Speak Lord: Promise us communion with you for ever

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God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind. And so the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.’

First reading for the 1st Sunday of Lent
Genesis 9:8-15

In Lent we can struggle, even with God’s grace, struggle, to live faithfully and well.

If/when we stumble and fall it is a great reassurance to remember the mercy of the Lord, that he does not renege on his covenant with us, but rather constantly offers the opportunity for us to own our sorrow, repent and find reassurance in his compassion and mercy.

ConfessionOften people have not received good catechesis and formation with regard to the Sacrament of Confession. A new book in the YOUCAT series, (fruit of World Youth Days and related initiatives) has just been published which many may find helpful. Titled Confession, it is available in the UK from the Catholic Truth ServiceAmazon, good bookshops and, ahem, the best parishes.

Confession is written for teenagers , but it is difficult to think who would not find it helpful.

Floor tile. Gloucester Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: source of joy

Penance Rome

Praying the Responsorial Psalm tomorrow, Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary time, draws us toward a fresh knowledge of our sins and their consequences, and the glory of life redeemed.

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin. 

Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
whose sin is remitted.
O happy the man to whom the Lord
imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no guile.

But now I have acknowledged my sins;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said: ‘I will confess
my offence to the Lord.’
And you, Lord, have forgiven
the guilt of my sin.

You are my hiding place, O Lord;
you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance.

Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,
exult, you just!
O come, ring out your joy,
all you upright of heart.

Psalm 31:1-2,5,7,11

The movement from the heaviness and incumbrance of sin and guilt to joy and life is ours because of God’s mercy and love. When we remain mindful of that we live in joy – even if we live still with trial and tribulation. But if we forget and ‘just’ live, turned in on ourselves, life and liveliness drains from us.

Life comes as gift; joy when we embrace its giver.

  • When did you last celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and why?
  • When will you next celebrate the Sacrament?
  • How does it help you in your Christian vocation?

In the Year of Mercy there is especial encouragement for us to recover a sense of appreciation for the Sacrament as assurance, a  ministry which helps us receive and benefit from the healing mercy. Why not combine your next celebration of the Sacrament with a visit to a Holy year pilgrimage site and with a Year of Mercy Door.

Detail of the Sacraments Door, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome. (c) Allen Morris, 2016.

Speak Lord: we are set free

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, CracowThe first reading at Mass today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, comes from the prophet Zephaniah.

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,
Israel, shout aloud!
Rejoice, exult with all your heart,
daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has repealed your sentence;
he has driven your enemies away.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you have no more evil to fear.

When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem:
Zion, have no fear,
do not let your hands fall limp.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you
as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:14-18

Much of the Book of Zephaniah is taken up with telling of Israel’s sins and failings and calling Jerusalem to repentance. The reading gives a section of the last chapter of the Book which speaks of God’s promises, of God’s mercy and reconciliation of his people, despite their sins and failings.

The chapter as a whole speaks of restoration, but not a restoration of all. God is merciful. He will restore his people from their exile but not all of them. Proud boasters are to be taken from the people, and left is to be a humble and lowly people. These too may have sinned but they will know healing. The certain conditionality of redemption is not present in today’s extract from the prophet.

Maybe the editors of the Lectionary missed an opportunity here as many prepare for their Advent Confession or Advent reconciliation service.

There is never doubt of God’s mercy, but often there is uncertainty about our readiness to receive and respond to the loveliness of God. He will exult with joy, will renew with his love, dance with joy for us, but will we respond?

  • What draws you closer to God?
  • What would have you hold back?
  • Pray for the grace of repentance and renewal

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Peace and Forgiveness

Confessional, Jesuit church, Cracow

The Gospel for today, the feast of Pentecost, takes us back 50 days to the first Easter day and a first conferral of the Holy Spirit.

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

John 20:19-23

The power bestowed on the disciples is remarkable. It is they who have power to forgive sins or retain them. Jesus was criticised for his forgiveness of sins, now he extends that power to his disciples.

It is an awesome responsibility. For, of course, no pettiness or narrowness of view ought to intrude, The Son forgives because the Father is merciful and calling all to conversion and renewal. So too with those who minister in his name: as Jesus forgives, so the Church…

Photograph of Confessional in the Jesuit church, Cracow. (C) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: At one with God

Patriarchs and ProphetsIf on Sunday you  heard the readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the first reading came from the Prophet Jeremiah.

If you were hearing the readings for Year A, because the scrutiny was being celebrated, or because they’d been chosen for pastoral reasons, the first reading you heard was from Ezekiel, and it appears at the end of this blog.

The reading from Jeremiah was the following:

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The first reading sums it all up. In the covenant God seeks us out and holds us close, and in that closeness and love all will be well for us and the whole world. Long ways to go yet, but its begun and it will happen.

The reading holds comfort and challenge. The comfort of the promise of God’s faithfulness. The challenge because that faithfulness is tested by ‘our’ unfaithfulness. The reading might  be memorised and used as a prayer, a meditation for use after receiving communion: a meditation on what I have received and what I am to live. As we come to the end of Lent it might be used in an examination of conscience to prepare for confession: where, how have I broken covenant.

The language and the concepts of the passage are not necessarily everyday language and concepts. ‘Covenant’ is not necessarily what we speak about over the cornflakes.

The story is told of a reader charged with proclaiming God’s word and reading this passage. Only they got the word wrong: ‘I will make them a new convenience… not a convenience like their fathers had which they broke, but a new and everlasting convenience…’

Now, a new and everlasting convenience might be very useful. But a new and everlasting covenant is even more important.

Covenant? The promise that love between us and God is forever.

The new and everlasting covenant is achieved in Jesus Christ. It is the form of the covenant than which nothing greater can be imagined – sealed in the Blood of the Lamb. A covenant that achieves atonement for the sins of the world.

At-one-ment: God’s gift, our privilege and our vocation.

Photograph of frescoes of prophets and patriarchs, and held safe in their arms and laps, others of the faithful of God. Desert monastery, Egypt. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14

Taste and See: Loved better

Work in progress

The second reading on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent in Year B, came from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

Ephesians 2:4-10

When we prepare for confession we identify and count our sins. It is sometimes to prepare on the slant, as it were, by looking at the good and the better. Counting our blessings helps us also take note of the places of shadow too.

  • Where and when has the Lord been merciful with you?
  • Where and when has he brought you to life and raised you up?
  • What good work has God shared with the world in you and by you?
  • What good work will you share with the world today, by God’s grace and through your love?

Carving by Unity Spencer (1950), installed as memorial to her parents Stanley and Hilda Spencer, in Cookham parish church. Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The mercy of the Lord

 

Confessional, Lisieux

It is to be hoped that on Sunday we were not surprised by the response we sang to the psalm.

On the first Sunday of Lent what can we trust in, if not the faithfulness and love of God for those who keep the covenant?

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Lord, make me know your ways.
Lord, teach me your paths.
Make me walk in your truth, and teach me:
for you are God my saviour.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Remember your mercy, Lord,
and the love you have shown from of old.
In your love remember me.
because of your goodness, O Lord.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

The Lord is good and upright.
He shows the path to those who stray,
He guides the humble in the right path,
He teaches his way to the poor.

Your ways, Lord, are faithfulness and love for those who keep your covenant.

Psalm 24:4-6,7-9

What is remarkable is that God is faithfulness and love even for those who do not keep his covenant. As St Paul says, we may be unfaithful but God is always faithful.

It is in his great love that he calls us back to life, again and again. And in his great love that he offers us forgiveness and healing.

Photograph of the confessional where Therese of Lisieux celebrated the mercy of God, in the Cathedral of St Pierre, Lisieux. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

For a guide to the celebration of the sacrament of Confession click here.

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: The who and how of God and us

Image

The first reading at Mass, this coming Trinity Sunday, has Moses honouring God and interceding for his people.

With the two tablets of stone in his hands, Moses went up the mountain of Sinai in the early morning as the Lord had commanded him. And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.

He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and faithfulness.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

Exodus 34:4-6,8-9

  • How would you describe God?
  • How would you describe us?
  • Why would God wish to have us as ‘his heritage’?

The image comes from here.