With the worst of the covid situation hopefully behind us, we were able to make our retreat this year to Lisieux in northern France, to spend some time contemplating St Therese, her 'Little Way', our individual calling.
The group was made up of 5 couples, deacons and their wives, 8 more deacons and our retreat leader, Mgr. Keith Barltrop, parish priest at St. Mary of the Angels, in Bayswater, west London.
Most took the Eurostar train service from London to Paris, and then a second train from Paris to Lisieux; one took in an additional journey to Caen - (please see Dcn. Nick Agule for further details.)
My wife and I drove, taking the opportunity to ‘bookend’ the retreat with overnight stays in Wimereux, a smallish town about a 30-minute drive from Calais. Lisa’s parents lived in Wimereux for about 20 years, and her father is buried there. It had been a while since we had visited the grave and it seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. Being under our own steam had other benefits, more about that later.
On arrival in Lisieux, we were greeted warmly by the Sisters, who run the reception and accommodation centre, next to the monastery; they were a delight and made every meal something to remember with singing and prayer.
A seminarian named Aubrey was our local guide, and not only took us to places, but took us deeper in to the history of these places; we visited
the house where St Therese grew up with sister and parents,
we visited the cathedral of St Peter
and the stunning basilica dedicated to St Therese.
We met daily for Morning Prayer, we joined others staying for a communal breakfast, and in addition to our visits, we met also for a series of talks about St Therese prepared and delivered by Mgr. Keith. We also had some ‘sharing time’ where we were able to speak about what the talks meant to us. We had the Sacrament of the Eucharist daily, and we would conclude the day with Evening Prayer.
The time between all of these things was time often spent getting to know each other, as some of us had not met others before; this fraternal time extended to the wives also, and a discovery was made that my wife had attended school and been in the same classes for their A-levels with the wife of another deacon. They had lost touch after school, as is often the case, but being reunited in this place and in this manner was something special for them.
As I mentioned we had a car, and one day we had some free time; we decided that not having been there before, and being so close, we would visit the Normandy beaches that were used by the coalition forces in the summer of 1944. We took a trip to Omaha Beach and paid our respects to all those who took part in the D-Day landings, so many of which gave their lives for the freedom of others.
A word of great appreciation to Dcn. Anthony Clarke who organised so much of the retreat; Anthony retired from active ministry earlier this year, and I will endeavour to do my best as retreat-master for the next retreat in two years’ time. Thanks also to Dcn.’s Adrian Cullen and Tony Barter who kept us in line, most of the time anyway.
I hope this personal reflection was of interest to you, thank you for taking the time to read it; please pray for all your Westminster Deacons, we live ordinary lives amongst you, and are always in need of your prayer.
Blessing on you all,
Rev. Dcn. Brendan & Lisa Day – St Albans
(Covid has affected many people and organisations in recent times; one of the things impacted has been the ability for Deacons to make their annual retreat in the normal way. Deacons are called to take time out of parish life, to cultivate their spiritual life, at least every other year (basic norms 208). )