Taste and See: Looking forward

Annunciation Fleischmann

The Collect for Mass yesterday is familiar as a Prayer used also in praying the Rosary.

It also reminds how Advent/Christmas finds its fullest meaning, and reveals its deepest truth in the mysteries also of Holy Week and Easter.

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Artists have regularly introduced themes of the Passion (at least) into their depictions of the Bethlehem story.

  • Where/how do they feature also in our Christmas devotions and prayer?

In 2016 Lent/Easter follow quickly on the heels of this year’s Advent/Christmas.

It is not too early for us to be thinking what we want to carry from our 2015 experiences into Lent/Easter for our own spiritual development and that of our parishes and communities.

In the days of Christmas and in the days that follow, how do we wish to live out our ‘Yes’ to the Lord?

What resources might we draw on to help our wishes to come to pass.

The Annunication -detail of the Rosary Triptych. Arthur Fleischmann. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

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Speak Lord: The promise of newness and peace

Evangelist in Grey GoncharovaThe first reading at Mass today prepares us for the Gospel reading of the Visitation, and for the celebration of Christmas. This is the season of the Joyful Mysteries!

The Lord says this:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
the least of the clans of Judah,
out of you will be born for me
the one who is to rule over Israel;
his origin goes back to the distant past,
to the days of old.
The Lord is therefore going to abandon them
till the time when she who is to give birth gives birth.
Then the remnant of his brothers will come back
to the sons of Israel.
He will stand and feed his flock
with the power of the Lord,
with the majesty of the name of his God.
They will live secure, for from then on he will extend his power
to the ends of the land.
He himself will be peace.

Micah 5:1-4

Micah speaks of a time for being lost and a time for being found, a time of sterility and alienation and a time of restoration and fruitfulness.

The time of newness is amply realised in Mary and Elizabeth.

It is also something offered to us all. We too are invited to give ourselves over to the ‘work’ of bearing the fruitfulness of God’s grace in our bodies, in our lives and our relationships with others.

And in our openness to his will for us, the world is refashioned and achieves its potential. The rest and peace of God’s shalom is once more to be enjoyed in this world.

Evangelist in Grey. Natalia Goncharova. Russian Museum. St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Bring us home…

Prodigal

The responsorial psalm for Mass tomorrow, the 4th Sunday of Advent, echoes themes of the Year of Mercy.

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.

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

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.

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

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

Often we think of Christmas as a time when God comes to join us. However another way of us thinking about Incarnation and Salvation is about humanity returning to God: turning again and finding home with him, rather than seeking our lives for ourselves and by ourselves.

Israel is clearer about this that Christians, much of the time. Christians, especially now and in the West, often reduce the life of faith as to what God does for us, God as servant, God’s gift. All these are part of the truth, but of themselves inadequate. Of themselves they can leave us in the driving seat, and reduce God, salvation to commodities, even optional extras (though attractive and desirable ones.)

Christian faith is about our being, and our purpose, our ontology and teleology. We were made in the image and likeness of God, to live in a certain intimacy with him. These realities have been put in jeopardy by our sin and the sin of the world: some Christians even say they have been lost to us through sin. Catholic doctrine does not go that far, but our tradition does know the disfiguring and life-threatening nature of sin and warns us to consider it with full seriousness.

Yet we are called back, helped up and helped back…

We give thanks, and seek to accept the help, and seek to find benefit in it.

 

The return of the Prodigal. Rembrandt. Hermitage, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

 

 

Speak Lord: Obedience

Cross, BeziersThe Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, draws our attention to the intentionality of the Incarnation – the why and wherefore of God taking flesh and becoming in this extraordinary way one-with-us as well as – as Salvation History bears ample evidence – always One who is for us.

This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:5-10

The principal mystery of the Incarnation is God taking flesh, but what we may perhaps miss or underestimate the importance of us, is seeing flesh ‘taking’ God. In his life, Jesus reveals the potential for human beings to live godly lives.

Our potential in this world is not inexhaustible : even Jesus faces his destiny amidst fear and sorrow, and meets with death on the Cross. Yet our potential – as we see with Jesus – is even then met with the power and the glory of God which is able to take the worst of this world and redeem us from it. Jesus, even the humanity of Jesus, is safeguarded and raised to eternal life.

Love wins love and lives love, for ever.

Image from Cathedral of Beziers. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

 

Speak Lord: The Visitation

VisitationaOn the 4th Sunday of Advent we hear a section of Luke’s narrative of the visit of Mary, mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.

The mothers greet one another, and in Elizabeth’s womb, the as yet unborn John greets and honours the recently conceived Jesus.

Elizabeth is graced by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and herself ‘knows’ the wondrous fruit of Mary’s womb.

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

Luke 1:39-44

The Lukan tradition of John the Baptist kicking in his mother’s womb to welcome the newly conceived Christ in the womb of Mary is something precious…  In a world that places such low estimate on foetal life there is something to ponder there.

  • Pray for all mothers.
  • Pray for children – born and unborn.
  • Pray for a deeper respect for all human beings, at all stages of their lives.

Image of the Visitation: detail of Rosary Triptych by Arthur Fleischmann. (c) 2011, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: And be other Christs

 

Sutton Christmas

The Gospel Acclamation on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, this week’s Sunday, put it very clearly:

Alleluia, alleluia!
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor.
Alleluia!

Is61:1(Lk4:18)

The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah. And the Lord speaks through (as) Jesus of Nazareth. And the Lord speaks to (and hopes to speak through) the Church. And the message is the same: there is good news for the poor.

This is not the good news that is peddled by the stores and on-line outlets –  bargains, best ‘this’, most neat ‘that’.

It is not the romanticism that is ladled at civic (and some other!) Christmas Carol Services.

It is truth about real lives being refashioned and healed. It is good news for the blind, the lame, the morally corrupt and others, who receive the opportunity to begin a new style of life. Knowing themselves as in some sense excluded and marginalised, they hear the welcome home and are offered the embrace that is theirs as children of the Father. They are given, again, the opportunity of living as such.

‘We’ are given again… For there is none of us who see as clearly as we might; who make our way through life with purpose and direction as we might; none of us whose actions and decisions and thoughts and feelings aren’t messed up by pride or greed or fear, by a self-ism that puts us and ours first and discriminates against ‘them’.

Some sin more gravely than others, but God’s family as a whole is mighty dysfunctional!

And God’s family is loved with a mighty love. There is good news for even the rich…

  • How, today, will you share the good news shared with you?

Logo for Holy Year of Mercy 

Many parishes will be having services of reconciliation at this time. They give opportunity to receive the personal ministry of the Church through word, prayer, song and Sacrament, and to confess our sins and failings.

Why not make a special effort in this year of Mercy to seek one out and to take part.

 

Photograph of Sutton Coldfield shopping centre. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: This matters… it really matters.

Altar Bethlehem

The Collect on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, acknowledged the joy of the Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. It also reminded that this joy is not a frivolous joy: it is joy generated by the gift of life, hard won for us by Christ.

O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
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.

Rejoicing and solemnity do not always go together well. But in our best Christmas carols the wonder and joy at the birth of Christ is tempered by the memory of the sacrifice that he offers. A sacrifice we welcome, but a sacrifice won at such agony by the loving Lord.

  • What place does reality have in your preparation for Christmas? Your looking forward to the New Year?
  • Bring your hopes and fears to the Lord in prayer.

Altar over the place of the Nativity. Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: No need for fear…

Olives KazmierzYesterday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Responsorial Psalm was in fact a Canticle, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

When we pray with scripture we are invited to enter into the emotional, spiritual depth of the text, the weft and warp of it.

We can say words such as ‘Truly, God is my salvation,/ I trust, I shall not fear.’ and they can mean very little. They mean much more, and the saying of the words contributes to our salvation when we also remember what it means to be lost, to have nothing/no-one in whom to trust, to be adrift in fears.

Take a moment to remember your past fears, or to acknowledge your present fears, before sharing in the Prophet’s witness to how God has empowered him and gifted freedom to him and to his people

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Truly, God is my salvation,
I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name!
Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!
Declare the greatness of his name.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing a psalm to the Lord
for he has done glorious deeds;
make them known to all the earth!
People of Zion, sing and shout for joy,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12

 

For Isaiah God is the reason he has no fear, that he trusts, that he is saved. There are many reasons that he could fear, flail and flounder. But from them, the very real and ever-present them, the Lord has saved him.

The Lord is our salvation too, if we will trust and let him free us from fear.

Fear is maybe the greatest. most corrosive spiritual disease. The goodness of God from before all time, through all time and beyond all time is our cure. In his goodness we find mercy.

Kyrie, eleison…  Lord, have mercy.

  • In quiet prayer renew and rehearse your trust, and reasons for trust, in God’s care and protection of you.
  • Pray for someone you know to be afraid: pray for their freedom and healing.

Olive leaves and fruit. From Synagogue, Kazermierz, Cracow . (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: we are set free

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, CracowThe first reading at Mass today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, comes from the prophet Zephaniah.

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,
Israel, shout aloud!
Rejoice, exult with all your heart,
daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has repealed your sentence;
he has driven your enemies away.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you have no more evil to fear.

When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem:
Zion, have no fear,
do not let your hands fall limp.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you
as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:14-18

Much of the Book of Zephaniah is taken up with telling of Israel’s sins and failings and calling Jerusalem to repentance. The reading gives a section of the last chapter of the Book which speaks of God’s promises, of God’s mercy and reconciliation of his people, despite their sins and failings.

The chapter as a whole speaks of restoration, but not a restoration of all. God is merciful. He will restore his people from their exile but not all of them. Proud boasters are to be taken from the people, and left is to be a humble and lowly people. These too may have sinned but they will know healing. The certain conditionality of redemption is not present in today’s extract from the prophet.

Maybe the editors of the Lectionary missed an opportunity here as many prepare for their Advent Confession or Advent reconciliation service.

There is never doubt of God’s mercy, but often there is uncertainty about our readiness to receive and respond to the loveliness of God. He will exult with joy, will renew with his love, dance with joy for us, but will we respond?

  • What draws you closer to God?
  • What would have you hold back?
  • Pray for the grace of repentance and renewal

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of your glory, our blessing…

Ark W London SynagogueThe responsorial psalm for the Mass of the 3rd Sunday of Advent is in fact not a psalm but a canticle, taken not from the Book of Psalms, but from the prophet Isaiah.

The song celebrates the presence of God amidst his people.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Truly, God is my salvation,
I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name!
Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!
Declare the greatness of his name.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing a psalm to the Lord
for he has done glorious deeds;
make them known to all the earth!
People of Zion, sing and shout for joy,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12

For the Jews the Real Presence of God was symbolised in light and fire and cloud, in Ark and Temple.

For Christians the symbol of God present is the human person of Jesus, Son of God, born of Mary, Very God in human form.

Born as one of us, God as Jesus/in Jesus, is humanity perfectly united with divinity and divinity with humanity, with no mixing or diminution. (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church 464ff)

That Real Presence is now the glorified and risen Lord at the right hand of the Father. We await his coming again in glory, even as we honour the sacramental, Real, Presence of the same Lord enduring among us in word, in the seven Sacraments and in the worshipping assembly.

We wait but he is never far away.

  • How today will you honour his presence, and respond faithfully to it?

Image of the Ark of the Covenant. West London Synagogue. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.