Speak Lord: Called to service…

Peter

The First Reading on Sunday, the 21st Sunday in Ordinary time, is a story of reversals, demotion and promotion, to better serve the needs of the kingdom.

Thus says the Lord of Hosts to Shebna, the master of the palace:

I dismiss you from your office,
I remove you from your post,
and the same day I call on my servant
Eliakim son of Hilkiah.
I invest him with your robe,
gird him with your sash,
entrust him with your authority;
and he shall be a father
to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
and to the House of Judah.
I place the key of the House of David
on his shoulder;
should he open, no one shall close,
should he close, no one shall open.
I drive him like a peg
into a firm place;
he will become a throne of glory
for his father’s house.

Isaiah 22:19-23

The dismissal of Shebna from office is absolute. In contemporary terms his desk is cleared and he’s exiting the door clutching a cardboard box containing a few personal posessions.

Eliakim is the new kid on the block, his newly gifted authority is established by use of word, symbol and ritual. There’s no mistaking the change that has been made.

Shebna’s fault has been self-aggrandisement. Eliakim, by contrast, is the one chosen for office, made by his master: his very name indicates it, for Eli’akim means ‘God will raise up’, or‘raised up by God’.

In the scriptures this political reshuffle has a deeper meaning, a meaning for the ages and not just for that time and place – for eyes that see, and ears that hear.

  • Who do you serve?
  • What are your priorities for today?
  • Who do you serve?

Taste and See: Turning the world upside down

star-cross

The second reading at Mass on Sunday had St Paul expressing a certain irony about his situation.

 Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead! God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

Just as you changed from being disobedient to God, and now enjoy mercy because of their disobedience, so those who are disobedient now – and only because of the mercy shown to you – will also enjoy mercy eventually. God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.

Romans 11:13-15,29-32

If God is the God of surprises, maybe one of the most regular surprises is that God is the God of reverses, of irony and paradox.

If the Chosen people reject God’s Son then one of the tasks of the Christian people is to provoke envy so that their elder siblings might choose to choose. Seems we have a way to go yet!

Death can seem a snuffing out of life, but seen by eyes of faith more truly proves to be a step on the path to eternal life.

Freedom sometimes leads to chains, but God’s mercy overwhelms the both human justice and injustice and works to draws his new people to him in a fresh unity of life and love.

  • What is ‘surprising’ about God’s call to you?
  • And your response to God?

Image found here. 

Taste and See: let all the peoples praise you…

United-Nations-day

On Sunday the responsorial psalm we sang (if not, why not?!), rejoiced in God’s blessing of the peoples of the earth. It rejoices in it and prays for it.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

The ‘all’ of the response is important.

Indeed that ‘response’ might well serve as a simple daily prayer for the success of the new Evangelisation called for by Pope John Paul II, Saint John Paul II, and actively promoted since by Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

The first verse of the psalm reminds that mostly people are won for God when they experience his graciousness and ‘light’.

Evangelisation is at its best when it tries to draw people to God, and not push them!

  • Who have you helped know God’s blessing today?
  • Have you in any way ‘darkened’ God’s world today?

Image found here.

Taste and See: no favourites

 

magnifying-glass

What is it that makes for a good Catholic?

The first reading at Mass yesterday, the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, challenges our oft-times sense of what is important in the life of faith. Here is the Lord speaking through his prophet, Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.

Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Isaiah 56:1,6-7

God has no favourites, but blessed are those who favour God and walk in his ways.

Those who have ears to hear will be familiar with the proud and arrogant boasts of so many Christians… Let’s just mention those who trumpet that they are saved because they say ‘Jesus is Lord’. This word of the Lord punctures those boasts.

The true believer is to be characterised by humility and love, which relativizes all other distinguishing marks of culture or Creed. Faithfulness and love humbly lived has the capacity to draw out  the, so-often unexpected, potential for love of the Lord in all humankind.

The One God welcomes all, and all have the capacity to respond.

Image found here.

Speak Lord: Woman, you have great faith…

canaanite-woman

In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems unexpectedly brusque.

The disciples however seem rather typically self-serving!

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’

He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Matthew 15:21-28

Born in Bethlehem he may have been, but here Jesus speaks with the bluntness of a Yorkshireman!

Scholars and others argue, about whether Jesus speak the way he did to check the woman, and put her in her place? Or to provoke her to the display of great faith that he always intended to praise? Who knows?

Either way, she rode the punches and serves us as an example of faith beyond what is common.

  • Where has a tough challenge served you well?

Image is of a Rembrandt ink drawing of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.

Speak Lord: Christ is for everyone, the meaning of everything.

20101221-religion

In the second reading at Mass on Sunday St Paul speaks of the reconciliation of the world, and all its peoples, by Christ.

Let me tell you pagans this: I have been sent to the pagans as their apostle, and I am proud of being sent, but the purpose of it is to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them. Since their rejection meant the reconciliation of the world, do you know what their admission will mean? Nothing less than a resurrection from the dead! God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.

Just as you changed from being disobedient to God, and now enjoy mercy because of their disobedience, so those who are disobedient now – and only because of the mercy shown to you – will also enjoy mercy eventually. God has imprisoned all men in their own disobedience only to show mercy to all mankind.

Romans 11:13-15,29-32

  •  What might Christians have that non-Christians might be envious of?
  • What has led you from disobedience to obedience? Or at least to obedience? Or at least to trying to be obedient, or…?
  • What work of reconciliation can you advance today?

Image found here.

Friday 15th Speak Lord: Speak blessing for the nations.

Artwork, St Eustache, Paris The responsorial psalm on Sunday, the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, calls for God’s blessing and acknowledges his graciousness.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him.

Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.

  • How does your church community witness to God’s love and God’s glory?
  • Who would not feel welcome when your community gathers?
  • How do you play your part in making the community a sign of God’s love in the world.

Photograph of art work in the church of St Eustache, Paris. Sorry. Didn’t note name of artist or title of work! But it seems to me a glorious depiction of the liveliness of God’s love. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2011.

Speak Lord: care for justice

St Anthony

The first reading on Sunday, the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, goes to the heart of what authenticates a ‘religious’ life.

Thus says the Lord: Have a care for justice, act with integrity, for soon my salvation will come and my integrity be manifest.

Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord to serve him and to love his name and be his servants – all who observe the sabbath, not profaning it, and cling to my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain. I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.

Isaiah 56:1,6-7

  • How do you reveal your care for justice?
  • When are you last aware of having acted with integrity?
  • How ready are you to own and confess your faults and failings, so as to be restored to wholeness and holiness by the Lord

Photograph of statue of St Anthony of Padua, Paris. (C) Allen Morris, 2011

Taste and See: this saving Bread…

Augustine of Hippo (1)

The Communion Antiphon on Sunday was concise and startling:

The bread that I will give, says the Lord,
is my flesh for the life of the world.
Cf. Jn 6: 51

Like the sacrament of the Eucharist itself, to the eyes a little bread, a little wine, but in very truth something astonishing.

St Augustine spoke of the sacrament in famous words the newly baptised in his Church of Hippo – towards the end of the Great Vigil of Easter….

‘What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended.

But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report.

But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood.

Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter.

As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.”

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on the wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right.

So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?”

My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit.

So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27]

If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true!

But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17]

Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.”

Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread.

So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated.

All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen!

The Bread and Wine are truly Christ, and by his grace we are truly members of Christ. As Augustine says elsewhere, not only Christians but other Christs.

  • What is it about the Eucharist that is most important for you, at present
  • What aspect of Eucharist is most often highlighted in you parish celebrations?
  • What element is most neglected?

Image of St Augustine (and St Monica) from here – visit the site to read reflections on St Augustine from Pope Benedict XVI.

Taste and See: They bowed down before him…

Exposition, Cracow, Poland

Again, we return to Sunday’s Gospel.

Both liturgical prayer and private prayer are strengthened by repetition.

Repetition helps us to relax into a meditative and reflective state, still aware of the general flow, but freed now to be attentive to particular detail and to bring our response to that to God in a more focused time of prayer and dialogue.

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he would send the crowds away. After sending the crowds away he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, while the boat, by now far out on the lake, was battling with a heavy sea, for there was a head-wind. In the fourth watch of the night he went towards them, walking on the lake, and when the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were terrified. ‘It is a ghost’ they said, and cried out in fear. But at once Jesus called out to them, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’ It was Peter who answered. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.’ ‘Come’ said Jesus. Then Peter got out of the boat and started walking towards Jesus across the water, but as soon as he felt the force of the wind, he took fright and began to sink. ‘Lord! Save me!’ he cried. Jesus put out his hand at once and held him. ‘Man of little faith,’ he said ‘why did you doubt?’ And as they got into the boat the wind dropped. The men in the boat bowed down before him and said, ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Matthew 14:22-33

This episode ends with the disciples’ worship and adoration of Jesus as the Son of God.

Their experience and their reflection on that experience has brought them to need to give him worship.

Sometimes our worship is prompted by habit – the established rhythm of the week giving us the Day of the Lord, and of the year, giving us the seasons and feasts; the established rhythm of our own private pattern of prayer – half an hour in the morning, or fifteen minutes last thing at night, for example.

Building into that rhythm and habit a time of conscious and deliberate reflection on the detail of our daily lives is also a good thing, and often will prove to be occasion for an engaging and urgent prompt to prayer of petition and contrition, and adoration of the living God

Photograph: worship of the Eucharist outside of Mass, the Dominican Church, Krakow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.