Taste and see: NOTHING is impossible to God

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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

Taste and See: A new way?

St Augustine, St Austell

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, has the prophet acknowledge fault and failing, and look for a radical renewal of the chosen people.

In the Book of Isaiah this confession and lament and expression of hope comes after the section that looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem – ‘Console my people, console them.’

There is a danger in reading a book such as Isaiah simply as a sequential response to historical events, but one could read the text below as acknowledging that in exile or in restoration Israel struggles to be faithful. And the Church reads this Hebrew text and knows her own failings too.

You, Lord, yourself are our Father,
‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways
and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Return, for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your inheritance.

Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
– at your Presence the mountains would melt.

No ear has heard,
no eye has seen
any god but you act like this
for those who trust him.
You guide those who act with integrity
and keep your ways in mind.
You were angry when we were sinners;
we had long been rebels against you.
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind.
No one invoked your name
or roused himself to catch hold of you.
For you hid your face from us
and gave us up to the power of our sins.
And yet, Lord, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8

      The lighting of Advent candles is a rebuke to the darkness that surrounds us, and that even dims our own hearts.

May the lighting of candles be accompanied by the earnest desire to learn afresh from the Lord and, in our frailties, to surrender ourselves to him in humble trust.

Photograph of stained glass from the church of St Augustine, St Austell, Cornwall.  (c) 2006, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Do not leave us alone and unchanged

Isaiah, Raphael, Basilica of Sant'Agostino

The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, comes from the prophet Isaiah.

The prophet confesses the people’s sin, and calls on the Lord to come down, to save his people, the work of his hands.

You, Lord, yourself are our Father,
‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways
and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Return, for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your inheritance.

Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
– at your Presence the mountains would melt.

No ear has heard,
no eye has seen
any god but you act like this
for those who trust him.
You guide those who act with integrity
and keep your ways in mind.
You were angry when we were sinners;
we had long been rebels against you.
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind.
No one invoked your name
or roused himself to catch hold of you.
For you hid your face from us
and gave us up to the power of our sins.
And yet, Lord, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 63:16-17,64:1,3-8

    The good news, of course, is that the Lord did come down, in the mystery of his Incarnation, his birth at Bethlehem. He will come again too, at the end of Days, when he comes as Judge. And he comes to us still, daily, truly in word and sacrament, to help us overcome sin and the effects of sin, and return to the ways of love and grace.
  • What hardness of heart do you suffer from?
  • Where do you need the potter to refashion the clay of your life?
  • What change might the Lord’s coming down, coming close, make possible for you?

Photograph of fresco of Isaiah, by Raphael, in Basilica of Sant’Agostino, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

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.

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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: digesting the word.

Detail of photograph by Katharina Gaenssler

The alternative Communion antiphon from yesterday’s Mass draws together many of the themes expressed in the day’s Liturgy of the Word – the example of Jesus, model for our lives; the imitation of Christ as our calling; the need to reassess our options, to make our ‘no’s into ‘yes’es.

By this we came to know the love of God:
that Christ laid down his life for us;
so we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

1 Jn 3: 16

Try to make time today to ‘know’ again the love of God in Christ.

  • Find a time for silence.
  • Perhaps ‘soak’ in the 2nd reading of yesterday’s Mass (text on blog for Friday, below)
  • Perhaps spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament – the abiding presence of the mercy of God;
  • Perhaps give extra time for an examination of conscience, ending with praise of God for the help given by the Holy Spirit.

Photograph is a detail of a photograph by Katharina Gaenssler. Life is often fragmented, and contains so many seeming disconnected aspects. We need help from God and neighbour for integration and wholeness.