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A Rag-Bag Post

We have a strict rule in community, that this web site and blog receive attention only when other duties have been attended to. No wonder, then, that there have been a few blank days and the weekly podcast is likely to appear mid-week. What have we been up to? There have been two books to see through the press; some audio books to record and send out; shopping, gardening, cooking, cleaning and minor household repairs to deal with (isn't it always the way that minor repairs, once tackled, have a habit of becoming major undertakings?); visitors to welcome; accounts to be written up; committee meetings to attend; letters and emails to reply to; and the daily round of prayer and observance to maintain. It doesn't sound like much, put like that, does it? But that is what monastic life is like most of the time: ordinary and humdrum in much of its detail. There are occasional surprises. Yesterday we received an invitation to take part in one of Gordon Ramsey's "Cookalong" T.V. programmes. For one moment I had a vision of G.R. and camera crew trying to squeeze into our not-very-big kitchen and the great man being put out of countenance by our indifference to his famously expletive-ridden language. Good T.V. perhaps, but not necessarily good monasticism. Today we remember St Jerome, a curmudgeon with a soft spot for nuns (good), a tremendous love of holy scripture (better) and, despite all the truculence and violence of his opinions, an immense love of God and neighbour (best of all). His memoria reminds me that we still have not decided when we are going to adapt the revised Latin psalter in choir, a decision we have been contemplating for at least five years. All we have to do is find time for a chapter meeting . . .

Catholic Social Teaching Revisited

At present a number of petitions are flying around cyberspace inviting people to attribute blame for the present economic turmoil to this group or that. Some church leaders have also joined in with fairly direct condemnations of Wall Street bankers in particular. Time, I think, to recall that one of the great glories of the Roman Catholic Church has been the development of Catholic social teaching since 1891 and the publication of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labour). In 1931 Pope Pius XI condemned what he called "the international imperialism of money" and stressed the need for a social and economic order animated by justice (see Quadragesimo Anno, After Forty Years, 1931). John XXIII expanded on this in Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher, 1961) where he emphasized not only the State's obligation to consider the common good but urged the need for all to live as one community and reminded the Church of her duty to be a teacher and nurturing guardian of the poor and oppressed. In Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth, 1963) he affirmed the human rights of every individual and the duties that follow from our having rights: "Since men are social by nature they are meant to live with others and to work for one another's welfare". In 1967 Paul VI issued his hard-hitting Populorum Progressio (The Development of Peoples), calling attention to the way in which the poor were becoming poorer, and stating quite unequivocally the Church's refusal to endorse capitalism (and indeed socialism): "It is unfortunate that on these new conditions of society a system has been constructed which considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation." Powerful stuff, and in Octogesima Adveniens (A Call to Action, 1971), Paul VI reminded us that we are ALL responsible: "It is too easy to throw back on others the responsibility for injustice, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first." John Paul II came back again and again to this question of the relationship between economic activity, social justice and the rights and responsibilities of the individual. In Laborem Exercens (On Human Work, 1981), he encouraged Christians everywhere to become involved in the transformation of society and to avoid simplistic solutions: "The church's constant teaching on the right to private property and ownership of the means of production differs radically from the collectivism proclaimed by Marxism, but also from the capitalism practiced by liberalism and the political systems inspired by it". In Solicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concern, 1987) John Paul II reflected on the "structures of sin" to be found in society. His comment "One may sin by greed and the desire for power, but one may also sin in these matters through fear, indecision, and cowardice!" makes especially uncomfortable reading today. I could go on, but I don't mean to lecture. My point is that denouncing any particular group is often a facile way of apportioning blame so that we ourselves don't feel the need to examine our own conduct. There is no doubt that some people have, by their actions, imperilled others. The pursuit of profit without thought for morality or truth is something the Church has never condoned. But we mustn't forget that much of the fragility of the global economy is the result of our all wanting more. The growth of unreal expectations about what we are entitled to, and the funding of those expectations by debt is something very few of us in the west can say we have had no part in. St Benedict had a highly developed sense of the common good and the renunciations necessary to sustain it. Perhaps monasticism has more to say to our present crisis than might at first appear. If the papal documents mentioned above are too complex and lengthy for the time you have available, you may find dipping into the Rule of St Benedict will challenge you constructively enough.

A Feast for the Eyes

Bhavan centre Exhibition Poster
Indian Inspirations
Opening times: 11am-7pm, daily from 27 September to 7 October. Admission: Free. Venue: M. P. Birla Millennium Art Gallery, The Bhavan Centre, Institute of Indian Art and Culture, 4a Castletown Road, West Kensington, London W14 9HE. If you are in London in a few days' time, you can enjoy a feast of colour and drama in the paintings of three talented artists at the Bhavan Centre, details above. We enjoyed putting together the web site for Anjali D'Souza, so if you'd like to look at more of her work online, go to As you can see, there's nothing gimmicky about our web site designs. We rely on content simply and straightforwardly presented. I think there's something inherently monastic about that kind of approach. Yes, of course we can do flash animations and so on if you want, but as we notoriously said to one client (who is now a great friend): "we ask you what you want, then tell you what you really want."

Never Refuse a Kindness

"Never refuse a kindness to anyone" says the author of Proverbs, but isn't it easy to do just that without a ripple on the surface of one's thoughts or emotions? Easy not to notice that someone wants the butter-dish at breakfast; easy not to notice that someone else (who may be older or more infirm than oneself) is making for the empty seat on the Tube or train; easy not to notice that the photocopier is out of paper when one has finished one's own task. I have to admit that "refusing a kindness" is just as easy in a monastery (and no, I'm not going to reveal the many forms that can take lest I be guilty of them all myself today!). Kindness is a virtue that, like humility, is attractive in other people but can be inconvenient to oneself. Perhaps heaven is worth a little inconvenience.

Sunday Morning

Nice to have sun streaming through the East window at Mass this morning, and good to hear a sermon on the Pauline Year. The message of God's love and forgiveness is ever ancient, ever new. The trouble with us is, we can't quite believe in such a compassionate God and tend to create horrible travesties in our own image and likeness.

Technical Hitches

Several distractions during prayer this morning: the dishwasher "died" last year, which is awkward when we have groups in; my laptop seems to be consumptive, or at any rate near its last gasp; the Broadband connection is as much off as on (though I can't say the same for the bill); and we have taken to praying to St Jude every time we look at the oil level. Otherwise, everything is fine, and the end-of-summer sunshine has lured us into the garden to plant pruple sprouting and other edibles while thinking about the readings for tomorrow. D. Teresa will post her podcast tomorrow morning while D. Catherine will again take to the airwaves of BBC Radio Berkshire at about eight o'clock. We have set the "um/er" monitor going . . .

Of Virtue and Vice

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Monday Afternoon

The last few days have been busier than expected. There is a carefully written podcast for the Triumph of the Cross which looks like a mince pie on 7 January, rather tired and unseasonal, so we'll recycle it next year, D. V. There is a huge pile of letters and emails to be answered, and if the grass gets any longer before being mown, we shall have to hack at it with machetes. I am therefore abandoning the keyboard for the garden. But in case any of you are gluttons for punishment, you can listen to Sunday morning's Clare Catford interview with D. Catherine either by using the BBC's local radio "Listen again" function or by following this link I'm not sure how much you'll learn from it, but we must stop DC saying "um" and "er" so often!

Revealing and Concealing

We were taken to task recently for our use of the internet. Our critic thought that contemplative nuns should not have anything to do with what he clearly thought of as an instrument of Satan (this despite the fact that he seems to spend a lot of time surfing religious sites on the web and is himself a religious). It may seem paradoxical, but I think our use of the internet (web site, blog and forum) is actually a help in maintaining the seclusion important to a life of prayer. Many people are interested in monastic life, and having a web site, for example, enables people from all over the world to "drop in" on us without having to turn up at the front door. There are not many sites that link to us, so the fact that we have cybervisitors from America to Japan is a testimony to the power of search engines and the persistence of enquirers. So far the response of other Benedictine monasteries to our appeal for moderators for the Benedictine Forum has been disappointing and in marked contrast to the enthusiasm shown by oblates and associates. I wonder whether this ambivalence towards the internet is at the heart of things. Perhaps the knowledge that the pope has made an appearance on may provide a salutary jolt. Following the example of the Roman church was something Benedict was rather keen on liturgically. Might it not hold good in other areas as well?

Hawks and Handsaws

Saw a heron making for the river with what looked like someone's ornamental carp in its beak, then some carrion crows picking over the remains of something small and furry and finally one solitary red kite, wheeling about in a desultory kind of way, hoping for a late breakfast. Makes one feel slightly less murderous about despatching slugs in the garden. The farmers are all looking very glum, with good reason. We have been spared the terrifically high winds and floods of other places, but the leaden skies and constant drip-drip of the rain are taking their toll. Personally, I love the sound of running water (provided it is not cascading through the roof or somewhere else it ought not to be) but am less enthusiastic about its effects in the vegetable plot. I am steeling my heart against shivering nuns and bedraggled-looking dogs: the heating is not going on for several weeks yet. Don't even think about it!

Our Lady's Birthday

Has it ever struck you as odd that the gospel of the day is the genealogy of Christ? What does that tell us about Mary, whose birthday we celebrate? Why did the compilers of the lectionary not choose one of those passages which give us a glimpse of Mary's personality, the Wedding Feast at Cana for instance, or the Finding of the Child Jesus? Instead we have this rather dry and obviously stylized account of Jesus' ancestry, into which Mary is inserted almost as an after-thought as the wife of Joseph and mother of the Christ. Could that be precisely the point? St Bernard calls Mary the aquaduct who channels the Fountain of Life to us: no matter how glorious the aquaduct, it is the Water that we must focus on. Todays feast reminds us powerfully that we hold Mary in high honour because she is the Mother of God. The liturgy underlines both this great dignity of Mary and her sharing in our common humanity. Looked at in that light, what possible gospel could we have but the genealogy of our Saviour?


Have finally posted the first instalment of our FAQ (see here) and will now put a little tin hat on top of my veil. Tonight we provide the schola at Milton, so the podcast will have to be recorded tomorrow. What was it St Bernard said about the "busy leisure" of monastic life?

Foundation Day

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St Gregory the Great and . . .

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Future Developments

Just to keep you up to date with a number of projects. First, this web site. The FAQ is almost ready to go up, although it will have to be a work-in-progress for ever as I'm sure people will continue to ask questions which are worth trying to post a public answer to. Be warned, some of the questions may make you smile (though we fervently hope none of the answers will make you weep.) The projected pages on the Rule of St Benedict and contemplative prayer are growing unwieldy so will need some pruning before they go up (yes, we do edit our outpourings occasionally). There are just too many experts in this community. Colophon has been producing technical headaches for the webmaster as the number of entries has increased, so it looks as though we shall have to migrate the blog to Wordpress sometime before Christmas. When we do, we'll look again at some features. Another web site we're working on is in beta and we hope to be able to complete the testing over the next few weeks. We are very excited about this and think you'll like what we've come up with . . . Think interactive. Think communication. I'm tempted to say also, think Christian. God's word is always creative, which is why human speech/communication should also be positive, something that builds up, not tears down. Something to remember as one send the next email.