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Recently I was looking through some notes on a group of monasteries in medieval Galicia (Spain). A dispute between one community and the local bishop led to violence. When the abbot refused to do as the bishop wanted, a band of "heavies" was sent to an outlying grange of the monastery. They entered while the monks were at prayer and began laying about them, cutting off the feet of one monk and the noses and ears of others (a hideous death in a world without modern medical care). The bishop led the raid himself and apparently wielded his sword as cruelly as any of the others. The monks who were killed were lay brothers: they probably knew very little of the abbot's decisions, had no influence, and were unarmed. The parallels with what is happening in Mumbai are obvious. To attack and kill defenceless people is not new, but there is something immensely sad about terrorism, not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators. If current speculation proves right, and those responsible for the killing in Mumbai are some kind of extremist Islamists, it is more than sad. It is blasphemous. Let us pray for everyone caught up in this horror.

Contemplative Calm

Sometimes one wonders. We gave a Day of Recollection on Saturday; our Quadriennial Visitation began on Tuesday and ended yesterday (many thanks to Mgr Cyril Murtagh for his kindliness and expertise); last night we held the first of our Advent lectio divina sessions (there is a summary of the introductory talk on the Liturgical Year page); there is another session this afternoon, and a flurry of guests to end the week. Finding time for everyone and everything is not always easy and it only takes a burst pipe or a difference in the accounts to produce a communal groan. Life, however, is like that and one must weather the storm, whether it be a real typhoon or a mere typhoon in a teacup (as most of them often are). The secret is to have one's heart fixed on the Lord. Easy to say, not always so easy to do; but just for today? I hope so.

Living with Debt

Yesterday's terrific gamble by the Chancellor will be hotly debated today and for a long time to come, but the plain fact is, everyone living in these Islands must get used to the idea of living with debt. Most of us are probably still too stunned to take in all the facts and figures, let alone consider how it is going to affect us as individuals. I suspect that people like ourselves, who spend most of their income on food and energy, are going to start wondering yet again how long the Welfare State can continue and whether there is anything that can take its place. Little by little, Religious Orders have withdrawn from education and healthcare, for example, leaving the work they used to do to lay people. Nothing wrong with that, but when there's no money left, we cannot expect lay people to work for nothing in the way we can and do expect Religious to work. Do we face a future where the State will no longer be able to maintain its care for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the handicapped, and there are no longer any Church-based institutions to take over? Where overseas aid will be cut off entirely? Living with debt is never very comfortable; living with a huge national debt is less comfortable still. Let us pray that the Church will be equal to the challenge we now face. Whatever else happens, we have a duty to help others, especially those who cannot help themselves.

Gratitude v. Grumbling

Have you noticed how quickly "everything else" has slipped from the headlines while we in the west concentrate on our economic woes and increasingly desperate schemes to try to prevent a recession becoming a depression? One of the great boons of contemporary communication technology is that we can know about almost anything as soon as it occurs. None of us can claim to be ignorant of what is happening, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, Zimbabwe or wherever. Often, however, we are genuinely ignorant of all the good that is being done nearer home, of those "little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love" which are so important for the happiness and wellbeing of society. This is going to be a busy week when we may need to make a conscious effort to mark how many good things come our way and give thanks for them. But grateful people are so much nicer to know than grumblers and carpers that it must be worth the effort. St Benedict certainly thought so.

The Kingship of Christ

The community is a little wan this morning, having spent a lot of time and effort preparing for and clearing up after yesterday's Day of Recollection. But that won't lessen our sense of privilege on this Solemnity of Christ the King. We are entering on the last week of the Church's year, and although it looks exhausting (hospital appointments, visitors and our quadriennial Visitation, to say nothing of our Advent talks!), there is a feeling of joyful expectancy. There is some interior "tidying up" to be done, but Advent beckons with its promise of a desert time during which we can prepare again to receive our Saviour. No wonder we are joyful.

Presentation of Our Lady

One of the minor feasts of Our Lady, today is special to many Benedictines because it is the day on which, by something of a legal fiction, the last monk of Marian Westminster transferred to two younger men all the rights of the pre-Reformation English Benedictine Congregation, thus enabling the English Congregation of today to claim unbroken continuity with its medieval predecessor. Although we are no longer members of the E.B.C. we too keep it as a Dies Memorabilis and share their joy. It is a reminder that numbers aren't everything, God's purposes cannot be thwarted by mere mortals any more than Mary's insignificance in human terms could thwart God's mighty plan of salvation. (And as the prioress was clothed on this day, we get a better dinner to help us remember!)

Wine Drinking

Today's chapter of the Rule is so moderate, so modest in its assumptions, so measured in its prescriptions. One can understand why those who have never tried to live according to its guidance can dismiss it as being "easy". Substitute something else for wine and it may become more challenging. Try applying Benedict's advice to your use of the internet or your ipod (or your golf clubs or your gun) and you'll see at once that the thoughtful moderation he recommends is a bit more demanding than at first appears.

Lack of Inspiration

I must have spent half an hour yesterday thinking about a subject for this week's podcast and actually recorded two, but they have been consigned to the digital rubbish bin for lack of inspiration. It isn't often that any of us admits to lacking inspiration. Lack of money to complete a project, maybe, but lack of inspiration? Scarcely ever. As regards our own inner world, how many of us are really modest about about what goes on in the space between our ears? A trip through the blogosphere reveals many a posting that might usefully have been trashed before being sent into cyberspace. Part of the problem is that we have become so accustomed to pouring out — our thoughts, opinions, prejudices — that we have forgotten that the root of the word inspiration has to do with taking in, is, in Christian terms, a work of the Holy Spirit breathing into us. This week we might try to allow the Spirit a little more room in our lives. When truly inspired we can ourselves become inspiring.

All Benedictine Saints

Today's entrance antiphon calls upon us to rejoice with the angels in celebrating a feast in honour of all the saints who did battle under the Rule of St Benedict and together praise the Son of God. People sometimes smile at the way in which we Benedictines humbly acknowledge the countless thousands who have attained holiness through fidelity to the Rule of St Benedict, but that antiphon should put an end to any tendency to smugness. Fidelity isn't something we can take for granted. The opening prayer of the Mass reminds us that we must pray for the grace of perseverance. Perseverance doesn't sound very heroic, does it? Far better surely to pray for something a bit more spectacular, something more obviously difficult? I think you know that true fidelity, true perseverance, can demand huge things of both individuals and communities. For a Benedictine, today's feast is a reminder that we depend utterly upon God. Let us be glad and rejoice that here at Hendred we can daily experience the truth of that. Take as a thought to accompany you through the day the words of the Preface which, as so often, express the theology of the feast, and pray especially for our oblates, associates, friends and benefactors that they may unite with us in praising the Son of God.

Preface of the Day

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

You raised up the holy abbot Benedict,
as a teacher of the steps of humility
by which a countless number of his sons and daughters
have reached the love which drives out all fear.

Preferring nothing to the love of Christ,
they recognized Christ in the sick and in the stranger,
in the poor and in the pilgrim.

Praising you seven times by day, and even in the night,
they placed all their hope in you,
and taught us never to despair of your mercy.

Even today, their lives distill a holy wisdom,
inflame us with longing for life everlasting,
and inspire us to sing your praise
in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in the sight of the angels,
with heart and mind in harmony with our voices,
we exalt your glory forever,
as we ceaselessly proclaim: holy, holy, holy . . .

St Martin and Armistice Day

St Martin has a special place in the affections of all Benedictines because he was the first bishop in the west to live a monastic life. Everyone knows the story of the soldier-saint sharing his cloak with a beggar. It would have been so much easier simply to give the whole cloak; but to share, to make oneself look slightly ridiculous in order to spare the feelings of another, shows real delicacy and generosity of spirit. It is one of the ironies of history that today, as we commemorate St Martin, we also recall the Armistice which ninety years ago ended the fighting of World War I. Few, I think, could claim that it ended the war. Wars are ended with peace treaties, and there are few who would dispute that the seeds of World War II were sown in the humilating terms eventually imposed on Germany. Today I shall think of St Martin and his readiness to serve; I shall also think of the World War I battlefields — of Verdun, perhaps, and the terrible waste of lives produced by eight months of shelling (60,000,000shells!). If we do not learn the lessons of history, we shall surely be obliged to repeat them.

St Leo the Great

The feast of the Dedication of the Lateran yesterday was overshadowed, to all intents and purposes, by Remembrance Sunday, but the feast of St Leo the Great today turns our eyes towards Rome again. Doctrinally, liturgically and politically, his pontificate (440–461) was extremely important. Probably most of us think of him in connection with the Chalcedonian definition of the two natures in the Person of Christ, human and divine, or his arguments in defence of the primacy of Rome. Every Christmas we re-read his writings on the Incarnation which are models of clarity and theological insight (the two do not always go together). This morning, however, I was thinking about his success in turning back Attila the Hun from the very gates of Rome. A man who understood that jaw-jaw is always better than war-war, St Leo is a saint for our times. (No podcasts until the current round of coughs and splutters in community is over.)

Remembrance Sunday

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Tempting Fate

It was rash of us to talk of "normal service resuming" as there have been many hiccups in our Broadband service, but we would not want you to get the impression that the community has retired to a life of eremitical indignation. The work of trying to make the house a little warmer for everyone continues: yesterday we had some fresh insulation put down in the loft, and "Handynun" has been seen around the house with toolbox (and Duncan) in tow, fixing glazing and trying to draught-proof a few more corners. She seems to be especially proud of the double-glazing in the downstairs shower room and on the East landing, which is odd for a nun who has Aesthetic Opinions. Later this month we shall have another onslaught on the mould in the kitchen and hope to be able to redecorate both the kitchen and the dining room before Christmas. Sadly, the painting of the oratory must be left until next year as there is no way we can make time for it. There is a possibility that we may have a proper guest room in the New Year, so plans are being made and calculations being done to ensure that it is as comfortable as possible. In the garden too there are transformations. Thanks to much hard labour by our friend Damien the overgrown shrubbery next to the house is gradually being cleared so that we can replant it in more sensible (and colourful) fashion. The new compost bin (also made by Damien) is a work of art, while the levelling off of the kitchen garden has been a major achievement this year for which we are all profoundly grateful. Once the light improves, we shall have to take photos of these improvements. Needless to say, the ordinary work of the community, the unceasing round of prayer and study, continues, more or less indifferent to the smell of paint or the sound of hammering. A reminder that external change is never the whole story.

All Saints, All Souls

Our BT Broadband connection has been as much off as on over the last few days, which has been frustrating but also given us an opportunity to reflect in more leisurely fashion on these two great feasts, All Saints and All Souls. All Saints is perhaps easier to grasp: a celebration of every saint, known and unknown, and of the whole People of God. For those of us struggling to live a good and holy life, it is a great encouragement, a foretaste of joy to come. All Souls is more sober: an opportunity to pray for those dear to us who have gone before and for all who have no one else to pray for them, but also an opportunity to reflect on our own future. Purgatory is not fashionable, but it is the destiny that most of us can look forward to. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God". If we have not attained purity of heart in this life, we may attain it in Purgatory and so be made ready for the Vision of God. In its own way, All Souls is a great comfort, just as much a feast for all of us as All Saints. Let us celebrate both feasts with joy and gladness.