Becky, 23, former Castlerigg team member, spent a year in France as part of her Languages Degree. She spent the year living in a monastery...
Spending a year in a monastery is not a very conventional Year Abroad. Most students who study languages at University spend their year teaching. However, when the time came to decide how I would make the most of a year in France, I was sure that I wanted to do something extraordinary. The Community of St John was founded in 1975 and now has priories on every continent. The Brothers and Sisters and Oblates of the Community seek to give their hearts to Christ through John the beloved disciple who, at the Last Supper, rested his head on Jesus’ heart and remained close to Christ through Mary throughout his life.
I first met the Community four years ago when some Contemplative Sisters visited Castlerigg Manor. They spent just two days with us, but had a huge impact on my faith at the time. Their beauty, joy and simplicity really struck me, and I kept them in my prayers ever since. When the opportunity arose to spend a whole year with their community in France, I jumped at the chance!
Each year, around 10 young people from all over the world spend nine months living with the Brothers of St John as part of the ‘School of Life’ programme. The principle is very simple - spend a year following Christ through prayer, manual work, study, evangelisation and community life. Our days were rhythmed by prayer, beginning with ‘oraison’ (silent meditation) bright and early at 6:15 each morning, Mass at noon and then Adoration each evening. No matter how busy things became, time was always made for silence and reflection. Outside of the chapel, however, life was anything but silent! There was never a dull moment in the house: each day would present new adventures and challenges – from chopping down trees and driving tractors in the garden in the morning, to an afternoon giving catechesis classes in the local school, and finishing the day with a delicious pile of crêpes!
The simplicity of life in the priory taught me to seek God everywhere, in everyone, and in everything. As a community, we would begin and end each new task with a prayer so that even simple chores were offered to the Lord. Community life presented many challenges. The language barrier was often frustrating, and cultural differences led to some very comical misunderstandings! It was also difficult to live stripped of technology. As the months passed and homesickness set in, I found myself desperate to spend time on Facebook, or to catch up with my friends over the phone. I realised how caught up we can get in social media, and how reliant we are upon it to keep in touch with people close to us. Through these difficulties, God taught me to live and to love in the present. Mother Theresa said that “each moment is what we need, not more”. Each encounter over the year taught me to love, make sacrifices and find God in the other person, and through that find a joy that no amount of time on Facebook can give!
When the disciples first met the Lord, they asked him a simple question – “Master, where do you live?”, and what followed was the biggest adventure of their lives. This year taught me that saying ‘yes’ to Christ demands much sacrifice, but that whatever we give to Him is given back in abundance. The most ordinary of situations are, through Christ, made extraordinary!