Speak Lord: of how to listen and serve

Crucifix and Holy Pictures in abandoned dwelling, Victoria, Gozo.This Sunday is Palm Sunday or, as it is denoted in the current English translation of the Roman Missal: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.

The first reading of Mass comes from the prophet Isaiah. The passage comes from the so-called Third Song of the servant.  In it we hear the suffering servant speak grateful for the faithfulness of the Lord, and his gifts, even as he suffers for his own faithfulness to the Lord.

The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.

Isaiah 50:4-7

  • What has discipleship cost you?
  • What help have you received from the Lord to serve him and be faithful?
  • Where have you fallen short? How might you bring that falling short to the Lord for healing and mercy?
  • What have you learnt from your experience of being a disciple? About the Lord? About yourself?

Crucifix and holy pictures in abandoned dwelling, Victoria, Gozo. (c) 2009, Allen Morris.

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Taste and See: the Faith of the Church

Baptistry Mary Major

During the seasons of Lent and Easter there is encouragement for us to use the Apostles’ Creed at Mass.

This Creed is the ancient baptismal Creed of the Roman Church. The reason for its preferment during Lent and Easter is that it is in these seasons  that, first, men and women are preparing for Baptism and initiation into the Church and, then, that they begin to live by the grace of the sacrament.

The use of the baptismal Creed at Sunday Mass prepares for their profession of faith (and our renewal of that profession at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday), and reminds that it is by that faith we strive to live thereafter.

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

At the words that follow, up to and including ‘the Virgin Mary’, all bow.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

The baptismal Creed has a more evidently narrative form than the Niceness Creed when speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity.

As we prepare for Holy Week where the narrative of the Passion looms large in the prayer life of the Church it is maybe worth asking ourselves what have been the key moments of our life and why? And to ask why these moments in the life of Jesus are the ones the Church takes care to note in the Creed.

Mary Major baptistry

During these last days of Lent do pray for those who are to celebrate the sacraments of initiation at Easter.

Photographs are of the Baptistery of St Mary Major’s in Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The Lord’s care for you

 

Alexandria Good ShepherdThe second reading at Mass on Sunday – the 5th Sunday of Lent – came from the letter to the Hebrews. Unless you were using the alternative series of readings (proper to Year A, and which must be used when the 3rd Scrutiny is celebrated,or when they are preferred) – in which case the 2nd reading was from Paul’s letter to the Romans, a reading you will find at the end of this post.

The passage from the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the suffering of Christ.

It is a suffering endured for us. In a fallen world it is the price of love. It is a price the Lord is willing to pay.

And how humbling for us is that.

During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

Hebrews 5:7-9

  •  Who do you serve?
  • What have you learnt from your service?
  • What resources do you draw on to help you serve well?

Photograph of the Good Shepherd is of figure in the Greco-Roman museum in Alexandria. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

– – –

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

Romans 8:8-11

Taste and See: At one with God

Patriarchs and ProphetsIf on Sunday you  heard the readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the first reading came from the Prophet Jeremiah.

If you were hearing the readings for Year A, because the scrutiny was being celebrated, or because they’d been chosen for pastoral reasons, the first reading you heard was from Ezekiel, and it appears at the end of this blog.

The reading from Jeremiah was the following:

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The first reading sums it all up. In the covenant God seeks us out and holds us close, and in that closeness and love all will be well for us and the whole world. Long ways to go yet, but its begun and it will happen.

The reading holds comfort and challenge. The comfort of the promise of God’s faithfulness. The challenge because that faithfulness is tested by ‘our’ unfaithfulness. The reading might  be memorised and used as a prayer, a meditation for use after receiving communion: a meditation on what I have received and what I am to live. As we come to the end of Lent it might be used in an examination of conscience to prepare for confession: where, how have I broken covenant.

The language and the concepts of the passage are not necessarily everyday language and concepts. ‘Covenant’ is not necessarily what we speak about over the cornflakes.

The story is told of a reader charged with proclaiming God’s word and reading this passage. Only they got the word wrong: ‘I will make them a new convenience… not a convenience like their fathers had which they broke, but a new and everlasting convenience…’

Now, a new and everlasting convenience might be very useful. But a new and everlasting covenant is even more important.

Covenant? The promise that love between us and God is forever.

The new and everlasting covenant is achieved in Jesus Christ. It is the form of the covenant than which nothing greater can be imagined – sealed in the Blood of the Lamb. A covenant that achieves atonement for the sins of the world.

At-one-ment: God’s gift, our privilege and our vocation.

Photograph of frescoes of prophets and patriarchs, and held safe in their arms and laps, others of the faithful of God. Desert monastery, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Speak Lord: Sow the seed, serve the harvest

Coptic 1The gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B, comes from the Gospel of John, and includes both affirmation of Jesus being Son of God, and anticipation of his death.

On this Sunday if the third scrutiny is being celebrated the gospel reading for Year A – the raising of Lazarus – must be used. It appears at the end of this post. The Year A cycle is an alternative which may be used this Sunday, even when the scrutiny is not celebrated, should there be reason to use it.

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’

A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’

By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

John 12:20-33

In the death of Jesus we are helped to new life. His dying bears much fruit, and the faithful – and the yet to be faithful – are part of that harvest. We have much to be grateful for.

At the beginning of the Gospel passage ‘some Greeks’ want to ‘see’ Jesus.

John is somewhat suspicious of just ‘sight, and ‘signs’. These externals can be entertainment, spectacle only. They do not necessarily lead us anywhere.

With Jesus there inevitably are signs and sights, but what is more important is the innerness of Jesus, and our developing, deepening relationship with him.

Sent by the Greeks, the disciples not only see but meet Jesus and are privileged with a disclosure of his inner life and it’s meaning, for him and for us. The passage also includes a further disclosure of Jesus’ relationship with his Father.

It may be odd, but John does not tell us whether the Greeks get to see Jesus, let alone to meet him. 2000 years on, it’s perhaps not so important. What is, is whether or not we meet and grow in relationship with him.

We are offered precious and intimate access to Jesus, both in this passage and still more in the liturgies and devotions of Holy Week. They are opportunities to walk, talk and rest with him. Let us resolve today to make the most of them.

And maybe to prepare, today, by finding time to pause and ponder more the scripture passage just read.

What in particular struck us? How? Why? Stay with the sentence, phrase, word: let it speak, let it quieten the world around you so you might hear more clearly what the Lord says to you in and through it?

At the end of your time of meditation consider what you have learnt. Consider your reaction to that, and let that help you prepare a prayer of  intercession and thanksgiving to the living and loving Lord.

Photograph of interior of Coptic Church, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris. Please pray for the Christian communities of Egypt. Much challenged by persecution and violence, may faith flourish in them for their good and the good of their nation.

– – –

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill. It was the same Mary, the sister of the sick man Lazarus, who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent this message to Jesus, ‘Lord, the man you love is ill.’ On receiving the message, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’
Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill he stayed where he was for two more days before saying to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judaea.’ The disciples said, ‘Rabbi, it is not long since the Jews wanted to stone you; are you going back again?’ Jesus replied:

‘Are there not twelve hours in the day?
A man can walk in the daytime without stumbling
because he has the light of this world to see by;
but if he walks at night he stumbles,
because there is no light to guide him.’

He said that and then added, ‘Our friend Lazarus is resting, I am going to wake him.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he is able to rest he is sure to get better.’ The phrase Jesus used referred to the death of Lazarus, but they thought that by ‘rest’ he meant ‘sleep’, so Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead; and for your sake I am glad I was not there because now you will believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas – known as the Twin – said to the other disciples, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’

On arriving, Jesus found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days already. Bethany is only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to sympathise with them over their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus had come she went to meet him. Mary remained sitting in the house. Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died, but I know that, even now, whatever you ask of God, he will grant you.’ ‘Your brother’ said Jesus to her ‘will rise again.’ Martha said, ‘I know he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said:

‘I am the resurrection and the life.
If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?’

‘Yes, Lord,’ she said ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.’
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in a low voice, ‘The Master is here and wants to see you.’ Hearing this, Mary got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village; he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were in the house sympathising with Mary saw her get up so quickly and go out, they followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
Mary went to Jesus, and as soon as she saw him she threw herself at his feet, saying, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ At the sight of her tears, and those of the Jews who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, ‘Where have you put him?’ They said, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept; and the Jews said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But there were some who remarked, ‘He opened the eyes of the blind man, could he not have prevented this man’s death?’

Still sighing, Jesus reached the tomb: it was a cave with a stone to close the opening. Jesus said, ‘Take the stone away.’ Martha said to him, ‘Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day.’ Jesus replied, ‘Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus lifted up his eyes and said:

‘Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer.
I knew indeed that you always hear me,
but I speak for the sake of all these who stand round me,
so that they may believe it was you who sent me.’

When he had said this, he cried in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands bound with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’
Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what he did believed in him.

John 11:1-45

Speak Lord: Who prays and weeps for us.

Agony

The second reading at Mass on Sunday – the 5th Sunday of Lent – is from the letter to the Hebrews. Or at least it is unless you are using the alternative series of readings for Year A which may be used this year, and which must be used when the 3rd Scrutiny is celebrated – in which case the reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans, a reading you will find at the end of this post.

During his life on earth, Christ offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

Hebrews 5:7-9

We have been encouraged to spend additional time in prayer over these past weeks, and to seek to be more faithful to the call to love God and our neighbour.

Doubtless our response to this call has not been easy, and has been worked out at some cost. Even so it probably palls before the achievement and suffering of Jesus.

His suffering was endured for sake of us, so that in our encounter with him we may encounter the one who is source of eternal salvation.

  • For what would you like Jesus to pray for you?
  • What in his example would you like to better imitate?

Photograph is of carving of Jesus in agony, at the foot of the Scala Sancta, John Lateran, Rome. (c) 2009, Allen Morris.

– – –

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

Romans 8:8-11

Speak Lord: A new heart

Inside outThe psalm for the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B finds the psalmist, and the faithful whose prayer it now is, asking for mercy, for the gift of renewal and healing and communion with God.

These are gifts that all, surely are now looking for after four weeks of Lenten prayer and penance. And none more than those who are preparing for Easter Baptism. However for them a separate psalm is provided in the sequence of passages from Scripture that is provided for the Year A, mandated for use when the Third Scrutiny is celebrated, but also available for use in any year when it is judged pastorally appropriate. (That psalm is provided at the end of this blog).

A pure heart create for me, O God.

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

A pure heart create for me, O God.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

A pure heart create for me, O God.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.

A pure heart create for me, O God.

Psalm 50:3-4,12-15

The psalmist does not hold back with the self-accusations, nor in the asking for help. There is a simple, powerful desire for the being made new that God alone can achieve.

The passage ends with the psalmist, and the faithful who are praying it, longing to share God’s mercy and healing with others. Here is the engine-room for the New Evangelisation, presently being prompted in England and Wales by Proclaim ’15: deepening in us the knowledge of the active goodness of God, and how it benefits and shapes us, and deepening in us the desire to share that good so others may benefit from it too.

The privilege of sharing the good news and joy of that is something wonderful. It is to share that Good News that the Lord calls anyone and everyone to himself. It is to share that Good News with others that the Lord gifts us with baptism and the vocation it contains. That vocation is, in all sorts of circumstances, helping others to receive and live the Good News of God’s love and care: in our families, workplaces, among our friends, in cabinet rooms and council offices, in the rooms, on the streets, everywhere, always.  No wonder we still pray for help! But, again, what a privilege to be about this work.

  • For what would a pure heart long?
  • For what does my heart long?
  • What soils my heart?
  • What is it that makes me ask for purity?
  • What is it that may make me hold back from asking, receiving or using the gift when it is given?

Photograph of painting on glass by Christophe Rouil, in the church of St Jacques, Liseux, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

– – –

With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.

With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.

With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

My soul is waiting for the Lord.
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchman for daybreak.
(Let the watchman count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.)

With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.

With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Psalm 129:1-8