Br Nicolas asks Where is God in War?

Brother Nicolas preaching at Evensong at St Mary’s Priory Church on Remembrance Sunday asks “Where is God in these atrocities?”.

Remembrance Cross at Christchurch

His sermon based on 1 Kings 3:1-15 & Romans 8:31-39 can be read in full below:

About a century ago started the most terrific war of the whole human history. Countries fighting against one another, people against people, soldiers against soldiers.

For many, it wasn’t a wish, a desire to go to fight. Merely an order they needed to follow, so that freedom and honour may be preserved.

Ego, selfishness, misuse of power were the cornerstone of the beginning of war, a misunderstanding of who our neighbour is and how to solve our problems.

Well, we all know what happened, the number of dead people, the families destroyed, the nations ravaged, the societies emptied of any resources, and the collapse of peace afterward.

From fighting and hatred, violence and bigotry, destruction and ignorance cannot rise peace.

This is the main history of the people of Israel. As soon as they started to move astray from God, when they put instead of mercy and faithfulness greed and ambition, then the society collapsed into war, no one was left secure. Then exile happened, mourn, grief and despair.

Where was God in this?

The omnipotence of God has nothing to do with the idea of power he have as humans. We think power as something someone possesses, that we can exercise over someone else, even to force our own power in order to get what we want. In that way, power is synonym of tyranny, where our pride is the motor of our actions.

God’s power is the Cross of Jesus. As we heard tonight in the words of St Paul, the love of God showed in Christ Jesus our Lord is everlasting and cannot be stopped or be broken by anything on earth, even our sins.

It’s that power, the power of ultimate sacrificial love that can save the world from corruption of heart, violence and ignorance.

Let’s not be naïve. During any armed conflict involving Christians, many came to fight bearing in their hearts the true redeeming love of Jesus. They had no desire to injure others. On the contrary, many were a source of healing and compassion on the battle field.

Let’s call to mind the incredible example of this American soldier, Desmond Doss, who during the WWII saved the lives of 75 soldiers, both Japanese and American. His faith was rooted in the strong reality of the Cross, a sacrificial love offered to us all in the person of Jesus. A power of love reaching the depths of human heart, even the darkest places of our humanity.

Hatred, violence, bigotry, ignorance, all these sins have been destroyed and vanquished by God through the cross of Jesus. A restored humanity is to be found in his love, where compassion triumphs over nationalism and ego. There’s power in love, in the true redeeming, sacrificial love of Jesus.

King Solomon tells us again this night of the love of God. As he started to rule over Israel, he kept into mind the author of all benefits and graces of this world. He remained faithful and obedient in love to God, listening and caring for the needs of his people he has been entrusted. A mark of true discipleship is to listen to what God says to us each day, for the welfare of all people around us.

God is faithful. His love is everlasting. Nothing can separate us from the Cross of Jesus, not even war and violence.

However, the Gospel of the Cross, the redeeming and sacrificial love of the Prince of Peace must be seen by our daily lives. We aren’t only reminded to keep God’s commandments, by also to live by them. There is to be found our true freedom, a freedom and a peace which surpass all understanding.

War is still accurate today. People fighting for resources, money, territories and ethnical protestations. We now do human traffic, we brutalise refugees and we steal the lands of indigenous people for we know they won’t be able to reply.

In ALL these atrocities, where is GOD?

God is at the same place from the beginning, IN THE MIDST OF US. He walks with us day by day, knocking at the door of our hearts.

“If anyone listens to me and let me go in, I’ll dwell with him and her forever”, says our Lord Jesus.

God isn’t a white beard man watching us making war and eating popcorn like in theatre.

The Cross of Jesus teaches us that God suffers with us in our daily life. The Cross of Jesus teaches us that God is incarnate, he is with those persecuted and broken-hearted. He is close to those who are in despair.

“He lifts up the lowly and sends the rich empty away”, says the Virgin Mary.

Like any process of peace and remembrance, we need first to ask God his forgiveness, to turn our hearts back to him, for without his mercy we can’t do anything in our own.

However, look across history and see that all good deeds have been motivated by love and love alone.

Humanitarian aid, hospital, evangelism, fight against colonialism and slavery, all these actions have been motivated by love.

So we need to look at the Cross of Jesus, again and again, in order to be healed from our sins, our diseases, and those darkness which paralyse our hearts from any good towards our neighbour.

War can stop, if we keep praying. If we live out our faith as Jesus taught us, witnessing of this mighty Creator who, one day, became one of us.

War can stop, if the hearts of those who desire fear, pain and suffering of others are healed and opened to God.

We are not alone to do so, my brothers and sisters, our Holy Mother Church prays and acts on those regions day after day, taking care of the poor, the widow and the orphan.

We are not alone, for the whole Communion of Saints, the prophets, the evangelists, the virgins, the apostles, the martyrs, the doctors pray with us.

It is our duty to remember those who have died for our freedom. It is our duty to give thanks to God for the gift of courage and life-giving.

It is our responsibility to enable people to open their hearts to the living God.

The Cross, my brothers and sisters, has reached heaven and earth. Nothing that we do will never separate us from the unconditional, sacrificial, unselfish, redeeming of God in Christ.

Let’s live by it, let’s make this divine love ours. Let’s live out this divine fire coming down from the depths of God’s heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

War, hatred, violence, bigotry, will cease when all humankind will be reconciled to this great gift of love manifested at the Cross of Jesus.

Then, war will become history.

There is power in love.

As we came to worship the living God and remember those who have died of freedom, let’s pray with the words of St.Francis.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life

We will remember them

REMEMBRANCE: “If we learnt nothing from the past then it has all been in vain”

Remembrance Sermon 2 – The Sub Prior at 11.30am

St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny

Speaking at the main morning service on Remembrance Sunday at the priory Church Fr Tom Bates Sub Prior reminded us that “Remembrance: re-membering the events that happened and counting the terrible cost that was paid is what it is truly about, because if we have learnt nothing from the past then it has all been in vain. “

He said:

An 89-year-old Holocaust survivor has been assigned police guards for protection after receiving hundreds of threats.’ reported the BBC. ‘Liliana Segre, who was sent to the notorious Auschwitz death camp was subjected to a barrage of abuse and anti-Semitic hatred.’

It would be easy for us to presuppose that this piece of news was from a bygone age. Perhaps the period following the second world war. But it wasn’t. This was a news story run by the BBC, not forty or fifty years ago following on the coat tails of the Holocaust…

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Fr Mark: Remembering those who care for those who serve.

On this Remembrance Sunday we will publish three sermons by Members of the Community, the first here was Preached by our Prior today at 8am

St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny

Preaching at the 8am Holy Eucharist at the Priory Church on Remembrance Sunday, Canon Mark Soady reminded the congregation that 100 years ago HM King George V granted the Royal prefix to the Army Chaplains Department (now the RAChD) in recognition of their service in World War 1 and before, in offering pastoral and other care to those who served in the land  forces of the crown.


Fr Mark (who was a member of the RAChD until 2012)  said “In this Centenary Year is right and proper that we remember those who serve those who serve. The many hundreds of chaplains down the decades who have gone in to conflict zones unarmed to support the forces of freedom and justice”.

As part of the Centenary celebrations the Department commissioned a veteran of Afghanistan, Harry Parker to paint three images depicting three qualities of a PADRE: Sacrifice, Engagement  and Service.


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Comings….and goings

This morning our Prior, Fr Mark formally introduced us to our new Episcopal Visitor, Bishop Rowan Williams.

Bishop Rowan received the Episcopal Visitor’s Pectoral Cross and Preached at Mass.

Bishop Rowan is currently Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. The College started life as a Benedictine Hostel in 1428. He is former Archbishop of Wales & Canterbury.

At Evensong today we said farewell to Br Josh as he prepares to return to New Zealand. After returning his pectoral cross to Fr Mark, he was admitted as an Associate of the Community. He received an Associates Cross and a blessing for his journey from Fr Mark.

Fr Mark said, ” We shall miss Br Josh, not least for his wisdom and learning. We wish him God speed and and blessings on his future ministry, however that may look”>

Our Visitor Bishop Rowan will be with us on October 13th

The Rt Hon & Rt Revd Lord Williams of Oystermouth (who as Dr Rowan Williams was the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury) will be preach at St Mary’s Priory Church at 11am on Sunday October 13th during a service at which he will be welcomed as Visitor of the Holywell Community.

Although Bishop Rowan became Visitor in April of this year this is his first official visit to The Community. During the service the Prior will present Bishop Rowan with the  Visitor’s Pectoral Cross.

At the time of his appointment as Visitor  the Prior Canon Mark Soady said:

” The Community is honoured to have such a spiritual and learned person as its Visitor. Since the inception of the Community, Bishop Rowan has taken a great deal of interest in us – we are grateful for that. “


This Saturday we will host a Monastic Taster Day at St Mary’s Priory, organised by RoOT.

As a Community we will host religious from numerous Communities for part of the weekend, and host the Taster day itself.

In addition to welcoming our friends from Mucknell Abbey and Tymawr Convent, we will also be joined by a Franciscan, a Mirfield Father, a monk from the Community of the Will of God and Nuns from various communities.

During the day we will make a presentation on life in our Community, traditional monastics will gave their testimony and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet will speak.

For Br Seb this will be his third Monastic Taster Day.:

” My initial feelings when I went to my first Taster Day was excitement. For me the day started when I bumped into Br Finnian SSF at the train station. Without having gone to the first day in London I may never have joined the Holywell Community.

“Then last year I went with Fr Mark to the Liverpool Day. It was good to met some one my own age, and realise that other youngsters were interested in the Religious life.

“This year I am looking forward to playing host, as others visit us.”

Making Quince Jelly

Intense kitchen selfie…

The Holywell Community now has a venerable tradition (of two whole years standing!) of making quince jelly from the tree in the Abbot’s Garden next to the Priory.

Our usual approach to cooking is not very labour intensive. We are spoilt by (usually somewhat pre-prepared) ingredients from the local supermarket. So taking something grown on site and doing something with it is a good change of pace for us and perhaps brings us more in line with our monastic forebears.

Unlike our monastic forebears, or indeed, many families, we don’t have a recipe which goes back generations. We’ve taken the recipe from BBC Good Food.

The first step is picking the quince. It’s not the prettiest fruit. But it has its own charm!

The fruit harvest

We then hack the fruit into smaller pieces in order to boil it more effectively. It starts of very hard and so needs to soften over a few hours in the pot. Br Nicholas decided to ignore the advice not to try to eat it at this point! As he will tell you, it’s pretty disgusting at this point of the process.

We then need to get the juice out of the fruit. This is the strangest part of the process. The fruit is put into a clean pillowslip and then hung up. We used some string and a musical keyboard stand along with some additional straps to give the quince a bit of a squeeze. This whole set up is covered and then left overnight to drip down into a bowl.

Once the juice is out, we add the sugar. This batch required 2.5kg’s of sugar! A touch of lemon juice is added (we ignored the geranium leaves required by the recipe). We then boil it until it reaches the setting point.

At the same time it’s boiling we also boil the jars that we will be using in order to sterilise them. The sugar and fruit juice combination is almost perfect food for moulds, bacteria, and yeasts. So it’s very important to insure there’s nothing in the jars to feast on the jams.

After pouring the jam into the jars, we leave it to set overnight. There’s some anxiety about whether it will really set, but the next morning: there it was. Set as well as it needs to be! It’ll be ready to taste in another week or so.

Jelly in jars, ready to set.

It’s a bit runnier this year than last year and it’s a significantly darker red. It’s also a bigger batch. Each year is different and that’s OK. You don’t get supermarket uniformity from home-grown fruit and you don’t get it from a pillowslip full of boiled quince hung from a keyboard stand!

You don’t get off without a little theological reflection, I’m afraid. I’ve been thinking about different ways we imagine the ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21). If you imagine yourself fully restored, are you a supermarket-perfect specimen? Do you think we would we all look the same, like row-after-row of perfectly round and red apples? That’s one way to imagine how things we would be if they were made perfect: a kind of uniformity where all the things that distinguish us are shaved off.

This perfection-as-uniformity idea seems pretty unpleasant. But it is an idea of perfection that is operating in our culture. There is another idea though: where the flourishing of each individual thing allows it to maintain its own distinctives without conflicting with the things around it. This is perfection as harmonious difference.

One of my favourite philosophers says the following when reflecting on the kind of growth that is caused by love: “The movement of love is circular, at one and the same impulse projecting creations into independency and drawing them into harmony.” This seems like an appealing way of characterising God’s creative action in the world. It’s also a relief to know that this year’s quince jelly doesn’t have to be exactly like last year’s!

-Br Josh