Holy through ordinary life

This week the Faith Column will look into the lives of four members of Opus Dei. Nick Thomas tells h

My parents were Anglicans and my earliest memory of praying to God was saying my prayers before going to bed. I remember going to church on Sundays but my two brothers and I were not keen to say the least. Eventually because we were too much to handle we boys stopped going to church altogether and after a while I slipped out of the practice of saying the prayers my mother taught me. My only contact with religion was through the schools I attended. In the school assemblies we would sing hymns and there was usually some talk on an aspect of Christian life. The one I clearly remember was about a Catholic priest who went to live on an island where lepers had been abandoned. He looked after them and eventually caught leprosy himself and died.

When I reached the age of eighteen I was an agnostic. I went to university in London to study Physics at Imperial College. My eldest brother had just finished his History degree at King’s and in his final year he had stayed at Netherhall House, a residence for students. My brother had liked Netherhall and said it was a good place to study. The residence, run by members of Opus Dei, was open to anyone of any faith or none and was more like a family home. After dinner people would have coffee together and there would be a get-together where people would talk about anything and everything.

I found the transition from school to university difficult. The level was very demanding and by the time of my exams I had become quite depressed. One of the chaps living there, a member of Opus Dei, who was a teacher and came from my hometown in the north of England, suggested I should pray about it. He even took me into the chapel of the residence and showed me how to do it. At the time it didn’t appear to have any effect and I didn’t keep it up. But I got through my exams and left Netherhall for the summer vacation. I began to pray and to read about Jesus Christ’s life and his teaching. When I went back to Netherhall to do a PhD in Medical Physics in King’s College Hospital I gradually began to practise my Anglican faith again, helped by the members of Opus Dei at Netherhall and the talks on Christian doctrine given there.

The greatest influence on me at this time was the Mass, which was said every morning in the chapel of the residence. I was overwhelmed by the Catholic teaching of the priest saying the words of the consecration just as Christ said at his Last Supper. “This is my body (…) this is my blood.” The bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. So, when we eat the bread or drink the wine we are eating or drinking the body and blood of Jesus, true God and true man. In the world around me I could see all the efforts and sacrifices people were making to acquire money or material things and yet here in the Mass was this infinitely greater thing: God, my creator and creator of all these material things. And since for Catholics the Mass is also the sacrifice of Calvary, I came to understand that we can offer to God, along with Our Lord’s sacrifice, ourselves and all that we do.

I became a Catholic. The teaching of Opus Dei is that people can become holy through their ordinary lives, so I expect the example of the members of Opus Dei living out their Christian lives also had an effect on me. A year later I joined Opus Dei as a numerary (celibate member). However, since Opus Dei is a family, numeraries still live together as a family.

The founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, used to say that members owed 99% of their vocation to their parents. Mine were a marvellous example to me and my brothers. They had continued to practise their faith (despite our apathy), and they were supportive of me when I decided to become a Catholic. It was a very happy occasion for all of us when they also joined the Catholic Church a few years later.

After my PhD I went into research at King’s College Hospital in Medical Ultrasound and later moved to Guy’s Hospital to work as a clinical scientist in Vascular Ultrasound which involves using ultrasound to diagnose problems with blood flow in the arteries and veins.

I try to go to Mass every day. During Mass I offer to God all that I am going to do that day, the patients I am going to scan, the students I am going to teach, the reports and my research. And I pray for my family, relatives and friends. Whatever may happen that day (good or bad) I offer to Our Lord. The Mass also helps me remember that I am always in the presence of God. This way I try to do my work well for Him. And, whenever there are difficulties, I ask for his help.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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