Saturday, September 29, 2007

All you wanted to know about angels

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On this Michaelmas day, I am posting my lecture for this evening's St Michael's Conference Southwest Reunion (or as I like to call it, "Mini-Mike's") at St Francis in Dallas. Enjoy.

I believe in Angels, not because of that cheesy song, but because divine revelation (which we find in Catholic tradition, particularly in the Holy Bible) tells us that these spiritual beings exist as an invisible part of God’s created order.

The topic of angels has become increasingly popular in American culture. Much of the current popularity springs from interest in such things as New Age spirituality with its spirit guides and near death experiences. Our “post-modern” culture has begun to search for the spiritual dimensions of life which modern cultural materialism cannot provide. With so many new books on angels, how are we to tell fact from fiction? What do Scripture and Tradition have to say?

Let's go over some basic facts about angels. Angels are pure spirits created by God. It was God who created all things, both “visible and invisible,” as we say in the Nicene Creed. The angels were created in vast numbers by God and (it seems likely) before he made humans.

Contrary to popular belief, angels are not dead humans. That was part of the storyline of the movie It's a Wonderful Life and the television series Highway to Heaven. But that's not the way things really are; you don't become an angel when you die any more than you become a horse or a car or a tree. You remain who you were created to be: a human being. Likewise, angels are not pre-incarnate humans (that is, babies waiting to be born). Angels do not become humans and humans do not become angels.

The Bible tells us they were made without sex (neither male nor female) and so in Christian art they are often depicted as looking neither particularly male or female. Since they are neither male nor female it follows that they do not procreate; they are never born and they never die or cease to exist.

While they are beings of pure spirit and have no physical bodies, thus they are normally invisible, they can by God’s power assume a physical form in order to accomplish a particular mission. The angelic spirits are arranged in a hierarchy of form and function. While the angels are pure spirits of consciousness and will as is God, they are not omnipotent, omniscient, nor omnipresent like God.

That is important to remember because so often we hear these attributes—all present, all knowing, and even seemingly all powerful—being attributed to angels, even to Lucifer, the chief fallen angel. But he is nothing of the sort (no, the devil didn't make you do it) and neither is any other angel. The devil is not present everywhere, he does not know everything, and far from being all powerful, Satan is more like a beaten dog, and Michael, the standard bearer, is charged with keeping him at bay.

Yet, because of their nature, we should note that the angels do have abilities and virtues far beyond perhaps even the saints in heaven. Because they are not physical, it follows that they are not bound by physical limitations. For the faithful angels, their will is in total conformity with their faculty of reason. Thus, they are sinless. Of course, many of the angels fell from this high estate with the rebellion led by Lucifer, the most exalted of the angels. God made the angels free to choose to love or not love. And some of the angels did not choose wisely.

John Milton, in Book II of his epic poem Paradise Lost, presents a vivid portrait of this moment of rebellion. In his mind, Lucifer (through his own pride) became absorbed in self-love and conceived of Sin, his daughter, who burst forth from the left side of his head, a gory mess, the blood-soaked offspring of a vain mind. Looking at his daughter Sin, the devil lusted after her and raped her. She conceived and gave birth to her brother Death. In turn, Death lusted after his sister Sin, and violated her by his own incestuous rape. Now, she sits by the infernal gates and gives birth to the hounds of hell, who forever torment her by eating out her bowels.

I think Milton got it right. Could there ever be a more vivid depiction of the depravity of sinful self-love? Of course, the rebellion spawned by the jealousy and pride of Satan was defeated by the Archangel Michael and all the hosts of heaven (Rev 12:7-12). Unlike us, the fallen angels or demons, enjoy no possibility of redemption. The Revelation of St. John the Divine tells us that they were expelled from heaven and cast down to earth where they assault the brethren and do their best to thwart the will of God.

They know their time is short before the last judgment and that God will have the final victory. They also know that the power of God is always stronger that the forces of darkness. Through prayer, grace, and the intercession of angels, we have God’s protection against the crafts and assaults of the devil.

Many more angels remained faithful to God than rebelled against him. They serve their creator and carry out his good will toward humans. Angels are higher than us (closer to God) according to nature as beings of pure spirit. Thus, according to Hebrews 2:9, Christ was “made a little lower than the angels” when incarnated in human flesh. However, we are higher than the angels (closer to God) according to grace and our adoption as his children and temples of his Spirit. Therefore angels serve humankind as agents of Jesus’ salvation.

Angels also serve us as mediators and protectors. From Jesus’ allusion to angels in Matthew 18:10, we conclude that a guardian angel likely watches over each person, and elsewhere in the scriptures we are told that they guard the nations. But they also carry out God’s judgment upon nations (see 2 Kings 19).

Angels mediate prayers and graces. In Genesis, the patriarch Jacob saw a ladder or “stairway to heaven” with angels going up and down between heaven and earth (Gen 28:12; Jn 1:51). It seems likely that they are carrying things to and fro, or at least going back and forth with a purpose. Angels bring us assistance, protection, and grace from God. In St John’s Revelation, we also see that they take our prayers and offerings back up to God’s throne in heaven (Rev 8:3). At the end of earthly life, angels lead the holy souls into paradise, as they led the soul of the poor beggar Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22).

In the history of theology, these hosts of heaven were determined to be ordered in what we commonly call the “nine choirs of angels.” These are divided into three triads (that is, three groups of three).

The first angelic triad continually worships God in his immediate presence. These spirits consist of the exalted love of the fiery seraphim or "fires," the complete intuition of the cherubim or "mighty ones," and the perfect power of the ophanim or “thrones.” The primary function of their being is to be present in the heavenly court and to attend to the perpetual adoration and praise of the divine substance.

The second triad extends this divine praise and love to the creation. The spiritual dominions, princedoms, and powers execute the love, knowledge, and power of God relative to the general structure, order, and governance of the cosmos.

The last triad serves the divine love towards humans when the virtues, the angels, and the ruling archangels, come to serve and care for people on earth. Angels then truly become “messengers” of divine favor.

It was the Archangel Gabriel who gave the message of the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. Two other archangels are mentioned in Scripture. As the prince of the Seraphim, the mighty St. Michael led the heavenly host in the battle against the rebelling spirits, casting them out of heaven. He delivers the message of Defeat to God’s enemies and Victory to us. St. Raphael the Archangel delivered Tobias’ wife from demonic obsession. You can find the story in the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha. Raphael is also commonly associated with the angelic trembling of the healing waters in the pool of Bethesda (Jn 5:2-4). He delivers the message of healing and reconciliation.

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Overall, the heavenly hierarchy moves from the freedom and might of contemplative adoration (by the seraphim, cherubim, and ophanim) through principled order and sovereignty (ruled by the dominions, princedoms, and powers) to active service toward others in a spirit of compassion and care (by the virtues, archangels, and angels).

The earthly life was designed to follow this cosmic harmony. We were created to enjoy complete and perfect goodness in returning thanks to the source of our happiness. Our worship must mirror heaven. The fullness of our being is to join in the heavenly chorus which forever sings: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev 4:8).

Inspired by his love, we must care for the creation entrusted to us, and reach out to others in service. Like the angels of heaven, God wants us to minister to him at his altar and minister to out in the world as his messengers to creation.

Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then said I, “Here am I; send me.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sermons on God's love

Here are two of my sermons from September 19th at St Alban's. The first is the children's sermon (with the funny part about children being lost at Target) and the second is the adult sermon. Click on the title to listen.

"Lost and Found"

"The Intensity of God's Love"

More notes on (intermediate) Heaven

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This past Monday, reviewing section 2 of Randy Alcorn's book Heaven, we came across the idea of the intermediate state. I was surprised that the strongly protestant evangelical Alcorn stumbled upon such a Catholic doctrine (but that tends to happen when you seriously study the bible). Several terms have been used to describe this, but the one that came to stick is "purgatory."

Randy dismisses the thought, saying "this is not purgatory" (page 9 in the Study Guide) but then goes on to basically describe the true doctrine. I think what he is really dismissing is the medieval misconception of what purgatory is--more of the idea that it is a temporary hell that everyone (except the most saintly and the martyrs) goes to and which one may get early release from after a few thousand years of prayer and good works.

Remember that the Temple in Jerusalem was made to resemble the cosmos of earth and heaven. The forecourt was a place of water (the lavar) and fire (the altar). The forecourt corresponds to purification. The inside holy place corresponds to illumination (the candelabra). The inner holy of holies corresponds to contemplation (darkness and divine presence). This fits the traditional threefold path: purification, illumination, contemplation. This intermediate state or period of purification is the "outer court" of heaven.

C.S. Lewis, an Anglican layman and spiritual writer, explained his Church's belief in the intermediate state this way:

"Our souls demand Purgatory, don't they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, 'It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy'? Should we not reply, 'With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I'd rather be cleaned first.' 'It may hurt, you know' - 'Even so, sir.'

I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don't think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.

My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist's chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am 'coming round',' a voice will say, 'Rinse your mouth out with this.' This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed." (The Business of Heaven, p. 121)

Also, the Episcopal Church's Teaching Series in the 50s addressed the subject of purgatory in the book Christian Living, by Stephen Bayne (Sometime Bishop of Olympia and first Secretary General of the Anglican Communion). On page 151-2 we read:

"We can conceive of few more frightening thoughts than that, at death, any possibility of growth or purification would be closed to us. We would hope that, by the time of our death, we had some real freedom and a soul to be saved; yet we can understand that there might still stretch before us at death a long time of learning how to live under new conditions in the presence of God. Probably most Christians share some such feeling about themselves; and it is for this reason that belief in a place or period of purification, a belief in purgatory, became almost universal among Christian people.

Our Church rejects what the Articles of Religion call "the Romish Doctrine" of purgatory, specifically the doctrine that living men and women can by their prayers and good works, influence God to shorten the purifying period either for themselves or for others. But a belief in purgatory, as such, has been widely held by Chris­tians, is quite permissible for Episcopalians, and indeed is included in our prayers as when, for example, in the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church (in the Holy Communion), we pray that God will grant the dead "continual growth in His love and service" or, in the Burial Office, we pray for the departed that "increasing in knowledge and love of Thee, he may go from strength to strength." It would not be true to say that a doctrine of purgatory is specifically stated in our Anglican formularies, but it is perfectly true that such a belief is permissible and congruous with all else that we believe about God and His ways with us, and that it is expressed in our prayers."

All Christians agree that we won’t be sinning in heaven and that "nothing unclean shall enter" into heaven (Revelation 21:27). Sin and concupiscence are utterly incompatible our final glorification . Therefore, between the sinfulness of this life and the glories of heaven, we must be made pure. Between death and glory there is a period of purification and growth. Orthodox Jews to this day believe in the final purification, and for eleven months after the death of a loved one, they pray a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish for their loved one’s purification. Interestingly, one of the things that set the gnostics apart from the early Christians was that the gnostics denied any belief in an intermediate state.

As to the historic Christian doctrine, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned" (CCC 1030–1).

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The answer is . . . That remains to be seen.

The House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans considered its response to the Communion and issued a statement. What was asked of it? The Joint Standing Committee (JSC) for the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, in its press release, noted that the ECUSA bishops were asked to respond to specific requests.

The JSC wrote: The primates had requested clarification on the status of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention, and whether this did in fact reflect the request of the Windsor Report for a moratorium on the election and consecration of candidates for the episcopate who were living in a sexual relationship outside of Christian marriage.

The bishops responded by saying: We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election Of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." Is this a clarification? It does quote the relevant passage of the resolution and tell us that it says so. Will anyone abide by it? That remains to be seen. As yet, it seems doubtful to me, given that several non-chaste homosexuals have been nominated for bishop since this resolution was first passed.

The JSC wrote: Secondly, the primates had asked that the Bishops, as the chief liturgical officers in their dioceses, should mutually undertake not to offer public liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions.

The bishops responded by saying: We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. It is a good and welcome statement, but is this a moratorium? Will, for example, Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles continue to split hairs by authorizing the clergy of his diocese to continue to bless same sex unions (as he has done himself) while at the same time not authorizing rites they use for same sex blessings? And will discipline be exercised against those who violate this "moratorium"? That remains to be seen.

The JSC wrote: Thirdly, the primates had offered suggestions for the sort of pastoral care which could be offered in a way which enabled interventions from other provinces to cease. I would add that one part that the JSC missed in connection with this issue is that the primates also insisted that the lawsuits against departing parishes should stop .

The bishops responded by saying: We commend our Presiding Bishop's plan for episcopal visitors. [and] We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end. Given that the presiding Bishop's plan (which is the warmed over version of her plan put forward right after her election) was not composed in consultation with those it is supposed to serve, nor even the ones who were to administer it, and given that it was already found unsatisfactory by both those it is supposed to serve as well as the primates, and given that the house has enthusiastically rejected the proposal of the primates for alternative oversight (which would enable uninvited intervention to stop) what is the point of the bishops' statements? That remains to be seen.

Of course, the bishops also felt the need to add things to their statement like: We are mindful that the Bishop of New Hampshire has not yet received an invitation to the conference. We also note that the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed a desire to explore a way for him to participate. We share the Archbishop's desire and encourage our Presiding Bishop to offer our assistance as bishops in this endeavor. It is our fervent hope that a way can be found for his full participation.

What will be the impact of all this? That remains to be seen.

Update: I was taken aback that the secular press seemed unimpressed by the clarity (or lack thereof) in the bishops' clarifications for the Anglican Communion. Things did not seem so easy in "the Big Easy." Video of the press conference in New Orleans is here, with questions beginning at 9:15 minutes in.

Scripture is always relevant

Sometimes I am surprised how relevant a particular passage in the lectionary is on a specific day or occasion. The question is not so much whether scripture is relevant, but how should a relevant scripture apply to the situation at hand. Below is one of the Daily Office readings for today.

1 Corinthians 5:9—6:8
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Synod in Baltimore

I returned yesterday from the annual synod of the Society of the Holy Cross at Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in Baltimore. It was great to see many old friends again and to meet some new ones. I loved the meditations by Canon Barry Swain, and it was nice to get the printed collection of earlier synod meditations that I was not present to hear.

It was an unexpected pleasure to be invited to serve as the Deacon of the Mass in the main service, a votive of the Holy Cross in which we instituted new members and in which the Master General, Fr David Holding, was the preacher. Thank you to the Rector of Mount Calvary, my old friend and classmate from Nashotah, Fr Jason Catania (the celebrant pictured above). Thank you also to my friend Fr Christopher Cantrell for the pictures. It was privilege to get to meet Adam of Anglo-Catholic Ruminations, who served as an acolyte in the synod Masses. The pictures (which you can click on to see a larger version) from the top are: the invitation to Communion, the elevation of the Host, and the chanting of the Gospel.

Recent ordinations to the priesthood

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Two young deacons were recently ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Congratulations to them, their families, and their parishes. The Rev'd Randall Foster was ordained on Holy Cross Day at St Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford (above). The Rev'd Charles Hough IV was ordained on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary at St Mark's in Arlington (below).
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Ember days fall this week, in which the church prays for ordained ministry and for the blessing of new ministers. Here are the collects for ember days from the Prayer Book:

I. For those to be ordained
Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in thy divine providence hast appointed various orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all who are now called to any office and ministry for thy people; and so fill them with the truth of thy doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name and for the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II. For the choice of fit persons for the ministry
O God, who didst lead thy holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that thy Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of thy kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

III. For all Christians in their vocation
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What the bishops SHOULD do

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The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is meeting this week and next. They have been urged to reconcile with the Anglican Communion or say clearly that they cannot, and "The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007," according to their communiqué from Dar es Salaam. Someone asked me this week what should happen went the bishops meet. Here is my answer:

I believe that the House of Bishops should exercise leadership to begin to heal the schism and restore faith and trust among the member churches of the Anglican Communion. The Primates communiqué at Dar es Salaam indicated: “17. At the heart of our tensions is the belief that The Episcopal Church has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions.”

The House of Bishops should respond by completing those actions asked of it by the wider Communion: 1) express the Episcopal Church’s regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed, 2) effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges, and 3) halt all litigation against current and former Episcopal parishes over property and cooperate for a “a robust scheme of pastoral oversight to provide individuals and congregations alienated from The Episcopal Church with adequate space to flourish within the life of that church in the period leading up to the conclusion of the Covenant Process.”

It would also be an enormous gesture of reconciliation for the House of Bishops to reaffirm the teaching on human sexuality as it was stated in 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10. Likewise, it would be an enormous gesture of reconciliation for the Bishop of New Hampshire to choose to either live a chaste life or resign his see.

That is what should happen. However, I fear that none of the above will take place, and that as a result, both the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion will continue to disintegrate. I do not believe that is the will of God.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bless this Talking Stick

I thought this was interesting. From the program for today's consecration of Fr. Gregory Rickel as the new Bishop of Olympia (in Western Washington, my old stomping ground):

Blessing of the New Diocesan Pastoral Staff
This new pastoral staff (crosier) was created for this consecration by First Nation’s Coastal Salish artist Curtis Johnson from Vancouver, British Columbia for the continuing use of every bishop diocesan of Olympia, and is a gift to the diocese from the members of the Joint Board, the Search and Transition Committees, and the Rt. Rev. Nedi Rivera. This crosier is a Talking Stick, signifying the authority and responsibility entrusted in its bearer to listen to the needs and vision of the people, toward empowering a collaborative and mutually responsive community effort in the health, growth and wellbeing of the whole.

Representative of the First Nations
O Great Creator, we offer the burning of sweet grass, tobacco, sage and cedar as a prayer for blessing as we dedicate this Talking Stick to be our Diocesan Crosier. May it be that whoever bears this Crosier on our behalf do so with wisdom, strength, spirit and courage.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Dream of the Rood

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Above, the new altar cross at St Mark's Episcopal Church in Arlington, TX.

One of my favorite poems is the "Dream of the Rood." It is one of the oldest Christian poems in Anglo-Saxon literature. A man describes his dream or vision in which the holy rood (or "cross") speaks to him relates the story of the crucifixion, moving the man to prayer and dedication to the cross. I thought it would be a perfect post on this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Notice how Jesus is vividly described in the native terms of a Germanic warrior. I have highlighted the references to Jesus and the cross in this (modern) English translation.

Listen, I will tell the best of visions,
what came to me in the middle of the night,
when voice-bearers dwelled in rest.

It seemed to me that I saw a more wonderful tree
lifted in the air, wound round with light,
the brightest of beams. That beacon was entirely
cased in gold; beautiful gems stood
at the corners of the earth, likewise there were five
upon the cross-beam. All those fair through creation
gazed on the angel of the Lord there.

There was certainly no gallows of the wicked;
but the holy spirits beheld it there,
men over the earth and all this glorious creation.
Wondrous was the victory-tree, and I stained with sins,
wounded with guilts. I saw the tree of glory,
honoured with garments, shining with joys,
covered with gold; gems had
covered magnificently the tree of the forest.

Nevertheless, I was able to perceive through that gold
the ancient hostility of wretches, so that it first began
to bleed on the right side. I was all drenched with sorrows.
I was frightened by the beautiful vision; I saw that urgent beacon
change its covering and colours: sometimes it was soaked with wetness,
stained with the coursing of blood; sometimes adorned with treasure.

Yet as I lay there a long while
I beheld sorrowful the tree of the Saviour,
until I heard it utter a sound;
it began to speak words, the best of wood:

"That was very long ago, I remember it still,
that I was cut down from the edge of the wood,
ripped up by my roots. They seized me there, strong enemies,
made me a spectacle for themselves there, commanded me to raise up their criminals.
Men carried me there on their shoulders, until they set me on a hill,
enemies enough fastened me there. I saw then the Saviour of mankind
hasten with great zeal, as if he wanted to climb up on me.

"There I did not dare, against the word of the Lord,
bow or break, when I saw the
corners of the earth tremble. I might have
felled all the enemies; even so, I stood fast.
He stripped himself then, young hero - that was God almighty -
strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,
brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom mankind.

"I trembled when the warrior embraced me; even then I did not dare to bow to earth,
fall to the corners of the earth, but I had to stand fast.
I was reared a cross. I raised up the powerful King,
the Lord of heaven; I did not dare to bend.
They pierced me with dark nails; on me are the wounds visible,
the open wounds of malice; I did not dare to injure any of them.
They mocked us both together. I was all drenched with blood
poured out from that man's side after he had sent forth his spirit.

"I have experienced on that hillside many
cruelties of fate. I saw the God of hosts
violently stretched out. Darkness had
covered with clouds the Ruler's corpse,
the gleaming light. Shadows went forth
dark under the clouds. All creation wept,
lamented the King's fall. Christ was on the cross.
Yet there eager ones came from afar
to that noble one; I beheld all that.

"I was all drenched with sorrow; nevertheless I bowed down to the hands of the men,
humble, with great eagerness. There they took almighty God,
lifted him from that oppressive torment. The warriors forsook me then
standing covered with moisture; I was all wounded with arrows.
They laid the weary-limbed one down there, they stood at the head of his body,
they beheld the Lord of heaven there, and he himself rested there a while,
weary after the great battle. They began to fashion a tomb for him,
warriors in the sight of the slayer; they carved that from bright stone,
they set the Lord of victories in there. They began to sing the sorrow-song for him,
wretched in the evening-time; then they wanted to travel again,
weary from the glorious Lord. He rested there with little company.

"Nevertheless, weeping, we stood there a good while
in a fixed position, after the voice departed up
of the warriors. The corpse grew cold,
the fair live-dwelling. Then men began to fell us
all to the ground: that was a terrible fate.
Men buried us in a deep pit; nevertheless the Lord's thanes,
friends, discovered me there,
adorned me with gold and silver.

"Now you might hear, my beloved hero,
that I have experienced the work of evil-doers,
grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
that I will be honoured far and wide
by men over the earth and all this glorious creation;
they will pray to this beacon. On me the Son of God
suffered for a while; because of that I am glorious now,
towering under the heavens, and I am able to heal
each one of those who is in awe of me.

"Formerly I was made the hardest of punishments,
most hateful to the people, before I opened for them,
for the voice-bearers, the true way of life.
Listen, the Lord of glory, the Guardian of the kingdom of heaven,
then honoured me over the forest trees,
just as he, almighty God, also honoured
his mother, Mary herself, for all men,
over all womankind.

"Now I urge you, my beloved man,
that you tell men about this vision:
reveal with words that it is the tree of glory
on which almighty God suffered
for mankind's many sins
and Adam's ancient deeds.

"Death he tasted there; nevertheless, the Lord rose again
with his great might to help mankind.
He ascended into heaven. He will come again
to this earth to seek mankind.
on doomsday, the Lord himself,
almighty God, and his angels with him,
so that he will then judge, he who has the power of judgment,
each one of them, for what they themselves have
earned here earlier in this transitory life.

"Nor may any of them be unafraid there
because of the words which the Saviour will speak:
he will ask in front of the multitude where the person might be
who for the Lord's name would
taste bitter death, just as he did before on that tree.

"But then they will be fearful and little think
what they might begin to say to Christ.
Then there will be no need for any of those to be very afraid
who bear before them in the breast the best of trees.
But by means of the rood each soul
who thinks to dwell with the Ruler
must seek the kingdom from the earthly way."

I prayed to the tree with a happy spirit then,
with great zeal, there where I was alone
with little company. My spirit was
inspired with longing for the way forward; I experienced in all
many periods of longing. It is now my life's hope
that I might seek the tree of victory
alone more often than all men,
to honour it well. My desire for that is
great in my mind, and my protection is
directed to the cross. I do not have many wealthy
friends on earth; but they have gone forward from here,
passed from the joys of this world, sought for themselves the King of glory;
they live now in heaven with the High Father,
they dwell in glory. And I myself hope
each day for when the Lord's cross,
that I looked at here on earth,
will fetch me from this transitory life,
and then bring me where there is great bliss,
joy in heaven, where the Lord's people
are set in feasting, where there is unceasing bliss;
and then will set me where I might afterwards
dwell in glory fully with the saints
to partake of joy. May the Lord be a friend to me,
he who here on earth suffered previously
on the gallows-tree for the sins of man.

He redeemed us, and gave us life,
a heavenly home. Hope was renewed
with dignity and with joy for those who suffered burning there.
The Son was victorious in that undertaking,
powerful and successful, when he came with the multitudes,
a troop of souls, into God's kingdom,
the one Ruler almighty, to the delight of angels
and all the saints who were in heaven before,
who dwelled in glory, when their Ruler came,
almighty God, to where his native land was.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A great voice gone silent

Last week, evangelist and pastor D. James Kennedy died in his sleep at his home in Florida. His retirement from the senior pastorate of the church he founded, Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Fort Lauderdale, had only been announced last month after a leave of absence for rehabilitation to recover from heart difficulty. We need more people like him. He will be missed.

Kennedy leaves behind an impressive resume of service to God. In addition to founding Coral Ridge, the largest congregation of the PCA, Kennedy also founded Westminster Academy, a Christian day school for PreK through 12, as well as Knox Theological Seminary. Kennedy also created Evangelism Explosion, a program for lay people to share the gospel. It is estimated that as many as six million people have come to faith in Christ through the program. Kennedy also began a television, radio, and print outreach called Coral Ridge Ministries.

The church launched the Coral Ridge Hour on television in 1974. It now reaches 3.5 million people weekly. It is normally a broadcast of the church service, but also includes informative programs like "What if Christ had Never Been Born?" in the clip above. The media apostolate also includes the radio program Truths that Transform and the written column the Kennedy Commentary. All of these are available through the website, and I hope that they will continue to be available.

Although I can take issue with Kennedy's Protestantism and Calvinism, I will cut him some slack here. After all, he is a Presbyterian minister--what would you expect? He is sometimes criticized for being too political with Coral Ridge's Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. However, I can admire that he did not let criticism phase him and was determined that traditional Christianity should have a voice in our democracy.

I found his television program early in high school and kept up with it until I got to college (and had no cable). In an odd way, Kennedy's messages which conveyed loyalty to biblical teaching, confidence in the gospel message, and careful reasoning probably helped prepare me to come to embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith in college. For that I am grateful. And if my ministry one day measures up to even a fraction of Kennedy's accomplishments, it will have been a great success.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"There's a bullet in my Jaguar!"

I don't know why I am so fascinated with this clip. I guess I find it iconic in some way. They use the line above in commercials for the show Inside American Jail on Court TV.

The young lady with the Jag is in Las Vegas for a good time. She was involved in a road rage incident and was arrested for discharging a firearm within the city limits. Why was she carrying a Glock? I don't know. At one point, the other person shot at her and/or her car, so she returned fire (and claims she was firing a warning shot into the air). Hence, "There's a bullet in my Jaguar!"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Monday Book Club

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This week, we began our Monday book club at St Alban's, meeting for Mass at 10am in the chapel and then continuing with a discussion of Randy Alcorn's book Heaven. It looks like it will be a good study and the conversation about it was great.

This week we talked about a game plan for our study. At the suggestion of the study guide, we began by reading Revelation 21-22. We then read the Preface and Introduction of Heaven together. From now one, we'll tackle about a section of the book a week (there are twelve in the book). Part one is the "Theology of Heaven." For next Monday, we'll read "Section One: Realizing our Destiny," which includes the chapters:

1 Are You Looking Forward to Heaven?
2 Is Heaven Beyond our Imagination?
3 Is Heaven our Default Destination . . . or is Hell?
4 Can You Know if You're Going to Heaven?

I will be bringing auxiliary material to our discussion. In that regard, I would highly recommend this presentation by N. T. Wright, theologian, biblical scholar, and Bishop of Durham, at the Cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul in Washington DC last year. It is great foundational material that resonates with Alcorn's book.


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O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies cannot be numbered: Make us, we beseech thee, deeply sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; and let thy Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days; that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church; in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our God; and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [The Book of Common Prayer, page 490]

From Wikipedia: According to the 9/11 Commission, between 16,400 and 18,800 civilians were in the World Trade Center complex at the time of the attacks. Only 14 people escaped from the impact zone of the South Tower after it was hit, and only four people from floors above it. They escaped via Stairwell A, the only stairwell which had been left intact after impact. No one was able to escape from above the impact zone in the North Tower after it was hit, as all stairwells and elevator shafts on those floors were destroyed. After the collapse of the towers, only 20 survivors who were in or below the towers escaped from the debris, including 15 rescue workers. The last survivor was pulled from the rubble 27 hours after the collapse of the towers. 6,291 people were reported to have been treated in area hospitals for injuries related to the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

To see an amazing collection of photos from TIME Magazine, click here.

Here is a bit of history from a sermon I gave on September 11, 2004:

History is replete with turning points. For the Moslem Turks of the Ottoman empire, the most decisive turning point came in 1683. The heretofore conquering Islamic armies of the Sultan were met, held, and thrown back at the gates of Vienna, Austria. The leader of Poland’s Christian army, John Sobieki, sent a letter of victory to Pope Innocent XI in which he wrote, similar to Julius Caesar, “I came, I saw, God conquered.”

Historians would note that the Ottoman empire never recovered from that defeat. From then on, the world stage was set. It was nearly assured that Western Christian powers would dominate the world stage forever undermining Moslem domination through Europe. For Eastern historians, and especially more enthusiastic religious devotees, the moment was remembered as a humiliation for Islam, and a prelude to more humiliations later on. The date was September 11, 1683.

If anyone had doubts about the Battle of Vienna, those were erased at the Battle of Zenta. The Moslems had made a last ditch effort to destroy Christian civilization in the old Byzantine empire. Fourteen years to the day, on September 11, 1697, Prince Eugene of Savoy killed 20,000 Turks, seized the Ottoman treasury, and took captive 10 of the Sultan’s wives. By treaty, the Ottomans were forced to cede Croatia, Hungary, Transylvania, and Slavonia to Austria.

As you know, it was unrest in this part of the world that later blossomed into “the Great War,” or as we now know it, World War I. A number of territories in Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East changed hands through the war. And following that conflict, it was on September 11, 1922 the British mandate came into force in Palestine over and against unrelenting opposition from Arabs, who declared it a day of morning.

In 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared the 11th of September as an annual International Day of Peace, dedicated “to strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among nations and peoples.” And in 2001, on a cool Tuesday morning, the 11th of September, the United States was conclusively drawn into a conflict she did not begin and, very likely, will not see finished.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Putting together a business plan

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You would think that when this organization was putting together their business plan, someone would have said, "You know . . . the name . . . just doesn't sound good."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Urging sacramental confession

Doing some research today in preparation for teaching Moral Theology to our candidates for the diaconate, I came across an interesting resolution of General Convention. It is the only case I know of where such a resolution has urged a group of people to go to confession. It is a rare approach in our tradition, so it took me by surprise. What group of people does this concern, you ask? Those who have procured an abortion.

As cited in Church Teaching Series, Vol. 6: The Christian Moral Vision, by Earl Brill on page 152, the 1976 General Convention (it doesn't give the resolution number) stated the following:

4. That in those cases where it is firmly and deeply believed by the persons concerned that pregnancy should be terminated for causes other than the above [which are: danger to the mother's health, severe fetal deformity, or pregnancy from rape or incest], members of this Church are urged to seek the advice and counsel of a Priest of this Church, and, where appropriate, Penance.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Christian Maturity: the Precepts of the Church

The following is Fr. Homer Rogers' explanation of the precepts of the church, filtered through Canon Richard Cantrell and through me. It is a resource in our new baptism handbook.

Jesus said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind . . . and thy neighbor as thyself.” Assuming that I do, how do I put it into practice? Although the answer is vast and complicated, the Church boils it down to what are called the Six precepts of the Church. In our Lord’s command there are three parties to be loved: God, my neighbor, and myself. We might say that I have two selves—a social self and private self. So in my capacity as an individual and as a member of society, there are two ways for me to love God, two ways to love my neighbor, and two ways to love myself. Thus six precepts, or expectations of the mature Christian. Parents and godparents should model and teach them to the newly baptized.

1. Assist at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of obligation. The first two precepts have to do with my love of God—in social terms and individual terms. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” That is, continue the celebration of the Eucharist. In the prayer of consecration in Rite I, we speak of the Eucharist as “this our bounden duty and service.” In apostolic times, if one was deliberately absent from the Eucharist on Sunday, he usually did not come back, since it was considered to be such a serious repudiation of both God and the fellowship of the Church. To miss the Eucharist unnecessarily on Sunday was always held to be a serious sin. Thus, there are only three real excuses for being absent:

Sickness. If you are too sick to go to church, a priest will be happy to bring you Holy Communion if you ask. It is not an excuse that you have out-of-town company or that you stayed out late Saturday night.
Unavailability of the Eucharist. It is also a matter of judgment on one’s part how far it is reasonable or unreasonable to travel.
Conflict with a notable work of charity that cannot be done later. For example, nursing someone who cannot be left alone, or taking someone to the hospital in an emergency. This includes people who have to work on Sunday for the public health and safety. Under those circumstances, you should find a time when the Eucharist is celebrated when you can attend.

By consensus of the Church, expressed in common practice over the centuries, other holy days are considered to have the same rank and obligation as Sundays, so we call them “Holy Days of obligation.” The Book of Common Prayer uses the term “Principal Feast.” They are:

Christmas Day, also called the Feast of the Nativity, or the Birth of Christ, which is celebrated in recognition of the beginning of his redeeming work.
January 6, known as the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles (which we were before our baptism). This feast celebrates the visit of the Wise Men and the Baptism of Jesus.
Ascension Day, which falls forty days after Easter on a Thursday, on which we celebrate the rising of Jesus into heaven as Christ (God and Man) returns to the Father with our humanity.
November 1, known as All Saints’ Day, on which we celebrate the triumph of Christ in redeemed humanity. This is commonly commemorated on the Sunday following November 1st.
There are also three important Sundays which are classed as “Principal Feasts:” Easter Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday.

2. Receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during the Easter Season. The second precept has to do with my love of God as an individual. Actually, a stricter version of this precept is a part of our canon law (“All members of this Church who have received Holy Communion in this Church at least three times during the preceding year are to be considered communicants of this Church.” Canon I.17.2a).

St. Paul says, “If ye do eat and drink the body and blood of Christ unworthily, ye do eat and drink damnation unto yourselves.” The sacrament always has an effect on you, for good or for evil. If you are disposed towards evil, it will strengthen that disposition for evil, and vice-versa. Therefore, you should spend at least a few minutes before the Eucharist begins to be sure that you
have repented of all your sin;
are in love and charity with your neighbor;
intend to follow the new life in Christ.

After you have received Holy Communion, deliberately thank God for it. You may do this while the vessels are being cleansed after communion, or after the dismissal. This is one reason why we should hold our conversations for the narthex instead of talking in the church.

3. Contribute financially to the support of the Church. The next two precepts have to do with my love of my neighbor—in social terms and individual terms. The third precept concerns my love of my neighbor in social terms. We are a family. The Church is our mother. We should have filial loyalty to her and also loyalty to each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ. The premises of the Church are our home. The parish hall is our living room. There is work to do around the place, and each of us should do his share of the chores. This includes such things as altar guild, choir, Christian education, and youth group. They support our mission and build our community.

One should also undertake to bear his or her fair share of the expenses of our Church family expenses. The Biblical standard is 10%, what we call the tithe. No one who tithed over the long haul ever regretted it. Everyone ought either to be supporting the Church or being supported by it. The parish priest administers an almoner or “discretionary” fund through which money can be anonymously contributed for the support of people in need.

There are three fundamental reasons for giving money to the Church: First, to express our gratitude to God for all his blessings; Second, to declare by our actions that we recognize that all of it belongs to God; and third, to discipline our appetite for wealth. One’s pledge (an estimate of our giving to help the Vestry plan a budget) should be large enough so that it makes one careful with the rest of one’s money, which will have the effect of increasing responsibility to God. If you can pay your pledge without batting an eye and without missing it, your pledge may be too small. If one is not presently tithing, one should increase the percentage one gives each year, if ever so slightly, until one is tithing.

4. Make a sacramental confession of our serious sins before a priest at least once a year. The fourth precept has to do with my love, as an individual, of my neighbor. All of one’s relationships are to be kept in the context of love. And so, at the very least, I will make my confession whenever, because of grave sin, I need to do so. And it would be good for my soul , my spiritual growth to do so even at other times, out of obedience. An annual confession (Advent and Lent are good times to do so) should be considered the minimum obligation. To do so, we must also learn how to examine our lives in the sight of God’s will to discern what sins we actually have committed. This is the first step in amending our ways. Bringing our faults to God and being absolved by his priest sets us free to live new lives in the power of the Holy Spirit.

5. Keep the Church’s law of marriage. The last two precepts have to do with my love of myself—in social terms and individual terms. The fifth precept has to do with my love of myself in social terms. We are a part of the family of God, the Church. That means we have to learn how to live together as a family. The home is called the domestic church. One should strive to achieve and maintain a Christian family life both in the larger church and in the church of the home. This means keeping the Church’s law of marriage, and endorsing it both by personal witness and vocal support. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” The Church’s law of marriage is the rule of chastity—a sexuality ordered according to God’s will and marked by loving faithfulness.

6. Observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence from meat. The sixth precept has to do with my love of myself as an individual. Frequently, there is a conflict between what I ought to do and what I want to do. More often than not, what I should do is what I feel like doing the least. Being holy means being able to choose to do what I should do even when I don’t feel like it. The Church provides us with a set of exercises to help one develop and maintain the ability to do just that. It is called fasting and abstinence. Fasting means cutting down on the quantity of food one eats (i.e., lighter meals or skipping meals). Abstinence means cutting out one food entirely (i.e., giving up chocolate for Lent). Denying yourself a legitimate indulgence once in a while, like a piece of chocolate cake, helps the will grow strong and practiced in saying “No” for that day when temptation is no piece of cake.

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the two fast days on the Prayer Book calendar. Lent is a season for fasting. Traditionally, fasting has also been customary on Wednesdays and during the season of Advent. Throughout history, and in most parts of the world today, meat has been strictly a luxury food and not a part of everyday diet. It is customary to abstain from meat on ember days and to pray for the clergy of the Church. One also refrains from red meat on the Fridays of the year, except Fridays which come during the feasting seasons of Christmas and Easter. As every Sunday is a little Easter, every Friday is a little commemoration of Good Friday. The 1928 Prayer Book set apart these days as specifically “days of abstinence.” The 1979 Prayer Book simply says they are to be observed with acts of “discipline and self-denial.” When circumstances allow, we should observe these Fridays as days of abstinence from meat, or at least some other luxury.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Hands off the baby?

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This should be filed under either "Things I should know" or "Things they didn't teach in seminary." Today, I came across the passage on baptismal sponsors (or "godparents") in Donald Attwater's Catholic Dictionary. One detail took me by surprise. At one point, the entry notes:

For validity sponsors must be Catholics over seven, have the intention of undertaking the office, and touch the person in the act of baptism or confirmation.