Fr Abbot and Dom Michael were warmly welcomed by Fr Patrick of the Abbey of Göttweig in Austria. Fr Patrick is a South African in an Austrian monastery. His parents live in England and he tries to visit Farnborough on the rare occasions he leaves his cloister. Dom Patrick has recently concluded his studies in Salzburg, and proved an excellent guide to that beautiful city.
In recent years we have enjoyed a strong contact with the Slovak Mission in London. This is one of the 60-odd ‘ethnic chaplaincies’ catering for the needs of immigrants in our capital. 2013 was a particularly significant year for them, being a major anniversary of the evangelisation of the Slavs by their ‘apostles’ Saints Cyril and Methodius.
The Church in Slovakia keeps the feast in July (it is in February in the Latin Rite generally). In July there was a special celebration for the feast. In the Summer there was a superb play, written and performed by the Slovak Mission on the life of the two saints. Fr Abbot and Dom Michael attended one of the performances. It was in Slovak but with headphones and simultaneous translation for the foreigners. The quality of the production was very high, and the play communicated very efficiently the main problems and successes of the brothers’ bringing of the gospel to the Slavic nations.
Fr Abbot Cuthbert concelebrated Sunday Mass with the Slovak community and addressed the following words to them:
It is very appropriate that you should have a foreigner to speak to you today on this celebration of St Cyril and St Methodius – those two foreigners who came to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the Slavic peoples. And also that you invite a Benedictine monk – because St Benedict is the patron of our part of Europe just as Cyril and Methodius are the patrons of yours.
A couple of weeks ago I was in some very strange places! Nitra, Bratislava Spisska Capitular and many others. It was my third or fourth visit to Slovakia. Slovakia is an amazing place. It is stunningly beautiful, wonderfully rural and green and the mountains are so magnificent that they take your breath away. If ever I leave the monastery I could work for a Slovak tourist organisation. I would make some great publicity for you!
When I visit Slovakia I begin to understand how easy it is for you Slovaks to love your country. It is a country with great character and with a great history and culture. You have so much that we in the west of Europe have lost – your village customs and national dress, your food, and many other things! Then there are all those things that an Englishman will never understand – putting the fish in the bath before Christmas – throwing water over women on Easter Monday, May poles in the gardens of the girls. What strange people you are!
Each one of you here has come to England for a different reason. Perhaps work, perhaps study, perhaps family, but you keep in your hearts a bit of Slovakia – you know that your true homeland is under the Tatras mountains and you know that the mountains will always be in your heart and your heart will always be in the mountains. This is how exiles feel. And being far from home can teach us something about God.
Because we have another homeland – and that is heaven. We are all exiles from heaven which is our true home – to which we hope to go when we die. And wherever we are on this earth we should always in our hearts a desire a thirst to be with God in heaven. And we should live in simplicity and prayer, and make all our decisions in life with heaven in mind.
This thirst for God is what we celebrate today in remembering St Cyril and St Methodius, the Apostoli Slavorum Apostles of the Slavs. These two brothers answered the call of God and the call of the Slavic peoples to come and be their apostles – to preach the gospel to them.
They had a very hard time preaching that gospel, not because of the people who were naturally thirsty for the good news of Jesus Christ, but because of politics and governments, because of jealousies within the Church. Bad letters were written about them filled with lies. They suffered greatly for their faith but kept their eyes on Jesus and the gospel and steadily and carefully continued their mission.
They preached in the ninth century things which have endured to the 21st – precious treasures which you should be very proud of. The Catholic faith – a profound union with and love for Rome, and most of all the gift of the gospel. We don’t know how much of the bible they translated – Cyril was a great linguist – he knew Arabic and Hebrew as well as Greek. When he was given the job of converting the Slavs he used his language gifts to devise the alphabet so that it could be written down. And so the Slavic nations have a very particular gift– the Slavic languages were written down for one purpose – the preaching of the gospel and the sacred liturgy. Every time you open your mouth to say a word – you must thank Ss Cyril and St Methodius for their work in making your language sacred a language written for the praise of God and the preaching of the gospel.
When you are next in Slovakia – keep in mind that the ground there is consecrated – made holy by the footsteps of those two holy brothers all those centuries ago. Make sure you have lots of Euros with their picture – even though some in the European Union have tried to take away the holy cross from it. And be proud of your country and tradition. But you also must remember what a tradition is. A tradition is something handed on down the ages, a link in a chain. The chain has held strong through many troubled times. You are the links today. Keep your hearts in the mountains breathing the best things of your country- faith and family – even while your feet are walking around London! Be strong and be faithful to the gospel, and may St Cyril and St Methodius pray for us all.
Je veľmi vhodné, že sa k Vám dnes počas osláv svätých Cyrila a Metoda prihovára cudzinec, lebo aj svätí Cyril a Metod boli cudzincami, ktorí priniesli Sväté Písmo slovanským národom. A tiež je dobré, že ste si pozvali benediktínskeho mnícha, pretože svätý Benedikt je patrónom našej časti Európy tak ako Cyril a Metod sú patrónom tej Vašej časti.
Musím sa priznať, že pred niekoľkými týždňami som navštívil pre mňa veľmi zvláštne miesta. Bol som v Nitre, Bratislave, Spišskej Kapitule a v mnohých ďalších mestách. Bola to moja tretia alebo štvrtá návšteva na Slovensku. Slovensko je skutočne úžasná krajina. Je neuveriteľne krásna, s nádherným vidiekom, plná zelene a s takými očarujúcimi horami, ktoré človeku vyrážajú dych. Keby som sa raz rozhodol, že opustím kláštor, spokojne by som sa mohol zamestnať v ktorejkoľvek turistickej kancelárii a robil by som Vám skvelú reklamu.
Až keď som navštívil Slovensko, začal som si uvedomovať, aké je pre Vás, Slovákov, ľahké milovať svoju krajinu. Je to rázovitá krajina s bohatými dejinami a kultúrou. Máte mnoho z toho, o čo sme my tu na západe Európy prišli. Máte dedinské zvyky a folklórne kroje, dobré jedlo a mnoho ďalšieho. A potom máte ešte kopec iných vecí, ktoré Angličania nikdy nepochopia, ako napríklad, dávanie kapra do vane na Vianoce, olievanie dievčat na Veľkonočný pondelok a stavanie májov. Nuž, Slováci, poviem Vám, ste vy ale čudný národ!
Každý z Vás prišiel do Anglicka z rôznych dôvodov. Možno ste tu kvôli práci, štúdiu, možno kvôli rodine, ale vo Vašich srdciach si stále nesiete kúsok Slovenska. Viete, že Váš pravý domov je pod Tatrami a tiež si uvedomujete, že hory budú mať vždy vo Vašich srdciach výnimočné miesto a že v nich vždy Vaše srdcia spočinú. A presne také isté pocity prežívajú aj vyhnanci. Na druhej strane byť vzdialený ďaleko od domova nás môže naučiť veľa o Bohu.
My všetci máme totiž ešte jeden domov, a to ten nebeský! Všetci sme boli akoby vyhnaní z neba, ktoré je naším skutočným domovom a do ktorého sa raz po skončení pozemského života s nádejou túžime vrátiť. A preto kdekoľvek by sme boli tu na zemi, mali by sme si stále zachovávať v našich srdciach silnú túžbu, neuhasiteľný smäd byť s Bohom v nebi. Mali by sme žiť v jednoduchosti a v modlitbe a pri robení našich pozemských rozhodnutí vždy mať nebo na pamäti.
Tento smäd po Bohu je presne tým, čo dnes slávime pri spomienke na svätých Cyrila a Metoda, Apostoli Slavorum, apoštolov Slovanov. Títo dvaja bratia odpovedali na volanie Boha a na volanie Slovanov, aby prišli na ich územie, stali sa ich apoštolmi a hlásili evanjelium.
Hlásať evanjelium pre nich nebolo vôbec ľahké, a nie kvôli ľuďom, ktorí boli prirodzene smädní po Kristovi, ale práve kvôli vtedajšej politike a vládam a tiež kvôli rôznym škriepkam a závisti v cirkvi. Písali sa o nich listy plné lží. Pre svoju vieru veľa trpeli, ale to im nezabránilo, aby vždy upierali svoj zrak na Pána Ježiša a na sväté písmo a aby naďalej pevne a vytrvalo pokračovali vo svojej misii.
Už v deviatom storočí hlásali hodnoty, ktoré pretrvali až do 21. storočia. Hovorili o vzácnom poklade, na ktorý by ste mali byť aj patrične veľmi hrdí. Hovorili o katolíckej viere ako o hlbokom spojení s Bohom, o láske k Rímu, ale predovšetkým o dare evanjelia. Nevieme presne, akú veľkú časť biblie preložili. Ale vieme, že Cyril bol vynikajúci lingvista. Ovládal arabčinu a hebrejčinu a rovnako aj gréčtinu. Keď bol poverený, aby šiel evanjelizovať Slovanov, využil svoje jazykové schopnosti, aby zostavil abecedu, čím slovanské jazyky dostali písomnú podobu. Slovanské národy dostali veľmi vzácny dar. Ich jazyky boli spísané za jediným účelom, a teda na hlásanie evanjelia. A preto vždy keď sa nadýchnete a budete sa chystať prehovoriť, ďakujte vo svojom vnútri svätým Cyrilovi a Metodovi za ich prácu, že posvätili Váš jazyk a spísali ho preto, aby sa ním velebil Boh a hlásalo evanjelium.
Keď pôjdete nabudúce na Slovensko, spomeňte si, že kráčate po požehnanej zemi. Požehnanej, lebo pred storočiami po nej kráčali títo dvaja svätí bratia. Pousilujte sa, aby ste mali aj veľa eur s ich vyobrazením, aj napriek tomu, že niektorí z Európskej únie sa pokúsili z mince odobrať znak svätého kríža. A buďte hrdí na svoju krajinu a tradície. Zároveň však vedzte, čo tradícia znamená. Tradícia je pokladom, ktorý sa predáva z generácie na generáciu. Je akýmsi článkom na reťazi, pritom reťaz musí byť veľmi pevná, aby sa nepretrhla v ťažkých časoch. A vy ste dnes týmito spojivkami na reťazi. Nech Vaše srdcia naďalej zostávajú v horách a nech dýchajú len tým najlepším, čo Vám Vaša krajina dala. Hodnotami, akými sú pre Vás viera a rodina, aj keď práve kráčate niekde po uliciach Londýna. Buďte silní a verní evanjeliu. A nech za nás všetkých orodujú svätí Cyril a Metod.
The community celebrated its patronal feast with the usual splendour in church and refectory. The ‘St Michael’ vestments were given their annual airing. They show, in exquisite embroidery, the barque of Peter on the front and St Michael vanquishing the devil on the reverse.
Anyone familiar with our community at Farnborough will know that we enjoy a close relationship with the nuns of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. http://www.stceciliasabbey.org.uk/
In September, the Prioress and Novice Mistress, Sr Mary David Totah, celebrated her Silver Jubilee of Monastic Profession. An American by birth, Sr Mary David discovered Ryde during her Oxford years. She is from a family of Palestinian Christians, and the celebration of the Jubilee was delayed by several months in order to allow her parents and sister from the United States, and family members from the Middle East, to be present at the celebrations.
Our Abbot and Sister Mary David are old and close friends. Fr Abbot presided and preached at the Jubilee Mass during which Sr Mary David renewed her vows.
The Abbot Visitor of the English Province of our Subiaco -Cassinese Congregation is Abbot Anselm Atkinson of the Abbey of Pluscarden. Because our English Province so geographically spread (including Mexico, the USA and Ghana) the Visitor and his Council appointed our Father Abbot as Vicar, with responsibility for the Mexican monasteries and Christ in the Desert in the US and its foundations. Abbot Cuthbert carried out Canonical Visitations in the Mexican monasteries in July and made fraternal visits to our houses of nuns in that part of the world.
The name ‘Cuthbert’ is a little challenging to the Latin American tongue.
After the Visitation of the Monastery of La Soledad, Father Abbot carried out the Visitation of Xalapa in Vera Cruz. At Xalapa the community celebrated a solemn and a simple profession while Abbot Cuthbert was there.
In the course of each year our little community welcomes a number of seminarians who are in the last preparations for their ordination to the diaconate or the priesthood. Amongst them this year were five deacons from the Pontifical North American College in Rome, who spent Holy Week with us, and who were all ordained priest in the course of the Summer.
At the beginning of the year Deacon Marek Jamerich was the deacon of the Mass of Solemn Profession of our Dom Michael Vician. He was one of seven new priests ordained this summer in the Cathedral at Spisska Kapitula in Slovakia. Fr Abbot and Brother Michael were present at the ordination and at the First Mass in his home village. Fr Marek’s brother is also a priest.
Craig Davies made his retreat for diaconate ordination with us, as did Fr Charles Miller. They were ordained together at the Cathedral in Birmingham. Fr Abbot and Brother Michael attended. Craig has been a friend of the Abbey since before his seminary days, and Charles is a married former Anglican.
Another old friend of the community was ordained a priest. Kenneth Macnab is a formner Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church at Farnborough some years ago. He was ordained in the chapel of the school at which he is now a master – the Oratory School, Reading.
In June, another friend of ours, Frère Elie Abou Assaf of the Antonine Maronite Order, made his Solemn Profession in the Antonine House at Chaponost in France. He has since returned to Lebanon and will, please God, be ordained in the next years.
In August Brother Stephen Morrison of the Chelmsford Norbertines pronounced final vows in his canonry. Brother Stephen was an assistant at our solemn profession earlier in the year. Not long after that, Brother Paul Vianney Harris SDS made his final vows and will, please God, be ordained a deacon soon.
Our prayers and congratulations to all these new priests and holy religious. We give thanks to God for this good work He has wrought in them.
When the Abbey Church was restored in the year 2000, the Abbey commissioned a landscape report. This delved into the history of the abbey property from the point of view of history, archaeology, and nature.
Our estate is cut in two by a mediaeval right of way, which has a secure fence hidden in its hedge. In the fields on the abbey side we keep sheep, but the fields on the other side were not put to use.
Over the last couple of years the Friends of Farnborough Abbey have done a magnificent job in establishing much-needed allotments for local people here. Already a sorry-looking field has turned into a beautiful and cared-for area, allowing local people to enjoy something of the peace and beauty of the Abbey and its environs.
Speaking at the opening, the abbot likened the allotment field to the chaos and murky waters at the start of the Bible, from which God brought order and beauty. He congratulated the enthusiastic locals on their co-operation with God’s work of creation, and cut the ribbon to declare the Jubilee Allotments open – on the day of the the Queen’s 60th anniversary of Coronation.
Weddings are rare in monasteries, but today the monks made an exception and married Paul Lorimer-Wing and Tania De Stefano in the Abbey Church. It is fortunate for the bride that monks are given to being patient – she was attempting the record for a late arrival! Paul was baptized and confirmed here in Eastertide this year. So after Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Communion, he has now added Matrimony to his sacramental CV. We all wish them the very best for their future together.
Father Marcus Holden, Rector fo the Shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury invited us to Ramsgate for a Solemn Mass according to the 1962 Missale Romanum. Fr Abbot preached. The shrine is well worth a visit and is intimately bound to the family of the great archtitect Pugin, who lived next door and is buried in the church.
Fr Abbot celebrated a Pontifical Mass at the Oxford Oratory for the Solemnity of St Philip Neri and preached the homily. We are great fans of the work of the Oxford Oratorians and are friends of their community, a number of whom come to us for their annual retreats and occasional jolly days out. http://www.oxfordoratory.org.uk/
The following are the abbot’s notes for his homily:
I heard recently the story of one of our American abbots who was rushed to hospital with a heart attack. When the doctor had stabilised his condition, the abbot said to him, ‘Doctor, if I have another heart attack. Please don’t try to resuscitate me.’ ‘That’s quite all right Father,’ replied the doctor –‘ the monks made that quite clear to us when they brought you in.’ To be an abbot is to live dangerously, and I must say I feel a certain sense of ‘dangerous living’ in coming to the Oratory this evening. Not because I suspect the Fathers of the Oratory of being dangerous types who will ill-treat me, but because it is very difficult to come from outside the family- as it were- of St Philip and say anything which adds to what this fine body of men already knows. These men live and breathe the tradition of St Philip – they know every detail of his life. As an outsider, one runs the risk either of trying to educate others up to the level of one’s own ignorance or else carrying out a sort of Ofsted inspection of the arrangements here. But looking at St Philip through Benedictine spectacles might add to the stars in his firmament!
The Patriarch of Western monks, St Benedict, fled Rome, and its corruption and worldliness and sought silence and solitude. His style was to establish boundaries –a high enclosure wall to cut the monk off from the world. He said that everything necessary should be within the monastery – ‘for wandering outside inevitably leads to the ruin of monks’ souls.’ St Philip travelled the same route – but in the opposite direction. He fled the region of Monte Cassino in order to immerse himself in the heart of Rome, he made himself available – day and night. No fuga mundi – fleeing the world – for him, he threw himself into the thick of it, and made himself a refuge from the world in the world’s midst.
I arrived here in Oxford for my studies at roughly the same time as the Fathers of the Oratory arrived. All agreed that the Oratoirans would add a certain je ne sais quoi and we eagerly waited to see what the quoi would be. I remember Abbot Alan Rees of Belmont remarking that now the Oratorians were in St Giles with the Dominicans and Benedictines, the whole Church was present –the Church militant, suffering, and triumphant – and all this in the one street! Why have the sons of St Philip proved so successful here in an Oxford which offers such a variety of religious fare?. What do St Philip and his sons offer us which is so attractive?
Newman tells us of Saints Benedict, Dominic, Ignatius Loyola, that they were three venerable Patriarchs, and that the Religious Orders which they founded divide between them, the great moments in the history of the Church. He said that Saint Philip ‘learned from St Benedict what to be, and from St Dominic what to do, and from St Ignatius how he was to do it’.”
‘He learned from St Benedict what to be’ – When we celebrate the feast day of a saint, we celebrate not so much what they did, but what they were. And when a Benedictine reads the life of St Philip and tries to get to grips with what sort of man he was, a number of things jump out from the page at him.
St Benedict tells us in the prologue to his Rule for Monks that ’as we run the way of the Lord’s commands our hearts expand with the inexpressible delight of love’. A dilated heart – un coeur dilaté – as our French brethren put it. Perhaps this is what Newman was thinking of. Philip’s heart famously expanded to the point that it broke bones and its life and rhythm was not confined within his body but made itself heard and felt outside. His eagerness to run the way of God’s commands permitted him to turn into practice the theory St Benedict taught his monks. He became literally ‘big-hearted’, generous self-giving, approachable, with that elasticity, that flexibility, and suppleness of heart which made him so irresistible, so joyful of heart, innovative and creative – with an individuality clearly gifted by the Holy Ghost, and yet so rooted in tradition and orthodox faith.
Another Oratorian love which catches the Benedictine eye is Philip’s attention to Divine Worship. St Benedict tells us that the Oratory of the monastery should be just what its name implies ‘a place of prayer’ and that ‘nothing else should be done or stored there’. An ‘Oratorian’ should be a man of prayer, one completely at home in an Oratory – a place of prayer. And this is why we all feel at home here. Because in our little hearts we all feel a sense of exile. A nervousness, a restlessness, because our hearts want more than this limited world offers. We yearn for the satisfaction of our true and heavenly homeland. But here in beauty, in order, in prayer, in music, in the cogs and machinery of the great clock of the liturgical year, in feasts and fasts, we glimpse that heavenly homeland and so each of us feels at home. The splendour of the liturgy, the love of the saints – in these things we see the immeasurable beauty of the face of Christ and we know ourselves to be in God’s house, happy in the good company of the saints, the company of solid friends, and so we leave here always refreshed and strengthened.
We know this to be a place of prayer, and the big-heartedness here is like a bell that calls others to divine service. Thomas Merton wrote that in every man and every woman there is a monk or a nun trying to get out – when one of our old monks heard this he said –‘ in every monastery there is a monk or a nun trying to get out!’ Jesus, when teaching his disciples to pray, spoke of a secret chamber, a private room, an interior cell or oratory. A place of prayer in our own centre.
Philip in a sense made an oratory of his heart. Like the Oratory of the Benedictine Rule, it was completely given over to prayer and nothing else was done or stored there. Rome’s rank and youth flocked to it to learn this prayer, along with right-living and Godliness. It was a retreat, a place refreshment, a place where they could not only be themselves but travel farther along the route of what God intended them to be.
The work of Christian life is to obtain and maintain a pure heart. St Ephrem in the fourth century expressed it well. He said that our hearts were like mirrors of polished metal. To obtain a clear image they must be sanded and scoured by repentance and penance, polished and buffed by prayer and good works until gradually so clear and brilliant an image emerges, that when our Lord comes as judge at the evening of our lives he sees in our hearts only His own face, His own image and likeness.
The epistle today speaks of various realms of excellence. Philip is readily loved by us all because so many of the charisms of the various orders can be seen in him. We monks see in Philip a monastic heart, the Dominican sees an eloquent preacher…etc.. St Philip has joined Ss. Benedict, Dominic and Ignatius in that list of patriarchs – of venerable fathers of many sons. Philip offers us a rather heady cocktail of the best ingredients of their charisms. And when the church puts before us the lives of the saints She does so to encourage us, but also to remind us that these wonderful things are within the grasp of each of us when we cooperate with God’s grace and run the way of His commands. When our hearts thus expand, they cease to be private chapels but increase their seating capacity as it were – they become places in which others find refuge, we become moments of stability, of confidence, of hope for others.
The famous prayer of Baronius tells of ‘calamitous seas’. Such a phrase seems over-dramatic for tranquil north Oxford, but we can at least acknowledge that life’s waters can get choppy from time to time. St Philip, look down on us as we steer the little boats of our lives through the choppy waters of temptation and the cares of this world, and may we at the evening of our lives enjoy your company in our heavenly and true homeland, and see for ourselves the greatness of your heart and the smile of your eyes.