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Feast of Encouragement

The Solemnity of All Saints, like its counterpart, All Souls, is a wonderful feast of encouragement. It reminds us that the communion of saints is a reality both now and hereafter. I think we do not always appreciate that fact, so focused are we on all that is wrong with the world and indeed ourselves.

One of the things the recent flood (O.K. six) of applications to join the community has taught us is that people are searching for communion and community with an urgency we have not seen for a while. Perhaps today we could each spend a few minutes thinking about how we build up community in our own situation and circumstances. Paradoxically, in a monastery, where we are bound together by the deepest of all bonds, our union in Christ, our celebration of the sacraments and our sharing of the gospel, we know we really have to work at maintaining unity. It is a gift, but one for which we have to prepare the way; and there is no other way except the way of renunciation, the way marked out for us by Jesus Christ himself.

(Podcast on All Saints 2010 now posted.)

Concert Afterglow

Our Fundraiser Concert on 28 October was a great success. The nave of the cathedral was filled to hear the Exmoor Singers of London under their conductor James Jarvis give a memorable concert of spiritual classics, old and new.

We're not sure how much money was raised in total as pledges and so on have still to be calculated, but we covered our costs and made a significant contribution to Veilaudio's most pressing equipment needs. Sadly, we are still awaiting video clips of the evening, but here is an atmospheric view of the Exmoor Singers, glimpsed over the heads of the listeners, and an amateur recording of Allegri's Miserere, recorded live (and not from the best position). Please respect the choir's copyright and do not download but simply enjoy here on our web site. You can learn more about the Exmoor Singers themselves here.

Southwark Concert 2010

Alternative content

Our best thanks to Oblate Alexander, who worked tirelessly to bring the concert about; to all our Friends who worked in the background as ticket managers, wine pourers, washers up and so on and so forth; to Canon Cronin and his cathedral staff, who generously made the cathedral available to us; to Archbishop Peter Smith who was very gracious and encouraging; to Lord Nicholas Windsor, patron of the Veilaudio Appeal, who would have been with us but was prevented from flying in by French air traffic problems; and to all who gave up an evening to come and listen.

Tonight's the Night

A Fundraiser Concert at St George's R.C. Cathedral, Southwark

Southwark cathedral Flyer
Thursday, 28 October 2010, at 7.30 p.m.
Tickets £15 at the door, to include a glass of wine

This is in aid of our work for the blind and visually impaired, Veilaudio, which makes and distributes audio books of a predominantly religious/spiritual nature. It's a free-to-users service and we want to keep it that way.If you can't be with us in person, please pray for the concert's success. It's being organized by a Friend of the Monastery. You can learn more about the Friends here. Perhaps you might be encouraged to sign up as a Friend yourself?

Digitalnun is still full of snuffles so will have to go for the "sympathy vote" rather than convincing everyone of the nuns' dynamism and vision (sigh).

Memory and the Church

Yesterday I turned a stair and was suddenly back in the world of childhood, amid the comfortable certainties of my grandmother's house and time. It was nothing but a trick of light and the accident of a whitewashed wall, but the effect was startling. It underlined for me the relative nature of time and the importance of memory. When we forget, we lose part of ourselves: the forlornness of those who suffer from amnesia and those who love them is largely compounded of this sense of lost identity.

In our celebration of the liturgy we often refer to liturgical anamnesis, the sacred remembrance of events in God's dealings with us, his people. So often the events seem distant in time or have been almost argued out of existence by scripture scholars and historians, but they are what give us our spiritual identity, our sense of belonging. Our liturgical remembrance is always biblical in origin and closely linked to our understanding of Tradition. Jean-Marie Tillyard expressed this very succinctly when he wrote:

Memory in the biblical sense of the term is not simply storage of the sediment of the past. It is also the humus from which life never stops borrowing. As the memory of the Church, Tradition represents the permanence of a Word which is always alive, always enriched, and yet radically the same, where the Church never ceases to nourish its faith.

(Church of Churches: the Ecclesiology of Communion, 1992)

It is worth thinking about the memory of the Church in these terms.

Cardinal Manning Society

I am kidnapping the monastery blog for a personal enthusiasm: Cardinal Henry Edward Manning. This year has seen a fresh appreciation of Blessed John Henry Newman, but Manning continues to suffer obloquy and distrust, largely because he was so ill-served by his first biographer, Edmund Purcell. He also suffers by comparison with Newman whom many see (wrongly) as the embodiment of liberal intellectualism. There is also the incontrovertible fact that Newman wrote like an angel whereas Manning wrote . . . ponderously. If you look at portraits of the two, Manning also comes off worse, especially after he lost most of his teeth. So is my enthusiasm nothing more than a typically English championship of the underdog? Not at all.

Manning was not an easy man, and I certainly don't agree with all his opinions, but I am deeply impressed by the person he was and what he achieved. When he died in 1892, his funeral was the biggest ever seen in London: the poor crowded the streets. They did not forget all he had done for the dockers and other London poor. His theology has been under a shadow for many years, but now that most of his work is in the public realm, including a host of private letters to Gladstone and Wilberforce, we are better able to judge what he did. A new Cardinal Manning Society with web site has been set up to make Manning better known. Why not take a look? Newman is not diminished because we see Manning in a more just light. Cardinal Manning Society and Web Site

Four Days To Go

Four days to go until our Charity Concert at St George's R.C. Cathedral, Southwark, on 28 October. Tickets are obtainable at the door or from the Box Office: and 020 7202 2161
The event is being organized by a Friend of Holy Trinity Monastery who is probably becoming white-haired as he discovers yet another layer of complexity involved in concert management. Please come if you can: the object is to raise funds for Veilaudio, our free audio book production and lending service for the visually impaired.

Meanwhile, back at the monastery, the nuns are emerging from the 'llergy, a little shaky but unharmed. Normal blogging will resume as soon as one of them can think straight. (Given that this blog is by definition quirky, that will be a miracle. Ed)

A Financial Lent

Today's spending cuts will doubtless be greeted with groans and moans but, like it or not, the fact is that as a nation we have been living above our income. There is only one remedy for that, and no one denies that it will be painful. For some, the financial pressure will prove too hard to bear and they will seek means of escape, some even ending their own lives. That is tragic, and we pray with all our heart that God will support those out of their minds with worry and distress.

We can look upon the spending cuts as wholly negative, an attack on society as we know it; or we can see them as a kind of "financial Lent", an opportunity to reassess our values, check bad habits that have got out of hand, cultivate good habits in their stead, and generally reconsider our direction in life. For those who have more, this is a time to be more than usually generous, whether the gift be time, money, or talent; for those who have less, this is a time to learn to ask for help and to accept graciously.

If this seems Utopian, consider this: St Thomas Aquinas identifies the state with Christian society, societas christiana. It would surely not be a bad thing if economic stringency were to make us less selfish, more obviously Christian, would it?

Old and New Monasticism

From time to time we receive invitations to speak to groups belonging to the "New Monasticism". That can be difficult because we are never quite sure what (as distinct from whom) we are being asked to address. While I certainly have no quarrel with the ideals or activities of most such groups, I am becoming a bit uncomfortable with the adoption of monastic terminology to describe something that to me is fundamentally not monastic. I wonder whether I am alone in that. Let me try to explain.

In "After Virtue", Alasdair MacIntyre argued that the world needed to recover a sense of moral order "through another and doubtless very different St Benedict". In 1998 Jonathan Wilson published "Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World" and proposed a fourfold interpretation and development of MacIntyre's argument: the "New Monasticism" he envisaged would strive to heal the fragmentation of the world by bringing all under the headship of Christ; it would involve the whole people of God, making no distinction between sacred and secular; it would be community-based; and it would be underpinned by deep theological reflection and commitment. (I hope my summary is fair and accurate; if not, please correct.)

To an old monastic like me, there is actually nothing startlingly new in that. You cannot spend a day in a Benedictine monastery, for example, without realising the sacredness of the ordinary, the theological underpinning of the monastic way of life, the role of community and so on. The New Monasticism's commendable engagement with the poor and focus on hospitality are prominent in the Rule of St Benedict. In our Benedictine associates, oblates and confraters, we also have a wider community of people committed to a monastic quality of living in their daily lives. Here at Hendred, for example, our associates and oblates are drawn from many different sectors of society: male and female, married and unmarried, belonging to various denominations of the Christian Church. As far as I am concerned, anyone who shares our monastic values and promotes them is to be encouraged.

So where's the rub? It's in the very word "monasticism". I know perfectly well that the term "monk" (from the Greek "monachos") has been used, often anachronistically, to describe many different forms of religious life. However, I would ague that monasticism can never forget its core meaning. The monastic movement is in origin a fourth century, Christian phenomenom with connotations of solitariness such as we find in the lives of hermits (the root word for monasticism, "monos", means "alone"). When monks began to live together in community as coenobites, the essential note of solitariness was retained: the monk is single for the Lord.

At the risk of offending my friends in the New Monasticism, I would therefore want to say that to be a monk or nun means a lifelong commitment to remaining single. More than that, it means a lifelong, exclusive attachment to the Lord which has all the particularity of marriage. Nothing and no one can usurp the place of that. Our vows of stability, conversatio morum and obedience are all ordered towards fostering and maintaining that bond. Theologically, it can be expressed in terms of covenant; which is why any infringement of chastity, any straying of the affections, is so grave a betrayal of what we have professed.

Perhaps the time has come to reassert the uniqueness of the old monasticism, to reclaim both the language and the vocation. In our sex-obsessed culture, the solitariness of the monk or nun is indeed a contradiction. To renounce even the goodness and holiness of family life for the sake of the Kingdom is to say with one's whole being that God matters. And that, I think, is the point. We talk about monastic life as being a process of searching for God, of seeking to live in the closest possible union with Him. That demands nothing less than everything.

Australian Saint

Mary MacKilllop, the Australian religious founder who is to be canonized today, is an interesting woman. The media have made great play of the fact that in 1871 she came under ecclesiastical censure (her Sisters had reported an abusive priest, although Mother MacKillop herself seems not to have been directly involved) but have given rather less attention to her work for the education of the poor, her persecution from within the Church itself and the last difficult years when, confined to a wheelchair, she nevertheless succeeded in overseeing a major expansion of her congregation.

As far as I can see, no-one has commented on the breach between Mother MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods concerning the rule they had devised together for the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart. When Mother MacKillop went to Rome in 1873 to obtain Vatican approval of her religious congregation, some modifications of the rule were made to which Fr Woods objected. Rather than accept that the Sisters were quite capable of deciding for themselves how best to live religious poverty, Fr Woods argued that they were compromising. Looked at from outside, it may seem a mere trifle; but I wouldn't mind guessing that it caused Mother MacKillop and her Sisters much pain. To be misunderstood and criticized by one's enemies is unpleasant; to be misunderstood and criticized by one's friends can be devastating. "Heroic virtue" isn't always to be measured in terms of scale.

A Little Bit of Heaven

October is never an easy month in the monastery. The last few weeks have seen some round-the-clock work on proofs for the Catholic Directory of England and Wales, a race to prepare our accounts for audit, a succession of visitors and one or two domestic hiccups, such as losing electrical power for a few hours when most needed. Despite having checked our Talkshoe set-up just before going live, Thursday's web conference had to be abandoned because the system broke down. We had already decided it would be our last using Talkshoe but we are sorry that those who joined in, and those who intended to join in, should have cleared their diaries for nothing. We shall resume once we are confident that the new system works better than the old.

So, gloom and doom all round, right? Wrong. It has actually been a blessed time. Our accountant lives in the New Forest area, so taking our records down to him is never without interest. While giving Duncan a forest walk, we saw a roe deer stag and some hinds close up (happily the wind was to us) and cattle heavy with their winter coats and murderous-looking horns. A little later and we were looking out over the Solent to the Isle of Wight, where the sea was a shimmer of silver and the sky a brilliant blue. Our visitors have all been delightful; we managed to fix the electricity problem ourselves, using our trusty DIY manual; we have been harvesting tomatoes, courgettes, butternut squash and runner beans in abundance; and we managed to dispose of some of our superfluities at the local dump (always satisfying, that).

We are currently feeling tired, there is still much to do, but we have been reminded, yet again, that it is not what we do but how we do it that counts. We can rail against fortune, groan about the burden of busyness placed on our shoulders, or simply get on with things, trusting that the Lord's purposes are wiser than our own. For myself, those few hours in the New Forest more than compensated for all the stress and strain of previous weeks. They were a little bit of heaven here and now.

Symmetry 10.10.10.

I love the symmetry of today's date, don't you? We are all much more deeply affected by form than we realise. Quietnun has said elsewhere that it was reflecting on the Periodic table that brought her to a sense of God. For me, it was the breath-taking beauty of a medieval Cistercian church.

We take joy is so many things, the form of which is in itself a wonder and delight. Here, in no particular order, are some of those which spring to mind this Sunday morning and cause me to give thanks: the symmetry of today's date, as I said before; the mathematical harmonies of a Bach prelude; the beauty of a well-set page; the elegant design of the monastery's Mac (yes, Apple, we'll cheerfully accept a fee for puffing your products); the perfect balance of Duncan's head; the fine stonework over the way; the magnificent oak we see from the kitchen window; the poem I read yesterday evening; the armoured back of the little wood louse scuttling over the floor.

Form matters, but it is still a mystery we only half-understand even as we feel its effect. I'm sure there's an important analogy there, but I leave you to work it out for yourself.

(No podcast this week as we have an online Virtual Chapter on Thursday at 7.30 pm GMT. Do join us if you can.)

Bl. John Henry Newman

Bl. John Henry Newman
Today we celebrate for the first time the Memoria of Blessed John Henry Newman. Most people will know that the date chosen for his feast day was not the day of his death but the date of his conversion to Catholicism. To understand the reason for that choice, I think one has to be familiar with both Newman's writings and the state of the Catholic Church in England at the time of his conversion. Newman was quite clear about his inability to continue as an Anglican once he had recognized in Catholicism the one true church of Christ. Intellectually, he was forced to abandon the "branch theory" of catholicism. Emotionally, it was much harder.

Mid nineteenth-century English Catholicism was largely the preserve of recusant families and immigrants: not a natural or comfortable home for a middle-class Anglican academic. That Newman was prepared to risk everything with which he was familiar, suffer the loss of reputation and security, is a mark of how necessary he thought it was to become a Catholic. For him, his reception into the Church was the most important event of his life, the date on which he truly entered into life. Death merely expanded the horizons of that life.

I think we do a great disservice to ecumenism if we fudge the nature of Newman's conversion and what it implied. We can, and should, honour all disciples of Christ (who are often much better Christians than we are, with much to teach us) but we must be true to what we believe. It is when we are truthful and loving that our hope of unity comes closer to realisation. The scandal of Newman's conversion and the Church's celebration of it may be a stumbling-block for some, but isn't the scandal of the Cross even more of a stumbling-block for us all?

St Bruno's Feastday

I wonder how many who were enthralled by "Into Great Silence" will be thinking today of St Bruno, the founder of the Carthusian Order? There is something immensely attractive about someone who was both brilliant and self-effacing, so much so indeed, that his behind-the-scenes role in the papacy of Urban II is usually noted as a distraction from monastic life rather than as something significant in itself. He seems never to have attended any of the important Church councils, but his advice was much sought.

He has never been formally canonized yet the memory of his devotion to prayer, his ascetical life-style and his love of our Lady have survived to our own day. Bruno is not the kind of saint one can propose as a role model for any but hermits and monastics, but some may recall Basil Hume's words, that there should be in the heart of every Benedictine a regret that they were not called to the Charterhouse. Here at Hendred we are reminded of that daily, for there is in the village a chapel built by the Carthusians of Sheen. It survives, whereas most of the Benedictine buildings, built by the priory of Noyon or the abbey of Abingdon, have long since disappeared or been incorporated into farmhouses or other secular buildings.The Benedictines are still here, of course, but now it is nuns rather than monks who maintain the round of prayer and work.

May St Bruno pray for all Carthusians and those who follow the eremitical way of life.

October 2010

We are organizing another online Virtual Chapter for 7.30 p.m. on Thursday, 14 October. This may be the last time we use the Talkshoe interface because a generous donation from Buckfast Abbey should enable us to use a more reliable system (free to you though not to us). The topic we shall be discussing is silence. We shall begin with a very brief sketch of the role of silence and restraint of speech in monastic life then throw the meeting open to all for shared insights, questions and quibbles. Join us if you can.

Our Veilaudio work continues apace with the preparation of our first audio books on CD for the visually impaired. If you could spread the word about our fundraiser concert (details below), and better still, come yourself, that would be wonderful.

Finally, a word about today's section of RB. It is easy to pretend to be humble; it is also easy to believe oneself to be worthless. True humility, however, is as happy to acknowledge its own giftedness as it is another's. What it does not do is insult its heavenly Creator by suggesting He makes junk nor does it fall into the trap of the self-made man who worships at the shrine of his creator. Perhaps that is why true humility is hard to find. We cannot bear too much reality.

A Fundraiser Concert at St George's R.C. Cathedral, Southwark

Southwark cathedral Flyer
Thursday, 28 October 2010, at 7.30 p.m.
Tickets £15, to include a glass of wine
Box office: and 020 7202 2161
Organized by a Friend of Holy Trinity Monastery

Contentment and St Francis

I like the fact that Benedict's sixth degree of humility (on contentment, R.B. 7. 49-50, which you can listen to here), is read every year on the feast of St Francis. Francis is the archetypal happy man, happy because he knew how to be content, whatever happened. His contentment derived from his sense of the goodness and nearness of God. That did not make him complacent but enabled him to see what many of us fail to see: that even negative experiences, such as having the door slammed in one's face after a long and difficult journey, as happened to Francis himself, can be a cause for joy. It is not the event itself but how we perceive it that matters.