Edited by Lynne Hand.
Outside, a storm is raging: Rain is clattering on the dormer, and the
huge pine tree in the front garden is bending ever lower towards the
house. One day it will snap, but hopefully not today. Sometimes that’s
all we can pray for, “Not today please”. And yet this is peaceful
compared with the noise we have experienced over the last few days. We
are in Normandie at present, and this weekend there has been a huge
agricultural show in the area with around half a million visitors: Most
of whom seemed to walk straight past our gate.
The festival of St Croix has been going for a thousand years or so,
and, because of its name, was presumably some sort of religious festival
when it began. The church is still involved, although it plays a very
minor role nowadays. I’ve just looked it up, and discovered it was
originally founded to celebrate the opening of the abbey in Lessay.
At the side of the house is a field where there were many horses on
sale or on show – everything from tiny ponies less than waist high, to
the mighty Percherons, but at seven o’clock last night, the heavens
opened and within an amazingly short time almost everything, and
everyone was packed and gone. However, they have left their legacy,
huge ruts in the ground from the enormous agricultural machinery that
had been on show, splats on the grass, from the horses and the other
animals – donkeys, goats and the rest. Of course, the ruts will
disappear, and the animal waste will fertilise the land, but the human
waste will be harder to get rid of – plastic bags, discarded cans and
all the rest.
There many other abbeys in this area; all the way to Mont St Michel,
and you could visit one every day without going very far. It has to be
said that the church as an institution is not as important in French
society as it once was, yet it is still there. The faithful still
express their faith, whether in the church we attended yesterday or by
lighting a small candle in a wayside chapel. These places are
well-worth visiting; there are often exhibitions showing the history of
the area, although of course the relatively recent history is all too
often very dark. Here we are not far from the landing beaches of D-Day,
so the storm of war and revolution is all around us, from stories of
priests being carried off to concentration camps, and how the local
cathedral in Countance became a ‘temple of reason‘ during the
revolution; no services were allowed for two years, and the nuns who had
been running a hospital in a nearby town had to go into hiding. They
didn’t get the hospital back until 1956.
There has been an interesting survey in America recently. It was
trying to assess how the Catholic church is doing, and instead of just
asking about church attendance it asked about belief and adherence.
Large numbers stated that they were cultural Catholics. This means they
may not attend on a regular basis , but that their thinking and
life-style expresses some affinity with Catholic values. And it really
doesn’t matter what our beliefs are, we all need good moral guidance in
our lives. I have a grandson who is just over a year old. Sometimes he
does things, or wants to do things, to which we have to categorically
say ‘No’. At other times he is praised for doing a positive thing. At
this age he hasn’t worked out for himself which is which in every case,
but over time a pattern will emerge. There will be times when he pushes
the boundaries of what is acceptable, but at least the boundaries are
there and he will know what they are.
Yesterday I saw a huge cart-horse negotiate a very difficult route
round lots of obstacles. He did this with the guidance of the man on the
cart he was pulling. We all need some help round the obstacles in our
lives, especially in stormy times, and sometimes we can also be the
person doing the guiding.