Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prayer Psalms Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Called to a life of love.

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From the archives for the feast of St Bernard Tolomei, the founder of the Olivetan congregation. He was a 13th century lawyer who, with a few friends, left the city to live as hermits in the hills outside of Siena. However, things did not turn out quite as they planned. Having being led out into one of those “desert places” where God speaks to the heart, they were called back into the city to nurse the victims of the plague in 1349. It was there that St Bernard fell ill and died.

This morning at Lauds we will sing this from the prophet Ezekiel:

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

It seems to me to sum up both the essence of St Bernard’s life and of the call to contemplation that we all experience. Bernard was led to seek a life of contemplation and prayer. In turn his life of prayer softened the stoniness of his heart enabling him to leave his solitude to care for those in need.

His life suggests that there is no division between a contemplative life and one of active service, they are two parts of a whole. It is our time spent with God that enables and sustains our service to others. It is the love we discover in the heart of God that softens our stony hearts and enables us to love our sisters and brothers.

Where is God softening your heart today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Discovering Treasure

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This Sunday’s Gospel is all about finding and recognising treasure. Jesus tells his disciples two parables. In the first someone discovers hidden treasure. Recognising its value, he happily sells everything he owns in order to possess the treasure.

The second parable takes up the same theme, a group of fishermen haul ashore a full dragnet. They sit down together to go through its contents deciding which are of value and which to throw away:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use.”

In both cases Jesus asks us to be alert and discerning. His parables tell us that the kingdom will make its presence felt in the most unexpected places, in the midst of the ordinary tasks of daily life regardless of how dull or mundane they might appear to us.

If we seek the kingdom and its promise, we need to be alert and attentive to every aspect of daily life. We can’t sleepwalk our way through life hoping that the kingdom will simply drop into our laps. We need to actively seek it and to stay awake to its presence whatever we are involved in.

Alongside that we have to be discerning. The fishermen had to sort through the mixture of things that they had hauled from the sea. We have to examine the many opportunities and experiences of daily life, asking ourselves which are useful in seeking the kingdom and which would distract us from it.

Where is Christ calling you to be alert to the presence of the kingdom in your life today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Of fools and angels

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I have some sympathy with the servants in today’s gospel. Knowing that they have sown good seed in their Masters field they are puzzled and perplexed to find darnel growing amongst the wheat when it begins to sprout and ripen. Their immediate response is to sort the situation out, to under the damage as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It’s a temptation we all recognise. As soon as something goes wrong in life we want to fix it. Our desire is to stabilise the situation and restore normality, sometimes it even feels like we want to turn the clock back to how things were before they went wrong.

However, when they suggest their quick fix to their master he takes a different view, saying to them:

“No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest time; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: first collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”

His response reminds me of the saying “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. He suggests a kinder more compassionate approach, allowing things to develop and unfold before taking action. It’s a reminder that, however well-intentioned, a hasty response can sometimes cause more damage than good.

In today’s world when we expect instant responses and instant gratification is it’s especially important to be aware of this. To live by the values of the kingdom we have to accept that it’s rarely possible to easily distinguish good from evil. It takes discernment to make that call. We have to have the courage and patience to live with uncertainty as we wait for things to unfold or for the full picture to develop.

Where is Christ calling you to pause before acting today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Uncategorized

Called to bear fruit.

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Today’s gospel begins with Jesus giving his disciples some good advice:

“Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves.”

At first glance his words can seem disconcerting, even threatening, though we all know the truth of his statement from our own experience. They can leave us feeling anxious and afraid. But, as usual Jesus doesn’t leave his disciples in that space. Instead, having pointed out the danger he offers his disciples a way to navigate the reality, going on to say:

“You will know them by their fruits… As sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit.”

His words are a call to attentiveness and discernment. He invites us to look beyond the surface of what is presented to us. He asks us not to take everything at face value, but to reflect on and question what we are told. He calls us to discern whether the statements made by our leaders in church, state and society bear good fruit or bad for the people they serve.

If we are truly to live by the values of the Kingdom we can’t only apply that question to our own individual circumstances, we also have to ask it on behalf of the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our society. It seems to me in our days of fake news and false promises this is especially good advice.

I can’t help wondering how much our society would change for the better we deliberately sought to makes choices that would bear good rather than bad fruit in peoples’ lives.

Where are you being called to bear good fruit for those around you?

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The Spirit of Truth

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In the lead up to Ascension Jesus is preparing his disciples for change. Once again they face a departure that will require them to let go of everything they thought they understood. Jesus says to them:

“I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes you will be led to the complete truth…”

His words touch on something that we both desire and fear, the complete truth. We are surrounded by voices telling us they have the truth that we need. In today’s “post-truth” world it can be especially challenging to discern the truth. We know our need for truth in order to be able to live well and with integrity, yet we struggle to know where we should turn to find it.

Jesus answers that for us, telling us he will send the Spirit of truth who will lead us this truth that we can rely on and trust. But to discover it we need to be open to and prepared. The truth that the Spirit brings us will not necessarily appear obviously and easily. It will require us to be attentive to all that is going on in our lives and our times. We need to be prepared to do the hard work of listening and discerning its presence in the midst of the myriad of voices that make up our daily lives. To do that we have to be prepared to let go of everything we thought we understood in order to be open to the new possibilities the Spirit brings.

As we move towards Ascension what opens your heart to the coming of the Spirit of truth into your life?