Speak Lord: Call us to your love

Sacred Heart Maryvale

The second reading on Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, reminds of the call to all disciples to be strong in love, ministers in love.

May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Advent prepares us for the celebration of humble mercy that begins on December 24th – God taking flesh to save sinners, might be a pithy summary of the Mystery of Christmas.

It’s a celebration that lasts until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. How will we sustain that celebration this year, when the world on December 26th gives up Xmas for New Year Sales and then groans back into work after the bank holidays?

And how will we carry the exploration of God’s mercy and the manifestation of that mercy even in our lives in the Year that Pope Francis invites us to, a Year of Jubilee to celebrate Mercy?

  • What are your parish or diocesan plans? How will you share in them?
  • What are your family plans? Which of those parish and diocesan events have you got in the diary? Are you going to make a family/friends pilgrimage this year?
  • What about you yourself? What might you begin in Advent to carry you fruitfully through the Year of Mercy?

Image of the Sacred Heart at Maryvale, one of diocesan centres for pilgrimage in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during the Year of Mercy. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The best is yet to come

Sundial ChartresThe post Communion Prayer at Mass yesterday, the Solemnity of All Saints, reminds that for all the effort we put into the worthy celebration of Mass, and that we should put into our own worthy participation in the Mass, Mass is a passing thing.

Prayer after Communion

As we adore you, O God, who alone are holy
and wonderful in all your Saints,
we implore your grace,
so that, coming to perfect holiness in the fullness of your love,
we may pass from this pilgrim table
to the banquet of our heavenly homeland.
Through Christ our Lord.

Here we are passing creatures, called on to the heavenly Jerusalem, the home of all saints. Here we stumble, too often: there we are, please God, and by the grace of God, to be raised to glory with all the saints. And in heaven, as the Church teaches, there are no Sacraments for in heaven Christ is there directly without the mediation of sign and (sacramental) symbol. We will behold him face to face.

The Post Communion prayer looks back in gratitude for the table and nourishment that sustains the pilgrim on the journey, but also is part of that propelling us to the mission to love and serve which belongs to each Christian. The life of loving virtue here on earth also has its part in helping us to heaven.

  • What additional good deed might you do today, simply in thanksgiving for the gracious and real gift of Himself that Christ gives us at Mass?
  • How today can you demonstrate (again) that you do not live for this world only, but for the greater that is yet to come?

The sundial at Chartres measures something else that ceases as we enter the glory of heaven. There eternity reigns, there is no time. Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The best, not earned but freely given.

Rochester

The first reading on Sunday, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, and the last day of Christmas, came from the prophet Isaiah. It speaks of the graciousness of God, the goodness freely given.

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Isaiah 55:1-11

One of the challenges that the reading presents is surely wheather or not we can or do believe that what is good and best is indeed freely given: that we do not need to earn it by the sweat of our brow.

It’s easier to try and earn it, perhaps. That way we are not under a sense of obligation. That way we can preserve the myth of our independence.

If – in fact – we are so dependent on God, why do we so strive to make it seem otherwise? What better might we do with our energies?

Detail of fresco by Sergei Fyodrov in Rochester Cathedral. Bishop Justus is seen giving Holy Communion to newly baptised Saxons emerging from the river Medway. Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Something for nothing

Porta di San Ranieri baptism

The first reading on Sunday, the feast of the baptism of the Lord, and the last day of Christmas, comes from the prophet Isaiah.

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Isaiah 55:1-11

The goodness of God is not for sale but is freely given.

We are invited to receive the word, the love, of God and let it bear fruit in us.

Most of us probably wish the signs of the fruitfulness of that word were more evident in us – even if we, at the same time, resist some of the word’s promptings for growth and conversion. But the prophet assures us, the Lord says his word will not return to him empty without succeeding in what it was sent to do. Maybe what it was sent to do is not the same as what we want. Maybe in brokenness and striving we are sometimes better able to serve than we would if already perfected (as we would understand it). Maybe…

Photograph of plaster cast of detail of bronze doors of Pisa Cathedral by Bonatus, c1180. (Cast Court, Victoria and Albert Museum. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: The treasure of difference

Presentation

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Christmas, and Feast of the Holy Family, has a notably cross-generational cast. A new-born child, a young mother, a (by tradition) late middle-aged  father, and a notably old woman, and a man self- confessedly anticipating his death.

In their encounter they find fulfilment of past promises and anticipate the fulfilment of their hopes for the future (and the cost at which these will come).

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

Luke 2:22-40

Such cross- generational gatherings are probably rarer than once they were. The commercialising of leisure and the pressures that lead to the fragmentation of families and communities work against the easy mutual encounter of old and young, employed and unemployed or retired.

Churches are maybe in a privileged position of being focuses for such meetings and the sharing of wisdom and experience for the benefit of the health of communities.

The present invitation by the Bishops for spiritual discernment on family life will surely be assisted by opportunities for individuals to have their personal experiences and reflections contextualised by hearing them contextualised by those of others.

  • How often do you have the opportunity of reflecting on key aspects of your life with some notably different to you in terms of age and experience?
  • How many of your regular acquaintances are like you? How many unlike you?
  • Where do you get your understanding of how life is for those who are unlike you?

Photograph of carving In Perspex of the Presentation in the Temple, a detail of the Rosary Triptych by Arthur Fleischmann. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Fulfiller of hopes and dreams…

Presentation

The Gospel for today, the first Sunday of Christmas, and Feast of the Holy Family, takes us from the crib of Bethlehem to the Temple at Jerusalem, and those who gather with the Holy Family are not now shepherds from the hills, but senior citizens of the city of Jerusalem.

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

Luke 2:22-40

Again the readings of the Masses of Christmas time draw us out from the mystery of the Incarnation in itself to its meaning for us.

In Simeon and Anna we see long and faithfully held hopes coming to fulfilment.

Maybe we can find ourselves in them too.

  • What hopes might we have that will find their fulfilment in Jesus the Christ?
  • With whom might we share the good news of Jesus Christ?

Photograph of carving of the Presentation in the Temple, Hill of the Apparitions, Medjugorge. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The Lord is good and we are to be loving

help-a-child

Almost always there is a close thematic relationship between the first reading and the gospel reading at Sunday Mass. We look back today at last Sunday’s Mass (25th in Ordinary Time) and its first reading. But bear in mind also the Gospel parable of the landowner and the labourers he calls to his vineyard.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9

One of the connections here, surely, is that the Lord/Landowner looks with eyes of love to those in need, and excluded from what makes for healthy life. Not that the unemployed workers of the gospel parable are presented as wicked or evil – but they may have  been thought less suitable by those looking for good men for hire as labourers – perhaps because of age, temperament or handicap

In an earlier blog I said the reading put me in mind of Advent. Today I find myself reminded of a Christmas reading.

The early Christian writer Theodotus wrote:

The Lord of all comes in the form of a servant: and he comes as a poor man, so that he will not frighten away those he comes to gather.

He is born in an obscure town, deliberately choosing a humble dwelling place. His mother is a simple maiden, not a great lady.

If he had been born amid the splendour of a rich family, unbelievers would surely have said that the face of the world had been changed by the power of wealth.

If he had chosen to be born in Rome, the greatest of cities, they would have said the world had been changed by the power of politicians.

If our Lord had been the son of an emperor, they would have pointed to the advantage of authority.

But what did he do? He chose nothing but poverty and poor surroundings, everything that was plain and ordinary and did all this so that it could be seen clearly that the Godhead alone transformed the world.

His poverty showed how he who became poor for our sake is thereby made accessible to everyone. Christ made no show of riches which would have made people frightened to approach him. He assumed no royal state which would have driven people from his presence. No, he came among ordinary men and women as one of themselves, offering himself freely for the salvation of all humankind.

The Lord came to save humankind in form of Jesus of Nazareth, lacking many of the attributes the world may have looked for in a saviour.

Maybe today he comes to us in similar humble form – perhaps in the form of one who needs our help, rather than as our evident helper. So will we meet him in that humble form, or will our pride and worldliness mean he is hidden from us, in our neighbour.

At the end of the day, look back over the day.

  • Where have you shown love?
  • What did it cost you?
  • What did you receive?

Image found here