I was asked to make a personal statement during the evening mission service on Prayer. A somewhat daunting subject for most of us, particularly when feeling inadequate about the amount of time and energy dedicated in prayer to our Lord. I was asked to talk about my prayer life in the context of our busy family life, and as one who spends a large part of every working day either at work in the City of London, or commuting back and forth between home and work. But I was, and am, all too aware of similarly busy people in the parish who make a great deal more time and space in their weekly lives for prayer in the family home or at Church, for instance through an active and regularly participation in Eucharistic Adoration at St Thomas'.
I knew in thinking about what I would share with the congregation, that I would base it around a daily morning prayer that I have offered up to the Lord for the past 4 years or so, but other than that I had little else I planned to say on the subject. Standing waiting my turn to speak at the podium, it occured to me that my sense of inadequacy (and perceived deficit of time for prayer) was probably an important part of what I had to say on the subject, and I remembered a story my wife Ingrid has told of our years immediately after arrival back in the UK with three very young children. I recalled some of this story with the congregation in making my statement.
Ingrid was looking after our young twins during Mass at Ealing Abbey one Sunday morning, when each child simultaneously made a dash for freedom, one for the sanctity of the altar and the other for the back of the Church and the exit. Ingrid decided to first collect the child making for the altar, and then carrying this little one, she made a dash for the back of the Church to stop the second twin making for the exit. She had just completed this impressive physical challenge, when a sympathetic Priest from the Abbey appeared at the back of the Church, and Ingrid highlighted her frustration at the inability to fully engage in the Mass whilst caring for such live-wire children. His response was magnificent, "Practical spirituality, my dear, that's what you are living out through care of your young children during the Mass." Presumably, I was following in the other great tradition of the Church, sitting comfortably in the pews with our eldest daughter listening to the words of our Lord, in blissful ignorance of the domestic mayhem Ingrid was struggling to keep under control within the Church.
Such practical spirtuality is something I thought many of us can relate to, as we struggle to make time for prayer in our busy daily lives, and in my case I find the daily routine of the commute into London by train is a good practical place and time to make space for daily prayer. If I can, before checking overnight emails on my Blackberry, or opening my newspaper etc, I start each train journey into London with a short prayer. The prayer is an extraction from the St Andrew's Holy day Mass celebration:
|Be a rock of refuge for me,|
a mighty stronghold to save me,
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
For your name's sake, lead me and guide me.
Into your hands I commend my spirit,
It is you who will redeem me, Lord.
As for me, I trust in the Lord:
let me be glad and rejoice in your love.
Let your face shine on your servant.
Save me in your love.
You hide them in the shelter of your presence
from the plotting of men.
It's a very small commitment to make, but it's one that I feel has made a real difference in developing my spiritual life, and is part of including the Lord in the daily challenge of my life. It was a privilege to share the above perspectives on prayer, alongside three other members of the St Thomas' congregation. The different approaches we each outlined seemed to offer some useful variety of ideas and experiences for the congregation to reflect on in their own lives. It was then equally meaningful after the service, at the supper provided by such generous hands and indeed over the course of the mission week, to have various members of the congregation that night share their own prayer experiences with me and others in the parish. One particular inspiring example (which I believe at least one other commuting parishioner has also adopted), was that of someone's daily attendance at Mass near Waterloo East station on route to work in the West End of London. When we come together to share our faith in the Lord, we truly can inspire and enrich such faith greatly.
Andrew La Trobe
SECOND TESTIMONY: Importance of Family in my Decision to Become a Catholic
For any committed Christian the power of the gospel stands in its own right. Whatever your background, if the news is out there – you’re going to hear it and respond. Right?
But one of the problems – as we all know – is that there’s a lot of noise out there. There are a lot of conflicting messages whirling around. So what do you, an ordinary person do? How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?
I suppose, when you’re young, the three most powerful formative influences are family, friends and school – and of these three family is the most powerful influence of all.
In my case, family explains both why I failed to come to the Church for the first 40 years of my life, but also why I have embraced it now.
I was brought up in what might now be described as an ‘aggressively secular’ household. My father was a devout atheist. My mum went with the flow. Both of them were good, moral, decent people – but had no faith. We didn’t even go to church at Christmas or Easter to hedge our bets! The only concession by Mum and Dad was to have my sister, brother and me baptised into the C of E – but that’s as far as it went.
From time to time, I thought about becoming an active Christian. On one occasion I attended an evangelical protestant event in the City. When someone dressed in a skeleton outfit leapt onto the table in front of me to warn me about death, it didn’t frighten me into their Church – it left me reaching for the exit.
I knew that the Catholic Church did some marvellous things. For example, in Mozambique in the early 1990s I was deeply involved in the peace process that ended a long and bloody civil war. I worked closely with the Catholic Church and the Sant’ Egidio community – and even got to visit their base in Rome on a number of occasions. But that wasn’t enough to persuade me to break the habit of a lifetime.
No, the breakthrough came when I had the good sense to marry a Catholic 14 years ago! But even then, the process was a slow one.
Madeleine never ever pressed or pushed me towards the Catholic faith. She simply led me gently, over time, by pure example.
Initially, she went to Church and I stayed at home. Then, while we were posted in Colombia, I brought our very young children to the little Catholic school where there was an English mass. Initially I stayed outside and played with them. But I soon found myself naturally drawn in by the amazing American Franciscan nuns who ran the school and the Benedictine Priest, Father Phillip who took mass. I became a regular attender. By the time we left Bogota, I had become part of the community, but still not a Catholic.
Moving back to my old home town of Sevenoaks where I grew up in a secular household, I found myself joining a wonderful community of committed Catholics. With my daughters growing up as Catholics and Madeleine busying herself around the parish, it finally seemed to me that I was ready to join the Church. I discussed this with Father Richard and he was kind enough to instruct me for almost a year until my first holy communion 18 months ago.
I know this made Madeleine very happy – not to mention my mother-in-law! But I didn’t become a Catholic to make either of them happy. I did it because I knew inside that it was the right thing to do. And I feel profoundly content with the decision. I’m not sure that I’m a very good Catholic – and I am always grateful for the part of the mass where I can declare that I am not worthy. But I hope to continue my own slow journey, which I hope is in the right direction.
I have, above all, my family to thank for that.