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.

Photo by Elias Maurer on Unsplash

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 Lectio Divina Lent Prayer Psalms Rule of St Benedict Scripture Uncategorized

Living Attentively

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

This week I’m reflecting on the blessing of attentiveness. We all recognise it as essential for a life centred on seeking God. Learning to live attentively can be difficult. We have to step back back from the multitude of demands and distractions that we live among on a daily basis.

While, in the midst of a busy life, that can seem an attractive idea, the reality is much harder. When we step back from those external distractions we are swamped by a multitude of inner distractions that often prove much more challenging than the external ones could ever be.

Reflecting on all of this I especially struck by the response to today’s psalm:

“O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.”

It’s the first psalm verse that we sing on Ash Wednesday and sets the tone for all of Lent. It gives us the opportunity to acknowledge that time and experience have hardened our hearts. It invites us to begin to let that hardness crack and fall away by paying attention to where the voice of God might be speaking to us in our lives.

Of course we can expect to discover that voice in our prayer. If we actively seek this blessing of attentiveness, giving all our attention to the tasks we are engaged in and to the people we meet we will also find that God speaks to us in every situation, in the midst of every task and in every encounter.

Where are you being invited to be attentive this Lent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Monastic Life O Antiphons Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Come to save us.

Photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash

From the archives:

At vespers this evening we’ll sing the last of the O antiphons, O Emmanuel, “God-with-us. It always seems to me that it refocuses our attention on the meaning of Advent:

“Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver, for whom the peoples are waiting, and their saviour: Come to save us, Lord our God.”

It reminds us that all the longing and waiting of Advent will end with a promise fulfilled. At just the moment when the waiting might begin to feel like too much the antiphon calls us to keep hoping, keep looking for the light of Christ’s presence to come and transform our lives.

The times we’re living through make Advent seem longer and darker than it used to. The suffering caused by the aftermath of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the economic crisis all make it hard to find be hopeful. The struggle required to negotiate the challenges we face leaves little energy for hope or joy. Yet even in such dark uncertainty we’re called to wake up, to become aware of the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

The antiphon has reminded me that however dark and uncertain our lives seem, whatever we are living through, and however well or not so well we handle that, Christ will come and dwell in our lives with us, bringing his healing, life giving light into whatever darkness we face.

Where do you need Christ’s presence with you this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

King of the Nations

Photo by Sidney Severin on Unsplash

From the archives for 22 December:

Today we sing the 6th O antiphon, O Rex Gentium, O King of the nations. It can be tempting to dismiss this antiphon because kingship can seem like an outdated or untrustworthy notion in our days. We live in times that are generally suspicious of leaders and authority figures can encourage us to distance ourselves from this challenging antiphon. But the antiphon, and the gospel, present a different view of kingship, leadership and power:

“O king of the nations, whom they long for, the cornerstone who made two into one: come and save humankind, whom you formed from the earth.”

The King of the antiphon, the one we long for is not like the earthly rulers we’re used to. He doesn’t abuse or misuse power, he doesn’t overwhelm or manipulate others. Instead he comes quietly, refusing to trample those who feel crushed by life. With gentleness and kindness he reaches out, offering hope and consolation to all who grieve and suffer.

He is the saviour, the servant king of the Gospels, come to dwell with his people. He washes the feet of his disciples, and cooks them breakfast by the lake of Tiberius. He doesn’t come with the pomp or power of earthly rulers. He comes gently, kindly, compassionately and courteously into our lives, offering us hope and solace in these painful and challenging times.

What do you long for from the coming of Christ the King in this challenging Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Holy Spirit Lectio Divina Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Visitation

New songs for uncertain times

Photo by Miguel Orós on Unsplash

Today’s gospel, the visitation, is one of my favourites. I’m always touched by the encounter of these two women as they both face unexpected and uncertain circumstances. I’m struck by Mary’s courage as newly pregnant she sets out on a dangerous journey to visit her cousin.

I’m touched by Elizabeth’s wisdom and insight as she faces the fulfilment of a dream she had given up on. In the midst of so much uncertainty their encounter is a powerful witness to the reality of love, hope and trust. Full of joy and the Holy Spirit Elizabeth cries out:
“Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Her words bring me back to the responsorial psalm:
“Ring your joy to the Lord, O you just; O sing him a song that is new.”

In their challenging, and uncertain circumstances Mary and Elizabeth were able to sing out their new song full of hope and courage. We’re living through uncertain times ourselves, more challenging than I’ve ever known or could have imagined.

We can’t ignore or underestimate the effect that has on us. Yet, like Mary and Elizabeth, even in those circumstance we are called to live with hope and trust. We are called to discover and sing our new song to the Lord, even if it is tentative and uncertain, carrying tears and laments as well as joy.

What new song are you called to sing this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Holy Spirit Lectio Divina Monastic Life Prayer Prophetic voices Psalms Scripture Uncategorized


Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash

Today’s gospel focuses on Joseph, who often seems a shadowy figure. Unlike Mary, he is not asked to give his consent to the angel’s message. When the angel appears to him everything has already been decided and he presented with a situation that must have left him reeling. It’s hard to imagine just how out of control he must have felt his life was when the angel said to him:

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.”

Reflecting on Joseph’s situation through the filter of the psalm I was struck by this from psalm 23:

“Let the Lord enter! He is the King of glory.”

Whatever his initial response to Mary’s pregnancy and the angel’s message we know that he was a man of faith. With the rest of his people he waited faithfully and hopefully for the coming of the Messiah. So however startling and disturbing he found the angel’s message he was prepared to take the risk of accepting it. His story highlights something that we easily forget, to welcome Christ into our lives we have to risk completely surrendering control. We have to be willing to give up our own plans to follow the new direction that Christ shows us, however startling it might be. Like Joseph we have to be willing to let ourselves be led in new and unexpected ways.

As we begin the fourth week of Advent where are you willing to invite the disturbing presence of Christ into your life?

Advent Lectio Divina Monastic Life Psalms Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Seeds of light

Listening to this morning’s responsorial psalm I was touched by this:

“Look towards him and be radiant, let your faces not be abashed.”

It seems very appropriate for Advent, the coldest, darkest, lowest time of the year. That time when we are most aware of our fragility and vulnerability, when it can be easy to lose sight of the Lord’s radiance. It’s the season when it seems most tempting to give in to despair and hopelessness as everything around us seems dark, cold and colourless. It’s a time when we need to be reminded that the radiance of the Lord’s love has not disappeared from our lives.

Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Lucy and this morning we we sang a hymn written by one of our sisters that captures both the darkness and the vulnerability of Advent and the hope that St Lucy points us towards. A young woman martyred for her faith, St Lucy reminds us that, however dark our world might seem, the light has not been wiped out of our lives, instead it is planted deep within us waiting for the right time to burst forth into new life. This morning we sang:

Deep in the darkness seeds of light are sown,
The joyous Light the dark has never known;
Beneath the ground the living waters sing,
And secret streams new life, new gladness bring:
Before the seas were shaped the Fountain played,
And Light shone out before the stars were made.

The words of the hymn offer us hope. They remind me that however dark life might seem there are seeds of light hidden in the darkness, waiting, germinating, preparing to put out shoots when the time is right. As we approach the shortest day, the lowest point of the year I am grateful for St Lucy’s gentle light reminding us to look towards the Lord’s radiance and directing us to new life and new hope.

What seeds of light are sown through your darkness this Advent?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gaudete Gospel John the Baptist Lectio Divina Psalms Scripture Uncategorized


Photo by Galina N on Unsplash

Today we’re celebrating Gaudete Sunday, a time to pause and remember that even in dark and uncertain times there is cause for joy and hope. Looking at the readings through the filter of the psalm (145) I am struck by this:

“It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever, who is just to those who are oppressed.”

In these challenging and uncertain times there is plenty that would oppress us. Today’s readings remind us never to give up hope however dismal things might seem. Isaiah writes that even the dry, barren wilderness of the desert can blossom into new life. St James calls us to be patient because the Lord we are waiting for will come, however unlikely that may appear. Neither of them deny the challenges that we face, or the costliness of hope. Instead they tell us to look for and keep alive those glimmers of hope that are buried in the midst of the challenges.

John the Baptist exemplifies that hope, sending disciples to Jesus to ask:

“Are you the one who is to come, or have we to wait for someone else?”

Even in the bleakness of his prison cell he is still seeking, still hoping, still looking for the Messiah he proclaimed with such conviction. It seems to me that the key to the faithfulness the readings call us to is in the psalm verse. It is the Lord’s faithfulness that enables us in our turn to strive to be faithful to God. It is God’s faithfulness that makes it possible for us to trust, hope and keep seeking God’s presence even in the most challenging of circumstances.

What gives you the courage to keep hoping today?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Divine Office Lectio Divina Prayer Psalms Scripture Uncategorized Vespers

Noticing God’s presence

Sometimes I like to spend some time with the antiphons from our Sunday Vespers. They always have a particular nuance and highlight things I might otherwise miss.

The antiphons for week 2 of Advent always speak to me of noticing…Of actively looking out for God’s presence in the hurly burly of daily life.

Where are you noticing Christ’s presence this week?

Advent Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lectio Divina Psalms Scripture Uncategorized

In Cooperation with God

The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Today, as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception I’m reflecting on the gospel of the annunciation through these words from Psalm (97/98):

“All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

It brings to mind a blog post by Michael Frost, “Four paintings for the four weeks of Advent”. He mentioned Henry Ossawa Tanner’s “Annunciation which completely captivated me it very captivating and today’s feast seemed a good time to revisit it.

The painting encompasses both the divine and the human as Mary’s room, slightly messy with unmade bed and rumpled rug, is illuminated by the Gabriel’s light. But I’m constantly drawn back to the look on Mary’s face. It has such a questioning, uncertain quality that I can almost hear the “but how can this be?…” echoing through her mind as she tries to make sense of the strange occurrence.

The painting brings to life that moment when the angel, having delivered his message waits, with bated breath, for Mary to give her consent to work with God for our salvation. It reminds me of a sermon by St Bernard of Clairvaux who writes:

“The angel is waiting for your answer, it is time for him to return to the God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady…If you consent straightaway shall we be saved…by one little word of yours in answer shall we all be made alive.”

As I reflect on this moment when the world waits for Mary’s consent I am filled with awe in the presence of a God who invites our cooperation in the work of salvation.

Where is God inviting you to participate in the work of salvation today?