Saturday in Week 12 of Ordinary Time

Genesis 18:1-15; Luke 1:46-50,53-55; Matthew 8:5-17

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…

These words of a Centurion, are so important that we say them together every time we receive Holy Communion. They come from todays Gospel in Mathew Chapter 8, in the middle of a series of healings that demonstrate Jesus’ authority and that he is God’s son.

A centurion in popular culture is often portrayed as a military man, capable of savage brutal discipline on his soldiers. Indeed – some centurions were, but this one, we see in Lukes Gospel is well liked by the local Jewish community, well known by the elders, and he had funded the building of a synagogue. Perhaps he was also acquainted with their scripture and would have been familiar with the story from Genesis this morning in which Abram welcomes the Lord into his camp, feeds him and listens to him. He certainly would have known about Jesus’s healings in his local community. These were foretold by prophets that he may have heard read, and had explained to him – which also told of unrest and restitution of land to the Jewish people. There was quite a stir about, large crowds were on the move to see Jesus! As the local military commander in charge of an occupying force he would certainly have concerns about keeping the local peace!

The Centurion talks about authority. He himself is in a hierarchy, and expects men to quick march if he commands it, to fetch him food on demand, to anticipate his will, as a wise servant must. Equally, he knows he must respect those in authority over himself.

This influential and powerful man recognises in Jesus a greater authority than any other he knows. He recognises his own place in the Lord’s hierarchy. He is below the believers – they can enter each other homes, but Leviticus forbids them to enter an outsider’s house which would make them ritually unclean and thus forbidden to enter the synagogue until purified. He places himself below a leper! Immediately before todays incident Jesus has made himself ritually unclean by touching a leper to heal him. But the Centurian does not ask Jesus to come in contact with his servant, nor indeed with himself. He is asking Jesus to heal a lowly, but loved person in his household without even coming to the threshold.

There is a tradition that this centurion was at the crucifixion and was the one who said (in Matthew and Marks Gospels) that truly this was a son of God and in Luke ‘this man was innocent’. He may be the same centurion Cornelius, who Simon Peter visited, and influenced him to go and take the Good news to the Gentiles.

Perhaps most striking of all, is the way in which the Centurian addresses Jesus. Jesus, the wandering, unusual preacher and miraculous healer – is addressed by someone who is effectively a local chieftain, as Lord.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof: but I know you only have to say a word for our souls to be healed.

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles – Solemnity

Not only are Sts Peter and Paul of great significance to all Christians - they also are the Patronal Saints of our Cathedral Church and the Diocese. The cathedral in Bristol was built 50 years ago and consecrated on June 29th. There have been an impressive sequence of musical and artistic events leading up to the Mass and much lovely music is available on this feed from YouTube:

Hoxa - Clifton Cathedral Music.


St Peter
“I do so love St Peter,” says a friend of mine. “Whenever he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it”.
  She is right, of course. Whatever else St Peter may be, he is not the model of a wise and noble hero. He walks on the water – but then panics and starts to sink. He makes the first profession of faith – and moments later blunders into error and is called Satan by the Lord. He refuses to be washed, and then, when the purpose is explained to him, demands to be washed all over. And, of course, he betrays his master soon after having been warned that he will and having sworn not to. If Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, what a fissured and friable rock it is! How much better, we think, to have chosen the Sons of Thunder, for their energy; or Judas Iscariot, for his financial acumen; or John, because he was loved the best.
  The choosing of Peter teaches us a lesson. The Church’s foundation-stone and its first leader is not all-wise, all-knowing, good, heroic, and beautiful. He is a very ordinary man who makes about as many mistakes as we would in his place, and kicks himself for them just as thoroughly afterwards. If St Peter had been a hero, we could easily have despaired of ever becoming like him. If St Peter had been great, and noble, and good, we could have told ourselves that the Church is for the saints, despaired, sat down, and not bothered. But the Church is not just for saints: it is for confused, impetuous, cowardly people like us – or St Peter. The rock crumbles, the ropes are frayed, the wood is rotten – but, although that improbable building, the Church, is made of such inferior materials, it grows (on the whole) faster than it collapses, and it is grace that holds it together.
  In the end, it was grace that gave the coward the courage to bear witness when it counted, grace that gave the fool the wisdom he needed to set the infant Church on her way, grace that taught the impetuous man patience and forbearance.
  We none of us admire ourselves, however much we would like to; let us not try to admire St Peter either, but admire instead the grace he was given, and pray that, weak as we are, we may be given it too, and may use it.

St Paul
St Paul is not an attractive figure today. We are still knee deep in the overripe fruit of late romanticism: we admire men who feel, not think; who enchant people into following them, not argue them into submission.
  There is even, nowadays, a fashion for saying that Paul inventedChristianity as we know it, that he set out with the cynical aim of fashioning an enduring institution; and that the real Christianity, the Christianity of Christ, is something quite different from and far nicer than the Christianity we know.
  Yes, Paul’s mind did shape the early Church. Yes, without him things would have been different. And all the information that we have in the New Testament is entirely consistent with the whole thing being a Pauline conspiracy.
  But so what? “Consistent with” is a treacherous phrase. The evidence of my eyes is entirely consistent with there being an invisible lion in my fireplace, because you can’t see invisible lions; but I still don’t believe there is one. I trust the world, I have faith in it, and invisible lions are not part of that faith. I trust God, I have faith in the Holy Spirit – I say so out loud on Sundays – and I believe that God called Saul because he needed him, and that the renamed Saul did and said what needed to be said and done.
  Paul is not some cold and remote intellectual – just read the Epistles, and see if that stands up. Paul is always reminding people of his weakness – look, I know what I ought to do, and I keep on doing the opposite – look, I have this thorn in my flesh and God absolutely refuses to take it away. Paul is not all mind – he does have his troubles too.
  But yes, Paul does have a mind, and that raises problems in an age that doesn’t, that uses “clever” as a term of abuse. Remember, though, that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Perhaps we cannot love St Paul very much nowadays; but let us at least pray for the grace to love God with our minds, as he did.

Saint Irenaeus, Bishop, Martyr

Irenaeus was born in Smyrna, in Asia Minor (now Izmir in Turkey) and emigrated to Lyons, in France, where he eventually became the bishop. It is not known for certain whether he was martyred or died a natural death.
  Whenever we take up a Bible we touch Irenaeus’s work, for he played a decisive role in fixing the canon of the New Testament. It is easy for people nowadays to think of Scripture – and the New Testament in particular – as the basis of the Church, but harder to remember that it was the Church itself that had to agree, early on, about what was scriptural and what was not.
  Before Irenaeus, there was vague general agreement on what scripture was, but a system based on this kind of common consent was too weak. As people meditated on the intolerable event of the Redemption, dissensions and heresies inevitably arose, and reference to scripture was the obvious way of trying to settle what the truth really was. But in the absence of an agreed canon of scripture it was all too easy to attack one’s opponent’s arguments by saying that his texts were corrupt or unscriptural; and easy, too, to do a little fine-tuning of texts on one’s own behalf.
  So Irenaeus went through all the books of the New Testament, and all the candidates (such as the magical pseudo-Gospels, and the entertaining and uplifting novel The Shepherd of Hermas). He did not simply accept or reject each book, because his enemies could have said that he was doing it to bolster his own arguments: he gave reasons for and against the canonicity of each. Irenaeus’s canon of scripture is very nearly the modern one (he does not quote from three of the short universal epistles), but more important is the fact that he started the tradition of biblical scholarship.
  Irenaeus had to fight against the Gnostics, who believed that the world was irredeemably wicked, and against the Valentinians, who claimed to be possessors of a secret tradition that had never been written down but passed from master to disciple through the ages. This pessimism and this arcane élitism remain with us even today, and each generation must renew the fight against them. Let us pray for the inspiration of St Irenaeus in our battle.

Tuesday of Week 12 in Ordinary time

Genesis 13:2,5-18; Psalm 14(15):2-5; Matthew 7:6,12-14

Abram, finds himself somewhat inconveniently in the same patch of land as his nephew Lot - and arguments are breaking out about space to herd the sheep and goats. Abram generously gives Lot a choice - to go left or right - and Lot chooses the obviously more fertile land of the Jordan Valley. Abram left with the less attractive land of Canaan is once again given a promise of uncountable descendants - which does rather seem to be coming true! In the end Lot has made the wrong choice - the people already in the Jordan are not happy to see him, and are already living a life is dissipation (Sodom and Gomorrah later being destroyed by God).

Once again, as in yesterday's story, Abram is used in the bible to show us that we need to listen to God's calling, and to follow him - even if it might seem more difficult to begin with.

Today is also a memorial of St Cyril. Cyril was an ardent seeker of truth and destroyed this who stood in its way - but after turmoil sought ways to make peace. Let us pray that his way of peacemaking may prevail in present day Ukraine and Russia.


Monday of week 12 in Ordinary Time

Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 32(33):12-13,18-20,22; Matthew 7:1-5

In these early passages from Genesis, Abram has not yet had his name changed to Abraham, Sarai is not yet Sarah. The name change is a symbol of being chosen by God, for example at our confirmation we have a new name, as at that sacrament we are chosen by God.

Abram is here called by God, and with no quibble or quaver, he responds. Packing up everything and setting out on a long journey to another land is not typical behaviour for a 75 year old now, and must have been more of a challenge then. Because of his immediate, total response Abraham has become the example par excellence for most people of faith on this planet, as the way the to respond in faith to God’s call.

We all have our individual call to respond to - parent, priest, nun, deacon, - the vocations are as manly as there are people.

Can we choose to respond with our yes today?

Nativity of St John Baptist

Isaiah 49.1-6; Ps 138; Acts 13.22-26; Luke 1.57-66,80

St Luke presents the births of Our Lord and of his cousin John in tandem: first the angelic annunciation to Zachary, John’s priestly father; then the annunciation to Mary; then the birth of John; and finally, the birth of Jesus. John’s vocation was given before his birth as Jesus’ forerunner with the task of ‘preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’ [Luke 1.17]

St John Baptist was the last and greatest of the prophets and our celebration of his birthday marks the dawning of a new dispensation. He himself declared of the coming Lord that ‘he must increase, and I must decrease’ [John 3.30] and, in each of the Gospels, it is John’s imprisonment that marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. [Mark 1.14] St John’s fearless preaching [Matthew 3.7-12] and his insistence that our spiritual lives profoundly determine how we must live in this world [Luke 3.7-14] set the stage for the Gospel that Jesus would proclaim. Many of Jesus’ earliest disciples had previously been disciples of John the Baptist [John 1.35-42], and the Passion of John Baptist [Mark 6.17-29] is a foreshadowing of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, 25 June 2023