Good Friday Respite

Good Friday evening is an oasis of peace for this monastic sacristan. It is grey outside, steadily and consistently drizzling, and drab. Even the lambs were subdued (oh yes, we have seven so far – you will meet them soon). Nature has on her mourning cloths

This respite from the recent hurly-burly and hubbub allows a moment to share a thought that came during the proclamation of the Passion according to St John this afternoon. For no apparent reason, what was striking today was the conclusion of the narrative, the denoument after the death of our Lord. The Twelve have disappeared totally from view, they have fled and melted away, though we can take it as implied that John was faithful enough at the end and went off with Mary, now his mother too.

In place of the apostles, the chosen Twelve, we find much lesser disciples, not part of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The secret (“for fear of the Jews”) disciple, Joseph of Arimathea, emerges from his desired and self-preserving obscurity to attend to our Lord’s lifeless body and place it in his own, fresh tomb. Joining him is another obscure disciple of Jesus, “who had previously come to Jesus by night”, Nicodemus, who brings spices and herbs to make a fitting and decent burial. Together they emerge from the darkness of obscurity and pay a sad but solemn homage to our Lord. Not one of the Twelve is in view.

As we know from other passages, by Sunday morning there is still activity about Jesus’ tomb. Not the Twelve, who are locked away together, in self-imposed confinement arising from fear for their own safety; the women , some hitherto nameless, are coming to the Lord’s body in mournful homage.

So the apostolic element is in self-imposed withdrawal while the lesser lights, the members of the general body of disciples, quietly emerge to pay their respects to the Lord, to do him homage, to cherish his memory and, no doubt, his teaching and his hope-filled words.

The moral that came to me is probably obvious by now. Today, when priests are having to write letters to urge a synod of bishops, successors to the apostles, to uphold Catholic doctrine and all that flows from it; when what appear veiled threats emerge from bishops towards them, who urge them not to make trouble but to conform and keep quiet; when laity are signing petitions to support these priests… well you can see it, can’t you? Bishops perhaps a little too filled with the apostolic Good Friday praxis; mere priests and laity emerging from obscurity in quiet fidelity to the teaching and hope-filled words of our Lord – as the preacher says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9).

For many of us, far distant from those lands where Christians are literally dying with and for the Lord who was crucified for them as for us, we can share in the way of the Cross by a similar fidelity and devotion to the ecclesial and eucharistic Body of Christ, emerging briefly from our obscurity to pay a decent and devoted homage to him who is the Truth. This becomes an urgent duty when many of the apostles of today shrink from the challenge, and lock themselves in hiding out of fear of secular society.

Perhaps, as on Easter morning, our contemporary apostles need the call to witness that the first Apostles heard on Easter morning. While the shepherds feed the flock, the flock is called to gather about the shepherds to support them, encourage them, make clear to the shepherds their mission, and to be fed by them with Truth.

The Church today needs a few more like Nicodemus and Joseph, to emerge briefly from obscurity to assert their adherence to the Lord even as a hostile society looks on, and mocks or casts stones. Coptic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Melkite, Roman, and other Christians are literally dying for Christ. Can we perhaps take a few metaphorical blows for Christ, in solidarity with them?

Simon of Cyrene takes up Jesus' Cross. From the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart church, Beagle Bay (Australia), painted in 1949 by a German Schoenstatt, Sister Roswina.

Simon of Cyrene takes up Jesus’ Cross. From the Stations of the Cross at Sacred Heart church, Beagle Bay in far north-western Australia (and where my nephew is assistant priest), painted in 1949 by a German Schoenstatt, Sister Roswina.

All this laboured concern over the exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, from Holy Communion (and not from the Church, let’s be clear) is all a little too much like fiddling while Rome burns. We all have to share in carrying the Cross, even remarried divorcees. There is no other way if we are to be Christ’s disciples. To take it up or shirk it, the choice will always be ours and no other’s.

Wishing you all the blessings of the Triduum.

The 12th Station, from the Stations of the Cross in Douai Abbey church, carved by Fr Aloysius Bloor OSB and designed by Dame Werburg Welch OSB (Stanbrook)

The 12th Station, from the Stations of the Cross in Douai Abbey church, carved by Fr Aloysius Bloor OSB and designed by Dame Werburg Welch OSB (Stanbrook)

Where is St Edmund?

Where is St Edmund?

This will be an interesting read. The town would no doubt lay claim to his body, but his shrine was with the monks of Bury St Edmunds, whose successors we are.

If they find his body, St Edmund should come home to the monks of St Edmund’s at Douai Abbey. Naturally.

Gaudete! An online Christmas card.

Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria virgine.

A holy and happy Christmas to you all. Somewhat too economically I offer you the online card I have just uploaded for the abbey website as my Christmas greeting to you all. It’s a busy day for monks, so some economizing on time has been necessary. If it is a little more generic than personal, the sentiment is no less sincere for that. You will all be remembered at Mass tonight.

Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for each other.

Click the pic to see the card.

Douai Abbey crib 2013

Douai Abbey crib 2013

Shearing time!

This evening, muggy and threatening rain, my little flock was sheared. Not by me, though I helped with the worming, tagging, and dosing. Jack and Chris, two sturdy young bairns, did the honours. The flock clearly felt the relief of losing their heavy, hot coats.

Two quick pics. Jack and Chris hard at it:

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A lovely pile of fleece for our oblate Teresa, who will use a goodly portion of it to make sleeping mats for the homeless.

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Little Malcolm was glad when it was all over.

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Lounging lambs

The cold still bites here in Royal Berkshire, but at least the sun has managed to put his hat on occasionally, and to lovely effect. That said, yesterday was mostly filled with flurries of snow flakes, and the daffodils are terribly confused.

One effect of the sunshine is to encourage a little ritual lambs are fond of indulging in. After joining in the feeding frenzy on barley and hay with the ewes, they like to have a little chill time and think on the eternal verities. And they like to do it together. Normally in the sun they would play, but in the recent bleak and freezing weather they prefer to act like solar cells, and soak up as much warmth as possible. It begins when a nice bed of strewn hay is found in full sun. A couple will settle, satisfactorily gorged for now, and other lambs decide that they have the right idea.

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Quickly you have five settling in for some sun.

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And soon there are six, as a couple of the early comers start warming to their task of… warming.

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After some maternal intrusion and subsequent re-arrangement, they resettle to reveal the sun-and-slumber party has grown to eight.

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Malcolm, the youngest, is very much his own lamb and sits off a little to the side, balancing community with independence… and sleep.

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And looking back to the main assembly we find the other nine have finally settled together, Cher, the only girl among them, showing a suitable juvenile female disdain for boys.

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And they shall stay till the next human diversion arrives; for now, I have become far too boring to notice.

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Pax!

An Easter Lamb

The Triduum is a busy time for a monk who is both sacristan and cantor. Unexpectedly, my shepherd’s hat was on today as well – a surprise lamb born today, Holy Saturday, in the midst of our first period of sunshine for quite a while (though it still be chilly).

Though untimely born, she is well-omened. So Frances is our Easter lamb. 11 live lambs this year, our best crop ever (and this after three dead at birth). Alas, only two of them girls. A weird year. Given North Korea’s excessively loud belligerence, perhaps the end of the world is nigh. Repent, while we have the light of life.

Below is the little girl and her young mother (barely over a year old herself, and rejected by her own mother last year), taken with shaky, frozen hand on a mobile phone.

HAPPY EASTER!

Frances, the Easter lamb.

A novena and an omen

Yesterday afternoon two more lambs were born, which makes 7 in three days, and 9 in total – an ovine novena. Alas I only heard yesterday’s twins had arrived after dark, so after a fretful night I went out, after an earlier breakfast, through the sun-pierced fog and across crunching frost hoping for the best. And it was granted. A first time mother, Josephine, had given birth to a loud twin-set of lungs on legs. After her panic as I hoisted the lambs into the nursery pen, she followed us in and calmed down to the point of serenity. Having docked the lambs’ tails, and realised I had yet two more boys, I had a little play with the lads before they fed from mother while she wolfed down some barley (all photos should enlarge on being clicked): Feeding on all frontsIn light of the papal theme, it seemed apropos to name these two after the two most favoured papabili for the upcoming conclave. Our new albino boy, Angelo, declared approval: Angelo roarsHis brother, Marc, looked equally pleased, though he was forced to keep quiet by his more urgent need to lick his lips after downing a warming draught of mother’s best: Lip-licking goodWhen I let in the others, who were all waiting expectantly by the gate, there was a wonderful confusion of excited lambs escaping briefly the maternal leash, and of mothers frantically trying to put them back on the leash. All sorted in time: Meet and greetReturning this afternoon with some long-awaited mineral lick, it was lovely to see Cephas (at right) sitting near his grandmother with her boys Joseph and Benedict. Extended familyThe sunshine was very popular. Sunbathing was order of the day. Sonny and Cher slept through most of my visit: Sonny and CherJoseph and Benedict showed already signs of being scallywags, trespassing on other mothers and then sampling the mineral lick when they thought no one was looking: Sprung!The two eldest, Alban and Bartholomew, seemed lost in contemplation of the sun among the molehills, and I thought I might get quite close for a promo shot: ContentBut I was spotted and cast a disdainful look: SprungMeanwhile the new boys were finding their legs and learning the art of brotherly love: Brothers for lifeIn light of this preponderance of boys, 8 out of 9 lambs in total, surely there is a clear omen discernible. This is a near-certain sign that the next pope will be male. You heard it here first.