Speak Lord: help us to know what we need and what we don’t.

BLACK-FRIDAY-HELL-570

The First reading for the 18th Sunday of the year, comes from the prophet Isaiah.

It sets before us a wonderful prospect of plenty, available to all who have need.

Thus says the Lord:
Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.
With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.

Isaiah 55:1-3

  • What necessary things does the Lord freely share with you?
  • What’cost’ does the world levy for the things it declares necessary?

Image from here

Taste and See: Saints of God, called to holiness by God

Popes

The Prayer over the Offerings used on Sunday speaks our being sanctified by God’s grace.

Accept, O Lord, we pray, the offerings
which we bring from the abundance of your gifts,
that through the powerful working of your grace
these most sacred mysteries may sanctify our present way of life
and lead us to eternal gladness.

Through Christ our Lord.

The prayer reminds of one of the foundational teachings of the Church, that all people are called by God to holiness. This universal call received fresh emphasis at Vatican II, in the teaching about the Church, Lumen Gentium, ‘Light of the peoples’.

There is still a tendency to think of the saints whose names pepper the Church’s calendar as the real saints, and that we are called to something less. But no: those named saints are exceptional, and singled out as being such, but holiness, sanctity, is not so rare.

Pope John Paul II, now himself declared a saint by the Church, canonised more saints during his pontificate than had been formally declared saint in the whole history of the Church up until that time! And one major reason for his doing so was to show that saints are present in the church in every age, every land, every state of life.

The Church’s recent practice, including the canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, and the forthcoming beatification of Pope Paul VI, seems to be continuing the re-visioning of the place of the canonised in the Church, begun by St John Paul II.

It returns us, almost, to the Pauline vision that all the baptised are called to be, and are – by virtue of God’s grace, the saints of God.

Everyone in the Church, whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…

This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit… gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”, and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.

From Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5

  • Where is holiness manifest in your life?
  • And the lives of those around you?
  • How is holiness different to ‘good works’?

Taste and See: Your law is my delight

make-love-not-law

Lord, how I love your law!
My part, I have resolved, O Lord, is to obey your word.
The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold.
Lord, how I love your law!
Let your love be ready to console me by your promise to your servant.
Let your love come and I shall live for your law is my delight.
Lord, how I love your law!
That is why I love your commands more than finest gold,
why I rule my life by your precepts, and hate false ways.
Lord, how I love your law!
Your will is wonderful indeed; therefore I obey it.
The unfolding of your word gives light and teaches the simple.
Lord, how I love your law! Psalm 118:57,72,76-77,127-130

The responsorial psalm heard at Sunday’s Mass makes much of ‘obedience’. For many this seems an outdated concept, now superseded by ‘mutual collaboration’. But who leads? Or what leads? And to what end? I’m reminded of the Kinks’ song Dedicated follower of Fashion with its concluding lines:

He flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly In matters of the cloth he is as fickle as can be ‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion.

‘Religious obedience’ – two old fashioned,outdated concepts for many – is ultimately and most healthily that way of life to which we commit ourselves and strive after we hear, love  and obey the word of God  – when we let it be law for us.

  • What word of the Lord has fashioned or re-fashioned your life?

In Christian discourse ‘Law’ is often (too often?) contrasted unfavourably with ‘Love’ and ‘Gospel’.

The contrast is made sometimes by Jesus and by St Paul, so it has a good pedigree.  Yet in their different ways they both spoke too, in implicit and explicit ways, of the abiding virtue of the Law.  They also knew  that in love they fulfilled the Law. In their religious obedience to the sometime fierce compulsion that is the Law of Love, they fulfilled the Law and surrendered to Love, love of God, love of neighbour.

  • What ‘law’ leads you to life?
  • When has observance of law freed you to live love.

Image found here.

Taste and See: sharing wisdom and life

Orantes and Spirit, Rome 2002

The first reading at Mass on Sunday spoke of God sharing his wisdom with Solomon:

The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream and said, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ Solomon replied, ‘O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of this people of yours that you have chosen, a people so many its number cannot be counted or reckoned. Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?’

It pleased the Lord that Solomon should have asked for this. ‘Since you have asked for this’ the Lord said ‘and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you.’

1 Kings 3:5,7-12

Philosophers make the good point that there may be a huge difference in what is being said when we say ‘Solomon dreamt that the Lord appeared to him…’ and ‘The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream…’ The one is a statement about the Lord’s action (and, at least potentially, Solomon’s response), the other may just be about Solomon (and perhaps, implicitly, about the cheese he had for his supper!)

Often when the world speaks of God it is as though God were just another thing in the world, like Paris, or Pope Francis, or Solomon’s cheese.

But the God of Israel, God who is Father, Son and Spirit, is Creator – and as such is of an altogether different order to the created, however ‘creative’ some of creation can be.

Our Creator God is also a saving God, who cares for creation, and for humankind in a particular way. Creation is not left to its own devices, but mercy and wisdom are offered to assist creation – and most evidently humankind – to fulfil its potential.

Solomon, by tradition, received wisdom to an extraordinary degree. In the new Covenant we too receive from the living and loving God, the Spirit of Wisdom and love. In the prayer of Confirmation the we are reminded of the gifts we are given.

All-powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by water and the Holy Spirit
you freed your sons and daughters from sin
and gave them new life.
Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of right judgement and courage,
the spirit of knowledge and reverence.
Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Those great gifts are surely given us in Confirmation: but are they received and lived?

Send your Holy Spirit upon them
to be their helper and guide.

  • When/how is the Spirit your helper and guide?

Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

  • Where do you show wisdom and understanding? When might other people think you do?

the spirit of right judgement and courage,

  • How do you try to make ‘right judgement’? When can you remember doing this last? When did making the right judgement last demand courage on your part?

the spirit of knowledge and reverence.

  • What does reverence mean to you? What is its importance?

Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

  • How ‘alive’ in you is the spirit of wonder and awe? How challenged is it by feelings of ‘I’ve seen it all before’?

Bring your feelings and thoughts to the living God in prayer…

The photograph is of a grave marker in the National Museum of Rome, showing the Orantes figure (a symbol of the Church, especially of the Church at prayer) welcoming the dove that is the symbol of the Holy Spirit, and standing beside the ChiRho, the symbol of the resurrected Christ. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2002

Speak Lord: the pearl of great price.

The Good Shepherd by Duncan Grant

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

Matthew 13:44-52

  • What do you most desire?
  • How does that desire shape your decisions and actions?
  • So often in life we seem to end up going with the flow. When did you last go against the flow, and why?

George Herbert was a man who was well-fitted for life of all sorts. But he chose the life of faith. In his poem, The Pearl, that follows, he reflects on his choice.

The Pearl

MATTHEW xiii

I know the ways of learning; both the head
And pipes that feed the press, and make it run;
What reason hath from nature borrowed,
Or of itself, like a good huswife, spun
In laws and policy; what the stars conspire,
What willing nature speaks, what forc’d by fire;
Both th’old discoveries and the new-found seas,
The stock and surplus, cause and history;
All these stand open, or I have the keys:
         Yet I love thee.
I know the ways of honour; what maintains
The quick returns of courtesy and wit;
In vies of favours whether party gains
When glory swells the heart and moldeth it
To all expressions both of hand and eye,
Which on the world a true-love-knot may tie,
And bear the bundle wheresoe’er it goes;
How many drams of spirit there must be
To sell my life unto my friends or foes:
         Yet I love thee.
I know the ways of pleasure; the sweet strains
The lullings and the relishes of it;
The propositions of hot blood and brains;
What mirth and music mean; what love and wit
Have done these twenty hundred years and more;
I know the projects of unbridled store;
My stuff is flesh, not brass; my senses live,
And grumble oft that they have more in me
Than he that curbs them, being but one to five:
         Yet I love thee.
I know all these and have them in my hand;
Therefore not seeled but with open eyes
I fly to thee, and fully understand
Both the main sale and the commodities;
And at what rate and price I have thy love,
With all the circumstances that may move.
Yet through the labyrinths, not my grovelling wit,
But thy silk twist let down from heav’n to me
Did both conduct and teach me how by it
         To climb to thee.
Image is of the Good Shepherd, by Duncan Grant. It is a detail from frescoes he painted for a side chapel in Lincoln Cathedral.
Photograph (c) Allen Morris,  2011.

Speak Lord: God’s working for his people

Fresco, Sta Maria in Cosmedin, Rome

The second reading at Mass on Sunday comes from St Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is supremely confident in the goodness of God and his care for his people.

We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers. He called those he intended for this; those he called he justified, and with those he justified he shared his glory. Romans 8:28-30

  • What ‘clouds’ in your life have turned out to have been important for their silver lining?
  • How do you bear the image of God’s Son?

The rhetorical flourish of the final sentence of that passage is hard to resist. But how does it connect to your life?

He called those he intended for this; those he called he justified, and with those he justified he shared his glory.

  • How does or how has God called you? And justified you? And shared with you his glory?

(For a rather lovely secular take on some of the themes of the reading, click here for a splendid rendition of the Jerome Kern/B.G.De Sylva song Look for the Silver Lining !)

Photograph is of a renaissance fresco of Jesus, Prince of Peace, from the church of Sta Maria in Cosmedin, Rome (c) Allen Morris, 2005.

Speak Lord: Your law is my delight

david in the psalms

The responsorial psalm on Sunday, the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, describes the  Psalmist’s determination to live faithful to the Law, to rejoice in the Law.

Lord, how I love your law!

My part, I have resolved, O Lord,
is to obey your word.
The law from your mouth means more to me
than silver and gold.

Lord, how I love your law!

Let your love be ready to console me
by your promise to your servant.
Let your love come and I shall live
for your law is my delight.

Lord, how I love your law!

That is why I love your commands
more than finest gold,
why I rule my life by your precepts,
and hate false ways.

Lord, how I love your law!

Your will is wonderful indeed;
therefore I obey it.
The unfolding of your word gives light
and teaches the simple.

Lord, how I love your law!

Psalm 118:57,72,76-77,127-130

  • What law leads you to life?
  • When has observance of the law of the Lord led you to freedom and love?

Image of King David, the traditional author, of at least many, of the psalms is taken from the Westminster Psalter.