Taste and See: Love for the taking, love for the living

Liverpool Christ in Glory

The Collect at Mass on Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter drummed home its point. And it made and makes the point that we are who we are because of the personal and direct connection we have with God, who acts and acts and acts to draw us into communion with him and with each other.

God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.
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.

Collect for Second Sunday of Easter

The font in which we are washed is that of the Father’s mercy; the Spirit is the Spirit that unites Father and Son, and that they share with us; and the Blood is that of the Son who took flesh to dwell among us and lead us home. Holy, Holy, Holy God comes to save.

The Collect is a prayer that these gifts, this offer of communion with the persons of God, are not given in vain.

Today in our daily living, let us look for signs of acceptance and signs of failure to accept and live to these gifts. Somewhat like Lent, but in a different key, Easter is a time for active cooperation with God’s grace.

Image of Christ from Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: God’s work

Santa Croce marble‘All is grace…’

The saying is familiar, and something of its’ truth finds expression in the (optional) Prayer over People prayed at Mass yesterday, the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Prayer over the People

Bless, O Lord, your people,
who long for the gift of your mercy,
and grant that what, at your prompting, they desire
they may receive by your generous gift.
Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

We long for God’s gift: our longing is itself his gift; as is the gift. God stirs us to desire his goodness, gives it to us, and helps us to receive it.

‘All is grace…’

As we perhaps wonder at our failing to sustain the Lenten disciplines as we hoped, or at least at how challenging we find even those simple things, there is comfort in remembering that, finally, all is grace.

Marble work, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Rome. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: to us through us…

Paul , BeroeaThe second reading on Sunday, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from St Paul and is precious testimony to the traditio, the handing on the faith of the Church – even at this early stage known to be something received from the community of believers, and not a merely personal individual ‘take’ on faith and life.

Brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established; because the gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.

Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he was raised to life on the third day, in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared first to Cephas and secondly to the Twelve. Next he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died; then he appeared to James, and then to all the apostles; and last of all he appeared to me too; it was as though I was born when no one expected it.

I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Sin, ‘littleness’, nothing in us and nothing about us makes us unworthy to receive the Gospel, or incapable of responding to it. It is freely shared and shared with all.

Having received it we are called, invited, to respond. How we respond will depend on our circumstances and ourselves. But as the example of Paul, especially, makes clear, the power of God in us makes our response capable of being quite extraordinary – leading us to new and unimagined works of grace.

  • What might be your first, next, step to newness in God’s grace?

Shrine of St Paul at Beroea, Greece. (c) 2006, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Source of all that is good

Pilgrim martyrs

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time begins a number of weeks of reading the Letter of James – termed ‘an epistle of straw’ by Martin Luther (in other words he didn’t like it!).

You might like to (re-) read the Letter as a whole. It is short. And having that overview will surely enrich your hearing and praying with the extracts over the coming Sundays.

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

The translation of the Scriptures used in our Lectionary is from the Jerusalem Bible. In this case, the translation of the first line of this passage introduces an idiomatic English structure which, particularly when read without the previous verse, may make the sentence less clear, and some readers to stumble.

It could however simply read: ‘All that is good, everything that is perfect, is given us from above…’

This is a staggering profession of faith, a confession of thanksgiving. One of the reasons Luther was less than keen on the Letter was because of its emphasis (elsewhere) on our good works. But here, right at the beginning, James sets out his stall. All that is good begins with God. All we can do, and should do, and must do, is by way of response to the God who is Good, and who shares with us his love and goodness in an infinite number of ways.

  • Count the blessings of today.
  • Give thanks to God for them.
  • Think how you can best make use of them.
  • Do your best.

Carving of St James and pilgrim martyrs, Musee Calvet, Avignon. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Taste and See: the grace of God

Saints and angels

The Christian life cannot be taken for granted.

It is something more than just a ‘good’ human life.

The Christian life should, of course, be strong, in the natural virtues. Yet the Christian receives grace so as to be able to live the supernatural virtues. Grace builds on nature, not obliterating what is natural but refining, enhancing, strengthening it.

The Collect on Sunday, the 16th of Ordinary Time, reminded us of this.

Show favour, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.
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.

It is not easy to know what we do by nature, and what we do by grace. But the one is our work, and the other is made possible by the work of God, so it is worth trying to distinguish them, even as we give God thanks for both!

Their combined effect is to help us live life well here on earth, and draw us more deeply into the communion of love and life with God which will be ours for ever.

  • What are you conscious of needing God’s grace to accomplish?

Saints and angels in the Abbey of Montserrat. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: that your gifts might be fruitful in us.

St Paul - icon extra muraThe second reading on Sunday, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul (in England and Wales), speaks of Paul’s empowerment by the Lord’s grace, and Paul’s offering the free gift of his life to the Lord.

My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

That there might be such reciprocity between God and his creatures – he gives in love, we make return grateful. Reciprocity and a co-operation in mission – the Lord reaches out to us, and renewed we are helped to reach out to others.

  • What gifts are you aware of receiving from the Lord?
  • How do you make use of them, and for whose benefit?

Icon of St Paul, at Basilica of St Paul outside the walls. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of your love for us

Creación_de_Adán_(Miguel_Ángel) 1

The second reading for the 4th Sunday of Lent in Year B comes from St Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus.

It is supremely encouraging, assuring of God’s treasuring of us.

God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy: when we were dead through our sins, he brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved – and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus.

This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how infinitely rich he is in grace. Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.

Ephesians 2:4-10

The image from the Sistine Chapel, of the creation of Adam, reminds of the beauty of creation. It also reminds of the marring of creation by sin, and its recovery and restoration by grace,  God’s gift.

As we make our way through Lent, perhaps struggling, let us know afresh that we do not journey alone.

The Lord is with us, or maybe more accurately yet, we are with him as he works for us. Our striving after good is an attempt to keep company with the God who – strange to say – loves us and works for us!

Rejoice and give thanks!

Sistine chapel

 

– – –

The second reading for the sequence of readings in Year A – an option for this year, and a required set of readings for when the second scrutiny is celebrated – is also from the letter to the Ephesians.

You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth. Try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast. The things which are done in secret are things that people are ashamed even to speak of; but anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light. That is why it is said:

Wake up from your sleep,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

Ephesians 5:8-14

Frescoes by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City. Found here and here

Speak Lord: Bearing witness to the Lord of Love

 

 

Corporal Mercy

The second reading on Sunday, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  has Paul name the good deeds of those who have begun to believe in the Gospel he preached and witnessed to.

You observed the sort of life we lived when we were with you, which was for your instruction, and you were led to become imitators of us, and of the Lord; and it was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great opposition all round you. This has made you the great example to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia since it was from you that the word of the Lord started to spread – and not only throughout Macedonia and Achaia, for the news of your faith in God has spread everywhere. We do not need to tell other people about it: other people tell us how we started the work among you, how you broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God; and how you are now waiting for Jesus, his Son, whom he raised from the dead, to come from heaven to save us from the retribution which is coming.

1 Thessalonians 1:5-10

We all need encouragement and affirmation, if we are to give of our best. Sometimes – as here – it can come from our leaders. At other times it can be offered by our peers. But if the encouragement is to be truly affirmation, an acknowledgement of what is good and true in us, then this doing what is right needs to be what we are doing and trying to do.

If we have been ‘servants of God’ for a long time it may be difficult to think what difference our faith makes to us. How do we know what do we do because it is ‘natural’ to us, and what do we do because of the more direct action of grace. Where does nature end and grace begin? The distinction may seem uncertain, and grace does build on nature, but it would be a little odd if one could not point to this or that and say ‘I do this because of my faith’, because of the urgings of grace.

  • What decisions have you made recently that have been influenced by your faith?
  • What decisions have you made, and actions taken, that you now regret were not influenced by your faith?
  • Bring your thoughts and feelings to the living God, the God of mercy.

 

Speak Lord: that we may not die but live

Death's creature

The first reading for the coming Sunday’s Mass, the 26th in Ordinary Time, comes from the prophet Ezekiel. Through his prophet the Lord calls us to honesty and justice.

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘You object, “What the Lord does is unjust.” Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.’

Ezekiel 18:25-28

I once heard a minister of the word speak the first words of the Lord in this passage, treating the verb ‘object’ as a noun! It certainly gave great force to the reading, but perhaps skewed the sense rather too much.

We are not objects to the Lord, however much he may sometimes detest, and object to, our doings. And so he calls us, again and again, to repentance and renewal.

In our sins we die, but by his grace we can be raised from the death of sin.

As we pray for that today, let’s consider also how justly or unjustly we conduct ourselves as we go about our daily lives.

  • What works of love and justice have we contributed to? What works of injustice and harm mar our day?
  • Bring the tally to the Lord in prayer, praising him for the successes, and asking for mercy for the failings.

Before the evangelisation of Provence the region was possessed of a vigorous death cult – with prolific use of images of the dead being consumed and tortured by mythic beasts. Something of this continued into early Christian iconography. The image at the head of this page is of one such carving in the collection of the Musée Lapidaire in Avignon. Photo (c) Allen Morris, 2014.

Taste and See: Saints of God, called to holiness by God

Popes

The Prayer over the Offerings used on Sunday speaks our being sanctified by God’s grace.

Accept, O Lord, we pray, the offerings
which we bring from the abundance of your gifts,
that through the powerful working of your grace
these most sacred mysteries may sanctify our present way of life
and lead us to eternal gladness.

Through Christ our Lord.

The prayer reminds of one of the foundational teachings of the Church, that all people are called by God to holiness. This universal call received fresh emphasis at Vatican II, in the teaching about the Church, Lumen Gentium, ‘Light of the peoples’.

There is still a tendency to think of the saints whose names pepper the Church’s calendar as the real saints, and that we are called to something less. But no: those named saints are exceptional, and singled out as being such, but holiness, sanctity, is not so rare.

Pope John Paul II, now himself declared a saint by the Church, canonised more saints during his pontificate than had been formally declared saint in the whole history of the Church up until that time! And one major reason for his doing so was to show that saints are present in the church in every age, every land, every state of life.

The Church’s recent practice, including the canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, and the forthcoming beatification of Pope Paul VI, seems to be continuing the re-visioning of the place of the canonised in the Church, begun by St John Paul II.

It returns us, almost, to the Pauline vision that all the baptised are called to be, and are – by virtue of God’s grace, the saints of God.

Everyone in the Church, whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…

This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit… gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”, and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.

From Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5

  • Where is holiness manifest in your life?
  • And the lives of those around you?
  • How is holiness different to ‘good works’?