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Eating Alone

Today's chapter of RB is concerned with excommunication for less serious faults. To eat alone, to be deprived, quite literally, of companionship ("sharing bread with") is, in monastic terms, a reminder that one has in some way offended against the common good. This morning we learned that half of all women aged over 65 in the UK live alone, which must mean that for a high proportion, eating alone is a common, everyday occurrence. We are not talking here of an occasional solitary meal or freely choosing to eat alone at certain times (who would not opt for solitude at breakfast), but of a habitual state of affairs. Anyone who has ever lived alone knows that to cook for one can be an effort; and the idea of setting a proper table is simply too much trouble. Perhaps there is something here for all Benedictines and oblates to ponder, especially when we celebrate the Eucharist. When did we last invite an elderly or solitary person to share a meal with us? When did we last make the connection, so to say, between what we share at Mass and what we share at the dining table?

Normal Sevice Resumes

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ACSA Book launch

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To Kintbury today to give a talk at the St Cassian Centre about vocation, with instructions to "keep it general and include marriage and the priesthood." All this in under half an hour. I was beginning to panic until I remembered that today at Lisieux Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St Thérèse, will be beatified. We have very few married people among the official saints of the Church, so it will be good to be able to use that remarkable couple to illustrate some important points. It is strange how easily we forget that we are all called to holiness, whatever our state in life. The Martins faced all the difficulties most people face and, like their famous daughter, attained holiness through fidelity and generosity in the little things of life. Perhaps the little things aren't so little after all. There is only one way for any of us, male or female, married or single, priest or religious, to go to God: as a Bride of Christ. That is, quite literally, a tremendous vocation for us all. [Note for the curious. If you never normally look at anything on this site but Colophon, do take a peep at the addition to our Digital Books page.]

Saints in RB

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Small Miracles

This morning, while walking the dog, we saw two stags walking along in a companionable kind of way; a red kite looping the loop over Harwell; and a beech tree turning red as autumn advances. Small miracles, but full of wonder. With the psalmist one is moved to exclaim, "How wonderful are your works, O Lord. In wisdom you have made them all." For the more this-worldly minded, there are some free offers on our Shop page which may be worth looking at. The technological carnage we have been suffering from may be of benefit to others: a high-end monitor, a SCSI scanner and a tired laptop are up for grabs. All we ask is that you collect them.

Of Laughter and Tears

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Stanbrook Sale (Revised)

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Words, Words, Words

No, not Hamlet but the Catholic Directory for England and Wales. We reached the final stage on Friday and since then the team at Gabriel and I have been proof-reading. Last year's edition ran to 980 closely printed pages, so you can imagine how tired one's eyes become. Any mistakes are ultimately my responsibility but one relies on the accuracy and completeness of the submissions made by diocesan officials and others, and just occasionally one wonders whether that might be a bit rash. For a few brief days one probably has an unparalleled "knowledge" of every parish and diocese in the country. I say "knowledge", but names and statistics do not reveal as much as we would like them to. Sometimes I stand back and look at the Directory as a historian might: the life of the Church is glimpsed in its pages but never completely revealed. Printer's ink cannot capture grace.

Good Samaritans

Today's gospel led to some very personal reflections on the priests, levites and Samaritans in my life. Leaving aside the priests and levites, who are important enough in their own eyes without anyone's singing their praises, here are a few memories of some of my own "Samaritan moments" : the boy who came and talked about his hamster during one of the more excruciating parties of childhood; the woman who translated my limping castellano into good Catalan when a booking clerk refused to sell me a ticket for the last train home; the tired librarian in a strange city who gave a brilliant smile and made me feel less lonely; the person (man? woman?) who rescued me when I was knocked off my bicycle; the person who sent groceries when our larder was bare (we never found out who); and the multitudinous acts of kindness and consideration one meets with every day without fully registering them. Samaritans all, with not a priest or levite among them. You can probably compile your own list and give thanks as I do for all those anonymous helpers along the way who reveal something to us of God's love and compassion.

St Thérèse of Lisieux

St Thérèse is a good example of a saint who manages to inspire despite everything her devotees have done to her. Quite early on, there were attempts to cast her as a saint in the sickly sentimental mould. Carefully editing out those parts of her autobiography at odds with their own ideas of holiness, Thérèse was presented as destined for a halo from birth: brought up in a "perfect" Catholic family, cultivating a childlike simplicity and dying young, she exemplified an ideal of sanctity that seems to appeal especially, I'm sorry to say, to men. The truth about Thérèse is so much more thrilling. The Little Flower was indeed of her generation, and there are passages in her writings which strike today's reader as unbearably coy; but there is also in Thérèse a core of steel — a truthfulness and determination to make the less courageous blench. She was ruthlessly honest about her own faults, prepared to say things that today would land her in trouble (the desire to be a priest can be spiritualized away until we lose all sense of how unthinkable it would have been for her contemporaries), faced the terrors of apparent loss of faith, and through it all held fast to her understanding of holiness realized in the ordinary, everyday events of life. In truth, there is nothing little about the Little Flower except the name.