Today is the feast of St Etheldreda! She was born in AD 636, the daughter of the King of East Anglia, a Christian, who did much for the conversion of his kingdom and neighbouring Wessex. Having been married twice, Etheldreda then built a large monastery at Ely, where she was Abbess for 7 years. Her influence was wide, and many of her friends, relations and courtiers came to her for spiritual guidance. She was a friend of St Wilfrid, and adviser to the young St Cuthbert too. These saints are all part of our rich Christian culture in these islands. It strikes me that over the Summer months, it would be good to introduce our candidates and catechumens to some of our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers in faith, and it could be fun! We could plan visits and picnics to local convents and monasteries in the town and countryside – ring the guestmaster or pastoral centre in advance to ask – and I’m sure there would be a warm and hospitable welcome, perhaps even a guided tour, and some opportunity to talk about the history of their order or foundation, and their particular charisms. This could be on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or one weekday in one of these lovely long Summer evenings. How about a pilgrimmage to a not-to-distant shrine? These would be great opportunities for the parish community to participate very actively in initiating candidates into Catholic Christian life, further developing relationships with them, increasing their sense of belonging with us.
As I write, the gardeners amongst the parish are getting the cemetary ready for an outdoor Mass next Sunday – and I notice two of the candidates have come along to help too. The Mass is for everyone who has someone buried in the cemetary – from the parents of the young lad killed in a helicopter accident last month, to the grandparents of grandchildren who live away from the parish now, and all in between. The graves will be blessed, and then we will all drink sangria in the sunshine (we hope) and talk about their lives and how they influenced us! And in the past, several enquirers have been amongst this group too. So we come back to Etheldreda and other saints in our ‘story’ right up to the present day – and as we tell the stories of those who have ‘gone before us marked with the sign of faith’, we will be amazed and humbled at the response, not only in the hearers, but in ourselves too. Perhaps we will find ourselves being seen, and found, and grasped and named and knocked breathless by God – again!
All of a sudden, this year-round catechumenate doesnt seem so hard after all!