Saturday, 13 October 2012

Abbot Mark Golden Jubilee

Golden Jubilee Bouquet from Sisters

Introduction to Mass        -     Golden Jubilee of Monastic Profession.

The Church has called us to celebrate a Year of Faith, inviting and encouraging us to renew our belief in God.  Pope Benedict wants us to see the Holy Spirit at work in our world and in each of our hearts
Today is the Golden Jubilee of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on 11th October, 1962.  On that same day fifty years ago I made my profession as a monk.  So it’s not just because we are celebrating the opening of Vatican II that you have been invited here today.


Fr Mark’s Golden Jubilee of Monastic profession.
I’m sure you will all have vivid memories of the glorious years of Vatican II.  (Well, maybe not all of you!|)  Fifty years ago today Pope John XXIII opened the Council with a great flourish.  He announced in vibrant terms that Christianity was not about gloom and doom but the joy of the Holy Spirit.   Much water has passed under that bridge and has at times been diverted into some waterways.  Those were stirring times, but not everyone found them pleasant.  It must be admitted that some of the enthusiasm did go over bounds.  But the spirit of the Council is still a thing to treasure and to look back to.  It gave us much to be thankful for and to learn from.  But, fifty years on, our world has moved on to some extent and our needs have to be reassessed.  Even so, there are treasures in the Council’s documents that have yet to be mined, and perhaps some of those we have already taken up have still to be properly understood.

Today’s scriptural readings are from the ones that would normally be used for today.  As always, when we look close enough, the Spirit gives us surprises even within our ordinary routine.

‘Are you mad?’ is the encouraging way Paul speaks to the Galatians.  Some time ago I was listening to a radio programme on religion.  There were a number of atheist and believers on it.  One of the atheists was quite fanatical.  
He said, without any attempt to moderate his view, that anyone who believes in God was mad.  So, Paul must have got it right!
Seriously however, Paul was referring to the way the Galatians had forgotten the real meaning of religion; they had put their faith in externals, forgetting that the new life promised by Christ came from within.

In the Gospel Jesus uses several images telling his disciple that they had to ask, seek, knock, if they wanted to receive the Spirit who is life.  Faith is not an object that we are given and can keep in some safe place. 
Refectory - buffet 
 It is a living thing that will grow or become less within them depending on how it is lived.  Asking God should be a permanent attitude that we have whenever we need help.  Friendship with God is a relationship that should find us looking for and seeing God as we go about our daily round.  Like any human lovers, Christian disciples have God in their minds and hearts as they go perform their daily tasks.  Jesus tells the disciples that God is behind the door.  If they knock on it, it will be opened to them.

This is another interesting coincidence in today’s readings.  Pope Benedict has written a special letter for this anniversary entitled, as these papal letters are, by the words Porta Fidei, (the Door of Faith.)  It is Pope Benedict’s wish that this year, beginning today, will be a Year of Faith in which we revisit the sources of our faith in the scriptures.  The Vatican II documents were an attempt to do just that.  They looked to the Word of God and the traditions that sprang from it through the years and tried to teach us how we should live them in our own time.  Now, fifty years later, we are being asked to do the same.  Other Christian Churches were represented at Vatican II and will no doubt be encouraged to contribute to the happenings of this new Year of Faith.
We have an ongoing need to revitalise our belief in God.  We need a vision that will carry us forward, one that will support us as we try to live with full hearts and generosity in our following of Christ.  And we need to let that overflow in some way or other for the benefit of our neighbour.  They should be happier that we are around.  Not everyone can be a sparkling companion but being what God wants us to be in ourselves should somehow communicate itself to others.

Those who were caught up in the spirit of the times all those years ago won’t have lost that spark of life that held so much promise for the future.  As often happens, history has its own ways of diluting positive experiences.  Like all good living, so too with the gospel much effort is required to embrace and assimilate its values.  The cross that Christ dies on was not a symbol but a reality for him.  It is a symbol for us of what he achieved.   To be true to it we must ourselves accept the crosses that we have to meet as we try to follow the path to life that Christ opened up for us.
 My monastic life in the past fifty years has had its ups and downs.  (I’ll spare you the telling of those.)  But the things that happened at the various sessions over the four year period of the Council has always stayed with me.  The optimism generated by the Council was a wholesome and life-giving thing..  The yearning within many at the Council and outside it  for new and fresh initiatives is what the Gospel is all about.  Not everything that was hoped for saw the light of day, and not everything that was advocated deserved to survive the scrutiny of the Council Fathers.  But it is also true to say that some things did not come to fruition because people were not ready for them or they were not properly implemented.
Marie and Vincent(brother) Caira
 and  Br. Philip
What happened at Vatican II is what happens to all of us in our lives.  Some things we win, others we lose.  A vocation is just like that.  There are negative forces at work in our lives as well as, thank God, positive ones.  They are the making of who we are and how, strangely enough, God draws us to what we are called to be.  Some of the negative forces may well be of our own making.  If so, we will stumble and fall down.    But falling down is not the problem.  Scripture says the just fall down seven times a day.  What determines our character, our destiny, our holiness, is the getting up.  However, if we get up and allow our minds to remain in the mud, we might as well stay there.  If, on the other hand we don’t give up on our initial ideal and vision, we will not stay down for very long.  That attitude remains true for the Church as well as for people in general.  It is also true for each one of us as we strive to follow God in the ways he beckons.  To misquote Tony Benn who, in his eighties, said ‘Life gets better the longer you live it.’
I thank God for showing that to be true, and you also for coming to share this day with me.

Sancta Maria Abbey: (Website)   

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Solemnity Homily Abbot Mark

Wednesday, 15 August 2012  
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Solemnity 
 Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 

Assumption of Mary, 2012                                                                 Community Mass Homily
The feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven may seem to some like putting her on a pedestal which we look at from afar. - We admire her position and then forget about it for another year.  If we did think along those lines we would be missing out from an awareness of what our Christian life is all about.
The life stories of the saints, and of our Lord himself, show us what we can become.  They are a mirror in which – if we look at them long enough – will transform us into what we see there.
In recent days and weeks we have seen the happy enthusiasm that has emanated from the London Olympic Games.  Everyone who has kept in touch with what has been going on there has been caught up in this infectious spirit.  Athletes have excelled in their achievements.  Some have won an Olympic medal for the first time or have set personal bests.  Most of those who did not win but came in second or third acted as if they had actually won.  Their silver or bronze medal was ‘gold’ for them.   The achievements of their teammates had encouraged them to perform better themselves.  The huge crowd of onlookers also spurred them on to higher levels of performance.  Together, individual sports men and women, their fellow competitors and the watching crowds, all made for a wonderful winning experience.  The ones cheering and those being cheered on, were all different parts of the same experience.
Entering into the lives of the saints is not all that much different from the dynamics seen at work at these Games.  The Olympic scene showed us the immense physical efforts, the speed and concentration required for excellence.  St Paul in one of his letters to the early Churches writes about striving to win the race.  He urges us on by telling us that it is only the person who comes first wins the crown.  So, he said, we must strive to win. 
However, the spiritual life is not logical in these matters.  There is always the need for sustained and real effort to win.  But all of us have different gifts and different levels of excellence.  It may be that the nearest we get to a medal is a personal best.  In the Olympic Games one person who gets the gold medal, but we all strike gold if we prepare and perform as well as we possibly can.  There is only one colour of medal in the spiritual life if we run in it as best we can.  The saints show us this.  They competed in the race where their better selves ran against their less-than-desirable selves, using all their abilities and working with the handicaps they had. 
The glorious anthem and the golden light of the resurrection shone for Christ at the end of his race when he rose from the dead.  When we put on the new man that is Christ, we take part in his race of life in our own particular way.  And our Lady followed him closely, so closely that she has joined him, standing by his side with her own winner’s medal.  In Christ we are all runners and, so long as we keep running, all winners.
All the talk after the London Olympics has been about leaving a legacy to encourage the young, and perhaps the not-so-young, to take up sport and to excel in it.  That is what the Church has long been recommending that we do as regards our faith and life in Christ.  We learn to put on Christ, to achieve as he did, by watching how other holy men and women themselves learnt from his example throughout the ages.
When we look at the lives of the saints generally we see the energy and attention they exercised in their following of Christ.  But in the Assumption of Mary, which we are celebrating today, we rejoice that she has, after her own efforts and discipline, arrived.  She has been taken up to heaven where her Son has himself already ascended to.  They have both received their gold medals. The Feast of the Assumption is Mary’s finishing line.
No one achieves anything of lasting value by themselves.  We can do it only by living in and through the energy and strength of our Lord’s own resurrection. It is the power and adrenaline of his Holy Spirit who fuels our muscles and pumps his blood through our veins that make our success possible.  We all go to heaven together on this track of life.  And together we will find Mary standing by her Son waiting to present us with our own winners’ medals.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Nativity of St John the Baptist - Homily

'His name is John' Cistercian Breviary   

Birth of John the Baptist,. (24 August,2012)
            Homily  11.00 am
John the Baptist is the only person outside the Holy Family to have two days set aside for him in the Church’s universal calendar.  He is obviously an important person in the life of the Church.  John links the two Testaments.  He is born in the Old to prepare the way for the New.  In later life John comes over in the gospels as rather a fierce character.  Films, plays, and even opera have portrayed him as a wild man, even a fanatic.  It makes for good theatre.
There are people who preach religion but for all their fine words reveal only themselves.  There are others who never get in the way of their message  but point beyond themselves.  John was caught up by his love for God and the desire he had to bring the hearts of people back to God.  However blunt his words, he did not claim anything for himself.  John was humble.  When he recognised Jesus, John knew his work was nearly over.  “He must grow greater”, he said and, “I must grow less.”  John knew when to let go.
As an only child born to elderly parents who had long ago given up hope of having a family, John the Baptist must have been a much-loved child.  At the same time it is very likely that he was a spoiled one as well.  .  Elizabeth and Zechariah knew that their son was even more special than other children.  The meaning of his name is “God’s gracious gift”.  The name, John, broke with the tradition of his family and yet both father and mother had independently picked it.  They were of course inspired by the Holy Spirit
The people throughout the area were speaking about the unusual circumstances of his birth.  He was quite a little celebrity.  And it was the same when he began his ministry.  Crowds flocked to him and, for a while, he was again a celebrity.  This time the whole of Jerusalem were talking about him.  Some were saying openly that he was the Messiah.  Talk like this could go easily to a man’s head.
And yet, somehow John was aware, deep within himself, that he was not the one the people thought he was.  He knew that there was one coming after him who was more important than he was and that his job was to step aside and make way for him...This labour without reward or recognition must have been hard at times.   As he lay in prison hearing about the crowds now following Jesus, he must have wondered if he had toiled in vain and had exhausted himself for nothing.  Surely there must have been times in that prison when he hankered again for his younger days when people were over-awed by him and he was both popular and successful.
John’s experience is a kind of model for all those whose best days are behind them.  Men and women who were once well-known and had succeeded in their lives, inevitably have to give way to others younger than themselves.
We should remember such people as they try to cope with the changed circumstances in their lives.  They are not now useless, simply that their circumstances have changed.  They do need to adapt to a changed reality where their usefulness is not ended but different.  They can always do something else.  And, if that becomes too difficult, they can certainly be themselves. 
John himself remains a model for us in that he shows that we can and should step aside so that Christ is the one who stands first in our lives.  We find Christ when the time comes for us to step back and let the other people in our lives and our work move into a more central role.
John let go when the time came, and - with his help - so can we!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ.

Community Mass of Corpus Christi

Intro Mass Body and Blood of Christ, year B 2012
Today is the solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. It is also the beginning of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, which continues for the whole week.
The purpose of the Congress, as it is of today’s solemnity, is to celebrate and understand more fully the legacy left us by our Lord of his body and blood in the bread and wine of the altar. He imparts to us his risen life. That is what we receive and celebrate. It is not his physical, earthly, body and blood as he was then but as he became and is for us now in his risen life. This new life is forever a new beginning for us as we try to rise above our faults and sins.
1 Lord Jesus, you raise us to new life. - Lord, have mercy.
2 You forgive and free us from our sins - Christ, have mercy.
3 You reconcile us to one another in your own body.
- Lord, have mercy.

Prayer of the Faithful
Intro. As one body, let us prayer to our Father
who gives life to the world..
Concl. God our Father, may the gift of food we eat at this table make us strong, and may all of your gifts fill our lives as we seek your kingdom in heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Novice Habit - Abbot's talk on the Reception Br. Seamus

Monday, 11 June 2012

Novice Habit - Abbot's talk on the Reception Br. Seamus

Sent: Sunday, 10 June 2012, 16:25
Talk on reception of the habit  
After Lauds, the Chapter of the Community was present for ceremony of the habit given to the Novice, Seamus Conway.  
The Reception of a Novice is a very practical activity but full of symbolism. On this occasion for the time, the Sacristan was asked to photograph the happy event, as the pictures attached.

Talk on the Reception of the Habit     

Seamus Conway          10 June 2012

Traditionally the abbot uses this talk to remind a postulant on the day he receives the habit what his vocation is about, what he has come to the monastery for.  God calls people to the monastic life by various roads but always to the same end.  That end is truly to seek God.  The means to it are many.  The chief of these are prayer and love of the brethren.  Unless we remind ourselves of the need to keep God in our sights and to keep walking with him, we will falter on the way.  

Our daily reading, our regular attendance at the Divine Office and our openness to the calls on our time at awkward moments – when others have a real need – are also means to keeping God before our eyes.  We need to plan our days and to work within the structures of the monastic timetable, but it’s amazing how often we have to drop our own plans because of other circumstances.  We can be busy doing God’s work and yet at the end of the day wonder what on earth we have been doing all day.  The time has flown and we don’t seem to have done anything constructive.  We must not use this experience, which hopefully won’t happen too often, as an excuse for not planning our day.  An ordered day does matter. It is pleasant to do the things that we like, but it is better to get on with the things we have to do whether we like them or not.  That is the way monasteries came to be built over the years and how holy monks came to be formed. 
and Br. Seamus
To grow as a person and to become steeped in monastic wisdom is not just about filling the mind with information, though that is important and part of our formation.  True growth is more of a mentality and a training of the heart.  Life can be hard.  In ancient monastic folklore and in the annals of monastic history it has been known for newcomers to the monastic life to be asked to do foolish or ridiculous things.  The famous one is being told to plant cabbages upside down.  Daily living in community is difficult enough without spending time creatively thinking of ways to make life more difficult for newcomers.  There are enough of us who can create that kind of situation naturally without trying.  Part of community living is to put up with such situations, though the community should try and put a stop to such things happening.  The funny thing is that we almost always think that some people do go out their way to make life difficult for us.
However these times in our lives can be the very ones that lead us closer to God because they force us to go to God like the psalmist, and plead for help.  We learn quicker our need of God.  These times are also moments when we can get a better awareness if we really do have a call to the monastic life.
Our fellow monks are there to help us on way to God.  We should not let any quirks or peculiar personal oddities they may have to throw us off course.  St John of the Cross, I think it was, said that if we want to have love in our lives, we should put love into life and then we will find it.
That, Seamus, is what you have before you.  You came to us with your own particular gifts and you will add to them by receiving the gifts that the other members of the community themselves possess.  Fullness of life comes from giving and receiving what we all have to share.
These are only some of the things that have drawn you to the monastic life.  Our vocation is to seek and find God, to hold fast to him in good times and bad.  That is the way offered to you.  After your experience over a number of months in this community, it is time for you now to decide if you wish to continue living with us as you continue to seek God’s will in your life. 



Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Holy Trinity

Homily for Holy Trinity, 2012                                         
 11.00 Mass

When we think of the Holy Trinity, due to our upbringing and the particular focus of theological thinking in the Church of our time, most of us normally think of three Persons in the One nature of God.  Sometimes this can make our understanding of God seem far away and ‘up there’ - very remote from everyday life.

In fact the knowledge of God which Jesus gave his disciples was very personal.  He spoke to them of the experience he had with the Father.  His Father was not an idea but a Person.  That seems quite a concrete but because of the way he went on to talk of the Father, the disciples found it difficult to understand him at times.  We can find it difficult enough to understand each other so it is hardly surprising the disciples having this problem, too, on hearing Jesus’ words.

Jesus was an immensely attractive individual.  All sorts of people were drawn to him by the force of his personality and the compassion he showed to the poor and the needy.  Some looked to him for new life and others to find reasons for doing away with him because of the threat he was to their lifestyle.  So Jesus was someone who touched on the lives of others for good or for bad.  Life is never neutral.  During the course of it we will make choices for what is life-enhancing or what is ultimately selfish.  We cannot stand by and not take part in the drama of life.  Our lives are either increased or diminished by Christ’s coming on earth.

So what is it that made Jesus so different from the rest of humankind?  He was first of all concerned not for himself but for others.  He gave from what he himself had received.  That came from this close but mysterious ‘Father’ Jesus spoke about to the disciples.  They had lived with him during his years of ministry, so they knew him well enough to know that what he told them was somehow true, even though they may have found it hard to understand  him fully.  There was always room for misunderstanding.  But those grains of truth had been sown.  When he rose again from the dead those grains of seed came to life and bore fruit in their new awareness of who he was.
And who was this man Jesus?  He is the one who spoke of God as his Father.  No son was as close to his father as he was to his.  No married couple or closest of friends were as intimate as he was with his Father.  At times he spoke as if hewas the Father or that the Father was him.  At other times he said he was doing the work of the Father and that he did nothing that was not from the Father.  Jesus said that he must go to be where he was from the beginning.  It is all so unusual!

And then there is the mention of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus told the disciples that he had to go or the Holy Spirit would not be able to come to them.  When he came he would reveal the full meaning of all he had told them.  This Spirit was the expression of the love, of the being, of Father and Son

Jesus told us he was one with the Father.  But now there is a difference.  Jesus, true Son of God the Father and true son of man, has risen from the dead, and has ascended with this humanity into the Godhead. 

The Holy Trinity which we honour today now contains some of our humanity.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this same risen Jesus said he would return to be with us always.  But the Father would also be with us because Jesus said that he and the Father are one.  Together they would remain with us.  When we are alone in times of sorrow, or when we are feeling deserted, they would still be with us in their care and friendship.

The bishops and theologians in the early centuries of the Church’s existence were so convinced of Jesus’ words about the Father and the Holy Spirit that they stated clearly that there are three Persons in the One reality of God.  This is not a puzzle to be worked out but more a bond of love and relationship which embraces all of us.

Today’s readings at Mass do not give us the main texts of the gospel which speak of the relationship of Father and Son.  But they do speak of the mystery of God and of the mission to go and preach that good news to our world.  Grace, love and fellowship are the blessings we receive from Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  These gifts of such a marvellous God are what the Church proclaims to the world.   We are called to be true to them and to express them through the lives we lead.

Abbot Mark