Baptism Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

The call of the Spirit

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the feast that brings the Christmas season to an end. As it celebrates the first public appearance of Jesus it refocuses our attention in a new way. The humility and openness of John the Baptist turns our attention towards Jesus:

“Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals.”

His action takes an already growing sense of expectancy in the crowd and points it towards its source and hope. He shows us the one we are to follow, to imitate, to grow into. Reflecting on the Luke’s account Sr Verna Holyhead writes:

“It is Jesus’ prayer that tears open the heavens for the descent of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of his true identity that acclaims him as the Beloved Son on whom God’s favour rests. It is the same for us…At prayer we struggle to hear what God is calling us to be, to know who we are in our deepest truth, at the still point where the Spirit has descended into our depths and anointed us for mission.”

Her words suggest that our following of Christ begins with prayer, with the listening “with the ear of the heart” that St Benedict calls us to. It is in prayer that we discover who we truly are and can respond to the life changing call of the Spirit.

What enables you to open the ear of your heart to the God who calls you into new life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Epiphany Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Touched by wonder

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of the Epiphany. It’s beautiful story of the three kings difficult and dangerous journey gives us one last chance to allow the wonder and mystery of the nativity to touch our hearts before we return to “normal” life.

Like so many of our feasts it can get smothered by the practicalities and bustles of daily life. It can end up being no more than the day we pack away the Christmas decorations. If we’re able to take a little time to pause allow the wonder of the Christ child to touch us again it can give us the hope and courage we need to face life’s challenges. Today I’m reflecting on these words form one of our Christmastide hymns:

“Strange kings come riding, treasure laden,
Called from the East, a world unknown:
Let your dull hearts be touched to wonder,
Zion, city of God, his own.”

It captures the essence of Epiphany for me. The strange kings, bringing unexpected treasures and insights calls us to be open to welcoming Christ in the stranger and in the unexpected. But the words that resonate most are:

“Let your dull hearts be touched to wonder.”

It seems to me that the challenges and uncertainties of daily life can cause our hearts to become dull and heavy. That, in turn, makes it hard for us to reflect the light and wonder of Christ. Epiphany gives us a space to allow that wonder to lodge in our hearts and to shed light and hope in our lives.

What is touching your heart to wonder today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christmastide Lectio Divina Uncategorized

The inclusivity of Christmas

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A Christmas reflection from the archives:

At the vigil Office for the feast of the Nativity the 2nd reading is from the writings of Pope St Leo the Great. These words resonated with me and I’m still reflecting on them:

“Nobody is an outsider to this happiness. The same cause for joy is common to all, for as our Lord found nobody free from guilt when he came to bring an end to death and to sin, so he came with redemption for all. Let the saints rejoice, for they hasten to their crowns; let the sinners be filled with joy, for pardon is offered them; let the Gentiles be emboldened for they are called to life.”

As we face another unusual Christmas at the end of a second challenging of years it’s helpful to reflect on the complete inclusivity of the Incarnation. The pandemic has taught us much about the people pushed to the margins of our society, turned into outsiders for a whole variety of reasons. We’ve discovered how costly this can be, not just for the people who are pushed out, but for all of us, who are left impoverished by the lack of their presence. We’ve also found out that, in the crisis created by the pandemic it’s often been those people who have kept our society functioning and essential services going.

This brings me back to St Leo’s words and the very centre of the Christmas mystery. There are no outsiders in the generous love of the Incarnation. The coming of Christ is open to everyone, includes everyone. There can be all sorts of differences and disagreements, but no exclusivity, Christ’s coming into the world is for everyone…And that is the source of the joy that fills us at Christmas, even in these hard times.

What joy is Christ bringing into your life this Christmas?

Benedictine Spirituality Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

Tasting the Lord’s goodness.

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Today, as we’re celebrating the dedication of our Oratory I’m reposting this from our archives. The scripture reading at the vigil was from the first letter of St Peter:

“Be sure you are never spiteful, or deceitful, or hypocritical, or envious and critical of each other. You are new born, and, like babies, you should be hungry for nothing but milk – the spiritual honesty which will help you grow up to salvation – now that you have tasted the goodness of the Lord.”

Several things resonate with me in in. It’s reminder of how we are called to behave and to treat one another seems especially important just now. Living through stressful and challenging times can give us all a short fuse and doesn’t always bring out the best in us. St Peter reminds us that, whatever challenges and uncertainties we face we are called not to give into the temptation to spitefulness and criticism. The call is still to become more Christlike whatever we face.

He goes on to tell us that as we have tasted the goodness of the Lord already our desire and long should be for those things that will help us grow into our salvation. This brings to mind a favourite psalm, psalm 34, “taste and see that the Lord is good”, and I’m reminded to keep seeking the goodness of the Lord in whatever challenges and uncertainties life is currently throwing at us.

Where are you tasting the Lord’s goodness in these challenging times?

Benedictine Spirituality Saints Uncategorized

Conversion of life

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My tenth #Benedictine word is Conversion. Conversion of life is the third of our Benedictine vows. At first glance it seems to be the exact opposite of stability. In fact, we need both of them held in balance and tension if we are to progress on the way of life that St Benedict lays out. Conversion of life is a call always to listen and respond to the prophetic voices of our time.

It challenges us to let go of what is safe and familiar. It calls us to allow ourselves to grow and change. It can be painful and painstaking to leave those things that are familiar and have served us well for what can seem like an uncertain and unsteady future. It is a reminder that we are called to leave everything to follow Christ:

“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves and take up their cross every day and follow me. Those who want to save their life will lose it; but those who loses their lives for my sake, will save it.”

There has to be a constant dialogue and process of discernment between stability and conversion of life. To some extent the hold each other in check. The call to conversion stops stability becoming an excuse to get stuck in a rut, to stay where is safe and secure. Stability reminds conversion that constant change for its own sake is not the way to new life.

What are you being called to let go of so that you can grow into new life today?

Benedictine Spirituality Scripture Uncategorized

Stability: Grounded and held in God’s love

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My ninth #Benedictine word is Stability. It is an important aspect of Benedictine life. As one of our vows it is held in balance and tension with both obedience and conversion of life. It is deeply incarnational, having both external and internal aspects.

Benedictine spirituality commits us to seeking God in real-time, in real places and in real relationships with all the messiness and challenges that that brings. It compels us to live out the call to bear with one another’s burdens with the utmost patience. It calls us not to walk away when relationships are difficult, when our circumstances and situations are not ideal, or not what we hoped for.

Alongside that there is the inner aspect of stability. It calls us not to avoid the inner work of seeking God. We are not to find ways of avoiding the self-knowledge and acceptance of both our strengths and our limitations that following Christ requires of us.

It mirrors the faithful love of the God of Scripture, the God who led his people through the desert, constantly finding ways of drawing them back to his love when they turned away:

“I myself taught Ephraim to walk, I myself took them by the arm…I was leading them with human ties, with leading-strings of love…”

Our vow of stability calls us to imitate the love of God who never leaves us and never gives up on us.

Where are you being called to practice faithful love today?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Scripture Uncategorized

A call to listening obedience.

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My eighth #Benedictine word is obedience. Obedience is an important part of Benedictine life. Along with stability and conversion of life it makes up the three vows that we take at Profession. Benedictine obedience is based listening and responding to the call of God in our lives. To some extent that’s straightforward, the desire to respond to God is at the heart of all Christian life. But, important as it is, it is only one aspect of Benedictine obedience.

St Benedict is very clear that our obedience is not only directly to Christ, but also to our monastic superiors who represent Christ in our communities and to the whole community through the mutual obedience that calls us to recognise Christ’s voice in the other members of the community. St Benedict writes:

“Because of the holy service they have professed… They carry out the orders of the Prioress or Abbot as promptly as if the command came directly from God.”

His words are challenging, especially in an age that values personal autonomy and independence. He calls into question our assumption we are better placed than anyone else to discern God’s will for us. Benedictine obedience insists that we recognise and trust the discernment and insights of others. It calls us to the humility of acknowledging that sometimes someone else will know better than we do the path we should take.

Where are you being invited to listen to God calling you through other people today?

Benedictine Spirituality Scripture Uncategorized

Sacred Reading

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#BeingBenedictine, #Benedictine #BenedictineSpirituality, #Delight, #GodInAllThings, #gospel, #GospelValues, #RuleOfStBenedict #Lectio #LectioDivina #SacredReading #Scripture
My seventh #Benedictine word is Lectio Divina. The practice of Lectio Divina is the basis of personal prayer in Benedictine spirituality. St Benedict says very little about it. I’ve always assumed that’s because his monks would have been familiar with the term and known what he meant. It’s not quite so straightforward for us many centuries later and with a very different understanding of and relationship with text and the written word.

It’s reading, but it’s very different from any other sort of reading we might do. It’s not speed reading, skim reading, reading to gain knowledge or any of the other useful ways we engage with text. It’s not about understanding everything a text has to say, or getting to the end of it. It’s more about finding the treasure buried deep below the surface of a text.

Speaking about Scripture St John Chrysostom writes:

“To get the full flavour of a herb it must be pressed between the fingers so it is the same with Scripture; the more familiar they become the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield the indescribable riches.”

It’s a slow, reflective, repetitive reading of a text that allows it to reveal its hidden treasures and insights. As we revisit the text again and again its riches can sink to the depths of our hearts transform our lives from the inside. We need to be prepared to sit with the text however uncomfortable or challenging it is. We need to wrestle with it as Jacob did with the angel to receive the blessing it carries for our lives and for our times.

What helps you discover the treasures of Scripture in your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Saints Uncategorized

St John Henry Newman

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Revisiting an older post to celebrate the feast of St John Henry Newman. When the Pharisees and Sadducees decide to put Jesus to the test they ask him a question that goes right to the heart of their faith, “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Jesus avoids their trap with a clear, precise and orthodox answer, saying:

“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.”

He goes on to remind his hearers that these two commandments are the underpinning of all of the Law and the Prophets. His answer is so clear and straightforward that it would seem impossible to mistake his meaning. We all know it’s true, we all believe it, but it doesn’t always make it past being a fine principle into the nitty-gritty practice of daily life. It is easy and comfortable to spiritualise the scriptural commandment to love, so that it has little effect on how we live our daily lives. We don’t have to reflect for very long to realise that that is not what Jesus meant. The love he talks of is practical, costly and life changing.

St John Henry Newman has never been one of my favourite writers. I mostly encounter his work as readings in the Divine Office. In that situation I confess that I often lose the sense of his words in the Victorian flourishes of his style. So I was surprised when one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons stressed the practical implication of the Gospels’ message of love in a way that shone through the restraints of language and style with a clarity I couldn’t ignore:

“By trying to love our relations and friends, by submitting to their wishes, though contrary to our own, by bearing with their infirmities, by overcoming their occasional waywardness by kindness, by dwelling on their excellences, and trying to copy them, thus it is that we form in our hearts that root of charity, which, though small at first, may, like the mustard seed, at last even overshadow the earth.”

His words reminded me of another Victorian writer, George Eliot. In her novel, “Adam Bede” she writes:

“It is these people – amongst whom your life is passed – that it is needful that you should tolerate, pity, and love: it is these more or less ugly, stupid, inconsistent people, whose movements of goodness you should admire – for whom you should cherish all possible hopes, all possible patience.”

She doesn’t shirk from acknowledging that the call to love requires real effort and real engagement with the people we live among regardless of how we might feel about them. She knows the power we have over one another to build up or destroy. She knows that to practice this costly love can be enabling and life enhancing, and that to withhold it can be withering:

“[And it is these] real breathing men and women, who can be chilled by your indifference or injured by your prejudice; who can be cheered and helped onward by your fellow-feeling, your forbearance, your outspoken, brave justice.”

The words of these two Victorian writers took me back not only to the heart of the gospel, but to the heart of the Rule of St Benedict. Despite coming at the end of the Rule Chapter 72, “On the good zeal that monastics ought to have”, is its centre and the filter through which the whole Rule is interpreted. In it St Benedict writes:

“Bear with one another’s weakness of body or behaviour with the utmost patience. No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.”

St Benedict, St John Henry Newman and George Eliot all call us back to the centre of the gospel message, the call to love. The love they speak of is a call to action. It’s a call to put ourselves aside for the good of others, especially in the small, ordinary and apparently mundane interactions of daily life. We are called to be patient with weakness, kind and non-judgemental, accepting people as they are, not expecting perfection or even necessarily any noticeable change.

We are facing challenging times, full of fear, uncertainty and mistrust. In such circumstances it is tempting to withdraw from one another, to focus our attention on ourselves and our own needs. It seems to me that, now more than ever, we need to practice this gospel message of practical, costly and particular love. So let us face our times looking for ways to share those mustard seeds of love that can grow to “overshadow the whole earth”.

Benedictine Spirituality Uncategorized

The practicalities of loving.

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My sixth #Benedictine word is LOVE. It’s no surprise to find that this is an important word for St Benedict, it is impossible to follow Christ without love. It is the very heart of the gospel as Jesus tells his disciples:

Love one another: as I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

So from the outset St Benedict puts love at the heart of his Rule. He tells us in the Prologue that we “shall run on the path of God’s commandments with hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.”

In the rest of the Rule he unpacks what it means to love. He tells us that it is organising things so that “the strong have something to strive for, and the weak nothing to run from.” It is making sure that everybody receives what they need to live with dignity. It is giving a kind word and a smile even when we have to say no. It’s putting the needs of another before ourselves. It is arranging the practical details of everyday life so that “no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.”

These seem to me important principles to put into practice as we begin to rebuild our lives and our societies in these challenging times.

Where are you being called to act from love today?