Speak Lord: That we may seek your face

Steps to a cave church, Goreme

This coming Sunday sees the regular sequence of numbered Sundays interrupted by the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints.

The responsorial psalm on Sunday is the first part of Psalm 23.

 Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.

The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;
on the waters he made it firm.

Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.

Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.

He shall receive blessings from the Lord
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,
seek the face of the God of Jacob.

Such are the men who seek your face, O Lord.

Psalm 23:1-6

One of the encouraging things about that text is that the rather energetic imagery of the righteous climbing the mountain of the Lord is followed by a reminder that what matters finally is the salvation that comes from God. And that salvation is always gift.

It is a precious gift and so worthy of our striving for it. But it is a gift, and it does not go only to the one who climbs higher, or runs fastest, or seeks most urgently.

  • What do you desire?
  • What ‘worthless things’ tempt you?
  • What blessings encourage and strengthen you?

The photograph is of the steep ascent to a Cave church at the monastic settlement, Goreme, Turkey. (C) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of Saints and heaven

West Door Arles This Sunday sees the regular sequence of numbered Sundays interrupted by the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. The first reading on Sunday will come from the book of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation.

I, John, saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’ One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’ Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14

What comes to your mind when you imagine heaven? John sees this community of the faithful, who have sustained their faith (or been sustained by faith in testing circumstances) and who are now free, united in the love and praise of God. We surely get a foretaste of this heaven whenever we are with those who we know to be faithful and whose lives impress by their holiness and love.

  • Who comes to your mind when you consider such people? What do you have in common with them? What do you not?

Bring your thoughts, hopes and fears to God in prayer, thankful for his faithfulness.

The West Door of the church of St Trophime in Arles bears an image of heaven and salvation. I’m not sure that the saints look more cheerful than the sinners! But here they are… West Door Arles Saints   Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Receive the Word, live the word.

Virgin_salus_populi_romani

There were two alternative Gospel Acclamations offered in the Lectionary for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, this year, Year A.

Alleluia, alleluia!
Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.
Alleluia!
cf.Ac16:14

Alleluia, alleluia!
If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him.
Alleluia!
Jn14:23

Two acclamations for the price of one in today’s Blog!

Both engage us with the call to love, obedient to the word and will of God. But if  obedience is to be a human act,  fully worthy of our dignity as children of God, made in his image and likeness, our obedience needs to be an obedience of the heart, born of love.

We, who are often slow students, may need to learn obedience in other schools first, but in time we need to learn to take God’s word to heart and then from our heart learn how to live faithful to the word that calls us to love.

The icon is the Virgin salus populi romani held in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome. It is an image to which Pope Francis returns to pray at key moments in his pontificate.

 

Taste and See: Taste and become…

Season change

The Prayer after Communion for Sunday, the 30th in Ordinary time, calls for conversion.

May your Sacraments, O Lord, we pray,
perfect in us what lies within them,
that what we now celebrate in signs
we may one day possess in truth.
Through Christ our Lord.

Often the central Mystery of the Mass is thought to be the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus and given to us in Holy Communion.

Yet the still deeper Mystery is that which this prayer calls for – our change, through the Sacrament(s), that we may be ever more truly the Body of Christ, his life shared with the world.

Photograph is of autumn woods at the sanctuary of La Verna, Assisi. Woods, leaves, change with the seasons. Change in us often proves more dependent on our willingness to cooperate – but can be equally beautiful to witness.

(c) 2014, Allen Morris. 

Taste and See: Embraced by love

Francis embracing Jesus

The gospel heard at Mass yesterday, the 30th in Ordinary Time, speaks of law and love.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’

Matthew 22:34-40

However often we have heard the scriptures, this word proves to be a living word, and presents itself fresh, attuned to our present circumstances.

Challenged by those whose preoccupation is the Law, Jesus reminds that the heart and fulfilment of the Law is love.

There can seem tension between the keeping of the law and the challenge to faithfulness that comes from the prophets and often seems to take us beyond the law. But the Law is Love.

The grit that produces the pearl which is holiness and godliness is often our recurrent failure to live love. For when by the word we know our failure we also know afresh that the one who humbles us is Love, and He who is love helps us to re-turn to himself and ourselves.

In our repentance we are met by love and a new and deeper relationship is established between us and the Lord, full of potential for a deeper relationship between us and our neighbour, us and our world.

  •  For what do you want to say sorry?
  • For what does The Lord want to forgive you?

The image is of St Francis embracing, and being embraced by, the risen Lord. It comes from the sanctuary of La Verna, Tuscany, Italy. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Taste and See: In Communion

SynodMass

Unusually the text presented in this blog today does not come from the Lectionary but is the text of a Pastoral Letter that,  in Westminster Diocese,  replaces the homily this weekend.

People have all sorts of opinions about the virtue and value of pastoral letters, let alone of any particular pastoral letter. However these letters do serve to remind that any particular gathering for Mass is only a gathering of a part of the local church, and that it is a gathering that is not complete unto itself.

Even though such gatherings take place without benefit of the physical presence of the Bishop, it is by his authority that they gather, under the presidency of the priest that the Bishop has appointed as his delegate, to celebrate for the pastoral benefit of the local community.

The Pastoral Letter which Cardinal Vincent issues for this Sunday reminds of that further communion that binds each local diocese with the communion with Peter, the Bishop of Rome enjoyed by Catholic dioceses throughout the world.

Learning to live Church is a pressing need in a society that more often seems to divide than unite. A key theme of the letter is about how to live in communion, seeking an ever-deeper and more authentic and fulfilling communion in the Church and with the living God.

Happy reading….

ARCHBISHOP’S   HOUSE, WESTMINSTER, LONDON,  SW1P 1QJ

25/26 October 2014, 30th Sunday of the Year

My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Today I would like to tell you a little about the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops held in Rome on the theme of the pastoral challenges facing the family in the context of evangelisation. I was privileged to take part in this two week meeting. I found it a rich and moving experience.

You may have heard or read that this Synod has been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is not true. At the end of our meeting Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber.

In fact, the very word ‘synod’ means making a walk or a journey together. That’s what we did. Our journey was an exploration of all the problems facing the family today, from the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, to cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, divorce and the situation of those who have ended a valid marriage and entered another union, another marriage. The vastness of the picture and the suffering it represented was, at times, overwhelming.

We also looked at the great joy of family life and the importance of marriage at its heart. We listened to husbands and wives speaking of the difficulties they had overcome, the struggles they face and the deep joy they experience in their mature marriages and family lives. They were moving moments. A lovely description of the family was offered: the family as ‘a sanctuary of holiness’ with emphasis always on the sharing of prayer at the heart of family life.

Pope Francis set the tone. He asked us to look reality in the eye; to speak openly from the heart; to listen humbly and respectfully to each other. This is what we did. There was no rancour, no contestation. There were disagreements, of course. But he told us to live through the experience with tranquility and trust. And we did. It was a marvellous experience of the Church as a family and of the Church, at this level, hard at work, trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.

During the Synod we worked on various documents which were trying to catch the views and desires of all the participants. By the end I believe we got there. So the Synod ended with a ‘Synod Report’ on which we voted, paragraph by paragraph. The votes indicated, quite simply, where agreement was more or less total and where it was not. This Report now forms the starting point for the next Synod on the family, to take place in a year’s time. The theme of this next Synod, in October 2015, takes us on from where we left off: ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family Today’.

Central to the work of the Synod that has just ended was the desire to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church. A central principle for this pastoral care emerged clearly: that in trying to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations, it is important to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us  and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the ‘Synod Report’  and I hope will increasingly shape our attitude towards each other.

This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the Church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call. We say this confidently because it is within the call of our faith, the call of Jesus to each one of us, expressed in the truth of the Gospel and treasured in the Church, that our deepest happiness is to be found.

There has been much talk about how the Synod reflected on the situation of people of a same sex attraction. There was no suggestion that the teaching of the Church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage’ or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change. However two things were very clear. The first is that we should never identify people by their sexual orientation. Every person is endowed with unique dignity, both as an individual and as a Christian. This dignity is always, always to be respected. Secondly, it is the teaching of the Church that they are not only to be respected but also always accepted, with compassion and with sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). This teaching has to be translated into loving care, in our daily life in the Church, in our parishes, and indeed in society.

But Pope Francis went a little further. He spoke of ‘the Church composed of sinners…..that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just.’ He spoke about the duty of pastors always to welcome into the Church those in difficult situations or in trouble. Then he corrected himself saying that we, as pastors, were not simply to welcome them but to go out and find them, just as the Good Shepherd did for those who had drifted away.

At the end of the Synod, in his closing address, Pope Francis said this: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families……May the Lord accompany us and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name.’

So that is what we must do. I hope, in a while, I will be able to put before you ways in which your prayer and reflection on these themes can be a contribution to this ongoing work of renewal in the life of the Church, in response to the unfailing love of Jesus, under the leadership of Pope Francis and always in union with him.

Yours devotedly

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster

Photograph is of Pope Francis at the Mass to open the extraordinary Synod of Bishops at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Speak Lord: Love of God and neighbour

Cathedral, Granada

The Gospel  reading tomorrow, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  offers a potent summary of the Gospel by which God gives life to us and the world.

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees they got together and, to disconcert him, one of them put a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.’

Matthew 22:34-40

  • Which comes more naturally to you? Love of God or love of neighbour? Which ever it is, why might that be? And what effect does it have on your life?
  • How does love of God manifest itself in your life? What encourages it? What makes it weaker? What form does it take?
  • How does love of neighbour manifest itself in your life? What encourages it? What makes it weaker? What form does it take?

The photograph of the interior of the Cathedral of Granada, Spain shows the beauty achieved  with the interplay of stone and light, geometry and artistry, light and shade, law and love. (c) Allen Morris, 2014.