St Mary Magdala

Song of Songs 3:1-4; Psalm 62(63):2-6,8-9; John 20:1-2,​11-18

The apostle to the apostles. Mary Magdalene was honoured by Jesus as the first to witness the truth of the resurrection, and sent by him to take this Good News to the apostles.

There is speculation about who this Mary was: Pope Gregory from about the 6th Century asserted that a she was the same sinful Mary who wept onto Jesus' feet and dried them with her hair - but she could also be a different Mary and there certainly is no scriptural evidence that she was the same. If she was however, here she is weeping again, but this time not because she has lost all through her sin, but because she has lost the one who saves her. The gospels identify her explicitly as present throughout the crucifixion, and must have been traumatised as a result. Through her veil of tears she mistakes first of all the angels, and then Jesus himself for a gardener leading to a rich vein in the history of religious art - but when Jesus simply says her name - she recognises him then.

She does not cling to him, but leaves him to set out on her mission; an example to us all. When we hear our name being called we often do not recognise the caller - but he will persistently call us till we do respond.

St Apollinarius, Bishop & Martyr

Micah 2.1-5; Psalm 9b; Matthew 12.14-21

Apollinarius was probably born in Antioch in the Roman province of Syria (modern-day Turkey), and apparently he there came under the influence of St Peter, who may have commissioned him as Bishop of Ravenna (which, of course, much later in the 5th Century was to become the capital of the western Roman Empire until the Empire’s collapse in 476).  It is difficult to establish his dates of birth and death with any degree of certainty.  Apollinarius was bishop of Ravenna for more than a quarter century, during which he faced almost constant persecution.

During his public ministry he was renowned for having the gift of healing physical ailments in the name of Christ.   He was frequently exiled, tortured and imprisoned and finally martyred, probably at Classis, a suburb of Ravenna, possibly during the persecution of the Emperor Vespasian.  There are two basilicas built in his honour in Ravenna, and his cult spread to Aachen, to Dijon, to Bologna, and to Bohemia.  He is invoked as patron against suffering from gout, venereal disease and epilepsy.

Friday in Week 15

Isaiah 38.1-6,21-22,7-8; Psalm 38; Matthew 12.1-8

Religion seems to most observers—and to many of us as well—as a matter of duties we must perform in order to please God.  But our religious acts mean little to God; they certainly don’t enrich him, nourish him, or delight him.  Our sacrifices (from the Latin words sacrum facere, to make holy) can help turn us toward God, can make us more receptive to the blessings he wills to shower upon us.  But the performance of religious duties does nothing to repair our damaged relationship with God; as the epistle to the Hebrews puts it, ‘The law could not make anyone perfect’. [Hebrews 7.19]

God’s intention is to make us flourish; it is the devil who is described as the enemy of human flourishing. [Cf I Peter 5.8]  The religious duties we perform, our abstentions and abnegations, are only useful insofar as they drive us more deeply into the heart of God, enable us to see his provision for us, teach us to put our trust in him alone.

Thursday in Week 15

Isaiah 26.7-9,12,16-19; Ps 101; Matthew 11.28-30

The land of ghosts will give birth Isaiah promises; and our response to that prophecy will inevitably be scepticism.   But ‘giving birth’ is one of Isaiah’s favourite metaphors.  If a ‘land of ghosts’—a defeated, depopulated area—can give birth to new sons and daughters, then there is hope for us as well.

Travail is the slightly old-fashioned word for the particular labour a mother experiences in giving birth.  It was the word chosen in the oldest English translations of the Bible for Jesus’s words to those who labour and are overburdened.  The word suggests that our labour, with its attendant excruciating pain, is going to be proved fruitful.  A child will be born of our efforts. [cf John 16.21]

The only way that can be true, though, is if we shoulder the yoke and submit to the discipline of pupillage.  If we take up our crosses (the burden of our own lives) and follow in the path that he leads us we will find that the road does not end at Calvary, but far beyond it.  Not only will others’ corpses rise and give birth: our own mortal life, handed over to God in its entirety, will produce a hundredfold, or sixty, or even an unimaginable thirtyfold crop. [Matthew 13.9]

Wednesday in Week 15

Isaiah 10.5-7,13-16; Ps 93; Matthew 11.25-27

For more than a century the consensus view has been that Mark was the first Gospel to be written.  Mark’s Jesus is a man of action rather than words; Mark’s favourite word is immediately.  Matthew’s Gospel seems very closely related to Mark’s: something like 90% of the verses of Mark’s Gospel can be found in Matthew’s.  But Matthew’s Jesus is a teacher, and so Matthew breaks up Mark’s action-oriented narrative with five blocks of teaching, probably analogous to the five books of Moses in the Old Testament (that is, the first five books of the Bible).  Our reading today comes from the third of those blocks of teaching.

And yet the methodology of his teaching will surprise us. Jesus doesn’t speak to his disciples, but instead speaks to the ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth’.  These verses are best described as prayer, and Jesus is teaching us by the words he prays.  We often think of prayer as the method of extracting favours from God.  But prayer is better thought of as the language of our relationship with God.  We grow in our relationships with other human beings by talking with them, by conversing (from Latin words that mean ‘turning towards’) with them.  Jesus invites us to enter into deeper relationship with the Maker of heaven and earth by turning to him, speaking to him from our hearts, listening as he speaks to us and in the process to grow from infancy to maturity as he reveals himself to us.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Isaiah 7.1-9; Psalm 47; Matthew 11.20-24

Carmel is associated with Elijah; indeed in Arabic the mountain is called “the mount of Saint Elias.”  Elijah apparently lived in a grotto on Carmel, and it was there that he summoned the priests of Baal to a contest, to determine whether the people of Israel would worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or the foreign deities imported by Ahab and his Sidonian wife Jezebel.  [I Kings 16.29-34; 18.16-40]

During the Crusades, Christian hermits established themselves in caves on Mount Carmel; a religious order was established there in 1209.  They claimed that they were the spiritual descendants of Jewish hermits who had lived on the site without interruption since the time of Elijah.  They dedicated their new monastery to Our Lady, Star of the Sea—Stella Maris, possibly because Carmel is geographically close to Nazareth.  “Mother of Christ, Star of the Sea: pray for the wanderer, pray for me.”

St Bonaventure

Isaiah 1.10-17; Psalm 49; Matthew 10.34—11.1

John di Fidanza (1221-74) was born at Bagnoregio, near Viterbo.  Little is known about his childhood, but his father was a physician and a man of means.  There is a legend that St Francis of Assisi healed him as a four-year-old boy of a dangerous illness.  At the age of 22 he joined the Franciscans and took the religious name of Bonaventure.  He went to the University of Paris to study theology; at the age of 27 he was appointed Professor of Theology.  He became a close friend of St Thomas Aquinas.  

His academic life was cut short when in 1257 he was elected Minister General of the Franciscans.  He governed the order for the remainder of his life.  In 1265 he was chosen to be Archbishop of York, but he declined the appointment.  In 1273, however, Pope Gregory X insisted that he accept the bishopric of Albano and the dignity of the Cardinalate.  He was entrusted with direction of the Council of Lyons (1272-74), which was convened in an effort to heal the breach between the Eastern and Western churches.  Bonaventure fell ill after the third session and died between the 14th and 15th of July 1274.  He was canonised in 1482 and was declared a Doctor (teacher) of the Church in 1587.

Saturday of week 14 in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 92(93):1-2,5; Matthew 10:24-33

The past few day's Gospels from Matthew are collectively known as the mission discourse: the words of advice and encouragement given tot he twelve apostles as Jesus set them out on their travels to being good news to the Israelites (and which they later continued on into the whole known world at the time).

All of them (other than Judas and John) were martyred, yet the church asks us to essentially, do the same - take the good new out into the world. Are we to expect the same treatment? Well, it is not impossible, but it is unlikely. We are far more likely to encounter 'civil' opposition. For example we might preach the joy of life lived from natural conception to natural death - but we will certainly meet with those who champion the 'right to choose' point of view. In that particular case we might well remember that we believe in a right to life, not a right to choose death: ours is a positive viewpoint. Jesus did not promise that the Father would prevent the sparrows falling to the ground! Nor is it always easy to respond to such slurs with the patience and generosity as well as the truthfulness which Jesus would have shown. ‘A spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar’, said St Francis de Sales. (HW - Universalis).

Do not be afraid - the Lord says over and over again - do not be afraid, for I will give you the words, take you to the places where people do want to hear me, and value you far more than anything else in my creation.


Friday of week 14 in Ordinary Time

Hosea 14:2-10; Psalm 50(51):3-4,8-9,12-14,17; Matthew 10:16-23

Hosea is full of prophesies of doom - the theme of being punished for turning away from God is present in almost every paragraph.

But at the end, and also at its heart emotionally, is todays' reading, full of love and care - come back to me says the Lord! "I will fall on them like dew" - does that sound familiar? It is in the eucharistic prayer, and is a wonderful image of refreshment and completeness - no wetness is wetter than being soaked to the skin by dewfall!

We have been warned to do what is right, but we are also encouraged by knowing that from wherever we have strayed to, God longs for us to return.

Feast of St Benedict

Proverbs 2:1-9; Psalm 33(34):2-11; Matthew 19:27-29

L I S T E N  carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

With these words begins the great Rule of St Benedict, upon which have been built successful communities that have endured for generation after generation. Indeed, the underlying principles have also shaped western society, so profoundly wise are they. Therefore Benedict is Patron of Europe.

Benedictine communities after the Bible, place the rule as so important that they read it in sections, data by day, the whole rule being read three times in a year. This practice is commendable and also easy to do: follow the link below to find the section of the rule to be read today.