Speak Lord: what makes Life worth living?

Szczesny Shadow sculpture No 2 Avignon 2014.

The Gospel for today, the 22nd Sunday of the Year is a sobering one. What price are we ready to pay to follow Christ?

Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’

Matthew 16:21-27

What price would we pay? And yet, we are told Christ has paid the price for our redemption?

So maybe a truer way of looking at things is to ask what do we ask to receive, for what do we want to live?

One of the wittiest lines in Robert Bolt’s play ‘A Man for all seasons’ comes when More realises that Richard Rich has effectively been bribed to bear false witness against him. The bribe? The office of attorney-general for Wales. Says More:  ‘Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?’

Now, nothing against the Principality, but the point is clear.

  • So what is worth living for?
  • And, on a day to day basis, how much does that influence the choices you make?
  • And to what degree do the choices you actually make compromise your higher principles?

The answers may be sobering. Remember the Lord is a God of mercy – and bring your responses to him in humble prayer.

Photograph of street art: Shadow Play No 2 by Szczesny. Avignon 2014.

Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Speak Lord: speak mercy and hope…

Stained Glass, Corbusier, Marseille

The second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 22nd of Ordinary time, invites imperfect us to keep on striving for perfection. Oh, by the way, Paul is, of course, speaking to his sisters and not only to his brothers!

Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.

Romans 12:1-2

So often we don’t think. So often we simply go with the flow. Or is it just me?

St Paul names what is supposedly one of our distinguishing features as human beings – that we are thinking creatures; that we can consider alternatives and, presumably, try to go for the better ones. But often we don’t – or, again is it just me?

When we don’t the failure is ours. There may be, and usually are all sorts of contributing factors. But to a greater or lesser extent the responsibility for failure lies with us. Acknowledging that, openly, can be a great relief. Especially when we experience the love and mercy of God there for us in response, because we need it and God loves us.

  • In what have you failed this week?
  • Have you found a way of admitting your failure? To yourself? To others? To God?
  • What encouragement has come your way this week?
  • And for what at Mass tomorrow, do you want to give God thanks for?

The photograph is of a glass window by Le Corbusier in the Cité radieuse de Marseille. The design uses the Modulor system which provides ‘a harmonic measure to the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and mechanics.’ Related to the Golden Ratio, the system seeks to discover a proportion system equivalent to that of natural creation, and in this case based on human proportions. The window gestures towards the system!

Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Speak Lord: Help us know our needs…

Detail of vestment, musee de Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

The responsorial psalm at Mass on Sunday puts a song of yearning on our lips

For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.
For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
For you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.
For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.

Psalm 62:2-6,8-9

On the whole we tend to think of thirst as an undesirable thing, something to be dealt with as quickly as possible. To be thirsty is to lack something.

However, for the psalmist, the fact of his thirst for God is something that he wishes to bless God for. The inability of his thirst to be quenched elsewhere, keeps him attentive to God, and is a source of blessing.

  • What lack do you find to be a grace in your life?
  • What need helps to keep you faithful?

Photograph is of detail of chasuble in the Musée of Notre-Dame de Garde, Marseille.
Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014

Speak Lord: Speak words of love…

Catherine of Sienna

The first reading at Mass on the 22nd Sunday of the year comes from the writings of the prophet Jeremiah:

You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced;
you have overpowered me: you were the stronger.
I am a daily laughing-stock,
everybody’s butt.
Each time I speak the word, I have to howl
and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’
The word of the Lord has meant for me
insult, derision, all day long.
I used to say, ‘I will not think about him,
I will not speak in his name any more.’
Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones.
The effort to restrain it wearied me,
I could not bear it.

Jeremiah 20:7-9

The language of seduction and of sexual passion does not feature too much in homilies, at least not these days! Our religion tends to be a little anaemic and staid.

However the erotic has a privileged place in the scriptures and in the spiritual traditions of Christianity, and Judaism and Islam.

  •  How comfortably does such language fit your own relationship with God? Or God’s with you?
  • How does faith open you to ridicule? How to the approval of others? And of which others?

The painting of St Catherine of Sienna, is by Matteo di Giovanni and is in the collection of the Petit Palais, Avignon.

Photograph © Allen Morris, 2014.

Taste and See: Working the work

Julian of Norwich

The Gospel acclamation last Sunday was notable:

Alleluia, alleluia!
God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself,
and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled.
Alleluia!

The verse comes from St Paul’s Second letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 5:19).

It makes an important assertion about the work of Jesus, and about work entrusted to us. At firs sight two different works seem to be described. The first the work of Jesus, the second the work of us. God in Christ reconciles, and then we are to tell people about what God in Christ has done.

Not so. First God is Christ was reconciling, and indeed God in Christ still is reconciling the world to himself – including all parts of the world (including us) still at some distance because of sin.Yes, in one sense, the work is complete. Christ is risen and creation is reconciled in him. And yet, we know, how much of that we still need to be completed in us. The lack is not in him and what he has done, but in us and what we have allowed ourselves, been able to receive.

Second, the work of sharing the good news is itself an encouraging work of reconciliation. And when we try to do it, we know that we are doing it not in and of ourselves, but as an extension of Christ’s reconciling work. It is his work in us.

The Christian life, and the salvation of the world, is a more dynamic and participative thing than sometimes we allow for.

For today rejoice. Know that you are reconciled in Christ. Do what you can to share the good news with others, and bring them closer to Christ who is already so much closer to them than they, or we, can know.

The image is a detail of a work by Alan Oldfield, of Julian of Norwich from the chapel at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre in Ditchingham, Suffolk. In the work she gazes back beyond her present situation to the crucified and risen Lord. What is past becomes present, what has been achieved is received.
Julian is one of the notable witnesses to what God in Christ has done, and is doing. Her writings, her work continues to bear potent witness to the living saving love of God in Christ, even 700 years after her death.
Photo (c) 2013, Allen Morris
Click here for an image of the whole painting and a reflection on Julian.

 

 

Taste and See: Living by gladness and joy

stjohnswoodblog

Assembly

The Collect, the opening prayer, of Mass on Sunday asks for clarity of mind and purpose in the faithful of God.

O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

To do the will of God is this – to love what he commands and desire what he promised.

If we dare to go beyond that, let it be to try to love as he loves, and desiring for others what God has promised them, serve our brothers and sisters.

Notice in the image…

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Taste and See: Lord, help us to see…

Trinity

The Second reading at yesterday’s Mass contains many challenges.

How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

The most basic truths about God are surely two.

  • That God in God’s self is beyond our comprehension. We cannot know God like we know things, for we are things, and God is no thing, but source of all being.
  • That God is love and that love extends to us, and so seeks to draw us into relationship with God.

That these two things are sort of incompatible points both to the wonder and utterness of God and to the challenge we have in expressing and living that relationship that God invites us to.

Creatures as we are, we use language that is unavoidably derived from our experience of the worldy, and is stretched and fractured when ever we try to use it to speak of God. Yet, in this relationship with God, we cannot but try to speak of him.

And immediately the problem is evident.

  • God is not a ‘him’, but not an ‘it’ or a ‘her’ either.
  • And though Christians, like Jews and Muslims, believe in the unity of God – ‘I believe in one God…’ – Christians also believe in the Trinity of Persons in the one God, Father, Son and Spirit. The Threeness is in faith understood, has to be understood as not compromising the Oneness, and the Oneness as not excluding the Threeness. So if the singularity of ‘he’, as applied to God is not wrong, it is, even so, inadequate as it does not even gesture towards the Threeness of God that is of God’s essence.

Visual artists have similar problems. The prevailing Christian tradition, East and West, is figurative, firmly rooted in the experience of God in the incarnation of God, that is Jesus Christ. And yet once we get beyond depiction of Jesus (which contains problems enough of its own!) figurative expression necessarily becomes more and more abstract (stretching and fracturing the relationship between the conventional and what the art seeks to express).

The image at the top of the page, shows God as three and one, in the community of heaven, and does so in relationship with us, for the illustration is painted on a window opening in the roof of a baptistery.

  • What images of God ‘work’ for you? Why? How?
  • What images of God are present in your church?
  • What images of the Church are present in your church?
  • Are important aspects of God and Church not imaged in your church?

Speak Lord: Lead us into your ways of love, always, everywhere…

The Gospel for today, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of truth and power, exercised in love for the well-being of the world and all its peoples.

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.’ Then he gave the disciples strict orders not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.

  • What tests the integrity of the Church?
  • What tests your integrity as a Christian?
  • How do you serve the integrity of the Church?
  • How do you imitate Christ?

Who we say that Jesus is should lead us also to a more confident knowledge of who the others are who surround us. If he is Son of God, we are children of God. Each one of us, a brother or sister to Christ; each one, with us, a child of God.

And each one of us, and all those around us, is loved by God our Father – loved by God even as Jesus comes to save us from our lack of humanity.  

Now Peter in his turn is called to love the lambs, love the sheep.

And that call is made to us too. We do not share in precisely the same pastoral ministry of Peter. But in our ways we, too, are called to love each and every person, that through our love, sacrament of  Christ’s love, we (even we) might help them grow in their humanity, in their likeness to Christ.

A prayer attributed to St Francis, helps us to bring to God in prayer our need and desire to be more like Christ.

The Peace Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

 

Carving of St Peter in the cloister of the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur d’Aix-en-Provence.
(c) Allen Morris, 2014

Speak Lord: and help us understand!

Joseph

The Second Reading at tomorrow’s Mass, the Mass of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, challenges us about what we ‘know’ of God, and invites us to a certain humility, and to awe, respect and praise.

How rich are the depths of God – how deep his wisdom and knowledge – and how impossible to penetrate his motives or understand his methods! Who could ever know the mind of the Lord? Who could ever be his counsellor? Who could ever give him anything or lend him anything? All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him. To him be glory for ever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

  • What do you know of God?
  • What evades your knowledge?
  • What of yourself are willing to acknowledge before the Lord?
  • What do you (to no avail) try to ‘hide’ from him?

Bring your answers to God in prayer…

Emily Dickinson, a great American poet, wrote:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

The image above, of St Joseph, after the first appearance of the angel announcing the Incarnation, does not do justice to his fuller eventual service of the Church, and of Jesus and Mary. However the sculptor does seem to have captured something of his bewilderment and being overwhelmed by the astonishing, seemingly incomprehensible things asked by God. Something we can probably all empathise with.

Image of carving in the cloister of St Trophime, Arles. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014

Speak Lord: our help and our hope…

By Louis Botinelly Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille

The responsorial psalm on Sunday may seem a strange mix of thanksgiving and a stretching out for hope beyond hope.

Well, welcome to what is life for many of us!

Your love, O Lord, is eternal: discard not the work of your hands.

 I thank you, Lord, with all my heart:
   you have heard the words of my mouth.
In the presence of the angels I will bless you.
   I will adore before your holy temple.

Your love, O Lord, is eternal: discard not the work of your hands.

I thank you for your faithfulness and love,
   which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
   you increased the strength of my soul.

Your love, O Lord, is eternal: discard not the work of your hands.

The Lord is high yet he looks on the lowly
   and the haughty he knows from afar.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
   discard not the work of your hands.

Your love, O Lord, is eternal: discard not the work of your hands.

Psalm 137:1-3,6,8

In these present days when loss and the horror of human cruelty are daily before us, there is good reason to lament and to need to renew our trust.

  • Where does the work of the Lord’s hands seem in jeopardy?
  • What is permanent in our world? How do we know?
  • When did you last give thanks to God? Why?

Image of the Pieta is of carving by Louis Botinelly in the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.