Taste and See: good and healthy…

Market CracowThe Collect on Sunday, the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, was somewhat more wordy than many. Its complexity and length ought not to deter our returning to it, to ponder it and pray with it in these days that follow (not least because this year it will not get much weekday use because of the saints’ feast and memoria days during the week).

There is a certain rise and fall in the business of the language of the Collect.

  • It starts quietly, and openly, with lots of ‘o’s, and ‘h’s, lots of breath, and softer consonants – m’s, n’s, f’s – and the digraph ‘th’.
  • Then the sound gets busier, more percussive (hard consonants, shorter words), and there is even a little change in complexity of language and rhythm, in consequence of its prepositional phrase, ‘with you as our ruler and guide’.
  • In its final section, things slow down again, evoking confidence that there is to be a spiritual soft landing for us, if we will avail of it!

Collect

O God, protector of those who hope in you,
without whom nothing has firm foundation, nothing is holy,
bestow in abundance your mercy upon us
and grant that, with you as our ruler and guide,
we may use the good things that pass
in such a way as to hold fast even now
to those that ever endure.
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.

A Collect of some verbal complexity that invites us to a simpler trust in God. A Collect that invites us to a more discriminating use of the things of this world – avoiding the bad and making best use of the good so that we might – with God’s help – participate in that which endures, sharing in the life of the kingdom.

  • What are the good things that help you become kingdom-ready?
  • Give thanks for them! And for God!
  • What are the things you do best to avoid? And what helps you with that?

Market, Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Living Word

MezuzahThe Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of the Year assures us of where we find truth, certainty, goodness. It is in the law of the Lord, his rule and command.

 

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock!

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

Psalm 18:8-10,15

Christians, Jews, Muslims each in their way find the spirit and life in the words of Scripture. Christians  are distinctive though in not being a ‘people of the Book’ but a people who find the fulfilment of the words in the Word, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The words of Scripture, Old and New Testament, are alive and active but most so when heard in him and from him.

  • What ways of engaging with Scripture do you find most helpful?
  • What least?
  • What opportunities might you take up to deepen your knowledge of the Lord in and through scripture: and scripture in and through the Lord?

 

Mezuzah, Kazmierz, Carcow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

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: Help us speak, help us listen

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, KazemierzThe first reading at Mass today – the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – comes from the book of Numbers.  It is a somewhat obscure narrative about the establishing of a cohort of elders to relieve Moses of some of the onerous work as leader of the people. But the main interest in the passage is provoked by two characters, named but otherwise obscure, who act in ways which attract criticism, and yet act in a way approved, and indeed enabled, by God.

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.

Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

Numbers 11:25-29

Perhaps the calling of the 70 is to be understood to be a prefiguring of teh ‘elders ‘ of Israel, even of the Sanhedrin. And clearly this is a matter of some abiding significance for Israel, and yet the attention of the passage is on the absent two, and the agitation this causes. Charism and institution are in tension, even charism and habit, even as new institutions find validation in charism (the elders prophesy, but we are told not again.)

The reading is chosen for the Liturgy of the Word because of its echoing the gospel passage for today from Mark which tells of the disciples mistrust of and antipathy towards others who place store by the name of the Lord, but are not of their number. As so often, they must have wished they’ve kept quite, so powerfully does Jesus challenge them about their own shortcomings! Likewise the young man in Numbers, and certainly Aaron.

Pope Francis in a speech this week suggested that all good leaders must follow Moses and Jesus in not defending their territory and power, but looking for ways to lead all to the good.

A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

  • What power do you have?
  • Are there times when you know you could do more good by relinquishing power or sharing it more widely?
  • What helps you do that? What holds you back?

Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: Help us grow up

Gestapo

The autumn equinox has just passed. We are about as far as we can be, in liturgical time, from Easter.

This Sunday, the 26th In Ordinary Time, we continue our reading of Mark’s Gospel.

The disciples in the Gospel are journeying to Easter but they do not know it, and they seem in no fit state to enter the Mystery of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. And no wonder, for Mark says they flee, and in some of the manuscripts of his Gospel we do not get words about their return!

John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’

But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.

‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’

Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

Here are challenging words from Jesus, but words spoken to unite the disciples with himself. They are powerful words, challenging words to those who know their propensity to sin, and to sin in habitual ways. But if we hear the words and use them to do violence against ourselves, let’s be careful. If our foot causes us to sin are we less likely to sin because we have only one foot. We might hobble to our sin, but hobble we are likely to do! Amputation is not the solution to our problems. But the threat of it might be a wake-up call to the gravity of sin and the need for cure

Jesus calls us to unity and trust. We will sin, sadly, but he is the remedy for sin And in his healing, rather our harming, is our hope for wholeness and holiness.

The disciples squabble with others over who has the power – last week we heard of them squabbling between themselves over which of them had most authority. Jesus calls us to simplicity and service, all of us, always.

  • Who do I find myself in competition with? Is the competition healthy or unhealthy?
  • What work for unity might I do today?

Gestapo 2

Inscription and memorial from Gestapo prison in Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: restore hope in us

Nowa HutaThe first reading at Mass today, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time comes from the prophet Isaiah.

Its prophecy of healing and hope prepares us for the healing of the man described in Mark’s Gospel. It of course also alerts us to the offer of healing and hope for us and all humankind.

Say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.
Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy;
for water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.

Isaiah 35:4-7

The image above comes from the church of Nowa Huta. Nowa Huta was designed as a town for atheistic communists, and built on the outskirts of Cracow, Poland. Trouble was the good workers who settled there were not so atheisitic as they might have been and the need for a church quickly presented itself. Something of the story of what followed can be read here.

The image above shows in the lower level a frieze of Poland’s history, and above a window depicting God’s promise of protection.

Poland, like much of central and Eastern Europe, has suffered greatly from oppression and occupation. Like the Israel of Jesus time. Like us, perhaps, under influence of the forces and powers of our time, no longer so true to ourselves and our purpose: freedom,health and holiness somewhat beyond our reach.

Today’s Gospel and this first reading offer encouragement. God is with us. Healing and hope are at hand.

  • In prayer let us know our need and ask for help.

West wall, Nowa Huta. (c), 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of love and care

Images of mercy, Nowa Huta, CracowTomorrow, during the Mass of the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, we sing a psalm that rehearses the active love of God. God does not ‘just’ love, he serves.

Philosophers may struggle to comprehend how this can be and how we can make sense of this, alongside all the other things we say of God. In faith, though, we know it to be true, and a truth that will not go away. Thank God.

And in the psalm we do.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free,

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion’s God, from age to age.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

Psalm 145:6-10

How God is, is how we are called to be.

And our response to that call is enabled by God through countless graces. God chooses to extend his love and care to others, by his love and care of us. If we will let him – let him love and care for us, let him help us reach out to others.

  • How today is God present to you?
  • How would you describe God to another person, from your experience in life?
  • Give thanks to God for his service to you.

‘Images of mercy’, from the Church of Nowa Huta, Cracow. (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: Paradox and newness

Hanwell

The ‘default’ second reading provided for last Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent – except when the First Scrutiny was celebrated – came from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

Perhaps we are so familiar with ‘THE crucifixion’, with seeing it in light of the resurrection, the triumph of love and life, that we may miss the enormity of the scandal of the death of Jesus overturning earthly power and authority.

But, consider, in the brutality of that site of execution of three criminals the meaning and direction of human history is changed, or at least radically clarified. In the knowledge of what brought Jesus to the cross, what he endure, and what happens in consequence, nothing in our lives should be untouched.

  • What is different for you and how?

 Photograph of crucifix in church of Our Lady and St Joseph, Hanwell. (C) 2010, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Christ’s costly love

Mosaic over main entrance, Jesuit Church, Cracow

Again, there are two texts that we may hear at Mass as the Second reading, this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent. The one the ‘regular’ reading, the other always available as an option (as Year A’s readings may always be used on the 3rd Sunday), though they are required when The First Scrutiny is celebrated.

While the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here are we preaching a crucified Christ; to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness, but to those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

1 Corinthians 1:22-25

The reading opposes weakness and strength, wisdom and foolishness. Both are evidenced in Christ. Weakness and foolishness is what appears to be true, strength and wisdom is what is in fact true. The reason Christ goes to the Cross is not irrelevant – it reveals both the love of God for us which leads God in flesh to endure such suffering, and the vileness of humankind which imposes such pain and humiliation on others.

The alternative Reading focuses most on the love of God and the righteousness imputed us because of his love. Grace is freely given, at great cost, for our thriving.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory. And this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us. We were still helpless when at his appointed moment Christ died for sinful men. It is not easy to die even for a good man – though of course for someone really worthy, a man might be prepared to die – but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:1-2,5-8

 Photograph of Mosaic over entrance to Jesuit church, Cracow, Poland. (C) 2013, Allen Morris.