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?

Christ Lectio Divina Liturgy Resurrection Saints Scripture Uncategorized

All Souls Day.

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A reflection from our archives for the feast of All Souls. Every year I’m struck by the mood shift between the feast of All Saints to that of All Souls. All Saints is full of light and joy as we celebrate those who carried the bright light of Christs’ love into the lives of those around them.

As we move into All Souls the mood becomes more sombre. This is a day for allowing ourselves time to grieve and to mourn for all our losses and all that we lack.

Taken together these feasts speak of the intimate connection between life and death, sadness and joy, telling us that both are part of life and that we can’t have one without the other. I’m struck by how the readings for All Souls offer hope in the promise of new life and resurrection. I’m reflecting on these words from St Paul:

“Hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”

Hope seems easy when life is going well. When life is challenging or we are grieving hope becomes much harder and we’re more likely to mistrust it. It’s in these times that St Paul reminds us that Christ’s hope does not deceive. Whatever griefs we carry on this All Souls Day, the love of Christ that we hope in will sustain, console and lead us into the new life Christ promises.

As we celebrate All Souls what hope is sustaining you?

Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Saints Scripture Uncategorized

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?

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?

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Hospitality of the heart.

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Today we are celebrating Martha, Mary and Lazarus, friends of the Lord, an important feast for Benedictines because of of its link to hospitality. Luke tells us that Martha:

“Welcomed Jesus into her home.”

She offered him hospitality, a safe place to relax and have a meal with his friends in dangerous and uncertain times. However, in today’s gospel John takes the hospitality she offers to a different level. He shows us a woman of faith, used to the theological reflection and conversation, and already a follower of Jesus.

Even as she grieves for her brother she is capable of questioning Jesus and of allowing his response to transform her whole life It is through their hard, challenging conversation that Jesus is both revealed and recognised as Christ:

“I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though they die they will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Central as this revelation is it is not enough by itself, and he requires a response from Martha, asking her:

“Do you believe this?”

The recognition of her response completes the revelation as she proclaims:

“Yes Lord… I believe that you are the Christ, the son of God, the one who was to come into this world.”

I don’t think it would have been possible for Martha reach this recognition if she had only welcomed Jesus into her home. To recognise him as the Christ she must also have opened her heart to him. By welcoming him into the very centre of her being she was able to allow him to transform her whole life. We too are called to offer the risen Christ hospitality in the depths of our heart, allowing him to enter and transform our lives with light, love and hope

What would help you to invite Christ into your heart today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Resurrection Saints Scripture Uncategorized

St Mary Magdalene, Witness to the Resurrection

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Today we are celebrating the feast of St Mary Magdalene, one of the first witnesses to the resurrection, who was sent to tell the disciples that Christ had risen. It’s sometimes easier to say who she wasn’t than who she actually was. Despite being portrayed through the centuries as the archetypal penitent woman, she’s not the woman taken in adultery. Nor is she the woman who poured oil on the feet of Jesus, anointing him for his burial.

Jesus cast out seven devils from her. So she is a woman marked by the pain of severe mental anguish. It may have been crushing anxiety, debilitating fear, depression or a myriad of other conditions that sap the joy and hope out of life.

Freed of her demons she follows Jesus, supporting him and the other disciples from her own resources. She stayed with him until the very end, standing at the cross with the other women when the rest of the disciples fled. She follows him, even after death, to see where his body has been laid.

Even when he is laid in the tomb her desire to be close to him draws her back to his tomb in the dark of the early morning. It is there, as she stands weeping, that the risen Christ appears to her, and commissions her to proclaim the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples, telling them:

“I have seen the Lord…”

Where is Christ inviting you to seek and proclaim his presence in your life?

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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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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?

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Storing up treasure

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The Divine office has felt like a bit of a rollercoaster this week. Almost every day we celebrated a different saint, including an Abbot, St Romuald an aristocratic Jesuit, St Aloysius Gonzaga, who died nursing the victims of an epidemic and three martyrs, St Alban, St Thomas More and St John Fisher. It struck me this week that, although on the surface these saints look quite different, there is an underlying connecting thread that runs through all their lives. Today’s gospel sums up that thread:

“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘do not store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and woodworms destroy them and thieves can break in and steal. But store up treasures for yourselves in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Whatever challenges and sufferings they faced each of these saints were clearly focused on the Kingdom. That focus shaped every aspect of their lives and all their actions, enabling them to live with faith and integrity. It gave them the compassion to serve without counting the cost and the courage to face death for their beliefs.

Today’s gospel challenges us to look at where our own focus is. We very easily say that our hearts belong to Christ, and that we are focused on building the Kingdom. The reality is that very often we are distracted being led to seek our treasure in things that seem easier or that offer more instant satisfaction.

The gospel calls us back to that thread that connects us to the heart of Christ, and through that to one another and to the communion of saints. It challenges us to live the values of the Kingdom we profess with compassion and integrity.

Where are you being called to live by the values of the Kingdom today?

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Love in action.

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The coronation of King Charles has left me with much to reflect on. I’ve heard a variety of opinions expressed, from excitement to bafflement, from delighted support to outright disapproval. This was interesting and valuable; it highlights much that needs further discussion, reflection and action in our national life.

Today’s ceremony brings a different narrative to the fore, offering a deeper truth to underpin those necessary conversations. From the moment King Charles arrived at the Abbey the focus was service. Welcomed by a young chorister, saying:

“Your Majesty, as children of the kingdom of God we welcome you in the name of the King of kings.”

The King responds:

“In his name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.”

Those few words begin the process of cutting through the pomp and ceremony, the display of the riches and wealth. The process continues through the ceremony, at each turn the King is reminded of his role as servant of the people of God. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland presents the Bible, telling him that it is “the most valuable thing this world affords”. In his sermon Archbishop of Canterbury carries on the theme of service saying:

“We are here to crown a king to serve…”

Echoing the gospel, he continues:

“Jesus Christ announced a Kingdom in which the poor and oppressed are freed from chains of injustice. The blind see. The bruised and broken-hearted are healed.”

His words are clearly directed to King Charles, yet it seems to me they are also addressed to each of us. They present each of us with a challenge. The Archbishop described service as “love in action”, this applies to each of us as much as it does to King Charles. To heal the brokenness in our society we are each called to serve those around us.

Where is Christ, the servant king, calling you to put love into action today?