Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

On loving

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Today I’ve been reflecting on St Paul’s letter to the Romans. His words bring us back to the heart of the gospel, love. It’s a message that we can easily take for granted when life is going along in it’s normal course.

When life falls apart or begins to feel uncertain that we begin to realise how essential love for us. Then we have to move away from a superficial understand of what love means and begin to discover its true riches and depths. St Paul was no stranger to suffering and challenges, and his experience will have shaped his understanding of love. He writes:

“You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”

His words include a balance I find easy to forget…We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. I think we can easily hear the call to love our neighbour and miss the call to love ourselves. Echoing the gospel St Paul points out that they are intimately connected, to love other we have to be able to love ourselves.

It’s easy to dismiss this as self indulgence, but true love is much more than self indulgence. It doesn’t mean surrendering to every passing whim. It means being attentive to our whole being, body mind and spirit. It requires that we take care of ourselves, being as gentle and compassionate to ourselves when we are in pain as we are to others. From that self love we can reach out in love to others in ways that bring healing, not hurt.

Where is God calling you to learn to love 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?

Beatitudes Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Our celebration of All Saints began last night with Vespers. As part of the service we sing the Beatitudes, which we then hear again proclaimed in the gospel at the vigil and then at Mass. This helps keep them in my mind all through the feast. Sometimes approaching the Beatitudes can be a bit bewildering, I don’t know which one to focus on and focussing on all of them together can be a bit overwhelming.

Today I haven’t had that difficulty, each time I encountered the Beatitudes the same words leapt out at me:

“How blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.”

They have particular resonance because I’m so aware of how desperately the world needs peace at this time. So many people are having their lives torn apart by in these times when war is causing so much pain and suffering in so many places.

It’s left me reflecting on this essential call to make peace. It can sometimes appear to be a soft option, but that’s not the case. It requires commitment, courage and strength. To be peacemakers we have to find ways of working round personal hurts and grievances, however justified.

We’re called to be open and vulnerable, to acknowledge the hurts we carry and to do all we can to heal the hurts of others. Peacemakers are called to reach out across barriers that can seem insurmountable in trust and hope.

Where is Christ calling you to be a peacemaker today?

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 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 Gospel Lectio Divina Rule of St Benedict Saints Truth Uncategorized

Needs and Wants

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Today’s Benedictine quote is from chapter 55, “On the clothing and footwear of the community”. It’s an extremely practical chapter that grounds us in the reality of our physical needs. This might seem a surprise in a Rule that we expect to be about the spiritual life, but the reality of human life is that we are body AND spirit. St Benedict is wise enough to know that both have to be attended to as part of the spiritual life. He writes:

“The clothing distributed to the community should vary according to local conditions and climate, because more is needed in cold regions and less in warmer.”

St Benedict’s words show real concern for the physical comfort and well-being of his community. They acknowledge that if our physical needs are not met we are not going to be able to give our whole attention to seeking God. He also calls us to reflect on the difference between needs and wants. In affluent societies today it can be hard work to distinguish between those. We are encouraged to treat them equally, if we want something then it is necessary to have it.

St Benedict presents a different view. He doesn’t say that the community should have the clothing they want, but the clothing they need because of the physical conditions of their region. His words recognise that this will vary from region to region, with some needing more and others less.

The real challenge of these words for us today is to reflect our attitudes to our physical needs and on the difference between need and want in our own lives.

Where are you being called to reflect on the difference between the things you need and the things you want today?

Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Saints Scripture Uncategorized


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From the archives for the feast of St Bartholomew. I’m reflecting on Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael. It’s clear that the encounter was as life changing as it was unexpected for Nathanial. He is somewhat underwhelmed with Phillips news that the expected Messiah is from Nazareth, questioning whether anything good can come from that place. However, despite this uncertainty, he is unable to resist Phillips’ invitation to “come and see” for himself. It’s this openness and willingness to take a risk that enables him to be embrace the life changing encounter that follows. As soon as he comes into Jesus’ presence he is instantly recognised:

“There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.”

Nathanael was surprised by this. This intimate knowledge that Jesus had of him before they met enabled him to put aside his doubts and recognise the long-awaited Messiah.

The passage makes me aware of how we long to be known and accepted as we really are. It is both comforting and challenging to discover that Christ knows us better than we know ourselves. It’s comforting because it means that with Jesus I can be completely myself, without pretence, knowing that I will be accepted completely as I am. It’s challenging because of the things that I would rather keep hidden, those times when I don’t live up to my best self, that Jesus invites me to bring out into the open, into the light of his love.

What is Christ inviting you to bring out into the light of his love today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Lectio Divina Rule of St Benedict Saints Uncategorized

Guided by kindness

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Today’s Benedictine quote is one of my favourites. It’s from chapter 31, “qualifications of the monastery cellarer”. The role of cellarer seems the surface at least to be a completely practical one. The cellarer is to look after the material goods of the community, making sure that everyone has what they need.

But it is not just a practical role. St Benedict sees every encounter as an encounter with the living God so even the handling of material goods has to be exercised in a way that opens hearts to God’s loving presence. So he sets high standards for his cellarer, insisting that inappropriate requests are refused reasonably and with humility. If goods are not available, the cellarer is at the very least to offer a kind word. He tells the cellarer to organise everything:

“So that no one may be disquieted or distressed in the house of God.”

It’s an easy chapter to overlook. We assume that it’s ancient practical details would not be relevant to our complex life today. Yet, our material needs require just as much thought as they did in St Benedict’s day. We suffer the same pain and frustration if they are not met as St Benedict’s monks did. So it seems to me that this chapter still has much to teach us. At the very least it calls us to look at how we might organise the practicalities of our lives in ways cause the least disquiet or distress to the people we live with.

Where is Christ calling you to find peaceable ways to organise the practicalities of daily life?

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?

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

Learning Patience

The next quote in my series on the Rule of St Benedict is a call to tolerance, patience and compassion. In chapter 72, my favourite chapter, St Benedict writes that the community should:

“Bear with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour.”

Chapter 72 sums up all the teaching of the Rule. From the beginning it stressed the need to treat one another with love, concern and kindness. We see it in St Benedict’s concern for guests, the sick, the young, the excommunicated. In each case the focus is on treating others with love.

St Benedict knows communities are not Utopias, full of of perfect individuals living up to their high ideals and standards. Every community is made up of broken, frail individuals falling short of those standards. Whatever the ideal, the reality is that community life can sometimes feel like a long string of petty niggles and annoyances.

This quote balances the reality and the ideal. It allows us to acknowledge that living with others is hard work. Finding patience to bear the faults of those we live with is a real and daily challenge. It also leads us to the life changing realisation that we too need the patience and forbearance of those we live with. As we strive to practice the tolerance and patience St Benedict recommends we become more aware of our own need for it. So the practice of patience leads us altogether towards the great love and compassion that is the heart of the gospel.

Where is Christ calling you to practice the utmost patience today?