Speak Lord: That we may stay awake.

St Mark, San Jeronimo, Granada

The Gospel for today, the first Sunday of Advent, calls the disciples, and us, to attentiveness, to be prepared for ‘the time’: the time when the Lord will come.

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

Mark 13:33-37

And when will that time be? In a sense it was – when Jesus was born and lived his life in Palestine, a faithful Jew. In a sense it is still to come – at the end of Days, when he will come again. In a sense it is now – for we can know and experience the real presence of the Lord here and now in the word, in the sacraments, in the Church.

What is in doubt is not the Lord’s presence, but our attentiveness to the Lord’s presence. Thus the call to ‘stay awake’.

  • This Advent look out for the presence of the Lord, for signs of his working his purpose out.
  • Notice whether or not you and others are ‘awake’ to these signs
  • Give thanks for all that is good and right, and drawing you and others to holiness.
  • Pray for God’s mercy and patience when it seems you and others are or have been asleep to these works of grace.

This Sunday the Church’s New Year begins, Year B in the cycle of Sunday Readings, often known as the Year of Mark, for most of the Gospel readings on Sunday in this year, come from Mark’s Gospel. The photograph is of a detail of the great reredos at the Church of San Jeronimo, Granada, Spain, and shows St Mark writing his Gospel, accompanied by his traditional symbol of the lion. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: in your faithfulness, keep us safe.

Gifts

The second reading on the first Sunday of Advent, this year, comes from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

And it is a rather welcome, encouraging reading, especially compared to the more testing and challenging readings of recent days and weeks.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.

I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

This reading too continues to sound the themes of the last day, the day of Judgement. But Paul is confident that those who have been graced by the Lord will be joined with the Lord here and now, and forever.

Why? Partly because he sees in those he addresses signs of the graces they have received from God, but also (and perhaps most importantly) because God is faithful, and God sustains his call to us, come what may. We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful and he calls us back to what is right and good and life-giving.

  • What are the graces you know yourself to have received through Jesus Christ?
  • What are the graces those closest to you – friends and enemies! – have received?

Give thanks and pray that through the Lord’s pastoring of his people those graces may bear fruit, and help deepen our readiness for kingdom-living.

Photograph is of the reredos and tabernacle of a side altar in the Cathedral, Granada, Spain. The gifts offered to the Lord by the three kings (and by us) are precious, but they are as nothing compared to the gift that the Lord is, and that is given to us in Eucharist. His gift gives us life. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Come to our aid

Andrea Joli, Assisi

The Psalm provided in the Lectionary for the first Sunday of Advent has us call on God to take action, to come to our help.

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
shine forth from your cherubim throne.
O Lord, rouse up your might,
O Lord, come to our help.

God of hosts, turn again, we implore,
look down from heaven and see.
Visit this vine and protect it,
the vine your right hand has planted.

May your hand be on the man you have chosen,
the man you have given your strength.
And we shall never forsake you again;
give us life that we may call upon your name.

Lord of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved.

Psalm 79:2-3,15-16,18-19

One might wonder what the Lord might say to us in return? ‘I have come to your help? But to what avail? How have you used and how do you use, the help I offer you?’

In the first days of Advent our focus is especially on the coming day of the Lord, the day of Judgement. We may well blanch and tremble at how often we have taken very little of benefit from the extraordinary graces put our disposal every day.

And yet the psalm is one such grace. God’s word finding a fresh place on our lips, helping us to know our frailty and our need to cry out to the one who alone can save us.

  • How might you better engage with the grace of God to help you turn more fully and wholly to him?
  • How might you help others do the same?

The photograph is of a work by Andrea Jori, it depicts (I think!) St Clare sustained in her faith by St Francis. But maybe it can also serve as a reminder of the protection and care each human person enjoys because of the love and mercy of God. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Do not leave us alone and unchanged

Isaiah, Raphael, Basilica of Sant'Agostino

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, comes from the prophet Isaiah.

The prophet confesses the people’s sin, and calls on the Lord to come down, to save his people, the work of his hands.

You, Lord, yourself are our Father,
‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways
and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Return, for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your inheritance.

Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
– at your Presence the mountains would melt.

No ear has heard,
no eye has seen
any god but you act like this
for those who trust him.
You guide those who act with integrity
and keep your ways in mind.
You were angry when we were sinners;
we had long been rebels against you.
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind.
No one invoked your name
or roused himself to catch hold of you.
For you hid your face from us
and gave us up to the power of our sins.
And yet, Lord, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8

    The good news, of course, is that the Lord did come down, in the mystery of his Incarnation, his birth at Bethlehem. He will come again too, at the end of Days, when he comes as Judge. And he comes to us still, daily, truly in word and sacrament, to help us overcome sin and the effects of sin, and return to the ways of love and grace.
  • What hardness of heart do you suffer from?
  • Where do you need the potter to refashion the clay of your life?
  • What change might the Lord’s coming down, coming close, make possible for you?

Photograph of fresco of Isaiah, by Raphael, in Basilica of Sant’Agostino, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and see: Free in Christ

Stained glass, Nazareth

The Collect, or Opening Prayer, from Sunday’s Mass of Christ the King looks forward to the renewal to freedom of the whole of Creation.

Almighty ever-living God,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of the universe,
grant, we pray,
that the whole creation, set free from slavery,
may render your majesty service
and ceaselessly proclaim your praise.
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.

Christ the King is the last Sunday of the Church’s Year. Her next year begins looking forward to the celebration of Christmas, the feast of the Incarnation – God taking flesh in Jesus, to help us to wholeness and holiness; and the Day of Days when he will come again.

The concluding theme of the ‘ old’ year, and those that form the overture of the new are closely related, and they focus on our being made new, re-born, in Christ.

Photograph is of stained glass in the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Sustained by love

 

Healing

The Gospel for Sunday’s Mass of Christ the King gave great emphasis to the importance of the works of mercy.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”

‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

Matthew 25:31-46

The works of mercy are of course beautiful works, pleasing to God and of great benefit to neighbour – and to those who carry them out.

But they are also, often, exhausting.

When we find that observation to be compelling in its truth, it is good to remember that this is how the Lord ministers to us. And not only to the point of exhaustion but to his very death.

In our hungers and thirsts, in our alienation and aloneness, when we are exposed, imprisoned by sin, the Lord comes to us and ministers to us. Whether things are true about and for us in their usual literal sense or true in a metaphorical sense – the Lord ministers to us (astounding but true.) He calls us to life and to wholeness in him.

Photograph is of the healing of the paralytic by Jesus. The carving features on one of the pillars built over the house of Peter in Capernaum. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and see: Loving shepherd

St Martin Brum

The first reading at yesterday’s Mass of Christ the King speaks of the Lord’s personal and abiding care for his flock..

The Lord says this:
I am going to look after my flock myself and keep all of it in view. As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view when he stands up in the middle of his scattered sheep, so shall I keep my sheep in view.

I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and darkness. I myself will pasture my sheep, I myself will show them where to rest–it is the Lord who speaks.

I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong. I shall watch over the fat and healthy. I shall be a true shepherd to them.

As for you, my sheep, the Lord says this: I will judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and he-goats.

Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17

The particular and personal care that the Lord promises to take echoes the particular and personal care of neighbour that Jesus applauded and rewarded in the parable of the Last Judgement which was heard in yesterday’s Gospel.

One way in which the Lord fulfils his promise to love and care is through the work of his Body, those disciples made one with him through the sacrament of Baptism and sustained in that unity with him through Confirmation and Eucharist, restored to it through Penance (Confession).

    • How might you do Christ’s work today?

Photograph of carving of St Martin coming to the aid of a beggar. Detail of doorway of St Martin’s in the Bullring, Birmingham. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Judgement and Life

Last Judgement, NOtre Dame

The Gospel for today’s Mass of Christ the King is the great parable of the great judgement.

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”

‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

Matthew 25:31-46

There are many ways in which judgement could be exercised. But here the concern of the Lord is about the quality of love, the stepping out from our own needs to care for neighbour, in which – it is revealed – we show care for the Lord.

  • As the Church year comes to an end, look back, take stock, where have you shown care for others?
  • Where have others shown care for you?

Given thanks and make a new (Church) year resolution to be even more generous in your response to those in need.

Photograph is of Judgement as portrayed in the West Door of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of resurrection and the new creation

Holy Sepulchre4

The second reading at Mass tomorrow, the feast of Christ the King, comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. One of the most wide-ranging and interesting of the letters of the New Testament, that first letter to the Corinthians contains this following extraordinarily confident statement of the meaning and implication of Christ’s resurrection.

This is no one ‘thing’, a one-off event, happening to one man. This is life changing for all, the dawn of a new creation, in which the old creation finds the most extraordinary renewal.

Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.

After that will come the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, having done away with every sovereignty, authority and power. For he must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet. And when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subject in his turn to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28

And we are part of this event. First by the offer of this newness to all creation. Second by the decision to respond to the offer which is sealed in Baptism, and deepened in Confirmation, and constantly nourished in Eucharist. Third, by God’s grace and our striving, to do what we can to live this new life even in this old world: waiting, working – even in fits and starts – for its completion and fulfilment when the kingdom is achieved on earth as in heaven, and all is one and all is God’s.

  • What step to newness could you take today?
  • What step are you tempted you say is too far, too hard, too much?

Photograph of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.  Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the Westminster pilgrims presently on pilgrimage there.

Speak Lord: again, the goodness of the shepherd

 

The Good Shepherd II by Duncan Grant

This Sunday, the feast of Christ the King, takes psalm 22 (23) as the responsorial psalm

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.

Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit.
He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever.

Psalm 22:1-3,5-6

‘There is nothing I shall want’? That phrase can be used in many ways.

It could mean that he will give me all that I want so that I will want for nothing…

It could mean that he will help me to learn and know how so many of my wants and needs that impact on my living are actually false and illusory, indicative of addiction and mess, rather than things that would help me to a more fulfilled living.

In God, please God, in healthy life in God, may our wants be met. Met, simply and gloriously by God’s being God and you and I, finally and by God’s grace, becoming who we are.

To bring us to that fulfilment, that achievement of our potential, God, the Lord, makes himself our shepherd.

Give Him thanks and praise.

Photograph of painting by Duncan Grant in chapel at Lincoln Cathedral. Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris.