26/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Strange that anyone should think it odd that Mother Teresa experienced spiritual dryness, or call her a "hypocrite" because she went on smiling while struggling with temptations against faith. Not only great saints but pretty well all believers must expect to experience something of the same. Scant comfort when one is going through it, of course; but the purification wouldn't be real if one didn't find it devastating. As St Teresa of Avila said, it is no wonder God has so few friends when he treats them so badly. Or perhaps, not badly, just bafflingly.
25/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
We all have a tendency to indulge in "what ifs" and "if onlys". At one level, that is a perfectly natural expression of our hopes and fears. When we are young, or at least young in heart, our dreams can inspire and shape our whole lives. But the "what ifs" and "if onlys" can be a way of not really facing up to things. How many have tried to bargain with God for the life of a loved one or failed to do something because "the native hue of resolution/ Is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought"? Like the Fourth Wise Man, who journeyed endlessly in search of his new-born Lord and failed, as he thought, to find him, though he met him often enough on his travels, we can be so concentrated on the journey's end that we do not recognize the importance of the journey itself. As Boethius remarked long ago, God is the journey and the journey's end. We must find him here as well as hereafter.
24/August/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
Very soon we shall be in retreat. You may wonder why contemplative nuns should need a retreat. Isn't monastic life itself a continual retreat? I think the answer may be found in St Benedict's chapter On the Observance of Lent. There we have an excellent guide to what a retreat should be, written long before our Jesuit friends made life complicated and introduced one or two slightly foreign notions. Like Lent, a retreat is a time for purifying our lives of all that is not God or falls short of his glory, an opportunity to review our lives and make the changes which at other times we are too busy or indolent to make. It requires some effort on our part, but the emphasis is not on some kind of muscular attempt to take the kingdom of heaven by storm. It is more a change of focus. Benedict exhorts us to give ourselves more completely to prayer, to wash away the negligences of other times, to stint ourselves of some legitimate pleasures, but to do all joyfully, "with the joy of the Holy Spirit". Our lives can be busy and distracted, with apparently irreconcilable demands pulling us this way and that. The doorbell or telephone rings, the email pings through the ether, the letter lands on the mat, and we know we must do our best to meet the need. A retreat is a privileged time when we may enjoy, so to say, a sabbath with God. So, to your prayer and your reading, please add a little rest, a little leisure, sheer delight in the presence of God and the beauty of his creation.
21/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Yesterday we celebrated St Bernard, the most attractive of all Cistercians (and they have more than their fair share of engaging saints); today Pope Pius X. They were both so different, as the times they lived in were different, yet both were controversial in their own day and even now historians continue to argue. They are wonderful examples of flawed human beings attaining holiness. Personally, I think Bernard was magnificent when he was angry, but I wasn't the butt of his anger and can delight in the way he whips and whirls his words. Again, I am grateful to Pius X for his attempts to revitalize the Church's worship (his encouragement of daily Communion and plainsong, for example) while I can sit comfortably on the hedge about other aspects of his papacy. Best of all, I am glad I can call on the prayers of both.
19/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
It won't make the headlines, but seeing the first grasshopper of summer is cause for rejoicing. The fact that it is sheltering from the rain inside the house seems inevitable. Its brilliant green is like a shaft of sunshine on a grey day.
18/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
In a week that has seen so much sorrow in Iraq, Peru and elsewhere, it is not surprising that some people have challenged us about the usefulness of our way of life. Monasticism only makes sense if you believe that God exists, that he may be sought and found, and that searching for him is a worthwhile enterprise. The more one seeks God, the more one realises that he has been seeking us all the time. We can choose many different ways of escape and evasion, some of them a little more successful than others, but ultimately each of us will stand before him and know how deeply he has loved us.
17/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Feast of the Dedication of the Church at Hendred. The liturgy of this feast is so rich, yet sadly, few beyond the confines of cathedral or cloister ever experience it to the full. Here at Hendred the church is looking a little sad. The unlit candles in the consecration brackets are a reminder of what is not taking place: no lights, no incense, no Mass, no celebration of St Mary's building as an image of the Church as Bride of Christ. All is silent and still, but it is not an empty silence. The red glow from the tabernacle lamp is as sure as ever: the Bridegroom is here, and tonight we will sing a Salve Regina into the darkness.
15/August/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
Today's solemnity is not the oldest feast of Our Lady, but it is the patronal feast of all churches dedicated to Mary without any other specific title; and it is a feast which puts before us the theology of Mary and the Church in a way no other quite manages. As Christ is "the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep", so Mary is the first-fruits of his redemptive work, an image of the Church as she will be when all is made new. No wonder that the liturgy should be full of joy and hope. The Alleluia for today is one of the most lyrical pieces of chant we ever sing, arching upwards as the windows of Chartres arch upwards, in boundless delight. Let us pray that our "minds will be in harmony with our voices" as we sing the praises of the Mother of God.
14/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
One of the things the Catholic Church understands so well is the need for light and shade, feast and fast. Tomorrow we celebrate Our Lady's Assumption, which will be a feast in the refectory as well as the oratory; so it is appropriate that today everything is a little low-key, in culinary as well as liturgical terms. We are invited to "taste and see that the Lord is good" as the psalmist says, and it is better if our taste-buds have not become jaded.
12/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
This morning a lovely old Border terrier turned up at our door, a little the worse for the rain, collarless and half-blind. She was offered a drink and a fragment of crumbled biscuit, then we set about finding her owner. In a village, there are three sources of information: the church, the pub and the village shop. It was too early for church, the pub is somewhere we never go(!), so that left only the village shop; and of course, we had the answer within minutes. Star was duly reunited with her owner. Neighbourliness is something we take for granted when we are blessed with it, and lament when we live as strangers to each other. I could not help thinking that unless we make the effort to be good neighbours, we cannot expect others to be neighbourly to us. The village shop knew that Star was lost and helped us find her owner. Being neighbourly to a dog may not sound like much, but in England it is a good way of making new friends.
11/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
One never knows where one is going to end up recording a podcast. Today's offering was done in the cellar in an effort to escape the noise of combine harvesters and lawn mowers. Perhaps the tomb-like echo was appropriate, for this week the Church will be celebrating the Assumption of Our Lady. Mary and the saints are a great encouragement to us who are still on the way to holiness.
10/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
A perverse thought as I did battle on the road this morning. If wasting time is a sin against poverty, working too hard is a sin against common-sense. Not many people think of folly as a sin, but that is what Jesus called it. Perhaps we should place it among the sins of omission, and they are not much fun, are they? Whoever thought to himself/herself, "Oh bliss, oh joy, oh rapture! Today I won't drive carefully/settle my milk bill/say my prayers." No, we enjoy the sins of commission, but the sins of omission leave us cold. The trouble with working too hard is that it might do exactly that: leave us cold.
09/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
August is a month of light and shadow, especially when one lives according to the liturgy. The great feast of the Transfiguration will be forever linked with the terrible bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the glorious Assumption of Our Lady is ushered in, so to say, by the death of Maximilian Kolbe as a martyr of charity amidst the waste and shame of Nazi persecution. Today's feast has a particular poignancy because it highlights the way in which war crushes, or attempts to crush, all that is noblest and truest in human nature. St Teresa Benedicta, so talented intellectually and spiritually, a daughter of Israel and of Carmel, met a squalid and brutal death with her sister Rosa because men and women less gifted, less generous, were consumed with hatred and the lust to destroy, or were else too weak or scared to stand up for what was right. The decisions most of us face are not life and death ones, but we still need courage to prefer truth to falsehood. Doing the right thing can indeed be costly, so let us ask the prayers of St Teresa Benedicta.
08/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
This is a good day to respond to some of the comments made by web site users. St Dominic was always ready to engage in discussion, and if he were alive today, no doubt he would be making use of everything the internet has to offer to get his arguments across. First, a reply to those who wonder why certain items have not yet appeared. The absence of material on the Press is a sign of work in progress. The Veilpress pages will probably be among the last to go up because we are cudgelling our brains how best to convey Fine Printing and its sister arts on a web page. One of our projected online stores will be devoted to printing, so please be patient if you are dismayed by the jollity of the present Giftware. We are also exploring ways of archiving podcasts and including an occasional extended podcast, possibly even a video podcast: at the moment, the only affordable solution seems to be via an external podcast site, the link to which will be posted in the sidebar. Finally, we are at work on a FAQ and more information about St Benedict, the Rule and kindred subjects. It all takes time, but our aim is to keep the site as simple and useful as possible which means gradual growth rather than a once-for-all launch of a "completed" project. If you have any constructive suggestions to make, please do so.
07/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Funny how things we take for granted can suddenly surprise by their beauty — the humble beanflower is a case in point. This would be an excellent day to look with fresh eyes at everyone and everything around us. Recognizing the beauty/good in others has a good effect on us, too.
06/August/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
As Benedictines we can take special joy in this feast because it became popular in the western Church principally because of the influence of Cluny. It is, of course, a feast which has much to teach about contemplative prayer. With Peter, James and John, we too must make our way up the mountain into what Gregory of Nyssa called "the dazzling darkness of God". Like the apostles, we too must expect to experience confusion and fear; and there is every likelihood that our response to grace will be as lame and and blundering as Peter's. If God chooses to reveal something of himself, to grant us, so to say, a glimpse of his divinity, we will want to hold on to the experience. But we know that that is not the way of Christian prayer. We cannot contain God or tie him to our littleness in the way that we would like. If God allows us to taste even a little of his sweetness, let us rejoice, give thanks and make our way down the mountain to immerse ourselves once more in the tasks of everyday life. Here we must walk by faith, not by sight.
04/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
St John Vianney was "very unpromising material" for a priest, but he allowed God to transform him and became a man of rare compassion and spiritual insight. He is a fine patron for all parish clergy. Today's podcast says something about this work of transformation and looks forward to the beautiful feast of the Transfiguration on Monday.
02/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
We all have a tendency to create God in our own image and likeness, and sadly there are times when prayer becomes a kind of test that God must pass before we will condescend to believe. "I will pray for such and such; and if such and such doesn't happen, then I will not believe" — as if our believing or not believing could affect God's existence. Even if we do not put God to the test in quite so blatant a manner, we can treat him as a kind of "Fairy Godmother" who will magic away our worries and ensure the sun shines on our big day, provided we send up a barrage of requests or repeat the right formulae. God is so much bigger than that. Our faith must be bigger, too; because the experience of most people, most of the time, is of apparently unanswered prayer. When we pray we come into the presence of God in a uniquely close and transforming way. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews remarked, "It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Terrible, yes, but the end for which we long.
01/August/2007 Filed in: Jottings
The weather on Sunday was perfect, OSBand played superbly, and everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon. The first collection of photos can be seen in the Hospitality section of the web site. We are extremely grateful to everyone who helped in myriad ways to make the event a success. We were able to raise over a thousand pounds for the work of our Charitable Trust. It will be put to good use.