Taste and See: Getting in order

Disordered treasures

The Second reading on Sunday,  for the Feast of the Holy Family in year C, the Year of Luke, speaks of God’s love for us and what will be our future, by his love.

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us,
by letting us be called God’s children;
and that is what we are.
Because the world refused to acknowledge him,
therefore it does not acknowledge us.
My dear people, we are already the children of God
but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed;
all we know is, that when it is revealed
we shall be like him
because we shall see him as he really is.
My dear people,
if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience,
we need not be afraid in God’s presence,
and whatever we ask him,
we shall receive,
because we keep his commandments
and live the kind of life that he wants.

His commandments are these:
that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ
and that we love one another
as he told us to.
Whoever keeps his commandments
lives in God and God lives in him.
We know that he lives in us
by the Spirit that he has given us.

1 John 3:1-2,21-24

What we are to be in the future has not been revealed – but, as we prepare for the turning of the Year, it is something that  we might give some thought to.

Not so much as to what work we will be doing, or what events might or might not take place, but to the sort of person we are and want, through God’s grace to be.

  • What qualities, by God’s grace do I want to grow in?
  • What qualities, with God’s grace, would I like to lose or temper?
  • What steps, with God’s grace, might I take in this direction?

Fundamentally, of course, the call is to love as we are loved – and for those and that we love to be those and that which God loves.

  • Where is there convergence between God’s love and mine?
  • Where divergence?

Disordered treasures? Shop front in Venice. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Obedience

Cross, BeziersThe Second reading at Mass on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, draws our attention to the intentionality of the Incarnation – the why and wherefore of God taking flesh and becoming in this extraordinary way one-with-us as well as – as Salvation History bears ample evidence – always One who is for us.

This is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 10:5-10

The principal mystery of the Incarnation is God taking flesh, but what we may perhaps miss or underestimate the importance of us, is seeing flesh ‘taking’ God. In his life, Jesus reveals the potential for human beings to live godly lives.

Our potential in this world is not inexhaustible : even Jesus faces his destiny amidst fear and sorrow, and meets with death on the Cross. Yet our potential – as we see with Jesus – is even then met with the power and the glory of God which is able to take the worst of this world and redeem us from it. Jesus, even the humanity of Jesus, is safeguarded and raised to eternal life.

Love wins love and lives love, for ever.

Image from Cathedral of Beziers. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See: Goodness, Devotion

Sanctuary, CathedraleThe Collect at Mass yesterday, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time  may have sounded rather insipid. The language used is familiar in other contexts for passing and worldly things, but here the words are used to speak of the ultimate goods, God and God’s creation.

We do well to pause and take note, and to be challenged by the words we pray.

Collect

Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God,
the constant gladness of being devoted to you,
for it is full and lasting happiness
to serve with constancy
the author of all that is good.
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.

‘Devotion’ here does not mean a passing affection or mere warmth of the heart. It has its roots in pagan sacrifice – my life for the enemy’s life! But the concept and practice is purified of negative and destructive aspects in Christianity, while retaining the understanding of vowed commitment, of ceasing to belong to oneself, but being gifted to another, and here to God, the source of all good, and of every good gift.

The prayer acknowledges that the good life is the life attuned to God, and rejoices in the pleasure – ‘full and lasting happiness’ – that comes from attentiveness to God.

In these days when we are newly confronted by evil and by human wickedness the love of God becomes even more important. Likewise our gratitude that we should live in its ambit and for its service.

  • Pray that others will too.
  • Pray for our own deeper conversion to love.

Sanctuary, Cathédrale de la Résurrection d’Évry. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Broken Lord, speak of love

Gethsemane 2The first reading at Mass today comes from one of the ‘servant songs’ of Isaiah, widely read as prophetic anticipations of the sufferings of Christ, particularly in his Passion.

The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering.

If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.
His soul’s anguish over,
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Isaiah 53:10-11

We need to be careful though. The reading responds to an experience of suffering, even a suffering that proves beneficial for others: so a direct correlation with the suffering of Christ can legitimately be made. Likewise the servant’s offering of his life in atonement: in himself achieving what others have failed to do, and doing so to honour the Lord his Father, our Father – there is direct comparison there, and it is fruitful for our understanding of Jesus and how he lived and died.

But it is a step too far to transpose the first line of this prophecy to the situation of Jesus. For itt has not pleased God to crush his Servant-Son. It has pleased God, indeed was his will, that Jesus be true to love, true to the covenant, true to his Sonship and Service. And Jesus agonised over this in Gethsemane, and triumphed over his fears.

But the crushing was achieved by man, not God: God overcomes the crushing when the Father raises the Son to the glory of the Resurrection, and then extends the offer of that gift to all humankind, even those debased by their sin against the innocent Son.

God in Jesus allows himself to be crushed by suffering, in solidarity, in communion, with us. That part of the prophecy is fulfilled. But fulfilled at a slant, and with divine irony.

  • What do you suffer for love?
  • Why?
  • What would be the alternative? Would it be better?

Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Love

Caritaslogo

The Second reading on Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time,was taken from the Letter of St James. It vividly presents the challenge to join ourselves to the works of love.

Take the case, my brothers, of someone who has never done a single good act but claims that he has faith. Will that faith save him? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? Faith is like that: if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead.

This is the way to talk to people of that kind: ‘You say you have faith and I have good deeds; I will prove to you that I have faith by showing you my good deeds – now you prove to me that you have faith without any good deeds to show.’

James 2:14-18

If we live in Western society where the argument splutters on whether God exists or not, Christians may easily consider faith is about whether we believe that God exists. Sure, that is important! But it is not sufficient – as St James points out, the devil believes that too!  But we are called to believe in God, and a shorthand for that belief in is ‘love’.

We are called to love God, neighbour and self. To fail to do either compromises the others. To be a person of faith is to be a person of love. A person who does not love here or does not love there is not a person of love.

They may have been a person of love, in which case they need remedial care. They may be in the process of becoming a person of love, in which case this or that failure may prove a stepping stone to growth, if it is occasion for re-assessing progress and looking, asking, for help.

But love is what love does.

  • Where are you love-less?
  • Bring your weaknesses and your strengths to God in prayer, and pray for deeper faith, and deeper love.

Taste and See: First fruits of the Kingdom

Bethlehem mosiacThe responsorial psalm on Sunday last, the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of fruits of God’s love.

In the psalm we rejoice in the goodness that is offered to us for our flourishing.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever,
who is just to those who are oppressed.
It is he who gives bread to the hungry,
the Lord, who sets prisoners free,

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who gives sight to the blind,
who raises up those who are bowed down,
the Lord, who protects the stranger
and upholds the widow and orphan.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

It is the Lord who loves the just
but thwarts the path of the wicked.
The Lord will reign for ever,
Zion’s God, from age to age.

My soul, give praise to the Lord or Alleluia! 

Psalm 145:6-10

The goodness of God is not measured in things – though surely the hungry will be grateful for bread! It is demonstrated in actions – feeding, setting free, restoring sight, raising up, protection and so on. It is love, love in action.

The same action is called for from us – living lives of love: love being our first nature, should we only be able to access it. The Lord’s love for us helps set us free, helps heal us of our blocks, scars and fears.

  • How has love changed you?
  • How might you love to enrich the lives of those around you today?
  • And tomorrow?

Mosiac from the ancient Basilica of the Nativity, Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and see: the love of God in us

PhiladelphiaThe second reading on Sunday, the 22nd in Ordinary Time, reminds of a key and ever-challenging truth of Christian discipleship.

It is all that is good, everything that is perfect, which is given us from above; it comes down from the Father of all light; with him there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change. By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created. So do away with all the impurities and bad habits that are still left in you – accept and submit to the word which has been planted in you and can save your souls. But you must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.

Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

James 1:17-18,21-22,27

Again and again it is affirmed that what authenticates faith is love in action.

Law, sacraments, devotions all have their proper role in the life of faith. But without love they are without purpose, they do not fulfil their purpose. Without love they can even become toxic to the good life, the life of God in his beloved people.

The principle of cooperation with God who is love is paramount in faithful living.

  • Where do I lack love today?
  • Why?
  • Where do I need love today?
  • Why?

Philadelphia. (c)2007, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: by whose blood we are saved

John Lateran holy door The second reading at the Mass of Corpus Christi this year focuses us on the sacrifice of Christ. The language of sacrifice has proven rather controversial in the Church, particularly as related to the Mass.

Sometimes this is because the way the Catholic church speaks has seen to imply the Mass is a second saving sacrifice. Yet the Church is clear, there is but one sacrifice by which we are saved and that is the sacrifice offered, once and for all at Calvary.

That redemptive sacrifice offered by Christ himself at Calvary (and beautifully anticipated at the Last Supper with the Institution of the Eucharist) is made present to us still in the mystery of the Eucharist. And, wonderfully, at Mass, that once-and-for-all sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented in the Sacrament of the Sacrifice. That Sacrifice truly is once-and-for-all, but it is not over and done with. The Christ who made offering of himself, continues to be present to the Church, and continues in his love, an outpouring of love for the Father, for us, and for the world.

The second reading on Sunday speaks of the unique power of Christ’s sacrifice.

Now Christ has come, as the high priest of all the blessings which were to come. He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands because it is not of this created order; and he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer are sprinkled on those who have incurred defilement and they restore the holiness of their outward lives; how much more effectively the blood of Christ, who offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit, can purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God. He brings a new covenant, as the mediator, only so that the people who were called to an eternal inheritance may actually receive what was promised: his death took place to cancel the sins that infringed the earlier covenant. Hebrews 9:11-15

At the heart of sacrifice is not the destruction of life, a consecration to God only of something otherwise precious to humankind. At the heart of sacrifice is love. Love of God, love of neighbour, love of self: love which takes us beyond just ourselves, and transforms us.

That love overcomes our brokenness, it restores humankind and individual human persons to wholeness and holiness, and leads us ultimately to God.

To do all that takes more than the love that fallen human beings are capable of, unaided. It takes the love of God incarnate, offered for us by Jesus in so many ways, but in an ultimate way in the shedding of his blood at Calvary.

At Corpus Christi we celebrate that love, that sacrifice, and we recommit ourselves to seeking to cooperate with it, to God’s glory, for the sake of our neighbour, and for our own healing and growth.

The Holy Door at St John Lateran, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Love in person, love in action

Throne of Mercy, V&A

The responsorial psalm for the Mass of Trinity Sunday celebrates the Lord’s righteousness and the hope it contains for us.

Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.

For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love.
Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.

By his word the heavens were made,
by the breath of his mouth all the stars.
He spoke; and it came to be.
He commanded; it sprang into being.
Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
to keep them alive in famine.
Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.

Our soul is waiting for the Lord.
The Lord is our help and our shield.
May your love be upon us, O Lord,
as we place all our hope in you.
Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.

Psalm 32:4-6,9,18-20,22

The psalm celebrates God as Creator, Redeemer, and our hope, our Sustainer. Formal definition of the doctrine of the Trinity, encompassing the Church’s experience of Christ and the Paschal Mystery. It would move the understanding  of God’s being to a unity of persons.

God is one. This is a truth Christians  embrace as firmly as Jews and Muslims. God is one. ‘I believe in One God’, we say or sing  at Mass every Sunday.

And yet this one God is also three, Father, Son and Spirit. Our minds boggle at the attempt to hold these two fundamental truths together. But the Trinity is finally not a doctrine about mathematics or logic, it is a hard won response to God’s self-revelation in the Paschal Mystery.

God speaks. God speaks as love, one love, three ‘persons’ and that love is life for us.

Image of throne of mercy. 15th C Alabaster carving from Nottingham. Victoria and Albert Museum. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: That we may remain in love.

Portsmouth, West Door interiorThe Gospel today, the 6th Sunday of Easter, again invites us to remember and respond to the Lord’s gift of love

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘As the Father has loved me,
so I have loved you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.
I have told you this
so that my own joy may be in you
and your joy be complete.
This is my commandment:
love one another, as I have loved you.
A man can have no greater love
than to lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends,
if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants any more,
because a servant does not know
his master’s business;
I call you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything I have learnt from my Father.
You did not choose me:
no, I chose you;
and I commissioned you
to go out and to bear fruit,
fruit that will last;
and then the Father will give you
anything you ask him in my name.
What I command you
is to love one another.’

John 15:9-17

To love is to care enough about the other(s) to pass beyond one’s own self to theirs, and to do this for their well being, without self-interest. It is to bridge distance and otherness, and find, establish, a certain common ground. It is to seek to live for another as (at least mostly) we want to live for ourselves, careful for our integrity, health, balance, and thriving.

Love is more than ‘just’ care, because it will sometimes demand more of us than may – on the face of it – be good for ourselves. We may suffer adversity but our sufferance on behalf of others may make that adversity something we accept without counting the cost. And if we do, sometimes, count the cost, as we know Jesus did, then if we remain inspired by love then we simply know the cost is one we are willing, even happy to pay.

And it begins with the sense that despite our otherness, our being distinct from one another, we each of us matter, and matter to each other. In that, love begins to form. (Not necessarily liking, but love!)

The witness of Jesus is that without that love we are, and will remain, less than fully human.

In his love for us he offers a taste of what life is about. A taste restored to us in our every communion with him, and made tangible in a particular way in our Holy Communion.

  • What gives taste, life, to your life?
  • Where does it lack taste, life?

Bring your reflections to Jesus in prayer. Wait to hear his counsel.

Portsmouth, West Door exterior

 

Photographs of the West Door to Portsmouth’s Anglican Cathedral. The door both marks the difference between church and world, here and there, and also allows an experience of the presence/access of each to the other. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.