Speak Lord: The community of love and faith

Art work from Monestir Saint Cecilia de MonserratThe first reading on the 2nd Sunday of Easter comes from Acts of the Apostles. It provides a remarkable description of the manner of life that characterised the ‘whole group of believers’.

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.

The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect.

None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.

Acts 4:32-35

In fact, however true that description, also true was the experience of disagreement and suspicion, of selfishness and prejudice, within the community of believers. That is part of the story that Acts tells also, and the evidence that is provided by the letters of St Paul suggests that Acts doesn’t always even tell us the half of it!

And yet the vision inspires us still, despite our being yet unfit for it.

  • What holds you back from the life of perfect community?
  • What attracts you to it?
  • What fits you for it? What steps could you take today to be more fit for it?

Photograph of Catalan Romanesque art work from Monastir de Santa Cecília de Montserrat. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Witness to the Lord.

 

Liverpool, 2007The first reading this Sunday came from the Acts of the Apostles – the source of our First Readings on Sundays and weekdays throughout the coming season of Easter.

Acts is as it were the completion of Luke’s Gospel. The Gospel spoke of the work of Christ; Acts tells the story of the Body of Christ, the Church, in its leaders, inspired and animated by the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel remains Good News, and the story of Acts is to continue in us too.

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.

Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand.

Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’

Acts 10:34,37-43

If we have kept the Triduum we too are witnesses to the Lord; we have accompanied him at his Last Supper, in his  Passion, his Death and Burial, and now in his Resurrection.

  • What have we learnt about him?
  • What have we learnt about ourselves?

Image of the Crucified, Risen Christ. Stephen Foster. The carving is found in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Photograph (c) 2007, Allen Morris. 

Speak Lord: ‘Believe everything you heard!’

Caesarea 2007

The first reading this Sunday comes from the Acts of the Apostles – the source of our First Readings on Sundays and weekdays throughout the coming season of Easter.

This narrative tells the story of the early Church forming and developing in the first days, weeks and years after the Resurrection. It tells of our story and our mission  – and of the Good News we bear.

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil. Now I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did throughout the countryside of Judaea and in Jerusalem itself: and also to the fact that they killed him by hanging him on a tree, yet three days afterwards God raised him to life and allowed him to be seen, not by the whole people but only by certain witnesses God had chosen beforehand. Now we are those witnesses – we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead – and he has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed him to judge everyone, alive or dead. It is to him that all the prophets bear this witness: that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.’

Acts 10:34,37-43

What a witness!

  • What of the Lord’s work are we witness to?
  • Where and to whom might we be his witnesses?
  • And why? What is it that we might do by witnessing to the Lord and his merciful love?

Mosaic pavement in Caesarea Martima, Israel – the place of meeting between Peter and Cornelius (though not necessarily on this floor!) (c) Allen Morris, 2007

Speak Lord: listening and responding

Poussin

The first reading on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul,  – or at least the first reading of the Vigil Mass of the Day, not the Mass of the Day – returns us to the Acts of the Apostles, our Easter book.

The reading follows. What strikes you in the reading? What moves and encourages you?

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in.

When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’

He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God.

Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10

The ‘cripple from birth’ has got it all worked out: the team who bring and fetch him; an advantageous place from which to ply his ‘trade’ and a steady flow of people who perhaps are more likely than others to respond compassionately and generously to his request for help.

It’s surely significant all this takes place outside the Temple. Note also the detail Luke gives us that the man begs from those going into the Temple. Presumably, best to ‘display’ himself and confront those who might share what they have with him, he will sit with his back to the Temple (to God!) and with his face to the world.

To this man come the apostles who command him to look at them. What does he see, when he does? Not what he probably expects, people who will give what he asks for, or who tell him off for begging. In fact Luke remains silent about what the man sees.

  • To what is your face turned as you take your place in the world?
  • What do you seek?

Luke tells us what the man hears – a ministry of the word, that is a ministry of the Word. A ministry of the word that is accompanied by a helping hand.

And the man is faced with a choice – to stick to what he knows and seems to be quite good at, or to risk everything. He does risk everything and in this moment of decision healing comes and conversion happens.

The man turns and goes into the Temple praising God, with the apostles, (with the Church?)

  • What – if anything – holds you back from the newness and fullness of life to which the God of Mercy calls you? Why?

The image by Poussin which heads this blog comes from the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It can seem at first sight a rather workaday, prosaic piece. We notice how the key element – the encounter of which Luke tells us is placed high up, in the centre. It’s clearly the subject of the painting, but the more normal (or at least good and charitable) response to a beggar is acted out closer to us in the painting, in a way that rather competes with the ‘main’ subject.

And opposite this second incident, in the right hand corner, is another figure who can’t fail to attract the eye so gaudy are his clothes. He has his back to the scene of evangelical healing, and looks (suspicious, doubtful) on the act of human charity. Does he represent us, and the moment of existential choice that is always ours in how we respond?

The scene of the healing, for all its being the presumed subject of the  painting, is presented in this context, and also present rather squashed in between town and temple. The marvel of what is happening there could be so easily missed amidst all that is going on, and the bustle of street life. I can imagine myself rather brusquely pushing past this ‘whatever it is’ that is going on, and inconveniently blocking the gate as I make my way to Temple from town or to town from Temple.

Poussin’s ‘simple’ painting offers a complex of incident and attitude, and challenges us to faithful response, as surely as does the passage from the Acts of the Apostles.

Speak Lord: Bearing witness, bearing fruit.

The first reading at Mass on Sunday comes again from the Acts of the Apostles, the New Testament book that, during Easter, supplants the Old Testament reading at Sunday Mass.

Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them. The people united in welcoming the message Philip preached, either because they had heard of the miracles he worked or because they saw them for themselves. There were, for example, unclean spirits that came shrieking out of many who were possessed, and several paralytics and cripples were cured. As a result there was great rejoicing in that town.

When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, and they went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them: they had only been baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:5-8,14-17

The tension between Jews and Samaritans seems to have been a significant one. Thus the oppositions set up in the parable of the Good Samaritan between key figures from the Jewish religious establishment, and the Samaritan traveller (merchant?); and also the exceptional nature and therefore the frisson of the encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria, that was heard on the 3rd Sunday of Lent.

Jesus, in his person and in his teaching, becomes a place for reconciliation between Jew and Samaritan.

But as we surely know prejudice and suspicion have a way of lingering long after we have ‘learnt better’ When Philip goes to Samaria, he is surely going to a place that is looked upon suspiciously by many of his acquaintance, and that must have seemed – at least to them – unpromising territory for the flourishing of gospel life.

Image

Yet how inhospitable the ‘obvious’ place of Jerusalem, Judea and Galilee had proved. And how open to the gospel the people of Samaria show themselves to be.

  • Where is the gospel preached today and where is it not?
  • Where is it heard today and where is it not?
  • When do you find it easier to hear and respond to God’s word?

Pray for Pope Francis as he prepares for his visit to the Holy Land.

Where it exists may suspicion and fear between Christians, Jews and Muslims be replaced by a new and mutual trusting in the love and mercy of God.

Through his words and actions may Pope Francis inspire still more to commit themselves to love of neighbour, as well as love of God.

Image

Images:

  • A view from the summit of Mount Gerizim, down to modern day Nablus – the centre of biblical Samaria. (c) Allen Morris
  • A tapestry of the Holy Spirit, inspiring the Church. Photograph (c) Allen Morris