Speak Lord: helps us learn mercy…

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Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Gospel for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Matthew 18:21-35

‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’

How acute our sense of when we have been offended, and how generous we are to ourselves in justifying our own failures and offences that have hurt others..

As we say at Mass, it takes real daring to pray the Lord’s Prayer – to call God Father and to pray that we be treated as we treat others!

Maybe we need to forgive them even more than 77 times…

St Peter at Prayer. Peter in Gallicantu. Jerusalem. (c) 2017, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: The mercy of God for us

 

40 Agnus Dei

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me,
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Psalm 50:3-6,12-14,17

It is a week since Lent began, with Ash Wednesday and the smearing of ash in the sign of the Cross on our foreheads.

So when on Sunday we sang the psalm above and proclaimed ourselves sinners, we knew that of which we sang!

Hopefully we know also the love of God and that if we repent and ask for his mercy that mercy is assured. God’s mercy is there for us before we repent, and it surely is God’s mercy that helps to repent, for it reminds of the better way of life and love that is God’s.

Psalm 50 seems to have its origins in Israel’s liturgy of covenant-renewal, responding to the call to be at one with God through participation in the Temple cult, but also through the reform of life that the prophets urge Israel to.

We too are called to a new life: called to be healed by God, reconciled with God, and to share in his work of love.

  • What present offences do you know in yourself?
  • What helps do you receive from God to help your reform and renewal?

Happy Lent.

Tabernacle Door. Sayers Common. (c) 2005, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Our help past, present and future

Mercy, Wawel Castle.jpg

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offence.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervour sustain me,
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.

Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have sinned.

Psalm 50:3-6,12-14,17

Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Lent, and in the song with which the Church responds to the first reading we acknowledge our sinfulness. This is Lent, and it is the season for confessing our sins and knowing repentence for them.

But the pslam has us do something more: something more which makes us do something not only moral but faithful.

We turn to the Lord, the one Jesus called us to know as Father. And we ask for mercy. Because we ask Abba for mercy we are confident that mercy will be ours.

Our confession of sin moves him and will ensure God will show us fresh evidence of his eternal love.

However, our confession does not so much make God do that which he would not otherwise want to do; rather our confession is fulfilment of his hopes and love for us to date. He has moved heaven and earth that we might trust in him and turn to him. And when we do our life is renewed.

The image above suggests the angels are on our side. It is even more important to know that God is too.

Happy Lent.

Figure, Wawel Castle, Cracow, Poland. (c) 2017, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Light in the darkness

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The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.

For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.

For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:1-7

The reading above was read at Mass last night, and may be heard again today. There are three sets of readings for Mass on Christmas Day itself (plus readings for the afternoon of Christmas Eve). The readings for the Day are allocated to Mass during the Night, Dawn and during the Day: however they can be used at any Mass on Christmas Day.

The reading above perhaps has its greatest power when we hear it during the night, as darkness is pierced by Christmas light. But of course it can also serve well as a sort of ‘morning-after’ reading as we gather during the morning light and reflect at what the Lord has accomplished.

And as we consider what more he seeks to achieve with us.

For many are those who still walk in darkness. And though the Lord comes to them with love and to give them hope, that is not enough. We are called to make up what is evidently lacking, to cooperate and serve our brothers and sisters in need.

The mercy of God now requires us to live in solidarity with others, even as the Lord humbles himself to live in solidarity with us.

Lux Mundi (Light of the World): Holy Name church, Manchester. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Lord of Mercy

Palce of Anoining

The first reading at Mass today comes from the prophet Zechariah.

On this, the 12th Sunday of Ordinary time, the readings direct us to the martyrdom of Christ – and, of course, his Resurrection – and the witness that each disciple is called to give in their lives.

It is the Lord who speaks: ‘Over the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer. They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child. When that day comes, there will be great mourning in Judah, like the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, for sin and impurity.’

Zechariah 12:10-11,13:1

The Lord speaks to a people who have been complicit in a great wrong, but calls them to repentance and offers them not punishment for wrongs done, but healing, kindness and prayer.

This offer, this invitation is available still, to all who do wrong to God’s people. his human family.

Shrine at traditional place of the preparation of Jesus’ body for burial. Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

 

Taste and See: Over-reaching sin

Skyscraper Philadelphia

The Psalm on Sunday, the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is a humble confession of sin, and and of thanks to the Lord:

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin.

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.

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin.

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 forgiven
the guilt of my sin.

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin.

You are my hiding place, O Lord;
you save me from distress.
You surround me with cries of deliverance.

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin.

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

Forgive, Lord, the guilt of my sin.

Psalm 31:1-2,5,7,11

We are sinners, and the failures of the past and present are indeed ours. But we are also loved, the beloved, of God. In this we find our identity, sinners saved.

  • For what do you give thanks?
  • How do you live your thanks?

Skyscrapers, Philadelphia. (c) 2007, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Love straightway

Our Lady of Montserrat

The First reading at Mass on Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes at a point of crisis in the story of David, Israel’s King. Israel boasts of David, and yet David’s life has its sordid moments, and none more than his taking of Bethsheeba and murder of her husband to ‘hide’ the adultery.

David has been favoured over all Israel by God. And his betrayal of his dignity and honour is thus all the more striking.

Yet how easily and completely the spurned and sorrowful God is ready to forgive:

Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord the God of Israel says this, “I anointed you king over Israel; I delivered you from the hands of Saul; I gave your master’s house to you, his wives into your arms; I gave you the House of Israel and of Judah; and if this were not enough, I would add as much again for you. Why have you shown contempt for the Lord, doing what displeases him? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife for your own, and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. So now the sword will never be far from your House, since you have shown contempt for me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”’

David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’

Then Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die.’

2 Samuel 12:7-10,13

  • When did you last give the gift of mercy?
  • Why?

Bring your thoughts and feelings to God in prayer.

Our Lady of Montserrat and the Spirit of Mercy, Montserrat. (c) 2003, Allen Morris. 

Speak Lord: Free us

MephistophelesThe First reading at Mass today, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, tells a story of sin and repentance and mercy that should prepare us for the principal reading in the Liturgy of the Word, today’s Gospel with account of Jesus and the woman with a bad name in the town, and great love in her heart.

The story of King David is very different but with a poignancy and consequences that today’s short passage can only allude to.

The episode we hear today focuses us on the gratuity of God’s mercy. David does so little even to show his repentance- but forgiveness is so suddenly, and so freely, given.

Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord the God of Israel says this, “I anointed you king over Israel; I delivered you from the hands of Saul; I gave your master’s house to you, his wives into your arms; I gave you the House of Israel and of Judah; and if this were not enough, I would add as much again for you. Why have you shown contempt for the Lord, doing what displeases him? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, taken his wife for your own, and killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. So now the sword will never be far from your House, since you have shown contempt for me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”’

David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die.’

2 Samuel 12:7-10,13

  • What makes you sorry for sin?
  • Does anything hold you back from admission of sin?

Mephistopheles. Mark Anatolsky. Russian Museum, St Petersburg, Russia. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

 

Speak Lord: Set us free

Magdalene Reading

The Gospel on Sunday, the 5th Sunday of Lent, tells a heart-stopping tale of Jesus defence and liberation of a woman taken in adultery.

His opponents open her to public shame and ridicule, even to the possibility of being stoned to death. Jesus opens them to a deeper self-knowledge and has them self-convict of sin.

They slink away, and Jesus offers mercy, consolation and assistance to the woman: he restores her to life.

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin any more.’

John 8:1-11

Back then he liberated one woman. Countless since have been liberated by their hearing of the story, their reading of the story. The word of God is indeed, alive and active, sacrament of the Living Word himself.

  • Where does the story touch you?
  • What hope does it provide? What challenge?
  • What place does the word of God have in your spiritual life?

Detail of The Magdalene reading by Rogier van der Weyden. Collection of the National Gallery, London. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of how we are and might be…

Prodigal detail

The Gospel reading on Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Lent, is a parable famous for the way it presents us with an opportunity to reflect on mercy, and responsibility for the ministering of mercy. It presents heartbreak and reconciliation.

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:
‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The Parable is famous and complex.

  • Complex in the central relationship between father and son; and complex in the relationship between the sons.
  • Complex too in what is it that is going on in the ‘prodigal’ Son.
    • What is his attitude to his father at the beginning, end and middle of the story?
    • And what is the fault he bears for what goes wrong? What is the fault of the father? What the fault of the brother? And where is the mother in all this?
  • Then there is the question of what is put right? Is the son reconciled? Is the father right to welcome as he does: or is he going to be responsible for the elder brother breaking with the family?

If we know anything of the mess and complexity of family relationships – of life! – we owe it to ourselves not to reduce the parable to a nice little fable about forgiveness and love. It is for grown-ups and it is dark. And it is given to bring new light to our darkness.

We need to allow its light to shine and – even slowly – dispel our shadows. For that we need time in the world of the story.

In the painting by Rembrandt, a detail of which is depicted above a figure, (a servant?) stands back, present to but seemingly abstracted from the central scene. He looks at us, looks to see what will happen next.

What will happen next?

  • What moves us in the story?
  • What challenges us in what happens
  • And what impact will it have on us?
  • Will we live differently in consequence as children? Parents? Siblings? Employers? Christians?

Detail of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt in the collection of the Hermitage, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris