Saturday after Ash Weds

Isaiah 58.9-14; Psalm 85; Luke 5.27-32

Someone once reproved the journalist and novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-66), whose waspish temper, infidelities and indiscretions were infamous, of being a bad Catholic.  “All that you say is true,” he replied, “but imagine what kind of man I would be if I weren’t a Catholic!”

God doesn’t call us when we are cleaned up, dressed and presentable, like the parody of a Victorian father.  Instead, his interest in us is at its height when we are most in need.  And when we think ourselves righteous his eye hones in on the secret sins within us that are sapping our strength and making us more vulnerable to the wiles and deceits of the devil. [cf John 2.25]

All the sacraments have as their goal restoring us to right relationship with God, with our neighbours, and with ourselves.   Sins unacknowledged eat away at us, but sins confessed become the royal road for God to enter our lives and make us whole.  We dwell in him because we first allow him to dwell in us. [John 14.23] His presence within us gives us the strength (the virtue) to resist and repel evil.

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58.1-9; Psalm 50; Matthew 9.14-15

Lent calls us to fast not so much from harmful addictions and preoccupations but from things benign or even salutary in themselves that may be obscuring our vision of God. Israel in the wilderness hungered and endured privations not because the natural human desire for food and clothing is a bad thing [cf Matthew 6.25-33] but so that they could learn in their heart of hearts to trust in God alone. [Deuteronomy 8.1-6]

But our fasting can give us fresh opportunities for sharing our abundance with others, for healing not only the separation betwixt us and God but also the consequent disorderly relationship between us and our fellow human beings. [cf Luke 10.29-37]  As we pray in this season for new, revitalised hearts [Psalm 50(51).10], it is fitting for us to contemplate the ways that our choices and lifestyles enslave others and deprive them of what we all desire.  By our voluntary abstinence and by turning away from preferences that harm others we may all in this Lent discover afresh the ‘one thing necessary’ which neither sin nor Satan nor death can take from us. [cf Luke 10.41-42]

Thursday after Ash Weds

Deuteronomy 30.15-20; Psalm 1; Luke 9.22-25

The first Psalm serves as a kind of ‘table of contents’ for the whole Psalter.  We can at times find ourselves tempted by the blandishments of those who live lives at variance with God. Their siren song entices us, and our divided hearts put up only desultory resistance.  We loiter and linger along their pathway, then sit down and make ourselves at home.  But the food they set before us leaves us unsatisfied [Isaiah 55.2], their promises of easy gratification we know in our truest and best selves to be deceptions.  And then suddenly before us our eyes recognise, if only faintly at first [cf Mark 8.22-25], a Tree whose vitality inspires us to dig deeply so that we may reach its Source.

Not for nothing were the earliest Christians described as being followers of The Way.
[cf Acts 22.4]  The Christian life is a journey, a style of life, not a goal [cf Philippians 3.12].   Summoned by a voice more compelling than any we have previously heard [Mark 1.17-18] we follow, falteringly but as best as we can, in his path. [Mark 10.52]

He declares himself to be The Way. [John 14.6] To follow in his way is to take the path of the Cross [Mark 8.34-35], a tree that seems at first to be unnecessary and unwelcome suffering but then reveals itself as a ladder that connects the penury of earth to the bounty of heaven, a pathway home to the Father who is already coming to meet us.

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2.12-18; Ps 50; II Corinthians 5.20—6.2; Matthew 6.1-6,16-18

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.” [Genesis 3.19] God’s chilling declaration to our primal parents correlates sin—our sundered relationship to God—with death. [Romans 5.12; I Corinthians 15.22] 

Jesus offers three tools for the revitalisation, the renewal of life worthy of the name.
[John 10.10] These tools aren’t punishments so much as they are avenues for coming to our senses, returning to the embrace of a loving Father. [Luke 15.17-20]  These three tools are almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.  We arm ourselves with these weapons of self-restraint so that the Lord himself can show his pity on us, can receive us as his sons and daughters. [Hebrews 12.5-13]

Tuesday in Week 6

James 1.12-18; Psalm 93; Mark 8.14-21

The promise of the Resurrection of Christ is that his victory over death is a sign and earnest of the triumph that all his brothers and sisters [cf Luke 8.19] will share.  St Paul describes Our Lord as the ‘first fruits’ [cf I Corinthians 15.20-28], the beginnings of a great harvest that will come to its fruition in the ‘life of the world to come’ as we confess in the Nicene Creed.  

St James’ use of the phrase in today’s reading is therefore noteworthy.  ‘By his own choice he made us his children by the message of the truth so that we should be a sort of first-fruits of all that he had created.’  The ‘he’, of course, is the God whom he describes as ‘the Father of all light’.  Creation is the act of his will, the working out of a purpose which is central to his Heart
[cf Ephesians 1.3-14].  We may be described as God’s children because we were created by him [cf Genesis 1.26-27], but even more we are his children because his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, has claimed us as his brothers and sisters. [cf Romans 8.14-17; Galatians 3.29; 4.4-7]  As we enter once again upon our annual journey through the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, may our faith be strengthened that we, too, were created not for death but for life—life ‘worthy of the name’.  [John 10.10]

Saint Scholastica, Virgin

1 Kings 12:26-32,13:33-34; Psalm 105(106):6-7,19-22; Mark 8:1-10

St. Scholastica, sister of St. Benedict, consecrated her life to God from her earliest youth. After her brother went to Monte Cassino, where he established his famous monastery, she took up her abode in the neighborhood at Plombariola, where she founded and governed a monastery of nuns, about five miles from that of St. Benedict, who, it appears, also directed his sister and her nuns. She visited her brother once a year, and as she was not allowed to enter his monastery, he went in company with some of his brethren to meet her at a house some distance away. These visits were spent in conferring together on spiritual matters. On one occasion they had passed the time as usual in prayer and pious conversation and in the evening they sat down to take their reflection. St. Scholastica begged her brother to remain until the next day. St. Benedict refused to spend the night outside his monastery. She had recourse to prayer and a furious thunderstorm burst so that neither St. Benedict nor any of his companions could return home. They spent the night in spiritual conferences. The next morning they parted to meet no more on earth. Three days later St. Scholastica died, and her holy brother beheld her soul in a vision as it ascended into heaven. He sent his brethren to bring her body to his monastery and laid it in the tomb he had prepared for himself. She died about the year 543, and St. Benedict followed her soon after. Her feast day is February 10th.

Friday of week 5

The phrase ‘he makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak’ is a quote from the Prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 29:18] and is used to emphasise that Jesus is the Messiah, promised from ancient times. Yet, Jesus does everything that he can to prevent this startling news from getting out. This is known as the messianic secret and characterises many events as told in Mark.

The way that the healing is described is startling. Close physical contact with an ill person – and a death mute would have been considered unwell and unclean – would be provocative to jewish readers. But remember, Mark is mainly writing to a greek speaking and gentile audience, to whom the touching of one person’s tongue with your own (how else would you touch someones tongue with your spittle?) might not be so scandalous. The symbols of touching used, serve to emphasise that the healing is physical, not just spiritual or mental. God is not above touching us!

We also hear one of the very few words spoken in Jesus’ own tongue in this reading. ‘Ephphatha’ is Aramaic.  Even in a greek text written for gentile readers, the author includes christ’s own tongue.

The Holy Spirit

Session 29th February - Elisabeth Maduka

READINGS FROM THE YOUCAT FOR THIS SESSION

If you are using the YouCat with your Sycamore group, please click here for general advice about the YouCat and how to use the readings. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

  • #113 to #128 – the Holy Spirit and the Church [9 pages]

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the YouCat and not to page numbers. The number in [square brackets] at the end tells you roughly how long this passage is in terms of the pages you need to read (excluding picture pages).

 

LONGER READINGS FROM THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

If you have more time, and if you want to go deeper into the topic of this session, you can follow up by exploring the longer Catechism of the Catholic Church. See the standard online version here, and a digital “flip-book” edition here. Here are the readings that go with this week’s Sycamore session:

NB the numbers (#) refer to paragraph numbers in the Catechism and not to page numbers. Click on the links themselves to read the paragraphs in the online version.

 

WISDOM FROM THE BIBLE

Isaiah 11:2-3

The Prophet Isaiah speaks about the promised Messiah: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

John 14:26

Jesus says to his disciples: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

Acts 2:1-4

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Acts 2:38

St Peter says to the people of Jerusalem: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Galatians 5:22-23

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Acts 2:42

The life of the early Christian community in Jerusalem: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-13

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

Ephesians 2:19-22

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.”

Sycamore Short – Life with the Holy Spirit