Taste and See: Self Gift

magi-arles-2014

My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

The first time I had to present my defence, there was not a single witness to support me. Every one of them deserted me – may they not be held accountable for it. But the Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18

Paul offers everything, and in this radical self-gift, self-emptying, knows that he will receive everything that is worth anything.

The Indian poet Tagore in his poem ‘Offering’ describes something similar – a generous surrender of all which leads to the wholeness and participation in the all, the infinite.

Time and time I came to your gate
with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow
measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let
drop; some lay heavy on my hands;
Some I made into playthings and broke
them when tired; till all the wrecks and
the hoards of your gifts grew immense,
hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation
wore my heart out.
Take, oh take – has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggars bowl:
put out this lamp of the importunate
watcher, hold my hands, raise me from
the still gathering heap of your gifts
into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.

Rabindranath Tagore

Magi, Arles (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of mercy

paul-st-trophimeThe second reading on Sunday, the 24th of Ordinary Time, begins a sequence of readings from Paul’s Letters to Timothy (both of them), read over the next seven weeks.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith.

Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus.

Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life.

To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

One of the wonders of God’s mercy, and his sustaining grace, is that he is able to make draw virtue out of our sin and failing. The Church, at Easter, acknowledges even the catastrophe of Adam’s sin as a ‘blessed fault’, for it was the occasion of Christ’s incarnation and the victory he won for our salvation, for the ultimate revelation of God’s power, love and mercy.

Like Paul’s, our sins too are ’cause’ for God’s mercy. Believers we may have been or not, but God’s mercy is not constrained by such circumstances. God’s mercy is always, everywhere, freely offered. And the only condition for our fruitful reception of that mercy is our repentance and readiness to receive it, and our desire to live refreshed, renewed lives.

We may, as yet, be far from our final conversion, when all will be loveliness in our lives. But in the meantime mercy is ours, to give us a taste of what lies ahead, and the hope that we will, by God’s grace, get there.

To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

  • For what mercy, especially, do you thank God for today?
  • What new love do you ask of him?

St Paul, Church of St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The Cross

Arles Cross

On Sunday, the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we heard a passage from Galatians.

There Paul identified the cross, the Passion, of Jesus as the sole thing of which he can boast. It is the cross that has won everything that matters; and on the cross that everything else is done to death.

The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. It does not matter if a person is circumcised or not; what matters is for him to become an altogether new creature. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, who form the Israel of God.

I want no more trouble from anybody after this; the marks on my body are those of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, my brothers. Amen.

Galatians 6:14-18

It is, in worldly terms, a stark messsage. And it is a statement that is deliberately provocative and needs much unpacking.

But Paul uses it to boast of his identification with Christ, his being remarkably at one with him, even bearing the marks of Jesus on his very body.

  • Where/how do you resemble Jesus?
  • Where do you not?
  • How might you more closely identify your ambitions and achievements with the Cross of Jesus?

Street art, Arles, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Graced works

Temptations

The Collect at Mass yesterday, the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time – a Sunday where the readings had much to do with penitence and mercy, adverted to the gap there sometimes is between intention and performance:

Collect

O God, strength of those who hope in you,
graciously hear our pleas,
and, since without you mortal frailty can do nothing,
grant us always the help of your grace,
that in following your commands
we may please you by our resolve and our deeds.
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.

The prayer also reminds of our powerlessness without the grace of God. Left alone we cannot even repent. When we do repent it is because already, and perhaps before we have begun to recognise it, we have been cooperating with the grace of God.

  • What are the intentions, resolves, you find it difficult to fulfil? Why?
  • What are the deeds you regret? Why? What might you to – with God’s grace – to move beyond these?

Temptation of Jesus. Carvings in the cloister of St Trophime, Arles, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Tell us we are one.

Jesus healer and teacher

The Second reading on Sunday, the Feast of the Epiphany,  presents a great challenge to our world of distinctions and prejudices.

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

All – in, by, and with Christ – are one with us and we with them. No distinctions are more important than that unity, not even any difference between the sinner and the righteous. God’s mercy re-establishes us as his children. His mercy calls sinners to repentance and gives the righteous  fresh reason to rejoice; but his mercy overcomes sin and gives firm foundation to our joy.

Detail showing Christ teaching and healing in collection of the Musée de l’Arles et de la Provence antiques. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The sweetness of the Lord’s love

Tabernacle, Arles

The Gospel on Sunday, the 29th in Ordinary Time, opened to us something of the heart of Jesus, and his spirituality.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Mark 10:35-45

It is impressive that Jesus holds the tension presented by the disciples’ agitation for power, first by James and John and then between all the twelve. He holds it, and uses it to draw them closer to him and closer to what is good.

  • Do you find the same freedom and poise in dealing with conflict and tension?
  • Why might Jesus be so good at it?
  • What is the reason for his insisting on the primacy of the servant?

Photograph of Tabernacle in church in Arles, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Love to love…

Detail of Ghery model for parc des ateliers arles

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, came from the first letter of John.

It speaks of the love that sets us free from all that is not love.

It speaks of the love that we are able to live and share with others.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ
has been begotten by God;
and whoever loves the Father that begot him
loves the child whom he begets.
We can be sure that we love God’s children
if we love God himself and do what he has commanded us;
this is what loving God is –
keeping his commandments;
and his commandments are not difficult,
because anyone who has been begotten by God
has already overcome the world;
this is the victory over the world –
our faith.

Who can overcome the world?
Only the man who believes that Jesus is the Son of God:
Jesus Christ who came by water and blood,
not with water only,
but with water and blood;
with the Spirit as another witness –
since the Spirit is the truth.

John 5:1-6

One of the ways in which we can show love is using the wealth, the property we own – if we are so lucky! – for the good of others.

If it is ours we have a right to it, but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us ‘the ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.’ (CCC 2404) First of all the family, but also to our neighbour…

There is something to ponder on as we Brits consider how best to vote on May 7th. How can we vote in a Government that will allow the goods of our society to be most fruitfully used for the common good.

Photograph is of a detail of model for Gehry’s proposed Parc des Ateliers, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

 

 

Taste and see: Heavenly life

Christ, Arles2013There were two alternatives for the Second reading at Mass on Easter Sunday.

The first of them, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians, is given below, and the second included at the end of this posting.

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.

Colossians 3:1-4

‘Far, far away, above the clouds, beyond the rain… Somewhere over the rainbow….’

So goes the song. Is Paul saying just the same thing?

Jesus said from the beginning of his ministry, echoing the teaching of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God is very near to us. Not far, far away… not a dream, a fancy, of what might be, but a realisation of what is even now, if we will wake to it.

True, the demonstration of the truth of this, and pledge of its future fulfilment, is in Christ now in heaven itself at the Father’s right hand. But the kingdom is also really close at our hand.

In the Resurrection our attention shifts from the worldly to the heavenly, but again not as escapism and fantasy, but a deeper engagement with what truly is, and that can be revealed by our better living.

– – –

You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:6-8

Image of the Resurrected Christ and the faithful. Musée de l’Arles antique , Arles, France. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: Call us to repentance

Jonah

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from the book of Jonah.

An interesting fact is that the translation of the Book of Jonah in the Jerusalem Bible translation  was made by JRR Tolkein. Share that information with Hobbit and Lord of the Rings aficionados and see if you can get them reading one of the most delightful and funny books of the Bible!

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.

God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour. And God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

Jonah 3:1-5,10

Not too much humour there -but context is (almost) all.

Here we find simply testimony to the generosity of God, and to the readiness of some of the most unexpected people to respond generously to the opportunity to repent.

  • What helps you examine your conscience and repent?
  • When did you most recently make confession and why?

Photograph is of a detail of an early Christian sarcophagus in the Musée départemental Arles antique. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Saints and heaven

West Door Arles This Sunday sees the regular sequence of numbered Sundays interrupted by the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. The first reading on Sunday will come from the book of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation.

I, John, saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’ One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’ Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14

What comes to your mind when you imagine heaven? John sees this community of the faithful, who have sustained their faith (or been sustained by faith in testing circumstances) and who are now free, united in the love and praise of God. We surely get a foretaste of this heaven whenever we are with those who we know to be faithful and whose lives impress by their holiness and love.

  • Who comes to your mind when you consider such people? What do you have in common with them? What do you not?

Bring your thoughts, hopes and fears to God in prayer, thankful for his faithfulness.

The West Door of the church of St Trophime in Arles bears an image of heaven and salvation. I’m not sure that the saints look more cheerful than the sinners! But here they are… West Door Arles Saints   Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.