Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Called to Follow.

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As I listen to today’s gospel I’m struck once again by Jesus’ invitation to follow him. It’s an all-encompassing invitation that leaves no room for dithering or procrastination. Jesus does not disguise the fact that his invitation will be costly, saying to them:

“Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

He is not offering his followers security or certainty, instead he is asking them to step out into the unknown. He invites us to trust his leadership and guidance, to follow in his footsteps even when we can’t see the path ahead. With such a challenging invitation it’s inevitable that we develop our own ideas about where following Christ will lead us.

This may be necessary and valuable, but we have to accept that Jesus will override those ideas. He will surprise us taking us in unexpected directions that will present new challenges, open up new opportunities and call us once again to let go of everything. It’s a reminder that when we follow Jesus we can only ever see the next step, not the whole picture.

The Synod getting underway in Rome presents an opportunity for the church to reflect together on what that call to follow means today. The invitation will carry as much of a challenge as it did for the first disciples.

We will be asked surrender things that we hold dear in order to better listen and to understand what is precious to others. As we follow Christ through the challenges of that process we can trust that his leadership will lead us into a deeper understanding of what it means to be his disciples.

Where is Christ calling you to follow him 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 Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Who do you say I am?

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This Sunday’s gospel returns to a question that is at the heart of Christian life. Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about him. It highlights Jesus’ humanity, like all of us he wonders what people think of him, and how much impact his message is having them. He gets a varied response from the disciples. Some people say he’s John the Baptist, or Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Brushing this mixed bag aside he asks the disciples:

“But you…who do you say I am?”

This question moves the discussion to a deeper level. Directed, not to the crowds who hear him in the market place or synagogue, but to the people who left everything to follow him. It requires a deeper response than the comments the disciples have passed on. I can imagine the silence that fell as the disciples realised this and pondered their response. As usual it is Simon Peter who has the courage to break that silence as he says:

“You are the Christ…, the Son of the living God.”

As the rest of the passage unfolds we see how life changing this response is for Peter. It’s left me pondering my own response to the question. It’s one we’re very familiar with and can easily take for granted. Yet, each time it arises it has the potential to be as life changing for us as it was for Peter. Whenever it comes up we’re called to give it our whole attention so that we, like Peter, can answer it from the depths of our hearts.

Who do you say Christ is today?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Gospel Lectio Divina Prayer Scripture Truth Uncategorized

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?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Divine Office Gospel Lectio Divina Liturgy Monastic Life Prayer Saints Scripture Truth Uncategorized

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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The Spirit of Truth

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In the lead up to Ascension Jesus is preparing his disciples for change. Once again they face a departure that will require them to let go of everything they thought they understood. Jesus says to them:

“I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes you will be led to the complete truth…”

His words touch on something that we both desire and fear, the complete truth. We are surrounded by voices telling us they have the truth that we need. In today’s “post-truth” world it can be especially challenging to discern the truth. We know our need for truth in order to be able to live well and with integrity, yet we struggle to know where we should turn to find it.

Jesus answers that for us, telling us he will send the Spirit of truth who will lead us this truth that we can rely on and trust. But to discover it we need to be open to and prepared. The truth that the Spirit brings us will not necessarily appear obviously and easily. It will require us to be attentive to all that is going on in our lives and our times. We need to be prepared to do the hard work of listening and discerning its presence in the midst of the myriad of voices that make up our daily lives. To do that we have to be prepared to let go of everything we thought we understood in order to be open to the new possibilities the Spirit brings.

As we move towards Ascension what opens your heart to the coming of the Spirit of truth into your life?

Benedictine Spirituality Christ Eastertide Gospel Lectio Divina Resurrection Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Into the Light

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Nicodemus a shadowy but persistent figure in the gospels. A respected member of the Jewish community he is also dream to Jesus and his teaching, visiting him under the cover of darkness to learn more. Today’s gospel is part of the lengthy conversation John reports him having with Jesus.

There’s a great deal to ponder in both his relationship with Jesus and their conversation, I find him both challenging and intriguing. Today I’m reflecting on these words from the gospel:

“Those who live by the truth come out into the light so that it may be plainly seen that what they do is done in God.”

It’s easy to hear this as simply as Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus, a call to reflect on why he feels unable to be more open about his interest in Jesus and his teaching.

While that is probably true, his words have a challenge for us too. We live in times when transparency is much valued, but, at least in public life, seems to be rarely practised. Truth has become so relative that it’s often hard to discern where it exists.

In such times we are called to hear Jesus’ challenge to Nicodemus as applying equally to ourselves. In times when truth and transparency often seem absent, he calls us to reflect on the things we prefer to keep hidden in our lives and to bring them into the open so that they can be clearly seen in the light of his love.

What is Christ calling you to bring into the light of his love?

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Attending to the margins.

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Reflecting on the blessing of attentiveness I’m aware of how often the truth of who Christ is comes to us from the marginal. We see that in today’s gospel. It’s a man who is outcast, ignored and undervalued who recognises and proclaims Christ to his people.

He is the last person anyone would have expected to speak and reflect theologically. We see this in the response of his neighbours, who no longer recognise him, and in the Pharisees who refuse to accept someone so marginal can presume to teach them anything about God.

The man doesn’t crumble under their badgering questions, instead he faces them confidently, reflecting on his experience with Jesus in the light of his Jewish faith, saying to them:

“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to people who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard-of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind: if this man were not from God he couldn’t do a thing.”

As the man moves from claiming that he only knows Jesus’ name to proclaiming and worshipping him as Christ he shows an openness of heart that is the essence of attentiveness. It may be that his marginal position helped him to recognise Jesus as the Christ, and give him the freedom to worship him.

This gospel challenges me to be attentive to those parts of myself that I push aside, allowing them to point me towards Christ in ways that I might not expect or be entirely comfortable with. It also challenges me to be attentive to the people we marginalise today, leaving me with an uncomfortable question, would we respond any better than the Pharisees should any of them proclaim Christ to us?

How is Christ calling you listen attentively to the marginal in your life today?

Benedictine Spirituality Gospel Lectio Divina Prayer Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Alone in God’s presence

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Today’s gospel is all about service. It opens with Jesus leaving the synagogue going immediately to Simon’s house where he cures Simon’s mother-in-law. Immediately she gets up and begins to serve them. The evening sees Jesus serving again, as crowds of people come to him seeking healing. It must have been a long and tiring day, and all of us know that feeling. The next morning Mark tells us:

“Long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.”

We tend to read this as a break in the pattern of service, Jesus taking time out to pray in order to return to serving refreshed and renewed. On one level that is is true, but the Gospels often have many layers of truth. On another level I would suggest that Jesus’ act of taking time to be alone in God’s presence is also an act of service.

It is an act of self-care which allows him to draw the strength from God that he needs to carry on. It’s also an act of service to others, a reminder that part of what it is to be human is to need time to rest and recharge.

When the needs of the people we serve seem to be overwhelming we can feel pressured to keep going regardless of our own needs. Jesus doesn’t wait until every need is met, every person healed, every situation resolved before he takes the time he needs. It seems to me that he doesn’t expect us to do that either and that there is both an invitation and a challenge in that.

Where is Jesus inviting you to take time to pray in the midst of serving others?

Benedictine Spirituality Scripture Truth Uncategorized

Growing into Christ

Today’s first reading, from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, has struck a real chord with me. He speaks of how messy and unstable life can be describing us as:

“Tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks people play and their cleverness in practising deceit.”

It’s very easy to identify with that description in these times when a myriad of voices and versions of the truth bombard us from every direction. It can all quickly become overwhelming and stressful, making it impossible for us to discern a way forward to take action.

While he doesn’t deny that this is part of our experience St Paul presents us with a reality that is broader and deeper than that. He speaks of the variety of gifts that Christ has given to us, to build up the community, to sustain and support others, and to allow them to support us. He offers us this hope:

“If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love.”

His words offer us the key to living through these uncertain and challenging times. If we can find within our hearts the courage to respond in truth and love, we will find a way through the messiness. If we can each respond with love to the situations we encounter we can grow into Christ and help to build communities that offer hope and support in uncertain times.

What helps you to grow in love in the challenges you face?