Monday of Week 13 in Ordinary Time

Amos 2:6-10,13-16; Psalm 49(50):16-23; Matthew 8:18-22

There are two kinds of Prophetical writings - those where the prophetic tradition was passed down auraly and later written down ('non-literary prophets') and those who wrote books of their own prophesy to hand on, such as Amos, today's first reading author. Actually the distinction is muddier than that - for example Amos almost certainly did not write the final part of the book of Amos, as the literary style changes somewhat.

In either case it is important to appreciate that Old Testament Prophecy is in no way meant to be a prediction of future events. It so happens, that much of the prophetic writings we have do predict actual events that we can seen the historical record and in archaeology. However - the prophets are often written down after the event has taken place - so we need to think more of OT prophesy as teaching us how to think and feel about situations and events.

Amos then is not so much predicting the downfall of Jerusalem, as warning us that continuing to behave badly will lead to a painful outcome. Overall, Amos's message is against the behaviour of those lucky few who hold all the resources in their control, and that we must change and become generous in our support of others. In Samaria, the capital of Israel, archaeologists have found grand houses of the date Amos was writing, built over the ruins of poorer housing, ‘bulldozed’ to make way for them. We can see this kind of behaviour in our country today - if you have a copy to hand their is a good discussion of this trend in a recent copy of 'The Big Issue' that deals with tearing down 1960's housing estates, the homes of communities of relatively poor people, to be replaced with popular and profitable commuter belt housing. The just thing to do would be to refurbish and improve the existing housing, maintaining the communities therein.

Prophets, with their uncompromising words, often create enemies. Jesus talks in Matthew 8 of this today - foxes and birds have their homes, but those who follow The Lord will have none. Yet -we are called to be prophets.

Immaculate Heart of Mary (25th June)

Lamentations 2.2,10-14,18-19; Psalm 73; Matt 8.5-17

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary originated with St John Eudes (1601-80). Whereas the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows the infinite love of God for humankind, Mary’s Immaculate Heart points to her interior life and presents us with a model for the love we return to God.

Her heart is a ready heart [Psalm 107/108.1], a prepared heart, a whole (integrated) heart. [Psalm 118/119.2] ‘Before she conceived Christ in her womb,’ St Augustine of Hippo wrote, ‘she had already conceived him in her heart.’

St Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381-1456) wrote: ‘Imitate her, O faithful soul. Enter into the temple of your heart that you may be purified in spirit and cleansed of the pollution of your sins.’ We pray this day that a merciful God may make of us worthy temples of his glory, that like her our hearts may be made ready, may be made whole. As she treasured the events of His holy life, storing them up for contemplation and pondering [Luke 2.19], so may we think devoutly on the life of God in our midst, hiding His word in our hearts. [Psalm 118/119.11]

Sacred Heart of Jesus (24th June)

Ezekiel 34.11-16; Ps 22; Romans 5.5-11; Luke 15.3-7

This solemnity is not about the anatomy or internal organs of our Lord, but rather about the way that the God who is love set his heart on his people. [Deuteronomy 7.7] Pope Pius XII wrote that the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, ‘is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings’without exception.

The most significant source of the devotion comes from the visions of St Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-90), a nun of the Visitation order. Our Lord appearing to her asked for more frequent reception of Holy Communion, particularly on the first Friday of each month, and for an hour’s meditation every Thursday evening on his Agony in Gethsemane.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that ‘The prayer of the Church venerates and honours the Heart of Jesus just as it invokes his most holy name. It adores the incarnate Word and Heart which, out of love for men, he allowed to be pierced by our sins.’

Nativity of St John Baptist (23rd June)

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.

SS John Fisher & Thomas More (22nd June)

II Maccabees 6.18,21,24-31; Ps 30; Matt 24.4-13

St John Fisher and St Thomas More didn’t die together, but they are commemorated together (on the date of John Fisher’s martyrdom) because both of them were put to death, during the reign of King Henry VIII, for defending the validity of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. John Fisher was Bishop of Rochester and Catherine’s confessor; Thomas More served as Chancellor until he resigned because of his opposition to the Act of Succession.

John Fisher (1469-1535) was one of the greatest intellects of his time and as bishop he was active in attacking protestant heretics—and in some cases having them tortured. Erasmus (1466-1536) called him the ‘one man at this time who is incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning and for greatness of soul.’

G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) described the mind of Thomas More (1478-1535) as ‘full of light like a house made of windows; but the windows looked out on all sides and in all directions.’ Pope Pius XI, who canonised him, declared him the patron saint of statesmen and politicians, but his interests were far wider than that. He was the very model of the ‘Renaissance man’, and he combined that with a deep and affective piety. He was devoted to his family and managed to maintain a life of prayer amidst his public duties. Chesterton called him the greatest Englishman in history.

St Aloysius Gonzaga (21st June)

II Kings 19.9-11, 14-21,31-36; Psalm 47; Matthew 7.6,12-14

St Aloysius (1568-91) was an aristocrat who became a member of the Society of Jesus in opposition to his family’s intentions for him. He was rather frail and of delicate health, but during the plague that struck Rome in 1591 he first begged alms for the victims and then devoted himself to caring for them in the newly-established Jesuit hospital. Along with many other Jesuits he caught the disease and, though he recovered partially, a relapse led to his death at the age of 23. He was beatified only 14 years later and canonised in 1726. In 1926 Pope Pius XI declared him the patron saint of Christian youth; more recently he has been considered the patron saint both of AIDS victims and their caregivers.

St Alban, Martyr (20th June)

II Kings 17.5-8,13-15,18; Psalm 59; Matthew 7.1-5

St Alban (his birthdate is unknown, and his death date is disputed, between 209-305) is the first recorded martyr on British soil. He lived in the town known in Roman times as Verulamium (today it is the city of St Albans) but his socioeconomic status is unknown. He gave shelter to a priest (traditionally known as Amphibalus, from the Latin word meaning ‘cloak’) who was fleeing persecution. He was so impressed with the priest’s faith and piety that he became a Christian himself, and when soldiers came to his door searching for the priest Alban put on the priest’s cloak and presented himself as the priest they were pursuing. The ruse was discovered, and Alban was himself taken before the authorities, the judge who heard the case outraged that he would protect such a perfidious person. Alban was commanded to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, and when he refused, asserting that ‘I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things’, he was condemned to death.

He was led out to be executed. They reached the River Ver where Alban, desiring that martyrdom should come quickly, prayed and the river dried up, allowing Alban and his captors to cross on dry land. One astonished executioner threw down his sword and professed his desire to be martyred along with Alban. At the summit of a hill Alban was thirsty and prayed for a drink; there a well sprung up miraculously. Alban was beheaded and a variety of miracles were attested at the place; a cult of the martyr grew up (perhaps as early as the early 4th Century) and spread to Europe, in the Rhine and Rhone valleys, the French Alps, Switzerland and Italy.

Friday of week 11 in Ordinary Time

A story of Kings and Princes and a wicked step mother figures...

2 Kings 11:1-4,9-18,20; Psalm 131(132):11-14,17-18; Matthew 6:19-23

1 Kings 21:1 to 2 Kings 11:20

Each day this week the book of Kings has been used for the first reading. Rather than reflect on this daily, it is wiser to read the whole section again in one sitting, and consider it as one historical narrative. Like Chronicles, the book of Kings is an historical record, more so than the proverbs, psalms and prophets which have more to do with developing our relationship with our God. Nevertheless the historical books are not there simply to give a verifiable history of the early development of Israel's faith with God, but as has been said elsewhere, "Those who do not learn the lessons of History are condemned to repeat it" (widely reported to have been first said by the American philosopher George Santayana.)

What might we learn?

Ahab covets Naboth's vineyard and Jezebel has him killed: a story of desire to have what belongs to others, leading to murder of the other. We can probably readily think of very recent invasions of other people's territory (Russia - Ukraine) which is driven by the desire to own what others have. How could this have been prevented? A more open and sharing relationship between Europe and Russia perhaps?

The punishment of Ahab and Jezebel foretold: When confronted by what they had done, Ahab shows repentance and begs for forgiveness. Most modern politicians do stick to their earlier public statements and policies - it is rare to see repentance when things have gone badly and repentance when it comes is often seen as humiliation (and our tendency is to mock those who repent). Can we remember the 'humour' surrounding Nick Clegg for his 'Im sorry' speech? Or the mis-trust around Tony Blair who was never forgiven for mis-leading the house of commons over weapons of mass destruction? Or the present turmoil in the conservative party? Perhaps we as a people need to show genuine forgiveness when public figures are in the wrong - then they might be more willing to repent earlier and sort out problems faster?

Elijah is taken up to heaven: This section of Kings is rich in typology - writings that reflect other events in our journey with God. The red sea is parted, so is the river Jordan, Elijah ascends, so does Jesus, and so on. These details fasten the old testament to the new, like staples holding two different materials firmly together, and we are assured of the significance of the rest of the material through these more obvious links.

The spirit of Elijah fills Elisha:  The principal of handing on the gifts, powers and meaning from King to King is expounded here - the same leads to ou understanding of the 'Apostolic succession' - that our Kingship (we are baptised Priest, Prophet and King) is handed down to each of us directly from the Apostles - and to them from Christ himself.

Saved from the massacre, the true king is anointed by the high priest: A nation split into the 'ruling class' and the ordinary people - eventually leads to rebellion, and the people re-instate the kingly line (having symbolically taken up the arms of King David that were in the museum part of the temple). We often see a political leadership that looses the common touch and takes the country away from what people really desire. Within the people, the truth lies and always will re-emerge to establish a just and equitable leadership.


Thursday of week 11

How to pray

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-15; Psalm 96(97):1-7; Matthew 6:7-15

As Matthew structured his recording of Jesus' preaching, the collection being called 'The Sermon on the Mount', right in the middle, the most important place, we find Jesus teaching us how to pray. The Our Father is more of a how to pray lesson, than a what to pray lesson - but as a handy prayer to say it is beyond comparison. It is one of the prayers that all Christians, and most people in our country, will be able to say from memory, so it has strong powers of unification.

Here is one of many ways too use the Our Father - to guide is towards understanding how the prayer teaches how to pray.

Or you might simply want to listen to the Our Father prayed for you.

Or a one hour study...

Wednesday of week 11

Your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you

2 Kings 2:1,6-14; Psalm 30(31):20,21,24; Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Matthew uses a polished structure here, with three memorable and easily digested points linked together with the memorable and repeated phrase 'I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward'. We all know, from sermons given at the start of or during Lent, that we need to exercise Prayer, Fasting and Alms-giving. This is the source of that structure.

  • Prayer - everything we do should be wrapped in prayer. Pray before undertaking something, seeking and expecting guidance to choose wisely and prepare well. And pray after in thanks-giving.
  • Fasting - do not take for yourself what you do not need. It won't do you any good, possessions become a burden, wealth can bring guilt, too much food can lead to health issues.
  • Give Alms - and don't just give alms, as how you do this is important. Even your own left hand should not know what your right is giving away!

It really is not necessary for others to know what you have done - God will know. And God will reward you in the kingdom to come.