Saturday, 21 June 2008

Preparing for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost



The theme of the Sixth Sunday, according to Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen (see, I read books by Carmelites too!), is the nourishment that God gives us in his mercy. He says:

"One thought emerges from today's liturgy in a special way and dominates all: God is a merciful Father who takes pity on us and nourishes our souls. Our souls are always famished, and we are always in need of nourishment to sustain our supernatural life."

This theme is summarised best, perhaps, in the Collect:"O God of all power and might, who art the giver of all good things; implant in our hearts the love of Thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness and by Thy mercy keep us in the same."

The source of this nourishment is set out in the Gospel, which is the (second) multiplication of the loaves and the fishes, as told by St Mark. The story, you might recall, tells of Our Lord having compassion for the people about to journey home, having fasted for three days.

The Introit and Offertory are closely related to the theme of the Eucharist as food for the journey of life. The Introit, for example, which starts 'The Lord is the strength of His people' can be read as a literal reference to the Eucharist, foreshadowed in the story of the loaves and the fishes. The Offertory takes up the journey theme of the journey, asking God to 'Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths..' And the post communion asks that 'we who have been filled with Thy gifts may be cleansed by their virtue and strengthened by their help'.

The sub-theme though, is our need for God's mercy, the reason we need nourishment lest we faint on the journey, or fall away into sin. The Epistle (from Romans) focuses on our death to sin so that we can now 'walk in the newness of life'. The Gradual and Alleluia reinforce this message, talking about God as our hope, and our refuge.

The theme of our need for continuing conversion and repentance - and hence God's mercy before we venture to accept his gift of himself to strengthen us - is made particularly poignant at Matins.

The reading is from 2 Samuel 1-16, which tells the salutary tale of King David being reproved by the prophet Nathan for arranging the death of Urriah the Hittite so that he could marry Urriah's wife, Bathsheba.

I think the story has a possible link to the feeding of the crowd too (although Dom Gueranger sees no real connection), because to make his point, Nathan uses a parable about taking a rich man stealing a poor man's one lamb to feast a visitor when he had many flocks of his own from which he could have chosen from. We too can can our nourishment in forbidden places rather than that offered by the Lord.

In any case, the story reminds us that even the Lord's most devoted servants can fall, and fall badly. But all is not lost provided we truly repent, as David did. After all, it is not whether or not we sin that determines whether we become a saint, it is our response to it. If our fall spurs us to greater efforts, if we seek forgiveness from God, our sins too can be forgiven, so that we can again worthily receive Our Lord.

No comments: