Taste and see: Hope

image

The first Communion Antiphon from Sunday’s Mass has us turn to the Lord to sustain us in hope.

Remember your word to your servant, O Lord,
by which you have given me hope.
This is my comfort when I am brought low.
Cf. Ps 118: 49-50

There are so many obstacles to the good life for us and others – war, civil disorder, political repression, extremism, personal challenges. But in all we are sustained by the faithfulness of God. These things have been before, but the love of God inspires believers to strive in hope. And sustains us when in our selves we fail.

He is our help, hope and, even happiness.

Today again entrust yourself and those you love and care for to the eternal compassion of God.

Image is of painting Hope by George Frederick Watts.

Taste and see: digesting the word.

Detail of photograph by Katharina Gaenssler

The alternative Communion antiphon from yesterday’s Mass draws together many of the themes expressed in the day’s Liturgy of the Word – the example of Jesus, model for our lives; the imitation of Christ as our calling; the need to reassess our options, to make our ‘no’s into ‘yes’es.

By this we came to know the love of God:
that Christ laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 Jn 3: 16

Try to make time today to ‘know’ again the love of God in Christ.

  • Find a time for silence.
  • Perhaps ‘soak’ in the 2nd reading of yesterday’s Mass (text on blog for Friday, below)
  • Perhaps spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament – the abiding presence of the mercy of God;
  • Perhaps give extra time for an examination of conscience, ending with praise of God for the help given by the Holy Spirit.

Photograph is a detail of a photograph by Katharina Gaenssler. Life is often fragmented, and contains so many seeming disconnected aspects. We need help from God and neighbour for integration and wholeness. 

Taste and See: through suffering to Glory.

Musée de l'Arles antique Anastasis

For many English Catholics, and especially those in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, today’s celebration of Mass will be a time for grappling with the sad news of Bishop Conry’s resignation and the pain this will be causing so many.

As we pray for him, his diocese, and his family we look to make sense of this and learn from this in the context of the the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the love of God this reveals.

The prayer after Communion will be particularly poignant today:

May this heavenly mystery, O Lord,
restore us in mind and body,
that we may be coheirs in glory with Christ,
to whose suffering we are united
whenever we proclaim his Death.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

  • In who else’s suffering are we united? And whose do we turn from?
  • How do we show that God’s answer to suffering and death is the fresh offer of mercy and love?

Photograph of antique buckle (from the belt of St Caesarius of Arles?) showing the Anastasis – the shrine of the Resurrection – in Jerusalem, from the Musée de l’Arles antique. Photgraph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Speak Lord: that even our ‘no’ may become ‘yes’

Francois-Pierre Peyron Mary Magdalene Aix 2014

The gospel of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time searches out and challenges hypocrisy.

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, ‘What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He went and said to the first, “My boy, you go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not go,” but afterwards thought better of it and went. The man then went and said the same thing to the second who answered, “Certainly, sir,” but did not go. Which of the two did the father’s will?’ ‘The first’ they said. Jesus said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did. Even after seeing that, you refused to think better of it and believe in him.’

Matthew 21:28-32

How often does my ‘yes’ decline and weaken and become a ‘no’?

Surely, and sadly, more often that my ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes’.

But the Lord speaks to challenge the weakness and transform the turning away into a turning back. And how great is that: that we are not left to be subject to our hypocrisies and self-deceptions, but are again and again urged back to walking in the foot-steps of him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

  • What is it that helps people hear the Lord and respond generously to him?
  • What is it that makes it harder for us to hear and respond?

In some parts of the tradition Mary Magdalene (pictured above in a painting by  Jean-François Pierre Peyron in the collection of the Musée Granet, Aix en Provence) is seen as a reformed sinner, even a prostitute. More recently these attributions are seen as mis-readings of the scriptural account. For sure, though, she is brought to a new wholeness by Jesus, and in her ministry she communicates that wholeness to those around her, including the apostles. Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Unite us in you and in your Church

Aix 2104 OLady

The second reading on Sunday, the 26th in Ordinary Time, comes in two forms. The longer is below. The shorter is of just the first paragraph.

If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, So that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead. In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:

His state was divine,
yet he did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave,
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings in the heavens,
on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

For Paul the Christian life is not something we can live alone. It is a life lived together: together in the Church, and together with Christ Jesus. And it is a life lived in love.

So, two reality checks for today.

  • How much of my life do I live with others? How much ‘against’ them?
    How do I know? Would others agree?
  • How loving is my life? How care-less?
    How do I know? Would others agree?

The image is of Mary, Mother of the Church. The sight of burning candles is a constant reminder of the community and its needs, the community and its prayers. Photograph of shrine in  Église du Saint-Esprit, Aix-en-Provence (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: from your compassion, speak mercy.

Quarry carving, Aix 2014

Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm, that for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, has us ask the Lord to remember his mercy.

  • In what spirit do we do this?
  • Why do we ask? What do we expect?

Remember your mercy, Lord.

Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour.

Remember your mercy, Lord.

In you I hope all day long
because of your goodness, O Lord.
Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth.
In your love remember me.

Remember your mercy, Lord.

The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray,
He guides the humble in the right path,
He teaches his way to the poor.

Remember your mercy, Lord.

Psalm 24:4-9

An impoverished understanding of mercy might be ‘not to punish’. But the blblical concept is much richer. It is a positive virtue, expressed in a typical way in the third verse of the psalm above. Mercy is an active work, restoring what has been lost – the path to those who stray; realism and truth to the proud; community and trust, hope, to the poor.

Mercy is the action that flows from compassion.

Our God is not over and above us as Judge, ready and wanting to send us to the cells. He is with us – in our loss, our confusion, and our hurt (as well as in the joys and good things that may come our way!). He loves us, is with us, and acts for us. He longs for our cooperation, and ‘mercy’ is one way he seeks to win our hearts and minds to such cooperation.

Carving by David Campbell at Carrières de Bibémus, Aix en Provence. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

 

Speak Lord: that we may not die but live

Death's creature

The first reading for the coming Sunday’s Mass, the 26th in Ordinary Time, comes from the prophet Ezekiel. Through his prophet the Lord calls us to honesty and justice.

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘You object, “What the Lord does is unjust.” Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.’

Ezekiel 18:25-28

I once heard a minister of the word speak the first words of the Lord in this passage, treating the verb ‘object’ as a noun! It certainly gave great force to the reading, but perhaps skewed the sense rather too much.

We are not objects to the Lord, however much he may sometimes detest, and object to, our doings. And so he calls us, again and again, to repentance and renewal.

In our sins we die, but by his grace we can be raised from the death of sin.

As we pray for that today, let’s consider also how justly or unjustly we conduct ourselves as we go about our daily lives.

  • What works of love and justice have we contributed to? What works of injustice and harm mar our day?
  • Bring the tally to the Lord in prayer, praising him for the successes, and asking for mercy for the failings.

Before the evangelisation of Provence the region was possessed of a vigorous death cult – with prolific use of images of the dead being consumed and tortured by mythic beasts. Something of this continued into early Christian iconography. The image at the head of this page is of one such carving in the collection of the Musée Lapidaire in Avignon. Photo (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Taste and See: The Lord is good and we are to be loving

help-a-child

Almost always there is a close thematic relationship between the first reading and the gospel reading at Sunday Mass. We look back today at last Sunday’s Mass (25th in Ordinary Time) and its first reading. But bear in mind also the Gospel parable of the landowner and the labourers he calls to his vineyard.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9

One of the connections here, surely, is that the Lord/Landowner looks with eyes of love to those in need, and excluded from what makes for healthy life. Not that the unemployed workers of the gospel parable are presented as wicked or evil – but they may have  been thought less suitable by those looking for good men for hire as labourers – perhaps because of age, temperament or handicap

In an earlier blog I said the reading put me in mind of Advent. Today I find myself reminded of a Christmas reading.

The early Christian writer Theodotus wrote:

The Lord of all comes in the form of a servant: and he comes as a poor man, so that he will not frighten away those he comes to gather.

He is born in an obscure town, deliberately choosing a humble dwelling place. His mother is a simple maiden, not a great lady.

If he had been born amid the splendour of a rich family, unbelievers would surely have said that the face of the world had been changed by the power of wealth.

If he had chosen to be born in Rome, the greatest of cities, they would have said the world had been changed by the power of politicians.

If our Lord had been the son of an emperor, they would have pointed to the advantage of authority.

But what did he do? He chose nothing but poverty and poor surroundings, everything that was plain and ordinary and did all this so that it could be seen clearly that the Godhead alone transformed the world.

His poverty showed how he who became poor for our sake is thereby made accessible to everyone. Christ made no show of riches which would have made people frightened to approach him. He assumed no royal state which would have driven people from his presence. No, he came among ordinary men and women as one of themselves, offering himself freely for the salvation of all humankind.

The Lord came to save humankind in form of Jesus of Nazareth, lacking many of the attributes the world may have looked for in a saviour.

Maybe today he comes to us in similar humble form – perhaps in the form of one who needs our help, rather than as our evident helper. So will we meet him in that humble form, or will our pride and worldliness mean he is hidden from us, in our neighbour.

At the end of the day, look back over the day.

  • Where have you shown love?
  • What did it cost you?
  • What did you receive?

Image found here

‘Living Eucharist’ is up and coming

 

Snow White oscar

This blog has been shortlisted in the Up and Coming category of the Christian New Media Awards 2014

That’s very encouraging… Do spread the news and visit their website to see the other nominees in that and other categories.

Picture is of the Honorary Award given to Walt Disney  in 1939 acknowledging the full length cartoon feature ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field”. Well, we can dream, can’t we.

Photograph (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Alive by God’s word

hagia sophia

Yesterday’s blog concerned the first of the two alternative Gospel Acclamation in the Lectionary for Mass on the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The other alternative Acclamation is the subject of today’s blog.

Alleluia, alleluia!
Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.
Alleluia!
cf.Acts 16:14

The reflection is simply this. How hard is it to have our hearts open and so to hear, and then accept, the words of God’s Son. How hard to hear the words that are already rather familiar?

How many times, for example, had you already heard yesterday’s parable of the kindly landowner? And so did you feel the need to listen carefully, or was there a feeling of ‘I know this one…’ And a drifting off to think of other things? Distractions come so easily.
And even if they don’t, it requires a certain readiness to let the words we hear raise questions about us: to let the reading be about ‘me’ and not just about ‘them’. About me and my relationship with God and neighbour, and not some more or less abstract moral teaching that is proffered for the good of the community, but may well not have anything much to do with me.
The wonder of the scriptures proclaimed is that this is a sacramental encounter offered to us. Jesus really speaks through the form of story and teaching; speaks personally and individually to each one present.
Hearing him, and not just the words, is not easy, and so yesterday we had the opportunity, even as we stood and sang to greet the gospel, to pray for help for openness and attentiveness of heart and mind and person to hear and accept Jesus’ speaking to us collectively, and to each one individually.
What did you hear yesterday?
What are you doing with what you heard, to take it deeper?
And if you did not hear, why might that be? Maybe go back to the gospel today, in a time of personal prayer. Seeking again, to be open to the Lord who welcomes you with love.