God Sister Teresa
Recently, I was on holiday in southwest Scotland staying in a lovely house with the kindest of hosts.
The scenery there is, in its way, perfection, with miniature hills and valleys, small lochs, dry-stone walls and farmhouses so much part of the landscape they might have grown out of it organically, along with the woods.
There is something very moving about going for a walk or a drive in such settings. I passed an ancient round fort grazed over by cattle – far more impressive than if it had been excavated and turned into a tourist attraction – and the silvery light made the countryside glow as if lit from within. (The more cynical would say that this means that a shower of rain is imminent, but it doesn’t stop it from being lovely.)
I was on my way to the small town of Dalbeattie, where Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic church was open every morning, with Mass celebrated at 10am. This Saint Peter’s is more than two hundred years old and classical, rather than neo-gothic in design; it is therefore full of light and has that unmistakable atmosphere of prayer which only comes from years of constant use.
There was a short gem of a homily every day: never more than a minute. The appeal for silence in church – put gently and politely by the priest – remains with me, as does his simple statement that we should be at peace because we belong to the universal church. All this was said with no fuss or rhetoric, but with the wisdom and humility accumulated over a lifetime. I felt so grateful for having been able to spend time in such reassuring surroundings.
Why do most people confine themselves to church-going on Sundays only? Is it perhaps because it never occurs to them to do otherwise? Or because attending available services during the week or visiting a church for a few minutes’ silence are seldom, if ever, encouraged from the pulpit? Many people cannot spare the time – but for those who can, giving it a go might be well worth the effort.
I was more conscious than ever of the vulnerability of the things I love: a gigantic gas pipeline is gouging its way through the beauty of Galloway. Doubtless it is a magnificent piece of industrial engineering, but this sort of progress will exact a heavy price.
My nearest and dearest, too – who used to be so robust – are now showing signs of frailty. But I refuse to be downhearted because I believe that the quality of love is eternal and that, somehow, we cannot be deprived of it.