Where Prayer Has Been Valid

Corbel at Holywell: Nabokov at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well and prayed for all the sick and suffering people in the world, which means, in effect, for everyone. We are all in some measure sick — not quite what we should be, probably rather less than we could be — and we are all in some degree suffering — not obviously, perhaps, but ‘underneath’, where we do not care to shine too bright a light. Today’s Mass readings remind us that we find our strength in the Lord. He carries us, just as the corbel at St Winefride’s Well shows a man carrying his friend.

There is always a beautiful quietness at Holywell. The battered old stones hold so many prayers, while the gentle bubbling of the spring recalls the waters of Shiloh and all the miracles of healing recorded in scripture. To pray in such a place, to light a candle in such a place, is to assert once again the supremacy of God’s love, the triumph of good over evil and the power of grace to transform lives. That is the true miracle of healing, the end to which our journey through Advent leads us.

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Pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well

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 Man carrying a disabled companion: corbel at the shrine

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, Flintshire. We set off early and were at the shrine as it opened. For half an hour or so we had the place to ourselves and, in the beautiful silence and peace one finds there, were able to pray for all sick and suffering people, especially those known to us and those who have asked our prayers. The worn stone, the bubbling spring, the heavy scent of flowers round about, the bright candles burning in the alcove, the crutches and ex votos of those who have found healing, these may remind the casual visitor of Lourdes, to which Holywell is often compared, but, for myself, I found the quiet charged with an intensity of prayer that can only come from centuries of being a holy place. To a Benedictine, it was somehow familiar, a homely place, in every sense of the word.

This corbel, showing a man carrying his disabled companion, expresses an important truth about praying for the sick. It is the privilege of those who are able to carry those who can no longer carry themselves; and it is the privilege of those who are carried to cherish and bless those who do the carrying. The sculptor has captured not only a moment of practical help but also a moment of great tenderness, as both carrier and carried are portrayed cheek to cheek, looking in the same direction. I think we can extend the meaning of that to cover many more situations. Christianity can never be an individualistic religion, concerned only with personal sanctification, as though we could become holy apart from everyone else. That hackneyed political phrase, ‘we are all in this together,’ takes on a new meaning when applied to the Christian vision of society. We stand united, looking in the same direction towards Christ, and we help one another along the road to salvation. Some may do the carrying, others may be carried, but we follow the same path and give glory to God by our journeying.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail