Knowing Christ

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 The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints c1370-1 attributed to Jacopo di Cione – National Gallery London

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16.17

The Church’s foundation is not only Christ but the knowledge of Christ. The tragedy today is that many of us in the Church lack such foundation. We do not know Him. To us He is a theoretical or doctrinal Christ, not a revealed Christ. But theory will not prevail against hell, which is what Jesus declares his church is to do. Have we perhaps forgotten what we are for? Visiting Western homes I have sometimes seen a beautiful porcelain plate, not to put to use on the table, but wired and hung up to the wall as a treasured ornament. Many, it seems to me, think of the Church like that, as something to be admired for the perfection of its form.  But no, God’s Church is for use, not decoration. An appearance of life may seem to suffice when conditions are favourable, but when the gates of hell come out against us, we know well enough, that what we each need above all is a God-given vision of His son. It is first-hand knowledge that counts in the hour of testing

Watchman Nee, A Table in the Wilderness, September 5th

 

The Coronation of the Virgin with Adoring Saints c1370-1 attributed to Jacob di Cione, National Gallery London

Part of the main tier of the high altarpiece of San Pier Maggiore in Florence. The altarpiece was probably designed by Niccolo di Pietro Gerini, a Florentine artist with whom Jacopo di Cione often collaborated.

Prayer From the Heart

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The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

Recently I heard a priest talking about a list of prayer requests that he keeps in his missal. He is often asked to pray for people and situations so he adds the requests to the list, prays them from time to time – the list is too long to pray them all every day – and every so often he reviews the list. I thought about this and there was something that didn’t seem right.

My experience is that God hears and answers prayers if they come directly from our heart, out of need, or compassion, inspiration or real necessity. Prayer isn’t about numbers – the more people praying the better – it is about clean, disinterested motives and fervour. Those are the prayers that go straight to Him and you only need one ordinary person who really cares about something to make a difference.

No matter how holy the person is who is praying, if he is praying from a list about people and situations he does not personally know, how are those prayers going to be anything other than lukewarm in reality?

A friend once told me an amazing story. She was a young nurse with two small children. One day she was on duty at the local hospital and she was giving a bed bath to a young mother who was in hospital with advanced breast cancer. As my friend was washing this woman she was suddenly overcome with compassion and sadness. She identified so strongly with her and her heart was sorrowful for the husband who was about to be widowed and the motherless children. It occurred to her that as she was washing the woman she was sort of laying her hands on her so, as she washed and touched her, she sent a little heartfelt prayer asking if it was possible that the woman could get better. She finished the bath and carried on with her tasks.

When she was next on shift she heard that the doctors had been mystified by a certain event. Apparently the latest tests on the woman with breast cancer had shown that the cancer had gone – completely – it just wasn’t there. The doctors were scratching their heads but put it down to one of those unexplained recoveries that sometimes happen.

But this is the amazing thing – my friend told me that she had been so happy to hear the news about the woman but that it was only several days later that she even remembered her prayer!

Her motives had been pure, heartfelt and disinteresed. She hadn’t needed a group of holy people praying from a list. All she needed was, at that moment, to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It may be that God had wanted to heal that woman but needed the right person in the right place at the right time.

We have to be that right person in the right place at the right time – whenever or wherever we are.

Then we become the prayer.

 

The Virgin and Child c.1488-90  Ambrogio Bergognone National Gallery London

The Christ child holds a rosary. The open prayer book is inscribed with verses in Latin from the psalms. The Virgin’s halo is inscribed with the prayer ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord (is with thee)’. In the background, Carthusian monks oversee the construction of the Charterhouse at Pavia

Worship is Priceless

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 Virgin and Child, Hans Memling, c1475 National Gallery London

 The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers. John 4:23

The decalogue opens with God’s claim to exclusive worship. This expression of God’s will is not only His command, it is also His desire. But if the ten commandments show us what gives God joy, the temptations in the wilderness reveal what will give joy to Satan. In both cases it is worship. So we have one thing that both God and Satan want. By it we can satisfy either heaven or hell. Worship is priceless. Satan’s whole idea is to rob God of it by ensnaring His people into some kind of idolatry. Idolatry claims another, besides God, to be worthy of worship. It is our privilege to counter this by holding it exclusively for God.

Watchman Nee, From ‘The Table in the Wilderness’, June 16th.

Psalm 24

Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Saviour.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.[

Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord strong and mighty,
    the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
    lift them up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty –
    he is the King of glory.

 

 

 

 

The Virgin, who has a halo of golden rays, holds the naked Child on a white cushion. His mouth is slightly open and he raises his right hand as if in blessing.

Jesus the Bread of Life

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Fra Angelica Panel of the Virgin, saints and apostles contemplating Christ Glorified. National Gallery London.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. John 6: 51-59

Jesus, as we have seen again and again, was the mind of God become a person. So this means that in Jesus we see God taking human life upon, Him facing our human situation, struggling with our human problems, battling with our human temptations, working out our human relationships…

Suddenly life and the flesh are clad with glory for they are touched with God. It was, and is, the great believe of the Greek Orthodox Christology that Jesus deified our flesh by taking it on Himself

Here is Jesus, the life of God. So long as He remains a figure in a book He is external to us; but when he enters into our hearts He is within us and we can feed upon the life and the strength and the dynamic vitality that Christ gives to us. Jesus said that we must drink His blood. He is saying: “you must take my life inside you; you must stop thinking of me as a figure in a book and a subject for  theological debate; you must take me into you, and you must come into me; and then you will have life, real life.” That is what Jesus meant when he spoke about us abiding in Him and He abiding in us.

William Barclay Study Bible

The Magnificat – A Revolutionary Hymn

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 From the Wilton Diptych c1395 -1399 National Gallery London

My soul glorifies the Lord
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
   for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.

 

Here we have a passage which has become one of the great hymns of the church – the Magnificat. It is a passage which is saturated in the Old Testament. It is specially kin to Hannah’s song of praise in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10. It has been said that religion is dope, the opiate of the people; but the Magnificat is the most revolutionary document in the world. The Magnificat speaks of three of the revolutions of God.

He scatters the proud in the plans of their hearts. That is a moral revolution. Christianity is the death of Pride. Why? Because if a man sets his life beside the life of Christ it turns the last vestiges of pride from him… Christ enables a man to see himself as he really is. It is the deathblow to Pride. The moral Revolution has begun.

He casts down the mighty – he exalts the humble. That is a social revolution.  Christianity puts an end to the world’s labels and prestige. When we realise what Christ did for all men it is impossible to talk about the Common Man. The social ranks and grades are gone.

He has filled thos who are hungry those who are rich are sent empty away. This is an economic revolution. A non-Christian society is an acquisitive society where each man is out to amass as much as he can get. A Christian society is a society where no man dares to have too much when others have too little. There is loveliness in the Magnificat but in that loveliness there is dynamite. Christianity begets a revolution in each man and a revolution in the world.

From Wiliam Barclay Study Bible, Gospel of Luke

Mary the Paradigm and Mother

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Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer 1640-50, The National Gallery London.

 

Our Lord God showed our lady Saint Mary at the same time; that is to say he showed her deep wisdom and faith as she beheld her Maker so great, so high, so strong, and so good. Seeing the greatness and nobility of God filled her with reverent awe, and she saw herself so small and so low, so simple and so poor in comparison with her Lord God, but this reverent awe made her feel very humble. And so this formed the foundation, from which she was filled with grace and every kind of virtue, surpassing any other created being.            Julian of Norwich The Long Text 7.

I have spoken  before about how I have come belatedly to an embryonic understanding and veneration of Our Lady, the mother of Christ.  At first I struggled to understand but could see from the deep reverence of other believers that there was something important I was missing. Now, having prayed and pondered, she has become, for me a paradigm.

She is a paradigm of faith. When told she was to bear a child out of wedlock with all the shame humiliation and possibly disastrous consequences for her personally, she immediately said yes. She had faith that God would never let her down.

She is a paradigm of kindness. At the wedding in Cana when the wine ran out she didn’t gloat,  laugh or criticise. Her first thought was for the young couple celebrating their most special day. Nor did she take any credit or put her son forward for recognition. It was all done with utmost discretion and sensitivity.

She is a paradigm for those who’ve lost a child. She had to watch her son wrongly accused, tortured and killed in a cruel and public way. It is a most hideous thing to lose a child but we cannot say that God and Mary have not gone before us and experienced it with us.

Of course she is a paradigm of motherly love. As he died Jesus’ last thought was for his mother. He gave her into the care of his beloved disciple but he also knew that with all the disciples she would be one of the foundations of his Church.

She is a paradigm of discipleship and her veneration as Jesus’ mother must have started in the earliest days. She would have known so much about her son’s life and surely would have talked about him, passing her knowledge to the other disciples in the early days of the church.

But she is more than a paradigm. Eternal life does not begin when we die – eternal life begins now as we enter into relationship with Jesus, Mary, all the saints and the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Mary was then and she is now and forever.  Hallelujah.

Our Lady Completes the Model for the Christian Life

Blanot Our Lady
Blanot, near Saulieu, Burgundy, France

Coming from a non-conformist background in which Mary the Mother of God is barely mentioned, I found it difficult to understand her place in the Catholic life after my entrance into the Catholic Church. I understood the teachings but still couldn’t quite understand the level of reverence shown to her – so I asked the question in prayer and the answer came that explained it to me. Without Mary and her experience we would be lacking a companion to show us the way in so many areas of life. Through her we have a model for pregnancy and motherhood, for parenting and all the concerns that brings but, most of all, we have a model for the grief of a mother and parent who sees her child wrongly accused of a crime, tortured and murdered. With Mary’s experiences added to those of Jesus, no one can say that God has not gone before us in every experience of life. No one can accuse God of being distant or of lacking understanding. They have made the path and we can follow in their footsteps.