Br Nicolas preaches about Jesus' call to repentance

Br Nicholas preached at Evensong at St Mary’s Priory this evening

Biblical texts are Sirach 48:1-10 / Psalm 84 / Matthew 17:9-23

Br Nicolas praying before the tomb of St Rémi

He asked :

How often do we set up aside time in our life in order to pray, to abide in God’s presence?  This is a question I have been struggling with for years now. When we gather here as a community to pray, or when we go out into the world to do outreach work, are we always aware or conscious?

We heard that the disciples picked up by Jesus to go with him on the mountain were astounded by his transfiguration. Then, he told them not to say a word to anyone, “The Son of Man must suffer and be handed over the authorities and dies” first.

There is doubt, confusion, perplexity towards what happened, how Jesus chose to reveal himself. This is pretty much what many people of faith experience daily, doubt and confusion.

“Was my prayer answered?” is often the question we wonder. How was it answered, how will I know that it has been answered?

The words of Jesus aren’t new. He came to proclaim afresh what was told to Moses centuries ago, then to the prophets until the days when John the Baptist called the people to repentance. Jesus, transfigured on the mountain, shows us the continuity of the promises of God, throughout all ages, from the law given on Mount Sinai to the appearing of Elijah in the person of John the Baptist.

Shortly after the disciples came down from the top of the mountain, their faith has been tested. A man, having a possessed child, came to them, begging for healing. Unfortunately, as we heard in the Gospel, the apostles were not able to cure him. Jesus reproached them their lack of faith, their unbelief about what they witnessed, about his own identity as Messiah and Son of God.

What about us? Where are we in this narrative? Do we stand with the apostles when they doubt about Jesus? Are we like this man, begging Jesus for healing in our lives? If so, how do we know that Jesus touched us and healed us?

As messy and disordered our lives can be, God can and will act through them. Our Lord doesn’t need to wait for our lives to be well, prosper and splendid to act. Rather, God shows himself in the midst of darkness, doubt, conflict, when reconciliation, healing and love are necessary.

As we journeyed through the message of the Epiphany, where the Gentiles encountered Jesus as the promised child announced by the prophecies, we now enter into the time of conversion. A time when God calls we back to himself.

“Conversion” is a huge and meaningful word, which has been used in many unfortunate circumstances. People have tried to force their beliefs on other people, reducing the Christian faith to a set of formal ideas to adopt in order to be saved.

However, this is not how conversion works.

Martin Luther talked about the “daily conversion of the heart”, how to die our own self to be clothed by Jesus’ righteousness and justice. To convert means to literally turn our hearts BACK to God, to let God transform ourselves into the likes and image of his own heart. As Lent approaches, we are called to return to God in all our doings and thoughts. To let go sin and take up our cross. To have confidence into God’s words, as we know them to be the truth.

Faithfulness is not to be seen primarily into actions but in our deep committed relationship to God. Our actions must be directed by this grace we received, to let it shape our lives and give confidence to God in return.

Lent is the time of commitment, when we journey with Jesus to the Calvary, when we dare to trust his words and to see them fulfilled on the third day at the resurrection. The question the apostles asked to Jesus could be the same for us today: “Why can’t I perform this miracle, why can’t I produce the sign people needs to see?”

Well, I am not telling you that you will perform incredible signs, or healing people from serious diseases at every moment. However, the faith to which we are drawn to is about trust and love. As far as perplexed we can be, the call to repentance, to turn back to God in our daily lives is a constant gift and duty we all need to achieve. There is an individual responsibility towards God, though we are not alone to carry on this duty. St Paul says that if we bear one another’s burdens, we are fulfilling the law of Christ.

When I was younger in my faith, I used to think that God could stop to love me if I sin too much, or if I sin continuously for the reason. As soon as I got on my knees to pray, I was a bit terrified, I mortified myself, and I thought it could be something good to do in order to please him. Do you want to know the results of this attitude? NOTHING.

Shame isn’t something coming from God, for it is not helpful to turn back to him. Shame is a process by which we think that we need to do something to clean ourselves from our sins, shame makes us thinking that we can actually DO something by our own efforts, in order to be saved. To be forgiven. This is entirely wrong.

The grace of God is free, it is pure gift given to us, such as our baptism. Of course, I am not saying that we can’t do anything in order to please God when we have sinned and we turn back to him.

The psalm 51 says that contrite heart and a humble spirit is our lawful sacrifice, what is truly pleasing God. Our Lord doesn’t take pleasure, satisfaction in our sufferings, in our physical or spiritual mortifications. The danger to think like this is to turn the gratuity of God’s grace and salvation into something we can own by our own efforts and our will. This is wrong.

Neither is true that shame, self-hatred are the path to repentance. Again, as I was younger in my faith, I thought that saying to myself “I am disgusting, I am terrible, I deserve hatred, to be rejected, I desire death, I feel so sad and dirty, God, leave me into my pit. This is my place; where I belong to”.

Again, this is not what Jesus tells us today in his Gospel. He asks us to trust him, to bring him our failures, our hearts, our thoughts and minds. In doing so, we let God be God into our lives, cleansing our souls from all iniquities and transgressions.

God doesn’t measure our sins, he doesn’t make a list of all the wrong doings we have done throughout our life. He is not us. However, when our hearts are contrite, when we know our transgressions and we don’t try to diminish it, when we are honest before God in bringing what it wrong, then salvation happens.

Then, we experience what Jesus promised to the disciples on the third day. Redemption. Forgiveness. New life. Unconditional love.

We cannot measure love in numbers of gits we can receive from our loved ones. We can measure it only in terms of intensity, how deeply and sincerely we believe that God loves us and redeemed us through the cross of Jesus.

We are sinners. We need to hear again the call from God to repent. To turn back to him. To bring our needs and failures at the foot of his cross and begging for pardon. Let’s have time of prayer throughout this Lenten season, let’s receive the sacrament of reconciliation, let’s share the goodness that God bestowed upon our lives.

Our Lord is more preoccupied about what is in our hearts than the new outfits we bought, the new car we drive, the numbers of “good words” we can say. God wants to reign into our hearts.

Let us make our homes ready to welcome him.

Amen.

March 8th is to be a Milestone in the life of the Community

On Sunday, March 8th our Founder and Prior Fr Mark Soady will stand down and our new Concentor Nathaniel Hood will take on his role.

Fr Mark will leave Abergavenny in March to take up new roles in the Church of England. He has been appointed Secretary to the Committee of Anglican Religious Communities in England and will be Instituted and Inducted as Rector of Rufford and Tarleton on April 1st.

At the 10.30am Sung Eucharist service Fr Mark will admit Br Nathaniel formally as Concentor before later in the service handing over the Prior’ s Pectoral Cross to the Sub Prior for safe keeping.

Hosting a visit of the Bishop of the Highveld

Today we were pleased to host the Bishop of the Highveld. The Highveld is the twin Diocese of our home Diocese Monmouth.

Although it was Bishop Charles first visit to the Priory Church, both his predecessors have visited and our Prior visited the Highveld nine years ago.

During his visit we entertained the Bishop and his entourage to Tea, during which we shared with him news of our work and prayer life.

The Bishop then joined us for Adoration of the Sacrament and Benediction.

Prior, Fr Mark:

”It is appropriate that during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity we are joined by our brother from Africa to pray for Christians across the world.”

Br Nicolas wonders how Jesus reveals himself to us

Brother Nicolas preaching at Evensong at Christchurch on the feast of the Epihpany asks “How Jesus reveals himself to us?”.

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Sermon base on Baruch 4:36;5-6 & John 2:1-11

Nothing can save us in this world.

Absolutely nothing. No possession, money, power or authority can save us from death, hatred, arrogance or violence.

Our sinfulness cannot be healed by any of our actions or decisions.

We cannot save ourselves. This is the truth, the naked and deep truth of our humanity.

However, in today’s world, we are constantly invited to put our trust, our FAITH into the progress of technology, into the promises of politicians. We are not told to think or reflect but to blindly follow what we are told to do.

We are waiting. The whole secular world is waiting for something to happen. A sign, something spectacular.

Today, we are told that THIS SIGN HAPPENED! Why? Because God is faithful, he knows our hearts, that we need signs and wonders to live out our faith. We need to see his presence at work among us.

This sign isn’t perceived on the broads in the street, where we can see all the adverts concerning the new products we can buy. It isn’t on the TV or mainstream media.

This great and incredible sign is to be wondered at a Palestinian Jew, a man born in a manger, far away from the great palaces of Jerusalem.

In this small city of Cana, we have come to a wedding where Jesus sits alongside his friends and family. A typical ceremony we could witness even today. However, it’s during this feast that the glory of God is to be manifested in Jesus Christ.

Being God from all eternity, Jesus came in order to reveal the fullness of his being. Who he truly is. Though we can’t entirely understand his person until his Resurrection, our Lord shows his power and great might, as Jews expected from the prophetic times, in order to determine the time the Messiah would come.

Like his birth, we shouldn’t expect to see something marvellous, beyond imagination when we talk about Jesus’ divinity. The performing of signs and wonders isn’t spectacular but says something deeply important the kind of Messiah Jesus reveals to be.

In fact, Jesus reveals himself in our daily basis, like in this wedding in Cana. In this small manifestation, Jesus gives us the opportunity to meet him, away from the spectacles and giant parades made for pagan idols at that time. Jesus is to be met close to our hearts, in silence, the same silence of the night which the shepherds and the magi witnessed.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the great patriarch and defender of Jesus’ divinity, describes the spiritual meaning of this wedding. Jesus is the groom who provides wine to the bride, the whole of humanity. He fills our lives with a new and transforming power, which is not human but divine. As the wedding is celebrated in Cana and not in Jerusalem, it tells us that Jesus’ ministry will be rejected by the authorities, but willingly accepted by the Gentiles.

This is the great sign that Jesus’ birth already revealed with the coming of the Magi from the East. Our Lord is worshiped first by those rejected and marginalized by the Jews. 

In today’s world, when we look at other people with unjust disdain and anger, it is in these people that Jesus reveals himself first. A contrite heart is more willing to receive him than a heart full of hatred and self conceit.

Saint John Chrysostom says that Jesus often purposely plays down his miracles, so they may be more readily received. Our Lord is willing to visit us, to reveal himself, only if he finds a heart able to listen and perceive. God does not impose himself, on the contrary he knocks at the door of our hearts and go in. As the Magi received the gift of the Christ child, let us receive the gift of Jesus’ slow revelation to us. Let us appreciate who he is. Let us discover his Sacred Heart of love and how he wants to abide in us.

Only Christ our God is able to save us from the tyranny of sin and restore us to life eternal, a right relationship with God. Jesus’ self revelation is free and gentle. All are called to receive him.

Salvation comes with Jesus, says St John in his prologue, where true unselfish, redeeming, sacrificial love transforms us all.

As we enter into Jesus’ ministry and the revelation of his saving work, let us pray God to give us open hearts and mind to bear witness to the one who came to enlighten us.

Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

It really starts to feel like Christmas at the Community when we lead the Christingle Service at 4pm on Christmas Eve.

We will dress up as various characters. The Prior as the Grumpy Innkeeper, Sub Prior as Angel Gabriel and Brs Seb and Nicolas as Shepherds. We hope one of the young people will arrive dressed as Mary and as Jospeh.

The Sheep will be on sticks. Confused? – why not come and see.

Having had Christmas cake and something to drink with the Prior we will be back in the Priory Church to Bless the Crib and help with Mid Night Mass. The Prior will preach and the Sub Prior Celebrate.

On Christmas Day we will between us Celebrate / Serve at services at 9am, 10.30am and 11am…………then we will enjoy our Christmas Lunch.

Our final duty of the day is hosting the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the Priory Centre from 8pm – 9pm.

Having had a very busy month we will then rest for a week…..offices will be said again publicly from January 2nd.

Do have a Blessed Christmas….see you in 2020!

Our Visitor Bp Rowan says he asked himself "…why not do the thing properly and become a monk?"

Writing in the New Statesman our Episcopal Visitor, Lord Williams of Oystermouth says ” I always knew I should be a Priest. But why not do the thing properly and be a monk?”

Bishop Rowan with our Prior

He continued: “In retrospect, I think that what I was wrestling with was a set of confused feelings about commitment – knowing that at some level I found commitment terrifying, and seeing the monastic life as a radical solution to this: get it all over with, in one big act of self-denial. It had a complicated effect – as you might imagine – on other relationships. Fortunately, the people whose advice I most respected didn’t push or pressure at all; they helped me gradually to get all this in better perspective, to accept that whatever a good motivation for monastic life might be, it should include an acceptance of human need and fallibility.”

Bishop Rowan who will next month publish a book on the Rule of St Benedict concludes the article:

 “Being a priest and a writer and a teacher of sorts has always been, for me, grounded in those prospects not followed.”