Monday, 25 March 2019

"Mary said 'yes' and saved the world"

Ali at the Chapel of the Annunciation, Nazareth (27 Sept 2005)
In a recent post I mentioned that I did not know how to pray the rosary until Ali taught me at the age of 23. She taught me as we returned from Lourdes, on the trip that led to my staying with her in Dorset. Though born and raised a Catholic I did not 'get' the role of Mary.   I had been to Lourdes on two occasions, 5-6 years before I went with Ali in 1989,  but I neither understood the role of Mary nor prayed the rosary.  The night we left Lourdes, Friday 28 July 1989, Ali was somewhat distressed (which I'll write about another time).  Later, she calmed down and, as she spoke quietly,  I was struck by the profundity of her knowledge of and acceptance of the Catholic faith - even though she was not then a Catholic.  One phrase - a very simple phrase - stood out for me. Ali expressed a truth that I had not known until then - in spite of all my years of attending Catholic schools and Masses, etc. -  when she said very simply:  "Mary said 'yes' and saved the world." The words hit me profoundly and etched themselves on my mind, dominating my thoughts in the following days.

In September 2005, during our first and only pilgrimage to the Holy Land,  Ali and I visited the place where that 'yes' was uttered.  We traveled by car to Nazareth and, not being part of a larger group, were able to visit the Chapel of the Annunciation (within the large Basilica of the Annunciation) and spend a considerable time alone there pondering on Mary's 'yes' which saved the world.  The Chapel is the place of Mary's 'yes'  and of the Incarnation of the Son of Jesus, hence the inscription on the altar: "Verbum caro hic factum est"  (Here the Word was made flesh). Jesus took flesh directly as a result of Mary's 'yes'.  He is the Saviour of the World.  But without Mary's 'yes' we would have no Saviour.

Today the Church celebrates the great feast of the Annunciation.  The Church immerses herself in the mystery of the angel Gabriel's revelation to Mary, her 'yes,' and the Incarnation of the Son of God as a zygote and developing embryo.   It is a celebration of the awesomeness of human life from its very beginning,  and of the redemption and eternal life that God desires for each of us.  Whether natural or eternal, may we always be willing to say 'yes' to life and God's will for us.

27 Sept 2005:  Chapel of the Annunciation, Nazareth
27 Sept 2005:  Ali outside the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Friday, 22 March 2019

Libenter gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis

Libenter gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis
The second reading at Ali's funeral was taken from the 2nd letter of St Paul to the Corinthians.  It was a passage Ali introduced me to shortly after I started living in Dorset in August 1989, noting the paradox that, contrary to the world's estimation of power, true power is discovered in weakness and infirmities and brokenness. It was one of Ali's favourite passages of Scripture, if not her favourite. Whereas the 'natural' tendency is to esteem and "boast" of health, money, success, power, good looks, fame, and such things, St Paul makes the extraordinary "boast" of nothing other than his weaknesses.
On my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses.  But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.  Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses [libenter igitur gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis], so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Cor 12: 5-10. NRSV translation)
Libenter gloriabor in infirmitatibus meis:   I will gladly boast of my weaknesses.  Other translations render the Latin differently.  For example, the Douay-Rheims translation is "Gladly will I glory in my infirmities." This short phrase, from a passage of the Holy Bible that meant so much for Ali, seems to me to be a fitting epitaph for her.  Ali "gloried" in her weaknesses - her infirmities of body, mind and spirit.  Her infirmities were not merely the obvious limitations associated with physical disability, sickness and pain, but also various social, emotional, mental and spiritual sufferings that she experienced acutely.  It seems fitting to me for Ali's epitaph to be expressed in the Latin, which leaves it open to different interpretations.

Ali recognised that her many weaknesses and varied sufferings were a great gift.  She could gladly accept them in her life,  and gladly accept other people with weaknesses and sufferings, because she recognised the paradox of the greatness of the gift. A particularly acute "gift of suffering" was encapsulated in an event on 22 March, a few years before I got to know Ali.   The day was one of great suffering for her, but in it she saw the face of the divine.  It changed her life.

It has taken me far too long to arrange for Ali's headstone to be installed over her grave by the village church in Milborne St Andrew,  Dorset. I had been informed that it would be ready for installation in May.  Yesterday I was told that it might be installed today.  As the pictures show,  the headstone has been installed.  And it is fitting that it should have happened on this date. 

Ali's headstone (2nd from left) with St Andrew's Church in the background.
Ali's headstone - installed on 22 March 2019

Friday, 22 February 2019

Farewell to Rome

22 Feb 2009: Ali's wheelchair without its big wheels
Looking at the photos from February 2009 in Rome I see I have a rare one of Ali using her wheelchair with the big wheels removed.   Ali's chair had small back runner wheels (as can be seen in the picture) and removable large wheels.  This enabled the width of her chair to be a couple of inches narrower, which was sometimes essential if we were to travel in an  affordable way.  Many hotels in Rome (and elsewhere) have narrow elevator doors, and it was impossible for Ali to enter with her large wheels.  Also, in many places bathroom doors are narrow and it was very helpful for Ali's wheelchair to have this flexibility.  Most don't.

This was Ali's final visit to Rome, and we just had time to hear Pope Benedict's Angelus address and receive his blessing before we left for the airport.

22 Feb 2009:  Ali at the Angelus with Pope Benedict XVI

The two photos above show the same view from Ali's sitting perspective (top) and my standing perspective (bottom).  We were standing back from others, because Ali would have been unable to see much if too close to the person in front.  It is a reminder to me how Ali was often at a disadvantage on account of being so low down.  Being in a crowd could be very claustrophobic for her.

We fitted a lot into the week and it was a very fulfilling last visit of Ali's to Rome.
22 Feb 2009:  The last Angelus with Pope Benedict

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Meeting Colleen Bayer and Elizabeth

21 Feb 2009:  Ali with Colleen Bayer and little Elizabeth
The audience with Pope Benedict had an unexpected and very welcome bonus.  While waiting to be admitted to the audience hall Ali and I met, for the first time, Colleen Bayer, who was to become a dear friend.  Colleen is the founder and Director of Family Life International (FLI) in New Zealand, and was in Rome with 3 year old Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was born with Down's Syndrome and is also profoundly deaf.  Her young mother was unable to support her, so Colleen and her husband Terry welcomed Elizabeth into their own family - as they had with other children before Elizabeth.

Shortly after returning from Rome Ali received a call from Colleen asking if she would speak at the FLI conference in New Zealand later in the year in October.  She was delighted to go, even though she was very unwell for most of the trip.   Apart from a pilgrimage to Lourdes six months before died, it was Ali's last overseas' trip, and was the occasion of her last major talk.  Ali did not generally speak publicly on religious topics, but in New Zealand she spoke (among other things) of her conversion from atheism to Catholicism, and how suffering with Christ is "the greatest privilege possible in the world." 

The friendship with Colleen and her family developed not only in New Zealand , but on subsequent visits to our home in Dorset when Colleen was in the UK.  Colleen even came over from New Zealand solely to be present at Ali's funeral in December 2013.   Clearly,  Colleen had much regard for Ali, but it was a mutual regard, and a friendship that Ali treasured.  Ali was impressed not only with what Colleen had done to promote the cause of life through FLI, but that she embraced the cause personally, at considerable cost, within her own family, by her selfless dedication to those with particular needs.  There are many great people in the pro-life movement, and Colleen Bayer (with her husband Terry) is among the best of them.  

Colleen Bayer with Elizabeth and one of the Tyburn Sisters based in Rome.
Ali with Elizabeth

Another audience with Pope Benedict XVI

Meeting Pope Benedict XVI on 21 Feb 2009
My mum left us on Thursday 19 February 2009, and on the next couple of days Ali and I attended the symposium of the Pontifical Academy for Life.  It was always a privilege to go over to the Apostolic Palace, where Pope Benedict addressed the participants.  At the beginning of Rome Reports' coverage of the meeting on 21 February 2009, Ali and I can be seen as the Pope enters. 

Coverage by Rome Reports 

21 Feb 2009:  Pope Benedict being welcomed by the
President of the Pontifical Academy for Life
Participants at the Pontifical Academy for Life symposium 

Monday, 18 February 2019

General Audience with Pope Benedict XVI

Wed 18 Feb 2009:  Pope Benedict arrives for the general audience in St Peter's Square
When we had previously attended general audiences - once with Pope John Paul II and twice with Pope Benedict XVI - they were held indoors in the Pope Paul VI audience hall.  The audience we attended on Wednesday 18 February 2009 was outdoors in St Peter's Square.  It was the last time we were present at a general audience.   

18 Feb 2009:  Waiting for Pope Benedict to arrive

18 Feb 2009:  Still waiting....
It turned quite cold in the afternoon as we continued our sight seeing, visiting among other places the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon.

Ali with my mum and me at the Trevi fountain
Inside the Pantheon

The Vatican Museums

17 Feb 2009:  Visiting the Vatican museums
The highlight of 17 February 2009 was visiting the Vatican museums, including the Sistine chapel where Popes are elected.  I assume that taking photos inside the chapel itself was not allowed as I haven't got any. 

Ancient Roman artefacts

Ali and Bridie Harte overlooking the Vatican Gardens
Inside one of the Raphael Rooms with his painting of
the Disputation of the Holy Sacrament