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Archive for February, 2018

Exciting news about developments not he Priory site  – see see see 

Tithe Barn Abergavenny

On the Eve of St David’s Day it has been announced that  the Tithe Barn will become a Welsh Centre of Excellence.

The word croeso will take on a special meaning as a ground breaking Welsh Language Centre of Excellence is set to open its doors at the Tithe Barn in the centre of Abergavenny town. The Aneurin Bevan University Health Board is delighted to be working in partnership with the local community.

16681954_1382972711760520_2864202461936891628_n.jpg View from the Tithe Barn out to the Prince of Wales Courtyard, The Priory Centre and the Priory Church

Welcoming the news, Canon Mark Soady said

“I am very excited to be working in partnership with the local Health Authority and other interested parties to create this legacy of the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny. When the Church took the Tithe Barn back in to its ownership 10 years or so ago we did so with the intention…

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In the Second of our Lenten Addresses on What’s Benedict got to do with me?            Fr.Jonathon Wright looks at the place of Scripture in the Rule of St Benedict.

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HE said:

Last night, David Attenborough’s ‘Natural Curiosities’ looked at how racing pigeons navigate and how the humble dung beetle manages to manoeuvre its precious ball when its head is firmly facing the ground.  It was fascinating to discover the different senses that are used, and the rather “Heath Robinson” ways that scientists have used to discover them.  Usually, this involved finding what put them off: what blinded them or distracted them.  What grabbed my attention most was learning that most of the really important discoveries have been made in only the last 5 years.  All sorts of complicated hypotheses were suggested, but in the end it came down to some relatively straight forward observations.  Scientists just needed to start with the simple possibilities and find ways to test them.

The best part of fifteen hundred years ago, a man called Benedict set down a Rule for the communities of monks he founded.  He knew the way that people were called to seek out: the way of Christ.  And he had spent long years learning, through his own experience and observing others, what would put them off that way: what blinded them or distracted them.  And so, with a simple and direct elegance he wrote what has become known as The Rule of St Benedict, a set of directions for following the way.

It is no exaggeration to say that his rule has shaped the course of Western civilisation.  At the heart of Benedict’s life and Rule is the understanding that “every page and every word of divine authority in the Old and New Testaments [is] a most reliable guide to human life” (chapter 73).  He recognised that people needed help making a start on “living virtuously” and “the religious life”.  They needed, as he called it, a “school for the Lord’s service” (Prologue), where they could be immersed in Scripture and be trained to recognise and avoid what deafens or distracts them from Scripture’s life-giving guidance.  In another place, Benedict describes the place where they can live this life as a “workshop” (chapter 4) where they could work diligently at inhabiting the Lord’s commandments.  Benedict’s Rule provided the charter for that school, the blueprint for the workshop.

Considering Benedict’s influence we know surprisingly little about him.  The only writing we know of him is his Rule, and the only source for his life is Pope Gregory the Great’s Life of Benedict, which makes up the second book of his Dialogues.  The Life was probably written within 50 years of Benedict’s death and Gregory claims access to four figures who knew Benedict and could report information second-hand from early colleagues.

A brief canter through Benedict’s life tells that he was born to noble parents, received a good upper-class education in Rome before abandoning his position and inheritance and setting out for the hermit’s life.  His first stint as an abbot ended when he realised he could make no progress with the monks gathered there.  The community that then gathered around him bore fruit, but he was forced to move to Cassino.  High on the mountain, after removing a shrine to Apollo, he set up a community there from scratch.  Many flocked to him and soon he was founding abbeys over a wide area.  The bare details show us that Benedict could draw on a wealth of experience.

When we turn to Benedict’s Rule, we are immediately struck by the presence of Scripture.  In any modern English translation, the quotations are conveniently identified for the reader, almost to the point of distraction in the opening chapters.  Benedict was certainly not the first to write a rule, and he edited large sections of a shadowy document called The Rule of the Master into his own work.  However, Benedict certainly organised and crafted his Rule.  We can safely assume that he was very conscious of what Scripture he included in it.

Scripture is explicitly quoted as the basis for several rules.  For example, in chapter 53, on the reception of guests, Benedict writes: “All guests who arrive should be received as if they were Christ, for he will say, ‘I was a stranger and you took me in'” which cites Matthew 25.35.  Scripture provides the reasoning for the pattern of liturgical life.  For example, in chapter 16, on the arrangements for the divine office during the day, Benedict quotes Ps 119.164: “Seven times a day have I praised you”, then notes: “We will fulfil this sacred number seven…” giving seven offices plus the night office- whose necessity is also appealed to using Ps 119.

When we consider the life of the monk living under the Rule, what stands out is the continual proximity of the monk to Scripture.  The liturgy is based on the singing of psalms and recitation of Scripture.  And we see that much of this is expected to be from memory.  What the monk is not at liturgy, monastic work involves a period of spiritual reading.  Interestingly, Benedict specifies that some biblical books are not suitable before bed time for impressionable minds! (chapter 42) The monk is being moulded by continual spiritual encounter with Scripture.  Through encounter, it is expected he will grow in holy living, like a jagged stone washed smooth by a stream.

But Benedict knew that he needed much more than to point to Scripture and to keep the monk in the presence of Scripture for the desire for God in a monk’s life to overcome the will of the flesh.  The Rule is a sustained effort to tend the soil of the person heart for the seeds scattered by the Lord to take root and flourish.  For Scripture to be heard in the heart of monk, Benedict set about removing the distractions.  Or as he prosaically put it: “we hope to demand nothing that is harsh, nothing oppressive.  Even if, in order to maintain balance, there are some slight restrictions aimed at the correction of errors and the preservation of love…” (Prologue).  There was the prescription of a stable, bounded community.  Monks were to envisioned as staying in one monastic enclosure.  Indeed, those who wanted to move around receive some of Benedict’s sharpest scorn (chapter 1)!  The basis of life was obedience to the rule and to the Abbot with the aim of instilling humility, and to avoid jealousy or pride.  And commitment to the way was lifelong.

We can see Benedict acting like the gardener in the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13, seeking to save souls from destruction.  By his Rule he is calls people to accept what is needed: a little digging around, a little manure, some careful pruning.  And this points to Benedict’s driving motive that is returned to again and again through his Rule: the warning that we will all have to give an account of our conduct on the day of Judgement.

The way that Benedict approaches Scripture suggests some insights for ourselves, in our own context here.  We are not monks, but we too are to be, as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, people who confess that they are strangers, seeking a homeland (Hebrews 11.13-14).  And Benedict has much profound wisdom for us on that path.

First, Benedict expects his monks to immerse themselves in Scripture, for Scripture is the best guide and teacher.  The Lord speaks to us in Scripture through the Holy Spirit so we need to be reading and hearing it.  If we are not hearing Scripture we deny the Lord an opportunity to training us.  There is still plenty of time left this Lent to read a Gospel at a chapter a day and it will give great reward.  Through familiarity we will find a resource for prayer, for moral decisions, but most importantly contact with Our Lord.

Secondly, Benedict’s monks probably spent about 4 hours a day engaging with Scripture in the liturgy, let alone outside it.  They were expected to memorise the Psalter and probably a large quantity of the Bible.  We read that they were expected to recite the verses from memory.  And Benedict indicates that they read widely: Benedict regularly cites Tobit and cites other works from what we as Anglicans refer to as works of the Apocrypha as authoritative.  As Cyril of Alexandria put it, the whole Bible is one saving testament, a statement Benedict would undoubtedly have agreed with.

Thirdly, Benedict placed a great emphasis on the community being gathered together for their worship.  That meant that Scripture was recited and heard in community.  We not only need to make sure we are listening to Scripture, but also doing so together.  The parish community is a school, a workshop for the Lord, that is here to provide the same nurture and commitment to mutual flourishing as the monastery.  A commitment to hearing Scripture together, allied with a commitment to holy conversation will help all to grow.

Fourthly, Benedict reminds us of the importance of time.  In his communities, life was and is carefully regulated, a gift to be used for God.  This reminds us that in our lives we need to be considering how we are using our time.  If we keep a diary for a week of how we use all the blocks of our day, we will quickly discover where our priorities lie.  To grow in the faith of Christ takes time, as Benedict realised.  What priority do we give to those things that keep us close to the Lord: prayer, worship, reading Scripture?

Benedict’s Rule offers us much sage advice.  Undoubtedly he was a man of his time and today I hope focus less on hell avoidance and more on living life in the rich fullness God presents to us.  But Benedict still gives useful insight for being formed more in Christ’s image.  Not only did he understand the destination Christ calls us to, but he understood human weakness and the need for compassion.  If we can grasp these things also, then we too will grow as Christ calls us to do.  Amen

 

 

THE REST OF THE SERIES

February 18th Benedict for all The Prior

March 4th Lay membership & the rule – Lay members of the Holywell Community

March 11th Benedictine Prayer – Dom Richard Simons OSB (Belmont Abbey)

March 18th Benedictine Community -Fr Sam MacNally-Cross (Oblate OSB)

 

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In a hard hitting sermon to mark 10 Years since Abergavenny became a Fair-Trade town and at the start of Fair-trade Fortnight our Vicar Canon Mark Soady called on us to make occasional sacrifices for the common good.

 

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Fr Mark said:

“Hard though it  ay be to believe now, but I was a Schools Cross Country Champion in the day. Like the many Marathon runners of today the training involved  a lot of sacrifice and of a pain, but the rewards of feeling better for it were good.

In today’s Gospel, ( Mark 8.31-38) Jesus calls us his followers to ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ Sometimes in-order to bring God’s Kingdom from heaven to earth we need to act, and that acting may involve us making certain sacrifices.  I am sure supermarket staff consider me a pain sometimes. If the shelves do not contain fair-trade bananas, I ask the staff if they have any – and if they don’t I will go without. If we all refused to make purchases, unless we could buy Fair-trade goods the Supermarkets would soon get them on the shelves.

It is only a small thing we are called to sacrifice, but if we all do it, be sure there will eb an impact. We would have though 10 days ago that major companies in the USA would turn their backs on the gun lobby, but following he acts of a number of school pupils, following the recent murders, they have.”

He concluded by calling us all to use this Season of Lent to reflect on how and what we may sacrifice in the days and months ahead to ensure that we can show love to a ll our fellows humanbeings.

 

 

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Opening our series of Lenten Addresses on What the Rule of St Benedict has to offer all baptised Christians, The Prior of the Holywell Community, Canon Mark Soady quoted from the Constitution of the Community.

It is the calling of all Christians to be Christ-like, sharing with other Christians in the baptismal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection – and making that known in the world. Religious Communities are like the early apostles in that they share a common life. “All who believed had all things in common.” (Acts 2).

He continued, “while all Christians are not called to share ” all things in Common” we are called to make sacrifices in love. As our Bishop says in his Lenten letter this year,” The Lenten journey reminds us of our own personal schooling as we follow our Heavenly father who expressed his love by sending his son to live amongst us”.  The Holy Father Benedict’s Rule helps us in that as, in the words of the Prologue to the Rule, it is “a school for the service of the Lord”.

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Fr Mark preaching at Monte Cassino 2014

Key to Prayer is an ability to listen. As the prologue says one is invited to “listen with the ear of your heart”. If one is truly open to listening one needs to be able to set aside one’s own pre-occupations, one needs to sacrifice oneself in love to be open to hear. While all Christians may not be able to devote the time to set prayers that the Rule calls monks to do, they can set time aside in their lives to spend time in prayer. This will almost certainly call on one too sacrifice some pleasure to make room for this prayer time.

Dom Laurence McTaggart of Ampleforth  in response to the questions what is Holy? – points out that for many “the word work is synonymous with ‘toil’ (for) …work is often not seen as part of the spiritual life”. So often work is valued by how much it brings in; the focus is too much on what is done , rather than who is doing it. This was not God’s way, God humbled himself to take on human form.

As work is seen as a consequence of the Fall, it is seen as a burden or as a punishment, but long before the Fall God worked for six days to create the World. St Benedict speaks of prayer as the work of God, and set prayer times are know as ‘offices’. The Rule then shows us that God is there in our work – even if its mundane and boring – as well as in the moments of feeling great elation.

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Obedience in some quarters is an outdated concept. The Holywell Constitution speaks of it in this way:

Obedience includes listening to God, and hearing what he has in mind for the Community. By the vow of obedience members commit themselves to each other and to the Community, so they may grow in union with Christ, who sought not his own will but the will of God who sent him.

In reminding us in his Rule that sometimes God can speak to us through  the newest member or through the youngest member, St Benedict is reminding us that we are all unlimitedly under God’s authority and he can speak to us in many and different ways. Such a teaching, I suggest, is as valuable  in the pew as it is in the monastic choir stall.

In saying that in welcoming every stranger like Christ, St Benedict is getting us closer to the mystery of the Incarnation, for it brings the possibility of encountering the divine in the very day things of life.  In most of the rule St Benedict leaves wiggle room, but not where offering hospitality its concerned – and rightly so, if in turning some one away, could result in us turning God himself away. The Holywell Community Constitution reminds us that hospitality is not just about offering  food or a roof to some one, but is also about our attitude to people; are we open to other points of view or to people who are in some way different to us?  As Christians we are all called to see God in every Human being. – That can be quiet a challenge some times!”

He concluded with this challenge :

I hope this Lent’s study of the Ruleof St Benedict  will help you all think about your own rule of life, as we rightly spend this holy season reflecting on what Christ is calling us to do.

The rest of the series

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The schedule of repair and restoration work in the Priory this year is estimated to cost about a third of a Million pounds and is funded by generous donations and gifts, as well as from two legacies left by faithful parishioners .

NORTH WALK WAY

DWOyhJmWsAAZDb8.jpgAlun Griffiths Construction are working on lowering the North Walkway so as to reduce water seeping in to the Priory Church’s North wall. This scheme will also give better disabled access to the St Joseph Chapel.

Coe Stone  will build  a new retaining wall for the Garden of Remembrance, which will double up as a place for Memorial Tablets to be placed.

 

FRONT PEWS

A faculty is to be applied for the removal of the front pew so as to enable better use of the space for both concerts and liturgical acts.

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HEATING

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It is hoped that the new central Heating Boilers can be installed this Summer ready for next winter. These new boilers are small enough to enable us to re-open the North West Porch, this extra exit will enable us to increase our seating capacity and remain within fire regulations.

TOWER

It is planned to redecorate the ringing chamber and make repairs to the North Staircase of the Tower during the year. Bellfry.jpg

ST JOSEPH CHAPEL LIGHTS

A Faculty has been applied for to  replace the outdated lighting in the St Joseph Chapel, this will complete the Winston Memorial in that Chapel.

Commenting on these works the Vicar, Canon Mark Soady said:

We have a duty as stewards of the Priory to pass it on to the next generation both in a fit state, but also in a state that enables us to do the mission of the church in our day and age. I am grateful to all who have helped finance these projects, and encourage Parishioners to think about leaving a legacy to the PCC. Such a legacy will be spent on capital projects and not on running costs.

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HOLY WEEK SERVICES

 

HOLY MONDAY – HOLY WEDNESDAY

Monday 7pm Stations of the Cross & Holy Eucharist St Mary’s Priory

Tuesday 7pm Stations of the Cross & Holy Eucharist Holy Trinity

Wednesday 7pm Stations of the Cross & Holy Eucharist Christchurch

MAUNDY THURSDAY

7pm Mass of the Last Supper & Stripping of the Altar (St Mary’s  Priory), followed by the Procession to the Garden of Repose.

9pm – 12Midnight Watch of the Passion Holy Trinity

GOOD FRIDAY

In the morning we will join the Ecumenical March of Witness through the Town

2pm The Last Hour

7pm Sacred Concert: St Mark Passion – Wood

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From June 29th  to July 3rd the Abergavenny Floral Arts Society will mount an exhibition  of flowers  in the Priory Church to mark this years various Anniversaries.

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A display from a previous Flower Festival in 2013

Among the Anniversaries to be marked are:

  • Our Royal Patron the Prince of Wales’ 70th Birthday
  • The Centenary of the ending of Hostilities in World War 1 and the creation of the Royal Air Force
  • The Centenary of Women’s suffrage
  • The 65th Anniversary of HM The Queen’s Coronation and 70th Anniversary of HM’s wedding to The Duke of Edinburgh

and the local Anniversaries  included are:

  • 20th Anniversary of Abergavenny Food Festival
  • 30th and 50th Anniversaries respectively of the twinning with Beaupreau in France and Ostringen in Germany
  • 15th Anniversary of Diocesan Link between Monmouth and The Highveld

Welcoming the news  of the Festival the Vicar, Canon Mark Soady said:

The Priory Church down the centuries has been the place where the town comes to celebrate and to weep. I am very grateful to the Abergavenny Floral Art Society for helping us mark some of this year’s important anniversaries.

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