Posted on the 27th June 2017 in the category News
In the June 2017 edition of New Directions Fr Peter CSWG explains why the Church of England needs contemplative communities
The physical heart is not a large organ in the human body: the size of your closed fist is the most regular answer. It weighs well under 1% of our body’s weight, yet through it flows the means and the possibility of human life. Any malfunctioning of the heart, without corrective measures speedily taken, and life is likely to cease altogether. Working in harness with the lungs, the heart plays an indispensable part in healthy human living. In the Body of Christ that is the Church, the grace of contemplation, understood as the fullness of prayer, undertakes a similar function as the physical heart in the body. Prayer is absolutely crucial for the life and well-being of that Body: if there is any malfunctioning of its ‘heart’, there will be a correspondingly limited life. ‘The Mission of the Church is weak because its prayer is weak’ (Fr William of Glasshampton).
Contemplative communities represent but a small proportion of the religious life of monks, nuns and solitaries, and a tiny minority of all Christians, yet their life directed to ‘unceasing prayer’ (1 Thess. 5.16-18) is vital for the positive functioning and healthy flourishing of the Church’s mission: its service to the world, and to the ‘poor’ among our fellow human beings.
Fr William of Glasshampton became a Franciscan friar with the Society of the Divine Compassion (SDC) at the turn of the last century. He initially found the meaning of his calling from God, by responding to the desperate needs of the poor and marginalized in London’s East End, and in particular a leper community in East Hanningfield. After several years of this ministry of mercy, William was led by God to leave all this behind in order to found an enclosed contemplative community at Glasshampton. This was not without some difficulty, for his own Community were not convinced of the vital importance and urgent purpose of such a life, in the degree to which Fr William had become convinced.
Although in the end no one joined Fr Willliam at Glasshampton, the present monastic community at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God – CSWG) regards its own life and growth as witnessing the fruit of William’s solitary witness and life of prayer. The Founder of CSWG, Fr Robert Gofton-Salmond, bought the property there in 1938, the year following Fr William’s death.
In Fr William’s understanding, without the fully enclosed contemplative life of men as well as women, the Church of England could not be regarded as having the fullness of catholic and apostolic life that began in the New Testament and during first 300 years of the Church.
The life of contemplation begins in Gethsemane, where the final testing of the Lord’s human will to affirm and choose the Father’s will took place: ‘Not my will but yours be done’ (Matt. 26.39, 42, 44). That struggle and its victory won in the Spirit enabled the triumph that would emerge the following day as the whole of creation was offered back by the Lord to the Father from the Cross.
Contemplative life thus finds its centre in the passion and death of the Lord at Calvary. The content of its life is never far from the heart of the Christian mystery, calling for sacrifice and a generous heart. Because that mystery of the Passion is its centre, contemplative life is filled also with joy and thanksgiving, sharing in the abundance and fullness of God’s blessings and the resurrection of new life, which are made possible through the Cross. The two – suffering and joy – become inextricably intertwined as the great Spanish mystic St John of the Cross came to witness in his later poems, ‘Spiritual Canticle’ and ‘Flame of Love’.
Contemplation is not something we do but rather something God does in us. For that reason, there can be contemplatives in the world and in parishes (including many parish priests), as well as those who share in a corporate community life. Contemplation requires stillness, some silence and solitude, and there may appear what seems to some a certain slowness in the manner of doing things that is baffling to the uncomprehending outsider, and ‘heresy’ according to contemporary cultural shibboleths. Together these qualities produce a stability of life that fosters continuous prayer. The most eloquent description in Scripture of the life of contemplation is found in St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: chapters 3-6, and its nub in chapter 4.6-12:
‘Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.’ It is God’s work of re-creating human beings in his image, into Christ who is the image of God, into the resurrected life of his new nature. This new nature arises out of that continual life of dying and rising, and manifests itself as the new creation of Christ.
In the Book of Proverbs comes that remarkable saying: ‘without vision, the people perish’. It is the vision furnished by contemplation that has always spurred forward the Church, and broken new ground: Fr Mackonochie, Fr Benson SSJE, Fr William of Glasshampton, as radiant stars familiar to us in the more recent past of our church, were all spurred on by such a vision. They were all tried and tested in the Spirit, united thus with the Passion of Christ. Each in a different way held before people the vision of the beauty and glory and goodness of God, the ‘beauty of holiness’. The outcome from such a vision is always a reaching out to ‘the poor’ – to the marginalized, deprived and downtrodden, whom prosperous society casts on one side.
The Church of England needs its contemplative communities as it needs apostolic communities: it needs women and men consecrated to the Gospel and willing to give all for witness of its truth, living it out in a manner that precisely does that. The Church needs the vision given in contemplation: the prophetic understanding of what is wrong and bad in the present state of things; it also rekindles in us the glory and power of God’s goodness and beauty, lost sight of by a secular mentality, which alone has the capability to transport us, and to ‘move the mountains’ which the Lord promises to faith.
We all need to keep telling one another: the religious life is an exacting but real choice for Jesus and an answer to God’s invitation made through our baptism, for each one of us to serve him. So we will be sharing this with folk once again, this time in Kennington in South London at the end of September.
Please encourage anyone you know who may have an interest to attend.
Posted on the 12th April 2017 in the category Events
Posted on the 6th April 2017 in the category News
In the autumn last year, ten intrepid seekers (male and female) made their way to York from varying parts of the country to take part in a Taster Day sponsored and organized by members of RooT, and to listen to the stories of three members of communities – two monks and a nun – telling something of what it might be like to become involved in such a call. One of those seekers shares his experience of the Day:
The Hollies have it:
Perhaps not from the writings of one of the great Church Fathers of ages past, or a theologian of the contemporary church, but the Hollies have it! The Christian journey is never a straightforward one, but neither is it dull or uneventful for indeed God, as Gerard Hughes SJ tells us is a ‘God of Surprises’. One such surprise was an advert posted onto my Facebook page:
Intriguing. Could this be talking to me, a priest of the Old Catholic tradition? In some small way, I have always had perhaps a romantic idea in the back of my mind, that to live in community would be a lovely, idyllic, prayerful, and serene life, bathed in the hushed tones of plainsong and holiness. So, could that be me? Here was the question for real. I got in touch with Louise, who was coordinating the event, and so following an e-mail from Fr Peter CSWG, I was soon headed off to York. It occurred to me whilst on the train, how “other” our brothers and sisters who live in community can seem to be. Not in any negative way at all, after all many of us, whether on retreat or pilgrimage, will have come across these holy enigmas, but how often do we really get to share on a personal level or in community the story of their vocation, and indeed to explore if we are being called to such a life?
The venue was the beautiful 1470’s medieval hall of Jacob’s Well. Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by an assortment of robed figures, hospitality abounding and hot drinks flowing. As our numbers grew, so did the conversation, and with ease and genuine joy our band of pilgrims readily settled in, and once assembled, +Glyn gathered us all together in welcome and prayer, and so our Taster Day began.
Introductions next and how extraordinary it was too. No less than 8 communities represented. Re- enter The Hollies. ‘The road is long…….,’ but how inspiring it was to hear the personal stories of some of our brethren. How they encountered God’s call to the religious life, and how reassuring it was for me and I’m sure for my fellow pilgrims, to hear that seldom was there ‘a Damascus moment’. God, although full of surprises, is a God of subtle and personal conversation, the still small voice of calm. Our conversation opened up and with remarkable generosity, we learned much. Missionary work, education, social work, hospital work, pastoral care, retreats, spiritual direction along with daily communal worship and private devotion, were just some of the aspects we spoke about of a life lived in community. Questions flowed and were answered, leading us to The Angelus, and Sext. Whether by design or good fortune, it was the feast of S. Thérèse of Lisieux, herself a model of religious life; surrounded by such charisma, the need for food became apparent.
Lunch followed, hearty and simple, +Glyn once again joined us, and so our fellowship continued, allowing us opportunity to mix more freely, to swap notes and to form new friendships. We seemed to respond organically to the idea of community after our meal, each without direction assuming a role to ensure everything was tidy and nothing was left to fall on the shoulders of those who had provided such a wonderful lunch. We gathered once more, this time in smaller groups for a more intimate time with our brethren and each other, allowing a deeper, more personal discussion about our own journeys through faith and how we might respond to our vocations, for as Christians we each have one.
At 3pm we headed just around the corner for Holy Mass to the Parish church of S. Mary, Bishophill joined with S. Clements York: a glorious building spanning the ages and orthodox traditions. The warm and friendly Anglo-Catholic congregation and clergy also play host to the Greek Orthodox congregation of Ss. Constantine and Helen, and the Russian Orthodox congregation of Ss. Constantine and Helen. Fr. Andrew celebrated and preached, offering his insight into the role of religious in the contemporary world. After Mass, we were invited for tea and cake, a final opportunity to spend time together swapping numbers, and compare notes. A final presentation from Louise by way of huge thanks to those who fed and watered us, to +Glyn, Fr. Andrew, and of course the very dear brothers and sisters who travelled far and wide to be with us. Our final joy was to be thanked too for our being there and sharing our journey. After a final prayer of thanksgiving and the blessing, we each received a gift and an Invitation: “Come and See. You are invited….. “. An invitation I know is open to all! .
After all, as the Psalmist writes, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Or…. As The Hollies have it (forgiving the non-inclusive language). ‘He ain’t heavy. He’s my brother..!’
Fr Mark Dunning
Posted on the 4th November 2016 in the category News
In the October issue of New Directions Fr Nicolas Stebbing of the Community of the Resurrection asks some questions - see here.
Posted on the 9th September 2016 in the category Announcements