If you mention Cardinal Mercier to any even halfway alert and patriotic Belgian, that person will tell you of someone who – during the four years of his country’s occupation by Germany in WW1 – never wavered in denouncing the occupying power’s abuses. He became established as the soul of civil resistance to that occupation.
After the war he was influential in establishing the Christian Working Youth Organisation and played a pioneering role in the area of ecumenism and worked towards a rapprochement with the Anglican Church.
Suffering from cancer, Mercier died in Brussels on 23 January 1926. The day before his death, when a leading Anglican Charles Lindley Wood, Viscount Halifax (1839-1934) came to say goodbye, the cardinal in agony gave him his episcopal ring, as a token of the reconciliation that was beginning.
When I was born at the end of 1940, my Anglican mother wanted her Roman Catholic best friend Agnes to be my godmother. The bishop agreed, and the deed was duly done. At some point several years later, after the sudden death of her husband Bill, Agnes found the following prayer. She prayed it daily for the rest of her long life. She died in her late nineties.
I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptised soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you the strength to carry it and you will arrive at the Gate of Paradise, laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.
My godmother Agnes, a widow for nearly sixty years, was a prayerful example to her godson, though I fear that my prayer life has been no match to hers.