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Day of Recollection at Boars' Hill

Friday, October 11, 2013
And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat (Mark 6:31).

Everyone can appreciate these words of Our Lord, as rest is so precious. But for busy Dominicans, who are simultaneously called to a life of quiet contemplation and active preaching, this can be a particularly urgent call. We have to pray, yet we also have to get all our work done. Then again, I don't know many Dominicans who would prioritise evangelisation over eating! So perhaps we do know how to take a break.

Still, we need that precious time in prayer. So it was that, on Thursday last week, the whole community of Blackfriars, Oxford went up the mountain, both literally and figuratively, for a day of recollection at the Carmelite Priory on Boars' Hill. 
Overlooking the 'dreaming spires' of Oxford, not far from where Matthew Arnold received the inspiration for his poem, the Carmel here is ideally situated for a day of restful retreat to prepare for the new academic year. 

Fr James McCaffrey OCD, in two talks, helped us to understand the bridge between contemplation and action; indeed, time spent with Christ is always 'truly apostolic activity'. The first talk took us through the dialogue about the Eucharist in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, with sideways glances at other Eucharistic passages in the New Testament. Speaking without notes, it was impressive just to hear how much Scripture was held in Fr McCaffrey's memory, and deeply he had studied and prayed with the text. The theme of love, especially that Jesus 'loved them [his disciples] to the end' (Jn 13:1), as told in the Last Supper discourse, helped to illumine the earlier exposition of Chapter 6. In the second talk, Fr McCaffrey highlighted (again from memory) all the passages in John's Gospel that speak of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is presented again and again as both Teacher and Witness. Above all, the message is that Jesus is the abiding place of the Holy Spirit.

There was, in addition, plenty of time for private prayer and meditation, quiet walks in the countryside, and browsing the excellent Carmelite bookshop. Then, before Vespers, the whole community gathered to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In all, the day was a particularly special moment for our Dominican community, to take time out of our own personal and community schedules in order to rest and pray together on retreat.
Since Fr McCaffrey enriched his talks with poetic quotations and prayers from the great Carmelite saints, here is one of those prayers which I'd like to share with you. It is by St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein.

Who are you, kindly light, who fill me now and brighten all the darkness of my heart? 
You guide me forward like a mother's hand and, if you let me go, I could not take a single step alone.
You are the space, embracing all my being, hidden in it and what name can contain you? 
You, Holy Spirit, 
you, eternal love!

Matthew Jarvis OP


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