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


We are using a new microphone for podacsts and Rule reading which we hope will improve the audio quality. There is no inherent reason why you should have to suffer crackles and hisses, but we may need to soften the boom of the "recording chamber". If you find the results too mushy, please let us know. What we hear may not be what you hear, so it will be a case of trial and error.


Angels get a bad press in some quarters, but St Michael is a mighty defence against evil, and who is to deny that there are great evils troubling the world today? Peace is as elusive as ever. We must pray for the coming of the Kingdom among us.

Care of the Sick

In recent weeks we have spent a lot of time in Oxford hospitals, and our experience of the care shown by NHS staff has been very positive. Benedict himself urges that "care of the sick should come 'ante omnia et super omnia', before and above everything else." We all know that society may be judged by its care of the vulnerable (which we all are, at one time or another) but as individuals we can have difficulty recognizing who is vulnerable or in need. We have a tendency to draw circles, and anyone outside our circle gets ignored. If we are particularly sensitive to poverty or homelessness, we focus on that and may be less aware of those with different kinds of need. At the risk of sounding trite, the fact that the world is round should remind us. Everyone is in "our" circle.

Drains II

Since the last post on this subject the men have disappeared but the holes remain, and some plumbing is out of action. Such a trivial matter in the Great Scheme of Things, but isn't it strange how irritating it can be? A lesson here, surely, on where our attention is focused. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also". Embarrassing to think that one's "treasure" may be stored in such a silly place as an old drain.

On Restraint in Speech

Benedict's sixth chapter, which we begin reading today, is more than just a bald summary of the uses and abuses of speech. It is a reminder of the necessity of silence in our lives. We need physical silence just as we need sleep: to process what is going on around us, to recoup our energy, to confront those aspects of ourselves we spend a lot of time trying to avoid. We also need moral silence, abstention even from good things, to allow the life of the Spirit to grow in us. But we can find all sorts of ruses to dodge that kind of silence, pretending that we are quiet simply because we are not actually speaking and ignoring the fact that we spend an inordinate amount of time reading the newspaper/writing emails/or whatever our form of interior noisiness takes. We can also abuse silence by assuring ourselves that we are "observing the rule of silence" when charity demands that we speak "the good word which is above the best gift". Silence as laziness, evasion and cowardice is not at all what Benedict meant.

Hero Worship

When we were very young, we had lots of heroes — a brave uncle, Horatio Nelson, Joan of Arc — people who fired our imaginations and inspired us to deeds of derring-do. Sadly, as we get older, we discover the joys of carping and criticizing, and our heroes tend to lose their allure. There is something to be said for hero worship: it encourages us to look beyond ourselves and imitate the virtues of the one we admire. At the very least, it makes us generous-hearted. There are some "heroes" we may be better off without, but the debunking of spiritual heroes doesn't make the world a better place, just a meaner-spirited one.

Country Wines

Recently we were taken to task by a devout reader for our brewing and wine-making activities (not, I am happy to say, for our visitors' consumption and apparent enjoyment thereof). It is hard to think of our kitchen as a den of iniquity. "Noah" bubbles away in one corner, producing a few gallons of fragrant orange wine; "Naboth" sits in another, with huge quantities of damsons in his great maw, quietly turning them into a wine that will be "deliciously plummy"; an experimental gallon of elderflower undergoes a malolactic fermentation (oh bliss, oh joy, oh rapture) beside the sink; and thoughts are already turning to brewing some beer for the parish's Christmas festivities. True, we are a long way from Dom Perignon here (though Hendred does have a "proper" commercial vineyard to its credit). I hope we are equally far from Newman's description of a nun's anger as being "like raspberry vinegar, sweet acid."

Truth and Lies

At Vigils this morning, Psalm 11, a sad comment on humanity

"Falsehood they speak one to another,
with lying lips, with a false heart."

and in the section of the Rule for today, its antidote, being truth-full:

"Speak the truth, heart and tongue."

Benedict reverses the expected order of things: a pure heart will utter pure speech; whereas a lie masks the darkness in the heart of the deceiver. Reveal or conceal? It is worth pondering how we use words today.


One of the joys of living in an older building is the never-ending variety of "challenges" it presents. Currently, it's drains. Two great holes have been dug and men come and scratch their heads and nod wisely to one another and send urgent messages back to base on their mobiles. Should we be worried? It took nearly three years to find a leak in the incoming water supply. I feel a novena to St Jude coming on.

Sheep and Drachmas

Interesting that the Fathers use today's gospel in such different ways: the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep on the hillside and goes in search of the stray is always identified with God in Christ seeking us, his wayward children; the woman searching for the lost coin is never God seeking us but an image of how we must persevere in seeking him. Either way, we are precious to God and he to us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Yesterday's feast was all victory and triumph, today's is full of human sorrow and bafflement in the face of God's will. It is (comparatively) easy to pray to do God's will when everything is clear and unambiguous. When things are not so straightforward, when there is doubt, hesitation, confusion, conflict perhaps, it can take an heroic effort of will to entrust ourselves to the hands of God. We know in faith that those hands will never allow us to fall, but there can be times when the gaps between the fingers, so to say, make us very uncertain. Today's podcast uses a prayer of Thomas Merton who knew at first hand how difficult it can be to trust.

Exaltation of the Cross

Has it ever struck you that, although Easter is a central theme of the Rule, with even the times of meals being arranged in relation to it, St Benedict says very little about Christ's Passion, save to mention in the Prologue that we "share by patience in the sufferings of Christ"? Unlike some later saints, he dwells on the Resurrection and the glory that is to come, rather than on the horrors of the Cross. The author of "The Dream of the Rood" seems to have had something of the same understanding, and although the extract we read at Midday Prayer will indeed mention the blood and the nails, we shall be left with the vision of the victorious young Warrior and the awe inspired in the wood of the Cross which bore him. Today's feast is a celebration of triumph. Let us celebrate it with joy and thanksgiving — a sober and restrained joy, of course, because today also marks one of those turning points in the Rule when we begin the "Little Lent" of fasting until we come to the"Great Lent" that leads to Easter.

True Freedom

This week's collect invites us to pray for "true freedom". Probably most people would say that they are not "free". Depending on age and circumstances, they are bound by various constraints, from the school timetable to the exigencies of family/job/mortgage. Christian freedom must transcend or, better perhaps, incorporate the limitations of everyday existence, for there are no boundaries to the realm of the Spirit.

An Unusual Week-End

Contemplative nuns do not usually stray from their cloister, but this has been an unusual week-end. First, a visit to St Mary's, Littlehampton, to share their celebration of Our Lady's Birthday. Beautifully sunny weather, carefully prepared liturgy, and much warm-hearted hospitality made this a day to remember. It was sad not to be able to share Communion, but that is a powerful reminder of the need to pray for the unity Christ desires for his Church. There are no short-cuts in ecumenism. Our best thanks to Fr Alex, Fr Roger and the parish community. On Sunday, more feasting with the celebration of St Patrick's 60th anniversary. The church is a converted cow byre which means, of course, many resonances with Bethlehem. Our best thanks to the parish community at St Patrick's. Monday, and life returns to "normal". Routine has its blessings, too.

Our Lady's Birthday

The Church celebrates the birthdays of only two saints: Mary and John the Baptist. The feastdays of both are filled with joy and light. St Augustine calls Mary the ground that brings forth Christ, the sweet-smelling Lily of the Valley, while St Bernard, most lyrical of all the Fathers, uses the lovely image of the aquaduct to describe her. She is not herself the Fountain of Life but conveys the waters to us in limpid, bubbling joy. The autumn crocus, sometimes called the Naked Lady, is named for her, its delicate purple flower smiling the wide smile of the very young.

Tidying Cupboards

Monastic pligrims at Llanthony

The digital equivalent of tidying one's cupboards often reveals forgotten treasures like this photo of two monastic pilgrims surveying the ruins at Llanthony. Just add the sound of sheep and the smell of warm earth!

Foundation Day

A day of rejoicing here in the monastery. On this day in 2004, Bishop Crispian Hollis issued the decree of canonical erection. We are amazed at how much has been achieved under God since then, thanks to all our friends and well-wishers. Our beginnings were modest in the extreme, and although we are very grateful for all that we have been enabled to do, there are times when one looks back nostalgically at the simplicity of our origins. Strange to think we began with one bed, one desk, four mattreses, four chairs and, sign of our times, two computers; and that our first community meal was rather wanting in the crockery and cutlery department! Today we shall give thanks in our own oratory (still very plain and simple) glad that Mass can be said at our own altar, and we shall follow with a festive meal for which there will be no shortage of the wherewithal from which to eat it, nor, thankfully, of others to share it. Now we must pray for the blessing of vocations.

Listening to the Rule

We celebrated the feast of St Gregory the Great, Apostle of the English, on Monday. How much the Church owes to him! It was at his prompting that St Augustine of Canterbury first preached the gospel in Kent; and his "Pastoral Care" had such an impact on Alfred the Great (whom we venerate with particular devotion hereabouts since Wantage was his birthplace) that he translated it into English and directed all the clergy to study it. We Benedictines have further cause to be grateful to Gregory because in the second book of his "Dialogues" he gives us an account of St Benedict. It is not what we would call "history", but many of the details are instructive. At one point Gregory says that Benedict cannot have lived otherwise than as he taught. For Benedictines, the Rule is an important source of monastic teaching and in monasteries we have the custom of reading it through in its entirety three times a year. From today, you can join us in our daily "Rule reading" by clicking on the Prayer Box on the Vocations page.

A Bird on the Wing

Driving across the Downs we startled a buzzard enjoying his breakfast beside the road. He flew ahead of us at windscreen level for several yards (at about 40 mph). None of us had ever seen one at such close quarters before and will long remember his huge talons. Farmers may have mixed feelings about the number of raptors hereabouts, but for the rest of us the sight of them is unalloyed delight.

End of the Retreat

Rublev Icon of the Holy Trinity

It has been a good week to be in retreat, with so many people and needs to pray for; good also to be able to reflect a little more deeply on the mysteries of Christ and the way in which they are woven into our lives. The Divine Compassion always stoops to our need, but it can be difficult to believe that when such horrors as the Barron case or the Beslan Siege come to mind or even our own sins and shabby accommodations. However, as St Benedict reminds us in the very last Tool of Good Works, we must never despair of God's mercy. Our confidence and expectation must be alike high because we depend on God, not on ourselves.