Wednesday of Week 22 Per Annum (31st August)

I Corinthians 3.1-9; Ps 32; Luke 4.38-44

In one of the earliest Christian hymns extant Clement of Alexandria (c150-c215) prays the “Guide to every child of thine” to “give meat or milk as fits my understanding.” St Paul also makes this contrast, as does the anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews [5.12] and
St Peter. [I Peter 2.2]

Christian maturity entails growth in understanding; as Paul points out, the childishness sometimes manifested in Christian communities is evidence that we aren’t yet grown up. The metaphor of growth used so often in the New Testament [cf Mark 4.26-32] suggests that we won’t always appear the same throughout the course of our Christian lives. But if we aren’t to stultify at an immature level we must devote ourselves to continual study and prayer. [Acts 2.42] There are things we can’t understand today that one day will become clearer [cf John 16.13], things that we will only truly see when our eyes have been opened. [I Corinthians 2.9]

Tuesday of Week 22 Per Annum (30th August)

I Corinthians 2.10-16; Ps 144; Luke 4.31-37

St John Henry Newman chose as his motto, when he was made a Cardinal in 1879, a phrase from the writings of St Francis de Sales: Cor ad cor loquitor—“Heart speaks to heart.” The words remind us of Psalm 41[42].7: “One deep calls to another.” And they are redolent of St Paul’s meditation in today’s reading.

The Spirit reaches the depths of everything.” We may think of the God ‘unto whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid.’[cf Hebrews 4.12-13] But the Spirit that searches our hearts does so not simply to ‘find us out’ or excoriate us. The Spirit that pierces to the depths of us does so in order to mine what is truest, worthiest in us.

Prayer is not a superficial conversation about trivialities; the surface irritations that annoy and vex us aren’t at the heart of what troubles us. In prayer the deepest and truest parts of us stand naked and unashamed before the Heart of the Eternal, the Heart that is the mercy seat [Exodus 25.22] where the overflowing Love of God at once overwhelms us and buoys us. God drives far from us all that seeks to destroy us and fills the emptied space with Himself. The Heart of God speaks to our hearts, implants in us his gifts, leading us to contemplation of the joys of the life that is Life indeed. [John 10.10]

Passion of St John Baptist (29th August)

I Corinthians 2.1-5; Psalm 118; Mark 6.17-29

Our modern liturgical books seem to bow to contemporary sensitivities by abandoning this feast’s grisly traditional title: The Beheading of John Baptist. In all four Gospels John the Baptiser is used as a kind of ‘foil’ or contrast to Jesus: their ministries pursue different goals. Yet it is clear that the tyrannical and unjust treatment of John had a profound effect on Jesus’ disciples—some of whom had first been John’s disciples [John 1.35]—and it came to seem a dramatic foreshadowing of the treatment that would be visited upon Jesus. And so there is an aptness to terming John’s macabre end his ‘Passion’.

The word, of course, comes from the Latin word passus, meaning ‘suffered’; we recite each Sunday in the Creed that Our Lord passus et sepultus est: he suffered and was buried. A passionate person displays strong feeling. Yet both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ ‘Passions’ are characterised by reticence [cf Mark 15.5] and acquiescence.

The beheading of John Baptist reminds us of the lengths to which despotic rulers can go to preserve their power. From the beginning of his ministry John devoted himself to ‘calling out’ such misuse of authority. [cf Luke 3.12-14] Our meditation on John’s Passion invites us to consider how we use the authority given to us and to eschew every tendency we may have to cruelty and oppression.

Saint Monica

Ecclesiasticus 26:1-4,13-16; Psalm 130(131); Luke 7:11-17

Saint Monica (331 - 387)
She was born at Thagaste in Africa of a Christian family. She was married young, to Patricius, and among her children was Augustine. He had a brilliant intellect and uncertain morals and his wayward spiritual career saw him at one time a Manichee and then a Neoplatonist. With many tears she prayed unceasingly to God for his conversion and her prayers were answered shortly before she died. She had a deep faith and outstanding virtue and is a wonderful example of a Christian mother.
Ecclesiasticus is in our reading this morning showing a deep awareness of the partnership between wife and husband - clearly focusing on how she completes him, as Ecclesiasticus says at the start of Chapter 25 - there are three things in which my soul delights, concord within the family, friendship between neighbours and a wife and husband who live in harmony. The book was written in an hellenistic society, and sadly, women were rather treated as belong to men in that world. There are certainly traces of this throughout the book, in general the work is saying that men have responsibilities to care for women with full respect for their dignity and value, and that these responsibilities must be taken seriously. The lack of a female voice in this book does not mean that their voice is not valued. St Monica, amongst many many others, gives us an example of how important all people are to our salvation.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

1 Corinthians 1:17-25; Psalm 32(33):1-2,4-5,10-11; Matthew 25:1-13

Blessed Dominic Barberi (1792 - 1849)
Dominic Barberi was born near Viterbo, Italy, in 1792 and joined the Passionist Order, urged on by an inner assurance that God called him to work as a missionary in England. He was ordained a priest in 1818 and worked in Italy and Belgium before coming to England in 1841. His first foundation was at Aston Hall in Staffordshire; he established four Passionist houses in all, and received many Anglicans into full communion, the most famous being the Venerable John Henry Newman, who was received at Littlemore near Oxford on 9 October 1845. Blessed Dominic was noted for the personal warmth of his approach to non-Catholics and for his zeal in preaching; he drew crowds in spite of his strong Italian accent. He favoured a higher profile for the small Catholic body in England; he went around in his Passionist habit and, while at Aston Hall in 1844, organised a Corpus Christi procession through the streets of the neighbourhood, which is believed to have been the first public procession of its kind in England in modern times. Blessed Dominic died at Reading on 27 August 1849 and was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963.
In the new testament, a wedding is usually pre-figuring the time when Our Lord returns and we the church, his bride, shall be re-affirmed in his Light. This is a two way covenant - Jesus has promised he will return, and we must be prepared. If we do not have our oil jars filled and ready - we are only letting ourselves down. How do we fill those jars? Prayer is the way.

Thursday of Week 21

1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Psalm 144(145):2-7; Matthew 24:42-51

St Paul's opening to the Corinthians is so supportive and reads well in today's stress filled, busy lives. We have been given all the gifts we shall need to see us through whatever the world throws at us. Perhaps is is just as well then that this reading is paired today with Jesus speaking to us through Matthew, telling us to always be awake, ready, and busy at God's work, because we do not know when or how the master is returning.

Hold on to the encouragement - it really is the case that we have been given what we need to see through our problems, and if we are always intent - despite our frequent failures - to do the right thing, then that is exactly what 'being ready' means.Matthew was writing to a people who had every reason to believe that Jesus our Master was going to return in their own lifetime - in a matters of a few months or perhaps a year or two. Two thousand years and more later, the the writing style of Matthew seems excessive, over the top - but the essential truth is still valid. Jesus' kingdom has come - it came with his death and resurrection - and our place in it is assured if we choose it. So we can live in joy and peace, doing God's work.

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Apocalypse 21:9-14; Psalm 144(145):10-13a,17-18; John 1:45-51

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
He was born at Cana and brought by the Apostle Philip to meet Jesus. Nothing further is known for certain. Eusebius speaks of him in India, but the Roman Martyrology has him martyred in Armenia, skinned alive according to the Persian custom. Because his relics were enshrined on the island in the Tiber that is principally used as a hospital, he has become a patron saint of the sick. There are diverse other accounts of Bartholomew, and many contradictions - so exactly where he went and how he died are lost - but one thing we can be sure of, He was one of Jesus' Closest friends, one of his apostles.

Tuesday of week 21 in Ordinary Time

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3,14-17; Psalm 95(96):10-13; Matthew 23:23-26

The entire of Matthew Chapter 23 seems to be a tirade against the bad practices of the Pharisees. We may  feel a little uncomfortable - after all he Pharisees maintained their synagogues, provided social security to the synagogue members, in general they were the glue that kept their society together. And in the west at least we have much historical guilt over the way we have treated Jews, and often using this scripture to justify our collective behaviour.

The context of Matthew 23 must be seen within his entire Gospel. Matthew was writing for the Jews, and is very positive about them. For just one example, in Chapter 20 he feels compassion for two blind jews and heals them. If Jesus loved the Jews then so should we. Jesus was pointing out that some things that some of the Jews were doing was getting in the way of progress towards God.

Widen the context, and we can see - we know indeed - that in every society most people are going about doing good, but in different ways. Some will tend to create processes, ways of doing things, which grow in importance to become rules and regulations - that is all the Pharisees had done. In so doing we humans can forget the important things - the healing of those around us in trouble of one sort or another, and we then need to listen to Matthew 23 and realise that some of the things we hold as important are not really as important as we think that they are.

We may be confused, and not at all sure about what is important. See what Jesus says and does - that is what is important.

Our Lady, Mother and Queen

Isaiah 9:1-7; Psalm 112(113):1-8; Luke 1:26-38

We are truly blessed today with the feast of Our Lady, Mother and Queen.

A very real mother - Mary was young, and her firstborn an exceptional child, she must have felt the responsibility heavily. And to be in the situation of telling her fiancé that she was pregnant and to fully trust him that he would not disown her - she must have been an exceptional woman. In her womb she nurtured a king forever, of the line of David, a priest forever, of the line of Melchizedek.Son of God, and Son of Man.  And always, as perhaps only a mother can fully relate to, her child, grown within her womb, and delivered by her, suckled and cherished by her. The combination of heavenly glories and raw human nature in this one time, place and person only happened because Mary said "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me."

There have been a thousand songs and a thousand paintings aiming to depict this one moment. Each will have their own favourites - find one of yours and spend time looking at or listening to it this day. Here are mine: