A New Beginning

Once again this final compilation of the best of David’s articles for the Catholic Herald received critical acclaim. ‘For spiritual writings, there is only one test. It is not whether they sound impressive; style matters, and David Torkington writes with admirable clarity, but this is only a means, and can be used to self-glorifying ends. Nor is the test whether our hearts are touched. This too matters but emotions are volatile. The only real test is whether what is written makes us love God more. The test is practical then, not whether we feel we love him more, but whether we lay down the book and consider what we must do. This book passes the test.’ Sister Wendy Beckett – Hermit. (She was awarded a first class degree with special congratulation, because it received the highest marks ever awarded at Oxford University!)

Available in paperback.

Extract from A New Beginning

My Mother Was a Priest

We were all shocked and shattered when my brother announced that he wanted to become a priest. It wasn’t just that he wanted to become a Priest, but he wanted to become a Cistercian priest. That meant that once he left home he would never return again.

Naturally my mother was totally bereft. She was proud that her son wanted to be a priest, but why oh why did he want to become a monk as well? She didn’t know what to do, but fortunately she did know who to turn to. She turned to Gus, a friend since childhood. He himself had left home to become a priest and a monk and was at the time the abbot of Belmont.

He told her that a mother only really fulfils and completes her motherhood when her love is so great that she allows her child to both choose and follow out his own chosen vocation in life whatever that may mean. He told her that this was the sacrifice that Mary had to make when she had to allow the Son she’d given birth to to go his own way and to respond to the vocation that He had been called to.

My mother felt much better after talking to Gus, or Abbot Williams as he was then – after all he was a priest and a monk himself, and so he was able to console and encourage her better than anyone else. Although my brother had been accepted as a prospective monk at Mount St. Bernard’s, the abbot asked him to finish his studies in Paris where he was studying at the Sorbonne. Naturally he was delighted that he had been accepted, because he thought his handicap would have prevented him from becoming a priest – one leg was shorter than the other as a result of a polio attack when he was six.

Unfortunately my brother had a terrible accident on the way to his final examinations. Partly due to the iron caliper on his leg, he slipped down the escalator on the metro, hit his head and was killed instantaneously. He was only twenty-two. I was seventeen at the time and was called out of the school study to be told of the tragedy. When I got home it was to find my mother all but inconsolable.

She’d already come to terms with the sacrifice that she’d been asked to make when he chose to become a monk, now she was asked to make another more complete and final sacrifice that she had never thought for a moment would ever be asked of her. Once again she turned to Gus for spiritual help.
Gus told her that she was now being asked to be the priest that he never became. He told her that the first priest had been a woman and a mother and that the greatest sacrifice she had to make was the sacrifice of her own son. All Mary’s life revolved around selflessly giving her all for the dear son she had borne. Everything had always been for him, and then she had to give absolutely everything, even him.

This was the most perfect and complete sacrifice any mother has had to make, and she made it standing there at the foot of the Cross. My mother never forgot what Gus said to her. It didn’t take away all the pain but it did give meaning to it and made it bearable. What helped most was seeing that the sacrifice she had to make was exactly the same sacrifice that Mary had to make on Calvary.

There is only one true priest and that is Jesus Christ who made the most perfect sacrifice anyone can make, the sacrifice of themselves. We are priests to the degree in which we share in his priesthood. Throughout His life He offered himself unconditionally to his Father and to the people that his Father had sent him to serve. We share in his priesthood when we too offer ourselves to the Father and offer ourselves to the same family of man that he came to serve.

That’s what my mother came to see and understand more clearly than anyone else I know, not just the way she thought but in the way she acted. It was a lesson that she had to learn at the most painful moment of her life when she had to share in the sacrifice of Christ in exactly the same way as Mary did.
Lessons learnt in such moments are never forgotten. They indelibly stain the memory and determine the way you think and act for the rest of your life, for better or for worse. In my mother’s case it was for better not worse as it had been for Mary.

For both of them it meant that through their terrible ordeal their motherhood had somehow been refined and deepened to the benefit of other children who looked to them for the motherly love that was always given without measure. I for one know this because I have experienced it for myself, and still do.

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