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?

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Choosing peace.

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Writing to the Philippians in times of full of challenge and uncertainty Paul offers a message of hope, saying to them:

“There is no need to worry, but if there is anything you need, pray for it…and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”

Waking up to the news of yet more violence erupting in in our troubled world gives a deeper resonance to those words. In the face of that news it’s tempting to let ourselves spiral down into despair and hopelessness.

St Paul invites us to find another way, reminding us that even when we feel powerless we can still make choices that can be life changing. Echoing Deuteronomy’s call to “choose life” Paul tell the Philippians to deliberately choose to fill their minds with what will keep them focussed on Christ and his peace:

“Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise.”

We have so much choice it can be overwhelming. This can encourage us to choose mindlessly, without reflecting on the consequences for ourselves or for others. That is not good enough for Paul. He calls us to examine our choices, to make them mindfully and prayerfully.

He reminds us that our choices have a real effect on our lives and the lives of others. He tells us that part of our Christian calling is to be discerning about our choices.

We are called to choose to hope when life feels hopeless, to give the benefit of the doubt to others, to trust and focus on the peace of Christ so that we can share it wherever we can.

Where is Christ calling you to focus on his peace today?

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A woman of faith

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In today’s gospel Jesus finds himself at odds with a desperate woman. It’s one of my favourite gospels. I’m always moved by the woman’s courage. She’s an outsider, a Canaanite, so we might expect her to stay in the background, not drawing attention to herself. Yet, compelled by desperation and the love of her daughter she not only calls out to Jesus, but argues him into changing his mind.

It’s not only her courage that moves me. I’m especially touched by the effect she has on Jesus. He is certain of his mission, dismissive of her request to the point of rudeness. However, as she argues back we see him change his mind. Her argument causes him to reflect on the scope of that mission. Touched by her courage and her faith he extends his mission beyond the bounds of his own people, saying to her:

“Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”

Their encounter leaves me with much to reflect on. Jesus is not afraid to listen and to allow himself to be changed by another’s point of view. That requires a courage and humility we can all learn from when we encounter people who disagree with us or challenge us. The Canaanite woman is courageous in her honesty, and in her willingness to admit her need and her persistence. She challenges us to approach Jesus in the same way, with courage, honesty, humility and persistence when we are in need.

What gives you the courage to approach Jesus in your times of need?

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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?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Prayer Scripture Uncategorized

Finding courage

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I’m struck by a certain resonance between the story of Elijah in the first reading and of disciples on the stormy lake in the gospel. It seems to me that they are a call to focus our whole attention on God without allowing ourselves to be distracted by the inevitable storms of life.

Elijah waits attentively in his cave through mighty winds, earthquakes and fire, until he discovers the presence of God in the quiet of a gentle breeze. On the storm tossed lake Jesus invites Peter to walk across the water towards him. While Peter focuses his whole attention on Jesus everything is fine, but as soon as he is distracted by the force of the wind he begins to sink.

As Jesus walked across the water to his disciples he calls out:

“Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

Both the story of Elijah and of the storm tossed disciples require courage and trust. It takes courage to sit out the storms of life, not letting them blow us off course. It takes trust and faith to keep ourselves focused on Christ when life is challenging, uncertain and frightening.

In the midst of the storms we face Christ calls to us not to be fearful, but to focus on his presence with us. As Julian of Norwich tells us that presence will not remove us from those storms, but it will prevent them from overcoming us.

Where do you need the courage to stay focused on Christ’s presence in your life 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?

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Finding faith, discovering peace.

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Today were celebrating the feast of St Thomas. He is one of my favourite disciples because he is so direct and has the courage to ask awkward questions. I often think that he asked the questions that other people don’t quite have the nerve for. I always feel sorry for him at the beginning of today’s gospel. There is nothing more isolating than having missed a life changing experience that everyone else in your group is talking about.

I imagine that the eight days between the two resurrection appearances must have been extremely uncomfortable for Thomas. As he heard the other disciples discussing their experience he must have wondered why he was left out. I can sense both sadness and disappointment in his response to their enthusiasm.

Yet, all that changes when Jesus appeared to them again. He doesn’t criticise or blame Thomas for his response, instead he offers him exactly what 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. His 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 offering you peace and love 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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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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A life shaped by love

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Bede, monk, historian, scripture scholar, theologian and one of my favourite saints. I’m always touched by the simplicity of his life. His reputation could have opened many doors for him, allowing him access to the rich and powerful in both Church and State.

He could have been one of the “celebrities” of his day, seem to be making his mark and making a difference. Instead he chose to stay in his monastery, remaining faithful to the daily round of the monastic day with its mixture of prayer, study and manual work.

We might have expected that his impact, while important to those who knew him, would not have reached very far beyond his immediate circle. Yet, centuries later, he is still a source of inspiration for us long after many more “important” people of his time have been forgotten. Reflecting on why this might be these words from today’s gospel came to mind:

“I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them.”

Without a doubt Bede was a fine scholar and teacher, but valuable as these are I don’t think they are the source of his lasting influence. What touches us today is his faithfulness to his calling stay close to Christ, living in his love and allowing that love to shape every aspect of his life.

Where is Christ calling you to allow his love to shape your life today?