Br Nicolas preaches for the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Brother Nicolas praising God for the life of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God

I remember the day God met me. I was 17. Since then, I always wanted to share my faith and to deepen it. To find the way to be a better disciple of Jesus and how to do it. For I needed to witness to Jesus.

We need witnesses to Jesus in this world. We need people who are able to say who Jesus is and what he has done to each one of us, in our own way.

We need to walk in this new path what Jesus showed us, the way of love, in order to reach people and tell them our stories. A story of joy, of love, of redemption.

But some people would ask “so what? Is that so important really? Talking with people about things of long age?”

Well, if we look at the prophet Isaiah, the time of war and exile was severe on that time. Israel was living into a foreign land, without any particular hope in the future. The Babylonians have destroyed their country, the Temple of Jerusalem is in ruins, and everything is finished. So what? Which story could the Israelites tell at that time?

Exile. Destruction. Despair. These are what the Israelites experienced day after day, in this time Isaiah wrote this story.

But here is the Good News of the Kingdom. GOD NEVER FORGOT HIS PEOPLE.

Looking back to Isaiah, we hear the words of the Lord himself proclaiming and promising that his Kingdom shall come, the end of the agony, and the end of the terror. And this end isn’t only about the exile, this promise of a better tomorrow isn’t restricted to this time of exile Israel endured. No!

This proclamation of the Lord is made for all eternity. A time should come, where everything will be restored to the glory of God. A time will come where all will be saved, all will be happy, all will live in a harmony, safety, in a land where we can belong.  

A time should come, my brothers and sisters, where God will no longer remember our past transgressions, a time where he will establish a new covenant with us, with his people Israel. A time where burnt offerings will no longer be required, when trust, love, obedience are the characteristics of this new covenant. 

Here is the Good News that Isiah came to proclaim to the people of Israel in exile! A time of freedom, joy and gladness.

But this time, this time didn’t yet happen.

Centuries have past, transgressions after transgressions. War after war. Corruption, destruction, invasion by the Roman Empire. So finally, this promised freedom of God isn’t yet fulfilled. So when? Is that the story of our hope? The story we are called to witness? Promises unaccomplished?

No.

For in our time, a woman came. A woman, young, poor, faithful, obedient will come. My brother and sisters, we know this story. We heard so many times, but let’s hear it in a different way today.

On a time predicted by the prophets, a woman came to life, from the people of Israel, a woman free to love and to follow the call from God. Mary, the little girl of Nazareth, the one we remember today, in the day of her nativity.

Well actually, some of my Protestant friends in France would ask me “why do we need to remember something which isn’t in the bible? Why this birth is so important?”

The day is very important, my brothers and sisters, for Mary is the first witness of the fulfilled promises of God. From her youth, God intended to call her to give birth to Jesus, to become this incredible woman, this great and faithful Disciple who shows us and teaches us the way of Jesus.

The gospel of John testifies us that many Jews, many Gentiles didn’t believe the witness of Jesus about his Father. They had no clue about what he was preaching. For Jesus was different. He didn’t come to talk about himself, but to give witness to his Father.

God is not lonely. God is Father, Son & Holy Spirit. The Father sent his Son, in order to show us his love and fulfil all the promises he made to our ancestors, says Mary in her Magnificat. The Holy Spirit came later, in order to ascribe into the hearts of all who kept Jesus’ words the truth of who he is. The Messiah, the Son God, the promised King of Israel who came to establish a new reign, a new reality where there’s no more violence, no more hatred, no more war, no more destruction, where all the races of the earth live in harmony and good concord.

This is the witness of Mary, this is what she proclaims in her song. The Lord our God cares for the poor, the lonely, and the oppressed. Those people are precious in God’s sight, and they have to be for us all. Why? For God is love, and his love reaches all the earth, every hearts, every nation. No one can escape. Not even Satan, at the end of time.

My brothers and sisters, we need witnesses of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded of his promises, for they have been fulfilled. These promises aren’t empty political speech, neither marketing propaganda for a new kind of religion.

This is God’s dream for this world. A world living the promises of God for everyone, a place in this world where everyone is welcomed, loved, listened.

And now, the big question is: ok Nicolas, you talk about wonderful things. God is love. Mary is the first and greatest of all disciples, and we should bear witness to Jesus. But how? Should we do like the Jehovah witness, knocking to everyone’s door?

Well, I won’t suggest you to do so this afternoon for sure. But perhaps we could start to wonder into our hearts “Which is my story? What is that story so powerful that I want to share with others?”

As deep and incredible the Scriptures are, our living God became human, in order to gather to himself everyone on the earth. everyone. But we cannot wait for other people to say “well, I think I’m gonna buy a bible today and start reading it”. It could be wonderful, don’t you think? But it’s not the case. This is why we need to share that message, to preach the love of Christ we received and rejoice doing so.

Jesus commissioned us, not just the clergy, but the whole people of God, to share that story of death, of resurrection, of unselfish, redeeming, sacrificial love. This is our mission, but first of all, it’s God’s mission. Which means don’t worry! God is at work within us. He will show us the way, as he did with Mary.

We need to trust the words of Mary, when she tells us that God’s love is everlasting. We need to look at her example of faith and live, how she powerfully welcomed the singular and particular grace of God for her life. As Isaiah and all the prophets, Mary answered to the call of God by a great YES, not without fear and doubt, but she decided to trust God.

Trust is at the very centre of her example. In doing so, she brought the author of life himself into our world, into our reality, our daily basis.

Thanks to her, God came deeply into our lives and never ceased to be part of our lives, in all the good and bad moments. For God is merciful, says Mary.

Trust in God. Go. Share your story. Share this Christ risen from the dead, this Messiah who’s so in love for the world that he gave his life for us all.

When you tell your story, when you meet the story of someone else, then a new story is made, in which God’s own story can be found.

Christ has no body now, but yours, no hands, not feet on earth, but yours, says Teresa of Avila.

Tell the story of your hearts and be thankful.

Like Mary, Trust.

My brothers and sisters, God love you. God bless you. Keep the faith. May God hold us all into his almighty hands of love.

Amen!

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Visit of MU World wide President to St Mary’s Priory

It was good to be part of the Service at St Mary’s Priory Church on Wednesday at which the World-wide President of the MU , Sheran Harper Commissioned the new MU Diocesan President & Team.

Leading the Procession as Nick Ramsay AM looks on
The Archbishop of Wales in conversation with the Prior
Team Photo

Celebrating the Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity: September 8

On Sunday, September 8th we will be Celebrating the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, patron of the Priory Church where we are based.

The First Eucharist of the day will be at 8am celebrated by the Sub Prior, Fr Tom Bates.

At 11am Br Josh along with Godly Play trainer Diane will lead our first Sunday Godly Play session at the Priory Church at 11am, while the rest of us attend the Parish Sung Eucharist.

 At 3pm we will join other religious communities and other local christians for a service of Sung Vespers at Tintern Abbey. The speaker at this ecumenical celebration of Evening Prayer, will be the Revd Dr Tim Macquiban, Methodist Fraternal Delegate Rome.

The Statute of Our Lady of Tintern in the ruined Cistercian Monastery

At 6pm Evensong back at St Mary’s Priory Church Br Nicolas will preach his first sermon in the Community.

Today is our Fifth Birthday

Five years ago today Bishop Richard Payne appointed and installed Fr Mark as Prior and Ami and Sam as the first Lay members of the Holywell Community at a service in St Mary’s Priory.

Fr Mark, Ami and Sam on Retreat at Llangasty prior to the service which brought he Community in to being

“What an amazing five years it has been”, said Prior, Fr Mark.

“Each year has been different, but each year has seen the Community grow. During that time we’ve had two Sub Prior and a total of 10 Lay Members. We have been overseen by two wonderful visitors in Bishops Richard & Rowan. “

Here are a selection of photos from the past 5 years.

So we pray for God’s blessing on us for the next five years!

Evensong Sermon for the 25th of August – Br Josh

Texts: Isaiah 30:8-21, 2 Corinthians 9.

…your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:20-21

The members of the Holywell Community have just come back from a few days of retreat in the Wirral with the Sisters of Jesus Way. It was the first moment I’ve had to stop and breath after an eventful few months. I went straight from Godly Play training, to travelling around the Welsh coast with my parents, to two weeks of intense work in Walsingham for their youth pilgrimage, to the Holywell Community’s Induction Week. It’s been a whirlwind.

It’s also been a time coloured by my consciousness that I am not going to be here for much longer. The middle of October, when I’m due to leave, will be here any minute now. And yet, here I am being inducted into a new year of the community. It is a very strange feeling!

In thinking about this, I’ve been drawn back to a wee snippet of a Godly Play story that I picked up in July. Here it is:

Time, time, time. There all kinds of time. There is a time to get up in the morning. There is a time to go to bed. There is a time to go to school and a time to come home. There is time to work and a time to play. But what is time?

Some people say that time is a line, but I wonder what time would look like? Ah, wait a minute. What is this?

Time. Time in a line. This is time in a line. Look at this. Here is the beginning. It is the newest part. It is just being born. It is brand new. Now look

Look it is getting older. The part that was new is now getting old. I wonder how long time goes. Does it go on forever? Could there ever be an ending?

It ended. Look at the ending.

The beginning that was so new at the beginning is now old. The ending is the new part now.

Godly Play Story: The Circle of the Church Year

I’m going to leave this ambiguity hanging for the moment. We’ll come back to it! I want now to turn to our readings for tonight in light of two themes which were discussed during the Community’s recent retreat. I’ve spoken about both of these themes to you before, but they are hard to exhaust! The themes are: obedience and listening.

Obedience

Our retreat was focused on the Rule of St Benedict. If you have read much of the Rule you will know that it is filled with references to the scriptures. In the edition we use, you can tell that Benedict is quoting from the Bible when the words are in italic script. Flick through, and you’ll see that many pages are filled with italics.

When explaining what obedience means, St Benedict quotes a line from the New Testament reading that we have just heard: “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Indeed, the whole passage is very helpful for understanding the kind of obedience that a Benedictine is supposed to cultivate.

In the passage, St Paul is engaged in something like the first Christian Aid Week He is in full rhetorical swing trying to convince the Corinthian Christians to provide material support for the Christians in Jerusalem. He uses a few different strategies to encourage the Corinthians to give: ‘I’ve been telling the Macedonians that you are very generous… you wouldn’t want to make me a liar would you?’. All good rhetorical moves. But there’s something deeper. Paul tells the Corinthians that they must not give reluctantly or under pressure but cheerfully.

St Benedict insists that obedience isn’t just a matter of following commands. Obedience must be from the heart. It must be “free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness”. This is hard. I think of the most annoying kind of store manager or boss, who demands not only that you fulfill your duties but that you also do it with a smile. Or that you ‘embody the values and company philosophy of McDonald’s’ or whatever.

There’s something especially unpleasant and overbearing about a boss who says not only must you do what he tell you… you have to like it too! They already have control over where you are and what you do, now they want control over what you feel and think too! Ugh!

It might look like this is the kind of situation St Benedict is trying to create. It might look like St Benedict was just another overbearing boss. (Incidentally, this is why I get a little anxious when I hear about business leaders trying to use the Rule of St Benedict as a model for their companies — it sounds like it could go quite badly!). But there’s a difference here. The reasons that Christianity thinks of obedience as a virtue are incompatible with that obedience being merely external or merely a matter of following orders.

What is the reason? It is simply that our obedience is being directed towards God. God may be demanding and may appear at inconvenient or frustrating times, but God has something the overbearing boss doesn’t have. In my experience, the worst examples of overbearing bosses tend to be, lets say, a bit incompetent. They tend to screw things up. God, on the other hand, is the source of all goodness. For things to be going well, for things to be what they ought to be, just is for them to work according to God’s purpose for them. (The boss’s purposes are not necessarily in line with your best interests – God’s, almost by definition, are.)

I’ve just been complaining about incompetent bosses. But they’re not the only ones with a tendency to screw things up. We all have a tendency to screw things up. The call to obedience to God is, in part, a recognition of this. Without God, we’re nothing. Left to our own devices, and our own desires, detached from the source of all Goodness, we have no hope of improving. At least, this is what the Benedictine thinks. Instead, we are to open ourselves up to God’s desires.

The problem we are trying to solve with, in St Benedict’s words, ‘the strong and noble weapons of obedience’, is that our hearts aren’t quite right. Well, the only way that could work is if obedience transformed our hearts. Just following orders isn’t going to do the job. Obedience in the Christian sense is a matter of the heart.

Listening

St Benedict was trying to set up a particular kind of social structure: a monastery. Whether his rule for monks is a success or a failure ought to be measured in terms of how well it leads monks to the kind of obedience to God that we have just been talking about.

Tonight, I don’t want to focus on the bits of the Rule which specifically concern monks and monasteries. Instead, we can ask a more central question: how are we to be obedient to God from the heart? Benedict gives us an answer: listen “with the ear of your heart.”

There’s no getting around the importance of private prayer as the place where this listening happens. There’s lots of advice out there about how to pray. I’ll just say a few words now (not pretending to great expertise in the matter). As many now recognise, contemplative prayer is important. This is prayer in which we go beyond words. But we shouldn’t forget meditation, in which we take something from the scriptures or some episode from the life of Jesus or the saints, and make it come alive in our imaginations, thoughts and feelings.

This has the advantage of not being simply a list of requests given to God. “Lord please give me this, please give me that”. One way God speaks to us is through the scriptures and the saints. We can take advantage of that. Meditation also has the advantage of engaging the heart. Often some aspect of the story will stir our emotions or stick out to us. These things can change from day to day. But the whole person is involved in this process.

There is always something in the key events of the Christian story to take away and apply to our own situation. So it making resolutions as we conclude a time of prayer is also important. That is, to commit to some way in which we can exhibit the truth of whatever we have been meditating on in our own lives in the coming day or two. This is a way in which our actions can be brought in line with God’s purposes.

Perhaps, say, in meditating on the creation story, we might focus on the virtue of thankfulness. We might then resolve to express our thankfulness to someone in particular who has done something for us recently. It can be that simple!

The approach I’ve just be gesturing towards is only one way in which we can listen to God in prayer. Your mileage may vary!

One thing that this kind of listening is not compatible with is assuming that we already have the answers. We might (and unfortunately sometimes do) tell God what needs to happen in a given situation. Our Old Testament reading can help to illuminate this problem.

Isaiah is not happy with the people of Judah. They think they know what’s right. They won’t listen to the true prophets.

The problem they are facing is that the Assyrians are threatening the kingdom of Judah. You wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of the Assyrians. Let’s say that they didn’t believe in multiculturalism. So the Judeans sent treasures to Egypt to try and get in their good books and help them to form a defensive alliance against the Assyrians.

But, Isaiah tells us, none of this was done with God in mind. No listening involved. And, we’re told, God doesn’t think the Egyptians are going to be much use in this matter. But the Judeans had their plan and they weren’t going to hear otherwise. They reject, in the words of our reading, ‘quietness’ and ‘trust’ and instead ‘flee upon horses’. And God says: you will flee! Things will not go well for a time.

But all is not lost. God promises to a restoration in which ‘[our] eyes shall see [our] Teacher. And when [we] turn to the right or when [we] turn to the left, [we] shall hear a word behind [us] saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”’ (Who’s the Teacher? The usual Sunday School answer is correct… but that’s another story).

So let’s avoid getting carried away with our own plans and attitudes about what needs to be done or what God ought to do. Let’s not let our business overtake us. Rather, let’s ensure that we leave time to listen to God in prayer and to have our hearts transformed so that we can be truly obedient.

A loose thread…

I left this string hanging earlier. Our time line where the beginning has gotten old and the ending is the newest, freshest bit. Let’s come back to it:

Do you know what the church did? They tied the ending that was like a beginning and the beginning that was like an ending together, so we would always know that for every ending there is a beginning and for every beginning there is an ending.

Godly Play Story: The Circle of the Church Year
‘They tied the ending that was like a beginning and the beginning that was like an ending together.’

I was expressing some confusion at the start of this sermon about being at the end of my time here while everyone else is at the beginning. It is a strange feeling. But endings and beginnings are joined together as we grow into the people God intends for us to be.

In this case, the virtues of obedience, humility and the like discussed in the Holywell Community’s initial retreat are not just for members of the community. Our discussions were just as relevant to me, about to leave, as they were to the people who will stay for the year. Indeed, the themes I’ve been talking to you about tonight are relevant to all of us in our growth as Christians.

So let’s listen with the ears of our hearts.

Music List for Liturgical Festival of Music

We will not be saying Vespers at 4.30 this week as we will join the Festival Choirs for Evensong

St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny

Monday 26th August (Pre-reformation) 

St Mary’s Priory Choir 

6.00 pm Choral Vespers (Treble voices) 

Magnificat: Plainsong 

Anthem: O Lux Beata Trinitas – Fayrfax 

7.30 pm Choral Compline (Men’s voices) 

Anthem:: O Quam Pulchra Es—Dunstable 

Tuesday 27th August (16th Century) 

12.15 pm Lunchtime Recital – Pippa Goss (Soprano) 

5.30 pm Choral Evensong Thomas Hardye Chapel Choir Alumni 

Introit: O come ye servants—Tye Responses: Morley 

Psalm: 74 Canticles: Short Service – Farrant Anthem: Ave verum corpus—Byrd 

Wednesday 28th August (17th Century) 

12.15 pm Lunchtime Recital 

Simon Pratt (Baritone) 

5.30 pm Choral Evensong PGS Choir, Cardiff 

Introit: Thou knowest Lord—Purcell Responses: Tomkins Psalm: 119 vv.89-104 Canticles: Purcell in G minor Anthem: Man that is born of woman—Purcell 

Thursday 29th August (18th Century) 

12.15 pm Lunchtime Recital 

Emma Gibbins (Organ) 

5.30 pm

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First Reflections of Br Nicolas

Retreat leader, Bishop Dominic with Br Nicolas and Nathaniel (who will join us in the new year).

Greetings everyone. My name is Nicolas. This is a bit of my spiritual story.

I’ve been living as a member of a new Anglican monastic community for now two weeks. 

After my arrival into Wales, I had to make myself comfortable quickly, as I started a new journey of faith. From my little town in France, I was now living into a wonderful Welsh city where God called me to serve. 

I must say I’ve been really anxious and stressed about this new move. Is there where you want me to be, Lord? Will I be able to love people enough? Am I in the right place? How will you nurture my vocation to the priesthood?

As an extrovert person, I really enjoyed to be surrounded by quiet people from the community. Their quietness strengthened me to listen to God’s voice more deeply. I felt myself truly embodied into their lovely silent presence. Stability becomes true to me and anxiety started to leave me. 

God’s first language is silence, says St. John of the Cross. 

At the Mass of installation, we’ve received a message about how Mary made herself able to listen to God. How silence and obedience meet and work together. 

Now, I feel I am in a place where I can truly meet God, where people in the parish and the local town can teach me about their lives. I learnt and still learn how to abandon myself to the mercy of God, and how to minister as a lay member to the people in the parish and beyond. 

It has been hard. It has been disturbing. A new rhythm of life and prayer. A new place. A new language (though my English is good enough).

All these new elements have become more and more enjoyable day after day. I’ve been remarkably and joyfully amazed by the kindness my fellow brothers, the Prior and Sub Prior bestowed upon me. 

As I continue to walk in the path of Christ, I rejoice to be able to do so with such incredible persons of faith. 

May God help us all to do his will, to love more deeply and carefully our neighbours. 

Thanks for having read my reflection. 

Peace