14th Sunday Ordinary time

In this Sunday’s First Reading there is the most beautiful imagery offered to us by the prophet Isaiah, namely, the image of the nursing mother! Isaiah writes:

“ Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!
For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort” ( Is. 66: 10 -14c)

And, it is ‘the Lord’ who is offering us this image! Sit quietly with the images being offered, “that you may suck fully of the milk of comfort”; “that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts”; “as nurslings you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap”; “as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

They are warm cuddly, nurturing, nourishing, secure images!

For most of us (and indeed I need acknowledge there are exceptions with what is known as latching on and/or sucking)), our first drink outside of the womb was from our mother’s breast – we did indeed ‘suck fully of the milk of comfort’, and nobody taught us! We were placed to our mother’s breast and we sucked! Is there something intuitive in the baby that has them suck?

The baby’s ‘latch’ is really the key to the whole process. A good latch will mean that the baby’s mouth, tongue and body as well as the mother’s nipple and breast are in the right position. The baby will need to open their mouth wide enough to allow the tongue to protrude forward, past the gum ridge and then take a big mouthful of the breast. Babies do not nipple feed, they breastfeed, which means that they need to have more than just the tip of the nipple in their mouth to transfer milk effectively. The baby’s tongue, lips and cheeks will form a seal on their mother’s breast tissue and their lips should be flanged outward.

I have been musing (trouble I know!), what a beautiful image for our relationship with our God, to place ourselves on the breast of our God and we will indeed suck and be nourished. Maybe we have become so sophisticated, so mature, so adult, that we have lost the ability to suck. Such a primal activity!

Might the essence of prayer be in fact ‘sucking on the breast’ of our God? I am placed on the breast of my God, and I will suck immediately!

Of the many books I own and have read concerning prayer, I have never known one to use the Isaiah image of “ sucking fully of the milk of comfort”. They are all about the right place, the right time, the right posture, the right breathing!  Have we, in our sophistication lost the sense of when to feed? The baby knows intuitively when it is feeding time, namely when it is hungry!

Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) is known to us almost only through her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which is widely acknowledged as one of the great classics of the spiritual life. She is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in English which has survived. In this book she writes, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother” , and again, “when [a child] is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother for help as fast as it can; and [God] wants us to do the same, like a humble child, saying, “My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my dearest Mother, take pity on me”‘ (trans. by Elizabeth Spearing, Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love (London: Penguin 1998),  p. 144).

Am I hungry for “the milk of comfort” from Mother God?

13th Sunday Ordinary Time

Sister Act is a 1992 American comedy film. It stars Whoopi Goldberg as Deloris, a Lounge singer forced to join a convent after being placed in a witness protection programme.

She is brought to Saint Katherine’s Convent in Saint Katherine’s Parish, in a run-down neighbourhood in San Francisco. Deloris initially objects, then relents.

The head nun of St. Katherine’s,” Reverend Mother” “, also objects to taking Deloris in but Monsignor O’Hara, the local parish priest, convinces her to go along with it as the police will pay the failing convent a good sum of money to do so.

Disguised as “Sister Mary Clarence”, Deloris initially has difficulty dealing with the rigid and simple convent life but befriends the other nuns, (Sister Mary Patrick, the elderly Sister Mary Lazarus, and the novice Sister Mary Robert).

One night, after a poorly attended Sunday Mass, with a lacklustre performance from the convent choir, led by Mary Lazarus, Deloris sneaks out to a bar, followed by Mary Patrick and Mary Robert.

They are caught by the Reverend Mother, who orders Deloris join the struggling choir. With her singing experience, Deloris is elected their director and transforms the choir.

One of the songs sung by the choir to a full Church including dignitaries is a song with the title, “I will follow Him”.

One of the verses in the song reads:

“We will follow him
Follow him where ever he may go
There isn’t an ocean too deep
A mountain so high it can keep
Keep us away, away from his love.”

This Sunday’s Gospel (Lk. 9: 51 – 62) has the same announcement, “Someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’”

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Is it by chance that we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ on the Sunday immediately following the feast of the Trinity?

Maybe there is something more to it?

There is a famous icon written by the Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev. It is known as the icon of the Trinity.

The icon’s original title was “The Hospitality of Abraham” and was written in 1411. The story of Abraham and Sarah’s generous hospitality to three visitors who came to them by the oaks of Mamre is told in Genesis 18.

An examination of this icon suggests (to me at least) that there is an intimate relationship between the Trinity and Eucharist.

As the icon is written, the three persons are seated around a table in an attitude of harmony and peace; the very lines of the icon create a circle within which the unity of the persons, the manner of their presence to one another, is visible.

At the focal point of the icon there is a cup between them on the table. It is a wonderful use of symbol and suggestion.

The Trinity hints at the Eucharist.

It is as if the divine persons were saying: be one with one another as we are one. (See John 17:21) To make the invitation even clearer, there is an empty place at the table.

We are being invited and drawn into the inner life of the Trinity, to sit at that empty place at God’s table. Jesus is the way; the Spirit is the inner urge to move that way.

“No one can come to the Father unless the Father draw them” (Jn 6:44). Commenting on this in the fifth century, St Augustine wrote: “He did not say lead, but draw. This ‘violence’ is done to the heart, not to the body…. Believe and you come; love and you are drawn”.

Abraham’s three visitors

In the Genesis account the Lord visits Abraham in the form of three men who are apparently angels representing God.

Abraham bows low to the ground before his three visitors and they speak to Abraham in union and are alternatively referred to by the Genesis writer as “they” or “the Lord.”  Abraham offers them the hospitality of foot washing, rest under a shade tree, and a meal and they offered him the announcement that God was going to give he and his wife Sarah a son, though Sarah was far past the age of childbearing.

Symbolism in Rublev’s Icon

In Rublev’s icon painting he depicts the three heavenly visitors sitting at a table with a cup placed before them on the table.  Most scholars understand the figures to be seated left to right in their doxological order of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Others had painted this Biblical story, but Rublev was the first to paint only the three angelic figures and to make them of equal size.  Rublev depicts the three as One Lord.  Each holds a rod in his left hand, symbolizing their equality.  Each wears a cloak of blue, the colour of divinity.  And the face of each is exactly the same, depicting their oneness.

The Father is like the figure on the left.  His divinely blue tunic is cloaked in a colour that is light and almost transparent because he is the hidden Creator.  With his right he blesses the Son – he is pleased with the sacrifice he will make.  His head is the only one that is lifted high and yet his gaze is turned to the other two figures.

The Son is portrayed in the middle figure.  He wears both the blue of divinity and reddish purple of royal priesthood.  He is the King who descends to serve as priest to the people he created and to become part of them.  With his hand he blesses the cup he is to drink, accepting his readiness to sacrifice himself for humanity.  His head is bowed to his Father on the left.

The Spirit is indicated in the figure on the right.  Over his divinely blue tunic he wears a cloak of green, symbolizing life and regeneration.  His hand is resting on the table next to the cup, suggesting that he will be with the Son as he carries out his mission.  His head is inclined toward the Father and the Son.  His gaze is toward the open space at the table.

Notice the beautiful circular movement in the icon of Father, Son, and Spirit?  The Son and the Spirit incline their heads toward the Father, and he directs his gaze back at them.  The Father blesses the Son, the Son accepts the cup of sacrifice, the Spirit comforts the Son in his mission, and the Father shows he is pleased with the Son.  Love is initiated by the Father, embodied by the Son, and accomplished through the Spirit.