If there is one thing that characterises a Catholic it is our habit of prayer and our use of it. From childhood to the end of our days we pray. We all know from our childhood at least four prayers which we can say without hesitation: the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the Act of Contrition, the Prayer for the Dead.
Each can be uttered without the need of a text or a prompt. These learnt prayers can be said to have a life of their own. We don’t have to dig deep into our memory for them: they have, in fact, been programmed in and require only the right ‘button’ to be pushed to flow out. I suppose each of us has experienced coming to the end of a prayer, then wondering what exactly you said as you said it!
Delivered like this, prayer comes from the lips. Prayer can also come from the mind, as when we concentrate on the meaning of what we are saying. It certainly comes from the mind when we are asking for something, such as the salvation of the dead, or God’s healing of the sick, or thanking God. There is one prayer, a Psalm, that takes us further into ourselves and requires that we pray from the heart – Psalm 129:
Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
To the voice of my pleading.
If you, O Lord, should mark my guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.
If we do not say this from the heart, it is meaningless. Praying from the heart requires us to reflect deeply on who we are that we must ask God’s forgiveness. We need to be in touch with our daily existence: the joy, suffering, fear, love, hate, hope, surrender, fulfilment, death, and life that shapes the depths from which we ask for His help. Knowing and offering yourself is thus the root of all prayer. Through prayer from the heart we offer all of ourselves to God and are rewarded with His love.
Last week I wrote about ‘waiting’ and its two meanings. This week is about ‘attend’ and its derivative, ‘attention’. Fear not! This is not the start of weekly lessons about words and their etymology. ‘Attention’, “attending’ and “attend” are all linked to the idea of waiting in a way that is crucial for anyone trying to meet God, especially through the Mass. To “attend” is derived from the Old French ‘atendre’ meaning ‘to wait for’, ‘to expect”, (Modern French ‘attendre)’. In turn this is from the Latin for ‘give heed to, stretch toward’: in other words “stretching one’s mind toward something’ or ‘concentrating’.
‘Waiting’ and ‘attending’ share the idea of’ expecting something to happen. However, waiting is passive, and comes to an end when something expected happens. Attending is the opposite: it is active and the person who ‘attends’ does more than letting time pass by. To attend they must ‘stretch’ their mind towards what is happening. For example, we may wait for the priest to enter, come to the altar and begin the Mass. From that point onward, we should engage in its celebration. It is unfortunate that nowadays “attend” carries with it the meaning “be there and watch”. We might ‘attend’ a wedding, or a wrestling match (there is a difference!) or the opening of parliament or the placing of wreaths on Remembrance Day. We are there, but not expected to take part, just to observe. Perhaps we sometimes think like this about going to Mass. “Oh I’ll think about it on Sunday, after I’ve been to Mass.”
Equating ‘attending mass’ to no more than “going to mass” or “being at mass” is understandable, but disappointing. Mass is the opportunity to meet and embrace Christ, experience His love for us and commit ourselves to his service. We cannot do this unless we plunge ourselves into the liturgy of the Mass, paying attention to each of its elements and taking an active part, not only in prayers, hymns and responses but also in concentrating on what is said, sung and preached – “stretching our minds to grasp their meaning” and hearing – not just listening to – God’s Word. Really, we should leave church after Mass exhausted by the effort we’ve put into it – tired but joyful that once again we have encountered God through his Son.
There are two meanings to “waiting”, depending on which preposition you use: “waiting for” means allowing time to go by until something happens: “waiting on” means serving someone, usually with food and drink.
I have experience, supported by what others have told me, of the habits of Parisian waiters. At a typical café, one can wait for the waiter to wait on you. They will then wait for you to pay and give them a suitable tip. Typically, this experience is spiced up by the waiter waiting for you to get his attention and decide to wait on you. All Parisian waiters go through a rigorous training programme to qualify for their jobs, though I’m not sure ‘Making the (foreign) Customer Wait’ is part of it. If not, they learn the art very quickly: - it is clearly an entertainment which they value as a diversion from the ennui of their daily work. I wonder sometimes whether it is actually a gift of the Holy Spirit God’s reminder to us that we have to be patient wait for things. We wait for blessings, we wait for love to come along, we wait for a pay rise, we wait for death and salvation, and so on. Also Parisian practice is a good reminder that though some may serve us, none are less than us, and, in fact, we are all servants – of God and of one another.
At this moment we wait for the ‘end’ of the Covid 19 disease, and a return to ‘normality’, even though the signs are that we face creating a new ‘normality, if only because Covid 19 is not going to go away. Our new ‘normality’ will include learning how to live side-by-side with it waiting for outbreaks which, hopefully, will be better managed as we learn more and more about its treatment.
Becoming more patient and more resilient, then, is a big challenge for generations brought up to expect instant gratification who will be in a time when ‘waiting for’ becomes both important and critical. Except in one respect. No, Parisian waiters have not been blessed by the Holy Spirit. Their practice cannot be God-given, since God does not want to place us in contexts where impatience (from ‘waiting for’) and resentment (for ‘waiting on’) breed sins of intemperance and anger. God is Love. A love we need not wait for, since it is available to us all the time. All we have to do is to stretch our hands out to grasp it, and our souls will be filled with His Love. Simple!
Your loving care
Lord Jesus, when you walked with us on earth you spread your healing power.
We place in your loving care all who are affected by Coronavirus.
Keep us strong in faith, hope and love.
Bring relief to our sick, console our bereaved, protect those who care for us.
We lift our prayer to you Lord, and trust in your infinite mercy, as we wait for the daybreak.
Infinite power and love
Lord God, we entrust to you the families and communities affected by Coronavirus, wherever they may be.
We pray especially for health care workers, that you may guide and protect them.
We pray that your Spirit might inspire those researching new medicines and treatments.
And in the midst of this, keep us strong in faith, hope and love.
Grant us the courage and perseverance to be good neighbours.
May the words of your Son Jesus Christ in the Our Father, be our prayer as we entrust ourselves and all of us who are affected to your infinite power and love. Amen.
Almighty and merciful Father, who shows your love to all your creation,
We come before you asking for a speedy control of the Coronavirus currently ravaging our world.
Hear graciously the prayers we make for those affected by the virus in various parts of the world. Grant healing to the sick, eternal life to the dead and consolation to the bereaved families.
We pray that an effective medicine to combat the sickness be quickly found.
We pray for the governments and health authorities that they take appropriate steps for the good of the people.
Look upon us in your mercy and forgive us our failings. Amen.
For more CAFOD Prayers, go to https://cafod.org.uk/Pray/Prayer-resources
It seems that the government is willing to allow places of worship to open for “private prayer”. it also seems reluctant to indicate when this may be extended to allow services, such as Mass, to be celebrated. The opportunity to be back in church, even for ‘private’ prayer, will be welcomed by many, especially Catholics. However, prayer can be made in almost any context you can think of, not just in a church. One wonders if the government understands that churches, by definition, are places for people to congregate, to come together in friendship to celebrate their faith as a community, not just as random individuals who happen to share the same space. As a place, a church comes to life when a congregation has gathered there and shares in worship.
‘Private’ prayer is somewhat different. It is individuals talking with God, whether in praise, supplication or thanksgiving, or even, as a friend of mine used to say “having a bit of a craic with Jesus.” There are some things to remember when you are saying a private prayer.
Privacy is about being somewhere where you can relax and concentrate. You need not be alone, but you must be assured you’ll not be distracted by others. You also need to be somewhere where you can be comfortable.
Prayer is not a competition. You don’t have to say it in a given time. It is more like floating on water than paddling stridently to get somewhere. Prayer is more “Letting Go’ than “Holding On”. It is important to pray at a pace that helps you focus on the meaning of what you are saying. There is a risk with certain repetitive prayers, such as litanies or the Rosary, that you get to a stage when the repetition speeds up and what you offer to God is an unthinking gabble, rather than a thoughtful word. It is better to take fifteen minutes to say the Lord’s Prayer thoughtfully, than to rush through it in three minutes.
Do try not to say too many prayers. That too can lead to loss of concentration. Finally, very often you will find that the best prayer is silence. Give God a chance to talk to you. Even if you don’t hear anything there and then, the message will come through eventually. And the sound of silence can be a most spiritually uplifting experience when you pray.
Have you opened a new location, redesigned your shop, or added a new product or service? Don't keep it to yourself, let folks know.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning."
"A light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower."
Loving, ever-living and compassionate God,
You understand the pain of loss, the heartache of bereavement,
May we hold in our hearts all those whose families or friends have died.
You are a light that shines in the darkest times,
Guide us and heal us in our sickness and sorrow.
You comfort us in times of fear,
May we comfort each other, even as we keep apart.
You console and lead us in times of doubt and confusion,
May we follow the light of your love and spread hope.
You move our hearts to acts of generosity,
May we be led to share what we have with those in need.
God of life, We thank you for the signs of your light in the midst of our darkness,
May we be signs of your compassion in the heart of your world.
Wondrous God, author of life, you fashioned us in your likeness and breathed into us the life which is
Be with those whose special care is the health of mind and body and whose need is for loving treatment.
Fill their hearts with awe for the life which is your gift and sustain them daily in your service, that their hands may bring to others the comfort of your healing touch. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Every Sunday mass, at the moment of the Credo, we bless ourselves by professing our faith in the
everlasting reality of the Trinity, the three divine Persons in one God. In doing so, we express a mystery
that is beyond human understanding. St Athanasius clarified but did not reveal the full nature of this
“In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a
blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energising reality, self-consistent and
undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved. Accordingly, in the faith of the church, One God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as the Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.”
When we recite the Credo, we need to be mindful that we are professing our belief in this mystery.
Concentrating on and not just reciting the words of the Credo can bring us to deeper prayer, when the
Divine Persons abiding within us may be heard speaking to us. Jesus promised:
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him, and
make home with him.”
“During this time between the solemnity of the Holy Trinity and that of Corpus Christi, I look at the roses [in our garden] as God’s generous gift to us, to the garden, to the whole world. The roses make the garden look as if it were recently re-arranged by angels; it bespeaks of God’s presence in our midst.”
Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourerette • Blessings of the Daily
Although I agree with Brother Victor-Antoine’s praise of roses, I would go wider in praising gardens and, indeed, nature altogether. We are a relatively widespread and rural parish. This terrain gives us
opportunities to see nature at work in gardens of every sort and in woodland, croplands, pasture, fen and meadowland.
So can we see that a rose is more than a rose. This parish of ours is more than just a place. When you add all the fauna to the flora: the cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, chickens, moles, badgers, otters, fish and other animal life, you realise how rich a part of the world our little parish is. Whatever the limitations and stresses of lockdown, therefore, we have before our eyes glorious beauty, testimony of God’s love for us:for he has bestowed all these gifts on us and appointed us stewards of this place.
God be thanked for gardeners, farmers, foresters and horticulturists and all who see and rejoice in our
Recently someone asked me “How holy do you have to be to become a saint?” The Church’s teaching is that we can all become saints:
“A "saint" is anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not ……. These may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5) who may have not always lived perfect lives but amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord"
(What is a saint? Vatican Information Service, 29 July 1997)
Of course, there are saints and Saints, the latter being those officially proclaimed by the Church as a Saint. And I think that was what my friend was asking about – how the Church recognises that someone is in heaven and that their life was such that they should be held up as an example to all.
5 Steps to Sainthood
First, the person’s local bishop investigates their life. If the bishop is satisfied, he submits the information to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS).
Second, the CCS can choose to reject the application or accept it and begin their own investigation of the person’s life. The person may then be called Servant of God.
Third, if the CCS approves of the candidate, they can choose to declare that the person lived a life heroically virtuous. This isn’t a declaration that the person is in heaven, but that they pursued holiness while here on earth. The person may be called Venerable.
Fourth, to be recognized as someone in heaven requires that a miracle has taken place through the intercession of that person. Miracles have to be first verified as scientifically unexplainable by independent experts, then the person is approved by a panel of theologians. Final approval lies with the pope. The person is then declared Blessed.
Fifth, a second miracle is needed in order to declare someone a Saint. The confirmation of a second miracle goes through the same scrutiny as the first.
More about this and our own progress toward sainthood below.
Last week we saw how the Church recognises a person as a Saint – i.e. someone who has entered heaven and is a model for the rest of us. We also saw that everyone who gets to heaven is a saint, including those whose credentials for canonisation may not be known or recognised on earth. That is probably what will be the case for most us! So, it is worth exploring what it means in practical terms.
Essentially, becoming a saint (whether canonised or not) means living a holy life. The question we might ask is how do I become and remain holy? That, however, is not quite the right question:
Do you not know and understand that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells permanently in you? … for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are” (I Corinthians 3:16-17)
We do not become holy by what we do, but by what God has made of us - His temple. The message of the Gospel is not about being egotistical and having a (cunning?) plan for becoming holy. The Gospel’s message is about what God has done for us, through the sacrifice of His Son. We have been set aside for a specific purpose. You can’t become holy – you are made holy by God’s grace. This not something that happens in stages, but the act of God within us. Holiness is not a thing: it is a person and his name is Jesus. We live in Him and are eternally holy because of it.
That is not to say we can sit back smugly and watch the world go by. That would be placing ‘ME’ before Him. The purpose that God has for us in this life is to grow in the way we express the holiness within us. The Beatitudes tell us the different ways in which we can express this in terms others can recognise. It is our witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is worth reading and reflecting on the Beatitudes and the part they play (or should play) in our day-to-day lives. So, you can stop running to find what you already possess. Instead, use it!
“It has been a strange time this year. Everything familiar has been abolished or at least rearranged. But perhaps if you stare at it hard enough, the very strangeness of this time can itself be a gift and a renewal. Holy Week and the Triduum are so much part of the rhythm of our lives that it is easy for them to solidify into an unvarying pattern as the years go by.
There is nothing intrinsically bad about habit – it is one of the ways that we, as beings embedded in time, can experience something like the timelessness of eternity – but all the same, habit does have a certain an aesthetic quality as well. We end up doing habitual things not for a reason, not because of what they really are, but simply because we have always done them.
So the kind of shake-up we are all having this year can (painful though it is) bring some reconnection and clarity. When we watch across the Internet the Pope and a mere dozen people going through a ruthlessly abbreviated Easter Vigil in the middle of an empty St Peter’s, this is nothing like what we are used to: any of us. Even the tiniest parish church could do better! But put that to one side and look at what you are experiencing: the fire is kindled, the praises of the Easter candle are sung, the Red Sea is safely crossed and the stone is rolled away from the tomb. In the end, what else matters apart from that? Nothing.”
Source: Universalis, April 12 2020
By focusing not on what we are missing, but on the essentials of our lives, we can refresh our Faith and with it our relationships with others and our way of life.
Now and Tomorrow
As the world sings triumphant cries to heaven over death that You conquered, help us, Lord, now and tomorrow, and let us not forget.
Help us to celebrate your Resurrection each day, by remembering the sacrifice you have made for us, so that we can overcome our fears and face the world with belief in Your presence around us, hope in our salvation and love of You and all with whom we live and work.
Peace and Thanksgiving to You, O Lord.
Easter Prayer of Saint Hippolytus
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.
Draw Us Forth
Draw us forth, God of all creation.
Draw us forward and away from limited certainty
into the immense world of your love.
Give us the capacity to even for a moment
taste the richness of the feast you give us.
Give us the peace to live with uncertainty,
Help us to experience the resurrection anew
with open wonder and an increasing ability
to see you in the people of Easter.
Friend of Sinners
You chose to be called the friend of sinners.
By your saving death and resurrection
free me from my sins.
May your peace take root in my heart
and bring forth a harvest of love, holiness, and truth.
Joyous Time of Year
May the glory and the promise
of this joyous time of year
bring peace and happiness to you
and those you hold most dear.
And may Christ, Our Risen Saviour,
always be there by your side
to bless you most abundantly
and be your loving guide.
Dali’s painting Christ of St John o the Cross is a breath-taking vision of what Christ has done for us. The original can be seen in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and is well worth a visit.
The painting is known as the Christ of Saint John of the Cross, because its design is based on a drawing by the 16th-century Spanish friar St John of the Cross. The composition of Christ is also based on a triangle and circle (the triangle is formed by Christ's arms; the circle is formed by Christ's head). The triangle, since it has three sides, is a reference to the Trinity. The circle represents Unity.
Like its subject, the painting caused controversy when first acquired by the Art Gallery. Heated debates ensued about the propriety depicting Christ in a secular place, whether it was blasphemous and whether it was too clearly ‘papist’ propaganda. There was also a petition to have the money used to buy it (£8,000) spent on facilities for art students. The fury of this brouhaha led one over-zealous opponent to attack it with a stone and his bare hands, causing considerable damage that, fortunately, could be repaired by conservators. (Since then it has won a poll as Scotland’s favourite painting.)
It is ironic that the attack on the painting with stone and hands mirrors the attempts, and ultimate failure, of his enemies to humiliate and destroy him. Christ lives with us still, as does this painting.
‘In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well and chooses to engage with her in conversation, trying to help her understand who he is: “Everyone who drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water I shall give him will never thirst: the water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. [John 4:13-14]
St Paul in the second reading reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to is.” and “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” [Romans. 5:5-8]
Today can I take time to be alert to listen to God’s voice of love in conversation with him and
with people around me?
Reflections for Lent, Cardinal Hume Centre 2020
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to
help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is
real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves
us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us
entirely. … He loves us completely, even though those who are flawed, rejected, awkward,
sorrowful or broken.”
Dieter F Uchtdorf
‘Today’s Gospel reading tells how Jesus heals a blind man. [John 9:1-38]
St Paul in the second reading [Ephesians 5:8-14] instructs us to “walk as children of thelight” to “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful worksof darkness, but instead expose them.” And in the first reading, the Lord says to theprophet Samuel who Is looking to anoint a new king that the Lord God looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance. [1 Samuel 16: 6-7].
What blindness might I want the Lord to help me overcome this Lent? Am I blinded by some bitterness of heart, lack of forgiveness, pride, legalism, perfectionism or irrational fear?
“During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.”
Reflections for Lent, Cardinal Hume Centre 2020
“Do not let the past disturb you, just leave everything in the Sacred Heart and begin
again with joy. “
St. Teresa of Calcutta
“On the last Sunday before Holy Week, our Gospel reading is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. [John 11:1-45]. “Now Jesus loved Martha and Mary, her sister, and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” This is curious. How can Jesus love Mary, Martha and Lazarus and yet still choose to delay healing Lazarus? Jesus’ followers had already seen him raise Jairus’ daughter who had just died. [Matthew 9], they had seen him raise the
widow of Nain’s son [Luke 7] who had been dead for an even longer time, and we will now see him raise Lazarus.
Jesus deliberately waits to help us see that he “is the resurrection and the life”. This is not only about the afterlife as he explains to Martha but new life begins now. If I want this, can I tell God where I need him to bring me his life?
Reflections for Lent, Cardinal Hume Centre 2020
“Lent is a favourable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God…”
“As the Lord makes his solemn entrance into Jerusalem, we too enter into that special time, Passiontide. It is the final destination of our Lenten pilgrimage. By reliving each event of the Saviour’s last week before his death, we become participants in those very events. The Offices of Holy Week are a great aid to us in following the sequence of Jesus’ last days, step by step, unto his cruel last hours. They portray how Christ honestly accomplished his redemptive work. By unfolding before our eyes the mysteries of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection, in all its historical details, the liturgy allows us to witness to the supreme act of God’s love. It is a love that has no equal.”
Blessings of the Daily, Brother Victor-Antione d’Avola-Latourrette
Why not follow Jesus each day by joining Fr Luke in his broadcast of the daily Mass? You can find it at www.facebook.com/bmrcparish/live See Parish Calendar for details of times of Mass.
You can also find the Gospel readings for each day of Holy Week as follows:
This is still for some, the lambing season. For Christians, the presence of a new baby lamb is an intimation of another lamb.
Jesus the Lamb of God, offered himself in sacrifice to the Father at the exact time of the Jewish Passover, at the very moment that paschal lambs were being killed for sacrifice in the Temple.
The Lord’s self-sacrifice was accomplished out of that incomprehensible love he had for us, so that he might “take away the sins of many and bring salvation” to those who eagerly await him.
O long-suffering Lord, who accepted death for our sake, glory to you!
May we walk by your side and bear witness to your love for all mankind.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords that imprison unfairly,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here I am.
Isaiah 58:6–9 (NIV)
“Too often we become enemies of others: we do not wish them well. And Jesus tells us to love our enemies! And this is not easy! Let me just answer this question and let each of us answer it in our own heart: ‘Do I pray for my enemies? Do I pray for those who do not love me?’ If we say ‘yes’ I will say ‘Go on, pray more, you are on right path.”
Pope Francis - Vatican Radio
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Reconciliation is not an end in itself. St Teresa of Avila summed up beautifully why we need to cleanse our souls in readiness for Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension.
CHRIST HAS NO BODY
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
is more than giving money. It is stretching out to those in need with Christian love:
“If you break the chains of oppression;
if you set the pris’ners free;
if you share your bread with the hungry;
give protection to the lost;
give a shelter to the homeless;
clothe the naked in your midst;
then your light shall break forth like the dawn.”
Marty Haugen ‘Return to God’
The Holy Humility of Christ
The ‘Kenosis’ icon reminds us of the trial and death of Christ and his patient endurance throughout. These are not the sufferings of an ordinary man. They are endured by the Son, in whose person the divine and the human co-exist. Christ’s humility in accepting suffering is a lesson and model for us all.
The icon (see below) is the focus of “The Bridegroom” service celebrated in churches of the Byzantine tradition in Holy Week. The stanzas of the Bridegroom hymn are beautiful and expressive, especially when sung. Here are some in loose translation:
O Bridegroom, more beautiful than all men,
Called to your kingdom’s spiritual feast,
We need your flawless wedding garments,
So that clothed in all your beauty’s raiments
We may come into your bridal chamber,
Shining as your guests with glory and joy.
Let us love the Bridegroom, ready our lamps.
Let virtue’s radiance and faith’s depth shine,
And thus, wise virgins, let us come with Christ
To the wedding feast and receive from God
The incorruptible garment and crown.
(for more go to http://standrewgoc.org/hom
"Nor do I condemn you. You may go." (John 8:11)
Forgiveness, in its truest and highest form, is a free act of love. But precisely because it is an act of love, it has its own intrinsic demands: the first of which is: ”God alone is absolute truth. But He made the human heart open to the desire for truth, which He then fully revealed in His Incarnate Son. ...”. Pope John Paul II
Christians must let go of resentments and forgive those who have wronged them so that they may experience God’s forgiveness, Pope Francis has said.
This can be particularly difficult when “we carry with us a list of things that have been done to us,” the pope said in his homily on March 6th at morning Mass in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
“God’s forgiveness is felt strongly within us as long as we forgive others. And this isn’t easy because grudges make a nest in our heart and there is always that bitterness,” he said.
In your mercy heal us;
In your love and tenderness, remake us;
In your compassion, bring grace and forgiveness;
For the beauty of heaven, may your love prepare us.
There are many myths about the origins of the snowdrop. Among these is the story of Eve, who was distraught after God had expelled her and Adam from the Garden. As Eve sat weeping, an angel appeared to comfort her. The angel caught a snowflake and breathed upon it. The snowflake fluttered to the earth and gave birth to the snowdrop. Thus did this delicate bloom come to symbolize hope and rebirth.
Snowdrops bloom in late winter and so it is no wonder that they are regarded as indicators of forthcoming Spring and better weather. They also have a special meaning for Christians. They bloom before or at the beginning of Lent, the season in which we remember Christ’s sacrifice to redeem us, and when we anticipate the glory of Easter and the Resurrection. It is perfectly proper then that we rejoice in the blossoming of snowdrops, for they give us hope, reassure us of rebirth and provide consolation as we recall our Saviour’s suffering.
‘At the start of his ministry on earth, Jesus goes into the wilderness and after forty days of fasting, the devil tempts him three times:
The devil first tempts Jesus in the physical arena (hunger). Jesus responds that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
He next tempts Jesus on the mental arena (vanity): “If you are the Son of God throw
yourself down”. Jesus resists the devil by declaring a truth from Scripture “It is written. You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” [Matthew 4.6,7]
In the third challenge, the devil tempts Jesus in the spiritual arena, promising Jesus reward if he falls down and worships him. Jesus responds by quoting from Deuteronomy a third time” ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” [Matthew 4.8-10]
This Lent, what things can I do to resist temptations of the heart, mind or body?
Jesus quoted the Bible; how can I know more of God’s word so it can strengthen me?’
Reflections for Lent, Cardinal Hume Centre 2020
Even here in the wilderness, childhood’s ghosts visit, bearing red-faced memories,
times when an infant, challenging falsehoods, awesome among elders, small town
When found by parents, puzzled and fearful, he’d shown obedience, set mission aside,
been too early to make mother tearful, or anger father who’d not be defied.
Some called him toper: wine’s conversion too tricky, some missed a small miracle;
he still felt the cold shock of immersion, mission now changed to the political.
From these and other phantoms’ endless pain he knew he’d never feel at ease again.
“You are light for the people of the world. At night, the light from a city on a
mountain top can't be hidden. No one lights a lamp to hide it under a basket. No, he
places a lamp on a stand to spread light throughout the house.” Matthew 5: 13-14
It is tough being a leader, being on a hard road with followers, some of whom are loyal, some rebellious, some prepared to do what you ask, others who constantly grumble. Yet this is the role Jesus asks of us, in telling us we are “the light of the world”. It sounds pretty wonderful to light up the world, to be like a film star, successful sports person or a beloved politician.
But that’s not what Jesus is asking of us. He wants us to go where ordinary people may not wish to go, or cannot see the sense in going, or fear unacceptable risks in following you, or just do not believe you:
“So, shine like light before everyone you meet. Then, they can see all the good
things you do and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5: 13-14
No-one, Jesus tells us, looking each of us in the eye, ”No-one can be a witness by inaction.” We must show what we believe in action for others to see, so that they come to faith and, rejoicing, praise God.
Jesus, in other words, wants us to be leaders, a light beaming from the way we live,
illuminating Christian love and care. He doesn’t ask us to be celebrities. He does ask that we remember what we became when we were baptised - monarchs, prophets and priests and to behave accordingly and in humility. And that means action. Inaction hides the faith: we act through the way we lead our lives to show our faith and how others can share in it.We open our arms to others and God walks into their hearts.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.” Matthew 5: 3-6
Salt has many uses: as a seasoning, as a preservative; as an ingredient of fuel. This makes it valued in most societies, even those, such as our own, where the supply is plentiful. In other societies its importance and value has led to it being used as money, instead of coinage. So, what did Jesus mean by ‘the salt of the earth’?
In the Palestine of his time, salt was mixed with other material – usually animal manure – to form briquettes used as fuel for outdoor ovens. Salt helped the fire to burn longer and even increased the heat. Salt, therefore, turned something unpleasant and unclean into a thing which was central to the health and wellbeing of the community – heat. And this is what Jesus was asking of his followers – to be agents for the good in an impure world, to keep the fire of faith alive even when stressed by persecution.
So, how can we be the salt of the earth? How can our example make a difference? By
Most of us would see conversing with God as another way of referring to prayer. Prayer, of course, is a powerful and probably the most used means of communicating with God. Sometimes we will make up a prayer, but most of the time we will use traditional and well remembered prayers such as ‘Our Father’, “Hail Mary”, “Glory be....’ and so on. To be meaningful, prayers require concentration and focus. Otherwise they can turn out to be rattled off with no commitment on our part to what we are actually talking about. God still hears us, of course. But do we hear his response?
Crucial to our spiritual life as prayer is, there are other ways to contact God. The focus in prayer tends to be on what we have to say. In a conversation with God the focus is on what both you and God have to say to one another. This is because, in conversation, you communicate with God as you would speak with another person. That is, you say directly and honestly what is going on with you and you share what is in your heart and mind.
This can be a bit daunting, because the words we use are our own, not the memorised words of conventional prayers. We may worry that we won’t know what to say, or that what we say may be the wrong thing to say to God. Relax. The person we are talking to is the One who made us, the One who loves us, the One who saves us. What counts is not eloquence, but honesty, not flowery words but straight talking.
The more we try this, the more comfortable we will become and it will really feel that we are talking to God as a friend, to someone to whom we give our love, affection, respect and trust.
God waits to hear from us. Give it a try.
How can we listen to God?
That depends on how we listen. There are at least three ways of listening to someone talking to us. The first is when you are doing something on which you are concentrating, while someone else is speaking to you. You occasionally make a sound or say something, such as ‘Really?” to indicate you are listening. But you are NOT. The second way is to listen carefully to what is said, in order to jump in at the right moment to say what you have to say. This does not mean that you have understood – except superficially – what the other person means as they talk to you.
The third way is to keep quiet, and listen very carefully and caringly to what you hear, and reflect back to check that you understand. For example, “I think what you are saying is …” This kind of listening shows respect, care and that you value what you hear. This is the way to listen to God.
But how do we know that God is speaking to us?
He already has. We heard in Fr Luke’s homily last week that the Bible is the best thing if you want to hear what God has to say. Growing your familiarity with the Bible, especially the New Testament, and reflecting on what you read, or hear at Mass, will tune your ear to God’s message.
There are many other resources. For example, The Wednesday Word is now available at the back of both churches. Other ways of ‘tuning in’ are books of reflection, especially those which give a reflection or prayer for each day of the year, such as An Ignation book of days: or, for a shorter period, 15 days of Prayer with Thomas Merton. Nor should we omit saying the Rosary – providing that we pause and reflect on what we are reading and praying.
“To live by faith means to put our lives in the hand of God, especially in our most difficult moments.”
“We need to let ourselves be evangelised by the poor. They have much to teach us.”
“The secret of Christian living is love. Only love fills the empty spaces caused by evil.”
"God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy."
“Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.”
St John Paul II
“Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”
St John Paul II
“Nothing is small in our relationship with God”
St Francis de Sales
“Some people live for God, some live with God, some in God”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today… Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling and intellectual elites, causing an impression of a loss of courage by the entire society. There are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life… Political and intellectual functionaries exhibit this depression, passivity, and perplexity in their actions and in their statements, and even more so in their self-serving rationales as to how realistic, reasonable, and intellectually and even morally justified it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice… Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?”
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn 1978
“Every human being desires communion and peace. Everyone needs peaceful co-existence. But this can only grow when we also build inner peace in our heart. Many people live in a constant hurry. In this way all that they have inside them tends to be overwhelmed. This also affects how we treat the environment. It is necessary to grant oneself more time to recover a serene harmony with the world, with creation, and also with the Creator. Let us try, in contemplation and prayer, to achieve ever greater familiarity with God. And gradually we will discover that the heavenly Father wants what is good for us. He wants to see us happy, full of joy and serene. It is this familiarity with God that also inspires our mercy. Just as the Father loves, so do his children. As he is merciful, we too are called upon to be merciful towards each other. Let us allow ourselves to be touched by God’s mercy, also through a good confession, to become increasingly merciful like the Father.”
Pope Francis May 2016
“True peace is not man-made but a gift of the Holy Spirit. "A peace without a cross is not the peace of Jesus" for it is only the Lord who can give us peace amidst tribulations. This was the central message of the homily of Pope Francis at Mass, Tuesday morning, in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican.
Developing his homily on the words of Jesus at the Supper in John’s Gospel, "I leave you peace, my peace I give you,” the Holy Father focused on the meaning of the peace given by the Lord. The day’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, he noted, speaks of the many tribulations that Paul and Barnabas experienced in their journeys to proclaim the Gospel. "Is this the peace that Jesus gives us?" the Pope asked, and immediately answered saying Jesus emphasizes that the peace He gives is not the one given by the world.
The world wants anesthetized peace to prevent us from seeing the Cross
"The world teaches us the way to anesthetized peace: it anesthetizes us from seeing another
reality of life: the Cross. This is why Paul says that one must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven
on the road with many tribulations. But is it possible to obtain peace amidst tribulation? From
our side, no; we are unable to make peace that is tranquility, a psychological peace, our peace,
because tribulations are there, whether pain, illness or death. But the peace that Jesus gives
is a gift: it is a gift of the Holy Spirit; and this peace lasts through tribulations and beyond. It's
not a sort of stoicism of the ‘fakir’. No. it’s something else.”
God's peace cannot be bought, without [the] Cross [there] is not real peace”
Pope Francis Midnight Mass Homily 24 December 2019
“Christmas reminds us that God continues to love us all, even the worst of us. To me, to
you, to each of us, he says today: “I love you and I will always love you, for you are precious
in my eyes”.
God does not love you because you think and act the right way. He loves you, plain and
simple. His love is unconditional; it does not depend on you. You may have mistaken ideas,
you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you. How
often do we think that God is good if we are good and punishes us if we are bad. Yet that
is not how he is. For all our sins, he continues to love us. His love does not change. It is not
fickle; it is faithful. It is patient. This is the gift we find at Christmas. We discover to our
amazement that the Lord is absolute gratuity, absolute tender love. His glory does not
overwhelm us; his presence does not terrify us. He is born in utter poverty in order to win
our hearts by the wealth of his love.
But what is this grace? It is divine love, the love that changes lives, renews history, liberates
from evil, fills hearts with peace and joy. Tonight the love of God has been revealed to us:
it is Jesus. In Jesus, the Most High made himself tiny, so that we might love him.”
Pope Francis Midnight Mass Homily 24 December 2019
Past, the Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem-star may lead me
To the sight of Him Who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: Thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: Thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
U A Fanthorpe
The other day I was in a shop that sells kitchen equipment. In one corner four shelves were stacked with different brands and varieties of electric toasters, over twenty in all. Prices varied widely from £27 to £158. When I saw the latter price, I asked myself, “Why would anyone pay that amount just to burn or singe bread? Or perhaps the retailer thinks it might be bought as a Christmas present.”
This is the time of year when we are tempted (or pressured) to be extravagant in getting gifts for family and friends to celebrate Christmas. But why do we do it? We know that some gifts are bought out of a sense of duty. “We must buy Aunt Maud something, or she would be terribly upset.” Giving someone something unnecessarily expensive may come across only as a boast about how wealthy you are. However most gifts are bought and given to celebrate our affection and love for others. But what does this mean?
Giving things to people always carries a symbolic meaning. So, do we give to others in order to tell them that we want a gift in return? Or do we give not expecting or asking for a return, but simply because we love them? If it is the first of these, then we are not giving, but engaging in a form of trading. If it is the latter then we are imitating what God does for us, His love is universal and eternal – it is everywhere and always there. And this, I think, is how we should approach Christmas shopping – finding gifts that will express our love (not our wealth) for those to whom we send. them. The greatest gift we can give others, of course, is our love as parents, siblings, friends or even enemies. That can take the form of physical objects or prayers on their behalf or time spent with them, and so on. A device for burning bread is not the only way of showing you care, whatever the cost.
A babe wandering the world’s wilderness
whose horrors seek to overwhelm and crush
your spirit, you cry out in a voice that’s ageless
for counsel to escape evil’s ambush.
What is good has been explained to you, child;
this is what the Lord asks of you: only this,
to act justly, love tenderly, be mild,
accepting, ready to receive his kiss
as you humbly walk each day with your God:
a life at odds with itself, discomfort
joined with true peace, the normal with the odd,
easeful hardship, love and terror’s concert.
The world wants martyrs for the gods above:
God asks only that we return his love.
Tom Caple April 2019
Drawn from Micah 6
Peace is the goal of most people and all nations. What that means, of course, differs widely from one person, one community, one nation, from another. As we approach another Remembrance Day, it is worth reflecting on what we Catholics mean by it. Catholic Social Teaching views peace as having two dimensions: being at peace with God and being at peace with others, especially between nations.
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27)
“Peace with God is God’s gift to us. God alone can place us in right relationship with him. This teaching is clear in both the old and the new testaments. God initiated the covenant with man, restored it when we fell, and fulfilled it in Jesus Christ....
As Christians, we know that god dwells in us making us temples of the holy spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19). He promised us that he would provide for all our needs (cf. Matt. 6:26-34) and that “all things would work together for good for those that love god and are called according to his purposes” (Rom. 8:28). We are told that without him we can do nothing (John 15:5), but that, in him, we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).’(Mgr Stewart Swetland A Primer of Peace 2007) Because this is God’s gift, we should do everything we can to protect and sustain it. However, we know too well how easy it is to divert ourselves from being at peace with God because of:
Next week we will look at the tools God gives us to overcome these difficulties and maintainour peace with Him.
We saw last week how Peace begins with peace between God and Humanity. If you are a believer, how else can you have a positive relationship with your Creator? Belief in God and in God’s peace freely offered to us is the bedrock on which we can build peaceful relations between people and nations. We have seen that for each of us there are issues that can divert us from the search for peace with God and, therefore, with others. They are: -life’s troubles and fear of being without; our and others’ faults and shortcomings; and fear of suffering.
So, how do we deal with them?
Jesus did not leave us bereft of resources. One of His great gifts was the Beatitudes. They are much, much more than a set of suggestions or guidelines – they, together with the Ten Commandments, constitute a programme of actions to take to be at peace with God and, making them the centre of our way of living, the basis for being at peace with others around us. If you want to know what peace and justice is, it is the beatitudes working together, and in concert with the Commandments, summed up in the following:
“The love we get from God is what we must
give others - that means giving all we are,”
their dying mother whispered. “The dry dust
we are springs to life in others justly loved.”
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for
justice, for they shall have their fill and more.”
From ‘Justice’ Tom Caple
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born ... A time to plant ... A time to uproot what has been planted.
“Working in the garden in these last days of October is indeed an endless source of satisfaction. One season is dying, yet we are already looking ahead by making preparations for the next spring. This is the same in our life of communion with God. Though this communion is realized in the present moment, in the daily of our lives, it looks ahead to the designs God has for each of us, to his promise of eternal life. After the long winter of our lives achieves its completion, we can look forward to the endless spring feast, the Lord’s eternal day.”
Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourette • Blessings of the daily
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you; a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27)
We are all familiar with Red Poppies, made by the Royal British Legion to commemorate British military victims of war and those who fought alongside them, and to acknowledge civilian victims.
You may be less familiar with White Poppies. They have been worn for almost 80 years and have three elements: remembrance for ALL victims of war; a commitment to peace; and challenge to attempts to glamorise war.
My father and I never met. He was killed in the War six months before I was born. His death was neither glamourous nor heroic, just messy and painful. So, I have always worn a red poppy to remember his sacrifice.
Equally, I know that people of different communities, nations, religions, age, etc. have died and continue to do so because of war and its consequences. So I support all attempts to end war, and bring about lasting peace. That’s why I wear a White Poppy.
Both types of Poppy are about respect and remembrance. That’s why I support wearing both.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west.
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
The Bible cites many instances to show that God watches out for his people. In Exodus, God promises to send a messenger, an angel, to act as a guide. “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” (Exodus 23: 20-22) In Genesis, angels escorted Lot out of Sodom. An angel finds food for Elijah in the desert, and in Matthew’s Gospel we are told that angels ministered to Jesus in the desert. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that an angel released Peter from prison.
Belief in Angels and specifically guardian angels who are assigned to guard the souls of individuals is ancient. I remember when I was a child being instructed about my guardian angel. I can’t say I have been very attentive said for some time to what he has, until I came across a quote from Pope Francis:
“Ask yourself this question today: How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? He is by my side. We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven.
“The angel is the daily door toward transcendence, to the encounter with the Father, the angel helps me walk along the path because he looks at the Father who knows the way. Let us not forget this traveling companion.”
Pope Francis 2015
“As we journey along the pleasant and sometimes unpleasant rhythms of the seasons, we become more and more aware of the immutable wisdom of the seasons, and their Creator. We become more attentive to the question of living in harmony with nature’s cycles, of looking deep into the seasons which shape our daily lives. From them we glean inspiration and inner sustenance.
“Ultimately, our lives become fully integrated only when we accept the guidance of God and harmonise with the cycles of nature, the cycles of the heart, the cycles of the liturgy and the cycles of life and death…………….
“…. I gaze at the tapestry of beauty around me and delight in the sunlight shining in the trees. The air is crystal clear, and there is nothing finer than breathing it deeply. As I rejoice at the lovely sight of our trees, standing tall in regal colours, I drink deeply from the sweetly scented seasonal air. I thank God for the gift of life, for the fact that he brought me here to this place, to this point in time, where I can marvel at the wonders of his creation. It gives complete satisfaction to the heart.”
From Blessings of the Daily•Brother Victor-Antione d’Avila-Latourette
Prayer for Healing and Reconciliation
Praise to you Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
the source of all consolation and hope.
Be the refuge and guardian of all
who suffer from abuse and violence.
Comfort them and send healing
for their wounds of the body, soul and spirit.
Help us all and make us one with you in your love
for justice as we deepen our respect
for the dignity of every human life.
Giver of peace, make us one in celebrating
your praise, both now and forever.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
From A Poem for Every Night of the Year
It’s an old question, which goes through our heads when we experience pain – whether ours or other people’s. Some continue to believe that pain is God’s punishment for our sins, although Truth (as old as the Church itself) is gaining ground– the truth that God is Love. Flowing from this great truth are two others.
The nature of God is revealed in the loving trust he puts in us to safeguard and nurture His creation, and in Jesus’ willingness to suffer pain and death so that we can be free to do what God wants of us.
Pain occurs when things malfunction: mind or body don’t work properly because of illness or the way we - or someone else – mistreats them: groups, communities and nations go wrong because of poor or bad leadership, hatred, economic failure, bad weather, etc. Natural disasters overwhelm us. Whilst we should pray to God to help us cope with pain arising from these events, God trusts us to find ways of coping and ways of avoiding or reducing different kinds of pain. And that’s not just a job for experts and politicians, church leaders and others in positions of power. It’s down to us as well,
Pope Francis’ way of coping with pain is
“The only answer to pain is tenderness, caresses and closeness.”
I’m writing in pain and would like to add to this a sense of humour and tenacity which will remind us that we are never alone, with Jesus at our side.
“Lord, please lay your hands of love and healing on all who suffer, and bring them, in the fulness of their time to everlasting life with you.”
God of autumn,
the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been.
We, too, have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurity and risk.
Help us to let go when we need to do so.
God of fallen leaves
lying in coloured patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns.
As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.
God of misty days and harvest moon nights,
there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives.
We always need to recognize your power-filled presence. May we gain strength from this.
God of harvest wagons and fields of ripened grain, many gifts of growth lie within the season of our surrender.
We must wait for harvest in faith and hope.
Grant us patience when we do not see the blessings.
God of flowers
touched with frost and windows wearing
white designs, may your love keep our hearts
from growing cold in the empty seasons.
God of life,
you believe in us, you enrich us,
you entrust us with the freedom to choose
life. For all this, we are grateful.
Early today I watched two small birds playing in the garden. Even at this late time of the year they chased one another as if it were a Spring day. The sun had just emerged from behind the willow and began to warm an otherwise chilly morning. In and out of the branches the birds swooped and dived with obvious energy and pleasure.
We are used to thinking that birds use trees to shelter from the storms, snow and icy temperatures of winter, but this is not so. Trees are wonderfully kind to them around the year, as shelter from the heat as well as the cold, as places to work and play, and simply for rest. Overall, they can be places of peace.
Watching their gracefulness and purity reminded me to think of Christ’s observation, as reported in Matthew 6:26:
“Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.”
It is, to me, something of a wonder that the rest of us do not find sheer delight in the simple things of nature. It may be that in the effort to deal with the necessities of daily living we have lost sight of how much we can get from observing nature in all its beauty and grace. To do this, however, is to look at the world not through the foggy glasses of human pre-occupation. We need to take them off – put aside our assumptions, concerns and ‘normal’ ways of looking at things and, as Jesus urges us, to develop the purity of heart that enables us to see reality in its simple state and, so, to hone our ability to see ourselves almost exactly as God sees us.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2. Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
3. Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
5. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
6. Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
7. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
8. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Some (mercifully few) people look on the poor with disdain as if poverty is their fault. Most of us have some sympathy for those who find it difficult to meet their needs for whatever reason. So, when Jesus talks about the “poor in spirit”, and urges us to seek it, what exactly does he mean?
Simply this: we must be humble in our spiritual life. “Humble” has some negative meanings these days, thanks to Charles Dickens and his creation, Uriah Heap, a swivel-eyed, leering hypocrite who proclaims frequently that ‘I’m very ‘umble’. Fortunately Uriah is not the role model for what Jesus meant.
“Humble” emerged in English 800 years ago and meant “submissive, respectful, lowly in manner, modest, not self-asserting, obedient." So, to be “poor in spirit” is to acknowledge in modesty our spiritual poverty and sinfulness and – this is where humility is essential – our need for salvation, for Jesus’ saving love, if we are to overcome our spiritual poverty and move onwards in our spiritual journey.
There are both negative and positive consequences of this acknowledgement. On the one hand we must not be self-satisfied or proud, acting as if we don’t really need God, because we are good enough. On the other hand, we must put self-interest aside and focus on God’s gift of love to us, sharing it with all who are part of our lives. This means trusting Him to protect us and give us the Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment that enables us to sense what he asks, and to use our talents in His service,
Like everything that Jesus asks of us, when we put our self-interest to one side, it is all quite – Simple!!
Meekness ≠ Weakness
“We have every reason to be meek. We did not bring ourselves into existence. Every good we have is a gift ..… We cannot prevent our own deaths. We cannot raise ourselves from the dead and give ourselves the gift of eternal life with God. But God can.” Kevin Aldrich • Catholic Stand • May 2014
Of all the Beatitudes, the one calling for meekness might seem the most puzzling. Isn’t it the strong and most forceful who conquer lands and acquire power? From our Catholic perspective meekness means making choices: choosing to embrace humility, to put aside arrogance, and to be kind and open to others. These are not the actions of the weak and naïve! To make and stay with these choices, you have to have courage, strength and stamina.
Across the Church there are priests, religious, catechists, teachers, ministers, parents and young people who strive to live Catholic virtues and who do so in a meek and humble fashion. Their gentleness of heart and spirit shows that, in their own way, they are claiming their inheritance by the power of love, compassion, mercy, and understanding: - the outward signs of meekness.
How do we become meek? We must throw away anger. Meekness is the opponent of anger. Therefore, we return love for hatred and blessings and prayers for curses. One thing we do not do is violently impose our faith on others. The early Church conquered the Roman Empire through non-violent means and we will re-evangelize our society in the same way.
So Meekness is chiefly about the virtue of hope. We trust that God will keep his promises to us: to give us eternal life.
In the last two weeks we have reflected on humility and meekness. This week we look at one of the most difficult of life’s experiences – grieving and comforting those who mourn.
It seems a bit odd that the mournful can be called ‘blessed’. We all understand how painful grief can be, whatever the loss – and it doesn’t feel like being blessed. Indeed, it can feel like a punishment. But this beatitude refer to a special kind of mourning that is, in fact the antidote to grieving.
If we love God, we will love all those who belong to God, that is, everyone. God’s incomprehensible love is given to every human being without exception.
When we truly love others, their happiness becomes ours. Even so, we may find them in pain, suffering and struggling to be happy. Because we love them, their suffering also becomes ours. We mourn for and with them. It is impossible to remain indifferent to the sufferings of others, once we have discovered and recognised God’s love. It is the sins of human beings, the cold indifference of others towards God and our neighbour that fills us with sorrow.
God’s love is there for all who grieve. We can be a channel of God’s love for those who mourn, by sharing their grief.
Through this sharing, both become blessed.
Source: The Beatitudes: A Concise Summary Deacon Douglas McManaman • catholiceducation.org
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.” 1 John 3.1-2
Those who heard the fourth Beatitude would recognise immediately the terms He used. At the time Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, hunger and thirst were quite common. However, Jesus did not intend his words to be taken literally. He is pointing to what John (above) says: that God’s love is so great that he gave his Son in sacrifice to save us. Through this act of love our identity as children of God is confirmed.
The foundation of love is justice and moral perfection. This makes sense. To pursue justice is not to obey passively God’s law, but also to act: - to achieve, sustain and promote brotherly love of Jesus. In other words, following this beatitude means committing ourselves to establishing and maintaining the right (just and loving) relationship between ourselves, God and the people we live and work with.
So, why ‘hunger’? Hunger is a sign of life. We become spiritually alive when we hunger to love others for their sakes, not as snack food to meet our needs. Jesus says those who have this hunger will find their appetites filled. This makes it easier to see the wrongs about us and to want to do battle to fix them. We cannot do this relying on our own strengths, but, as with the first three Beatitudes, by abandoning our self-interest to allow Jesus to work within us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7
What is Mercy?
Mercy is the unmerited act of kindness to someone in need. It is kind to do something good for another. This may be giving some water to someone who is parched or giving all one has to people who have nothing.
It is unmerited because it is not something the recipient has ‘earned’. It is a just act to reward employees for doing their jobs not an act of mercy! Contributing to the second collections in church are acts of mercy because they invite you to make an unmerited act of kindness for people in need.
Being merciful is not just about giving money. It is, more importantly, about our use of the power we have over others. You may think you don’t have any power, but you do - over elderly relatives who need you to ensure they are cared for; children whose education is in your hands; neighbours who may need friendship. Mercy also extends to those who may have offended or hurt you, when forgiveness may lead them to do good.
Take a moment now to write down the people in your life who could or do benefit from your unmerited kindness towards them. I think you’ll find it a long list!
Christ promised that those who show mercy will receive it. We need His mercy; we are sinners and prone to use our power over people to act in our interests, not theirs. As with a hunger for justice, we must also search within ourselves for the mercy that wants no reward. Acts of mercy are powerful ways of sharing God’s love with others
Prayer: Lord give me eyes to see how I can make an act with kindness today to someone in need. Amen.
God’s plan for us is to see Him and to be with Him forever. To be pure of heart means that our love is directed wholly and solely to God:
“you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” [Deuteronomy 6:5]
Jesus added that we must love our neighbour as ourselves [Mark 12:29-31] for, as we have seen in looking at other Beatitudes, our mission is to continue Jesus’ work and bring God’s love to others’
It is an old definition made popular again these days that “pure” means “without blemish’. Because of this, some argue that “pure” spirituality is a spirituality unsoiled by contact with grosser elements most especially with biological matter such as the human body with its wide variety of fluids, sticky viscous substances, mucus, blood, spit, sweat and so on. But this is to argue for sterility. In the same way there are those who claim that ‘scepticism is the purity of the intellect and the only sure thing is doubt’ But that also is to argue for intellectual sterility through failure to commit sincerely to any faith or any action. Think about it and you will realise that these ways of thinking about purity go only skin deep.
From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have taken an entirely different approach. Our emphasis is on being free from sin and has above all to do with relationships - with God and our fellow humans. If we have a heart that is simple, open, and good, purity of heart means that we don’t hide who we are from other people, and that we treat others the way Christ would, as persons with great dignity, not reducing them to objects of personal pleasure. Thus may we see God
“Peace” has several meanings for us humans: an end to hostilities; freedom from disturbance; tranquillity; peace of mind; being in a state of friendliness; civil order. All these definitions have one thing in common: they refer to relations between people and usually refer to some improvement from undesirable to agreeable human circumstances.
This is not what Jesus is talking about when calling peacemakers “children of God”. In this Beatitude, Jesus refers to our relationship with God as individuals, as communities and as a Church. He is saying that whatever else is happening, our focus has to be on the journey to paradise, following the road. He urges pursuit of ‘the peace that surpasses all understanding’ (Philippians’ 4:7).
Being at peace is not a passive state: it is good to strive for the end of war, for freedom from disturbance, for maintaining friendships and so on. But these are only steps on our journey, driven by our desire to serve and love God, and not our self-interests. Self-interest may drive much peacemaking: history shows such ‘peace’ is not sustainable.
God’s Peace should be the basis of all work for peace, because divine peace is the fulfilment of our friendship with God, our acceptance of His authority and our joy in His love. As such it is the perfect template for achieving peace in the world. Jesus, leader and exemplar of our struggle for peace, says he is not bringing peace on earth but bringing earth (that’s all of us) to peace in heaven.
It follows that peace is and should be the Church’s priority and that building and maintaining friendships is top priority for each of us in our daily lives.
The love we have for one another is central to our faith journey with Jesus as Pope Francis has emphasised;
“Agape, the love of each one of us for the other, from the closest to the furthest, is in fact the only way that Jesus has given us to find the way of salvation and of the Beatitudes.”
But what does that mean in practical terms? For theologian Henri Louwen it means service and prayer, as he wrote in Following Jesus:
“Service is being involved in something that is for the people of God.
At times we might be involved in larger things – clothing the naked, sheltering the poor, helping the refugees, visiting the sick or imprisoned, but it is always small to begin with. It begins with small gestures. Being kind to your family and the people you work with, saying a patient word, writing a card, sending a flower…
When we pray frequently and know that God is in us here and now, we are very attentive to others because we are less pre-occupied with ourselves. We are less worried about ourselves, and if we are not very worried, we see other people more clearly. We see their struggle. We see their beauty. We see their kindness. We see they are not trying to hurt us but that they have their own problems. We are much gentler, because we are in the presence of the Spirit. …….
This is one of the first and greatest rewards of following Jesus. Suddenly the Spirit in you sees the Spirit in them. The Christ in you sees the Christ in them…. You cannot see Christ in the world, but the Christ in you can see the Christ in the world.. … The spiritual life is the recognition of the Spirit, in the Spirit, for the Spirit.”
Last week we read Henri Nouwen’s thoughts on service and prayer as the foundation for following Jesus. Here are more of Nouwen’s thoughts:
“When you practice the presence of God, you will find yourself drawn to the poor, to people who are struggling, to places where people are in pain. You want other people to realise that God is with them. Service means to simply bear witness to that new life in you.
We do not do service to earn anything. It is not an anxious need to save the world. We don’t act on the condition that change will take place. No. You can see how intense that might become. If our only concern is ‘I better help him or her,’ or to do things to change a person or the world, or the country or the politics, or the social condition – if change is the condition of service – we are going to be very bitter and very soon. But if service is an expression of gratitude for the love we have already experienced then we can be free and engage in change without trying so hard. Service is an expression of the gift you have within you that you want to share with others.
In a way service is an act of gratitude. We are so full of God’s presence, we are so aware of God’s promise, that we don’t want to hold it back. We want to share it. The disciples went around the world to announce that God is with us and that we can already now enjoy his presence. The disciples concern for the poor, the hungry, the sick and the dying was an expression of a deep faith in God’s presence. ‘what you do for the least of mine, you do for me’ (Matthew 23:40).”
Most people seem to think of ‘freedom’ and ‘obedience’ as opposites. This usually in reference to some ‘rules’ that a person wants to break or dismiss. “Now I work for myself, I can express myself fully.” “I’m retired, so I can do what I want.”
In reality, freedom and obedience go hand in hand:
“Freedom of choice is a core value of modern life. Somebody might express it as follows: ‘I don’t want to be told what to do. I want to be free to be me. I express my freedom by exercising my right to choose … Yet, for many people, their supposedly free choices are driven by obedience to a hidden agenda.”
Rev. Christopher Jamison Finding Sanctuary
“Choice” of clothing is a good example. People may think they have many choices when buying clothes, ranging from grunge jeans to smart suits, differing styles, materials and prices. Yet these ‘choices’ are only responses to other people’s ideas about what we should wear. Fashion houses, retailers, fashion leaders, friends and associates’ preferences - few of us can claim to be truly independent in what we wear. Using the language of freedom while being ruled by hidden agendas is dangerous. We may claim to be doing one thing but are actually doing the other. I know someone who often says, “I’m still a Catholic, but I don’t go to mass. It does nothing for me.” Can you be a Catholic and refuse to go to mass?
Obeying good rules is healthy and life fulfilling. So is true independence. So how can we do both? First we must know what we are choosing to obey. Second we must look for choices which improve our spiritual wellbeing. How can we tell that? It’s very difficult, but there are two things we can do that help us – listening to God as he talks to us through scripture, the Mass, the words of our parish priest and other good people we may meet: then, we can ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?”
Do Your Children a Favour — Be a Burden on Them
God gave us the Ten Commandments to guide us in right living. The Fourth Commandment, “Honour your father and mother,” is the last of the “Do” Commandments (as opposed to the 6 “Don’ts” that follow).
We get plenty of opportunities to freely choose obedience to the first three Commandments. But once our parents get older — much older — and need more and more assistance, we don’t always get the opportunity to “honour” our parents — to take direct care of them. Many parents have chosen to not allow this, because they don’t want to be a “burden.”
At one time, it was common for three (or more) generations to live under one roof. Now, the elderly have strangers taking care of them in institutions. Multiple generations of children have been conditioned to think “it’s probably better” to arrange this and call or stop by for a visit once a week, or once a month... or not at all. It has become “normal” to see taking care of one’s parents as just not practical — that we’re not qualified or we’re too busy. In the meantime, many elderly parents sit in hospital-like rooms in soulless facilities growing depressed that they see their children and grandchildren seldomly, and wonder why life turned out this way. Some ask God why he continues to let them live, because what’s the point? Some children wonder the same thing.
When you look at this issue from the perspective both of the elderly parent and of the not-very-involved adult child, is it any wonder that assisted suicide has become culturally acceptable? In this context, even some Catholics are tempted to think “It’s probably better.” It isn’t.
So, when you’re considering how you might want to handle retirement, consider the value of being a burden on your children.
St Augustine was Bishop of Hippo in North Africa for 30 years and more. He was a prolific writer (113 books and treatises, 200 letters, more than 500 sermons). His advice on praying is wonderful:
“For the desire of your heart is itself your prayer. And if the desire is constant, so is your prayer. The Apostle St Paul had a purpose in saying: Pray without ceasing. Are we then ceaselessly to bend our knees, to lie prostrate, or to lift up our hands? Is this what is meant by saying: Pray without ceasing? Even if we admit that we pray in this fashion, I do not believe that we can do so all the time.
Yet there is another interior kind of prayer without ceasing, namely, the desire of the heart. Whatever else you may be doing, if you but fix your desire on God’s Sabbath rest, your prayer will be ceaseless. Therefore, if you wish to pray without ceasing, do not cease the desire.”
Poetry can be prayer. Here are two poets who prove it:
As Winds That Blow Against A Star
Now by what whim of wanton chance
Do radiant eyes know sombre days?
And feet that shod in light should dance
Walk weary and laborious ways?
But rays from Heaven, white and whole,
May penetrate the gloom of earth;
And tears but nourish, in your soul,
The glory of celestial mirth.
The darts of toil and sorrow, sent
Against your peaceful beauty, are
As foolish and as impotent
As winds that blow against a star.
These houres, and that which hovers o’re my End,
Into thy hands, and hart, lord, I commend.
Take Both to Thine Account, that I and mine
In that Hour, and in these, may be all thine.
That as I dedicate my devoutest Breath
To make a kind of Life for my lord’s Death,
So from his living, and life-giving Death,
My dying Life may draw a new and never fleeting Breath.
What is the difference between a mystery and a problem? The one is frequently mistaken for the other. So we have crime “mystery” books and TV shows, and problems such as “The Problem of God”, or the problem of knowing how Jesus ascended to heaven or what happened at Pentecost.
The difference is simple but profound: a problem is solvable: a mystery is not - it is something we have to grapple, learn to live with and make sense of as much as we can.
So the establishment in Jerusalem had a problem with a man from out of town, a Nazarene, and they solved it by having him falsely accused and executed for treason. But they could not stop his followers from continuing to believe in him, and to get others to believe in him. They and authorities across the Roman Empire tried to solve that ‘problem’ by persecution of the bloodiest sort. They failed because they were dealing with a mystery - the mystery of Faith, why anyone should put their trust in someone who claimed to be God.
So, at this time of Pentecost, we may ask “How did that happen?” or “Tongues of Fire? What was all that about? The Holy Spirit? What’s that? How can there be a 3-in-1 God?” Although we may find explanations for these events: we. will never - in this life - fully understand them. They are mysteries, a focus for understanding our loving God. It is right to question this and other fundamentals of our faith. However, we need to ask not to find a complete answer, but to refurbish and add to what we understand about our trust in God and the wonders of his love.
It’s like asking ourselves “Why should God love me?”
Now that’s what I call a mystery!
“Fear is a force that can turn that which is real, meaningful, warm, gentle, and kind in your life into devastation and a desert. It is a powerful force….
“The best story I know is from India … and it is a story about a man who is condemned to spend a night in a cell with a poisonous snake. If he made the slightest little stir, the snake was on top of him and he was dead. So, he stood in the corner of the cell … petrified. He barely dared to breathe for fear of alerting the snake. … When the full force of light came in with the full dawn he noticed it was not a snake at all. It was an old rope.
The moral of the story is very profound: …… in our minds there are harmless old ropes, but when fear begins to work on them, we convert them into monsters who hold us prisoners.”
Walking in the Pastures of Wonder John O’Donohue
Help is at hand. There are 33 places in the Bible where God tells to be not afraid: e.g.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
In that room the world turned upside down.
This was no gift of Greek or Latin
nor any patois of the world then known,
These were words familiar but forgotten,
grammar and syntax learnt at mother’s
breast, cast off, life’s first lessons unlearnt.
New understanding bursts into flame,
excised crisp cynicism and terror’s fear,
the dull language of despair and death
displaced by a lexicon of love: -
a language to talk peace, abandon war;
to join in reconciliation
minds and bodies once used to slaughter;
to win what’s worth the winning for all;
to deploy the strong subtle syntax
of forgiving; to give and accept
clemency with humble compassion;
to slough despair, put on hope;
to put up with, and not to put down;;
to offer a hand, withhold the fist;
to offer words for unity, not croak
apartheid; to sing love, drown out hate.
The Bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly, I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25: 10-13
“How many are the moments in which we can be Christ for others?
Now is the moment: do not delay. The Bridegroom is coming. Trim the wicks of your lamps. Perhaps next to you, perhaps now reading your email, perhaps sleeping next to you, perhaps in the cubicle next to yours, perhaps on the other end of the classroom, perhaps on the playing field, is someone whom Christ must touch right now.
And perhaps yours are the only hands, the only voice, the only smile, the only embrace, the only look that He can use to touch His beloved.
Be alert! The moment will never come again. Trust yourself to God and He will act.”
Tim Muldoon Dot Magis blog cited in An Ignatian Book of Days
We celebrate Christ’s Ascension on Thursday, 30th May. Though Christ has ascended, let us remember that God is not absent. Christ has raised us up so that we can experience God in the many details of daily life and to be the channel for His love for us and all around us.
“When Spring arrives, I turn my ears to the joyful and sublime music of Mozart. I have heard musicologists describe Mozart’s music as ‘divine’, ‘heavenly’, or ‘out of this world’. It is probably all of that and more. The appreciative listener is susceptible to the wide range of feelings and emotion the music of Mozart inspires: joy, serenity, graciousness, civility, refinement, melancholy, a sense of longing for the inner world. In the music of Mozart, one seldom confronts the sense of tragedy or struggle of other composers. Mozart, deeply human as he was, used his music in a positive manner. He wished to affirm all that was good in creation, such as it came from the hands of God.
“Every Spring, as we relive the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection and feel the resurgence of life taking place all around us, I am quietly drawn to Mozart. His music, a metaphor for God’s life in us, inspires us to incorporate in our daily lives a sense of sobriety, beauty, goodness, godliness, joy, and all other positive attributes connected with the divine. Thus, through listening to Mozart and through the mysteries celebrated during the season, we may experience the truth hidden beneath the words of the Cure d’Ars: It is always spring in the soul united with God.
“…… Mozart’s music seems to divulge in a lyrical fashion the sublime sense of renewal and amazement taking place in our midst…… Mozart, in his own incomparable way, affirms our faith in the reality of the Resurrection. Life is worthwhile and there is meaning in it after all, for Jesus is indeed risen!”
Blessings of the Day Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette: Liguori-Triumph 2002
The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had as everything they owned, they held in common. … None … was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money … to the apostles; it was then distributed to members who might be in need.
Acts of the Apostles 4:32-36
This is a vivid picture of the early Church: a small group, living simply, sharing what they had, joined in faith and committed to the mission Christ has set them.
What would it be like if Pope Francis issued an instruction for all Catholics to live like this? And to say to the world, “If you wish to be a follower of Christ, you cannot until you sell your house or land and car(s) and give the surplus to the poor, give away your iPad, unwanted designer shoes, fashion clothes, jewellery - everything you don’t really need.”
No doubt there would be cries that the pope had gone mad, or was a heretic, and riots would follow. Why? Because, where the early Church sought to be noticeably different from the rest of society, today it seems that we Catholics want to be seen as a ‘normal’ part of our society, following society’s norms and ways of doing things. All very well until your life bumps into racism at football matches, drug selling on the streets, young people knifing one another, inequalities in working practices, corruption in public office and private business, sexual exploitation and abuse of children as well as adults, evil gossip and foul language everywhere. These are part of ‘normal’ society, but no part of a Christian way of life. So what do we do? Walk on like pharisees? Or show the world in our actions and demeanour what a Catholic life is and how different it is from the lives of many around us?
“For many, God seems to be distant: he does not evoke any emotional resonance. They do not love God less, if they venerate him as God and do his will. [However] by becoming man God gave us an object more accessible to our emotions. By loving Christ, and our neighbour in him, we love God with our heart of flesh……
“He who sees Christ, sees the Father. Christ giving himself up to death for love of us - that is what the Father is like. He gave what was most dear to him, his Son, who is ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’ (Hebrews 1:3), whom he loved with a love that is his eternal substance. Could he love us with such great love and remain beyond reach?................
Perhaps the deepest mystery is not that God loves us, for he is Love, but that he wants our love - for he is God.
“That love is pure gratuitousness, before any response on our part. ‘Christ died for us while we were still sinners … enemies [of God].’ (Romans 5:8, 10). My faith is o believe in the existence of this love, not in the perfect, abstract love as the philosophers would like to imagine it, nor in a universal love for my fellow humans as such. It is in this scandalous, irrational, gratuitous, absolute love of God in Christ that I believe.
‘The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Galations 2:20)”
From ‘From Advent to Pentecost: Carthusian Novice Conferences’ by A Carthusian: DLT 1999
“I think there is no labour greater than that of prayer to God.”
These are the words of Abba Agathon, one of the Desert Fathers, the founders of monasticism. Prayer for the desert monks was a constant practice. Every form of prayer came from and resided in the recesses of their hearts. They did not use long formulas or prayer books as we might today. Instead they prayerfully read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels and the Psalms, drawing from short prayers, such as “Lord, have mercy.” `these brief prayers would be uttered repeatedly throughout the day until they became part of the monk’s being.
We can learn much from the desert monks (without having to imitate all their practices. Start with the basic question What is prayer? Or, specifically, what is praying to God?
Essentially it is a conversation - “A talk, often informal, between two or more people” (OED) - i.e. between God and you. Does this really happen? Too often, I find myself conducting, not a conversation, but a monologue, especially with long, formulaic prayers that go on and on. And I don’t think I’m unique. [I suppose one proof that God loves us is that He can listen to all this, not nod off and still be patient with us!]
So prayer, as a conversation, is two-way: not just praying to God but also with Him and listening for His response- at the very least pausing in case He wants to say something.
A successful and meaningful conversation means that the participants really mean what they are saying. In praying we always have an obstacle to face - the more familiar the prayer, the more the risk that the words come out but our minds are somewhere else. Familiarity can breed superficiality, where what’s said is correct, but the saying is empty of real meaning. One short prayer in which you concentrate fully on the meaning of each word may be harder at first, but more fruitful in its outcome, than a long over-familiar one that trips off the tongue before meaning can catch up. One test of this to say a prayer then ask yourself what you just said, what you were telling or asking from God.
Short spontaneous prayers can be powerful. A short prayer may be exactly what God wants to hear, so that by talking to him we can avoid the banana skins Satan puts under our feet. Here are some:
Prayer: ... So that you can:
"Thank you for this breakfast, Lord." ... Remember how He blesses us in practical ways.
"Help me stay calm in this traffic jam." ...................... Keep cool and manage anger.
"Help me love this person now." .............. Show respect & avoid scorn/hatred/ anger.
"Lord, show me what to do." ........ Discern God’s will; avoid one’s own impulses and wants.
"Lord, I love you. Be with me!" ....... Have courage to protect myself from fear or negative reactions.
"Lord, let me be honest." ............................ Avoid deceit, conceit & misleading others.
“But if you faithfully obey the voice of your God, by keeping and observing all his commandments … all these blessings will befall and overtake you…” Deuteronomy 28: 1-2
Blessing is the enjoyment of God’s divine favour. It isn’t just about having more stuff; it’s being able to enjoy what you have. Blessings aren’t necessarily material things. We should remember this at Christmas. Which gift would you prefer - an iPhone X(S) or the embrace of someone you love?
When the Bible was first translated into English, blessing was used to equate to the Latin benedicere, meaning to speak well of. So, blessing became an expression of a key feature of the relationship between God and humanity. When, at the end of mass, the priest gives us the blessing, he asks God to favour us.
What form may this favour take?
First, we can expect God to hear our prayers.
Call on me in the day of distress.
I will free you and you shall honour me. Psalm 49: 15
Second, we can also expect God to meet our needs. God knows all we need even before we do, and has all the resources of the universe! Of course, what we need may be different from what we want!
Third, we can expect God to guide us, not only in dealing with important issues or major challenges in life, but also in our day-to-day work and leisure.
Blessed by all things
wings of breath,
delight of eyes,
wonder of whisper
intimacy of touch
eternity of soul,
urgency of thought,
miracle of health
embrace of God
May I live this day John O’Donohue: Eternal Echoes: Matins
Finally, we can expect a life of joyous celebration of God’s blessings to bring us the peace and calmness that nowadays it is fashionable to call “wellness” - and we don’t have to spend a penny or eat a strange diet or sign up to an expensive club to achieve it! TC
On Sundays and special feast days the Church requires the singing of the “Gloria.” It is an ancient hymn, one that started out very humbly as a personal poem, imitating the Psalms, seeking to praise God.
The initial words of the Gloria are straight from the Bible and part of an angelic hymn to God on that first Christmas night. (Luke 2:14)
However, after that line everything else was composed separately. Who com-posed it? There is no known author, but it can be traced back to the third century., “The Gloria, like the Kyrie, was not created originally for the liturgy of the Mass. It is an heirloom from the treasure of ancient Church hymns, a precious remnant of a literature now almost buried but once certainly very rich.”
Joseph A. Jungmann in The Mass of the Roman Rite
These early hymns were called, “psalms by private persons” and were not written for any particular liturgical use. At first it was used in the East as a morning hymn in the Little Hours of the Divine Office, as a general hymn of thanksgiving and praise used outside the main liturgical events. One of the first instances of its use during the Mass was at the Mass of Christmas night. Later it was added to Sundays and feasts of martyrs. As the centuries went by this particular hymn became more and more a central part of the Mass and was obligatory on certain days by the 5th century.
The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal explains its vital importance:
The Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) is a most ancient and venerable hymn by which the Church, gathered in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb. The text of this hymn may not be replaced by any other.
It is a glorious song, one that invites us to complete the hymn of the angels and to add our voices in thanksgiving for everything that God has done for us.
“It was revealed to Abba Antony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession, and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.
ST ANTONY THE GREAT
Re-reading this episode about the life of St Antony of the Desert is always refreshing. One wonders who is worthy of greater admiration: Saint Antony, the father of monks, who with deep humility recognises the holiness in another and rejoices in it: or the admirable evangelical witness of this doctor’s life, who strove to live by God’s word in the midst of the wicked world of his times!
Both lives, one lived in the solitude of the desert and the other amid the distractions of the world, spring from the same love for God, the same purity of intention in God’s service, possess the same love for the poor in whom both recognise the person of Christ, and practise the same detachment in giving up what is superfluous in their lives.
Because of this, both Abba Antony in his austere desert solitude, and the humble doctor in his noisy city environment are equally pleasing in the sight of the Lord and are given the equal joy of praising God unceasingly, singing daily in the company of the angels the thrice-holy hymn: Holy, Holy, Holy.”
Brother Victor-Antione d’Avila-Latourette: Blessings of the Daily
“The Trinity” is the most famous of Andrei Rublev’s icons and the most famous of all Russian icons.
Painted in the 15th century, the icon depicts the three Angels who visited Abraham (Genesis 18: 1-8), but it is usually interpreted as representing the Holy Trinity, with God the Father on the left, blessing the cup on the table. His hand is painted as if he is offering the cup to the central person, Jesus, who in turn blesses and accepts it with a bow indicating his acceptance of the Father’s will. The Holy Spirit stretches his hand in blessing too and observes the interaction of Father and Son.
The three figures form a circle, with one space free. Rublev’s intention here appears to be to invite the painting’s observer to take the fourth place in adoration of the Trinity and as an act of commitment to follow Jesus.
The icon is full of symbolism and well worth studying as part of a meditation on the Trinity. It is currently held at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Copies of it are easily found on the Internet. For a clear explanation of the icon go to:
This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future’s
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.
This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.
This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.
And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.
U A Fanthorpe
Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, O Past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord. Thou art holy;
Make me meek. Lord, thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and alway:
Now begin, on Christmas day
Gerard Manley Hopkins
The story of the Messiah in the Bible is a complicated one. In the earliest biblical texts, the word originally referred to the king of that time. It later came to refer to some future ruler, then eventually a heavenly redeemer along the lines of the archangel Michael before, in the New Testament, Jesus is born and the mantle of Messiah falls firmly on his shoulders.
What does ‘Messiah’ mean?
It means “anointed one.” The term was originally used to refer to the king. Over time the word developed the connotation of something in the future—of a time when there is no longer an actual king. To call somebody anointed meant that he had a special role to play, whether or not any anointing oil was used.
How did the word messiah come to mean a future saviour figure, as we understand Jesus Christ today?
2 Samuel, Chapter 7 tells the story of God’s promise to David that one of his sons would always sit on the throne in Jerusalem. That promise held good for about 360 years, which maybe is a reasonable approximation of forever. But then the Babylonians came in and put an end to the native kingship in Jerusalem. The people had a record of a divine promise that something would last forever and had to face the fact that this was actually not the case. This is what gives rise to the hope that God will restore the monarchy, which is to say bring a new messiah, a new anointed king. People’s original messianic expectations were the hope for the restoration of the monarchy.
It should be noted that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah. This was what the crowd called him when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. After his death, his followers concluded, yes, he is the Messiah, but not the kind of messiah that everybody was expecting - i.e. not a political ruler. Jesus made this quite clear to Pontius Pilate when he explained that his Kingdom was not of this earth. Jesus is a messiah who has to die first and then come back - which is what happened.
So, as we anticipate the Lord’s birth, let us remember that he comes not to stand in for those who rule (in any sense) but to bring forgiveness, and joy as we journey towards paradise.