Archive for August, 2010

Prayer and Work

During the last week, I met a lady who told me she had learned 45 different psalms, by heart. Her statement struck a chord with me, because I once learnt, by heart, Chapter 17 of John’s gospel. This, to me, was a really worthwhile exercise because, at times, walking along, alone and with time to myself, in thought – and whatever else – I used to repeat the chapter to myself, and the words were capable of assuming meanings, and facets of meanings, I never suspected they had.  I believe it will be the same for this good lady, and her psalms. In the psalms, there is much that touches a personal chord, especially for someone trying to live as a faithful follower of the Lord; He is the inspirer of the psalms; they are God’s prayers to himself for they were used by Jesus; moreover, they remain to be used by us who are still here on earth.

However, I could not leave things just like that.  The lady and her psalms had given me a ‘kick-start’ to then look again at John, Chapter 17, using a different translation – different from the one I had used before – and this gave a new slant on the meaning of the text:

“I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you gave me, because they are yours”.

Jesus seems to distinguish the world of God and the world in which we all live. On reflection, this is not so surprising, when we remember Jesus and his temptation by the devil … … 

‘Then Satan .. … in an instant showed him all the kingdoms of the world…’ and said to Jesus: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please” (Luke 4: 5-6).

In these quotations, we have two worlds, described by Jesus – this sense of a world that belongs to God, and all those that God has given to Jesus – and that other world that does not belong to God.

Abbot Cuthbert Madden of Ampleforth, August 2010

In the context of our monastic life and our August Chapter, it is good to think about the ideal that we are called to – that ideal which leads to a life in God, and not of the world. I remember, many years ago, talking to the father of monastic contemporary of mine, who came to visit and stay with us when we made our final profession, as monks. He then marvelled at the ‘beauty’ of our way of life, and said to me: “You are all like brothers, supporting, helping and loving each other as in a family”.

Two Contented Older Monks

Our Monks at Work and in Relaxation

Benedictine Monks are called to follow God in the pattern laid down by St. Benedict. The life consists of brothers, or sisters, (as the case may be), living as a family, under an Abbot or Abbess – a life that entails giving up one’s own possessions, one’s own will, and living a celibate life, in community.  We do not take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience – although my novice master used to say that our vows amounted to the same thing. Our vows are actually named ‘Conversion of Life’, ‘Stability’ and ‘Obedience’.  And, as one would expect, the context of life, for a monk, is much focussed. We pray together the monastic office, and spend a ‘longish’ time, each day, in this prayer, or in praise to God. St. Benedict called this ‘The work of God’ or, in Latin, ‘Opus Dei’.  Nothing is more important for St. Benedict than this work of prayer.  However, this primary is complemented by private prayer, ‘Lectio Divina’ (prayerful reading) – studying and reading.

Quite apart from this life of prayer, the monks work to earn the money needed to live and survive, and so there is work to be done of the most varied kinds, according to each monastery. Our monastery has a wide range of working patterns – a range which includes teaching in the monastic school, Ampleforth College, the work of chaplains in the school, hospitality work with guests – including retreats, talks and conferences – then there is life, and work, on the parishes. Lastly, but by no means least, there is the manual work that needs to be done – work in the orchard, in the gardens and in the woods, belonging to the monastery.

I believe it to be an interesting fact, that the monastic life, whilst ‘not according to the norms of most peoples’ lives’, manifests, at the same time, a life of great contentment and joy – at its best. It is quite hard – difficult in words – to ‘pin down’ the ‘charism’ of monastic life; some refer to it as ‘Prayer and Work’, (in Latin, Ora et Labora), or ‘Peace among Thorns’, (in Latin, Pax inter Spinas).  What is certain, however, is that all of us within our monastery, know monks who have lived the Ampleforth monastic way of life for 60 years, and more – and are still full of love and joy – what a wonderful gift from God!  But, monastic life also points the way to something ‘special’ for all people. Those of us who are not called to be monks, nevertheless, are called, in our own way, ‘to be in the world’ – but not ‘of the world’, where we can, with God’s help, integrate ‘Prayer and Work’ into our lives, so that our lives also become ‘unified’. This is a Christian ‘calling’, common to all of us, and so each one of us needs to learn how to aspire to that calling, each in our own individual way. Certainly, we all need to find a place for prayer, and for work, these two important aspects of our lives in harmony with each other.

I look at the world in which we live, at life today in contemporary Britain, and at recent events from which one cannot escape, and all this makes me stop and think about the power of the world – that other world – the one that does not belong to God.  Many of the values that constantly bombard people – values inculcated – ingrained almost – within our culture, are, to put it mildly, rather godless. Recently, the extent of growth in addictions, for example, those to do with ‘sex, drugs, drink, alcohol and greed for more – money and possessions’ – has ‘homed in’ on me.   In this kind of world, everyone can recognise a Christian, because they live in a different way, a way that is free from any slavery to addiction, and, on an even more positive footing, putting God first, putting Sunday worship before other things, putting oneself out to worship God each week.  Take Sunday, and any town in England, including Leyland. You will see many cars at the shopping centres, outside the swimming pools, and loads of young people playing sport. Now, all these things are good, in themselves; people do need to shop, it is good to relax, it is good to support the young in sport.   But, where is God in all this?  Yes, of course, there are those who come to church to worship God, as well, people who are prepared to give that time to God rather than to the other ‘necessities’ or ‘luxuries’ of life, but these are only a very small minority.  It comes down to a matter of priority.  Unfortunately, for many in Britain, the priority is not worshipping God, together in the faith community, but in taking themselves off to that ‘other’ world.

Thank God, God’s world still exists and it is heartening to know that much praying goes on, each day, in peoples’ lives, within our Parish. A few have the time and energy to join us, here in the Parish Community, for the daily round of ‘Morning Prayer’ that usually begins 45 minutes before the morning Mass. In our Priory Community, we have Midday Prayer, each day, and, of course, Evening Prayer, as we monks wish, very much, to do our best to keep community prayer alive, each day.

Prayer can take many forms and family prayer together is a very good way to introduce, and maintain, a rhythm of prayer. Thus, some pray together at each meal, and others have family morning prayers at breakfast, to thank and praise God for the new day, and to ask God’s blessing on each day’s activities. Prayers, and the things of God, are so inter-linked. Preparing our children for first Holy Communion is another aspect of Christian Life and prayer, as it leads to our involvement in the most important prayer of all, the Mass. In this regard, Chandon Oakley recently made her preparations in Australia, and then came back to her Grand-parents’ Parish, here in Leyland, for her first Holy Communion, on the 15th August, this year.

(1)  Praying the Morning Office at Leyland (2) Chandon Oakley’s 1st Holy Communion, The Assumption, 2010

“I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you gave me, because they are yours”.

When Jesus asks God for something, it is Jesus who is praying.  He prays for us, continually, in heaven, and this, too, can give us another understanding of God’s immense love for us, and could lead to a desire, on our part, to respond to Him.  In this way, we can be sure we are among those that God has ‘given to Jesus’; in fact, all people are candidates for this great privilege – the privilege of belonging to Jesus. On this point, it is enough for us just to want to be with God, to decide to believe in Him, and act on our belief; if we do this, in all sincerity, God will help us to be united with Him, and to live his will throughout the circumstances of our lives. Then, in this confusing world of ours, things will acquire new meaning and new purpose; then, we will become people of peace and harmony, in ‘Prayer and in Work’.

Ampleforth Chapter

Ampleforth Abbey Church

During this last week, we have had our Summer (August) Chapter meeting for all the monks of Ampleforth Abbey. Chapter is a time when the brethren come together to discuss important business considerations of the monastery and in St. Benedict’s Holy Rule there is provision for such meetings. Bear in mind, St. Benedict lived from about 480AD to 547AD, so the Rule of St. Benedict is very ancient. It is still read every day in monastic houses – we read it each day, here in Leyland – and, with the help of the Holy Spirit in all Religious Life, including Benedictine monasteries like Ampleforth, we are formed into a family of God where we pray, and where we hope, God is always present.

Of calling the Brethren to Council – Chapter 3 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

As often as any important business has to be done in the monastery, let the abbot call together the whole community and himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the advice of the brethren, let him take counsel with himself and then do what he shall judge to be most expedient. Now the reason we have said that all should be called to council, is that God often reveals what is better to the younger. Let the brethren give their advice with all deference and humility, nor venture to defend their opinions obstinately; but let the decision depend rather on the abbot’s judgement, so that when he has decided what is the better course, all may obey. However, just as it is proper for disciples to obey their master, so it is becoming that he on his part should dispose all things with prudence and justice.

In all things, therefore, let all follow the Rule as master, nor let anyone rashly depart from it.

Monks in Choir praying

What this says is that everyone is ‘under’ the Rule, and we should realise that, for St. Benedict (as for all founders of Religious Life, in any form), the Gospel is what they must follow. In the prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict it is stated: “Let us, therefore, gird our loins with faith and the performance of good works, and following the guidance of the Gospel walk in his paths.”  Essentially, this precept means that everyone should live and work according to the Word of God  - and here the word ‘everyone’ includes the Abbot and all the monks, and all the important and less important people in the monastery. This guiding principle is the same for any Christian association, such as a school. Not only are the students under the Word of God, but so is the head-teacher, staff and everyone. It is the same with a parish: the Priests, (the monks in our case), are as much under the Word of God as the parishioners.

This is the context for our Chapter meetings which, of course, are now arranged according to our present-day culture, some fifteen hundred years after St. Benedict was alive. Invariably, it is a time when many people have many things to say; the Abbot will also put forward his views, and all try to listen to each other. Nowadays, we often break up into smaller groups, so that each person will really have the chance to say what he wants to say, in an ‘easy’ and ‘comfortable’ atmosphere; ultimately, all the group discussions – the differing points and opinions – are reported back to the whole community.

For us monks, one of the highlights of the Chapter is the celebration, each year, of jubilees. Readers of this blog might like to know that, in fact, monks are very restrained when it comes to the celebration of jubilees – at least in our Abbey. All that happens is the enjoyment of a glass of wine for the monks and  an introduction by the Abbot, followed by a short speech by the jubilarian, and a formal – though poignant – song in Latin, “Ad moltos annos vivat, plurimosque annos vivat”, (May he live for many years and many more years). This year, for the first time, all was combined with a good meal, during which we had our celebratory glass of wine, and between courses, the speeches were made. It was organised in this way to save time, largely because, this year, there was a ‘bumper crop’ of ten jubilarians.

(In passing, we had the privilege of two Tanzanian monks staying with us in Ampleforth, this year, and I asked one of them, Brother Alphonse – who will be in Leyland for three weeks, in September – what they did in their big monastery for jubilees? He described how they have a big feast, speeches are made and then the younger monks would sing joyful African songs for the older ones.  Exuberant Africans do things in a different way! It is also usual in England for diocesan priests to have ‘big’ celebrations for their silver, ruby and golden jubilees of priesthood.)

In our monastery, this is not our tradition and I wonder if this is because of our ‘English culture’, as our monastery is very ‘English’ in its ‘tone’. I remember my novice master, an Irishman, Fr. Bruno Donovan from Galway, speaking to us on this very point. He actually made a huge contribution to the spiritual welfare of many monks in our abbey, and was much loved. Rather surprisingly, he also shared with us novices, something of his sufferings, brought about by living as an Irishman in an English culture.  You may wonder, but it took him a long time to come to terms with his ‘lot’. Perhaps it was this sense of an Irishman, lost in a sea of the English, in part, that made him such an empathetic person, and such a good friend to so many people! True empathy can be an especially wonderful gift and he certainly had it in abundance. On this particular ‘Irish Question’, I remember that it was only when I came to work on the parishes that I heard, for the first time, the hymn ‘Hail Glorious St. Patrick’.  This occurred at Warrington, St. Mary’s Parish and the very ‘English’ Parish Priest there was Fr. Gabriel Gilbey. Fr. Gabriel always flew the flag of St. George on the flag-pole, 23rd April – his Feast Day – but would not fly the Irish ‘Tricolour’ on St. Patrick ’s Day, much to the annoyance of many Irish parishioners. Parishioners tend to be far less restrained than the monks, within the monastery, when it comes to celebrating jubilees or birthdays – very much a tradition in our Benedictine parishes, and to prove the point, witness Bishop Ambrose’s 80th birthday, my 50th birthday and Fr. Martin’s Golden jubilee of priesthood, here in Leyland, among others I could mention.

Abbot Patrick Barry our oldest Jubilarian

As I noted a little earlier, this year there were ten such jubilarians to celebrate – quite a number! The names included several monks that people from our Parish, would know as old friends. Abbot Patrick Barry celebrated 75 years of his clothing as a monk, (1935), and 65 years of priesthood, (1945) – almost two life-times of service; he quite often visited Leyland as our Abbot. Fr. Martin Haigh and Fr. Theodore Young celebrated 70 years of clothing (1940).  Our ‘slightly more youthful’ Bishop Ambrose, Fr. David O’Brien (now at Bamber Bridge – but often supplying for us at week-day Mass) and Fr. Rupert Everest, all celebrated 60 years of clothing as monks (1950), and Fr. Alberic Stacpoole, (who, some years ago, spent a year in Leyland), celebrated 50 years of clothing (1960). It is very encouraging, enlightening and also moving for a ‘slip-of-a-lad’ (like myself), to see the continuing enthusiasm, joy and sense of humour in these wonderful men, as they each shared, briefly, something of their experiences of monastic life – experiences, it must be said, of God working in their lives. They are like our “Granddads”, and just as often in families, we venerate and love our grandparents, so it is the same in monastic life.

Psalm 93 talks about the youthfulness of those who love God – a quality borne out by these jubilarians – and something very much attested to by our celebrations:

“The just will flourish like a palm-tree

That grows like a Lebanon cedar;

Planted in the house of the Lord

They will flourish in the courts of our God,

Still bearing fruit when they are old,

Still full of sap still green,

To proclaim that the Lord is just,

In him, my rock, there is no wrong.”

(Psalm 91: 13-16)

At this Chapter we also renew our vows – vows that we have taken for life – at the Mass on the last day. This took place on Wednesday 18 August and, collectively and for each individual, it was very much a joyful act of Faith, as who knows what each New Year will bring? Again, everyone, including the Abbot renews their vows, even though most of us have, of course, made our monastic vows a life-long commitment.

To conclude, and to underline all that has gone before, Chapter is always a moment to stand before God, and to face him – taking in all the challenge and loneliness that can entail – but then, the reward, potentially, is something wonderful to behold. St Benedict in his rule put it like this:

“As we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged, and we shall run with unspeakable sweetness of live in the way of God’s commandments”. (Prologue to the Rule)

God Holds Us On His Shoulders

At the Mariapolis, in Norwich, at the beginning of this month, one of the speakers said that God is like a ‘Dad’ who, playfully and lovingly, places his son on his shoulders – full of love and care for his ‘lad’. Observe, carefully, and you may see that often the lad does not even feel it necessary to cling on to his father’s head, but looks around, full of happiness and joy, plays, and feels completely safe. So it is with God and ourselves, if we believe – and live by – the truth that God loves us, immensely, and with the same degree of care. Now they say that the ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and my coming to Slovenia, just a few days ago, has borne out the truth of that maxim, in a very personal way. On arrival at Ljubljana airport, not only did I have no idea where to go, but was brought, safely, to this place some 50 miles distant; then, my plastic card – at the ‘Hole in the Wall’, appeared to lose 400 Euros in the transaction – that, too, got sorted out; on the accommodation front, and instead of the single room  I was expecting, I was asked to share – but, even this, has worked out better than being in a room on my own. Well, you may say, these things are ‘small beer’ – just simple every day happenings – but, what about the bigger ones?

Last week, my ‘Blog’ was about ‘Charisms in Unity’. Today, it is about God, his care for us and how he looks after us so closely. I am still with the company of Religious at Celje in Slovenia, but now, the group has changed and expanded to include a total of some 61 men. We are no longer involved in a magazine, but are trying to discover what it is that God wants from us, as a group of Religious men, to help support the growth of unity in the world.   God calls us to be his close disciples, in the Church, and in our respective Religious Orders, where there is great variety, and this variety is reflected here in Slovenia: there are members of the younger Religious Orders, like Marist brothers, brothers of St. Gabriel, Divine Word Missionaries, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, De La Salle brothers, Cammillians and so forth. Also, there are representations from the ancient orders, such as Benedictines, Augustinians, Franciscans, Jesuits – and a whole lot more besides!

All of us have also been given another calling by God – a call to live for Unity: we have been ‘touched’ by what the Church has authenticated as a ‘Charism’, (from the Greek, meaning ‘gift’) of the Church, in “The Work of Mary” (the official Church title of the Focolare Movement); under the ‘umbrella’ of this ‘Movement’, all categories of people can belong: men and women in Religious Life, people of other Churches, those of other Religions and those of no Religion, but who appreciate and follow the spirit of unity. To be, and to work ‘for a united world’, is something that attracts even some who think ‘religion’ is outdated, I think, largely, because such people are attracted by the spirit in which “Unity” is lived – as at a Mariapolis – and this very much includes mutual love and support. Here, I would like to be very precise, also, by stating that this new calling to unity, does not mean any lessening of the original call each of us Religious has, to his, or her, own vocation.

Returning to our roles in Religious Life, this being called ‘into the life of unity’ is something that accords with the will of God, for Jesus prayed just before he died “… …that all may be one” (John 18, 21) … … and this ‘all’ must include those in Religious Life. Right up to fairly recent times, Religious Orders have been isolated – sometimes even opposed, or less than fraternal, towards each other.  You may find this, opposition, antagonism even, something very strange, when you come to think we are all brothers and sisters in the Church.  On this point, I well remember seeing a medieval fresco, at Subiaco, Italy, where St. Benedict lived and founded his first monasteries; the picture showed ‘white’ monks fighting and killing ‘black’ monks.  Surprising!  Remarkable! However, we are saved from this dire situation, I am sure, because belonging to a ‘life of unity’ only strengthens the love we have for our own particular calling as members of our Religious Orders – and for each other. That has been my own experience, and it may come as a surprise to some readers of this Blog, to be told that, without this gift of ‘unity’, (to put it simply), from God, I am certain I would not still be a monk within my own monastery.  God has certainly carried me, on his shoulders, many times, and in many different ways.

Perhaps this helps to explain why, here in Celje, we are an enthusiastic ‘band of men’, some of whom are distinguished members of their Orders, with important positions and duties to perform within them. The times in which we live are not so different, fundamentally, and in reality, to the time when Jesus was alive, or even to the times of our own founders; all times are difficult times, and God helps us, now in our times, as he did, then, in theirs. This ‘new’ experience from God is something which helps, considerably, in the life of the Church today.

God carries us, individually and collectively, on his shoulders, now, as he has done all down the centuries, in other times and in many other ways. Consider for a moment, how hard it is to keep a small group of people, together, in harmony and peace;  here, I am thinking, for example, of family life, life in our neighbourhoods and life in our streets, life in a parish, or diocese, in a religious order; there are many other examples.  This simple exercise of mind shows us the need for this ‘gift’ of unity. We are a ‘large’ group, here in Celje; the agreement reached, about new plans to help us grow, in our progress as Religious, with our one aim of ‘unity’ is, to my mind, a miracle, because we come from different countries, with different backgrounds, different outlooks, temperaments, characters and also with different experiences. Despite our diverse cultures, etc, we really are, all pulling in the same direction, overcoming all possible difficulties, along the way. But be aware, please, that working together in unity it is not always easy – it requires some effort, some sacrifice, some self-giving every day.  And, of this I am convinced – it could not have been achieved without God’s help – without God ‘carrying us along on his shoulders’.

Last Saturday, the whole group of us went on along on a five-hour drive to a place in Croatia, to the site of a “Mariapolis Centre for Unity” run by the Focolare Movement, and there we met the President of the Focolare and her Co-President. Interestingly, the Church insists that the President of the Focolare will always be a woman, and if you look, carefully, at the group photograph of all our Religious, you will see a small, insignificant looking lady surrounded – almost engulfed – by men. She is Maria Voce, who, before becoming a part of the Focolare Movement, was a lawyer from the south of Italy. In the evening, we were invited to a party in honour of Maria Voce, and her Co-President – arranged, with much love by the peoples of this part of the Balkans: Romania, Moldavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia.

(L) Getting ready for the Party with children and families, from most mid-Balkan countries.  (R) The Greek Catholic Priest, and his family, who sang at the Party – Saturday Evening,  7th August

This centre was a place of refuge for many who fled their homes, in the ‘recent’ Balkan wars, when NATO was involved; British troops were involved, as ‘peace-keepers’ also. In complete contrast with the ugliness of war, it was so beautiful to see the harmony among those present from countries that, not many years ago, had been in bitter conflict, fighting each other. Of course, this was just a ‘drop in the ocean’ but, sufficient to make us realise that it is possible to bring about peace and reconciliation – given the opportunity, and the will to respond.


Fr. Leopold Grcčar OFM, from Slovenia

Finally, I would like to tell you something of how Fr. Leopold was feeling, during his journey to Croatia, on that Saturday, because here was another expression – another example – of God ‘carrying us on his shoulders’ through the most difficult of times. We reached that quiet period, after the excitements of the main event, and that time when some of us like to sit down and share their thoughts on the day. Fr. Leopold then told us we had travelled, on the ‘bus, through the place where he had lived, as boy and young man. He shared with us some of the memories the journey re-kindled, because, as a young boy during World War II, it was very dangerous as many were being killed by Nazis, or by Partisans. His family was a Religious one, but, it seems, that was no help, for ‘Religious families’ were thought not to be on the side of the Partisans.

One day, he saw a long column of prisoners, marching by, under guard, and all of them were taken by their captors and shot – mass murder – under no other name.  (Sadly, this slaughter of Slovenian people, and other nationalities, happened a lot – all too often, in fact – in the Second World War, and in this area, for the record, such atrocities were to continue even after the war finished.) Some time after this mass execution of prisoners, an Austrian soldier came to his parents’ house, and, at this, the family were very frightened, as his presence could place them in great danger. The soldier was in need of food and drink, and Fr. Leopold’s mother gave what she had to him – to her, it mattered not that he was a soldier and an Austrian – he was ‘Jesus at the door’. He then confessed to them, that if he could, he would go back to his own country, over the mountains between Slovenia and Austria, on his knees, after all he had experienced – in repentance for what had happened – just so long as he never again, had to kill another human being.


 Madonna on the side of a house in Celje today, showing  a still  strong Catholic faith among many Slovenians

Fr. Leopold finished his account – essentially, one of outrage and repentance – and it was then that a young Austrian Religious, in our group, and another good friend, admitted that, on the journey to Croatia, he had felt a bit ‘agitated’. He went on to explain that, as he travelled, it was with the full expectation he would meet, that day, peoples from nations killed by Austrians fighting for the Nazi regime, during the war.  From a deep sense of personal sorrow, he felt, that he wanted to apologise, profoundly, for what his fellow countrymen had done; in their name, he said ‘sorry’ to the rest of us. These were moments of profound meaning, for me, thinking at the same time, of the joyful people we had met, and the tragic experiences through which they had lived.

God brings good out of evil, as he did for martyrs like St. Lawrence, patron of Ampleforth Abbey, my monastery, and it happens to be on his feast day, 10th August, that I write this.  Jesus is … … “The way, the truth and the life” … … and in Him, we can remain sure of divine help, ‘riding on the shoulders’ of His Father, whilst entrusting ourselves to him. That is what all true Christians are called to do.  Dear Lord, help me to have more of that Spirit!


Charisms in Unity

Readers of this blog might well ask: “What, in the name of heaven, is Fr. Jonathan doing in Celje, Slovenia, a guest of the Lazarist Fathers –  they follow the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul – with 20 or so others in Religious Life?” It is from this beautiful and tiny country in Europe, at the top of the Balkan peninsula, with a population of only 2 million, that I write to explain.

Each year, a special meeting (more strictly, perhaps, a series of meetings) takes place for men and women in Religious Life, and I have been involved in this activity for about 20 years. The meeting is international in structure, and consequently, we meet where most can reach a central venue, without too much difficulty; this year it has been the turn of Slovenia. It goes without saying, that all those involved have a strong experience of God and his Love; moreover, each individual’s faith has been reinforced, within their own calling as Religious, by a God-given gift – the gift of knowledge and experience of the Focolare Movement. The Focolare Movement is, itself, the recipient of a very important, gigantic, gift from God; I refer to the gift of UNITY.  Unity  involves all types of people in this world, lay-people, young and old, all the different races, all the different Christian denominations, and many of the different World Religions –  even people of no religious beliefs. Why?  How? Basically, because it comes to spread ‘LOVE’, in and throughout, the world; that was  Jesus’ task – Jesus who gave us the chance to be ONE with God, and, as we know, ‘God is Love’. It is love that will unite people everywhere; it is this love that many have experienced, including those of us in Religious Life. All Christians are meant to know God who is Love, experience Him, know Him and Love him. The Focolare Movement does this in a new way, just as when each Religious Order was founded it was an expression of Love in a new way.


Above,  there are, from left to right, Religious from Italy, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, USA, France Germany, Holland, Poland, and England taking the photo!. Some are on the Theological Commissions of the Church, teaching in universities, others retired, others in charge of novices or juniors. There are Benedictines, Jesuits, Franciscans, Redemptorists, Divine Word, Carmelites, Brothers of St. Gabriel, Claretians, Oblates of Mary Immaculate and from the congregation of the Child Jesus among others

Our latest meeting finished just a little while ago; it was about the publication of a magazine on the Religious Life – the life in which all of us are involved. It was a kind of annual editorial meeting for the magazine that is called ‘Charisms in Unity’ and is produced by Religious men and women, (and others) trying to share, by means of the written word, the immense gifts that God has given to the World, the Church and to those in Religious life through the auspices of the different Religious Orders. There are eight different editions, in eight different languages.

‘Charisms in Unity’ is different from the many other magazines on Religious Life, because it emphasises the unity between Religious Orders – as well as the specific differences. I will try to explain a little further. Each Religious Order is, in itself, a gift from God, and this gift is usually called its ‘charism’; the word ‘charism’ means gift, from the Greek. The different charisms of the many hundreds of religious orders are all inspired by one Holy Spirit. These charisms are, essentially, different expressions of the life of the One Jesus; for example you could say that the Benedictines shared the unity of Jesus in his ‘prayer and work’. Most readers will know that the monks who serve St. Mary’s, in Leyland, are Benedictines. But then there are Carmelites: their charism might be expressed in ‘the prayer life of Jesus’. Franciscans emphasise ‘the poverty of Jesus’, missionaries emphasise ‘Jesus who sent out disciples to spread the Word, as he did himself, teaching orders ‘Jesus the teacher’, and so on. Searching for a good analogy, I would point you to a garden, in which there are many different flowers, all placed quite artistically to complement and show off each other. There is just one garden, but many different types of flower. By analogy, we have discovered that all these ‘charisms’ make much more sense if they are ‘united’ with each other, when they are ‘in communion’ with each other – but, united in a way that allows them to keep their individuality. Thus, the ‘SPIRIT’ of the magazine is underlined, is given its ‘raison d’être’, by its title, ‘CHARISMS IN UNITY’.

It is fascinating, always, to meet up with others, from different backgrounds, the product of very diverse experiences, to share with them those experiences, and furthermore, to be encouraged by them, in coming to know God, as Religious, in our world today.

Apart from working out the best way to write and spread our message, we are very aware of the challenges facing the Church in the world today. We realise that the Holy Spirit is calling the lay people to be protagonists in the life of Faith and in the life of the Church.   This would add to – compliment if you like – the work of priests and religious, who remain essential to the life of the Church, and bring about a working combination, potentially very beneficial. We know that much good work is done by people who do not belong to the Church, but are actively involved in promoting justice and peace in the world; actively involved, also, in the issues concerning the very survival of our planet and the threat of ecological disaster; actively involved in many other important challenges facing our world. At the same time, we know that the Church is criticised by many people; that, in Europe, the majority of Religious Orders are in a weakened parlous state with few novices, and that the present prognosis for the developmental future of the Church lies with those peoples in Africa, India, the Philippines and, in parts of South America. We are aware of the major problems many individuals have with the Church itself; many find its, seemingly, autocratic ways hard to cope with; many have an affection for Jesus and his teaching – but not for the Church, itself: many intellectuals, together with, perhaps, a majority of ordinary folk in Western Europe, think that the Church is irrelevant, and that faith in God is out-dated.  It is true that many Christians fail to practice their faith as their forebears used to do.

Bearing all this is mind – taking on board all the pros and cons – in all of this, it is good to know that God has also inspired new life, often in small new groups, often not very well known new groups, within the Church. These are the new ‘Movements’ of which the ‘Focolare’ is one. When one meets some of the people involved, in a two-way sharing of stories and experiences, it can be very heartening, and all this helps many to continue with their faith in God, because they see people making a real contribution for good to this world of ours – in many different ways – and from many different situations.

On this note, I want to end my blog with an introduction to a few of these people, my friends, for the benefit of my readers.

 Fr. Fabio Ciardi OMI

Fr. Fabio Ciardi OMI from Italy is the person who has helped to run these meetings for many years. He teaches theology in Rome, and has a great deal of experience of Religious Life, not only having responsibility for young students in his own order, but is also in touch with many other different religious orders. He has published many books on Spirituality, on the Gospels, on Spiritual Theology. He also has personal knowledge of inter-faith dialogue with Jews, Moslems and Buddhists. He once came to stay in Leyland, and I had the joy of going on a 10 day holiday with him to Ireland, some years ago.

 Fr. Germano,  Brother Matthew, Fr. Ludwik

Fr. Germano, on the left, is a Divine Word Missionary from Brazil. He has been there all his life, though he is a native of Holland. He is talking to Fr. Ludwik and in the middle is Brother Matthew, both Benedictines from Poland. Fr. Ludwik founded the monastery of Biskopow. He used to be the Prior and allowed Fr. Suawek to come to Leyland on two occasions. Now Fr. Suawek is his prior. Fr. Ludwik has had a very full monastic life, is the author of various books in Polish, and Br. Matthew is the novice master at their small monastery in the South of Poland, where all the nine monks are young, with the single exception of  Fr. Ludwik.

Fr. Paolo Monaco SJ

Fr. Paolo Monaco SJ, is an Italian Jesuit from Naples who works also to co-ordinate the Religious who are interested in this life of unity. He is an expert on the computer and has been helping, especially, the young religious all over the world, who are also involved. He seems to hate fuss and bother, and simply gets on with his work, though has many interesting things to say about the present and future of the Church.

 Fr. Carlos Andrade

Fr. Carlos Andrade on the right is a Spanish Claretian missionary, the same order as Fr. Florencio who came to stay with us in Leyland, from Spain, on 3 occasions. Carlos is a theologian who has taught in Madrid for many years and at present is doing his thesis and doctorate in Rome. He writes many articles for ‘Charisms in Unity’ and always has something interesting to say.

Fr Theo Janssen OFM

Fr Theo Janssen OFM is a Cappuchin from Holland who has worked for many years in Rome at the General House. He also lectures on Spiritual Theology in Rome, and has been involved in the Focolare for many years. He now runs a special “School for Religious” (St. Benedict spoke about the monastery being a school of the Lord’s service) at Loppiano near Florence, where men in Religious life go for 6 months to learn what it really means to live in ‘unity’. Loppiano is the first international town of the Focolare, and Religious are helped there by the example of the thousand people who live there, mainly laity and make it a town where Gospel values are lived out, especially the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you”. His great advantage in life is that he speaks well, German, French, Italian, English, some Spanish, and of course Dutch, and also knows Latin and Greek. He is a humble and homely person, very easy to get on with.