Feast of St Catherine of Siena

I John 1.5—2.2; Psalm 102; Matthew 11.25-30

During a relatively short life (1347-1380) Catherine, set on fire with divine love, devoted herself to contemplation of Our Lord’s passion, having vowed at the age of seven to give her whole life to God.

During the 14th Century the plague known as the “Black Death” wiped out a third of European population. The Hundred Years’ War (a series of conflicts in which England and France were the chief protagonists, from 1337-1453) convulsed Europe, whilst the papacy, under the manipulation of the French crown, decamped from Rome to the city of Avignon.

Catherine’s contemplative life led her to active involvement in the politics of Church and State for the last five years of her life. She persistently admonished Pope Gregory XI (whom she addressed as “Babbo,” that is, “Daddy”) to return to Rome; possibly it was her influence that persuaded him to do so in late 1386-7.

Catherine is one of the most remarkable women of history, and her voluminous writings give her a place in the history of literature. St John Paul II declared her a Patron of Europe in 1999, and we may rightly ask her intercession in the tumults and plagues of our own time.

Friday in Week of Easter 3

Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 116; John 6.52-59

He is my chosen instrument” the Lord is said to have declared of the unlikeliest of his disciples, dramatically taken from working for the total destruction of the Church [Acts 8.3] to a new work.

Paul is called to make the name of the Lord Jesus known both to the people of Israel and to the Gentiles. St Luke tells Paul’s story in striking parallel to the way he had earlier related Peter’s, each of them an apostle remade by an encounter with the Lord that had at once transformed him and empowered him.

Apart from the martyrdom of Stephen and a brief allusion to that of the apostle James
[Acts 12.2], the characters of Acts simply disappear when they die. Whenever someone dies, however violently, someone appears to replace him. That is the way that the Lord builds his church. And when Acts 28 reaches its end, perhaps there must be a chapter 29 to tell the ongoing saga of those who have received new sight and the Holy Spirit and who go forth to preach by word and deed that “Jesus is the Son of God.”

Thursday in Week of Easter 3

Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 65; John 6.44-51

We know about Philip (one of the “deacons” appointed in Acts 6.5; he should not be confused with the Philip who was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples) only from a reference to his preaching and working miracles in a Samaritan town [Acts 8.5-8] and from this story.

But in the historical narrative of the spread of the Gospel, Philip the Deacon can be credited, through the Ethiopian official whom he baptised, as the Apostle to Africa.

Philip intuited the shame, disappointment and deprivation that lay beneath the pomp and power of the Ethiopian satrap’s position. When Philip spoke to him of the humiliation of the Lamb of God, about his lack of physical descendants, the Ethiopian eunuch was cut to the heart. “Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?”

They never met again, and Philip disappeared quickly. But the Ethiopian went on his way rejoicing. Obedient to his new Master, he went home to [his] people and told them all that the Lord in his mercy had done. [Mark 5.19]

Wednesday of 3rd Week of Easter

Acts 8.1-8; Psalm 65; John 6.35-40

St John’s Gospel doesn’t contain a narrative of Jesus taking bread and cup at his last supper with his disciples and commanding them to ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, as the other three Gospels do. But John’s Gospel does contain the longest sustained meditation on the Eucharist in the whole of the Bible. Chapter 6’s 71 verses lead us into a deeper and deeper understanding of Christ’s gift to his people at that supper in the night in which he was to be betrayed, arrested and sent to his death.

I am the bread of life’ our Gospel for this day begins. We may relate this statement to several other ‘I am’ sayings in the fourth Gospel: ‘I am the light of the world’ [John 8.12; 9.5]; ‘I am the good shepherd’ [10.11]; ‘I am the resurrection’[11.25]; ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life’. [14.6] The grammatical form of each of these declarations reminds us of the conversation between Moses and God. ‘Who shall I tell the Israelites has sent me?’ Moses demands, and God replies, ‘I am who I am.’ [Exodus 3.14]

God is existence itself, the life-force once breathed into human clay. [Genesis 2.7] When Jesus announces that he is ‘bread of life’—not the kind of bread that must be sought and sweated for day after day [Genesis 3.19] but Bread which conveys Eternal Life, Bread which unites us to the Source and Substance of life.

Feast of St Mark, Evangelist

I Peter 5.5-14; Psalm 88; Mark 16.15-20

Spin doctors aren’t new to our era. In the far expanses of the Roman Empire criers would come into town proclaiming “Good News! Good News!” and proceed to announce the latest of the Emperor’s words, deeds and designs.

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ” St Mark began writing—his Gospel thought by most careful readers today to have been the first such effort—and as if in one breathless, voluble utterance he recited what others had related to him, the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God [Mark 1.11], until, as if his pencil suddenly snapped, he stopped on a dangling preposition. A young man in a white robe had declared to myrrh-bearing women that the Jesus they sought was not dead but risen. “You must go and tell his disciples” he insisted; but they “ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid.” [Mark 16.8]

Someone later added a few paragraphs to bring the work to a more satisfying conclusion, but some may think the jagged, abrupt ending proclaims the Good News even more profoundly, Good News so overwhelming that it reduces us to babbling incoherence [Mark 9.6], Good News so transformative that it stops us in our tracks and changes our direction [Mark 10.52], the Good News that over earth’s darkness [Mark 15.33] the sun is rising. [Mark 16.2]

Solemnity of St George, Martyr, Patron of England

Apocalypse 12.10-12; Psalm 125; Hebrews 10.32-36; John 15.18-21

The celebration of England’s patron saint fits aptly in our Eastertide observance, for the legend of St George’s slaying of the dragon cannot but remind us of the work of Christ who by his death on the cross brought down the ancient foe of humankind. The dragon’s voracious appetite is described in the 13th Century Golden Legend: though lambs were brought to him, he insisted on a feast of children, until George’s bravery closed his maw for ever.

The historic George was a soldier in Diocletian’s army who came to believe in Christ and was punished for this apostasy by decapitation on this day in the year 303. Some 40,000 people, including the Empress Alexandra, were said to have been converted by his martyrdom, a real witness to his trust in the God who delivers his servants from bondage to death.

Third Sunday of Easter

Sunday, 23 April 2023

Third Sunday of Easter (Children’s)

Sunday, 23 April 2023