A true story by David Torkington
‘If you want old ideas read new books, but if you want new ideas read old books’. With these words my spiritual director gave me – ‘Abandonment to Divine Providence’ by the Jesuit French mystic Jean Pierre de Caussade SJ, who died in 1751. The book is perhaps better known under the title- ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment’ more usually used when the book is translated into English, because this title embodies its central idea. I was busy reading the book when I had a message from my old friend Fr Kenneth Campbell, a Franciscan Priest who was born on the Island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. He had spent years working in the Holy Land and had arranged a pilgrimage for Gaelic speaking Catholics. However the Israeli government had suddenly asked him to escort the Canadian Foreign Minister and show him around the Holy Places as he was a Catholic. Could I therefore act as a ‘stand in’ because he couldn’t get back in time to meet the pilgrims at Luton airport? If I could, then after the formalities, I could board the plane with them and have a free holiday in the place that I had always dreamt of visiting, but had never had the time or the money to do so. Reading my ‘new’ book on the ‘plane coupled with what happened next led to one of the most important spiritual insights that I have ever experienced.
On the first day I did the grand tour of all the major shrines in style with Fr Kenneth and the Canadian foreign minister. There are more Gaelic speakers in Canada then there are in Scotland and, as the foreign minister was one of them, he and Fr Kenneth spoke to each other in their common tongue knowing full well that the official car was bugged! When for my sake he reverted to English whenever we left the car, I was amazed to hear the evidence for the authenticity of the Holy Places. After the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in 70AD they built their own pagan shrines over them so as to obliterate their memory. However their action did exactly the opposite, guaranteeing their preservation until they were returned to Christianity when Constantine became the first Christian Emperor in 312 and the exact places where Christ had died, and from where he rose again were pinpointed exactly. It was therefore the church of Holy Sepulchre that impressed me most, because it had been built over both – not the architecture, but the whole atmosphere of the place that touched me more deeply than I would have imagined.