Thursday, 31 January 2008

Living World of OT

January 16, 2008

Bible Scholar Bernhard Anderson, (91)

a leading scholar of the Hebrew Bible, passed away the day after Christmas.

This anecdote, about a Novice at Mount Melleray, appears in the obituary prepared by Drew University, where he served as dean of the school of Theology for many years.

“Modest in the extreme, Dr. Anderson was often surprised by the feeling with which students, teachers, and churchgoers spoke about the significance of Understanding the Old Testament in their lives. A public tribute of this kind occurred as recently as 2004, when Dr. Anderson was invited to participate in a theological school panel discussion. Dr. Anderson listened while a faculty member in New Testament, whom he had not previously met, told the story of how he stumbled on a copy of the book as a novice Cistercian monk in the Knockmealdown mountains of Ireland. Over the next six months, the professor recounted, he read it from cover to cover, as lectio divina, in the silent hours between the 3:45 wake-up call and the 6 A.M. Eucharist. Profoundly inspired in a new direction, he eventually left the monastery to pursue the historical study of the Bible and become a teacher in his own right. He added that he had told this story many times in the years since, but couldn’t resist telling it again in the presence of the author himself!”

Our Library Editions of the book have the European title, “The living Word of the Old Testament”. Fr. Thomas shies away from Fourth Edition revised for inclusive language. He thinks the Third Edition is the best version. We have used the book, on occasion, for the Night Office Readings.

Roscrea Course on Monastic Formation

2nd from Left: Fr. Michael Casey, OCSO, Tarrawarra Abbey, Aus.
Fr. Michael was the Director and Animator of the Course for Formators held at Mt. St. Joseph Abbey, Roscrea.
Nunraw Community was represented by Fr. Aelred, who presented an interim report to us.
We look forward to reading an account of the event in the forthcoming newsletter, "Jottings", of the Region of the Isles. - a Newsletter which has been greatly enlivened in its new guise.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Robert Alberic Stephen of Citeaux

Saints Robert, Alberic & Stephen
Cistercian Founders

Chapter Sermon Jan 26 2008
Br. Philip

“Whoever sets foot in some peaceful haven of the Cistercians, whoever comes upon a scene of ruins in the snow, a church choir forgotten in the woods, - is moved by them. Serenity, calm and dignity speak from these stones”. quotation from ‘Monasteries of Western Europe’.
The Cistercians first appeared on the scene of medieval Burgundy at the end of the 11th century. Until that time, Western monasticism had relied almost entirely on the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia to give it form and structure. Yet Benedictine himself he would have been the first to express surprise at the idea of his Rule sprawling an Order. To this day the independence of each Benedictine house is jealously guarded. The Abbot Primate of the Order is in effect only a figurehead.
Benedict provided, in his ‘little Rule for beginners’, a life of severity and humility, balanced by a healthy dose of humanity and sound practical good sense. Total obedience to the Abbot was tempered by the obligation laid on the Abbot himself to take counsel of the whole community.
The concentrated power of any ideal which gains currency tends to become more diluted as it spreads. Benedict’s Rule was no exception. By the end of the tenth century when his Rule had been accepted in almost every monastery in Christendom, it was ripe for reform.
Also the involvement of the Church in temporal quarrels and worldly affairs provided a reaction in the more spiritually sensitive men of the day.
St. Romuald fled to a secluded valley in Tuscany where he founded the Abbey of Camaldoli.
St. Giovanni Gualbert took to the hills around Florence, founded an isolated monastery in the forest of Vallambrosa
St. Peter Damian’s retreat from the world was a retreat high in the Apennines on the Borders of Umbria.
In 1098, a group of monks seeking to perfect their way of life in stricter observance of the Rule of St. Benedict abandoned the Cluniac Abbey of Molesme in Burgundy and followed their Abbot, Robert, to found a new monastery. They took possession on 21st March 1098 of a parcel of land south of Dijon, given them for the express purpose of founding on it their ‘novum monasterium’. The land was distinctly unwelcoming, consisting of dense forest, interspersed with marshy bog land. The place was called Citeaux.
Not many months passed, however, before the monks of Molesme appealed to the Pope to have their Abbot returned. In obedience to the Pope, Robert returned to his former post.
Robert, born around 1028 died peacefully at Molesme in 1111. He was canonised in 1220. It is only after 1222 that official Cistercian documents start to include his name at the beginning of lists of the Abbots of Citeaux.
Despite the comparative lack of reliable historical detail regarding Robert’s career and motivation, it is difficult not to get a picture if a man of intense feeling whose restlessness and dissatisfaction with the rhythm of Cluniac life prevailing in his day combine with an immense charisma over his fellow monks. A man living a life he feels to be too far removed from what St. Benedict was talking about 600 years earlier, and determined to take steps to remedy the situation: the Cistercian ideal had been conceived. It is thanks to his vision alone that the seeds were sown which were to change the face of medieval monasticism.
A large majority of the original community returned to Molesme in Robert’s wake, leaving a mere handful to persevere with the idea.
This handful elected as Abbot Robert’s deputy, Prior Alberic, to be Abbot, and it was he who against all likelihood, strengthened and consolidated the spiritual and material legacy of Robert, encouraging new vocations, adhering strictly to the letter of Benedict’s Rule, and at the same time dealing with the physical business of setting the Abbey on its feet.
Accepting realistically that the first piece of land that they had occupied was totally unsuitable for settling, and that no monastic foundation could be expected to survive on it, Alberic promptly moved to a site one Kilometre away just as unwelcoming and wild as the first piece of land, this one however was served by a brook. It was under him that the Abbey’s independence was confirmed by papal privilege that put this new monastery under the protection of the Pope Alberic’s lasting contribution to the Cistercians, however, was his decision to abandon the black habit of the Benedictines and clothe his small flock in a habit of undyed wool.
After the death of Alberic on Jan 26th 1109, the monks elected the Prior, Stephen Harding, an Englishman. Stephen was one of the veterans of the group at Citeaux, and probably the one closest in sensibility to Robert’s original aims. So it is not surprising that he was unanimously agreed upon to be the perfect choice as Abbot. Essentially likeable, kind natured and possessed of great charm, Stephen’s greatest legacy to the Cistercians is the constitutional framework he gave to the Order know as the ‘Carta Caritatis’, the Charter of Charity. From now on, as the name of the document implies, charity, rather than the exercise of power, was to be the guiding principle behind the organisation of the monastic family.
The fast expansion of Citeaux’s estates began in his administration. However, at heart, Stephen was far more a scholar than an economist. His erudition enabled him to undertake tasks that would test the talents of the most modern researchers.
Through the highly competent Scriptorium at Citeaux, he not only produced works of great care and accuracy but also of outstanding beauty. Citeaux harboured some of the greatest artistic talents of France.
Citeaux’s rise from obscurity to prominence and Stephen’s engaging personality, attracted numerous disciples, and by 1112 there emerged a plan for a new foundation. La Ferte was founded in 1113. Other foundations quickly followed; Clairvaux, led by the 25 year old Bernard, in 1115.
By the time of Stephen’s death in 1134, seventy Abbots attended the General Chapter.
Stephen Harding is responsible for the survival, and indeed the very existence of the Cistercian movement in the form it left its mark on history.
He found Citeaux just another reformed Abbey, and left it the head of the first Religious Order in the true sense of the word.

Sts. Robert, Alberic and Stephen pray for us.

Saturday, 26 January 2008


Sts Robert, Alberic & Stephen.
(26 January)

The churches and cloisters of abbeys like Fontenay and Thoronet, their mellow stones glowing in a setting of quiet woods, still speak eloquently of the graceful mysticism of twelfth-century Citeaux. It was for the abbot of Fontenay that St Bernard wrote his tract, Degrees of Humility, with its wonderful twelfth chapter on mystical prayer. Fontenay itself represents the direct influence of St Bernard and is the precise application of his principles on architecture. In such settings as these, the purified liturgy of the Cistercians became a thing of tremendous effect. But their contemplative life implies penance as well as prayer, because in contemplation there are always two aspects: the positive one, by which we are united to God in love, and the negative one, by which we are detached and separated from everything that is not God. Without both these elements there is no real contemplation. The penance of the Cistercians is essentially the common penance of the whole human race: to "eat your bread in the sweat of your brow" and to "bear one another's burdens."

Thomas Merton The Waters of Siloe, New York 1949, pp.15-20.
The appeal of this Night Office Reading was somewhat blunted when the 'junior' Merton goes on in rebartitive strains on the Cistercian versus Cluniac theme. Fr. Hugh recalled for me the occasion when we had a French Benedictine Abbot as Guest. Listening to this reading, the visitor became quite agitated. He remarked afterwards, "That man has no sense of history.


Fr. Luke celebrated his 49th anniversary of Ordination
on 25 Jan, Conversion of St. Paul. Fr. Luke, (Charles McNally), hails from Dundee. Not 84, he is the last survivor of a very large family.


Our Lady of Victoria Abbey (Kenya)
Prayers for the Community of Victoria in Kenya

01/26/08 - Today, the feast of our Founders, at mid day a group of young men approached the monastery intending to attack. The rather large police force that is consigned to the area discouraged the young men from proceeding. There were no violent acts against any person or the property.

Message from Sujong Community
We Inform You of the Urgent And Serious

Situation of Sujong Monastery And Ask for Your Prayers : in this lonely fight we are looking for true life and true Love in the Lord...
The City of Masan and a shipbuilding company (the STX Taedong) have plans to build a huge shipbuilding yard in Sujong where our Trappist Monastery is located. In the town there are also 380 families, a primary and middle school, a kindergarten, a public health center, the country offices, and a church. At first they said that there would only be a small block-building facility which is only one part of the shipbuilding complex.

Oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery
in the world



Sunday, 9 September 2007

On my pilgrimage to the Magna Mater Austriae, I am pleased to visit this Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is not only an important stop on the Via Sacra leading to Mariazell, but the oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery in the world. I wished to come to this place so rich in history in order to draw attention to the fundamental directive of Saint Benedict, according to whose Rule Cistercians also live. Quite simply, Benedict insisted that “nothing be put before the divine Office”. Regula Benedicti 43,3.

For this reason, in a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly – thank God! – not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single – all Christians pray, or at least, they should!

The core of monasticism is worship – living like the angels. But since monks are people of flesh and blood on this earth, Saint Benedict added to the central command: “pray”, a second command: “work”. In the mind of Saint Benedict, and Saint Bernard as well, part of monastic life, along with prayer, is work: the cultivation of the land in accordance with the Creator’s will. Thus in every age monks, setting out from their gaze upon God, have made the earth live-giving and lovely. Their protection and renewal of creation derived precisely from their looking to God. In the rhythm of the ora et labora, the community of consecrated persons bears witness to the God who, in Jesus Christ, looks upon us, while human beings and the world, as God looks upon them, become good.

The father of the Cistercian Order, Saint Bernard, in his own day fought against the detachment of an objectivizing rationality from the main current of ecclesial spirituality. Our situation today, while different, nonetheless has notable similarities. In its desire to be recognized as a rigorously scientific discipline in the modern sense, theology can lose the life-breath given by faith. But just as a liturgy which no longer looks to God is already in its death throes, so too a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology; it ends up as a array of more or less loosely connected disciplines. But where theology is practised “on bent knee”, as Hans Urs von Balthasar urged, it will prove fruitful for the Church in Austria and beyond. HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, Theologie und Heiligkeit, an essay written in 1948, in Verbum Caro

Saint Leopold of Austria – as we heard earlier - on the advice of his son, Blessed Otto of Freising, who was my predecessor in the episcopal see of Freising (his feast is celebrated today in Freising), founded your abbey in 1133, and called it Unsere Liebe Frau zum Heiligen Kreuz – Our Lady of Holy Cross. This monastery is dedicated to Our Lady not simply by tradition – like every Cistercian monastery –, but among you there burns the Marian flame of a Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard, who entered the monastery along with thirty of his companions, is a kind of patron saint of vocations. Perhaps it was because of his particular devotion to Our Lady that he exercised such a compelling and infectious influence on his many young contemporaries called by God. Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.

From this Marian sanctuary on the Via Sacra, I pray that all Austria’s shrines will experience fruitfulness and further growth. Here, as at Mariazell, I would like, before leaving, to ask the Mother of God once more to intercede for all of Austria. In the words of Saint Bernard, I invite everyone to become a trusting child before Mary, even as the Son of God did. Saint Bernard says, and we say with him: “Look to the star of the sea, call upon Mary … in danger, in distress, in doubt, think of Mary, call upon Mary. May her name never be far from your lips, or far from your heart … If you follow her, you will not stray; if you pray to her, you will not despair; if you turn your thoughts to her, you will not err. If she holds you, you will not fall; if she protects you, you need not fear; if she is your guide, you will not tire; if she is gracious to you, you will surelyreach your destination”. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, In laudibus Virginis Matris, Homilia 2.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Monastery Our Lady of the Angels

Abbot Raymond’s Trip to Nigeria Jan. 2008

On this year’s trip to Nigeria I was accompanied by our Br Celestine whom I brought back with me to Nunraw last year to join our Community here.

He got a great welcome from his former Monastic Brethren and of course an even greater welcome from his family with whom he spent most of the time of our visit.

During my stay at the monastery the water supply wasn’t working so it was three days before I got the chance of a shower – no small inconvenience in that steamy climate! The only other adventure was when I awoke one morning to see a huge beetle trying to run away with my hearing aid. I don’t know whether it thought it might be a tasty morsel or whether it thought it might be an attractive mate for him!

As regards the monastic life in all its aspects, things are going very well there indeed and they have some fine earnest and talented novices. However there is a very nasty situation arising between the local villagers and the Monks. Some of the villagers say that the Monks should fund the education of their children. This has been a long standing complaint of theirs. But there never was any such agreement.

The old Chief, a devout Catholic, always stood up for the monks, especially against the Pagan element in the Village. However, now that the old chief has died there is no one to restrain them and they have taken to burning the Monk’s crops.

Their valuable Palm Oil Grove was burned while I was there. The Brethren had just finished a hard day’s work digging yams and were just going to bed when suddenly the flames leapt up. They had to rush out in the dark to try to fight the blaze but the grass around the palm trees can be as much as 5 feet high and the blaze was uncontrollable As you can imagine this is a very distressing situation and there was little I could do about it. The Monks have called a meeting with the Village Elders and can only hope that the more reasonable of them will manage to restrain the others and allow the monks to live and work in peace. Meanwhile we can only pray.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Maurus and Placid Again

Maurus and Placid –Further Thoughts.

The 15 Jan 2008 Post on Maurus and Placid has prompted further thought and comment.

The comment about, “Going back to the alleged, “We do not know anything about Maurus and Placid”, it is not true”, much was left unsaid, and in fact it appears there is even more unsaid way beyond the fascinating questions that arise. The point in our Mass Introduction was simply on the Beauty of Holiness, and in particular in the memory of Saints Murus and Placid.

The exclusive preoccupation with written records, now being replaced by adulation of the technology of the digital data banks, can easily cloud perception and sensitivity to the obvious living tradition and continuity in ordinary human transmission of memory, community experience, the physicality of churches, monasteries, shrines etc. The random example of a St. Maurus is but a link in the chain of the life stream of monastic life-history. In that connection, the amazing development of the Maurist Congregation is but another revealing link. The bricks and mortar of ancient monasteries speak volumes. How much louder is the voice of the Beauty of Holiness in the lives that shine through this rich and varied awareness of Saints.

The picture of the Scottish ‘Maurus and Placid’ brings some interesting feedback.

To the community and boys at Fort Augustus Abbey the statue was simply a representation of St. Benedict in an EBC Cowl as patron of the boys at the school. Dom. F., OSB, was kind enough to send the picture of the stone sculpture now located at a suitable site in the Ampleforth Abbey buildings. He wrote that,
“The statue of St. Benedict and two boys came to Ampleforth, where five of the remaining monks of Fort Augustus had joined the community.
It is now erected on a building wall adjoining the monastery and church. A photo attachment is sent with this email.
It is interesting that you saw this as a modern rendition of St. Benedict and Sts Maurus and Placid. That makes a lot of sense. However, I am not aware that this was ever seen as the significance of the statue at Fort Augustus . It was a school icon primarily, and not a monastic one. Hence the boys are in kilts, and the younger is looking to the elder – the descending hierarchy of authority in the school. And both are under St. Benedict (with EBC hood!).
However, Sts. Maurus and Placid fit well.”

Very Helpful. Let me acknowledge; “Many thanks for your kind Email.
Thank you for the picture of the stone sculpture of St. Benedict transferred to Ampleforth.
It is quite unique, and apart from its new Yorkshire location, could not find a more suitable home than Ampleforh Abbey.
It will be interesting to compare more traditional iconography of Sts. Maurus and Placid.

Iconography: St. Benedict orders Saint Maurus to the rescue of Saint Placidus. Fra Filippo Lippi, ca.1445.

If there is a Scottish touch to the stone sculpture above, the attached painting seems to show that Fra. Filippo Lippi had a lending to the Cistercians – the white cowls.

Who wrote the Dialogues of Gregory the Great?

All of this has brought me to questions of my own!

If Gregory the Great wrote the Moralia of Job why should literary critics take exception to the hagiographical style of the Dialogues to the extent of denying that Gregory was the author of the Dialogues?

If his scriptural exegesis in the Moralia was thoroughly symbolic, could he not equally well adopt the hagiographical genre of writing in the Dialogues?

Could he not be as versatile as he was accomplished in authorship of both styles?

The allegation of his "promoting superstition" in his stories of, e.g., the miracles of St. Benedict, only seems to indicate the lack of an understanding of the religious outlook of the context.

The scholarship of Francis Clark has succeeded in putting these issues to fore. In spite of the Internet Highway, one drawback is the cost of access. Amazon lists his book, The Gregorian Dialogues, at £182.66.

See Clark, Francis. The "Gregorian" Dialogues and the Origins of Benedictine Monasticism. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2003. Updates the controversy and refutes attempted rebuttals of the 1987 work. (The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues. 2 vols. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987).
and its Note: “This book condenses and updates the author's two-volume work, "The Pseudo-Gregorian Dialogues (Brill, 1987), surveying and clarifying the controversy which that work rekindled. It presents the internal and external evidence showing cogently that the famous book which is the sole source of knowledge about the life of St. Benedict was not written by St. Gregory the Great as is traditionally supposed, but by a later counterfeiter.It makes an essential contribution to the current reassessment of early Benedictine history. It also throws much new light on the life and times of St. Gregory, and confutes the age-old accusation that he was "the father of superstition" who by writing the "Dialogues corrupted the faith and piety of medieval Christendom”.

A gentler introduction is that of

Finally, returning to the peace of thoughts on the Beauty of Holiness in the tradition of Gregory is this extract:
The Holiness of Gregory

by James J. O'Donnell

In the Dialogi, the central figure is undoubtedly Gregory, but the interlocutor is of scarcely less importance. It is rather a question of the holiness - - and here the word is not quite the right one -- of the readers of the Dialogi. In emulating Gregory and Peter, they become themselves not saints, not warrior heroes of the soul: but they acquire the 'discernment' (that monastic discretio that so dominates Gregory's catalogues of the virtues to be undistracted by the world and its temptations and to emerge from that world relatively unscathed.

Properly read, then, Gregory's work valorizes not Gregory's holiness but that of his reader. It is a holiness that the Christian reader of Gregory's text learns to acquire through a text. The Dialogi themselves deny 'miracle' a central place very early on: Dial. 2.37, 'hinc ergo, fratres carissimi, hinc certa consideratione colligite, oblata a nobis hostia sacra quantum in nobis soluere ualeat ligaturam cordis, si oblata ab altero potuit in altero soluere uincula corporis.' In short, the most 'popular' of Gregory's works, the Dialogi and the homilies on the gospels, leave the reader in a world, that is to say a text, where holiness is breaking through everywhere, uncontrollably. I mean the holiness that is physically present through the eucharist. Though eucharistic liturgy was increasingly dependent on texts in Gregory's age, it was still then (and in many ways is still now) a venue for holiness that resists reduction to text and narrative. 'Interiority' is a persistent theme of every modern study of Gregory's thought, and rightly so. Holiness is everywhere, holiness is at the altar, and holiness is deep inside the individual.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Beauty of Holiness, Maurus & Placid

15 January

St. Maurus and St. Placid

The Beauty of Holiness

Our Night Office for Sts Maurus and Placid got us off on a wrong footing. It began, “We do not know anything about Maurus and Placid.” It went on with the limp concession, . . . “except for the Dialogue of St. Gregory”.

In the Mass later, the Introduction was more positive; “The beauty of Holiness”.

Without any greater apologia one fact is clear from St. Gregory’s sense of the beauty of holiness in these two young disciples of St. Benedict.

An unusual vision came to mind. I remember once seeing Maurus and Placid being beautifully portrayed in the best of settings. It was at the Abbey of Fort Augustus.

Attached to the school building was this sculpture group of St. Benedict with his young disciples wearing Scottish kilt and sporran above the base of the Corbie (large black raven, classic symbol in Benedictine lore).

I searched every where for a picture of this unique statue. Sadly the school and monastery were closed 1998. It is now ten years since that sad event.

The statue of St Benedict and 2 Scottish boys was commissioned by Fr Oswald Eaves, OSB, who had met the sculptor, Arthur J. Fleishmann (it weighs nearly 2 tons) at the Brussels Exhibition. It was unveiled in September 1960 and stands 9 feet high.

The work disappeared from my ken. Only through the kindness of a Past Pupil of Fort August, Michael Turnbull, have I been able to obtain the above information and the picture. The sculpture has since been moved to Ampleforth Abbey where it is again appropriately expressing the Benedictine dedication to the formation of the young.

Going back to the alleged, “We do not know anything about Maurus and Placid”, it is not true. We learn that St. Maurus was the son of Equitius, born about the year 510, died 584, and that St. Placid was the son of the senator Tertullus. (

Scholarly discussion on the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great has generated a whole new interest, if not robust controversy, on the subject, (See the studies of Adalbert de Vogue. Pierce Cusack, Francis Clarke.).

Michael Turnbull, mentioned above, has recently published, ROSSLYN CHAPEL REVEALED (Sutton Publishing Ltd). ‘Rosslyn Chapel Revealed’ explains in detail what few have done before — the daily life of the priests and choirboys at Rosslyn Chapel, one of 40 collegiate churches set up as powerhouses of prayer and song — some of the music still happily preserved in major libraries across Europe.

We are looking forward to Michael coming to Nunraw Michael to share some of his discoveries with the community at Nunraw.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Diary opening New Year

Journal for 13th Jan 2008. 1st Sun Ord Time.

Two Weeks of New Year have already got away on me.
Abbot Raymond is expected home from Our Lady of the Angels cistercian Monastery, Nigeria on Wednesday.

We are remembering Francis Ricardo who died 7 January 2008.

Frank was born 5 Oct 1936. He and his his late brother, Joe, came to work at the construction of the new Abbey at Nunraw in 1962. As master-terrazo workers thay had already been working as voluteers. Until his sudden death he had been a resident in one of the cottages of the property. In later years Frank took up work as a male nurse in the Edinburgh hospitals. Not unrelated to that occupation, he became a regular as a Brancardier helping the sick in the annual pilgrimages to Lourdes. He was a member of the Knights of St. Columba. He was well known at St. Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral. Until the present Christmas and New Year he continued as a faithful Passkeepr at the nine o’clock Sunday Mass.
It would be true to say that Nunraw Abbey became, as it were, the load star, of his wider interestes directed to the Archdicese, Lourdes and the Church.
He was 71. May he rest in peace.

Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Note the source of the text in the Post for the 1st Jan 2008, Solemnity of the Mother of God, - Origin of the Church in the Marian Consent. (Von Balthaser Reader, trs R. J. Daly 1982, p.213, §49).

Following Von Balthasar might seem a lonely road to travell to find hidden treasures of the spiritual journey. I am happy to discover that this particular less travelled road is now a major Internet highway of interest in Websites and Bloggs.

At the Mass for the Guesthouse this morning I found myself drawing indirectly from Von Balthaser.

The Liturgy for the Baptism of the Lord brings in the links with the Anointing of the Messih from the Acts and the fourfold Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Since all four Evangelist record the occasion they obviously took it as very important. It is another example of the immersion in the Scriptures which Von Balthasar takes as bedrock in any Christian formation. Side by side with this constant imbibing of the Word he states the necessary context of worship, the liturgical life of accompaniment of people in the Church.

An exclusive concentration on the Bible can rather lopsided. Very devoted scholars can spend a lifetime on the details. The discussion regarding Von Balthasar’s Bible hermeneutics brings in, for one example, the question of ‘diachronic’ and ‘synchronic’. The issue can be very complex, fragmentary analysis of the parts or the synthesising of the whole OT & NT. I suggested that for simplicity’s sake I would invent my own solution and call it CHRONIC, (laugther from the guests). That is, a daily, ‘chronic’, devotion to the Word that has to be embodied in worship, in the Eucharist. It is a big loss for those who claim that they only need nature to enable them to pray in the woods and skies and don’t need to go to Church. What a wonderful life it is to enjoy the framework of Word and Worship in community of the Church . The monastic observance is an obviously privileged environment for this enterprise.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

SAINT AELRED Nunraw Patron

SAINT AELRED January 12th. Patronal Feast of Nunraw Abbey

SAINT AELRED (The more familiar form of the name Aelred is Alfred. We are in changed days from the time St. Aelred had 500 monks at HIS MONASTERY OF Rievaulx - DAYS FOR PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS TO THIS SMALL COMMUNITY OF NUNRAW UNDER AELRED'S PATRONAGE).

This painting of St. Aelred reminds me of the former late Abbot of Pluscarden, Dom Alfred Spencer OSB(Subiaco).

He had this picture in the windowsill of his room when I was visiting him during his last illness. He recalled that as a Novice in Prinknash Abbey he wished to take the name of Aelred. Another monk already had that name so his Abbot suggested he take the name of Alfred as a substitute. Before parting Dom Alfred kindly gave me this picture which is now with Fr. Aelred at Nunraw.

Saint Aelred was born at Hexham in 1110. After studies at Hexham, Durham and perhaps Roxburgh, and further sound education at the Scottish Court where he was the steward and the confidant of King David, he entered the newly founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Aelred became novicemaster and afterwards abbot of Revesby, a daughter house of Rievaulx. He was then thirty-three years old, a normal age at which to become abbot in this fresh and flourishing period of a new order.

About 1147 Aelred was chosen abbot of Rievaulx. He died there on the twelfth of January 1167. Walter Daniel, Aelred's enthusiastic biographer, various friends together with Aelred's own writings bear witness that he was a good father, always setting a good example and a source of peace. He could see beneath men's foolish or thoughtless actions, he never seemed to have a grievance against anyone. Aelred used to say: 'It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities. All whether weak or strong should find in Rievaulx a haunt of peace, and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.'

At first sight a strange theory for an abbot who stood at the head of a severe Cistercian House. But it sheds light on Aelred's character and his affection for everyone of the brothers who lived within the cloister.

No wonder that Aelred's high estimation of love and affection in an ideal spiritual friendship was not always followed or rightly interpreted; by the older and infirm monks. He himself tells of monks being zealous in their malice, whispering in corners, murmuring against their abbot and spreading false reports about him. But the saintly abbot was indifferent to the opinions of these murmurers and indulgent to the feebleness of everyone. He demanded the same attitude of mind from his monks. 'My sons, say what you will, only let no vile word, no detraction of a brother proceed from your mouth.'

Aelred survived in the memory of Rievaulx's monks as the fine and prudent shepherd, as the abbot who loved peace and the salvation of the brethren and inward quiet.

The Mirror of Charity

The essence of St. Aelred's teaching is contained in his book The Mirror of Charity. This was written at the request or St. Bernard. Aelred was slow to comply saying that "he had not come from the schools but from the kitchens where subsisting peasant-like and, rustic amid cliffs and mountains you sweat with axe and maul for your daily bread..."

The following extract from the beginning of the Mirror of Charity illustrates the main theme of the book.

"Let your voice sound in my ears, good Jesus, so that my heart may learn how to love you, my mind how to know you the inmost being of my soul how to love you. Let the inmost core of my heart embrace you, my one and only true good, my dear and delightful joy. But, my God, what is love? Unless I am mistaken, love is a wonderful delight of the spirit: all the more attractive because more chaste; all the more gentle, because more guileless; and all the more enjoyable because more ample. It is the heart's palate which tastes that you are sweet, the heart's eye which sees that you are good. And it is the place capable of receiving you, great as you are. Someone who loves you grasps you. The more one loves the more one grasps, because you yourself are love, for you are charity."

"Meanwhile I shall seek you, O Lord:, seek you by loving you. Someone who advances on this way of love surely seeks you, and someone who loves you perfectly, O Lord, has already found you. And what is more equitable than that your creature should love you, since it is from you it received the ability to love? Creatures without reason or without sensation cannot love you; that is not their nature. Of course they also have their own nature, their beauty and their order, not that thereby they are or can be happy by loving you, but that thereby, thanks to you, by their own qualities they may help us to love you."

In his introduction St. Aelred gives us an interesting tip. He says that if the length of this book puts you off, look through the chapter headings and see which you would like to read, and which leave out. But the main thrust is easy to spot. The art of arts is the art of love.

"Those who love you, rest in you. There is true rest, true tranquility , true peace, true Sabbath for the mind."

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Epiphany 2008

To Sr. Christina, (in Australia)

Happy Birthday on Epiphany Day.
And may 2008 bring you many more Blessings and Joys.
Thank you for your Christmas letter and all your great communications/inspirationals in recent months.
The great thing is having Nivard around to catch all the news items I might miss.
Since Abbot Raymond went to Our Lady of the Angels, Nigeria, taking the second organist, Br Celestine, with him, Fr. Nivard has been filling the breach. And so the Work of God - the Choir Office – has continued uninterrupted.
A good neighbour sent us a greeting Card for Epiphany. You may like it. See the Note and attached picture.

Epiphany. Willam Blake ‘Adoration of the Kings’

In this painting by William Blake we see the three Magi dressed in red, orange and purple offer gifts to Joseph and Mary in the stable. An ox and ass can be seen in the corner of the stable. A star shines in through the doorway of the stable. (Presented to Brighton through the National Art Collections Fund in 1949. Art Fund Website preserving the UK’s best art).

Friday we had heavy snow in the East of Scotland. There was a Scottish Border’s Catholic Youth Group planning to come to Nunraw to be de-briefed from their Rome Pilgrimage last Autumn. They would be collected from the various parishes, Galashiels, Melrose, Kelso, Hawick. But it was not to be. It was cancelled. The Sutra main road was closed – incidentally the near-by Poor Clare Sisters of Humbie were also snowed in.

After all the bustle of Christmas celebrations it has been a welcome time to relax.

And it so happened I came across an amazing paper-back to enjoy some light reading. It has been worth it weight in gold.

The sub-title, “Out of Egypt” caught my eye because we had been hearing about the “Flight into Egypt” and I was already searching. Reading, Anne Rice, “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. A novel”, I have not been able to put it down – a rare experience these days.

Anne Rice was a good New Orleans Catholic until she lost her faith at the age of 18 in the campus culture of US University life. She became a best selling author of books on legends of Vampires, covens of witches, etc.

She recovered her Catholic Faith and has now dedicated her work to writing about Jesus.

Anne Rice describes the genesis of her conversion. It began in 1998 with a return to the Catholic faith she had abandoned. Thereafter she embarked on an intense search into the question of Jesus, eventually "reading the Bible constantly" and then devouring all the scholarly works of the prominent Jesus researchers. The book, published 2005, included an Author’s Note giving a most enlightening account of her recovery in the Faith. There are 276 Customer Reviews on the Amazon book Website. Belief Net choose “Christ the Lord Out of Egypt” as the 2005 Spiritual Book of the Year. Her Anne Rice Website contains a wealth of further reading and Links.

Why should the devil have all the best tunes?

During the Christmas UK cinemas are screening the fantasy, “Golden Compass” for the target audience of children.

Reuters reports: Vatican calls Golden Compass movie hopeless

The Vatican newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, called the movie "the most anti-Christmas film possible", "its objective was to bash Christianity and promote atheism" to children. In author Philip Pullman’s world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events,”

In contrast, it is reassuring that there are writers, like Anne Rice, to show that ‘the devil does not always have the best tunes’, (. . . wherever that quote originated, see William Booth).

In “Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt”, Anne Rice combines her passionate research with a mastery of the art of story telling. Maybe it could be called a talent for Christian "Contemporary Midrash". It is a gripping narrative of the events of the Epiphany of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, the return to Galilee, the years hidden at Nazareth, apart from the visit of the twelve year old Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem.

“Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

On a personal note I was taking up this theme of Jesus in Egypt from reflecting on my own memories at five years old. If the memories of a five year old through wartime evacuation to another country (1939-45) seem to get ever fresher and clearer, the experience of the much brighter Jesus in Egypt could only give lasting shape to his understanding of what we now call the Middle East. Anne Rice brings so much of that Jewish background to the fore in her story of Christ the Lord. Told in the first person of Jesus, at times, the story moved me to tears.

I look forward to the sequel, “Christ the Lord: Road to Cana”, due for publication March 2008