Taste and See: From whence our blessings flow…

DSC03358 Moscow Metro.jpgJesus instructed the Twelve as follows:

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me.

‘Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me.

‘Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.

‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.

‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’

Matthew 10:37-42

There was a certain unrelenting quality to Jesus’ statements in the Gospel heard at Mass yesterday, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The first of them challenge commonplace preconceptions of what is good and right and proper in human relationships.

Family first… But also look after yourself…

Jesus might not seem to give any justification for his statements. They can seem like simple assertions that stand and fall on their own merits.

Yet the point is that, for the believer, the disciple, they stand because of the authority of the one who makes them – he who is the truth, the way, and the life. Something of this becomes apparent as we try to listen to and understand what he says.

Let’s look at the last three. Those who welcome the disciple welcome Jesus. As Paul emphasised in the second reading yesterday the disciple and the Lord are united, are one, through God’s grace, manifested and made effective in baptism. Our reaching out to others is a reaching out to the Lord, in his Body the Church, and will be rewarded.

Our relatinship with Jesus is the foundation of all that follows, and it has a priority he is the source and ultimate destination of all that is. Nothing, without him, could exist, let alone flourish and last. And if we know this – if we know Jesus at depth – then, of course, we give precedence (even preference) to the Lord over all else.

But this is not a competition! Jesus is not wishing to push family and friends and all into second place, into the shadows. They are after all his gift, a sign of his blessing. He simply but forcefully reminds of the ‘new’ order of life in him. We cannot live without God, and live best when we know this and live accordingly.

Sculpture. Moscow Metro (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: Alive

St Francis

In the Gospel reading in Sunday, the 14th in Ordinary Time, Jesus sent the disciples out, en masse, and in pairs, for their first work ‘without’ him. He called them to clear focus and firm discipline.

They learnt to minister from a position of vulnerability, relying on nothing but their confidence in the goodness of God, the closeness of the reign or kingdom of God, and their power to share that goodness with others.

And they succeed spectacularly.

Freed from the compulsions that so often condition our choices to act or not act; freed from self, they themselves do spectacular work.

 

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.

‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.

‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

Luke 10:1-12,17-20

At the heart of the passage from the Gospel is the gift of peace – a peace the disciples, for all their poverty, are able to give.

It is a gift that those who receive it already have, at least in some sense. ‘If a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him…’

The communion in peace establishes or perhaps more accurately recognises the bonds that already unite disciple and those to whom they are sent, demonstrates that indeed the kingdom is very near.

Too often that unity is compromised by suspicion and  labels of ‘otherness’. But resistance is relaxed by the gentle presence of the disciples and the sharing of the foundational teaching of Jesus.

And suddenly the kingdom is somewhat closer, and the family of God somewhat healthier, enlivened and happier! United with each other, and united with God.

St Francis, Assisi. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: as we follow, as we serve…

Saints Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo

The Gospel on Sunday, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, spoke about decision making and following through. These are matters that are rather preoccupying the UK at present!

The Gospel shows how easily disciples – even the good ones! – get off track. But it also calls them and us again and again back to what is fundamental: following the Lord. Nothing else is more important. Everything else finds its meaning in him, the ultimate source of all that is good

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Luke 9:51-62

  • Why do you want to follow Jesus?
  • How – in your life – do you follow Jesus?
  • What recent decision have you made because you follow him?

Saints and Martyrs, Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Make us one and make us for all

St George

The Gospel on Sunday, the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, continues the teaching about the cost of discipleship – its rewards too, but especially its costs.

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

Luke 9:51-62

The choice to identify radically with  Jesus, to be a disciple ready to pay the price, might seem to separate the disciple from others, to form a radical group, separate from ‘the others’. Yet Jesus needs to teach the disciples that if they are to radically associate with him, they need also to tear down the barriers that exist between them and others. They belong to all, and also belong to no-one but Christ.

  • From whom do you separate? Why?
  • For whom do you care most and why?
  • In what way might that care unite you also with Christ? Is there a way in which that care is also in tension with your communion with Christ?

St George. St Leonard’s Church, Charlecote. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: Care for each other, in the Spirit

St Paul Ambrosi

The first reading on Sunday, the 6th of Easter, came from The Acts of the Apostles. It exemplifies the seeking after peace, the living in mutual love, that Jesus invites his friends to in the Gospel of Sunday.

The life of the Gospel is not without its tensions. Acts testifies to that. Disciples face all sorts of challenge as they seek to be faithful to Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life, and respond to the circumstances in which they live, and the differences and awkwardnesses they face within and without the Christian community. But Acts demonstrates that authentic Christianity is a work in progress that prevails, because it is a work that is sustained by God, secure in the Spirit of God.

Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.
Then the apostles and elders decided to choose delegates to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; the whole church concurred with this. They chose Judas known as Barsabbas and Silas, both leading men in the brotherhood, and gave them this letter to take with them:

‘The apostles and elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of pagan birth in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We hear that some of our members have disturbed you with their demands and have unsettled your minds. They acted without any authority from us; and so we have decided unanimously to elect delegates and to send them to you with Barnabas and Paul, men we highly respect who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accordingly we are sending you Judas and Silas, who will confirm by word of mouth what we have written in this letter. It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols; from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from fornication. Avoid these, and you will do what is right. Farewell.’

Acts 15:1-2,22-29

  • What non-essential burdens hobble progress to Christian unity in your community?
  • What positive actions to show love to others has your community taken recently?
  • What more might be done?

St Paul, da Forli, Vatican Museum. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Remind us…

Font, French Church II

The Gospel readings on Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Easter, comes from the Gospel of John.

And in the Gospel Jesus gives us his commandment: a commandment that does not replace the first and second commandments, to love God and to love neighbour, but brings a new dimension to it. The disciple of Jesus must love God, neighbour, and the other disciples!

When Judas had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another;
just as I have loved you,
you also must love one another.
By this love you have for one another,
everyone will know that you are my disciples.’

John 13:31-33,34-35

God sometimes feels distant and even abstract. No real difficult in loving God

And lots of neighbours are distant too: little difficult in feelings of general warmth to them.

But the other disciples: they are often all too close and all too awkward, challenging, different to us. How can we love them? And yet, says Jesus, we must. Not so much for our sake, or theirs, but for the sake of the world, of everyone else. So that they will know we are disciples.

  • Do you pass the test?
  • What helps?
  • What hinders?
  • What’s next?

Font. French Church, Leicester Sq, London. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Faithful one

The Crucified, Liverpool.

The first reading at Mass today speaks to us in the context of Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, the week that we keep marking the Passion of the Lord, and that culminates in the week’s 8th Day, Easter Day, a Day that lasts 50 days – a week of weeks, stretching to Pentecost.

The first reading today speaks of Jesus as the faithful disciple, whose faithfulness is sustained despite the worst others can do to him.

 

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

Isaiah 50:4-7

As we hear the reading express the faithfulness of Jesus, the faithful disciple, servant-King, we are invited surely to wonder how true the sentiments are about ourselves, disciples here and now, and tested in all sorts of ways.

The coming week gives us many opportunities to reflect on our relationship to Jesus and our faithfulness to our vocations and service of the world. Our fault and failines we can bring to the Lord’s cross in sorrow, our successes we can bring to him too, as trophies that he has won in his victory over sin and death, enabling us to do our best.

 

  • What joys and sorrows do you bring to this Holy Week?
  • For what will you ask the Lord? For yourself? For others?

Detail of Crucifixion in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. Carving by Stephen Foster. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Obedience

Cross, BeziersThe Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, draws our attention to the intentionality of the Incarnation – the why and wherefore of God taking flesh and becoming in this extraordinary way one-with-us as well as – as Salvation History bears ample evidence – always One who is for us.

This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:5-10

The principal mystery of the Incarnation is God taking flesh, but what we may perhaps miss or underestimate the importance of us, is seeing flesh ‘taking’ God. In his life, Jesus reveals the potential for human beings to live godly lives.

Our potential in this world is not inexhaustible : even Jesus faces his destiny amidst fear and sorrow, and meets with death on the Cross. Yet our potential – as we see with Jesus – is even then met with the power and the glory of God which is able to take the worst of this world and redeem us from it. Jesus, even the humanity of Jesus, is safeguarded and raised to eternal life.

Love wins love and lives love, for ever.

Image from Cathedral of Beziers. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See. He is gone, but he is here, still.

Ascension

The Gospel Acclamation is so short, and yet often sums up the ‘meaning’ of a celebraiton in a remarkable way.

Certainly that was the case this last Sunday, Ascension Sunday:

Alleluia, alleluia!
Go, make disciples of all the nations.
I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.
Alleluia!

Mt28:19,20

In part, of course, the feast marks the Lord’s leaving the disciples, but more importantly it is about his abiding present in and through them.

He is with us. Now where will we take him? Where will we let him lead us?

  • How do you make disciples? A pertinent question at any time and especially as we gear up, again, in response to Proclaim ’15

Photograph of The Ascension, part of the Rosary Triptych by Arthur Fleischman. Photograph (c) 2011, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Live in us that we may live in you.

St Peter, Fowey

The Second reading at Mass on 5th Sunday of Easter, tomorrow, reminds us of the challenge to be real and authentic, and of the love and care that God has for us.

My children,
our love is not to be just words or mere talk,
but something real and active;
only by this can we be certain
that we are children of the truth
and be able to quieten our conscience in his presence,
whatever accusations it may raise against us,
because God is greater than our conscience and he knows everything.
My dear people,
if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience,
we need not be afraid in God’s presence,
and whatever we ask him,
we shall receive,
because we keep his commandments
and live the kind of life that he wants.
His commandments are these:
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
and that we love one another
as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments
lives in God and God lives in him.
We know that he lives in us
by the Spirit that he has given us.

1 John 3:18-24

Jesus shows us what it is to be fully human, fully alive. In him we see perfection.

In ourselves we see foibles and fallibility. We stumble and stagger.

We are in good company, in this. Look at the disciples in the Gospels, if nowhere else. Failing is sad, sometimes humiliating. But it does not silence the message, and it really ought not to make us lose hope. The love and the compassion, and the assistance, of the Lord Jesus is there for us, even as it was there for the disciples.

In their passing on of the Gospel the first disciples  included their stories, their absurdities, to remind us we’re not alone with ours.

The passage from John we read today, and hear tomorrow, urges us to take courage and, finally, to hope not in our own abilities only but in what is achieved when we strive to live in communion with the Lord and allow him to live in communion with us.

Photograph of the stained glass window showing the rescue of St Peter comes from the church of St Finn Bar, Fowey, Cornwall. (c) 2004, Allen Morris.