A domestic centre of Christian spirituality
Am I getting what I want from my life? Do I know what I want from my life?
These questions may appear to be self-indulgent but the truth is that they bother all of us constantly. The American poet, Raymond Carver, wrote a beautiful, short poem entitled ‘Late Fragment’ which starkly confronts these questions in this way :
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved,
to feel myself beloved on the earth.
In our formation in Christian faith, we are taught that the essence of the Gospel is to love God and to love others. The life of Jesus, however, and in particular, the way he treated people, points to a deeper and more fundamental message. He shows us that the purpose of life in Him, that is Christian faith itself, is to know that one is loved, to feel oneself beloved in this life. Through all of His actions with people, Jesus affirms that they are loved, cared for and profoundly significant. The whole purpose of His death and resurrection is to prove that this is the message of God. He lays down His life to reveal that His love for, and commitment to each of one of us is to the utmost extent. At the heart of our very being, He seeks out each one of us to the very last and draws us to Himself, winning us over to Him, through the incomparable depth, extent and attraction of His powerless love.
The question for each of us in therefore quite simple : how can we be enabled to know or truly experience this love in our deepest selves? The first Christian truth is that this love cannot be found in its fullest extent through another person, other than the person of Jesus Christ. The human heart has a longing for divine love which transcends the love that can be found in another human person. To seek to meet our deepest longing in a relationship with another person is therefore bound to fail for the longing for God, written into our hearts, reaches far beyond another person and into eternity. Yet equally, this divine love is only really encountered and incarnated through loving relationships with other people. In short, our longing for this eternal love is not satisfied through relationships with others but it is experienced and affirmed through them. In real terms, this means that to get what we really want from this life, to know that we are loved, we need to prioritise two concerns in our daily lives above all others :-
- The making of time and space for contemplative prayer where the longing in each of us for someone wholly other is allowed to come to the surface in silence and be listened to, respected and honoured;
- The care of relationships with others by noticing and reflecting upon them and by engaging consistently in acts of kindness and concern which foster these relationships.
The greatest need at this time for the Catholic Church is not the re-balancing of its power structures but the renewal of its ways of being so that it centres upon the one thing necessary - that each person may truly know the experience of being loved by God and have this as a real, inner conviction and ballast against the constant challenges presented by daily life. In order to do so, the Church must find new ways of being which allow people to prioritise these two concerns which can make this conviction take root in one’s being, that is the experience of God’s presence and providence in contemplative prayer and to have this experience affirmed in the holding environment of committed and supportive relationships.
One new way for the emerging Church to offer this to people is the development of domestic centres of Christian spirituality, that is places which promote Christian faith, through being simultaneously rooted in the experience of contemplative prayer and in family life. Integritas is an example of one such centre, having originally started twelve years ago in 2000. It is based in the family home of Linda Rainsberry and Patrick Treacy and their four children at Ennisnag, Stoneyford, County Kilkenny, Ireland.
The programme provided at this centre begins each September and continues through to the following June. The centre is closed for the months of July and August, although the contemplative garden here is open at all times. The programme is grounded in Christian Meditation and Contemplative Prayer which is held each Wednesday evening at 8.00 p.m. A Scripture and Theology Study Group also meets on the third Thursday of each month at 7.30 p.m. A series of courses in Christian spirituality is provided throughout the year. On the first Friday of each month, at 7.30 p.m., the Integritas Course is given by Patrick Treacy, culminating with prayer acround the Icon of the Crucifixion. This course explores the essentials elements of a renewed Christian faith which can respond to the particular needs of this time.
The centre’s contemplative garden is known as ‘The Garden of Presence’. It contains wooden sculptures which are symbolic of the Holy Trinity. The garden overlooks the King’s River. An essential element of the prayer and programme at Integritas is the presence of eight icons written by the hand of Fr. John Reynolds. These icons centre upon the face of Jesus Christ, the true icon of the love of God in the world. Cards of these icons are available at this centre as are a foundational document, articles and recordings exploring the theology and practice of Integritas. The centre also maintains a mailing list and notifications and materials are sent to those whose addresses are on the list throughout the year.
When we think of Church structures, we are conditioned to confine our understanding to the hierarchy and to diocesan bodies. With some expansion, we begin to include religious orders and bodies and institutes associated with them. We seldom seem to acknowledge, however, the primary institution of the Church – the home. If the central truth of the Christian message is to abide in His love (Jn 15 : 9), to encounter this truth, we have to live in a place where we can experience being loved. This is primarily the family home and this is why the development of the domestic centre of Christian spirituality is potentially important for the revival of the Church.