...sitting in rows at a Marriage Preparation course in a Catholic parish. The atmosphere is very attractive - friendly, open, interested - and it is a privilege to take part in these sessions. As the talk develops, the mood moves from interest to real involvement - there is great seriousness as we speak of the sacrament of marriage, of Cana, of Bridegroom and Bride, of the link between marriage and the Eucharist. Prayer, passing on the Faith to children, loyalty, building up a family, and looking ahead to life and beyond - and preparing for marriage by thinking about these things...all this gets discussed. The day ends with the priest praying one of the beautiful prayers from the Nuptial Mass which speaks of a couple seeing their children's children, and after a happy old age having "fullness of life with the saints, in the kingdom of Heaven".
As I leave I pick up the parish newsletter. There's a rather good Lenten pastoral letter reminding us all about penance and prayer, about fasting and going to confession. Abstention from meat on Lenten Fridays is especially mentioned.
Home on the Tube, trundling through the suburbs, icy rain lashing at the windows, with a book about John Paul II - I'm reading a lot of his material at the moment after realising that in fact I hadn't actually studied much while he was alive and writing...He's going to be beatified on the feast of Divine Mercy. I didn't really connect with this devotion when this feast was first instituted. I remember thinking: "Well, of course God is merciful. Why do we need a special feast to state that?". But listen to what JPII said:
"It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy.
"This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope."