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?

Christ the King Year B

The feast of Christ the King has not always been a part of our Christian calendar; the feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

When I close my eyes and ruminate on the word “king” many words and images come immediately to mind; a jewel-encrusted crown, a big palace with many rooms and servants, privilege, wealth, power, and authority over, a bell is rung and others come running to be of service.

None of this sits easily with me in relation to Jesus.

Then when I consider the word “kingdom” images of wars and dominance, getting bigger by beating other people into submission and taking over their land and their indigenous way of life and supplanting that way with a supposedly “superior” way.

Again, there is within me a disquiet.

Then along comes, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, an Irish poet and playwright, known to most as simply Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900).

Wilde wrote a short story titled “The Happy Prince”, a story I read and heard read on the radio throughout my childhood.

Now I know that a prince is not a king, however, they are a sort of ‘baby’ king!

In Wilde’s story, I found an entry into today’s feast.

A short synopsis of the story, and as you read have in mind the Jesus of the Gospels: During his life on earth, the prince had lived a very sheltered life.

When he died the people erected a statue of him in the main square of the capital city.

The statue was gilded all over with leaves of gold. It had two sapphires for eyes and a large red ruby on the handle of the sword. One cold evening, a little swallow, on its way south, landed at the base of the statue.

As he was resting there a few drops fell on him.

He looked up and saw that the Happy Prince was crying.

“Why are you crying?” the swallow asked.

“When I was alive, I saw no suffering,” said the Prince.

“But from my perch up here I see that there is a lot of unhappiness in the world. I’d like to help but I can’t because my feet are fastened to the pedestal. I need a messenger. Would you be my messenger?”

“But I have to go to Egypt,” the swallow answered.

“Please stay this night with me.”

“Very well, then. What can I do for you?”

In a room, there is a mother tending a sick child. She has no money to pay for a doctor. “Take the ruby from my sword and give it to her.”

The swallow removed the ruby with his beak and bore it away to the woman and she rejoiced.

The doctor came and her child recovered.

The swallow came back and slept soundly. The next day the prince asked him to stay another night.

Then he asked him to take out one of the sapphires, and to give it to a little match girl down the square.

She had sold no matches that day and was afraid she would be beaten when she got home.

Once again the swallow did as he was asked.

As he was running these errands of mercy, the swallow’s own eyes were opened. He saw how much poverty and suffering there was in the city.

Then he was glad to stay with the prince and be his messenger.

One by one, at the Prince’s urging, he stripped off the leaves of gold and gave them away to the poor and needy.

Finally, he arrived back one evening.

The night was very cold.

The next morning the little swallow was found dead at the base of the statue.

By now the statue was bare, having been stripped of all its ornaments.

The prince had given away all his riches, but he could not have done so without his faithful messenger, the little swallow.

Christ, our King, gave himself away totally while he lived on earth.

Even as he died, he was still giving to those who were receptive. And from his lofty perch in heaven, he surveys the plight of God’s children on earth. But his feet are fastened, his hands tied, and his tongue silent.

He needs messengers.

He needs us.

He has no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no tongue but ours.

And it is his riches, not our own, that we are called on to dispense – his love, his forgiveness, his mercy, his good news….

What is involved is helping in simple things, things that are available to everyone – giving a hungry person something to eat, or a thirsty person something to drink, welcoming a stranger, or visiting someone who is sick or in prison….

To do things such as these one doesn’t have to be either wealthy or talented.

All one needs is a warm and willing heart.

Everyone can do something – yes, even a little “swallow”.

A Note of caution: if like the swallow, you give of your time to your “King” you may never get to Egypt!

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

Before the invention of printing, the Gospels and other holy writings were copied out by hand.

Conscious of the intrinsic and spiritual value of a book many laborious hours were spent copying and ornamenting these manuscripts.

In a darkened room at Trinity College, Dublin one such manuscript is on display. It is the 1200-year-old Book of Kells.

It is quite possibility the richest, most copiously illuminated, manuscript version of the four Gospels in the Celto-Saxon style that still survives.

The black ink script is complemented by richly coloured paints and ornamented with fantastic abstract animal and human forms.

Walking around these vellum folios (pages) several observations came to my mind.

For all its fame, surprisingly little is known about the Book of Kells.

Its place of origin is contested; for some it was begun on the island of Iona and brought to Kells (County Meath) when the abbey was founded by St Columba around the 6thC, AD.

Others maintain the origin of the manuscript is the Abbey of Kells itself.

We do not know who the copiers and illustrators were!

Similarly, there is somewhat of a disparity between the consummate draughtsmanship of the decorations and the crudity of the portraits of the human figures.

The figures are quite naïve!

Was this done on purpose – the figures too holy to be drawn with fidelity to the human form?

Then there is the text itself; the pages which introduce each of the Gospels are swamped with quite dazzlingly beautiful and elaborate illuminations, that unless you knew the beginning of each Gospel you might well struggle to understand the text. And maybe, just maybe, this has been done on purpose, namely, as an invitation to the individual to approach the text not with the mind open, rather with the heart ready?

This Sunday’s Gospel ends with the words “my words will not pass away”. (Mk 13: 32).

As one with the privilege and responsibility of proclaiming God’s Word, am I guilty of such decoration, such embellishment, that the Word is lost?

The image is the folio (29R) of the opening words of St. Matthew’s Gospel from the Book of Kells. The Gospel of Matthew begins, “an account of the genealogy of Jesus.”

In Latin the text reads, “Liber generationis”. So, apparently does this page from the Book of Kells!!

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

The Gospel this Sunday is most commonly referred to as The Widow’s Mite.

This excerpt is part of the Psalm response by Edwina Gateley to the Gospel passage and the painting by the acclaimed portraitist Louis Glanzman.

The full poem and others of women in the Scriptures may be found in a book titled ‘Soul Sisters’ published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2002

One day as I stood outside my little house,
I saw an old woman shuffling towards me,
clutching a package all wrapped tight in banana leaves.
She looked up at me
– bent as she was and badly stooped –
but her eyes were deep and moist, like yours, sister.
She had no coins,
just the banana parcel which she thrust into my hands.
Her words stay with me still:
“Thank you for staying with us” whispered in broken English.
Then off she stumbled,
back into the bushes from where she had crept.
I peeled away the banana leaves,
and found there,
all snuggled and warm together,
the gift,
the treasure
– three tiny chicken eggs. . . .
All she had, given to me, though I had all.
Three tiny eggs – a fortune against her poverty,
the Widow’s Mite – for me.

Towards the end of her Psalm response, Gateley asks the question, “Are my treasures found, not so much in the coins themselves, as in the desire to hold them?”