Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Grounded in love and prayer.

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Today’s gospel is about learning to pray and forgiveness. As I reflected on it I was struck first of all by these words:

“Jesus was in a certain place praying.”

They reminded me that prayer is not an abstract activity, it is a practical activity grounded in the reality of our daily lives. Jesus is praying in a real, physical place in the midst of a particular web of relationships and events. It is in the midst of this complex reality that his disciples ask him to teach them to pray. The pattern of prayer he lays out for them grounds them even further in the reality of their daily lives, moving them from praise and thankfulness to forgiveness.

Forgiveness also needs to be grounded in the reality and context of our daily lives. 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 and their need to forgive others in the course of their daily life. The prayer Jesus teaches his disciples points us in the same direction, asking us both to accept and give forgiveness:

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

It seems to me that 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?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Bearers of Peace.

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This is my final post on Benedictine spirituality for now. Thank you to everybody who shared their favourite Benedictine quotes with me. It’s been an interesting and enriching experience to reflect on and write something about them. Today I’m reflecting on what has become the motto for modern Benedictines, “Pax”.

Although he most certainly didn’t write this motto I am sure that St Benedict knew the importance of peace for human flourishing and spiritual growth. Living violent and troublesome times he would have been only too aware of the damage that a lack of peace can cause. His desire to maintain peace is a thread that runs through the whole Rule.

We see it in his concern for both this physical and spiritual well-being of the community. Whether he is ensuring that the community have adequate clothing and food or warning them against the vice of grumbling his aim is to ensure a peaceful environment where everyone can flourish.

The peace he seeks to establish in his community is not a human structure, it is the peace of Christ. It is the peace that St John tells us Christ gives to his disciples in that darkest of times before his crucifixion

“Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you…”

Living in our own violent and troublesome times I too am all too aware of the need for Christ peace to come into our world, to change hearts and minds, to enable us to build communities that are stable and allow people to flourish.

Where is Christ calling you to share his peace in your community today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Monastic Life Rule of St Benedict Uncategorized

A balanced yearning

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Today my Benedictine quote comes from chapter 64, “on the election of an Abbot”. In his two chapters on the abbot St Benedict sets high standards. The superior is the representative of Christ in the community, and as such has the responsibility to ensure that each member of the community is able to grow in the love of Christ, developing their potential and talents. This is not always easy to achieve. St Benedict writes:

“The Superior must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.”

These chapters on the abbot can be easily overlooked as not being relevant for people outside the monastery. I think they have a real wisdom that can help in many situations. In any group of people there will be a variety of talents and capabilities. We can all fall into the trap of thinking a one size fits all approach would be the most straightforward. While that can appear easy it can lead to uniformity rather than unity. St Benedict is wiser than that and suggest an alternative approach.

He asks that community life should be organised so that that those who are stronger are able to develop their strengths without putting pressure on others to keep up with them. Those who are weaker should have the space and opportunity to step back when they need to. While it’s a beautiful ideal it’s not always easy to live up to. To strive towards it we need to admit both our strengths and weaknesses with humility, and to rejoice in the strengths that others have that we might lack.

What yearning do you want to bring into Christ’s presence 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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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?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Scripture Uncategorized

Planted in rich soil.

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Today’s gospel sees Jesus teaching through parables once again. The parable of the sower is full of rich resources for us to ponder. Each time we visit it there seems to be something new to discover and reflect on. The image that has stayed with me today is that of the seed. Seeds are small, and apparently insignificant. Their potential is so well hidden that it can be easily overlooked or brushed aside. Yet, as Sister Verna Holyhead says in her reflection on the passage:

“The seed is a wonderful symbol of the kingdom. Small, hard, unattractive to the senses, yet within it lies the future promise and hope of green and growing things, of harvest and bread.”

Jesus tells his disciples that the meaning of the parable lies in how we receive the seed of the kingdom into our hearts. We can receive it in ways that stifle or prevent its growth, and so receive either only a fleeting benefit or no benefit at all. Or, we can prepare the soil of our hearts opening them to the life changing presence of Christ:

“Those who receive the seed in rich soil are the ones who hear the word and understand it; they are the ones who yields a harvest and produce now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.”

To open our hearts in this way is risky. There is so much in our lives and our societies would harden our hearts. The challenge of living in difficult times can make us us wary and untrusting. Jesus offers us a different way. He promises that if we give our whole attention to listening to the Word, allowing it to shape every aspect of our lives we will yield a rich harvest for ourselves and for all those we encounter.

How is Christ helping you to prepare your heart to allow his words to take root in 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 Gospel Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Precious in God’s eyes

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Today’s gospel begins with one of the most consoling and most regularly repeated phrases in the gospel, “do not be afraid”. I sometimes think it’s a phrase that we can’t hear often enough as we face the challenges of daily life. This was equally true for Jesus’ first disciples. Jesus is well aware of the challenges and hardships his disciples face and will face again in the future. He may even be more aware of their fear and uncertainty than they are themselves. His response is to say:

“Do not be afraid… Can you not by two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.”

His words don’t deny their fears or or the challenges and suffering they face. He doesn’t guarantee them easy lives. Instead, he offers them a hope that will sustain them in fearful times. A quick glance at the day’s headlines is all it takes for us to be aware that we also live in fearful, challenging times. We are very aware of our own fragility and vulnerability as we face a variety of economic, social and political uncertainties. In such times it easy for fear to blossom and take hold.

This is the time we most need the consolation of Jesus’ words. Whatever our individual circumstances, whatever fears keep us awake at night we these words of Jesus to sink deep in to our hearts. We need them as a constant reminder that whatever we face, whatever threatens us we are loved and are precious in God’s eyes.

Where is Christ telling you you are precious in God’s eyes 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?