Reading the Rule of Taize: Mercy, Part 2

From the Rule of Taize:

Avoid petty disagreements between brothers. Nothing is more divisive than endless discussions about everything and nothing. Know, if need be, how to put an end to them. Refuse to listen to insinuations about another brother. Be a leaven of unity.

If you have doubts about a brother’s attitude and either you cannot talk to him about it or he refuses to listen, confide them to the prior, who will consider with you how to act and to help that brother. “Should he then refuse to listen to you both, speak to the community” (Matthew 18:17).

Because of the weakness of your flesh, Christ gives you visible and repeated signs of his forgiveness. Absolution restores you to the joy of a reconciliation (Psalm 51:12). Still, you need to seek it. The sin of on member affects the whole body, but God’s forgiveness re-establishes him within the community.

The one who lives in mercy is neither oversensitive nor easily disappointed. He gives himself simply, in self-forgetfulness, joyfully and wholeheartedly, freely, expecting nothing in return.


“Neither oversensitive nor easily disappointed” seems like it makes sense as a description of the one who attempts to live in mercy, and yet such a task could very well require an entire lifetime’s work to achieve.

How does one attempt to achieve this balance? My suggestion would be it through living always with an awareness that we have been the beneficiaries of God’s abundant mercy, and thus are called to be people of mercy ourselves.

In attempting to live lives of mercy there is a need to recognise that we, despite all protestations to the contrary in contemporary society, are not God. As such we will fail in our attempts to be people of mercy, and, likewise, other people will also fail in their attempts. This recognition of our fallibility will ensure that we are always aware of shortcomings but also aware at the same time of God’s abundant forgiveness and mercy.

In that recognition perchance we will avoid being both oversensitive and easily disappointed. 

The Quest For Religious Liberty

The Attorney-General of the Commonwealth of Australia recently gave a public address at the University of Notre Dame Australia in which he took aim at those who publicly criticise the Christian faith – specifically naming the ABC and the Fairfax media – as committing an “egregious travesty”. The Attorney-General’s public address was the subject of the Religion & Ethics Report on the ABC Radio National last week, during which excerpts from the talk were heard along with a response from David Marr. You can listen to the audio of the the Religion & Ethics Report, along with the full recording of the Attorney-General’s speech, but clicking here.

Not everything the Attorney-General had to say during his speech was objectionable or unreasonable, a point which David Marr is both happy and quick to make. Christianity has, in fact, made a great contribution to the understanding of human rights and human worth over the centuries, contributions which have been picked up by any number of more secular theorists. That doesn’t, however, mean that criticism of Christianity, and Christians, is necessarily an outright attack on Christianity and evidence of anti-Christian per se. It is quite possible, on the contrary, to both embrace the good that Christianity has gifted to the world while criticising those things which have not been beneficial to the world.

For more from David Marr on this topic, see the article from The Guardian linked to below…

Review: Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack

Christianophobia: A Faith Under AttackChristianophobia: A Faith Under Attack by Rupert Shortt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a truly disturbing book, and yet I would consider it all but mandatory reading for anyone who takes their Christian faith seriously.

Western Christians can be tempted to complain about the apparent sidelining of Christianity from the public sphere through aggressive secularism, but this book reminds contemporary Christians in the West that there are those of their brothers and sisters around the world who are the subjects of real persecution that involves violence, official interference and forced conversions away from the Christian faith. That this continues in the 21st century is simply dumbfounding, yet Rupert Shortt reports the stories of many individuals and groups who have suffered (and some killed) because of their Christian faith.

From the back cover:

On October 29, 2005, three Indonesian schoolgirls were beheaded as they walked to school – targeted because they were Christians. Like them, many other church members around the world face violence or discrimination for their faith. Why is this tragedy so widely ignored?

In Christianophobia, Rupert Shortt investigates the shocking treatment of Christian on several continents, revealing that they are oppressed in greater numbers than those of any other faith. The extent of official collusion is also exposed. Even governments that have promised to protect religious minorities routinely break their pledges, with life-shattering consequences.

Unlike their Muslim counterparts, young Christians don’t easily become radicalized but tend to resist non-violently or keep a low profile. This has enabled politicians and the media to play down a problem of huge dimensions. Shortt demonstrates how freedom of belief is the canary in the mine for liberty in general. Published at a time when the fundamental importance of faith on the world stage is at last being recognized, this book will be essential reading anyone interested in the rights of people to believe what they wish, no matter where, or among whom, they live.

View all my reviews

In Honour of St Aidan of Lindisfarne

Today is the feast day of St Aidan of Lindisfarne, a day of particular significance for me because I took his name when I became a Benedictine Oblate. For those who don’t much about Aidan, have a read below…

St Aidan of Lindisfarne

Aidan of Lindisfarne (died 31 August 651) was an Irish monk and missionary credited with restoring Christianity to Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, served as its first bishop, and travelled ceaselessly throughout the countryside, spreading the gospel to both the Anglo-Saxon nobility and to the socially disenfranchised (including children and slaves).

He is known as the Apostle of Northumbria and is recognised as a saint by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion and others.

Bede’s meticulous and detailed account of Aidan’s life provides the basis for most biographical sketches (both classical and modern). One notable lacuna, which (somewhat paradoxically) reinforces the notion of Bede’s reliability, is that virtually nothing is known of the monk’s early life, save that he was a monk at the ancient monastery on the island of Iona from a relatively young age and that he was of Irish descent.


In the years prior to Aidan’s mission, Christianity, which had been propagated throughout Britain but not Ireland by the Roman Empire, was being largely displaced by Anglo-Saxon paganism. Though it seemed a foregone conclusion that the region was returning to pagan systems, bastions of Christian thought continued to thrive. In the monastery of Iona (founded by Columba of the Irish Church), the religion soon found one of its principal exponents in Oswald of Northumbria, a noble youth who had been raised there as a king in exile since 616. Divested of his earlier beliefs and baptised as a Christian, the young king vowed to bring Christianity back to his people—an opportunity that presented itself in 634, when he gained the crown of Northumbria.

Owing to his historical connection to Iona’s monastic community, King Oswald requested that missionaries be sent from that monastery instead of the Roman-sponsored monasteries of Southern England. At first, they sent him a bishop named Cormán, but he returned in abject failure to Iona and reported that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Cormán’s methods and was soon sent as his replacement in 635.

Missionary efforts

Allying himself with the pious king, Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne, which was close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, as the seat of his diocese. An inspired missionary, Aidan would walk from one village to another, politely conversing with the people he saw and slowly interesting them in Christianity: in this, he followed the early apostolic model of conversion, by offering “them first the milk of gentle doctrine, to bring them by degrees, while nourishing them with the Divine Word, to the true understanding and practice of the more advanced precepts.” By patiently talking to the people on their own level (and by taking an active interest in their lives and communities), Aidan and his monks slowly restored Christianity to the Northumbrian countryside. King Oswald, who after his years of exile had a perfect command of Irish, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first.

In his years of evangelism, Aidan was responsible for the construction of churches, monasteries and schools throughout Northumbria. At the same time, he earned a tremendous reputation for his pious charity and dedication to the less fortunate—such as his tendency to provide room, board and education to orphans, and his use of contributions to pay for the freedom of slaves:

He was one to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; and wherever in his way he say any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if infidels, to embrace of the mystery of the faith or if they were believers, to strengthen them in the faith, and to stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works. …This [the reading of scriptures and psalms, and meditation upon holy truths] was the daily employment of himself and all that were with him, wheresoever they went; and if it happened, which was but seldom, that he was invited to eat with the king, he want with one or two clerks, and having taken a small repast, made haste to be gone with them, either to read or write. At that time, many religious men and women, stirred up by his example, adopted the custom of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, till the ninth hour, throughout the year, except during the fifty days after Easter. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only meat, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed them, as has been said, to the use of the poor, or bestowed them in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to the order of priesthood.

The monastery he founded grew and helped found churches and other religious institutions throughout the area. It also served as centre of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge, training many of Aidan’s young charges for a career in the priesthood. Though Aidan was a member of the Irish branch of Christianity (instead of the Roman branch), his character and energy in missionary work won him the respect of Pope Honorius I and Felix of Dunwich.

When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswine of Deira and the two became close friends. As such, the monk’s ministry continued relatively unchanged until the rise of pagan hostilities in 651. At that time, a pagan army attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan saw the black smoke from his cell at Lindisfarne Abbey, immediately recognized its cause, and knelt in prayer for the fate of the city. Miraculously, the winds abruptly reversed their course, blowing the conflagration towards the enemy, which convinced them that the capital city was defended by potent spiritual forces. Around this time, Oswine was betrayed and murdered. Twelve days later Aidan died, on 31 August, in the seventeenth year of his episcopate. He had become ill while on one of his incessant missionary tours, and died leaning against the wall of the local church. As Baring-Gould poetically summarizes: “It was a death which became a soldier of the faith on his own fit field of battle.”

Legacy and veneration

After his death, Aidan’s body was buried at Lindisfarne, beneath the abbey that he had helped found. Though his popularity waned in the coming years, “in the 10th century Glastonbury monks obtained some supposed relics of Aidan; through their influence Aidan’s feast appears in the early Wessex calendars, which provide the main evidence for his cult after the age of Bede.”

His feast is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, 31 August. Reflecting his Irish origins, his Scottish monasticism and his ministry to the English, Aidan has been proposed as a possible patron saint of the United Kingdom.

Today, Aidan’s significance is still recognized in the following saying by Joseph Lightfoot, Bishop of Durham:

“Augustine was the Apostle of Kent, but Aidan was the Apostle of the English.” — Bishop Lightfoot

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Scriptures: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

One of my favourite plays – and then movie – is entitled A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt, which tells the story of Sir Thomas More who, as the Lord Chancellor of England, was the chief minister of Henry VIII at the time the King was seeking to divorce Catherine of Aragon. More, of course, was a man of great integrity and conscience who could not support the King’s desire and so resigned his office rather than compromise himself. In a similar fashion, in the face of Henry’s attempt to make himself Supreme Head of the Church in England, More refused to take the Oath of Supremacy because he saw it as an attack on the Church. Even knowing that he would be condemned for high treason and would face the penalty that was applied to that offence, More remained steadfast despite the pleadings of family and friends.

More is ultimately convicted thanks to the false testimony of Sir Richard Rich, a man who can perhaps best be described as a social climber prepared to do whatever he needs to in order to obtain power, position, privilege and prestige. It doesn’t matter who might be in his way, he was prepared to use them and denounce them in order to get what he wants. In the case of Sir Thomas More, Rich is promised a position at court if he’s prepared to denounce More at More’s trial. This Rich does…and thus comes one of the most striking pieces of dialogue to be found in the whole play.

After being condemned, More turns to Richard Rich and asks him what the chain Rich wears signifies. Rich responds that it is the chain of the Attorney-General for Wales. Having heard this, More responds: “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?”

In our Gospel today we hear the true and full cost of discipleship, of being the bearers of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus explains to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and there be confronted by the forces opposed to his message, and that this would ultimately lead to his death. Jesus would always be moving towards Jerusalem, always heading towards that place where the message of the Kingdom needed to be proclaimed, and the cost of this perennial mission would always be high. It was the natural consequence of the Divine Love made manifest in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, and it was entirely in keeping with God’s love for his people that brought God to take on human form. It was, as we hear, God’s way.

Peter couldn’t cope with this news though. He attempts to dissuade Jesus from the course that had been laid out, trying to convince Jesus that there wasn’t a need to go to Jerusalem if that meant certain death. This man whom we heard last week confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, now hopes to convince Christ of the rightness of his view. It was never going to be. Peter is operating from a position of self-preservation, of self-promotion, rather than being prepared to be part of the ongoing proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Peter’s actions were, not to put too fine a point on it, entirely about Peter, and he was prepared to do whatever he had to do in order to  get what he wanted. It was, as Jesus would tell him, the way of humankind and not the way of God.

The rebuke of Peter by Jesus uses words that are well known: “Get behind me, Satan!” They are savage and direct, evidence perhaps of the significance of what Peter was attempting to do. These words, however, have a dual meaning. Not only do they mean ‘get out of my way’ and stop preventing me from fulfilling my mission that must take me to Jerusalem and all that entails, they also mean ‘fall in behind me and follow me’ and be prepared to take your rightful place and role in my mission to proclaim the Good News. Stop trying to avoid the Cross, because it a natural consequence of being involved in what I am about. If you are a follower of mine, then the Cross will be part of your life.

And the Cross is not just something to be passively accepted should it come our way. Jesus tells his disciples they must be prepared to take up their cross and follow Jesus, deliberately being part of the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom. A true disciple doesn’t seek self-preservation and their own comfort before all else: the Kingdom is the first priority, even if that requires the disciple to embrace the Cross along the way to Jerusalem. Like St Thomas More, we are called to be disciples of integrity and conscience that prefer nothing – not even our own safety – to the Kingdom of God. In holding fast to the task given to us by Jesus to continue his mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, in offering our very lives in the cause of the Kingdom, we will gain our true lives.

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