Thursday, 24 February 2011

Elections of Prior Provincial & Provincial Council

The British province of Carmelite Friars gathered here at Aylesford to begin their XVth provincial chapter. This first part of the chapter is a time of discernment as the friars elect those who will lead them over the next three years. Discerment was led by Fr Quinn Connors, O.Carm., a friar of the Chicago province. We reflected on the calls of Elijah and Elisha, and upon the models of authority and responsibility they exercised. The results of the elections are as follows.

Prior Provincial.  Fr Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm.

1st Councillor:    Fr Jospeh Chalmers, O.Carm.
2nd Councillor.   Fr Brendan Grady, O.Carm.
3rd Councillor.    Fr Kevin Melody, O.Carm.
4th Councillor.    Fr Damian Cassidy, O.Carm.

Please pray for these brothers as the minister to the friars and collaborators of the British Province of Carmelites.

They will be confirmed in office by the Prior General at the second part of the Chapter in Easter week.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Another good read

Ihave just fininshed this refreshing book. Claudia Mair Burney is the author of seven novels, including the Amanda Bell Brown mysteries, Zora and Nickey, and Christy award finalist in 2009. Readers familiar with her style will enjoy this rollicking journey through their own interior castles. She lives in Kentucky where she also authors the popular blog "Ragamuffin Diva"

"Joyous, sprightly, earthy, zestful and real, St. Teresa of Avila comes bursting forth in this vibrant new book. Claudia Mair Burney is the perfect guide to lead readers into the freeing, but often misunderstood, spiritual insights of one of history's most remarkable women."-- James Martin, SJ, author of "My life With the Saints"

Christian novelist Burney (The Exorsistah and the Amanda Bell Brown mystery series) discovered the 16th-century mystic John of the Cross and, through him, his spiritual contemporary Teresa of Avila. In her first nonfiction book, Burney tells how Teresa taught her to pray in a way totally unlike the method she had learned from the “church mothers” in the Church of God in Christ congregation in which she grew up. She invites readers on a pilgrimage to “meet my friend Teresa” and offers a fresh take on the Spanish nun and saint. Employing humor and a chatty style, Burney gives readers a short, light course in contemplative prayer, one that is sensitive to the possible reactions of those who, like her, come from a Protestant background. Although readers with a serious interest in Teresa will need more than Burney provides here, her book is a fine introduction to the weighty realm of contemplative prayer.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Thought for the day

"A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us." Henri Nouwen

Listening to God

The more I reflect on silence, the more I understand that it is about listening. Over the years this pondering has led me to questions about my attitude to silence and why I have tried to avoid it in the past. This morning the rain is making a steady path down the diamond shaped glass of my office window. The rain has reduced the level of noise that can invade my space and, apart from the noise of the computer keyboard there is a movement into silence. Maybe now is a good time for me to reflect on silence.

n  Silence, n & v.t. Abstinence from speech or noise, being silent, taciturnity, non betrayal of secret etc., fact of not mentioning a thing, absence of sound, stillness.
Oxford Dictionary
  1. Why is silence so hard to deal with?
  2. What kind of noise do you have in your life?
  3. Do you have a mobile phone?
  4. Do you ever surround yourself with noise intentionally?
  5. If so, why do you think we do this?
  6. Do you wish you God’s voice would be louder in your life?
  7. Does all the noise in our lives make it harder to hear God?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
Jesus in Matthew 11:28

  1. If I’m not still, and I don’t listen, how is Jesus going to give me rest?

“Search your hearts and be silent.”
Psalm 4:4

  1. When was the last time you spent some time in silence?
  2. Have you the same amount of time worrying and talking about your difficult, confusing situations as you might have spent in silence, listening to what God might have to say?
  3. Do you sometimes avoid silence because you’re afraid of what God might actually have to say?

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed”
Luke 5:16

These were the regular disciplines that Jesus had. Silence. & solitude

  1. Are you ever alone or do you always need somebody around you?
  2. Does my day, my time, my life look like  that of a person who wants to hear God’s voice
  3. What are some things in your daily life that you could change to eliminate some of the noise?
  4. Is it possible that you have been searching for God in the winds …the earthquakes and fires …    and he’s waiting to speak to you in the silence?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A Good Read!

Silence fascinates me. Over the years I have had an off and on relationship with silence, which has often led me fleeing the opportunities silence brings and filling my time and space with noise. Now I often find myself craving silence and solitude. This new book by Sara Maitland has been a real find.

For about the last 10 years Sara Maitland has been trying to understand more about silence: what it might mean in 21st century; what effects it has on people; how it has been used and understood in the past; why we are so frightened of it; and why she has come to love it so much.
Her new book is an account of that adventure, a sort of mixture of personal journey and cultural history, both deeply personal and intellectually exciting. In the course of researching and writing the book Maitland spent silent time in silent places – on Skye in the Hebrides; in the Sinai Desert; in forests and mountains; in a flotation tank; in monasteries and libraries. She was trying to match her personal experiences to those of other people – from fairy stories to single-handed sailors, from hermits and romantic poets to prisoners and castaways, from reading and writing to mountaineering and polar exploration, from mythology to psychoanalysis.

“A serious, important and deeply engaging book, describing with equal honesty the risks and the resources of silence.  In describing her own exploration of these, Sara Maitland prompts some very uncomfortable questions about the fear, the shallowness and the lack of attentive listening that so effectively keep us prisoners” Archbishop Rowan Williams

“This book is partly a cultural history of silence which considers fairy-tales and flotation tanks, solitary confinement and religious orders, but mainly it’s a beautiful and serene memoir about trying to find inner (and outer) peace in a cacophonous world. I adored it” Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller.

“This is a thought-provoking book, sincere and never dull. We can only envy her at the end as she sits in a Scottish fastness enjoying…silence” – Rodney Trourbridge, The Bookseller

“Full of strange beauty, humour and lightly-worn learning, this
inspiring meditation is the perfect balm for the noise-addled modern
mind.” Charles Ferneyhough

“Sara Maitland's search for silence and solitude turns into an intriguing spiritual quest which takes the reader deep into her inner thoughts and fears. 'A Book for Silence' records a brave and adventurous psychological journey that will speak to all who have doubts about our increasingly over-materialistic society.” Stuart Sim, author of Manifesto for Silence

“I am grateful to Sara Maitland for this joyful book, filled with humour. It is a beautifully written, the fruit of prolonged experience of different sorts of silence, as well as wide reading and real scholarship. It uncovered within me a half-forgotten hunger for silence which surely most of feel in this noisy world.” Timothy Radcliffe, OP

“Maitland’s exploration of silence is as intimate as her own back doorstep and, in its intellectual range, as sweeping as the open moor before her.” Gillian Allnutt

“A timely and alluring exploration of the pleasures and powers of silence; Maitland writes with the serenity of one who has just returned from a place where I would very much like to go.” Tim Parks

“Inspiring, absorbing and intellectually stimulating: I haven’t enjoyed a new book so much for ages… Sara’s own quest for silence forms a magical thread throughout, giving the book the impetus of a spiritual autobiography, richly traditional in its origins and certain aspects of its shape, contemporary in its approach to specifically modern problems…As I write this, fairly late at night, in a reasonably tranquil suburb, I can hear the noise of a passenger plane, a war plane, road traffic, a neighbour’s stereo and a car radio, plus the clatter of washing up and voices from the kitchen: for many, one of the more poignant aspects of this book may be a realization of their own loss of silence, and of the reasons – and the importance – of Sara’s quest.” Jenny Newman

For Sara Maitland, a practising Roman Catholic, silence has a profound religious dimension, which is also examined and discussed. This journey into silence has held surprises and setbacks, but mainly a deepening sense of happiness. In the end Maitland built a little house on an isolated moor in Galloway, designed for solitary and silent living.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The Saturday Sessions

For the last few Saturday mornings a number of people have been braving the cold to participate in a number of talks on the theme of 'Being a Christian.' The talks have been led by members of the Aylesford Pastoral Team and so cover a wide range of topica and approaches. A recent session was spent exploring the theme of 'Communicating our faith to others.' Sheila Grimwood, a member of the team, relfects on the morning.

Using the art of Seiger Koder in a session on
 ‘Communicating our faith to others.’

After a short introductory talk on the meaning of communication, we invited the group to wander round a room where we had set up six posters of paintings by Seiger Koder.  Beside the paintings we had put written texts (some of which came from the booklets that accompany the posters, some were poems or similar reflections) and we had some Mozart playing in the background.
            Koder’s paintings are modern but representational.  They often contain the unexpected and need to be pondered awhile to see the depths of their meaning.  We chose 2 representations of the Last Supper.  In one the face of Jesus is reflected in the wine and the disciples are looking out, puzzled towards us.  The other, entitled ‘All are welcome’ is in fact an image of the banquet in the kingdom – Jesus hands are pierced, so it is post-resurrection - and looking at the disciples we see a motley group, welcomed to the table.  Two of our other choices had Koder’s idea of reflecting faces – the washing of the disciples’ feet, where Jesus face is reflected in the bowl of water and the Samaritan woman at the well.  We only see her looking into the well but in the water at the bottom she is reflected with Jesus. Our other choices were the return of the prodigal and the storm, entitled ‘Stronghold’ which only shows two hands clasping.
            The idea was that the group would then feed back their reactions and discuss how looking meditatively at these pictures deepened their understanding or perception of familiar scenes.  Different people saw different things  and several went back over coffee to look again – either to see what others saw or just to look  in more depth.

Koder's : The Last Supper

Monday, 14 February 2011

Because it is awesome

Happy Valentine's Day

Shrine of St Valentine, Whitefriars Street Church, Dublin

Today the world remembers St Valentine. This is the day on which lovers have customarily exchanged cards and other tokens of affection. It is not clear why Valentine should have been chosen as the patron saint of lovers, but it has been suggested that there may be a connection with the pagan Roman Festival of Lupercalia. During this Festival, which took place in the middle of February, young men and girls chose one another as partners. Legend, no doubt embellished if not entirely fictional, has it that the Roman Valentine resisted an edict of the Emperor forbidding the marriage of young men bound for military service, for which offence he was put to death.
Valentine's Feast is also linked with the belief that birds are supposed to pair on 14 February, which legend provided the inspiration for Chaucer's 'Parliament of Fowls'. The crocus, which starts to bloom in February, is called St Valentine's Flower. The earliest Valentine letter is found in the fifteenth-century collection of Paston Letters. The general custom of sending tokens on Valentine's Day developed during the nineteenth century, and in the present century has spread to the east, where it appears to be particularly popular in Japan. The exchange of Valentine cards, flowers, sweets and other gifts has thus become a multi-million dollar international industry. It is estimated that in excess of one billion Valentine cards are sent each year in the United States of America alone.
We are called, by our Christian faith to be people who embody love. The love which we are called to bear witness to is not casual or fleeting, but deep and as a consequence, vulnerable. When we love someone, we long for some form of acknowledgement of that love. I guess, that simply put, we long for them to smile at us, for their face to radiate openness to us that invites us to surrender to love.

The people of Israel just wanted God to smile at them. ‘Let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.’ (Psalm 80.3). When we think of salvation, then it maybe in terms of being let off punishment and having sins forgiven. But for the Old Testament, it was more human. It was God looking at us with love. The oldest Biblical text is a bit of leather on which is written these words: ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace.’ (Numbers 6. 24 – 26). When someone looks lovingly, then we can rest in that smile.

I love this poem by the Anglican priest and poet Janet Morley. It speaks of the surrender and need of love in an achingly beautiful way. Let us dedicate some part of this day reflecting on our need for love and how God has gone out of his way to fulfil this need. Let us be generous in thanking those whose love sustains us, and let us share a smile with those we love.

And you held me
and you held me and there were no words
and there was no time and you held me
and there was only wanting and
being held and being filled with wanting
and I was nothing but letting go
and being held
and there were no words and there
needed to be no words
and there was no terror only stillness
and I was wanting nothing and
it was fullness and it was like aching for God
and it was touch and warmth and
darkness and no time and no words and we flowed
and I flowed and I was not empty
and I was given up to the dark and
in the darkness I was not lost
and the wanting was like fullness and I could
hardly hold it and I was held and
you were dark and warm and without time and
without words and you held me

Happy Valentine's Day from the lovely friars of Aylesford

Friday, 11 February 2011

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes

Today we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. Lourdes is one of my special places and I have always been blessed by the time i have spent and the people I have met there. Lourdes is a place where everyone matters. A place of real gospel love. Today we bring before God in prayer all our sick brothers and sisters, and all those who dedicate their lives and talents in the service of the sick.
Prayer for Healing
Lord, You invite all who are burdened to come to You. Allow your healing hand to heal me. Touch my soul with Your compassion for others. Touch my heart with Your courage and infinite love for all. Touch my mind with Your wisdom, that my mouth may always proclaim Your praise. Teach me to reach out to You in my need, and help me to lead others to You by my example. Most loving Heart of Jesus, bring me health in body and spirit that I may serve You with all my strength. Touch gently this life which You have created, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer for the Sick
Compassionate and ever loving God,
you are the source and creator
of all healing power.
Each year we set aside this special day
to entrust our sick brothers and sisters to your loving care.
We pray that Your blessings be upon
all those in hospitals, nursing homes,
hospice care, palliative care,
and those who are house bound.
May You be the source of comfort
when they are experiencing pain.
May you be the source of hope
in moments of despair.
May You be their solace and inspiration
when they are unable to lift their hearts,
minds and voices to you in prayer.
May this day be a memorable experience
of Your healing touch and Your healing love
as they put their faith and trust in You. Amen
Sr Anastasia Joseph, SMM. St. John’s, Tulsa, USA.

Caregivers Prayer.
Good and Gracious God,
I remember that Your Son Jesus
went a distance to pray in the garden.
He left behind three to wait for him
but alas they could not stay awake to care for Him.
Sometimes, Lord, I cannot stay awake
to care for my loved one.
I am so tired and o exhausted.
Lord give me the strength to stay awake,
the strength to continue caring.
Grant me the grace to accept help when offered.
Give me the wisdom to care for myself
when opportunity comes my way.
Let me accept your will,
however that might look today and each day.
Ms Ginger Geeding, Helena, MO., USA
Prayer for Doctors and Nurses
O merciful Father, who have wonderfully fashioned man in your own image, and have made his body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit, sanctify, we pray you, our doctors and nurses and all those whom you have called to study and practice the arts of healing the sick and the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them in body and soul, and bless their work, that they may give comfort to those for whose salvation your Son became Man, lived on this earth, healed the sick, and suffered and died on the Cross. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

World Day of Prayer for the Sick

This Friday is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the 19th World Day of Prayer for the sick and those who care for them. These words of Pope Benedict XVI may help us prepare for the forthcoming day of prayer

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Every year, on the day of the memorial of the Blessed Virgin of Lourdes, which is celebrated on 11 February, the Church proposes the World Day of the Sick. This event, as the venerable John Paul II wanted, becomes a propitious occasion to reflect upon the mystery of suffering and above all to make our communities and civil society more sensitive to our sick brothers and sisters. If every man is our brother, much more must the sick, the suffering and those in need of care be, at the centre of our attention, so that none of them feels forgotten or emarginated; indeed, ‘the true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer. This holds true both for the individual and for society. A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society’ (Encyclical letter Spe salvi, n. 38). The initiatives that will be organised in each diocese on the occasion of this Day should be a stimulus to make care for the suffering increasingly effective, also in view of the solemn celebration that will take place in 2013 at the Marian sanctuary of Altötting in Germany.
1. I still have in my heart the moment when, during the course of the pastoral visit to Turin, I was able to pause in reflection and prayer before the Holy Shroud, before that suffering face, which invites us to reflect on He who took upon himself the passion of man, of every time and place, even our sufferings, our difficulties, our sins. How many faithful, during the course of history, have passed in front of that burial cloth, which enveloped the body of a crucified man, and which completely corresponds to what the Gospels hand down to us about the passion and death of Jesus! To contemplate it is an invitation to reflect upon what St. Peter writes: ‘By his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Pt 2:24). The Son of God suffered, died, but rose again, and precisely because of this those wounds become the sign of our redemption, of forgiveness and reconciliation with the Father; however they also become a test for the faith of the disciples and our faith: every time that the Lord speaks about his passion and death, they do not understand, they reject it, they oppose it. For them, as for us, suffering is always charged with mystery, difficult to accept and to bear. The two disciples of Emmaus walk sadly because of the events that had taken place in those days in Jerusalem, and only when the Risen One walks along the road with them do they open up to a new vision (cf. Lk 24:13-31). Even the apostle Thomas manifests the difficulty of believing in the way of redemptive passion: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25). But before Christ who shows his wounds, his response is transformed into a moving profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). What was at first an insurmountable obstacle, because it was a sign of Jesus’ apparent failure, becomes, in the encounter with the Risen One, proof of a victorious love: ‘Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith.’ (Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter 2007).
2. Dear sick and suffering, it is precisely through the wounds of Christ that we are able to see, with eyes of hope, all the evils that afflict humanity. In rising again, the Lord did not remove suffering and evil from the world, but he defeated them at their root. He opposed the arrogance of Evil with the omnipotence of his Love. He has shown us, therefore, that the way of peace and joy is Love: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34). Christ, victor over death, is alive in our midst. And while with St. Thomas we also say “My Lord and my God!”, let us follow our Master in readiness to spend our lives for our brothers and sisters (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), becoming messengers of a joy that does not fear pain, the joy of the Resurrection.
St. Bernard observed: ‘God cannot suffer but He can suffer with’. God, who is Truth and Love in person, wanted to suffer for us and with us; He became man so that He could suffer with man, in a real way, in flesh and blood. To every human suffering, therefore, there has entered One who shares suffering and endurance; in all suffering con-solatio is diffused, the consolation of God’s participating love so as to make the star of hope rise (cf. Encyclical letter Spe salvi, n. 39).
I repeat this message to you, dear brothers and sisters, so that you may be witnesses to it through your suffering, your lives and your faith.
3. Looking forward to the appointment of Madrid, in August 2011, for the World Youth Day, I would also like to address a special thought to young people, especially those who live the experience of illness. Often the Passion, the Cross of Jesus, generate fear because they seem to be the negation of life. In reality, it is exactly the contrary! The Cross is God’s ‘yes’ to mankind, the highest and most intense expression of his love and the source from which flows eternal life. From the pierced heart of Jesus this divine life flowed. He alone is capable of liberating the world from evil and making his Kingdom of justice, peace and love, to which we all aspire, grow (cf. Message for the World Youth Day 2011, n. 3). Dear young people, learn to ‘see’ and to ‘meet’ Jesus in the Eucharist, where he is present in a real way for us, to the point of making himself food for our journey, but know how to recognise and serve him also in the poor, in the sick, in our brothers and sisters who are suffering and in difficulty, who need your help (cf. ibid., n. 4). To all you young people, both sick and healthy, I repeat my invitation to create bridges of love and solidarity so that nobody feels alone but near to God and part of the great family of his children (cf. General Audience, 15 November 2006).
4. When contemplating the wounds of Jesus our gaze turns to his most sacred Heart, in which God’s love manifests itself in a supreme way. The Sacred Heart is Christ crucified, with the side opened by the lance from which flowed blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34), ‘symbol of the sacraments of the Church, so that all men, drawn to the Heart of the Saviour, might drink with joy from the perennial fountain of salvation’ (Roman Missal, Preface for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). Especially you, dear sick people, feel the nearness of this Heart full of love and draw with faith and joy from this source, praying: ‘Water of the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear my prayers. In your wounds, hide me’ (Prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola).
5. At the end of this Message of mine for the next World Day of the Sick, I would like to express my affection to each and everyone, feeling myself a participant in the sufferings and hopes that you live every day in union with the crucified and risen Christ, so that he gives you peace and healing of heart. Together with him may the Virgin Mary, whom we invoke with trust as Health of the Sick and Consoler of the Suffering, keep watch at your side! At the foot of the Cross the prophecy of Simon was fulfilled for her: her heart as a Mother was pierced (cf. Lk 2:35). From the depths of her pain, a participation in that of her Son, Mary is made capable of accepting the new mission: to become the Mother of Christ in his members. At the hour of the Cross, Jesus presents to her each of his disciples, saying: “Behold your son” (cf. Jn 19:26-27). Her maternal compassion for the Son becomes maternal compassion for each one of us in our daily sufferings (cf. Homily at Lourdes, 15 September 2008).
Dear brothers and sisters, on this World Day of the Sick, I also invite the authorities to invest more and more in health-care structures that provide help and support to the suffering, above all the poorest and most in need, and addressing my thoughts to all dioceses I send an affectionate greeting to bishops, priests, consecrated people, seminarians, health-care workers, volunteers and all those who dedicate themselves with love to treating and relieving the wounds of every sick brother and sister in hospitals or nursing homes and in families: in the faces of the sick you should know how to see always the Face of faces: that of Christ.
I assure you all that I will remember you in my prayers, as I bestow upon you my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 21 November 2010, the feast of Christ the King of the Universe.

World Youth Day Madrid 2011

A small group of Carmelite friars and young people are going to Madrid for the World Youth Day. We depart on the 14th August until 21st August 2011. for further information contact Fr Damian at the Friars.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Salt and Light

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”
Matt 5:13-16

Most of us will be familiar with these words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.  But, how often do we apply them to ourselves? What about the taste and textures of my life. What of those things in my life that were so full of vitality and flavour that now seem so bland and dull? What has changed?

On the 5th Sunday of Ordinary time we are presented with some stunningly beautiful passages of scripture that speak of faith in an incredibly practical way. In the first reading from the prophet Isaiah (58:7-10) the prophet speaks of the attributes of faith and the relationships that faith leads us into. Faith filled people share their food with those who hunger, faith filled people clothe the naked, faith filled people give shelter and safety to those who are homeless and frightened. The prophet is challenging us to see that there is a consequence to our faith. Faith brings dissatisfaction with the status quo. Faith means working towards the Kingdom of God now.
Matthew elaborates on this theme in the gospel. One Lent I gave up seasoning. For forty days I had nothing but bland food. It was horrible. I remember how I savoured the flavours of my first meal on Easter Day. I remember how my taste buds danced as I identified each herb, spice and individual flavour as I ate my meal. It was pure delight. Salt has many qualities, not only does it give flavour, it is also a preservative. Food lasts longer when salted. If salt looses these qualities it is worthless. In the same way, if light is eclipsed then nothing can be seen and the light is worthless.
We live in our world that needs us to be salt and light. We need to flavour our living with the new prophetic relationships that Isaiah proclaims. Our concern for one another is the greatest manifestation of faith. In the dark shadow heavy places that abound in life, we need to bring the light of faith so that we, and others, can see with greater clarity.  When we as disciples of Jesus, share our light in the witness of our lives, that witness can puzzle people into wonder.
“Through this wordless witness, these Christians can stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live. Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspiresthem? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already the silent proclamation of the Good News and a very effective one. Here we have an initial act of evangelisation.”
Pope Paul VI – Evangelisation in the Modern World ( 21)

Folloe the links to see how your faith can make a difference

Young people - some gap year opportunites -

Friday, 4 February 2011

Pope Benedict on St. Teresa

On 2nd February 2011, during his general audience in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI began a series of catecheses on the Doctors of the Church, beginning with “one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all time”, the Carmelite Saint Teresa of Jesus     .                                                                                     

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the course of the catecheses that I dedicated to the Fathers of the Church, to great theologians, and to women of the Middle Ages, I was also able to reflect on some men and women saints who have been proclaimed ‘Doctors of the Church’ for their eminent doctrine. Today I would like to initiate a brief series of meetings to complete this presentation of the Doctors of the Church, and I begin with a saint who represents one of the highest examples of Christian spirituality of all times: St. Teresa of Avila (of Jesus).
Born in Avila, Spain, in 1515 with the name Teresa de Ahumada, in her autobiography she herself mentions some particulars of her childhood. She was born from “virtuous and God-fearing parents” in a numerous family, with nine brothers and three sisters. While still a child, less than 9 years old, she read the lives of some martyrs that inspired her with the desire for martyrdom, so much so that she improvised a brief flight from home to die a martyr and go to heaven (cf. Life 1, 4): “I want to see God,” said the little girl to her parents. Some years later, Teresa would speak of her childhood readings and affirmed that she discovered the truth, which she summarized in two fundamental principles: on one hand, “the fact that all that belongs to this word passes,” on the other, that only God is “for ever, ever, ever”, a theme that returns in the very famous poem “Let nothing disturb you, nothing affright you; all things are passing. God is unchanging; patience obtains everything; the one who possesses God lacks nothing. God alone suffices!” Losing her mother at 12 years old, she asked the Virgin Most Holy to be her mother (cf. Life 1, 7).
If in her adolescence the reading of profane books led her to the distractions of a worldly life, her experience as a pupil of Augustinian nuns of St. Mary of Graces of Avila and the frequentation of spiritual books, especially classics of Franciscan spirituality, taught her recollection and prayer. At the age of 20, she entered the Carmelite convent of the Incarnation, still in Avila; in religious life she assumed the name Teresa of Jesus. Three years later, she became seriously ill, so much so that she was in a coma for four days, seemingly dead (cf. Life 5, 9). In the struggle against her illnesses the saint also saw the fight against weaknesses and resistance to God’s call: “I wanted to live,” she wrote, “because I understood well that I was not living, but I was fighting with a shadow of death, and I had no one to give me life, nor could I give it to myself, and he who could give it to me was right not to help me, given that so many times he had turned me toward him and I abandoned him” (Life 8, 2).
In 1543 she lost the closeness of relatives: her father died and all her brothers emigrated one after the other to America. In Lent of 1554, at 39 years of age, Teresa reached the culmination of her struggle against her weaknesses. The fortuitous discovery of the statue of “a very wounded Christ” marked her life profoundly (cf. Life 9). The saint, who in that period found profound consonance with the St. Augustine of the Confessions, describes in this way the decisive day of her mystical experience: “It happened ... that all of a sudden I had a sense of the presence of God, which in no way could I doubt was within me or that I was all absorbed in him” (Life 10, 1).
In a parallel manner to the maturation of her interiority, the saint began to develop concretely the ideal of the reform of the Carmelite Order. In 1562 she founded in Avila, with the support of the bishop of the city, Don Alvaro de Mendoza, the first reformed Carmel, and shortly after she also received the approval of the Prior General of the Order, Giovanni Battista Rossi. In subsequent years she continued the foundation of new Carmels, 17 in total. Her meeting with St. John of the Cross was essential; with him in 1568 she constituted the first convent of Discalced Carmelites in Duruelo, near Avila. In 1580 she obtained from Rome the establishment of an autonomous province for her reformed Carmelites, the starting point of the Religious Order of Discalced Carmelites.
Teresa finished her earthly life precisely while she was committed in the activity of foundation. In 1582, in fact, after having constituted the Carmel of Burgos and while she was on her way back to Avila, she died on the night of 15th October in Alba de Tormes, repeating humbly two expressions: “In the end, I die a daughter of the Church” and “It is time now, my Spouse, that we see you.” An existence consumed within Spain but often for the whole Church.
Beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614 and canonized in 1622 by Gregory XV, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by the Servant of God Paul VI in 1970.
Teresa of Jesus did not have an academic formation, but she always treasured the teachings of theologians, men of letters and spiritual teachers. As a writer, she always held to what she had personally lived or seen in the experience of others (cf. Prologue to The Way of Perfection), namely, from experience. Teresa was able to enjoy relationships of friendship with many saints, in particular with St. John of the Cross. At the same time, she was nourished by reading the Fathers of the Church, St. Jerome, St. Gregory the Great, St. Augustine.
Among her major works, the most notable is her autobiography, titled Book of Life, which she called Book of the Mercies of the Lord. Composed in the Carmel of Avila in 1565, it reviews her biographical and spiritual history, written, as Teresa herself affirms, to submit her soul to the discernment of St. John of Avila, “Teacher of the spiritual.” The purpose was to point out the presence and the action of the merciful God in her life. Because of this, the work often returns to the dialogue of prayer with the Lord. It is fascinating reading because the saint not only recounts, but shows that she relives the profound experience of her relationship with God. In 1566, Teresa wrote The Way of Perfection, which she called Admonitions and Counsels that Teresa of Jesus Gives to her Nuns. The recipients were the 12 novices of the Carmel of St. Joseph of Avila. Teresa proposed to them an intense program of contemplative life at the service of the Church, the basis of which were the evangelical virtues and prayer. Among the most precious passages is the commentary on the Our Father, model of prayer.
The most famous mystical work of St. Teresa is The Interior Castle, written in 1577, in her full maturity. It is a re-reading of her own spiritual journey and, at the same time, a codification of the possible development of Christian life toward its fullness, holiness, under the action of the Holy Spirit. Teresa refers to the structure of a castle with seven rooms, as an image of man’s interiority, introducing, at the same time, the symbol of the silkworm that is reborn as a butterfly, to express the passage from the natural to the supernatural. The saint is inspired by sacred Scriptures, in particular the Canticle of Canticles, for the final symbol of “two Spouses,” which allows us to describe, in the seventh room, the culmination of the Christian life in its four aspects: Trinitarian, Christological, anthropological and ecclesial.
Teresa dedicated the Book of Foundations, written between 1573 and 1582, to her activity as founder of reformed Carmels, in which she speaks of the life of the nascent religious group. As in the autobiography, the account is intended to point out above all God’s action in the work of the foundation of new convents.
It is not easy to summarize in a few words the profound and complex Teresian spirituality. I would like to mention some essential points.
In the first place, St. Teresa proposes the evangelical virtues as the basis of all Christian and human life, in particular, detachment from goods or evangelical poverty (and this concerns all of us); love for one another as the essential element of community and social life; humility as love of the truth; determination as fruit of Christian audacity; theological hope, which she describes as thirst for living water; without forgetting the human virtues: affability, veracity, modesty, courtesy, joy, culture.
In the second place, St. Teresa proposes a profound harmony with the great biblical personalities and intense listening to the Word of God. She felt in consonance above all with the bride of the Canticle of Canticles and with the Apostle Paul, as well as with the Christ of the passion and with the Eucharistic Jesus.
The saint stressed how essential prayer is; to pray, she said, “means to frequent with friendship, because we frequent face to face the One whom we know loves us” (cf. Life 8, 5). St. Teresa’s idea coincides with the definition that St. Thomas Aquinas gives of theological charity, as “amicitia quaedam hominis ad Deum,” a type of friendship of humanity with God, who first offered his friendship to humanity; the initiative comes from God (cf. Summa Theologiae II-II, 23, 1). Prayer is life and it develops gradually at the same pace with the growth of the Christian life. It begins with vocal prayer, passes to interiorization through meditation and recollection, until it attains union of love with Christ and with the Most Holy Trinity. Obviously, it is not a development in which going up to the higher steps means leaving behind the preceding type of prayer, but is rather a gradual deepening of the relationship with God, which envelops our whole life. More than a pedagogy of prayer, St. Teresa’s is a true “mystagogy”. She teaches the reader of her works to pray while praying herself with him/her; frequently, in fact, she interrupts the account or exposition to burst out in a prayer.
Another topic dear to the saint is the centrality of the humanity of Christ. In fact, for Teresa, the Christian life is a personal relationship with Jesus, which culminates in union with him through grace, love and imitation. Hence the importance that she attributes to meditation on the passion and the Eucharist, as presence of Christ, in the Church, for the life of every believer and as heart of the liturgy. St. Teresa lived an unconditional love for the Church. She manifested an intense “sensus Ecclesiae” in face of incidents of division and conflict in the Church of her time. She reformed the Carmelite Order with the intention of serving and defending better the “Holy Roman Catholic Church,” and she was prepared to give her life for it (cf. Life 33, 5).
A final essential aspect of Teresian doctrine that I would like to underscore is perfection, as the aspiration of the whole Christian life and the final end of it. The saint had a very clear idea of “fullness” in Christ, relived by the Christian. At the end of the course of The Interior Castle, in the last “stanza” Teresa describes this fullness, realized in the indwelling of the Trinity, in union with Christ through the mystery of his humanity.
[Translation from the original Italian based on that by ZENIT]

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Apologies for the blog-gap. Our blogger has been on the road.

Today the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. At the end of the fourth century, a woman named Etheria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Her journal, discovered in 1887, gives an unprecedented glimpse of liturgical life there. Among the celebrations she describes is the Epiphany (January 6), the observance of Christ’s birth, and the gala procession in honour of his Presentation in the Temple 40 days later—February 15. (Under the Mosaic Law, a woman was ritually “unclean” for 40 days after childbirth, when she was to present herself to the priests and offer sacrifice—her “purification.” Contact with anyone who had brushed against mystery—birth or death—excluded a person from Jewish worship.) This feast emphasizes Jesus’ first appearance in the Temple more than Mary’s purification.
The observance spread throughout the Western Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. Because the Church in the West celebrated Jesus’ birth on December 25, the Presentation was moved to February 2, 40 days after Christmas.
St Luke in his Gospel gives us an extraordinary account of the encounter between the Holy Family and Simeon, the man of prayer who has longed to see the Messiah …
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favour of God was upon him.
Luke 2:22-40

In Luke’s account, Jesus was welcomed in the temple by two elderly people, Simeon and the widow Anna. They embody Israel in their patient expectation; they acknowledge the infant Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Early references to the Roman feast dub it the feast of St. Simeon, the old man who burst into a song of joy which the Church still sings at day’s end.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted a day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life. This celebration is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This Feast is also known as Candlemas Day; the day on which candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world. So too, those in consecrated life are called to reflect light of Jesus Christ to all peoples. The celebration of World Day for Consecrated Life is transferred to the following Sunday in order to highlight the gift of consecrated persons for the whole Church.

“Christ himself says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ And we are the light, we ourselves, if we receive it from him.... But how do we receive it, how do we make it shine? ...[T]he candle tells us: by burning, and being consumed in the burning. A spark of fire, a ray of love, an inevitable immolation are celebrated over that pure, straight candle, as, pouring forth its gift of light, it exhausts itself in silent sacrifice” (Paul VI).

Prayer for Consecrated Persons:

God our Father, we thank you for calling men and women to serve in your Son’s Kingdom as sisters, brothers, religious priests, consecrated virgins, hermits, as well as members of Secular Institutes and Societies of Apostolic Life. Renew their knowledge and love of you, and send your Holy Spirit to help them respond generously and courageously to your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.