Taste and See: encouragement to strive for the best

Workers inspired, Dresden

The English text of the Collect for Sunday, the 28th of the Year was unusually curt. (Not a regular feature of the recent English re-translation of the Missal!). It reminded that Christians have work to do, a work of justice and love, a work that does not always come easy to us.

Collect

May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
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.

In Birmingham Archdiocese Sunday’s Mass included a Pastoral Letter from the Archbishop reminding of Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to respond generously to the needs of refugees, reminding of the Lord’s call to the rich young man, and considering how these invitations might be most faithfully and fruitfully responded to in our lives.

  • What do I have that I consider mine only?
  • What do I consider that others have a right to a share in?
  • What do I have that I choose to share with others?
  • How do I distinguish these things and why?
  • Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Mural from State Building, Dresden. (c) 2005, Allen Morris. There were many evident deficiencies in Communism as theorised and lived out in Eastern Europe and Russia in the 20th Century. But there was also – often – a passion for justice for all. Where is that passion in us and our State? How do we foster it and respond to its demands? 

Speak Lord: Of Justice and life with you for ever.

Judgement Autun

The Responsorial Psalm on Sunday, the 22nd in Ordinary Time, draws us into contemplation of the consequences of good and faithful living.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart;
he who does not slander with his tongue.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever.

The just will live in the presence of the Lord.

Psalm 14:2-5

There could be something self-satisfied and smug about the psalmist, who it seems has accomplished all these things. Though perhaps he only acknowledges what it must be like to have achieved this way of life.

Yet either way – achieving it or pondering the potential of achieving it – the psalmist seems in proper awe of virtuous, faithful, living. These good things are real, true, and can be realised, are not beyond us, however challenging they will always be,

The psalmist is clear that to live in the presence of the Lord is the most desirable thing.

How wonderful it is that God allows us this privilege, always, everywhere, when we raise our minds and hearts to him. Even when we live lives fogged by ambiguity and weakness, he does not leave us to our own devices. He is close offering encouragement, healing, hope – through the presence of the Lord even the unjust can learn to live.

In God’s love for us is our hope, now and always.

Last Judgement from Cathedral of Saint-Lazare, Autun. Plaster cast in the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of life and death

discesa-al-limbo

The words of tomorrow’s second reading are plain and unadorned.

Yet what Paul says is stark, extraordinary, and challenging.

The love of Christ overwhelms us when we reflect that if one man has died for all, then all men should be dead; and the reason he died for all was so that living men should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, therefore, we do not judge anyone by the standards of the flesh. Even if we did once know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Were it not for Jesus we would all be dead. If we are alive, we live only because of him. Wow!

One of the challenges of Pope Francis encyclical, Laudato Si’, is to remind us of our responsibilities, so that we do all live. He invites us to a dialogue about our mutual responsibilities, mutual responsibilities deeply embedded in our Judeao-Christian tradition.

According to today’s Times, Lord Lawson has made his contribution to the dialogue!  ‘He condemned the  encyclical as “a mixture of junk science, junk economics and junk ethics”.’

So read it and make your own mind up.

Pope Francis notes

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people.

These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.

They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Laudato Si’, 49

Let’s face it, if you are reading this blog, you, like me are probably of that group that is complicit in the exploitation of the ‘excluded’.

I set before you life and death, said Moses. Choose life, good life. For yourself, your nearest and dearest – and those far away to whom, most days,  we may bearly give a thought.

Read Pope Francis. And choose.

Image of the harrowing of Hell, Christ restoring Adam to life (and in him all men and women), from the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome. Copyright © 2015. Basilica San Clemente

Taste and See: The good life, the common good

ballot-box2

The Responsorial Psalm for yesterday’s Mass, that of the 5th Sunday of Easter, offered quite a narrative of love in action, of thankful response. Reconciliation, healing, and faithfulness were all there!

You, Lord, are my praise in the great assembly.
or
Alleluia!

My vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and shall have their fill.
They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him.
May their hearts live for ever and ever!

You, Lord, are my praise in the great assembly.
or
Alleluia!

All the earth shall remember and return to the Lord,
all families of the nations worship before him;
They shall worship him, all the mighty of the earth;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.

You, Lord, are my praise in the great assembly.
or
Alleluia!

And my soul shall live for him, my children serve him.
They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come,
declare his faithfulness to peoples yet unborn:
‘These things the Lord has done.’

You, Lord, are my praise in the great assembly.
or
Alleluia!

Psalm 21:26-28,30-32

There happens to be a General Election this week, here in the UK. Seems to me this psalm might serve as a helpful sort of an accompaniment to our final decision as to who to cast our vote for.

How will our vote serve what is good and just?
Will it help the poor to be fed?
Will it turn us to the Living Lord? Will it help us live with his love?
Are we pre-occupied with the here and now only, or for that still to come?
For ourselves? Or for future generations?

Taste and See: diverting the harvest

Calvary

The gospel at yesterday’s Mass, on the 27th Sunday of Ordinary time, took mostly the form of a parable that speaks of the disaster of a leadership of Israel that hogs to itself the graciousness of God. That leadership hears words of rejection from the Son who they will, in their turn, have killed.

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

Matthew 21:33-43

The first fruit of the great harvest of the kingdom of which Jesus speaks, as being taken from the powerful who do not give to God what is due to God, and given to others who will, is of course Jesus himself, in the glory of the Resurrection.

Resisting evil in the vineyard, in Israel, in the Church, and in how we live our own lives, is a challenge. But we have the opportunity to do it, offered us again and again in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are won by the mercy of God, and are armed with that mercy for the overcoming of evil.

  • What shapes you sense of justice?
  • What helps or hinders your ability to stand up for what is right and best and loving?

Photograph of the traditional site of Calvary, Jerusalem. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: your servants are listening

DSC06778

The gospel for today’s Mass, the 27th in Ordinary Time, has at its heart a parable addressed by Jesus to some particular people at a particular time. That is one level on which the gospel text works. But it is handed on to us in a written form that maybe gives additional emphasis to the killing of a son (echoing the killing of God’s Son at Calvary). As you read it, and as you hear it at Mass, what do you hear? Bring that to prayer.

God speaks in different ways to different people at different times. But God speaks, and we long to hear.

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

Matthew 21:33-43

The photograph is of the Son taken and beaten, soon to be taken from the city, the vineyard of the Lord, and killed. Cloister of St Trophime, Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

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: The Lord is good and we are to be loving

help-a-child

Almost always there is a close thematic relationship between the first reading and the gospel reading at Sunday Mass. We look back today at last Sunday’s Mass (25th in Ordinary Time) and its first reading. But bear in mind also the Gospel parable of the landowner and the labourers he calls to his vineyard.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:6-9

One of the connections here, surely, is that the Lord/Landowner looks with eyes of love to those in need, and excluded from what makes for healthy life. Not that the unemployed workers of the gospel parable are presented as wicked or evil – but they may have  been thought less suitable by those looking for good men for hire as labourers – perhaps because of age, temperament or handicap

In an earlier blog I said the reading put me in mind of Advent. Today I find myself reminded of a Christmas reading.

The early Christian writer Theodotus wrote:

The Lord of all comes in the form of a servant: and he comes as a poor man, so that he will not frighten away those he comes to gather.

He is born in an obscure town, deliberately choosing a humble dwelling place. His mother is a simple maiden, not a great lady.

If he had been born amid the splendour of a rich family, unbelievers would surely have said that the face of the world had been changed by the power of wealth.

If he had chosen to be born in Rome, the greatest of cities, they would have said the world had been changed by the power of politicians.

If our Lord had been the son of an emperor, they would have pointed to the advantage of authority.

But what did he do? He chose nothing but poverty and poor surroundings, everything that was plain and ordinary and did all this so that it could be seen clearly that the Godhead alone transformed the world.

His poverty showed how he who became poor for our sake is thereby made accessible to everyone. Christ made no show of riches which would have made people frightened to approach him. He assumed no royal state which would have driven people from his presence. No, he came among ordinary men and women as one of themselves, offering himself freely for the salvation of all humankind.

The Lord came to save humankind in form of Jesus of Nazareth, lacking many of the attributes the world may have looked for in a saviour.

Maybe today he comes to us in similar humble form – perhaps in the form of one who needs our help, rather than as our evident helper. So will we meet him in that humble form, or will our pride and worldliness mean he is hidden from us, in our neighbour.

At the end of the day, look back over the day.

  • Where have you shown love?
  • What did it cost you?
  • What did you receive?

Image found here

Speak Lord: speak love

Cardinal Manning

The Gospel at Mass tomorrow, the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from Matthew’s Gospel. It is one of the longer parables, a parable that draws is into a consideration of the world as it ‘is’ so that we might consider afresh how the world might be, if God’s will is done.

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard. He made an agreement with the workers for one denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard. Going out at about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place and said to them, “You go to my vineyard too and I will give you a fair wage.” So they went. At about the sixth hour and again at about the ninth hour, he went out and did the same. Then at about the eleventh hour he went out and found more men standing round, and he said to them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?” “Because no one has hired us” they answered. He said to them, “You go into my vineyard too.” In the evening, the owner of the vineyard said to his bailiff, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals and ending with the first.” So those who were hired at about the eleventh hour came forward and received one denarius each. When the first came, they expected to get more, but they too received one denarius each. They took it, but grumbled at the landowner. “The men who came last” they said “have done only one hour, and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” He answered one of them and said, “My friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?” Thus the last will be first, and the first, last.’

Matthew 20:1-16

Recently the Church in England celebrated the work of Cardinal Manning in helping to resolve the agony of the London Dock Strike of 1889, and helping dockers achieve their argued-for and just pay of a tanner (6d, 2.5p) an hour.

Here, in Jesus’ parable, the issue is not the withholding of a living wage, but an exceptionally generous employer, subject of (some of) his workers’ complaints.

The point Jesus makes, is that the kingdom of heaven is not only about fairness and justice. It is also, and surely is most of all, about love. Employers and workers alike are called to live by the primacy of love.

The image bears the insciption of the Cardinal Manning Lodge of the  Amalgamated Society of Watermen and Lightermen of Greenwich. It bears eloquent testimony to Cardinal Manning, one of the great leaders of the Catholic Church in the 19th Century.

Speak Lord: help us to speak love by our actions

panel-lectionary

In the second reading at Mass on Sunday, tomorrow, the 23rd of Ordinary Time, St Paul reminds us of what is at the heart of the moral life.

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

Romans 13:8-10

Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ and came up with a very memorable answer: the parable of the good Samaritan.

So, here is the question:

  • For who are you a good and loving neighbour?

And another:

  • When, by your actions and attitude, do you show this to be so?

Image from here: https://educationforjustice.org/