Saturday, September 29, 2012

Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

On the day I called, you answered;
you increased my strength of soul.
Psalm 137 [138]
. . .
This morning before looking at the Mass readings, I read the excerpt from a sermon of Pope Leo the Great, which was set for the office of reading, paraphrasing the bits about St Gabriel for my 5-year-old son. His middle name (one of his middle names) is Gabriel, so this is his feast day. We talked about Gabriel's Very Important Message to Mary, and Gabriel being the strength of God. If it had been possible, I would have taken him to Mass. Probably it is just as well: sitting still and paying attention don't seem celebratory when you're five. Better to have a treat at your favourite bakery to mark the day. But I was glad for the moment for a conversation, to remind us why we were marking the day.
Rich Mullins wrote a song called 'Boy like me'. The chorus goes something like this: 'Did they tell you stories 'bout the saints of old, / stories about their faith? / They say stories like that make a boy grow bold / stories like that make a man walk straight.' It strikes me that one of the key ways that our souls are strengthened is through those stories, the stories that identify us with 'the saints of old'. One of the most important lessons I have learned through those stories--especially in the Psalms, perhaps, but elsewhere in the scripture also, as well as in the lives of the saints--is that the shape of my life as a Christian should follow the very basic plot outlined in the above verse from Psalm 137. In times of need, call on God. God will answer, and God will increase my strength of soul--sometimes through the stories (and the prayers) of those very saints.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Our Lady of Walsingham

Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?

He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart.
He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord.
He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever.
Psalm 14:2-5

. . .
My reading of verses such as these has changed greatly over the years. Psalms in which the psalmist protests, proclaiming his innocence, ranked fairly low on my top-of-the-Psalms chart in my teens and twenties. Eventually I came to the realisation that the "one who walks without fault" is Christ. The rest of us can make no such claim. For a time I hoped and rested in the righteousness of Christ. But that isn't an adequate response, either.
While there is certainly no sense in pretending that we can walk "without" fault, it is equally true that we cannot "ride" on Christ's righteousness without regard to our own faults. Christ's righteousness may be imputed to us (I know my Calvin and Luther just well enough), and with good reason: we are not able to attain such righteousness for ourselves. But we cannot stop at the recognition of our weakness. For as much as Christ's righteousness is an imputed righteousness, it is also a participatory righteousness. That is, part of the sign that Christ's righteousness has been imputed to us is our own desire to live out that righteousness.
I suppose I have found it far too easy to hide myself in Christ in a way that has not pressed me toward the imitatio Christi that is at the heart of conscious Christian living. Living in Christ doesn't spare us the hard work of struggling against sin, even though Christ's victory secures our own. No easy triumphalism there, but returning again and again to the Holy Spirit who joins us to Christ's body. Sometimes the hardest work is in the asking, admitting that even receiving the grace of God isn't something we can do apart from the Spirit.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Saturday in ordinary time: 'the heavenly [person]'

I am bound by the vows I have made you.
O God, I will offer you praise
for you have rescued my soul from death,
you kept my feet from stumbling
that I may walk in the presence of God
and enjoy the light of the living.

Psalm 55 [56]: 13-14

. . .

I was glad to hear Msgr John's reflections on the readings for today, from 1 Corinthinans ('the heavenly man') and Luke's gospel (the sower parable): believe and persevere. Believe in the change that only God can work, and keep on the road toward it. Not often have I heard such a clear, direct and concise homily.

Interestingly, though, there is this other reading: the Psalm. Usually it seems to go under the radar, and yet there it is today, perfectly connecting the heavenly orientation of 1 Corinthinans with the perseverance of the 'good soil' in Luke's gospel. The obedience, or perseverance in God's Word (yep, I mean the Word of the Father), originates in the saving act of God and looks to the presence of God as its destination. Pressing forward with a good heart and a steady will requires both memory and hope. The soul who knows the salvation of God, who has experienced God's rescue, anticipates God's presence in hope. What strikes me about the Psalm is the way in which it subverts any inclination to think that either the belief or the perseverance comes from ourselves and not from the God who rescues us. It is the Lord who 'rescue[s] my soul from death and [keeps] my feet from stumbling'.

I still find the mystery of the heavenly person vexing: it seems I see not so much in a mirror dimly, but rather remain in darkness. Fortunately it is a mystery, and not a complicated algebra problem I simply lack the intellectual skill to solve. Because in the end it is, after all, grace.

Friday, September 21, 2012

St Matthew

The heavens declare the glory of God...
                                   Psalm 19 [18]: 1

Go, and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.
                                   Matthew 9: 13

.             .             .

I am glad I will not be called upon to give a homily today. Although I am certain that a clever preacher would easily find common themes in the readings for the feast of St Matthew, I am not that clever. Psalm 19 is a particular favourite, partly because it begins with the witness of nature and ends with the testimony that is the law. God reveals.

And what does God reveal? God, of course. In the person of Jesus, who says such provocative things as 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'. If I were writing a homily (or even if I were simply less tired) I would chase down the places where that sentence is repeated in Matthew's gospel, and show how it subverts the usual uses to which the most famous bit of Matthew 18 has been put. The richness of creation, the glory of the heavens, the beauty of the Word made flesh, all point much more certainly (or so it seems to me) to the plenitude of the seventy times seven than to the exclusion of anybody.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

St Andrew Kim Tae-gon and companions, martyrs

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good,
 for his love has no end.
Let the sons of Israel say:
 'His love has no end.'
                      Psalm 117

.                 .                .

I don't suppose considering the endless love of God two days running counts as monotony. After all, it is pretty amazing to ponder. I did a lot of listening to a number of people talking about theology (some even about God's love) today; By far the most interesting thing I heard was the idea that forgiveness is like love. Seems obvious, when you think about it, doesn't it? The point that the speaker was making was that if we conceive of forgiveness as an event, we're bound to be frustrated when it doesn't happen in an over-and-done-with way. If, instead, we understand forgiveness as analogous to love, we see immediately that it isn't that sort of thing. Yesterday I reflected that all love comes from God. It makes sense to think of forgiveness in the same way: as coming from God and not, ultimately, from ourselves.

I'm not at all certain that makes forgiving any easier. But it does give me hope that it is possible, not because I think I can do it but because it doesn't matter that I can't. Dwelling on the memory of wrongdoing or staring into the face of the wrongdoer (if only in my mind) and trying to conjure up 'forgiveness' will not do. Only the One whose love has no end can supply it. My task is to turn again (and again and again) and receive forgiveness, until my broken heart overflows.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

St Januarius

For the word of the Lord is faithful
and all his works to be trusted.
The Lord loves justice and right
and fills the earth with his love
                                Psalm 33[32]: 12

.                   .                        .    

Love. The Lord 'fills the earth with his love.' I have spent a lot of time lately wondering about God. When my mother died last summer, the boundary between heaven and earth (however we might imagine it) moved like the San Andreas fault. Everything shook for a while, and some things fell down. A few things broke, I think, and I still experience aftershocks from time to time. When the immediate shaking died down, I read some physics (and I don't really do science, but my mother did). After I put a few things back in place (or found new places for them), I turned back to the Scriptures. And I wondered a lot about God.

The answers I had for my children did not satisfy me. 'Nana is in heaven,' I heard myself say. But what did it really mean? Who (or what) was God, anyway? I was walking along the river one day, and the words of this Psalm (from the Mass readings for today) came alive for me. The Lord 'fills the earth with his love.' God is the One who gives us love, who loves us and who is the love we share. Without God, we would not have love. However uncertain I may be, however distant I may feel, I can know with certainty that God is near: God 'fills the earth [and that includes me, and you, and my husband and my children] with his love.'

Thanks be to God.