(This is Neil)
Dear brothers and sisters, as disciples of the Lord we have a common responsibility to the world, we must carry out a common service: as the first Christian community of Jerusalem, beginning from what we already share, we must give a strong witness, founded spiritually and supported by reason, of the only God who has revealed Himself and who speaks to us in Christ, to be bearers of a message that directs and illumines the path of the man of our time, often deprived of clear and valid points of reference. Hence, it is important to grow each day in mutual love, committing ourselves to overcome those barriers that still exist among Christians; to feel that a true interior unity exists among all those who follow the Lord; to collaborate as much as possible, working together on the questions that are still open; and above all, to be conscious that in this itinerary the Lord must assist us, he still has to help us much because, without Him, alone, without “abiding in Him,” we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5).
Pope Benedict XVI, “On Praying for Christian Unity,” General Audience 1.19.11
Devotion to the Apostles’ Teaching Unites Us
Isaiah 51:4-8 Listen to me, my people
Psalm 119:105-112 Your word is a lamp to my feet
Romans 1:15-17 Eagerness to proclaim the Gospel
John 17:6-19 I have made your name known
The Church of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles was united in its devotion to the apostles’ teaching, despite the great diversity of language and culture amongst its members. The apostles’ teaching is their witness to the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Their teaching is what St Paul simply calls “the gospel.” The apostles’ teaching, as exemplified by St Peter’s preaching in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. In his use of the prophet Joel, he connects the Church with the biblical story of the people of God, drawing us into the narrative that begins in creation itself.
Despite divisions the Word of God gathers and unites us. The apostles’ teaching, the good news in all its fullness, was at the centre of unity in diversity of the first Church of Jerusalem. Christians in Jerusalem remind us today that it is not simply the “apostles’ teaching” that the united earliest church, but devotion to that teaching. Such devotion is reflected in St Paul identifying the gospel as “the power of God for salvation.”
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s teaching is inseparable from God’s “justice for a light to the peoples.” Or, as the psalmist prays, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Your decrees are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.”
God of Light, we give you thanks for the revelation of your truth in Jesus Christ, your Living Word, which we have received through the apostles’ teaching, first heard at Jerusalem. May your Holy Spirit continue to sanctify us in the truth of your Son, so that united in Him we may grow in devotion to the Word, and together serve your Kingdom in humility and love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
20 January 2011
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(This is Neil)
19 January 2011
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(This is Neil.)
“[O]ur hope is alive that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, many diligent and competent persons who work in the ecumenical realm, will be able to make their contribution to the achievement of this great ecumenical endeavor always guided by the Holy Spirit.
“This said, it is understood that the efficacy of our efforts cannot come solely from study and debate but depends above all on our constant prayer, on our life in keeping with the will of God, because ecumenism is not our work but the fruit of God’s action.
“From this perspective, your annual pilgrimage to Rome for the feast of St. Henrik is considered an important event, a sign and reinforcement of our ecumenical efforts, and of our certainty that we must walk together and that Christ is the way for humanity. Your pilgrimage helps us to look back with joy to see what has been achieved up to now and to look to the future with the desire of assuming a task full of responsibility and faith. On the occasion of your visit we all wish to strengthen our belief that the Holy Spirit, who awakens us, supports us and has made the ecumenical movement fruitful, will continue to do so in the future.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Ecumenical Delegation of the Lutheran Church of Finland 1.18.2011
Isaiah 55:1-4 Come to the waters
Psalm 85:8-13 Surely Salvation is at hand
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
John 15:1-13 I am the true vine
The Church of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles is the model of the unity we seek today. As such, it reminds us that prayer for Christian unity cannot be for uniformity, because unity from the beginning has been characterized by rich diversity. The Church of Jerusalem is the model or icon of unity in diversity.
The narrative of Pentecost in the Book of Acts’ tells us that there were represented in Jerusalem on that day all the languages and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world and beyond, people who heard the gospel in their diverse languages, and who through the preaching of Peter were united to each other in repentance, in the waters of baptism, and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Or, as St Paul would later write, “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.” It is not a uniform community of the likeminded, culturally and linguistically united people who were one in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, but a richly diverse community, whose differences could easily erupt into controversy. Such was the case between the Hellenists and the Hebrew Christians over the neglect of the Greek widows, as St Luke relates in Acts 6.1. And yet the Jerusalem church was at unity within itself, and one with the Risen Lord who says “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”
Rich diversity characterizes the churches in Jerusalem to this day, as it does around the world. It can easily erupt into controversy in Jerusalem, accentuated by the current hostile political climate. But like the earliest Jerusalem church, Christians in Jerusalem today remind us that we are many members of one body, a unity in diversity. Ancient traditions teach us that diversity and unity exist in the heavenly Jerusalem. They remind us that difference and diversity are not the same as division and disunity, and that the Christian unity for which we pray always preserves authentic diversity.
God, from whom all life flows in its rich diversity, you call your Church as the Body of Christ to be united in love. May we learn more deeply our unity in diversity, and strive to work together to preach, and build up the Kingdom of your abundant love to all, while accompanying each other in each place, and in all places. May we always be mindful of Christ as the source of our life together. We pray in the unity of the Spirit. Amen.
18 January 2011
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(This is Neil. I’m back. You can find the readings, commentaries, and prayers for the entire week here. Please pray with me.)
The Church in Jerusalem
Joel 2:21-22, 28-29 I will pour out my spirit on all flesh
Psalm 46 God is in the midst of the city
Acts 2:1-12 When the day of Pentecost had come
John 14:15-21 This is the spirit of truth
The journey of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, at the beginning of the Church’s own journey.
The theme of this week is “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.” The “they” is the earliest Church of Jerusalem born on the day of the Pentecost when the Advocate, the Spirit of truth descended upon the first believers, as promised by God through the prophet the Joel, and by the Lord Jesus on the night before his suffering and death. All who live in continuity with the day of Pentecost live in continuity with the earliest Church of Jerusalem with its leader St James. This church is the mother church of us all. It provides the image or icon of the Christian unity for which we pray this week.
According to an ancient eastern tradition, the succession of the church comes through continuity with the first Christian community of Jerusalem. The Church of Jerusalem in apostolic times is linked with the heavenly Church of Jerusalem, which in turn becomes the icon of all Christian churches. The sign of continuity with the Church of Jerusalem for all the churches is maintaining the “marks” of the first Christian community through our devotion to the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”
The present Church of Jerusalem lives in continuity with the apostolic Church of Jerusalem particularly in its costly witness to the truth. Its witness to the gospel and its struggles against inequality and injustice reminds us that prayer for Christian unity is inseparable from prayer for peace and justice.
Almighty and Merciful God, with great power you gathered together the first Christians in the city of Jerusalem, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, defying the earthly power of the Roman empire. Grant that, like this first church in Jerusalem, we may come together to be bold in preaching and living the good news of reconciliation and peace, wherever there is inequality and injustice. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who liberates us from the bondage of sin and death. Amen.
29 January 2010
(This is Neil) This coming Tuesday is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas. The readings can be found here (or, alternately, here). The learned Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, Geoffrey Rowell, in his Credo column for the Times this week, offers some reflections.
Here, then, is an excerpt:
Simeon sees in the child the Lord coming to his Temple. The prophet Malachi had said that the Lord would come to His Temple like a refiner’s fire, to cleanse and purge, and purify. How can this be, in this small child? Christian devotion has wondered with amazement at the child carried in the old man’s arms, yet that same child was the old man’s king, God and Lord. The Lord has indeed come to his Temple, but the refining fire is the love that stoops down to the lowest part of our need. As Simeon cries out, this is “the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people, Israel”. He goes on to tell Mary that her child will fulfil the destiny of love, the destiny of sacrifice, and she too will be caught into that refining fire — “a sword will pierce your own heart also”. Those close to this salvation, this redemption, are drawn into the self-offering that is at the heart of this transformation.
The Feast of Candlemas has many names. It is the Purification of the Virgin Mary. It is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. In Eastern churches it is simply “The meeting”, or, if you like, the encounter — the encounter of human longing for deliverance, for salvation, for the healing of the broken lives that feed into a broken society, with the love of God that goes to the uttermost for each and every one of us.
Our society needs salvation, transformation. Each one of us needs our own salvation, healing, deliverance, wholeness. And that salvation comes so often through moments of meeting. What we call meetings, as we know so well, are often not meetings in any deep sense at all; but when we truly meet one another, when we are vulnerable to one another, when we disclose to husband or wife, to close friend, or counsellor or priest, something of our pain and our longing and our hope, then we can find that out of meeting comes salvation. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness is not able to snuff it out.
Candlemas has been called a hinge feast. In the last light of Christmas we turn to share anew in the continuing journey of the divine love. That journey brings us to a cross, a gallows, and to arms embracing us in love, pinned by rough and rusty nails to sharp, splintering wood. Love is always costly, and the love of God that comes down to the lowest part of our need is no exception. …
29 January 2010
(This is Neil) The editor of New Blackfriars has generously made a number of articles about Thomas Aquinas freely available. One of them is Yves Congar’s “Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Spirit of Ecumenism,” originally published in 1974 (see here [PDF]). Cardinal (then-Père) Congar’s article would seem to be especially relevant as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity just concluded a few days ago.
It must be said, the title of Congar’s article might at first seem counterintuitive, even opportunistic, for two main reasons. First, we do not generally consider the medieval period as a time marked by the respect for the other “as other” that is necessary for ecumenism. And didn’t Thomas Aquinas – perhaps a man of his time after all – write a Contra errores Graecorum? But, regarding Aquinas, he didn’t title his work himself, criticized only the rejection of the papal primary and the Filioque (which he understood as “per Filium”), and had a great deal of respect for the Greek Fathers. He never actually took part in actual discussions with Eastern Christians, and, if he had, he would have noted that the Greek and Latin Fathers, despite any disagreement, had managed to live in communion with one another.
Second, Congar notes, we often consider the “temper” of Aquinas’ “sensibility” to be quite different than the “existential point of view” of Lutheran and much later Protestant theology. There is some truth to this (see my posts here and here). But Congar tells us that Aquinas’ analyses and distinctions are means (“particular angles”) to approach reality. They are not meant to be “reified.” Furthermore, Aquinas is not interested in constructing a cold and impersonal system. He is actually very interested in human liberty. For instance, Congar writes that, in the IIa pars of the Summa, “man is not treated as a ‘nature’ in the current sense of the word, but as the creator of that which he is called to be, by his virtuous acts and the habitus: He creates himself.” Congar also notes that many Protestant theologians have appreciated Aquinas.
So, perhaps we may conclude that Aquinas is not anti-ecumenical, but can he provide constructive aid in the contemporary practice of ecumenism? Congar answers positively. Of course, Aquinas never participated in ecumenical dialogues, but his way of writing “formally” (“from a precisely determined point of view”) means that the essence of his thought can endure even in different historical contexts – “rather as gold abides under the fluctuations of currencies.” Thus, we might expect that Aquinas would provide a description of the new heaven and new earth that would presently be outdated, given his adherence to Aristotelian physics. But Aquinas merely “confines himself” to a formal principle: that the human body will be “entirely subject to the soul, God’s power so disposing, not in being only but in all actions, experiences, motions and bodily qualities” (Contra Gentiles IV.86) – namely, that the glorious liberty of the children of God will be fully realized. This principle can be accepted even in a time of quantum physics. Also, we can say that Aquinas carefully distinguishes between what it is necessary to maintain and what is merely opinion – between the certain and the hypothetical. Finally, unlike many of our coreligionists, Aquinas is very careful before using such terms as haereticum and erroneum.
Besides his method, which has ensured that his thought will endure, Aquinas has positions that are useful to recall in ecumenical discussions (here I will just mention three):
1. While it might be imagined that Catholics emphasize the permanence and finality of the church and its “official” theology, Aquinas always keeps in mind the eschatological reference of all things – thus, the church for Aquinas is always between the synagogue and the kingdom, not an end in itself.
2. Aquinas maintains that the virtues have God as ground, rule, and object, so to “believe” is not a human “work,” but merely to become receptive to the witness that God gives of himself.
3. Aquinas writes that the “Holy Church is the same as the assembly of the faithful,” and is primarily the house of God, where the faithful are washed in the blood of Christ, receive anointing, are made holy, and are sanctified (Expos. in Symbol. A 9).
In Aquinas, there is no confusion of the eschaton with the present, and no confusion of the spiritual with the temporal. There is no attraction to theocracy of any sort detectable in Aquinas.
Finally, Aquinas should inspire us with the sheer intensity of his search for the truth, no matter where he found it. The quaestio (“the discussion of the pro and contra, the determination of the doctrine to be held, the response to the objections) that is familiar to anyone who has even glanced at the Summa is an attempt to rescue the truth, even when it is surrounded by error. Aquinas follows the general principle of Aristotle:
And since in choosing or rejecting opinions … a person should not be influenced either by a liking or dislike for the one introducing the opinion, but rather by the certainty of truth, he therefore says that we must respect both parties, namely, those whose opinion we follow, and those whose opinion we reject. For both have diligently sought the truth and have aided us in this matter (Comm. in Metaph. XII, 9).
Thus, after obtaining even proscribed texts, Aquinas always begins by looking for the intentio auctoris – the intention of the author. This is not always an easy task – a formula might have been misused, or another passage might have to be referenced to make sense of the meaning of the original passage, or one might even need to have recourse to the “general aim” or “global intention” of a work. Aquinas, at one point, demonstrates that an argument from Augustine is unsound. But then he says, “Sed tamen ut profundius intentionem Augustini scrutemur …” (“However, if we examine more deeply the intention of Augustine”). Congar asks, “What results would have been yielded by a study which, after pointing out the questionable or even unacceptable meaning of a text by Luther, would have continued: ‘Sed tamen ut profundius intentionem Lutheri scrutemur’?” It is, I should say, very difficult to imagine Aquinas “fisking” anybody at all.
Aquinas, as it is well known, died on the way to the Second Council of Lyons in 1274. Congar asks one more question: What would Aquinas have said if he had lived to go there to speak about the procession of the Holy Spirit? In his De Potentia, Aquinas gives us the two principles he would have applied to the controversial question of the Filioque: first, the principle of development, and, second, the principle of the difference between the concepts and the terms with which the issue had been discussed in East and West. The Greeks had come to use the term “cause” to speak of the Father in his relationship with the Son and the Spirit, while the Latins thought that the use of this term would lead to serious problems. Aquinas claims “if we take careful note of the statements of the Greeks we shall find that they differ from us in words rather than in thought” (De Potentia 10.5.c). Conceivably, if Aquinas had lived to attend the council, the claim that was made two centuries later in Florence might have been made at Lyons: “That which the holy doctors and the Fathers declare, that is to say, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father by the Son, is intended to signify that the Son, as well as the Father, is the cause – according to the Greeks – the principle – according to the Latins – of the subsistence of the Holy Spirit” (Laetentur coeli ). (Obviously, I am not claiming here that East and West could have been fully reunited so easily.)
Aquinas, then, might have looked forward, however distantly, to the principle of “equivalence” found in the Second Vatican Council’s Unitatis Redintegratio: that we might preserve unity in what is necessary, and diversity in “the various forms of spiritual life and discipline, or in the variety of liturgical rites, or even in the theological elaboration of revealed truth …” (my emphasis).
So, thus, Aquinas might be a resource for ecumenism in terms of his methods, positions, and, especially, the sheer intensity of his search for the truth.
What do you think?
25 January 2010
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(This is Neil)
Theme: Witness through Hospitality
Text – Have you anything here to eat? (Luke 24:41)
Gen 18:1-8 Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves
Psalm 146 He who gives justice to the oppressed and gives food to the hungry
Romans 14:17-19 Pursue what makes for peace and mutual edification
Luke 24:41-48 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures
Today, electronic communication has made us neighbours in one small and overloaded planet. As in the time of Luke, many peoples and communities have had to leave their homes, wandering and journeying to strange lands. People of the world’s great faiths have arrived bringing new beliefs and cultures to our communities.
In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we recognise in our shared journey towards unity the hospitality and companionship of Christians of all churches. Christ also calls us both to offer and to receive the hospitality of the stranger who has become our neighbour. Surely, if we cannot see Christ in the other, then we cannot see Christ at all.
The story in Genesis describes how Abraham receives God in opening his house and offering hospitality to strangers.
The God of all creation also stands with the prisoner, the blind, the stranger. Our psalm is an offering of praise for God’s everlasting faithfulness and all that God has done for us.
The text from Romans reminds us that the kingdom of God comes about through justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
The resurrected Christ brings his disciples together, eats with them and they recognise him again. He reminds them of what the scriptures said about him and explains what they did not understand before. Thus, he frees them from their doubts and fears and sends them out to become witnesses of these things. In creating this space for encounter with him he enables them to receive his peace, that implies justice for the oppressed, care for the hungry and the mutual up-building as the gifts of the new world of the resurrection. Christians throughout history have found the risen Lord as they have served others and been served by others in faith, so we too can encounter Christ when we share our lives and our gifts.
God of love, You have shown us your hospitality in Christ. We acknowledge that through sharing our gifts with all we meet you. Give us the grace that we may become one on our journey together and recognise you in one another. In welcoming the stranger in your name may we become witnesses to your hospitality and your justice.
1. To what extent is the country in which you live hospitable to the stranger?
2. How in your own neighbourhood can the stranger find hospitality and a space to live?
3. How might you show gratitude for those who have shown you hospitality by being available?
4. How does the cross show us that God’s hospitality is a hospitality lived out in total self-giving?
24 January 2010
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(This is Neil)
Pray for what we need
…help the weak (1 Thess 5: 14)
1 Sam 1: 9-20 Hannah prays for a son
Ps 86 Listen to my cry of supplication
1 Thess 5: (12a)13b-18 We urge you…to help the weak
Lk 11: 5-13 Ask and it will be given you
Unable to bear a child and in great distress, Hannah prayed to God for a son and in due time, her prayers were answered and Samuel (which means I have asked him of the Lord) was born. In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus himself tells us to “ask and it shall be given” and in our need, we turn to God in prayer. The response may not be what we expect but God always responds.
The power of prayer is immense, especially when linked to service. From the gospels, we know that Christ wants us to love and serve one another. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, the theme of service is taken up in the imperative: “help the weak”. We do not find it impossible to respond ecumenically in a practical way to people’s weakness or distress; churches of different traditions often work hand in hand. But their witness in some situations is seriously weakened by their division, and when we want to pray together, we are sometimes deeply suspicious of the different prayer forms we encounter in Christian traditions other than our own: Roman Catholic prayers which are addressed to God through the saints or Mary the mother of Jesus; Orthodox liturgical prayers; Pentecostal prayers; the spontaneous, Protestant prayers which address God in direct, everyday language.
There are signs however of a new consideration of different forms of prayer. Within American churches, the experience of Pentecostal renewal has also led to a greater appreciation of the power of prayer and Pentecostals have begun to feel more comfortable in the ecumenical movement. Discussions with the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches have led to greater appreciation of each other’s prayer forms.
Without doubt, confidence in the power of prayer is common to all our traditions and has rich potential to further the cause of Christian unity – once we can understand and overcome our differences. We should give prayerful support to the dialogues which seek to address those differences among our churches and which prevent us from coming together at the Lord’s table. Praying together that prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving would allow a great stride to be taken along the road to unity.
Help us, Lord, to be truly one in praying for the healing of our world, for the mending of divisions in our churches, and of ourselves. May we not doubt that you hear and will answer us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
23 January 2010
(This is Neil) If you are like me, you have already concluded that there is far too much to read, and, consequently, have stopped reading most comment sections. However, I found the following comment by the scholar Philip A. Cunningham, which was left after a John Allen column about the Pope’s visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome on January 17, to be quite informative and somewhat reassuring. (Please read the Pope’s remarks at the synagogue here.)
I do not believe that Professor Cunningham’s remarks necessarily encourage a marginalization of Christology and a weak “theism.” In fact, they could instead encourage an eschatological intensification of Christology. As the Pontifical Biblical Council wrote in The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible, “Like [the Jews], we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.”
Here, then, is Philip A. Cunningham’s comment:
While there is some merit in recalling Pope Benedict’s remarks about interreligious vs. intercultural dialogue, it is risky to apply this distinction to Catholic relations with Jews because of the unique “solidarity which binds the Church to the Jewish people ‘at the level of their spiritual identity,’” as the pope himself noted last Sunday, citing words of his predecessor. It is therefore mistaken to think that his remarks at the synagogue were devoid of theological significance.
Benedict explained that his “visit forms a part of the journey already begun, to confirm and deepen it.” He went on to express his esteem for “the people of the Covenant” and again made his own John Paul’s words of commitment at the Western Wall to “the people of the Covenant.” He expressed horror over the Nazi “extermination of the people of the Covenant of Moses.”
Why is this choice of words important? Because it makes it crystal clear that Pope Benedict is serious about continuing his predecessor’s theological perspective: because God is ever-faithful, the Sinai covenant continues to be the basis of a living and dynamic relationship between God and the Jewish people. Benedict’s words offer a corrective to some Catholic writers who in recent years have reasserted the old language of obsolescence regarding Sinai in a post-New Testament world.
As if to hammer this point home even further, the pope went on to describe Jesus as “reaffirming” (not superseding) a central teaching of Moses and then urged Christians to have “a renewed respect for the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament.” Why would Jewish interpretation(s) have any value for Christians if Judaism had no ongoing covenantal relationship with God?
He next did something that perhaps no other pope in history has ever done: he affirmatively quoted a rabbinic text, the Pirkei Avot, as having some inspirational and theological value for both Jews AND Christians.
If a rabbinic teaching is religiously consequential for Christians as well as Jews, and if Christians have a mission with (as distinct from “to”) Jews to witness to the Kingdom of God, then clearly Pope Benedict understands the rabbinic Jewish tradition ― past and present ― as genuinely interacting with God and authentically encountering divine holiness. Otherwise, the recurrent phrase “the people of the Covenant” would be rather meaningless.
It seems to me that the point of interreligious dialogue between Catholics and Jews has never been to find “a lowest common denominator of theology,” but to compare our traditions’ experiences of God, especially in their differences, in order to understand both ourselves and each other and the greatness of God better. Since our traditions are related “at the level of their spiritual identity,” what we learn about the other inevitably affects how we understand ourselves as well.
23 January 2010
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(This is Neil)
Theme: Witness through Faithfulness to the Scriptures
Text – Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)
Isaiah 55:10-11 The word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty
Psalm 119:17-40 Open my eyes that I am may see the wonders of your Law
2 Timothy 3:14-17 All scripture is inspired by God
Lk 24:28-35 Jesus opens the Scriptures to His disciples
Christians encounter God’s Word in a privileged way through reading the Sacred Scriptures and celebrating the sacraments. In faithfully listening to the proclamation of Holy Scripture, and by prayerfully reading the various books of the Bible, they open their hearts and minds to receive the very Word of God. Jesus promised His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to make them understand the Word of God, and to guide them in all truth.
Historically, Christians have been divided in reading and understanding the Word of God. They often used the Bible to emphasize their disagreement rather than to find ways for reconciliation. Fortunately, in recent times, in their search for unity, Sacred Scripture has brought Christians closer to one another. Shared Bible study has become a major means of growing together among them. The Christian journey that we celebrate during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one that is firmly rooted in our shared listening to God’s Word, trying together to understand and to live it.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God’s Word powerfully proclaimed is indeed effective and operative. It does not return to God empty but succeeds in the purpose for which He sent it. This message is repeated in the words addressed to Timothy, as he is directed to believe in the efficacy of the Scriptures by which the faithful are equipped for every good work.
Our psalm gives praise for God ‘s words and statutes and implores God to give understanding, that we may keep the Holy Law with our whole heart.
During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we pray that all Christians may enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s wonderful revelation as it comes to us in Holy Scripture. We beseech the Holy Spirit to help us better comprehend the Word of God and to direct us on our common journey of faith until we will all be gathered again around the one table of the Lord.
God, we praise and thank you for your saving Word as it reaches out to us through the Sacred Scriptures. We thank you too for the brothers and sisters with whom we share your Word and discover together the abundance of Your love. We pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, so that Your Word may lead and direct us in our quest for greater unity.
1. What are the passages of Scripture that mean most to you?
2. Who or what in your life makes your heart burn with a passion for the gospel and a desire to give witness to Christ?
3. Which passages from the Scriptures have helped you to better understand the witness of other Christians?
4. How may our churches use the Scripture more effectively in their daily life and prayer?
23 January 2010
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(This is Neil. I’m sorry that I was unable to post this yesterday.)
Theme: Witness through suffering
Text – Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? (Luke 24:26)
Isaiah 50:5-9 The one who vindicates me is near
Psalm 124 Our help is in the name of the Lord
Romans 8:35-39 God’s love shown forth in Jesus Christ
Luke 24:25-27 He interpreted to them the things about himself
In recent years two events which took place in Scotland led to this small country suddenly becoming the centre of attention of the world’s media. The bomb attack on the plane above Lockerbie and the massacre of children in Dunblane school brought attention to the nation which will always remember these terrible losses of human life. The two events caused suffering and unimaginable anguish to a large number of people and the consequences were felt well beyond the physical borders of the two places. Innocent people met their death in horrifying circumstances.
The reality of suffering is something that the Prophet Isaiah speaks about forcefully in today’s text, in which he reminds us that God is never resigned to seeing humanity suffer. In response the Psalm proclaims the trust that believers must maintain in their Saviour.
The letter to the Romans proclaims the certainty that love is always strongest and that suffering and sorrow will never prevail. For before offering the resurrection to the world, Christ entered into a terrible death and into the dark depths of the tomb so as to be completely with us at our very lowest ebb.
In the Lord’s footsteps, Christians who seek full unity show their solidarity to those amongst them who are confronted in their lives with tragic situations of suffering, by confessing that love is stronger than death. And that it was from the extreme humiliation of the tomb that resurrection came like a new sun for humanity; a clamouring annunciation of life, forgiveness and immortality.
God our Father, look with compassion on our situations of poverty, suffering, sin and death, we ask you for forgiveness, healing, comfort and support in our ordeals.
We give you thanks for all who manage to see light in their affliction.
May your divine Spirit teach us the greatness of your compassion and help us stand alongside our sisters and brothers in difficulty. Filled with its blessings, may we in unity proclaim and share with the world the victory of your Son who lives for ever.
1. How can you show empathy to those who suffer and are in difficulties?
2. What wisdom and deeper understanding have you gained through suffering you have known in your own life?
3. How do you live out solidarity with the suffering and oppression that so many people living in poverty in our world experience, and what is your own experience of it?
4. How would you bear witness to the mercy of God and to the hope you find in the light of the cross of Christ?
21 January 2010
(This is Neil) The Orthodox priest John Breck’s “Life in Christ” column is presently about Haiti. I would like to make one quick note before I provide an excerpt. Breck writes, “Most people, including many Orthodox Christians, have had their vision of God shaped by a Western theology that begins with philosophical abstractions.” I think that I can say that the best Western theology has never begun with philosophical abstractions. Yves Congar, OP, once wrote, “One of my brethren likes to say: There is a heresy which, sadly, has never been condemned: Abstraction.” In the excerpt below, when Breck writes, “From an Orthodox perspective,” we should ask ourselves – “From our perspective, too? If not, why?”
Also, please continue to remember Haiti in your prayers and please be generous with your donations.
Here, then, is Fr Breck:
From an Orthodox perspective, however, we need to begin not with the image of “God on high,” but with the more powerful and more poignant image of the Cross. That image does not explain in rational terms the mystery of innocent suffering; nothing in this life does or can (that is why it is “suffering” and not merely pain). But it does tell us what is essential: that “if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there!” (Ps. 38/39). All we can finally say about tragedies such as the one in Haiti, or the tsunami of a couple of years ago, or the death of a little child on the highway, is that Christ is present with us, to share totally our loss, our grief and our pain. As the Paschal icon so dramatically and beautifully depicts it, Christ descends again and again into the depths of our hell, to reach out his hand to grasp ours, and to lift us from the darkness into his radiant light. For all of those trapped under the ruins, Christ is there, sharing their agony to the bitter end. He is with those who grieve the loss of loved ones, bearing their sorrow and anguish as well. As the service of Great Compline declares, he is “God with us!” Not in the first place as a God of righteousness and judgment, but as the God of boundless love, who remains, in Pascal’s words, “in agony until the end of the world.”
If we begin with the Cross, rather than with some abstract notion of divine omnipotence, then we can see that God and we ourselves are still engaged in a massive cosmic struggle. The Cross and Resurrection ended Satan’s sovereignty over the world and over our individual destinies. Yet the struggle continues, just as sin continues, as natural disasters continue, and will do so until Christ comes again in glory. Once more we need to remind ourselves: there is profound significance in the fact that at the Empty Tomb the angel speaks of Christ not as “the Risen One,” but as “the Crucified One” (Matt & Mk). The risen and glorified Christ remains “the Crucified One” in the life and experience of every one who seeks him, perhaps first of all those who cry out to him from under the rubble.
If God is the vindictive overlord who punishes sinners with such tragedies (why particularly in Haiti?), then frankly, I’m not interested. …
21 January 2010
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(This is Neil)
Theme: Bearing witness through celebrating the faith we have received
Text – “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth.” (Luke 24:19)
Deuteronomy 6:3-9 The Lord is our God, the Lord alone
Psalm 34 I will bless the Lord at all times
Acts 4:32-35 Of one heart and soul
Luke 24:17-21 But we had hoped…
We have an enormous debt of gratitude to those whose faith has provided the foundation for our Christian lives today. Numerous men and women through their prayer, witness and worship have ensured that the faith is handed down to the next generations. In Scotland we have an impressive Christian history: Saint Ninian in the 4th century, Saint Columbus in the 6th century and the many Celtic saints whose faith was rooted in the love of God and wonder at his creation. The faith of Scottish people can also be seen in the very important role played in the diffusion of the Reformation of the 16th century and the way in which this spirit has been firmly maintained since then.
Today’s readings affirm the importance of supporting the community of faith in order to ensure the dissemination of the Word of God. The passage from Deuteronomy gives us the beautiful prayer of our Jewish sisters and brothers, who every day use these words to praise God. The Psalm invites us to bear witness through praise for what we have received as believers, so that our faith may be shown through glorifying and thanksgiving. The extract from Acts reveals a community united in faith and charity. The gospel passage shows us Jesus as the centre of what we have received in faith.
As we unite with our Christian brothers and sisters in praying for unity during this week, we welcome the rich variety of our Christian heritage. We pray that awareness of our common heritage may unite us more closely as we progress in faith.
Lord God, we give you thanks for all the people and communities who have communicated the message of the Good News to us, and thus given us a solid foundation for our faith today. We pray that we too may together bear witness to our faith, so that others may know you and place their trust in the truth of salvation offered in Jesus Christ for the life of the world.
1. Who inspired you in your faith?
2. What are the aspects of faith which inspire you in your everyday life?
3. What do you feel were the most important teachings which were passed on to you?
4. How can you recognize God at work with you in the transmission of faith the future generations?
20 January 2010
(This is Neil)
Theme: Witness through Awareness
Text – Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days? (Luke 24:18)
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Speak, Lord, your servant is listening
Psalm 23 The Lord is my Shepherd
Acts 8:26-40 Philip proclaimed to him the Good News about Jesus
Lk 24:13-19a …their eyes were kept from recognizing him
Growing in faith is a complex journey. Many people in our world today lead busy lives and have lots of pressures and responsibilities. It is easy to miss God’s revealing love to us in our everyday life and experiences. The more pressure and activity we surround ourselves with, then the greater the possibility of overlooking what is in fact before our very eyes. Like the two disciples in the gospel, we sometimes think we know what is real, and try to explain our view to others, yet we are not aware of the full truth. In our world today we are invited to be aware of God in the surprising and unlikely events of life.
In our Old Testament reading, we hear how God calls and invites Samuel to bear witness. Samuel first of all has to hear this word. Hearing requires an open disposition and a willingness to listen to God.
This desire to hear God’s Word is also experienced by both Philip and the Ethiopian in the reading from Acts. They witness to their faith by responding to what is asked of them at that precise moment in time. They listen attentively and respond accordingly.
The psalm of the Good Shepherd reflects the quiet trust of the one who is aware of the tender care of God, Who gathers the flock and leads them to green pastures.
During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we seek to be aware of God in our everyday events and experiences. We meet people who are familiar and others who are strangers. In these encounters we learn from each other’s spiritual experiences and so get a new view of God’s reality. This awareness of God’s presence challenges us to work for Christian unity.
Lord Jesus, Good Shepherd, You encounter us and remain with us in everyday life. We pray for the grace to be aware of all you do for us. We ask that you prepare us to be open to all you offer us and bring us together in one flock.
1. When have you been aware of God’s presence in your life?
2. Are you aware of global celebrations and tragedies, and how might our churches together respond to these?
3. Is being aware enough, or is there something more that you might do in order to give witness to your faith?
4. How do you make yourself aware of God when the reality of God’s presence does not correspond to your expectations?
19 January 2010
(This is Neil) All of the material can be found here. Yesterday, the Pope received an ecumenical delegation of the Lutheran Church in Finland and said:
The Second Vatican Council committed the Catholic Church “irrevocably to following the path of the ecumenical venture, thus heeding the Spirit of the Lord who teaches us to interpret carefully the ‘signs of the times’” (Ut Unum Sint, 3). This is the path that the Catholic Church has wholeheartedly embraced since that time. The Churches of East and West, both of whose traditions are present in your country, share a real, if still imperfect, communion. This is a motive to regret the troubles of the past, but it is surely also a motive which spurs us to ever greater efforts at understanding and reconciliation, so that our brotherly friendship and dialogue may yet blossom into a perfect, visible unity in Christ Jesus.
You mentioned in your address the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, now ten years old, which is a concrete sign of the brotherhood rediscovered between Lutherans and Catholics. In this context, I am pleased to note the recent work of the Nordic Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in Finland and Sweden on questions deriving from the Joint Declaration. It is greatly to be hoped that the text resulting from the dialogue will contribute positively to the path which leads to the restoration of our lost unity.
Once again, I am pleased to express my gratitude for your perseverance for these twenty-five years of pilgrimage together. They demonstrate your respect for the Successor of Peter as well as your good faith and desire for unity through fraternal dialogue. It is my fervent prayer that the various Christian Churches and ecclesial communities which you represent may build on this sense of brotherhood as we persevere in our pilgrimage together.
Theme: Witness through Sharing Stories
Text – What are you discussing with each other while you walk along? (Luke 24:17)
Jeremiah 1:4-8 Go to all to whom I send you
Psalm 98 Sing to the Lord a new song
Acts 14:21-23 They strengthened the souls of the disciples
Luke 24:13-17a What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?
Sharing our stories is a powerful way in which we give witness to our faith in God. Listening to one another with respect and consideration allows us to encounter God in the very person with whom we are sharing.
The reading from Jeremiah offers us a powerful witness of God’s call to the prophet. He is to share what he has received, and so allow God’s Word to be heard and lived out.
This call to proclaim God’s Word is also experienced by the disciples in the early Church, as witnessed to in the reading from Acts.
Our psalm allows us to sing to God with a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.
Today’s gospel passage presents a Jesus who enlightens our blindness and dispels our disillusionment. He helps us to understand our stories within the one unfolding plan of God.
During this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we listen to the faith stories of other Christians in order to encounter God in the variety of ways God’s very self is revealed to us. We are aware also that we can share with others through the virtual reality of technology. Modern means of communication can help us share more widely, and so create a community that is broader and more extensive than the purely physical.
In listening with attentiveness we grow in faith and love. In spite of the diversity of our personal and collective witness, we find ourselves intertwined in the one story of God’s love for us revealed in Jesus Christ.
God of history, we thank you for all who have shared their story of faith with us and so have given witness to your presence in their lives. We praise you for the variety of our stories both as individuals and churches. In these stories we see the unfolding of the one story of Jesus Christ. We pray for the courage and the conviction to share our faith with those with whom we come into contact, and so allow the message of your Word to spread to all.
1. Are you “gossiping the Gospel” or just gossiping?
2. How open are you or your church to be drawn into the stories of others?
3. How open are you to share with others your stories of faith, and so give witness to God’s presence in your personal experiences of life and of death?
4. Are you aware of the enormous potential for good that modern means of communication offer the Church today?
18 January 2010
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(This is Neil) The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today. The Pope has said (for translation, see here):
Our proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus will be much more credible and effective the more that we are united in his love, as true brothers. Thus, I invite parishes, religious communities, ecclesial movements and associations to pray unceasingly, in a special way during Eucharistic Celebrations, for the complete unity of Christians.
This week’s main biblical text is Luke 24. The material was prepared by an ecumenical group from Scotland brought together by Action of Churches Together in Scotland at the invitation of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference. All of the material, including an outline for an Ecumenical Worship Service, can be found here; I plan to excerpt the daily reflections on the blog. Please pray with me.
Theme: Witness through Celebrating Life
Text – Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Genesis 1:1, 26-31 God saw all that he had made, and indeed, it was very good
Psalm 104:1-24 O Lord, how manifold are your works
1 Corinthians 15:12-20 If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised
Luke 24:1-5 Why do you look for the living among the dead?
Our journey of Christian unity is firmly rooted in our common belief that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we celebrate not only the life God has given us but the offer of new life through Jesus’ conquering death once and for all. As we meet together during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we witness to our shared faith by our concern for the life of all. Life is God’s gift to us, and the more we support and celebrate life, the more we give witness to the one whose generous love brought us to life initially.
The reading from the book of Genesis reminds us of the creative power and energy of God. It is this power and energy that St Paul encounters in experiencing Jesus’ resurrection.
He challenges the people of Corinth to put their total trust in the Risen Lord and his offer of new life.
The psalm continues this theme as it proclaims the glory of God’s creation.
Our gospel passage challenges us to look for new life in the face of a culture of death that our world frequently presents to us. It encourages us to trust in Jesus’ power, and so to experience life and healing.
Today, we thank God for all that shows God’s love for us: for all of creation; for brothers and sisters in all parts of the world; for communion in love, for forgiveness and healing and for life eternal.
God our creator, we praise you for all who give witness to their faith by their words and actions. In living life to the full we encounter your loving presence in the many experiences you offer us. May our common witness of celebrating life unite us in blessing you, the author of all life.
1. To what extent do your own witness and the witness of your church celebrate life?
2. Will others know from your witness that Christ has been raised from the dead?
3. What do you see as the areas of growth in your life?
4. Are there things of the past that the churches cling to which ought to be laid to rest because of a new ecumenical consciousness?