by Digitalnun on March 7, 2014
Or rather, two, indeed, three. My admiration for SS Perpetua and Felicitas whose memoria we keep today can be traced through this blog and its predecessor, e.g. here, but I have a very personal reason for keeping these two great martyr saints in mind. Eleven years ago to the day, a wet and windy Ash Friday 2003, three companions and I set out from Stanbrook Abbey, Worcester, not knowing where the Lord would take us but determined to follow wherever he would lead. The oldest among us was D. Teresa Rodrigues who had spent more than fifty years as a nun of Stanbrook but who retained to the end great determination and fidelity to her vocation. She is the third valiant woman I recall today.
For SS Perpetua and Felicitas there was the red martyrdom of blood — and what a martyrdom it was! Their Passio is among the most thrilling and complex works to have survived from early Christianity. For D. Teresa there was the slower, ‘white martyrdom’ of monastic life, lived out in daily fidelity to Rule and observance, and in the little things that mark our lives. The names of the Carthaginians echo down the ages; D. Teresa’s will probably be forgotten; but all three are great encouragements to us as make our Lenten journey. They are the type of the valiant woman; and valour is not something strange or alien, it is a necessary part of the Christian life. We need courage; we need constancy; above all, we need to keep our eyes fixed, as they did, on our goal, the Easter of the Lord.
Today is also the Women’s World Day of Prayer.
by Digitalnun on March 6, 2014
At the risk of repeating myself, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of almsgiving in our Lenten discipline. On Ash Wednesday our focus tends to be on prayer and fasting, which is as it should be. Our awareness of personal sin and the need of individual conversion is uppermost. We mark the beginning of the penitential season with a rigorous fast and an exterior sign of our inner resolve. Today, however, the ashes are washed from our heads and we turn a beaming face to the world (‘let no one know you are fasting . . .’). What should be the one thing everyone notices? Not our small acts of self-denial or the extra time spent in prayer, surely? No, our compassion, our almsgiving, should be what everyone notices about the Christian practice of Lent.
It has been well said that if you want to know God, show love to your neighbour. When I was a young nun I thought the way to know God was to pray ardently and read deeply, but living in community showed me that, important though those are, the only way to know love fully is to show love oneself. The example of the old nuns taught me what my theology text books did not and could not. The small sacrifices we make during Lent only have meaning if they increase love. So, if you are giving up chocolate or wine as a small gesture of love for the Lord, don’t forget to give the money you save to those who cannot afford either. You will be repaid a hundredfold. Don’t forget the most precious gift you can give is your time. So, over and above any material gift, give your time to those who need it. That visit to someone you have been putting off, that letter you have been meaning to write, even the smile with which you greet the office bore, they are all forms of almsgiving which will enrich your life as well as that of others. They will allow God a way in.
by Digitalnun on March 5, 2014
There’s a phrase St Benedict uses in his chapter on Lent that I have always found very helpful: cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus/’with the joy of the Holy Spirit’ (RB 49. 6, alluding to 1 Thessalonians 1.6). Whatever we do or don’t do by way of Lenten offering or penance is to be accompanied by this joy. Moreover, we are encouraged to ‘look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.’ (RB 49.7) What exactly is this joy, and how are we to find it in the midst of all our penitential gloom?
I think the answer lies in what St Benedict says very clearly Lent is all about: living with great purity. It is not so much a question of adding on or giving up this, that or the other as seeking to be more focused on whatever it is we are asked to be or do by virtue of our vocation or state in life, listening for the word of God in any and every situation, giving Him time in a way that we do not always do. Lent is a joyful season in the monastery because we live it with great simplicity. All the accretions of other times fall away. Yes, it can be difficult. We can feel cold and hungry and terribly tetchy. We have to plumb depths of self-knowledge we would much rather not know about. But we also have the opportunity of going out into the interior desert of our lives and learning to know and love God as if for the first time. It is a great and joyful privilege. May you be blessed with the same joy in your own life.
by Digitalnun on March 4, 2014
Last year, when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had just announced his resignation, I said we faced a Shrove Tuesday like no other. I little thought that this year I would say the same. The situation in the Crimea casts a long shadow, making the delights of pancakes and carnival seem trivial by comparison, yet the more solemn aspect of the day, the going to Confession, seems especially apt. Personal sin and what one might call communal sin are related. The standards by which we live our private lives inevitably spill over into our public lives. I am sure we can all think of instances of greed, brutality and dishonesty which first manifested themselves in domestic situations but then went on to create terror and havoc on a much larger scale.
While we pray today for the people of Ukraine we might also examine our own consciences about the ways in which we have lived a double-standard and the consequences for others of our own sins. Repentance isn’t just about saying sorry to God and having a firm purpose of amendment. It also means trying to put right what we have done wrong. Thank God we are given forty days in which to work hard at that.
by Digitalnun on March 3, 2014
I imagine every Western politician woke up this morning wondering what to do about Russia and the Crimea. Last month it may have been Syria or North Korea. Before that, Egypt. We tend to deal with difficulties and problems sequentially, dropping one when another looms into view. It is not that Iraq and Afghanistan have been ‘dealt with’, but we are collectively great believers in ‘moving on’. We have other countries in our sights now. The trail of death and destruction is one we prefer to ignore because ultimately it is traceable back to those who gave the order to mobilise the troops or clamoured for something to be done. That qualification is important because it reminds us that in a democracy we all bear a measure of responsibility, whether active or passive. We can’t distance ourselves from it simply by saying ‘not in my name’.
I mentioned a few days ago that I had been thinking about the Crimean War of the nineteenth century. I have also been thinking about the symbolic importance of Ukraine to the Russian people, about gas pipes and oil lines, and the way in which Western politicians tend very easily to assume that an uprising or protest movement will usher in something better than before. If it doesn’t, it can be forgotten, or at least allowed to slip from the headlines, e.g. Libya. Unlike many political commentators, I have no suggestions to make regarding the dilemma we face. I have only one constructive tool to offer: prayer. To some, that will seem laughable; to others, an admission of failure; but I think myself it is the most powerful thing those of us who are not movers and shakers in the accepted sense can do. Indeed, prayer has a way of upsetting the usual order of things. It can bring hope and peace out of the darkest situation. Let us pray that it does so now.
by Digitalnun on February 28, 2014
As I’m not sure from day to day whether I’ll be able to blog or not, I thought I’d provide readers with a few links to previous posts about Lent and Lenten themes. You can add to them, if you wish, by using the search box in the sidebar.
First, I am a great believer in preparing for Lent, thinking about what it means and what would be most helpful for the individual as well as the community:
As a Benedictine, I find that re-reading what the Rule has to say is especially helpful, so here are four posts that go through Benedict’s teaching on Lent:
You will notice that Benedict’s views on books for Lent are different from those we are probably more used to holding:
In previous years, I have always tried to respond individually to requests for a Lent Book (last year there were well over 100 requests, I think). This year I can’t do that, so anyone wanting to share our community practice may like to choose between
the Gospel of St John (being read by Digitalnun) or
the Book of Genesis (being read by Quietnun).
The traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Most of this blog is about prayer in one way or another, but these posts may be worth re-reading:
On the subject of fasting, these may be useful, especially as some points are repeated:
For almsgiving, may I suggest
I suspect that there is more than enough here from one perspective. For more general information about the historical development of the seasons of Lent and Easter, you might try our main website’s article:
If you have any energy or time left after that, there are always our podcasts!
May God bless your Lent and make it fruitful.
by Digitalnun on February 25, 2014
Today I have several unpleasant tasks to do; so, like many people, I am doing my best to put them off for as long as possible. Already this morning I have tidied a drawer that doesn’t really need tidying; I have had a long and silly conversation with the dog; I have rearranged the pots of seeds on their table; and as a final distraction, I have begun to blog about it all. When I do finally write that letter I don’t want to write and get down to that little bit of admin that I know will prove tiresome, I shall regret having put them off, but I won’t regret the things I have done in the interim.
Wasting time is a sin against poverty said Merton, with more severity than I think justified. The word ‘waste’ is connected with the Latin vastus. Its primary meaning is ‘unoccupied’ but it also has overtones of vastness. I think wasting time allows us a little space in which to take in the vastness of God’s creation. Surely that can’t be . . . a waste of time, can it?
by Digitalnun on February 24, 2014
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the Crimean War. If you want to know why, the answer lies in what is happening in the Ukraine. The situation there is complex and disturbing, with implications for both Western Europe and Russia. Sometimes policy-makers are aware of history; sometimes they aren’t; but those who disregard history altogether tend to repeat the mistakes their predecessors made. I have a hunch we may be about to do exactly that with regard to the Ukraine.
In the West we have tendency to make an idol of democracy, but that sometimes leads us to applaud essentially undemocratic processes. I myself believe that democracy is the best form of government available to us, but I think we are often selective about the value we place on other people’s democracies. The policies of the Muslim Brotherhood do not appeal to me personally, but as a democrat, I am ambivalent about the situation in Egypt. Was Mr Morsi legitimately elected or not; and if he was, shouldn’t the West be questioning the way in which he was removed from power? Had he become a tyrant? If so, what are the grounds for thinking that, and are they sufficient to justify subsequent events? In the Ukraine we have an analogous situation. If we take all our ideas from Kiev we may take one view, but the further East we go, the more another takes shape.
At times like these we can feel confused and completely powerless, forgetting that, in fact, we are far from powerless. We can invoke the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; but if we are to do that, it cannot be through some throw-away utterance that takes two minutes of our time and leaves not a ripple on the surface of our thoughts and feelings. Prayer is hard work; and to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit into a complicated and dangerous situation means to pray with all our heart, mind and soul. Are we ready to do that? Or, as I ask above, what price democracy?
by Digitalnun on February 21, 2014
For many people there is nothing very special about today. For some it will be memorable, because this is the day on which they will marry, give birth, or lose a spouse or friend. For others it will be the day on which they receive good or bad news, see, hear or taste something new, discover a composer, poet or painter they had never known before. For a few, it will be the day on which, for the first time, they acknowledge that God is, and all former objections and hesitations fall away.
There is nothing very ordinary about Ordinary Time. In the monastery we are reading through the so-called Liturgical Code (chapters 8 to 20 of the Rule of St Benedict) which specifies how the various Offices or Liturgical Hours are to be celebrated. Today, for example, we are looking at the order of psalmody at Prime. To some that may appear dry as dust: a list of Psalm numbers that mean nothing very much. But to anyone who prays the Psalms, who joins him or herself with all the generations who have prayed the Psalms down the ages, above all Christ himself, it is anything but dry. It is life-giving; and the fact that it is also Friday, when we recall the Passion and Death of our Saviour, makes it doubly special. Just a Friday in Ordinary Time? Perhaps. But also a day on which to glorify God and give thanks for all that is.