|Antonio Veneziano (14th cent.) from the cover of Magnificat, July 2011|
St Mary Magdalene (though in some calendars " nothing" of her this year, it being a Sunday) - a little Easter in high summer. The weather has risen to the occasion - the first sunny weekend for a long time - and quite understandably the neighbours are out in force: next door, in the tiny strip of suburban garden parallel to ours, they have the radio turned up to full volume to be heard over the sound of lawn mower and strimmer. It is not tuned to a station I would have chosen.
Having done my (very) token bit of clipping and weeding I have resorted to earphones to listen to Choral Evensong on Radio 3 - though noises off still intrude. Inches from my shoulder a bee is busy on a spray of wonderfully purple buddleia; my eye catches that of St Francis in the form of an arguably naff statue festooned with tendrils of honeysuckle and patinated with guano. Into my ears the choir sings Charles Wesley's hymn:
O Thou Who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
Upon the mean altar of my heart.
There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.
Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.
Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.
I'm reminded of two key turning-points in my journey. We sang that hymn at the Sung Mass on my first day at theological college, and it's become my prayer of vocation to ministry. And I took the name Magdalene at my reception into the Catholic Church eighteen years later. She's been a patron of my vocation to ministry: despite everything she "guarded the holy fire", perhaps unconsciously - the Holy One's gift of love:
You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. [Luke 7:45-47] (If you reckon Mary Magdalene to be the same person as the woman who anointed Jesus.)
Evensong ends, and I remove my earphones. Beneath the insistent beat of next door's music I find the slower rhythm of my own heart. Deeper still, I listen for God's calling.
Still stir up Thy gift in me.