“Why do you think you have a vocation to be a priest?” I was asked that many times, by bishops examiners, and ordination panels. I would usually talk about my attraction to the work and ministry of a priest, and my sense that this is what God wanted me to do with my life. I didn’t often describe what really prompted me to seek ordination. I was reticent and a bit shy about describing that night, when I was in college. It sounded just too dramatic and mystical – a bit embarrassing. But that night I’ll never forget, I had a powerful experience of God calling me. I was awake all night, struggling, saying – no, that’s not what I had in mind for my life. At times I felt appalled, at other times unbelievably excited – this is the real thing: me and God. By the morning I had said yes – and I got up, and went to tell my college chaplain that I wanted to be ordained. I remember his words: “This made my day.” Continue reading
One of the best movies I’ve seen for a long time is “The King’s Speech” which won several Oscars three years ago. The story is about how the Duke of York unexpectedly and unwillingly becomes King George VI, just on the cusp of the outbreak of World War II. His role is to inspire and give courage and hope to the people of Britain in the face of the terrible march of Hitler through Europe. The main way in which he was to communicate with the people was through the radio – but he had a debilitating stutter and was terrified. It’s a wonderful story of how he overcomes this impediment to give the “King’s Speech.” Continue reading
So, who’s going to be the next Bishop of Massachusetts?
There are seven names on the slate, and to help us choose there will be a series of open meetings throughout the diocese from March 14-17 to meet the candidates and get to know them. It’s been a huge process so far, taking many months, and it will all culminate on Saturday, April 5, in the cathedral when the elections will take place.
Wouldn’t it be easier just to flip a coin? That’s what happened, or something similar, when the early Christians met to choose a successor for Judas Iscariot. Judas was dead, and the apostles wanted to replace him with somebody who had also known Jesus as intimately as they had, and in particular, someone who, as they said, “would become a witness with us to his resurrection.” They didn’t have seven names on the slate, just two: Joseph called Barsabbas, also known as Justus – and Matthias. Continue reading
“I wish you would stop quarrelling!” I can hear my mother’s exasperated tone as she tried to stop my two brothers, my sister and me from endlessly fighting and arguing with each other.
I sometimes think St. Paul must have felt the same thing about the young churches which he was trying to build up into Christian maturity. You only have to read his letters to get a sense of his exasperation: “Stop arguing!” he says to the Philippians, “…do everything without murmuring and arguing.” And to the Galatians, “You bite and devour each other – there are quarrels and dissension and factions.”
Today is Candlemas, and it’s a feast I’m very fond of. But then, I like candles! I remember as a young child, we lived in the country, and we were often having power outages. It was so exciting to slowly walk upstairs to bed carrying a candle, and then, tucked up in bed, nice and cozy, looking around a once familiar bedroom, now mysteriously alive with flickering shadows. Later, as I came to faith, looking at a candle helped me to pray: the flickering light spoke of the light of Christ, of warmth and comfort, and the mystery of God.
The candles in today’s procession, and on the altar, celebrate the event which took place 40 days after Christmas when Jesus, the Light of the World, was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the required ceremonies of the Law. He had already been circumcised on the eighth day and received his name. But because he was the first born, he was regarded as “holy” – in other words, belonging to the Lord – and his parents had to, as it were, buy him back by paying a shekel to the sanctuary. He was then “presented” to the Lord. Continue reading
What’s the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you? The thing which made your stomach turn over and your heart to race? For me it was having to start a new school halfway through a term. By then everyone had already got their friends, and sitting next to them. I can remember that first day, walking into a class full of children, all staring at me, and none of whom I knew. I did make friends pretty quickly, but what I suppose I remember above all, was the awful feeling of not belonging.
The first day I went to university I had the same sinking feeling in my stomach. I remember walking through the college looking for my rooms. It was staircase V, I remember. Eventually I found the door, and then…I saw it…painted carefully in small white letters above the door: G. R. Tristram. My name. I felt so happy. I really belong here! Continue reading
On this Holy Innocents Day, my mind goes back to Salisbury Cathedral where I was ordained. The cathedral is twinned with Chartres Cathedral, and the year after my ordination a huge new East window was put into Salisbury – an incredibly beautiful and powerful window, made in Chartres at the famous workshop of Gabriel Loire – and incorporating that marvelous blue so characteristic of Chartres. The window is called “Prisoners of conscience” and it was dedicated by Yehudi Menuhin, who had worked so tirelessly for Amnesty International. Continue reading
Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are all gathered here in this lovely church to be still – before a great and mighty wonder. “While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven, from thy royal throne.” (Wisdom 18:14) And we have come to adore Him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the flickering candles. It reminds me that it all happened in darkest night. Those shepherds were keeping watch over their flock by night. And that deepest darkness was suddenly shattered by an intense light. “The angel of the Lord stood among them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” (Luke 2:9) Continue reading
Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Over the past few days we have seen those horrific images repeated over and over again. And we watch the horror with a strange fascination, rather like 12 years ago on September 11th, as we watched again and again the horrific images of the falling twin towers, as they were repeated over and over again.
Evil has always been a source of fascination. We can hardly bear to look, but find it hard to look away. Writers over the centuries have been drawn to it constantly. In Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio we have a riotous and fantastic description of hell and purgatory. By comparison, his depiction of heaven – Paradiso – is rather dull. Continue reading
Yesterday was Veterans Day – also known throughout the world as Remembrance or Armistice Day. It marks the armistice signed in Compiègne, France, between the Allies and Germany at the 11th hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, which brought an end to hostilities on the Western Front in the First World War. A time to remember with thanksgiving those who died in the two world wars. Continue reading
Those words I remember learning as a young child, for every year throughout Britain, on this night millions of people celebrate what is known as Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night. Millions of bonfires are lit and millions of fireworks are ignited. Continue reading
In July 2011, our brother Tom and I spent a few days in Rome. In many ways, the highlight of our visit was the pilgrimage we made, deep underground, into the Christian catacombs. I remember it was a very hot day, but as we walked down and down, through the intricate labyrinth of tunnels, the temperature plummeted. I remember shivering with cold, but also with awe. We were on holy ground, for on each side of the tunnels were recesses for burial chambers. Here, in the very first centuries after Christ, Christians buried their dead. As my eyes slowly got used to the dim light I began to see that the walls were covered with a plethora of beautiful colored frescoes. Continue reading
I came to live in this country in 1999 – fourteen years ago. When I first came here, I missed England so much. In the first few months in the Monastery, I would spend much of my time remembering my former life: filled with a mixture of homesickness and nostalgia. I think I lived most of my conscious life at a point somewhere half-way across the Atlantic.
If you’ve ever moved to a new country, or a new part of this country, or made a new start in life – and left the old life behind – you’ll possibly know what it feels like to be living in the present, but also very much in the past – missing friends, missing the familiar, wondering, “Have I made the right choice?”
But living too much in the past, filling our days with nostalgic memories, remembering past experiences or relationships which have now changed, or are no more, can actually be very damaging to our emotional and spiritual lives. The Scriptures are shot through with this theme and come with a warning: Once you have begun a journey, don’t look back.
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah recorded in Genesis 19 has perhaps the most graphic of all warnings about the dangers of looking back. Lot and his wife are told by God to escape from their city because God is about to destroy it. “Flee for your life – and don’t look back,” say the angels (19:17). So Lot and his wife run away, but as the city is being destroyed, Lot’s wife looks back and is turned into a pillar of salt. It’s a very strange story, but a powerful image.
The Hebrew word used here for “look back” does not mean glancing over her shoulder, but rather, paying attention to, looking wistfully, with yearning. Lot’s wife stopped and looked back at her past life with longing and nostalgia instead of hurrying on to what lay ahead, as the Lord had urged her.
The trouble with nostalgia, and why it can be such a challenge to the life of faith, is that it is not usually real or true. What we remember nostalgically is usually a distortion. We do not always remember that which really was. Think of the children of Israel on their long, hard journey across the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Life was so tough for them that they started getting very nostalgic for the “good old days” – life back in Egypt. “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing: the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. There’s nothing here except this ‘manna’ to look at!”(Num 11:5). But they conveniently forgot in their nostalgia that in Egypt they were slaves, and brutalized by their Egyptian taskmasters.
The Early Church Fathers used this story of the Exodus as a metaphor for our own Christian journey through life – from slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. When things get tough we, too, long sometimes for our old sinful ways and habits, rather than pressing forward in the life of grace. Don’t look back!
Jesus himself is very aware of the temptation to look back. In Luke’s Gospel, after he has set his face to go to Jerusalem, he calls some to follow him, but warns them to think very carefully before they choose to follow him, because once they become his disciples, they must never look back. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (9:62). I like that image because, of course, and as his listeners would know very well, if you are plowing by hand, and you keep looking back, you’ll go off course with crooked furrows. Looking back distorts your vision. You have to look forward – look straight ahead of you – if you want to keep on the straight path. As Luke warns us ominously later, “Remember Lot’s wife!” (17:32).
But it is not only nostalgia that encourages us to look back. Our past can have a real power over us: perhaps something in our past which fills us with guilt or regret; something we just can’t shake off, and which we carry as a burden; perhaps a broken relationship, or something we did which we know was wrong. Christ longs to take that burden from us, through the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. He longs to set us free, so that we can look forward and follow him. Reconciliation with ourselves and with God means learning to look ahead, to keep our eyes on the path in front of us, where we find Christ always leading us onward.
There’s a great image from the Rule of our Society about this: It says, “We cannot keep pace with the Risen Christ who goes before us if we are encumbered with guilt” (Ch. 30). Imagine Jesus walking ahead of you and saying, “Come on!” After I had been in this country for a few months I remember thinking, “It is too difficult for me to live this life as well as the one I used to have.” It weighed me down. I needed to stop looking back at the past and to move forward, following wherever Jesus would lead me.
Where are you on your journey of faith? Maybe you feel you’ve rather lost your sense of direction, or you’ve strayed off the path. Maybe you spend too much time looking back. How much of your life is spent in the past – either in nostalgia, or filled with guilt or regret?
I invite you to reorient yourself, to set your eyes once more on Jesus, to get back on the Way. Jesus is always ahead of us, inviting and encouraging us toward reconciliation, with God and with ourselves. Don’t look back at those parts of your past that you feel keep you from God, which prevent you from following on the Way. Instead, cast your eyes ahead. Today see if you can see Christ turning towards you and saying, “Come on! Don’t look back – Follow me!”
It is so good to be back again, worshiping in this lovely place, after our time away of retreat and community discussions. And it is so good to see you all again. I do hope you have had a great summer – a time for rest and refreshment.
We had a wonderful retreat. To spend those days amidst the natural beauty of Emery House was a great gift. Certainly for me, and I know other Brothers, it was an occasion to deepen our contemplative vision. In the Letter to the Hebrews which was read this morning, verse 14 says, “For here we have no abiding city, but we are looking for a city that is to come.” And I think that’s really what the contemplative vision is all about. It is about seeing with the eyes of faith; seeing that this life which we have is not the only reality. When our contemplative vision grows, we see that the apparently ordinary things of life are shot through with the glory of God. Spending time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to really see again heaven breaking through – or as William Blake put it, “to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.” Continue reading
“How do you recruit new monks?”someone asked me the other day. The answer is: we don’t recruit new members of the community. We make ourselves known – on the internet – but I would never encourage a man to come as a postulant. In fact, I often try to put people off! It’s really important, that if someone wants to join the community they have to ask – and maybe ask several times, before we say yes. Continue reading
I came to live in this country in 1999 – fourteen years ago. When I first came here, I missed England so much. In the first few months in the Monastery, I would spend much of my time remembering my former life: filled with a mixture of homesickness and nostalgia. I think I lived most of my conscious life at a point somewhere half-way across the Atlantic!
One of the questions that I get asked as a monk quite often when I travel around is, “Are you a silent order?” Kind of a difficult one to answer. No – we don’t take a vow of silence, and we do talk quite a lot. But silence is a hugely important part of our monastic life. Guests sometimes say – “Oh, being silent – is that sort of part of the Brothers’ penance?”
In my twenties I used to travel a lot. I especially loved the Middle East and North Africa. I travelled through Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Whenever I stopped in a village, locals would come up to me and we’d try to communicate. They would show me photos of their family – and they would always ask to see my family. At first I didn’t have any photos – but I soon learned. In the Middle East and Africa, if you want to know someone, you ask about their family. “Let me see your family, then I will know who you are.”
Christian monasticism began when, in 270 AD, Anthony, a wealthy young man, heard the Gospel story read in church of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.(MT 19:16-25; MK 10:17-25; LK 18:18-25) Jesus replied, “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor – and come follow me.” Anthony did so, and followed Jesus out into the Egyptian desert and he became a hermit, or lived the eremitic life, from the Greek word for desert. Many others soon followed his example, and the desert became populated with hermits. Continue reading