Friday of Week 5 Per Annum

11th February: I Kings 11.29-32; 12.19; Psalm 80; Mark 7.31-37

If you buy a jeroboam of wine, you are choosing a bottle with a capacity four times that of an ordinary bottle. It is named for a northerner who led a revolt against Solomon which led to the sundering of the kingdom to the north and to the south; his name possibly comes from the Hebrew root rbb meaning to increase.

Jeroboam caught Solomon’s eye [I Kings 11.28] and was put in charge of the forced labour gangs Solomon had commanded to be formed in order to complete Solomon’s extensive construction projects. Such an enslavement had been unknown since Israel’s sojourn in Egypt; this conscription of a people that God himself had liberated was a fundamental contradiction.

Jeroboam doesn’t escape the condemnation of the author of Kings; he is dismissed as the one ‘who made Israel sin’. [I Kings 14.16] But he turns from being Solomon’s collaborator to being his adversary. (One thinks of the crafty steward of Jesus’ parable [Luke 16.1-8] who in the end wins his master’s approbation when he proves to be a more successful trickster than even his master had been.) Jeroboam sets in motion a chain of events that eventuate in the unravelling of the kingdom King David had sewn together and Jeroboam himself became the first King of the new, northern, nation of Israel.

St Scholastica

10th February: I Kings 11.4-13; Psalm 105; Mark 7.24-30

Scholastica (who died around the year 543) was the sister of St Benedict. She followed her brother’s Rule in a hermitage near Monte Cassino and she is considered to be the first Benedictine nun. St Gregory refers to her as Benedict’s twin, but there is no other corroboration of this suggestion; perhaps Gregory simply means that she was Benedict’s ‘spiritual’ twin. Evidently Scholastica came regularly to visit Benedict and to converse with him about spiritual matters. The most famous legend about her is that at their last meeting, at a guest house near Monte Cassino, she was reluctant to end the conversation and when Benedict tried to leave she prayed and a violent thunderstorm erupted, making it utterly impossible for him to return to his monastery. Three days later St Benedict saw her soul ascend to heaven as a dove. The dove is now her symbol in iconography.

New floor in Old Priory – Back in use 27th February

The contractors installing the new floor in the Old Priory have worked a minor Miracle, and are about a week ahead of schedule!

The plan is to re-stat Coffee after Mass on 27th February.

The new flooring is a tone or two darker than the old. In addition to the floor surface being replaced, the storm drain under the floor has been repaired with an internal sprayed resin, and there are some minor external works to improve drainage for rainwater around the old priory building.

It is expected that the rooms will be fully open for use on 20th February when we plan to have the first coffee after 09:30 Mass since the start of the pandemic. Volunteers are needed to set up a rota for this important social aspect of the Parish.

Wednesday of Week 5 Per Annum

9th February: I Kings 10.1-10; Psalm 36; Mark 7.14-23

The foreign potentate identified as the Queen of Sheba was probably the queen of one of the Sabaean settlements in North Africa. Saba [cf Psalm 71/72.10] was the most important of their kingdoms. The difficulty is that it only achieved its prominence in the 8th Century Before Christ; Solomon, who reigned in Jerusalem in the 10th Century BC, isn’t likely to have received her. The Biblical account is almost undoubtedly anachronistic; among other difficulties the language of this section of text is far later Hebrew than Solomon would have known.

She arrives with enough camels to stock several zoos and a quantity of gold and jewellery to fill a dozen steamer trunks, along with spices and perfumes that wafted their odours profligately. She salutes Solomon for his wisdom and finds him a bit overwhelming. But when Solomon came to the end of his life, his extravagances had nearly bankrupted the kingdom, his confiscatory taxation and compulsory chain-gangs had shattered his people’s hearts, and it remained only for his son to saw the kingdom in half.

Tuesday of Week 5 Per Annum

8th February: I Kings 8.22-23,27-30; Psalm 83; Mark 7.1-13

Solomon claimed for himself the promises God had made to David. His prayer at the consecration of the Temple resounds with piety that may or may not have been authentic. His accomplishment of building the Temple, after all, would be followed by the building of temples or shrines to the plethora of pagan and foreign deities adhered to by his harem of wives and concubines. [I Kings 11.1-8]

Still, at the heart of Solomon’s oration is a petition which we may well make our own for the places, dear to our hearts, where we have met and communed with the Holy God. That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there.’ Not everything that even the best-intentioned of us do in Church arises from pure hearts. But Solomon’s prayer is apt as he begs the God who listens to our intercessions, when thou hearest, forgive.

Monday of Week 5 Per Annum

7th February: I Kings 8.1-7,9-13; Psalm 131; Mark 6.53-56

The books known as I and II Kings might be compared to a book called Cats authored by a mouse! For this author (about whose identity we can only speculate) the history of the Kings of Israel is almost unrelented decline and decadence; from his perspective all the warnings Samuel gave about the evils of monarchy [I Samuel 8.10-18] come to effect in subsequent history. I Kings begins with the death-bed of King David, the old king befuddled and the pawn of the machinations of his mistresses, and especially of Bathsheba who, against all expectations, succeeds in getting David to name her son Solomon as his heir.

Of course this is history from the perspective of the victors. Solomon becomes King through the collaboration of Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the commander of David’s palace guard. When, in the words of the verse so memorably set to music by
G.F. Handel, ‘Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king’, Solomon set to work quickly putting to death rival claimants until the narrator could write ‘and now the sovereignty was securely in the hands of Solomon.’ [I Kings 3.46]

David’s great accomplishment had been to establish Jerusalem, a land which didn’t belong to any of the twelve tribes, as his capital city with its Temple the place to which all the tribes would come in worship. [Ps 121/122.4] Solomon built the Temple that David had been unable to complete and presided over its consecration. Solomon was now in a position to continue David’s work of unification.

Volunteering opportunities at GARAS

In addition to the continuing, urgent need for clothes, there are 2, urgent, volunteering opportunities at GARAS.
Clothes sorting
Recent Home Office changes have meant that significantly more asylum seekers are arriving in Gloucestershire, many directly from their point of UK entry.  They are in urgent need of clothes, and so, together with local churches, we are running a clothing project whereby people can donate (mainly men's) clothing, and our team of volunteers will sort these into packages for each asylum seeker.  The location for the project is St Aldates Church in Gloucester (GL4 6BW), and it opened to receive donations this week.  The team who are heading up this project have asked all volunteers who would like to be involved in the sorting process to join the Facebook group on this page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/636696500780706.  For those not on Facebook, please e-mail Jennie Watts on admin@garas.org.uk  for more details.

Volunteering at a social space
If you would like to help provide a social space for asylum seekers who are newly arrived in Gloucestershire, and you have a DBS already in place, then please consider this request. GARAS are looking to host twice-weekly social times (games, tea-drinking, conversation) at a community venue near Junction 12 of the M5, and need volunteers who are willing to help set up and pack down, as well as stay to play games, make tea or coffee, and have conversations with people.  The days and times we need volunteers are Mondays and Wednesdays, from 12.30pm-3.30pm.  If you are willing to join one (or both!) of these sessions each week, please could you contact Jennie at: (admin@garas.org.uk / 07988 465548), with details of your DBS certificate number, your date of birth and surname on the certificate.

Saint Agatha, Virgin, Martyr: 1 Kings 3:4-13; Psalm 118(119):9-14; Mark 6:30-34

Saturday 5th February, 2022

As with so many early saints, facts about St Agatha are limited. She was martyred in Sicily in about 250. She was certainly very much in the hearts of the early church, as she has been from early times mentioned in the list of female saints (Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes) in the canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer 1).

The legend has it that as punishment for refusing the advances of a senior Roman, her breasts were cut of, which wounds were then healed during a vision of St Paul. She was sent to the stake, but an earthquake took place before the flames touched her and the people insisted upon her release to calm the tremors. She then died in prison. St Agatha is Patron Saint for those suffering from breast cancer - we probably all know someone affected by this - so today would be a good day to offer prayers for them.

Friday of week 4 in Ordinary Time: Ecclesiasticus 47:2-13; Psalm 17(18):31,47,50-51; Mark 6:14-29

The story of John the Baptist and Herod is a deeply disturbing one for a number of reasons. Herod can be seen to be a protector of the saint - he certainly wanted to hear what the baptiser had to say, and used to spend time listening to him although not understanding.

He was then manipulated into beheading the baptiser, by the only two women in Mark's Gospel to exhibit negative personalities. There are many men shown in a worse light! The actual details of the decapitation, resulting in a head presented on a plate at a banquet, are rather disgusting.

The whole episode stems from the nature of the people involved - they all wanted to have that which they were forbidden. Herod had taken his brothers' wife (women not being given much choice in the matter?) and the wife had it in for John the Baptist, as he was taking Herod away from her - perhaps John's message was beginning to work in Herod's heart.

Why does Mark place this story in between Jesus sending out his disciples, and their return? Perhaps to remind us that being a prophet is potentially a risky thing to do. Fortunately martyrdom is rarely a fate for us, but life bearing witness to God's Love can be difficult at times. Let today's Psalm ring out in our hearts when life is tough -

Praised be the God who saves me.
The ways of God are perfect;
  the word of the Lord, purest gold.
He indeed is the shield
  of all who make him their refuge.
Praised be the God who saves me.