Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lent Prayer Prophetic voices Saints Uncategorized

Gospel living

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Some thoughts from our archives to celebrate St Frances of Rome.

As we come to the end of International women’s Day we’ve begun our celebration of one of our congregation’s saints, St Frances of Rome. She is one of a very small number of married women who are saints. She brought up a large family and did a great deal to help the poor and the sick of Rome. This week I’ve been reflecting on the blessing of gospel living and it seems to me that she epitomises that in her life. That’s especially true in the great care she took of the poor, wrapping their clothes in lavender after she’d washed and mended them. In her role as peacemaker and reconciler shows another aspect of a gospel focussed life. It’s written of her that:

“God gave her such an abundance of loving-kindness that those who had dealings with her immediately felt themselves captivated by love and admiration for her and were ready to do whatever she wished.”

Frances dealt with many difficult and, sometimes, violent situations. Even in those situations she was able to persuade people to change their behaviour by showing them love and kindness. This is the blessing at the heart of the gospel centred life. It may have brought blessings to Frances, it certainly made her a blessing to those she encountered.

It makes her a good role model international women’s day. She reminds me of the important role women play in building communities and changing the world. Her life carries the message that even in the most challenging situations, love and kindness have the power to change hearts, minds and lives.

Where is God calling you to share an abundance of loving-kindness in the challenging situations you face?

Lent Prayer Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

As one friend to another

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Today I’m reflecting on Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain. It’s an encounter happens in the context of an already deepening and flourishing relationship. The writer tells us that Moses and God speak face-to-face, as one friend to another. Yet, Moses wants more, desiring to draw even closer to God he asks to see God’s glory. I’m always struck by the love and tenderness of God’s reply:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you,… But, you cannot see my face; for no one can see my face and live.”

God then arranges that while God’s glory passes Moses will be hidden in the cleft of a rock, covered by the hand of God so that he can see God’s back, but not God’s face. I am always struck by God’s tenderness in this passage. God’s love and concern for Moses is evident.

God recognises Moses’ desire and that to fulfil it in the way Moses has asked would not be the best thing for him. So God finds another way, away of fulfilling Moses’ desire to draw closer to God, while keeping him safe from harm. God declares that God is:

“Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…”

It seems to me that God demonstrates this steadfast, faithful and gracious love in this encounter with Moses.

Lent gives us an opportunity to draw closer to God. Like Moses, we are invited to speak to God openly and trustingly. That can sometimes seem a challenging, or even daunting prospect. Moses’ encounter encourages us and reminds us that the God who waits to welcome us is overflowing with steadfast love for each one of us.

What would help you to speak to God as you would to a friend this Lent?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Discernment Lectio Divina Lent Prophetic voices Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

A habit of listening.

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Today I’m reflecting on the first reading from the prophet Jonah. I’m struck by Jonah’s response to God’s call:

“Up!…Go to Ninevah, the great city and preach to them as I told you to”

Perhaps having learned from his earlier disagreement with God Jonah obeys swiftly and without argument or prevarication:

“Jonah set out and went to Ninevah in obedience to the word of the Lord.”

His response can make obedience seem easy, straightforward and simple, but it’s more complex than that. It takes me back to the Rule of St Benedict which calls us to “unhesitating obedience”. This is not a call to simply do what we are told, though it sometimes requires that.

Rather the call to obedience is a call to listen and respond to the call of God. It requires discernment, both to hear the call and discover the response we need to make. In the first instance the call to obedience is a call to listen. Then it is a call to respond to what we hear.

We’re called to develop a habit of listening, to attune ourselves to God’s presence in every situation so that we learn to recognise God’s voice in our lives. From this listening we will be able to discern the response we’re called to make. It’s a process that requires practice. We will make mistakes, getting it wrong, trusting in God’s mercy, and being willing to try again and change direction if necessary.

Where are you being called to develop a habit of listening this Lent?

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Ash Wednesday

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There are many ways to describe Lent. It’s a time for, reflection, renewal, fasting, almsgiving and much more. Generally, one of these will take on more significance or importance for us than others, and that may change from year to year. But underlying all of those is the call back into relationship with God. At the heart of all our Lenten practices, from Ash Wednesday onwards is this call to relationship. The Prophet Joel writes:

“Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning… Turn to the Lord your God again for he is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent. Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent, will not leave a blessing as he passes…”

It’s a call that’s full of challenge and promise. It challenges us to look closely at our lives, to ask how far we’ve allowed the busyness of our lives to squeeze God out. In a world where we are always supposed to be positive and in control his words remind us of all the grief that we both carry and cause. We are challenged to allow ourselves the freedom to admit that all is not well in our lives and in our world. Alongside the challenge there is hope and a promise that helps us to face it. Whatever we are facing, however enthusiastically we begin Lent and however that enthusiasm might wane over the coming weeks the gracious promise of God will remain, offering us hope and encouragement. Wherever this Lenten journey leads us the God of tenderness and compassion will be there with us, encouraging and supporting us whatever we face.

On this Ash Wednesday where do you hope to encounter the God who is all tenderness and compassion?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

The promise of Good News.

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Today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah sums up the hope and joy of Advent and of Gaudete Sunday:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring the good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

He offers a vision of hope that touches the deepest needs within us. We all know the pain of being broken hearted. We all experience a longing to be free from all that would entrap us. In our challenging times we see all too clearly too the devastating effects of poverty all around us.

In such times it can be easy to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as an unrealistic pipe dream. The reality is quite different. He wasn’t writing to a people living easy, comfortable, safe lives. Instead he was offering hope to a people defeated, oppressed and exiled. He offered this beautiful vision of hope and joy in a situation where hope seemed impossible and joy a distant dream. In the midst of their suffering his words reminded people that all was not lost even if it appeared otherwise.

His words are taken up by Jesus in Luke’s gospel, when, having read this text he tells the people “today this text has been fulfilled in your hearing.” His words were met with surprise and incredulity, yet they carry carried a powerful message for those first listeners and for us today. The promise of Advent is that if we dig deep in challenging times we will find glimmers of hope and with them the the joy and new life that the coming of Christ promises us.

Where is Christ inviting you to trust his promise this Advent?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Prophetic voices Resurrection Rule of St Benedict Saints Scripture Uncategorized

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 Good Shepherd Gospel Lectio Divina Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Bearers of Good News

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In today’s gospel Jesus commissions the 12 Apostles, giving them authority and sending them out to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of heaven. He says to them:

“Go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.”

His words bring to mind the image of the good Shepherd, calling his sheep by name, seeking out those who are lost to bring them back into the fold of his loving care. I imagine that as the apostles listened to his words they were very aware of the people around them who felt overwhelmed and lost in the face of their challenging times.

His words resonate with me particularly because of the many people in our times who are also lost, seeking meaning, security, love and compassion in our own challenging times.

Jesus knew he was sending the Apostles on a mission that would be dangerous, uncertain and challenging. It’s a call that’s as essential for us today as it was then. Listening to the gospel this morning I thought of the many women and men who have taken up that call through the ages, seeking to support the lost and marginalised of their own times.

We are called to carry on their work, bringing the Good News to those who feel lost today, seeking them out, helping them find their way through the challenges of life, offering them the love and compassion of Christ.

How is Christ calling you to share the Good News with those you encounter today?

Benedictine Spirituality Lectio Divina Prophetic voices Scripture Uncategorized

Hagar’s challenge

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Today’s first reading is one of the most challenging pieces of Scripture we hear. The story of Hagar, Abrahams’ slave girl and mother of his first child is raw and full of pain. Hagar was given to Abraham as his mistress by his wife Sarah in order to provide a son. Later, becoming jealous Sarah insists that Abraham sends Hagar and her son away to protect Isaacs’ inheritance, so Hagar is sent out into the wilderness with a small amount of food and water. When this runs out Hagar leaves her baby to die. The angel of the Lord appears to her, telling her not to be afraid, that God has heard the child’s cries and promises to make him into a great nation:

“Then God opened Hagar’s eyes and she saw a well so she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

There is no way to avoid the many challenges it presents us with. Hagar lives on the margins of her society, as a slave she has no value and no rights. It would be comforting to brush the story aside as something that happened in the distant past, but is no longer relevant to us.

A quick glance at any news outlet shows us how false that perception is. Hagar’s story compels us to look again at the times we live in. It challenges us to look out for the people pushed to the margins of our society, offered no support and protection. It asks us what steps we can take to improve their lives and their situation.

Where is God calling you to reach out to those on the margins today?

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God loves it…

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Some thoughts from our archives for the feast of St Julian of Norwich…

I’m revisiting the work of Julian of Norwich on her feast day. She has a gentle and unshakeable certainty that is calming and soothing in challenging times. Today I’ve been reflecting on these words:

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand…In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it.”

They’re some of her most famous and well known words. They remind me of the of the fragility of our human life and of all of creation. The crises we’ve faced in the past few years have taught us taught us how little control we have over the events that affect us. We will never again be quite so enthralled by that beguiling myth that we control our own destiny.

The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis have left us all too aware that our lives are every bit as small and fragile as the hazelnut Julian describes. We will always now wonder, as she did, how anything so small and fragile could exist. That could be a despairing thought, especially in these times.

Yet, Julian’s revelation carries on and God shows her that it is held in being by the love of God. That love turns any despair we might feel in the face of our fragility into hope. As we tentatively navigate these challenging and uncertain times, that hope in the loving presence of God, holding us in being, gently cradling us in our fragility is essential.

Where are you aware of your need to be cradled in the love of God today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Good Shepherd Gospel Lectio Divina Prophetic voices Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

Called and Led

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Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and the worldwide day of prayer for Vocations. With that in mind I’m reflecting on these words from Today’s Gospel:

“One by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice.”

These words go to the heart of the gospel and of Christian vocation. They take me back to the Rule of St Benedict which begins with the call to “listen…with the ear of your heart.” However our vocation is lived out, it’s this listening with the ear of our hearts that enables us to recognise the voice of Christ calling each one of us, and gives us the courage to follow where he leads us.

The more challenging life becomes the more voices seem to demand our attention. It’s easy to feel distracted and overwhelmed, to surrender to the loudest or the most frightening. This makes it even harder than usual to hear and recognise the gentle, persistent, truthful and hopeful voice of Christ calling us to follow him.

It seems to me that as we negotiate the many challenges we today face it’s essential that we give our attention to the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him. As we move forward it will be the voices that we listen to that will shape our lives.

As we move through Eastertide what helps you to hear the voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, calling you to follow him?