Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Children Coming In Judgement

A Homily for Holy Communion on Tuesday , 19th March, 2013, 9 a.m.

Feast of Saint Joseph being also the occasion of the Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis I for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Matthew 1:18-End Children Coming In Judgement + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“Children come as a judgement on their parents”.

From time to time I have had cause to ponder those words since I first heard them from the director of the retreat before we were priested, nearly seventeen years ago. Usually we think of children as a blessing on their parents, and our hearts go out to those from whom that blessing is withheld. But for those who are so blessed, the path of parental love rarely runs smooth for long. Apart from the burden of anxiety and guilt that having such complete responsibility for another human being brings, there are the children who “go wrong”, who turn out to be other than their parents expect and hope, when the blessing turns to challenge. It is a challenge not all parents rise to. And then they are judged indeed – not least by the children who “didn’t ask to be born”.

Our retreat director had something deeper in mind, though, when he used those unexpected words “children come as a judgement on their parents”. He seemed to imply that eventually the child would come to challenge the parent in the aspect of their personality or value system at which they were most vulnerable. There would come a point when the parent would not be able to cope, literally not know what to do for the best. Examples abound: the child of the unlettered parent who won’t stop reading books; the child of the highly-educated who won’t start; the child with a baffling enthusiasm for sport, or fishing, or stamps, or visiting cemeteries; the child with no enthusiasms at all; the child of aspirational parents who has no aspiration, the child of respectable parents who wants to become a rake, the child of religious parents who insists on abandoning God; and all the children whose taste in food, clothes, manners, friends, lifestyle, and timekeeping, becomes totally inexplicable. Our hearts go out to those who must live with the blessing, too.

But one step more complex is the world of the step-parent, the man or woman who chooses a partner, and receives the baggage –as the psychologists so nicely put it – of step-children. The baggage that comes with the package. If raising a child of your own can be years, decades, of treading on eggshells, being a step-parent is surely striding out into a minefield. And yet some rise to the challenge, even to the point of becoming more cherished by the offspring-not-their-own than the parents whose offspring they are. We know next to nothing about Saint Joseph. He appears in two of our Gospels only briefly, as in our Gospel reading today, and then slides quietly out of history. But his story, as told to us, is one of a man who rises to the challenge of taking on a wife pregnant with a child not his own, facing his own humiliation amongst their kith and kin, rather than shaming her. “Ah, but the angel told me …” I don’t suppose anyone down the pub believed that for one minute. And yet he carried on. Our story does not tell us whether Joseph was a good step-father, but we must trust the evidence before us – Jesus seems to have turned out all right; and he did that bold thing that parents say they want for the children (until it actually happens) – he left home and family, to become himself, to do what he had to do. If that is, at least in part, the fruit of the co-operation of a good and kind step-father with the Divine Providence, then for all of us with care and concern for children-not-our-own, Joseph makes a very fine patron saint indeed; and there may be one particular Father-in-God who will join us in giving thanks today for Saint Joseph. Amen.

Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford
March 2013

Friday, 1 March 2013

Lamb of God - Part 4

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT, 3rd March Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Gospel: Luke 13:1-9 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” Hymn Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what thou dost love, and do what thou wouldst do. Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure, until my will is one with thine, to do and to endure. Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, until this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine. Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die; but live with thee the perfect life of thine eternity. Edwin Hatch, 1878 Lord of the sowing, as of the harvest, send your warming light, and refreshing rains, on us, your chosen crop, that we may bring forth abundance for the good of all; give us patient hearts in the fallow times, and devoted hearts in the growing season, that when our time comes, we may be gathered in to that perfect harvest of your own eternity. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Monday, 4th March Gospel: Luke 4:24-30 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town”. Reflection: It has as truly been said that in the company of our parents, no matter how old we are, we are always children. It maddens us when we are young, and they know best; and continues even into their old age, when we are surely doing more for them than they for us, and yet to them, we are children still. Sometimes, like Jesus, we need distance to find the freedom to grow up and become ourselves, to make relationships and families and friends and work and lives of our own, to discover our distinctive stamp. And that may require a sacrifice of home, and all things familiar – and perhaps a rocky ride for those first and closest relationships. It is a journey God wishes us to take, and God will be with us on every step – because he delights in our becoming the people he made us to be. Loving Father, hear our prayer of thanks for those you have given us to care for us, and guide us, as we grow in maturity of faith and moral fibre; give us brave hearts to go where you lead us, to speak the truth we hear, to surprise those nearest to us, and those far off, and to be gentle in our dealings with those who cannot hear what we have to say, nor recognise yet who we must become. We ask this through Jesus Christ, whose journey you called us to share. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Tuesday, 5th March Gospel: Matthew 18:21-end Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. Reflection: The Ancient Jews loved numbers, and some numbers had special significance for them. Seven was one of those, the number of the days of creation – including the all-important day of rest (sometimes we forget that God created rest too!). But when the seven days are up, they begin again, so seven becomes a symbol for endlessness – and seventy-times-seven is indeed “unto the end of the ages”. That’s a lot of forgiving. But then, we’re going to need a lot of forgiving too, and how appropriate that flakey Peter – so typical of so many of us disciples in the generations to come - is the one Jesus tells this to. Here they are, Lord: my resentments, my woes, my blames, my grudges, my chips on the shoulder, the irritations of the day, and the grievances nursed these long years; here they are, in all their awful truth; show me the way, that in forgiving, I may be forgiven and, arm-in-arm with those I have wronged, may know the freedom of your absolution. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Wednesday, 6th March Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Reflection: Jesus took the 613 commandments of the Ancient Jewish Law, the Torah (the first five books of our Bibles) and summed them up in two – Love God, and love your neighbour. Well, we can all love God. God’s pretty undemanding, especially if you ignore him, and he doesn’t shout for attention. But must we love our neighbours too? Yes, and worse, not just our neighbours, but our enemies. And when we start this seems impossible, think about those we love most – are they so easy to love? Don’t they irk and annoy, disappoint and disillusion, and sometimes madden and infuriate us? And yet we can love them, and we do. God shows us the way in easy steps – start with what you know, and you’ll end up knowing God. Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which thou hast given us, all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly; for thine own sake. Amen. (St Richard of Chichester) Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Thursday, 7th March Gospel: Luke 11:14-23 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Reflection: “Whose side are you on?” For most of us that’s a pretty instinctive question when the going gets tough. We want to know we can trust those around us, that they will help and support in whatever way they can, and if they can’t, and won’t, then they are not much use to us – they are scatterers. But Jesus also says, in the same Gospel, and in a similar context, “whoever is not against you, is for you” (Luke 9:50). Are we to make of this that we must judge people by their actions, rather than their words? They may not say they are on our side, but if what they do supports us, that’s good enough. But it’s quite a challenge to us – “are you a gatherer, or a scatterer?” When we think back, there can be surprisingly many times in our lives when we realise we have scattered, knocked down, instead of building up. Just as Jesus wishes to build us up, so we too must build others up, that all can be strong in the building of the Kingdom for whose coming we pray each day. Almighty and everlasting God, grant us true and honest prayers; help us turn our prayers to kind and grace-full words; and let us turn our words to deeds of power in your service, to your glory, and the good of all. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Friday, 8th March & Edward King Gospel: Mark 12:28-34 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Reflection: Here’s a forgotten commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your mind”. It’s easy to think of this part of Jesus’s summing up of the law as just part of a list, meaning “love God lots”, but this won’t do. Obviously, it is not given to us all to be professors of theology (thank God!) but we each are graced with intellectual gifts, the ability to think and to question, and like Mary to “ponder these things”, and a sense of wonder, to notice God’s glorious creation, and be thankful. To wonder is a part of discipleship, and brings us closer to the God who aches to be known to all those whom he has made. Morning glory, starlit sky, Leaves in springtime, swallows’ flight, Autumn gales, tremendous seas, Sounds and scents of summer night; Soaring music, tow’ring words, Art’s perfection, scholar’s truth, Joy supreme of human love, Memory’s treasure, grace of youth; Open Lord, are these thy gifts, Gifts of love to mind and sense; Hidden is love’s agony, Love’s endeavour, love’s expense. (W. H Vanstone) For all your gifts, open and hidden, to us and to all creation, we give you thanks, O Lord. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace Saturday, 9th March Gospel: Luke 18:9-14 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. Reflection: How easy it is to stand in judgement on others! But we all have our demons to wrestle with, the flawlines in our character, which are also, so often, the means for grace to touch our hearts. Sometimes we may judge harshly a person who is struggling with stronger demons than our own. And think of the poor Pharisee – not struggling with, but taken over by, the demon of self-righteousness. Mother Julian of Norwich taught us that you look on your creatures “with pity, and not with blame”; Father, give as grace to do the same. Amen. Kyries, Lord’s Prayer, Grace