Monday, 31 August 2009


A little way from Taize is the village of Cluny where there used to be a gigantic monastery - fatherhouse to 1000 others of the Benedictine order in France. Here are a few shots of what remains - only a few feet shorter than St Peters itself when in its full glory. It was destroyed during the throws of the French revolution. Yet its ethereal beauty has not been wholly lost. You can just sense it is a place of holiness.

A very kind blog award

I am so grateful to Roz at Our Beautiful Catholic Faith for awarding me such a kind blog award. She writes a beautiful blog of reverence and prayer with some stunning photography to boot. I thank you truly and I would like to pass it on to:

Jennifer at My Chocolate Heart
Andrea at Arise to Write

The official rules are as follows:

1. Copy the picture above and post it on your blog.
2. Pass it on to who you think who is/are deserving.
3. Leave a message to them.
4. Pass as many as you want.
5. Message back or leave a comment to the owner.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Paying a visit to St. Catherine Laboure

While in France this summer I had a chance to drop into the Miraculous medal chapel on Rue de Bac where Our Lady appeared in 1830 to Catherine Laboure. Catherine died in 1876 and was canonized in 1947 - when exhumed her body was found to be incorrupt and supple.  She and St. Bernadette died within three years of one another, although Catherine lived a much longer life, in terms of their humility, poverty  and love of vocation as well as (obviously) a devotion to Our Lady there are striking similarities. Catherine's body is now on view close to the alter in the chapel where she had a total of three visions. In all truth I didn't get to spend all that much time at the Church compared to somewhere like Nevers and I would love to have had more to explore its beauty. I was truly blessed to be able to kneel at the alter and say my Rosary ( I remembered all my "bloggy"-friend's intentions there whatever they might be) before her body. Unfortunately my camera battery died and so I managed to get fairly useless photo evidence apart from the following offerings:
Catherine is the saint who the miraculous medal was revealed to. At this time in France there remained political instability and persecution of the clergy.  Our Lady gave us the prayer inscribed on the medal O Mary, conceived without sin,  pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Catherine was a poor farm girl who had lost her mother at a young age, she had turned to Marian devotion in the depth of her grief.  She came to the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul at the age of 24. Our Lady revealed the medal Catherine was to have struck in some detail and told her to ask her confessor to carry out the instructions. It took Catherine two years to convince her confessor of the verity of her visions, she had to write out several accounts and after this time he concluded that she was a practical, honest, sane person. The first two-thousand medals were delivered on June 30, 1832.  Nobody but Catherine's confessor knew the identity of the nun it had been revealed to and its  spread through France was miraculous in itself. It quickly earned the title we all associate it with while Catherine retreated in silence to work with the elderly and infirm in the countryside - no one realising her link to the medal.  She is often called the saint of silence for this reason.  It was only in the year of her death that she admitted to another nun that she was the recipient of the medal instruction. 

In many ways it was a vision that leads us to the clear confirmation at Lourdes "I am the immaculate conception".  

I was given my own miraculous medal for my first holy communion at the age of 8 and have increasingly come to value its significance.  This summer I joined the Malitia of the Immaculata, which is a worldwide ecclesial movement founded by Maximilian Kolbe in 1917. It is a movement of prayer based around the prayer and medal as revealed to Catherine Laboure. Its principal prayer is:

O Mary,conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you, and for all those who do not have recourse to you, especially enemies of the Holy Church and all those recommended to to you.

I really like how St Catherine's medal is quietly linked to so many other saints and events in our Church, much like the woman herself, it remains a powerful witness of hope.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Memories of Nevers

It is now a year since my beautiful visit to Nevers, Bernadette's final resting place, and now a place where earthly souls can rest for a little time bathed in peace before returning to the world. I can't really describe the beauty of being able to stay at the convent at Espace Bernadette and being able to be beside her body in the chapel late at night when nobody else was there. During the day I liked to watch children peep in at her with fascination and kneeling pilgrims tilt their head beside her while in a deep kind of conversation of prayer. Yet I also loved it late at night before they closed the chapel, I could simply kneel before her tiny structure and marvel, I could enter into that deep, deep peace that she emanates.

When I started this blog the first thing I wrote about was that trip to Nevers in the dying days of August - a trip that sustained me for the long winter ahead and sustains me still (You can read that post here). I met many of you through that early post because in this world there is a surge of warmth from many when you talk about Bernadette. She is a true spiritual giant. My journey to her was a privilege and in my darkest moments I cling to her words:

"I shall forget no one" 

I have complete faith that this is true whether one is beside that little body or millions of miles away, across oceans and seas.  For, of course, Bernadette is now on the other side of that veil which separates us from those that have gone before us - amidst the communion of saints. 
St Bernadette - pray for us!

I thought I might share some of the happy snapshots from that trip:

Grapes growing in the convent gardens
Beautiful St. Bernadette - awaiting the day when she will wake
The room in which Bernadette died is one where she lived and prayed through the last months of her life, suffering deeply. Her bed, like all the others in the infirmary was covered with a white drape. As she suffered, finally unable to walk she called it her white chapel. The place where her bed stood is now marked by the tabernacle, covered in a symbolic white drape. Words fail the powerful presence of peace in that room. Oh so beautiful! I go there often in prayer.
The spot where Bernadette actually died, sitting up as she struggled to breathe. The floorboards, the fire place, the statue are as they were.  I knelt before them deeply touched by Bernadette's own hidden life of love and prayer.
This is Our Lady of the Waters, a statue which has its place at the back of the convent, hidden behind hedgerow. Bernadette would often steal herself some peace here, away from what was often an extremely difficult life in the convent.  She was not a big fan of statues of Our Lady, she found them beautiful and showed them reverence but was always very aware that they could not reflect the real beauty of what she had seen. Yet she felt that this statue had "something" of the beauty she had seen in the Lady at the grotto.  This is a similar stance to the one the Lady took when she revealed her name to Bernadette: 'The Immaculate Conception"
St Joseph's chapel where Bernadette rested till 1925 is the perfect place to hide away and say your Rosary.  It was here that many early visitors to her burial site were said to have experienced miraculous cures through the intercession of Bernadette.
The front of the convent where Bernadette lived out her vocation, directly through those doors is the main chapel where Bernadette's body now rests.
The actual chair in which Bernadette died.
The clothes Bernadette wore to the convent.
The few possessions Bernadette brought with her from the hospice where she had been living in Lourdes until the age of 22

Friday, 28 August 2009

Poem for Friday



The silence

Watches over

Without the eyes of the

World to meet him.


You will not look to seek him,

Even though

He is just a little way behind.


He is the strength

Touched by gentility of mind.


He is keeper

And the leader,


Who sought Him



The calm on the flight,

The clarity of sight,

When all around

Was panic and slaughter.


Protector in the stillness;

The silhouette in the distant desert

Whose feet met the sand,


In the unfamiliar land,

While the blood

Of innocence was behind.


And so he lead

And we will never know what was


Or what passed between the


Throughout their journey


We can only know the stillness,

The depth of willingness…


Of what it is to love.


We can only touch upon the


Of one who was so


And so

Willing to become the



Who lived the hidden life,

Bathed in the

Greatest gift of light...

Which is given to us all.


Listen for the call…


For in the still,



In the whisper of the dream...

It shall come.

Sleep in the knowledge

And comfort

Of silence.


Only now are the lessons I learned at Taize beginning to take hold in my life.  I think they have been marinating in the midst of my own reflection and prayer over the last couple of weeks and now they are starting to take root and grow.  What struck my heart most there was a recognition of the value of every human being and a prompt to live simply, in communion with the poor and with one focus - GOD.

You wake to prayer with the community, it is at the centre of the day and at its end. For each of these three daily prayers the brothers take their place before the alter and we watch - we wait- we stop. There is chant but then it ceases and there is silence. For ten minutes this church, filled with thousands, is rendered silent. You find yourself looking forth into the light of the alter and perhaps grasping just for an instant what it is we are waiting for. When you stop before that table, that symbol of sacrifice do you ever just wait silently for a few moments to consider what that sacrifice has really done?  That the temple was shattered, that we were taken beyond the realms of the visible, that there are no longer walls between us and God.  He is. We are. We are His.

Sometimes this revelation can be terrifying. God is so huge, we cannot hope to comprehend or understand Him in this life, we are too little, too flawed. Yet we can leave ourselves open to the awesome nature of His truth - the truth that comes with His son.  The Christ that comes to lead us. Looking into those flickering lights you start to feel that sense of immense possibility that dwells in each of us to really live in the presence and knowledge each day, even the days we feel exhausted and shattered  Simplicity and prayer help to bring the world into focus and that is what Taize does for people.  It lifts the exterior away for a short while leaving only the interior.
Even language becomes rather fluid. In chants that encompass world languages one begins to feel deep prayer emitting from the heart without the words being in your own language or even a modern language, the translation is printed in the song books, but one does need this to comprehend the sacred.  I was having breakfast one morning with a new friend from the Russian Orthodox tradition. She said much more articulately than I had been able to express, "You feel as though the words you speak are your own" The beauty of them is that they ARE - they are the words of each one of us because they are the words of hope and love expressed by all Christians whose souls are constantly before the alter of the world...waiting....watching...waiting for that we KNOW lies beyond.

To read what the community say about the prayer through song click here

To check out the translations of the beautiful chants click here

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The end of the summer journeys

I'm back home from the last of my summer trips having utterly neglected my blog in the past couple of weeks.  So I thought I would mark my return with the simple story of somebody  I met this summer in Taize.  In three weeks time this particular chap is going to enter a Benedictine monastery.  He is bright, gentle and has a wonderful life to his faith.  He showed a tremendous ability to communicate with people, especially those struggling in matters of faith.  As it turned out we were at the same university at the same time and he grew up in the town where I teach now.  He is just 25 and he has taken a great deal of effort to discern his calling over the past two years.   To meet somebody like this who has an excellent law degree and could have carved himself a very different material path really was so uplifting.   His love of God and desire to follow that above all else has been something wonderful to encounter this summer and I thought I would share this encounter with you. I wondered if you might be so kind as to pray from him since I am sure he will be an asset to our Church but, like the rest of us, needs a little support long his way.

The tabernacle and picture of Our Lady next to the altar

The altar and cross used for veneration at Taize

Areas where the brothers pray, sing and meditate

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Coming Home

Coming home from a place where you have been surrounded by a deep sense of spirituality is always difficult.  There is a feeling of coming down from the mountain.  Taize was a challenging place in many ways. Yet it is also a place of high ideals and goals - somewhere that attempts to allow people  dialogue and give people a sense of their value in the most real sense; not their academic or material value, but their infinite value in the sight of God. The four thousand young people present there each week in August are evidence of the thirst for this truth amidst the often parched shores of Europe.

The brothers in the Taize community are made up of various Christian denominations, including Catholic, and are also truly international as well as inspirational.  The Vatican fully supports the work of the community and their close relationship goes back to the Papacy of John XIII. John Paul II visited and said mass there while the prior of the community meets with Pope Benedict every year. While I was there two Catholic Bishops stayed for a number of days and it was lovely to have mass said for the Assumption by a lovely French Bishop on Saturday, The Taize community does not ignore differences between denominations but brings us together in a united love of God and what it is to be human.  It brings us together to show there can be at least one place on earth where we can accept unification and dialogue.

It does this mostly through prayer- drawing those four thousand young people in to the church of reconciliation each day to pray through the unique Taize chant three times a day. It is humbling to see all these people drawn into the daily rhythm of very beautiful prayer. The rest of the day you work to contribute in some way to the daily running of the community- helping to cook, clean etc. and you are also involved in a group discussion led by a brother followed by small group meetings which offers the opportunity to share ideas with people from different cultures and denominations.  The discussion groups strongly echo Catholic social teaching and often the notes site encyclicals. There is also plenty of time for some solitary reflection.

In many ways it was not an easy week and I found myself challenged and confronted with many ideas.  Yet coming back I feel renewed. What I take with me most is the deep prayer I entered into amidst the Taize chants and readings.  The repetition of simple phrases and the meditation upon these was enlightening in the most simple of ways. It is simplicity that I also keep with me from Tiaze; living in unity with those who have less and stripping away the superficiality our society imposes so that all that remains is time with God.  I couldn't even charge my mobile phone and it was really good for me to be in this situation.  As Brother Roger lived his life he moved gradually from his own Luthran background towards a deep unity with the Catholic faith.  He was a man of true peace and beauty- unfortunately this beauty was too difficult for a woman who suffered chronic mental illness to cope with and on the 26th of August 2005 he was murdered at evening prayer- of course she was not responsible for what she did. His community was heartbroken yet their ultimate answer has been peace and compassion. I hope to share a little more of what I learnt over the coming weeks.

As for me, its A Level results day tomorrow so I will be in school (hopefully) celebrating with my students.  

Saturday, 8 August 2009

See you in a week!

I am off to Taize in France tomorrow  (I am sure there are many familiar with Taize chant) where I will be staying and praying with the community for the week, camping with others. I think it might involve a fair old bit of singing as well as washing up and earning our keep. I have never been there before and I am excited about it. I will be driving with four others so won't arrive till Sunday morning. I have to say I am not the best camper in the world but for peace and prayer and experience I will try my best. I invested in a pink rain coat for the occasion.  If you want to read more about Taize you can do so here.

Please know that you will all be very much in my prayers and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Rest in Peace Private Patch

I can't help but be moved by the funeral of the last surviving British Tommy from the trenches of World War I - he was 111. Harry Patch wanted his funeral to spread a message of peace and reconciliation.  He wanted people from both sides to be present at his funeral and he wanted no guns or cannons fired.  He was a gentle peaceful man and we are proud of him. Read it here.


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