A Shrine in the Ruins

creake-abbey-3By Penny.

This is – or rather, was – Creake Abbey in Norfolk in the south-east of England, built in the thirteenth century and left to fall into ruins in the sixteenth. Just for once, it wasn’t Henry VIII’s fault: the small community of canons who lived in the abbey died of an outbreak of the Sweating Sickness, one after another, until the final survivor – the abbot – died in 1506.

At its peak, the Abbey church covered most of the area that is now a beautiful green lawn, but by the time the Sweating Sickness hit, most of it had been destroyed in a fire and never re-opened. The parts that remained are marked out on a map in terms that will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a convent creake-4– cloister, refectory, dormitory, chapel – all of them open to the air and the rain for hundreds of years. It’s a study in contrasts, in a way. On the one hand, the first impression as you walk in through the gate is of tidiness and order, a well-maintained historical site; but as you walk around through the columns and archways, following the route from cloister to choir, you begin to feel a strange sense of sorrow for a way of life within these walls that quietly died along with the brothers who lived here.

Creake Abbey is within travelling distance of Walsingham, the holy pilgrimage site I had gone to England in September to see, so I bought a return creake-5bus ticket and headed out there for an afternoon on the second day of my stay. I had seen numerous shrines across England in honour of Our Lord, His Mother, and the saints; beautiful statues and reliquaries in churches and side-chapels for the faithful to visit, not least in Walsingham itself. At Creake Abbey, however, I found something different. In a corner of what was once the chapel, there was a small, spontaneous shrine, with no gold leaf, exquisite painting or racks of candles; just dozens of copper coins piled in a niche and pressed into cracks in the walls, and a small, weathered plaque with a crucifix.

It’s such a deep, ancient instinct, isn’t it? If you asked someone from anywhere in the world or any time in history what was going on here,creake-6 each would say without hesitation that it is absolutely right to leave an offering of yourself in a holy place. If you asked a modern, secular tourist why he felt compelled to push a coin into the wall after he’d finished wandering around and taking photographs, he might not actually know. Lacking the language of faith that would describe it – an offering to God, a tribute to the men who had lived and died here, or even the pagan impulse to put money in a tomb to ensure the dead a safe trip to the afterlife – he might only be able to say something like, “I’m not sure, it just felt like the right thing to do” … but he would make an offering anyway.

Today is All Souls’ Day, a day on which we make an offering of prayer for the dead, and hope to gain for them a plenary indulgence through the merits of Christ. It’s also a day to remember those whose creake-7lives on earth have ended; those we have known and loved, of course, and also those whose names have been lost to history, like this little community of canons and their lonely abbot. And not least, it’s a day to reflect. In worldly terms, Creake Abbey was a failure, an abbey on the periphery of the more important shrine at Walsingham that attracted only a small number of vocations and fell into ruins within three hundred years. And yet, centuries later, the echo of their prayers in the chapel still has the power to turn sightseers into pilgrims: pilgrims who place coins in the wall as an because a small handful of men dedicated themselves to God here and made it a holy place.

We cannot see who we will be when our lives are complete, or what ripples our lives will have throughout the centuries after we have died – but God, in His mercy, does.

The Rosary: A Prayer for Comfort

rosary-pixabayBy Lucia Delgado.

For most of my life, I prayed often. I prayed for my family, friends, the country, and the whole world.

When I entered the Catholic Church in 2004, my prayer life was under development. I was introduced to the Rosary by the Dominican friars and they helped me understand the Blessed Mother more fully.

I guess that is why I decided to aspire with a Franciscan community under the protection of Our Lady of Sorrows. I was attracted by their desire for prayer. After a brief aspirancy period, I left the community after praying and asking the Blessed Mother for help. It seems that I was entering religious life to please others. Six months later, I met my fiancé and we have a wedding date set.  During the discernment process I lived in fear; the marriage vocation scared me because of past family experiences. The Lord told me that everything will be fine… just follow Me. I sat up and accept the call to marriage and eventually motherhood. May God’s will be done.

The Virgin Mary was called not only to be a mother to the Lord; she was called to be a mother to all of us. Her fiat changed everything; she had peace know that God’s will be done.

In the month of the Rosary, I decided to reflect on this beautiful prayer which St. Dominic prayed in order to bring others to the Lord. I would that the brief aspirancy helped me to pray the Rosary and have a greater love for the Blessed Virgin Mary who leads us to Jesus.

By praying the Rosary, my fears are diminished. Mary was courageous enough to travel to visit her cousin Elizabeth; she trusted God throughout the pregnancy and the birth of Jesus.

She was sorrowful during the Passion but she knew that joy was coming.

For those who have left religious communities, know that joy is coming soon. We are not abandoned by our Lord and His Mother. He gives us His Mother to comfort us.

Hence each Ave Maria is a prayer for comfort.

St Therese Novena – Day Nine

O Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who during thy short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that thou rejoicest in the reward of thy virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in thy hands. Make my troubles thine own, speak a word for me to our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love thou wert, to that Queen of Heaven “who smiled on thee at the dawn of life.” Beg her as the Queen of the Heart of Jesus to obtain for me by her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently at this moment, and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life, defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity. Amen.

St Therese Novena – Day Eight

O Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who during thy short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that thou rejoicest in the reward of thy virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in thy hands. Make my troubles thine own, speak a word for me to our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love thou wert, to that Queen of Heaven “who smiled on thee at the dawn of life.” Beg her as the Queen of the Heart of Jesus to obtain for me by her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently at this moment, and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life, defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity. Amen.

St Therese Novena – Day Seven

O Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, who during thy short life on earth became a mirror of angelic purity, of love strong as death, and of wholehearted abandonment to God, now that thou rejoicest in the reward of thy virtues, cast a glance of pity on me as I leave all things in thy hands. Make my troubles thine own, speak a word for me to our Lady Immaculate, whose flower of special love thou wert, to that Queen of Heaven “who smiled on thee at the dawn of life.” Beg her as the Queen of the Heart of Jesus to obtain for me by her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently at this moment, and that she join with it a blessing that may strengthen me during life, defend me at the hour of death, and lead me straight on to a happy eternity. Amen.

From My Inner Cell (4): Build houses, settle down, plant gardens…

By AfterEpiphany.

For the longest time after I returned home from the convent, I was afraid to move in a fixed direction or put down any roots. I didn’t want to commit to anything unless I was sure. Once burned, twice shy… that’s how it felt. I had given everything I could of myself when I was “living the life” in my community. I had committed entirely on an interior level, so when the call back out to the world came it hit me like a ton of bricks. The sense of purpose that I had prior to discerning out of religious life was a hard act to follow. Unless I could find a similarly purposeful direction to move in, I didn’t want to be tied down.

3 years after returning home, I moved out of my parents’ home and took out a lease on an apartment. I decided to allow myself to ENJOY setting up my new home. I went for uncluttered without being minimalist, with a few soft furnishings and bits and pieces to create a pleasant place to relax or to entertain… even a few prints of paintings by local artists of places to which I have travelled in my past… each one, a memory. It sure won’t be gracing the pages of any interior design mags, but it’s home.

Why is investing time, effort and $ in homemaking, even important, you might ask?

I’d invite you to pick up your Bible and flick to Jeremiah 29. No… not verse 11… that quote about a hope and a future that so many people explore on blogs like this one! Let’s have a look at something different! Go right back to the beginning of the chapter to where God addresses Himself to the exiles in Babylon.
He tells them to build houses, plant gardens, settle down, get married, seek the good of the society within which they are living. He told them that this exile was PART of His plan for them, that it wasn’t a thwarting of His plan. He reassured them that they were exactly where He willed for them to be, and gave them the confidence they needed to get on with living their exile well.

I’m still in the process of trying to work out how to do this well in my own context, and I dare say that this is going to look different for every one who has returned to the world from the convent. I know this much – putting my life into a holding pattern in the hopes that some wonderful life mission or purpose will materialise out of nowhere is not what He is asking me to do. Gabriel didn’t appear to our Blessed Mother in a waiting room. He delivered God’s message to her when she was at work.

So again, I invite you – sit down with this passage – and if possible, do so before the Blessed Sacrament. How is He speaking to you through this passage?

I pray you’ll find reassurance and peace!

Pictured Rocks, MI – captured by a local artist. It hangs on my wall to remind me of a wonderful memory kayaking under that archway with a dear friend of mine!


Q: What is “From My Inner Cell” all about?
A: From My Inner Cell: Conversations with God for convent-leavers