Author Archives: monicacatcabal

October 5: A Merciful Heart

And what is a merciful heart? … The heart’s burning for all creation, for human beings, for birds and animals, and for demons, and everything there is. At the recollection of them and at the sight of them his eyes gush forth with tears owing to the force of the compassion which constrains his heart, so that, as a result of its abundant sense of mercy, the heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or examine any harm or small suffering of anything in creation.
For this reason he offers up prayer with tears at all times, even for irrational animals, and for the enemies of truth, and for those who harm him, for their preservation and being forgiven … as a result of the immense compassion infused in his heart without measure – like God’s.
– Isaac of Nineveh

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Friday 1 April: Reflections at the Lakeside.

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I’ve always found the accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances extraordinarily pregnant. In all of them the atmosphere is so strong that it reaches across time and space to burst through the text and draw us in, making us privileged guests at this most singular event, inviting us all with profligate generosity to the wedding banquet, just as his blood was poured out for us all. The Spirit is not bound by space or time, and love is stronger than death. Like a magic carpet, love draws us in the spirit through the portal of the text to a beach by the Sea of Tiberias early one morning, long ago in the days when Judaea was a Roman province.


A group of men sit around a charcoal fire sharing a breakfast of fish and bread and watching as the mist slowly disperses into the pale golden sunlight. The smells of charcoal and fish mingle with the smells of salt water and the men’s bodies. Beneath the sounds of eating and talking, the water laps rhythmically on the smooth sand. Slowly, imperceptibly, it turns from silver-grey to blue. The caress of the light makes it glisten with joy.


Mini-Interruption: then is now.

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Shared fish meal in the Lake District, Easter 2014. Every meal is now a sharing in the heavenly banquet. MMB

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Thursday 31 March: Dead; but Alive and Moving on.

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Thomas Merton vividly describes the ongoing process of death and rebirth that we undergo in journeying into God:

‘It is sometime in June. At a rough guess, I think it is June 13 which may or may not be the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua. In any case every day is the same for me because I have become very different from what I used to be.

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The man who began this journal is dead, just as the man who finished The Seven Storey Mountain when this journal began was also dead, and what is more that man who was the central figure in The Seven Storey Mountain was dead over and over. And now that all these men are dead, it is sufficient for me to say so on paper and I think I will have ended up by forgetting them. Because writing down what The Seven Storey Mountain was about was sufficient to get it off my mind for good. Last week I corrected the proofs of the French translation of the book and it seemed completely alien. I might as well have been a proofreader working for a publisher and going over the galleys of somebody else’s book. Consequently, The Seven Storey Mountain is the work of a man I never even heard of. And this journal is getting to be the production of somebody to whom I have never had the dishonour of an introduction.’


To speak of resurrection in terms of spiritual awakening is not to reduce it to a metaphor. The contemplative resurrections do not replace the resurrection of the body but rather anticipate it.


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Wednesday 30 March: Seeing that Consists in Not Seeing


For Gregory of Nyssa, the cloud into which God calls Moses on Mount Sinai symbolises the unknown and unknowable place in which we meet God:

‘Leaving behind everything that is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, Moses keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding he gains access to the invisible and incomprehensible, and there he sees God.’

In today’s Gospel, (Luke 24: 13-33) the women tell the apostles about the empty tomb and the angels they encountered there, but the men dismiss their testimony. Peter goes and checks the tomb for himself, but what he finds still does not persuade him of the women’s veracity.

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The disciples set off for Emmaus. As they walk, Jesus joins them. When they fail to recognise him, he chides them for their folly. ‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’ Still they do not recognise him. It is only he when breaks bread with them that they finally see. As soon as they do so he vanishes from their sight.

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Gregory’s description of the ascent continues,

‘This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness.’

Stiperstones, Shropshire: MMB; FMSL; 

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Tuesday 29 March


Plato describes how the prisoner who escapes from the darkness of the cave into the sunlight is at first dazzled by the unaccustomed brightness. Gradually his eyes adjust to it, but when he returns to the cave to rescue his fellows he must learn to see in darkness again.

In today’s gospel we read of how Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus but fails to recognise him. When he asks why she is weeping and who she is looking for, she mistakes him for the gardener. Only when he addresses her by name does she recognise him.

Why did she not do so before? One reason would assuredly have been that he was the very last person she expected to see standing there. But perhaps the main reason was the state of utter shock, grief and exhaustion she would have been in. She probably barely recognised herself any more. It took the familiar voice speaking her name to bring her back to reality. Or rather, to bring her forward to reality.

For this is not the reality she knew before. It is something wholly new, yet more real than anything she has ever known before. She has awoken to find herself outside the cave. The air is limpid, the early morning light catches the myriad pearls of dew and tiny spiders’ webs that adorn the fragrant grass, a gossamer bridal gown for the new earth.

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March 28, Easter Monday: Steps, not Stages, in Life.

heartPurification, illumination and union are traditionally portrayed as distinct stages of the spiritual life. First comes purification, then illumination, then finally, at the most advanced level, union.

Reflection upon this understanding reveals its inadequacy. What could motivate us to embark upon this journey but some sense of our destination? Love is the end of the spiritual journey and also its beginning. The sense of wonder is the beginning of philosophy and also its end. Purification, illumination and union are not sequential phases of the spiritual life but dynamically interdependent aspects of it.


The journey is not linear, but a spiral composed of fractal paths, multi-dimensional.
The awakening into love, which is the awakening into contemplation, is not a once and for all event, but a complex process, a pas de deux between the soul and the Spirit, the courtship dance of a pair of lovers.


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March 27, Easter Sunday: Awakening into Love


The resurrection of the white martyr takes place in this life. The death of the physical body has no part in it. It is a resurrection from brokenness to wholeness, from alienation to connectedness, from ignorance to knowledge. It is an awakening into love; when Paul speaks of the raising of the dead, the Greek verb translated as ‘raise’ also means ‘to awaken’.  We are raised into the ability to love ever more expansively, to receive love ever more deeply, and to see ever more clearly the omnipresence of love throughout creation.

nasaM81galaxyIf you gaze at the sky on a clear moonless night, the longer you do so the more stars you see. Gradually it becomes apparent that the whole sky is luminous, and as you continue to hold your gaze, ever greater luminosity is disclosed.

The contemplative gaze enables us to see that love permeates reality in the same way that light permeates the night sky; that love is the substratum of being, the most basic stuff of all that is. It enables us to see that appearances notwithstanding, God is all in all.

The next life is, in the first instance, the present life seen in the light of love. This is an awakening into a new way of seeing which reveals a world of boundless wonder and unspeakable beauty. It is awakening into true life with Christ.

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The tomb of sin, of ignorance and error, in which we were buried, is now empty.

Strasbourg, Anglesey, NASA, Anglesey.



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March 25, Good Friday: Dying with Christ.

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We are all called to die with Christ.

Strasbourg Cathedral 

We are all called to die with Christ. One way of doing so is the way of red martyrdom, bearing witness (the meaning of the Greek marturō, from which the word ‘martyr’ derives) with our blood, as more Christians than ever before are doing.

There is also a white martyrdom, originally exemplified by those who withdrew into the Egyptian desert after the example of Anthony of Egypt. This is a death to all that separates us from God. By following the threefold way of purification, illumination and union the white martyr reconnects with the interior silence in which we know God face to face.

This death, which is also a journey, is traditionally imaged, after the Book of Exodus, as the soul’s ascent of the mountain of God. We ascend by allowing our perspective to expand. We ‘rise’ from self-centredness to other-centredness. This means allowing all of our habitual ways of seeing and thinking, however cherished, to be changed by the inflowing (the in-fluence), of grace.

bonaventure.ryeBonaventure saw that at the apex of the ascent we ‘behold Christ hanging on the Cross’ and ‘celebrate the Pasch, that is, the Passover, with Christ.’ We –

‘rest with Christ in the tomb, as one dead to the outer world, yet experiencing, in as far as possible in this pilgrim state, what was said on the cross to the thief who was hanging there with Christ: This day you will be with me in Paradise.’

The face of God is the face of Christ crucified. Our face, too, is the face of Christ crucified.

St Bonaventure from St Anthony of Padua, Rye.


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22 March, Tuesday of Holy Week: The Hands of the Wicked.



mercylogoIn the first of today’s readings Isaiah (49:1-6) awakens to the realisation that, despite his doubts, his life has always rested secure in God’s plan. Although there are times when nothing makes sense and all seems futile, the reality is that God is all in all: the ground of all being; the beginning, middle and end of all that is. And so Psalm 70 reminds us to seek our refuge in the Lord and ask that he free us from the hand of the wicked.

Yet in the gospel (John 13:21-33,36-38) we find Jesus falling into the hands of the wicked. Or so it would seem. But again appearances deceive: the reality is that he does not fall into their hands, but rather submits to them, and in doing so overcomes wickedness. As Julian of Norwich saw (in the words of Denys Turner),

Love wages no wars at all, not even against sin, for love is absolute vulnerability. Love knows no other strategy than that vulnerability, [yet] it is precisely in that victory of sin over love that sin is defeated. In its victory over love, sin defeats itself. Sin’s failure to engage perfect love in a contest on sin’s terms of violence and power is sin’s defeat.

And so it is that what seems to be sin’s greatest victory is in fact its final defeat. On the Cross the Son of Man is glorified, and in him God is glorified. The Cross affirms that God is all in all.


Strasbourg Cathedral: Jesus in the hands of the wicked; Our Lady Immaculate and the English Martyrs, the Triumph of the Cross. (MMB)

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March 12th: Loving Memory: II

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Today I remember my grandmother, Mary Louise, whose 111th birthday it would have been. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace.

Although she brought me up, she kept to herself. Towards the end of her life she developed Alzheimer’s, by the grace of God in a happy form, meaning that she did not have to wait until death for respite from the hardship that characterised her adult years. Instead, with the help of an excellent care home she spent her last five years transported back to the happiness of her youth in Chestnut Hill, Boston, surrounded by friends and family and dressing for dinner every night.

Prior to the Alzheimer’s she’d jealously guarded the few personal possessions she’d manage to hold onto. But at the end all that was left was a battered suitcase with odd pieces of linen and clothing. And one page of the bible that she’d kept with her since childhood. Not that she ever went to church, or showed any interest in religion; far from it. But she treasured that bible. The page I found was Psalm 139. Given my own love for that psalm, its presence spoke more far eloquently than we had ever spoken in a more conventional idiom.

If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.


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