Bank Holiday greetings come your way this weekend together with our Newsletter. Hopefully, these lines find you safe and well, as everyone seems to be saying, to which I also add sane, an important ingredient in life’s mixing bowl! As for myself, I am the former two, thankfully, but the jury is out on the latter. This Sunday I shall celebrate my eighth weekend of Holy Masses without you being physically present, yet you are all very much with me in prayerful remembrance. None of us is walking through this period of time alone. The great virtues of Eastertide, Faith, Hope and Love unite us, and this weekend, for many, there is a tangible sign of that second gift, hope, as we await words from the Prime Minister which may see a gentle form of relaxation to some of the current restrictions affecting our day to day life, work and system of education.
Already I hear voices excited and keen to get back to normal, eager to return to a way of life that we all too often take for granted, desperate for shops to fling wide their doors and a resumption of the café culture. Something tells me, it may not be quite like this at the beginning. There is always a need to walk before we can run, and numerous factors, well beyond the comprehension of many of us, will clamour for respect and impact whatever words are spoken by a Prime Minister, the gravity of whose own illness meant that contingency plans were in place if he himself succumbed to Covid-19.
When I first began putting pen to paper in order to produce something to be read by a small audience I learnt a lesson about walking and running; the difference between the accomplishments of youthful enthusiasm, and a project never quite complete, a lifetime’s work, awaiting further additions, sometimes not by the person who laid the cornerstone. In this there is an echo of some words shared last week: We lay foundations that will need further development.
My education came in the classroom of family history, an all-consuming passion in my early-20s. I was richly blessed with a living archive of elderly relatives, all willing to share memories, stories, identify relatives on ageing photographs etc. Long hours were spent in libraries both near and further afield where I would pour over microfilms, fiches, and various church records. Sometimes I would return home jubilant at a discovery made, whilst other days were frustration-filled, lived beneath a cloud of disappointment: seemingly wasted hours of bus travel and careful, but fruitless, research. Anyone who has undertaken such a project will be familiar with these emotions, I’m sure.
An ally in my research, appreciative of my ability to add detail to his life’s quest of creating a definitive family tree, was a much older distant relative. His ambition was to add leaves to branches, to reveal a further backward layer allowing him to come face to face with the names of yet another generation from which he and I were descended. Too young to fully comprehend the craftsmanship of his labours, which would never be complete, always awaiting a further addition, I was eager to produce a work that brought together, not a tree of names and dates, but the stories of the leaves on the end of many of the branches that he had nurtured on countless reams of paper, across many a decade. Having received a hesitant and cautious blessing to my ambition from my co-family historian the publication went ahead. It covered a mere century and a half of history, tracing a family reliant on a living made from a cottage-based industry in modest surrounds above Halifax to one, by 1950, residing across numerous global locations including Australia, Canada and America, not to forget Otley, of course ! It told a story, or more correctly celebrated a marriage of facts and handed down tales. Ultimately it gave great joy and pride to those of a particular generation, now all long gone, that I had sat with, listened to, sought clarification through the questioning of and had had many a laugh with. However, it was the interest that I’d shown in their loved ones, together with places, by-gone times, and personal events that was the key to the opening of a previously securely locked vault of distant human memories and images rarely exhibited other than in dusty and disregarded family albums.
Appreciative noises, for which I was grateful, did come from my relative. He taught me the importance of using sand rather than concrete! A model constructed of sand can be altered and adapted. Concrete is a tougher beast to remold when set. That is why when I produce anything for a wider audience, usually historical, I will title it with an A rather than a The. The former allows for it to be improved, built upon, and reworked if necessary. The latter is far more definitive, almost unalterable. Our war cemeteries pilgrims will have heard Peter Bennett quoting me by referring to “a work in progress.” It is what I say about anything I write. With the ink barely dry someone inevitably makes contact offering new information or a much sought after photo. There is always more to be discovered and found; alteration and adaptation have become valuable skills and tools as I walk through the verdant pastures of historical research.
Let me return to thoughts of our ability to rush and haste, amble or loiter. The imagery and significance of walking, or of pilgrimage, has rich associations with people of belief, and its benefits have been widely acknowledged by the likes of the philosopher Albert Camus who poignantly wrote: Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Walk beside me, and just be my friend.
Whatever we may be able to do after Sunday’s announcement, many will need us to continue to walk with them in friendship, not least the anxious, nervous and fearful. If we run, driven by enthusiastic and competitive haste, then some will be left behind, and we’ll be adopting the guise of the hungry wolf, whose presence divides and scatters, in the same way that persecution did in the Acts of the Apostles. Instead, our mission continues to be inspired by the understanding of the Good Shepherd who allows excess energy and adrenaline to be channeled and used for the benefit of all: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11) In this way we will all arrive together. Perhaps in truly walking as a pilgrim people alongside those who linger and loiter new friendships will be made and significant stories shared.
The Gospel of this weekend presents us with a couple of characters, Thomas and Philip, who seek definitive and concrete answers, as well as a detailed map. Having grown tired of walking, they are now bracing themselves for a sprint if not a run. In response the man who has just washed their feet, in a gesture of humble service, reveals who He is: the Way, the Truth and the Life. In other words He is the map, the destination and the journey. St. Philip is portrayed as being very much ahead of the crowd in sacred scripture. He is chomping at the bit, eager, enthusiastic, driven and motivated. A disciple of the Baptist, he subsequently follows the one John points out to be the Lamb of God, and later introduces Nathaniel (Bartholomew) to Jesus. Philip is the disciple who not only asks Jesus how he is going to feed the 5000, but also points out how large the bill would be for such generous picnic-style hospitality! For all Philip’s virtues, and there are many, Jesus points out that the answer to his question has already been given but perhaps he has been in too much of a rush to notice: to have seen me is to have seen the Father. In other words Jesus encourages Philip to stop and think, pause and reflect on what he’s been a part of: the will of the Father being carried out amongst the carefully crafted work of Their hands by the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Any journey is far more than the starting point and the end. What Jesus does is to give Philip permission to stare out of the window and delight in the view, to capture the instant, to take notice, above all to live in the moment which is now, and not to arrive before everyone else, otherwise he may discover that whilst he knows where he is, he may not understand why he is there!
On Friday, like many, I took the time to pause, to linger and loiter. At 11 o’clock I was dressed is some liturgical finery, as befitted the occasion, and stood in Cleckheaton’s Memorial Park to remember the fallen on the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe. During the two minutes silence I looked at the first alphabetically listed name on the Second World War Memorial, Jock Adamthwaite, who was described in the local press, at the time of his death, as being a member of the St. Paul of the Cross Church, Cleckheaton. He is buried in the large and immaculately maintained cemetery at Cassino, at the bottom of the Monte (mountain) which houses the vast Benedictine Abbey, the focal point of vicious conflict in 1944. A number of years ago, I had the honour of celebrating Holy Mass in this cemetery, unaware of the connection to the Spen Valley which would become so significant.
Over the weeks after VE Day in 1945 some ten Services of Thanksgiving were held in St. Paul’s Cathedral, attended by thousands. One of the intercessions began with the words: Let us offer ourselves afresh to God praying that we may be enabled to fulfil His purpose in the world. It continued, using some adapted words taken from a speech of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, reminding those at prayer that their work was not complete, but a continuing exercise. The prayer called on those offering it to: strive to finish the task which thou has appointed us; to bind up the nations’ wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan; to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. There is clearly much more still to be done!
In my lingering and loitering on Friday I was not alone, and I searched my conscience in regard to the current legislation regarding gatherings. As judge and jury I decided that I wasn’t contradicting any law, as I was a just an individual, who at a certain moment and in a particular place had halted my journeying to remember. It was purely coincidental that I was part of a traffic jam of others who had stopped at the same time, on the same path and for the same reason. A gathering is what I look forwards to, a collective is what we are now, each in our own place and space pausing, joining in and benefitting from our Spiritual Communion on a weekly and daily basis.
This weekend as candles are lit, and Holy Mass begins in both of our churches with the words In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit please be one of the collective, in your own home surrounded by the familiar, who are looking forward to a time of gathering in the familiarity of either Holy Spirit or St. Paul’s. In so doing you will be living out an element of the Gospel message that we do not have to see to know and believe.
The opportunity to pause and reflect on Friday morning – which noticeably wasn’t observed by all – was not the end of the journey, just a part. Whilst guns may have fallen silent in Europe in May of 1945, a ferocious, brutal, atrocious and often barbaric conflict continued in the Far East, often referred to as the forgotten war. Victory over Japan eventually came on 15th August. Perhaps by the time we see that date on our calendars, which has a special significance anyway as it is the feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady, we will be less of a collective and more of a gathering. Until then may we make the most of the journey, and take simple pleasure in the view from our window.
United in affection and prayer, Fr. Nicholas
Let us also take a moment to remember, this weekend, the members of our own Faith Family who gave their lives so that we could enjoy freedom and peace. When you go home tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow we gave our today.
Lieutenant Wilfrid Trevor Taylor (+12.04.1943)
200654, 11 L. of C. Sigs. Royal Corps of Signals
(Buried War Cemetery, Annaba, Algeria)
Corporal John James Quinn (+22.04.1943)
4699336, 2/4th Bn., King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
(Buried Medjez-El-Bab War Cemetery, Tunisia)
Private John Christopher Wall (B.04.01.1921 +06.05.1943)
4627623, 1st Bn., Duke of Wellington’s (West Yorkshire Regiment)
(Buried Massicault War Cemetery, Tunisia)
Signalman Jack Adamthwaite (B.1906 +03.12.1943)
2389896, 56th Div. Sigs., Royal Corps of Signals
(Buried Cassino War Cemetery, Italy)
Sergeant (Air Bomber) Norman Fisher (B.09.04.1921 +23.01.1944)
1451885 Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
(Buried Cleckheaton New Cemetery)
Trooper Walter H. Pollard (B.27.08.1917 +11.11.1944)
4624180 / 145 (8th Bn. The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment) Regiment,
Royal Armoured Corps
(Buried Cesena War Cemetery, Italy)