Speak Lord: Through your Saints…

Fractured man

The Second reading on the Second Sunday of Lent comes from the Letter to the Philippians.

In the passage Paul – who regularly knows his own weaknesses and failings – invites the Church at Philippi to follow his rule of life, to imitate the saints. He invites them to become more and more fully saints of God themselves.

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us.

I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things.

For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul urges the disciples to be open to change and renewal, to acceptance and living of the salvation won for them by Christ, and gifted to them by Christ.

The Gospel on Sunday speaks of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and Paul encourages Philippi and us to be open to, ready for transfiguration too.

  • Where are you broken?
  • Where might you shine through the grace of God?
  • How is God offering you healing and encouragement?
  • How might you best cooperate with his grace?

Figure in Museum at Epidaurus, Greece. (c) 2006, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Living Word

MezuzahThe Psalm for the 3rd Sunday of the Year assures us of where we find truth, certainty, goodness. It is in the law of the Lord, his rule and command.

 

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The precepts of the Lord are right,
they gladden the heart.
The command of the Lord is clear,
it gives light to the eyes.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

May the spoken words of my mouth,
the thoughts of my heart,
win favour in your sight, O Lord,
my rescuer, my rock!

Your words are spirit, Lord, and they are life.

Psalm 18:8-10,15

Christians, Jews, Muslims each in their way find the spirit and life in the words of Scripture. Christians  are distinctive though in not being a ‘people of the Book’ but a people who find the fulfilment of the words in the Word, God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

The words of Scripture, Old and New Testament, are alive and active but most so when heard in him and from him.

  • What ways of engaging with Scripture do you find most helpful?
  • What least?
  • What opportunities might you take up to deepen your knowledge of the Lord in and through scripture: and scripture in and through the Lord?

 

Mezuzah, Kazmierz, Carcow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Be made new – and make new

Crown of thorns

The Second reading on Sunday, the Feast of the Epiphany,  spoke and speaks of revelation – of God giving of himself that his creatures, human beings, might be made one, and restored to a loving family united in him.

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.

Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6

And all this in and through Jesus Christ.

The particularity of Jesus Christ, his importance and necessity for our salvation is a stumbling block for many. Too often that particularity is presented in the context of a religious colonialism and arrogance.

Yet Christ came to serve and to set free.

  • What is there about Catholic life in your life that is limiting and diminishing?
  • What is there that is liberating?
  • How does this manifest itself in your Catholic life and mission?
  • And in the life of your Catholic – or ecumenical – community?

Detail from Coventry Cathedral. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Make us yours

Eagle lectern

In all Scripture Christ speaks to us. We maybe still have catechetical work to do to ensure that all the faithful are helped to listen for the voice of the Lord in all the readings of the Liturgy of the word. There is still maybe a greater sense for the distinction between the Old Testament and New Testament than for the unity of Salvation history related through the Bible as a whole.

The Liturgy of the word gives a ritual prominence to the Gospel reading, but also through its structure indicates something of the unity of Scripture to be discovered in its various parts.

Some of that may be apparent in our celebrations on a Sunday, (perhaps sometimes highlighted in the homily). Hopefully we become still more aware of this as we dwell with the word during the days before Sunday, and returning to it in days following. And hopefully Living Eucharist is able to play its part in assisting with this.

Next Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and it offers us a fresh opportunity to know the Lord of all as also the Servant of all.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached Jesus. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Mark 10:35-45

James and John present a challenge to the project that Jesus leads. He offers service: they seek for lordship.

And yet, their ambition is also accompanied by a passion for Jesus and his project. There surely is in them a motive that is alien to authentic discipleship, even in its contradiction, but they themselves desire to be authentic disciples. What is called for is a purification of motives, nothing more, nothing less. Jesus challenges them, and encourages them on their way to wholeness in and with him.

How important, and how touching is their assertion, in face of Jesus’ questioning of whether they can follow him in all things: ‘We can’. It may be they witness to something they cannot yet know, but they witness to it all the same.

They have some way to go, and the way will be challenging – not only in the external challenges they face, but the internal conversion needed too. Growing pains are not confined to our actual childhood and adolescence. Coming to human maturity is a life long work, even for apostles.

  • Which of your motives grate against your vocation as a disciple?
  • What resources can you call on to help with the purification of your motives?

Photograph of detail of lectern in parish church of Ditchling. (c) 2003, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The Lord’s gift of life

Palm Sunday Arles 2014

The Gospel read at the Commemoration of the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, at the beginning of our celebration of Palm Sunday, is worth hearing again…

When they were approaching Jerusalem, in sight of Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go off to the village facing you, and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, “What are you doing?” say, “The Master needs it and will send it back here directly”.’

They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and the men let them go.

Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heavens!’

Mark 11:1-10

Jesus’ enters Jerusalem  surrounded by praise and joy. He will leave the city some few days later beaten, bleeding, spat upon, exhausted.

Our  comings and goings in this life can be marked by similar reversals, and even if (thank God!) they are not often of such extreme passions.

By God’s grace, though, our coming into being, into life, is gift to the world. (Though it is tragic to know how often the  gift is spurned, and how often – in all sorts of circumstances and all through life – the world turns its back on the potential and wonder of every human life.)

By God’s grace, too, our passing from this life is intended to be always a passing into the glory of eternal communion with God and neighbour. (Though we need always to seek to do what we can to receive and live that gift.)

The entry to Jerusalem and all that Christ endures in the days that follow is gift to win us for life. Our praise this week may be muted by recognition of all that was, and is, necessary to save us, but praise it must be.

  • For what, in particular, will you give thanks this Holy Week?

Carved capital in the Cloister of St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Draw us close…

Resurrection LerinsThe second reading at Sunday’s Mass  Comes from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This particular passage is believed to be Paul quoting the text of an early Christian hymn.

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11

The readings of his Sunday anticipate the celebration of the Paschal Mystery which finds its richest expression in the liturgy of the Triduum.

However we hear these readings and celebrate the Paschal Mystery knowing what Jesus’ first companions had still to learn – what rising from the dead means.

This hymn from the Letter to the Philippians presents us with a fine summary of it all. It preserves the narrative of the incarnation of the Son of God, the Passion, and the Resurrection, but in a spam brief enough that to read of one is to anticipate or still recall the other ‘moments’ or ‘dimensions’ of God with us in Jesus.

And it calls us to praise and thanksgiving. As is often said the liturgy even of Good Friday is not a funeral service. The Church in the West may not sing alleluia, and the Church East and West may not celebrate Mass, but we remember the Passion knowing he is risen, and that he is Lord and in him we are safe and secure. We sing praise Palm Sunday and Good Friday albeit in somewhat quieter tones, sorrowing at the pain endured by the Son of God for us. A pain imposed, we know, by the likes of us.

Image of the resurrected Christ, Abbey of Lerins, France. (c) 2005, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: the Faith of the Church

Baptistry Mary Major

During the seasons of Lent and Easter there is encouragement for us to use the Apostles’ Creed at Mass.

This Creed is the ancient baptismal Creed of the Roman Church. The reason for its preferment during Lent and Easter is that it is in these seasons  that, first, men and women are preparing for Baptism and initiation into the Church and, then, that they begin to live by the grace of the sacrament.

The use of the baptismal Creed at Sunday Mass prepares for their profession of faith (and our renewal of that profession at the Easter Vigil or on Easter Sunday), and reminds that it is by that faith we strive to live thereafter.

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

At the words that follow, up to and including ‘the Virgin Mary’, all bow.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.

The baptismal Creed has a more evidently narrative form than the Niceness Creed when speaking of the Second Person of the Trinity.

As we prepare for Holy Week where the narrative of the Passion looms large in the prayer life of the Church it is maybe worth asking ourselves what have been the key moments of our life and why? And to ask why these moments in the life of Jesus are the ones the Church takes care to note in the Creed.

Mary Major baptistry

During these last days of Lent do pray for those who are to celebrate the sacraments of initiation at Easter.

Photographs are of the Baptistery of St Mary Major’s in Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and see: Bible and newspaper – guides for life and faith

695f9-barth

The Gospel heard on Sunday continues to challenge us regarding faith and faithful living.

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

Matthew 11:25-30

  • What is revealed?
  • What cries out for the ease and rest that the Lord wins for us and shares with us?

Karl Barth famously suggested that Christians need to use their newspaper and their bible to know these things.

“The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

“One broods alternately over the newspaper and the New Testament and actually sees fearfully little of the organic connection between the two worlds concerning which one should now be able to give a clear and powerful witness”

“Newspapers, he says, are so important that ‘I always pray for the sick, the poor, journalists, authorities of the state and the church – in that order. Journalists form public opinion. They hold terribly important positions. Nevertheless, a theologian should never be formed by the world around him – either East or West. He should make his vocation to show both East and West that they can live without a clash. Where the peace of God is proclaimed, there is peace on earth is implicit. Have we forgotten the Christmas message?'”

Needless to say this is not my research (!) you can find more details here.

For prayer and reflection today, maybe

  • consider again what is revealed about Jesus Christ and his ministry in the passage from the Gospel
  • look to your newspaper with eyes of faith to see why the message of hope and love is so needed. In your prayer intercede for those in need – who knows maybe some of them are also interceding for you.

Image was found here.

Taste and See: The mystery of the Eucharist

41

One of the defining qualities of human beings is that we are rational. It is not always evident – but reason is a constitutive feature of human life.

And one of the principal ways we exercise our reason is by questioning.

Asking what, who , when , why – all these actions help us to think and to know, and to live. That, finally, is their point and purpose, their final end: to help us to live.

Many questions can be asked of the Eucharist.

What is it? (A question maybe best answered when we appreciate that the answer is more about who it is and not merely what it is). It is sacrament of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: but most importantly, being sacrament, it is Jesus Christ present for us.

Contemplation of the answer what/who can fill hours of prayer time – as we acknowledge the wonder of Eucharist and the humility and love of the Lord.

But a lot of time in the Church has been put into considering the ‘how’ question. How is this Bread and Wine Jesus present for us? How does the bread change to become the living Bread, and so on. In the gospel we heard yesterday, those asking ‘how’ questions did not get too far!

‘How’ questions have their place but tend to lead to rather specialised and rarefied conversations and, too often, to disputes in which God’s gift of Eucharist loses place to human pride and faithful living corrupted by disunity.

All questions have their place, but knowing the place and priority of the variety of questions requires a sense of balance and wisdom.

The scriptures have their questions too – and to the fore in the scriptures is not ‘how?’ but ‘why?’ The ‘how’ is addressed, and usually briefly answered: ‘By God’.

Of much greater interest in the scriptures is the question ‘why? Why does God do this?’

Each of the passages in yester day’s Liturgy of the Word seeks to provide a why for the mysteries of God in his heavenly feeding of his people.

Look again at the Gospel.

  • Jesus tells us the ‘what’ straight-off.
  • The ‘how’ questions seem to be a distraction.
  • The answers to ‘why’ questions are full of good news and hope.

Jesus said to the Jews:
‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said.

Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

John 6:51-58

  • What most strikes you in the passage?
  • Does it challenge you? Give you hope?
  • How can you respond to that in your life this day?

The image of the Lamb of Sacrifice is taken from a window in a former religious house, now a conference centre in Eindhoven, Netherlands