Sunday, 21 December 2014

Pluscarden Abbey Retreat











“Profound the peace of Pluscarden
As if the pine-green closing hills
Shut in the grace
Of God and all his Holy Saints














The Lauds and Matins of the past,
In that calm place,
Still seem to linger on the air,


Half-hearted, half-dreamt, so wholly felt
There is no time,
The soul is raised above the now;
Beyond the the then. Eternity
Of Faith sublime
Outlasts all the moods of fate
And savage treacheries of man.
To rise again
Triumphant from defeated stone,
And draw within its sanctuary
All human pain.”

From the book Pluscarden Abbey www.pluscardenabbey.org


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Thunder!

Before I got up this morning the electricity in my home and indeed the whole of the Western Isles had gone off and I got up to candle light only. 

Thankfully, for the Office of Readings and Lauds, I almost always use a small battery operated reading light which clips to my breviary so there was no problem. Although Offices by candle light are nice and atmospheric I need the brighter lights as my main source to be comfortable.

As we had been advised not to travel I worked from home today (when the power was on and the internet was working). At least I got to admire the power of  the waves roaring into the bay in front of our home. 


The thunder and lightening added to the drama.

BBC News and Sky News are reporting on the storm, along with the fact that the North of England has 50mph winds. A mere breeze. As it has been here most of the day but as I say when it freshens up it is lively enough to be dramatic sometimes awesome.

Without being flippant about the dangers of extreme weather, days like these are as beautiful as any summer day. Nature is at its finest at both ends of the spectrum.  I can't help but think of the Psalmist telling us that the voice of the Lord thunders! (Psalm 28(29)) 

[2] Bring to the Lord glory and honour: bring to the Lord glory to his name: adore ye the Lord in his holy court.
[3] The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty hath thundered, The Lord is upon many waters.
[4] The voice of the Lord is in power; the voice of the Lord in magnificence.

As the darkness comes in we will be left to rely on sounds of wind, rain and thunder to try and put together a picture of what is going on outside. This will add to the sense of awe and twinges of concern, yet safety and security in our homes, as it rages over our heads.


Tomorrow I expect I will awake to a normal day. At least it is forecast to be more normal. What a shame. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

What of Mary?


What of Mary? What can say it better than the Orthodox Icons such as the one above where Mary is pointing to Jesus almost presenting Him to us.

I haven’t written a lot about Mary ever, so on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception I shall do so, meaning she will have been the main topic of my last two posts!   

Often people will say that the Marian doctrines are the “stumbling blocks” to more Catholic converts, especially from traditions which have been very hostile to the prominence of Mary in Catholic thought.

Initially this wasn’t the case for me. The logic of Jesus is God, Mary gave birth to Jesus who is God, and therefore Mary is the mother of God seemed straight forward and indisputable. In studying Eastern Orthodoxy I was able to accept this "Theotokos" doctrine outside the bosom of the Catholic Church.

Now as to Mary’s sinlessness I like the way St Augustine puts it.

“With the exception of the holy Virgin Mary, in whose case, out of respect for the Lord, I do not wish there to be any further question as far as sin is concerned, since how can we know what great abundance of grace was conferred on her to conquer sin in every way, seeing that she merited to conceive and bear him who certainly had no sin at all?”

I just can’t see Mary going about carrying Jesus who is God in her womb and committing sin. If it were possible then which sins? Just wee sins? Or dare I suggest major ones? Did God just give her enough grace not to sin seriously then? No.  

In scripture, I am as usual intrigued by the Old Testament types which portray her as the New Eve, the Ark of the Covenant bearing the Word of God, and the particularly when I think about it the Queen Mother of the Davidic Kingdom, itself a foreshadowing of the Catholic Church.

St John evidently had a close relationship with the Virgin Mary and although some Catholic scholars differ on the Woman clothed with the Sun in Revelations 12 I can not see that St John didn’t have her in mind in some way when he portrayed this Woman giving birth to a male child, who would rule the nations with an iron rod (Psalm 2).

St Iranaeus who was a disciple of St Polycarp, who sat at the feet of St John, seems to be the earliest Church Father writing on her role in Salvation history.  It is not surprising that this Tradition can be traced back to St John in this manner.  Yes for St John, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.1). Has anyone meditated upon what this meant more than him?

Since I became Catholic and by doing so accepted the faith of the Church and subscribed to her doctrines including her Marian doctrines en-bloc, where does Mary fit in?

Well, I don’t think I have to fit her in. I have always been prone to recite Ave Marias at all kind of strange times. I came to me so naturally after my conversion that I can not even explain it. In my early days I was rather secretly embarrassed and shocked at it and tried to suppress it. Maybe I was not as comfortable with her as I thought I was.

I have tried to pick up my Rosary from time to time and to make it a staple part of my routine but have stuck with it only for short periods.  I am pleased that the Angelus, meditating solely on the Word being made flesh, has found its way into my prayer cycle in a way I imagine will be more permanent.  

There is not much else I can say, only to vouch for the fact that as my devotion to her has grown so has my intimacy with her Son. That is a claim I know some non-Catholics will find unbelievable. It is a claim that despite accepting the doctrines in theory I found unlikely myself. Yet it is so. Those who wish to dispute it with me will need to convince me that the resulting parallel spiritual progress is mere coincidence.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Mary's Advent Stories



I often wonder about Mary relaying the story of the Annunciation to Luke or whoever gave him the story. It seems that at some point the detail had to come from Mary herself.

“From this moment all generations will call me blessed” obviously included the generation of Luke and the early Church. She must have told them the story of the Annunciation and it became part of our Gospel. 

“Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

How do you get away with telling the early Church that an angel appeared to you and told you that you were full of Grace and the Lord was with you? That henceforth all generations would call you blessed? That, yes I am with  child, yet I am still a virgin?




Mary must then have told them how perplexed she was by the Angel’s greeting because Luke records she “was greatly troubled and considered in her mind what kind of greeting this might be” (Luke 1 V  29). Only Mary herself could have revealed her innermost thoughts.

Mary's tale is extraordinary. Perhaps she relayed all these things to somebody close to her first. Her cousin Elizabeth?

Maybe it was the same handing on that Mary or Elizabeth told the authors Elizabeth had exclaimed “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” and that the child lept in her womb upon Mary and the yet unborn Jesus visiting them after the Annunciation.

The documenting of Jesus’ ministry is easily explained. He had followers who were witnesses and some became authors of scripture, inspired as they were by the Holy Spirit.  But the Annunciation, conception and his early moments in the womb of the Blessed Virgin is a different matter.

Tradition has it that St Luke painted the first icon of our Lady. Hence his being patron saint of artists and the saying "what Mary spoke, Luke wrote, or maybe even sometimes painted." I like that.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Anticipating Advent Lights

I am anticipating Advent this year not just because of the prophecy readings or the antiphons which set the mood but because I have decided to try with God's grace to enter more fully into the spirit of the season by having the equivalent of a Lenten fast. You could say I'm going to look at it as a mini- Lent. It is a penitential season after all. 

I must admit it is my favourite time of year if the weather is favourable. Being able to walk my dog for days on end in the fresh (I  hope) winter weather makes it one of my favourite periods. The magnificent Hebridean light at this time of year never lets me down. I took this one today.


We can expect the same old controversies at Advent too. The "winter festivals" and "seasons greetings" cards. The accusations of "pagan Christmas". Also the same old who once tried to suppress Christmas, now trying to remind us of "the reason for the season".  

I do not know why Christmas fuels these debates much more than Easter? For another day perhaps.

It doesn't matter what people say. They all want a piece of Christmas,  Nobody sits it out. Christmas is a survivor. A bit like our Catholic faith.

Have a blessed Advent all. May all your lights, bright or dark, be Divine.