In an age of complexity and crisis when the identity of Christendom seems to be under threat, an age when the flames seem to be burning fast and the landmarks are no longer stable, how very tempting it is to take refuge in the complicated, to build with greater and greater elaboration the walls of self-defence: and how very difficult it is to be simple. The Church of Mary Ward’s day didn’t really know what to do with her. It preferred the complications of what people already understood about discipleship and the religious life and particularly the religious life for women. But Mary Ward raised up in the Church of her day a sign of eucharistic simplicity: verity, sincerity, transparency.
In a time of crisis and uncertainty what we need is simple transparency to the contemporary Jesus. Transparency: it reminds me of the one piece of actual connection between Mary Ward and the archbishopric of Canterbury (in case you were wondering). The archbishop of the day had made some quite pointed remarks about how dangerous a woman she was. (There was indeed you might say, a level of ecumenical consensus about what a problem she was in her time!) But being the holy person she was, she was not going to be intimidated by an archbishop of Canterbury any more than by a pope. She decided she would visit Lambeth Palace with some of her sisters. She did so, and the Archbishop was out. But she left her mark. She scratched her name on a windowpane. Whatever else that story says, it says something about holiness and simplicity; about the saints as those whose names are simply scratched on a windowpane against the overwhelming light of the living Jesus. We cannot look at them and read their names without seeing that light. And that light comes to us through the saints, illuminating those names, those faces, those histories.