Mind the Gap

A  few years ago the new translation of the Mass was introduced to (some argue imposed upon) the English speaking Church. Apart from the obvious change in prayers and responses, there were also small almost indiscernible changes in the Rubrics, The Rubrics are the actions that accompany the words and are written in red in the Sacramentary. I am not an advocate of the new translation and there are still a few changes that jar but on the whole I have found that I can live with it. I was however all for a change that allowed the invitation to pray to be taken seriously, for there to be time where all can pray and the celebrant can ‘collect’ these prayers as he is meant to do.

Much of the time, the invitation ‘Let us pray’ is followed by a nano second of silence before the rest of the words are said which is hardly conducive to prayer.

During Mass the Holy Spirit does not only transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ but all those who, by their attendance, fully and actively participate in the Liturgy, (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 41).  Although week after week, Mass after Mass we are transformed into the Body of Christ I must admit that I don’t always notice the change in myself. It is easy in the familiarity of the words and the structure to forget why we gather and on whom our focus needs to be.

The need for this space for silence became apparent one Sunday. After the Lamb of God as the priest held up the Body of Our Lord using the words prayed by priests all over the world…’Behold, this is the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb’.

How many times have I heard that prayer?

Yet this time the priest paused ever so slightly at the comma after ‘Behold,’. It was more like an explanation mark than a comma. And the difference it made was startling.

I did indeed Behold! I was attentive to the Presence held aloft for all to contemplate.

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And that made all the difference to me that day. That day I noticed the change. I knew once more whose I was and whom I was receiving in the Eucharist. It took me back to another Mass many years ago, pre marriage and children when I was shuffling up to the Sanctuary along with everyone else to receive Communion. Out of no where came the realisation that this was no symbol, no mere remembrance, it really was Jesus Christ. That memory had stayed with me but occasionally needs to be dusted off and this ‘Behold’ was one such moment.

That gap was the space between the logs, a breath that enabled the Holy Spirit to fan the flames of my faith.

 

Fire

what makes a fire burn                                                                                          flame RoE

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.

 

So building fires

require attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.

 

When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to piles on logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and the absence of the fuel

together, that makes fire possible.

 

We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire

grows

simply because the space it there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.

 

Judy Brown, on the Inward/Outward blog of Church

of the Savior, Washington DC

 

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The invitiation

It’s that time again…

Talitha Kum

This week the Church offers us an invitation to love. We are invited to enter into the love of the Trinity ever more deeply, and to experience the love God has for us.

6 OT Trinity Rublev

Lent is not about punishment, the Lord knows life is hard enough! Lent is a space in the year for us to focus consciously on our relationship with the One who calls us beloved. Lent is a place where we can go to look at our lives in the light of this abundant, unconditional Love. For some of us, or perhaps most of us, to accept that invitation will not be without some pain. To reflect on any relationship and discover that it is lacking is painful.

Lent is a time of transformation. When we see where things could be better; in us, in the way we love, in the way we live, another invitation is given…

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Only by a thread

A couple of weeks ago I was at Sunday evening Mass and sitting a little behind me was a young mum with her 2 toddler height children. They were, to be fair a little unruly and she did a sterling job of trying to keep them contained. I turned to her at one point and smiled, trying to keep the irritation at bay (it had been a long day); I find it difficult to be irritated when I have looked the other in the eye. A short while later, I was drawn to more noise and noticed others reaction, some of whom shot daggers at her, while one woman sitting next to her, whispered encouragement and tried to distract the younger child. I overheard the mother say ‘I could cry, it’s so hard’.
Here was a woman, a mother clinging on by her fingernails. I was not sitting close enough to offer her and her children the Sign of Peace but after Communion I managed to grasp her hand as a sign of what I hoped was solidarity and compassion. She smiled a heartfelt, weary smile of gratitude.

I can remember taking my four darlings to Sunday Mass with me and some weeks it was all I could do to allow the words to wash over me. I so desperately needed to be comforted by the Word of God, strengthened in communion with my faith community. I needed to receive the Lord in the Eucharist to give me the strength to go on being a mum, let alone a good enough mum, for a while longer. Seeing her on that Sunday evening brought back the memory of when I too barely hung on by my fingernails.
Yet Sunday after Sunday I went because going to Mass was the only thing that made any sense of my life as a single mum of four under 7, my ‘failed’ marriage, my tiredness, my loneliness, my sadness.

I remembered all of this on hearing the stories in the Gospel of Mark. I didn’t just reach out and touch the hem of His garment, nor did I beg to be touched by the fringe of His cloak, I hung on with all my might, sometimes slipping to hold just a thread that I hoped would not unravel before I did.

unraveling

Of course I was not merely hanging on for dear life all the time and it did get better. I became more organised, I used to keep a bag that we only took to Mass packed with pencils and paper, pictures to colour (it was long before any Redemptorist resources!), books to read and the odd toy that did not make a noise, but the greatest and most helpful ‘distraction’ was the love of my faith community for me and my children. The elderly couple who chose to always sit behind us so as to smile lovingly at the ‘baby’ in my arms; the Religious Sister who sat in the same pew helping to ‘hold the line’ and surround all four of them in love; the other parents who would keep an eye on the others when one of mine was potty training; and the many others who made my children (and therefore me) feel genuinely welcome, wanted and loved.

Many years later one is still serving at the Altar, another trains new servers when home from University, and another is a parish music director…taking a little poetic license with the words of a Meatloaf song, ‘three out of four ain’t bad’. I have no doubt that it was because they were held in love and felt at home in our parish that they are still active members of the faith community.

So when we see mothers (or fathers) struggling at Mass, with children who interrupt our time with the Lord at Mass, let us pray for them, thanking God for their courage to come to Mass, for expending possibly their last vestige of strength in living out the Baptismal promises to bring their children up in the faith. Let us offer to help them, to welcome them, to hold them in love.

cranach-children

For if we don’t we run the risk of both denying Christ’s call to ‘let the children come to me’ and not having a Church in the future.

 

Viaticum

This week’s post has been difficult to pin down. Glimpses if ideas floating just beyond my reach and I wonder, again, why I have set myself this task.

A message popped up on facebook a couple of days ago from a friend, a woman of faith whose presence blesses my journey. One of a group of women with whom I pray more often online than face to face as distance and life means we only get together every few months.
We know that we are held in prayer by one another and yet it is easy to take this for granted.

Many years ago the headteacher of my children’s Primary School, gave us a talk as part of our children’s Holy Communion preparation.
Although I have forgotten much of the talk and can only vaguely recall the topic (something about being a Catholic Parent), well over a decade later I still carry with me one of his remarks: the power of offering to pray for someone.

In the face of someone’s suffering we can often feel helpless, wondering what we might do to help, wanting to take away their pain, fill the space of their loss, needing to fix their demise. Often of course we can do none of these things.
But there are things we can do. We can accompany them, walking with them over this painful terrain. We can listen to them process their pain through the telling and retelling of their story. And we can pray for them.

Offering to pray for someone is often said with the feeling that it is not quite good enough, or practical enough, (or maybe even embarrassment),  to be of any real help, ‘I wish I there was something I could do but all I can offer is a prayer’ or some such phrase that speaks loudly of our feelings of inadequacy.

And yet holding another in prayer is so very powerful.  When we offer to pray for someone we show that we take their concerns seriously, so seriously that we recognise that we can not rely on ourselves. When we are in the midst of illness, heartache, grief, worry, stress or anxiety, prayer is often our last resort. When all else fails…

I do not think that is what we mean to do but rather in the midst of the messiness of life we turn to ourselves rather than God. I know from my own messiness that I try to fix it first and only when I fail do I offer it to God. Not that I am espousing an interventionist God, far from it. But I do think that offering up what ever troubles us to God before we do anything can help us to see things differently. I know that  when I (eventually) remember to come into His Presence I change. As CS Lewis says ‘Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes us’

Recalling how loved I am, how the Lord’s grace is ever present and abundant enables me to place myself in His trust, letting go of the outcome even if it is painful and difficult.

To offer to hold in name someone’s life and worries before the One who loves them is to trust that the Lord will and does concern Himself with them and their lives. Offering to pray for others when they are least able to pray for themselves is a great gift.

It is also a great witness, a gentle reminder that we are not alone, that the Incarnate Christ is our constant companion even if familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. Offering to pray for those we know is an explicit expression of our faith, of our trust in the Lord and a reminder that we are held and loved beyond measure.

‘Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the child of her womb?

Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. 

Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands’ Isaiah 49:15

And to know that you are being prayed for when the messiness is not as messy as it has been? Well that makes the heart soar and fills one with joy.

Oh and the message…’Thinking and praying for you’. Thank you my dear friend, thank you.

prayer