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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Lectio Divina Liturgy Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Ancient wisdom for modern times.

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We’re celebrating the feast of St Benedict as a new government is formed and I’m reminded of his instructions to the Superior of the community. He says that the Superior should have a treasury of knowledge both old and new to draw on in leading the community.

His words left me reflecting on what the Rule could offer to this new chapter in our public life, and that drew me back to the heart of the Rule, chapter 72. It captures the essence of the Rule with the combination of practicality and idealism that has kept the Rule relevant and grounded through the centuries. St Benedict begins by setting a high ideal for his community telling telling them to:

“Foster the good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and eternal life.”

He then draws that ideal into the reality of daily life showing his disciples how to put it into practice:

“Try to be the first to show respect to one another, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour… No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead what they judge better for someone else.”

He brings his ideal down to simple, straightforward actions that we can all put into practice. This good zeal that leads us to God is not beyond our reach, which is not the same as saying it is easy. It requires daily commitment and self sacrifice; we can find a myriad of ways to practice it every day.

It’s a call to be patient, considerate and kind in our daily interactions with one another. As our new government takes office I’m hoping that practicing these ancient values will shape our public discourse in ways that value every member of our society.

Where are you being called to practice good zeal in your relationships today?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Resurrection Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Facing challenging questions.

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St Thomas is one of my favourite disciples because he is so direct and has the courage to ask awkward questions. He asked the questions that other people didn’t quite have the nerve for. His feast has particular resonance for me as we come to the end of general election campaign that has raised awkward questions in many areas of our lives.

There are many reasons why we avoid asking the awkward questions. Maybe we don’t want to be seen as troublemakers, or appear uninformed or unintelligent. Maybe we are scared that there will be no answers, or that they will be too challenging and hard for us to cope with.

We can draw courage from both Thomas’ reaction and Jesus’ response. When Jesus appears again and Thomas has the courage to voice those questions he faces neither criticism or blame. Instead Jesus offers him exactly what he says he needs to be able to believe in the resurrection:

“He spoke to Thomas ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’”

His words break down any barriers of doubt that Thomas still harboured. Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas’ position enables Thomas to open his heart to believe in the reality of the risen Christ. Jesus accepts our questions and uncertainties in exactly the same way, coming to each of us in the way that is most likely to open our heart to to accept his peace and love in our lives.

Where is the risen Christ giving you the courage to ask the awkward questions that you need to?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prayer Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Vulnerability and Courage.

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Brene Brown describes courage as “putting our vulnerability on the line”. This seems to be a recurrent theme in this week’s gospels. The Centurion, the leper, the synagogue official, the woman with the haemorrhage all show what courage looks like in real life. In approaching Jesus, they take the risk of exposing themselves at their most vulnerable and needy.

I’m especially touched by the image of the woman with the haemorrhage. She takes overrides all the taboos of her condition and reaches out to touch Jesus, convinced that he can bring her healing. When he notices her touch and she has to reveal herself she does so in fear and trembling:

“The woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her.”

Both her fear and her courage resonate with me in our own challenging times. When life is harsh and frightening we are tempted to deny our vulnerabilities, suppressing or ignoring them. It seems to me the gospels suggest a different route.

The call of the gospel is to put that vulnerability on the line, to admit it freely and allow it to be seen, to have the courage to admit our need and to ask for help. If we can do that then maybe, with the woman we’ll be able to hear and respond to Jesus’ promise:

“My daughter, your faith has restored you to health; go in peace.”

Where is Christ calling you to let your vulnerability be seen today?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

St Peter and Paul

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As we celebrate the feast of Sts Peter and Paul I’m reflecting on courage. There’s no denying that we live in frightening and challenging times. Whatever direction we look in we risk being overwhelmed by the uncertainty and suffering people are forced to live with.

Peter and Paul do not seem to be very alike. They have different backgrounds, attitudes and experiences of Jesus. Yet, among their many differences one thing Peter and Paul have in common is courage. Among a variety of definitions of courage discussed the one that has stayed with me is the courage to change.

St Paul, the great persecutor of Christians, had the courage to allow his encounter on the Road to Damascus to change everything about how he lived. He must have risked losing friends, family, reputation and livelihood in the process.

Peter’s courage enables him to leave his nets and follow Jesus, even though he feels unequal to the task. His courage allows him to stay with Jesus as his ideas are challenged, disturbed and ultimately seems to be destroyed. Even in the face of his denial of Jesus he finds the courage to come back seeking forgiveness.

They bring to mind these words from today’s responsorial psalm:

“From all my terrors the Lord sets me free.”

In discovering the courage to to change Sts Peter and Paul were to accept the risks challenges and delights of allowing Christ to set them free.

Where do you find the courage to allow Christ to set you free from all that would terrorise you?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel John the Baptist Lectio Divina Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Hearing the Word.

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Today we’re celebrating the birthday of St John the Baptist. From his very beginnings John is marginal, he marks the boundaries between the Old Testament and the new Testament. He calls us to look back to the rich tradition of the old Testament with its covenant and promise, and forward to the new hope offered by the coming of Christ. While being on the margins brings insight, wisdom and the clarity of view that those in more central positions can miss, it is an uncomfortable and often dangerous position.

Those on the margins are often ignored, misunderstood or even despised. They make us feel uncomfortable or even threatened. John the Baptist knew that all too well. Reflecting on this I was struck by these words from the hymn we sang at last night’s vigil:

“How shall we hear the Word if we despise the voice…”

They carry something of the urgency of John’s original message. They remind me that the voices that call us to be open to the transforming power of the Word are not necessarily ones we are comfortable with. If we we want to hear the Word in our times we have to turn towards the voices of those on the margins today. We have to ask ourselves whose voices are despised, silenced, ignored. Then, responding to John’s instruction, we have to listen to them and allow them to point us towards Christ. This seems especially important this year as we approach a General Election.

Where are you being to hear the Word from challenging directions today?

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Christ Cross Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prayer Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Joyful trust

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of Sts Thomas More and John Fisher. They lived in times that were brutal and frightening, full of betrayal and mistrust. As they faced their martyrdom the words of today’s gospel must have had a particular resonance for them:

“They will hand you over to be tortured and put to death; and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name.”

Neither these disturbing words nor their arrest, imprisonment nor martyrdoms distracted them from trusting in God’s love. They may have felt overwhelmed and frightened by their situation. They certainly wished it could have been different. Yet through it all they were able to keep hold of St Paul’s words to the Romans:

“We are filled with joyful trust in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have already gained our reconciliation.”

The joyful trust Paul describes is easy when life is good. In those times it’s easy to believe that God’s love is poured out into our hearts. It’s not so easy in the reality of the world today, with all its terrors and uncertainties. The harshness of daily life can smother the love, joy and trust that are the heart of the gospel.

It’s when life is at its hardest and most challenging that we need that joyful trust. The harsher our world becomes the more we need the transforming love of God to be poured into our hearts to nurture and sustain us both in our personal struggles and in our interactions with others. I’m grateful for Paul’s reminder that whatever challenge and uncertainty we face we can trust that God’s love will be with us, sustaining, comforting, healing.

What helps you to keep trusting Christ’s promise in difficult times?

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

Learning to pray

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Teaching his disciples how to pray, Jesus begins by telling them what to avoid:

“In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

These are as much traps for us as the were for the pagans. He tells us another way, we can begin our prayer by trusting ourselves to the God who already knows all our needs. He goes on to gives us the words of what became the “Our Father”, a prayer that touches all our needs, putting all our physical and material needs into God’s hands. As I reflected on it this morning I was especially touched by this:

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

Forgiveness is central to our human experience. Both our need to forgive and to be forgiven are deeply rooted in the reality of our daily lives in both big things and small. 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 to forgive others in the course of their daily life.

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?

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

Secret encounters

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Today’s gospel is full of advice about living humbly. Jesus warns us against seeking attention and admiration for our faith and our good deeds. Humility is also essential in Benedictine spirituality. It’s not easy, it requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, self acceptance and self-love. It calls us both to accept our limitations and our giftedness, to acknowledge that we are both made of dust and the beloved children of God. As I reflected on this I was touched by these words from the gospel:

“When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.”

It seems to me that Jesus shows us the best way to learn to live humbly. He calls us to come alone into God’s presence, to spend time in a quiet, private, intimate space with God. It’s not an easy or comfortable place to be. Like the desert, it can be a place where we both wrestle demons and discover angels. Entering that private place where God is we can come to acknowledge our weakness and our failings, learning to accept them lovingly as God does. We can discover the precious gifts that God has given us and discern how best to use them in the service of others. The secret place where we encounter God is a place of challenge, it is also a place of consolation, healing and encouragement.

How do you draw strength from your times alone in God’s presence?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Corpus Christi Divine Office Eucharist Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Recognising Christ

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Because of a problem with the site I haven’t been able to post for a few weeks. As it’s always worth reflecting on the Eucharist I thought I’d post this even though the feast is past! As we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi I’m reflecting on the nature of Eucharist. The Scripture that comes to mind is the Emmaus story. Although it’s not part of the feast’s liturgy it seems to me to capture something of its essence.

It acknowledges the despair and hopelessness of the disciples as they trudged home disappointed and unsettled by all that has happened. We can identify so strongly with those feelings in our own lives that we almost feel the weight of it all as they pour out their story to Jesus. They remind me that Eucharist offers us an opportunity to bring our brokenness, hurt and disappointment into the presence of Christ.

Jesus responds to their despair by taking them through the Scriptures already know, reminding them of the passages that speak about the Messiah. As he does this their hearts are ignited, and through their sadness they glimpse something so good that they don’t want to let it go, so they invite him to stay with them. Full recognition only dawns as they sit down to eat together and:

“He took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened, and the recognised him…”

It seems to me that the essence of the Eucharist is an invitation rediscover the reality of Christ’s presence in every part of our lives, in our liturgies, in our communities, in all our relationships and activities.

As we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi where do you recognise the reality of Christ’s presence in your life?

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Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Saints Scripture Uncategorized Visitation

In love and joy

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Some thoughts from the archives for the feast of the Visitation. As we celebrate this lovely feast I’m being drawn to these words from the prophet Zephaniah:

“The Lord your God is in your midst… He will exalt with joy over you, he will renew you by his love, he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival.”

I was a little surprised that these were the words that drew me. The quickest of glances at the daily news brings a sharp reminder that whatever direction we look in there is little to inspire joy or hope. So I turned to the gospel. The beautiful encounter of Elizabeth and Mary as they delighted in the discovery of God’s presence deep within them echoed Zephaniah’s words.

Their joy and delight were real and transforming, yet that did not mean their circumstances were easy, comfortable or safe. They both knew suffering, individually and as part of a persecuted community. They both had lives that could be precarious, uncertain and even dangerous. Yet, they could still recognise and respond to the transforming, renewing love of God.

It seems to me that to respond to God’s love in uncertain times is both an act of courage and of faith. Even if we can’t feel it, or see it, God’s love is with us, renewing us whatever we face. Even when joy and hope seem impossible God rejoices in each one of us.

Where is God asking you to allow yourself to be renewed by God’s love today?