Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Saints Scripture Uncategorized Visitation

In love and joy

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Some thoughts from the archives for the feast of the Visitation. As we celebrate this lovely feast I’m being drawn to these words from the prophet Zephaniah:

“The Lord your God is in your midst… He will exalt with joy over you, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”

I was a little surprised that these were the words that drew me. The quickest of glances at the daily news brings a sharp reminder that whatever direction we look in there is little to inspire joy or hope. So I turned to the gospel. The beautiful encounter of Elizabeth and Mary as they delighted in the discovery of God’s presence deep within them echoed Zephaniah’s words.

Their joy and delight were real and transforming, yet that did not mean their circumstances were easy, comfortable or safe. They both knew suffering, individually and as part of a persecuted community. They both had lives that could be precarious, uncertain and even dangerous. Yet, they could still recognise and respond to the transforming, renewing love of God.

It seems to me that to respond to God’s love in uncertain times is both an act of courage and of faith. Even if we can’t feel it, or see it, God’s love is with us, renewing us whatever we face. Even when joy and hope seem impossible God rejoices in each one of us.

Where is God asking you to allow yourself to be renewed by God’s love today?

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Stepping Out

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Augustine of Canterbury who, somewhat reluctantly, was sent by St Gregory the Great to bring the Gospel to the English. I’ve been reflecting on this from today’s gospel:

“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.”

It makes me realise just how vulnerable we become when we respond to Christ’s call to follow him. I imagine that St Augustine felt the full weight of that vulnerability when he accepted the task Gregory set him. Travelling to a foreign land, which in itself was risky, dealing with unknown customs and practices and uncertain of his reception I wonder if he felt a bit like those lambs surrounded by wolves that Jesus talks about.

Following Christ means that we, like St Augustine, are called to step out into the unknown. We too live in increasingly challenging, dangerous and uncertain times. Hardships such as war, hunger, homelessness and climate change are now affecting daily life for many people.

So we have to face our vulnerability again in a new way, accepting that much of what happens in our lives is beyond our control. It can very easily leave us feeling like “lambs among wolves”.

We can find props to help us avoid that vulnerability, but that is not the call of Christ. Instead, Christ calls us to leave behind those props that would distract us and to follow him once more into unknown territory with “no purse, no haversack, no sandals.”

Where is Christ calling you out into the unknown today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Lectio Divina Liturgy Monastic Life Scripture Trinity Uncategorized

People of Hope

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As we begin our celebration of Trinity Sunday I’m drawn to this from St Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Our sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

I’m touched by his realism as he openly acknowledges that suffering is part of life. He makes no attempt to run away from it, to disguise or numb it as we are so often tempted to do. He doesn’t expect, or even seem to want, a trouble-free life. Instead, in accepting the inevitability of suffering he discovers the transforming power of hope.

Like St Paul, we all know suffering is part of life, and hope is often its first victim. When life gets challenging or painful we tend to fall into a hopelessness that tells us that all is lost. The voice of hopelessness can be both persuasive and beguiling, it’s one we are all too willing to listen to.

St Paul, writing from his own experience of suffering, to others who were also suffering, draws us away from that voice of hopelessness. He tells us that, however painful or challenging our lives, the hope Christ offers us can never be undermined or destroyed. It’s not a hope based on empty promises or dreams that deceive or mislead. Instead, it’s a hope firmly grounded in the love of God which has existed since the beginning and which will always hold us in being.

This Trinity Sunday how is the hope the Spirit brings transforming your daily life?

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The Treasure of the Kingdom

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Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Bede I’m reflecting on this from today’s gospel:

“Let the little children come to me, do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

It always takes me back to my days as a primary school teacher, looking for the qualities that Jesus might be talking about. I was often struck by the insight and perception the children I taught. It seemed to me to come from their openness and attentiveness.

 St Bede, a monk from the north-east of England, who lived a monastic life from childhood managed somehow to hold on to and develop these qualities through his long life. This is not something that would have come easily. Bede lived in challenging and dark times. From childhood he knew danger, uncertainty, suffering and the fragility of life.

Yet through all this he was able to keep the openness and attentiveness to God that seems so natural to children. Throughout all his challenges and hardships seeking the presence of God was the heart of his life as a monk. It enabled him to retain the openness and attentiveness of a child, and to discover the wisdom that can only come from an awareness of God’s presence

Through a simple life dedicated to study, writing, teaching and prayer he was able to discover and share some of the treasures of the kingdom with countless generations of Christians. It seems to me that his life embodies the qualities Jesus calls us to in this gospel.

Where are you being called to be open and attentive to the presence of Christ in your life today?

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Come Holy Spirit

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Our celebration of Pentecost has begun with Vespers. It’s is full of passion and drama. There’s the Apostles transformed and inspired by the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel in new ways and new languages. There’s Jesus’ appearance to the disciples offering peace and sending them out to take the Good News to the whole world. There’s Paul’s beautiful image of unity and diversity. Out of this rich tapestry of inspiration it’s these words from St Paul’s letter to the Romans that have stayed with me:

“Since in our weakness we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit comes to help us and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

They’re words I return to regularly because they describe so clearly a reality that I often experience. There are many times in life when we need to pray and want to pray, and simply don’t have the words to express our need. I find that especially true in times of hardship and suffering. In these times when hardship and suffering seem to be multiplying in every direction there are many times when prayer is needed and we feel too overwhelmed by the circumstances to articulate our need.

In those situations, I find St Paul’s words full of consolation and hope. It is a great comfort to know that when we are unable to pray the Spirit is there to speak for us, to bring our prayers into the presence of the God who understands even the wordless sighs that come from the very depths of our hearts.

As we celebrate the joy and hope of Pentecost what does the Spirit carry from the depths of your heart to the presence of God?

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Held in God’s love.

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I’m reflecting on the first letter of St John. We’ve been listening to it throughout Eastertide, now as we move towards Pentecost its message has a particular resonance. St John takes us to the very heart of the gospel, to the relationship of love that both calls and sustains us wherever life leads us. He writes:

“My dear people, since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another. No one has ever seen God; but as long as we love one another God will live in us and God will be complete in us.”

He makes a very clear connection between God’s love for us and our love for one another. The love he speaks of is life changing, life enhancing and challenging. It’s not a love of fine sentiments. It asks us to imitate the faithful love God lavishes on us. It requires commitment and sacrifice. It’s a love that doesn’t give up when it’s hard or painful.

As St Benedict reminds us this love calls us to consider first what is best for the other rather than for ourselves. We have to recommit ourselves daily to this love. Sometimes that proves easier in the big challenges we face than in the small interactions of daily life which can feel so mundane and irritating.

It can feel like such love is beyond our human capacity, and in many ways it is. It is only when we are able to know and accept ourselves as truly and unconditionally loved by God that we find the qualities we need to reach out and offer love to those around us.

As we move towards Pentecost it’s worth remembering that our capacity to love relies on us abiding in God’s love so that we can carry it with us to a world in need.

How are you being called to live in and share God’s love this Eastertide?

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In unity & peace

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Ascension is one of the feasts I find most difficult for a variety of reasons. It’s very easy to see it as otherworldly, focussed more on eternity than on the nitty-gritty of human life. It also has an element of letting go. Once again, we see Jesus leaving the disciples to face an unknown and uncertain future. This compels us to recognise the reality of our own uncertain and unknown future.

In my struggles to ground the feast in the reality of daily life I looked at the Scripture readings. I found two things that helped me. The first was from Matthew’s Gospel. He tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus:

“They fell down before him, though some hesitated.”

So it seems like some of those first disciples were were ambivalent about what was going on. I find consolation in that, and in Jesus’ response to it. He doesn’t criticise them or turn them away. Instead he sends them out with their and benevolence and uncertainty to spread the Good News of salvation.

The second helpful thing was in last night’s vigil reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

“Be humble, gentle and patient always. Show your love by being helpful to one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives, by the peace that binds you together.”

His words call us to strive to live up to the standard God sets not in terms of a future heavenly kingdom, but in very practical ways that we can all practice. If we can find ways of being kind and helpful to those around us we will be able to make the Good News of the kingdom a reality in our lives and the lives of those we encounter.

Where is Christ calling you to live up to his standards in your daily life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Resurrection Scripture Uncategorized

Made for love.

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Today’s gospel is from the farewell discourses of John’s gospel. It struck me that we hear these twice. On both occasions they prepare us for a “departure” of Jesus that changes the nature of our relationship with him.

The first is before the crucifixion, and the second in Eastertide, as we begin to prepare for Ascension, when they signal another kind of “departure”. It seems to me that in each case Jesus is offering his disciples consolation and hope.

I’m struck by how differently we respond to the same readings in these different contexts. In the context of Eastertide and the Ascension I’m aware of a hope and the promise of joy in them that I often miss in Holy Week, though it is always there.

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love…I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.”

His words remind us that, whatever we face in life, the love of Christ is always with us. They draw us in to the loving relationship between Jesus and his Father so that their love surrounds and holds us. This is the love that grounds us and holds us in being, bringing us joy and hope whatever hardships we may be facing.

They also carry a challenge. This is a call to a covenantal relationship of love with the God who is ever faithful. They require a costly commitment from us to imitate that faithfulness in our relationship with Christ and with other people.

The love and joy Jesus promises is not the easy “happy ever after” that tells us everything will be wonderful and that we will always be “happy”. It’s a love that will stay with us however difficult, challenging and painful our lives become. It’s a love that both offers us the universe and costs us everything we have. As he invites us into this covenant relationship Jesus asks us to promise to stay in his love even at the times when we would rather flee from it.

Where are you being called to remain in the love of Christ this Eastertide?

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Inspired by love.

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. A third order Dominican she was a woman of both action and prayer. She took a public role in the life of the church, speaking out against schism, promoting unity and advocating for clerical reform. These words from her dialogue on Divine Revelation touched me:

“By your light you enlighten our minds… In this light I know you and I picture you to myself as the supreme good, the good beyond all good… Beauty beyond all beauty, wisdom beyond all wisdom. You are the food of angels, who gave yourself to us in the fire of your love.”

Her public activity was nourished and sustained by the prayer that kept her connected to the God who is the supreme good. It was because she drew her strength from the fire of God’s love that she gained the courage to speak truth to those in authority.

She speaks to me especially powerfully in these times when our world seems so consumed by war and suffering. In such times it can be hard to see the goodness, beauty and wisdom of God in our lives. It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel swamped by sufferings we can’t alleviate. We can be drawn to despair which stops us from acting at all or we can rush in, attempting to fix everything, ending up burnt out and exhausted.

St Catherine’s example suggests an alternative. We could begin by building up a prayer life that connects us to the fire of God’s love in a way that nourishes and sustains us in all of our actions and all that we are called to face.

How does the fire of God’s love nourish you in all that you face in life?

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The true vine

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In today’s gospel Jesus uses the image of a vine to explain the relationship between his Father, himself and the disciples:

“I am the true vine; you are the branches.”

It’s an image that we hear repeatedly in the Gospels. sometimes such images can become so familiar that they lose their potency. Sr Verna Holyhead gave me a fresh perspective on this:

“The vine is a radically non-hierarchical image of the people of God for all the branches are so intertwined that…it is almost impossible to tell where one branch begins and another ends.”

She reflects that this is a radically new way of thinking about relationship and community. It suggests a closeness and equality of relationship that treasures each member and the gifts they bring to the whole. It’s an image that works against our natural inclination to be independent, to look after ourselves first at the expense of others.

This reminds me of my favourite part of the Rule of St Benedict, chapter 72 where St Benedict tells his community they should:

“Support with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour… No one is to pursue what the judge better for themselves, but instead what the judge better for someone else… Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and maybe bring us all together to everlasting life.”

His words highlight in a very practical way what a community based on this beautiful image of the vine would look like. They remind us that our goal is to come to Christ all together, not racing ahead and leaving others behind, but finding ways of supporting and encouraging one another on the journey, making sure everyone has what they need.

Even in these most challenging times we have choice and opportunity. We can choose to build communities based on the love, hope, trust, mutual respect and interdependence that the gospel suggests. While that choice is challenging it has the potential to bring us to new life in ways we could never have imagined.

As we move through Eastertide how does being intertwined with Christ shape your life and your relationships?