Posted on the 9th Sep 2016 in the category Announcements
Posted on the 8th Sep 2016 in the category News
Today most communities offer facilities for becoming an “alongsider” – the opportunity to live more or less the same life as Community members, but without any obligation to make a definite long-term commitment. Taster Days, meanwhile, are an opportunity to see and meet with different members of communities and to chat informally about their lives, perhaps asking questions you wanted to ask but never dared! There is a monastic Taster Day in York on Saturday 1 October for anyone interested in finding out more about the traditional monastic way of living. For full details, see here, or contact email@example.com
Posted on the 7th Sep 2016 in the category News
In the September 2016 edition of New Directions Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR reflects on the call to the religious life.
Why do so few people enter the religious life these days? That is a question that has occupied many of us over the past few decades as religious communities have grown smaller, and seem largely to consist now of elderly monks and nuns. The occasional young brother or sister is an exception, and much rejoiced over - but why are there so few of them?
There are, of course, many answers: the world has changed; most young people do not come to church; the Catholic constituency in the Anglican Church has contracted; women particularly now have many other ways in which they can fulfil themselves; and young people used to life in an affluent and materialistic world find it much harder to step away.
I wonder, however, whether there is another answer that is much closer to home. Are people in our parishes really learning to pray? Or, to put it more accurately, are they learning to pray in a way that will bring them to realise that God may ask difficult things from them; and if He does ask difficult things will they see it as a joy and a privilege, not a burden?
The religious life should never be a soft option. Historically it has often become a soft option, and then it has died. Every single renewal of the religious life has taken on a more demanding, more costly form, and that is what brings in the new recruits. Those of us who live the religious life need not to ask if we are too tough for a modern generation, but whether our lives become too soft, and too compromised to be attractive to generous souls who really want to serve God. Not many of us will come out of that process of questioning unchanged.
However, the responsibility does not stay with us. How are the parishes teaching people to pray? What kind of prayer are young people being taught in schools, confirmation classes, or on pilgrimage? Is it a prayer which is centred on God, which opens the person to the possibility that God may say to them ‘Follow me’ in that totally uncompromising way that brooks no argument and allows no concessions? Or is the prayer focused on the self ? Much prayer given to children, I fear, is about teaching them to ask God for what they want, and encouraging them to expect only good, nice things in return. This is nonsense; but is it often the message they get. Sadly, it seems also to be the message many older people receive as well.
Anyone involved in spiritual direction will have heard remarks like ‘I used to say the office, but I didn’t get anything out of it, so I gave it up’; or ‘I used to pray, but I got bored and stopped’; or ‘I used to go to daily mass, but…’. There are endless variations. The sad fact is that most of us (myself included) have at times been convinced by our modern world that everything we experience from God must be good, nice, affirming, cuddly, and warm; or that everything we do for God or in church must immediately result in feeling good, otherwise it is a failure. Christian life becomes a search for those ‘good’ experiences, whether through the hype of choruses, music groups, tongues and excitement; or through glorious vestments, clouds of smoke, and exotic music. None of those things is bad in itself; but each can be a substitute for God, and the search for spiritual satisfaction can lead into hysteria and despair.
Against this self-centredness stands the story of Jesus Christ, who ‘left us an example…that we should follow in His steps’ (1 Peter 2:21). Christ was not concerned for himself. He wanted simply to do His Father’s will. He wanted to make sure His disciples were cared for and did not give up in despair. He suffered for the whole world and He suffered more than any of us could suffer since He had infinite capacity to suffer. Can we actually follow in His steps without some acceptance of suffering? Should we perhaps even welcome suffering as a chance to follow the Christ whom we love?
Suffering in this context need not be physically painful. We don’t have to suffer chronic illness, or martyrdom. We do need to suffer the daily checks and trials that move us away from selfishness and make us care for others. We need to give up that cherished (and spurious) freedom our society makes us think is our basic human right. We do need to pray in a costly way that will be for other people and for the praise of God, not for our own comfort.
Of course, it doesn’t need to be all pain. We Catholics are good at enjoying ourselves. It is fun to do good liturgy, to have nice vestments, and to make good music. It is great to go on pilgrimage, and to enjoy days at Walsingham. But underneath is there the discipline of daily prayer, a prayer that will often be dry and costly? Is there the practice of frequent confession, admitting to the sins and failures that we wish we didn’t have to speak about? And in relationships do we accept the Christian way, which makes quite difficult demands on us? Modern society’s sexual freedom is not for us, however much we may wish it were.
This may sound rather grim. It isn’t, actually. Jesus did promise that if we took up his yoke and burden we would find it easy and light – but we have to take it up to find that out. Religious life is a very joyful place to be, so long as one makes as few compromises as possible. We will all compromise a little! Doing the will of the Father may take us into areas with large horizons and quite scary scenery; but it won’t be dull. The modern world offers people endless exciting experiences, and fails to deliver more than passing enjoyment, which never fully satisfies. Jesus Christ offers us a way that gets better and better, if we don’t get frightened and opt out. He offers us a road walked with him that can only be exciting, stimulating, and unsafe. God offers some of us a life in which prayer takes a great part: offering him praise on behalf of a world that does not pray, and begging him to him to send his healing spirit on a broken and suffering society. The world needs this prayer, and so does the Church; and it starts with daily prayer where each of us, and now.
Posted on the 6th Sep 2016 in the category News
In the September 2016 edition of New Directions Fr Peter CSWG reflects on the lessons of August for the religious life.
August is often known as the “silly season”; but in recent years it has become the focus for several major Christian youth festivals. This year we saw the spectacle of World Youth Day in Krakow, which drew young people from all over the world. Nearer home we can vaunt our own equivalents for all traditions of Christians – beginning with the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage and New Wine in late July and early August, and ending with the Greenbelt Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend.
All of these events attract thousands of young Christians and others from all over the UK and beyond: for worship, song, poetry and dance, theatre, and drama. The atmosphere that takes over is electric, brimming with the vibrant energy of youth, and this all hopefully overflows back into the parishes. Excitement, adventure, anticipation, hope: these are the earmarks of the festival spirit, the Spirit of God hovering over creation and especially over His Church, filled with the hope of the resurrection life.
Very much to the heart of the aspiration of youth is the hope of a peaceful living together of nations and peoples and faiths, the alleviation of suffering – especially that caused by greed and thoughtless prejudice – and the evils of trafficking and slave labour. In other words, a better, healthier, and safer world; and one in which no one goes hungry or homeless.
Youth festivals, by their very nature, are about highlighting the ideals of a generation and awakening common goals in life. The longer-term work of steady, patient faithfulness through life has still to be grafted onto the perspective. There remains the question for all the participants at the end of such events: how to re-locate and re-apply all their hopes, all the enthusiasm and energy, into the life of the Church and into the rest of their lives?
Perhaps part of the answer to the question lies in the liturgy of the Church during August. This too evokes an energising inspiration, similar to the outdoor festivals, pivoting as it does around its two central feasts: the Transfiguration and the Assumption. Both speak about the final goal of humanity and of the transformation of our human nature into the new humanity of Jesus Christ, already begun in Our Lady and the saints, and life in the kingdom of God where peace and harmony are the norm. Yet talk about such a goal is not enough; there has to be inspiration and dialogue for discerning with young people how those hopes can be firmly rooted in a practical action in life, in a way that can be taken up now and kept
up throughout life.
Such a way is outlined by the other saints’ days that are sprinkled liberally through August, starting with the silent but powerful witness of the Curé d’Ars and closing with the martyrdom of St John the Baptist. Between and around them lies an array of glittering names – Ss Dominic, Clare, Laurence, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Maximilian Kolbe, Bernard, Bartholomew, Monica, Augustine of Hippo, and Aidan. It’s a mixture of both the steady witness of ‘white martyrdom’ – the repeated offering of self in lifelong faithfulness – and the more immediate single offering in ‘red martyrdom’, expressed in all generations of Christians, and still being expressed today. In both cases it is the witness of the Christian Way of dying to our egocentric self-centre, in order to be born again in Christ. Both represent this common witness: one open and visible; the other quiet, hidden, generally unnoticed and unremarked.
So August, with its festivals and liturgy, becomes visibly and tangibly a celebration of God’s generosity to his people. They are a gift from God to express our response to this generosity in our lives and hearts. It naturally awakens in us – or, strictly, God it is who awakens in us – a corresponding desire to be generous in return. Just as with those saints named, we discover that such generosity works itself out through the steady Christian witness of on-going faithfulness in prayer, and true worship and obedience.
Religious life – in both its monastic and apostolic expressions – acts out a living icon for the Church of this steady faithful ongoing act of self-giving to God, and faithful prayer that witnesses to His power and sovereignty through the offering of the whole of life back to the Giver of Life. It presents visibly to the world an invitation for all human beings to love and serve their Creator, to honour and worship God their Maker, to obey His commandments, and to live in harmony with His will. It is to hold ever-present before the whole human race the hope of reconciliation of its divisions and conflicts, and lasting genuine peace through the working out of mercy towards one another.
In the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12.13-21), Our Lord tells a story about someone who is terribly and entirely egocentric, completely bound up in himself. The man thinks only of himself, and of acquiring more and more things for himself without the least thought for sharing it with those who have little or nothing. We are told that life is not for feathering our nests, or lining our pockets, but is found in giving ourselves for others and by responding to those in need. Such self-giving can only come through a life already given over to God. He also issues a warning for us all, and ends by charging us that we find the true wealth of life in being ‘rich towards God’. Life finds its fulfilment (and all its happiness) through ‘losing’ it, to give to others. That remains the eternal truth at the heart of the Christian mystery, and the perfect Christian Rule of Life.