When I first came to Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa around the year 2000 there did not seem to be much on the surface to attract someone like me, or anyone my age or younger.
The building was small and humble, with gray linoleum and red indoor/outdoor carpeting on the floors. The pews creaked, the coat room smelled a little funny, and the small congregation seemed to be filled with octogenarians. You got handed a pile of books upon entering, and the elderly woman who at the time usually did so might snap at you to ensure you did not to take one of the pew booklets home with you.
But then the bells rang, Bishop Robert Mercer, Fr. Carl Reid, Fr. Kipling Cooper and others in the altar party would enter the sanctuary and the holiness of the worship transported me into the worship of heaven. The reverence they displayed towards the Blessed Sacrament conveyed intuitively theological truth about Christ’s Real Presence that had been missing from my adult formation as a Baptist.
All of these men are holy priests and are all now Catholic, but there was a way that Bishop Mercer, now Msgr. Mercer, prayed the Mass that was exceptional. He was so recollected and present that this recollection seemed contagious. I have massive attention problems and somehow Bishop Mercer created a state of stillness and holy silence about him that I was lifted into a still state myself and effortlessly heard every word. He can’t sing so I don’t recall if he ever even tried chanting the Scripture, but what I do remember is that he proclaimed it in such a way that it was as if St. Paul was standing there. I had to keep coming back for more. This place, this little tiny parish, now Catholic but then of the Traditional Anglican Communion, was holy ground. And when I encouraged some of my friends to come, they too were affected the same way and joined the parish.
Fast forward several years later, and a charismatic minister pastor the Protestant side attended one of our services and was touched by how much Fr. Carl Reid (now Msgr. Reid and Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross) meant every word of the collects he prayed. In charismatic circles, spontaneous prayers are the rule and except for maybe the Lord’s Prayer or a couple of verses of the Psalms, you would rarely if ever hear someone read a prayer.
What was so special about Bishop Mercer and our priests, including Fr. Kipling who also has an amazing holy presence? It’s that they all have a prayer life including and beyond seriously entering into praying the daily offices. It was at Annunciation I was first encouraged to pray Mattins and Evensong at home, and what a blessing that practice has been to me over the years—though I confess I don’t always do both of them faithfully, but I almost always at least pray Mattins.
What if every single member of an ordinariate parish or community resolved to step up their daily prayer life, starting with the daily offices (and John Covert provides a very easy way to do this without your having to cart a lot of books around)? What if you add to that the Rosary? And if you really want to blow the roof open to reveal the worship of heaven when you gather together for any visitor to experience, how about adding the practice of contemplative prayer?
Over the years, I have been drawn to contemplative prayer and from time to time practice it and the main thing it does is bring me into the Silence of God that Cardinal Sarah so eloquently described in The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. But it also helps me to slow down so that when I read the Psalms and Scripture, the words come alive. God speaks to me through them in a way He can’t get through if I am rushing through my prayers.
So this is why I am so delighted and grateful for discovering the writings and podcasts of David Torkington via Lisa Nicholas’ blog. In a new post, Lisa describes her own gratitude in discovering this expert on the Catholic contemplative tradition.
In A Tutor Along the Way: David Torkington, Lisa sums up some of what she’s gained through reading Torkington’s work.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about Torkington’s approach is that he clearly wants us all to “get it.” That’s because he believes not only that the contemplative life is open to ordinary Christians, but that it is our God-given calling, which must not be neglected. This is one of several points that he makes time and again in all his books and articles. He’s not afraid to repeat himself, because he want us to hear and take to heart several key ideas:
The contemplative life is not something reserved for cloistered specialists; rather it is the vocation of every Christian, whether we realize it or not. It is the normal way in which God gradually transforms us into His own likeness, which is necessary if we are to spend eternity with Him.
The contemplative way of prayer helps us learn how to love as God loves, which is the whole of our Christian calling.
From the beginning of the Church, Christians recognized this contemplative vocation and lived it — this was the normal way to remain in communion with Christ on a daily basis. But over time, as the Church became socially acceptable and woven into the life of the world, this deep life of prayer became less “normal” for ordinary, worldly Christians and was often reserved for those who lived outside the mainstream of life (hermits, monks).
At the height of the Counter-Reformation, when the Church was anxious to stamp out heresies that were creeping in, Church authorities became suspicious of the contemplative life, which in its advanced stage might be mistaken for the radical passivity advocated by Quietism. Consequently (and ironically), ever since then, this ancient and authentic practice of Christian prayer has remained untaught and almost known to most Christians — one of the unrecognized tragedies caused (indirectly) by the Protestant revolution.
Given all the problems of the Church and the world today, now more than ever, Christians need to return to our God-given vocation to be transformed into the likeness of Christ through a deep, daily communion with God, fostered by an ever-deepening bond with Him through prayer. Only by entering deeply into a sustained loving union with Christ can we truly know the love of God and, consequently, share that love with our neighbor.
Go on over and read the rest and discover David Torkington for yourself! Lisa also provides a link to a series of Torkington’s posts that she says provides a mini-series on contemplative prayer.
Thanks to Lisa, I am now in touch with David Torkington and he has agreed to do a podcast with me for the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society. If there was only one thing and one thing only I could advise us lay people in the ordinariate to do to evangelize the surrounding culture in a profound way, I would choose the kind of prayer Torkington so eloquently teaches and that is deeply embedded in our English Catholic/Anglo-Catholic patrimony.