Finding God in England

by Blanka Pavlickova

This was my third stay in England. So my first impressions were born at the end of the last century before I joined Madonna House. My letters home (it was pre-email times) were full of the beauty of the countryside, and a love for England has stayed in me.

One of my memories from that first visit was of looking for a Catholic church. I saw many picturesque churches with daffodils surrounding them.

Upon entering, I looked for the red light, but very often I left sad and disappointed because He wasn’t there. Eventually I found a church with the Blessed Sacrament and also a convent where I could attend Mass every morning before I started my volunteer work.

The Sisters there also took me to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on a day when Mass was celebrated outside, nearly in the middle of a sheep pasture, and the sheep choir joined in the music.

And now this past year, here I was again, now a member of Madonna House temporarily assigned to MH England.

As I was landing in Gatwick Airport, suddenly these words came to me (in my language, Czech): Glory to God in the highest and peace to people on earth. I wondered what this was supposed to mean.

I took the train to Scarborough and the countryside outside the window reminded me of home (the Czech Republic).

I was happy to see Cheryl Ann at the train station and meeting her, I knew that I was home (Madonna House). We drove through the moors and I know that this beauty stays with you forever.

Then suddenly, there was a view of the sea and the village of Robin Hood’s Bay. Then I came through the lovely garden and roses to Madonna House and entered the chapel. I didn’t have to look for the red light, because I knew that He was there. And I knew that I was home.

And then, as time went on, my eyes were slowly opened to the fact that, as some people say, this is a holy land.

For those whom we now call saints, lived and walked in these places in past times. Then the Catholic Church was suppressed for centuries.

We visited several monasteries and abbeys, yet my strongest image is connected with a visit to Scarborough castle, a place from which I hadn’t expected much.

There we went to see the ruins of a chapel at the very end of a cliff overlooking the sea, and I was thinking: “What a great place to celebrate Mass!”

The castle, the city, England are behind you, and the sea and Europe and the whole world are in front of you. It seemed like the hands of the priest were lifting the Eucharist above the whole world.

When the weather is good and the sea is calm, the view there is magnificent. And on dark days, the sea is rough, dangerous, and scary. The Eucharist is above it all, at all times. Glory to God in the highest, and peace to people on earth.

Then on September 8th, I was in poustinia, and it was a heavy day. I felt a great sadness; my tears were falling, and consolation didn’t come. So, in late afternoon, in the hope that I would be lifted up, I left the poustinia and went for a walk. I walked up the hill, through neighboring sheep pastures, and then up to the moors.

I wanted to see St. Hilda’s Abbey on the horizon. I wanted to be somehow closer to all those saints who had lived there, and to ask for their intercession, even though I already called on some of these new local friends before—St. John of Beverly, St. Nicholas Postgate, and others.

And then I learned that Queen Elizabeth II had died. Suddenly, it all came together; I understood where this sadness came from. And the cloud of heaviness lifted.

She was, in a way, also my queen, since I took an oath to her when I received Canadian citizenship. I wasn’t very excited about that at the time, but I slowly grew to like and admire her, especially when I came to England this June, shortly after the celebration of her jubilee.

It was appropriate that we prayed for her in our chapel. She gave her life in service to her country. There was something about her that attracted even people who weren’t royalists.

And now she shares her birthday with Our Lady—Mary’s in this world and Queen Elizabeth’s in the next.

Something in me wanted to say “Don’t worry, England; you still have another queen.”

I think I have another impression of my stay in Robin Hood’s Bay this past summer: England is a land of Our Lady and the Eucharist.

In the first weeks after my arrival, I kept hearing stories from different people—how they had felt drawn to walk into a church, how Our Lady visited them, how they felt the need to experience a mother, how they just started to attend Mass and then became Catholic.

I don’t remember hearing so many stories like this in any one place before. Our Lady is leading us to her Son. And where do we find Him? In the Eucharist.

Our Lady of Walsingham (the National Shrine of Our Lady in England): For many years I didn’t really like her image, mostly because of the big, heavy throne that she is sitting on. (Maybe it was scary to her as well.) But in our chapel in Robin Hood’s Bay, I found myself being drawn to that statue.

Later I realized why. A statue of St. Joseph is standing next to her. With him there, you can’t really see that the chair is so big and heavy. With him there, it loses its fright.

Gentleness is one of the attributes of our God. It is the word that Catherine Doherty gave to this house when it opened in 1985. When I saw this word next to the icon of Our Lady, I didn’t think much about it.

But in England, I gradually met the gentleness of God—through my brothers and sisters in the house, through our neighbours, our friends, the people of Yorkshire, and through God’s creatures, great and small (sheep, badgers, seals—you name it), and through the nature around our house.

It can be painful when all this gentleness touches something in you and you realize the harshness of your heart. And yet, when the harshness-melting process starts, there are not only tears, but joy as well, as there is more room for God. (There’s much more to be melted in my case, though.)

I still don’t know what to make of the words, “Gloria in excelsis Deo,” which came to me while landing in England in June.

I know that our world has many problems and that the UK is not exempt from them. There are many wars. The one I feel closest to is the one in Ukraine since I am from so near there. And there are the battles in people’s hearts. Maybe we are really created to give glory to God, and since we don’t do it, maybe that’s why the world looks like it does.

Angels were praising God when there was a Baby wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger in Bethlehem; they were muted from singing it years later when the Baby became Man and was hanging and dying on a cross.

I think angels are still singing it when Christ comes to this world through the hands of a priest when Mass is being celebrated. Maybe we need to join them.

To live for the glory of God, what can be more beautiful? To join those who gave glory to Him with their lives centuries ago, and those who left us in this world quite recently. And to help each other get up again and again.

Despite the wars and the darkness of the rough sea—for me and for others—let us believe and expect that the One who came, is coming and will come again, can do anything at any time.