If we listen carefully it is possible to hear the guidance and wisdom of those who have gone before us. At times this wisdom takes the shape of a new insight while at other times it is a much needed reminder of a truth overlooked by time or by distraction. The church calls ‘the blessing of the generations’ the Communion of Saints.
I first heard the phrase ‘the blessing of the generations’ on Tinakori Road in 1981. I was on pastoral placement as a deacon at Onslow Parish and I was being driven into Wellington by Mons Bernie Tottman, the much-loved pastor of St Benedict’s.
In his inimitable style Totty was telling me who had lived in the different houses on Tinakori Road, Wellington. He called them the characters of Thorndon, the saints of the Basilica Parish. He had ministered to them, and they to him, for 18 years and now he was speaking of what they had done, how they had died and how they had lived their faith journeys. Totty said, ‘Over time, Michael, you will get to know, and minister to, the generations of different families and you will discover for yourself the blessing of the generations…’
In September I was reminded of this beautiful phrase, ‘the blessing of the generations’ at the funeral of Mrs Pip Baxter. I had known her and her family since my diaconate also. To my mind Pip was a saint who displayed heroic faith and extraordinary grace. When the late Father Gerard Mills SM was leading the restoration of St Mary of the Angels Church he asked his good friend Pip to restore the statues and Stations of the Cross. Their friendship flowered in the many wonderful musicals and plays produced between St Patrick’s and St Catherine’s colleges.
Pip had trained as a graphic artist before her marriage to Jim and was a gifted artist, as the restored statues and stations show. Before she restored these sacred objects she read and reflected on the story of the particular saint or aspect of the way of the cross. The more she became familiar with the story, the easier she found it to enter the mind of the original artists and so bring their creation to life once again.
Notable in her work of restoration at St Mary of the Angels was the restored Pieta. Pip had special devotion to Mary and spoke of how moved she was by the depth of Mary’s forgiveness as she held Jesus beneath the cross.
In 2001 when her daughter Margaret-Lynne was brutally murdered Pip herself showed such profound forgiveness when she said, ‘I will pray every night in my prayers for that man. I will pray forgiveness for him even as I pray eternal rest for my beloved Lynnie. I will do this because I believe there is no future in bitterness…!’
And pray forgiveness for Lynnie’s murderer she did, even though it cost her deeply. Pip lived her faith at a wholly new level.
For her the work of restoration and the call to forgiveness were intertwined because both were essentially works of love that required great patience and gentleness. This was her special gift to the generations—both family and friends alike.
May she rest in peace.