Taste and See: Imagine a sower…

Christ the Sower

Today we have the shorter version of the Gospel heard at Mass on Sunday.

Jesus left the house and sat by the lakeside, but such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat there. The people all stood on the beach, and he told them many things in parables.

He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

Matthew 13:1-9

Many homilies on this gospel become moralising, quizzing us on what sort of soil are we to receive the seed that is the word of God.

The question is worth pondering, but too often the answer is rather depressing and does not necessarily lead us anywhere.

It is interesting, at least, that Jesus does not say ‘Imagine the soil in a field…’, though of course he does suggest various types of soil and their consequence for the seed scattered on it.

He says ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow…’

Who is the sower who sows the seed that is the word of God in our lives? He is no hired hand, in for the day on a bit of piece work. He is the living God who seeks to plant the word more and more deeply in our lives, that it may flourish and bear fruit, every day of our lives.

When the soil of our hearts is hardened, surely it is mostly he that resorts to the spade to turn it over, and make it more fitting. When there are weeds, he’s down there trying to clear the ground, when its right to do so, but when the time is not right, biding his time. The sower who becomes the gardener will appreciate a little help from us, of course, a little cooperation. But sometimes we are so flattened by life, so distracted by a thousand things: he does not then abandon us to our own devices, he is the sower who longs to see even our poor soil be restored to what it is intended for.

  • When/how has God tended to the soil of your life?
  • What fruit does the word of God bear in your life?

Taste and See: when less is more

St DOminic, Matisse sketch

The second reading at yesterday’s Mass speaks of God’s creation moving towards the fulfilment of its purpose, fruitfulness, harvest.

I think that what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us. The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.

Romans 8:18-23

We can envisage that achievement, that fulfilment, in many ways – when all are good; when all are obedient to the loving will of God; and so on.

The other metaphors around in yesterday’s readings speak of harvest, about plenty, and production.

But maybe the harvest of God is best achieved when we let go of our desires to have and to possess: a harvest achieved in surrender rather than accomplishment.

Something of this thought inspires the following poem by Tagore.

Time and time I came to your gate
with raised hands, asking for more and yet more.
You gave and gave, now in slow
measure, now in sudden excess.
I took some, and some things I let
drop; some lay heavy on my hands;
Some I made into playthings and broke
them when tired; till all the wrecks and
the hoards of your gifts grew immense,
hiding you, and the ceaseless expectation
wore my heart out.

Take, oh take – has now become my cry.
Shatter all from this beggar’s bowl:
put out this lamp of the importunate
watcher, hold my hands, raise me from
the still gathering heap of your gifts
into the bare infinity of your uncrowded presence.

Rabindranath Tagore

 Image: Cartoon of St Dominic. Matisse for the chapel at Vence. Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013.

Taste and See: those who have passed on the faith to us

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Collect

O God, who on the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul
give us the noble and holy joy of this day,
grant, we pray, that your Church
may in all things follow the teaching
of those through whom she received
the beginnings of right religion.
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.

There is a certain clunkiness about the english of that collect which was used at Mass on Sunday!

But the acknowledgement of our debt of gratitude to those of the Faithful of God who have gone before us is a welcome and important one.

It’s made on the feast of Peter and Paul, the Apostles of Rome, and Peter of course the first of the Apostles, the rock on which Jesus builds his Church. And they deserve our attention, along with so many renowned Christians who have passed on the faith which they received.

But there are many others less renowned, who maybe passed on the faith less confidently or well, but passed it on the same. We do well to pause and acknowledge them:

Parents, teachers, catechists, friends (and enemies!), strangers, writers and painters and musicians and artists of all sorts.

We are the beneficiaries of so many people’s combined work. In the wake of the feast of the Apostles let us give thanks for them all, and as now it is our turn, resolve to play our part fully and generously.

Painting of Sts Peter and Paul is by El Greco, and is in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

Taste and See: The Lord our protector

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The first reading from the Mass of the Day on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul follows.

Read it quietly and carefully.

Notice what emotions it evokes in you and bring them to God in prayer.

King Herod started persecuting certain members of the Church. He beheaded James the brother of John, and when he saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread, and he put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turns. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church prayed to God for him unremittingly.

On the night before Herod was to try him, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, fastened with double chains, while guards kept watch at the main entrance to the prison. Then suddenly the angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was filled with light. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him. ‘Get up!’ he said ‘Hurry!’ – and the chains fell from his hands. The angel then said, ‘Put on your belt and sandals.’ After he had done this, the angel next said, ‘Wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ Peter followed him, but had no idea that what the angel did was all happening in reality; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed through two guard posts one after the other, and reached the iron gate leading to the city. This opened of its own accord; they went through it and had walked the whole length of one street when suddenly the angel left him. It was only then that Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is all true’ he said. ‘The Lord really did send his angel and has saved me from Herod and from all that the Jewish people were so certain would happen to me.’

Acts 12:1-11

In this world terrible things happen, and for often petty reasons (…seeing that it pleased the Jews he had beheaded James, Herod arrested Peter…).

Sometimes they happen to us and can shock us to the core.

Yet always God is there for us – and though the care of God may not always be experienced in so practical and immediate form as Peter experiences in this his care is there, and can give us remarkable poise, beyond our own achieving, in times of trial.

  • Where and when have you experienced the love and protection of God?
  • What effect did that have on your life.
  • How do you show love and care for those in difficulty?

Image is of a glass disk, probably the base of a bowl or cup, depicting the Apostles of Rome, Peter and Paul.

Taste and See: what do our prayers actually say?

 

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The prayers of the recently re-translated Roman Missal have a greater richness and complexity than the versions of the same prayers in the 1970s translation of the Missal. It is true to say that the new prayers also often have a clumsiness and lack of flow, which the previous translation did not suffer from.

This blog encourages us to go back to prayers, readings, and songs from Sunday’s Mass. In the case of some of the more awkwardly phrased, or simply complex and rich, prayers this gives us a chance to enter more fully into their meaning, and the mystery of God they invoke.

Prayer after Communion

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that we may delight for all eternity
in that share in your divine life,
which is foreshadowed in the present age
by our reception of your precious Body and Blood.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.

The prayer reminds that this world is passing, and the Sacraments through which God shares grace with us. But there is also that which is not passing, which the Sacraments are a pledge of and an invitation to.

  • Which of the newly translated prayers have made most impression on you? Which for good and which not?
  • What else, other than the 7 sacraments, foreshadows the glory of God?
  • How do you live the life of God, here, now?

Image is design for window of the Blessed Sacrament chapel, Church of Our Lady and St Vincent, Potters Bar.

Taste and See: the way to life and godliness

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The second reading at Sunday’s Mass offers simple guidance for those wishing to live faithfully.

Brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with the holy kiss. All the saints send you greetings.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  • In what aspect of your life do you most lack perfection? What steps can you take to better imitate the love of God in that dimension of your life?
  • Who might you help today? How?
  • From who are you estranged? Can you take a step towards them in love? At least by praying for them?
  • Are you at peace? Is it a true peace, in which the God of peace and love is willing to dwell with you.

Image is taken from here.

Taste and See: Sharing Peace together

 

Sign of Peace

One of the principles on which liturgy relies (and indeed on which most prayer of whatever kind relies) is that of repetition. Texts, songs, images re-presented to draw us into a new engagement with the faith of the Church and to fit us better for faithful living.

And so with mystagogy, the process of learning to know our faith anew through a process of continued reflection on our experience of the liturgy, and in this case the Mass.

Today the gospel of Sunday is once more presented to us.

In the evening of the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again,
‘Peace be with you.
As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’
John 20:19-23

There may already be much that you find in this gospel passage which offers challenge and/or comfort. However today you may like to use its repeated reference to peace as an encouragement to reflect on your experience of the Sign of Peace at Mass.

Sometimes the exchange of the Peace can seem like a separate self-contained unit, all about our greeting of each other in Christ. Sometimes it is shared in an exuberant way, sometimes in a restrained, even cold, way: but its quality seems mostly to be determined by who and how we are.

Maybe that is not quite right. And perhaps we can see why when we remember that the exchange of the Sign of Peace is not a self-contained, independent unit of the Mass. It is part of the Communion Rite, and more particularly is one of a series of moments by which we prepare ourselves to receive the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, newly present for us on the altar.

In the Communion Rite all that is done relates to that particular sacramental presence under form of Bread and Wine:

  • Our praying the Lord’s Prayer, praying as Jesus taught us, but praying with him as we prepare for the reception of communion which deepens our spiritual encounter with him
  • Our praying for the peace of the Church
  • Our exchanging peace with those immediately with us, who are also with us preparing to receive Jesus in sacramental communion
  • Our song during the breaking of the Bread
  • Our hearing the call to receive Holy Communion and our acknowledgement both of our unworthiness to receive the Lord and his mercy which makes it possible even for us to receive him
  • The procession (perhaps with a processional song) and the sign of respect offered to the sacramental presence which is our final preparation before we receive
  • The reception of Holy Communion
  • Our prayer of thanksgiving (which may include song together)

It is quite some process, and if it is to hold together each element needs to remain in balance and lead us through the process.

In many places, and for a range of reasons, the process does not hold together. The failure to use song in procession and in thanksgiving leads to an individualising of the act of reception, and leaves prayer to the individual. And sometimes the giving of the sign of peace draws us from attentiveness to the Lord, and prayer, and leads to an undue and distracting focus on ourselves.

Being aware of and thankful for each other is a good thing – and maybe something we need to give more attention to as we gather for Mass, but it is not the most important thing in the Communion Rite! In the Communion Rite the Sign of Peace is more like a taking breath together, mindful of the awesomeness of what we are invited to in Communion, and that this is something we do not alone, but together as Church – but all this in a moment as we prepare, together, to come to him.

  • How do you experience the Communion Rite?
  • And its Sign of Peace?
  • On what occasions has the reception of Holy Communion been particularly prayerful? And what has helped that?
  • On what occasions has the reception of Holy Communion been less prayerful or reverent, and what was the cause?

The image comes from the blog of the parish of St Columbkille , Diocese of Omaha.

Taste and See: Pray and Work

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Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
Jesus said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.
If you know me, you know my Father too.
From this moment you know him and have seen him.’

Philip said, ‘Lord, let us see the Father and then we shall be satisfied.’
‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip,’ said Jesus to him ‘and you still do not know me?
‘To have seen me is to have seen the Father,
so how can you say, “Let us see the Father”?
Do you not believe
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words I say to you I do not speak as from myself:
it is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.
You must believe me when I say
that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;
believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever believes in me
will perform the same works as I do myself,
he will perform even greater works,
because I am going to the Father.’

John 14:1-12

  • In the days since Sunday, what has troubled your heart? Or has run the risk of doing so?
  • What helps you trust in the Lord?

Here, Jesus says ‘Whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, indeed, as he is going to his Father, we will perform even greater works than Jesus.’

As one who believes he believes in Jesus this rather confuses me.

Believe in Jesus, I do. I’m sure I do but, boy, is it a struggle even to appear as a pale shadow of him!

  • Whatever can he mean?

Perhaps it simply means that his work has been accomplished, and now our work – whatever it is – adds to that.

Perhaps it is by way of a reminder that by grace, we are now supported by Jesus – and in the next verse of this passage says (though it is omitted in extract featured in the Lectionary for 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A) ‘Whatver you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father, may be glorified in the Son.’

That is to say, any greater achievement will come not from our striving (only), but from our asking Jesus to (continue to) ‘do’ for us.

Be that as it may, the conclusion of the passage surely does challenge us to take stock and wonder, are we opting out, failing to engage, failing to call on the Lord…

Image (Keep calm and pray and work) found at http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk/p/keep-calm-and-ora-et-labora-7/