Taste and See: The Lord who has come…

Window from Nazareth

Since the 17th December, and including yesterday, the 4th Sunday of Advent,  the Preface at Mass has spoken of how in Jesus the longed-for fulfilment of the promises of God have been achieved.

The twofold expectation of Christ

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For all the oracles of the prophets foretold him,
the Virgin Mother longed for him with love beyond all telling,
John the Baptist sang of his coming
and proclaimed his presence when he came.

It is by his gift that already we rejoice
at the mystery of his Nativity,
so that he may find us watchful in prayer
and exultant in his praise.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:

Holy, holy, holy…

As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas the memory of the ages long waiting for the coming of the Promised One can help us look beyond the preoccupations of here and now and recover a sense for the wonder of what is accomplished in Christ. It can also give us confidence for the work of living like Christ that is the privilege and the responsibility of the faithful of the Church.

Image is of stained glass window from the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Even by angels!

Annunciation Nazareth

The Gospel for today’s Mass, of the fourth Sunday of Advent, has our final preparation for Christmas firmly in mind.

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’

‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

Luke  1.26-38

In a sense the preparation for Christmas begins as we await Mary’s yes to God.

In another sense, as the Liturgy of the Word bears eloquent testimony, it begins long before in the history of Israel, chosen but failing short. God responds to human frailty – described so poignantly in the tale of Adam and Eve: our sin awakes a loving response in the Creator of all.

And still does. THE good news is not so much the birth of Jesus then, but the love of God in Jesus now – for each and every person, always, everywhere. We spoil so much and sometimes, as this week’s headlines demonstrate, do so in ways that shock and appall, even now after so long a history of shocking acts.

The Christian response is to counter terror and horror by love. Often we fail, and give into motives of fear and revenge. But love is what is needed and love is what is called for.

To Mary the angel says ‘Do not be afraid’, ‘Serve: love.’ To us the same is said.

Pray today that we – and not just you – will listen, and will serve God lovingly for Himself and in our neighbour, all of them!

Photograph of statue of the Annunication in the grounds of the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Your eternal mystery

Paul and Francis

The second reading of the Fourth Sunday of Advent, this year, comes from St Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Glory to him who is able to give you the strength to live according to the Good News I preach, and in which I proclaim Jesus Christ, the revelation of a mystery kept secret for endless ages, but now so clear that it must be broadcast to pagans everywhere to bring them to the obedience of faith. This is only what scripture has predicted, and it is all part of the way the eternal God wants things to be. He alone is wisdom; give glory therefore to him through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.

Romans 16:25-27

St Paul offers a timely reminder that it is not enough for us to know Jesus, we – and all the world – must learn to live in, with and through him. In the child born at Bethlehem we have the opportunity of receiving again the gift of ourselves, and the power to live that gift.

Perhaps today we can pray with Pope Francis that the birth of the Redeemer, and our celebration of it this Christmas,  may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.

Photograph is of statue of St Paul in the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, Rome, showing the medallions of Pope Emeritus Benedict and of Pope Francis. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: The love of the Lord is forever.

David's Tomb

The psalm at Sunday’s Mass, the 4th Sunday of Advent, picks up the Lord’s promise to David, and makes it reason not only for David’s giving thanks, but our joining him in giving praise.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.

‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
I have sworn to David my servant:
I will establish your dynasty for ever
and set up your throne through all ages.

‘He will say to me: “You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.”
I will keep my love for him always;
with him my covenant shall last.’

I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord.

Psalm 88:2-5,27,29

We are the present recipients of the fulfilment of the promises to David. Promises fulfilled not by an earthly kingdom and royal lineage, but by the eternal kingship of Christ crucified and risen again, and promising to be with us for ever.

In the mystery of God’s love even we finite creatures are on the threshold of eternal life. The love of God calls us to life and offers to hold us to this life for ever.

Photograph of the sarcophagus venerated on Mount Zion as the Tomb of David.  (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Praise the Lord who loves us.

David

The first reading at Mass on the 4th Sunday of Advent comes from the 2nd book of Samuel. It establishes the promise of the Lord to David that the Lord will make a royal house for David, a line of kings that will last for ever.

Once David had settled into his house and the Lord had given him rest from all the enemies surrounding him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘Look, I am living in a house of cedar while the ark of God dwells in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go and do all that is in your mind, for the Lord is with you.’

But that very night the word of the Lord came to Nathan:
‘Go and tell my servant David, “Thus the Lord speaks: Are you the man to build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the  pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader of my people Israel; I have been with you on all your expeditions; I have cut off all your enemies before you. I will give you fame as great as the fame of the greatest on earth. I will provide a place for my people Israel; I will plant them there and they shall dwell in that place and never be disturbed again; nor shall the wicked continue to oppress them as they did, in the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel; I will give them rest from all their enemies. The Lord will make you great; the Lord will make you a House. Your House and your sovereignty will always stand secure before me and your throne be established for ever.”’

2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16

How little David merits this honour, and yet it is into (if not from!) this male line, frequently dishonoured and compromised, that Jesus is born, God from God, Light from light, and King of kings.

For all his failings David remembers the wonder of God and strives to honour it. If we imitate him in his failings, maybe we can imitate him in this also.

Window by Chagall from Chichester Cathedral. Based on a theme of Psalm 150 ‘…let everything that hath breath praise the Lord’. Photograph (c) 2002, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Be happy

Immaculate Conception

The second reading at Sunday’s Mass, the third Sunday of Advent came from St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.

Why re-visit the reading again today? Well perhaps because we mat not have really believed it at the time. Perhaps  we need to hear the urging of Paul one more time to take the message to our hearts and learn to live it in our daily life.

Returning several times to the same text helps us deepen our personal response to it, even to have a personal response to it – rather than a merely intellectual response. The latter may merely be a recognition of what the reading says. The former, the personal response, is hearing what the reading says to me, and beginning to enter into dialogue with the text, perhaps with its author, but especially with the Lord, its divine inspirer.

Take the time to today to hear again the encouragement Paul offers you. Take time to consider what helps you to believe and trust in what he asks. Take time to consider what it may be that holds you back from believing and trusting.

Be happy at all times; pray constantly; and for all things give thanks to God, because this is what God expects you to do in Christ Jesus.

Never try to suppress the Spirit or treat the gift of prophecy with contempt; think before you do anything – hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.

May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has called you and he will not fail you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Mary is a sure guide to the spirituality of Advent, a joyful waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Present the fruits of your prayer to her, and ask her to intercede for you with our loving Father in heaven.

Photograph is of image used by Diocese of Madrid for celebration of the Immaculate Conception, 2003. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Beginning the Eucharistic Prayer in Advent I

Second Coming

The Church provides two Prefaces for use in the Eucharistic Prayer during Advent.

The first is used at all Masses to the 16th December, unless they have their own proper preface (as will always be the case with the feast of Immaculate Conception).

The second is used at all Masses from the 17th to the 24th December, unless they have a proper preface (and in Westminster Diocese no Mass will have its own proper preface, so the 2nd Advent Preface will be heard every day).

It is relatively unusual to hear a Preface so regularly as we hear these. Lent has a different preface for each week; and during the rest of the Year there are a wide selection of Prefaces to be chosen from.

The first Advent preface, heard today for the last time this year, is rather simple, rather matter of fact about things. There is sobriety in the language, but at the same time it speaks of great mysteries of faith – God’s plan, the Incarnation, the Second Coming, Salvation, and the hope that belongs to faith.

The two comings of Christ

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:

Holy, holy, holy…

And these great mysteries are for us. There is wonder, indeed. These great mysteries are for us, to win us for life.

  • Bring your thanksgiving and other thoughts to God in a time of prayer.

 Photograph is of an icon of the Second Coming in the Domus Galilaeae, a centre of formation for members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way, on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee, in the Holy Land. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Good News for sharing

John the Baptist, Ein Kerem

The Gospel for yesterday’s Mass, the Mass of the third Sunday of Advent  set John the Baptist before us – a witness to the Christ.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take bapck an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’

Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

John 1:6-8,19-28

The work of witness, of calling people to be attentive to Christ, the Light of the World, takes many forms.

A recurring theme of recent years is that the Western World is in need of a new call to such attentiveness. The recent letter of Pope Francis, the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), is one example of that concern being expressed. It was a regular theme of Saint John Paul II, and especially in the preparation for and celebration of the Millennium.

It is a matter being taken up afresh in Westminster diocese. Taken up not as a new programme, but as an invitation to explore further the depth of all that is presently done, to become newly attentive to how what we do and how we are relates to the person of Jesus, God with us.

A steering paper has been prepared to assist communities consider the why and wherefore of this invitation and how to respond to it. It will repay reading and praying with.

In the meantime the simple prayer of St Richard of Chichester helps move us in the right direction:

Thanks be to you, O Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the many gifts you have given us;
for all that you endured for love of us.

O most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

Icon of John the Baptist from the church memorialising his birth in Ein Kerem, in the Holy Land.
Photograph (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Lead us to your light.

Baptism

The Gospel for Mass today, Gaudete (rejoicing) Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent comes from the Gospel of John. It tells of John the Baptist and his witness to the Christ.

A man came, sent by God.
His name was John.
He came as a witness,
as a witness to speak for the light,
so that everyone might believe through him.
He was not the light,
only a witness to speak for the light.

This is how John appeared as a witness. When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ he not only declared, but he declared quite openly, ‘I am not the Christ.’ ‘Well then,’ they asked ‘are you Elijah?’ ‘I am not’ he said. ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ So they said to him, ‘Who are you? We must take back an answer to those who sent us. What have you to say about yourself?’ So John said, ‘I am, as Isaiah prophesied:

a voice that cries in the wilderness:
Make a straight way for the Lord.’

Now these men had been sent by the Pharisees, and they put this further question to him, ‘Why are you baptising if you are not the Christ, and not Elijah, and not the prophet?’ John replied, ‘I baptise with water; but there stands among you – unknown to you – the one who is coming after me; and I am not fit to undo his sandal-strap.’ This happened at Bethany, on the far side of the Jordan, where John was baptising.

John 1:6-8,19-28

The way John the evangelist tells the story emphasises again and again what John the Baptist is not. He is not the Christ but he is the one who is witness to the light, the Christ.

The suspicion is that there was a time when many did think John was more important than Jesus. Perhaps this was during Jesus’ lifetime, perhaps at the the time the Gospel was being written, perhaps both.

What lesson might we take from this?

  • Are there times when we are tempted to think of ourselves as more important than the Christ? Or our call to serve?
  • What does it mean that the one whose sandal-strap we too are unfit to undo, comes to serve us?
  • How open to change and growth are we?

Photograph of The Baptism of Christ by Marek Zulaski (1982) in Church of Our Lady, St John’s Wood. Photograph (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: That we may give thanks

Detail Our Lady Salisbury

The Canticle (or New Testament ‘psalm’) that is the responsorial song after the first reading on Sunday comes from St Luke’s Gospel. On this third Sunday of Advent, Mary’s song, the Magnificat prepares us for the final stage of Advent, and for our own thanksgiving for God’s goodness to us.

My soul rejoices in my God.

My soul glorifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her nothingness;
henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

The Almighty works marvels for me.
Holy his name!
His mercy is from age to age,
on those who fear him.

He fills the starving with good things,
sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant,
remembering his mercy.

My soul rejoices in my God.

Luke 1:46-50,53-54

  • What are the wonders of God for which you would like to give thanks?
  • Where do you see the justice of God being established? Where does it seem to be lacking?

Photograph is of detail from a figure of Mary, Mother of God, in the Lady Chapel, Salisbury Cathedral. (c) 2010, Allen Morris