Speak Lord: Our sure hope

Figure at prayer. Cathedral, Nantes. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.

There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.


Second Reading for the 3rd Sunday of Advent
Philippians 4:4-7

On Gaudete Sunday we hear this reading from Paul that urges us to rejoice, to be happy in the Lord.

The Lord and his love are the ultimate reason for our confidence.

His prayer, our prayer, and the prayer of the whole Church, offers us reason for comfort and trust.

Taste and See: Waiting

dsc07091-john-barber

John in his prison had heard what Christ was doing and he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ Jesus answered, ‘Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me.’

As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the people about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the breeze? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man wearing fine clothes? Oh no, those who wear fine clothes are to be found in palaces. Then what did you go out for? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet: he is the one of whom scripture says:

‘Look, I am going to send my messenger before you;
he will prepare your way before you.

‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.’

Matthew 11:2-11

We heard that Gospel passage of Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.

And clearly the Gospel helps us to identify reason for joy. But the joy is not unalloyed. John is in prison, conerned, and doubtful. His doubts dispelled he still faces his martyrdom. That death is to his glory, but , still, it is a cruel death and one visitied upon him as a result of scheming and of brutal dictatorship.

We have no one more that we are to wait for, the kingdom is at hand, but sometimes it appears, also, very far off.

  • For what needs  – of yourself and others – do you pray today?

Beheading of John the Baptist. Pierre Puvis De Chavannes. Barber Institute. Photo © 2016, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Thanksgiving

Church of Visitation, Ein KeremIn England and Wales this year, Sunday 14th August was kept as the Solemnity of the Assumption, (in other years it is kept on 15th August).

The Gospel of the Mass of the Day was the Gospel of the Visitation. We hear of the meeting between Mary and her cousin, and the thanksgiving each offer in celebration of the graciousness of God.

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
– according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back home.

Luke 1:39-56

The song is a song of joy, and Elizabeth and Mary are both fully aware of the reasons they have for joy. And they give themselves fully over to joy and thanksgiving.

  • Do you rejoice easily?
  • For what?
  • When?
  • If you do not rejoice easily, why might that be?

Bring your thoughts and feelings to God in prayer.

Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: why we praise

Piper LichfieldThe Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, put sounds of praise on our lips, and united our voices in common song of thanksgiving.

At least that was its intention.

So, think back. How was the psalm for you on Sunday? Indeed how was Sunday?

Read on, consider it again… Why might this be a song of praise for you and yours?

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love has no end.
or
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Let the sons of Israel say:
‘His love has no end.’
Let the sons of Aaron say:
‘His love has no end.’
Let those who fear the Lord say:
‘His love has no end.’

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the corner stone.
This is the work of the Lord,
a marvel in our eyes.
This day was made by the Lord;
we rejoice and are glad.

O Lord, grant us salvation;
O Lord, grant success.
Blessed in the name of the Lord
is he who comes.
We bless you from the house of the Lord;
the Lord God is our light.

Psalm 117:2-4,22-27

Israel, Aaron’s sons, Jesus and the disciples had their reasons for singing and praising God.

  • What are yours, and those of your parish community? And others that you associate with, are united with?
  • If the reasons for singing and praising seem few and far between, what does that suggest to you?
  • How do you relate your situation to the Paschal Mystery? What gives you hope? What drains hope?
  • Bring your hopes, fears, joys to the Lord in prayer….

Image of Crucified and Risen Lord. John Piper. Hospital of St John Baptist without the Barrs, Lichfield. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: our joy

Lucien FreudThe responsorial Psalm at Mass tomorrow, the 5th Sunday of Lent, puts a song of rejoicing on the lips of the Church.

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.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

Psalm 125:1-6

Pope Francis wrote in Evangelii Gaudium of how despite the Church’s song some Christians seem to lack joy and gladness.

There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter. I realize of course that joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially at moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved. I understand the grief of people who have to endure great suffering, yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust, even amid the greatest distress: “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is… But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness… It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord” (Lam 3:17, 21-23, 26).

Sometimes we are tempted to find excuses and complain, acting as if we could only be happy if a thousand conditions were met. To some extent this is because our “technological society has succeeded in multiplying occasions of pleasure, yet has found it very difficult to engender joy”. I can say that the most beautiful and natural expressions of joy which I have seen in my life were in poor people who had little to hold on to. I also think of the real joy shown by others who, even amid pressing professional obligations, were able to preserve, in detachment and simplicity, a heart full of faith. In their own way, all these instances of joy flow from the infinite love of God, who has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

Thanks solely to this encounter – or renewed encounter – with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?

Evangelii Gaudium 6-8

  • As we approach Easter what sustains joy and happiness in you?
  • What saddens you?

Detail of Self Portrait by Lucien Freud. Collection of Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. (c) 2016, 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.

Speak Lord: Sing happy!

Virgin of the smile. Lisieux.

The second reading on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, highlights the mood that gives the Sunday its popular name: Gaudete Sunday – the ‘Sunday of Rejoicing’

The title comes from the entrance antiphon, but the mood evoked of the name is reflected in the readings of the day too. It is often also represented in a lightening of the violet of the priest’s vestment – the purple of Advent being replaced by pink.

I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness. Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is very near.
There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

Of course, the happiness must be genuine. And in the way of things as days wear on, and the weather worsens, we often find things to moan about.

But the characteristic quality of Christian prayer, and so Christian life is thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for; much, therefore, to make us happy.

  • For you? What are you thankful for? For what will you give thanks in the assembly of the Church gathered for Mass on Sunday?

The Virgin who smiled. Lisieux. (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

Speak Lord: Of wisdom and joy

Tagxedo CapitolThe psalm at Mass tomorrow, the Mass of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, emphasises the goodness of the law of the Lord, the way of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord. Many words, many phrases, but all describing the God-given order of the good life and the healthy community.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

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.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

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

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

So in them your servant finds instruction;
great reward is in their keeping.
But who can detect all his errors?
From hidden faults acquit me.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

From presumption restrain your servant
and let it not rule me.
Then shall I be blameless,
clean from grave sin.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

Psalm 18:8,10,12-14

The response asserts that this good order brings joy.

The current visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States has emphasised that theme – the joy of the Gospel – which gave the title of  Francis’ exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium

  • Where do faith and life engender joy in your life?
  • What keeps you from joy? Why?

Tagxedo image incorporating words from the Pope’s address of this week at the Capitol, Washington. 

Speak Lord: My refuge, my joy

Healing and Incorporation, Liverpool The Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, the 6th in Ordinary Time, has the congregation thank for the Lord for care and safety, for healing and welcome back into God’s ‘family’.

On Sunday, the psalm is prayed, of course, immediately after we have heard the precepts of Leviticus about segregation and exclusion, which  – at least to modern ears – are rather harrowing.

 

You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
whose sin is remitted.
O happy the man to whom the Lord
imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no guile.

But now I have acknowledged my sins;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said: ‘I will confess
my offence to the Lord.’
And you, Lord, have forgivenThe
the guilt of my sin.

Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,
exult, you just!
O come, ring out your joy,
all you upright of heart.

You are my refuge, O Lord; you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Psalm 31:1-2,5,11

Few of us will have experienced, or imposed, the exclusion envisaged in Leviticus. But guilt and shame is something we are all very familiar with. And that tends to form its own  barriers, and have us hide from ourselves and others.

The psalmist knows the re-integration which is brought about by the love and mercy of God. And does not keep it to himself!

  • What keeps you from feeling whole and wholesome? Try to bring your needs to the Lord in prayer.
  • Who do you know who seems to live ‘in exile’? How might you reach out to them? Simple prayer to God for them can have its good effects!

Photograph of the Holy Oils used in celebrations of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination, and the Anointing of the Sick and their place of reservation at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.