Speak Lord: Dispel our fears

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After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’ Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

Matthew 28:1-10

The above gospel passage is one of the two alternatives for Easter Sunday morning – and a third is provided for Mass on Easter Sunday evening.

We have not yet begun the Triduum, so it can seem odd to be considering stories of the Resurrection. Yet, note the repeated urging in the gospel reading: ‘Do not be afraid’.

The Lord lived and died and rose again to save us from shadows, darkness, sin and fear.

Jesus faced his fears in his Passion, and renewed his obedience to the Father’s will, finding there his ultimate security – a safety that conquered death and restored him to life.

  • What fears diminish and restrict you?
  • Bring them to the Lord in prayer in these coming days, asking for his help, that you be not afraid…

Ivory carving of the two Mary’s: collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Jerusalem Wall

Yesterday, the 14th Sunday of the Year, the first reading came from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

At a time when Jerusalem was sacked and its people deported, the prophet evoked Jerusalem as a place of health and restoration, of hopes and dreams not dashed or still-born, but fulfilled.

Rejoice, Jerusalem,
be glad for her, all you who love her!
Rejoice, rejoice for her,
all you who mourned her!

That you may be suckled, filled,
from her consoling breast,
that you may savour with delight
her glorious breasts.

For thus says the Lord:
Now towards her I send flowing
peace, like a river,
and like a stream in spate
the glory of the nations.

At her breast will her nurslings be carried
and fondled in her lap.
Like a son comforted by his mother
will I comfort you.
And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.

At the sight your heart will rejoice,
and your bones flourish like the grass.
To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.

Isaiah 66:10-14

The current division of Jerusalem – Israeli/Palestinian – remains a contradiction of those hopes. The people of Jerusalem are separated from one another by the visible sign of the wall and checkpoints, but also by fear and suspicion and hate.

The current division of Jerusalem also reminds of the importance that those hopes still retain for us – that hate and fear be overcome, that we find together common purpose in love of God and love of neighbour and fulfilment of our own human potential in and through this love. As yesterday’s Gospel assured: ”The kingdom of God is very near to you.’

So near and yet still seeming so far.

The hateful divisions and continued atrocities that take place in and around Jerusalem need to serve as a check to our rejoicing, a damper on any celebration of God’s power and glory and  the promise it holds for us. But they also need to serve as encouragement for us to work for something better, for all God’s children.

In addition the political/religious/moral and economic divisions which we see out there may also represent the sort of divisions that may be in all of us. The reality of the exterior world may help us to acknowledge our inner predicaments too. Maybe there are parts of our lives we are happy to  be seen and known, and that there are parts we seek to keep in shadow, suppress and hide from God, others, ourselves; deny to God, others, ourselves.

Hope, and healing and reconciliation are called for here too.

Isaiah calls us to hope now, though he places the fulfilment of God’s promises in the future. But, now, he calls Jerusalem, and us, to rejoice on the strength of what will be.

What needs to change? What do we look forward to? What part might we play in the coming closer yet of God’s kingdom?.

  • What do you hide?
  • What do you fear
  • What do you hate in others and why?
  • What might they hate in you and why?

View over Palestinian community in the Kedron valley, Jerusalem towards the wall of separation and Israeli settlements.  (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: No need for fear…

Olives KazmierzYesterday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Responsorial Psalm was in fact a Canticle, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

When we pray with scripture we are invited to enter into the emotional, spiritual depth of the text, the weft and warp of it.

We can say words such as ‘Truly, God is my salvation,/ I trust, I shall not fear.’ and they can mean very little. They mean much more, and the saying of the words contributes to our salvation when we also remember what it means to be lost, to have nothing/no-one in whom to trust, to be adrift in fears.

Take a moment to remember your past fears, or to acknowledge your present fears, before sharing in the Prophet’s witness to how God has empowered him and gifted freedom to him and to his people

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Truly, God is my salvation,
I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name!
Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!
Declare the greatness of his name.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing a psalm to the Lord
for he has done glorious deeds;
make them known to all the earth!
People of Zion, sing and shout for joy,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12

 

For Isaiah God is the reason he has no fear, that he trusts, that he is saved. There are many reasons that he could fear, flail and flounder. But from them, the very real and ever-present them, the Lord has saved him.

The Lord is our salvation too, if we will trust and let him free us from fear.

Fear is maybe the greatest. most corrosive spiritual disease. The goodness of God from before all time, through all time and beyond all time is our cure. In his goodness we find mercy.

Kyrie, eleison…  Lord, have mercy.

  • In quiet prayer renew and rehearse your trust, and reasons for trust, in God’s care and protection of you.
  • Pray for someone you know to be afraid: pray for their freedom and healing.

Olive leaves and fruit. From Synagogue, Kazermierz, Cracow . (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of courage and trust

Delacroix Crucifixion

The Psalm on Sunday puts in context the way that Jesus faces his enemies, the way we face our challenges. ‘The Lord upholds my life.’

To a society that so often sees life as worthwhile in terms of quality of health and physical well-being, the psalm shows us, reminds us, that the moral quality of life also matters. It is not only how we enjoy and draw goodness from the easier things in life, it is how we enter into challenges and dangers too.

We who know ourselves to be creatures, created, need to put our greater trust in the Creator than in ourselves. We who know the Creator to have revealed his love especially by entering into the experience of challenge and danger, suffering, pain and even death, so as to lead us into the glory of his Resurrection. To pick and choose which parts we will live, and allow others to live, is to refuse to be ourselves, to learn to live. To use Gerald Manley Hopkins word – is to miss the great ‘achieve’ of it.

The Lord upholds my life.

O God, save me by your name;
by your power, uphold my cause.
O God, hear my prayer;
listen to the words of my mouth.

The Lord upholds my life.

For proud men have risen against me,
ruthless men seek my life.
They have no regard for God.

The Lord upholds my life.

But I have God for my help.
The Lord upholds my life.
I will sacrifice to you with willing heart
and praise your name for it is good.

The Lord upholds my life.

Psalm 53:3-6,8

  • Where do I need the Lord’s help?
  • What do I fear? And why?
  • How does the Gospel and the example of Jesus speak to my fear?

The Crucifixion by Delacroix. In the collection of the National Gallery, London. 

Speak Lord: Peace and trust

Emmaus, Arles

The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, is the sequel to the reading of the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and their encounter with the risen Lord.

The disciples told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognised him at the breaking of bread.

They were still talking about all this when he himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you!’ In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; yes, it is I indeed. Touch me and see for yourselves; a ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this he showed them his hands and feet. Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood there dumbfounded; so he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ And they offered him a piece of grilled fish, which he took and ate before their eyes.

Then he told them, ‘This is what I meant when I said, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets and in the Psalms has to be fulfilled.’ He then opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to this.

Luke 24:35-48

Two remarkable things about this account. The first is the eagerness of the disciples to share the good news with others – or at least among themselves, in this case. The second is how despite knowing him risen the disciples find themselves paralysed and incapable.

  • When did you last bear witness to the mystery of the Lord’s Resurrection?
  • What causes you to pause and stumble in your life as a Christian?

Bring the fruit of your reflection in prayer to the Lord

Image of Emmaus from St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Tears and smiles

Tears, EindhovenThe Psalm set for the 4th Sunday in Year B remembers the experience of exile and loss, as recounted in the first reading.

O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not!

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat and wept,
remembering Zion;
on the poplars that grew there
we hung up our harps.

O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not!

For it was there that they asked us,
our captors, for songs,
our oppressors, for joy.
‘Sing to us,’ they said,
‘one of Zion’s songs.’

O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not!

O how could we sing
the song of the Lord
on alien soil?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!

O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not!

O let my tongue
cleave to my mouth
if I remember you not,
if I prize not Jerusalem
above all my joys!

O let my tongue cleave to my mouth if I remember you not!

Psalm 136:1-6

Tears, Eindhoven II

  • What do you place great trust in? Does it merit your trust?
  • What gives you hope?
  • What challenges you?

Bring your thoughts and feelings to God in prayer.

– – –

The psalm for Year A is to be used when the second Scrutiny is celebrated.

The readings of Year A may also be used in any year.

The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.

The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit.

The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.

He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort.

The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing.

The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever.

The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want.

Psalm 22:1-6

Photograph of tears in stained glass window, Eindhoven. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: God, on our side…

The Cruficied, Aix 2014With the second reading the logic of the Liturgy of the Word for the Second Sunday of Lent starts to reveal itself.

The first reading retold the story of the testing of Abraham.

The psalm has us confess the presence and care of the Lord for us in all our circumstances.

Now words from St Paul offer us still further encouragement and hope.

With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.

Romans 8:31-34

Genesis tells us of the testing of Abraham, but that at the last God stopped the father sacrificing his Son. The New Testament tells us of God’s Son offering himself for the salvation of the world, and nothing would or could stop his self-offering.

St Paul says, after that what could shake our faith in God’s love and care for us.

  • What does cause you to fear or doubt?
  • In quiet trust, seek to bring that to the Lord in prayer, and know his love for you.

Photograph is of medieval Corpus, in Le Musée du Vieil Aix, Aix en Provence. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Raise the lowly

Mercy cross Lourdes

The responsorial psalm sung on the 5th Sunday of the Year, this coming Sunday offers comfort and, unusually, two alternative responses are proposed for our use.

Praise the Lord who heals the broken-hearted.
or
Alleluia!

 

Praise the Lord for he is good;
sing to our God for he is loving:
to him our praise is due.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem
and brings back Israel’s exiles,
he heals the broken-hearted,
he binds up all their wounds.
He fixes the number of the stars;
he calls each one by its name.

Our Lord is great and almighty;
his wisdom can never be measured.
The Lord raises the lowly;
he humbles the wicked to the dust.

Psalm 146:1-6

One regular source of wonder is that the Creator cares for his creatures! We are countless, seeming passing, and so regularly treated so poorly by our own kind. Yet God loves and cares and tends us in our brokenness.

  • What hurts hamper you?

Bring them to the Lord for his healing and care.

Photograph of cross in the Domaine of Lourdes. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Free from fear, free from worry?

In the Second reading at Mass tomorrow, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, St Paul offers counsel to the Church at Corinth.

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

Maybe the most unhelpful thing you can say to someone worried, and fretted by worry, is to say ‘Don’t worry’!

What they need is, instead, a reason that worry is not helpful, and a strategy to give them another activity which can displace the worrying.

In 1 Corinthians Paul says don’t worry because the Lord is good and you are safe with him, and so you can safely give yourself over to love and service of him (which of course includes love and service of neighbour).

QED? Yes and no. Yes, for it is self-evidently true from the sound perspective of faith. No, because we struggle to live faithfully, and often enough need to try to learn daily some of its most fundamental truths – such as the love and faithfulness of God, and that we find ourselves most fully when we live lives inspired by and directed to the love and glory of God.

Paul, a great struggler, is our generous companion as we continue to try.

  • What worries you?
  • What do you think God has to say about the matter concerned, and your worry about it
  • Let your thoughts be the start of a time of reflection and bring the fruits of that to God in prayer.

Image (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: set free from terrors and fear?

Mossa

The psalm for the Mass of the Day, on the feast of St Peter and Paul is a song of thanksgiving and praise for rescue from fear and danger.

As you read it, note what you feel, and how the text speaks to you.
Bring those responses to God in prayer.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called, the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

The angel of the Lord is encamped
around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Psalm 33:2-9

  • What strikes you in the psalm?
  • What response does it prompt you to make to the Lord?

On my best days I think I can honestly say ‘From all my terrors the Lord is setting me free’.

On other days I may say ‘From all my terrors the Lord set me free’ but I am less likely to mean it, and more likely just to be ‘saying’ it.

The salvation offered by the Lord, real and powerful though it is, is also work in progress. And mostly, as with St Paul, it is when we know our weaknesses (and our need therefore to entrust ourselves to the Lord) that we are most likely to be truly safe and secure.

Painting by Gustav Adolf Mossa – Musee des Beaux Arts, Nice.
Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013