Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Feast of the Passion of St. John the Baptist

Thought for today: This is the Feast of the Passion of St John the Baptist. He was beheaded for standing up for the truth. In our day we are not asked to lose our head. We are asked to put our head above the parapet!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Countdown to WYD 2013

Well the preparations for WYD 2013 are contimuing apace. The Rio organising committee have released the following video to help us prepare for 2013

I have been to many WYD's and have enjoyed them all. There is something awesome about young people gathering together to celebrate their faith with joy and friendship. As human beings we need inspriration and encouragement and WYD fits the bill.

Many who would like to go to Rio find themselves unable to do so because of the cost. The Carmelite Community at Aylesford Priory, together with our friends and partners, Brightlights and many of the Catholic Youth Services in the South of England would like to share a WYD experience with you here at Aylesford. Join in the joy of Rio with other young people from across the UK and beyond. See you here?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Glass Full

A teacher stood before his class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty jam jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, rocks about 2" in width. The teacher then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed it was. The teacher then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He then asked once more if the jar was full. This time the students were sure and they eagerly shouted "YES!"

The teacher then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour the drinks into the jar which filled the empty space between the sand. The students laughed. "Now," said the teacher, "I want you to understand that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things - your family, your friends, things that, if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your home and your school. The sand is everything else, the small stuff like shopping, your ipod and your computer "If you put the sand into the jar first," the teacher said "there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you".

Pay attention to the things that can bring you true happiness. Find the time to do things as a family, talk together, eat together and, listen to one another. There will always be time to upload the latest release on your ipod. "Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and asked what the beer represented. The teacher smiled.

"I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for to share a beer with your family and friends”

The moral of this story is: Find space for the bigger things in life.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Preparing for Vows 1

The British Province of Carmelites are looking forward to the Solemn Profession of vows of their brother Ged Walsh. Over the coming weeks Br Ged will share his thoughts as he prepares for this decisive moment in his life.


My name is Brother Gerard Walsh; I am a Carmelite friar in first vows, living in our community in York, England.  I am currently working in chaplaincy, dividing my time between the University of York and the York Hospital.  Earlier this year I applied and was accepted for Solemn Profession of Vows, which will take place at The Friars, Aylesford in October.  Here I will publically profess the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to God within the Order of Carmelites for life.  Over the next weeks I will blog how my preparation is progressing both practically and spiritually.

With the end of the academic year and my family holiday enjoyed, I have been able to devote more time to preparing for the big day in October, on the practical level I have invites to do and a booklet to prepare as well as hymns to choose.  I suppose the more important of the preparation occurs more interiorly and to help facilitate this, a candidate for Solemn Profession is required to undertake 30 days retreat, in order to have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what God is asking of you. 

The retreat can be undertaken in a variety of ways, some complete the retreat in one go, as one of our Spanish brothers has recently done in Aylesford.  I have chosen to divide my time up, and have just returned from two weeks at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in Leicestershire.  I wanted to follow closely the timetable of the monks which is built around the Divine Office of the Church, beginning at 3.30am with the office of Vigils and ending at 7.30pm with the office of Compline.  The early start was not a big problem but trying to stay awake between the Vigils and Morning Prayer at 7am did take a lot of hard work, and I admit I did doze occasionally during this time.

During the day I would meet with one of the monks were I would have the chance to discuss any issues which had occurred either during prayer or whilst I was walking in the countryside around the abbey.  I was able to journal it down which helped aid the discussion.  The monk would also give me a topic/area to reflect and pray with, these varied from looking at the vows to the idea of commitment and more importantly what and who I am committing to.  The monastic atmosphere and especially the silence greatly contributed to me undertaking these tasks in a quiet and reflective way.

The retreat has been immensely beneficial and has left me with much to ponder over the next months leading to this important day in my life as a religious.  Next week I will take part on the Provincial pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Lourdes, France were I will help in the care of the assisted pilgrims, this will also be a time of prayer and reflection where I can place all my intentions, especially the forthcoming profession into the hands of May, the Mother of God at the shrine were she appeared to St. Bernadette some 150 years ago.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Solemnity of the Assumption

Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
you have revealed the beauty of your power by exalting
the lowly maiden of Nazareth and making her
the Mother of our Saviour.
May the prayers of this woman, clothed with the sun,
and with the moon beneath her feet,
bring Jesus to the waiting world
and fill the hearts of all with the presence of her child,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Taken from the Saturday Station prayers
before the Shrine of the
Glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Aylesford Priory, Kent.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Music Video of the Week

Colin MacIntyre & Donald Shaw in Malawi with Mary's Meals featuring the song Edge of Nearly
for more information about the work of Mary's Meals go to

Wisdom from Fiction

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Feast of St. Edith Stein, Carmelite & Martyr

The Early Years
Edith Stein was born on October 12, 1891, Yom Kippur, of Orthodox Jewish parents. A brilliant Jewish girl, but at age 14 she suddenly stopped praying and dropped out of school, angry because an anti-Semitic teacher consistently refused to put her at the head of the class even though the entire class thought she had earned it. However, eager for education, she received private tutoring and was admitted to the University of Breslau, one of the very first women admitted to full matriculation at a major university, where she majored in psychology.

The Philosophy Years

In the summer of 1913, when she was nearly 22 years old, Edith was an atheist on the surface but a Jew deep in her heart. This is fairly common among young Jews when their faith is presented to them simply as ethical idealism. They see it as a philosophy rather than a faith, and find it appropriate to probe its defects. Edith took a neutral position on God and refused all religious practice. Instead, she began to look for intellectual principles more deeply rooted in truth than those of Judaism.

Edith Stein did not find these higher principles in psychology, so she switched to the University of Göttingen to study philosophy under Edmund Husserl. His “phenomenology” sought to make philosophy a hard science by resolving the conflict between empiricism (observation) and rationalism (reason and theory). Phenomenology highlights the origin of all philosophical and scientific systems and theoretical constructs in the experiential life. Soon Edith became Husserl’s most gifted student; and when she had brilliantly completed her studies with a doctorate summa cum laude, he took her on as his assistant and collaborator.

The Old Damascus Road

Christ calls to us in ways that fill our needs. Phenomenology led Edith Stein into a state of Voraussetzungslosigkeit, total impartiality, without which she would have been incapable of opening herself to thinking of God in terms of objective analysis. She set out to understand what should be her relationship with God. She began to weigh the three alternatives within her environment: Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic.

She tried to return to the Judaism of her parents, especially by reading the Old Testament prophets. After deep exploration, Edith decided that Judaism did not fill the need in her heart. But she never tried to refute it, as some Jews who have become complete in Christ do. She was always respectful. Her exploration of Protestant religion fit in with her preference for Bach’s Christian music. More important, the Christian response to grief for the atrocities of World War I and the strength of Christian hope born of the Cross of Christ deeply impressed her.

Edith had tried to reach Christ on a rational level, but He reached her heart. She had become close to Adolf and Anna Reinach, both Jewish converts to the Evangelical Church. Adolf enlisted early in World War I and was killed in 1917. Edith went to his home to help Anna arrange his scholarly papers. She had also come to console Anna. Anna, however, was serene; her deep Christian faith led her to see the Cross in Adolf’s death. Anna’s deep faith made a deep impression on Edith, and prepared her for what was to come. Relating this experience many years later to Father Hirschaum,a Jesuit, Edith told him, “This was my first meeting with the Cross, with the divine strength it brings to those who bear it. I saw for the first time within my reach the Church, born of the Redeemer’s sufferings in his victory over the sting of death. It was at that moment that my incredulity was shattered and the light of Christ shone forth, Christ in the mystery of the Cross.” However, this was preparation. Many Jews who find Christ, myself included, experience something like what Saul of Tarsus experienced on the road to Damascus, which breaks our attachment to our old way of thinking and prepares us for the conversion itself.

During the next three or four years Edith, again like many Jews attracted to Christ, entered a period of intense reflection. She read numerous books on Catholic spirituality. One day she bought a book on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. She began by getting involved in the Exercises at a purely psychological level, but after a few pages she found this impossible. She ended up doing the Spiritual Exercises as an atheist thirsting for God. The Exercises were Christ’s preparation for what was to follow. That came in June 1921. she went to Bergzabern, to the home of a friend, Hedwig Konrad Martius, a regular meeting place of Husserl former students. Edith discovered in the library The Book of the Life, the autobiography of the great Spanish mystic, St Teresa of Avila, who originated the Carmelite Reform that restored and emphasized the austerity and contemplative character of primitive Carmelite life. Edith, astonishlingly, finished the entire book in a single night. Closing it, she exclaimed, “This is the truth! Her Damascus transformation was complete; all became light for her.

The Path to Carmel

Edith was baptised on January 1st 1922 and at once began to consider becoming a Carmelite nun. She had always sought the most complete path; Carmel seemed the only way to satisfy her desire for totality. Thirty years old, full of energy and enthusiasm, her faith became an integral part of her life.

Mt. Carmel is in some mysterious way associated with Jews who become Catholic. The prophet Elijah had spent most of his life on Mt. Carmel. Elijah, the rabbis taught, would return to herald the arrival of the Messiah. Jesus told us Mt 11:14 “[John the Baptist] is Elijah who is to come.” Rev. Elias Friedman, a Jew who became a Catholic priest and founded the Association of Hebrew Catholics, was a Carmelite friar. Edith Stein, when she was baptized, received a vocation to Carmel.

Twelve years passed, however, before she entered the Carmel of Cologne. During that time she taught at the Institute for Scientific Pedagogy in Munster, gave lecture tours, studied, and above all matured interiorly. Here again, Christ’s ways are above ours. Edith may well have continued her brilliant academic career for the rest of her life, but the rising tide of anti-Semitic measures made it impossible for her to continue teaching. Edith became a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her name, “of the Cross,” probably taken in honor of St. John of the Cross, was prophetic. The Germans discovered her Jewish origins. She was no longer safe behind monastery walls in Germany, so in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 1939 she was taken to Holland, to the Carmel of Echt. It seemed tranquil, but Edith sensed that she would not escape the destiny of her people.

The Final Journey

On Sunday July 26, 1942, a protest by the Catholic Bishops of Holland against the Nazi deportation of Dutch Jews was read at every Mass in all churches. It said, “In this we are following the path indicated by our Holy Father, the Pope.” Gestapo General-Commissar Schmidt announced, “We are compelled to regard the Catholic Jews as our worst enemies and consequently see to their deportation to the East with all possible speed.” One week later, the Gestapo arrested, deported, and sent to Auschwitz all Dutch Catholics of Jewish origin. At the Carmel of Echt, while she was writing her book on the doctrine of St John of the Cross, titled The Science of the Cross, two officials of the German occupation forces came to the monastery. She had to go with them, together with her sister Rose, also a convert, who had joined her in Echt. Edith and Rose Stein were deported to Auschwitz. On August 9th, 1942, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, in a white house filled with Zyklon-B gas, went to heaven.

Pope John Paul II beatified Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on May 1, 1987 and canonized her on Oct. 11, 1998.

St. Teresa Benedicta, pray for us!

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A Carmelite Feast ~ St. Albert of Trapani

St. Albert of Trapani - Carmelite Saints Chapel
Aylesford Priory
St. Albert of Sicily (of Trapani, degli Abati)
by Louis Saggi, O.Carm - Roseann Ruocco

The birthplace of St. Albert is the city of Trapani in Sicily. A Life of the saint, composed in the second half of the XIV century, has come down to us in many copies or revisions of the XV century. According to a base common to the various redactions, the biographical data can be reduced to the following.

Albert was born (after twenty-six years of sterile marriage) of Benedict degli Abati and Joan Palizi, both of whom promised to consecrate him to the Lord. While the boy was still of a tender age, his father thought of arranging an honourable marriage for him; but his mother was able to make her husband keep their vow. After Albert had joined the Carmelites of Trapani, he spent his period of formation growing in virtue and was ordained a priest. His superiors sent him to Messina, which he freed from the famine caused by a siege: some ships loaded with provisions miraculously passed through the besiegers.

Albert was a famous preacher in various places en the island, and for a certain time provincial superior of the Carmelites of Sicily. He died at Messina on August 7 in an undetermined year, probably in 1307 (as J. B. Lezana, O.Carm., with others, suggests). Heaven itself, it is narrated, wished to decide the controversy that arose between the clergy and the people about the kind of Mass to be celebrated on that occasion: two angels appeared and intoned the Os justi (The mouth of the just man), the introit of the Mass of Confessors.

The presence of Albert in the convent of Trapani on August 8, 1280, April 4 and October 8, 1289, is attested by several parchments of the same convent, now in the Fardelliana library of the same city. Here is also found a parchment in the date of May 10, 1296, from which his office as provincial superior is ascertained.

Albert was among the first Carmelite saints venerated by the Order, of which he was later consid­ered a patron and protector. Already in 1346 there was a chapel dedicated to him, in the convent of Palermo. At various General Chapters, beginning with that of 1375, his papal canonization was proposed. In the Chapter of 1411 it was said that his proper office was ready.

In 1457 Pope Callixtus III, by verbal consent (vivae vocis oraculo), permitted his cult, which was conse­quently confirmed by Sixtus IV with a bull of May 31, 1476. In 1524 it was ordered that his image be found on the seal of the General Chapter; moreover, the General of the Order, Nicholas Audet, wanted an altar dedicated to him in every Carmelite church. Even earlier, the Chapter of 1420 had ordered that his image with a halo should be found in all the convents of the Order.
With this intense and extended cult, his abundant iconography is easily understood. The most typical iconographic attribute of this saint is a crucifix between two lilies, as he appears in one of his most famous representations: the polychrome sculpture of Alfonse Cano in the Carmelite convent of Seville (XVII century). At other times the saint is represented with the Child Jesus in his arms, while he drives away the devil with his foot. He is, in fact, invoked for exorcisms of the possessed, as also against earthquakes and for the cure of the sick. The healing of some sick on the part of the saint is represented in the Sforza Book of Hours cf the British Museum.

In a German xylograph of the XV century St. Albert and St. Angelus flank a group including Our Lady, St. Anne and the Child Jesus; the same arrangement is taken up by Filippo Lippi in a painting of the Trivulzio collection, where the theme is enriched by figures of angels. Albert is also represented with a lily in his hand: in the panel of a polyptych, of the Jarves collection (New Haven), attributed to a follower of Agnolo Gaddi; in the fresco of Thaddeus di Bartolo in the public palace of Siena; and in a picture of Jerome Muziano in the church of S. Martino ai Monti in Rome. In 1515 F. Francia represented Albert at the side of the Virgin in his PietĂ  dated 1515 and now found in the Pinacoteca of Turin.

In 1623 one of the gates of the city of Messina was dedicated to him. He is the patron of Trapani, of Erice, of Palermo and of Revere (Mantua). Saint Teresa of Jesus and St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi were especially devoted to him; the Bl. Baptist Spagnoli composed a sapphic ode in his honour. His relics are spread throughout Europe. They are necessary for the blessing of St. Albert’s water, much used, especially in the past, against fevers. The head of the Saint is in the Carmelite church of Trapani.
St. Albert appears frequently in the legends and popular traditions of Sicily. Agrigento vaunted a well, the water of which Albert had purified; Corleone, the receptacle in which he preserved absinthe; Petralia Soprana, a stone on which he rested. The first chapel erected to him was claimed to have been at Piazza Armerina.