Saturday, 19 May 2012

New Carmelite Resource

As we begin the celebration fo the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, a feast when Jesus entrusts to His disciples the building of the Kingdom of God. The British Province of Carmelites are pleased to launch an online resource exploring the Carmelite friar vocation.

The website can be seen by following the link

Please keep praying for vocations to all areas of Christian living and witness, but especially for an abundance of vocations to Carmel.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Getting ready!

The pilgrimage season is in full swing now and the sun is difficult to pin down. One moment it is shining, then a big cloud comes followed by rain. This is certainly not typical May weather.  We are busy getting ready for the height of summer. The grass is being cut, the holes are being filled and the broken paving stones are being sorted. Busy, busy, busy. 
Many of the pilgrimages and larger groups have their events outside but fortunately we have lots of places where different groups can shelter. On Friday we had 240 little children here for the day. This is a very safe place to visit and so we have many school groups and also people with various levels of ability feel at home here. This Saturday there will be a day retreat on “Beginning Prayer” in our Gatehouse, which is the house that straddles the Peace Garden. Sheila and Paul will help people to ease their way into prayer and suggest all sorts of different ways to start.
Lay Carmelites will also meet in Aylesford on Saturday. Every month a group of lay people who feel inspired by the Carmelite way gather to pray and reflect on their vocation here. There are many such groups throughout the country and indeed throughout the world. If you are interested to find a group near you, look at under “communities”.
We are praying for a little bit of good weather for Sunday as we have a large pilgrimage of the Pioneers Association and the Matt Talbot group.  Hopefully on Wednesday the sun will also shine brightly. That is the day that lots of school children come together from various parts of our diocese to celebrate with Bishop Paul Hendricks. They have a celebration at the Main Shrine in the morning and games in the afternoon. It is a fun day but particularly exhausting for the friars who are selling the ice creams! Brs. Jacek, Severin and Kurt are busy trying to learn all the different types of ice lollies before Wednesday. I shall keep you posted.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Aylesford in the sun!

Yesterday at the Shrine with Pilgrims and Bishop Paul Hendricks

Basking in the May sunshine

Aylesford is a place of retreat and pilgrimage. People come here rain, hail or sunshine. The only time I have ever seen this place completely quiet is when we have had a big snowfall. It is of course more pleasant when the sun is shining and everyone seems to be happier then.
Last week we had Fr. Kevin Alban over from Rome and he led a day of reflection on Mary, the mother of Jesus. He specifically reflected on a traditional title that Carmelites are fond of, “Mary our sister”. He also led an enthusiastic group around Aylesford studying the art and history of this place. We are so privileged to live and work here as so many have done before us. When the first Carmelites arrived here from the Holy Land in 1242, they could not possibly have realised that nearly 800 years later their humble little home would turn out to be a major pilgrimage and retreat centre.
That brings me neatly back to Aylesford in the sun. At the weekend we had the Legion of Mary pilgrimage and it was nice to see the piazza full. Some repair work had been done on the flagstones over the winter and the grass was newly mown to make the place just right for our visitors. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes here but we all do it so that the many people who come here can experience the peace that seems to envelop this place. People find this peace whether they are walking alone on the rosary way or in the peace garden or whether they are part of a large crowd.
Why don’t you come to experience the peace?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Defender of the Faith

In 1521 the Pope granted the title of “Defender of the Faith” to King Henry VIII in response to his book defending the seven sacraments and particularly the sacrament of marriage as well as the supremacy of the Pope. The king changed his mind and the Pope revoked the title. However the English Parliament decided to grant the same title to the king. English, and later, British monarchs have retained it ever since.

Some years ago Prince Charles suggested that the title might be understood as “defender of faith” in general rather than as defender of any particular expression of faith. While in a democratic society it is important to allow freedom of worship and freedom to live according to the belief system one espouses, as long as it does not damage other people, it is not good to lump all faiths together into one amorphous blob. All faiths do not say the same thing and we should not pretend that they do.

In the Gospels Jesus makes some amazing claims about himself. He says that he is the way, the truth and the life; he tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him, we will bear abundant fruit but cut off from him we can do nothing. No other religious leader, founder or guru has ever made such claims about himself. Christians believe that Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. Before time began God spoke one Word and in this Word is contained all the fullness of God. We call this Word God’s only Son. The love between the Father, who is the source of all being, and the Son, is the Holy Spirit.

This Word of God became part of our human story in Jesus of Nazareth who revealed God to be compassionate love. However what he revealed and the way he did so did not endear him to everyone and he was rejected. He was crucified and died. He was buried but God’s love is stronger than human hatred and even stronger than death and Jesus rose from the dead. He appeared to his friends and disciples and sent them on a mission to teach the world what he had taught them and he promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to give them courage and to keep them in the truth.

Every living thing, human beings included, depends for existence on the Word of God.  Jesus, who is the Word of God Incarnate, can say truthfully that we are fruitful only if we remain attached to him. All faiths can lead people to God but we only come to God through the Word. Let us respect each other, whatever our views are, knowing that we are all beloved children of the One God.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Winter returns

Bank holiday weekend and of course the weather is wet and cold! It seems to be a tradition in this country. Talking about traditions, the Carmelites have a very long history and lots of tradition. We have a great affinity with the Old Testament Prophet Elijah because he was reputed to have lived on Mount Carmel where the Carmelite Order began. When they moved into Western Europe in the early part of the 13th century, reaching Aylesford in 1242, they brought a devotion to the Prophet Elijah with them. He was one of the greatest and earliest of the prophets and most of the stories about him can be found in the Old Testament books of the Kings (between the second book of Samuel and the first book of Chronicles if your knowledge of the Old Testament is a little rusty). The Catechism of the Catholic Church sees in the Prophet Elijah a model for prayer (see articles 2582 and 2583).

I was reminded of this great figure by the weather over the past few weeks. In many part of England, especially in the south east, a drought had been officially declared and as soon as the declaration had been made, what happened? Yes, of course. It started to rain and it has not stopped! Well, things were different in the days of Elijah. When he declared a drought, the rain stayed off for a very long time. According to the story that we find in the first book of Kings (17, 1), God was not best pleased with what had been going on in Israel, especially with the fact that the people were worshipping an idol so Elijah proclaimed that there would be a drought. It did not end until the people had turned back to God.

Elijah is a fascinating figure and has a lot to teach us. Everything did not go smoothly for him but he remained faithful to the traditions of his people and to God who had chosen them. He is an important figure for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Why don’t you read some of the stories about him? One of the community has written a book about him, called “Sound of Silence”.

I always console myself with thinking that we could not have such a green country without a little bit of rain. But surely it could be warmer!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

April Showers

Tom Hart Dyke cuts the ribbon and opens the Peace Garden

The Peace Garden is now well and truly open! The official opening took place on Sunday and the day dawned with torrential rain and howling winds. In fact the winds were so bad during the night that several slates had been blown of the roofs and several heavy branches had fallen from some of our many trees. It looked as if it would be a disaster! However, in the end all was well when the sun emerged on cue as everyone gathered for the opening.

About 200 invited guests gathered in St. Joseph’s Chapel for a little ceremony to mark the occasion. The Deputy Mayors of Tonbridge and Malling Borough, where Aylesford is situated, and Maidstone Borough, graced the occasion. Both Deputy Mayors are due to become the Mayors in their own right very shortly.

Tom Hart Dyke had very kindly accepted the invitation to formally open the Garden. Tom is a well known television presenter and contributor. In his family home of Lullingstone Castle in Kent he has created the “world garden” where you can find flowers and plants from many parts of the world. His story is very interesting. He and a friend went off to Colombia to hunt for a rare orchid in a rather remote part of that country. Colombia has suffered for a long time from political unrest and one of the armed groups came across our intrepid hunters.  The group naturally thought that Tom and his friend were spies and captured them but were very surprised to find that they had no weapons. The group was nomadic and held Tom and his friend in very primitive conditions for almost a year. At one point they were told that they would be executed in five hours and so Tom got to work to draw something he had been planning in his head for a long time. This was the beginning of the “world garden”. As soon as he got home he made it a reality.  

In his speech before he formally cut the ribbon to open our Peace Garden, he referred to his own experience and to Jayne Hoose’s idea for our garden emerging from a period of ill health. Jayne managed to gather a large group of volunteers and enthuse them. They were responsible for fundraising and for planning the whole day. We are grateful to so many people, not only for the Peace Garden, but for everything they do to make The Friars, Aylesford, such a special place.

This is not only a prayer in stone but is also expressed in our gardens. Above all it is the people who make Aylesford such a wonderful place.