Light in Darkness: O Oriens

Today’s O antiphon is

O Oriens, splendor lucis æternæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Morning Star, splendour of eternal light and sun of justice, come and illumine those seated in darkness and the shadow of death.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, singing that antiphon on the day of the winter solstice seems especially appropriate. The darkness lasts so long, and this year, for those of us who live in Britain, there is the recollection of Lockerbie twenty-five years ago and the moral darkness we associate with violence and murder. Sometimes, when we look inside ourselves, we see darkness there also. Not, I trust, the darkness of violence, but perhaps the darkness of loneliness, failure (as we understand it), fear or despair. That is the darkness that keeps us imprisoned in the shadow of death, the darkness that the Morning Star comes to scatter with his wonderful light.

One of the small joys I experienced as a nun of Stanbrook was watching the dawn light steal over the sanctuary at Vigils. In the winter months we began and ended in inky blackness, but gradually, as the weeks wore on, the light began to pierce the gloom until finally, in summer, the great East window glittered and shone long before we went into choir. A similar rhythm can mark our sense of interior darkness. There are times when we think it will never end. We must hold firm and trust that it will lift. The Sun of Justice will rise with healing in his wings, as the prophet says, and they will be spread over us, too.

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St Jude and Lost Causes

St Jude is one of those saints Catholicism ‘does’ rather well. Although his identity is matter for conjecture (not his existence, his identity— see here, for example), he has been adopted as the patron saint of hopeless or lost causes. There is an old prayer which runs

O most holy apostle, Saint Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honours and invokes you universally, as the patron of hopeless causes, and of things almost despaired of. Pray for me, who am so miserable. Make use, I implore you, of that particular privilege accorded to you, to bring visible and speedy help where help was almost despaired of. Come to my assistance in this great need, that I may receive the consolation and succour of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly (here make your request) and that I may praise God with you and all the elect throughout eternity. I promise you, O blessed Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favour, always to honour you as my special and powerful patron, and gratefully to encourage devotion to you. Amen.

That prayer expresses the comfortable familiarity Catholicism has with her saints; her honouring them first and foremost as servants and friends of Christ; her confidence that they will interest themselves in our affairs; and her conviction that nothing is too unimportant or ‘hopeless’ to be brought before God. St Benedict was well aware that impossible things can sometimes be asked of us (he devotes a whole chapter of his Rule to the subject), but devotion to St Jude takes that awareness one step further. In asking the prayers of St Jude, we acknowledge not only our creatureliness, but also our tendency to lose hope, to despair. St Benedict may exhort us, as the last and greatest of the tools of good works, never to despair of God’s mercy (RB 4.74), but St Jude is there for when we tremble on the brink of doing so. He is a good saint to have in our armoury of prayer.

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A Marmite Toast Moment

The last few weeks have been rather trying for the community (a classic British understatement, if ever there was one). As far as I can see, we can do nothing except put up with it as well as we can. I will therefore share with you the secret of maintaining a cheerful countenance in the face of disappointment and difficulty (though it won’t work in Scandinavia).

When the wine of life turns to vinegar and you feel knee-high to a worm, when prayer seems hollow and even the dog avoids you, there is only one thing for it: Marmite toast. That hot, savoury, tangy delight with its wicked afternote of forbidden saltiness will soothe the sore in spirit and revive the faltering courage of those sunk in gloom. If Delia Smith can do God for the spiritually hungry, surely nuns can do food for those down in the dumps? A ‘Marmite toast moment’ is so much better than giving in or giving up. Sometimes religion needs to take a very practical form. Taste and see!

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