From Tuesday afternoon until lunchtime today, I was at Aylesford Priory giving a short retreat to some parishioners. (Mulier Fortis has also posted about the retreat with some good photos.) Aylesford is one of my favourite places in the world. I think it is undervalued by Catholics locally. After all, it is the home of St Simon Stock to whom Our Blessed Lady gave the original brown scapular.
Aylesford was founded when the hermits of Mount Carmel had to leave the Holy Land. One of the English Crusaders gave the hermits a plot of land on the banks of the river Medway. This river was an obstacle to the Romans on their British campaign and still offers problems. Recently, the friars have completed a new wall to keep the river at bay.
The buildings are a mix of old and new. The Friary was dissolved by Henry VIII and the friars were cast out into the street. From then until the early 20th century, it was home to various wealthy families. When it came back into Carmelite hands, the surviving older parts were restored and new chapels built.
A recent restoration is this plaque just by the reception office. In English, it means "The flower of Carmel, having been cut down, has risen again more vigorous."
Thankfully, we had the cosy cloister chapel for all the conferences and Masses of the Retreat. I spoke first of all about the nature and purpose of a retreat and how to gain the best from it, speaking also about how to pray. The second conference was on the nature of a sacrifice in the Old Testament, the sacrifice of Christ and how we gain fruit by meditating on the passion. For the third conference, I drew from Sacramentum Caritatis and the Holy Father's teaching on how we should participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
For the fourth and last conference, I spoke of St Therese of Lisieux and her "Little Way." I was upfront about how I felt that this was becoming a new "craze" for me. Recently, I took up "L'Histoire d'Une Ame" again after 30 years. I think I finally get the point now! The teaching of the Little Flower is a simple and beautiful expression of some really quite daunting, even terrifying, truths about the spiritual life.
The bookshop at Aylesford has a good collection of books about Carmelite saints and their teaching so I picked up a new translation of "The Story of a Soul", a book about St Therese and prayer, and a book about her parents.
We were accommodated in the "New Block." I find the rooms at Aylesford very comfortable. Some people would probably consider it rather "old fashioned" now: for example, they do not follow the recent fad of installing a lavatory in everyone's room. This actually makes the rooms more spacious than many modern hotels.
The hospitality offered by the Friars is exemplary. The Prior and several of the other members of the community always take great trouble to come and talk with their guests and nothing seems too much trouble. The food is good and plentiful, and the sacristans keep the chapels in very good order.
I'm going to be at Aylesford again tomorrow with some mums from the Parents' Faith Group, and again on Saturday with the parish Men's Walk of ten miles, concluding with Benediction at the Shrine.