Taste and See: Communion

DSC05916 Avignon Palais des Papes.jpg

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

In the passage above we hear of Samaria and Jerusalem together receiving the good news of communion in Christ, and working together to share and build up the communion of the Church.

At the heart of Catholic Christianity is communion – communion in Christ and with the Church.

We are not Christian if we are alone with Christ for Christ is not Christ alone with himself.

We are not Church in our community, united with Christ, but outside of the communion of the Church – for the Church is the community of faithful, one in all places and at all times.

Finding and living this communion is rarely easy – for, like us, other Christians and other communities in the Church, are ‘peculiar’! But as Christ’s love embraces each of us and seeks to draw us to something beyond our uniqueness, uniting us in love and service of God and neighbour.

  • With whom do you find communion challenging?
  • For what aspect of communion are you most grateful?

Medieval Floor tile. Palais des Papes, Avignon, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: the hardships and the victory

DSC01802.jpg

With me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy – not because of anything we ourselves have done but for his own purpose and by his own grace.

This grace had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus.

He abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News.

2 Timothy 1:8-10

The second reading on the Second Sunday of Lent reminds us – if we need reminding – that the way of the disciple is not always an easy one!

We have our struggles and hardships. But these are borne alongside Christ, and the saints, indeed the whole Church. We are in this together.

And we are on our way to sharing still more in the victory won by Christ and for us. Our struggles – our successes and our failures – all play their part in helping us to what is promised us, as we journey together with Christ.

  • What presently is your greatest burden? In prayer remind the Lord of this and ask again his help.

Our Lady of Sorrows. Tikhvin Cemetery, St Petersburg, Russia. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Living Communion

Bread of Life

The Prayer after Communion for Mass on the 19th Sunday of the Year very simply teases out a very important principle of the sacramental life.

May the communion in your Sacrament
that we have consumed, save us, O Lord,
and confirm us in the light of your truth.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Latin tag ex opere operato describes one aspect of sacraments: that which is necessary for their being ‘real’. Ex opere operato or ‘from the work worked’ focuses on the authentic performance of the sacrament, especially by its minister: that he (and usually  it is he) has done that which Christ intended and has gift to the Church. For example that baptism has been performed using water and ‘in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Sprit; or that Mass has been celebrated by an ordained minister with the right intention, and using bread and wine. This is important, for without this minimal things, the Sacrament simply has not been realised, achieved, and celebrated. The Sacrament is not there so however prayerfully we have celebrated it, ‘it’ is not what Christ offered as sure and effective sign and means to his real presence.

However, even when the Sacrament is validly celbrated, and Christ is truly present, his being there is not enough. It is necessary, if it is to be salvific for us, that we ‘encounter him, relate to him person to person, communicate with him. The sacrament invites us to real participation in it, and actual communion with Christ – to pray it, open to receiving the grace it embodies and extends to us. So that, in very truth, we are opened to being ‘saved’ by the grace if offers. The Latin tag for this participation is ex opere operantis – from the work of the working one. That one is first and foremost Christ for our participation in the Liturgy is a participation in Christ, but that one is also the Church and her each individual member.

In the prayer of Sunday, we pray that the purpose of the Sacrament may be fulfilled not only in our eating and drinking of the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation (and the feast of Scripture!), but in the living of the Communion which those gifts symbolise and seek to effect in us.

  • How does Eucharist draw you in to Communion?
  • With whom does Eucharist draw you into Communion?
  • How do you play your part in cooperating with the work of the Church and of Christ?

Sarcophagus. British Museum. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: United

Burnes Jones, BirminghamThe second reading at Mass on Sunday last, the first Sunday of Lent, was an encouraging word, and a profoundly sober and levelling word.

Scripture says: The word (that is the faith we proclaim) is very near to you, it is on your lips and in your heart.

If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved.

By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved.

When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Romans 10:8-13

We are lost, unless we are saved. And if we are saved we are saved not by our own efforts, but because of what God has done and what Jesus is.

We could argue from Paul’s words that our salvation is achieved by our believing, our confessing, but that would surely be false to the tenor of Paul’s argument. It is the Lord who saves and we have access to that salvation by his love: our faith, our confession are an acceptance of his gift not a forcing of his hand.

When such goodness is offered and we do not believe, confess, have faith, then failure is ours and we are lost. Unless, until, we can call on him and then the gift is freely given.

All is his gift.

And his gift is offered freely to all – Jew, Greek, and all the many differentiations that we make between the ‘all’ to whom God gives life, the ‘all’ that ‘we’ are.

  • Who do you exclude from the ‘we’ you count yourself part of?
  • Why?
  • Does anyone else? Does God?

Window by Burne-Jones,  Cathedral Church of Saint Philip, Birmingham. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Hungering for Christ

Tabernacle, Cartuja

The Prayer after Communion for the First Sunday of Lent, beautifully expresses a thanksgiving for Communion and a yearning for the fulfilment of the end, the purpose of that Communion.

Renewed now with heavenly bread,
by which faith is nourished, hope increased,
and charity strengthened,
we pray, O Lord,
that we may learn to hunger for Christ,
the true and living Bread,
and strive to live by every word
which proceeds from your mouth.
Through Christ our Lord.

As during Lent our fasting and other disciplines begin to bite it is good to be reminded of why we do them. The reining in and controlling of our appetites is a part of it: for most of us anyway! But at the heart is the desire to be closer to Christ – closer in our imitation of him, closer by our love of him, and closer by our knowledge of his love for us.

  • For what in Christ do you hunger?
  • How might you better progress in your communion with him?

Tabernacle at Cartuja, Granada. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Make us one…

Pilgrim WayThe second reading at Mass on Sunday, the Second Sunday of Ordinsry Time, begins a reading of the 1st Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians which will continue on Sundays until we begin Lent.

The sequence  calls us to faithfulness, in our living communion together in the Church, and as individual disciples.

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose. One may have the gift of preaching with wisdom given him by the Spirit; another may have the gift of preaching instruction given him by the same Spirit; and another the gift of faith given by the same Spirit; another again the gift of healing, through this one Spirit; one, the power of miracles; another, prophecy; another the gift of recognising spirits; another the gift of tongues and another the ability to interpret them. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, who distributes different gifts to different people just as he chooses.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

More than most, Paul is familiar with the trials and challenges and joys and privilege of being a disciple.

To be a disciple is the greatest privilege, the way to the fulfilment of God’s gift of life and his calling of us to union with Him. It also draws us into conflict, burdens, struggles, even as we seek to serve, cooperate, enjoy the godly life.

Paul who knew the difficulties, and in many ways embodies them for us, calls us to unity.

  • How/where are you called to serve?
  • With whom?
  • How does their service help you serve?
  • How might yours better help them?

Worn Pilgrimage Way marker, Lourdes. (c) 2012, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Jesus with us and for us

Jessu St PeterDuring these last weeks of the Church’s Year the second readings at Sunday Mass come from the Letter to the Hebrews.

This Sunday, the 30th of the Year, the reading was the following:

Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God, as Aaron was. Nor did Christ give himself the glory of becoming high priest, but he had it from the one who said to him: You are my son, today I have become your father, and in another text: You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.

Hebrews 5:1-6

Jesus was without sin – like us in all things but sin, Hebrews 4:15ff assured us – but with his people he offered sacrifice for sin. The text tells us this was for himself as well as for us, so close was/is his association with us.

Mary was preserved from all sin from her conception, from the first moment of her life. Jesus by virtue of his nature as God and Man could not sin – but he took our sinfulness to himself, not even letting the guilt and shame and hurt of sin separate us from him. So the self-righteous among his contemporaries would reject him, the Holy One of God, as a sinner among sinners, blasphemous, and kill him.

The way of the Lord is to embrace weakness, endure misrepresentation, and help the floundering to the firm ground of God’s love and truth.

  • What weakness in you does the Lord long to minister to?
  • How can you show solidarity today with those who struggle?

 Image of Jesus from the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Wolverhampton. (C) 2015, Allen Morris.