Brother Damian began his thought-provoking talk by reminding us of the centrality of the Eucharist to our life as vowed men and women. He shared a powerful memory from his student days of his vicar, Max Bryant, celebrating the Eucharist early one morning: “An autumn darkness lit up only by two candles at the main altar, Fr Max hovering over the altar, begins at the Preface and into Sanctus as his arms stretch out both to embrace the Godhead and also our little village of Cuffley as dawn breaks. Everything is done from memory as his hands gently move over the elements and the Holy Spirit is invoked and those present are fed. Here was an expression of absolute trust in a living God who comes down to where his people are, in faithful love and open care, a reassurance of his covenant with his people of his presence, his blessing, and his promise. It set up the day, the village, its life.” His Spirit is with us!
And today we pray,” Holy Father, you gather us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: in that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share with all your saints in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord”. For us, the Holy Eucharist is where we experience the uniting of our two worlds.
Damian went on to comment on the way in which the secular world can distract our attention: influences such as TV, the internet, and more subtly perhaps, the multiple choices open to us, with all their demands on us to make decisions.
Deciding one thing after another becomes a pre-occupation, leading not only to a lack of contentment but a general lack of commitment to more basic things while we keep our options open out of fear of missing a better deal.
He suggests that the reluctance to make any form of life commitment may lie behind the decline in vocations.
Damian then focuses on us, as members/seekers in SCL, as we relate to our parish. He asks the question: “Who are we serving?” He quotes Michael Ramsay: 'while Christians try to serve every human need they can see, the greatest is the need to serve the love of God Himself”. Our mission is ultimately God's mission: and we are servants of the Servant King, which means it doesn't all depend entirely on little me! It is also a reminder that the expression of service is to offer the love of God, not to fulfil a task. No wonder St Francis found he could never refuse a beggar who pleaded, "alms for the love of God". Our primary concern is to serve the love of God as we meet the human need.
Archbishop Rowan has observed that many people are inclined to borrow the faith of their friends. 'I don't (or can't) pray, will you pray for me?' 'Help me, your faith is stronger than mine'. To lean on the faith of a professing Christian (particularly indeed the professional Christian!) bridges that sceptical gap between despair and hope.
It is one of our privileges to encourage, assist and help people in vulnerable places to pray, and to make that gesture of faith which can open a door into the spiritual world with all its strength and grace and power.
But have we, in the church, made it too difficult for people to discover prayer? At times of crisis, pain and suffering, surely God hears even the expletives that are uttered as veiled cries for his help.
The late Sydney Evans founded the Company of the Transfiguration in the 70's, summoning praying Christians to stand between the place of good and the place of evil. It was a challenging invitation, part to intercede and part as acts of contemplation under the Spirit to take up the Cross, where the tensions are held and where Christ's own sacrifice is offered in defeat of the forces of darkness.
And even we in SCL may become the subject of tensions. A dedication under vows may not be understood, or felt by others to be a threat. We are still part of the Body. It is important therefore not to cloak ourselves in secrecy. Some explanation locally is due, and that may offer its own opportunities. The making of vows does alter relationships and that may require from us sensitivity and awareness towards others.
The call to prayer will often focus in many areas of tension. Parish life often provides fuel for feuds! Damian was warned as a novice that tensions will always come to the fore in the chapel: for this is the place where we want to give our best to God, and our 'best' is not always other people’s concept of 'best'.
The practise of forgiveness, trust and reconciliation take us to the very core of our faith and witness. These are areas where a consecrated person, in SCL for instance, may well be used as an instrument of peace.
But forgiveness is not easy: Damian said that he was relieved to find a book entitled "Struggling with Forgiveness" (David Self, Windflower Books, 2003 and now reprinted), with a large collection of honest stories of attempts towards forgiveness. He highlighted this quote from Dag Hammarskjold: 'Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who forgives you - out of love - takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done; forgiveness therefore always entails sacrifice'. This brings us back to the central point within our vocation and all Christian vocation, the Cross. Here is our symbol of transformation and hope, but it also shows what is required in an act of forgiveness. Self suggests that we should be talking about a healing process. Way beyond our talk inside church that deals with the matter by a prayer of absolution of guilt, there needs to be a creative response that seeks a release from the hurt inflicted (p9). Working in that sphere, with prayer, calm, confidence, is a place many of us with Godly intentions find ourselves. It's not in fact totally about finding solutions but more about bringing the incomparable love of God to bear upon the scene of conflict or stress, and holding in there.
Damian concluded with a story from the late Br Ramon: an example of how he dealt with moments of discord in his hermitage at Glasshampton. He quotes: 'I was becoming seriously agitated by some of the principles that Mrs T. was imposing on the country. How can she create these attitudes in the name of freedom - which will not give people freedom?' Ramon caught sight of a picture of the Iron Lady in the morning paper. He cut it out and lay it alongside an icon of Jesus, then fell on his knees with one face in each hand. "Margaret, Jesus, Margaret, Jesus, Margaret...." he repeated the names alternately until he was fully aware that Margaret was held in the heart of our Lord, and was not just the demon his wild imagination had told him.
In every parish or place where groups of people are gathered, there are varied opportunities for SCL members to live out their vocation. Our setting will no doubt have been part of our calling to a full dedication to prayer both in public and hidden, together with availability according to means and circumstances.