Golden Words and Golden Deeds

St John Chrysostom, whose feast-day this is, would probably not find favour with some people today. His attitude to Jews was unsympathetic to say the least, and although he was ardent in his zeal for holiness, his zeal could make him divisive. He was positively rude about clergy who fussed about their dress and perfumed their hair and was censorious of Christian women who attended synagogue services because of the beauty of the liturgy they encountered (ironic, when one considers the Liturgy known by his name). He was, however, decisive about where our priorities should lie and used all his considerable eloquence to argue his case:

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same who said: ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food,’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me”… What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying of hunger? Start by satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well.

From Homily 50, On St Matthew’s Gospel

There is a challenge there for Benedictines. We are known to have a special care for the liturgy. The celebration of the Divine Office gives shape to our days, but we must never allow it to become an avoidance of God, a way of escaping our brethren and their needs. If we do, we end up like the rich man in the Letter of St James, who wishes others well but has no intention of doing anything to help. Our words then may be golden, but our deeds are no more than rusty and twisted iron. I think this is the point at which prayer is tested, and tested to the core.

I don’t believe that ‘activism’ — however one chooses to define it — is a substitute for prayer; but prayer that does not make us more generous, more concerned about others, more willing to sacrifice, is prayer only half-begun. To look, even for a moment, at the beauty of the Lord, to have one’s own gaze held in contemplation of the Love that embraces all of us, is to be changed utterly and for ever. The difficulty is, of course, that we can see the change in others but never in ourselves. The moment we shift our gaze to self, we are back with the rusty iron again. That is one of the reasons lifelong commitment in community, with its daily rubbing away at the rust, is the best context for growing in holiness for those of us who would be no good at ‘going it alone’. Monastic communities come in for a lot of criticism these days, some of it justified, some of it not, but there is a wisdom and a store of experience that is, potentially at least, a treasure for the whole Church, not just those of us who live a cloistered life.

Buy a Nun A Book Day
Buy a Nun a Book Day will soon be here (17 September, feast of St Hildegard). The idea behind the day is simple. It’s an opportunity to get to know a nun or religious sister, find out what book she’d like, then either give her the book or make a donation towards the cost of it. When we first thought of the idea, it was to try to help smaller, poorer communities, especially in the developing world, which, like us when we first began, were hard pressed to stock their library or were embarrassed at being used as a dumping ground for books other people wanted to get rid of. And, of course, there is always that book someone wants to read that the librarian says can’t be afforded. How could a book-lover resist that?

We ourselves have benefited hugely from the response people have made to the idea. Quietnun and I still remember gratefully the day two lovely ladies turned up out of the blue to get to know us and gave us a generous book token as they departed. We shall be in retreat on 17 September, but if you wish to give a book to the community, there are two ways of doing so:

1. Our permanent Amazon wish-list contains a few titles, see https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/1HAEXBPB4H3GL?ref_=wl_share
but as books can be expensive,
2. A donation towards buying these or other volumes too costly to be included can be made via our online giving facility: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/donation-web/charity?charityId=1015497&frequencyType=M&utm_source=extbtn&utm_campaign=donatebtn

Community Retreat
The community retreat this year is from 14 September to 21 September inclusive. During that time I’ll try to keep up the daily prayer tweet on Twitter and the daily prayer intentions on our Facebook community page, but I’ll not be blogging or replying to emails. Please pray for us as we shall for you.

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Nothing Wrong With Thinking

A few days ago, I was surprised to find someone attacking philosophy as an ‘airy-fairy’ discipline and lamenting its effect on contemporary theology. Personally, I would argue that it is precisely the abandonment of philosophy as a necessary discipline that leads to the weakness of much contemporary theology (no names, no pack drill). Woolly thinking does not give glory to God. On the contrary, thinking about God, asking questions about God and  the things of God can only contribute to our love and wonder. I often think of monastic life as doing theology on our knees, but reading, thinking, meditating are an essential part of the process that leads to prayer.

Of course, we are not all philosophers. I’m not one myself; but anyone who is serious about their following of Christ must surely be concerned with discovering more and more about truth, what the early Church believed about Christ, how that belief has developed over the centuries, how we are to understand and apply it nowadays. And we can’t do any of that without ways of thinking, questioning, arguing, using a language that expresses and defines even as it admits its limitations. We seem to be so concerned sometimes to be, on the one hand, ‘doctrinally lite’ or, on the other, ‘ritually exact’ that we miss something important: not only the utter transcendence of God but also his infinite tenderness and compassion. We will never succeed in articulating God, so to say, but surely it is a worthwhile endeavour to try to do what we can.

Tomorrow we shall be celebrating the feast of St Hildegard, Benedictine polymath and Doctor of the Church. Many people know something of her music, but I wonder how many have read her Scivias or engaged with some of her more difficult texts? She is a worthy patron of International Buy a Nun a Book Day (see here for an explanation of BANAB-Day): a reminder that in seeking to know more about God, we are seeking to know God himself.

Note
As I have explained, we ourselves are not publishing a wish-list for books this year. People have been very generous to us, and we would like others to benefit from the idea.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Buy a Nun a Book Day 2015

International Buy a Nun a Book Day Just thought you’d like a wee reminder that the counterpart to Buy a Priest a Beer Day is Buy a Nun a Book Day on 17 September, the feast of St Hildegard of Bingen. The format is simple:

  • find a nun or Religious Sister
  • ask her what book she’d like
  • give her the book or a book token/money to buy the book with.

The idea behind the day is to encourage people to get to know nuns and Religious Sisters a little better, and in the case of those whose communities are poor or lacking in library resources, to help them acquire the books they would actually like. The choices won’t necessarily be religious, so please don’t make any assumptions in advance. This is a great way of helping communities in the Third World. If you can’t help materially, please pray instead. Who knows, your prayer may move the heart of someone who can give but hadn’t previously thought of doing so. Thank you.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Oyez, Oyez, Buy a Nun a Book Day Draws Near

International Buy a Nun a Book Day
International Buy a Nun a Book Day

It will soon be here, International Buy a Nun a Book Day, on 17 September, the feast of St Hildegard of Bingen, Doctor of the Church and Benedictine polymath. The idea behind the day is simple. Nuns and Sisters (especially missionaries) often don’t have the opportunity to choose a book for themselves. They have to rely on what is already in the monastery/convent library, if they have one, or on what they are given (which is why you will often find lots of lives of St John Paul II on religious bookshelves!).

This is YOUR chance to show a nun or sister that you value her by delighting her with a book. So,

  • find a nun or sister
  • ask her what book or ebook she would like
  • present her with a copy on 17 September
  • pray for her.

You will find that some will ask you for titles they can use in their work. Others may ask for poetry or a novel that would normally be unavailable to them. The requests will be as many and various as the nuns and sisters themselves. If you can’t afford a book, a book token for a smaller sum will be received with just as much gratitude and pleasure. (Note: Amazon do not allow gifts of Kindle editions in the UK, but you can buy a Kindle gift card.)

What we ask you NOT to do is to use this day as an opportunity to offload unwanted books from your own collection (unless, of course, one of them happens to be wanted by the intended recipient). Take them to Oxfam or some other charitable organization rather than dumping them on the nuns and sisters!

Update: we shall post our own wish-list in due course on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/benedictinenuns, but for now we just want to spread the word about #BNABDay.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail