Tag Archives: Benedictines

21 September: Matthew’s call, IV.

One way, no looking back!


I feel that this lectio period is reaching its end. If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will scroll back three days to the beginning of these posts and catch up with our reflection on Matthew’s call. This post will be asking what Matthew’s response to Jesus’ call teaches.

Matthew has emerged in an entirely new light for me through this lectio experience. He didn’t have much personality for me before; now I see him as a dynamic man, capable of great insight and of quickly understanding the core truth in a situation. I see that he grasped the fact that this invitation from Jesus was not going to be offered twice. He grasped that the opportunity to associate himself with Jesus was more important than anything else. Matthew saw that to fail to respond to the invitation issued by Jesus would be to consign himself to the deepest misery. It would mean losing Jesus, letting him pass right out of his life. This, Matthew realises instantly, was unthinkable – it would be tragedy. I see that Matthew wants Jesus to lead. He starts off in his discipleship seeing Jesus’ back and he knows he must keep it in view – the metaphor perhaps for all the unknowns which are an integral part of the experience of every disciple of Jesus.

What else has happened here? I turn to my own life and look into my heart. I am struck anew by the fact that it’s important not to play with Jesus. Matthew doesn’t. Jesus’ invitation to Matthew and the way Jesus handles the entire encounter show clearly that when he calls, it is not a game. It is the privilege of a lifetime. Matthew saw this. Jesus will not tolerate shilly-shallying; he is God, and he expects a life-commitment.

As I look at my life now, I realise again that each day my discipleship will be tested. Am I really ready to drop whatever I’m doing, leave whatever Jesus asks me to leave today, and put my whole heart into following him, without looking back? I see that I cannot rest on yesterday’s good deeds (if there were any) or skate along on yesterday’s momentum. Every day I must push off afresh, keeping Jesus’ ‘back’ in view – or, in other words, accepting all the unknowns that exist in my life with him. Every day I must be like Matthew. And the alternative? The alternative is to lose Jesus, to see his back receding into the distance. He moves quickly.

I return to the thought with which I opened this reflection. Matthew was sitting down in the beginning of the story. But now? He is hurrying along the road, following Jesus. He is never pictured in the gospel as sitting down again. And I realise that discipleship is simply not a sit-down job. Not for Matthew, not for me. Oh, sure – we’re talking metaphor now, and not body language. The Lord may ask one to spend time at a desk job working for the kingdom. But on the most fundamental level, the disciple is always rising up from the inertia of the past – even if the past is only yesterday – the true disciple is always moving quickly to obey the Lord, ready to respond to the Lord’s exciting invitation, “Follow me” – today.

Thank you, Sister Johanna! It’s been good to spend these four days with you and Matthew. Thank you especially for encouraging us to listen out for our call, and to be ready to follow Jesus, today!


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20 September: Matthew’s call, III

A hand of welcome or of exclusion – most people reject him, but what is Jesus saying to Matthew? We continue with Sister Johanna’s reflection on the calling of Matthew.

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).

Jesus’ sure-footedness here takes my breath away. What a thrilling moment in Matthew’s life. I find myself entering into Matthew’s thoughts, seeing him in my imagination. He’s not adding up figures; he is sitting absolutely still. He’s just heard Jesus speak to him. Jesus said, “Follow me.” Matthew suddenly has a huge amount of emotion to process in no time at all. His head’s in a whirl. Matthew, the despised tax collector, finds that Jesus – this radiantly good and kind man – has noticed him, really seen him, even ‘read’ him.

Matthew feels confused and flustered by this affirmation – he’s not used to it. People rarely even look at him, and now this! From a holy man! He doesn’t quite know what to think. He habitually kept his defences up in order to shield himself from the hostility that was directed against him every working day of his life, but now, this Jesus actually wanted Matthew to be around. Most people couldn’t see too little of Matthew, but Jesus had just said, “Follow me.” ‘Follow him where?’ Matthew thinks. ‘Why? To do what? Nothing is adding up,’ Matthew thinks. But then, in an overwhelming flash of insight in which he sees his entire life in an utterly new way, he realises that things don’t have to ‘add up’ anymore – and Jesus was getting away! Jesus was walking down the road. Hurry, Matthew! Matthew rises from his seat, he stands. He walks, he runs – runs right out of his hated tax office and races down the street following Jesus.

And Jesus? Jesus’ methods are always surprising. Here, Jesus actually gives Matthew an instant ‘open door’ into discipleship. Jesus does not coddle, coax, explain or make lavish promises, but he wastes no time in realising his plans. He says ‘Follow me,’ and then he gives Matthew himself to follow. He turns. He walks. What was important for Jesus was to determine whether Matthew could really leave his chains. Any hesitation on Matthew’s part would have signalled an addiction to his sad situation, a perverse liking for its misery and loneliness – perhaps because of the pseudo-importance it conferred. And Matthew comes through the test brilliantly. He was ready. He follows as soon as he can scramble through the doorway. He becomes a disciple. Nowhere in the New Testament is it suggested that Matthew ever looks back.

Tomorrow, we’ll see what conclusions we can draw from these reflections.

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19 September: Matthew’s call, Part II.

The taxman is needed in civil society. These tokens were issued by German cities between the two World Wars. Money had lost its value and something had to be done to allow people to buy and sell and the city councils to provide the services they needed. We continue reading Sister Johanna’s reflection on the calling of Matthew the taxman.


And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him.
(See Matthew 9:9).

Something must have been going on in Matthew’s head that day that was different, that prepared him for Jesus’ summons. Maybe he wasn’t as preoccupied as he seemed to be. We’re not told what was in his mind, but I continue to reflect on the short text from Matthew 9:9.

We can assume that tax collectors were part of a crowd that could be generally relied upon to be cynically dismissive of Jesus – this idealistic rabbi who talked about a ‘kingdom’ of his own and travelled around with a group of scruffy, uneducated men. But Matthew was different – or at least, he had the potential to be different, and Jesus saw this. What did Jesus see in Matthew? Looking at Matthew from the outside, as it were, and objectively, anyone might have seen a capable man who was good with numbers. Matthew was, most likely, rather dishonest in the way most tax collectors were dishonest – raising the tax fees in order to skim off the extra for himself. But, with unerring judgement, Jesus intuited that this man, Matthew – Levi, as he was known at the time – wasn’t just a hard-boiled money-grabber. He was inwardly ready for precisely the summons he received. How do we know? We don’t know yet, if we are taking this story step by step. But in a few minutes we will see something astonishing. Let’s wait for it, asking the Holy Spirit to inspire our imagination. Jesus is just coming up to the tax office now.

Jesus knows that Matthew’s professional life did not make a promising statement about Matthew’s personal qualities, but Jesus tells us in precisely this context (see Mt.9:12-13) that he came for people like Matthew – the ‘sick’, who needed the doctor. Jesus also knows the power of his own personality to bring about a change of heart in those who are truly ready to surrender themselves to him. There is no false modesty in Jesus. Again and again Jesus offers himself – he knows who he is, knows that he himself is the pearl of great price. He knows he is the Son, the Son of God and very God. Jesus sees what is good in Matthew.

Let’s come back to Matthew. It’s quite possible that Matthew hated his job. But did he have an exit route? That is highly doubtful. No one liked tax collectors or trusted them Even if he quit his job, who else would have hired him? Matthew was trapped in a trap of his own devising. But is that all? Surely, there were a lot of trapped people around then, just as there are a lot of trapped people around now. Jesus didn’t call them. He called Matthew. Why? Matthew’s unique readiness must have been apparent to Jesus, even though it was almost certainly hidden from everyone else.

I’m beginning to answer my question as to Matthew’s back-story – at least to some extent. Matthew was ready for change, fed up to the back-teeth with his life. But let’s think: don’t we all know people who spend their life complaining about their situation and looking woebegone, but should the opportunity to make a change for the better actually be given to them, suddenly they are eloquent with excuses. In fact, such people love their chains and cannot handle freedom and its responsibilities. Jesus wanted to give Matthew the chance to show that he was emphatically not one of those.


Now, Jesus is standing there in front of Matthew. By the power of his mere presence, he gains Matthew’s attention. Matthew looks up from his task of adding columns of figures. He’s looking at Jesus now, waiting for what Jesus will say. Jesus utters the famous words, “Follow me.” Let’s watch. The text indicates that Jesus, after issuing his invitation to Matthew, does not hang around to chat or talk him into the idea. He is abrupt. (Even Peter had been given a small sales pitch by Jesus: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”.) Jesus doesn’t even call Matthew by name. Or not yet. By implication, we can be pretty sure that what Jesus does next is turn and begin to walk, giving Matthew the perfect view of his back.


Let’s leave Matthew here till tomorrow. If you had been in his place, what would you have thought?

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18 September: Matthew’s Call I.


We now have a little series of four reflections from Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey, this time on Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector. It is his feastday at the end.

The picture shows two of the tools of the trade. They were brought home by a retiring taxman in England. By the time he retired, IT had replaced flimsy paper and Stationery Office wooden rulers, he dug them out from the bottom of the drawer and brought them home. Over to you, Sister!

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).

The writers of the synoptic Gospels rarely relate the same episode in the same way. One notable exception is the account of the calling of Matthew. The three synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all tell the story in the briefest way possible. Jesus just turned up at Matthew’s tax office one day, said two words, “Follow me,” (or the Aramaic equivalent) and Matthew did. Immediately.

We know this text so well that its power to astonish us may have worn off. I, in fact, have always found this text a bit skimpy on description, rather un-dramatic and a little flat. I want to know more about the back-story, about Matthew’s state of mind on that day. Consequently, I probably haven’t given the story enough of a chance to talk to me. So I resolve today to slow way down and try to look at this text as though I’ve never seen it before. This is what lectio divina is about: diving down into a text’s deep pool and, through the grace of the Holy Spirit at work, both within the text and within my mind and heart, finding the story’s hidden meaning – and, yes, even its drama. The exercise never disappoints me. I begin, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The first thing I notice, then, is that Matthew, the tax collector was “sitting” in the tax office. We don’t usually get descriptions of body-language in the New Testament, but a quick flip through the pages of my New Testament confirms what I suspected: in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew’s physical position is given. It must be important I think, but why? Who cares that Mathew’s sitting down?

As I pray about this seemingly insignificant detail, it occurs to me that a sitting person is not only stationary but apt to be quite engaged on the interior level – more so, anyway, than when charging around busily, focusing on accomplishing tasks. Matthew was sitting because his work usually required it; he’d have been at a desk or table, writing, counting money, adding up columns of figures, absorbed in his intellectual work. He was occupied, even preoccupied – presumably not in the mood for a spiritual event of life-changing proportions. He was also doing things that would have been distasteful to a decent human being. Was he a decent human being? Many of the townspeople would have denied it roundly. He was, after all, taking the tax money from his own people who could ill afford to pay it, pocketing a certain percentage of the proceeds, giving the rest to the Romans, and, even more scandalously, turning the screws on those who did not, or could not, pay. But it was part of the job; he had to do it and he did do it. I see him now, sitting, head down, counting, adding up, writing, not making eye contact with anyone, not smiling, brow furrowed in concentration.

I wonder what this was like for Matthew. Matthew was a Jew in the employment of the Romans – the occupying political power. He, like all the Jews, was in a difficult situation. Matthew, however, had figured out how to manipulate the situation to his financial advantage. But at what emotional and social price? Of what use to him, he may well have wondered, was his financial security when he had no friends? For any friend of the Romans, anyone who voluntarily did their dirty business for them – and particularly, any Jew who did the Romans’ dirty business – was doubly scorned by the other Jews. Matthew was a traitor. No one liked the tax collectors. In Matthew’s case, he was probably intensely hated. But this was a normal working day for Matthew, differing little from every other working day. He was sitting down, adding up figures, getting on with it. Or was it really a normal day for him?

Those who’ve read my posts before know I’m apt to leave certain things dangling for twenty-four hours so that the reader has time to pray over the text and perhaps ask questions of the Holy Spirit. I hope you will come back tomorrow for the continuation of our meditation.

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5 August: A gift of love and sorrow, V.

Mark reports that Jesus says, ‘You need to do one thing more’ (Mark 10:21). This very gentle remark of Jesus accompanies his gaze of love. Jesus seems to be tenderly overlooking the young man’s sense of himself as being perfect–or nearly so. Surely, Jesus knows that there is not only “one thing” but many things the young man needs to do or become, but Jesus may be thinking that there will be time enough for the young man to come to terms with his weaknesses and to acquire a more realistic estimation of himself. For the moment, Jesus knows that if he can just persuade him to do only ‘one very important thing more,’ that very important thing will enable the young man well and truly to begin a deeper life, rooted in God: ‘Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’ (Mark 10:21).

And, tragically, here the conversation ends. The delightful young man with the “can do” personality suddenly confronts something he cannot do. Possibly, his life has been a bit too easy up to now and he knows it. That may be one of the reasons why he is there to begin with, kneeling before Jesus. But the effect of Jesus’ words is immediate.

The young man clearly didn’t expect Jesus to say that. And indeed, wealth was considered by the Jewish people to be a sign of God’s favour and blessing. “What’s this about?” he may well have thought. But he doesn’t linger to discuss the matter with Jesus. Had he done so, Jesus might have explained that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit and that wealth, with its trappings of glamour and its conferral of undeserved honour, was a spiritual handicap. In any case, now we reach the part of the story where the rich young man ceases to be an example of how to win Jesus’ love (although I do not doubt that Jesus continued to love him deeply). At this stage in the story the young man becomes an example of the paradox that we lose everything when we attempt to save everything–for we who read this know that Jesus himself is ‘everything’ and he is more than worth the loss of everything else. Indeed, the loss of everything else is the condition for gaining a close relationship with Jesus. It is a small price to pay.

A small price, but I am asking myself now what I am trying to hang onto that may be separating me from a close relationship with Jesus. I will stay with that uncomfortable question for a day and return tomorrow.

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Honouring Mary at Westminster Abbey

A tapestry in the chapel of Minster Abbey, with three saints of the Community, Mildred, Domneva, and Eadburga.

Source: Conference of Religious

An annual service of devotion to ‘Our Lady of Pew’ takes place at Westminster Abbey today. The Chapel of ‘Our Lady of Pew’ features a beautiful statue created by a Benedictine nun of Minster Abbey in Kent.

Sister Concordia Scott OSB sculpted the fine alabaster statue of the Virgin and Child in the niche of the Chapel. It took 14 months to complete and was placed there in May 1971.

The original statue that was there disappeared centuries ago. The design of the 20th-century piece was inspired by a 15th century English alabaster Madonna at Westminster Cathedral.

Sister Concordia Scott (1924 – 2014) was Prioress of the Minster Abbey community from 1984-1999.

Read the full story here, as found in today’s Independent Catholic News. Minster Abbey is home to our contributor, Sister Johanna Caton.

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27 May: Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

There was a time when I felt in two minds about Augustine: Saint Augustine? Saint? Hmm. He was a most reluctant Missionary, delaying his departure from Rome to make his way across Europe in 596-597, and indeed, dilly-dallying on the way. But he did get here and began work with his community. He established the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and London, which exist to this day in the Church of England.

And then there was the incident when he remained seated to greet the British bishops who went to visit him. They saw this as grossly insulting. For all that, he founded a Church that has lasted.

Let us pray that we may become the missionaries that Gregory’s successor, Francis, calls us to be, and that, like Augustine, we may co-operate with God’s grace, thriving in our weakness.

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19 May: Saint Dunstan

Dunstan’s self-portrait, kneeling before the risen Lord.

Here is Canon Anthony Charlton’s reflection on Saint Dunstan; Canon Anthony is parish priest of Saint Thomas’, Canterbury. The artist, Mother Concordia, was Abbess at Minster Abbey, home of Sister Johanna.

The small Catholic Church at Hersden a few miles from Canterbury is dedicated to St Dunstan whose feast day we keep today. On the left of the altar is a fine relief of St Dunstan created by Mother Concordia, a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey on the Isle of Thanet. What strikes you immediately is that he is holding a harp. Geoffrey Handley in his history of Anglo Saxons says that Dunstan “was renowned as a singer and musician and seemed to have exploited the effect of the aeolian harp ( the sounds caused by the wind blowing through the strings of a free-standing instrument). He was a scholar and gifted artist as well.

Dunstan was born in 909 and was made Abbot at Glastonbury by King Edmund. “It was from this moment, probably 940 may be dated the rebirth of Medieval English monasticism which was to last undisturbed until the reformation.”

He reformed Glastonbury Abbey and was made Bishop of Worcester and then London before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 960. He reorganised the church by promoting monastic bishops, and took a large part in the creation of a united England

Until Thomas Becket’s fame overshadowed Dunstan’s, he was the favourite saint of the English people. Dunstan had been buried in his cathedral at Canterbury; and when that building was destroyed by a fire in 1174, his relics were translated by Archbishop Lanfranc to a tomb on the south side of the high altar in the rebuilt Canterbury Cathedral.

He was a true shepherd to his people and his interests and skills tended to the crafts of the ordinary as well as the cultured. “The appreciation of these arts shows Dunstan’s passion for the creators work and for the talents he gives to us. Contemplation of the beauty of scared art and music allows us to glimpse and, perhaps, understand a little of God’s creative power.”

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9 April: The Tree of Life.

Tree of Life window by Dom Charles Norris at the former Franciscan Study Centre, Canterbury.

Saint Thomas’ Parish, Canterbury invites readers to ‘please share’ items from their website. As we approach Holy Week, here are reflections by Canon Anthony Charlton on the Tree of Life as found in Psalm 1 and the events we remember on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day.

There is a small stained glass window within the Church of the Good Shepherd, New Addington, created by a Buckfast Abbey monk, Dom Charles Norris. It depicts the image that is presented to us in Psalm 1. “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord. He is like a tree that is planted beside the flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves shall never fade; and all that he does shall prosper.”

Dom Charles employed a technique known as dalles-de-verre in which ‘tiles’ of coloured glass are chipped into shape and laid, mosaic-fashion, in a matrix of resin. As I sat in the presidential chair during Mass I was able to gaze on it while listening to the readings at Mass. The tree planted near running water reminded me of the only way to live my life fruitfully is to have deep roots that receive nourishment from the living water which is the Holy Spirit given to all of us.

In our life we can either trust in our own position, what others think of us, our status, our wealth, what we own or acquire in order to experience happiness or we listen to the way of Jesus. He shows us an alternative way of happiness. Yet this way will lead to a clash of values that will lead us to suffer for our commitment of bringing about God’s kingdom.

What Jesus is presenting to us is a radical choice that will put us at odds with the society in which we live. The extraordinary thing about the way of Christ is that is will lead to happiness but it will be by means of the Cross. We choose this way every time we come together to celebrate Mass and unite ourselves with the death and resurrection of Jesus. As the poor, the hungry, the sorrowing, the despised and the excluded, we embrace this way of happiness. We do this because we trust in the Lord. We are like a tree that is planted beside flowing water.

O God, 
who alone can satisfy our deepest hungers,  
protect us from the lure of wealth and power; 
move our hearts to seek first your kingdom,  
that ours may be the security and joy of those  
who place their trust in you. AMEN.

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16 March: People in their thousands, V.

Am I enough of a child to believe?

Part V.

If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will go back to the beginning of these posts (12 March) to find out how we’ve arrived at this point today. We’re looking at Jesus’ message about death. Today I’d like to finish our reflection with the question, What must we do to be fully receptive to Jesus’ reassuring and loving message about eternal life? How can we really and truly make it our own, so that we, too, can say, Be not afraid?

First, I think it is a matter of trust, simple human trust. We must trust in Jesus, believe that what he says is true, be filled with faith.

Second, it’s about how we live. What does Jesus teach us on this point? Jesus wants to show us how to live in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. We are meant to be about Jesus, as Jesus is about the Father. We are to cleave to him now, pondering his teachings and praying to him, living as he teaches us to live, keeping the Commandments, and the Beatitudes.

Third, it’s about full commitment. We are meant to do this wholeheartedly, to embrace everything about Jesus, and whenever we are feeling mortally threatened by anything, we are to recall that he has hold of us. We will die one day, but he teaches us not to fear death because death, as he promises, is not the end of our life – despite all appearances to the contrary.

Fourth, it’s about right-thinking. Let’s unpack this in some detail. In Jesus’ earthly life, he works miracles of healing, and even raises a few people from the dead. But he was anxious that these miracles not be misunderstood. We are not supposed to deduce from them that Jesus is some kind of holy magician. More importantly, we are not supposed to see his power as being directed toward the political machinations of this world; nor does he use his power to reward with prosperity those who are good and punish with suffering those who are wicked. He does not want us to think that as Christians we arrogate his power to ourselves and have it on tap whenever we snap our fingers. Nor, again, does Jesus use his miraculous power to enable us to live forever in this difficult world where human propensities and human principles are so often widely at variance with each other. In answer to prayer, and for reasons known to him alone, he sometimes even now heals the dying and prolongs their life by some years. Perhaps someone reading this reflection has been the blessed recipient of such astonishing grace. But every time Jesus manifests power over the laws of nature this is meant to strengthen our belief in his divinity, and in the truth of every word he uttered. The miracles are meant to assure us that we can believe what Jesus says about eternal life because he is Lord of the living and the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to him and all the ages, as the priest proclaims over the Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil.

In many ways, Jesus’ message is stunningly simple. Even a child can understand it. He is God. He loves us. He wants us to be with him now, through our life of faith and through our efforts to lead a life that is in accord with his teachings. He wants us to be with him in eternity. He is even now preparing a place for us with him. Am I enough of a child to believe this?

To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).

Thank you Sister Johanna! Five reflections to see us well into Lent, Easter and Beyond. I never once mentioned consciousness, our Lenten theme, but you open our eyes and ears to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is, and what life and death are all about. Thank you once again. Will Turnstone.

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