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

Speak Lord: our life

Prison Sainte Anne

The second reading at Mass on Sunday, Easter Sunday, comes from the letter to the Colossians. (Or so it does unless you hear the alternative second reading from the letter to the Corinthians)

Since you have been brought back to true life with Christ, you must look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed – and he is your life – you too will be revealed in all your glory with him.

Colossians 3:1-4

On this day (Good Friday) that we commemorate the death of the Lord, we look forward also to our being brought to new life by that death…

The reading for Sunday assures us of our lasting salvation in Christ – saved by what was, what is and what will be, in Christ.

Open doors in the Prison Sainte Anne, Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Freedom and Joy

Clifton font

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord comes from the evocative, metaphoric, prophesies of Isaiah.

‘Console my people, console them’
says your God.
‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of the Lord
double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness
a way for the Lord.
Make a straight highway for our God
across the desert.
Let every valley be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low.
Let every cliff become a plain,
and the ridges a valley;
then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed
and all mankind shall see it;
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Go up on a high mountain,
joyful messenger to Zion.
Shout with a loud voice,
joyful messenger to Jerusalem.
Shout without fear,
say to the towns of Judah,
‘Here is your God.’
Here is the Lord coming with power,
his arm subduing all things to him.
The prize of his victory is with him,
his trophies all go before him.
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock,
gathering lambs in his arms,
holding them against his breast
and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11

 

Our baptism joins us with the work of Isaiah, which finds its fulfilment and achieve in Jesus. Through our receiving and sharing of the works of mercy and reconciliation we enable others to walk the way of freedom and joy.

  • Pray for your readiness to play your full part.
  • Pray for the success of the Year of Mercy.

Baptistery in Clifton Cathedral. (c) 2005, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Freedom

Victims to the Totalitarian RegimeThe responsorial psalm set for Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Advent had us sing in celebration of the Lord’s gift of freedom.

The Song celebrated the freedom of Israel from Babylon. It is sung by the Church in celebration of freedom that is greater yet.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs.

The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels
the Lord worked for them!’
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad.

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 125:1-6

Freedom from slavery; freedom from sin; freedom from oppression; freedom for hopelessness; freedom from being alone: freedom comes in many forms, and the Lord works that we receive the gift that restores us to ourselves.

Freedom can of course be abused. No-one, except through Christ, had such freedom as Adam and Eve and we recall how they abused it. We too may have received freedom and abused it too, not having learnt how to live it well.  We receive freedom ‘from’ as gift, but freedom is given us not just to do whatever but for the good and especially for the common good.

God’s freeing of us points to God’s covenant with humankind, his desire to draw us into communion with him. The gift of freedom is given us that we too, freely, might extend and deepen that covenantal relationship – with God, with our neighbour.

  • What freedom do you enjoy?
  • What freedom do you lack?
  • How does your life benefit others?
  • How do the lives of others benefit you?

Bring your thoughts to God in prayer.

Detail of Victims to the Totalitarian Regime by Ye. I. Chubarov, Gorki Park, Moscow. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Strengthen our hope

Slave, LouvreThe responsorial psalm that is set for tomorrow (though it may be replaced by one of the seasonal psalms – see p 950 of Lectionary I) speaks of freedom from bondage.

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad.

When the Lord delivered Zion from bondage,
it seemed like a dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
on our lips there were songs.

The heathens themselves said: ‘What marvels
the Lord worked for them!’
What marvels the Lord worked for us!
Indeed we were glad.

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

They go out, they go out, full of tears,
carrying seed for the sowing:
they come back, they come back, full of song,
carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 125:1-6

Israel was enslaved at various stages in her history – in Egypt before she was fully a people, in Babylon, enduring persecution in years since. Israel serves as a type (and anticipation) of all people everywhere. Again and again we know oppression – and again and again we may be source of oppression for others.

The Lord offers us freedom and urges us to offer to be agents of freedom for others. The challenges to both of these things are of course enormous. Our own faults and the attitudes and actions of others militate against the promptings of grace.

Yet the psalm reminds of the goodness of freedom, and the joy. Advent encourages us to hope and try, despite everything.

Slaves by Michelangelo. Louvre, Paris. (c) 2011, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Called to purity

War memorial washingtonThe Second reading on Sunday, the Solemnity of All Saints, came from the First Letter of St John.

St John reminds of our dignity as members of God’s family but reminds us that if this is true then we should seek to live up to who we are as God’s children.

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. Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ.

1 John 3:1-3

The tradition of Clinical Theology warns us against a “hardening of the ‘ought’eries”. Certainly it is better if we live our life well in generous and direct response to the goodness and glory of God. And yet there are times when we need to rely on a sense of obligation and duty to get us going in the right direction, to overcome weakness or selfishness or carelessness.

  • Which dimension – duty or immediate gratitude – most characterises your response to God?
  • What might sometimes cause you to act out of the other dimension?

Speak with God about this in prayer.

War Memorial, Washington, DC, USA. (c) 2009, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of freedom

Francis of AssisiThe Gospel for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary time, this coming Sunday, reminds us of how constrained we can be by wealth and possessions. Even the desire to do good can be thwarted by the desire to hold on to what we have.

Jesus was setting out on a journey when a man ran up, knelt before him and put this question to him, ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these from my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, ‘There is one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But his face fell at these words and he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

Jesus looked round and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were astounded by these words, but Jesus insisted, ‘My children,’ he said to them ‘how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ They were more astonished than ever. ‘In that case’ they said to one another ‘who can be saved?’ Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he said ‘it is impossible, but not for God: because everything is possible for God.’

Peter took this up. ‘What about us?’ he asked him. ‘We have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not be repaid a hundred times over, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land – not without persecutions – now in this present time and, in the world to come, eternal life.’

Mark 10:17-30

This is Mark’s Gospel, the gospel that is not afraid to present us with the existential challenge of discipleship, not afraid to leave us struggling with uncomfortable questions and maybe even more uncomfortable truths.

Yet there is much that the Gospel does not tell us. Take the rich young man who Jesus looked at so steadily and who he loved: did he ever come back? did he find freedom in the Lord? We don’t know, but that we care suggests we wonder about what hope there is for us.

Like Peter – who has left everything, but is still one of a group who not so long ago were arguing about position and power. And Mark never told us they learnt the lesson Jesus taught…

Obedience, faithfulness, simplicity and an openness to conversion, again and again and again (did I mention again?) – these are the virtues a disciple needs to strive for.

Mark knows, for Peter taught him!

  • Pray for the gift of simplicity and trust for yourself and those you love.

Image of Francis of Assisi, who embraced poverty in his following of Jesus. Painted on the board used to carry his body to its burial. (In collection of the Basilica of Sta Maria degli Angeli, Assisi. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of freedom and peace

St PaulThe Second reading on Sunday, the 17th of Ordinary Time, is the latest in the series of readings from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which we have been hearing at Sunday Mass.

From his prison in Rome, Paul writes:

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

There is an irony in the first phrase above. As noted above, Paul writes from prison in Rome, where he has been brought for trial at the request of fellow Jews because of his teaching about Jesus and the controversy and turmoil this has brought about, cf Acts 21ff. But in a deeper sense, under arrest or not, Paul is prisoner in the Lord, ‘slave’ to him, entirely available to fulfil the will of the Master. Yet in his imprisonment, and his enslavement, he has complete freedom.

And he urges the Ephesians, and us to live our freedom in Christ. To find in Christ and each other confidence, love and hope.

He knows from his own situation, and his knowledge of Ephesus (and of all peoples everywhere!) that this is not easy and cannot be taken for granted. It requires work. But if we build on the foundation of the one God, Father, Son and Spirit , of the one faith, and one baptism, it is possible.

  • What threatens your freedom in Christ?
  • What positive actions can you take to counter those challenges?
  • How might you help others?

St Paul. Churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of the life of heaven on earth

Chains of St Paul

The Second reading for tomorrow’s feast of the Ascension has Paul writing, perhaps in the early 60s AD, from his imprisonment in Rome, to the Church in Ephesus.

I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.

There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.

Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:

When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.

When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.

Ephesians 4:1-13

Paul allows himself a certain irony. There are those who are physically captive and yet supremely free. There are those who seem completely free and yet are subject, slaves of sin.

He counts himself among the first and writes that those who hear his words maybe saved from all that is not of God, and should join him in his work of sharing the good news.

Paul, Bas of St P

The work is not over yet. Free in the Lord let us pray that together with Paul, free and working yet, we, too, may play our part.

Photographs of fresco of St Paul, and of the chains of St Paul displayed in the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: the gift of newness

slaveOn the 5th Sunday of Lent in Year B, the readings focus on renewal, newness achieved in the fulfilment of the purpose of the ‘old’, the seed germinating and producing its promised harvest.

As we enter the last stage of Lent, looking to the Lord, mindful of our incapacities and his readiness to make good for us, there is great hope and encouragement here.

The sequence of readings for Year A culminate in the great story of the raising of Lazarus – a powerful iteration of the theme. This sequence is available for use in any Year of the 3-year Lectionary cycle, and is required to be used when the 3rd scrutiny is celebrated. (The first reading of the sequence appears at the end of this post.)

See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel (and the House of Judah), but not a covenant like the one I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant of mine, so I had to show them who was master. It is the Lord who speaks. No, this is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people. There will be no further need for neighbour to try to teach neighbour, or brother to say to brother, ‘Learn to know the Lord!’ No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest – it is the Lord who speaks – since I will forgive their iniquity and never call their sin to mind.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

The love and the trust of the Lord is betrayed again and again. And again and again he shows love and trust by extending his mercy and forgiveness and inviting us back to wholeness and communion.

  • Where is your communion with the Lord weakest?
  • And with your brothers and sisters, your neighbours most fragile?
  • Pray for healing and wholeness as you continue, by the Lord’s grace, to travel to Easter glory, Easter joy.

Photograph of carving of slave/prisoner by Michelangelo, Louvres, Paris. (c) 2011, Allen Morris.

– – –

The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil; and you will know that I, the Lord, have said and done this – it is the Lord who speaks.

Ezekiel 37:12-14