Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What does the church say about ghosts?

Except for the Holy Ghost, not much (at least officially). But I thought I might do a Halloween themed entry on Christianity and spooks of various kinds.
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The ghost in the stairway of the Raynham Hall mansion, Norfolk, England in the photo above is thought to be that of Lady Dorothy Townshend, wife of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount of Raynham.
Below, a small girl is visible standing in the window of Wem Town Hall in Shropshire, England as it was burning to the ground on 19 November 1995.
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Does the Bible say anything about ghosts?
The Bible certainly does address the issue of dealing with evil spirits in that it explicitly forbids engaging in pagan worship, conjuring up the dead or spirit-guides (what we call necromancy--things like ouija boards and mediums and seances), and anything that might be called magic (trying to manipulate the material world by spiritual means). And, of course, the Bible has much to say about Satan and the other fallen angels, usually called devils or demons.

There is one curious incident in the Bible where a ghost is mentioned--the famous story of the witch of Endor in 1 Samuel 28:2-25. In this event, a sorceress conjures up the soul of the dead prophet Samuel from sheol at the demand of King Saul, who has been unable to obtain guidance by orthodox means. In a straight-forward reading, the spook really is the spirit of the dead prophet. Some Church Fathers argued that it was really a demon in disguise. Other commentators argue that while spirits do not really roam the earth and we cannot summon them, it happened as a special event in God's providence.

The church has historically had a teaching about ghosts, although it is "unofficial" and you'd be hard pressed to find anything about it in most Catholic or Protestant literature. Georgette has a helpful post here covering the information. Basically, the idea is that ghosts are (non-material) spirits of departed people (presumably those who are either "in" hell or "in" purgatory) who have an attachment to some material place or object. Many accounts seem to relate to an event of trauma, or being stuck in some "historical loop" which plays over and over in a particular place.

A priest friend of mine has claimed to have seen an apparition before. I've never seen one myself. I've very skeptical about all this, and I can't stand superstition. But, I want to keep an open mind in an intellectual sense, and also a sound perspective rooted in the Christian tradition.

What about exorcism?
G.K. Chesterton once said, "I believe there is such a thing as witchcraft. Believing that there are spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that there are probably evil spirits; believing that there are evil spirits, I am bound in mere reason to suppose that some men grow evil by dealing with them."

The rite of exorcism is a continuation of the healing ministry of Jesus in the church. It is sometimes called deliverance ministry. What many people do not know is that there are actually two forms of exorcism in the Roman Ritual--one for people and one for places. The latter begins on page 25 of this copy.

There are also other Christians out there practicing various forms of deliverance ministries. Some should be taken seriously and some not. More on the latter side, yet always interesting is Sean Manchester (pictured here and here).

As an independent Bishop (of Glastonbury) in the Grail Church (Ecclesia Apostolica Jesu Christi), The Rt Rev'd Sean Manchester, President & Founder of the Vampire Research Society, is best known for his claim to have exorcised a vampire from Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s and for his ongoing investigation into vampire activity supposed to surround Robin Hood's Grave at Kirklees, Yorkshire. He is called Britain's only full-time vampire hunter. He has specialized in the ministry of exorcism for three decades and is acknowledged by many as one of Britain's foremost authorities on demonology, vampires, and exorcisms. He has been warning of a satanic revival and the existence of preternatural evil since the late 1960s, and is the author of half a dozen books on such topics, and has contributed to many television documentaries.

Below, the Highgate Cemetery.

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What ? ? ?

I guess ignorance is bliss.

I was reading through some blog links the other day which led me to this letter written to the Living Church on 22 June 2006 by George J. Komechak, President of Fort Worth Via Media. In his diatribe against the bishop, he almost made me spew out my 7Up at the screen with surprise at the following statement:

"To this day, the Diocese of Fort Worth has no women priests. (We also have no African American priests and no openly gay priests.)"

First, he is right about no openly gay priests. Most of that time, an "openly" gay priest means an unchaste priest, rather than a chaste priest who is open about having a disordered sexual attraction. The former would not be ordained or licensed because all priests of the diocese (straight or gay) are required to model sexual morality in their own lives.

Secondly, he is right about having no women priests--that should not be news any Episcopalian familiar with Fort Worth. However, any Fort Worth parish is permitted to call a female priest and Fort Worth women may be (and have been) ordained to the priesthood under the Dallas Plan. Of course, Komechack goes on at length about how that just isn't good enough. Women priests have celebrated the Eucharist on occasion in our diocese as well--one occasion was at my first cure on my first day on the job as a diocesan curate.

But here's the shocking part--No African American priests? What? Where has he been? Even if there's no black priest at his own parish, has he never been to a Diocesan Convention? or to some other forum like the Chrism Mass where clergy from around the diocese would be present? Now I admit that I don't know every priest in the diocese, but I know at least three who are African American. In fact, my wife and I technically live in a parish where one of these priests serves as Vicar.

Perhaps I should not be surprised that Komechack would not realize that there are African American priests in our diocese. Not seen, not heard. I have the feeling they would not be noticed unless they were useful to the revisionist cause. After all, this is the same crowd who looks down on African Anglicans in general, often calling them culterally and theologically illiterate, with one American bishop going so far as to charge that African bishops who voted to reaffirm the church's teaching on marriage at the Lambeth Conference had been "bought with chicken dinners." Maybe ignorance is bliss. The irony is that a far fewer percentage of American bishops have earned doctorates compared with the bishops of most African provinces.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Sarum Use of the Roman Rite

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Our friends at the New Liturgical Movement have a new post about the Sarum Use, the dominant version of the Roman Rite liturgy used in medieval England, up to the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer. The post and comments are worth a look. Video of the liturgy is here.

Do you remember your first communion?

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If it looked anything like this, it must certainly be unforgettable.

Crafting Our Lady

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A dollmaker that I know has an excellent new post on her blog about making a doll of the Walsingham image. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Walking toward a cure

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This weekend, thousands of other women and men are participating in a 60 mile walk for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundtion. There is a team from St. Albans Episcopal Church called The Believers and they have been working very hard preparing for this event. I have to applaud them; I'm sure 6 miles would do me in, much less 60. They make all of us proud. It is a testimony to anyone who has been through cancer treatment. That is, it may sound daunting and impossible; it may seem discouraging or be painful; it may take much longer and be much more than you first thought. But there are many who have gotten there from here, and you can be one of them.

Here are some cheering stations were you can cheer along The Believers. Join in if you are able.

Day One: Friday, Oct 27
Mile Marker 7 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am
Kirkwood United Methodist Church (cheering station in lot off Story) 2232 W 5th Street, Irving

Mile Marker 17.9 from 12:30 pm to 5:00 pm
St. Michael's of Arlington Shopping Center (corner of NW Green Oaks Blvd and Collins) 1001 NE Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington

Day Two: Saturday, Oct 28
Mile Marker 4.2 from 9:00 am to 10:30 am
Lincoln Square (between Center & Collins, fountain side) 800 Road to Six Flags, Arlington

Mile Marker 12.6 from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm
Fielder Plaza (NW corner of Randol Mill & Fielder) 1701 W Randol Mill Rd, Arlington

Day Three:Sunday, Oct 29
Mile Marker 8.6 from 9:00 am to 11:30 am
Shopping Center on Camp Bowie (by Bluebonnet Bakery) 3900-4000 block of Camp Bowie, Fort Worth

Mile Marker 13.4 from 11:00 am to 1:30 pm
Radio Shack (Store One) 400 W Belknap St., Fort Worth

Closing Cermonies are Sunday at 4:30 pm
The Fort Worth Stockyards (National Historic District) 140 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth The parking lots across the street from Billy Bob’s Texas have been reserved for complimentary event parking. They are located on Stockyards Boulevard, 1 block north of E. Exchange.

Note that friends, family and supporters should arrive to the Closing Ceremonies site at least one hour early to get the best view of the program. To witness the final victory walk of the 3-Day is truly an experience worth the wait. All walkers and crew members will remain in the Participant Holding area where they will receive their victory shirt, cheer on their fellow walkers and crew members, and reflect on their experience before the dramatic silent victory walk into Closing Ceremonies.

P.S. Tip of the biretta to parishioners Marsha and Monica Brown for the schedule.

Defined by love

What I mean to say is this: that tradition is the way to love (the Who) and purity or integrity is the how (the degree: absolute). The concept of purity and tradition cannot be divorced from love, because they are types of love: and if we begin to speak of them without being completely conscious that they are simply ways to "love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "love your neighbor as yourself," then we are no longer really speaking of tradition or purity at all.

Drew at the Shrine hits the nail on the head. The point he makes about the Roman communion needs to be heard by us Anglicans as well. Read the whole post here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Monday, October 23, 2006

Your POD moment of the day

From S. Barnabas Jericho, Oxford
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The Bible and preaching

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In my Homiletics class for the deacon candidates of our diocese, one of the handouts I gave was the article from The Interpreter's Bible titled, "The Bible: It's Significance and Authority" by Herbert H. Farmer. I wanted to share the last section of the article, because I think he says it so well.

J). The Bible as the Authoritative Basis of Preaching.
The proclamation of the gospel through preaching has from the beginning been recognized to be an indispensable factor in God's saving activity toward men in Christ. This necessity of preaching arises primarily out of the nature of the gospel itself as a message concerning God's coming into the world in a historic event, a historic Incarnation. An event can become known only by being borne witness to, by being proclaimed, by the story being told.

Nobody can come to the knowledge of an event by his own reflection, by excogitation. And if the significance of the event is that in it God comes to encounter men as persons in the chal­lenge and the succor of redeeming love, then another reason for preaching can be seen: namely, that preaching is in a superlative degree the deliberate challenge of one person to an­other, the encounter of one person with an­other. God takes the human personal encounter involved in bearing witness to the Event up into his own personal encounter with men through the Event. Here also he makes the human word vitally one, though not identical, with the divine Word. Once again the appropri­ateness of the symbol "Word" to indicate the total divine activity in Christ toward men be­comes apparent.

It follows from this that preaching in its essential idea is not necessarily required to be based upon scriptural texts or passages. All that is required is that it should be, in whatever form is appropriate to the occasion, a bearing witness to, a setting forth of, the Word of the gospel, the Word which is Christ. However, this requirement, when taken along with all that has been said concerning the part played by Scrip­ture in mediating the Word of God, does make the deliberate yoking of the preacher's message to the content of the Scripture indispensable to the effective prosecution of his task, whether or not in fact he starts from, or indeed makes any explicit reference to, a scripture text or passage.

The long tradition of the church that preaching shall as a rule be "from the Scriptures" is there­fore justified. But, of course, by the same argu­ment it must be genuinely "from the Scrip­tures." The danger earlier referred to is always present, that even when the preacher does "take a text," he fails really to submit his mind to it, but rather reads into it contemporary conceptions and beliefs, using the scripture words merely as a perch on which his own ideas, like a lot of twittering birds, may alight and preen themselves.

The basing of preaching on Scripture imparts to it a weight and authority which the preacher in himself could not hope to command. This authority, it must be insisted once more, is not of the external, overriding kind; always it makes itself felt through the testimonium spiritus sancti internum working through the quickened insight of the hearer. But it is nevertheless a real authority. It derives from the inherent and proved power of the Scriptures to disturb the heart of a man with a renewed sense of sinfulness and need, to challenge him with a sense of the seriousness of the issues which are at stake in human existence, to solemnize him with a sense of the living God coming to him in the majestic person of the Redeemer.

It derives too from the fact that Scripture comes to the hearer as an inseparable part of the total life and wit­ness of the Christian church, and so carries with it the authority of the church's agelong experi­ence and testimony. By taking his stand upon the Bible and preaching thence, the preacher utters the prayer, and expresses the faith, that the thin, shallow trickle of his own words will be taken up into the living Word of him, con­cerning whom it was said that his voice was "as the sound of many waters."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

God's harvest in our church

This month, we continue our Sermon Series on the theme of God’s Harvest: giving as we have received. Remember that God plants things in our lives, and he provides in abundance for what he has planted. The harvest is what comes out of that process. And so we are taking a closer look at God’s harvest . . . in our homes, our hearts, our church, and our world.

Fr. Kresowaty talked to us about God’s harvest in our homes, about God's creation of the family and the blessings that come from the home. Fr. Heidt and I gave messages about God’s harvest in our hearts. The human heart is also God’s creation, and God made it to be his dwelling-place. When we truly become vessels of his love, then we are experiencing a godly harvest in our hearts.

Today we take a closer look at God’s harvest in our Church. With all the riches in our scripture readings today, it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the first thing to do to remind ourselves that when we talk about God’s harvest in our Church, we should always remember that our Church is his Church.

Like the heart and the home, the Church is God’s creation, and it is a precious gift which is entrusted to us. Remember that after Peter confessed Jesus as Christ and Son of God in Matthew 16, Jesus responded with the charter statement: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus is very clear on this point—“I will build my Church.”

“Church” is the Greek word ecclesia and the Hebrew word Q’hal, which means a sacred assembly—God’s people gathered together to be his own. Jesus ministry was to gather an assembly of his own to be his own. Jesus entrusted his ministry of teaching, serving, and reconciling to his sacred assembly—so that it would be carried on in the world, exercised through the Church's various orders.

In his first letter to the young Bishop Timothy, St Paul reminds him how God’s people should conduct themselves in this sacred assembly, which he calls, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

In his farewell words of Maundy Thursday in John’s gospel, Jesus prayed that his Church, to be led by this band of apostles whom he was setting apart, would be transformed and made holy by the truth of God’s Word. “Sanctify them in the truth;” Jesus prayed, “your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

He promised that they would also be given the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, to continually guide his Church in truth. Later, the scriptures of the New Testament would be written and collected to be an inspired guide and record of God’s revelation. These scriptures are also God’s gift to us, to give us hope and encouragement, and to teach and convict our hearts.

As we heard in the letter to the Hebrew’s today, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides of soul from spirit, joints from marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him, no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.”

God shares his revelation; he shares his truth because he wants us to understand, but also because coming into the truth means coming into holiness. We are sanctified in the truth of the Gospel, just as God spoke through Moses to the people of the Old Covenant in Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”

Jesus’ Church is also a place--a place where the Church gathers to worship the Father in his Name, where we are sanctified in the truth through the Word and the Holy Spirit. We assemble as his Church to discover his will and to seek his face. We gather to make his will our own and to share in his work. But Christ’s gifts to his Church do not stop there.

Certainly the message of the cross (which we are commanded to continually recall in the eucharistic memorial of his death and resurrection) is that God found no provision too great to expend upon the salvation of your individual soul. Through his broken Body and his precious Blood shed on the altar of the cross, Jesus has given us access to the throne of grace, to stand in God’s mercy.

The sacraments are ways that he shares his gifts with us. They are ceremonies that Jesus gave us to be sure that God’s grace is working in our lives behind the scenes. The sacraments of the Gospel (Baptism and Eucharist) unite us to Christ himself. St. Paul tells us that in baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life. And in the Mass, Christ gives us his own life-giving Body and Blood. In John 6, Jesus explains, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Jesus has ransomed us from the world to be his sacred assembly, his own Church. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Galatia, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever.”

Being ransomed from the world means we are different (his Church), we are to be joined to him as the head of the Church, to be like him in every way. Notice Jesus’ words in today’s gospel,
The world may do things one way, “but it shall not be so among you.” We are not supposed to be like everyone else in the world; we are called out from the world to be his assembled people. As St Peter observed, Jesus gave us an example, to follow his steps.

God has given so much to his Church—truth, blessings, ministries, resources, even himself. A godly harvest in our Church is to put these to use, to carry out his mission. And what exaclty is this mission he has given us? When we turn to the catechism of the Prayer Book, we see the church’s mission summarized this way (p 855), “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity to God and each other in Christ.”

That would be so simple to accomplish if it were not for sin. Sin is the problem of today’s world, as it has been from the time of our first parents. Sin separates us from God, because sin is essentially a rejection of God. Sin not only destroys our relationship to God, it also sows pain and destruction in the human family—leaving a wake of confusion, sadness, and devastation and in its path.

Yet sin has been overcome by Jesus Christ. He has taken upon himself the destructiveness of sin. Isaiah puts it so well in today’s description of God’s suffering servant. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain; When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring (that's us); he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

This parish is an outpost of his Church, which we have put under the patronage of blessed Alban, a converted Roman soldier, the first martyr in Britain. Our parish is so blessed—with all the things Christ has given to his Church as a whole, and with so many blessings unique to us.

We are blessed with a godly bishop and dedicated priests of our parish who will administer the sacraments and teach the faith as they have received it (not as they or anyone else have reinvented it). We have a place where we are free to worship God, and are able to offer several Mass times on Sunday and Masses during the week.

We are blessed with facilities for worship and fellowship here at St. Alban’s—a Parish Hall and kitchen, meeting rooms and classrooms, a playground, several rooms just for our youth, a library, and Canterbury House for college students. We have dedicated people who volunteer their time and talent as Sunday School teachers and workers. We have a Christian Education coordinator and a Youth director and many volunteers. Thus, we are able to offer Christian education for all ages here at St. Alban's, with several options for adults to choose from.

We have multiple choirs with talented people so that we can not only have music in our worship, but can also offer God the very best in music. We have an organist, several choir directors, and a music director who teaches music at the university level.

We have many devoted and talented people in our parish: people who come to worship week after week, who pray every day; people who love the Lord, and share that with others; people who proclaim the Gospel by word and by dead; people who are penitent and make their confession and who intercede in healing prayer for the needs of others.

We are blessed with growing attendance and participation. There are about 30 more people in church each Sunday than last year. Our young people got a taste of the possibilities that are open to them when 36 of our teenagers gathered together last Sunday. When they all start coming, we’ll have the largest youth group in the diocese. And when all of us come to Mass on Sunday, we’ll have the largest Sunday attendance.

I hope that you can see God’s blessings in this place and know them to be true. So often, many of us can’t see them. Sometimes because we don't notice things that are in front of our eyes all the time. Sometime because of a spirit of criticism or of cynicism. So often, we exchange our hand-shaking for hand-wringing. So often, we would prefer to shoot ourselves in the foot than to wash one another’s feet.

As his Church, we need to rebuke that worldy critical spirit within ourselves. It is alien to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. That doesn’t mean we should compromise our beliefs and values or that we should sacrifice our capacity for critical thinking. It means that we should not let the voice of the accuser have the ear of our Church and of our hearts. As Jesus put it in today’s gospel, “Let it not be so among you.”

Some of you have already returned pledge cards. Some of you will bring yours forward today as you come to receive Holy Communion. Some of you will want to look over your family budgets again first, talk about it with your spouse, pray about the matter together.

In each case, please remember that you are his Church, his gathered people. Remember that God’s harvest in our Church is found within you. And remember that the most important thing about your pledge is not your money—it is yourself. We pledge ourselves to God as his Church in thanksgiving for his many blessings, praying that we may give as we have received.

Let us pray.
Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fragments of glory

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Above, the crucifixion and resurrection windows.

When looking for some old teaching materials in the garage the other day, I came across something I have wanted to post for a long time--the poem from the program of dedication of the new stained glass windows at the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, Louisiana (my home church when I was growing up). The poem was written by the late Bill Mabry, a minister who served on the church staff for a long time and was the chairman of the design committee for the windows.

"Fragments of Glory"
by Bill Mabry

Each of us is a small fragment of glory,
A distinctive hue from the prism
of God's Image.

We come together in this sanctuary
To be pieced together in common cause,
According to His patterns
In order to proclaim His story.

But first He must break us.
He must ground off the jagged edges.
He must grind away the wounding slivers.
He must arrange us
and assign us
and assemble us,
Binding us all together
With the intricate tracery of His will.

There is sacrifice in creation.
Each must know his loss
In finding his place.
But when the work is completed,
The fragments of glory sing
As they dance into the eye
Bearing the gift of a Light from beyond.

No one piece of glass comprises the whole window.
No one window tells the whole story.
Only the Light is the whole.

Each of us is a small fragment of glory,
But none of us will ever know how luminous he can be
Until that Light from the more expansive world
Infuses him with a radiance not his own,
Flooding the dark recesses of this confined world
With Gospel.

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Above, the interior of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport, LA.
Below, a closer view of the original central window above the baptistry since its installation and the dedication of the sanctuary in 1963. The artist for the window was Sir Frederick Cole of Canterbury, who was inpsired by the main window of St. Clement Danes Church in London, the church of the Royal Air Force.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

St Luke the Evangelist

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Collect for St. Luke's Day (English Prayer Book)
Almighty God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist and Physician of the soul: may it please thee, that, by the wholesome medicines of the doctrine delivered by him, all the diseases of our souls may be healed. Through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You are here

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Our Lady of Walsingham

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Today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. Above is the Walsingham image at my parish--one of the best, in my opinion--fashioned in the 1950s by a German woodcarver. Below is a three-dimensional view of the same statue. Just cross your eyes until the two pictures become one.
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Our Lady of Walsingham refers to the eleventh century English Marian apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Saxon noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches. Her husband, the Lord of the Manor of Walsingham Parva, died leaving her a young widow with a son named Geoffrey.

At this time there was a great deal of interest in the Holy Land and people undertook long and often dangerous pilgrimages there. Christian armies were soon to be engaged in a number of Crusades to liberate the holy sites from Muslim control and it is believed that Geoffrey eventually joined one of those Crusades as an expression of his Christian faith.

For Richeldis, however, the life of prayer and good works was rewarded by a vision in the year 1061. In this vision she was taken by Mary to be shown the house in Nazareth where Gabriel had announced the news of the birth of Jesus. Mary asked Richeldis to build an exact replica of that house in Walsingham. This is how Walsingham became known as England's Nazareth.

The vision was repeated three times, according to legend, and retold through a fifteenth century ballad. The materials given by Richeldis were finally constructed miraculously one night into the Holy House, while she kept a vigil of prayer.

In passing on his guardianship of the Holy House, Geoffrey de Faverches left instructions for the building of a Priory in Walsingham. The Priory passed into the care of Augustinian Canons sometime between 1146 and 1174. It was this Priory, housing the simple wooden structure Richeldis had been asked to build, which became the focus of pilgrimage to Walsingham. Royal patronage helped the Shrine to grow in wealth and popularity, receiving visits from Henry III, Edward II, Edward III, Henry IV, Edward IV, Henry VII and Henry VIII, who finally brought about its destruction in 1538.

After nearly four hundred years, the 20th century saw the restoration of pilgrimage to Walsingham as a regular feature of Christian life in these islands, and indeed beyond.

The English shrine is here. The American proto-shrine is here.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, gave the sermon at the National Pilgrimage to Walsingham in 2004. In his message, he noted:

For centuries, Christians have kept coming back to the idea that what happens in Mary is what has to happen to some degree in each of us. She, uniquely and once for all, says a yes so complete that her entire material life is changed by the coming of God to her; God's everlasting gift of himself that is the Son, the Word, emerges from her to begin that life which will change everything in creation. But we are called to the same job, to give God room so that we may be changed, so that the eternal Word will live in us and speak and act in love to others. Only so are we 'magnified', given our full dignity and splendour--not by rushing around in panic defending ourselves and standing on our dignity, but by being still enough to reflect and absorb the light flowing from God the Holy Trinity, something so wonderful that it can put into perspective the fears and pettinesses that we think are real life, and silence us for a moment, letting true life in.

The entire text of the sermon can be found here.

God's harvest in our hearts

This month, we continue our Sermon Series on the theme of God’s Harvest: giving as we have received. And we are reminded that God is the planter—that is, he plants things in our lives like family, relationships, love, the Gospel, seeds of faith, challenges to overcome, and a mission to accomplish in his Name. And even more than that, as a careful planter, God looks after what he’s planted. He strengthens and provides in abundance for what he has planted. With his grace he gives the seed soil and nutrients, water, sunshine. The harvest is what comes out of that process.

We might say that sprouting and “growing up” tall and strong like a little plant is our gift back to God the planter. We give back generously, just as we have received. And so we will take a closer look at God’s harvest . . . in our homes, our hearts, our church, and our world.

Last week, Fr Kresowaty talked to us about God’s harvest in our homes. God made people for each other—the man and woman, children and parents. Marriage is God’s idea. The family is God’s creation. But he not only provides the framework. He gives the things we need to make it work.

He gives us his will about how a husband and wife should love each other. God shows us how husbands should give totally and sacrificially for their wives just as Christ did for his bride the Church, and how wives should fully receive and embrace their husbands just as the church opens herself to Christ as Savior.

Children are God’s gift and parents are entrusted with their nurture. They should in turn honor and obey their parents. God gives us his grace to help these things happen. But God also takes it one step further. God not only makes families, he makes us a part of his family. And what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Today we turn to the thought of God’s harvest in our hearts. The human heart (both physically and symbolically) is truly the center of our being. Life comes from the heart. To be "heartless" is to be dead, to be inhuman. God asks that we come before him with a clean heart.

Each time we begin Holy Mass, we pray, “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” One of the Beatitudes is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” God warned through the Prophet Malachi that unless you set your heart to honor me, your blessings will become curses. And by the Prophet Joel (2:12-13), God tells us, “tear your heart, not your garments; repent and return to the Lord.” The heart is what is really important. Each of us needs to understand that just as God make marriage and the family, God made the human heart, and he made it to be his dwelling-place.

Now, I was raised in the Baptist tradition, where our lingo to express conversion often centered around this metaphorical language of the heart. “Have you received Jesus into your heart?” is the way it was usually put. While the Bible doesn’t explicitly use that same language, there is a beautiful image from the Revelation to St John.

In the last of the seven letters to the churches (this one to Laodicea—Rev 3:20), Jesus says this in John’s vision, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” This is the language of the heart.

God made the human heart to be his Temple, his dwelling place, his vessel of love. Might we pose the question to ourselves—Is Jesus at home in your heart? Is he welcome in some chambers of your heart, but not in others? If not, it would not be the first time. In Matthew 15:8, Jesus says, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’.”

The problem is that while the heart was made to be open to God and his grace, the heart has both the potential to become hardened and softened. It can become hardened to his will like rocky soil that won’t receive seed. It can become hardened to grace like a dried out field that will no longer soak in the rains.

The heart is hardened by our resistance to God—to his will, to his presence. The only thing that can soften the heart again is God himself. It is the role of the Holy Spirit working in one’s life and circumstances. And sometimes that means that the heart needs to be broken, as the hardened ground needs to be broken up with a plow.

In Ezekiel 36:25-28, the Lord’s message to the Israelites in captivity should speak to us: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.” This is what God has done for us in Christ—through the cross and the resurrection. We are sprinkled clean with the waters of baptism where we receive new life by sharing in the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God takes out that heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. He writes his laws, his will, on the new tablets of our hearts. He puts his own Spirit on the inside of us to dwell in us as his Temple. And he brings us back home to God so that his home is our home. What wonderful blessings we have in Christ Jesus! That is God’s harvest in our hearts—to have the kind of heart that is enabled to love God entirely, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

You may feel like that’s a distance promise in your own life. Some of you may feel like your own heart has started to harden again. Some of you may feel like your heart is turned into stone. Some of you may now be realizing how the Holy Spirit has been working to break that thing wide open.

What none of us should feel is that it is impossible for our hearts to soften again. In our Gospel today, there is a wealthy man who is devout and very blessed. He has a heart for God and he wants to know how to be with God. But Jesus sensed that this man has a divided heart. He loves the Lord, but he also loves his possessions.

I imagine Jesus had a tear in his eye when he looked at this man and told him, “There’s one thing standing in the way. You need to let it go. Put your treasure in heaven by giving away all that stuff to the poor and come follow me.” Jesus’ words cut to the heart. Hearing this truth was more than the man could bear.

When the man left, Jesus commiserated with his disciples: How hard it is for someone with great wealth to put God first in his own heart! Some thought it might even be impossible. But Jesus corrected them: “For God, all things are possible.”

As we close, I’d like us to consider where this saying came from. I suspect that it was something that Jesus heard repeated throughout his life. It sounds just like something that his mother would say. For once, an angel had said the same to her.

When Gabriel told the blessed Virgin that she would become the Mother of God, Mary said, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Unlike the man in today’s gospel, Mary surrendered to the will of God with singleness of heart. As a result, Mary saw exactly what God could and would do in her son Jesus. When she heard his words and saw his actions, she treasured them in her heart. And I imagine there were many moments when she was raising Jesus that she would look at him and nod her head and repeat Angel’s words, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, by your grace, you have removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a new heart of flesh, with the loving sacred heart of Jesus, and you have put your Spirit in our hearts to dwell on the inside and to be at home in a new Temple: purify our hearts, we pray; soften them to your grace, that we may have a godly harvest in our hearts, to bring forth the fruit of your love that knows no limits. Stir up in us the flame of that love which burned within the heart of your Son as he bore his passion, and let it burn in us to eternal life and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bishop Schereschewsky, one of my favorites

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The story of Joseph Schereschewsky is unique in the annals of the Church. He was born on May 6, 1831, of Jewish parents, in the Lithuanian town of Tauroggen. His early education was directed toward the rabbinate, but during graduate studies in Germany, he became interested in Christianity through missionaries of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, and through his own reading of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament.

In 1854 Schereschewsky emigrated to America and entered the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to train for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. After two years, he decided to become an Episcopalian, and to finish his theological studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he graduated in 1859.

After ordination, and in response to Bishop Boone's call for helpers in China, Schereschewsky left for Shanghai. Always facile in languages, he learned to write Chinese during the voyage. From 1862 to 1875 he lived in Peking, and translated the Bible and parts of the Prayer Book into Mandarin. After Bishop Williams was transferred to Japan, Schereschewsky was elected Bishop of Shanghai in 1877, and was consecrated in Grace Church, New York City. He established St. John's University in Shanghai, and began his translation of the Bible and other works into Wenli. Stricken with paralysis, he resigned his see in 1883.

Schereschewsky was determined to continue his translation work, and after many difficulties in finding support, he was able to return to Shanghai in 1895. Two years later, he moved to Tokyo. There he died on October 15, 1906.

With heroic perseverance Schereschewsky completed his translation of the Bible, typing some 2,000 pages with the middle finger of his partially crippled hand. Four years before his death, he said, "I have sat in this chair for over twenty years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best fitted." He is buried in the Aoyama Cemetery in Tokyo, next to his wife, who supported him constantly during his labors and illness.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The miracle at Fatima

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Today is the anniversary of the miracle of the sun. On 13 October 1917, an estimated crowd of 70,000 people in the fields near Fatima, Portugal watched the rain stop, the clouds part, and the sun (still a glowing disc, but now visible to the naked eye) radiate colors, shimmer and spin, and dance around the sky in a zig-zag pattern for about 10 minutes. At last, the sun appeared to fall straight toward the crowd, frightening all; but then the sun returned to its normal place and appearance. When it was all over, the people were stunned. Witnesses also found that the muddy ground all around them and their rain-soaked clothes had dried up .

The people had come out in response to a claim by three children, 8-year-old Lucia Santos and her cousins Francesco and Jacinta Marto, that a Lady had appeared to them there on the 13th of July, August, and September. The children reported that the Lady had promised them that at mid-day on October 13th in the Cova da Iria the Lady would reveal her identity to the children and perform a miracle "so that all may believe."
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There have been detractors, of course. It has been suggested that the miracle was a mass hallucination, yet the fact that an unspecified "miracle" had been predicted in advance, the abrupt beginning and end of the alleged miracle of the sun, the varied nature of the observers including both skeptics and believers alike, the sheer numbers of people present, and the lack of any causative factor, all reasonably preclude the theory of a mass hallucination. Also, the activity of the sun was reported as visible by those up to 18 kilometers away and apart from the crowds, which precludes the theory of a collective hallucination or mass hysteria.

Others have suggested that meteorological factors explain the alleged miracle. However, this may account for the opaque look and the shimmer and colors of the sun, but it certainly cannot account for the sun dancing around the sky and then appearing to fall toward the crowd.

Some Protestants have suggested the people really did see a "miracle," but that it was actually a trick of the devil rather than the work of God. However, I would suggest that explanation attributes far too much power to Satan. Besides, why would the devil go through all that just to inspire some people to believe in God and to deepen the faith of others?

And, of course, some have suggested the whole thing was a monthly visit of space aliens followed by a crowd witnessing the flying saucer. But then the question has to be addressed: Why would space aliens come all the way over here just to talk to a few children about religion?

For a detailed account by Father John de Marchi, including eyewitness testimony, click here. For information about what the children said that Mary told them, click here. For Fulton Sheen's essay about how the miracle at Fatima might providentially relate to Islam, click here. For information about Fatima Zahra, the daughter of Muhammed, click here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Is a return to tradition coming in worship?

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The long-speculated about liberation of the classic Roman liturgy may in fact be around the corner, according to Ruth Glendhill at The Times of London.

The Pope is taking steps to revive the ancient tradition of the Latin Tridentine Mass in Catholic churches worldwide, according to sources in Rome. Pope Benedict XVI is understood to have signed a universal indult — or permission — for priests to celebrate again the Mass used throughout the Church for nearly 1,500 years. The indult could be published in the next few weeks, sources told The Times.

. . . The new indult would permit any priest to introduce the Tridentine Mass to his church, anywhere in the world, unless his bishop has explicitly forbidden it in writing.

You can read the whole story here. The old version (1962 edition) of the Roman Missal and the new version (1970 edition) of the Roman Missal can be viewed and compared at the following link.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where else would the Diocese of Dallas hold its convention?

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That's right. In two weeks the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas will hold its annual convention at the Southfork Ranch. Business will be conducted in the Oil Baron's Ballroom. No word yet on if the bishop will be staying in J. R.'s suite.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A fortress of stone, mortar, and duct tape

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Christ Church Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion, is falling apart. Until the £50 million restoration project gets underway, some of the columns are being held together with duct tape. You can read the whole story from the London Telegraph here.

O spam, blessed spam

More from my email inbox:


I am Dr. Harris Blessing, secretary of state Committee on Public accounts of the Federal Republic Of Nigeria, I have discovered a Floating deficit in our account with an European bank and seek to Transfer this money abroad for investment purpose.

I am willing to place the fund; sum of $45,000,000.00 in your company as the interest is in your companies with potentials for rapid growth in long terms, I adjoin you to send me your full names, phone/fax numbers, in your guest to cooperate with me. 30% will be for you as compensations.

I await your soonest response.

Dr. Harris Blessing.

I think I'll send the good doctor my bank account number and soc to get the ball rolling just in case. You never know if it might be for real.

Update: Courtesy of Fr. Joe Wilson, check out the Brad Christensen Exhibit in which the Nigerian and other scammers are hilariously answered and taken for the proverbial ride.

A bishop who passed the teste

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Today is the feat of Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln (1253). He was a gentleman and a scholar. He has been called "the real founder of the tradition of scientific thought in mediaeval Oxford, and in some ways, of the modern English intellectual tradition."

Grosseteste distinguished himself as a scholar in all branches of study--law, medicine, languages, sciences, and theology. He translated Aristotle and developed a scientific method based on St. Augustine. He was appointed Master of the Oxford School and first teacher of theology to the Franciscans when they established a house at Oxford. One famous pupil of Grosseteste was Roger Bacon.

Yet, Grossesteste was not one to simply sit on the mountaintop and write books. He was among the people as one who serves. He was mindful of the instruction from the reading appointed for his feast day, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).

In 1235, Grosseteste was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln. He once said, "I am obligated to visit the sheep committed to me with all diligence, as Scripture prescribes." In rare form for the time, he did so, and (after getting over the shock) the people loved him for it. On his first visitation, some people remarked, "My lord, you are doing something new and exceptional."

Learning more about divorce

In light of the Sunday gospel reading (Mark 10:2-9) in which Jesus rules out divorce, I thought I might post recent things I've read about the subject.

First, I heard Dennis Prager talking about Jewish divorce and I knew this gospel reading was coming up, so I wanted to learn more about the Jewish practice. It seems the basic problem Jesus addressed has not changed much since biblical times. According to the Law of Moses, a Jewish Marriage is ended by death or by a bill of divorce, called a get. As Wikipedia explains:

A get is the Hebrew word for a divorce document, which is presented by a husband to his wife on the occasion of their divorce. The essential text of the get is quite short: "You are hereby permitted to all men," i.e. you are no longer a married woman, and the laws of adultery no longer apply. The get also returns to the wife the legal rights which a husband holds in regard to his wife in a Jewish marriage.

The get must be written by a religious scribe (sofer), with the explicit and free-willed approval of the husband, and with the specific intention that it is to be used by a certain man and woman.

The laws of gittin only provide for a divorce initiated by the husband. However, the wife has the right to sue for divorce in a rabbinical court. The court, finding just cause, will require the husband to divorce his wife.

Historically, a husband who refused the court's demand that he divorce his wife would be subjected to various penalties in order to pressure him into granting a divorce. . . . Sometimes a man will completely refuse to grant a divorce. This leaves his wife with no recourse, and no possibility of remarriage. Such an unfortunate woman is called an agunah (literally a "chained" or "anchored" wife).

A man who refuses to give his wife a get is frequently spurned by the community, and excluded from communal religious activities. It is hoped that this pressure will encourage him to grant the divorce. A similar but rarer situation, in which the wife refuses to accept a get, similarly prevents the husband from remarrying.

A similar but rarer situation, in which the wife refuses to accept a get, similarly prevents the husband from remarrying. Some marriages in Conservative Judaism have recently included pre-nuptial agreements to prevent extortion in giving or receiving the get in the case of a desired divorce. Of course, Jesus reminds us, "in the beginning it was not so."

The second interesting tidbit of information came from the working out of Christian marriage law following the Counter-Reformation period. It comes from a book I'm currently reading called The Old Catholic Movement: Its Origins and History, by C. B. Moss.

Archbishop van Neercassel was the last and greatest of the Archbishops of Utrecht who died in full communion with Rome. He succeeded in solving an important problem of marriage for the whole Roman Communion. The Council of Trent, in order to prevent secret marriages, had decreed that no marriage should be recognized as valid without the presence of a priest. This was interpreted as meaning that all Protestant marriages were invalid; that a married person, on joining the Roman Communion, must leave his or her spouse until they should be remarried; and that if the other spouse refused to repeat the marriage, the Roman Catholic spouse might then marry any other person.

Archbishop van Neercassel, on the other hand, taught that marriages between persons not in communion with Rome were by natural law valid and indissoluble; and that if such persons afterwards joined the Roman Communion, their previous marriage only required the Church's blessing to make it sacramental. This view was accepted by the Roman Penitentiary in 1671, and was made the law of the Church by Pope Benedict XIV in I74I.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A celebration at St. Alban's

OnSeptember 23rd, The Rt Rev'd John Broadhurst, ssc, Bishop of Fulham in the Diocese of London, presided at a concelebrated Solemn Pontifical Mass in the historic Church of St. Alban the Martyr, Holborn, to mark the tenth anniversary of his consecration to the episcopate. Congratulations. May God grant you many years.
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Audio of the bishop's recent address to the Forward in Faith Nationa Assembly can be found here.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

New self portraits

After giving the Nuptial blessing to Ben and Sheena Niccum, I stuck around in the church for pictures. I was able to get some new self portraits.
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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The gift of tears

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Psalm 56:8
You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?

One of the saints of the early church, St. Ephraem, wrote in the 4th century about the blessing of tears. He wrote, "If you wish to wash your face, wash it, flood it with tears so that it may shine with glory before God and his Holy angels. A face bathed with tears has an undying beauty."

Psalm 6:6
I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.

St Francis of Assisi was endowed, say his biographers, with an extraordinary gift of tears; his eyes were as fountains which flowed continuously, and by much weeping he almost lost his sight. In his ecstatic raptures, he often poured forth his soul in verse, and Francis in among the oldest vernacular poets of Italy.

Bishop John Moorman wrote in his biography of Francis:
Once, we are told, when walking near the Church of St. Mary of the Angels, was seen “weeping and wailing with a loud voice. And a devout man hearing him thought he was suffering from some sickness or grief. And, moved by pity toward him, he asked him why he wept. But Francis said, ‘I weep for the Passion of my Lord Jesus Christ, for whom I ought not to be ashamed to go mourning aloud throughout the whole world’.”

Luke 6.21
Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh.

I may have experienced what I would call the gift of tears once. It was on the feast of St. Francis in 2000. At the beginning of Mass in the seminary chapel, my eyes turned into water faucets (which was quite embarrassing). I wept more or less continuously for the next 48 hours—and then it just stopped, like a well run dry. I can’t say exactly why it happened. The only feelings I had connected with it were a strong sense of the love of God and of his empathy with all his creatures.

Luke 7:36-38
Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

Blessing our pets

Yesterday, we had a Mass for the feast of St Francis and blessing of animals on the north lawn of the church. Here are some photos.
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