26th July

Brokenness

A broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not turn away. Psalm 51:17

The soul, harassed with sin and toil, finds repose only in humility. Humility is its sole refreshment amid so many evils … Mortification is indeed intolerable to the proud and hard of heart, but a consolation to the one who loves only what is meek and lowly.
Rule of Columbanus

I read and write. I worship my God every day and every night.
I study the Scriptures, puzzling over their meaning, I write books for the guidance of others.
I eat little, and sleep little. When I eat I continue praying, and when I sleep my snores are songs of praise.
Yet I weep for my sins, because I cannot forget them. O Mary, O Christ, have mercy on this wretched soul.
A scribe in a Celtic monastery

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.
I asked for health, that I might do great things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of people;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
An unknown American soldier

Spirit of the living God
fall afresh on me
Break me, melt me
mould me, fill me
Spirit of the living God
fall afresh on me
Daniel Iverson

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25th July

Solitude

Very early the next morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and left the house. He went out of the town to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

The one who abides in solitude and is quiet, is delivered from fighting three battles – those of hearing, speech and sight. Then that person will have but one battle to fight – the battle of the heart.
Antony of Egypt

Cuthbert served as prior at Melrose monastery, but ‘finally fled from worldly glory and sailed away privately and secretly … After some years, desiring a solitary life he went to the island called Farne, which is in the midst of the sea and surrounded on every side by water, a place where, before this, almost no one could remain alone for any amount of time on account of the many illusions caused by devils. But he fearlessly put them to flight, and, digging down almost a cubit of a man into the earth, through very hard and stony rock, he made a space to dwell in. He also built a marvellous wall another cubit above it by placing together and compacting with earth, stones of such great size as none would believe except those who knew that so much of the power of God was in him; therein he made some little dwelling places from which he could see nothing except the heavens above.’
Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne

In Wales and Ireland there are still as many as five hundred place names (for example Dysart or Disserth) that recall a place where some believer, inspired by the desert Christians, made the desert of the heart their own. In the Channel Isles there is still a place named, simply, Egypt. Today people create desert places of their own, and ‘desert days’ in their homes. Solitude is an essential part of the foundation of any civilisation that is to last.

Still is the earth;
Make still my body.
Still is the night;
Make still my mind.
Still are the spheres;
Make still my soul

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24th July

Contemplation

My whole being desires you … Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you. … I will give you thanks as long as I live … My soul will feast and be satisfied … all night long I think of you … I cling to you. Selected from Psalm 63:1-8

It reaches out beyond all human feelings. It is neither the sound of the voice nor the movements of the tongue nor articulated words. The soul, bathed in light from on high, no longer uses human speech, which is always inadequate. Like an overabundant spring, all feelings overflow and spring forth towards God at the same time. In this short moment, it says so many things that the soul, once it has recovered itself, could neither express nor go over them in its memory.
John Cassian

Columba went to seek a place remote from men and fitting for prayer.
Adamnan

Cuthbert dwelt (at Lindisfarne) also according to Holy Scripture, following the contemplative amid the active life, and he arranged our rule of life which we composed then and which we observe to this day along with the rule of St. Benedict.
Life of Cuthbert by an anonymous monk of Lindisfarne

Cuthbert finally entered into the remoter solitude he had so long sought, thirsted after, and prayed for. He was delighted that after a long and spotless active life he should be thought worthy to ascend to the stillness of Divine contemplation.
Bede

There is a contemplative in all of us
almost strangled but still alive
who craves quiet enjoyment of the Now
and longs to touch the seamless garment of silence
which makes us whole.
Alan P. Torey

Lord, you are my island, in your bosom I rest
You are the calm of the sea, in that peace I lie
You are the deep waves of the ocean, in their depths I stay
You are the smooth white strand of the shore, in its swell I sing
You are the ocean of life that laps my being
In you is my eternal joy
Attributed to Columba

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23rd July

Releasing A Blessing

I promise that I will give you a land which is flowing with milk and honey. Exodus 3:8

We know that God frequently promised to bring the people of Israel to a land full of honey, which meant a land full of blessing. And we know that Celtic Christians frequently invited God to give blessings to the land, which included lots of honey. But what happened to Modomnoc, who is celebrated today, is the ultimate in generous blessing.

Modomnoc, who is said to have come from Ireland’s great O’Neill family, came to study under David at his Pembrokeshire monastery. One of his duties during his many years there was bee-keeping, an essential part of the monastery’s provision, which he had greatly developed. When the time came for him to return to Ireland, the whole monastery had a prayer time with him, and sent him on his way with God’s blessings, but unfortunately the entire swarm of bees followed him and settled on his boat. Bee keepers know the effort required to get a swarm of bees back into their hive. Modomnoc succeeded in doing this, and a day or two later, he repeated his farewells and set out again for the boat. The same thing happened all over again and Modomnoc once again painstakingly returned the bees.

Modomnoc went back to David, and suggested that he hang around until the bees were tired and sleepy, and then he would quietly slip away. His return afforded another opportunity for all the brothers to pray over him and invite God’s blessings on him and his new ministry in Ireland. This time, as David prayed, he realised that God intended the bees to be part of the blessing he was to give to Ireland. So David started to pray for the bees in the words of the blessing below. David’s twelfth century biographer observed that the blessing had been fulfilled completely, that bees sent back from Ireland had dwindled to nothing in Wales, and the bees in Ireland, which had previously had no reputation for bees, had flourished beyond measure. Think about the blessings you are meant to give. Why not adapt this blessing for a person or place God is asking you to pray for? Remember, however, that in order to bless another you may need to release to them something that is precious to you.

May the land to which you are journeying
Abound with your offspring.
May you for ever leave our land and your offspring never increase here.
But may they never fail to increase in the land to which you go

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22nd July

Stand Up To Peer Pressure

Do not be ashamed, then, of witnessing for our Lord; nor be ashamed of me, a prisoner for Christ’s sake. 2 Timothy 1:8

When we are teenagers, so many things are uncertain and yet to be made certain, that we find temporary security by going along with the crowd. It is all too easy to go along with the crowd in things such as smoking, swearing, sex, shop-lifting or drugs, or simply in making fun of someone. It takes exceptional courage to stand up to peer pressure. So we can all, whatever our age, take courage from the example of Cuthbert.

When Cuthbert was a teenager he saw a crowd gather by the river Tweed to watch an unusual sight, so he joined the crowd. Some monks who had recently built a monastery were trying to get timbers to it along the river estuary, but a contrary wind was driving their rafts out to sea. There were five rafts, looking like birds bobbing up and down on the waves. The monks inside the monastery saw what was happening, but their efforts to help came to nothing. So they gathered round a rock and started to pray for their brothers.

The crowd of peasants did not like incomers, especially people who brought in new beliefs and had done away with pagan ways of worship, like these Christians, so they started to jeer and to wish the monks, who were in danger of drowning, good riddance.

Cuthbert was not prepared to remain silent. ‘Do you realise what you are doing?’ he asked them. ‘Would it not be more human of you to pray for their safety rather to gloat over their misfortune?’ The crowd now directed their verbal abuse at Cuthbert. ‘Nobody is going to pray for them,’ they shouted.

So Cuthbert, having listened to them, simply knelt down on the ground and prayed. The wind at once completely changed direction, and brought the monks to a perfect landing beside the monastery. Many in the crowd began to feel ashamed and awed. They felt a genuine respect for Cuthbert and thought well of him from that time on.

Lord, I crave the approval of others
And I don’t like standing out in a crowd
Yet you want me to be true and honest.
Give me grace to pray for and stand by
People who are mocked because of their faith

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21st July

Called To Be A Martyr?

They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword. They went round clothed in skins of sheep or goats – poor, persecuted, ill-treated. The world was not good enough for them! They wandered like refugees in the deserts and hills, living in caves and holes in the ground. What a record all these have won by their faith! Hebrews 11:37-39

Have you ever wished you could so completely lay down your life for Christ that this would even include being put to death on account of your witness to him? Celtic Christians were inspired by stories of Christians who, in the early era of persecution, had been killed because they refused to denounce Christ. The Celts’ instinct for being all-out led them not only to admire these martyrs, but, since there was no longer physical persecution, to find non-physical ways of becoming martyrs.

They may have read what Jerome wrote to a young woman whose widowed mother had given away all her possessions and entered a convent: ‘Your mother has been crowned because of her long martyrdom. It is not only the shedding of blood which is the mark of a true witness, but the service of a dedicated heart is a daily martyrdom. The first is wreathed with a crown of roses and violets, the second of lilies.’

They also read in The Life of St Martin (who was the first official saint not killed for his faith): ‘He achieved martyrdom without blood. For of what human sorrows did he not, for the hope of eternity, endure the pain – in hunger, in night watchings, in nakedness, in fasting, in the insults of the envious, in the persecutions of the wicked, in care for the sick, in anxiety for those in peril.’
Sulpicius Severus

They called those who had shed blood ‘red martyrs’, and those who gave up home and possessions ‘white martyrs’. The Irish came up with the idea of ‘glas (blue – the colour of death) martyrs’, linked to extended penance, or an extended pilgrimage, going into exile from home comforts for the love of God.

The 20th century has had more red martyrs than any other century. Perhaps the 21st century will have more white and blue martyrs than any previous century? For we can be a martyr by laying aside everything that comes between us and God or by laying down our lives for our neighbour.

Take my life
Let it be laid down

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20th July

The Golden Rule

Love your neighbour as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18

Teilo is celebrated in The Welsh Triads as one of the three blessed ‘Visitors of the Isle of Britain’, the other two being David and Padarn. He was greatly used in the Christian formation of Wales and Britanny in the 6th century, and one gets a sense of warm fellowship being generated throughout the many Christian communities that he helped to establish. He was born opposite Caldey Island and trained under Paulinus, where he met another pupil who was to be greatly used, David. When David started his main establishment at the modern St David’s, Teilo went with him; he was good at teamwork.

Teilo obtained grants of land and established many Christian communities. Notable among these was his own, which was probably at Great Llandeilo. Entries in the margin of the Gospels of St. Chad (written about 700) refer to him as the founder of a monastery known as ‘the Family of Teilo’. This was a prototype of the kind of community that was led by a monk who was also a bishop of his people. Such a monastery was the hearth, or hub, of a large extended family of Christians.

When the plague decimated the population in 547, Teilo led a mass exodus of Christians to Britanny, where he linked up with Samson who had settled at Dol. The two of them were said to have planted a big orchard of fruit trees, three miles long, reaching from Dol to Cai. He stayed there seven years and established further communities.

It is said that the hermit Cadoc once asked Teilo, ‘What is the greatest wisdom in a person?’ He answered ‘To refrain from injuring another person when one has the power to do so.’’. Teilo had the power to do so, but the winning quality of saints such as himself was that that they did not abuse power, they followed the golden rule ‘Do to others what you would like them to do to you’.

Teach me
Gentle Jesus of the cradle and the cross
To forego vengeance at all times
And to reach out my hands in love to all

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19th July

Jesus, Forgive My Sins

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Mark 10:48

Just as failure to give a car its M.O.T. can be a matter of life or death, so can our failure to check up on faults that may have been developing, unnoticed, in ourselves. Celtic Christians had check lists of common faults; these were incorporated in what were known as ‘Penitentials’.

The following prayer of confession is a useful check-list. It may be worth while taking the time to detect examples of each type of fault in our lives, and to take these to the heavenly Mechanic who can put them right. It is also worth remembering that Celtic Christians believed that God has made us horizontal, and not just vertical; in other words, we are designed to share our secrets with another trusted human being, an ‘anamchara’ or companion along the way. Have you thought of doing that at this stage in your life?

Jesus, forgive my sins.
Forgive the sins that I can remember
and also the sins I have forgotten.
Forgive the wrong actions I have committed
and the right actions I have omitted.
Forgive the times I have been weak in the face of temptation
and those when I have been stubborn in the face of correction.
Forgive the times I have been proud of my own achievements
and those when I have failed to boast of your works.
Forgive the harsh judgments I have made of others
and the leniency I have shown myself.
Forgive the lies I have told to others
and the truths I have avoided.
Forgive the pain I have caused others
and the indulgence I have shown myself.
Jesus have pity on me, and make me whole.
From Celtic Fire, Robert Van der Weyer (Unattributed)

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18th July

Vigils

The Spirit led Jesus to go into the desert, where he stayed for forty days, being tested by Satan. Mark 1:12

Even the busiest Celtic Christians made time to get away for prayer vigils, especially during the weeks before Easter. Samson used to keep Lent by taking just three small loaves and withdrawing to a remote spot for the forty days. Sometimes Samson would eat nothing for six days, but refresh himself with food on Sundays, the day that celebrates Jesus’s resurrection. Sometimes he would stand throughout the night in prayer, with his staff which had dropped from his hands.

What do ordinary mortals do on a vigil? Some of us may emulate these aspirations of an unknown Celtic hermit:

A remote, hidden little cabin for forgiveness of my sins
A conscience upright and spotless before Heaven.
Making good the body with good habits
Treading it boldly down
Feeble tearful eyes for forgiveness of my passions.
Eager wailings to cloudy Heaven
Sincere and truly devout confession
Fervent showers of tears …
Dry bread weighed out, well we bow the head
Water of the fair coloured hillside
That is the draught I would drink.
Stepping along the paths of the Gospel
Singing psalms every hour
An end of talking and long stories
Constant bending of the knee.

Sorry Lord –
For the shabbiness of my living
For the shoddiness of my working
For the shallowness of my praying
For the selfishness of my giving
For the fickleness of my feeling
For the faithlessness of my speaking
For the dullness of my hearing
For the grudgingness of my sharing
For the slothfulness of my thinking
For the slowness of my serving
For the coldness of my loving

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17th July

True Wealth

Do not store up for yourselves riches here upon earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal. Matthew 6:19,20

Brigid’s monastery brewed ale for the churches round about and, as Christianity spread, Brigid’s faith-sharing teams went out to churches far and wide. Easter was an opportunity to minister to the increased numbers who came, and in one church a blind person, a consumptive, a leper and a mentally ill person were healed through Brigid’s ministry.

Once Brigid visited a place where the Christians feared to preach God’s Word because a madman was about. Brigid challenged the madman to preach the Word of God himself, which he did! She told nuns who saw the Devil ‘Make Christ’s Cross on your face and on your eyes.’

Her unknown biographer writes ‘Her heart and mind were a throne of rest for the Holy Spirit. She was simple towards God; compassionate towards the wretched; she was splendid in miracles and marvels.‘

Someone in the ninth century composed a famous poem entitled ‘Hail Brigid’. Its theme is the disappearance of the pagan world of Ireland and the triumph of Christianity. This was symbolised by the abandonment of the ancient hill-fort of Allen as the seat of the once powerful kings of Leinster, and its replacement by Brigid and her Kildare monastic network. This had become the main source of blessing and protection for the people.

In later times Brigid was imagined to be the mid-wife, or the wet-nurse, present at Christ’s birth, and she was made a symbol of the Bride of Christ. She became the guardian of the poor who work the land, and the patron of those who study. Beautiful prayers have come down to us which reflect these traditions.

May the fruits God gave Brigid lie on me .
May the delights God gave Brigid lie on me .
May the healings God gave Brigid lie on me .
May the virtues God gave Brigid lie on me
And on my loved ones

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