Celebration of Discipline: Founder’s Day Sermon for CSMV

Sermon St Mary’s Convent, Wantage

Founders Day, January 14 2022

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

1 Kings 17: 8-16     

1 Cor 3:10-17        

John 15:12-17

Three readings. Three sentences, one from each reading:

‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’

the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

“a servant does not know his master’s business”

In the name of the Father …

Reading the Gospel we have just heard. Full of beautiful phrases that leap out of the page I was struck by the words I’ve just quoted:

A servant does not know his master’s business.

We are called not to be servants, but friends. Friends of God, of Jesus and friends of each other.

If we were servants we wouldn’t know the father’s business. But because we are friends we do know. Or should know.

It would be very easy to concentrate on the love in today’s gospel. And that is important. But I want to think about this aspect of knowing the father’s business and what that means for our Christian, our spiritual lives.

In the 1980s, it seems so long ago now.

I trained as a teacher. Back in those heady days we believed in progressive methods of education. Children would learn by discovery. we wouldn’t make them learn things off by heart, there would be no tedious rote learning.

I have to say that over the 35 years I worked in schools my ideas changed somewhat as they have for many (although not all by any means) in education.

Knowledge based learning is at the heart of what human learning is. memorising is at the heart of acquiring knowledge. 

This shouldn’t surprise us as Christians. When Jesus wanted to leave his followers the most sacred and important way that he would be present to them after his death he said as I shall say at the altar in just a moment 

“Do this, in memory of me.”

We are what we remember. 

So I want this morning on this Founder’s Day of your beloved community that has been so committed to education,  to reflect on one of the disciplines of the spiritual life, indeed of the religious life: the discipline of study.

Study has always been linked closely to religious life. The Rule of St Benedict with it Lent books; the link between Benedictine monasteries and education. In Oxford the close link between religious life in all its variety on the Christ Church site alone Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and, of course St Frideswide’s original community.

Christ Church has also produced the Wesleys whose ‘method’ was simply an ordered, systematic approach to the spiritual. Father Benson of Cowley, another Christ Church student and of course your own William John Butler (an Honorary Canon of Christ Church) both of whom died on this day. In some ways the religious life is itself just a systematisation of the spiritual life, the baptised life. 

Religious life needs study: study for the proper and meaningful celebration of the Divine Office. The psalms are difficult. If they weren’t they would hardly bear singing for a whole lifetime, we would become bored and tired of them.

So what might the discipline of study look like for us in our time?

A book that I return to over and over again and have been recommeding to people for thirty years is Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. It is a simple book for simple people. It has fed me in so many ways. I hope you will forgive me for reading a whole paragraph to you that begins the Chapter on the discipline of study:

“The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. Nowhere is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study. The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it. ‘Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Phil. 4:8). The Discipline of study is the primary vehicle to bring us to ‘think about these things.’ Therefore, we should rejoice that we are not left to our own devices but have been given this means of God’s grace for the changing of our inner spirit.”

I would like to suggest three ways in which the discipline of study can be integrated into our lives.

Firstly, in our spiritual reading. It is always good, I find, to have some spiritual reading on the go. I think this is best something that we know fairly well. I return again and again to Julian. You will have your own favourites. Spiritual reading time is not time for novelty, or for innovation.

Secondly, in lectio divina, in light of today’s gospel on friendship with Jesus I have always thought of the four classic stages of lectio as stages in a relationship with a text.





Thirdly, formal study. And we need to be systematic about this. To have. a plan. What is my study going to be this year.

The best way I have found of managing this is around my annual retreat. For a number of years I have chosen a book of the Bible to use for me retreat. In the year beforehand I collect together books and articles on the book, spend six months or so reading them, and then, on retreat use lectio as my main study tool but with the reading I’ve done informing and enriching it.

It works for me, other techniques may work for you.

But the most important thing is to learn texts by heart. Yes, of course, poetry and literature and spiritual writing. But fundamentally we should fill our minds and hearts with the words of Scripture.

Eighteen months ago my mum died. It was one of the most beautiful deaths I have ever been privileged to witness. A faithful catholic her whole life my brother and sister and I prayed the Rosary with her in her last hours. She began being able to join in and then just her lips moved, finally there was just a movement of her lips at each Amen.

It was beautiful because these prayers, mostly words of Scripture were so embedded in her heart.

As we build the discipline of study into our lives may we embed the words of the Lord deep in our hearts so that we know the father’s business, but also so that we may fulfil in our lives those other two sentences of Scripture I began with.

If we have memorised Scripture so that it is part of the fabric of our being it will be the case that

‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’

And that even in the darkest times when fire tests the quality of our work, the Spirit in us will endure.


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