A mustard seed

A mustard seed has been planted at Brighton, St George.

A new Catholic community, Corpus Christi Community, has recently been created and meets every Sunday at 7 a.m. in the shed at Brighton plantation (the same place where the Saturday Farmers’ Market is held).

The hope is that it will grow and become a strong tree.

In the meantime, I find it absolutely charming as it is: it has an outdoorsy and intimate feel with garden benches, an improvised altar, birds singing and cats roaming among the worshippers. Somewhat, I imagine, like the early Christian communities.

I stumbled upon this fledging community – anywhere from 15 to 30 people attend Mass on a given Sunday – when I was looking for an early morning Mass to attend. For decades, I went to Our Lady of the Rosary at Verdun, St John, but the
nine o’clock Mass time had become inconvenient. Brighton was ten minutes away.

The Mass is celebrated by Father Vibert Stephens, who recently marked his 20th anniversary as a priest. If you don’t know Vibert, he is one of a kind. God made him and then broke the mould. He not only speaks his mind in a down-to-earth manner, but he has a mischievous sense of humour and often leaves the congregation in stitches during his highly inter-active homilies – he will stop to greet someone, pray for them, or even dance with them.

His is not a sermon delivered from a remote pulpit but an intense personal dialogue down there among the people as he reflects on the readings of the Word. And underneath it all, there shines through the deep and abiding passion of this priest for God and all Her works.

Okay, I threw in the ‘Her’ to startle some of you who may insist in thinking of God as male, even though we know theologically that God cannot be limited by gender. But everyone is entitled to their image of God: some people think of Him as an old white man with a beard up in the sky, I happen to think of Her as a young black woman walking step-by-step right here on earth with us.

Of course, everyone is free to choose their own image; we can only ever speak of God in metaphor.

If you arrive at Brighton early on a Sunday morning feeling sleepy and grouchy, as I often do, especially if you have been out on a rum shop crawl the night before, you will leave with a joyful spirit. I, a grumpy old man, actually find myself smiling. And that, to me, is what religion is all about.

So how did I ‘catch’ religion after having spent so many years living with the comforting certainties of atheism?  And why Catholicism?

Short version:

I married a Catholic and am still married despite all her efforts over the years to consign and confine me to the doghouse. The Trini priest who married us accepted me, atheism, intellectual arrogance, and all, and remained my friend. My wife’s sister was a nun at the time and we often stayed in her convent, first in New Orleans and then in Los Angeles, where all the sisters and priests I met welcomed me wholeheartedly – they reached out rather than preached out.

In short, I was inspired by these dedicated people who answered any questions I had, and so led me to read some Catholic theologians, like Hans Kung, Karl Rahner and Teilhard de Chardin. I became gradually aware that my early rejection of religion had been woefully superficial.

But yet I had no ‘road to Damascus’ experience in which the scales suddenly fell from my eyes and I saw the light. My conversion was a slow and primarily intellectual process, and I brought with me a healthy dose of my early skepticism.

What attracted me, and still attracts me, most about Catholicism was its wide-ranging diversity, its infinite forms of  spiritual expression, within its fundamental unity. I have had the privilege of attending Mass in North and South America, Europe, the Caribbean including Haiti, Africa and Asia, and enjoyed the splendid cultural variations of the Catholic Church.

I have come to the conclusion that Catholicism is as much a way of life as a religion, hence I feel no guilt in dissenting from some of its doctrines, especially on birth control, married priests and women priests. You would have to drag me kicking and screaming out of the Church because of my opinions, and even then I would get up and walk back in. It’s my life.

Moreover, I have come to realize that the unity of Catholicism is not a straitjacket, a one-size-fits-all, and that different people draw upon  different sources of spiritual growth apart from the liturgy: Marian devotions, Eucharistic adoration, meditation, lectio divina, Catholic Social Teaching, feeding the hungry, helping the wounded, and so on.

So when I see young people drifting away from the Church, my instinct is to ask them if they have explored the treasure trove of spiritual enrichment opportunities that Catholicism offers.

I love Pope Francis’ metaphor for the Church: a field hospital for the wounded. As he wrote, “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

The mustard seed that is Corpus Christi Community was planted by the one of the most dynamic and likeable bishops we’ve ever had in Barbados, Jason Gordon, and is being lovingly watered by the Living Water Community, which apart from its unrelenting generous outreach to the wounded of this world, provides a source of charismatic spirituality.

Amen!

(Dr Peter Laurie is a retired permanent secretary, head of the Foreign Service and Ambassador to the United States)

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