Speak Lord: make us one…

 

DSC00815 Hermitage, 2015.jpg

We know that by turning everything to their good, God co-operates with all those who love him, with all those he has called according to his purpose. They are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers. He called those he intended for this; those he called he justified, and with those he justified he shared his glory.

Romans 8:28-30
Second reading at Mass on Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From our perspective we make the running, or we try to. And yet Paul sees more clearly: it is the Lord who sets the stage, and fits the players for their role. We are invited to take the role, he doesn’t force or even insist. He makes it as if it were an agreement, an opportunity, for fulfilment that is entered into collaboratively, as equals.

Icons and Crosses. Hermitage, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: hope present, present hope

Saints Chora Church, Istanbul

The second reading at Mass this coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, comes again from the book of Apocalypse.

I, John, saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. One of the elders said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and because they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb, they now stand in front of God’s throne and serve him day and night in his sanctuary; and the One who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never hunger or thirst again; neither the sun nor scorching wind will ever plague them, because the Lamb who is at the throne will be their shepherd and will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
Apocalypse 7:9,14-17

The gathering of the faithful, faithful despite persecution and trial, embraced by care, symbolises the Church. The assurance of future bliss offers encouragement in our present trials and stresses.

  • For what do you hunger or thirst?
  • What brings tears to your eyes?
  • What present comfort or encouragement do you find in faith?

Saints of the Church, Chora Church, Istanbul. (c) 2002, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Through your Saints…

Fractured man

The Second reading on the Second Sunday of Lent comes from the Letter to the Philippians.

In the passage Paul – who regularly knows his own weaknesses and failings – invites the Church at Philippi to follow his rule of life, to imitate the saints. He invites them to become more and more fully saints of God themselves.

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us.

I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things.

For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

Philippians 3:17-4:1

Paul urges the disciples to be open to change and renewal, to acceptance and living of the salvation won for them by Christ, and gifted to them by Christ.

The Gospel on Sunday speaks of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and Paul encourages Philippi and us to be open to, ready for transfiguration too.

  • Where are you broken?
  • Where might you shine through the grace of God?
  • How is God offering you healing and encouragement?
  • How might you best cooperate with his grace?

Figure in Museum at Epidaurus, Greece. (c) 2006, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Father of all

Assisi sunsetThe first reading for today’s feast, the Solemnity of All Saints, comes from one of the Church’s Easter books, the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse.

It is a reading from a book of powerful images, evoking truths beyond the mundane. The particular images we hear today are of those saved from eternal death…

I, John, saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel.

After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’

One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’

Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14

Making particular interpretation of the visions is an activity fraught with difficulties, and cultural history is peppered with with cults and sects who have made this work central to their beliefs and practice.

At this anniversary time of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, let it suffice to suggest that although John sees a number beyond counting of Christians from every nation, race, tribe and language he also sees 144000 (12x12x1000) – a symbolic ‘great’ number of the people of Israel, Jewss who have been faithful, descendants of Abraham, our Father in faith too, but theirs first.

Counting has its place, but more important yet is thanksgiving. How pitiful are we if we seek to belittle the holiness of brothers and sisters in the family of God because of their nation, race, tribe, language, or faith.

  • What do you most admire in the faith and practice of, for example, Jews and Muslims?
  • What most challenges you about your own faith and practice, inviting you to that which draws you to holiness?

Give thanks for the love of God whose power, glory and love offers renewal to us all.

Photograph of Assisi: one of this world’s city of saints. (c) 2014, Allen Morris

Taste and See: the grace of God

Saints and angels

The Christian life cannot be taken for granted.

It is something more than just a ‘good’ human life.

The Christian life should, of course, be strong, in the natural virtues. Yet the Christian receives grace so as to be able to live the supernatural virtues. Grace builds on nature, not obliterating what is natural but refining, enhancing, strengthening it.

The Collect on Sunday, the 16th of Ordinary Time, reminded us of this.

Show favour, O Lord, to your servants
and mercifully increase the gifts of your grace,
that, made fervent in hope, faith and charity,
they may be ever watchful in keeping your commands.
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.

It is not easy to know what we do by nature, and what we do by grace. But the one is our work, and the other is made possible by the work of God, so it is worth trying to distinguish them, even as we give God thanks for both!

Their combined effect is to help us live life well here on earth, and draw us more deeply into the communion of love and life with God which will be ours for ever.

  • What are you conscious of needing God’s grace to accomplish?

Saints and angels in the Abbey of Montserrat. (c) 2003, Allen Morris

Taste and see: the new Jerusalem

DMinus Flevit

One of the richer texts of the Mass is the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer.

That used on Sunday, at the Mass of All Saints, uses the image of Jerusalem as the community of saints.

The glory of Jerusalem, our mother
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.

For today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city,
the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother,
where the great array of our brothers and sisters
already gives you eternal praise.

Towards her, we eagerly hasten, as pilgrims advancing by faith,
rejoicing in the glory bestowed upon those exalted members of the Church
through whom you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.
And so, we glorify you with the multitude of Saints and Angels,
as with one voice of praise we acclaim:

Holy, holy holy Lord…

Although it refers to the ‘New Jerusalem’ of the Book of Revelation, there is a certain mismatch between what we hope for, and what is presently realised in the earthly Jerusalem, where prejudice, fear, violence, oppression and the consequences of prejudice, fear, violence, oppression divide and damage the communities of the city.

The mismatch dispels romantic religiosity and easy optimism. Yet it reminds of the situation in which Jesus incarnated God’s saving love – with its betrayal of the promise of religion and human decency. Jesus bore faithful witness and his destruction (as a human being) was responded to by God the Father by his being raised to the new life of the Resurrection.

Where he has been we follow, responding to the challenges of our time and often enduring  suffering in our turn, but also we follow Jesus into the glory of God’s saving mercy.

Photograph of Jerusalem through the window of the church of Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives. (c) 2012, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: Of Saints and heaven

West Door Arles This Sunday sees the regular sequence of numbered Sundays interrupted by the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. The first reading on Sunday will come from the book of the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation.

I, John, saw another angel rising where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God; he called in a powerful voice to the four angels whose duty was to devastate land and sea, ‘Wait before you do any damage on land or at sea or to the trees, until we have put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard how many were sealed: a hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel. After that I saw a huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language; they were standing in front of the throne and in front of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palms in their hands. They shouted aloud, ‘Victory to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels who were standing in a circle round the throne, surrounding the elders and the four animals, prostrated themselves before the throne, and touched the ground with their foreheads, worshipping God with these words, ‘Amen. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God for ever and ever. Amen.’ One of the elders then spoke, and asked me, ‘Do you know who these people are, dressed in white robes, and where they have come from?’ I answered him, ‘You can tell me, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the people who have been through the great persecution, and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb.’ Apocalypse 7:2-4,9-14

What comes to your mind when you imagine heaven? John sees this community of the faithful, who have sustained their faith (or been sustained by faith in testing circumstances) and who are now free, united in the love and praise of God. We surely get a foretaste of this heaven whenever we are with those who we know to be faithful and whose lives impress by their holiness and love.

  • Who comes to your mind when you consider such people? What do you have in common with them? What do you not?

Bring your thoughts, hopes and fears to God in prayer, thankful for his faithfulness.

The West Door of the church of St Trophime in Arles bears an image of heaven and salvation. I’m not sure that the saints look more cheerful than the sinners! But here they are… West Door Arles Saints   Photograph (c) 2014, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Saints of God, called to holiness by God

Popes

The Prayer over the Offerings used on Sunday speaks our being sanctified by God’s grace.

Accept, O Lord, we pray, the offerings
which we bring from the abundance of your gifts,
that through the powerful working of your grace
these most sacred mysteries may sanctify our present way of life
and lead us to eternal gladness.

Through Christ our Lord.

The prayer reminds of one of the foundational teachings of the Church, that all people are called by God to holiness. This universal call received fresh emphasis at Vatican II, in the teaching about the Church, Lumen Gentium, ‘Light of the peoples’.

There is still a tendency to think of the saints whose names pepper the Church’s calendar as the real saints, and that we are called to something less. But no: those named saints are exceptional, and singled out as being such, but holiness, sanctity, is not so rare.

Pope John Paul II, now himself declared a saint by the Church, canonised more saints during his pontificate than had been formally declared saint in the whole history of the Church up until that time! And one major reason for his doing so was to show that saints are present in the church in every age, every land, every state of life.

The Church’s recent practice, including the canonisation of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, and the forthcoming beatification of Pope Paul VI, seems to be continuing the re-visioning of the place of the canonised in the Church, begun by St John Paul II.

It returns us, almost, to the Pauline vision that all the baptised are called to be, and are – by virtue of God’s grace, the saints of God.

Everyone in the Church, whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…

This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others; in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called “evangelical.” This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit… gives and must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.

The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consumator of this holiness of life: “Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength and that they might love each other as Christ loves them. The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live “as becomes saints”, and to put on “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience”, and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we all offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: “Forgive us our debts”

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ. They must follow in His footsteps and conform themselves to His image seeking the will of the Father in all things. They must devote themselves with all their being to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor. In this way, the holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history.

The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.

From Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5

  • Where is holiness manifest in your life?
  • And the lives of those around you?
  • How is holiness different to ‘good works’?