On Saturday 16 September the Commission held a Day of Reflection with the Carmelite nuns at their Wood Hall monastery, near Wetherby. We made the practical arrangements and they did the hard work of putting together talks and time for prayer – as well as devising a programme that left some space for silent reflection.

Here, Sr Philomena reflects on the theme of that day.

The Chapel at Wood HallThe Carmelite Sisters have lived at Wood Hall, near Wetherby in the Leeds diocese for almost 50 years. Our life is one of withdrawal from the world for the sake of an intense life of prayer. One might well ask if our lives are of any value to anyone, especially when considering matters of Justice and Peace? But it is only when we have a deep belief in our union, as Christians, with Christ’s own prayer for His people, that our way of life here makes any sense. Our prayer focus has to be world-wide.

St Teresa of Avila, the foundress of our way of life as Carmelite Nuns, urges us not to let our prayer be confined to the four walls of our cells but to be always, reaching out beyond ourselves especially to all those who suffer in our world. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote “If we cling to Christ we will hear the multitudes within His heart, suffering, weeping, praying”. This sums up our way of life, and surely that of every Christian, so that our prayer and our deep concern is for all who suffer.
The challenges for us resulting from this journey into the heart of Christ, is how we, in our cloister, can be more united with those who suffer in thewider world and on our own doorstep, and how we can campaign for a more just society and a fairer distribution of wealth. Nowadays in our Churches, there are many who, because of ageing and ill health, are no longer able to be so active on the front line, and, who like ourselves in our enclosed convent, still have a vital “activity” of clinging to Christ and encountering the multitude in His heart who are so in need of help. All of us can share, too, in that essential rôle of Moses who held up his hands in prayer on the mountain top as the battle waged below, and pleaded for the victory of his people.

From our earliest days at Wood Hall we were made very aware, and in a more direct manner, of the gross injustices in our world. This was due in no small way to our local Justice and Peace Commission. We have learned so much from you all.

What we wanted to share together on the day at our monastery is our co-dependence on each other. There is a need for the Martha and the Mary to be alive in all of us, each one of us has to sit at Jesus’ feet, listening to those calling to us from His heart, and having heard, giving oneself in love and service, but also in intercessory prayer.

All things and all people, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen. They want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. But we can give it to them only through love, the love that listens.
Paul Tillich

The day was a great success and, given the level of interest that it generated, we are hoping that there can be a similar day in the Spring of 2018.
As one participant put it :
I really enjoyed the day, and was surprised by the Carmelite sisters. I had expected quiet, unworldliness – but found strong, well-informed women with a great sense of humour!