Wednesday, 13 November 2013


"Vatican II - 50 years on" is the title of the retreat I've been attending here at my old school. In the main room of The Grange, 20 people - average age, 70 - gather in a circle around Fr. Dominic Milroy. Eight of us were either at school with him, or taught by him.

Effectively, the four discourses have been part reminiscence, part meditation: he speaks without notes, an artist dabbing colour on his picture, using the image of a mosaic culture, shifting in an open-ended way.

Quoting Hans Urs von Balthasar ("The Word disappeared into human history"), Dominic felt the Council was teaching us to find how to talk about our belief so that the world could understand it. Our challenge: to draw people to the Church, as the joyful presence of a living community of faith, anxious to give the good news. In this context, Pope Francis was as a Spring day after a long Winter.

The main railway line from Paris to Bordeaux runs almost through the grounds of the Abbaye de Saint-Martin at Ligugé, Dominic told us; and of his vision of the church's spire soaring vertically, intersected by the horizontal of a TGV rushing South from Poitiers. It was if the building, rooted in the earth of La Belle France, was lifted by the Eucharistic celebration within it, up to God. While the train, carrying the weight of this world, rushed its passengers on their way through life towards death. The joint between the vertical and the horizontal cannot be trusted to a nail hammered on: each limb must concede part of its strength in order to make a true bond - love, marriage, the Church and the world.

My photograph was taken walking down to Lauds from The Grange. Crows - not yet vultures - circle round the tower of the Abbey Church, but how long will Ampleforth survive in its present state? Change has come about under Abbot Cuthbert. Is it the deckchairs just being shuffled? Such a plant is titanic for what will, in a decade, be so very few monks, all their energies needed for maintenance leaving none for mission.

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