Saturday 28 April 2012

To whom shall we go ...

During the week we have met the great figures of Peter and Paul in the readings of the Mass as we hear of the disciples of Jesus moving out of Jerusalem to take the word of God to every part of the earth. The Church has always had problems because it is made up of human beings. The stories about the first disciples of Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament show a time of great expansion but also of difficulty. The strength of the Church, what keeps us all together, is the presence of the Spirit of Jesus, who encourages us and reminds us of the message of Jesus.

We also have the sacraments, which are signs of Christ’s continuing presence in the Church. Over the past few days at Mass we have heard Jesus talk about himself as the bread from heaven. He declared that his flesh was real food and his blood was real drink and that whoever did not eat his flesh and drink his blood did not have life in them. Some of his followers could not take what he was saying, so they left him. He did not call them back and tell them that he was only kidding! Instead he went to his closest followers and gave them the opportunity also to go away. Peter spoke up for the others when he said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

We receive Christ’s body and blood at Mass. In this way Christ shares his eternal life with us. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus declares himself to be the Good Shepherd. If we listen to his voice, we will not go wrong.

Volunteers preparing the Peace Garden

The Peace Garden taking shape

We are going to have the solemn opening of the Peace Garden. It is going to be opened by Tom Hart Dyke, a well known television presenter and contributor. He was captured while on a plant seeking expedition in Colombia and during his time of captivity, he planned out in his head the World Garden at Lullingstone Castle in Kent. There have been very many benefactors and volunteers who have made the peace garden possible. When you have a change, why don’t you come along to experience some peace.?

The Peace Garden. April 2012

Sunday 22 April 2012

Many languages: one Spirit

Sometimes at Aylesford it can seem like being at the United Nations. The community members come from England, Scotland and Ireland and then this year Fr. Desiderio from Spain came to work with the novices and to perfect his English. The novices come from different European countries: Jacek is from Poland, Severin is from Germany and Kurt is from Malta. Recently we had a Carmelite visitor from Germany, G√ľnter, who gave a course to the novices on the Carmelite vocation. Of course the pilgrims and visitors to Aylesford are from many different countries. It truly is an international place.

The Church is an international community of people who believe in Jesus Christ. The Carmelite Order is a community within the Church which has a special mission. There are many different ways to bear witness to Christ and his message. The Carmelite vocation is to bear witness above all to the importance of the relationship with God. If we have a relationship with God this will be visible in how we treat other people. In all our work we try to help people discover the presence of God which lives within them.

God is never far away from any of us and we try to discover God’s presence in the events of ordinary daily life and especially in those with whom we live. We try to share what we have and what we are for the common good. Like Mary, the Mother of Jesus, we listen to the Word of God and say “yes” to whatever God is asking of us. It is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we find the strength to continue living in allegiance to Jesus Christ. We come from many different countries but the values we hold in common are the same.

Please remember us in your prayer as we seek to bear witness to the presence of God in our world.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Courage to build anew

Br. Michael McMullen & Fr Malachy Lynch

The Carmelite Province AGM is over and the participants have gone home to the different parts of the country, except of course for the members of the Aylesford community. It was a good meeting at which we looked towards the future, which is in the hands of God. There are always problems when we look ahead but these do not set the agenda for the future. We are called into God’s future which God is creating out of our present but we are asked to cooperate with our ideas and our work.  

Carmelites are mendicant friars, which means that we are brothers living among the people and we depend on the providence of God. With that in mind we tried to plan for our future ministries. Aylesford is one of the most important and ancient houses in the Order and a lot of things go on here. The Carmelites came here first in 1242 and then after the Reformation, returned in 1949. Then a great period of building ensued and the shrine took shape. It has served many thousands of pilgrims over the years.  The community has had to adapt to changing needs and must adapt again. We want to help whoever comes here to be that bit more open to God whether they come for a retreat, a conference or just to feed the ducks. There are many people who work alongside us to serve the people who come. We will have to do some serious repair work on the buildings in the near future, which is a bit daunting, but no doubt the Lord will show us the way.

In 1949 the community came into a building much of which was in ruins. Fr. Malachy, who was the prior then, had a famous phrase: “Courage to Build Anew”. We need that same courage now to face into the future that God has in mind for us. Please pray with us and for us that Aylesford, which is a prayer in stone, may continue to speak of God to people in the future.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Carmelites meet at Aylesford

The Carmelites are gathering in Aylesford from various parts of the country to participate in the Provincial AGM this week. This meeting is for friars and lay Carmelites who are closely associated with the work of the British Province. Bishop Patrick Lynch, auxiliary bishop in Southwark, will assist us in our deliberations.

One of the reasons for such a meeting is simply to get together and celebrate the resurrection of the Lord. We have all been busy in different parts of the country and it is good once a year to spend time together. We will also have serious discussions about how best to live our Carmelite vocation in Britain today. We seek to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ, a phrase which comes from the 13th century Carmelite Rule, and we do this through a commitment to seek the face of the living God, through our connection with one another and through service in the midst of the people. Carmelites have all sorts of different apostolates but all of us seek to live a life of prayer and to share our prayer with others in and through whatever work we do. We are committed to the group and try to support one another in whatever way we can.

The Old Testament Prophet Elijah is very important to us and we learn from him how to be open to God in whatever way God chooses to approach us. Like Elijah, we try to be faithful to the Tradition that has been passed on to us and, at the same time, to be creative so that we do not miss what God is saying to us in new situations. Our Lady of course is our patroness. The first chapel on Mount Carmel was dedicated to her as the Lady of the Place, and since then Carmelites have seen in her their model of how to listen to the Word of God and to follow Jesus faithfully.

The word that Carmelites use for the value that holds all our other values in unity is contemplation. By contemplation we mean the process of trusting our lives and future to God in whatever way God chooses to approach us, remaining open to God who seeks to transform us. Contemplation is a transforming experience of the overpowering love of God that empties us of our limited and imperfect ways of thinking, loving and acting, transforming them into divine ways.   

Getting together is fun; we catch up on what has been happening around the country and we just enjoy each other’s company. However there is also a serious side to it as we ponder on the event of Easter and try to discern where the Risen Lord is leading us. With Our Lady’s help, we seek to understand more deeply how we can live our Carmelite vocation faithfully in the changing circumstances of our society.

Please spare a prayer for us as we meet together and we will remember you.

Sunday 8 April 2012

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Our world is in a bit of a mess. After 2000 years of Christianity, what do we have? A world lacerated by wars and the threat of terrorism; millions starving while others live in opulence; our western culture has largely rejected the Gospel, while in other parts of the world you take your life in your hands to be a Christian. The Church’s reputation has been badly damaged by scandals; fewer people are going to Church and many fewer are coming forward to serve God as priests and religious.
If you think that picture is dark, what about the reality that the first disciples of Jesus found themselves plunged into? This Jesus in whom they had begun to believe was the long awaited messiah sent by God, who had spoken of God in such a new, fresh and profound way, who had reached out to the poor, the sick, the excluded, this same Jesus had been arrested, whipped and crucified. He was buried in a hurry so as not to break any rules about the Sabbath.
So the first disciples of Jesus were plunged into a very dark place indeed, made more dark by the fact that most of them had run away. One had even betrayed him for money and then committed suicide; the leader, Peter, had denied that he even knew Jesus. Only a few of the women disciples stayed with him and watched from a distance as he died on the cross. They watched as he was buried hurriedly by a kind man.
So what happened? What happened to transform the cowering group of former followers of Jesus? It must have been something so strong that these frightened people suddenly became courageous disciples who went out to the whole of the known world to proclaim the Good News from God. The women had gone to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, which was the Jewish way of giving an honourable burial to someone and had not been possible on the day he died. These women were so grief stricken that they had not fully thought out what they were going to do. It was only while they were on the way that it suddenly struck them that there was a huge stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb. Who would roll it away? When they got there, they discovered that the stone had already been rolled away and they heard the joyous news: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here” (Mark 16, 6).
Something so totally unexpected, so unheard of, had happened. What the Jewish people had expected at the end of time for everyone, had happened in one man. Jesus had risen from the dead to a new kind of life. The disciples of Jesus realised that in this event, God had finally fulfilled all the divine promises that we find in the Bible but had done so in a completely unexpected way. They understood that their task was to proclaim what God had done in Jesus and invite everyone to enter God’s family. They understood that it was through this new family that God would renew the face of the earth. They looked back over the whole Bible and understood how God had prepared the Jewish people over their whole history for this supreme moment – the resurrection of Christ.
So God has finally acted and has fulfilled His promises. So what has happened? What about the mess our world is in? What has the death and resurrection of Jesus actually accomplished? Surely not much has changed, except perhaps that we have got worse? However, God seems to work best under cover of darkness. When things could not have got any worse, when Jesus was dead and buried, then the great event of the resurrection took place. In this holy season, let us place our trust in God’s way of working. When things seem to be most bleak, God is powerfully at work preparing the world for the return of Christ in glory. This will not happen in our way or our time, but in God’s way and in God’s time.
Until that time comes, let us be faithful to the mission given to all disciples of Christ to proclaim that he is risen from the dead and he is Lord. We can do that in word but above all by living our faith in the victory of God over darkness and evil.
Remember that no matter how big the stone is that blocks your relationship with God, on this Easter day, it is rolled away. Alleluia!     

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Holy Week At Aylesford

The sun is shining brightly; the daffodils and crocuses are in full bloom; the ducks and the geese are looking at each other in a funny way. Spring is in the air! But for how long? The snow is moving inexorably down from the north of Scotland. Will it reach the drought-stricken south-east of England? I will keep you posted.
The novices, Brs. Jacek, Severin and Kurt, are putting the benches back in their accustomed places in the piazza at the moment because Easter marks the beginning of the pilgrimage season here at Aylesford. During the winter they are stacked up and covered to preserve them from the frost. However, winter was very mild and so perhaps there will be more damage over the next few days than there would have been over the whole of the winter!
Last week the novices were doing a course in Ireland as part of their preparation for making first vows. Here the Provincials of the North European provinces gathered for a meeting. The Prior General of the Carmelite Order lives in Rome. He is Fr. Fernando and he hails from Spain. The Prior General is elected for a six year term and this may be extended for another term. Then the Order is divided, usually geographically, into Provinces. Aylesford is part of the British Province. The leader of each Province is called the Prior Provincial, who is elected for a three year term, which can be repeated. Our Provincial is Wilfrid McGreal who lives in Faversham, where we have a parish and the shrine of St. Jude. The Provincials of an area get together from time to time to discuss issues of common interest and to help each other in their planning for the future.
This week of course is Holy Week. Fr. Damian is setting off with Fr. Desiderio on the journey to Dalmally, near Oban in Scotland. They are going to celebrate the holy days with a large group of young people. They have taken their wellies, hats, gloves and a shovel to get them out of trouble on the journey north! Some of the community will go to the Chrism Mass at St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark, on Wednesday. On Holy Thursday, the retreat begins. Br. Paul and Sheila Grimwood will lead the retreatants to enter more deeply into the mystery of Easter. Fr. Brendan will lead the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at 8.00 p.m. This will be followed by “Watching until Midnight”, which is the traditional quiet adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. Mass will be in the Relic Chapel and the watch will be at the altar of repose in the Choir Chapel. This will end at midnight with Night Prayer.
Fr. David will lead the Good Friday Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion and Fr. Joseph will be the principal celebrant for the Easter Vigil. The fire at the beginning of the procession always creates one problem or another. There are stories of priests setting fire to their vestments or fire engines being called. Let’s hope that everything passes off peacefully! If we are covered in deep snow, we might be glad of a fire to warm us up! On Easter Sunday we have the usual masses and perhaps we might even have a wee glass of wine at lunch.
Wherever you are, all of us at Aylesford want to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy and holy Easter.