Nothing Dearer than Christ”
Oblate letter of the Pluscarden Benedictines, Elgin, Moray, Scotland. IV30
Ph.(01343) 890257 fax 890258
Advent, Christmas and Christmastide
Monastic Voice from the Oblatemaster’s Desk
BENEDICT XVI GENERAL AUDIENCE
St. Peter's Square Wednesday, 22 June 2011—His name and his theme make this “
a monastic voice
.” ( suggested by the Nuns of Ryde Abbey which otherwise might have escaped my attention and I bring before yours.):-
“Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In recent catecheses we have reflected on some of the Old Testament figures who are particularly significant for our reflection on prayer. I have talked about Abraham, who interceded for foreign cities, about Jacob, who in his nocturnal struggle received the blessing, about Moses, who invoked forgiveness for his people and about Elijah, who prayed for the conversion of Israel.
With today’s catechesis I would like to begin a new stretch of the journey: instead of commenting on specific episodes of people praying, we shall enter “the book of prayer” par excellence, the Book of Psalms. In the forthcoming catecheses we shall read and meditate on several of the most beautiful Psalms that are dearest to the Church’s tradition of prayer. Today I would like to introduce them by talking about the Book of Psalms as a whole.
The Psalter appears as a “formulary” of prayers, a collection of 150 Psalms which the Biblical Tradition offers the people of believers so that they become their and our prayer, our way of speaking and of relating to God. This Book expresses the entire human experience with its multiple facets and the whole range of sentiments that accompany human existence.
In the Psalms are expressed and interwoven with joy and suffering, the longing for God and the perception of our own unworthiness, happiness and the feeling of abandonment, trust in God and sorrowful loneliness, fullness of life and fear of death. The whole reality of the believer converges in these prayers. The People of Israel first and then the Church adopted them as a privileged mediation in relations with the one God and an appropriate response to God’s self revelation in history.
Since the Psalms are prayers they are expressions of the heart and of faith with which everyone can identify and in which that experience of special closeness to God — to which every human being is called — is communicated. Moreover the whole complexity of human life is distilled in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various Psalms: hymns, laments, individual entreaties and collective supplications, hymns of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, sapiential psalms and the other genres that are to be found in these poetic compositions.
Despite this multiplicity of expression, two great areas that sum up the prayer of the Psalter may be identified: supplication, connected to lamentation, and praise. These are two related dimensions that are almost inseparable since supplication is motivated by the certainty that God will respond, thus opening a person to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving stem from the experience of salvation received; this implies the need for help which the supplication expresses.
In his supplication the person praying bewails and describes his situation of anguish, danger or despair or, as in the penitential Psalms, he confesses his guilt, his sin, asking forgiveness. He discloses his needy state to the Lord, confident that he will be heard and this involves the recognition of God as good, as desirous of goodness and as one who “loves the living” (cf. Wis 11:26), ready to help, to save and to forgive. In this way, for example, the Psalmist in Psalm 31 prays: “In you, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame... take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for you are my refuge” (vv. 2,5). In the lamentation, therefore, something like praise, which is foretold in the hope of divine intervention, can already emerge, and it becomes explicit when divine salvation becomes a reality.
Likewise in the Psalms of thanksgiving and praise, recalling the gift received or contemplating the greatness of God’s mercy, we also recognize our own smallness and the need to be saved which is at the root of supplication. In this way we confess to God our condition as creatures, inevitably marked by death, yet bearing a radical desire for life. The Psalmist therefore exclaims in Psalm 86 : “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vv. 12-13). In the prayer of the Psalms, supplication and praise are interwoven in this manner and fused in a single hymn that celebrates the eternal grace of the Lord who stoops down to our frailty.
It was precisely in order to permit the people of believers to join in this hymn that the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church. Indeed the Psalms teach how to pray. In them, the word of God becomes a word of prayer — and they are the words of the inspired Psalmist — which also becomes the word of the person who prays the Psalms.
This is the beauty and the special characteristic of this Book of the Bible: the prayers it contains, unlike other prayers we find in Sacred Scripture, are not inserted in a narrative plot that specifies their meaning and role. The Psalms are given to the believer exactly as the text of prayers whose sole purpose is to become the prayer of the person who assimilates them and addresses them to God. Since they are a word of God, anyone who prays the Psalms speaks to God using the very words that God has given to us, addresses him with the words that he himself has given us. So it is that in praying the Psalms we learn to pray. They are a school of prayer.
Something similar happens when a child begins to speak, namely, he learns how to express his own feelings, emotions, and needs with words that do not belong to him innately but that he learns from his parents and from those who surround him. What the child wishes to express is his own experience, but his means of expression comes from others; and little by little he makes them his own, the words received from his parents become his words and through these words he also learns a way of thinking and feeling, he gains access to a whole world of concepts and in it develops and grows, and relates to reality, to people and to God. In the end his parents’ language has become his language, he speaks with words he has received from others but which have now become his own.
This is what happens with the prayer of the Psalms. They are given to us so that we may learn to address God, to communicate with him, to speak to him of ourselves with his words, to find a language for the encounter with God. And through those words, it will also be possible to know and to accept the criteria of his action, to draw closer to the mystery of his thoughts and ways (cf. Is 55:8-9), so as to grow constantly in faith and in love.
Just as our words are not only words but teach us a real and conceptual world, so too these prayers teach us the heart of God, for which reason not only can we speak to God but we can learn who God is and, in learning how to speak to him, we learn to be a human being, to be ourselves.
In this regard the title which the Jewish tradition has given to the Psalter is significant. It is called tehillîm, a Hebrew word which means “praise”, from the etymological root that we find in the expression “Alleluia”, that is, literally “praised be the Lord”. This book of prayers, therefore, although it is so multiform and complex with its different literary genres and its structure alternating between praise and supplication, is ultimately a book of praise which teaches us to give thanks, to celebrate the greatness of God’s gift, to recognize the beauty of his works and to glorify his holy Name. This is the most appropriate response to the Lord’s self manifestation and to the experience of his goodness.
By teaching us to pray, the Psalms teach us that even in desolation, even in sorrow, God’s presence endures, it is a source of wonder and of solace; we can weep, implore, intercede and complain, but in the awareness that we are walking toward the light, where praise can be definitive. As Psalm 36 teaches us: “with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” (Ps 36:10).
However, in addition to this general title of the book, the Jewish tradition has given many Psalms specific names, attributing most of them to King David. A figure of outstanding human and theological depth, David was a complex figure who went through the most varied fundamental experiences of life. When he was young he was a shepherd of his father’s flock, then passing through chequered and at times dramatic vicissitudes, he became King of Israel and pastor of the People of God. A man of peace, he fought many wars; unflagging and tenacious in his quest for God, he betrayed God’s love and this is characteristic: he always remained a seeker of God even though he sinned frequently and seriously. As a humble penitent he received the divine pardon, accepted the divine punishment and accepted a destiny marked by suffering. Thus David with all his weaknesses was a king “after the heart of God” (cf. 1 Sam 13:14), that is, a passionate man of prayer, a man who knew what it meant to implore and to praise. The connection of the Psalms with this outstanding King of Israel is therefore important because he is a messianic figure, an Annointed One of the Lord, in whom, in a certain way, the mystery of Christ is foreshadowed.
Equally important and meaningful are the manner and frequency with which the words of the Psalms are taken up in the New Testament, assuming and accentuating the prophetic value suggested by the connection of the Psalter with the messianic figure of David. In the Lord Jesus, who in his earthly life prayed with the Psalms, they were definitively fulfilled and revealed their fullest and most profound meaning.
The prayers of the Psalter with which we speak to God, speak to us of him, speak to us of the Son, an image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), which fully reveals to us the Father’s Face. Christians, therefore, in praying the Psalms pray to the Father in Christ and with Christ, assuming those hymns in a new perspective which has in the paschal mystery the ultimate key to its interpretation. The horizon of the person praying thus opens to unexpected realities, every Psalm acquires a new light in Christ and the Psalter can shine out in its full infinite richness.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us therefore take this holy book in our hands, let us allow God to teach us to turn to him, let us make the Psalter a guide which helps and accompanies us daily on the path of prayer. And let us too ask, as did Jesus’ disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11:1), opening our hearts to receive the Teacher’s prayer, in which all prayers are brought to completion. Thus, made sons in the Son, we shall be able to speak to God calling him “Our Father”. Many thanks.”
This Christmas the Holy Father speaks for me without gloss from my“Oblatemaster's Desk”PAX.
Books & Medi
I only mention one media item --Copies are now available of the DVD of Bishop Hugh’s Episcopal Ordination for sale priced at £15.09p(inc. P&P) Cheques made payable to RCD Aberdeen If you would like a copy please contact the parish office who send out DVD’s to anyonefromtheofficehereat:-DiocesanOffice, Bishop’s House,3, Queen’s Cross, Aberdeen, AB15 4XU.The cost is £15 + £1.09 postage .
One word of caution – the DVD is 2½ hours long. Therefore, as it is all on one disc, it is quite hi-tech and may not play on an old or basic machine. It does play through most laptops.
Please pray for
Abbot Anselm, Brother Simon, Br. Jakub & our sick monks. Please pray for
vocations to the monastery. We pray for our N
ew Oblates: Valentine John Paul Harry
( from Borneo)
Rev. Christopher Mungo Ketley
(of Elgin, for N
( from Borneo).
Alice McLeod, Dr. Joseph McWatt, Julia-Jane Gladwin, Brian Docherty.
for the repose of the souls of all Oblates and their relatives throughout the past year.
Please pray for all the sick & especially :Gail Schmitz, Marie Claire Hernandez, Bob Clark, James Cairns, Martin Macrae, Irene Coultard, David Paterson & his Wife, for Beth Fraser, Mary Roche, Poppy Sinclair, and for all the sick & their families.
NEXT YEAR JULY 27
TO JULY 30
-please let me know if you intend to come, God willing. The monastic guesthouses are booked up already(!) barring cancellations.
I shall append alternative accommodation to the next Oblate letter as before.
Fr. Abbot (Anselm!) is giving our keynote address. Bishop Richard Moth(Pluscarden Oblate) is giving one of the talks in DVD form as did our Abbot the year before last!
2nd to 5
August on CALDEY ISLAND(WALES!) to commemorate 100
anniversary of the conversion of the Caldey community. At this stage simply please let me know, Fr. Martin by mail or email (
) ( Your name & and contact details) & and that you intend to come. (
Caldey have minimum
& and there is the
down to consider)
Groups & Chapters
:–If anyone is interested in forming an Edinburgh group please get in touch with Robert Hill at
or phone him on 07905 407936
St Mungo’s Chapter Glasgow
As announced. Peter Aitken :- 11, Maxwell Grove, Glasgow. G41 5JP Phone:01414272084.
St Margaret’s Chapter Dunfermline.
Pat Carrigan at
: 07853 407 913 . Have just held an Advent Retreat!
St. Monica’s Chapter, Thurso
. Contact Jane Coll (website manager Benedictine-oblates) on 01847 851701 or
St. Peter’s Chapter
Wednesday’s 7.30 . Telephone 01224 485 78119 Donview House Seaton Crescent, Seaton, Aberdeen, AB24 1TZ.
St Mary’s Chapter Dundee
. May 21
and dates as agreed 11.30 at St. Mary’s High Street, Lochee, Dundee. -------info. St Mary’s.
Interested in a meeting three to four times a year, in Elgin & Forres and once a year ( of the “Moray Group”) at the Abbey? For the
really! ( ie not Edinburgh & Glasgow or London—rules always have occasional exceptions!) If interested for 2012 then please let me ( Fr. Martin) know by email, letter or otherwise
UK Oblate Retreat 2012 at Buckfast Abbey: Sensing the Sacred
Sisters Miriam and Judith, both from Turvey Abbey, will be leading a retreat for UK oblates from 27th to 29th February 2012 at Buckfast Abbey. Twenty-five places available; please contact Stephen Day for information on costs and bookings on 01453 860367. Other Turvey events (at Turvey) are:-1) 31
September 2012 (Oblates + others) on Lectio Divina.. 2)“The Benedictine way”, 26-28
October 2012 on Benedictine Spirituality for Oblates.--Contact Sister Judith
Do visit the website
referred to below which is very informative about events, monasteries, resources and for example Scotland's only Benedictine Monastery of women ( at present).
OBLATES WEBSITE Calling all
Many of you enjoy surfing Oblate Websites including the UK OBLATES WEBSITE. Well please don't only look at it DO SOMETHING! Send in your item(s) for possible inclusion- text and pictures and music (relevant!) to our very own webmaster
(there is a wee subscript line between jane and coll!)Support the local team, please!
May the peace and blessing of almighty God, the +Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit come
down upon each of you now and forever. Amen.
With much love in Christ to each of you this Christmas.