As Presiding Bishop it behoves me as we approach Easter to send you a few words of encouragement. I have to confess that I hardly feel equal to the task, not because I have nothing to say but rather because there is so much to say, most of which I find impossible to articulate. I am reminded of the words of St Paul to the Romans, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
However, practically speaking, the Holy Celtic Church, the Holy Cross Benedictines and our various orders and confraternities are in a good space. Even since Christmas we have been blessed with several new vocations and we are especially blessed in the union of the Scottish and English branches of CSR. Abbot Tom, who this year celebrates his tenth year of Episcopal Consecration, has already made himself indispensable! Congratulations to Fr Daniel and his lay pastoral assistant Renee on the acquistion of a new church rental for our little congregation in Illinois, and congratulations also to the folk in Caracas, Venezuela, who will receive the sacrament of confirmation at the hands of our Father Prior, Dom Barry, this Easter!
I feel that our identity as a jurisdiction oriented towards a contemplative ministry is stabilising and bearing fruit. Unemcumbered as we are by buildings and bank accounts we can afford to focus on prayer and sharing the fruit of that prayer with others who may come within our orbit. Our Confraternity of the Life of Mary grows steadily, though I would ask you all to pray that more people, both clerical and lay, will feel the call to consecration of their all to Jesus through Mary as members of the Confraternity. There is immense pastoral need and potential for more lay apostles to carry forward Our Lady’s work in the world.
The transformation of the old Congregation of St Romuald (founded in 1993) into a Confederation of idiorrhythmic Benedictines is also a new project which we hope will help to deepen our own spiritual lives, as well as fulfill a need in the OC/IC movement as a whole. I would urge you all to read the quotes in the various “cells” of the virtual CSR cloister and spread the word amongst your friends.
It is difficult to measure one’s own spiritual progress - another good reason to have an Anam Cara - as so often it seems that we take two steps forward and one step back - but we must all take heart and have faith that despite appearances progress IS being made. If we are faithful to our discipline of Divine Office, Contemplative Prayer, Mass and Adoration we cannot help to absorb that same Spirit which animated those saints whom we would wish to emulate. Even a simple practice such as the recitation of Lauds and Vespers can yield the daily bread of the Word of Life for our hungry souls. For example, just this morning, the following antiphon on a psalm and the collect for the day gave me much edification:
“Jesus leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and has taken his seat at God’s right hand.”
“Almighty God, grant that we who are constantly betrayed by our own weakness may draw the breath of new life from the passion and death of your Only-Begotten Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.”
In fact the collect of the day alone can often provide a worthy text for Lectio Divina with nourishment enough to sustain us throughout the day, assisting us to take a little step further along our spiritual journey.
Dame Gertrude More OSB, a direct descendent of St Thomas More, wrote this of the Divine Office:
"The Divine Office is such a heavenly thing that in it we find whatsoever we can desire: for sometimes in it we address ourselves to Thee for help and pardon for our sins; and sometimes Thou speakest to us, so that it pierceth and woundeth with desire of Thee the very bottom of our souls; and sometimes Thou teachest a soul to understand more in it of the knowledge of Thee and of herself than ever could have been by all the teaching in the world showed to a soul in five hundred years; for Thy words are works."
So, do not under-estimate the power of this great tool, remembering too that it is the quality rather than the quantity of your prayer that counts. I am sure that Our Lord is better pleased by one psalm said with love and devotion than ten said without recollection.
A beloved prayer from my youth also came to mind the other day as I was thinking about writing to you all. It is ascribed to St Richard of Chichester, is very well known and if learned well is a perfectly simple recipe for a devout life.
"Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly. Amen."
Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week and a very joyful Easter!
+Alistair OSBA (csr),
Presiding Bishop and Abbot