Saturday, January 28, 2012

Hospitality and Hostile Pasties

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and necessities stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A bit late of me seeing that it's nearly the fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. I love this simple little anthem by Gibbons primarily because of its intimacy and humility. I'm not one for the Elizabethan musical canon of one note per syllable, personally, primarily because it prevents the colourful accentuation of certain words via melismata, but I do agree that it does help a simple prayer to be prayed well by the listener.

However, Gibbons has set one of those wonderfully translated collects. I may not believe that Archbishop Cranmer's theology was sound but I do appreciate his ability to translate Latin texts into a beautiful English.

This is a prayer for each one of us. It recognises our human frailty, and the commonality of human frailty to us all. I've already suggested below that even the Lord Jesus had to contend with this very frailty, though of course He overcame it sinlessly. Of course, the use of "our" rather than "my" raises the concerns from the level of the individual to the level of humanity itself - no, not just Holy Church, but all humanity. The Church exists for all human beings and, although opinion may be divided as to whether she fulfils her raison d'ĂȘtre, she has a duty to hold up all humanity, individual by individual, to the face of God in order that humanity, individual by individual, may know the warmth of the Divine Gaze.

There is an underlying issue of hospitality here. The Benedictines are very closely attuned to the needs of hospitality, the welcoming in of those who are frail and burnt by the ravages of Sin, World and Devil. However, doing so opens us up to dangers, physical, mental and spiritual. Unconditionally giving a fiver to a beggar on the street is the Christlike thing to do. If, a week later. that same beggar then stabs you (or worse, someone else) while high on heroin which he bought with your fiver then you feel the danger of being Christlike.

There is a chance that the food we prepare for our guests will, inadvertently, poison them and our hospitality rendered null by a hostile pasty. There are dangers within us, within all of us. Original Sin may have the sting of its guilt removed at our baptism, but we still have to deal with that inner brokenness. Our hospitality towards others is going to be affected by our infirmities, dangers and necessities, and this is utterly unavoidable, certainly, if we do not pray to God for His Divine sustenance.

Conversely, why pray for protection if we are not in danger? Well, if we do not believe ourselves to be in danger then perhaps we are not looking at our lives very closely. We may not be in physical danger, but we may well, in the complacent cosiness of the couch cushion, be in grave spiritual danger by allowing the numbness of our vision to prevent us from assisting those who are in physical infirmity, danger and necessity. If we really, really, want to be Christian, then we must continually strive to be Christlike and accept the infirmities, dangers and necessities of doing so. How?

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