Benedictine Spirituality Eastertide Gospel Monastic Life Prayer Resurrection Truth Uncategorized

Glimpses of light

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Today I’ve been reflecting on these words from John’s Gospel:

“I, the light, have come into the world, so that whoever believes in me need not stay in the dark any more.”

I think I’ve been particularly drawn to them because I am very aware of how dark our world seems to be just now. It feels as if whatever direction we look in darkness threatens to engulf us. War, poverty, injustice, climate change and many other things that we see in our news emphasise the darkness that surrounds us.

It can be so easy to allow that to drain all the energy and hope out of us, leaving us exhausted and despairing. It seems particularly hard to deal with in Eastertide as we celebrate the new light of the risen Christ come into the world.

The words of the gospel turn our attention away from that darkness, not as a distraction or as an encouragement to ignore the reality. Instead the gospel reminds us of another reality, that the light of the risen Christ is here in our midst, waiting to lead us through the darkness into new life.

We might experience that light in glimmers and glances rather than in blinding flashes, but it’s a light that will not be overcome whatever we face. The promise of this gospel is that if we keep focused on the risen Christ his light will guide us whatever we have to go through.

Where are you glimpsing the light of the Christ guiding you today?

Benedictine Spirituality Eastertide Gospel Monastic Life Prayer Resurrection Saints Scripture Truth Uncategorized

In the present moment.

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I’m still reflecting on yesterday’s gospel for the feast of Sts Philip and James. Philip is looking for certainty and security. He he has his expectations of the coming of the Messiah, and is looking for them to be fulfilled. Jesus’ comment to Thomas, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life … If you know me, you know my Father too.” isn’t quite enough for Philip. It doesn’t answer his uncertainties and he has the courage to step up and ask for what he needs:

“Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.”

I have a lot of sympathy with Philip, following Jesus led the disciples on a bumpy and uncertain path that was never what they expected. In response Jesus offers him a challenge:

“Have I been with you all this time Philip, and still you do not know me? To have seen me is to have seen the Father.”

His reply doesn’t dismiss Philip’s longing, instead he calls him to a deeper level of awareness and attentiveness. Jesus challenges Philip to pay attention with his whole being, to give himself completely to being in Jesus’ presence.

It’s a challenge for us too. Like Philip we can be so distracted by our expectations that we feel to notice that what we are seeking is already in front of us. We also have to turn away from our image of how we think things should be to focus on the present moment, where we will discover Christ is with us.

Where is Christ calling you to discover his presence in your life today?

Eastertide Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Prophetic voices Saints Truth Uncategorized

Good beyond all good.

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Earlier this week we celebrated 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 this year when our world seems so consumed by cruelty 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?

Benedictine Spirituality Holy Week Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Transforming mercy

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Today I’m reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel. At first glance it presents a bleak picture. The people of Israel are scattered, they’ve betrayed themselves, their covenant with God and become lost in sin and idolatry. It seems a hopeless situation, one that’s all too easy to identify with in the context of our own challenging and painful times.

Yet, for all this bleakness the passages not a hopeless one. Ezekiel tells us that God’s response to the betrayal is one of mercy, love and compassion. In the face of the betrayal and sin of the people God responds with the promise of a new covenant, a covenant of peace that will bring them back to live in God’s presence, surrounded by God’s love:

“I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

As we see the suffering unleashed in so many places by war, poverty and injustice it seems to me that we desperately need to find ways of turning back again that God of love and mercy. We need to discover the life changing reality of that mercy in our personal and communal lives. Challenging as it is, a deep and new awareness of our need for mercy is a good place to enter Holy Week.

As we move into Holy week where do you most need God’s transforming mercy in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Prayer Scripture Truth Uncategorized

A delightful and costly freedom

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I was struck by these words from today’s gospel, Jesus said:

“If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.”

His words paint an attractive picture. They speak to our longing for a home, a place where we can belong and know ourselves accepted in times that are uncertain and challenging. They take me back to the Prologue of the Rule of St Benedict which, in another compelling image, promises to show the way of life to all those who yearn for it.

Yet it’s not all about promise, as is always the case with the gospel the promise comes with a challenge. It calls us to learn and accept the truth both of who Christ is and of who we really are.

It’s a challenge that’s at the heart of monastic spirituality and of the gospel. Our seeking of God opens us to God’s Word in new and deeper ways. As it begins to penetrate our hearts it compels us to learn and to accept the truth about ourselves. That involves admitting our weaknesses, the things we would rather forget or push aside. It also, equally challengingly, calls us to accept our giftedness.

It seems to me that Lent is a good time to begin to strip away the layers that stop us from learning that truth about ourselves that promises freedom.

As we move towards Holy Week what truth is Jesus inviting you to learn?

Benedictine Spirituality Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Prophetic voices Saints Uncategorized

Called to be kind

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This morning our second reading was from the writings of St Gregory Nazianzen. These words have stayed with me for the rest of the day:

“Nothing must come between your intention and your act of kindness. Kindness is the only thing which does not admit of delay.”

His words reminded me of something I took away from an On Being podcast. It was along the lines of kindness being a virtue we could all manage as it consists of simple, small acts that we can perform in the course of daily life. Kindness often goes much further than we expect. Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a huge impact on the people who receive them, and on those who offer them.

In many ways we don’t have to try to be kind. Our impulse to kindness is instinctive; it often kicks in automatically when we see someone in need. But, as St Gregory points out, that instinctive impulse doesn’t always carry through into action. So many things can turn us away from following that initial call through into those actions that ripple out from small and unassuming beginnings to lighten burdens and change lives.

It seems to me that Lent is an especially good time to reflect on the call to kindness and to what might delay us from turning that impulse into action.

Where are you called to transform your impulse to kindness into practical action today?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lent Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

Learning to serve

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Reflecting on today’s gospel I’m struck by these words:

“Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as a son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Prompted by the inopportune question of a concerned mother Jesus takes a chance to make his ministry and purpose very clear. In words that challenge and shock us he lays out what it means to follow him.

He offers us a new world order, one that turns all our expectations on their heads. It’s a call to service, to put the needs of others before ourselves. It requires a deliberate and often difficult choice. It’s a call to put the needs of another before our own in every situation and every interaction.

St Benedict summed it up beautifully in chapter 72 of the Rule:

“They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour.”

His words remind me that so much of Jesus’ call to a life of of service is about showing respect. However we serve, whether it is something big or something small, we are called to treat others with graciousness and kindness.

How are you being called to serve others today?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lectio Divina Lent Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

A new level of loving

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Today’s gospel is both beautiful and challenging. Jesus begins by reminding his disciples of the importance of love. He says to them:

“You have learnt how it was said: you should love your neighbour…”

Its a principle that none of us would disagree with. We all know the value of love and its power to change our lives. Yet it’s clear from Jesus’ words that he expects more from his followers than loving where we are sure the love is returned. He goes on to say:

“But I say this to you; love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

This is the point where the principles of the kingdom take us beyond what is humanely possible. It’s one thing to love those who love us back. To extend that love to those we consider enemies or who persecute or hurt us is a whole new level of challenge.

It’s a call to become Christ like, to imitate the all enduring love of God in our messy lives. It feels impossible because in human terms it is. It only begins to become a possibility when we open ourselves to the gift of God’s grace which makes all things possible. Even then it challenges us to leave our comfort zones and step into unknown territory.

Where are you being called to love in challenging circumstances today?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Prayer, a call to action

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Every time we hit a crisis, personal or communal, it seems that Scripture becomes more relevant. During the pandemic I began to notice that it seemed to have much more clarity and depth, speaking directly to the situation in a way I hadn’t been aware of before.

Now, as we watch Ukraine invaded I’m noticing that the same thing happening again. This morning’s first reading, from the letter of St James began:

“If any of you is in trouble you should pray; if anyone is feeling happy, you should sing a psalm…”

His words act as a reminder of the importance of prayer. They take me back to the call to pray continually that underpins monastic life and spirituality.

In the face of the suffering we are seeing just now it can feel like our prayer is very small and powerless. It can be tempting to push it aside in favour of finding something more “useful” or practical get involved in.

et, Christian tradition is clear, whatever we face our first response must be to pray, to bring ourselves and the situation continually into the presence of God. Whatever practical steps we are then called to take have to grow out of and be sustained by the continual stream of our prayer.

Where are you being called to ground your actions in continual prayer today?

Lectio Divina Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

In the hands of God

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Today’s first reading, from the letter of St James, presents one of those basic truths that we prefer to forget. Speaking of our tendency to plan our lives ahead as though we can be certain of the future he writes:

“You never know what will happen tomorrow… The most you should ever say is ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall still be alive to do this or that.’”

He tells us that to say anything else is pride. In our hearts we know that he is right. We know our lives are precarious and fragile. This is an uncomfortable truth that we have always pushed aside. The arrival of Covid 19 with its devastating consequences has changed all that. We’ve moved from a pre-pandemic world where we could push uncertainty aside, to one where every plan, every arrangement is wrapped in uncertainty.

From lives planned with confidence in a future that seemed certain we’ve moved to a reality that is more fragile than we could ever have imagined. As we have learned to live in a situation where every plan and arrangement is tentative we have come to face to face with a new understanding of how fragile human life can be.

This is a hard lesson to learn, yet it comes with an opportunity. Our awareness of our fragility can bring us to trust in God more fully and completely. Painful as the awareness is it can lead us to put our whole selves into the hands of the God who loves us.

What are you being asked to put into God’s hands today?