car.  He was a fount of information.  So when I was offered facts about the Catholic Faith by someone who knew about it I was delighted.  I’d been very interested to learn one day, in a casual conversation, that Jesus was there in the school, which was dedicated to Our Blessed Lady, and that we could go to the room where He was Present.  I was invited to visit the chapel, assured that the Blessed Sacrament could be found there, in the Tabernacle.  I was very interested, yet puzzled.  The same ‘Blessed Sacrament’, my mother said, was in the local Anglican church, where some worshippers genuflected before it.  However, no-one had spoken to me with quite the same confidence as my Catholic friend.  It wasn’t implied that Christ could be found in some vague and ‘spiritual’ way which depended on one’s faith.  I learned that He was Really Present, and that we could go and meet Him, even though He’d be invisible to us. He’d be hidden within the tabernacle above the altar.  What a marvellous piece of news this was.  I believed it.


We were led through the school corridor by a nun, the first I ever saw in my life.  There was no-one else around; we’d gone in the school holidays.  At the last moment, as the Sister opened the chapel door for us, she hesitated, perturbed that I had no covering for my head:- not even a handkerchief?  Then she took pity on me, and let me in; and I saw an altar and a tabernacle a few feet away, beyond the chairs.  The furnishings in the room were plainer by far than those in the Church where I usually worshipped; but I recognised in the silence a vast, wordless Sanctity, and I was content to sit quite still for a few moments knowing only that next to this Presence it was as though I knew nothing at all. 


There was something new in the peace of that strange moment.  It was vaguely connected to the great pangs of joy I felt when I ran across the fields in sunlight, and also to my puzzled thoughts about our being alive on earth.  But I forgot all about it within a few hours, rushing on in my familiar routine.  I’d believed what my friend had told me, but I couldn’t connect that information to my own life.  It didn’t occur to me to ask to be taken back again.









A simple way of life.


It was thanks to the goodness of God and my parents that I lived in innocence, joy and grace for eleven years.  Life wasn’t without ordinary hardships which were accepted as routine.  We suffered, as youngsters do, terrible childhood fears.  The punishments we endured were ruthless, and were accepted without question.  Yet now that I’ve heard from other people how strict was the upbringing of children, generally, in the ‘forties’ and ‘fifties’, if compared with trends of the present day, I see how fortunate we were to have parents whose whole longing was to be good and dutiful and to raise up children who would have the same outlook.


As for the discipline and the punishments, what was the appropriate in the armed forces was perhaps not adequately adapted for use with small children; but what a marvel of grace it was that parents who had each suffered greatly should have remained generous and cheerful. Their optimism and charity shone from their faces. They bore no grudges. I never heard a malicious phrase from either, even about their former ‘enemies’.  It didn’t occur to me to analyse my parents, or to wish that they were different; and what a wonderful thing was their loyalty to one another.


Other things puzzled me more.  I was full of questions about life itself: about who we are, and why we do what we do, and why is life thus?  I was told, flatly, that there were no sure answers to many questions, told that I should stop “worrying your head” about them all.


The Christian life, I was told, was a simple matter; one need only believe in God, say one’s prayers, avoid sin and do “what the Bible said.”  Sunday worship was essential; Communion would help me to be good, and go to Heaven.  I tried to accept what I was told, even accepting ‘Confirmation’ at eleven. Blithely unaware of how impatient and selfish I was, I nevertheless lived in true faith and trust.  I was unformed, and was puzzled by many things; but I was eager to please people, and so I dumbly accepted both joy and pain from day to day.  All that was impure or unkind saddened me, but I was wholly optimistic and secure.


It was impossible to be unhappy for long, even after disappointments, small betrayals or punishments; nor was I bored at that age in our village.  One could always run off to find a friend, or to do more work.  Every week, voluntarily, I cleaned out the chicken sheds on a nearby farm.  The interior of those wooden huts was indescribable, but I earned a few extra


pence. In the school holidays we would call in at the farm beyond the allotments.  We drove the cows home from the farm every evening, for milking.  It was tremendous fun for a ten or eleven-year-old child.  Yet whenever I thought about our way of life, in quiet moments alone, usually kneeling on my bed looking out of the upstairs window, I wished that my thoughts and my physical movements could be entirely ‘liberated’.  I was happy, but I yearned for a greater and unimaginable liberty, which I instinctively felt was attainable, even if I was too ignorant to know how it could be achieved.



Puzzled thoughts.


Frequently, at twilight, I used to gaze at the birds which were soaring around the house. Their flight paths carved great arcs in the sky, wholly unhindered.  Watching them was as pleasurable as listening to beautiful music, but my thoughts kept intruding.  I envied the birds their freedom, and tried to imagine what it would be like to be able fly Peter-Pan-style over the neighbours’ roof, and to swoop down into their back garden.


When I say that it seemed to me as though my thoughts were restricted, I mean that I felt strongly that I was imprisoned in time.  I would think about the events of the day, and about the fact that time had passed, and also about the fact that I didn’t know what would happen tomorrow.  It all seemed astonishing and mysterious.  I know I was awed by the concept of the passage of time. But I saw the present moment as a sort of prison beyond which we are unable to project our minds.  I accepted the fact of my mind’s confinement, but I was awed and puzzled whenever I considered the idea that someone, somewhere, perhaps God Himself, already knows what, to us, is something that shall happen at a certain point in the future.  After all, if He’s unhampered by human limitations He must know everything already, even future things. That’s what I began to believe, because I’d worked it out.


I kept a diary at that time, merely jotting down all the routine tasks and errands which had kept me busy during the day, and the names of favourite programmes on television.  It had never occurred to me to write about personal hopes and fears.  I knew and remembered my own thoughts. I had no secret wish to read them or to show them to other people; hence my diary was a very pedestrian collection of lists.  But now and then, after puzzling alone again with the mysterious fact that we are alive now, though once we were not, and that one day we shall die a bodily death, though we will live forever, I would write something a bit different.


The entry would usually be something on these lines: “In three weeks or three days I shall know that I have passed my exam, or I shall know that I have failed.”  I felt that there was a point beyond which I couldn’t push my thinking. I was utterly absorbed, puzzling over the fact that I couldn’t use will-power alone to make complete my present incomplete knowledge, even though I was sure that, somewhere, certain things had already been decided.


Frustrated by my ignorance, I was frustrated, too by my ignorance of what it was that was eluding me.  Despite my instinctive and painful longing for a greater understanding of our existence, and of our abilities and of the cause of things, generally, it seemed that something held me back. I was earth-bound, though my thoughts seemed to press against a ceiling which was ‘soft to the touch’.  It made no sense.  I knew nothing of philosophy.  But what seems more cruel  to me now is that I had no real understanding of the meaning of faith.  Nor had I any idea that it’s by faith, which is given by God, freely, that we can pierce the ‘barrier’ which I had sensed, and that it’s in prayer that we can encounter true Wisdom: in God.


For anyone who can’t see the point of this long explanation, I must say that even when I was very young I longed to be able to understand life.  All my future questions about Church and Faith stemmed not from bored curiosity but from a passion for truth.  Never having heard of “philosophy” or “theology”, and quite unaware that church attendance had any connection with time, space, pre-destination or the fact of our existence, I tried to work things out alone, whilst becoming ever more amazed at the fact that we exist and that our bodies ‘work’ and our minds think.  Yet I grew ever more uncertain of what we human beings are ‘for’. I was sure that earthly life had a purpose but I didn’t know whom to ask about it.


Feelings of gratitude and wonder.


One summer afternoon, I remember, I stood outside in the street with my brother.   We were chatting to a crowd of local children; and for a moment I was distracted from the conversation by thoughts about the heights of various children and about the fact that we were growing all the time.  In looking at my little hands and sandalled feet I marvelled about the fact that, in a year’s time, my body would inevitably be larger.  I mean that I was so amazed at the marvel of the orderly growth of the different parts, growth which is entirely independent of our wishes or moods, that I felt strangely frustrated at not being able to exclaim out loud about that marvel.  To have been able to cry out: “Oh God, you’re marvellous!”  to the Author-designer-creator of that little body would have satisfied all my longing; yet I didn’t know that passionate gratitude and wonder - expressed in that way or in any appropriate way - is a tremendous prayer of praise.


Praise, for me, meant singing long hymns to an invisible ‘Headmaster’, not shouting for joy to the Invisible Lover of birds, flowers and bodies.



Sad Sundays.


Whenever I thought about religion - as we practised it - I used to notice, once more, with gloom, that everything I thought interesting was forbidden on Sundays.  Our father’s word was Law. I was happy to obey rules out of love for him, and also because his basic rules had seemed reasonable.  But I grew more puzzled each year by our restrictions, and wondered why Sundays need be so unpleasant and grim, if they were ‘holy days’ of celebration.


No games were permitted, or trips to the cinema, or social events except the “Eucharist”.  I couldn’t understand why adults thought that our boredom would be pleasing to God.  If He were good, why should He want us to be bored beyond endurance - as it seemed - on His Holy Day each week?  I asked my father, but he said something I didn’t understand about our duty to “KEEP THE SABBATH” (Ex 31:14).


The reason for his regulations lay far back in our family history.  My father had moved from childhood Methodism, through the Society of Friends, to his Anglican allegiance; this was because he developed, first, a vigorous faith in God and in Christian Community and, later, added  to his faith the notion of an hierarchical church founded by Christ, and of a sacramental life.  However, since one’s youthful training exerts a powerful influence, any questions about Sunday amusement disturbed him.  He hadn’t  ‘thought out’ all his views.  He became more lenient in later years, but, for  a long time it seemed as though any pleasurable activity on Sunday was regarded as sinful.  How peculiar it was, I decided, that everything bright or colourful or lively was frowned upon.  How strange to think that God was delighted by long faces, and drab clothes, or was irritated by what was called loud or spontaneous, eye-catching, or decorative.


There was much that was admirable in our way of life, yet some of the rules we followed were rather puritanical.  The only Sunday activities which I can recall as wholeheartedly encouraged even though they weren’t strictly useful were the outings we made as a family in the school holidays, to have a picnic on Coombe Hill, or at Ashridge or Burnham Beeches. They were tremendous fun, but were one of the few leisure-time pursuits which were permitted.  Swimming was regarded as strengthening, therefore useful, as was gardening, and walking.  But no one I knew had ever been to an art-gallery - or to a circus or to a dance.  The problem wasn’t money - or the lack of it - but a suspicion that anything enjoyable was dangerous, and that God wouldn’t be pleased unless one kept one’s “nose to the grindstone”.


A glimpse of colour.


We’ve been told in Holy Scripture that “they cannot chain up God’s news” (2 Tm 2:9);  I’ve found that colour and beauty cannot be ‘chained’, in any community or country.  One of the most magical sights of my childhood was the view along Old Amersham High Street on a dark late-September evening, only once each year, when thousands of multi-coloured and brilliant bulbs shone out from the Michaelmas funfair.  To a little child of eight or nine, looking upwards, it seemed that half the Universe was filled with light and colour; and in those early years, before I had experienced the joy of singing in a large choir, and before I had heard an orchestra playing, the hurdy-gurdy music which was surging loudly around us nearly lifted me into ecstasy.


Half an hour only, I think we were allowed, before being taken away from all that brilliant light and colour, through the winding lines, to the grey and black of the countryside in winter, and to the beige and brown and navy blue of our everyday furniture and clothing.



Grammar School


When I was ten years old, big changes were imminent. I sat what was called the “eleven-plus” examination and was astonished to hear that I’d passed, and that I’d follow my sister to the Grammar School.  On my first day at “Dr Challoner’s”, I was swamped by the uniform: a small skinny child, the youngest in my class. I felt exhilarated, as though ready for a great adventure.  But I wasn’t very successful in my efforts to make friends amongst my new class-mates. I found within a few weeks that most of the newcomers had drifted towards membership of one of several recognisable groups, and I seemed to belong to none of them.  The fault was partly mine; having been very happy and active in the playground of a primary school, I expected to find the same co-operation in games and explorations from new class-mates.  Alas, most seemed content to sit on the steps of the classroom, peering at passers-by, exchanging views in a confident way that both awed and alarmed me. 


The games I suggested were looked on as childish and undignified.  Attempting to be friendly, I matter-of-factly asked questions about their churches and Sunday-schools, only to be told, equally matter-of-factly, that few of my new class-mates had ever prayed or attended church.  I was astonished to discover that few had parents who were practising Christians; so my ‘church-going’ contributed to my feeling of apartness.


Although this was something I couldn’t have articulated at the time, I knew that the children at my Church Primary School had shared the same values and had talked freely about Sunday School and about God.  I might have seemed hopelessly naive, or merely priggish, but I was quite bewildered by conversations with new acquaintances who unashamedly told lies, deliberately caused trouble for other people, and who laughed at notions of right and wrong.


In my first few weeks at the grammar school, I learned that few classmates spoke the same ‘language’: the prevailing ‘gospel’ was a vague ethical code.  Hard work and ‘responsibility’ were encouraged by the staff, but there was only a stern God to guide us or to point out the way.  With no loving Saviour for whom we would undertake the hardest tasks, the code had no solid foundation.


Some of the children were kind.  But some were thoroughly ignorant, probably through no fault of their own.  God and the Ten Commandments were treated as a huge joke.  They saw Christianity as a subject and a way of life which pre-occupied ‘boring’ old people who led unhappy lives and who fantasised about future rewards.  Many of the children had adopted, as their guiding motto - “As much fun as possible, as little work as possible, every day”.  It was a motto not unknown, I gathered, in Christian schools, but it contradicted everything that I’d ever been taught at home.  Quite soon, therefore, prayer and church-going became private matters to be spoken of only with sympathisers: at the Church youth-club, or at home.


Unspoken rules.


Quite apart from the question of religion, I had no real idea at eleven years old of how to ‘make conversation’;  nor had I many of the social graces.  And, quite guileless at first, I was unaware of differences of culture.  Persons like myself were ‘council-house kids’: easily distinguishable in those days.  Later, I saw how our speech, clothes and accents, and our pastimes, set us apart almost as foreigners from the girls who led a different way of life, and who were engrossed in talk about tennis matches, piano lessons and holidays away.  Naive and uncomprehending at first, I failed to observe the unspoken rules of a different society. I was so ignorant that I’d gone along by myself to a “music competition” at school, taking my Ukulele with me, only to meet with the embarrassed smiles of parents and staff who had hoped to hear a violin piece, and not ‘Home on the range.’


At play-times I used to hang around the fringe of any friendly gang.  Then as I became bored by the topic under discussion, I’d drift away, and so find myself on the margins again: energetic but impatient, longing for something interesting to do.



Boredom and misery.


I tore about in those first few months, dreadfully unorganised, hoping against hope that I’d have all the right books in my bag as I rushed from room to room when each lesson ended instead of waiting snugly, as at primary school, for a new teacher to appear.  When my timetable was under control, and I was able to think clearly, I became calmer and happier for a while - but only until I realised that in leaving behind a familiar routine and encouraging faces I’d left behind the framework which had once made it easy for me to be obedient and hard-working.  As I was confronted with a multitude of choices - with no father at hand to prompt or punish me, and surrounded by what seemed like an army of loud and demanding teenagers who had no personal interest in me, I began to find how powerful a force is our free-will.  Just as I found myself free to mix with one group and then another, I learned that by my free choice I could decide whether to pass exams or fail, and whether to be kind and obedient, or rebellious.


Until that time, it had never occurred to me to be unhelpful; nor had I ever worked less than whole-heartedly.  I grimly observed - at eleven years old - that whenever I worked hard, I did well, and whenever I let boredom distract me, I did badly.  Having taken it for granted at primary school that I would be top or second in everything, I was annoyed at the effort needed to tackle strange subjects like Chemistry.


Most of my earlier efforts to be successful in daily activities had surely been fuelled by joy in pleasing my father; but with no such incentive at the Grammar School, I grew lazy.  And I was appalled by new experiences in the classroom, where threats and shouting were commonplace, and physical abuse not unknown. I quite soon became generally indifferent about pleasing members of staff, beginning to look upon some of them as being like rather eccentric and dangerous prison warders.


Furthermore, there was no art-room, and therefore no art lessons.  Henceforward, I regret to say, I worked at what I enjoyed, and in everything else did the bare minimum, thus stepping for the first time onto the “broad road” which leads downwards.  The direction was fixed by a growing discontent in almost every area of life.  It was just when daily life at school seemed to be entirely grim that I began to ask myself further questions about family  life and attitudes.  Every apparent cause for dissatisfaction made me more moody; and ever hour of gloomy reflection led to greater discomfort.  I had a home, two parents, food to eat, and much security; but this way of life was so common amongst fellow church-goers and amongst many neighbours on our estate that I took it entirely for granted.  For comparatively minor reasons, I began to think our way of life unjust.  Certain annoyances, combined with worries about homework and loneliness at school, made me more volatile and critical; and I was lonely at home for a new reason.


Growing apart.


My brother and I had been as close as twins, almost, until I began to mature.  Our clubs, explorations and adventures had been pursued in puppy-like joy and good-natured agreement, unspoilt by competition or by much difference in age or height.


Suddenly, I found that we were being treated differently.  He escaped to the common with friends, as usual, yet  I was expected to do many more chores in the house, and was advised to be ‘lady-like’ and quiet.  I began to wonder why young woman-hood should be so awful in several ways, and envied my brother his greater freedom. I complained mildly about my miserable fate, unaware that boys have problems of their own, and forgetting how much more was expected of him, in many ways, and how much more severely he was punished for each misdemeanour.


Self-conscious and shy, it seemed as though I was dragging myself reluctantly into woman-hood. I still longed to tear about the countryside freely like an inquisitive child, yet longed fiercely as well for something else to satisfy my heart: something indefinable, something resembling beauty, colour or contentment.  But I didn’t know where to find it.



Drabness and austerity.


In my fifties, now, I marvel more and more at the goodness of my parents, and at the goodness of God who gave me so many blessings in childhood, with opportunities for learning and thinking; however, I must confess that one of the things which irritated me in adolescence was the sense of grey-ness in large areas of life in that era, and in our section of society.


It seems to me as though our already-plain and austere home was further ‘veiled’ to some degree by the general drabness of post-war austerity; and that gloomy veil was held firmly in place by the nails of puritanism, but which I mean a general sense that anything or anyone who was colourful, lively or exciting was to be regarded with pity, disdain or incomprehension.  Such a veil hung heavily on persons already burdened by the responsibility of being British and therefore being obliged - I was informed - to be undemonstrative and uncomplaining.  It was emphasised that to ‘wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve’ - which meant, to be emotional or to be visibly excited: whether in anger or gratitude - was to be undisciplined, or frivolous.  Within our little community, it was not only sinful or frivolous persons and activities that were shunned. I couldn’t have explained this at the time, yet I could feel, as a child, that even possessions were rarely tolerated unless they were worthy or useful.  Nothing was ever bought simply because of its beauty.


An absence of frivolity.


Looking back, I remember that bright colours - in homes or on public display - were unfashionable and were described as ‘vulgar’.  There was little music to be heard at home except of our own making.  Record players were still luxury items, and the radio was strictly-controlled, and was used mainly for the six o’clock news.  A luxury item such as the little T.V. set was bought only so that our neighbours could share the joy of watching Queen Elizabeth the second’s Coronation, when half the street crammed into our living room whilst the children were entertained elsewhere.


My bright, vivacious parents were squeezed, so to speak, between the grim pull-your-socks-up mentality which was necessarily adopted by many people in order to keep going during the war, and the Calvinistic gloom which still filtered through some of their theology.  All the furniture my father so skilfully made or mended was plain and functional.  Alcoholic drinks were served to adults once a year, at Christmas, with some timidity and only if a bold friend had generously provided a bottle of sherry.  The same bottle would be standing on the sideboard, three quarters full, the next September.  It was only through the kindness of one of my mother’s friends that we possessed a few clothes which were unusually bright and cheerful, given by a woman with older children.  But any item which was bought new, in a shop, was chosen only if tough, dark and long-lasting.


In the same spirit, the inside walls of our house were quite plain.  They were distempered pale pink or green every four or five years, since cleanliness was next to Godliness.  But I remember being astounded, later on, to discover that more adventurous and richer families chose  to put patterned paper on their walls.  Anything to do with decoration and colour, in our circle,  was vaguely suspect.


My delight in line and colour was so strong, that at the least excuse I’d create birthday cards from old cereal packets, using coloured pencils on special occasions, or poster paints.  Both my mother and father praised my little efforts.  Each of them was able to produce a competent landscape; but ‘Serious Art’ meant very little to us.  It had something to do with the gloomy portraits to be found in ancient country mansions, or large sculptures left lying around “the Continent” by ancient Greeks and Romans - as illustrated in the Encyclopaedia Britannia. ‘Art’ was a hobby which preoccupied only rich and powerful people.


I can’t remember seeing any modern paintings when I was young.  In later years, my mother put two examples of her own work on the walls.  But our prime decorations were old college shields and a photograph of my father’s Rugby team, with a palm cross from our church, and one or two small  religious prints framed in “passe-partout”.



Christian virtues.


As I edit all these my memories and reflections I’m becoming even more amazed at my parents’ virtues.  I find it a marvel that my parents so steadfastly and bravely ran a home on “Christian” principles and provided a welcome for all sorts of people.  It’s quite plain to me that our whole way of life was geared to encouraging thrift and discipline and cleanliness, and to stimulating a real interest in God, for Whose sake one struggled to be virtuous; and I believed that God ruled the world like a loving army officer, ever-ready to call back into line any rebel who dared disobey the smallest regulation; yet I know that the boundaries set around my life gave me, for a few years, the firm discipline which kept me from disaster.


It’s a cause for gratitude, too, that ours was a home where people talked to one another.  There were frequent discussions and even arguments; but a halt was called if anyone became rude or uncharitable.  I remember few lengthy disagreements taking place, when I was little.  It was recommended that we follow the teaching of Saint Paul, who wrote: “NEVER LET the sun set on YOUR anger” (Ep 4:26); and my parents set a good example in this matter.


Although these two strong-minded and articulate spouses disagreed on all sorts of subjects,  they  shared - and relished in discussion -  an interest in history, the English language, and of course children’s education: with additional exchanges of information about her gardening and his woodwork.  They were never idle except when physically exhausted, but were generally happy with their various tasks.  “The devil makes work for idle hands” was an oft-stated phrase, as well as comments about thrift - “Waste not, want not” - and about good manners and respect for “elders and betters”. 


They weren’t at all over-earnest except for certain subjects and occasions.  Much time was spent in good-humoured banter: my father, gently mocking my mother’s ideas about good manners and “refinement”, and she - chuckling - scolding him about his frank and earthy sense of humour.  He was proud of being one of six children from a tough Lancashire weaving family.  He thwarted all her subtle or plaintive efforts to improve him, and said: “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!”


My father’s most oft-used quotation was a phrase from one of Cardinal Newman’s hymns: from a hymn equally popular with Protestants and Catholics.  Whenever my father was exasperated, and when other men might have grumbled or sworn - or even when he was sometimes pleasantly surprised - he would shake his head in amazement at whatever stupidity,  unkindness, or astonishing act of charity he had just witnessed; and he’d exclaim: “Lead, kindly Light!”  We children had no idea what he meant.  But since he was obviously self-controlled, if astonished, and since he wasn’t swearing, it seemed to us that he must have been saying something good.



Cheering up sad hearts.


The true love of God shone out from my parents’ school of Anglicanism.  It was precisely because they both wanted to please God, and because Christ - in the Bible - asked His followers to love their neighbour that we were advised always to be gentle and patient with “difficult” persons, and to be helpful to anyone in need.


There were strict rules - for the sake of charity - about privacy, about not opening anyone else’s post, and about the menace of tale-telling or of listening to malicious gossip.


Everyday falsehoods and hatreds and slanders were recognised for the evils which they are.  If someone outside the family were criticised, we could be sure that some of their apparent virtues would be mentioned in the same breath.


Although I never met anyone in those childhood days who wasn’t English or Scottish or Irish, I learned in one way or another that people of every country and race were to be valued and never scorned. Other customs and life-styles might have seemed strange, from what we read in the newspapers or would find out,  later on, on T.V; but every single person on earth, we were assured  - even someone from whom we were told to stay away because he was ‘a bad influence’ - was precious in the sight of God, who had given life to everyone who had ever existed. 


That’s why our parents welcomed, or “inflicted upon us”, as we saw it, an assortment of distressed or eccentric persons, at odd times throughout the year, or over the Christmas holidays.  As they put up with our sullen agreement and the embarrassing, stilted conversations at meal times, they routinely cheered up sad hearts for a while, glad to have done their simple duty as Christians who were anxious to please God.


Cleanliness and Godliness.


There lurked within our culture, however, a feeling that tired or emotional “inadequates” must have brought their troubles upon themselves, perhaps through being spendthrift or undisciplined.  It seemed as though some of the poor ‘weak’ ones whom we met during parish activities were spoken of with a mixture of pity and exasperation, as though if they had only kept the Commandments and worked hard, and had been thrifty and not emotional, they would have been rewarded by God with strength and a reasonable prosperity, and would have been able to thank Him for enabling them to be happy and successful.


History has taught us that a great love of the Gospel teachings can be tainted, sometimes, by an exaggerated love of respectability, and a concern about outward appearances.  So there was much talk about ‘standards’ in our circle, and much exasperation.  Certain neighbours who didn’t appear to be ‘respectable’ were shunned.  We were forbidden to play with children from such homes.  People who seemed unable to conform in externals were seen as failures.  It seemed as if it was our duty to preserve in daily life a veneer of success and of brisk efficiency.  Cleanliness was next to Godliness.  No-one had heard of St. Benedict Joseph Labré.


It was inevitable that I would come to see the Christian life as being, above all, a matter of right behaviour, rather than of right belief and therefore of a right relationship with a loving Heavenly Father to Whom I had been led by a loving Saviour.  There was so much sheer goodness shining in the hearts of faithful church-goers in our area, in the 1950’s, as well as today; but I believe it’s tragic that many Christians grow up learning little about the details of the life of grace known to Catholics, little about union-of-heart with Christ, nothing about penance or reparation, or the “offering up” of our earthly pains and troubles by which we can help other souls - and which can make our sufferings easier to bear. 


It seems so strange to me now that throughout the whole of my life, until I was twenty-one, I had never prayed for the souls of people who had died, nor asked for the help of the Saints: the heavenly friends who provide wonderful help both in everyday matters and in especially-difficult times.  And I’d never even heard of the greatest marvel: of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


As I began to explain in Chapter One, we were given a good grounding in many Christian truths: told that our purpose on earth was to love God and our neighbour and to avoid sin.  We’d been told in a dozen ways that lying, murder, stealing and bad language were forbidden. But I had no sense of purpose from year to year: no sense of God’s Will being a sure and reliable guide amidst day-to-day problems. 


No one seemed to know His Will in any great detail.  There was no notion put to me of a ‘teaching church’ but only of Ten Commandments which spoke of idols and oxen, but which said nothing about the many moral and ethical ‘dilemmas’ of modern life.  It was very puzzling.  My father said that in any quandary about a subject which wasn’t mentioned in the Bible, we had to make up our own minds about whether it were right or wrong; and I couldn’t understand this. I’d imagined that an All-knowing Creator would have an opinion to share on just about everything.




One day in summer, when I was still a skinny little child of about twelve, my trust in adults was rudely shattered; and so ended my childhood ‘honeymoon’ of faith. Triggered by such a small event there began the great loneliness which lasted until adult life.


During those warm, glorious, busy days, an entirely innocent and lengthy conversation with a local boy was treated with suspicion and disapproval.  There was uproar one evening when I was late home from play.  I’d been busy and happy outdoors as usual, and, alas, was oblivious to the time. I had no watch, and no idea why such a fuss should have been made about my coming home a bit late.  I quite ignorant of every adult cause for concern, and listened with disbelief as I was told never to go and play with him again.  It made no sense to me.


When all the fuss and the questions had ended, I was astonished and hurt to have been treated with suspicion, when - apart from that single lie, earlier - I wasn’t aware of ever having done a deliberate wrong.  It was true that I was sometimes argumentative, or reluctant to wash the dishes.  But, generally I loved to make my parents happy.  So I assumed that for some reason which I was too stupid to recognise I was unlovable, and unworthy of love. I rushed ahead from day to day, from then on, wondering why it was so hard to please people.  I felt irretrievably flawed, yet I couldn’t work out what was wrong.  I knew I was sometimes careless, but I was never disobedient.


My mood veered between puzzlement and sadness. In the same year, I was still hovering uncomfortably on the fringes of several groups which had coalesced at school.  So at school and home my growing loneliness - combined with the beginnings of adolescent irritability - drew me slowly away from the dutiful obedience which had fuelled all my activities so far.


A house of our own.


The fact that we moved house at that time meant that I lost the gang of friends whom I’d seen daily for six years.  Much joy sprang from the novelty of packing,  but the move increased my isolation.  Within a few weeks of the change being announced, we left our village in the countryside to move to a little semi-detached house only a mile from the Grammar School. My parents were glad to have somewhere of their own which they could alter or decorate without asking permission of “the Council”.  We children were thrilled with it, initially, because we spent hours in the echoing rooms of our new home, the five of us working hard to make it fit for habitation. We cleared up much of the builders’ rubble, then sat together on the floor in a circle, eating fish and chips with our fingers, exhilarated by our labours.  The whole project seemed wildly exciting.  There were neighbours to meet, and a new garden to create from a sea of roughly-turned clay.  But the excitement was short-lived.  When our few items of furniture had been delivered on the back of the local coal-lorry, and we had settled in, I discovered the drawbacks.


Our new home was at the centre of a frenzy of new building.  We were on the edge of a rapidly-expanding town; and while it was certainly easier for us to go to church and to school  we had far less privacy inside the house, and nowhere to play outside with our former freedom and gusto.  We had moved away from the pond, the Common and the river, and from my beloved beech-woods and cornfields.  There were few children in our neighbourhood and so I had no-one with whom I could share my former interests. I missed my friends, and I had to share a room with my sister, who, understandably, wasn’t very pleased to be encumbered with someone as busy and talkative as myself.  I’ve already said something about how shy I always was with strangers or with adults; but I had a torrent of enthusiastic words with which to swamp any equally-enthusiastic child who shared some of my interests.


It was true that friends on the estate were only three miles away; but the long ride on an unreliable bicycle was the smallest obstacle, compared with other problems.  We were at different schools now, all maturing at different speeds.  I went to see a friend once or twice, when the weather was fine, but our conversation was stilted. We hardly recognised in each other the children we had been the summer before.  Our interests were unalike, and besides, I was laden with homework.  Little by little, but steadily, my loneliness grew; and, for the first time, self-pity crept in.


Within the family, we three children began to pursue our different interests, spending days and weeks apart except for brief conversations with our parents at Sunday lunch.  Each weekday morning, five busy persons dashed passed one another, fighting for bathroom space: each dreading being late for school.  Each evening, exhausted parents marked text-books, watched the television news and encouraged us to go and do our homework.  Conversations were few, and during the next few years, our parents grew busier than ever, bearing heavy responsibilities.  They were usually late in returning home from work.



Numerous time-consuming projects.


When we had settled in thoroughly after our move, and when I had grown used to the new routine at school and was more competent at my regular household chores, I wondered what to do in my leisure-time.  There were no close friends nearby. I could hardly run around the fields by myself at thirteen; and I was bored.  Then I realised that although I was too shy to talk much with the woman next door, this new neighbour was frequently ill; so for three or four years - now that I’d left behind our Guide pack and its good deeds - I devotedly took her babies for long walks, and gave them some of their meals, so that she could lie down and rest.  I was delighted to be able to feed them and to encourage them to talk, treating them with affection, much as I treated our pets at home.  We had tortoises, mice, rabbits and a cat.  I longed to have babies of my own. 


By the time our neighbour was well again, with her children out at school, I’d become more confident, and more observant.   My interests broadened. During my time alone - and when I’d finished my designated household work -  I undertook great projects, partly to stave off boredom, but, also because I was fascinated by many new ideas. A whole holiday was taken up making a model theatre from scraps of wood and cardboard, painting paper figures from “The Mikado” to push and pull onto the stage.  I made a set of tiny curtains which drew together on minute wires and rings. My neighbour let me listen to the Gilbert and Sullivan music on her record-player.  I came to know all the songs by heart.


Another holiday was filled by Heraldry, as I passed long hours memorising the symbols, studying the meaning: intrigued that so much of the pageant of history could be compressed into such a colourful code. Thrilled by the work, I made copies of all the shields illustrated in my text-book, having been fortunate enough to find a half-used tin box of paints in a church jumble sale.  I put the vast array of colours to good use.


Scottish ancestors.


Throughout another holiday, I spent six weeks of my free time skimming through the entire Bible, drawing up a family tree of everyone named there between Adam and Jesus, gradually extending the sheet of paper until it was nearly three feet long.  But an even larger book which enthralled me was a volume I’d unearthed at a jumble sale.  It was full of huge photographs of Scotland, with only minimal captions.  I was entranced by the thought of learning more about my mother’s home country from which had sprung the reels I’d practised once a week at primary school, where a jovial instructor had introduced us to country dancing. Here before me were dozens of extraordinary views of the Highlands; and I decided that these were scenes which must have been familiar to my ancestors; and so I fell in love with all things Scottish, devouring history books for stories of Stuart bravery, and learning Scottish songs.


Having pestered my mother for stories of her family, I was disappointed to hear that the Leiths hadn’t even a tartan of their own. My long-dead grandfather hadn’t been a Highlander but a marine engineer.  But I still amused myself by making what I imagined was a Scottish ‘outfit’, after spying a little kilt in the bundle of second-hand clothes which  descended upon us like manna from heaven each year.


For months, until I out-grew it, I wore the kilt proudly instead of my usual jeans. I made myself a sporran to wear, and found some imitation ballet shoes and a white shirt to complete my outfit.



Old books, and poetry.


Throughout my grammar school years, each summer holiday, my mother was painstakingly composing her own school’s new timetable, or leading a party of her pupils on a trip abroad.  So, encouraged to amuse myself whenever chores were done, and whenever I was really bored, I gave in and found a book to read.  There were no colourful paperbacks available, or modern novels.  I read whatever was available from the dining-room shelves. There was nothing un-Christian in the house, unless I count Grimm’s fairy-tales, which I disliked for their cruelty.


From poetry and plays, I turned to non-fiction: travel books and biography; and I found a variety of religious works at the second-hand bookshop.  Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” enchanted me.  The ideas were simple yet profound.  I saw, revealed there, the truth of the struggle in our souls between selfishness and sacrifice, but no-one was interested in discussing it, at home, and I was too shy to talk about such things in Church or at school.  I painted half of a huge picture which I’d drawn of Christian’s many adventures; then I gave up as another idea occurred.


Discovering Bernard Shaw, I was excited by his ‘Prefaces’; though I wondered which ideas were right and which were wrong.  He was so persuasive: so clever and amusing. I read one of his plays - ‘St. Joan’ - several times, astounded by Joan’s courage.  But she wasn’t a ‘Catholic Saint’ to me, but just another misty legendary figure like King Arthur or Beowulf.


At a later date, and after idly browsing through my father’s old books, deeply stirred by the words of Longfellow and of Matthew Arnold, Rupert Brooke, and Verlaine, I composed poetry, secretly, loving the sound of syllables moving in a rhythm of one’s own choosing: amazed at the scenes one could evoke by a few words on a blank page.


I made an anthology of my favourite poems, many of which were about love, and ‘nature’ - and death.  It included a few pieces of prose which had impressed me, even an excerpt from the writings of Pope Pius XII, which I’d clipped from the daily newspaper in the week when he died.  I was quite amazed to find that such a terrible despot - as he had been described to me - had written something so profoundly Christian as the thoughts which were expressed in his last will and testament.


Almighty God.


Much of my free time was spent in church.  I felt just as much at home there as in our own living-room.  I loved to think about God, but found people more difficult to comprehend.  Being too shy to hold a conversation with any of the adults at church, I saw them as so wise and articulate that I was hardly worthy to be amongst them.  But I felt comfortable in silent prayer-times.  I know that I was seen by my mother’s friends as lively and undisciplined but rather devout.


In those early teenage years, and in a quiet and uncomprehending way, as I’ve indicated elsewhere, I worshipped God very solemnly as Almighty and Omnipotent.  I understood and was thrilled by that aspect of God’s Nature revealed to us in Church whenever we heard the words of Isaiah in Holy Scripture.  I listened in awe to the story of how the Angel had touched Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, when the prophet had said: “WHAT A WRETCHED STATE I AM IN! I AM LOST, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Is 6:5). The prophet knew himself to be unworthy to stand within the temple looking towards the Glory of Almighty God; and that’s just how I felt, kneeling in church after Holy Communion; and I assumed that everyone else felt the same way.


It was easy for me to adore the God of Creation, the God of Isaiah, and the God Whom we heard about in stories to do with Abraham or Joshua.  But a God of silence or intimacy - God in  “the sound of a gentle breeze” (1 K 19:12) - was unknown to me, at that time.  It couldn’t have been otherwise, since all that I’d learned about God had led me to see Him only as authoritative and powerful; and most of the people I met who were in positions of authority were loud, confident and overpowering. I knew something of the meaning of vigorous, determined, loyal and practical love; but since I knew very little about tenderness or mercy, I couldn’t imagine how God could be interested in anyone weak or faint-hearted.


Missionary instincts.


The Christian faith was something I admired, and thought worth sharing, nevertheless: and for some of the time in my childhood I was possessed with a longing to be a missionary.  It had been explained to me by forthright parents that we should always be prepared to stand up for our beliefs - and even to work hard to spread them.  I became gripped with excitement on reading about the past exploits of missionaries in Africa.  The stories of Protestant heroism enthralled me. I toiled over maps for long weeks, using the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a source of information, plotting all the journeys of David Livingstone and Mary Slessor, and writing brief biographies, and lists of dates.  Inspired, too, by memories of a family friend who had once worked in India, and who had learned ‘Hindustani’, as it was called then, I spent my precious pocket money on a “Teach-yourself” language book, during a quick family foray in London.  I taught myself to count, and learned a few new words, greatly stirred by sentimental pictures on the Mission-fund boxes in our church and on the front of ‘Mission’ magazines. 


The concept of ‘evangelism’ seemed very simple to me.  Surely if one risked one’s health to go to faraway places, the people there would be thrilled to receive the Good News of God’s love for them; they would turn away from polytheism and embrace Christianity with ease! Alas, my longing to feed the souls of other people went hand-in-hand with an implicit belief in  British cultural superiority. In my support for ‘The Missions’ I hoped to be charitable and clear-sighted; but I was ignorant of different ways of life, especially of honourable traditions which are indeed compatible with Christian faith and practice; and this ignorance was unsurprising.  In those days, we led a quiet “God-fearing” life, in a little market-town with few sources of information other than parents, a small circle of friends, and one second-hand bookshop.  ‘T.V.’ and radio were strictly controlled.  We travelled very little and met few persons not involved in teaching or in local Anglican Church life.  In the adult conversation which we heard at that time, a respect for individual human-beings didn’t always include a respect for their cultures.


But my solitary passion for evangelism didn’t last for more than a few months.





At the age of about fourteen, I was still unhappy at school, bored by several subjects which, although not ‘difficult’, seemed irrelevant to my life, then or in the future.  Daily, I felt more and more lonely and isolated at school as well as at home; and I came to see the imposition of a brace on my teeth - with pink National Health spectacles perched above - as the final nudge which pinned me in a corner, as it were, too embarrassed to speak and to draw attention to myself, yet longing for companionship - and for something really interesting to do. I was immensely bored by most of the lessons at school, regarding them as hurdles to be crossed as efficiently as possible so that I could rush home and do exactly what I pleased.


Soon I felt more-or-less permanently irritable and unhappy.  There was no-one I could talk to about my miseries, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to grumble.  I’d been told many times that life was hard, and that I ought to ‘like it or lump it’. Yet sometimes self-pity welled up in my heart, as I said, or the beginning of anger.


Since my mother worked full-time, she knew - during our first few years in that house - only the immediate neighbours.  We had few living relations; and since the nearest lived over forty miles away, we had few houses to visit, and were isolated even in sickness, when we were left at home alone.  I suffered nothing more serious than chickenpox and appendicitis; and arrangements were always made that we should telephone an acquaintance in another street if we were in distress; yet all our training prevented me from asking for help.  Having been taught that ‘phone calls were expensive - they had to be listed in a notebook, and paid for - and taught, too, not to “pester” grown-ups, I dared not ask for help - well or unwell. Our very English tradition of ‘stiff upper lip’ kept all expressions of feelings rigidly under control.  This was undoubtedly a great help, outwardly, for any home or community.  But although I don’t want to encourage anyone to have a life-long pre-occupation with his own “needs”, I would suggest that little miseries, even normal miseries, can be made more bearable by occasional sharing, otherwise wounds can fester.  The “stiff upper lip” can hide a fatal affliction.


Each illness meant that we had to be alone at home for a week or two.  It was unpleasant, but we thought it normal, and learned to occupy ourselves and to be self-sufficient.  My brother was out of the house almost every waking minute; and my sister - if not at school - was invariably alone upstairs, her head buried in a book.


‘Latch-key’ kids.


At fairly regular intervals, my mother would be stricken with pangs of conscience about having three ‘latch-key kids’ - and she, a teacher.  The phrase had only just been coined, and made her feel guilty.  She would immediately arrange for an elderly neighbour to come in to prepare a snack and to offer it to us after school: orange squash, and bread and margarine; and each time we were appalled, blithely indifferent to our absent mother’s concern, thinking only what a bore to have to wash our hands and make conversation, instead of being free to charge off to our own hobbies, satchels flung onto the hall floor.  We would beg to be allowed to continue as usual; then we’d slide back each time into our ‘latch-key’ existence, which was familiar, and therefore was preferable to any other routine.


Once, visiting a friend’s house some distance away, immediately after the school day ended, I felt strangely moved and yet uneasy, as I watched the mother at the door plying her child with questions about her day.  She made leisurely conversation as she put out cakes and squash for us both, obviously delighted to be with us, not over-worked and tired like my mother.


That little glimpse of another way of life was enchanting - but was as unfamiliar as the view of a distant country on a television screen.  I half-wondered what it would be like to have someone hovering attentively around me all the time, then forgot about the incident and went back to the way of life which I thought of as normal.





Sad to say, I remained so lonely, and became so anxious for friendship that I began to conform, and to behave, little by little, like some of the other children I’d met, so that I’d be accepted and not be so lonely any more.  It began to seem important to be daring, and amusing.  For the first time in my life I became mischievous and unruly.


I don’t mean that  I had  once behaved perfectly  and then suddenly lapsed. But my loneliness -


combined with the inclinations arising from natural human frailty - led me to court popularity in silly ways. I grew less sensitive to others’ feelings; yet this wasn’t perhaps entirely my fault, since it was made plain to us that children were a nuisance.


One or two of the staff at school were routinely sarcastic and scornful.  Someone who talked most about good manners shouted rudely at any child after the smallest mistake.  Someone else regularly left children weeping, after heaping humiliations upon them for up to half-an-hour, before embarrassed class-mates.


If one asked questions, one was called “cheeky”.  If one struggled with a problem, one was berated as a “brainless idiot” or a “fool”.  Such examples of adult behaviour led me to think that all who preached about responsibility and good behaviour were hypocrites.  I was quite unable to feel respect or admiration for them, but only fear and puzzlement; and I began to ‘lump together’ in my mind all teachers, developing a ‘them against us’ attitude. I began to be influenced by some contemporaries to adopt new standards, or rather, to abandon Christian standards.  The new creed was evolving: “Aim for fun and pleasure if you can - provided you don’t deliberately hurt anyone, and don’t get found out”. 


This was a Godless creed which led those who followed it away from Christian life.  It damaged souls, relationships and family life bit by bit.  Secretly but surely, I was influenced by the mainly secular opinions which I heard expressed day after day throughout those formative years; and I found that my cheekiness and pranks were punished three or four times a week when I was kept in detention at school for a further hour after the final lesson.


A kind enquiry.


I owe great thanks to certain members of staff for kindnesses which changed my life; but I’m sad to say that as we grew older and bolder, some of us began to regard members of the teaching staff as ‘fair game’ for all sorts of pranks and disobedience.  I could weep, now, for the small miseries which we inflicted on young inexperienced teachers, now that we had ‘lumped together’ in our minds all teachers, seeing them - in a jokey way - as the enemy.  Egged on by boys who longed to prove their bravery, we scuffled about in class, changed desks, interrupted every instruction, and played various secret tricks: all from a riotous sense of fun, mixed with disrespect and thoughtlessness.  Yet never did our jokes progress beyond a certain stage; we were frightened of the Headmaster, and so were obedient in important matters, preferring work to punishment.


A member of staff took me aside one day, in a kindly manner.  He led me to an empty class-room, sat me down,  and asked very gently why I was always so naughty.  Quite sincerely, he continued: Was I unhappy; and could he do anything to help?  But I was so overcome by his tender concern that I burst into tears, unable to utter a word about my various miseries.  He gave up in the end, helpless to assist someone so genuinely shy and inarticulate. 


Nothing short of torture would have made me speak to a stranger like him about my feelings or my family, so strict had been my cultural training.  Some of you who read this book will understand how much I’ve had to unlearn, in order to obey Christ and to write about my life.



‘God is Love’?


By the time I was fifteen, I felt generally sad, bored and unloved.  I was reading far fewer books, snatching only occasional hours with old favourites before rushing off to school lessons or to homework or to household chores. Many of my friends were involved in sport; but I still detested hockey matches and other team games.  Obviously, they can be used as a great way for youngsters to ‘let off steam’, and some people enjoy them.  I liked athletics, for the beauty of the movements of the athletes, and for the beauty of the soaring arcs we made in the summer sky with our discs or spears.  But I cared not a jot whether team A was more successful than team B in driving a ball into a goal. I had no competitive spirit.  It seemed pointless to rejoice in our success and in someone else’s downfall.


Very soon, even church-going seemed very dull.  ‘Prayers’ became a chore.  All that had to do with God or Creation still held a strange and disturbing attraction - whenever I stopped to think about such things.  But I didn’t understand the truths which lay at the heart of the Christian faith.  It seemed easy to believe that God loved cheerful, hardworking adults who wouldn’t dream of behaving badly, and who probably possessed all sorts of virtues about which I knew nothing.  How could I understand, I thought - I who was so stupid and untidy, so irritating, and so impatient?  My faults were so evident.  How could Almighty God wish to have anything to do with a nuisance like myself?  I believed that He had made me; but it was difficult to believe that He loved me.


There was something else which puzzled me.  I’d been assured that religion was designed to make us happy; but I found it difficult to be patient and uncomplaining; and it was hurtful to have to complicate simple friendships by having to explain our practices to non-churchgoers.


I remember myself at sixteen blushing before some school-friends who were lounging on the steps of the local cinema, chatting, on the way home from school.  When I’d explained that I had to leave, to go across the road to make my ‘confession’ at Church,  I felt not brave, but foolish, grudgingly going to fulfil what I saw as an extraordinary practice urged on me by a mother who belonged to a peculiar sort of ‘club’ which now seemed old-fashioned and irrelevant.  I was especially resentful because my father said that ‘confession’ was quite unnecessary for us Protestants.  I didn’t know whom to believe.


Refusal to conform.


So muddled were my beliefs that it began to seem pointless for me to go through the usual rituals.  And when the questions I asked my parents about church attendance stirred up not encouragement but exasperation, I became even more reluctant to take part.  But my eventual refusal to conform, outwardly, by sitting in Church for an hour each week with the family, was due only to a passion for truth, and not from a joy in rebellion.


In different areas of life, I’d been offered a picture of God which was far from attractive.  I was told that God was tender and compassionate but I had no idea what the words meant.  I was told that the answers to life’s mysteries lay there ‘in the Bible; but that large dusty book seemed to have little to say to a ‘modern’ girl who couldn’t penetrate its peculiar prose; and so I came  to see God as a Divine Judge who wasn’t very fond of me, although He might reward me one day for my good actions if, that is, I managed to avoid all the traps on the way to Heaven.  I believed that He would leap up and punish me, as others did, for the least carelessness on my part; and, worse than that, He would do so quite relentlessly throughout the next fifty years.


That prospect was so unendurable that I couldn’t understand what was meant by the phrase that “GOD IS LOVE” (1 Jn 4:16).


As I realised in the end, I had false ideas about God which would one day, by His grace, be pushed aside.  But, meanwhile, I had wrongly come to understand the Christian life as being a way of fear and drudgery: utterly joyless - as some of our Sundays had been, when everything joyful was banned.


By the time I started questioning the need for Church attendance I had no thoughts of ‘Church’ as a family place.  So many members of the congregation seemed to be old or ailing, and I ungraciously assumed that they went there for the company or perhaps for the music.  After all - God wasn’t very attractive; surely they knew that, too? For the past two years I had attended church solely because I’d been told to go.  I resented being chivvied into attending,  and I resented having to fulfil duties which no one could explain to my satisfaction, and which seemed to me to be humiliating and quite unnecessary.


What a nuisance I was,  in many ways: either moody or worried, although my bad moods were short-lived, and I tried to be kind.  When I chattered at weekends, I was told I was noisy.  If  I asked questions, I was advised to get on with my work.  I was told that: “you think too much” - which disturbed me.  Was life entirely ‘about’ getting one’s work done?  Were thinking and knowing not important?  Were there no answers at all? 


It was as though ‘God’ slipped over my horizon; but I wasn’t allowed to forget Him.  Things were to happen later which would to widen my understanding, though it would be many years before I would look back in amazement at the glimpses which God had given me of His plans.





Few human beings can have passed through childhood to adulthood entirely undamaged; and certain episodes in my ‘teens’ gravely wounded and embittered me.  It’s not nostalgia that prompts me to mention them here, but an aching regret that I was so over-sensitive, coupled with a plea for more watchfulness on the part of all who love and look after children of any age.


At a time when I was already lonely, puzzled and miserably self-conscious about my outward and inner failings, a new torment was added.  Adolescence as such was not a problem: just the fact that in a mixed class, in a mixed secondary school, every new, visible and embarrassing lurch into woman-hood was noted with vulgar glee by some of the dozens of ungainly boys who shared our life in the classroom or the sportsfield and who - it seemed - had never heard about modesty or purity.


What might have remained mildly discomforting moments - in a girl’s school - were elevated into torture.  There was no escape on the tennis court or the hockey pitch; in fact, we were more exposed, since we were routinely mocked or applauded for our faces or figures by the whooping lads who were playing football only a few yards away.


Until that year I had been unselfconsciously thin, lithe and energetic, taking for granted my stamina, no more aware of my body or appearance than a little cat which is sitting poised under a hedge ready to pounce on a bird.  I had been that kitten, eyes wide with delight at all the birds: that is, all the little feasts or various delightful occupations that nature or Providence had placed before me.  I took for granted my agility, but rarely gave a thought to my appearance.


My new gawky self-consciousness was elevated to near-panic when our sports mistress announced one day that the newly-built showers were to be used by us - compulsorily - after every sports lesson.  We would be expected to run naked beneath the shower-heads, from one end of the building to the other, with all the girls in the class.


Whether the practice lasted for very many years, I don’t know, but it was a crude and unnecessary abuse of authority.  And because it had been vigorously drummed into me that I ought to obey my superiors, I was by then terrified of anyone in authority.  From habit, I’d fearfully obeyed instructions given to me by parents or teachers, blithely confident that they knew best.  It hadn’t occurred to me that any of them might not know right from wrong , or that - unimaginable - they might command me to join in something sinful.  So I conformed, defeated by that official promotion of immodesty.


A foolish proposal.


It seemed outrageous to me that others should have so much power over me, when I thought the recent decision appalling.


Who was I, to criticise others?  My own behaviour at times was hardly perfect. I must have believed that there was a great difference between moments of thoughtlessness and calculated wrong-doing, although I was so inarticulate that I couldn’t have put this into words.


I hope that if I’d been ordered to torture an animal, or to cheat in examinations, I’d instinctively have refused to comply, despite threats or flattery, perhaps pitying whoever asked such things, and supposing that he was merely ignorant.  But a crassly-implemented and silly elevation of ‘hygiene’ above all other ideals was so vague and peculiar an evil, and I was so badly-instructed on anything to do with such matters, and so tongue-tied and uncertain, that I had no idea what to do except to conform.  Perhaps that’s how people feel today as further foolish proposals are pressed upon children, teachers and parents.  Only very brave and clear-minded people can protest with any hope of success in an age when primary-school children have thrust upon them, and supposedly in the name of health-and-hygiene, information about sexual problems.  This is now an age, too, when older school-children are told in very great detail much about life-styles and parenting: frequently with no mention of family, morals, and duty.


To some people, it will seem that my distress was caused by such a little thing.  But it meant that, as one of a crowd,  I took the broad road offered to me.  Angry and embarrassed, and yet compliant, by one small step I was made hard-hearted; and another humiliating experience in that difficult time made me miserable and untrusting.  It happened when I was a very shy fourteen-year-old, and when I’d gone to France for a month to stay with friends of my parents; the couple whom they’d known since pre-war years.


Experiences in France.


It was a privilege, in the nineteen-fifties, to be able to go on what was called a French ‘exchange’.  Every second of the journey across the Channel was exciting; and then there were two teenaged children to meet.  All the members of the family were kind.  After my welcome, there followed a traumatic initiation when I had to speak French, and was greeted by hoots of laughter. But the whole family was delightful.  We had a lovely meal, and I grew more confident.  It was hoped that my French would improve in  leaps and bounds; and that’s what happened, just as the spoken English of the French children improved, when their turn came to stay with us, in England.


But after the first day of my stay, and because the family members were all busy, I was free to wander the streets of Rouen.  For a month, as long as no special outing was planned, I was free to explore as I’d never been free before.  Holidays with my parents had been a rarity, and then had been thoroughly organised every day.


After brief visits to shops and cinemas, I made my way to the swimming pool, having planned to go there every single morning; but I was briefly, though shockingly, assaulted in the changing-room on my first visit, and so I dared not return. It didn’t occur to me to mention the incident to anyone.  My French was so poor, and my fear of persons in authority so great; and I’d been taught never to complain.  So, in order to pass the time, and when I’d finished looking at the shops, and in spite of my feelings about church-going at home, I found myself wandering into every church I passed.  I was alone, and curious, with many free hours to spend where I chose, so I looked around me, unhurried and undisturbed.  All the churches were open!  I was enchanted.


I can’t recall seeing any crowds or celebrations when I strolled in, feeling like an intruder; nor was there music or much light.  The churches were dark caverns, apparently empty and not much used.  Yet I know I sensed a Presence there, and returned to one or two of them every day.  St Ouen, the Cathedral, St Maclou - all had vast, cold echoing interiors, full of something or Someone who made me linger and wander and stay.  He was familiar; but He remained unrecognised for a while.


It’s true that my French ‘auntie’ took me to Mass with her on Easter Sunday in the Cathedral - quite near the building where Joan of Arc had been questioned before being put to death in that same town.  The size of the crowds, however, with my total lack of understanding of the liturgical event in the far distance, caused me to look upon the whole outing as something peculiarly French; it didn’t sink in that this was a Catholic celebration, or that the numerous churches I’d visited were Catholic.  There was a majesty and beauty about them, as well as a Presence; and these things weren’t what I’d have associated with a religion which I’d only heard described as suitable for superstitious and mediaeval people who hadn’t had the benefit of Protestant enlightenment.  What I’d been given was a glimpse of the glory of the Catholic Faith, and therefore a suggestion of “THE CITY OF THE LIVING GOD, THE HEAVENLY JERUSALEM WHERE THE MILLIONS OF ANGELS HAVE GATHERED FOR THE FESTIVAL” (Heb 12:22).


My ignorance about France, and about the Faith in France seems astounding now; but we’d met few people who had travelled ‘abroad’.  I knew little about how others lived: about their cultures and customs.


For the whole month, I continued to explore Rouen with an almost breathless interest as I darted in and out of those echoing sanctuaries.  Then I came home to face the next crop of examinations and to cope with teenage ‘crushes,’ athletics meetings - and continuing loneliness.  I soon forgot about that most marvellous aspect of my stay.



[Childhood problems.


How greatly each one of us differs in our reactions to pain and difficulty.  How I winced in future years, when I remembered my childhood problems and was appalled that a handful of incidents should have made me so self-pitying and moody.  My emotions had lurched, daily, from joy to anger and back again, as my mind darted from one problem to another, unaware of the deeper progression now taking place.  Loneliness made me cynical and argumentative.  Those two faults helped me to turn away from prayer, and without much prayer I became impatient with those who prayed and who spoke about God.  In my heart, I began to despise their blithe satisfaction with their lives.  My mind dwelt uncharitably on some of their evident weaknesses; and since our religion was supposed to make us upright and worthy I concluded that all who preached without practising perfectly had thereby proved it to be useless; and I included in my sweeping inner criticism half the staff at school, as well as my own parents.]









Questions about the Creed.


An intermittent and ruthless probing into truth was important to me, however, even in the midst of all the turmoil and half-belief of that time. My conscience was active even as I resented my Christian “shackles”. Whilst secretly half-ashamed of our faith, I was unable to step outside, as it were, and to disregard conscience.  The way of life which had been put before me for admiration and emulation seemed dreary and grim. I half-thought that an active conscience was a sign of childhood ‘brainwashing’; yet I hadn’t the courage to blot out its voice.  From time to time I asked questions: longing for a firm explanation of our traditional beliefs, one that made sense.  But none was forthcoming.  Adults, it seemed, made bold statements about morality and duty, but couldn’t give me answers which satisfied me, for example, about the Church.


No-one I knew had been able to tell me why we recited, in the Creed on Sundays: “I believe in One Holy Catholic Church”.  I asked: “Where is it?” and was told about the ‘branch theory’.  I was informed quite firmly that the Church had “broken up” into three parts, long ago, and that it was no longer ‘Universal’.  No Reformation Church was Catholic, I was told - except for our little bit of the Anglican Church: the Anglo-Catholic part.  Christian bodies were ‘Protestant’, ‘Roman’, or Orthodox - with the Anglican Church sitting astride the first two groups. 


It seemed strange to me that when a Church founded by God could have collapsed in that way, Christians continued to express their unswerving belief in its unity, week by week; and meanwhile I asked questions - sincere questions - about the Bible, wondering: what Authority had insisted that we pay attention to this particular Old Book?  I asked why we ignored all other Old Books in the World, for the sake of our ‘Bible’, when the ‘Church’ from which it had sprung had disappeared.


My father, when pressed about the meaning and existence of a ‘Catholic Church’, agreed that the “early Church” had composed the Creed he revered, and that it had selected Scriptures from a vast number of inspired writings to produce the Bible which he now cherished; but he insisted that the Early Church had split asunder; and he insisted, too, that no Church, therefore, taught any longer “with authority”.  No “authority” existed.  All Ecumenical Councils held after the split between Orthodox churchmen and Rome, in the eleventh century, were incomplete and unrepresentative, he announced, and so had no claim on our attention.


So I had no clear notion, in my childhood, of one of the ‘foundation-stones’ of Catholicism: the conviction that the ‘early Church’ of Apostles and Martyrs had continued - “One, Holy and Apostolic” - until the present day, and that she clarifies doctrine, still: defines what she herself knows to be the essential to the Christian Faith.  It was because she clarified the Faith in the twentieth century as boldly as in the third or fourth that my father was upset by what he saw as “Roman” arrogance. I wasn’t sure what to think.  My father plainly knew more than I did, but the things I heard didn’t seem to ‘fit’ together.


As for the Scriptures presented to me at ten or twelve years old in King James’ impenetrable English, I was ashamed to confess my difficulty in understanding the quaint phraseology.  Some parts were certainly beautiful; I grew to love every word we sang in the church choir - especially the Psalms.  But although I found excuses for the use of old-fashioned language in musical compositions, I thought it was hopelessly inappropriate for straight forward reading-out-loud in church.  After inching my way line by line through a Shakespeare comedy at school, I had no patience left to tackle Saint Paul’s letters, also offered to me in medieval phrases.


With my respect for authority dwindling generally, and with my hope of understanding Holy Scripture receding, I inevitably began to wonder, one day:  “Christ wrote no book” .. .so why should we be constrained by the Commandments, today, as presented in the Old Testament? But even as I asked myself that question, I remembered glimpses from the Scripture-readings at church of a powerful Christ who resembled someone from the stories about Abraham and Moses.  The quiet Jesus of the children’s story books seemed to be a pale shadow of the One who said that He had come to bring not peace “BUT a sword” (Mt 10:34) which would divide families: the One Who rebuked Saint Peter, argued with Satan, and calmed a mighty storm.



“Difficult” issues.


It was doubtless because of my father’s vigorous defence of Protestant reformers that, in my ‘teens’, I examined the very un-Catholic idea that one might join any church which one found congenial. I had been taught, and firmly, that we Anglicans were right to have Bishops and priests and deacons.  We were told that our ‘branch’ of the Church was mediaeval Catholicism now purified of unnecessary additions-to-belief and superstitious practices.  Yet there was no criticism of Presbyterians or Baptists who didn’t have a hierarchy like ours.  It was suggested that the differing styles of worship practised in the numerous denominations provided various sorts of enjoyment for people of different temperaments.  I explained, earlier, that my father’s reasons for leaving the Quaker fellowship, which had been selected by him as being the most admirable and welcoming of all Christian groups, were based more on reasoned arguments than on fluctuating emotions; but he regarded himself as a special case.  He quite happily accepted that other people had far flimsier reasons for changing their allegiance from one church to another. The main thing, in his eyes, was not what denomination one joined, but whether, in the general sense, one acted as “a good Christian.”


Strange to say, it was one of the good things in modern life, preached regularly by persons in authority, that re-inforced, for a while, the proposal put before me that the only worthwhile Christian doctrines are those on which the greatest number of persons in any group or nation happens to agree.  Of course, I wasn’t taught the Catholic idea that if an article of faith, revealed by God, were disbelieved by ninety-nine persons out of a hundred, it would still be true. I could see for myself that the mere numbers of supporters couldn’t alter the truth of anything revealed by God.  But it was the concept of democracy, as lauded at school, and on television and the radio, particularly in those post-war years - and in my father’s daily newspaper - which put at risk, in my mind, the notion of truth or false-hood: absolute good or evil.


It seemed entirely right that ‘ordinary’ persons like ourselves should be able to eat, work, marry, build homes and sleep in freedom and should take part in choosing who amongst us would govern the country, now that our monarchy’s role had become largely ceremonial.  It seemed right that newspapers could publish reasonable criticism about public figures, and that wealthy, titled persons shouldn’t be counted as more precious or intelligent than those with no money or education.  Certain attitudes which had prevailed partly through the ascendance of “democracy” were just and praiseworthy.


But I came to see that I was being steadily encouraged to believe that, in any institution, what is morally right or wrong can be decided according to the will of the majority of its members.  When I saw this principle at work in political life, I was in danger of being led to think that it underpinned even Christian thinking. 


Some of Christ’s “difficult” statements in the Gospels were explained away, I knew, and by Christian writers, as being too harsh for ordinary mortals to obey.  Over the next few years I would see ‘the will of the majority’ held up as the means by which we ought to make Christian decisions on every so-called “difficult” issue in the twentieth century: issues on which the Catholic Church in every century has always offered wise, authoritative and Divinely-inspired answers, no matter whether those answers have been popular or not.


Sin and ambiguity.


One day, as I browsed through a history book, at home, I learned that during my father’s childhood  - and boldly disregarding ancient wisdom -  a conference of Anglican Bishops in Lambeth, in England, early this century had given their approval to sinful acts never before tolerated by a Christian body.  And on another famous occasion, I would shortly find, a new ‘church’ had been created in India, where members formerly regarded as lay-persons were prepared for Eucharistic ministry in the ‘Church of South India’ through the use of a deliberately ambiguous act of worship.  It’s true that one question concerned morals, and the other Church order; but what these had in common was that they were permitted because it was the ‘will of the majority’.


It seemed extraordinary to me that if sufficient numbers of Christians were agreed, then long-standing and God-given moral prohibitions or disciplines could be pronounced legitimate.  I longed to know what was really true, and what was or wasn’t acceptable in God’s sight.  Surely the advice He gave about sin and sanctity and wrong was permanent?



Enormous evils.


[It was to come as an enormous relief to me, a few years later, to discover the teaching of the Catholic Church not only on morals but on systems of government.  The Church sees herself as bound to no particular scheme for organising human society, but sees merits in the various systems.  So - as I had decided - there might be as much danger in men and women being governed by representatives from their midst, if those representatives were wholly devoted to something un-Christian, as in their being guided and guarded by a benevolent dictator.  The will of the majority in any country might as easily enthrone a racist or an atheist as a wise Christian leader.  In our own times, by the will of a majority in Parliament, some of our doctors have been given permission to kill unborn babies - something now legal in certain circumstances yet still wholly immoral in the sight of Christ and His Church; meanwhile I could see, long before that Act was passed, that whilst a democratic system might in some circumstances be admirable, it might, in others, be responsible for the introduction into a country of enormous evils.]



At  home on Sunday mornings.


I didn’t know who could give me answers to all my questions, but I never doubted that I could find answers somewhere, if I persevered.  Meanwhile, although I was loathe to disappoint my mother, I decided to be honest.  Since I believed that the main reason for attending Church was to profess one’s love of God and to adore Him, and since I couldn’t do that wholeheartedly, or, rather, since I had no faith in the Church which seemed so muddled, yet which organised our worship of Him, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.  So, quite soon, convinced that God Himself probably disliked me, full of troubled questions about the Christian life, and unwilling  to sing the praises of the disapproving and Divine tyrant of my imagination, I deliberately disregarded my mother’s wishes for the first time in my life, and stayed at home on Sunday mornings.  I half-expected my father to lay down the law about worship but he hardly said a word, except to comment that I should do whatever I thought was right.


It surprised me that my father was so uncritical of my decision; but I suppose that, since he had made prayerful choices about his own way of life, as an adult Christian, first, by joining the ‘Quakers’ and then by leaving, he felt watchful respect for the decisions I made, happy to see me reflecting in this way.  On religious topics - with the exception of Catholicism - he preferred to see me argumentative rather than indifferent.


His antagonism to all things ‘Roman Catholic’ stemmed, quite obviously, from the teaching in his childhood.  It triggered all his fervent denunciations of ‘Rome’.  This made it difficult for him even to speak about the teachings of the Catholic Church without exasperation.  One morning in 1950, as we sat at the breakfast table, eating cereal and watching him read the ‘Daily Express’, we were all astounded by the vigour with which he suddenly looked up from a news item and angrily mentioned the Pope.  He criticised him for having “added new bits to the Creed” by a definition of the Assumption into Heaven of the “Virgin Mary”.


Since my father believed that “The Church” had broken apart many centuries ago, he believed - as I mentioned earlier - that no-one today could define anything about the Christian faith; it was an impossibility.  So he was shocked by what he saw as the effrontery of Catholic leaders in making firm statements and claims of any sort.  To him, Catholics were deluded foreigners.  It never occurred to him that Christ’s Church couldn’t die, but remained a visible institution which still challenged the world by its faith in the supernatural and by its demand to be obeyed as if it were Christ.


I can see now that his study of Church history was sincere but rather ‘patchy’. He spoke as though the Creed and the Bible which he revered had been given to him without earthly agents.  He didn’t hold the Catholic belief that, whereas God had indeed delivered His Revelation of Himself  “once and for all” through Christ and His Apostles, the infant Church - which was governed by successors to those Apostles - gradually defined and clarified that same Revelation.  My father didn’t believe that papal influence had counted for much when dogmas were being formulated in solemn Councils throughout the first Christian centuries; and he was adamant that none of the Councils which had been held since the rift with the Orthodox had been valid: had been truly inspired and empowered by God to speak clearly against heresy and to teach sound doctrine; nor would he recognise that Catholics followed early disciples in being “FAITHFUL TO THE TEACHING OF THE APOSTLES, TO THE BROTHERHOOD, TO THE BREAKING OF BREAD AND TO THE PRAYERS” (Ac 2:42).



Ignorance of Catholicism.


Earlier in this story, I mentioned the confident teaching given to me at a Catholic infant school.  Not once after nursery school did I hear that the Roman Catholic Church was at work world-wide, and was thriving.  I hadn’t a single Catholic friend amongst my close contemporaries - nor did I meet a Catholic priest face-to-face until the day I sought one out a few years later on, to ask to be received into the Church.  Astonishing as it seems, I’ve realised that until I began to read more widely in my late ‘teens’, I remained almost entirely ignorant of the existence and teaching of the Church which has not only gathered together the Scriptures for our guidance, but which - with the same authority, discernment and unity of faith - gathers and guides its members in the twentieth century.  When I found the Catholic Church, a few years later, all my questions were answered. 


Until then, I had no idea that there were Catholic parishes all over the British Isles, nor that Catholic Missions in far-distant parts of the world had become thriving Catholic Dioceses, with Bishops, priests, deacons and people united in faith, government and worship. Surely David Livingstone had been the sole explorer on the African Continent?  Wasn’t Gladys Aylward, in China, the first Christian to penetrate that part of Asia?  St. Francis Xavier, and others who had toiled across the world for Christ, were to be unknown to me for several years.  The only Catholic hero I’d heard anything about was the ‘leper-priest’, Father Damien, who had died on an Hawaiian Island with his flock around him.  He alone, of all Catholics, was mentioned admiringly by adults I knew, because of his heroic work and despite his peculiar beliefs: and also because his virtues had been lauded by a well-known Protestant writer: by Robert Louis Stephenson.  I’m astonished, now, to reflect that whole families and communities in England in the nineteen-fifties could have been so ignorant of the true history of this Island Kingdom, where the Catholic Faith flourished for a thousand years.


No-one who is alive now in the nineteen-nineties, when communications are so swift, wide-spread and vibrant, can have failed to have learned about some of the evils perpetrated by Christians - by Catholic Christians too - throughout two millennia.  There’s been much in Catholic history that has been frankly appalling.  Yet I’ve learned, however, that the price paid supposedly for the eradication of some of the Church’s worst abuses has been even more appalling.  Those who - from religious zeal, apathy, fear, or personal gain - once worked to overturn Catholicism in this country bequeathed to their descendants, I believe, a weakened faith.  By the good which remains within it, it can bring its devout adherents to Baptism and so to the hope of Salvation; but it lacks the richness of the true Catholic Faith which can be glimpsed, reflected, in all the best of England’s old art and architecture and literature and law, and medicine, and which could only be found - I was to discover, in my twenties - in its glory and purity, in the Catholic Church which returned from ‘exile’ after three hundred years, when the penal laws were abolished and the Catholic hierarchy was restored.


Anti-Catholic propaganda.


My ignorance of Catholic teachings and practices was due, in part, to the fact that four centuries of savage anti-Catholic propaganda had been tremendously successful. The “reformers” of mid-sixteenth century England not only offered a new interpretation of the Catholic Faith, through their laws and proclamations; they executed Catholic priests and banished - most horribly - the Sacrifice of the Mass.  They abolished, too, prayers for the faithful departed, and petitions for the help of the Saints and of the Mother of God.  Whole towns and villages, by the twentieth century, were ignorant of many basic truths of our history and our Christian traditions.


That’s why it seems to me that - especially in England - the weight of responsibility on individual Catholics remains awesome, when, in each generation, many ordinary family members must expect to be at least gently mocked for their faith by those who share the same street or the same village.  My former neighbours had stood almost alone in my childhood as they proclaimed - at the very least - one or two important aspects of the Catholic faith by their quiet but steadfast witness.


It shocked me later, when I’d discovered the richness of the Catholic Faith, to look back at all that I’d heard, over the years, in matter-of-fact comments about life and religion. Much of the understanding I’d been given at school about ‘Civilisation’ was flawed.  All that was British, Protestant and ‘modern’ had been held up before us with admiration.  Catholics, I gathered, were not generally to be regarded as sensible or well-educated. Their superstitious religion with its “semi-pagan” rites was a religion enjoyed by the ignorant, not by educated Britons like ourselves - so I was informed.  Catholics were foolish in having large families, I was told.  The Anglican Bishops who spoke at Lambeth in nineteen-thirty were held up before me as spokesmen for all sensible persons who wanted to oppose the unenlightened taboos of a down-trodden people.


A ‘mediaeval’ Religion.


It seems that even today, good Christians are unaware that many Catholic words we hear are accompanied by abusive adjectives.  Every particle of Catholic teaching or practice which was mentioned, in my youth, in books or conversation, was labelled “superstitious” or “foreign”, and never simply “Catholic”.  This ensured that we grew up knowing, vaguely, that England had once been a Catholic country; but we assumed that Catholicism was an early medieval fad which had been largely overcome.  Entirely ignorant of the fact that the entire Catholic Church still taught a holy, Apostolic and admirable faith, I was ignorant of the very tender or powerful devotions long-recommended by Catholic Saints.


Almost every word we learned which was connected with Catholicism, such as ‘sanctity’, ‘dogma’, ‘relics’ or ‘penance’ was used only in phrases about ‘mediaeval’ ways.  We heard about the virtues of Edward the Confessor or Thomas Becket - or learned about ruined monasteries or shrines; but these were all presented as persons or things which might amuse or entertain us, but which hadn’t the slightest relevance to any ‘modern’ mind.  All the devotions which we heard about had been swept away at the Reformation - so we were told.  Religion nowadays was English, and sensible, and up-to-date - unless one went “abroad”.


Few of us in our Grammar School were aware that it had been founded when the country - and the education - was Catholic.  Teachers of history and literature doubtless spoke from ignorance and not malice; yet we were thoroughly misled.  As I’ve discovered, there’s no such thing as a ‘neutral’ view of history.  The author of every text-book will have brought his own beliefs and prejudices into his writings; so there was little chance of us learning to admire Catholic heroes and heroines, when we were being educated in a vaguely-Protestant, modern English grammar school in the nineteen-fifties.


I remember clearly from those school-days the sight of a slim, dark-haired boy sitting alone in our class-room as all the rest of us dashed out into the corridor to go to morning Assembly.  I was told that he was a Catholic, and wasn’t permitted to worship with us.  Yet not once did we ask about his faith; after all it was ‘rude’ to ask personal questions.  It was ‘un-English’ to discuss religion or to reveal one’s deepest feelings: so we had been taught.  He was left alone by himself.



[False Ecumenism.


Despite all that I’ve said about my ignorance in childhood, I can’t think that the relationships between Catholics and others have been solved by Ecumenism as I’ve sometimes seen it practised in parts of the country today.


True ecumenism, in its purest form, is a modern marvel which has overcome some long-standing prejudices.  It has brought Christians together more frequently, in social life, social work, study, prayer and witness.  Every Christian ought to be glad, I believe, that nowadays, others who try to love and serve Jesus Christ are revered as Christian brothers and sisters.  The fact remains that Christian churches promote very different teachings on a number of serious topics.


I know I haven’t been alone in thinking it not only foolish but dangerous to gloss over such issues, nor have I been alone in being saddened at realising that some enthusiasts would like to see Christianity ‘rationalised’, in the sense of Christians agreeing to proclaim a ‘core’ Christianity which leaves out every dogma or tradition which causes distress to ecumenical enthusiasts.  This is what I call ‘false ecumenism’, and it cannot bring about true unity “in Christ”.  How can it do so if it keeps silent about Christ’s firm teachings, for example, on morals?


So many good people who work in ecumenism are discouraged by an apparent lack of progress, but some of the ‘solutions’ which have been put forward are incompatible with Catholic belief.   With my own ears I have heard it suggested, time after time, that the Catholic Church is the same as any other denomination, only with more rules and regulations and, sadly, a strict and fervent Pope.  It is suggested, by Catholics as well as by other Christians, that if only we at ‘the grassroots’ could be brave about surmounting our differences of doctrine, and could ignore the ban on intercommunion, stop bothering about ‘private’ moral problems such as artificial contraception, abortion, re-marriage and other ‘disputed questions’, then a new united superchurch could emerge, composed of tolerant and loving Christians who can work unhampered by rules and regulations.  Of course, this  commonly-expressed view is quite contrary to Catholic teaching.


It’s true that the rather ‘stand-offish’ attitudes of thirty years ago may at times have seemed uncharitable; but some of our divisions have the merit of truthfulness.  Many persons today seem to wish to brush aside the differences; and such ‘minimalism’ can lead to Christians treating as unimportant things about which Christ himself spoke with great earnestness.


It saddens me to see that such words such as sacrifice, salvation, martyrdom and Heaven are disappearing from the ecumenical vocabulary, to be replaced entirely by more popular words about ‘wholeness’, tolerance, peace and fulfilment - all very good words, but not words which summarise the faith which Christ claimed would be “a sword” (Mt 10:34); and He warned us that “A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THOSE OF HIS OWN HOUSEHOLD” (Mt 10:36).  Quite simply, truth is at stake, whenever Catholics gather and speak with other people who won’t share the fullness of the Church’s Faith.


There’s no question of judging others, nor of denying the good things which are done for the love of God.  However, every little failure and evasion by Catholics in ecumenical circles contributes to the false vision which is growing in other Christian minds - of the emergence of a united ‘Church’ which is free of dogma, discipline and sacrifice: a Church which is heroically committed to the second commandment but which sees no need  to remain faithful to our ancient, apostolic ways of honouring the first.


It’s a cause for gratitude that Christians have achieved true unity in several areas of life.  Nevertheless, the truths taught to us by Christ and shown afresh through the Catholic Church to each generation mustn’t be quietly ignored for the sake of ecumenical friendships.  Such friendships would be built on shallow foundations. We shouldn’t be using tactless language in our discussions, of course, or referring unnecessarily to minor questions on which agreement is impossible at present. Yet important things are rarely discussed, I’ve found, as being too divisive; and yet these are the very things which need to be discussed if ever we are to pray together, as Our Lord wishes, “in spirit and truth”(Jn 4:24); and the Church herself has said, through the wonderful ‘Lumen Gentium’ of the Second Vatican Council,  that it’s essential that Catholic doctrine be presented in its entirety.  We’re urged to avoid a false conciliatory approach which waters down the Catholic Faith and so confuses those who aren’t Catholic.]



Opposing advice.


In my mid-teens, when I knew very little about the Catholic Church, and when I’d been made unhappy, whenever I spoke with my parents about religion, by the plain inconsistencies revealed about Anglican teaching and practice, I stopped going to Church on Sundays, as I said: then I also glanced at the subject of Confession, and couldn’t see why I should endure it any more.  I’d confessed my sins to our minister two or three times a year for several years, in order to please my mother, who’d said that it was what good Anglicans did.  But now I’d discovered - through my surge of recent questions - that my father thought it unnecessary.  He said, moreover, that it wasn’t normal practice for members of the Church of England.  He could confess his sins quite well to God, he assured me, in the privacy of his own room.


I’d also discovered that, strictly speaking, we had only two sacraments: Baptism and the Eucharist; and the practice of Confession that was urged on me by Anglo-Catholics was a Roman practice, which was quite unnecessary for English Protestants.


With two members of the same Church giving me opposing advice, and no authoritative leader in Anglicanism to whom I could turn for a reliable opinion about my problem, I followed my natural inclination, which was to avoid unnecessary embarrassment; but when  I stopped going to Confession, and so no longer entered the church either to prepare for Confession or to receive the Eucharist, I almost ceased praying altogether.  It wasn’t a conscious decision.  Night-time prayers had ceased long before - indeed, I couldn’t remember ever having prayed outside church, except to say grace at Sunday meals.  But with each cultural or religious opportunity for prayer now avoided, I became spiritually quite rudderless in all the turmoil and agitation of those difficult years.  I’ve forgotten to say that I’d also abandoned the church choir.


All through those teenage years, beneath the surface enthusiasm and behind the energetic facade, I was blindly looking for a great Love which I felt sure loved me and awaited me.  I longed to find the Person whom I knew would be the perfect recipient of all the love that I longed to give.  Perfection, in some guise, seemed a possibility, if only one looked hard enough or knew where to look.  In yearning for that Extraordinary Person - and although I was very keen to have a boyfriend, and then a husband - I was yearning for someone wholly ‘Other’ who was perhaps incomprehensible and even unattainable; but I believed, obscurely, that he  was waiting somewhere in the wings.




Then almost overnight, it seemed, the boys in our form grew tall and manly. I thought them so witty and attractive that for much of each year I was infatuated with one person or another, admiring their grace and beauty, longing - like a child - for affection: and beginning to forget my yearnings for Someone or something spiritual, transcendent and holy.  The whole class became preoccupied with the new ‘romances’ which were developing or changing.  In a single-sex school there might have been some respite for teachers as well as pupils from the turmoil and drama of adolescent crushes; but what happened, sad to say, is that new criteria were suddenly used to measure a person’s popularity and ‘success’: neither academic nor sporting prowess, neither kindness nor wit, but only one’s physical attractiveness and whether or not one had a ‘date’ or a steady boyfriend.

My own hopes for human friendship continued to soar and then to descend according to the degree of boredom or impatience I felt amongst various groups. I remained lonely, in the midst of the grim relentless Dance of adolescent life. What I chased then - like a child amazed by the beauty of soap-bubbles - were caricatures of love. I longed for warmth and affection; yet people were so unreliable, and I was so inadequate.  Why were our hopes so tremendous, I wondered?  Why did I instinctively believe that I could find a perfect and fulfilling Love when I was neither attractive nor praiseworthy?  Why was I convinced that perfect Love awaited me, somewhere, despite my imperfection?


Father Caunter, our vicar, was very patient.  Occasionally, at the Youth Club, I would ask his advice and mention my unhappiness.  I know I asked him questions about life on earth, and about God, and even about why parents were so demanding.  He said that I’d never be completely satisfied with anything in “this world”.  I didn’t know what to answer.  Our being alive on this earth seemed an extraordinary thing; what was the real “meaning of life”?  Yet I felt like a freak for being disturbed by such matters.  None of my contemporaries seemed much bothered about the reason for our existence.



Knowledge about earthly life.


Sometimes, during the sharp joys and pains of my childhood, I was physically stunned from time to time in my heart - or so it seemed - and at the same time I was suddenly aware of a terrible pang of yearning.  This usually happened when I was alone, and happened once when I was fourteen and was walking home alone from school, totally unprepared for any new experience.  It is hard to describe this, but the ‘yearning’ in my heart was answered by and accompanied by a sudden clear ‘knowledge’: an astonishingly rich and deep gift of information - or understanding.   It was what I would later call a ‘Teaching-in-prayer’. It arrived within my heart and soul without words; and yet since I must describe it here, I shall use words, from now on, to ‘encapsulate’ something of what I was shown on such occasions in this peculiar manner.


This is what I was told on that summer afternoon, by a Source outside myself, a Source which, as soon as I began praying again, several years later, I recognised as having been our God:


                        Recognise your importance, in My sight.  You have been made for great things. (T:7 #1)


                        Don’t expect to feel entirely “at home” on earth.  You are like a stranger, on earth.  You are made for another home. (T:7 #2)


                        Don’t depend for your complete happiness on anyone on earth.  Put your hope in Me alone. (T:7 #3)


Ignorant of the Source of knowledge.


Something good and simple had happened.  There was no reason for fear.  I was ignorant of the Source of the knowledge, and ignorant, too, of its significance.  Therefore I moved on.  I had no idea that it’s possible for God to teach human beings by infused knowledge, nor had I the faintest idea that a person like myself could be the recipient of such generosity.  Absorbing the information, I had my tea and did my homework, beginning to let go of the strange event.  I thought no more about it for several years.


If we’re made for life with God, then of course in a life without Him, we have no home, and no security; and in this sense I had no true ‘home’ for the next six years.  More and more, my thoughts about God were pushed aside by everyday miseries.  By the age of sixteen I’d even begun to have scornful thoughts about those who were ‘good’; I began to think that people who were docile and obedient were rather spineless and unadventurous.  However, God never let me go entirely away from Him despite my foolish attitudes.  The awful yearnings, which nothing on earth could satisfy, came again and again.  It didn’t occur to me to speak about them.  I’d concluded that life was to be full of unsatisfied yearnings.  I’d been told that there were no answers to most of our questions; so heartache was a permanent companion, day after day.  It was labelled ‘teenage moodiness’; and it was quite true that I was usually either grumpy about one thing or wildly enthusiastic about another: regarded by my parents as a bit emotional and over-dramatic; and so I felt not loved but merely tolerated.


Life seemed to consist of a long procession of dreary tasks interspersed with new causes for embarrassment; and there was no comfort from religion.  Although I believed in the existence of God, I no longer knew what to believe about the spiritual life as it was presented to me, or about prayer.  I longed for happiness, and for peace of mind and comfort, but I felt no hope of finding any of these in church.  That was where I expected to meet only the Almighty Judge of my childhood, Whom I’d grown to fear and dislike.



A troublesome yearning.


Week by week, in my mid-teens, I followed the school time-table, and reluctantly did my chores; and when I became Church-free, and almost God-free, as I imagined, I became less happy, not more.  But even then, the great mysterious ‘yearning’ in my soul ebbed and flowed.  It distracted me from work, and spoiled my leisure.  Yet my head wasn’t burdened with romantic prose or cinematic images; this was a fiercer, deeper yearning which I didn’t understand.  It wasn’t some secret, deep desire for glamour or excitement, stirred up by conversations or books or films.


A strict enforcement of work-times and bed-times meant that leisure hours were rationed, but I accepted that our lives were fairly austere. I’d learned to control my speech.  I thought my own thoughts, accepting that questions at home were greeted with limited enthusiasm, or regarded as a bit of a chore.  So the strange yearning within me was wholly independent of any feelings of resentment about parental decisions.  It was independent, too, of any of my fretful thoughts about boy-friends and school.  It remained within me, unidentifiable and unsatisfied. 


That strange spiritual pang was sharpened by sunny weather and by beautiful sights, and by poetry.  Matthew Arnold’s “Labyrinthine Mind” made the yearning almost unbearable, so I learned to read poetry in ‘short doses;’  but I wrote poetry: half-formed verses about half-formed ideas, which of course I kept to myself.  Poetry-writing might have been seen as a bit self-indulgent and useless, unlike hobbies such as woodwork or knitting; and I kept on painting.  It was as easy as breathing, though there was always more to learn.  And since my “A-levels” studies included Art, I continued to paint every week, in term-time.  In all that I painted, Christ’s face appeared. I couldn’t explain it; but there He was, and His Mother, and His Cross; or rather, three crosses appeared somewhere in my pictures, whether they were paintings of dark nights or sunny cricket fields.


Who Christ really was, I didn’t know; but beneath all the daily distractions Someone stirred me.  Either my memory of Him or His own Self was somewhere in my soul. It seemed I couldn’t escape Him.  But I would have denied at that time that I was at all ‘religious’, admitting only to my vague belief in a Creator-God.  As for the writings - Christ was there, too, in lines and thoughts, and in little sketches at the sides of the page.  I didn’t connect the Person Whose presence sometimes touched me with the fiery, terrifying Saviour of some of the Gospel stories, particularly those in which Christ spoke harshly to the Pharisees.  What would He make of me, I once thought, if even good earnest people like the Pharisees couldn’t satisfy His exacting standards?  Such was the sort of reflection - in my ignorance - that kept me from prayer, which could have kept me ‘cushioned’ by God’s grace, and might have protected me to some extent from unwise decisions and attacks of self-pity.


Meanwhile, my unspoken, hopeless longing for a Perfect Being remained a never-healing wound. I loved ‘Him’ hopelessly; yet I had no idea where to look for Him, and I felt lost.


Saint Teresa of Avila.


It’s true that I was no longer reading much besides essential books for schoolwork.  Rebellion had made me miserable; self-pity led to boredom; and - sad to say - on those occasions when I wanted to ask for advice or information, pride held me back, lest my mother think that she had won me round by what I saw as her earnest, “do-gooding” outlook.  But she never gave up. She was always kind.  She patiently accepted my routine refusal of almost every ‘worthy’ book she offered me.  But one evening when I was idly browsing through our living-room bookshelves, and, despite my aversion to organised religion, I picked up an interesting spiritual ‘paper-back’.  It was a volume entitled: “St Teresa - A Life”.  I read it that night in one huge gulp, as though I were sitting at the feet of some lovely, lively contemporary who poured out her life-story with vivacity and joy.


The scene which was laid out before me by St. Teresa was a magnificent description of the Catholic Christian spiritual life.  It was quite new to me. I’d never before experienced the whole marvellous world of Catholic life, as pictured by her.  I’d half expected to read something about Tudor villains, scandalous convent-life or wicked Popes. What astonished and delighted me was a glorious panorama in which I could identify the quest and the journey, the holy Communion, the sacrifices, the adventures, and, all the time, in view, a Castle where a King lived - and such an attractive King - whom Saint Teresa served with such passion and such joy.  What astonishment I felt, at seeing Christ as a hero, and also as a chaste but passionate lover.


I didn’t analyse my feelings; but it was as though I’d been taught throughout my life that the service of God was a grim and miserable progress which might one day bring us to a place of rest and reward.  St Teresa presented a different picture - of sacrifice, certainly, yet of glad toil in the service of Someone Who is so glorious that we should count it a pleasure to be permitted to do anything for Him, now, rewarded or not.


The experience of reading her work after a diet of worthy but “low-church” writers was like seeing my first Cathedral, after thinking that all churches, everywhere, resembled plain Scout-huts.  However, I was rather depressed by the information on the back cover.  It seemed that this fascinating author had died many centuries ago; also - she was a Spanish mystic. Despite my interest, my suspicious mind began to dismiss her reflections as the gushings of a mediaeval woman who would have been seen as a ‘fanatic’ in twentieth century life;  so I met her, briefly, and then forgot her, despite my attraction.  I had no notion that the creed which she professed was still being taught in all its richness and clarity.  I didn’t know that, for love of Christ, men and women still entered monasteries to devote their lives to God in prayer.  My Anglican father had assured me that miracles and visions had only been produced in the early Apostolic Age.  That’s why I began to wonder whether St Teresa’s writings were just fantasies woven in a superstitious mind.


When I was hungering for spiritual guidance, several years later, I bought but didn’t read three volumes of her works.  One glance at Teresa’s rich and splendid prayer-life made me decide that it had no relevance to my own. By then, I believed that I deserved nothing but opportunities for reparation.  I turned to other books, which spoke at greater length about my real needs: about earnest prayer for perseverance in utter darkness, and about the avoidance of sin.  I felt that St Teresa had never been unhappy for long.  She obviously had a gay, loving heart; and mine was overburdened with grief.  She seemed happy and optimistic, whereas for many years my only optimism came from pure faith. 


It was true that the grace of God kept me outwardly bright and cheerful, once I had given my life to Christ; I would have thought it a sin to appear gloomy in His loving service.  But my days were spent in dumb endurance. I thought that St Teresa had never known difficulties as great as mine; I knew she had never been so wicked.



Teenage joys.


It wasn’t all doom and gloom, I’m grateful to say, in the nineteen-fifties.  Happy experiences came my way for a while. By the time I reached the sixth form, I’d been befriended by a little group of kind-hearted boys and girls whose interests overlapped my own, and who enjoyed the same sort of music.  I learned to dance - and loved it.  There were jolly evenings spent with a gang of friends and a record-player, with soft drinks, jiving, and much teasing and good-humoured banter.  We met on Friday evenings, to listen to ‘pop’ records in someone’s front room.


For a little while, I was happy.  Weekdays had always passed fairly quickly, in term-time, with chores and school-work to be done. But what had once been long and lonely weekends were transformed, because of simple things.  Now that I had friends I could go for cycle rides, or attend the youth-club; or we could meet together to listen to music.  There was no money to spare for travel or amusements; I’d rarely seen a magazine or bought a new book, and I’d only once been taken to a theatre to see a serious play.  But my new-found social life was thrilling.   This was the era when ‘pop-music’ really began, and skiffle-groups were widely admired; so my guitar - and my few dozen folk-songs - were welcomed at parties and other gatherings.  My guitar was a great luxury for which I was extremely grateful.  Music never failed to stir me, though it filled my heart with as much pain as wonder.  I found much delight even amidst the unending stream of misunderstandings and embarrassments.  Even at school there was much that was enjoyable.  Besides taking part in school plays with gusto, I ached with joy at the music we sang in the school choir.   Plays and concerts resurrected interesting ideas or made beauty almost tangible. 


Every week seemed to bring a new joy - or a new crisis.  If I was happy, I was radiant; but if another brief romance fizzled to an end, it left me devastated: further proof, I believed, that I was simply unlovable; and my lack of confidence blighted my early adult life.  Yet I have to state right now, and firmly, that no sad experiences ever made me undemonstrative or ‘over-spiritualised’, in the sense of being “anti-body”, that is, despising all warm, real, marvellous bodily beings created by God.  Rather, I was always thoroughly in awe of bodily beauty, regretting that I was plain and uninteresting but admiring every sort of physical grace or beauty wherever I saw it.  Moreover, longing to capture beauty, I yearned to draw and paint whatever entranced me.


Another embarrassment.


What embarrassments there were, amongst the joys of that time, and the nice surprises.  How deeply I yearned to be beautiful and attractive.  Once, I wished I could vanish into thin air sooner than endure another difficult occasion.  It was when I was sixteen and had just come back to Amersham on the train, after an interview in London.  My own clothes had been unsuitable for an elevated occasion such as a meeting a potential employer, since I possessed only a school uniform, some jeans and an ill-fitting outfit that I’d made for myself.  I stood crimson to my roots, after bumping into a bunch of friends in Amersham High Street, while I was still clad in one of my mother’s knitted suits.  It was four sizes too large, and I’d had to wear it to my interview with the waistband turned over twice.


How I wished I could have looked elegant.  I’m ashamed to say that because I was so  unspiritual, my attention was focused for many years on exteriors. I’m also ashamed to say that I often failed to appreciate a warm heart or a kind nature, put off by odd mannerisms or superficial characteristics.



Moving out.


Throughout the last few months at school I was in a ferment about exams, beset by numerous fears and miseries; but I masked my feelings with a surface gaiety and endured inner torments in silence.  I was moody, becoming exasperated by the social niceties which seemed so important to others, and unutterably bored by what was called “small talk” or by the endless questions asked by adults about school-work.  I did my homework solely to avoid being punished, though I found myself enjoying the literature I studied in English and French lessons; the images I found in Milton and Wordsworth thrilled me.


When it was almost time for me to leave school, at nearly eighteen, I was told I should study at university or college, as my examination results were reasonable, although I’d done only  the bare minimum of work.  But I was so ignorant about form-filling and about grants, and so appalled at having to choose one subject from amongst so many, that it suddenly seemed easier to follow a course I’d initiated two years earlier.  At sixteen, I’d gone for an interview at a large teaching hospital and had been accepted for training as a nurse; I was told that I could start there when I was eighteen; and since one of my childhood ambitions was to be a nurse, as well as a missionary, a mother, and an artist, I slid effortlessly into a pre-arranged plan, looking forward to earning my own living, too, when I studied and worked.


I left home at eighteen, taking a suitcase onto the train to start my new life.  All the gloom and self-pity of the past two or three years vanished overnight. Once the decision had been made, I’d become exhilarated at the start of what I saw as a tremendous adventure.  Yet at the same time I was nervous, incredibly naive, and very shy.  My few pathetic attempts, before leaving school, to make independent, adult choices - whether about wearing make-up, or deciding at what time I’d come home after a party - had been foiled by anxious parents, highly responsible and eager to protect me from danger.  So I was quite unprepared for life away from home, and had no idea how to sit down calmly to work out a few priorities.  Blind enthusiasm was going to precipitate me into a variety of dangerous situations.


With dozens of other young women, I was pitched into a totally strange, hectic and demanding routine, which alternately thrilled and appalled me.  After six weeks of classroom studies I was sent to a surgical ward to work full-time.  The discipline was tough, but no different from what I’d experienced at home and school.  The scenes I saw were shocking, but my childhood training ensured that I didn’t bat an eyelid when confronted with what I saw as unbearable.  Whatever I felt inside, I briskly pressed on with whatever was required.  And besides, my concern for the patients over-ruled my revulsion. 


It’s with horror that I now look back at my blithe, youthful lack of understanding of the pains and problems of the elderly, whose aching joints needed kind, careful movements, not the swift, ruthless efficiency of someone quick to finish the day’s work.  Meanwhile, in huge leaps of experience, I grew accustomed to the horrific sights, though not to human heart-ache and grief.  With the initial advantage of a disciplined childhood, I coped with the poor bodies and limbs so grievously wounded and damaged, and - later on - learned to love poor aching hearts, too, and admired those who were patient and cheerful.



Exhilarating entertainments.


Life outside the ward was almost overwhelming.  I had never been to a restaurant, a ‘hairdresser’, or an hotel; but now I enjoyed the social life typical of a large institution.  There were many rules and regulations, but exhilarating entertainments as well.  I enjoyed them all; but, sad to say, I longed to “fit in” and to be popular.  My standards declined further, the busier and more sociable I became.


A novelist couldn’t have described me as a farm girl or a country bumpkin; but I wasn’t far removed from those images; and believing myself to be almost at the centre of the “civilised” world - in London - I wanted to change my image.  If I could not be - was not - beautiful, then I would be glamorous and sophisticated.


The glamour could be trowelled on with the make-up, but sophistication eluded me. Excruciatingly tongue-tied with older people, I blushed scarlet at each new social event, appalled at my own blurted schoolgirl opinions, yet still with no training in listening or showing an interest.  In short, I had no self-assurance and not much real charity.  Allowing myself to be propelled along by events, I grew not happier but more bewildered.


Every few weeks I dashed home on the train for a short time, longing to see familiar faces.  I blithely hoped that my home had remained the same; if I compared it with the Nurses’ Home where we were regimented and inspected, it seemed very cosy and  private.  However, when I arrived home, on my first visit since leaving, and hoped for a weekend of relaxation in a familiar room, away from anxious eyes, I was told that all my possessions had been thrown away.  Moth-eaten toys, school books, essays, the model theatre, too - all were gone.  I owned nothing but what I’d managed to carry away to the station, early in September.


I was surprised but not shocked, and quietly accepted the very logical explanation that there was too little room for everybody’s old things.  It’s true that I felt a bit depressed. Perhaps I felt that if things which I’d either made or treasured were unimportant then so was I, and the fault must be mine.  Also I found that - quite reasonably - the bedrooms had been ‘changed around’.  I was to sleep in the box-room.  Although I didn’t mind where I slept, I no longer felt “at home” at home.  So I returned at regular intervals from then on, longing to see the family, and yearning for affection; but it became a great relief, after each visit, to escape back to my exciting new life in ‘town’.



[Painting, and colour.


I still possess the bundle of sugar-paper paintings which escaped the “blitz”.  I had dashed them off enthusiastically, in powder colour, at primary school.  Perhaps they had lain in a folder under my bed, or had been taken to my room in London; it’s one of the details I can no longer remember; but I’m glad they survived.  They’re reminders of a time when, as a child, I could put down clearly and unselfconsciously, in colour, what I either saw before me, or could draw up from my visual memory.


It was to be another forty years before I’d come full-circle, able to do the same again:- with less uncertainty about composition, and with the power of a few new techniques, but, during the moments of time that spanned the picture’s creation, with the same joy and self-forgetfulness.  Also: it’s only been during the simplicity of childhood, and in recent years, that I’ve painted for the right reasons: not only because it’s possible, but because it’s the Will of God for me at that moment: by which I mean one more simple task of all the day’s good tasks, rather than an impulsive leap or a means of attracting notice or reward.]



Expressionist Colour.


In the midst of my youthful chaos and excitement came an invitation to accompany a friend to an Art Gallery; I think it was my first-ever visit to a major collection of paintings.


What a soaring joy I felt at the sight of the strong, clean colours of the Expressionist paintings which I saw reproduced in the Gallery Shop: colours unseen before in my daily life.  Derain, de Vlaminck, Macke, and Monet sent their lavish harmonies and unorthodox contrasts straight to my grey-coated heart.  I was irritated with myself for liking Franz Marc’s “Blue horses”, since I had no especial love of horses - but I didn’t realise that my glimpse of those colours and their interactions was a brand new gift which I wouldn’t “unpack” properly for another thirty years.


At the same time, I saw, reproduced - not as gaudy and exciting as Expressionist works, but very beautiful and gentle - the Monet paintings of Rouen Cathedral. I was enchanted to recognise the deeply-recessed doorway through which I had stepped with delighted curiosity at the age of fourteen, during a visit to our French friends.


Alas, my resolutions about starting to paint again came to nothing.  Still dashing from one activity to the next at top speed, always wildly excited about some new interest or anxious about another problem, I was quite incapable of setting aside enough time in order to concentrate on an activity so contemplative and peaceful.



Work and leisure.


I nursed for two years.  I met life and death.  I fell in love, laid out dead patients, comforted live ones, and tore between theatres and parties at breakneck speed. I worked with great enthusiasm and took part in hospital shows; but I was no happier than before.  There was more pleasure, certainly, than in my childhood, but there was still no answer to the question - who are we, or why are we here?  It was all ‘surface’ fun.   I grew accustomed to the frantic pace of life as day-duty was followed by months of night-duty - twelve nights in a row.  I became so overwhelmed by work, leisure activities and new friendships that I hardly thought about God from one year’s end to the next.


The whole business of being ‘grown-up’ was overwhelming, although I was still somewhat sheltered by living in the Nurses’ Home.  It was astonishing to earn money and to be free to spend it. I was just as astonished that I could occasionally buy new clothes, and go to the cinema without asking permission.


Each Christmas, I followed friends to a local Anglican church.  However, I felt that I was an outsider, despite my familiarity with the music and the prayers.  Now that I was no longer pressurised into church-going, the services seemed to be not boring, but mysterious and beautiful; but God seemed very remote, and His interest in me almost unbelievable; and it didn’t occur to me to attend public worship for any reason except to pay homage and adoration.  I mean that since I couldn’t bring myself to adore Someone I neither knew nor liked - my Headmaster God - I saw no reason for weekly attendance.  It would have seemed merely self-indulgent to have gone there just for the music, the beauty and the warm feelings of nostalgia.


A sure symptom of a partial alienation from God and a real lessening of charity at that time was my growing attraction to outwardly-appealing persons and a neglect of those who seemed boring or unattractive.  I was too well-trained to be openly rude or unkind; but what a shameful superficiality had overtaken me.  Even worse, I who so loved beauty that I wished I were beautiful not only for vanity’s sake but to give joy to others, went ‘over the top’ in my use of cosmetics and hair colourings. I wanted to create a more acceptable face than the plain, pale freckled oval which had faded into every crowd at school and afterwards.


Alas, I fell into a sort of double spiral, downwards, trapped by my own ploys.  Knowing that anyone who showed an interest in my new self-creation would be disappointed were I ever to appear in my true colours, like Cinderella after the Ball, I found my efforts to appear stunning were tinged with desperation. I longed to be appreciated, and yet secretly despised anyone who responded to my worldly overtures.  How very little I knew about real love.



A brief conversion.


Within a couple of years, God stepped in, to fascinate me, and so to teach and change me; or rather, I reached out, and found God: the loving God behind the monster-mask.  But first, there was a false start.


When I was still nursing, and after yet another day of frantic activity, I happened to be walking past a hall in central London where fervent Evangelical Protestant Christians were singing and preaching, hoping to bring sinners to God.  I was lonely, and went in.  I took part in their prayer-service reluctantly; yet eventually my heart and emotions were touched; it was because  I recognised the truth of their message: that we’re all full of sinful desires, or perhaps full of good desires, uncontrollable or wrongly directed, and that because of our selfish ways we’re in need of forgiveness. I heard, more clearly than ever before, that everyone who asks for mercy is welcomed by Christ, Who came down to earth to save us, and is led into a marvellous new way of life.


Suddenly, I was weeping with shame at my brash, thoughtless behaviour.  Since I was still lonely, as I said, and young and impulsive, I overcame my embarrassment in order to approach the stewards, when I didn’t even know who they were or where they had come from. I gave them my name, and was told that someone would keep in touch.  My thoughts were still muddled, however.  I wasn’t sure just who Christ is, although I felt a great attraction to Him.  But no emotion was strong enough to enable me to examine and change my life. To be led forward on a sure Way, I needed more than a moment’s shame at the knowledge of my wrong-doing.  It was true that, through contrition, I could help my faint spark of faith to grow into a flame; but I also needed truths about the Divine Person to Whom I was being asked to entrust myself.  I needed sure answers to all sorts of questions about sin, duty, worship - and Church. I needed a firmer foundation.  The “conversion” lasted for about three days.


Back at work, I became embarrassed that I’d confided in strangers, and regretted that I’d let them ‘bludgeon’ me with emotional preaching and soft music.  I began to despise the kind woman who had been thrilled that I’d ‘decided for Jesus’ and who pestered me with 'phone calls for days.  Exasperated, eventually, by her frequent invitations to spend my precious free time in her room, reading the Bible, I fobbed her off with excuses which she - good woman - happily believed.  So cynicism and pride ruled again, as far as my soul was concerned, and religion remained just an annual event: to be observed at Christmas in any church, anywhere, with a party of friends, and then to be forgotten for the rest of the year, except for when I blindly and instinctively called out for God’s help in a moment of crisis.


Wanting to meet Love.


If I analyse that incident today, it seems to me that I had a sincere longing to meet the Person Who could forgive my sins.  Had I been less impatient and more thoughtful, I might have met Him immediately, in prayer.  But at the heart of my disappointment lay the fact that I was yearning to meet Love in Person and yet was offered a book; and it was the very Book that people in my childhood had revered, but which had seemed very dull  to me because it was written in such old-fashioned language.  Only when I’d given my heart to God in prayer, a few months later, would I turn with reverence to His nourishing Word in the Holy Scriptures.





Very suddenly, at around that time, when I was still lonely and muddled, my whole life changed.  Despite all my faults, I began to go out with someone who was kind and had lovely manners, and also a great sense of humour.  


He was devoted to his family: to parents and siblings, nephews and nieces; and he was faithful to his religious duties; and on top of all that, he was not only hardworking in his own subject but very musical; and so it was that one month before my twenty-first birthday my fiancé and I were married  - in a church - out of reverence for his Christian beliefs and for my vague Creator-God; and I’m full of gratitude that even today, as we approach our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, I can say that that everything I’ve just written about him is still true.


We were both members of the Church of England; and so the wedding was in an Anglican church because although I seldom prayed I was quite happy to stand up in front of family and friends, to make public and solemn vows of loyalty to my chosen husband - in a building consecrated for God and for Christians.  I had never denied my Baptism.  Indeed, I had an agreement with my fiancé that any future children would be baptised Anglicans; and my views on marriage, doubtless imbibed at first from my parents, but truly right and reasonable to me, were crystal-clear.  Married couples ought to be loving and faithful until death, I believed, since it was plain that we ought to keep our vows, and never to tear apart a family; and I understood that marriage was primarily about having children and making a happy home: a place of welcome, warmth and safety.



[Different races.


Perhaps it’s necessary to mention something else here, though only very briefly, before I move on with my story.  I mean that some people who read my surname suppose that I’m Chinese, when I’m not.  My husband was born in England of Chinese parents, hence my name; and the reason why I’m writing ‘briefly’ is that we haven’t paid much attention in our own lives to what other people sometimes need to call ‘the race question’.


There was no reason why we or our families should pretend that people of different races don’t sometimes have different outlooks on a number of issues, or don’t approach certain things in different ways.  We and our parents knew, however, that there were no disputes amongst us about what was supremely important.  We were all Christians, which meant that some things could be taken for granted about customs and traditions as well as belief; and so there was a sound hope of some harmony being maintained. We were all convinced of the importance of a loyal, warm and yet sacrificial family life which makes demands on its members but which provides an emotional haven not only for the members but for a network of friends.


Saint Paul said that we should “BE FRIENDS WITH ONE ANOTHER, AND KIND” (Ep 4:32); and it’s obvious that love, goodwill, tact and courteous speech are especially needed wherever people meet who are of different races or cultures. In having the same faith, however, my fiancé and I, and our families, had a sturdy platform on which to build a good relationship. Besides, it would have been regarded by both ‘sides’ as needlessly offensive to keep pointing out differences in our cultures.  This was the era, remember, when it was regarded as impolite to make what were called ‘personal comments’ about other people; and to have spoken about one’s own cultural outlook and expressions would have been seen as embarrassingly self-centred and unnecessary.  The main thing we knew, as simple Christian people, was that we should aim to be kind, courteous and inoffensive towards everyone, no matter what their race or religion; and that’s what we’ve tried to put into practice, despite some of the taunts we or our children have encountered through strangers in the street, from school-children, or from those whom I once blithely imagined might rent us a room, or a flat.]



A new dimension.


Both my fiancé and I, in our separate moments of free time, had spent fruitless hours looking for a furnished flat where we could make a home together: but to no avail, mostly because of blatant discrimination. I can’t count the number of signs I read that said: “No Irish, Blacks or Asians,” or variants on the theme.  But just days before the wedding one of my fiancé’s relations offered to rent us two rooms. I moved in at the last moment, to make sure that it was clean and tidy, and had curtains hanging, and that the gas-meter worked.  Then, with a determined acceptance of the demands both of my husband’s responsible career and of his commitment to his far-flung family, I made my marriage-vows wholeheartedly, grateful that a new road lay ahead.


As I gaily organised my new life, however, with God half ‘on hold’, as it were, I was blind to God’s plans for my life. He, eternally patient and loving, was already guiding me towards the One Church for which baptism had prepared me: the Catholic Church which, in its full splendour and comprehensiveness, was quite ‘foreign’ to me then.  The date of my wedding was July 6th: the very date on which St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, had accepted death sooner than submit to his Monarch’s wishes and betray the Catholic Church by denying St. Peter’s successor, the Pope.  But in 1963 I had never heard of “Saint” Thomas.  He had been mentioned as just another politician who had fallen foul of a difficult master.


After our marriage, I was immensely happy, and was prepared for any sacrifice to be a good wife.  I longed so much to have children that I was thrilled when I became pregnant - and was appalled by an early miscarriage.  But I remained optimistic, and longed fervently to be a mother.


The griefs and insecurities of earlier days seemed to vanish into thin air, as I dashed off to work each day and planned a cooked meal each evening.  Life was so full and joyful that there was a serious danger that I’d create a new but earthly idol, more demanding than the disapproving childhood God Whom I’d almost forgotten; and there was another danger, which was that without a firm and adult faith my joy would remain only superficial; and that’s what happened, as I began to develop an unspoken but almost superstitious fear that no joy so true and undeserved could be left undisturbed for long.


That’s why I half-waited for something to disturb my life, as hope and fear battled for first place in my heart.  With only tattered shreds of faith in God, I couldn’t see clearly. I didn’t realise the truth: that in my wonderful new life I was building myself a castle to contain merely earthly joys, and that one glance in the direction of God would shake the fragile walls.  Also, I’d been unaware of the power of the Sacrament of Marriage, through which Christ leads us to love our chosen spouse with more than natural affection: with supernatural Charity, which inevitably brings about change, as well as making possible our everlasting fulfilment.


I believe that it was God’s interior ‘prompting’ that led me, within a month of my wedding, to ponder the meaning of love: to see another dimension: to want to be of one heart and mind with my husband, united, perhaps, in prayer.  That Sunday morning, my husband was about to set off alone to the church which he attended faithfully every week.  I decided to go, to keep him company and to share his ‘interests’.  His goal was an Anglican church not far from our bed-sitter.  The traditional order of service was, of course, familiar; but apart from Christmas- time and weddings I hadn’t attended a service of worship for about five years.


Spiritual gifts.


By the grace of God I began to turn my thoughts God-wards during that hour’s worship each week, no longer a resentful fifteen-year-old craning her neck to look at someone’s watch. I soon found that, despite my rebellion against His Christians and His Book, the Heavenly Father whose laws I’d despised and Whose guidance I had spurned, now still IS, and was quietly waiting for me to respond to His love.


It seems to me that because I went to church for the best of motives, and began to listen and pray with an honest and enquiring heart, I was at last able to receive the spiritual gifts which God had always wanted to give me. It was as if, on previous occasions, my irritation or cynicism had kept my heart imprisoned and had shut out the faith, hope and love which God longed to pour within.


Yet there were still questions. Since truth demanded that I say in prayer only what I truly believed, I stayed silent for a few weeks at various moments during our church service.  In my mind, I gravely tested the words of all the prayers, as though ‘holding them up’ against my conscience.  I don’t mean that I sat in judgement on the formulae, only that I was content to begin again, and to study things like a child.  This meant that I was soon joining in the words which I could wholeheartedly endorse.  I left unsaid certain bits of the Creed, but only until I’d had time to think about each phrase, and then to pronounce it out loud in church with whole-hearted and free consent and belief.









A little lamp of faith.


Every day was spent in trying to be good and kind.  Every new week was wreathed in prayer.  Moment by moment, I became more peaceful and contented. None of us can be certain of why or how faith is given; I only knew that the little lamp of faith I’d once carried as a child hadn’t been entirely lost.  It had been battered, warped, ‘half-emptied’ and neglected.  But it was real; and it was marvellously precious.  By its light I was able to see clearly once again: able to judge my duties and priorities rightly for a moment at a time. 


It was true that some of the questions of my teenage years were still unanswered; but the largest issue had resolved itself, in simplicity.  Now that I was older, and was less easily swayed by anger and fear, I grasped for the first time the fundamental principles of the search for God. Now that I was praying once more, I could ‘see’ truth more clearly.  I took my first steps in an adult, freely-chosen Christian life.  If I summarise my motives, I can say that I had decided that since God existed, I would adore Him; and since I believed that the Christ of the Christian Creed revealed Him, I would make every effort to obey Christ’s laws.


These few words can’t explain my faith, but I decided not only to be ‘good’ but to be ‘perfect’.  With some sweet feelings and some conceit - for I was proud of my will-power - I set about my reform, for love of a God Whom I didn’t know, but Who I had come to believe was All-powerful and Good, somewhat different from Him Whose image I’d feared in earlier years: now more a Father than a law-enforcer, although remote from me and extremely awesome and strange.


Throughout that time, I imagined that I was looking for God.  I didn’t realise that He - in His kindness - had been seeking me, and was drawing me on by His grace.  When I turned to Him in prayer, whole-heartedly acknowledging my dependence on Him, it was through the grace of baptism - forgotten but now ‘revived’ - that He was waiting within my soul, ready to receive me in Love, through Christ.  He knew that, for the moment, I was only slightly sorry for my past sins.   I was too busy to be able to think much: out at work all day and cooking each night: not to mention a diary half-full of parties - and with occasional winter evenings spent keeping warm at the cinema after the gas meter had run out.  But it was a real conversion. It wasn’t very deep, but it was wholly sincere.  It changed my whole attitude to life. My good intentions, I know, were accepted.


The Christian Way.


Every night and morning I prayed brief but fervent prayers; and I kept all the Commandments, fervently, for the first time in my adult life, in so far as I understood them at the time.  I gave up everything that I believed was sinful.  Quite astonished at the good things which, by the grace of God, I was now able to do, I was astonished, and humbled, too, by the ease with which I was able to overcome some evils.


In order to keep the Christian ‘Sabbath’, I attended Church every Sunday.  I gave up swearing - I mean the careless and casual use of mild swear-words which is common amongst youngsters.  Then, in order to honour my parents more - as God commanded in the Scriptures - I became more cheerful and helpful when I visited: trying to listen as well as to talk; and I tried to stop grumbling.


As soon as I made those new efforts I realised how many of our conversations, whether between relations or friends, consist of taking turns at listing complaints about God, the weather, an employer - or one’s own family.


Amongst these sincere efforts  to reform, and as I tried to make every aspect of my life pleasing to God, I found that weekly church-going was very encouraging. I listened carefully to the readings and sermons, and it was marvellous to feel that I genuinely ‘belonged’; and now that I longed  to be faithful and good, I sat down at home, occasionally, with an exercise book and a Bible, making notes about what I found in the Gospels.  I had a vague, guilty feeling that I ought to be reading the Bible much more frequently, but I raced along month after month, genuinely busy at work all day, and busy cooking and sewing in the evenings.  I prayed at home every day, on my knees in our little flat, and enjoyed the Scripture-readings in church.  But if I found time to read the letters of St. Paul I would feel I’d neglected Genesis or Kings.  The Book of Revelation mystified me; and since I was still repelled by archaic language the Acts of the Apostles sounded like tales from Shakespeare: extremely worthy but remote and irrelevant.  The Bible still conjured up my old memories of God the avenging Law-maker.


Sweet feelings in prayer.


Prayer-times, however, were always rewarding, during those first few months after my conversion.  Within a short time, I even began to have sweet feelings about God.  I was surprised to feel His ‘touch’ on my shoulder whenever I knelt to pray to Him.  This was only during the first few months of renewed prayer: in a time of ease and encouragement, and before the ‘Dark Nights’ of the soul which would follow.  But today that joy has been restored, as the Father touches my head whenever I turn to Him in prayer and also shines His Glory within my soul; but thirty years ago I had no idea of all the adventures that the spiritual life would bring: both torments and blissful surprises.  I was happy to pray simple prayers and to make efforts to be more charitable.  I would have coped with martyrdom, I hoped, should it come; but I didn’t anticipate the particular problems that faith would pose in ordinary life.


So great was my longing to learn more about God and goodness that I picked up a book for the first time in months.   We had few possessions, little to read, and very little money, but I found several fascinating books in a second-hand shop, and “ploughed through” them with enormous interest.  I hadn’t guessed that the Christian faith had such an interesting history, and was almost dazzled by the riches spread before me, as one book led to another and began an unfolding of Christian faith for me in all sorts of areas: in aspects of theology, spirituality, art, liturgy - and even geography.  But I didn’t let anything distract me from my main goal, which was to find out precisely what Christians believed - so that I’d know precisely what to do in order to please God and become holy.  I was obviously far from holy; but I believed firmly that God could change me.


The clear-sighted Anglican author, C. S. Lewis, drew me - through his wonderful combination of extraordinary word-pictures with remorseless logic - to a greater sense of shame at my past cynicism and rebellion. I admired his skilful depiction of ordinary temptations in “the Screwtape letters”, and the blunt yet inspiring explanation of the Christian cause, in “Mere Christianity.”  His repeated message was that Christians must expect to suffer, to be despised and persecuted, and to meet with terrible choices as they try to serve God in an imperfect and dangerous world.  This echoed - though in more modern tones - what I’d once read in Bunyan and Milton; and in my own life I’ve learned the truth of it.  Yet I’ve also learned that the difficulties we usually dread are rarely the ones we’re asked to face; and problems which we’ve never considered can come hurtling along unexpectedly.





It was during that first year of our marriage, when I was tremendously happy, that I became unwell, again.  I say ‘again,’ because I’d experienced several months of weakness and pain, two years earlier.  Now married, and working full-time, though no longer nursing, I was distressed to find myself struggling against weakness once more.  No matter how great was my joy at home or at work, and my longing to be busy, I couldn’t throw off the painful illness by will-power; and I had to take ‘sick leave’.


Each day, after shopping, I’d crawl up the stairs to our first-floor bed-sitter.  After walking a mere two hundred yards across Turnham Green to buy a few groceries or to return a library book, I battled simply to get home.  Only twenty-one, I was happy and optimistic; but my legs felt like jelly.  I imagined that the mysterious pain and weakness would soon disappear, because although the consultant who examined me suspected various obscure diseases, the clinical signs were normal, and blood tests proved normal too.  I didn’t know what to think; and the weakness persisted for over a year.


During that time, I stayed in the flat in London, strong enough to cook a meal but unable to walk very far. It was a struggle, each day, to do the bare minimum of work necessary to keep our little home clean and tidy, but of course that was the first reason why I had so much time to browse through so many books on the Christian faith.  The other reason was because we were in an unfamiliar part of London. There were no relatives in that area, and few personal friends close by; and within a few months, my husband’s duties at work kept him away for days at a time; and since I was ill and didn’t drive, I was at home alone for much of the time.


Still ‘new’ to the Christian faith, I continued earnestly in my new prayer-routine and in reading good books, slowly working out how an adult Christian should behave.  I wanted to be free of bad habits and selfishness, and to be patient about my wretched symptoms; but I longed to enjoy the busy life we’d planned; and I blithely assumed that Christ’s command to each of His followers that he “take up HIS cross” (Mt 16:24) referred to great trials far in the future which I would meet with perfect trust.  “If only I knew what was wrong”, I thought, “I could get organised, and cope!”  The doctors remained puzzled and unhelpful, and the painful absence from work  continued; but during that time I continued to work and read and pray - and ponder.


Some people will doubtless assume that I brain-washed myself into Catholic belief by reading only a narrow selection of works, yet the truth is that - as my interest in the Christian faith expanded - so a devouring interest in the whole world of books and ideas was awakened in me for the first time in my life.  Much of what I’d read at school had been resentfully accepted, then grudgingly appreciated.  My mind was unable to ‘detach’ itself from the heart, which, as I have had to describe at length, was woebegone and self-pitying.


Novels, on every subject.


Now happy in marriage, despite health problems, I was reading each month not only C. S. Lewis’s solemn ponderings and other Christian works but novels by the score on every conceivable subject.  What I should have been doing at twelve or thirteen, I had begun nearly ten years later. I found myself wildly excited by each new author.  Each new work I enjoyed was quickly followed by every work written by the same person - if I could find copies; and so I tasted everything from the heartache of “Precious Bane”, through “Jane Eyre” to “King Solomon’s mines”, with little excursions to C.S. Lewis’s “Perelandra” and “William Golding’s “Free Fall”.  Agatha Christie filled in a few gaps between Simone de Beavoir and D.H. Lawrence, and even smaller gaps were filled with French and English poetry.


On a roller-coaster ride through whatever material I could unearth in paper-back, or second-hand, or find in the library, I searched out and read equal quantities of trash and good literature.  I became more critical as time went by, when I learned to separate an author’s thoughts from the structure and language in which he had clothed them.  We had no television or record-player to distract me; so whenever my chores were done I continued my amazing journey: once depressed for a week by a picture of rural Ireland, as presented by Edna O’Brian, and then engrossed for an evening by Charles Dickens’ ‘Tale of Two Cities’.


But so loathe was I to tackle really weighty novels, having been forced to read Sir Walter Scott and Henry Thackeray at school, that I ignored most of the old English Classics, and the complete Russian corpus - right until my ‘forties’.  Only then - and more mellow - would I discover, for example, the delights and burdens of parliamentary life as described by Trollope.


Meanwhile, in my early twenties, I soared in delight at evocative descriptions in the ‘Alexandrian Quartet’ by Lawrence Durell, then returned to earth via John Braine’s “kitchen-sink” dramas.  Good story-tellers such as Jack London and John Buchan caused me a few pangs whenever I was tempted to neglect my chores in order to finish a final chapter, but I became more thoughtful as I grappled with stronger writers.  Simone de Beavoir gave way to Germaine Greer, whose “Female Eunuch” caused my mind to hover - as it were - in great agitation as I tested her conclusions against the morals and precepts of the Christian religion newly-revealed to me by C. S. Lewis.



‘Domestic servitude’?


Almost inevitably, within a few years I would find myself facing a fusillade of feminist ideas, as Jill Tweedie and her literary sisters filled bookshelves and newspaper columns with their tracts against patriarchal authority.  But all through the years of reading, and despite the typed urgings of a dozen liberated women that I free myself from domestic servitude, I tried to do what I believed - and still believe - to be my duty.  I cooked meals for the husband who returned exhausted from work; and I looked after children too. I moved daily from prayer books, to novels, to recipes in newspapers, and back again, trying to be conscientious and cheerful, whatever work I was doing - though I didn’t always succeed.


One of the few large books I bought was a volume of recipes.  I couldn’t boil an egg, when I married; and after a few domestic disasters I overcame my scruples about buying brand-new things at the shops, and bought a cookery book. I still have it in my kitchen. It lies, much-used, amongst telephone directories, books of religious history and dictionaries and art magazines.  With simple instructions to follow, my cooking improved overnight; and I count it a privilege, now, to have been able to do the simple things that guests and passers-by deserve, as well as family members: to have simple, tasty meals put before them, shared perhaps with neighbours’ children as well as our own, with the telephone interrupting us with monotonous regularity, yet all the smells and interruptions and conversations forming part of the fabric of what many of us gratefully call ‘home’.


When we began to move more frequently amongst professional people in non-religious circles, it was sometimes hard to resist the fashionable view that a woman’s life spent caring in simple ways for other people was ‘wasted’.  Although I enthuse about motherhood, I must agree that not every woman has that vocation; but I know that children are so precious, and so vulnerable, that they deserve the best possible care.  Only someone very well organised or with profoundly important reasons, surely, would entrust her youngsters to strangers, and permit them an enormous influence over her children in their formative years.


But before our children appeared, and when I was first weak and unwell, and no matter how much I read, the time seemed to pass by very slowly.  It was a year when I’d expected to be dashing about to all sorts of social events.  But I didn’t realise how fortunate I was to be able to continue with so much reading, and to be able to carve out of my life great blocks of time for peaceful pondering.  I can see clearly now that it was only in the silence and stillness to which I was led through physical weakness that I was brought to a place where I could reveal my true thoughts and my deepest longings to God in prayer.



[Time for prayer.


I might well have dashed about for many years - perhaps for the rest of my life - perpetually busy with personal, family and business projects.  I might have allowed God to have a few minutes of my time at regular intervals.  I might have hoped that His Will would fit in with my ideas and plans.  Instead, I learned to value His Will as being something rather more important than my own ambitions.  So I see it as a cause for great gratitude that I was able to spend so much time thinking about God: and not only thinking but praying.  No matter how much effort I might have expended in a search for God using only my mind, I would have come no closer to Him. I know that by using our intellects we can recognise His presence in Creation; but I believe, too, that He can only be truly known and ‘touched’ - so to speak - not by thought but by Love, expressed supremely in prayer, although expressed also in loving service.


I can never thank Him enough for permitting me to be brought ‘low’ by illness, since it was because of my torment that I began to pray to Him sincerely, with real hope and a glimmering of love, seeking His help; and He answered me, because He is good.]



A cry for help.


Within a few weeks of my new commitment to church-going, and to prayer, an incident occurred in my spiritual life that changed my whole life.  It caused my fervour for God to become a passion, and led me at last to a true repentance for my almost-Godless years.


When I’d been married for less than a year, and my husband was away at work, I left our bedsitter one weekend to visit my parents, because I’d grown lonely - and was still unwell much of the time.  One night I sat up in bed in the small spare room, in terrible pain, wondering what on earth to do.  I can remember the very moment at which I prepared to pray determinedly to God for help, in a child-like and trusting plea made out of sheer desperation; but I can remember, too, the very second at which I consciously decided to believe that He would respond and help me. 


In a split-second of thought, it was as though I took hold of my faith and decided that since it was true, it would ‘work’.  In other words, I didn’t know God very well but I decided to believe that He is really trustworthy; and in that trust, and also in my utter misery and pain, I earnestly called out to Jesus, pleading for help, believing that in some way He would answer.  I was aware that I had faith, and therefore I genuinely expected a lessening of my pain or a moment’s consolation; but I was quite unprepared for the staggering generosity of Christ’s response to the confident act of faith I made, as I cried out: “Jesus! Help me!”


Straight away, and suddenly, Christ Himself was with me.  He had responded, in Love. He came to me instantly.  I didn’t see Him with my bodily eyes, but with the eyes of my soul. I saw Him standing beside my bed.  But how blazing was His Glory!  How foul and dark I saw my own soul to be!  All my pain was forgotten.  I found it impossible to look at Christ; yet it was impossible to bear my own terrible darkness-of-soul, now revealed by His light. It was as though I stood before Him in a white dress which was badly marred by large stains.  I saw this with the eyes of my soul - although I couldn’t have explained how I ‘saw’; and the sight was horrific.


There’s no reason for me to exaggerate.  It was as bad as I describe.  If a feeble or a careless home-maker were to have skimped on the chores, or to have ignored for many years every daily domestic duty, you can imagine how appalled that person might be, were an extremely powerful searchlight to shine, suddenly, into every hidden corner of the kitchen.  All dirt, mould, infestations and rotting woodwork would be plainly revealed, causing embarrassment or shame.  It was in just the same way - though spiritually - that Christ suddenly revealed to me, merely by His presence, the real state of my soul, after my long neglect of Him and of the spiritual life. 


Christ didn’t reveal my state of soul in order to make me repent. He came to me, full of love, in answer to my prayer. But He is so dazzlingly glorious now that - inevitably - His radiance revealed, within my soul, every ‘speck’ of past unrepented sin and selfishness.  Every scrap of twisted logic, every lame excuse and every arrogant thought was thoroughly exposed in the brilliant Light of His burning Glory; and so I turned away, appalled: repentant.  I huddled against my pillow, stunned by the experience of His presence.  Christ my God had responded to my faith with a greater Love than I could have dreamed of, although I felt it only as punishment.


A wordless communication.


Something else happened, on that astonishing occasion; it was something which I accepted as quite normal, since I believed that Christ could do anything.  I’m trying to explain that - in an instant, and not for the first time - I received “Knowledge”.  All at once, and by the mere fact of His silent Presence and wordless communication, Christ taught me all that I needed to know at that moment about how to obey and serve Him. He taught me a great deal, in a way suited to my limited understanding, at a time before my discovery of the sure and detailed teaching of His visible and united Holy Catholic Church.  He told me several things, and did  so without using words, although I have ‘translated’ His soundless instructions into words, as He has now advised me to do so that I can share them with other people.


Christ told me, very gently:


                        Look!  Here I am: You are calling for help, believing in Me, and I am here to help you. (T:10 #1)


                        Look at Me,  Jesus, Who stand before you.   I am awesome and powerful, yet also beautiful and holy. (T:10 #2)


                        See how My Divine Radiance blazes upon you continuously, just as you are. (T:10 #3)


                        Gaze upon My Glory and My pure Light.  It is because of your sincere prayer and My loving Will that I now reveal Myself as being so close to you. (T:10 #4)


                        Consider the sins which are revealed - starkly and undisguised - in the brilliance of My Light, in prayer. I do not accuse you.  Yet - seeing your sins so clearly, and seeing them as large stains on the beautiful ‘garment’ which is your soul - you are repelled by the sight of them, and you turn away in torment. (T:10 #5)


                        Let this ‘turning-away-from-sin’ be a new beginning, a true conversion. (T:10 #6)


                        Confess your sins to the  priest. (T:10 #7)


                        Be restored to Christian fellowship and worship me as you ought. (T:10 #8)


                        Believe in My nearness to you.  I am not distant, but

                        close-by. (T:10 #9)


                        Honour and serve Me, your God and Saviour. (T:10 #10)


                        Seek My Will. (T:10 #11)


                        Love and serve your neighbour, for My sake. (T:10 #12)


                        Follow the example of My Saints, of past times and present. (T:10 #13)


An understanding was given here of the importance of the Saints who are now in Heaven.  Like many Christians, I didn’t know that the Saints are alive, and joyful, and are longing to help us by their prayers.  Then Christ showed me:-


                        Listen to My Wisdom in the Holy Scriptures. (T:10 #14)


                        Learn about faith in Me. (T:10 # 15)


                        Read and study, in order to find out how to please Me. (T:10 #16)


Jesus, friend and God.


Through this visit, Christ overturned all my old ideas about His remoteness from our lives. I was astonished to learn that Christ isn’t a distant figure, but is close-at-hand, whether or not we can see Him; and the other thing I learned then, and have never forgotten, is that although He is awesome and powerful, He is also immensely beautiful and holy.


I’ve no idea for how long He was with me, but I do know that He taught me then by the very method and with the very Love that He has shown to me in recent years. The method was His own; it consisted of pure Knowledge, infused wordlessly, by His own choice, into a heart which was willingly turned towards Him in real trust, momentarily free of selfish desires.


If Christ once said, of those who believe in Him: “IF YOU REMAIN IN ME AND MY WORDS REMAIN IN YOU, YOu MAY ask what you will, and you shall get it” (Jn 15:7), I ought not to have been astonished that I was helped.  Certainly, I didn’t receive what I’d expected; but I’d asked for “help”, and Christ had given me the best possible help - Himself.  Of course, I was so appalled at the revelation of my own sinful nature - clearly seen in His Light - that far from thinking His calm gaze a help or a privilege, I interpreted it as disapproval.  Yet it was a greater help than I could have guessed, since it was through that visit, and with my consent, that I was hurtled onto a narrower road than I might otherwise have found.


The Christ Whom I met then - the only Christ - taught me nothing new, by which I mean, nothing that can’t be learned through His Church and His People.  But under “the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things” (Ep 1:11)                      I was given an all-encompassing, burning lesson such as few persons receive, a lesson which helped me to keep on struggling to do the Will of God throughout the next thirty and more years.  Yet I feel no pride in this.  All I felt for a long time was horror that after such an astonishing favour I didn’t love and serve Christ as He deserves.


In an instant, in the bright Light which Christ shed in this way upon all my past actions,  Christ had shown me the horror of sin.  Instinctively, and sadly, since I knew myself to be quite unfit to be with Him, I had turned away from His gaze, just as souls do, I believe, who see their sins clearly at the end of earthly life and who therefore long wholeheartedly for purification.


Eventually, I drifted off to sleep; but without a word being spoken, I’d been shown what to do.  I treated it all quite matter-of-factly, though I could scarcely bear the shame within my soul.  I supposed that Christ came, somehow, to everyone who believed God’s message to Jeremiah: “CALL TO ME AND I WILL ANSWER YOU” (Jr 33:3).  So I had once heard;  and now it had happened: on February 1st, 1964.



[The need for repentance.


I couldn’t have analysed it at the time; but I realised later on that God is gently waiting for our true acknowledgement of Him.  He delights in responding to the merest whisper of a heart which turns to Him through Christ; yet His grace and power can be held at bay - so to speak - either by a soul’s deliberate refusal to love and to do His Holy Will, or by a soul’s reluctant and half-hearted attention.  Isn’t it astonishing that the Living God is sometimes grudgingly acknowledged for only a few minutes each week!  God reveals himself most fully to hearts which are weak and sorrowful, not to hearts to full of platitudes and pious phrases, or indifference, or conceit.


There was more than one reason for this extraordinary intervention - apart from Christ’s future plans for my life;  I was happily praying and trying to be good, after years of irreligion; my efforts were sincere and energetic; yet I’d blithely turned towards God in prayer without a word of regret for my past neglect and ingratitude, and with little trace of remorse for the damage I’d done to myself or to others by my sins.  It was almost as though by newly cultivating pious habits, I’d been doing God a favour; or, rather, I was like a friend who turns up on an old friend’s doorstep without a word of explanation for not having written for years.


What I know now is that God doesn’t want us to grovel or to go through agony for agony’s sake.  But unless we have some clear insight into past wrongs, and make contrite attempts to put wrongs right, we shan’t have cleared away enough debris, as it were, in order to build a firm foundation for our new Christian life.  Purification has to come before growth, otherwise we’re like men who - for example - have been swindlers for many years, who suddenly decide to ‘go straight’ for very good reasons, yet who do so without lifting a finger to help the people they once deceived or bankrupted. God Who is Love forgives all our sins, but invites us to take part in repairing the damage inflicted by our selfish choices.]



Putting things right with God.


Next morning, I had no hesitation in simply doing what I thought Christ wanted, still not knowing how it had become so plain.  Ashamed and frightened, but wholly repentant, and determined to do what I thought was necessary to ‘put things right’ with God, I plucked up courage and went to see our minister, alone.  My heart thumping in grief and misery, I knocked on the door of his home.


When he saw my distress, and heard me ask him to hear my confession, he reminded me that I was free to go to any minister; but I couldn’t wait another minute with that burden, and said so.  He led me to the Church next door, to kneel in the sanctuary.  There I confessed my sins, unloading them all onto his poor shoulders.  Immediately, I felt freed from a huge weight. I knew little about Christ’s Sacrifice for sin but I believed that Christ had paid the price for my release.  My faith was weak, and obscure and inarticulate; but nothing could have kept me, then, from reparation, penance, and thanksgiving.


The minister was a kind and a holy man.  He didn’t ‘lecture’ me.  He said to me firmly that the angels in Heaven are more delighted with one repentant sinner than with ninety-nine who are saved, which only prolonged my weeping.  But as he led me back towards the house he was quiet and calm.  He made a cup of tea, and chatted for a while so that I could dry my tears and calm down. Then he waved me back to my parents’ house, where I’d stayed overnight.



[Happy to answer questions.


What a marvel that I’d gone to someone so approachable!  Truly, his whole life was dedicated to serving God and to loving and helping his neighbour.


If an ogre had blocked my way, I believe I’d have gone to see an ogre, I was so desperate  to do what I thought right, in order to be worthy to receive Holy Communion.  Had I been less determined, or even more timid than I was, a frowning face in the doorway might have kept me from my duty; yet Father Caunter had always welcomed us in our ‘teens’, happy to answer questions or to listen to our minor grumbles; so although at twenty-one I found myself appalled at the thought of revealing my sins, I didn’t actually fear my spiritual guide.]



A more thorough conversion.


Back at home, with my mother, I explained to her where I’d been - but not why.  I said nothing about the details of  my “conversion”.  The word didn’t even occur to me.  In my state of soul then, fearful and insecure, lacking in confidence, and guided until recently more by my emotions than by firm principles, I felt that a sharing of my experience would provoke much teasing from my family, and I quailed at the prospect.  Also, I thought it was a private matter.


Thanks to God alone, courage wasn’t lacking; that gift had sustained me through the humiliation of confession.  Having once become unsure about whether confession was really necessary, I now sought it, despite my shame, in order to be obedient to Christ’s gentle instruction.  I’m not saying that it was what the Catholic Church would call a sacramental Confession; but it was a preparation for that Sacrament, in that it was a devout compliance to the Scriptural advice that urges us: “CONFESS YOUR SINS TO ONE ANOTHER” (Jm 5:16).  I had done my duty by confessing my sins in the only place I knew about, and therefore was rewarded; and the minister had acted as a true man of God: after all, we’ve been asked to “CARRY EACH OTHER’S TROUBLES” (Ga 6:2).



The first stage of conversion.


Whenever, in later years, I’ve been called upon to speak about God’s work in my life, or about the process of conversion, I’ve found that I’ve had to correct the assumption that it was by an astonishing vision of Christ that I was converted, whereas, by the time He came to me so powerfully, the first stage of conversion was well underway.  Of course, it was only God’s prompting within my soul that had led me to worship in church, after my marriage, and to make wholly sincere efforts to please God in every aspect of life; and yet it was because I had already opened the ‘door’ to Christ in that way that He came to me when I called out to Him from my distress, and taught me what I needed to know about His love for me, and about the meaning of repentance.


Ordinary duties.


It didn’t seem necessary to speak about everything to my parents. I instinctively felt that God’s secret and personal dealings with the soul are sacred, not to be exposed casually to others nor to be revealed for the wrong reason, with the precious relationship treated merely as a subject for gossip.  One ought not to discuss God carelessly, as one might sometimes casually discuss one’s reactions to a particularly moving film or play.  I could bravely defend my faith - and did so, on occasion - or discuss the concept of God; but it didn’t seem right to treat lightly what was a serious matter: that I’d worshipped God in childhood, offended against His laws in adult life, and had been brought back to Him again.


When it seemed appropriate, I mentioned to friends and family that I’d begun to attend church regularly once more.  However, there was no time that weekend to examine myself or to work out everything I ought to do or say.  One thing was crystal-clear: that I must do the work which Providence had set before me. I mustn’t  neglect the duties of daily life.  So I went straight back to our little rooms in London, to carry out the usual routine, and to think and pray as I worked.


I cooked, rested and cleaned with a hopeful outlook. I longed to be well, but I was already sure that God Whom I had - so late - decided to reverence and serve, would be honoured best by a patient fulfilment of my ordinary duties, pursued in sickness or in health, solely for love of Him. 


So began a more earnest attempt to love God as well as I knew how, to love my neighbour, to avoid sin, to pray, and to forgive as I had been forgiven.  I decided to accept, gladly, as a penance, every pain and sorrow that ever came to me, permitted by God; and I resolved to be always optimistic and cheerful.


As I prayed and worked  and pondered in my new way of life, my heart ached horribly at the memory of past falls and failures; but I tried to look forward, and to move ahead ‘in Christ.’  It became plain that the whole point of the Christian life was to live for love, prompted by God, supported by Christ, and strengthened by the Holy Spirit - All known by faith alone. I gathered that love meant far more than cultivating ‘niceness’, and I made earnest resolutions about loving my neighbour for God’s sake, whether or not I found that neighbour attractive or grateful.



Anglican blessings.


I’m bound to explain, at this point, before I say any more about ‘The Church’, that my whole purpose was to live and act as a good Christian - by the grace of Christ; and the only Christian life which I had ever experienced had been rooted in the Anglican Church; yet at no time in those early days - or at any stage - did I say to myself: “Yes.  I embrace and accept all that the Church of England represents; and I wish that other people could be brought to see the truth of Anglicanism.”  Yet there was nothing but gratitude in my heart for the good things I’d found there, in what was the only Christian ‘context’ I knew: a context which was to be thoroughly explored and examined as the weeks went by, a context in which I was happy to pray, listen, and go to Communion, but one which I would eventually feel conscience-bound to leave, in order to become a Catholic.


By my parents’ choice, I was an Anglican; so for as long as I was I considering their choice and my responsibilities, I continued to go to a weekly Communion service: sometimes with my husband and sometimes alone - or with my parents, on visits home; and I approached what we called “The Sacrament” with reverence, in great need of strength and wisdom.  Each time I approached, I asked Christ to come to my heart and to help me. I believed He would do so, and therefore He did help me, because He is good.  Week by week,  my soul was nourished and made stronger, whatever was the precise way in which I received that help from Him.


What a grace it was that every Sunday morning my frail, humiliated soul was soothed and splinted, so to speak, propped up by the mellow and lovely words of the Order of Communion, as found in the “Book of Common Prayer.”  Knowing little about liturgy - so much more about repentance - I gave myself willingly to its support, making its words my own. I learned to recite, again, but from the heart, phrases such as those used in the ‘prayer of humble access’, for example: “We do not presume  to approach this thy table, O Merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great Mercy”.  No longer did a few ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ distract me from the essence of the plea to a God of forgiveness and compassion.



[Useful and familiar phrases.


How fortunate I was, to have memorised already - through childhood Christian worship - the words of a great number of prayers which are central to the Christian faith. I knew the Creed and the Our Father, besides being familiar with acts of contrition, hymns of praise and of pleading, and grace before meals.  And, for all my complaints about the impenetrable language of our Authorised Version of the Bible, I knew dozens of little pieces by heart, having absorbed them not just by sitting through our Eucharist, but from singing in “The Messiah,” reading Christian magazines, and belonging to a family where religion was not just practised but was spoken about, matter-of-factly. 


My parents had been quite free with their quotations amidst daily tasks: for example: “GOD loves a cheerful giver” (2 Co 9:7), or, to a complaint that so-and-so did not ‘deserve’ his good fortune, or that life wasn’t ‘fair’:“HE CAUSES HIS SUN TO RISE ON BAD MEN AS WELL AS GOOD” (Mt 5:45).]





Soon after my experience of Christ’s presence, and my sincere confession, my husband and I moved to a different bed-sitter - and so to a different parish church.  I was still alone and unwell much of the time, whilst my husband shouldered a crushing work-load and studied for exams, so I had a great deal of time in which to ponder, and make decisions.  The foundations of my new life were very simple and plain.  Knowing my own lack of generosity, I made very few rules for myself; but I clung rigidly to these, aware of their importance.  I drew on childhood memories and on my reading so far, and continued to pray every night and morning, and to go to Holy Communion once a week. Our new church in Chiswick was yet another which was dedicated to St Michael. 


I vowed that I’d pray every prayer with great love and reverence, and would examine my conscience, daily, in order to put wrong things right.  Each month, I went to ‘Confession’,  travelling some distance away, as most Anglican churches near our flat didn’t advocate the practice.


It appals me now to think how gaily I took for granted some of the gifts given to me at that time.  For example, not once did I experience any difficulty in prayer: I mean, in how to pray, or in how to meditate.  Thinking about God came naturally to me.  So easily had I been practising meditation, at intervals, every day for many months, that I was surprised at all the attention paid to it in books about prayer, where guidance was given on how to sit still or how to “compose a place” or how to hold onto and examine a valuable thought. Since then I’ve learned how difficult it can be for people with certain temperaments to sit and ruminate; and I suppose that they, at least, are grateful for detailed instructions.  But for my part, I was able to meditate all day - partly because my chores were so simple and intellectually undemanding. It was easy to slip into ‘pure prayer’, sending my heart and desires Godwards, whenever I got down on my knees before God.  Yet there were two further and greater reasons why I found prayer so easy, besides a determination to pray regularly and a lack of distractions.  First, I was very reverent before God; and He has since shown me how much He delights in our reverent approaches; and, secondly, I was utterly determined to discover His Will for me, and to do it.



[Whatever God wants of us.


Experience has shown me, countless times, that we pray with the greatest ease and simplicity when - in our daily life - we’re trying to do everything that God asks of us.  And in those early days, before new problems caused me to hope for escape or for change, I gladly undertook everything I thought God wanted, no matter how difficult.  At the same time, I was blind to many of my faults, and frequently uncharitable; but I refused Him nothing that He asked; and so prayer-time was an awesome but simple greeting of the God for whose sake I was always trying to behave with perfect charity, even if I was frequently unsuccessful.


This doesn’t mean that certain ‘desert patches’ in our prayer-life are necessarily our fault or can be avoided; nor does it mean that a person who is ‘enjoying prayer’ is perfect!  It means that if someone who professes to love God and who prays regularly is constantly refusing, in everyday life, to do God’s plainly-evident Will, and isn’t just ‘falling’ into sin through weakness or carelessness, he will find that progress in prayer becomes impossible.  He will be simply incapable - because ungenerous and obstinate - of “looking God in the face”, so to speak, in prayer-time, with any genuine desire to please Him, or with any gladness.]



Efforts to be ‘good’.


The Commandments were foremost in my mind, when I thought about ‘how to be good’.  They were the foundations of my new attempt to love God and love my neighbour.  I tried to practice what I prayed for in the Lord’s prayer.  Knowing, alas, that affection for and delight in others is not what Christians mean by love, although we include these as a further cause of thanks to God, I resolved to work whole-heartedly for the true welfare and joy of everyone I knew or met, determined to be kind and forgiving.  I tried to control my temper and my tongue, counting on God’s help.  I vowed that I’d never be deceitful or selfish.


Grimly determined to be perfect, I decided, too, that I’d never avoid anyone I disliked, though I found myself praying frantically before going to see people I found ‘trying’.  I tried never to look bored, nor to argue unnecessarily.  It would be thoroughly un-Christian, I saw, to rejoice in someone’s misfortune; I could never say ‘serve him right’ - or be glad to see anyone suffer.  There was a need for discipline, I saw, in child-care, and in school life or in wider society - but I could never be glad in a gloating way that anyone was suffering pain or punishment.


It became more evident that only by very positive efforts would I learn to accept other people’s weaknesses and grow into the habit of making allowances for behaviour which seemed to be wrong.  Meanwhile, I pursued God as determinedly as I had pursued pleasure, failing in many of my resolutions at one time or another, but learning much from the good books that came my way about Love: Divine Love, to be welcomed and then ‘radiated’ by every Christian even to the point of ‘crucifixion’. It was plain that a weak person like myself has no hope of doing good things without God’s help.  I had to ask for the grace to love as Christ loves.  I saw that I ought to go to the very limits, for the sake of others’ welfare: yet for the good of their souls rather than the fulfilment of their earthly ambitions.  I hardly dared to think about my own Salvation; that was something so mysterious, so undeserved and momentous, and even uncertain, that I would live in hope, I decided, living for love of Christ and of my ‘neighbour’ in what I had seen described as “the sacrament of the present moment.”


Alas, I felt more exasperated than loving, when we were visiting relations one day.  I saw very clearly just where any routine unselfishness would lead me.  If I were perpetually leaping up to be helpful, and to do chores which others were grateful to relinquish, I’d be marked out for dreary and unpleasant tasks for evermore! People would be bound to take advantage of my generous attitude. Was it really the Will of God that we do things which others - perhaps selfishly - chose not to do?  Should we be fools for God’s sake?!  My conscience told me that we must fulfil Christ’s wish that “JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, YOU ALSO MUST LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  BY THIS LOVE YOU HAVE FOR ONE ANOTHER, EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES” (Jn 13:34).


God’s Will for me.


While I was mulling over this problem, I came across another book by Thomas Merton.  I had devoured “Elected Silence” and other autobiographical works, yet his later works irritated me. Cynically, I wondered how a monk dedicated to silence could write so much.  But I thank God for some of his insights.  A piece he wrote about the Will of God for each one of us lit up my soul and mind with its simplicity.


He said something like this: that at each moment, when we’re trying to decide on a task to do or a course of action to follow, we ought to do whatever is demanded of us by charity, since Charity IS God: and Charity is therefore our best prompter or source of guidance. 


Solid Christian teachings, with obvious daily duties, should provide us with inspiration for our moment to moment decisions about what to do next; but I could see that if someone needed help, and I had the time and energy to help, then I ought to do so for the love of God, whatever my personal feelings.  He said nothing about the damage we can do by pandering to manipulative persons; but of course we must use our common-sense and prudence in all our decisions about how best to put love into practice in order to keep God’s Commandments.


So I concluded that if I couldn’t physically help someone I should at least pray for that person.  If I were torn between conflicting needs, I ought to attend to the greater need, or to the need of the person who was bound most closely to me by duty, since it’s God’s Will that we value our Divinely-ordained relationships with family members; but I was bound to help close friends, especially.  How much I could do for strangers in need depended on the circumstances; but preference should be given to the sick, the old, the very young and the despairing.


Whole books have been written, I’m sure, on the Will of God, and on the apparently conflicting duties in different areas of life.  Yet through those few words I was enabled to set out more confidently on the path of Christian discipleship; and because I was agonising less frequently about what to do, I was able to concentrate on the way in which I did things, trying to do them less grudgingly.  Supposedly adult, I was a mere infant in the practice of charity.  However, God is so good that He didn’t despise my goodwill. He rewarded me in all sorts of ways, amidst my blunders and misjudgements.



In every circumstance.


There were numerous problems in those early days, and moments when things were really out of proportion.  Random thoughts took root, festered and caused me distress.  For example, as I went about my work, thinking and praying, full of both fear and wonder, I was so amazed by the thought of God’s holiness, and so fearful of displeasing Christ, that I half-wished I were a nun.  I was tempted to become puritanical: to act as though God wants us to suffer, only, or takes delight in our pain.  I worried about my use of make-up, and my interest in clothes. 


These thoughts were the first stirrings of a true and good desire to stop fussing about inessentials and to give my life wholly to God.  But thanks to the clear teaching I’d absorbed, I saw that Christians live their lives for God in every circumstance, especially in the holy state of marriage: a way of life witnessed and honoured by Christ during His life in Galilee. 


What ‘counts’ is that we rely on God’s grace to be faithful  to whatever vocation He has offered us - through circumstance or through an almost audible ‘call’ - whether a call to marriage or a call to make the promise of celibacy in preparation for the priesthood, or a call to a religious order, or a call to an unspectacular and chaste single life, out in the world; and now that I was married and hoped to have children, I had more reason than many to thank God for His gifts, and to care for the people amongst whom I’d been placed by God’s Providence, and by my free choice.  I came to see that besides carefully reserving times for prayer, alone, in obedience to Christ, I could best prove my love for God by continuing faithfully in my normal way of life, trying to cultivate greater faith, hope and charity.



Regular study.


For the next two decades I scarcely ever recalled to mind the astonishing meeting with Christ in 1964, nor did it occur to me to mention it to the priest who eventually received me into the Catholic Church.  As I said, I was sure that most people who prayed had met Christ. I supposed that if other Christians seemed less ashamed than myself it was because they had nothing to repent of.  My heart ached when I thought of how badly I was serving Christ.  But I wanted to go on trying to please Him despite my failures.


Realising that I was ignorant of many details of Christian belief and practice, I read many more books about Church, Christian life and Sacraments, knowing that I could no longer simply take for granted everything I’d been told as a child.  It seemed important that I use time well, and that I study the essentials of the Christian faith.  So, whenever I was forced to rest, and in between one chore and the next, or when my husband was at work, I learned about Church History, and about holiness: but I couldn’t bring myself to finish a single book entitled “A life of Christ”.

Each time I began such a work, I’d be disappointed to find that each new author portrayed Him as rather ethereal or worried, or hectoring.  None of the descriptions of Christ matched up to the Christ Whom I’d glimpsed in Holy Scripture: the loving and loveable and passionate and Righteous One Who had blazed out His Glory on Mount Tabor (Mt 17:2), and had wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41): the very Christ Who, I matter-of-factly accepted, had stood beside me in my prayer.  True, I’d been terrified, because His pure light had revealed my sinfulness; but I knew that - however else Christ might be portrayed - He ought not to be presented as hesitant or boring.


The Christian ‘classics’.


Little by little, I was working my way through what are known as the Christian “classics”. And since each writer on prayer invariably mentioned the works of whichever authors or writer- Saints had helped him or her to progress more rapidly in the spiritual life, I was led from one marvellous work to another. I’m sure I was drawn onward through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, but it was also through my reverent curiosity and my real thirst for knowledge about God’s Will and about His Church.


From brief but illuminating lives of the Saints I was led to Saint Augustine’s autobiographical “Confessions”, and then to the minds and hearts of people as different from one another as William Law and Brother Lawrence.  Yet the accounts of their spiritual lives were all for the same purpose: to bring other people to strive wholeheartedly to give Glory to God and to cherish and serve their neighbours.


The books I read weren’t all helpful. It disturbed me to read in Thomas à Kempis’ “Imitation of Christ” that we ought to flee from or despise everything and everyone on this earth in order to serve God perfectly.  Knowing little about the true meaning of spiritual detachment, I was unable to enjoy that book, so determined had I become to love and cherish all my God-given relations, above all my new and beloved husband.  It was in the “Imitation” or in a similar work that I was disturbed to see much emphasis on silence; but I came to see that what might be good advice for monks and nuns isn’t necessarily good for Christians who live in the world. I read much criticism of worldly conversation: and I decided that such crudely-stated prohibitions are of little help to people who are trying to lead a normal family life, where words can be used like the healing oil of the scriptures.



[Frivolous talk, or soothing words?


Of course, the author of the “Imitation” was only emphasising the need for ‘recollection’ as a foundation for a life of prayer.  ‘Recollection’ means: a calm and quiet state of mind, which should ‘include’ a peaceful conscience; and such a state is kept away or destroyed by someone who freely fills his head with gossip, frivolous talk about solemn things, fantasies, indecent thoughts or constant entertainment.  Monks, nuns and married people - if they want to draw close to God - will find that mental discipline is even more essential than bodily penance.  But families have an especial duty to support ‘communion within’, that is, to develop and strengthen loving bonds between members, with apt expressions of concern and affection.

What mother can fret about keeping silent for God’s sake when her soothing words, quiet reminiscences, little stories or vigorous phrases of appreciation can weave a web which will bind together different members of a household, or soothe hurt feelings?  A wise parent, by numberless little calming interjections can soothe members who are reluctant to maintain family bonds.  How damaging would silence be, in such circumstances. 


It’s true that mothers and fathers would do well  to make some sort of ‘retreat’ each year, in order to examine their hearts and minds, silent before God; yet we shouldn’t be hasty in accepting monastic prescriptions about the spiritual life, when we have different routines, and our daily lives are intertwined with  different duties and pastimes.]



A desire for holiness.


Thomas á Kempis was left behind when I discovered Saint Francis de Sales.  What wonderful surprises occurred, amidst the stern reminders of duty offered by so many spiritual writers.  Some of the books I’d discovered buttressed a new and exciting concept, which held that every “ordinary” Christian should be trying  to work hard and to pray well, and to be kind and truthful towards his neighbour; yet the motivation for such efforts should be the desire to please God, principally by desiring to achieve union with God: even in this life.  By ‘union’ was meant holiness, which is something very different from respectability. 


Thanks to St. Francis de Sales’ extremely helpful work - “An Introduction to the devout life” - it became clear to me that Christians should aim to be neither dull and impeccable super-citizens nor world-hating  puritans, but should hope to live in the world whilst “KEEPING ONESELF UNCONTAMINATED BY THE WORLD” (Jm 1:27).  Saint Francis hoped that the devout ladies to whom he was giving spiritual advice would be the best-dressed in any room, since he knew that even an attempt to dress smartly to honour one’s hosts or one’s husband was an act of charity.  Such an act would of course be pleasing to God, since charity to others is the second great Commandment (Mk 12:31).


St. Francis also taught what others had explained in different books: that all ostentation in dress, in speech, or even in posture at prayer, is to be avoided.  If it’s pride which might lead us to draw attention to ourselves then we’re as proud in flaunting wretched clothing, supposedly worn for the love of God, as in flaunting jewellery or fine garments.  He wasn’t criticising the wearing of a recognised uniform of a Religious Order, but only an unnecessary display of asceticism in lay-persons, in the guise of simplicity.  He abhorred all the subtle ways by which we can signal to other people that we’re very fervent and possess a spirit of penance.  He knew that, unrecognised, these could lead us into the great danger of Phariseeism - “I THANK YOU, GOD, THAT I AM NOT GRASPING, UNJUST, ADULTEROUS LIKE THE REST OF MANKIND” (Lk 18:11): “I thank you that I don’t wear bright colours or enjoy parties or appear cheerful”!  He coaxed the reader into considering the essence of the Christian life, which is to imitate Christ Our Saviour.


If Christ Himself went to weddings (Jn 2:1-10), and drank wine and talked with friends, then we could do the same; but we must imitate His interior dispositions, too, growing more and more obedient to our Heavenly Father, and slipping away regularly to pray to Him, alone.


Practising true charity.


Saint Francis taught me a great deal about true love.  He explained that it didn’t involve parading our good works; we should never make other people feel small.  We’re obliged to hide our penitential practices; it’s our duty to be pleasant and companionable, for the love of God. The more I read, the more astonished and delighted I was that someone known as a canonised Saint could sound so normal and even amusing.  But I didn’t digest the knowledge that this saint was not solely a Saint, but a Catholic priest. 


As I tried to put his teaching into practice, I was touched to the heart at finding that a Saint could write so calmly and surely about everyday life.  As I said, I had read St. Teresa’s “Life”, when I was still a school-girl; but St. Francis de Sales’ advice was more to my taste, since he was really aware of many womens’ concerns, such as husbands, or dress, or duty and parties, rather than convents and visions.


For several weeks, I continued to think about these things, and, eventually, it seemed wise to organise a brief period alone, away from the flat.  I had a great deal to ponder, and I saw the danger of being continually immersed in the busy-ness of our fast-expanding social life.  Following my mother’s advice, I went away ‘on retreat’ for three days.  I went alone, and attended no lectures. I’d been assured that a period of reading in a quiet atmosphere could lead one closer to God.  It was true, I found.  I spent three days, almost dazed with joy, in the guest-house of an Anglican convent, reading and praying, thinking and sleeping, relishing the silence and peace - and guiltily leaning out of the upstairs window, to enjoy a secret cigarette.  I wandered through the lush gardens, full of thoughts about God. I remember sitting on the bench amongst the trees, inwardly exclaiming at my new peace of soul and my constant, silent delight.


Truly, in giving me such joy and faith, God was at work. These were His honeymoon days, which weren’t to last for long. He was spoiling me because it was my first retreat: and as I’ve discovered in recent years, He always rewards us when we’re generous and make efforts to spend time with Him. 


In that uncomplicated time before my real trials began, I accepted gaily - and rightly - the truth that God loved me just as I was, there ‘before’ Him.  I’d given up everything I believed was sinful, because I wanted to please Him: and as for the little faults which remained, He is very tolerant.  As I prayed, I silently absorbed  the truth about His Merciful Love.  He didn’t say: ‘I will love you when you have stopped smoking, or when you are no longer self-indulgent.’ I had come to believe that He is a true Father: “A GENTLE FATHER AND THE GOD OF ALL CONSOLATION” (2 Co 1:3); and I believed that He would gradually show me just how I needed to change, if I really wanted to be happy with Him forever; and indeed, I gave up smoking some years later, and never looked back - though there’s always something more to conquer.



Faith in God’s plans.


As soon as I adopted a regular routine of short but sincere prayers, with more fervent attempts to be patient and charitable, I found that prayer became the breath of Life for me: my spirit’s breath, its very oxygen; and God led me on.  There was all the time I could have desired for prayer.  Even a reluctant and sick housewife can spend the day-time in pondering, and thinking intensely, wondering: “Who is God?  What does Christ want of me - and how shall I serve Him?  What should I do?  What is the Church?”  I didn’t waste the time, despite my pains.  I found, planted in my soul and strengthened by prayer, enormous faith in God. I had faith in His plans, in His guidance, and in the holiness of His Will, wherever it led.


Whenever I was alone at home, and was neither reading nor praying, I cooked and cleaned for as long as my weak legs allowed, completely puzzled by my illness, and humiliated and frustrated too, at times.  But there was tremendous joy in our marriage, our little room, and our meals with friends, and in my new routine of quiet worship.  Only by the grace of God did I begin to accept my limitations; but I thank Him for that sense of contentment.



[A noble instinct.


Many times since then, I’ve noticed that ‘new’ Christians, in particular, feel an urge to rush off to do something ‘great’ for Christ.  It’s a noble instinct which contains the seeds of true love, but it can be flawed by romanticism about the Christian life.  None of us can hope to please God by disregarding our duties towards our relatives and friends.  We can’t run away from the real obligations of our present way of life.  How important it is that all who feel an urge to dash off to help others should examine their true motives before making plans for a new, ‘exciting’ task.  I’ve learned that the Catholic Church has been cautious, for example, about welcoming into monastic life people who would leave behind ageing parents or young brothers or sisters.  Many good persons want to imitate the Apostles, who left everything in order to follow Christ; but He doesn’t ask everyone to tear themselves bodily away from family and friends.  He wants our hearts, above all.  He wants us to love and help, for His sake, everyone for whom we’re really responsible.]





Work and prayer continued, and meanwhile my illness persisted.  I was sometimes sad and frightened, but I wasn’t angry that I suffered.  Life wasn’t easy, nor was I brave.  But illness was never an obstacle to faith, nor a reason for anger towards God.  I had accepted sufferings in childhood for purely human reasons.  In helplessness and ignorance one suffers in mute incomprehension.  But when I became an adult and a Christian the reason for acceptance changed. 


Faith told me that God was perfect, Just, Merciful and Good.  I accepted these truths so completely that I had no ‘problem’ about pain itself.  I supposed that if God our Father had permitted Christ to suffer so horrendously at the hands of sinful men, there must have been a reason for it.  Who were we to demand, of our Saviour, that we be shown an easier road? If it were true - as I believed - that God is Perfect, and Infinite, whereas we have only finite minds, I saw that He must know everything - far more than we - including the reasons for our pains. 


It’s obvious that much of our human suffering arises from the cruelties which we inflict on one another; yet I reasoned that since the free will of all human beings is a gift from God, our freedom to hurt others or to do good is woven into the whole mystery which is earthly life.  All other causes of pain were beyond my understanding; but faith told me that we shall understand in the end, when we reach Heaven.  Until then, I believed, we need only trust that God will bring good out of evil, in His own way.  It seemed like impertinence to question why the world hadn’t been made to our specifications.


Others’ sufferings caused me anguish, and I did what I could to help those who were in pain; and I was very keen to avoid unnecessary suffering.  My nursing experience had given me a sense of realism about illness and death.  Nevertheless, all the horrors I’d seen had confirmed my view that suffering is unavoidable in a normal human life in a sinful world.  It could be alleviated to some degree; I saw that it’s unrealistic to hope to live on earth without some experience of pain or sorrow.  So, despite my surface distress and moments of sadness, I was content to believe in God’s mysterious Love, and I felt secure in my spiritual honeymoon, for a few months more.








‘Normal’ Christian practice.


What shocks God has in store for those who want to be good!  At first, in my half-turning towards Him, I was so fervent in my efforts to please Him that I was tempted to believe that I was rather virtuous.  I began to think of myself as a ‘successful’ Christian who was cheerful and kind, and very devout in prayer.  Full of pride at what I’d managed to do, I was forgetful that this small beginning was due entirely to God’s grace.  But God took me seriously. I wanted to be very holy, for His sake, and so I could be sure that I’d be shown the way: but I didn’t know that I’d also be shown the chasm to be crossed - crossed by the grace of Christ empowering me and not by my ruthless ‘will-power.’


Once I’d taken the first few steps, further problems arose.  There were questions of ethics, morals and Church discipline to which I wanted answers, so I asked for advice.  Friends and parents held the same attitude towards the Christian life, saying that we had the Bible, and prayer - and that in everything uncertain we should make up our own minds.  Then I asked the local Rector if we should fast before receiving Holy Communion, or undertake some small penance during Lent.  He said that everyone was entitled to do whatever he chose, since “the Church” - of England -  didn’t issue rigid guidelines any more.


My heart wasn’t secretly longing for rules and regulations for their own sake. I was beginning to see how ignorant I was.  Wanting wisdom,  I longed to know what was ‘normal’ Christian practice, following tradition.  What ought any Christian to do, in order to love and serve God perfectly?  So whilst I dutifully but happily continued on my way, caring for my husband and my home, and praying like a child, I ventured new questions about other subjects.  I was curious about them all, seeing it as my duty to know the teaching of the Church on all important topics, in case I should have to explain my beliefs to others, in detail.  Besides, I was determined to be really saintly.


It was disturbing to see how much conflicting advice was put out by the different churches, as I considered a number of issues in a Christian light.  Was it still true, I wondered - not fourteen but twenty-one - that Christ had founded a Church which had “broken into bits”?  Whose answer ought a Christian to accept, on the subjects of divorce, contraception, or other moral issues?  I noticed how many different opinions were proffered about very serious matters such as the care of the handicapped, born or unborn, and about many other topics.  It seemed


extraordinary to me that on subjects of such importance Christians could ‘make up their own minds’ or, in other words, do as they pleased.  Surely Christ wouldn’t have left us without guidance on difficult matters?  How could He bear to see His Christians - once so firmly taught by Him about what was right and wrong - wandering around on earth, confused, if by our choices and our behaviour, as Christ had warned us, through the Scriptures, we’re making our way towards either Heaven or Hell (Mt 7:21-23)?



[Exaggerated devotion?


It seems right to say here, in a short digression, and ‘leaping ahead’ once more to the faith and teaching which I’ve found in the Catholic Church, a few words about avoiding evil and doing good.  How marvellous it is that good priests, and many parents too, now speak about

aspects of the Faith in ways which encourage trust in God’s goodness as well as faith in His judgements.  It’s marvellous to see good human friendships treated more with gladness than caution, and to hear as much about God’s love for every person He has created as about the consequences of sin for the impenitent.   Yet what a lot of dangerous advice has been handed out since the Second Vatican Council by some theologians and other thinkers who stress what they see as the ‘formality and fear’ in all pre-Conciliar education.


It has become fashionable to decry any talk of sin and punishment, as though present-day Catholics, unlike their ancestors, have no need of detailed guidance in the difficult paths of faith.  We will lead mature and holy lives, we are assured, if only we cultivate a cheerful outlook and try to avoid the exaggerated devotions of the Saints, especially the Saints’ unnecessary emphasis on obedience, on reparation for sin, and on suffering.


While it’s true that no Christian ought to be looking inwards all the time, so obsessed with his journey to perfection that he rarely thinks about the needs of his neighbour, every Christian needs to be taught quite clearly about how to avoid sin, and how to be certain of pleasing Christ.  So many modern Christians seem to be unwilling to speak about sanctity, preferring to speak about self-esteem.  So little is heard about the life of purity and holiness through which we can be drawn into a wonderful “life-in-union” with Christ our Saviour, as we prepare for eternal enjoyment of His friendship in Heaven.  For a teacher to minimise the dangers that a Christian is bound to meet in efforts to be faithful is surely as reckless as to send a trainee soldier to cross Dartmoor without a map or to climb the Jungfrau without a guide.


So here was the reason for my puzzlement in the 1960’s; how was it possible that apparently responsible Christian leaders could contradict one another on matters which the Saints and writers in the Early Church had said would lead us either to Heaven or to damnation?  Surely, goodwill is not enough; firm teaching is essential.


As I’ll shortly describe, I came to see that the Catholic Church alone has been guaranteed the perpetual guidance of God specifically in this matter of teaching truths about faith and morals.  This belief was set forth in the constant Tradition of the Church, and also in the Gospels, when Christ had said to Saint Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be CONSIDERED


bound in Heaven” (Mt 16:19). Long centuries ago, in the early Church, the primacy of Saint Peter and the authority of the Apostles was widely acknowledged; and in our own times, I was to learn with gladness, faithful Catholics accord the same authority and dignity to the Apostles’ successors: to the Pope, and to the Bishops who are in communion with him.]



The Roman Catholic Church.


Back in 1963 and 1964, and realising my ignorance, as I said, I continued to read, think and pray. Everything I learned through my studies led me to a greater awareness of the meaning of the holiness to which God calls us all.  Still examining books about faith and about Church history, the better to understand and explain my own re-discovered faith, I soon encountered the Catholic Church of earlier centuries.  Then I learned for the first time in my life, in such clarity, that the Church of the Apostles and Martyrs had not vanished, despite many centuries of upheaval and persecution.  It had spread throughout the whole world, and still exists today.  It is still guided by a Pope, and is still united in its faith and teachings.


But there was more to disturb me: facts about my own people and my own country.  Even though I still read books written by English Protestant authors as well as by Catholics I learned facts which were new to me about the sixteenth-century Church in England and about the Monarchy.  For the first time in my life it dawned on me that when the English monarchy had torn the English people away from Rome, it had done wrong.  The Catholic Church today was neither divided nor impotent; it was still One and Holy - and had been so in Tudor times as well as in our own day; and nor was the Catholic Faith merely a folk memory in English minds.  There existed  a huge and holy family, with One Faith, still, and One Lord, and - what was most painful for me to discover - I was not within it.  I was baptised, to be sure, but I didn’t wholly belong to Christ’s Body.  I wasn’t “in Communion” with the Catholic Church.


As I examined the consequences of English independence from Rome, I found that even Anglican authors confessed that “schism” was a regrettable state.  They boldly protested, however, that the Church of four centuries ago had been so monstrously corrupt that the schism had been justified, but  I couldn’t see that this was right. Perhaps I didn’t know much about the Reformation in England, I decided; but although I recognised that people in every age are corrupt - we are all weak - I couldn’t believe that if Christ founded a Church which taught with His authority and offered His Sacraments, there would ever be a valid reason which could persuade one to leave it.  I knew that the early Church, much admired by Anglicans, had experienced bitter grief from the sins and squabbles of its members.  Yet none of the ‘early’ Saints had dared to defend dis-unity in “BELIEF AND PRACTICE” (1 Co 1:10), or schism; and Saints throughout the centuries had been aware of the dangers inherent in any separation from ‘Rome’.


At the end of every avenue.


The implications of this thinking appalled me.  Perhaps I’d misunderstood?  I knew many good Anglicans; could they all be wrong on this matter, or had they never thought about it all, comfortable with the “Branch Theory” of Church development learned at Church and Sunday School?   Or did this discovery prove me right in my certainty that Christ hadn’t left His Christians without guidance on earth?  No matter what I read, nor how hard I thought, there was no avoiding what seemed like a brick wall at the end of every ‘avenue’ within my mind; and that ‘wall’ was the Roman Catholic Church, with a huge door set in it.


I peered into little ‘roads’ on each side, but found that each was a dusty cul-de-sac, without much light.  I couldn’t see how anyone could avoid knocking on that door to ask for admittance; but I was horrified at the unexpected discovery, and by the Code of Conduct which, I understood, each conscientious candidate would be bound to follow.  By this I mean that my ideas of a Roman Catholic’s daily prayers and practices were festooned, in my mind, with weird half-remembered phrases about penitential practices and strange devotions.  The very words ‘Catholic priest’ almost made me shudder, so closely were they associated with tales about the treachery of certain Englishmen whose loyalty once lay with Spain as well as the Pope.


When I spoke about the problem, some people assured me that the Holy Spirit had guided all Christians through the ages, and that I ought not to worry myself about the different Churches, since it’s sincerity that ‘counts’.


I have learned since then, thank God, that God does indeed love sincere hearts; but I’ve learned, too, that one can do evil things sincerely, from ignorance or fear.  I wanted to know what was true, so that I could please God in the best possible way.  My question was: how can one tell whom the Holy Spirit is guiding, if one church said that such-and-such an activity was wrong, and another said that it was right?  I had no longing for novelty or change, but only wanted to find out God’s Will, from whoever knew It.


Anglican Bishops.


Continuing the search, I read widely, and sought out writers who might help me banish my confusion. I was sure that God didn’t expect His People to be scattered amongst dozens of churches, but rather to be united in the One, Holy Church which He had founded upon the Apostles - who were headed by St. Peter.  But the more I studied, the more astonished I became as I uncovered new facts about four centuries of Anglican history. Questions arose by the score, therefore, on major matters - and minor.  How was the Queen head of the Anglican Church, when she wasn’t a priest?  I’d been told as a child that Bishops, priests and deacons formed a sacred Ministry, which was not only reformed but was also ‘Catholic’.  How strange was our history.  Could the citizens of any country, I wondered, suddenly decide that the monarch and not an Archbishop was the Head of its church?  What was the precise role of the Anglican bishops?


If the Queen had no authority, and was a mere figurehead, then what was the point of her title?  Moreover, why were Anglican Bishops not chosen by her, but by her Prime Minister, who might be an atheist or a member of another denomination?  I’d learned that it was his task to select a candidate from a list offered to him by churchmen who were bound to accept his decision. How strange this seemed.


I was to discover, later, that even Catholic Bishops in different centuries had been appointed by Catholic Kings, due to a policy of ‘peace-making’ which seemed wise at the time.  But it seemed extraordinary that similar things were permitted in any Christian country in modern times, especially in the Anglican Church which, since it was English, I’d been led to believe was very sensibly organised.


Inconsistencies in our beliefs and our administration weren’t the only problems I encountered, and I continued to ask for advice.  Each clergyman I questioned about “the Sacrament” in our Holy Communion service had a different answer, when I asked only: “What is right?  What is true?”  Some said that our Eucharist was a pious memorial, designed to stimulate our faith as we ate bread and wine.  Others claimed that Christ is Really Present with us, and that we consume “THE Body and Blood OF THE LORD,” (1 Co 11:27) as explained in the New Testament.


Trying to be logical, I thought this latter answer seemed to be the truest, or Saint Paul wouldn’t have had to issue his awful warning about “EATING AND DRINKING HIS OWN CONDEMNATION” (1 Co 11:29): but who was I to judge?  I sought the teaching of “the Church” and found that my church taught several different things, despite the evidence that for more than a thousand years before the Reformation, the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament had been recognised and treasured throughout Christian Europe.




For my own welfare, and perhaps even for my own Salvation, there was yet another problem to be solved.  If it were our solemn duty to know, love, and serve God in this world and in the next  - as advised by the author of my Anglican catechism - then what, I wondered, was the best way of getting to know God?  Was it through penance and sacrifice as well as through prayer, as all the Saints seemed to suggest.  And if I ought to be obedient and good, then precisely to whom should I be obedient, when Bishops and priests of our church gave conflicting advice?


The author of almost every book which I’d read about sanctity or Saints had spoken of obedience and faithfulness.  Life on earth seemed to be so complicated and so difficult, and God himself was described by Saints, Church leaders and theologians as so glorious, that it was surely important to know precisely how to please Him.  The advice given in childhood - just to “follow the Bible” - seemed quite inadequate, when nearly three hundred Protestant churches had been ‘born’ because of squabbles about different interpretations of the Holy Scriptures.  If God had inspired the biblical authors, surely someone could tell us what they really meant, and what were the essentials of the Christian way of life today? I was dismayed and astonished to hear one view after another which advocated a vague ‘muddling-along’.


There arose a further cause for alarm.  The people who seemed to have known and loved God best were the Saints - who were all Catholic.  Could they all have been misguided about their loyalty to the Pope, which seemed to go hand-in-hand with their worship of Christ?


It became evident that if it were true that there was only One Church, guided by the successor to St. Peter, and that it contained not just sinners but amazing Saints, then I ought to find out more about it, and ask to be admitted.  The alternative would be to accept what I’d been told as a child, that the Church had fallen apart - which sounded to me as though Christ had abandoned His People.  I found that hard to believe.



‘Roman fever’.


Twice weekly, I went to a Communion Service at our local Anglican Church, and, occasionally, as I have said, I went to a ‘High’ church about a mile further away which was called St. James’ church.  It had an extraordinary notice just inside the door, which read: “This is a Catholic Church”.  In smaller script, below, I read the explanation: that Anglo-Catholics consider themselves to be members of the Catholic Church, and that the Anglican Church is a part of the Catholic Church, thought not at present in communion with the Pope.


Naively thinking that an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ would be my best guide to the truth about Roman Catholicism, I consulted  one of the clergymen there about my qualms, and was amazed by his advice.  He merely laughed at my questions, saying kindly that I had a touch of “Roman fever; we all get it now and then!”  He reminded me that his colleagues routinely used the Roman Missal, wore Roman vestments and followed the Roman calendar throughout the liturgical year; and so his advice was simple.  “We’ve got all this”, he beamed, waving his arm around the beautiful interior of the Church; and he added: “There’s absolutely no need to go ‘in’.”  I thanked him for his reassurance and went back to the flat.


For a few days I supposed that a trained minister must know more than someone like myself who had fewer qualifications.  However, common-sense and logic couldn’t be defeated so easily, and I realised what had happened.  This kind man had probably assumed, because of my anxious manner, that I was hoping for a verbal salve which might soothe away my distress about what many Anglicans called ‘The Roman problem.’ But I’d been hoping for a few facts which would help me to see whether the claims of the Roman Catholic Church were as awesome as I thought they were - or had no good foundation; and instead of the information I’d expected, I’d received evidence that someone who labelled himself an ‘Anglo-Catholic’ might be no nearer to the Catholic faith than were his ‘low-church’ brothers and sisters.  If, by private judgement, he had made a selection from the ‘Roman’ Church of the teachings and devotions which he himself judged to be true or attractive, whilst discarding the rest, he had sat in judgement on Christ’s Church on earth. Although he couldn’t see it, and despite the elements of Catholic devotion in his words and in his building, he was every bit as much a sincere ‘Protestant’ as the Evangelical Anglicans whose worship he wouldn’t have seen as ‘Catholic’ like his; and that’s why I felt disappointed. 


Contradictory guidance.


How could it have been possible, I wondered once more, for the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ to send His Son to earth for a few years, to inspire the Christian Church for a few years - and then to leave it alone for hundreds of years with only such basic ‘tools’ for faith and good behaviour as the much-disputed Bible and the Nicene Creed?  Had God intended that each one of us should see his own interpretation of these sacred words as right?  Was there no guidance, or only contradictory guidance, on every important Christian moral and disciplinary issue in modern life?


It seemed that very many Anglicans recognised - as had my mother, at an earlier stage - the continued existence of the Catholic Church, although saying that the “Romans” had gone “too far” or had “gone wrong”.  If pressed to state firmly what the “Christian Church” believed, they claimed that it had all broken asunder a long time ago, and that God no longer guides “The Church”, but only guides individual Christians who, sad to say, disagree.  The ‘One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic’ church which we proclaimed in our Creed was an ideal, not a reality;  and if we all remained optimistic and hard-working, it might come together again.  Some of you will realise that this is the view which is widely put about today by many Christians who are involved in Ecumenism.


Why were some ‘Anglo-Catholics’ so insistent that they were ‘Catholic’, I wondered, if there was no longer a Catholic Church, and when the Church of England had been described, in a not-long-ago Coronation, as the ‘Protestant Reformed Religion’ which had been established by law?  And surely, if the Catholic Church existed still - the “Roman” Catholic Church - she herself must be the best judge of who was or wasn’t a Catholic? 


Doctrine, devotions and moral guidance.


It seemed that even people who disliked certain Catholic teachings and practices had enough respect for the Papal Office to be disappointed that the Popes had said for centuries that we Anglicans were deficient in doctrine, discipline, sacraments and true unity. It was as plain as the nose on my face that the  ‘Roman’ church taught doctrines with which those outside her disagreed, approved devotions which they despised, and issued moral guidance which they ignored, or claimed was too harsh.  Surely, she was plainly wrong - or plainly right.  There was no such thing as the ‘Via Media’, once proposed by John Henry Newman, in his years as an Anglican minister, some years before he became a Catholic priest.


Having come  to believe in Christ and in the Christian creeds, I also believed that One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church had been founded at the time of the Apostles; and a church existed, I saw, which claimed that title, and which nothing had been able to destroy. 


There came a moment when I realised that I’d find no wonderful answers from any Anglicans which would demolish the Roman claims.  It seemed so obvious to me that Christ had intended to found a single church, and that a united and extraordinary Church existed which provided enough evidence for her own claim to be unique: the Catholic Church of the Fathers, the monks, the mystics, the Reformation martyrs - and of mothers and fathers, single persons, and also children: people of every sort, in past ages and today.  This Church had brought sure Christian doctrine to every sort of culture and people, for two millennia; and she contained not just sinners, but Saints.  It occurred to me then, that the “problem” which I’d taken to the Anglo-Catholic minister didn’t exist.  The only problem lay in admitting that since the one Church founded by Jesus Christ existed still, and was guided by God, the doctrines and devotion which she recommended must be true, and I should attempt to follow them.



English and Catholic.


As I’ve made plain in the Preface, and as I’ll describe a little more fully in another chapter, I not only found the Catholic Church, but entered it: the One Church founded by Christ, and the one Body to which I could listen with complete confidence when she explains to us how to please God and how to worship Him. And I mention this here because I hope and pray that Catholics will always see it as their duty - or even their delight - to share with other people the Good News about their Faith.  I might well have grasped the truths of the Catholic Faith joyfully, and even at fifteen years old,  had they been presented to me a little more plainly.


As I’ve just been struggling to explain, the truths of the Catholic Faith seemed immediately and wholly convincing when I discovered them at twenty-one; and nothing that I’ve read, heard or experienced in the decades since then have caused me to doubt those truths or to reject them.  Yet I suppose there are usually two requirements for the successful acceptance of truth into our hearts, requirements which were lacking in my teens, when I was unhappy, and when, besides, I’d never met a single English Catholic.  First, I mean that when someone’s heart is soured by loneliness or anger he or she is more likely to greet truth, and the responsibilities which follow upon truth, with suspicion or resentment; and secondly, I believe that most people find it easier to make enquiries and to weigh evidence in the company of someone like themselves.  St. Francis Xaxier found this to be true, when, in India, and then in Japan, he came to realise that the type of costume he chose to wear made a vast difference to whether or not he made conversions to Christ and to the Catholic Church; and this was not because people were converted for superficial reasons, but because some groups of less-than-perfect people were reluctant to listen to him because of what they saw as his outlandish appearance; and different cultures had different ideas about what clothing was acceptable.


It’s plain to me now, that it was when I became a happy young adult that I was willing to look at Catholic propositions with an unprejudiced mind; and it was when I found modern English Catholics authors who spoke my cultural language that I was willing to believe the plain truth: that Catholicism isn’t something ‘foreign’ - neither Irish nor Italian - but something for all peoples: even for the English, and even for a woman like myself who was young and ignorant but who was so fascinated by truth that she was willing, when she found truth, to venture along unfamiliar ways in order to grow as close as possible to God.


It was true that a puzzle had been solved.  The whole problem had been one of authority: and since I’d found that the Catholic Church has a Divine commission to teach all people authoritatively, I realised that everyone who believes in God and in the teachings of His Church can have a sense of peace and security to be found nowhere else - and can have this even in the midst of the problems of earthly life.  But I didn’t feel much delight in finding the solution to my problem.  On the contrary, my heart sank. 


Every question was answered to my entire satisfaction.  Everything I learned about the Catholic Faith, through my continued research, seemed to fit marvellously with all the other things I’d discovered.  The Catholic Church provided a coherent doctrine which impressed me both in its depth and in its details; and yet I felt leaden, with a sort of normal human grief, as I saw where my simple faith would lead me.  Any talk of membership of the Catholic Church was bound to jeopardise my earthly happiness which was so recent, and so fragile.  My family would be shocked and puzzled. I would have to cope with mockery or worse.


Canonised Saints.


As I pondered about our country’s Christian history, I half-wished that I could see it all differently, but  everything seemed very clear.  There remained no trace in my mind of the comforting myth of childhood, that each Christian body which interprets the Bible according to its own wishes is proclaiming the truth of God - even when Christian communities disagree.  Wherever I looked, the answer was the same. One Church had been founded by Christ, and one Church was teaching the truth in all its fullness still - as that Church proclaims with astonishing assurance, still, in her Council documents and in her catechisms; and it was God Himself Who was showing me my duty, which was to enter that Church and to make it my home, until death and beyond.


The more I read, the more I found that everything which had puzzled me had fallen into place. Even Cyril Garbett’s “Claims of the Church of England”, which I bought because I half-wondered if it could persuade me to stay where I was, seemed illogical.  There were good Anglicans and good Methodists, I saw, and brave ‘Quakers’; but there was no firm common teaching about every important issue of faith and morals, and no Saints: at least, not in the sense in which Catholics used that word in speaking of the heroes and heroines of the Faith who had been canonised.  Furthermore, the first Commandment is that we love God, which means putting His Will before anything or anyone else; so it seemed to me that if God had really founded a world-wide Church for our benefit, I had a duty to join it.  Only by doing His Will in that way would I be led “to THE complete truth” (Jn 16:13).  Only by finding Christ in the Sacraments which He had so marvellously provided for us would I learn to love my neighbour as he should be loved: with Divine charity in my heart and not by a merely human love, no matter how tender.


For the glory of the Father.


The whole process of realisation and discovery was so painful that although I did my chores as efficiently as possible, it was hard to keep my mind on my work.  At one moment I’d be agonising about the future, and at the next I’d be wondering once more whether I was being wildly impertinent in thinking that I’d discovered something about faith and truth that many Anglicans didn’t know: even my own parents.  But I kept on thinking and reading, and was enormously heartened to read the stories of the Saints.  I was so weak and ignorant and they were so brave and strong, it seemed; but our goals, I saw, were identical.  Although I might still have been afraid to pronounce this out loud, I knew that I wanted to be able to live the rest of my life “in Christ” to the greatest possible degree, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and for the Glory of the Father.


It was intriguing that the Saints I read about were burning with love for Christ and were longing to do His Will, and yet they were all so different from one another: of every sort of temperament and aptitude.  I’d never encountered people like that before, in the tales I’d read in earlier years.


It seems that in every century and in every sort of Christian community, and indeed, amongst people of other faiths, there have been extraordinarily good and devout persons: men and women who have sacrificed their reputations or their lives for the sake of their fellow human beings.  I’ve always admired Mr Wilberforce, and Elizabeth Fry, and Bunyan, and David Livingstone and many more good people. Which of us can fail to admire the virtues of people of every nationality or faith, where generosity, peace and forgiveness are admired and practised?  But from the evidence I’ve seen, I believe that only rarely is the staggering love of God and of neighbour - heroic holiness - to be seen in all its fullness outside the boundaries of the Catholic Faith.


Workers of miracles.


The Saints of every century resemble the Apostles, I discovered, in their fervour, their courage and their devotion to Christ: and in their horror at seeing risked or brought about any serious disunity within the Church, or any departure from the One Body, or any schism.  They resemble the Apostles, too, I realised, in their working of miracles - right through the ages and even in our own century.  It’s true that a reputed worker of miracles isn’t necessarily saintly, yet I was pleased to realise that God’s work through special signs hadn’t been just a special sort of help for an infant Church: help which was never to be given again after what I’d heard called “The Apostolic Age.”


If God is unchanging, and ever-generous, and if He once worked miracles through Christ and through the members of the Early Church, surely it made more sense to believe that He still works miracles through His Saints, rather than that His marvellous assistance came to a sudden halt in one or two hundred A.D.?  Every true Christian must admit that God is Almighty; and although I had no great curiosity about signs and wonders, and neither asked for them nor hoped for them in everyday life, I realised that a Church whose heroes and heroines resembled Christ in every way - in prayer, love, suffering and hope and also in miracles, for example - seemed to have provided compelling evidence for its own message and its own claims.


There were so many Saints to enthral me.  I had known for a long time that the Early Church could boast of Saints of the stature of Saint Augustine, whose “Confessions” I had read, and Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible.  Pictures of Saint Clare and of Saint Anthony are found in many non-Catholic books; but I was just discovering names which were entirely new to me.  A whole young life-time had passed before I ever heard of Saint Ignatius Loyola - who founded the ‘Jesuits’ - or Saint Rose of Lima.  Other Saints entirely unknown to a young Protestant woman like myself were Saint Francis Xavier, and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.  These,  with many other Saints, had blossomed in the Catholic Church, and had worked miracles by the grace of God, although their lives had been hidden from those who had tried to convince me that the Apostolic ‘age of miracles’ had long since vanished.



A visit to a Catholic Church.


It’s taken me such a long time to list my questions, and to describe the beginnings of this spiritual journey; yet the initial exploration didn’t take very long.  Only a few months passed between my renewed commitment to God in church worship and in private prayer, and the extraordinary experience of Christ’s presence in my room.  Then only a few more months went by, as I examined the claims of the Catholic Church and then decided that I was conscience-bound to ask for admittance.  I was very much the same person, throughout that time: thrilled by all that was good about daily life,  grimly determined about new things which seemed important, but also shy and inarticulate.  My heart ached at the thought of causing misunderstandings or of being un-loved or judged.  It was with great trepidation that I set out, one day, to visit the nearest Catholic Church, and to find out the name of the priest.


Who likes to think about change and destruction?  Who wouldn’t have felt some fear at risking all the joys which, at that time, made life worthwhile?  The church was called by a strange title: “Our Lady of Grace, and St. Edward”.  I wondered what ‘Grace’ really meant. My heart was thumping as I turned the handle and peered inside.  I opened the door and went in.


As soon as I’d tip-toed across the shiny floor to kneel down by a pew at the back, I felt terrified of being noticed or questioned.  The church was dark and unfamiliar.  It had fewer statues and paintings than there were in the Anglo-Catholic church of St. James, along the road; but I sensed a Presence in the tabernacle.  I’d sensed that Presence in a convent-school chapel, and in France.  I recognised Christ in the darkness.


When I’d prayed for a few moments, I set off for the bookshelves at the very back of the building. Hurriedly searching through the pamphlets in the ‘Catholic Truth Society’ stand, I was thrilled to see that some of them dealt plainly and logically with the sort of questions which occur to every new enquirer.  Putting two or three of the booklets in my pocket, I went back to my shopping and my household tasks, already planning another visit.  I hadn’t an iota of doubt about Catholic teaching, now that I’d accepted that the Church had been founded by Christ, and is still guided by Him.  I was determined to make arrangements to be admitted, so that I’d please Him, and so that I could receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  All I wanted was that He keep leading me forward and show me how, and where, and when I could come in.


A joyful  ordinary life.


Another week or two passed.  But after further study, with further reflection on my way of life, I became newly-aware that although married life had made me happier than I’d ever been before, it was a brittle happiness which depended on one person.


I can explain my feelings better if I skip ahead a year or two: to a few weeks after the birth of a beloved first baby, when my husband and I were living in that same London flat. My mother had come to visit one afternoon, which was a great treat as she was still in full-time paid work, and I couldn’t see her very often.


We’d talked about family, friends and faith.  She was delighted to see me on the ‘right track,’ at last.  Then, as we stood on the doorstep, saying our farewells, I told her - and I remember this clearly - that I was so happy that I didn’t see how it could last.  Shocked, she replied that that was heresy; and of course she was right to be on the lookout - in her own daughter - for foolish attitudes, perhaps for an un-Christian preoccupation with good luck or bad: combined with nervous gloom instead of Christian hope.  Yet she was wrong, in that my blurted fear now sprang from realism, not superstition.  I recognised that at  that hour, in that week and that year, at only twenty-four years old, I already possessed everything ‘earthly’ that I’d ever wanted. 


With a precious husband, precious child, little home, friends and family, and with a great deal of work to do, and the prospect of a lively family life ahead of me, I had so much joy that I hadn’t a single, earthly ambition to fulfil.  I was quite content with our various and real drawbacks and limitations; but it was faith that made me stand amazed at the marvel of an ordinary life full of marvellous joys; and it was faith that made me see that no purely earthly joy lasts for ever.  Earthly life involves change and loss.  So, even wrapped in faith, my very human heart felt, and expressed in private, an occasional shudder of fear that I might become dependent on what are transient joys. What my mother didn’t yet realise, because we’d had so little time in which to talk, was that my intermittent fears were now underpinned by a firm belief in God’s goodness and wisdom.


Since my conversion to Christ, I’d used St. Paul’s words as my life-line in every sort of crisis: “BY TURNING EVERYTHING TO THEIR GOOD GOD CO-OPERATES WITH ALL THOSE WHO love him” (Rm 8:28).  I hoped that that belief would remain fixed forever in my heart and mind, whatever might await me.



Imagined disaster.


During those first weeks of exploration of the truths of the Faith, in 1963 to 1964, I found it difficult to imagine telling my husband or other family members that, after only a short time of trying to live the Christian faith as an adult, I’d realised that only in the Catholic Church could I find the fullness of what Christ wants to lavish upon us, to make us holy.  Who was I to make pronouncements on religion?  Who would believe that I was earnest and determined, when only a few years before I’d been a bit supercilious and argumentative about things to do with church and church-going?  Even worse: how could I think of upsetting a husband who was kind, hard-working and dutiful, but who had imbibed in childhood, just as I had, the potion of prejudice against most people, things and places connected with Catholicism?


Never had I imagined that it might be because of the demands of God and His Church that my recent happiness might be snatched away.  Of all possible imagined disasters, I hadn’t considered that difficult choices between good and evil, God’s Will or ‘Loss of God’, would suddenly arrive to cause me such torment.  I was only twenty-one years old; and since I hadn’t yet plucked up courage to find a priest to discuss the matter, I had no true guide in this dilemma except my own private mixture of prayer and logic, which guided my conscience.


Meanwhile, I found that all my sweetness and joy in practising the Christian faith was evaporating.  The first ease in the daily spiritual routine had been replaced by struggle.  I didn’t understand what was happening, but my real training had begun.  A clear, true spiritual life was developing within me, tested and proved by spiritual battles.  The more I prayed for strength and guidance, the clearer became Christ’s wishes.  He gently nudged me towards the Way of truth, wordlessly inviting me to move forward, no matter how lonely I felt.


I saw that there was no way of avoiding anguish.  Frightened but determined, I resolved to face facts; and in order to make sure that they were accurate, I went in search of a Catholic priest.  It was the first time in my life that I’d been required to overcome my fears about their almost magical influence and terrible powers.  Someone from the presbytery not far from our street kindly agreed to come to our flat to talk to us about the Catholic way of life.


What a good man he was, giving us his time and attention; but I was young, and anxious.  My husband was uneasy at discussing daunting issues with a complete stranger, after a hard day at work.  Also, the anti-Catholic indoctrination which I had received was mild, compared with certain views which he had unthinkingly absorbed.  I can see that I ought not to have ‘rushed’ him about religion, at that stage, before we had discussed the matter very much, nor to have  introduced him in such haste to Catholicism personified by so suddenly confronting him with a representative of the ‘ruthless and authoritative’ Body whose beliefs and traditions he thought strange and outrageously demanding.  I had introduced him too soon, too suddenly.  It wasn’t kind, and it wasn’t the right time.  I had much to learn about prudence and even more to learn about patience and love.  But the priest was very understanding, and was quite willing to discuss things again whenever we wanted to see him.


Attitudes to the Catholic Church.


Resolving to think clearly and to be thoroughly grounded in the facts, I continued to read, and to ask the advice of people I respected.  But the people I knew well were, without exception, Anglicans.  Each one belonged, it appeared, to one of several groups.


Those in the first group had never considered the claims of the Catholic Church.  Many worshipped fervently, but without considering the claims or history of any other church or denomination.  They accepted anomalies and confusion in their Anglican worship as readily as they accepted problems in any areas of life.  They weren’t historically-minded, anyway; and they had no doubts about their faith in Christ.  He seemed very remote, sometimes, but they devotedly carried on trying to serve Him.  They were saddened by the divisions in ‘the Church’, but thought it inevitable that human beings everywhere would disagree.


The second group, I found, consisted of those who were like my parents’ circle in being utterly secure in their beliefs.  They held the view that the Church of England was a purified continuation of the Catholic ‘presence’ in Britain.  The claims of Rome, if considered, seemed laughable to them.  They were utterly convinced that ‘Rome’ had ‘gone wrong’, long before the Reformation.  They thought themselves to be tolerant and fair, and right.  They spoke of ‘Bloody Mary’ and boasted of Cranmer’s courage, but brushed aside all talk about the victims of Elizabeth the First.  She was a heroine, to them.  She had made Britain ‘Great’.  Besides, they believed that any historical study would show that Catholics had been unpatriotic, and “Jesuitical” and “wrong”.


Some Anglicans, I learned, had studied the Roman claims in depth, but had found to their dismay that she made demands which they thought too bold or too difficult.  They went away sadly, half-hoping she would change her laws or her moral code: but they lived like deserted lovers who couldn’t keep away from the loved one’s haunts and images and souvenirs.  They admired Catholic devotions and Catholic Art.  But they hadn’t received the fullness of the gift of faith, through which we believe that difficult things can be faced and accomplished, not by great human qualities but by Christ’s Divine power working within our frailty.


Later, I was to meet Christians who were indeed convinced that the Roman Church was the Church of Christ.  Yet they didn’t seek permission to enter.  Many waited year after year in order to avoid displeasing family or friends, or half-hoping that Popes might change some of the teachings.  They ‘hovered’ in uncertainty, longing to become Catholic but lacking the courage to change.


I saw that no-one could help me.  The decision about whether I should be asked to be received had already been made - as soon as I’d discovered that I wasn’t a Catholic.  However, I couldn’t take a different avenue without considering those whom my choices might affect; so I talked and waited, and prayed: all the time thinking about the details and implications, and wondering: where, when, and how could I belong to the Roman Catholic Church, fully “in Communion”?



Christian friends.


As the months went by in this way, I longed for the path to become clearer, but I continued to worship at the Anglican Church, grateful for what it truly gave me. I valued then, as I value now, the friendship of fellow-Christians.  Through the communal worship, and through annual feasts, I was given lovely reminders of Christ’s life and Christ’s parables, with interesting sermons.  I went to Communion frequently, blindly determined to look for Christ wherever He might be present - in whatever manner.


During that time, my illness disappeared.  I took a job with a nearby firm, thrilled to be well and busy again, and still longing to have a child.


A young women in our office was a member of a very fervent Christian denomination.  I hadn’t known of this until a day came when religion was under discussion in the firm’s canteen.  Someone poured scorn on ‘Christians’ and said something silly about Christ; and the young woman didn’t join in the general laughter.  When the group had left, I asked if she belonged to a Church or a group - and she confided in me about her faith in Christ. I reflected, afterwards, that adherence to the Christian faith is as difficult in twentieth- century England, in some respects, as in ancient penal times.  Few Christians can escape being mocked or persecuted to some degree.


As we talked about our belief in Christ, we didn’t see ourselves as good persons in a wicked world; rather, we knew ourselves to be weak people who were trying to be good; and since we were rather young and very shy, we spoke about our faith in whispers over the lunch-table now and again.  I kept silent about my “Church” queries, full of admiration for her love for Jesus.  She wrestled with her own problems.  Certain persons had chided her for being ‘fanatical’ about Christ. They considered ‘religion’ to be a private affair which shouldn’t be pressed upon other people. 


She and I consoled one another with a few words here and there, each uncritical of the other’s community, simply glad that we were trying to love the same Lord; and then, within a year, I became friendly with a fervent Anglican of my own age who was married, and lived nearby with her husband and young baby.  I was delighted to be able to enjoy her company and to exchange views about family life, fashion, work, poetry, dressmaking - and God.


After the birth of my first child I was to spend many happy hours with my new friend as we nursed babies together and attended mid-week services at our local Church.  But before that way of life began I had a marvellous holiday with my husband, which bought me lavish and unexpected insights into the Catholic Faith and Catholic ideals.


Discovering the Saints.


The holiday plans were so urgently made because I was pregnant at last.  We were both thrilled, but expected hard work ahead, and few holidays.  That was why we borrowed my mother’s ‘mini’-car and seized what we saw as our last chance to wander, carefree, across Europe.


We began our leisurely drive through France and Italy four months before the baby was due. I had just handed in my notice at work, so I was thrilled by the chance to relax, and also to visit  the towns I’d so recently learned about whilst re-discovering the Saints.  My husband was delighted to visit any place at all that I suggested.  He has a great interest in history, and enjoys sight-seeing.


During the journey, I came across all sorts of evidence that sanctity hadn’t ‘evaporated’ at the Reformation.  The impression I’d gained from history books at school that canonisations, pilgrimages, and all outward and joyous celebrations of holiness had nothing to do with modern times was firmly squashed.  It seemed that there were Saints aplenty, here in our own times.  


As we stopped at one shrine after another, and as I read pamphlets about each new heroine or hero, I learned about ordinary people made extraordinary by God.  They had battled against evil within and without, determined to love God and their neighbour, whatever the cost.  I knew that many good Christians had sought truth and loved God: Bunyan amongst them, and many more; but only Catholics had in their midst, guided by the truths taught by the Church, persons graced with the truly staggering, heroic sanctity of Christ, whether that holiness were evident in their lifetimes or quite unrecognised.  Catholic Saints, I learned, influenced every age of history, sometimes by visible example and at other times by silent sacrifice.


During continued reading at home, I’d learned from books by Thomas Merton, Ronald Knox and others much more about the quest for truth and holiness.  Through the “Confessions of St. Augustine” I’d seen that temptations and sacrifices are weighed and pondered by Christians in every age. I’d discovered more about the real meaning of Christian heroism, with each new brief biography I opened.  But it was through visiting the shrines or former homes of several Saints, as I toured Europe, that I was made aware of the details of their daily lives, and so came to understand more about the ideals and activities which they valued above all else.


Daily duties and God’s Will.


It seemed that the ‘Saints’ I so admired were mere mortals, upon whom God had lavished His own holiness as soon as they had given themselves unreservedly to Him in love and sacrifice. It was heartening to know that many of them had been terrible sinners, who had come to know Christ very simply and swiftly through penance, prayer, and obedience to His Will.  Even better, I learned that ‘God’s Will’ isn’t a name to be applied to whatever someone grimly decides to do for God.  It’s a reality which can be seen and grasped in safe, sure ways: as we follow not only the Commandments but also the teachings and laws of the Church, and the sure guidance of the Pope.  I saw that Christ shows out His Will for us, also, by the examples of His Saints.  We can be sure of remaining  on the “HARD ROAD” (Mt 7:14) of holiness if we’re trying to fulfil our daily duties in ordinary life, with a sincere trust in God, and constant reliance on the graces of Christ, given supremely through the Sacraments.  What a marvellous thing is the Catholic Faith, I saw, if everyone within it -  whether truck-drivers, priests, surgeons or housewives, nuns or princesses - could follow the same Way.


Although the Saints were different from one another in background or temperament they had all passionately desired to do God’s Will at every moment.  They didn’t reach perfection on earth, but attempted to be perfectly faithful and loving in major matters and minor, throughout every difficulty.  They really trusted in God: in His Wisdom and Providence; and none of them was lacking in devotion to Christ in His Passion.  But I also found out that most of them had become so simple and childlike that a bubbling joy and a lively sense of humour endeared them to their friends and brightened sad hearts around them.


One of the first comparatively-modern Saints I learned about was called St. Bernadette.  She had led a short life dominated not by extraordinary phenomena but by countless chores and conversations and episodes of ill-health. The heroic child behind the pastel pictures had been canonised for her love of God and neighbour, in years of quiet endurance amidst her trials and pains, and not for the short series of visions she’d received as an illiterate fourteen-year old girl.  She was glorified after death for her resemblance to Christ, not for indirectly founding a shrine for the world’s pilgrims, at Lourdes, although I thank God today, with all my heart, that the Mother of God is honoured there.


Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.


After reading about St. Ignatius, St. Dominic and others, I was initially puzzled when I encountered the brief life and writings of St. Thérèse. Her life had been so different from my own.  Her flowery language dismayed me.  Then I learned that she had lived and died a mere eighty years ago, only a short distance from the town of Rouen which I’d explored as a child.  She’d spent a few years in a convent in Lisieux, as a contemplative nun, and had died at the age of twenty-four.  Her autobiography seemed peculiar, even as I grew more interested in the details of her way of life.  The reverent books about her puzzled me, too. For example, she was praised for her “heroism” in enduring the “harsh Norman winters” and for eating whatever was put before her; yet everyone I’d known had shivered in unheated bedrooms.  I myself had eaten what others had chosen to give me, at home or school or elsewhere, without thinking it to be unusual or brave.  Yet, in my ignorance, I didn’t understand that Thérèse hadn’t been used to a “working-class” style of life.  Some of her biographers were accustomed to servants and all sorts of luxuries and so were doubly appalled by what she had endured.


The style of the autobiography repelled me, mostly because I was unused to the reverent intimacy with which nineteenth-century Catholics spoke about Christ.  In the Anglican circles of my youth, people who displayed evangelical fervour were regarded as being a bit juvenile and undisciplined, especially those who spoke about “Jesus” in an enthusiastic way.  The names I’d been encouraged to use - as though for Someone a long way away - were: “Almighty God” and “Lord”.


But curiosity led me through the unfamiliar phrases. Térèse’s joyful acceptance of suffering was revealed.  Her courage was of the same calibre as that of St. Bernadette, yet the tremendous determination shown by these young women, as well as by other Saints, arose not from pride or stoicism, but from their love for God.  Their belief that they were able to offer “reparation” for sins, in union with Christ, through sufferings joyfully borne, was a new concept for me, and it took me by storm.  Wariness about St. Thérèse began to turn to admiration.


A certain phrase by Saint Paul, in Holy Scripture, had until then failed to whet my curiosity. What had he meant by saying: “IT MAKES ME HAPPY TO SUFFER FOR YOU ... AND IN MY OWN BODY TO DO WHAT I CAN TO MAKE UP ALL THAT STILL HAS TO BE UNDERGONE BY CHRIST FOR THE SAKE OF HIS BODY, THE CHURCH” (Col 1:24)?  The answer was given to me through the lives of the Saints.  What a piercing, life-changing revelation it was, that if we voluntarily unite our own pains with those of Christ in His Passion, we can do His work.  Such a work of love is invisible, effected only by faith; but its power can be tremendous, if we can persevere in offering that reparation to God not only for our own sins but for the sins of other people.  I was thrilled to learn this.  It meant that by every loving ‘offering-up’ of pain or distress, we can please Christ by our love, help Him in His Passion, offer reparation for our own sins, and help our neighbour towards his Eternal goal.  It also meant that no pain or grief we bear need ever be ‘wasted’.


Four special women.


During the holiday, we saw the streets which St Thérèse had known as a child; and then we visited the gaudy, glorious Basilica which had been built in her honour.  It awed me, not by its size, but by the statement it could have made to me as it soared boldly above the town.  It was as though it might have proclaimed on behalf of those who built it: “Christ lives!  Christ sanctifies those who love Him faithfully.  Believe us, all you who come here. Christ’s Church still preaches, proclaims and cherishes sanctity, and still celebrates the wonderful lives of her Saints.”


It was in the hope of learning more about the same subject that I searched a few streets in Paris hoping to find the chapel where St. Catherine Labouré had prayed.  This modest woman had received instructions from the Blessed Virgin Mary; but Catherine’s sanctity lay not in her visions but in heroic virtue practised through the years. I was unsuccessful in my search; but met with more success, however, further South in Paray-le-Monial.  There, I became full of joy at seeing the little convent where St. Margaret Mary had prayed, when she was almost overwhelmed by what was powerfully revealed to her of the marvellous Love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.


In Italy, during our second week away, we toured castles, gardens and Cathedrals, enjoying the sunshine and the meals. But the greatest thrill for me was in finding “old” Saints, and seeing them in a new light.  Saint Catherine of Siena became real for me, in Siena, when I saw the steep steps that she’d climbed with her band of comrades, taking food to the poor.  Then as  we arrived in Assisi, I found not just a bird-lover or a jolly comrade but a Saint of such a towering sanctity that all the pretty stories in my mind were peeled away.  The crypt where Saint Francis was buried had a holiness about it in the air: the holiness of a passionate man who’d been determined to follow Christ at any price, through derision and pain. 


As I looked at the relics of Saint Clare, whose tomb was nearby, I thought how marvellous it must have been for the two Saints to have encouraged one another in holiness: for each to have been spurred on by the other’s devotion to Christ. Saint Clare’s blond curls were there on display.  I was sure that she’d sacrificed them without a pang,  as she ran away to lock herself in a monastery for prayer, so that she could serve Christ with the same burning intensity of love as that being demonstrated by Saint Francis.


I was thrilled that through their prayers and example, all of these Saints were somehow ‘ours’; and there were so many more!  I was rather timid about asking for their prayers, as I was timid about discussing Religion or Christ.  But I became more sure that it wasn’t odd to want to turn away from sin and to become holy.  It seems that even in our modern, technologically ‘white-hot’ and atheistic century, the needs of the human spirit are unchanged.  For the love of God, and the sake of Eternal Life, we all ought to do penance, to pray every day and to live entirely for Christ. I realised that this is a thoroughly Christian, a thoroughly Catholic notion: and so, over thirty years ago, I earnestly embraced it, determined  to avoid the fate of those who are  “ONLY LUKEWARM” (Rv 3:16).


In my youth, of course, I couldn’t really imagine myself ever growing old or preparing to die.  But I knew, nevertheless, that I wanted to be prepared for that inevitable time-of-departure,  principally by learning how to please God in the intervening years. I became even more determined to spend every day of my life learning more about the Church, and about prayer, solely for the love of Christ. 


At the end of our holiday, I was full of admiration for the Saints, and even more fervent in prayer. There were only a few weeks more in which I’d be able to pray and meditate, uninterrupted.





Our first baby arrived, after several months of joyful anticipation and two days of anguish.  But his presence was like a private miracle.  We were overcome with wonder at his life, and at his delightful presence.  Although we hoped that we’d love any child born to us we were entranced by his physical perfection. 


I remember leaning over his cot in my hospital room, in an interval between visitors, in a daze of wonder that I should have been able to produce another human being. I had never imagined that motherhood meant this: this storm of joy, and sense of completion.


The ‘storm’ had other effects.  At around that time I read a newspaper story about some far-off disaster; and for the first time - I mean with such a passionate empathy - I wept over the experiences of mothers and children who were suffering on the other side of the world.  My hard and cynical heart was at last being stilled and softened because a helpless infant was now entirely dependent on me.


At home in our bed-sitter with the new baby, I was nervous for a day or two, but was thrilled to be a mother. I can’t describe how much we loved the child. His daily care became my chief concern: my great joy.  Even while I frantically worked out whether he was well-fed or hungry, warm or chilly, at any hour of the night or day in my new and very flexible routine, I was astounded to be a mother: to have my own precious child: for us to be a family.


During those first few months of motherhood, I persevered in prayer. Formal worship was limited to two hours a week, and prayer became a mere soul’s glimpse of Christ between the kitchen and the bath.  Later, I managed to spend one or two half-hours in prayer each day when the baby fell asleep; but during those early days I found that it wasn’t difficult to keep my heart wholly turned towards God, even if in an exhausted, inarticulate way, between crises and bouts of anxiety.  I simply ached with gratitude and wonder.


We were to be thrilled in just the same way at the birth of each one of our precious children; but meanwhile, we arranged for the first to be baptised.  My former parish priest - who had ‘heard’ my confession - agreed to officiate at the nearby Anglican Church.  It was an extremely happy celebration by a large collection of friends and relations; and my mother was especially joyful at seeing me with husband and child, apparently ‘settled’ at last and following in her very sensible domestic footsteps.



[Already at home.


It’s been a great blessing that when I became a mother I was able to stay at home to look after the children, and so didn’t miss the wonderful ‘unfolding’ of their personalities, with so many opportunities for us all to give joy and to receive it - even in the midst of everyday struggle and growth and misunderstanding.  But there’s another reason why I’ve been grateful for the support of my husband, and also grateful for the Church’s encouragement to us that we care for our relations.  I mean that if a married woman is already at home caring for several persons, it’s possible that she’ll welcome into her home further needy persons - whether in the ‘shape’ of a pregnancy or an ageing parent.


Apart from my four pregnancies there were to be several occasions on which I genuinely believed that I was pregnant, although perhaps I wasn’t; and I’m only writing about this to explain that although, each time, I wondered how I’d cope, I knew that the event wouldn’t point to a total change in my life-style; and so although I was sometimes very worried about pain or ill-health, I managed not to panic, but assumed that we’d manage somehow - with God’s help.  Panic, however,  is more probably the reaction for women who are anxious to be out all day in paid work - which I realise is unavoidable for some needy people - or in any circumstance where a woman is encouraged to look upon her unborn baby as an enemy, rather than a gift.]



Catholic spirituality.


Amidst the care of a husband and child, the question of Church membership hadn’t gone away, but had merely been postponed. The studies continued, even we moved to different homes in a different town.  Whether I’d been cooking, playing or sewing, I found time to read.  I was equally at home with a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet or with Cardinal Newman’s “Grammar of Assent”.


Fascinated by all I learned, I was thrilled to read Newman’s works, which I’d come across before the baby was born.  I learned an enormous amount from this clerical ‘convert,’ as I dashed next through his ‘Apologia’, joyful at hearing the details of a journey similar to my own.  Yet he in no way swayed my mind, which was already ‘made’. As I have said, I knew already that I ought to become a Catholic as soon as it were possible, though I half-imagined only Saints need apply.  I felt a great longing, mixed with fear.  Newman’s gift to me, becoming more weighty as I read his “Development of Christian Doctrine”, was this: he showed me that others had followed the same path, at great personal cost; and that was exactly the sort of reassurance I needed at that time. I was still amazed at my own impertinence at believing that I could recognise truth when others did not. I’d spent most of my life so far assuming that other people knew far more than I, and believing that my opinions were unimportant.


I didn’t know a single Catholic - besides the priest I’ve mentioned - to whom I could turn for advice.  The lovely Irish family were many miles away, and there were no Catholics, as far as I knew, amongst our acquaintances.  In all my short life I’d never met an English “cradle” Catholic, and only one convert to Catholicism; and despite having heard about my own father’s changes of allegiance - from the Society of Friends to the Church of England - I was vaguely of the opinion that most people usually remained faithful to the ‘denomination’ in which they were brought up, and that most people were untroubled by what were seen as minor differences of opinion between practising Christians.


Wise guides.


Thanks to Cardinal Newman, I was reassured that it’s not humility that tempts anyone to say “Good people disagree with me, therefore I must be wrong”.  Truth alone counts. I too must pursue Truth and embrace it at any cost.  Newman’s works re-inforced my belief that we can’t abdicate the use of our reason as we struggle to see where our loyalties lie; and when we’ve seen truth, we have to be brave and act upon it.  My only query about his own journey towards recognition of the claims of the Church, was - why did it take him so long to recognise the Church, when he’d had years of study and conversation as an Anglican clergyman?


Now that I’d conceded that present-day advocates of the Anglican ‘Branch’ theory of Church development were well-meaning but wrong, I was relieved to discover that many others, besides myself, had come to this conclusion.  Fr. Knox’s “Spiritual Aenaeid” encouraged me, as did the books of Arnold Lunn, with Fr. Vernon Johnson’s “One Faith, one Lord,” and the ‘lives’ of various Saints; yet history wasn’t enough for me during those difficult years.  My soul as well as my mind needed greater nourishment: but I found a sort of soul-food in books also, in some measure.  For example, Père de Caussade’s letters on “Abandonment” of oneself to “Divine  Providence” helped me to think more clearly about the meaning of trust in God.  They gave a glimpse of a truly fervent and Catholic spirituality which increased my desire for sanctity; and that desire increased precisely because I had learned something about the essence of sanctity. I realised more clearly that Francis and Dominic, Catherine and Bernadette weren’t spiritual athletes who bore excruciating trials through sheer will-power.  They were flawed but loving persons who emptied themselves, so to speak, so that God’s own holiness could pour within them and so could eventually illuminate, comfort and change other people as well.


Père de Caussade’s aim in writing so many letters had been to urge various fervent nuns towards even greater generosity towards Christ.  It seemed that great holiness, through union of the heart with Christ, demanded a constant and complete voluntary sacrifice of all one’s ambitions so that one might fulfil the Will of God in every detail of life, that is, might fulfil Christ’s ambitions.  An explanation such as this was very different from the good-hearted but moderate advice offered to me by certain guides, to whom zealous professions of faith or devotion were seen as exaggerated and ‘un-English’.


Thomas Merton’s books helped me again.  I ploughed through Herbert Van Zeller and C.S. Lewis.  I tried to read works by Teilhard de Chardin, but thought some ideas unorthodox, so gave up, and continued with Mgr. Escriva,  Dom Eugene Boylan, and - on a lighter note - Fr. Bernard Bassett.  I bought most of my books in dusty second-hand shops where I browsed for a few minutes whilst the baby slept in the pram.  I was still car-less and almost penniless: but was very happy in my family and my home, though not yet happy in my faith.


Some books seemed very strange to me: for example, the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’.  I didn’t understand much about the spiritual life.  I was content to struggle amongst the ‘foothills’, because I’d learned that it’s not will-power but Divine grace which transforms some people into mystics or Saints.  Yet I wasn’t surprised or saddened by my ignorance.  I felt like the woman who had been happy to approach Jesus through the crowd, saying to herself that she’d be helped: “IF I CAN TOUCH EVEN HIS CLOTHES” (Mk 5:28).  I believed that Christ heard my simple prayers and offered a plain and simple way.  In all my puzzlement, I knew that  I must avoid sin, and love my neighbour for Christ’s sake, and pray to God in ordinary ways but with the fervour of the Saints.



From town to town.


As I said earlier, I’d given up paid work just before our child was born, to be free to look after him full-time and to follow my husband wherever his job led him at each new promotion.  We worked hard in various ways, but had a great deal of fun, and made new friends wherever we went.  We were to move house five times in the first seven years of marriage; but it was exciting to explore new places and to create new homes.  We were happy anywhere - in any bed-sitter, flat or house.  There was still little money to spare for luxuries; but childhood had been the same, and we were content.  I gladly sewed and painted, patched and hemmed, delighted by our way of life.


We set no great store in possessions.  People mattered more than things.  We were grateful for our gifts of second-hand furniture and old books, but had no television, vacuum cleaner or washing machine.  Nearly all of my clothes were home-made, as were the curtains and covers - and toys and games. 


Occasionally I bought a small object from a junk-shop for its sheer beauty, something I couldn’t have made myself: a tarnished brass tray with an extraordinary design, and - on another occasion - a carved wooden box.  I still made time to paint pictures, when our first child was asleep.  But more hours were passed in washing nappies, cooking for relatives and friends, and happily walking miles each day for shopping, and for fresh air and fun. I didn’t mind such simple tasks; and as I walked and pushed the pram, I prayed the Rosary, or chatted with the baby, or thought about God.


In England, long ago.


There was a great difference, I found, between cherishing a longing to belong to the Church, albeit a painful longing, and feeling a dreadful emptiness at not being able to “go in”.  This latter mood began to predominate, the more I examined the details of our English religious history. Several years earlier, at school, my friends and I had gasped with astonishment on hearing of the exploits of Henry the Eighth.  Yet his life had seemed as remote and as irrelevant to our own lives as that of King Canute or Nell Gwynn.  We saw them as bit-players in a bright but useless pageant put before us by teachers beguiled by myths about the “Golden Days”.  The study of history revealed quaint but useless facts, we thought at the time.  We’d surely be better prepared for modern life if we studied more science or modern languages.


It was a Catholic author, Phillip Hughes, who suddenly opened my eyes by his plain recital of historical facts in his “History of the Reformation”. Late one night, when I was sitting up in bed, reading, I was suddenly amazed to read the phrase: “The Mass was abolished”.  That was what had happened in England, long ago: something terrible, which, far from being irrelevant, was very significant, in the light of my ‘faith-journey.’


What a lot I’d heard about the ‘good’ which was achieved by the Reformation, and by the Dissolution of the monasteries in England: so much about purification and reform, but almost nothing about the disastrous effects which followed the general retreat from Catholic doctrines and the ruination of Catholic sanctuaries and shrines.  The more I read of the plain facts of the matter, the more horrified I became at what had been hidden from me through my ignorance and through a lop-sided presentation of our nation’s history.


Nothing changed, in one sense. I’d known for three years that the Catholic Church hadn’t “broken up” into small pieces centuries ago.  I had longed for three years to ‘go in’.  Yet - this was the moment at which the longing became a compulsion.  The bright facade of ‘Anglo-Catholicism’ swayed and collapsed; and I knew that I could no longer go to Communion in an Anglican Church, no matter how far off was my Reception.  I realised that despite my reluctance to believe it, Cranmer’s attractive Church was Cranmer’s still.  No matter how great was the devotion to Christ of the Anglicans I knew, nor how sincere had been the adoption in recent times of ‘Catholic’ clerical dress or Catholic ritual, nothing could obscure the fact that, in the sixteenth century, almost all of England’s thousands of Catholic Churches had been desecrated, and therefore changed.  And those changes in externals reflected various changes in doctrine, changes enforced in the sixteenth century by State power, as Monarchs usurped the teaching role of Catholic Bishops.



By order of the Monarch.


One of the important things I’ve learned in recent years, especially in studies and conversations to do with Ecumenism, is that we Christians who claim to love and respect one another in our different ecclesial communities ought not to blunder into the unnecessary use of what’s called emotive language, or labelling; nor should we keep using phrases or names which make people feel uncomfortable or which resurrect past misunderstandings.  We mustn’t forget however, that there are serious differences of belief and practice between the Christian groups; and so it’s for the sake of truth, in telling this story, that I feel bound to mention in plain language some of the things I learned in my twenties: things which had never been mentioned by the people who surrounded me then, and who had an unthinking prejudice against everything to do with Catholics.  The impression which I’d received as a child was that Catholicism was so foolish a faith, and so unpopular, that the English People were glad to discard it; but I learned, however, in the 1960’s - from reputable Catholic historians - that the decline of Catholicism in the Middle Ages hadn’t been due to a popular movement, but had been caused by determined people with tremendous power to terrorise or punish devout Catholics who didn’t want to see any change.


It became plain to me that by order of the Monarch, and almost all over England, churches had been vandalised.  Statues had been ripped out of their niches.  Paintings and stained glass, too, had been stolen or destroyed.  But - worst of all - within a generation, not only had the Mass been re-written and changed, but even the very altars on which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered for centuries had been dismantled and removed.  So there seemed no question but that the Catholic faith in England was being practised today not by the descendants of those advocates of the new Communion Service in those sad, despoiled churches, but by Christians who are still loyal to the Pope.


I learned that true Catholics, for several generations, had risked their lives to ensure that the Holy Sacrifice was still celebrated in England, and that true Catholic teaching was passed on - whatever the penalties.


Imprisonment and death.


When I was young, it had never occurred to me to wonder why there were so few Catholics in England nowadays.  I’d been entirely ignorant of the ways by which the Faith had been uprooted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and now at last I discovered a little about the recusant families, with their fines, imprisonments and deaths. I learned that for three centuries, before the building of Catholic institutions was made legal, again, in the early eighteen-hundreds, young men went abroad to train for the Catholic priesthood.  I was full of admiration when I learned that, during penal times, those brave young future martyrs knew that arrest and torture were highly likely; yet they prepared for personal sacrifice by prayer and study, fervent in prayer to Christ and His Holy Mother and to the Angels and Saints.  They relied, too, on the prayers of their friends and relatives - of earth or of Heaven - as they undertook  hazardous journeys in order to bring the sacraments to Catholics who wouldn’t give their allegiance to the new State church.  So many good people sacrificed or risked their lives to preserve the Catholic Faith in England, especially the families who provided safe havens where Holy Mass could be celebrated and faithful people be strengthened. Then I learned, about our own times, that through the arrival in England of poor, persecuted Irish people - so pitied or despised by people I had known - the Faith in England had been marvellously enlivened and enriched, just when things looked extremely bleak.


Penal times had passed, it was true; but I gathered that some of the unfortunate developments of Tudor times had never been undone.  In the twentieth-century, as in the seventeenth, the picture was similar: the picture of a State Church accorded tremendous privileges, whilst the Catholic Church which had been established here by Saint Augustine at the wish of the Pope, Saint Gregory, was still reviled as a church for foreigners.  So the choice to be made by each English Christian, if he or she ever became aware of the issues, remained the same as the choice that people had faced in penal times. The penalties might be less severe, but each new ‘convert’ would experience some degree of mockery or alienation.



‘With authority’.


By the grace of God, I now believed in everything which was taught by the Pope and by the other Catholic Bishops.  Like Christ, they “SPOKE WITH AUTHORITY” (Lk 4:32). Although my enquiries about that authority, in childhood, had brought me only ridicule, I realised at last that the Faith of which I’d had a brief glimpse at a Catholic Primary School, and in an Irish home on our Council estate and also during several visits to the great Cathedral of Rouen, was the Faith which had flourished in England for a thousand years, before its official rejection in the sixteenth century.  I wouldn’t be un-English were I to become a Catholic.  The Faith was thoroughly rooted not only in my heart and soul but in my own country.  Customs and beliefs which I’d heard described as mediaeval or superstitious were in fact wise and well-founded.  They flourished all over the country, as well as all over the world.


What a great gift is faith in God and in His Church, and how I took it for granted, when I found it; and since I was ignorant in so many matters, I didn’t know that there are differing degrees of faith, or, rather, that faith, hope and charity are given to the soul by God, according to our soul’s capacity: our willingness to welcome those virtues; and I must admit that God gave me a tremendous faith in Him, although through no merit of mine.  It was tremendous because He is generous, but also because I’d always loved truth and now had welcomed the light of truth when true faith was offered to me.


When I say that I’d always loved truth I mean, first, that as a little child I had delighted in the perpetual unfolding of reasonable, useful information from parents and teachers about the material world.  Most of that information seemed to fit together in a remarkable way.  For example, I thought it marvellous that prehistoric eruptions in the earth’s crust had produced coal, and also diamonds, and that the coal was useful for cooking carrots which one could grow on the surface of our Earth’s crust.  Then again it seemed astonishing to me that our house was sheltered by huge and beautiful trees.  They entranced me by the swishing of their leaves during storms and by the dappled patterns of their leaves on the pavement on hot summer days; and yet their trunks were made of a marvellous material which was of exactly the right consistency for the building of furniture.  Remember: I was ankle deep in wood shavings whenever I watched my father build some new stool or household item in his workshop, so I was familiar with the marvellous properties of wood.


A marvellous mosaic.


What I’m trying to say is that when certain facts about our material world were verifiable and seemed admirable, I was ready to welcome them.  When I originally learned, as a child, that diamonds ‘grow’ in the ground, or that tadpoles become frogs, or that a cut finger heals itself, I wasn’t cynical or disbelieving about these marvels.  So when I was confronted in adult life with even stranger facts which were being offered to me by a sensible and trustworthy person, facts which seemed to fit together as neatly as had the little pieces of the mosaic of the whole marvellous universe, I was happy to accept them; and it was this delight in the inter-related ‘facts’ of the material world that disposed me to accept interrelated truths about the supernatural world when I discovered that ‘new’ world through Christian prayer and teaching, and when I was offered the free gift of faith.


What I realise now is that God poured His gift of faith into my heart after my marriage, when I was happy and grateful, and was willing to pray, and to read about God, and therefore was no longer untrusting, bitter or cynical; or perhaps I should say: it was then that I discovered that God’s faith, hope and charity were being offered to me, as always, but only then did I recognise and accept them.  And, in wholeheartedly accepting faith, that is, believing in God, and in God revealed to the world by His Divine Son Jesus Christ, I longed, immediately, to find out even more about God.


I believed all that seemed to belong to the main ‘body’ of Christian truth as I was learning it at first, mainly from books; and I was never cynical, never thinking: “How little need I believe?” or: “What’s the minimum that I must do to fulfil my Christian duties?”  I know that it was because I was prepared to make sacrifices for my very rudimentary faith that it grew stronger; and at the same time my spiritual ‘sight’ grew so much clearer that I was able to recognise the plain truth - the full truths of the Faith - when they were first presented to me by faithful Catholic authors and by the priests to whom I eventually turned for advice.


So that’s partly why nothing in the Church’s teaching seemed illogical to me, or perverse, despite the criticisms I’d heard from non-Catholics.  If one believed in the Divine origin of the Church, and in God’s guidance of it even now, one could see how every teaching “fell into place”.  Each could be seen as part of an harmonious system of thought and belief which held within itself an explanation for, and an answer to, every human yearning and every apparent aspect of the Divine Will, as made known through Jesus Christ, through His Apostles, through the Sacred Tradition, and through the Sacred Scriptures which had emerged from the Apostolic era, sealed with Divine authority.


Through reading both Catholic and non-Catholic journals and newspapers I learned that many writers vehemently criticise not only Church discipline but the constant and unchanging teachings about faith or morals.  But it isn’t intellectual cowardice, I saw, which allows ‘converts’ to accept Catholic doctrines; it is humility which enables them to avoid saying: “I neither like nor understand this doctrine; therefore the teaching of the Church must be wrong.”  It is humility that causes wise enquirers to say to themselves: “If my mind is stumbling in its efforts to understand the sure and certain teaching of the Church, which is Christ’s teaching, then my mind, evidently, is in need of more light.  What more can I learn?  May God guide me to see clearly”.


A prayer for Truth.


At that difficult stage of my explorations, I prayed for help every day, but neither asked God to help me to stop thinking about disturbing questions nor to “make” me a Roman Catholic. I knew that life is full of pain and heartache, of one sort or another. What I wanted was truth, above all.  So for those three or four years, I prayed a sincere prayer daily, in simple words which calmed me, as I said: “Oh God: show me my true place in your Holy Catholic Church.”


My return to daily prayer was so recent that my mind still echoed with the accusations of non-believers who said that the whole business of prayer was ‘auto-suggestion’.  That was why I took special care to pray in very simple ways: with entirely sincere phrases.


It’s possible that someone will wonder why Christ didn’t teach me all about the Catholic Church, if,  as I’ve explained, He had visited me when I’d prayed, and if He wanted me to serve Him and to do His Will.  But I can say from experience, now, that He teaches us exactly what we need to be taught at a particular moment; and He rarely teaches what can be found through the normal ‘channels’ which He Himself, out of love for us, has established and upheld.


There was no need for special ‘teaching’ in prayer for what was so obvious: for what I’d indeed found out very quickly: that Christ had founded a holy and united Church, and that  for reasons of history and ignorance, I wasn’t a member of it, or, more accurately, wasn’t in full Communion.








Christ, tugging at my heart.


It’s no exaggeration to say that I felt a pang of human terror as I studied and pondered. Horrified at the consequences of this train of thought, I saw ever more closely that the One Holy Catholic Church of the history books was the One Holy Church which exists today, which was vilified by people close to me yet was led by a Pope who preached with the authority first conferred upon Saint Peter, the first leader of Christ’s Apostles.


Christ was tugging at my heart, urging me to follow Him, despite my anguish.  He issued a fervent invitation which I could hardly bear to accept, but which I couldn’t bear to ignore.  He urged me, daily, in a wordless, insistent manner:-


                        Follow My inspiration and speak with a priest of My Church.  Ask him to receive you into Communion so that I can teach, feed, sustain and comfort you in the best possible ways. (T:11 #12)


At last I admitted that God indeed had shown me His Truth, through faith, reason, history and prayer, and through the uncomfortable, persistent “nudging” of a conscience which had recently become much more accurate and sensitive. I was entirely free to respond or to disobey, but, since my greatest desire was to please God, I found the address of the local Catholic Church, and made an appointment to see the priest: a different priest, since we’d moved a long way by then from our first bed-sitter.


It was from a sense of duty that I made my way, at around the same time, to the vicarage of our local Anglican church of St. John Chrysostom.  For a few months since our arrival in Manchester, my husband and I had worshipped together each Sunday, with our baby tucked up in a pram at the end of our pew.  How marvellous it would have been, in one sense, if I could have avoided the heartache of the coming years: caused by separate worship of the same Lord, with other problems.  But what blessings would have eluded us: blessings not to be recognised for many more years, but now seen as astounding.


Still half-quaking at my own impertinence at believing that I was right and others were wrong on this question of Church and Papacy when I’d been such an unwilling Christian


and so rebellious, I nevertheless held firm.  How could I do otherwise?  I saw that I wasn’t the first or the last to see obedience to the Will of God as more important than the fulfilment of earthly hopes.  Even if I were going to be condemned by other people, that wasn’t a factor that had to be considered.  All that was important - even more important than my duty to my dearest ‘neighbour’, my own husband - was my duty to God, Who made me so that I should love and serve Him above all.  That was the first and greatest Commandment, which I had a duty to obey by entering the Church which His Son had established, even if this would mean  disappointing other people: and even if it nearly broke my heart.


A search for guidance.


Finding the rectory, I explained to the minister as tactfully as I could that I believed I ought to become a Catholic.  He expressed only dismay.  Then I set off for St. Edward’s, the local Catholic church.  I’d made an appointment with the priest, who was a young man, and very gentle. I told him my story and asked him to help me to find my way in.  He suggested that I see “the Jesuits” at their own church a mile further away.  Perhaps he guessed that they would have had more experience than himself in receiving ‘converts’.  So once again I plucked up courage, determined to face another door and another stranger for the sake of accurate information and advice.


The Jesuit presbytery was vast, dark, and  very frightening to me, but nothing could have kept me out.  My visit evoked past experiences of being sent to see ‘the Headmaster’. It was an even more momentous visit, but I knew my feelings were irrelevant, provided I was given hope, and truth.  Someone was on duty at the door; then one of the priests took me to a side-room. I was asked to sit on a bench by a long polished table, and to recount my story again.  The priest had received a brief phone-call from the Catholic parish priest; and when he asked me why I’d come to see him, I told him very swiftly about my search for knowledge about the Faith, about my ‘discovery’ of the Catholic Church, and the fears of my non-Catholic relations.  He asked me what I’d read, and whether I prayed, and then asked me if I’d come back the following week.  (Illustrations: No. 11)


When I returned, I half-expected to be questioned for weeks, or taught further, or sent elsewhere; after all, what did I know of the Church’s methods and recommendations?  Yet the priest wasted no time.  Perhaps he was pleased with the amount of reading I had already done, or with the fact that I already believed in Christ and in all of the Church’s teachings and was determined to be fervent and faithful. I had no idea what he’d do, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask him.  But he suggested there was no reason why I shouldn’t be received.  He invited me  - knowing that I’d discuss this with my husband - to “pick a date”. Perhaps this was a wise pastoral decision by a priest who wanted to avoid friction in a sensitive family.  Perhaps he’d decided that there was no need for me to attend the Presbytery for instruction when there was scarcely a facet of the faith left unexamined to any great degree.  But I was delighted.


Astounded by the simplicity of the proposal, I was unable to bear a long wait until a major feast. It was mid-winter, wet and cold; so I chose “the Chair of St. Peter”, which was less than two weeks hence. But I hid my disappointment at not finding a major feast ‘to hand’ - perhaps the Annunciation, or the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.  Not until twenty years later did I find out that February 22nd is the feast-day of that passionate ‘convert’, St. Margaret of Cortona; and now that I understand more clearly the meaning of St. Peter’s vocation I’m grateful for my connection with “the Chair of St. Peter,” which gives me a small association with the responsibilities of the Holy Father.  It’s an incentive to become even more fervent in prayer for someone who often receives more mockery than thanks, as he does his gruelling work.


As I said earlier, I secretly felt that only Saints ought to enter the Church.  It didn’t occur to me that I might be welcome.  I didn’t realise, fully, that the Church exists for sinners. I just felt an enormous gratitude to God that someone timid and ignorant like myself should have finally been told that she’d be “let in.”


God’s ways.


I’d already decided that with God’s help I would respect and obey all the Church’s teachings and commands.  There were aspects of her teachings which I didn’t wholly understand, but I nevertheless believed in what she taught.  The basic premise in which I placed my confidence was that the Holy Spirit is guiding this amazing institution which has been founded by Christ. No weaknesses in the Church’s human members could blur my perception of that fact. Christ hadn’t guided His people for five or ten centuries, only to give up. He teaches us constantly, I had learned, through the Pope, and through the other Catholic Bishops who believe and teach the same Faith in a united and visible community.


It seemed to me that obedience to the Church is, truly, obedience to God.  It isn’t an immature, lazy way of avoiding the use of one’s own reason, but a free and loving act of submission - made through the Church - to the Author of our reason; and this submission is made for the sake of truth which is not against reason, but sublimely beyond it, in the Mind of God who sent His Christ to earth to help us.


In following the God who said “MY WAYS [ARE] NOT YOUR WAYS” (Is 55:8), I thought that it would be wrong and impertinent of me to say: “At the moment, not understanding everything, I shall be disobedient even whilst demanding that I be received!”  I couldn’t make conditions or excuses to the Church of Christ. I simply trusted that, in time, I’d come to understand everything I need to know.


What a terrible pity it is that even our intellect, which is such a great gift from our Creator, can be used by desperate people to look for reasons to disobey or to ignore the wise and wonderful laws which God has engraved in our very souls.



A fruitful conversation.


This is the point at which I should mention that when I first began to think about the meaning of ‘Church’, as an adult, I 'phoned my mother, who was always extremely busy, but who made time to meet me in London.  She came accompanied by our Anglican parish priest.  They were on a trip to Westminster, but stopped off to meet me for a coffee and to try to answer my questions about faith and duty.


If she was astonished at being consulted by a recently-teenaged and moody daughter about faith and the Catholic Church, she didn’t show it.  But neither she nor our minister had any neat solution about how we can be certain that we’re doing right, when it seems as though the Lord is leading us to new places;  nor could they tell me how to avoid disagreement with one’s critics.  So in the end we said our goodbyes, and she went back to her hectic routine.


That talk was more fruitful than I might have dreamed: although for my mother, rather than for myself.  I believe that through that vigorous discussion with her, and with our Vicar, of their ‘Anglo-Catholic’ views - with my firm statement that I knew I was going to become a Roman Catholic, even if I didn’t yet know when - she saw Reception as something possible for herself.  Indeed I was astonished that only a year later - and before I myself was received - she ‘phoned me to say that she was about to be received into ‘full Communion’ in her local Catholic Church in Little Chalfont.  She wanted a private ceremony with no fuss, so didn’t invite me to go.


The news was a complete surprise.  During my childhood, I remembered, when she and my father had been members of the same Anglican Church, they had differed vehemently on various important topics.  As I said, my mother had recommended private confession of sins to an Anglican minister, whereas my father claimed that it wasn’t necessary.  Yet each had given me the impression of being thoroughly at home within the Church of England.  Never had I heard my mother express a desire to become a ‘Roman Catholic’; indeed, she had proclaimed throughout my childhood that she was a true Catholic, though of the ‘Anglo-Catholic’ variety; and she had spoken with confidence of a union between the two ‘Churches’ becoming a reality in her life-time.  She was convinced that the Apostolic succession had continued in the Church of England, and that Christ dwelt in our church in the Reserved Sacrament; and since these two beliefs were, in her opinion, the supreme signs of any Church’s true Catholicity, she had mentioned no desire to benefit from the teachings or guidance of the Pope, although perhaps she hadn’t been very frank with me.  Perhaps she had spoken more freely with her contemporaries than with a child.


It was quite wonderful to know that she had entered the Catholic Church, after such a quiet and peculiar journey; but the fact remained that there was no hope of her being with me at my own Reception.  She still worked full-time as a deputy head-teacher in an secondary school.  Indeed, she was busier than ever, and was a long way from my new home in the North.  She was rarely able to visit us, and I was quite unable to return home except for emergencies, as I catered to the demands of baby, husband and relatives, who couldn’t be deserted.  That’s why I prepared to be received alone, unaware that two students - complete strangers, from the nearby University, would be called in by the priest to act as my ‘sponsors’.



Reception into full Communion.


The day of my Reception at the Church of the Holy Name was a day of sheer loneliness and grief.  We were now two hundred miles away from old ties. At the last moment, from a sense of duty, my husband came along to watch the brief and private ceremony; but  I knew no local Catholic except the priest.  I felt a bit nervous, yet at the same time I was thrilled at the thought of ending what seemed like a terrible fast.  I longed to receive Christ in His Sacraments. 

Quite soon after we’d arrived in the church, I was asked to step into the Confessional box to make a General Confession.  This didn’t upset me, now that I knew it was Christ Who was inviting me, through His Church, to be reconciled in this way. I was glad to be able to make a fresh start for the best of motives: not in order to pacify a parent but because my whole  heart was burning with longing to become holy, for God’s sake.


When my sins had been forgiven, I was provisionally baptised, and was questioned about my faith.  Eventually - like a child - I was received, wholly, into Christ’s family of Faith.  At last, His sanctuary had become my home.


My mind was calm and my heart steady; but, soon after the Reception, my emotions were in turmoil, as I walked on through new trials and heart-aching pain.  Pure faith had led me in.  Christ alone wordlessly showed me the way.  He gave me courage, and held me up, day after day, in His Spirit’s calm, amazing power.  I was sad that my Reception had made others sad, but I wrote a letter to my father - amongst others - trying to explain my situation.


Quite simply, I knew that my soul’s salvation was at stake. I was convinced of the plain truth which I’d found in the Catholic catechism, and which sat squarely with my conscience: the truth which had been confirmed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who had stated quite clearly the importance of faith and Baptism and membership of the Catholic Church; and yet my main aim was not just  to be Catholic but, through all that Christ offers in His One Holy Church, to become charitable and holy - and so to please Him.


Whatever you bind on earth.


It was precisely because I knew that I wasn’t good or strong, that I longed for all the types of help the Church could offer me.  I needed the sure Apostolic teaching offered through the successors of Saint Peter: the man told by Christ: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in Heaven; whatever you loOse on earth shall be considered loosed in Heaven” (Mt 16:19).  Above all, I needed Christ Himself, found most fully in the Church which He had founded. He had said through Holy Scripture: “LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” (Mt 22:37);  and since faith told me that His Church was reliable, I wanted to grasp all the ‘handholds’ that Christ had placed in His Church.  I needed the Food of the Sacraments to make my way up the ‘Holy Mountain’ described in the Scriptures.  True, lasting joy was my supreme hope, rather than temporary pleasures.


That’s what I tried to explain, though in plainer language, to people who were important to me: some face to face, and some by correspondence.  Whatever they thought of my decision, I can say, over thirty years later, that despite failures and heartaches, any hopes I might have had have been fulfilled beyond every possible expectation.  Great human joys have at times made me weep with gratitude; yet I had no idea that anyone could experience - on earth - the astonishing joys which Christ Himself has lavished upon me in recent years.  His goodness and generosity are indescribable.


As for the moment when I entered the Catholic Church: the truth is that the only hope I had was that God would keep faithful to His Son and to the Catholic Church until the day I died.  I lived so thoroughly in ‘the present moment’ that the family’s future state - or the country’s, or the Church’s - was unimaginable. I was content to enter the Church and to leave everyone and everything in God’s hands - although praying fervent daily prayers for everyone I knew.  But it’s wonderful for me, now, to be able to look back with gladness, because I can say wholeheartedly that, despite all my sins and failings, never for a single second of my life have I regretted having asked to be received into full Communion; on the contrary; my heart is yearning to be able to see many more searchers ‘come in’, to enjoy Christ’s astonishing gifts: especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: the Eucharistic Banquet.



First Holy Communion.


My new beginning as a Catholic Christian in those damp February days held not a shred of human enjoyment, but I believed that I’d done the right thing.  I spent three days in numb, dark endurance, and then, when Sunday arrived, I set out alone to attend Mass at my nearest Catholic Church.  It was at St. Edward’s in Rusholme that I made my first Holy Communion. I had no more appointments with the Jesuit Father at the “Holy Name”, so I thought I ought to worship near my home.  There was neither fuss nor fan-fare for what is, spiritually, so staggering an occasion, and no friends or relatives; but an elderly neighbour, no doubt sent by Providence, called to me across the street, and asked if I was going to “St. Edward’s”?  She walked along with me, showed me where to sit in church, then disappeared, having done her duty.


Following the custom of the Church and the teaching of Holy Scripture, I veiled my head in the church, in the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; and then I found a small space on one of the packed pews, and knelt down to pray.


The situation was far from ideal, in that I was a stranger to most of the congregation. But despite that and various other drawbacks, I found that, in my attendance as a Catholic at that normal Sunday Mass, every yearning of my heart towards God was more profoundly satisfied than I could have dreamed might be possible, even though I was a complete newcomer.


Church visits, so far, had been limited because of the baby’s needs.  Quick visits to the Blessed Sacrament had been my usual ‘Catholic’ worship until then.  I had occasionally plucked up courage to attend Mass; but I always sat just inside the door, at the back, barely able to see but frightened of being noticed.  The one place of worship where I’d felt really free to think and to wander was Westminster Cathedral, in London.  There, I’d managed to feel less self-conscious.  So many people of every size, class and colour were calmly and earnestly praying there, either kneeling or walking around, that I’d been happy to slip in amongst them for a lunchtime Mass, or to pay a visit to a wonderful shrine.  There was so much to enjoy: Christ’s own Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, above all. The peace was tangible, wherever I watched or prayed, whether before the High Altar or in a side chapel.


But on that first Sunday as a Catholic, I was awe-struck as I watched the Consecration.  I kept quiet, because I didn’t know the correct responses.  All I could think was that I was a Catholic at last, happy to be on my knees in gratitude to God.  I was thrilled that through His goodness my ‘starvation’ would soon be over.  I longed to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  But I have to say something here about the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of our Saviour, and was close to the Apostles in the early Church (Ac 1:14).  What a true mother she is, and how good she was to me, on that day.  What a welcome she gave me in the Church - although there was no noise to be heard. I had no spiritual ‘light.’  I suddenly ‘learned’ from Christ, as I waited to make my first Holy Communion and when my heart was still raw with grief at my various difficulties:


                        Believe in My Mother Mary.  She is a real “flesh and blood” person who is now alive and close-at-hand, not a mere myth or symbol. (T:13A)




I hadn’t the faintest idea what had happened.  All I ‘knew’ was that Our Lady was present. The ‘knowledge’ was imageless, without feeling or thought or emotion; and I couldn’t even think of analysing what had happened, since I knew that my duty was to pray, and to pay attention to the Holy Sacrifice.  But the effect of the ‘knowledge’ was calming; and so I went up to receive Christ Himself that morning, at the heart of the strange crowd, with one ambition consuming me. I wanted to be able to love Christ, and to love every neighbour for His sake, perfectly, and to do His Will in everything until the end of my life.


How miserably I was going to fail.  But how marvellously He was going to teach me: to teach me, first, that He loves me; and to teach me, as well, that His heart is touched more by humility and contrition than by self-purification and great achievements.


One ceremony was needed to confirm me in my new way of life, and that’s why I went to Salford Cathedral a few weeks later.  Once again, I went alone; but I was grateful I’d been able to get a lift across town for the ceremony of Confirmation.  When I went inside the great doors I was told where to queue; and the Bishop prayed as he laid his hands on my head.  I took the name of ‘Mary’, in honour of Our Lady, the Mother of God, before returning to my family.


I chose that name in her honour, again, several years later, when I had a baby daughter.





Trying to be tactful, I rarely spoke about my faith with people who thought me foolish. Perhaps my suspicion is true, that some “cradle” Catholics think that ‘converts’ exaggerate the amount of opposition they’ve faced in their struggles to enter the Catholic Church.  But I’ve found from experience that Catholics in this country are rarely challenged face-to-face about their faith, unless they freely enter into a discussion with others about Church authority or about moral issues.  I mean that the vast majority of “cradle” Catholics might have endured mild teasing or may have overheard unpleasant remarks, but few will know the true extent of the dislike stirred in many fellow-countrymen at any mention of Pope and Roman Catholic authority, or of monks and nuns, Jesuits, Inquisition, Mass, Confession or Saints: such a clutch of terrible words which can stir up to fury many who sincerely see themselves as pure, faithful servants of a Gospel uncorrupted by “Rome”.

Alas, many converts, in their younger days, have hurled abuse, but out of earshot, at their Catholic neighbours; so they know at first-hand all the old scare-stories and hatreds and fears: relics of our national family quarrels over four hundred years ago.  When they themselves enter the Catholic Church, they know only too well what opinions are held about them, or what stories will circulate.  Unable to live in the happy ignorance of the cradle Catholic, they try to deal patiently with old friends and relatives who are convinced that any “convert” must have had a breakdown, or must have been “got at” by some Svengali-ish figure in the background, or - as was more believable in the days before certain misinterpretations of the directives of the Second Vatican Council led to a new ‘stripping’ of many churches - have foolishly given in to an aesthetic longing for candles, incense and liturgical drama.  That’s one of the reasons why I tried to be tactful and unobtrusive in my handful of new devotions.


At the time of my Reception, as in the present day, some of the externals of the Catholic religion were achingly precious, though as much for the graces brought through them, and for the traditions which they embodied, as for their beauty or novelty.  But it would be unwise, I decided, to provoke annoyance in people who acted more from ignorance than from malice; so I was careful not to flaunt externals, nor to thrust my Faith uncharitably at people who were unsympathetic to all things Catholic.  I left my rosary hidden in my pocket. 


Apart from the tiniest possible statue of Our Blessed Lady, I did without holy pictures for a few years, though I put a crucifix in each of our new homes; and I made a private scrapbook of pictures of the Saints, adding the newly-discovered “Stations of the Cross”: cut out from a Catholic Truth Society pamphlet.


True graces.


There were beautiful and worthwhile things in the Church of England that I was required to surrender, when I entered into full Communion with Rome; but in general I slipped peacefully and gratefully into the long-established patterns of worship and discipline which are familiar to practising Catholics.


I had no problems thinking about the Blessed Sacrament so newly-received, and then about the many wonderful ‘Communions’ I’d enjoyed as an Anglican, and for a simple reason.  It was true that I wholeheartly accepted the authority of the Catholic Church, and so I accepted her decisions about Anglican orders and ceremonies. I was genuinely happy to let her be my guide, since she knew far more than I, on the subject;  but I was happy, of course, because I wasn’t called require to say: “Christ didn’t love me, whilst I was an Anglican; He didn’t touch me with His grace, in a spiritual communion, when I offered fervent prayers to Him during our Communion Service.”  I knew then what I know now, which is that Our Lord is good; and when did Our Lord - Who is even now praying to the Father on our behalf, in Heaven - ever fail to respond to a sinful person who has repented and who longs to be close to Him?  I’m sure that my sincere prayers were fruitful.  I know that I experienced Christ’s peace and support many, many times, as a member of the Church of England; and  I thank Him for the graces He gave me amongst so many caring and cheerful people, no matter in what manner I received them.



‘Be perfect.’


Wonderful graces were given to me, amidst all the difficulties of that time. From that day in February 1968, little moments of pure spiritual joy came to surprise me, in between the times of turmoil or struggle. The domestic routine went on in the same way, but, inside my soul, much had changed.  Where, once, dread had lurked beneath my brittle pleasures, now true joy flowed beneath each day’s surface sorrows and trials.  For Christ’s sake I wanted to be a Saint.  I’d said as much, three or four years earlier, when we’d been quizzed about our plans and ambitions by a group of friends.  Perhaps I had - and have - an “all or nothing” nature; but it didn’t occur to me to be less ambitious.  How could anyone deliberately aim for mediocrity in God’s service?


Our friends had all laughed, of course.  Who was I to be so bold; and besides, what modern woman prayed and did penance? - That’s what they thought.  But faith told me that God could achieve anything in me, if I’d consent, and would try to do His Will.  What else could I aim for, I argued silently, when Christ had said to us through the Holy Scriptures: “BE  PERFECT, JUST AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT” (Mt 5:48)?  He had also said: “NO-ONE CAN BE THE SLAVE OF TWO MASTERS” (Mt 6:24); but I can see that for a long time I half-hoped this might be possible.


Meanwhile, I bought a second-hand copy of “Our Lady’s Psalter,” entranced by the lovely readings.  I soon realised that it was a simplified version of something called the Breviary, the prayers and readings of which are used world-wide by Catholic monks and nuns, and which, long ago, Archbishop Cranmer had elegantly if drastically edited to create the Anglicans’ ‘morning prayer’ and ‘evensong’.


Christ’s Real Presence.


So great was my longing to copy the best habits of earlier converts such as Thomas Merton and others that I overcame my nervousness, entered a Catholic bookshop, and bought “A Shorter Breviary.”  Numerous holy writers described it as the “official” prayer of the Church, so I treasured it.  I tucked between its pages a picture of the ‘Holy Shroud,’ which perhaps is the face of Jesus, and also a copy of the lovely prayer: “Soul of Christ, sanctify me”.  Thus, I was happily fed with a marvellous selection of prayers and psalms, whenever I used the Breviary at home. I allowed the Rosary to lead me into gospel meditations every day, as I pushed my sleeping baby in his pram. 


The Sacraments made me grow and change in Christ’s life and Christ’s strength. I had little courage of my own, and less confidence, but I was thrilled - then as now - by the thought that we can find Jesus everywhere: not only in Heaven and in our hearts, but in the Blessed Sacrament.  It was a constant source of wonder to me that we can go to greet Him in that way, wherever we travel.  He can be found on all our altars throughout the country, indeed, throughout the whole world; isn’t that a breath-taking thought, for everyone who believes?  I was astonished, I suppose, that the churches weren’t crammed at all hours with worshippers who were desperate to be near Him.  As for myself, having a firm belief in Christ’s Real Presence, and having already glimpsed something of Christ’s Divine Glory, I would gladly have lain flat on the floor in worship in front of each tabernacle.  I’d read so many dire warnings against ‘singularity’, however, that I restrained my impulses, and tried to pray in church just like everyone else.


“Arrow prayers” were useful during the busy patches of the day, as I learned to pray in simple phrases such as: “Jesus, I love you” - or “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” or simply: “Jesus mercy: Mary - help!” and many more.  I accepted, joyfully, all that the Church gives to those who understand her task, and who struggle in the midst of the world to lead a “supernatural” life.  The Commandments of course, guided me, just as they had in the past four years; but I understood them more clearly, guided by the Teaching Church.  Then I discovered, and tried to keep, the laws of the Church, which included supporting our ‘pastors’. I took that to mean that we should support them by our respect and obedience as well as by prayer and by financial assistance.



A framework of prayer.


Day after day, I resolved to love God and my neighbour, to do good and to avoid evil, and to forgive as I was forgiven.  Each day began, continued, and ended with prayer.  I fasted when required, used holy water with reverence when entering or leaving a church and asked the Saints for their prayers.  Christ’s mother Mary - holier than any other ‘mere’ mortal - became my mother in the spiritual life. 


Gradually, a framework of prayer and devotion was constructed which strengthened and held together my whole day, and every good thought and action.  It wasn’t a rigid framework, but it meant that I was firmly in touch with Christ at the very centre of my life, from hour to hour; so if daily life seemed very quiet and mundane at one moment and then hectic and demanding at the next, I rarely felt ‘swept away’ by change or distraction, since I had a basic spiritual routine; I had a firm ‘place’ on which to stand: a place in which I hoped to meet Christ and to grow in His friendship, whatever changes were occurring in domestic or national life.


I tried to follow Our Lord’s advice by retiring to a ‘secret room’ before praying to the Father. I always tried to hide my devotions, and therefore prayed secretly in any quiet place in the house.  Spiritual reading was best done in the kitchen, while a meal was cooking; and I prayed the rosary, silently, on my way to the shops - the beads hidden in my pocket.  I didn’t want to embarrass anyone by my devotions, because that’s not how we love our neighbour. I knew that Christ spent a lot of time talking and being sociable: and yet whenever He wanted to pray, He didn’t make a fuss, but slipped out early in the morning or late at night.


True devotion to Our Lady.


As I continued with my studies about the Catholic Faith I read that a certain priest once vowed never to preach a sermon without mentioning Christ’s Holy Mother.  I longed to imitate his devotion.  Delighted though I was to find, in little pamphlets, simple examples of true devotion to our Blessed Lady, I felt sadly lacking in the sort of daughterly affection that was described in other books I read.  I was quite loathe to “hurl myself on her motherly bosom in every affliction”, never having been encouraged to fling myself at an earthly mother: who had proved her love in hidden ways.  I loved “Our Lady” dearly. I was awed by her holiness. I prayed her Holy Rosary.  But in order to honour her further and to prove my love, I resolved to imitate that holy priest’s devotion. I decided that I would never kneel in prayer before Christ again, without honouring, too, the wonderful woman who bore Him, by asking for her prayers and for her help in all my difficulties. 


A sign of the Holy Trinity.


The sign of the Cross became a weapon and a prayer in the fight against sin.  It wasn’t unfamiliar, but I now signed myself devoutly at the beginning and end of each prayer, in honour of the Most Holy Trinity, into Whose Life I wished - somehow - to enter fully, one day.  How to love God?  How to do the Will of His Son?  These were the ever-pressing questions.  There was always something more to learn. 


Christ continued to encourage me in prayer.  I didn’t know how He taught me, but I knew that He had urged me:


                        Believe that I can achieve anything in you, if you will consent and will do My Will. (T:14)



New Light on the Bible.


Very soon after my Reception, a wonderful thing happened; or, rather, I was amazed to realise one day that listening to Holy Scripture at Mass was one of the highlights of my week: I actually understood, not just the words, but the true meaning.


Now, one of the reasons for this was that a new translation was in use, in the Catholic Church.  I particularly liked the letters of St. Paul.  They now sounded  to me as though he’d written them in Bristol or Newcastle, and had posted them to us in a hurry, urging us not to give in to modern trends, but to be faithful to Christ’s teachings.  At about the same time, I saw that my daily reading of the shorter Breviary - or office book - had made me know and love the Psalms.


It was true that I’d relished the Psalms as an Anglican chorister, but I’d paid more attention to the music than to the words; and, of course, the Gospel of my childhood was recited weekly in the melodious but, to me, impenetrable phrases of the Authorised Version of the Bible, which I found as repellent and mysterious as the Shakespeare plays which I was then being “force-fed” at school.


The second reason, I saw, for my new understanding of Holy Scripture was this: God had been acting like a dear mother to me.  Knowing of my fears and phobias about the Bible, He had secretly and quietly and patiently led me first to one devotional practice, then to another - all Bible-based - thereby helping me to ‘break up’ the Bible into bite-sized chunks.  I was astonished to see that I’d been steadily absorbing Holy Scripture, like a child helped by its mother to eat something strange: a little at a time.  Or I was like a small child whose father has stooped  to explain that what seems like a huge problem, in arithmetic, can be tackled through a series of small, easy calculations. 


When I came to hear three excerpts from Holy Scripture whenever I attended Mass, and when I came to learn some of the Psalms by heart through regular recital of the Shorter Breviary, I became wholly enamoured of the Scriptures I’d once found boring or incomprehensible; and then I found that every meditation on Holy Scripture led, inevitably, to a moment or more of sincere prayer.


A vivid Bible story.


When I remember my early meditations on Holy Scripture I recognise that, amongst all the stories and parables I’d rediscovered, Jesus’ story about “THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS” (Mt 25:31-46) had the greatest impact on me. I saw that none of us dare disregard His advice.  I knew no prisoners except those trapped in the misery of their own despair - but that was an opportunity to start.  I resolved to care, always, for anyone I met who was sick, hungry, lonely, or imprisoned, so far as was possible within the limitations of my way of life.  Careful thought was needed, and prayer, in order to ascertain God’s Will.  It would be foolish to spend more time than I could afford with strangers, if I neglected my own family, given to me by God.


There was another problem. I found that no matter how long I spent in prayer, I rarely felt that I had prayed “enough”.  Whether “enough” to satisfy my own yearning for contact with God or “enough” to satisfy the wishes of my unseen but Almighty Father, I wasn’t sure.  But I knew I ought not to prolong my prayers if I could be listening to someone’s troubles, or taking part in family fun.  Somehow, I must work things out.  But no day must pass, I vowed, without my kneeling down to praise God and to thank Him, and to pray for others, in my ‘secret room’.



A spiritual revolution.


There was much joy in our little home while this spiritual revolution was taking place.  All the normal, marvellous aspects of life with treasured companions on earth - with family and friends - were greeted and enjoyed.  There were simple meals and impromptu parties.  Introductions and outings interrupted all the hard work and the griefs.  But they are the subject of a different story - or, rather, a simple silent memory, since it is prayer above all which must be analysed here, after these few words about its domestic setting.


Soon after my Reception we were able to buy a little house of our own.  It was near St. Cuthbert’s Church in Withington; so I asked for St. Cuthbert’s prayers each week at Holy Mass, but asked his especial help one day when we went to visit relatives in Yorkshire.  I was thrilled to be able to visit the grave of the Saint, in Durham Cathedral.  Then I plunged back into my hum-drum but oddly satisfying routine.   I was very happy to be looking after a happy toddler, cooking more adventurously for husband and friends as - briefly - our income and my courage grew, and shopping and sewing as usual.  I didn’t know a single person in that town, when we arrived: but every new friendship was treasured, and every bus journey to the town centre was an adventure.


On the spiritual front, a reverent participation in the Holy Mass became the high-light and goal of each week.  It seemed to me that I wouldn’t be honouring God with much sincerity if I failed to prepare for Holy Communion or if, on arriving at church, I failed to pray throughout the Holy Mysteries.  So in order to please God I never stared at people’s clothes, or looked around. Kneeling in prayer - with head veiled in accordance with our custom, as practised for centuries and recommended by St. Paul in Holy Scripture - I learned to concentrate, to listen, and to watch with awe, drawing nourishment from all the details of the Celebration, whether they were to my liking or not.


The books I’d read had told me that every sermon could be a source of information and encouragement, however superficially dull it might seem.  Since I was determined  to find ‘nourishment’ in church I soon found that every reading from Holy Scripture and every word of each prayer was a source of knowledge or of joy; and although I unashamedly preferred beauty to ugliness in painting or architecture, I knew that in one sense it didn’t matter if the church were ornate or plain, warm or cold.  I would have knelt in two feet of mud, I thought, for the privilege of being there before Christ as I prepared for Holy Communion.  In my whole person I felt utterly fulfilled, even though - at the same time - I bore numerous private burdens.


I was received soon after the Second Vatican Council, so the Mass was celebrated more frequently in English than in Latin.  It made no difference to me in what language it was celebrated, if it were what the Church decreed; but I was surprised - at twenty-five years old - to find myself grateful for the bit of Latin I’d learned at school during my five years of grudging attention.  I could have memorised the Creed, I think, in any language, but it was a joy to understand the Latin prayers and commentaries which occasionally came my way.



[Holy places, and beauty.


Since I’m writing about ‘externals’, I feel obliged to explain, here, that although I was thrilled above all by the celebration of Holy Mass, and by the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, I liked to worship in church for the material beauty, as well as the Liturgical prayer.


Of course, we can pray to God anywhere and everywhere.  But when we step inside a church to celebrate the Holy Mysteries, a church which is truly a holy place, set aside for the worship of God by His Holy People, we are surely right to hope to see beauty within.  How do we honour God, except by giving Him ‘the best’ - whether ‘the best’ of our love, time, energy and service, or the best work of our craftsmen and artists for the decoration of these wonderful places where Christ our God comes to be amongst us? It’s true that each culture has its own ideal of beauty; but how sad it is that a dull sort of minimalism has caused many of our sanctuaries to be stripped almost bare, in recent decades, and that some churches have been made to resemble - at great expense - archetypal factory buildings or warehouses: not perhaps the ideal setting for what we hope is a foretaste of our participation in the Heavenly Banquet, in the presence of the Saints and the Holy Angels.


Apart from the honour due to God, and which can be achieved in some measure through beauty, we have a duty to the worshippers.  What a lot we can learn through being ‘immersed,’ week by week, in a place which is decorated with some of the symbols of our Faith: if someone has explained them to us.  I’m thinking of the Monogram of Christ’s name, and the early Christian “fish symbol” - as well as the Crucifix, with carvings of the Sacred Host and Chalice, or of the Instruments of the Passion, or of symbols of the Holy Trinity.


It’s not just as teaching aids that paintings and carvings are to be recommended.  Surely it’s sensible to have the eye of a grieving adult or a bored child ‘fall’ in church upon things which are both beautiful and instructive.  How many people think about the Holy Angels, for example, if they’re never seen beautiful representations of these extraordinary beings?  Surely, better an imagined Angelic face to inspire us to offer thanks for a real Angel, than no inspiration and inadequate prayers?


Furthermore, what great reminders we can have of our Heavenly heroes and heroines, in coloured statues, stained-glass windows and church embroideries. 


I’m grateful that, despite aspects of my early indoctrination, I’ve had no misunderstandings about “graven images” in church or indeed, in my life.  I’ve never thought it wrong to paint pictures of Our Lady and Christ.  My view has been based on the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church - followed by some Anglicans too - that once God had given us on earth the “living image” of Himself, Christ our Lord, He wouldn’t want to forbid the creation of the holy images which are produced by Christians to remind themselves of the Incarnate Saviour who is God’s greatest ‘Work of Art’.  As Saint Paul writes, of Christ: “HE IS THE IMAGE OF THE UNSEEN GOD” (Col 1:15); and so more than one solemn Council of the Church has stated that veneration of holy images is a commendable practice in a devout Christian’s life, since honour is being offered not to the stone or to the pigment, but to the person who is represented.  Which of us would condemn another Christian for possessing family photographs, accusing him or her of idolatry?]



Priests, and Sacrifice.


As I moved from house to house during the first decade of marriage, and therefore from church to church, there was no shortage of things to ponder, practices to learn or unlearn, behaviour to emulate - or to ignore.  So convinced was I that Catholics - with so many helps to their faith - must all be very saintly, that I was astonished if ever I met a member of the Church who mocked our rules or our teachings, or spoke flippantly about the Pope.


Within a short time, I realised that one might easily be tempted to complain about some of our priests, who have such a prominent role in the Liturgy and in our lives that their faults are as prominently displayed as their virtues.  But who was I to criticise anyone who was trying to serve God?  


I decided that such behaviour wouldn’t only be ungracious, but entirely wrong.  Every priest, surely, had made great sacrifices in order to serve God and to bring us the Sacraments.  How sad it seemed that anyone should draw attention to personal weaknesses or foibles.  How shocking, that anyone should grumble about their accents, their sermons, or their great age, or their youth.  It seemed  - and still seems - to indicate ingratitude to God, if we recognise that the lives of the majority are given as a free gift to God, so that we who are  in such need of help can receive consolation, counsel - and Christ.

I was awed by their priestly work.  I was full of admiration for the vast number of celibate priests who had given their lives to Christ, and who now lived out that sacrifice, united to Him in the service of His People.  I was awed by the supreme Sacrifice which was offered through their actions: by which I mean Christ’s Holy Sacrifice of the altar: usually known as the Holy Mass.


Christ’s Offering of Himself.


The more I prayed at Mass with attention and devotion, the more I came to see and understand what I had read in books: that this wasn’t a “Holy Communion” service where Christians gathered together in simple prayer, looking forward to an intimate moment with Jesus.  It was all this, but was much more.  It was a solemn re-enactment of what Christ did at the Last Supper, when He had said to His Apostles, on consecrating first the bread, and then the wine: “THIS IS MY BODY WHICH WILL BE GIVEN FOR YOU; DO THIS AS A MEMORIAL OF ME,” and: “THIS CUP IS THE NEW COVENANT IN MY BLOOD WHICH WILL BE POURED OUT FOR YOU” (Lk 22:19-20); and as Christ acted thus, and spoke of the Sacrifice which He was to offer from the Cross on the following day, He was making it possible for His Apostles and for their successors throughout all time - our priests - to do those same things and so to make present His Sacred Blood and Blood: to make present, in fact, the whole living Christ: Body, Blood, soul and divinity: the Divine Person Who can never die again.


As I grew in understanding, I realised that we have far more to celebrate than Christ’s Presence; it is through the sacramental and Real Presence of this Eternal Victim and Priest that we, as Christ’s Church, can offer a living sacrifice to the Father: a living memorial of the unrepeatable and unique sacrifice of Calvary.  Whenever that Sacrifice is re-presented through the Mass - the Holy Eucharist - and is offered by the Church to God, through the actions of the priest, whose Priesthood is a sharing in the Priesthood of Christ, we know that Christ the Priest and Victim, here on our altar, offers His perfect praise to God our Father, with perfect thanks, reparation and petitions.  Furthermore, when our own prayers are united to Christ’s own prayer and are offered to the Father, they are thereby made glorious, worthy, powerful and effective, as one perfect Offering ascends from upon this earth to the Most Holy Trinity in Heaven.


It became plain that the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme event in the Church’s life; and it became plain that although the reception of Holy Communion, if we are in a state of grace, is very important, it is the culmination of the Act of perfect worship rather than the central act of the Liturgy.


The more I grew in understanding of the Mass, the more awed and grateful I became. I understood more clearly, week by week, how Christ’s offering of Himself in this Holy Mystery, when He is Really Present in our midst, is the reason for our reverence and for our joy.  Just as our pains can be united with His sufferings on Calvary, so all our hopes can be united with His prayers, here, when He Who is risen and triumphant makes His Eternal Offering to the Father.  As we kneel before the altar, we can offer all Christ’s Merits to the Father in this true Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.  Furthermore, the privilege of being able to receive Christ’s Body and Blood - Christ Himself, in Holy Communion - isn’t solely a private joy, but is the means by which Christ purifies and adorns our souls and welds us all together as One Body, in one Faith; and our Communion of Love includes ourselves and the Saints of Heaven - the whole Church of Earth and Heaven - and also the Holy Souls still undergoing purification.


Praying with love and conviction.


Quite probably I could write a hundred pages on the Mass, and not exhaust my enthusiasm. Through the grace of Christ, and, despite my sins and fears and trials, I haven’t been bored at Mass even once during my whole life; and this has nothing to do with any sort of goodness, or with powers of concentration. It’s all because of faith - given by God, and treasured.  Now that I know, by faith, that Christ our Incarnate God comes to our altar, albeit in a sacramental manner, I can’t help praying fervently right until the Consecration, as a preparation for His arrival. I can’t help giving Him a fervent welcome; and I can’t fail to thank and praise him after the Offering of His Holy Sacrifice, and in Holy Communion; and since the best way of doing all these things is by praying every prayer of the Mass with as much love and conviction as I can muster, I’ve tried to do so at every celebration I’ve attended ever since my Reception. 


Of course, God is so good that He rewards our every effort by making our faith even stronger and by increasing our delight in His Presence; and that’s why I dare to say that  if we’re praying all the time, I believe it’s impossible to be bored. It’s not for me to question anyone else about whether or not they pray throughout the Mass or whether they’ve been well-taught about the Sacraments, however - unless I’m speaking to people in private.  But I hope it’s a question that school-teachers and priests will feel able to ask of the pupils in their care.



Sacramental Confession.


When I was establishing a regular routine of prayer, as a practising Catholic, I was occasionally perplexed by people who complained of boredom or of boring priests; but I tried to concentrate more on my own faults than on others’ faults, encouraged by the frequent practice of ‘Confession’.  I learned a great deal.  The visits to the ‘box’ were painful for me and humiliating, but were the basis of a solid spiritual training as well as a marvellous source of grace.


I fell victim to scruples within a short while, but that was a recurrent symptom of a spiritual ailment which Christ alone could cure.  I was so lonely in the practices of my new faith, and was so lacking in confidence anyway at that age, and I was and am so proud, that I sometimes went through torment deciding if a small failing were a dreadful sin.  So this isn’t a criticism of a ‘system’ which can bring not only forgiveness but self-knowledge but is a revelation of my own weakness and immaturity, coupled with a longing  to be truly ‘impeccable’ for God.  My faith was firm, but was overlaid with strange ideas about holiness.  I half-believed that it was by will-power that I’d eventually become ‘good’; and I secretly felt that God wouldn’t really approve of me until that time arrived. 


My faith in God was by then sincere and true, in the sense that I believed wholeheartedly that He loved me, that He forgave my sins, and that He would ‘give’ me Heaven; but I didn’t yet ‘feel’ it in my heart and mind.  No matter how genuine and firm was my faith, as I prayed, my emotions, in prayer, were those of a child called to give an account of her poor behaviour.  In that sense, I still felt that God was a mysterious Law-enforcer Who was ready to banish me or punish me, the very second that I tripped or misbehaved.


That was why I was genuinely grateful for the regulations concerning fasting, and for firm teaching about duty and love and prayer.  It wasn’t the fault of the Church that I had to eradicate the fears arising from various unfortunate influences; and it’s foolishness to suppose that if the teaching Church were to abolish all firm laws and regulations, Catholics generally would construct rules for themselves.  We need discipline, and firm guidance.  It’s surely essential that we have ‘handholds’ for the times when the practice of our faith is difficult.  If too much discipline is swept away, people can ‘drown’.  I believe that we only have to look at some recent trends to admit that ‘personal choice’ about prayer and penance can easily become ‘no choice.’  As Saint Paul said to Saint Timothy: “KEEP AS YOUR PATTERN THE SOUND TEACHING YOU HAVE HEARD FROM ME” (2 Tm 1:13).


Regular sacramental confession was both a blessing and an education in spite of my shame at having to look clearly at my many faults.  A regular, brief and frank admittance of my failings seemed not dissimilar to what was required in a doctor’s surgery.  Although it was pride that made me reluctant to expose my soul and my weaknesses to a priest, I believed that the experience was worthwhile if I could be ‘diagnosed’ and healed.  The Church seemed like a nice mother, who knows how hard it is to reveal one’s inmost heart, so I was grateful for the anonymity permitted to us all, and for the fact that I was free to choose a confessor. 


The privacy was comforting; and when I’d chosen the priest in whom I would confide, I was safe in the knowledge that he heard me in secrecy, and would give his life rather than reveal what had been said.  This Reconciliation was a sacrament, above all, to be sought and valued whatever the cost. I was sure that my feelings of embarrassment would disappear when I’d learnt the meaning of humility; and meanwhile I accepted the whole process out of a longing to please Christ.


The beginning of liberation.


In all sorts of unexpected ways the discipline of the Church made things easier than they had been before.  I no longer bothered to examine my moods or emotions before turning to God in prayer.  For the love of God, I learned to develop a new attitude, whether I was approaching prayer-time or was seizing opportunities to help people in practical ways. I tackled everything in a spirit of penance and hope, trying to act solely for the love of God, whether I were ‘in the right mood’ to do good or not.  I was determined that by grace and by acts of the will I would co-operate with God’s grace, whether in prayer or in everyday work. 


Warm feelings in my heart were undoubtedly pleasant, but they couldn’t be taken as a measure of my commitment to God.  I believed that the only means I have of knowing how much I really love Him is an honest assessment of whether I’m determined to do His Will.  I knew that if it were His Will that I worship Him, and that I serve my neighbour, then in doing these things, whatever my passing mood, I could be confident of pleasing Him in some small way, through my union with His Son, My Saviour.


This realisation was marvellously liberating.  It didn’t mean that I could permit myself to become hard-hearted or cold.  What it did for me was to free me from the need to “take my spiritual temperature,” as someone has said, and from the need to rely on the feelings of fervour which some Christians seem to want to cultivate in themselves through the use of overpowering sermons and hymns.  Which of us, anyway, could maintain our emotions at such a pitch, hour by hour, every week?


Perhaps a little bit more of Christ’s wisdom had crept through to me as, day after day, I looked after a small toddler, and nursed him in little sicknesses - whatever my own state of mind or health.  This doesn’t mean that I was brave; it means that I was learning the true meaning of love, which is to wish the best possible things for another, and to try to bring them about, whether one’s ‘feelings’ were warm, cool, perplexed or hectic.  Love ‘lay’ in the will - or, rather, in the true and sincere intention of the will to put love into action, if it were possible; and of course, the best love desires not just to promote someone’s physical well-being but also to help bring about true spiritual fulfilment in Eternal Life, in God.


It was in moving from sleepy toddler - at his bedtime - to God in prayer, that I learned more about the true meaning of love. I saw that both love of child and love of God were only proved by willing, prompt and devoted service, or - if one were sick or feeble, for example - by a longing to serve: no matter what one felt like.


It seemed that this was what Catholics meant when they said to me, later, “It’s the intention that counts.”  They meant that God sees our good-will, even if we’re yawning in His service, just as He sees our ill-will, sometimes, when we appear to be devout and ‘respectable’. So by this acceptance of the state of my real emotions - fervent or sluggish - I was truly freed, and was able to concentrate on the more important aspect of a deepening relationship with Christ: on developing a determined willingness to act lovingly in every circumstance, and to do this for my own Salvation, but to do it also - in some mysterious way - for the greater Glory of God.



Interior battles.


Through studying the constant teaching of the Church and the examples given in the lives of the Saints, especially of the married ones such as Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, I learned much more about Divine Love:  the possession of which, after all, is the point of all our endeavours.  I attempted to “PRAY CONSTANTLY” (1 Th 5:17) in one way or another, beginning each morning by making the ‘Morning Offering’ to God of everything I would do that day.  I struggled not simply to obey God’s commands but almost to anticipate His wishes by being alert to ways of being more loving and forgiving than ever before.  It seemed like a betrayal of His loving-kindness ever to grumble or to complain, whether in my mind or in my speech.  Even the weather was a good training, as I learned  to delight in what He either permitted or sent as I set off to do the shopping or to fetch the washing from the clothes-line.


The needs of my neighbour, I found, weren’t served merely by good deeds and smiles.  I struggled not to argue unnecessarily about unimportant things, nor to condemn others for not agreeing with my views.  Led on by God, I became ruthless about gossip: determined never to betray others or their weaknesses at any time.  But more and more, I realised that one’s interior battles would go on endlessly.  As one bad habit was recognised and fought, another revealed itself.  The whole point of all this, I told myself countless times, was to love others as Christ loves them.  In these particular circumstances, with this particular person - what would He do?  What is His Will?


This was a new way of life, in the sense that at last I was trying to live for love.  All the childhood years spent in trying to be good, through fear, had left me trying to do good for imperfect motives.  There had been a certain sense of justice in the code we’d followed, which had urged us to do good and to obey the rules, or to prepare for punishment.  It had been applied in an ‘Old Testament’ way, however: common in our culture and in that era.


In case anyone should think I’m denying the Biblical truths about reward and punishment, mercy and justice, I must explain that I have believed, throughout my life, in Heaven and in Hell.  The Church simply teaches what Christ revealed to His followers on earth, and I believe in all its teachings, still.  But in those early years of struggle in the Faith, I learned not to permit myself to agonise any more about the details.  I was duty-bound to live in hope; and since I couldn’t say: “This seems too terrible to be true, therefore the Church must be wrong”, when God had spoken frequently on the subject through His prophets and Apostles but above all through His own Son, I decided to discipline myself. I tried to refrain from anguished thoughts about the subject of the After-life and to develop an attitude of trust. 


Christ Himself was my only hope; and I believed that He Who had said “COME TO ME, ALL YOU WHO LABOUR AND ARE OVER BURDENED” (Mt 11:28) could surely be trusted to keep me in His care and in His Love, if my deepest  and most constant intention was to please Him and to do His Will.


Christ’s dual nature.


That belief in Christ had more substance, now that I’d learned just Who He Is.  Through the Catholic Church, I learned to rejoice, boldly, in Christ’s Divinity as well as in His humanity.  I was no longer confused, as in the days when my teachers had spoken hesitantly about his status, some seeing Him as God walking this earth, but others saying that He was a mere mortal who was, somehow, wonderfully close to God.  Whether I meditated on the Gospels or read articles about the Hypostatic Union, all was clearer now, and more encouraging. My belief in Christ’s Divinity meant that I saw Him as a safe, sure guide.  My belief in His humanity led me to marvel at His humility.  I was awed that the Word-made-flesh had suffered so appallingly, yet willingly, for our sakes.  The Christ of the Gospels became less frightening to me, as I began to notice the tender words He’d used to sinful humans beings, as well as the awful warnings He’d issued to the self-righteous and the self-satisfied. 


How kind and protective He’d been towards a woman “WHO HAD A BAD NAME IN THE TOWN” (Lk 7:37), as the distraught woman had wept all over His feet, when He was at a dinner with friends.  And what great joy He’d brought to Zacchaeus by His declaration that He was coming to dine with him (Lk 19:1-10). I’d never noticed these little stories before, in childhood days, when I’d only seemed to hear Christ’s warnings about millstones around necks (Lk 17:2), or Hell (Mt 10:28): always convinced that I was one of those whom He was warning.



[Heaven and Hell.


In His great kindness, Christ has been teaching me, in recent years, something of the meaning of both Heaven and Hell; and - strange as this might seem - I’ve been comforted, but not because the Christ of my prayer has contradicted the Christ Who teaches us through His Church, but because He, the One Christ, has explained the meaning of free choice.  He has shown me just how fervently and powerfully He is drawing people towards Himself: towards joy.  Yet He has shown me the fierce determination with which some people resist His call, turn their backs on His Will, despise the laws which He has devised for our happiness, and even try to draw other people towards sin and evil; and He has also shown me that since I believe that He, our God and Saviour, is the Source of all Eternal Good, I can also believe that people who refuse to have anything to do with Him and who persist even until death in a real rejection of Goodness, are freely moving away from joy: freely and determinedly choosing to live without those things which would have made them happy forever.  They are freely rejecting the Vision of God, the Company of the Saints and the Angels, with Light, peace, order and beauty and every virtue; and we can be certain that whoever rejects the things of Heaven necessarily experiences Hell - even if none of us knows about Heaven or Hell in great detail. 


But this knowledge  has brought me hope, rather than gloom, since I believe that if I rely on Christ’s Love, and remain determined to stay close  to Him until I die, I shall never for a single moment be freely choosing to walk in another direction, away from Heaven, and happiness, and peace.  In other words, I can boldly say, as I live in friendship with Christ, that just as He is now mine, as I live “in Communion” with Him, so Heaven is mine, now , “in” Him and in His friendship - so long as I persevere to the end.]



The ‘Jesus Prayer’.


To return to the days when I’d just discovered a horde of Catholic Saints, and was delighted to study the lives and habits of people who loved Jesus, I discovered the “Jesus prayer”,  which seems to be better known amongst Christians of the Orthodox Churches than amongst Catholics.  It’s become more popular in recent years, but I’m overjoyed that I read about it in the years when it was little-known in England.  The regular use of a simple phrase in frequent prayer was just the sort of devotion that suited my daily life as I cared for a small baby.  It was so easy to pray, in the silence of my heart, a prayer based on one of Jesus’ Gospel stories (Lk 18:9-14), as I said: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  I could pray these words whether I was leaning over the dirty dishes in the sink or striding out behind the pram; and since the words encapsulated both my faith in God and in His saving work, and my own need of help, I was able to recite it with fervour.


I prayed it from the heart, without trying to adjust my breathing in the way that numerous prayer-guides recommend.  What is certain is that it brought Jesus’ name and Jesus’ own Self to me day by day throughout the years, until the day came, imperceptibly, when the Name was engraved in my heart and mind as an unceasing prayer.  But having said all that, I know that my soul was nourished supremely by the Liturgy, and by Holy Communion.


The glorious cycle of feasts which was presented to us through the Holy Mass, between one Advent and the next, brought before me the incidents of Jesus’ life on earth, and the Mysteries of God.  Easter was a glorious celebration of my true hope, and Christmas was a time of extraordinary thanksgiving.  As in my Anglican days, it was the feast of the Most Holy Trinity which brought me to worship almost breathless with awe.  Yet I was nearly overwhelmed with joy when I was able, publicly, to celebrate feasts which were ‘new’ to me, such as Our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Conception, and the feast of her Assumption into Heaven.



Praying with words and without.


From the moment of my Reception, I resolved not to swerve from my private and well-established spiritual routine.  I made the “Morning Offering” fervently, downstairs, before anyone else awoke, praising God and thanking Him for everything good in my life, and repenting of any wrong I’d done.  Name by name, I prayed for family and friends,  whether they were well, sick, dying or departed, and committed everything and everyone to God’s care.  I did the same each evening, just as I’d done as an Anglican; and I prayed at other times, if I were free.


I soon found that, apart from the Breviary, books of other persons’ prayers were of no use  to me except as subjects for meditation.  I could ‘pray’ old classics when I was tired or in pain, but, more and more, the words became impossible to say.  All the beliefs expressed in them were acceptable to me; I could think about them for a long time, with joy; but to say them to God, in private, was to distract myself from Him.  It was as though the words ‘got in the way’ of a true moment of communion.  The vehicle of communication was distorting and so hindering a more secret and subtle communication which is the spirit-to-Spirit loving exchange between the soul and God.  I knew that if I persisted in using words at times when it seemed as though God was urging me to pray without them, I’d be acting like a typist who wants to communicate with someone else in the same room, and who insists on tapping out her requests and who demands written answers, instead of using the swifter, plainer ways of exchanging ideas.


Through all my reading, I’d absorbed the traditional advice about meditation and prayer, by which we’re urged to place ourselves in the presence of God and to think about His attributes, or else to read a story from the Gospels which will inspire us to make fervent resolutions which we can offer to God.  All the reliable Catholic authors described how sensible it is to take up a book and meditate for a few minutes when you can’t seem to pray any longer.  But despite my best efforts, I found that I was quite incapable of plodding through such procedures.  My free and whole-hearted act of turning my attention to God in order to please Him led my soul almost skipping - as it were - from one stage to the next, or rather, led me to telescope several stages into one single act of yearning-for-God which almost consumed me; and it was God, I know, Who was guiding me.


To the edge of a ‘precipice’.


Within a few weeks of my Reception I was led to what seemed to be a ‘precipice’ in prayer - within my soul.  I can remember the room where I prayed then, and the fear I felt.  I was unsure of what was happening; I was in an extraordinary state of prayer which I experienced as a ‘being-held-in-God’s-peace’, although I was convinced at the same time that God was making a wordless request of me, there in the silence.


In the marrow of my bones, as we say, I knew that He was calling me.  He was inviting me to meet Him; but the Way was stranger than I’d dreamed.  It seemed as though He wanted me to abandon the security of thoughts and concepts and words; and yet I understood that this request only involved the present moment.  I wasn’t being asked to give up my daily prayers of intercession.  I was being urged to trust in God in prayer: to surrender control to Him in prayer just as I tried, daily, to surrender my will to Him amidst earthly activities.  He wanted me to make a free offering of my soul to Him, so that He could bring me close to him; but as He guided me in those first few weeks through the beginnings of contemplation, I felt more terror than gratitude. 


On that first occasion of knowing that I was being drawn by Him, I was astonished.  I remember kneeling alone, with not a sound in my mind or soul. I felt as if I were perched on a lip of rock over a vast precipice.  As I knelt before  God, my heart was half-seized with horror at the strangeness of meeting Him Who is Other.  I couldn’t cope with such naked prayer for very long; but I didn’t give up.  I tried to meet God in silence, in that extraordinary way, for a few minutes each afternoon


Launched into ‘Nothingness’.


As my courage grew, I learned how to turn my soul ‘towards’ Him, in spiritual darkness.  I learned that He was teaching me about the spiritual life and about Himself, even though His teaching was soundless.  Here below are a few of those first instructions: a few of the wordless yet detailed gifts which I was astonished to be receiving.  You can see that I’ve ‘translated’ that advice into words, as Christ has recently suggested; and this is what He told me, in the Spring of 1968:-


                        Turn to Me in trusting prayer.  Speak to Me when you wake, and before you  go to sleep; but kneel and pray, at least once a day, in a quiet place, so that I can lead you into the immense depths of My Divine Life. (T:15 #1)


                        Accept My invitation to you. I want you to enter into My very Being.  Every person who prays receives that invitation, and only in humble prayer do you hear it clearly. (T:15 #2)


                        Ponder what you experience in prayer.  Until you prayed, you were quite ignorant of My true and mysterious grandeur and majesty.  I, Your holy and invisible God, am calling you to wholehearted abandonment to My Will. (T:15 #3)


                        Don’t let fear keep you from ‘plunging’ within My Life, through prayer. (T:15 #4)


                        Be prepared to lose your life through trusting in Me. (T:15 #5)


                        Turn your heart and attention towards the deep darkness within yourself. (T:15 #6)


                        Aim your soul’s attention towards Me, your Lord, Who am hidden within your soul’s darkness.  Only in Me will you find perfect joy and fulfilment. (T:15 #7)


                        Pray with words or without, whatever seems best.  But if you use words - like tools or building blocks - at particular times of sorrow, praise, thanksgiving or petition, try to give your heart to Me in silent prayer at some other time each day. (T:15 #8)


                        Leap over the ‘precipice’ within your soul.  You can know Me and please Me.  Yet you must learn to live by faith, and to trust Me as I lead you into a strange new way of living. (T:15 #9)


                        Launch yourself, within your soul, into ‘Nothingness’, in order to respond to My prompting, in prayer. (T:15 #10)


                        Abandon entirely, for periods of silent  prayer, the security of thoughts, concepts and words.  But keep your heart’s intention or desire firmly ‘aimed’ towards Me, in your soul’s darkness.  “Aim” your heart by a simple, determined act of your unseeing but steadfast will. (T:15 #11)


                        Look upon words as useful but clumsy tools with which you frequently construct good prayers to Me, prayers in which you express your praise, thanks and sorrow-for-sin, and in which you plead for help for yourself and others. (T:15 #12)

                        Continue to pray in your usual, faithful way.  But if My Holy Spirit fills your heart, calling you to silent contemplation, leave behind all speech and speculation. (T:15 #13)


The prayer of silence.


Through the strength of that strange and wordless ‘teaching’, which seemed to have little resemblance to anything I’d read about in books, I clung to words, as if to tools or building-blocks, at particular times of praise or thanksgiving, and when pleading specifically for mercy or for help; but I gave myself to the new type of prayer once or twice every day, living entirely by faith, and longing to know God and to please Him.  Each time I went to my room I remained for much of the time entirely without words, on my knees before God, as my heart was led from yearning to awe - and then to terror - as I began to encounter in an entirely spiritual way God’s invisible and intangible but real holiness.


The “Our Father” was central to my life, as were the “Hail Mary”, the “Divine praises” and the Nicence Creed; but it became quite impossible to say them at these moments.  Whenever I went away to a room, alone, to adore God through Christ, asking that the love of the Holy Spirit would fill my heart, I found that words became impossible to pronounce.  I was ‘held’ by God; and I discovered that I could very easily remain like that for ten or twenty minutes, in pure prayer, without a thought in my mind.  Yet I didn’t realise what a gift it was.  I ‘practised’ it every day, almost taking it for granted, genuinely supposing that every Catholic prayed in this way.  I was limited only by the pressure of work, or by discontent. I mean that the least selfishness on my part would leave me unable to ‘settle’ in prayer in the same way. Despite all that I’d learned from books, nothing had prepared me for the ease with which this “prayer of silence” took place within my soul.  I had no name for it.  It wasn’t ‘mysticism’, I was sure. After all, I’d been so wicked; and I was a ‘beginner’ in prayer.  But if ever I heard or read a complaint that prayer was boring, I was genuinely amazed. 


How could anyone find God boring, I wondered, when we could be in contact with Him - obscurely - in this way?  For as long as prayer lasted each day I felt not stirrings of human joy but an unfamiliar yet real peace within my heart.  I was surprised to find that all fear evaporated, and that I was held at rest, nearly every day, in utter contentment.


That sense of peace only lasted for as long as I knelt in silence in my strange prayer of attention to God as apparent Nothingness.  Whenever I stood up to go about my work again, my head became full of the usual flurry of thoughts and ideas and worries.  It would be a life-time’s work, I thought, to train myself to be calm and recollected; but I made a start.  Asking for the grace of God, I disciplined my mind for His sake as rigorously as I’d disciplined my feelings and my heart.  I knew by then, from experience, that God in fact woos our hearts. I knew, too, that lack of generosity on our part can’t stop Him loving us, but that it can stop our ‘contact’  in prayer. In my naiveté I assumed that everyone who claimed that prayer was boring had been willing to make the sacrifices and commitments which I had made so far.


Choices postponed.


It became evident to me later on that many Catholics “coast along” much as I had done in my teenage, Anglican years.  At first I regarded this with disbelief, thinking that surely Catholics had encountered fewer difficulties than I had.  Besides coping with my own selfishness at one stage or another I’d had to ‘cope’ with doctrinal confusion.  In time, however, I saw that everyone has to face the same choices at some point in life, from whatever point we start. Each one of us needs to ask:  “Do I believe in God?  Do I believe in Jesus Christ?  If I do, shall I show my trust and humility by kneeling to  pray to God?  Shall I love and serve Him, trying to keep His commandments because I love Him, or shall I insist on my own will being done?”


Many Catholics postpone the choice, it seems, muddling along quietly, praying briefly now and again, half-hoping that Christ will make fewer demands on them than on their spiritual ancestors, and remaining fearful all the time and far from contented.  But even this way of life was faith in practice,  I saw.   People might not seem to be passionately interested in God,  but


many are surely held in grace, faithful to the Sacraments, living lives far different from the lives of those who have turned and walked away.  Anyway, I dared not judge, since God alone understands the trials or fears which plague different people.  Only He knows the “secretS of MANKIND” (Ro 2:16), just as He has always known my private thoughts and miseries.



[Posture and reverence in prayer.


Having just said that I daren’t judge anyone, I feel bound to mention something about posture in prayer, and about a reverent attitude towards God, in order to encourage anyone who worries about being thought ‘old-fashioned’ because, for example, he or she still kneels to pray.  I’m not discussing the problem of someone who is utterly determined to go against a reverent community spirit; this is mainly about private prayer, though also about informal prayer-groups and various bodies such as R.C.I.A. groups.


I’ve read of Bishops and priests who bewail the lack of reverence in prayer, in church, amongst some of the younger generation.  Indeed, it saddens me when I see it, but I’m scarcely surprised, because I know that some of it has arisen from the attitude encouraged in the past two or three decades by some teachers and parents and by various persons in authority. The attitude which has been fostered is that which a young adult perhaps holds as he lolls on his bean-bag, reflecting that since God’s Love for him is unending - which it is - and since it is infinitely great - which it is - then God doesn’t mind whether the young man kneels upright to pray, or lies in an armchair with his feet up.  What does his posture matter if he’s making a sincere prayer from the heart?


Alert and attentive.


It was C. S. Lewis, I’m sure, who once told a story of someone who asked: could he smoke a pipe whilst saying his prayers?  The ‘correct’ Christian answer was that if a man is smoking, it’s a good thing if he prays as well, whereas if a man has decided  to pray, it’s not a good thing for him suddenly to light up a pipe.  Likewise, perhaps, with what I must call the ‘bean-bag’ problem.  Surely, if young students have been sitting comfortably in armchairs and on bean-bags whilst discussing the Church and prayer and God, it’s a good thing that they decide to pray, and that they do so exactly where they are.  But the reverse shouldn’t be encouraged.


If people express a longing to pray, they should be steered, I believe, towards a chapel or an oratory, or should be encouraged - where the room is large enough - to kneel or perhaps to stand beside their arm-chairs, in order to be alert and attentive before God; and I write this not from some peevish longing to see people made uncomfortable in prayer, but to see people realise that God is awesome and majestic as well as loving.  At the very least, an especial sort of courtesy is due to the Holy Trinity whenever we pray - although of course we can be sure that God delights in our merest whisper of sincere prayer from whatever situation we’re in. It’s important that we try to avoid the lukewarmness of soul which is described in the Book of Revelation.


It was two or three years ago that Our Lord confirmed by a vision - (in T:1922) - what I had always known by faith as a Catholic adult. He led me - in prayer - towards the invisible and Eternal Godhead; but what I saw before me, by the eyes of my soul, was a wall of fire: a vast sheet of flame which stretched high above us, and which also reached far below the edge of an Abyss which hid most of its Glory; and the point of this vision was, first, to give me Christ’s consoling reminder that it is with Him, at the end of my life, and in His love, that I  can hope to enter the Fire of Love which is the Godhead, and Heaven.  But, secondly, Our Lord was teaching me that although the Godhead is truly Infinite Love, it is also Infinite holiness; and only those who have been thoroughly purified can hope to enter into the Father’s heart in utter peace and gladness.


Entering pure Holiness.


Any imperfect creature who enters that pure Holiness necessarily experiences pain - hence the experience of purification known as Purgatory.  Furthermore, Christ has shown me that this is as true of our prayer-time as of our meeting with God at the time of our death.  Since God is Infinite holiness, and is therefore worthy of awe, adoration and self-sacrifice as well as love, delight and admiration and gratitude, we must surely pray to Him in as reverent a manner as possible; and if we do so we shall not only come to know Him, we shall allow Him  to draw us even closer to Him and to make us His close friends.  He can’t do this, Christ has shown me, for people who are so lacking in love for Him that they don’t think He’s worthy of a little heart-felt praise and reverent devotion and who think that by lolling in a chair for times of worship they honour Him.  I know from experience that God the Father is swifter to teach me, and also grants my prayers in more extravagant ways, if I’ve taken the trouble to kneel down before asking for His help or making special intercessions.


From what we’re told by numerous observers, today, many people are ignorant about reverence in prayer, through no fault of their own. I wonder if they’ve been so lop-sidely instructed about God’s great Love for them that they have heard very little about His transcendence.  The need for Reconciliation for all who have turned their backs on God is sometimes barely mentioned; so perhaps it’s not surprising that many people are unhappy at Mass, bored by prayer, and outwardly lacking in reverence.  Perhaps they’ve never been taught that God is utterly mad with love for them and yet at the same time is so glorious and holy that He is Infinitely worthy of respect and honour as well as of child-like trust and confidence. 


How surprising is it that a careless approach is commonplace towards the reception of Christ our God in the Eucharist, for example, if, for a whole generation, people have been encouraged to keep busy with good works for their neighbour, but have rarely been encouraged by teachers or persons in authority in matters which are even more important, such as how to show sincere and loving homage  to God by acts of reverent worship and by penance and mortification.


By this, I mean bowing, kneeling and prostration, with a reverent use of the Sign of the Cross, and with the practice of self-denial, with some fasting, and with something else.  Surely everyone should have an attitude towards Christ in the Blessed Sacrament at least as reverent as that recorded in the Scriptures about the attitude of devout persons who approached Christ and who knelt down.]








Spiritual infancy.


Day by day, after my Reception, I continued with my efforts to love God and my neighbour.  By the grace of God I did God’s Will for no other reason than that it was His.  There was nothing I wouldn’t do for Him, I thought, even there in spiritual loneliness without any close human guide except for the priest whose homily I listened to once a week. 


Stern lessons awaited me, however;  I had no idea just how ignorant I was: nor how blind I was to my need for greater honesty, courage, humility, and faith.  The faith I held was a pure, great gift: strong, but not strong enough.  I’d been content to battle onwards each day, struggling to leave the future in God’s hands; and this was a good way to live; but once we begin to see ourselves as brave or well-behaved, there arises the terrible danger of pride.  In spiritual infancy, I didn’t know that my faith was still very feeble; nor did I realise that temptations wouldn’t cease, but would become progressively more subtle and dangerous.



The ‘night’ of faith.


For a little while longer I was busy but content.  I didn’t know the meaning of defeat or despair.  But terrible times lay ahead; and it would be only by descending to the depths of pain that I would come to see the depths of my own self-love, and would be able to ask more sincerely for God’s love and mercy, genuinely knowing my need of both.


Never in my life as a Catholic have I doubted God’s goodness, or doubted the teachings of His Church - although not everything has been easy to understand.  I’ve never doubted that God cares for me.  Faith has told me so, even if my feelings have been in turmoil.  But one day, some months after my reception, I realised that I’d became encased in spiritual darkness. Life “in” God was no longer effortless and joyful.  It was time for the first of many purifications. God was at work within my soul, and - by His Will, in order to strengthen and test me - He withdrew all the secret sweetness and delight that I’d found in prayer, and hid Himself.  I believed in Him with every fibre of my being.  I wanted nothing but to do His Will.  But, suddenly, prayer became a torment, a chore, and it seemed to me as though God were a thousand miles away.


A ‘night’ of faith had descended.  I didn’t know this at the time, because I’d only heard the phrase once or twice, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me, anyway, to pin such a solemn title onto the day-by-day spiritual darkness which I was experiencing.  It was a sense of loss which I knew had nothing to do with willing alienation from God through sin, but which was just as terrifying. 


In the core of my being, I knew that it didn’t matter what I felt, as long as I was making every effort to please God by doing His Will; and yet the darkness kept growing even deeper.  Having felt at first that nothing I did ever pleased God, I next had the constant feeling that, whatever I did, I was damned.  I didn’t believe this, since faith was still active; but that’s what I felt within my soul. 


There was no reason for that fear. It was a temptation, I was sure; so I went on in pure faith alone, trying to be ‘good’.  I prayed every day at home at the usual times, sending ‘arrow’ prayers into the darkness: making acts of faith, hope and love, and dashing to Mass and Holy Communion weekly, which was all that I could manage, though I was desperate to receive Christ.



Domestic turmoil.


In the same year, a change occurred in my domestic world, where the care of infants overlaid every waking thought. 


It seemed to me that some burdens laid upon me, and some things demanded of me by charity, were so difficult, so crushing, and so overwhelming in my ordinary life that only Christ’s love in my heart made me do them, although I was hardly a picture of perfect joy and patience.  I became immersed in a sea of activities which left me with barely enough time to clean my teeth, it seemed: still less, to kneel down in prayer for a reasonable length of time each day.


Our house was in turmoil at all hours from the day that an extremely sick relative came to our home, to be nursed.  I did the best I could for about a year, by which time she seemed to have recovered.  It was a year spent chasing around at top speed to keep up with the daily schedule.  My first child was then a two-year-old toddler who had to be fitted very lovingly into a sick-bed routine.  I had hours of cooking to do for patient and visitors, and a part to play in a still-hectic social life; but I was glad to have been able to cope.


Alas, my poor mother-in-law’s illness returned after a few months away from us.  She was at death’s door, and extremely under-nourished, when I was asked to care for her again; and by that time I had a ten-week old new baby in my arms.


A mixture of pity, love and duty led me to agree.  I remember that it was on Good Friday that I was asked to help out once more, and I dared not refuse.  I’d just been to Mass, where our meditation was about how lonely Christ had been in His suffering.  I was ashamed of wishing that I could avoid further work: ashamed of worrying about how I’d cope.  Despite the fact that I was up at all hours nursing a second cherished child as well as the first, my longing to be kind and selfless urged me on.


Heavy burdens.


While I rushed from our patient to the new baby, with a toddler at my heels, and cooked huge meals and looked after visitors, my husband bore his own heavy burdens.  He was “on call” day and night.  Whenever we weren’t out at official gatherings, he had to study for examinations, able to snatch only a few moments to comfort his mother in her ever-increasing pain.


After I’d coped for a few desperate days or weeks, we arranged that a nurse would help me; but even with her kindly assistance, I was working for sixteen hours a day at top speed, growing more and more puzzled that life was so unremittingly grim. I worked for seven days a week, all year round, and was tired.  It never once occurred to me, however, that I deserved a few hours or days of  “free time”. No religious book within my reach had ever suggested such a thing, nor had my upbringing encouraged it.  Besides, we had no extra helpers, no relatives or close friends nearby, and no spare cash.


Once or twice, I was able to dash ‘down South’ on the train, to see my parents.  But day after day in my usual routine at home, whenever the babies were asleep, I knelt down in private, begging God to help me to go on.  The work itself didn’t make me resentful, rather, the fact that it was continuous, and that some health problems had returned, and that there was no end in sight.  I couldn’t even communicate very well with my mother-in-law, since she spoke hardly any English.  By learning a few sentences of Chinese, I was able to ask about her symptoms or discuss her food; but she was in tremendous pain, and although she was very brave and stoical there was little jolly sick-room banter.


A further cause of discomfort was that, like many other families, we had little heating.  I was warm in one room, but most of my work had to be done elsewhere; so I used to stand in the single-storey kitchen every day, clad in my usual clothes, but with jumpers added, and Wellington boots, all set to wash the sheets and nappies by hand.  It was literally freezing in there.  Then I juggled the babies’ feeding times to ensure that we reached the shops each day to buy fresh food for our patient. 


We were out in all weathers, the pram piled high with supplies, because of the concerned visitors who appeared every night and the dozen callers who shared our meals at weekends. Apart from doing the usual chores, I was cooking for about four hours a day.  I still didn’t drive, nor did I know of any play-groups for toddlers nearby. Even if I’d known, I wouldn’t have had time to take my eldest child along. Every minute of almost every day was spent in hard physical work of one sort of another, and I was nearly always tired and in pain, and - except for the summer-time - cold.  The latest news on the medical front was that I had a spine problem for which the only remedy was regular exercise.


Little crucifixions.


I’m aware that most of the human race has probably lived and died in far worse conditions than anything I’ve ever known; and I’m saying this because the difficult things I’ve mentioned aren’t so much reasons for self-pity, although I’m not guiltless, but rather are markers on the journey I’ve made: markers for the story that Christ wants me to tell.  He doesn’t want me to refuse His request because I’ve never been captured in a war or spent years in prison.  He wants me to say just a little about what I did find painful in what I know are privileged circumstances; and He wants me to do this in order to bring hope not just to those who suffer in extraordinary ways, but to those who suffer from the little crucifixions of daily life, whether from secret crosses which only Christ can see, or from the burden of monotony, exhaustion or loneliness - or from the knowledge of one’s own frailty. That’s why I’m not ashamed to continue with my reminiscences.  I hope and pray that someone will learn from my mistakes: or, even better, will be encouraged to turn to the Saviour whose friendship is worth every sacrifice, and whose tenderness is incomparable.


Christ wants me to say, through these pages: “Never turn away from Him.  Never cease to believe that He helps you whenever you call.  No matter what you’re enduring, He can help you in the darkness.  Have faith.  Persevere.”



Eagerness to please.


What battles I fought with myself. Self-pity was barely held at bay, during those busy years when I was hardly aware of what was happening outside my own front door.  I enjoyed an occasional cup of coffee in another kitchen. Our neighbours were kind: and were almost as busy as ourselves. We grew very fond of them; but there was no time to develop many long-lasting friendships.


I found that the more I did, for love, and the more effectively I did everything, then the more I transformed myself into an ever-willing work-horse; yet I couldn’t overcome my eagerness to please.  As I cooked huge meals, carried trays up and downstairs with a baby under one arm - the first at my heels - and changed sheets,  I steeled my will and fed on Christ for survival.  I gulped Sacraments at Mass once a week. I couldn’t have put a name to a single face at  the Catholic Church during those first two years.  I went there each Sunday for an hour’s fervent prayer, as my husband looked after the family; then I dashed home to get on with my work.


Any outings in the evening were with my husband’s professional colleagues, or involved meeting people once - then only seeing them annually at the same type of event.  One kind woman invited me to her sewing classes, but it was impossible to attend regularly; I was amazed to meet someone who had so many hours of leisure each day that she found time to pursue several hobbies, when I myself had no time to paint, of course, and battled with myself about the meaning of ‘Art’.  It seemed obvious to me that people mattered more than ‘things’, however precious.  A needy person in my home was more deserving of attention than a canvas and easel. It pained me, however, to be unable to use this talent.  Being deprived of time in which to sketch and paint was as painful for me as if, for example, I’d been told that I could never again open my mouth to sing.


It was to please Christ as well as the family that I made sure I always sounded happy and cheerful, but it was becoming a struggle.  I was on my knees before God two or three times a day in prayer - however briefly - to pay the homage He deserved, and to beg for the grace to keep going: utterly determined to do my duty and to put family care before what is sometimes called ‘self-fulfilment’.


Occasionally, I found myself longing to be able to study, and to have more stimulating topics of conversation than the childrens’ new words or the price of beef.  Later - and after the birth of our third child, our daughter - I was made more dissatisfied through reading feminist tracts in magazines; and I made enquiries about teacher-education courses and Art Degree possibilities.  As I shall tell, another sick relative then came to stay, so I did what I believed to be right. I accepted my domestic commitments, and made efforts to look upon my day, with its apparent trivia, as Christ would look upon it: with gladness.



[Repetitive work.


Quite obviously, some women who would like to stay at home are forced out to work, to put food into little stomachs, and therefore can’t look after their own children all day.  Other women go to work joyfully because they know their children are being looked after by loving friends or relations.  But I know that some ambitious women look upon children as a nuisance, and would be horrified at the prospect of caring for their own children full-time; and so, as I look back, I’m glad about the choice I made.


It was a privilege to be able to stay in the home with children and other relatives, teaching and cooking daily. Those tasks, with all the washing and cleaning, were sometimes tedious and tiring and repetitive.  But faith told me that lasting joy stems from our doing the Will of God for the love of God, whatever sort of task He wants us to do; and I believe it’s generally better for children if they can be close to a loving parent - in the early years, especially, but also through the ‘teenage’ years.


It’s true that God delights in seeing us develop our talents, if circumstances permit; yet we ought to look very carefully at our true motives if ever we hope to leave our mundane duties for the chance of finding something outwardly more exciting; and, as I was to learn, nothing is mundane if it’s done in union with Christ, in order to please Him and to help souls.]



Common-sense changes.


When I’d adapted my prayer-routine to my rearranged domestic pattern, I saw that the changes which were taking place in my little kitchen at that time reflected the changes which were taking place in the whole of my life.


The shelves had become so cluttered with new food-stuffs, as I regularly cooked special food for my mother-in-law and for our other relations that there wasn’t enough space for the items I’d once used daily, but now rarely needed.  A rearrangement of my kitchen was essential.  It was only common-sense to stock up with ingredients which were genuinely useful, whether I liked them or not, and to discard the items which I could use only rarely in my new way of life.  Likewise, in the spiritual life, it made sense to cling to a prayer-routine which could flourish amidst all sorts of duties and distractions, and to discard whatever devotions were attractive but which were time-consuming, or - by their fulfilment - selfish.


Through the hard thinking which made me focus on what was essential in the spiritual life, and what was peripheral, I saw that morning and night prayers were very important.  Going to Mass was essential - even if it could only be once a week.  Regular Confession was important, and helpful: such a wonderful source of grace.  Praying the Rosary was important, too, but not as something which shackled me to a grim routine, but as the free offering of a decade of sincere prayers, here and there, whenever I had a rare few moments alone with neither toddler nor patient to attend to.


As for the Breviary, the same commonsense rule applied.  I wasn’t bound to it by a vow; so I read two or three of the ‘hours’ each day, in that time of my life, and offered to God as a sacrifice my constant busyness with the washing and feeding of weak bodies rather than with the prayer-times for which my heart yearned.



Chores and agitations.


Alas, I can’t describe how tired I was in the most difficult days of being nurse and mother; and despite my real longing to please God and to help others, I was tempted to feel sorry for myself, and so I felt not only exhausted but selfish and guilty.  Natural timidity kept me silent; but as my work-load increased I became more scrupulous and afraid.  I endured each day’s frantic activities and never-ending physical load in complete spiritual darkness. Outwardly, I was busy, friendly, and talkative, but my prayer-times were passed without a sliver of ‘light’.


Later, illness would drag me down, but for the moment I didn’t complain.  All that I’d read had led me to believe that God is to be loved and served for His own sake, not for ‘consolations’ or for sweet experiences, so I went doggedly on, always exhausted and still without joy in prayer. I can see now that although I genuinely acted from charity, at the same time I was too proud to admit defeat, and too cowardly to decline the extra tasks proposed to me; and I suppose that if I’d been more confident I would have asked friends or relatives for more help.  It astonishes me to realise, now, that from the time of the birth of our first child, I didn’t have a day off, entirely by myself, for several years. 


We went on holiday with the children occasionally.  As many mothers know, a holiday with two or three babies or toddlers in a cold, cramped chalet, near a rain-sodden beach, provides a change of scenery, for which to be grateful; but all the usual chores and agitations take place in unfamiliar and difficult surroundings. It was a rush for me to get away, then a rush to go back home to relieve the kind relative who had coped with Grandma for a few days.


Another patient.


We were all very sad when she died.  She had been the focus of our attention for a long time, and we loved her dearly.  But we were glad her suffering had ended; and we began a new way of life. 


There was a respite for me of about three or four months, in which my husband’s job promotion took us to another town.  We rented a house at Luton at first; then we managed to buy a home of our own in Harpenden, within reach of my own parents and my brother and sister.  It was less than a mile from a Catholic Church, which was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.  But I seemed to be leading a roller-coaster of a life, in my late twenties.  Joy and a sense of adventure swept me along after each new difficulty, but my optimism was dented every few months.  I’d hoped to make plans for our family life, having all sorts of outings and projects in mind.  Then I heard that another relative was severely disabled and needed to come to stay.  Once again the daily routine became hectic as I cooked for the enlarged family - and for the devoted visitors who flocked along again.


My father-in-law was a cheerful, grateful soul; and I was determined to make him comfortable. I struggled up and down stairs umpteen times a day, completely drained of energy, with two toddlers to look after and hordes to entertain throughout evenings and weekends.  I remember looking at my neighbours in the summer-time, amazed that people with young children could spend leisurely hours in their back gardens or go to evening classes.  There were many joys in my life, but at the same time it was full of suffering.  Dashing round my home, I thought hard thoughts about duty and obedience; but I believed - and still believe  with every particle of my soul - that God’s Will is to be loved and obeyed, through whatever apparent chaos it might lead us.


After six months of our care, and after intensive physiotherapy, our patient went home.  Then, when I’d enjoyed my third pregnancy and had a baby daughter he suddenly came back again, having suffered another stroke.  The children were six years, and four years, and nine months old, and I was almost submerged in chores and conversations and ‘broken’ nights.


For a very brief interval after his second departure, I relished the new freedom to go out and about with the children, and greatly enjoyed my family and friends.  Then, suddenly, the strange illness of my own returned.  Life seemed full of disastrous surprises.  I wasn’t merely tired.  My legs were weak and I found it difficult to stand for long, whether standing were required in the kitchen or out at parties. Worse, every scrap of energy was used for doing the bare essentials.  Having made strenuous efforts to do a bit of serious study, by learning some Hebrew at evening classes in term-time when the children were small, I was weaker now , and our social life took precedence.


Ambitions postponed.


We needed baby-sitters for so many official engagements that, even if I’d had the energy, I couldn’t have found more sitters if I’d had regular engagements of my own.  Apart from Sunday Mass, it was impossible to commit myself to regular meetings of any sort, whether to classes, prayer-groups or committees.  This is not a complaint, however, but a plain description of the way things were.  I was happy to be a housewife, and I accepted that few mothers have opportunities to go out and about. It’s true that the long years spent with young children can make some of us impatient; but I was willing to accept that until the children were older I should base my life more on love than on efficiency: although both are good.


Even if I’d been constantly full of energy, I think I’d have recognised that anything which demanded a commitment to other people would have to be postponed for a few years. I could rush in and out of an evening class, or even not attend if the children were ill, whereas any serious and long-term commitment to our church’s social or pastoral  life would take up far more time.  One task would lead to another, as proved to be the case later on, and there’d be a danger that my obvious duties which deserved first place would be carelessly brushed aside. For example I’d already found that everything had to be ‘dropped’ if a relative was unwell.  It seemed unwise to keep dashing out at bath-time and bed time when life was so unsettled, so I decided that pleasurable meetings or discussion groups on prayer would have to wait until life were more ‘settled’.


Besides these considerations, there were physical limits.  My tedious and wretched illness persisted.  I’d had remissions, but none very recently; and when our baby daughter was only three, it was difficult for me even to sit upright to read to the children at bedtime, or to host dinner parties while they slept.  I simply ached to lie down and rest; and if I did, I ached still.  Meanwhile, the work had to be done, or the children would have been unwashed and unfed. 


After a particularly long spell of illness, and after a three-week wait for a bed, I was admitted to hospital for tests. I entered, grateful for my mother’s help, because she’d now retired, and had offered to look after the children.  But by the time I was examined my symptoms had disappeared.  The tests were negative; I was sent home, but eventually the weakness came back again.


It would have been helpful to have had a diagnosis; yet I can see that what I needed - well or ill - was an occasional day of peace and quiet and rest, in order to think and pray, and to quieten my rushing thoughts.  But for various reasons this was far too difficult to organise.  I continued to look after children and visitors without question, astounded that life should be so hard, but determined to plod on, trying to serve God and my neighbour.



Illness again, and work.


About seven years after my Reception into the Church all sweetness or ‘consolation’ was like a distant dream. Even with all my faults, I was as fervent and as faithful as on the day I’d been received; but even the memory of the joy which I’d once experienced in prayer had gone.  I shouldered each day’s workload determined not to fail in love, but I’d never really understood Christ’s command that we love our neighbour as ourself.  I should have been bolder about making a few sensible arrangements in order to rest a bit more during each new episode of weakness.  But I lacked confidence.  All the shyness and self-blame of childhood was with me still, and held me back. I was so anxious to appear perfect that I rarely mentioned my own needs, and rarely refused even unreasonable requests.  Besides: I’d been told that there was nothing major ‘wrong’ with me, so I dared not appear to be pampering myself; and since  conscience demanded that I expend energy on essential tasks there was little strength left for hobbies or for other personal interests.


In my early ‘thirties’, by elaborate planning, I managed to attend two evening courses: one class each week in term-time, for two years.  In two hours of leisure-time snatched from the chores, I studied Art, and also the Classical Hebrew I mentioned.  I was thrilled by everything I learned. I even began to paint once again, late at night; and somehow to read about Christ and the Church - between the cooker and the bath.  However, these efforts left me even more exhausted.


Each day was busy, and each evening was becoming busier still, as I cooked meals for ten or twenty visitors, or for fifty now and then.  Besides all this, there were other trials. Daily work and prayer-work were pursued in darkness, over-shadowed by my fear of the God of my imagination: the hard task-master of my childhood days.  He was still unapproachable, fearsome and vengeful, I felt.  Faith told me that God loved me, but I didn’t know what that meant.  It seemed as though He was hidden behind an infinitely-high wall.


Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament.


As I look at what I’ve just written, I feel impelled to add that it was the whole Mystery of the Godhead which seemed unapproachable and impenetrable.  It was God the Father, Whom we sometimes address in liturgical prayer as ‘Almighty God’, Who seemed to me to be more Critic than Friend, or rather, more Absence than ‘ground of my being.’  I didn’t stop believing in His goodness; but I had neither a mind full of wonder at His gifts nor a heart full of warmth at the thought of His love.  It was as though a blanket had been thrown over me to keep me in darkness - perhaps as a cover is laid over certain plants by a gardener, to assist growth and to give protection from various dangers; but whatever was happening, it hadn’t the ‘feel’ of something caring, but of something isolating and painful.  I had one never-failing cause for wonder, however, in that darkness, by which I mean the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, in church.


God the Father seemed remote, as I said.  I didn’t know much about the Holy Spirit, although I believed that He was alive and active in my soul to some degree, since it was He, surely, Who was urging me  to avoid sin and pursue virtue.  But I knew that God the Son, My Incarnate Saviour, was sacramentally Present in the tabernacle - and of course in the Sacred Host which I received in Holy Communion; and He was my life-line: most truly my Way, as Holy Scripture says.  Brief visits to Christ, whenever I popped into church during a shopping trip, never failed to help me.  I didn’t have any sweet feelings as I knelt before the sanctuary; but I believed so strongly in Christ’s Presence that I made acts of faith in Him and asked for His help, and so of course I was silently rewarded: not because I’d ‘earned’ a reward but because He never fails to reward even our feeblest efforts to be faithful; and that reward seemed to consist of a stronger determination to persevere on the Way to Heaven.


Quite a few people I’ve met recently have told me how much they’ve been helped by having a spiritual director.  Every book on prayer suggests that it’s sensible to have a personal guide; but I was living in a busy home, not a monastery, and had no leisure-time to search for someone ‘special’ to take an interest in me.  The parish priest, I knew, led the Church in our town. Canon Terence Keenan was a warm-hearted and faithful pastor who had visited me in hospital, and always enquired about the family; and he was my regular Confessor.  I was sure that I’d ask his advice if I had a particular problem; but I knew that he’d have no marvellous new answer if I posed this question: “How do I love God and my neighbour when I’m ill and in pain?” I thought I knew the answer, which consisted of following Christ’s example. I just wanted to survive and to keep going without complaints or self-pity.


There were three other questions I never asked of God - or of His representatives: “Where is God? Why should we suffer?  Why should this trial happen to me?”  The commitment which I’d made to God several years before precluded such questions.  Since faith told me that God is good,  it would have seemed like sheer impertinence to question anything that He permitted.  But it was a terrible struggle just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.



In spiritual darkness.


In the darkness of the night of faith, I cherished my family, ran a busy household and supported other people in their trials.  The strange illness persisted.  I grew weaker still, yet tried to be ‘good’.  Cultivating patience, I battled to be kind and forgiving, praying and reading every day to nurture my faith.  I don’t mean that I was good; far from it: but only that my whole longing was to please God and therefore to be kind - despite my many failures.  So of course I dashed to the Sacraments, and helped my neighbours, worked for ‘Charities’ and visited the sick. I tried to be a “good” wife and mother.  I hoped to  make everything seem jolly or peaceful on a surface level, though I didn’t always succeed. I experienced much of each year, on another level, as a lonely journey through private torment; but I’m immensely grateful that, with hand on heart, I can echo other Christians who say that “Jesus saved me”: and in more than one sense.  He certainly saved me from despair. 


More than anything else, it was the truths which Christ had given to me  through His Church and through faith which kept me going.  Never for a second did I doubt the existence of God or the teachings of the Church, even though it can be hard to remain faithful.  And if ever temptations insinuated themselves into the forefront of my mind I’d always make a firm act of faith and then press on with my work.


I’m writing this principally to help those who are tempted to argue with the tempter.  We’re right to explore the reasons for our faith, I know, and to examine our teachings in detail.  But there are some sorts of fruitless enquiry which are better ignored than pursued.  The phrase is surely right which says that ‘he who would sup with the devil should use a long spoon’ - whatever recipe the evil one has cooked up especially to suit our palate in difficult times.


A useful framework.


My own children saved me, in another sense. I mean that although it’s impossible for anyone to have much rest when little children need attention I was grateful for the framework which a conscientious mother must keep firmly in place if she hopes to build a happy home. It kept me active and anchored.  With a day that was founded on chores, conversations and school-visits, I had a basic routine which was flexible enough to allow for crises and yet was firm enough to ‘lean’ on when I was almost too tired to think.  I managed to keep going.


Perhaps it’s wise to mention, here, that the underlying reason for my intermittent episodes of weakness was that I have a mild form of Multiple Sclerosis.  I suspected as much, at the time; but the clinical tests were negative in the early years; and I was so devastated at being judged as inadequate rather than unwell when I’d made huge efforts to be sociable and active that I was eventually frightened to go near a hospital.  Only after a very lengthy bout of weakness, and an M.R.I. scan, in the nineteen-eighties, did I learn that, besides the other problems, I’d had ‘M.S.’, undiagnosed, for twenty-five years.


I still feel mildly ashamed of mentioning this, so strong is the influence of earlier days when we were told that to display one’s feelings or one’s soul to other people was unnecessary, and to speak about one’s health was not only unnecessary but vulgar.  As someone before me must have pointed out, the world wouldn’t even have heard the Christian message if Christ’s friends hadn’t been ‘vulgar’ enough to describe their own weaknesses and setbacks and also to say what they’d seen and believed: and how they’d felt when they heard the Good News that “ALL WHO BELIEVE IN JESUS WILL HAVE THEIR SINS FORGIVEN THROUGH HIS NAME” (Ac 10:43).



Little children.


It’s been part of this task to mention that the early years of motherhood were physically gruelling; but I never ceased to delight in the children as persons, even when I was temporarily irritated or impatient.  There was tremendous joy in being with them, holding conversations, teaching, teasing, having expeditions, going to paddle in the River Lea in summer - or showing them how to play chess.  I made a picture-board with chess pieces on it, and with arrows which indicated the various possible moves.


By turns, the children cheered, puzzled, annoyed or delighted me.  It was hard to keep the peace, with three.  I wasn’t always patient; yet there have been great joys in being a mother. The children were and are so loveable.  I’m overwhelmed even now, to think that apart from the brief times when we tip-toed amongst the heartaches of their adolescent lives, the children have been a constant source of happiness.  They have brought us nothing but delight and gentle companionship since they reached adulthood.


There was never a moment when I didn’t love them, although I was very strict with them about important things such as honesty, sharing and caring, and keeping one’s promises.  They were affectionate and funny, as they are today. Despite the squabbles and disagreements they were extremely kind.


For my part, I tried to be kind, reasonable and trustworthy.  I didn’t always succeed; but I never ceased to be grateful for their lives and for their different personalities and gifts.  I praised and rewarded them for every evident effort to be good, and answered every question truthfully on every subject.  When they were small, and still willing, therefore, to listen to a parent, I taught them informally and according to each one’s capacity, about the existence of God and Heaven, and about the Catholic Church.


Outings and adventures.


In those early years, when I had enough energy to do more than just encourage the children in their activities, we moved contentedly from work to play and then to work again, chatting and explaining throughout the household tasks. We were rarely bored; we did the chores together, made castles out of cardboard, chanted nursery rhymes, and explored the garden for flower specimens, and watched the insects, too.  From the garden I gathered the privet leaves on which I fed the stick-insects which we kept for three years.


The garden always needed attention; but when the weather was good, we weeded the borders together, and then fed the fantail pigeons which were our legacy from the previous owners of the house.  We sometimes excavated flowerbeds to make exciting roadways for the boys’ toy cars; and there was a small plastic paddling pool permanently in the garden, for use on hot days.  I could drive, at last, and took the children to catch ‘tiddlers’ in a shallow river nearby. We had outings to the zoo, and to the Natural History Museum, sometimes accompanied by several friends; and I continued to take my three little ones to visit Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, whenever I had the energy and they were willing.


I tried to ration the amount of television the children watched, not to frustrate them, but to entice them towards other things.  We made papier-mâché puppets to use at parties, and we painted together - using vivid colours and large brushes. I made models of the fairy stories which they knew by heart and taught them how to make models of their own.  We decorated a tree and a Crib, at home every Christmas.  My attempts to wait until Advent were defeated because the children came home from school in mid-December, thrilled by the parties and decorations they’d already enjoyed, and wanting to decorate our home immediately.  I gave in, because it seemed unkind not to continue the celebration of Christmas which the school had fostered.


We had another tradition which had begun in babyhood.  It was to last for many years.  It was very simple - but almost sacred.  I read each child a story, in bed at night.  It was a way of loving them, entertaining yet calming them, and it brought us very close no matter how busy each day had been.  When I grew ill and even busier - with Grandpa - and as they all grew older, the custom had to end.  However, it had been valuable: as precious as all the things we’d done together, whether making preparations for a birthday party, or talking about life and God whilst the children sat in bubbly water in the bath.  I can hardly bear to think about the mistakes I made in their upbringing - or about my bad example - but I think they knew that they were loved.



An awesome responsibility.


What an awesome responsibility God entrusts to us, in parenthood. My husband and I had been well-taught by our parents about the precious gift of children.  We cherished each one even before birth, awed at being allowed to create new life: longing to see each child as the time came for delivery.  Their extreme helplessness caused me to love and care for them as well as I knew how; but the gradual revelation of their longing for love and their thirst for knowledge, as they developed year by year, made me as concerned for their souls as for their little bodies.


As soon as they were old enough to be sitting up, in a safe place outside, in the back garden, in summer, they marvelled even before they could walk at nature’s variety and colour and change.  I taught them all I knew about its Creator, and about Jesus on earth.  I used simple words and analogies to explain what God wants of us; so they learned kindness, and reverence for all the good things that He’s created, but especially consideration for other human beings.  They came to see that in our inmost hearts, it’s easy to idolise self.  By living in a real community - of family - they became aware of the needs of other people.


Life-long marriage.


We were never surprised by the childrens’ natural curiosity about their own lives, and about birth and death, and society, and family life. I tried to answer their questions as they arose, with honesty, but in language which was appropriate for their age and understanding.  It was wonderful to be able to state a number of other things too, with great conviction: things to do with faith or courtesy; but when I didn’t know the answers, I told them so, and explained that they should be patient with me because I’d never been a mother before - and was learning ‘as I went along.’  But they were reassured by firm statements about important things.


When the whole family was in the car one day, returning home from a trip to London, perhaps, the children happened to be discussing other parents; and one of the boys said: ‘Mummy, would you ever divorce Daddy?”  My firm “No, of course not!” - was echoed by an equally firm declaration from my husband about the importance of life-long loyalty, and keeping our vows; and that little exchange perhaps gave the children some security, amidst the normal ups and downs of family life and amidst the chaos of a society where so many spouses are abandoned.


There’s so much that’s easy about child-care, if we’re willing to be loving, and willing  to make sacrifices; and yet there are such enormous risks taken with little hearts, minds and bodies that it seems astonishing to me that God can allow us all to look after children, and even to let us make mistakes.  That’s how much He trusts us; and I tried in my turn to trust my own children at one stage after another - letting them make decisions, even letting them make a few mistakes or be hurt, as they stepped out, moved forward, observed, and drew conclusions: perhaps different from mine. 


By the love which God put into my heart for these children, He enabled me not only to care for them, but also to keep on praying that He’d bring them entirely to the knowledge of His Love. I was even keener for them to become holy than for them to be physically well; yet I was well aware of my own weaknesses; and so I prayed fervently that He would veil my bad example.  How can a mother try to shield her children from every harm, yet allow them to be damaged by her own failures?  I believe that God answered me by putting such love into their hearts that they’ve forgiven if not forgotten whatever faults of mine might have grieved them.


A sense of isolation.


During the busiest of those years, we had loads of friends living nearby, and more than a dozen children in the same road.  There was little traffic at any time of the year; and I used to find myself preparing ‘tea’ each day for twelve friends - or none.  The children were safe and happy in any of the houses in the street.  It was a real community, and we were grateful for all the loving friendships and simple gatherings: full of joy, as we shared the small dreams of everyday life, and passed around warmth and sympathy as well as chicken pox or ‘flu’.


All of this was thrilling when I was well;  but I was weak and in pain for weeks or months at a time, and couldn’t walk a long way.  It was a relief to have no proof of serious illness - yet I felt humiliated by my constant weakness.  It hadn’t depressed me - so far.  I loved the life we led; but I found myself, in my early thirties, reduced to walks of a few hundred yards.  Although the children were lively and adventurous, and we were full of plans and ideas, I hadn’t the strength to stand up for long, and grew impatient.  I still cooked large meals, and welcomed family and friends, twenty or thirty at a time, yet all that I’d done so easily with youthful energy now demanded extraordinary stamina;  and I was far from old.


Term-time was bearable, since I could rest, but the long school holidays eventually brought me low; and physical exhaustion was accompanied by a sort of heartache since, even with all the conversation and companionship of that place and era, I was still lonely, and felt isolated even amidst good friends.  I treasured the warmth and kindness of our neighbours: but although I had shared meals, conversations and parties, I’d been unable to share my faith.


Throughout my first ten years of Catholic life, there had been little human encouragement: few Catholic friends.  It was due to circumstance, despite my weekly attendance at the local Catholic Church.  Since we weren’t formally involved in Catholic education, although I taught the children what I could, I met no Catholic parents or teachers day by day; so I wasn’t fully involved in the Catholic Community. I had no opportunities for retreats, pilgrimages, or special celebrations - and few conversations about the Church, or the Council; and although I knew that this situation was far from ideal, I believed that it had to be regarded simply as a further trial. Faith told me that God is at work in every circumstance, even where there’s limited access to all the good things available in a lively Church community.


Dangers avoided.


It might be worth suggesting, however, that by God’s Providential care, I was isolated not only from the good Catholic company which might have consoled me but also from some of the faithless and disobedient urgings which were so prevalent in the nineteen-seventies and eighties. 


It had already been made harder for me to cling firmly to the constant teachings of the Church as I’d seen those sure teachings scorned by well-known Catholic writers.   I’d found that faithful Catholic teachers - the Holy Father amongst them - were routinely being dismissed as old-fashioned, authoritarian, patriarchal - or plain savage - for having restated what were the plain truths of the Catholic Faith: beliefs which were deemed unnecessarily difficult for modern enlightened men and women and plainly irrelevant to modern Catholic life.


I was spared the talks by extreme feminist teachers - whether Sisters or others - who spoke with exasperated pity of people who still practised “Pre-conciliar” devotions and clung to “Pre-conciliar” doctrine: as though the great Fathers of the Church, with the Ecumenical Councils before ‘Vatican Two’, with all of the Saints who had preached about Heaven and Hell and repentance and forgiveness rather than, primarily, about self-esteem and self-fulfilment, were so remote and “Pre-conciliar” as to be of little use to Catholics at the end of the twentieth century.


It seemed to be as though, until my faith grew stronger, God kept me safe from the sort of influences which would have left me confused.  If I’d been more exposed to dissenting voices I might have wondered if I needed to know all about the different ‘levels’ of consent which can be given to different sorts of statements made by the Magisterium, before I could decide whether or not to try to obey the Church on plain moral issues.  I might have been urged, as many are urged today, to look upon an encyclical such as ‘Humanae Vitae’ - which was greeted with shocked surprise in 1968 - as if it were the personal and erratic opinion of a foolish old man, instead of the authoritative teaching of the Church on married love: teaching which, at its heart, echoed and clarified much of what I’d read in Pope Pius XI’s “Casti Connubii” when I was exploring aspects of the Faith in the nineteen-sixties.

The Church’s constant teaching.


Perhaps I’d have come to believe that I can’t be an active and faithful Catholic unless I’m busy with a Ministry, or on the Parish Council; and it’s not good-hearted service which I’m questioning here, but only the frantic ‘activism’ that’s evident wherever people won’t accept that God can call us to fulfil His Will in quiet, hidden and prayerful ways.  I might have come to believe that we’re incapable of sharing the Faith with friends and neighbours unless we have a degree. I might have thought the following of Christ to be a complicated business, when, in truth, the Faith handed on since the time of the Apostles is, in its essence, simple enough for any willing child to understand: any child, or any child-like adult, who wants to know: “What is the Church’s constant teaching on this subject, or the Holy Father’s teaching on this new problem; and how can I please Christ best?  What is my plain duty towards God and my neighbour?”  And a true ‘child’ of God relies on Christ’s grace to obey those teachings and to fulfil that duty, rather than to search for reasons to bewail the plain truth and even to persuade others to join in the protest which is peculiarly labelled “loyal dissent.”


Dogma and discipline.


There were so many facets of Catholic life and teaching being held up for criticism, or even for ridicule, that I count myself fortunate that through regular prayer and the reading of good books, I was strengthened in my resolve to ask the best possible questions about every matter which was being discussed in the Catholic press and was supposedly a matter of ‘dispute’ and ‘controversy’.  I learned to ask: “What is the constant teaching of the Church in this matter?  What are the Holy Father and the Bishops recommending to us?  What has been the constant practice and witness of the Saints?”  I was well aware of the difference between the authoritative moral teachings of the Church - which cannot be changed - and what we call the ‘discipline’ of the Church, which can in theory be changed even if it seems not to be the Will of God in a particular era that change occur; so I would never have aligned myself with someone who would elevate custom to dogma; nor had I any yearning for a mythical ‘golden age’ of Catholicism. 


My only yearning was to be a faithful, twentieth-century Catholic, obedient in what was important, and thoughtful and generous-hearted about very minor matters which were not unreasonably the subject of discussion within the Church.


What acres of dismissive newsprint have been put before us, however, on those matters of faith and morals which have long-ago been recognised, defined and taught, and which so badly need defending, today.  What scorn has been  poured upon matters plainly understood and explained through both Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition.



Voices worth hearing.


Whenever I was tempted to allow myself to be flattened beneath the tidal wave of verbal abuse or jovial mockery which was pouring weekly even from Catholic publications upon everything seen as ‘pre-Conciliar’ or old-fashioned, I used to think about the many Saints whose life-stories I’d read, and I’d ask myself this question: “Whose voices are worth listening to?  Who encourages us most surely to follow the Way of Christ: the Way of the Saviour Who tells us to take up our cross, daily, and yet Who promised that “I AM GOING NOW TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU” (Jn 14:2) - in Heaven?  Is it those whom the Church holds up as role-models for us: the Saints who are very different individuals, firm-willed and fiery-hearted, yet who were humble and obedient, light-hearted and joyful - and who were burning with love for God and neighbour even while they spoke frankly about their sinfulness, and did penance, and urged others to do the same?  Or is it those fervent but misguided persons today who speak contemptuously about penance, never mention sin, repentance or sacrifice, see obedience as demeaning, consider the Saints of past times to have been unbalanced, promote personal fulfilment through the satisfaction of worldly longings, and dismiss as retrograde or unhealthy any expression of longing for holiness - or for Heaven?”


Orthodox reading material.


Probably it was because of the isolation I experienced in ‘cultural’ aspects of Catholicism that another danger was avoided, which might have endangered not my faith but this special task.  I mean that my work was wholly focused upon the needs of family and friends and needy neighbours; and my continuing personal study of things to do with faith was focused mainly on what was orthodox reading material - since I couldn’t go out and about as someone without children might have done; and so I was entirely ignorant of the fact that very many persons, both in this country and elsewhere, are busily writing about their visions or their supposed visions, attracting attention - whether deliberately, or through the inevitable chatter which accompanies anything unusual in human life.  Consequently, I wasn’t tempted to compare myself with anyone else, nor to imagine a role for myself that wasn’t of Our Lord’s devising.  I had no desire except to keep on trying to find out Our Lord’s Will  for me from one moment to the next, and to receive the grace to do it.


For all of these reasons, I thank God for the path along which He has led me.  A broad, attractive road might have led me to dangerous places, whereas the rocky, narrow and lonely road upon which Christ led me took me swiftly through a sort of mountain-pass: on a short route to another stage of the journey.


One family.


There were dangers in that isolation, of course.  The Church herself recommends that converts be thoroughly ‘inculturated’: that they see themselves as precious members of a large family, with a place and a role in the Catholic Church in or near their local community.  Hope flourishes in a good Catholic congregation, and faint hearts can be made bolder and stronger. But none of us who has been a bit isolated - apart from regular prayer and weekly Mass-going - can blame that isolation for faults and failures which stem from our own weak human nature.  If there is frequent and fervent ‘encouragement-in-faith’ available, it may well encourage people to remain on a ‘narrow road’ for a time.  It would have been a blessing for me to have been fully involved in a good Catholic community; yet difficult decisions would have faced me just the same.  No amount of community fervour can obviate the need for each individual to decide on his or her priorities, before God, in a particular way of life.  Temptations and trials in this life are inevitable, and each one of us stands alone, at some point, choosing to follow either God or ‘man’, and perhaps torn between Divine law and human preferences: between saintly ambitions and diverse temptations.



[Symbols of the Faith.


Having said that it’s not possible for some Catholics to be active in parish social life, I must almost contradict myself by begging everyone to be persistent in looking for ways of being thoroughly ‘in Communion’ with fellow-Catholics.  I want to urge people who have met opposition to their faith to make a stronger commitment to Christ and to His Church at the very earliest opportunity, to be braver about proclaiming that they are Catholic, and to be less apologetic about displaying symbols of the Catholic Faith wherever it seems appropriate.  We ought not to set out to discomfort others; yet if we’re so cautious that we remain invisible in a supposedly-Christian country, who will believe that the Catholic Faith is not merely practiced to some degree, but loved? 


Who will believe that Christ and His Holy Mother are supremely important to us, if we won’t bear a little mockery at displaying statues in our homes, or a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus?  Is it through tact, or cowardice or unbelief that so few homes possess a crucifix or a holy water stoup?


How I wish I could put a Catechism into every Catholic home, as well as a crucifix, and a statue or picture of Our Blessed Lady, as well as a Bible and the “Lives of the Saints.”  What an enormous quantity of scorn has been poured upon what’s been called the ‘ghetto culture’ of earlier Catholic communities.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful, now, if each one of us were as loyal, as brave and as grateful for our Faith as many of those who have lived before us.  How wrong it is to scorn or to ignore people who don’t share our Faith; but how wrong it is, too, to be anxious to minimise its importance in our lives as we converse with other people.  How tempting it can be to make it sound more ‘palatable’, and to forget that the Christ Who promised “a peace THE WORLD CANNOT GIVE” (Jn 14:27) also said that loyalty to Him would set “A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER”(Mt 10:35).                 


Surely everyone who follows Christ ought to “SINCERELY PREFER GOOD TO EVIL” (Rm 12:9) in ways which will help the voice of Good to speak louder.  Can’t we all collect, as far as circumstances allow, good Catholic newspapers, books, pamphlets and videos as encouraging material for ourselves and for our families and neighbours, as an ‘antidote’ to the publications which call themselves ‘Catholic’ yet which regularly denounce Church teaching, and as a source of information for interested friends?


Now that I’m writing about culture, I’m duty-bound to suggest that many Catholics in ‘inter-church’ families aren’t aware of the dangers which arise from a fairly casual abandonment of the cultural ‘casing’ in which Catholic Faith has been nurtured. I mean that although many ‘mixed marriages’ between practising Christians have resulted in homes with an unusual breadth of hospitality and tolerance, dangers lie in wait where a shamefaced and wholesale abandonment by the Catholic spouse of sacramentals and of little reminders of Catholic culture leads little by little to the ghastly idea that truths of the Faith, on which Salvation depends, can be cast aside with as little distress: for the sake of a false harmony.]


Weakness and pain.


If I return now to the long weary story of my increasingly poor health and my spiritual struggles, it’s to describe the point at which I finally learned to put my entire trust in God and to stop worrying about life, health, opinions, hopes and future; and that ‘point’ of utter surrender to Him came in my late ‘thirties’, but only when I’d learned from bitter experience that I can’t do anything by my own strength.


By the time I was thirty-four years old, I could go a hundred metres to the corner shop and back.  Long rambles with the children were a thing of the past.  There wasn’t much time for reading, yet a quick glimpse at a line from a good spiritual author used to remind me that God is as delighted by our faithfulness in little things as in great deeds.  In between outings to the supermarket and the school, I’d try to put my feet up for a few minutes, to open a trustworthy book.


Baron von Hugel was a great help for a while.  I liked his simple advice in his “Letters to a niece” that she patiently pack and unpack, and pack and unpack, on holiday, if that were the Will of God.  So for a long time, I washed and cooked and cleaned - and sat down - and started again, with as much grace as I could muster.  I believed against all the evidence that perseverance counted for more than impressive projects.  But when eventually every single day was passed in weakness and exhaustion, and it became a struggle to do simple chores, I became worn down by pain.  There was no prospect of relief or rest.  Even though my mind clung to God all the time, my heart was torn more and more by grief and fear.  It wasn’t mere tiredness which I felt, which every mother expects, but real weakness in my limbs.


I remember when the children were nine, seven and three, and still needed careful supervision and encouragement. I nearly wept with exhaustion by lunchtime.  The house was full of demanding people and I had many hours more work to do.  It’s impossible to sit and rest when caring for young children, but without frequent rests, I couldn’t do all the chores.  Yet if I rested, the washing stayed unwashed and the children squabbled and grew sad.  It was also painful to sit upright throughout evening engagements but I felt obliged to try.


Becoming sad and moody, I veered from optimism to anger, yet tried to look at the situation with different eyes.  How would I myself react to a person who was always ‘ailing’, and whose medical tests showed nothing strange at all?  It was bound to perplex and irritate people, and I became irritable too.  I was brave in some ways, yet behaved very badly in others. I thanked God for good friends and a kind G.P. 


Though tempted to self-pity, as I said, I still managed to sound fairly cheerful: and a firm commitment to my prayer-times kept me going.  As usual, I went to Mass and to Confession, and looked forward to the strength always gained in Holy Communion.  I knelt at home to pray two or three times a day, wherever in the house I could find a quiet corner if the children were occupied elsewhere.  Of course I prayed for healing, but the greatest pain was caused by my failure to accept the unexpected. I disliked my inefficiency, and was grieved by the attitude of good people who were puzzled by my weakness.



Invisible trials.


Two or three years more passed by in what seemed like an inhuman routine.  I had no doubts about God’s existence, or about His care; but prayers by myself in the kitchen, early each morning, became battles for hope, and self-control.  I worried about being seen as a weak-willed and neglectful mother; and because of pride, I disliked being pitied.  Then I grieved that I couldn’t do all that I’d done in the past - I: who was so lively and sociable, always ready to go to a party or a dance, or to paint until two in the morning if I had exciting work to finish.  There was no end to the fuel for the fire of self-pity. I fought on in shame and confusion, still believing in God, and still praying to have equal measures of charity and courage in my heart, yet in a mood now approaching despair.  Furthermore, in becoming self-pitying and sad because of ill-health and spiritual loneliness, I was tempted to cast a sour eye at every area of life: even to question the necessity of doing what others call unwaged mundane work.


Once, briefly, I was tempted by discontent to think that the sort of feminism which was being preached by bold and angry women writers through the newspaper columns of the nineteen-seventies might provide an alternative wisdom. I was urged, as so many other women were being urged, to see myself as trapped by an ogre called ‘domesticity’. I was urged to see the men in my life, whether they were relatives, priests, or doctors, as willing conspirators in a centuries-old policy of keeping women in the “slavery” of patriarchal systems of government: both ecclesiastical and secular.  No male escaped criticism. It’s a marvel that I had good friends: ‘housewives’  who had a balanced outlook and who could remind me, as I’ve reminded others since, of the privileges of womanhood, and of the extraordinary importance of good child-care: in the child’s own home, if possible, and by his or her own mother.  No beginning in life can rival a stable and warm family atmosphere.



[Secular doctrines.


How sad it is that so many women have been seduced, in the twentieth century, by the  more extreme doctrines of the “womens’ movement.”  Whenever clever propagandists in any revolution hold out the hope of power to angry workers, there’s a chance of success: unless some core value, or person or ideal or truth is judged worthy of being defended at any cost.  How many women have managed to stand firm for a life-time, in defence of motherhood, and marriage and faith?  I can’t tell.  But which woman, busy with demanding toddlers and a busy husband, hasn’t begun to long for more glamorous tasks to do, or more appreciation?  Which of us hasn’t felt a surge of longing to echo the call so frequently heard in modern-day books, magazines and television shows: “I demand respect; I insist that you value me and make me feel important, and not pity me for doing unskilled, undervalued and repetitive work.” 


Who can deny that it can be humiliating or tiresome to be patronised at social gatherings by those who assume that full-time housewives are dreary creatures with low intelligence and little conversation?  Who can deny that many men have taken advantage of superior physical strength, economic power or better education or that the gifts and labours of many women are taken for granted?  In a sinful world, we can hardly be surprised: though we ought not to condone evil.  But I learned - to my sadness, more than twenty years ago - that the most voluble apostles of feminism were beginning to pour scorn on Christian family life.  They were so keen to encourage women to use their skills in paid work - even as astronauts or foot-soldiers - that they portrayed women who were kept busy in the home with children, traditional skills and quiet routines as being spineless or defeatist.  The normal husband-wife relationship was depicted by some ardent feminists as being a state on a par with slavery. 


No-one mentioned, it seemed, the life-long ‘servitude’ to industry of men with bills to pay.  Few writers mentioned the need for calm, stable homes where calm, stable children might grow up without seeing themselves as obstacles to their mothers’ ‘self-fulfilment’.  How easy it is for us to absorb, as if by osmosis, the interpretations and insinuations which arrive in our houses and hearts through the un-Christian opinions of newscasters, for example, or through particular plays or films.  How greatly we need regular prayer, clear thought and doctrinally-sound sources of information to offset the barrage of faithless opinions which are put forward on every subject.


What extraordinary recommendations about charity and faithfulness Christ makes to anguished human beings: and how impossible, without God’s grace.  Yet what a marvel, that Christ Himself - and thousands of His Saints - have greeted trials and darkness with patience and fortitude, free of hatred and resentment.  How important it is that Christian men and women try to resist current un-Christian advice that we adopt a utilitarian approach, for example, to human life, as new plans emerge for the destruction of the sick unborn, and even for the chronically ill or for the aged.  How important it is that we don’t give in to current secular opinion on numerous important moral issues; and, in the matter of marriage and motherhood, how important it is that Christian wives and mothers remain faithful to the duties of their state and refuse to look upon simple work as ‘demeaning’.  What does it matter if they’re seen as foolish because they don’t keep demanding respect?  It’s true that women who endure real injustice deserve practical help, where this is possible, as well as sympathy, yet I believe that no angry woman’s scorn for men or for patriarchy echoes the Gospel message, in which Christ asks us follow His example of meekness and humility.]



Fear of failure.


Amongst the house-wives I knew was a friend who had four youngsters.  She wasn’t a church-goer.  She had, and has, a genuine and passionate concern for truth and justice, as well as a generous helping of common-sense.  She ruminated quite casually over a cup of coffee one day on the great privilege which we both enjoyed, of being able to stay at home peacefully, and without fear of starvation, in order to look after our children and to create a welcoming place of growth and safety. Her wise words helped to anchor me; and I’ve treasured the wisdom and warmth and wit of all my house-wife friends; but words couldn’t keep me going when I’d quite run out of energy and was almost overwhelmed by pain.  My legs remained weak, and I was crushed beneath the weight of innumerable chores.


Now, this wasn’t what God wanted - or, rather, each of the activities was good, but I had to learn that He’s not a Hero to be impressed by a list of tremendous deeds.  He wants our hearts, entirely, knowing that deeds will follow; but these will be calm deeds, well-chosen deeds, fulfilled in a way which accords with His Will.  Whether my achievements were seen or unseen, many or few, those carried out with great love and peacefulness for God’s sake would be the ones He would cherish.  So long as I was swept along by my emotions, or driven by others, or was full of my own ambitions - which had crept in, unnoticed, as we’d moved from one place to another - and as long as I was secretly longing for human approval, or success, all I did would be wasted, in God’s eyes.  I’d imagined that I was living for love; but I was still living in fear: fear of failure, fear of not getting or keeping what I wanted, fear of being un-loved or mocked, fear of making mistakes, and fear that in serving God I might lose all that I secretly hoped to keep.



[Tempted to refuse the Cross.


God is so good: even as He allows us to be tested.  It’s only through sufferings and trials that we’re forced to decide, in our inmost hearts, whether or not to give Him first place in our lives, and so to move swiftly towards the true peace and joy that only He can give. This means, as I know from experience, that we can either ‘wave away’ our trust in Him, our faith fading, as we blame Him or others for our plight, or we can doggedly keep believing, and grow in trust: sure in our hearts that the God who made us will bring us safely through all earthly distress. 


This is the test which all sincere Christians must face - not once, but many times. Each one of us will have to stand on a little Calvary, where we shall be asked to accept the Cross, and will be tempted to refuse it.]



Trying to cope.


There came a time when, for various reasons, I saw myself as unloved, overworked, sick and alone.  Too tired to do everything I felt I ought to do, I hardly knew what to tackle next. ‘Cutting corners’ and trying to cope, I felt that I’d been judged and found wanting.  I didn’t trust enough in God, and found myself longing for a way out.  One sin led to another as I tried to see where God’s Will lay in the apparently conflicting demands made upon me. 


For the whole time that there was no clinical evidence of disease, I know I was seen as merely tired and inadequate - despite my enjoyment of different interests and my determination to do as much as I could.  I was seen as someone who didn’t enjoy her life and who therefore developed symptoms, when it was the other way around.  The symptoms were so painful to me that life was almost unendurable. I felt as though I were a coal-miner suffering from pneumonia who was trying to wield a shovel with his usual gusto.  There were invisible trials, too, besides pain, but this isn’t the place to list them.


Just when I thought I couldn’t cope for much longer the demands on me seemed to increase.  I gave in to temptations from within and without and was appalled at myself.  Yet I clung to the Sacraments and never fully turned away from God in my heart.  I longed to love and serve Him, even in exhaustion and grief, but I was attempting, from duty and fear, to do work which would have taxed even the fittest wife or mother.  My misery increased.


What a catalogue of woes!  Alas, it was made worse because I was worrying about six different goals, when Christ said that “FEW ARE NEEDED, INDEED ONLY ONE” (Lk 10:41), for the perfect service of God and for the perfect fulfilment of His Will. Lacking confidence, fearful of appearing weak, living in dread of neglecting the children, I shied away from what I might face if I lived in utter truth and simplicity, becoming honest and forthright before everyone, admitting my weaknesses but living at every moment in a way consistent with my most heart-felt yearnings.


Christ in ‘the depths’.


The war within me was ceaseless, and I came to see with great clarity that the service of God with a pure and honest heart would mean the renunciation of all human hopes and ambitions - however valuable they seemed.  All my hope would have to lie in God, and in His care and in His plans, no matter what anyone might think.


Only one friend at that time had any inkling of what I underwent.  I said very little to her, and nothing at all to others.  Throughout those years I appeared outwardly cheerful, and it wasn’t simply a deceitful mask.  Since I never gave up daily prayer and had never decided to abandon God I still thought it wicked to cast a blight on other people by appearing gloomy in God’s service, and I thought it wrong to burden others with my woes.


Only God’s strength in prayer gave me the faith to beg the ‘impossible’ daily, and to continue to believe that I’d be rescued from the darkness of the “pit” in which I saw myself imprisoned.  Faith alone took me from one day to the next (T:18). It seemed as though I was caught between one unhappiness and another; and I couldn’t choose. I sought to avoid becoming bitter, or growing ungrateful.  I still believed that everything good in my life gave me a genuine reason for thanks to God; and I never ceased to be grateful for the sacraments: for Mass with Holy Communion, and for Confession, even though it seemed, at times, as though there was an invisible, palpable barrier in front of me whenever I approached our church to enter it.  I had to force myself to push past it, in order to go to Mass; and I can say now, from experience, that it was yet another temptation to give up prayer, and to give up hope in God.


Life became even more difficult. Coping with some injustices and many temptations, all the time ill and in pain, I was near despair.  I was a failure in more than one sense; I wished I could always appear patient and serene; and since I couldn’t, I  was horribly ashamed of setting a bad example. 


Thanks to God’s grace alone, I never lost hope.  I struggled to be faithful in the darkness, not realising that Christ was waiting in the depths of my heart, ready to hold me and bring comfort, whenever I would freely put my trust in Him.



A blessing in disguise.


Once again in my life, a disaster happened, but one for which I would later be grateful, as so much good came through it that I was helped to move forward with  new vigour, wholly determined to put God first in everything.


One evening at twilight when I was dashing out in the car to buy some food, my car crashed into a stationary vehicle.  I hadn’t seen it.  No-one was hurt, thank God.  But I was shocked and anxious, for good reason.  I was arrested and was locked in a cell for an hour, although, to tell the truth, I was shocked to realise, when I was invited to come out, that I was reluctant to leave.  If someone had said that I had to stay there for a week, I’d have been relieved.  It would have meant that I could rest for a week, instead of going back to my constant round of exhausting activities, with the incessant ‘phone calls and the late nights.  That was how tired I felt. Then within a few weeks I was banned from driving for a year.


It was hardly something I could boast about; and it was inconvenient in several ways; but what a blessing in disguise. But for the first time in years I wasn’t able to ferry three children and friends several times daily in the holidays from A to B.  No longer was I able, weak and unwell, to shift large boxes of groceries in and out of shops, car and house at frequent intervals.  Nor could I visit the distant sick, exhibit my paintings, or go to the innumerable social events where my presence required transport.  But I had a great deal of time for thinking and for prayer.


Out of the sense of disgrace and disaster, peace emerged, although it was peace in the midst of humiliation and a sense of failure.  I hadn’t a shred of self-satisfaction left about the least of my gifts or achievements.  I had great faith in God, however, and went on blindly putting one foot in front of the other, to do my daily chores, and to go regularly to Mass, Holy Communion, and Confession.



A gentler routine.


As the months went by in a far-gentler routine, I began to ‘see’ everything more clearly, in God’s own Light.  It shone brightly upon every thought and desire in my heart  That’s why a new life began for me: a new life of the soul, as soon as I’d decided at last to put all my trust in God, forever.  On what was one of the worst and most humiliating days of my life I began my new life in God.  One terrible day - or, rather, on a day more terrible than most - I came to realise the extent of my sinfulness. I fell to my knees in prayer in some far corner of the house, overwhelmed with the God-given sight of my frailty, and thoroughly contrite.


This was the moment in which my hopes of being saintly were entirely shattered. I don’t mean that I no longer wanted to become holy: quite the contrary; but I was so humbled and humiliated by the realisation of my sinfulness that the last vestiges of my early notions of sanctity were shattered: of sanctity being something to do with will-power and self-control.  I hadn’t managed to learn that sanctity consists of God’s own pure and beautiful holiness pouring through the contrite heart of someone who believes in Him, repents, and is willing  to accept His gifts.  It’s true that every faithful Christian hopes to control his foolish impulses, fears, and riotous emotions; but humility is the key to holiness.  It opens up a ‘channel’ through which God can send down the torrent of His own grace and glory, to work a wonderful transformation.


From the moment of this new conversion I could suddenly ‘see’ clearly: ‘see’ life, and life’s duties, and persons, through God’s eyes.  Then I looked carefully at my whole life, in His inner light.  Finally, I dared to consider what might be the worst that I’d be required to face, were I to follow God’s way at every second. In a strange burning prayer of complete trust and abandonment, I asked God for His help in making choices.


Taught, in a mysterious way.


Suddenly I was taught by God within my heart’s darkness, in a silent, mysterious way; yet it was only because I was willing, at last,  to listen to His least whisper.  He steered me, very gently, towards simplicity and holiness, telling me:-


                        Follow My inspiration.  In order to serve Me with a pure and honest heart you must renounce all human hopes and ambitions, no matter how valuable they seem to be. (T:18 #1)


                        Consider your sinfulness and My tremendous holiness.  How deep is the ‘chasm’ which is inhabited by everyone who is estranged from Me, or who hopes to ignore My Will. (T:18 #2)


                        Recognise the truth: that you have no hope but in Me, Jesus Christ, your Lord. (T:18 #3)


                        Put your trust in Me.  I love you!  I Who am God-made-man am ‘waiting’ for you in every circumstance, waiting to touch you in any sort of grief, remorse or loneliness, whether you have brought them upon yourself or have suffered at the hands of others. (T:18 #4)


                        Do your duty towards Me before anyone or anything else. Love Me and love your neighbour, and keep My Commandments, no matter what the cost. (T:18 #5)


                        Love your true neighbours; love those whom I call you to love and serve, close by, in daily activities, as you fulfil your ordinary duties. (T:18 #6)


                        Don’t try to serve two ‘masters’.  Commitment to Me and to My Holy Will comes first, even if this should bring you further humiliations and loneliness. (T:18 #7)


                        Examine your heart’s true desires, which determine your behaviour.  Don’t expect to serve Me and also to be a great success with others.  You cannot always follow Me, ‘The Crucified’, and enjoy a good reputation on earth. (T:18 #8)


                        Abandon hopes of pleasure, respect or sympathy, if you wish to serve Me.  Accept whatever joys I choose to give to you, as I guide you from minute to minute. (T:18 #9)


                        Thank Me for having loved, guided and sustained you throughout so many burdens, broken dreams and causes for shame. (T:18 #10)


                        Turn to Me, with all your failings.  I will bring you towards perfection in the measure in which I become your only true desire and goal. (T:18 #11)


                        Look into your heart to see whether or not you love Me.  You will know that you truly love Me when you see that your heart is no longer ‘divided’ by conflicting desires. (T:18 #12)


                        Give Me your whole-hearted loyalty. (T:18 #13)


On wings of faith.


A great deal of teaching was ‘given’ swiftly in prayer, without a sound being heard.  I absorbed it all.  I knew it was Christ. I knew He loved me, but felt nothing but shame. I was determined to follow His instructions, though I felt broken-hearted, recognising His goodness, and my frailty; and so I asked again for His strength and for His virtues.  Then I found that I was being ‘taught’ once again.  Christ told me very gently, in my soul’s centre:


                        Turn to Me, whatever burdens or griefs you carry.  I know all your battles, and I see the trials and cruelties you suffer. But I don’t ask you to bear more than I bore (T:19 #1)


                        Believe in My power.  Have faith in Me.  At the right moment, in an instant, I can lift you up and carry you on wings of faith, so making things easier than you had ever dared hope was possible. (T:19 #2)


With utter trust, I believed everything Christ told me.  All at once, He had shown me my sins, forgiven me, and brought me hope and comfort.


For many years, my fearful heart had been thinking: “Christ will love me when I’m perfect”, but that wasn’t the Christian creed.  I knew at last that “HE LOVED US FIRST” (1 Jn 4:19). He was willing to bring me towards Himself, because He loves me, and by His power: but only if I gave Him my whole-hearted permission: such is His respect for us and for our real freedom.  He helped me to see that my heart had been divided for about ten years.  It was true that I’d tried to do His Will and to obey His Laws, and to love those whom He’d put close to me.  But at the same time I’d set limits to the depths of my self-offering.


The bottom of the ‘pit’.


On that Sunday evening, as I sat and prayed before God in great sorrow, silently considering my way of life at the bottom of that particular “pit”, I realised that few situations on earth last indefinitely. I needn’t assume that every detail of my life was going to remain the same.  Opinions change, and circumstances alter.   I knew that I had to re-assess my priorities as a Christian. I must become wholly devoted to Christ, Who said: “set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). I must love God and do His Will, and love my neighbour and love myself, whether healthy or unwell, labelled or undiagnosed, feeling happy or depressed.


It was overwhelmingly plain that I had to make a firmer commitment to God, even if my choice should bring problems. Christ had never left me alone, indeed, had pursued me.  I’d been held up by Him through exhaustion, burdens and broken dreams, and through shame at all my failings, too. It was He Who enabled me to pray a true prayer that day, as I knelt in my house, repentant, when everyone else was out.


By the grace of God alone, and in a single moment, I made a new beginning.  I untangled several guidelines which would lead me up to a more God-centred if very feeble life.


For the rest of my life.


On that painful but wonderful day of grace, nearly twenty years ago, I decided with all the power of my heart that I would turn to God in every circumstance. I wouldn’t hesitate. I would choose Him as He had chosen me, and would serve Him alone.  With Christ’s help, I would love my neighbour as Christ had loved me, that is - at any cost, wholeheartedly, until death.  I would live for Christ, and would do His Will at every moment rather than my own.  I would bear sickness patiently, for love of Him, and would shoulder all misunderstanding and pity.  I would ask for the grace to serve Him whatever the cost - for evermore.  I decided that I would live entirely for Him, even if this spiritual darkness were to continue, unrelieved, for the rest of my life.  Indeed, that’s what I really  expected.


What other people thought of me didn’t matter any more.  I was determined that I wouldn’t compromise. I wouldn’t be half-hearted in God’s service.  I would do what was right, and nothing else. I would never, ever again, willingly or deliberately offend God, or go against His love or against His laws, in the least degree.  Those were my fervent resolutions: not to be perfectly fulfilled in future years, but never, so far, deliberately to be set aside: thanks to His goodness.


Everything  I’ve described  was worked out in an instant; and I thank God for accompanying me there.  The choices were stark but very clear. I begged Christ to give me faith, courage and love; and suddenly, I found that He gave me everything I needed.  He gave me a new strength.



[A contrite soul.


How I long to be able to convince other people that repentance before God is the key  to the ‘gateway’ of the soul: to the ‘door’ through which God can pour within us not only the peace which He longs to share, but also the sweetness and delight which can’t be found except in Him.


It’s so sad to think that people who insist that they’re too mature or enlightened to wallow in ‘guilt feelings’ and who claim that the Church is wrong to encourage sorrow-for-sin and reparation, are keeping joy at a distance.  They’re not only mistaken, but are depriving themselves of the extraordinary joys which God loves to give to every “BROKEN SPIRIT” (Ps 51:17) who has responded to the urgent plea which Christ made in His public ministry, when He said: “REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS CLOSE AT HAND” (Mt 3:2).


By repentance, we might experience temporary distress and humiliation, at least at the beginning of our spiritual journey when the destruction of pride within us is felt as pain; yet repentance is the key  to peace, the gateway to the Kingdom within the soul. Without repentance, we are ‘locked out’ from God’s Bliss; but through it, we can find true friendship with our amazing, consoling God.



Reconciliation and Bliss.


Looking back now, I marvel at how patiently Christ had ‘waited’ for the moment when - quite freely - I’d choose to make true friendship with Him the most important goal of my life.  In prayer, He continued His instructions. He advised me, with infinite gentleness:


                        Turn to Me promptly, in every struggle to be free from sins and failings. (T:21 #1)


                        Trust in Me.  I can transform you.  All I want is your goodwill and your sincere if pitiful efforts. (T:21 #2)


                        Admit your weaknesses to Me.  When you have struggled against them for a while, and have therefore turned to Me wholeheartedly, I Myself - by My power - will complete your transformation. (T:21 #3)


                        Give your wholehearted permission to Me, so that I can help you.  My respect for you - as for everyone - is too great to allow Me to ‘bully’ you. (T:21 #4)


                        Confess your sins.  Be reconciled.  In this way you co-operate with Me and prove your devotion. (T:21 #5)


The very next weekend, I went to church earlier than usual. After pacing up and down, inside and outside for many long minutes, agonising not only over the revelation of my sins, but over the question of what had been sinful, and what hadn’t, I was given the grace to make a more thorough-than-usual confession.   I was reconciled and forgiven.  It was a painful operation, but I shall never forget its after-effects.


Before I even had a chance to pray for the priests who, for the love of Christ, listen to the terrible things we have to tell, I was suddenly and for the first time nearly overcome with supernatural Bliss.


A bright banner, on a battlefield.


Christ was with me, though unheard and unseen.  I was utterly light and joyous in His presence.  It was as though my soul was illumined, soaring in its new freedom, as I walked outside in unexpected and purely child-like delight.  It would have been impossible to kneel in church any longer, nor could I have gone home in such radiance without evoking comments. In an effort to postpone the moment of re-immersion into my busy and noisy routine, I walked with Christ along the pavements and past the shops, out in the fresh air, yearning to stay like that for a long time.


Now I knew that Christ had loved me all the time. Now I knew that He had forgiven every single sin.  It was as though He held up my soul for one day, like a bright banner, triumphant at the working of His Grace in me.  That’s what I learned, in an instant of astonishing union.


Christ explained to me, with infinite kindness, as I stood there on the pavement:-


                        Think about My joy!  Forgiveness of your sins brings joy, light and peace not only to you, but to Me, your Saviour; I am made joyful by every repentance and conversion. (T:21 #6)


                        See how I delight in your co-operation.  I am triumphant at the working of My grace in you, as you bravely follow My loving inspirations and do My Will. (T:21 #7)


                        Look, upwards!  See what I see.  Your soul now shines like a bright banner, held aloft as if on a battlefield where Good struggles against evil.  I am triumphant that you have turned to me and are letting Me reign in your daily life. (T:21 #8) (WC:21)


Individual souls.


For a minute or two I walked on a little further, my soul still engulfed in light and joy.  I came to a local fun-fair where people were pushing and twisting past one another amongst the crowd.  I saw a tired man who was carrying a child; then I noticed his sad face - and then one more nearby.  For the first time in quite this way, I saw all the faces - the persons - just as Christ sees them, with His eyes, as people surged around the stalls. Then Christ reminded me that although I am unique, and tremendously precious to Him, and reconciled, I have in common with the rest of mankind a degree of loneliness, with struggle and apprehension too, at times. I was suddenly taught, by Christ, with astonishing sureness and clarity, that I should be as compassionate to other people as Christ had been towards me.  He explained to me:


                        Look upon others as if with My eyes.  Try to be loving, patient and sympathetic.  Each individual soul is known to Me.  Each heart suffers alone, bearing his own particular burdens. (T:30 #1)


                        Remember that it’s because of My humanity that you have a special obligation.  Each person demands your love, because of My humanity and My Holy Passion.  Each person created by Me is part of My flesh and blood. Also - if I love each person so much that I suffered for him, how can you fail to recognise each one’s importance?  How can you fail to love him for My sake? (T:30 #2)


                        Never fail in charity.  To hurt another person is to hurt Me, and is therefore to hurt yourself too, since you and I now live united to one another by grace, as well as by our humanity. (T:30 #3)


The keys to the treasury.


I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience was a gift from Christ which He, my God and Saviour, was ‘enabled’ to give to me only because of my gift to Him that very day: I mean, the gift of love and contrition.  By confessing my sins to the priest, in the Sacrament of penance, in utter determination never to offend God again, I’d unlocked the door to many special graces.


How I long to bring other people towards Reconciliation, now that I know how lavishly God wants to shower His gifts upon us: grace upon grace, pure hope and pure Love: astonishing rewards for our feeble attempts to please Him. (T:17).  What depths, yet what clutter there is within our souls; and what a small place I had reserved for Christ, Who longed to be my whole Life!  What silly trinkets I had longed for, when the keys of the whole “treasury” could be mine - if only I would turn away from the trashy and the fake, and from the hollow stones of success, pride or popularity, which the world sees as ‘treasure.’