|Two "seven year olds" - Ali and the delightful Maria Brennan (in March 1995)|
Seven years ago today Ali passed to eternal life.
Ali recognised the significance of numbers, in particular the number of perfection: seven. From the creation of the world in seven days in the Book of Genesis, through to the seven Churches addressed in the Book of Revelation, the Bible frequently highlights the number seven. Catholic doctrine embraces such things as the seven virtues, seven deadly sins, seven corporal acts of mercy, seven spiritual acts of mercy, seven sorrows of the Mary, seven sacraments, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Ali often spoke of seven as being the perfect age for a child, an age at which, even as an adult with an incisive mind, engaged in serious pursuits, she aspired to live. Her profound appreciation of what lay at the heart of Catholicism and the pro-life movement was, I believe, because she was able to be so very childlike. Not childish - far from it. But very childlike.
On the evening of Ali's death, Tuesday 13 December 2013, I went to Mass and the Gospel reading for that day - the first Tuesday of Advent - was so apt:
Filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, Jesus said: 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.' (Luke 10: 21-22)
Ali accepted the truth that each and every unborn child is precious and deserves to be protected from harm, and that it is never acceptable to cause the death of people who feel life has nothing more to offer on account of suffering or old age or disability, because she rejected the foolishness of the so-called 'learned' and 'clever' people who say otherwise. She was happier spending time with her young friend, Maria Brennan, than with the 'clever' people. Ali accepted the totality of the teaching of the Catholic Church because she had the simplicity of a child to recognise and accept its truth.
I'm sure Ali enjoyed the story as much as Maria!
Many of Ali's friends recognised her simple, childlike spirit - how, even though at one moment she might be discussing the finer points of embryology and stem cell research, she could happily switch to talking about her favourite teddy bears, or tell stories about the family of wolves who lived in the garden, and also of an assortment of other nearby residents - Idris the dragon, Vincent the vole, Clyde the crocodile, to name but a few. She fitted more into a working day than I would hope to achieve in a week, yet she would have time for the 'silly' things in life when it truly did seem that she was just 'seven'.
On one such occasion, in October 1989, Ali was quiet for a while and I asked what was on her mind. I'm grateful for having recorded the conversation:
"A strange thought. God is younger than we are. We only grow old because we have sinned."
- How do you mean? "He doesn't grow old."
- How have we sinned? "We separated ourselves from eternal innocence. Innocence doesn't get bored whereas as we get old, we get bored. We lose wonder of things. Like, we aren't surprised that leopards have spots - it's just a 'fact' - but a child is full of wonder that any leopard has spots or that an elephant has a trunk, etc.
"God is perpetual innocence which is love so he never gets tired of telling the sun to rise again every day or the moon to rise. He doesn't get bored of telling them: every day it's new.
"We feel old and experienced but spring is young. It's a statement of perpetual innocence. So it's younger than we are. Like, every blade of grass he makes, God kind of says, 'Why didn't I think of that before?' like it's new, like you can read the same story 100 times to a child. We [i.e., adults] can brush past a field without noticing.
"If God thinks that about each blade of grass, imagine what he thinks about each person."
At a different time, also in 1989, Ali spoke of an occasion when she was about seven.
"I can remember being at home in bed - I was ill quite a lot - and everybody was out and I was just looking out the window and I kept saying, I wanted to know what forever and ever was. And I kind of got a glimpse of eternity just as I was saying the words and asking Jesus. I was afraid of "forever and ever" because it seemed the most terrifying concept, which I suppose at that age it is... I just felt that "forever and ever" would be bearable if Jesus was there."
Ali has a better appreciation now of "forever and ever."
We don't have a true understanding of the requirements of the present moment if we neglect a childlike contemplation of "forever and ever." Even in the midst of great suffering and distress Ali was able to appreciate the present moment, with the simplicity of a seven-year old, because she recognised the calling to share eternity with "perpetual innocence" and the preparation this requires of us.
|Ali with her good friends, Mary (left) and Chris Brennan (hidden behind Ali) and some of their family.|