Catholic Herald, 12 April 1991
Did you have time to make Easter nests this year? Not the chocky-cornflake variety, but the outdoor sort.
When I was a child, a favourite Easter treat was the egg hunt. At crack of dawn on Easter Sunday some kind grown-up sneaked into the garden and, in hidden places, prepared a “nest” for each child in the house. If it was wet (but rain somehow never spoiled those long-ago Easters) the nests were made indoors and concealed behind the mangle and mops in the scullery, or at the bottom of the laundry basket, or at the back of the linen cupboard.
The nests were made of twigs and leaves roughly bound together with ivy. They were lined with moss and decorated with wild flowers: primrose, celandine, lady’s smock.
Painted hard-boiled eggs were tucked into the mossy hollow, and when sweet-rationing ended (that dates it!) a precious chocolate egg or two would be included.
Hunting for the nests on Easter morning, the cheerful crunch of shell as we “paced” the eggs is a vivid, joyful memory. Christmas (because of the presents) always had the edge over Easter in my juvenile mind. But the hint of summer to come in the early blossom and chirpy birds blended with a childish concept of the Resurrection, and created an Easter Day of real joy.
Perhaps it is natural that our love for the faith and the church should begin, childishly, with Christmas. With God’s providence that love grows, like the infant Christ, so that by the time we are adult, our understanding of the great Paschal mystery has developed to assume pride of place in our personal liturgical year.
I find I am never prepared for the sheer impact of Easter. The high-minded purposes expressed on Ash Wednesday invariably wither, and one approaches Holy Week with a handful of botched intentions.
Despite these half-hearted attempts, Easter comes with its colossal implications for us. Our failures, hopes and expectations are brought sharply into focus by the tremendous liturgy of the Easter vigil, exploding triumphantly with the Gloria.
At Corpus Christi church in Oxford, the Gloria on Easter Saturday night was heralded with the sound of trumpets. It was not only dramatic (at the same time all the lights in the church went on) – but fitting. Eleven converts were received into the church that night, one of whom, as chance would have it, being peculiarly well-matched to the sound of trumpets. (The other ten good people will forgive me if I concentrate on him, because as a journalist and writer, he belongs to the public in the way that everyone who is published does).
For it was a trumpet of sorts that accompanied the Oyez Oyez chappie, the crier, the journalist of yesteryear. William Oddie, 51-year-old convert priest from the Church of England, writes for the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator, besides being the author of several books. He is a big man with a generous personality to match his frame, and he kindly spent an hour with me a few days before he was received into the church so that I may share with you some of his thoughts on this momentous occasion.
Over to Rome
Funnily enough I forgot to ask him during our talk about the practical problems that surround such a decision. Many converts face some sort of jibe or opposition when they elect to alter their way of life. For a convert clergyman the difficulties may be compounded by the responsibilities of a wife and family.
Put yourself in his position for a moment. Everything that one strives for in this world is suddenly whipped away, often in mid-life when one may be considered at one’s peak: a secure income, decent housing, a promising career, a position of respect within society. Apart from physical well-being, those things represent just about everything we aim for: and the convert clergyman turns his back on all that when he “goes over” to Rome.
But as I say, these reflections occurred to me only after I had spoken to William Oddie.
Channel to God
What we talked about was his long journey from atheism to Rome, and the sign-posts along the way. He was educated at a rather grim non-conformist boarding-school which nonetheless had the benefit of regular readings from the Old Testament. He went on to read English at Trinity College, Dublin, and to this day retains warm memories of Irish friends and the fair city. A lasting memory is of an entire busload of Irish crossing themselves reverently as the bus passed a Catholic church; or of pints being put down in pubs in order to say the Angelus before the six o’clock news broadcast on Radio Eireann – such corporate acts of prayer make a lasting impression on the atheist (incidentally, does the Angelus still precede the news in Ireland?).***
At the age of 33 William Oddie was confirmed in the Church of England, and in due course ordained. He will always be grateful not only for the love and support of many Anglican friends, but to the Church of England for becoming the channel through which he came to Catholicism – a sentiment many of us would wholeheartedly echo.
Jam on scones
The Mass is absolutely crucial to William Oddie’s conversion – and the crunch came when he could no longer approach his altar. The five long months between leaving the Church of England and being received into the Catholic church were for him a sort of limbo, or a desert without manna.
Contrary to popular myth, the church makes it quite hard for people to join, and unless there are exceptional circumstances, a lengthy period of preparation is demanded. He confesses to a liking for the grandeur of the Latin language, but stresses that of course this is not essential, merely “jam on the scones”.
As he says, the Mass is the Mass, and to be “picky and choosey is akin to a starving man refusing bread”.
Needless to say, Cardinal Newman influenced his thinking, and I am grateful to him for reminding me of what Newman said of transubstantiation: it is very difficult to understand, but it is not difficult to believe. This is worthwhile recalling these days, in our rationalist culture, where so much must be proved to our puny satisfaction.
And he also reminded me of the amazing mercy of God, who comes to us at our pleasure, our convenience almost, every time we choose to attend Mass and receive the sacraments.
There was more, much more, but I’ve run out of space. Watch out for this fearless man whose influence, I believe, will be significant.
THE feast of St Martin this weekend commemorates s fearless man. The seventh century Umbrian was the last Pope to have been honoured and venerated as a martyr. He suffered imprisonment, exile, and death from starvation, for condemning monothelitism – not to be confused with monophysitism. He is just one of many saintly examples of suffering for the precept that principles must come before a quiet life.
*** When this article appeared, a reader, who was the Editor of the Irish Catholic, wrote in to say that the Angelus does indeed precede the news in Ireland, on both radio and television.