Taste and See: Living Word

St Mark, St Chads

The Gospel reading proclaimed at Mass yesterday,  Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, has an exceptional intensity to it.

It moves in short order from what might seem like a rather casual conversation about ‘the crowd’ and maybe their foolishness, through a profession of faith and trust and pride in Jesus (from Peter), to a revelation of tension, trial, and testing, culminating into an invitation to embrace paradox and learn to find life by choosing death.

Mark writes a tight text: the themes are of Dostoevskian weight and capable of being explored at Dostoevskian length, but Mark’s Gospel has the lightness and brevity of Chekhov. What you get is much more than you see. Maybe its readers need something of Stanislavsky’s ‘method’ to get into the richness and import of what is said.

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’

Mark 8:27-35

In the ‘Introduction’ of the Lectionary for Mass, the users’ guide provided by the Church, we are reminded that the proper disposition during the time of proclamation and reception of the word of God is meditation. There needs not only to be inteligible reading, but also silence to assist our deeper hearing and understanding.

  • How was it at Mass yesterday?

For us to receive the word, we need a certain inner space, a place for encounter and exchange.

Sometimes the word itself directly provides that: we hear the word and immediately know it convicts us of sin, and that it offers the surest way to redemption. The word forces its way in and pushes other concerns to the side.

At other times we may know ourselves as it were resistant to the word, and know that we ourselves need, want, to work against our weaker nature in order that we might hear. So we take the initiative, or so it seems; and we try to ‘manage the liturgy’ well,  (and provide time and space for meditative reading and listening at other times also). Space is provided for encounter; eating and drinking from the word of life; challenge and healing; love in action.

  • When did the word of God last surprise you? Why?
  • What ‘method’ for deeper encounter with the living word do you favour? Why?

In Mark’s Gospel we receive the fruits of life deeply lived and reflected on – tradition says we receive the memories of St Peter shaped and crafted by Mark. Mark invites us into a conversation with Peter, a sharing of his life of discipleship, cherished by the Master.

  • Of what were you speaking as we walked on the road? And where has he led you now?

Symbol of St Mark, from decoration of St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. (c) 2015, Allen Morris

Speak Lord: Of strength and weakness

The GoSt Peterspel reading on Sunday, the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, brings us to the very centre of Mark’s Gospel. It is literally the very middle of his text; and also the passage engages with the very core of the message of Mark – the tension between the glory of faith and faithfulness and the experience of the persecution and death of Jesus, and the continuing experience of persecution in the Church.

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’

Mark 8:27-35

Peter welcomes the Gospel of Glory – that Jesus is the Christ. Peter cannot accept the Cross, and in his rejection of the Cross, Peter is renamed Satan by Jesus!

Mark is believed to have written his Gospel, informed directly by his hearing the reminiscences of St Peter. He writes in the wake not only of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the subsequent martyrdom of St Peter. It is believed that many in his first audience were survivors of the persecution of the Church in Rome, and not a few of them survivors because they denied the faith or fled.

The Church is a community of sinners (and therefore in some sense failures) but the Church is not always comfortable in admitting it, not least to itself. Mark confronts us with the challenge of getting real about ourselves and how it is through such defeats that we become more and more fit for sharing in the triumph that is ours, not by our success, but by the Glory of Christ, crucified but now risen from the dead.

  • How have I learnt from failure?
  • What I have I failed to learn from my failures?
  • How can I share what I have learnt?

St Peter, depicted on the Syon Cope, in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London © 2015, Allen Morris.

Taste and See: Different but united

Peter and Paul roundelThe Preface for Sunday last, the feast of Ss Peter and Paul, nicely describes the distinct and complementary ministries of the two Martyrs of Rome, Apostles to the whole Church.

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 by your providence
the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul bring us joy:
Peter, foremost in confessing the faith,
Paul, its outstanding preacher,
Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel,
Paul, master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call.

And so, each in a different way
gathered together the one family of Christ;
and revered together throughout the world,
they share one Martyr’s crown.

And therefore, with all the Angels and Saints,
we praise you, as without end we acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…

Rather nicely, in the image above of a glass disk from the collection of the Vatican museum the two saints do indeed share a single crown!

So often in life we notice and then focus on what distinguishes us from one another. Too often we neglect what we have in common.

Jesus, by contrast,  seems to have specialised in finding common ground with those who others have excluded and set apart.

  • In a time of prayer and reflection consider where you might do the same.

Image from the Vatican Museum. 

Taste and See: Identity and Mission

Peter St Ps, Wolverhampton

The Gospels regularly present us with the fallibility of Peter.

The gospel chosen for the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, kept yesterday in England and Wales, presents Peter in a better light.

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’

Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

Matthew 16:13-19

Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. Quick as a flash Jesus makes a profession of faith and purpose regarding Peter.

Which of them was the most surprised at what they heard?

Both find in this exchange a description of their mission to the world – Jesus sent by the Father to be saviour of the world. Peter the one entrusted with ensuring that the message of salvation is made known to the world.

Master and servant are united in common purpose.

  • Pray for Pope Francis, successor of St Peter, for his faithfulness in continuing the ministry entrusted to him.
  • Pray for the whole Church for its steadfastness and humility in its service of teh world.

Jesus saving Peter from sinking. St Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton.
(c) 2015, Allen Morris
.

Speak Lord: running the race

Runners

In the second reading for the Mass of the Day, this coming Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul, Paul uses the image of the race and a runner.

What strikes you as you read the reading?
What stirs your emotions – either by way of encouragement or seeming discouragement?
Bring your feelings to God in prayer, making your response to God’s living word, continuing the dialogue to which God invites you.

My life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to be gone. I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his Appearing.

The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear; and so I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18

  • How does the passage speak to your life, now, today?

A common spiritual exercise to help deepen desire to grow in the spiritual virtues is to contemplate one’s own death – and to imagine the obituary that might be printed, or the words that might be said in a eulogy. What might we want to be said? And what would be said, if people were being honest? And how do we feel about that?

Olympic Stadium

In today’s reading we have St Paul’s summing up of his own life. He speaks of his striving, and of the Lord’s saving him. Both features seem to be given equal weight, and Paul gives thanks.

  • What can you say of how you live?
  • What can you say of the Lord’s saving love for you?

Photographs from London’s Olympic Stadium, during the 2012 Paralympic Games. (c) Allen Morris

Speak Lord: set free from terrors and fear?

Mossa

The psalm for the Mass of the Day, on the feast of St Peter and Paul is a song of thanksgiving and praise for rescue from fear and danger.

As you read it, note what you feel, and how the text speaks to you.
Bring those responses to God in prayer.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called, the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

The angel of the Lord is encamped
around those who revere him, to rescue them.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
He is happy who seeks refuge in him.

From all my terrors the Lord set me free.

Psalm 33:2-9

  • What strikes you in the psalm?
  • What response does it prompt you to make to the Lord?

On my best days I think I can honestly say ‘From all my terrors the Lord is setting me free’.

On other days I may say ‘From all my terrors the Lord set me free’ but I am less likely to mean it, and more likely just to be ‘saying’ it.

The salvation offered by the Lord, real and powerful though it is, is also work in progress. And mostly, as with St Paul, it is when we know our weaknesses (and our need therefore to entrust ourselves to the Lord) that we are most likely to be truly safe and secure.

Painting by Gustav Adolf Mossa – Musee des Beaux Arts, Nice.
Photograph (c) Allen Morris, 2013

Speak Lord: listening and responding

Poussin

The first reading on Sunday, the feast of Sts Peter and Paul,  – or at least the first reading of the Vigil Mass of the Day, not the Mass of the Day – returns us to the Acts of the Apostles, our Easter book.

The reading follows. What strikes you in the reading? What moves and encourages you?

Once, when Peter and John were going up to the Temple for the prayers at the ninth hour, it happened that there was a man being carried past. He was a cripple from birth; and they used to put him down every day near the Temple entrance called the Beautiful Gate so that he could beg from the people going in.

When this man saw Peter and John on their way into the Temple he begged from them. Both Peter and John looked straight at him and said, ‘Look at us.’

He turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them, but Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but I will give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk!’ Peter then took him by the hand and helped him to stand up. Instantly his feet and ankles became firm, he jumped up, stood, and began to walk, and he went with them into the Temple, walking and jumping and praising God.

Everyone could see him walking and praising God, and they recognised him as the man who used to sit begging at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. They were all astonished and unable to explain what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10

The ‘cripple from birth’ has got it all worked out: the team who bring and fetch him; an advantageous place from which to ply his ‘trade’ and a steady flow of people who perhaps are more likely than others to respond compassionately and generously to his request for help.

It’s surely significant all this takes place outside the Temple. Note also the detail Luke gives us that the man begs from those going into the Temple. Presumably, best to ‘display’ himself and confront those who might share what they have with him, he will sit with his back to the Temple (to God!) and with his face to the world.

To this man come the apostles who command him to look at them. What does he see, when he does? Not what he probably expects, people who will give what he asks for, or who tell him off for begging. In fact Luke remains silent about what the man sees.

  • To what is your face turned as you take your place in the world?
  • What do you seek?

Luke tells us what the man hears – a ministry of the word, that is a ministry of the Word. A ministry of the word that is accompanied by a helping hand.

And the man is faced with a choice – to stick to what he knows and seems to be quite good at, or to risk everything. He does risk everything and in this moment of decision healing comes and conversion happens.

The man turns and goes into the Temple praising God, with the apostles, (with the Church?)

  • What – if anything – holds you back from the newness and fullness of life to which the God of Mercy calls you? Why?

The image by Poussin which heads this blog comes from the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It can seem at first sight a rather workaday, prosaic piece. We notice how the key element – the encounter of which Luke tells us is placed high up, in the centre. It’s clearly the subject of the painting, but the more normal (or at least good and charitable) response to a beggar is acted out closer to us in the painting, in a way that rather competes with the ‘main’ subject.

And opposite this second incident, in the right hand corner, is another figure who can’t fail to attract the eye so gaudy are his clothes. He has his back to the scene of evangelical healing, and looks (suspicious, doubtful) on the act of human charity. Does he represent us, and the moment of existential choice that is always ours in how we respond?

The scene of the healing, for all its being the presumed subject of the  painting, is presented in this context, and also present rather squashed in between town and temple. The marvel of what is happening there could be so easily missed amidst all that is going on, and the bustle of street life. I can imagine myself rather brusquely pushing past this ‘whatever it is’ that is going on, and inconveniently blocking the gate as I make my way to Temple from town or to town from Temple.

Poussin’s ‘simple’ painting offers a complex of incident and attitude, and challenges us to faithful response, as surely as does the passage from the Acts of the Apostles.