Notre Dame de Vie
On 28 September I will be leaving the parishes of St Francis, Nailsea and St Joseph, Portishead and moving to Venasque to begin formation with the priests of Notre Dame de Vie. This page is an attempt to answer some questions about this and explain a bit more about Notre Dame de Vie and my calling.
What is Notre Dame de Vie?
Notre Dame de Vie is a Secular Institute founded by Blessed Marie Eugene de l’Enfant Jesus, a French Carmelite priest, together with Marie Pila, for those seeking to live the Carmelite charism in the world. This comprises a branch for women, one for men and one for diocesan priests.
You can find out more about this on the website of the Institute.
What will it mean for me to be a member of Notre Dame de Vie?
After a year’s initial formation at Venasque, I will return to parish ministry in the Clifton Diocese, going to wherever Bishop Declan calls me to.
In addition to my existing commitment to celebrating Mass and the Divine Office (the prayer of the church that I join in with five times each day), members of Notre Dame de Vie make a commitment to two hours of daily silent prayer. I also commit to spending my summer holiday each year to take a three week silent retreat in one of the Notre Dame de Vie centres.
Members of Notre Dame de Vie take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. For priests, the vows of chastity and obedience are essentially a deepening spiritual commitment to the promises made at ordination.
How long does the initial formation take?
As with all Secular Institutes, the formation takes place over a two year period. Given the challenges for bishops of liberating priests, they exceptionally allow priests the opportunity to spend only the first year’s formation at Venasque, with the second year being undertaken from a distance, while returning to normal ministry in one’s diocese.
Where is Venasque?
Venasque is an ancient Marian shrine, which is thought to date back to the sixth century. It is in the South of France, near Avignon.
What will the year at Venasque consist of?
Primarily, it is about living a year of silence and prayer. As Blessed Marie Eugene writes: « Every priest, either before or after his ordination, needs to undergo a period of solitude in order to realise the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in his own soul, and also to learn how to conform his own action docilely to that of the Holy Spirit. Afterwards, he must utilise all necessary measures to perfect this docility. The Institute of the Priests of Notre-Dame de Vie aims to respond to this need. »
Concretely, the day is structured around the cycle of prayer, and in particular the two hours of daily silent prayer. Although one’s life on returning to regular ministry will, of course, look very different to this year, it is this daily two hours of prayer that remains at the heart of all that one does. An hour and a half each day is given to outdoor manual work (longer on Mondays and during Lent). Lived in silence, this gives an extended opportunity for prayer and for living more deeply the rhythm of creation. On Wednesday afternoon (except during Lent) those in formation go for a walk in the surrounding countryside. The remaining time is given to formation classes, study and reading. As well as prayer and silence, the community dimension is also really important - there are times of recreation with the others after meals.
The daily timetable is:
16:00 Office of Readings (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)
01:00 Office of Readings and Prayer (Wednesday, Friday, Sunday)
Can I contact you during the year?
As part of the silence and prayer of the year, I won’t be using phones/computers/internet etc. You can write letters, though ideally not during Advent or Lent.
Institut Notre-Dame de Vie
85 chemin de la Roberte
Why are you doing this?
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has come to Horeb, the mountain of God, when God speaks to him and asks him a question: ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’ Clearly God is not asking the question to elicit some information that he doesn’t already know. Rather he is inviting Elijah to reflect on the journey that has led him to this place and God’s call in his heart. Elijah responds with the words that have become the motto of the Carmelite order: Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum (with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts). With Elijah, I can see with profound gratitude the way in which the Lord has led me here. I feel so drawn to this charism and believe it will be so fruitful for me in deepening my conversion and helping me to live out my life and ministry as a priest.
I still have questions!
I will be doing a series of livestreams at 6pm every day this week, 17 to 21 August exploring the Carmelite origins and charism, Notre Dame de Vie and the great Saints of Carmel, as well as answering any questions you might have. You can access the livestream here.