Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We would see a sign

Wednesday 1 of Lent

Readings: Jonah 3:1-10; Psalm 50; Luke 11:29-32

In today’s gospel, the crowds ‘seek a sign’. They want Jesus to perform a miracle of the kind that they think they will recognise; they would like Christ to behave in a way that they think they can identify as ‘God’s way’. In effect, they are looking for the kind of God they expect to find.

These crowds are not alone in asking Jesus to fit their expectations. Christ often has to negotiate, one way or another, the gap between what people think God’s servant ought to be like and the way he actually is. Even his followers continually misinterpret his intentions.

But why cannot Christ just give the crowds the ‘sign’ they demand? Why cannot God give us that ‘sign’?

I think the answer is that he is just not that kind of God.

In Christ, God appears to the world stripped of anything that makes him different from other human beings; he comes without supernatural accompaniments. It is true that Christ performs miracles, but they are not really ‘miracles on demand’ and they are meant to communicate something specific about the meaning of his life or his place in the history of salvation. In fact, there is a real sense in which the miraculous just does not lie at the heart of Christ’s life at all. Instead of offering supposedly supernatural certification of who he is, Christ points elsewhere.

In today’s gospel, while refusing to give a ‘sign’, Christ demands something which is, on the face of it, much more commonplace. He demands that the crowds change their hearts and minds, that they repent. This is something Christ continually asks in one way or another. It is there, he seems to say, that God would be seen - when people turn away from falsity, apathy and indifference. This would be an event less obviously spectacular and dramatic than what the crowd means by a ‘sign’, but if people would seek forgiveness and peace, take themselves less seriously, attend to each other, that really might be a ‘sign’.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hearing the Word of God

Tuesday 1 of Lent

Readings:Isaiah 55:10-11; Psalm 34; Matthew 6:7-15

A word, once let out of the cage, cannot be whistled back again - Horace.

How often have we regretted something we’ve said? How many times do we speak without thinking and provoke damage, pain and sorrow? It is a familiar feeling to wish to undo what has been done; to re-gather the words that have escaped and cage them within us. But we cannot.

This is not the picture of God’s Word we find in Isaiah: ‘it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Is 55.11). The Word of God is not only purposeful, powerful, always appropriate; it returns to God with the same power, purpose, appropriation. The Word of God does not escape, but is sent and returns in one moment, one eternal act.

This is the breathing of God and the source of life for the earth. And it is into this life of God that we are called by the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. But the Word is not only that through which God creates all things, nor only that by which God saves humanity. The Word that is God is the one in whom God reveals himself, his will, his purpose in the scriptures.

Let us pray this Lent that we recognise the Saviour, the life of God within us as we hear his living Word: ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt. 6.10).

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Monday, February 26, 2007


Monday 1 of Lent

Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 18; Matthew 25:31-46

As I greeted her jovially on the street, I wondered why she was looking so pale. After a few minutes, she told me the story of her college mate who was found dead in his room on Sunday. He had hanged himself. He was a normal, happy and respected guy, and nobody knew the reason why he did what he did. We stood in the street for a while in silence and assured each other of our prayers.

On my way home, I felt somewhat numbed. Why is it that I live and breath and walk and so many others cease to do so in this very moment. There are no rational arguments which could explain why I live and the others do not any more. Life as I’m able to lead it is a gift. And where there is a gift, there is a giver. God bestowed this wonderful life on me as a free and wonderful gift. I live and with me all the other wonderful people, in the midst of this marvellous world. Rather surprisingly, it is the encounter with death and nothingness in our everyday life which makes us discover the quality and beauty of life and its root: God.

Paul implores us “to offer your very selves to Him: a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2). It means we should follow Jesus Christ on His way to the cross, and not only “spiritually” but very actively. Then we can “discern the will of God” and see more clearly his recreating love.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

With Christ in the Desert

First Sunday of Lent

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Psalm 90; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13

‘Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days’ (Luke 4:1). During this season of Lent we are invited to set out more fervently on our journey of spiritual conversion by following Christ into the desert for a period of intense prayer that we might receive the grace to turn away from those things that threaten our relationship with God and with each other.

Although this journey of conversion may seem to be particularly associated with Lent, it is, in fact, one that we are called to undertake with renewed effort each and every day of our lives. As Jesus tells his disciples later in Saint Luke’s Gospel, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me’ (Luke 9:23).

Today’s Gospel passage reminds us that even if we are able to flee temptation on one occasion – temptation to commit all those acts which threaten to harm either ourselves or others – then this is no guarantee that we will not encounter greater temptations later on, waiting to pounce at moments of particular weakness and susceptibility or at moments when our continuing the Christian journey seems difficult or fruitless. Our preparations in Lent can strengthen us to deal with such moments.

To grow in holiness is to grow closer to God and to have an instinct for the ways of God. When we show a lack of trust in God’s ability to save us, or when we try to put God to the test by presuming that he will save us whatever we do, then we stand in danger of failing in the spiritual life.

The Christian journey is a joyful one and we must not forget this even in Lent. At the same time, we know that we can only truly grow in Christian love if we learn to deny our own desires or our own hankering after power or a good reputation. This can be a painful thing to learn. Yet it is only in following this Way of the Cross that we can hope eventually to come to the Resurrection.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

"I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners"

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Readings: Isaiah 58:9-14, Psalm 85:1-6, Luke 5:27-32

In today’s Gospel we have an account of the call and response of Levi the tax collector. In Jesus’ time, being a tax collector was not a popular occupation. Those tax payers amongst us might sympathise – a letter from the tax office is rarely greeted with joy! Yet amongst the Jews the poor tax collectors were really treated as outsiders. The taxes were demanded by the Roman occupiers, which made the tax collectors traitors. Corruption was widespread, even encouraged by the occupiers. But most scandalous of all, especially for the Pharisees, was the fact that tax collectors had dealings with Gentiles in the course of their work. Because of this contact with those who were not observers of Pharisaic laws, the tax collectors were deemed to be ritually impure, outcasts.

How shocking then, that Jesus should be associated with Levi, and even more shocking that he should be seen dining with a whole group of similarly ‘unclean’ people, engaging in an act which symbolised friendship and acceptance – friendship with and acceptance of the untouchables. By doing this, Jesus breaks down the barriers between the Jews and the Gentiles. The boundaries are now marked in a new way, so as to gather in all those who are in need of his mercy, of his compassion and healing – people just like us. Levi’s response to the call, immediately leaving everything to follow Jesus, brought him within this new boundary. By humbly acknowledging our faults before God in prayer and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we recognise our need for his grace and mercy. Then like Levi we open ourselves up, allowing ourselves to become the kind of people who can receive God’s healing, able to freely respond to the call to discipleship.
Good news indeed!

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Can fasting be in vain?

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Readings: Isaiah 58:1-9; Psalm 50; Matthew 9:14-15

'Why have we fasted, if you do not see, why mortify ourselves if you never notice? Look, you seek your own pleasures on your fastdays' (Isaiah 58:3).

The subject in Isaiah 58 is fasting. The text tells us that the people wanted to know the ways of God. Indeed, it says, they sought him day and night. This being the case then, we must say that the people's desire was commendable.

But this is what is sad about this story. They wanted to get closer to God but they were going about it all the wrong way. This is what has impressed itself on my mind. One may be in desperate need of God, and one may do what seems to be the accepted thing to do, in this case fasting, and it can all be in vain. Let this not be us. Let us not fast in the way that pleases us, but in the way that pleases God. The kind of fast that pleases God is 'to break unjust fetters, to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, to clothe the one you see to be naked and not turn from your own kin' (Isaiah 58:6-7).

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Sign of Mercy and Unity

Feast of the Chair of St Peter

Readings: 1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 23; Matthew 16:13-19.

The Lord said to Simon Peter: I have prayed that your faith may not fail; and you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.
(Lk 22:32; Entrance antiphon)

We have barely begun to settle into our Lenten fast and the Church calls us to this feast and to sing the ‘Gloria’ which we have only just suppressed. Perhaps the Gospel text: You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church brings to mind the triumphal majesty of St Peter’s Basilica with Peter’s chair – throne, in fact – lifted high in the apse and the pomp of the papacy. It’s all a rather marked contrast with the sombre penitential tones of Ash Wednesday.

Or is it?

The Pope is called to be "a sign of mercy” and a servant of ecclesial unity – a heavy cross, given the obvious dis-unity in Christ’s Church. At the heart of this ministry is Peter’s “human weakness and his special need of conversion” which we all share, and are conscious of particularly in Lent. As God's people we are to “manifest to a world ensnared by its sins and evil designs that, despite everything, God in his mercy can convert hearts to unity and enable them to enter into communion with him”. Hence St Cyprian warns: “To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.

This Lent, we pray for profound conversion so that, following Peter, we may learn that Christian discipleship is borne in humble service. When we come to Maundy Thursday thus renewed, we can whole-heartedly sing: “Where charity and love are, there is God…”

* * * * *

The above quotations are from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Ut unum sint.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"... And to dust you will return"

Ash Wednesday

Readings: Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning’ (Joel. 2:12). Who is this God who invites us to return to him? We might instinctively question the sort of relationship which seems to be presented to us. Are we asked to abase ourselves so that this parent will ‘graciously’ receive us back into His love? Where do these tears come from if they’re not the means by which we can earn the renewed toleration of the one whose anger we fear?

But what joy or freedom can there be in that kind of relationship? Why would God, who lovingly crafted us from the dust that is imposed on us today, want us to be anything other than what He made us to be: fully realised beings content in relationship with Himself. That guide desires us to be fully ourselves, at ease in the paths we were born to follow. Tears follow from the violence we do to our own person by becoming divided from our truest being. To return to God is not simply to supplicate to another but also to be reunited to ourselves.

The imposition of ashes that occurs in the Church’s liturgy today is a jarring note of reality. The ending of our mortal lives will be a final separation from the other selves that we choose or have forced upon us. The paradox here is that we are at our most free coming before God as beings acknowledging our own mortality. To know that we will return to dust is, for Christians, to reflect that we were made from dust singularly, as a result of God’s love which surpasses all we can know. Being aware of that love is to know ourselves as deeply valued for whom we really are. It is the journey of believers to find our truest self, the self which God made. It is a pilgrimage that, even with many years behind us, we have still only just begun.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Quodlibet 4 - Baptism of Infants

Lent is begining tomorrow. It has always been a special time for those preparing to receive baptism. Br. David Rocks answers the next Quodlibet on the baptism of infants.


Is the practice of consecrating one's child to God shortly after birth still in use? Does the Church say anything about this today?


Baptism is the first of the Sacraments of Initiation, of which there are three: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. Throughout the centuries, the process of Christian initiation has varied according to circumstances. In the early Church, the initiation process was highly developed. A long period of catechumenate and preparation, marked with various points of liturgical action, culminated in the celebration of the Sacraments of Initiation. The Church also practised infant baptism, in which the rite of baptism soon after birth involved an abridged collation of various liturgical rites of initiation in one ceremony. This is the most familiar form of the rite.
The Church teaches us that Baptism is necessary for the salvation of those who have heard the Gospel and have had the opportunity to ask for it. Thus, the salvation of God is not bound by the sacrament. The Church preaches the Gospel to all humanity from the first moments of their lives to the last moments, ‘for we know not the day or the hour’. Thus, the baptism of infants is a necessary thing.

Children are born into fallen human nature, a nature alienated from God by original sin, thus these children also have the need of the new birth of baptism in order that they might be freed from the power of darkness, and live as free children of God. Salvation is for fallen humanity, and we are all in need of it for eternal life; yet salvation is not to be ‘earned’ in any way. This is why infant baptism makes manifest the sheer gratuitousness of salvation. To deny baptism to a child is to deny it the priceless grace of being a child of God.

Since this baptism takes place before the age of reason, there is a need for catechetical instruction of the baptised after the reception of the sacrament. This is the responsibility of the whole Church, but particularly the child’s parents, who must nurture the child in all things. But the child grows in faith with the help of the baptism it has received.

For children who die before baptism, the Church commends them to the mercy of God, who desires the salvation of all. Because of the tenderness of God for the poor and the little, Christians can hope with confidence that children who die without having received the sacrament of Baptism will also be saved.

See Catechism of the Catholic Church Chapter 1, article 1: §§1213 – 1284

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Compline at Blackfriars

The office of Compline is sung at Blackfriars, Oxford each Wednesday in the eight teaching weeks of term. It is one of the most beautiful of the Church's liturgies with its quiet meditations on trustfulness and sleep, on death and God's watchful care. You are welcome to join us. It begins at 10.00 p.m. The church will be open from 9.45 p.m.

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Daily reflections during Lent

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Godzdogz will offer a reflection on the Mass readings of each day.

We would like to draw your attention also to a Lenten retreat offered by our Dominican brothers at Lille which delivers a daily reflection (in French) to your email address. To register click on Retraite dans la ville.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

The ethics of the kingdom

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - 18 February 2007

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; Psalm 102; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

David’s restraint, as recorded in the first reading, is striking. Saul, who is seeking to kill David, falls into his hands, and yet David does not kill him. This is because he is the Lord’s anointed. There is a third point of reference apart from David and Saul. This third point of reference is God, towards whom David has certain responsibilities that prevent him acting against Saul. He cannot live as if God did not exist, or as if Saul had nothing to do with God or God with Saul.

The teaching of Jesus about turning the other cheek, giving to everyone who begs from you, lending while expecting nothing in return – all this can seem idealistic and quite unrealistic for the rough and tumble world in which we live. Jesus is here sketching the ‘ethics of the kingdom’: where God’s love reigns people will find themselves living in these ways. But, as long as we are living in a fallen and struggling world, many feel that such a way of living remains an ideal beyond human ability. And it is. In ourselves we find the ‘first Adam’ and the ‘last Adam’, the old man and the new man, and the struggle between them is never fully resolved in this life.

But when we love, we find ourselves able to live in the way Jesus asks. Where we like people, are fond of them and want to remain in friendship with them, we find ourselves turning the other cheek, giving whenever we are asked, and lending without expecting anything in return. It is only where we ‘fall out of love’, or lower our sights from the goal of loving, that we begin to count the cost, measure what we give in terms of what others are prepared to give, and then begin to judge and condemn others.

We are ‘of dust’ and we are ‘of heaven’ and are pulled around as a result. We must look above and beyond the particular situations and relationships in which we find ourselves, to God and His way of loving. God is our ‘third point of reference’. From God we experience forgiveness for ourselves and learn how to be merciful to others.

Reprinted with permission fromThe Pastoral Review January-February 2007


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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Catholic Blog Awards 2007

For those interested:

"Godzdogz" has been nominated in this year's Catholic Blog Awards. If you should be so inclined, please pop over to the website, register, and then vote!

The results of the voting by Friday 16 February can be viewed here. Godzdogz has done very well in all the categories in which it was nominated. Thank you for your support.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Quodlibet 3 - InChristation

Yet another Quodlibet! Answer provided by Br. Gregory Murphy


InChristation is the other side of Incarnation. God became man so that man might become God. By dying on the cross, God opened the gates of eternity to mankind. Christ showed that the entry to Paradise was accomplished through suffering and that no one enters Paradise alone. That is why we can make reparation for the sins of others.

Is this thinking naive? Heretical? Stupid? Or is it an opening to a better understanding of the mysteries of our faith?


I think the latter – an opening to a better understanding. ‘InChristation’ (I rather like this neologism (in English at least)) is rather like the other side of the Incarnation, in the sense of the reverse side of a coin, in that by God (or more precisely God’s Word) becoming human, humans can now come to accept the gift extended to us from God of sharing in God’s life. This is the core of what we mean by ‘salvation’, and it happens in Baptism, when we become incorporated into the Body of Christ, becoming adopted sons in the Son. Of course we then have to realise it (to make it real) in our lives, slowly to learn what demands our trying to keep company with God, to walk in his ways, will make on us, what it might let us become, if we will only cooperate.
That’s where the talk of our divinisation comes from: ‘God became man that man might become (as) God’ - a slogan which has endured from Patristic times to the present, taken from a free rendering of some verses of the psalms. We become divinised, through God’s gift of his Spirit enlikened to God, sufficiently to be able to enjoy his life with Him; but we do not thereby become divine. We become like God, enough, we hope, to see him not “now as in a mirror, dimly, but then face-to-face” (1Cor 13:12); but we do not become God.

Did Jesus have to die to save us? I think that the key to trying to understand this mystery is to grasp that the fact that Jesus was put to death perhaps tells us more about ourselves than it does about God. Jesus showed us the human face of God, the human face of self-sacrificing love. But to love this way is to risk, to lay yourself open to the needs of others, to become vulnerable to them. And in the fallen human world of violence and corrupted relationships, of sin, this leads to the cross. Jesus was God’s gift of himself as man to humans; humans rejected this gift, and killed him. But the last word in that particular dialogue was God’s, in the Resurrection. Now, with Jesus living, risen, we are in communion, in one Body with him through the Spirit. But it wasn’t Jesus’ suffering as suffering that saves us; God isn’t like a severe judge, demanding reparation and issuing punishments. We could think of the Incarnation as the image of God projected onto human history. And our sinful history has distorted that image, producing the image of the cross. But God takes up and transforms the evil we have done in the Resurrection and inasmuch as we share in the life of the risen Lord we too ultimately escape death by being caught up into God’s life.

One of the ways we realise the presence of God’s love and life in us is in compassion, our ‘feeling-with’ the suffering of others. And as we are being built up by the Spirit into the one Body of Christ we are being bound together in one fellowship or communion. So, in a sense we save ourselves – by letting ourselves become able to accept God’s love in Christ by serving others, so in that sense we don’t enter paradise, life with God, alone. As one of my brothers noted recently, when we die we usually leave all sorts of unfinished business behind us. But our time for action is in this life. So we hope that people still living will offer prayers and beseech God’s mercy for us, and by their charity help to undo the damage we have left in our passage through this life. That, I think, is how I understand ‘reparation’, and praying on behalf of the dead; as those in bliss, the saints, pray for us. Both living and dead (as human history sees it) are part of the one, living body of the risen Lord.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Quodlibet 2 - 100 basic Christian texts

One of the friends of our community in Oxford asked us a very interesting question. We would like to extend this question to you.

What would be among your 100 basic Christian texts, without which you do not think that Christianity ever could have begun or developed, or those texts with which you think others will always associate their Christianity both in practice (e.g. Hail Mary and Our Father) or theologically or liturgically?

If you have any opinions on this, please share them with us! Have your say by adding a comment to this post. Give us some reasons for your choice, if you wish!

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Quodlibet 1 - How are priests prepared to be confessors?

Godzdogz has had a question about the way in which priests are prepared for the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. On the one hand there is the remote preparation priests make for this which includes most of what they study: scripture, liturgy, moral theology, doctrine - all of it is needed if a person is to be adequately prepared for the role of confessor. On the other hand there is the immediate preparation, closer to the time when he is due to be ordained. This involves pastoral theology, canon law and practical moral theology. The spiritual life of the priest, his own prayer and his use of the sacraments, are also essential to his preparation for being a confessor.

The seal of the confessional is, of course, absolute. The code of canon law speaks of it as follows:
The sacramental seal is inviolable. Accordingly, it is absolutely wrong for a confessor in any way to betray the penitent, for any reason whatsoever, whether by word or in any other fashion (canon 983).

So a priest can never reveal what he has heard in the confessional, not to anybody else and not for any reason whatsoever. This sets a strict boundary to what a priest may say when he is helping seminarians prepare to be confessors. He may, of course, speak with them about kinds of sins or types of situations that they might encounter and help them to think about how they ought to respond in such situations. But this will always be very general, 'in the abstract' as it were: the confessor is alone as he hears confessions and what he learns there about individuals must remain absolutely inviolable.

In an apostolic exhortation from 1984 John Paul II spoke about this preparation of priests for the ministry of the confessional. He emphasised not only the theological and spiritual formation they require but also formation in what he calls 'the methodology of dialogue' (Reconciliatio et paenitentia, 1984, paragraph 29). He says:

Every priest must be trained for the ministry of sacramental penance from his years in the seminary, not only through the study of dogmatic, moral, spiritual and pastoral theology (which are simply parts of a whole), but also through the study of the human sciences, training in dialogue and especially in how to deal with people in the pastoral context. He must then be guided and looked after in his first activities. He must always ensure his own improvement and updating by means of permanent study.

Put more simply what the 'methodology of dialogue' means is how to receive, listen and respond to another human being who comes in the vulnerable role of a contrite and confessing sinner. It is about some basic human skills: how to meet, greet, receive, listen to, be with, and speak to another person. This may seem very obvious to some but it is important to think about it because this one-to-one human conversation is the basis on which the sacrament is made just as the failure of this conversation humanly speaking may result in people turning away from the sacrament.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Worthy Successor of St Dominic

"The Rule of the Friars Preachers. And this is their Rule: to live virtuously, to learn, to teach."

These words of Jordan of Saxony reveal a friar whose experience of the Dominican life, as much as his studiousness, informs his conduct in regular observance. Born in Burgberg, Westphalia at the end of the twelfth century, he received the habit from Bl Reginald of Orleans (whose feast we celebrated yesterday) on 12 February 1220, becoming Provincial of Lombardy only one year later and then first successor to St Dominic as Master of the Order not long after. We can only imagine the weight of such a task as the new order lost its founder. And yet, there is only a hint of this apprehension in Jordan’s own writings:

"I had only been in the Order one year and had not struck root as deeply as I ought to have done. I was to be placed over others as their superior, before I had learned to govern my own imperfection."

(Libellus on the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers)

Jordan oversaw the refinement of the Constitutions and began many traditions that are still observed in the Order today: for instance, encyclical letters from the Master to the brethren and the singing of the Salve Regina after Compline. There are many stories and words from and about Blessed Jordan, who guided his brothers and sisters in the footsteps of Dominic for fifteen years and drew over a thousand novices in the Order. He is, for this reason, the patron of Dominican Vocations and after Compline on Wednesdays at Blackfriars we pray to him for "talented and devoted men and women to consecrate their lives to God".

It has been said that "Jordan who, more than any one man after St Dominic himself, created the spirit of the Order, gave to it a joy and an informality in its daily life which are amongst its greatest treasures, for they enshrine and express a whole theology of religious life." This spirit of joy and laughter is shown in just one story from his in the 'Lives of the Brethren', the Vitae Fratrum:

"When on his way home to his convent with a fresh batch of novices, as they were all saying Compline together, one of them fell to laughing, and the rest catching on joined in right heartily. Upon this one of the blessed Master’s companions made a sign for them to be quiet, which only set them off laughing more than ever. When the blessing had been given at the end of Compline, the Master turning to this friar rebuked him sharply: ‘Brother, who made you their master? What right have you to take them to task?' Then addressing the novices very gently, he said, ‘Laugh to your heart’s content, my dearest children, and don’t stop on that man’s account. You have my full leave, and it is only right that you should laugh after breaking from the devil’s thraldom, and bursting the shackles in which he held you fast these many years past. Laugh on, then, and be as merry as you please, my dearest sons.’ They were all very much relieved on hearing him say so…"

Jordan and two of his confreres were killed in a shipwreck on 13 February 1237 returning from the new priory in Acre in the Holy Land. This would have seemed a tragedy for the Order were we not assured of his continued love and intercession from heaven. We thank God for the gift of so worthy a successor to St Dominic. Br Lawrence at Oxford has written this prayer to Jordan:

May Blessed Jordan of Saxony pray for the Order of Preachers today and always, and grant an increase of vocations to the Dominican Family. May he stir up the hearts of young men and women, as once he did on this earth, with a fervour for Truth, to give themselves in its service in the Order of Preachers. May he clothe us, his brothers and sisters, with his zeal and passion for Christ the Word, and may he give us cause joyfully to laugh in his company for ever. Amen.

Blessed Jordan, pray for us.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The two ways

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 11 January 2007

Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 16-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26

A common way of moral teaching in the ancient world is in terms of ‘two ways’, one leading on to success and happiness, the other to disaster and disappointment. It is used also in the Bible, which speaks of a way that carries a blessing and leads to life, and a way that carries a curse and leads to death. One is the narrow way of which Jesus speaks, leading to life, and the other is the broad way, leading to death. To place your trust in flesh and in what the world can offer is a way that leads to death, Jeremiah says. It means living, sooner or later, in a parched land. To place your trust in the Lord is to be like a tree planted near life-giving water, able to send its shoots to the water to find nourishment. Such a tree blossoms, and bears fruit.

The form of the beatitudes given in the gospel of Luke follows this pattern of ‘the two ways’. Those who are poor and hungry, weeping and rejected, are blessed, Jesus says. Those who are rich and well fed, laughing and well thought of, are in difficulty. The true prophets experienced the former whereas the false prophets experienced the latter. People experiencing the former are obliged to place their trust in God and so they are like trees planted near life-giving water. People experiencing the latter find their meaning and significance in the world and will find themselves, sooner or later, living in a parched land. Somebody more beautiful will come along, or someone richer, or someone more influential, or someone younger … but the wise person finds the meaning and significance of their lives at some deeper place, where the divine water is to be found.

The paradox expressed in the beatitudes and woes of Luke 6 is most dramatically enacted in the paschal mystery of Christ. He is the seed sown in the ground. But the ground in which it is sown is watered from a divine source so that he springs to life again, life more abundant and more glorious. As Paul says in the second reading, Christ has been raised from the dead as the first fruits of those who have died. So when he speaks about the poor and hungry, about those who weep and are persecuted, he speaks about himself. And he knows the meaning and significance human life contains when it remains in touch with the divine water, blossoming (albeit in hidden ways) and bearing fruit (fruit that will last).

Reproduced with permission from The Pastoral Review, January-February 2007
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Commemoration of our Deceased Parents

On 7 February each year Dominicans pray for their deceased parents. The conventual Mass is offered for them and the Office of the Dead is sung. Here one of the brothers reflects on the significance of this annual liturgical commemoration:

Death leaves all kinds of unfinished business. When we die most of us will not have become all we should have been - there will have been words of tenderness and forgiveness never spoken, damaging relationships never mended, kinds of trust never learnt. We will have not changed in ways in which we might have changed. So we will die still in need of spiritual healing. The time between death and the vision of God – the time that we call purgatory - essentially is a time for this kind of healing.

It is difficult to hold onto any picture of the beyond. Experience of the death of a loved one brings home all the strangeness of death. An actual death makes it perfectly clear how little we know. But it is possible to make a guess what this time – if it is a time - will be like. The poet Dante wrote a long poem about purgatory - the poem is, in effect, a long guess. Dante thought that this period of being between worlds would be both painful and acutely joyful. He thought the pain and the joy would be God’s way of touching parts of ourselves that we have hardened and brutalised. The pain would be bitter-sweet, it would be suffered in the knowledge that it was a way of undoing all the self-inflicted effects of sin, in the knowledge that it was God’s way of loosening our sclerotic hearts. Above all, purgatory would be a place of renewal. It would be a place of renewed sociability, of remaking the bonds between people, which had been broken by sin. It would also be a place of renewed and purified community with God.

There is a lot of sense and wisdom in Dante’s vision of the healing flames. If purgatory is a place of healing, it must be a healing that can penetrate human nature through and through, and perhaps all real healing like all real change involves something bitter-sweet.

Today we are praying especially that that healing will come home to our dead parents, whose lives are now a mystery to us, but who claim our time and attention. Perhaps we are likely to know our parents’ need for healing best of all. It is easy to know the weaknesses and failures of those we have lived with. But knowledge of someone’s weakness – especially when it is mixed with gratitude to that person – should be a cause of love and nothing else. Our prayer for our dead parents is the best expression which we can give of that love.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

By grace I am what I am

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 4 February 2007

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 137; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

There is nothing wrong about feeling unworthy in the presence of God. In fact it seems like a healthy reaction. Which of us, faced with the glory of God’s perfect love, would feel able to stand? Isaiah experienced that glory in a vision he had in the Temple at Jerusalem, and felt unworthy. Peter experienced it in his encounter with Jesus, and felt sinful. They fell to their knees, dismayed by their poverty.

That Peter reacted to Jesus as Isaiah did in the Temple reminds us of something central to the New Testament. God’s dwelling is not now a religious building in a particular place: God’s dwelling is Jesus Christ. The glory experienced by Isaiah is hidden within Jesus. Our dealings with God, and God’s dealings with us, take place now through the body of Jesus Christ. It is because we have been made members of that body through baptism that we have access to the Father when we pray in the name of the Son. But Peter has not yet learned all this. For the moment all he knows is that the power of God is working through Jesus and he is not worthy to stand in its presence.

Saint Catherine of Siena, a great mystic of the 14th century, quotes God saying to her ‘I am He who is and you are she who is not’. Saint Paul puts it like this in the second reading today: ‘by grace I am what I am’. If he worked harder than any of the other apostles, it was ‘not I but the grace of God that is with me’. This is a lesson that is learned only with great difficulty. Isaiah has a burning coal placed against his lips: thus purified he can speak the Word of God to the people. Peter has many trials and difficulties to undergo in following Christ. Paul too gained his wisdom through much suffering. And of course Jesus himself, although he was Son, learned obedience through what he suffered.

Like Peter we are invited to ‘put out into the deep’, to be courageous and generous in our efforts at following Christ. We will fail often, and perhaps seriously, as Peter did. But we are in good company, for so many have walked this path before us, the path to our true identity: ‘by grace I am what I am’.

Reproduced with permission from The Pastoral Review, January-February 2007


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Friday, February 02, 2007

Sequence for Candlemas

In the 9th and 10th centuries, there arose a new form of hymnody, the Prose or Sequence which was sung after the Gradual (the anthem between the Epistle and Gospel at Mass). In the Dominican Missal, the Sequence Laetabundus, may still be sung at the Third Mass of Christmas, the Epiphany and Candlemas. It begins thus:

"Let the faithful choir
Joyfully rejoice,

The womb of the undefiled one
Has brought forth the King of kings:
A thing of wonder..."

There were quite a number of sequences written to celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, but the most famous Nativity sequence is this one. It was once sung all over Europe - the oldest surviving manuscript evidence is from the 11th century - being especially popular in England and France. Unlike other early sequences, it was written in rhymed stanzas and this came to influence later hymns and verses.

This Sequence is believed to survive today only in the Dominican liturgical books and the recording above is from Blackfriars, Oxford. The Latin words and music may be found here and a full translation here.

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