Thursday, 3 December 2015

Two years on from that "bright and clear day"

Ali in 2005
In the approach to the second anniversary of Ali's death on 3 December 2013 my thoughts have inevitably turned to those last momentous days of her life.

I have already written a little about Ali's death.   Ali wanted to live on account of the people she loved in her life.  But she loved God and wanted to be with Him too.  In her final weeks, days and hours the phrase she said over and over again was "I want to go home."

At some point from 2007 (as indicated by the publication details in the book) Ali read the long diary "Divine Mercy in My Soul" written by the Polish nun, Sister Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who was canonised in the year 2000, the first saint of the new millennium.  I recently looked at Ali's copy of the book and saw that she had highlighted a number of passages.

Ali hadn't highlighted the passages as an academic might, to emphasise some new thoughts and ideas that she was learning. Over the course of nearly 25 years Ali had taught me so much and as I read the passages it was almost as though I were hearing her voice, expressing many of the ideas I had heard from her own lips.  It seemed to me that she was highlighting the thoughts that most resonated with her own.

One of the passages highlighted by Ali referred to St Faustina's eager desire for the last day - the "bright and clear day" - of her life.  Having lived with Ali for so many years, and having been present during those final days,  I have no doubt that Ali shared the sentiment expressed by St Faustina:
"O bright and clear day on which all my dreams will be fulfilled: O day so eagerly desired, the last day of my life! I look forward with joy to the last stroke the Divine Artist will trace on my soul, which will give my soul a unique beauty that will distinguish me from the beauty of other souls."[para 825]
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to Dr Anthony McCarthy, Ali's much regarded SPUC colleague and friend, that to me Ali's death still seems very recent.  I was struck by his reply, in which he said: "I suspect Alison's light shone so bright it will always seem rather recent than distant."

Some people light up the world in an exceptional way.  Sometimes we just know that particular people are extraordinary even if we don't know precisely what is extraordinary about them.  I was in the privileged position of knowing better than anyone how authentically extraordinary Ali was.  It will inevitably take some time for Ali's extraordinariness to be explained and appreciated fully - just as it took some time for the extraordinariness of St Faustina to be explained and appreciated.

For now, let the words of St Faustina, highlighted by Ali, be a way of letting the light of these two extraordinary women continue to shine.

Ali at St Faustina's shrine in Lagiewniki, Krakow
in September 2007

Below are many of the passages from St Faustina's Diary that were highlighted by Ali.  The number after each passage refers to the paragraph number given in the Diary:

"O Jesus, I will let no one surpass me in loving You!"  [227]

"To suffer without complaining, to bring comfort to others and to drown my own sufferings in the most Sacred Heart of Jesus!" [224]

"O Christ, may delights, honor and glory be Yours, and suffering mine.  I will not lag one step behind as I follow You, though thorns wound my feet."  [70]

"O my Jesus, You alone know the longings and the sufferings of my heart.  I am glad I can suffer for You, however little."  [73]

"For Jesus, one can bear anything."  [88]

"From the moment I came to love suffering, it ceased to be a suffering for me.  Suffering is the daily food of my soul."  [275]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "My child, you please Me most by suffering.  In your physical as well as your mental sufferings, My daughter, do not seek sympathy from creatures.  I want the fragrance of your suffering to be pure and unadulterated.....The more you will come to love suffering, My daughter, the purer your love for Me will be." [279]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "I want to see you always as a little child." [290]

"...for it is precisely when I suffer much that my joy is greater; and when I suffer less, my joy also is less."  [303]

"Suffering is the greatest treasure on earth; it purifies the soul. In suffering we learn who is our true friend." [342]

"True love is measured by the thermometer of suffering. Jesus, I thank you for the little daily crosses....for the upsetting of all my plans."  [343]

"Suffering is the most harmonious melody of all."  [385]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "My daughter, suffering will be a sign to you that I am with you."  [669]

"Amid the greatest torments, I fix the gaze of my soul upon Christ Crucified;  I do not expect help from people but place my trust in God.  In His unfathomable mercy lies all my hope."

"Death destroys nothing that is good."  [694]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of my Mercy."

"I will do everything within my power to save souls, and I will do it with prayer and suffering." [735]

"Set a guard over my lips, so that the fragrance of my sufferings may be known and pleasing to You alone." [831]

"I know very well that people will not understand me; that is why my sacrifice will be purer in Your eyes." [957]

"I have been ill for four months, but I do not recall having wasted so much as a minute of it."  [1062]

"This grace from God was given to me precisely because I was the weakest of all people; this is why the Almighty has surrounded me with His special mercy." [1099]

"I do not know how to live without God, but I also feel that God, absolutely self-sufficient though He is, cannot be happy without me." [1120]

"Should You give me health and strength, be blessed;  should You confine me to a bed of pain for my whole life, be blessed,  Should you give only failures and disappointments in life, be blessed.....Should You leave me in darkness and all kinds of torments, be blessed."  [1264]

"Now I understand why there are so few saints;  it is because so few souls are deeply humble."  [1306]

"Lord, reduce me to nothingness in my own eyes that I may find grace in Yours."  [1436]

"I wish to speak of one more thing that I have experienced: when God gives neither death nor health, and [when] this lasts for many years, people become accustomed to this and consider the person as not being ill.  Then there begins a whole series of silent sufferings.  Only God knows how many sacrifices the soul makes."  [1509]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "My pupil, have great love for those who cause you suffering. Do good to those who hate you.....It is not always within your power to control your feelings. You will recognize that you have love if, after having experienced annoyance and contradiction, you do not lose your peace, but pray for those who have made you suffer and wish them well." [1628]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina]  "Be always merciful as I am merciful.  Love everyone out of love for Me, even your greatest enemies, so that My mercy may be fully reflected in your heart." [1695]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina] "My daughter, know that if I allow you to feel and have a more profound knowledge of My sufferings, that is a grace from Me.  But when your mind is dimmed and your sufferings are great, it is then that you take an active part in My Passion, and I am conforming you more fully to Myself.  It is your task to submit yourself to My will at such times, more than at others." [1697]

"O God, who are happiness in Your very self and have no need of creatures to make You happy, because of Yourself You are the fullness of love; yet out of Your fathomless mercy You call creatures into being and grant them a share in Your eternal happiness and in Your life, that divine indwelling life which You live, One God in Three Persons."  [1741]

[The words of Jesus to St Faustina] "consider My Sorrowful Passion in all its immensity. Consider it as if it had been undertaken for your sake alone." [1761]

"If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion and the other is suffering." [1804]

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Kanigiri - 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, on 12 August 1995, Ali and I arrived at a small centre for disabled children at Kanigiri, Andhra Pradesh, south India.   Ali had heard about the centre two or three years earlier and had been sponsoring two boys there.  They had written to her and asked her to we did.

The visit changed Ali's life - and not simply because it led to many other visits to India, and to much activity to help to improve the children's lives.   For the previous ten years Ali had found life generally very tough and had wanted to die.  At Kanigiri she found a reason to live.  Ali spoke and wrote several times about the profound impact of those two days at Kanigiri, for example in an article for The Observer:
I went to India with Colin Harte, my full time assistant, to visit a new project to help disabled children, little knowing that it would change my life for ever. Many of the children are so disabled they can barely manage to crawl in the dust. They are unwanted and unloved by their families, but it is true to say that they saved my life. The first time I visited the children they called me "Mummy." They hugged and loved me, and as I was playing with them, I suddenly loved them all, overwhelmingly and fiercely, as if they really were my own. When we left I said to Colin "I think I want to live." It was the first time I had thought that for over 10 years.
Returning to England,  Ali learned the children's language, Telugu, so that she could write to them and speak with them.  She worked tirelessly to raise funds and to develop medical support for these and many other children.  All these things were done in addition to her full-time employment.

The video, above, (or here) is a thankful and joyful reminder of that first visit to Kanigiri, and of the children who always remained close to Ali's  motherly heart.

The music in the video is a song from a Telugu movie, Nuvve Kavali.  We took the children to see it at the cinema in January 2001.  The music and the movie was one of their favourites, as well as Ali's.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Ali's 60th birthday

Ali isn't here to see it, but the 60th anniversary of her birth cannot pass unobserved.

Many recognised that Ali was "one in a million" - though perhaps "one in a billion" might be more accurate. The soundtrack of The Christians' "One in a Million" accompanies the YouTube slideshow (above or here), showing Ali in each of the decades of her life.  I have memories of listening to The Christians' album, from which the track is taken, on a number of long car journeys with Ali.

There is not enough time, within the space of a song, to show the range of interests and the many friends Ali had during her life. This is merely a snapshot of some aspects of her life. But even from the first photo of Ali as a baby, the warmth of her smile, and her joy and love shine through - often masking serious difficulties she was experiencing in her life.

When Ali was born her parents were encouraged to leave her in the hospital and "go home and have another."  Thankfully, they refused.  Ali's life demonstrates that human beings should never be "written off"and that the richness of a life does not depend upon the ease with which it is lived.

Like many, I remember Ali with much love and gratitude.  She was more than "one in a million."

At Covent Garden on Ali's 50th birthday (8 January 2005) to see the ballet Cinderella

Monday, 5 January 2015

Suffering for what we value: the legacy of Alison Davis.

I was invited to speak at last year's national conference of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).  The video of my talk "Suffering for what we value: the legacy of Alison Davis" has been recently posted by SPUC on YouTube .

This is the talk referred to by Francis Phillips in the previous post

A precis of the talk was given on John Smeaton's blog  and the text of its conclusion, which said a little about Ali's death, was given in a previous post.

The title of the talk encapsulates something that was crucially important for Ali - recognising the (infinite) value of a human life, and being willing to suffer for it.

If anyone would like a pdf file of the text please contact me at and I will be happy to email it to you.

The infinite value of each human being

Just before Christmas the Catholic Herald published an article by Francis Phillips, which highlighted Ali's recognition of the infinite value of each human being.  Some people dispute whether one can ascribe infinite value to each human being, but for Ali it was a deep conviction.  The first part of Francis Phillips' article discusses the recent  - and shameful - Supreme Court judgment that midwives are not protected by the 'conscience clause' of the Abortion Act. Ali had fully supported pro-life midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood, who had been fighting for several years for their right to refuse any involvement with abortion.   The full article can be read here.  Below is the second part of it:


Alison Davis and the infinite value of life

Alison Davis

[Part omitted.] 
It is ironic and very sad that such an ominous judgement should be handed down in the same month as the anniversary of the death of a great pro-life champion, Alison Davis, who died on December 3 2013. Alison, whose life and achievements were remembered in a talk given by her long-time carer, Colin Harte, at the SPUC conference in September, was an improbable champion of life. Born with spina bifida and for many years a keen feminist and supporter of “a woman’s right to choose”, as well as being an atheist, her attitude gradually changed when she learned that disabled babies like her were sometimes starved and drugged to death after birth. 
Protesting about this brought her into contact with SPUC in 1981 and for many years she helped organise their Handicap Division (later to become No Less Human.) As a disabled person herself, Alison always rejected any political strategy that meant “bargaining” over the relative worth of a baby’s life; she could not accept that “healthy” babies’ lives might be saved by lowering the legal age limit for abortions, but at the expense of those whose lives were judged “incompatible with sustained survival”. For her, especially after she became a Catholic in 1991, each human life had infinite value. 
As Colin Harte said in his speech, Alison was steadfast in her belief “that human beings have a value that is intrinsic, incomparable, sacred, priceless – infinite.” Thus she was adamantly opposed to the David Alton Bill of 1988 that had accepted the strategy of “chipping away” at the Abortion Act to gain what is known as incremental protection of the unborn. Colin told me he believes that one day Alison will be acclaimed as a great saint of the pro-life movement; the spiritual and physical suffering she endured in her life, and which she came to see as “the greatest privilege possible in the world” were eventually to lead to her witness of a holy death; she chose to forgo painkillers at the end so as to be able “to pray, to suffer and to love” for others as long as she was alive. 
Perhaps, as a result of this undermining of the right of conscience in the recent Supreme Court judgement, we should now start to pray to Alison Davis on behalf of the unborn – especially those diagnosed with a disability