Howton Grove Priory | Mobile WebsiteSharing a Vocation with the World . . .

Beheading of John the Baptist

Orthodox Christians keep the Martyrdom of St John the Baptist as a strict fast — no meat, wine, oil, fish or dairy — as a reminder that our lives should be different from those of Herod whose luxury and self-indulgence led him into sin. Some will not use plates today (because the Baptist's head was presented to Salome on a platter), and it is quite common to serve food that does not need a knife to cut it (because John's head was cut off with a sword). I daresay some people will smile as they read this; others will perhaps stop to think. When we live in a world that really understands sign and symbol such usages are more than just pious practices. They become a means of entering more fully into the celebration of the liturgy and so of the Mystery celebrated. In the west we have tended to concentrate on words, and as our respect for words has diminished (along with our grasp of meaning, grammar, syntax etc.) so our understanding of the liturgy has become impoverished, too. We are all eager to know exactly what form revisions to the Missal will take (leaked versions have been circulating for some time but until we see the definitive version, it is idle to speculate what will/will not be authorized for use in England) and are hopeful that we shall have something rather better than we have had in recent years. That is not to knock the current Ordo Missae which has its strengths as well as its weaknesses. Hope, it is worth recalling, is one of the three theological virtues, although sometimes in practice rather a cinderella virtue. It is also, with humility, pre-eminently the virtue of today's great saint. Scroll down to comment.

An African Bishop

St Augustine of Hippo
A lot of blogs will contain comments on St Augustine today, so there is really no need for us to add to their number; but there is a question that has nagged at me since my student days. Did Augustine's development of the doctrine of original sin precede or proceed from his adoption of infant baptism? I suspect it could be argued either way. (And no, it is not my intention to initiate a debate on the question which would require a rather more scholarly apparatus than Colophon can provide.)

To move from the sublime-ish to the more mundane. The community has recently bought some new chasubles for use in the oratory. (This is instead of the new freezer we had been promising ourselves for the past year: good to see that even nuns believe in the jar of nard, isn't it?) Those who know our vestments will agree that Fr Bruno set a very high standard of design and finish in the chasubles he made for us but unfortunately they do not include all the colours needed for the liturgical year. Most of the commercial offerings we looked at were either hideous or expensive or both, and we felt we could not afford to commission anyone in Britain to make a vestment to order. Then we received a timely gift from a Friend and discovered a vestment maker in India who has produced three chasubles for us, including a gold one for solemnities. They are in the semi-Roman style currently favoured by Pope Benedict XVI, which means they hang beautifully, and have matching burses and chalice veils. They are not as stylish as Fr Bruno's, but they are dignified and serviceable. Next on the wish-list will be a black chasuble for 2 November and a small monstrance for Adoration. Is there no end to this amassing of ecclesiastical treasure?! Most communities, of course, start with the basic liturgical necessities already provided. We are building ours up little by little, and one of the lovely things about doing so is that nearly every item has a name and personal association attached to it. Something for our successors to cherish. Scroll down to comment as Digitalnun is prohibited from tampering until she has solved the problem with the white space.

One in Six

We learned yesterday that one in six British households does not have an adult in work. That is a sobering statistic. We can say, weakly, that it is "better" than the situation in Spain or other parts of the European Community, but to do so is to hide from the reality behind the figures. Britain is a rich country but there are still too many people living in poverty. Low morale and poor self-esteem are not theoretical constructs but the daily experience of many and should be a source of shame to those of us who enjoy rather different circumstances. If we look to the Church for leadership, we can assert that Catholic social teaching, as developed over the past century, gives some very clear and unequivocal guidance, although the application of its principles remains as difficult as ever. If we look across the Atlantic and consider the position of the American bishops vis-à-vis Obama's healthcare proposals, we can see just how difficult. Some have condemned the bishops for apparently being prepared to derail the proposals on the issue of abortion; others have rejoiced that the bishops have been prepared to uphold traditional teaching on the matter. Those of us who are not directly involved have a double duty. First, to pray for guidance and right judgement for those who have to make decisions that ultimately affect us all; secondly, to inform ourselves adequately. No Benedictine, no Christian, can omit the latter simply because he/she is diligent in prayer. It is part of being human, of our dignity and responsibility as children of God. (Domestic news: D. Teresa returns from hospital today. The surgery has been pronounced a success D.G. so no further bulletins will be issued.) Scroll down to comment.

Doing the Impossible: RB 68

A very thought-provoking chapter of RB to grapple with today. Who doesn't feel that he or she is being asked to do the impossible from time to time? There's a great deal of common sense in this chapter, along with a clearly enunciated spiritual ideal. Yes, accept a duty or obligation with gentleness and without argumentativeness; but if one can see that one is unequal to the task, acknowledge the fact, again with gentleness, and at an appropriate time. Often it is choosing the right moment that proves so difficult, or one feels awkward and therefore speaks awkwardly, too. It is a case of mutual give and take, of respect and realism on all sides. We can't avoid being stretched, but we can avoid making life unbearable for everyone. (Today's experiment is with a new form of blog archive tool which should reduce the length of the column on the left. We'll see. All three Trinity 2009 Lectures are now available as part of the "listen again" feature on our Talks page.) Scroll down to comment.

Digital Update

Perhaps we should have entitled this "The Vanishing Comments". Digitalnun is eating vast quantities of humble pie at the moment as she has encountered a problem she has conspicuously failed to solve. In an effort to reduce the unsightly space between the blog post and the box where you can respond/argue/contradict or what you will, she has been tweaking various bits of code. One unintended consequence is that all previous comments have now been consigned to cyber oblivion (until she recovers them, as she'd better!). We have extracted a promise from her that she will confine her experimenting to a test site and not touch this one until she is reasonably sure that her latest "solution" will actually work. As she is notoriously optimistic about the workarounds suggested by fellow cyber slaves, extracting this promise has involved threatening to set Duncan on her to tear her limb from limb/unplugging the computer/making her work on a Windows machine. The latter has brought her to her senses, at least for now. Please bear with us while we bear with her. Scroll down to comment.

Ring of Fire

In recent years we have become accustomed to hearing of terrible fires raging throughout different parts of the world but there is something especially poignant about the fires now threatening Athens. Last night we heard that Marathon was ringed with fire. While we pray above all for those whose lives are in danger, and for the ecological disaster that is unfolding, there is also is also a regret, a sadness, that sites of such antiquity and importance should succumb to flames. There is a magic in the very names. There is magic in the name of St Bartholomew (Nathanael), too, whose feast we keep today. He was hailed by the Lord Jesus as "an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile." What a wonderful thing to be, innocent of all guile! That's certainly worth pondering as we munch our gingerbread, one of the foods traditionally associated with St Bartholomew. Late-breaking news. Digitalnun is one of the participants in A Small Business, on Radio 4 at 4.02p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday 25 August. Scroll down to comment.

Summer's Lease

The garden is beginning to look a trifle ragged; the lambs are almost as big as their mothers; and there are golden glints among the leaves. Clearly, summer is about to turn into autumn, and over the next few weeks we shall notice chills and mists we haven't experienced for months. So, today has been a day for enjoying the sunshine and delighting in all the sounds and scents of summer. The podcast comes a little late in the day but was recorded as dawn showed pink in the sky, so be gentle with it and its sleepy-headed maker! Scroll down to comment.

Difficult Decisions

The release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi was bound to create a furore so it is no surprise to see how quickly the British Government and others have moved to distance themselves from the decision. The full facts will probably never be known, but the cynical will speculate whether there was some covert agreement on the part of the U.S.A. since the prospect of sharing in Libya's natural resources is so tempting to the energy-hungry countries of the west. What interests me is the way in which the arguments for and against Megrahi's release have typified differing moral stances. Christians, for example, believe in the virtues of forgiveness and compassion, which have to do with what we claim or aspire to be rather than what the person to whom we show forgiveness and compassion is or does — an important point when one considers the enormity of the charges against Megrahi. Like many people, I have some doubts about the soundness of his conviction and if it is true that he has only a few weeks to live, the decision to release him strikes me as an eloquent contradiction of everything that the Lockerbie bombing represents. But I could not help noticing that on the same day that we read of Megrahi's ecstatic welcome back to Libya we learned that seventy-three African refugees had died of starvation and thirst after being adrift for over three weeks on the open sea. They had been passed by a number of vessels, none of which had offered any help. For me, the knowledge of those deaths is harder to bear than the thought of Megrahi's release. If someone is hungry or thirsty, even if he is my sworn enemy, my duty is plain. Sadly, there is more than one way of being a murderer. Scroll down to comment.

RB 64 The Abbot: part 2

Today's section of RB 64 acts as an examination of conscience for anyone entrusted with any kind of authority or responsibility, not just monastic superiors. Benedict reminds the abbot that he must constantly reflect on the kind of obligation he has undertaken: service of the community must never become automatic, unthinking, because there is a danger that pride may creep in. Instead, the abbot is to be learned in the law of God and a wise steward. Note the qualities Benedict singles out: the abbot is to be chaste, sober and merciful. In other words, his emotions mustn't run away with him, there must be no self-indulgence of any kind. For the abbot there is no "off-duty" time. Benedict next considers the question of wrong-doing in community and gives the abbot some guidelines for dealing with it: kindness and mercy are the keynotes, but there is to be no weakness or collusion. The translation of verse 15 is one I have changed my mind about over the years. I think we should understand Benedict more literally, "the abbot should take pains to be more loved than feared." Yes, there should be some godly fear in our love for the abbot because he represents Christ in the monastery and is entrusted with maintaining the spiritual vigour of the community. Finally, Benedict paints a picture of the perfect superior: not moody, anxious, given to extremes, obstinate, jealous or too suspicious, never driving others too hard but always encouraging them to do better. One can see why RB has become a fashionable teaching aid for managers! Let's remember, however, that it is given to us to make us grow spiritually and to enable our communities to be places where the love of God is made tangible. If each of us takes this chapter to heart, not only the monastery but the world in which we live will be, not exactly transformed perhaps, but different from what it is now. It will have become a little more what it is called to be.Scroll down to comment.

RB 64 The Abbot: part 1

It may be rash to comment on RB 64, Benedict's second consideration of the role of the abbot, but anyone entrusted with the care of a community has a duty to reflect on the nature of the task; and I think there is something in this chapter for all of us because, in a sense, we must all be abbots for each other, must all take responsibility for one another and for the community.

The first sentence of today's section is challenging to the point of being troubling. The criteria for appointment of an abbot are not those of liberal western democracies. Benedict is conscious of the role of the Holy Spirit and allows, first, for methods of election that would surprise today (reread the account Jocelin of Brokeland gives of Abbot Sampson's election at Bury and you'll see the senior vel sanior pars in action) and then requires qualities which would not necessarily impress a voter: goodness of life and wisdom in teaching. Clearly, the abbot is to be so shaped and formed by the Gospel and the Rule that he becomes a living embodiment of both. As Benedict says elsewhere, the abbot is to teach by every means available to him, adapting and accommodating himself to the needs of the brethren. That is daunting and would be overwhelming were it not that we know grace is offered in accordance with our need. Whatever our personal limitations, we can trust God.

Benedict next adds a few sentences that are often overlooked. He specifically mentions the role of "the local bishop" and "neighbouring abbots and Christians" in ensuring that a community lives up to what it has professed. In other words, the kind of scrutiny we now tend to think of in connection with the Quadriennial Visitation was for Benedict much more of an ongoing scrutiny by the people among whom the community lived. That is worth thinking about in the context of our life today. Here much of our life is open to scrutiny, and we can all think of occasions when visitors and guests have made useful (and sometimes not so useful) observations. The point I want to stress, however, is that this kind of scrutiny is something we should welcome, should see as a way in which the Lord takes care of us and expresses his will for us. It is also something those we live among need to think about, too. We have responsibility for one another and we can't dodge it, however difficult or disagreeable it may seem at times.

St Bernard, whose feast we keep today, was an incomparable abbot, blessed with a charm and eloquence that the centuries have not lessened, but he was first and foremost a monk, one who sought to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. That is what people saw and admired in the early Cistercian monasteries and explains why they had such a huge impact on society. I pray that we too may be equally focused on following Christ through a life of generous fidelity. We can safely leave the outcome to him. Scroll down to comment.

Cloister Courtesies (RB 63 contd)

The ideal stated in the first half of RB 63 is today articulated as a series of ritual courtesies. Some people have no time for ritual or courtesy, seeing them as being empty of meaning, mere formalities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the way in which Benedict introduces a mutuality into relations between senior and junior monks. The junior monks (usually younger, but not always,) are to revere those who are senior to them while the senior monks are exhorted to love those junior to them. You could put it another way. Those who have power (possessions, talents, what you will) are to treat the powerless (those who have no possessions, fewer talents) with love and concern; those who have no power are to treat those appointed to serve them (which is what authority in a monastery is about) with loving respect. Notice, too, the way in which Benedict is sensitive to how we use language to assert equality or exalt status. No one in the monastery is to use just the bare name, we give each other titles of honour such as "Brother" or "Reverend Father". Yes, it is possible to hiss the word "Sister" in a most unpleasant fashion, but on the whole the fact that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, uses the same form of address means that even the most insecure and vulnerable shouldn't be wounded by being treated with condescension while even the grandest of grandes dames should have a check on her self-importance (self-important, moi? Never!)

At the core of this section is Benedict's consideration of the abbot. He is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery and is therefore accorded a title and a reverence given to no other; but he is reminded, in no uncertain terms, that this reverence is not for himself but for his Lord and he must act accordingly. After mention of Christ Benedict passes on to the details of blessings given and received, of giving up one's seat to another (a rather unfashionable courtesy these days) and returns to one of his favourite scriptural texts, Romans 12.10. We must outdo one another in showing honour. The courtesies of the cloister are not remote from everyday life because they are concerned with how we express our recognition of other people's dignity and worth. I wonder how many people will think of giving up their seats on the Tube this morning. It's not wimpish, it's rather beautifully Benedictine. Scroll down to comment (comment box may take a moment or two to load).

RB 63 Community Rank

Or as one of the community prefers to translate, Community Order. This chapter of RB repays careful study. The portion we read today must have seemed extremely radical in the sixth century: deciding community rank according to the simplest means, the order in which we came though the door, overturns any covert expectations of preferential treatment because of personal or family distinctions. Even age is no guarantee of precedence, although Benedict elsewhere indicates that the old and the young are to receive especially tender treatment. We all find humility attractive in others; required of ourselves it can be trickier. But Benedict is no egalitarian. He gives two reasons for amending the way in which community order is established: the goodness of our lives or the abbot's decision (which, as he says, must never be an arbitrary act of authority: the abbot will have to account for his judgements). What we have in this chapter is a finely nuanced attempt to remove some of the major causes of friction that can arise in any body of people. It is not those who are leaders or managers or heads of departments that we have trouble with (which is not to say we are necessarily unquestioning, but their right to lead, manage and head is generally acknowledged), it is those who are on the same level as ourselves, so to say, who are more challenging. All those little jostlings for precedence, for ensuring our opinion triumphs, are a waste of time and energy and lead to a weakening of the body as a whole. RB 63 is a good reality check on the health of our relationships at home and at work. As we shall see, mutual respect is at the heart of Benedict's teaching. Respect! Scroll down to comment.

Assumption 2009

Today we celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady. Sadly, because we shall be joining the parish for Mass, we shall not be singing the Assumption Day alleluia, one of the most glorious to be found in the Gradual, but that lack notwithstanding, we shall do our best to "sing to the Lord with cheerful voice" throughout the day. The doctrine of the Assumption confuses some people who are convinced that it means that Mary did not die. On the contrary, the doctrine of the Assumption is actually all about death and the promise of Resurrection. Mary's privileged sharing in the merits of her Son did not exempt her from dying or from the necessity of being redeemed by him. In Munificentissimus Deus, promulgated on 1 November, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a dogma of the Catholic Faith. Similarly, the Second Vatican Council taught in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium that "the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things (n. 59)." It is a hopeful doctrine, as today's vodcast makes clear. (No podcast this week, because we have given you pictures instead.) Scroll down to comment, because we still haven't cured the commenting gap!

Wimple Wrinkles

We have had several enquiries about monastic life this week. One of the themes common to many is "my friends think I'd make a good nun". I often wonder what that means. Many people seem to think of nuns as being essentially "other". Probe a little and you'll find that the expectations they have range from slightly naive to seriously disordered (nuns should be saintly at all times, smile sweetly, put up with the most outrageous treatment, listen patiently to bores, live on nothing, never get tired, irritable or ill, unless they can contrive to die young of consumption, float around in beautiful habits which never require any time spent on them nor hinder them in the performance of any duty, maintain a spotlessly clean and ordered house, library and garden, and above all, be always available whenever called upon by personal visit, letter, telephone or email etc, etc, etc). Here at Hendred we fail on every count, except occasionally and accidentally. Nuns are real people, as flawed as the next person, but possessed of minds, hearts and opinions which can be as dotty or deranged as anyone else's, (even yours). I think it's fair to say, however, that most know they are imperfect beings and are doing their best to live lives of genuine humility and compassion. One cannot come to choir several times a day, day in day out, without being forced to face some inconvenient truths about oneself and others. One cannot live alongside people one would never otherwise share a house with without being forced to learn a give and take that will stretch one beyond what one might think possible. The unity of a community comes from charity and shared ideals, not from similarity or personal liking. It certainly doesn't come from behaving according to some stereotype that doesn't exist outside the popular imagination. Monastic life isn't a soft option, but it is an immensely worthwhile way of spending one's life. And the emphasis in that sentence is on "spend": it is indeed a reality "costing not less than everything".

St Maximilian Kolbe

St Maximilian Kolbe is a controversial figure. No one disputes his valour or his heroic charity: his readiness to offer his own life for that of Franciszek Gajowniczek makes the rest of us realise how very cowardly and ungenerous we often are. But there are two problems. Not everyone is comfortable with the fact that Pope John Paul II canonised him as a martyr (i.e. one who was killed out of hatred for the Faith, which is difficult to argue in the context of Auschwitz) whereas Pope Paul VI beatified him under the title of confessor (one who defended the Faith in time of persecution, which Maximilian surely did); and there is some unease about the anti-semitic tone of some of the articles published by the Militia Immaculata which he established. The Church needs controversial figures, models of holiness not perfect in every degree, people we can argue about as well as revere; so perhaps we should welcome the fact that St Maximilian is a complex character. One of Maximilian's attractive qualities is that he chose the best and latest technology for his printing ventures. Today he would surely be at the forefront of using the internet for godly purposes. If you walk past Westminster Abbey today, look up at his statue above the West Door and ask a blessing on all who try to use the internet and associated technologies for good.

Fox and Hound

Fox in garden
Another fox in the garden this morning. This one seems to find rats a tasty morsel, but we don’t mind, being fairly indifferent to both rats and pigeons. Fortunately, we haven’t any guests staying with us at the moment, so no outraged squeals of disapproval to contend with!

Today’s chapter of RB (53: On the Offering of the Children of the Nobility and the Poor) tends to elicit lots of comments from guests, usually of the questioning rather than indignant variety. The point of the chapter is surely what it says about oblates (who today are always adults). The offering of self is expressed in written form and usually takes place within the liturgical action of the Mass, being closely associated with the offering of the bread and wine which will become the Eucharist. The oblate’s chart, like the nun’s chart of profession, is placed under the corporal: a reminder that the promises we make are made to God and are identified with the sacrificial offering of his Son. Oblation is a serious step in anyone’s life, and we are lucky here at Hendred to have a body of really admirable oblates and associates drawn from various ecclesial traditions. Happily, they all seem to like the resident hound, who is totally unmoved by the presence of foxes in the monastery garden.
Duncan at rest

The blog commenting system is still causing headaches. If you experience any difficulties, please get in touch. We are currently using JS-Kit's Echo, only released on 6 August, so teething problems are not surprising.

The Glorious Twelfth

No doubt today will be celebrated on many a Scottish grouse moor with the popping of guns (and corks? I’ve never been on a grouse moor on 12 August: it sounds like a deadly combination). Here in the monastery it will be that most blissful of occasions, a green feria: in other words, an “ordinary day”. No special liturgical complexities, no culinary complications, hopefully not too many surprise guests (forgive the misanthropic confession, but even nuns have to see to such mundane tasks as laundry, gardening, housework, repairs and book-keeping as well as earning their living, and it isn’t always easy to give the warm-hearted welcome Benedict expects when one is conscious of needing to get a job into the post or fix something that is broken before the rain begins). Perhaps we take the holiness of the ordinary for granted and have to be surprised into fresh awareness every now and then. It is cloudy and overcast this morning but if I look out of my window at the sweet peas in the bed immediately below, I can count fourteen different colours of bloom. Magical. (We continue to experiment with the commenting system and hope to get the Facebook link working today. For those who wish to view the BBC link referred to yesterday, go to (link opens in new window).

Holy Poverty

Benedictines don't go in for poverty as such. The Rule exhorts us to frugality and austerity of life, which is not inconsistent with institutional splendour (think solemn liturgy, fine libraries, works of art); so not for us the glorious freedom of St Clare, whose memoria we keep today. There is something very appealing about her espousal of poverty in its strictest form. Easier to achieve in Italy than in England, perhaps, although many Poor Clares have lived out her ideals in our greyer climate and brought some southern warmth and sunshine to Church life. Our thanks to all who emailed after last night’s TV programme. We haven’t seen it yet although the producer is sending us a DVD to look at on the computer (if we get round to it). It is slightly mystifying to us why food programmes are so avidly watched. Far better, surely, to go into the kitchen and make something oneself or hoe a row of onions in the garden. Could it be that Benedictines not only lack Franciscan poverty but also something of their joie de vivre? And before anyone answers in the affirmative, please remember that a sense of humour is as important in monastic life as it is in marriage. We are to become saints ourselves, not make saints of others.

Another White Rabbit Moment

Yesterday we remembered Fr Baker, a great teacher of prayer, and a formative influence on the community of English nuns at Cambrai from which we trace our descent; St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein, the Carmelite martyr whose philosophical studies led her to embrace Catholicism without rejecting her Jewish past; and, in rather more homely fashion, celebrated a community birthday with a nod towards today’s feast of St Lawrence by holding a barbecue. Duncan was quite interested in the sausages but the liturgy seems to have left him unmoved — he slept through it all quite peacefully. The struggle with the blog commenting engine continues. We have enlisted the support of others to understand why there is such a long gap between the blog post and the comments widget. In the meantime, we can only ask our readers (if there are any left) to be patient with us. This week’s podcast seems to be suffering from faintness and hisses in sympathy with the blog (turn up the volume on your set if you really want to listen). HOWEVER, we have replaced the photo of the house on the main Life and Work page with a more recent one showing the garden in bloom. And, oh yes, you can watch us looking gormless in this evening’s episode of “What to Eat Now”, BBC 2 at 8.30 p.m. We won’t see it as we are “TV free”!

Red in Tooth and Claw

Saw a fox on the lawn early yesterday morning. She stalked one of the pigeons, then proceeded to devour her kill, finally making off as the grey light became brighter. Foxes are messy killers, but I was glad to see that she actually ate what she had killed (I admit to having little sympathy for the pigeon which had devoured our sugar peas and much else in the garden). Living where we do, one cannot become sentimental about nature, but I must confess it was a strange start to the day. “Murder in the Monastery” sounds like the title of a bad crime novel, doesn’t it?

Transfiguration 2009

Near the front entrance of the monastery we have a rose which has bloomed throughout the summer, allowing us to fill vase after vase with creamy peach rosebuds that open slowly and gloriously. According to Armenian tradition, the feast of the Transfiguration goes back to the early fourth century, when St Gregory the Illuminator substituted it for a pagan celebration of Aphrodite under the title Vartavarh (Roseflame). He kept the old name for the Christian feast because "Christ opened his glory like a rose on Thabor." I like to think of that whenever I look at our rose. I also like to think of the monks of Cluny who popularised the feast in the Middle Ages. Best of all, I like to think of the mystery of light which so informs the Transfiguration story and the collect for the Second Sunday of Lent which seeems to express both the event and the necessary response with an economy of words I can only marvel at. Did the transfiguration occur at night? What did Peter, James and John really see to leave them so awed and dazed? Would it be presuming too much to guess that they experienced in a unique way what is occasionally given in prayer for a moment or two (though how does one measure time in prayer?) and that it took a lifetime of reflection to make sense of it? That it could only be made sense of in the light of Easter, so that we too can only "make sense" of the mystery through the life of grace begun at baptism and sustained through prayer and reception of the sacraments?

Of course, for us now, there is another and darker aspect to today. Who can forget that 6 August is also the anniversary of Hiroshima? Light connects the two, though there is a world of difference between the divine illumination of the one and the diabolical glare of the other. The statistics of nuclear stockpiles make sobering reading. More sobering still is the knowledge that human beings have not learned the lessons of the last sixty-four years, that homo sapiens is only a whisker away from descending into homo vastans. We need a transfiguration of minds and hearts, something for which to pray today.

(Note for commenters: haven't quite got the comment engine working as it should but we will sometime in the next twenty-four hours, we hope.)

Oh happy day!

Much anticipated rejoicing at Hendred today. There is a new altar cloth on the altar and all is set for Mass and commissioning of the tabernacle later in the day. One of our oblates has sent the most amazing lilies to grace the sanctuary. Greenfingernun has pointed out that the "Lovely Lady" lilies she planted outside the parish rooms are also in full bloom, so that what with the lilies, the sweat peas and incense, we shall be in a state of sensory overload despite the "Constable skies" overhead. Digitalnun is looking more cheerful about the web site commenting system; and we are all looking forward to Pauline Matarasso's talk on Wulfric of Haslebury tomorrow evening. Pauline is a most distinguished scholar, poet and translator with a delightful sense of humour and deep appreciation of spiritual things. She is an oblate of our community so we shall be welcoming her as "one of our own". Don't forget to put the talk in your diary: 7.30 p.m. on Thursday at the King's Manor (opposite the Eyston Arms), East Hendred. Admission free, with a glass of wine or juice to follow.

War and the Curé d'Ars

Today is the anniversary of Britain's entry into the First World War, the Great War for Civilisation, which was to end all wars. How hollow that hope seems now, nearly a century later; how hollow it looked in 1939. One can trace the movement from hope to disillusion in the poetry of the time. Somewhere in the house we have a recording of Sassoon reading his war poetry in the parlour at Stanbrook: an amatuer recording, with hissy tapes and the coughs and snuffles of the listeners, but fascinating because Sassoon reads much less emphatically than many contemporary readers of his work do. He knew war from the inside; we don't. There is something of the same quality in the psalms. Israel is always battling against someone or something, at either the individual or the communal level. "Break the teeth in their mouths!" we cheerfully sing on Fridays; but it is a bit limp, because it's a long time since breakfast and lunch is just around the corner. Sung in Afghanistan it would be different, but we aren't in Afghanistan, we're in rural England. One of the lesser known aspects of the story of St John Vianney is his constant battling with the powers of darkness. He knew from the inside what the struggle against evil entails; many of us don't, but that doesn’t mean the struggle is any the less real or terrible. So, a prayer today for all who fight for what is right and good and true. The First World War involved millions; the Curé d'Ars battled alone, as most of us must. The psalms remind us that it isn't numbers that assures the victory but obedience to the will of God.

Sunday in the Monastery

Sweet Pea
The monastery is looking beautiful this morning. Clearing the shrubberies and replacing them with flowers has brought so much more light and life into the garden. When time allows, we must post more photos on the gallery pages but Digitalnun is determined to get the new blog working as soon as possible, so doubtless photos will be on the "to do" list for a bit longer. Today's Mass readings focus on the Eucharist, and as listeners to this week's podcast will realise, that is a theme very close to our hearts as we prepare for the commissioning of our tabernacle on Wednesday. Spare a thought, however, for those for whom the beauty of this morning is a painful contrast to their feelings of pain and loss. Over the week-end we were told about several deaths. We hold each one in prayer but it is hard for those who must cope in a society which no longer accepts that death is a part of life.

New Blog Engine

Today was the day we had hoped to introduce our new blog engine but sadly Digitalnun has had too many interruptions to complete the changeover. It probably will not be possible to complete the work now until sometime next week.