Taste and See: Truth

Harrow amboOn Sunday, the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Gospel Acclamation offered in the Lectionary was typically brief, simple and memorable.

Alleluia, alleluia!
Your word is truth, O Lord:
consecrate us in the truth.
Alleluia!

Jn17:17

Sometimes less is more.

In Western society we often miss this. We suffer from a surfeit of information and stimuli. We do not have time to engage with it all, but still go looking, or are presented with more. Some say the Sunday Liturgy of the Word is rather like that: we can find ourselves bludgeoned by words and have not sufficient space to hear the Word,, let alone engage with him and dialogue with him as is expected.

It is said that if children are too regularly exposed to Liturgy which they are not able to participate in, the exposure can be pointless and harmful. Maybe too many in our congregations are suffering from Liturgy-burn: too much is offered, too quick, and they are not really connecting with it. The renewal of liturgical participation mandated by Vatican II has still some way to go.

‘They’ might well have problems. But if they do, probably so will you and I.

  • What helps my hearing the Lord at Mass?
  • What hinders?
  • What might be done quickly and possibly easily to move things forward?
  • What might take longer? With whom do I need to work to bring that about? Where might we start?

A recently refurbished sanctuary. Church of St John Fisher, North Harrow. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

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Taste and See: Mercy

do906-misericordiae-vultus_370_296_150420021217The Collect for Sunday’s Mass highlights the power of God, a power made known in mercy and pardon.

Collect

O God, who manifest your almighty power
above all by pardoning and showing mercy,
bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us
and make those hastening to attain your promises
heirs to the treasures of heaven.
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.

Some months ago now, in the wake of Pope Francis’ inviting the Church to keep the next year as a Jubilee Year of Mercy, Cardinal Vincent Nichols made mention of just how very often the language of mercy features in our Eucharistic Liturgy.

I’m not sure he was surprised at this, but he thought it worth noting.

For me it did come something as a surprise to realise just how very often God’s mercy is mentioned in the prayers of the Mass. And, lex orandi lex credendi (the pattern of prayer establishes the pattern of faith), the Liturgy has since then been teaching not to take that mercy so much for granted, and to be ready therefore more personally and authentically to thank God for that mercy, not only for the patience and encouragement of God with regard to the little things that mar and challenge every day, but for the deeper and more profound gifts of salvation offered to me and us and all, always.

  • What blessings can you give thanks to God for today?
  • When and how did you last show mercy to others, And extend a pardon?
  • How will you and your community keep the Jubilee Year?

Taste and See: Unity and lack of it

Office for the Dead
The Gospel at Mass yesterday ends with a passage that is maybe especially offensive, shocking, in a society fixated by the body beautiful.

Physical self-mutilation is proposed by Jesus as preferable to ‘bringing down one of these little ones who have faith.’

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

The narrative context of the ‘difficult’ passage is notable.

Jesus is setting up an opposition between the disciples’ seeking to control those deemed ‘not of us’, and those self same who Jesus himself describes as ‘little ones who have faith’.

The disciples should nurture the little ones – elsewhwere Jesus says thay should imitate the little ones! If they cannot, they’d be better off drowned than do violence to them, than get in the way of the (potential?) burgeoning of faith in them. Then Jesus speaks of the self-mutilation.

Maybe what he says is (or is best read as) semitic hyperbole, rather than being taken literally, but there should be no avoiding of the important point Jesus makes. By their intolerance and pride the 12 do violence to the unity of the developing community of faith, but the violence done to the community is largely invisible – if only because the excluded are made non-persons. Jesus says, better you do violence to yourself than them; better bear on your body the import and consequence of what you would do to the community of the faithful; and experience the hurt, the consequent incapacity. It is better that than that you do that hurt to others and to the kingdom, and – at the same time – alienate yourself from that kingdom and the Lord.

We do well to remember the Jesus who speak is the Jesus who awaits his Passion. He knows and embraces the cost of discipleship, and the pain of seeing its gains squandered by those closest to him.

  • Whose faith might you oppress?
  • How might you offend against unity?
  • How might you instead act for the good?

VV Verashagin, The Vanquished, Office for the Dead. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Photograph (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Help us speak, help us listen

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, KazemierzThe first reading at Mass today – the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – comes from the book of Numbers.  It is a somewhat obscure narrative about the establishing of a cohort of elders to relieve Moses of some of the onerous work as leader of the people. But the main interest in the passage is provoked by two characters, named but otherwise obscure, who act in ways which attract criticism, and yet act in a way approved, and indeed enabled, by God.

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.

Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

Numbers 11:25-29

Perhaps the calling of the 70 is to be understood to be a prefiguring of teh ‘elders ‘ of Israel, even of the Sanhedrin. And clearly this is a matter of some abiding significance for Israel, and yet the attention of the passage is on the absent two, and the agitation this causes. Charism and institution are in tension, even charism and habit, even as new institutions find validation in charism (the elders prophesy, but we are told not again.)

The reading is chosen for the Liturgy of the Word because of its echoing the gospel passage for today from Mark which tells of the disciples mistrust of and antipathy towards others who place store by the name of the Lord, but are not of their number. As so often, they must have wished they’ve kept quite, so powerfully does Jesus challenge them about their own shortcomings! Likewise the young man in Numbers, and certainly Aaron.

Pope Francis in a speech this week suggested that all good leaders must follow Moses and Jesus in not defending their territory and power, but looking for ways to lead all to the good.

A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

  • What power do you have?
  • Are there times when you know you could do more good by relinquishing power or sharing it more widely?
  • What helps you do that? What holds you back?

Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: Of wisdom and joy

Tagxedo CapitolThe psalm at Mass tomorrow, the Mass of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, emphasises the goodness of the law of the Lord, the way of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord. Many words, many phrases, but all describing the God-given order of the good life and the healthy community.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

So in them your servant finds instruction;
great reward is in their keeping.
But who can detect all his errors?
From hidden faults acquit me.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

From presumption restrain your servant
and let it not rule me.
Then shall I be blameless,
clean from grave sin.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

Psalm 18:8,10,12-14

The response asserts that this good order brings joy.

The current visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States has emphasised that theme – the joy of the Gospel – which gave the title of  Francis’ exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium

  • Where do faith and life engender joy in your life?
  • What keeps you from joy? Why?

Tagxedo image incorporating words from the Pope’s address of this week at the Capitol, Washington. 

Speak Lord: Draw us to love

Conspicuous Wealth

The second reading on Sunday, the 26th Sunday of the Year sounds like it could have come from one of Pope Francis’ critiques of unbridled capitalism – which he reminds us is called ‘dung of the devil’ in our tradition -, or the denunciation by Bartolomé de las Casas of the exploitation of South America’s people by European rulers, adventurers, and occupiers.

The Gospel demands justice and compassion.

An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

James 5:1-6

And yet so often the Church has herself been complicit in the exploitation and has benefited from it in material ways. We live in a place where moral choices matter and we sometimes get them wrong.

  • Today notice the choices you make and consider the impact they may have on others.
  • Bring your conclusions in prayer to God. Does God agree with your assessment?

Statue and golden surround from church in Madrid. Often such gold was plundered from the New Spain – the colonies in the Americas. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Help us grow up

Gestapo

The autumn equinox has just passed. We are about as far as we can be, in liturgical time, from Easter.

This Sunday, the 26th In Ordinary Time, we continue our reading of Mark’s Gospel.

The disciples in the Gospel are journeying to Easter but they do not know it, and they seem in no fit state to enter the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. And no wonder, for Mark says they flee, and in some of the manuscripts of his Gospel we do not get words about their return!

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’

But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

Here are challenging words from Jesus, but words spoken to unite the disciples with himself. They are powerful words, challenging words to those who know their propensity to sin, and to sin in habitual ways. But if we hear the words and use them to do violence against ourselves, let’s be careful. If our foot causes us to sin are we less likely to sin because we have only one foot. We might hobble to our sin, but hobble we are likely to do! Amputation is not the solution to our problems. But the threat of it might be a wake-up call to the gravity of sin and the need for cure

Jesus calls us to unity and trust. We will sin, sadly, but he is the remedy for sin And in his healing, rather our harming, is our hope for wholeness and holiness.

The disciples squabble with others over who has the power – last week we heard of them squabbling between themselves over which of them had most authority. Jesus calls us to simplicity and service, all of us, always.

  • Who do I find myself in competition with? Is the competition healthy or unhealthy?
  • What work for unity might I do today?

Gestapo 2

Inscription and memorial from Gestapo prison in Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.