Speak Lord: As we re-start

St Austell font detail

Christmas is ending tonight, but the first reading at Mass today, the feast of the baptism of the Lord comes redolent with intimation of Advent!

‘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

It is as though Christmas is to Ordinary time what Old Testament is to New and John the Baptists to Jesus: a precursor to the fullness, a voice speaking in expectation of the Word.

Ordinary time: holidays and feasting (and fasting) are over for a while, and now we return to the regular fray. Here and now especially it is that we learn what difference the advent of good news makes in our life, how we respond to the action of God on our behalf.

Detail of font in St Austell Catholic parish church. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Of your glory, our blessing…

Ark W London SynagogueThe responsorial psalm for the Mass of the 3rd Sunday of Advent is in fact not a psalm but a canticle, taken not from the Book of Psalms, but from the prophet Isaiah.

The song celebrates the presence of God amidst 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 the Jews the Real Presence of God was symbolised in light and fire and cloud, in Ark and Temple.

For Christians the symbol of God present is the human person of Jesus, Son of God, born of Mary, Very God in human form.

Born as one of us, God as Jesus/in Jesus, is humanity perfectly united with divinity and divinity with humanity, with no mixing or diminution. (cf Catechism of the Catholic Church 464ff)

That Real Presence is now the glorified and risen Lord at the right hand of the Father. We await his coming again in glory, even as we honour the sacramental, Real, Presence of the same Lord enduring among us in word, in the seven Sacraments and in the worshipping assembly.

We wait but he is never far away.

  • How today will you honour his presence, and respond faithfully to it?

Image of the Ark of the Covenant. West London Synagogue. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Love for us

Cross, Beziers

The First Reading on Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, came from the prophet Isaiah.

The ‘suffering servant’ of Isaiah anticipates the passion of the suffering master-servant that is Jesus the Christ. The reading exposes to us something of the inner life of Jesus. By the word The Word invites us to a deeper intimacy with himself.

The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.
My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.
The Lord is coming to my help, who will dare to condemn me?
Isaiah 50:5-9

That, through the Incarnation, God should enter into such pain and suffering is extraordinary. It remains a stumbling block for many, who cannot conceive, cannot believe, what God through love achieves.

That God should do this not only for love of the world or humankind in some grand (and abstract) gesture, as demonstration of his ineffable glory, but for me and you in our too often shoddy, even absurd, particularity, is even more astonishing.

The first reading at Sunday Mass is selected because of a perceived relationship with the Gospel reading (itself selected, on the Sundays of Ordinary Time, on the principle of a semi-continuous reading of the Gospel of the Year.) This week the first reading, as it happens, has a close connection to the second reading, offering us the perfect instance of faithful love working for the good.

  • What work of love might i stretch myself to fulfil today?
  • What signs of God’s love for me can I discern today? And in the past days?

Cross, in cloisters of the Cathedral, Beziers, France. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Safe because of God

Our Lady, BoldmereThe first reading at Mass yesterday, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time came from the prophet Isaiah.

It sets before us words of hope and confidence.

Say to all faint hearts,
‘Courage! Do not be afraid.
Look, your God is coming,
vengeance is coming,
the retribution of God;
he is coming to save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy;
for water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.

Isaiah 35:4-7

The image above comes from the image of Our Lady, in  the Lady Chapel in hte Catholic church in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield. The image seems to show Mary aware of all the reasons for worry and concern, but confident in the promises of God, and certain in her own ability to love and care for her son, that he might grow secure, cared for.

That same confidence and certainty informs the life of the Church – it is not accidental that one of the title under which Mary is honoured is ‘Mother of the Church’. She sets a pattern the Church and each Christian strives to follow.

In some sense Mary is the fulfilment of those promises – by the grace of God, secure in the redemption won by her Son.

  • Today how might we fulfil the promises of God in our own lives?
  • And the life of those around us?

Our Lady and the child Jesus. St Nicholas church, Boldmere. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The faithfulness of the Lord

Christ at the Pillar, Arles 2014The first reading of the Mass of Palm Sunday was taken from the prophet Isaiah.

The passage comes from the so-called Third Song of the servant.  In it we hear the suffering servant speak grateful for the faithfulness of the Lord, and his gifts, even as he suffers for his own faithfulness to the Lord.

The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.

Isaiah 50:4-7

At this time hundreds in the diocese of Westminster alone are j in the final stages og their preparation for initiation into the Way of Christian discipleship, being readied for Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. During the catechumenate, their principal time of preparation, they will surely have already encountered many ups and downs in the way of faith.

But who knows what lies ahead of them?

  • Pray for them in the coming days as they make their final preparation.
  • Pray for their openness of heart and for their courage in the days, months, and years that lie ahead.

Image of Christ at the pillar, Cloister of St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of how to listen and serve

Crucifix and Holy Pictures in abandoned dwelling, Victoria, Gozo.This Sunday is Palm Sunday or, as it is denoted in the current English translation of the Roman Missal: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.

The first reading of Mass comes from the prophet Isaiah. The passage comes from the so-called Third Song of the servant.  In it we hear the suffering servant speak grateful for the faithfulness of the Lord, and his gifts, even as he suffers for his own faithfulness to the Lord.

The Lord has given me a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.

Isaiah 50:4-7

  • What has discipleship cost you?
  • What help have you received from the Lord to serve him and be faithful?
  • Where have you fallen short? How might you bring that falling short to the Lord for healing and mercy?
  • What have you learnt from your experience of being a disciple? About the Lord? About yourself?

Crucifix and holy pictures in abandoned dwelling, Victoria, Gozo. (c) 2009, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: In your people and for your people.

Font Hildesheim Cathedral, Hildesheim, Germany
There are a range of alternative readings proposed for Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

The first alternative for the song in response to the first reading is a canticle from Isaiah: the rejoicing of a redeemed people

 

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

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.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

Isaiah 12

The canticle unites personal declaration of love for the Lord, and gratitude to him (cf verse 1), with exhortation to the community to give prayer to him, in a single song by which, together, the community does just that. The canticle is a rhetorical wonder!

Yet, some who sing it on Sunday will fear, will feel they do not trust, and they may not have joy in their song. Yet their singing too will be an act of faith. The Liturgy rehearses us in the emotions and attitudes which may not yet be ‘mine’ but which are still ‘ours’.

It is the font from which we draw the Christian spirit.

  • If, this day, you are strong in faith, pray for those who are struggling.
  • If struggling, know that this day the Church prays for you.

The baptism of Christ from the font of Hildesheim Cathedral, Germany. Photograph of cast in the Cast Courts, Victoria and Albert Museum. (C) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of newness and hope

Cuthman's mist

The first reading for the Mass of Guadete Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent comes from the prophet Isaiah. It is full of hope and promise.

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;
to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord.

‘I exult for joy in the Lord,
my soul rejoices in my God,
for he has clothed me in the garments of salvation,
he has wrapped me in the cloak of integrity,
like a bridegroom wearing his wreath,
like a bride adorned in her jewels.

‘For as the earth makes fresh things grow,
as a garden makes seeds spring up,
so will the Lord make both integrity and praise
spring up in the sight of the nations.’

Isaiah 61:1-2,10-11

In Luke’s Gospel we find these words on the lips of Jesus himself. He finds them expressive of his mission and ministry to us.

When we know ourselves poor; when our hearts are broken; when we are captive to sin or other circumstances, our liberty and freedom compromised – we need to know that he is sent to us, and that he is faithful. He is with us and for us.

In our turn we are sent to continue his ministry of salvation and love.

  • Where this day might you share love in his name?

Photograph of morning frost and mist at St Cuthman’s, Sussex. (c) 2002, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Console and de-clutter us

 

Venice clutter

The first reading heard at yesterday’s Mass, that of the Second Sunday of Advent, came from the prophet 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

It is comforting for God’s people to hear that his consolation is for them. Truly comforting.

But it is also for God’s people to share that good news of consolation with others too.

  • For what and why do you need consoling?
  • With whom and how might you share that consolation today?

There is so much clutter to our lives, so many distractions. Let God’s consolation bring new light and order to them. Let Advent be a time of clearing out, and a time of preparation for something new and better.

Photograph of artfully arranged clutter in an art restorer’s shop in Venice. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Consolation, encouragement and hearts raised in thanksgiving.

Handel's_Messiah

The first reading at Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent this year comes from the prophet 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

There are certain passages from Isaiah that those of a certain age can surely not hear without also hearing Handel’s music from The Messiah at the same time. Performances of this wonderful piece are no longer so common, and attendance at such performances are no longer an almost necessary feature of a church-going Christian’s Advent. So if it’s not your privilege to sing the piece or attend a performance this year, pull out the CDs, or surf YouTube and listen. (You might start here.)

And, as you do, thank God for this Gospel of hope and consolation. Give thanks for those who have helped establish you in faith and kept you faithful.

There are still so many days to go before Christmas but in this passage the joy of the feast breaks through.

Image is taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_Part_I