Tuesday of Lent Week 1

Isaiah 55.10-11; Psalm 33; Matthew 6.7-15

We are, most of the time at least, very poor diagnosticians of our needs. When we are children we ask for chocolate, but a wise and provident mother provides us with some carrot sticks instead. Our prayers should not be consumed with naming the things we think God may have overlooked, something like placing a grocery order and awaiting its delivery. Rather, our prayer time should be a time of bringing our demands and desires into harmony with God’s perfect will for us. Like any good conversation, our prayer should contain less talking and more listening. God wills to do for us and through us more and better things than we can ask for or imagine [Ephesians 3.20]; in our prayers we ask that his imagination should replace our own, that his vision of what we may become will not meet resistance from us but calm and trustful acceptance that he knows both our needs and our ignorance in asking. In his perfect purpose we shall find peace and daily satisfaction.

Monday of Lent Week 1

Leviticus 19. 1-2,11-18; Psalm 18; Matthew 25.31-46

Holiness is the defining characteristic of God. Essentially the word suggests otherness, difference. Human beings can be, to varying degrees, strong, prescient, even benevolent. But only God can be holy.

Thus the vocation (call) to the people of God, ‘Be holy, for I, the lord your God, am holy’, is less demand than promise. It is as if a generous man encounters an urchin and declares, ‘You must have a new coat’—and then sets out to provide for the need he has identified. When God calls us to holiness, he calls us to become God-like, and he sets out to endue us with his own character. The Torah (the Hebrew word means ‘teaching’ or instruction) is God’s way of informing his people of the way they are to live, the way of God’s own life.

In the end, though, instruction isn’t adequate. God teaches us how to become Godlike by himself becoming human. In Jesus, he lives human life, with all of life’s complexities and paradoxes, and dies human death, with all of death’s terror and pain. He lives life authentically and fearlessly and dares the Enemies of life to do their best to destroy him. When their efforts fail—for ‘death could not hold him’ [Acts 2.24]—he returns to heaven, and from there he bestows on us his Holy Spirit, who fills us and endows us with his own holiness.

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:9-14; Psalm 85(86):1-6; Luke 5:27-32

Jesus is clearly giving The Law short shrift - tax collectors are sinners because they associate with the Romans who are unclean because they are not Jews - Prostitutes clearly and publicly are sexual sinners (but what of those who (ab)use them??). The Pharisees are shocked by his behaviour - in their world view mercy eating with sinners makes yourself as bad as them.

The contrast that this story (and also those of Zachaeus, and Levi (Matthew) told elsewhere)  is that the person is more important than the sin they have committed. In this day and age there may well be a tendency to avoid human contact with those who are public sinners. Certainly some sorts of sin attract a kind of inverse celebrity, and we all want to know who did what to whom and when. Doing what Jesus does is much harder - to actually give us his time to sit with and talk to. For we are all sinners, publicly or otherwise, and Jesus' actions with these notorious sinners of his time, should be a reassurance to us that we are all called to the table to dine with him.

Tuesday of week 7 in Ordinary Time

Ecclesiasticus 2:1-11; Psalm 36(37):3-4,18-19,27-28,39-40; Mark 9:30-37

From our perspective today we might be astonished at how little respect or notice was given to children in Jesus's time and place. Perhaps because of high child mortality rates, children were not regarded as people till they became young adults, those times being recognised through rites of the synagogue. It perhaps was less painful to parents that way, although I am sure mothers and fathers suffered a lot at the loss of children to accident or disease.

Christ places the least significant person he could find - a little child - at the centre of his teaching in this scene in today's Gospel. He is placing his own acceptance in society at the same level of complete dependency on others that a child has - if no one cares for him, then he would simply die away and no one would notice. Perhaps, Christ is still doing this - so who are the ones that we should be welcoming? If we do not welcome the homeless, the refugee, the poor, the single parent, the orphan, the drug user or the simply difficult to like - then we are likely to be failing to welcome Christ - not because we want to keep Christ out of our lives, but simply because we fail to notice that He is present in all of his Children.

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 50(51):3-6,12-14,17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

"They have had their reward"

Listen for this repeated phrase in today's Gospel. Mathew uses it as a pivot around which he turns the Old Testament into the good news of the New Testament. Three times, for prayer, fasting and giving alms - three keys upon which Jewish social teaching was built, and upon which Catholic Social Teaching depend. Strong foundations - but there is a danger to undermine them if we are at all boastful about our application of them. Pray, Fast and give Alms but do not even let your right hand know what your left hand is doing! We do not need to let God know what we choose to do this Lent - He will know and will be delighted.

Our children are going to be invited to complete wall charts with what they have done FOR lent - not what they have given up. Simple things, like helping mum do the washing - may mean so much to that busy saint in our homes. As adults we perhaps do not need to create charts and reward ourselves with stickers for accomplishing these things - but a daily act of recollection is a wise thing to add to our daily practice. Perhaps pin this up where we brush our teeth before going to bed - or wherever might help us.

This is a version of the five-step Daily Examen that St. Ignatius practiced.

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

For details about each step of the Examen, read How Can I Pray?

Monday of week 7 in Ordinary Time

Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10; Psalm 92(93):1-2,5; Mark 9:14-29

A gripping, vivid presentation of an incident in Jesus' life, which one suspects was typical of many 'a day in the life of' scenarios that the evangelist could have told us about. The poor child, possessed and subject to frequent fits, possibly had what we call epilepsy these days. It matters not whether this was a disease or an infernal possession - the prospects for the child would have been the same - very bleak, and likely a short life.

Notice that, not only is Jesus healing a child here - he would also have brought great relief to the child's family - their child restored to them in full health. Jesus is also teaching his disciples - and us - that everything - no limits here, but everything - can be achieved through prayer. There are plenty of cases of healings brought about at Lourdes and other places where healing is a feature of Gods grace in our own time. Also many more that although less noticeable, are happening around us. The prayers used in the sacrament of the sick bring comfort to the dying, and to their relatives. Sometimes, life is lengthened by these prayers - if that is Gods plan. Healing is often taking place through charismatic prayer groups, and through the sacrament of reconciliation which often leads to an inner peace and calm - a sign of healing from the stress and strain of living our imperfect life.

A technical sojourn:: A biblical scholar might note that the oldest (Hebrew / Aramaic texts) of this Gospel do not mention prayer and fasting - just prayer. In the Acts of the Apostles, for contrast, the disciples and apostles do use Prayer and Fasting before for example, laying hands on apostles who were to then take the word of Jesus out into the world. Our current lectionary was written by scholars who took the view that it seems more likely that the fasting part (in todays reading from Mark) was added by some editor at some point perhaps when translating the older texts into Greek for the new communities forming in the hellenistic parts of the middle east - which Mark's Gospel was intended for and those apostles would have taken copies of with themselves. Other English versions including the NCB which our forthcoming lectionary is to be based on, end today's verses with 'prayer and fasting' as they work only from the previously translated into Greek texts.

The core point shared by all these versions of the text - is that prayer is always the answer to life problems.

Saturday of Week 6 Per Annum

Hebrews 11.1-7; Psalm 144; Mark 9.2-13

A bit unusually, the first lesson today is a kind of summary of the first lessons of each day of the preceding week. Chapter 11 appears at a climactic point in the argument of the epistle to the Hebrews. The author urges his readers to persevere. ‘Through the blood of Jesus we have the right to enter the sanctuary’ he insists [10.19], echoing the conviction of the Synoptic evangelists that at the death of Jesus on the cross ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two.’ [Luke 23.45; Mark 15.38; Matthew 27.51] But ‘you will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised’ Hebrews continues [10.36] and offers in chapter 11 a kind of précis of the history of the chosen people. Chapter 12 develops the theme by pointing to Jesus himself, ‘who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.’ [12.2]

Careful readers of the New Testament have frequently noted that this understanding of faith is unique to Hebrews. ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for’ [11.1] but that faith isn’t just a state of mind. It is a force, a strength, by which kingdoms can be conquered [11.33] and enemies scattered. [11.35] This faith is both shown by the example of Jesus and imparted by him to those who believe in him. Faith will make those who live by it righteous, accepted by God despite our unworthiness.

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

19th February 2023 (UPDATED)

Founders of the Servite Order

Genesis 11.1-9; Psalm 32; Mark 8.34—9.1

The Servants of the Mother of God, as this order is formally known, was founded in 1233 by the ‘seven holy founders’, each a member of one of the patrician families in Florence. These cloth merchants left their businesses and families and withdrew to Monte Senario, a mountain just outside the city, to live lives of poverty and penance. The seven were jointly canonised in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII.

They dedicated themselves to Our Lady under her title of Madonna Adolorata (‘Mother of Sorrows’) and they adopted Mary’s virtues of hospitality and compassion as their hallmarks. Eventually in 1398 the Order was permitted to confer academic theological degrees; many centuries later the Order established the Marianum faculty in Rome. Members of the Order first came to England in the 19th Century, working in the first instance alongside the Oratorians.