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.