Praying for the Sick

The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes prompts a few thoughts about praying for the sick. What do we think we are doing?

First of all, we are obviously obeying biblical injunctions to pray for the sick that they may recover; but what are we doing when recovery is unlikely: for example, when the person for whom we are praying is very old and tired and wants to go home to God? I think prayer for the sick in such situations is praying on behalf of the sick person. Even a bad cold can make it difficult for us to do the things we normally do, and prayer is no exception. It can be a thousand times worse when we have a serious illness that exhausts us or makes us so ‘down’ that our spiritual lives go blank. It is then that knowing others are praying for us, that the communion of saints is holding us up before God, may yield a grain of comfort and encouragement. Finally, when we pray for the sick, we pray for ourselves. There is none of us who is not in need of healing, but most of us don’t know our own sickness or refuse to acknowledge it.

Today, when we pray for the sick and those who care for them, let us not forget to pray for ourselves, for the forgiveness of our sins and for our salvation in Christ.

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Fraternal Correction and Forgiveness

‘Fraternal correction’ is very popular in some corners of the blogosphere, as it is in life. ‘Speaking the truth in love’ is a key text, with the emphasis on truth often seeming to obscure the love. For Benedictines, fraternal correction is not an abstraction but a lived reality. It is also, or should be, extremely rare because St Benedict understood how much we all enjoy putting others right and hedged the power to correct round with some important restrictions and qualifications. In essence, only the abbot or those authorized by him should correct. It is assumed that the abbot and spiritual elders will have discernment and act only for the good of the other (whether an individual or the community as a whole). Any abuse of this authority will meet with severe punishment in this life and the next.

Although Benedict was clear-eyed about the need for correction, he was much more interested in encouraging his monks to grow in virtue. His comments on the Lord’s Prayer repay careful thought. He directs that the prayer should be said at the conclusion of every Office ‘because of the thorns of contention that are wont to arise’ in community and reminds the brethren of ‘the covenant they make in those words’. Now what is it that we find in the Lord’s Prayer? Every sentence is about God’s action and holiness save one, where we pledge ourselves to the work of forgiveness: ‘as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Interesting, isn’t it, that the most important Christian prayer, the pattern of all prayer, lays upon us this one duty, forgiveness — not correction?

So, are we just to ‘forgive and forget’ and not bother with correction at all? By no means. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting; it means transforming a source of injury into something life-giving. The body of the Risen Christ still shows the marks of his Passion, but they are no longer death-dealing wounds but a source of life and healing. That is something we all can and must emulate ourselves. Similarly, correction is still necessary: the truth must be upheld, anything contrary to the gospel must be challenged. The question here is: am I the right person to do the correcting? Do I have enough knowledge, is my judgement sure enough, do I have enough love? This last often gets forgotten. In the desire to ensure that truth is served, we sometimes overlook the importance of love. It isn’t easy to correct in the way we should, which is why Benedict links correction with authority. Those with responsibility for others are, or should be, more mindful of the consequences of what they say and do. As Horace once said, ‘A word once let out of the cage cannot be whistled back again.’ If we are to speak the truth in love we must also take care to speak only such words as build up; and the words which really build up are those of forgiveness and love.

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Rag-Bag Thoughts by Ragged Nun

It has been an ‘interesting’ week, hasn’t it? Week-ends don’t happen in monasteries. In fact, we are gearing up to receive a parish group here on Saturday, and Sunday is always full; so there won’t be much time to pause and look back on the past few days. One of the distinguishing characteristics of monastic life is that we try to ‘digest’ the day’s events on the day itself rather than postpone them to some future time which may never come. Hence Benedict’s insistence that, before the day’s end, we should make peace with anyone we have had a dispute with. We reflect on the day, giving thanks for graces received, asking for enlightenment, pardon or strength. It is a time for honesty. If we are feeling ragged and running on empty, we need to acknowledge the fact because God cannot fill a closed heart or mind.

Perhaps Friday, which is the end of the working week for many people, would be a good day on which to think about the week past and bring it into one’s prayer. More than that, let’s not go home for the week-end without saying ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’ or even, ‘that’s O.K., it’s been difficult, hasn’t it?’ Forgiveness can transform a situation as anyone who heard Tariq Jahan this week would agree.

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Preparing for Holy Week and More on Faith 2.0

I spent much of yesterday trying to catch up with things. Among the letters and emails were a couple that made an impact because of their sheer unpleasantness. The writers clearly thought that it didn’t matter how they wrote or what they said. If a word fitly spoken is ‘like apples of gold in pictures of silver’, a word carelessly spoken can be more of a maggot, eating away at the heart of things and causing putrefaction. As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we should think about how we use words, and whether we build up or tear down.

It is very easy to assume that we are ‘speaking the truth in love’ and use that as a justification for dishing out all manner of hurt. In my experience, a little love  achieves more than a large amount of unvarnished truth. Who was ever lectured into becoming better? Most of us know that it is being loved and trusted that encourages us to try harder to merit the love and trust shown us. Benedict assumes that the abbot will have to use correction at times, but only when more positive methods have failed.

As we reflect on how we have used words, we may come to see that we need to ask forgiveness of others. As with so many aspects of the spiritual life, it is not just the forgiveness of God that we need but the forgiveness of the community, whether that community be our family or a wider group. ‘Sorry’ is a very little word, sometimes hard to say, but capable of breathing fresh life into many a difficult situation.  Admitting that we may be wrong, that we may have caused hurt, allows the grace of God to flow freely; just as withholding forgiveness from others builds up a barrier. So, if I have given offence in what I have written in the past few months, I apologize and ask your forgiveness. When we read the Passion narrative tomorrow, we shall be reminded that the Lord suffered the anguish of the Cross for our sins; and none is easier or more prevalent than sins of speech.

Breaking news
Digitalnun is one of the lucky 150 who have been invited to the Vatican Bloggers’ Conference, see here. There may be an interruption in normal blogging service while I look for cheap flights and somewhere to stay. Please pray for the success of the whole venture.

Faith 2.0 Conference Audio
All the audio of the presentations is now available on the RSA web site, divided into morning and afternoon sessions (be aware there is a LOT of excellent material).You can listen to Digitalnun’s keynote below and there is an online version of an interview with Aleks Ktotoski here (link opens in new window).  Many of those who participated in the Conference have uploaded reports and assessments which can be found using Twitter or Facebook.

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Comfort

Not the comfort of a warm fire and a good meal but the comfort of which Isaiah sings in today’s Mass reading, VNKEARQ7ZXZF. Most of us know that forgiveness is a rare gift. When we have offended, or even more, when someone has offended us, “forgiveness” tends to mean being put on probation. It is all a bit half-hearted, a rather grudging acknowledgement that there is the possibility of reform, but with something of the thought that it is really rather unlikely.

God knows no such half-measures. When he forgives, he forgives utterly and we are recreated by his love. It is precisely because God forgives so completely that we are able to start afresh. It is worth re-reading chapter 40 of Isaiah as a test of our own forgiveness of others and the joy we could release in them.

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