Speak Lord: Of wisdom and joy

Tagxedo CapitolThe psalm at Mass tomorrow, the Mass of the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, emphasises the goodness of the law of the Lord, the way of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord. Many words, many phrases, but all describing the God-given order of the good life and the healthy community.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

So in them your servant finds instruction;
great reward is in their keeping.
But who can detect all his errors?
From hidden faults acquit me.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

From presumption restrain your servant
and let it not rule me.
Then shall I be blameless,
clean from grave sin.

The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart.

Psalm 18:8,10,12-14

The response asserts that this good order brings joy.

The current visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States has emphasised that theme – the joy of the Gospel – which gave the title of  Francis’ exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium

  • Where do faith and life engender joy in your life?
  • What keeps you from joy? Why?

Tagxedo image incorporating words from the Pope’s address of this week at the Capitol, Washington. 

Speak Lord: Draw us to love

Conspicuous Wealth

The second reading on Sunday, the 26th Sunday of the Year sounds like it could have come from one of Pope Francis’ critiques of unbridled capitalism – which he reminds us is called ‘dung of the devil’ in our tradition -, or the denunciation by Bartolomé de las Casas of the exploitation of South America’s people by European rulers, adventurers, and occupiers.

The Gospel demands justice and compassion.

An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

James 5:1-6

And yet so often the Church has herself been complicit in the exploitation and has benefited from it in material ways. We live in a place where moral choices matter and we sometimes get them wrong.

  • Today notice the choices you make and consider the impact they may have on others.
  • Bring your conclusions in prayer to God. Does God agree with your assessment?

Statue and golden surround from church in Madrid. Often such gold was plundered from the New Spain – the colonies in the Americas. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of life and death

discesa-al-limbo

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

Laudato Si’, mi’ Signore – Praise be to you, my Lord

Canticle, SD

The Holy Father’s latest encyclical, Laudato Si, takes as its theme care for the earth and its communities of our brothers and sisters, our common home.

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Read the rest of the Encyclical here.

Image of St Francis writer of the Canticle of Creation. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Alive and healed by the love of the Lord

 

DisfiguredMan

The Gospel at Mass today, the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, speaks of healing and reintegration through the love of God.

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’

Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured.

Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’

The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.

Mark 1:40-45

The gospel also tells of how, with typical Markan irony, the healer takes the place of the outcast. Once the leper had to stay in the wilderness: now it is Jesus. Fame, and being popular with the populace, can be corrosive of good civil order and moral life, outside of the kingdom of heaven!

  • Where do you feel called to go beyond what is generally held acceptable for the sake of the excluded? To witness to the love of God?
  • When do you court popularity? With what effect?

Photograph is of a much publicised encounter between Pope Francis and Vinicio Riva, who is afflicted with neurofibromatosis. Read more here.

Taste and see: NOTHING is impossible to God

image

The Gospel for last Sunday’s Mass, that of the fourth Sunday of Advent, treats of the truly remarkable. The story may be so familiar that we sometimes forget how extraordinary what is proposed (and achieved through God’s love and Mary’s love.)

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’

Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’

‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’

‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

,Luke  1.26-38

It is so easy for things to simply to go on as before – with the only change being ‘more of the same’.

Yet God and the gospel calls us to newness, radical newness. And assures us that nothing is impossible for God.

Pope Francis would include in what is possible for God is the renewal of the Church and its ministers. His ‘rebuke‘ may jar with the sentimentality that the High Streets peddle at Christmas. But it reminds that the Gospel is about salvation, and the Church is there in Christ to minister nothing less.

Image is a print by Eric Gill

Speak Lord: Call us to order.

John Lateran apse

The Gospel reading for today, the feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica does not show Jesus meek and mild, but Jesus angry, passionate and somewhat violent in his actions.

Just before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.

John 2:13-22

In John’s telling of the story there is a conflation of themes – the importance of proper prayer, and for purification and conversion, and of the replacement of the Temple by the worship of (by) the body of Risen Christ. The worship, the worship proper to the Church is not constrained by place and time, but is enabled by the very life of the Trinity, our prayer inspired and sustained by the worship of the Father by the Son (and therefore also by the members of his spiritual body, the Church) and in the Spirit. The passage from John is not just a bit of reminiscence about what Jesus did, it is about the dawning revelation of the much more than man that Jesus was and is, and that we can be and are, through baptism.

It is less about management of sacred space, and much more about faithful living even in the least overtly religious of places.

Imposing order on others is a relatively straightforward matter – It might still be achieved by overturning a few tables!

Learning to live right ourselves is a more challenging matter, even with God’s grace and the good example of others to assist us.

Perhaps in prayer today we might place our disorder in the Lord’s hands and ask him, again, for help in better responding to God’s will for us.

WhitePoppy1024-768

And pray  too in remembrance of all those who have died in war: combatants and others who served the armed forces, and civilians. And pray for peace, healing, and mercy for all.

Photograph of the apse of St John Lateran, with the cathedra of Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome. (C) 2014, Allen Morris

Poppies image (c) Peace Pledge Union. Check out Pax Christi too.

Taste and See: In Communion

SynodMass

Unusually the text presented in this blog today does not come from the Lectionary but is the text of a Pastoral Letter that,  in Westminster Diocese,  replaces the homily this weekend.

People have all sorts of opinions about the virtue and value of pastoral letters, let alone of any particular pastoral letter. However these letters do serve to remind that any particular gathering for Mass is only a gathering of a part of the local church, and that it is a gathering that is not complete unto itself.

Even though such gatherings take place without benefit of the physical presence of the Bishop, it is by his authority that they gather, under the presidency of the priest that the Bishop has appointed as his delegate, to celebrate for the pastoral benefit of the local community.

The Pastoral Letter which Cardinal Vincent issues for this Sunday reminds of that further communion that binds each local diocese with the communion with Peter, the Bishop of Rome enjoyed by Catholic dioceses throughout the world.

Learning to live Church is a pressing need in a society that more often seems to divide than unite. A key theme of the letter is about how to live in communion, seeking an ever-deeper and more authentic and fulfilling communion in the Church and with the living God.

Happy reading….

ARCHBISHOP’S   HOUSE, WESTMINSTER, LONDON,  SW1P 1QJ

25/26 October 2014, 30th Sunday of the Year

My brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

Today I would like to tell you a little about the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops held in Rome on the theme of the pastoral challenges facing the family in the context of evangelisation. I was privileged to take part in this two week meeting. I found it a rich and moving experience.

You may have heard or read that this Synod has been about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that we try to offer each other, the ‘motherly love of the Church’, especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.

You may have heard that the Synod represented a ‘defeat for Pope Francis’ or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is not true. At the end of our meeting Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber.

In fact, the very word ‘synod’ means making a walk or a journey together. That’s what we did. Our journey was an exploration of all the problems facing the family today, from the effects of war, immigration, domestic violence, polygamy, inter-religious marriages, to cohabitation, the breakdown of marriage, divorce and the situation of those who have ended a valid marriage and entered another union, another marriage. The vastness of the picture and the suffering it represented was, at times, overwhelming.

We also looked at the great joy of family life and the importance of marriage at its heart. We listened to husbands and wives speaking of the difficulties they had overcome, the struggles they face and the deep joy they experience in their mature marriages and family lives. They were moving moments. A lovely description of the family was offered: the family as ‘a sanctuary of holiness’ with emphasis always on the sharing of prayer at the heart of family life.

Pope Francis set the tone. He asked us to look reality in the eye; to speak openly from the heart; to listen humbly and respectfully to each other. This is what we did. There was no rancour, no contestation. There were disagreements, of course. But he told us to live through the experience with tranquility and trust. And we did. It was a marvellous experience of the Church as a family and of the Church, at this level, hard at work, trying to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit and express them in carefully chosen words.

During the Synod we worked on various documents which were trying to catch the views and desires of all the participants. By the end I believe we got there. So the Synod ended with a ‘Synod Report’ on which we voted, paragraph by paragraph. The votes indicated, quite simply, where agreement was more or less total and where it was not. This Report now forms the starting point for the next Synod on the family, to take place in a year’s time. The theme of this next Synod, in October 2015, takes us on from where we left off: ‘The Vocation and Mission of the Family Today’.

Central to the work of the Synod that has just ended was the desire to strengthen and reinvigorate the pastoral practice of the Church. A central principle for this pastoral care emerged clearly: that in trying to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations, it is important to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives. That is what comes first. From this point, we learn to move together towards conversion and towards the goodness of life that God has for us  and that Jesus opens for us all. This positive approach flows right through the ‘Synod Report’  and I hope will increasingly shape our attitude towards each other.

This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the Church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call. We say this confidently because it is within the call of our faith, the call of Jesus to each one of us, expressed in the truth of the Gospel and treasured in the Church, that our deepest happiness is to be found.

There has been much talk about how the Synod reflected on the situation of people of a same sex attraction. There was no suggestion that the teaching of the Church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage’ or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change. However two things were very clear. The first is that we should never identify people by their sexual orientation. Every person is endowed with unique dignity, both as an individual and as a Christian. This dignity is always, always to be respected. Secondly, it is the teaching of the Church that they are not only to be respected but also always accepted, with compassion and with sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). This teaching has to be translated into loving care, in our daily life in the Church, in our parishes, and indeed in society.

But Pope Francis went a little further. He spoke of ‘the Church composed of sinners…..that has doors wide open to receive the needy, the penitent and not only the just.’ He spoke about the duty of pastors always to welcome into the Church those in difficult situations or in trouble. Then he corrected himself saying that we, as pastors, were not simply to welcome them but to go out and find them, just as the Good Shepherd did for those who had drifted away.

At the end of the Synod, in his closing address, Pope Francis said this: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families……May the Lord accompany us and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name.’

So that is what we must do. I hope, in a while, I will be able to put before you ways in which your prayer and reflection on these themes can be a contribution to this ongoing work of renewal in the life of the Church, in response to the unfailing love of Jesus, under the leadership of Pope Francis and always in union with him.

Yours devotedly

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster

Photograph is of Pope Francis at the Mass to open the extraordinary Synod of Bishops at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Looking back on a process of listening and reflecting

Synod Credit_Mazur_catholicnewsorguk_CC_BY_NC_SA_20_CNA_10_7_14

Pope Francis had the last word at the recent ‘Synod’ to consider the work of Evangelisation and the Family – but it was a last word that was respectful of the process of reflection and consideration that has characterised the meeting in Rome.

Of course there have been tensions, disagreements, anger and hurt between the various participants. The search for truth is not easy. But the exceptional thing is that members of the assembly remain committed to the search for truth, ready to receive it afresh through the Tradition of the Church.

The work continues as the discussion returns to the local Churches in preparation for 2015’s Synod.

Here are the Pope’s words.

And here the concluding words from the Synod itself. The English translation of the Synod’s final document is not available yet – though you could try Google’s Translation tool on the (official) Italian text.

And here is the maybe more interesting (and in parts controversial) summary of the Synod’s first week.

Image is from the opening session of the Synod of Bishops, Oct. 6, 2014.
Credit: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Taste and See: Peter and Paul for today

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Pope Francis is clearly the successor of St Peter, being the 266th Bishop of Rome.

He is also arguably, as a pre-eminent witness to the Gospel, successor to St Paul, apostle to the Gentiles.

One of Pope Francis’ earliest requests was that the Church should pray for him, even as he prays for the Church.

Those minded to pray for the Pope might like to use this prayer.

Lord,
source of eternal life and truth,
give to Your shepherd, Pope Francis,
a spirit of courage and right judgement,
a spirit of knowledge and love.

By his dedication and service of those entrusted to his care
may he, as successor to the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ,
build Your church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Those minded to pray with the Pope might like to know that his particular prayer intentions for July include the following:

  • His universal intention focuses on sports: and is that sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
  • His intention in the area of Evangelisation, focuses on lay missionaries That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.

You can find more information about the Pope’s published monthly intentions here.

Photo montage (c) Allen Morris, 2014