When first I started writing in the Catholic press some 20 summers ago, the fax was enjoying a brief hegemony as the acme of communications technology. Each week my copy chuntered through a sort of small electronic mangle which wrung out the typewritten words somewhere down the phone line miles away in a sub-editor’s office. How sophisticated it seemed, but all too soon the fax ceded its place to email.
When I am far from home these days and I need to file my copy, I have to find a WiFi network. It was unquestionably easier to find a fax. Every office, every post office, estate agent’s, solicitor’s office, library or convenience store had a fax machine which, for a consideration, you could use. It was the common land of communication. Internet is the equivalent of enclosure, since though one may be surrounded by WiFi networks, they are, for the most part, private, impenetrable without a code.
This week’s attempt to send my copy notched up a rather spectacular first. I sat in a choir stall in a Saxon chapel in Kent to log on. This beautiful small room with a ribbed stone vault is part of one of England’s oldest monastic foundations, Minster Abbey, which was founded 13 centuries ago.
As Providence would have it, the feast of St Theodore of Canterbury, a great supporter of the foundation of Minster Abbey, fell while I was staying there. St Theodore’s history bears striking parallels to our own times. He was born in Tarsus, like St Paul. He became a monk and was soon renowned for his scholarship and his prodigious linguistic skills. He is credited with introducing the English monasteries to works of the Eastern Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa and St John Chrysostom. He left his native Galicia because Christians all round the southern Mediterranean and North Africa were fleeing the persecution of Islamic armies. He was chosen by the pope to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and he found England still beset by a lot of paganism.
St Theodore’s history bears parallels to ours.
He found England beset by paganism
What’s not like our contemporary situation is that his tenure came almost halfway through a golden age for the Anglo-Saxon Church in England. In contrast to the Reformation propaganda that the English Church had always done its own thing in relation to Rome, the two centuries following Augustine’s mission to the south of England saw a great flowering of monastic life and church-building. A large number of English missionaries travelled to the Continent, to Germany especially, with St Boniface, and we know that there was a Saxon pilgrims’ hospital in the lee of St Peter’s Basilica. The site is still commemorated in the title of the church a couple of hundred yards from the Vatican, Santo Spirito in Sasso, Sasso being the nearest that liquid Italian pronunciation can get to ‘‘Saxon’’. Several Saxon kings went on pilgrimage to Rome; a couple even died there.
To come to this part of Kent, near Ebbsfleet where both Augustine and later St Mildred landed, is to realise that when Wiseman wrote in his prayer for England that this was once ‘‘an island of saints’’, for once he wasn’t being hyperbolic. Among them were some very learned and holy women, such as St Hilda of Whitby and St Domneva, a queen consort whose three daughters all became saints. Mildred was one of them; St Theodore received her profession of vows at Minster and she became abbess in the early 8th century. The monastery was suppressed at the Reformation, but a community of nuns returned in the 1930s to the original site, which included an 11th-century Saxon chapel where, for some reason, you can now get WiFi.
St Mildred’s iconography includes an abbess’s crozier and a hind which she is stroking. The typically Anglo-Saxon legend is that the deer, which was a pet of Mildred’s royal mother, gambolled around marking out the boundaries of the land needed for the foundation. I think there is a deeper symbolism too, to do with how cautious deer are, and how difficult to tame. It is an image for Mildred’s interior life, and for the way in which Our Lord will only be tamed by one who can be still and peaceful and wordless, who will allow Him to approach at his own pace, who will not herself take fright and startle at the coming close of Jesus, the beautiful, gentle hind.
Pastor Iuventus is a Catholic priest in London
THE WEEK AHEAD
Ordinary Form Divine Office Week II
Sunday, September 27: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time Nm 11:25-29; Ps 19; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Monday, September 28: Weekday in Ordinary Time or St Wenceslaus, martyr; Ss Lawrence Ruiz, and Companions, martyrs Zec 8:1-8; Ps 102; Lk 9:46-50
Tuesday, September 29: Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 138; Jn 1:47-51
Wednesday, September 30: St Jerome, priest, Doctor of the Church Neh 2:1-8; Ps 137; Lk 9:57-62
Thursday, October 1: St Thérèse of the Child Jesus Neh 8:1-4A, 5-6, 7B-12; Ps 19; Lk 10:1-12
Friday, October 2: The Holy Guardian Angels Bar 1:15-22; Ps 79; Mt 18:1-5, 10 Saturday, October 3: Weekday in Ordinary Time Bar 4:5-12, 27-29; Ps 19; Lk 10:17-24
Sunday, September 27: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 1 Co 1:4-8; Mt 9:1-8 Monday, September 28: St Wenceslaus Ws 10:10-14; Mt 10:34-42
Tuesday September 29: Dedication of St Michael Archangel Apoc 1:1-5; Mt 18:1-10
Wednesday, September 30: St Jerome 2 Tim 4:1-8; Mt 5:13-19
Thursday October 1: Feria Readings of Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost repeated
Friday October 2: Holy Guardian Angels Ex 23:20-23, Mt 18:1-10
Saturday, October 3: St Teresa of the Child Jesus Is 66:12-14; Mt18:1-4
Compiled by Gordon Dimon of the LMS
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Govern by all Thy Wisdom, O Lord, so that my soul may always be serving Thee as Thou dost Will, and not as I may choose. Do not punish me, I beseech Thee, by granting that which I wish or ask if it offended Thy Love, which would always live in me. Let me die to myself, so that I may love Thee. Let me live to Thee, Who art in Thyself, the True Life.
Dear St Thérèse, guide me in your Little Way, so that I may ascend to the heights and happiness of heaven.