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

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?


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.