Speak Lord: Unite us in your Spirit

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When the feast of the Ascension is kept on the 7th Sunday of Easter, as it is in England and Wales, the Second Reading and Gospel of that Sunday may be used  as an alternative to the readings provided for the 6th Sunday.

However, for the purposes of this blog, we stick with the regular readings the Lectionary provides for the sixth Sunday of Easter.

 Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments.
I shall ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever,
that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive
since it neither sees nor knows him;
but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you.

I will not leave you orphans; I will come back to you.
In a short time the world will no longer see me;
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will understand that I am in my Father
and you in me and I in you.
Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

John 14:15-21

The Gospel has us remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to sustain us in the truth and in the communion of the Church with Christ.

The Holy Spirit is sometimes spoken of as “the ‘and”‘ which unites the Father and the Son: never the Father without the Son, never the Son without the Father, thus the ‘and’.

In Christ we are never alone either. In his love we are sustained by the ‘and’ of the Holy Spirit – never is the here and now allowed to be the final word; not our successes nor our failures. The ‘now’ is always bound to the ‘next’, nourished by the saving Mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection – his outpouring of himself in love for us and for the Father, extended and applied to us still more particularly by the gift of the Spirit.

Paleo-Christian engraving, San Georgio in Velabro, Rome.  (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Gift of the Spirit

DSC04380.jpgIn the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side.

The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.
As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’

Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus said to him: ‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

John 20:19-31

The Gospel heard on Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, speaks of disciples coming to faith, and of disciples being missioned to serve the Gospel.

What responsibility is given to them!

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

The power to bind and loose is accompanied by the gift of the Spirit, the Spirit of  wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety (as it is put in the Rite of Confirmation).

The power to bind and loose is not given subject to the disciples’ personal whim, but to further the building up amongst us of the Kingdom.

As Jesus himself ‘transgressed’ human understanding of the will of God, in order to free from sin and death, so too the disciples had (and have!) to rely on the guidance of the Spirit to know what is God’s will and what is not. Surely sometimes they got it wrong – as we do – but even from ‘failure’, as the world sees it, God can help us to rise and journey on to deeper unity with him and each other.

Stained glass window. Parish church, Colombiers, Beziers. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: variety and joy

spirit-shrewsbury

I am reminding you to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God.

Keep as your pattern the sound teaching you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. You have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14

The second reading for Mass on Sunday, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, allowed us to hear again Paul’s voice speaking from his experience, and encouraging the younger Timothy to trust to God and live by God.

Paul speaks that Timothy might live free and confident in the Spirit.

Sometimes faced with new challenges, stressed by past experiences we can live cramped, stunted, fearful lives, going through the motions but not engaging – not giving of ourselves, (though we know the cost of even this misery!) and not open to receiving the help and hope God offers. Paul speaks to encourage us, give us new heart, to help us draw afresh from the Spirit who lives in our heart.

  • What help can you receive from Paul’s words? How might you help the help make a lasting difference?
  • What help do you find there that you might share with another? What? With whom? When? How?
  • Bring your thoughts to God in thankful prayer.

Banner naming fruits of the Spirit. Shrewbsury Abbey. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: wisely, lovingly

COme Holy Spirit.jpg

The first reading at Mass today, the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, presents us with a paradox.

We can know nothing of what God wills/we know what God wills. What spans the gap is that God reveals his will, shares with us his wisdom.

What man indeed can know the intentions of God?
Who can divine the will of the Lord?
The reasonings of mortals are unsure
and our intentions unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.
It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth,
laborious to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and men been taught what pleases you,
and saved, by Wisdom.

Wisdom 9:13-18

 

But what has God taught us? Commandments that you shall do this, and shall not do that? Useful, but far from sufficient. Even with the teasing out of law in Torah, there often does not seem to be law for this or that situation.

One of the difficulties Jesus faced is that he offered a different reading of the Law. So different he was condemned for breaking the Law. The most faithful was accused of being unfaithful!

Something of that experience has been there for good Christians ever since. And in our day too, we struggle to be faithful but again and again the proffered summations of faith and morals can regularly seem to lead us away from God.

The test must be in the experience: in trying to do the best, guided by tradition, and sustained in lived relationship with the Lord. Evaluated by careful discernment – is this right, how do I know? And that evaluation conducted humbly, not for self-justification, but ready as a child of God to admit fault, failing, and be ready to admit mistakes, foolishness: ready, too, to be forgiven and guided afresh – by the loving God – to more faithful kingdom living…

Image of Holy Spirit. Medjugorje. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

 

 

Taste and See: In it together…

Oils, SPirit, Liverpool

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday this week, the feast of Pentecost, was taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He rejoices in the unity and dignity of all Christians, a dignity which comes from their unity in Christ, enlivened by his Spirit.

No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.

Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13

To be part of a team, supported and supporting, is our vocation as Christians.

Often when speaking of vocation people seem to focus on an individual’s personal path in life – and on a relatively few particular paths/works in life, too, come to that.

But all Christian vocation is rooted in our communion with Jesus, and is for service of others. This is true of Baptism (culminating in Confirmation and Eucharist). It is true of those admitted to the Orders of Deacons, Presbyters and Bishops – they minister Christ and together with others, for others. It is true of those admitted to the Order of Penitents and the Order of the Sick and Infirm – in need of mercy and assistance, but also called to bear witness to the Church of their trust in the mercy of God. And it is true, in a paradigmatic way, of those called to marriage and family life – they serve as Christ to each other and to their family and community, and do it together.

  • With whom do you work in Christ?
  • Whose assistance and cooperation do you neglect or resist?

Art work in Chapel of Holy Oils, Christ the King Cathedral, Liverpool. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: send your Spirit…

Holy Spirit, Dresden

The gospel reading on Sunday comes from the Gospel of John. It tells of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, but not the Pentecost event that Luke/Acts relates: it tells of a quieter more intimate sharing on the first day of the week, the first day of the Resurrection, the first day of the new Creation.

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is gifted to the disciples and so is the responsibility for living authentic to the Spirit, to Jesus and the Father.

  • Whose sins do you forgive?
  • Whose do you retain?

Holy Spirit, Dresden. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Point us forward

Ascension, Bungay.jpgThe first reading at Mass today, Ascension Sunday, tells of the Mystery of the Ascension and anticipates the Gospel reading which tells of the same Mystery.

In my earlier work, Theophilus, I dealt with everything Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day he gave his instructions to the apostles he had chosen through the Holy Spirit, and was taken up to heaven. He had shown himself alive to them after his Passion by many demonstrations: for forty days he had continued to appear to them and tell them about the kingdom of God. When he had been at table with them, he had told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for what the Father had promised. ‘It is’ he had said ‘what you have heard me speak about: John baptised with water but you, not many days from now, will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’

Now having met together, they asked him, ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know times or dates that the Father has decided by his own authority, but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth.’

As he said this he was lifted up while they looked on, and a cloud took him from their sight. They were still staring into the sky when suddenly two men in white were standing near them and they said, ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky? Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven, this same Jesus will come back in the same way as you have seen him go there.’

Acts 1:1-11

The accounts are both in works by Luke but there are some differences. Here the concern of the disciples is for the (nature of the) coming of the kingdom: there the concern is for the joining of the dots in terms of ‘understanding’ Jesus and his mission. In both the narrative also looks forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fresh empowerment of the disciples.

  • For what do we need the power of the Spirit?
  • Where do we find our selves revitalised in God’s love.

The Ascension. Bungay Parish Church, Suffolk. (c) 2011, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: in the Spirit

Disputation detail

The Communion Antiphon on Sunday, the 6th of Easter, re-engaged us with the Gospel of the day, and reminded of the approach of Pentecost, and the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise to his faithful disciples.

If you love me, keep my commandments, says the Lord,
and I will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete,
to abide with you for ever, alleluia.

Jn 14: 15-16

However more than simply reminding of an historical promised fulfilled in a particular event, ie the first Pentecost, the antiphon also reminds of what seems a characteristic feature of God’s dealing with us. Namely, that God will not be outdone in goodness and love.

The Holy Spirit is gifted because  the disciples – confused etc (as they seemingly and unsurprisingly were) – strove to keep the Lord’s commandments. Their obedient striving did not earn God’s greater favour. Obedience to the loving Creator is right and its own reward. But it can be costly, difficult: such is the burden of our fallibility, frailty and sometime sinfulness.

And, again and again, God’s response to our trying – a trying which is not always a succeeding – is the gift of grace added to grace. In our time and across all time, responding in the lives of individuals and communities, God draws us into a new and deeper dwelling with him.

He abides with us, personally, that we might abide with him.

Detail of The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament by Raphael. Vatican Palace. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Grow and change…

Pavement artThe First reading at Mass today, the 4th Sunday of Lent, reminds of God’s love and care for his people.

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’

The Israelites pitched their camp at Gilgal and kept the Passover there on the fourteenth day of the month, at evening in the plain of Jericho. On the morrow of the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn, that same day.

From that time, from their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling. And having manna no longer, the Israelites fed from that year onwards on what the land of Canaan yielded.

Joshua

In the Gospel parable today the father feeds his dissolute and broken younger son, and the elder brother refuses to share the feast provided by the father.

Here Israel has learnt to eat from the Lord’s goodness – first the manna, then the food of the country. The manna is received as miracle, the other food as ‘natural’ –  “fruit of the earth and work of human hands”: the challenge is to know both as truly, equally,  gift of God, and opportunity to affirm communion with God.

The difference at first seems great, but the distinction turns out not to be so very important. In every situation we are who we are, and God is as God  is, and we are invited to receive, and find in God what we need to grow.

In today’s parable the younger son seems to find the way to growth and change, and the elder son resists the opportunity. He knows best…

The Holy Spirit, especially, is the agent of change and growth in the Church – the Spirit who guides us in growth to God not away from him.

  • As we prepare for the last weeks of Lent, invoke the Holy Spirit for your renewal and newness, as you receive the nourishment of word and sacrament for all that yet lies ahead.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of the faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created
And you shall renew the face of the earth.

O God,
to whom every heart is open
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the help of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you, faithfully serve you,
and worthily praise your Holy name.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Pavement art. Assisi. (C) Allen Morris, 2014.

Taste and See: the wonder of the Spirit

Assisi spirit

The Sequence for Pentecost, not always used in situ in the Masses of Pentecost, is  a beautiful hymn – a prayer of intercession, a prayer of adoration.

As the Church in these days after Pentecost moves from Easter to Ordinary time (though with two exceptional Sunday Feasts looming) the sequence might be revisited as source of encouragement and orientation for our (always challenging!) futures!

Holy Spirit, Lord of Light,
From the clear celestial height
Thy pure beaming radiance give.

Come, thou Father of the poor,
Come with treasures which endure
Come, thou light of all that live!

Thou, of all consolers best,
Thou, the soul’s delightful guest,
Dost refreshing peace bestow

Thou in toil art comfort sweet
Pleasant coolness in the heat
Solace in the midst of woe.

Light immortal, light divine,
Visit thou these hearts of thine,
And our inmost being fill:

If thou take thy grace away,
Nothing pure in man will stay
All his good is turned to ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew
On our dryness pour thy dew
Wash the stains of guilt away:

Bend the stubborn heart and will
Melt the frozen, warm the chill
Guide the steps that go astray.

Thou, on us who evermore
Thee confess and thee adore,
With thy sevenfold gifts descend:

Give us comfort when we die
Give us life with thee on high
Give us joys that never end.

Photograph of fresco of the Holy Spirit, Assisi. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.