Sunday, 10 February 2019

'Orate Fratres'- Rev Bernard Basset S.J.


Nearly seventy years ago, I was a young teenager attending Wimbledon College in south-west London, a State aided Grammar School for boys run by the Jesuits. Whilst there I had the good fortune to attend a Retreat for our age group, given by Father Bernard Basset S.J., a much sought after Retreat Master. I found his talks on the Faith stimulating, clear and balanced, and sprinkled always with a generous dressing of humour.

                Recently I came across a second-hand, small paper-back book, entitled ‘The Seven Deadly Virtues and Other Stories’ by Bernard Basset S.J., published by Sands & Co., which I am reading and thoroughly enjoying.

                I reproduce one of the stories, ‘Orate Fratres’, which I hope that you enjoy as much as I do.

               

‘Orate Fratres’

‘The early morning Mass was over.  The minute server had extinguished the last of the very tall candles, and had retired to the sacristy carrying the missal, the cruets, the altar cards and the extinguisher.  He had not dropped anything but he had gone off rattling like a four wheeler, and the sound of voices in the sacristy led one to believe that the sacristan had told him not once but a hundred times not to do that again.

                Mrs Reid liked to hear the voices in the distance.  It made the church seem less empty and it filled up part of the thanksgiving time.  Mind you, she did not tell herself this in so many words, but it was a fact all the same.

                The church was now very dim and peaceful, and Mrs Reid felt that the moment had come to get down to her prayers, but much as she loved the Lord she could not get started.  What with the - ‘Jimmy Mason’ film she had seen yesterday, and the candles all askew on the high altar, she could neither open nor shut her eyes without distraction. She took up her missal and glanced hurriedly through it, but it was too much like a Bradshaw to give her any consolation except on the very biggest and most straight- forward feasts.  Besides it had a map of the Roman Basilicas at the beginning, and only yesterday she had found herself on the Appian Way when the Sanctus bell sounded.  Mrs Reid shut her missal with a bang.

                Her knees were hurting and so she decided to sit down, but this manoeuvre hurled her umbrella to the ground.  Heavens, how the rubber band at the top was worn!  She would buy another on the way to the oculist and would also have the button sewn on properly.  Mrs Reid picked it up and began to roll it up when she suddenly recalled that she was in church.

                “Gracious me, what am I up to?” she whispered, horrified, as she clapped down the umbrella and picked up her other prayer book.  “Dear Lord, forgive me, what can I say to You?”

                She always brought the other prayer book to church every day though she never knew why.  It was stuffed with holy pictures and mortuary cards, and one or two less pious objects.  There was a bus ticket and a list of successful candidates  for the London Matriculation.  Her boy had passed well and his name was underlined in red. Last Sunday by mistake she had taken out the cutting during Benediction, and without thinking had started to read through all the names.

                She had got down to the Ks when she saw that odious Miss Perkins looking at her across the aisle.  On that occasion she had audibly whispered  a ‘Glory be to the Father’ and made a Sign of the Cross before putting the cutting away, just to teach the other not to judge her neighbours, but now she felt it was playing with fire to get near the Matriculation results again.

                So Mrs Reid fell back on her rosary.  She fished it out from her coat pocket – no, it was in her bag after all, funny – and settled down to say her beads.  She started correctly but after a few minutes the beads were shooting by too quickly.  Hail Marys cannot be said at that speed.  Mrs Reid pulled herself up.  Where was she, not at the third mystery already?  Why she didn’t remember whether it was the Joyful or the Glorious.

                “Dear Lord, I’m hopeless,” she said for the hundredth time before going off on to another distraction.

                There was the Canon kneeling on the other side of the church making his thanksgiving after Mass.  He knelt so still, with bowed head and joined hands. Never a movement.  Mrs Reid stared at him quite openly.

                “Dear Lord,”” she said, “I’m hopeless at prayer; if only I could pray like the Canon.  He is a priest so I suppose it is easier for him, because they are taught how to pray in the seminaries.  I expect he is having a vision at this very moment.  Dear Lord, I am so useless, can’t I pray like that?”

                Mrs Reid put down her rosary, joined her hands, shut her eyes and tried to pray like the Canon.

                Yes, the Canon knelt very still, and he kept his eyes shut, but that was because he had been taught at the seminary that it was not hypocrisy but good example to look devout even when he did not feel it.  But as he knelt there his mind wandered from the leak in the roof of St Joseph’s chapel to the Archbishop’s cold, and from the archiepiscopal cold to the way his server sniffed during Mass.  Really he must summon up courage to tell the boy even if it led to an attack of sulks and no server for a week.  Perhaps he could ask Mrs Reid to say the responses , she was always regular in the mornings.  The Canon knew she was here now for he could hear her rosary rattling against the bench.

                “Dear Lord,” said the Canon, “I’m hopeless.  Here I am wandering about thinking of roofs and sniffs when I should be thanking You for the honour given me each morning of holding in my hands the living God.  Here am I, a useless shepherd, wasting my time thinking of money and temporal trivialities, while one of my own parishioners is praying as I ought to be.  O Lord, if only I could pray like Mrs Reid.  I’m hopeless.”

                The old Canon fumbled in his pocket and drew out his rosary beads.

                And from on high the Son of God looked down on them with love, for although He now enjoys eternity, He has not forgotten just how long a quarter of an hour can be.  And just as it is the time and trouble taken that makes a letter from a friend so welcome, so it is the time and trouble taken that makes prayer acceptable to God.  For prayer is not unlike a letter to a loved one, beginning with a big Beloved and then skipping from triviality to triviality till it reaches the triumphant conclusion “Yours very devotedly”.  This is what pleases God.’



Ack. ‘The Seven Deadly Virtues, and Other Stories’ by Rev Bernard Bassett S.J. (published by Sands & Co. – with permission to publish in book form  from  Stella Maris and Southwark Record in which they first appeared.)

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