31st July

Athletes of the Spirit

Physical exercise has value as far as this life goes, but spiritual exercise has value for both this life and the next. 1 Timothy 4:8

Probably a majority of us enjoy taking part in or watching sport. There is:
the enjoyment of a strong or supple body
the thrill of pitting oneself against the odds
the pulsing juices
the sweat, the brawn, the skill, the brain.

Cuthbert, who was agile and acrobatic as a youth, went on to become, in Bede’s words ‘our athlete of God’. The Fathers and Mothers of the deserts, as well as the Celtic saints, were known by this title of ‘athletes of the Spirit’. Why?

Built in to their lives was disciplined training and daily exercise of body, mind and spirit. That was part of the monastic ideal. They looked for a prize – an eternal prize. Their chosen way of life involved pitting themselves against opponents, though their opponents were spiritual forces within and without. It was a race, a race against encroaching apathy, unbelief, or arrogance; and it took all that they had.

Wondrous the warriors who lived in Iona
Thrice fifty in monastic rule
With their boats along the main sea
Three score men a -rowing.
From The Book of Lismore

Bless to me my body
Bless to me my brain
Bless to me my training
Bless to me my game

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30th July


Return to the Lord with fasting, weeping and mourning for your God is gracious and merciful. Joel 2:12,13

When we die, we will not be criticised for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have some explanation to offer to God for not having mourned unceasingly… When the soul grows tearful, weeps, and is filled with tenderness, and all this without having striven for it, then let us run, for the Lord has arrived uninvited and is holding out to us the sponge of loving sorrow, the cool waters of blessed sadness with which to wipe away the record of our sins. Guard these tears like the apple of your eye until they go away, for they have a power greater than anything that comes from our own thoughts and our own meditation.
John Climacus Abbot of Sinai 7th century

David of Wales was ‘overflowing with daily fountains of tears’. This is how he comforted the mother of a dead boy. ‘Filled with compassion for human weakness, he approached the body of the dead boy, whose face he watered with his tears and restored him to his mother.’

When Cuthbert offered up the saving Victim (that is, when he celebrated Holy Communion) as a sacrifice to God, he offered his prayer to the Lord not by raising his voice but by shedding tears which sprang from the depths of his heart.

Grant me tears when rising
Grant me tears when resting
Beyond your every gift altogether for love of you
Mary’s Son.
Grant me tears in bed to moisten my pillow
So that his dear ones may help to cure the soul.
Grant me contrition of heart so that I may not be in disgrace
O Lord, protect me, and grant me tears.
For the dalliance I had with women, who did not reject me,
Grant me tears,
O Creator, flowing in streams from my eyes.
For my anger and my jealousy and my pride,
A foolish deed
In pools from my inmost parts bring forth tears
Old Irish (translated by Davies)

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29th July


Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:6

Anger is the most fierce passion. It is a boiling and a stirring up of wrath against one who has caused injury – or is thought to have done so. It constantly irritates the soul and above all at the time of prayer it seizes the mind and flashes the picture of the offensive person before one’s eyes.

A restless brother in a desert community frequently became angry with his brothers. So he thought to himself: ‘I’ll go and live in a place of solitude; once I won’t have to speak to or listen to anyone I shall be at peace and the anger thing will disappear’. So he went to live alone in a cave. One day he filled a jug with water for himself, and placed it on the floor. It suddenly overturned. He filled it a second time and the same thing happened, as it did a third time. His anger flared up and he smashed the jug in rage.

Later, when he came to himself, he realised he had been subverted by the spirit of anger, and that he had no one to blame. ‘Here am I alone’, he said to himself, ‘and despite this the spirit of anger has conquered me. I shall return to the community, for in every place there is need for struggle, for patient perseverance, and above all, for the help of God’. So he returned to his community.
Desert Sayings

A love that cannot find an outlet turns inward, and not being able to reach out and touch the thing it loves, be it a place or a people in that place, turns to anger and becomes confused.
Brian Keenan An Evil Cradling

The Desert Fathers and Mothers did not focus on who is to blame for the passions that bind us. They knew that there are wounds within us that destroy our own and other lives. Our task, they thought, was to fight against the passions, and to seek healing with the help of God and each other in order to be able to love as we were made to love.

Help me conquer anger by gentleness,
Greed by generosity.
Apathy by fervour

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28th July


The woman gave birth to a son and named him Samson. The child grew and the Lord blessed him. And the Lord’s power began to strengthen him… Judges 13: 24, 25.

Samson was born about 486 in South Wales. When he was five his parents took him to Illtyd’s famous school at Llantwit major, near Coatbridge, and while still there, in his twenties, he was ordained deacon and priest. God directed him to join the monastery of Piro. From there, somewhat reluctantly, he visited his sick father, who recovered through his prayers. As a result the entire family (with the exception of his youngest sister) devoted themselves to God’s service and planted churches. Samson succeeded Piro as abbot. He went on a mission to Ireland, and on his return sent his brother Umbraphel to be abbot of a monastery given to him in Ireland. While in retreat with his parents near the river Severn he was summoned to a synod and ordained a bishop. This (unlike present ecclesiastical practice) freed him to evangelise and travel widely. He longed to go over to Britanny, but a British Christian prophesied that he was first to evangelise Cornwall. This he did. Once he was in Britanny an amazing number became Christians, and formed Christian communities.For a time Samson was on a mission in Romania. He returned to Britanny, where he died on July 28, and his remains were kept at the great monastery at Dol which he founded.

In truth his humility, courtesy and gentleness, and above all his wonderful love, beyond human measure, so to speak, was such that he was regarded by all the brothers with wonderful affection.
The Life of Samson

We bless you Lord
that Samson’s birth, schooling and calling
were the fruit of prophecy.
We thank you Lord
that his prayer, his heroic acts of witness
his courtesy and wonderful love towards all
won pagans to the Faith
and patterned a new way of being the church.
As we contemplate his life
give us a holy renewal

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27th July

Trials Can Build Character

Consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way. James 1:2,

Cuthbert, Bede tells us, began to be prepared by the fires of temporal pain for the joys of eternal bliss. Herefrith, the abbot of Lindisfarne, told Bede exactly what happened. He came with some monks on a care visit to Cuthbert on Farne island, and discovered Cuthbert was terminally ill. Cuthbert declined Herefrith’s offer to leave some brothers on the island to care for him, but advised ‘Come back when God directs you.’ Five days of violent storm ensued, which prevented any brothers from returning to Cuthbert. Herefrith reported, ‘As events proved, this was a divine dispensation. For in order that Almighty God might, by chastisement, purify his servant from all blemish of worldly weakness and in order that he might show his adversaries that they could avail nothing against the strength of his faith, he wished to test him by bodily pain and by a still fiercer contest with the ancient foe, cutting him off from human beings for that length of time.’

When they did return Herefrith attended to his needs, and told Cuthbert he was amazed that he had insisted on being left unattended. ‘It happened through the providence of God,’ Cuthbert assured him, ‘that destitute of human company and care I should suffer some trials.’ Cuthbert told him how after he had left his illness immediately became worse, and he crawled over to the guest hut by the shore, and lay there without moving for five days, his only food being a few nibbles of onions. “My adversaries have never persecuted me so frequently, during all the time I have been living on this island, as over the last five says’ he told his friend. After that, Cuthbert had some brothers with him until he died, one of whom, Beda, had been a long-standing friend.

Lord, if this day you have to correct us
Put us right not out of anger
But with a mother’s and a father’s heart.
So may we, your children,
Be kept free of all falseness and foolishness
From Mexico

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26th July


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


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


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.

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.

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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