Taste and See: Remember and know…

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Moses said to the people: ‘Put this question to the ages that are past, that went before you, from the time God created man on earth: Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other? Was anything ever heard? Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire, as you heard it, and remain alive? Has any god ventured to take to himself one nation from the midst of another by ordeals, signs, wonders, war with mighty hand and outstretched arm, by fearsome terrors – all this that the Lord your God did for you before your eyes in Egypt?

‘Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: the Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other. Keep his laws and commandments as I give them to you today, so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever.’

First reading for Trinity Sunday
Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40

Moses witnesses to the glory of God, drawing on his own personal experience and the experiences shared with the rest of the people.

Those various experiences are likely to be more dramatic than our own experiences! However our own experiences are likely to be what sustains us in faith, and encourages us to seek to live faithfully. They are also likely to be amongst the most persuasive testimony that we can give to others, who teeter on the threshold of faith.

We should be ready to bear witness…

Moses. Chagall Museum, Nice. (c) 2005, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Speak and soften our hard hearts

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O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us:
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Psalm 94:1-2,6-9

The Responsorial Psalm tomorrow – the 3rd Sunday of Lent – reminds us of Israel and its grumbling in the wilderness, of it unfaithfulness, and of God’s enduring faithfulness to his people.

In the response we urge each other to listen to the Lord and to keep our hearts supple to his prompting. We who are sometimes hard of heart, pray for others, that they might keep from our handicap – and they for us!

Happy Lent.

The Life of Moses. Sainte Chapelle, Paris. (c) 2017, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Our Blessing

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The Lord spoke to Moses and said,

‘Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

This is how they are to call down my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’

Numbers 6:22-27

The blessing offered through Aaron to the sons of Israel is one expression of the Original Blessing that God extends to the whole world, and that is extended to each and every person in each and every situation at each and every time.

We are honoured by God’s love and care: for always he is gracious to us, always he offers us peace.

We live in a world where again and again we dishonour ourselves and others; and where we abort peace. And yet the offer, the promise, remains. Our brokeness is not the end something very different is set before us, that we might take it up and live from it.

Today is the feast of Mary, Mother of God, and the Octave Day of Christmas. It is also the the World Day for Peace.

  • Pray for peace in all cruelly violent places in the world, and for the people who endure there.
  • Pray for peace for yourself and your family and friends.to us.
  • Prayer for peace for your enemies.
  • Pray for peace and reconciliation for all people.

That God’s will may be done and his gifts rejoiced in.

Detail for Te Deum window at St Leonard’s Bridgnorth. (c) 2016, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Help us here to hear

meribahO that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us:
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts.’

Psalm 94:1-2,6-9

Christians are blessed, enriched, with the Word, God’s Son. And yet, like others, Christians are quite capable of deafness to the word – selective deafness sometimes, to some things we hear and do not like; complete deafness at other times, it seems!

The Psalm at Mass tomorrow, the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, reminds us of the deafness of others who have gone before us; their readiness to listen to each others grumbles rather than trust in the Lord.

Its’ hope is that we will learn from their/our past mistakes. We are urged to return to that which keeps us safe, and it serves us by helping us once more to continue on our way: listening to and obeying the word of the Lord.

Stained glass of Moses and the waters of Meribah, Lincoln Cathedral. (c) 2011, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Mercy

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The First reading at Mass today, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, presents a people in revolt, and a step towards reconciliation.

In this passage – part, of course, of a much longer and complex narrative – God seems reluctant to forgive, seems persuaded to relent until persuaded by Moses.

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: “I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.”’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

It is interesting to note the grounds for Moses’ argument. God must be faithful to his promises, is about God not losing faith. The argument is not about love – which is the quality which comes to the fore in the Gospel of the day.

Wherein lies the development? A change in God? Or a change in understanding of God?

As for ourselves, our motives are often mixed. Sometimes we act for self interest. Sometimes for love of the other. Which predominates at present?

Poussin, Adoration of the Golden Calf. National Gallery London. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Law, love, healing

Bema and Ark of the Law, Synagogue, St Petersburg

The First reading at Mass today, the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of the closeness of God, the intimacy of God’s sharing his life and wisdom with us, so that we might be helped to live that life, that wisdom ourselves.

Moses said to the people: ‘Obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping those commandments and laws of his that are written in the Book of this Law, and you shall return to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.

‘For this Law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, “Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us, so that we may hear it and keep it?” Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, “Who will cross the seas for us and bring it back to us, so that we may hear it and keep it?” No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.’

Deuteronomy 30:10-14

There is always a gap between us and the holiness of God. But always God seeks to overwhelm that barrier and win us for himself, and for our good.

  • Where have you discerned the presence of God for you most recently?
  • How might you best respond to the Lord today?

Bema and Ark of the Law, Synagogue, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Rescue us…

Gozo crucifix detailThe first reading for today, the first Sunday of Lent, prepares us for the Gospel of the day.

Moses instructs the people on how to live right before the Lord. Jesus fulfils that righteousness in his resisting temptation and making offering himself to God, becoming himself the first fruits of faithfulness, the living bread.

Moses said to the people: ‘The priest shall take the pannier from your hand and lay it before the altar of the Lord your God. Then, in the sight of the Lord your God, you must make this pronouncement:

‘“My father was a wandering Aramaean. He went down into Egypt to find refuge there, few in numbers; but there he became a nation, great, mighty, and strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, they gave us no peace and inflicted harsh slavery on us. But we called on the Lord, the God of our fathers. The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. He brought us here and gave us this land, a land where milk and honey flow. Here then I bring the first-fruits of the produce of the soil that you, the Lord, have given me.”

‘You must then lay them before the Lord your God, and bow down in the sight of the Lord your God.’

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

As we confront our weaknesses this Lent it is good to notice also our blessings.

Sometimes these may be positive achievements, fruit of our cooperation with God’s grace.

Sometimes they may be (only) holy desires – but still prompted by God’s grace. We may not have accomplished this or that yet. We may have stumbled, fallen, countless times. And yet we still desire the good, strive for it, despite the failure  and disappointment.

When we fail, but keep on hoping, may our yearning and working serve to deepen trust in God who will allow nothing to separate us from himself.

Detail from crucifix in Jesuit retreat chapel, near Rabat (Victoria), Gozo. (c) 2009, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Help us speak, help us listen

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, KazemierzThe first reading at Mass today – the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time – comes from the book of Numbers.  It is a somewhat obscure narrative about the establishing of a cohort of elders to relieve Moses of some of the onerous work as leader of the people. But the main interest in the passage is provoked by two characters, named but otherwise obscure, who act in ways which attract criticism, and yet act in a way approved, and indeed enabled, by God.

The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.

Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’

Numbers 11:25-29

Perhaps the calling of the 70 is to be understood to be a prefiguring of teh ‘elders ‘ of Israel, even of the Sanhedrin. And clearly this is a matter of some abiding significance for Israel, and yet the attention of the passage is on the absent two, and the agitation this causes. Charism and institution are in tension, even charism and habit, even as new institutions find validation in charism (the elders prophesy, but we are told not again.)

The reading is chosen for the Liturgy of the Word because of its echoing the gospel passage for today from Mark which tells of the disciples mistrust of and antipathy towards others who place store by the name of the Lord, but are not of their number. As so often, they must have wished they’ve kept quite, so powerfully does Jesus challenge them about their own shortcomings! Likewise the young man in Numbers, and certainly Aaron.

Pope Francis in a speech this week suggested that all good leaders must follow Moses and Jesus in not defending their territory and power, but looking for ways to lead all to the good.

A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

  • What power do you have?
  • Are there times when you know you could do more good by relinquishing power or sharing it more widely?
  • What helps you do that? What holds you back?

Bring your reflections to God in prayer.

Detail of Bema, Old Synagogue, Kazemierz, Cracow, Poland. (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Speak Lord: Giver of gifts

Manna NG

The first reading at Mass today, the 18th Sunday of the Year, reminds us of the moaning and groaning people of Israel, and of the gift of manna (and quails) that sustains them during their desert wanderings.

The context of the Liturgy, and Christian Tradition, means we will focus more on the manna than the quails. Indeed the compilers of the Lectionary chose this reading to accompany today’s Gospel reading with its talk of the bread of heaven that is Christ, the antitype to the type of the bread gifted by God to Israel.

The whole community of the sons of Israel began to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them, ‘Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our heart’s content! As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!’

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people are to go out and gather the day’s portion; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.

‘I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel. Say this to them, “Between the two evenings you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have bread to your heart’s content. Then you will learn that I, the Lord, am your God.”’

And so it came about: quails flew up in the evening, and they covered the camp; in the morning there was a coating of dew all round the camp. When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thing delicate, powdery, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When they saw this, the sons of Israel said to one another, ‘What is that?’ not knowing what it was. ‘That’ said Moses to them ‘is the bread the Lord gives you to eat.’

Exodus 16:2-4,12-15

Israel does not sound too impressed at the gift of manna! And we do not hear here of any appreciation of the quail either! Yet these gifts keep them alive…

  • What comes our way, as gift from God? Are we able to accept it gratefully, appreciatively?
  • Do we live by faith? Or live according to our own lights, our agenda? And if it is a bit of both, then what’s the balance and what makes for the difference?

Picture is The Israelites gathering Manna by Ercole de’ Roberti. In the collection of the National Gallery, London. 

Speak Lord: Of life and death

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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