Lenten Fruitfulness

Today is the memoria of St Polycarp, whose name means ‘fruitfulness’ in Greek (you can read an earlier post specifically about him, St Polycarp and the Grace of the Elderly, with some thoughts on ageing and dying, here: https://www.ibenedictines.org/2016/02/23/st-polycarp-and-the-grace-of-the-elderly/), but it is today’s Mass readings that I want to consider this morning.

Isaiah 55.10–11 assures us that the word of God always attains its purpose, while the gospel, Matthew 6.7-15, gives us the text of the Lord’s Prayer and reminds us that forgiving others will secure our forgiveness in return. It is a circle of grace that begins and ends in God. How often do we overlook that and try to batter God into submission to our will through all the penances and good works we take on? As if we could!

Those autumnal apples pictured above remind me of Keat’s ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ (it’s his anniversary today, too) and the sheer abundance of God’s mercy. I think we forget how lavish God is in his care for creation, including us. Perhaps one of the things we need to do this Lent is to allow that amazingly generous, merciful God to replace the more niggardly, exacting image most of us have of him. That would make our Lent more fruitful — not easier, for more would be asked of us — but certainly more fruitful. Shall we try it?

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Grumbles and Graces

It is often easier to find something to grumble about than be glad about, but St Benedict wasn’t keen on murmuring, although he did allow that there were occasions when monks might jutifiably complain. Unfortunately for us, they are few and far between; but they do exist, and with time, the grumbles can themselves become graces. Here, however, is a short-cut. In case you got out of the wrong side of bed this morning, I list a few of my own causes-to-be-grateful which may stimulate you into thinking about the blessings you yourself enjoy and for which you should give thanks:

I’m alive. Yes, I know I should be looking forward to the next life, but I haven’t quite finished with this one yet. I don’t share the happy Protestant certainty of heaven. As a Catholic, I rely utterly on the mercy of God. My consciousness of sin and failure suggests a prolonged period in Purgatory, at the very least. In the meantime, there are a few sock drawers still to be tidied . . .

I’m blessed with family, friends, community and the ever-wonderful Bro Duncan PBGV. The English don’t do feelings, so I reserve my emoting (thank you, American cousins) for the dog. He’s rather nice to have around.

I can read. What a world books open to us, and how many there are who cannot read or who do not have access to books! I am grateful, too, to know a little about book design and typography so I can enjoy beauties others sometimes miss. Of course, I also have a little grumble now and then, justifiable or not, about some of the dreadful things perpetrated by those who do not know but think they do. It adds zest to life.

We have a garden. This morning the bean flowers were beaded with raindrops when the sun shone briefly upon them, transforming them into diamond-studded cascades of red and white. I can lose myself for hours in the garden, thinking deep thoughts, or sometimes no thoughts at all. ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return’ becomes a hopeful phrase when uttered in a garden. Eden is not lost for ever nor does Gethsemane last for ever; all will be made new in paradise.

We have an oratory. I save the best till last. Ours is small, plain but filled with Presence. It is where we take the most painful and most joyful moments of our lives; where we plead for others, and for ourselves; where we grumble, give thanks and are graced beyond measure. You may not have a physical oratory, but you have an oratory of the heart. Open it to God and I warrant his graces will flood your being.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Holy Saturday 2015

Holy Saturday is a day out of time, a day for doing nothing, because God is acting — powerfully, incomprehensibly, mercifully — while the earth remains silent and still, awaiting the Resurrection. In the past, I’ve said that the whole of monastic life is lived in Holy Saturday mode (see here or here) and I was thinking principally about the fact that we are suspended between heaven and hell, going on as best we can, placing all our hope in the God we cannot see; but I begin to think that the connection is both simpler and more mysterious. Holy Saturday is traditionally associated with the Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descended into the underworld to free the spirits of the just who had died before his coming. It is a day of mercy, and all of us live by the mercy of God. That is what we really mean by Holy Saturday as a day of waiting, a day when we await the mercy of God.

Initial D: The Harrowing of Hell


















The tenderness of this illustration, as Christ takes the spirits in Sheol by the hand and leads them out into the light, would melt the heart of anyone. It makes me wonder why we are sometimes so anxious to consign others to hell. Don’t we all long for God to be merciful to us? Haven’t we enough sins of our own to worry about, without condemning those of others? Perhaps, today, we could spend a moment or two thinking about how we judge others, and the harm we sometimes do by imprisoning them in our judgement of them.

Tonight, during the Exsultet, we’ll sing of the felix culpa, the happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam, which brought us such and so great a Redeemer. It is theology trembling on the brink of heresy, breath-taking in its conception of God’s wisdom and mercy. Holy Saturday reminds us that sin and death are no barrier to God. He will lead us into everlasting light, if we will but let him.

Note on the illustration
: Initial D: The Harrowing of Hell, mid-1200s, Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 23.5 x 16.5 cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/2 in.)
 The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 14, fol. 110 Used by permission under the Open Content Scheme, with thanks.