Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

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Again, the Grangram Fairy has stopped by once again to wish all a blessed new year. Picture courtesy of my wife Melisa (aka the Coppermouse).

I love this version of Auld Lang Syne. It takes me back to my roots. Here is a sung version.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A "Silent Night" solution?

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In most of the churches I've attended (and both the churches I've served as a priest) there has been a custom of dimming the lights after everyone has received Holy Communion for the singing of "Silent Night" by candlelight. This was done either with or without the congregation having individual candles. At St Alban's, we don't pass out individual candles.

I suppose there are some people who really love this, otherwise, we wouldn't see such a widespread custom. I find it to be a bit sappy and unnecessary, but I realize that it might be important to others. I think it occurs at an awkward time in the liturgy. Especially with the dimming and then raising of the house lights just for one hymn, the flow of the liturgy seems interrupted by an outside element which is out of proportion to the ordinary of the Mass. In addition, the process of dimming the lights in the building can become a distraction itself if not done smoothly.

I have been thinking about a possible solution--to retain the custom for the people who love it while not interrupting the flow of the liturgy. My thought is to take an approach inspired by the Easter Vigil transition from light to dark. Many churches have a period of music and/or carol singing before the midnight Mass to give people who came early to find a seat something to occupy their attention. My thought was, Why not have the church dimly lit with people holding lighted candles during this period before the Mass?

Liturgically, this would represent the time during the darkness before Christ is born. It could end with the placing of the bambino in the manger (perhaps by a child) and the station at the creche. "Silent Night" could be sung by candlelight just before, during, or just after the station at the creche. The next element would be "Let us go forth in the name of Christ", beginning a solemn procession to the singing of "O come, all ye faithful" to begin the midnight Mass of Christmas.

I am interested in hearing feedback from priests/pastors and from laity. How does this strike you? Have you experienced it this way before? What have you found that works or doesn't work in the past?

For background information, here is the excerpt from Ritual Notes (11th Ed., p 278) on the visit to the Christmas creche:
It is a laudable and widespread custom at Christmastide to erect in churches a representation of the birthplace of our blessed Redeemer; or at least to exhibit a figure of the divine Infant. This figure is generally known as the Bambino; it may be placed in a prominent position on the altar or on a support nearby (but not in the throne of exhibition, or in place of the cross).

At the incensations, it is incensed by the priest standing, exactly in the same manner as, and after, the altar cross. The Bambino is usually laid in the Christmas crib immediately before or after the midnight Mass; or if there is no midnight Mass, then as near to midnight as many be convenient. If it is desired to make a ceremony of this by carrying the figure in procession (with or without lights and incense) there is no law forbidding it, provided that it is not done during the course of Mass.

It is a common custom after solemn services in the Christmas season for the priest in cope, attended by servers, to visit the crib--so many of the congregation can conveniently do so joining in--where popular devotions in honour of the Holy Child are said. If the Bambino is incensed it should be done by the priest standing, although the congregation may be kneeling.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

God with us

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Latin translation of O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Advent Carol

O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based upon theme of the incarnation of the Son of God. St John wrote in his gospel, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Likewise, Isaiah prophesied, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), which name means "God with us" (see Matthew 1:22).

"Therefore, following the holy fathers, we all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance (homoousios) with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood; like us in all respects, apart from sin; as regards his Godhead, begotten of the Father before the ages, but yet as regards his manhood begotten, for us men and for our salvation, of Mary the Virgin, the God-bearer (Theotokos); one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God the Word, Lord Jesus Christ; even as the prophets from earliest times spoke of him, and our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us, and the creed of the Fathers has handed down to us." (Definition of the Union of the Divine and Human Natures in the Person of Christ, Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D., Act V, quoted in the Book of Common Prayer, p 864.)

Although these antiphons and dates have been common throughout the western Church, an alternative medieval English usage arose of moving all of the antiphons forward by one day (commencing on 16 December) and adding an additional eighth antiphon on 23 December, as follows:

Latin translation of O Virgo virginum
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.

The Church of St Nicholas

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Take some time to visit for more of these fine pictures from the Church of St Nicholas. Those who attended my Sunday School class on Revelation will recognize many of the architectural features we discussed in class.

Some prayer requests for Christmas

* For the poor and homeless, as the Holy Family was also in need of shelter.

* For peace on earth and in our hearts, as the gift of the Prince of Peace.

* For an awakening of faith for those who will be visiting churches this Christmas or who only go to their own church at this time of year.

* For health and strength for those who lead and assist with worship--for no sore throats, achy hands, or tired legs.

Friday, December 22, 2006

O King of nations

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Latin translation of O Rex Gentium
O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

Advent Carol
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of peace. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based upon the Lordship of Christ the King. The acclamation at his entry into Jerusalem is just as applicable to his birth: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord" (Luke 19:38). It was known that he would be born in Bethlehem, and the wise men sought him out, because he was the anointed heir to the throne of King David. He would be the Prince of peace. Of him, Isaiah prophesied, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). St Paul noted, "He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).

Although he was arrested on the charge of being a blasphemer, Jesus was ultimately sentence under Roman law for treason--for claiming to be the "King of the Jews," as was ordered to be written on the titulus of his cross in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.

When Pilate questioned him about this charge, Jesus replied, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate therefore said to him, 'Thou are then a king? " Jesus answered, "Thou sayest it; I am a king. This is why I was born, and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice" (John 18:36-37). When he suspected Jesus of being born in Bethlehem (Jesus would no longer speak when interrogated about this), Pilate sought to release him, but instead ordered his execution in fear of the mob.

Our prayer in the antiphon today is that all would listen to his truthful voice and submit to his most gracious rule.

Christ is King in Poland (maybe)

From the Associated Press:

WARSAW, Poland—Lawmakers have drawn up a resolution naming Jesus Christ as the honorary king of Poland, but have failed to win support from the country's powerful Roman Catholic church.

Lawmakers for the ruling Law and Justice party and League of Polish Families as well as the opposition Peasants Party back the resolution, said Szymon Ruman, spokesman for parliamentary speaker Marek Jurek.

However, the proposal currently has the support of only 46 members in the 460-seat parliament, well short of the necessary 231 votes to pass. Ruman said the resolution would likely be voted on sometime after Jan. 1.

Backing from the church in this strongly Catholic country would be crucial for building support for the proposal, but on Wednesday several bishops criticized it, and said parliament should stay out of religious affairs.

"Let parliament deal with passing better laws that we need," Gdansk Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski said. "This kind of action, although it may stem from good will, sounds a bit like propaganda," said bishop Tadeusz Pieronk.

This is a very Polish bill. The dominant Catholic culture in Poland has traditionally acknowledged Jesus as the true and only King of Poland, along with Mary as Queen (or more accurately, Queen Mother). In 1655, in thanksgiving for peace, King Jan Kazimierz proclaimed Mary to be Quen of Poland. That proclamation promised special Polish fealty to Mary and reliance upon her saintly guradianship. The Polishness of late servant of God, John Paul II was a part of his geopolitical outlook. We see can see that throughout his pontificate--for example in a speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps in 1990, the Pope asserted, "Christ is the sole strength of Europe and the King of all nations."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

O Morning Star

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Latin translation of O Oriens Splendor
O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Advent Carol
O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based upon the image of Jesus as the "Light of the world," so prominent in John's gospel. His first and second Advents are likewise described as dawnings. The morning star is a symbol of God drawing closer to his people (see Revelation 22:16). Isaiah prophesied, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined" (Isaiah 9:2).

Because we worship Jesus, the Dayspring, churches have been traditionally built with the altar at the eastern end, so that the faithful would worship the Lord toward the rising sun. John of Damascus explained, "It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the East. But seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature, that is to say, of a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense, we render also a twofold worship to the Creator; just as we sing both with our spirit and our bodily lips, and are baptized with both water and Spirit, and are united with the Lord in a twofold manner, being sharers in the mysteries and in the grace of the Spirit. Since, therefore, God is spiritual light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the East is the direction that must be assigned to his worship. . . . And when he was received again into heaven he was borne towards the East, and thus his apostles worship him, and thus he will come again in the way in which they beheld him going towards heaven; as the Lord himself said, 'As the lightning cometh out of the East and shineth even unto the West, so also shall the coming of the Son of Man be'."

Decorating for Christmas

This week, parishioners and others have been decorating St Alban's for Christmas. I think all that is left is for the purple altar frontal and banner to be replaced by the white ones after the morning Mass this Sunday.
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An alarming trend

Especially during the holiday break from school, I've been told.

Take a guess before you look.

A good ole fashioned church bashin'

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The ad hominem attack seems to be growing both more common and more acceptable in today's culture. Yesterday's Washington Post carried Harold Meyerson's column "Episcopalians Against Equality", which exemplifies the current trend.

The church is called "God's country club." The faithful who uphold Christian teaching on marriage (in this case, the "Fairfax Phobics") are said to protest "the equal treatment of homosexuals." Meyerson then stangely begins a diatribe against a non-existent ecumenical organization founded by the late Pope John Paul II called the Orthodox International (OI), which "unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms." For Meyerson, the Roman Catholic Church is best described with the phrase "inimitable backwardness." He's just outright inaccurate when he names the founders of the Episcopal Church as those who wrote the Declaration of Independence (Jesus and the apostles did not write the Declaration of Independence).

Of course, the criticism of the ad hominem argument is that it is usually empoyed when there is no argument to be made, when one just doesn't have the facts, or when one is too lazy to bother with all that anyway. In this editorial from the Falls Church News, the Falls Church in Falls Church, VA (I know, I know) is described as "a regrettable and despised bastion of bigotry, prejudice and hatred." I have come to expect such an approach, even within the church. One priest told me to more or less drop dead at the end of this exchange in which I commented on her seminarian's grammar in his sermon. (Of course, I suppose that correcting someone's grammer might be the last acceptable excuse for getting your teeth kicked in.) However, I'm happy to say that the seminarian felt no need for the ad hominem at all. Perhaps that bodes well for the future.

And since I mentioned kicking, the picture at the top of this post (which I nonetheless can't help but find quite humorous) comes from a website where people submit photos of themselves or their friends kicking local churches, synagogues, temples, or mosques (but no mosques so far). The church in this picture is Grace & St Stephen's Episcopal Church in Colorado Springs. (I don't want to link to the site because some of the material is not family-friendly.) Sometimes the kicking is because the building is ugly or just for kicks, but more often the kicking is an expression of outrage against that church's moral values. Sometimes certain requests for photos (called "hits") are put out in response to a local church being in the media for upholding Christian values.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

O Key of David

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Latin translation of O Clavis David
O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Advent Carol
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on hig, and close the path to misery. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based on the image of Jesus as the Savior, a reconciler between God and man, who reopens the gates of paradise which were shut after the Fall (see Genesis 3:23-24). The work of the Savior was to release those who were held captive by sin (see Isaiah 42:7). Isaiah had also prophesied of the Messiah that God would "place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open" (Isaiah 22:22). And that, "His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore" (Isaiah 9:7).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

O Root of Jesse

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Latin translation of O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Advent Carol
O come, O come, thou Branch of Jesse's tree, free them from Satan's tyranny, that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o'er the grave. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based on the lineage of Jesus as the Messiah from the house of David (see Romans 15:12). Isaiah prophesied: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." And, "In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples." (Isaiah 11:1, 11). The ancestry of Jesus, "Son of David" and thus also a shoot from Jesse (David's father), is recorded at the begining of Matthew's gospel and in Luke 3. He was born in Bethlehem, the David's home town, as Micah prophesied, saying, "Out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Micah 5:2. And Jesus is be beloved (the name David means "beloved"). Isaiah foretold of the Messiah, "So will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand" (Isaiah 52:15).

See this page from Fisheaters for information about the custom of making a Jesse tree during Advent.

Last Things: Heaven and Hell

Notes on Heaven

How does the Church define heaven and everlasting life? "By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God." "By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other." Book of Common Prayer, p 862

What is the experience we call the beatific vision in heaven? At death, the souls of all the saints—already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment—have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature. This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity—this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed—is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. Heaven far surpasses our greatest expectations and needs for happiness and fulfillment. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 Heaven is a state of happiness, first because of the enjoyment of communion with God, and second because of the knowledge, love, and enjoyment of creature. As with this life, the depth of beatitude in eternal life depends on the measure of grace utilized by the soul.

Heaven is described as the consummation of the marital union of Jesus and his Bride, the Church. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . . And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ . . . And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 19:7, 9; 21:2

Heaven is described as a beautiful city, perfect in all its attributes, on a high mountain. “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed. . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” Revelation 21: 9-12, 22-26

Heaven also describes the eternal dwelling of the righteous—both body and soul—with God. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea
was no more.”
Revelation 21:1 “I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-53

Heaven on earth is the ultimate realization of the Kingdom of God.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever
and ever.”
Revelation 11:15

Notes on Hell

How does the Church define damnation? "By hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God." Book of Common Prayer, p 862

Hell was created for the fallen angels, but ends up being used for lost souls as well. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’.” Matthew 25:41

Hell, along with heaven, is one of the consequences of the choices we make in life. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.

Hell is described (or portions of hell?) with several terms:
1. The “Abyss” or “Bottomless Pit” (see Revelation 9:1-5; 20:1-3).
2. "Tartarus" or a bondage of chains is a place of confinement for fallen angels (see 2 Peter 2:4)
3. "Sheol" (in Hebrew) or "Hades" (in Greek) is the abode of the dead, where sinners await resurrection and judgment (see Luke 16:23; Revelation 1:18; 20:13-14)
4. "Gehenna," the burning trash heap outside Jerusalem was the word most often used in the New Testament for hell. It is the “lake of fire and brimstone” in Revelation, which is the final abode of the damned and consumes death and the abode of the dead after the general resurrection (see Revelation 20:14).

In the Revelation of John, the “second death” refers to the experience of the souls in hell who are forever separated from the principle of supernatural life. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

What do we know about hell?
1. Hell is a place of memory and awareness, as seen in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (see Luke 16:19-31).
2. Hell is a place of raging thirst. The rich man called out
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Luke 16:24
3. Hell is a place of torment. The rich man says,
“for I am in agony in this flame” and “this place of torment.” Luke 16:24, 28
4. Hell is a place of eternal fire.
“Hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:48
5. Hell is a place of outer darkness and deep frustration. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:41-42
6. Hell is a place of eternal separation from God.
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9
7. Hell is a place from which there is no escape.
“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Luke 16:26

Who goes to hell? “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15

Monday, December 18, 2006

O Lord of might

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Latin translation of O Adonai
O Lord and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Advent Carol
O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai's hight in ancient times didst give the Law in cloud and mejesty and awe. Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based on the manifestation of God on Mount Sinai in the Book of the Exodus. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, and the Torah (or "Law of Moses") became both the foundation of Jewish faith and life as well as the dawn of ethical monotheism in world history.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). The Messiah was seen as one who would represent the rule of God's law and bring it to fulfillment (see Isaiah 11:4-5). As Lord, "he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). As Savior, Jesus fulfilled the obligations of the Law on behalf of sinners (see Romans 8:1-4).

Last Things: Death and Judgment

Notes on Death

Death is the separation of the spirit (the animating principle of life) from the body. “God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ . . . ‘For you are dust, and to dust you shall return’.” Genesis 3:3, 19 “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:7

The bodies of the dead should be treated with respect and charity in view of the fact that the body is God’s creation and the subject of the Resurrection. Burial is a corporal work of mercy. “During Shalmaneser’s reign I performed many charitable works for my kinsmen and my people. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw one of my people who had died and been thrown outside the walls of Nineveh, I would bury him.” Tobit 1:17-18

The Bible also speaks of a “second death” (after the general resurrection of the death for judgment) in reference to the souls in hell who are forever separated from the principle of supernatural life. “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:6

Death is a consequence of sin and is also now part of the natural human condition “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Romans 5:12-14

Sin earns death because it is a rejection of the source of supernatural life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Jesus shared human death to conquer death for us. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Without Christ, we are now dead spiritually (cut off from supernatural life) and will soon be physically. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:4-7

Jesus is Lord of the living and the dead. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18 “And I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” Revelation 14:13

Notes on Judgement

A “particular” judgment awaits the individual after death. “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27 Death puts and end to the time immediately after death the eternal destiny of each separated soul is decided by the righteous judgment of God. The soul goes to Hell or Heaven (or an intermediate state of paradise in anticipation of full heavenly bliss). Particular judgment is the common belief of most Christians, as opposed to the belief that the soul sleeps unconsciously until the General Judgment, or that the soul is annihilated at death, to be recreated on Judgment Day. Christ represents Lazarus and Dives as receiving their respective rewards immediately after death. They have always been regarded as types of the just man and the sinner. To the penitent thief it was promised that his soul instantly on leaving the body would be in the state of the blessed: “This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). St Paul longs to be absent from the body that he may be present to the Lord (2 Cor 5), evidently understanding death to be the entrance into his reward (Philemon 1:21). The gift of eternal life is sometimes spoken of as bypassing judgment. The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that the soul awaits its fate either in blissful anticipation or in dreadful torment. St Augustine wrote in the City of God that the righteous dead would rest “in the secret receptacles and abodes of disembodied spirits” awaiting Judgment Day. Centuries later, Thomas Aquinas argued that Augustine’s teaching was nevertheless consistent with particular judgment.

Jesus is the one who sits in Judgement of all mankind at the Day of the Lord. “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:22-23, 25-27

Judgment is reserved to the Last Day for this life is the hour of decision. “Let both grow together until the harvest . . . The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 13:30, 37-43

Judgement Day manifests both God’s righteousness and mercy. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels’...And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:31-34, 41, 46

Judgement Day brings human history to a close. The dead are raised to account for their deeds. “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Revelation 20:11-12 Note: Premillenialists see the “great white throne” as a separate judgment which is only the condemnation of sinners. In catholic tradition, there is one final judgment at the last day, which is a liturgy manifesting God’s justice and mercy in proclamation of the particular judgment of each individual.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rose Sunday

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Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, Who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, Who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

O Wisdom from on high

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Sunday the "Great O" antiphons on the Magnificat begin. I shall post them day-by-day from both the Latin translation and the more familiar version in the Advent Carol (#59 in the Hymnal 1982).

Latin translation of O Sapientia
O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Advent Carol
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

The antiphon today is based on the description of Wisdom in Sirach 24. In the New Testament, Christ is called "the power of God and the wisdom of God" who is wise as well as righteous on our behalf (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). St. Paul also describes Jesus as involved in creation, as Wisdom was described as active in creation in the Old Tetsament (see Proverbs 8). "He is before all things," St Paul wrote, "and in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17).

King Solomon asked for wisdom above all, as the most precious gift of God. It was said in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be full of wisdom (Isaiah 11:2). In Jewish philosphical theology, the wisdom of God was equated with the divine Logos, or "Word" which St John said was "made flesh and dwelt among us" in the person of Jesus (John 1:14). It is also significant that Jesus is visited by wise men at his birth, is found as a boy with the teachers in the Temple, and as an adult marvels others by teaching on his own authority. Jesus possibly referred to himself as the Wisdom of God in Matthew 11:9; 12:42; and in Luke 7:35; 11:31.

There are several variations on the lists and texts in Western rite uses. Here's what's coming in the most common uses between now and the Eve of the Nativity:
December 18: O Adonai (Lord)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
December 20: O clavis David (Key of David)
December 21: O Oriens Splendor (Dawn)
December 22: O rex gentium (King)
December 23: O Emmanuel (God with us)

The marvelous icon above--"The Birth of God," written by Nicholas Markell--is available for purchase at Bridge Building Images.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Here's my holiday idea

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I know this time of year many families have the tradition of driving around one evening to look at Christmas lights in the neighborhoods around town. Here's my two cents of how to make the most of it.

Before you go, get some cash. About $20, $50, or $100 (depending on what you can afford) in the form of $1 or $5 bills. As you drive around town, stop by a dozen or so grocery stores and other places along the way where the kids can hop out and put the cash in various Salvation Army kettles around town.

It's a good way to show the kids the joy of giving, and the Salvation Army depends so much on their Christmas kettle collections to meet their annual budget. When you're all done, stop by a Krispy Kreme for some hot chocolate.

Funeral Homily

At the request of some parishioners, here is the funeral homily from this afternoon.

Today we gather to worship God and to commend the soul of our beloved brother in the Lord, David Laughlin (RIP), to God’s never failing mercy. Death comes for each one of us. For David, it was unexpected and it was far too early, at a mere 48 years of age. Today we also gather to give thanks for the moments he shared with us, and I encourage you to share those memories with each other in the reception after this Requiem Mass.

All of this together is a celebration of life—the life that David lived among us, and the life eternal which is our hope in Jesus Christ our Lord. David is remembered as fully enjoying the happy life he lived—as being a friend to all, as open and generous, as a lover of music, and with a tender heart for God’s furry little (and not-so-little)creatures. There’s no point in saying that he will be missed; he has been missed so much already.

Our gospel reading today (John 14:1-6), which was the passage chosen by the family among several options, is by far the one most commonly chosen for funerals. Perhaps it is such a common choice because it touches upon so many of the feelings experienced at this time by family and friends. Jesus talks about finding peace for troubled hearts, about trusting in Christ, and about finding the way home. And the context is that Jesus is saying goodbye to his closest friends, an opportunity we would all like to have before death comes. It is the Last Supper, and in less than 24 hours, Jesus will die upon the cross to atone for the sins of the world. Jesus knows it, but they are not able to see it.

However, they do understand that for some reason, he will have to go away. And that is not something they want to hear. Their hearts are troubled. Why all this talk of leaving and betrayal? Why now? Why go? What next? Just as was spoken by an angel to his Mother before Jesus was born, he tells his friends not to be afraid. He can understand their anxiety, but he wants them to be reassured. They may not understand everything that’s going on, but they should remember how they’ve learned to trust him.

Jesus’ word to them, is his word to all of his disciples, anxious in their loss. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You have trusted in God, trust in me also.” Sometimes the same moments in which things seem out of control, things are actually just as they should be. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” And with that encouragement, he reminds us to have faith.

Real faith rallies our spirits with the reminder that even in facing loss, there is still nothing of which to be afraid. In your hour of trouble, more than ever, believe in God. Believe that there is a God—that you are never alone in the anxieties of life, that you never have to simply try to manage things on your own, that you can always go to him as a loving Father, and that even when you forget about him, he is there seeking you out, because God loves you.

Though Jesus has shown his disciples a life of utter trust in God the Father, he is about to take that lesson to the next level with his journey to the cross. “Where I am going, you cannot follow. I go to prepare a place for you.” If your believe in God needs to be strengthened, you will find all the strength you need in Jesus. We can be sure that he is strong where we are weak, and that he knows what he’s talking about.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus tells us that the Father’s will is that we find a home in our Father’s house. The Son’s work is to “go and prepare a place” for us in his Father’s house. At the time a time known only to God, Jesus says he will come and take you to myself—“that where I am, you may be also.” David was the kind of person who was always making himself at home. Those who knew and loved him best described him to me as always popping in, hanging out, staying over, being casual, making himself at home. Through our Lord, we have a home in his Father’s house.

It makes sense that Jesus would describe paradise in this way. Is that not what a home really should be after all—a little corner of paradise. Of course, on God’s scale, it is far more than we could imagine. Mansion after mansion and glory after glory has been prepared for us, and yet it is also the kind of home you could never get lost in, a home that is always cozy—a warm spot to be at home.

Home is a place of love and happiness, that’s why Jesus called heaven our home. Home is a place of cheer and fellowship—of sharing good times with old friends and having a good time making new ones. That’s why Jesus called heaven our home. Home is a place of love and forgiveness, where people wait for you with open arms. Home is a place where wounds are healed and hearts are mended. Home is a place of embraces and kisses and smiles and joy. That’s why Jesus called heaven our home.

This is the place that Jesus has prepared for us—a home in the bosom of the Father. And one day, our home will become a new heaven and a new earth. We will be raised from the dead to live with no more suffering and death. We will and come home and walk and talk with Jesus, face to face.

In New Testament times, the Jewish people longed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There were festivals to keep and sites of all kinds to see , to be sure. But the reason they wanted to go there above all is because that’s where God’s home was. That's where God lived—that’s where he chose to dwell, in the great Temple of Jerusalem on Mount Zion.

The American folk hymn expressed that feeling in these words: “Jerusalem, my happy home, when shall I come to thee? When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys, when shall I see? There saints are crowned with glory great; they see God face to face; they triumph still, they still rejoice, in that most happy place.”

In our gospel today, Jesus is showing us how to say good-bye (at least for now). Not all of us want to say good-bye. Thomas didn’t. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We might say, home is not so much as matter of “Where?” as of “Who?”

Today, we say good-bye to David and we pray that he may take his rest and be at home with all the faithful departed and our Lord Jesus in his Father’s house. This is what Jesus makes possible for all of us.

Let us pray.
Almighty God, with whom still live the spirits of those who die in the Lord, and with whom the souls of the faithful are in joy and felicity: We give you heartfelt thanks for the good examples of all your servants, who, having finished their course in faith, now find rest and refreshment. May we, with David and all who have died in the true faith of your holy Name, have perfect fulfillment and bliss in your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

According to a recent survey . . .

98% of our congregation are sinners.

(Survey has a 2% margin of error.)

The man of lawlessness

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Here are the notes from last Sunday which touched on the basics of Catholic teaching about the Antichrist. Next Sunday, we conclude our Advent study with the traditional "four last things:" death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

The "Antichrist" is the chief of Christ’s human enemies. Though this word is used only in 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; and 2 Jn 7, “false christs” (Mt 24:5, 24; Mk 13:22), as well as the concept of the “man of sin” or “son of perdition” in the KJV (2 Thess 2:3-10), and the “beast” (Rev 11:7; 13:1-8) is found elswhere in the New Testament. The prefix anti means "against" or "in place of." The Antichrist opposes Jesus and his Church, and sets himself in the place of God.

* There have been many antichrists through history and as well as movements that embody the “spirit
of antichrist” (see 1 Jn 2:18-27; 4:3; 2 Jn 1:7).
* The Antichrist derives his power from the Devil (see Rev 13:3).
* Before he comes, there will be a great rebellion or apostasy (see 2 Thess 2:3).
* His arrival is being restrained until the time for him to appear (see 2 Thess 2:4-8).
* He will call himself God, receive worship, and “cause sacrifice to cease.” (Mt 24:15; Rev 13:4; Dn 9:27).
* He will be haughty and blasphemous in his persecution of the Church (see Rev 13:5-7).
* He will offer demonic wonders and a false prophet will encourage his worship (Rev 13:11-17.)
* He will be publicly opposed by “two witnesses” who are then executed and resurrected (Rev 11:3-13).
* He will have great world power, but then be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 19:19-21).

By coincedence, one of todays readings from the Divine Office lays out much of the description:

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of his coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lucy-light, shortest day and longest night

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From the Breviary Legend for 13 December:

Lucy [or Lucia] was early recognized as one of the most illustrious of virgin Martyrs. Therefore, along with Agatha, Agnes, and Cecilia, her name is mentioned in the Gregorian Canon. But nothing can now be surely established concerning her life save that she bare such witness to Christ, about the year 304 at Syracuse, as soon to fill Christendom with her praises.

The written Acts of St Lucy (on which the Propers of her Office are based) were compiled long after her death, like the Acts of the other three aformentioned virgin Martyrs, and doubtless contain such memories of her passion as then sur­vived, along with the wonders that had come into belief to explain how Christ's strength was made perfect in the weakness of his handmaiden.

According to these Acts, Lucy took her mother, who was afflicted with an issue of blood, to pray at Catania before the body of St Agatha, through whose intercession her mother was healed. Whereupon Lucy begged that the dowry set aside for her marriage be given to the poor, and this same was done.

To the Virgin Lucy came a voice, as from blessed Agatha, which said : "Why seek of me what thou thy­self canst presently give to thy mother? Thy faith will make her whole, for because of thy virginity thou art become a goodly dwelling-place for God. Even as Christ by my sufferings doth ever glorify Ca­tania, so by thine shall he ever glorify Syracuse."

When this came to the ears of him to whom she had been be­trothed against her will, he delivered her to the prefect to be punished as a Christian. The latter tried entreaties, and then threats, to seduce her from Christ, and finally ordered her to be prostituted in a brothel. To which Lucy replied, "Thou canst not prosti­tute my soul; if this poor body be violated against my will, I shall thereby obtain unto the double crown of chastity and suffering."

Whereupon, when unspeakable cruel­ties had failed to move her, she was finally martyred by a sword thrust through her neck. Said Lucy, "I besought my Lord Jesus Christ that the fire of per­secution should not prevail over me, and so I got me a truce from the Lord before my martyrdom. For the love that I had unto them, lo, they take now my contrary part, but I give myself unto prayer."

Her body was buried at Syracuse, but afterwards taken to Con­stantinople, and lastly to Venice. And she is invoked by those who suffer illness of the eyes, from a story told of her, that she desired her eyes to be plucked out, to avoid the lust­ful admiration which they stirred in pagan young men. Her name indicateth light, and she was a shining light of purity to those who had no eyes to see the beauty of Christ in that night of pagan darkness; to which mystic reference is made in an old saying concerning her feast-day (which was by the old reckoning the shortest day in the year): "Lucy-light, shortest day and longest night."

An article on the Scandinavia festival of St Lucia's Day can be found here. A modern version of Lucia, painted by Suzanne Apgar can be viewed and purchased here.

The new stadium in Arlington

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- The Dallas Cowboys are taking their distinctive hole-in-the-roof design with them to their $1 billion new stadium. Only this time, the playground will feature a sliding lid to keep the elements out. That's a must considering there's going to be a 60-yard-long, 50-foot-high scoreboard hanging over the football field. With a glowing, glass facade, humongous sliding doors that can open both ends and 80,000 seats -- 100,000, if necessary -- the Cowboys sure are aiming for the kind of showplace you'd expect from a club that bills itself as "America's Team."

"I'm convinced it's a building that will be a classic when it comes to looking at its design," team owner Jerry Jones boasted following a Tuesday night, Oscars-esque bash where the new design was revealed. Complete with a red-carpet entrance that actually was the team's shade of blue, the party featured 10 members of the team's Ring of Honor and, of course, a performance by the Cowboys cheerleaders. Bob Costas was the master of ceremonies and his hyperbole-filled introduction included calling the stadium "the most extraordinary athletic facility ever conceived ... a 21st century, supersonic setting." A video leading to computer-generated shots of the interior referenced the Pyramids in Egypt and the Colosseum among other architectural wonders.

The unnamed facility is scheduled to open in 2009. The club already has begun lobbying to host the 2011 Super Bowl, and probably won't have a problem luring more major events if it lives up to its billing as the largest pro sports venue in the country. Final Fours and political conventions already are on the team's wish list. The Cowboys initially projected the stadium to cost $650 million. In November 2004, Arlington voters agreed to pay for $325 million of it as long as the club paid for any overruns. The skyrocketing tab is worth every penny to Jones, a former oil wildcatter-turned-billionaire who loves making a splash as much as he loves winning championships. "No doubt about it, I want our fans to have the pride in a building that is recognized in a quality way," Jones said.

The building plan is certainly impressive, with the glass exterior its most eye-catching feature. Jones said the glass is made to glow blue and silver during the day, then the colors will reverse at night. "It's basically a changing color scheme, but all within the traditional colors of the Cowboys," he said. Retractable glass doors on the ends will provide an open-air feeling on days when weather permits. Jones said he expects most games will feature the roof closed but the ends open.

One of the ends is aimed to be a signature "365 entry," meaning it'll be a gathering point every day of the year. "Really, truly, it is the front door," said Bryan Trubey, principal designer for HKS Architects Sports & Entertainment group. Jerry and his family insisted on making a civic entryway." Visible outside each end are two steel arches that run all the way through the playing field, peaking around the hole in the roof 320 feet above the playing field. However, from the inside, they are somewhat obscured by everything else going on.

Start with the gigantic TV screen that stretches between the 20-yard lines. With four sides, it will be visible to fans on both sides and in both end zones. Jones is so excited about the boards that he said "maybe the best seat in the house is up in the areas" closest to them. (There also will be monitors on the outside of the stadium.) Then there's the next step in luxury suites: Field-level boxes, including an area that also will serve as the team's entry point to the field, letting fans personally wish players good luck before kickoff.

The Cowboys kept the average fan in mind, too, minimizing the distance between fans and the field. Team officials claim the upper deck will be closer to the action than any other NFL stadium. Trubey said it will be "a very compact experience" with "more seats in better positions" than Texas Stadium. Most of the end-zone area will be standing-room only, but seats could be added. That's how the capacity could jump by 20,000. The turf will be synthetic.

With so much to cram in, the new stadium will certainly live up to the saying that everything is bigger in Texas. At 2.3 million square feet, it's more than 2 1/2 times the size of Texas Stadium. The Cowboys raised the bar on facilities -- and ushered in the era of grand privilege for the high-dollar fan -- when Texas Stadium opened in 1971. It featured a then-whopping 176 luxury suites and was paid for through personal bonds, a concept that has since morphed into "personal seat licenses," a cover charge fans must pay to be allowed to buy season tickets. Texas Stadium's most distinct feature is the strange top, jokingly said to be "so God can watch his team play," but really a result of financial and structural problems.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Respect for life from conception till death

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From the Common Declaration of His Grace, Archbishop Rowan Williams and His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI:

As Christian leaders facing the challenges of the new millennium, we affirm again our public commitment to the revelation of divine life uniquely set forth by God in the divinity and humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is through Christ and the means of salvation found in him that healing and reconciliation are offered to us and to the world.

There are many areas of witness and service in which we can stand together, and which indeed call for closer co-operation between us: the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land and in other parts of the world marred by conflict and the threat of terrorism; promoting respect for life from conception until natural death; protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of children in the context of healthy family life; outreach to the poor, oppressed and the most vulnerable, especially those who are persecuted for their faith; addressing the negative effects of materialism; and care for creation and for our environment. We also commit ourselves to inter-religious dialogue through which we can jointly reach out to our non-Christian brothers and sisters.

Mindful of our forty years of dialogue, and of the witness of the holy men and women common to our traditions, including Mary the Theotókos, Saints Peter and Paul, Benedict, Gregory the Great, and Augustine of Canterbury, we pledge ourselves to more fervent prayer and a more dedicated endeavour to welcome and live by that truth into which the Spirit of the Lord wishes to lead his disciples (cf. Jn 16:13). Confident of the apostolic hope "that he who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion"(cf. Phil 1:6), we believe that if we can together be God’s instruments in calling all Christians to a deeper obedience to our Lord, we will also draw closer to each other, finding in his will the fullness of unity and common life to which he invites us.

The uncommon sense of Yogi Berra

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Perhaps this will lighten any holiday blues you might feel from untangling your Christmas lights. Here are some of the more famous statements of the Yankee catcher that are both absurd and yet also really make sense.

"It ain't over till it's over." (The original statement was actually "You're never out of it till you're out of it," referring to the 1973 National League pennant race.)

"I want to thank you for making this day necessary."

"It's like déjà vu all over again."

"When you get to a fork in the road, take it."

"It gets late early out there."

"I never said half the things I said."

"Our similarities are different." (Actually said by Dale Berra, Yogi's son.)

"I thought they said steak dinner, but then I found it was a state dinner...It was hard to have a conversation with anyone; there were so many people talking."

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

"Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded."

When asked what makes a good manager of a baseball team, he said "A good ball club".

When asked what time it is, he said "You mean right now?"

His wife Carmen asked where he would like to be buried, and he said "Surprise me!"

Television commercials have taken advantage of Berra's fame for Yogiisms, and advertisers have scripted some things for him to say that, though not true Yogiisms, are similar to his malapropisms.

In an Entenmann's commercial, Yogi said, "You can taste how good these cookies are just by eating them" and "this box is always open until it's closed."

In a print advertisement for the Yankees' YES Network, Yogi said, "I love the YES Network so much, I don't watch TV anymore."

For similar amusement, check out this article on colemanballs.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Now get my book at 20% off ! ! !

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Now through the end of Christmas only, get my book Moments of Grace for 20% of the retail price. Was $18.95--now only $15.16 ! ! !

Friday, December 08, 2006

Luther and the Immaculate Conception

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Today is the feast of the Conception of Mary. Many people find it surprising that Martin Luther (the "Father of the Reformation") defended doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to his death (as confirmed by Lutheran scholars such as Arthur Piepkorn). Like Augustine, Luther saw an unbreakable link between Mary's divine maternity, perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception. Although his formulation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not clear-cut, he held that her soul was devoid of sin from the beginning:

"But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin..."

The teaching would eventually become dogmatized in the Roman Catholic Church. The dogmatic definition of Pope Pius IX on 8 December 1854 reads: “From the first moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary was, by the singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of all mankind, kept free from all stain of original sin.”

You can read more about the reformers and Mary at Also, see my post from last year about the Anglican teaching on the purity of Mary.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

An evening with St Nicholas

On Wednesday, December 6th (the Feast of St Nicholas of Myra), we had a fun evening at the church singing carols. St Nick visited with the children, and I presented an enjoyable interactive Advent meditation titled, "Untangling your Christmas lights." Here are some photos, courtesy of our Senior Warden, Steve Altman. Also, find more on the history and traditions associated with St Nicholas at Fisheaters, or better yet, at the St Nicholas Center.
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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homily for the Feast of St John Damascene

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Perhaps you had a similar experience . . . in my dormroom and first apartment after leaving home, there were a few things on the walls (some posters and such), but no pictures of family and friends. And now, somehow, my house is full of pictures and memorabilia which serve as a constant visual reminder of those I know and love.

There has always been a puritan element in the Christian tradition. In the early Church, both Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria were outspoken in their view that the prohibition on images in the Decalogue was binding on Christians in every way. To them, images and statues of hereos and gods, with candles and incense burning before them, belonged to the world of paganism—that grip of superstition which they had labored so long to break. Indeed, the only second century Christians known to fully use images of Christ were the radical Gnostics who followed the licentious Carpocrates.

Yet, it is natural that ordinary believers who comprehend the world through the eyes and ears would not only want to hear the stories of their faith but see them as well—especially those who could not read. By the dawning the third Century, Christians were beginning to express their faith in various forms of visual art. At first, the focus was on common symbols in the culture that could be endowed with a Christian significance—the dove, the fish, the chalice, the ship tossed by the waves, the anchor, and of course the cross.
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It was then natural that frescoes of the common culture would be used, especially in the catacombs, depicting comforting images of the afterlife. The orans figure of prayer, the peacock and garden scenes, images of the queen of heaven, and the humanitarian image of a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders, were all baptized with a Christian interpretation.

It was natural to add to those images, scenes of Old Testament stories, and followed quickly by stories from the Gospels. The earliest known example of a church with such pictures is the house at Dura on the Euphrates, adapted for use as a church in the year 232. It clearly followed the model of decoration found at the nearby synagogue at Dura, which depicted many biblical scenes.
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Above, frescoes of Old Testament scenes at the synagogue of Dura.
Below, the baptistry of the house church at Dura with similar adornment.

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With the legalization of Christianity under Constantine and the waning influence of the pagan cults, the Church no longer had cause to be as reticent in the visual expression of the faith. The cult of relics and imperial court ritual also lent influence to the treatment given to clergy, symbols, and images, all now being honored with lights and incense.

The defense of the full divinity of Christ in the first ecumenical councils, and the endorsement of the title of Theotokos for Mary at Ephesus gave further incentive for new images of Christ and the saints. And the depiction of Mary in the mosaics of St Mary Major in Rome, built after the council of Ephesus (431) is important in showing the development of now honoring Mary and the saints in their own right—not just as part of the background of the gospel story. It became the popular norm.
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Yet the old puritan strain never completely died out. These depictions of Christ and the saints caused pain for those who cherished the memory of an older austerity and reserve, especially when they saw crude nickknacks in the marketplace. (Perhaps the tacky plastic glow-in-the-dark statues of Our Lady and the infant of Prague come to mind. Let the reader understand.) We might say that the intelligentsia lagged behind the devotional sense of the laity. And so it was that these images became the object of an undercurrent of mistrust and hostility that erupted into the iconoclastic controversy of the eighth Century.

In comparison with the West, the Eastern Church was always noted for the degree of its subjection to the authority and the whims of the emperors. Which is to say that imperial policy and involvement is a great factor in the doctrinal story of the Byzantine Church. By this time, the Byzantine empire had been through a period of decline. The Moslem conquests, Bulgarian invasions, and a series of inept emperors seemed to confirm that Byzantium was at en end. But when the Isaurian dynasty ascended to power with Emporer Leo III in the year 717, it seemed if there might indeed be new life and stability for the old empire.

Leo set about a vast program of badly needed imperial reform and restoration. His government organized the bureaucracy, revised laws, build roads, sponsored schools, and fended off the Arabs and Bulgars. All of this went over rather well, except for the religious policy of iconoclasm—the destruction of Christian images. The reasons for the new policy were complex, and in hindsight perplexing.

Constantinople certainly wanted peace with Moslems, Jews and Christian Monophysites—all of whom were opposed to religious images. It was also probably an attempt to curb the influence of monasteries. But even more, it is clear that Leo believed that the cult of images in his day was a form of idolatry that had crept into the church—especially the superstitions in the cult of icons among the unlearned laity.

In Leo’s mind, not only was iconoclasm the most needed reform in the church, as the emporer, he was the one responsible for reforming it. And so it began in 725 when Leo ordered the destruction of an icon of Christ, to which miraculous powers had been attributed. His edict was vigorously opposed in the East and simply ignored in the West.

One of those who opposed the edict was the Patriarch of Constantinople at the time named German. So Leo simply had him deposed and replaced. Into this controversy come a powerful mother and an old monk name John. John was born in the year 676 in Damascus, Syria, which had by this time become the capital of the Moslem Umayyad Empire which stretched from Spain to India.

John’s father, though an important official in the court of the Caliph, was a Christian, and a very generous and righteous man. As he had done for many others, John’s father paid the ransom for a monk named Cosmas, enslaved by the Moslems. Out of gratitude, Cosmas schooled John in Christian thinking and learning, training his as a scholar.
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John succeeded his father at the court of the Caliph, but was not satisfied and left after three years to become a monk and priest at St Sabas, Jerusalem. There, he labored long and hard in the patient work of theology and liturgy, becoming one of the greatest hymnist of the East, as well as the last of the early Church Fathers and the first of the medieval scholastics.

Securely in the Eastern theological tradition, John wrote apologetic works expounding and defending the faith in response to the Moslems, as well as the Manichees, the Nestorians, and the Monophysites. He eventually composed the first attempt at a systematic theology in the Eastern Church, his Source of Knowledge.
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Iconoclastic Emporers Leo III (left) and his son Constantine V (right).
When the iconoclastic controversy erupted, John like many others, vigorously opposed the edict and wrote in defense of images. By living outside the empire, John had the advantage of some protection from Leo III and his successor Constantine V, who continued the iconoclastic policy of his father. But he was still in danger.

The emperor once planted a forged letter in which John offered to surrender Damascus to the Byzantines, so the Calif cut off the saint’s right hand. Naturally, the devout John went into the church and stood before an icon of Mary, imploring the Virgin’s intercession. Perhaps because he would write in defense of icons, it is said his hand was miraculously restored.
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John was known for great humility, quietly receiving the mockery of others when he returned to Damascus as a monk to sell his woven baskets. After all, he once collected their taxes, and now it was time for payback. He was called John of golden streams because of his eloquence. He was a man of deep learning and simple piety, who spoke in a way that people could understand.

John Damascene succeeded in that labor where others had failed because of his deep sense of the reality of the incarnation, of Jesus as God and Man. For him, the controversy over icons, touched upon so many of the central truths of the Catholic faith, and he was able to articulate that better than anyone else. John fell asleep in the peace of Christ in the year 754 at the age of 78, but his labor for the gospel as the apostle of icons was yet to find its full effect.

Emporer Leo’s son Constantine V, who had continued iconoclasm and even had a puppet council condemn images, died in 741, and his son Leo IV reigned briefly and died in 775. The new Emperor Constantine VI was merely a boy when his father died, so his mother Irene was made regent and Empress of Byzantium. Irene (meaning “peace”) loved the sacred images of the Christ and the saints.

She was pained by seeing them destroyed, by the turmoil in the Church, and by the persecution of the monks. Irene revoked the edict against images, appointed an iconodule named Tarasius as Patriarch of Constantinople, and with the help of Tarasius and Pope Hadrian I, summoned a Council at Nicaea in 787. That council defended the proper use of images in the Church and anathematized the iconoclasts.

There would be one further historical hiccup of iconoclastic emperors with a period of image-breaking and persecution until another female regent named Theodora would finally end the iconoclasm for good. Her name means “lover of God.” The Second Council of Nicaea was confirmed and the images restored on March 11, 842—an event still celebrated to this day throughout the Eastern Church on the First Sunday in Lent as the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.” And with Nicaea II, the orthodox, catholic expression of Christianity became “the Church of the Seven Councils.”
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Two iconodule regents, Empress Irene (left) and Empress Theodora (right).
John of Damascus was highly praised at this last of the ecumenical councils of the undivided Christian Church of the first millennium. He had picked up on German of Constantinople’s original defense of images when iconoclasm broke out, and articulated it well. German and John explained how the so-called “worship” given to the images was different in kind from the worship of God, but also derived from it. Following their theological defense, the council defined that the images were to be restored and rightly honored.

The council stated:
“For the more frequently one contemplates these images, the more gladly he will be led to remember their prototypes, and the more will he be drawn to it and inclined to give it . . . a respectful veneration (proskynesis), but not however, the veritable worship (latria) which, according to our faith, belongs to God alone. But as is done for the image of the revered and life-giving cross and the holy gospels and other sacred objects, let an oblation of incense and lights be made to give honor to these images according to the pious custom of the ancients, for the honor given to an image passes over to its prototype, and whoever venerates an image venerates in it the person represented.”

The iconoclastic theologians has argued that the divine nature could not be circumscribed, and when one tries to depict Christ in his human nature, he depicts either a divided Nestorian Christ or a Monophysite Christ. But for John, it was all a thinly veiled revival of Manichean dualism. If John were writing after the invention of photography, he would have said, "Look, if one can take a picture of Christ, one can paint a picture of Christ." The fact that the divine Word did indeed become flesh is tremendously important. For St John Damascene, matter truly matters.

In his First Apology for Images, he wrote:
“In former times, God, who is without form or body, could never be depicted. But now, when God is seen in the flesh conversing with men, I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter; I worship the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake; who willed to make his abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation! I honor it, but not as God. . . . God’s body is God because it is joined to his person by a union which shall never pass away. The divine nature remains the same; the flesh created in time is quickened by a soul endowed with reason. Because of this, I salute all the rest of mater with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. . . . Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable; nothing God has made is despicable.”

There is one true image of God. Speaking of Jesus in Colossians 1:15, St Paul wrote, “He is the ikon of the invisible God.” As his brothers, sharing his priesthood, you are images of Christ. As the old saying goes, Sacerdos alter Christus (“the priest is another Christ.”) That is, by the grace of holy orders, the Christian priest is indelibly and metaphysically conformed to Christ--the ultimate source and irreplaceable model of all priesthood. Jesus’ will that the apostles “do this as my memorial” requires that they stand in his place and speak his words (i.e., not “this is his Body”, but “this is my Body.”)

You are an icon of Jesus Christ, written by the Holy Spirit himself. We are images of the priest who has entered the veil of heaven and offered his own blood as an atonement for the sins of the people.

The Rule of the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross states:
“3. The call of Christ invites us to take up the Cross, and to follow in the way of the Cross, in faithfulness and obedience to Christ, and in union with him, even to death, and beyond death. The Brethren shall therefore endeavor to live out the discipline of the Crucified Saviour in every aspect of life, and, through their teaching and pastoral care, to help others to do the same.”

The Christian presbyter is the icon of Christ as both the Priest and the Victim in the act of worship we have come to know as the Holy Eucharist. Let us examine ourselves anew in the light of our great High Priest. How clear is that image of Christ in you and in your life? Is he visible in you? Can they see the wounds?—on you head, in your hands, in your side? Can they see in you the teacher? the healer? the good shepherd?

Do they love you (venerate you) because of your power? your stature? your charm? your way with words? your new Gamerelli cassock? Or is it because they see in you, him whom they love above all? When you find that image, do not destroy it; display it and defend it as did St John of Damascus.

Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, who for the defense of the honor of holy images didst endue thy blessed Saint John with heavenly learning and wondrous strength of spirit: grant unto us, we pray thee, that by his intercession and example, we may so honor the images of thy saints, that we may follow them in all true godliness, and feel the effectual succor of their advocacy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.