Taste and See: The Lord our protector

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The first reading from the Mass of the Day on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul follows.

Read it quietly and carefully.

Notice what emotions it evokes in you and bring them to God in prayer.

King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.

On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’

Acts 12:1-11

In this world terrible things happen, and for often petty reasons (…seeing that it pleased the Jews he had beheaded James, Herod arrested Peter…).

Sometimes they happen to us and can shock us to the core.

Yet always God is there for us – and though the care of God may not always be experienced in so practical and immediate form as Peter experiences in this his care is there, and can give us remarkable poise, beyond our own achieving, in times of trial.

  • Where and when have you experienced the love and protection of God?
  • What effect did that have on your life.
  • How do you show love and care for those in difficulty?

Image is of a glass disk, probably the base of a bowl or cup, depicting the Apostles of Rome, Peter and Paul.

Speak Lord: who is he, and who am I?

Banias

The Gospel for this feast of Sts Peter and Paul relates Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus.

As you read the passage, note what strikes you, or what moves you, and bring that to God in prayer.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’

Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’

Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

Matthew 16: 13-19

On the feast of St Peter we hear Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus followed by an extraordinary declaration by Jesus of confidence in Peter (albeit it is Jesus who will build the Church and not Peter!)

The editors of the Lectionary do not allow us to hear the passage following immediately on where Peter cannot accept other words of Jesus and ends up being described as Satan and a hindrance!!

  • What has been revealed to Peter by God? And why is it so important?
  • How do you understand the ministry of binding and loosing on earth, that is reciprocated in heaven?
  • Who do you say that Jesus is? And why?
  • Who are you? How and why?

Photograph is of Banias (Caesarea Philippi) in the Golan Heights, the traditional site of the Confession of Peter. It shows the remains of pagan temples, and the river Jordan. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: running the race

Runners

In the second reading for the Mass of the Day, this coming Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, Paul uses the image of the race and a runner.

What strikes you as you read the reading?
What stirs your emotions – either by way of encouragement or seeming discouragement?
Bring your feelings to God in prayer, making your response to God’s living word, continuing the dialogue to which God invites you.

My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

  • How does the passage speak to your life, now, today?

A common spiritual exercise to help deepen desire to grow in the spiritual virtues is to contemplate one’s own death – and to imagine the obituary that might be printed, or the words that might be said in a eulogy. What might we want to be said? And what would be said, if people were being honest? And how do we feel about that?

Olympic Stadium

In today’s reading we have St Paul’s summing up of his own life. He speaks of his striving, and of the Lord’s saving him. Both features seem to be given equal weight, and Paul gives thanks.

  • What can you say of how you live?
  • What can you say of the Lord’s saving love for you?

Photographs from London’s Olympic Stadium, during the 2012 Paralympic Games. (c) Allen Morris

Speak Lord: set free from terrors and fear?

Mossa

The psalm for the Mass of the Day, on the feast of St Peter and Paul is a song of thanksgiving and praise for rescue from fear and danger.

As you read it, note what you feel, and how the text speaks to you.
Bring those responses to God in prayer.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called, the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

The angel of the Lord is encamped
around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Psalm 33:2-9

  • What strikes you in the psalm?
  • What response does it prompt you to make to the Lord?

On my best days I think I can honestly say ‘From all my terrors the Lord is setting me free’.

On other days I may say ‘From all my terrors the Lord set me free’ but I am less likely to mean it, and more likely just to be ‘saying’ it.

The salvation offered by the Lord, real and powerful though it is, is also work in progress. And mostly, as with St Paul, it is when we know our weaknesses (and our need therefore to entrust ourselves to the Lord) that we are most likely to be truly safe and secure.

Painting by Gustav Adolf Mossa – Musee des Beaux Arts, Nice.
Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013

Speak Lord: listening and responding

Poussin

The first reading on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul,  – or at least the first reading of the Vigil Mass of the Day, not the Mass of the Day – returns us to the Acts of the Apostles, our Easter book.

The reading follows. What strikes you in the reading? What moves and encourages you?

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in.

When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’

He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God.

Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10

The ‘cripple from birth’ has got it all worked out: the team who bring and fetch him; an advantageous place from which to ply his ‘trade’ and a steady flow of people who perhaps are more likely than others to respond compassionately and generously to his request for help.

It’s surely significant all this takes place outside the Temple. Note also the detail Luke gives us that the man begs from those going into the Temple. Presumably, best to ‘display’ himself and confront those who might share what they have with him, he will sit with his back to the Temple (to God!) and with his face to the world.

To this man come the apostles who command him to look at them. What does he see, when he does? Not what he probably expects, people who will give what he asks for, or who tell him off for begging. In fact Luke remains silent about what the man sees.

  • To what is your face turned as you take your place in the world?
  • What do you seek?

Luke tells us what the man hears – a ministry of the word, that is a ministry of the Word. A ministry of the word that is accompanied by a helping hand.

And the man is faced with a choice – to stick to what he knows and seems to be quite good at, or to risk everything. He does risk everything and in this moment of decision healing comes and conversion happens.

The man turns and goes into the Temple praising God, with the apostles, (with the Church?)

  • What – if anything – holds you back from the newness and fullness of life to which the God of Mercy calls you? Why?

The image by Poussin which heads this blog comes from the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It can seem at first sight a rather workaday, prosaic piece. We notice how the key element – the encounter of which Luke tells us is placed high up, in the centre. It’s clearly the subject of the painting, but the more normal (or at least good and charitable) response to a beggar is acted out closer to us in the painting, in a way that rather competes with the ‘main’ subject.

And opposite this second incident, in the right hand corner, is another figure who can’t fail to attract the eye so gaudy are his clothes. He has his back to the scene of evangelical healing, and looks (suspicious, doubtful) on the act of human charity. Does he represent us, and the moment of existential choice that is always ours in how we respond?

The scene of the healing, for all its being the presumed subject of the  painting, is presented in this context, and also present rather squashed in between town and temple. The marvel of what is happening there could be so easily missed amidst all that is going on, and the bustle of street life. I can imagine myself rather brusquely pushing past this ‘whatever it is’ that is going on, and inconveniently blocking the gate as I make my way to Temple from town or to town from Temple.

Poussin’s ‘simple’ painting offers a complex of incident and attitude, and challenges us to faithful response, as surely as does the passage from the Acts of the Apostles.

Taste and See: what do our prayers actually say?

 

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The prayers of the recently re-translated Roman Missal have a greater richness and complexity than the versions of the same prayers in the 1970s translation of the Missal. It is true to say that the new prayers also often have a clumsiness and lack of flow, which the previous translation did not suffer from.

This blog encourages us to go back to prayers, readings, and songs from Sunday’s Mass. In the case of some of the more awkwardly phrased, or simply complex and rich, prayers this gives us a chance to enter more fully into their meaning, and the mystery of God they invoke.

Prayer after Communion

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that we may delight for all eternity
in that share in your divine life,
which is foreshadowed in the present age
by our reception of your precious Body and Blood.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.

The prayer reminds that this world is passing, and the Sacraments through which God shares grace with us. But there is also that which is not passing, which the Sacraments are a pledge of and an invitation to.

  • Which of the newly translated prayers have made most impression on you? Which for good and which not?
  • What else, other than the 7 sacraments, foreshadows the glory of God?
  • How do you live the life of God, here, now?

Image is design for window of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, Church of Our Lady and St Vincent, Potters Bar.

Taste and See: Feed us still, still keep us thine

Pelican

The Sequence for Corpus Christi, Lauda Sion, was commissioned by Pope Urban II for the, then, new feast. It was one of five songs written about 1264 by St Thomas Aquinas – the others being the Pange lingua, Sacris solemnis, Adoro te devote and Verbum supernum.

The song of praise witnesses to the Church’s faith in the Eucharist, and the wonder at the sacramental presence of Christ – the same, entire, present in the transformed Bread and Wine; the same present to each and every communicant; for each offering the gift of the fullness of life now and for ever.

Sing forth, O Zion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy Shepherd-King,
In hymns and canticles divine;
Dare all thou canst, thou hast no song
Worthy his praises to prolong,
So far surpassing powers like thine.

Today no theme of common praise
Forms the sweet burden of thy lays –
The living, life-dispensing food –
That food which at the sacred board
Unto the brethren twelve our Lord
His parting legacy bestowed.

Then be the anthem clear and strong,
Thy fullest note, thy sweetest song,
The very music of the breast:
For now shines forth the day sublime
That brings remembrance of the time
When Jesus first his table blessed.

Within our new King’s banquet-hall
They meet to keep the festival
That closed the ancient paschal rite:
The old is by the new replaced;
The substance hath the shadow chased;
And rising day dispels the night.

Christ willed what he himself had done
Should be renewed while time should run,
In memory of his parting hour:
Thus, tutored in his school divine,
We consecrate the bread and wine;
And lo – a Host of saving power.

This faith to Christian men is given –
Bread is made flesh by words from heaven:
Into his blood the wine is turned:
What though it baffles nature’s powers
Of sense and sight? This faith of ours
Proves more than nature e’er discerned.

Concealed beneath the two-fold sign,
Meet symbols of the gifts divine,
There lie the mysteries adored:
The living body is our food;
Our drink the ever-precious blood;
In each, one undivided Lord.

Not he that eateth it divides
The sacred food, which whole abides
Unbroken still, nor knows decay;
Be one, or be a thousand fed,
They eat alike that living bread
Which, still received, ne’er wastes away.

The good, the guilty share therein,
With sure increase of grace or sin,
The ghostly life, or ghostly death:
Death to the guilty; to the good
Immortal life. See how one food
Man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.

We break the Sacrament, but bold
And firm thy faith shall keep its hold,
Deem not the whole doth more enfold
Than in the fractured part resides
Deem not that Christ doth broken lie,
’Tis but the sign that meets the eye,
The hidden deep reality
In all its fullness still abides.

Behold the bread of angels, sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The bread for God’s true children meant,
That may not unto dogs be given:
Oft in the olden types foreshowed;
In Isaac on the altar bowed,
And in the ancient paschal food,
And in the manna sent from heaven.

Come then, good shepherd, bread divine,
Still show to us thy mercy sign;
Oh, feed us still, still keep us thine;
So may we see thy glories shine
In fields of immortality;

O thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
Our present food, our future rest,
Come, make us each thy chosen guest,
Co-heirs of thine, and comrades blest
With saints whose dwelling is with thee.
Amen. Alleluia.

  • How does the Eucharist reveal Christ to you?
  • What aspects of the Eucharist most impress themselves on you?
  • When has the Eucharist had particular importance in your life?

Image of the Pelican, wounding its breast to feed its young with its blood, is one of the traditional images for Christ’s nourishment of his people through the gift of his Body and Blood (c) Allen Morris.