Speak Lord: Giver of gifts, lover of humankind.

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The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed: ‘This at last is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh! This is to be called woman, for this was taken from man.’

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.

First reading for 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 2:18-24

The story of the first ‘marriage’, like the story of the first ‘covenant’, is a story of great hope and promise, and enormous disappointment.

Human history tells us how many marriages and many covenants are successful in promoting harmony and wholeness. It also tells us of how many ‘fail’.

The whole of Scripture tells us of the love of God for all his children, willing us to journey on, often through trouble and disappointment, to deeper love and deeper life in him.

  • What have you learnt through God’s love?
  • What have you  learnt and gained through experience of ‘failure’?
  • What have you  learnt and gained through experience of ‘success’?

 

Stained glass. Southwark Cathedral. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: of life and love

wedding-cake-decorationsSome Sadducees – those who say that there is no resurrection – approached him and they put this question to him, ‘Master, we have it from Moses in writing, that if a man’s married brother dies childless, the man must marry the widow to raise up children for his brother. Well then, there were seven brothers. The first, having married a wife, died childless. The second and then the third married the widow. And the same with all seven, they died leaving no children. Finally the woman herself died Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she had been married to all seven?’

Jesus replied, ‘The children of this world take wives and husbands, but those who are judged worthy of a place in the other world and in the resurrection from the dead do not marry because they can no longer die, for they are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. And Moses himself implies that the dead rise again, in the passage about the bush where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all men are in fact alive.’

Luke 20:27-38

Here we have a debate between Jews about the reach of the Levitical laws about marriage.

So often religious debate on matters of religious law and custom, even Tradition, can be turned in on itself. Jesus seeks to open this debate up to broader, and deeper, truths of the faith and the Covenant with God.

He does not want them to use laws given to protect the vulnerable here on earth to constrain attempts to conceive of the fullness of love and life in heaven.

That he does it by offering some scriptural exegesis that might not cut much ice these days is really neither here nor there. Though it is a pity the Lectionary selection ends where it does. The next verse shows that Jesus is not out to score points but to win hearts for God – and he does, probably:

Some scribes then spoke up, ‘Well put, Master’ they said – because they would not dare to ask him any more questions.

Luke 20:39,40 

Jesus presses his questioners and critics to look again at their Tradition and to take on the more that he wants them to be open to.

They fall silent for he has impressed on them there is indeed more that they have to consider: namely that there may well be – to life and marriage and being God’s people – than they have as yet considered.

Well, debates about marriage, its nature and its purpose continue! But too often in focusing on the detail of life here and now, and how it is regulated, protected and so on, we neglect the ground and end of marriage, love, and all that matters here, namely the love of God, and our maturing in our love of God and neighbour.

God’s love, Jesus shows, embraces all, and calls all to him, (and to repentance and to renewal): not least those who break the ‘rules’; and not least those who hold on to the rules for dear life.

  • What mistakes have helped you to faith?
  • What comfort do you offer to those who struggle?

Decorations for wedding cakes. Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille. Photo (c) 2013, Allen Morris

Taste and See: In it together…

Oils, SPirit, Liverpool

The Second reading at Mass on Sunday this week, the feast of Pentecost, was taken from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. He rejoices in the unity and dignity of all Christians, a dignity which comes from their unity in Christ, enlivened by his Spirit.

No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.

Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink.

1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13

To be part of a team, supported and supporting, is our vocation as Christians.

Often when speaking of vocation people seem to focus on an individual’s personal path in life – and on a relatively few particular paths/works in life, too, come to that.

But all Christian vocation is rooted in our communion with Jesus, and is for service of others. This is true of Baptism (culminating in Confirmation and Eucharist). It is true of those admitted to the Orders of Deacons, Presbyters and Bishops – they minister Christ and together with others, for others. It is true of those admitted to the Order of Penitents and the Order of the Sick and Infirm – in need of mercy and assistance, but also called to bear witness to the Church of their trust in the mercy of God. And it is true, in a paradigmatic way, of those called to marriage and family life – they serve as Christ to each other and to their family and community, and do it together.

  • With whom do you work in Christ?
  • Whose assistance and cooperation do you neglect or resist?

Art work in Chapel of Holy Oils, Christ the King Cathedral, Liverpool. (c) 2016, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of your good purpose

The first reading at Mass yesterday. the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, reminded of how God wills our good and our flourishng.Wedding, Aix

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed:

‘This at last is bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
for this was taken from man.’

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.

Genesis 2:18-24

It is notable that our Liturgy names marriage as the one blessing not washed away in the great Flood!

That blessing, like so many that have followed since, is often cramped and compromised in the circumstances of our lives. Yet the still more of God’s love remains there for us to draw us forward and open us up to all that is good. Often – when we look back – the times of trial are the times that have enabled most growth. It is hard to believe at the time, but memory helps, and faith in God’s goodness and purpose for us.

To his goodness and his will we are invited to respond. (Indeed how churlish we will be if we don’t). That response often falls into the category of conversion (a more technical term for most human growth that is not purely physical): conversion to a life more free and capable of love.

If where we are right now such a change seems a long way away, let us try to express hope, and to exercise faith in God – even if we find it hard to trust in ourselves or others.

  • Pray for the Synod on Family Life and Mission
  • Pray for your family and friends
  • Pray for those who struggle today.

A wedding in Aix en Provence, France. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of holiness and love

Zelie and Louis MartinThe First reading at Mass today introduces a theme- this week the theme of marriage. As usual, that ‘theme’ is taken up and developed/explored in the the responsorial psalm and the Gospel reading.

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed:

‘This at last is bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
for this was taken from man.’

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.

Genesis 2:18-24

Some might suggest that God, in addressing man’s existential problem that he cannot be alone and has not yet learnt how to be in full communion with God, causes another! How does man live with (wo)man?!

Yet the potential for wholeness is what God creates and men and women are set on the track to learn that wholeness and holiness. In the life-long union of marriage come some of the greatest tests to maturity and the greatest helps to it. We see that in the story of Adam and Eve. We see that in our own lives, married or not.

  • Pray for the Synod on the vocation and mission of the Family, beginning this weekend in Rome.
  • Pray for married couples
  • Pray for all parents and their families
  • Pray for yourself and your relationships.

Shrine of Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St Therese of Lisieux, who are to be canonised during the current Synod in Rome on the Family and its Vocation

Speak Lord: Of Kingdom and Love

Adam and Eve York

The Gospel reading for Sunday, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is one much quoted in these days of controversy regarding marriage: regarding same sex-marriage, how to respond to ‘failed’ marriages, how to understand what the purpose of marriage is, how it relates to God’s will, our will, our convenience and so on.

We come to it again, in a spirit of meditation and a desire to know and do God’s will.

Some Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’

Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’

People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

Mark 10:2-16

We will all notice something in the Gospel, all find a different place of insight, of comfort and quite possible of discomfort. Let me note just three things:

  1. The contrast Jesus makes between God’s law and the commandment of Moses.
  2. His recognition that the people are unteachable and that Moses responded with something which may or may not have been helpful (but does not effect God’s law)
  3. The call to be simple, child-like welcoming of the kingdom of God: letting go of the other expectations, preoccupations so as to be open to, and to welcome, the kingdom of God.

What we note we bring to God in prayer – and its there we find help to resolve our confusions, confront our challenges, find healing for our hurts. In that divine dialogue between Father and his child we are granted a space to grow and learn.

  • What do you find in your heart today that welcomes the kingdom?
  • What do you find in your heart the seems to close the way?

Image of the creation of Adam and Eve. York Minster. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Free from care? Fit for the Lord?

Wedding, Aix

In the Second reading at Mass yesterday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary time, St Paul spoke of being free from worry, so as to focus everything on the Lord.

I would like to see you free from all worry.

An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways.

In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband.

I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

The opposition between pleasing the Lord and pleasing a spouse is rather a simplistic one, and at least potentially wrong-headed.

It is certain that one way of pleasing the Lord is in the fruitful creativeness of family life, with mutual support and encouragement helping parents and children learn and achieve holiness of life. Pleasing others and pleasing the Lord are not at odds with other.

However carelessness and selfishness, and obsessiveness – with regard to the Lord, or  spouse, family or worldly matters – can  lead people to lose their way in life. The family, the spouse, the world and we ourselves are not ends in ourselves. We are gifts of God, and gifts to be ‘used’ lovingly and gratefully as we also grow in relationship with God.

In most Christian traditions space is also found for acknowledging and supporting a healthy renunciation of the gift of marriage to follow a ‘religious’ vocation, usually in the context of a religious ‘family’ (be that the presbyterate of a local Church or a religious community or congregation). Such a life can be more singly focussed on pleasing the Lord, but rarely is the living of that religious ‘family’ life without its cares and worries too. Though, as in ‘natural’ families, those cares and worries, properly attended to, can be stepping stones to wholeness and holiness, making us still more pleasing to God, signs of his Glory.

 

Photograph of wedding in the church of St John of Malta, Aix en Provence. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Marriage and Family Life

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Our Archbishop, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, wrote a pastoral letter, read at all Sunday masses on the feast of Pentecost.

The letter can be found in our newsletter over the next week, thereafter I expect it will be available on the Westminster Diocese website though I can’t find it there yet.

In the letter, the Cardinal spoke of the gifts of the Spirit and vocation – and especially the vocation to marriage and family life.

  • If you heard his letter what do you remember from it? What struck you by way of encouragement, challenge, even discouragement? Bring that to God in prayer…

The Cardinal spoke of marriage and family life, as well as being something precious to those directly involved, as having benefit for wider society – stablility, new life, love and generosity. He acknowledged the challenges and the sacrifice that faithfulness to the call to be authentic family, to be true to marriage vows. And he spoke of the experience of 20,000 years of married life, present in the couples at a Mass to celebrate significant anniversaries of their marriage at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday – that whatever the cost, it is worth it, that a marriage well lived is a priceless treasure.

  • What (more!) can you do to help your family develop its potential for good?
  • How can you support the love that is at the heart of the families and relationships of your wider family, your friends and neighbours?
  • And what other gifts of the Spirit have you received that you can give thanks to God for?

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Image: Cardinal Vincent Celebrates Mass in Thanksgiving for Marriage © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

Other image from somewhere on the web and tweaked by Allen Morris!