Monday 24 January 2011

Religious Life ~ A Vision

“Religious are to be marginal by choice, but that marginality is in the service of prophecy not escapism. From the edges of the system there is a view of what the system does to those who are excluded, to those who are made means to other people’s ends. If contemplation fosters immediacy to God, marginality fosters immediacy to the oppressed. The Religious wants to be where the cry of the poor meets the ear of God. To feel the pathos of God is not a warm and comfortable religious experience; it is an experience of the howling in the wilderness driving one to protest. Marginality is not a safe haven from the complexities of modern life but freely chosen solidarity with those who are excluded against their will. Immediacy to the marginalised poor is the compliment to immediacy with God in the prophetic dynamic.”
Sandra M Schneiders IHM., Finding the Treasure

Thursday 20 January 2011

More comings and goings

I listen; he is the one who speaks.
I am enlightened; he is the light.
I am the ear; he is the Word.
(St Augustine)

Aylesford is quite quiet in January and it gives us some space to prepare the friary for the coming year. A refurbishment of the Conference Centre main room and bar is well underway and will be complete soon. There is a studious atmosphere in the community house as the brethren prepare materials for retreats that will be given both here at Aylesford and further a field. Many local clergy take this time for a post Christmas break and so some of us have been celebrating the Sunday Eucharist in many local parishes. Friars from the community have been in the parishes of Dartford, Bearsted and Harrietsham, and Sittingbourne as well as helping our Carmelite brothers in Walworth and Faversham. It is good for us to be in the parishes and roots us in our liturgical faith and ministry.

The community was very happy to welcome Bro. Gunther Benker, O.Carm., the novice director of the Upper German province of Carmelites. Gunther came to share his wisdom on the Carmlite Charism as contained in the Ratio (formation documents) of the Order. Bro. Torsten and Bro. Tiago seemed to have enjoyed the time spent with him. As Aylesford has such an important place in the story of the Order it is always good to welcome our brothers from other provinces of the Order.

As previously reported, Fr Kevin has arrived in East Timor where he will be spending the next three months working with the young men who are in formation in that region. Kevin is a very keen photographer and I am looking forward to seeing a pictorial record of his trip. For the rest of us our travels are much more local. Fr Joseph and the novices are in Buckton for an inter-congregational meeting of novices on the theme of the vows. This week they are exploring the vow of chastity. Fr Brendan has escaped the friary for a few days of rest and relaxation, as has Fr Tony Pelan. Next week Fr Damian finds himself returning to Craig Lodge in Dalmally, where he will lead the community there in a time of retreat as they prepare themselves to minister to the many who travel to their community for a time of rest and spiritual renewal. Fr Joseph will return to his native Glasgow for a speaking engagement at the beginning of February.

Next month the Carmelite friars of the British province will meet here at Aylesford to begin their Provincial Chapter. A Chapter is an important moment in the life of a province. Every three years we meet to discuss the life and ministry of the friars in the province and to discern where God might be calling us to focus our energies and resources in the future. For us the Chapter has two parts. The first is the Electoral Assembly. The friars meet for a few days and discern who from among them might serve as Prior Provincial and Provincial Councillors. This group of friars will form a team to guide the province for the next three years. After Easter the friars, Carmelite delegates and co-workers meet for four days to discuss the needs of the province and those we minister to. A Chapter is a Spirit led time of challenge, renewal and dialogue for the province. Those who are planning our Chapter have prepared the following prayer for us.

God of faithful love,
as we prepare for our Chapter
may your Holy Spirit be with us, so that,
together with Mary, our Mother,
and Mother of the Church,
we may make Carmelite way
the very wellspring of our lives.
May the abiding presence of your Spirit
of wisdom and understanding
enable us to listen to you,
to listen to one another,
and in serving your people,
to heed especially the cry of the poor.
We ask this grace in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Let us pray for each other.

Monday 17 January 2011

Thought for the Week

"...God loves us not because of anything we’ve done to earn that love, but because God, in total freedom, has decided to love us.”
Henri Nouwen

Friday 14 January 2011

Pope paves way to beatification of John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI has formally approved a miracle attributed to his late predecessor, paving the way to John Paul II's beatification on 1 May.
The process of beatification, or declaring the late pontiff to be "blessed", is a crucial step towards making him a saint.
John Paul II died in 2005 after a papacy of nearly 27 years.
The Vatican credits him with the miraculous cure of a nun said to have had Parkinson's Disease.
Church officials believe that the Polish pope, who himself suffered from the condition, interceded for the miraculous cure of Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, a Frenchwoman in her late forties.
She has said her illness inexplicably disappeared two months after John Paul II's death, after she and her fellow nuns had prayed to him.
Church-appointed doctors agreed that there was no medical explanation for the curing of the nun, although last year there were some doubts about the validity of the miracle. A Polish newspaper said that a doctor who scrutinised the nun's case had concluded that she might have been suffering not from Parkinson's, but from a nervous disorder from which temporary recovery is medically possible.
Up to a million people are expected to gather in Rome for the beatification.
Mourners at John Paul II's funeral on 8 April 2005 chanted: "Santo subito!" - or "Make him a saint right now!"
Work is under way in St Peter's Basilica to make space for John Paul II's tomb since, in accordance with tradition, the remains of popes who are beatified are moved up from the crypt to the nave.
"John Paul II's coffin will be moved in St Peter's Basilica from the Vatican crypt without being opened," said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
His body will not be displayed but placed in a tomb under a simple marble stone reading "Beatus Ioannes Paulus II" (Blessed John Paul II).
In order for John Paul II to be canonised as a saint, a second miracle would have to be verified following the beatification.
Source: BBC News

Thursday 13 January 2011

From Aylesford to East Timor

Pre-novitiate English Class
A friar of the Aylesford community, Fr. Kevin Melody, O.Carm., has arrived in Timor Leste (East Timor) where for the next three months he will be living with the local Carmelite Family and helping with the friar formation programme. He first spent time there in 2009, and maintains a valuable link between the British Province and the Carmelite Family in Asia. Kevin has sent his first report about the physical conditions he is living in...
"Things are going well here thank God - even the heat and humidity are bearable now. Most days it is in the high 20s or low 30s with very high humidity. Here in the Postulants' house in the city it is quite stuffy but in the Novitiate house, things are better as it is on a hill. Particularly helpful is the recreation room partly funded by the British Province in memory of Donald Grant - it has simply four pillars and a roof so gets great airflow. I have only been there a couple of times so far but will likely spend the month of February there with the Novices and theology students.

At present I am with the four Postulants as their formators are in Australia and Indonesia for January. It is now almost 11 am so the electricity is likely to go off any time so I will finish off. It goes off most afternoons. Luckily though we have it at night so I can have a fan in my room which makes a big difference."

Fatuhada - Blessed Titus Brandsma Community
Mission Centre, Pre-Novitiate and Transit House
Blessed and opened in July 2005, Blessed Titus Brandsma House serves as the main administration centre for the Carmelites. It is the only Carmelite house with a  landline phone, fax and internet access as well as a postal service. It is a 'transit house' for Carmelites and other visitors travelling between the parish of Zumalai and Dili.
Blessed Titus Brandsma Community is also the formation house for the Pre-Novices - young men beginning their formation as Carmelites. The two-year pre-Novitiate  is an introduction to Carmelite life and formation and a time of deeper discernment.  During their second year these students take part in an Inter-Congregational programme for young men and women who are beginning their formation in religious life. The daily programme for the Pre-Novitiate includes attendance at Eucharist, community and personal prayer, manual and pastoral work and sporting activities, studies in English, Portuguese, introduction to scripture and theology, and a programme for human development.
The Carmelite sisters “Hermanas Carmelitas” live nearby so the Carmelite priests celebrate daily Mass for them and also at the Mission Centre.

Pre novices at work

As well as providing accommodation for the Carmelite friars and pre-novices, there are also rooms for male high school students from Zumalai. There are few senior high schools in East Timor. By providing accommodation in Dili for these students, the Carmelites are making it possible for at least some students from Zumalai to complete their secondary or technical education. Most families cannot afford to pay for board and education expenses for their children. The Carmelites are helping these students by providing for their needs while they study. These students with the Pre-Novices also contribute to the daily up-keep of the house and the community.
For more information about the work of the Carmelites in Timor Leste please follow the link to the website of the Australian Province of Our Lady Help of Christians

Monday 10 January 2011

Carmel & Holiness

I am busy preparing for the first of this years retreats and have been re-reading some of the material I have prepared over the years. This talk struck a chord as I am preparing  a retreat for a lay community in Scotland around the themes of community and holiness. This talk was given at Aylesford in December 2002.

Carmel and Holiness - Damian Cassidy, O.Carm.

I have been asked to reflect on the way in which we are called to holiness. Before I can address this we need to have a common understanding of what holiness is, if only so that you can know how I am approaching the subject. Scripture scholars tell us that the root of the word ‘Holy’ is ‘different.’ Isaiah has this in mind when he says ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts than your thoughts.’[1] So in Greek [Hagios] and Hebrew [Kodesh] to be ‘Holy’ means to be different. I would like you to hold on to that meaning.
According to the Oxford dictionary holiness is sanctity which is itself then described as holiness of life, saintliness, sacredness, being hallowed, right to reverence, inviobility. As you can see when we rely on dictionaries for definitions we can enter a round robin of meanings.
I have some friends who married some years ago, and for some years they lived with the frustration of being childless. They now have two beautiful children and one evening I was sitting at the table, with their 4 year old daughter and Sean and Carmel and they were describing what life was like for them before she was born. They told her that before she was born they wanted a baby so badly that they told God it didn’t matter. It could be a boy or a girl, a big baby or a little baby, brown eyes or blue eyes. They just wanted a baby and any baby would do. Then they looked at their daughter and Sean said, ‘But we are so glad that God sent us you.’ Rebecca looked back at them and said with great seriousness ‘I’m so glad that you stayed at home the day God came!’ That has become my definition of holiness ~ being open to God, being At Home for God. Being ready for his presence. We must remember that holiness is a gift – something that God does in us. We can only be ready for God’s coming.
Carmel narrates this and gives this definition root and meaning. The call of Carmel is one of disturbance. We allow God to stir up longings and desires and then we struggle within the tension that has been created. Carmel is never a place to be static, it is not about the plateau or the plains, it is gutsy, hilly, and often ‘in your face’. If we enter and encounter this space alone, we will never last. Our strength will wane and we will know only frustration. The message of Carmel is Emmanuel ~ God with us.
The new Ratio of the order presents our vocation in the context of relationship. The very first paragraph of the document says:-
“God loved us first, and he called us to participate in the communion of the Trinity. We recognise his call in the experience of his love. Moved by the Spirit, we listen to the Word of Christ, who is the way that leads to life. In his footsteps, entrusting ourselves to God’s merciful love, we set out on the journey to the summit of mount Carmel, the place where we encounter God and are transformed in him.”

God is always the initiator. Vocation begins in the depths of God’s love for us, a love of relationship, of community, of welcome and of belonging. Because vocation is lived in the tension of relationship, it requires a response. The call to life is heard by those who live, not in self absorbed isolation, but in creative and life-giving dialogue with the world and the people with whom we live.
Taking this statement from the ratio to pieces we can isolate the kernel of the Carmelite Vocation.
God loved us first! For humanity this is the hardest reality not just to accept but live in its knowledge. God loves us and there is nothing we can do to diminish that love. God cannot love us more and will not love us less!
God calls us to share in the ‘communion of the Trinity.’ God calls us into the heart of God’s-self – the Trinity! Think about it, this is absolutely mind blowing. The Trinity is our home, the ultimate place of our being. The more I reflect on this the more awesome this fact becomes. The vocational response is how do we live this? How do we reflect the Trinity in our homes, our relationships, our workplaces, communities, parishes? Do we give the Trinity liberty in our lives? Do we allow the Father to create and renew, do we allow the Son to love in us – in the language of John the Evangelist – whose feet do we wash? Do we allow the Spirit to blow where she will? Do we see God at work amongst us and in us? To be Carmelite is to mine the depths of our experiences knowing that in them we will find God.
We recognise God’s call in the experience of God’s love. This is the context of our life in God. LOVE! The call is one of relationship and encounter. We are ‘at home’ with those whom we love. In love there is acceptance and nurture. I am a bit of a film fan and one of my favourite films is the Jack Nicholson film As Good As It Gets! Nicholson plays a man with a fractured personality. He falls in love with a very independent woman and things seem to be going well. One evening he seems to be floundering and he resorts to his sarcasm as a defence against his vulnerability. Helen Hunt challenges him to pay her a compliment, and he struggles with the truth and then he utters the wonderful line ‘You make me want to be a better person.’ Love draws from his character the desire to be the best possible, the most authentic version of who he is. Love and relationship are the ways in which we come to knowledge of ourselves. It is in the lived experience of love that we realise that self is not enough. We are made for others. The American song writer Jan Crist says in one of her songs – it’s not love that hurts, it’s the lack.
Moved by the Spirit, we listen to the Word of Christ, who is the way that leads to life. Attentiveness is the attitude of the contemplative. This is mirrored by the season that we are celebrating and experiencing now. Advent is the time of longing; we join Mary, the women pregnant with the Word, the life of God. We yearn to hear the cry of the Christ Child. The Hebrew people longed for the Messiah and God came to them not in majesty but in poverty, not with a roar of authority, no, the voice of God was heard for the first time in human history in the bemused cry of a newborn child.
In his footsteps, entrusting ourselves to God’s merciful love, we set out on the journey to the summit of mount Carmel, the place where we encounter God and are transformed in him. This is the hard part. The dessert, the place of God’s transforming love. We resist change. The pointing out of areas of growth in our lives is always hard. The realisation that transformation is a gift is liberating but requires our acceptance of vulnerability. When I professed solemn vows in July, our provincial Tony remarked on the recklessness of this act. He pointed out that when I lay on the ground, with my face in the dirt, I was praying as Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. The handing over of everything is not an event. It is a process that continues all through life. Often it is ‘one step forward two steps back.’ It is hard, but I live in the assurance that I will come to a place of freedom that is God and the welcome and life that will be mine is beyond imagination. The constitutions of our family present the lives and fidelity of Elijah and Mary.
From Elijah, Carmelites learn to be people of the desert, with heart undivided, standing before God and entirely dedicated to his service, uncompromising in the choice to serve God’s cause, aflame with passionate love for God.
Art. 26.

Mary brings the Good News of salvation to all men and women … looking at her, and living in spiritual intimacy with her, we learn to stand before God, and with one another, as the Lord’s brothers [and sisters]. Mary lives among us, as a mother and sister, attentive to our needs; along with us she waits and hopes, suffers and rejoices.
Art. 27.

I will conclude with the words of a fellow Carmelite, who was alive with God’s love and this love led him to an appreciation of his place in God’s world.
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine are the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and god … is mine, and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from the table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in It and rejoice, and you -will obtain the supplications of your heart.[2]

[1] Isaiah 55:9
[2]‘Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love’ in the Collected Works of St John of the Cross, pp 87-88.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

God gives light to everyone who comes into this world; though unseen, God reveals himself through the works of his hand, so that all people may learn to give thanks to their Creator.

You have followed God’s light and the way of the Gospel lies open to you. Set your feet firmly on the path and acknowledge the living God, who truly speaks to everyone. Walk in the light of Christ and learn to trust in his wisdom. Commit your lives daily to his care, so that you may come to believe in him with all your heart.

This is the way of faith along which Christ will lead you in love towards eternal life. Are you prepared to make your journey through life under the guidance of Christ? I am.

And so: Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children? I do.

Do you reject the glamour of evil and refuse to be mastered by sin? I do.

Do you reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness? I do.

Do you believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth? I do.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? I do.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting? I do.

God the all powerful Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit and forgiven all our sins. May he keep us faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday 6 January 2011

A rain drenched morning

Sitting in my room and watching the rain weave pathways down the diamond shaped windows, and I am in a ponderous mood. I need some words to sit with and stir me. A quick dash to the book shelves and this leapt out. Enjoy!


God, I come before you
as empty as a paper cup,
waiting to be filled
with the wine of your presence,
Somewhere back along the road a bit,
I dropped all those things
I was going to offer you,
the doing, the giving, the praying.
I'll pick them up again later,
but right now,
it's just you and me, God,
and there's not much of me.
It's a good feeling
to be this empty, this open
to the amazing stillness of you,
not knowing how to name you
or the life you pour into me.

God, right now I feel so small
and yet so vast.
I can't say where I end
and you begin.

Joy Cowley from the book 'Psalms from Down under'

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Our Christmas Cribs

Creative Carmel is in evidence at Aylesford. This year many have created images of the Nativity scene to help us in our wonder at the events of the Incarnation. Our community room is a place that is both a sitting room and a link to parts of the friary. Br Torsten and Br Tiago created a very simple scene for the friars and our guests to ponder over.

Community Room

In the winter months the community gather for the liturgy in the Cloister Chapel. It is a warm and cosy space that can sit around 30 people. Beth Obbard created a simple scene in the chapel.

Cloister Chapel

Cloister Chapel

The main crib is always in the Chapel of St Anne, just to the right of the High Altar at the Main Shrine. Our sacristan, Mark and his family put this crib scene together to delight our many visitors.
St Anne's Chapel
 As the season of Christmas comes to a close, may we always delight in a God who is both with us and for us.