Ascension Day 2019

Forty days ago we began our celebration of Easter. It is not over yet, but today marks a special point. When Jesus ascends into heaven, all earthly limitations fall away. He, our High Priest, now  intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father. Today’s readings are all about prayer, and I find in them a huge encouragement, for what is monastic life if not a life of prayer? Our prayer is now united with that of Christ himself and as such has a power and efficacy it would otherwise lack. He is the King of glory, the Lord of creation, the one who makes all things possible.

A personal decision
The reminder that monastic life is first and foremost a life of prayer makes this a good day for a small personal announcement. I have decided to take what I hope will prove a short break from blogging and social media. You do not need to be told that the community and I are praying, although I know many of you appreciate our attempts to share some of our reflections, etc

I have great difficulty reading and writing at present and find I am spending a lot of time on my own spelling mistakes. I know my typos are as irritating to others as they are to me. Under normal circumstances, I’d be glad to be told of errors but having to cut, paste and magnify everything sent to me is irksome and, to be honest, sometimes a little discouraging. So, rather than struggle to read tweets and messages, only to discover they are about my awful typing, I think it makes sense not to provide matter for dispute! I am hoping to have surgery on my eyes in the near future, so I shall be back annoying you — though not with typos, I trust — ere long, D.V. Please continue to use our 24/7 email prayerline for prayer requests and email the monastery about any other matter. Quitenun will do her best to maintain the daily prayer intentions on our Facebook page.

Newsletter
If you did not see our May newsletter (the first for 18 months) you can read it using this link and, better still, subscribe to future issues: https://t.co/X1nHHfQ6CX

Dore Abbey
Finally, I’d like to mention something dear to my heart. We who live in the Golden Valley are privileged to have many fine churches on our doorstep but, like many small rural communities, we struggle to maintain them. Dore Abbey is a wonderful medieval survival badly in need of a new roof. Bro Duncan PBGV used to accompany us to Evensong there (dogs sit with their Human Beans in the pews) so I am sure he would endorse the appeal that has just been launched. I hope some of you will, too. Bless you! https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/doreabbey?utm_term=xnqZ7ndnY&fbclid=IwAR2zbSLvoLbWHMS-DXpmjBzMUpI0-Mn-TQ-DzTl6_blG1A8MaAOn-mOXJsg

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Ascension Day and the Gift of Counsel

For those of us celebrating Ascension today rather than on Thursday, there is a special appropriateness in our praying for the gift of counsel. This third gift of the Holy Spirit can be said to complete the gifts of wisdom and understanding, just as the Ascension can be said to complete the paschal mystery.

The opening sentences of chapter 11 of Isaiah remind us

And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.  And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge according to the sight of the eyes, nor reprove according to the hearing of the ears. But he shall judge the poor with justice, and shall reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. And justice shall be the girdle of his loins: and faith the girdle of his reins.

Counsel is thus an attribute of Christ himself but not one we often think about. It is sometimes described as the perfection of prudence (which Benedict calls the mother of all the virtues), an interior working of mind and heart that leads to right conduct. I have sometimes wondered whether, when Jesus urged the rich young man to sell all he had and follow him, we are right to assume that the story ended with his going away sad because he had many possessions. He was obviously a thoughtful and prayerful man. Did he make a once-for-all rejection of the invitation given him? Isn’t it just as likely that he went away and wrestled with his conflicting thoughts and emotions, and perhaps did do as Jesus asked? That would have been counsel at work in him.

Today we tend to talk rather glibly about counselling of one kind or another. Usually we mean the kind of listening/guidance given by someone trained to help those with specific problems or difficulties. Counsel, as the Church understands it, is sheer gift: it can be developed, but not taught. It must operate within the individual before he or she can share its fruits with others. To be attentive, to be receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, that is our role; and it requires steadfast prayer and reflection on the scriptures. As we pray for the gift of counsel, let us pray also for perseverance in those things that make us open to the Holy Spirit.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Ascension Day: Word and Silence

Today Catholics in England and Wales (and many other countries, too) celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. It is also World Communications Day, the theme of which this year is Word and Silence. There are lots of connections between the two we might explore, but let me suggest just one.

When the Word of God was lifted up from the earth on the Cross of Calvary, He desired to draw all to himself; but he still had more words to speak after his Resurrection from the dead. Today the Word of God is lifted up into the heavens and we shall hear his voice no more. The Word has passed into the silence of union with the Father. In that silence, in that union, he is closer to us than ever — dare I say, more effective than ever, because he is no longer limited by earthly presence. Now, truly, he draws all to himself.

But what about us, left gazing up into the skies? Are we left high and dry, so to say? We have the Lord’s promise, that he will be with us always, to the end of time; but how are we to understand that if we no longer hear his voice? Perhaps our trouble is that we have not grasped this new mode of being that the Ascension marks. We have a new lesson to learn. If we would understand God’s Word, we must enter into his silence and await his coming. In the meantime, we must ask the Holy Spirit to illumine our understanding. Our prayer now is veni, illumina, confirma (come, enlighten, strengthen), for we too must communicate the Word of God to others, must take on ourselves the mission of the Church.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

On Not Keeping Ascension Day

The title of this blog post is misleading. It is not so much that we are not keeping Ascension Day as that we are transferring the feast to Sunday, 20 May — and therein lies my sadness. Not keeping Ascension Day today means that we Catholics are out of step with the majority of other Christians in this country and, even more important in my view, are breaking the liturgical sequence of days, ignoring the number symbolism given by Scripture and Tradition. I am therefore on the horns of a dilemma. I bow to the decision of the bishops and will obediently celebrate the Ascension of the Lord on Sunday, but in my heart of hearts I know that today is the ‘real’ feast. While we sing today’s Divine Office according to the rubrics, the music of Ascensiontide is pulsing through my memory. I am that most unnatural of Benedictines, a liturgical crypto-rebel!

Does that matter? Perhaps not; but I think it does shed light on something we tend to ignore whenever we reform or change anything in the Church. We are creatures of habit; we like the familiar. It is hard to adapt to new ways of thinking and doing, even when they are improvements on what has gone before. That is why whenever anything needs to change, we ought to pray about it, to allow the grace of God into situations we may not recognize as needing grace. When we are ourselves involved in making changes, it is easy to forget how they will affect others, easy to be so convinced of the rightness of our views that we have no time or sympathy for those who think and feel differently.

I do not think I shall be lobbying the bishops to return Ascension Day to its proper date, nor shall I be absenting myself from the liturgy as though I knew better than others. Making a fuss is not my forte. I shall hold my peace and hope — oh how I hope! — that next year we may celebrate the feast when I believe it should be celebrated.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail