The Newman Banner
In the final image of his poem The Dream of Gerontius Newman depicts the soul under the flowing waters of a crystal stream awaiting new life. Curiously enough, C.S Lewis borrowed this image to describe the death of King Caspian at the end of The Voyage of the Dawntreader.
In this picture, Newman gazes into the water at his own risen reflection, his shroud unwrapping itself under the waters. The autumn trees behind him, reminiscent of the thicket of trees preceding Dante’s descent into hell with its shadowy gateway, have become a forest of angels spanned by a rainbow, “...and with the dawn these angel faces smile....” of the Pillar and the Cloud.
The portrait of Newman - deliberately shadowy on earth and particularly vivid in heaven - was worked from several photos of him in his middle years when the full impact of what seemed a life of almost relentless failure was born in upon him. Our artists printed the portraits - all full-face - onto transparantsies and superimposed them with the Millais portrait to capture the expression they were trying to define.
We unveiled this banner as part of last Advent's Carol Service and afterward someone whom we had never met before came up to the servery hatch in the hall and said to one of the Sisters who was pouring tea, "Thank you, it has helped to take away my fear of death."
As part of the meditation, the Sisters flipped the banner up the other way. If you do this you will be able to see that this life is the shadow and eternity is the reality.....
The picture is painted on silk and is intended to be hung with the earthy image at the top (as in the picture above). For the full impact, you need to start about 15 metres away from it from it and walk towards it slowly allowing the reflection to dissolve into the two separate images. It remained in the sanctuary for the length of Advent and was turned with the heavenly end up after the first week. It has the very healing message that this earth is only a shadow and the true reality is what we shall be in the eyes of God. As it said on Newman’s grave stone: Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem - from shadows and fantasy into truth.
The banner is now the property of the Birmingham Oratory.
Advent Carol Service: November 29 2008
Dr Newman's Christmas
This is not the entire text - or the music which included some new settings of Cardinal Newman's words. We quote from the introduction and some key sections from the narration!
Doctor Newman’s Christmas
Lead kindly light, the hymn whose words were written by John Henry Newman, has been sung on state occasions, at the funeral of an American president and even on the first manned space flight! Dr Newman began life in the Anglican Church and ended as a Roman Catholic Cardinal! He was a profound intellectual who simply argued himself into the faith.
The Church has made this servant of God, who died on the anniversary of St Clare in 1890, a Venerable, and, a few weeks ago, such relics as we have of him were moved into a place of public honour at the Birmingham Oratory, the usual preliminary of a beatification.
This came about, in part, because a severely crippled Deacon, the Rev Jack Sullivan, trying to rise in great pain from his hospital bed in Boston, USA, shouted out, “Cardinal Newman help me!” Deacon Sullivan stood up, walked down the ward without pain and dismissed himself from hospital two days later!
Cardinal Newman is not only the great theologian who wrote the Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent, he was a person who cared deeply for others.
The Songs and carols that we have chosen this evening are either written by Dr Newman or would have been amongst those popular Victorian Carols of his day.
Reader 1. It is the eve of the first Sunday of Advent.
2. As we journey towards Christmas we are invited to do two things.
1. To wait and remember.
2. We remember the Lord’s birth and we wait for his coming in glory.
1. We wait in joyful hope for time to cease.
2. We are not waiting for our friends or our enemies to drop a bomb.
1. Or for two galaxies to collide.
2. But for that absolute and arbitrary ending if time which the Word made flesh revealed to us.
1. Advent is the time of birth and death.
2. We began this celebration by visibly recalling the bridesmaids awaiting the return of the king.
1. Wake O wake with tidings thrilling.... the bridegroom comes. In Dr Newman’s own words:
N. The bridal train is sweeping by,—Angels are there,—the just made perfect are there,—little children, and holy teachers, and white-robed saints, and martyrs washed in blood; the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. She has already attired herself: while we have been sleeping, she has been robing; she has been adding jewel to jewel, and grace to grace; she has been gathering in her chosen ones, one by one, and has been exercising them in holiness, and purifying them for her Lord; and now her marriage hour is come. The holy Jerusalem is descending, and a loud voice proclaims, "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him!" but we, alas! are but dazzled with the blaze of light, and neither welcome the sound, nor obey it,—and all for what? what shall we have gained then? what will this world have then done for us?
Year passes after year silently; Christ's coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as He comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven!
And then, according as we have waited for Him, will He recompense us. If we have forgotten Him, He will not know us; but "blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching … He shall gird Himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if He shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants." May this be the portion of every one of us! It is hard to attain it; but it is woeful to fail. Life is short; death is certain; and the world to come is everlasting.
1. John Henry Newman was a great thinker, a profound theologian; the Lord’s birth as a man is what lifts up our hearts and draws us all from east to west to make the journey home to the City of God............
Reader 2. John Henry was not just a man of inner vision who saw the greatness of God.
1. And Christmas was not, for him only a time when Christ was born; Christmas marked the stages of his pilgrimage.
2. It was Christmas day 1848 when he returned from Rome after his ordination to the Catholic priesthood.
1. - and it was Christmas Day 1889 that he was able to say his last Mass before his death the following year.
2. But it was the Christmas of 1827 that became a turning point in his life. His beloved sister Mary, just nineteen, the very sight of whom brought spontaneous happiness to others, had a seizure at dinner on January 4th and died that night. Sixty years later, he still could not recall her death without weeping.
1. Mary was the member of his family most like Newman, he wrote that even to visit the countryside familiar to them both was to see her embodiment in every tree.
2. Mary’s death was followed by that of his closet friend Richard Hurrell Froude, of whom it has been said that had he lived, he and not Dr Newman would have been the greatest convert of the 19th century.
1. But Mary and Hurrell found themselves where “those whom the world looked up to, will be brought low, and those who were little esteemed, will be exalted.”
2. And Newman was left to reflect “what a veil and curtain this world is.”
1. It is a place of shadows, and Newman was beginning his pilgrimage out of the shadows into reality.
2. It is light that banishes the shadows and Newman began to learn that it was a kindly light or better that He - the Lord - was a kindly light.
1. In that light, the faces of Mary and Hurrell and all those he loved still shine........
1. Following the light of the Lord led Newman into a deeper knowledge of truth.
2. His great message as a scripture scholar anda teacher is that truth has a home in each of us, it lives in our conscience.
1. And Newman’s conscience led him reluctantly.
2. Millimeter by millimeter.
1. To the gates of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
2. He was not troubled by the political goings on in Rome.
1. Or the human dynamics of the Church and its way of conducting its business on earth, which led a fellow Catholic, Hilare Belloc, to say “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine - but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight!”
2.He was worried that she did not have enough saints.
1. (He was not always very observant,)
2. only the 20th century has had more saints than the 19th!
1. And that it had tampered with pristine purity of the early Church.
2. So he set out to write a book called “The Development of Doctrine.”
1. And having written it he so convinced himself, that he joined the Church.
2. - This is the Dr Newman of the encyclopedia.
1. It is part of his long life of suffering and pain for which the Church is in the process of trying to beatify him.
2. But through all this his love shines out, he loved children and ran a particularly kindly school.
1. He became part of the order of one of the most hilarious saints the faith ever produced, Philip Neri,
2. Who re-converted Rome in the 17th century with Palestrina, processions and picnics.
1. Dr Newman played the violin in a school orchestra and could be transported to heaven by Beethoven -
2. - It takes all sorts. -
1. Poor and sick people always found him at home.
2. 20 thousand letter writers got answers -
1. - and he didn’t even havea laptop!
2. He mourned the loss of Charlie the Mower Pony!
And wished ‘rest to his mane in the limbo of the quadrupeds.
1. Above all he was a friend, especially to the fathers and brothers of his community.
2. Even when British Cardinals found him a challenge he could write:
1. “Never was in such happiness as I am now…….I am surrounded by my dear friends.”
2. Years later when he went to Rome to receive his Cardinal's Hat, Leo the 13th asked after his community and how many had persevered, John Henry wept and Leo gently stroked his unruly white hair and begged him not to cry.
1. Dr Newman’s whole life was an Advent and its true and final Christmas was heaven......
1. Dr. Newman was a shy and affectionate man with a genius for friendship. A friendship that most deeply affected his life was with a woman....
2. who was also called Mary.
1. It did not start well.
2. She was one of his objections to the Catholic Church.
1. He thought we thought too highly of her.
2. May I share a story? One of our sisters was out begging and the kind benefactor who was driving her round, took her out to a crowded restaurant for lunch, and presently, a couple joined them who turned out to be a Presbyterians. They got on well and feeling encouraged, the man enquired, “I’ve never really known any Catholics to ask, but why do you people have statues and pictures of the Virgin Mary all over your churches?”
Our sister asked, “Do you have any photographs of your mother up at home?’
“Sure,” he replied. “She was a great woman.”
“Good,” Sister agreed. “But the Mother of God was before photography - so we have to do the best we can!”
“Is that all it is?” he asked incredulously.
“No,” she replied, “but it goes a long way! In John 19:27, Jesus did say she was our mother. But the thing is, she was His mother. Don’t you think that makes her quite a bit out of the ordinary?”
1. Doctor Newman thought so, too. To him she was more than a mother, she was a friend, and as Francis Bacon....
2. (Shakespeare’s contemporary, not the late artist of the same name)
1. ....said, “Friendship perfecteth man.”
2. Of Mary, Newman wrote:
N: “There was a divine music in all she said and did—in her mien, her air, her deportment, that charmed every true heart that came near her. Her innocence, her humility and modesty, her simplicity, sincerity, and truthfulness, her unselfishness, her unaffected interest in everyone who came to her, her purity—it was these qualities which made her so lovable; and were we to see her now, neither our first thought nor our second thought would be, what she could do for us with her Son (though she can do so much), but our first thought would be, "Oh, how beautiful!’”
2. With Mary’s friendship we pray her words as we listen to her magnificat, which is interspersed with carols that were composed or became popular during Newman’s life time.
1. The Magnificat is a miniature of the entire good news - it is the Christian way of life. We reflect in images and in song on tonight’s gospel.....
Our prayers take their inspiration from well known words of Dr Newman.
N: Everyone who breathes, high and low, educated and ignorant, young and old, man and woman, has a mission.....We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random; we are not here, that we may go to bed at night, and get up in the morning, toil for our bread, eat and drink, laugh and joke, sin when we have a mind, and reform when we are tired of sinning, rear a family and die. God sees every one of us; and has an end for each of us.
R1: Lord, show us each day your way for us
Response: Spirit of the Lord come and pray in us
N: Growth is the only evidence of life: to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often!
R1: Lord you came to give us life - to the full. Send us your Spirit and chage us into a new people of dynamic hope.
N: If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.
R1: Give us courage, Lord, to believe and live your good news.
N: Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.
R1: We pray for those who cannot make up their mind about the truth; lead, Kindly Light!
N: The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.
R1: We thank you Lord for the gift of friendship - it is one of the treasures we can carry into Eternal Life
N: Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.
R1: Lord, give us the grace, tonight to set out on the pilgrimage of love to your Kingdom.
N: Christ is already in that place of peace, which is all in all. He is on the right hand of God. He is hidden in the brightness of the radiance which issues from the everlasting throne. He is in the very abyss of peace, where there is no voice of tumult or distress, but a deep stillness--stillness, that greatest and most awful of all goods which we can fancy; that most perfect of joys, the utter profound, ineffable tranquillity of the Divine Essence. He has entered into His rest. That is our home; here we are on a pilgrimage, and Christ calls us to His many mansions which He has prepared.
R1: Behold, O Lord, we come! hear us as we pray:
who art in heaven...
DR NEWMAN’S NIGHT PRAYER
May the Lord support us all the day long,
till the shades lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in His mercy
may He give us a safe lodging,
and a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
Reader 1 In 1890 the bridal train swept by the Edgebaston Oratory, carrying Dr Newman along with the other little children, the holy teachers and the saints robed in white. And his body was laid to rest in the grave of his dear friend and fellow oratorian Ambrose St John. On the monument, as the Cardinal had requested were the words: “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem: out of shadows and images into truth.......
Mini Synod of the Word
To keep the Church company, we had our own Synod of the Word on November 2nd 2008.
Reading our Father Benedict XVI’s homilies and interventions in the refectory, sharing and discussing the initial presentation of Cardinal Ouellet and the moving testimonies of the Synod Fathers.
We enthroned the Word with Bishop Felemou, were in awe at the wonderful work of Archbishop Esua and the Holy People of God in the Cameroons. We looked into the mirror of the word with our Holy Mother St Clare in her words quoted back to us by Archbishop Damasceno Assis, kneaded the Word like bread with Sr Antonieta of the Daughters of St Paul
Like Latvian Bishop Justs we cannot forget the witness of Father Victors who spent ten years in prison for refusing to tread on the Holy Word of God..
With Bishop Virgilio David we remembered the humility of the Word who descended to the heart of our darkened world, as depicted in the painting by one of our sisters above.
We asked for the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit inspired by Patriarch Laham of our Antiochene brothers and sisters and, following their tradition, we placed the open bible over the head of each sister to pray for healing and grace.
With Cardinal Pell we try to spread the Word through XT3 of which our enclosed contemplative community is part. Inspired by the Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, we asked the Word to teach us and speak and act in us through humble service to others. With the Sudanese faithful we tried to express the Word without written words and our sisters told the stories of the Lord in drawings, drama and dance.
Then, with our beloved brother, Bishop Tagle of Imus Philippines, whom we had already encountered in videos of the Canadian Eucharistic Congress, we try to continue, daily, to listen to the Word and live it in our poverty.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
A guest on the road to Emmaus
We have prayed daily for Archbishop Pius in the years in which the Church in Zimbabwe has carried the cross of unearned hatred, torture, slander and lies in an unceasing effort to live the Gospel of mercy and peace.
We feel that the Archbishop making the long hike to our off-the-beaten-track community is an expression of gratitude to all the contemplative women and men who share in prayer the cross and resurrection of the Lord’s love for his Holy people in Zimbabwe and through out Africa. We are deeply conscious that this is his last pilgrimage before returning to his homeland.
We invited friends from CAFOD and some of the local communities working for justice and peace were able to be present. We all have different moments of vividness. Frau Marianne had taken Mother Damian to collect the Archbishop from Chester station. Her car - working perfectly on the outward journey - manifested every red light on the return home and refused to proceed at more than 10kph bucking like a bronco in the dark, on the crowded rush hour roads. Sr Agatha and Sr Maria who get up before the community at five conscious of His Grace already up and praying in the Extern Chapel. At the Homily of the mass the Archbishop talking of the vertical and horizontal of the cross and stretching his arms out to explain what he meant. Diving in to his pocked to get his pocket Bible. (Owning a pocket Bible is a sure indication of belonging to what John Paul II and Benedict XVI have called the Civilization of Love! You are so excited by the Word of God, you cant be without it.)
“...I love passionate people. I’m a passionate person myself!”
“...I have been asked not to speak on political issues: in Zimbabwe the Gospel itself is a political issue....”
“In 1997 £1 sterling was worth Ten Zimbabwean Dollars now it is worth 10,000 million Dollars.....Four million people have left Zimbabwe.... even 50 years ago we had ambulances now we have wheelbarrows. I out of every 4 adults is HIV (I am not HIV! It is one of the slanders uttered against me!!!!!!) There are 38,thousand child heads of families and over a million orphans. Life expectancy is now 37 for men 34 for women, their is 95% unemployment...... I could go on for a whole day!”
“...I wake up in the middle of the night and I know I cannot stay here, living comfortably in a cloud castle. I am well fed - in Zimbabwe hundreds of people are dying, now.”
“ ...I am not permitted to speak; but I can be there. Even if all I can do is be there and die.”
“...but if we do not speak the stones will cry out.”
“...I have always loved St John of the Cross. I believe with him, that your life is the most important to the Church and I want to make it increasingly my own. In the 28th stanza of the Spiritual Canticle, St John of the Cross says:
‘An instant of pure love is more precious in the eyes of God and the soul, and more profitable to the Church, than all other good works together, though it may seem as if nothing were done....When the soul, then, in any degree possesses the spirit of solitary love, we must not interfere with it. We should inflict a grievous wrong upon it, and upon the Church also, if we were to occupy it, were it only for a moment, in exterior or active duties, however important they might be. When God Himself adjures all not to waken it from its love, who shall venture to do so, and be blameless? In a word, it is for this love that we are all created. Let those men of zeal, who think by their preaching and exterior works to convert the world, consider that they would be much more edifying to the Church, and more pleasing to God (not to mention the good example they would give!) if they would spend at least one half their time in prayer, even though they may have not attained to the state of unitive love. Certainly they would do more, and with less trouble, by one single good work than by a thousand: because of the merit of their prayer, and the spiritual strength it supplies.’
“When I was in the seminary I thought how great it would be to get to the Spiritual Marriage........Its uphill work and I am still struggling and I am sixty years old!”
“Whilst I have been here I have made a retreat with the Benedictines at Ampleforth and I was with the Carthusians at Parkminster for twelve (?) days. Ahhhhh! It was enough!”
“I do not think I will be able to return to Britain - but we will be pilgrims together....”
We sang vespers with the Archbishop and at the end Mother took the veil of St Colette and blessed him with it. As on St Colette’s feast, for gentlemen and children we simply place the veil round their shoulders. As Mother did this we sang Holy Mother’s blessing. You can see this in the Photo. You can also see Our Lady from the Shrine Chapel. I suppose in out hearts we wanted to surround His Grace with all good protection!
Archbishop Pius had blessed us all at the end of Exposition after Midday Prayer and Mother Damian took him round choir after Vespers to say good bye to each sister. He came to Mother Francesca and took her hands, knowing her to be our Abbess Emerita he asked, “How long did you bear the burden, Mother?” (meaning how long had you been in office) and beloved Mother answered 21 years. He kissed her hands.
His Grace told us a little about his own mother - who is now 90 and how she became a Catholic for his sake when he went to the seminary. (She had been a Methodist)..........
It was very hard to part. Please join us daily in praying for Zimbabwe and for His Grace for the Bishops of Zimbabwe and for their elected and unelected government.
Monday, 29 September 2008
As the leaves are falling, we are beset by ambiguous feelings. The year is coming to an end and life is slowly dying down, maybe this is the time for stocktaking. If this were the end, where would it leave us? It can be a very melancholic and depressing awareness, that our days are counted and perhaps there is not much time left to achieve what we are aiming at. But autumn is also the time of plenty, the earth has given of its fruit and it is a time of thanksgiving. Not only have we gathered the fruits of the earth in our own lives; the fruits of charity and patience. Maybe, when we look at the trees, we discover that underneath the falling leaves there are tiny buds, the sign of hidden, but certain, new life.
Friday, 26 September 2008
Mother Damian's Silver Jubilee
From Mother Damian's Jubilee service
The Renewal of Vows
Mother Mary Damian of the Incarnate Word.
Lord, you have called me by my name.
Mother Vicaress (Sister Elizabeth)
The Lord has called you
and set you apart.
The Lord is your light and your shield
and he is your Saviour.
Gaze on him,
and participate in his life
that in you he may make all things new.
(as the candle bearers come forward and surround the Jubilarian)
Light your lamps for the Bridegroom is here:
go out to meet Christ the Lord
Look up to heaven, dear one,
and take up the cross and follow Christ
who walks ahead of us.
For whatever tribulations
may come our way here below,
we shall enter through him into his glory.
At all times
pray and watch
and carry out the work
you have so faithfully begun.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
I, little Sister Mary Damian of the Incarnate Word
wish to follow the life and poverty of our Most High Lord
and to persevere to the end,
and I vow to God, before the Blessed Virgin Mary
and I promise you, dear Mother,
to observe, for the whole time of my life
the most Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
by living in obedience,
and in chastity,
in the form of life which the Blessed Francis gave
to our Blessed Mother Clare
and Pope Innocent IV confirmed,
after the example of our Holy Mother Colette.
And I vow to observe enclosure.
And I, on the part of God the Almighty,
if you are faithful to what you have promised,
promise you life everlasting.
The Celebrant comes forward to bless the crown.
Bless, O Lord, this crown of flowers +
May it be for you, Mother,
a reminder of the Lord’s years of fidelity to you
and a pledge of that crown graven with holiness
that awaits you on the last day
if you go forward joyfully and swiftly
on the path of perfect poverty
in persuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.
The Celebrant retires to his place.
(holding up the crown)
Be faithful, beloved, unto death
to him to whom you have promised yourself
for you shall be crowned by him
with the garland of life.
Our labour here is short,
our reward everlasting.
The greater the promise,
the greater is the merit
and the greater the salvation
which will be given us as a pure gift
by the Father in his mercy,
by the Son in his passion,
and by the Holy Spirit the fountain of peace,
of sweetness, of love and of all consolation.
Choir (as Mother Vicaress crowns the Jubilarian)
If you suffer with him you shall reign with him,
if you weep with him you shall rejoice with him,
if you die with him on the cross of tribulation
you shall possess a home in heaven
amid the splendour of the saints, and your name shall be called glorious.
Jubilarian Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,
let it be done to me as you have said.
Sr Elizabeth's Ruby Jubilee!
26 sept 2008 sr eliz's ruby
The Photos show
1 The entrance of the Mass - Mother and Sr Elizabeth crossing the sanctuary. Father Gareth by the shutter to the dining room, where the overflow congregation were seated.
2 Party supper in Garden. Cooks off shot!!!!
3 Sr Elizabeth with some of her community presents.
And an excerpt from the service
The Prayer of Thanksgiving
The Celebrant comes forward to pray.
Father, we thank you for your faithful love,
we praise you for your covenant of steadfast love and faithfulness with your handmaid
Forty is the number of the covenant.
Noah was saved by you, Lord, for forty days in the ark of protection.
for forty years you cared for your chosen people
in the wilderness
and you brought them to the fruitful land
of your faithful promise.
For forty days and nights Moses prayed on the mountain
and you, Father, revealed your commandments to him.
For forty days the elders were on the mountain in your presence,
eating and drinking before you.
Isaac was forty years old when he received his bride of the covenant
and Joshua was forty years old when Moses chose him out of all Israel.
For forty years the land had peace after Gideon arose to judgment.
Jonah preached repentance for forty days and was heeded.
David reigned for forty years and God promised him a house.
When your Word was revealed in your most holy Son, Jesus,
he fasted forty days and nights
before beginning his public ministry
and after his glorious death and resurrection
showed himself to his disciples for forty days.
You, Father, are our protector and redeemer,
you are the author of life and freedom;
bless your handmaid who has served you these forty years.
You have supported her in her poverty from the riches of your hand.
And surrounded by your love,
even a thousand years seems like a watch in the night.
We thank you for all you have given
to your handmaid,
and the gift you have made of her to her covenant family
and to the whole Church.
Through Christ our Lord.
The candle bearers place their lights before the altar and return to their places...
The Lost Clareshare!
Due to circumstances beyond our control (as the BBC used to say when it was very young and people often fell over the cables!) this Clareshare, describing amongst other things, Sr Elizabeth's epic Jubilee, never reached its destination. Here it is for posterity
Clareshare for July 2008
Peace and goodness was the greeting an old pilgrim gave to people as he walked through Assisi. This was at the time of St Francis’ birth and people remembered the old man afterwards as a sort of herald to Francis. Peace is not created by the absence of war, but it might be achieved by the absence of recrimination. In one of John Paul II’s last world peace messages there was a definition of peace that forms part of our sisters’ daily prayers: There is no peace without justice and no justice without forgiveness.
It is worth sitting and taking these four words: peace, goodness, justice, forgiveness and looking at them, praying them and using them as a mirror for one’s own life.
The one thing we have in common with Oscar Wilde and Leonardo da Vinci is a lack of consistency in output! Clareshares appear irregularly not because there is nothing to put into them, but because we live to fast to write about it!
June was devoted to preparing for and living through Sr Elizabeth’s Ruby Jubilee. Those of you who have visited Ty Mam Duw for Retreats and Franciscan Prayer Days will know Sr Elizabeth from behind the servery shutter. She is also our Vicaress in her free moments! After a week spent in retreat Sister emerged to the glory of her Jubilee Mass and there followed the week of a lifetime, not only for Sr Elizabeth. But for all of us.
Gloria in excelsis Deo
For the celebratory Mass, Sister sat on her throne-like choir stall in the centre of choir and after the Homily, Mother Damian came froward and Sister renewed her vows, first made forty years ago when she was 19. Sr Elizabeth is a convert to Catholicism and was baptized and entered when she was 17. She chose for her jubilee card our Lord’s words to St Paul: My grace is sufficient for you. It is true!
As we said Amen! Mother Lifted up her jubilee crown and said in the words of St Clare and St Colette:
Be faithful, beloved, unto death
to him to whom you have promised yourself
for you shall be crowned by him
with the garland of life.
Our labour here is short,
our reward everlasting.
The greater the promise,
the greater is the merit
and the greater the salvation
which will be given us as a pure gift
by the Father in his mercy,
by the Son in his passion,
and by the Holy Spirit the fountain of peace, of sweetness, of love and of all consolation
It was more like an anticipation of the Parousia, than a jubilee! Sister was surrounded with candle bearers carrying between them 40 candles on steel and glass stands decorated with flowers as the choir sang Clare’s words:
If you suffer with him you shall reign with him,
If you weep with him you shall rejoice with him,
if you die with him on the cross of tribulation
you shall possess a home in heaven
amid the splendour of the saints
and your name shall be called glorious!
Brighter even than the reflected earthly glory of lights and flowers was the loveliest of all the gifts for Sister’s Jubilee, an exquisite Monstrance for the reservation of the the precious body of the Lord under the form of bread, that we call the Most Blessed Sacrament.
This was the gift of Father Gareth Jones, celebrant at the Mass and was one of the two replicas of the incredibly lovely Oak of Mamre Monstrance made for the Sanctuary of Lourdes. This was but one of the many gifts for Sister. Not only did each Sister make Sr Elizabeth a present, but every guest, whether they knew our Sister or not seemed to have brought her a gift, from a Rose tree really called Sister Elizabeth to a pop up Narnia book! Not to mention a Papal Blessing!
C.S.Lewis writing are amongst Sr Elizabeth’s favorites and along with the archeology of St Peter’s, a liturgy workshop, special vespers and a barbecue, there was a Narnia game and Lewis’s Last Battle as a musical, whose libretto, songs and costumes were all home produced!
it took sister a week to recover and she then gave a thank you supper and presented each member of the community with a hand-crafted Missal cover.
We do not watch TV, but since being given the facility to see EWTN we have always tried to follow the Holy Father’s principal adventures, which have included the two previous World Youth Days. But Sydney was special! Through our invited involvement in XT3 we already knew a lot of people who would be there. It was thrilling to see Papa sail into Barangaroo, but even more stunning to think you would be getting the excited accounts of friends on the boat with him.
As well as preparing edited video’s of Youth day, Mother and Sr Yolanda collated material from the Quebec Eucharistic Congress. We have seen the Eucharistic Procession through the Streets of Quebec and look forward to listening to some of the talks and liturgies in preparation for Mother Damian’s retreat for her Silver Jubilee in August. Mother organized Sr Elizabeth’s Jubilee and Sr Elizabeth will repay the compliment by organizing Mother’s!
But before that happens, we will be keeping the feast of Our Lady of the Angels, the Portiuncula. This year we will keep it on the eve of the day, Friday 1st August at 6.30 pm.
You are so welcome to join us at this joyful Franciscan family occasion. St Mary of the Angels, was the first Church St Francis had. Here the Franciscans started out and Clare received the habit. The prayers for the Assisi Pardon, the Plenary Indulgence of the Portiuncula and the celebration of Holy Mass will be preceded from 5.30pm by an hour of prayer and chants, during which the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available
Of late, Indulgences a misleading name for a great idea have been making a gentle return to fashion and our father, Benedict XVI, has given them for a number of occasions, including most recently World Youth Day. If Luther could take such a profound objection to their maladministration, their rightful observance might be worth a second glance.
In St Francis' day, to obtain a plenary Indulgence - the remission of the temporal punishment due to sin - one had to make a lengthy pilgrimage or go on crusade. Francis wanted this beautiful spiritual gift to be available to the poor and the least, and he persuaded Pope Honorius III to grant it to his little Church of Our Lady of the Angels on the day of its consecration. The gift was subsequently extended to all Franciscan Churches. You can ask this gift for yourself, or you may offer it for someone you know is in need - living or dead.
The Assisi Pardon is a gift of the Holy Father, so we are asked to remember his intentions in our prayers. We pray the Creed, the our Father and a prayer to the Mother of God. We need to have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, reasonably close to the time and to have received the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Some of you would have to catch a boat to get here, but that need not stop you sending your prayer intentions (first name only, please) and one of us will offer the prayer for you!
If you live nearby, we have Adoration with midday prayer every Thursday from 12.00 to 1.00 pm. The size of the public congregation varies, but it makes a beautiful and restful midday oasis, full of that peace and goodness we are all longing for. Come if you can!
Vespers is at 4.30 daily and visitors are always welcome.
Mountain of tears
Pray for Zimbabwe. It is now the desert in the heart of Southern Africa. We have a friend and Claresharer in Zim, Cathy, who sends out a news sheet: this is not the political scene, but everyday events
“The ruination of ordinary lives and the suffering that people are enduring is utterly heartbreaking. Everyday holds tears and trauma and the most common phrase in our lives is: "We are in God's hands.".... This morning, as I write this letter, hundreds upon hundreds of people are crowded outside banks across the country desperately trying to withdraw their own money. This is because most shops no longer accept cheques and the Governor of the Reserve Bank has limited daily withdrawals per person to one hundred billion dollars. With one hundred billion dollars you can, today only, buy just three single blood pressure tablets. Or, today only, you can buy one copy of a local weekly newspaper and two small green onions. In my home town, even if you had the money, there is almost no food left to buy.”......
Some of you have asked for a picture of the Sisters. Here is one taken April 2008 with Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds, who came to give us a day of recollection.
The crib grows every year!
christmas 2007 crib john baptist
The Baptism of the Lord - John the Baptist on the river Jordon
With Joshua crossing the Jordan on the right and the dancers at the wedding of Cana behind him.
christmas 2007 crib elijah
Elijah - Old Testament type of John the Baptist, here seen being taken up into heaven on a fiery chariot and leaving his cloak to Elisha.
On the next platform is Adam and Eve expelled from Paradise, with below them the Old Testament Trinity. Below Elijah is Solomon and the Queen of Sheba
Mair Mam Duw
Mary Mother of God
Waiting under the porch to welcome visitors
1st December 2007
2007 CAROL SERVICE
Or part of it!
Reader 1 Welcome! Blessed be the hour! It is the eve of the first Sunday of Advent. We have come together to celebrate time. That is why we bless this evergreen wreath with its four candles, so that we can count the time to Christmas and, symbolically, so that we can remind ourselves that time is just that - temporal; it will come to an end.
If you concentrate and listen now you will hear the clock ticking in our choir (pause). Time is passing, and one day it will end: in glory and life - real life - will begin when time will stop pushing us around!
Reader 2 On the front gate it says ‘Poor Clare Colettines! Some of you come here for the feast of St Colette. St Colette was very much concerned with time and absolutely possessed by life. her motto was : ‘My sisters remember death. You cannot remember death if you are not alive! And you cannot live on this earth without time. And time has no meaning without eternity.
Colette wrote the prayer Blessed be the hour, that you have read in your program. This is how she came to do so.
Narrator Colette was a hermit to whom God gave a vision of the huge waste of human energy in war, greed and exploitation; in brutality, manipulation and broken relationships at every level of society. She saw her world; the 14th century of the hundred years war, the Avignon papacy, serfdom and the sale of men and states. But misery is the same in every age. It is always rooted in turning from the challenge of happiness and love that God offers us freely, to the the world of buying, possessing and defending our false illusions. It is turning from the civilisation of life to the culture of death.
To the 23 year old who saw all this, God did not say ‘start a revolution’ or ‘begin a war with a more worthy objective’. He said: go and reform the Franciscan Order - Go and reform the Poor Clares; remodel them on the Good news. And she did! Never think that one person can make no difference - or he might call you to do what Colette did!
It is near Christmas in one of the Poor Clare communities that Colette founded. There is a wall round the monastery and the the city. Outside the wall is a Burgundian army - the same army that sold Colette’s friend and contemporary, Joan of Arc, to the English. Colette has no side, she has founded monasteries in all camps. The defenders on the walls are alert for any movement out on the plain of Moulins and wary of any treacherous sign from inside.
That Poor Clare Colettines get up to pray in the middle of the night, is well known. They are better known for falling asleep at the wrong time than waking up to soon! But it does happen. What has woken the sister whose duty it is to ring the bell is hard to say, but convinced that she has overslept she runs down to the church without looking at a single clock and starts ringing the great bell (bell rung fervently) Unfortunately, it is nine in the evening . Unfortunately, to the defenders on the wall this is not a joke. Soldiers with spears and naked swords in their hands are running, shouting, down to Colette’s Monastery. They think she is signalling to the enemy. They think the enemy will be pouring over the wall. Colette and the sisters come to the great Door Colette raises her hand, unavailingly, to explain. Then, suddenly all the bells in the city begin to chime the hour ....nine, ten eleven, twelve. It is midnight, the Midnight of Christ’s birth. Colette kneels and begins to pray. The sisters and the crowd repeat her prayer after her.
Blessed be the hour
in which our Lord Jesus Christ,
God and Man was born.
Blessed be the Holy Spirit
by whom he was conceived.
Blessed be the glorious Virgin Mary
of whom the Incarnate Word was born.
May the Lord hear our prayers
through the intercession
of the glorious Virgin Mary
and in memory
of that most sacred hour
in which the Incarnate Word was born,
That all our desires may be accomplished
for your glory and our salvation.
O good Jesus!
O Jesus our Redeemer,
do not abandon us as our sins deserve,
but hear our humble prayer
and grant what we ask
through the intercession
of the most blessed Virgin Mary
and for the glory of your Holy Name.
Reader 1 Blessed be the hour. The poet who wrote the second chapter of Genesis describes creation as a living thing
Reader 2 “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up -- for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground, then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
Reader 1 In the beginning God created Time
and then he created Life
Reader 2 St Augustine said that, “The distinction between eternity and time is that without motion and change there is no time and in eternity there is no change.... Thus the world was not created in time but with time”.
Reader 1 Some sixteen hundred years later and, fortuitously, just 100 years ago, Einstein came to the same general conclusion. As he put it in his inimitable way: where v multiplied by t is the co-ordinate speed at co-ordinate time, t, and x, y and z are orthogonal spatial co-ordinates, Time, therefore, equals the sum of: the square root of 1, minus t, multiplied by v squared, divided by c squared, multiplied by d multiplied by t, which is the same as saying that time equals the sum of the square root of 1, minus 1 divided by c squared, multiplied by, dx divided by dt squared plus dy divided by dt squared plus dz divided by dt, squared, all multiplied by d multiplied by t. If you know what I mean.
Reader 1 (these were slide cues)
Time and life.
An hourglass galaxy
and the first two cells of the human mammal
The highly theoretical agglomeration of particles on earth’s orbit
and a three day old foetus
Blessed be the hour when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens
Blessed be the hour the first lichen adhered to the tepid rock crust
Blessed be the hour when life came into being
Blessed be the hour I was conceived
Blessed be the hour I was born
Reader 1 Blessed be the hour in which the Incarnate Word was born
What is the Incarnate Word?
Reader 2 “In the beginning was the Word.....and all things were made through him” (Jn1:1-3)
All things were made through Jesus, through the Word
Without Jesus, without the Word we wouldn’t even be here, neither would Mt Everest, orchids, sunny spells or plastic dustbin lids.
The world created through the Word “tells of the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) .
We are part of that created world, not only that, we are made in the image and likens of God, we too “tell of the glory of God” by our sheer existence.
If you have a conversation through an interpreter, the interpreter illumines, makes clear what would otherwise be beyond your reach.
Jesus is our interpreter, through whom we are given the created world, which helps us to understand God more.
Through Jesus, the Word, we are given an invitation to enter into dialogue with God and creation.
This invitation reaches greater depths when Jesus, the Word, becomes human like us. .
Through Jesus Christ the person and his mission and life on earth God’s plan for his creation is revealed in a unique way - through his words and actions he lives God’s will.
The prophets long ago, spoke of God’s will, God spoke through them to his people.
Jesus lives God’s will. Jesus is God’s word.
The apostles through their witness proclaim God’s will by pointing to Jesus.
Both the prophets and the apostles speak God’s word.
These words are united to Jesus - the Word - in sacred scripture - written under divine inspiration - the bible is the Word of God.
The scriptures bear witness throughout (New and Old Testament) to Jesus the Word.
This witness, this continuation of God’s will carries on in the Church. The Church proclaims the Word - and lives it - this will ultimately lead to the fulfilment of God’s plan for creation.
God’s revelation through Jesus and creation when preached in the Church can truly be called the Word and will draw us to God.
And its all in scripture! St Paul’s letter to the Romans Chapter 1.
“The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history, his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.”
Read Saint Paul
Letter to the Philippians
1 dec 2007
Read up for the Year of St Paul!
This is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover's life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
Excerpts from his letter to the Philippians in the Message translation - with cartoon illustrations. Straight of the local press:
Also now available:
• Clare the Bright Light Saint
• Round the Clock with St Colette
£ 1.00 each plus p+p
15 August 2007
Song of Songs
A community day of recollection on the Song of Song - at the end we sang it! The work of our musicians and artists: all holding residential Labour Certificates, see below!
11th August 2007
Feast ofSaint Clare
Our Annual retreat with Mother Damian and Sr Agatha on the saving meaning of work - at the end we all received this magnificent Certificate of Employment!
28 July 2007
Springs of Water bless the Lord
On our arrival here in Hawarden, we were treated to a conducted tour through the cloister. As the building had been erected in the days when wood was cheap and plentiful, understandably and sensibly the door frames had been constructed out of beautiful pinewood, showing a pale and dark grain in their finish. Imagine our surprise that midway, each door frame sported a rather protruding, sometimes rusty nail. To us, having learned the value of wood it almost seemed like an act of vandalism, which naturally prompted us to ask - why the nail? But before any answer could be offered to us we came to a door which not only had a nail but a Holy Water stoup suspended from it - light began to dawn.
This was the evidence for a beautiful old custom, much cherished, to help the Holy Souls in purgatory by blessing ones self with Holy Water on entering and leaving a room. Probably not many will remember this custom now, but perhaps it would be worth our while to reflect on the meaning of taking Holy Water.
From time immemorial Catholics have taken Holy Water on entering a Church, reminding themselves of their baptism. By making the sign of the cross and calling on the Holy name of the Blessed Trinity they prepared themselves having been cleansed in this mini-baptism to appear before the Real Presence of the Lord, which just leaves one with the question, should one - or should one not - take Holy Water before leaving the Church?
15 June or thereabouts 2007
Typical scenes from reorganising the Library
29th June 2007
Saint Paul (and Peter)
It was announced that the Holy Father, Benedict XVI was going to have a “Year of St Paul”. Well, it figures! As the Lord has had His Great Jubilee, St Paul and all the other Apostles will have their millenniums of birth coming up.
We took the announcement at face value, and artists sketched feverishly to produce a banner of St Paul striding purposely along with scrolls tucked in his belt and an avalanche of flame falling down from heaven. The flames suggest the descent of the Holy Spirit and Paul's well known text our God is a consuming fire. He is wearing the sandals of the Gospel of Peace and the two scrolls next to his heart indicate the old and new testaments
The artists working on this were living like II Corinthians - sleepless and dinnerless - to get it finished for the feast of St Peter and Paul, 29th June. They were still feverishly sewing the lining fifteen minutes before the opening of Vespers.
Our celebration began in that room in our house called Ephesus and we processed to choir, banner unfurled, singing a new St Paul hymn (slightly rap!).
The banner was run up the choir wall to a fanfare of flutes. We were sublimely conscious that at that very moment our father, Benedict XVI, in the Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls in Rome, was announcing the Year of St Paul.... Well. He was. He announced that it will begin next year, 2008, on this day!
The following Monday we hauled our banner down, amid muffled laughter, and put it away for twelve months!
10 July 2007
Take one three times a day!
This medication contains a basic teaching of Holy Mother Church, a description thereof and an application.
The best kept mystery
Many years ago I was commissioned by my Novice Mistress to impart some useful bits of information to my fellow postulant, newly received into the Church. Without any further hesitation I suggested we would talk about the Hail Mary. "No!" She said, rather firmly, "Tell me about the Blessed Trinity." I heaved a heavy sigh and said"It is a mystery." "Yes?", came the rejoinder "And it is such a well kept mystery that no one ever seems to talk about it." Stung by this rather shrewd observation I launched forth beginning with the procession from the Father which we call the Son..... or if you like the Father has an idea of himself..... it was plain to see that my listener was bored. After some prodigious yawning, she looked at me and said"What does it all mean to you?"
Never, ever have I felt so exposed and challenged! I became aware that I had never given it one thought - that my listener had put a finger on the right spot; which is to say: that a truth never reflected on remains unreal. I tried a few feeble explanations to no avail. We should have stuck to the Hail Mary!
And the lesson to be learned: make three times a day, a conscious effort to give glory to the Father, glory to the Son and glory to the Holy Spirit, because praising God is our mission here on earth.
2006 November, Newsletter
Tidings of Ty Mam Duw 2006
With the first signs of frost in early morning and with Advent coming up fast, it is time once more to share with all our friends the ‘Tidings’ of the main events, for better or for worse, of the past year. In the spirit of St Francis (and St Clare), we could perhaps describe it as one of ‘perfect joy’. As St Francis explained to Brother Leo, ‘perfect joy’ is when just about everything seems to go against you, and yet you can continue to keep smiling and sing God’s praises, knowing that He has the final word in every situation, and that His word is always one of love and new life.
On looking back, the year seems basically to have consisted of a series of visitations, in the negative sense of the word, rather like the ten plagues of Egypt. It was noticeable that as the size of the successive visitants decreased, the number of their legs increased! At the time of writing these afflictions fortunately seem to have ceased, so we probably need not fear a millipede invasion in time for Christmas!
In November we received prior notice of the coming of some professionals to give our house the once-over and ensure we qualified for what amounted to an official “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”! We realised ruefully that this would dispel our cherished hopes of a happily peaceful Advent. Our main concern however was for Dear Mother, who was still convalescing after an operation and needed relative peace and quiet. So we were very grateful when another contemplative community agreed to give her sanctuary in the meantime. Our visitors found their task more straightforward than expected and happily completed it ahead of schedule. The exception was the electricians, who came armed with a book of EU regulations several inches thick. It took them a good fortnight to check every possible appliance thoroughly, down to the smallest light-bulb in the bathrooms, together with every single power-point and electrical circuit within the enclosure and in the extern quarters. This meant that our life was rather a case of ‘from pillar to post’ on most days as we strove to keep from under their feet. The one place where we could gather without fear of interruption was the choir, except for the day when they were inspecting its wiring; so we spent as much time as possible there in prayer and praise with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Our Advent carol service went very well, despite Dear Mother’s absence and the fact that Sr Juliana, one of the chief ‘animators’ of the community in things liturgical, was greatly afflicted by back trouble; however she valiantly managed to accompany the hymns on her flute, with Sr Joanna doing very creditably on the omnichord. Sr Seraphina carried a six-pointed star as big as herself, its frame made from thin wooden slats, with hundreds of small white Christmas lights wound round it. It looked spectacular in the dark with the Magi following after it singing an Epiphany carol. There was also an exuberant shepherds’ dance, with six dancers all stamping around and clapping to very fast music, and ending by throwing their hats in the air!
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady is always a great day for us. She is the beloved patroness of the three Franciscan Orders, protecting and safeguarding our Gospel way of life. We had recently composed a hymn based on words of the prophet Zechariah; “I will surround you with an encircling wall of fire and will be the glory in your midst. Rejoice, daughter Zion! He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye. Yes! I am coming to dwell within the midst of you”. With its refrain, “Burn brightly, ring of fire!” we thought it would be ideal to sing for an outdoors procession right round the monastery invoking the protection of Our Lord and that of His Blessed Mother on her feastday.
We planned to light flares or candles, at regular intervals thus creating our own ‘ring of fire’, stopping at the four points of the compass to read excerpts from the four Gospels. The weather had been crisp and clear for several days, so we looked forward to a nice peaceful procession by starlight in the bracing night air. Far from it! The weather changed early in the evening and a storm blew up. But in the best Poor Clare style we refused to be deterred; so we set out in a variety of anoraks, raincoats and assorted more or less waterproof hats, with two of us trundling wheelbarrows containing candles and small votive lights in jam jars. Our song-sheets became limp and sodden within a few minutes, so we simply sang the refrain over and over, and shielded the gospel-readers with umbrellas when we stopped to proclaim the Word of God. Though many of the candles soon blew out, we managed to set up our protecting ‘ring of fire’ in the face of the raging elements, knowing that the Lord was looking down on us and smiling His approval of our efforts in the face of adversity.
Great was our joy when just ten days before Christmas, after all inspections had been duly completed, our Dear Mother returned to us, looking so much better with all the rest and tender loving care she had received from the Sisters she had been staying with. We were immensely grateful for the love they had shown us at a difficult time, and the appreciation was mutual, as they themselves felt they had benefited greatly from our Dear Mother’s presence and her deep spiritual wisdom. In fact they told us she was such a treasure that they would have liked to hold on to her for good, had they not understood how much we missed her presence here at the very heart of our Poor Clare family.
The next few days were spent almost entirely in constructing and erecting our planned cribs to welcome the coming Christchild. There was no time to set up our usual complex choir crib, which requires intricate planning. So this year’s was utterly simple, comprising a manger placed in front of the altar and surrounded by cyclamens. The one in the antechoir, starring the Infant of Prague, was made by Sr Beatrix and Sr Coletta. It featured a lovely selection of greenery and pot-plants decorating the actual shrine, a hanging floral basket on the wall, and on the walls too the words ‘Jesus’, Peace’ and Reconciliation’ traced out in laurel leaves. Also in the cloister was a crib made by Sr Agatha and Sr Damian on the theme of Christ as the Mercy Seat, the point where God’s love and forgiveness touches and heals our sinful world. Sr Elizabeth had painted the background setting to a crib for which Sr Pia had made figures of Mary and Joseph about 3 foot tall, carving the heads from balsa wood and articulating all the joints of the figures. This meant that they could be adjusted to any kneeling, sitting or standing position, holding the Bambino, or a lantern or suchlike.
The refectory crib, made by Dear Mother and Sr Joanna was simple and striking, on the theme of the World Youth Day at Cologne, “Come let us adore him” with gold and red hangings by way of background. Three tapestry crowns, embroidered by Dear Mother during her convalescence, represented the Three Kings, and Our Lord was represented by a large chalice and host; their shapes were cut from a big sheet of insulation polystyrene left behind by builders, and covered with material.
The noviciate crib by Sr Seraphina was on the theme of Christ as the Light of the world, and the surroundings of the nativity scene were shaped in the form of a large brightly burning candle. Dear Mother and Sr Joanna had also constructed a ‘tent of meeting’ in the cloister, where we could all gather midmorning during the Christmas days for a cup of coffee and share news from letters and suchlike. There was also a smaller inner tent, representing the tabernacle of the 40 years of desert wanderings, in which God was always present with His people, a foretaste of the Word of God, whom St John describes in his gospel as “pitching his tent among us”.
Just before Christmas we had a welcome addition to our community - of the wheeled, not human variety - a charming bright–red indoors scooter, the gift of generous friends. It proved an immense help to Sr Juliana, who was finding it increasingly difficult to get about. We blessed it with holy water and named it Vespertina. Many’s the time some of us have been tempted to hitch a lift as we were heading dinnerwards along the cloister rather belatedly and she has zipped past us at a spanking pace!
Our Christmas Vigil had a simple format like that of the preceding year, with the psalms, canticles and readings of Matins interspersed at frequent intervals by carols. It was followed by midnight mass, celebrated by Fr Aelred OFMCap who came from Pantasaph for it; he gave us a splendid sermon on the joy of realising the “mind-blowing” significance of Christ’s birth and His presence in our lives, whatever their ups and downs.
New Year’s Eve finished off 2005 with a flood in the laundry. Half a dozen Sisters took a hand in bailing out the water with dustpans and mopping up with cloths. Unfortunately some of the water leaked into the adjoining noviciate, and the crib there had to be moved.
Our New Year’s Vigil began at 10 pm; its theme was peace, and it was composed of readings from Pope Benedict’s New Year message for World Peace Day,. We had also set to music the final words of his homily at the Christmas midnight mass:
Where there is conflict, give birth to peace!
Where there is hatred, make love spring up!
Where darkness prevails, let light shine!
Make us heralds of your peace!
The Vigil included a very simple and effective retelling of the Fall of man, with Sr Elizabeth as Eve, sitting in hat and shawl on a small stool beside a pot-plant representing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent, about six feet long, was very convincing, its head attached by invisible thread to a long rod manipulated by Sr Joanna.
There were also slides illustrating the Beatitudes, as the sure path to peace, beginning with the much-quoted “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and ending with the least popular; "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven” (Matt 5:12).
In late January after a peaceful Christmastide which we spent simply glad to be together “at home to ourselves”, we were treated to a very unwelcome visitation by Brother Fire. A Sister who woke at 4.30 a.m. thought she smelt smoke, and went to investigate. She found the stairwell to an upstairs craft room at the far end of the cloister ablaze. Several other Sisters were roused and the fire brigade contacted. One of the Sisters nobly ran with buckets of water from the nearby infirmary and by the time the firemen arrived the fire had been extinguished.
They were gently piqued that we had put it out ourselves and reproved us tenderly. It was just as well we had managed to! In another ten minutes or possibly less, it would have been an inferno. The landing was burning, and the open door to the craft room was already on fire. Eighteen inches away were rolls of scrap wall paper and inside the room were stored stacks of paper, paraffin, paint and other highly inflammable items. We all praised the Lord that the fire was discovered just in time.
An overly embroidered account that appeared on BBC online that morning asserted that the “closed order of nuns were forced to flee their convent when fire broke out”, and that “the nuns were later allowed to return to the building”. In actual fact most of us slept through the entire incident, awaking only at 6 a.m. to a belated rising bell! Though no one was hurt, the fire had caused extensive smoke damage in a number of nearby workrooms and the adjacent garrett. The latter housed a large number of coloured curtains and drapes given in by friends, which have proved very useful over the years as decorative backgrounds for cribs, and similar tableaux. We spent the next 3 weeks clearing and cleaning as best we could, and ruefully making a bonfire of a great many items that could not be readily salvaged. Afterwards the professional cleaners took over, but it was not till early April that we were able to move back with a sigh of relief to the restored workrooms.
As if one fire were not enough, we had an even narrower escape that same day. On going into the laundry about 8.30 pm, a Sister had found flames issuing from the boiler and promptly turned off the power. As it is directly below the noviciate dormitory any resulting explosion would have been disastrous. We thanked God for his protection, and decided to continue our afternoon prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, as we couldn’t help thinking it must be greatly disturbing to the old boy down below who dwells in fire!
A few days later, on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, we had a service of thanksgiving for the gift of our religious vocation, during which Dear Mother blessed the new habits and veils that several Sisters had been lovingly making for us all in the past few weeks. The service ended with us all praying the prayer used for a Sister’s solemn consecration when she makes her final vows, ending with the words: “Lord, send the gift of the Holy Spirit upon us your handmaids, who have left all things for your sake. Father, may our life reveal the face of Christ, your Son, so that all who see us may come to know that he is always present in your Church”. The annual special mass two days later in honour of Saint Colette was as usual a happy and poignant occasion. During it expectant mothers, or women hoping for a baby, as well as others in need, are blessed with her veil. It was an especial joy to see the young mothers who came with their babies to thank God for their safe arrival, after receiving the Colette blessing last year.
Lent brought with it several substantial snowfalls, the deepest for a number of years . One free afternoon several Sisters made a large snowman outside the laundry, plus two more with a snow-dog outside the antechoir! Our novice, to whom snow is still something of a novelty, was spotted one morning bouncing out barefoot into the virgin snow in the cloister courtyard, and bouncing back equally speedily, exclaiming, “Oh, it’s soooo soft!” Sr Joanna even provided our two small but lively dogs with coats for their backs, though they still had to go carefully as some drifts were above their heads!
March also brought its anxieties. Sr Juliana’s back trouble had continued to worsen till she was in severe pain despite medication and unable to move. She was admitted to hospital, where a scan showed disc collapse. She had a tricky operation later that day to address the situation; during it all of us on the home front prayed earnestly for its success. Once back on the ward she even managed to say a few words to Dear Mother on the phone to reassure us, despite the awkwardness of still wearing an oxygen mask.
During Lent we watched some excellent EWTN programmes - one a series filmed in Israel with Fr Mitch Pacwa talking about the Psalms of David, and another on “Hope” with Fr Benedict Groeschel. At our simple evening collation Sr Joanna read us the biography of Mother Angelica, the Poor Clare who first started the far-reaching Catholic TV network. Though her unique personal charism differs from our own, we found it riveting reading, especially in her defence of what she believes to be right and good rather than merely ‘politically correct’. We were amused at the account of how, after a major stroke when she was in intensive care and thought to be reduced to a vegetative state, her blood pressure shot up and sent the alarm bells ringing when a local bishop entered the room. She had earlier crossed swords with him after he had failed to understand the community’s unusual way of serving the Lord. He was rather nonplussed at his dramatic reception, but her Sisters rejoiced to realise that she was obviously conscious enough to recognise him!
This year our Paschal tableau in our choir sanctuary was relatively simple. It incorporated a large hangdown painted by Sr Yolanda and Sr Juliana, which had been the focal point of a Franciscan Day of Guided Prayer held here earlier. This featured images portraying the Beatitudes, the way on which Francis points us in our following of Christ in this life, sharing in his suffering and coming at last with him to the resurrection. There were also several large potted palms, a branch from a tree just coming into leaf and a background of dull black drapes, with pieces of white stone here and there and several small cacti for decoration. All went smoothly and happily with the Holy Week celebrations. Mgr Peter Fleetwood, who had come over from Switzerland to share the Paschal Triduum with us, celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
On the morning of Good Friday it was fine enough for us to make the Stations of the Cross outdoors to a background of birdsong. During the afternoon service Sr Juliana achieved her ambition of walking as far as the sanctuary for the Veneration of the Cross with the help of sisterly support. In the late afternoon, the figure of the body of the Lord was taken down from the tree which had served as a cross, and was laid in a simple tomb of breeze blocks.
The traditional Easter fire which ushers in the long and lovely Vigil was a relatively staid affair as there was no wind at all to fan flames and blow sparks hither and yon. Just as well! We felt we had had enough fires already this year! Sr Yolanda had decorated the tall paschal candle, with a peacock, a traditional symbol of the resurrection. Sr Juliana read the account from Genesis of the creation of the world, and masterminded the co-ordination of four projectors plus several silver polyhedrons; the latter revolved slowly reflecting their light on the wall and evoking the universe streaming forth from the hand of God.
Several of the series of Old Testament readings, which culminated with the proclamation of the Resurrection Gospel, were also sung, mimed or danced. The figure of the Lord in the paschal tableau was now clothed in a robe of pale gold, which left exposed the lance wound to his heart, and the few simple cacti for decoration had been replaced by small candles and a profusion of colourful spring flowers The midnight mass celebrated by Mgr Peter Fleetwood was followed by an hour’s quiet prayer before the Risen Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, then by breakfast at 2 am. On Easter Day Canon Quigley received a friend of ours, Brian Pearce, into the Catholic Church during the afternoon parish Mass here. Our dear Marianne was his sponsor and afterwards he and his family and friends had a small party in the guests’ dining-room.
Later that day Dear Mother gave each and every one of us a copy of the recently published English edition of the “Compendium of the Catholic Catechism” as an Easter gift, much to our delight. It was a particularly appropriate occasion, as it was also ‘Papa Bene’s’ 78th birthday; just over a year before, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he had presented the first edition of the Compendium to Pope John Paul the Great.
The following week we spent a couple of mornings planting out flowers near our hives before the bees became too active. In early May our dear Sr Seraphina took her first vows as a Poor Clare, to the great joy of us all. Our good friend, Archbishop Ward, was the chief celebrant at the mass to which many people came. As Sister’s own father is in the Philippines, an American friend stood in for him, proudly leading her up the extern chapel to her prie-dieu in the sanctuary. Fr Paschal OFMCap, another close friend for many years,
preached on the priestly, prophetic and kingly role of all baptised Christians, especially of those who have committed their lives to following the Lord in the religious life. He declared from his own experience that what each person needs in community life are three “bones”: a wishbone, a backbone, and a “funny-bone”! These represent the wish to live out God’s call to the full, the spiritual backbone needed to withstand adversities, and a sense of humour especially in difficult times. And so say all of us!
The next morning we enjoyed a full-scale breakfast together, instead of the brief weekday variety. During it our little Bride opened our presents and those of well-wishers. In the evening we saw at her request the video of C. S. Lewis’ book,“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. During her retreat Sr Bride had had a “count-up” calendar, featuring a new poster each day with a scene and appropriate quote from the Narnia book, and an additional candle being lit for her in the refectory. For her profession day the refectory had been decorated with gold drapes (almost the only ones rescued from damage by the January fire!), plus a delightful large toy lion representing Aslan, and the statue of Our Lady of the Taper, seated on a throne holding her Divine Son. Our refectory chairs, were transformed by gold covers into thrones for each of us, “Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia” as Aslan told the children in the book, or, as St Clare put it in her Rule: “This is the summit of the highest poverty which has established you, my dearest sisters, as heiresses and queens of the kingdom of heaven; it has made you poor in the things of this world but exalted you in virtue. Let this be your portion which leads into the land of the living.”
May also brought another hospital stay, this time for our dear Marianne, who is so much part of our life here at Ty Mam Duw. Her long-awaited knee replacement was a great success. Within six weeks she was back to driving again and looking forward to her second op. which took place in September and was equally successful. During her convalescence, when she was basically housebound, she took to crocheting baby shawls and other such highly desirable items for our small shop, presenting us with one almost every day. We were all immensely grateful to our friends who supplied for her while she was recuperating, going to the Post Office or shops for us, and taking Sisters to the doctor or dentist when necessary.
Summer brought long weeks of glorious sunshine and also a less welcome visitor, this time of the four-footed kind. An enterprising field-mouse had left traces of its passing in several downstairs rooms. We only hoped it was a passing bachelor and had not invited family and friends to stay! The discovery resulted in a major turnout and springclean of all rooms in the area, till we could rest assured that he had not made his permanent abode with us.
A few weeks before we were also dismayed to discover one morning that a row of stone tiles in the laundry had shifted upwards overnight to form a steep ridge running the length of the centre of the floor, ideal for tripping over!
We never found out for sure whether it was caused by the earlier flood and the hot weather or by subsidence, always a possible hazard in these parts. We eventually had the tiles taken up entirely and replaced by linoleum.
The glorious sunshine favoured our soft-fruit this year, producing a highly satisfying crop of raspberries, tayberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants for jam. Our two small cherry trees which we had netted were also laden with fruit. But one should never count one’s cherries before they are picked! When she went to collect them Sr Agatha found only a solitary cherry remaining on the one tree, and a blackbird inside the netting of the other altruistically passing cherries through the plastic mesh to a family member on the outside! However there were still a few left for us!
Brother Sun also blessed Sr Coletta’s long hours in the garden, where the large straw hat she wore over her veil made her easy to spot from afar as she planted and tended the colourful flowerbeds; each morning she went out to pick fresh ones for the several small shrines in the cloister, giving joy to us and to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. She also worked hard in our small cemetery, making each grave bright with potted flowers. Our gardening Sisters tend to specialise - Sr Seraphina makes charming miniature gardens, some to delight us and others to sell in the shop. With Sr Amata’s help, Sr Pia raises flower and vegetable seedlings in the greenhouse; she also plants out a wide array of trailing flowers in the many hanging baskets, which grace the cloister garden. Sr Joanna is generally engaged in gardening on a larger scale, more of the landscape variety. She is the expert when it comes to moving large stones, making steps out of cut logs, erecting trellises and tending bushes and shrubs large and small. Sr Agatha and Sr Damian go in for herbs; with Sr Joanna they gather honey and wax from our bees for the making of a wide variety of herbal remedies for external use. This year they also tried their hand in soap-making, with great success. And never have we seen so many butterflies - especially on the buddleia, also known in gardening circles as as the ‘butterfly bush’. At first glance most seemed to be red admirals and peacocks, but closer inspection revealed large and small tortoiseshell butterflies, commas, and four or five other kinds. These included a hummingbird hawk–moth, seen hovering in front of a flower as it sucked in the nectar through its long proboscis.
August brought with it not only the Feast of Our Holy Mother St Clare, but also that of Our Lady’s Assumption, which is our Dear Mother’s profession anniversary. We generally compose a song for the occasion. This year it was to a calypso-style tune and included a number of hilarious verses of which we can only quote the following here:
With floods, fires and subsidence underground
And ev’rything collapsing all around,
And incidents that make you want to groan -
We might as well live in an earthquake zone!
Winds may blow, rain may fall, and floods rise
around the wise; but this house, built on Christ
and not on sand, firm will stand!
And round the house in droves the hardware failed!
And in the garden hordes of slugs prevailed!
And just to give us all a nice surprise,
We were beset about with plagues of mice!
Winds may blow ....
The presents we had made for Dear Mother included copies of an excellent home-made hardback edition of selected letters of St Colette. (We rejoiced to see there was one for each of us!) Also included in it was the longer version of St Colette’s Testament, accompanied by our Dear Mother’s commentary on the text; this had formed part of her weekly instruction in previous months, and we were glad to feel her wisdom was being preserved for posterity in more durable form than our own scribbled notes.
We spent the next day following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, under the guidance of Sr Juliana and Sr Yolanda. Sr Juliana reflected on his letters and the Acts of the Apostles, and Sr Yolanda provided fascinating information in a humorous vein on some of the places associated with him. Chief among them was Syrian Antioch, where the disciples first came to be known as Christians. It was not just a large town, but a wealthy cosmopolitan city far outdoing our modern Las Vegas for the ‘nightlife’ on offer! Its city centre was resplendent with marble-paved streets and grandiose temples to a large variety of gods, some more respectable than others!
Dinner took the form of an outdoors barbecue, as St Paul presumably toasted his dinner over a campfire when there was not an inn at hand! Later we saw slides of Galatia, and were treated to a short play on the local myth of the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes.
These were said to have visited the area in disguise, and to have wiped out most of its people with a flood when they were not made duly welcome! No wonder Paul and Barnabas received first-class treatment at Lystra when they were mistaken for Hermes and Zeus! We were then regaled with the acting out of the apocryphal legend of St Thecla by means of finger-puppets. She is said to have been a beautiful young woman converted to Christ by the preaching of St Paul. Thereafter she resisted all manner of dastardly attempts to put her to death for her faith, and eventually founded a religious community in a place where there still is one today. This account was followed by a special Vespers, based on that of the feast of St Thecla as celebrated by the Greek Orthodox church. It comprised simple haunting chants based on their liturgy, together with excerpts from the ‘Odes of Solomon’, a collection of Christian psalms dating from the first or second century.
After all the activity of harvest time we spent three days quietly in mid-September with a Eucharistic retreat prepared by Sr Damian and Sr Agatha. It comprised simple reflections based on talks given last year by Fr Raniero Cantalamessa to the Papal household. The theme was St Thomas Aquinas’ profound and moving hymn on the Eucharist, “Adoro Te devote” (“Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore”).
What we hope was our final visitation of the year, began in late September, and proved the most disconcerting of them all. It consisted of a plague of wasps in the choir and lasted for well over a month. They may have been coming in through the roof, perhaps from a chink in the high ceiling and simply materialised without prior warning on the floor, choir stalls or hymnbooks. Being rather sleepy with the cold, they tended to crawl rather than fly, a distinct hazard to those of us who go barefoot! We caught up to twenty per day, and in time learned to take our occasional stings philosophically -
though one Sister was greatly distracted during the Divine Office by the uncomfortable sensation of a wasp proceeding slowly and inexorably up her spine!
The next three weeks were spent in a wide variety of creative activities, making items for the Autumn Fair, which was a great success. There seemed to be an even bigger queue than usual for the home-made chips and pasties, as well as the jam and cakes. It is heart-warming to
know that our handiwork is so much appreciated ranging as it does from candles to pottery, embroidery, toys, small quotebooks and suchlike. We were dismayed to hear that week that our good friend Archbishop Ward had been hospitalised with heart trouble. He was enfolded day by day in our prayers, especially during his pacemaker operation, and we were all relieved when he was safely home again. Indeed all our friends, especially those who contact us by post, phone or e-mail with particular needs, are remembered in our prayer for all God’s people by day and night. So too are the problems of society and the world at large, especially the heart-rending conflicts in the Gulf area and the Middle East, as well as the forgotten people of Darfur, and the underground Church in China, whose members undergo so much suffering for their Catholic faith. Our greatest contribution in God’s service continues to be that of holding before Him the needs of all His children, wherever they may be. In our own prayer we gather them up into the combined prayer of God’s people in every age. This becomes embedded in the unfailing prayer of Christ our Lord to His heavenly Father on behalf of the world for which He died and rose again.
In late October the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Faustino Sainz Muñoz, spent several days in our Wrexham diocese. We had all been invited to attend the holy mass he celebrated in Wrexham Cathedral, and we saw him again the next day when Bishop Regan brought him to visit us in our more natural habitat. It turned out to be a very positive and happy encounter. We welcomed him with a short scriptural song in Spanish, which we had composed for the occasion. He then greeted us individually and Dear Mother took him on a quick tour of the cloister precincts.
He was very interested to see the display of all our handiwork for the coming Fair, and appreciated our strong family spirit, a distinctly Franciscan characteristic. In parting he gave us his blessing and emphatically affirmed our contemplative way of life and its value for the Church and the world as a whole. Sr Juliana had continued to make a slow and steady recovery, and in the following week was fit enough to accompany Dear Mother to a meeting in Yorkshire of the Association of British Contemplatives. There they met again with Archbishop Faustino, who greeted them warmly, and again sent his blessing and words of encouragement to us all at Ty Mam Duw.
Bishop Roche, another good friend of our community, was equally delighted to see them, and also affirmed the worthwhileness of our way of life in the heart of the universal Church. And now, as this eventful year with all its ups and downs draws to a close, we would like to express our
heartfelt gratitude to each and every one of our friends, near and far.
Without your ongoing support in so many ways, material and spiritual, great and small, our own life here at Ty Mam Duw to the glory of God would simply not be possible. May the Lord fill you this Christmas with His love and peace, and guide and protect you and yours in the coming year.
With loving prayers,
from your Poor Clare Sisters
Sr Maria Seraphina of our Heavenly Father
Simple & Temporary Profession of Religious Vows
Celebrated by Archbishop Ward OFM Cap
6th May 2006
A loving welcome to all of you who have come here today to join us for this happy and blest celebration. We welcome in spirit, those who are not able to be with us today, particularly Sister Seraphina's family, whom we remember with great love.
We especially welcome those of you who, though you share our joy, may not share faith in its fulness. May it be for all of us an occasion of thanksgiving and gladness.
Let us pray,
In the power of your Spirit
you have inspired our little Sister Seraphina
with the resolve to follow Jesus your Son, who has become our way.
Grant that the journey upon which she sets out today
may lead her to the perfect happiness of heaven
where you live Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
We sit now to listen to the readings.
A reading from the Prophet Hosea.
"I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. And in that day", says the Lord, "I will answer the heavens and they shall answer the earth; and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel; and I will sow him for myself in the land. I will have pity on Not Pitied, and I will say to Not My People, "You are my people"; and he shall say, "You are my God".
The word of the Lord
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
This is the word of the Lord.
We stand now for the singing of the Alleluia and the proclamation of the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
I called you and chose you,
to bear fruit that will last.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another.
This is the Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
After the homily, Mother Francesca comes forward. Our sister, who is to profess her vows now witnesses to her free choice to do so.
Sister Maria Seraphina of Our Heavenly Father.
Lord, you have called me by my name.
Behold, I come to do your holy will.
Dear daughter, what do you desire?
One thing I have asked of the Lord, this I seek, to dwell in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life.
Have you pondered well and really understood what you wish to commit yourself to do?
I have, with the grace of God.
Have you the courage to trust in God completely, that he will provide for all your needs, especially that he will give you the grace to live out faithfully what you desire to promise to him?
I have, with the grace of God.
Dear Mother is now joined by the two witnesses, the Vicaress, with the Vow Card, and the Novice Mistress, with Sister¹s unknotted cord.
Be faithful unto death, most dear one,
to what you are about to promise,
and you will be crowned by Christ
with the wreath of eternal life.
Our labour here below is short,
the glory is infinite.
The sisters kneel and the celebrant and congregation stand. As our little Sister professes her vows she makes the four knots that symbolise the vows in the Franciscan cord which she wears round her waist.
Unique amongst religious women, Poor Clare Colettines profess four vows. Alongside the Gospel counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience they also vow enclosure - a commitment made to a life lived in community in adoration of God and intercession for the needs of the Church and the world.
Today, Sister makes these vows for three years, in preparation for subsequently making her life commitment in Solemn Vows.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
I, little Sister Maria Seraphina of Our Heavenly Father
wish to follow the life and poverty
of our Most High Lord Jesus Christ
and to persevere to the end,
and I vow to God, before the Blessed Virgin Mary
and I promise you, dear Mother,
to observe, for a period of three years
the most Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
by living in obedience,
Sister ties the first knot in cord her cord
and in chastity
In the form of life which the Blessed Francis gave to our Blessed Mother Clare and Pope Innocent IV confirmed,
after the example of our Holy Mother Colette.
And I vow to observe enclosure.
What you have vowed to God
render to him faithfully and he shall reward you.
Look up to heaven, dear one, which beckons us on
and take up your cross and follow Christ who walks ahead of us.
For whatever tribulations we may have here
we shall enter through him into his glory.
The community sing while the vow card is signed. The Celebrant then comes forward and blesses the veil of profession.
Let us pray.
Lord Jesus Christ,
you saw fit to robe yourself in the garment of our mortality.
We ask, of your abundant generosity
that, as you caused our Father Francis and his brothers
to bless veils such as these,
you may, for the sake of your handmaid
who has left the world behind her
so as to live with her sisters
a life restored to innocence and humility,
bless this veil + and make it holy,
that wearing it your handmaid may
be made worthy to meet you
her Bridegroom, who lives and reigns
for ever and ever.
Receive, handmaid of Christ, the blessed veil
designating your profession,
the sign for ever holy;
that you may have the courage to arrive blissfully
at the heavenly kingdom.
You are all beautiful, my love.
Love is strong as death.
You are all beautiful, my love.
Set me as a seal upon your heart.
The Lord has set his seal upon my face
that I may admit no other lover but him.
Receive, O Bride of Christ, this crown of flowers,
a symbol of that crown of gold graven with holiness,
that Christ offers you.
If you suffer with him, you shall reign with him.
If you weep with him, you shall rejoice with him,
and the King of heaven will take you to himself
in the celestial bridal chamber
where he is enthroned in glory among the stars.
Rejoice and be glad,
for you have been offered a throne of light amongst all these.
Be faithful unto death
and I will give you the crown of life.
I am betrothed to him whom the angels serve,
whose beauty the sun and moon adore.
He has adorned me with the bridal crown.
Receive this candle,
which is a symbol of your baptism.
Let it be the sign of a life completely consumed by the love of Christ Jesus,
that, hidden, radiates his light to the world
until that day when the Bridegroom comes
to call you to the wedding feast of heaven.
Behold, O Lord, I come.
Dear Mother now leads Sister to the Celebrant and then to the community so that they may exchange a sign of peace, and the celebration of Mass follows.
May the Father in his mercy,
and the Son by his Passion
and the Holy Spirit,
the fountain of peace and sweetness and love.
come down upon you
and remain with you always.
Blessing of St Colette
2006 30 January, Clareshare, The real Fire!
The real Fire!!!!!!!!
31 January 2006
We wrote our own account in two editions of Clareshare (given below) to entertain those who had read the BBC’s highly artistic account of our fire that can be found on:
1. The Mere Truth
This is just to reassure those of you who have read of our exciting [if hyped] adventures on BBC Online or elsewhere!
We are all alive and well!
Here is what really happened.....
At 11 pm everyone arose for Matins and praised the Lord, heading back to bed sometime after 12.15, having adored the Most High and interceded for the needs of the world - as usual.
At 4.30 am the light-sleeping Sr J awoke [I am economising with names, having amiably fended off several representatives of the press]. Enlightened by Divine Inspiration and quite possibly assisted by her Guardian Angel, she detected a very faint whiff of smoke ascending the dormitory stairs.
She went down to the main cloister which was filled with wreathes of smoke. She could hear a banging and cracking noise and called out, wondering if some other member of the community was already on the scene and dealing with it.
There was no answer!
She followed the sound and perceived flames half a metre high at the foot of the stairs to a craft workroom called Assisi. The banisters on the passage above were also burning generously. Sr J made her way rapidly across the house and awoke Sr D [our Vicaress] and Sr Y. They returned to the scene and Sr D sent Sr J to ring for the fire brigade and wake Dear Mother, she herself grabbed the main keys and went to open the Front and Enclosure gates to admit the fire engine.
Meanwhile Sr Y, acting on instructions received while still asleep, had arrived wearing sandals. She dashed into the Infirmary and began filling buckets with water, and set to dousing the flames, working up the stairwell. Sr J rejoined her and ferried buckets. The fire gave in and died!
The Fire Brigade - beautiful people and a great credit to their service - then arrived in big hats. They were gently piqued that we had put the fire out and reproved us tenderly for doing so.
Sr Y had by this time departed with the Infirmarian, Sr A, to have a reviving cup of black coffee and breathe some air. When the good gentlemen discovered this they summoned her back to the scene of her heroic labours and gave her oxygen. Then they summoned an ambulance, which fussed over her in a very kindly manner! She was fine, even before they started.
The police now invited themselves along to grace the occasion, and established that it was not arson [the arsonist would have needed to combine the skills of an Houdini with a very eclectic taste in scenes for pyromania!!] In the interim the good firemen hacked out the sections of the stairs and the burnt areas above for analysis. They do not know what started it, nor we, but the BBC, unassisted by fact, decided it was a candle. Everyone knows that Nuns, in all the best movies, spend their lives wandering about with candles!
Apart from the five sisters mentioned above, the rest of this holy family continued to sleep the sleep of the just in the cells of the main dormitories, at the other end of the house. It is very hard to wake a Poor Clare at the best of times [like when the bell goes!] So we were not 'driven from our convent' to quote the fine literary phrase of the BBC, and as we all sleep in night habits and night veils even the visible crew were elegantly dressed throughout. Except possibly Sr J, who had on, over her night habit, a jumble sale jacket advertising the National Geographic, quite a decent piece of catholic literature....
We spent the morning in garden overalls clearing the wreckage in Assisi and trying to wash smoke-blackened walls with varying success. At lunch we regaled ourselves with an audio tape of Anthony Buckeridge's ‘Jennings and the Fire’......
Now, and not so lightly!
Thank you for your union in prayer.
This was pure Gilbert and Sullivan with a dash of Lenny Henry. But it could have been otherwise!
The landing was burning and the Assisi doorway was already on fire. The fire started on the top of a trolley on the landing, which contained glass for tiffany style lanterns and varnishes. Eighteen inches away were fifty rolls of scrap wall paper and the rolls of wrapping plastic for shop articles. Assisi, beyond, was full of stacks of paper, other dry goods, paraffin and chemical solvents etc. In ten more minutes, perhaps less, it would have been an inferno. Nobody sleeps at that end of the house. There was nobody in the infirmary below. The Lord looked after us in a big way. We do not know the cause - and we may never do so. But we can thank God for his protection!
FOOTNOTE Dear Nick, Greg, Paul, Ver and any other professional journalists amongst our beloved Claresharers, this is not a press handout, it is a strictly private communication for the Clare family only. Please join us in giving thanks; we are just off to sing the Te Deum before the Lord at Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. The Feast of St Hyacinth. 30th January 2006
Our fire got going and got settled in the dawn of the feast of St Hyacinth
St Hyacinth was a Franciscan who lived indolently in her tertiary monastery for a long time before it dawned on her, somewhere around 1620, that religious life required a bit of get up and go, after which she did penance full time. Well, whatever else, we have not had St Hyacinth’s problems.
After the early morning fire [described in our previous issue!] we spent the day cleaning, with interesting results, one of which was that the sisters were black from top to toe.
At nine in the evening, Sr Damian (then our Vicaress), who had got up at dawn with the fire brigade, went to the laundry to deposit the soot blackened overalls. Under her bemused and slightly incredulous eyes eyes, flames shot gracefully up the side of the main boiler. Her reflexes may not have been as fast as they were at 4.30. but they were adequate. She got Sr Beatrix [once again] and Sr Beatrix turned the boiler off! God obviously had a plan, because neither Sr Damian nor anyone else would be in the presence of the boiler at that hour. And the boiler is under the main dormitory.
We had no difficulty in keeping warm in this brisk Welsh spring [a pessimist might say it is winter!]. On the previous day we had worked from the left side of the fire and cleaned the workrooms. Now we set ourselves to the right side: the garret [attic, penthouse, roof space]. The peculiarities of the fire now began to come home.
As we said: the rolls of wallpaper, eighteen inches from the main fire, were untouched. The polyurathane window above was not heat damaged. Sisters were not slow to point out that a quite undamaged icon of Our Lady of Vladimir stood in the window alcove. I proffer no view on this; but Sr Amata, an ex-alumni of Goldsmith’s College, told us at recreation, of a fire in the library there, which stopped abruptly at the section headed Religion....
Leaving the paper and the icon be, the smoke and the heat had spread out either side, into Assisi and the garret. The heat in the garret had been so intense, even twenty feet from the fire, that the plastic insulation wadding over the pipes, had melted. The contents of the garret: Christmas decorations, drapes, etc., were a complete write-off. The main Choir crib in the cupboard under the stairs which had been burning, was however, untouched!
One has to remember that the intrepid Sr Yolanda stood on the stairs, unharmed, flinging buckets of water at this fire which was melting plastic twenty feet away. And the water descended through the infirmary passage ceiling to the floor below, without any of it getting through the stair cupboard to the Crib underneath! If you like nice, domestic miracles, please enjoy this one!
Mother stopped us to have recreation in the infirmary. [The infirmary, choir and guest quarters, are parts of the house heated by the boiler that had not gone up in flames!] This was our first get-together to compare notes.
As we said in our previous Clareshare: The main body of the community were left to sleep in peace during the fire. And it became immediately obvious that if we had something really big, we would have a real problem, because everybody would be trying to rescue everyone else. Most people wanted to rescue Sr Ruth. At least she would have been findable. She would have undoubtedly rushed to rescue the databases for our annals and the annals of Notting Hill. Sr Elizabeth and Sr Amata had in point of fact, woken earlier than everyone else. Having checked that Sr Ruth was still sleeping, Sr Amata had come to the happily mistaken conclusion that the smoke was emerging from Sr Juliana’s cell - the door was open and the light was on - due to the speed with which she had descended upon detecting the smoke. Finding Sr Juliana in her National Geographic jacket, entire and on her feet, she hugged her, exclaiming movingly, “Thank God you are OK”
Sr Elizabeth, who [with Sr Damian] is the vigilatrix [the person who goes round the monastery at the end of the day and checks that everything is locked up and safe for the night] immediately wanted to blame herself for not going round twice! We were able to reassure her. We all know, if anything had been burning, she would have detected it. One of her key phrases is: “I can smell something burning!”
The last person to pass Assisi stairs was Sr Beatrix, before Matins, at 11 p.m. Like Sr Elizabeth, she is very conscientious, and would have undoubtedly smelt burning, if anything had been. Sr Beatrix had also been part of the 4.30. Brigade, calmly producing plans of the electrics, water mains, etc., for the Emergency Services.
We still don’t know the cause of the fire. It would not be an issue [and we all know it] if any of us had accidentally started it. That sort of thing could happen to anyone. As a matter of fact, some ten or so years ago it happened to an angel and a saint. Sr Judith of holy memory, being an unpractical angel [she was a librarian by profession!] gathered up the hot ashes from the infirmary incinerator and deposited them in a cardboard wastepaper basket, also in a workroom full of paper, and under a shelf on which stood paraffin, petrol based solvents, resin and ethyl methyl ketone!!! Fortunately we put it out before they blew up! The only that happened to her was that, on the feast of St Nicholas, the Saint sang a song in her honour!
The bottom line - back to the present
In the tidy up, Sr Ruth and Sr Amata were piling up boxes on the top of two makeshift shelves in St Maxims. The arrangement is somewhat unstable. Sr Ruth observed, cautiously, “We hadn’t better put too much weight on the top; the whole lot might come down if we had an earthquake....!”
Keep your little sisters in your prayers. If, amongst other things, the house catches fire, twice in twenty four hours, and we are, almost miraculously, saved from incineration, we naturally feel that God is trying to say something to us!
We have prepared ourselves by renewing our covenant as a community and our prayer is: “Speak Lord, your handmaids are listening... paint the door sunshine yellow!”
We also have a prayer, and we have been at it since November, based on Zechariah 2.5: “I will be a wall of fire round about,” says the Lord, “and I will be a glory within her.” One of our composers even made a song: “Burn brightly, ring of fire....” We did not expect to be saved, in the words of the poet, “From fire by fire.” But we await the Lord’s next move with interest. Over to you, Eternal Word.