Benedictine Spirituality Christ Good Shepherd Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Scripture Uncategorized

Christ the King

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The feast of Christ the King, is a bit of a challenge. It’s impossible to separate it from our earthly experience of rulers, royal or otherwise. At best that can leave us ambivalent about it. As I reflect on the readings it’s clear that Jesus offers a different model of leadership and a kingdom vastly different from any we’ve ever experienced. Ezekiel uses the image of a shepherd who cares for all the sheep, regardless of circumstances:

“I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them all.”

St Paul takes up the theme, assuring the Corinthians that the risen Christ will draw all people with him into the new life of resurrection. In the gospel Jesus explains just how different his kingdom will be, showing us again a ruler like no earthly ruler. Christ the King has no interest in the status, wealth or power of his followers. Instead he is concerned about how the poorest and most needy in society are nurtured and cared for:

“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome…”

Jesus makes the real challenge very clear, to be part of his Kingdom we need commit to living by its’ values. He asks us to reflect on how we treat the poor, the hungry, the strangers that we encounter in our lives telling us:

“I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these sisters or brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

At the end of the liturgical year Jesus challenges us to reflect on the way we treat one another and to ask ourselves how well that matches with the values of his Kingdom.

Where are you being called to shape your life by the values of Christs’ Kingdom today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Called from the margins

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I’ve been reflecting on two gospel accounts of Jesus with people on the margins, the blind beggar who calls out for healing from the roadside and Zacchaeus, the tax collector. The beggar is marginalised both by his physical condition and by a society that makes no provision for accessibility.

At first glance it might seem that Zacchaeus is not marginal. He has wealth and the power and privilege that comes with it. Yet, in many ways he is just as marginalised as the blind man sat begging at the roadside.

Both men are discontented with their lives and have a glimmer of insight that Jesus might be able to change that. They approach Jesus differently. The blind man has the courage to call out drawing Jesus’ attention to him. Zacchaeus is more timid, hiding in a tree to see what he can learn before making a move.

In different ways, according to their needs, Jesus presents them with the same question the same:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man has his answer ready and is able to articulate it clearly without prompting. Zacchaeus needs a different approach, and Jesus takes the lead. By inviting himself to dinner he opens the door that enables that Zacchaeus to respond to the life changing love Jesus offers. It seems to me that Jesus poses the same question to each of us in the way we most need to hear it, and are best able to respond.

What do you want Jesus to do for you today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Children of light

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We begin the last week of the liturgical year with a call to alertness and wakefulness. As the year darkens St Paul reminds us that we do belong to the dark, but to the light. Writing to the Thessalonians he writes:

“You are children of light and of the day: we do not belong to night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.”

It has a particular resonance on many levels at this time of year. On a purely physical level it’s a call not to surrender to the sluggishness engendered by dark mornings and afternoons. Even in the slow, dark days of winter we’re called to be alert.

On another level St Paul’s concern is that the Thessalonians don’t give in to the spiritual and moral darkness of their time. His words are just as relevant for us today. We too live in times that can feel overwhelmed with darkness in every direction.

It such circumstances we can be drawn to despair and hopelessness. Those can easily sap our ability to be attentive and alert to the presence of God bringing us light in the darkness.

His call is not to ignore the reality of the darkness we face, either personally or communally, but not to let it overwhelm us, lulling us into escapism or despair. Instead he calls us to keep looking for the glimmers of light that remind us of God’s presence even in the darkness, to trust those and allow them to shape our lives.

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

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

On loving

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Today I’ve been reflecting on St Paul’s letter to the Romans. His words bring us back to the heart of the gospel, love. It’s a message that we can easily take for granted when life is going along in it’s normal course.

When life falls apart or begins to feel uncertain that we begin to realise how essential love for us. Then we have to move away from a superficial understand of what love means and begin to discover its true riches and depths. St Paul was no stranger to suffering and challenges, and his experience will have shaped his understanding of love. He writes:

“You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”

His words include a balance I find easy to forget…We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. I think we can easily hear the call to love our neighbour and miss the call to love ourselves. Echoing the gospel St Paul points out that they are intimately connected, to love other we have to be able to love ourselves.

It’s easy to dismiss this as self indulgence, but true love is much more than self indulgence. It doesn’t mean surrendering to every passing whim. It means being attentive to our whole being, body mind and spirit. It requires that we take care of ourselves, being as gentle and compassionate to ourselves when we are in pain as we are to others. From that self love we can reach out in love to others in ways that bring healing, not hurt.

Where is God calling you to learn to love today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Encircled by the love of God.

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In today’s gospel Jesus is challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Hoping to trip him up the ask him:

“Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

Unfazed by their question Jesus has an answer ready that they cannot disagree with:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”

His answer takes us back to the most basic principle of Christian life, the call to love wholeheartedly. This is not just a fine principle based on spiritual or devotional practice. It is a call to give surrender ourselves and our lives wholeheartedly to God, to respond with our whole being to God’s call. But it is not only that, the love of God that we are called to is to be lived out in the practicalities of daily life. By itself it is not enough.

Love of God has to go hand-in-hand with love of our neighbours and (though we so often forget it) of ourselves. But Jesus words are clear, we are called to love our neighbour “as yourself”. Challenging as we find it I sometimes think we better understand the call to love our neighbour than the call to love ourselves.

The call to love is a call to ensure that no one is left outside the circle of God’s love. It’s a call to love everyone as precious and valued children of God. That applies to our neighbours wherever we encounter them. Uncomfortable as it may make us feel, it also applies to ourselves.

Where is Christ calling you to widen the circle of his love so that it includes everyone you encounter?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Standing ready

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This week I’ve been struck by the gospel’s call to be prepared. In yesterday’s gospel Jesus told his disciples:

“See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit… Happy those servants him the master finds awake when he comes.”

In today’s gospel he picks up the same theme, saying to his disciples:

“You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at whatever the burglar would come he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

His words are a reminder that there are some things in life that we can have absolutely no control over, we can do nothing to prevent them or to make them happen. We can only respond to them as they unfold. That can make us feel powerless and hopeless, at the mercy of unseen, uncontrollable forces. A quick look at any news channel or social media platform will quickly reinforce that view, we know all too well how little control we have over events. That can be challenging and disempowering viewpoint.

But the good news of the gospel is not about disempowerment. Alongside his reminder of the things we have no control over Jesus points out the areas where we do have control. Even if they do not know when the Son of Man will come, they can choose to live in ways that prepare their hearts for that coming.

In this area we do have agency and power. If we choose to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming it will effect real change. It will not stop us from facing hardships, challenges or distressing circumstances, but it will enable us to respond to them in ways that bring glimmers of light and hope to dark places.

Where is Christ inviting you to prepare your heart for his coming into your life today today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Cross Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

The challenge of hope.

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Today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, is full of promise and hope. It presents an image all the peoples of the earth been welcomed by God to a banquet on God’s holy Mountain. It is a promise of salvation and new life that is at odds with our current reality as we watch people’s lives torn apart by war and violence once again. I’m reflecting especially on these words:

“On this mountain God will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, and the shroud enveloping all nations, God will destroy Death for ever. The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away the people’s shame everywhere on earth.”

It’s easy to be hopeful when life seems safe and secure. It’s much harder to hope when we are aware of how precarious life is. Isaiah was writing to people who knew what it was to lose all hope, people who had been exiled and lost everything they held dear. Through centuries of seeming hopelessness his words kept their hope alive. These words, so full of hope, touch us all deeply because we all carry pain that feels inconsolable.

In this hard week they also bring to mind all those who are mourning the loss of homes, livelihoods, communities and loved ones. In the face of such suffering the passage takes on a new depth and meaning. This beautiful passage offers us a challenge as well as an invitation. We are also called to hope in that promise even in those times when life seems utterly hopeless.

Where is Christ calling you to hope in your dark times?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Grounded in love and prayer.

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Today’s gospel is about learning to pray and forgiveness. As I reflected on it I was struck first of all by these words:

“Jesus was in a certain place praying.”

They reminded me that prayer is not an abstract activity, it is a practical activity grounded in the reality of our daily lives. Jesus is praying in a real, physical place in the midst of a particular web of relationships and events. It is in the midst of this complex reality that his disciples ask him to teach them to pray. The pattern of prayer he lays out for them grounds them even further in the reality of their daily lives, moving them from praise and thankfulness to forgiveness.

Forgiveness also needs to be grounded in the reality and context of our daily lives. St Benedict recognises this when he says that the Our Father should be said by the superior at Lauds and Vespers “because thorns of contention are likely to spring up“. He wants the community to be reminded regularly both of their need for forgiveness and their need to forgive others in the course of their daily life. The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples points us in the same direction, asking us both to accept and give forgiveness:

“Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.”

It seems to me that these two are intimately linked. We begin by acknowledging our own need for forgiveness. When we know ourselves held in the loving forgiveness of God then we are able to reach out and offer forgiveness to the people who have wounded us in the course of our daily interactions.

What enables you to ground your prayer in the reality of your daily life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Choosing peace.

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Writing to the Philippians in times of full of challenge and uncertainty Paul offers a message of hope, saying to them:

“There is no need to worry, but if there is anything you need, pray for it…and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”

Waking up to the news of yet more violence erupting in in our troubled world gives a deeper resonance to those words. In the face of that news it’s tempting to let ourselves spiral down into despair and hopelessness.

St Paul invites us to find another way, reminding us that even when we feel powerless we can still make choices that can be life changing. Echoing Deuteronomy’s call to “choose life” Paul tell the Philippians to deliberately choose to fill their minds with what will keep them focussed on Christ and his peace:

“Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.”

We have so much choice it can be overwhelming. This can encourage us to choose mindlessly, without reflecting on the consequences for ourselves or for others. That is not good enough for Paul. He calls us to examine our choices, to make them mindfully and prayerfully.

He reminds us that our choices have a real effect on our lives and the lives of others. He tells us that part of our Christian calling is to be discerning about our choices.

We are called to choose to hope when life feels hopeless, to give the benefit of the doubt to others, to trust and focus on the peace of Christ so that we can share it wherever we can.

Where is Christ calling you to focus on his peace today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Fairness and generosity.

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Today’s gospel is all about fairness and generosity. At the beginning of the day a landowner goes out to hire workers for his vineyard, offering them a fair price for the day’s work. He goes out again several times later in the day, right up to the 11th hour, and still finding idle workers sends them to his vineyard offering them “a fair wage”.

At the end of the day he tells his bailiff to pay all the workers the same amount, starting with the ones who came last. This causes some consternation to those who have been working all day, and they grumble that it’s not fair as they have worked longer and should receive more. They evoke our sympathy because we all know what it feels like to be treated unfairly. Yet, the vineyard owner takes a different view, saying to them:

“My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius?… Why be envious because I am generous?

His words turn the situation on its head, challenging his workers, and us, to look at it from a different perspective. He calls us to look at our motivations and to acknowledge that there can be a thin line between our desire for fairness and envy. His generous action points out that generosity is a hallmark of the Kingdom. It compels us to reflect on where we can be generous towards those around us with both our material goods and our time.

Where is Christ calling you to act generously today?