Fr Tom reflects on his first year as Sub Prior:
Martha and Mary as Ora et Labora in the Rule of St Benedict.
St Bernard reflects on the monastic life as containing a balance of vocations which we find modelled in the Gospels by Christ’s companions at Bethany. Martha the active, and Mary the contemplative. A balance of which Thomas Merton suggests is representative of monastic perfection, and it is easy to see the character of these disciples as we seek each year to build community together.
In the account of Jesus teaching in Bethany in Luke 10.38-42 he tells an indignant Martha that it is Mary who has chosen the better part, ‘and it will not be taken away from her’.. Mary who takes time to sit at his feet, to rejoice in his presence and to contemplate his teachings.
One of the highlights of my first year serving the Holywell Community has been our weekly Holy Hour on a Friday evening. The words carved upon the altar in the St Benedict chapel taken from the local boy and metaphysical poet Henry Vaughan, read: ‘Thy God, thy life, Thy cure.’ Like Mary of Bethany sitting at his feet ‘God works in us while we rest in him’: the words of the 12th Century Benedictine Peter of Celles.
Sometimes we pray on our own as a Community. Sometimes we are joined by friends and strangers. Recently we were blessed to find that during adoration the Priory had been visited with a coach load of tourists who had all joined us in quiet prayer.
Our visitors over the period of the ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative, were able to follow a specially devised prayer trail leading people to engage at their own pace over the ten days between Ascension and Pentecost with a journey of Christian initiation around the church from the font to the tabernacle.
Whilst the contemplation Mary embodies is a vocation within monasticism in and of itself, the Rule, like the home of Bethany, ensures balance between Ora et Labora: Prayer and Work. Martha must accompany her sister Mary.
When we think of Martha, the first thing that springs to mind is probably that great Benedictine principal of hospitality. It is after all Martha who keeps the house, opens her home to Jesus and is busily ‘distracted by all the preparations that are to be made’.
Hospitality is central to our mission as a Community, whether it is the way we practice hospitality to one another at our weekly ‘family’ meal, or welcoming new families to our toddler group and All age Eucharist. It could be welcoming those who come to use our church buildings or conference centre, reaching out to the Syrian refugee families living amongst us, or welcoming those who come as individuals to discern where God might be calling them. We have also been greatly enriched in our teaching by welcoming a wide variety of guest preachers for an Advent series on the Sacraments, and a Lenten series on the Benedictine Life.
Recently we were able to host members of other churches who joined us on a discipleship course to nurture new Christians, and we are looking at ways to take that forward. Currently we are planning redecoration and maintenance work on the Community house as we look forward to welcoming our new members in a few weeks’ time.