Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Douai Martyrs

The Lord will not abandon his people
  nor forsake those who are his own;
for judgement shall again be just
  and all true hearts shall uphold it.

.   .   .

Last year at this time, we were remembering the Douai Martyrs with the community gathered at Ushaw College, founded here in the northeast of England from the English College at Douai. This year, Ushaw has closed (Lucy was baptized in the chapel at Ushaw in June), and the memorial becomes just that much more melancholy. Universalis has this to say: 

The English College at Douai was founded in 1569 to educate English Catholics, and in particular to act as a seminary training priests to enter England covertly, minister to English Catholics, and attempt the re-conversion of England to the faith. Simply being a Catholic priest was high treason in England at this time, with the penalty of hanging, drawing and quartering, and more than 160 of the priests from Douai were thus executed. Each time the news of another execution reached the College, a solemn Mass of thanksgiving was sung.

I am humbled by the reminder that, however much I find the way of discipleship a challenge at the moment, I 'have not yet resisted to the point of shedding [my] blood.' I am grateful for the witness of the Douai martyrs and all those who have given their lives for the sake of the gospel. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

monday in ordinary time

Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.

(Psalm 67 LXX)


Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath.
And a woman was there who for eighteen years
had been crippled by a spirit;
she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.
When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said,
"Woman, you are set free of your infirmity."
He laid his hands on her,
and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.

(Luke 13)


.   .   .


Standing up straight has never been my strong suit. Not because I can't, but because it requires an attention to my body, the was I carry myself, that I just haven't practiced. I suspect that standing erect came as a delight after eighteen years of stooping. The next day, though? How did she do? Did she stoop out of habit? That's what I find, at least, after moments of revelation, of healing: it's living out of the newness of life that's difficult. Habit pulls me in the opposite direction, and I stoop. I forget that the one who heals also remains; he 'bears our burdens' so that we can walk upright. 

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
 Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; 
And by night, but I have no rest. 
Yet you are holy, 
O you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel. 
In you our fathers trusted; 
They trusted and you delivered them. 

.   .   .

By happy accident, I read the wrong bit of Psalm this morning. (I should have read Psalm 24.1-6, but never mind.)

The astonishing thing, though, is that I read it at all. For the last couple of months, I haven't been able to approach the Scripture: the darkness had become that dark. But in the life of the soul as in the cycles of day and night, it seems that the night is darkest just before the dawn. 

It is a happy accident, because for eighteen months or so, I have been utterly bewildered by this age old question: 'why have you forsaken me?' Why is it that our forebears trusted and were delivered? Why were they not disappointed? 

Slowly, though, the light has been creeping back into my soul. And today I find, to my surprise, that the sun shines. The sun shines more brightly than I thought it ever would again. 

The shadows persist, to be sure, and the road ahead still looks like a rocky climb. But I know that the light still shines, and I am not afraid. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tuesday of the sixteenth week of the year

They tempted God in their hearts
by demanding the food they craved.
Yes, they spoke against God, saying,
“Can God spread a table in the desert?”


Yet he commanded the skies above
and the doors of heaven he opened;
He rained manna upon them for food
and gave them heavenly bread. 



Psalm 78 (77 LXX)


.      .      .


The psalm for the day recounts the story related in the first reading, from Exodus. The people complain, and God provides. I owe this observation and its connection to the gospel for today to a friend who is a priest. In his homily he pointed out that the parable of the sower is about the sower--it's not a parable about the different types of soil. The sower goes out to sow, and sows the seed generously: he gives. I insist that my children ask politely, say please, and don't demand things. But God, my friend observed, complies with the demands of the people and responds to their complaining by more abundant generosity. 


Now that's what I call preaching the good news: he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. And we didn't even say 'please.'

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Inspired by the Carmelite Order, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel invites reflection on the life  of prayer and devotion to Mary that characterizes the Order. Although we may remember St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross for their mystical experiences, their lives were spent in obedience and prayer. The remarkable sense of God's presence is the fruit of a disciplined attention, and, for St John, followed a long 'dark night of the soul'. May his life continue to inspire us as we walk through the valley of the shadow.

.    .    .

...for his steadfast love endures forever.

.    .    .

So goes the line, repeated in all 26 verses of Psalm 136 (135 LXX). Every saving act of God recounted in today's psalm should remind us (it seems to say) that God's steadfast love endures forever. The psalm concludes with a stanza that makes me wish I could drop everything and go to Mass immediately:

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
and rescued us from our foes,
   for his love endures forever;
he who gives food to all flesh,
   for his love endures forever.

O give thanks to the God of heaven,
   for his love endures forever.

I am reminded of the ultimate saving act of God, in which God remembered us in our low estate and came to join us. The Son of God came down, so that we might be raised with him, delivered from sin and death, and given new life. And that life, that deliverance, is remembered, celebrated and received anew in the sacrament of Christ's body and blood. No matter how steep the mountain or how stormy the skies, the Lord gives himself as our food, our strength for the journey, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Friday, July 15, 2011

St Bonaventure

St Bonaventure (from the short description on universalis) 'wrote extensively on philosophy and theology, making a permanent mark on intellectual history; but he always insisted that the simple and uneducated could have a clearer knowledge of God than the wise'. Amen to that: the only thing that keeps me doing theology is the belief that it is more important for a theologian to be faithful than to be clever. I pray that I will be faithful, by God's grace.


.    .    .


How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.


Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.



To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people.



                                        Psalm 115 (LXX)


.    .    .  


Today a friend posted a video to facebook, a song by Casting Crowns (not in my repertoire) called 'Praise you in the storm'. I clicked the link, as the verse from 'On Christ the solid rock I stand' started in my head: 'When darkness veils his lovely face/ I rest on his unchanging grace; / beneath the high and stormy gale/ my anchor holds within the veil'. 


It's been storming for a while now, eighteen months at least, and I (like the writer of 'Praise you in the storm'), think it could well be time for the storm to end. The clouds do have their silver linings, to be sure, but I am more than ready for a season of fair skies.  I am not asking for happily ever after, of course, just a season of smooth sailing in the sunshine, or an easy walk through a meadow. 


That's my plan, but it doesn't seem to be God's plan. And so I understand why thanksgiving is a sacrifice: to give thanks for what I don't want, trusting that I have what I need, and that however hard the road, and however I may stumble along it, I am never beyond the reach of the one who has loosed my bonds. 


     On Christ the solid rock I stand;
     all other ground is sinking sand.
     All other ground is sinking sand. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday of the fifteenth week of the year

See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.
                                   Psalm 33 (LXX)

. . . .

'...his own who are in bonds he spurns not.' Would anyone familiar with the hymn 'And Can It Be' not be reminded immediately of the penultimate verse?

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast-bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

It is the lesson I forget most often, I think: that God rescues us because we need it, not because we deserve it; Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Thus the last line: 'I rose, went forth, and followed thee.' And, as I am reminded often by theologians I read (Rowan Williams comes to mind particularly), the rising and going forth is not a once-and-for-all repentance. Again and again, I ind myself 'in bonds': I need rescuing more often than I like to admit.

But not more often than God is willing to save.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

St William of York (8 June)

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.

John 17. 16-19

.      .      .


Not of this world? Gregory of Nyssa wrote about his sister Macrina's life and death, and throughout his description tells us what it meant for her to be in the world, but not of it. What stands out about Macrina's life, most of all, is the hope that characterized her every word and act.

To live in the 'not-yet' and be of the 'already' is the challenge of Christian life. The only requirement, it seems to me, for answering that call, is hope. Macrina had it, and the saints through the ages shared it. Fortunately, her hope and ours comes not from a grim determination to set our sights on heaven, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Hope is ours for the asking, given by God to all of us who are on the journey.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poor in spirit

I never got beyond 'poor in spirit' during Lent: it isn't a starting place, from which we grow to become spiritually rich. It is, rather, an acknowledgment that we are earthen vessels, waiting to be filled by the Spirit. Acknowledging weakness does not set us on the path to becoming strong, but turns us toward the Source of all strength.

Jean Vanier reminded me this morning of the revelation of God in our weakness, in his reflection on his participation in the Pope's pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2004:

During that time I walked close to John Paul II. I was moved by the seriousness of his disability, his speech difficulties due to Parkinson's disease. One person told me after the pilgrimage, 'It was too hard to watch him on the television. He should retire--or die--soon!' How many times I have heard that said about people with disabilities. It is an attitude that humanly speaking is understandable! It is hard to see and be close to people in pain. Through his physical poverty, the Pope reveals a mystery; he is a living symbol of the presence of God in weakness. Even more than by his words, through his fragile body he is teaching us now the value of each human life; he is showing us a path towards holiness. I was also touched by his humility and courage, the spark of life in his eyes, the way he accepts the humiliating reality of his condition today and his extreme tenderness. His is a sign of the glory of God who is manifested in and through his poverty and vulnerability (Our Life Together, p 520).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

Not, I think, that anyone is paying any attention (which is not why I keep this online journal-of-sorts), but this Lent I am shifting from reflection on the Mass readings to considering the Beatitudes. A few weeks ago (shortly after my last post), I spent a few days on retreat, and did a lot of reading of Jean Vanier. Had I not already decided to spend the next 40 days with the Beatitudes, I might well have been convinced to do so by Vanier's writings.

Today I read through the Beatitudes, not knowing what to expect. What struck me as I did so was 'blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied'. Not the righteous, but those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are blessed. And Lent, at least it seems to me, is a time when all our self-denial should intensify our hunger and thirst for God, and God's righteousness.

Let it begin.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Saints Cyril & Methodius

Genesis 4:1-15,25; Psalm 49:1,8,16-17, 20-21(LXX); Mark 8:11-13


The Mighty One, God the Lord, 
  speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 


'Hear, O my people, and I will speak, 
  O Israel, I will testify against you, 
  I am God, your God.
I do not reprove you for your sacrifices; 
  your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will accept no bull from your house, 
  nor he-goat from your folds. 
For every beast of the forest is mine, 
  the cattle on a thousand hills. 
I know all the birds of the air, 
  and all that moves in the field is mine.


'If I were hungry, I would not tell you; 
  for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, 
  or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, 
  and pay your vows to the Most High; 
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
  I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.


'Mark this, then, you who forget God,
  lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me; 
  to him who orders his way aright
  I will show the salvation of God!'
                           (Ps 49.1, 7-15, 22-23)


.  .  .


Psalm 49 (50) articulates clearly the sometimes hidden heart of all God's dealings with God's people: the all-sufficiency of God, to whom creatures can give nothing except praise and thanksgiving. Although throughout the Pentateuch and the psalms, it seems obvious that God requires obedience from God's people, there is a still deeper desire in the heart of God: to give creatures everything.


How easy it is for me to forget that what God wants most in a creature is openness to receive the love for which we were created: God did not bring us into being to serve God's own needs. In perfect self-sufficiency and in perfect freedom, God created all that is to reflect God's glory and to delight in God's love. God loves without needing anything in return; God's love continues to flow, uninterrupted by rejection; God knows unrequited love better than any of us, because that is so often the fate of divine love in this fallen world. 


Today's psalm is followed up perfectly by David's anguished plea for forgiveness in the next: 
'Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions'. And David recognized precisely what was required of him at that moment: 'thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise'. So also I make his prayer my own today: 


Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
  and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
  and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
  and uphold me with a willing spirit. 





Friday, February 11, 2011

Our Lady of Lourdes

Genesis 3. 1-8; Psalm 31:1-2,5-7 (LXX); Mark 7:31-37

 The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. It asked the woman, ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.” ‘ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked. So they sewed fig-leaves together to make themselves loin-cloths.
  The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3.1-8)

. . . 

If I were really clever, I would be able to link the reading from Genesis 3 with Bernadette's vision at Lourdes. Since I am not that clever, all I am able to do is offer some reflections on original sin, and be grateful for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The most striking thing about the passage, as often as I read it or hear it read, is that it doesn't seem to follow from what went before. Creation is pure gift, and not only is all of creation given to the pair in the garden, but they enjoy perfect communion with God and one another. It is like watching a film in which the main character is just about to do something really stupid. I always want to intervene, to stop the absurd and unnecessary pain that will result--and much more so here. And, of course, that raises the question, why didn't God intervene? After all, God certainly could have done so.

Good question. But not one to which we get a clear answer. We have inherited a fallen nature, and a fallen creation, and things go wrong with us and the world around us. I suppose the connection between Our Lady of Lourdes and the fall might just be redemption: if Eve is the first person to taste sin, Mary is the first person to experience redemption.

So what does it mean to live as one redeemed by Christ? I do not claim to know, but it seems to me that a good place to start is with Mary's response to Gabriel, 'Let it be done unto me according to your word'.


Our Lady of Lourdes




























Genesis 3:1-8; Psalm 31:1-2,5-7(LXX); Mark 7:31-37
The serpent was the most subtle of all the wild beasts that the Lord God had made. It asked the woman, ‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.” ‘ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ The woman saw that the tree was good to eat and pleasing to the eye, and that it was desirable for the knowledge that it could give. So she took some of its fruit and ate it. She gave some also to her husband who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realised that they were naked. So they sewed fig-leaves together to make themselves loin-cloths.
  The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

.  .  .



If I were really clever, I would be able to link the reading from Genesis 3 with Bernadette's vision at Lourdes. Since I am not that clever, all I am able to do is offer some reflections on original sin, and be grateful for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The most striking thing about the passage, as often as I read it or hear it read, is that it doesn't seem to follow from what went before. Creation is pure gift, and not only is all of creation given to the pair in the garden, but they enjoy perfect communion with God and one another. It is like watching a film in which the main character is just about to do something really stupid. I always want to intervene, to stop the absurd and unnecessary pain that will result--and much more so here. And, of course, that raises the question, why didn't God intervene? After all, God certainly could have done so.

Good question. But not one to which we get a clear answer. We have inherited a fallen nature, and a fallen creation, and things go wrong with us and the world around us. I suppose the connection between Our Lady of Lourdes and the fall might just be redemption: if Eve is the first person to taste sin, Mary is the first person to experience redemption.

So what does it mean to live as one redeemed by Christ? I do not claim to know, but it seems to me that a good place to start is with Mary's response to Gabriel, 'Let it be done unto me according to your word'.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

St Scholastica

Genesis 2:18-25; 
Psalm 127:1-5(LXX); 
Mark 7:24-30

The Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate.’ So from the soil the Lord God fashioned all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven. These he brought to the man to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the man would give it. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts. But no helpmate suitable for man was found for him. So the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep. And while he slept, he took one of his ribs and enclosed it in flesh. The Lord God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed:
‘This at last is bone from my bones,
and flesh from my flesh!
This is to be called woman,
for this was taken from man.’
(Gen 2. 18-23)

.  .  .

Yesterday evening, as I listened to the above text being read, I wondered about the 'goodness' of celibate chastity. If God himself says, 'It is not good that the man should be alone' and solves the problem by creating a partner for the man...well, I wondered. What is it about the relationship between the spouses that is so important that it makes it into Genesis 2? And what does celibacy offer that might be equally good, might prevent 'the man' from being 'alone'? 

This morning, I found at least part of an answer, in the reading for St Scholastica's day. There are all sorts of ways in which God prevents us being 'alone', whatever our state in life or our vocation, and Benedict and Scholastica (not unlike St Gregory of Nyssa and his sister Macrina a century earlier) offer us just one example.
From the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
She who loved more could do more

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.
  One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.
  Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”
  When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”
  Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.
  It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.
  Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.
  Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday of the fifth week in ordinary time

Genesis 2:4-9,15-17; Psalm 103:1-2,27-30(LXX); Mark 7:14-23


Bless the LORD, O my soul!
  O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and glory,
  robed in light as with a cloak.
All creatures look to you
  to give them food in due time.
When you give it to them, they gather it;
  when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
If you take away their breath, they perish
  and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
  and you renew the face of the earth.  (Ps 103)


.  .  .


One of the most persistent themes in the Psalms--and indeed throughout the Scripture--is the gratuitous nature of creation. All that is, life itself and all that sustains life, is pure gift from the source of life and being. Everything that lives, lives because God's Spirit sustains it; we live because God's breath continues to enliven us, as it did in the beginning (Genesis 2). 


When I am tempted to think that what I am going through will crush me, that I will not be able to recover from whatever blows life brings, I am called back by this thought: that God, who allows the storms to blow, and who allowed Job to be tested, is the One who gives the strength not only to survive, but to overcome. That's not to say that every difficulty becomes easy; it just draws me away from the abyss called despair. I may be angry--because the plea to God, 'but I won't survive', simply won't do. I can certainly say to the Lord, 'if it is possible, take this cup from me'--and that as stridently as I can manage. But in the end, I have to give in, and say, 'not my will but yours be done', not as resignation to a fate that threatens to destroy me, but in joyful expectation that the One to whose will I submit is the One who will bring me through whatever dark and thorny ways I must pass. 


That doesn't always seem like good news, I confess. But I know that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. And this is, and always will be, my one true and steadfast hope. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday of the fifth week in ordinary time

Genesis 1.1-19; Psalm 103.1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 24 & 35 (LXX); Mark 6.53-56

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. and the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said 'Let there be light'; and there was light. (Gen 1. 1-3)

He established the earth upon its foundations,
So that it will not totter forever and ever.
Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters were standing above the mountains. (Ps 104. 5-6)

And wherever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in the market places, and entreating Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured. (Mk 6. 56)

.  .  .

The logical New Testament passage to be added here is Colossians 1, especially vv. 16-17: 'For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and one earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together'.

A few months ago, I heard a lecture on theology and creation by a professor who is both a theologian and a scientist. The laws of physics, he explained, can tell us how the universe developed from the tiniest fraction of a second after its actual beginning. At that point (10 to the -42 of a second), though, the laws of physics break down. I thought, yes, but the 'law' of Colossians 1.17 still holds: 'in Him all things hold together'.

Two things in the readings for today are noteworthy, and take that idea a step further. First, Psalm 103 suggests that any interpretation of Genesis 1 that implies that 'stuff' was already there for God to shape and order misses the point: God covered the earth 'with the deep as with a garment'. All that was 'already there' in the beginning was God. Second, there is a connection between the creation and the curing: the arrangement of these readings together points us to the identity of Jesus with the Creator, an identity made more clear by the verses from Colossians. The One who created and sustains all things can set things right.

I long to be in those crowded streets, close enough to touch the fringe of his cloak, so that all that's out of kilter with me might be set right. But my healing has to come another way, through the Scripture, which teaches me, and the sacraments, by which He touches me still.

Friday, February 4, 2011

St Agatha (5 February)

Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21; Psalm 22:1-6(LXX); Mark 6:30-34

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.  (Mk 6.30-34)

.  .  .

I know what I should hear in these passages (all of which refer to the Lord as a shepherd), taken together: I should remember that the Lord is indeed my shepherd, and rest in him. Instead, my first thought is, Jesus knew exactly what motherhood is like: just when you think you'll have a moment's rest and peace, the needs of the 'flock' insist on being met. And your heart goes out to them, and you set yourself to doing what needs to be done.

This, I tell my husband, is why I like to go to daily Mass. If it is at all possible, I go: there I get to be the sheep. There the Lord restores my soul, feeds me and gives me rest. The Lord is indeed my shepherd: he gives me everything I need, and I am glad.

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The Office of Readings (http://www.universalis.com/0/i-readings.htm) for St Agatha's feast day includes the following:

From a homily on Saint Agatha by Saint Methodius of Sicily, bishop
The gift of God, the source of all goodness

My fellow Christians, our annual celebration of a martyr’s feast has brought us together. She achieved renown in the early Church for her noble victory; she is well known now as well, for she continues to triumph through her divine miracles, which occur daily and continue to bring glory to her name.
  She is indeed a virgin, for she was born of the divine Word, God’s only Son, who also experienced death for our sake. John, a master of God’s word, speaks of this: He gave the power to become children of God to everyone who received him.
  The woman who invites us to this banquet is both a wife and virgin. To use the analogy of Paul, she is the bride who has been betrothed to one husband, Christ. A true virgin, she wore the glow of pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb’s blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her eager lover. For her, Christ’s death was recent, his blood was still moist. Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of his crimson blood and the shining threads of her eloquence. She offers to all who come after her these treasures of her eloquent confession.
  Agatha, the name of our saint, means “good.” She was truly good, for she lived as a child of God. She was also given as the gift of God, the source of all goodness to her bridegroom, Christ, and to us. For she grants us a share in her goodness.
  What can give greater good than the Sovereign Good? Whom could anyone find more worthy of celebration with hymns of praise than Agatha?
  Agatha, her goodness coincides with her name and way of life. She won a good name by her noble deeds, and by her name she points to the nobility of those deeds. Agatha, her mere name wins all men over to her company. She teaches them by her example to hasten with her to the true Good. God alone.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thursday of the fourth week in ordinary time

Hebrews 12:18-19,21-24; Psalm 47:2-4,9-11(LXX); Mark 6:7-13


For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and glom, and a tempest... But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.  (Heb 12.18, 22-24)
                                                                                                     


We have thought on thy steadfast love, O God, 
  in the midst of thy temple.
As thy name, O God, 
  so thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Thy right hand is filled with victory; 
  let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
  because of thy judgements.
                           (Ps 47.9-11)


.  .  .


It seems to me that the occasion for all this gladness nearly goes unnoticed in the descriptions of rejoicing: Jesus. The steadfast love of God is ours in him, 'the mediator of a new covenant'; the judge and the judgement and the judged all come together in Jesus. He is the Word of God, who is God, and who became flesh; he is the one in whom all the promises of God find their 'Yes'--God's yes to humanity, which is judgement and redemption; and he is the one who stands to be judged in our place, and in him (and only in him) we may be found among the 'just... made perfect'.


And there, above, is the image I keep in my imagination of Jesus, the king of glory, the redeemer, the one whose 'blood... speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel'. No matter what's happening in my life, I can look up and see that there is hope for me. Nothing can separate us from the steadfast love of God, displayed so eloquently and so tenderly. God's praise indeed 'reaches to the ends of the earth'; how can I do anything but rejoice with the daughters of Judah, and be glad in the presence of the Lord?


Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
  and to the Holy Spirit, 
  as it was in the beginning, 
  is now, and ever shall be, 
  world without end, 
  Amen.





Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 23:7-10; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? 
For he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord. 
                                                                   (Mal 1.1-3)

Lift up your heads, O gates!
  and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
  that the King of glory may come in. 
Who is the King of glory? 
  The Lord, strong and mighty,
  The Lord, mighty in battle!
                                   (Ps 23.7-8)

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.             
                                                                                              (Heb 2.14-15)

.  .  .

The gospel story is familiar enough: Jesus is presented in the temple; Simeon makes his famous proclamation, 'mine eyes have seen thy salvation'; and Anna recognizes in the Christ child the redemption of Israel. But how? Both Malachi and the psalmist point to a fearsome figure: the one who is coming is 'like a refiner's fire' and 'The Lord, strong and mighty'. Yet the 'light for revelation to the Gentiles' is neither a soldier nor a refiner, but a baby. 

A baby? So it is: he 'partook of the same nature': ours. The Lord does not enter the temple in strength and glory, but in obedience. Joseph and Mary 'brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law' and 'when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord', they returned home. The pioneer and perfecter of our faith began in the usual manner, being taken to the temple as the law commanded. 

The light of salvation dawns in the most unexpected way; God's extraordinary grace comes in the most ordinary way. And it is for us--the writer to the Hebrews makes that clear: 

'For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned, but with the descendants of Abraham. therefore he had to be made like us in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted' (Heb 2.16-18).

His obedience makes possible our redemption; in his faithfulness, we are made faithful; he became all that we are, so that we might become like him. 

That is good news, indeed. 


Monday, January 31, 2011

Tuesday of the second week in ordinary time

Hebrews 12:1-4; Psalm 21:26-28,30-32 (LXX); Mark 5:21-43


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Heb 12.1-2)


.  .  .


It just happens, I suppose, that one of my favorite stories from Mark's gospel (the healing of the woman with an issue of blood and the raising of Jairus' daughter) is paired with these verses from Hebrews 12, which I know by heart. Hearing either would take me back to the context in which these passages of Scripture first came alive for me: my days as a college student in southern California. Nothing was more important then than being a disciple of Jesus, and studying Scripture and praying with friends was the focus of my life. 


Twenty years later, work and family demand my attention and energy. Being a disciple of Jesus doesn't look the same. But I am grateful for the way these passages have stuck with me; over the years the cloud of witnesses has grown, as I have come to know more about the lives of the saints, and my appreciation for the complexity of Jesus' interaction with the woman with an issue of blood has deepened. 


In some ways, everything has changed. In others, everything remains the same. I may be twenty years older, but I stand in as great a need of that cloud of witnesses, and as entangled by sin as I was at twenty. Of course, it doesn't look the same: I have no difficulty these days staying away from fraternity parties and all the temptations involved. But the sinful inclinations persist like the issue of blood: I still stand in as great a need of healing as I ever did. Perhaps in some ways, my need is greater, though the lapses in judgement that led me straight into temptation are fewer and farther between. It takes time for the issue of blood to drain away the woman's resources, while she seeks remedies that do not cure her. 


Her experience might be better expressed by a few lines of the psalm not included in today's responsorial: 
I am poured out like water, 
  and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax, 
  it is melted within my breast; 
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, 
  and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
  thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
                                                 (Ps 21.14-15)


And it is into that context that the words of the end of the psalm and the encouragement to persevere are spoken. Not for the content or the strong, but for those 'poured out like water', for the desperate and the afflicted. For all those in need of healing, Jesus 'endured the cross, despising the shame'; and he sits at the right hand of the throne of God having accomplished her salvation and mine: 


Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down;
  before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, 
   and he who cannot keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him; 
  men shall tell of the Lord to the
  coming generation,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, 
  that he has wrought it. 
                                                 (Ps 21. 30-31)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Monday of the fourth week of ordinary time

Hebrews 11:32-40; Psalm 30:20-24 (LXX); Mark 5:1-20


Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, or of David, Samuel and the prophets – these were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises.  (Heb 11.32)


Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
  all you who wait for the Lord!       (Ps 30.24)

So he gave them leave. and the unclean spirits came out, and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank in to the sea, and were drowned in the sea. (Mk 5.13)

.  .  .

Jephthah? My first thought at reading the first verse of the passage from Hebrews was utter disbelief. How does Jephthah make it to the litany of the faithful in Hebrews 11? The story told about him and his family in Judges 11 does record his victory in battle, but one wonders whether even Jephthah himself would have considered the victory worth what it cost him: his daughter, his only child. His tale is tragic, and his loss as mysterious as Job's. There is no doubt, reading Judges 11, that God allowed Jephthah to make the vow that  won the battle and took his daughter from him. Why?

Mark's gospel offers no answers, only more--and different--questions. The demoniac is healed, but someone lost a herd of pigs in the bargain. One might argue that the life of the man is worth more, but I would still ask whether the demoniac could not have been healed without the loss of the pigs? (I know, the pigs weren't of particular concerns to the Israelites. But still.) Likewise, could not Jephthah's battle have been won without that vow? Or could the Lord not have arranged for a goat to be first to meet Jephthah on his return? Yet there he is, listed among some of the most remarkably faithful characters in the history of Israel: clearly we are not meant to forget his story, or to push him aside in our recollection of God's faithfulness to Israel, but to remember him for his faith.

It doesn't make sense. But then, there's quite a bit in the history of Israel and the Church, and in my own history, that just doesn't make sense. But would a reason really make it easier? Would Jephthah's loss be less tragic if there were a reason for his daughter's death?

And so, in the middle of it all, there's a psalm. It is a psalm that recounts the faithfulness of God and celebrates the steadfast love of the Lord. Somehow, in the midst of the suffering, even the most apparently senseless suffering, God's justice and mercy prevail. So the only response to the tragedies that shatter us, and fly in the face of the goodness of God, is to hear the psalmist's encouragement:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
  all you who wait for the Lord.