Monday, 24 May 2010


Chapter Sermon, Pentecost Year C, 2010

We have begun to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The gospel reading for the Mass of the day is very interesting. It might well have been chosen for the feast of the Blessed Trinity. In it Jesus says,

If anyone loves me he will keep my word
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
...My word is not my own;
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you
while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name
will teach you everything
and remind you of all I have said to you. (Jn 14:23-26)

We have some understanding of what Jesus is saying because we have some inkling of what a human father is. And yet theologians warn us that in speaking of God we have only a hint of what we are trying to understand. There is in, as you already know, a stream of thought in the Eastern Church that says in trying to describe God the opposite of what you are trying to say may be more true of God. God is so different from our ordinary experiences that there is more mystery than clear light when we try to understand what God is in essentials and in our lives.

Jesus says that the Spirit will teach us everything. We often think that we understand clearly the truth of what we are being taught. But the test of that is if we can repeat what we have been told in our own words. If our new knowledge has become part of us, then do we truly know what we have learnt and can use it to live by.

The Holy Spirit came to help the disciples recall what Jesus had told them so that they really understand what he was telling them about the Father and of himself as God’s Son. Jesus told them the Spirit, would come down upon them to make sure they grasped the fact that the Father and he himself would remain within them. The Holy Spirit would guide them to this fuller knowledge. Without Jesus saying as much, this means that the Spirit himself would be in them. This I suppose is the sort of thing the controversies of the early Church were dealing with when the Fathers and theologians of the time were trying to describe the meaning of the Three Persons and the one Nature in God.

This mystery of God is a deeply personal one for us in our own time, not so much in the area of abstract concepts, but in our own intimate relations with Christ. It’s not possible to have such a relationship with him without also having one with the Father and indeed with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of both Father and Son, uniting them with each other and also joining us in that union.

The truth is we don’t know in practice what our life with God is from moment to moment. Indeed do we know what any of our ordinary relations are like with anyone? We are normally on firm ground in our relationships with our friends and acquaintances. And yet, because of the human condition, our lives are in a process. Each of us is in a flux of change. We are either growing closer together in knowledge and trust or growing apart for other reasons. True fellow feeling or friendship grows with time and with the sharing of commonly held beliefs and interests. If there is no love or other common bond then the ties we thought we had with them fade and die away.

What Jesus is sharing with the disciples, and us, is something so intimate to him and to all who would follow him that it cannot but grow and be life enhancing. This was worth Jesus becoming flesh and dying for.

It is so difficult for us to understand, ‘to unpack’ as the saying goes. We need to give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work on us and to draw us into the heart of the feast of Pentecost. But the spirit of Pentecost is not just a one-day event. It is a living reality and we need to let the message of the gospel seep into our hearts day by day. We become new persons Spirit-bearers and Christ-bearers for own selves and for all who would be sharers in this Good News.

That is what the season of Easter and the feast of Pentecost is all about. We are called to be followers of Christ ‘from the heart’ so that we may be ready receivers of the Holy Spirit and mediators of this great mystery of God to the world.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday

---- Forwarded Message ----
From: Mark Caira
Sent: Wed, February 17, 2010 6:58:12 PM
Subject: fror Abbot's blog/ ash Wednesday

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2010

We come to the beginning of Lent, yet again! It doesn’t seem all that long since we began Lent last year. That is often the feeling we have when Ash Wednesday comes round. Perhaps we can’t be blamed too much for that because we find something of that feeling when we read St Benedict’s chapter on Lent. He says that the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. But, Benedict continues, because we haven’t the strength for that we should at least keep Lent when it comes round.

However, when Benedict spells out what we should do in these days of Lent, it is not any energy-sapping exercises or heroic deeds he asks of us but such things like devoting ourselves to prayer, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. These can all be done in ways that are very demanding of human nature. But they are also the stuff of ordinary everyday living. So we can live through Lent doing these things in a quiet and serious manner without them making us drawn or exhausted. To keep doing the right things in life are not arduous in themselves but may well be when we try and do them all the time.

It’s when we are weak or caught off balance that our true character, our Christian pedigree, comes to light. That perhaps is why Benedict asks us to do more to train more, if you like so that our inner selves are tested and strengthened. Then we will the more truly be ready to enjoy the coming of Easter. For, of course, Benedict does not overstate the penitential side of Lent. He does, however, place before us the behaviour he desires of us. He asks of us to listen to his words, take them to heart, and correct what is wrong or sinful in our lives.

As we begin this Lent we recognise its arduous side but also should remember the weakened state of the community’s health. At the present moment we have not really recovered from the bug that has been picking off the community one by one over the past few weeks. In this condition we already look forward to, and pray for the strength and joy of, Easter When that time comes we will surely walk more steadily in the brightness and length of days of Eastertide.

St Benedict is not soft; he is revered for his balance and moderation. Whatever the situation in the monastery, he sees that the little flock that is his community must not be overburdened or the weak broken.

In the end it will be the positive attitude of each of us which will bring us through the desert of Lent happily to the day of resurrection. It is by setting our mind on the goal of Easter and not on the hardships of the journey there, that will make us true disciples of Christ and of Benedict. Let us with joy, therefore, `and with a light heart gird up our loins for the six weeks’ journey to ‘holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing’ (RB 48.7).

Monday, 8 February 2010

Education Sunday

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Mark
Sent: Mon, February 8, 2010 10:19:10 AM
Subject: Education Sun Hom

Education Sunday
5th Sun Yr 2010 11.00 am.

Today is the beginning of Catholic Education Week. There are suggestions from the education authorities for today’s homily. But it will be no harm to take a wider look at education and not just at what happens in our schools and colleges.

At the present time Cistercian monks and nuns are themselves asking what they should do to provide a good formation for the new and younger members of their communities. There is the further question of how the other, older, members in our monasteries can best continue in the spirit of our earlier formation.

Education is part of what it is to be human. We all need to be taught the basic facts of life and learning. But there are truths of life that lie dormant within each person waiting to be awakened and developed. These are gifts which like the seed of plants will one day be brought to the light of day, grow and unfold to reveal their inner beauty and riches.

A well-founded education will allow the individual to realise their full potential as a person. The word ‘education’, as you know, is from the Latin word e-ducare (meaning ‘to draw out from’). Its aim is to develop the mind and should at the same time shape and open the heart to the love of God and neighbour. That love will lead us to choose, in time, what we want to do with our lives, who we want to be with, what our ambitions and attractions will be. It is probably true to say that a well-rounded education is the very means God uses to prepare us for whatever vocation or way of life we are called to live.

True education is the oil that refines the mind and instils the courtesies that make our life with others run smoothly.

Adult education or ongoing formation is something that is strongly recommended nowadays. In today’s world many people actively follow special interests and even change occupations so that their lives don’t become stale or boring. The same is true in the monastic life. I remember our late farm-manager, Br Carthage, saying that “there’s not a day on the farm when you don’t learn something new”. That is the general idea. But it applies to all of life, not just the practical side of it. We all need to keep learning about our past history and tradition and to learn from others who are doing the same, if we are to sustain a community or neighbourhood that is both rich and enriching.

The Christian school has as its role the education of the young which includes the teachings of the gospel. In this way the seed is sown for the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world.

Isaiah in today’s first reading, Paul in the second and Simon Peter in the gospel are each called to do God’s work. They listened and responded to what they were told. And that is what every vocation is about. To listen and to build on what we have heard by word of mouth or by the word on the written page. These are the ways that God uses to touch our hearts and keep us alert, ready to respond to what we are called to do with our life.

Roger Schutz, the founder and prior of the Taize community, famously said that to stand still is to betray Christ. To remain faithful to Christ we must keep moving forward.

Ongoing learning lets us do that. Education that doesn’t continue becomes dead. To keep realising our potential as a child of God makes us ever more open to the Holy Spirit in both mind and heart. And that, in simple terms, is ongoing formation.

This coming week we are asked to pray for all who are engaged in education - the teachers and their young pupils. For it is the young who will be responsible for proclaiming the kingdom of God in the years to come. We who are not-so-young need to continue learning how to be open to the Spirit that we may make the kingdom of God really alive now.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Abbot Mark's Sermon - Presentation of the Lord 2010

Simeon and Anna are very much integral to today’s celebration of the liturgy of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple.
Simeon and Anna were well on in years, and so are some of us. The fact that so many of us have been or are still suffering from the winter viruses emphasises the vulnerability of our lives.
Living in community is a great support for young and old but in circumstances like the present even the young will feel the frailty and uncertainty of good health. That is not a bad thing in itself. For we become more open in these circumstances to the reality of God. When we are weak or under par then our need of God is all the more evident.
Sickness and old age are God-given times to refresh our understanding of the fragility of all of life. They are opportunities for us to renew ourselves yet again in the mystery that is God’s love in us. The one who is holy is the one who keeps rising up from their sin and from their forgetfulness of God.
Abraham and Sarah received new life when they were old, against all odds, when a promised son was born to them. Simeon and Anna lived in hope of seeing the One who was to come. Their vibrant lives can only have hastened the advent of the One they were looking for. Their love of God and their trust that their dream would be fulfilled in God’s good time made their lives all the more fruitful and full of meaning. They didn’t know when it would happen only that it would. Their old lives were renewed and fulfilled when they recognised the new life of God in Mary’s child.
It is not any different for us. The Lord asks for faith, for trust in him and that we believe in the daily reality of his presence. We are not now waiting for the coming of the messiah. He has come. But we have to let that happen again in our own lives. Like Simeon and Anna we have to be mindful of God, to remain attentive and ready to receive the Lord in his word whenever he comes to us.. This word is brought to life again each time we hear and respond to it.
The celebration of the liturgy is the lifeblood of the Church. It is in our liturgy that we re-invigorate the life of each other every time we celebrate it, and by extension, renew the life of the whole Church.
So today, even in our weakened state - conditioned as we are by the winter viruses – we should be all the more aware of our need of God. We can’t do it on our own. But what we can’t do, God can!
St Paul says, ‘When we are weak then it is that we are strong.’ When we realise that we are weak and allow God’s strength into our frail lives, then it is that our weakness becomes our strength. It is God who is upholding us as he did Peter when he walked on the water. When Peter’s confidence failed him it was only then that he began to sink. We become true disciples when we allow God’s word into our hearts and believe it and live it.
Prayer is always answered. We need to ask for the eyes to see where and how God answers us when we pray. Then we must confidently take that answer in both of our hands and move forward, sure that God is indeed leading the way. The hopes of our daily lives and of our future are always bright when we look to see where God is leading us. So today let us offer the light of our faith and our hope to the Lord who himself lights up our life and our world.