Arriving at Birmingham, en route to Maryvale, the first priority is always to buy a packet of those useful coffee-filter-in-a-cup things, which allow you to brew some REAL coffee by simply pouring the hot water through the filter. Everything about Maryvale is splendid, except the coffee.
Armed with sufficient supplies - it looks mean just to pour a cup for oneself, so there always has to be enough to share around a bit - I then headed for the bus-stop, but the crowds were so huge that I gave up and got a taxi. Another part of the Maryvale arrival routine is being evangelised by the taxi-driver: most Brummy taxis seem to be driven by kindly, courteous and enthusiastically Islamic drivers. We invariably get on well, and they invariably try to urge me to read the Koran and/or consult various Islamic websites etc. Conversations usually begin with "So you're a Christian?" and then a question such as "Why do you Christians have two Bibles?" (by this he means the Old and New Testaments) or "How can you say Jesus was God's son if he died on the Cross?" or "Why do you Christians believe you need to confess to your priests?" I tackled these and asked him various questions myself. His knowledge of Christianity was scant. We ended up having a really quite profound conversation. And this is not the first, second, or even the third or fourth time that this has happened: it is literally the case that almost every time I get a cab in Birmingham, the driver turns the conversation to religion and urges me to consider the claims of Islam, while I in turn gently try to suggest something of the claims of Christ, no mere prophet but the One promised from the beginning, God himself...
And so to Maryvale - for a course of lectures on evangelisation!
A Mass for All Souls Day, a tasty supper provided by the dear Brigettine nuns, a late-night chat in the students' common-room during which the talk turned to the DVD shown to the Bishops at their recent Synod indicating Europe's demographic slide into an Islamic future...and later still, looking out from my window into the moonlight with Birmingham's city lights on the horizon, much to ponder and pray about...
My room was next door to the one which, in recusant days, was used as a secret chapel. Today we use a newer chapel (built in the late 18th century, when the penal laws were not so savage) and the All Souls' Mass was well attended by local people: Maryvale has a long tradition of devotion to the Sacred Heart and on the first Friday of every month the traditional devotional prayers are said, and people like to come. The altar on which Mass is celebrated is the one that Bl. John Henry
Newman used when he made Maryvale his home in the mid 19th century.
There was no one else sleeping in this part of the house this weekend, and it felt very, very silent and the corridors are very, very dark and the stairs creaky.