Saturday, June 30, 2007

Defend us in the day of battle

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I have returned from a week at Camp Crucis in Granbury, serving on the faculty of the St. Michael's Youth Conference, Southwest. For the staff, it was a long, yet rewarding week. The greatest reward has been to see faith deepened, lives changed, and to have the privilege to sacramentally absolve those young people from their sins in the confessional. It has been a time for "release for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind." This morning, we concluded the conference with a votive Mass for St Michael and All Angels. You can find more pictures from Fr. Nelson here, and from Fr. Brown here.
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Here is the extended prayer for St Michael's angelic protection, written by Pope Leo III, from the third chapter in the Rite of Exorcism from the Ritual Romanum:

St. Michael the Archangel, illustrious leader of the heavenly army, defend us in the battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of darkness and the spirit of wickedness in high places. Come to the rescue of mankind, whom God has made in His own image and likeness, and purchased from Satan's tyranny at so great a price. Holy Church venerates you as her patron and guardian. The Lord has entrusted to you the task of leading the souls of the redeemed to heavenly blessedness. Entreat the Lord of peace to cast Satan down under our feet, so as to keep him from further holding man captive and doing harm to the Church. Carry our prayers up to God's throne, that the mercy of the Lord may quickly come and lay hold of the beast, the serpent of old, Satan and his demons, casting him in chains into the abyss, so that he can no longer seduce the nations. Amen.
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After the Mass, the students (whom we affectionately call "Michaelites") put on a Pageant of Redemption for their parents before heading home. Here are a few highlights.

The Last Supper
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The Crucifixion
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Christ's Ministry continues on earth through the sacramental ministry of his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church
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(pictured from left to right: Confirmation, the Eucharist, Unction of the Sick)

The Risen Christ Reigns in Glory with the Saints and Angels
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Friday, June 22, 2007

St Alban, Protomartyr of Britain

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Today is the feast of title for my parish. On Sunday we will celebrate our titular feast with Fr Johnson Shannon as our guest preacher. The Venerable Bede, priest-monk of Jarrow, recorded the story of Alban the Martyr in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

Chapter 7: The martyrdom of Saint Alban and his companions, who shed their life-blood for Christ at this time.

In this country occurred the suffering of Saint Alban, of whom the priest Fortunatus in his Praise of Virgins, in which he mentions all the blessed martyrs who came to God from every part of the world, says: “In fertile Britain’s land / Was noble Alban born.”

When these unbelieving Emperors were issuing savage edicts against all Christians, Alban, as yet a pagan, gave shelter to a Christian priest fleeing from his pursuers. And when he observed this man’s unbroken activity of prayer and vigil, he was suddenly touched by the grace of God and began to follow the priest’s example of faith and devotion. Gradually instructed by his teaching of salvation, Alban renounced the darkness of idolatry, and sincerely accepted Christ. But when the priest had lived in his house some days, word came to the ears of the evil ruler that Christ’s confessor, whose place of martyrdom had not yet been appointed, lay hidden in Alban’s house. Accordingly he gave orders to his soldiers to make a thorough search, and when they arrived at the martyr’s house, holy Alban, wearing the priest’s long cloak, at once surrendered himself in the place of his guest and teacher, and was led bound before the judge.

When Alban was brought in, the judge happened to be standing before an altar, offering sacrifice to devils. Seeing Alban, he was furious that he had presumed to put himself in such hazard by surrendering himself to the soldiers in place of his guest, and ordered him to be dragged before the idols where he stood. “Since you have chosen to conceal a sacrilegious rebel,” he said, “rather than surrender him to my soldiers to pay the well-deserved penalty for his blasphemy against our gods you shall undergo all the tortures due to him if you dare to abandon the practice of our religion.” But Saint Alban, who had freely confessed himself a Christian to the enemies of the Faith, was unmoved by these threats, and armed with spiritual strength, openly refused to obey this order. “What is your family and race?” demanded the judge. “How does my family concern you?” replied Alban; “, and carry out Christian rites.” “I demand to know your name,” insisted the judge, “tell me at once.” “My parents named me Alban,” he answered, “and I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.” The judge was very angry, and said: “If you want to enjoy eternal life, sacrifice at once to the great gods.” Alban replied: “You are offering these sacrifices to devils, who cannot help their suppliants, nor answer their prayers and vows. On the contrary, whosoever offers sacrifice to idols is doomed to the pains of hell.”

Incensed at this reply, the judge ordered God’s holy confessor Alban to be flogged by the executioners, declaring that he would shake his constancy of heart by wounds, since words had no effect. But, for Christ’s sake, he bore the most horrible torments patiently and even gladly, and when the judge saw that no torture could break him or make him renounce the worship of Christ, he ordered his immediate decapitation. Led out to execution, the saint came to a river which flowed swiftly between the wall of the town and the arena where he was to die. There he saw a great crowd of men and women of all ages and conditions, who were doubtless moved by God’s will to attend the death of his blessed confessor and martyr. This crowd had collected in such numbers and so blocked the bridge that he could hardly have crossed that evening, and so many people had come out from the city that the judge was left unattended. Saint Alban, who ardently desired a speedy martyrdom, approached the river, and as he raised his eyes to heaven in prayer, the river ran dry in its bed and left him a way to cross. When among others the appointed executioner himself saw this, he was so moved in spirit that he hurried to meet Alban at the place of execution, and throwing down his drawn sword, fell at his feet, begging that he might be thought worthy to die with the martyr if he could not die in his place.
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While this man changed from a persecutor to a companion in the true Faith, and other executioners hesi-tated to pick up his sword from the ground, the most reverend confessor of God ascended a hill about five hundred paces from the arena, accompanied by the crowd. This hill, a lovely spot as befitted the occasion, was clad in a gay mantle of many kinds of flowers. Here was neither cliff nor crag, but a gentle rising slope made smooth by nature, its beauty providing a worthy place to be hallowed by a martyr’s blood. As he reached the summit, holy Alban asked God to give him water, and at once a perennial spring bubbled up at his feet—a sign to all present that it was at the martyr’s prayer that the river also had dried in its course. For it was not likely that the martyr who had dried up the waters of the river should lack water on a hill-top unless he willed it so. But the river, having performed its due service, gave proof of its obedience, and returned to its natural course. Here, then, the gallant martyr met his death, and received the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. But the man whose impious hands struck off that pious head was not permitted to boast of his deed, for as the martyr’s head fell, the executioner’s eyes dropped out on the ground.

The soldier who had been moved by divine intuition to refuse to slay God’s confessor was beheaded at the same time as Alban. And although he had not received the purification of Baptism, there was no doubt that he was cleansed by the shedding of his own blood, and rendered fit to enter the kingdom of heaven. Astonished by these many strange miracles, the judge called a halt to the persecution, and whereas he had formerly fought to crush devotion to Christ, he now began to honour the death of his saints.

Saint Alban suffered on the twenty-second day of June near the city of Verulamium, which the English now call Verlamacaestir or Vaeclingacaestir [now called the city of St. Albans—ed.]. Here, when the peace of Christian times was restored, a beautiful church worthy of his martyrdom was built, where sick folk are healed and frequent miracles take place to this day.
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In the same persecution suffered Aaron and Julius, citizens of the City of Legions, and many others of both sexes throughout the land. After they had endured many horrible physical tortures, death brought an end to the struggle, and their souls entered the joys of the heavenly City.
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Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

For $190 Million . . .

At a price tag of $190 Million ($10 Million more than the concrete box built as a cathedral for Los Angeles), you'd think that the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California could: (a) look like at least a little bit like a church, (b) not be so ugly, and (c) not bring George Jetson so vividly to mind. But I guess not.
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Read more about it here. See construction pictures here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why wheat?

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The essential ingredients for communion bread are very simple: water and wheat flour. In fact, unless you were making leavened bread for an Eastern rite liturgy (leavened bread is not a normative part of the Western tradition, which follows the Jewish), wheat flour, water, and heat are the only things you will need.

What many people have not often stopped to consider until now is, Why does it need to be wheat? The commitment to wheat bread (as opposed to rice, corn, or oat bread) is a part of our Judeo-Christian heritage in which Jesus took, used, and gave the Bread of Redemption and the Cup of Blessing from the Seder to us as a sacrifice (a means of divine of worship) and a sacrament (an assured means of grace). The assurance is verified by maintaining the material that Jesus used and the words he spoke over them. In sacramental theology, we call the material the "matter" and we call the words the "form."

In the Anglican tradition, we recognize that the use of pure wheat bread (usually unleavened, since we have a Western liturgical heritage) and pure grape wine (red or white or anything in between as long as it comes from grapes alone) as given by Christ and unchangeable by his Church. In other words, it is not a tradition we created, but a tradition we received. As trustworthy "stewards of God's mysteries" (1 Cor 4:1), the clergy are charged to preserve this tradition intact for the love and care of their people.

As the ecumenical movement was gaining speed, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA adopted in 1886 a statement of four essentials or non-negotiables for further ecumenical dialog. These were: (1) the Scriptures as the Word of God, (2) the Nicene Creed as a sufficient statement of faith, (3) the dominical sacraments, and (4) the historic episcopate.

Addressing the seriousness with which these essentials of the Christian religion should be taken, the bishops noted that these "principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men."

In listing the dominical sacraments, the Bishops explained: "The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him." The statement was adopted in Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference's statements on ecumenical matters and became known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, printed on pages 877-8 of the American Book of Common Prayer.

According to the Episcopal and Anglican bishops, the sacramental matter (or, "elements ordained by Him") are among those things which are "incapable of compromise or surrender." But, there have always been those for whom that may present difficulties. Alcoholics, for example, have to become accustomed to either feigning a sip from the chalice or simply receiving in one kind alone, as would a sick person or any Roman Catholic up until the 1970s. But what about someone who could not consume wheat--even a small piece or a crumb?

Helen Hitchcock insightfully pointed out: "Some people cannot physically tolerate the gluten in wheat; some are alcoholics who cannot drink wine without risk. How can they receive Communion? First, a communicant who is sensitive to gluten in the Host may receive the Precious Blood; and an alcoholic may receive the Host alone. Furthermore, it is a matter of Church dogma that Christ exists 'whole and entire'--Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity--in each and every particle of each of the consecrated elements, in each crumb and each drop. Therefore: 1) a person who receives a mouthful or a gulp does not receive "more Christ" than one who receives the merest particle or drop; and 2) one receives the 'whole Christ' in either species or form (many, perhaps a majority, of Catholics generally receive the Host alone)."

Looking for possibilities
Still, many were hopeful that some possible way could be found for faithful Christians who suffer from such ailments to be able to receive Holy Communion under both species. Some offered false hopes, that is, by avoiding wheat altogether. One example would be this product offered by Ener-G Foods, a company specializing in the restricted diet market (tip of the biretta to Canon Elizabeth Kaeton).

While it would be a fine substitute for Christian traditions which do not believe that sacramental matter matters in this case, that would be fine. We already see that many Baptists and Methodists use grape juice instead of wine. Mormons use water instead of grape juice or wine. But for Catholic churches like the Episcopal Church and the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, matter does matter. Because matter is what our Lord took from the Virgin Mary for his very own Body. Matter is what Jesus took at the Last Supper to change into that Body. And matter is our only assurance that we have the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

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The fruits of patience and prayer
Others, not settling for false hopes have persisted in finding true hope for those with celiac disease. A solution has been found thanks to the patience and perseverance of two nuns, Sisters Jane Heschmeyer and Lynn Marie D'Souza, of a Benedictine convent in Clyde, Missouri. Over two years of experiments they have developed a Communion wafer that has been approved as valid matter for the Eucharistic bread by the Holy See. You can read the whole story here. See the sisters and the bread they make here.

The Sisters of the Perpetual Adoration now make and offer an extremely low-gluten wheat altar bread for valid use in the Holy Eucharist. The altar bread can be ordered from the convent. The Hosts are carefully individually hand-made by the sisters for suffers of celiac disease. What is the result? As noted on their website, data from the Center for Celiac Research showed that the 0.01% gluten content of their breads would be perfectly safe for most celiacs. The article states:

The measurement cited here, 0.01%, represents 10 PPMs (parts per million). But the more important number is 37 micrograms, because it is daily exposure to gluten that counts. The best current information shows that 10 milligrams a day should be safe. Ten milligrams is the same as 10,000 micrograms. If you divide 37 micrograms into 10,000 micrograms, you will find that you would have to eat 270 wafers every day to reach the danger point. At most, celiacs would consume one wafer per day or about 0.04% (four tenths of one percent) of the amount considered dangerous.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from Christ's side, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malicious enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto thee.
That with thy saints, I may praise thee
For ever and ever. Amen.
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Why does matter matter?
During my vacation, I've been reading through some books that I did not finish earlier in the year. One is David Lang's very splendid and enjoyable book called Why Matter Matters. It answers the question that most of us never got around to asking. He addresses all of signs and symbolism of the various the sacramental matter used in the Church's tradition. In the chapter on the use of bread in the Eucharist, Lang first addresses the question, Why bread? Then in this section (which follows, emphasis mine), he addresses the question, "Why wheat?".

Now we address the second and far more puzzling question: why wheat bread? Some actual controversy over the grain used to make Eucharistic bread has erupted in certain dioceses. A very per­tinent and practical reason has motivated this dispute: namely, the problem of sprue (or celiac disease). This illness consists in a severe condition of gluten intolerance, in which the ingestion of any grain containing a particular protein (alpha-gliadin) causes an allergic reaction resulting in serious intestinal damage. Many people have been perplexed when the Church's pastors refused to grant any dispensation from the traditional policy prohibiting substitution of a grain other than wheat. (For instance, rice—unlike the grains wheat, barley, oats, and rye—does not contain gluten. Another nonglutinous and hypoallergenic grain is millet.) To them it seemed arbitrary, rigid, and harsh for the Church to recommend that those afflicted with this sickness resort to the alternative of receiving Holy Communion only under the form of sacramental wine. Indeed, this counsel seems "discriminatory" and "judgmental," because in effect it denies the consecrated Host to the sufferers, depriving them of a benefit accessible to nearly everyone else.

Why should it matter, they wondered, which grains are used? Would it make any difference to Jesus what kind of altar bread is converted into the substance of His Body at the Consecration of the Mass? It is a natural human response to raise this question out of compassion in the face of misery. We must be wary, however, of succumbing to a false sense of charity by committing the gnostic error of trivializing material differences.

Just as there is a natural reason why bread should be the only food fit for conversion into the substance of Christ's Body, so also there would seem to be a practical reason why God chose only one particular grain as legitimate for Eucharistic bread. Imagine if any grain were allowed. Inevitably, questions would arise over which cereal foods are really grains, because some that are commonly per­ceived as grains are actually seed grasses (e.g., wild rice and buck­wheat). Ecclesiastical policies would then be intrinsically and inextricably hostage to the accuracy of current botanical determi­nations. Moreover, developments in hybridization of true grains with other seeds or grasses would further blur distinctions and com­plicate matters. If the Church capitulated and proclaimed the flour from all these broad cereal groups to be licit ingredients of Eucha­ristic bread (assuming a well-defined classification could be relied upon), some people would predictably test the boundaries of the liberalized Canon Law and protest the exclusion of other starchy foods (for instance, potatoes or beans). An interminable debate would beset sacramental theology and its pastoral applications — far worse than now. In His infinite wisdom and compassion God has authoritatively settled the matter once and for all by selecting pure wheat as the sole grain for altar bread. (Exceptions for hard cases, such as allergies, would make a mess of things here and would wind up destroying the general principle.)

The Church's official doctrine permitting only wheat flour as valid matter for composing Eucharistic bread cannot, of course, be strictly proved by unaided human reasoning. It can, however, be somewhat logically defended on the basis of agricultural observa­tion and even more persuasively justified on the basis of Scripture. Let us again recall that the sacraments employ material things as channels of grace, actually bringing about in reality what they sig­nify. Furthermore, it is a plain fact that some materials are more suited than others for playing a specific symbolic role. We saw, for example, the intimate connection between water and Baptism in Chapter 1.

Why, among all grains, is wheat the most appropriate for the Holy Eucharist, in which Christ's Body is truly present under the appearances of bread? Wheat alone bears to a superlative degree both the agricultural and Biblical connotations of being sown, fallen, crushed, buried, and then risen after harvest into life-giving bread to be broken and shared. These are all symbols of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and Real Presence to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. No grain other than wheat carries all these meanings to such a high peak of intensity.

Moreover, Christ instituted the sacraments containing matter in commonplace use among mankind, as ordinary (albeit highly significant) water in Baptism exemplifies. St. Thomas Aquinas asserts: "Now among other breads wheaten bread is more com­monly used by men"; in fact, other grains' breads are usually eaten only when wheat bread is unavailable. And according to one au­thority on the subject, wheat "covers more of the earth's surface than any other grain crop." Therefore, it seems that wheat, more than any other grain, aptly symbolizes the universality of Christ's call to partake of His Body under the form of bread (as we read in John 6:32-35, 41, 48-59).

Another relevant facet open to ordinary human observation is the shimmering beauty of a field of standing wheat shining like gold in bright sunlight. But the gleam of untarnished gold signifies the pure glory of the divine majesty— an effulgence that radiates toward God's royal subjects, transforming them and their surround­ings (much as the worthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament in Holy Communion transforms). For instance, in Job 22:25-26, RSV, we read: "If the Almighty is your gold, . . . / then you will delight yourself in the Almighty, / and lift up your face to God." It is re­markable that the first and last specific elementary mineral sub­stance mentioned in Sacred Scripture is gold (see Genesis 2:11 and Revelation 21:21, prescinding from the subsequent more generic descriptors "glass" and "crystal"); thus, gold is "the Alpha and the Omega" of minerals representing God Himself (Revelation 22:13). It is also important to note that the sacred vessels in which conse­crated Hosts are kept (reposed in the ciborium and solemnly ex­posed in the monstrance) are made of gold, a precious metal that has come to be associated with the Blessed Sacrament. This fact is prefigured by Solomon's lavish adornment with gold overlaying the temple's inner sanctuary, where the ark of the covenant rested, in 1 Kings 6:19-22. Hence, wheat and the Holy Eucharist are symboli­cally related via the medium of gold — a fascinating point that we shall have occasion to recall more than once in the sequel. (A lin­guistic curiosity: the English words "wheat" and "white," corre­sponding to the German weizen and weiss, respectively, are derived from Middle and Old Anglo-Saxon roots meaning "to gleam.")

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Your good deed for the day

Have you done your good deed for the day? We know it's not something that should be left to Boy Scouts, but except for helping old ladies across the street and just resisting the temptation to do some bad thing, most of us are stumped when it comes to knowing how to do a good deed. Thankfully the Church, in her wisdom, has provided us with a checklist. They are called the corporal (or "physical") works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy. They are good deed or acts of kindness that are ways in which we can share God's love with others.

Corporal Works of Mercy
1 To feed the hungry
2 To give drink to the thirsty
3 To clothe the naked
4 To shelter the homeless
5 To visit the sick
6 To visit the imprisoned
7 To bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy
1 To counsel the doubtful
2 To instruct the ignorant
3 To admonish the sinner
4 To comfort the sorrowful
5 To forgive all injuries
6 To bear wrongs patiently
7 To pray for the living and the dead

Friday, June 15, 2007

Looking for inspiration

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Napkins, cups, fortune cookies, and numerous other products have become popular places to find inspirational quotes and words of encouragement. Now I have found them in the most unlikely place--underarm deoderant. Of course, it's gone after the first use. But if you look first, you might find something like the words of encouragement above, "Lead the way."

I checked the others that we last picked up at the grocery store and found, "Go all-in." "Live life." And, "Go for it." I'm not sure if this gave me the confidence to get through the day or not. I suppose every little bit helps. But certainly what would have been more encouraging would be something like, "You won't stink."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Executive Council rebukes Presiding Bishop

As reported in this story by the AP:

The Episcopal Executive Council said that Anglican leaders, called primates, cannot make decisions for the American denomination, which is the Anglican body in the United States. "We question the authority of the primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion," the council said in a statement, after a meeting in Parsippany, N.J.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori had endorsed the unanimous communique from the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam earlier this year, which stated that the Primates will establish a pastoral council, including a primatial vicar to care for those parishes and dioceses in conflict with the Episcopal Church. The statement from the Executive Council, following up on the recent House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, effectively ends all hope that the Episcopal Church will cooperate with the process of healing and reconciliation.

Schori has been vocal about the need for the reconciliation, for a "period of fasting" on same-sex blessings and ordinations, and for the willingness to cooperate with the Anglican Communion. The communique, which the Presiding Bishop supported, noted:

24. The response of The Episcopal Church to the requests made at Dromantine has not persuaded this meeting that we are yet in a position to recognise that The Episcopal Church has mended its broken relationships.

Despite what might be her best efforts, it appears the Episcopal Church is just not interested. Or perhaps better stated, is vigorously opposed to reconciliation with the Anglican Communion.

Friday, June 08, 2007

If you can't eat red meat on Fridays...

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Does that include hot dogs?

I had a physician tell me once that when looking at it under the microscope, he couldn't really find any muscle tissue in there. Is there a helpful ruling from the Vatican on this?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vacation Bible School 2007

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The Eucharist and the Future

On this Corpus Christi day, here's a paper from my seminary days.

Christian worship is the living expression of the spiritual piety and doctrinal belief of its adherents--both in the present and in the past. Since the religion of the disciples of Jesus is characterized by eschatological overtones, it is natural that there are deeply rooted eschatological characteristics to Christian worship as well. Looking toward the consummation of God’s kingdom is the dominant context for worshiping as a part of that kingdom. It is worship in spirit and in truth. As such, it is a prayerful anticipation of, and spiritual participation in, the beatific vision of God.

Eschatology concerns the study of last things in Catholic theology. It covers death, final judgment, heaven, hell, and so forth. However, in the liturgy, the dominant eschatological theme is the final realization of the kingdom of God. This theme is embedded in the origin and theology of Christian eucharistic worship. We can also see eschatological elements develop over time in the manner in which the worshiping community performs its liturgy. We shall look at possible reasons for development in the eschatological shape of eucharistic worship, considering the present state of affairs and possible future developments.

The Supper of the Lord: Covenant Sacrifice and Kingdom Feast
The Lord’s Supper was established by Jesus Christ as a memorial of his passion, the significance and meaning of which includes his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and his parousia or eschaton (his “coming again in glory”). The word parousia means appearance, presence, or arrival. It is the natural fulfillment of the redemptive work of Christ, who the Scriptures call both the Alpha and the Omega—the “beginning and the end.”

Salvation history is a chronicle of the redemption, and as such is also the chronicle of a new covenant, which Jesus calls a “covenant in my blood,” that heralds the kingdom of God. Every covenant is established through the act of sacrifice, and Jesus offers sacrifice beginning in a meal with his disciples to inaugurates this covenant.

John’s gospel presents a vivid picture of the sacrificial inauguration of the covenant. The Passover is the sacrifice and memorial meal representing the old covenant. Jesus has come to establish God’s kingdom with a new covenant. His memorial meal ushers in the hour of his glorification. In a parallel action, Jesus is slain along with the sacrificial Passover lambs so that he is truly “the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” The lambs are slain to forgive sin, for according to the Law, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.” Yet the sacrifices of these animals are but a type of the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God. Jesus came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.

In examining the inauguration of a new covenant through the sacrifice of Jesus, we must consider questions like, What was offered? by whom? to whom? when? and why? In the act of sacrifice, there are two main actions—the oblation and the immolation. The oblation is an offering by a priest of gifts to God as a sign of God’s supreme dominion and our dependence upon him. This is often accompanied by some thanksgiving or petition (e.g. for the remission of sins) with the hope that as the gift is pleasing to God, so he may be moved to grant the petition. The immolation is the conclusion or consummation of the act of sacrifice. The gift which has been given to God is now destroyed or in some way rendered incapable of performing it’s normal function. For example, an animal offered would be killed so that it is no longer a living animal, or a cup of wine would be poured out or grain burned so that it could no longer be consumed. In the sacrifice of the new covenant, Jesus is himself both the Priest and the Victim—the one who offers and that which is offered.

From Anticipation to Realization
The sacrificial meal is the realization of the sacrificial petition. In the case of the Christian community, this feast is the memorial of the redemptive work and person of Jesus Christ and it is therefore the realization or actualization of the Kingdom established by the new covenant sacrifice. At his Last Supper, Jesus prays for the realization of the Kingdom, as is also reflected in the Didache: “As this piece was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom.”

Jesus commands his disciples to love one another and joins his priestly petition for their unity in the Spirit with the offering of himself. He takes signs of human life and labor to become his own life and labor. Jesus offers them in thanksgiving to the Father and gives them back to the disciples as tokens of the transformation realized through the new covenant sacrifice of his broken Body and shed Blood. At this point Jesus has offered himself—body, soul, and divinity—to the Father. After his oblation, Jesus is willingly taken into custody of those who would destroy him. The next day he is slain as a Paschal Lamb and this act of immolation concludes the sacrifice in which his Body is broken and his Blood poured out for the life of the world.

In the early Christian communities, the people gathered on the Lord’s Day to participate in the sacrificial meal that was performed after the example of the Last Supper in fulfillment of Jesus’ command, “Do this as my memorial.” The difference for them is that the oblation of the meal occurs after Christ has been immolated on the cross. In the spirituality of the Eucharist, therefore, the believer tends to work backwards. In the meal, he or she is to receive the resurrected life of Jesus. Therefore, in thanksgiving the believer retreats in time to the self-offering that Jesus made before his passion. The believer offers him or herself along with Christ, whose passion is commemorated in thanks and praise for the life granted on the far side of the cross. Although Jesus’ work on Calvary is an event at a moment in time, through this Eucharistic memorial, it takes on an eternal character.

Worship in the kingdom is a participation in the work of redemption through praise and thanksgiving. St. Paul urged his readers to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The believer offers him or herself with Christ, who in bread and wine took signs of human life and labor and incorporated them into the gift of himself. What was at the Last Supper a banquet of anticipation is now a communal feast of realization. In the post-resurrection community, the sacrifice and feast take on an almost cause-and-effect relationship: “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast.” It is by participating in the eucharistic banquet that we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” and thereby participate in the kingdom he established.

The Shape of the Sacrificial Banquet
Early in the history of Christian worship, the liturgy was increasingly taken to be an icon of heavenly worship. We see Eucharistic overtones in the picture of the marriage banquet of Christ and his Church at the end of history in the Revelation of St. John. Debate continues over which was the initial influence—whether practice shaped the description or whether the description was more influential in shaping practice. But the conclusion is unavoidable that the liturgy increasingly was characterized as the earthly image of heavenly worship.

The legalization of Christianity in the empire during the fourth century and it’s resultant adoption of official and public trappings—such as the features of court ceremonial—undoubtedly influenced Christian architecture and worship. But was this influence dominant, or were the developments of this period more internally driven as the religion was now free to express itself in the open and evolve unfettered? It is likely that the eschatological shape of the liturgy itself had a deeper and more abiding influence on the eschatological shape of sacred space in Christian art and worship.

By the ritual high-water mark in East and West during the Middle Ages, the heavenly beauty and sublime nature of Christian worship was taken to be one of its most important attributes. Before the conversion of Russia, Duke Vladimir—unsure of which faith to follow—sent emissaries to visit the various churches of Europe. Reporting on their experience at the Ecclesia Hagia Sophia, the mother church of the East in Constantinople, they said, “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth. It would be impossible to find on earth any splendor greater than this . . . Never shall we be able to forget such beauty.” Later on, Fredrick Faber—an English priest of the 19th Century—similarly became famous for his impression of the Latin Mass as “the most beautiful thing this side of heaven.”

The seasons of the Church year and the development of the rites of Easter and Holy Week are examples of increased eschatological features of Christian worship. Obviously, the season of Advent and the feasts of Ascension, Pentecost, All Saints, and Christ the King are relevant to this development. However, our main concern in this treatment is the standard weekly celebration. The most significant and earliest development is Sunday worship.

In the New Testament period, the Church gathered on “the Lord’s Day” which is the first day of the week. Worship was held on this day as it had been the day of the Lord’s resurrection from the dead and also the day of his subsequent appearances to the disciples. The Lord’s Day is also the “eighth day” of the week—the day on which the new creation begins. The Epistle of Barnabas, dated around the latter New Testament period, ascribes this significance to the institution of the Lord’s Day even before the importance of the resurrection, saying, “I will make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. For that reason, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.”

Therefore the Lord’s Day signifies both the day of Jesus’ resurrection and the dawning of the new heaven and new earth described by St. John in his Book of Revelation. The precedent of the eighth day as the day of the redemption and the new creation is shown in the development during the second century of celebrating Easter—the Christian Pasch—on a Sunday each year rather than on the particular day corresponding to the 14th of Nisan, when the Jews celebrated the Passover.

The eschatological shape of the Eucharistic rite guided the development of two more significant features—the setting of the holy Mysteries and the characteristics of the minister celebrating them. The celebrant of the holy mysteries was increasingly seen as sharing in the mediating priestly ministry of Christ. This is natural since the minister both stands in the place of Christ in celebrating the Eucharist, as Jesus did with his apostles, and he also prays to God from the assembly in the name of all present. This is why his priestly prayers in the liturgy are always first-person-plural.

Thus, the minister himself took on more of the priestly attributes we see in Christ. He, more than anyone else in the community, is the visible sign or icon of the kingdom. The most obvious form of this early development is the tradition of priestly sexual continence. Celibacy in the New Testament is a sign of the kingdom of heaven where God’s people “neither marry, nor are given in marriage.” In his ministry, Jesus spoke of this great mystery to those who are called, saying, “there are also those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Many of the first disciples of Jesus (as far as can be known) were married. Some of the early Church Fathers relate to us the tradition that upon entering their ministry, the apostles set aside their wives for the sake of the kingdom. While they did not at all abandon their wives, the discipline was that they were to live as siblings in regards to sexual relations rather than as husband and wife. This practice, they say, continued in the appointing of elders and deacons in churches. Since they needed seasoned men with whom to entrust this ministry, they often had to pick from married men. This practice is reflected in the later New Testament letters. The first major breakdown of this ideal was that some clerics viewed the process as an annulment and a reversion to bachelorhood. As a result, they saw themselves as free to contract (another) marriage. The abuse is addressed with the admonishment that they are only permitted to be the “husband of one wife.”

In the Eastern Church, the discipline developed in a more relaxed form as a matter of practicality. It was most common for the typical parish priest to be married. The practice became standard that married men could be ordained, yet the charism of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom continued to be highly esteemed, and the episcopate became reserved to celibate candidates. While the East (with its emphasis on mystery and symbol) saw the minister as representing the kingdom, the West (with its legalistic perspective) saw the ideal of the kingdom as a discipline to be enforced.

In the West, the ideal of celibacy as refraining from contacting marriage and thus from exercising the rights of marriage was interpreted more strictly. The Synod of Elvira was the first to issue canons relating to what was considered to be the norm of clerical continence. However, strict enforcement of this discipline was not firmly established until the reforms of Pope Gregory VII (and even after, lapses of the rule were not unknown and such marriages were held not only unlawful but also invalid by the First Lateran Council in 1123).

But in both East and West, the Church viewed the minister at the altar as an icon of priestly purity. His continence was an image of participation in the realized life of the kingdom. He functionally continued the Levitical tradition of abstaining from the rights of marriage before times of priestly service. But ontologically, he was a symbol of the higher calling of total continence, exercised by Christ the high Priest—the unique source and irreplaceable model of his own priesthood. Similar to the monastic vocation, the parish priest was a living witness to the Kingdom realized in humanity.

The Procession to Paradise
The priest guides the eschatological shape of the celebration by its performance. He leads the procession toward the sanctuary of heaven. Salvation history is recounted in the hymns and readings, the work of Christ is proclaimed, the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached, the people make their prayers and offerings, and the priest takes them into the sanctuary to make the offering as the great high Priest, Jesus Christ has entered into the sanctuary of heaven to make the perfect oblation.

So contextualized, the orientation of the church building in which the liturgy is performed “expresses the hope and confidence of the Church in him whose coming was from the East in the historic past, and will be again at the glorious Parousia”—the Eucharist as efficacious memorial of the one, and anticipation of the other, joining the two in the present.

The liturgical action as a whole carried with it a kind of movement led by the priest. This motion was always toward God (e.g. “Let us attend to the Lord,” “Let us turn to the East,” “Lift up your hearts,” etc.). German liturgist Klaus Gamber noted: "When the faithful increasingly moved into the center nave, they resembled an army formation, and a certain dynamism was created, something like the procession of the people of God through the desert towards the Promised Land. Facing East was to indicate the direction in which the procession was to move: towards paradise, which had been lost and was to be found again in the East. The celebrant and his assistants were at the head of this procession."

The development of iconography and other Church art can rightly be seen as a continuation of the process of making the appearance of earthly worship more akin to the heavenly worship described in the Bible. The sanctuary is separated from the nave (and chancel) by some kind of barrier representing the veil of heaven and marking it off as sacred space. In the East, this developed into the iconostasis that contained, as it were, iconic "windows" into the heavenly sanctuary. In the West, the reredos came to fulfill the role of showing the heavenly character of the sanctuary. Prior to a cross or some image of the crucifixion, the earliest churches had an image of the risen Christ (often depicted as the ruler and lawgiver) in the apse above and behind the altar at the eastern end of the church. The priest stood before the altar and faced this image when offering sacrifice.

This practice enacted the apostolic tradition of watching for the Lord’s return. John of Damascus explains: "When ascending into heaven, he rose towards the East, and that is how the apostles adored him, and he will return just as they saw him ascend into heaven . . . Waiting for him, we adore him facing East. This is an unrecorded tradition passed down to us from the apostles."

Worship as the Icon of Heaven
With the delayed parousia, there is a shift in theological discourse from an immanent eschatology to a realized eschatology. Christ’s rule and the life of his Kingdom comes to be seen more as something to partake in now than something to simply be anticipated.

This trajectory is paralleled in Christian worship which increasingly saw the earthly liturgy as a model of, and then as a participation in, the worship of heaven. Though development occurs, it is not so much a change of doctrine as it is a change of perspective. The transition is evident even in the New Testament period and reaches a climax in the late Middle Ages when the Church viewed itself as coterminous with the Kingdom of God and the society called Christendom as having reached a perfect equilibrium. Joachim of Fiore even theorized that from 1260 this situation would bring about a perfect third age (the Age of the Spirit), where the ideal of the kingdom of heaven is realized on earth.

To assist at the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church is to participate—more clearly than at any other time or in any other way—in the life of the Kingdom. The growth in ritual and ceremonial toward the high Middle Ages (the adoption of the sanctus, incense and torches, processions, icons and other church art, the extended division of the sanctuary from the nave, the veiling of the canopy and altar, the silence of the canon, etc.) represent a move toward a liturgy of realized eschatology. It is a worship that brings the parousia to the hear-and-now.

Ironically, the shift toward our present state of affairs most likely occurs at the high-water mark of ornate ceremonial—the high Middle Ages. When ceremonial is at its height, liturgical worship begins to be more heavenly spectacle than a sharing in heavenly life. The worship of clergy and laity become parallel (rather than integrated) actions. To assist at Mass comes to mean witnessing the elevation rather than praying the liturgy. At this point, liturgical performance almost becomes entertainment—a thing to witness and enjoy. Liturgy is something that appeals to tastes: in music, in architecture, in art and craftsmanship. The focus of the liturgy began an extended shift from a vertical shape (concerned with things of above) toward a horizontal shape (concerned with the here-and-now). In the Baroque period, going to the High Mass was equivalent to going to the opera (an institution which had developed outside the Church, but deeply affected Church life and worship).

The Current State of Affairs
Our modern state of affairs is probably not related so much to a return to an immanent eschatology like the early Church as it is to simply the dawning of a post-realized eschatology. Our age has an eschatology without the eschaton. We are a people who for the most part no longer watch for the Lord’s coming, and now that hope hardly even crosses our minds. Our society is too concerned with the present to give much consideration to the past or the future. This is simply the by-product of the secularization of Western civilization. In cultures where Christianity is relatively new, we find features of the immanent eschatology in worship that characterized the early Church.

The shift in liturgy towards the Baroque period was from participation to pageantry. Even the revival of ritualism in the Romantic Period was probably not a renewal of the eschatological shape of Christian worship. As a reaction to secularization, it was a liturgy that focused on the kingdom, but it was deficient in moving too far from a biblical theological perspective. Rather than a worship that looked toward the glorious parousia in the future, it looked longingly back to the Medieval "Age of the Spirit," when the kingdom had existed on earth.

A need was felt in many Church circles to return to more simple worship in which the laity can be actively involved. The shift from partaking in heavenly life toward witnessing heavenly spectacle occurred because of an alienation of the laity from an active role in liturgical worship. Since that time, the struggle has been to regain an earlier approach to participation in the liturgy. The Liturgical Movement—whose legitimate concerns were foreshadowed by the radical actions of the Protestant Reformers—has come a long way toward re-integrating the laity and clergy into the one liturgical life of the Church.

The challenge has been to rebuild a sense of community. But the community cannot be left to itself; it must be given direction. The danger of the Liturgical Movement is that the pendulum could swing too far from a biblical perspective. If concern about gathering the people is devoid of it’s purpose of looking toward the advent of God’s kingdom, it looses its vertical shape. To complete renewal, the liturgy should form the people of God not just into a community, but into an eschatological community—a procession that moves in joyful anticipation toward the coming of the Lord.

If we are to return to a liturgy with a dominant eschatological shape, the biggest obstacle to overcome is our ingrained secularized perspective. Often the greatest challenge of believers in our age is to “lift up your hearts.” Change may come, but it cannot come until we turn our gaze back to the East and say with the psalmist:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

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The classic Trinity diagram illustrating the relationships of the Persons of the Godhead.

You may listen to the sermon below by streaming audio or by download.

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

The year was AD 325 and Christian bishops from all over the known world were gathered to take council for the Church in the resort town of Nicæa. They were called together by Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. Constantine’s political aim was to unite the empire and a key part of that strategy was to have a united Church—which was not a problem, until . . . a priest in Alexandria, Egypt named Arius started making a pronouncement from the pulpit that “there once was a time when Christ was not.”

Arius taught that there was not always a co-eternal Son of God. His doctrine was that Jesus is instead the most exalted of all God’s creatures, whom God anointed with the Spirit at baptism and adopted as a son. He said Jesus is inferior to God, that he is not “God the Son.” Arius asserted that Jesus is of a different substance, that is, that Jesus is not fully divine like the Father is.

The bishops had come to Nicæa to sort out the matter. At one point, the conversation got so heated that the saintly bishop of Myra in Turkey, named Nicholas (Santa Claus) who was known for his kindness and generosity, walked over to Arius and punched him out. The story goes that Nicholas was immediately deposed for such unruly conduct, but the council restored him the next day when several of the bishops had a dream about Nicholas being returned to his episcopal throne.
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What would bring such indignation out of a gentle man like Nicholas? What made Ole’ St Nick pop his top? Why was he so upset? Did it really matter that much what Arius was saying? Indeed, it does matter, for sometimes even words can destroy souls. The Apostle Paul wrote to St. Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Keep doing this, for by doing so, you save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4:16-17).

Each year, after Eastertide and the feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the principal feast we call Trinity Sunday. At the end of the incarnation and redemption cycles of the kalendar, we pause to give thanks and embrace our heritage of faith, our faith in and worship of the one true God. He is the Holy Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

In the older prayer books, there was a creed called the Quincunque vult, proscribed to be read on Trinity Sunday and at one of the minor prayer offices. This creed was named after St. Athanasius, one of the great defenders of the orthodox trinitarian faith, even through great cost and personal hardship. This “Athanasian Creed” is printed at the back of the Book of Common Prayer. It is a creed that mainly describes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—and in careful, exacting detail.

Like the indignant bishop Nicholas at the Nicene council, it is very serious-minded. In the first line, we read: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt, he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.”

Why does it matter so much? Why is it so important to keep the Catholic Faith whole, pure, and undefiled? Is it really so serious? Let us first realize that we know and identify God not just by name, but also by attributes. The same is true about other people; we know them both by name and by attributes. God has revealed to us certain things about himself, that reveal who he is. From the record of the Scriptures, we know that God is a person, that he is almighty and just, that he is also merciful, and that in the truest sense, God is love.

We read in the Bible that God has revealed himself as Father and that the Word and Spirit were involved in the act of creation. In the Scriptures we also learn that God has revealed his name—YHWH. God the Father names his only Son “Jesus,” which means “YHWH is salvation.”

In the New Testament, we learn that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son to us. The Word was incarnate and dwelt among us. Jesus is the perfect icon of the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus fulfilled the law and bore our sins on the cross.

He rose victorious from the dead and Jesus offers us the same blessing of new life by sacramentally joining us to himself as his mystical Body through the new birth of Baptism and the Eucharistic feast. When Jesus rose into heaven, taking our humanity into heaven, he did not leave us comfortless, but sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts crying, “Abba, Father.”

We know who God is and what he has done by his own self-revelation. That’s why we can be confident that we are not worshiping a false God, an idol, or a god that is simply the projection of our own selves. It is only through the one, true, and living God that we find salvation.

Stressing this point, St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you into the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. . . ." And Paul goes on to say, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel which is different from the one we have been preaching, let him be eternally condemned (anathema). As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be eternally condemned” (Galatians 1:6-9). St. Paul goes so far as to give them back-to-back warnings—some doctrines can be soul-destroying. Arius was not merely tearing at the unity of the Church with his preaching, he was also destroying souls.

In the statement of faith issues at the end of the First Ecumenical Council, the Nicene Fathers rejected Arius’ doctrine that Jesus was an exalted creature, merely our ethical example, an earthly messiah, inferior to the Father. Drawing from the holy Scriptures and relying on the promise of Jesus that the Spirit would lead the apostles as a body and guide them into all truth, the bishops gathered at the Council of Nicæa affirmed: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, only-begotten of the Substance of the Father. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, being of one Substance with the Father.”
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At the end of their doctrinal affirmation, the Fathers went on to say about Arius: And those who say, “There was a time when he was not,” and, “Before he was begotten he was not,” and that, “He came into being from what is not,” or those who allege, that the son of God is “of another substance or essence”, or that he is “created” or “changeable,” these the Catholic and Apostolic Church declares anathema.

They didn’t have the political concern that Constantine did. But when the bishops in council saw the damage to souls from not being clear about those preaching a different gospel and proclaiming a different God (a god other than the holy Trinity), they were all just as indignant as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

What is the lesson to us today from the councils of the Church that defined and defended the Christian concept of God as the Holy Trinity? What can we learn from it all? I think there are at least two lessons we should pull from the Church’s experience of dealing with false doctrine, conflict, schism, and resolution.

First, as the Apostle Paul said, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Keep doing this, for by doing so, you save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tm 4:16-17). Let us become so familiar with who God is and what he is like, that we instantly recognize when someone tries to pass us a counterfeit.

When we hear the persons of the Trinity described as “aspects of God,” when we hear that “the Father came down to be one of us,” or that Jesus was merely a human being, or only appeared human, or that Jesus became God, or stopped being God on the cross, or that diversity is what makes God a trinity, or that the Holy Spirit is an “it”—a thing, or that you and I are little gods or “gods-in-embryo,” then we should not pay attention to anything else they have to say. For these are the beginnings of errors, not the end. And sometimes, words can destroy souls.

Second, let us have faith in God that he will preserve the holy Faith of his Church. Arianism was the most destructive heresy to ever rise in Church history. The bishops thought it was all over atNicæa, only to see the heresy later morph into other forms. Just when it seemed to be resolved, an Arian would become emperor and therefore many Arians would be appointed as bishops. It is estimated that at one point, over 80% of the Church was Arian and as a result, orthodox bishops, clergy, and lay Christians were persecuted as enemies of both Church and state.

But Christ built his Church on a rock, the gates of hell never to prevail against it. They would not prevail then, and they will not prevail now. Why? Because Christ promised, and that is sufficient. Christ promised that the Spirit would lead us into all truth. Deception, confusion, and misunderstanding are overcome by the Truth of God as revealed in his holy Word.

Do not be discouraged by being on the small side, as long as you are on God’s side. Even if you are the only one standing up for truth, you are on the winning side. They had a saying about those early struggles in the church over Arianism. It was Athanasius contra mundum—“Athanasius against the world.” Too bad for the world. Athanasius won. His side was triumphant. It was not because Athanasius was smarter, more skilled, or more dedicated. It was because Athanasius did not stand alone; he stood on God’s side.

He knew God personally, and constantly strove to make him known more fully—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit . . . one God, one being, co-equal, co-eternal.

Let us pray. Most glorious Trinity: Give us grace to continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; who lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Teed off for Christ

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I had a great time at my first entry in the Bishop Iker Golf Challenge. I played 18 holes with these fine gentlemen from Ss Peter and Paul in Arlington. We scored a 75 (3+par). It was a beautiful day and a nice course. Best of all, the event raises money for our diocesan ministry at Camp Crucis and funds scholarships for campers.