Pope Francis’ 2015 Message for Lent

A little departure from the regular posts on this blog…
Pope Francis’ message for Lent is something that those with responsibilitiy for preparing the liturgy for Ash Wednesday and for the rest of the season, or indeed preparing themselves for those liturgies and the season, might like to bear in mind over the coming days and weeks.

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Here is the text of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message for 2015, which reflects on the theme: “Make your hearts firm” (James 5:8).

The letter reminds us that Lent is not a matter for private devotion. It is a work of the Church for the renewal of her members, for the furtherance of her mission, and for our personal renewal so as to play our particular part in that, as the local Church (eg the diocese of Westminster), as the particular parts of the local Church (eg our parish or our families), and as individual members of parishes and communities.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each communities and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first…

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Speak Lord: Free from fear, free from worry?

In the Second reading at Mass tomorrow, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, St Paul offers counsel to the Church at Corinth.

I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Maybe the most unhelpful thing you can say to someone worried, and fretted by worry, is to say ‘Don’t worry’!

What they need is, instead, a reason that worry is not helpful, and a strategy to give them another activity which can displace the worrying.

In 1 Corinthians Paul says don’t worry because the Lord is good and you are safe with him, and so you can safely give yourself over to love and service of him (which of course includes love and service of neighbour).

QED? Yes and no. Yes, for it is self-evidently true from the sound perspective of faith. No, because we struggle to live faithfully, and often enough need to try to learn daily some of its most fundamental truths – such as the love and faithfulness of God, and that we find ourselves most fully when we live lives inspired by and directed to the love and glory of God.

Paul, a great struggler, is our generous companion as we continue to try.

  • What worries you?
  • What do you think God has to say about the matter concerned, and your worry about it
  • Let your thoughts be the start of a time of reflection and bring the fruits of that to God in prayer.

Image (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: to our hearts

Portrait of Dora Maar by Picasso.

The responsorial psalm for Mass on the 4th Sunday of the year, this year, is Psalm 94. It is also the psalm often used in the Daily Office – the first prayer of the day, suited for every day:  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.’

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

Notice what the psalmist presumes will help us to avoid hardening of our hearts: knowledge of his saving love; humility and an acknowledgement of God’s power and his exercising of that power for us.

It seems safe to presume that being careless of who and how God is, and being deceived as to our own power and capacity to care for ourselves will close our ears and will open our hearts.

Gratitude, thanksgiving inspires the psalmist. May it fashion and shape our present day too.

  • For what might you give thanks today?
  • What might you place in God’s hands, acknowledging it is beyond your power to control.

Photograph of Picasso’s 1937 portrait of Dora Maar. Picasso museum, Paris. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2015.

Speak Lord: that we may hear and speak

Sacred Heart church, Marseille

Next Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The first reading at mass comes from the book of Deuteronomy

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

God fulfilled the prophesy in prophets like Moses, ministers of the word. They mediate the word, comforting and challenging Israel, calling it to fulfil its calling to be God’s people. Not set apart for nothing, or for its own sake, but for God’s.

Listening to the word and fulfilling it in one’s own life and death, and in the experiences of the community is Israel’s call. In faithfulness and unfaithfulness she serves as a sign to the nations. The words of the prophet, when he speaks the words of the Lord, draws out the meaning of the sign.

The meaning of the words of the prophet are not primarily addressed to the head but to the heart. If they do convey truths of fact about the world, so be it, but their deepest purpose is to enable those so called to live in truth the relationship with God which is offered to them.

The prophet speaks but the hearing that is needed is not accomplished with the ears only. It requires a more extended pondering in the heart and always in the context of the call to be of God’s people.

  • What form does God’s call to you take?
  • What helps you hear his word today?
  • What, today, is likely to hinder your deeper hearing of his word, or your response to it?

The first reading in the Office of Readings set for today, Thursday of week 3, come from a few chapters further on in Deuteronomy. It movingly expresses the Lord’s passion for his people, and the choice that lies open to them – and now to all of us.

And when all these words come true for you, the blessing and the curse I have set before you, if you meditate on them in your heart wherever among the nations the Lord your God drives you, if you return to the Lord your God, if you obey his voice with all your heart and soul in everything I enjoin on you today, you and your children, then the Lord your God will bring back your captives, he will have pity on you and gather you once again out of all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. Had you wandered to the ends of the heavens, the Lord your God would gather you even from there, would come there to reclaim you and bring you back to the land your fathers possessed, so that you in your turn might make it your own, prospering there and increasing even more than your fathers.

The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, until you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and so have life. The Lord your God will make all these curses recoil on your foes and on your enemies who have persecuted you. And once again you will obey the voice of the Lord your God and keep all those commandments of his that I enjoin on you today. The Lord your God will give you great prosperity in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, the fruit of your cattle and in the produce of your soil. For once again the Lord will take delight in your prosperity as he took delight in the prosperity of your fathers, if only you obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping those commandments and laws of his that are written in the Book of this Law, and if you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.
For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, “Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we may hear it and keep it?” Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, “Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we may hear it and keep it?” No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.

See, today I set before you life and prosperity, death and disaster. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin on you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws, his customs, you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to make your own. But if your heart strays, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them, I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live, in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, clinging to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends your long stay in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob he would give them.

Deuteronomy 30:1-20

Photograph of ceiling of apse in church of Sacred Heart, Marseille. (C) Allen Morris, 2014. 

Taste and See: Beyond passing…

 

Holy Cross church vaulting

The second reading at Sunday’s Mass, that of the 3rd Sunday of the Year, talks of getting a healthy perspective on this passing life.

Brothers: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Paul, hard-working and conscientious, is all too well aware of how you can focus on the wrong things. And maybe had got the brush off when preaching the good news from people saying ‘sorry, mate, love to hear more but got to get back to the wife’ or ‘got to go open up the shop’

But in our day our response to the lord may well be authenticated precisely by how a husband relates to his wife, or wife to husband; by how someone does business.

The world is passing away, so we do not build kingdoms for ourselves here. But we can live in this world seeking its best for others – wives, business partners, neighbours, strangers; working for the common good, serving God in others. Not engrossed by the world but seeking to be free in it to live love.

Detail from the Holy Cross church, Krakow, Poland. (C) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: A new beginning

Free from care

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, was taken from the book of Jonah.

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.

God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

Jonah 3:1-5,10

Famously, Jonah is mighty displeased at the conversion of the Ninevites. He’d rather see them unrepentant and blasted into Kingdom come by the wrath of God.

Poor Jonah is not happy that Nineveh repents  and that God is merciful! He would arrange things very much better!

And so might we. But again and again God reminds us our ways are not his ways, and more’s the pity! For us.

But the patience we lack with others, he lavished on us.

Makes you think, doesn’t it. Let it drive you to prayer too! And draw you, happily, to life.

Photograph of a happy chappy. Street art in Kraków, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: light in the darkness

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The Gospel heard at Mass yesterday is rather atypical for a passage from Mark’s Gospel.

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

As he was walking along by the Sea of Galilee he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net in the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ And at once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending their nets. He called them at once and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.

Mark 1:14-20

Mark’s Gospel is full of short passages, which are full of incident and wonder. But almost always they will end with an acknowledgement that people did not understand; or Jesus says do ‘x’ and they do ‘y’; or ‘they’ begin to plot how to kill him.

Mark is told to reintroduce to faith those who are struggling with their frailty as disciples, and who are familiar with the darkness of the world. So mostly he frames his stories in this way, and the Gospel as a whole gives such prominence to the Passion of Christ, to his experience of abandonment and weakness, of being object of the actions of others rather free subject, wholly in control of one’s own actions.

This passage is atypical, because of its place in the narrative. Here Mark is evoking first enthusiasm, and the two incidents related are first in a sequence of impressive events which tell of the powerful impact of Jesus, and people’s wholesome response to him. So no ‘dying fall’ at the end.

But note how it begins: ‘After John had been arrested….’ Storm clouds are gathering, John – we know – is to die, but Jesus proclaims Good News. But will we hear it? How enthusiastic in this darkening world will our response be? And for how long?

Photograph of boats on the banks of the Rhone at Avignon. (C) Allen Morris, 2014.