House of Prayer (part 2)

This photo was taken of the statue of the Virgin of Lourdes as seen at the sanctuary.(2009)

Prayer of St Francis of Assisi to honour Mary
Hail, holy Lady, most holy Queen,
Mary, Mother of God, ever Virgin.
You were chosen by the Most High Father in heaven,
consecrated by Him, with His most Holy Beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
On you descended and still remains all the fullness of grace and every good.
Hail, His Palace.
Hail His Tabernacle.
Hail His Robe.
Hail His Handmaid.
Hail, His Mother.
and Hail, all holy Virtues, who, by grace and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that from their faithless state, they may be made faithful servants of God through you.
” In his Second Life of St. Francis, 198, Thomas of Celano describes the love of St. Francis for the Mother of Jesus as “inexpressible,” for “it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother.”
It was thus fitting that this Franciscan “House of Prayer’’ existed under the auspicious regard of the Mother.
who Francis loved so much as Fr.John a Jesuit of the Real Presence Assoc. said that “Francis wanted that no one made any mistake that God became man, and was born of a woman, that he took on real human flesh and that as a consequence that humanity of Christ is adorable, that humanity of Christ is imitable, that humanity of Christ is lovable and that when I love Jesus I am loving God , though the one I love from all external evidence is a human being  But, he would tell his followers, and he would be lost in ecstasy at the bright sun overhead to think of it, “The same sun that is warming us warmed Jesus. The water that we’re drinking is the water that God took, the food we eat, the earth we walk on the air we breathe was breathed by God.”
You can see why he has great devotion to our Lady, it was to make clear to all who inherited his spirit that the God they are worshiping is a God who is a man, being born as the rest of us are, of a woman.” (Archives History of Religious Life by fr. John S.J.  Real Presence Assoc.)

Over the last few years it has been often said that the life of the Catholic Church needed more than ever, the presence of the ‘woman’, and that it had become a ‘man’s organization’.  I personally think that the religious communities within the Church are in some ways, a reflection of the organization itself and if things had to change, they should do so from the bottom, rather than be imposed from the top.

Thus I was intrigued at the idea of our community’s opening to women having a say and participating in our lives of prayer and devotion. Thus it was that a sister community was started very humbly  by a building, a mobile house, then hermitages on the grounds. These sisters, women of prayer took regular part in our prayers and preparations for vigils and special religious feast days.  The life of the friars began before breakfast,with early morning office and meditation in the chapel.
We also had a prayer with meditation before noon and another with Eucharist in the evening.
On the week-end it was more intense as there was a theme, often linked to the scriptural readings of the Sunday’s liturgy, which became, as from Friday evening, the theme of our reflections for that particular week-end.
The sisters were invited to participate in the preparations, choices of hymns and readings. It meant meeting with them and working together which was for most of us a new dimension to our spiritual life.
I learnt a lot from these meetings and began to discover the wealth and vision of the spiritual life as seen through the eyes of women.
After all, how quick we grow in forgetting, for most of us, that it is through our mothers very often, that we have the first vision of things pertaining to God, that St Francis himself owes so much to the love and care of his mother, Dame Picard and also the example she gave him by her care for the poor and needy. Maybe if he did not have her example, he would not have been the saint we all know and love.
We see also from the life of Jesus that his father Joseph was a carpenter and we presume he must have learnt something of that trade, but at the same time, the Gospels speak of Mary “keeping all these things in her heart”, which suggests to me that Mary was a great contemplative and her Son must certainly have learnt a lot from her example.
Later on, as an adult, Jesus speaks “consider the birds of the air”…..and also “the lilies of the fields”.  He tells stories to explain his teachings, and these stories come from his silent observation I would like to think, “in the secret of his heart,’ like Mary his mother: stories of the ‘sower who went out to sow seed and some fell on solid ground’…..or the woman who lost a coin and searched all over but could not find it and when she finally did, she called her friends and neighbours to celebrate. It was Mary, who knew him so well that she ordered the servants at the wedding to ‘do as he tells you’ as she knew his heart and that he would perform a miracle to help these people who were so embarrassed because the wedding was so important an event and they ran out of wine.!

The life of this “House of Prayer’ began to grow as many people from the city came for a visit, a week-end, a retreat, some, to get away for a while from the hustle and bustle of the city life, to be able to connect with nature, going for walks in the forest or being in silence, attending the chants and offices in the small chapel. On week-ends they came to take part in the reflections and voice opinions or seek advice and thus,the sharings and exchanges were enlightening and a sort of community began to develop. It became, among us, to be called “Le Reseau” which could be translated as ‘The Circle”
In the summer there was the “Feast of Tents” (La Fete des Tentes) which operated more to the needs of young people, mainly university and college students. There were about a dozen group leaders who met some months in advance in winter, to prepare the activities for the summer and it was they who decided the themes and work-shops that were to be held. They were open, not only to Biblical discussions but also to Yoga and meditation and dance and even some theatre. They also came to participate in the prayer life of the brothers and they enriched and added a new and fresh dimension to our prayers.  Through all these activities, friendships were developed, and recently speaking to someone who was for a while a regular participant, he exclaimed to me that he looks back on those days as among the best part of his life.
It was after my first three years in that community that I was asked to teach meditation. I was practicing regularly and some were asking me to teach them but I did not have the training as a teacher and I expressed it to the community and they enquired as to how could i obtain the necessary training and so i told them i was practicing at the time, T.M. and so they strongly encouraged me to go and be trained as a teacher. I had firstly to submit a demand officially to the community of the house, and once they approved it, then I had to submit it to the higher authorities.  One day I got a call from the head superior who we call “The Provincial Minister” and he called me to his office and told me that my demand was approved unanimously. He said “I know nothing about this thing but it has been fully approved so you can go with our blessings”

The Teacher Training program was held for the first three months in a very quiet country area of France and for the other half, it was held in a Hotel off-season, in the Swiss Alps. The man in charge of the whole Teacher Training Program was of course, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During that period of six months, I got to know him fairly well and on every occasion we met, he talked quite a bit with me and to this day, I have great respect and admiration for him.  He was one of the first to introduce meditation to the West. He came here with nothing and started teaching, calling it ‘Spiritual Regeneration Movement”, Some of his American advisors convinced him that it was not the best title and they suggested “Transcendental Meditation” (because he spoke a lot about ‘transcending thought’) and so the name was adopted. It was thanks to this man and his method, that millions all over the Western world began sitting twice a day for  twenty minutes, in silence.  For many, it was the start of a whole new spiritual journey.
I remember when many monks from Holy Oak Monastery in Mass. U.S. were initiated, men who I knew personally like Fr. Basil Pennington,  and fr. Matt Thorpy (who became a teacher but then asked to live as a hermit) and from that monastery also, Fr. Thomas Keating brought out “Centering Prayer”.   Their experiences in ™ led them on to search for methods using mantras etc that they thought may be more accessible to Christians. I distinctly remember fr. Bede Griffiths saying “™ is excellent for a beginning” and I did not get a chance to ask him… “what will be good for a finishing”?    (to be continued)

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