Speak Lord: The Judgement is Mercy…

Toppled Pillar
The Gospel on Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, comes from the Gospel of Luke, and sets before us the matter of how does God, (and how do we), deal with those guilty of wrong-doing – or failing to do the good, for which we are ordered, for which we are made.

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

Luke 13:1-9

The issue of do bad things only happen to bad people is considered by Jesus but he passes on to a parable which sets before us the gift of Mercy, of which he is witness and minister, and which is our hope.

Rather than a concern with the righteousness of others Jesus challenges all to consider how they respond to mercy this year, now.

Not a tower, and not at Siloam, but an earthquake-toppled pillar at Beth Shearim. Might have killed people! Earthquake damage. Beth Shearim, Israel. (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: That we may be at peace…

Galilee Polenov

The Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of the Year, and this year, the last Sunday before Lent begins, takes us from Nazareth and Jesus’ troubles, to Galilee and the disciples and their troubles there…

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus, Light of the World, has helped Peter to see his own fallibility and weakness. Peter declares himself a sinful man. But then Peter is rather prone to excitement and perhaps to exaggeration. Maybe he is a sinful man, even more sinful than others; and maybe not. What is clear is that Jesus has presented a challenge and brought a different clarity to Peter, revealed a different horizon for his life than he has known heretofore.

Peter is overwhelmed by the newness, the goodness, the beauty and the truth. And collapses before it all.

Jesus reaches out to him – certainly in his words, but surely in gesture too, raising Peter to his feet: ‘Do not be afraid…’

  • What afears you?What makes you daunted?
  • Spend time with the Lord in quiet prayer asking for the confidence you need to find all things new…

Painting ‘On the Sea of Tiberias’ by Polenov. Tretvakov State Gallery, Moscow. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Tretyakov State Gallery

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.

Taste and See: The call to pilgrimage

Bethlehem icon

After the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass on Sunday the Church prayed:

Having received this pledge of eternal redemption,
we pray, almighty God,
that, as the feast day of our salvation draws ever nearer,
so we may press forward all the more eagerly
to the worthy celebration of the mystery of your Son’s Nativity.
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Prayer after Communion

The icon above, stands above the traditional place of Jesus birth, in a cave beneath the 6th C Justinian basilica built to replace the earlier Constantinian basilica which was lost to fire. The basilica and its cave are among the most ancient Christian places of pilgrimage.

It depicts saints and angels who are connected with Bethlehem and who journeyed there in devotion to Jesus Christ, in thanksgiving for God’s taking flesh for our salvation.

Sunday’s prayer engages with the matter of our pilgrimage in life, asking that we ourselves might press forward, journeying not to a holy place, but to a holy state in life.

  • What would make our celebration more worthy? How might we achieve that?
  • How might we more deeply integrate that quality into our daily life?

Icon, Bethlehem. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: No need for fear…

Olives KazmierzYesterday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the Responsorial Psalm was in fact a Canticle, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

When we pray with scripture we are invited to enter into the emotional, spiritual depth of the text, the weft and warp of it.

We can say words such as ‘Truly, God is my salvation,/ I trust, I shall not fear.’ and they can mean very little. They mean much more, and the saying of the words contributes to our salvation when we also remember what it means to be lost, to have nothing/no-one in whom to trust, to be adrift in fears.

Take a moment to remember your past fears, or to acknowledge your present fears, before sharing in the Prophet’s witness to how God has empowered him and gifted freedom to him and to his people

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Truly, God is my salvation,
I trust, I shall not fear.
For the Lord is my strength, my song,
he became my saviour.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name!
Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!
Declare the greatness of his name.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing a psalm to the Lord
for he has done glorious deeds;
make them known to all the earth!
People of Zion, sing and shout for joy,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 12

 

For Isaiah God is the reason he has no fear, that he trusts, that he is saved. There are many reasons that he could fear, flail and flounder. But from them, the very real and ever-present them, the Lord has saved him.

The Lord is our salvation too, if we will trust and let him free us from fear.

Fear is maybe the greatest. most corrosive spiritual disease. The goodness of God from before all time, through all time and beyond all time is our cure. In his goodness we find mercy.

Kyrie, eleison…  Lord, have mercy.

  • In quiet prayer renew and rehearse your trust, and reasons for trust, in God’s care and protection of you.
  • Pray for someone you know to be afraid: pray for their freedom and healing.

Olive leaves and fruit. From Synagogue, Kazermierz, Cracow . (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: we are set free

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, CracowThe first reading at Mass today, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, comes from the prophet Zephaniah.

Shout for joy, daughter of Zion,
Israel, shout aloud!
Rejoice, exult with all your heart,
daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has repealed your sentence;
he has driven your enemies away.
The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst;
you have no more evil to fear.

When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem:
Zion, have no fear,
do not let your hands fall limp.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you
as on a day of festival.

Zephaniah 3:14-18

Much of the Book of Zephaniah is taken up with telling of Israel’s sins and failings and calling Jerusalem to repentance. The reading gives a section of the last chapter of the Book which speaks of God’s promises, of God’s mercy and reconciliation of his people, despite their sins and failings.

The chapter as a whole speaks of restoration, but not a restoration of all. God is merciful. He will restore his people from their exile but not all of them. Proud boasters are to be taken from the people, and left is to be a humble and lowly people. These too may have sinned but they will know healing. The certain conditionality of redemption is not present in today’s extract from the prophet.

Maybe the editors of the Lectionary missed an opportunity here as many prepare for their Advent Confession or Advent reconciliation service.

There is never doubt of God’s mercy, but often there is uncertainty about our readiness to receive and respond to the loveliness of God. He will exult with joy, will renew with his love, dance with joy for us, but will we respond?

  • What draws you closer to God?
  • What would have you hold back?
  • Pray for the grace of repentance and renewal

Winter Fruits in Market, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Freedom

Victims to the Totalitarian RegimeThe responsorial psalm set for Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Advent had us sing in celebration of the Lord’s gift of freedom.

The Song celebrated the freedom of Israel from Babylon. It is sung by the Church in celebration of freedom that is greater yet.

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

Freedom from slavery; freedom from sin; freedom from oppression; freedom for hopelessness; freedom from being alone: freedom comes in many forms, and the Lord works that we receive the gift that restores us to ourselves.

Freedom can of course be abused. No-one, except through Christ, had such freedom as Adam and Eve and we recall how they abused it. We too may have received freedom and abused it too, not having learnt how to live it well.  We receive freedom ‘from’ as gift, but freedom is given us not just to do whatever but for the good and especially for the common good.

God’s freeing of us points to God’s covenant with humankind, his desire to draw us into communion with him. The gift of freedom is given us that we too, freely, might extend and deepen that covenantal relationship – with God, with our neighbour.

  • What freedom do you enjoy?
  • What freedom do you lack?
  • How does your life benefit others?
  • How do the lives of others benefit you?

Bring your thoughts to God in prayer.

Detail of Victims to the Totalitarian Regime by Ye. I. Chubarov, Gorki Park, Moscow. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Taste and See: Newness for real

Chora Harrowing

On Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of Advent the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer was the first Preface of Advent. The Preface is used daily in the first part of Advent, up to the 16th of December. From the 17th another Preface is provided, for the last days of Advent when our attention shifts from the anticipation of the Second Coming to the celebration of the First, in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

The day of this post is the first of the Year of Mercy, and is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The Preface of Sunday gathers something of all these things in its thanksgiving for God’s goodness, and subsumes them under the great plan of God to restore us to the intimacy with Him which Adam and Eve squandered, for which Israel longed but fell short.

 

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

For he assumed at his first coming
the lowliness of human flesh,
and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago,
and opened for us the way to eternal salvation,
that, when he comes again in glory and majesty
and all is at last made manifest,
we who watch for that day
may inherit the great promise
in which now we dare to hope.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim: Holy…

Adam and Eve squandered God’s gift and Israel fell short… And we, reborn in Christ though we are, are still waiting, sometimes striving to be worthy, ready, for the fulfilment of God’s promises.

How often we misjudge, fall, fail, lose interest, lose focus. But we are guarded, guided, shepherded by the love of God. Mercy surrounds and sustains us, that we might live by the gift of love.

  • On this day we celebrate Mary’s faithfulness from Conception to Assumption (and beyond!), and as we embark on a journey to better know God’s mercy let us again give thanks for the opportunity, and bring to God in prayer those probably ingrained challenges to faithfulness particular to us, asking for help.

Image of the liberation of Adam and Even through the Resurrection of Christ. Chora church, Istanbul. (c) 2002, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Renovation

At Work.jpgThe Gospel reading yesterday, the second Sunday of Advent, spoke of healing and being made new. It spoke to the exile and alienation of the People of God, and of all people. It offered hope and wholeness.

In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of the lands of Ituraea and Trachonitis, Lysanias tetrach of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah, in the wilderness. He went through the whole Jordan district proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah:

‘A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled in,
every mountain and hill be laid low,
winding ways will be straightened
and rough roads made smooth.
And all mankind shall see the salvation of God.’

Luke 3:1-6

The Bible is, necessarily, a book that makes great use of metaphor.

In our day, talk of ‘Every valley being filled in, every mountain and hill  laid low, winding ways straightened, and rough roads made smooth.’ might have us wondering about the planning applications that would need to be made and the protests about safeguarding the environment. And quite right too.

However think of the objections we raise when we ourselves are called to reform and renewal. Often they are a misguided form of self-protection, not helping us but keeping us at a (sadly) safe distance from God’s healing and newness and mercy.

The metaphor of highway building is just that, a metaphor. The real change needed, offered, is in us that we might be helped to come closer to God’s presence, helped to be re-fashioned in the image of his Son. That this might happen to us as individuals and as Church.

How we hesitate, how we seeks to frustrate the plan. How we need a Year of Mercy.

  • What do you fear?
  • What do you hope for?
  • Where are God’s plans in all this?

Photo. Work site in Vancouver. (c) 2008, Allen Morris.

 

Speak Lord: Call us to your love

Sacred Heart Maryvale

The second reading on Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, reminds of the call to all disciples to be strong in love, ministers in love.

May the Lord be generous in increasing your love and make you love one another and the whole human race as much as we love you. And may he so confirm your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.

Finally, brothers, we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living it. You have not forgotten the instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Advent prepares us for the celebration of humble mercy that begins on December 24th – God taking flesh to save sinners, might be a pithy summary of the Mystery of Christmas.

It’s a celebration that lasts until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. How will we sustain that celebration this year, when the world on December 26th gives up Xmas for New Year Sales and then groans back into work after the bank holidays?

And how will we carry the exploration of God’s mercy and the manifestation of that mercy even in our lives in the Year that Pope Francis invites us to, a Year of Jubilee to celebrate Mercy?

  • What are your parish or diocesan plans? How will you share in them?
  • What are your family plans? Which of those parish and diocesan events have you got in the diary? Are you going to make a family/friends pilgrimage this year?
  • What about you yourself? What might you begin in Advent to carry you fruitfully through the Year of Mercy?

Image of the Sacred Heart at Maryvale, one of diocesan centres for pilgrimage in the Archdiocese of Birmingham during the Year of Mercy. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.