31/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Our Broadband connection has been down for a few days, making life complicated as well as frustrating. One aspect of the Jesuit story we don't often advert to is the way in which Ignatius and his companions travelled almost the whole of the known world and kept in touch through the slow and difficult means of the time. The archive they left to posterity is of incomparable value. We find ourselves constantly apologising for not being able to keep up with correspondence, electronic and otherwise; but I wonder how much of what we do write will prove to be worth preserving or of interest to future generations. The office email as art form or historical text? The blog entry as cultural expression or mere pasar tiempo? At least we have learned to be grateful when it all works!
28/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
God rested, and so must we. The sabbath and its rest is one of God's most beautiful gifts to us, both here and in eternity. Rest in this sense does not imply mere absence of activity but rather completeness, union, a state of being, blessedness. O quanta qualia illa sabbata!
26/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Very disappointed that road and weather conditions prevented our joining the congregation at St James' Littlehampton last night, and wondering whether our Garden Party should be rebilled as a Wader and Wellie Event. We are having three days of relaxed choir observance or Dies Non to allow us more time getting ready. The kitchen is inhabited by floury shapes peering into the oven and muttering darkly about batch cookery, while two forlorn souls battle the wind and rain in the garden to hack back the jungle which seems to have sprung up overnight. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, but mad nuns seem to prefer midsummer monsoons. Strange, rather.
25/July/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
There is something immensely appealing about St James. His nickname, Boanerges, surely indicates that he had a hot temper or, at the very least, a "definite"way of speaking. Despite this, or perhaps even because of it, together with his brother John he was one of Jesus' closest companions, a privileged witness of the Transfiguration and many other key events in Our Lord's life. He had a pushy mother, too, and one can't help wondering if there wasn't a little family conference before she approached Jesus with the request that her two sons should occupy the places of honour in his kingdom. A quick-tempered man, then, with a sharp tongue and a desire to get on in the world, who met Jesus and was transformed, dying a martyr's death. There must be hope for our conversion, too.
24/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Just put up a trial web site for the parish at www.catholichendredandilsley.org.uk. I hope they like the retro-Apple style. What one leaves out is always as important as what one puts in. I wonder how many people, idly surfing the internet, would ever choose a parish web site as a starting-point for exploring the big questions in life. How many people would come to church on a Sunday to find out why and what Catholics believe; and would they be disappointed if they did? I suspect the same is true of a monastery web site. It is certainly true of the "average" monastery. How does one communicate joy and hope, and the possibility of intelligent faith?
23/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Lots of requests for prayer for those whose homes and workplaces have been flooded and feeling vaguely guilty at having spent most of the day in dry comfort. Had I spent the day in damp discomfort, I don't suppose anyone would have been helped. Guilt is among the least useful of emotions. It makes one feel "wrong" but rarely prompts one to do anything to change things. As a time-waster it is second to none. And wasting time, as Thomas Merton once remarked, is a sin against poverty. Worse and worse.
22/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Slightly distracted during all the heavy rain of the last few days, with much clearing of gutters and unplugging of drains. We are lucky. The garden is a wreck (so next week's festivities are likely to be recast as "Wellie and Wader Time"), but we have had no flooding of the cellars as might have been expected. This morning is suitably Wordsworthian, with stockdoves and fitful gleams of sunshine over the noise of waters. I wonder whether Noah awoke to such a morning as this after his weeks in the ark. That was certainly a "Martha" time, if ever there was one. Sunday ought to give everyone a little more "Mary" time, but how many of us really accept the need for sabbath in our lives?
19/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
" . . . words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still."
Thus, Eliot. No one who worships Jesus as Logos can be indifferent to words; and no one who cares about words can be completely indifferent to the letterforms of which words are made. So here is the monastic printer's doodle of the day. (If you like it, please respect the copyright as I might make a poster/card of it one day.)
18/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Lots of questions from readers about Veilshop. The goods we sell through our online shop are all manufactured in Europe. We are assured that they are "responsibly sourced", i.e. there is no exploitation of producers of the raw materials nor of the finished articles. Inevitably, therefore, we will never be able to match the prices of mass retailers or supermarkets. As we are selling in such small quantities, one wonders why anyone should expect us to. There is a similar problem with Veilpress. We offer a professional design and print service and incur the same costs as any other small company, yet some people assume that as nuns we should work for nothing. That is not only impossible, it is immoral. If Benedict were writing his Rule today, instead of worrying about overcharging, I suspect he would be cautioning against undercutting in the hope of cornering the market and the ills which flow from that. Ethical trading has as much to do with value as with price, and at its core must be a concern for honesty and fairness all round.
17/July/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
We keep today the feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne, mindful that the Cambrai community shared their prison and only narrowly escaped the guillotine. I remember once being reprimanded for having said the community "luckily" escaped execution. Clearly, I undervalued the grace of martyrdom! In these days, when the words "martyr" and "martyrdom" are most commonly used as self-descriptions by suicide bombers or associated with minor ailments, it is worth reflecting on the Christian tradition of martyrdom. The word means "witness" and the Church has always acknowledged two types of martyrdom, the red martyrdom of shedding one's blood for Christ, and the white martyrdom of striving to live a holy life. Both martyrdoms are a witness to what we believe and hold most precious, and both require courage. We may not seek red martyrdom, but we are all encouraged to live holy lives. Living the monastic life ought to be a powerful witness to the primacy of God. If it also happens to be something of a "martyrdom" in any other sense — tough.
14/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Sunday's Gospel prompts so many thoughts. The Good Samaritan is praised for his neighbourliness, for doing what he could, even though he could not be sure that the wounded man would recover. Today's podcast reminds us that the whole universe can be sustained by our cooperating with God in ways that by themselves seem weak and insignificant.
13/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Busy lifting what has survived of our potato crop, always an enjoyable actvity, and an excellent way of postponing more difficult tasks. Spent the rest of the morning adding new items to our online shop and musing on the English sense of humour which does not always translate well, as our email "postbag" testifies. Finally, abandoned trivia for the tremendous, in the literal sense of the word: trying to write letters of sympathy to friends who have lost people dear to them. Impossible to forget that bleak, bleak line of Racine's, which he puts into the mouth of Mithridate, "Un seul être vous manque, et tout le monde est depeuplé." No point in trying to dodge that with words of conventional piety; but we can pray that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will pour his balm on the wounded hearts and battered spirits of those afflicted by suffering and death.
12/July/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
Up early yesterday and an early morning drive through the New Forest. Sang Lauds to a few startled ponies, then discovered I/we had forgotten the coffee flask — so our "festive" St Benedict's Day breakfast was suitably sixth century. No recriminations, just laughter and apologies all round: chapter 74, On Being Nice to Others, in action. That missing chapter of the Rule is worth pondering. Benedict gives us so many helps towards community living: offering opportunities for saying sorry and making amends when things go wrong, ritualising the courtesies of everyday life so that different backgrounds and temperaments cause as little friction as possible. But we often fall short of making community "a good place to be". We know perfectly well how we can observe every precept of the Rule yet miss its point. It is generally easy to do things for others, sometimes, alas, with an inner glow of beatific self-sacrifice and, dare I say it, self-satisfaction; but to overlook shortcomings and accept inconveniences with good grace is much harder. It can be harder still to acknowledge another's good points; hardest of all to hear their praises being sung by someone else. We need generosity of spirit to practise being genuinely nice to others.
10/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
St Benedict's Day tomorrow, but we shall be spending part of it with our Accountant, so there has been much burning of midnight oil to ensure that our financial records are in apple-pie order. For a small community such as ours "compliance" and "best practice" can make quite heavy demands, especially when important liturgical feasts coincide with the need to make certain returns or undertake specific activities. (Dear Lord, don't let anyone inspect the house until we've got that last smoke detector fitted over the far stair…) As Benedictines we customarily work in our cells (rooms) rather than in dedicated offices, so finding room for all the files can be a bit of a headache. Perhaps it is as well that our clothing can be comfortably accommodated on two hooks and a small drawer. I like to think St Benedict would approve of that, if not of the deep litter of paper that seems to cover every available surface, including most of the floor.
07/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio, published today, will probably have a mixed reception. There is nothing like liturgy for revealing the tiger in the tamest monastic mouse. None of us here has any difficulty in praying the Mass whatever form it is given, and that, I have come to realise, is a great freedom. We all have our personal preferences, even prejudices; but whatever the Church has approved, the community reverently and gratefully accepts. Today's prayer podcast is a reminder that we must look beyond the accidentals, so to say, and embrace the love at the heart of all.
06/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Sweating all day over an online gift shop (do, please, have a look at Veilshop if you haven't already done so and keep an eye out for additions to the range, most of which will be tasteful by comparison). Feeling faintly queasy about it. It's the old, old problem of monasteries needing to engage with Mammon if they are to continue serving God. No doubt the disapproving emails will follow thick and fast. At least the quality of the products on which we are putting our designs is second to none, and anyone who makes a purchase will have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to support a number of enterprises which are truly worthwhile. Next set of designs to be uploaded feature this lovely village of East Hendred. Quite safe to give one's Great Aunt or Uncle!
05/July/2007 Filed in: Chapter Talks
This feast of Our Lady of Consolation will always be precious to us by association, and our prayers today will, in a special way, be with the community at Stanbrook. It is a good day to reflect on our vocation both as individuals and as a community. A vocation isn't something one either "has" or doesn't "have" (like measles): each of us is a vocation, uniquely called by God to be a part of the Body of Christ that no one else ever has been or ever will be. Our community, too, is a vocation, called to give glory to God as no other community ever has or will do. We should be awed by the grandeur of our calling and encouraged by the fact that God chooses such weak and wobbly creatures as ourselves. What Hopkins said of Mary is true even of us. Like her, our community
"This one work has to do —
Let all God's glory through."
Let us pray that we may do our work well.
04/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
I was trying to solve a problem and looked out into the garden for inspiration. A tangle of sweet peas laden with heavy drops of rain caught my eye. Sweet peas are my favourite flowers, but at that moment their sombre purples and mauves seemed as glum as my mood. Then the sun made a brief appearance and everything was transformed. The flowers shimmered and shone, the drops of rain diamond points of light among the petals. Nothing in the garden had actually changed, only my attitude. I think that was God's homily to me for the day. The last few days have been quite demanding for the community and we are all just a tad grumpy, so it wasn't really by accident that vases of deep mauve sweet peas appeared in the oratory and the dining room at midday.
02/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
I do not understand why people should want to murder one another, although Benedict did not find it unthinkable even in the monastery (see RB4) Recent events in London and Glasgow and the latest statistics from Iraq (a reduction in civilian deaths to 1200 for the month of June lauded as an improvement?) certainly concentrate the mind. Tolerance gets a bad press, being too often confused with indifference; but it is surely one of the marks of a civilized society and yes, it does demand effort and self-sacrifice. Had Chesterton been alive today, perhaps he would have found the grace of God in tolerance as well as courtesy.
01/July/2007 Filed in: Jottings
Mass this evening at Milton, where we provided the Schola. The chapel is probably the oldest post-Reformation Catholic chapel still in use and has a lovely atmosphere. Good glass from Steventon, and some surprising panels depicting the legend of St Julian; contemporary candlesticks and altar furnishings (how did they survive the Victorian era unscathed, to say nothing of the destructiveness of more recent times) and the chance to see Challoner's vestments in use rather than preserved behind glass.