Speak Lord: Healing Lord

dsc06581-healing

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.

The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,
the splendour of Carmel and Sharon;
they shall see the glory of the Lord,
the splendour of our God.

Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees
and 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 those the Lord has ransomed shall return.

They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.

Isaiah 35:1-6,10

Approaching Christmas we may think we know exactly what we are preparing to celebrate. And the horizon of faith may be limited only to the celebration of the Incarnation and the birth of Jesus. (Only?!)

Advent – especially through its readings, reminds us of the newness that is still to come that we are not yet aware of, and that we learn afresh to long for as we listen to the readings.

Today, the 2nd Sunday of Advent the prophet Isaiah speaks of the most wondrous changes, reversals, healings and fulfilments. These are for us, and by God’s grace are to come about even by our cooperation with his grace.

  • Which image grabs you?
  • Which change do you most long for?
  • How will you pray or work for it in the coming hours and days?

Healing. Vatican Museum. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Faith

faithJesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

Luke 18:1-8

Jesus rather loads the dice in the parable we heard on Sunday, the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

The parable is about the irresistible force meeting the immoveable object. I’ve met a few of both of those in my time. Probably have been both of those in my time.

Sometimes in those situations it is not so easy to know whether who is the good guy and who the bad. But Jesus tells the story not so much to help us to reflect on our own behaviour and attitude, but to assure us that the good God will never abandon us to our own devices.

So, though there might be benefit in using the parable to consider how we are to others, the parable is intended most to help us consider how we relate to God who is entirely good, though not at our beck and call!

  • When did you last find the need to trust in God?
  • When did you last find disappointment that God did not answer your prayers?
  • What helps you to trust and have faith?

Faith. Tewkesbury Abbey. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Only One?

peacockOn the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed.

Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan.

This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

Luke 17:11-19

Hearing the Gospel yesterday – the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time – one of the things that really struck home was the sheer numbers of the lepers! Excluded, sick, and perhaps not even with the benefit of unity in affliction, these ten, encountered on the border-lands, were beyond the pale.

In their misery they cry out. And Jesus hears, and Jesus heals.

And then of the ten, only one returns to thank Jesus – and that one a Samaritan, be-nighted by a deffective faith according to Israel. But Jesus attributes the healing not to his own power as a healer but to this man’s faith.

Ten were healed of leprosy, but only one – by his faith – cooperated with the power and healing love of Jesus, achieving by this cooperation, the deeper healing of his very person.

Faith is not about passive reception. That is not how God made us to be. God made us for response and communion, and that communion involves our participation too.

  • What grace of God do you want to/have you consciously responded to today?
  • How?
  • Why?

 Peacock – symbol of eternal life. Church of Jacob’s Well, Nablus. (former Samaria). (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: A whisper

detail-from-battle-of-britain-memorial-2How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help
while you will not listen;
to cry ‘Oppression!’ in your ear
and you will not save?
Why do you set injustice before me,
why do you look on where there is tyranny?
Outrage and violence, this is all I see,
all is contention, and discord flourishes.

Then the Lord answered and said,
‘Write the vision down,
inscribe it on tablets
to be easily read,
since this vision is for its own time only:
eager for its own fulfilment, it does not deceive;
if it comes slowly, wait,
for come it will, without fail.
See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,
but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.’

Habakkuk 1:2-3,2:2-4

How promptly, here, the Lord responds to the anguished cry of the prophet.

Often, though, it doesn’t seem to work like that. Our cries seem to go unanswered, and maybe that is so: maybe sometimes there is no response, only silence.

But at other times, there may be a response, but one that – for some reason of other  we don’t hear or notice. After all, in Habakkuk’s case, the response is not that startling. Maybe what is expressed to us in Scripture as a response expressed in measured words, was in fact a quiet stirring in the heart. Maybe it was a certain disatisfaction with the adequacy of his lament as description of the situation and how it must be addressed/resolved. Maybe.

How often the Lord speaks to us this way: a feeling, a memory, a sense of unease that makes us think again, that stops us settling for a first response, helps us avoid a hardening of our heart.

As with Habakkuk, when the Lord acts this way, he can seem to do very little indeed, certainly very little compared to what we ask of him. But by that little our life can be changed; a certain freedom is restored, horizons expand, and we move on differently, even hopefully…

  • When/how did the Lord last speak with you?
  • What helped or what hindered your listening?
  • Speak with the Lord of your experience.

Detail from Battle of Britain memorial. London. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Teach us patience

7thc-liturgical-diptych-egypt

How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help
while you will not listen;
to cry ‘Oppression!’ in your ear
and you will not save?
Why do you set injustice before me,
why do you look on where there is tyranny?
Outrage and violence, this is all I see,
all is contention, and discord flourishes.
Then the Lord answered and said,

‘Write the vision down,
inscribe it on tablets
to be easily read,
since this vision is for its own time only:
eager for its own fulfilment, it does not deceive;
if it comes slowly, wait,
for come it will, without fail.
See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights,
but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.’

Habakkuk 1:2-3,2:2-4

The cry of the faithful one comes from his agony. The Lord seems absent.

And yet the prophet is able to testify also that the Lord is present. And is aware of our predicament..

Righteousness will come. Victory is won.

In our pain and hurt we are asked to trust, to wait on the Lord. We can do no more than trust, maybe, and that can seem foolish, even ridiculous. And yet the loving, patient Lord invites us to be still, patient, and to trust. To him be the glory.

7th C Writing Tablet (Liturgical text) from Egypt, in the collection of the British Museum. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of your promises…

Street, ArlesThe First reading at Mass today, the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of the night that presaged freedom and the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people: the night that opened the way to the Promised Land.

That night had been foretold to our ancestors, so that, once they saw what kind of oaths they had put their trust in, they would joyfully take courage.

This was the expectation of your people, the saving of the virtuous and the ruin of their enemies;
for by the same act with which you took vengeance on our foes
you made us glorious by calling us to you.

The devout children of worthy men offered sacrifice in secret
and this divine pact they struck with one accord:
that the saints would share the same blessings and dangers alike;
and forthwith they had begun to chant the hymns of the fathers.

Wisdom 18:6-9

What ‘night’ does Wisdom allude to? Certainly the reference is to the night of the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 11.4-7), but also there is probably a reference back to the night time promises  with Abraham and Jacob (Gen 15.13-14; Gen 46.3-4). In the deepest darkness comes the sure promise of eternal light and life: God covenants with his people

The promises of the Old Testament lead the people forward – if they will hear them, and put their trust in them. But as the Second reading at Mass today from Hebrews makes clear, the people of the Old Testament, what ever their faithfulness, did not receive the ultimate gift that was to come only in Christ. They lived and died in faith, but awaiting the fulfilment in Christ. The Promised Land itself is but a stage on the way to the Kingdom.

Today, we too are called to live in faith – as the Gospel too, today, makes perfectly clear. We too are called on into the Kingdom that is so very near: already but for us not yet, not quite yet.

Yet already through faith in Christ we are incorporated into him. As Paul says we already share his death, and so share in his resurrection. Of ourselves we are called forward and called to seek after the kingdom, but in him, already and securely, we are part of that reality. In him we seek our true selves.

  • What in God’s promises draws you forward?
  • What in this present ‘land’ might hold you back from faithfully answering his call to move on and move forward?

A street in Arles. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Very different but at one in Christ

Lourdes windowThe Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, spoke of the profound unity between Christians, by virtue of their faith and baptism.

That unity is deeper, more real, than any differences. Once these differences were used to distinguish one group against the other – and some still see them as that significance – but they are wrong, says Paul.

You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.                                                                                            Galatians 3:26-29

A unity more real than any differences and distinctions?

The ancient words of Paul – potent in their contemporary significance – this week will for many people have resonated have resonated with newly familiar words spoken just a year ago by Jo Cox MP, the recently murdered MP, in her maiden speech in the House of Commons.

Batley and Spen is a gathering of typically independent, no-nonsense and proud Yorkshire towns and villages. Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.

From the maiden speech of  Jo Cox, MP  for the constituency of Batley and Spen, 3rd June 2015.

The human family is enriched by all sorts of difference and variety. These features are sometimes exploited to divide and separate people, even to set one community against others.

Saint Paul and Jo Cox may attribute the reasons for unity deeper than difference, but they too are maybe more different than opposed; more complementary than different.

  • What binds you to others who are different to you? How can you fruitfully cooperate with these?
  • What forces seek to separate you from them? How can you work to frustrate them? And rise above that which contradicts God’s will?

Window from parish church of Lourdes. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of freedom

Sunset - clouds over Marseille

The First reading today speaks of freedom in the Lord, of the Gospel being there to set people free for the godly life, and of the Church’s responsibility for ensuring that religious customs and practices not be allowed to get in the way of a culture’s response to the Lord.

The Council of Jersualem had its go at establishing that freedom. Some of the Church, and some of Israel, would have been offended by this removing of old norms; some would surely have wanted them to go further; and others – not having known the living God – would be bewildered and maybe amused at the whole thing!

The Church’s pastoral ministry in favour of the faith continues, amidst controversy, and in face of indifference.

As does the challenge to us, as individuals and communities, to allow ourselves to be saved by God, by our knowledge of him and our response to him.

Human beings can respond to God, move to God, in the Church and out of it. At least we can respond in or out of the visible Church. What is important is that we are helped to know God – in religion, and in silence, in nature, in all that is – work of his hands. And the Church is – above all – called to the service of that universal knowing of God, that all may be helped to love him and respond to him.

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 are the obstacles to deeper knowledge of God in your church?
  • In your place of work or recreation?
  • In your family?
  • In you?

Clouds at sunset, Marseille. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: New life, new hope…

Resurrected Lord, Arles

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter engages us with evidence for the Resurrection and justification of faith.

In the evening of that same day, 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.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

John 20:19-31

We need to pass ourselves through the valley of the shadow of death, and learn the truth of the Gospel, the Resurrection, to come to a personal relationship with the Risen Jesus. We will not see, touch and so on like Thomas, but the Gospel warns us of that. But we come to know him in our prayer, in our journey, in the stirring of our heart in response to the gift of the Spirit, of his real presence. It’s something we can become more sensitive to over time.

Thomas with his struggles can be our help and guide here too.

And we need him. For when we are exhausted by the mess, and the disappointment, and the hurt, and the loss, it takes something so lift us up again. To heal, restore and help us to trust again, to risk being wrong again.

We’ve all experienced this being stuck, or we will – in bereavement, maybe in the failure of a relationship, of a marriage. The mess may have been a result of our own failing, or someone else’s, or no-one’s fault, just the way that the world is. But it can imprison us in fear, guilt, pain, mess.

Thomas can lead us on that journey beyond, or even more deeply into, the mess, that we might  finally know the truth of Jesus rising from the dead. Thomas  knows what its like, and he will help. So that in time with Thomas we can pray: ‘My Lord and my God’.

Then we will have faith not because we’ve inherited it, only, but because we ourselves have experienced, continue to experience it (at least on a good day!)

Then he will be my Lord not only because he is theirs, or is ours – though he is – but because I have learnt the truth of it, and I respond person to person to my Lord and my God. And I will have that personal commitment to God, from which flows everything else. Which means that God, Catholicism is not a style choice, or a means to an end, but is the heart of me and mine.

The prayer of Thomas: ‘My Lord and my God’ is a powerful prayer, so simple, but all containing. It is like a diamond to carry close in Easter, praying the words, but meditating on them too.

  • What do they mean to me.
  • Are they true?
  • Why are they true?
  • How are they true?

May Thomas, his example and his prayer, deepen faith in all of us.

The risen Lord, Arles. c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Call us to faith…

St Thomas

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter comes from the Gospel of John. It reminds of the challenge of coming to belief in the Resurrection

In the evening of that same day, 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.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

John 20:19-31

We may feel superior to Thomas, having inherited a sense for the rightness of the Resurrection as part of how the world is. Yet it evidently is not how the world is, except when God wills it!

Belief in the Resurrection is in the fact of the Resurrection, not in an idea or a (false) myth. But it is surely no easy thing to hold to in face of the evidence.

  • Pray for those who struggle with the witness of the Church.
  • Pray in gratitude for the faith you have.

Statue of St Thomas, St John Lateran,, Rome. (c) 2016, Allen Morris