Saturday, 31 March 2012

Holy Week in Two Minutes.

Holy Week is my favourite week of the year. The Liturgy, the dramatic events we recall and the prayer that sustains the week just draw me in. No Holy Week is the same, in fact, they just seem to get better.

Have a wonderful Holy Week

Friday, 30 March 2012

Holy Week - Student Cross

Pilgrims across the country are beginning their final preparations before the annual Easter journey on Student Cross to the shrine to Mary in Walsingham, Norfolk.

On their way, they will provide many parishioners and people who see them as a reminder of the true meaning behind the Christian festival.

Ali Hodrien, national director of Student Cross for 2012, said: “For most people, Easter is more often represented by the chocolate eggs that have lined our supermarket shelves since January. For the pilgrims themselves, it is a reminder to themselves and the people we meet that Jesus’ sacrifice and his message of love is more important than ever.

From 31 March to 8 April, around 250 pilgrims of all ages and diverse backgrounds will experience a week of fun, friendship and freedom, with the occasional blister thrown in for good measure. Six of the 11 groups – or ‘legs’ will walk up to 130 miles, staying overnight in church and village halls, while two legs walk a shorter week for those unable to make this larger commitment.

In addition, there are three family legs which include a new group for teenagers and their parents, walking for the first time this year. Each leg carries a large, wooden cross and the arrival of these 11 crosses at the National Shrine to Our Lady in Walsingham, on the afternoon of Good Friday, will mark the beginning of the pilgrimage’s unique celebration of Easter.

Mrs Hodrien added: “Pilgrimage is actually a fantastic way to put our modern lives into perspective, and gives us the opportunity to reflect on those things that really matter to us. With the basic requirements of food and shelter met, we are freed from the everyday pressures of work or study, and able to relax into friendships old and new, while enjoying the beautiful countryside that we are privileged to walk through, and reassessing our relationship with God.

“One of the most touching things about the journey is meeting those that help us on our way. Their generosity – both practical and spiritual – is what makes our walk possible, and being welcomed by familiar faces who value our presence as a key part of their Easter preparations is a genuinely humbling experience.

“However many times a pilgrim joins us, they will always find their experience unique. Although we are only together for a short period of time each year, the experience reaches far beyond that and for many people is genuinely life changing. Although we only carry the cross for a week, we carry the experience in our hearts throughout the year.”

There are still places available for the pilgrimage. Visit: for more information or email

Flame Congress ~ Stef Reid

I am so thankful everyday that I get to live out one of my dreams – to be a professional athlete. I have wanted to do this since I was five and competed in my first sports school day. I played everything from basketball, to cross country, to swimming, to ballet, and then at 12, I fell in love with rugby. It was my goal to play internationally. Things were on track and looking good, and then one day, when I was 16, everything changed forever.
I was at my friend’s cottage for the weekend, and we decided to go tubing – that is when you attach an inner tube to a speed boat and get pulled over the water at high speeds. I had fallen off the tube and was waiting in the water, but the driver of our boat didn’t see me, and I was accidentally run over. I got caught in the propellers, and had deep lacerations to my lower back and leg. I was scared. I could see it in everyone’s face that it was bad.

We were hours away from the nearest hospital, and there was just too much blood. I remember lying in the ambulance, just praying. I was terrified to die because I knew in my heart that my life had not been pleasing to God. I didn’t really know him. I had never even asked him what his plan for my life was. My life was all about me. I prayed for a second chance. God heard that prayer. He saved my life, and I was incredibly grateful…until I found out that there was a catch. In order to save my life, the surgeon had to amputate part of my right leg. My thankfulness quickly dissolved – I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t pursue my dream. I didn’t want to always look differently from everyone else. But I gave God the benefit of the doubt, and through my grief and devastation, I trusted him. But it was confusing. Why would God bless me with passion and ability for sport, only to take it away? How was I still going to be me? Would I still enjoy life? Over the next few months and years, God revealed to me that he put my drive and love for competition in me for a reason. I didn’t need to change, I just needed to apply it in a different way. So I put my energy and drive into my schoolwork, and earned a full academic scholarship to university to study biochemistry.

I competed on the trivia team, and the chess team – as you can imagine I was very cool – and I developed a new goal, to be a surgeon. I was happy, and I was fulfilled. Then, when I was at uni, I happened to walk by an athletics practice, and something inside of my just clicked – I wanted to know how fast I still was. I started off practicing once or twice a week, eventually progressing to full training six days a week. Opportunities to compete internationally kept cropping up, and finally, I had to make a decision, to pursue athletics professionally, or go to medical school. I couldn’t believe that God would have brought me this far in athletics to just walk away from it, so I decided to take the road less travelled. 12 years ago, lying in my hospital bed, being a professional runner was the last thing I expected of my life. But we serve a mighty God.

I know every one of you here has dreams and passions. Don’t ignore them. They are good, and God created you with them for a reason. The tricky part is finding out what to do with them. There is no formula for it, I can’t give you a 5 step approach. Everyone’s journey will be different, and you will have to work it out for yourself in prayer, and with wise council from your peers and elders. The best piece of advice I can give you is tobe open to God’s plan. He thinks on a bigger scale than we do, and he can see the whole picture.

So this summer, I hope you do watch the Paralympics and draw inspiration from it. God is not limited by things like physical disabilities, or social stigmas, things that we may see as limitations. Or, even better, get involved and experience the Games firsthand with opportunities like the Joshua Camp. It is my hope for you, that when you look at your life, what you will see are endless possibilities, and that you will have the courage and determination to pursue them.

Stefanie Reid

Be inspired. Be an inspiration!

Paralympic long jumper and sprinter

Nine Months

Tomorrow night the Ten Ten Theatre Company will be performing the play ‘Nine Months’ in the Leicester Square Theatre. I have seen this play countless times and led discussions on the dramatic events it portrays with hundreds of young people. It never ceases to move me. This description of the play is from the Ten Ten website.

“I thought about not telling you. I mean, I thought, it’s my own stupid fault, just go off to the doctors and have done with it. But then I thought I should tell you ‘cos, like, you’re my best mate, innit?”

August… Tasha and Gibsy, aged 17 and 18, sit on a beach, hands entwined, having the best summer of their lives.

 September… Tasha skips her period and takes a pregnancy test.

 October… they make a life-changing decision.

Charting a changing relationship over a nine-month period, Ten Ten Theatre’s new play asks challenging questions about the nature of relationships, love and life.

The play is written and directed by Martin O’Brien. The cast are people I am now glad to call friends – Stephen Newbury and Sarah Winn. The play is sold out. The Ten Ten Theatre Company take plays into schools that go to the heart of relationships. In the often confusing and pressured world that our young people live in, Ten Ten explore with the audience issues of friendship, sexuality choices and morality. The dramas are funny, deep, challenging and memorable. Many times I have been amazed by the response it evokes from the audience. Pray for the work of Ten Ten. It is a wonderful ministry and work. And having spent four weeks working with them I can only be amazed at the hard work that they do. The plays and the company deserve our thanks and respect

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

El Shaddai

This weeks inspirational song comes from one of my favourite singer songwriters, Michael Card.

More Flame

More of the celebrations on Saturday as 8500 young catholics gather to celebrate their faith.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Carmel at Flame 1

On Saturday 24th March 7 Carmelite friars from communities across the UK joined 8500 young people in Wembley Arena. The reason Flame!

Our information stand with the prayer net

Team Carmelite
Damian, Severin,Neil, Paul, Kurt, Ged & Jacek

Flame Congress is inspired by the events of September 2010& by what is to come in Summer 2012.
September 2010 saw the historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI with powerful, memorable scenes in the Piazza at Westminster Cathedral, at the Big Assembly, Twickenham, and in Hyde Park. Thousands of young people joyfully celebrating faith and being affirmed in their voice and role in a vibrant Church.

Damian & Kurt being fraternal

Ice cream break!

Visitors at the prayer point

A view from the stage

Some of our friends joining in the flashmob

The Carmelites asked to be a presence at Flame and to invite young people into prayer. A net was cast for all those who passed us by to stop, talk and pray. Each was invited to write a prayer and place it in our net. The friars, Br. Ged, Br.  Neil, Br. Paul, Br. Jacek, Br. Severin, Br. Kurt and Fr. Damian were amazed and heartened by the people who came by and said hello.  Severin and Jacek were able to speak too many in Polish.  Fr. Damian was greeted by many young people he had met on his visits to schools around the country.  Each one of us got caught up in the atmosphere and left tired and thankful for the day.
We now look forward to welcoming young people to our own community in Aylesford for Brightlights 2012 at the end of June.
Hopefully we will see you there!
God Bless, some tired friars!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Watch the Lamb

This weeks inspiring song comes from Ray Boltz. A beautiful look at the passion of Jesus throught the eyes of Simon of Cyrene

Keep Carmelite ...

Blessed Pope John Paul II once wrote a letter to the Carmelite family in which he described Carmel as the place where ‘life becomes prayer and prayer becomes life.’ I love this quote but it does raise some questions for me. What is prayer? How does it shape or even become my life?

Prayer is for many a difficult subject. Sometimes it seems so difficult to be satisfied in our prayer life that we choose not to pray. So the idea of prayer as a lifestyle seems remote and not an attractive choice. If this seems to be my reality, how can I change that? Because, in truth, prayer can be difficult. It is hard when there seems to be no response, or as a pray-er once uttered, ‘out of the depths I cried to you O Lord and there was nobody there.’ Maybe the first step in a life of prayer is to be honest about why I am praying. Is my prayer a request for God intervene? Is my prayer for a miracle? Is my prayer about a need for reassurance? Or a sense of direction? All of these things are valid things to pray for, but is it the right place to start.

An area of life that I most value is friendship. I have friends who have known me since my first day at school. I have friends from work, college, study. I have friends I have met through my ministry. I have a wonderful group of close friends who offer me an unconditional love and support. Why are these people my friends and why do they invest such love in me? Because we spend time together. We communicate. We share our thoughts and feelings. Because there is a level of intimacy and trust that is earned and is not present in other relationships. If I transfer this knowledge to my prayer life then maybe my prayer will become more solid.

I don’t only meet or talk with my friends when life is hard, or if there is a difficulty to overcome. My friends will be there for me in all those things. I meet with my friends because I enjoy their company. We share our joys and laughter as well as the problems that come along. We talk about our lives, with interest and concern. We laugh at the situations we find ourselves in. We trust each other with our love. We can be vulnerable in one another’s presence. We can be held in a safe embrace and not be afraid to let go.

If we bring this friendship to prayer then it just happens. Yesterday I spent the day alone and without any distractions. I made no plans. I found a small country church and spent some time there just bringing my life to God. It seemed so natural. There are things happening in my life at the moment when I need my God friend to be involved. I know that God knows all of me, but sometimes I need to speak to God about all of me. To say these things out loud. Me and my God.

Try it. Spend some time today talking out loud with God. The little things that have happened recently that made you laugh, smile, cry or dance with joy. Speak of your heart’s desire. Speak those dreams that so often go unsaid for want of a safe ear to hear them. Tell God those things that nag at you and that you avoid. Speak to your friend and come to know that God wants to listen, wants to be a part of your life.

Maybe this will change prayer for you. After all you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Fourth Sunday of Lent

“For God so loved the world” (John 3:16)

This is regarded as the most quoted part of scripture. You see it on billboards, notice boards, letter heads, church mission statements throughout the world. Others include “God is live and he who abides in love …” Also, “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened.”

 Deciding what these sayings mean, and what they might mean for each individual is difficult. Today let’s stick to John 3:16.

 Experiencing God’s love in his gift of Jesus to save.

·         What does that mean?
·         What does believing that feel like?
·         How does it work?
·         Eternal life – what is that?
·         Can we be sure everybody wants it?

Nicodemus is a Pharisee, who is caught up in the message and drama of Jesus. He is also frightened. He is a leader amongst the Jewish people and Jesus has a message that is unsettling and powerful. Under cover of darkness he comes to Jesus, hungry to learn more from this intriguing man. He and Jesus have an involved conversation about the kingdom of God, about being born from above, about water and the spirit.

After Jesus’ crucifixion it was the same Nicodemus who found the courage to accompany Joseph of Arimathea to prepare the body of Jesus for a dignified burial. Surely something must have happened to Nicodemus, a change, a conversion. Something is happening at the core of his being. That is what this text tackles. Some inner being stuff.

Since January I have spent some time working in schools with a Catholic theatre company. Each day we go into a different school and through drama explore the complexity of relationships, their joys, pressures, difficulties, burdens, vulnerabilities and expectations. Martin O’Brien, the writer of the plays has created some wonderful characters to build his plots around. One of my favourite characters is a fifteen year old girl called Sian. When we first meet Sian she is waiting with her brother for a coach that will take her to Lourdes. She is in a wheelchair and gradually her story is revealed. She was hit by a car at the age of 11 and since then has been confined to a wheelchair. She is angry, ‘shouty’ and bitter. The next time we meet her something has changed. The same strong personality comes across but there is a difference.  This is how she describes it.

“Well I sat there by the river that runs through Lourdes. And across the river was the grotto where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette. And all around me there was a big procession going on with thousands of people, many of them in wheelchairs like me, and they were just processing around singing this song over and over again. Ave Maria. I dunno how to describe it, yeah, but as I sat there I got this deep sense of peace. I felt loved. By God. God loves me. I knew it. I can’t describe what happened but for some reason now I just know that God loves me.”

“After my accident, I hated myself. I was proper bitter. I just thought I was a piece of rubbish and good for nothing. But the thing is God made me. And he doesn’t make rubbish does he? Only good things. Only good.” (Two Faced © Martin O’Brien)

This experience of love is the message of the gospel. Some think experiences like these are the preserve of great saints and mystics, but a fifteen year old girl, caught up in the drama of her own life, feeling isolated and useless, comes to know just how beautiful she is in God’s eyes.  Why? Because, ‘God so loved the world…’

As we journey through Lent and move closer to the dramatic events of Holy Week, I encourage you to ask the same questions that Nicodemus did. I invite you to be as open to the winds of change and grace that Sian experienced.

Yesterday we celebrated a saint of these islands – Patrick. His prayer puts this experience beautifully

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
We are not forgotten. St Paul tells us that we are works of art. We are something beautiful. We are beloved.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

St Patrick's Breastplate

A week in the life ...

Fr Damian, (standing) with some friends
from the Craig Lodge Community

Fr Damian Cassidy, O.Carm., is the co-ordinator of our Carmelite outreach to young people and is the editor of this blog. Today he looks back at his week on the road.
This week I was asked a simple question – What is a normal day in the life of a Carmelite friar like? My initial reaction was ‘What is a normal day?’ My days seem so different. Take this week on Monday I should have been heading up north, but that trip was postponed by one day. So, an unexpected free day! Tuesday I was in north London to meet with Stephen and Sara from Ten Ten Theatre with whom I would be spending the next four days. Then we had a long drive up to the Lake District. The days then followed this routine

5am                       Alarm goes off. Shower, shave, get ready for the day
5.30am                 Mass and Prayer
6.15am                 Drive to Schools
6.30am                 Set up staging for drama. Meet with school staff who have arranged the day
8.50am                 First Drama and discussion
10am                     Second Drama and discussion
11.05am               Third Drama and discussion
12.15pm               Lunch
1.30pm                 Fourth Drama and Discussion
2.45pm                 Strike the staging and sound system. Check with School Staff that all is well.
3.30pm                 Drive to next lodging
5pm                       Arrive, eat, pray and collapse!

 The drama’s presented by the Ten Ten theatre look at relationships and how complex they can be. We have three plays that we have been using recently and all are geared to a particular year group and level of maturity. The conversations that we have after the plays on relationships can be really amazing and full of insight. Also, working alongside professional actors and seeing their gift of communication is a real blessing. The teamwork required on such a trip is also something that I enjoy.

 On Friday evening we had a longer drive back to London, so I finally got home to Aylesford at 9.30pm. Today I meet with a person who is wanting to know more about the life of a Carmelite friar, tomorrow I will be celebrating Mass for a group of religious sisters and with any luck popping in on my mother for mother’s day. Every day is different, but every day needs a rhythm. For us as Carmelites an essential part of the rhythm is prayer. For us it is as important as breathing. Without prayer my day will not be fruitful. This is even more important when prayer is hard and seemingly pointless. I won’t make the decision to stop breathing; neither can I make the decision to stop praying. If there seems to be no time for prayer, then I make time for prayer – even if t means getting up at 5am!

 Next week I am with my community, We have that same necessary rhythm of prayer, community, teamwork, communication that is essential for our life.

 You can meet Fr. Damian and some of our other friars next week at the CYMfed Flame Congress in Wembley.

 God Bless.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Third sunday of Lent

Want to go deeper into the meaning of today's scripture.

Follow the link


What Jesus tries to teach us

I came across this amazing song two years ago when living in Canada. I have used it many times on retreats and it always evokes a reponse.

The dramatic and live changing message that Jesus brings to us is that God loves us beyond our imaginings. Even when others don't seem to love us, even when we don't believe we are loveable, God is constant in loving us. We just need to be opne to this love.

I will love you for you ...

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Carmelites: People in Search of God

Fr Desiderio, a Carmelite friar from Spain, is currently living in the Carmelite community at Aylesford Priory. You can glimpse Fr Desi in this video, which he also co-wrote!

Meet Fr Desi and some other Carmelite friars at the Flame congress on the 24th March.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Brothers and Sisters of Joy

Finding Joy in Life

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
With compassion on this world.
 Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Those who have God
Find they lack nothing.
God alone suffices.
St Teresa of Avila.