Tuesday, January 31, 2012

St John Bosco

It's worth checking out the universalis website to read a little bit about St John Bosco. He cared for hundreds of boys and young men, and founded an order that would carry on his work--the Salesians, named for St Francis de Sales. Whatever might be going on with me in the 21st century, I find the lives of the faithful inspiring. In the rough patches, I may be frustrated with God, but I never tire of the lives of the saints. So their service to the body of Christ continues long after they have gone from among us.


.     .     .


Give joy to the soul of your servant, 

   for I have lifted up my soul to you, Lord.
For you are sweet and mild, Lord, 

   and plentiful in mercy to all who call upon you.


                                         Psalm 85 (LXX)


.     .      .


I've been reconsidering my attitude toward David. After the encounter with Nathan, David experiences all the terrible things the prophet predicted. He doesn't get off so easily. And yet we remember him as the Beloved of God, the one from whose line the Messiah would come. 


Oddly, that makes me think that there's hope for me, after all.

Friday, January 27, 2012

St Angela of Merici

Have mercy on me O God, 
   according to your steadfast love;
 According to your abundant mercy,
    blot out my transgressions.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight. 

                                   Psalm 50 (LXX)

.     .     .

I heard a homily once on the pair of readings (from 2 Samuel 11 and Psalm 50) that did a wonderful job of describing God's mercy to David. Despite David's sin, the Lord is faithful.

No doubt. And that God is faithful to David after he commits adultery and murder is good news. With this I have no problem. But the homily left me with the distinct impression that because God forgave David, everything was all right. I wanted to ask, 'but what about the girl?' The working of redemption and grace in her life is hidden from us. All we see is that she is shuffled around at the king's command, and after he has her husband killed, the king takes her as his own. The sin is David's; the loss is hers. Yet there is no mention in the story that David ever asked for her forgiveness.

I ask too much, perhaps. David was a man of his time, and women were not recognized by the establishment as we are today. But it does make me think about the wrongs committed in our own day that seem irredeemable. I suppose that covers the big, political wrongs, though that's not what I have in mind. I think about the betrayal of one friend by another; breaking a promise made to a brother, a daughter, or a son; or the careless comment that causes more hurt than we could have imagined. Whichever side of the wrongdoing we happen to be on (this time), we have to trust that the making-right is God's work, and not ours. We offer our contrition or our hurt up to God, and hope for the One who makes all things new to heal and to save. Only the One who brought everything into being from nothing, and turned the darkness into light, can turn our mourning into dancing. 

And so we pray that He will.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

St Agnes

O shepherd of Israel, hear us,
  you who lead Joseph's flock,
Shine forth upon your cherubim throne,
   upon Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh.
O Lord, rouse up your might,
   O Lord, come to our help. 
                              Ps 79 (LXX

.      .      .

I am somewhat behind: this, i think, is the way of things if you are me, with four children and a job as a lecturer in theology and ethics. Other people might well be able to manage to keep up.  

Several days ago I mused about the whereabouts of the Almighty God. Anyone would have expected that when the ark of the covenant was brought into the camp, that would do it. God would surely save his people, given that demonstration of their confidence in him.  But no. Somehow, the leper seemed to have done something Israel hadn't. Or had he?  

Wednesday's reading from 1 Samuel gives us the resolution of the conflict With the Philistines. David appears and offers to take on the champion of the enemy's army. What?!? Don't be ridiculous, Saul seems to say.  You're only a boy. Yes, says David, but the Almighty is on my side. (We would be forgiven for thinking 'yep, that's what the Israelites thought, and look where it got them.') Whatever it was the leper had, David seems to have had it too: the Lord gives him the victory over Goliath and through David the Israelites overcome the army of the Philistines. The Philistines had been worried by the presence of the ark in the camp; the defeat of their champion melts their courage entirely, and they flee. So also in the gospel reading for Wednesday  Jesus heals the man with the withered hand...on the Sabbath. Jesus doesn't do what is expected; God seems to have his own way of doing things.

If there's one thing I have learned from these readings from 1 Samuel and the accompanying Psalms, it is that 'happily ever after' is not a biblical concept. In Hollywood, maybe; in Scripture, no. After David experiences victory in battle and the joy of deep friendship, he returns to defeat and loss (2 Samuel 1). 

But if it is true that in the Bible we don't tend to find 'happily ever after', it is also true that the moment of defeat Is never the end of the story. David defeated Goliath, and Jesus came out of the tomb: however dark the scene appears, it cannot prevent the dawn. 

 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

St Aelred of Rievaulx

Yet now you have rejected us, disgraced us;
    you no longer go forth with our armies.
You Make us retreat from our foes;
    our enemies plunder us at will. 
                                     Psalm 43 (LXX)

.   .   .

The Psalm reflects the story related in the first reading, from 1 Samuel. The Israelites had the Ark of the covenant brought into the camp, and the army gave a shout. When the Philistine army heard the noise, they were afraid. 'Who will save us from this mighty God?' they cried; but they took courage, engaged the Israelites in battle, and won a decisive victory. The Israelites lost a great number (30,000), including the two sons of Eli who had brought the Ark into the camp. 

Some days are like that: where is that mighty God, anyway? The Israelites put their trust in God, and were terribly disappointed. It is the most frustrating theological question: where is God when the enemy is bearing down hard on us? We have trusted in the Lord, and answered his call faithfully. Why then does he not save us? Why does he not deliver our enemies into our hands, instead of letting us be trampled? 

I don't know. But the gospel reading stands diametrically opposed to the experience related in 1 Samuel and Psalm 43: Jesus heals the leper. For no particular reason. Mark just tells us that the leper said to Jesus, 'If you want to, you can heal me' (a loose rendering!). 

Why doesn't God always want to save us? I don't think we can say. But we can say that Jesus did heal that leper (and a great many others), and we can say that eventually the Israelites defeated the Philistines (but not in a way anyone would have anticipated!!). And we can--therefore--hope. 

So goes the next Psalm: 'Hope in God, for again I shall praise him, my help and my God.'

Friday, January 6, 2012


For he shall save the lives of the poor,
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak 
and save the lives of the poor.
                                   Psalm 71 

.    .    .

 It seems to me to be no accident that this Psalm is set for Epiphany together with the passage from Isaiah 60: 'Arise, shine...for your light has come'. That's the big news story of the day: the light that enlightens every human being has come into the world, and all the nations (the wise men being the pioneers) will come to see Him. And this--saving the lives of the poor--is what He has come to do.

I am reminded most frequently by my son, who is 8, that this is what it's all about. His spiritual life is anchored in care for the homeless poor. It amazes me to hear his prayers and see the concern reflected in his face when we talk about such things. A year or so ago, he explained that he was going to write lots of books, in order to sell them and make money. What did he intend to do with the money? Give it to the homeless. He has a big soul for a little boy, a tender heart and a certainty about the possibility of making a difference. Just yesterday I reminded him of one of the loveliest of his prayers: he wanted to pray 'for all those who don't have anyone to pray for them'. He had forgotten this prayer, I think, because he turned to me and said, 'but they do. They have us'.

May it ever be so.