IF EVER a book title conveyed its content, this one certainly does; for it concerns that divine joy which the author, a Benedictine nun of St Cecilia’s Abbey on the Isle of Wight, knew in the depths of her heart, and which informed her 22 years as Novice Mistress until her death from cancer, aged 60, in 2017.
That theme of joy, rooted in Christ, runs throughout the chapters, which have been skilfully put together from talks and letters to her novices. They deal with subjects such as growth, freedom, and darkness, and, while written for enclosed nuns, show how such a life develops deep insights into universal subjects.
Liberally sprinkled with useful quotations from saints great and small, the book is easy to read. The chapters address how we are to grow in our consecration to Christ, whether that be through baptism or religious profession.
It is a useful guide to those considering the religious life, life in dispersed communities of tertiaries, etc., or one of the new communities; for it reveals some of the treasures offered by that life, treasures that are of great value and yet often ignored. In so doing, it powerfully witnesses to the fundamental importance of the religious life to a Church that needs to support and encourage its vocation. While it’s written by a Roman Catholic, I constantly hear echoes in it of many Anglican monastic authors, as well as the wisdom of Evelyn Underhill.
Beneath all that Sister writes is the desire to see those for whom she is responsible grow in the way of holiness. “Because they are head over heels in love”, she writes, “saints are invariably happy people.” Sanctity, aided by prayer, affectionate relationships, living the gospel virtues, the sacraments, and scripture, is what this book concerns.
The final chapter, concerning her painful battle with cancer, is a gift for all who want to live and die in Christ, reminding us of the importance of the present moment. “I love the journey so much”, she said, “that I forget the end to which it is leading.” Yet, as one of her Sisters writes, “there is something of the end in the journey, and she loved the whole bang lot — God, eternity, mankind, creation — in short the gift of life. She was a great lover of life and she lived it to the full, and that is why she was able to get so much out of it.”
The Revd John-Francis Friendship is a senior team member at the London Centre for Spiritual Direction. He is the author of Enfolded in Christ (Canterbury Press, 2018).
The Joy of God: Collected writings
Sister Mary David
Church Times Bookshop £11.70