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Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Our celebration of All Saints began last night with Vespers. As part of the service we sing the Beatitudes, which we then hear again proclaimed in the gospel at the vigil and then at Mass. This helps keep them in my mind all through the feast. Sometimes approaching the Beatitudes can be a bit bewildering, I don’t know which one to focus on and focussing on all of them together can be a bit overwhelming.

Today I haven’t had that difficulty, each time I encountered the Beatitudes the same words leapt out at me:

“How blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.”

They have particular resonance because I’m so aware of how desperately the world needs peace at this time. So many people are having their lives torn apart by in these times when war is causing so much pain and suffering in so many places.

It’s left me reflecting on this essential call to make peace. It can sometimes appear to be a soft option, but that’s not the case. It requires commitment, courage and strength. To be peacemakers we have to find ways of working round personal hurts and grievances, however justified.

We’re called to be open and vulnerable, to acknowledge the hurts we carry and to do all we can to heal the hurts of others. Peacemakers are called to reach out across barriers that can seem insurmountable in trust and hope.

Where is Christ calling you to be a peacemaker today?

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Daring to love.

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Today as we celebrate the feast of St John Henry Newman I’m reflecting on Jesus’ response to a scribe trying to disconcert him. Jesus neither dismisses the question nor criticises the questioner. Instead he sidesteps the 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.

Conventional as his response is it calls the scribe and us to reflect on it’s meaning and how it affects our lives. The love he talks of is practical, costly and life changing. St John Henry Newman takes up this theme, stressing the practical implication of the Gospels’ message of love in a way that’s impossible to 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.”

Instead it is a call to action that changes every aspect of life. Love calls us to put ourselves aside for the good of others. We are called to be patient with weakness, kind and non-judgemental, accepting people as they are, not expecting perfection or even any noticeable change.

It’s call of the Synod to learn to listen with love and respect to others. In our troubled, war torn world it’s the call that compels us to reach out across our divisions to those who, like us, are suffering and vulnerable.

Where are you being called to risk reaching out in love today?

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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?

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Never loss hope

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The next quote in my series on the Rule of St Benedict is from chapter 4, “The tools for good works.” At first glance it can seem like a rather dreary list of dos and don’ts. At times it felt a bit hectoring it took time and practice to see its value. Over time I learned to appreciate its insights.

It lays out very clearly and practically how we need to treat one another to live by the values of the commandments and the Gospels. St Benedict offers us a list of tools that enable us to learn to put the good others first. To use them requires self-knowledge, self-discipline and self-sacrifice. There are days when it can feel like a long list of impossibilities. Then, as he comes to the end of this list he says:

“And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.”

Those few words at the end of that chapter put everything into a new context, they draw us back to a central principle of the Rule, we can’t do this alone. However determined we are we we fail daily in using these tools. We will grumble, we will be unkind, dismissive and hurtful to others and we will receive similar treatment from them. It is then that we need to remind that whatever our failings we can turn in hope to the merciful God, assured that God will give us the courage to begin again.

Where do you need to hope in the gentle and everlasting mercy of God in your life today?

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A life changing encounter.

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The Transfiguration is a beautiful feast that both draws us into the glory of God and grounds us in the reality of our daily lives on earth. Peter, James and John are drawn into the mystery and wonder of God’s presence. In the midst of what started out as an ordinary walk up a mountain they see Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah, and they hear the voice of God speaking from within a cloud:

“This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.”

It must have been a life changing, and life shattering encounter. I can understand their fear, and Peter’s desire to control the situation by building tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. So often when we encounter the reality of God’s mystery we look for ways of taming it, of making manageable and understandable to our human minds. Or, we seek to hang on to the experience, not wanting to leave the place where we have encountered God’s presence.

The Transfiguration moves us beyond both of those natural human responses. It calls us to listen with our whole hearts to the voice of God. It invites us to be open to those moments in our own life when God’s presence breaks through and transfigures our reality. Yet, even as it allows us to draw strength from such times, it moves us beyond them. It challenges us to listen to Jesus and to allow his presence to transform the ordinariness of our daily lives.

Where is Christ inviting you to allow his presence to transfigure your life today?

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The first Benedictine quote I am reflecting on is “listen”. It’s the first word of the Rule and the key to all of Benedictine spirituality, and to our Christian calling. St Benedict tells us that we should begin our Christian journey by listening:

“Listen carefully to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

If we want to follow Christ, the first step is to listen to his calling us with our whole attention. We how important it is to listen attentively & how easily we are distracted. We go through life not paying attention, not listening for that call that starts us on the journey towards seeking God.

This morning’s first reading was the call of Moses at the burning bush. Reflecting on it I was struck by the pattern of listening that it unfolds. In the midst of his ordinary, daily tasks Moses began by listening to his own curiosity, allowing it to draw him aside to look at the strange sight of the burning bush. Then he was able recognise that he was in God’s presence, and to to both listen and respond to God’s call.

God also calls us in the midst of the tasks that make up our daily lives. It might begin with a prickle of curiosity or with the feeling of discomfort or unease, a sense that something needs to change. If we listen to attentively to that feeling it will lead us to a place where we can begin to encounter the living God.

Where is God calling you to listen with the ear of your heart today?

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Saint Benedict’s call to serve.

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Celebrating the feast of St Benedict, I’m reflecting on Jesus’ call to service. He interrupts the disciples’ arguments about greatness by turning their perceptions upside down, telling them:

“The greatest among you must be as the youngest, the leader as the one who serves. For who is greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table surely? Yet, I am among you as one who serves!”

His words remind his disciples that they are called to put the needs of others first. That was a startling call to his disciples. It can seem an even more challenging call to us living in a time when individual fulfilment and satisfaction are so much to the fore.

St Benedict puts the call to service at the very heart of his Rule, telling us that we should pursue what is better for others instead of for ourselves. He knows that this is not an easy call, and reminds us that we should bear patiently with one another as we strive to fulfil it.

Community life offers us many opportunities to practice both service and patience throughout the day, whether in big things or small. I often find it’s easier to do in the big things of life. When we know someone is facing something really difficult or challenging it’s easy to be loving and supportive.

It can be much harder in the myriad of little mistakes and annoyances that make up the bulk of most days. However hard it might feel St Benedict is clear that if we “long for life and to see good days” the only way is a life of loving service.

How are you being called to serve today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

Finding Rest

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Today’s readings are full of joy, gratitude and promise. In the first reading Zechariah tells the people of Zion to rejoice because the King who promises peace is coming. The gospel begins with Jesus blessing his Father for revealing the mysteries of the kingdom in ways that are open to everyone. He also carries on with the promise saying,

“Come to me, all you who labour, and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn for me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

When life is challenging, difficult and painful it can be very hard for us to find anything to be grateful for. With good reason our burdens overwhelm us to the point where it takes all our strength to get from one day then to the next. The struggles of daily life can sap our energy so that we lose sight of anything that offers us hope, or anything that we can be grateful for. In those situations we tend to struggle on, relying on our own strength and judging ourselves harshly when it isn’t enough.

These are the times Jesus is speaking about when he tells to bring our burdens to him. He promises that there will be no words of criticism or blame because of all that weighs us down. Instead his promise is that there will warm, gentle and loving welcome into a place where we can find peace and rest. When life is challenging it can take more courage to trust and accept that promise than it does to struggle on alone.

What gives you courage to trust the promise Christ offers you today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

St Peter and St Paul

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Today were celebrating the feast of St Peter and Paul. At first glance it’s hard to imagine two more different men. Peter, one of the first disciples called by Jesus, who followed him on his journeys through the region. He was a fisherman and is unlikely to have had much formal education. One of the first disciples Jesus called, he left his family and livelihood to follow him and was with him throughout his ministry. He could be impetuous, sometimes to the point of foolishness, direct and passionate.

Paul, on the other hand was well educated, articulate and sure of himself. Never having met Jesus, he spent his life zealously persecuting Christians. Then an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus turned him into a passionate Christian. He gave his life over to spreading the gospel and his writing still shapes the church today.

Despite their apparent differences of personality and background there is an underlying bond between them. These words from Jesus’ conversation in today’s gospel sums up the source of that bond. When he asked the disciples, “But you,… Who do you say I am?” It is Peter who is able to answer:

“You are the Christ… The Son of the living God.”

Their conviction that Jesus is the Christ and their willingness to leave everything to follow him is the source of their connection. Their feast calls us to reflect on how our belief that Jesus is the Christ shapes the way we live our lives.

How is Christ calling you to follow him today?

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Mixed blessings.

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Today we’re celebrating the birthday of St John the Baptist. It’s a feast that has a flavour of Advent for me. The hymns, music, antiphons and readings all recall that sense of waiting and uncertainty, hope and expectation that I connect with Advent. I find that it’s good to be reminded of them at other times. I’m reflecting on this from the gospel account of John’s birth:

“All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts, ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered.”

We all know from our own experience how difficult it can be to hold uncertainty, suffering and hope together. It’s very tempting to allow one to overshadow the other. Mostly, I find it’s hope that gets overshadowed! John the Baptist’s birth takes place in the shadowy mists of uncertainty and suffering, both personally for Elizabeth and Zechariah, and communally for the oppressed people of Israel. In the midst of all that John’s birth offered the people something to wonder at, a treasure of hope to hold in their hearts in the uncertain times they faced.

Their experience resonates with us in our own challenging times, when we face the uncertainty of economic and political crisis. It reminds us that in the midst of the suffering and uncertainty we fear there will be moments of gift and blessing. Those precious moments won’t cancel the suffering and uncertainty. Instead they will offer us small treasures that we can hold in our hearts to give us hope and courage as we face the challenges of our times.

As we celebrate the birthday of St John the Baptist what are you treasuring in your heart?