Responding to the Mass of the 5th Sunday of Lent

The bleakest fictional writing I know is quoted below.

It contains echoes of the ministry of Jesus, but the author, Oscar Wilde, nowhere names the ‘Doer of Good’, And he need not, because the story is less about him, and more about those who have received good from his hands.

In other words, it is about us – a challenge to how we have received good, and how we use it…

The Doer of Good. A poem in prose, by Oscar Wilde

It was night-time and He was alone.

And He saw afar-off the walls of a round city and went towards the city.

And when He came near He heard within the city the tread of the feet of joy, and the laughter of the mouth of gladness and the loud noise of many lutes. And He knocked at the gate and certain of the gate-keepers opened to Him.

And He beheld a house that was of marble and had fair pillars of marble before it. The pillars were hung with garlands, and within and without there were torches of cedar. And He entered the house.

And when He had passed through the hall of chalcedony and the hall of jasper, and reached the long hall of feasting, He saw lying on a couch of sea-purple one whose hair was crowned with red roses and whose lips were red with wine.

And He went behind him and touched him on the shoulder and said to him, ‘Why do you live like this?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him, and made answer and said, ‘But I was a leper once, and you healed me. How else should I live?’

And He passed out of the house and went again into the street.

And after a little while He saw one whose face and raiment were painted and whose feet were shod with pearls. And behind her came, slowly as a hunter, a young man who wore a cloak of two colours. Now the face of the woman was as the fair face of an idol, and the eyes of the young man were bright with lust.

And He followed swiftly and touched the hand of the young man and said to him, ‘Why do you look at this woman and in such wise?’

And the young man turned round and recognised Him and said, ‘But I was blind once, and you gave me sight. At what else should I look?’

And He ran forward and touched the painted raiment of the woman and said to her, ‘Is there no other way in which to walk save the way of sin?’

And the woman turned round and recognised Him, and laughed and said, ‘But you forgave me my sins, and the way is a pleasant way.’

And He passed out of the city.

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the roadside a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and said to him, ‘Why are you weeping?’

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer, ‘But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else should I do but weep?’

Use the story to help you examine your conscience, as you re-read and meditate on the Gospel of today. You may not have had opportunity to make your Lent confession this year. Pope Francis offers wise pastoral guidance on the matter.

Gospel: John 11.1-45

The Death of Lazarus
11.1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

I Am the Resurrection and the Life
17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Jesus Weeps
28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus
38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The Plot to Kill Jesus
45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2015, Allen Morris. Detail of ‘Demon’ by VA Vrubel. Moscow, Tretyakov Museum.

Responding to the 4th Sunday of Lent

A social-media posting this week read:

‘I did not know how much I was going to give up this Lent.’

Indeed.

In the past days

  • we may have lost, or at least known threats to, our peace of mind and sense of security.
  • we are, many of us, confined to our homes for self-protection or the protection of others – some of us, many of us 24/7
  • we are, many of us, working in ever-more stressful situations – health care facilities, schools, supermarkets and in the community – trying to give of our best, but tired and exposed and troubled.
  • we are careful, anxious for family and friends, and the more vulnerable members of the communities we are part of (real and virtual)
  • we may have found our health compromised; we may have and may yet face the death of loved ones
  • we are disappointed at things lost or now not to be – at least for a while (weddings, baptisms, holidays, family gatherings)
  • we have lost our hoped for ‘present’, our planned for ‘here and now’

But let us not just lose those things…

Let us allow the loss of them to be not just our experiences of the consequences of an international health crisis, – things done to us.

Let us make them things we experience and endure and then of ourselves make them things we ‘give up’ to the Lord.

We let go even of some good things, that we might know still better the good thing, the only fully and true good, which is our God.

Through our sadness and fear, the hurt and disappointment, if we still turn to Christ we learn of what is not passing. We learn of our being loved; home, held with him; precious in his sight,

Bright sadness is the true message and gift of Lent. Little by little we begin to understand, or rather to feel, that this sadness is indeed “bright,” that a mysterious transformation is about to take place in us.  It is as if we were reaching a place to which the noises and the fuss of life, of the street, of all that which usually fills our days and even nights, have no access–a place where they have no power.  All that which seemed so tremendously important to us as to fill our mind, that state of anxiety which has virtually become our second nature, disappear somewhere and we begin to feel free, light and happy.  It is not the noisy and superficial happiness which comes and goes twenty times a day and is so fragile and fugitive; it is a deep happiness which comes not from a single and particular reason but from our soul having, in the words of Dostoevsky, touched “another world.”  And that which it has touched is made up of light and peace and joy, of an inexpressible trust.  

Alexander Schmemann

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22 (23)

1     A Psalm of David.

      The Lord is my shepherd;
      there is nothing I shall want.
2     Fresh and green are the pastures
      where he gives me repose.
      Near restful waters he leads me;
3     he revives my soul.

      He guides me along the right path,
      for the sake of his name.
4     Though I should walk in the valley of the shadow of death,
      no evil would I fear, for you are with me.
      Your crook and your staff will give me comfort.

5     You have prepared a table before me
      in the sight of my foes.
      My head you have anointed with oil;
      my cup is overflowing.

6     Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
      all the days of my life.
      In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
      for length of days unending.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Psalms: From The Revised Grail Psalms: A Liturgical Psalter. (c) 2010.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Alexander Schmemann from The Great Lent.
  • Photo (c) 2017, Allen Morris. Chartres Cathedral. France.

Responding to the Mass of the 2nd Sunday of Lent…

There is much that is new in Christianity – principally our faith in the Incarnation, of God present in, or as, Jesus.

The Gospel this Sunday shows Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah – Jesus, the Christ, is dialogue with representative of Law and the Prophets. The Mystery indicates a continuity between what was and what is becoming, between the earlier covenant(s) and the new covenant made in and by Jesus.

Down the centuries Christianity has become more and more distinct from its spiritual and theological roots in Judaism.

Sometimes this has been a matter of cultural development and a deeper exploration of the meaning of what is specific to Christian Tradition.

At other times the history of the Church has been marked and marred by a rejection of her Jewish heritage – and of the Jewish people. This culminated in the abomination that was the Holocaust or Shoah and led to the slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II – but that abomination was preceded by countless pogroms (and crusades) in which ‘Christians’ murdered Jews.

 In the film Schindlers List Oscar Schindler says ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity.’ It is a saying that can be found in the Talmud and the Koran. It is a sentiment that connects with the teaching of Jesus in a number of ways. The saying remains true when re-expressed in terms of the opposite: ‘To take one life is to destroy all of humanity’.

In the years since the beginning of Nazi atrocities against Jews many groups – religious and secular – have sought to work again such viciousness and hatefulness.

One of the prominent groups in the UK is the Council of Christians and Jews which continues to work for mutual understanding and appreciation between both communities. and to support collaboration to build a stronger, more tolerant society.

CCJ was founded in 1942, by Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz and Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, among others, in the midst of growing awareness of the Holocaust and rising antisemitism in the UK. Since then, CCJ has established itself as the leading nationwide forum for Jewish-Christian engagement.

Gospel of the 2nd Sunday of Lent: Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration
17.1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Acknowledgements
Translation of Scriptures: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
Photo: (c) 2017, Allen Morris. Icon, Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem.

Responding to the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Thomas Merton’s poem, which follows, reminds that the Mystery we celebrate today reveals itself in its wonder, in the transformation of our lives – in the way God’s self-gift helps our self-giving; his service prompting and enabling, encouraging, ours.

May our efforts, our achievements, – even the smoky ones – prove to be to his glory and our neighbour’s good.

The Candlemas Procession

Lumen
Ad revelationem gentium
.

Look kindly, Jesus, where we come,
New Simeons, to kindle,
Each at Your infant sacrifice his own life’s candle.

And when Your flame turns into many tongues,
See how the One is multiplied, among us, hundreds!
And goes among the humble, and consoles our sinful kindred.

It is for this we come,
And, kneeling, each receive one flame:
Ad revelationem gentium.

Our lives, like candles, spell this simple symbol:
Weep like our bodily life, sweet work of bees,
Sweeten the world, with your slow sacrifice.
And this shall be our praise:
That by our glad expense, our Father’s will
Burned and consumed us for a parable.

Nor burn we now with brown and smoky flames, but bright
Until our sacrifice is done,
(By which not we, but You are known)
And then, returning to our Father, one by one,
Give back our lives like wise and waxen lights.

Acknowledgements
Poem: Merton, Thomas. The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton. New York: New Directions, 1977.
Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
Photo: (c) 2019, Allen Morris. St Mary’s church, Fernyhalgh, Ladywelle, Lancs.

Responding to the Mass of the Baptism of the Lord

At this time when we remember and draw encouragement and hope from the Baptism of the Lord it is natural to call to mind, and give thanks for, our own baptism too.

Saint Pope John XXIII wrote how he considered the most significant day of his life to have been the day he was baptised – more significant than the day of his ordination, or the day he was installed as Pope.

It is that day that for all of us brought us from the world and way of life that is ‘just’ natural to a world and way of life that is explicitly lived in communion with God in Jesus Christ.

Many of us were infants on the day of our baptism and may have no memory of it, still less any sense of choosing baptism. And the baptised life can be simply something we take for granted.

The prayer of Blessing of Baptismal Water used at the Easter Vigil reminds of its awesome quality and the wonder that we are invited to participate in, and that in a unique way Baptism makes possible..

O God, who by invisible power
accomplish a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs,
and who in many ways have prepared water, your creation,
to show forth the grace of Baptism;

O God, whose Spirit
in the first moments of the world’s creation
hovered over the waters,
so that the very substance of water
would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;
O God, who by the outpouring of the flood
foreshadowed regeneration,
so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water
would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;

O God, who caused the children of Abraham
to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea,
so that the chosen people,
set free from slavery to Pharaoh,
would prefigure the people of the baptised;

O God, whose Son,
baptised by John in the waters of the Jordan,
was anointed with the Holy Spirit,
and, as he hung upon the Cross,
gave forth water from his side along with blood,
and after his Resurrection, commanded his disciples:
‘Go forth, teach all nations, baptising them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’
look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church
and graciously unseal for her the fountain of Baptism.

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image,
and washed clean through the sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.

May the power of the Holy Spirit, O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with him.
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

Prayer for Blessing of Baptismal Water (at the Easter Vigil)

  • What is the anniversary date of your baptism?
  • How do you – or how might you – mark it?

Acknowledgements

  • Prayer: The Roman Missal, (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation.
  • Commentary: (c) 2020, Allen Morris
  • Photo (c) 2016, Allen Morris. Detail of Blessing of baptismal water, Baptism Window in Shrewsbury Cathedral.

Responding to the Mass of Epiphany

TS. Eliot’s poem, ‘Journey of the Magi’ confronts us with the unsettling experience of one of the Magi – a journey that presents its physical challenges, but also proves unsettling at the level of meaning and living.

The text of the poem is given below. Click here to hear the poet read his work.

  • What does the journey to the crib mean to you?
  • When you leave, what challenges and newness faces you?

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Acknowledgements

  • Poem and audio link taken from here.
  • Photograph. (c) 2016, Allen Morris. Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.

Responding to the Mass of Holy Family Sunday (1st Sunday of Christmas)

L’Enfance du Christ, a choral work by Hector Berlioz, , explores events in the Infancy Narratives related by Matthew. It takes us from the persecution by Herod, through the flight into Egypt and the Holy Family’s sojourn there.

A full account of the work and its theology is available in a booklet put on line by Chandos.

Probably the most famous section of the work is ‘The farewell of the Shepherds‘ which beautifully, simply, and even somewhat playfully, draws us into contemplation of the beauty of Christ and evokes a trust in his goodness.

The last of the three sections of the work sees the life of Jesus and his family put in jeopardy by the event of their exile and rejection by Egyptians. Yet they find safety through the hospitality of an Ishmaelite – (the line from which Muslims claim a spiritual descent).

A restful hour or so listening to the piece gives an opportunity to listen to some haunting music, and to ponder both the challenges and graces of life in this world.

Photograph (c) 2007, Allen Morris. Fresco in Church of Shepherd’s Fields, Bethlehem.