Thursday 27 October 2011

I know there's something more

CFR Sisters who took part in the programme.
Carmelite novice Bro Roy Scivyer, reviews the BBC documentary 'Young Nuns.' broadcast this past week on BBC1.

“I know there’s something more...”
There was a moment in this documentary at which I was tempted not to watch any further, when the whole programme seemed to have become risible. I had just witnessed a group of four Franciscan sisters driving round Leeds in an H Reg Ford Escort with a “Jesus I trust in you” bumper sticker, and the sight of a further quartet of Dominican nuns playing squash in full habit just made me cringe. Popular culture has already taken the image of a nun in full habit with a beaming grin and ‘indulging’ in a leisure activity as a sign of amusement, hence the proliferation of calendars with nuns on swings, riding bumper cars or indeed playing a set of tennis. In fact, I know sisters who find these images offensive, so demeaning they can be to the life changing seriousness of their vocation.

Thankfully I persevered with what turned out to be a serious and open minded reflection on three different expressions of female consecrated life and the radical step they were taking. Clara and Catherine, both in their mid twenties and university graduates, spoke honestly of the desire in their hearts to follow God’s call to the religious life and of the sacrifices they would have to make in order to do what they believed God desired for them. This was a programme that looked at that decision alone, and although we heard that, for example, the Dominican nuns left the convent during the day for apostolic work, it was not at the heart of the vocation: God was.

It was interesting to compare their journeys and see how similar they were, for even though the charism of their Orders were different, the underlying desire was the same. Both women had found a feeling of belonging and peace when visiting their respective convents and felt affirmed when there. As crazy as it sounded to all their friends and family, for them it just made sense. Just as important was the fact that these were highly capable women who would also quite happily have established careers and begun families. As Sr Jacinta, a solemnly professed Franciscan Sister of the Renewal said when interviewed, those in religious life are not the remnants. The first scenes of Clara surrounded by wine glasses and listening to her friends gasping at how strict convent life would be is one I am sure has occurred for many entering religious life.

Of the two women, Clara’s journey received the most focus, most likely because hers was the most radical step: to enter an enclosed Benedictine Abbey on the Isle of Wight. We saw how her family journeyed with her as she spent her last weeks before entering postulancy purchasing clothes, enjoying time with her family and clearing out her room. Her mother, close to tears more often than not when interviewed, illustrated best how the decision to enter religious life is one taken not just by one person but by all who share their life. She often spoke stoically and with understanding that God’s will be done, though the pain that was causing was not far from the surface.

One scene, in which Clara weeps as she throws away old letters from friends, was the most moving as she mulled over how much she would miss them. Once more, her experience concurred with Catherine’s, who also mulled over the fact that she was – in her own words – a ‘girly girl’, and following what she felt God was asking of her would mean giving up the chance of a relationship. The documentary makers can be praised for highlighting the complexity and untidiness of the decision to enter religious life, and how more often than not there is little certainty involved or revelatory moment of clarity: simply a desire to know and love God more deeply in whatever way He wishes.

It was impossible not to admire their courage not only in undertaking such a radical step but in allowing us the chance to witness the final stages of their discernment. This film was clearly intended to be used as a vocations resource – why else would the production team want to thank Fr. Christopher Jamison so prominently in the credits – yet it didn’t feel like that. Actually the most reassuring thing was that this documentary emphasized the fact these women were testing their vocation. Their final decisions were not as they had expected, but they accepted that at the end of the day they just had to put themselves in God’s hands. If that isn’t a realistic portrayal of discernment, I do not know what is.

Monday 24 October 2011

Graces of the Season

I love the fact that we live in a country where the landscape visibly changes over the course of a year. Autumn in the UK is especially beautiful. This month has been blessed with bright sunshine and crisp dawns. The early morning chill dissipates and warmth can be easily found out of the shade of the trees.

The trees themselves have a special beauty as the leaves fall and the skeletal branches are revealed. Somehow, nature becomes bare and a new beauty is revealed. Some people dread this time as it heralds the long hours of darkness that shape our winters. I love the frosts, the ‘shush’ of leaves underfoot, and the distinctive smell of autumn. I love the stillness that these sights and sounds lead me into.

 The liturgy of the Church reflects the changing seasons on the northern hemisphere. As we enter the last weeks of the liturgical year our readings seem to be a call to readiness. We are called in our prayer to look at our world, to see the presence of God, to delight in that presence and bring others to an awareness of it. This is the prophetic attitude of ‘reading the signs of the times.’ Nature teaches us that there is life, dying and new life all around us. The seasons teach us to rejoice in the beauty of the present moment. That while the earth lies dormant in the chill of winter, wonderful re-creation is occurring. In a few short months the surface of the earth will be torn as new shoots burst forth. Life is renewed and this renewal is born of a seeming barrenness.

 I think the invitation is to surrender to these moments of stillness. As winter reveals a bare landscape, maybe we are being called to realise how in need we are of God to renew and revitalise us. Are we attentive to what God might be saying to us in these times? Are we open to be renewed and re-created? Or are we resistant?

Or maybe we just need to see life differently and delight in our changing seasons. When I was a child the words of this hymn were sung in schools across the land

 Autumn Days~by Estelle White

Autumn days, when the grass is jewelled
And the silk inside a chestnut shell
Jet planes meeting in the air to be refuelled
All these things I love so well

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Clouds that look like familiar faces
And a winter’s moon with frosted rings
Smell of bacon as I fasten up my laces
And the song the milkman sings.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Whipped-up spray that is rainbow-scattered
And a swallow curving in the sky
Shoes so comfy though they’re worn out and they’re battered
And the taste of apple pie.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Scent of gardens when the rain’s been falling
And a minnow darting down a stream
Picked-up engine that’s been stuttering and stalling
And a win for my home team.

So I mustn’t forget
No, I mustn’t forget
To say a great big thank you
I mustn’t forget.

Maybe we could each spend a moment thanking God for the gift of this day and for the beauty that surrounds us.

Friday 21 October 2011

Brother Torsten Rolfes, O.Carm., professes Simple Vows

On the feast of St Teresa of Avila, during Solemn Vespers in the Carmelite Priory Church in Mainz, Br Torsten made his first profession of vows. Fr Joseph Chalmers represented the community. Fr Joseph was Torsten's novice director. The pictures are from Mainz Karmel

Torsten makes his profession of vows into the hands of his Prior Provincial, Fr Dieter Lankes, O.Carm

Fr Joseph exchanging a sign of peace with Br Torsten

Br Torsten after his profession of vows in the full habit of the Order.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Thoughts on prayer 2

Night prayers at the Shrine
As a teenager, the book Prayers of life by Pere Michel Quoist was a huge influence on me. Pere Michel was a member of the worker priest movement in post war France. His prayers are so honest and real and over the next couple of weeks I will share with you some favourites.

Hopefully these words will get you in the mood.

If we knew how to listen to God.

If we knew how to listen to God, we should hear him
speaking to us.For God does speak. He speaks in his Gospel;
he speaks also through life - that new Gospel which we
ourselves add a page each day. But because our faith is too
weak and our life too earthbound, we are rarely open to God's message.
To help us to listen, at the beginning of our new intimacy with Christ,
let us imagine what he would say if he himself interpreted
his Gospel for the people of our day.

If only we knew how to look at life as God sees it,
we should realise that nothing is secular in the world,
but that everything contributes to the building of the
Kingdom of God. To have faith is not only to raise
one's eyes to God to contemplate him; it is also
to look at the world - but with Christ's eyes.
If we had allowed Christ to penetrate our whole being,
if we had purified ourselves, the world would
no longer be an obstacle,
it would be a perpetual incentive to
work for the Father in order that, in Christ,
his kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven.
We must pray to have sufficient faith to know how to look at life.

If we knew how to look at life through god's eyes,
we should see it as innumerable tokens of the love of the Creator
seeking the love of creatures. The Father has put
us int the world, not to walk through it with lowered eys
but to search for him through things, events, people.
Everything must reveal God to us.
Long prayers are not needed in order to smile at Christ
in the smallest details of daily life.

If we knew how to listen to God, if we knew
how to look around us, our whole life would become prayer.
For it unfolds under God's eyes and no part of it must be
lived without being freely offered to him.
At first we communicate with god through words
which may be dispensed with later on.
Words are only a means.
However, the silent prayer which has moved
beyond words must always spring from everyday life,
for everyday life is the raw material of prayer

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Pope on economic crisis and Church social teaching

Pope Benedict spoke today on the development of the Church's social teaching, in an address to the annual congress of the 'Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice' foundation, who are holding their annual conference in Rome.

The Holy Father said: "Over the last 120 years, during which the social doctrine of the Church has developed, many great changes have taken place which were not even imaginable at the time of Leo XIII's historic Encyclical 'Rerum novarum'. Nonetheless, the alteration in external circumstances has not changed the inner richness of the social Magisterium, which always promotes human beings and the family in their life context, including that of business".

The foundation this year are focusing their reflections on the relationship between families and business. Their 2011 congress coincides with the twentieth anniversary of John Paul II's Encyclical 'Centesimus annus' (published 100 years after 'Rerum novarum'), and with the thirtieth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation 'Familiaris consortio'.

"Vatican II spoke of families as a 'domestic Church', an inviolable sanctuary", said the Pope, "and economic laws must always take account of the interests and the protection of this fundamental cell of society". He then went on to recall how John Paul II, in his 'Familiaris consortio', identified four tasks for the family: forming a community of persons; serving life; participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church. "All four of these functions are founded on love, which is the goal of all education and formation in the family. ... It is first and foremost in the family that we learn that, in order to live well in society (including the world of work, economy and business), we must be guided by 'caritas', following a logic of gratuitousness, solidarity and mutual responsibility".

"In our own difficult times we are unfortunately witnessing a crisis in work and the economy which is associated with a crisis in families. ... What we need, therefore, is a new and harmonious relationship between family and work, to which the social doctrine of the Church can make an important contribution". In this context, the Pope referred to his own Encyclical "Caritas in veritate" saying that: "Commutative justice - 'giving in order to acquire' - and distributive justice - 'giving through duty' - are not sufficient in the life of society. In order for true justice to exist, it is necessary to add gratuitousness and solidarity. 'Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State'".

"Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself", said Benedict XVI.

"It is not the task of the Church to find ways to face the current crisis", he concluded. "Nonetheless, Christians have the duty to denounce evils, and to foment and bear witness to the values upon which the dignity of the person is founded, promoting forms of solidarity which favour the common good, so that humankind may increasingly become the family of God".

Source: VIS

Thoughts on prayer

Many people seem uncomfortable with prayer. They don't know where to begin or what words to use. Many seek help with this and for me this is where the problems begin. Prayer is personal and its experience is personal and unique. So how do we begin. What can help us move into prayer?

Many will ask what's it like? Or, 'teach me to pray.' I can only explain what it is like for me, and like Jesus, I will use a modern parable. A parable is a story that speaks to the heart in a special way, a parable can be familiar or new but a truth is expressed that somehow finds a home in the hear-er.

This story is one from the days before I entered religious life.

I remember being invited to a party with a girlfriend. It was in the early days of our relationship when minutes spent apart just seem endless. I went to the party that was full of people that I knew and with whom I was 'at home.' Something was missing. Although happy to be there, something was missing. Then the door opened and there she was ... no words spoken ... just a smile and the knowledge that all I wanted was there. Conversations carried on with friends and the occasional stolen looks across the room. Everything had changed, life was full and the room was was full of the beautiful evening sun.

For me that is what prayer is like. God comes into the room of my life, a life that is so familiar, spent often in the company of people whom I love, and then it is suffused with the presence of the One to whom it all belongs, for whom it is all for. It can be joyful but silent, companionable with stolen glances to reassure one another that the other is still there.

Prayer is something I need to live. It has to be as real as the communication between lover

Monday 17 October 2011

October - Month of thr Holy Rosary

“The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, which gradually took form in the second millennium under the guidance of the Spirit of God, is a prayer loved by countless Saints and encouraged by the Magisterium. Simple yet profound, it still remains, at the dawn of this third millennium, a prayer of great significance, destined to bring forth a harvest of holiness. It blends easily into the spiritual journey of the Christian life, which, after two thousand years, has lost none of the freshness of its beginnings and feels drawn by the Spirit of God to “set out into the deep” (duc in altum!) in order once more to proclaim, and even cry out, before the world that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour, “the way, and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), “the goal of human history and the point on which the desires of history and civilization turn”.

The Rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety, of which it can be said to be a compendium.(2) It is an echo of the prayer of Mary, her perennial Magnificat for the work of the redemptive Incarnation which began in her virginal womb. With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.”

Pope John Paul II, Rosarium Virginus Maria

Monday 3 October 2011

Little Way Week

During 1 - 7 October the Catholic community in England and Wales is being invited to participate in Little Way Week which is an initiative that encourages people to do seven small actions – one a day for a week – to witness to their faith through service.

The initiative takes its inspiration from St Thérèse of Lisieux, the universal Patroness of Mission, who gave to the Church a teaching called the ‘Little Way’ - the saint lived by this pathway which is a commitment to do small tasks every day with love. It is a simple way of witnessing to the love of God and neighbour.

This year the initiative is being offered in support of the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK who said to those gathered in Oscott in 2010: “I know that you will take a lead in calling for solidarity with those in need. The prophetic voice of Christians has an important role in highlighting the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, who can so easily be overlooked in the allocation of limited resources. In their teaching document Choosing the Common Good, the Bishops of England and Wales underlined the importance of the practice of virtue in public life. Today’s circumstances provide a good opportunity to reinforce that message.”

Bishop Kieran Conry (Arundel and Brighton), Chair of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference and Patron of the initiative said: “In our communities many people are in need and it is the task of every Christian to reach out to them in love and service. During 1 – 7 October you are invited to be especially attentive to those who might need help, ready to share as appropriate the reason for your actions – that you are following the command of Jesus Christ to love your neighbour as yourself.”

Resources for individuals, parishes and school can be dowloaded here:

Saturday 1 October 2011

Feast Of St Therese of the Child Jesus

My desires caused me a veritable martyrdom, and I opened the Epistles of Saint Paul to find some kind of answer. Chapters twelve and thirteen of the First Epistle to the Corinthians fell under my eyes. I read there, in the first of these chapters, that all cannot be apostles, prophets, doctors, and so on, that the Church is composed of different members, and that the eye cannot be the hand at one and the same time. The answer was clear, but it did not fulfil my desires and gave me no peace. Without becoming discouraged, I continued my reading, and this sentence consoled me: ‘Yet strive after the better gifts, and I point out to you a yet more excellent way.’ And the Apostle explains how all the most perfect gifts are nothing without love. That charity is the excellent way that leads most surely to God.

I finally had rest. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by Saint Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood it was love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that love comprised all vocations, that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places … in a word, that it was eternal!

 Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out: ‘O Jesus, my love vocation, at last I have found it … my vocation is Love!’

Yes, I have found my place in the Church and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place: in the heart of the Church, my mother, I shall be love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized.