Taste and See: Eternal love and care

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May your love be upon us, O Lord, 
as we place all our hope in you.

The word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love.

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine.

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you.

Responsorial Psalm for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 32(33):4-5,18-20,22

Faith and trust in God develops in this life. In the ups and downs of our experiences.

In his constancy, and as we appreciate the horizon of love and compassion that extends far beyond the immediate moments of our passions, we learn to place trust in God, and to have faith in him.

The final act of faith we can make, in our worldly life, is at the moment of death: ‘Into your hands I comment my spirit.’

Cemetery, Aix en Provence. (c) 2006, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Draw us to life

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An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

2nd Reading for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
James 5:1-6

We get the answer… Oh boy, do we get the answer, but what is the question?

  • What am I?
  • How do I matter?
  • How can I matter?

What is your question?

Brookwood Cemetery. (c) 2005, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Lord of life

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I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.

I love the Lord for he has heard
the cry of my appeal;
for he turned his ear to me
in the day when I called him.

They surrounded me, the snares of death,
with the anguish of the tomb;
they caught me, sorrow and distress.
I called on the Lord’s name.
O Lord, my God, deliver me!

How gracious is the Lord, and just;
our God has compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearts;
I was helpless so he saved me.

He has kept my soul from death,
my eyes from tears
and my feet from stumbling.
I will walk in the presence of the Lord
in the land of the living.

Responsorial Psalm for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 114(116):1-6,8-9

We are mortal beings, and subject to sin and sorrow and death. Except that Christ took flesh to accompany us in the experience of this ‘vale of tears’ died and rose to set us free.

Even now, therefore, we live, not finally subjects of death and darkness, but as friends of the Christ and co-heirs of the Kingdom.

Grave marker, Novodevichy Convent, Moscow. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Save us from death

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Death was not God’s doing,
he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.
To be – for this he created all;
the world’s created things have health in them,
in them no fatal poison can be found,
and Hades holds no power on earth;
for virtue is undying.

Yet God did make man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

First reading for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24

We confront death and sin daily, and yet we were made for life and love. The struggle to avoid that which cramps and wounds and even kills us would be one to which we are quite unequal were it not for the fact that in our struggle we are aided by the grace of God.

Today’s Gospel tells of an old woman who bravely reaches out to take what she needs, and of a young girl already dead but who is raised by the Lord.

We are never alone, never without the aid of the Lord, let us take fresh courage.

Mortality. St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Love eternal

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We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died.

At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

Second reading for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In life, in death, our trust is in the Lord. He has conquered death, and calls us to life: our trust is in him. Paul assures that it is this simple, and this sure.

He elaborates this faith with an anticipation of how ‘the End’ (which is but a new Beginning) will be experienced. And maybe there will be trumpet sound and clouds ascending and descending and a stratospheric convocation between the Lord and believers. Or maybe not. Paul uses contemporary mythic imagery to describe the ‘how’. We might well use imagery drawn from our contemporary mythologies. How we image the ultimate triumph of God’s love and life over death and human folly does not really matter. What does matter is our faith in God and the confidence in love and life, and in how we face death, that flows from that. We believe and, by his grace, we live in Christ, now and forever.

Grave marker. Cimetierie Montparnasse, Paris, (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: our hope

Tribute among scattered remains, Golders Green, CrematoriumThe Responsorial Psalm at Mass tomorrow, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, acknowledges our mortality and the love that gives it purpose and meaning.

O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

You turn men back to dust
and say: ‘Go back, sons of men.’
To your eyes a thousand years
are like yesterday, come and gone,
no more than a watch in the night.

O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

You sweep men away like a dream,
like the grass which springs up in the morning.
In the morning it springs up and flowers:
by evening it withers and fades.

O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

Make us know the shortness of our life
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Lord, relent! Is your anger for ever?
Show pity to your servants.

O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

In the morning, fill us with your love;
we shall exult and rejoice all our days.
Let the favour of the Lord be upon us:
give success to the work of our hands.

O Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to the next.

Psalm 89:3-6,12-14,17

We are but passing creatures, and yet in the glory of God we are invited to share in eternal life. Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the Kingdom, even now; and urges us to live as citizens of the Kingdom, even now. Even in our failures, the Lord comes to share with us his wisdom and help us up and help us on. He is our refuge, and we his beloved children.

  • How does knowledge of your mortality help you live well?
  • What fears does it hold for you?
  • In what way is the Lord’s love comfort for you?

Tribute among scattered cremated remains, Golders Green Crematorium. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and see: Life

Grave Benjamin Barker

The second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, reminded us that in Christ  we who were dead (by consequence of Adam’s sin) now live. If we are in Christ.

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Notice how Paul says that when he realises what he is saying, he is overwhelmed not by fear or dread but love. The fundamental truth is we are saved. Even when we were sinners. Even though we still are.

However, (sorry, Mr Gove! Or am I?), salvation takes root as we recognise that Jesus is not an optional extra to an ‘entry-level’ life, a sort of upgrade; still less a style choice, but he is the difference between life and death for us.

  • One ancient spiritual exercise is to contemplate our death, and consider the sort of epitaph we might receive, the words people might say about us as they gather for our funeral (should they gather…) You might give it a try.
  • Or you might attempt a brief apologia – an account of how you live and try to live. Take today, for example. Where did you choose life and reject death?

Image of graves in Kensal Green cemetery, London. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of life and death

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The words of tomorrow’s second reading are plain and unadorned.

Yet what Paul says is stark, extraordinary, and challenging.

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Were it not for Jesus we would all be dead. If we are alive, we live only because of him. Wow!

One of the challenges of Pope Francis encyclical, Laudato Si’, is to remind us of our responsibilities, so that we do all live. He invites us to a dialogue about our mutual responsibilities, mutual responsibilities deeply embedded in our Judeao-Christian tradition.

According to today’s Times, Lord Lawson has made his contribution to the dialogue!  ‘He condemned the  encyclical as “a mixture of junk science, junk economics and junk ethics”.’

So read it and make your own mind up.

Pope Francis notes

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people.

These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.

They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Laudato Si’, 49

Let’s face it, if you are reading this blog, you, like me are probably of that group that is complicit in the exploitation of the ‘excluded’.

I set before you life and death, said Moses. Choose life, good life. For yourself, your nearest and dearest – and those far away to whom, most days,  we may bearly give a thought.

Read Pope Francis. And choose.

Image of the harrowing of Hell, Christ restoring Adam to life (and in him all men and women), from the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome. Copyright © 2015. Basilica San Clemente

Speak Lord: Waiting?

Beckett's tomb

The second reading for Mass on Sunday, the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, comes from St Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians. We will hear passages from this letter over the next several weeks. You might like to find time to read the letter as a whole, to get a renewed sense of what Paul is writing about.

We are always full of confidence when we remember that to live in the body means to be exiled from the Lord, going as we do by faith and not by sight – we are full of confidence, I say, and actually want to be exiled from the body and make our home with the Lord. Whether we are living in the body or exiled from it, we are intent on pleasing him. For all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of Christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10

Samuel Beckett – whose tombstone is featured above – is perhaps best known for his play Waiting for Godot. St Paul in the passage above considers waiting too, considering the time between death and the general resurrection as a sort of exile from the body, from the who and how we are here and now.

And yet the exile is with the Lord and life in the body is perhaps exile from him, suggests Paul. This is our experience, often, and one that Beckett, especially, explores with great poignancy (and humour).

Yet, in truth, the Lord is never far from us, nor we from him. Judgement Day is not the only day we are with him. In this world we may – indeed, we surely will – have troubles. But we are also never without him, and his love, and his care.

Not sure that Beckett knew that, in this life – though hopefully he will now.

But it is gospel truth, and can transform our day, whatever else the day brings.

Tomb of Samuel Beckett, Montparnasse Paris. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: about dying to live

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The second reading at tomorrow’s Mass, that of the 3rd Sunday of the Year, somewhat starkly encourages us to recognise that we are creatures, passing things.

Brothers: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What prevents this from being simply a sobering and probably upsetting or nihilistic reminder of our mortality is, of course, its context. The reading is part of a ritual action which is a memorial, an active remembering, of the Paschal Mystery, the Easter Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

And Paul, above all the other writers of the New Testament, knew how those who are ready to die in Christ will rise with him. Our lives are characterised by a dying so that in our dying we might live for ever.

Detail from the Church of all Nations, Gethsemane, Jerusalem. (C) 2013, Allen Morris.