Monday, January 21, 2013

St Agnes

O Lord, I trust in you;
into your hands I commend my spirit.

.     .     .

Not much is known about St Agnes. The introduction that universalis provides suggests that in part this may be beacuse she was only 12 when she was martyred, which seems like a reasonable explanation. That we do not know very much is not important, the writer says; it's what we do know that matters: that she was willing to die for her faith. And so we should be inspired to take the difficult course, precisely when it is most difficult to do so.


The thing is, that's not exactly what Agnes, or any of the early Christian martyrs saw themselves doing. I think about St Stephen, who exclaimed that he saw Jesus. Or Perpetua, who likewise looked beyond the beasts and the sword, to the One she desired to behold in his glory. It seems to me that it isn't about gritting your teeth and bearing it: Perpetua's story in particular relates her obliviousness to the pain of the attack she suffered. Rather, she experienced even the blows of the beast as a 'momentary light affliction' that did not distract her from the 'eternal...glory' she so ardently desired.

It isn't about us. It is never about us. It is always about him, about Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. We fix our eyes on him, in whose strength we are supported. Perhaps that is why the first reading for today, from Hebrews 5, reminds us that 'no one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God' and that Christ himself was (somehow, mysteriously) made perfect in suffering. It is not our own suffering, but a participation in Christ's suffering, that transforms the suffering itself into the delight of St Stephen, St Agnes, and St Perpetua, as they beheld the Lord in glory.

St Agnes, pray for us.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

St Anthony, Abbot

For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
1 Corinthians 3: 5-7

.       .       .

This text isn't from the Mass readings for today, or indeed from any of the Catholic offices, but from Anglican Morning Prayer. But it struck me deeply, possibly because I pray with my Anglican and Methodist colleagues as a Roman Catholic. Little things keep me conscious of the difference, like the version of the Lord's Prayer we use. Texts like this, though, remind me why I am so happy to teach outside of my own confessional tradition. "Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." Probably also because the "plant" of my own faith grew from a Lutheran (ELCA) plant and has been nourished by the water of a fairly wide variety of Christian confessions, not without a dash of the charismatic (sparkling water, perhaps?).

So, I am very happy to pray together with my colleagues and friends the psalm set for Mass today:

Come, let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us;
For he is our God, and we are the people
   who belong to his pasture,
    the flock that is led by his hand.