“‘Cor ad Cor Loquitur” – “Heart speaks unto heart” – Homily by Canon Gerry Breen, St Chad’s Cathedral, 9 October 2011

Homily given by Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral & Basilica of St. Chad, Birmingham, at Mass for the Investiture of Dr Patricia Sabina Crosby  as a Dame of the Papal Order of Pope St Sylvester, on Sunday 9  October 2011:

Today in our diocese we celebrate the Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman. His motto “Cor ad Cor Loquitur” embraces all that we gather to celebrate and thank God for.

“Cor ad Cor Loquitur” calls to mind the visit of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom just over a year ago and the Papal Mass, celebrated not far from here in Cofton Park when John Henry Newman, a priest of this diocese, was declared Blessed.

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Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, pictured during his homily, on Sunday 9 October 2011.

Many here today will also remember, and were present at the first Papal Visit when Blessed John Paul II celebrated Mass and the Sacrament of Confirmation at Coventry in 1982.

Then, as last year, members of our Lourdes Hospitalité were involved in organising and providing medical care for pilgrims. Dr Pat was very much at the centre of things on both those wonderful occasions. As we know, Pat is not one to be found on the periphery!

In his homily for the Mass of Beatification Pope Benedict said in reference to Cardinal Newman’s motto: “Heart speaks unto heart gives us an insight into John Henry’s understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God.”  (Homily of Pope Benedict XVI Cofton Park, 19.09.2010)

Even now when recalling the days of the Holy Father’s visit we remember how “as believers we were indeed united as one heart one soul” (Acts 4:32)

The invitation to “intimate communion with the Heart of God” comes from the Father’s abundant free gift to each one of us – it is never our invitation but His– we just have to accept.

The Scripture for today reminds us of this invitation too.

The first reading from the Prophet Isaiah speaks of something more than an invitation to a “candle lit supper” to be enjoyed with friends. It is a divine banquet that is a sign of God’s limitless love and self-giving to his people within the parameters of time and space, as well as the pledge of the eternal kingdom of heaven.  (cf. Is 25:6-10)

Jesus, the self-giving of the Father made flesh, reminds us in the Gospel of Matthew that our response to the invitation must be generous – otherwise others will be invited instead! (cf. Matt 22:1-14).

Accepting this invitation can influence the choice of vocation we follow in life; and a true vocation, whatever form it takes, is that which builds up the living Body of Christ the Church; and, as St. Paul reminded us in our Second Reading: “There is nothing we cannot master with the help of the One who gives us strength.” (Phil:4: 12-14.19-20)

Today we are particularly mindful of those amongst us whose acceptance of that invitation of the Father led them to serve the needs of humanity in the medical profession and followed their vocation as a doctor.

Now to young Patricia Sabina Crosby and how she responded to her invitation. I managed to get hold of a copy of Pat’s C.V. and you will be interested, though not surprised to learn that she listed her hobbies as Music, Art, and Talking – or does it say Walking? Surprisingly enough there is no mention of her interest in fashion!?

Pat was born in Liverpool and raised in Oxton on the Wirral; and we know that when she is in full flight that lovely Liverpool accent comes to the fore!

Pat was a boarder at St Winifred’s Convent, Holy Well in North Wales. Her school reports never said: “Could do better” rather the nuns feared that “nothing will become of this girl!”

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Canon Gerry Breen and Dr Patricia Crosby pictured outside St Chad's Cathedral after the Investiture, on 9 October 2011.

However, her mother had other ideas and a greater insight into the capabilities of her daughter and she decided that Pat should be a doctor. So Pat arrived at Edinburgh University to study medicine. A contemporary at University was a young student called Keith O’Brien, later to become Archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh and Cardinal for Scotland.

In a recent gathering Pat exclaimed with a little faux surprise “how strange it was that most of her male friends were priests and bishops!”  I know she is delighted with the presence of so many of her male friends here today – especially her “boys” – our younger clergy!

Graduating in 1961 Pat served as a House Physician and Surgeon in a number of Edinburgh’s hospitals working in Oncology, Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Pat moved into General Practice in New Malden, Kingston-on-Thames, where she nurtured her interest in uniforms as Medical Practitioner to RAF, Chessington, and Medical Officer to Richmond Prison for Young Offenders.

In 1970 she moved to Nuneaton, intending to stay for just six months; and she’s still there!

The C.V. continues:       A member of the Guild of Catholic Doctors; Chairman, twice, of North Warwickshire B.M.A.; Trustee of the Mary Anne Evans Hospice; founder member of the Lourdes Medical Association in 1974 serving on their Council for 34 years; since 1998 she has been a member of the Archbishop’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Affairs. And so the list goes on!

Pat’s involvement as a doctor with the Birmingham Lourdes Pilgrimage began in 1972; and, thankfully, that has become a major part of her life ever since. The only break she has taken since that time was to care for her late mother, whom she affectionately refers to as Mummy.

Mummy, Sabina Ann, was a real mulier fortis! A strong woman who not only gave but  expected nothing less than the highest of standards from Pat, and indeed from all people! She never suffered fools gladly! Mummy was very particular about her appearance and her dress – insisting on nothing but the very best in haute couture – in garments – both seen and unseen! And we wonder where Pat got it from – like Mother like Daughter!

Pat should you ever need a Latin motto, I would like to suggest one: ‘Cor regat caput’ which loosely translates as ‘The heart rules the head’.

In these days of political correctness, red tape, bureaucracy and risk assessment, people who let their hearts rule their heads can be some of the most frustrating of all; and I know that over the years Dr Pat has exasperated more than Tony Flanagan, even the odd Bishop!

Yet, those who let their hearts rule their heads are often the most compassionate of all. I would like to share with you one anecdote that illustrates this in relation to Pat; and it goes part of the way to explain why we hold her in such high regard both as a medic and a friend.

Some years ago we were asked to take a very sick man to Lourdes. He was in the advanced stages of carcinoma of the throat which was inoperable. Logic, reason and insurers dictated that we should not take him. Even some of Pat’s colleagues thought it too great a risk. But her heart ruled her head, and she insisted that he was precisely the type of pilgrim we should be taking to Lourdes. John joined us on pilgrimage and, as always, we had a wonderful week.

When it came to leave Lourdes on the Friday, our Sick Pilgrims were all gathered in the transit lounge of the Accuiel awaiting transport to the train station to begin the overland journey home.

By now John was gravely ill, and there was an acute possibility of the cancer rupturing the carotid artery. In a baggage room, John, fully conscious, was anointed in danger of death.

Reason, logic and the dreaded insurers once more insisted that John could not and should not risk the return journey home. John knew how close to death he was and asked not to be left behind. Pat stood her ground and yes there were words exchanged; but John was coming home – she refused to leave him!

Provision had to be made on the train; a compartment was commandeered and covered in plastic sheeting from floor to ceiling should the worst happen. John arrived on the platform and was passed through the window on his stretcher.

When it came to Night Prayers, broadcast over the intercom, John himself requested if we could sing the hymn Bread of Life?  Mike Stanley and Jo Boyce readily obliged. (And it’s good to have Mike and Jo here with us today).

The train carrying almost 400 pilgrims settled down very quickly on that return journey as John was very much in our thoughts and prayers. Pat sat on the floor of the carriage throughout the night re-assuring John and praying with him. A number of our young people kept vigil in the corridor outside should anything be needed. One was even delegated to take care of a handbag purchased in Madrid.

Arriving at Calais Ville in the early hours John was transferred to the Jumbulance for the ferry home. He was so grateful not to have been left behind. On the journey up through England, John passed away quite peacefully and without struggle just outside of Oxford. One of many grace filled happenings which we refer to as “Lourdes Moments.”

There have been many more occasions when Pat let her ‘heart rule her head’ whether in General Practice or as Medical Director for our Pilgrimage – occasions motivated by her compassion and care for both pilgrim and patient.

But there is a caution whenever the heart rules the head. For as scripture teaches: ‘It is the good man who draws what is good from the store of goodness in his heart….. For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart.’ (Luke 6:45)

So, what is it that fills our hearts? We know of two things that fill Pat’s heart. First, her firm conviction of the intervention of Our Lady of Lourdes in her life. She has never failed you Pat or any of us when we have sought her intercession! Secondly, and more importantly, it is Pat’s love and devotion to the Mass which continues to nourish her vocation to be the caring and compassionate woman we know and love.

When speaking of the Most Holy Eucharist, in his “Apologia pro vita sua”, Blessed John Henry Newman said this: “The personal structure of Christianity finds its most intimate expression in Holy Mass, the source and summit of Christian life. In the mystery of the Eucharist, God never ceases to speak to us cor ad cor. When we receive the Lord in Holy Communion we can communicate in a most special way with God cor ad cor. Receiving the Body of Christ, we become what we are, the Body of Christ. Thus we are enabled to pass on the Good News cor ad cor.” (Apologia pro vita sua {26})

Dear Pat, for your acceptance of that invitation to intimate communion and for how that cor ad cor has found expression in your professional life of service to the Church and others, it is fitting that the Holy Father recognises this and confers on you the high dignity of a Dame of the Order of Pope St. Sylvester.

We join with him in giving thanks for you today as once more we enter into that most intimate of communions: the Mass. May Our Lady of Lourdes continue to intercede for you and each one of us; and may God, the Father of all compassion, grant you every grace and blessing now and always.

About the author

Peter Jennings is a well known Catholic journalist, writer, broadcaster and PR consultant. Based in Birmingham UK.

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