Speak Lord: Our strength, our hope.

Strength, St IsaacThe first reading for Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, comes from the prophet Jeremiah.

In the days of Josiah, the word of the Lord was addressed to me, saying:

‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you came to birth I consecrated you;
I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.

‘So now brace yourself for action.
Stand up and tell them
all I command you.
Do not be dismayed at their presence,
or in their presence I will make you dismayed.

‘I, for my part, today will make you
into a fortified city,
a pillar of iron,
and a wall of bronze
to confront all this land:
the kings of Judah, its princes,
its priests and the country people.
They will fight against you
but shall not overcome you,
for I am with you to deliver you –
it is the Lord who speaks.’

Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19

The prophet receives the word of the Lord that reminds of Israel’s and thus the prophet’s vocation and calling, to be the chosen people, faithful to God, a witness to the nations.

The first reading prepares us for the Gospel in which Israel in Nazareth refuses its calling and rebels against its calling, and its God.

The first reading also prepares us to contemplate the vocation of God in the flesh, strong in his witness, and even in death triumphant in his faithful love.

  • When/how do you rely on the strength of the Lord?
  • For what do you hope in him?

Detail of Door of St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Our help and hope

Moulin.jpgThe psalm sung at Mass tomorrow, the 4th Sunday of the Year, confesses the help and protection afforded by the Lord for his children, his people.

My lips will tell of your help.

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your justice rescue me, free me:
pay heed to me and save me.

My lips will tell of your help.

Be a rock where I can take refuge,
a mighty stronghold to save me;
for you are my rock, my stronghold.
Free me from the hand of the wicked.

My lips will tell of your help.

It is you, O Lord, who are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, since my youth.
On you I have leaned from my birth,
from my mother’s womb you have been my help.

My lips will tell of your help.

My lips will tell of your justice
and day by day of your help.
O God, you have taught me from my youth
and I proclaim your wonders still.

My lips will tell of your help.

Psalm 70:1-6,15,17

At the end of a week that has seen us remember Auschwitz and Holocaust, provided a fresh reminder of child abuse, and in which news continues to come of fresh barbarity and persecution of people in Syria and beyond, we might be forgiven for wondering what is the help that the Lord gives.

There is no easy answer.

But people of belief continue to find truth in their faith, truth in the scripture, to set beside the evils. Sometimes these truths provide the encouragement to fight and overwhelm wickedness, to drain its power and overcome its perpetrators. Sometimes it is enough to assure that despite the consequences of evil here there is life beyond here where that evil cannot reach and somehow, by grace, all will be well.

Our singing of the psalm must not be an evasion of the hard truth of the existence of evil and suffering. But it should sustain us in our faithful living, confident because of God…

These are two things sometimes hard to hold together.

  • How, in God, might you respond to the needs of those who suffer evil?
  • When has faith helped you deal best with the consequences of evil?
  • Pray for those who suffer.
  • Pray for those who seek to do good.

Self-portrait (1928) by Jean Moulin, resistance fighter in 2nd World War. Musée Des Beaux-Arts – Hotel Fabrégat, Béziers. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: That we may be love

PrayerThe Second reading at Mass on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, i.e. this coming Sunday, speaks to us of  love and the works of love.

Be ambitious for the higher gifts. And I am going to show you a way that is better than any of them.

If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. If I have the gift of prophecy, understanding all the mysteries there are, and knowing everything, and if I have faith in all its fullness, to move mountains, but without love, then I am nothing at all. If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

Love does not come to an end. But if there are gifts of prophecy, the time will come when they must fail; or the gift of languages, it will not continue for ever; and knowledge – for this, too, the time will come when it must fail. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophesying is imperfect; but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will disappear.

When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me. Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.
In short, there are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

St Paul praises the virtues and he calls us to be ambitious for them.

Ambition is not always seen as a virtue. Too often our assessment of ambition is coloured by experience of those who are greedy for the vices. But ambition to achieve virtue, to achieve virtue in virtuous ways, is always a good thing, and good for us to aim at. Not least because in aiming for faith hope and love, and seeking to achieve them/ receive them by faithful, hopeful, loving living makes us more like Christ. And our efforts will surely be rewarded by his gifts.

  • What of love do you lack?
  • Where do you see that quality expressed best in others?
  • How might you seek to make that quality more your own in your daily living and relationship with God and neighbour?

At Prayer. Church of the Holy Name, Manchester. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

‘Speak Lord.’ ‘Ouch!’

Jesus takes up his cross

The Gospel for Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, follows immediately from last week’s Gospel, of Jesus’ reading from Isaiah and winning approval from all.

That latter point is repeated this week in the reading’s opening words. It needs to be for what follows next is surprising and shocking.

Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Luke 4:21-30

 

Jesus has spoken of God’s promises, and of his part in fulfilling them. And that pleases.

He next speaks of Israel’s resistance to the prophecies and healings that the Lord offers. And that produces a very different response.

The reaction of the crowd is extraordinary, and shocking. What price ‘thou shalt not kill?’?

  • How do you respond to criticism? Implied or direct?
  • What priority do you give to your response to the continued call of God to conversion and renewal?
  • What helps you respond positively?
  • What provokes other reactions?

Detail from one of the Stations of the Cross, Lourdes. (c) 2012, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See: Direction, please…

St Isaac's, St Petersburg

The Collect at Mass on the 3rd Sunday of the Year (and used through this week, saints days permitting!) highlighted the importance of good works.

Why? Surely because the good works will witness to the glory of the one responsible for them. As our prayer manifests the One who above all is responsible for them is God. We have our part to play, but God’s direction is necessary!

Almighty ever-living God,
direct our actions according to your good pleasure,
that in the name of your beloved Son
we may abound in good works.
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.

  • From what do you want God to guide you?
  • To what do you need his direction?

St Isaac’s Cathedral, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Taste and See: simple and true

Wall painting, Utrecht

The Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of the Year has us sing to the Lord – even with a sense of awe and wonder – about the virtue of his words, his law.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

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.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

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

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock!

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

Psalm 18:8-10,15

The awe and wonder comes surely not from any surface grandeur in the word of God. There are some stylistic, rhetorical features and, especially from use, these impress themselves up on us – think of the opening of John’s Gospel and of Genesis. But by and large the prose is prosaic, and the poetry modest (at least in the English). There are metaphors that find their way to our heart. But mostly there is little in the text itself to engage us, little in the way of literary fireworks.

But the word is a living word, given not to draw attention to itself, or its human authors, but to the God and faith who inspires the words and speaks heart to heart through the words. It is before this truth that the psalmist almost falls silent, but speaks still to give thanks and witness to the precious gift of the Lord.

Candlestick and wall painting, Utrecht. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Taste and See: We begin…

St LukeYesterday, the 3rd Sunday of Year C in the Sunday Lectionary Cycle, we heard the introduction to the Gospel of Luke and the first moment of Jesus’ public ministry.

 

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21

The work of ministry continues. The Lord continues to inspire the members of his Body, the Church, equipping them with gifts of the Spirit, supernatural grace building on the grace of creation. Thus enabled the members of the Church are invited to continue the ministry of the Lord, in all the particular circumstances of their lives.

Even now the text is being fulfilled.

  • What ‘natural’ gifts most often help you to do the good?
  • What supernatural gifts are you most aware of benefiting from?
  • Who else helps you in your ministry and work?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.

Window of St Luke, Holy Name, Manchester. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Living Word

MezuzahThe Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of the Year assures us of where we find truth, certainty, goodness. It is in the law of the Lord, his rule and command.

 

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

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.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

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

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock!

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

Psalm 18:8-10,15

Christians, Jews, Muslims each in their way find the spirit and life in the words of Scripture. Christians  are distinctive though in not being a ‘people of the Book’ but a people who find the fulfilment of the words in the Word, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The words of Scripture, Old and New Testament, are alive and active but most so when heard in him and from him.

  • What ways of engaging with Scripture do you find most helpful?
  • What least?
  • What opportunities might you take up to deepen your knowledge of the Lord in and through scripture: and scripture in and through the Lord?

 

Mezuzah, Kazmierz, Carcow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: to us whom you love.

Figure Trafalgar SquareThe second reading on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, continues our reading of the latter part of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.

Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.

Nor is the body to be identified with any one of its many parts. If the foot were to say, ‘I am not a hand and so I do not belong to the body’, would that mean that it stopped being part of the body? If the ear were to say, ‘I am not an eye, and so I do not belong to the body’, would that mean that it was not a part of the body? If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything? If it was just one ear, how would you smell anything?
Instead of that, God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose. If all the parts were the same, how could it be a body? As it is, the parts are many but the body is one. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you’, nor can the head say to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’

What is more, it is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones; and it is the least honourable parts of the body that we clothe with the greatest care. So our more improper parts get decorated in a way that our more proper parts do not need. God has arranged the body so that more dignity is given to the parts which are without it, and that there may not be disagreements inside the body, but that each part may be equally concerned for all the others. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it. If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it.

Now you together are Christ’s body; but each of you is a different part of it. In the Church, God has given the first place to apostles, the second to prophets, the third to teachers; after them, miracles, and after them the gift of healing; helpers, good leaders, those with many languages. Are all of them apostles, or all of them prophets, or all of them teachers? Do they all have the gift of miracles, or all have the gift of healing? Do all speak strange languages, and all interpret them?

1 Corinthians 12:12-30

This Sunday falls within the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a week that reminds again of how even within the community of the Baptised there is a tendency to undermine the unity that is ours as children of God. We are to deeper unity with him and with one another, but so often that gift is squandered in squabbling and mistrust and suspicion and prejudice.

  • With what part of your body do you least associate?
  • With which do you most associate your ‘self’?
  • With whom in our world do you least think of yourself having something in common?
  • With whom most in common?

What can you bring from those reflections to prayer?

Alison Lapper Pregnant, a carving by  Marc Quinn. Photograph (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Help us know you better

Nazareth WindowOn the 3rd Sunday of the Year, in Year C, the Gospel reading re-establishes us in the series of sequential readings from The Gospel of Luke which will accompany us through the Sundays in Ordinary Time during the rest of this year.

Last week we heard a passage from John’s Gospel too important to lose sight of, and which found no easy home elsewhere in the 3-year cycle of Sunday Readings. Over theprevious weeks the readings were chosen tolead us into a contemplation of the Mysteries of the Christmas Season, and making the most of the season of Advent. but now we begin our reading of Luke.

The editors gives us the introductory verses and then leaping over the accounts of conception and birth of John the Baptist and Jesus, and Jesus’ baptism, sets before us the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus as Luke describes it:

Seeing that many others have undertaken to draw up accounts of the events that have taken place among us, exactly as these were handed down to us by those who from the outset were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, I in my turn, after carefully going over the whole story from the beginning, have decided to write an ordered account for you, Theophilus, so that your Excellency may learn how well founded the teaching is that you have received.

Jesus, with the power of the Spirit in him, returned to Galilee; and his reputation spread throughout the countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21

The account firmly situates Jesus and the meaning of his ministry in the  bigger story of God and his people. In that story always God has been faithful and time and time again his people are not so. Now a son of Israel comes before his people, perfectly to embody the fulfilment what God promises, and perfectly to achieve what God invites us to.

  • Which aspect of Jesus’ ministry as named above most touches you?
  • Of which are you most in need?
  • And those around you?

Window from the Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.