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 : Family, by God..

aix-2-062When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

Sunday was the feast of Mary, Mother of God and the Octave Day of Christmas. It was also the first day of the secular year, and a Day of prayer for peace.

Although again and again the Bible tells stories of families riven by tensions of all sorts, it is to ‘family’ that the Bible again and again has recourse in trying to describe how we might live God’s blessing and our salvation. Paul, here; Jesus in his characterisitic use of ‘Abba’, ‘ Father’ to speak of God.

And subsequently hte use of Mary as Mother of God and Mother of Church extends that usage.

  • At the begining of this New Year, invoke our Lady’s prayer and protection for you and all of God’s family.

Alma Redemptóris Mater, quæ pérvia cæli
Porta manes, et stella maris, succúrre cadénti,
Súrgere qui curat pópulo: tu quæ genuísti,
Natúra miránte, tuum sanctum Genitórem
Virgo prius ac postérius, Gabriélis ab ore
Sumens illud Ave, peccatórum miserére.

Loving mother of the Redeemer,
gate of heaven, star of the sea,
assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again,
To the wonderment of nature you bore your Creator,
yet remained a virgin after as before,
You who received Gabriel’s joyful greeting,
have pity on us poor sinners

You might like to hear it sung

Our Lady, Mougins, France. (c) 2006, Allen Morris 

Taste and See: Family

family-liverpoolThe Gospel proclaimed at Mass on Sunday, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, offered quite a challenge!

Christians are supposed to love. Indeed it is our understanding that all people are created in love and for love.

It is from love that we have the opportunty to learn wholeness and holiness. And yet Jesus challenges those who follow him: unless you hate family, and self, you cannot be disciple.

Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’

Luke 14:25-33

Jesus regularly uses the semitic rhetorical device of exaggeration. We ought to feel free to consider his use of ‘hate’ in this sense. We cannot remain in the same, presumed, relationship with family as previously, not if we are to be his disciple. Family in his culture was even more important than now.

Now we have all sorts of freedom for ‘making our own way in the world. But, in Jesus’ day, family essentially determined who one was and what one did. And it is surely this that Jesus urges us to detach ourselves from. Detach ourselves so that we can live as a child of the Father, and a brother or a sister to all humankind, not only ‘one’s own family’.

Statue on Liverpool’s waterfront memorialising migrants. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

 

Taste and See: the family of God

Moore, Family

There was an unexpected poignancy to the Collect this Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter: hearing it, saying it, praying it, in the wake of the news about the conception of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.

May your people exult for ever, O God,
in renewed youthfulness of spirit,
so that, rejoicing now in the restored glory of our adoption,
we may look forward in confident hope
to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.
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.

Speaking a few days earlier Archbishop Welby had said: ‘We need to be a church where I am who I am because I am in Jesus Christ.’ Those words were especially important for him given the particular circumstances in which he spoke, but are of importance for us too. All the baptised are adopted in Christ, thus children of God in a particular way, not only in our creation, but in our participation, through baptism, in the life of the eighth day, the new creation. We are to be who we are in Jesus Christ.

We can hear lying behind the words of Archbishop Welby the words of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo to those receiving Eucharist for the first time: receive what you are, become what you receive. You are the Body of Christ, receive the Body of Christ.

They are heard in the wake also of  Amoris LaetitiaPope Francis’s recent letter,on the family and its importance for healthy human and spiritual development. In that letter the Pope frankly acknowledges the sometime mess and chaos of human relationship, and how we are called, all of us, in Christ and by Christ, to respond in love. He quotes from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous ‘hymn to love’, and comments on the call there to patience in love:

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds. That is why the word of God tells us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31). Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.

Amoris Laetitia, 92 (emphasis added)

  • What – most – makes me who I am?
  • What is my calling?

Sculpture by Henry Moore, Tate Britain. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See: Care and Protection

Holy Family Liverpool

The Collect on Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time,  had us lay claim to our identity as members of the family of God, and ask the God Jesus taught us to know as Father to show us care and keep us safe:

Keep your family safe, O Lord, with unfailing care,
that, relying solely on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always by your protection.
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.

At every time there are things which threaten us and from which we need protecting.

As we approach the season of Lent it is perhaps especially valuable to take a little time to identify for ourselves, and then place before God, the things which threaten our well-being and for which we do need God’s protection.

Carving of the Holy Family. Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Taste and see: at the family table.

Baptism JordanSunday was the last of the now usual three Sundays of Christmas that the Church celebrates in England and Wales: Holy Family, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord. The sequence of feasts provides a fine opportunity for exploring the meaning of Christ’s incarnation and our incorporation into Christ through faith and baptism, faith’s first Sacrament.

The first of the two alternative Collects for Sunday’s feast highlighted our new relationship with God through Christ.

Almighty ever-living God,
who, when Christ had been baptized in the River Jordan
and as the Holy Spirit descended upon him,
solemnly declared him your beloved Son,
grant that your children by adoption,
reborn of water and the Holy Spirit,
may always be well pleasing to you.
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.

They say you cannot choose your blood family – but we are all members of our water family, the family formed through Baptism, by God’s choice: we are adopted by him, lovingly welcomed into his family.

The season of Christmas is a season when we are ‘confronted’ by our own families – by the joys and challenges we find there. We tell stories and watch fairy stories – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White – which tell of (other?) dysfunctional families!

And we do this safe in the re-telling of the Christmas story – the bigger, truer, endlessly resilient story of God’s family, a story told to heal and hold us together.

There is work still to be done on our families and the human family, but God helps with a new start to the work. It has firm foundations….

Photograph is of the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus on the river Jordan. It is now an international border, separating Jordan and Israel. Crossing from one side to the other is prohibited. Pilgrims approach either from Jordan or from Israel. What might be a sign of unity is another sign of division. (c) 2013, Allen Morris. 

 

Taste and See: Growing up

Finding in the temple 2

On Sunday last, Holy Family Sunday, and the first Sunday of Christmas, the Gospel came from Luke’s Gospel, and is the only account we have of the time between Jesus’ birth and his adult ministry.

The life of the Holy Family was not without its challenges.

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

Luke 2:41-52

How could their life be without challenges? Jesus own life would lead to the agony of decision whether to betray himself and his mission, or flee to the hills to escape execution. Our own lives, while rarely pushed to that pitch of crisis or incident, every day contain choices. Those choices can make or mar our life and the lives of those nearest us, and – in this global economy – impact on those far away who would never dream of our existence.

At any time most of us have only a modest grasp on the circumstances of our lives and the import of decisions we make. All the more important then to seek that sort of healthy collaboration – often a very tough working together – that we see in the Gospel story.

Jesus does the will of his Father, but returns home under the authority of his parents. Mary expresses her distress and anger at Jesus, but also is ready to store these things in her heart, and – we are told elsewhere – ponder them.

Theirs is a life lived careful for truth and purpose.

New Year’s resolutions loom.

What might be a realistic one that will help you to live and work more collaboratively with God and neighbour?

 

A second image of the child Jesus in the Temple. Hill of Apparitions, Medjugorje. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of your blessing

Murillo TrinityThe Psalm for Mass tomorrow extols family life, happy family life. In the unity and fruitfulness of the relationships within the ‘good’ family are echoed the unity and fruitfulness that is the Creator’s intention for the relationship of Creation and Creator.

A key element in Jesus’ urging a renewal of faith on his generation, and his manifesting the graciousness of God through his actions, was the teaching of God as Father, Abba. When children or spouse mess up and fail it is to Abba we turn for healing and hope.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Your wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
in a happy Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children.
On Israel, peace!

May the Lord bless us all the days of our life.

Psalm 127:1-5

The Synod on the Family, being held in Rome, begins tomorrow in Rome. Its topic “The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World.” For more information click here.

The family is a vital part of society. Healthy happy families fulfilling their potential helps to the flourishing of society – the love engendered in the family providing a seedbed for the necessary works for the common good that need a broader social base.

Unhealthy families make for an unhealthy society. And sometimes families are made unhealthy by an unhealthy society. Chicken-and-egg questions go on and on by there is clearly a certain reciprocity family/society and society/family.

The Church is a family established to serve the common good, to help people by the Son to know the Father and in that knowledge expressed as love to find healing and hope, the means to whatever conversion is needed.

The invitation to all of us is to ever deeper communion with the Church, to more deliberate choosing of what is right and good, for us and those others God loves. God’s Spirit seeks to draw us to that. The rest of us need to strive to do what best we can, and not to hinder.

  • Pray for the Synod of Bishops.
  • Pray for the Church.
  • Pray for families and all their members.

The Holy Families. Murillo. Collection of the National Gallery, London.

Speak Lord: Call us, your children…

Eucharist

The Second reading on Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, comes from the 1st letter of St John. It calls us to be awake and alert to all God has done for us.

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.

1 John 3:1-2

As with most families what helps us to be who we are and to become who we are to become happens as we share in the family meals and the family stories. These can limit us and constrain us, or open our hearts, minds and lives to the newness that is available to us.

  • At Mass are you closed down or opened up by what takes place?
  • How can you better play your part in helping that sacrament of word and symbolic action more fully engage you and others, and help you to the newness and the dignity proper to the children of God?

Photograph of station of Mystery of Institution of the Eucharist, Medjugorje. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Family and love

Holy Family

The Psalm for the 33rd Sunday of the Year continues the theme of the first reading – the goodness of life well lived, and the particular boon that is life well lived as a family. Something of the honour and respect (the ‘fear’) due to the Lord belongs to them too.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

Your wife like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Psalm 127:1-5

If you have not yet had the opportunity of reading the final document from the recent Synod on Evangelisation and Family Life (the preparatory document for the forthcoming ordinary Synod on the Family) why not find time today? It’s not such a long document. This might be an opportunity to do so.

Failing that, the following extract might provide plenty food for thought:

The Truth and Beauty of the Family and Mercy Towards Broken and Fragile Families

23.       With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer. In fact, they witness, in a credible way, to the beauty of an indissoluble marriage, while always remaining faithful to each other. Within the family, “which could be called a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), a person begins a Church experience of communion among persons, which reflects, through grace, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. “In a family, a person learns endurance, the joy of work, fraternal love, and generosity in forgiving others  —  repeatedly at times  —  and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1657). The Holy Family of Nazareth is a wondrous model in whose school we “understand why we have to maintain spiritual discipline, if we wish to follow the teachings of the Gospel and become Christ’s disciples” (Blessed Pope Paul VI, Address at Nazareth, 5 January 1964). The Gospel of the Family also nourishes the seeds which are still waiting to grow; and serves as the basis for caring for those trees which might have withered and need treatment.

24.       The Church, a sure teacher and caring mother, recognizes that the only marriage bond for those who are baptized is sacramental and any breach of it is against the will of God. At the same time, the Church is conscious of the weakness of many of her children who are struggling in their journey of faith. “Consequently, without detracting from the evangelical ideal, they need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur. […] A small step in the midst of great human limitations can be more pleasing to God than a life which outwardly appears in order and passes the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings”(Gaudium Evangelii, 44).

25.       In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, who are divorced and remarried or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of the God’s plan for them. Looking to Christ, whose light illumines every person (cf. Jn 1: 9; Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.

26.       The Church looks with concern at the distrust of many young people in relation to a commitment in marriage and suffers at the haste with which many of the faithful decide to put an end to the obligation they  assumed and to take on another. These lay people, who are members of the Church, need pastoral attention which is merciful and encouraging, so they might adequately determine their situation. Young people, who are baptized, should be encouraged to understand that the Sacrament of Marriage can enrich their prospects of love and they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the Sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church.

27.       In this regard, a new aspect of family ministry is requiring attention today  —  the reality of civil marriages between a man and woman, traditional marriages and, taking into consideration the differences involved, even cohabitation. When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for  children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage. Oftentimes, a couple lives together without the possibility of a future marriage and without any intention of a legally binding relationship.

28.       .In accordance with Christ’s mercy, the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and lost love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm. Conscious that the most merciful thing is to tell the truth in love, we go beyond compassion. Merciful love, as it attracts and unites, transforms and elevates. It is an invitation to conversion. We understand the Lord’s attitude in the same way; he does not condemn the adulterous woman, but asks her to sin no more (Jn 8: 1-11).

  • What matters does this raise for your own family life?
  • And for the place of families, and people in particular circumstances, in the family of your parish?

Figures of the Holy Family created by Michael Clarke for the Church of Our Lady, St Johns Wood. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2007, 2014