The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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20th December - 'Thy Will Be Done'

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Today’s gospel passage from Luke is deceptively familiar. So familiar that it can be easily lost on us. When we hear these words spoken, do we really listen to them? Do we fail to appreciate that what we hear is the greatest ‘Yes’ ever uttered in history; the beginning of the greatest story ever told?

If we fail to hear, it’s probably because our own stories, our own lives, with all their clamour and noise, with all their drama – both good and bad – deafen us. Listening is a virtue, which requires much practice. It is the virtue of obedience. Obedience, from the Latin, oboediens, means to listen, harken and obey. When religious take a vow of obedience, it is a vow of listening to God’s word, often mediated by superiors. Few of us are naturally great listeners, but we have to persevere because when moments of change and trial are upon us – that is when we need to listen most.

Our lives, as Blessed Mary’s, have their life changing moments. The kind of moments, after which, nothing is ever the same again. Sometimes we may not immediately recognise them, but on looking back we can see them. We may fall in love; get married; change career; first come to faith; find our vocation; lose a loved one. Nothing is ever the same again. Depending on circumstance, change can be easy for us or very hard, and we can respond to such change in two ways; we can face up to it or we can run away and pretend that nothing has happened. We can ignore our responsibilities to each other; to our families; to God and the Church. Or we can we face them as Christians, listening in faith to God, that he will walk with us and guide us, regardless of what we may face. We have to make our choice. We have to listen.

For Blessed Mary, that day of the Annunciation was perhaps the most alarming imaginable. We read that, ‘she was greatly troubled’, by Gabriel’s words. She had every right to be so; this was no ordinary day. She must have felt that all was to change and that though such change would bring with it great joy, there would follow an inevitable suffering. The Angel seeks to reassure her; ‘do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God’. On being told that she will bear Jesus Christ, ‘the Son of the Most High', she responds will a simple question; ‘how can this be since I have no husband?’ Her words are few; she is attentive. She has long listened in her heart to the word of God and seeks only clarification. In the stillness of her heart she is prepared to face the momentous change to come; she is happy to face such change, in spite of all hardship, in order to serve the God she has always pondered in her heart. Ultimately she is reassured that, ‘with God nothing will be impossible’.

Now Mary, though sinless, was otherwise like us. She was a human being, with all the hopes and fears common to our state. She had free will; she, just like us, had the power to choose. In faith, with a listening ear, she placed her trust in God. She said yes. She uttered the Fiat – let it be done - that would forever change her life and the life of all humanity. Such courage, such trust and humility, can only come through taking time to listen. It comes through taking time to be with God in the stillness of our hearts.

The Incarnation; that great moment in salvation history – when the Word was made Flesh - was made possible by a humble woman’s faith and trust in God. Our Lady knew that her true happiness and fulfilment lay not in running away from this great responsibility but in facing it in faith. She had learned to listen to the Word of God and to trust, to let go and allow God to be God. She had learned to say; ‘thy will be done’. I wonder, amid the clamour and noise of Christmastide, can we do the same?  Read more

Provincial Assembly 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011
On the 14th-16th December Blackfriars, Oxford, hosted the Provincial Assembly of the English Dominican friars. This gathering is an opportunity for as many friars as possible from all round the Province to get together and discuss the Province’s life and mission, and happens every four years in preparation for the Provincial Chapter, the meeting of superiors and elected delegates of the brethren which makes decisions about such things, and which will happen in April next year. Read more

Advent – 19th December: Elijah, John, Jesus and the Coming of the Lord.

Monday, December 19, 2011
Judges 13:2-7 & 14-25a; Ps 71; Luke 1:5-25. Read more

Fourth Sunday of Advent - The Awesome Gift of Holiness

Sunday, December 18, 2011
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5.8-12. 14.16, Psalm 88(89), Romans 16:25-27. Luke 1: 26-38

Holiness, according to the Old Testament, is not primarily a kind of moral goodness, but a characteristic of God, and a terrifying characteristic at that. Holiness for the ancient Hebrews is like a fire, it needs to be treated with respect and caution lest it burns up and destroys what is profane. This is why the levitical law has such strict purity laws, it is dangerous to approach God when unclean. Only those people and things that have been given a share in the holiness of God can survive His presence. Israel, unlike the gentile nations, is able to endure the presence of God because she has been set apart, because she has been consecrated: Israel, as the chosen people, participates in the holiness of God.

It is important to note that Israel did not earn her holiness, she was chosen: her intimacy with God is a grace, a gift. This explains why in our first reading the well meaning King David is unable to build a dwelling for God. No human construction, no matter how glorious, can be fit to recieve God; we cannot achieve holiness by our own strength, consecration is a gift. Instead God promises that one of David's offspring will 'build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever' (2 Samuel 7: 13).

This promise, both of a temple and an everlasting Kingdom, was of course preeminently fulfilled in Christ - Son of David and Son of God. John's Gospel tells us that when challenged to explain why he had expelled the money changers from the temple, Jesus declared: 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up' (John 2: 19). Where in the desert Israel met God at the Tent of Meeting, and after Solomon in the temple in Jerusalem, now Israel meets God in human flesh and blood - in Christ Jesus himself. God's love for Israel gives her a fertility that enables her to bring forth a divine life, the one who will give new life to the world.

In some sense, then, we have in today's Gospel, very fittingly for the last Sunday before Christmas, the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The Angel Gabriel tells Mary: "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called Holy, the Son of God" (Luke 1: 34). In Mary, then, the vocation of a nation is actualized. Just as Israel had been made holy, able to bear the terrifying and destructive holiness of God in the desert, Mary - immaculately conceived and protected from sin - was holy, able to bear the holiness of God in her womb. Mary was made able to 'tabernacle' the Incarnate God, and as such becomes an image of the church - the new Israel. Through our baptism we are made a limb of Christ: we are made part of his body, sharing in his holiness, sharing in the eternal and infinite love and life of the Trinity. This is an awesome gift, one that we ought not to take for granted. Through our union with Christ we stand in a holy fire of divine love. As we approach Christmas, let us make sure we are properly prepared, lest we get burnt. Read more

The 'O' Antiphons, December 17-23

Saturday, December 17, 2011
For the text and music of the O Antiphons, sung at Vespers from today until December 23rd, see the posts gathered here. Read more

17th December - "Son of David, Son of Abraham - Wisdom of God"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Readings: Genesis 49: 2, 8-10; Psalm 72; Matthew 1: 1-17 Read more

Waiting in Hope - Preparing for Christmas with the Dominican Students in Oxford

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In the lead-up to Christmas, the Dominican students brothers in Oxford will be giving reflections on the coming feast on the three days before Christmas Eve (21st, 22nd and 23rd December), taking their inspiration from the great O antiphons that fall on those days. For those of you in Oxford, the details are on the poster below: for our readers from further afield the talks will also be specially pre-recorded and put up on the blog. Read more

Third Week of Advent – Friday – Living the faith that we preach

Friday, December 16, 2011

Third Week of Advent - Thursday - Accept the Fullness of God's Plan

Thursday, December 15, 2011

14th December – St John of the Cross

Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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