Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Eastertide Holy Spirit Lectio Divina Liturgy Pentecost Prayer Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

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?

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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?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Resurrection Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Finding balance.

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As it’s the feast of St Mark I decided to look at Mark’s account of the resurrection. It’s the most disturbing, and it’s one I’ve tended to avoid. I’ve always been uncomfortable with his description of the women’s initial response to the news of the resurrection:

“And the women came out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and amazement had gripped them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

I’ve always been puzzled by how Mary of Magdala, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, who felt no fear, or who overcame their fear to stay with Jesus through his passion and death seem to run out of courage when they are faced with the good news of resurrection.

It’s left me thinking about the link between amazement and fear. Both of them can turn our worlds upside down, challenging everything we thought we could rely on, everything that is certain, sure and trustworthy. That is never something that we face willingly or comfortably, but it rings very true just now. Our world is very full of such situations just now as people face the horrors of war, increasing political and social uncertainty as well as serious economic hardships.

I find myself more understanding of the women in Mark’s gospel. who had to take time and space to calm their trembling and fear. I wonder what helped them to rebalance those two overwhelming emotions so they could rediscover the courage to go out and share the amazing news of the resurrection.

As we move through Eastertide where are you balancing amazement and fear in your life?

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Celebrating St George.

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These challenging times we live in incline us to build barriers that we can hide behind. They incline us towards protectionism, keeping ourselves safe at the expenses of others. The example of St George reminds us that, tempting as that prospect is, it’s hardly the call of the gospel.

As a Syrian in the Roman army who is patron saint of at least England, Russia, Ethiopia and Georgia St George offers us the opportunity to expand our horizons. He reminds us that our common humanity extends beyond borders and nationalities. He shows us that our hope lies in breaking down barriers, reaching out to the stranger, not in building them higher and excluding people.

He had the courage to stand up to the evil of his day, slaying the “dragons” of his times wherever he could. This offers us courage and hope. In our own times we face plenty of “dragons” unleashed the wars, migration, economic, social and political challenges.

I’ve revisited Malcolm Guite’s poem for the feast. I’m finding that these lines especially speak to me:

“Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.”

Their image of hope reminds me that we’re still in Eastertide, celebrating the new creation that the risen Christ offers us. They offer me a place of rest and refreshment. They promise somewhere to rest from the struggles and challenges of these hard times, a still place to pause and draw strength before return to face the challenges again.

As we celebrate the feast of St George where is the living light of Christ piercing your heart?

You can read the whole poem here:

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Good Shepherd Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Good Shepherd Sunday

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As we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday I’m reflecting this image from today’s gospel:

“The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

As Father Denis McBride’s reflects the Good Shepherd presents a model of leadership based on “physical involvement and self-sacrificial love.” The leadership of the Good Shepherd is inclusive; he abandons no one. He gently draws anyone who strays or is excluded back into the community.

This model contains a challenge for us, Fr Denis carries on:

“The good shepherd challenges our own way of leaving people for lost: “I have come to seek out and save the lost.” Probably all of us know two or three people who have lost their sense of belonging, who feel they have no community to belong to.”

His words raise the question of who we allow to be lost. The harsh circumstances that have become normalised in the past few years have pushed more and more people to the margins. Our modern way of living leaves many people excluded, marginalised, judged and excluded, both in society and in our churches.

The call of the Good Shepherd compels us to become aware of those people. It compels us to risk reaching out and finding ways of welcoming them back in, however uncomfortable and costly that might feel.

So this Sunday’s gospel comes with a very particular call to us Christians to look for those who are marginalised by and within our church communities. The Good Shepherd challenges us to seek out those people, asking what they need, showing them they are welcome and leading them back into the community.

As we move through Eastertide where are you being invited to reach out to those on the margins?

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Singing a new song.

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Today, I’m reflecting on yesterday’s second reading from the writing of St Augustine:

“We are told to sing to the Lord a new song. A song is a thing of joy and, if we think carefully about it, a thing of love. So those who have learned to love a new life have learned to sing a new song.”

Every Eastertide I’m touched by its tone of joy, hope and new life. In the midst of war and uncertainty across the world, it has an added poignancy. So much suffering and harshness don’t incline us to think about singing any sort of song, much less one that’s full of joy and hope. It’s tempting to brush it aside as too hard, too challenging for these dark times.

St Augustine wasn’t calling us to cover our pain with a sticking plaster, or to put on a brave face. He lived through times that were at least as challenging and as painful as ours. It’s from the midst of that suffering that he finds the courage to call us to sing this new song of joy and hope.

So I’m reflecting on what kind of new song we can sing in the midst of these troubled times. It seems to me that our new song has to have an element of lament. It has to allow us to grieve for all who are suffering in the world. It has to allow us to express the uncertainty of these times and the fear that engenders.

St Augustine points out that the reason for the joy and hope is love. So alongside our lament and uncertainty our new song has to carry something of joy and hope because it is based on love. Even in these hard and challenging times love still has the power to comfort, console and strengthen.

It can help us to bear what we thought would be unbearable and lead us through situations that seemed impossible. Whatever we have to face love, and the new life it offers, will sustain and support us, enabling us to find ways to heal our broken world with love’s new song.

What is the new song the Lord is calling you to sing this Eastertide?