Christ Divine Office Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Resurrection Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Inspired by love.

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Today we’re celebrating the feast of St Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church. A third order Dominican she was a woman of both action and prayer. She took a public role in the life of the church, speaking out against schism, promoting unity and advocating for clerical reform. These words from her dialogue on Divine Revelation touched me:

“By your light you enlighten our minds… In this light I know you and I picture you to myself as the supreme good, the good beyond all good… Beauty beyond all beauty, wisdom beyond all wisdom. You are the food of angels, who gave yourself to us in the fire of your love.”

Her public activity was nourished and sustained by the prayer that kept her connected to the God who is the supreme good. It was because she drew her strength from the fire of God’s love that she gained the courage to speak truth to those in authority.

She speaks to me especially powerfully in these times when our world seems so consumed by war and suffering. In such times it can be hard to see the goodness, beauty and wisdom of God in our lives. It’s easy to get discouraged, to feel swamped by sufferings we can’t alleviate. We can be drawn to despair which stops us from acting at all or we can rush in, attempting to fix everything, ending up burnt out and exhausted.

St Catherine’s example suggests an alternative. We could begin by building up a prayer life that connects us to the fire of God’s love in a way that nourishes and sustains us in all of our actions and all that we are called to face.

How does the fire of God’s love nourish you in all that you face in life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Resurrection Saints Scripture Uncategorized

Finding balance.

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As it’s the feast of St Mark I decided to look at Mark’s account of the resurrection. It’s the most disturbing, and it’s one I’ve tended to avoid. I’ve always been uncomfortable with his description of the women’s initial response to the news of the resurrection:

“And the women came out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and amazement had gripped them. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

I’ve always been puzzled by how Mary of Magdala, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, who felt no fear, or who overcame their fear to stay with Jesus through his passion and death seem to run out of courage when they are faced with the good news of resurrection.

It’s left me thinking about the link between amazement and fear. Both of them can turn our worlds upside down, challenging everything we thought we could rely on, everything that is certain, sure and trustworthy. That is never something that we face willingly or comfortably, but it rings very true just now. Our world is very full of such situations just now as people face the horrors of war, increasing political and social uncertainty as well as serious economic hardships.

I find myself more understanding of the women in Mark’s gospel. who had to take time and space to calm their trembling and fear. I wonder what helped them to rebalance those two overwhelming emotions so they could rediscover the courage to go out and share the amazing news of the resurrection.

As we move through Eastertide where are you balancing amazement and fear in your life?

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Celebrating St George.

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These challenging times we live in incline us to build barriers that we can hide behind. They incline us towards protectionism, keeping ourselves safe at the expenses of others. The example of St George reminds us that, tempting as that prospect is, it’s hardly the call of the gospel.

As a Syrian in the Roman army who is patron saint of at least England, Russia, Ethiopia and Georgia St George offers us the opportunity to expand our horizons. He reminds us that our common humanity extends beyond borders and nationalities. He shows us that our hope lies in breaking down barriers, reaching out to the stranger, not in building them higher and excluding people.

He had the courage to stand up to the evil of his day, slaying the “dragons” of his times wherever he could. This offers us courage and hope. In our own times we face plenty of “dragons” unleashed the wars, migration, economic, social and political challenges.

I’ve revisited Malcolm Guite’s poem for the feast. I’m finding that these lines especially speak to me:

“Stand here a while and drink the silence in.
Where clear glass lets in living light to touch
And bless your eyes. A beech tree’s tender green
Shimmers beyond the window’s lucid arch.
You look across an absent sanctuary;
No walls or roof, just holy, open space,
Leading your gaze out to the fresh-leaved beech
God planted here before you first drew breath.”

Their image of hope reminds me that we’re still in Eastertide, celebrating the new creation that the risen Christ offers us. They offer me a place of rest and refreshment. They promise somewhere to rest from the struggles and challenges of these hard times, a still place to pause and draw strength before return to face the challenges again.

As we celebrate the feast of St George where is the living light of Christ piercing your heart?

You can read the whole poem here:

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Singing a new song.

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Today, I’m reflecting on yesterday’s second reading from the writing of St Augustine:

“We are told to sing to the Lord a new song. A song is a thing of joy and, if we think carefully about it, a thing of love. So those who have learned to love a new life have learned to sing a new song.”

Every Eastertide I’m touched by its tone of joy, hope and new life. In the midst of war and uncertainty across the world, it has an added poignancy. So much suffering and harshness don’t incline us to think about singing any sort of song, much less one that’s full of joy and hope. It’s tempting to brush it aside as too hard, too challenging for these dark times.

St Augustine wasn’t calling us to cover our pain with a sticking plaster, or to put on a brave face. He lived through times that were at least as challenging and as painful as ours. It’s from the midst of that suffering that he finds the courage to call us to sing this new song of joy and hope.

So I’m reflecting on what kind of new song we can sing in the midst of these troubled times. It seems to me that our new song has to have an element of lament. It has to allow us to grieve for all who are suffering in the world. It has to allow us to express the uncertainty of these times and the fear that engenders.

St Augustine points out that the reason for the joy and hope is love. So alongside our lament and uncertainty our new song has to carry something of joy and hope because it is based on love. Even in these hard and challenging times love still has the power to comfort, console and strengthen.

It can help us to bear what we thought would be unbearable and lead us through situations that seemed impossible. Whatever we have to face love, and the new life it offers, will sustain and support us, enabling us to find ways to heal our broken world with love’s new song.

What is the new song the Lord is calling you to sing this Eastertide?

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Going out to meet Christ.

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A post from the archives for Easter morning…
I love how the Easter vigil lays out the whole story of our salvation in word, action and sacrament. I find myself revisiting it over and over during Eastertide, allowing different aspects of it to enrich and nourish me. This morning I have these words from an Easter hymn by St John of Damascus running through my head:

“Let us rise in early morning
and instead of ointment bring
Hymns and praises to our Master
And his resurrection sing.”

This wisdom has been passed down through the centuries, from one generation of Christians to another, sometimes lost and forgotten, only to be rediscovered and valued anew.

It’s a call to sing the praises of the Risen Christ continually, whatever we are living through, whatever the prevailing view of our society. Nothing can separate us from his love, and nothing can undo the wonderful and mysterious reality of his resurrection.

However challenging or uncertain life is, he will be there inviting us to go out to meet him. Each year the challenges we face seem to become more daunting, leaving us more aware of our fragility. Yet however difficult our lives are, the risen Christ is there calling us.

The grieving Mary of Magdala found the courage to go out in the dark of the early morning to meet him. She discovered a joy she never expected or dreamt of. He invites us to follow her so we too can discover and rejoice in his presence, and to carry his love to our needy world.

As we begin to move through Eastertide where is the Risen Christ inviting you to go out and meet him?

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Welcoming the uncontainable God.

After I wrote my post for Palm Sunday I went to the Vigil and heard again the beautiful second reading from St Andrew of Crete. It’s too good not to share again. Here’s a reflection on the reading from our archives.

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Every year at on the Eve of Palm Sunday we listen to a beautiful reading from the writings of St Andrew of Crete. It sums up Palm Sunday for me, opening the way to Holy Week and setting the tone for it. I return again and again to these words:

“Let us imitate those who have gone out to meet him, not scattering olive branches or garments or palms in his path, but spreading ourselves before him as best we can, with humility of soul and upright purpose. So may we welcome the Word as he comes, so may God, who cannot be contained within any bounds, be contained within us.”

We are living in uncertain and challenging times. In the midst of much hardship we’re discovering much about the God cannot be contained and about the myriad of ways that God can transform our lives. We’ve also learned much about the boundaries and limitations we are tempted to try to erect around God.

We’re moving into Holy Week aware of the sufferings and uncertainties in our fragile and broken lives and world, knowing that it’s beyond our power to fix it. With all that in our hearts we can move into Holy Week aware of our need for the transforming presence of “God who cannot be contained within any bounds” nurturing us in the depths of our hearts.

As we move into Holy Week where are you discovering the God “who cannot be contained within any bounds”?

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Learning humility

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Celebrating the feast of the passing of St Benedict has given me an opportunity to revisit the Rule. There’s so much I could reflect on, especially during Lent. I wasn’t sure which direction I should take until I listened to the story of Jacob’s dream of the angels ascending and descending the ladder at last night’s vigil, and decided on humility.

Humility is an important part of Benedictine spirituality. St Benedict dedicates a whole chapter of his rule to it. The story of Jacob’s dream must have touched him because it forms the basis of the chapter. He uses the image of the ladder to incorporate all of human experience, mind, body and spirit:

“Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine call has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.”

Humility calls us to acknowledge both the gifts and limitations of our lives whether of mind body or spirit. That can feel very counter cultural especially in a world that requites us to be capable and in control of every aspect of life. Learning humility is the work of a lifetime. It takes courage, commitment and practice. It calls us to be realistic and honest, admitting both strengths and weaknesses. It seems to me that Lent is an especially good time to reflect on our practice of humility.

How is Christ inviting you take steps in humility this Lent?

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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?

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For the glory of God.

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I’ve been reflecting on the second reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He writes:

“Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

This seems such an obvious statement that it hardly needs to be said. Of course, we would want to be doing everything for the glory of God. Yet, reflecting on putting it into practice we soon realise it’s not that straightforward. We have to discover for ourselves what that might mean in our circumstances. In this short passage St Paul gives some idea of what it means in his situation:

“I try to be helpful to everyone at all times, not anxious for my own advantage but for the advantage of everyone else, so that they may be saved.”

Once again this seems very obvious, and we can easily agree that this is what strive to do. Yet to achieve this is not always straightforward. We can’t always know what will be the most helpful in any given situation. We can’t assume we know what people will need. If we are to model ourselves on Christ we have to take the time for prayer and discernment. We have to listen to people to tell us what will help them.

We also have to listen to ourselves to discern if we are in a position to offer that help. If we are to do everything as St Paul suggests “for the glory of God” we need to be generous in listening and responding. We also need to be honest and humble in admitting that we might not be able to meet every need that is presented to us.

What might it look like to do everything for the glory of God in your situation today?

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Held in love.

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A post from the archives for the feast of St Scholastica:

Today we are celebrating the feast of St Scholastica, the sister of St Benedict and the patron saint of Benedictine women…It’s a feast about the power of love, and that keeps coming up in the readings. In his first letter to the Corinthians St Paul writes:

“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins, but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.”

St Paul captures the essence of love and why it is so essential to our lives. He expresses both the ideal we strive towards and the practicalities of how we make that ideal a reality in our daily lives.

We also hear St Gregory the Great’s account of her last visit with St Benedict. At St Scholastica’s request they stay up all night “conversing of holy things”. This means Benedict has to spend the night outside his monastery. He initially refuses her request until her prayer results in such a fierce storm that he is compelled to stay with her. St Gregory comments:

“It is not surprising that the woman…was more effective than he [St Benedict] was on that occasion. For according to the saying of John, “…God is love.” So it was entirely right that she who loves more should accomplish more.”

St Scholastica’s actions speak of an aspect of love that we often forget, self-love. This can be a real challenge, not least because we are aware of its dangers. St Scholastica had the awareness to know her need of love, and the courage to admit it. If we are to strive towards St Paul’s ideal of love, we need to be ready to accept the patience and kindness that love offers us as well as offering it to others.

Where are you being called accept the love you are offered today?