Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
Lent 2016(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
The Lenten journey which begins on Wednesday commemorates the long period Jesus spent in the Judean wilderness before beginning his public ministry. The forty days and forty nights would seem to have been a powerful experience which resulted ultimately in Jesus being confirmed in his vocation – but the Scriptural texts make clear this was a time of genuine confusion where the human mind and heart of the Son of God were pulled in differing directions and where real temptations had to be faced. Although Jesus’s wilderness experience must have been far from comfortable, it marked a significant milestone in his relationship with his Father, and one that he would seek to revisit in the future. “Without drifting into a sentimentality which is ruled out by the whole style of the Gospel and, especially, by the style of the prayers of Jesus which have been handed down to us, we must hold it as certain that Jesus, in order to erect the bridge of prayer towards his Father and provide himself with favourable surroundings had a great liking for the marvellously tonic solitude of places where a vast horizon stretches out, where the soul can feel withdrawn from the noise and agitation below” (Yves Congar)
Just as Jesus reached a new level of prayerful confidence in his Father through the long retreat he made before embarking on his ministry, so we are invited to deepen our life of prayer during Lent. All that we take on or give up during the next six weeks should have a simple and single motivation – “to know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly and follow Thee more nearly, day by day”. All of us know that we should spend more time in prayer than we do and that our lives need re-balancing so that God may play a larger part in the rhythms of each day. I have written before about the person who taught me most about prayer and I thought it might be appropriate to do so again in the hope that her example might inspire the rest of us to make a new commitment to our Lord this Lent.
Sister Mary Phillida came from one of the oldest English families: she worked at the old Foreign & Colonial Office in Whitehall (sharing a desk at differing times with both Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas Home) and was a capable concert pianist (appearing on one occasion at the Wigmore Hall). In her thirties she felt called to a life of seclusion and prayer and took up residence in a small hut at Walsingham. There in one sense her story ends. For over fifty years her days and nights were spent in quiet adoration of God and she had only minimal human contact: nothing was allowed to compromise her focus. When I went to work at Walsingham in the 1980’s I was told that I would have some responsibility for Sister Mary Philiida and I viewed the prospect with some trepidation thinking that after half a century of being completely solitary she would either be unhinged or the most sane person I had ever met. It turned out to be the latter! She was the most balanced, amusing, delightful person – and she understood herself in a way that few others would seem to do. Centred on God, there was a clarity about her which was utterly compelling – one sensed the attraction of genuine holiness.
What I learned from Sister Mary Phillida was not to be nervous of the imagination in prayer. She recognised that because her's was a solitary vocation there would be times when the human capacity to dream dreams could become disproportionate, when fantasy appeared to overcome reality (back to the Temptations of Jesus). But over the decades she had learned to rest quietly in God and trust that, whatever cul-de-sacs into which her mind might lead her, the Holy Spirit would gently return her to the mainstream of her praying. Sister knew what it was to relax in God and to leave the initiative in his hands. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity described her praying as loving God “in himself, for himself”. It is a definition Sister Mary Phillida would have understood, and, God willing, it is an experience each of us might better comprehend through a Lent well-kept this year.