12 February 2023

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 12 February 2023

‘Earth may not pass till heaven shall pass away’ (Christina Rossetti) … sunset on the River Shannon in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today [12 February 2023] is the Second Sunday before Lent. In the past, this Sunday was known as Sexagesima, one of those odd-sounding Latin names once used in the Book of Common Prayer for the Sundays in Ordinary Time between Candlemas and Lent: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.

These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time. We are in a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Later this morning, I hope to be at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton. But, before today becomes a busy day, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday later this month (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

For my reflection this morning, I am reading Christina Rossetti’s poem, ‘Sexagesima,’ which takes its title from the name once used for the Second Sunday before Lent.

We are more likely to associate Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) with Christmas rather than Ordinary Time or Lent because two of her poems, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and ‘Love came down at Christmas,’ are among the best-loved and most popular Christmas carols.

She was born in London, the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, an exiled Italian poet, and she was a sister of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet. Their brother William Michael Rossetti and sister Maria Rossetti were writers too.

When she was 14, Christina Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown and left school. Bouts of depression and related illness followed. During this period she, her mother and her sister became absorbed in the Anglo-Catholic movement that developed in the Church of England, and religious devotion came to play a major role in Christian Rossetti’s life.

Her time spent alone, in prayer, in a single life, devoted to Christ and to working with the marginalised, might be compared with Mary in this evening’s Gospel reading, who devotes her wealth to Christ but is criticised by Judas.

She is honoured in the liturgical calendar of the Church of England and other Anglican churches on 27 April. Her writings have strongly influenced writers such as Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin.

Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Sexagesima, by Christina Georgina Rossetti:

Yet earth was very good in days of old,
And earth is lovely still:
Still for the sacred flock she spreads the fold,
For Sion rears the hill.

Mother she is, and cradle of our race,
A depth where treasures lie,
The broad foundation of a holy place,
Man’s step to scale the sky.

She spreads the harvest-field which Angels reap,
And lo! the crop is white;
She spreads God’s Acre where the happy sleep
All night that is not night.

Earth may not pass till heaven shall pass away,
Nor heaven may be renewed
Except with earth: and once more in that day
Earth shall be very good.

The miracle of the loaves and fishes in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete … there are only two fish, but the loaves of bread have already been multiplied (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 6: 25-34 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’

A variety of bread gathered in a basket in a restaurant in Panormos, near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Bray Day.’ This theme is introduced this morning by Jo Sadgrove, USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, who shares the challenges of uncovering USPG’s archives:

‘We are living in a time in which questions about history have never been more heightened or charged. What do we know of the past? How do we uncover and educate ourselves about histories that have been lost? How do we respond as people of faith to historical injustices? How we approach the figure of Thomas Bray, USPG’s founder, is now a much more complicated prospect than it was ten years ago.

‘Over the past two years, at USPG we have been working on our archives to better understand the complex and challenging history of this former slave owning organisation. The USPG correspondence archive is vast, and we have only managed to analyse a tiny proportion of letters, records and accounts. We are now very pleased to have recruited a full time PhD candidate, the Revd Garfield Campbell from Jamaica, who will be developing this work in dialogue with USPG and with the Church of the Province of the West Indies, whose own stories and experiences of this shared history are profoundly different from our own. It is only by doing this work in dialogue with those most brutally impacted by the legacies of slavery that we have any hope of approaching an understanding of what true reparation might mean.’

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

From the cowardice that shrinks from new truths,
from the laziness that is content with half-truth,
from the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
O God of truth, deliver us.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The miracle of the five loaves and two fish … a modern Ethiopian painting in Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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