A Word of Encouragement for Followers of Classical Monasticism

St Benedict
St Benedict

A transferred solemnity always feels a little odd, and the fact that the popular Universalis app fails to mention St Benedict at all has led to one or two people questioning whether we have got our dates muddled here at Howton Grove. No, we haven’t, this really is the day when we celebrate the Transitus or Passing of St Benedict, which was displaced by the fifth Sunday of Lent yesterday. It is a day of solemn joy in the monastery. St Benedict was keen on Lent, but he was also keen on joy. The whole of his Rule can be said to be woven around the theme of Easter, for which Lent is preparation and joy the outcome; so today we rejoice, for what was, what is, and what is yet to come.

That said, I have been thinking about what I would call classical monasticism, living in community under a rule and superior, with both the scope and limitations that a fixed place and circumstances allow. It has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years. Monks and nuns who follow this older way are sometimes treated with a curious kind of disregard, as though the way we live is archaic, no longer valid. Is the only kind of monasticism worth talking about a newer kind, not necessarily bound by vows, often dispersed or specifically rejecting some aspect of the Rule (e.g. lifelong single chastity, renunciation of private ownership) in favour of a more individualistic approach? I think it is time that we who have done our best to persevere in the more classical form speak up, especially the nuns, and encourage one another.

Why do I think that important? There is the obvious reason, that without the handing on of the monastic tradition in its classical form, there is always the risk of its being lost or submerged under the partisan vision of some charismatic founder-figure who cherry-picks what he/she likes/dislikes, to the detriment of the whole. The roots of the word monasticism provide the essential clue. Monks and nuns live alone with God. Prayer and observance are our métier, day in, day out. Our buildings may not be as beautiful, our habits as romantic, as those who choose for themselves, but it is our very renunciation of choice, of self, that is crucial.

Nuns play an especially important role here because we are not clergy and are not usually asked to serve in ways some of our male brethren are. We can live the classical form of monasticism in a purer, less distracted way than many of them can. Of course, where women in the Church are concerned, there is another danger. Despite some useful provisions, Cor Orans has demonstrated the danger of assuming that contemplative is interchangeable with monastic.For Benedictines, the rules about numbers and governance reflect a completely different religious tradition from that with which we are familiar, and it has caused some communities much needless heartache and expense. Even among our friends, who belong to Orders strictly so called, there has been some raising of eyebrows at what is expected or imposed. Women are not inferior men, incapable of making decisions about how to lead their lives.

However, my chief reason for saying that I think classical monasticism needs encouragement is because, as far as I can see, it continues to promote holiness — which is what monasticism is about. It doesn’t matter if a community is old or poor, not making a very good job of livestreaming or whatever the fashion of the day may be, not attracting new recruits or whatever, if it is producing holiness in its members, if it is leading others to holiness, then I’d say it is doing all right. Instead of dismissing such communities, I think we should encourage them — and encourage those who are thinking about how best to serve God to take another look. I like to think St Benedict would agree. He saw the whole world caught up in a beam of light. Isn’t that what monks and nuns should be: light for the world?


Limping Into Lent

Ash Wednesday is only a week away, and I realise I shall probably still be in the throes of post-chemo yukkiness while everyone else is smiling bright, purposeful smiles as they tackle their Lenten penances. Thank goodness we Benedictines don’t go in for that sort of thing. I can limp into Lent with a good conscience. St Benedict does indeed say that the life of a monk should always have a Lenten quality, but when one analyses what he means by ‘Lenten’ it is reassuring to find that he concentrates on purity of life and the basic disciplines of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — but without any competitive striving. We are not being asked to be heroic, just fully what we should be at all times but often aren’t. (cf RB 49)

In previous years, I have examined what some of the traditional disciplines of Lent might mean for each of us and I see no reason to change anything I’ve said before, though it may be useful to re-state them.

Prayer is the fundamental Lenten discipline because Lent is all about letting God become close to us. Sometimes people decide that ‘more is better’ and set themselves a daunting routine of extra prayers to be said each day. I think myself that that is self-defeating. Either one cannot keep it up, in which case one feels a fraud and a failure, or one does somehow manage it, and is tempted to sneak a little admiring glance at oneself now and then. Much better just to be simple and try to be whole-hearted about one’s prayer as it is.

For a Benedictine, prayer is intimately connected with lectio divina, and in the past I have written about the usefulness of the Lent Book — the book of scripture each of us is given to read during Lent. Not, please note, one we have chosen for ourselves but one we have been given, the one that, however unpromising it may look to us, has something important to say. If we do not have a kindly superior or community to choose a Lent book for us, there is always the rich sequence of readings to be found in the Mass lectionary. In fact, I would always suggest starting with them, because to pray with the rest of the Church is the best way of ensuring that we do not go off on some unfruitful byway of our own.

Fasting, like prayer, is best done with the mind of the Church. It isn’t the same as dieting, and giving up what Isaiah calls ‘the wicked word’ is much more important than some trifling sacrifice of wine or chocolate that half the world cannot afford anyway. It is, however, necessary to introduce an element of plainness into our food, and to curb the self-indulgence of other times. Whatever we save in our spending on food here at the monastery goes to a relief agency, and I think that is important. Fasting is meant to simplify our life and make us more attentive to God and other people. Feeling in one’s own body a little of the hunger that many experience daily is good at many levels, but it must not get in the way of spiritual alertness or the practice of charity. So, if fasting becomes just a covert way of improving one’s waistline or one’s bank balance, stop, think again. And if fasting turns one into an angry, hot-tempered dragon, belting fire and brimstone at all and sundry, stop, stop, STOP! Better to eat a slice of bread one didn’t intend to than chew one’s brethren to bits.

As to the other things St Benedict suggests we might fast from — unnecessary conversations that can easily turn into gossip or scurrility, for example — we must each find our own way. For some people, it might even be a case of becoming more, rather than less, conversational: greeting the concierge with a smile and a kind word, for example, rather than passing them by as though they did not exist.

It is telling how often, in the West, almsgiving as a Lenten discipline is forgotten. It is not that people are not generous, but somehow the connection between giving alms — showing love — and the pilgrimage towards Easter is broken or not understood. We are all capable of giving to others, and often it is giving what we never thought of giving that proves the most costly gift of all. So, for example, being patient, with ourselves as well as others, is as valuable as a monetary gift to a Charity that appeals for help. Not being able to do some of the things we’d like to do during Lent can be an offering in itself. For instance, I doubt I shall be well enough to fast ‘properly’ on Ash Wednesday, but I can offer my sadness and regret instead. Again, we must each find our own way; and that brings me to my main point.

Preparing for Lent
For each and every one of us, Lent will be much more fruitful if we spend a little time beforehand thinking and praying about it by way of preparation. In the monastery we have the wonderful practice of the Lent Bill in which we set out what we intend to do (or not do!) during Lent and show it to another for evaluation and permission. I think that helps keep us on the right track. We do not always see ourselves clearly enough to make wise decisions. To ask the advice of another, to be humble about our choices, is to enter into the dynamic of Lent. For forty days we are asked to accompany the Lord along the way to Jerusalem and we cannot do that unless we are prepared to follow rather than lead. Some of us will run along the way; others will limp. It doesn’t matter which, provided we get there in the end.


Soppy or Steely? The Case of St Scholastica

Every year on the feast of St Scholastica, the twin sister of St Benedict, the community utters a collective groan when faced with the English collect composed by certain monks of the order and opts instead for an unauthorised, but infinitely preferable — and incidentally far more sing-able — version composed by nuns. The reason is simple. The collect composed by our male brethren is soppy in the extreme and has St Scholastica dissolving into floods of womanish tears over her brother. The collect composed by the nuns concentrates on her insight into prayer and the power she has with God. It is yet another case of nuns being perceived from a male point of view as weak little ninnies who exist only to be of service to men, whereas the nuns see themselves rather differently. Such evidence as we have suggests that St Benedict himself inclined to the nuns’ point of view. According to the account given by St Gregory the Great in Book II of the Dialogues, when Scholastica’s prayer was answered in dramatic fashion and Benedict was prevented from going home, he readily conceded that she had prevailed because she had a greater love of God and admitted, humbly and graciously, that he was abashed. Two great saints united in their search for God, each recognizing and giving thanks for the qualities of the other, showing a degree of mutual understanding and respect for the vocation of the other we often lack today.

Why do I mention this? Partly because I think many people view monks and nuns through a distorting lens. This, they say, is what a monk or nun ought to be; and very often it is totally unrealistic — a pseudo-medieval fantasy made up of strange clothes, flickering candlelight and vicarious penance. The truth is much more prosaic. Monks and nuns are ordinary people trying to live a holy life, neither more nor less intelligent or educated than their lay peers, neither more nor less successful at overcoming their faults and failings. For various reasons which need not concern us here, nuns (moniales) have come to have associated with them a body of legislation about enclosure, etc, which does not apply in the same way to monks; but there is no Second Order among Benedictines. Indeed, strictly speaking, we do not form an order at all in the way that Dominicans or Franciscans, for instance, do. We ante-date such notions, just as our vows — stability, coversatio morum and obedience — ante-date by several hundred years the formulations of contemporary canon law.

I think the truth of monastic life, once appreciated, is so attractive, so compelling, that it cannot but draw others; but it must be the truth, not an imposed idea of it or some romantic parody of it. Even in my lfetime, there have been some rather ill-informed documents about monastic life, especially as lived by women, that make it much harder for people to embrace the monastic vocation with complete integrity. All is not lost, however. We have the example of St Scholastica to help us. As a novice I was told that St Scholastica may not be the patron of Benedictine nuns (St Benedict is) but if I wanted to be a good nun, I could do far worse than follow her example of prayer and feistiness. The two go together. Without prayer, real, persevering prayer, we easily go astray; but if our prayer is genuine, it will never allow us to become complacent. I don’t see Scholastica as soppy at all. I think she is an example of the steel we need, be we monks, nuns or whatever. May she pray for us all, whether we live the cloistered life or follow the inspiration of the Rule far beyond its confines.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

St Benedict, the Panama Papers and Us

St Benedict
St Benedict

Today we celebrate the transferred feast of St Benedict, his Transitus or Passing — what earlier generations would have called his birthday into heaven. Quaint? Irrelevant? I don’t think so. St Benedict was a man of his times, the sixth century, and was familiar with many of the things we wearily take for granted nowadays: weak and sometimes corrupt government, terrorism (in the form of barbarian incursions), moral confusion, a kind of organized selfishness which multiplied divisions in society, and a growing distance from the literary and artistic culture of earlier times. His solution was intensely personal but was to have enormous consequences for the Church and, indeed, the whole of the West. He became a monk. Not only that, he wrote a Rule which is mercifully short but also extremely demanding. I do not think he would have been surprised by the revelations of the Panama Papers but I do think he might have been disappointed by our reaction to them.

St Benedict’s life was built on a simple principle: that Christ is all in all. The way to follow Christ is to live in community, under a rule and an abbot, and practise humility, self-restraint and patience. Gossip is sinful, at best a form of self-indulgence, to be shunned along with everything else that is not profitable to the soul. But Benedict’s is no other-worldly spirituality. The monk cannot lose himself in a cosy round of choir duties or sacristy matters. He is to work; he is to read; and he is to be hospitable. That means that the monk’s silence and retirement are constantly being invaded by a very awkward reality. Work demands effort and often involves failure; reading means getting to grips with ideas one may not find congenial; and guests? Well, guests are community writ large, the most demanding and difficult of all, for they are to be welcomed tamquam Christus, as though Christ, and they have the unfortunate habit of behaving in very un-Christlike ways at times. It is here that the monk discovers what his vows of stability, obedience and conversatio morum really mean and begins to understand why patience is his way of sharing in the passion of Christ.

In the rush to condemn anyone and everyone who ever did business with Mossak-Fonseca not only do we risk confusing what is legal with what is illegal, we also run the danger of allowing a perfectly legitimate distaste for tax avoidance by the very rich to impair our regard for justice itself. Investigations are already under way in many countries and we must prepare ourselves for some very unsavoury revelations, but I think we would do well to take to heart St Benedict’s embracing of patience in difficult and trying circumstances. We have had a shock to the system, undoubtedly; but gloating isn’t a very pleasant trait, and it doesn’t often lead to impartial judgements. Benedict was always inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to his wayward brethren, only resorting to excommunication or dismissal as a last resort. I think that was one of the things that made him great. It also, not surprisingly, made him a saint.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Saints Made for Sinners

Yes, you read that right: saints made for sinners. The feast of All Benedictine Saints is a huge encouragement to those of us who are constantly sliding into sin and failure. We don’t want saints who seem to have led impossibly holy lives from their mother’s womb: the kind who never say an unkind word or do an ungenerous act, who have a natural attraction to prayer and penance and everything we have to struggle with. Nor do we want saints whose lives are incredibly dramatic, full of road-to-Damascus conversions and deeds of holy derring-do. We want saints who are ordinary; who battle with temptation much as we do; who become holy through lives of unspectacular fidelity and goodness. In short, we want saints made of the same material as we are, because we too want to become holy, and if the only model of holiness available to us were the extraordinary one sketched above, we would be spiritual no-hopers.

The fact that we aren’t spiritual no-hopers is largely attributable to all those obscure  saints whose names we’ll never know this side of eternity but who became people the Light shone through. Among them must be thousands of Benedictines — monks, nuns, sisters, oblates and confraters. They show us that we too can become holy, just by being what we are meant to be. There is nothing grand or heroic about being a Benedictine, nothing particularly inspiring. We are spiritual plodders, the ‘poor bloody infantry’ of the Church, serving together under the same banner, standing side by side in the fraterna acies of the community and gradually — oh, how gradually! — learning what it means to follow Christ the Lord. We fight the good fight with what St Benedict called the strong and glorious weapons of obedience and hope, one day, to share everlasting life with all who have loved and served God. Let us ask the prayers of the Benedictine saints we commemorate today, that we too may be granted the grace of perseverance and attain the goal for which we strive.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

St Benedict, Patron of Europe

Benedictines don’t do things by halves; so we have two feasts of St Benedict, the Transitus or memorial of his death, celebrated on 21 March, and the Translatio or translation of his relics, celebrated today. When Paul VI proclaimed him first patron of Europe in 1964, he especially lauded the contribution made by St Benedict and his Benedictine sons and daughters to the unity of Europe (see here). Half a century later, how does that look?

The first thing to remark is that today is also chosen as the day to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the worst atrocity committed on European soil since the Second World War, when approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces amid the break-up of Yugoslavia. Most of the Serbs were, nominally at least, Christians. The dark shame of that massacre is a dreadful contrast to the bright achievement of St Benedict and a warning that one has only to scratch the civilized man to discover the barbarian beneath.

We might also remark that Paul VI’s enthusiasm for European unity and what we now call the E.U. (European Union) looks more than a little naive. With Greece trembling on the brink, Britain wanting to re-negotiate terms, France and Germany acting like schoolmasters dealing with rowdy schoolboys, and a huge number of Brussels bureaucrats loved by nobody, the whole project seems much shakier than originally envisaged.

When Alasdair MacIntyre wrote, back in 1981, that

if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another — doubtless very different — St Benedict. (After Virtue: emphasis mine)

his words were seized upon and manipulated to mean virtually anything the commentator wanted them to mean as people speculated what a ‘very different St Benedict’ might be like. For some, the answer was a ‘new monasticism’ which to someone formed in the ‘old monasticism’ of classical Benedictinism could seem very far removed from what St Benedict had in mind. For others, it was a drive towards a greater political union of Europe, analogous to the old Holy Roman Empire in which the Rule of St Benedict, along with the monasteries following it, had played such an important role. What we all seem to have missed, however, is the obvious: St Benedict’s concerns were other-worldly. His Rule is only incidentally about how to organize a human community. His principal concern is to lead people to God. To do that he establishes a rule of life, quite detailed in many of its provisions, but all with the aim of enabling the individual to grow in holiness and closeness to God, to become the worker cleansed of vice and sin, of which he writes so eloquently in chapter 7 of his Rule. (cf RB 7.70)

How does that measure up today? For myself, I’d say that we never had more need of the monastic quest for God; for perseverance in prayer; and for the kind of creative scholarship and activity that a dedicated life of prayer and service can produce. But I’d go further. If we speak of institutions, the one European unity that has subsisted throughout the centuries is the unity of the Catholic Church. That in itself should make us think. It may not be popular to say so, but without the Christian religious basis of Europe — a basis St Benedict did much to strengthen — we are surely in danger of reverting to barbarism. And the world has enough barbarians already.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Taking It Easy by Bro Duncan PBGV

Bro Duncan PBGV lying in the shade

It’s hot, we all know that, and tempers tend to fly. Even They have had one or two little ‘monastics’ recently. I have two solutions to propose. One is to make oneself scarce whenever trouble looms. I’m rather good at that myself (see above). The other is to follow St Benedict’s advice and always, ALWAYS, make peace before the sun goes down (cf RB 4.73). He puts that particular Tool of Good Works just before he tells us never to despair of God’s mercy. I think that’s to emphasize how hard but necessary it is if we want to experience mercy ourselves. Taking it easy doesn’t just mean lying comfortably in the shade, although I’m rather fond of that myself. It also means being easy on others, too. Even Them. 🙂Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Old Saints, New Questions: St Scholastica and the Place of Women in the Church

If you are tempted to think of St Scholastica, whose feast we celebrate today, as one of those slightly dodgy saints about whom we know very little and, unless one is Benedictine, cares less, I urge you to think again. It is true we know very little about her, but what we do know highlights some very contemporary questions.

Let’s start with the facts, quietly noting that, as so often, they come from a male author. According to Book II of Gregory the Great’s Dialogues, Scholastica was the twin sister of St Benedict, born in Nursia, Umbria, of wealthy parents and dedicated to God from a young age. The word Gregory uses, sanctimonialis, does not mean ‘nun’ but something like our modern (but also ancient) ‘Consecrated Virgin’. She may have lived in her parents’ house or in a separate establishment with a group of like-minded women. Legend asserts she had a small house at the foot of Monte Cassino or at Plumbariola, about five miles away, but we have no evidence to support either. Indeed, it has been suggested that both Benedict and Scholastica are figments of Gregory’s imagination, representing types of holiness rather than real people, but let’s stay with the idea that both truly existed.

The main story Gregory tells of Scholastica is that once a year her brother and a few of his monks visited Scholastica and spent their time discussing spiritual matters. On one occasion it grew late and Benedict was anxious to return home, determined not to spend the night away from his monastery despite Scholastica’s entreaties. Since her brother would not listen to her, Scholastica laid her head on the table and prayed. When she raised it, such a fierce storm broke out that Benedict was forced to stay, ruefully acknowledging that her prayer had prevailed because she loved God more. Three days later, according to Gregory, Benedict looked out of his window and saw the soul of Scholastica ascending to heaven in the form of a dove. Both were eventually buried in the same grave (now side by side in the crypt at Monte Cassino).

The hagiographer will home in on some of the detail. For example, the vision of the soul ascending is a well-known topos that confirms the sanctity of both the one who has died and the one who sees the vision. The historian will tend to concentrate on the dynamics of the relationship between brother and sister and what they tell us about male-female roles in the Church. The modern reader may question the conclusions of both, especially as they contribute to the ‘accepted narrative’ of St Scholastica today. For example, the preface of the feast boldly asserts that Scholastica was ‘schooled in holiness by St Benedict’ — a nice nod towards the language of the Rule but not necessarily an accurate reflection of the relationship between the two. It is possible (but not provable) that Scholastica affected Benedict as much as he affected her (twins often have an extraordinarily close bond) — and there is that surprising admission from Benedict that Scholastica had got to the heart of the matter and realised that divine love prevails over human regulations. Again and again in the Rule we find Benedict softening the teaching of the Rule of the Master by bringing us back to our motivation, the love of Christ. Is that something the Father of Western Monasticism learned from his sister? Who can say? It does not lessen his achievement. In fact, in my view, it enhances it and reminds us how brilliantly Benedict incorporated the ideas of others into his own work.

But what about my statement, that St Scholastica invites some very contemporary reflection? For a start, there is that conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture which has been discussing ‘women’s issues’ during the past week. Women themselves were not present, and the reported agenda contained elements that made me smile as well as gnash my teeth a little (e.g. since when has plastic surgery been a major concern of Catholic women, and is it something Catholic men never concern themselves with?) To discuss women in the absence of women is to suggest that we are not really members of the Church but a problem to be solved; and no one likes being thought of as a problem. We all know that priestly ordination is reserved to men, but there are times when it seems harder for a Catholic woman to be heard at the Vatican than a man of some other denomination. No wonder many think there is a misogyny in parts of the Church that needs to be confronted and challenged.

Does this perception of misogyny have any noticeable effects, other than allowing individuals to grumble and grouse? One that has struck me is the effect on vocations to the religious life. I notice that most candidates are much older than they used to be. In part, I suspect that is simply a reflection of the fact that we all take longer to grow up than we did fifty or a hundred years ago. But, if the women I’ve spoken to are to be believed (and I see no reason why they shouldn’t), part of their long-maturing process of discernment has been getting to grips with the idea that the Church regards women as of less consequence than western civil society does. They offer themselves to the monastic life despite, rather than because of, what they experience in the Church. I find that worrying. It seems consistent with anecdotal reports that women are giving up on the Church in the way that the working-classes did in the last century. Of course, we can look to the Third World and comfort ourselves with reports of growth and continuing fervour, but I think we should be concerned about what is happening nearer home, because what we experience today, the rest of the world may experience tomorrow.

Note, however, Scholastica’s way of challenging what we might call the status quo, which meant her brother determined the terms on which they met. It wasn’t noisy or aggressive but patient and subtle. She prayed, and because she had grown close to the Lord through years of prayer and service, her prayer was heard. Sometimes we are tempted to see prayer as an extra — something we do when we have decided on a course of action and want the Lord to endorse our plans. But for Scholastica it was of the essence. I certainly think we need to pray as never before about the role of women in the Church. I should be sorry if we were to end up with the clamorous polarisation of the 60s and 70s, when the struggle to achieve equality in civil society led to a male-female divide and endless dispiriting talk of power and patriarchy. The Church is not the same as civil society, and it is unhelpful, to say the least, to present the challenges we face in the same terms. That said, we cannot be complacent because ultimately what we are concerned with is the mission of the Church as a whole — to be the Body of Christ, complete, beautiful and holy. The Church needs her Scholasticas as well as her Benedicts, and they must work together. Let us ask the prayers of St Scholastica that we may learn how to do so.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Wilderness Time: Preparing for Advent

Already we are preparing for Advent, for that ‘wilderness time’ when we go into the darkness and emptiness of the desert to seek God, with the prophecies of the Old Testament and the haunting chants of the liturgy to act as compass-points along the way. Every year the coming of Advent is greeted with suppressed excitement in the monastery. It is, paradoxically, full of joy and longing. Advent culminates in the brilliant mid-winter feast of the Incarnation, but in the meantime we plumb the depths of our humanity and the yearning of every generation for peace and holiness. How do we do it?

If you’ve read our guide to Advent, you’ll know that St Benedict has nothing to say about Advent or Christmas as such. He does, however, have a great deal to say about prayer, silence, lectio divina, liturgy, life in community. In short, he has a lot to say about seeking God, and we try to take our tone from him. So, our lives become simpler again during Advent. Our liturgy is sung unaccompanied; our food is (even) plainer; and the Friday fast really bites. We read more; we talk less; and the less talking means, for example, that we don’t write personal letters or emails or have people to stay at the monastery.

Our use of the internet and Social Media is always governed by the restraints we have agreed upon as a community, but during Advent it is, if anything, even more disciplined as we try to focus on the coming of Christ. The internet is our chief form of hospitality — by design, not accident — so we don’t give it up altogether or become strait-laced about it (it would be quite impossible for me personally to avoid all jokes and humour!) but we do try to think twice about what we post and when. It is a ‘house rule’ that no one should connect to the internet or engage with anyone on the internet without praying first. Christ must always be part of the connection. Of course, there are times when I, in particular, fail; and then one must ask the Lord to help one make good whatever misunderstanding or hurt may have ensued. Note I say ‘help one’. Sometimes only the Lord can put right what we have done wrong, but we need to make some attempt ourselves.

Advent is all about reconciliation: God putting right what humankind has got wrong, renewing his covenant of love with us, but he is humble and trusting enough to invite us to be part of that process. There is both a personal and a communal aspect. As individuals, we reflect on our lives, on our need for the Sacrament of Penance, on the little negligences that, with the best will in the world, tend to creep into our observance. As a community we reflect on how we are living the gospel, our fidelity or otherwise to the Rule of St Benedict, how we can serve others. Above all, we try to listen.

Perhaps there are a few ideas in this monastic approach to Advent you might find helpful yourself? Of one thing you can be sure, the nuns here will be praying for you as we go into our wilderness time.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Preparing for the Unknown

I begin a course of chemotherapy tomorrow so will probably be blogging only intermittently, if at all. It is fitting that I should start this new phase of my life on the feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, the Dies Memorabilis of the English Benedictine Congregation, and my own Clothing anniversary. However much we try to prepare for certain eventualities or to predict outcomes, we have to live with the unpredictable, with scenarios for which we are most definitely not prepared — as Our Lady did with such spectacular consequences for us all. I think that is what it means to live by grace. It is certainly what is meant by monastic profession, when we place our whole lives not only in the hands of God (the easy bit) but also in the hands of fallible human beings (the difficult bit) and learn to walk, as St Benedict says, by another’s judgement and decisions.

So, you get a little rest from my words, at least for now. The prayer, however, goes on and on.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail