Tuesday, 5 November 2013

We've Moved!

You can now find the SPES blog on the SPES website here

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Inside the Carmelite Monastery

Paddy, the Carmelites dog
This weeks theme for lectures was Community Life so after an early start and a lecture in the morning, the SPES community headed for the Carmelite Monastery in Notting Hill. We were quite apprehensive as to what to expect, considering the most that some of us knew about Carmelites was from a short film about St. Therese! We were greeted by a nun and a lovely big dog who immediately befriended Ambrose who we, of course, had brought along with us.

The grill from our side of the parlour, before it was opened
Entering the parlour room, we were faced with a closed window that led into another room. We heard what sounded like a stampede of elephants entering the room on the other side of the wall however, when the grill was finally opened we were met by 17 radiant Carmelite nuns all eager to see us and introduce themselves! The age varied among them as did the accents; from Scottish to Malaysian to South African! After such a warm welcome from the nuns, only two were able to stay to give us a talk on community life. One of the nuns was from Yorkshire which seemed to excite one of our community members and they spoke in a strange language for a couple of minutes that the rest of us could not understand... These nuns had both been in that Carmelite monastery for almost 30 years, compared to our just over 3 weeks in SPES, so they had a lot of experience on the topic we were to discuss.
The sisters kindly gave us a run through of what their typical day is like. They wake up at 5.20am which is slightly similar to us although we have breakfast together at 6.30am. They pray the hours of the day and have a very structured timetable, similar to ours, squeezing as much as possible into the little time available. They have work time which includes making of the hosts for the surrounding parishes and is where they get their main income from, gardening, making the habits that they wear and doing the washing, cooking and cleaning. They are in total silence apart from recreation time which is twice a day and during this time they sit around in a circle and talk to each other while doing something for fun like knitting for example. They spoke about the importance of sharing as a community because otherwise you don't fully know the people that you are living with, so they thoroughly enjoy and appreciate these recreation times they get to spend together.
We were curious as to what their rooms were like and were told that they in fact were called 'cells' and were very simple rooms with a bed, a desk and some drawers but that this was sufficient and one of the sisters even called them fashionable because most of the decor in the room is wooden!
The joy that radiated from these nuns was infectious and gave us hope, because if these ladies can live together for almost 30 years and still be so joyful, then we will definitely be able to survive these next 9 months!!
(Photo of Paddy and Sister's cell from Carmelites website http://carmelitesnottinghill.org.uk/ )

Monday, 21 October 2013

Our First NightFever together

On Saturday, 19th October, we had our first Nightfever London together as SPES. Before the evening started, we had a short introduction with Laura, who was the evangelisation leader that evening. We met our evangelisation partners, guys from Father Steven Language´s vocation centre.  We got to know them and went together to Mass. After that we went downstairs for a short briefing with a copious number of other volunteers.

The main part of the evening began with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The nice music started and we prayed together for our fist street evangelisation. Outside we invited people who crossed Soho Square to light a candle in the church and enjoy the nice atmosphere of prayer and music. Many meetings and conversations later we went inside to stay very close to the Blessed Sacrament for a personal time of adoration. Later some of us did welcome ministry: we stood at the door and welcomed the people entering the church; others went outside again for another time of street mission. At half ten all volunteers met inside for conclusion prayer and the amazing evening ended with the Benediction and a wonderful Salve Regina. After tidying up, some of the volunteers shared the experiences they had that evening. For each of us it was a splendid evening with many great experiences. Tired but full of joy we caught the bus and went home.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Open House Volunteer Retreat Day

In the gardens of the Kairos Centre
Although we have not yet started volunteering at Open House we were invited along on their Volunteer Retreat Day yesterday.  It was out at the Kairos Centre in Roehampton.  It was a great day, both in terms of weather and the retreat.  We headed off at 9.45am in the minibus and made it there in 45mins, which is pretty good so we are told.  We were greeted by the Sisters who run the Kairos Centre.  They are the Poor Servants of the Mother of God, the same congregation as Sr Mary, our Parish Sister.  The Kairos Centre has some very beautiful gardens which we were free to wander through. 

SPES were definitely here
There was tea, coffee and biscuits available for us also when we arrived so of course we all had to have a cup of tea.  No point wasting time sitting inside so we took our tea outside. Don't worry we were good and returned the cups, once we collected them all off the grass.  The others gradually arrived and it was time to begin. 

Fr Alex speaking to us about Open House
We began our retreat with a prayer before Fr Alex gave us a spiritual talk/reflection.  He spoke beautifully about our need for God's mercy and forgiveness and how we must extend it to others.  His talk focused on how we can do this with our guests at Open House.  After Fr Alex's talk we had some time to go away by ourselves to reflect on what we had heard and to pray about it.  We gathered again for some lunch and then we shared some of our thoughts about Open House, about what is working well, what we can improve on and generally how we can best bring the love and mercy of God to our guests at Open House. 

Since we have not yet been to Open House we listened more than talking.  We learnt more about how Open House was run before we had our beautiful community centre.  Things have changed over the years but the same principles are there; we want to be a welcoming place for our homeless guests and to feed them both physically and spiritually.  We are very much looking forward to volunteering at Open House and thankfully now we have met some of the other volunteers it won't be as difficult the first time.  We finished the day together with Mass.

Ambrose enjoying all the attention!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Divine Providence and Outreaches

Another whole week of lectures has just flew by. We've have now finished 3 weeks of SPES!  Where has the time gone.  So far we all seem to be settling in well and getting on with each other.  Each day we are discovering more and more about ourselves and each other.

This past week our lectures were focused on Divine Providence and Outreach.  We were introduced to some of the Parish's outreaches which we will be involved in.  Alexandra introduced us to the SOS Prayerline, which has been running now for over 11 years. We are looking forward to being a part of it soon. All the prayer books from the past 11 years are kept in the Chapel downstairs.  It is amazing to think that there are all these requests for prayer by telephone and soon we were be there to receive the calls and offer the prayers to Our Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament.

As well as this we also learnt more about Open House, which is when the Parish feed some of the homeless and less fortunate in our area. It happens twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Normally there are approximately 60-80 guests each night.  The evening relies on the support of volunteers.  We will be helping on one of the nights each week.  The idea of it seems a little scary at times but after learning more about how it is run we are looking forward to helping out and meeting some of the guests.

There were lectures about some of the other outreaches we will be involved in such as LumiNations and NightFever. This weekend we were able to experience our first NightFever together as a group. We have been looking forward to it all week. (We'll do a separate update soon all about our first experience of NightFever at St Patrick's).  Paula, from the Cenacolo Prayer Group, came along this week and spoke to us about the Cenacolo Community and providence.  It is amazing to hear how God has worked in the community.  It truly shows how God provides for us.  Robert, from 40 Days for Life, spoke to us about some of the pro-life issues and in particular the 40 Days for Life campaign, which is happening in London at the moment. Yesterday we headed out on a Catholic History Walk with Joanna Bogle. It was a fantastic experience, there is so much Catholic history right here on our doorstep! (Again we will do a separate post about Joanna's walk.)

Our First Catholic History Walk with Joanna Bogle

After a fascinating session of storytelling from Joanna Bogle, we ventured out, in her words, for "a romp around London".  We first discussed a little history of St Patrick's Church, the parish we are based at. In 1940, during a bomb raid, a bomb became lodged in the floor, but miraculously did not explode. This church was founded by Irish immigrants while Catholicism was still outlawed in England. 
Our first stop was not far from our St Patrick's. St Giles-in-the-Fields is an Anglican church, which was once a hospital for lepers while it was Catholic before the reformation. We then walked past Lincoln Inn Fields which is now a large square, but once fields in which Catholics were martyred for their faith after King Henry XIII had outlawed Catholicism. 
The Ship Tavern, from 1549, which has a nice amount of character, was a place where Mass was held in secret while Catholicism was illegal. Embassy chapels were a place that Mass could be celebrated legally as technically each London embassy was not a part of England, but of the country it represented. 
We popped into St Anselm and St Cecilia's Church at Lincoln's Inn Fields, a place of beautiful peace.   Another lovely church, St Brides, is the three tiered church that inspired the classic wedding cake design.
Our last sight was the ornate Anglican cathedral of St Paul's, which as many churches were, was Catholic before Henry XIII named himself head of a new church. Because of this, much of the art of Catholic churches was stripped.
The afternoon ended on a delightful and refreshing note of three pots of tea and carrot cake at a tea shop across from the cathedral, by the Thames. Here is to a year of exploring history and faith with hundreds of cups of tea to come!
With Joanna outside St Paul's

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Today was an interesting day. We got to experience our first 'Cookathon' which is basically when we all gather together for a full day of cooking at St Patrick's.  Each of us cooked a different dish and cooked enough to make a few meals.  We cook everything from fresh and then freeze it so that we have some nice dishes for our lunch and dinner over the coming weeks.  Means a little less cooking everyday.  The meals that we have cooked are cottage pie, fish pie, Thai green chicken curry, tomato and coriander chicken, meatballs, roast veg, and some burgers and garlic bread as well as some cupcakes and rhubarb crumble.  Some of us have done some cooking before while as others have only been used to a little cooking for ourselves or not at all! Thankfully Della had kindly organised all our ingredients before we arrived and had our instructions written out on a page for us.

Philip, who lives at St Patrick's, also came along to help us. It was a great day and we had lots of fun and laughs.  Everything seems to have went well, except for the first lot of jam tarts which ended up in flames! We shall be nice and not name names but it wasn't us girls!

After the flames had been put out!
We are now very much looking forward to trying out our different dishes.  It will be nice to be able to say that we made them ourselves.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Lectures Have Begun ...

We have just finished our first week of lectures, much quicker than we thought it would be!  This week the topic that our lectures were focused on was prayer.  We have had a number of different lecturers in talking to us about the different types of prayer that there is and which we will encounter in our daily life in SPES.  It has been nice to at last meet some of our lecturers and to put a face to the name.  

So what have we been learning about and what is the prayer life in SPES like??  In SPES our whole timetable is made around the different times of prayer that we have.  Prayer is at the centre of everything we do.  Each day we pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer from the Divine Office, which is the official prayer of the Church.  Fr Alex spoke to us about the Divine Office this week.  Although we have been praying it from the day we arrived it was nice to learn more about it so that we may understand it better.  We have been singing some of the Psalms from the Office and look forward to learning to sing more of it in the coming weeks.  Together each day we also pray the Rosary.  We had a beautiful talk about Our Lady and the Rosary on the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary, how very special and it was also our first lecture.  That evening we had Mass in the SOS Prayerline Chapel for the restarting of the SOS Prayerline after their short break.  It was nice to have Mass in the small Chapel and on Friday we were back in the Chapel again for a hands on explanation of the Mass by Fr John Farrell OP.  It was amazing and really helped us to understand more about the Mass.

Our SPES timetable has some time in morning dedicated to Spiritual Reading so we were blessed to have a full day session with Sr Margarida and Anne-Marie from the Verbum Dei Community.  They spoke to us and explained Lectio Divina and we had some time to put what we had heard in to practice.  Each day we have the opportunity for an hour of silent Adoration together as a community, which can sound and feel a little scary to begin with.  What are we supposed to do for an hour everyday in front of the Blessed Sacrament!  Well thankfully Fr Alan came along and talked to us about what Adoration is and gave us some helpful tips as to how to spend our time in Adoration and how it will not always be easy.  Friday afternoon gave us an opportunity to learn what Spiritual Direction is and to meet our Spiritual Director as a group.  In a couple of weeks we will begin to meet with him individually.

It really has been quite a packed week with all the lectures and trying to get into our new routine of early starts and long days, but we are enjoying it and looking forward to all that we will experience in the next nine months!  Please keep praying for us.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Our First Week @ SPES

Outside Tyburn Convent
Our first week at SPES was a relatively relaxing one.  As mentioned in the previous post we walked to St Patrick's on the Monday and spent the afternoon with Fr Alex, learning more about SPES and what was in store for us.  After a quiet morning at St Mary's on Tuesday we paid a visit to Tyburn Convent for a talk about the Tyburn Martyrs and a tour of all the relics. For some of us this was all new and we are looking forward to learning much more about the Martyrs during this next year.  It is hard to believe that the site of Tyburn Tree, where the majority of our Martyrs were killed during the Reformation, is just sitting there on a traffic island in the middle of the busy traffic of Marble Arch and so many people don't realise.  We are sure many also don't realise that the Tyburn Nuns are right beside it and have perpetual adoration going on in their Chapel.  We were very impressed with Tyburn and feel very blessed to have been able to visit and see the many relics.

Fr Richard Aladics joined us on Tuesday evening in preparation for our introductory retreat beginning on Wednesday morning.  Fr Richard has been great and really has given us plenty to think and pray about as we begin our year.  As many of us our new to London and to give us an opportunity to get to know each other a little he took us on a boat trip on the Thames. (Wouldn't it be nice if all our retreats included a boat trip or afternoon out).  Our retreat finished on Friday afternoon.  Fr Alex and Ambrose joined us for dinner on Friday night.  We have been spoiling Ambrose and he is very much enjoying having 5 girls to fuss over him.

Busy being artistic
Saturday was a fun and relaxing day as we joined in with the Open House Art Class, which will now be happening on the first Saturday of every month.  One of our homeless guests taught us all how to make some very beautiful paintings - he is amazing at it (and he was also so patient with some of us who are not natural artists).  On Sunday we were all at St Patrick's for the 11am Mass and then tea and coffee after Mass with a chance to meet some of our parishioners.  We already enjoy the Sunday tea and coffee time.

Now that we have survived our first week of SPES it is time to prepare for our first week of lectures!  This coming week the topic we will be looking at is Prayer, in particular the prayer life that we will be living together here at St Patrick's.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

SPES 2013-14 has begun!!

Saturday 28th September was the beginning of our new SPES year. Slowly one by one our new students arrived at St Mary's. This year the SPES community is made up of 5 girls from various parts of the world.  We have Lucy from America, Alicia from Canada, Laura from Germany, Alice from England and Hannah from Scotland. On Saturday evening we chatted and got to know each other a little before going to Mass in the Parish and having dinner together afterwards. Fr Keith, the Parish priest at St Mary's welcomed us at the Mass and joined us for a little afterwards to meet the students.

On Sunday we all headed over to St Patrick's for the 11am Mass. Some of the students had not yet been to St Patrick's or met Fr Alex in person so this was their first opportunity. The tea and coffee after the 11am Mass started up again this Sunday so it was a good opportunity to meet some of our regular parishioners. Philip, our newest resident in St Patrick's, made us all a lovely lunch and Della made us some fantastic cupcakes with the students initials and SPES on them. They looked great and tasted lovely. Thank you Della and Philip.

Monday morning we were due to be at St Patrick's in time for the lunchtime Mass which meant we were able to enjoy a lie in (which won't be happening too often this year!) and walk to St Patrick's through the park. Ambrose, the dog, joined us of course. He is very much enjoying having 5 new girls to fuss over him! Monday afternoon Fr Alex spent some time getting to know the students and speaking to them about SPES and this coming year.

It has only been 3 days but it feels like more. We are all enjoying getting to know each other over many cups of tea.  Hopefully we will be able to keep you posted on all that we get up to over the next 9 months. Please keep us all in your prayers. Thank you.