Taste and See: Free from care? Fit for the Lord?

Wedding, Aix

In the Second reading at Mass yesterday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, St Paul spoke of being free from worry, so as to focus everything on the Lord.

I would like to see you free from all worry.

An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways.

In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband.

I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

The opposition between pleasing the Lord and pleasing a spouse is rather a simplistic one, and at least potentially wrong-headed.

It is certain that one way of pleasing the Lord is in the fruitful creativeness of family life, with mutual support and encouragement helping parents and children learn and achieve holiness of life. Pleasing others and pleasing the Lord are not at odds with other.

However carelessness and selfishness, and obsessiveness – with regard to the Lord, or  spouse, family or worldly matters – can  lead people to lose their way in life. The family, the spouse, the world and we ourselves are not ends in ourselves. We are gifts of God, and gifts to be ‘used’ lovingly and gratefully as we also grow in relationship with God.

In most Christian traditions space is also found for acknowledging and supporting a healthy renunciation of the gift of marriage to follow a ‘religious’ vocation, usually in the context of a religious ‘family’ (be that the presbyterate of a local Church or a religious community or congregation). Such a life can be more singly focussed on pleasing the Lord, but rarely is the living of that religious ‘family’ life without its cares and worries too. Though, as in ‘natural’ families, those cares and worries, properly attended to, can be stepping stones to wholeness and holiness, making us still more pleasing to God, signs of his Glory.

 

Photograph of wedding in the church of St John of Malta, Aix en Provence. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The treasure of difference

Presentation

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Christmas, and Feast of the Holy Family, has a notably cross-generational cast. A new-born child, a young mother, a (by tradition) late middle-aged  father, and a notably old woman, and a man self- confessedly anticipating his death.

In their encounter they find fulfilment of past promises and anticipate the fulfilment of their hopes for the future (and the cost at which these will come).

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

Luke 2:22-40

Such cross- generational gatherings are probably rarer than once they were. The commercialising of leisure and the pressures that lead to the fragmentation of families and communities work against the easy mutual encounter of old and young, employed and unemployed or retired.

Churches are maybe in a privileged position of being focuses for such meetings and the sharing of wisdom and experience for the benefit of the health of communities.

The present invitation by the Bishops for spiritual discernment on family life will surely be assisted by opportunities for individuals to have their personal experiences and reflections contextualised by hearing them contextualised by those of others.

  • How often do you have the opportunity of reflecting on key aspects of your life with some notably different to you in terms of age and experience?
  • How many of your regular acquaintances are like you? How many unlike you?
  • Where do you get your understanding of how life is for those who are unlike you?

Photograph of carving In Perspex of the Presentation in the Temple, a detail of the Rosary Triptych by Arthur Fleischmann. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Marriage and Family Life

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Our Archbishop, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote a pastoral letter, read at all Sunday masses on the feast of Pentecost.

The letter can be found in our newsletter over the next week, thereafter I expect it will be available on the Westminster Diocese website though I can’t find it there yet.

In the letter, the Cardinal spoke of the gifts of the Spirit and vocation – and especially the vocation to marriage and family life.

  • If you heard his letter what do you remember from it? What struck you by way of encouragement, challenge, even discouragement? Bring that to God in prayer…

The Cardinal spoke of marriage and family life, as well as being something precious to those directly involved, as having benefit for wider society – stablility, new life, love and generosity. He acknowledged the challenges and the sacrifice that faithfulness to the call to be authentic family, to be true to marriage vows. And he spoke of the experience of 20,000 years of married life, present in the couples at a Mass to celebrate significant anniversaries of their marriage at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday – that whatever the cost, it is worth it, that a marriage well lived is a priceless treasure.

  • What (more!) can you do to help your family develop its potential for good?
  • How can you support the love that is at the heart of the families and relationships of your wider family, your friends and neighbours?
  • And what other gifts of the Spirit have you received that you can give thanks to God for?

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Image: Cardinal Vincent Celebrates Mass in Thanksgiving for Marriage © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Other image from somewhere on the web and tweaked by Allen Morris!