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2002 News from us

November


To all our friends far and near, who are linked with us on the great internet of God’s love and life, we send our warmest greetings as this year of Our Lord 2002 draws to a close. It has seemed a long year, in a world overshadowed by so much suffering and violence, with its wars and rumours of war. But it has also been a year of blessing, with the light of God’s goodness shining all the more brightly in the faces of so many people of goodwill, young and old, whose lives have touched ours.


In Advent, we were glad to spend some days of quiet reflection by way of retreat. With the tragic conflict in Afghanistan, apart from a day of prayer and fasting on 14 December, as the Holy Father had urged, we also spent a day there (Ty Mam Duw style) , learning about its history, geography and its different ethnic groups. At Vespers we joined a series of knotted Franciscan cords into a rosary, laying it around a large map of Afghanistan on the choir floor, as a symbol of our love and prayers encircling the beleaguered country - after which we each placed within it a symbolic gift representing our hopes for its suffering people now trying to build a better and brighter future.
We had a very busy week making new cribs for the cloister - even the less creative among us suddenly get inspired with new ideas and it is wonderful to see what emerges. The choir crib now has over 20 scenes from salvation history, and over 150 figures, if you count in the varied animals. The new scene this year, as part of the Epiphany section, is of the marriage at Cana, with the guests all dancing and an old man playing a fiddle - also a foretaste of the eternal wedding feast of heaven!

Sr Damian and Sr Cherubina had made an American Indian crib, with pottery figures, in which even the angels sported feathered headbands. It was set in a fertile valley in an otherwise barren landscape, with a stream representing the water of life, which Christ came to bring us. On the door of the wigwam was a sign inviting all the nations to come there to smoke the pipe of Peace.
The theme of the crib in the Peace Chapel was the marvellous humility of God, in choosing not just to become a baby, but to develop from the tiniest embryonic beginnings like the rest of us. The setting included models of a human foetus at its various stages of development. The refectory crib depicted Our Lady as the light-house for the world tossing on stormy seas, guiding it to her newborn Son in the manger at Bethlehem.
Our Christmas Vigil comprised nine psalms, interpreted in different ways, from Oriental style to ribbon dancing, and ended with a resoundingly joyful midnight mass.. Afterwards we kept watch by the crib with carols and our own music and prayers for special intentions, until 5.30 am, when we gathered for a welcome breakfast with much talk and laughter and joy undampened by the rain which had then set in.
The feast of Holy Innocents brought an hilarious recreation by Sr Juliana, specially written to include new dances several Sisters had learned. It featured Sr Christina in her inimitable role as Canon Measley, an elderly and eccentric cleric, and Sr Elizabeth as Mrs Pringle, the cleaning lady, - both caught up in the excitement of a ballroom dancing competition, for which there was a first prize of £1000, urgently needed for the repair of the church boiler.

We saw the New Year in with a very lovely Vigil Service, which was composed of Gospel passages about Our Lady. This appeared subsequently on our Website as part of the new Mary section
Her feast as the Mother of God stands at the gateway to the year. In it she shows us her newborn Son, as the source of all real life and every new beginning. On Epiphany we had our traditional procession to the choir with the Magi, taking with us all the letters we had received at Christmas, to lay them and their many prayer requests before the manger. In the evening we went carol singing round the garden, crunching the last of the Christmas snow underfoot, and carrying lanterns made by Sr Cherubina from marmalade tins, with designs of punched holes and holding small votive lights. On most days there were shared reflections at one of the cribs, or with slides in the chapter room. One such included a 5 minute video of little Wasan, one of the two children we are sponsoring at the Pattaya orphanage in Thailand. He is now 4 years old, and though his development is slow because of being autistic, he speaks a few words and understands everything that is said to him. He is a happy little child, liking to play on his own, delighting in riding his tricycle, and in picking up flowers when out for a walk. Jiranat, our other child there, is the same age, quite shy but very inquisitive. She enjoys learning the computer, is learning to read and write the Thai alphabet, and enjoys colouring in pictures.
Not all our TMD-style ‘travels’ were overseas. We spent one whole day touring Britain, with slides, learning a range of dialects and the meaning of old place-names, doing country-dancing and enjoying traditional English food. And in April we went on another journey even nearer home, sharing in the rich spiritual heritage of the Church in Wales, from the time of St Winefride and St David to that of the Reformation martyrs such as St David Lewis, and the recusant families like the Vaughans, who held fast to the ‘old religion’ in hard and hostile times.
Our Poor Clare itinerary even got us to Bardsey, the island where thousands of saints are said to be buried since a throng of Celtic monks took refuge there after the battle of Chester in 615.

A memorable spiritual pilgrimage was to Assisi on 24 January, in union with Pope John Paul II. who was meeting there with leading representatives of other world religions to pray for peace. Our community-room extension became the equivalent of the lower square outside the great basilica of San Francesco, our choir became the crypt chapel with the tomb of St Francis, and our infirmary day-room the proto-monastery of Santa Chiara.
We went in procession from one place to another, taking with us the Blessed Sacrament and having Exposition at each venue. This was accompanied by quiet prayer, or musical interludes with a cassette tape of the Holy Father, and gospel readings on the theme of peace, as well as Pope John Paul’s powerful message on Peace Sunday.

“No peace without justice,
no justice without forgiveness!”


Like the representatives taking part in Assisi, we each lit a votive light, placing it before the Lord, and committing ourselves to peace in the words they too used: “Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God’s name may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love.”
On the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, we had a special public mass incorporating the traditional blessing with the veil of St Colette, whose feast was the next week. There were a goodly number of people, mainly young couples present, among them some who had come to give thanks for babies born safely in the past year through St Colette’s intercession, including triplets conceived naturally.

We were very grateful for a large number of old National Geographic magazines given to us . From them we gathered hundreds of pictures which we mounted on the backs of old greetings cards, and could then be used in the same way as slides for epidiascope presentations. We have enjoyed a wide range of reflections illustrated with these pictures - from a sharing by Sr Lucia on the mysteries of the rosary, to one by Sr Christiana entitled ‘Birds of Praise’. One by Sr Yolanda on the prophet Hosea used the strongly worded text of the ‘Message’ version. Her own starkly dramatic drawings linked it to the theme of Christ’s passion for the saving of our sinful world. Other such ventures were two hour-long sessions on the life of St Pio of Pietrelcina, and an introduction to Celtic imagery - the significance of the lines, circles and knots so prevalent in Celtic illuminations, and meditations on the lovely prayer known as St Patrick’s Breastplate.

Lent began appropriately with a quiet day of prayer in choir in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. The weather fluctuated between very wet, and sunny and spring-like. We made the most of fine days, preparing the vegetable patch for future sowing and planting, and mending the large netting cage we stitched together some years ago to keep off the insatiable pigeons. We also moved the contents of our old comp heap, now nicely rotted down, and dug it into the patch.
By March, with the daffodils defying the winds, and the forsythia and other trees in blossom, the bees were much in evidence again, stocking up provisions in their hives after the cold and damp of winter.
With its many trees and bushes our garden is also a desirable residence for birds. Many nested here, especially in the thick yew hedges and cypresses. However the trees have also attracted less welcome visitors - not only magpies, which plunder the nests of small birds, but sparrowhawks. Later in the year these regularly picked off pigeons in the garden. We saw a woodpecker several times as well as some redstarts. A blackbird made its home in the camellia in the greenhouse. It is more than a century old, and must literally be the family tree of many generations! One day an endearingly bald and ugglesome youngster fell out of the nest there, landing at Sr Amata’s feet. Sr Agatha got a ladder and returned it to its comfortable nursery, where she found five of its brothers and sisters. The parent bird was later seen feeding them all, and despite the obvious squash, they all managed to stay put till they were fully fledged.

In Lent we had fewer retreat groups than usual coming for the day, and were glad of the opportunity of several days of quiet and reflection for ourselves, during which we watched videos of a series of inspiring and powerful talks by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa on St Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Sr Cherubina also treated us to a very lovely presentation on the sacred stigmata, the wounds of Christ which were impressed on our beloved St Francis towards the end of his life. It was altogether a moving and appropriate celebration for Lent.

We also hosted two Guided Prayer days. These centred on Our Lady standing by the cross of her beloved Son, faithful to the end, as she is shown in the San Damiano cross in our choir. After a talk by Dear Mother the participants separated into three groups, each led by one of our Sisters for a time of prayer and reflection. The time after lunch followed a similar format. Then, after their high tea, we celebrated Vespers of the Office of the Passion. This included a simple dramatised reflection on the theme of the day and on the love of Francis and Clare for the crucified Lord.

Two Sisters had painted a colourful 15 ft high backdrop for the Holy Week tableau in choir. It was inspired by the inter-faith gathering with Pope John Paul II at Assisi in January, and depicted God as the Father of all nations, drawing them into one through the saving death and resurrection of His beloved Son. Seen against the central Tau-shaped cross, so dear to St Francis, were figures signifying the Blessed Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Around them were representations of the major world religions, from the Star of David for Judaism, the Crescent of Islam, a Chinese character signifying “trust” for Confucianism, a Buddhist prayer wheel and Hindu prayer emblem, to symbols of the natural elements for the animist religions. The sepulchre itself , in which a figure of the dead Christ was placed on Good Friday evening, was shaped like the chamber of a heart. From it rose a curving cross, like an aorta - a symbol of the suffering and victorious love of the Lord.


The weather had been so spring-like all week, that we were able to have the Stations of the Cross in the garden on Good Friday morning. Each Sister gave a reflection on a particular aspect of Christ’s painful path to Calvary - Then we gathered in the shrine chapel to sing the haunting Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah, and to recall the words spoken by Jesus as he hung dying on the cross.
Each Easter Vigil here at Ty Mam Duw has a unique creativity, though retaining the familiar succession of readings from the Hebrew scriptures. The account of Abraham’s narrowly averted sacrifice of Isaac was illustrated by pictures drawn by Sr Joanna and projected on the chapel wall, and the saga of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt took the form of a short dramatic musical sequence. Sr Elizabeth had drawn a series of posters to illustrate the reading from Isaiah, urging all who thirst to “Come to the water!”
She and Sr Agatha added key words in Arabic and Hebrew respectively to the posters as they occurred in the reading. The discovery by the holy women on Easter morning of the empty tomb, and their awe-stricken encounter with the risen Lord was acted out from the mediaeval York mystery plays.
After the midnight mass we stayed in choir for another hour of quiet joy and adoration of the Risen Lord. Easter night always seems to pass quickly, but this year was made even shorter by the clock going forward one hour to summer time. But this did not bring out the sunshine, and by morning it was raining steadily, so we were thwarted in our plans to dance the “sunrise Benedictus” outdoors in honour Christ, the Light of the World. We had our midday dinner in the refectory, beautifully embellished by the novitiate, who had made a central Easter garden with large pottery figures of the Risen Lord meeting Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and brightened the tables with flowers and homemade angels.
Easter Wednesday brought us a fascinating sharing by Sr Agatha and Sr Joanna on pond life! When we praise the Lord for “all that moves in the waters” we tend to think of more dramatic life such as whales and sharks, but the minuscule inhabitants of our three small ponds are equally of God’s making.
Our Sisters had collected jam-jars of water from our three small ponds, with a wide variety of tiny creatures swimming, darting or somersaulting in them, including a leech or two found in the little wood - as well as a considerable quantity of tadpoles! Despite a mass of frog-spawn every spring, the birds see to it that we are not over-run by frogs in our beds and cooking-pots as was poor old Pharaoh in the days of Moses! We have an instrument which will show objects magnified 50 times on a small screen, and this gave us an entirely new view of the small world of the water-fleas and very varied insect larvae,all carrying on their everyday life unaware that our giant eyes were watching and marvelling at them. Afterwards we gathered to share a special Vespers, praising God for his creation, and incorporating episcope pictures and a film on the development and migration of millions of monarch butterflies.

On Easter Friday we did not sing the Night Office as usual at 11 pm. Instead we got up at 3.30 am., donned extra woollies and, after reciting the rosary and the psalms for Matins, went star-gazing in the garden. Sr Joanna was our guide with an illuminated map showing the whereabouts of the various constellations. The sky was clear enough for us to spot a satisfying number of them. We then gathered for breakfast in the cloister from which we could look out on to the cloister garden, bright with sparkling lanterns and votive lights floating in little boats on the pond.

Sr Damian had set up a brazier there, providing fried fish and toast for us by our own Ty Mam Duw “Lake of Tiberias” as the Lord had provided fish and bread for his disciples on the shore of Galilee after his resurrection - an event recalled in the gospel at holy mass that day.
We celebrated Dear Mother’s feast (that of the Annunciation) on 8 April by travelling TMD fashion round the world, with each Sister choosing a particular country and sharing something about it. We started in an Italian café, then processed waving a variety of national flags and singing a round as far as Sudan.

There Sr Yolanda, who had darkened her face and dressed according to her role as St Josephine Bakhita, shared with us her life-story. After stops in Denmark, Spain and New Zealand, we moved on to Australia, where we all participated in racing small paper kangaroos by jigging them along a guiding string. After which we adjourned to the cloister for an international dinner at small tables, during which we were introduced to some useful phrases in Thai.
We visited Japan where we learned to fold origami flowers, then we adjourned outdoors to Peru where Sr Cherubina taught us an old ritual dance used by the Indians to harness the sun and prevent it slipping away from the earth indefinitely.
After a full-scale sung evening Mass, the day ended with an early Matins. This included readings from the book of Revelation, telling of the angel with the seal, signing on the forehead all God’s people from every tribe and nation, and ended with us laying our national flags before the altar, in homage and adoration of the Lamb of God, who died and rose again for the saving and reconciliation of all humankind with God.
As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote 120 years ago -
“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring -
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush”-
And despite the pollution of so much in nature and the darkness and violence of our own days, we were able to rejoice in the renewal of spring as a token of God’s unfailing love and promise of life. So after Easter the gardeners among us got into full swing to prevent the weeds growing too lush and to give the seedlings raised in the greenhouse a good head-start.
We spent hours sewing together lengths of black plastic netting to form a new roof for one of the two large cages (each about 30 x 60 ft) on the vegetable patch, and planted out hundreds of kale and cabbage seedlings. Our main crop was runner French beans which later produced a worthwhile harvest. The large horse-chestnut tree, over 300 years old, put out its great candle-like blossoms, especially rich in sugar content and much relished by the bees. Sr Christiana divided our two colonies, and was relieved that they settled down happily in four hives, each with a queen laying eggs by the thousands to ensure a thriving population.

It was a real joy for those of us who saw the mating flight one sunny afternoon, as they swirled round in a happily humming cloud before returning home. She and Sr Agatha spent several days planting out hundreds of lavender strikes round the hives in the hope of lavender honey in due course
Forty days of fasting for Lent, and fifty days of festivity for Easter make a fitting proportion! We continued to welcome retreat groups for days of prayer and reflection during Eastertide, and ourselves had days of quiet prayer and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, remembering especially the needs of the Church and the world in these turbulent times. We had a colourful and joyful Vigil service to welcome the greatest guest of all, the Holy Spirit, at the feast of Pentecost, which is in a real way the birthday of the Church.
The most dramatic sequence was one expressing the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of fire and wind upon Our Lady and disciples gathered round her in prayer at Pentecost. Sound effects were provided by two large electric fans from the infirmary! The Spirit was represented by a floor to ceiling mobile of interweaving red muslin and glistening plastic, which swayed and shimmered in the light from a high window at the back of the choir, and two Sisters below in a cloud of incense danced their welcome of the greatest of God’s gifts. The celebration ended with a heartfelt “Te Deum”.

Trinity Sunday brought with it another very fitting celebration in the baptism and confirmation of little Liam Francis, aged 3. He was recently adopted by friends of ours who had been fostering him since babyhood, and suffers from blindness and other handicaps due to ‘non-accidental violence’ in his parental home. Liam was given the name Pio as a confirmation name, and it was only afterwards that we realised he shares his birthday with Padre Pio. With so much tender loving care from his new family, he is a remarkably happy child, and had already made more progress than the doctors had thought possible. In July he was in hospital for what was meant to have been a minor operation. It turned out belatedly that his feeding problems were due to an undiagnosed hernia, which led to four operations within three weeks, during which his condition was critical. The doctors marvelled at his ability to cling to life, as they hadn’t expected him to survive.
We are convinced that it was the intercession of Padre Pio and Cardinal Newman and the 24 hours per day tender loving care of his new parents, Moira and Dave, which pulled him through. They came to stay with us in autumn, and it was a delight to see little Liam again so full of animation and happiness.

Then summer days were here again, and very welcome too, with the scent of sunshine on blackcurrants and of new-mown grass and the fruit-picking season well under way. We made a satisfactory amount of jam for our small shop, but are now hoping to replace our blackcurrants with newer bushes which will yield more fruit. And of course, June brought a great national day of remembrance and thanksgiving to God as we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. Those of us who were around at the time of the coronation still remember the street parties, the free souvenir mugs, and seeing the rich pageantry of the ceremony on TV or film. Now in 2002 we delighted in following all the events through the extensive coverage on TV, and were impressed by the colourful variety of celebrations. We thoroughly enjoyed the Proms concert at Buckingham Palace, and the dancers among us were thrilled to see the performance of part of “Swan Lake” in the ballroom there. Not to mention the fireworks display to Handel’s music as the crowning glory of the evening. Then there was all the formal pageantry of the procession to St Paul’s with the wonderful music of the service and the sight of our own Cardinal Cormac leading the intercessions - something that would have been unthinkable 50 years ago!. The culminating parade, featuring so many ethnic groups and cultures that have now taken root in Britain was also a joy to behold, as was the throng of a million people celebrating the unique event with obvious enthusiasm. In a world of so much fear and violence and tension, it is good to know that there is still so much common ground for joy and thanksgiving, and to be able to participate in it ourselves in spirit.
We were also thrilled to see the Eternal Word Television Network’s live transmission of the ceremony in St Peter’s Square for the canonisation of Padre Pio, which was attended by hundreds of thousands in sweltering heat. They must have been very grateful for the cooling showers from the fire hoses, which were played on the packed crowd, and no doubt our dear Pope John Paul in his heavy embroidered vestments would have been grateful for some such relief, had he not been celebrating the holy mass!

Though we wish the pigeons would not monopolise the bird table, we are not entirely prejudiced against them. This year we acquired a charmingly chic one, its wing damaged by a neighbour’s cat. Known as Cellie, because for several days he had to have his wing hitched up with cellotape, he is recuperating slowly, and we hope that by next spring he will be airborne once more. Early in August we sadly had to replace our three much loved rapscallion dogs, as with increasing age and touchiness they had become a risk to anyone not wearing a Poor Clare habit. We now have a small black dachshund, a real charmer, with fawn markings on her face and paws, whom we have called Mildred. Dachshunds were first bred in Germany as badger-dogs and are renowned as good watch-dogs and wonderful pets. She spent the first night in a small pen in the laundry, and on waking the next morning in unfamiliar surroundings her lamentations re-echoed round the cloister! But once she discovered that there were human beings around to feed and care for her she became quite at home, taking a lively interest in everything round her, and happily bouncing after passing sisters, with flapping ears and wagging tail! One morning she gleefully spotted Cellie, and made a rush at him. As he cannot yet fly he jumped into the pond to escape her. It was just as well that Sr Modwena was on hand to rescue him!
In September we welcomed a companion for Millie, a small schnauzer, a breed also highly recommended as a watch-dog and pet. The two are in a way complementary - Millie, looking every inch a lady, with a long body, short legs and pointy face - and Dollie, leggy, square-bodied, shaggy and bearded. On first meeting, Dollie, who lacks a tail, was fascinated by Millie’s, especially as it made her so much easier to grab! They quickly became inseparable companions, and delight in rough-and-tumble games with each other. Both have an impressive tendency to sink their teeth into our Franciscan cords and be very reluctant to let go!
We are hoping their presence will persuade the small squirrels to emigrate - and also the mole families, which are happily tunnelling with gusto among the rosebeds, beneath the blackcurrants and under the beehives!

A real joy in summer was the EWTN transmission of the World Youth Day in Toronto - a wonderful experience for the 800,000 or so young people from all over the world, who gathered there to meet and pray with our dear Holy Father. It is so inspiring to see how he is living out words he spoke to the elderly many years ago: “Old age is the crowning point of earthly life, a time to gather in the harvest you have sown. It is a time to give of yourselves to others as never before.”

As St Clare pointed out in her writings: “We are strangers and pilgrims in this world”. This year we celebrated her feast as pilgrims within our monastery! Work began the week before on resealing the floor of the entire dormitory, to save our bare feet from splinters. We ended up encamped on mattresses on the floor in various other parts of the monastery till further notice.
Mercifully we were able to move back to our cells six days later on the feast of St Clare, thanks to Sr Damian and Sr Christiana who put in extra long hours of hard work, leaving a smooth shining floor which should weather another 30 years of Poor Clare feet!
On the feast of the Assumption Fr Beyene Hailu, an Ethiopian priest, for whose church we had designed Stations of the Cross some years ago, came and celebrated Mass in our chapel. It was a beautiful sunny day, as seemed only fitting - it is hard to imagine Our Lady being assumed into heaven in pouring rain!
For Dear Mother’s profession anniversary Sr Juliana had transcribed two of the lovely hymns sung at the Toronto Youth Day. To one of them, ‘Lumière du Monde’, she added verses based on the Holy Father’s Millennium encyclical. A long anticipated treat was a video of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, part 1 of “The Lord of the Rings”, a great favourite amongst us. Rarely has there been so much universal and enthusiastic enjoyment of a video, with the audience clapping and cheering on the actors! In the evening we were treated to a ‘herbal Vespers’ in the infirmary, where Sr Agatha and Sr Damian spoke of the properties of the more common herbs, and had chosen psalms in thanksgiving for God’s healing gifts made manifest through them. We were each anointed with some herbal oil which had been blessed during holy mass, and ended the service by renaming the infirmary “The House of Healing” like that in the city of Gondor in “The Lord of the Rings”.
This year our two herbalists have managed to collect a satisfying quantity of honey and beeswax from our hives, and have taken to making a wide variety of natural herbal remedies against rheumatism and other complaints, using plants growing in our garden. These have proved very popular, and demand often exceeds supply when they appear in our small shop. As with our homemade jam, what is available at any particular season depends on what our garden manages to produce!
We have all had a hand in the making of a wide selection of pottery items this year, both for sale and for our own use. At Christmas Sr Pia had presented us with an entire set of crockery mugs, plates and bowls for our use in the refectory, and at harvest time produced a large thick container suitable for turning our cabbages into sauerkraut. Our varied arts and crafts at the Autumn Fair included pottery holy water stoups, crucifixes, angels, plaques, crib figures and small statues of saints. Among other new items were a Ty Mam Duw pocket diary and a calendar for 2003.
We have also produced a small book entitled ‘Fully Alive! a handbook on chastity’. We hope it will be a help to many in these confused times of clerical crisis and scandal, enabling them to become aware of their own real worth as individuals in the sight of God. (Fully alive is available from us for £1.50 +p&p)

In October we had two more days of guided prayer in the Franciscan tradition, again focussing on the San Damiano cross, but this time concentrating on the angels. The participants joined us for a special Vespers on the theme of the angels’ proclamation of peace at Christmas - an appropriate one at a time when the threat of war with Iraq loomed large in the news.

Another joy in October was the publication of Pope John Paul’s letter on the rosary, urging us all to rediscover the depth and simplicity of this marvellous prayer. He invites us all to meditate with Mary on five “mysteries of light” - important events in the public ministry of her Divine Son as recorded in the gospels.
These are His baptism in the Jordan, the wedding feast at Cana, His proclamation of the Kingdom of God, His transfiguration, and the institution of the Eucharist, through which His healing and saving power is made effective in our own lives today.
Several Sisters already feel drawn to writing or painting on these themes, so we hope in due course to produce a booklet or two on the new ‘mysteries of light.’
Our own most recent event at the time of writing is, of course, the Autumn Fair, which was a great success, drawing even more people than usual.

We are now looking forward to Advent, only a month away, and the annual carol service, always well attended. We are glad to be able to share with you something of our life here together as a religious family, following Christ in the Third Millennium in the spirit of Francis and Clare. We are deeply grateful to God for all of you who have helped us in so many ways, great and small, during the past year to continue in the life to which He has called us. And you can be sure that we are holding your joys and sorrows, your hopes and fears in our hearts before Him. As we enter this New Year, we entrust ourselves and each of you to His promise to be with us, and to give us strength day by day for the next 12 months of our pilgrimage to eternal life with Him.
With loving prayers from
your Poor Clare Sisters at Ty Mam Duw


People sometimes ask: what can I do to help you sisters? Well - there is something and any one can do it - share with others about our way of life!
In a world of darkness we try to live the mystery of light.
In a world of suspicion we try to witness to our trust in God by a life of poverty obedience and enclosure.
And in a culture of death we want to be a culture of life.
If people want to know more, you can always recommend them to our website:
http://www.poorclarestmd.org
and if you would like to share in our life by praying for the needs of the world we also have a bi-monthly online newsletter called Clareshare which passes on special prayer intentions and some news of our community





 

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2002 15 September - 20 October, Catholic Pictorial, Answering the Priest crisis

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Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 1
It could have been you
A too well-known American archdiocese paid out millions in out-of-court settlements of priest child-abuse cases. If approached by a victim of abuse and asked for help, the Archbishop had the police rung for and the petitioner removed. In a volte-face almost as disastrous as his first policy the Archbishop repented of this course of action and amongst other things, placed in the hands of the police, all the Archdiocesan folios on any of his priests, guilty or innocent, who had been accused of anything.
You will be innocent until proved guilty of murdering your mother and embezzling the funds of widows and orphans. But if you are a priest accused of child-abuse, you will be guilty until proved innocent - and, even then, you will be suspect for the rest of your priestly life.
It has been pointed out at Rome that priest abuse cases involve less than 0.02% of the clergy. Thank God. But that is still 0.02% too many
But what happened to the 0.02%? In their personal choices and in their seminary training, how did they approach a life of celibacy?

The price of freedom
That was how we reacted on the praying end of this tragedy. We are people who make chastity a vow. We chose it freely and we were trained to live it. We were not issued with handbooks full of negative prescriptions on how to shake hands at arms length, take a bath in a bathing costume and wear ankle-length skirts [though honesty compels me to say we do wear the ankle-length - North Wales is quite near the North Pole!] We were trained to focus our life on God, we set our love on him and were taught to let it flow into our relationships with others. We received an offer from God and did our poor best to respond. But we were made fully aware what it involved. Though no amount of training can compel you to make the right choices about your life, if you have, it is a great help.
All this has moved us to write a small book. It is called Fully alive - A HANDBOOK ON CHASTITY
It is a practical book on discovering who you are as a person and meeting God. It is not just for priests and nuns it is for everybody, single or married, who wants to become fully alive.
God has no use for the half dead.

Available on request.

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Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 2
Dead without a Death Cert?

Death is not the same in every case. A few weeks ago we were praying for a child who was more than desperately ill. The doctors said to his father, “Look, as far as we are concerned he died last wednesday. We just don’t understand how he goes on living!”
Life is the gift of hope and hope can die. Perhaps that is at the heart of what the media calls the “Priest Scandal”.
Our first encounter with the “Priest Scandal” was through “Damian”, a middle aged lapsed Catholic who had been approached by the lawyer of a childhood friend. The friend proposed to prosecute a seventy year old priest, now in a wheelchair, for alleged offences against altar boys of thirty-five years ago. The lawyer explained that the more clients there were for prosecution, the more convincing the case would look, since hard evidence in abuse cases is always difficult to produce. And there would be very large dividends at the end. In America lawyers advertise for such cases, since through them a lot of money changes hands.
Damian was very tempted. To begin with, he was in debt and a one parent family with three children.
The prosecution went ahead, but without Damian. He had never been abused; he was not quite certain, given the circumstances, that any of the boys had. “What’s the use,” he said, “of having money for my kids if I can’t look them in the face?” Of the old priest he said, simply, “Yeah, well he was like that - but fifteen years paralysed, isn’t that enough?” Sin is inevitably its own most terrible punishment.
Being Alive
What sort of choices had the priest made? What sort of training had he received to prepare him for life in a parish on his own?
We have just written a very small book It is called Fully alive - A HANDBOOK ON CHASTITY. It is a practical book on discovering who you are as a person and meeting God. It is not just for priests and nuns it is for everybody, single or married, who wants to become fully alive. If you value yourself as God values you, you will not be rating yourself by your need to use or be used by others. The first thing you might like to do is find out who you are. And you could try the following exercise:

Who am I?
Set out with three blank sheets of paper in front of you.
You are making a journey to find yourself; firstly, by deducting from yourself the ways by which you are defined from the outside.
Take page one head it Heritage. List your parents, siblings, teachers and the people who tried to teach and form you.
Do you identify your short temper, red hair, patience and slight stammer as coming from your father? List it under your father’s name.
Did you acquire your affection for old movies and beer from your old English teacher? Name your teacher and list these things under his name.
Compile as accurate a list as you can find of the things inside you, good, bad and trivial, that came into you as gifts or inflictions from other people. Do not linger over these things. You are not unearthing them to brood over them or form moral judgments on yourself or others. You are piling them up to remove them temporarily.

Take page two and head it Relationships. List those with whom you live, work, and interact. Narrow down what these relationships draw out of you or force you to take on. Again, you are not taking these things out to dwell on them, but to see what you have got left when they are not there.

Take page three, head it Gifts. List your talents; the inward abilities with which you are equipped. You may be a wonderful listener, a striking amateur artist or a professional poet. Your talent may be to help others to laugh, you may be a born friend or an able accountant. But though you may express and reveal yourself through these gifts, they are gifts, they are not you.

Lay these pieces (or piles) of paper in front of you. They represent realities with which you are deeply involved but they are not you. You may be very surprised how much of you is still left, and how very little in reality others do influence you. Now take what you have left and place it in God’s hands!

Real and true love
Some men are born eunuchs, some are made so by others and some choose to become eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven [Matt 19.12]. This comes over dramatically, possibly because there is no word for “chaste person” in Aramaic or New Testament Greek. The promotion of sexuality in our culture is also dramatic. But unfortunately, it is none the less compulsive from having become a bore.
The globalisation of a sex-oriented culture is a sign of the times, and the increase in child-abuse is an inevitable side product. If sex is presented as an absolute good, it will manipulate all human relationships. And the larger and more impersonal our back garden becomes, the more desperately will we need something to demonstrate, to others and to ourselves, our worth. Sexual possession of others - which is the crudest form of ownership - is probably the fastest single inflator of the ego.
Though the secular press enjoy a vultures meal on the carcasses of the fallen 0.02% of priests, the fact still remains that the majority of abusers are ‘married’ men, generally nearly related to the child in question. Ending celibacy amongst the clergy would have no direct effect upon the problem.
Like all behaviour, good and bad, repetition forms habit. If you were to acquire the habit of abuse, you would find it as hard to break as any other compulsive behaviour. No compulsive behaviour is incurable - it is merely hell to kill it. If there is a one-off direct answer, it is to prevent it.
At the root of all exploitation of others is insecurity and an absence of self-worth. The only person who can really and finally give you self worth is God.

Who am I ?
If I remove the scaffolding of human relationships, with their rights, duties and privileges in my life, what have I got left? What is there to define me?
God. God who creates me. God who loves me. God who empowers me with gifts.
Twenty centuries of living in the light of revelation, in the pattern of the faith received, have shown us that before all “human” endowing is the Creator, the Lover, the Life-giver: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
God is before all things. The human heritage is a reflection of the divine heritage. The human loves are a shadow of the divine loves, and the gifts you have received are indication of the Gift that is waiting for you.
Hold this a moment and ponder on it. Immerse yourself in this new reality. Allow yourself to receive what is being offered to you. It is the beginning of a new life, a life in which you are uniquely valued for your very self, a life in which you are being affirmed by the one who knows everything about you and still loves you, a life in which you are the object of a passionate, total and unconditional love, body and soul, mind and heart, spirit and psyche. A new love: God’s love.

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Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 4
Private and personal

The sexual revolution, as Gloria Steinem once said, was not our revolution. She was talking about her fellow females. It also applies to some others in the human race.
What is a revolution? It’s a turnover. Well, if a human being turns over, that human has changed the side it presents to the public; a gesture that may be antisocial and vulnerable.
Curiously enough, the clergy used to say Mass with their back to the public, not to express revolt but to express the fact that they were part of the congregation. And setting the fancy dress aside, they were anonymous - faceless. Anonymity may also be antisocial, but it has positive dimensions. And priests have always been vulnerable.
Like most of my community, I have never seen Mass in the old rite, and I do not want to. I am not making a liturgical point. I am suggesting that the back view of the chasuble, and the grille in the confessional had a two way effect. They gave both the people and the Priest a certain degree of privacy at a desperately vulnerable point.
Few human beings survive long if you remove their privacy. If a person has no place in time or space to be himself, he shrivels up and dies. We need each other. We need human companionship. But we also need areas of solitude. We are enclosed contemplative nuns, but all humans need an element of personal enclosure to stay sane.

Where are you Lord?
If you want joy, if you want life, if you seek freedom - pray. Let the Lord give you his life. Open your hands. Place them palm to palm with your thumbs crossed in the traditional gesture of praying hands. Feel the pressure of your finger tips and the slight tautness in the knuckles.
Look at your hands; they are pointing outward and slightly upwards. They are like the prow of a ship, like the growth-spear of a sapling.
They form a symbol of your desire to penetrate into God.
In the earlier ages, if you had been a serf you would have extended your hands just like this and your lord would have clasped them with his own, accepting your oath of allegiance.
Allow God to place his hands around yours, clasping your two hands firmly together, accepting you; offering you a covenant. This covenant says: I will be your God and you shall be my people (Jer 32:38). I will take out of your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh instead (Ezek 36::27) - and: This is my body and blood, the blood of the New Covenant which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. {Mt 26.26-29)
Unfold your hands and place one under the other to form them into a cup - as if you expected a present. In the covenant of his body and blood your hands have been transformed into the Lord’s hands. The blood in your veins is his blood.
You hold your hands now like a child to whom it has been said, “Open your hands and close your eyes....” It is the position in which you extend your hands when you go forward to receive communion at Holy Mass. Allow God to give you his love. Let him choose you, let him give you the value you have in his eyes - you will never be tempted to exploit another person again, and you will have infinitely more to give to others.

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Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 5
Minding your own babies

Celibates don’t have babies. At least, that is the principle. Babies are the ordinary teaching tool for human holiness among non-celibates. Have a baby and discover unselfishness! Discover something that won’t shut up until it is fed and cleaned.(And possibly not even then). Discover something that can offer no immediate return in growth or gratitude. Babies take their parents by the scruff of the neck and force them to grow up; compelling them constantly to make choices against their inclinations.
Such circumstances are good for humans. That is why God causes them to occur with such amazing frequency.
Parents of course, sometimes fail. Instead of becoming unselfish servants they become neglecters and even exploiters of the weakness at their mercy. Some become infanticides of one sort or another. Some are too wary of demands to even to trouble to have children.
But a celibate is not a celibate because he or she is too wary to have babies. Celibates need all the virtues of parents without any of their advantages, and they need these virtues in overtime mode. Celibacy is like having triplets that scream all day and most of the night - even after you respond to their demands. You can of course, become a celibate infanticide. You can leave your responsibilities to starve. You can avoid them. But if you feel like that, there are less expensive ways of living than being a priest or a religious.
Love is at the centre of universe, it is before the beginning of time and at the end. We were created in love and love is what God constantly offers us. St Irenaeus said the glory of God is the human being who is really alive. This is an invitation to come alive.
Look into this mirror
To most of us a mirror is a sheet of glass, with silver backing, into which we gaze to see if our hair is straight and our cosmetics and front view are suitably adjusted. We do not look to see what is right, we look to see what is wrong. And there generally is something wrong.
I cannot answer for the other half of humanity, but women generally look in a mirror in order to depress themselves with the unloveliness of their faces. Personally, I live in a convent; it has no mirrors. But that doesn’t stop even the holy from craving for that ultimate accolade: to see yourself reflected in the admiring eyes of someone else. Our negative view of ourselves is usually converted quite rapidly by a positive external reaction.
Give your self time to pray. Sit quietly in a room that is not brightly lit, and place before yourself any picture or icon of the face of Jesus which attracts you.


Look at this face
Jesus is the mirror in which you see yourself reflected. He is the fairest of the children of men (Ps:45.2). He is the master craftsman at his Father’s side (Prov 8:30). You are made in his image and in his likeness.
Behold his face
When you “look” at a thing or remember an event you have a subtle tendency not to see the picture, but what you feel about the picture. Begin now by looking simply, and without analysis: behold his face.
Hold this face
Who are you, Lord? What do I know of you? What does your face tell me? We are before each other. You, Lord, hold your hands out to me, and I take them. There is something in me like a gentle fountain, a quiet but insistent pressure; an uninvasive voice drawing me to you.
Enfold this face
I hold out my hands to you, Lord, and you take them. I love you. You take my hands and let me touch your face. I am afraid, but my longing for you is greater than my fear. I love you. I can stay here as long as I wish. You Lord are my life. You can give me others to love, but I do not have to own another person, you, Lord are more than enough.

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Fully Alive - answering the Priest crisis 6
Love and the available options

Christianity is a religion that ceases to exist if you do not obey God, witness to your dependance on him and know, with secure joy, that you belong firstly and finally to him.
It is obvious that if you avoid knowing God (and you can avoid it if you work strenuously at it) and avoid encountering yourself, there will, inevitable as the rising of the sun, appear in your life patterns of unreasonable, compulsive and destructive behaviour in regard to other men, women and children.

Being married
Considering the space that the partnering-up of humans occupies amongst the majority of the living, the Gospels have very little to say about it. Asked directly about who belongs to whom (Mt 22. 24-31) Jesus said, in a way not admitting of interpretation, that marriage is for this earth and does not pertain in the kingdom of heaven. Indeed the Good News - which is the perfect human formation - concentrates solidly on building a relationship in which the human individual becomes the Father’s beloved son or daughter in the beloved Son.
However, if the Gospels have little to say about marriage (and a lot to say about chastity and God-centred living) and if Saint Paul’s intimations can sometimes be difficult to unravel, the Church, especially in the last one hundred and twenty years, has had much to say on the married state. If you are married, find it and read it.

Unmarriedness as a preparatory state
Many cultures and most religions have favoured the chastity of those who are not yet married, in some cases preferring the virginity of women over the virginity of men.
For the act of mutual self surrender of marriage to be a reality, there must be a self to surrender; a real person who can really give himself or herself to the other. To be a real adult one must have been allowed to be a real child. To grow, one must be given emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual space in which to grow. The production in our culture, and at this time, of destructive, sexual experimentation in teenagers, and even in pre-pubertal teenagers is an assault on the dignity and sacredness of the human person. Its results are self-evident. If you exposes the victim to the repeated dramatisation of sexual tragedy at home and on the media and depopulate the world of God, with only a little effort you will produce a neurotic by fourteen, and a one parent family by seventeen.
Singleness as a secular choice
Some avocations; teaching for example, have in the past sometimes led to people becoming so committed to those they served that they never got round to marrying. A doctor (who was married!) once told us that in his opinion, no doctor should ever marry and that he was tormented by the conviction that every time he took the family to Tenerife, a patient died! God is still in this choice of secular singleness. It is possible for you to be wedded to the truth and for your children to be those you have taught or healed, or succoured - or for your “children” to be the work of your hands, mind and heart.
It is obvious from the statistics of divorce and of serial relationships that far too many people try marriage who have not the shadow of a vocation to live with other people, nor the maturity and objective commitment to sustain a family. Acquiring a partner has become in our society, the minimum basic for success and acceptability. And being sexually active is how you demonstrate that you are an adult in touch with reality and worth having.
This is simply not true! You have value in yourself, in your dignity as a human person; not because you are owned by another human person.!

Consecrated Chastity
It is a somewhat well kept secret, but the abilities and qualifications needed for a life of consecrated chastity are the same as those required for a successful marriage. The chaste man or woman needs a greater capacity to surrender in love to God than two humans in a consecrated marriage will need to surrender to each other.
The chaste man or woman needs to be a nurturer: one who cares for others; one who puts others first; one prepared to waste his or her life for love with more assiduity than a mother and father with newborn triplets who scream all night.
Neither in consecrated chastity nor in consecrated matrimony is there any lasting place for people who are cold, hard, embittered, frigid, rigidly disobedient to the prompting of the Spirit, self-righteous or destructively critical. In both of these expressions of God’s life there are only places for people willing to change. The standard is the same. Place yourself before God and he will transform you into his image and likeness.
If you meet a person who cannot settle, who moves like a hunter from relationship to relationship, or one who lives a profligate life of compulsive sexuality, it is most often, in truth, the appalling shadow of a lost religious vocation. And if, in the disguise of religious dress, you meet someone who is both conceited and frightened, one for whom nothing is right, one who basically is always at odds with those who manifest the authority of Christ in their life, one who, above all, tells you that prayer is torture and their soul has never been anything but dry (though they will probably try to tell you that to suffer this is their special gift and superior privilege) you may have seen the terrible shadow of a self-deluded candidate for the humble sanctities of marriage.
There are no vocations that are more holy in the terrestrial sense. There is only the choice of God. Let him be free to choose.
Say yes to what God, who is truth, may speak in your heart, and you will shed more tears of true sorrow and laugh with more unalloyed joy than the heart can imagine; on earth as it is in heaven.

 

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2002 10 February – 17 March, Catholic Pictorial, How to succeed in praying

How to succeed in praying 1
Praying for peace

Two hundred leaders of the world religious were invited to Assisi by the Holy Father to pray for peace. At the start of the day representatives from Catholicism, Orthodoxy, the Protestant Traditions, African animist religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, all offered a witness to peace. They spoke in different languages.
The cameraman who was filming the event quietly focused on the graceful fingers of one of the Moslem delegates as they moved discreetly over his rosary.
The Islamic rosary - the Subha - has ninety nine beads. God has a litany of ninety nine names and the hundredth name is revealed to the one praying, as to a friend, by God. You do not go round the ninety nine names on your beads. Rather, you take one title, or praise, or prayer of adoration and go round with it ninety nine times.
Instinctively, we who were watching this video from EWTN’s Live Broadcast of the event, took out our own rosaries, Franciscan, Dominican and Subha, and joined him. It did not prevent our lively attention to what was being said.
All the people on the platform with the Pope, had come with love, to pray, but the thirty Moslem delegates, who included five national heads of Faith, and a Jordanian prince directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed, had, as it were, laid their life on the line. They were making an assertion of their Faith, to which a sizeable number of their co-religionists would be absolutely opposed; they stood to get a knife in the back.
This is prayer. To be willing to lay down your life for something you cannot do; something which only God can do.
We know that prayer is love. When we pray we open ourselves to let God pour his love into us. There are no real rules, no standard techniques. It is God, the lover, who teaches us how to love.
But to move from adoring love to interceding love, is another matter.
How do I influence God to give peace to the world?
Well, I don’t.
The boot is on the other foot. God is good; he is goodness personified. We unite ourselves in love to his intentions. Because the Lord is by definition, goodness, we can be certain that peace is his intent. We can be certain that neither killing the unsuspecting in New York, nor desolating a poor country like Afghanistan is part of his holy and divine order for our world.

How to succeed without trying
There is an old, classic movie, “How to succeed in business without really trying”. It opens with the aspiring executive coming into the office and laying out the scenario of a night’s vigil - empty coffee cups, cigarette stubs and a heap of scrapped paper work. The hero composes himself to exhausted sleep over the finished document, just in time for the boss to come in.
We are just a bit like that. Even if we have worked all night we cannot do the job.
No human being has any cause to be conceited about being instrumental in a miracle. If you pray and the lame walk, the blind see and humanity is moved to justice and forgiveness and peace, it won’t be your doing but God’s.
What he asks of you is your willingness to have faith; to lay down your life on the security that he is good.

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How to succeed in praying 2
Praying against despair

Sally is suicidal. She is not going to sit on the roof of the Liver Building and discuss things over the phone with her psychiatrist. She no longer thinks about the worthwhileness or otherwise, of life. She no longer thinks about her brutal father, or the abortion she had when she was fifteen, or the debts she cannot pay. She is beyond thinking.
She is only alive now, because someone saw the blood seeping under the bathroom door when she last slashed her wrists - and dragged her out. The next time she walks under a bus or puts her head in a gas oven, she will not be thinking about anything: that is despair.
Yet, if Sally had someone to love her, to give her a home and pay her debts, she might just, possibly, be rescued.

A nation in despair
Palestine is a nation whose people are committing suicide.
When a human being straps explosives to himself and walks into a crowded shop, and blows himself up, he is beyond thinking about the love he bears to his people or the hatred he has for his landlord, or the initiatives of the United Nations that have never been implemented. He is beyond considering the escalating chain of violence his act will occasion. He is outside life.

What can I do?
You are a praying person. You would not read the Pic unless you were. When you watch the next news report on Palestine, almost instinctively, you will pray and you will ask God for mercy. You can take that instinctive compassion and work with it. Say the Creed slowly; it is your act of faith in the goodness of God. You believe that God is good and that he does not will poor men and women to kill themselves with a view to destroy their neighbours. Love and adore God through whom you can reach all humankind. He is your hope. Ask him to pour on you the hope that the despairing have denied.
Then be prepared to live your prayer. You may never have met a Palestinian, but every day, tiny fragments of Sally float like flotsam across the surface of your life. Recognize the moment of prayer as it comes towards you.
As you curb your instinctive irritation with the disturbed child or the shop assistant who is trying to bate you, or the old man across the road, of whom you are afraid, this is your big chance to live with courageous faith; to say yes; to see all these things as your glorious opportunity.
When you are put to the test, take the temptation to hit back or sulk, and transform it into a bunch of red geraniums that you can put into your buttonhole.
In the face of the little death of negativity in the person who confronts you, choose God’s big life and share it. In front of the door of despair plant your conscious joy in love. Thank God for the chance to do it. And, be really brave; ask him for another opportunity....

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How to succeed in praying 4
Praying with a friend

Wherever two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.
We - as Catholics - know that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist at Mass and we can receive his body and blood in communion. We know [it’s in the Catechism of the Catholic Church] that Jesus is truly and equally present in Sacred Scripture, and we can hear his Word when we read the Bible. And we know that Jesus is Truth, present in the Church until the end of time.
To be alive has a million dimensions. Even if you are very poor or very rich, even if you are persecuted or sick, there are still infinite threads of wonder for you to unravel and play with. The really valuable things are packed inside you. God may be infinite and eternal, but he is also in your heart. The Lord is nearer to you than you are to yourself. If you pray, your life will be a constant voyage of discovery, and the world outside you will slowly begin to conform to the world inside you as you discover and apply God’s loving plan for you. This might make you think that prayer is in fact, a hermit- thing. God and me. Alone with only you, my God, I journey on my way.
But it is not.
For the journey you need the food of God’s Eucharist and of his Word in
Sacred Scripture, and you need your fellow pilgrims.

Goal!
Being in an enormous crowd of people is a human experience compared with which, seeing it on the TV, is nothing. Like when the Pope came to visit, when Everton/Liverpool scored the winning goal, or at a big public funeral. There is something about the concentration of several thousand people on one thing that is exalting or absolutely devastating. Conversely, being in a riot, or a huge milling crowd outside a station, or a packed subway, is almost the ultimate in desolation and fear.

Solidarity
Solidarity, by the way, is one of the reasons why we go to church; to be there with others, to close the gap in the empty crowd, and to focus the purpose on God. It is a tremendous thing, but it is not quite what Our Lord was talking about when he spoke of two three gathered together. Have you a friend with whom you can pray, share Scripture, say the Rosary, sing in the Spirit, or keep silence? Have you even thought of making time for this?
Light a candle before an icon or a holy picture, and sit round. Take it in turns to read from Sacred Scripture. Share your reflections. Allow yourself to become so trusting that you can sit in silence before the Lord [but don’t chat].
People who pray have very exciting lives [look at us!]. They never get bored with it. Meeting God is the most un-boring exercise in time and space.

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How to succeed in praying 5
Praying with your will

Have you ever watched a couple of sailors arm wrestling in a docklands pub? They will be sitting at a table, hands clasped, teeth gritted, sweat pouring down their faces; their supporters cheering them on.
Now, if you only look at this scene for a split second, you can’t actually see what is happening; the effort of will and physical strength is absolutely equal. The combatants are remaining on one spot by an ultimate exercise of strength.
To hand wrestle you need to train your forearm, but to pray - no, to live, you need to train your will.
Memory, intellect and will are powers of the soul. You take them with you when you go.
You [the real and final you] do not look with your eyes or think with your brain. You look through your eyes and think through your brain. Eyes and brain are tools. Your whole body is the tool of your will. These are tools - sacred and glorious tools, admittedly, to which the Church will give Christian burial, when they are dead, and which Christ ,as he has revealed, will raise up on the Last Day. But the immortal and final you, wounded as it is , is the one who makes the decisions now.

Jesus’ willpower
The Fathers of the Church were not obsessed by how Jesus understood himself to be true man and true God as he grew up from childhood. But more modern theologians like Raymond E Brown have expended a lot of ink on the subject.
The wise agree that Our Lord from his conception, enjoyed what is called the Beatific Vision - that is, he could see and know himself to be in the heart of the Father, with the Holy Spirit. But he still had to learn to walk and read, and do woodwork. And some time before he was twelve, he must have discovered he had power to do whatever he willed. We can say, before twelve, because Our Lord is clearly exercising the power of his will [which being that of God, is absolute] by staying behind in the temple where Mary and Joseph found him with the elders - and exercising it even more remarkably [because, being God, he did not need to] by going down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and being obedient to them.
Early apocryphal stories, which the Church Fathers did not choose to make part of the Canon of Scripture, tell of the child Jesus making birds out of mud and breathing on them, so that they came to life and flew away. But in fact, Our Lord must have discovered definitively who he was, the minute he came in contact with evil. Evil simply was not in him, and he had power to make the evil ones do his will. “Even the demons obey him!” exclaimed onlookers, during his later life. But they always did.

Empowered
We received access to this power when we were baptised.
We cannot, by our own strength, say to the evil things that may come into our lives, “I command you to depart.” But we can say “In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I command you to depart!”
However, if we want to confront the evil in our lives we do have to train our will - like the hand wrestlers. We have to teach ourselves the technique of freedom in the Lord. If our life depended on hand wrestling, we wouldn’t leave it to chance and hope we had the muscles in our arm.
Treat your will in the same way. Our Lord gives grace, and his giving is absolute. But it is for us to enable ourselves with the strength to use it.
It is Lent. Strengthen your response to God’s grace by fasting - by denying yourself something that is perfectly harmless. Not because God likes people to be miserable. God hates people to be miserable! The Good News of the Gospels is presented as a wedding party at which they drank one hundred and fifty gallons of wine, after the officially laid-in plonk ran out [Jn 2 1-12]. But you don’t get a party like that every day....

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How to succeed in praying 6
Praying thankyou

Never take anything for granted. As G K Chesterton said, if a tube sets out from Charing Cross and arrives at Regent’s Park, it is not dull routine, - it is a miracle. The fact that the miracle is repeated every fifteen minutes does not, believe me, lessen its miraculousness.
Some of us go to Mass every day; most of us go every Sunday. The priest looks up to heaven and facing the Father’s throne says, thankyou.
That is how we get the word Eucharist. It is Greek for thanksgiving. Get a missal and photocopy, or better still, write out for yourself the four Eucharistic prayers, and ponder on them, regularly. The whole of creation is summed up in these four prayers.
The Second Eucharistic Prayer [which we hear oftenest] is taken from the Apostolic Church Order [The Didache] and is contemporary with the Apostles. The First Eucharistic Prayer was an antique by the fifth century, and some of the Church Fathers thought that it was the form used by St Peter to celebrate Mass in Antioch, before he even got to Rome.
The Third Eucharistic Prayer is a reflection of the prayer used by the Eastern Rite Christians [based on the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom] and is our way of expressing the true and ancient unity of the Church, east and west - north and south.
The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer could be justly called the greatest work of art produced in the twentieth century. It is a modern creation, but it brings in the whole of life and history in the Word. When you hear it said [and it is probably the least used of the prayers] listen with extra special awe, because it is the prayer of our age.
If you have never thought about these prayers which enshrine the central mystery of our Catholic Faith, the consecration of bread and wine through the work of the Holy Spirit, into the Body and Blood of Christ - wake up! You really are missing something!
We pray because we want to touch Jesus; to hear him and see him. We travel in prayer through time, to the point of communion. If we are trying to succeed in praying, it is precisely so that we can bring a greater awe and reality to our reception of the Body and Blood of Christ, and take from it a deeper love and adoration.
We go to communion at Mass because we want to be alive, because we crave to love and be loved. Everything you will ever be comes out of this touch.
When you eat the Body of Christ, and drink his Blood, you do not turn him into yourself, he turns you into him.
Jesus has taken you into his hands and said, “This is my body; this is my blood”. And he has broken you, to feed others.
Our own life can become, in a non-ordained way, a living Eucharist. In all our daily living there is the blood of pain, a pain transformed into willing sacrifice and joy, but there is also the wine of gladness and the bread of understanding - that we have been consecrated to give to others.

 

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2001 July, for the Association of British Contemplatives

The Place of the Sunrise

THE ENCLOSED COMTEMPLATIVE LIFE IN THE LIGHT OF VERBI SPONSA

Ty Mam Duw

Cities built on hill tops cannot be hidden.
I look down from Ty Mam Duw into a Dee valley set on fire by the dawn sun in spring. It traces the shadows of our enclosure wall across our still smouldering bonfire and draws long lines from the pencil cypresses that flank the cemetery gates.
We are an enclosed community. Clearheadedly, that is the life we have chosen. In the instruction on the contemplative life, Verbi Sponsa [May 1999], the Church presented the revised norms of Papal Enclosure. We have looked at this document, and trying to live it, we wish to offer an appreciation of it from our vantage point as enclosed Franciscan women, as a Poor Clare Community, and pilgrims passing through a city built on a hill on a path that leads to peace.

Enclosure as womb.

St Clare, in her third letter to St Agnes of Prague, invited us to follow the Mother of God who carried Jesus in the little cloister [clausura] of her holy womb....so you too, by following her footprints.... may carry him spiritually in your chaste and virginal womb.
This is the only use Clare makes of the word enclosure. Her rule touches on the physical realities of the grille and the norms that should govern entrances and exits....for just manifest necessary and approved causes, but these are dealt with in relation to the social impact on the sister and on her formation. For those living within, the enclosure is the womb of life.
Sr. Cordelia does not know who her parents were. Her mother got pregnant at university and attempted an amateur abortion leaving the surviving child physically mutilated. Finding after the event that she was still pregnant, she had the child, left it in the arms of the Crusade of Rescue and disappeared.
The womb is not a safe place. The nature of a womb is limitation and fixedness, balanced by security and nurture. But above all, the womb is a passage. It is the path to life and growth. A child that may not emerge from the womb will die. We are not interested in forming a household of dormant infants. We want them to discover life, love, friendship, strong obedience and the mad joy of poverty.
The womb of the enclosed life is not merely the geography of a walled house, it is the paradigm of a living community. God gives life and calling to the seed, but for that vocation to grow, the seed must be made fecund by acceptance, and it must find a close-knit womb into which it may be implanted and may draw the blood of life. To be one who sets out in our form of Poor Clare life, the community must be a place of birth.
In a culture of death we choose life.
To a world of rejections we are trying to offer the yes of love.

Enclosure as “villa”.

Life, in the parable of Paradise, starts in a garden without benefit of architecture. A house as a symbol, is an expression of permanence in a world of change and of eternity in a world of time. Time is a continuum. You cannot remain with either your joys or your sorrows - this is reserved for eternity. But humanity, in all her cultures, has ceaselessly fought to build houses, not merely to exclude the rain, but to include the charism of family.
Like many religious communities we have a building that is modelled on a Roman villa. Its architecture faces inwards on a peristyle - a cloister garden - complete with its impluvium or rainwater pond [lucky people have wells]. The Roman villa is deliberately designed to shut out noise and heat [well, not this close to the North Pole], and to provide as much privacy as possible.
This concentricity of focus is a life statement. One thing is necessary in Christian life: to sit at the Lord’s feet.
Verbi Sponsa makes much of the relation between physical enclosure and adequate contemplation. It has been our experience, humbly, that enclosure does not make contemplation. It may help towards it - to live in enclosure and decline to contemplate is a hell of a waste, both in that it is a waste, and it is a hell - but contemplation is the attitude of a serving heart to which every created human being is invited and even impelled. Sanity, and even life itself, can become impossible without contemplation. It is not an option. It is not a degree course for a higher creation: it is the purpose of existence.
However, we live in a world that is highly destructive, that fosters a culture of death as much for the child that is born as for the child that is aborted.
Sr. Estrella survived more than one suicide attempt as a secular. Her life “outside”, had no formal place for God. God, however, speaks to every heart, - he can never be silenced, but there is something to be said for reinforcing the inner voice with sacraments. Increasingly, many of those who will come to religious life will be people who bear the marks of over-exposure and who will not survive if they cannot find an external framework which perseveringly reinforces the inner truth of love.
No one having put her hand to the plough can afford to look backwards.
“I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”

Enclosure as temple.

Contemplum: there is a relation between the Latin words for “time [tempus]”, for “the act of contemplation [contemplare]”, and for “holy places [templum]”.
We are on holy ground. The image that the Church presents to her children in Vita Consecrata is the Transfiguration. Tabor is the mountain on which the “fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in the Lord,” is revealed to three rather absurd disciples who waver between falling asleep and building wigwams for eternal visions.
Tabor stands between Sinai, the sacred space of the burning bush and the living law, and Calvary, the altar of the Lamb without blemish, whose blood delivers his promised people.
An enclosure is a sacred mountain on whose summit the Lord dwells, but the people he has chosen for himself are the same old brand who clutter up the desert and the market place, wavering between unsuitable responses and somnolence.
Enclosure will not shut the world out. Enclosure is a head-on collision with the concentrated extremes of the worst the world [and the flesh and the devil] can produce. It is the world’s worst escape route.
The temple [time, contemplation and sacred space,] is not the place apart from the world; it is the concentration of all that is in the world. The good and the bad.
Contemplative life is about making time and space holy. It is a sacred space because it is filled with people consecrated to the Lord; a people, most literally, set apart for God’s service and not usable for any other purpose. Hannah took Samuel to Shiloh and left him there for the Lord [ ]. Israel is a people chosen to be the Lord’s own possession [ ]. The Sons of Levi have the Lord as their portion [ ]. The Creator has the right to choose a firstborn people simply to be there for him to love in a unique and special way. We do not have to justify our existence.
We are a love object. It is not that we love him but that he loves us; you did not choose me, no, I choose you. It is the most naked vocation in the Church. It is not a call to do something but simply, to be someone. All I have to give to God is my time. I can enjoy the fruits of contemplation alongside being one who teaches the faith, who heals the sick, raises the dead and proclaims the Good News. But I cannot be a contemplative without giving my whole time and person to it - I cannot be two men’s wives: there is not enough time. I have been consecrated by the Church for the purpose of being simply, the undisputed property of God.
Sr. Judith [who died in August 2000] was one of several of our sisters, who knew they were called to be nuns before they knew they were asked to be Catholics. Born into a very lapsed Presbyterian family, Sister first toyed with Buddhism - and wanted to be a Buddhist nun. Then someone gave her a Bible, and it completely changed her world picture. Finding she could not be a Poor Clare in her native New Zealand she trailed exactly halfway round the globe to Britain where she was baptised and received into the Church. Like Samuel[ ] she remained in the temple for the Lord and like Anna [ ] she waited confidently for his coming.
This temple is built of living stones held together by love.

Enclosure as Tomb.

At Matins, on the feast of St. Colette, we have the Gospel of Mary Magdalen running to the tomb; and the vestment which our sisters designed for her feast, shows the pilgrim saint with her hat and staff, standing before the empty tomb, in conversation with the Risen Lord.
When our middle generation came here to Hawarden, nearly twenty years ago, Archbishop Ward said to us, “I called you here to be Colettines - not Capuchinesses, not Urbanists, not Sacramentines, nor yet some newly invented kind of Poor Clare - but simply Colettines.” We discerned in that an invitation of the Holy Spirit to look at our roots. We asked Mother Francis Mary, the last of the old Mothers of Hawarden, “What is the Spirit of St. Colette?” and she answered, prophetically, “The Spirit of St. Colette is a family Spirit.”
We are the family of the Resurrection. In her Testament, St. Colette speaks of the enclosure as a tomb: “As it pleased the Lord to be enclosed for forty hours, my dear Sisters, you, too, must follow him; for after obedience, poverty and pure chastity, you have your holy enclosure to support you. In it you may well live forty years, more or less; and in which you will die. How precious is the sepulchre of Jesus; that tomb visited by so many out of devotion! And how precious is that sepulchre - your enclosure - into which devout souls enter to obtain their salvation. From the depths of that tomb, these souls take flight, with the help of the three vows already mentioned, soaring to the great celestial palace”.
Like Baptism, our enclosure is a death into which we enter so that in it, with it, and through it we may rise with Christ. Our enclosure is the living third day - it is the forty days of Eastertide transformed into the forty years or more which we may spend in the enclosure before we may pass away to the limitless enclosure of heaven. Like Baptism, enclosure is the womb of rebirth.
Before St. Colette became a Poor Clare she had been an anchoress and the Lord had visited her with visions of the spiritual state of her age, which was corrupt from the highest to the lowest, and later, her primary biographers, Pierre de Vaux and Perrine de Balme, tell us that she received into her reform representatives of all strata of her society to repair the evil of her age.
This is our place: to bring the culture of death to a resurrection. We are the people of the third day and Alleluia is our song.
In the Holy Father’s commendation at the closing of the Holy Door he quoted St. Augustine: Sing and keep on walking. We are all resurrection people. But Sr. Sophie is so in a unique way. She came from a family in which the men were proud of making a mess of their lives and ashamed of getting places at grammar schools. Her siblings formed successive unstable relationships. She, with them, was involved in gangs and had trouble with the police.
Yet the Lord called Sr. Sophie out of darkness into his wonderful light. Her rebirth was from the tomb. It was a slow process, a pilgrimage of tears, a long walk to Emmaus with the Word. With concerted love the community was able to rise in her into freedom, dignity and understanding. But the resurrection would have been impossible without the stability of enclosure. Not the mere architectural stability of walls but the staying together of the community.
It is the community in which Easter is born.

Enclosure as covenant.

We are a covenant people; a people brought through the Red Sea by trials by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, by terrifying displays of power [Deut. 4:34]; a consecrated people welded together in the desert and given personhood by our fight together for the Promised Land.
For we create the enclosure that is ourselves, by living, suffering, rejoicing and working together. A community cannot be welded together by words alone, it has to be melted down and coalesced in the furnace of shared life, of communal work and prayer, to emerge as a new and shining metal. Yet it is not a process in which individuality is lost. Quite the contrary it is a process by which each unique person is restored to the plan which the Lord had for her for all eternity.
To create a rainbow you need the essential life elements: water and light. But that is all you need - except the eyes with which to see it.
In the rainbow each band of colour is distinct, yet each merges perfectly into its neighbour. This is our aim, this is the object to which enclosure is a proven means, for it is the choice that keeps the family together.
Christmas is our holiday time. We do not ‘go home’; this is our home and we could not enjoy a ‘holiday’ without each other - we are our family. Our holiday does not comprise the neglect of the living prayer of the Church; we are the family of God and it is our joy and privilege to praise him, it is not an agonizing or unwelcome duty that we wish to be relieved of so that we can relax and be ourselves - we are ourselves. That is why we sing the praises of God seven times a day - it is part of our play - our work is re-creating love.
According to Goethe a person is only completely himself when he plays. The human being is a playing animal: Homo ludens. Christmas, by our ancient tradition, is the time in which we recreate the Christchild in each other.
Play is the ultimate form of prayer, and when we reach heaven we shall find it echoing with laughter.

Enclosure as Verbi Sponsa

Come, my chosen one and I will place in you my throne; for the king has desired your beauty. At the heart of our life together is a choice. The inner mystery of all that God offers is the answer, yes. Yes, Hineyi, Ecce ancilla Domini. Amen. It is the first and the last human prayer. In it is our birth, our consecration, our covenant with each other, our death and our rising.
In the beginning was the Word.
The Lord is present in the enclosure - as he is everywhere - in three forms: he is present in his Word, in the Eucharist and where two are three are gathered together. This is the Living Church. But the statement with which St. John opens his Gospel does have precedence: the Word comes first. The Word speaks the Eucharist into being and the Communion in the Eucharist creates the common unity of the community who are gathered together in his name. The Church can be a billion Catholics around the world, it can be two million young people in St. Peter’s Square, and it can be two Poor Clares shaking a blanket.
Elements of solitude have their place in every form of life but they take their dynamism from the indwelling of the three Persons of the Trinity, for the Church is always a communion.
The Bride meets the Word in himself as he speaks in Sacred Scripture, as he speaks through the Church, in the community, and as he touches her at communion, in the depths of her heart. The Word that the Bridegroom speaks is always, come. It is an invitation. I come to you, Lord, to gaze on you, to consider who you are, and to be drawn by you into contemplation. Consider, contemplate - this is the path that our Mother Clare showed us. It is I who gaze - who behold the Word made flesh. It is I who consider - I who hold this revelation in my heart, mind and soul. Contemplation is the gift of the Lord which he has offered us all in Baptism so that he may enfold me in his love and I may enfold him in my poverty. Love is the raisin d’etre of my existence, the purpose for which I have been called both as an individual and a community. Love is a gift; it cannot be earned, it cannot be demanded, and no one shall receive it as a right. It is the total object of an enclosed life.
All baptised Christians are invited to enjoy contemplation, but we, by God’s vocation, have been thrust into mysticism. The structures of our life, the vocabulary of praise in the ever repeated psalms and the enclosing arms of our covenanted community life, are there to sustain us in our encounter with Jesus, the Word made flesh. God’s Word has taught us to speak and a life in obedience has taught us to listen. God is not silent. He is not a negative, remote or dormant presence unless we are negative, remote and dormant. The Word is alive, he is active, he can cut like a double edged sword, he can reach the place sword shears off from the spirit [ ]. The most fantastic human romance is a crumpled plastic rose in comparison with the infinite paradise gardens of the love that the Word offers. Called to be the Word’s bride, I am loved totally: spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. All I have to do is to be hungry, empty, waiting for that love with a heart always says, yes.

How to Abolish Enclosure!!!!!!!!!!!
A Few Simple Rules!

1. Maintain institutional injustice. i.e. if you are a superior, do not correct the erring. Be sympathetic, but ignore them and hope that they will go away. Do not protect the weak against the strong [we came for a life of suffering], nor the strong against the neurotic and the hard hearted [we must bear each others burdens]. Abolish Chapters of faults or restrict faults to totally external errors such as breaking needles, or [and this has spectacular results], encourage them to confess each others faults.
2. If you are a subject elect weak, compliant or obligated superiors whose hands you have effectively tied. Have rules - lots of them, but explain that they do not apply to you as you are an exception [that proves the rule].
3.Avoid inclusive activities. Allow what might have beeen a common unity to dissolve naturally into little cliques who discuss each other with animosity on the back stairs. You will know when you have achieved this because every time you come into a room the conversation will stumble and cease.
4.Discourage friendships and work done in common. Ensure, [for the good of their souls], that those who work together are temperamentally incompatible.
5.Leave large, unsurpervised gaps in the horarium with free access to the public parts of the monastery. Tell the sisters that they are all responsible and adult and must discern their own needs. Then you can be self righteously shocked if you really do get a full blown, eighteenth century scandal on your hands.
Follow this path and you will generate enough steam to blow the lid off a triple clamped pressure cooker - let alone an enclosure.
6.Discourage ease of converse on the subject of the Lord and his mighty deeds. Encourage people to be religious in their hearts but do not encourage them to talk about it outside the confessional. Discourage religiously orientated conversation at recreation. Explain that it is talking shop, or in bad taste or, [if appropriate], un-English. Remind the sisters that the Desert Fathers reproved themselves if they accidentally heaved a sigh of Godly satisfaction in public, but do not remind them that of what the heart is full, the mouth will speak.
7.Keep prayer as solitary as possible. Persuade them to put their enthusiasm into being on time for choir, attending to their private devotions and doing small and insignificant things perfectly.
8.Convince them that contemplative prayer - mystical prayer - is a gift rarely given and highly suspect. Tell them that the heart of chastity is pain. Explain that the mystical gifts are not for everyone and that very few receive them. Take away the joy of those who have drawn close to the Lord and the hope from those who are on the journey. This is the crowning blasphemy and will sabotage the sole purpose of the contemplative round and reduce it to a meaningless treadmill of rejection of the Divine that few indeed, can sustain .
This deprives the enclosed life of its final sense and purpose. After this it is only necessary reset the external paradigms.
9a.Remove all external symbols of material separation and explain to people that you wish to be totally open, accessible, user-friendly and accountable.
or, 9b.[It is not known which of these methods is more successful]. Maintain in its ugly rigidity, all the quaintest excrescences of walled churches and double grilles but live heart and soul [and body], outside. e.g. have a double parlour grille with spikes but always see guests outside it [except the Bishop].
10.Encourage lay retreatants and long stay secular visitors to reside in the enclosure. This means that no one can prudently relax without public exposure, or have space to confront their pain, injustice and emptiness. To settle these problems send the afflicted away for on-going formation courses, theraphy or increasingly long holidays.
After this enclosure is usually abolished. You will be unable to attract, support or retain vocations, and, in from ten to twenty years, your house will close - if it has not first been struck by lightening!

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2001 November newsletter

TIDINGS OF TY MAM DUW
2001

 

To all our friends far and near, we send our loving greetings - and we stretch out our hands in fellowship to people of good will all over the world - a galaxy of pinpoints of light linked by God's love in these dark times.

Last year's "Tidings" was written shortly before our extra memorable week of celebrations of our dear Sr. Juliana's Silver Jubilee of profession. These surpassed all expectations, and ranged from a fittingly jubilant sung mass to a 'Dance of the Hours' puppet ballet. There was a 'sense perception day' for which presentations had been prepared on each of the five senses, all involving some form of audience participation; this ranged from identifying different sounds on a cassette tape to assembling small jigsaws by touch when blindfolded, and learning how to draw in perspective. The cooks among us were assigned the sense of 'taste' and we did full justice to their handiwork in that sphere! The final day saw a 'march past' in the cloister, on the lines of the large public one of the Queen Mother's 100th birthday. We may not have had the cast of thousands that she had, but the enthusiasm and joy expressed was just as great!

Meanwhile the rain continued to pour down almost every day. We were fortunate in escaping the severe flooding that wreaked havoc in other places nearby,
but our vegetable garden became decidedly boggy, and the cloister garden needed pumping out even more frequently than usual.

The theme of our end of the Millennium carol service a few weeks later was Christ as the Word of God from all eternity and the Life and Light of the world. For the creation of light sequence there was a background of slides and flashing lights - and a central tree of white muslin with radiating starry branches and a lit-up trunk. A profusion of bubbles blown by Sr. Lucia gave a fairylike effect for the gathering of the first droplets of water to form the seas.

Nearer Christmas about 40 children from our parish came with Canon Quigley and their parents to see the choir crib. This year it had a new scene on the theme of "As the deer longs for running streams" - with two tiny deer in Eden and a small spring of genuine water! The shepherds proceeded in slow circles on their usual turntable on their way to Bethlehem, while the kings turned at a more giddy rate on that of an old 16 rpm gramophone!

The refectory crib was set in a forest formed of greenery from our own garden, with a little village nestling in it and a profusion of coloured lights. A number of discarded commercial CD ROMs had been given in. From them we made hanging stars, which flashed rainbow light in all directions from their silvery surfaces. The noviciate crib incorporated the small aviary there with its two lively canaries. Other birds had been fretted from wood and painted, and the Bambino was suspended in a hammock. Another crib was inspired by the Eternal Word Television Network, which now transmits worthwhile Catholic programmes of all kinds to Britain by satellite 24 hours a day. It showed God the Father in charge of a satellite station beaming His three-dimensional Word made flesh to the stable at Bethlehem.

The Christmas Vigil was as joy-filled as ever. The readings were taken from Franciscan sources and brought to life with slides, dance and music. Then came the singing of the 'Transeamus' with its resounding 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' as the opening of the midnight mass. Fr. Prins OFMCap, preached a splendid sermon on the conflict within each of us of light and darkness, and how the dark areas in every life can be healed by opening them to the light of Christ. After midnight mass we gathered for coffee and lebkuchen to revive those flagging in body if not in spirit. Then we returned to choir for Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament with music, prayers and carols round the Bambino by the altar.
Sr. Christiana made her debut playing carols on an accordion, and others were accompanied by flutes, the balalaika, keyboard, zither or guitars. Our Vigil finished at 4.30 a.m. whereupon we sang and danced our way along the cloister to a joyful Christmas breakfast.

We have had email access for several years, originally made available to us for some work we were involved in for the Church. During the Jubilee Year it furnished us with details of the special liturgical activities in Rome, which we then adapted where possible to our humbler Ty Mam Duw setting. In December 2000 we were enabled to build our own website (see end of Newsletter for our URL!)

We have tried to make it a loving expression of the Lord's grace, and of our faith, our life together, our Franciscan heritage and our ideals. It also contains useful resource materials on Sts Francis, Clare and Colette, and is continually being updated. At present we are building up the section on prayer. There is also a Prayerline on which those who visit the site can record intentions for which they wish us to pray, and a semi-monthly email newsletter, Clareshare. On the feast of the Holy Innocents we enjoyed a special treat. The computer was set up where we could all see it, and we had the joy of visiting the websites of our Sisters in various parts of the world, and ended up by viewing the material on our own. Those among us who had helped to collate or compile information for it were highly delighted to see the end result of their labours.

Our New Year Vigil, which was followed by midnight mass, comprised an imaginative poetic drama in the style of traditional Japanese Noh theatre. It traced the journey of the Wise Men from the East, following a comet to Our Lady and her Child, encountering sea-demons barring their path, and eventually recognising their goal by the sign of peace - a lion with an impressively fierce face-mask lying down with the meekest of lambs.

We much enjoyed a video of EWTN's transmission of the closing of the 'holy door' in St Peter's Basilica on January 6th - the feast of the Epiphany. The impressive ceremony marked the end of the great Jubilee Year which had ushered in the third Christian Millennium and been so full of graces and blessings for us and all who participated in it. We had a similar ceremony in our own choir to coincide with that in Rome, with the door of the sanctuary grille serving as our 'holy door'.
But as Pope John Paul reminded us in his homily, the closing of the holy door marked not so much an ending as a new beginning with Christ on our pilgrimage to the Father, whose doors of mercy are never closed.

Among a wide range of Christmastide activities was one of Sr. Joanna's prolonged treasure hunts. She has a special charisma in that line, and never fails to find new hiding-places obliquely indicated in cleverly devised rhyming clues, which take a couple of hours of eager searching to solve. Meanwhile she busied herself cooking the dinner, deftly coping with pots, pans and ingredients - plus a constant stream of baffled clue seekers lining up two by two for further hints on their next destination. With a certain amount of extra unofficial help from those already in the know we all eventually tracked down our prizes hidden in the kitchen.

We also relished a light-hearted recapitulation by Sr. Elizabeth and Sr. Juliana of The History of the World from Creation to the End of History with Most of the Facts Left Out, the facts that had been retained were acted out in humorous fashion. Characters included a ten-legged dinosaur (sporting 5 pairs of remarkably human feet!) and Roman emperors who rushed on and off every other minute.
Nestorius and Arius, who sparked off major controversies in the first centuries of Christianity, came to fisticuffs under the window of St. Augustine just as he was trying to write one of his impressively lengthy sermons. As the narrator remarked "Original sin continued to maintain a steady progress as history unfolded."
The multiple roles played by each Sister involved handing on costumes to other characters, During a "break in transmission" a voice off-stage was heard to ask plaintively "Who am I?" - to which the on-stage narrator answered without raising an eyebrow, "Calvin, page 51 !"

As always, we have found pleasure this year in the bird-life that has visited our garden. In January we found the remains of a large gull, killed we think by a gang of magpies. A metal band on its leg indicated it had come from Norway. A blackbird couple nesting in a myrtle bush in the cloister courtyard raised four sets of youngsters. A robin which had been sitting on five eggs in a tool-box in the greenhouse, deserted its nest when the heat became overwhelming, but later returned and laid another batch. These hatched safely, and were later seen fluttering to and fro among the plantpots there. A heron was spotted on the choir roof one day, much to the dismay of the crows which regard that area as their personal territory. They tried to scare it off by diving at it, and it was amusing to see it simply bend its long legs and bob its head so that they passed over harmlessly! Henry the pheasant, who occupied the bushes behind our small cemetery, came regularly under Dear Mother's window for food in early spring, and could be heard most days calling to his Henriettas - we saw two of them, very chic in their golden-brown plumage.
In February we again had our special mass in honour of St Colette, known and loved for centuries for her special concern and intercession for expectant mothers, babies and small children, and for women longing to have a child. A goodly number of people came for the celebration and were blessed with her relic. Among those present were Paul and Pascale who live in our gatehouse. We rejoiced with them a couple of months later at the birth of their fourth daughter, Clara, who was later baptised at the parish mass in our chapel.

Our spring fair,and the autumn one last month, were a splendid success. Not only was there a great demand for all the varied items we had made in the arts and crafts line, but also for the homemade pasties and chips. Sr. Lucia worked hard every morning the week before chipping and freezing potatoes for the occasion.
Lent is a time when we have extra retreat groups wanting to come on Sundays. A 'guided prayer' day in March was very well attended, as were others in October. Dear Ima gave a talk on the hands of Christ as seen in the icon-style San Damiano crucifix, spread wide on the cross in defenceless yet victorious love and pity. As we are often busy on Sundays in Lent with catering for retreat groups, we ourselves spent Fridays as quieter days of reflection; in the mornings we enjoyed some thought-provoking talks by Dear Ima on the great women mystics of the Middle Ages.
But not all the season was lived on the spiritual heights! We were dismayed on the feast of St Patrick to discover that we had a major problem with the drains, which affected the extern area Our valiant friend, John Jennings, laboured long and hard with hose pipe and extension rods to trace the source of the blockage. (Sr. Elizabeth announced feelingly that "Drains are the subconscious of a building!”). At one point a professional plumber suggested that we take up the choir floor! Mercifully the problem was solved without such drastic measures on the feast of St. Joseph, a practical saint if ever there was one!

On Laetare Sunday we presented a starkly dramatic meditation in Oriental style on the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. A very long black muslin drape first symbolised the way of suffering Jesus took upon himself in his agony in Gethsemane - it later became the arms of the cross, and finally the dark shroud of death enveloping him. The resurrection sequence which came as a climax ended with a slow but joyous dance with the three Marys and Our Lord holding Chinese fans.
Later Sr. Christiana treated us to an unusual form of Vespers. The theme was “Pray with your hands” and included a sung version of the Creed which she 'signed' with graceful flowing movements of her hands and arms in the sign language devised for the profoundly deaf. It was a unique and fascinating experience of another dimension of worship.

Our Easter Vigil went very smoothly and happily, despite blustery weather. The ceremony begins with the blessing of the holy fire, from which the large decorated paschal candle,
representing the Risen Christ is solemnly lit. We had saved up the 'Mercy slips' with the names of all those for whom we had offered the Jubilee Year indulgence last year; they flared up beautifully, ascending in fire to heaven with the Lord's glorious resurrection and victory over sin and death. The creation account, which begins the long series of readings from the Hebrew scriptures, was again acted and danced, but in a new form this year. Long black and white net drapes suspended on threads from the ceiling were used by the dancers as they circled and interweaved to suggest the separation of darkness and light. The sun and the moon - large tissue paper globes with lighted torches inside them - descended into choir from the windows in the upstairs oratory at the appropriate time.
Sr. Elizabeth, complete with wheelbarrow and a potted shrub plus an umbrella, acted out the Lord's planting of the garden of Eden. Then came His creation of the fish, birds and animals in due season - and human beings as the crowning work of His hands - all of which was symbolically expressed.
The Alleluia before the Gospel reading was danced joyously by a group of Sisters in line-dance formation. It required rather careful timing because of restricted space, but they came through it happily, all to the glory of God, without ending up in a heap on the floor! After the exuberant Mass which climaxed the Vigil, we continued with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament till 4 a.m. when we took ourselves to the community room for a welcome breakfast - painted eggs and special Easter bread baked lovingly by Marianne.

In Easter week John Jennings repainted the choir for us with his usual care and thoroughness. It now looks a real picture, a joy to us and to the Lord.
We were also given a quantity of good furniture from a club that was closing down. Sr. Cherubina spent several weeks perseveringly varnishing, polishing and repainting it all where necessary, and a set of small solid round tables now graces the guests' dining hall. A kind friend made it possible for us to have the old windows in our dormitory replaced. The new ones have a clear rippled surface which makes the place much lighter even on dull days.

The weather continued to fluctuate from wet and chilly to very hot. After its year's sabbatical rest for the great Jubilee of Our Lord's birth, the vegetable patch was in excellent condition, and as weedless as is possible in this fallen world We planted out some onions, which grew to giant size, as well as cauliflower, kale and a large quantity of runner French beans. These yielded a prolific crop and are likely to feature in the meals for retreat groups in the coming year. We are also very grateful for the kindness of those who have brought us all sorts of groceries during the year to sustain us in our life of prayer and praise, and for the churches and schools which have given us produce from their harvest festivals. And our thanks also go out to the many friends who have continued to bring us old greetings cards, jam jars, unwanted books and jumble for recycling. In fact almost anything finds a use, sometimes an unusual one in our creative life Pictures from calendars and back issues of religious or educational magazines such as the National Geographic are also a great help. We can mount them on card and project them in the same way as slides to illustrate scripture reflections and suchlike.

In May we welcomed Gabrielle, into our midst as a postulant and had a short liturgical celebration to mark her entry. We have good news and not so good news about the two special members of our extended family - the children we are sponsoring at the Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand which does such splendid work to help young people. Pornsiri, the little girl, has now been adopted by a couple in Norway, and in her stead we have another two year old, Jiranat, to take to our hearts. Wasan, who turned three this October, has been diagnosed as autistic. We were glad to hear he is building up a positive relationship with Sally, his special carer and now smiles at her and looks her in the eye. Sadly he has no friends as yet among the other children as he has not learned to interact with them, apart from throwing toys at people!

Early in June we had our triennial community elections. Our dear Mother Agatha, who had mothered us one and all so lovingly and generously for the past six years, told us categorically that she did not wish to be re-elected as Abbess. She said she felt better able to serve us in some other capacity at this point of our life together in the steps of Francis and Clare. So Dear Ima (Sr. Francesca) became once again Abbess of our community, and we continue on our way in joy united around her as a family.

Our bees are now flourishing with the welcome addition of a second sweet tempered and very industrious colony. Sr. Agatha and Sr. Christiana were thrilled to see a queen bee for the first time when they inspected the hive. They reported that she was about two inches long with a relatively flat body and graceful movements, as if she were practising an oriental dance!

In the summer we were glad to welcome Sr. Elizabeth and Sr. Stella from the Poor Clare community at Mbarara in Uganda. They have been over here attending a course of Franciscan Studies. They were thrilled to see the colourful array of flowers in our front garden, tended so lovingly by Marianne. Summertime for them tends to mean parched ground and shrivelled grass, so all our rain here in Wales has some advantages. (Sr. Beatrix and Sr. Ruth have both had highly successful cataract operations this year. So they too are filled with delight at all they can now see, and the bright hues of a previously dim world!)

The two Ugandan Sisters were especially keen to share in some of our Ty Mam Duw liturgy. They danced and sang several canticles Mbarara style for us, accompanying themselves on two African drums. Our meeting was a wonderful mingling of cultures to the glory of God. Our contribution was a Vigil Service on the theme of the Holy Spirit.
The final reading, about the Israelites thirsting for water, a symbol of the Spirit, in their desert wanderings, was accompanied by a background chant of “Water, water!" The Lord was evidently listening - shortly afterwards the first rumblings of thunder were heard, and the hot weather broke with the most spectacular electrical storm for several years! It lasted for some hours, and when we gathered in choir that night at 11 p.m. to recite the rosary before Matins, we had virtually to shout the prayers to hear each other above the crashes of thunder! It was also a joy this summer to have contact with our Sisters in Paderborn in Germany, one of whom had been our Dear Mother's choir mistress in their younger days together in a teaching Order.

In August we were taken aback to find our computer chock-a-block overnight with e-mail. At first we wondered whether it had contracted some strange sort of virus! It turned out to be a matter of medicine, but in the human not the technological sphere. We had seen an article by an American doctor claiming that the power of prayer by people of all faiths is one of the greatest factors in promoting healing. We contacted him, offering to pray for any of his patients. He mentioned this in his own newsletter, and we were bowled over to discover we had over 700 e-mails from people all over the world, many with serious illnesses, asking for our prayer support. We now place all the requests we receive by the altar in our chapel during our daily worship; we are also each remembering specific people by name before reciting Terce after holy mass. Other prayer requests received by ordinary mail or recorded in the book in our shrine chapel are also remembered in this way.

Summer saw one of our more ambitious community enterprises - the repainting of the four sides of our cloister, which we last did about 13 years ago. It was a case of "all hands on deck" and we completed in four days the task which had taken us a good week last time, and also redid the refectory. We had learned from our past mistakes - this time every inch of the floor was covered with plastic, and the skirting boards and door lintels with masking tape and paper, so there were very few splashes to clean up.
We also started with enough paint - last time the cloister ended up in three shades of 'peach' I And most of us were supplied with paint rollers instead of brushes, with strong steady ladders for the higher areas and ceiling, instead of the earlier wooden erection we had concocted from timber offcuts!

Another highly satisfying activity was several pottery sessions under Sr. Pia's direction. During them we learned to make simple etched plaques, crib figures and statuettes, holy water stoups and hanging decorations, all of which were successfully fired in the kiln we were so kindly given a number of years ago, which has now come in to its own. The results ended up in our small craftshop.

The feast of the Stigmata on 17 September commemorates St Francis' sharing in Christ's suffering. We spent the day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, remembering all those dead or wounded in the horrific terrorist attacks in the States, and their grieving families and friends. May their suffering united with Christ's be transformed into His resounding resurrection victory over the powers of darkness and death.

A number of old friends of the community ended their earthly pilgrimage this year, and we have held them and their families close in our hearts. Among them was Norman Cresswell, former editor of the Catholic Pictorial and the Catholic Times, and affectionately known among us as 'Brother Norman'. In his last letter he wrote excitedly of his joy at the prospect of waking up 'there' in the land of the living which surpasses our greatest imaginings.
He hopes to be waiting at the gates with our dear Sr. Judith, who during her life had often worked on articles for his papers, to welcome the rest of us 'home' when our time comes.
He did not have to wait long for the next arrival! Our dear Sr. Clare, who celebrated her Platinum Jubilee last year, went home to the Lord in September at the ripe old age of 95.
She had been the first postulant to join the future Hawarden community in 1928, a few weeks after the founding Sisters arrived in Wales. So she had spent 73 years serving the Lord in our Poor Clare family, long before the rest of us were born. As a young Sister she had been given a cookery book by Mother Cherubina and appointed as cook to the community. She carried out the task lovingly for the next forty years, learning the art by trial and error as she went along - no mean feat on what was then a coal range! In 1982 she 'retired' as cook, and in the remaining 19 years delighted to knit or sew toys or baby-clothes for our craft shop. Her prayer for the Church and the world was ceaseless. Every afternoon she used to play the cassette of the Holy Father reciting the rosary, uniting her prayers with his. Until her strength failed in the last few weeks she was always eager to read such papers as come our way, to discover current prayer needs - and to do the crosswords therein! Sr. Agatha, Sr. Amata and Sr. Beatrix nursed her devotedly in her final weeks, and to the end of her life her desire was to show the Lord "more love and more service". Moses and Padre Pio were her great pinups, as was Cardinal Newman. We based the Vigil Service the evening before her funeral on his great poem “The Dream of Gerontius". Her family and friends were well represented at the requiem, and her brother Jim read the first lesson (Deut: 34:1-7 - on the death of Moses). Canon Quigley preached a glowing sermon, recalling her prayer book worn almost entirely to pieces with constant use, and her ready smile. The earlier wet weather cleared somewhat as she was laid to rest in our small cemetery and the birds could be heard twittering in the trees that surround it. May she rest in peace with all our dear founding Sisters of her generation.

Now the nights are growing longer and the clouds of war, violence and hatred are gathering over our poor frail world. We praise God for all the countless candles of love and compassion that continue to shine, or have been kindled afresh in the hearts of people of every race and creed - in all who live out the prayer attributed to St Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me bring your love....”
It has been truly said that “lt is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." We pray that from our small candles and yours a myriad others may be lit to give our world a glimpse of God's merciful love. We hold in our prayers before Him, the Lord of life and light, everyone who is caught up in this suffering time.
For it is He who has the last word in human history and in that of each individual - and it is always an offer of His life and love to those who are willing to accept it.

And as we go about all the activities of our daily round of work and prayer, you can be sure that you too are close in our hearts, as we turn our gaze in faith to Him who is our future and our hope.

With loving prayers.
your Poor Clare Sisters at Ty Mam Duw
 

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2001 July, For the General Chapter of the La Sainte Union Sisters.

In the service of Justice
On the Poor Clare experience of authority


Leadership in Community

The Gospel model of Community
There is a scene in the Synoptic Gospels which may reflect something that happened to Jesus regularly. A man in the crowd, a scribe, asks which is the greatest commandment of the Law. Jesus replies [or in Luke invites the scribe to reply]: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.” [Matt 22. 36-40, Lk 20. 39-40, Mk12. 28-34]
No bystander wishes to quarrel with this. This is the appropriate summary of the Law. The Old Law. The New Law of the Gospel is rather different. “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.” [Jn 15. 12.] This is not two ways of saying the same thing. It is two different things. It is easier to love the God whom you have invented than the neighbour whom God has invented. In the New Covenant, Jesus is not asking for liturgy but for lateral relationships. He is not only commanding us to love him, he is drawing our attention to the fact that he loves us, and that we must love one another.

Discipleship, therefore, is the model of community life in the New Testament. The apostles gather around Christ, the faithful gather round the apostles. The brethren lay hands on Paul and Silas and send them out. The very word apostle means sent out - it is a response to an order. It is an answer to a question.

The apostolic community is nothing if not ruggedly individual and independent. The design of the three years spent on the road with Jesus was to form them as free, firm, responsible characters. They have not been long in the novitiate before he sends them out in pairs, endowed with the power to preach and heal. Even the demons, to their surprise, submit to them. They are vividly aware that they have these powers as an arbitrary gift; they are not capable of these things by themselves. Their power and pastoral effectiveness comes from their organic unity with the head.
They lead a common life, in which forgiveness appears to feature uncomfortably. They share their property, (Lk 8. 3) they leave their families (Lk 5. 28 ) they pray (Lk 11. 1) they believe (Jn 12. 44), they accept a structure of relationships (Matt 16. 18) and of a new authority (Lk 22. 25-27)

The Authority of Mary the Handmaid of the Lord
The new Church gathers in prayer around Mary the Mother of Jesus. Mary is at the centre of the Church. Her authority is based on God’s choice of her for the most supreme task to which any human being had been invited, to give him life. Her authority among the apostles, her Queenship in the words of the Litany of Loretto, is derived from her unprecedented closeness to God. She does not administer the finances of the apostolic order, she does not even administer the public proclamation of the Word, she is there simply to invite the eye of the Spirit; to say for all her religious family: “Come!”; to be the model - in personal and apostolic holiness - of the Beatitudes. The apostles, prophets and teachers do things. She is someone. We have no example of her speaking words of correction or encouragement to members of the apostolic community (though she may have spoken many). She corrects and encourages by being the undimmed reflection of the love of Jesus.

The mystics, like the apocryphal Gospels, have conspired to paint scenarios in which Mary guides the early Church. But the programme of her ministry is clearly set forth in the Magnificat.
She is there to raise up the lowly and put down the conceited, to serve the Lord and to proclaim his holiness.

Community and us
Co-creativity

The members of our community have to need each other. Their mutual dependence has to be real, muscular and practical. It takes two to shake a blanket in a satisfactory manner. We rely on each other for survival: working together to make our life possible.

To sustain relationships it is not enough to need each other emotionally and spiritually. We do so need each other, but, unsupported by a life of mutual service these demands can become a form of unsustainable emotional and spiritual rape.

To draw a comparison, the nineteenth century model of human marriage involved an exchange of goods and services, almost to the negation of an emotional exchange. The husband and wife lived in mutual dependence, providing essential services for each other. But in the twentieth century, the economic base of marriage diminished whilst the seeking for emotional fulfilment increased. Result: a few very beautiful relationships and a huge abyss of divorces.

Emotional and spiritual partnership has to be built on a life of practical service. It is the partnership of shared labour that is the first stage to dismantling the barriers that words create. The real meaning of words builds on upbringing and experience, and before sharing in depth we need to manufacture the basic tools with which to communicate.

Marx is not the only person to have noticed that work is the tool of a person’s liberation. For us,as a community, it is a two way flow: the creative work helps to build the friendship and out of the friendship creative work flows. This applies to planting the beans and clearing the attic as much as to devising a rosary ballet or painting icons. These are the things which build the bonds which hold the edifice together.

The role of Leadership.
For us, a leader is someone who discerns where friendship may be created and built on; one who can perceive patterns upon which family can be built. For us, family is the root word in considering community and leadership. Most of us come from fragmented post-modern families and more than half the community have backgrounds which include parents who were divorced, separated, deserted or unmarried.

We choose family as a life style, as it was in the life of the first Poor Clares at San Damiano. And Clare saw her role as a mother: the role of Mother is central to family.

We expect of Mother, first and foremost, justice. The family of our community has to built on justice. If justice is not mercifully administered, the place will fall apart in record time. We want to understand the frontiers. The younger we are and the more damaged our social background, the more grateful we are for correction. Correction, the retraining of growth, is mediated as kindly as possible. But it is sometimes necessary to deliver a full stop with an exclamation mark! And basically, we are not going to resent this, since we all need to be told when to get off! And because we know that we need to be told, it does not come as a surprise to us. We have all had sufficient experience of life to have noticed that we are not perfect and our social relations have not worked very well.
Often, in fact, the Mother amongst us has to spend far more time and effort encouraging, supporting, building up low self-esteem, and nurturing those crippled by self-hatred. Nurture is the other side of justice; the noble art of enabling and appreciating.

It is a principle amongst us that if one receives a suggestion or an offer from another one says yes, if one possibly can. And if someone wishes to do something or start something, one does not cast around to see if one thinks one likes it: one enters into it.

An essential part of the role of Mother is to discern and create partnership. We are not an academic Order, but occasionally we do academic things for non-academic reasons. Sr Jael would like to learn Hebrew (her family was Jewish). Mother suggests: “Why don’t you ask Sr Vadia to join you?” Sr Jael is pleased. Would Sr Vadia be interested? Mother had already ascertained this. But Sr Vadia, though loving the language of the Old Testament for its own sake, has a different motive; her father was violently anti-Semitic, and she would like in this way to make atonement for his choices. Not only by learning the language of the people he despised, but by drawing closer to Sr Jael.
Sr Isabella was sent to some very modern and expensive schools, where she taught herself to read and write. Education was not really on the curriculum. History now fascinates her. Sr Sofia was a brilliantly intelligent child, who resisted nearly every attempt formal education made upon her. She disrupted the school, tormented the staff and played truant. Now she regrets it. She is an intellectual giant - in chains. Mother suggests that the two work together. Sr Isabella is a little frightened of Sr Sofia. Sr Isabella comes from a family that ran to titles, she is gentle, timid and witty. Sr Sofia’s father was a dustman, and Sr Sofia once belonged to a violent gang and wielded a flick knife; she is not afraid of Sr Isabella, she is afraid of herself.

And the funny thing is that it works. The two of them read up and write between them a series of Historical Days (referred to by them as Hystericals), humorous representations on subjects as sober as Mary, Queen of Scots, St Edmund Campion and the Counter-Reformation. We all learn something from them and enjoy ourselves hugely. Sr Isabella acquires a little more courage and assertiveness and her gentle manners brush off on Sr Sofia, who, sometimes with a degree of pain, learns what is acceptably funny - and what isn’t. Sr Isabella sheds a few of her scruples and Sr Sofia gratefully acquires a few - and abandons her pose of inverted snobbery. They grow up and grow a little nearer to God, and to each other. That is the aim.

Sometimes a dialogue will require a third partner (or more) to work.
Between music and dance and the Bible more than half the community get to work (well, play) with Sr Adela individually or in twos or threes. Sister has this in common with Samuel Johnson - she keeps her friendships in good repair.

Sr Rosetta has a tendency to try and think up schemes which will give Sr Adele pleasure and interest. Sr Rosetta was in the novitiate with Sr Adela and tends to live in the past; her schemes are a ruse to regain Sr Adele’a attention. Sr Adelea as well as being a friend, works very hard and has to get up earlier and go to bed later (and bear in mind that we celebrate Matins at midnight) to make her various ends meet. She would unhesitatingly take on Sr Rosetta if Mother asked her. But Mother does not. Sr Rosetta is quite an insensitive individual and very possessive and she has to be protected against herself. Sr Adela, generous to a fault, has also to be protected.

Instead Sr Rosetta is re-routed on a different scheme to Sr Viola. Sr Viola is a perpetual infant teacher and (un)fortunately there are no infants. She, too, is insensitive and (in a rather different way), possessive. Their partnership is a stroke of genius - they do each other no harm, and if they run on to each other’s rough edges, it teaches them to mind their own.

Sr Arvola is a perfectionist. People are not perfect and the people who enter the Franciscan Order are conspicuously less perfect than others. Sr Arvola is a gentle and loving person but she has to be protected from over exposure. Frail humanity in small and loving doses she can manage, but in the face of a full flowing tide she will become abrasive and unreasonable, because she cannot, at root, understand why the rest of us are not as good as she is (and her goodness is genuine, not the fruit of an inflated ego.)

Novitiate is a damage limitation process which exists (amongst other reasons) for the inch by inch integration of the newcomer into the family. They learn by growing through a few restricted relationships into a wider participation. The community can support, willing - but severely-handicapped beginners for a long time. It cannot accommodate permanent bystanders. There is rest for the weary and broken-hearted, in their need, but there can be no final place for the uncommitted.

Spiritual Direction.
In this process of discernment and enfranchisement, we do, therefore, place spiritual direction amongst those duties which devolve upon superiors. The sacrament of confession, as our short thirteenth century Rule points out, is for the confession and absolution of sin. It is not, basically, an opportunity for a hopefully God-inspired but humanly ignorant person to tell the unknown penitent, whom he will, almost certainly, have never met socially, how to find God and resist evil in an environment of which he will have had no experience and possibly much unconscious prejudice and misinformation.

The purpose of existence is to draw closer to God in, with and through each other.
Religious life is the pursuit of perfect charity (heavenward and humanward) by means of the evangelical counsels. Our life has to lived as the threshold of death. It is most literally the front line of a cosmic battle with “the world rulers of this present darkness and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” [Eph 6. 12)

Women religious (leastways, those like ourselves who are not of the Jesuit tradition) should avoid imaging themselves as soldiers. But we are here to fight and must stand fully armed in the Spirit, shoulder to shoulder, in a combat with a much stronger foe against whom real failure will mean real death. Therefore, the weaknesses created by sin have to discerned and repaired quickly, urgently even, if we are not all to fail of our purpose. And, finally, invincible cowards and deliberate traitors who refuse God’s invitation to life and growth must be invited to leave.

Therefore what we require of “your unworthy handmaid and Mother” as St Clare called herself is: an exemplary Mary-like receptivity to the Holy Spirit. She is a discerner. And like Mary she must conceive Jesus before she can show him to others.
To be one who directs the spiritual formation of another, you must know three things. You must know the goal, you must know the way, you must know the Companion. Our life as enclosed contemplative women is locked in the mystery of receptivity, of surrender, of conceiving the Word, of being there for God.

We have no fixed income, no investments and no property and we are dependent on the Lord inspiring others to support us. It is the ultimate social contract: to exchange the things of time for those of eternity. But we must produce the goods! We must be the humble sign of heaven on earth. Heaven is perfect love, and having been drawn through the loves we can see, we are invited to the Lover whom, perhaps, we cannot see. We are invited to surrender to a heaven of love in an intimate spiritual, emotional, mental and physical relationship with Jesus. To nurture this relationship is the ultimate object and privilege of our family, and though we do it for each other in carefully regulated encounters, and in the final, eschatological sense, this would not be a Gospel community if it failed in this most profound area, it is the leader and Mother of our family in whom this responsibility rests.

To those whom we have elected God will say, on the last day: “Did you give the starving children whom I placed in your care the bread of my Word? Did you share with them the water of my life? Did you, a stranger and pilgrim yourself, welcome with my love the outcasts whom I gave you? Did you clothe them with respect? When they were sick in heart and body and imprisoned in mind, did you heal them and set them free?

“This is what your world has done to my children - it has closed the door in their faces. To open that door, you do not require the careful screening of applicants, professional psychiatric advice and a manual on the human personality - and other people in your community can administer the building programme, manage the accounts and catalogue the library - one thing only is necessary for you: the power of my Spirit.”

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2001 19 August - 30 September Catholic Pictorial

The Seven Sacraments
Ty Mam Duw

In 1521, when he was still a loyal member of the Catholic Church our Henry VIII wrote abook in answer to Luther called “In defence of the Seven Sacraments” for this, Pope Leo X named him Fidei Defensor which is why fid def once appeared with the Queen’s title on our coinage. It is a remarkable book, we quote from it here with the comparable sections from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

(These were originally seven separate article, so some parts are a little repetitive)

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1 Baptism


Washed in tears
Tony was terribly proud of their baby; awesomely impressed by her finger nails and her eyelashes, by her uniqueness and self-possession, and by her separateness from them both.
Mary wanted to call the baby Antonia [after him] but naming, to Mary, was inextricably mixed up with Baptism. If Mary had a fault [and he was reluctant to admit that the mother of his child had any faults] it was that she was too Catholic and too given to saying the Rosary when she got up, and too given to going to Sunday Mass.
He didn’t want Antonia baptised. “I want her to have a free choice when she grows up.”
“Being baptised doesn’t stop you doing that,” Mary replied. “Look at you. You were baptised and you have exercised your free choice by dropping the lot.....”
The weeks went by and the thing became an issue. It was their first real disagreement.
The baby started to have mild convulsions.
“Tony, darling, let me have her baptised, it’s making her ill.....”
“Don’t be irrational.....”
They were driving home from the specialist. He had been kind; almost too kind. Tony had not really understood - but then he had not wanted to. Mary was feeding the baby. The rhythmic movement of the small mouth at her breast ceased. Automatically she lifted the little one to feed at the other side. But it was already dead. In despair Tony tried to turn the car on the motorway to get back to the surgery. Brushing her fingers through the tears coursing over her wet cheeks Mary made the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead: “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.....”


Ty Mam Duw would like to thank Mrs Kimberly Hahn for this true story.

Living Water
The world is mostly covered by water. There is even a myth of an eighth continent, Atlantis [in the Atlantic] that was engulfed in a tidal wave. Though geological evidence is against it, psychologists tell us that it is common to dream you are being overwhelmed by a vast wave of water. Baptism is a kind of heavenly homeopathy - a great lot of water will kill you but a little is essential to life.
Some of us [here at Ty Mam Duw] were baptised as infants, and some only as adults. We have compared notes and if you are a parent who suffers from the fear that, by infant baptism, you are deciding for your child and taking its freedom away we can reassure you on hard evidence.
If you are baptised and even receive a degree of Christian upbringing you can still cut yourself off from God and break all ten commandments If you are baptised and receive absolutely no Christian upbringing there is still something inside you which is protected by love and hungers for peace and goodness.
If you are not baptised in infancy you will still hunger for peace and goodness but you will be strangely and horribly defenceless before evil.
Baptism in infancy does not make your mind up for you but it really does protect you from evil.

What has baptism done for you?
Whether you are an adult or an infant, when you come to be baptised you will be asked what you want of the Church and you or your Godparents will answer, Faith. Then you will be signed with the sign of the cross. You will hear the Word of the Lord for the first time and water will be poured over you in three separate gestures, to bring you into the heart of the love of the Truth. Finally you will be anointed with perfumed oil as the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to you.
For real friendship there is one absolute essential: equality. The Lord wants our friendship and since we can’t get up to his level he came down to ours. Baptism is the first step to meeting him. But it has an almost indescribable sidewise effect, too; I am no longer “just me” I am part of a collective person. The Church is not so keen on the translation “We believe” for the opening of the Creed, not because where faith is concerned - we are not essentially plural, but because our pluralness, our collectiveness makes up one complete person in the Church. “I believe” - that “I” is all of us together.

What Henry VIII has to say
In 1521, at the age of thirty [and still a Catholic gent with one wife] Henry wrote his brilliant Defence of the Seven Sacraments. It is not just a polemic, well-aimed at Luther, it contains inspiring and sometimes moving insights into the beauty of the Church. Pope Leo X was thrilled with it and gave “this most potent, prudent and Truly Most Christian King” the title of Defender of the Faith.

The Prophet Zechariah says: Living water shall flow out from Jerusalem... Don’t these words show us a prefigurement of Baptism, which is simply water flowing from the Church, cleansing us from both original and actual sin? The Prophet does not call this ‘dead water’; no, he calls it living, to show, I believe, that the concealed power of God infuses life into an element of the earth. I do not presume to analyse, nor am I curious to dissect the way in which God gives grace to the Sacraments, for his ways are truly inscrutable. But I do believe... that he imparts his spiritual power by the Word of God.
Henry VIII

What the the Catechism says
1276 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” [Mt 28:19-20].
1277 Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism.
1278 The essential rite of Baptism consists in immersing the candidate in water or pouring water on his head, while pronouncing the invocation of the Most Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
1280 Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptised person for Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated [cf. DS 1609 and DS 1624].
1281 Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfil his will, are saved even if they have not been baptised [cf LG 16].
1282 Since the earliest times, Baptism has been administered to children, for it is a grace and a gift of God that does not presuppose any human merit; children are baptised in the faith of the Church. Entry into Christian life gives access to true freedom.

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The Seven Sacraments
2 Confirmation

Changed by the Spirit
Noel Streatfield [who wrote “Ballet Shoes” and many other children’s books] was an Anglican and the daughter of a Bishop - a disadvantage with which, thankfully, Catholics are not normally afflicted. Her father was committed, learned and genuinely devout. His three daughters were brought up at the beginning of the Twentieth Century with a more than Catholic austerity. Lent was excruciating. When invited to the birthday party of another child, they were not allowed to eat anything but bread and butter. Unfortunately even that had been sprinkled with hundreds-and-thousands. The youngest sister, burdened with artistic scruples, came home, flung herself on her knees and lisped, “I have sinned against the Holy Ghost....”
Noel grew up a rebel with set teeth, and her social behaviour was accordingly. It deeply distressed her father. After one crashing example of misbehaviour he came to an awesome conclusion: she was so bad that her Confirmation must be anticipated.
Noel quotes this as an example of her father’s uttermost unworldliness and daftness. Yet curiously enough, after her Confirmation her behaviour does change. Her cousin, shell-shocked and tortured, comes home on leave from the First World War. Noel is his support in his mental agony and she knows that when his leave expires, he will return to the Western Front and to death. He does. The event marks and shapes her life.

Heart unto heart
Many theories govern the age at which the Sacrament of Confirmation is administered. Greek rite Catholics receive it with Baptism and the Eucharist as babies. Confirmation belongs with Baptism. But it is [or should be] delayed until it is something to which the recipient can really say yes.
The sign of Confirmation is the laying on of hands; the gift it brings is a deeper indwelling of the Spirit. Receiving Confirmation I acknowledge my place in the family of the Trinity and the society of the Church. Baptism came down on me, as it were, in a vertical shaft of light through Confirmation. I reach out to my community with the Spirit’s gifts. These patterns of love form, in my life, a cross which marks me out for service.

What Henry VIII has to say
When Henry wrote his Defence of the Seven Sacraments in 1521 Pope Leo X received a copy ‘with great joy’ and prayed that the Lord would ‘confirm him in his holy purposes’. The fact that Henry fell off considerably from his first fervour does not lessen the accuracy of his Catholic Theology!

For my part, I do not think that Christ, who prayed for for St Peter that his faith should not fail and who placed his Church on a firm rock, would allow her for centuries to be deluded by completely vain signs regarding merely earthly things into imagineing that they are sacraments if they aren’t.
If it [the Sacrament of Confirmation] is not written down [in Sacred Scripture] yet those who were present handed it down by word of mouth... Are we to believe that the Church having so many and such great teachers and evangelists and also the Spirit who inspires Truth has rashly invented this Sacrament and placed her hope in a totally meaningless sign? Or would we do better to believe that she learned these things from the Apostles and from the Spirit of Truth?
Henry VIII

What the Catechism Says
1316 Confirmation perfects Baptismal grace; it is the sacrament which gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds.
1317 Confirmation, like Baptism, imprints a spiritual mark or indelible character on the Christian’s soul; for this reason one can receive this sacrament only once in one’s life.
1318 In the East this sacrament is administered immediately after Baptism and is followed by participation in the Eucharist; this tradition highlights the the unity of the three sacraments of Christian initiation. In the Latin Church this sacrament is administered when the age of reason has been reached, and its celebration is ordinarily reserved to the bishop, thus signifying that this sacrament strengthens the ecclesial bond.
1319 A candidate for Confirmation who has attained the age of reason must profess the faith, be in the state of grace, have the intention of receiving the sacrament, and be prepared to assume the role of disciple and witness to Christ, both within the ecclesial community and in temporal affairs.
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The Seven Sacraments
3 Eucharist

Sea change
Janet Davis found herself coming round in hospital. She had not expected to come round at all. She had not even wanted to. By her bedside someone had placed two lighted candles, their flames wavering in the uncertain focus of her dilated pupils. There seemed to be a lot of people around her bed muttering something in chorus. She closed her eyes uncomprehendingly. An antiseptic hand rested on her forehead and she opened her eyes to see a white wafer-like something held before her. A firm, official, masculine voice said “The Body of Christ” and the antiseptic hand said gently, “Open your mouth, dear”. She did. And the murmuring voices went on around her as she slipped into a curiously restful sleep.
In the bed opposite, another Janet Davis, Legion of Mary, SPUC Secretary, recipient of the Bene Merenti Medal, slept on undisturbed. Davis is a common name in North Wales. Janet is a common name anywhere. The real Roman Catholic Mrs Davis came through her operation successfully [thank God!] even without benefit of the sacraments. The unbaptised suicide in the bed opposite woke up to a very different world from that in which she had taken an overdose.
This is a true story. “Janet” later received the sacraments in a more usual order - and [but maybe you have guessed] became a nun.

People of God
We are dimly aware that all religions nominate men [and sometimes, women] to perform priestly functions. But what the sacraments, the Lord’s great works of art, have done for us is to make us a priestly people, formed literally into one person in the Church; the Body of Christ.
We are always juggling with words like laity, priests, seculars, religious, ordained and non-ordained but we are one Body in Jesus - one whole person in whose body, the hands, feet and heart may function differently - but will never work in isolation.
We are not “just like every one else”; we are a consecrated people, a people set apart for the service of God; a people of praise. When we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ we are taking a dangerous risk. We will literally, truly and actually, never be the same again.

What Henry VIII has to say
Christ turned the bread into his flesh before he gave it to the Apostles to eat. So they receive not the bread that he took but the body into which he had turned the bread. It is like this: suppose one takes a seed and then presents to someone the flower that had germinated from that seed. You would not be giving the thing that you had first taken [even though in the ordinary course of nature the one may become the other] it is in like manner that Christ, by a great miracle turned the bread which he took in to his own body.
Henry VIII The Defence of the Seven Sacraments 1521


What the Catechism Says

1406 Jesus said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live for ever;.... he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and,...abides in me, and I in him” [Jn 6:51, 54, 56].
1407 The Eucharist is the heart and the summit of the Church’s life, for in it Christ associates his Church and all her members with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving offered once for all on the cross to his Father; by this sacrifice he pours out the graces of salvation on his Body which is the Church.
1410 It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity [cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651].
1416 Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the Unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
1419 Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints.

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The Seven Sacraments
4 Reconciliation

Remembering to forget
You only remember a tiny fraction of all that you see and do - about 2% of your actual daily input. [Just turn round in the room in which you are sitting and try to give an accurate list of what is behind you!] There was a distinguished Russian mnemonist - a man who remembers things professionally. He suffered from over 80% recall; for example, he could involuntarily remember all the car numbers in a street as he passed, and the faces of everyone he met in the supermarket. It was a tremendous burden to him, and every year he used to make a pilgrimage to the river Dnieper and mentally make an enormous bundle of all his unwanted memories and dump them in the river in the spiritual consciousness that the ever flowing waters would carry it away.

Untied Burdens
The symbolic burden also featured in that classic piece of Catholic cinema, “The Mission”.
The repentant slave trader, Robert de Niro, hauls the tools of his trade up the appalling jungle mountain. One of his Jesuit brothers, moved by the unbearable sight, hacks off the bundle. Resentfully, the penitent re-attaches himself to his sins until he can reach the Indios whom he has exploited and killed, and it is they who throw his burden into the river.
If you are a Catholic you probably didn’t read Pilgrims Progress as a child. But Pilgrim, too, carries his burden which is struck off him at the foot of the cross, and rolls into the tomb beneath.
That is what the sacrament of Reconciliation does.
Jesus did not die for the past - he died for the future. Today’s futile cruelties were all known, in their despicable insignificance, on the Friday before Passover in AD 33, and they have been carried away as by a river.

What Henry VIII has to say
In writing his “Defence of the Seven Sacraments”, Henry, naturally, consulted his theologians and scholars, including St John Fisher and St Thomas More, but he does not write his arguments with the elegance of the great Humanists, but in the pugnacious Latin of an outdoor sportsman. In 1521, when he wrote these words, he was still frequenting the sacrament of Reconciliation. Perhaps he remembered them as he died....
Who, I ask you, exhorts anyone to imitate the penance of Judas, that is, to be sorry about what he has done but to expect no forgiveness? Who would see any point in telling us that we should pray for the remission of our sins, if he did not also tell us that pardon is promised to the penitent?
What is more frequently preached [by the Catholic Church] than the clemency of God the Almighty, which is so tremendous that he mercifully offers it to all persons who are willing to reform their lives?
“When a sinner turns from his sins he shall be saved” [Ezek 18]. Have you not read that the woman taken in adultery was sent away, forgiven; that the prophet, King David, was pardoned although he was not just an adulterer but a murderer, too; that Paradise was given to the thief on the Cross even though he had no opportunity to make atonement for his sins?

What the Catechism Says
1485 ‘On the evening of that day, the first day of the week’, Jesus showed himself to his Apostles. ‘He breathed on them and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ [Jn 20:19, 22-23].
1487 The sinner wounds God’s honour and love, his own human dignity as a man called to be a son of God, and the spiritual well-being of the Church, of which each Christian ought to be a living stone.
1489 To return to communion with God after having lost it through sin is a process born of the grace of God who is rich in mercy and solicitous for the salvation of men. One must ask for this precious gift for oneself and for others.
1491 The sacrament of Penance is a whole consisting of three actions of the penitent and the priest’s absolution. The penitent’s acts are repentance, confession or disclosure of sins to the priest, and the intention to make reparation and do works of reparation.
1496 The spiritual effects of the sacrament of Penance are:
-reconciliation with God by which the penitent recovers grace;
-reconciliation with the Church;
-remission of the eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins;
-remission, at least in part, of temporal punishments resulting from sin;
-peace and serenity of conscience, and spiritual consolation;
-an increase in spiritual strength for the Christian battle.

The Seven Sacraments
5 Healing

Yearning Love
Our sisters are producing a painted silk stole for a wheelchair-bound priest’s Golden Jubilee. It shows in pictures, this story:
Like the deer that yearns for running streams, my soul yearns for you, my God. At the foot of the mountain is a well. On its rim is a jug. The well is the Church; the waters it holds are the seven sacraments. The jug is our free choice - we can dip it into the well and drink, or we can die of thirst. The deer is setting out on a winding track up tremendous mountains. Waterfalls cascade down the mountain’s side. Above, the Spirit hovers, offering grace and life. On the highest mountain’s topmost peak is the temple of Heaven, the source from which the waters flow. Water cascades down the temple steps falling on to creation. Inside the temple is the Cross - the spring from which the sacraments flow.
The stole will be quite a work of art when it is finished, but that is nothing; the sacraments are God’s great works of art. He crafted them in their beauty from words of power, using signs and symbols. All the sacraments are sacraments of healing but this is so in a unique way. It is not only the continuation in the Church of Christ’s healing presence in the Gospel, it is the final healing that restores life to the dead.
For many centuries this sacrament was principally administered to the dying. It stood for the final healing from sin and death that will be ours - if we choose - when our lowly bodies, as St Paul calls them, are raised up to life in Jesus’ glorious body.

What Henry VIII has to Say
This sacrament, simply because it is a sacrament, does not promise health, merely to the body, but to the soul - in a sign that is manifested in the body.
Therefore, although the Apostle James tells us that the sick shall be healed by anointing and by prayer, and Christ, himself, says that these signs shall accompany those who believe: “they shall lay their hands on the sick and they shall recover,” we can still observe that sometimes the healing is given and sometimes it isn’t.
Yet those [St James and Our Lord] who promised these things do not deceive us. For whatever they may have said regarding these bodily things, we all know perfectly well that the body, as such, on its own, does not and cannot last forever. No, it is in the spirit that these things are to be understood, because the spirit lasts forever.
Henry VIII

 

What the Catechism Says
1526 “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” [Jas 5:14-15].
1529 Each time a Christian falls seriously ill, he may receive the Anointing of the Sick, and also when, after he has received it, the illness worsens.
1532 The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects:
- the uniting of the sick person to the Passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church.
- the strengthening, peace and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age;
- the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of Penance;
- the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul;
- the preparation for passing over to eternal life.

Henry’s Last Words
It is not enough to understand the Faith - you need to live it. And Henry, who really did understand it, did not live it. Towards the end of his life he had it made treason to prophesy the king’s death; and for treason one was hung, drawn and quartered. Naturally his doctors were very reluctant to tell him his last hour had come. Hesitantly it was suggested he might like some spiritual help. He replied that God would have mercy on his sins “though they were greater than they be.” They offered to get Cranmer to hear his confession [Cranmer was after all, still an ordained priest and Henry was a baptised Catholic] Henry said he supposed they could, but he would prefer to “take a little sleep, first.” He never woke up.
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The Seven sacraments
6 Ordination

Forever’s a long time
Sr Isabelle and Sr Athene were enjoying a break in the rare Welsh sun, discussing the Catechism. “You have no idea,” Sr Isabelle said, “how difficult I find the concept that three of the Sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination - impart what is called a ‘character’, to the soul.”
“Well,” said Sr Athene,” a mite flippantly, “perhaps the Risen Body of a priest is equipped with built-in Risen Vestments....”
Sr Athene’s family lived in Holland when she was a small child. One of the fellow dwellers in the flats of a big old house where they lived was a Rabbi.

“My father made friends with him over the coal delivery. Jacob spoke excellent English and Daddy, wholly inadequate Dutch. We used to see him on weekdays in a black suit and what I thought of as a Cowboy hat. Sunday was his day off - as it was for my father who was an atheist. I heard my father tell my mother that Jacob had ‘been a padre’ [which meant nothing to me] had lost his belief in Jesus Christ, but not in God in general, had married a Jewish girl out of the camps [this was 1960] and had shopped around for a synagogue liberal enough to accept him - he knew Hebrew already. His little wife had died with his first baby.
“On Sundays Jacob swapped his religious suit for jeans and a polo shirt and shoved his ringlets behind his ears.
“Towards the end of our stay we wanted to go to Vollendam, the touristy place, and Daddy invited Jacob. There was some sort of road diversion and we found ourselves out in the dyke-crossed countryside. We were stopped by a knot of people in the road in front of a bridge. We got out to see if we could do anything. There was a man lying on the road. The doctor attending the man explained rapidly to Jacob that the man was dying and wanted a Catholic priest. Could he drive to the neighbouring village and bring one?
“I could only see Jacob’s back. He knelt down on the road beside the man and heard his confession, gave him absolution and prayed with him till he died about twenty minutes later.
“I was only seven, and none of this did I understand - then. I only knew it spoilt the day completely, and Daddy, who tolerated Rabbis but not Priests, never spoke to Jacob, again.”

What Henry VIII has to say.
I believe, with St Augustine and St Gregory, that the sacrament of Ordination compares with Baptism. The Seal of the Holy Spirit is impressed on the soul by God Himself.
For a character [the quality God gives to the Priests’ soul in ordination] though they may stain it with vice, and turn it from white to black, from perfect to imperfect, from purity to corruption, yet they can never remove it in any manner which would make it unrecognisable at the Day of Judgement where those with this sign will be visible to the whole world to be the flock of him who imprinted that mark upon them.

What the Catechism says
1551 This priesthood is ministerial. That office which the Lord committed to the pastors of his people, is in the strict sense of the term a service. It is entirely related to Christ and to men. It depends entirely on Christ and on his unique priesthood; it has been instituted for the good of men and the communion of the Church. The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a ‘sacred power’ which is none other than that of Christ. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and servant of all. The Lord said clearly that concern for his flock was proof of love for him.
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The Seven Sacraments
7 Marriage

How not to have six wives
Henry VIII on the Sacrament of Matrimony

What do you call a man with six wives? Answer: [Well, the end of the word is right], an optimist.
When Henry VIII wrote his only book “The Defence of the Seven Sacraments” in 1521, he was a mere thirty year old and still happily married to Queen Catherine. The Pope, Leo X, superlatively pleased with this top notch piece of catechesis, imparted every imaginable blessing on Henry. “You shall rejoice in the Lord,” wrote Leo, having just bestowed the title of Defender of the Faith on him, “who is the giver of all good gifts, for leaving such a perpetual and everlasting monument of your glory to posterity, and showing others how, if they would aspire to such a title, they may proceed after it, following the footsteps of your Most Excellent Majesty, whom with your wife and children, and those who shall yet be born to you, we bless with a bountiful and liberal hand....”
Henry knew about marriage [even before he got divorced and ‘widowed’, so frequently] and he writes about it with tenderness and insight. In his list he places it at number five, before the sacrament of Ordination. But we will let him speak in his own words.

What Henry VIII said
Marriage is the first of all the sacraments. It was celebrated by the first of humankind [Adam and Eve] and honoured with our Saviour’s first miracle [at the wedding of Cana]. The church believes it to be a sacrament instituted by God, given by Christ, passed on by the Fathers of the Church and handed on, as such, to us.
The people of God have always seen something more in marriage [than the mere social event of their Gentile neighbours]. You can see how the Apostle Paul teaches everywhere that the marriage of man and woman is a sacrament, as image of the union of Christ with his Church.
Paul makes this the principal reason why a man ought to love his wife, so that he might be like the sign of Christ of whom he is a representative. And he prefers this as the motive, rather than the common humanity shared by male and female, which in itself is sufficient to excite love.
Our God, a generous God, leaves nothing out, and he has from his bountiful providence given grace to the state of marriage. This grace is such [Oh, Henry, why didn’t you listen to yourself!!] that if a person does not fight against it, but keeps faith inviolably with his spouse, he shall not only be unstained by marriage but will grow in grace and nearness to God. Without God’s grace I would not find anything deserving honour in marriage. Nor do think that Christ would have been present at a marriage if it had [even then] not been a vehicle of grace. But I see the miracle that he did [at Cana] tells us that the insipid water of the sexual desire is, by the hidden grace of God changed into the wine from the best table.
But why should we look for so many proofs in a thing so abundantly clear, especially as the text, “What God has joined together let no man put asunder”, covers everything. O the admirable Word, which none could have spoken but the Word made Flesh. It would have been enough if God, in his bounty, had only joined our first parents. But now we are taught by the Truth himself, that those who are lawfully married, are not united by the mere rash ceremonies of men, but in the invisible presence and through the unseen co-operation of God himself.
Therefore it is forbidden that anyone should separate those whom God has joined together.
O Word, as full of joy and awe as it is wholly admirable! Who would not be glad that God takes so much care over marriage that he is not only present at it but presides over it.
We must surely understand that there is something more sacred than the continuation of the human race, which God does through marriage. For, if in scripture, God is called a Bridegroom and the human soul a bride, there is certainly a relationship between God and the soul of which the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage is the sacrament and the image. This same love, by which man and woman are made one spiritually in the holiness of marriage, is the sacrament and sign of that love by which God is made one interiorly with the human soul by the infusion of his grace and the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Henry VIII !!!!!!

What the Catechism says
1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life.

 

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2000 December

TIDINGS OF TY MAM DUW
THE YEAR OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST
2000

Loving greetings to all our friends, old and new, far or near in this great and longed-for Jubilee Year. It is strange to remember how last year it seemed incredible that it was almost upon us, after our years of looking forward to such a milestone in salvation history. And to remember the wild rumours and fears with many people expecting the world to come to a sudden end, or our civilisation to be brought to nothing by the 'Millennium bug'. We meanwhile got on with our own homely and happy preparations to celebrate the birth of Christ.
We did not worry our heads about 'signs in the heavens' and only once went gazing star-wards hopefully - but to no avail! This was in November when scientists had predicted a display of thousands of shooting stars, supposed to be the most spectacular for 33 years. Unfortunately it was raining for most of the night, and at midnight after we had sung Matins, Sr Joanna was only able to indicate to us the region of the sky near to the constellation Leo where they could have been seen in clearer weather.
Our Advent carol service was exceptionally well-attended. We sang with full voice to the glory of God - and were not the only beings to do so in the dark December days! Friends had given us a Lizard canary (bright yellow with mottled brown markings) which we named Chi-Chi, and which has turned out to be a Carouso of the first degree. On Easter morning he sang his heart out non-stop for three hours to greet the Risen Lord!

As Christmas came ever nearer we devoted what time we could to the always joyful and exciting activity of creating cribs. The choir one this year was lovelier and larger than ever, its many scenes arranged in tiers to a height of about 12 ft. Among new figures was one of Our Lady as the Immaculate Conception, and another on the sanctuary wall representing God the Father in glory. We had also been given an 'optic fibre' flower which we had transformed into Moses' burning bush, made especially effective by its play of ever-changing bright colours.
The crib in the Peace Chapel in the cloister made by Sr Beatrix and Sr Judith was also very beautiful. Our wooden statue of the Infant of Prague was the Christchild, dressed in new white garments in a garden setting. It recalled not only the old English carol "King Jesus hath a garden made of divers flowers", but also the Garden of Eden where God walked in friendship with His people at the dawn of human history. There were overtones too of the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ was to suffer such sorrow in order to restore us all to the new eternal Garden of God at the end of time.
Another cloister crib portrayed the spiritual 'internet' set up by the birth of Christ, one far surpassing in extent and efficacy the technological wonders of today's world. Because of His birth as man, the human heart of Jesus, charged with divine love, is the source of life and love for each and every person in every time and place. It is also the central source of spiritual power which links us with each other and all created beings, beyond the limits of earthly time and space. A connecting web, crocheted from thick silvery wool, was set against a black background, with starry points where the strands met each with a person's face on it. These included photos of Dear Mother and Dear Ima, people of many nations, times and creeds, and several well-known figures, from John Bradburne to Cardinal Hume and Henry VIII! The pulsating heart of the central figure of Christ, from which all the web strands radiated was made from the flashing light of an old musical Christmas card that had been given in.

Christmas Eve was a wonderful occasion for us all. The image of Christ as the door to salvation, healing and eternal life permeated the entire Vigil which culminated in a glorious midnight mass. In spirit we were in Rome with Pope John Paul II as he solemnly opened the special 'Holy Door' in St Peter's Basilica to inaugurate the great Jubilee Year.
We had erected our own 'holy door' in the middle of the choir. Its arch was formed from the metal framework of a garden trellis, and it was decorated with symbols of the other main churches where holy doors being thrown open at that time.
The Vigil included a very lovely 'Rainbow Dance' recalling God's covenant of unfailing mercy with Noah and the entire human race in ages to come. Seven Sisters, each carrying a flag of a different colour took part in it, with Sr Amata bearing a large flag with the Logo of the Jubilee Year.
Towards the close of the Vigil, at the time the holy door was being opened in St Peter's, we passed silently in single file under our own archway, each holding a large lighted candle and pausing for a moment to say a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for God's blessings in the past, sorrow for our own failures and those of the world Christ died to save, and entrusting ourselves anew to Him in faith and hope at the dawn of the new Millennium. We then renewed our baptismal promises aloud together, and also our vows as Poor Clares. There was for us all a strong awareness of God's unfailing love and of entering with joy a new stage of our earthly pilgrimage.
Another important theme of the Jubilee Year is 'Indulgence', a term expressing the complete gift of God's mercy - a mercy that is free, received as a grace that cannot be earned, and universally available, through the saving power of Christ to all human beings in every time and place. m e only condition is sorrow for one's sinfulness and the readiness to accept God's forgiveness. As Catholics we believe that the Church has received from Christ the power to forgive sins in His name. On special occasions, such as this Jubilee Year, she offers us an objective guarantee of this forgiveness for sins, and for the disorders that follow in their wake. It can be obtained daily on one's own behalf or that of others if we express our openness to God in specific ways suggested by the Church authorities.. So every day we have individually been offering this 'gift of mercy' for specific people by name, so enabling our friends and benefactors, and those dear to them, living or dead, to be caught up in the unfailing stream of God's love and life-giving mercy. We have also remembered many famous and infamous characters of past and present centuries, placing them all in the merciful hands of God.
We had an unusual and joyful surprise on Christmas Day when Dear Mother announced that our 'family' had increased by two members! Instead of finding little gifts for each of us, as she generally does with great love and thoughtfulness, she had decided to give us a special big one for the Jubilee Year, which is a time when all God's people are urged to show special concern for the needy and underprivileged. In this spirit Dear Mother had undertaken on behalf of us all to sponsor two tiny tots in the Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand, where Fr Brennan, a Redemptorist priest, does much wonderful work. He cares not only for orphans of all faiths, but also for handicapped children. In recent years he has undertaken as well the rescue of young street children who are so easily caught up in the tourist 'sex trade' for which Thailand is notorious. Dear Mother gave each of us a little 'manger-basket' containing photos of 'our' two children - Wasan, a boy aged 18 months, and Pornsiri, a girl 14 months old. The commitment is an ongoing one - we receive regular updates about the children's progress, and any cards or letters we send them are made into a book for them to see when they are older - it is a way of helping them to understand that somewhere out there in the big wide world there are people caring and praying for them.
Holy Innocents was as always a day of simple fun together, playing in honour of the Lord who came to earth as a little child for love of us. After a festive breakfast with much talk and laughter we spent an hilarious time blowing bubbles outdoors in the cloister courtyard!

New Year's Eve of course brought the worldwide celebrations to usher in the new century and Millennium. We made our own minor contribution to the festivities as a reminder that all time is a a gift from the hand of our bountiful Creator God. A BBC camera crew came at 8 pm to take some shots of us welcoming in the 21st century Poor Clare style.
They filmed us singing St Colette's prayer "Blessed be the hour" to a dance sequence recalling the Annunciation, lighting our own home-made Millennium candle, and dancing the 'Sunrise Benedictus', a gospel canticle hailing Christ as the 'dawn from on high'.
These sequences were shown between other items a few hours later in the BBC global transmission by satellite. We were much relieved that they were not broadcast 'live' as we were all coming down with impressive colds, and only a cup of water passed surreptitiously from hand to hand out of range of the camera averted a general outbreak of spluttering at inappropriate moments!
After the crew had gone we returned to choir for quiet prayer before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. At midnight, to the general popping of fireworks in the neighbourhood, we rang the big choir bell for a full five minutes while we sang the Te Deum. This was followed by the joyful singing of the Christmas Office of the Passion, written by St Francis. After closing the tabernacle we gathered on the lawn outside the community room, from where we had an excellent view of the fireworks in the valley below.
Our Christmas recreations during the 'coffee days' took many forms. One afternoon Sr Damian revealed to us the history of the sandwich, her talk being followed by Dear Mother's practical demonstration of the art of making toasted sandwiches of all sorts. Needless to say, her lesson called for full audience participation in their consumption! We got through six loaves between us, and a great time was had by all! Another enjoyable event, this time in historical but not too serious vein, was a play by Sr Judith on episodes in the unfolding history of Wales (from the longstanding tradition that St Paul visited these parts, through 31 scenes of human and historical interest, till the arrival of our first foundresses in 1928). With ten of us playing about eight parts each, there was still a sizable audience!
As always at Christmastide we had looked forward to an ultra hilarious recreation from the joint pens of Sr Juliana and Sr Elizabeth. The one this year was set in Ireland, where Mr and Mrs Noah had landed after the Flood. They had sent their taciturn grand-daughter off to kiss the Blarney stone, as without the gift of the gab she was unlikely to find a suitable husband. By the end of the tangled adventures of all the characters, the prince and his lady were duly married by St Patrick, with St Brigid assisting at the ceremony - and so all ended happily ever after!
Our final Christmas recreation was by way of consolation after we had dismantled our cribs and restored the house to its more usual simplicity. It took the form of a day under the guidance of Rosie and Tilly (Sr Pia and Sr Damian). With them we visited Germany, the Caribbean, Russia, France and Poland, sharing their special Christmas treats, hearing more about their celebrations, learning their carols, and enjoying games, folk-tales and puppet plays from the different countries. During the informal Vespers which ended the day we sang some of the new carols we had learned, and prayed for the people of the places we had visited.

As recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, Jubilee years were ones in which the earth itself was given a time of 'rest' from cultivation. Our own vegetable garden has been intensely cultivated now for over a century and it seemed a fitting time to leave the soil fallow to restore its natural energy and fruitfulness. We generally spend much of the growing season sowing, planting, weeding and harvesting our vegetables.
So this 'sabbatical' year also enabled us to spend extra time together in prayer and reflection. This in turn has helped to strengthen and develop the vital bonds uniting us as a spiritual family.
Sr Clare's Platinum Jubilee in February was a grace filled occasion for us all. It is hard to believe that she took her first vows 70 years ago, before any of the rest of us were even born! Archbishop Ward whom she has known since he was a babe in arms was the chief celebrant at the joyful mass, and many people were present, including a number of her family. Seven of us, holding lighted candles decorated with flowers, stood in a semi-circle beside her as she renewed her vows loudly and clearly in Dear Mother's hands. Despite her 94 years, Sr Clare didn't even want a rest afterwards, and within two days she had personally written to more than 70 friends and relatives to thank them for their gifts and good wishes - all in her firm clear writing which puts that of most of us to shame!
In March we accompanied the Holy Father on his memorable pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a spiritual one of our own, Ty Mam Duw style. In solidarity with him we celebrated Midday Prayer in our own 'Church of the Holy Sepulchre' (the chapter room) accompanying the prayers with appropriate slides, readings and hymns. In the afternoon we spent a while on traditional arts and crafts of New Testament times and this was followed by a solemn 1st Vespers of the Annunciation. At the end of the day Dear Mother blessed each of us with water brought us from the River Jordan, and we really felt we had been there and back again!
As far as possible as the year unfolded we tried to unite ourselves in spirit with the particular Jubilees being celebrated in Rome for people from specific walks of life. One such occasion was the 'Jubilee of the Consecrated Life' in February. For this we invited the Sisters from other Orders in the diocese to join us in a special service of thanksgiving for our vocation as religious.

Our closer contact with the active Orders has been a special source of joy this year. In September we were delighted to share in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, here in our chapel, of Sr Sheila O'Hara LSU, whose present ministry is in the Peace and Justice Centre at Wrexham,
One event which we hope will become an annual tradition was a special votive mass in March in honour of St Colette for expectant mothers and small children. It was a very moving ceremony during which those present were blessed with a relic, part of her veil.
Our bees, alas, have been something of a headache and a heartache this year. We lost several large swarms from our hives and now have only one hive left with a queen. If they do not survive the coming cold of winter there will be no honey for us next year! Alas!
On Easter Eve we had a wonderful three-hour Vigil, full of colour and movement, and rich in imagery. Sr Christiana and Sr Lucia, in very long billowy cloaks of shimmering blue and green, which they swirled and waved up and down, represented the walls of water at the crossing of the Red Sea, and the rest of us passed between them on dry land, with Sr Elizabeth on her crutches last but not least!
(The month before she had cracked a bone when she fell while trundling rubbish to the bonfire. It was not the same leg which forced her to spend weeks in plaster last year, but still took weeks of patient resting to mend - not an easy situation for an ardent gardener like herself. She was warned to watch her step thereafter and not risk breaking a third leg!
A major milestone in the life of our Diocese of Wrexham this year is the Pastoral Congress at the end of October, when delegates, young and old, from all walks of life will meet to discuss a wide range of topics which affect the life of the Church, and to discern the way forward to a deeper faith and fresh vision for the Church of the future here in North Wales.
Dear Mother has been asked to represent the contemplatives of the Diocese, and so spent time gathering the views of each of us here on the subjects for discussion - these include ecumenism, family life, liturgy, justice and peace issues, etc. She also visited the Carmelite Sisters at Dolgellau to discover their insights on the various topics, and was delighted at the opportunity to meet the Sisters on their home ground.
A high point of the year was the Diocesan Mass at Llangollen attended by 3000 people from all over the diocese. Almost all the parish priests were there to concelebrate the wonderful sung mass with Bishop Regan The banners which formed a backdrop to the podium were colourful and varied. They included a large central one about 15 ft high which we had been asked to paint for the occasion. It showed the Risen Lord flanked by Sts Francis and Clare, with some of our Welsh martyrs and representatives of God's people in Wales throughout the centuries.
We may have let our vegetable garden lie fallow this year, but this did not mean that we did let the grass - or the weeds - grow under our feet until 2001! There was still all the soft-fruit to harvest. and for once we had time to prune our 300 blackcurrant bushes properly and clear all round them before couch grass, buttercups and bindweed got the upper hand. The cloister garden, tended by Sr Joanna, is a constant delight to the eyes, and the water-lily planted two years ago has now well and truly established itself in the small pond. It was a joy to watch its exquisite pale pink blooms unfolding every morning to the sun' rays, and then slowly closing again in the evening.

Two generous gifts from close friends will be lasting memorials to the graces of this Jubilee Year and to their kindness. One was a very lovely set of outdoor Stations of the Cross, given by Marianne which have been erected on the lawn outside the infirmary - the realisation of a long cherished dream.
The other is a simple standing cross of white marble which will be the focal point of our small cemetery. This was given by John Jennings whose father has been a stalwart friend of our community for many years, doing vital building repairs and alterations whenever the need has arisen. His son is following in his steps, and the cross will be a daily reminder to hold them and their families in our hearts before the Lord.

Many who have visited us at Ty Mam Duw will have fond recollections of our dear Sr Judith, who was portress for many years and the welcoming face of the community to all who came to the front door whether simply to bring used greetings cards for recycling, jumble or jam jars, or in personal or family distress. A fourth generation 'Kiwi', who came to England at the age of 21 seeking God's will for her life, she always inspired us by the quiet cheerful courage with which she had become a Catholic and later a Poor Clare so far from her homeland. It was during a pilgrimage to Lourdes that she had first realised that God was calling her to our particular gospel way of life, and she always had a special love for St Bernadette who, like her had suffered from asthma since childhood. The only one among us to make headway in learning Welsh, she was much drawn to all things Celtic, a leaning inherited from her Scottish Highland forebears who immigrated to New Zealand in the 19th century. After coming to Wales from the London monastery in 1982 she delved with great enthusiasm into Welsh history and wrote two very readable novels about Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and his beloved wife Eleanor. Last year, as part of her personal preparation for the Jubilee Year, she wrote another book, "Nahum's Town" which centred on Our Lord's ministry in Galilee as recorded in the gospel of St Mark.
In April 1999 she had undergone with her usual quiet trust in God a major operation for cancer. This was followed up by a long course of chemotherapy. As recently as June this year she seemed to be in better health than she had known for a long time, and we were delighted to see her looking so well. Unfortunately her condition started to deteriorate rapidly towards the end of that month, and we learned with sadness that her treatment had in fact been ineffective.
Sr Judith inspired us all with her joyful serenity and her readiness like St Francis to welcome 'Sr Death' and God's call to follow Christ along the path of suffering in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.
The nurses who came every day to help us care for her were a wonderful support, and were themselves strengthened in their demanding vocation by our own faith and positive acceptance of the final weeks of someone so dear to us. So often when they came they found some of us by her bedside praying with and for her, and singing songs and hymns, many of which Sr Judith had written. Dear Mother, who has had years of nursing experience says that she has never before seen anyone in her condition who smiled so much. Sr Judith eventually made her 'Passover' to heaven hand in hand with Sr Clare on her feastday. There was no final struggle, only gentle tears of joy at the last at meeting her beloved Lord and Saviour.
In death her skin became ivory white and she looked so peaceful and beautiful, very like a younger sister of St Bernadette, whose picture lay on her pillow. The requiem mass was a time of sadness for us all at parting with her, but even more one of joy for her sake - and at the knowledge that we have yet another Sister all the nearer to God, to remember us in His presence. We wrote a booklet on her life and final weeks to give to the friends who attended the funeral. Many people found it immensely moving, containing many quotes from Sr Judith's own writings and poetry. May she rest in peace, and may we all meet merrily again with her in the true 'land of the living.'
So it has been a year of many blessings for us all, much laughter - and shared tears too. At present we are preparing for the silver Jubilee in November of our dear Sr Juliana, which will involve a week of very varied and colourful celebrations within the community.
We would like to thank you one and all for your generous and loving support in so many ways in the course of the year - and for sharing with us your own joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. You can be sure that we are holding you and all those dear to you in our hearts before the Lord as we serve Him in the daily round of prayer and praise by day and night, which is our privilege and our joy. May He be with you always, guiding and watching over you as the coming year unfolds.
With loving prayers now and always,
your Poor Clare Sisters at Ty Mam Duw

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2001 December, Wrecsam People, The Fifth King

Christmas Issue

The Diocescan Congress was all about evangelization. We spoke of what older cultures have to give us. Here is a reflection on what we have to give older cultures.

The Passage of the Fifth King

In the land Economically Successful Islands in the East from which I set out [I might as well here admit that you call my home Japan] the compass has four points. In the south, across the open sea, is the Red Phoenix. It amazes me that even in the strange lands through which I have passed the Phoenix is well known, though none of us have seen it. The east point of the compass is the Blue Dragon, our continental neighbour. To the north, to the Black Turtle, we do not go. But for the West, the White Tiger, we feel a permanent fascination. Not a holy fascination. In my cosmography Heaven and the Mountain of the gods and the Isle of the Blest (in so far as they can be said to exist) are out amidst the Red Phoenix. But the land of youth is in the White Tiger.

I am a middling sort of magician, and not more than middle-aged, but the farther west I go, the older I feel. For we are an old people and our culture is old; old enough for us to write commentaries on the commentary on the Great Commentary. Commentaries are a certain sign that you are old and that your civilization is dying from within.

Initially, I was not following a star - I was escaping from a fossil. My desire to reach a land where people are still young was less urgent than my wish to flee from the necropolis of wisdom. I am not sure, incidentally, that I saw a star, as I said. I am only a minor magician. There may have been stars to see, but I was looking for one in a mirror.

I set out with my reluctant, bemused servants, on imported Mongolian ponies, and we crossed many countries, most of them uncomfortable, none of them clean. I had not known that there was so much peeling paint on the earth. Jungles I find oppressive, and deserts, though magnificent in their monotony, pall rapidly.

It was at the end of the last desert that I came across the Shepherd with One Sheep. He wore an unkempt beard and his sheep smelt opprobriously of wool.
The other shepherd

We sat in his cave in the light of the oil lamp, the One Sheep at his feet.

“In the beginning,” he began, “all humanity was equal. They were all children of the first parents. They recognized God intuitively from sticks and stones - from his presence in things created. They recognized him within themselves in the voice of conscience. This, all men had - and still have. But God became selective. He chose one man. We shall call him Abraham (most people do). Above the sticks and the stones and the voice of conscience, God spoke to him. Of Abraham’s sons, God chose one son and to the sons of the son of that son, he continued to speak - not in the voice of conscience, but in the voice of Revelation. God created a community of faith and poured creative power into it. Their virtues and their sins became magnified and multiplied but their culture was alive with the living stream of God’s grace. Therefore, one might say, we are alive and you are, in principle, dead. Since the choice of Abraham nothing ‘new’ has come into your culture. You have the sticks and stones and the voice of conscience and all that can be built on them - railways and computers and Noh plays and microchip processors and bonsai and Bunraku and biochemical engineering. But you do not touch the singing, shrieking, living stream of grace that is God’s Revelation. The Maitreya will not appear for you at Lourdes indicating fountains of healing; even your Future Buddha is in the past with your ancestors. You are old with the oldness of the world. We are young with the childhood of God.”
“Well,” I said, “I didn’t need to travel all this way to discover that.”
“No,” he said, “you have travelled here to join yourself to that youth and childhood, so as to be ancient no more. We, the spiritual and actual descendants of Abraham, are coming to the end of twenty centuries. We deceive ourselves that we are getting old, we write Commentaries, we neglect our gift, we barter our birthright for a mess of microchips, we are become timid and fall down in servile fear before the Old Cultures. We are criminally unaware that we have the gift of their completion and resurrection.”
“Do those who have drunk the old wine want the new?” I asked. “Don’t we say that the old is better?”
“The old,” he said, smiling, “belong elsewhere.”

Then he took his lamp and I followed him down the winding passages of the caves, through great shrines of weeping stone and up into a straw strewn stable.

I felt myself to be a surprise. Now, I have not been a surprise for twenty centuries - especially to myself. I looked at the Child, and I thought seriously of all that an old culture has to offer. I thought of the music of the Shakuhachi that is full of memory and moves my heart. Yet to a stranger, it is a strange thing. I thought of stones in the sand, of the memorial beauty of ritual and order and life and honour and dignity and my wife in a black silk kimono bowing to the ground as she offers me the evening rice. I sighed, it was only a little sigh, but it disturbed the Child and it opened its eyes and looked at me.

So now you must not be surprised if I never go home again. Everywhere now, is an exile - and everywhere is truly home.