A Personal Message from Sr Catherine (a.k.a. Digitalnun)

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

Dear Friends, 

I’d like to share with you my latest news. Please read the two sections Tidying my Sock Drawer and How You Can Help. The others, though important to me, may be of no interest. It is rather a long post from someone who has always prided herself on writing briefly and simply, but I suspect God is smiling at my prolixity. I’m writing this on the day we sing O Oriens: the light that is coming to us with its hope of redemption. It is worth meditating on that.

Tidying My Sock Drawer

On Saturday, 18 December, I was admitted to Hereford Hospital with a chest infection. One of the consultants kindly came to see me and said that nothing more could be done for me medically and that I was now close to death. The only question was whether I should be discharged to a hospice or home to the monastery. It is a mark of Quietnun’s generosity of spirit that she unhesitatingly said, ‘Come home.’ Fr Andrew Berry, a monk of Belmont, came on Sunday, straight after a busy morning saying Mass, and gave me the Last Sacraments and Apostolic Pardon. They confirmed my opinion that Catholicism can be a hard religion to live by but is a beautiful religion in which to die. The rituals and prayer with which we surround death, especially the monastic ones, the Church’s clear-eyed acceptance of sin and failure and her confidence in her mission to channel God’s love and mercy to her children, are very moving, but perhaps one only begins to appreciate them when one is dying oneself. I like, too, the combination of infinite trust in God and the lack of presumption. No zipping into heaven for me but, I hope, the final purification of purgatory. In the meantime, I shall be tidying my sock drawer – monastic-speak for preparing to die. Off and on, that is. I’m very good at procrastination.

How You Can Help

As you will realise, this situation puts extra strain on the community; so here is how you can help us.

First, your prayers are what we most need. We know we can call on a number of friends for practical help, but the following may not have occurred to you.

  • Please don’t ask for personal updates. One of our oblates, whom we’ve dubbed our Director of Communications, will post occasional updates on Twitter, on the community’s Facebook page, and hopefully on the blog.
  • Please use our dedicated 24/7 prayerline for prayer requests. I know it is easier and more immediate to tweet or DM me, but it can be difficult at times. I would especially ask you not to telephone requests which can go on longer than I have breath to respond!
  • Please bear in mind that it is not only our human resources that are limited, our broadband is too. DMs put great strain on the system, especially when they contain attachments or links that have to be checked for viruses. Our email address is available on our community web sites, and all, including the blog, have contact forms. 
  • Quietnun is not a natural digital and she has more than enough to cope with, so she will not be able to respond to individual requests. One of our oblates has stepped into the breach and is currently managing the FB prayer intentions (rather beautifully, if I may say so). We will work out a more permanent solution in due course. All our recordings of the Rule are available on Anchor, which you can access in a number of ways.
  • Finally, no eulogies, please. ‘Nuff sed.

 A Few Thank Yous and an Apology

The God in whom I believe is much bigger, and so much more fun, than we often allow him to be. I thank him for letting me be a Benedictine, which has been the supreme joy of my life, for the friendships he has inspired and the graces he has poured out on me despite my stubbornness and lack of co-operation. I ought to thank him for the difficulties, too, but I don’t ‘do’ piety. Brutal honesty is more my line. I know he understands.

Then a few more thank yous. I’m not giving names because I respect your privacy, but I hope you will recognize yourself in what I write:

  • My family, especially my ‘little sister’, my community of profession and the one to which I belong now, our oblates and associates, know my shadow side better than any. They’ve put up with me for years. I’m sorry I’m unlikely to be around when both my nieces marry next year but they know how much I desire their happiness and that of their husbands-to-be. Quietnun will face many challenges when I die, but I know she will tackle them with her customary honesty and courage. She may not have any silicon in her, but she certainly has steel!
  • My friends, both online and off, you have enriched my life in ways too numerous to count. One in particular, whose friendship goes way back, has been unfailingly supportive and generous. Without his help, I doubt whether we would have been able to do the things we have.
  • My priest friends deserve special mention. If I single out the bishop who first welcomed us into his diocese, our confessors, Honorary Chaplain, a certain hermit-priest and an abbot, it is because I have learned a lot from them, and their belief in our purpose has sustained us through some dark times.
  • The priests and people of East Hendred, East Ilsley, Wantage, Abingdon and Didcot welcomed us, helped us, and became good friends. They still are.
  • Our trustees have been unstinting in their support and guidance. Their job is a difficult one at times, with constantly changing legislation and the need to ensure that the monastery can incorporate it in a sensible way.
  • Finally, I must mention all those, seen and unseen, who have been involved in my medical and nursing care. I have grown fond of you all as well as appreciating what you’ve done for me to keep me alive much longer than expected with all my ‘life-limiting’ diseases. I thank in advance the Palliative Care Team — though I do hope I won’t be calling on you just yet.

I’m sorry for the times I have hurt or offended people. I think I can honestly claim never to have done so intentionally and hope you will forgive me. Forgiveness and reconciliation achieve much more than division, condemnation or insults, and what our world needs now is surely a more lively sense of our common humanity and a readiness to change.

The Situation Now

I’ve come home with a package of anticipatory medicines which I hope will be a help when my end comes. I may last longer than expected. Who knows? Although I’ve known my condition was deteriorating, the diagnosis came as a shock and I am still digesting it.

My delight in poetry, music and the natural world is undiminished. My mind may be slower than it once was but I still enjoy engaging with ideas and arguments. I love the daily monastic round which is the weft and warp of my life. Our garden continues to be a source of joy and I remain quite soppy about dogs, P.B.G.V.s and Bassets Fauve de Bretagne. No surprises there! When I spoke to my sister on the ‘phone to give her my news, she gladdened my heart by laughing through her tears, so I hope my ability to see the funny side of life will continue. And if you don’t like my humour, tough. If I feel well enough, I may be online occasionally but there are many practical problems absorbing the community’s time and energy just now. So I suppose I’d better start tidying that sock drawer. Or maybe I’ll just go and talk to the dog.

Thank you for reading this. May God bless you all,

Sr Catherine