20th March

Purity

Blest are the pure in heart; for they shall see God. Matthew 5: 5

It is not only that these (Celtic) scribes and anchorites lived by the destiny of their dedication in an environment of wood and sea; it was because they brought into that environment an eye washed miraculously clear by continuous spiritual exercise that they, the first in Europe, had that strange vision of natural things in an almost unnatural purity.
Robin Flower in Irish Tradition

As the eye is a sense faculty of the body, so is the healthy imagination a sense organ of the spiritual mind. It can receive spiritual truths from the material world But purity of heart is required for such a healthy functioning of the imagination. Without this purity, the ever active mind and imagination construct disjointed thoughts and representations that bear little resemblance to reality. Such images debase rather than dignify.
Brother Aidan, an Orthodox monk and iconographer

Alas that no stream reaching every part flows over my breast to be a cleansing tonight for my heart and body.
Early Irish Lyrics

Mary beloved! Mother of the White Lamb
pure virgin of nobleness.
Carmina Gadelica

My strength is as the strength of ten because my heart is pure.
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Make and keep me pure within.
Charles Wesley

From the unreal, lead me to the real
from the impure lead me to the pure
From darkness, lead me to light
And from what passes away
lead me to what is eternal.

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19th March

Bitter Into Sweet

After Moses had led the escaping people across the sea they journeyed three days through the desert without finding water. When they did come to water at Marah it was too bitter to drink (that is why it was named Marah, which means ‘bitter’). When the people complained Moses pleaded with the Lord, who directed him to a piece of wood. Moses threw this in the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15: 22 – 26

For the one who has left behind the pleasures of Egypt which he served before crossing the sea, life removed from these pleasures seems at first difficult and disagreeable. But if the wood be thrown into the water, that is, if one receives the mystery of the resurrection which had its beginning with the wood (you of course understand ‘the cross’ when you hear ‘wood’) then the virtuous life, being sweetened by the hope of things to come, becomes sweeter and more pleasant than all the sweetness that tickles the senses with pleasure.
Gregory of Nyssa in The Life of Moses Book 2

In the grounds of the monastery at Durrow there was a tree that provided local people with a prolific supply of apples; however, these tasted so bitter that the people complained. One autumn day, Columba went up to it, and seeing it laden with fruit that was going to give more displeasure than pleasure to the people, he raised his hand and spoke to the tree: ‘In the name of almighty God, bitter tree, may all your bitterness depart from you, and from now on may your apples be really sweet’. Columba’s biographer commented: ‘Wonderful to tell, more swiftly than words all the apples on that tree lost their bitterness and became wonderfully sweet’.

Sweet Jesus, I lay before you now
things that are needlessly bitter –
relationships, circumstances.
May your sweetness turn
food into pleasure
tragedy into triumph
and ugliness into beauty.

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18th March

Washing Feet

Jesus got up from the meal, took off his top garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him … John 13: 4, 5

One of the desert fathers used to say: There are three things we honour – the fellowship of holy communion, the hospitality of meals, and the washing of one another’s feet.

The example of Jesus in washing others’ feet was not only followed in hot and dusty lands, for this practice was followed in Celtic lands too.

It was said that when Cuthbert was put in charge of guests at Ripon monastery, God sent him a visitor to test how Christ-like was Cuthbert’s guest care. One day he found a youth waiting in the guest room and gave him his usual kindly welcome. He fetched water so his guest could wash his hands; then Cuthbert washed his feet himself, tenderly dried them, and held them against his chest while he gave them a warm massage.

The reason people wondered whether this youth had been an angel in disguise is that, just before a warm evening meal was brought to him, he vanished into thin air. There was snow outside, but not a footprint could be seen.

In a society which has heated bathrooms washing feet may be an artificial way to reflect Jesus’ example, but there are other ways to do this. Can you think of any? Remember, the next person you meet may be a test case!

Lord, take my hands.
May your compassion always flow though them.
May they offer tender touch
to people who are deprived of touch or tenderness.
May they offer human warmth
to people who are cold or dispirited.
May they offer practical care
to people who are weary and overworked.

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17th March

Lust

Live by the Spirit and you will not give in to the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature and the Spirit are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery … Galations 5: 16, 17

Most of us have times when a wave of sexual desire threatens to overwhelm us. Everything else in our life, however fruitful and of God it may be, seems as nothing compared with this. And we justify the idea of indulging our lust on the grounds that we will never have lived if we do not experience what we desire. This is a delusion, and the experience is always that of let-down, barriers, disappointment, guilt.

Is there anything we can do to avoid such a defeat? Celtic Christians offer us one drastic remedy: They stood in a cold bath or river in order to cool their passions!  And from the Desert Christians comes this intriguing example of a remedy:

A young disciple was so constantly tempted that he eventually announced to his soul friend: ’I cannot go on unless I actually commit the deed’. The wise old abba replied: ‘I want to do it too, so let me come with you to the prostitute’s house and then we’ll return together to our cell’. The abba took the money with which to pay the prostitute. When they got to her house, he asked that he should have the first session, while the younger man stayed outside. He won the trust of the prostitute, explained that his friend was at heart a holy monk, and that what he needed was not a one night stand, but for his fantasy to dissolve. She agreed to co-operate.

When the young man came in for sexual intercourse she told him: ‘I,too have a Rule. It requires my clients to make repeated obscene oaths with me before we lie together’. The young man started to do this, but became so sickened by all the filth, that he realised he wanted to live a life of prayer more than anything else, and left the room. The two men returned, chaste in body and heart, to continue their desert calling.

Lord, when waves of lust roll over me,
Remind me that my true destiny lies
In being clean in body and mind.
Cool me, calm me, and protect me I pray.

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16th March

Where God Guides – God Provides

Jesus said: “If you believe you will be able to say to this hill, ‘Get up and throw yourself in the sea’, and it will. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask in prayer”. Matthew 21: 21,22

Do you sometimes feel that something is unsatisfactory about the path you are on, but since everyone assumes there is nothing anyone can do about it, faith is pigeon-holed and you ‘make the best of a bad job’ with a resigned spirit? The following story of a little known Irish saint reminds us that there is nothing about which we cannot pray.

A wandering Irish monk named Molaise was on a difficult mission journey in a remote part of Ireland. It was easy to get lost and it was dangerous. Then he met a group of monks who had a rare possession – a good map. Molaise would have given his right arm to make a copy of this, but no one had the necessary instruments with them with which to do this. It would have been easy for Molaise to have shrugged his shoulders and continued his unsatisfactory journey, but he decided to go aside and make this a matter of prayer. Before long a loose feather from a goose that was flying overhead fluttered down. Molaise caught it and was able to use his new quill as a pen with which to copy the valuable map!

May the hills lie low
May the sloughs fill up
in your way.
May all evil sleep
May all good awake
In your way
Collected by Kenneth Macleod

Dear Jesus, you guide your straying sheep along lush and fragrant valleys, where the grass is rich and deep.
You guard them from the attacks of wolves, and from the bites of snakes.
You heal their diseases, and teach them always to walk in the ways of God.
When we stray, lead us back; when temptation besets us, give us strength; when our souls are sick, pour upon us your love.
Ancient Celtic song

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15th March

Christ Hands

There are different ways of serving, but the same Lord is served … All of you are Christ’s body, and each one is a part of it. Romans 12: 5, 27

Ultari, a friend of Brigid, is said to have fed with his own hands every child in Erin who had no support, and he provided particular care for the children whose mothers had died of the plague.

King Oswald used to pray with his hands open, easier to receive good things from God. He would then raise his hands to bless people with good things, and his prayers were put into practice.

For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good people to do nothing.
Edmund Burke

Christ has no body on earth but yours
No hands but yours
No feet but yours
Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out for the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now
Teresa of Avila

Forgive us for the good we ought to have done which we have left undone
And for the things we have left undone which we ought to have done
Book of Common Prayer (adapted)

With these hands I bless the lonely,the forgotten
and the lost;
With these hands I shield your messengers
from attacks within, without;
With these hands I dispel darkness and rebuke
the evil forces;
With these hands I pray your victory for those who fight for right.

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14th March

Pouring Oil On Troubled Waters

The wind died down and there was a great calm. Mark 4: 39

We know nothing of Aidan’s childhood, but we may assume that his faith was built up with stories of fellow Irish people who had wrought great things by prayer. One of these was Mac Nissi of Connor, who passed into heaven on 3 September about 510. As a result of his intercessions a woman who had been infertile for fifteen years was able to give birth to a child. Aidan certainly learned to have faith for all sorts of situations.

A delegation from Lindisfarne had to travel far south by boat, and bring back Princess Eanflaed who was to become Queen to Northumbria’s King. Its leader, Utta, begged Aidan to pray for their safe keeping during this hazardous and significant journey. As he was praying for them God revealed things to Aidan. He gave them a jar of blessed oil to take with them, and told them that they would encounter storms, but that the winds would drop as soon as they poured the oil on the troubled waters.

The crew forgot about this. A storm did blow up, so fierce that the boat began to sink and they thought they would perish. Only then did someone remember Aidan’s words and the oil. They poured the oil over the surrounding waves, and the wind immediately receded.

This is an example of prophetic prayer, whereby a person foresees trouble for others, and is guided by God to give them direction. It is also the origin of the well-known phrase ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’. Why not pray for people you know who seem about to be engulfed in a sea of troubles? You never know, God may give you a word to pass on to them that proves to be as calming as Aidan’s oil.

Protecting Father, stalwart Steersman, guiding Spirit
I pray for friends in a sea of troubles
I pray for households in a sea of troubles
I pray for work places in a sea of troubles
I pray for communities in a sea of troubles.
May your inspiration flow to them
and come to them like oil on troubled waters.

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13th March

Live What You Say

Jesus said: “How terrible for you teachers of God’s Law! You put loads on people’s backs which are hard to carry, but you yourselves will not stretch out a finger to help them carry those loads”. Luke 11: 46

Aidan’s way of life was in great contrast to the slothfulness of later times, so much so that all who travelled with him, monks or others, were required to use the time to study the Scriptures and memorise the psalms. This was the daily task of Aidan and his disciples wherever they went. If, as occasionally happened, he had to dine with the king, he attended with one or two of his team and after eating lightly they would leave the table in order to read the Bible or pray.

Inspired by his example, many men and women undertook to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays until evening, except for the periods of celebration after Easter and Pentecost.

If wealthy people did wrong Aidan did not keep silence out of fear or favour, but would sternly correct them. He never gave money to influential people, only the hospitality of his table. He used money rich people gave him to buy the freedom of people who had been unjustly sold as slaves. Many of these later became disciples; after training and instructing them he ordained them.
Based on Bede

Celtic monks lived in conspicuous poverty; Roman monks lived well.
Celtic monks were unworldly; Roman monks were worldly.
Celtic bishops practised humility; Roman bishops paraded pomp.
Celtic bishops were shepherds of their flocks; Roman bishops were monarchs of their Dioceses.
Celtic clergymen said ‘Do as I do’ and hoped to be followed; Roman clergyman said ‘Do as I say’ and expected to be obeyed.
Magnus Magnusson

Father,whose gentle apostle Aidan
befriended everyone he met
with Jesus Christ
give me his humble, Spirit-filled zeal
that I may inspire others to learn your ways
and to pass on the torch of faith.

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12th March

Gentle Aidan

My teaching will fall like gentle rain on tender grass. Deuteronomy 32: 2

Gentleness has soothing qualities such as politeness, kindness and courtesy; yet it is also a firestorm of indignation, kindled by the wrongs and sufferings of others. In no one does this quality shine forth more clearly than in Aidan.

Among the lessons that Aidan gave the clergy about their life-style, none was more salutary than his own example of fasting and self-discipline. His teaching won the hearts of everyone because he taught what he and his followers lived out. He neither sought nor cared for the possessions of this world, and he loved to give away to the poor the gifts he received from the rich.

In those days poor people would travel by foot, and the influential by horse. Aidan, however, insisted on travelling by foot in country as well as town, unless some urgent necessity forced him to do otherwise. So wherever he walked he was able to catch sight of people, rich or poor, and talk to them straight away. If they were not Christians he would invite them to accept the mystery of the Faith; if they already believed he would strengthen their faith and encourage them by his words and example in the practice of Christian giving and words of mercy.

I have described … his love of peace and charity, temperance and humility; his soul which triumphed over anger and greed, and at the same time despised pride and vainglory … and his tenderness in comforting the weak, in relieving and protecting the poor.
Bede

May the raindrops fall lightly on your brow
May the soft winds freshen your spirit
May the sunshine brighten your heart
May the burdens of the day rest lightly upon you
And may God enfold you in love
An old Irish prayer

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11th March

Here Am I, Send Me

I heard the voice of the Lord say ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I, send me’. Isaiah 6: 8

When the Christian King Oswald came to Northumbria’s throne he asked the leaders of the Iona Community, where he had been brought up in the Faith, to send a mission team to his kingdom, so that the English people might be taught the blessings of the Faith and receive the sacraments. The first team leader to come was Corman, a man of stern temperament. He stayed for some time, but the people were unwilling to listen to him, and he returned to Iona.

At a post mortem meeting of the Iona community Corman laid the blame on the Northumbrian people who, he said, were stubborn and uncivilised. The leaders discussed this matter for a long time, for they were keen to evangelise new peoples.

Then Aidan, who was present, said directly to Corman: ‘It seems to me, brother, that you have been unduly severe with your ignorant hearers. You should have followed the guidance of the apostle Paul and offered them the milk of simpler teaching until, as they gradually grew strong in God’s Word, they were able to take in a fuller statement of doctrine and carry out the higher commands.’ As Aidan spoke, everyone turned and looked at him, and they carefully considered his words. The meeting finally resolved that Aidan should be made a bishop and sent to lead a second mission, because he had shown the gift of discretion, which is the mother of all virtues.

So they consecrated him and sent him to preach. Time was to prove that Aidan was not only endowed with discretion and good sense, but with the other Christian virtues also. Above all he was a willing missionary.

Here am I Lord
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go Lord
Where you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart
Dan Schutte S.J.

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