Wednesday is now our day for going out for a drive and maybe some lunch. It is a precious time for both of us, especially my husband, as it makes a change from the endless hospital appointments and dialysis sessions. I love it because we get to spend time together visiting all of our favourite places, and discovering some new ones.
However, on waking last Wednesday, we were greeted by the first hard frost we have seen this winter. It was one of those magical days when the icy mist merges with clouds low enough to touch, when every tree is decorated with nature’s icing and the ground sparkles beneath your feet. Bravely we decided to head out anyway to a place that is very dear to our hearts, Prinknash Abbey.
I go there very often and have written about it many times before. But I was especially keen because I had heard about a designated Holy Door at the old St Peter’s Grange. I guess this means nothing to many if not most of my readers, but it is of great significance to me.
It has been a long tradition in the Catholic church to use the Holy Door as a symbol to mark a Jubilee. This year has been designated a Year of Mercy by Pope Francis. Being a practical ‘man of the people’ person, the Pope knows that most people can not just travel to Rome. So he has allowed Cathedrals and special Holy buildings all over the world to prepare a Holy Door. St Peter’s Grange has named the old door, pictured above, which leads into the chapel, as a Holy Door.
We all pass through doors countless times a day without a thought I’m sure, but if we stop to think about it, some doors are like portals from one reality to another. I am reminded of the Holman Hunt painting, Light of the World, which shows Jesus standing at a door knocking. The door has no handle so Jesus can not enter unless the door is opened from the inside to welcome Him in. In the case of the Holy Door everyone is welcome to open it and enter into a sacred space to be at peace, to pray and to find mercy and forgiveness.
In the year 2000, the previous Jubilee year, I was lucky enough to visit Rome and see the Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. That was a wonderful experience. But the most spiritual experience I have ever had was on entering the Porziuncola of St Francis of Assissi. St Francis loved this little church more than any other in the world. It was here he began his religious life and community in a very small way, and it was near here he came to die. Walking through the door into this little chapel is truly like walking into heaven. It feels like holy ground.
So I was optimistic that this experience would be as good. I have a very special hope for this year of mercy but I think I may be over-optimistic! I read about the radical reforms that Pope Francis was introducing to the annulment process and my heart leapt.
You see I was born and raised a catholic and I lived my faith to the full. I studied in a Catholic College run by an order of nuns and I went on to teach for over 20 years in Catholic schools. I married in the church and brought my children up in the faith. Sadly my marriage failed and I got a divorce then an annulment in 1984.
I brought my children up alone, rather successfully I think, and stayed on my own for the next decade. Eventually I met a divorced non catholic and, wishing to remarry with the church’s blessing, we started annulment proceedings for him. After lots of form filling, interviews, evidence gathering, a wait of several years, and paying costs in the hundreds of pounds, our application was refused. We then ill-advisedly appealed direct to Rome as there were changes of personnel going on in the local diocese. This was a disaster because entirely new forms were sent from Rome which we never received. So after many years of patient waiting, praying and suffering we tried to find out what had become of the application and were told that the case had basically been closed as we hadn’t replied, and we would have to start all over again!
We tried appealing for compassion to local priests and canon lawyers but to no avail so in 1997 we married quietly in a registry office with just 2 witnesses and no guests. This was deeply upsetting on a personal level as it went against everything I believed in and I felt rejected by the church I had given my life to. We have been together now for 25 years and happily married for 19 of them. But I don’t go to church any more as I don’t feel I belong. Now we are getting older and it is still the source of much sadness. My dearest wish is to have our marriage recognised by the church before one of us dies. Is that too optimistic do you think? Or will Pope Francis’s reforms make it possible in this year of Mercy?