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

Monkeys with Typewriters

Are bloggers just monkeys with typewriters, destroying the precious remnants of western culture with their self-indulgent ramblings? Leaving aside the question of how far the internet can be described as an integral part of contemporary culture, it is interesting that monastic bloggers seem to be increasing in number. Sadly, none of us here has time to read anyone else's outpourings so we'll have to continue "monkeying around" in 2009 in the hope that we may say something useful to someone, eventually. In the meantime, what are our community hopes for the coming year? Top of the list must come the desire that we, our oblates and associates, may all grow in holiness. Then, it would be great if we could draw more people to know and love the Lord through sharing our monastic life and through the ripple effects of some of the works we undertake. There will be at least one important announcement about these early in the coming year. As to this web site, it is due a major overhaul, but there is some time-consuming house maintenance to be done first; then there is a guest room to make in the soon-to-be-vacated parish office. It will all take time. Fortunately, God made plenty of that.

Peace on Earth

As the year nears its close, who can fail to be troubled by the violence convulsing so much of the world? René Girard, in Violence and the Sacred, makes the chilling point that "When unappeased, violence seeks and always finds a surrogate victim. The creature that excited its hostility is abruptly replaced by another, chosen only because it is vulnerable and close at hand." Vulnerable and close at hand: that fits just about every victim, from the abused child to the abused adult (male or female, young or old). It is sickeningly true of what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, Gaza, Tibet, wherever violence is being used to attain a political end, and it is the weakest and most defenceless who must pay the price. Currently the west is feeling queasy about the action Israel is taking against the Palestinians, and rightly so. No one condones the lobbing of missiles into Israel, but the use of sophisticated modern weaponry is exacting a hideous revenge on the Palestinian people and will solve nothing. I wish every politician would read René Girard whose reflections on the nature of violence and the way in which to stop passing the poison on seem to me so apposite. Perhaps it is no accident that this great thinker was born on Christmas Day, when the angels sang of peace on earth to those of goodwill. Let us pray that in 2009 we may hear the angels' song amid the din of our conflicting desires.

St Thomas of Canterbury

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

Christmas Eve

The Christmas Proclamation has been sung so later this afternoon we shall put up the Crib and the Christmas tree and arrange all the cards we have received. Meanwhile preparations are going on in the kitchen and in every nook and cranny of the monastery. Somewhere someone is recording a podcast, and there are rumours of a Christmas video being edited so that we can include in our celebration all those, known and unknown, who drop into our web site from time to time. And in the midst of all this busyness, the quiet heart of the monastery continues to beat with prayer and praise . . .

O Emmanuel

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

O Rex Gentium

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. "O King of the Nations for whom they long, the corner-stone who makes of both one, come and deliver man whom you made from clay." It is the first phrase of this antiphon that I find most striking. The translation doesn't quite capture the force of "desideratus". To invoke Christ as the Desired of All Nations is to make a strong claim for his universality. This title for the Messiah rests on the second chapter of Haggai, and the promise that the temple will be rebuilt: "I will shake the earth and the Desired of All Nations shall come and will fill this house with splendour" (following the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text). As though to say, there is in all of us, whether overtly religious or not, an impulse towards what is good and beautiful and true which will be gloriously fulfilled. The reminder that we are divided among ourselves, needing a Saviour to redeem and reunite us, is hardly news but so often we think salvation is some kind of D.I.Y. process. The antiphon ends with a reference to our creation from the dust of earth. It is full of hope. Who can forget that, according to the Christian understanding of things, our very humanity has been transformed:

I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

O Oriens

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

O Clavis David

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

O Radix Jesse

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. "O Root of Jesse, who stand as an ensign to the peoples, at whom kings stand silent and whom the gentiles seek, come and free us, delay no longer!" Today we are invited to think about that noble flower of Jesse which is Jesus. Micah prophesied that the Messiah would be born of David's house and line, a belief that is reflected in at least one of the rabbinic targums (Jonathan). The Mass readings on Sunday will remind us that David had wanted to build a temple for the Lord but, speaking though Nathan, God told him that he was not the man to do so. Instead, the Lord would build a house for him, one whose sovereignty would endure. David was the great liberator, the great warrior; but it is the Lord Jesus who frees us from sin and our bondage to sin. So we pray, come and free us, do not delay.

O Adonai

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

O Sapientia

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...


I sometimes think that only the poor know how to be generous. We are blessed with wonderfully kind friends, many of whom send gifts at this time of year. One which has touched the hearts of all of us came from a friend in the U.S.A. who is far from well-off. Along with some "bottles of fruit juice" were an amazing selection of baked goods she had spent time and labour producing. She had truly given of herself with a lavishness which recalls the jar of nard poured lovingly over the Lord's feet. Everyone involved in the Christmas story is touched with the same sort of generosity. There is Mary, utterly forgetful of self, making the difficult journey to visit Elizabeth; Joseph, quietly setting aside his own dreams in order to welcome the Son of Mary as his own; John the Baptist, ecstatically happy to be just a Voice that precedes the Word, a Lamp that points to the Sun; all of them reckless of their own "status" or "personal fulfilment". May they teach us how to give in a world that seems to have forgotten how to receive.


A rich theme in our readings for Advent is integrity. One of the signs that the Messiah is among us will be the restoration of integrity to both public and private life. In the light of all the recent financial scandals, we need to ask ourselves whether we really want to be people of integrity and are prepared to make the sacrifices it involves. In theory, we all want to be upright, but when it comes to the point we are often weak and fallible and easily scared. We only half believe. Like humility, integrity is something we admire in others but are more ambivalent about in ourselves. My father was a man of integrity, which made things uncomfortable for others at times (I can hear my mother murmuring something about "classic British understatement"), but I'm grateful to have had his example. Living with integrity isn't an optional extra. It is essential to our survival as human beings.

Gaudete Sunday

The first word of the introit for today is Gaudete, Rejoice! And rejoice we shall, with rose vestments for the clergy, musical instruments and flowers, because our God is near. As we draw closer to Christmas Mary and John the Baptist focus our attention on the mysterious coming of the Word made flesh. Today the silence is broken by a voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord". Our response must be, like Mary's, Magnificat. Our fiftieth prayer podcast takes up the theme.

Conditor alme siderum

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

RB 58

We complete our reading of Benedict's chapter on the admission of new community members today. I am struck, as always, by the uncomplicated way in which an understanding of human psychology is wedded to a spiritual purpose. The constant testing and probing of vocation, sometimes in ways the candidate might consider baffling ("the newcomer . . . should not be granted an easy entrance") or even contradictory (to keep someone hammering at the door for four or five days is not obviously welcoming), the frankness with which the difficulties of monastic life are to be pointed out, and the watchful care to be exercised by those responsible for the novice's formation, all show Benedict's seriousness of purpose: is this person truly seeking God? The programme the novice must follow is designed to lead to a mature and responsible decision, and there is no hiding the renunciations that will be involved ("henceforth he will have no power even over his own body"). But there is a wonderful warmth also. At profession the anonymous newcomer becomes "the new brother" and is united in prayer with the whole community. Sometimes in the joy and enthusiasm of hearing God's call for the first time the idea of being tested can seem alien, and many a monastic vocation has been lost in the humdrum of everyday life in the monastery. The point is, if we are seeking God we must go where he is to be found; that may well mean abandoning our own ideas of where he ought to be found. It may be in choir or our own cells that God awaits us, in the library or the garden, in the doctor's waiting room or at the kitchen sink. Where he is, we must be also.


Very dark, crisp and cold this morning. When one is silent, it is amazing how loud natural sounds appear: the rustle of sheep pulling at frosty grass; a horse chomping hay; even the sound of a buzzard alighting on a branch have a clarity one misses at other times. It is not by accident that during Advent the community embraces a more profound silence than usual, including three days of absolute silence when no one speaks or uses noisy machinery or gadgets. That kind of silence is a rare privilege but how better to prepare for the coming of the Word?

A Blinding Light

We can report that the garden is beginning to look much smarter. The shrubbery in front of the windows has been cleared and Damien has constructed a wooden screen that is so beautiful I sometimes trot into the garden just for the pleasure of gazing at it. The greenhouse is also a great addition. What we did not foresee, however, was the increase of light inside the house. We have been performing a kind of musical chairs around the dining table to avoid the noonday sun (shades are NOT worn indoors), while the nun who runs Veilnet | Veilpress reports that the light reflected off the greenhouse is blinding her. Clearly we can resist no longer. We shall have to put up blinds of some kind, and as the windows are Victorian, this will require thought and probably an "expert". Another reason to be grateful for the internet, for how else would cloistered nuns know where to look?

Comfort Food

About once every five years we make a Sussex Pond pudding, a suet pudding with, at its centre, a heart-stopping mixture of lemon, butter and brown sugar. It is comfort food of a high order, designed for days when the temperature plummets and it's as frosty inside as out. The first reading at Mass today, from the prophet Isaiah, could be described as comfort food for the soul. We are reminded of the tenderness of God, of his concern for each one of us, a theme developed in the gospel, where it is the straying sheep that the Lord seeks out. This Advent, many are in need of comfort. We may not be able to do much in material terms, but prayer knows no limits, is not constrained by any boundaries, can achieve so much more than our own efforts. Let us be generous in offering the comfort of our prayer.

The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

A much-misunderstood feast. One can summarize the doctrine thus: In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." That does not mean, of course, that Mary did not need to be redeemed. Mary is a redeemed creature, just as we all are; but in her case, God conferred a special grace, anticipating, so to say, the saving death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we shall celebrate with joy this "holy light on earth's horizon", the first glimmering of the Rising Sun whom we shall welcome on Christmas Day. (Note: we have just added a Gregorian Chant radio button to our liturgical resources page. It is our intention [hope?] to expand the Plainsong Resources section over the next six weeks. If you have any links to suggest, please email us. We have also amended the corrupted links on our shopping and helping pages, many thanks to those who alerted us to the problem. Online donations via Paypal are limited to £100 so you don't give more than you intended!)

Second Sunday of Advent

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled. Read entire post ...

Pure Evil?

Am I alone in finding the characterization of Karen Matthews as "pure evil" deeply disturbing? What she did was wrong and could perhaps have resulted in the death of her daughter: no one would want to trivialize the seriousness of that. But it is possible to condemn the deed without condemning the person. I suspect that some of the hostility she has attracted comes from one of two things: she has offended against our high ideal of motherhood, and she has made us all look silly. Perhaps we need to reflect that however cruel or greedy Karen Matthews' conduct has been, however wrong or dangerous her actions, we are scarcely in a position to judge her. There is evil in the world. Let us not add to its power by the hatred with which we condemn others or we'll have failed to understand why God sent his Son into the world. (Note: in no way do I dispute the verdict or whatever sentence is imposed.)

The Credit Crunch and Charity

Everyone in Britain is expecting a further cut in interest rates today. For many, the effects of the credit crunch are being painfully felt as jobs and homes are threatened or already lost. For charities the pain may be a little more hidden. Most have less money available to meet ever-increasing needs. Some charities are going to disappear altogether or have to cut cut back on the help they give. People who rely on their savings, or whose pensions are paid from investments that seem to lose value by the hour, are going to find life particularly difficult with less help on offer than before. There is no "magic" solution to any of this. As a very small charity ourselves, we know how precarious the situation is. That is why the Advent message of hope is so important and why, no matter how bad things get, we must not close our hearts to those in need. If we do, we shall come empty-handed to the Crib at Christmas.

The Web that is Woven

I was thinking about a phrase in Isaiah 25, "the web that is woven over all the nations" which the Lord of Hosts will destroy on his holy mountain, and went on to think about the uses and abuses of the internet. Just recently I have been reminded how much misinformation can be found on the web. From time to time I look at one or two web sites that are popular with people thinking about religious life. Often I am uplifted by the enthusiasm displayed; occasionally I smile because an opinion expressed with great fervour and conviction is absurdly wide of the mark; sometimes, as yesterday, I feel very uneasy about what I find. Just appearing on the web seems to confer legitimacy, but it can be dangerously misleading (think Wikipedia for a none-religious parallel). In the monastery we have a clear "code of practice" with regard to internet usage. Advent could be a good time for reassessing one's own practice: what one looks at, what one posts, the web that one is weaving for oneself and for others.

RB 51

Another little chapter on the right way to behave outside the monastery. Why, you may ask, should Benedict be concerned about whether a monk accepts an invitation to a meal while he is out on monastery business? If the abbot knows and has approved, there is no problem. It is what the abbot does not know that troubles Benedict. We all know how easy it is to have mixed motives, to have an open purpose and a hidden one. Benedict wants transparency from his monks, not because he wants to keep tabs on them but because he wants them to become people the Light can shine through. That's not a bad ambition for any of us.

RB 50

Today's chapter of the Rule seems very apposite as there are three hospital appointments to be kept, on three separate days this week! Joking aside, there is an important truth contained in these sentences about praying while away from the monastery. How often does our "devotion" depend on the familiar and predictable? Take us away from our comfort zone, place us in new circumstances, and how easy it is to decide that habits of prayer are no longer sustainable or, worse still, no longer necessary. Benedict is gently reminding us that prayer, like breathing, is essential.