No Mass at 9am on Friday 31 May

Reflections May-September 2024 are by Mary Cockroft, oblate of Stanbrook

PROLOGUE

 May 2

As I start writing these reflections, I am intending to try and focus on the words which speak to me in my current situation of major transition. The word “Listen” leaps out at me today. Am I living this attentiveness of the heart? Am I attentive to the quiet words of the Lord as I go through a major life event which has the potential to drown his voice, the equivalent of the thunder and earthquake Elijah experienced?  I have just moved house, for the first time in 4 decades, and for the last time! It has been, still is, traumatic and exhausting. With over 100 packing cases to unpack and the contents to sort, single-handed, what is the possibility of tuning in to God’s voice?

For each of us life offers moments of crisis, of difficult transition. It may be a new job, or retirement, a move to an unknown place, the death of close friends and family. Or it may be the transition that occurs when you hear a life-threatening diagnosis, or find yourself paralysed after a stroke, the possibly unwelcome transition to accepting the care of others, or the transition into residential care. Or of course the transition to becoming the carer.

God has gone nowhere. He is listening to me, the ear of his heart is listening to me. He knows all about the challenges I am facing. He has something to say to me about where I am at right now. Clearly I am not going to manage a huge amount of prayer, but I can aim for 5 minutes here and there. I can talk as I unpack stuff, I can talk to him in the car – I do that quite a lot – I can discuss decisions with him. And I can listen, perhaps at the end of the day, to his answers – where did he speak today? In the kindness of a friend, the welcome of a new neighbour, in lovely messages sent to support me, in surprising views from my new windows, in a favourite psalm.

To listen is to know you are in a relationship, you are not alone.

 

May 3

A bit of urgency here. Do not put off the attentive listening till I have sorted my entire life, unpacked over 100 packing cases, found a home for everything. Or in other moments of transition, discuss what’s mithering you, saddening you, all the things you feel you can’t cope with. Tell him your fears. Today. God listens. He is not so busy listening to the people living and suffering in war zones that he can’t also listen to your crisis. Wait for his answers.

Prioritise a moment each day to listen to what God might be saying. How is he asking me, in this situation, to be a person of faith, of trust, of confidence in his love? Ask for the grace of his accompaniment through this day. Why would God refuse? Why would God not care?

 

 

May 4

Obviously each of us longs for life and we know that Jesus told us that he had come that we might have life and have it to the full. When we are faced with a critical moment we need to discern what decisions will best enable us to find life, what plans feel life-giving. It has, for example, taken me several years to get to this moment of moving house, but I tried to discern in the last 12 months where God might be inviting me to move to. Where I might best love and serve and find life; where I might be able to grow in a relationship with the Lord. So far I have been surprised by how right the location seems to be, but maybe I should not be surprised if I truly believe God wants to give me life. If the transition that we face is perhaps life-threatening surgery then we have no decision to discern, but we can pray for the grace of acceptance and trust, of letting go and finding life in the peace that hopefully ensues. Seek life, pursue peace! Whatever you are going through.

 

May 5

So many psalms speak of walking in his ways, I am thinking particularly of Ps 118(119) Coping with what life throws at us needs to be based on the core, the foundation, that we have already built and which we are actively strengthening by prayer and the practice of kindness, by our desire to deal justly and to act with integrity, to love and to serve.  Above all pray for the grace to be the person God is calling us to be, through the circumstances of our lives.

 

May 6

God is not seeking to trip us up. He is not watching us from afar and leaving us to get into a mess. If retirement is not meaningful for me, or if I am not managing to find a location to move to, or if I am endlessly going over past grievances at work or in the family, then I am not growing into the next stage of my life. The root cause of the failure is not having a living relationship with God, not listening to the God who loves me, who wants to give me life. The God who is my rock, in whom I trust. I need to ask his help so that I may grow through this experience, however challenging I am finding it. Life means growth.

May 7

Today is about getting our act together, or maybe allowing God to get to work within us. We are encouraged to prepare our hearts to serve, to become those who lead a life lived for others. Whatever my age, my role in life, my current crisis, am I seeking peace? Am I loving others as the Lord loves me? Am I serving? If not, why not? A crisis, a transition, however major, is not a reason to cease loving and serving and seeking peace. Rather the opposite.

May 8

This is, for most reading these thoughts today, not the first time of reading Benedict’s Rule.  All worthwhile ventures bring challenges, but we do not walk through life alone. We can turn to the Rule of St Benedict to be our map, our guidebook. You come to a parting of paths in the hills, for example. Do you toss a coin to decide which path to take? No, you get out the OS map, you establish where you are and what looks like the best route to your destination. You follow that route carefully, with determination, and refer back to the map at frequent intervals.

Life may sometimes look like a desolate expanse of mist-enveloped moorland, but we have a map – the Rule, and the best guide ever – Christ himself.

Four kinds of monks

May 9

I suppose most of us reckon we might be among the first group, stable and committed. We may also be well aware that we have times when “going it alone” seems very attractive. It could, however, be a temptation to think you don’t need a community, you don’t need support. You may feel you don’t want people to know you are not coping, indeed that you don’t want to admit to yourself that this is all too much for you. Yes, God will help, but for most of us non-hermits his help will come through other people. That includes the Benedictine Community to which we belong. In our turn we will be glad to support our brothers and sisters when they are troubled. Life is not a solitary venture.

May 10

We will all have times, too, when other paths through life seem more attractive than sticking doggedly to the route we chose, maybe a long time ago now. Come a crisis, these paths may be revealed as dead ends. Someone walking with me in a group in the Pennines one day commented that she didn’t need religion because she had the hills. I did not say, but certainly thought, that hills are remarkably useless when life goes pear-shaped. You can certainly find consolation in the beauty and grandeur of hills and mountains, in the beauty of God’s creation, but it is faith in God which will carry us through overwhelming times. I may lift up mine eyes to the hills – but my help comes from the Lord.

 

Chapter 2

The qualities of the Abbot/Abbess

May 11 and May 12

Obviously the majority of those reading this have no abbess/abbot to worry about, but we may need to be shepherds ourselves, within the family, within a group to which we belong. Our example of Christian living in word and deed, in attitude to others and to situations, in openness, kindness, compassion, service needs to be a light to others. We may not often be called upon to speak directly about what Jesus said and did, but do our lives do the speaking for us? There are situations, too, where we may be, as it were, covering up rather than revealing our Christian identity. I have more than once been in a taxi on my way to the airport to fly out to Lourdes and initially I was inclined just to say I was going to France, but that implied fun and holiday and possibly a Mediterranean beach. So then I started “admitting” where I was going and what I would be doing there (voluntary work in the Baths). I had some really good conversation with taxi drivers, some non-practising Catholics and rather more committed and very interested Muslims.

And yes, volunteering in Lourdes is not a holiday, but it can be a very enjoyable experience!

 

May 13

We are asked to love all, which is not the same as liking everyone. We are asked to love those who are in all sorts of ways very different from ourselves. How open is my heart to asylum seekers, people of different faiths from myself, people of a very different ethnic background, people of different sexuality? Or indeed people who oppose my stance on the sacredness of life? Can I both stand by my view but also listen with my heart to someone else’s view and hear what they are saying?

Jesus asks us quite specifically to “love one another just as I have loved you” – he mentions no exceptions.

How has God loved me?

May 14

I am skipping past this as I am not in a position to rebuke anyone, except the3 toddlers on the fringe of my life and they do not appear to be listening! If I am, however, busy judging other people, mostly in my head but sadly often in conversation with others, then it is time I stopped and focused on the kindness God constantly shows me. It is pretty easy to think everyone else has got it wrong, and not worthy of a Christian to be assuming so.

May 15
Even if I am not in charge of anyone but myself, it would be good to remind myself that I have been given much and therefore have much to give others. How am I using my gifts at the moment to support and encourage others? How is God asking me to use those gifts right now, particularly if my situation has gone through a big change. Maybe there are gifts lurking undeveloped and now needed for my continued growth. Wherever I am at at the moment I cannot stand still, I need to allow love, joy, peace, faith, trust, kindness, self-control to develop in new ways perhaps. And I may have other more concrete gifts which have been lying unused – caring for someone, taking over the responsibilities my partner can no longer deal with, making life-changing decisions and not going to pieces about them. Or simply finding practical ways to unpack 100 packing cases and sort the contents.

May 16

A few points to think about today :

Seek ye first the kingdom of God — we probably know the hymn and sing it with enthusiasm but then go out into the rest of the week prioritising anything but the kingdom of God.

The 10 Commandments do not start with ME.

The Our Father does not start with ME.

The beginning of each of the liturgical hours and every Mass is not about ME.

Prioritise God in my life whatever else is going on, however difficult things are. We need that solid foundation, and we need it specially in challenging times.

 

 

 

 

 

May 17

I always feel this chapter is interestingly ‘modern’, though in fact there are still very few contexts in which the whole community is involved in decision-making and everyone’s voice is heard and respected. It may remind us of the current synodal process in the Catholic Church and of our individual responsibility to listen to the discussion, to think and pray with open hearts about it, to respond, and to play an active part in it wherever possible at a local, parish level – though I am well aware that silence may be prevailing there.

Am I personally engaging with the Spirit, asking where the Spirit may be leading the Church forward, welcoming the views of those I may not have considered listening to?

 

May 18

Doing your own thing is to some extent necessary. We need to be able to think for ourselves, listen to a variety of voices, learn, read, discuss with open mind and heart. We also need, however, to be rooted, not in mindless, unthinking acceptance of the Gospel and the Rule, but in deep acceptance which has been well thought through and prayed about, an on-going project. The ability to think is God-given, the invitation to accept is also God-given. Our response is what grounds us.

 

May 19

Happy Feast of Pentecost!

It might be good today to recall the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and see how today’s tools of good works can give expression in our lives to those gifts. Key is obviously love, God’s love for us, our love for God and for everyone else, for those whose lives touch ours only briefly (the neighbour we pass, the receptionist at the surgery, the delivery man, someone in a queue…), and for those for whom today will be a nightmare of war, hunger, disease, terror, abuse. Their lives touch ours too because we see their situation, read about it, feel helpless to do anything. So what form will our love, compassion, respect for each individual take?

 

May 20

Each time I read the Rule, as in Lectio Divina, a different phrase for the moment may strike me. What speaks to my current situation this Monday in May? I am admittedly writing a few days ahead of Monday, but I don’t see my present situation, which is causing me huge amounts of stress, undergoing a miracle change any day soon. So what speaks to me is the recommendation that I put my hope in God. God is alongside me. I will get through this. He has carried me this far, why would he drop me now?

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  (Jer 29:11, NRSV)

In your old age I shall still be the same, when your hair is grey I shall still support you. I have already done so, I have carried you, I shall still support and deliver you.   (Isaiah 46:4, JB).

 

May 21

I find life all too often seems like a bramble patch in a dark wood, or on some very challenging days it feels like being at the bottom of a very deep, dark valley, with no way out or up. The road up to the motorway from my new home is steep and winding, it runs through bleak moorland and on one side, alarmingly unfenced, is a precipitous drop to a steep valley. Low mist, aka fog, often obscures the road ahead, even in mid-summer, and at night in the rain it is not a fun trip. If that is also my feeling about coping with major life change, then today I am ‘listening’ to the lines about holy reading and prayer. I may need to remind myself to give myself the gift of prayer time, of reading and lectio. Thinking about death and avoiding inappropriate laughter or speech may be the least of my problems.

 

May 22

One may, of course, be consumed by envy, in the middle of some awful row at work or in the family, but what speaks to me here today are the encouraging words about loving the old and the young. There comes a point in life when both may be challenging for us at the same time, but we are called to love both, deeply, supported by prayer. I recommend a quiet moment of prayer before going in to see someone very sick, very old, or very likely to stress you out. Just a prayer to love as best you can. Be a person seeking peace, never despair of God’s mercy.

These tools are for us to think about and develop for the rest of our lives, there is no fast lane to this road. Love requires a lifetime of practice, a lifetime of trust and hope, a lifetime accompanied by the Lord who understands.

 

 

May 23

How do we respond to the chapter about obedience when we do not live in a situation such as a monastery which asks it of us? We live in a world in which obedience has a negative image. How much importance do we attach to doing what we want, making choices that suit us, seeking our own happiness? Are we maybe refusing to let other claims on our time and energy get in the way of our individual self-fulfilment?

Obedience implies listening to what someone asks us to do. Whose voice am I listening to when I am trying to make major, possibly life-changing decisions? Or indeed just the decisions of everyday life, often far less discernment goes into them. If we believe in God, in God’s desire for us to have life and to know his love, and if we are trying to act from that core knowledge, then we will want to do what God wants us to do. We will want to become the people God calls us to become. The voice of God may reach us in prayer, in lectio, in the Rule, in the Gospels, in the voices of friends. Obedience means listening for that voice and receiving his words with an open heart.

 

May 24

I heard recently of the reaction of a father to having his 21-year-old, severely handicapped daughter at home over Christmas – she is otherwise now in a care home, but the family home is expensively adapted for her too, so that is not a problem. The father, however, expressed the view that “she rather cramps my style.” Now one might wonder what lifestyle he might have been having otherwise over Christmas, but the expensive adaptations to the home were not supported by a generous, giving, welcoming heart. To see the handicapped child, the stroke-paralysed partner, the partner with growing dementia as something which limits your own lifestyle is pretty shocking.

Life throws all sorts of crises at us, and in each situation we will need to ask God what he wants us to give here, and to give it generously. To be obedient to the command to “love one another just as I have loved you” may boil down to how we deal with the frustrations, for instance of hospital/care home visiting. You have, say, driven a long way in bad weather and awful traffic, had difficulty parking (and if it is a hospital have paid an arm and a leg to do so), and the recipient of your generosity is mega-grumpy/asleep/doesn’t recognise you. What happens to the cheerful giver?

Inward grumbling: try not to do it, it will show. Remember that the care home person may one day be you, possibly sooner than you think. Above all: this is what love asks of you, today, in real life. This is obedience to what God is asking of you. Cultivate a generous heart.

 

May 25

Speech can so easily be mis-used to hurt, to put someone down, to be judgemental, over-critical, to take it out on the call centre staff on the phone. Was my gift of speech used positively today, with love and kindness, or was I abrupt, unsmiling, in too much hurry to care? Or indeed was all my talking today, in face-to-face situations or online, about ME? Did I encourage or destroy someone’s confidence?

What place does real silence have in my life? Do I choose silence, minimise use of social media? Do I use the gift of speech wisely, thoughtfully? We may need to pray about our own specific tendencies to waste the gift.

 

May 26

At the beginning of the chapter on humility what strikes me is how counter-cultural humility is. We are surrounded by a culture of individual self-realisation, of ‘what’s in it for me?’, of putting yourself first. I am positively glad not to be young enough to think that being a ‘celebrity’ is meaningful or that I might be an ‘influencer’. How do you become an ‘influencer’ anyway? If you have young friends and family these are challenging times in which to reflect different values that they might imitate.

Humility is a rare quality. I would have to think hard whether I know anyone I would describe as truly humble. Benedict calls us to aspire to it, to learn how to become less self-focused, more trusting, more willing to admit our need for God’s help on our life’s pilgrimage. Jesus himself calls us to imitate him:

Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart… (Matthew 11.29 JB)

May 27

I am not good on ladders. I used to be fine, but nowadays I leave it to others. My most recent encounter with a ladder was last week when the fitter came to deal with the new curtains in an apartment with extremely high ceilings. I had managed to find someone to help him carry the tall ladder down from where it is kept on the top floor, but he was not in a hurry to climb it once it had been stabilised. He was quite sure he wouldn’t be able to reach the curtain rail. In seconds the helper, a man well into retirement age, had gone up the ladder and demonstrated it was easy to reach. The reluctant fitter was more or less obliged to grit his teeth and get on with it.

Ladders can be daunting. It helps to be shown how best to climb them, how to maintain our stability on them, not to keep looking down at where we have come from but to keep our eyes on where we are going. It helps if we know someone is keeping the ladder steady.

The ladder of humility will take time, a step-by-step approach, and will possibly have few visible results. It is a lifetime project. Take it gently.

 

May 28

We do not need to be frightened of God because this is the God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that we might be saved. (John3:17) But that is an absolutely awesome step for God to have taken and if we believe it, then our response should surely be at the heart of all we do or think or say, whatever situation we find ourselves in.  We need to be people trying our best to live and grow because we are rooted deeply in a relationship that matters more than anything else to us and flows into all our other relationships.

May 29

We possibly take praying the Our Father for granted, it appears so frequently that we don’t pause to consider what each word means. First and foremost, today in Benedict’s mind is the prayer that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Starting with me, my heart, not just in some vague and general way.

To what extent am I considering today whether I am doing what God wants me to do, in this situation, in this relationship, in this challenge, as I write this email or make this phone call? Did I start this day by consciously asking for the grace to be the person God needs me to be, to become? Only when millions of individuals seek to live lives which express the will of God for the world, will the world become what God created it to be.

May 30

It is easy to get distracted from the focus on what God’s will for me is. Life is busy, possibly far too busy. We can be so caught up in the challenges of, in my case, moving house, that what God might be calling me to do and be today has slipped off the agenda, most obviously because prayer has. Our busy-ness may not be in itself evil, it may be absolutely essential as we adjust, say, to being a carer, or to a huge loss or a domestic disaster. But we need to be aware of how easy it is to start making the wrong decisions, doing things we know in our hearts are not right, prioritising the things we basically know we shouldn’t be doing at all.

I am glad to know my guardian angel might be hanging on to me!