Thursday, March 30, 2006

How to listen to a sermon

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This morning, my fourth grade religion class was looking at how to learn from the parables of Jesus. The same lesson applies to how to get soemthing out of a Bible study or how to listen a sermon on Sunday morning. Learning from the message we hear from a pulpit requires us to be actively engaged in the process. As we listen, our minds should be pondering the following:

1. What is God like? Each message from the Word of God is the Lord's own self-revelation. We discover more about who God is and what he is like when the Word is proclaimed in our midst. Ask yourself what insights you can gain into the character of God. Perhaps a particular character in a parable or narrative being read in the Scripture lesson is intended to represent God in some fashion and reveal an aspect of his character. At the heart of any good message is the revelation of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

2. What is God teaching me? Each message from the Word of God is intended to teach us something--to reveal God's will. There can be many related lessons within one sermon or passage. For example, the parable of the prodigal son teaches us to not be wasteful/sinful, to seek the Lord's mercy, to be generous in having mercy, etc. At the heart of any good message is the proclamation of the gospel.

3. How can I apply that to my life? A good preacher may get you started in this quest by making a suggestion or providing an example. But do not let that confuse you into thinking the work has been done. This is the question that each individual ultimately needs to answer for himself. It should be something to ponder in the hours and days after hearing God's message. Pray for God's gift of discernment after hearing a sermon. We need to open our hearts and minds to the working of the Holy Spirit within to help us discern exactly how God's will may become a part of our everyday lives. At the heart of any good message is the call to repentance and faith.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Blest are the pure in heart

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Today is the commemoration of blessed John Keble (d 1866), a faithful parish priest of the Church of England who launched the Catholic revival in that communion with his 1833 Assize sermon on "national apostasy."

Bishop John Cousin wrote the following about Keble in the Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature of 1910 :

The literary position of Keble must mainly rest upon The Christian Year, the object of which was, as described by the author, to bring the thoughts and feelings of the reader into unison with those exemplified in the Prayer Book. The poems, while by no means of equal literary merit, are generally characterised by delicate and true poetic feeling, and refined and often extremely felicitous language; and it is a proof of the fidelity to nature with which its themes are treated that the book has become a religious classic with readers far removed from the author's ecclesiastical standpoint and general school of thought. Keble was one of the most saintly and unselfish men who ever adorned the Church of England, and, though personally shy and retiring, exercised a vast spiritual influence upon his generation.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Reunion of Christendom

Today is the feast of Bishop Charles Henry Brent (1929). The central focus of his life and extensive ministry was the cause of Christian unity. It got me thinking about the Anglican take on ecumenism. So I turned back to the Lambeth Conference of 1920, the one that really tossed our hat into the ecumenical ring. I'm sure Brent had his imput. The text is worth a read. I have highlighted significant parts.
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Resolution 9: The Conference adopts and sends forth the following Appeal to all Christian people:

An Appeal To All Christian People from the Bishops Assembled in the Lambeth Conference of 1920

We, Archbishops, Bishops Metropolitan, and other Bishops of the Holy Catholic Church in full communion with the Church of England, in Conference assembled, realising the responsibility which rests upon us at this time, and sensible of the sympathy and the prayers of many, both within and without our own Communion, make this appeal to all Christian people.

We acknowledge all those who believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and have been baptized into the name of the Holy Trinity, as sharing with us membership in the universal Church of Christ which is his Body. We believe that the Holy Spirit has called us in a very solemn and special manner to associate ourselves in penitence and prayer with all those who deplore the divisions of Christian people, and are inspired by the vision and hope of a visible unity of the whole Church.

I We believe that God wills fellowship. By God's own act this fel­lowship was made in and through Jesus Christ, and its life is in his Spirit. We believe that it is God's purpose to manifest this fellowship, so far as this world is concerned, in an outward, visible, and united society, holding one faith, having its own recognised officers, using God-given means of grace, and inspiring all its members to the world­wide service of the Kingdom of God. This is what we mean by the Catholic Church.

II This united fellowship is not visible in the world today. On the one hand there are other ancient episcopal Communions in East and West, to whom ours is bound by many ties of common faith and tra­dition. On the other hand there are the great non-episcopal Commun­ions, standing for rich elements of truth, liberty and life which might otherwise have been obscured or neglected. With them we are closely linked by many affinities, racial, historical and spiritual. We cherish the earnest hope that all these Communions, and our own, may be led by the Spirit into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. But in fact we are all organised in different groups, each one keeping to itself gifts that rightly belong to the whole fel­lowship, and tending to live its own life apart from the rest.

III The causes of division lie deep in the past, and are by no means simple or wholly blameworthy. Yet none can doubt that self-will, ambi­tion, and lack of charity among Christians have been principal fac­tors in the mingled process, and that these, together with blindness to the sin of disunion, are still mainly responsible for the breaches of Christendom. We acknowledge this condition of broken fellow­ship to be contrary to God's will, and we desire frankly to confess our share in the guilt of thus crippling the Body of Christ and hinder­ing the activity of his Spirit.

IV The times call us to a new outlook and new measures. The faith cannot be adequately apprehended and the battle of the Kingdom can­not be worthily fought while the body is divided, and is thus unable to grow up into the fullness of the life of Christ. The time has come, we believe, for all the separated groups of Christians to agree in for­getting the things which are behind and reaching out towards the goal of a reunited Catholic Church. The removal of the barriers which have arisen between them will only be brought about by a new comrade­ship of those whose faces are definitely set this way. The vision which rises before us is that of a Church, genuinely Catholic, loyal to all truth, and gathering into its fellowship all 'who profess and call themselves Christians', within whose visible unity all the treasures of faith and order, bequeathed as a heritage by the past to the present, shall be possessed in common, and made serviceable to the whole Body of Christ. Within this unity Christian Commun­ions now separated from one another would retain much that has long been distinctive in their methods of worship and service. It is through a rich diversity of life and devotion that the unity of the whole fel­lowship will be fulfilled.

V This means an adventure of goodwill and still more of faith, for nothing less is required than a new discovery of the creative resources of God. To this adventure we are convinced that God is now calling all the members of his Church.

VI We believe that the visible unity of the Church will be found to involve the wholehearted acceptance of:
* The Holy Scriptures, as the record of God's revelation of himself to man, and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith; and the Creed commonly called Nicene, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith, and either it or the Apostles' Creed as the bap­tismal confession of belief;
* the divinely instituted sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Com­munion, as expressing for all the corporate life of the whole fel­lowship in and with Christ;
* a ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit, but also the com­mission of Christ and the authority of the whole body.

VII May we not reasonably claim that the episcopate is the one means of providing such a ministry? It is not that we call in question for a moment the spiritual reality of the ministries of those Commun­ions which do not possess the episcopate. On the contrary we thank­fully acknowledge that these ministries have been manifestly blessed and owned by the Holy Spirit as effective means of grace. But we sub­mit that considerations alike of history and of present experience justify the claim which we make on behalf of the episcopate. Moreover, we would urge that it is now and will prove to be in the future the best instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church. But we greatly desire that the office of a bishop should be everywhere exercised in a representative and constitutional manner, and more truly express all that ought to be involved for the life of the Christian family in the title of Father-in-God. Nay more, we eagerly look forward to the day when through its acceptance in a united Church we may all share in that grace which is pledged to the members of the whole body in the apostolic rite of the laying-on of hands, and in the joy and fel­lowship of a eucharist in which as one family we may together, without any doubtfulness of mind, offer to the one Lord our worship and service.

VIII We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one another's consciences. To this end, we who send forth this appeal would say that if the authorities of other Communions should so desire, we are persuaded that, terms of union having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, bishops and clergy of our Communion would willingly accept from these authori­ties a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations, as having its place in the one family life. It is not in our power to know how far this suggestion may be acceptable to those to whom we offer it. We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united Church.

It is our hope that the same motive would lead ministers who have not received it to accept a commission through episcopal ordination, as obtaining for them a ministry throughout the whole fellowship. In so acting no one of us could possibly be taken to repudiate his past ministry. God forbid that any man should repudiate a past experience rich in spiritual blessings for himself and others. Nor would any of us be dishonouring the Holy Spirit of God, whose call led us all to our several ministries, and whose power enabled us to perform them. We shall be publicly and formally seeking additional recogni­tion of a new call to wider service in a reunited Church, and implor­ing for ourselves God's grace and strength to fulfil the same.

IX The spiritual leadership of the Catholic Church in days to come, for which the world is manifestly waiting, depends upon the readi­ness with which each group is prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of a common fellowship, a common ministry, and a common service to the world.

We place this ideal first and foremost before ourselves and our own people. We call upon them to make the effort to meet the demands of a new age with a new outloook. To all other Christian people whom our words may reach we make the same appeal. We do not ask that any one Communion should consent to be absorbed in another. We do ask that all should unite in a new and great endeavour to recover and to manifest to the world the unity of the Body of Christ for which he prayed.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Lent 4: Homily on Christian Nurture

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"Why is he wearing pink"—so began an otherwise forgettable sermon by a fellow student at Nashotah House in my preaching class. That line has always stuck in my head, however, especially after filling in one Sunday three years ago at Ss Peter & Paul in Arlington. Fr Page was out of the country in his work as an airline pilot and Fr Hightower, who was supposed to return before Sunday, was delayed in London. He called the diocesan office in search of a supply priest. There were no retired clergy available on that day, but as a diocesan curate, I was able to fill in on short notice. It was the Sunday for rose-colored vestments. But when I got there, I was shocked at what I saw. The vestments were not rose; they were pink—spring break pink, neon pink, Brazilian bikini pink. I joked that both of the parish priests had conveniently fled the country rather than be seen wearing pink vestments.

We wear pink (or more properly rose) on this Sunday because it is a time of joy and refreshment in this penitential season. This is signified in several ways. The vesture is a lighter color than the traditional dark purple. There is a old tradition in the Western church of returning to the older practice of acapella singing during Lent. If so, the organ may be played again on this day and flowers may be put on the altar. Today is known as "Laetare Sunday" from the old Latin introit: Laetare, Jerusalem—"Rejoice, O Jerusalem." Today is a time of restrained joy even in the midst of sadness, mourning, and penitence. It is also known as Refreshment Sunday or Sunday of the Five Loaves It was also called Rose Sunday because the Golden Rose, sent by the popes to Catholic sovereigns, used to be blessed at this time.
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In England, it is called Mothering Sunday. On this day it was custom to make a pilgrimage to the cathedral—the mother church of the diocese. On this day, it was also customary that posies would be collected and distributed to mothers and women in the congregation. Another tradition associated with Mothering Sunday is the practice of "church clipping" whereby the congregation form a ring around their church building and holding hands, embrace it. Also, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family. Today, it is generally celebrated as the British equivalent of Mother’s Day in America.

Looking at all these traditions, it occurred to me that the common theme of this day is Christian nurture, and it comes none too soon. For most of us, this is about the time in Lent when we need some tender loving care, for by this time, we have likely struggled to keep up our Lenten discipline, and we need some encouragement for the rest of the way. Nurture is something we don’t hear a lot about, but it is very important, for the Church is our family and the Church is our mother. She nourishes and guides us in our pilgrimage to Christ in heaven. The word nurture comes to from the Latin for the care and love shown in a mother nursing her infant child. Nurture captures what God does for us through his bride the church—feeds us, sustains us, cares for us, shelters us, protects us, warms us, and gives us live.
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I recall how I was stuck the first time I saw the Madonna painting by Jean Fouquet [left], where Mary’s breast is exposed, waiting for the infant Jesus to nurse—Botticelli has a similar painting [right]. It strikes one as a bit shocking, but is this not the way it should be? After further investigation, I found that the oldest known image of the blessed Virgin Mary is a painting of her from the 2nd century on a wall of the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome [below]. She is depicted nursing the infant Jesus.
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Today, I’d like to call three things to your attention about Christian nurture: that God wants to nurture us, that we must be open to being nurtured, and that God wants us to nurture one another in the Church.

First, always remember that our God is a loving God who always wants to nurture and care for his people. Indeed, his loving concern stretches back even before we responded to him in faith and became his people. Or as St Paul so eloquently stated in today’s epistle: "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through 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 ages to come, he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" [Eph 2:4-6].

We see the riches of God’s grace when Christ feeds the multitude in today’s gospel. Jesus always had compassion for people; he took notice of their longing and their suffering, and he wanted to remind us that God the Father sees these things and want to meet the needs of people. So Jesus brought good news to the broken hearted, he healed people of diseases, cast out demons, and freed people from the bondage of sin. Today, he sees the crowd that have come to hear him and has compassion. He feeds the multitude in a way that is a vivid and miraculous sign of God’s care for his people and God’s abundant generosity.
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A meal is a sign of fellowship, but it was also a foretaste of the messianic banquet. It foreshadowed the eucharistic feast upon a sacrifice—the Lamb of God. The medieval Christians adopted the image of a mother pelican feeding her young as a symbol of the Eucharist, for it was said that if she did not find food, the pelican would pick at her breast to feed them with her own body and blood. It’s another image that seems shocking, but is this not the way it should be?

Our God is a loving God who wants to nurture and care for his people. But, secondly, we should understand that we must be open to being nurtured by God, and he wants us to be receptive to him. It would seem logical that everyone would be open to the nurture of God, but that is not always so. It is a special grace that opens our hearts to God. While God desperately longs to be close to (and care) for his people, he will not overturn their free will in order to do so.

Consider for a moment the tragic rejection of Jesus that final week in Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday he was hailed as a king entering the city in triumph. On Good Friday, he was executed to appease the angry crowds. Matthew and Luke record in their gospels that at one point Jesus looked out over the skyline of the city of Zion, and with tears in his eyes, lamented, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to bring you God’s message! How often I’ve wanted to gather your children together as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you would not allow it!" [Mt 23:37;Lk 13:34].
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Jesus wants to gather you together in his church close by his side, under his sheltering arm, defending you from all evil, nourishing you with the Word and the Sacraments, guiding your steps in life, bringing healing and wholeness to your marriage and family. He wants to nurture you in prayer, study, and almsgiving. Will you let him, or stop him? We get a choice. Our God is a loving God who wants to nurture and care for his people. And we must be open to receiving the nurture of God.

Thirdly, we should realize that God wants us to nurture one another in the fellowship of the Church. By his design, the Church was established as a community of people, called out from the world and gathered together to be his own. We minister to God as a priestly people, but we also minister to one another in his Name. When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. We are our brother’s keeper. Jesus gave us the example in his own life and work as our Savior. God did not get rid of sin with the wave of his hand. The Word of God was incarnate as a human being, to share human experience, to bear the burden of sin for us—a burden we could not bear on our own.

This is the reason for the Incarnation and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The author of Hebrews tells us, "Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people." [Heb 2:17] In Jesus exercising his priestly ministry on the altar of the cross, we see that God’s will is not that pain and suffering should be avoided, but that
it should be shared.

Jesus was the willing pelican nurturing her young. Are we willing to go out of our comfort zone when we see others hurting? Are we willing to be the instrument of the Lord in their situations? Are we open to being the Jesus others encounter in the world? Jesus Christ has gone out of his way to nurture us in every goodness. As we remember together today that God wants to nurture us, that we should be receptive to his nurture, and that we should nurture one another (bear one another’s burdens) in Christ, let me leave you with the words of St Paul, with which he opens his second letter to the Church in Corinth:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in every affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are afflicted, with the comfort by which we are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort also" [2 Cor 1:1-5]. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Annunciation of Our Lady

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Today commemorates the Incarnation, beginning the liturgical route leading us once again to the commemoration of the Nativity. It is the conception of the sacred humanity of Jesus, taking flesh from the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. She willingly cooperated in this event, offering from herself the matter for the sacrifice to take away sins. This is the meaning of her title of "Co-redemptrix." Many Church father's point to her human consent as essential to redemption, just as an individual is not redeemed apart from his or her own consent.

The local tradition of Nazareth says that the angel met Mary and greeted her at the fountain, and when she fled from him in fear, he followed her into the house and continued his message there. As far as the date is concerned, all Christian antiquity recognized March 25th as the actual day of Our Lord's death. The opinion that the Incarnation also took place on that date is found in the pseudo-Cyprianic work "De Pascha Computus", c. 240. It argues that the coming of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation andfall of Adam. That is why the Nativity is celebrated on December 25th--nine months after the conception.

Luke 1:26-38
And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end."

And Mary said to the angel: "How shall this be done, because I know not man?"

And the angel answering, said to her: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: Because no word shall be impossible with God."

And Mary said: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."

Let us pray.
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts, that we who have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The blood of the martyrs . . .

Perhaps you have seen this story in the news (from the Associated Press):

Senior Muslim clerics demanded Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces." . . . "Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.

. . . On Wednesday, authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial. But three Sunni preachers and a Shiite one interviewed by The Associated Press in four of Kabul's most popular mosques said they do not believe Rahman is insane. "He is not crazy. He went in front of the media and confessed to being a Christian," said Hamidullah, chief cleric at Haji Yacob Mosque. "The government is scared of the international community. But the people will kill him if he is freed," Hamidullah said. Raoulf, who is a member of the country's main Islamic organization, the Afghan Ulama Council, agreed. "The government is playing games. The people will not be fooled.

"Cut off his head!" he exclaimed, sitting in a courtyard outside Herati Mosque. "We will call on the people to pull him into pieces so there's nothing left." . . . Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said Rahman must not be allowed to leave the country. "If he is allowed to live in the West, then others will claim to be Christian so they can too," he said. "We must set an example. . . . He must be hanged." . . . "We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don't interfere in this issue," Nasri said. "We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."

It may sound bizarre (and not exactly "moderate") to hear these calls for Rahman's execution. But it is hard to get around authoritative Islamic teaching on apostasy (Muslims that convert to another religion). The most merciful are the "Qur'an-only" Islamic sects, for that book only speaks of punishment for apostasy in the afterlife (although the slaughter of unrepentant infidels as an instrument of conquest/conversion is sanctioned in Sura 5:33 and Sura 9:5).

From the Qur'an: "Lo! those who turn back after the guidance hath been manifested unto them, Satan hath seduced them, and He giveth them the rein. That is because they say unto those who hate what Allah hath revealed: We will obey you in some matters; and Allah knoweth their secret talk. Then how (will it be with them) when the angels gather them, smiting their faces and their backs!" [Sura 47:25-27].

From the Hadith: "The Prophet said, 'If somebody discard his religion [of Islam], kill him'" [vol 4, no 260]; and, "So wherever you find them [apostates], kill them, for whoever kills them shall have reward on the Day of Resurrection" [vol 9, no 64].

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

What do Anglicans believe? Part 7

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The Rev'd James DeKoven, DD, Sometime Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Nashotah House Theological Seminary

At the 1874 General Covention of the Episcopal Church, Blessed James DeKoven expressed the religious conviction that underlay his churchmanship with these words: "You may take away from us, if you will, every external ceremony; you may take away altars, and super-altars, lights and incense and vestments; . . . and we will submit to you. But, gentlemen . . . to adore Christ's Person in his Sacrament--that is the inalienable priviledge of every Christian and Catholic heart. How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly, indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Want inspirational reading? Buy my book!

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Surprise! I have completed the publication of my first book, Moments of Grace: a selection of homilies for the Church year. It is now available for purchase in paperback. The collection includes 59 chapters and 274 pages from each season of the Church Year, plus some additional feasts days and special occasions.

From the Forward, by the Author:

I have always taken the idea of the Spirit-anointed preacher as my model in approaching the pulpit. The proclamation of the Word of God, particularly in the divine Liturgy, is a solemn ministry that is both an offering of worship and a way of opening up the hearts and minds of a congregation to the life of the Spirit ministering in the Church. We might begin by asking, What is the Spirit-anointed preacher?

First of all, the "Spirit-anointed" preacher is a man commissioned by the authority of the Church (normally in Holy Orders) who preaches the Word of God. He does not preach his own words, nor is he called to really share his "expert opinion" in matters social and spiritual. He does not have that liberty. He is one whose main task is to give voice to the Tradition--to be the teaching church for the learning church.

The Spirit-anointed preacher preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is one who is always proclaiming the message of Another. It is precisely for this reason that he proclaims the truth to a world struggling to find belief, knowledge, and understanding of the truth. The primary end of his proclamation is to make known the reality of incarnate Truth. In doing so, the Spirit flows through the preacher to address needs in those to whom he ministers by the power of the same Spirit.

Secondly, I would note that the Spirit-anointed preacher listens to God in preparing and delivering his message. The very idea of preaching presupposes that God has a message to be delivered. In this way, the preacher lives into a truly prophetic role in the life of a worshipping community. The preacher listens to the still small voice of the Father through the study of the holy Scriptures.

The great English Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon put it this way in speaking of cultivating the art of preaching, "It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until you come to talk in scriptural language and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows though you."

In the written Word, the preacher become accustomed and attuned to the voice of the eternal Word. In doing so, he cannot help but become a man of prayer, seeking and relating God's will for the people in and out of the pulpit so much so that the act of preaching becomes an act of prayer itself. In this sense, preaching is no longer so utterly dissimilar from the rest of the Liturgy, which itself is both didactic and worshipful in nature.

Lastly, I would note that the Spirit-anointed preacher strives to practice what he preaches. While he is careful not to preach what he practices (for even the Spirit-anointed preacher needs to be led and challenged by his own words if they are to truly convey God's message), he does seek to lead by example. In leading by example, he is careful to support others in their struggle toward proficiency. The Spirit-anointed preacher is mindful of the power of holy living, as is noted in St Francis' admonition, "Preach often; use words if necessary."

I hope to complete two more works before the end of the year--a book on the commandments and a book on the sacraments. Wish me luck.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Cardinal Arinze Podcast

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I have recently enjoyed listening to the Cardinal Arinze Podcast, produced by the Apostolate for Family Consecration. It is worth checking out. I love all the wonderful accents--the African Cardinal, the interviewer from Wisconsin, and the host from Belgium. You don't need to own an Ipod to listen to it. I download it to my computer and open up the file with RealPlayer.

Also worth listening to is Ancient Faith Radio from our friends in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The ordination fog

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Being at the deacon ordinations at our Cathedral recently made me think back to something I had talked about with some classmates after being ordained. I can only describe it as the ordination "fog." Some others had a similar experience, with details varying here and there. Here is what was most common:

* the fog lasts about 72 hours--some beginning with the ordination, some ending with it (as mine), some inbetween.

* the fog involves a sense of detachment, like standing outside yourself and watching your own life on television.

* during the fog there may be a sense of isolation from those close to you (family, friends) without explanation; they may experience hostilities that you feel powerless to address.

* the fog may involve heightened senses, especially hearing.

Has anyone had a similar experience they'd like to share?

On a lighter note, click here to be ordained.

Blessed Joseph, her most chaste spouse

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You may notice that the collect for the feast of St Joseph seems a little uncomfortable using the word “father” directly. Joseph is called “guardian” of Jesus, and “spouse” of Our Lady. The Scriptures don’t seem to have the same reserve in language. Jesus is called the Son of Joseph, and others say, “Isn’t that the carpenter’s Son?” Joseph is directly called Jesus’ father. We get those little references in every gospel but Mark’s. Yet in our devotion to Joseph, we have guarded our words, lest we cause misunderstanding or confusion and lead some passer-by to reckon Joseph as Jesus’ father in the procreative sense. Yet, fatherhood is a recurring theme in the lessons for this feast.

A feast of St Joseph was not widely celebrated until its introduction in the diocese of Rome in 1479 by Pope Sixtus IV. After a gradual rise in the popularity of devotion toward St Joseph, Pope Pius IX took the extraordinary step of naming him the Patron of the Universal Church in 1870. When Pope John XXIII added Joseph to the list of saints commemorated in the eucharistic prayer of the Roman Rite in 1962, it was the first time that any change had been made in the Roman Canon of the Mass since the time of Gregory the Great. After 19 centuries, Joseph had taken his rightful place at Mary’s side in the devotional life of the Church.

But however unappreciated Joseph’s role and work may have been in the past, its lasting effect cannot be underestimated. It is no mistake to claim Joseph’s patronage for the Catholic Church. For it was Joseph who was father to the Church’s founder. We call him “guardian” and “spouse” to avoid confusion, but Joseph lived in the reality of that confusion—Father to a Son who called God his Father, husband to a woman pledged to virginity. Like they say, it’s a tough job being a dad. And we honor him now, for who could have done it better than Joseph?

We are all familiar with the proverb, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” [Proverbs 22:6]. What does that ancient piece of advice mean? It is to say, a good childhood leads to a good adulthood. Before the skies opened at the baptism of the adult Jesus, there must have been so many moments along the way when Joseph and Mary would say of the boy Jesus, “Look at our beloved son; I am so proud of him.”

The more we ponder it, the more striking it is that God would entrust to any two human beings the rearing of his only-begotten Son. What does this say of human dignity? What does this say of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary? What Jesus knew about being a man, came from Joseph. What Jesus knew about God as a loving father, came from Joseph. Joseph modeled divine fatherhood for Jesus Christ—God’s own son. Our picture of the holy family is incomplete when we leave out Joseph. Like Mary’s role of mother, his role of father was indispensable. Fatherhood and motherhood, are rightly honored together. Like the twin vocations of marriage and celibacy, their worth is forever tied together—neither can be praised or denigrated apart from the other.

Fathers and mothers incarnate the parental labor of God. Just as men and women represent two complimentary and unique ways of being human, the love of father and mother are complementary and unique revelations of God’s desire for a relationship with every person.
Believe it or not, all this relates to your ministry. We talk a lot about Mary’s role in the Christian life and in the priestly vocation. But we should not let Joseph’s role go unnoticed. As he did for Jesus, Joseph also models fatherhood for priests. Parishioners call their parish priest most of you “Father.” Fathers guide the growth and formation of those they raise. Like Joseph, they are entrusted by God with those whom they have not created. They may have been born from another, but the pastor will be the one God wants to look after them.

Our gospel lesson [Luke 2:41-52] relates the episode in Jesus’ life when Joseph is last mentioned—at this time, Jesus was merely a boy, about 12 years old. And if you look closely, you can see Joseph’s influence in his life. You can see both his view of God shaped by all those moments that they shared together, and you can see the maturity of his calling, beyond his years. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

It was the humble Joseph that had exalted importance of the Temple over his own workshop when sharing his trade with the young boy Jesus. Joseph and Mary did not fully understand the events of that day. But they continued faithfully in their calling as parents. Jesus was obedient to them. Mary treasured all these moments in her heart. And under the mentoring of Joseph, year in and year out, Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. And Jesus grew up instilled with those values that would let him serve others to the point of giving up his own life, as a ransom for many.

St Joseph, chaste spouse and righteous guardian, train us in the way we should go, that like your Jesus, we may not depart from the ministry God has given to us. Amen.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


"Beats all you ever saw / been in trouble with the law / since they day they was born."

I can only imagine being the cop who pulled over this drunken driver, goes up to look in the car, only to find out that he's just nabbed one of the Duke boys!
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I bet he'd have gotten away if he had been driving the General.

Here's the story from the Associated Press:

'Dukes of Hazzard' Actor Wopat Charged
Friday March 17 11:52 AM ET

Tom Wopat, who played Luke Duke on the TV series "The Dukes of Hazzard," faces a drunken driving charge in northern New Jersey, authorities said Friday. Wopat was arrested in Ringwood and charged with driving while intoxicated and reckless driving, said Bill Maer, a spokesman for the Passaic County sheriff's department.

He was pulled from a Ford Bronco Wednesday night after hitting orange traffic cones and nearly striking a Ringwood police car sent to an accident, Maer said. Wopat, 54, of West Milford, was released into the custody of his girlfriend, Maer said.

The word on the street is that John Schneider slipped out the window of the car and is now hiding at the Boar's Nest.

Ordinations to the diaconate

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(Left to right) Bishop William Wantland, Deacon Jon Jenkins, Bishop Jack Iker, Deacon John Jordan, Father Charles Henery

Congratulations to two newly ordained deacons: John Jordan and St Alban's own Jon Jenkins.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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Friday, March 17, 2006

How the Irish saved civilization

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Who isn't a little bit Irish on St Paddy's day? My own surname is supposed to be Scotch-Irish (i.e., kicked out of both countries). Matkin means "little Matthew" or "Matthew's kin."

Glorious St Patrick (c. 390-461) was a Briton and son of a deacon, captured by pirates at the age of sixteen, taken to Ireland, and forced to work as a shepherd. Six years later, he returned to the mainland and became a priest in a monastery. He eventually returned to Ireland as the first missionary bishop since St Paul the Apostle. His use of the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the Irish is the stuff of legend. (He was also said to have driven snakes off the island, perhaps a reference to driving out native Druidism.)

According to the delightful book How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, the Celtic Church of Ireland played a critical role in the preservation of learning through the collapse of the old Roman Empire. Here are some excerpts:

Like the Jews before them, the Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act. . . . Ireland, at peace and fiercely copying, thus stood in the position of becoming Europe's publisher. But the pagan Saxon settlements of southern England hat cut Ireland off from easy commerce with the continent. While Rome and its ancient empire faded from memory and a new, illiterate Europe rose on its ruins, a virbant, literary culture was blooming in secret along its Celtic fringe. . . .

Latin literature would almost certainly have been lost without the Irish, and illiterate Europe would hardly have developed its great national literatures without the example of the Irish, the first vernacular literature to be written down. Beyond that, there would have perished in the west not only literacy, but all the habits of mind that encourage thought. And when Islam began its medieval expansion, it would have encountered scant resistance to its plans--just scattered tribes of animists, ready for a new identity. . . .

By this point [the establishment of Irish missions throughout Europe by c. 870], the transmission of European civilization was assured. Wherever they went, the Irish brought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies' heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe.

And that is how the Irish saved civilization.
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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Among you as one who serves

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Today marks my anniversary of being ordained a deacon back in 2002 at Our Lady of the Lake Episcopal Church in Laguna Park, TX. Since that time, it has also been my pleasure to serve on the Committee on the Diaconate for the diocesan Commission on Ministry.

For the occasion, my future wife Melisa made me a framed cross-stitch gift of a verse from the epistle reading at the ordination: "Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not loose heart" [2 Corinthians 4:1]. And I still remember the message preached by my friend, Fr Keith Roberson, "Beware of lacy-ness."

Commenting on the harmony of the various orders in the Church, St Ignatius of Antioch once wrote: "Let the faithful take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God and with the priests in the place of the Council of the Apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest."

A trail of wounded souls

This ain't no case of "I thought she was 18." Here's the story from Wendy Koch of USA Today:

Children, including a baby, were sexually molested while others in a private Internet chat room watched, U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officers said Wednesday in announcing the bust of an international child pornography ring. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the trading of graphic images and transmitting of live sexual molestation the "worst imaginable form of child pornography."

Twenty-seven people from nine U.S. states and Canada, Australia and Britain have been charged with possession, receipt, distribution and manufacture of child pornography. Thirteen have been indicted in the USA and 14 abroad. All have been arrested except one, who is now considered a fugitive.

Gonzales said seven children were victims. Among them, according to an indictment, is an infant allegedly molested in April by Brian Annoreno, a suburban Chicago man who went by the nickname "Acidburn" and transmitted images live via the Internet.
His alleged co-conspirator, who logged on from Alberta, Canada, with the screen name "Big_Daddy619," is charged with transmitting live his own sexual molestation of four children younger than 12.

Two others of the 27 charged also allegedly molested kids and made the images available in the chat room called "Kiddiepics & Kiddyvids" since April 2005. "Molestation 'on demand' and an ever-younger and more defenseless group of child victims are two of the most disturbing trends," investigators now find in child pornography rings, said Julie Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security. "This case had both."

When I think of those poor children whose souls have been wounded and will be forever scarred by these people who betrayed their trust, Jesus' words about Judas seem to fit such perpetrators: "It would have been better for him if he had never been born" [Matthew 26:24].

In a civilized society, protecting our children doesn't just fall on parents; it is the responsibility of us all. Sexualizing pre-teen girls is a fad that has to stop. It is a sad indictment of our culture that you can buy hip-hugging jeans, cutoff shirts, and thong underwear for 6 to 10-year-olds in many department stores. Something tells me the little kids are not the ones making the purchases.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Evagrius on deadly thoughts

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On page 72 of his book Spiritual Theology, Diogenes Allen, gives an insightful explanation of desert father Evagrius' ideas on two of eight "deadly thoughts"--avarice and sadness.

The third deadly thought concerns avarice, and here Evagrius' comments are surprising. Our need for material goods, he writes in chapter 9 of the Praktikos, "suggests to the mind a lengthy old age, inability to perform manual labor (at some future date), famines that are sure to come, sickness that will visit us, the pinch of poverty, the great shame that comes from accepting the necessities of life from others." These thoughts fill us with anxiety and insecurity, and keep us from being generous. Our minds become so full of the desire to gain enough material goods to make ourselves secure against every possible calamity that we fail to pay sufficient attention to either our neighbor or God. Or if we do consider them, we do so largely in terms of how they may help make us financially secure. One of the fruits of the Spirit, indicative of God's activity in our lives, is that we become like God—namely, generous.

The next deadly thought, sadness, arises when we compare our achievements with those of others and find we are deeply disappointed with our lives. This sadness is a form of self-pity, which we may experience as we think about what we might have become had we not suffered from the restrictions that come with being a Christian. So rather than finding joy in following Christ's ways, we think of all the pleasures we could have enjoyed were it not for our obedience. The deadly thought of sadness also arises when we ask ourselves, "What might I have become were it not for my brothers and sisters, or my spouse, or my social background, my race, my sex?" These thoughts are frequently accompanied with anger at those whom we hold responsible for the lackluster life in which we now feel trapped, or against those who have or are what we desire. Sadness is a deadly thought, fraught with unrealistic fantasies of how much greater we might have become.

Deliver us from evil

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The Jewish community is celebrating the festival of Purim, also called "Lots." The feast commemorates the deliverance of the Jews in Persia from extermination by an anti-semite leader named Haman through the intervention of a young heroic Jewish woman named Esther. The story is recorded in the biblical book of Esther, which is a short book worth reading. The prayers of Mordicai and Ester are especially fitting for us in this time of Lent.

In the longer Greek of the book, the version found in the early Septuagint used by the Christian Church, we read:

And Esther the queen, seized with deathly anxiety, fled to the Lord; she took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body, and every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. And she prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said:

"Lord, thou only art our King; help me, who am alone and have no helper but thee, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that thou, O Lord, didst take Israel out of all the nations, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, for an everlasting inheritance, and that thou didst do for them all that thou didst promise. And now we have sinned before thee, and thou hast given us into the hands of our enemies, because we glorified their gods. Thou art righteous, O Lord! And now they are not satisfied that we are in bitter slavery, but they have covenanted with their idols to abolish what thy mouth has ordained and to destroy thy inheritance, to stop the mouths of those who praise thee and to quench thy altar and the glory of thy house, to open the mouths of the nations for the praise of vain idols, and to magnify for ever a mortal king.

O Lord, do not surrender thy scepter to what has no being; and do not let them mock at our downfall; but turn their plan against themselves, and make an example of the man who began this against us. Remember, O Lord; make thyself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by thy hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but thee, O Lord. Thou hast knowledge of all things; and thou knowest that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised and of any alien. Thou knowest my necessity--that I abhor the sign of my proud position, which is upon my head on the days when I appear in public. I abhor it like a menstruous rag, and I do not wear it on the days when I am at leisure. And thy servant has not eaten at Haman's table, and I have not honored the king's feast or drunk the wine of the libations. Thy servant has had no joy since the day that I was brought here until now, except in thee, O Lord God of Abraham. O God, whose might is over all, hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!"
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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The first excommunication, indulgence

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A painting of St Paul the Apostle by El Greco

If I'm not mistaken, one of today's daily office readings records the first excommunication. Interestingly, the cause was for immorality rather than for false doctrine.

1 Corinthians 5:1-8
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven [* a reference to the Jewish custom of removing all leaven from the house in preparation for the Passover] that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."

The reason for taking such action seems to be for both protecting the community and to help the man in question gain a sense of the gravity of his sin in hopes that it will lead to his repentance and ultimate reconcilliation. Perhaps that did happen later. Although it is unclear if Paul is referring to the same individual or to another, his second letter to the Corinthian Church records St Paul granting the first indulgence [* an "indulgence," from the word for kindness, is a shortening of the temporal punishment due to sin or a dispensation from a penance imposed by the Church].

2 Corinthians 2:5-8
"Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure--not to put it too severely--to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."

Monday, March 13, 2006

The orans position

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When the celebrant at Mass (a priest or bishop) offers prayer on behalf of the assembly, it is the custom that he raises his hands in the orans position, pictured above. The posture is not meant to be used by everyone together as one often sees in charismatic circles, but by one who is offering prayer for others. The 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia also notes:

Among the subjects depicted in the art of the Roman catacombs, one of those most numerously represented is that of a female figure with extended arms known as the Orans, or one who prays. The custom of praying in antiquity with outstretched, raised arms was common to both Jews and Gentiles; indeed the iconographic type of the Orans was itself strongly influenced by classic representations. But the meaning of the Orans of Christian art is quite different from that of its prototypes.
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Numerous Biblical figures, for instance, depicted in the catacombs—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, the Three Children in the Fiery Furnace, Daniel in the lions' den—are pictured asking the Lord to deliver the soul of the person on whose tombs they are depicted as He once delivered the particular personage represented. But besides these Biblical Orans figures, there exist in the catacombs many ideal figures (153 in all) in the ancient attitude of prayer, which are to be regarded as symbols of the deceased's soul in heaven, praying for its friends on earth.

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Left: A Christian figure in the orans pose from the Catacombs of the Via Latina in Rome, 4th century.

One of the most remarkable figures of the Orans cycle, dating from the early fourth century, is the Blessed Virgin interceding for the friends of the deceased. Directly in front of Mary is a boy, not in the Orans attitude and supposed to be the Divine Child, while to the right and left are monograms of Christ.

Excerpt from my homily for 2 Lent

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Jesus wanted to make sure that his ministry of healing and reconciliation would continue in the life of the Church after he ascended to heaven, so after his resurrection, he breathed on the apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” [John 20:22-3]

Be mindful of sin—not the sin in your neighbor, but the sinfulness in yourself. Examine your conscience in God’s light and see where you have gone astray. The Prayer Book tells us that before receiving Holy Communion, we should, “Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God's commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed." It also encourages you to, “go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith” [BCP, 317].

You might ask, “Isn’t going to confession optional in the Anglican tradition?” And you would be right, it is optional. But is that asking the right question? After all, isn’t coming to church optional? Isn’t going to work optional? Isn’t cleaning the house optional? Isn’t bathing optional? If you have a heart attack, having bypass surgery is optional; you don’t have to. Eating solid food day after day, year after year is optional; it is not required. We can see so clearly how these things may be optional, but are good. Why is it so difficult to address the need for reconciliation?

If we have been asking the wrong question about sacramental reconciliation, what should we be asking? Perhaps we should rather ask: Is it a part of God’s will for my life? Ask, Is it pleasing to God? Is it good for my soul? Is it the right thing to do? Did Jesus leave this power to his Church for me?
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What keeps you from coming to confession? Fear? Shame? The tragedy is, most of us are too ashamed to confess our sins, but apparently not too ashamed to commit them. Jesus said, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” [Mark 8:38]. What a terrible thought, that Jesus would be ashamed to even know you, because you have not heeded his words!

Making your confession involves surrendering to God’s will and God’s mercy. Consider the way Abraham surrendered to God’s will in today’s reading. Isaac turned to his father and said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham—helpless and tormented, but trusting in God—simply said, “The Lord himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, my son.” The profound truth of Abraham’s statement would not be fully realized until the time of the New Testament, when we read that Jesus the Son of God was the offering that God himself provided to atone for our sins.

John the Baptist put it best when he said of Jesus at the Jordan river, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus is that lamb slain on the altar of the cross to atone for our sins. He did not mean for you to keep your sins to yourself. He meant for you to give them up entirely, to be washed clean in his precious Blood, poured out so that sins may be forgiven. That is God’s will for your life, and for mine.

Sin grieves the heart of God. Should it not also grieve ours as well? May God give us the grace not only to recognize our sins, but also to mourn our sins and to repent of them. I call you again, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent.

Let us pray. Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy laws . . . but thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Spare thou, those who confess their faults; restore thou, those who are penitent. In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Jesus, I trust in you.

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In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our Father
Hail Mary
Apostles' Creed

Almighty God, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus your beloved Son in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.

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Thank you to Sister Maria Faustyna Kowalska and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Fulton Sheen on Mary and Moslems

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The following fascinating piece was written by Archbishop Sheen in 1952 and reprinted in the October 2001 Mindszenty Report, published by the Cardinal Mindzenty Foundation.

The Power of Islam
by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Misunderstanding the notion of the Trinity, Mohammed made Christ a prophet, announcing him just as to Christians Isaiah and John the Baptist are prophets announcing Christ.

The Christian European West barely escaped destruction at the hands of the Moslems. At one point they were stopped near Tours and at another point, later on in time, outside the gates of Vienna. The Church throughout northern Africa ws practically destroyed by Moslem power, and at the present hour, the Moslems are beginning to rise again. If Moslemism is a heresy, as Hilaire Belloc believes it to be, it is the only heresy that has never declined. Others have had a moment of vigor, then gone into doctrinal decay at the death of the leader, and finally evaporated in a vague social movement. Moslemism, on the contrary, has only had its first phase. There was never a time in which it declined, either in numbers, or in the devotion of its followers.

The missionary effort of the Church toward this group has been at least on the surface, a failure, for the Moslems are so far almost unconvertible. The reason is that for a follower of Mohammed to become a Christian is much like a Christian becoming a Jew. The Moslems believe that they have the final and definitive revelation of God to the world and that Christ was only a prophet announcing Mohammed, the last of Gods real prophets.

At the present time, the hatred of the Moslem countries against the West is becoming a hatred against Christianity itself. Although the statesmen have not yet taken it into account, there is still grave danger that the temporal power of Islam may return and, with it, the menace that it may shake off a West which has ceased to be Christian, and affirm itself as a great anti-Christian world power. Moslem writers say, When the locust swarms darken countries, they bear on their wings these Arabic words: We are Gods host, each of us has ninety-nine eggs, and if we had a hundred, we should lay waste the world, with all that is in it.

The problem is, how shall we prevent the hatching of the hundredth egg? It is our firm belief that the fears some entertain concerning the Moslems are not to be realized, but that Moslemism, instead, will eventually be converted to Christianity - and in a way that even some of our missionaries never suspect. It is our belief that this will happen not through the direct teachings of Christianity, but through a summoning of the Moslems to a veneration of the Mother of God. This is the line of argument:

Mary, Mother of God
The Koran, which is the Bible of the Moslems, has many passages concerning the Blessed Virgin. First of all, the Koran believes in her Immaculate Conception, and also, in her Virgin Birth. The third chapter of the Koran places the history of Mary's family in a genealogy which goes back through Abraham, Noah, and Adam. When one compares the Korans description of the birth of Mary with the aprocryphal Gospel of the birth of Mary, one is tempted to believe that Mohammed very much depended upon the latter. Both books describe the old age and the definite sterility of the mother of Mary. When, however, she conceives, the mother of Mary is made to say in the Koran: O Lord, I vow and I consecrate to you what is already within me. Accept it from me.

When Mary is born, the mother says: And I consecrate her with all of her posterity under thy protection, O Lord, against Satan! The Koran passes over Joseph in the life of Mary, but the Moslem tradition knows his name and has some familiarity with him. In this tradition, Joseph is made to speak to Mary, who is a virgin. As he inquired how she conceived Jesus without a father, Mary answered: Do you not know that God, when He created the wheat had no need of seed, and that God by His power made the trees grow without the help of rain? All that God had to do was to say, So be it, and it was done. The Koran has also verses on the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity. Angels are pictured as accompanying the Blessed Mother and saying: Oh Mary, God has chosen you and purified you, and elected you above all the women of the earth.

In the nineteenth chapter of the Koran there are 41 verses on Jesus and Mary. There is such a strong defense of the virginity of Mary here that the Koran, in the fourth book, attributed the condemnation of the Jews to their monstrous calumny against the Virgin Mary.

The Significance of Fatima
Mary, then, is for the Moslems the true Sayyida, or Lady. The only possible serious rival to her in their creed would be Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed himself. But after the death of Fatima, Mohammed wrote: Thou shalt be the most blessed of all the women in Paradise, after Mary. In a variant of the text, Fatima is made to say, I surpass all the women, except Mary.

This brings us to our second point: namely, why the Blessed Mother, in the 20th century, should have revealed herself in the significant little village of Fatima, so that to all future generations she would be known as Our Lady of Fatima. Since nothing ever happens out of Heaven except with a finesse of all details, I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as Our Lady of Fatima as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her divine Son too. Evidence to suport these views is found in the historical fact that the Moslems occupied Portugal for centuries. At the time when they were finally driven out, the last Moslem chief had a beautiful daughter by the name of Fatima. A Catholic boy fell in love with her, and for him she not only stayed behind when the Moslems left, but even embraced the Faith. The young husband was so much in love with her that he changed the name of the town where he live to Fatima. Thus, the very place where our Lady appeared in 1917 bears a historical connection to Fatima, the daughter of Mohammed.

The final evidence of the relationship of Fatima to the Moslems is the enthusiastic reception which the Moslems in Africa and India and elsewhere gave to the Pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, as mentioned earlier. Moslems attended the church services in honor of our Lady and they allowed religious processions and even prayers before their mosques; and in Mozambique the Moslems who were unconverted, began to be Christian as soon as the statue of Our Lady of Fatima was erected.

A Missionary Strategy
Missionaries in the future will, more and more, see that their apostolate among the Moslems will be successful in the measure that they preach Our Lady of Fatima. Mary is the advent of Christ, bringing Christ to the people before Christ Himself is born. In an apologetic endeavor, it is always best to start with that which people already accept. Because the Moslems have a devotion to Mary, our missionaries should be satisfied merely to expand and to develop that devotion, with the full realization that Our Blessed Lady will carry the Moslems the rest of the way to her divine Son. She is forever a traitor, in the sense that she will not accept any devotion for herself, but will always bring anyone who is devoted to her to her divine Son. As those who lose devotion to her lose belief in the divinity of Christ, so those who intensify devotion to her gradually acquire that belief.

Many of our great missionaries in Africa have already broken down the bitter hatred and prejudices of the Moslems against the Christians through their acts of charity, their schools and hospitals. It now remains to use another approach, namely, that of taking the 41st chapter of the Koran and showing them that it was taken out of the Gospel of Luke, that Mary could not be, even in their own eyes, the most blessed of all the women of Heaven if she had not also borne the Savior of the world. If Judith and Esther of the Old Testament were pre-figures of Mary, then it may very well be that Fatima herself was a post-figure of Mary! The Moslems should be prepared to acknowledge that, if Fatima must give way in honor to the Blessed Mother, it is because she is different from all the other mothers of the world and that without Christ she would be nothing.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Just in time for Easter: sin-free liturgy

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Penitents receive a cross of ashes as a sign of their humility and sorrow for sin at St Patrick's Cathedral, NYC.

St John once noted, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" [1 John 1:8]. The themes of atonement for sin and the forgiveness of sin have always been central themes in the Eucharistic prayers used throughout the Church in various times and places. In the Anglican liturgy, we pray, "Thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption." Note the words of Jesus at the consecration: "This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins." We pray further, "We humbly beseech thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins and all other benefits of his passion."

A few weeks ago, I came across an experimental liturgy in a program from another Episcopal parish. I’m not sure of the source of the text. It’s not from the Prayer Book or any other alternate text I’m aware of. I emailed the priest asking about it, but I haven’t heard back. What struck me about it was the amazing lack of reference to sin and atonement. Read carefully:
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God dwells in you.
And also with you.

Come to the table with thankful hearts.
We open our hearts to God and to one another.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Creative God, source of all life and ground of our being, you are the vibrant energy dancing at the center of the universe! Through us you move, and through us you are made known to the world. Co-creators with you, we are emboldened to move beyond ourselves, to find the courage to let go of old ways and welcome new life. And so, in concert with those of every generation who have been touched by your redeeming love, we lift our praise to you:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is the one who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

From the beginning we did not trust you when you called us "good." In our arrogance, we placed ourselves outside your garden of love. Separate from you, vulnerable and unprotected, we feared one another and our diversity. Afraid of being ourselves, we distrusted your Word of love and forgiveness. But you did not abandon us to isolation and despair.

You sent your servant Jesus, baptized him with your Spirit, and infused him with your love and confidence. Healing, teaching, and sharing table with all manner of individuals, Jesus proclaimed your love for all humanity and called us forth to be ourselves.

On the night before his death, Jesus gathered his friends around him for a meal. After supper he took bread, gave thanks to you, and shared it with them, saying, "This is my body, the bread of new life. Eat it in remembrance of me." Taking the cup of wine, he blessed it and shared it with them, saying, "This is my blood, the cup of new life. Drink it in remembrance of me."

And so, remembering the cross, the tomb, and the resurrection, we acclaim you, O Christ: Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life. Christ Jesus, come in glory!

Fill us and these gifts of bread and wine with your Spirit, that we, receiving the body and blood of your Christ, may burn with the power of your Spirit to be a people of hope, justice, inclusion, and love. We ask this in the name of the risen Christ. Amen.

Why would a Christian church put together a service of worship that goes to such an extent to ignore the themes atonement and forgiveness of sins? Take a guess before you look at the source.

Update: Kendall Canon Harmon has now posted the prayer on his excellent Titusonenine bog. You can follow the thread discussing the theology of the prayer here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Patriarch of Canterbury

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In light of current discussion in the Anglican Communion about an increase in the significance of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, here is an interesting historical curiosity I ran across in section four of this article from the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia:

"At various times other Western bishops have been called patriarchs. In the Middle Ages those of Lyons, Bourges, Canterbury, Toledo, Pisa were occasionally so called. But there was never any legal claim to these merely complimentary titles."

As best I can figure, the title might be connected with the new title "Primate of All England" and the bestowal of jurisdiction over the Province of York by Pope Innocent VI. If anyone knows more details about the "Patriarch of Canterbury," please share. Also, here is a nice little article (though dated) arguing for the establishment of a Patriarchate of Canterbury as a natural development.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The return of the Templars?

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Just in time for the movie release of The Davinci Code . . . the return of the Knights Templar. The Templars were a military order of Christian knights founded in 1119 to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land. The order turned heretical and was disbanded in 1312 by the pope. Many legends grew up around them.

These new Templars (the Milita Templi Christi Pauperum Militum Ordo--a new order with a slightly different name) are religious knights, called to guard the faith of the apostles.

No she ain't

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Extreme Protestants have often made the accusation that Catholics worship the blessed Virgin Mary or otherwise think she is "divine." Well, believe it or not, here is a group of Catholics who are saying that "Mary is God."

Only she's not, of course. That's "Mariolatry," which is condemned by Catholicism. And they are not really Catholics at all of course, they are idolators. (Remember, the opposite of catholic is heretic.) They are from the extreme more-catholic-than-the-pope tradition. Their claim is that the third secret of Fatima is that Mary is God. (That's not really the third secret of Fatima, of course.) By this claim they mean that the soul of Mary is the the third person of the Trinity--the Holy Spirit. Thus, Mary is a kind of second incarnation . . . oh, wait a minute . . . I guess that would make Mary the first incarnation and then Jesus would be the second.

No wonder the devil is called the Father of lies and the author of confusion.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The rise in "gray divorce"

I listen to a fascinating interview with Glenn Sacks on the radio today, talking about the column he co-authored with Jeffrey Leving for the Houston Chronicle called "The Rise in 'Gray Divorce': It's Always Hubby's Fault." It begins:

In both the United States and Japan, divorce among older couples is on the rise. The American Association of Retired Persons detailed the phenomenon among American seniors in a study last year, and Japan’s wave of gray divorce is expected to swell into a deluge, since Japanese women will soon be legally able to claim half of their husbands' retirement pensions.

There are various explanations for the trend but media commentators agree on one thing--when the husband divorces his wife, it’s hubby’s fault. When the wife divorces her husband, well, it’s hubby’s fault too.

You can read the rest here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sci-Fi has the best fans

If you were ever in doubt, here's all the proof you need.
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And then, of course, there's the unforgettable Tron Guy.
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Perpetua and her Companions

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As it is often said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. Vibia Perpetua was a young widow of the nobility in Carthage of Northern Africa. Her companions are her servants and fellow catechumens named Felicitas, Revocatus, Saturninus, Saturus, and Secundulus. Perpetua and Felicitas were both mothers–Perpetua with a newborn child, and Felicitas pregnant with child—mothers who soon found their place among the list of those early martyrs commemorated in the venerable Canon of the Roman Mass.

They were imprisoned because they had refused to offer sacrifice to the divine emperor of Rome—an act they could not reconcile with their newfound faith in God. Perpetua and her companions were later baptized while in prison, and Felicitas gave birth among the horrible conditions there. The children were adopted by fellow Christians while the accused were condemned to die by being fed to animals for the entertainment of spectators in the arena of Carthage.

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While they languished in prison, Perpetua received several mystical dreams on the nights leading up to her execution. She dreamt of climbing a ladder to heaven, of visiting her dead brother, and of combating the devil. According to her memoir, she awoke from the last "understanding that I should fight not with the beasts, but with the Devil himself."

This lowly band of martyrs showed faith and courage as beasts mangled them in the arena. In the midst of their torture, their actions and words spoke only of their love of God and neighbor. Each one had their witness sealed by a sword through the throat. But the soldier who stuck Perpetua was either incapable or off-target. The thrust of his sword wounded her badly, but did not kill. While crying out in pain, with blood spilling out of her neck, Perpetua had to guide the final thrust of the sword that killed her with her own hand. The account of Perpetua’s death concludes, "Perhaps so great a woman, feared by the unclean spirit, could not have been killed unless she so willed it."

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Mosaic of Perpetua and Felicitas from the Basilica Shrine
of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC

Our times in this land are peaceful, yet martyrdom is not a thing of the past. Indeed, more Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th Century than in the previous nineteen. It seems that we read new accounts of assaults and murders of the Christian faithful each week. We can certainly trust the assurance of St. Paul that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" [2 Tim 3:12]. In times of hardship, we look for God to rescue us from our afflictions.

When death seems to settle all around and close in upon us, we expect a resurrection for those faithful to the end. Sometimes we want to escape difficult things precisely when God wants to surrender. And that takes courage. We will not be disappointed in this hope for new life, but these martyrs remind us that one must first die to be resurrected. In their witness unto death, Perpetua and her companions may have shown us the source of our own beatitude—the source of our own heavenly bliss. In the face of evil and death, they joined with the author of Hebrews in saying, "We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life" [Hebrews 10:39].