" Who except God can give you peace? Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart? "
St. Gerard Majella C.Ss.R
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Parish Days of Recollection

cross goldSome of you may have seen the recent BBC4 series Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery , in which cameras were allowed into three different Benedictine monasteries to give us a snapshot of monastic life. One television critic praised the series, saying that “the wordless, daily rhythms of the Benedictine monks provided the most relaxing television that the ‘slow TV’ trend has ever managed.”

For some, however, the monks’ daily routine within the monastery – including both spiritual and mundane tasks - proved too much, as was born out in the Letters Page of a national newspaper in the days following the programmes’ airing: “How can anyone justify being a monk, sitting around reading and praying all day, when there is so much work to be done out in the community?”, wrote one correspondent.


Fortunately, another wrote in to redress the balance:  “As a neighbour of one of the communities featured in the series, I can report that one of the priests shown in silent prayer is also responsible for the care of two local parishes (not shown in the programme), another monk ran a further two parishes up until he recently fell ill and a third even now carries out other apostolic works in the local community.” (I’m paraphrasing the exchange, but you get the picture.)

What this reminds us of is that the spiritual aspects of our Christian lives - communal and personal prayer and the celebration of the sacraments - can never be separated from our active lives of work and service to others. Nor can our active lives of service to our families, friends, colleagues and clients bear the fruits we long to see, if they are not likewise sustained by quality time spent with God in prayer.

angels2A sister and I were recently sharing with a group of young people, and she said that, although most of her day was spent attending to the sick and elderly in the nursing home where she works, it would be impossible for her to do what she does without having first spent time in prayer, asking God for strength and guidance.

Whatever our personal vocation, our prayer life has to nourish, strengthen and inform it, and vice-versa.

It was with this in mind that we organised three parish days of recollection in September and October last year: one for readers, one for sacristans and one for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. It was a joint venture with St Mary’s and the invitation was also extended to others in the wider Pastoral Area. The days took place on separate Saturdays at St Mary’s parish hall and each was designed to give people involved in these ministries an opportunity to focus on the presence of God in their lives, to seek his guidance and thus make progress in their journey of faith and virtue.

We began each of the days by focusing on our baptism. Whatever our vocation in life - married, single, priest or consecrated person - our common journey of faith starts there. At baptism, we were each ‘plunged’ into the death and resurrection of Christ: we went into the water (symbolising our death with Christ in the tomb) and we came out of the water, symbolising our rising to new life with him through his eternal victory  over sin and death. We were anointed with the oil of catechumens which, together with the prayer of exorcism, enables us to confess (to share with others) the faith of the Church. We were anointed with the oil of chrism with the words “as Christ was anointed prophet, priest and king, so may you always live as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” So from the moment of our baptism, we each became missionaries, empowered by the gift of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News by our lives.

The morning spiritual conference also drew on the rich teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and from Sacrosanctum Concilium (the document on the sacred liturgy) in particular:

“All the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.” (SC 14)

candleWe maintained a spirit of silent recollection throughout, because we really were  on retreat, giving each other space and time to listen to and absorb the talks, and to meditate as we used the spaces, both inside and outside, to walk or sit quietly during the breaks. Together,

we also chose a specific prayer intention from all that was going on in the world at the time, and held this intention in our prayers throughout the day and in particular at the Mass which was the highlight of the timetable. Lunch provided a mid-point to the day, and we enjoyed a scheduled pause from our silence to talk and share together. The two afternoon sessions which followed it both had a more practical focus: one to remind ourselves of the key aspects of each of the ministries and the other was a question and answer session, which provided an opportunity for us to listen and learn from each other.

A big thank you to everyone who took part in the days, and also to all of you who in so many ways serve God and your brothers and sisters through your “full, conscious and active” participation in the liturgy.

Fr Charles Randall CSsR.

The above article was published in the January 2018 edition of BE Alive - Bishop Eton's parish magazine.

Fr Charles has been asked to run a further session for readers and those who would like to be readers. This will take place on the 3rd March 2018 at the Parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Gateacre Liverpool.