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St Michael the Archangel

My favourite image of St Michael is copyright, so on the grounds that a mighty spirit cannot be reduced to pixels on a page, this post will leave nearly everything to your imagination.
Today's feast used to be extremely popular in the Midddle Ages. The Masses and prayers recorded in various sacramentaries testify to a rich liturgical observance, paralleled by a lively cluster of customs and traditions, from the Michaelmas goose (yummy) to Michaelmas fairs (fun) and Michaelmas rent-paying (depends whether paying or receivng, I suppose).

The old Catholic Encyclopedia neatly summarises the role of St Michael as
  • To fight against Satan.
  • To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
  • To be the champion of God's people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.
  • To call away from earth and bring men's souls to judgment ("signifer S. Michael repraesentet eas in lucam sanctam", Offert. Miss Defunct. "Constituit eum principem super animas suscipiendas", Antiph. off. Cf. The Shepherd of Hermas, Book III, Similitude 8, Chapter 3).

Note that the first of these is to fight against Satan. One of the worrying trends many of us have come up against is the increase in occult activity which can have devastating consequences for those involved. Some are drawn in the first instance by sheer curiosity and have no inkling that they are playing with fire. At the risk of being labelled impossibly old-fashioned and credulous by those who prefer to laugh at the idea of evil, here is the prayer of Pope Leo XIII which John Paul II asked everyone "not to forget and to recite . . . to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit if this world" (Sunday, 24 April 1994).

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host —
by the Divine Power of God —
cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
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"My every desire is before you", says the psalmist (Ps 37 [38]. 10); so also St Benedict in today's portion of the Rule, (RB 7. 19-23). It's a good way of examining one's conscience: where has my desire been? Yes, I know I said I was doing such and such, or my avowed motive was so and so, but in reality? What was I really seeking? Overdo the inspection of desire and motive and one ends up with what we used to call scruples — which is just as bad, in its way, as never questioning at all. I suppose the answer, as always, is balance; but that is trickier than it sounds if one thinks about it too long, just as one would never succeed in skating across ice if one concentrated too hard on the action of one's skates. So, perhaps on Monday morning we should just get on with things and trust in God. It's all most of us can manage, anyway!

Saturday Mornings

Saturdays are precious. In the monastery we don't usually do anything different from what we do on other week-days, but we sense the general air of relaxation that fills the village and, if we have no groups in, try to find time for a longer walk in the early morning. The Downs are empty, save for the occasional rider. The sky stretches overhead and the only sounds are natural ones, birds and small animals for the most part, with the hum and whip of the wind a constant backdrop. It's an excellent time and place for thinking and the past week has provided much to mull over. Dare we hope that President Obama's acknowledgement that nuclear warfare belongs to the past is going to resonate with the rest of the world's leaders? Or must we fear that the revelations about Iran's nuclear programme are going to cast a long shadow over the future? We are not far from Harwell, the name of which is virtually synonymous with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (although it is now also associated with a range of hi-tech research projects including those of the European Space Agency and Diamond Light Source). Looking down from the Ridgeway at the Harwell campus, one experiences a curious mix of hope and fear: hope that so much effort and ingenuity will result in great benefits, and a nagging fear that it could all go so horribly wrong. We know the men who first split the atom had reservations about the consequences. It is difficult to forget them this morning. The larks and the lapwings that so delight the Saturday morning visitor to the Downs are in decline, and it seems to be because of our careless stewardship of the earth. Folly is not only a great sin, it is dangerously easy to fall into.

The Proper Use of Speech and Silence

We read RB 6, On Restraint in Speech, today (you can listen to it via the Prayer Box on our Vocation page). I see we last commented on it on 24 September 2007 which is either a mark of our own restraint, or more likely, an indication of our difficulty in mastering this most necessary art. Perhaps this morning we could look at the subject from a slightly different angle which ties in with this week's podcast. If you read the Bible straight through from end to end looking at how God speaks, you get a a most wonderful sense of how creative his word is; so that by the time you reach the Prologue to John's Gospel, the presentation of Christ as the Word of God seems utterly "right". (In Hebrew dabar means both word and deed, which helps my argument; when God speaks, he also does.) Christ the Word is the ultimate expression of God's nature, his very being. That is why, for a Christian, words matter. Speech is a divine gift; so too is silence. Words come out of silence and return to silence, showing what is within the one who speaks. This is the background to what Benedict says here and elsewhere in the Rule. Notice in chapter 6 Benedict is not talking about either speech or silence as such, but the proper use of both, for which he uses the word taciturnitas, which means restraint in speech, rather than what we commonly understand by taciturnity. Throughout the Rule he indicates that there are privileged times of silence (night, for example), occasions when silence is to be preferred to speech because of the danger of dissipating recollection (when late for choir, when meeting a guest, when one has been outside the monastery and is tempted to traveller's tales, and so on), but also times when a good word is to be spoken (to encourage a wobbly brother, when one cannot meet a request, to greet someone coming to the monastery, etc.). In short, Benedict expects us to use speech and silence as the gifts they are, not thoughtlessly, not rashly. The trouble is, words tend to tumble out of our mouths before we think! Wasn't it Horace who said that "words once let out of the cage cannot be whistled back again"? I wonder how much whistling I'll be doing today.


We begin RB 5 On Obedience today and I'm grateful for Cyberoblate's comment on this week's podcast, because the root of the Latin word for obedience comes from the verb obaudire, to listen hard: another of those fundamental Christian dispositions. We can hope that there'll be some close listening done today when President Obama tries to get Israel and Palestine talking to each other; more listening at the UN when global warming is discussed; some listening on all sides as "the Jungle" is razed. Such big issues may make our local preoccupations look petty, but it is a mistake to think that small matters don't matter. In community we are busy about many things, like Martha, but none of them is without value or purpose. During the past couple of years a lot of effort has gone into providing guest accommodation, making the gardens more attractive and smartening up the public areas of the monastery as time and money became available. This is part of our welcome to others. Currently, we are trying to improve the oratory, which is the heart of the house, part of our welcome to God if you like. We're very grateful for some beautiful gifts promised or received recently, including a chasuble and a small monstrance, both of them from Oblates of the community. We are hoping to redecorate the oratory itself just before Christmas (Handynun is not very good at high ceilings so tends to find lots of urgent jobs at floor level when ceilings are on the menu, one wonders why) and are gradually trying to make the furnishings more dignified. If you happen to know of an unwanted faldstool or presidential chair available at a sensible price (i.e. being sold for liturgical use rather than "themed decor"), please get in touch. We don't want that lovely new chasuble to be wrecked on the chair the priest is currently using!


Suddenly the garden is full of birdsong. It has come unexpectedly, with the sunshine, and is breathtaking in its intensity, as though the birds had forgotten how to sing and are now flinging their rapture heavenwards in a new-found ecstasy of delight. What a contrast with the way we all fell apart during the Kyrie at Mass this morning! Why is it that it is always when the most musical monks come over from Douai to say Mass for us that we waver and quaver? Must have something to do with the humility yesterday's blog was about. This week's podcast makes no great claims for originality but it may spark a thought or two in you. (The hiss is temporary, we hope.)

Back to Earth (+ or - Bump)

Well, yesterday was very nice. We had friends here for the day and several people emailed or telephoned to congratulate us on the web award (Church Mouse, we forgive you for describing us as "three elderly nuns": two of us are comfortably under 60 which is the earliest we'd allow for "elderly", but perhaps sensitivity on the subject proves you're right. Sigh.) Today it is back to normal. "Normal" is worth valuing. It is daily bread, daily routine, "the little, nameless, unremembered acts/ of kindness and of love" that make up everyday life in family and community. One of the great strengths of Benedictine "normal" is the liturgy: the slow unfolding through the day of the psalms and scriptures that focus us on the mystery of God. It is a work of constant recall, of ebb and flow. Today's gospel (MK 9.30-37) reminds us that humility is, or should be, the "normal" disposition of the Christian: an openness to the truth about God, ourselves and others that frees us from many of the false values that create stress and strain. It doesn't mean that life will be any easier. In fact, it is likely to mean that we'll have to put up with misunderstandings, scorn, derision, all kinds of things that can hurt dreadfully; but we'll be grounded in God, which is the safest of all places to be. Whenever we accept his "little children" into our lives – the apparently unimportant, demanding, difficult, or messy circumstances of our existence – then we have the opportunity of welcoming Him too. That's not bad for "normal", is it? (We'll podcast this evening, all being well, and you can comment, as always, by scrolling down and waiting a brief eternity for the comment box to load.)

People's Choice Award 2009

Why should we have quoted "Not to hug good things to oneself" as the clue to this morning's announcement? Take a second look at that photo in the Marginalia box on the first page. Yes, incredible though it seems to us (and probably to you, too), our monastery web site has been awarded The Original Christian Web and New Media Awards People's Choice Award for 2009. We are still trying to digest the fact that our home-grown site should have won the popular vote. It just goes to show that it doesn't matter if you don't have much money or expertise, the important thing is to try. (Digitalnun can be very trying. Ed.)

Premier Christian Media pioneered the concept of recognising and rewarding Christian bloggers and web site designers in the UK in 2007. Since then, the awards have continued to grow, reflecting the increasing range of Christian achievements in technology. You can read more about the various award categories and winners at You'll be as impressed as we were by the other entrants, whose sites really deserve a good look. We weren't at the award ceremony in St Stephen's Walbrook last night but were asked to make a short video of our acceptance speech. It had to be made on Tuesday morning, when the sun refused to shine. Happily, Oblate Mary was with us for a Quiet Day, bore cheerfully with the sound of nuns clambering up and down stairs looking for enough light to shoot a frame or two, and smilingly agreed to be filmed herself. You can view the rather shaky result below. Our best thanks to Premier and all who voted for us. Now we really must get on with that site make-over, get the blog comments working as they should and allow Internet Explorer users equal access to all features! The comment box will load after the video: please be patient as it will take a while.

Elementary, my dear Watson

Began the morning musing haphazardly on bankers' bonuses, missile shields, guests expected this week-end and the to-do list (which seems to get longer and longer!), so decided to get a perspective by reading today's portion of the Rule before doing anything else. I'm glad I did. Read or listen to RB 4. 1-21 and you have a "back to basics" programme without the unfortunate associations of the Majorite one. I've always been encouraged by the fact that Benedict regards the possibility of murder in the monastery a real one. I don't know how often I've come close to being finished off myself, but I have surely been tempted once or twice to terminate the existence of the brethren, in thought at least. Theft? Thomas Merton regarded wasting time as a sin against poverty, so I plead guilty to that, too. It all begins to get quite uncomfortable when one moves on to honouring everyone (v. 8) and not doing to others what one wouldn't want done to oneself (v. 9), because unless one is a saint, which most of us are far from being most of the time, these trip one up at every turn.

The next section is positively deadly, it's all so demanding. Renounce oneself to follow Christ (v. 10)? That is the work of a lifetime, which may explain why monks and nuns seem to live so long (though the late Fr John Macauley attributed it to three meals a day and someone to look after you when you go ga-ga). Not to hug good things to oneself (v.12)? Ouch, easy to say, not always easy to do. Delight in fasting (v. 13)? Well, we'll see how that goes down today as the winter fast begins. Corporal works of mercy abound: there are many ways of relieving the poor and comforting others, though I hope I won't be called upon to bury the dead (v. 17). But perhaps I may be called upon to help someone lay to rest a quarrel from the past or free themselves from some bad memory, that would certainly be burying the dead. Finally, Benedict goes to the heart of the matter: prefer nothing to the love of Christ (v. 21). Yes, that is elementary, but in the sense of being a basic building-block of human life. It puts the distractions with which I began the day into some sort of order. I shall still be thinking about those things, but hopefully rather than with an interior grumble or two.

Today we end with a little tease. Tomorrow's blog may contain an announcement that will surprise you . . . Think RB 4.12. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

St Thérèse Relics

Yesterday our diocese welcomed the Relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux with a series of special liturgies and an all-night Vigil at Portsmouth Cathedral. Today the relics will begin their progress around the country where similar events will be held. Veilpress has been busy with the printing requirements for these celebrations, not only in our own diocese but elsewhere, especially among Carmelite communities. It has made me think yet again about St Thérèse herself. I have to admit that although I admire her and recognize that Thérèse was a true saint, with a steely interior inside all the sentimental twaddle with which others tried to surround her, she does not speak to me as eloquently or powerfully as some others do. I suppose it all comes down to a matter of taste. Some like their religion a bit abstract, others prefer something warmer and more "human"; some like a Latin slant, others prefer a more Northern cast; some are drawn to ritual, others to a Quaker plainness and sobriety. Many English Benedictines (by which I mean English people who happen to be Benedictine) are reserved about religious experience and sometimes manifest discomfort in the presence of relics (having lived in Spain, I have no such problems myself), but there are others for whom the visit of the relics of St Thérèse will be a spiritual highpoint. I am reminded that in "Religio Medici", the wise Sir Thomas Browne remarked that, while a true Protestant, he loved to use the service of his hat and knee in the practice of his religion. Most of us need external forms more than we care to admit. There will be a lot of prayer and a lot of sacrifice accompanying the progress of the relics. I have no doubt that so much prayer will effect transformations as yet undreamed of. So, I too have no difficulty in saying, St Thérèse, pray for us! Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Consultation not Consensus

It is no accident that St Benedict follows his lengthy treatment of the abbot with a chapter on the role of the brethren in giving counsel. Today and tomorrow we shall trace the outlines of his thought, and depending on our age and which side of bed we got out of, we'll probably flatter ourselves that Benedict agrees with our view of the subject. O dangerous complacency! Mistress Shallow, look again! Benedict was not a democrat, nor was he a champion of youth over and against the middle-aged and elderly. He was, however, remarkably clear-eyed about the needs of a community and sensitive to the way in which the Holy Spirit tends to whisper rather than shout. The abbot cannot abdicate responsibility to the community but must listen to everyone, even (especially) those held in least regard. Wisdom is often found where least expected, as every superior can attest. Of particular interest in the passage we read today (RB 3. 1-6) are the guidelines Benedict gives for the way in which counsel is to be sought and given. What we are to aim at is a process, consultation, not a specific result, consensus. That is why courtesy and charity are essential. If we disagree, then we must learn to disagree agreeably. I do not need to remind the community that respect for others must flow over into respect for what they say. We must listen to what is being said (which may not be what we think is being said) and that requires effort and attention our part. Let us resolve to try to become better listeners to each other, in the hope that in so doing we may become more attentive to the Holy Spirit. As St Benedict reminds us in the Prologue, we need to bend close the ears of our heart if we are to hear the voice of God which cries out to us every day. Let us not forget that, sadly, becoming harder of hearing can afflict us as we grow older . . . Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Our Lady of Sorrows

A single candle stands beside the processional cross today, a reminder of Mary's steadfastness beside her Son. It can lead to quite a lot of heart-searching, for most of us are aware that we are much less dependable than she, despite all our good intentions. Perhaps it is those very good intentions that sometimes make us so unreliable. As St Paul remarks, we want to do what is right but perversely end up doing the very thing we don't want to do. The experience can be crushing so we end up deciding not to try at all. That is doing the devil's work for him! Let's look again at that solitary candle. The flame flickers: it wouldn't take much to extinguish it; but it goes on burning and it illumines a surprisingly large area around itself, especially when the shadows lengthen. It won't do to press the analogy too far, but we can take it as an encouragement. Trying to live with integrity, being faithful to prayer and to the Gospel, doing what we can to be of service to those around us and fulfilling the duties of every day may not sound very heroic, but it does require heroism of a kind. Mary stood beside her dying Son because she had watched over him every moment of his life. That daily fidelity enabled her to go on being faithful when fear might have constrained her to act otherwise. We are called to the same kind of constancy, innnumerable little acts of heroism that might, just might, one day make us holy. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Exaltation of the Cross

Cimabue's Crucifix
Today we celebrate the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross. We can become over-familiar with the image of the Cross, especially when it is trivilialised as a clothing accessory; but it still has power to shock. Why else would Socialist Governments in Spain and South America be so keen to remove crosses and crucifixes from schools and public buildings? Here in the monastery our processional cross will be adorned with bay leaves as a sign of victory. Flowers and candles will surround its base and it will provide a strong visual focus for our worship in choir, a beautiful yet brutal reminder of all that God has done for us. This is a day for rereading "The Dream of the Rood" or John Donne's "Good Friday, riding westwards"; a day for making a little silence in the midst of Monday's clamour. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Ride and Stride

This might be called Heritage Saturday. No only is the National Trust opening up many of its properties and sites free to visitors today but all over the country people will be walking, riding and cycling from church to church in order to raise money for the Historic Churches Fund. In this corner of England we have not only several very fine medieval parish churches but also a unique collection of Recusant chapels at East Hendred, Mapledurham, Milton and Stonor. Here there are currently three churches/chapels to visit, and next year we'll probably add the monastery oratory to the list so that we can offer weary travellers a wayfarer's dole — not bread and beer as at St Cross, Winchester, but a glass of elderflower wine and a homemade biscuit. Surrounded by so much that we have inherited from the past, we can be tempted to take it all for granted. It can be sobering, therefore, when we encounter ignorance and indifference even among people we might reasonably expect to be "culturally literate." Visitors to our churches are sometimes puzzled by what they see because the bible is no longer a familiar book; others seem to have lost any sense of the sacred. On Wednesday two of us were guests of the Midland Catholic History Society on a visit to "Catholic Winchester". We had a wonderful time, with Mass at Winchester College, visits to the cathedral and St Peter's, and a walk between sites, including the temporary home of the Benedictine nuns who later settled at East Bergholt and Haslemere (sadly they are no more). What distressed us was learning of the amount of vandalism that had taken place in the cathedral as recently as the Sunday before, when carvings were stolen from the Lady Chapel. Such a theft diminishes our heritage; it is also sacrilege. Let us hope that as visitors explore the beauty of our historic churches today, they will also be touched by a sense of the numinous. A church is a holy place, a dwelling of the Most High. May it also be, as George Herbert said of prayer, "something understood".


Today many people will be recalling the attack on the WTC and the terrible loss of life that followed both then and in all the years since. There will be great sadness, probably some anger and bitterness, hopefully also forgiveness and a determination not to let death and violence be the distinguishing mark of this century. It is easy for Christians to sound detached from the pain and bafflement of others. We follow a Master who forgave even as he hung upon the Cross, and whenever we fail to live up to our calling (which is often, as we know only too well), we are condemned as hypocrites or worse. The anniversary of 9/11 is another opportunity to reflect on the way in which we respond to the political realities of our time. Take the case of Iran. Few in the west are comfortable with the idea of Iran having a nuclear technology capable of producing a bomb, but for the nuclear empowered nations of the west to tell Iran it should halt its current programme leads us onto questionable ground. At the moment we seem to be preoccupied with the economy and the situation in Afghanistan. Iraq has slipped from view; and as for the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan, for example, we barely register their existence. At the risk of sounding preachy, it would be a good idea to spend a few minutes today asking the Holy Spirit for the gift of wisdom and right judgement. The beautiful prayer of consecration in the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity ascribed to Pope Leo expressly asks "through the gift of your Spirit, Lord, give her . . . right judgement, kindness with true wisdom." Kindness is not the least important element of that mix.

Birthday of the B.V.M.

The Church celebrates only three birthdays: those of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist. The Birthday of our Lady, which we celebrate today, is a lovely feast, full of light and joy. In the East, it is one of the twelve so-called Great Liturgies. The earliest sermon for the feast is by St Andrew of Crete (though my favourite is by St Bernard) and the day was once marked by a special procession or litania from the Forum in Rome to Sta Maria Maggiore. In England look out for the autumn crocus, the popular name for which, "Naked Lady", is a reference to Mary.

Digitalnun apologizes for her hasty condemnation of JS-Kit's commenting apparatus. A little research last night indicated that the main reason the blog page is not appearing correctly on all screens is because the dreaded Windows Internet Explorer is causing some of the code to scramble (sigh). The page actually appears better in some earlier versions of IE than the current one, so this is another problem that will have to be worked on. In the meantime, we recommend the use of Firefox which is a very fast, stable, cross-platform browser. By way of compensation, we are reintroducing the commenting option, but you'll have to scroll down the page to do so. The good news is that in October the site is to have a makeover, with some new content to look forward to and possibly a whole new look . . .

A Kitchen Makeover

The prioress usually contrives to mark our foundation day in some way and this year was no exception. When we went into the oratory on Sunday morning we saw that the old "book rests" we have been using for the past five years had been replaced by some waxed pine "reading desks" with space for folders and books underneath. They are very simple and workmanlike, and they come with the promise of being replaced by stalls when we are in the happy position of being able to do so. For now they are a big improvement on what went before.

The major change, of course, is in the kitchen. We usually try to redecorate most of it on a regular basis to keep the mould at bay, but for various reasons haven't been able to do so for the last couple of years. A number of fixtures and fittings were also beginning to look the worse for wear, so on Bank Holiday Monday we girded our loins and the makeover began. Had we videoed the process, we might have marketed it as a comedy!

Mould! Before the Makeover

Any Victorian house without a damp course is likely to have fungal problems, but the collapse of the doors on the kitchen units did not enhance the general appearance of the room. (And no, we had not been swinging from them.) We called in Chris Castle to help us with the eradication of the mould and putting a damp sealant on the walls. Initially, everything looked worse than ever. The dingy green bits looked quite striking against the dingy "white" bits!

Work in progress: mouldier still!

Another mouldy corner

Handynun wisely decided to leave cupboards and seals to the expert (Chris) and busied herself with more accessible problems; but one thing leads to another . . . and in places six coats of paint. However, the effort was worth it. The kitchen is lighter and brighter, and as the photos below show, it should be easier for us to maintain a more monastic atmosphere.

We are especially pleased that the gap round the window has at last been sealed and hope it will make the kitchen warmer in winter. Our grateful thanks to those whose generosity made it possible for us to undertake this, and to Chris who remained resolutely cheerful throughout ("mould can't hurt you" was his mantra).

The window area redone

There are a few finishing-off jobs to do, but essentially the kitchen is DONE (for now). It is no accident that this week's podcast also takes an "active" approach to Christian living. (The commenting option will be restored as soon as possible. If you have difficulty reading this post, please let us know.)

Foundation Anniversary 2009

Sunday, 6 September marks the fifth anniversary of the canonical erection of our community, in other words our foundation day. We have so much to thank God for, not least our survival in the face of quite daunting odds. It helps, of course, that although a new community, we have a long monastic tradition and experience to draw on so have been able to avoid some pitfalls (while blithely stepping into others, no doubt!). The financial precariousness of our origins have proved a blessing. We have a sense of building the monastery little by little. The involvement of friends and oblates in this process has been a powerful reminder of God's Providence and a joy in itself. There have been times when things have been "difficult" or our critics have tried to undermine us, but on each occasion the community has received help, often from unexpected quarters, and emerged a little stronger, a little more confident in God's purpose. We hope that during the next five years some at least of those who have been drawn to our community will take the step of actually entering; but we know that we must wait upon God's time, which cannot be rushed. As we have often said, we cannot offer the kind of security some look for in religious life (though what greater security can there be than God himself?) and must learn to be patient, which is often spoken of as the fourth Benedictine vow. Please pray for us and for our larger community of associates, oblates and friends, all of whom have a special place in our hearts. We'll update you on Monday with news of our celebrations, a podcast and a few photos. Today we have two Masses, a full day of Divine Office and a rather grander dinner than usual to enjoy! Oh, and following Barbara's comment (see entry below and Digitalnun's reply) we are temporarily withdrawing the commenting option as the problems are all apparently linked to the commenting engine we are using. Read entire post ...

An Anglican Evening

Yesterday attended the Institution and Induction of the Revd Elizabeth Birch as Rector of East Hendred and the other parishes which make up Wantage Downs Benefice. It was, as one would expect, gracefully and generously organized and we were made to feel very welcome. As a lapsed medievalist, I was fascinated to see enacted many of the rituals which the Catholic Church of our day has dispensed with and could not help reflecting how much poorer we are as a result. Both priest and people could be given a much richer sense of what they are about, the rights and responsibilities of being the Church here in this particular part of the world. Instead we simply wake up one Sunday to find a new face at the altar and a brief introduction beginning "I am Fr X, your new ParishPriest/Priest in Charge/Administrator of this Parish" (delete as appropriate). While silently noting the ancient custom of placing the Rector's hand on the church door, the handing over of keys and ringing the church bell, etc, what most impressed me was the solemn reminder that a priest must be, first and foremost, a person of prayer, one who studies the scriptures and celebrates the sacraments. Perhaps too many of us in the Catholic Church encounter our priests only as celebrants of the sacraments or, worse still, administrators who sign our certificates and look after things we never think about. We conveniently forget that we must support our priests in their quest for holiness, encouraging (allowing?) them to take time for prayer and study. During this Year of the Priest we might consider what we can do to translate good intentions into action. In the meantime, let us be grateful that God calls so many to his service. Indeed, looking at the number of clergy, religious and lay people assembled in the parish church last night, I couldn't help thinking that East Hendred should be a village of saints. I rather think, however, we are a community of sinners . . . who keep on trying. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

St Gregory, War and the U.S.A.

St Gregory the Great
Today we remember St Gregory the Great, Apostle of England, and one of the most creative popes ever to occupy the chair of St Peter. There are plenty of sites where you can read a resumé of his activities, listen to some of the chant that bears his name or read some of the magnificent prayers with which he graced the liturgy. If you are a Benedictine, you will, of course, treasure his regard for St Benedict.

The Catholic Culture Library contains all Gregory's writings in English translation. King Alfred the Great wanted all the English clergy to read "The Pastoral Care". Get a taste of Gregory here: (link opens in new window).

This morning, however, I was thinking about two other anniversaries and pondering a connection with St Gregory that probably only exists in my mind. Today marks the anniversary of Britain's entry into the Second World War in 1939. The role of the papacy during that war continues to be debated. During the Lombard invasions of Italy, Gregory not only tried diplomacy to avert the worst horrors but emptied the papal treasury to help persecuted Jews, making him "the Father of the City [Rome], the joy of the world". Also on this day, but rather earlier, England accepted the independence of the United States of America. Gregory was very pragmatic man, and although the history of his dealings with the East is not "straightforward", he did much to ensure that Italy accepted the political realities of the day. In fact, the more I think about it, there was something very English about St Gregory. Perhaps that is why the English admire him so much. (The illustration is a tenth century ivory now in Vienna, showing St Gregory writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — perched as a dove on his shoulder — with three monk scribes toiling underneath.) Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Early Morning

Up betimes this morning (which seems appropriate, given the reading from RB Prol. 8–20 today) and therefore able to have an hour before the Blessed Sacrament before anyone else began to stir. Such quiet times are very precious. The oratory is dark and shadowy, illumined only by the glow of the sanctuary lamp which throws little spills of light on the great cross and tabernacle. The fragrance of the last of the sweet peas hangs incense-like in the air. Muted sounds drift in from outside: the occasional bark of deer or fox, an owl perhaps, and as dawn begins to lighten the sky, the heron flies overhead "on creaking wing". One of the concomitants, so to say, of the cloistered life is that it gives one an intense sense of place: one tends to notice every little change or development, from the gradual uncurling of a leaf to the slow spreading of lichen and moss. I imagine that is how many of our forefathers experienced life in their villages and hamlets. For some that was enough for a happy and fulfilling life; others it propelled into going further afield, always seeking, seeking. Both stay-at-homes and adventurers are necessary for the health of society. That is true whether the society under consideration is Church or State. The paradox is, of course, that the contemplative, bound to his/her little place on this earth with a stability others sometimes wonder at, must make the longest and most adventurous journey of all: the journey into the depths of God. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads as Digitalnun has not yet addressed the Echo problem. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.

Slightly Mad?

Although St Bank does not feature in the monastic Ordo, the prospect of a Monday without visitors led to some whirlwind activity by the community over the week-end. Yes, at long last, we are doing our best to eliminate the latest crop of mould in the kitchen and preparing to redecorate. Hence our cyber-silence and the absence of a podcast this week. "Before" and "after" photos will be posted with a health warning for those of squeamish disposition. More seriously, 1 September is a day of sad anniversaries. We think of the beginning of the Second World War and the millions of people who died so tragically or whose lives were wrecked as a result. We think of the schoolchildren who died at Beslan. As we go about our daily round, perhaps with a little grumble or two about the cheerless Bank holiday weather, let us remember how much we have to be grateful for, and pray for those who struggle with difficulties we have never experienced. Prayer, like peace, achieves victories beyond the compass of war and action. Scroll down to comment and please be patient while the comment box loads. You can edit the "Guest" tag to use your own name or nickname.