Speak Lord: Make me patient (but not yet?)

snake_circle_blouch

The first reading of Sunday’s Mass, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, sets a puzzling tale before us.

On the way through the wilderness the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

Numbers 21:4-9

There is a mythic quality to this story. Fiery serpents (real and living, such as is often depicted being overcome by St George) finding a counterpart in a bronze cast serpent (once fiery but now cooled down and mounted on a standard pole), and their death-dealing bite finding its antidote. The teller of the tale doesn’t seem to find any problem with this tale despite the Decalogue’s injunction against making graven images.

The story finds its echo in the Cross of Christ, the one who is seen as sinner and cursed by God and yet is found to be Saviour and the one who frees us from sin.

The story starts with ‘the people’ losing patience – with God, with Moses? Does it matter, once you lose patience you seem to lose it with everyone all at the same time.

  • When did you last lose it? Why?
  • Have you found it again? How?
  • What have you learnt from the experience? And what from the experience might you helpfully bring to God in prayer?

Image found here.

Taste and See: Speak true and help us speak truth

Free Press

The gospel acclamation on Sunday was pure and simple:

Alleluia, alleluia!
Your word is truth, O Lord: consecrate us in the truth.
Alleluia!
Jn17:17

In our world people’s speech seems so rarely to be pure and simple.

We are so familiar with spin, and half-truths – and it sullies and weighs down public discourse in society across the board. The media, politicians, clergy and so many other groups all  share in the guilt.

Some may be more sinned against than sinning, and some may have better motives than others for the way they communicate partial truth – but the overall consequences  are a profound lack of trust in pubic discourse, and a sapping of people’s readiness to attend to and participate in democratic process.

If ‘they’ are ‘all’ guilty, it would be surprising if we were not tainted too.

  • Where am I less than frank in speaking the truth?
  • Why?

Taste and See: The Lord is good and source of all goodness.

Aix 2006

The Collect of Sunday’s Mass repays a second hearing.

God of might, giver of every good gift,
put into our hearts the love of your name,
so that, by deepening our sense of reverence,
you may nurture in us what is good
and, by your watchful care,
keep safe what you have nurtured.
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.

Most of us probably feel we have to work quite hard for what we have. And yet the prayer puts on the lips of the Church a prayer that says: It all comes from God, the giver of every good gift.

This could just be words we say: a display of liturgical, ecclesial, etiquette.

But in our prayer we surely wish to speak true.

So, how true is it for you? How does God give each good gift? Have you, in truth, given thanks for his gifts?

In the quiet of prayer speak to the Lord and ask for his love and care, to bring you ever closer to him, to sustain you in what is true, and deepen your sense of gratitude and love.

Photograph is of east window of church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte, Aix en Provence.
(c) Allen Morris, 2006

Taste and See: Quieten my mind so I may hear

 

Risen Lord, Cookham parish church

The responsorial psalm sung at yesterday’s Mass  asked us to listen to God. And did so with some urgency, and rather with the presumption that yesterday, (and maybe on many yesterdays) we had not been listening! Imagine!!

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us:
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Psalm 94:1-2,6-9

How insistent and how debilitating can be the inner voices we hear. Those conversations we have with ourselves – what we would say, what we should have said…

The psalmist calls us to a certain stillness that we might listen to the Lord. And listening, be ready to speak to him.

A common way of preparing ourselves for a time of prayer – and a fine way of stilling those inner, maddening, conversations with ourselves – is a simple stillness exercise.

Sitting upright, and quietly focussing on our breathing in, our breathing out. Noticing it, feeling it, hearing it, but not deepening it, just letting the rhythm draw us to a quiet place. If other words or thoughts come just breathe them away, or still them by breathing in and out the holy name of Jesus. Quietly, centring yourself, being centred by your breath, drawn into a place from where you can more easily speak with the Lord.

Listen for his voice. Harden not your heart.

Image: Risen Christ – the living Word of God. Cookham parish church.
Photograph, Allen Morris (c) 2004)

Speak Lord: teach us to love

Ss Stephen and Laurence, San Geronimo, Granada

The Gospel for today, the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary time, calls us to take effort over our brother, our sister – especially if we think they have gone wrong.

Jesus said, ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

Matthew 18:15-20

Picking up on yesterday’s reference to the parable of the good Samaritan:

  • Who is your brother? Who is your sister?
  • How by your actions have you set them free?
  • How and why, by your actions, have you ‘bound’ them?

Image of Ss Stephen and Laurence (martyr ministers of charity) is from the reredos in the church of San Jeronimo, Granada. (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Speak Lord: help us to speak love by our actions

panel-lectionary

In the second reading at Mass on Sunday, tomorrow, the 23rd of Ordinary Time, St Paul reminds us of what is at the heart of the moral life.

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

Romans 13:8-10

Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ and came up with a very memorable answer: the parable of the good Samaritan.

So, here is the question:

  • For who are you a good and loving neighbour?

And another:

  • When, by your actions and attitude, do you show this to be so?

Image from here: https://educationforjustice.org/

Speak Lord: help me hear…

Picasso, reclining nude, Paris 2004

Sunday’s Psalm urges us to attend to the voice of God, speaking to us in our world.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us:
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Psalm 94:1-2,6-9

So…

  • What do you hear God say today?
  • How will you respond?

Take time to consider, and bring your thoughts (and feelings) to God in prayer…

Image: reclining nude by Picasso (Picasso Museum, Paris. Photograph, Allen Morris (c) 2004)

Speak Lord: Take care…

danger

The first reading at Mass on Sunday – the 23rd Sunday of the Year – encourages us to be bold in addressing the faults of others!

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name. If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.’

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Maybe the occasions where we need to say: ‘Wicked wretch, you are to die’ are actually few and far between,

But probably many more are the occasions when we should be more careful for the well-being of others, and be ready to share our concerns and unease.

It’s said that a good way of approaching concerns is to say for example ‘When I see …. I feel …. because….’ – eg ‘When I see you shouting at the children I feel sad because you seem under so much stress’. It feels safer, because it at one and the same time stands a little way from the matter that you feel needs addressing, but also introduces you yourself into the situation, opening up the possibility of you being part of the solution! Or at least presents you as being in relationship with the person. It invites them to dialogue, rather than simply telling them ‘they’ have a problem.

Sometimes, of course, when they respond, and we learn something more of their situation, we may find there is a good deal to it that we have never appreciated, but may well be able to assist with, or at least provide them with a listening ear.

  • Who have you helped recently?
  • How?
  • Who has helped you recently?
  • How?

Bring your thoughts to prayer.

Image found here: http://dadsteachthebible.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/warn-wicked.html

Taste and See: The bitterness of war

Rouault Miserere

Today’s post comes in the wake of the most recent savagery towards a hostage taken by the terrorists in Syria, and is put up mindful of the violence in Ukraine and Somalia and Iraq and so many places, and the threat of violence in so many more.

Two things came to mind, one the alternative communion antiphon from Sunday’s Mass.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 5: 9-10

How simple the words, how challenging their invitation.

The other thing which came to mind was a haunting photograph of a young boy, Ali Abbas, who was horribly injured in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At that time it associated itself in my mind with the picture, Miserere, by Rouault which heads this post.

Ali Ismail Abbas_reuters

The image of the boy has been an abiding symbol of the horror of war since then and the association of that image of him with the image of Christ has remained too.

The wounded and worse are countless. We are invited to associate ourselves with the One who died to set us free from sin and the power of sin over us.

Taste and See: in search of holiness…

Capital, Washing of feet

Sunday’s second reading contained a challenge to live authentically. It warns about inauthenticity of faith and life. 

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

Paul uses religious language – worship, sacrifice etc – but he is not talking about the conduct of sacred liturgy, not in church, not in Temple. He speaks of the worship we offer in our daily lives.

Christ became the perfect sacrifice in the daily grind of his daily life, then in his public ministry, and then in an ultimate way in the monstrous act of death on a cross.

We are asked to become that sacrifice, or allow that sacrifice find fresh expression in us, in the detail of our daily life, at home, at work, in every event of daily life.

Christians – under the influence of Jesus, and in the wake of the Roman destruction of the Temple, left behind the distinctions between sacred and profane which informed Jewish culture. We have established new religious taboos and distinctions, and consider some places, some actions holy and sacred, but others to be secular. In so doing we run the risk of compromising our Christian faith, and living inauthentically as Christians, making distinctions which are contrary to the ‘new creation’ in Christ. We do not necessarily compromise our faith and lives: but we run the risk.

  • Where is holiness most evident for you?
  • Where has it been most pressingly urged upon you today?

Use your answers as a starting place for a time of quiet prayer, entrusting your life afresh to God.

The photograph is a capital in the cloister of the Cathedral in Aix en Provence, showing Jesus washing the feet of Peter. (c) Allen Morris, 2006.